Dear Experts: Stop asking questions!

How’s that for clickbait? Still needs work? Okay… I’ll do better next time.

So anyway, I’m married to a musician. He’s the principal clarinet for the Midland-Odessa Symphony, and he and his peers are all highly educated. I’m talking master and Doctoral level smarts going on. Needless to say, next to them, I know zilch about music. I know what I like, though, and it’s polite to applaud and to tell musicians when we enjoy their performances—especially if they are our friends.

All of that having been said, there was this one individual (I’m not going to name names) who would respond to my praise and congratulations with questions. Perhaps they were enthusiastic and eager to learn what’s going very well in their recitals. Perhaps they just liked to give their audience an opportunity to throw around a few musical terms, I don’t know. Because it always felt like they were aiming a spotlight into my eyes and interrogating me.

Me: Great show! Everyone sounded wonderful!

Them: Lol what show were you listening to? That performance was terrible! Which was your favorite phrase in the second movement?

Me: Uh…

Them: Which did you enjoy more? My sixth diminuendo, or my articulation? Who is your favorite composer….’s pet? Please write out, freehand, your least favorite four measures in non-sequential order, and include the notation from the original publication as well as those I played with this afternoon. You have fifteen seconds, starting NOW!

Okay, so it was never that bad. But seriously, even the question, “Which was your favorite movement,” has me staring like a deer in headlights. I know pretty much nothing about music, so even the most basic questions stump me and highlight my acute ignorance on the topic. All I know is, “It sounded pretty.”

After about a year of knowing this person (and really it was just this one person) I stopped offering my opinions altogether. I tried to say nice and supportive things, but things that were basic, non open-ended, and invited little to no response. Safe things.

Musician: Did you enjoy the show?

Me: I really did. I had a lot of fun this afternoon.

Musician: Okay! Thumbs Up

Well, then my husband tells me that those non-committal answers are what you give a musician who… did not do so well. OMYGOD seriously? I can’t win!  I mean, I guess I could go full yokel and just say, “Wayul Gawl-eee! I don’t know nuthin’ about no music words, but you folk sure made some purdy sounds with them thingamabobs!”

So these days, I smile and wave, and may time a “Great show!” to coincide with some distraction that makes follow-up questioning impossible. Maybe I’ll throw a thumb-up and enthusiastic nod. Usually, though, you can find me hiding behind my husband or huddled close to people whom I have confirmed do not ask questions.

All of this brings me back to my title. Experts, look… I know not all of you intend to put us on the spot with what should be supremely simple questions, and I’m sure some of you are genuinely interested in what your audience responds to. All I ask is that you help us out with a quick music lesson, for those times when eyes glaze over, jaws go slack, and our inner yokels are about to make an appearance.

Something like:

Audience: Great show! That was really lovely!

Musician: Thank you! Did you have a favorite movement?

Audience: Oh. Uh…. *deer in headlights*

Musician: I especially enjoy playing the adagio, which is so peaceful and calm, but he faster scherzo is also great fun! Which do you like?

Audience: Totally! I really loved the faster part where the flute and oboe were fluttering around, and the bassoon and clarinet were doing that back and forth thing, and the horn was rumbling under everything.

This way, we can offer some useful feedback for all your hard work, while learning a thing or two about music in the process.


Dear Audience! There will be a quiz!

I was just talking to my husband about a blog post I’m working on, about how it’s intimidating to approach a musician after a chamber recital to give them praise for a job very well done, because we in the audience rarely know how to answer the resulting barrage of questions from the musicians.We went back and forth a little bit, and he cautioned me not to sound accusing. Musicians really want feedback, because they love the pieces they are performing. They want to know how we, the audience, are reacting to them—what they did well, and what they need to work on.

He told me that musicians often don’t realize that they speak over our heads, and they would hate to think that they’re making us feel stupid or uneducated in any way. To a musician, the program is a road map to a journey we all just took together. To us, it’s more of a list of names, dates, and foreign words that we dare not try to pronounce.

What is that..? Scer? Sher? Scare? Suh-chuch-mo? Cher’s-toe? It’s Cher’s toe, isn’t it?

Well, my husband gave me some simple advice about how we the audience can get more out of our chamber concert experiences, and how we can give something back to the musicians. That advice is: follow along in the program, and take notes. They don’t have to be savvy or anything, just jot down, into the program, something that really caught your ear.

Of course, even following along in the program seems daunting, when you’re staring at a list of very long name, with dates and a bunch of bullet points with foreign words in italics. It only takes a little bit of practice, though, to figure out the flow of a recital, and soon you too can know when you’re listening to the Scherzo (Cher’s Toe) and the Adagio (isn’t that a type of cheese? I love adagio cheese!) Here are a couple of things I learned, and I will use last night’s program to demonstrate.


Here’s a breakdown of all that information:

A: This is the composer (you may or may not recognize the names; good luck pronouncing them)

B: These are the dates of birth and death  (included for Tuesday trivia night.)

C: The title of the piece of music (obligatory parenthetical for consistency.)

D: The movements in the piece (in this case there are three: Allegro non troppo (I’m guessing it’s an allergy medicine that does not contain coconut) Adagio (delicious, delicious cheese) and Vivo (use it to record your favorite TV programs))

E: These are the performers (presumably still alive.. or else.. vampires)

You have a lot of room on that sheet to jot down a word or two about your experience. You can write Cello So Tranquil next to the adagio movement. Or never heard before-flute blow next to the vivo movement to remind yourself to mention that the “jet whistle” part of the third movement really piqued your curiosity. But wait! How can you tell the movements apart?

