Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Calling the Rabbit Gods

During a hike in Switzerland, I came across a statue of the Rabbit God. 

On a walk around my house a few years ago, I saw the God of Rabbits appear in the clouds. I took a picture and now have it on a coffee cup.

I leave this post as an offering to the generous and fair Rabbit God as I prepare once again to work on writing my great rabbit epic.

May the bunny ears be with me.

May my work be bountiful and worthy of 5 carrots out of 5 carrots.

May I utilize all 4 lucky rabbit paws.

Thank you Rabbit God, now...let's get hoppin'!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup

Technically, it's not the weekend, but I'm only a few hours shy of making the cut-off...so let's call it a wash. So, I got back from London and spent the entire week back listening to the music I pillaged from across the pond. So this past week, I started staring at the endless wishlist that I have that keeps growing and decided to pick up some of the ones that I've been meaning to pick up for some time...

Julian Plenti is . . . Skyscraper: For those who don't know, this Paul Banks' (of Interpol) solo side project. When I saw this announced I was looking forward to it. I was hoping this would by an interesting departure. It wasn't. It sounds like Interpol-lite. There's three or four really good songs, but the rest is only OK. The album sounds like an Interpol album with slightly lesser muscianship. But it's worth listening to for fans. 

Lightning Dust - Infinite Light: I was looking forward to this one! This band is a relative of Black Mountain...both members are also in Black Mountain (an amazing band by the way that you should check out if you don't know them). This is the second Lightning Dust album, the first one was easily one of my favs of 2007. This one is even better. Amber Webber's voice is beautiful. This is one of the best indie folk albums of the year without a doubt.

Dead Weather - Horehound: When I first heard of this project a few months ago, there was no doubt I was going to wait eagerly for this one. I mean, Jack White and Alison Mosshart in a band together...yeah, I think I'm into that. This album didn't disappoint either. It's the kind of dirty blues that I was hoping for. 

Marilyn Manson - The High End of Low: I've always appreciated Manson's music. I've never been one of raving legion of fans, but I'm dedicated follower of his career. As a public figure challenging America's uptightness, he's definitely a folk hero of mine to some extent. Musically, I love his angry driving anthems (Dope Show, Rock is Dead, God of F#%K, etc, etc). After mellowing out a bit on the last album, this album returns to the industrial roots (and reunites him with guitarist Twiggy, YAY!). I'm really enjoying this one...he really knows how to make industrial music that's heavy, yet still listenable. 

The Wave Pictures - if you leave it alone: Though from London, I actually had this before I left, but never had time to really savor it. I gave it a few more listens this week and it's really growing on me. Sing-along lo-fi indie folk...what more could one ask for. 

The View - Which Bitch?: A Scottish pub-rock band, The View get little or no love here in the states. They should. I enjoyed their debut that came out in 2007, but it wasn't exactly the bee's knees. So I kind of slept on this one for a few months, unsure whether or not I was interested. That was a mistake, but this one is such a progression for the last one. It's still, at it's roots, pub rock...but now with swirling orchestra behind it, lounge piano, and always the brilliant voice that I guess you either love or hate. Another cool thing about this record that I really dig is that between songs, there's this undercurrent of chatter that gave me the impression of being in a huge old mansion and wandering from one song to the other like drifting into different rooms.

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love: I've never been so conflicted about an album going into the first listen as this one. See, I love this band and always have. Love everything they've done from the 5 Songs to The Crane Wife. Even love all those Colin Sings eps. But then they put out those Always the Bridesmaid singles last fall and I wasn't too into it. With exception of the song "Record Year for Rainfall", I thought all of those singles were not so great. Then this album was announced, released, and thoroughly trashed by reviewers. I don't usually put much weight on that, but I mean it was really trashed. So I kind let it go by, figuring maybe it was a band that lost it for an album. Enough time went by and last week, I decided I really wanted to hear this....and my god, what was I waiting for and what the hell were those reviewers listening to? Because it wasn't this? I kept hearing "laughable rock opera", "comical guitar shredding"...I heard nothing that would ever make me use either of those phrases. This vintage Decemberists...very close in scope and feel to The Crane Wife...frankly, it's an excellent record and the last time I ever let press sway me....maybe.

