Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wonderland Under Attack

A few weeks ago, I posted about The Looking Glass Wars and gushed over how much I loved it. After a short pause from Wonderland to read a book set in our world, I returned to read the sequel, Seeing Redd and it was yet another happy vacation to Alice's land for me. 

One of the things that really grabs me about these books is the way you're instantly transported into its world. Typically in books set in such strange worlds, it can take a few pages (a few hundred in some cases) to really visualize your surroundings. I didn't find that to be so with either of these books. I felt I could see the world the author was conjuring. As a writer, I always aim to make my books very visual, because as a reader, that's an element I've always enjoyed. It's one of the aspects of Lewis Carroll's writing that attracted me as a teenager. I could always "see" what was happening in his books as I read them. 

The other element that has really endeared to these first two Looking Glass books to me is simply the well-written action and expansive plot. I thought the world grew greatly in second book. The new characters were well done and fit perfectly. The storylines for the old characters were also great. Though I honestly would have liked to see more of Alyss, I understand that this is the 2nd in a trilogy and the second book always belongs to the side of evil. In many ways, the books remind me of the Redwall books in terms of pace and story. Considering I devoured those books in my early 20's, that's a high compliment. 

I'm still surprised at myself for not holding any resentment over the complete blasphemy that these books are to the original Wonderland creation. I'm typically such a Wonderland purist. But in a way, what I love about these books is that they are not simply about the original, but also about what Wonderland has become in the greater consciousness. I've always seen it's such a prevalent fantasy world in the human collective, that it has been born into its own existence. It's taken on a life of it's own and become a world unique from our vision of it.  I've always believed in the idea that imagination has the power to create worlds in this way. That's not exactly the idea put forth in these books, but it's a sister sort of idea. I think that's why I can accept the sweeping changes to it. Or at least how I justify it to myself. 

I'm looking forward to book three...comes out next month. Until then, I'll keep my bags packed and keep looking out for spies of Black Imagination that may be on the loose here, there, and everywhere.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup (BANNED MUSIC EDITION)

I thought for this week's music post, I would continue with the theme of censorship that I discussed yesterday as it related to books. Books aren't the only art form that meets with first amendment challenges, in fact all art often does. Music is far from immune, and actually, I would suggest that it is targeted just as often if not more so than books. 

For some people, the choice of not listening to something isn't enough, they decide that it's their right to try to force others to make the same decision without even having the benefit of evaluation. In some case, they haven't even evaluated the music for themselves and simply object to it by title, inferences, cover art, or other arbitrary reasons. This is one of the more dangerous forms of censorship...the censoring of things they haven't even taken the time to understand. 

Like books, the banning of music is often associated with principles of protecting children, eliminating unpopular opinions, and promoting the will of the masses (or vocal minorities) on the general population. It's despicable and dangerous. If someone chooses not to like something, don't listen to it...don't let your kids listen to it...don't buy it...but you have no right to ban it. 

I've compiled a list of some of the most controversial albums below. WARNING: Some my find these albums distasteful, but that's why their on the list. However, the ideas they express have just as much of a right to exist as anyone else's. 

The Beatles - It seems unfathomable today to think the most revered band in the history of music was once one of the most controversial. 1966 was a banner year for this controversy. As most people have heard, John Lennon made his famous comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Rather than attempt to understand his point of view, knee-jerk reactionary fervor ensued and Beatles records were burned (see photo at top of the post), songs were banned from many radio stations, and suddenly the biggest band in the world was in jeopardy of fading away in the States. Also in that year was the release of the above album, which is one of the earliest incidents of outrage over cover art. People were so offended (why is beyond me) by the image that the record was pulled in many cases. 

Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols:  There wasn't really anything about the Sex Pistols that wasn't offensive. Starting with the band title, then the album title, their anarchist message, their song insulting the Queen (an absolute no-no in the U.K.). The band was notoriously signed and dropped by many labels before any official release was ever in stores (meanwhile, collecting signing bonuses the whole time, leading the Great Rock N Roll Swindle moniker). Impressively, they topped the singles charts without any radio airplay. But most offensive to people was just their attitude. As young people, their songs were really about saying to the establishment, "We're not going to fall in line." It was a complete refusal to subjugate themselves to class law and it caught on. That was the dangerous thing about the Pistols, and the thing we should all thank them for. 

Judas Priest - Stained Class: After two teenagers committed suicide allegedly while listening to this album, not only was this album and band blamed, they were actually brought to trial by grieving parents and crusading prosecutors who claimed "the music made them do it." Bringing up the which hunt tactic of backwards messages and hidden subliminal messages, the trial wasn't the laugher we might expect. The band was actually fighting for their freedom. Censorship advocates had their silver bullet so to speak...they were close to proving that messages could be so dangerous that they had the power to kill. Thankfully for civilization's sake, they lost.

