Music Notes: Tales from an American Singer reviewed by Jose Nateras, December 2022
Following her award-winning memoir, Walk Until Sunrise, Jade J.—J.J.—Maze has put together a collection of short stories, Music Notes: Tales from an American Singer. With illustrations by Indonesian illustrator and graphic designer Ryan Prakoso, Maze's collection features seven short stories, each one an exploration of some facet of a musician's life.
The collection, like Maze's prose, is lean. While many writers exploring the intersections of art and life may find themselves getting lost in flowery metaphors, Maze focuses on a more straightforward approach. In her introduction, Maze admits to being obsessed with the biographies of musicians such as Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and more. This can be felt in her writing with stories that focus more on the interpersonal relationships and the human connections occurring in her musician characters' lives alongside the gigs. Her female central protagonists connect with various men that find themselves in their respective orbits: a sexy new drummer ("Two for Nothing"), a goat-raising yogi ("The Blood in my Veins"), the father of a vocal student ("The Voice Lesson"), and so on. Not all of these interactions are romantic per se, but they are intimate, and these intimate connections are very much akin to the sort of connection experienced between a musician and their audience, to that which is shared by musical collaborators playing together.
Considering her first book was a memoir, it's not entirely surprising to find that, in
reading Music Notes, there's a sense that Maze feels most comfortable writing from the first- person point of view. However, in the stories where she embraces the third person ("Do You, Can You, Will You") and moves away from narratives that seem particularly grounded in her own experience for more fantastical fare (the supernatural, surreal "Don't Just Stand There"), Maze shows what she's truly capable of as a writer.
Prakoso's continuous line illustrations prove a perfect match for Maze's writing. With the clean and seemingly simple lines, Prakoso weaves detailed and curving images that serve well to the way that Maze takes inspiration from her lived experiences, weaving and curving them into new narratives. When that lived experience is as rich as that of a musician living in Chicago, who has gone from life as a teen runaway to a Northwestern grad, and more, it's no wonder that the stories which result are as varied and as they are in Music Notes. Just as a jazz musician is able to riff and improvise, taking familiar melodies and themes and making them into something new, Maze weaves various influences (from fairytales and urban fantasy to simple, slice-of-life vignettes) into a collection that, though varied, maintains a consistent voice throughout.
Although the collection is not particularly long, the cover does read "Book No.1" (in a stylate that almost looks like an homage to a comic book cover), so there may well be a second collection of "tales" from Maze in the future. However, with two of the stories that comprise this collection being, what Maze calls "novelettes," one can't help but wonder if perhaps she will explore longer works in the future.
A WISHING SHELF BOOK REVIEW , 24th July 2022
TITLE: Music Notes: Tales from an American Singer
AUTHOR: J J Maze
Star Rating: 5 Stars!
Unputdownable or Putdownable: Unputdownable
Who’s it For: Lovers of music – and a well-written
‘A lively, atmospheric set of shorts packed full of the highs and lows of being a singer.’ A ‘Wishing Shelf’ Book Review
It ́s always fun to find a totally original book to enjoy. And this is! Basically, it ́s an insight into the life of different singers. Although not biographical, I suspect there ́s a lot of ́truth ́ to them as the author, a singer herself, offers the reader an insight into the world of life on (and off) the stage.
I must say, I very much enjoyed this set of shorts. The author is a strong, STRONG writer, who puts across the ups and downs of being a singer in a
lively, atmospheric way. The book ́s strength is the charasmatic characters who (almost literally) jump off the page. And every character seems very different; I particularly enjoyed getting to know the drummer in Two For Nothing who ends up naked but for a big, sappy smile!
In terms of the readership, I think most people who enjoy a short, snappy story will find this book enjoyable. But I would mostly recommend it to music lovers or, indeed, youngster looking at embarking on a career in the music industry. Yes, it ́s all very tongue-in-cheek, but there ́s an element of ́this is what happens in the music world ́ and, trust me, it ́s a bit of an eye-opener!
-A ‘Wishing Shelf’ Book Review
“An Amazing Coming of Age Story September 20, 2019Walk Until Sunrise is the astounding—and in the end, heartening—coming-of-age story of a fifteen-year old American girl. Her arduous, often dangerous trek is at times almost magical. The author’s attention to detail and ear for dialogue immediately draw the reader into the story, which begins at a point in time just before that of the final chapters. Sitting on a bench above the Rio Grande in Las Cruces, fifteen- year-old Heather is absolute in her resolve to stay there “until I was no more.” “I wasn’t suicidal,” she says, “I had just given up.” A man passing by interrupts her intense focus on willing herself into non-existence. “You are bothering me,” she tells him angrily. “Please go away. Leave me alone.” We get a first sense of her strength of will. In spite of his obvious concern for her, he leaves. And she resumes her determined effort.Then the story takes us back to her beginnings in Minneapolis, seemingly living the American Dream. She has a big sister, a beautiful mother, a wealthy father, “two chihuahuas, a parakeet, three cars, and a white picket fence.” But we soon learn the truth. She tells us that all she hears her father talk about is “food, money, and how he’s going to blow my mother’s head off one day.” He holds—we get the feeling, has held, more than once— the five- and six-year-old sisters on his lap as he pulls the gun out of a near-by drawer to demonstrate just how.Their mother manages a get-away, disguised as an adventure. At first, it’s a wonderful trip. But soon, things grow dark, and then darker. For the last leg of Heather’s long journey, she is, by choice, on her own. Along the way she meets too many who only appear to want to help, and instead exploit her. But always, there are some who are true allies.Joseph Campbell, known for his description of the Hero’s Journey, says, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” And Heather does go down into that abyss. The author introduces the reader to some unforgettable characters who teach her about the human capacity for both horrifying evil and selfless good. Because of her honest gaze at herself, Heather gains self-knowledge, another treasure. And she manages to maintain her willingness to trust others—though more wisely than at first. What is best about Heather’s character is that she keeps going no matter what obstacles she encounters—at least until she reaches that bench above the Rio Grande.Wait Until Sunrise is an amazing, wonderful book. In spite of the darkness along the way, at its heart, it is inspiring. I recommend it highly.Judy Bebelaar” - Judy Bebelaar
“An honest, unflinching, tightly crafted look at the life of a teen runaway--from the inside. A stunning memoir of loss and redemption.”
