Category Archives: writing

My book

Marquis 2Wow, times sure flies…it’s been a couple of years since my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My Adventures in Jazz, Rio, and Beyond was published. I’ve been happy with the feedback I’ve gotten, and grateful to the folks who have written reviews for Amazon: so far, 34 5-star and 2 4-star reviews.

A lot of people don’t seem to want to write reviews. I understand. I sympathize. I don’t like writing them, either. But now that I’m an independent author, I realize how important they are. They’re the life-blood of the independent author. They are the reason that people get curious about your book and might want to read it. So, If you read my book and liked it, I will love you forever if you review it for Amazon. 🙂

People often ask me if I’m writing another book or planning on writing one. I did actually make a couple of abortive attempts at writing some sort of sequel, but finally came to the conclusion that not enough time has gone by in my life since I wrote the first book to have anything substantial to say. What about a book on some other topic? they ask. Well, I thought about taking some of my philosophical musings from this blog and putting them into book form, but the problem is that my ideas keep changing, so I don’t want to carve them in stone and then look back in a couple of years and think, “Sheesh, that was weird…why did I ever say that?” So then they ask, “What about a novel, you know, a work of fiction?” I confess that I have never been able to write fiction. My career as a writer was in journalism, and I’ve never, ever been able to make up stories. I wish I could. I have endless admiration for people who can. Poetry? Maybe…not sure mine is “good enough,” whatever that means…Marilyn Monroe

This is not to say that I won’t write another book. My mind is open. Who knows, maybe something will pop into it that will grab me and I’ll pull out my MacBook and get busy. Meanwhile, I’m just living, working on some musical projects, and pondering life with a Capital L…

If you’d like to read my book, clock on the BOOK tab above for info about how to get it, and I’ll be looking forward to your review!

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Calling all creative people!

I recently posted this on my Facebook page:

Here are a few questions for my creative friends (writers, musicians, composers, artists, photographers, etc.): What is your creative process? How do you approach your work, day by day? What are your wrk habits? Your frustrations (if any!)? Feel free to be wordy!

artist-painting-on-canvascloseup-of-artist-applying-oil-paint-to-canvas---371656-hcjojkhoI posted it just for fun, but as people began to respond, I found their answers so interesting and varied that I thought I might gather them together for a blog post, or even possibly a book.Hand with pen and music sheet - musical background

So here I am, inviting my readers here to answer these questions, too. Feel free to add anything that’s important to you, and just write your replies in the comment box. Who knows? You might end up in a book!

P.S. I appreciate the “likes” but would really like your comments about your own creative process! Please share!




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Self-published books and sloppy editing

I’ve read quite number of self-published books—books with genuine merit—over the past year or so, and have been appalled by how poorly most of them are edited. And each one, without exception, has listed the name of the editor in question. I’ve run across misspelled words, misused words, malapropisms, misplaced apostrophes, and loads of typos.spelling

I confess that, being a bit of a grammar/spelling/punctuation Nazi, this kind of thing kind of freaks me out.

It’s one thing to say “Her and me went out,” if it’s in an actual conversation, but as part of the narrative…no, no, no. I can remember the days when you never found even the tiniest error in a printed book, but those days are long gone, I’m sorry to say.

And who are these editors? If the authors themselves were doing the editing it would be bad enough, but when the job is done by a person who actually calls him/herself an editor and then lets a string of egregious errors slip by? OK, I know how hard it is to edit and proofread—I’ve been doing it for years. And I can’t say I’ve never overlooked something, but from what I’ve seen of the books I’ve read lately, the overall editing of self-published books looks pretty dismal.grammarcartoon-blogSpan-300x218

I would think that if you’ve written a book of your own, you’d want it to be perfect—or at least as perfect as possible. Wouldn’t you go through it with a fine-toothed comb several times to make sure everything was exactly the way you wanted it? Or maybe I’m kidding myself and neither the authors nor the writers has sufficient knowledge of spelling, punctuation, and grammar to get it right?

I just want to make it clear that I’m not in favor of perfect texts just for the sake of being perfect, with no thought to cultural context, etc. I like conversational writing—in fact, you may have noticed that I’m a conversational writer myself. We can take certain liberties. We don’t have to write in a strait jacket (and please stop spelling it “straight!”), but we do have to write intelligently and not let mistakes slip by that we should have learned in grammar school.

OK, sorry for the grumpy rant—I think I’ve been holding it in for too long!


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Callings vs. “hobbies”

A fellow friend and blogger wrote a post about writers being a strange breed—exceptionally acute observers, attentive listeners to what’s going on inside their heads (which can make them seemed spaced out to others), and passionate and focused workers once they get started. They can seem obsessed to those who aren’t writers, and each one seems to have his or her own special set of neuroses about getting their stuff out there (i.e. publishing) and even about the old cliché, writers’ block.

I found myself resonating with a lot of what she said—especially the part about getting an inspiration and having to write it down somewhere, anywhere, as if it were a matter of life and death. Any napkin or scrap of paper will do—or even the back of your hand.

