A Wee Valentine’s Story

It began, as such things do, with a conversation on Twitter. The lovely and talented Janice Whaley was passing the time as she waited (and waited… and waited…) for her turn to audition for The Voice. That she was there at all was due to the Evil Influence of one James Roday, AKA the irrepressible Shawn Spencer from USA Network’s psych . Many who are fans of the show or of Janice or James or all of the above also know that James is a Damned Fine Singer. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the cover of Tears For Fears’ “Ideas as Opiates” that James and Janice recorded as a duet for Curt Smith’s birthday gift last year.

Anyhow, I digress, but not really, since this is all Very Important Information leading up to my part in the madness.

So Janice was passing time tweeting and she happened to mention what a fabulous cheerleader James had been throughout the whole process, from encouraging her to sign up for an audition to helping her figure out what to sing. Which, of course, led to envisioning James in cheerleading drag. Which begat envisioning his costar Dulé Hill in cheerleading drag. Which begat envisioning their costar Tim Omundson in cheerleading drag. (I know, I know, but look, my only defense is that we were trying to distract Janice and keep her somewhat mellow prior to the audition.)

At any rate, the madness culminated with Janice proclaiming this was all starting to edge toward fanfic territory. To which I responded if she made it through her audition, I’d write her a wee little psych-fic with Shawn, Gus, and Lassie as cheerleaders. Because c’mon, just having the guts to do what she did deserves some sort of reward, right?

Maybe chocolates would’ve been better.

But because writing is what I do and Janice did make it through her audition, I wrote this wee little tale—after I sent it to her, she asked if I would be willing to share with you lovelies online as a Valentine’s Day gift and because I adore Janice and I adore all of you, I said sure (and promptly downed a handful of Tums).

Now, because I am a professional writer and I’m sensitive to these sorts of things, the standard

 Disclaimer: Psych and its characters belong to Steve Franks & Co., NBC/Universal, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t me. This work of fiction has been produced solely for entertainment purposes, no infringement intended.

And if the Intellectual Property/Copyright Police come after me, I will take this down, no questions asked.

So without further ado, I give you…

Shawn & the Valentine’s Pyramid o’Doom

Barbara Caridad Ferrer 

For Janice Whaley whose talent, guts, and good humor are a constant inspiration


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Bad enough the characters taunt…

They taunt me right after I turn off the light to go to bed, prompting me to open the laptop in the dark, lean (in no way ergonomically recommended) on an elbow, and tap furiously, concluding with me grumbling at the screen, “There. Are you happy? Will you let me get some sleep now?”

Which was greeted with peals of helpless laughter behind me.

Yeah, the Hub was mocking me for scolding my characters at 12:30 AM.

Such is the life of the working writer.

IOLesscrazymakingN: The mail yesterday was very kind and brought me my pre-ordered copy of Josh Groban’s Illuminations, his first new studio album in nearly three years. Not surprisingly, I like it. More surprisingly, I love it. Like, right off the bat. Historically, with Josh, I’ve loved one or two songs on an album, and then the rest of it has to grow on me. That was definitely the case with his last (non-holiday) studio album, Awake. I like it a good deal now, but boy, did that one have to grow on me. And with the first two albums, I never listen to them all the way through any longer. Rather, I have playlists made up of a few select favorite tracks and that’s what I stick to. Frankly, the early stuff is kind of hard to listen to because while his voice is everything that originally drew me to him as an artist (and more, with ten years of maturity), the songs themselves feel somewhat tired and… not quite him. I think it’s because I have been following his career since the beginning and I’ve been able to track his growth as an artist that this is the case. He’s growing as an independent artist, with writing his own work, and it’s really pretty far from the David Foster produced “popera” of the early days. And that’s as it should be. He’s nearly ten years older than he was when he released his first album. I doubt I’d still be a fan if he was putting out the same album each time. It’s no secret that I really admire how he continues to push boundaries and stretch himself. I think the smartest thing he did for Illuminations was to step even further away from the David Foster machine and opt to work with Rick Rubin (who is like a production god– seriously).

What I’m hearing in a full listen-through of Illuminations is how Rubin encouraged Josh to step even further beyond his comfort zone yet miraculously encouraged him to employ his strengths to full effect. To wit, they kept the orchestrations, albeit in a stripped-down fashion and used his big, beautiful voice, yet in a restrained, delicate sort of way. I know, I know… sounds like complete contradictions, but somehow, Rubin managed to accomplish this.

And they weren’t afraid of lovely. They didn’t shy away from pretty melodies and orchestrations. Yet were able to venture into some really dark, poignant places within the works. (Both melodically and lyrically.) Totally the sorts of juxtapositions I dig as a storyteller. (Plus: A Nick Cave cover—go Rick, encouraging him to give that a go!)

