An Appalachian in Southern California

I write this on a plane back from San Diego to Nashville. It was my first trip to San Diego, actually, and I was really looking forward to it. I’d heard so many great things about the city. (They were correct.)

SoCalI’d also been told that people in Southern California can be a bit, well, “WooWoo.” Of course, I’m Appalachian, and we have our own set of stereotypes, so I try to experience things for myself before forming impressions.

I attended a marketing conference with Marisa Murgatroyd, who was fabulous, I should add. I should also tell you, though, that I’m an introvert, and so when I’m in a large group of strangers, my inclination is to be silent. And, as a creative, I become a keen observer, and as a girl from West Virginina in SoCal for the first time, I think we might agree that I was destined to have plenty of, “Am I on hidden camera?” moments.

Here are my Top #5 Awkward SoCal Interactions:

#5  May I Take Your Order?

Me: I’d like a glass of unsweet tea.
Her: What?
Me: Unsweet tea.
Her: Do you mean iced tea?
….oh, yeah. Sweet tea is a Southern thing.

#4  You Have Sticks, We Have Leaves

Me: So was there a fire on those mountains?
Her: What?
Me: A fire, up there. ( I point up.) It looks dead.
Her (rolling her eyes in disgust): Yeah, that’s what it always looks like.

#3  The Non-Judgmental Judgmental Conversation

Me: So what do you do?
Him: I help people channel their past lives so that they can deal with the unresolved issues which are blocking their success in this life.
Me: Really?
Him: You know, past lives. Wait, you’re from the South. Don’t tell me you don’t believe in that? That would be so small minded.

#2  On Preferred Liquids

Her: Look at you, Miss I’m-Not-Hydrating!
Me: I’m not hydrating?
Her: Everyone has green tea but you.
Me: I don’t really like green tea.
Her: Oh. (horrified) You need to go to my website. I have a whole section on the benefits of green tea.
…but I don’t like it.

…and the #1 most awkward moment I encountered in SoCal:

#1  Imagine the Scariest Place You Could Be Right Now

Him: You should join us out on the green for our morning sun salutation.
Me: Is that because we’re in a Naval Training community?
Him: (Confused.)
Me: Oh, wait. You mean yoga. I was thinking about saluting…
Him: You’re SO not from here.

I suppose we’re all different, and really we’re all the same. We drink tea (unsweet, sweet, AND green), we have leaves & sticks, we think we’re correct, and we salute…or “salute.” Regardless, we have a lot to learn from each other, don’t you think?

What is one of your most awkward travel moments?

I Believe in You (Story Behind the Song)

When my beautiful friend and talented writer, Susan Gregg Gilmore, sent me an advance copy of her new novel, “The Funeral Dress,” I already knew I was going to be writing a song for the book. As I mentioned in my last post, Susan and I had talked about what a cool thing it could be, and we had heard her publisher was on board to use it to promote the book.

Just write...

Just write…


I admit that this is a totally fun project for me as a songwriter. I’m a great supporter of novelists, and this is a neat way for me to add to (hopefully) the promotion of one. I believe in the power of music, and I definitely love that music could be used to further Susan’s work. I thought you might be interested in hearing the song, “I Believe in You,” and knowing a little about how the song came together for me. Listen to it, and then read on for some insight into my writing process.

I broke my process down into Five Basic Steps so you could follow me. (I.Need.Structure.)

1. What I Didn’t Want

First, I decided right away what I didn’t want. I figured that if I took a few things off the table at the start, then I could get a better focus. The one thing I knew right away that I didn’t want was for the song to be a slow, sad ballad. With a title like, “The Funeral Dress,” I knew I wanted to stay away from writing a funeral dirge. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) So, slow songs were out.

For the sake of melodrama, I also decided not to use a minor key. (Musicians, can I get an ‘amen?’) 

Finally, I didn’t want to write the book title, “The Funeral Dress,” as a song title. I know me, and I can’t be trusted to write that closely to another writer’s title. I inevitably would have made up my own story for the title, and then the lyric wouldn’t have served Susan’s novel.

2. What I Did Want

With #1 in mind, I took some time to think about what I DID want. Right away I wanted the lyric and music to be hopeful. I suppose it is the commercial writer in me, but I thought a lot about the reader/buyer. Again, considering the novel’s title, if I were a potential buyer, I would want to have some feeling that I wasn’t signing up for a totally gut wrenching read. (I prefer to be tricked into those.)