Here’s a trick. If the musicians pause playing, look at one another with expressions of satisfaction and change pages on their music stands, and the audience as a whole is *not* applauding, then one movement has ended, and the next is about to begin. When the musicians put their instruments down and smile, and the entire audience applauds, then the piece has ended. So if a 4 or 5 minute piece of music ends, and nobody is clapping, or only a couple of people in the audience do, don’t fret. It’s customary to hold your applause until after the whole work is completed.  The musicians will let you know when that is.

Musicians like to hear what moves their audience, so make a note of what stirred you, and don’t worry about using fancy language. The point is to stimulate dialogue and to have answers for the questions that often come after your initial congratulations. The performers will appreciate your enthusiasm, and you will learn more about the wide world of music.

So that’s pretty much all I have to say right now. Musicians may quiz you, but not because they are trying to trick you and make you feel foolish. They genuinely appreciate our praise.

Also, all the social etiquette caveats here:

  • Respect the musicians’ personal space.
  • They have a lot of people to talk to after a performance, so let them greet other people too.
  • If you heard a mistake, trust me, they heard it too! They’re human beings, not studio recordings. They don’t need every twitch, scratch, and pop pointed out to them.
  • It’s probably best to keep your comments related to the performance you just watched.
  • Don’t bother asking to hold the instrument; it probably costs as much as your car. The answer is no.

A Piggy Breakfast, a New Story


It’s the second of January, and I’m (more or less) starting the day off with a good meal:

Two slices of toast with piggies cut out of them and an egg fried in each hole. There’s a slice of vegetarian “turkey” lunch meat, some cheddar cheese, salsa, and sour cream on top.

Sure.. it’s not “healthy” perse’, but it sure has perked me up. Oh! and the three cups of coffee haven’t hurt.

I finished up writing the opening for my first Middle-Grade novel this morning, and after I finish eating, I’ll be getting back into the story.  So, it’s been a good day so far.

I don’t know how much I should say about this project just yet, but a new friend is helping me get my work out there. He asked for 3,000 words of this new project, so I put all of my other writing aside to work on it.

There are a couple of other events and projects that I am excited about, but I will write about those in other posts.


Query and first 250…

So, I am taking part in Michelle4laughs’s July 2015 Critique Blog Hop. The first part is my Query, to be critiqued, and the second, is the first 250 words of my manuscript.  Here goes!

Title: Keeper of the Worldgate
Word count: 79,700
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy

Saundra Cole has been defined by her dress size—ridiculed and alienated by the world’s unrealistic ideals of beauty. She takes comfort in the solitude of her apartment and shares a secluded life with her cats, until the very fabric of reality fails and, in mere days, her whole world comes to an end. Keeper of the Worldgate is an 79,700-word, adult-urban-fantasy about a body shamed woman’s fight to prevent two worlds from descending into chaos when the veil separating them disappears.

In the beginning, small things—strange things—occur when Saundra’s back is turned. The views outside her windows appear subtly different each time she looks, and her apartment seems to grow when she’s not paying attention. As the days pass, other tenants abandon their homes with no explanation. Curious letters and frightening messages arrive, foretelling the end of everything normal, and those few people who do remain treat her as strangely significant to their own ambitions.

The very rules of reality break down when the rational and fantastical worlds begin to merge. Saundra discovers her mystical ability to create beauty with just a touch, and to banish her enemies with but a word. Strange and terrifying beings appear to protect and guide her, to teach her about her new role as gatekeeper between realms, but there are others who would take advantage of the inflow of magic.

A young man with supernatural control over technology makes a play for power that threatens to give physical form to all of mankind’s most deviant and horrific imaginings. If he is allowed to prevail, then he will bring about a era of living nightmares. It falls to Saundra to stop him and maintain order in the merging worlds.

As a large, gay man who grew up in small-town Texas, I understand the depression that comes from being a social punch-line. Saundra’s battle directly and symbolically mirrors the emotional struggle that we outcasts face every day. Age, body type, gender—things over which we have no control—our enemies use these as weapons, and like Saundra, we must transcend what society expects of us. Saundra, and beautiful, magical people like her, must serve as inspiration to those who’ve not yet found the courage to love themselves and let their own beauty shine.

I have a degree in visual design, and I have one published novel entitled Piggy Moto: All-Star Boar Band,which was published in June of 2011 by Argyll Productions.

[Report User]

Saundra Cole stared at the link on her screen, and her finger hovered over the mouse button. Her chest felt hollow, as if SuperiorBrain97 had reached right through her monitor and pulled her heart out. He’s just a kid, trolling me. She scolded herself. It’s just a stupid prank!

“I don’t want to get him in trouble.” Her voice barely came out at all. She sniffled and frowned, reading the comment for what felt like the hundredth time.

SUPERIORBRAIN97: Stoopid fat dress 4 stoopid fat bitch.

He had left a one-star rating, thus relegating Saundra’s item–one handmade Victorian-inspired fantasy woman’s gown, size 22—to the sixth page on the auction site. 197 other dresses claiming to be fantasy, handmade, and costume, were listed before hers. Most of them were imported–a fraction of the price, and a fraction of the size.

Nobody will even see it until it’s too late, she realized. She set her jaw, and clicked the button.

“Prank or not…” she sighed, trembling slightly. “No! I need this money. I’m sorry if this gets you in trouble… Superiorbrain… but no. That’s just abusive, and I need this money. This is how I make my living.” Saying this did nothing to make her feel better about reporting him. She reminded herself that this was the only way to get the comment and downvote removed from her auction, but that didn’t help either.