Lovvers - Think: So this was a London purchase but didn't make it onto last week's list because quite honestly, I didn't like it so much upon first listen. This is one of the few that I picked up there that were actually on my wishlist. Upon further listens, I realized I just wasn't in the mood the first time. This is a very fun garage punk cd. Now, I was raised on punk, but have long been weaned from off it. I can really appreciate it though when in the mood, especially if it's as interesting and diverse as this it.

Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing: I held off on this one for a little while not for any reason other than I have obtained three albums worth of bootleg sessions of their work in the past year and was waiting until I was fiending for this. After watching the new video several times, I was fiending. This album is definitely heavier than their previous work. They utilize the Quiet, Loud, Quiet technique quite well here. It seems Georgia is becoming the new "Seattle Sound" and I mean that in a good way. As always, Andy Hull comes through with some the best lyrics out there today. (As a writer, I'm naturally a lyrics guy).

Jason Molina - Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go: Surprise, Jason Molina makes the list (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co.). This album is from 2006, but somehow I missed it. I finally got a hold of it and no surprise here, it's heartbreaking, beautiful and outright amazing. I've run out of adjectives to describe his music...just listen to it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Journey Starts with Small Steps

Sometimes an idea comes at night, when I have had to get up and strike a light to note it down -- sometimes when out on a lonely winter walk, when I have had to stop, and with half-frozen fingers jot down a few words which should keep the new-born idea from perishing -- but whenever or however it comes, it comes of itself. I cannot set invention going like a clock, by any voluntary winding up: nor do I believe that any original writing (and what other writing is worth preserving?) was ever so produced. If you sit down, unimpassioned and uninspired, and tell yourself to write for so many hours, you will merely produce (at least I am sure I should merely produce) some of that article which fills, so far as I can judge, two-thirds of most magazines -- most easy to write most weary to read -- men call it "paddling" and it is to my mind one of the most detestable things in modern literature. Alice and the Looking Glass are made up almost wholly of bits and scraps, single ideas which came of themselves.  -Lewis Carroll

I came across the above article a few weeks ago when I was in one my frequent Alice binges. It's taken from a newspaper article that Lewis Carroll wrote. The article was in fact a review of the first ever play production of Alice. The paper had asked the author to review it. In the article he went on to talk about the book and what it meant to him. 

I was struck by the above quote mostly because it's how I've always approached the writing process. Every book I write is basically a collection of random notes that have been jotted down over a period of time. Like Carroll (and probably all writers) I keep a notepad on the nightstand beside the bed. There are frequent wake-ups where I write in the dark--a skill I'm quite good at in the point in my life. During any long walk, I have my notebook in the my pocket. As L.C. pointed out, for some reason the best ideas seem to come when it's freezing out. I remember when I was writing Dirty Liar, I got stuck about half-way through and decided to walk through the woods on a freezing December day in Woodstock....the result was a major breakthrough.

I'm in the first stages of writing a new novel now, so I've been quite involved in this note gathering process at the moment. There's all these snippets of ideas floating out there and it's amazing to see them start to come together. They start mingling and interacting and attaching themselves to a character or a scene. In that way, it's true that a story isn't necessarily something a writer sits down to create. The story creates itself...we just put it together.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My New Cat Comes Home!

It's been a rough summer for cats in my life. Back in May, Doggie (my faithful cat of 10 years) passed away without warning. Anyone who's ever read the dedications in my books is surely familiar with Doggie. She was my buddy. She was also my other cat Mitzie's playmate, though Doggie didn't exactly see it that way. 

Then, just a few days ago, one of my best friends had to put his cat to sleep. Scratch was a great cat who my friend got around the same time I got Doggie. People who don't have pets never understand how devastating it is to lose one. It isn't "like" losing a member of the family, it is losing a member of the family.
My wife and I were determined to get another cat sometime this summer. Partially for us, but also for Mitzie, who obviously felt really alone after Doggie died. But the idea of going through the process, of saying to ourselves now is the time, was really difficult because you can't help but feel like you're betraying the memory of the cat you lost.

