Jennifer Astle

Writing Samples

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    Music and the Social Voice

    By Jennifer Astle

    musicsocialvoiceimageI was raised on music. My influence came from my mother who has played classical music most of her life, particularly that of the Baroque genre. Aside from that, she instilled me with solid foundations; The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Tears for Fears, Simon and Garfunkel, Eric Clapton, Indigo Girls, and, most importantly to me, Tori Amos. The list can go on and on from there. My father introduced me to Guns and Roses, ACDC, Stone Temple Pilots. Alice Cooper. To this day, I still find Alice Cooper to be one of the most entertaining people in the world, in a car crash kind of way. I came of age on Nirvana, Hole, Green Day, Blind Melon and the whole grunge movement. Somewhere in between all of those things, now that I am in adulthood, is where my current musical taste lies. One thing is for certain though; I’ve always equated music with experience. What I mean by this is that certain events can be placed in memory in conjunction with a song. I have songs that remind me of certain periods of my life, what I was thinking or feeling at that time. What I may have been experiencing. I can’t listen to A Woman’s Work by Kate Bush without longing for my mother for example.

    So music acts as a storytelling mechanism. A form of aural history, often contrasting what is written in history books. It’s a form of social voice. Language (lyrics) and music (notes) combine to instigate powerful emotions in an individual. You can laugh, cry, get angry, relax, remember, forget… Musicians are channels for that social voice. They speak on our behalf, and if we listen carefully to the music of any given time, you can get a sense of the collective conscience of that time. Right now, it seems, that the era of pop fluff and the Britney’s are over, and a more political voice is emerging in its place. Although, granted, it has always been there. From Bruce Springsteen’s reflections of the struggle of the working class, Tu Pac and his potent lyrics concerning the struggle of African Americans, to the Beastie Boys and their efforts with the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. Musicians both mainstream and not, have participated in social awareness.

    I remember one particular occasion, while working as a teaching assistant for my thesis supervisor at Saint Thomas University. I was photocopying the syllabus for his Historical Reactions course and came across some lyrics I recognized, nicely centered at the beginning of the document. Rage Against the Machine? Really? I didn’t realize he was that cool. That was exactly what went through my mind. Considering it further (photocopying takes time you know), it made more sense. Here was a man who had devoted his whole life to the study of history and the social context hidden beneath it. Why wouldn’t he listen to Rage Against the Machine? I honestly respected him much more after that time, because he understood that voice.

    Get to the point right? Well if you listen to what’s playing on the radio now, there seems to be a resurgence in that voice. One Day as a Lion by Wild International, MIA’s Paper Planes, Handlebars by the Flobots (a particular favourite of mine), anything that Rise Against or System of a Down have put out in the last five years. Rise Against also actively involved in animal rights and can be credited for teaming up with VANS to release a line of vegan friendly shoes. Sometimes musicians make overtly political moves, such as was the case with Ann Wilson of Heart requesting that Sarah Palin stop playing their song Barracuda at campaign events (which they apparently have not respected).

    That voice is getting stronger. And if I’ve learned anything from my professor and my schooling in sociology, that means that there is change brewing. The important part though is that there is a continuation of the debate in all mediums of information. Revolution is a process, and music is only one small contributing factor, however a potentially potent one. All you have to do is listen and think.

    Book Teaser – “Lilith” (Original Fiction)

    (Work In Progress) – By Jennifer Astle

    In the beginning there were only the stars twinkling in the vast night sky. The life and death of a star was not more than a second and not less than a million years. In the beginning, understand, there was no echo of war, no pleading to the sky, no laughter, no life at all. All was silent. Lilith collided with the world in a blast that cracked the sky and brought dust up from the ground shadowing out the sun. The Earth shook from the inside out, oceans, mountain ranges and cold deserts of snow erupting from the ground. Then all was silent again.