Yeah, I’m probably gushing and that brings with it a whole new brand of mocking because it puts me firmly in that “woman of a certain age” or something (although I certainly wasn’t ten years ago, so go figure…) but because I’m kind of slow on the uptake sometimes (especially after a string of days of being awake at 5AM), I’ve come to the realization that one of the reasons I identify so powerfully with Josh and his music and overall career is that I sort of see myself reflected in it (without the enormous success and worldwide acclaim and Oprah-love, natch). I began working towards publication nearly ten years ago and his music was some of my earliest accompaniment during the late, late nights of practicing my craft. (Not to mention, it was listening to him sing “Broken Vow” that started me on the five-year journey that became Breathe, the book of my heart– story for another time.) And as he’s stretched and grown and pushed boundaries, I’ve found myself doing the same with my own writing. I’m certainly not the same writer I was ten years ago or even five years ago or even last year. So every time he says he’s itching to push boundaries and break past people’s expectations, I’m generally the first one cheering. It also means I’m going to be just as hypercritical of his work as I am of my own. Poor guy.

So yeah, there are songs on Illuminations that I’m not nuts about, but overall, I like it. A lot. I like where he’s going as an artist. I can only hope to be as brave with my work.

Your Friday Video O’Fun

Flash opera mob!

How perfect is this: Public market, Italian festival, and Verdi.

Thirty members of the Opera Company of Philadelphia breaking into the “Brindisi” from La Traviata. Best part is all the expressions of delight once people realized what was going on (well, except for the one dude on his cell who looked annoyed, plugged a finger into his ear, and kept talking. No soul whatsoever.)

Music Time! A new playlist!

This might be a record, actually. I created a playlist for one chapter.

Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much, lemme sum up.

Basically, my 60s-set women’s fiction, Between Here & Gone that has been trying to, you know, kill me for nearly three years?

I’m almost done.

I have one chapter left to go.

So why a new playlist now?

Well, because story-wise, I’m jumping ahead more than four years, from spring of 1965 to summer of 1969. And none of my current playlists had the correct feel to them. They had the bouncy, peppy hopefulness of the early and mid-sixites. There wasn’t any real evidence of the turmoil and change that would transform the country in less than five years. Not to mention the sheer scope of music that came out from 1965 to 1969. Holy mama!

And that’s just what I needed this playlist to convey—all the change and the new freedoms. It’s no mistake, really, that this story is going to resume during the same weekend that the lunar landing occurred. Landing on the moon was the culmination of essentially a decade-long journey (from the inception of the Mercury program); for my protagonist, her journey also begins a decade earlier with her family’s escape from Cuba in the wake of Castro’s takeover.

Why yes, I’m big with the metaphors.

And it’s not as if it was difficult for me to piece this playlist together. It was actually harder figuring out the order and constructing good segues and flow, because of the sheer stylistic range of the charts. I have so much from that particular era and like all my playlists, it may continue to evolve. Although maybe not, because I AM going to finish this bad boy this weekend. As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again— erm, sorry. Went off into a Scarlett place there.

Anyhow, here be a playlist—probably the last one for Between Here & Gone. Let’s hope it brings me luck and I finish this story off in a good, strong manner and that the whole of it doesn’t suck.

The Kids Are Alright- The Who
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes- Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
Reflections- Diana Ross & The Supremes
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)- The Fifth Dimension
Time of the Season- The Zombies
Get Together- The Youngbloods
Love Me Two Times- The Doors
Somebody to Love- Jefferson Airplane
I Can See For Miles- The Who
Feeling Alright- Joe Cocker
Piece of My Heart- Big Brother & the Holding Company
Valleri- The Monkees
More Today Than Yesterday- Spiral Staircase
Young Girl- Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
Beginnings- Chicago
The Story in Your Eyes- The Moody Blues*
All Along the Watch Tower- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
For What it’s Worth- Buffalo Springfield
God Bless the Child- Blood, Sweat & Tears
Easy to Be Hard- Three Dog Night
I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)- The Commitments*
Love is Blue (Instrumental)- Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Both Sides Now- Judy Collins
Everybody’s Talkin’ (From ‘Midnight Cowboy’)- Harry Nilsson
Baby, I Need Your Lovin’- Johnny Rivers
The Tracks of My Tears- Adam Lambert*
Scarborough Fair/Canticle- Simon & Garfunkle

*I cheated in a couple of places. The Moodies didn’t release “The Story in Your Eyes” until 1971, but stylistically, it fit exactly the tone I was looking for. While I adore Aretha, I have a real soft spot for The Commitments soundtrack version of “I Never Loved a Man,” and as far as “The Tracks of My Tears,” again, I just have a real soft spot for how Adam Lambert recorded it. Very true to the original, stylistically, but with perhaps a hair more substance, which I wanted.

Which is probably more than you wanted or needed to know, so I’ll just shut up now and get back to writing.

Wish me luck!

New TV Season! WOOT!

Yeah, I’m a pop culture junkie and loves me some TV (and oy, are Monday nights going to be difficult!) But new TV is BACK. And I will freely admit to having watched with absolute relish (and a full squeezy can of Cheez-Whiz) the 2010 reboot of Hawaii Five-O. Dude, I’m a fan of police procedurals from way back and one of my favorites was the original Five-O. (Still wanna visit Hawaii something fierce.) So after watching Castle in real time last night, I eagerly switched to my Tivo’d recordings and boy, the minute that theme song got started, I was bopping and bouncing so much, my husband said I was making him seasick. To which I responded “Yo, it’s the best theme song EVAR!”