Well, we successfully avoided making that choice when last week, a stray started showing up regularly at my wife's work. The cat had been seen during the winter, but not since. Then...TA-DA! There he was again...hungry and attention starved. I've never seen a cat outside who would come up to a stranger as eagerly as this guy. He was mangy, dirty, has extra toes on all four paws and totally in need of a home, so we decided to feed him for a few days and get him used to us before taking him to the Vet to see if he was healthy. In that time, we named him Mowgli after the Jungle Book character (the personality seemed to fit). 

Yesterday, he got a clean bill of health, got his shots, and we brought him home. He's got his own little room for the time being and he seems to be settling in nicely. 

For anybody who's never had a cat, they are remarkable creatures. They are a completely different kind of pet than dogs. I love dogs and have had my share of dogs. I'm not taking anything away from man's best friend, but cats are special in that they seem to chose you rather than the other way around.

In The Cat Inside, William Burroughs said this about cats:

The cat does not offer services. The cat offers itself.

By that, he's trying to say that a cat, unlike most dogs, doesn't seek your approval, it seeks your friendship. It finds humans that it likes...an unhappy cat will always find a new home.

We hope Mowgli will be happy with us. For whatever reason, his last home didn't work out. Either he was left, or lost, or ran away. Regardless, we are going to do our best to give him a good place to stay. We're taking the introduction of two cats very slowly. The last time was a disaster...but we have high hopes that Miztie and Mowgli will be buddies. They're both goofballs after all.

As a celebration of all things feline, here's a list of some of my favorite cats.

Hello Kitty! I love Hello Kitty. As anyone close to me knows, she was the first cartoon I ever had a crush on way back in first grade. I actually wrote the book pictured above. I've written several Hello Kitty stories. 
Sorry Garfield, I'm a Heathcliff man. His rowdy attitude is much more appealing to me. I love his junkyard vibe and his hankering for fish...(lazania? what's that about?)

Hi, Cat! by Ezra Jack Keats is a great picture book. I'm a huge fan of Keats' books. This one is dear to me because the cat looks just like Doggie and the story is of a NYC stray...just like Doggie was.

Alamo Race Track: Black Cat John Brown - the title track off this Dutch band's second album is a great cat themed song. Plus, there's a catgirl on the cover. 

Skippyjon Jones - I love El Skippito...these are great picture books about a mischievous kitten.

CatKid of course! My own half-cat, half-kid character who's just plain CAT-TASTIC! She's two full halves fun...if you haven't read them...do yourself a favor and get ready to laugh your pants off...only they might not even really come off...that's just an expression.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup (London Edition)

As promised, here's the first part of my Rough Trade spree roundup. I say first part because there's a number of EPs that I bought that are not yet cataloged on RYM (which is where I like to link you to). Once I've caught up on things and got those worthy discs represented there, I will do the second part of the London roundup...but for now, feast on these treats.

Rob St. John - Like Alchemy EP: This handmade, limited edition E.P. captures the same sadness of other recent Scottish neo-folk songwriters. There's something about the climate there and the gloom that lends itself so well to acoustic guitars and fairy tale sadness that is still somehow uplifting.

My Sad Captains - Here & Elsewhere: This was a Rough Trade recommendation and a worthwhile one at that. The debut LP from a London band is just plain good indie rock.

Orphans & Vandals - I am alive and you are dead: This is a very interesting album, very dense lyrically. It has an obvious Nick Cave influence in that way...listening to it, it was actually what I always wanted Current 93 to sound like. It has a very similar feel, but much better vocally. 

Placebo - Battle for the Sun: Having been a Placebo fan for over a decade at this point, and owning every album and every single from the first 3 albums, there's little surprise here except that in it this album doesn't feel stale at all to me. In fact, I think it might be their catchiest since Without You I Am Nothing

Simon Connor - Seaside Surpise: A great little EP from Manchester singer/songwriter. Like Scottland, there's also something about Manchester that just infects the soul with music. Home of some of my all time favorites, you can usually identify a Manchester quality to hopeful pining in it's music. 
Foreign Slippers - Oh Death: Female singer-songwriter from Sweden, this EP is full of those familiar sad tempos that please me. There's a soulful Carol King quality to her voice, but softer and faded as the title might suggest.