I wanted a musical ‘feel’ that seemed inspiring. While I hadn’t read the book yet, I wanted to go into the reading of it with some sort of ‘soundtrack’ that would lift me up. So, I played around with music till I landed on something that I made me feel positive. Okay, I guess that’s just an instinctual thing, but in the end, if I’m writing it and I like it, then it’s all good, right?

3. The Easy Part

Once I had the musical soundtrack playing in my head, I finally read the novel. (Oh yeah…THAT.)

I didn’t take notes, and I didn’t worry about finding a lyric in it. I didn’t even try to remember facts or names or anything. I just read it at my own pace and when I was finished, I took a few days to see what bubbled to the top. All along, though, I did keep the ‘soundtrack’ in mind.

4. Got Questions?

After a few days of sitting with the story, some very specific questions began to form for me. So, I spent time answering my own questions.

  • What moments kept coming back to me?
  • What characters did I want to know more about?
  • What about the observers? The people in the town who weren’t mentioned in the book, but who were watching?
  • What did I think the real story here was? Was it the same story I guessed Susan intended to write?
  • What is my personal response to that story?

5. Enough Already

Finally, I started writing. I’m not going to talk about the scenes and moments (yet) that shaped the song because it might ruin your read. However, I will tell you about the small moment in the book, the moment you may not even notice, that got the whole lyric started.

Susan describes a scene when Emmalee, a new employee, is sitting at her freshly assigned sewing machine in the factory.

“From behind Emmalee, a woman half stood over the top of her machine and introduced herself as Wilma Minton. She had full cheeks and bright pink lips and eyebrows drawn on her face. The tail of her left eyebrow was smudged, and Emmalee held her hand to her mouth, careful not to snicker.”

For whatever reason, that passing moment in the novel never left me. My mind went off into a million directions when I read that small part–wonder who Wilma Minton is at home? Do I know a ‘Wilma Minton?’ Is Wilma lonely? Is she kind? Is she a gossip?  …and before I read too many more pages in the story, I decided I was going to like Wilma till she proved me wrong. And the lines in the pre-chorus of my song, “Life can break your heart, that’s the hardest part,” are totally, 100% from my first decision about Wilma Minton.

Gang, I wrote this song based on how The Funeral Dress made me feel. The overall story and not just one character or one moment.

It’s not a song for Emmalee or Kelley Faye, nor is it a song for Leona or Wilma or Easter, or any of the characters. Rather, it’s a song for all of them.

And, I suppose if I’m being honest, it’s a song for each of us who needs our own community, however disjointed or flawed or unlikely a community it is, to hold us up, too.

The Funeral Dress is available at your local bookstore, or on I hope you’ll join me in supporting a fellow writer. Also, please share this post with your particular online universe–facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. However you communicate with the outside, let’s be the people who talk about art.


The Funeral Dress

One habit I developed a long time ago is that I write a song for nearly every book I read. I love to read, but I always used to feel guilty if I were reading and not working on a new song. (I’m so good at guilt.)FuneralDress

I remember the day I was telling my dear friend and fellow songwriter, Joel Lindsey, about it.  He said, “Belinda, it’s research. Read as much as you want because you get ideas from books.” We were at South Street Grille here in Nashville, and every time I go there I think about our conversation. I came up with the Novel Theme Song Plan out on that patio.

Fast forward many years, and many Novel Theme Songs, to summer 2013. I was invited to be on staff at the Appalachian Young Writers’ Workshop at Lincoln Memorial University, and when the director told me that Susan Gregg Gilmore would be the fiction teacher, I was stoked. I had read her first book, “Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen,” and loved it. Besides, I’m always fascinated with novelists; how on Earth does anyone concentrate on one thing for so long?

After a week of living in dorm rooms again, eating cafeteria food and surviving middle-of-the-night tornado warnings, Susan is officially one of my favorite humans.


The Cool Part

Here’s a very, very truncated version of one of our conversations:

Me: So do you have a new novel in the works? (I know writers hate this question. I asked anyway.)

Susan: Yes, it’s actually coming out in September. I’m really excited about it.

Me: Awesome. What’s it called?

