Some Songs Make Great Short Stories

I’m a writer and a music fan, so I often think of the lyrics to my favorite songs as short stories. A couple of the best elements are usually there—from isolation, desperation and validation to heartbreak, betrayal and revenge. Some songwriters create easy to follow narratives, while others make you tease the story out. Great songs can make us imagine exactly what the songwriter envisioned, but it’s more fun to create our own version of the story as we listen.

Lately I’ve been digging deeper with daily posts that re-imagine lyrics through the lens of short fiction. I can’t promise that I’ll keep up this pace, but I’m having fun for now. I call the series “Short Story in a Song.” Here are the first twenty:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Short Story in a Song — “Carmelita”

It’s a testament to Warren Zevon’s lyrical and musical genius that a song about a junkie in free fall could be so romantic. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a version sung by 70s pop idol Linda Ronstadt. But this is more than just a junkie love story, it’s also an ode to a bygone Los Angeles that still exists if you squint your eyes and go in search of giving up. Kinda puts you in the mood for Pioneer Chicken and somebody to hold you tighter while you shiver and shake through the night. For those reasons and so many more—including the line about pawning a Smith-Corona typewriter in order to go score (or was it a Smith & Wesson?)—”Carmelita” is probably one of the best short stories I’ve ever listened to.

Lucky for us, there are two versions. Which is your favorite?

Read the lyrics for “Carmelita” by Warren Zevon right HERE.

More “Short Story in a Song” posts:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

 

 

Some Songs Make Great Short Stories

I’m a writer and a music fan, so I often think of the lyrics to my favorite songs as short stories. A couple of the best elements are usually there—from isolation, desperation and validation to heartbreak, betrayal and revenge. Some songwriters create easy to follow narratives, while others make you tease the story out. Great songs can make us imagine exactly what the songwriter envisioned, but it’s more fun to create our own version of the story as we listen.

Lately I’ve been digging deeper with daily posts that re-imagine lyrics through the lens of short fiction. I can’t promise that I’ll keep up this pace, but I’m having fun for now. I call the series “Short Story in a Song.” Here are the first fifteen:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Short Story in a Song — “Los Angeles”

Sugarcult came out of the impressive Santa Barbara music scene that has given the world everything from Toad The Wet Sprocket, Ugly Kid Joe and Dishwalla to Nerf Herder, Snot and Lagwagon. Not bad for a quiet little beach town best known for its Spanish mission and million dollar real estate. And although Sugarcult was a great pop punk act in its own right—touring the world with bands like Blink-182 and Green Day—a few members also went on to create music with other bands as well. Before he produced radio hits for alternative rock bands like Neon Trees and Walk The Moon, Tim Pagnotta was Sugarcult’s lead singer and main songwriter. The line up also featured guitarist Marko DeSantis (Bad Astronaut) and bassist Airin Older (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). That’s a talented bunch of musicians.

Sugarcult has several tortured teen anthems to choose from, but when it comes to songs with a story to tell I’ve always loved “Los Angeles.” Although it shares a title with the classic X song, this mid-tempo rocker has its own take on the love/hate relationship that so many people have with the City of Angels. Our narrator is burned out on the fast-paced, hollow lifestyle and desperate to make a change. He’s caught between hating everything about this town and still chasing after his Hollywood dreams. It’s the perfect song to blast while flying down the freeway in the middle of the night, and a cautionary tale about what it takes to make it in LA.

Read the full lyrics for Sugarcult’s “Los Angeles” right HERE.

Check out my podcast chat with Marko DeSantis about rock and reading:

More “Short Story in a Song” Posts:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Writer Types—Crime Quiz LIVE!

Hey everybody! Eric Beetner and I—co-hosts of the Writer Types crime and mystery podcast—are very excited about our inaugural “Crime Quiz LIVE!” event THIS SATURDAY at the amazing Book Show LA in Los Angeles.

Everybody in attendance will have the chance to win prizes (aka “books”)! There will be beer and other liquids. Did I mention it’s FREE?

