Monday, September 28, 2009

I Saw Rob Thomas

I went by myself to see Rob Thomas at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre for his September 28 show -- I'd been anticipating the event for 2 months. Right after I bought my ticket in the seated area of the booth (Row M, Seat 19), I did something I don't normally do: I went to Walmart and bought, "Cradlesong," Rob's (I'm going to call him Rob from now on -- we're the same age!) newest album. A few of the songs took me a while to really like, such as "Her Diamonds," "Gasoline," "Someday,""Wonderful," and the title track, "Cradlesong." But "Mockingbird" and "Real World 2009" caught me by the throat immediately. I got to Booth around 7:30 after taking a wrong turn and waited in the rain with other concert goers. There were young teens behind me who later punctuated any silence with "We love you, Rob!"and "I love you!", an eleven-year-old with his mom and dad, a gay couple in front of me and a straight one to my right. I stood up the entire time and so did almost everyone else. Our seats were too wet and the show was too good to sit down for.
Rob's lead song was "Fire on the Mountain" -- not one of my favorites but has a good bridge to it and I love the drums (stay tuned for another blog as I make the case for how similiar in styles Rob Thomas and Phil Collins are). He wore a salmon-colored woven button-down shirt with a T-shirt underneath of the same color with a print on the front. Rob's hair looked really good -- not too short and not too long and he wore jeans. Rob's band consisted of his lead guitarist, drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and two backup singers. They were fabulous, as expected. Rob gave them props and they the keyboardist and lead guitarist had a chance to do a little solo work. "Do you know why tonight's special?" Rob asked the crowd, "Because we get to play music! Our only goal at every show we do is give a great two hours." Rob didn't forget to thank Carolina Liar and One Republic, who were his opening bands.
I admire how Rob emphasizes all of his vowel sounds, both short and long, especially his "i's and his "a"s. All that emphasis takes some jaw work and the man's not lazy at all! So coming into the concert, I knew every single song (OK, except "Sunday Morning New York Blues" that was a wayward release) and even knew what kind of gestures he'd make with each song.
If he was singing about his soul, love, his heart or something along those lines, he would hit his chest three times quickly with his left hand while his right hand held the mic. The only exceptions were when he was playing the keyboards and guitar (both electric and accoustic). He also did tight spinning gestures (all in time with the music) with his finger, waves and flowing moves. At the beginning of the show, Rob twirled his mic stand over his head. You're probably wondering if I have a crazy obsession for Rob Thomas at this point and you're partially right...I'm obsessed with his performance and I want to learn from his techniques when I do my poetry performances.
He told us the back stories on several of the songs. "Little Wonders" from the movie "Meet the Robinsons" was inspired by his dog who was so excited about going on a walk with Rob in Phoenix, while Rob wanted to be somewhere else. Rob said he said "I'm a dick," and decided to look around him and appreciate life "because life was happening all around me." I love that song.
He also mentioned that "It's Getting Late" is a "little ditty about death," and "Sunday Morning New York Blues," is about a married couple that go on a date. "Yes," Rob said, "contrary to popular opinion married people still do it!"
Here's the set list from tonight with the corresponding album:
**Note that the songs do mesh very well together and that Rob played almost every "Cradlesong" song except "Wonderful," "Hard on You" and "Snow Blind"**
Fire on the Mountain (Cradlesong)
Give Me The Melt Down (Cradlesong)
Real World '09 (Cradlesong)
Lonely No More (Something to Be)
Mockingbird (Cradlesong) included long keyboard intro!
Sunday Morning New York Blues - I got into it just hearing it for the first time! it includes strong details and movement
Streetcorner Symphony (Something to Be)
Natural (Cradlesong)
It's Getting Late (Cradlesong) the happy little ditty about death. Included a cool dueling-banjo like performance, too!
When the Heartache Ends (Something to Be)
Ever the Same (Something to Be) -- beautifully done! Rob;s voice shines during the slow songs
Cradlesong (Cradlesong) Rob played the keyboards
Someday (Cradlesong) with a long keyboard intro
Something to Be (Something to Be) lots of audience participation in this one!
Gasoline (Cradlesong) with Bond-like girls on the video in the background who turned into matches
Little Wonders (Disney's Meet the Robinsons soundtrack) Rob on keyboards
Fallin' to Pieces (Something to Be)
Her Diamonds (Cradlesong)
I Am an Illusion (Something to Be)
*** Break for Encore***
Bent (Matchbox Twenty's Mad Season) Beautiful! I wasn't sure what the song was at first, but I knew every word, "Can you help me I'm bent?" Just Rob and his accoustic guitar. Rob wrote the song but I guess he paid Matchbox Twenty for its use during his shows?
Still Ain't Over You (Cradlesong)
Smooth -- the crowd favorite! the guitars had a Santana-like quality. He performed the low-key version
This is How a Heart Breaks (Something to Be) -- the last song! what a way to end the night!
Thanks so much, Rob, for sharing your talents with us! You rocked Cary out!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Open Mic Etiquette

