The Power of Three

I joined a small writers group recently and it has added new energy to my story telling. Perhaps I should point out that the group is small in number, not short in stature, and that a lot of the energy I feel comes from the fact the others also write a sort of fantasy – science fiction- metaphysical melange like I do.

life lessons11We hold animated discussions about how telepathy works and how to write a phrase readers will want to quote and the other day we got started on ideas that are inherently powerful, even magic if you will. The best example we could find was the power of the number three.

Make three wishes. Blood, sweat and tears. ABC. The popularity of a trilogy. Star Wars’ brilliant three trilogies. Yes, I even wrote a whole fiction book called “C to the power of three.” The Huffington Post has a fun article on threes and marketing experts are happy to advise you on how to harness its power.

But no one seems to have this figured out better than those who compose country western songs. Seriously. I was not well acquainted with the musical genre before I wrote c3, but my hero Teddie was clearly a fan of it. I had made sounds tracks for the main characters in my other books and was compelled to do the same here. So I sought out CW songs that fit my story and Teddie’s personality and yet which I liked okay too. You can find all of them on the music page for this blog.

Almost every song tells a story, unlike most music in other genres. Every story is told in three parts. Always three parts. Each story is more compelling than you would expect, grabbing your heartstrings with an almost magical grip. Past, present future. The power of three.

Today I updated the music page with more details about my schmaltziest song, “Laughed Until We Cried” performed by Jason Aldean. Dammit I don’t like sappy music, but this one gets me every time. It must be that three thing that he uses so well.

Enjoy this excerpt from where the song appears in the book, and then enjoy the video at the end.  Grab a tissue. That power of three thing might get to you also.

Ariel got word from work that she had to leave a day early for a business meeting in Germany and Teddie was surprised to find herself sad at the news. The night before Ariel left, the two sisters sat together at the kitchen table, laughing and reminiscing, and Teddie realized how helpful it had been to have a relative close by as she went through this. She went to bed with a touching song about reliving family memories called “Laughed Until We Cried” playing in her head.

In spite of the soothing start to the night, she woke up a couple of hours later, filled with worry. On Lawan’s advice she had refrained from traveling in her mist body since the surgery, and she was growing more concerned about Usha by the day. She looked down and saw Usha, and she thought she was dreaming. Then as the absolute silence sunk in, she realized that she had gone traveling without meaning to.

Usha lay sleeping, fully dressed in robes that looked much like Lhatu’s. She was sleeping on a mat in someone’s kitchen. She seemed fine, but Teddie thought that there would be no harm in looking around a little more to make sure.

Teddie entered each room. Usha was in a home with two parents and three children. It was small and simple, but also clean, warm and cozy, and well decorated with children’s art. Teddie was going to go out on a limb and guess that the mat in the kitchen constituted the family’s guest room. These nice people must have taken her in for the night. Teddie felt an odd pang that for all the much-touted hospitality and generosity in her own home of Texas, no one she knew would even dream of providing lodging to a traveling stranger. And sadly, it was often wise that they did not do so.

She tried to see any detail at all that might help her figure out whose home this was. The children’s art, the handmade furniture, even the pile of shoes by the door. It was true, she knew it for a fact. If she could just bring back a picture of any one of these, it could be circulated around and somebody somewhere would recognize this place. Teddie stared hard at each scene, wishing she could memorize and redraw it. What a crying shame that she could not.

She woke up with tears of frustration in her eyes and as she rubbed the water away, she knew it. She simply knew how to do it. She crept into the den where Lawan and Awut both slept, and she shook her trainer awake. Awut took one look at her face and he could tell as well.

Videos taken at a concert can be good or downright awful, and this one of Jason Aldean performing “Laughed Until We Cried” live at Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 22, 2010 is one of the good kind. It captures the energy of the crowd and feel of the concert while still providing enough reasonable quality audio and video for the viewer to enjoy the music.

Because she could ….

bolder6A couple of months ago I wrote about March as Women’s History month, and the corresponding wealth of sites celebrating songs that empower women. Buzz Feed, The BoomBox, and vh1 all had their lists complete with best lines from the song, the reason the song is great, and a video to enjoy. I concatenated the lists together to create my own mega celebration of female power.

However, I felt like the songs were mostly recent and in certain popular genres. The only one that could be considered an oldie was the all time classic “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. Country-western songs were nowhere to be found, even though I had discovered plenty of them when I was writing c3, and needed one to include in my story. (I settled on “Because I Can” by LeAnn Rimes and, I’ve come to really appreciate it even though I’m not a CW fan.)