Here’s how the Crime Quiz will work:

  • 10 Fast Rounds—Each contestant is asked 1 question per round.
  • 4 Categories to choose from each round.
  • 15 seconds to answer each question.
  • 3 “Cheats” per contestant…just to keep things interesting.

Come out and watch us grill some of your favorite authors:

Christa Faust is the author of novels and comics such as CHOKE HOLD, MONEY SHOT and PEEPLAND. She has worked in the Times Square peep booths, as a professional dominatrix, and in the adult film industry both behind and in front of the camera. Author website.

Danny Gardner enjoys careers as a comedian (HBO’s Def Comedy Jam), actor, and screenwriter. His debut novel, A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, is published by Down & Out Books. His short fiction will appear in JUST TO WATCH HIM DIE, a Johnny Cash-inspired crime fiction collection, edited by Joe Clifford and published by Gutter Books, and CRIME+POLITICS: THE OBAMA INHERITANCE, edited by Gary Phillips and published by Three Rooms Press. He lives in Los Angeles by way of Chicago. Author website.

Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut, PAST CRIMES, won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics awards, and was also nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero awards.  His follow-up, HARD COLD WINTER, was published to rave reviews last year and the latest entry EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND will be released by William Morrow (US) and Faber & Faber (UK) this July.  Glen grew up aboard a sailboat in Seattle, and now lives in California. Author website.

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S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON (Rare Bird Books). His Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas include CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.

Interrogation—Joe Ide

Who: Joe Ide

What: He grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Ide earned a graduate degree and had several careers before writing his debut novel, IQ, inspired by his early experiences and his love of Sherlock Holmes. The second IQ book, RIGHTEOUS, will be released this October.

Where: Santa Monica

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Congrats on the success of your debut novel, IQ. Can you tell us about the genesis and evolution of this story?

I grew up in South Central LA. My friends were primarily black and like most kids, my main aspiration was to belong, so I co-opted their speech, style and attitudes. I was envious of them too. We all came from struggling families and wore the same sad, hand-me-downs but somehow they managed to look cool while I looked like I’d jumped off a freighter from North Korea. I also learned to love the street vernacular which always struck me as a kind of poetry. The cadence, syntax, word choices and inflections. The endlessly creative slang. I listened to it like music. Although I was never quite convincing as a black kid who happened to be Japanese, I’ll always be grateful for that version of myself. The façade gave me a way to be in the world and not be afraid.

My favorite books were the original Sherlock Holmes stories. By the time I was twelve, I’d read all fifty-six stories and four novels multiple times. Like me, Sherlock was an introvert, a misfit and not a tough guy. But unlike me he was able to defeat his enemies and control his world with only the power of his intelligence. I grew up in an area where walking home from school could be life threatening so that was a very powerful idea. When it came time to write the book, all those elements came together virtually by themselves and Sherlock in the hood was born.

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Interrogation—Jonathan Brown

Who: Jonathan Brown

What: A “Rock n Roll P.I. Writer” who is also a fitness trainer, drummer and martial arts practitioner. Originally from Vancouver, B.C., he currently lives in Los Angeles and is working on books three and four in the Lou Crasher series.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

You have written two books in the Lou Crasher series, CRESCENDO and DRUMROLL PLEASE. What was your inspiration for this character?

I’m often teased by family and friends that Lou Crasher is a Hollywood movie version of me. I categorically deny the accusation…kinda…sorta. I moved from Vancouver to L.A. in 1994 and attended music school. I went back in ’96 and toured Canada and U.S with a couple of bands. In 2000 I returned to L.A. and it’s been home to my wife and me ever since. Furthermore, I constantly kept an eye on Los Angeles headlines since I was about age 17 and always dug L.A. noir stories.

I knew I wanted to do an amateur P.I. When I asked myself what/who is he, a reluctant, wisecracking, tough guy drummer tumbling into the P.I. biz just seemed to make sense.