Susan: The Funeral Dress.

Me: There’s song in that title.

Susan: Oh, it would be so cool if you wrote a song for the book!

Me: I’ll totally write a song for the book. (Thinking: She doesn’t know that I’m not allowed to read it if I don’t.)

And then a week later, Susan leaves me the following voice mail:
“Hey, I talked to Random House about your writing the song. They LOVE the idea! Call me.”



Gang, the Novel Theme Song has finally come into its own. And, honestly, I couldn’t be more proud of Susan and her novel. It’s so much fun for me to be able to add in even a small way to the release of, “The Funeral Dress.”

Today, I’m inviting you to check out your local bookstore (always support them first) or click here to order your copy.

And then you should write your own Novel Theme Song. You never know what could happen.

Here’s to supporting a fellow writer!


The Power of a Bad Song


I was just telling a co-writer the other day about how I’ve written some stinkers over the years. I always get a kick out of running across an old not-at-all-awesome lyric. I’ll come across a piece of paper with one of my furious scribbles, and the first thing that pops into my mind is, “What were you thinking? That’s terrible!”

Such is the case with a song I started when I was seventeen which I had to record recently.

I was a sophomore in college, and I was pledging a sorority. (I know. You don’t see it, do you? I am an Alpha Gamma Delta. It’s totally true.)

Our pledge class was told that we needed a class song. I was pledging with my high school friend, Kristin, and she and I decided to take the song I’d written for our high school graduation and change it to make it fit for the pledge class. (I found out later that they hadn’t meant we had to write a full-on song. They’d meant for us to make up lyrics to a popular song. Oops.)

The song was called, “When I Say Friend.” The hook is, “When I say friend, I’ll always think of you.” I’m not even going to go into all the parts that I wouldn’t write now (teardrop? Gheesh.) For your viewing pleasure, here is a picture the lyric I wrote all those years ago:











I got an email from an Alpha Gam a few weeks ago asking me for a recording of this song. “When I Say Friend,” has been passed down from year to year, and my chapter is still singing it. They wanted a recording because a music therapist from hospice wanted to play comforting songs to a young woman, Toni, who was dying of breast cancer.

“When I Say Friend,” was one of the songs they asked for.

Toni was younger than I and we never met. I knew her name, and I knew she had been fighting breast cancer for years. I also knew that her husband died unexpectedly last September leaving her with the two boys.

I sat down at my piano that day to record, “When I Say Friend,” and the professional writer in me kept getting embarrassed at the lyric. Then, I would think of Toni dealing with the betrayal of her body and the weight of leaving her boys, and I sang. I remembered the spirit in which I wrote that little song all those years ago.

At seventeen when this song was started for my high school graduation, I was making a promise to my friends. Truth is, it was the best promise I knew how to make at that age.

As it turns out, with all it’s imperfections and naievete, it’s still about the best promise I know how to make to my friends today. I’d write it differently, but I’d still mean it.

Toni Gusic Saylor was diagnosed with breast cancer on September 19, 2003. She died at the age of 37 on September 11, 2012. 

Songwriters, write your songs with the passion of where you are in your experience. Write what you know exactly as you know it. Write your truth. Be excellent.

Songs have a way of finding their place. Even the bad ones.

RIP, Toni.

Full Circle Moments: Thanks, Songwriting

It’s been a terrific week around here. I’ve spent a lot of time on learning new things, and then on Saturday I spent the day in Atlanta as a guest of the NSAI ( chapter. I’ve adopted them, now, so they’re stuck with me.

I spent the afternoon answering questions, introducing a cool creative exercise, and then we ended the day with a few hours of my giving on-the-spot feedback for songs the writers played me.

What no one there knew (hi, guys! ha) is that the last time I was at that church, years and years ago, I felt stupid and fat and awful and unwelcome.  I wrote about the experience here.So, when I pulled up on Saturday morning and realized where I was, the exact same place I had been so many years ago, and this day I was actually being paid to ‘do what I do really well,’ let’s just say it was one of those full-circle moments.

It’s funny how things come back around.

How to Gain Weight and Get Dates

My friend Steve Siler over at Music for the Soul mentioned vintage weight gain ads the other day. I thought for sure he meant weight ‘loss‘ and so I googled. Sure enough, weight GAIN ads exist.