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton: Probably not the first and certainly not the last hip-hop album to come under fire, but this one really pissed people off. The record is accused of glorifying violence, demeaning women, promoting drugs, and spreading civil unrest and hatred. It's the holy grail of "evil" music. Are there elements of all those things in this album? Yes. But is that what it's about? Not even close. The album is really one of the first hip-hop albums to indite the system responsible for the creation of ghettos that breed those messages. It not only states how they feel, but WHY they feel that way. It's a message a lot people don't like and therefore, they do what they always do...try to silence it. It's fine if you don't like what they have to say, but that doesn't mean they have any less of a right to say it.

Guns 'N Roses - GN'R LIES: This follow-up E.P. was put out after Appetite for Destruction's monster success. A collection of old songs from pre-fame days on one side was complimented with 4 new acoustic songs. Two in particular caused outrage. The first, "Used to Love Her" which is obviously a joke, was taken way too literally by a handful. The other, and more problematic, is "One in A Million." There are two lines in the song that particularly send people into fits as they are offend immigrants, gays, and African-Americans. But that's not what the song is about by any means. If you listen to it, it's a very personal narrative about a person struggling with poverty, alienation, and grief. It's actually a very beautiful song. I'm not defending the use of certain words, but just like with the N.W.A. album, to deny some one's right to feel a certain way and express it is plain wrong. The controversy still continues and as it seems to come up over and over concerning future issues of this album which debate leaving that track off. Axl has talked at length about this and how he feels the song was misunderstood and would rather take it off rather than be accused of being something he is not...but at the same time, is conflicted about caving to censorship. As of today, the track remains on there.

Nirvana - In Utero: I've chosen this as my example of what I'll call the Wal-Mart brand of censorship. Wal-Mart has made a habit of not selling albums it's doesn't like (which is their right). However, they also often request edited editions be made, many times this is done without the artist's consent. Now, the record companies are just as guilty there, I won't put it all on Wal-Mart. When In Utero came out, the company not only wanted a black sleeve over the cover (apparently medical mannequins are too sexy) but wanted the title of "Rape Me" changed to "Waif Me." Now, "Rape Me" was also banned from MTV, so Wal-Mart isn't alone. These are people that obviously didn't listen the song, which has nothing to do with rape but is metaphorical for the way fame and famous people are exploited and used by others for their own gain. But back to Wal-Mart, the whole concept of censoring and changing albums, as if they have some superior control over expression as some sort of moral protector of its customers is disgusting. They are still very active in this particular brand of censorship. 

Marilyn Manson - Antichrist Superstar: Practically the symbol for outraged parents in the late '90s, Marilyn Manson was at one point public enemy number one. Pre-Bin Laden, it seems he was blamed for everything that was wrong with the youth. Concerts in the mid-west were protested, he was the subject of much religious right ire, and then it was capped off when a large portion of the media went so far as to blame him for the Columbine massacre. Like the Judas Priest case, people were claiming the music made people do things. There's a great quote from Manson, from way before he was in the spotlight, when he was asked "Do you think the music makes you do what you do?" and he responded "We make the music do what it does." Rather than turn an inward eye on a society where popularity is overvalued, where parents are absent, where bullying is accepted and sometimes encouraged (all the real causes for Columbine), it's easier to find a scape goat. It's ironic that in this case, they found one who started his band as a way to test the limits of free speech and expression. 

Prussian Blue - Fragment of the Future: In 2003, Dateline did a piece on this preteen twin-sister duo, propelling them into the media spotlight. Children of White Pride activists, the band sang tradition folk music with songs about pride in their race (always a touchstone in our culture for obvious reasons). The media, always quick to take a populist stance, declared them the "Nazi Pop Twins" though there's far from any nazi messages on the album. The masses rallied to denounce these two girls and all over the internet you can still find hate rants against them from people that have never bothered to listen to the music (and isn't it ironic that objections to what is perceived as hate speech are often expressed with hateful speech). I wonder why is it that bands like Minor Threat, which had messages on par with what could be consider the "worst" on this album, are not subjected to same outrage, but are also considered music pioneers. Why misogynist manifestos chart frequently and are easily forgiven, but this isn't even given consideration? One reason is the obvious sensitivity of race issues in this country. But another is a subtler reason. I believe part of the reaction is that people don't expect (or want) cute young girls to have political opinions and certainly not to express them. This album is one of those cases of blind censorship that is so dangerous because the majority of people agree with it's censorship. To those, I remind them that free speech protects all speech. 

The September 11th effect

The next bit of the list is directly related to September 11th, a date that unleashed the best and worst of humanity...amongst which was a wave of patriotism which was easily corrupted into censorship.

The Strokes - Is This It: The debut album by NYC's most hyped band was due to come out the week after Sept. 11th. Despite being eagerly awaited, it was delayed. The reason? A track titled "NYC Cops" was to be removed for the U.S. release because it was deemed insensitive given the recent events. But the fact remains that the song is really about the abuse of NYC cops under Giuliani's reign, which anyone who lived in the city during that time can attest to. Just because the events of that day changed the image of the police force, doesn't mean the abuses of the decade before can or should be erased from history. 