The funny thing is, though, that I don’t really think of myself as a “writer” and never have, even though I was a journalist for more than a decade. Now that I’ve got a book for sale on Amazon, I’m trying to get into author mode, but it all feels a little strange to me. Writing is something I do for fun. I don’t find it hard, and it’s not hard, it’s not a struggle, I don’t fight with writers’ block, and I’m not afraid to put my stuff out there. I’m not bragging, this is just the way it is. Let me explain…writing_on_laptop-222x150

Writing isn’t really my calling. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, well why did you write a book? Why do you write a blog? I guess I could call it a hobby, I don’t know. I’m not really sure what that word means. But I can’t say it’s my calling, because I’ve never felt resistance to doing it, and I never agonize over it.

My calling is music. I’m a composer, and yes, when I get an idea for a tune or a band arrangement in my head, I’ll grab any random piece of paper floating around and frantically try to get it down before I forget it. I used to walk around with a cassette recorder, and now I walk around with a digital one.

I’ve felt resistance to writing music, to getting started on something. Maybe it’s because I take it more seriously that I do with my writing. I knew it was my calling from the time I was 13 years old, and felt inklings in that direction from age 7. Oh, and I’ve also been known to sit around looking like I’m doing nothing, when I’m really deciding whether the low brass should come in before the trumpets, and whether the piece should begin with a percussion intro or not.article-new_ehow_images_a08_2f_jt_write-music-trumpet-800x800

Once I actually sit down and start writing a piece, I am totally fixated. If you’ve read my book, you’ll remember how I used to sit up late every night writing arrangements for my band before I even had a band, and the next morning it was as if “I” hadn’t written them at all—it was as if little elves had stolen into my apartment in the middle of the night, done the work, and left the music stacked up on the piano. I imagined that I could almost see their tiny footprints on the piano top.

But now I have a book, too, so I know I have to treat that with respect. In the piece I wrote the other day about marketing, I said that I’d often felt that self-promotion was “tacky.” I think this is a carry-over from when I used to live in New York and had to go around to the jazz clubs trying to sell myself as a musician. If you didn’t have a manager (and hardly anyone did, except for the big shots), you had to do it yourself, and you were most often met with the cold assertion: “We’re booked through next year.” In spite of that, I persisted and managed to get some fairly good gigs when I lived there, so I know in my heart I can do the same thing with my book.

Here’s a bit of shameless self-promotion!



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The frustrations of self-publishing

As some of my readers here know, I recently self-published my autobiography, “Getting Down to Brass Tacks,” which is now for sale on Amazon and numerous other online stores.

Getting the job done has been a bumpy road. You can’t do it on your own unless you’re at least somewhat computer savvy and have some knowledge of formatting in Word. I did my e-book first, through BookBaby, and was able (with their excellent customer service) to get the job done on my own, but when it came to doing the print-on-demand paperback through CreateSpace, I found the process so complicated that I finally hired someone to do it for me. book-promotion

After you’ve self-published your book, the inevitable question arises: Now what? Well, I’d been promoting my book here and in the social media, which aroused some interest initially. But after awhile, things cool down and you start to wonder what to do to spread the word about your book.

I started doing some research online, and found quite a number of offers to promote e-books, most of which involve paying a sizable fee, and many of them deal only with free books. As I rooted around some more, I discovered that there are authors who actually pay people to review their books. My response to all these deals was “ick.”

So where does that leave me? I’m not sure yet. I’ve always felt that self-promotion is kind of tacky, but I can see that it’s essential in the self-publishing world. I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing, spreading the word on social media and by word of mouth, and maybe hit up a couple of magazines for a possible review. I believe my book is a good read, so other than that, I’m just going to follow my intuition about what I should do (or not do).



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“Finding My Invincible Summer” – a new book

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned there was inside me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

I met Muriel Vasconcellos on a translators’ website a few years ago. One thing led to another, and we discovered that we not only had an affinity, but that we were both writing autobiographical books. We became long-distance friends—she in California, me in Rio de Janeiro.Cover-for-blog-199x300

Muriel’s book, Finding My Invincible Summer, was just published by Hay House, and I want to share it with my blog readers. It’s a story of tragedy, fierce determination, patience, persistence, and triumph. Muriel’s story takes us through her experience with breast cancer and her search for alternative treatments. Along the way, she is faced with challenges that would have made most of us give up, but with dogged determination and courage she bucked the system, stood up for herself, and found solutions.

Here is a quote from one of her 5-star reviews:

“With Finding My Invincible Summer, not only did the author take you into her complete confidence but the story was so intense and relatable that I could not put it down. During a week of reading where there were many other distractions in my life and in the greater world, I kept yearning to return to this quiet, deeply involving and highly personal story, even as difficult and painful as that life was in parts. Ultimately, the reader is given their own sense of possibilities—that there are indeed attainable solutions to even the most difficult of life’s problems.”

