Reader Friday: Music to Your Words


Reading for the Pleasure of Reading?

Looking for Lyrical?




  • Lyrics – words of a poem, words to a song, from ancient Greek poetry accompanied by the lyre – a portable harp
  • Lyrical style (literature) – expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way

I recently read in Dean Koontz’s How to Write Best Selling Fiction, “The average reader demands eight things…” Number 8 was “…a style which embodies at least a trace of lyrical language and as many striking images as possible.”

John D. MacDonald was quoted in a Writer’s Digest, 3/15/16, interview, that he wanted “a bit of magic in his prose style, a bit of unobtrusive poetry. I want to have words and phrases really sing.”

Constance Hale, in Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch, quoted Joan Didion: “Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know of grammar is its infinite power.”

  1. When you are looking for an enjoyable read, just for the pleasure of reading, do you have a favorite poet or a favorite author with a lyrical style?
  2. Who are those favorite poets and authors?

 If anyone would like a list from today’s discussion, I will compile a list and post it at the bottom of the comments (late tonight or tomorrow morning).

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About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at:

39 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Music to Your Words

  1. Good morning, Steve. You present interesting questions that get the synapses firing this morning.

    1) Yes!

    2) Charles Bukowski is the poet. I also occasionally enjoy Allen Ginsburg in small doses. James Lee Burke, Cormac McCarthy, and John (not Michael, though I do read him religiously) Connolly are the authors.

    Thanks, Steve, and have a great weekend!

    • Thanks, Joe. I’m adding those names to the list.

      I love these posts, when I can ask questions and learn so much from everyone. I’m eager to check out your nominees.

      Have a great weekend!

    • Good morning, Terry. Thanks for your honest answer. Feel free to tell us what kind of style/genre you go to for enjoyment.

      The list compiled today will be posted at the end of the comments tonight or tomorrow morning, if you’re interested.

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

      • I want a story where I can connect with the characters. Too my “lyricism” tends to distract me. I will say I had a ‘surprise enjoyment’ read with last month’s book club picks–which are normally far too “literary” and filled with misery for my taste. The book was The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, following the lives of 3 women who worked at Bletchley Park.
        If I want pure escape, I’d probably grab a JD Robb off my shelf.
        Years ago, I did read much of Billy Collins’ poetry and enjoyed it. Before that, it was everything we had to memorize in 7th grade English class.

        • Terry, I started reading Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson yesterday. Man, I love his style. I call it “Old Fart Fiction.” I’m going to read all of his books.

          Thanks for your additions to the list. I look forward to seeing the video of Craig Johnson.

  2. Don’t tend to read poetry–no particular reason why, just don’t. However I did write a poem in grade school that got published in the county paper, because I had an awesome teacher, Mrs. Seese, who was a marvelous encourager. Thank you, Mrs. Seese–you will never know how impactful you were! My life is better because our paths crossed.

    • Good morning, BK.

      I thought, with your many art interests, that you might read poetry. Are there authors you particularly enjoy because of their style, their way with words?

      If you ever write or publish poetry, let us know.

      Enjoy your day.

      • Nah, much as Terry said above, whatever book I read, I just want to connect with the characters–I want to connect emotionally and be interested in the situation. I don’t particularly equate that with a style, other than to say “I know what I like when I read it.” 😎

        I’m not too likely to publish any poetry. The only poetry goal I have in life is writing a poem in honor of my Dad.

  3. For dazzling, lyrical style, Tom Wolfe. The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, I am Charlotte Simmons, etc.

    Poets: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Billy Collins

    • Good morning, Tom. Thanks for your choices. James Lee Burke’s name has come up more than once. I look forward to exploring Delia Owens’ novel.

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend.

    • You beat me to Burke. WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is now a movie which will come out on July 15th.

      The novel is set in NC, and I’m still trying to figure out the singing crawdads. The ones in my creek make no noise. It’s the dang tiny toads that make the noise.

      • Thanks for mentioning the movie, Marilynn. I want to see those singing crawdads. I chased them in the creek as a boy. Never heard a peep out of any of them.