The Clear Channel banned list: After Sept. 11, Clear Channel (one of the biggest radio station conglomerates in the country) circulated a list of 150 songs that they strongly suggested their stations not play because they were deemed to be upsetting or in bad taste. On this list were songs such as REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," Kansas's "Dust in the Wind" and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." This is another case of a Big Brother style of protection, as if we needed it. The fact is, the messages in many of these songs were ones that as a people, we probably should've been contemplating rather than ignoring. A full list is available here.

The Dixie Chicks - After their famous anti-Bush comment, radio stations across the country stopped playing their songs. People gathered to smash their CDs, burn them, or steam roll them. Again, this was an overwhelming display of trying to squash decent (another proud moment for Freedom under the Bush Administration). Like Prussian Blue, I think this is another example of people not tolerating political views from girls, instead just wanting them to be attractive and to sing pretty songs. 

To bring the whole thing full circle, I want to point out the picture to the left, of a young girl smashing her Dixie Chicks CD and ask you to compare it to the Beatles photo at the top. Freedom of Speech is constantly being tested. Nothing has changed and all who value a free society need to remain vigil and aware and vocal. 

I know there are those who think some of the above examples are indefensible. But I would argue that the idea of banning unpopular speech only serves to validate the fringe groups in many ways. I'm not suggesting we accept their point of view, but we need to tolerate it. If you don't tolerate the opinions of those who disagree with you and attempt to silence it...it might not be long before your point of view is the one that is declared unpopular and is silenced.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Books Week Begins Today

"Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them." from the ALA website

Today marks the start of Banned Books Week, an international event that celebrates books that have been frequently banned or challenged in so-called free nations like ours because of their content, suggestions, or simply their use of language. As an author and book lover, this is obviously a subject that's very important to me. But it's even more important to me as a person. The idea of censoring thought is one of the most despicable concepts that I can imagine...the one place where freedom needs to be absolute is in our thoughts.

The reasoning behind banning or challenging books is to protect people for potentially dangerous ideas. I suppose in its roots, it goes back to the notion of temptation by the devil, but the whole concept is absurd. Even in the Biblical teachings, there's nothing to suggest the world could or should, be free of temptation because morality needs to be tested in order to hold any conviction. People need to be free to make up their own minds about subjects otherwise their opinions are hallow and empty. 

The majority of books in our society that are challenged are generally children's books or books for teenagers, to keep kids from encountering things that may be upsetting. Now, I'm all for that...but that is not the job of society, or PTA's or School Boards, or local governments. It's the job of individual parents to decide what is or isn't appropriate for their child. If they find something unsuitable, that's their right. But there is no excuse for any self-righteous behavior that pushes their judgement on others.

Personally, I've always been of the opinion that encountering upsetting things in books is better than facing them in real life. Books provide an insight to situations that allow readers to experience things at a distance. And for the most part, the subjects that are most challenged are subjects that readers will more than likely encounter or already have (drugs, sex, and hatred). Not so coincidentally, these are also subjects that often only get talked about in hushed whispers in most families. So in many ways, books can provide reflection that otherwise isn't there.

I've had some first-hand experience with challenged books thanks to my first novel, Pure Sunshine, which is essentially a record of LCD experiences among teenage friends over the period of two days. Needless to say, it's not necessarily a favorite among some parents, teachers, or social crusaders.

    The sun fell from the sky to go and sleep elsewhere. It was a surrender of sorts, a passing of its reign for the moon to awake. And I lived for that in-between transience when the glass buildings reflected the brilliance of twilight, when the sky was swept with a short and sudden color of flames before fading dull and gray. I waited. On the park bench, I faced the clouds and waited for that perfect moment when the drugs take over.   page 1

Because the book takes no moral stance on the characters' drug use, instead trying to capture the real experience, this book has often been criticized for glorifying drug use (though, in my opinion there's a lot un-glorifying moments as well). There is a fear that teenagers reading a book like this, devoid of some heavy-handed "Just Say No" message, will run right out and take acid. To me, that seems ridiculous. I would argue that the kid who would do that, would do it anyway. And over the years, more teens have actually written to me with the opposite response...that after reading the book, their curiosity had been satisfied and that they had no desire to try the drug. I think we need to be more trusting of people to make the right decision...granted a lot of times that won't happen. But regardless, I don't think anything sets people to make wrong decisions more than trying to force a so-called "correct" one upon them. 

 If you agree...do yourself a favor this week and read a dangerous book. You can find a list here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mindful of Your Surroundings

I've talked before about how setting is often a character of its own in many of my books, and in many books in general. Writers not only have a way of percieving character and human nature, but there's also this strange ability to understand the soul of a place relatively quickly. I'm not saying one can know a place inside and out, or that some places aren't more complicated and take more time, but in general a few days in a city or area is enough to get a fair understanding of what that place's soul is like. 

Two books I've recently read provide great examples of this. Both involve foreigners writing about a place they are spending time in.