    For thousands of years she sat as the snow whispered around her, collecting on her eyelashes while she blinked for the first time. She gazed up into the night mapping the stars out in her mind, recording their ephemeral twinkles, tracing their travels across the blackness until they appeared to her again. Her fingertips danced across them like braille. She read them. The moon presented itself to her, a cooler quieter version of the sun. It cast an eerie light across Lilith that made her appear to glow. Sometimes, if the mood struck her, she would stare at the moon for years on end.

    Once the dust began to settle and the sun shone longer and brighter Lilith decided to walk. She could be seen, had there been anyone there to see her, walking naked in perfect form, only the bottoms of her feet black with the soot that had settled on the ground when she was born. She felt no hunger, no pain, no fear or loneliness. Behind her she left no footprints, no trace of her existence.

    The wolves were the first to see her walking across the face of the Earth. Their ears pricked high when they heard her body cut the air as she walked through the night. Their heads dropped low to the ground, leaving their skinny shoulders pointed high towards the stars. She allowed them to follow her for some time. Occasionally she would stop, listening intently to the silence as they seemed to hold their breaths. Then she would continue, the pads of their feet hitting the snow softly as they obediently followed. Their tracks said they were following a ghost.

    Sample Article: Building Rapport with Clients

    By Jennifer Astle (Note: This work may NOT be reproduced in any manner).

    Think about how you do business with others for a moment. If required you could probably list a number of businesses that you patronize on a regular basis. “That’s my plumber. That’s my dry-cleaner. That’s my insurance agent.” This extends beyond your personal business and into your professional life as well. “That’s my copier guy. That’s my travel agent,” and so on.

    The common denominator evident in these business relationships is the development of a rapport between a customer and a business person. Once you have a trusted, established relationship it is unlikely that you will leave that relationship. Unless of course, you feel that your business, mental and physical needs are not being met.

    Additionally, it is human nature to want to refer when you find that relationship. They have bridged that gap between being a potential service provider and their customer’s only option for themselves and others.

    How is this done?

    Achieving the “My Guy” status only comes by having the basic fundamentals down to systematically ensure that this can occur and appear to be seamless through the eyes of your customer. This is generally done by building a personal relationship with the client above and beyond “the deal”. Becoming personally connected with a potential client is essential to any sales business or a business in which you are “selling yourself”. This is not limited to just commissioned-based people.

    If a client has been referred to you, this puts you at a significant advantage. Because the client values the opinion of the referrer, the barriers have already been somewhat broken down. It is your job to ensure that this relationship is nurtured and developed into a “My Guy” scenario.

    · Exceed your client’s expectations. Sadly, people often expect to be disappointed. Rather than striving to be adequate you should conduct your business with the sense that you set out to exceed the wildest expectations of your clients. It does not suffice to be good. Aim to be the best at what you do. Often those who work in a sales oriented industry can become callous and apathetic to the needs of their customers after processing transaction after transaction. The sales process becomes a mundane second nature. This should not occur, ever. Treat each sale as though it is the first, the last and the most important. Providing your clients with the sense that when you are dealing with them, they are your primary concern will immediately build rapport and ensure that they come to you for each of their future needs.

    · Be an expert. By training yourself to be an expert in your field you can rest assured that you will be equipped to offer your clients the best in your industry. Do not put yourself in a position where you have to refer a customer elsewhere because you do not have what they need, or are untrained in that particular area. Investing in your own professional development and making yourself indispensable and irreplaceable is vital to your success.

    · Honour your commitments to clients. Part of meeting the needs of your client is to honour any and all commitments made to them. If you have promised a call back, make the call. Do not make promises to clients that are likely to go unfulfilled. Do challenge yourself, but not at the expense of your client.

    · Be the leader they need. Show passion and confidence in what you do. There is nothing less appealing in a sales environment than someone who does not know the answer and lacks the confidence to find it. Your customers view you as a leader in your industry, and you should offer that attitude to them from the beginning. If a client poses a question to which you do not have the answer, do not avoid their call. Be upfront with your clients, and be equipped to find the answer to meet their particular needs.