An old friend of mine who is an expert on Classic Rock and Roll read my post and he agreed that too many older songs that qualified were left off of the list. He proposed twelve more additions. They are all good, but the three that simply have to be included are given below in chronological order.

Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me” predated the idea of feminism but it got the attitude right.The chorus features “And don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say”.

Yes, you can find a video of a song from 1963. Here it is.

“I am Woman” performed by Helen Reddy is a 1972 feminist’s anthem, with lyrics that begin with “I am woman, hear me roar!” It has had plenty of satire over the years but no one has put a more blunt statement of feminine power to music before or since. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits describes the typical DJ reaction to the song in 1972 as “‘I can’t stand this record! I hate this song! But you know, it’s a funny thing, my wife loves it!”

Enjoy this 1975 version performed by Helen Reddy.

Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 “I Will Survive” has gotten some recent attention when it was featured during the credits at the end of “The Martian”.  Yes, it is a song about human survival, but also one specifically about a woman finding the strength within her.  This video of Gloria Gaynor singing will have you standing up and yelling “yes” by the end and you’ll feel better, I promise.

Everywhere

crowdThe first few months after my father died, I kept seeing him in crowds at the airport, just out of the corner of my eye. He’d show up in restaurants too, and sometimes in bars, anywhere that there were lots of people. Often he’d be gone before I could get a good look at him, but every once in awhile I would get a closer look, and clearly see that it wasn’t him at all.

Years later I read that this was common for those missing a loved one. It was a disconcerting side effect of death, divorce, serious break-ups, deployment overseas or any prolonged physical separation.

The country-western songs referred to in the novel c3 came from a larger group of songs suggested by a young female C&W fan. I knew the first time that I heard her suggestion of Tim McGraw’s song “Everywhere” that I wanted my character to like this song and mention it. Love comes in all sorts of flavors: that of a child for a parent who dies too young, that of a young girl worried about a missing friend, that of a man who has said good-bye to childhood sweetheart but never really left her. Those of us who suffer a loss (isn’t that all of us) tend to see our missing person “everywhere”.

From the novel c3:

Tim McgrawAs Teddie worked her way through the relaxation and concentration exercises, she was all too aware that this would be her first conscious travel attempt over any distance. It was sort of like that first time you take off driving all by yourself.

To keep from being nervous, Teddie let her mind play a soothing song, and found that she was humming “Everywhere,” the country music tribute to a man who loved to travel and yet saw his stay-at-home ex-girlfriend in the crowd wherever he went. That was funny. Over the last couple of months it had seemed like she’d seen Michelle everywhere she looked. Must be a common thing when you missed someone.

Teddie thought sadly of the used black and white two-tone pick-up truck setting in her folks’ driveway. She’d only been able to drive by herself for four months before she’d headed to India. She thought of all the places she and Michelle had driven in it before they left and all the places they hadn’t yet gotten a chance to explore. She felt a little pang, and then there she was. Standing outside her truck in the blazing sunlight. Of course. It was daytime in Texas. Her folks were at work. Her truck looked fine. She touched its faded paint lovingly but she couldn’t feel it like she could in the solid world. “I’ll be back in a few months,” she mouthed the words. Then she added, “Now I want to go to my friend Michelle.”

Right away she began to move quickly, speeding down the sidewalk and then down streets and she thought, “Wait, I know this route. I’m on my way to Michelle’s house.” And sure enough, Teddie found herself on Michelle’s front lawn, baffled. Had Michelle come home? She hesitated, feeling odd about invading the Tran’s privacy. She told herself sternly that her friend’s safety was at stake. The outside wall of their house was harder to penetrate than the walls at Usha’s convent, instead of merely tickling her, it left Teddie with a feeling of passing through some kind of unpleasant mush as she went through it. Ick.

Inside it was deserted. Both Trans were at work as well, and Michelle’s room showed no signs of having been disturbed any time recently.

“Take me home,” Teddie said in frustration. She felt a momentary confusion, as if on some level she was trying to decide if home was across town or across a world. That’s when she realized that she had somehow covered thousands of miles and crossed an ocean and she had no idea of how she had done it. She froze in absolute terror.