From that moment on we saw, rising to the surface, the terrifying nature of white men, exasperated, freed from constraint, absolutely unbuttoned, their true nature, same as in war. That tropical steam bath called forth instincts as August breeds toads and snakes on the fissured walls of prisons. In the European cold, under gray, puritanical northern skies, we seldom get to see our brothers’ festering cruelty except in times of carnage, but when roused by the foul fevers of the tropics, their rottenness rises to the surface. That’s when the frantic unbuttoning sets in, when filth triumphs and covers us entirely. It’s a biological confession. Once work and cold weather cease to constrain us, once they relax their grip, the white man shows you the same spectacle as a beautiful beach when the tide goes out: the truth, fetid pools, crabs, carrion, and turds.

In this passage, Celine not only recognizes the trans-formative nature of place (in this case; Africa) but also the affect place has on the psyche. Product of our environment for sure, in Celine's view. Or, I suppose, more a question of 'When in Rome'. Granted, Celine always has an uncanny way of seeing the worst in humanity, but that doesn't make his observations any less true. There is a biological element to his observation in that we adapt to be better suited to our environment (both psychical and social). To back up his claim, I will use the words of our nation's own Celine, Hunter S. Thompson regarding the desert heat. "I've never been able to properly explain myself in this climate."

The other passage I wanted to bring up was from Crime by Irvine Welsh. Besides being a great page turner of wonderful writing (as all of his books are) there was another interesting angle to this book. Reading it as an American, you get to see our bizarre nation through the eyes of one of the world's best writers. He did an amazing job capturing the absurdity of American culture and particularly the area of southern Florida, which is more absurd that most.

SUVs rumble by with slow menace, the unstable nightclub bouncers of the automobile world.              Page 145     

They drive through residential blocks, broken up by parking lots and strip malls with low-yielding enterprises like cheap insurance brokerage, electrical repairs and pet supplies stores.  Page 151

I just chose these two examples because I thought they were fun but also insightful. The first is just right on. No explanation needed. The second is more insightful I think. It's not only a simple encapsulation of our suburban sprawl, but also a deft comment on our so-called world class economy, which when you look behind the curtain, is nothing more than a marginal exchange of personal services on par with a third world nation. We just pass money around back and forth, luckily for us, there's a lot of it to pass. It's funny how someone that's not from here could see those strip malls that way, where as more Americans might not look close enough to realize most of the stores they support are essentially useless.

I don't necessarily think writers are smarter, they are just more observant than most people. Or perhaps, it's just that we feel the need to shout out into the world the things we see like Walt Whitman and later Alan Ginsberg suggested. Maybe we are just loudmouths yelling out the things most everyone else silently knows and accepts and shakes their heads hoping we'll shut up already. Sorry. We can't. It's biological. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dream Meetings

"Now, Kitty, let's consider who it was that dreamed it all. This is a serious question, my dear, and you should not go on licking your paw like that -- as if Dinah hadn't washed you this morning! You see, Kitty, it must have been either me or the Red King. He was part of my dream of course -- but then I was part of his dream too!"  Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

From time to time, I'm lucky enough to be visited in my dreams by characters I've created. Last night was one of those nights. A character from a recent book I finished took up a starring role in my dream. It wasn't the first time either this particular character has showed up and recently I've been playing around with this idea that dreams are like parallel worlds. What if, the characters are real somewhere else and I write about them because somehow our dreams get tangled together? 

This is a very Wonderlandish kind of idea. The above quote is one of my favorites, from the last paragraph of the second Alice book. This idea fascinates me: that what we think of as our dreams could really be us intruding on someone else's. There's a lot of this in The Looking Glass Wars as well, this sort of fragile dreamlike connection between worlds. It's always intrigued me.

The new novel I'm working on is partially about this concept. The character (a different one that the one that keeps me company as I sleep) has trouble distinguishing dreams from reality and it's as if the thin curtain between the two realms is tattered.

As for the other character, she's in a book you will all hopefully get to read sometime soon. But her persistence makes me suspect she isn't done with me telling her story. As I've always known, Freud would have a field day with me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Crown of Creation

For the last few months, I've mainly been working on concepts, plots, characters and general other pieces of books that will manifest themselves in the coming months . . sort of like a squirrel storing up his acorns for the winter so that I have plenty to nibble on in the frozen months where inspiriation is hard to come by unless you allow yourself to listen to the dark whisperings of the west wind, which I grant has it's share of great ideas if you're willing to pay the price that it takes on your soul, but that's a story for another time.

This past week was spent primarily collected scraps on one idea that I'm working on. Feeding all of this nuggets of ideas into my brain until that moment when it all comes together. THAT moment is one of the best feelings there is. It's like one of those paintings you have to squint and let you eyes go out of focus in order to see properly . . once everything is set in the right place, the picture opens up for you. 

That's what happened the other day. All the ideas merged and all of the sudden, I could see the story playing out like a movie in my head . . or like dream that I wasn't in but could control. Once I can see it that clearly, writing becomes the simple part. It's becomes a simple matter of transcribing and editing. Work, to be sure. But getting the insight is where the real effort is sometimes.

