Ten Good Things to do with an Old Piano

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They do wear out, in spite of claims to the contrary. Nothing that is under tons of tension for decade after decade will last forever. What do you do with an old piano after its useful life is over?

Here are ten good ideas.

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Frame the keys to make wall art.

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Create a tear-drop hanger from the keys to display house plants.

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Use the pent-up pressure in hammer felt to unleash intricate insect sculptures.

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Set the cast-iron plate by your porch steps for a sturdy railing.

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Use the lid and legs to make a piano-shaped table.

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Create a coat rack from the keys and music desk.

 

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Re-purpose the cabinet into a desk and book shelf.

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Put the piano shell on buggy wheels for parades and public functions.

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Give the piano a leading role in a suspense novel. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

OR EVEN

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Rebuild the piano and learn to play it.

Through creative ideas and a bit of hard work, an old piano can bring pleasure in many ways to a few more generations.

Christmas Wish List for Writers

If you’re wondering what to get for your writing friends for Christmas, there are a few simple things we might all really enjoy. No sweaters, fruitcakes, or winter robes. Forget candles and do-dads.  Jewelry doesn’t make the list. Actually the items on my list don’t really cost anything at all, but possess a value beyond dollars and cents. If you want to make a writer happy, consider the simple things on this list:

dsc02137First. Take the time to read what we write. Nothing pleases me more than to know I have published something that you enjoy reading.

 

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Second. Tell me what you think, particularly if you have enjoyed the book. Though constructive criticism is welcome too, I treasure the collection of notes that have filtered in affirming that my efforts have been appreciated by readers. Among them:

Locally: “I started reading the evening I bought the book. I had to force myself to put it down after the first few chapters and pick up the comics to read so that I would be able to sleep. The next day, I let myself finish it. Wow, what a ride!”

From New Mexico: “I wanted you to know how much we enjoyed your books. Both were page-turners and I was sorry to finish them!”

From Wichita: “Sundrop Sonata kept me intrigued right up to the end. Glad I bought the book.”

From a friend at church: “Do not ever stop writing!”

From Facebook friends: “Finished reading Sundrop Sonata a few days ago. Ludlum and Clancy have nothing on you. It kept me engaged and intrigued to the end. Well done.”

Facebook: “I downloaded your book Sundrop Sonata this afternoon. I just finished it. Excellent!”

Facebook: “Loved your book! Lots of great plot twists, and of course I appreciated the solfege clue. ”

dsc02136Third. If you belong to a book club, submit my titles as featured books. Invite me to speak at your meetings. The actual writing is a solitary activity and I don’t get out much. Speaking engagements allow writers to meet possible readers, connect with new friends and share enthusiasm for literature.

dsc02135Fourth. Recommend the book to the rest of your circle of friends and family. Take it a step further and post reviews online, such as on amazon.com or goodreads.com. Times have changed since I was a young adult with the idealistic dream of writing novels. Today’s world is driven by online reviews. Writers greatly appreciate a short note about their books that anyone can see. Excerpts from my favorite reviews:

“Hold onto your seat. The story leaves the reader breathless and hopeful that Izzy has another heart-thumping adventure in the near future!”

“Isabel (Izzy) Woods is an engaging heroine with flaws and strengths wrapped in a core of determination. I loved her. More please…”

“Couldn’t put this one down! Exciting from the first page until the ending. A MUST read!”

“My test of a good read is looking up from the page and taking a second to figure out where I am and what I should be doing. It’s been a little while since I’ve been pulled in so thoroughly. Thank you for a great read.”

“I found this book a fun read. I am looking forward to Ann’s next book! The story engaged me from the first pages and I hardly had time to work until I finished the book!”

“Wow! What a story….packed with action, compassion and just enough of the technical workings of the piano to draw us in and keep us tied up to the very end. I look forward to another Izzy escapade!”

Sundrop Sonata  is a gripping, can’t-put-it-down novel. I must give a top rating to this thrilling adventure and look forward to Ann’s next work.”

“A whopper of a tale with plenty of twists and turns and suspense. Wheee! what a ride.”

“Excellent mystery story. Kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.”

“This book was a fun and exciting mystery. I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend Sundrop Sonata.

“Read it in one day. Just couldn’t put it down.”

“This was one of the most exciting and compelling mysteries I have ever read, and I have read a lot of good mystery books.”

“Best book I’ve read in a long, long time! I am totally sleep-deprived because I couldn’t put the book down. Just one more chapter…Ann, please write another book!”