    · Be detail oriented. By managing each aspect of the transaction, you relieve your client of this burden. Keep your clients informed on the details, but reassure them that you’re job is to handle them. If you client is aware that each and every transaction they engage in with you will be worry-free they will look to you for each transaction to follow. Have the answers to their questions before they ask.

    · Have integrity. In a crisis market it is not uncommon for people to begin stretching and bending the rules. This is most clearly demonstrated in the failing mortgage market where banks and customers alike made bad decisions about lending. When it comes to business, rules are not meant to be broken and serve the essential purpose of protecting both companies and clients. Don’t put yourself or your client in an inconvenient or even illegal position.

    · Be charming! This is arguably the most important aspect to how you do business. It is an opportunity to be creative in the way you interact with your customers and can clearly distinguish you from the competitors who are just “going through the motions”. Think about the experience one may have in a salon. A good stylist will engage their customers in conversation during their time together. When that customer returns, the conversation picks up seamlessly from where it left off. This builds trust and solidifies the relationship between company and customer. This extends beyond the customary small talk that usually occurs. Pay attention to what your clients say, listen, and respond. Take notes afterwards if needed, which can be stored in your database.

    On Internet Journalism and Legitimacy

    From the Death of the Newspaper to Pulitzers for Bloggers

    By Jennifer Astle

    Originally Published on Far Running Fat Man

    With the recent announcement that the Tribune Co. (a 161 year old major player in the print journalism business) is folding, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Internet is taking the reins away from the archaic kingdom of newspaper. Gone are the days when you would curl up in your favorite comfy chair with a cup of coffee and rustle your way through papers the size of your torso when spread out.

    As a writer, I must admit that there is something to be said about print journalism. There is mystique about seeing your name on something tangible, on paper, which has always seemed just slightly more legitimate than your average Joe Blog.

    When I came of age the Internet was just becoming a popular household accoutrement. Google didn’t exist yet and chat rooms were becoming all the rage. The Net was a toddler. Thus, throughout my education it was constantly reiterated that the Internet was not a reliable source for information. I mean, come on. Anybody could write anything….provided that they knew how to use HTML, build a website, and had the patience to run software in the days before microprocessors.

    It’s now a whole new world out there. With the advent of blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress, to name a few, literally anybody can write anything, as long as they have five minutes and a high-speed connection. Some of the elitist attitude requiring that our writers must first go through all of the mystical rituals of the publishing world has been shaken off and the dawn of a new journalistic era is on the front.

    Yes, anybody can write anything. Isn’t that the beauty of it though? Did it take us nearly a decade to realize the true power of breaking down the walls that inhibit the dissemination of information? Before you scoff, ask yourself what the genocide in Rwanda would have looked like if the victims and their families had blogged about it?

    We have been witness to the rise of Internet Journalism via sites like the Huffington Post, and the fall of print giants like the Tribune Co. We have seen how grass roots Internet publishing efforts can influence the media, politics, and entertainment. If you don’t have a blog, you practically don’t exist. Amazon’s Kindle hopes to bring books to a permanent digital format with its reader, reminiscent of a very large IPod.

    Just recently it was announced that bloggers are now eligible for the Pulitzer Prize, the snobbiest of the snobby awards for writing. This may seem like boring old news to the average reader, but for a writer it is monumental. Some university professors of mine are eating their ever protesting words about the illegitimacy of the Internet as a source for valid information. The list of university professor approved Internet sources is short (and no, it doesn’t include Wikipedia). If it’s good enough for a Pulitzer, one would presume that it’s good enough for a sophomore paper, hm?

    Still think that print is the holy grail of publishing? Well, you can just sign up for an account with any number of the websites now offering vanity publishing. If you absolutely must see your work in print, these sites, like, will print and ship your books to you, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Aunt Esther, along with whoever else may want to read it.

    So, curl up in your favourite chair with your laptop and a cup of coffee, and exchange the quiet rustle of newspaper for the clicking of a mouse.


    Additional samples available.


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