I thought the above painting by the extremely talented James Jean was fitting. It's called "Crayon Eater" and that kind of how I see the process working. Digesting the pieces so that they come together on the inside.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup

I've been spending most of this week giving quality listening time to a limited number of recent acquisitions and some albums that had gotten lost in the shuffle a bit and were deserving of closer attention. Without further ado...here is this edition of the Weekend Music Roundup:

Samantha Crain - Songs in the Night: A few weeks ago, I mentioned how this was on my wishlist after seeing Samantha live. Well, I'm glad to say it didn't disappoint. It's rare that I hear a voice that completely blows me away, and she has one. Her brand of Oklahoma dark folk is beautiful and moving and I highly recommend this album.

Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want: Like fellow bay area band Skygreen Leopards, Papercuts plays a mellow blend of psychedelic folk. Though, not quite up to the level of Skygreen Leopards, I'm thoroughly enjoying this album. It's good sunshine trip to go on for a bit. 

Tim Harden - The Best of Tim Harden: One of the '60s west coast folk rock pioneers, Tim Harden isn't much different from the others...acoustic guitar, political counter culture lyrics, etc. But that's not a bad thing. And Tim's deep voice burrows into every song and fills it with the weight of what he's saying. Some indie fans will recognize his song "Black Sheep Boy" from the Okkervil River cover of it (on the album of the same title). Your classic folk collection probably isn't complete with out some Tim Harden in it...at least, I don't feel like mine was.

Langhorne Slim - When the Sun's Gone Down: From the old guard to one of the new, Langhorne is a singer/songwriter with a Cat Stevens sound for the modern age. This album (from a few years ago) is a little more southern influenced than the latest one, but that's not a bad thing. Hopefully one day Langhorne, PA will be known for more than just being the home of Seasme Place.

Herman's Hermits - Introducing Herman's Hermits: One of the more forgotten (and least respected) bands of the British Invasion's first wave is Herman's Hermits. At the time, they were second only to the Beatles in popularity and listening to this first album, it's easy to hear why. Like all the British Invasion bands, there's a splattering of traditional American 50's rock n roll covers alongside original teen love ballads that are super catchy and thus Madchester was born.

Jeff Mangum - Orange Twin Field Works, Vol. 1: After Neutral Milk Hotel's demise, Jeff's musical direction took a different path. This is a collection of field recordings of Balkan folk music, bits and pieces spliced together into a wandering dream soundtrack. I bought this the week it came out (summer 2001) and didn't get it at all. Last week, I grew curious as my tastes have grown to like this kind of strange folk. Sure enough, it clicked this time. Certainly not for everyone but, but it actually doesn't stray too far from the sound compositions on NMH's early cassette album Invent Yourself a Shortcake. 

Hala Strana - Fielding: This is album is responsible for my renewed interest in the above. A drone folk album that also incorporates some field recordings, this double album is one of those soundscape albums that I love to write to. Not as good as Natural Snow Buildings, but still top quality drone folk.

The Shadows of Knight - Back Door Men: American garage rock from 1966, this album can hold it's own to early Rolling Stones albums. Reminded me a lot the Ugly Ducklings, just great blues based garage rock.

The Supremes - A Bit of Liverpool: I'm used to hearing British Invasion bands interpreting Motown, so it was interesting to hear it the other way around. I picked this up on vinyl (for FREE) and it's a really fun record. The Supremes are always great and hearing them do some of my favorite songs was a blast. 

Carole King - Music: Released a mere nine months after the Tapestry, Music is an obvious attempt to cash in on that albums huge success. Not nearly as good (but not much is), this is a collection of songs that probably didn't make the cut for Tapestry, but there are some amazing tunes on here that could've easily made it. There are others that clearly couldn't. But it still manages to capture the rainy day vibe of Tapestry and is well worth the price of admission. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Avast, mateys! Talk Like a Pirate Day be here at last!

It's here . . . Talk Like a Pirate Day! Get yer grog flowing and sing a chanty, it be time to celebrate! Though beware, being a pirate can be full of danger! 

"CAPTAIN!" Vicky yelled at the top of her lungs. She shouted so loud, I had to cover my ears, but the captain still didn't notice.

That's when Inna went up to him and tugged on his coat. Then she gave him a nudge. And when that didn't work, she gave him a swift poke in his belly!

"QUIET!" the captain roared, and the whole crew hushed. "NOBODY POKES THE CAP'N!"

All eyes turned to us! Finally we had the crew's attention!

"But Cap'n . . . we have to tell you something," I said.

He looked us up and down.

"Blimey! Where have ye soggy sea pups been?" the cap'n asked. "You're dripping from head to tail!"

"Arrr! 'Tis not safe to swim without letting the cap'n know," Peg Leg Pedro scolded us. "I thought they would've taught ye that at Pirate School!"

Vicky put her hands on her hips and made a huff. "ARRR! We didn't go swimming! We went belowdecks!"

"Belowdecks!" Captain Dan shouted. "But that would mean we sprung a leak!"

"That's what we've been trying to tell you," I explained.

"Before I could say anything . . . WHAM!