Since I’ve MC’d a monthly Open Mic night for the North Carolina Writers’ Network since the beginning of this year, I feel I know a thing or two about how to run an open mic. But before I get into the etiquette of one, I need to define what my Open Mics are because there are a lot of you who may think that Open Mic Nights only apply to musicians. They do, but the ones I host bring out writers of all genres: fiction, memoir, poetry, spoken word and more. We’ve had crossover artists, but for the most part we stick to the written word. At these events, we have about 20 readers and about 40 folks in the audience, which is fantastic! Imagine, 40 people decided to get off their couch and listen to other people read their own poetry!

I have some great readers who come out to our Open Mics – they come on time, they read within the 5 minute time limit and they make sure they don’t say or do anything inappropriate. They also RSVP to say they’re coming so I can get them booked on the schedule. At every Open Mic I MC I give participants a program with all of the readers listed. That way, everyone can know each other’s name and the readers know when they are up next. Having the names also provides a talking point for networking and for getting to know fellow writers. All of my Open Mics end up booked because we fill out our max of 20 readers.

Open Mic Do’s
*Let the MC know you are coming at least 3 days in advance of event (especially mine since they are so popular!)
*Practice reading your work beforehand so you know it’s 5 minutes or less
*Remind the MC if you have any specific requests for your introduction
*Keep it PG or PG-13 – sometimes there are children in the audience. And, yes, maybe they watch HBO, but don’t assume that it’s cool to throw F-bombs every which way
*Do try to stay till the end of the open mic and if you can’t, please tell the MC you have to leave
*Tip generously and patronize the bar, coffee shop, or bookstore

Open Mic Don’ts
*This is not the time or place to get on your political or religious soap box
*If the MC has motioned you to stop, don’t take another 3 minutes to finish!
*Don’t shuffle papers or chit chat while folks are reading
*Turn off your cell phone and don't text during the performance (yes, I'm talking to you!)

Most of all, have fun! Open Mics are meant to support writers and give artists a forum to present and practice their words before a live audience. There’s always a special energy in the room during an Open Mic and it’s because people are there because they want to be with other like-minded creatives who don’t think they’re funny because they scribble or mumble in odd places. See you at the next Open Mic!

Oct/Nov Open Mics

OPEN MIC AT FALLS RIVER BOOKS, Cosponsored by NC Writers' Network (NCWN)
Where: Sunday, October 25th
5:30-7:30pm Falls River Books at Falls River Town Center, N. Raleigh

Contact: If you're interested in reading, please e-mail Megan Cutter at or call her at 919-389-6423.

Join us for a Sunday evening of local literary talent following the Authors Showcase. The first fifteen people to sign up with Megan Cutter in advance will be able to read their poetry, short fiction, or memoir. Each person will read for five minutes. Or come out and listen! Enjoy refreshments: wine, cheese, and other assorted goodies along with fellowship with your fellow readers and listeners!