“J.J. Maze’s Walk Until Sunrise is a literary tour de force. The author’s story is by turns exhilarating and horrifying, and, throughout it all, Heather’s spirit and raw courage shine through. I loved following as she took buses from Ojai to Ventura and found the ocean’s waves to be her healing muse, and those heady times when she discovered that the attic was a safe place where she could learn to be herself, immune from her mother’s often toxic presence and the trauma that was a daily part of her existence. I couldn’t help but worry as she sat in the bus station in San Diego and waited, and then my fears were heightened after she was dropped off in Vegas by the station maintenance man who had befriended her. Her accounts of her ordeals in Vegas, particularly at the hands of David and then Slick, are more horrifying than most fictional accounts, particularly because they were real. And the description of her escape from Vegas and her walk through the desert is masterfully presented and unforgettable. I had to remind myself a number of times that this was, indeed, a memoir and not fiction, as it read so very well. I will be watching for future literary works from J.J. Maze. Her harrowing memoir is a masterpiece. Walk Until Sunrise is most highly recommended.” - Jack Magnus
“Walk Until Sunrise. J.J. Maze. Page Publishing, Inc., November 15, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 254 pages. Reviewed by Gerry Souter. J. J. Maze’s memoir, Walk Until Sunrise, is a visceral tale of a girl’s journey from childhood to late teenage years. The story, and the older-than-her-years voice of the narrator, create a world like that of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye and Jack Kerouac in On the Road. Maze opens the book with a combination of trauma and self-reflection: “I broke down in Las Cruces, New Mexico. “Making one last feeble attempt to join in, to partake of, to affiliate myself with civilization, I politely responded in the affirmative to a young bohemian-looking photographer leaning against his green van. He wanted to take pictures of me down by the Rio Grande River. I was highly amused at my ability to actually be flattered by this invitation in spite of . . . and how willingly and instantaneously I reverted to my overdramatic level of angst-ridden teenage vanity and self-consciousness. Oh, my gawd! My hair wasn’t done, and the faded yellow T-shirt with the peeling parrot decal looked tacky! I must be okay . . . sane . . . perfectly fine if I was able to care about these things.” The author—called “Heather” by her fractured family—has every good reason to check on the state of her sanity. A light tan, mixed-race child in a fatherless household, with a fractured younger sister and dominated by a white mother, Heather is beautiful on the outside, but bipolar on the inside. Her mother fills the home with wall-to-wall anxiety and a string of sexual partners dragged home to beat the sheets, while Heather and Sis stay out of the way. Mom’s sexual appetites twist her perception, so that she sees Heather as a similarly sex-starved nymphomaniac requiring constant watching and discipline. Heather has a natural gift for music, but her lack of self-esteem, overshadowing self-doubt, and destructive self-punishment eventually drive her from home, hitch-hiking somewhere, anywhere. Being on the road is nothing new for Heather. She had already experienced intervals of living with her mother and sister in their car after being driven from home due to her mother’s lack of rent money, eccentric behavior, and paranoid fears. Following her departure from home, Heather hurls herself into a nomadic world of characters—good, bad and surreal—testing her sexuality and easing herself in and out of her chromium-plated shell of self-loathing/loving to blend in with various hippy, bohemian, life-affirming, amateur criminal situations into which she caroms like a pin-ball. As with Holden and Kerouac, Heather’s internal dialog dwells between beat-down realities and thinly-crafted safety nets sustaining her ability to keep seeking a better place just down the block, down the road, or across the map. Gradually, she hones her end game. At the finish of her journal, having come full circle, she leaves the reader—like Holden and Kerouac—with an open-ended hope. This is a riveting read and to anyone—like this reviewer—who has felt the road under foot and the wind at their back will find a kindred spirit in Heather in Walk Until Sunrise.” - Gerry Souter
“I enjoyed reading (I think it would be better to say, I enjoyed the experience of) "Walk Until Sunrise" by J. J. Maze which is an extraordinary story of how a young girl grew up with great difficulty and how she survived alone - a teenage girl on the streets. The author dedicates her book to "People who look and actually see. Told in the first person, the pages wrenched the heart out of me as I read the heartbreaking pages of what this girl went through, and I did, for perhaps the first time in my life, actually "see" and feel the pain of what she went through. It is certainly a tough world out there and for a teenage girl to endure the cruel selfish world is a highly emotional story which brought tears to my eyes. J.J. tells her story as it happened which makes it even more moving. I am not the same person I was before I began reading this book and thank you J.J. for writing this and making me for the first time "see" and not just "look." I hope more people read your amazing story.”