The Bone Rattler was struck on both sides! It got stuck between two huge rocks and stopped sailing!

Suddenly every pirate's timbers started shaking and shivering. It was clear that the ship was sinking!

"Great stormy seas!" Captain Dagger Dan roared. "ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP!"

Sailing the seas ain't all easy. And sometimes, it's hard to get a lazy vessel full of thrill-seeking pirates to pay attention to you. So, when that situation arises, a swift poke in the belly is a good way to get some respect. Another way is to insult the blaggard. Nothing gains a pirate respect like a good insult. That's why, with the last entry in Pirate School week, I'm leaving you with some of my favorite pirate insults.

Blunder Head: (also blunderer) Reserved for the clumsy, sea slipperiest of acts, a blunder head is what landlubbers might to refer to as a bone head. But blunder is much funnier.

Greedy Guts: The skull and bone ships are full of this type. A greedy guts cares only for their own share of the bounty. A greedy guts takes too much treasure, gobbles more than his or her share of Seaweed Slop, and is generally a big hog!

Scallywag: Possibly the worst thing a pirate could be called. Being a scallywag (or fraidy pirate) goes against every fiber of the a pirate's fearless nature. 

Daft: A funner way of calling someone dumb.

Hogwash and Gullyfluff: Saying this words accomplish the same thing. By using these expletives, you are basically calling the other pirate as being a fibber.

Barnacles: No pirate likes to be referred to as these shelled beasts that are just scrappers on to the ship. It's as good as calling them useless.

Polliwogs: Especially reserved for wee pirate kiddos, nothing gets at a pirate kid's sails all bunched up quite like being called a polliwog.

I hope you've learned a lot this week and enjoy yer day of plundering. But of course, the fun doesn't have to end. At the nearest book store, the treasure of the complete Pirate School series awaits...now that be a treasure worth seeking right there, mates!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shiver Me Silly! Pirate Week is in Full Sail!

Inna came running up in a fancy white sailor suit and hat with red ribbons.

"What are you supposed to be?" Robert asked her. "You don't look like any pirate I've ever seen." He laughed.

"Hmmmph!" Inna snorted. "Just because I like to look pretty doesn't mean I'm not a shipshape pirate," she told him. "And just because you're gross and mean doesn't make you a good pirate, either!"

So, tomorrow's the big day...Talk Like a Pirate Day...the day when mangy sea pups everywhere will be putting on eye patches and doing their wee best to imitate rotten scoundrels. But, there be one more lesson to be learned. It's an old one, but one any sea fearing buccaneer should know: you can't always judge a pirate by the look of his gruff. 

It takes more to be a pirate than just looking the part and talking the talk. A pirate comes from the inside. The sea in your lungs, that's what makes a pirate. So, if ye truly want to get into character for the big day, my advice is simple. Get yerself a copy of all the Pirate School books and discover all the lessons Pete and the gang discover along the way (Arrr, shameless plugs are part and parcel with pirating).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sink Me! It still be Pirate Week!

Talk Like a Pirate Day is in two days and I'm feeling pretty excited...so excited that today, I'm sharing with you one of my absolute favorite scenes from the series. 

In Pirate School: Port of Spies, the kids are sent to port to do a little supply shopping for the ship. But Aaron and Vicky get a little gruffy and fightable with each other, as they often do, the townspeople start to grow weary of wee pirates folk in their village.

Some of the townspeople were standing around watching us. Other people were watching us from inside the stores. And still more people were watching us from their windows.

"Arrr, everyone act normal," I whispered.

"Aye aye," my friends whispered back.

So we started acting normal. We did things that normal, non-pirate people did. I started to whistle and tap my head. Vicky walked in circles. Aaron and Gary put their hands in their pockets and kicked at stones on the dirt road. Inna walked over to the dress shop and smooshed her face against the window to look at all the dresses.

After a while, the landlubbers stopped staring at us.

I wiped my forehead and sighed. "That was a close one," I said. Pirate School #4: Port of Spies page 21-22

So, the lesson from this selection should be obvious to all. It's something every would-be pirate has known since birth...at that is: Non-piratey people are boring AND crazy. That is why we should all enjoy the day on Saturday and spend at least 24 hours behaving piratey.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

ARRR! Pirate Week Sails On!

Everyone was counting on me. But no matter how I pushed or pulled, I couldn't get the knot to budge.

"Shiver me timbers, what's taking so long! Can't ye rats just chew through the rope?" Rotten Tooth growled.

Inna held her stomach and gagged. "Yuck! That slimy rope probably tastes even worse than sea slugs."

Vicky made a grumpy face. "Well it probably tastes better than icky sicky fish eggs," she huffed.

Aaron interrupted their bickering. He leaned in between them and rolled his eyes at Rotten Tooth. "Arrr! We wouldn't have to chew it if Rotten Head let us have swords," he said.  Pirate School #3: Attack on the High Seas page 54

There's more to learn about being a pirate than just mastering their speech. Ye must be fluent in their piratey ways as well. That's what Pete and his friends are doing at Pirate School, becoming shipshape shipmates. 

