Friday, December 22, 2006

LS: My Father Led the Way

In my latest WIP I’m writing about a would-be jazz musician. I come by this jazz thing honestly, in a round about way. My husband Will and daughter Ty are jazz people. I am not. Get any crazier than Vince Guaraldi and I begin to melt, slipping out of the room without even thinking about why I’m retreating. Still, if I were a proficient musician, I’d want to be a jazz artist.

I’ve been researching a tad on the lives of various jazz musicians and have come to realize how many of them showed prowess during childhood. Herbie Hancock began studying the piano at seven. By the age of eleven he was playing concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Count Basie’s mother oversaw his musical education, and in the 1920’s he left his home in New Jersey to take on the musical scene in Harlem—and now, who hasn’t heard of Count Basie?

Oscar Peterson, showing great promise as a jazz pianist, asked his father if he could quit school to be a musician. His father said yes, but only if he was going to be the best. There was no other justification for quitting school.

If I could write a book like Oscar Peterson plays the piano, man, I’d be somethin’!

As writers, people of passion who have plonked themselves, or have found themselves plonked, into a world of expression and beauty, of creativity and the desire to usher people into worlds before unknown, who was it who encouraged us? Who told us we were creative people, and told us with such earnestness and assuredness that we believed it ourselves?

For me it was primarily my father. Bill Ebauer taught himself to play the piano by sitting at the old player piano growing up. Listening and watching the keys he ended up playing the songs beautifully, sometimes leading the neighbors in sing-a-longs. He didn’t take lessons, but ended up earning pocket money for college playing boogie-woogie in a bar. Bill Ebauer taught himself to paint as well, and I grew up watching him set up his pallet each evening down in the family room while us kids watched TV. I loved to stand there by his chair and watch him dab his brushes into the pigment and sometimes slide, sometimes scratch them onto the canvas.

Unfortunately when I was about eight, he switched to stamp collecting. But he sunk himself deep into that—and my sister and I’d go with him to stamp collectors clubs after mass on Saturday nights. I’ll never forget the ancient man with the thick round glasses and the cigar.

His voice rumbled like a far away train. Thankfully my father took up painting after retirement, and while his works, with all those years in-between, lost some of the precision they’d once had, I liked them more because somewhere in the meantime, he figured out that artistically, he could express himself as only he could. By my father’s example I learned that drawing and playing the piano weren’t a waste of time and that art was, to him, the highest form of calling.

I’ll never forget standing with Pops in front of Dali’s The Last Supper at The National Gallery in Washington, DC. “That guy could really handle paint,” he said. And even though I was a college student, I stood beside him, feeling so connected, drawn like a bow, because like him, I loved to draw, I loved to play the piano and I loved to create. The writing came later—I’d written my first novel but had yet to hear a yea or nay from the publishers when my father died suddenly. He was a fiery person, a man of great expression masquerading as an eye doctor. But in those sublime moments when all was good, we connected deeply on a level of beauty and creativity.

And it is to him I owe a lifetime of such pursuits. The difference is, I’ve been blessed to do this for a living. I hope he can see me somehow and know what he did for me and realize that I am thankful.

Who was your great encourager?

Who showed you the way?And these days, who is reaping the benefits of your artistry? Not readers, but people? A son or daughter? A niece of nephew? A neighbor kid? Who will you take by the hand and show the wonders of the world? Who will you believe in so convincingly that they will believe in themselves?

Pax Christi,

lisa samson has written 18 novels. The latest, Straight Up, is available on bookstore shelves now.,,


At 10:37 AM, Blogger Gina Holmes said...

Great post! There were several people I met at the ACFW conference that oozed talent and some in my writer's group that I know have "it". I try to tell people when I see that in them. Deb Raney and Alton Gansky did that for me a few years back and it made all the difference. I want to make that difference too. Thanks for the reminder.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Dan Edelen said...


The great jazz drummer Tony Williams was playing in pro bands at age 15. He joined Miles Davis's band at the height of Miles's fame when he was only 17. Sadly, as early as he started, he passed away (at 51) after complications following routine surgery.

Drum prodigy Tony Royster, Jr. (what is it with the name Tony?) started playing at 3 and was already backing up bands at age 10. He made his first appearance on Letterman at 8, I believe.

Oh, to play that well.

I only came into my writing ability after 33, with the last three years being a huge jump in skills. At 44, I wonder what it is that makes so many people start their writing careers post-40.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Donna-Jean said...

My parents, definitely my parents. Still. My preacher Dad still creates new messages every week, even after 50 years in ministry. No repeats - ever. He says it has to touch him first, brand new. And a couple of years ago, when our church needed a choir director, he said God answered his pleading with a question - "How about you?" So in his seventies, he's creating beautiful music, trying new things, and writing and presenting great messages every week.

My Mom still sings in the choir, still paints sometimes, still creates beauty in their home (despite her chronic illness, she makes that parsonage an oasis for the eyes). And she appreciates everything I write. If I only touch her and my Dad, I'll have accomplished something important.

Creativity - connected with generosity - is contagious, I think. My two younger children have spent days and days, making chocolate, gifts in a jar, woodburning plaques, doing cross stitch, and knitting projects - with lists a mile long of who they want to give to. They'll be as thrilled as any kid to open presents - but I know they'll be excited to give as well. For that, I am very, very blessed.

Thanks for your writing, Lisa. My husband grew up in Baltimore, and you so often capture the flavor of that place. (flavor?? I guess that would be Ol' Bay...) I have enjoyed your books very much.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger lisa said...

Oh Donna-Jean, what a heritage you have! Blessings on you and your family! And some Old Bay too!

Dan, I think a lot of people start writing later because, honestly, they have more compelling things to say and a fuller storehouse of experience from which to draw. Not that younger people can't write.

But you're right, so many people start writing, or start writing *their* best work, after they've had some living under their belt.

So, you're a drummer. Very cool.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Great post, Lisa. My dad was the "voice" behind me wanting to write.

I say he spoke destiny over me. "You're a writer, Rachel."

He's in the Great Cloud of Witnesses now. I miss him being here.

My mom always encouraged me. I get my worship "thang" from her. Of course, my husband and wonderful writing friends.

Merry Christmas!

At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Nicole said...

Having written all my life, my parents were thrilled by my writing. But like others, I put it away for the most part until I spent 30 years fulfilling my dream of being with horses on the racetrack. First novel: big surprise, about horse racing.
My parents were the most encouraging people on earth. Sadly, Mom was gone before my serious writing began, and Dad, who I wanted so much to show that first book to, had acquired Alzheimer's and couldn't fully appreciate it, although he did anyway. He, too, is gone to be with Jesus, just this year . . .
My friends who've read my novels usually come to me in tears afterwards. It's great. :-)


At 5:21 PM, Blogger Katy said...

My father was a frustrated poet, masquerading as a banker. He resented any of us kids who attempted anything creative--especially if we succeeded. I had many encouraging teachers, who told my parents to get me into private voice and theater instruction, but my parents just...didn't follow through. I'll just say they had a lot on their minds.

However, I married THE most encouraging husband on earth, and have a wonderful group of writer friends who've given me nothing but wonderful inspiration. Thank you to all of you--I need you and appreciate you.

Katy McKenna

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Meg said...

Great post. Great encouragement to be an encourager, too, no matter where we are on the path ourselves.

From the time I was a little girl scribbling bad poems, my parents told me I was a writer like my dad's mom, whose writing helped support her family through the Depression. She died when I was a baby, but the writings she left behind made me see both the joy and the struggle of writing. I give her and my parents equal credit for leading me into the writing life.


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