Movies, Music, and Writing

It’s no secret that my all-time favorite movie is Casablanca. What’s not to love about this classic with a cast including Bogart, Bergman, Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains? It also contains some fantastic quotes.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Play it, Sam.” This is often misquoted as “Play it again, Sam.” (Bogart never said that.)

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

From a writer’s standpoint, the character arc of Rick Blaine (Bogart) is undoubtedly one of the best. He went from saying, “I stick my neck out for nobody,” to giving up the woman he loved for the greater good.

But long before I first saw the film, a song was written with an opening line that mentioned a Bogart movie. I knew the artist had to be talking about Casablanca. Al Stewart’s “Year of The Cat” and the album by the same title is also a favorite. (On a side note, between my brother and myself, we’ve owned that album in just about every form—vinyl, eight-track, cassette, and CD. I now listen to it via Spotify.)

It wasn’t until years later that I learned Stewart was in fact speaking about Casablanca. Chinese astrology doesn’t have a “year of the cat,” but Vietnamese astrology does. Stewart set two lovers in Morocco in the mid-seventies and had them have a love affair much like Bogart and Bergman in the 1940s.

As many of you know, music often inspires my writing. I recently wrote a short story titled Summerwood. The male lead, Dylan, is a popular music star who returns to his hometown in search of peace and quiet. He also wants to find and make amends with his former girlfriend, Lydia. Here’s an unedited scene:

The crowd started to grow as more merchants arrived to set up their stands. Dylan recognized a few of them like Harley Campbell and George Weaver. No one seemed to notice him.

It wasn’t long before the door to the cafe opened, and Lydia walked out. Seeing her was like taking a breath of fresh air. A ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

She wore a sleeveless floral-print dress and white sandals. Her blonde hair hung loosely around her shoulders, and she carried a wallet-sized purse. Simple and uncomplicated, much like the lifestyle Lydia had chosen.

Dylan inhaled deeply. He could almost smell Lydia’s signature scent—an exotic blend of patchouli and sandalwood. Never overpowering. Always subtle. And so enticing.

He remained beside the tree as Lydia strolled through the various stalls of the market.

If you’re familiar with the song, “Year of The Cat,” you might recognize a couple of things.

Summerwood is one of thirteen short stories that I plan to publish this year. And if you’re in the mood for a little music, here’s Al Stewart telling the story and singing his megahit, “Year of The Cat.

Thank You, John Denver

Inspiration for my stories comes from many different places. Sometimes it’s an observation made in a crowded restaurant. It may be from a photo prompt or from a family story. Other times, ideas just pop in my head. But often, it’s songs from favorite groups or singers.

John Denver’s music inspired some of my early works. Years ago, I used to write a First Friday Fiction post, and the idea for one of those stories came from the words of “Rocky Mountain High.”

For the anthology, Bright Lights and Candle Glow, I wrote a story titled Montana Christmas. Once again, a John Denver song, “Christmas For Cowboys” inspired me.

I recently completed the first draft of a short story titled Summerwood. The title came from the name of a housing addition I pass each day while driving to work. The original story was a flash fiction piece featuring a road-weary rock star. I published the story in 2020 with the intention of expanding it.

Here’s an unedited excerpt:

You can do this. One more night. You’re almost there. You can do this.

That had been Dylan’s mantra for the last month. The grueling schedule of forty-two appearances in a sixty-day period was taking its toll. Two more weeks and the tour was done. If he could only hold out until Memorial Day.

At thirty-two years old, he was still young, but he felt more like sixty-two. Was it any wonder many singers turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with life on the road?

He swore long ago that would never be him. He’d quit the business before he allowed it to happen.

I wrote a few scenes, but something seemed amiss, so I put the story aside. I picked it up again a few weeks later, determined to finish by the end of November. But even as I wrote the final two scenes, I still sensed something wasn’t right. Even with all that work, I was ready to shelve the project indefinitely.

As I sat at my computer, I looked out my window to the woods surrounding our house. The fall colors had faded and most of the trees were bare. But as I sat there, I thought of how much I love the outdoors, the changing seasons, nature, and wildlife.

A view of the woods near our house. I took this photo a few weeks ago.

And the words of a John Denver song came to mind. It’s not one of his big hits but comes from the Rocky Mountain High album. “Summer” talks about his love of life—the life within him and the life around him.