OPEN MIC: Bring your Five Senses To Life!, Cosponsored by NC Writers' Network (NCWN)
A Wellness-for-Warriors Workshop: Bringing Your Five Senses to Life!
Friday November 13th, 20097:30 pm - 9:30 pm
COST: $10 Donation. FREE for military families
Calm and Sense 2603-111 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh NC
Contact: Alice Osborn at

Join us for a relaxing, Open Mic Night and treat your five senses to simply feel, hear, see, taste and touch the very essence of our peaceful beings. The first fifteen people to sign up with Alice Osborn at in advance will have five minutes each to read their poetry, short fiction, or memoirs, play a guitar and/or sing a song. Let’s just sit back, listen, laugh, lust, linger and love. Enjoy light hors d'oeuvres along with fellowship with your friends and a variety of players, writers, readers and listeners. There will be time allotted for networking; refreshments and raffle drawings. Standing applause for those who attend!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fear is the Driving Force Behind My Writing by Anthony Policastro, Guest Blogger

Today I'm so thrilled to present Anthony Policastro who will talk to us about how "Fear is the Driving Force Behind My Writing." I know Anthony through the Write 2 Publish Meetup group and just learned that he has started a new company, Outer Banks Publishing Group, which specializes in e-publishing. And so without further ado, here's Anthony....

Fear is the Drivng Force Behind My Writing By Anthony S. Policastro

Alice, thank you so much for helping me with this blog tour and your support.

Both of my novels,DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM and ABSENCE OF FAITH, both mystery/thrillers, were written out of fear, universal fears that I believe all of us consider at one time or another.

DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM is about Dan Riker, a computer security expert whose family is kidnapped by digital terrorists who take over the power grid and cell phone network and hold the United States hostage. Dan is the only one with the know-how to stop them, but the hackers have his family and he must decide to save his family or save millions of people.

While I wrote this book the fear of losing my own family pervaded my thoughts and I wrapped a plot around this fear using the latest wireless technologies and a lot of imagination. I still have my family and the thought of losing them is unimaginable. This was the fuel for DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM.

Dan's life is well planned, predicted and uneventful like most of our lives and I wanted to see how Dan would react when all of that is shattered in an instant when his family disappears.

Does Dan have the courage to save his family or will he just give up because he never had to face such insurmountable odds? Will he save millions of people whose lives are threatened by the terrorists or will he save his family? The book is not just about technology.

These are some of the questions I addressed in the book and when or if you read the book you may ask yourself these same questions and maybe better understand your own capabilities.

ABSENCE OF FAITH also addresses universal fears when residents in a highly-religious small town have horrible near-death experiences and wake up with burnt skin. They believe they went to hell and that God has abandoned them. Matters get worse when a local Satanic cult emerges and wins over many residents.

My fears of losing all hope and all faith in the face of a downturn in life is what spawned ABSENCE OF FAITH. Again, I was interested in how people would react if you stripped them of all hope and faith. Would they pick themselves up and continue their lives? What would they do when this great fear overtakes them.

These are the questions I address in ABSENCE OF FAITH.

Bestselling author and psychic Sylvia Browne writes in her book, Prophecy, that, "...our beliefs are the driving force behind our behavior, our opinions, our actions. Without faith, without our beliefs, we're lost."

I have always been interested in religion and why and how it has such a powerful hold on all of us and what would happen if it were taken away.

I not only wanted my books to entertain, but I also wanted them to inspire, educate and leave readers with something to think about after they put the book down for the last time. I wanted the books to be relevant to people's lives today and some of the problems we all face in the journey of life. I hope my books are that and more.

Both DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM and ABSENCE OF FAITH are available as paperbacks from Outer Banks Publishing Group, and as ebooks from and the Amazon Kindle.

Both books will soon appear on Barnes and Noble's new ebook site.

Visit my blogs for tips on writing, publishing, and books, WRITING IS ABOUT PUTTING YOURSELF TO WORDS and THE WRITER'S EDGE.