  4. I don’t look for a lyrical style as much as I look for a conversational style. I want the ear worm to happen, where the words on the page convert to the movie in my head. Stephen King and John Grisham come to mind from the stable of modern authors, but there are many others.

    As for poetry, I’ve decided that I’m not smart enough to process contemporary poetry. Word images. I do like old school poetry that tells stories–“The Highwayman”, “Paul Revere’s Ride” and the like. I like a lot of country music because of the storytelling. If you’ve got four minutes to spare, do yourself a favor and watch David Ball perform “Riding With Private Malone.” First time I heard it, I was in the car and it hook my heart so hard I thought I might have to pull over.

    • Wow – that’s a powerful song, John. Now I’m crying and will be thinking of this for a long time. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

    • John, you nailed it. I grew up on country music–got started because that’s what my parents listened to, but then I realized that generally speaking, the best form of music for storytelling is country music. As to “Riding With Private Mallone”—I went through a period beginning in the early 1990’s where I gave up on country radio because the music, to me, was heading down the toilet. I know that “Riding with Private Mallone” was released circa 2001 or so, but I only just discovered it about 4-5 years ago and yes, it knocked my socks off. That is an awesome story telling song for sure, well worthy of his many country music predecessors.

  5. Wow, John. Thanks for the link to “Riding With Private Malone.” If that doesn’t make you shiver and bring tears to your eyes, I don’t know what would. That’s lyrical.

    “Conversational style” and “ear worm” Great description. And thanks for the additions to our list today.

    I hope you are enjoying your woodland home.

  6. Good morning, Steve!

    I do enjoy reading prose that “sings.” I especially like John D. MacDonald and Raymond Chandler. I would read a laundry list written by either of those authors. I also think The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel is a beautifully written book.

    I don’t read much poetry, but T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” comes to mind as well as the heart-breaking “I Saw a Man This Morning” by Patrick Shaw Stewart which recounts a young soldier facing death as he prepares to return to the front lines in WWI. Here’s the link:

    Have a great weekend.

    • Good morning, Kay.

      Thanks for additions to our list. And thanks for the link to “I Saw a Man This Morning.” A haunting poem, and so apropos for our times.

      I hope you have a great weekend, as well!

  7. I love lyrical writing, but I don’t search it out when deciding which book to read. Lately, new-to-me authors have surprised me with not only excellent storytelling but top-notch writing, as well. One of my favorite books this year was FERAL CREATURES. The storyline and emotion made my heart sing. I don’t read a lot of fantasy (and never, ever post-apocalyptic fantasy), but I read and loved the sequel, too. It’s one of the few books to ever bring me to tears.

    • Good morning, Sue. Thanks for telling us about Kira Jane Buxton’s Feral Creatures. What caught my eye when I read the description was the MC – S.T. – a crow. I believe you’re a fan of crows. If the book brought you to tears, I want to read it, too.

      Thanks for adding to our list. I hope you have a wonderful day!

  8. Good morning, Steve. Great Reader Friday question. I don’t actively seek out lyrical fiction. What I want is engaging fiction that pulls me in and won’t let go. For reader me, the prose must serve the story first. However, I certainly appreciate lyrical fiction when it is serving the story.

    Tana French is a mystery writer who accomplishes that. Her Dublin Murder Squad series manages to be both compelling and lyrical, and she accomplishes that with a different first-person POV in each. Into the Woods is the first.

    I’m currently reading Anna Castle’s Murder By Misrule, a delightful, oh so well written Elizabethan age mystery, featuring Francis Bacon. It has little lyrical moments.

    Have a great Friday!

    • Good morning, Dale. I agree with you; what we want is “engaging fiction.” There is something about unusual description and smooth reading that can be the icing on the cake.

      Thanks for adding Tana French and her Dublin Murder Squad series to our list. Worth checking out.

      Good luck with your mystery writing. And have a wonderful weekend!