Several pirate rules are demonstrated in the above passage. 

1. Pirate kids never ever get real swords...especially hyper jumpy pirate kids like Aaron. And by their nature, most pirate kids are a little more hyper-active than the average half-pint. Sharp objects...not a good idea.

2. It's never recommended to refer to yer fearsome, green-bearded Pirate teacher by an insult (Rotten Tooth will not take lightly to being called Rotten Head, that's just unacceptable). There is always a penalty to pay. That penalty most likely involves swabbing decks or washing dishes.

3. And this is a biggy...There is absolutely nothing as nasty stinking, foul-tasting, and utterly belly squirming, or squirmy in belly as Sea Slugs. Be it Sea Slug Cereal, Sea Slug Cookies, or Sea Slug Slop. As you can tell from Jennifer's perfect illustration, Inna (the cleanest pirate on the sea) hates them more than anyone. 

If there's one thing that kids find frustrating, be it real kids or pirate kids, is following soooo many rules. But another thing that's for sure is that no matter what they are learning, rules won't ever get in the way of fun and adventure. I've always believed that learning should never be so strict. There needs to be freedom in the process and that's one of the ideas that I hope these books incorporate. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pirate Week

"Sink me! We're not really going to walk across that, are we Pete?" Vicky asked me in surprise.

I looked at the skinny plank that lay across the fish tank. It was only the tiniest bit wider than my feet. One slip meant smelling like rotten fish for a month!

"Aye! We have to," I said. "Rotten Tooth is never going to teach us any real pirate stuff. Not unless we prove that we're brave enough." Pirate School: The Curse of Snake Island page 1

In anticipation of International Talk Like a Pirate Day on Sept. 19th, I've decided to dedicate the next few posts to my Pirate School series (illustrated by the wonderful Jennifer Zivoin). Each day, I'll share a little of part of one of the books, because even in pieces, they're fun to read.  In fact, writing these books was some of the most fun I've ever had, mostly because of the pirate speak I was able to interject into the books.

The simple fact is, every one likes to talk like a pirate...especially when the pirates are a bit silly behind their gruffness. In addition to standard pirate fare, I invented some piratey sounding words for the book. Why? Well, because kids always have their own slang and twist on speech. There's no reason pirate kids shouldn't as well.  

Today's Lesson is for Beginners:

1. It's ARRRR not ARRRG (that's a rookie mistake)

2. Aye....it can yes, no, a question, etc. etc. (you'll frequently see a conversation in the books that consists solely of "Aye?" "Aye!" "Aye, Aye!")

3. Anything made of sea slugs is icky-sicky (icky-sicky, I made up for them to say, because it's funny.)

That's it for today, but buckle up, matey's...there's a whole mess more of Pirate School to come! Needless to say Pete (the main character) was thrilled at the news:

"BLIMEY!" I shouted. I was so happy that I danced around. I didn't even care that pirates aren't supposed to dance.    page 54

Monday, September 14, 2009

Today's Post is Brought to You by the Letter b and the Number 3

This morning I was reading a fun post on Ghost Medicine (a great blog by writer Andrew Smith) about his feelings about certain punctuation marks. It reminded me of how I've always, since I was a child, assigned gender to the numbers and letters. Not only that, but they also took on personalities in my imagination. 

The alphabet and the numerals became characters and once that happened, I was never really able to shake the lives I made up for them. 

I thought I'd share a little of their stories with you guys.

Let's start with the number 1. He's a boy, obviously. One of those shy boys that cling to their parents in the super market aisles and hide their face if someone waves to them or says hello. He's also allergic to apples.

Number 3 is a girl. She's the kind of little girl with an attitude. The kind that sticks her tongue out at you, calls you stinky, then runs away giggling with snot bubbles coming out of her nose.

Number 5 is a bully. He's the older boy that sticks his foot out to trip you when you're minding your own business trying to get to class.

The numbers obviously get older as the get higher. Number 10 is that big kid that lives down the street and smokes cigarettes and tries to get you to do bad things because he thinks it's funny when you get in trouble for it, but you'd do anyway because you want Number 10 to think you're cool.

Letters are bit more civilized in my mythology. Numbers merely grunt, but letters communicate. This tends to make their personalities less bratty.

MNLOP - that crowd is Dullsville. They're the nerds who stick together at a party talking only themselves about something only they are interested it. Probably something scientific or perhaps local politics.

The letter E is a a video game freak. You can just tell he has the bugged-out eyes to fit the profile. He's always wired and speaking a million words per minute. He's a good guy, but you don't want to be around him too long. He's exhausting.

The letter S is beautiful. Shaped perfectly. She's the kind of woman that walks into a room and most men know instantly that she's out of their league. Yet, she's not. Because S is also very down to Earth and engagible

V...now V is out you're league.

B...well, that's easy. B is always perfect because B has always been a version of me.

And on and on it goes...Needless to say, Spelling and Math were always interesting in grade school. I simply did not like some of the characters I had to work with. It didn't always seem fair. 