Sons of Noel and Adrian - s/t: Another neo-folk band made up of members from many other bands. This a beautiful album. It's also one of those albums that I think the cover art actually gives you a good feel for the sound. It reminds me of a tighter, more melodic, more lyrics version of TwinSisterMoon. It's also another one draped in sadness.

Scout Niblett - This Fool Can Die Now: This one's a WOW. Another neofolk, but a more Americana version of it, it features Bonnie Prince Billy on most tracks. His voice mixed with Scout's creates an amazing sound. It almost feels like a companion album to Bonnie's classic I See A Darkness. In the right mood (or wrong mood depending) this one could be a weeper. It captures the beautiful sound of fading away into nothing.

Since there are so many "sad" albums on this list, and most of my lists, I thought I'd leave you with this quote that I stumbled upon in my morning reading this lazy Sunday:

Nobody can really resist music...At the bottom of all music you have to hear the tune without notes, made just for us, the tune of Death. - Louis Ferdinand Celine

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Do You See What I See?

I've long ago accepted the fact that I don't see the world the way most others do. I'm not talking about "seeing the world" in an aspect of political or social views, but in a more physical sense. I don't actually SEE things for how they necessarily appear. I've always been that way, even when I was a child. 

The imagination has always been very vivid for me, so much so that the things I imagine nearly become visible. They don't actually appear, but they come close. I think most writers fall prey to this peculiar disorder. We look at the world through a different lens. Some believe it's a clearer perception of the what is really there. Other's consider it a faulty smudge that distorts reality. I won't take sides. I simply enjoy the fact that I can see stories in the most mundane of objects. It makes life more interesting.

The photo above is of a tree I came across in the Black Forest region of Germany on my recent vacation. It's hard to tell from the photo, but it's atop a small mountain. I was alone in a gondola as I took the picture and the kindred loneliness of this tree struck me. It drew me in. I felt the pull of a story somewhere under its bark, in the way its branches stuck out like the arms of kids spinning in circles as they try not to collapse in a dizzy sickness. 

There were characters all around it. I could sense them. It felt fairy tale-ish in nature. Perhaps that's just because I was in the Black Forest, place of the Grimm's. I was seeing illustrated figures moving around, hearing their voices like the faint echoes of ghosts. While others may see a tree, I was lucky enough to see an entire world playing out just for me.

What compels me to write these these visions down, to shape them and make them a completed story, is really a selfish desire to inhabit that imagined place a little longer and in more depth than the faded glimpses that I catch here and there. Fully fleshing out those worlds is like stepping through the Looking Glass. It's a transportation into the imagination. A free ticket to ride. Express exit into enjoyable escapism. Though, I'm not sure it can be called escapism because I'm not sure those places we visit in our head aren't any less real than what the scientist would refer to as the natural universe.

The finished story is really the time in which the author leaves that world. Having visited as long as I could, I must finally come home. Any work of fiction then is basically a travel diary. The joy of letting other people read and find pleasure in it comes from allowing others a peek into a place they may not have seen, but always sensed was there. It's like opening a window and pressing someone's face through the hole...shouting HEY! LOOK AT THIS!...and always vaguely hoping to see them smile at the sight of it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kinder Corruption

Translation is a funny thing. The intent of words often gets muddled in the mixing of meaning and language, but that's what makes it so fun. As an author, I've been lucky enough to have books translated into Danish, Hungarian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, and of course, the German. (I love that German is so haughty that it refers to itself as "the").  

My Pirate School books are my first german titles (though Zombie Blondes will soon follow). I've been looking forward to german titles since it's the one foreign language I can read and somewhat understand. I saw the first two books a few months ago and love the way they turned out. But getting copies of your own translated titles is not an easy thing. So, when I was over in Switzerland, I wanted to pick up an extra set of all 3 titles currently out. I figured one quick stop could accomplish this, but apparently the books are popular there and it became a trek from one shop to the next in order to complete the task.

