Friday, September 11, 2009

A Portrait of the Artist

or ... Better Late Than Never

from Jacqueline

We who are writers know, intimately, the long and winding road from, “I want to be a writer,” to the sense of accomplishment that comes when you hold in your hand the very first copy of your very first book. The pilgrimage has been well documented by many an author; from the story that rattles around in your head demanding to be written, through the slippery highways and byways traveled by one’s self-confidence, an elusive now-you-have-it, now-you-don’t will o’the wisp. You finish the first chapter, maybe show it to a friend, and you search their face for signs while they read. Will they like it? Will your nearest and dearest say, “Oh, sweetie, that’s ... well, that’s ... a good start.”

Of course, the person you actually share a house with is really important. Do you tell them that you’re writing a book? Or do you wait until you have a whole manuscript next to your computer – because you’ve printed every single page - then announce it with, “Hey, d’ya wanna read my book? No hurry. By the morning will be just fine.” In the meantime, they may have had to put up with long silences, the odd tantrum (“I wanted to be a writer my whole life, and now I can’t write a word – who the heck will ever want this trash?”). There may have been burned dinners, forgotten appointments. But when it comes to a cheer-leading squad, the ones closest to you are worth their weight in gold when they’re in your corner.

My husband, John, has been a particularly supportive spouse, especially during the time I was convalescing from that horrible accident and had decided that my time off work presented a good opportunity to finish a book I had barely started when I was jettisoned from my horse. He said that he felt like Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day – running back and forth with a tea tray. But it was later that John really came through for me. He said that we should celebrate every milestone, no matter how small, in my quest to be a published writer. Completion of the first draft of Maisie Dobbs coincided with the orthopedic surgeon congratulating me on getting 85% of my arm working again within three months – and they’d had their doubts about 50%, ever. John came home from work with a bottle of champagne. Then later, when I finally signed contracts with an agent, John said, over more champagne, “Whatever happens now, even if this book isn’t the one that sells – you are in the game. Remember that – you’re in the game.” And just before Maisie Dobbs was published, he encouraged me to cherish and celebrate the whole experience, because, “You only ever publish your first book once.”

So, here we are seven years later, and the past twelve months haven’t been plain sailing. My husband is a marketing and advertising copywriter – an exceptionally good one, I might add. But these are strained times, and while work has not exactly dried up, it’s been uncomfortably “inconsistent.” Everyone in the business has the same story. But towards the end of last year, amid the hours spent trying to scare up new projects, John began working on something he had always wanted to do, but for a mountain of reasons hadn’t taken the leap. Seems people who want to be songwriters have the same loop playing in their mind that we wordsmiths have to deal with. But at the same time, he wanted to come out of this economic downturn (who thought up that phrase, by the way? Probably a copywriter) with something to show for it.

In January, he came into the kitchen as I was cooking dinner, and said, “Wanna hear a song I’ve written?” So I trundled in to his home office, thinking, “Oh heck, what am I going to say?” Truth is, we don’t really listen to the same music and there are only a couple of bands we both like. I was ready to respond with, “Well, that’s lovely dear.” And I would save the question, “Anything new on Craig’s List?” until later. Then he played the song and I felt goose bumps rippling down my arms. Oh, my, this was good. This was very good. Then he played a couple more, and I was almost in shock. These wonderful songs were being written in this house and I never knew? So this is what happens when I disappear for weeks on end on a book tour.

Inspired by the positive reaction from me and a couple of friends, he asked one of his contacts from the local songwriters’ group if she would record the lyrics to his guitar backing, so that he’d have a sort of pre-demo, demo disk - he'd turned his office into a sort of mini makeshift studio. While she had a sweet and lovely voice, it was not quite the right voice, but it was good enough to get some more reactions from a few local musicians, the kind of guys who would not draw back from giving honest criticism. The responses were all very good – but everyone said he needed a real demo disk to go any further.

And you know how. when you start writing and getting serious about being published, you buy loads of books – The Writers’ Market, for starters, or books with titles like, “Getting Published – What You Need To Know!” Well, there are the same books for songwriters and they began to pile up. He was reading every word. Then a few things started falling into place. Call it serendipity.

I’ll cut to the chase here. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, John was in a recording studio with four amazing top-notch professional musicians and a vocalist who could sound like Norah Jones one minute and Ella Fitzgerald the next (in her day job she’s a high school music teacher), and he was co-producing the demo-disk that will be used to sell rights to the songs – and they will sell, of that I have no doubt. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, that demo disk comprising eight songs will be played to a larger audience at next week’s Monterey Jazz Festival.

It takes such a leap of faith for an artist of any stripe – whether they work with words, chords, watercolors, cloth or clay – to put themselves out there. The creative spirit is so rooted in the soul, so connected to the essence of who we are, that the personal risk involved in presenting your work to the world can seem almost too much to bear. It can break your heart. Yet what choice do we have? It took the shock of a serious accident for me to realize that I could not put off following my dream; that I wanted make the journey in this lifetime, and I didn’t want to wait a minute longer. Bearing witness to my husband’s leap into the unknown – putting his work out there for the world to hear - has moved me, almost, but as you can see, not quite beyond words.

On Tuesday, when I knew there would be a break for lunch, I went to the studio with a big chocolate cake to celebrate the achievement and hard work. We all sat back and listened to the fruits of the morning’s recording session, and everyone was sporting a huge grin. The songs were good. They were better than good.

So, to John: You’re in the game, Love. You are absolutely in the game.

And if anyone knows how I can get a demo disk of stunning songs for a female vocalist into the hands of Norah Jones, Diana Krall or Madeleine Peyroux – let me know.


  1. Beautiful post. Congratulations to your husband for taking the risk of unveiling his work. I look forward to buying a copy of his work in the future!

  2. Congrats to John from someone who has zero musical ability. I wish I had the gift.

  3. Sign me up for a copy of the CD when it becomes commercially available!

    Congratulations indeed!

  4. from Jacqueline

    Hey, thanks, all. It was just amazing being in the recording studio and seeing/hearing the music unfold in a beautiful way. I'm like you, Patty - no musical gifts whatsoever, but I know what's good when I hear it, whether it's to my taste or not - and this was just amazing. Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that the right people will hear it.

  5. Jacqueline: absolutely lovely post and exactly what I needed to hear right now. Huge kudos to John for achieving his dream. The songs exist. They will filter out to ears willing to listen, then listening to the joy of them. Oh, good on him!!!

    I'm drowning in a sea of obligations this year, and visited my novel again to do some work on it this week and it was such a welcome relief. Baby steps and all of that. You and John, and the other Nekkids and readers give me joy and real hope some days.

    Hugs to you all,

  6. from Jacqueline

    Marianne, baby steps still get you to where you're going, and before long, you'll be leaping ahead!

  7. Leap of faith, indeed.

    Exciting to read about the experience, can only imagine how it feels to be in it.

    Good luck to John.

  8. Jackie, sorry to be late to the blog, but I can't tell you how pleased I was to read John's tale. What a delight!

  9. Many congratulations. How great that his talent has been unveiled. Both of you are obviously very talented. Good luck

    Linda (Jacqueline's cousin)