And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t need my main character to be a rock star. A country rock or folk singer fits the story much better. I finished that draft with a renewed purpose.

Summerwood is one of the stories I plan to include in a collection of shorts to be published sometime next year.

Here’s a video of John singing a song that I first heard on his 1975 television special, A Rocky Mountain Christmas.

Thank you, John Denver.

Death of a Legend #ThursdayThoughts

I’ve written about Mary Higgins Clark before. I came across her first suspense novel, Where Are The Children in the late seventies and was hooked. In a recent post, I named some of my favorite novels written by her.

So, I was saddened to learn the Queen of Suspense passed away on January 31 at the age of 92 from complications of old age.

Not only did I enjoy reading her books, but she also inspired me as a writer. Here are a few things about her.

  • Each of her fifty-six novels have become best sellers
  • There are over 100 million copies of her books in print
  • She remained with the same publisher, Simon & Schuster, her entire writing career
  • Like many authors, she had numerous rejections before her first novel was accepted for publication, but she never gave up.

I could write more, but I’ll let you listen to her own words. I think they will inspire you. She is a testiment to the fact we should never give up our dreams.

Where’s My Writing Mojo? #MysteryMonday

Hey everyone. It’s time for Mystery Monday. And you know what the mystery is?

Yeah, my writing mojo is MIA. Okay, no excuses but I probably scared her away. As some of you know, I returned to work last week after being off with the flu. Getting back into the swing of things and catching up on almost two weeks’ worth of work was bad enough, but on Tuesday afternoon, our department learned we were moving to a different location in the hospital.

So, I spent the rest of the week packing, cleaning out junk, and shredding some items I’ve been intending to shred for over a year. (Make that five years for some things.) However, we only moved across the hall and I love my new digs. It’s a much better set-up than what I had.

But with all that, I didn’t get any writing done last week. Not even a new post for today. I’m blaming it on the move and coming home exhausted. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Next week I’ll have something new. In the meantime, check out this link for my first Mystery Monday post. Tomorrow I have a special guest and she’s going to talk about something similar, so be sure to come back tomorrow.

A big thanks to friend and fellow author C. S. Boyack for giving me the idea for today’s post.

Lyin’ Eyes

Sometimes the inspiration for stories come in the oddest ways. I often use real-life events in my books—either personal experiences or things I’ve read. I change the situation enough so as not to be recognizable.

It’s been a long time in coming (much longer than I expected), but the first draft of Unclear Purposes, the third and final book of my Driscoll Lake Series is almost complete. Most of the book has already been through at least two edits, and I’ll soon send the last few chapters to my critique partners for their feedback.

It seems like eons ago that I began writing Unseen Motives. As some of you know, I planned it as a stand-alone novel. (Honestly, I wasn’t sure I had a second book in me, let alone three.) But one of my characters insisted I change my plans for him. Then he had the audacity to demand I write his story. (I’m glad he did!)

Thus, Unknown Reasons came about. In my opinion, you can’t have a series unless it’s at least three books, so I came up with a vague idea and the main characters for Unclear Purposes. I even went so far as to write one scene before I published the first book.

But when writing book two, I ran into a problem. The idea I had for the final book somehow weaved its way into Unknown Reasons. It would have been monotonous and redundant to have a similar situation in this one. So, I had to come up with a plan.

A former co-worker gave me an idea for the antagonist, but I still had to devise the plot. Why would the antagonist target the protagonist? How is the male lead involved and what role will he play? What minor supporting characters would I need? Lastly, but probably the hardest question: How do I begin?

I wrote an opening scene and sent it to my critique partners. It was an okay beginning, but I didn’t like the direction it would take me. Then one day I was listening to music. I often do that for inspiration. The Eagles’ song “Lyin’ Eyes” began to play.

You may be familiar with the words—a younger woman marries a wealthy older man, but she’s unhappy and has an affair with a man closer to her age. She tries to hide the relationship, but the husband can see it in her “Lyin’ Eyes.”

Voilà! I had my opening scene and a way to weave it into the story. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share more about how music played a role in the writing of the Driscoll Lake series. Also, look for the cover reveal coming soon!

And if you’re interested in hearing the Eagles’ tune, click here.