Interviews can be found at

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Be Patient with Finding Your Perfect Writing Group

The journey of finding a supportive and productive writing group came up in my Artist Salon Seminar last week. Many of the ladies present were either trying to find a writing group or they were looking for a new group. I thought about how lucky I am that I’m in a wonderful group that pushes me to be the best writer I can be. My fellow members also offer me support, market suggestions for my work and always contribute detailed and focused critiques. We also listen to each other when we need a sympathetic ear (usually not writing-related). However, it took me a while to find my group.

We hear a lot of talk about writing groups being like marriages, and it's true! It's very important to find a good fit with the folks with whom you share your writing, your thoughts, your concerns, and a lot of your life with. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the writer from her work; it’s going to happen that your writing group may turn into a therapy session, and that's occasionally OK. But, if you do this with the wrong group, and/or the energy level is different from yours, then watch out. You may need to move on and find a different group.

Six years ago, I met with my first writing group. I was very new to writing then and was inspired by the NC Writers' Network Conference in Wilmington to find fellow writers. Well, one woman approached me from a historical fiction workshop -- Meagan -- and then she connected me with Sandy, who was completing her second novel. Meagan was writing a memoir on her coming of age which involved a lot of abuse, both physical and mental. And me? I was working on a short story (really creative nonfiction) about a young woman who reconnects with an old flame, who is also dating her sister. Then all three of them get stuck in the sister's apartment during a hurricane which hits Charleston. I thought it was good…at the time.Meagan, Sandy and I all exchanged numbers, e-mails and manuscripts and before long, we met at Meagan's house.

I was a little late because my husband stopped at the gym first and I had brought cookies. I remember Sandy saying, "I don't eat sugar." I never got good vibes on her after that. We didn't talk much about my work (we focused more on Meagan's), but they both gave me suggestions (Sandy wrote all of hers in red ink. Lots of red ink).The next time we met was at my place on a January Saturday at 11:30. My son Daniel was just starting to walk (he was 16 months) and I knew that once everyone got settled, D-boy would go down for his nap at 12:30. In the meantime, I would put on his "Little People" video while Keith was out grocery shopping and got in his workout. I even served Panera bagels. First, Meagan showed up, a little lost, and then Sandy came in with a Hardees bag. The first thing out of her mouth was, "You didn't tell me you were bringing bagels!" Sorry, maybe read your e-mail next time and don’t insult your host for trying.

My short story was first and it was ripped apart before we even got to the 2nd page. Sandy didn't like how I used brand names to describe tea ("Celestial Seasonings") and told me that I write "like Danielle Steele." Then Meagan chimed in with "you write about rich people too much -- show some diversity." I don't remember hearing a single positive comment. Was this how a writing group was supposed to work?

Then we discussed Sandy's story about a talk show host who picks up empathy and starts acting nice. It was good, but the tone was very angry and sarcastic. Meagan's piece was fine, except Sandy quibbled with Meagan till the end of our time about how the speaker would not have folded her clothes that neatly. Meagan responded that she as a troubled young girl was seeking some order in her life. Sandy didn't buy it.Three and 1/2 hours later, Sandy and Meagan left, just as Daniel woke up from his nap. I felt worn out and a little depressed. I recall not looking over Sandy's notes on my story for about a year.

Later that night, Sandy cc'ed me on Meagan's e-mail telling her that she found my home to hold too many distractions for a writing group. I think the "Little People" played for 15 minutes with Daniel being very quiet and Keith's coming in and out for 2 seconds bothered her. I was furious! I expressed my concerns to Meagan, who didn't respond to them, but later one she e-mailed Sandy to tell her she disagreed with her comments.

I never heard from those two ladies again and it took me a positive critique from Greensboro novelist Quinn Dalton at the 2004 NCWN Spring Conference at Peace College to give me some much-needed confidence. A bad group can do that to you, especially to a new writer.