Head-shoulders-10-2-12-cropped-e-mail-210x300Muriel’s book can be purchased here on Amazon:

Here is the link to her blog:

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My record reviews

Here are some recent record reviews I wrote for Jazz History Online:





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Book coming soon, and poetical distractions…

I’ve just sent my book off to a trusted, intelligent friend (who is also a writer) for a final read-through. I’m certain she’ll have some good suggestions for me to get the thing finally wrapped up.

As soon as I sent it to her I missed it, which is pretty funny because it’s still right here on my computer. But I don’t want to mess with it at all until she’s done with her review.

But I really wanted to work on something else. I HAD to work on something else…besides my blog. So I dug into some files of poetry that I’ve written, and decided to put them into book form and maybe write some new ones.

Then I got the really insane idea of illustrating them. I mean, this is truly insane, because I don’t know how to draw in the sense of actually drawing…you know, with perspective and everything.

I guess the reason I thought of this is because of possible copyright issues with using pictures from the internet and also because I can’t afford to pay an illustrator. Oh well.

I used to fiddle around making little drawings of household things and heads…yes, little heads of all sorts of people that I made up in my mind. I can’t find any of them, but I think I could probably reproduce something like that. Maybe it doesn’t matter that I don’t know how to draw. We’ll see.

Well, I’ve gotten a bit off track here, but what I wanted to say is that I don’t think it’ll be all that much longer until the book is published, unless of course my friend says, “Hmmm, I think it might be good if you rewrote the whole thing.” Ha!


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Categories! Categories!

Feeling a little “duh” here…I couldn’t figure out how to arrange my blog posts in categories, and was even thinking that it was too late since I’d already written them!

Well, I’m not a quitter, so I sat down and figured it out today…and proceeded to categorize my 85 posts.

Now you can find things a lot easier. During this period when I’m not posting every day, if you feel like browsing and reading some of the posts you might have missed, it should be a little easier. I’m planning to refine the categories more as I go along.

Anyway…glad that’s done!

I MISS BLOGGING here every day, so I may be popping up more often as I plow my way through the final couple of readings and revisions of my book.

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A scrawny tree’s spring surprise

It’s fall here in Rio de Janeiro, but since my friends in the USA are now enjoying spring, I thought I’d share this article I wrote a few years back:


I RENTED THE APARTMENT sight unseen, through an ad on craigslist. It had a DECK — what else did I need to know?

What I didn’t know, though, was that the scraggly tree hanging over the deck that I’d seen in the online photos was to provide me with endless fascination during the six months I ended up living in that apartment.

I arrived the beginning of April, and the tree was bare and not very impressive looking, with its scrawny, elbowy branches. But, I thought, in summer there would be leaves, and that would be….well….green. And nice.

What I didn’t know was that in early spring the tree would sprout dark red little buds that would suddenly burst into a symphony of tiny pink-magenta flowers, dazzling the eye and turning my deck into a splash of madcap cotton candy. Too bad it was still too chilly to actually sit out there and bask in its royal rosiness. But I would open the window every day instead, stick my head out, and as the temperature gradually warmed up I took pictures of it — lots and lots of pictures.

I knew it wasn’t a cherry tree or a magnolia or a dogwood — my scanty knowledge of dendrology (the study of trees) told me that much. But what was it? By the time I got around to Googling it, I had more information — breathtaking, weird, wonderful information.

Just as my pink tree was at its fullest and most magnificent, it wowed me with yet another miracle. From one day to the next, it suddenly sprouted little bunches of pink flowers all over its trunk and biggest branches! They looked like decorations on a wedding cake. I had never, ever — even after living in Brazil for nearly a decade and seeing some super exotic flora — seen flowers growing out of a tree trunk, and I was flabbergasted. Out came the camera again, and I shot the amazing and freaky phenomenon from every angle.

Now I had some ammo for my Google search. I typed in “pink tree flowers trunk” and up came the name of my tree: Redbud. Wikipedia told me that the Eastern Redbud is Oklahoma’s state tree and can be found on the east coast from Canada to northern Florida (mine was a Bostonian). It said that not all Redbuds have flower clusters growing from the trunk, which I decided made mine special. I also learned that the green twigs from the tree were once used in southern Appalachia for seasoning wild game and this is why it was known as the “spicewood” tree — and sometimes still is. Not being much of a wild game eater, I never tried the twigs.

Eventually the pink flowers dropped off, making a sticky mess on my deck. The trunk clusters were the last to go, but by that time little green leaves had started to appear at the tips of the branches, and by June the tree was completely covered with flat, dark green papery leaves, providing welcome shade for the humid Boston summer. I wouldn’t stay long enough to see them turn color and drop off so I could witness this amazing cycle again, but I’m glad I captured the whole thing with my digital camera. Now I carry my special Redbud with me wherever I go…in my laptop.

(From The Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum Page, March 5, 2009)


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