Can you imagine scouring the pages of a fashion magazine and finding this? In this day and age?

I giggled when I read, “Since I gained 10 pounds this new, easy way, I have all the dates I want.”

I can think of a bunch of easy ways to gain 10 pounds. Actually, I can just ‘think’ of gaining weight and my body jumps right on board. I don’t have to ingest a thing.

I could go on to write the typical post that we would all expect here about media, gender roles and how so many times we succumb to the thin=beautiful myth.

Today, instead, I just want to give a nod to all of us who are too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too light and too dark.  To each of us who are too eccentric, too serious, too free-spirited, too conservative, too energetic and plain ol’ too tired, here’s to us. Here’s to the perfect and imperfect, the beautifuls, the freaks, the I-don’t-knows and the I’m-just-trying-to-figure-it-out’s. 

Pull up your chair, and welcome to my table.

To our adventure,


“Unwilling or Unable”: Soapbox Ahead

I stumbled across a website recently for a business mentor in New York City.  Let me first say that I’m sure this woman is doing good work. Her ideas have helped a few friends, and her credentials indicate that she is considered a trusted source by many successful people. I don’t doubt her results.

I stayed tuned in for a few weeks while I watched her launch a program–seems like that’s the time when coaches really start to give away the good information. (Tip.) Finally, the day came when I got the message that we’ve all seen before: This Program is for You If…

I was more interested, though, in the part that read, “This Program is Not for You If…”  

Honestly, I expected the normal stuff. This program won’t work for you if you’re not really willing to commit. This program won’t work for you if you’re a constant complainer. This program won’t work for you if you think I’m going to perform a miracle for you. Blah, blah, blah.

What I didn’t expect though, was this:

This program is not for you if you are unwilling or unable to participate in physical activity.

(Jesus, take the wheel.)

Okay, I can give you “unwilling.”
I’m having a hard time with “unable.”

I admit a bias here. I totally admit that I took this in a way it may or may not have been intended. I fully own that I’m touchy about what I read as “I don’t want to work with you if you have a physical issue.”

Because I do.
My left foot is paralyzed since birth and fused in walking position. Some people notice and some people don’t, but it doesn’t change my “unable” ranking in this woman’s program. There are just some things I’m not put here to do.

My inability to run a marathon, however, does NOT make me incapable of implementing a successful business. It also does NOT keep me from being an awesome client (not that she’ll ever find out).

And you know what? This applies to you, too.  Whatever your ‘thing’ is, you have an important message, and you can contribute very successfully.  In fact, I hope you will. I believe we’re all put here with a specific set of circumstances for our own unique purpose. 


I stayed way up on my soapbox about this woman’s policy for weeks.  The truth is, I can argue both sides of the coin.

On one side, shouldn’t we be allowed to work with whomever we want however we want? If I don’t want to look out at a crowd of people who don’t exercise or are unable to, then that’s my choice. It’s my life and my work.  I can set my business up however I want. “Ideal clients,” right?

On the other side, how arrogant and offensive to claim a position of leadership in this day and age while refusing to look at a complete picture of humanity. On that very fact alone, I have to question to your entire foundation. I absolutely do ask exactly who you think you are.

See? Two sides of the same coin.

The Takeaway

After thinking about this way too much, I’ve determined that for me, the takeaway here is that whether we write it on the internet in our policy or not, maybe we all have times when we choose to only see what we want to see.

How many times have we formed impressions about someone based on one small thing only to find out they were totally different than we thought? How many times have we chosen not to extend the benefit of a doubt? And with that, how many times have we not wanted to see ourselves for who we are?


I’m certain that change happens inside us, and I believe conversation facilitates understanding.

I invite you to the conversation.

I challenge you to give someone the benefit of your doubt this week, even if it is yourself.

Don’t take the easy way out.

Dare to find someone’s unlikely story. 

Demand more of yourself.
Do let me know how it goes.
To Your Adventure,


P.S. I was already in the planning stages of my very first L.E.A.P. Into Your Life program before this came up. L.E.A.P. is for all of us wanting to make sure we’re living our purpose. I’ll be telling you more about it in the coming weeks. For now, let me just say that people of ALL abilities will be welcome.

P.P.S.  Okay, fine…I’m still a little on the soapbox. It’s a process, gang. It’s a process. ;-)