There are several decent enough concert videos out there of this song, but the ones I watched all made me feel a little too much like I was in the audience, right there with the crowd noise and the bodies occasionally blocking my view. This acoustic version is a little different. It is performed at a fancy dinner with violins, acoustic guitars, a back-up female vocalist and a couple dancing in the back of the audience. I thought that it all captured the song well. Enjoy!

You can purchase this song at Amazon.com

“Get Out of This Town”

We’ve all had that feeling. We’ve got to get somewhere, anywhere else. It can be a combination of weather (it’s snowing again?), friends and ex-friends, relatives that are driving us crazy, an insane boss or teacher, or in the worse of cases, all of the above. Anyone’s couch in a town far away sounds incredibly comfy.

Teddie hits her fed-up point mid-winter in Darjeeling, as she shares a room with a friend training to climb a mountain and finds herself avoiding everyone else at the school because she is tired of their questions about another friend who has gone missing. She doesn’t have the luxury of leaving, but at least she has her music, especially “Get Out of This Town” performed by Carrie Underwood

carrie underwoodDarjeeling stayed dreary and cold as school started, and for days on end the beautiful mountains could not even be seen. Teddie spent a lot of time avoiding the other students at the school so she would not have to answer their questions about Michelle, even though her slightly drafty dorm room was not the refuge she would have liked.

Haley spent most her free time in the room as well, using the impressive array of workout equipment that her father had insisted on sending back to India with her. She had weights and ab straps, rotating push-up bars and some sort of cardio jump device, and she used them all like her life depended on it. Teddie supposed it kind of did. However the net result was that the dorm room was generally filled with Haley’s grunts and groans, and it was now starting to smell like a locker room too. Teddie went out and bought some fruit-scented air freshener.

She tried doing the few exercises that Lhatu had left her with, but compared with Haley’s workout, they just seemed silly. Lhatu’s one week of waiting dragged on to two, and Teddie found herself spending more and more time curled up in her bed under the covers. She wanted to go home. She was supposed to be home, dammit. She found “Get out of this Town” on her MP3 player and started to listen to it over and over until it became her personal anthem.

You’ll feel like you’re exactly where Teddie wants to be; in a front row seat in this country-western bar in Green Bay Wisconsin as you watch this homemade video of Carrie Underwood performing her hit song live.

You can purchase this song at Amazon.com.

Heads Carolina

I moved to Texas in 1989.  I didn’t particularly like country music then and I still don’t. But the seventeen year old hero of c3, Teddie, loves listening to the stuff. Each of my books has a nine song soundtrack that reflects the taste of its main character, and for this book I needed to find nine country songs that I actually liked and that fit well into my novel. I wasn’t sure that it was even possible.

asheville

Asheville NC

Lucky for me country music turns out to be a much wider genre than I realized, slopping over into rock and folk with some fun stuff around those edges. Even better, I had help from from a country music fan who knew my tastes and kept feeding me possibilities. Before long, I found more country music to enjoy than I expected. I don’t think that I’ll ever listen to a lot of it, but I have to admit that each song that I ended up using spoke to me in a certain way. Some told stories I appreciated and some made me feel stronger and a few brought tears to my eyes in spite of how silly that made me feel.

All nine songs I picked live in my playlists now, though in the end I developed a clear favorite. The 1996 hit single that launched Jo Dee Messina’s career, called “Heads Carolina Tails California”, made it into the book about the time that my husband and I began talking seriously about leaving Texas. We’re nomads at heart and we’ve been here a long time. For the last couple of years we’ve considered Oregon and New Mexico and Northern California and North Carolina. I put the song into c3 to tie into Teddie’s desire to get out of Darjeeling. However, the truth is that I played the song over and over for myself as well as we struggled with our decision. I even thought of suggesting some sort of coin flipping ceremony to my husband, who occasionally is oddly open to ideas like that.

Time passed, c3 got finished and published and d4 is in the works. Our plans somehow gelled and we made our selection, no coin toss needed. It’s “heads” for us. Carolina won, after we spent a week in the Asheville area this summer and felt like we had found a home. We’re off house hunting there in a couple of months. Meanwhile we are packing stuff up here and starting the home selling process. It’s not quick when you’ve gown roots as deep as we have, but we’re as exhilarated as Jo Dee is here as she sings the song live.

Isn’t it funny that it doesn’t matter what the genre of music is? In the end your favorite songs are always the ones where the lyrics seem to be speaking directly to you.