My advice is this: don't jump into a writing group. Get to know the members as people before you meet and then see if your styles and goals are compatible. See if you share a similar sense of humor and see if they are as smart as you or smarter. If not, run for the door. Your writing and your self-esteem deserve better. Also, gauge their level of writing. I was at a lower level than both Sandy and Meagan (at the time), so we were never going to match. Like finding a tennis partner, find a group that writes at your level or better.

I hope you find your way to the writing group that inspires you and makes you feel great every time you see them.

Now tell me about your writing group experiences -- good and bad!

House of Sand and Fog Review

House of Sand and Fog House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I knew going in that "House of Sand and Fog" would be hard-to-put down novel that was vastly depressing since I had seen the 2003 film and still think it's one of the best movies of this decade. But after reading the book, Andre Dubus III makes not only his three main characters (Col. Behrani, Kathy Nicola and Lester Burdon) indelible, he also makes the suburbs of San Francisco and Kathy's Pontiac Bonneville also important characters. Dubos's descriptions of the town are so precise: "We rode quietly through Corona (where the titular house is located on Bisgrove St)into San Bruno, where he (Lester) turned north just before the El Camino Real Highway. Under the gray sky we passed one-story houses with small grass lawns. Behind them was the highway, and I could see cars and long trucks going south for towns like Hillsborough, San Carlos, Menlo Park, Los Altos, and Sunnyvale..." The descriptions are so accurate I thought Corona was a real town, but, alas, it is the stand-in for Pacifica. But no matter, if the town is a stand-in, the emotions in this book are not. As a side note, check out this link to see a picture of the house they used in the movie, which is now for sale.

Col. Behrani used to be a high ranking Air Force officer in Iran in the days of the Shah, but after his family's exile, he knows he can never reclaim his past glory. He moves his wife, son and daughter to Berkeley, where Soriya will have a chance to marry well. They rent an apartment that costs them over $4,000 a month and Behrani works two jobs so that Soriya will find a suitable husband. She does and now Behrani must do something so that his 14-year-old son, Esmail can go to college and the family can be comfortable. Torn by class, money, culture and appearances, Behrani wants to do the best thing for his family and that's buying an auctioned house for $45,000 in Corona on Bisgrove St. where Kathy Nicola used to live only days before.

Kathy was a hard character to like and I did try. She a recovered drug/alcohol addict who is a cleaning lady. She's in her mid-thirties, goes braless and shoeless on a regular basis and is also a manipulator who lets fear take over her life. Her husband, Nick, left her eight months before and she has ignored notices coming from San Mateo County telling her she still owes taxes on the house (SM County thought her house was a business property and accidentally taxed her and both Kathy and Nick got their paperwork notorized saying it wasn't, but somehow SM County didn't get the message).She gets evicted by Deputy Sherriff Burdon, who immediately takes a liking to her. He helps her move and later sets her up in a motel. But what's really going on with him? He's married with two kids and thinks he loves Kathy because she's exciting and lives on the edge.

As a result of their relationship, which quickly becomes a sexual affair, Kathy starts drinking again and Lester threatens the Behranis and later places them all under house arrest. Lester spirals out of control and because of desparate circumstances, we see a tragic ending for all involved.

Dubus's writing is superb, although sometimes his narrative could have been cut back a little, especially when he described Lester's dream life and his past run-ins with Hispanic bullies. But because of Dubos's meticulous work with backstory, we know why these characters act as crazy as they do. Behrani isn't perfect, either. He hits his wife and his violence is seething under the surface. Still, he was for me the book's most sympathetic character.

I also loved the great lines Dubos gave us such as when Behani leaves Kathy's lawyer's office, "They view my face, my suit, the valise under my arm, and as I return their eyes back to them, they look away as if I have come to collect something they cannot pay." I also love Kathy's line, "I felt as connected to the ground as an old newspaper blowing in the street."

Throughout the book the house, the fog, the ocean and nature as a whole plays a large part in the narrative. I love books that make me take out my Atlas and discover a new city. "House of Sand and Fog" did that for me and it also made me wish I could conjure up images and sensory details as fluidly in my writing like Andre Dubos III.

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