My favorite stop had to be the store pictured above. This book store is located in the basement of Zurich's big toy store. The dragon tail in the photo is a slide that kids can take into the store. If I had seen it from above, I certainly would've given it a try...but alas, it was crowded with toddlers. It was a rare moment of quiet that I was able to snap the picture. The store had several copies, all of which I needed for my set (and the extra set I was buying for my parents). 

Later that night, I was flipping through the newest book and noticed something strange. I noticed my little characters were very fond of a particular word that caught my eye. 


Now, granted my german is a little rusty, but I was pretty sure what that word meant...as do most of you who don't speak the language. I'm sure you can guess that it's not a very nice word and one I'm sure would never be found in an American book for the same age group.  I went through the U.S. book wondering what word they translated so harshly. As it turns out, it was several words, ranging from rotten to plain ARRR! In fact, my foul-mouthed lil' shipmates threw the word around so freely, it even made it into a chapter title. 

Well, no wonder the books are popular! What kid doesn't want to read a book with dirty words? I certainly did when I was young. A few verdammts here, a couple of potzdonners there...great fun! Don't get me wrong, I'm not upset. I'm actually very pleased. I started swearing like a pirate myself at the age of seven (beating my characters by a year and half). Words are just words, I've always felt that way. And I've been oft ridiculed for the language in my teen novels, so why not just go all the way? 

However, I couldn't help envisioning a playground full of swearing, swashbuckling blond children. It made me laugh...until I envisioned the angry mob of parents who probably hate me. I'm sure many of them would like to get their hands on   this foul-mouthed American surfer who is corrupting their youth. 

Oh yeah, that's another beautiful thing...for some reason my german publisher, Random House, is under the wild impression that I'm a surfer who likes to pretend my board is the plank of a pirate ship. For the record, I've never surfed in my life. I suppose all long-haired blonde American males are surfers as far as they're concerned. Just a mix-up in cultural translation. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

London Town

Back from Europe and back to work. Lots of great ideas came out of the trip, as trips are often fond of doing. But before I get into the more intriguing of ideas, I wanted to simply follow up on the last post about London. 

Being a book and music collector, my visits to cities always include a list of record stores and second-hand book stores. London is a great place for both. As for books, there's a one block street in London, off Charing Cross Road, called Cecil Court. It's made up mostly of book stores that sell first editions, or rare editions of books. In other words, it's a book nerds dream come true.

The last time I was in London, I had planned to spend some time on this street. However, the day I ended up making it there, it was late afternoon and most of the shops had already closed. So this time, I set aside an entire morning to geek out.

I arrived around ten in the morning and was one of only a few people there. I went into every shop and browsed every shelf, leafed through endless amazing books, and even bought two at reasonable prices. I spent over two hours on this little street in heaven. It was like a museum but with things I could touch. 

I looked at a signed Andre Gide title. I found several first edition Borroughs. But by far, it was the children's books that I spent most of my time looking through. There is one store on the street called Marchpane that has an amazing collection. There is an entire book case of Alice in Wonderland editions in every language, ranging from the last 100 years. There was a first edition of Lewis Carroll's Sylvie & Bruno Concluded for a cool one hundred pounds, which I considered picking up to go with my first edition of Sylvie & Bruno, but held back. Instead I picked up a slim paperback Dutch Alice from the first half of the last century. 

They also had entire book case of Arthur Rackman illustrated books, but those were too pricey for my tastes. I did manage to score an early edition of Peter Pan & Wendy with great illustrations however from another store. 

As for music, I decided to only visit Rough Trade this time around. Last time I was there, the East shop was closed and moving. So on that trip, I visited every other shop in London, unfortunately Rough Trade East is the one that would have had everything I wanted. So this time, I made the trip...took the Central Line out to Liverpool in the mid-morning and then went a browsing. 

The store is amazing. It's not quite Amoeba Records (L.A. or San Fran), but much better than any store in NYC. Plus, they had a UK section, which meant I didn't have sift through all the albums that I could get in the States for half the price.

They had exactly what I wanted...E.P.s from local bands that you can't here and that I'd never heard of. I bought a stackload of stuff that I'm just starting to listen to (more to come on that in Weekend Roundup). 

So basically, this post is just an FYI for any fellow collectors out there...do yourself a favor, don't miss either of these places on your next jaunt across the pond.