Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


May 2016

Words matter.

One of my writing mentors, Sol Stein, once told me to avoid melodrama in my fiction, melodrama being characterized by exaggerated scenes or characters that are intended to appeal to the emotions.  The damsel in distress tied to the railroad tracks. The villain twirling his mustache.

I’ve been editing A Prayer for Rain, and even after great input from several readers, my manuscript is covered with red marks of my own doing.  Much of what I’m finding are sentences and phrases that make me cringe. Phrases that I thought were good when I wrote them, but now jump out at me as melodramatic. Even a simple word choice can make a sentence melodramatic.

In one scene, Trevor has an exchange with Jess, a young woman who works at a convenience store. Since his accident five years before, he has had very little physical contact with anyone, and when they shake hands for the first time, he has this reaction:

He took her hand in his and though it was only for a moment, he relished the soft touch of her skin on his.

The word in question is relish. By definition, it’s accurate enough. It simply means to take pleasure in something. But in reading it afresh, it strikes me as a little bit of an over-reaction.  I picture Trevor going “ahhhhh” and quivering like a bowl of jelly. Come on, man. Get a grip. It seems melodramatic to me now.

Here’s the current version:

He took her hand in his and though it was only for a moment, he appreciated the soft touch of her skin on his.

I’m not sure appreciated will be the final word choice, but it definitely takes away the melodrama. Trevor notices her in a unique way, but he’s not about to melt into a pile of butter.

I said to the guys at the Shelton College Review the other day that sometimes I’ll open my manuscript to a random page and read a couple of sentences and get embarrassed by the poor quality of the writing. I think what I’m seeing when I do that is the amateurish, melodramatic passages. Recognizing the problem is the first step to recovery, right?

That’s why there’s red ink all over my pages.

Words matter.








Our house is a little backwards from most houses, where living rooms face the street and kitchens face the backyard. Ours is just the opposite. We have a pleasant view from the kitchen as neighbors go by on their daily walk. Some I know, some I don’t.

Larry, a writer, walks in the early evenings. He’s an athletic guy, so his gait is purposeful and steady. He walks, eyes ahead, and you get the feeling that he’s working something out in his mind. My guess would be that he’s nurturing an idea for a story, or finding the rhythm for a verse.

But I don’t really know.

Jim walks slowly, head hung down. Like his dog died. But I don’t think he has a dog. And I know it doesn’t die every day. That’s just how he walks. When he stops to talk, he’s very pleasant and friendly, as if life for him is good.

But I don’t really know.

My father is eighty-six. He walks like he’s fifty-six. His fast pace keeps him healthy. He’s suffered loss in the family, but doesn’t talk much about it. Like most men, he’s good at compartmentalization. He’s strong and self-sufficient and seems to be getting along well. He looks forward when he walks. I think that says a lot.

But I don’t really know.

A young man walks wearing a ball cap and an extra shirt over his shoulder. He’s walking to work. I don’t know where his walk begins or where it ends, but it has to be measured in miles. He seems so responsible.

But I don’t really know.

A neighbor walks in the evenings. He does laps up and down the sidewalk, obviously exercising. He’s very quiet and makes no attempt at conversation. I wonder why he is so reserved. I could speculate.

But I don’t really know.

A woman walks in the morning, long strides, arms swinging vigorously. A power walker. Other times I see her simply walking. I imagine that she lives her life like everyone else. Maybe she works. Takes care of flowers in the yard. Television in the evening. And then I see her with a special needs child. She holds his hand as he measures his steps carefully. There’s more to her world than I thought.

But I don’t really know.

It’s hard to know people. It’s hard to know beyond the fleeting picture we get as they pass by, or take our order at the restaurant, or sit in front of us in church. It’s hard to know what people are dealing with when they don’t return our phone calls, or snap at us at work, or say inexplicable things in line at the market.

When our own thoughts are muddled, when our hearts are sick with worry, when we wish we had someone to talk to about our problems, a little understanding goes a long way. We would do well to treat others with that same understanding.

Because we don’t really know.

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

A Prayer for Rain – Logline

Logline:  The pitch you give to Spielberg when you see him at Hillbilly Hotdogs.  30-35 words, one sentence.

Logline for A Prayer for Rain:

A rising musician’s dreams of stardom are shattered in a debilitating accident, and as he rebuilds his life he discovers new ways to express himself musically, but struggles against the seductions of fame.



The Long Shadow of Hope

Founding member of the Shelton College Review, Andrew Spradling, has just published a new novel, The Long Shadow of Hope.  Here’s my review:

Football, I think it’s fair to say, is primal. Speed and strength and aggressive ferocity matter. Coaches like to talk about game plans and strategy, but nine times out of ten, the faster, stronger players win. And make no mistake, winning is everything. There may be talk of building character and lessons learned in losing, but such subtleties are just that – talk. It’s a man’s game, in every sense of the archaic phrase.

So it is with Andrew Spradling’s novel, The Long Shadow of Hope.

His prologue paints the scene. If you’ve ever watched a college football pre-game show, you’ve seen it. The fans, the cheerleaders, the tailgating – and the players who still display a naive enthusiasm for a multi-billion dollar business that masquerades as a game.

Spradling’s book is a behind-the-scenes look into that world. There’s no Rudy who sticks with the game against all odds. There’s no underdog team battling for a championship. It’s a story of how selfishness and greed can ruin lives and it’s told with the same direct, unflinching fierceness that is on full display on Saturday afternoons every fall.

In Long Shadow, story is everything. It’s pretty clear who the good guys and bad guys are. In fact, Chap Roberts is one of the more despicable characters I’ve met in a long time and he has little time for inner reflection. And the men in Long Shadow, being the primal sorts that they are, are susceptible to the lure of illicit relationships and their encounters are described with direct clarity. Things are happening, surprises are brewing, and there are more twists in the story than the road up Lookout Mountain.

Like a good football game, you don’t know who is going to win until the end. It will leave you shaking your head, and hoping that college football isn’t really that bad.

The Long Shadow of Hope.  Find it now on Amazon.

Blog at

Up ↑