“I looked forward to time to read more of it everyday, and now sorry it’s over! Look forward to more from this author.”

Okay. Let’s face it. I like all the reviews and I’m so grateful that folks enjoyed the book enough to write a note about it. It would be interesting now to see how many good reviews mentioning a movie it would take before—oh that’s just a bit over the top.

Still.

I do appreciate the feedback. For those who have requested another book, I want you to know I’m working on the next one, which brings me to the final item on my Christmas wish list.

dsc02138Fifth. Time. Oh how I wish I had more time to spend sorting words, knitting them together, and dreaming up the next adventure for Izzy and her family. If you know how to increase the available hours in any day, please send me a few.

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Ann’s books may be ordered here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NUA5VVU

Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 4

Polish for Perfection

After you complete the novel’s first draft, then what? The next steps are the hardest work involved in writing a book–re-writing, revising, and editing. Check every chapter, every scene, every sentence and every word. This is grueling work but it must be done.

There are some steps to take which will be helpful. They involve calling in the troops. Build a network of folks who will support your efforts, even as you support theirs.

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Critique Groups

Join a critique group in your writing organization. Reading critically to help others is a wonderful way to learn to look at your own writing with critical eyes. As you help your friends, they can read selections you send them and all of you benefit.

Attend Writing Conventions and Workshops

You should be able to find several conventions or workshops that cater to your interests. Select classes or workshops that speak to your needs. It’s possible you will meet some other writers who will become fast friends. If your local group meets regularly, request programs that will benefit your endeavors.

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Beta Readers

When you have gone over the draft about fifty times and you think it’s nearly ready for release, it’s time to call in a team of Beta Readers. These would be folks you trust to read the entire novel with a critical eye to find any errors you might have missed. The readers could be fellow writers, but you might also wish to draw from your other circles to find out if you have missed any technical details from their fields of expertise. For Sundrop Sonata I used several writing friends, but also some people who just love to read, a young man who knows personally what it’s like to deal with Asperger’s Syndrome (who is also a gifted writer), a friend who is a native of New York, another piano technician, a drama specialist, and a military man who knows firearms.

Listen and Learn

Once you have delivered copies of the novel, or specific sections, for critical review, the next step is most important. Be prepared to listen to any and all suggestions for editing changes that your valued readers offer. There is probably no book written that can’t be improved in its early phases, and you certainly don’t want to release your book before you’ve done everything possible to smooth over the hiccups.

Much of my research for Sundrop Sonata came through years of full-time work as a rural piano technician. When I tune a piano for a client, the objective is to produce a harmonic instrument, something better than what I started with. Since I’d like the piano owners to call me back again in a few months, I strive for the very best result possible.

Consider that most pianos have 88 keys. What many people don’t realize is that most of those 88 keys operate mechanisms that end up striking and playing 3 strings simultaneously. Thus, on your average piano, for the 88 keys, a piano technician ends up tuning about 220 strings. This number varies due to the design and size of pianos, but let’s just say 220 strings need to be in tune with each other when I’m done with a piano call.

What if I end up tuning 219 strings perfectly, but leave one untuned? I have a piano that is 99.5% tuned. Pretty good, right? Almost 100%.

When I was in school, the grading scale was something like 90 to 100% considered excellent work, and earned an A. 80-89% was a B. 70-79% a C. Remember those days?

That’s not the way it works in the real world. If I tune a piano with 219 out of 220 strings perfectly in tune, and miss just one, I have a piano that is 99.5% tuned. But it is that one sour string that will draw attention, and the pianists will say, “She doesn’t know how to tune a piano.”

In other words: 99.5% is FAILING in the real world.

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As writers, we need our work to be 100% complete. If there is one little hiccup, that is what readers will notice. The process of re-writing and revising can’t be more important, and ultimately, it is the author who will receive credit (or blame) for the book.

With piano tunings, there is room for some disagreement about what might be considered “perfect”. Likewise, there are various opinions about choices writers may make that would lead to smooth reading. Absolute perfection is an elusive and impossible goal. Still, you want to smooth out as many hiccups as you possibly can before turning the book loose on your readership.

The month of November is National Novel Writing Month. (NaNoWriMo) If you are aspiring to complete a draft of a story that is forming in your head, I wish you many productive days that result in an excellent book. I hope to be working on a sequel to Sundrop Sonata  myself, so let’s write together!

Thanks for taking the time to ponder my musings. Hope you found something helpful in these last few posts.

Find Sundrop Sonata here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 3

Hook ’em and Reel ’em in

Layers of Conflict

Within the pages of a suspense novel, readers will be increasingly concerned about several areas of conflict the characters face. This conflict arrives in several categories, or layers.