  9. I don’t usually read poetry. And I don’t choose a novel based upon lyrical prose, although I really enjoy Charles Martin. His style isn’t what one would call lyrical, but more along the lines of gorgeously descriptive prose about the plight of human relationships. THAT makes my heart sing.

    My favorite genre is spy thrillers. (IS that a genre?) Lots of sneakin’ around and bullets flying keeps my interest.

    My favorite poem, though, is familiar to all of us here at TKZ:

    For sale
    Baby shoes
    Never worn

    Not just for its craft teaching value, but for its heartbreaking poignancy.

    • Thanks for your addition to the list, Deb. If Charles Martin’s descriptive prose makes your heart sing, that’s lyrical. I’m adding him to the list.

      The baby shoes poem/story has to be the tightest prose I’ve ever read.

      Thanks for your comments. Have a wonderful weekend.

  10. Koontz can’t seem to help himself with his visual prose, over-intellectualized discussions, and words so obscure I barely know them.

    Lyrical prose is a tricky dance for genre writers. Too much and the reader pauses and admires the prose to the point they drop out of the story; too little and the book sounds like a just-the-facts-ma’am rendition by Joe Friday from DRAGNET. The trick is to have a viewpoint character who sees the world in a more visual and lyrical way.

    Staying within the mystery genre, I would say James Lee Burke, but, since he’s already been mentioned, I’ll add Karen White in her paranormal cozy “Trad Street” series. She’s more literary than poetic, though.

    Poets. TS Eliot forever and always. His poetry needs footnotes, but, dang, he has a way with both words and symbolism. And Shakespeare, of course.

    • Thanks for adding your wisdom, Marilynn.

      That tricky-dance, walking-the-tight-rope lyrical prose fascinates me. Do you have any blogs you’ve written on the subject? I’d like to read them. Or even better, have you lead a discussion on the subject here at TKZ.

      Thanks for adding Karen White, T S Eliot, and Shakespeare to our list.

      Hope your weekend is a good one.

      • Style is individual, courtesy of the writer writing a lot of prose and figuring his out for himself, and it’s not something that can really be taught.

        I do have articles on “archetypes–” “The Power of Archetypes and Symbols,”

        “Emotional resonance–” “Creating Emotional Resonance,”

        and “Voice–” “Finding Your Voice.”

        You can find them by using the title in my search engine or going to the tab labels I just offered.

        Sorry I can’t offer direct links. WordPress in its infinite wisdom decides I’m a spammer and blocks me for days if I offer more than a link or two in comments.

  11. Great question, Steve. Kay beat me to my answers–Chandler and John D. MacDonald. I could read those two over and over and never get tired of the beautiful way they use words yet they’re never flowery.

    Don’t read much poetry–my loss.

    • Hi, Debbie. Thanks for your votes. And, you must have good taste, because your candidates are at the top of the list.

      You may have read my response to Terry, above. Craig Johnson, whom she introduced Wednesday in her post, really blew me away with his “old fart” style of description and characterization. I think I’m looking for something between him and MacDonald.

      Have a great weekend!

  12. For me, story is everything. Lyrical prose is great, but my patience wears thin if those words aren’t telling an engaging story.

    Leonard Cohen is one of my favorites.

    Have a great weekend, Steve.

    • Thanks, Rose. I got that message today. Story comes first, engaging, with well developed characters. Lyrical prose and style is fine…if the story is there.

      Well said. Thanks for your addition to our list.

      Hope you have a great weekend.

  13. Here are the compiled lists from today’s discussion:

    Charles Bukowski
    Allen Ginsburg
    Edna St. Vincent Millay
    Billy Collins
    T. S. Eliot
    Patrick Shaw Stewart

    James Lee Burke
    Cormac McCarthy
    John Connolly
    Tom Wolfe
    Delia Owens
    Stephen King
    John Grisham
    J. D. Robb
    Kate Quinn
    John D. MacDonald
    Raymond Chandler
    Abraham Joshua Heschel
    Kira Jane Buxton
    Tana French
    Charles Martin
    Karen White
    Leonard Cohen

    Thank you everyone for your participation!

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