Q (Katrina Gray): Hello, Harris Tobias. I know you’re new to Fictionaut, so please tell us all-things-Harris-Tobias. Don’t be shy or modest. There’s no room for that here.

Hi Katrina, I always wanted to be a writer but it was a dream deferred while I raised a family and earned a living. Three years ago, I retired, my children are having children of their own and life has settled down to where I can give myself the time to write. I have written a couple of novels and a slew of short stories. I am slowly learning my craft and finding my voice as a writer.

I write in several genres: science fiction, detective fiction, children’s lit, poetry and song lyrics. I enjoy the diversification and have had some success in each field of endeavor. As a story teller, naturally I hope to have my stories and poems read by others, so I submit pieces all over the internet. The internet is filled with venues for writers. My stories have appeared over 100 times in 30 or so different publications.

Q: You started the Lyrics In Search of Tunes group. How did this idea come about? Are you a Bernie Taupin in search of your Elton John?

Yes. I would love to find someone who heard the music in my words and could belt them out like Elton John. I love writing songs. I don’t play an instrument but I can hear the orchestra or choir in my head. Of course the few times I’ve actually heard a song of mine sung, it was nothing like I expected. That’s the great part about collaborating with another artist, it’s never what you expect.

I look for collaborators in a lot of what I do. I’m currently collaborating with a half a dozen illustrators on some of my children’s stories.

Q: You introduce the group with this nugget: “Song lyrics are the stepchild of poetry.” But is this true? Because I’m betting Dan Fogelberg could give Longfellow a run for his money. The Dan Man rhymed “I can’t blame you” with “Pennsylvania.” Now *that’s* something you couldn’t get away with in poetry.

It’s true that lyrics can be poetic and poems can be sung, but , in general, I find that when I label something a poem it is different than when it think of it as a song. A poem is generally weightier, deeper and more serious than what I consider a song. That’s not to say that songs can’t be deep and serious, it’s just not how I think of them.

For me, songs are freer and lighter fare than poems. Songs have a consistent rhythm and rhyme, a chorus and verse structure that poems don’t require. At least that’s how it is in my mind.

Q: We’re all curious now. We have to know your favorite lyricists, lyrics, songs, singers. Who sets the bar for you?

I like Dylan, old blues, folk, gospel and ballads. I have tried writing songs in all of those styles. A couple of years ago, I was writing a detective novel, The Greer Agency, and got the idea of adapting some of it to the stage as a play. I then added songs for the characters and before I knew it, Gumshoe, a musical, was born. I found a talented composer who has been writing the score for it for the last year. We plan to enter it in some play competitions in the near future.

Q: Do you ever hear a melody, or accidentally write to a melody that’s already in your head? Do you play an instrument?

I do not play an instrument. I wish I could. If I could play I’d like to play piano or guitar but then I’d wish I could sing and perform as well. I also wish I could illustrate my children’s stories. You can’t be good at everything. I’m happy I can write fairly well. There are plenty of illustrators and musicians who wish they could write, that’s why I started the song writer group to put us together. It’s early in the process but so far I can’t say the group has attracted much interest.

Q: Yes or no: was Neil Diamond telling the truth when he sang, “Being lost / Is worth the coming home”?

That’s a very good line, I’d have loved to have written it.

Katrina Gray checks in with Fictionaut groups every Friday. She lives in Nashville with the writer John Minichillo and their lovechild. She is the editor-in-chief of Atticus Review, and she blogs about mostly non-literary things at www.katrinagray.com.

  1. James Lloyd Davis

    Always more a fan of lyrics than poetry, Paul Simon, Harry Chapin, Springsteen, Dylan, yes, and so many others are to me as Eliot, Pound, Coleridge are to others. Can’t help but imagine that the magic of mixed media – words, music – makes all the difference over poetry alone, but it all starts with the words, doesn’t it? Harris, Katrina, thanks for the insight.

  2. Daniel D'Arezzo

    I too have been writing songs lately, after having written poems all my life. Is there a significant difference between poetry and song lyrics? Very little, I think. Songwriters since Lennon and McCartney, at least, have been expanding the range of lyrics that audiences can respond to. Still, some of the most affecting lyrics and poems are written in simple, direct language.

    A year ago I took four lessons on guitar and learned three chords (G, C and D) and two strums. Since then I have picked up a few more chords and, although I don’t use much of the neck of the guitar, I have a sense of what a seventh chord or a minor chord does to a standard chord progression. My fingers have stumbled on interesting sounds–variations like a “sus2” or a “CMaj7”–and while I never expect to be much of a guitarist, knowing a little about the instrument has helped me understand the structure of simple songs. If you search the Internet for the guitar chords and lyrics of some of your favorite songs, you may be surprised by how simple they are.

    The most daunting aspect of songwriting for me (and, I think, for others as well) is melody. It is so daunting, in fact, that some musical genres, such as rap, seem to have dispensed with it altogether. Some Afro-Caribbean genres achieve tremendous effects mainly through rhythm. But I aspire to write lyrics accompanied by an original melody that raises their emotional impact. Tall order, I can tell you, but for me, worth the effort.

  3. Marcus Speh

    Came to this too late—I like the spirit very much & I’m looking forward to checking out your stories, Harris!

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