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Interrogation—Ryan Gattis

Gattis_HeadshotWho: Ryan Gattis

What: Ryan Gattis is a writer and educator. His most recent book, ALL INVOLVED: A NOVEL OF THE 1992 L.A. RIOTS, is grounded in 2.5 years of research & background spent with former Latino gang members, firefighters, nurses, & other L.A. citizens who lived through it. The novel has won the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Lire Award for Noir of the Year in France. Set to be translated into 11 languages, it has been called “a high-octane speedball of a read” by The New York Times & its film rights have been acquired by HBO. Gattis lives and writes in Los Angeles, where he is a member of the street art crew UGLARworks, and a founding board member of 1888, a Southern California literary arts non-profit.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

I just finish ALL INVOLVED and it was easily one of the best books I’ve read in the last year. How were you inspired to tackle the L.A. riots?

I’m so pleased to hear that. Thank you, sir. I think it’s safe to say that the more time I spent with former firefighters & former gang members, I realized that there was an awful lot about the riots that I had absolutely no idea had ever happened. The more I researched, the more there seemed to be, & a portrait of a neglected city emerged—one far more complicated & dangerous than what was portrayed on the news. To be honest, I wrote the novel to try to comprehend the depth & scope of that blind spot. Even now, I don’t know that I came close, but I sure tried my damndest.

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Interrogation—Gary Phillips

Gary photoWho: Gary Phillips

What: Author of more than a dozen novels, a couple of short story collections, graphic novels, edited or co-edited several anthologies, and has various short stories in numerous anthologies. He is the former president of the So Cal chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, this year’s chair of the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color grant awarded by Sisters in Crime, and current president of the Private Eye Writers of America.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Your most recent release is 3 THE HARD WAY, a collection of three novellas from Down & Out Books. What is it about novellas that you like as a writer? Do you also enjoy them as a reader?

Interesting that the famed (or is that fabled?) James Patterson is getting into the novella effort in a big way. Not sure this means all boats rise, but it is the case that various writers across various genres have been on the grind pumping out 3 the hard waynovellas – 20,000 to 40,000 words – for some time. This echoes the heyday of the original pulps in the ‘30s when you could buy for a dime then twenty-five cents a pulp magazine, so-called for the cheap paper it was printed on but now refers to a certain rat-a-tat style of writing, with superhero-type characters such as Doc Savage, the Golden Amazon, Captain Future, the Shadow and so on. Each would have a lead feature said to be a novel-length tale, usually 40,000-50,000 words, plus several short stories.

3 THE HARD WAY then is in that vein. Two of the stories are more pulpy, action-adventure oriented, and the third is crime fiction. As a reader to me a novella gives you just enough story to dig in for a while but the demands of the form mean less extraneous matter and more charging ahead. Though that is not to slight characterization. I like novellas too as that might mean for a series character you can put out three or four of them in a year. Or if the finances lined up, why not once a month like back in the day?   No one has done that quite yet, but I would think that’s coming.

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Interrogation—Bill Fitzhugh

Who: Bill Fitzhugh

What: Award-winning author of more books than you’d like to tote around in a sack all day.  He has worked in radio, television, and film.  He is currently at work on his next novel.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

RADIO ACTIVITY is a really fun read with interesting characters and plenty of small town darkness. Where did you get the idea for this story?

I worked in a town and at a station just like the ones in the book.  That’s where I made the (illegal) recording of a phone conversation that is the basis of the blackmail story in the book.  I didn’t KNOW it was illegal (both a state and a federal crime, as it turns out), but ignorance of the law and all that.  Fortunately the statute of limitations has run out on that.  In any event, that was in the late 70s, early 80s.  Fast forward fifteen years or so and I’m out of radio and into publishing.  After HEART SEIZURE (my 5th book), I was thinking about my next one and thought it might be fun to write a series character.  It dawned on me that I had this fabulous tape recording that I could have used to blackmail the general manager of the station where I worked if I had been the blackmailing type.  So I took the tape and came up with the blackmail scheme and wrote it.  Easiest book for me to write because I didn’t need to do any research.  I’d already worked in radio 10 years, so I had all my background.  BTW, the tape in the book is a word-for-word transcript of the actual tape (except names and places).  I still play the tape for people now and then.  It turns out that’s also a crime.

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