Bob Gillen on Storytelling

Tag: storyteller (Page 2 of 2)

Creating Story: Live From Daryl’s House

A black SUV pulls up to a farm-style complex in upstate New York. Out steps a man in a long black coat, signature long red beard, a red do rag under a worn, comfortable felt hat, and sunglasses. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons walks forward to shake hands with his host, Daryl Hall. After a few words of conversation, the two are jamming inside Hall’s expansive music room.

Picture of Billy Gibbons and Daryl Hall

Billy Gibbons and Daryl Hall
credit Daryl Hall site

So begins episode 63 of the online Live From Daryl’s House.

And yes, this is Daryl Hall from the 1980s Hall and Oates duo. Hall has become an online storyteller. His episodes deliver a consistent, tight story format: a half-hour mix of live jams, conversation, cooking and dining.

The jam room, large by any standard, is packed with musicians, gear, and camera guys. The barn-like room features mementos, a Little Milton poster on the wall, an imposing chandelier, and rugs underfoot. Microphones everywhere. The camera work and editing are exciting, dynamic, well-executed.

The focus is the music. Jamming at its best. This episode with Billy Gibbons includes ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and Hall and Oates’s “Bank on Your Love”.  The audio on each episode is clear, clean. Despite the crowd of musicians and gear, none of the instruments bleed together. No instruments eat up vocals. And Gibbons says of the efficient set-up Hall provides, “Hit it and quit it.”

Gibbons talks of working one night with B.B. King. After asking if Gibbons would mind switching guitars for part of the performance, King noted that the strings on Gibbons’s guitar were heavy gauge. “These strings are kind of heavy,” he said. Gibbons replied that he used them to get the deep, rich blues sound. “Why are you working so hard?” King came back. Gibbons has used lighter strings since.

Daryl Hall

Daryl Hall: credit Daryl Hall site

Between songs, Gibbons whips up a huge bowl of his Renegade Guacamole, with help from caterer Mexican Radio. The episode ends with more conversation and a communal meal around Hall’s long table.

Hall has been doing this for over five years. The sixty-three episodes include Rob Thomas, Sharon Jones, KT Tunstall, Shelby Lynne, CeeLo Green, and Allen Stone. Every episode is a new, fresh story.


What Moves You To Create?

I discovered an awesomely inspiring web magazine published by Ron Dawson, who runs a boutique agency called Dare Dreamer Media (DDM).  The agency specializes in the “conception, production, and distribution of promotional, cause-driven and inspirational films as well as original branded content.” Their mission: ” We use our God-given gifts as storytellers to inspire, encourage, and move our clients’ audiences to improve their lives and better the community.”

In 2009 DDM created a film series for one of its clients titled Dream. Create. Inspire.

Here’s one of the short film pieces DDM created, with artists talking about their own dreams and creativity. There are more on the DDM site.

What moves you to create?

Storyteller Jenny Milchman

In Jenny Milchman’s debut mystery novel, Cover of Snow, she uses a first person point of view, with several chapters interspersed of third person point of view to establish further perspective. It’s a relatively rare storyteller technique. I asked her how that came to be as she developed her story.

“The first thing I should probably share is that the words developed your story give me a wistful sort of laugh. Let’s just say that what feels most accurate is the story develops me.”

A Tenacious Author

author Jenny Milchman

Author Jenny Milchman

“Cover of Snow hit twenty-two drafts before it was published. I was not just a seat-of-the-pants writer, I was writing without any pants at all. The good news about that approach is there’s apparently a fair amount of suspense and surprise in my book, and no wonder. I was surprised every day I sat down to write. The bad part is…well, twenty-two drafts.

“The third-person vignettes arrived around draft fifteen. Till then, the story had been the very intense experience of a woman (Nora) waking up to find that her police detective husband had done a very bad thing. Nora’s first person perspective was all there was.

“When I finally began to write the third-person sections, I fairly dropped them in. It was as if the novel had been waiting for these different voices and angles, as if they’d been there all along.”

Creating Characters

I asked Milchman how she builds strong characters. What advice can she offer other writers on creating characters in their stories?

“Here’s where I get really annoying,” Milchman says, “and refer back to the whole developing me thing. Because again, it feels as if I come up with a story and then characters come along to people it. But perhaps there is a line of advice in there, and I’ll play with it a little in case this approach might resonate with other writers.

“The way I start writing is with a premise. A situation. In Cover of Snow, that situation was: What would make a good man do the worst possible thing he could to his wife? I had to figure out first what the worst possible thing would be—but then I had to decide who would do such a thing. And that’s character.

The way I start writing is with a premise.

“In my next novel, Ruin Falls, the premise was: What if you woke up on a family vacation and your kids were gone? The children are safe, but they’ve been taken by someone the mother completely trusted. So who would that trusted person be? What life circumstances would’ve put the mother in such a vulnerable position?

“Characters follow from situation.”

A Sense of Place

A powerful sense of place permeates her book – the cold, snowy whiteness of the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York State. It certainly adds to the isolation the main character feels. I wanted to know how important that is to her storytelling.

“My feeling about setting,” she says, “is that it should be a character as much as any person. By the time you finish a novel, you should know where it took place just as you know who was in it. And weather can be a subset of setting.

My feeling about setting is that it should be a character as much as any person.

“I’ve had letters from readers that refer to the ice cracking in Wedeskyull (the town in the story) much as Nora’s denial and grief had to be penetrated. I think the setting can work metaphorically. But mostly I wanted to build a place that—even though terrible things happened there—the reader would want to return to.

“Wedeskyull is the setting for my next novel. You see the town through the prism of a very different story with all new characters. Well, except for one small character from Cover of Snow who shows up in Ruin Falls to play a bigger role. But I haven’t told anyone who it is!”

Giving Back Through Teaching

photo of Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman

Milchman teaches at the New York Writers Workshop. Besides covering the art of writing, she discusses the publishing business.

“I tend to weave information about publishing, the industry and the business, into my teaching,” says Milchman. “So one of the first things I consider necessary to any well-done story—mystery or otherwise—is to have written other novels first. This isn’t the case one hundred percent of the time, but I know very few authors whose first novel was the one that sold. In my case, Cover of Snow is my eighth.

They want career authors who can write a novel every year or few.

“I think it’s important for writers to know this so they don’t feel as if they’re failing if they have to keep writing new books. Each one will get better. Far from failing, this is the test of the true writer. After all, a publisher isn’t going to be interested only in your debut. They want career authors who can write a novel every year or few. I felt like those eleven years when I was trying to get published and just kept writing books were practice for the career I so desperately wanted to have.

“In terms of craft, balancing all the elements—plot, character, setting, dialog, description—is key for me personally to enjoy a book. I don’t think whether a book falls into one genre or not is reason to prioritize any one element of craft. Make them all shine, and you’ll write a book that transcends, one that really has a chance to fly.

“And how do you do that? Well, that might be a topic for another blog post. But in the meantime, thank you for reading, and happy, happy writing.”

Jenny Milchman’s Bio


book cover for Cover of Snow

Cover of Snow

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, was published in January, 2013. Her next novel, Ruin Falls, comes out in April, 2014, and her short fiction appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Adirondack Mysteries. Jenny chairs the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program, and is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. Jenny used to live with her family on the road on the world’s longest book tour, but she has recently settled in upstate New York. For now.


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