The obvious first layer of conflict is an external one, where the protagonist and antagonist come up against each other with conflicting goals in mind. They provide a source of conflict for each other that escalates throughout the story until they meet one-on-one and face-to-face with only one of them going to come out okay.

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In Sundrop Sonata, the external conflict that Izzy faces starts from the first pages, when Nola begs her to leave the ranch, taking the child Laura along. Izzy is confronted with the need to save the child, though from what she doesn’t really know. Later, through various anomalies she discovers in a number of local pianos, she comes to understand that there is also a threat to the country–her neighbors, family, and friends. Both threats seem to be linked in some way to the same man, Laura’s father.

As the story progresses, a box of unknown substance from a backyard laboratory comes into Izzy’s possession. She doesn’t know what it is, but assumes it could be very bad and should not be left unattended in a crowded parking lot at a music festival. When she learns that her nemesis has abducted her own daughter, the conflict escalates once again. He has made it personal and brought the threat into her own family.

In the concluding scenes, Izzy and Jay meet face-to-face in a dark piano repair shop where she must find a way to stop him and thwart his agenda, or die trying.

Internally, each of the three viewpoint characters faces challenges of their own. Jay struggles with recurring nightmares of his past life. Laura must come to grips with the loss of her mother, the most important person in her young life. And Izzy struggles with self-doubt about her own ability to find the strength needed to persevere.

On a personal level, Jay must face his sweet mother and convince himself that his actions–whether she approves or not–are in her best interest and defense. Izzy faces marriage unrest, compounded by the actions and temptations of another man.

Each layer of conflict for the characters intensifies as the story progresses. Even when young Laura seems to find safe haven with family in the east, it becomes clear that she is not yet safe from Jay.

The ticking clock

The needs and goals of each character, whether external, internal, or personal, have to meet one other requirement. There is a deadline by which everything must happen. As the deadline approaches, the activity escalates as well.

A few years ago, in mid-September, I discovered an interesting plant in my flower circle. It was a thin green spike with a mass of narrow scarlet petals cascading from the top. I’d never seen anything quite like it, though it did resember the pink surprise lilies that bloom in the summer. My first thought was that some of those pink flowers had evolved into this fall-blooming red version. Through subsequent years, I discovered that the red lilies also had a late froth of narrow green leaves that stayed green all WINTER, but would shrivel up and disappear with the arrival of spring. One could forget they were there until September when the flowers reappeared, with no leaves.

I called this flower a red spider lily. The fact that it bloomed in September, coinciding with the local music festival, made it appropriate as a deadline tool in the fictional story. Later, I discovered that I did not have anything unique. There really is a flower, more of an amaryllis than a lily, that other people have also called “red spider lily”.  The flower comes from Asia, (how convenient) and its technical name is Lycoris radiata.  It was perfect–easy to hide in someone’s flower garden, always blooming at the same time of the year, and hidden most of the rest of the year. The red spider lily became a ticking clock.Red Spider Lilies

Building suspense

When writing a suspense novel, you want to invite readers to continue reading from the very first page. I would even go so far as to say, dare the reader to stop reading! The opening line is critical to keep folks reading and wondering what will happen next. Put a lot of time into crafting the perfect opening line for your story. It may not take you eight years, like it did me, but spend some time on the opening line.

Some of my favorites opening lines:

It was a pleasure to burn. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

I was not sorry when my brother died. (Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions)

First I had to get his body into the boat. (Rhian Ellis, After Life)

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. (Sue Monk Kidd The Invention of Wings)

Once you have the opening, take care with endings too. Readers should want to keep reading when they get to the end of a section or chapter. Make them wonder how it’s going to turn out. Tease them along by presenting more tantalizing questions or raising the stakes at the close of a scene. It’s kind of like a fishing expedition. First, hook them with the perfect opening line. Then tease them along to keep them reading. Make them turn the pagess

The use of multiple viewpoints in the “sonata format” allows multiple cliff-hangers in each chapter. You can leave one character in a formidable place and start a section with another of the viewpoint characters, moving their story along. Little by little, the questions are answered, and conflicts resolved, even as new challenges and questions arise. The final scene makes everything  clear to the characters and the reader as well.

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Stay tuned for the final part of this series on Suspense Novels: Polish for Perfection.

Find Sundrop Sonata here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

 

Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 2

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Memorable characters

The characters you create live the story. There will be major players—the protagonist and her adversary the antagonist, several second tier characters who make appearances to enhance the unfolding drama, and perhaps a host of mostly nameless folks who flit in and out of various scenes.