Would you believe he disagreed?

Shock! Perfidy!

I seriously wondered who this man was.

And when I asked him what his suggestion was, he didn’t have a definitive choice, although he did submit The Jetsons as a possibility. He’s not completely wrong there—Jetsons are a pretty iconic theme, but best EVAR? Hmm…

So I took it to Twitter.

What I found most fascinating was that it took quite a while before we had any repeats. Everyone, it seems, has their idea of what the best television theme song ever is. Also, tellingly, most are from the 60s and 70s. A few choices from the 80s and 90s, but nothing exceedingly current. I know a lot of shows have forsaken theme songs altogether, but are there really that few good themes out there?

So in the interest of trying to figure this out, I have created a poll with a lot of suggestions given forth via Twitter. And I’ve also kindly left room for write in suggestions because I’m good like that.

So have at it. Give me your Best TV Theme EVAR.

ETA: Fixed it!

And tonight: GLEE!

My ever-evolving dorkiness

You know, I was working up a good head of steam for a righteous post about the whole gender-bias in publishing thing that Will Not Die (nor should it, really) but found I just couldn’t summon the energy, so perhaps it’s best saved for another day. (Just so you know, it had to do with whether writers with advanced degrees in writing are taken more seriously than those of us who slog along, blissfully oblivious.)

Instead, I’m going to natter about a new discovery. While I was piddling about the ‘net yesterday, I came across a stunningly beautiful version of “Gravity” by the UCLA Awaken a cappella group with then-member Sara Bareilles singing lead on her composition. How cool is that, really? Well, it’s cool to me. I love a cappella groups (remember—unabashed GLEE groupie and show choir geek). I’ve always had a huge soft spot for groups like The Manhattan Transfer and The Nylons—groups who can create an almost orchestral sound using nothing but their voices as instruments.

But I digress. “Gravity” was probably my favorite song off Sara’s “Little Voice” CD and was an integral part of the soundtrack I used in writing STARS and this version is just sublime. Ethereal, with the vocals swelling and receding like ocean waves. Here, take a listen. UCLA Awaken A Cappella \"Gravity\"

And in the process of poking around, discovering that there are actual CDs comprised of collegiate a cappella groups, I also discovered that the University of Buffalo’s all-male a cappella group (The Buffalo Chips- how awesome is that?) recorded Coldplays Viva la Vida. I now have some idea of what it would sound like, were GLEE to take it on. (Yes, I also found a recording of University of North Carolina performing “Don’t Stop Believing” from 2008 that had some similarities, so I suspect I’m not the only one listening to these recordings, capisce?)

Hey, at least I own my dorkitude. I live it, baby.

I’ma go off to sing some more, kthnxbai.

The music that inspired Stars

No, not that music. Although, yes, I did listen to the orchestral score for Carmen quite a bit as well, but what I’m talking about is the custom-created playlists without which I cannot start any project. By the time I come to the end of a project, I can have as many as three or four playlists wandering around, but I always start with one and it’s my old faithful, as it were. That doesn’t mean it’s a static thing. Nope, my playlists are ever-evolving as I come across new music or old favorites that all of a sudden seem like they’re absolutely perfect for a scene or emotion I’m trying to evoke.

So, with that in mind, here’s the primary playlist for Stars.

Heat Wave- Joan Osborne
She’s a Beauty- The Tubes
Amor Gitano- Alejandro Fernández & Beyoncé
It’s Amazing- Jem
Breathe In Breathe Out- Matt Kearney
You Give Me Something- James Morrison
Extraordinary Girl- Green Day
Believe- Lenny Kravitz
Eres- Alejandro Fernández
Come me mira- Fonseca
El Tango de Roxanne- Moulin Rouge Soundtrack (NOTE: This was probably the single most important song on the soundtrack. Everything stemmed from this one piece of music.)
Hazy Shade of Winter- The Bangles
Please Don’t Leave Me- Pink
Hide and Seek- Imogen Heap
Love is a Losing Game- Amy Winehouse
Cinderella Beautiful- Peter Cincotti
Time is a Healer- Eva Cassidy
Quiéreme- Alejandro Fernández
Gravity- Sara Bareilles
Wishing on Another Lucky Star- J.D. Souther
I’ll Be Waiting- Lenny Kravitz
Paso a Paso (Alternate Version)- Luis Fonsi
By the Boab Tree- Ophelia of the Spirits
Sueños- Nelly Furtado & Alejandro Fernández
When the Stars Go Blue- The Corrs feat. Bono
My Heart Was Home Again- Josh Groban

So there you have it. Eclectic, kind of all over the place, because that’s just sort of how I roll. Any questions on any of the songs and why I chose them, fire away. And as always, if you have any suggestions for me, feel free to shout out—I’m always on the lookout for new music.