As you can tell the writer's ability to read into situations works not only to discover moments of the profound, but also tortures us with the silly. We dwell on these things that most people never consider. It's our blessing and our curse...but it certainly makes life more interesting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup

The ever-continuing vinyl obsession marched on this week, giving this list a nice mix of old and new that's sure to be pleasing for both geezers and carpet biters alike.  I picked up some great stuff that had been on my wishlist for some time...some eagerly anticipated releases, some curiosities that turned out to be fantastic, and as always, some missing pieces in the collections of my favorite bands. For ease of browsing, the new stuff comes first for those who lack patience to plod all the way through my musical musings and only care about what's new...it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new as long as it's new as long as it flashes and f#@%in' bleeps in forty f#@%in' different colors.   (Special Coolness points awarded to first person who can identify that quote).

A.A. Bondy - When the Devil's Loose: Bondy's first album has been on heavy rotation since I got it over a year ago, and having heard some of the songs off this one during a concert last summer (and on his daytrotter sessions), I'd been waiting for this release for awhile. It didn't disappoint. Sure, it's the same brand of singer/songwriter folk as the last, but he captures the spirit of the pines and its lingering ghosts, both good and bad, like few others. 

Angus and Julia Stone - A Book Like This: I first encountered this Australian brother/sister folk-pop duo with their Hollywood EP, which I really enjoyed. I had put this one on my wishlist to get a further look at what they could do. I'll be honest, I partially picked this one for the title and the Wizard of Oz nod in the cover art. The album is beautiful. Reminds me a more earnest Belle & Sebestian and I'm always a fan of albums that have alternating male and female vocals.

Psychic TV - A Pagan Day: This experimental rock project dates from 1984 and is the mind-child of Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle fame. I'm not a TG or P-Orridge fan, but this one I'd heard good things about. I didn't really know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised. I'd supposed it to be a kind of early industrial bore, but it's more on par with something like Television Personalities. Lo-Fi and listenable. There's melody and nothing grating about it. Definitely will get plenty of listens. 

New Riders of the Purple Sage - Gypsy Cowboy: This band was recommended to me by my mom after we'd been talking about Gram Parsons. I picked this up on LP for $1 and that was steal. There's a definite Gram Parsons sound. This is a band of San Fran psychedelic musicians doing a California country record and it's great. "Death and Destruction" is an amazing tune.

Jim Croce - Life and Times: I've always been a Croce fan and will defend him against the haters with gusto. There's a sorrowful hope in his songs that no one else captures quite the same way. I often wonder why Cat Stevens gets more love when Jim had more to say. This is one of his must-have albums with some of his best tunes. 

Neil Young - Journey Through the Past: How this album is so often panned is beyond me. Sure, this album is certainly not a place for Neil illiterates to start. It's one of the albums that can truly only be appreciated by devotee's and fans. I say that because the beauty that lies within this record is in the subtleties. The versions of "Ohio" and "Southern Man" are spiritual. An entire side of a record version of "Words" is haunting. I always thought this was just a piece for the collection, I had no idea what I was missing.

Country Joe and The Fish - I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die: I dug this record out at a vinyl shop and the old man who owns the store was so excited anyone picked it up, that when I went to pay for it, he gave it to me. "That's a wild album," he warned. "Freaked me out when it came out." That's what I was counting on when I picked it up. I've always enjoyed Country Joe on the few things I have of his, but this is him in all his glory. Hippy freak folk with layers of meaning and intensity.

Traffic - Traffic: Traffic is becoming one of those forgotten bands and it's a shame. Dave Mason is one of all time favorite guitarists and writer of sad songs. Steve Winwood is amazing in he pre-terrible '80s days. This is a solid album with some of their best songs like "40,000 Headman".  If you're a fan of British blues rock of the late '60's, don't over look Traffic. Check out some of their records. (Also check out an even lesser known band called Groundhogs).

Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick: I've been working my way through the Tull catalog ever since Aqualung lit the bulb inside my head some 8 years ago. There's some bands that once I get tuned into, I devour their catalog like a starving Jabberwocky...then there's bands that I take a slow path, stopping and savoring along the way. Tull is one of those, mostly because Aqualung and Stand Up are so perfect that I don't want to miss anything. I got Thick as a Brick last weekend, it's really the last of their good-period that I had yet to acquire. Now having listened to it, the only thing that comes to mind is WHAT WAS I WAITING FOR! This is prog perfection.

Janis Joplin - Pearl: There are certain artists that for some reason I dismiss without knowing terribly much about them. I just have no interest. Janis was always one of those. Mostly because I associated her with faux hippy girls in High School and then the likes of Joss Stone came along and I felt even more ugh towards Janis. Then about two weeks ago, I was watching the Monteray Pop Festival concert film of 1967 and was pretty blown away by Janis's performance. Talk about giving 110%, she didn't cheat anyone. And that voice...amazing. So, I thought this was a safe buy for $2 on vinyl. It was worth a listen anyway. And wow...it's a powerful blues rock record. It reminded me of Tapestry but spun through a world of seedier hurt. Beautiful.