The major characters, and some of those on the second tier, will face challenges that escalate as the story progresses. Those challenges need to be logical for each character, given their personality strengths and weaknesses.

Each character should have strengths as well as weaknesses. No person is perfect. Neither should a fictional character be perfect—not perfectly charming or perfectly evil. Even the antagonist must have some redeeming qualities.

This is where some folks shake their heads and ask, “Exactly what is redeeming about Jay Pack?”

I admit he’s pretty far gone. But as his story is revealed, it’s obvious that he’s been the victim of bullies around the world. We can empathize with the boy Jay, and realize that bullies can create monsters more sinister than themselves. Jay also has a soft spot for his mother.

The Name Game

Once during a read-around at a writer’s meeting, I shared the opening scene of Sundrop Sonata. Afterwards, another writer came up and insisted, “You have to change her name. There really WAS a Nola Pack in Winfield when I lived there.”

I gave this some thought and decided not to change the name of this minor character. After all, I didn’t personally know a Nola Pack. The person she referred to was an acquaintance from forty or fifty years previously. I picked the name “Nola” from the title of a piano solo I have enjoyed since my teen years, and the “Pak/Pack” name was selected from a Korean/English dictionary as one that would easily be anglicized.

About the same time, I was reading a novel by my friend Mary Coley, in which the bad guy had the same name as my first father-in-law. Was I offended? Certainly  not. After all, Mary could not have known this name meant anything to me.

As writers, we have the glorious opportunity to select names for a whole host of characters. Parents agonize over names for their newborns. Multiply that agony by the number of characters in a book and you begin to see what a challenge naming characters can be.

I have a few guiding principles for selecting names. First, I want to stay away from names of people I actually know, or that are identifiable. Second, I don’t want to pick something so unusual nobody can pronounce it. With billions of people on the planet, the idea of picking names that are unique—that belong to nobody in real life—is a long shot. How many people share your name already? Have you ever done a search on Facebook for yourself? I share my  name with a dozen or so other women on Facebook alone.

In the selection of character names for Sundrop Sonata, I chose some common first names paired with surnames that sometimes show up in my family history, or in a dictionary, or are cities on a map. Traveling often inspires new words and names for use in the stories writing themselves in my head.

If you encounter a book with character names you recognize, don’t take it personally. Just enjoy the story.

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Viewpoint

Somewhere in the writing process, the writer must decide which character, or characters, will tell the story. I struggled a long time with this, writing and re-writing the opening scene about fifty times over the course of eight years. I couldn’t seem to get beyond chapter one.

Then, in a writing workshop, I encountered the idea of using several viewpoints, and even different voices. The use of three viewpoints answered my challenges. Izzy’s first person narrative is mingled with the thoughts, plans and dreams of two others in third person (Laura and Jay). There were just too many things Izzy would not have known that were crucial to the story. Yet I found it impossible to tell her story in anything but first person.

Thus, Sundrop Sonata is written with three viewpoints and a mix of first and third person voices.

A good friend reviewed the novel in the Piano Technician’s Journal. In her review, she raved about the “sonata” format, using this trio of voices. A sonata is defined as “a musical composition, usually for solo piano, in three or four extended movements contrasted in theme, tempo, and mood.” With the three different voices filtering through the story, each chapter becomes a literary sonata, or sonatina, with the entire novel a sonata.

The sonata idea worked quite well in several ways. I’ll share some of them in Part 3, Conflict and Suspense.

Walnut Valley Festival

Find Sundrop Sonata here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS

 

It’s September!

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Midnight tonight marks the end of August and ushers in a new September. I’m ready. This is the season of red spider lilies, of music and the Walnut Valley Festival, of adventure in a new school year, and piano conventions in Indiana.

Such an important month for the storyline of Sundrop Sonata.  And this year, I’m excited to announce that the book will be promoted at the Walnut Valley Festival, September 14 – 18, 2016, https://wvfest.com. It is already available at Gallery 1001 in Winfield, http://www.gallery1001.wordpress.com, Brace Books and More in Ponca City, Oklahoma, http://www.bracebooks.com, and Senseney Music in Wichita, http://www.senseneymusic.com, as well as Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS.

If you seek a diversion and a suspenseful adventure story about pianos, piano tuners, and their families and friends, there is not a better time to read this book. After all, the red spider lilies (lycoris radiata) will soon be in bloom. Get yours before the lilies fade!

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