Tuesday, June 30, 2009

London: Story City

I'm leaving for London tomorrow. It's my second visit to the city in the last 3 years, but it's a town that I feel like I've been to many more times in my imagination. I love going to places that I've been to in stories. I love walking around and letting them all play through my mind. 
I've put together a list of some of my favorite London stories. I will more than likely be thinking about these over the next few days...searching the narrow city streets for little glimpses of them.

Mary Poppins: Probably the first London trip I ever made. I remember watching this movie many times as a child and marveling at the scenery. The park scene and bank scene always stood out.  (Last trip, I took a picture of the bank). 

Guignol's Band & London Bridge by Louis-Ferdinand Celine: Basically one long novel split into two, this ranks among my 10 favorite novels ever written. It's the story of a down-and-out fringe London between the wars. It reads like the ravings of a pre-Hunter S. Thompson character...only more bitter. 
Doctor Who (the tenth doctor): Granted, far from every episode takes place in London, but many do and in many different times. The London stories are often some of the best (The Christmas Invasion and The Master saga to name two). The series obviously has the same love of London story history as I do and captures it well.

Paddington Bear by Michael Bond: Paddington was my favorite series in 2nd grade and the first series I remember seeking out and reading on my own. My own personal stuffed-animal obsession was what attracted me to the stories, but it was their magical story telling that kept my interest. Last time in London, I bought a Paddinton Bear and took him to Paddington station.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: My interest in this story is relatively new. I had never paid much attention to it until my book Thief was called a modern Oliver Twist. I sought out the story and the similarities were extensive...so I fell in love. Also, there's something about orphans and London that just go together.

Peter Pan: Despite the horrendous tainting done by Hook and that terrible movie a few years ago (which I was excited about because it was the first time a real boy was playing Peter in a movie...but yuck), this story is wonderful. Never wanting to grow up...what a splendid wish...and how sad that it's something we only wish for when we get old. As kids, I think we tend to want to grow up as fast as we can.

Performance- The 1970 movie starring Mick Jagger is one of my favorites. It's a surrealist gangster, crime story that ponders the idea of character and self in a very '60's drug culture way, and it's 100% brilliant. On the last trip to London, the number one thing on my list to do was to find the house where it took place. Mission accomplished. It was like a religious pilgrimage...."Hey ma, when's Christmas?"

28 Days Later: Walking through the streets of a ravaged London is one of the most spectacular and unnerving scenes ever put to film. Bravo.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup

I'm still catching up a bit on the missed month. So this is a bit of cheat. Some of these go back a few weeks...but hey, what can you do. There's a good diverse mix on this weekend's list. Next week, I'm off to London...last time I went to London, I came back with dozens of finds, so expect good things when the next list returns (in two weeks or so).

Wale & 9th Wonder - Back to the Feature: Wale's back with another mixtape before the new album drops this summer. The D.C. rapper has relocated to my old town of Philly and the change seems to suit him. This is tight from beginning to end. His previous efforts (all stellar) have all had some weak links. Not here. 9th Wonder is on top of his game on this one. Guest appearances by the Roots and Jean Grae hit the mark. And as always, Wale's flow is impeccable. 

Perkalaba - Chydro: New album by the Ukrainian gypsy folk rock outfit is a good listen. Similar slightly to GoGo Bordello, but with more of a folk angle than a punk angle. 

Bowerbirds - Upper Air: The second album from North Carolina folk outfit. I was disappointed by the first album. I heard the first single and loved it. Searched out the album, and it was kind of boring. This one though, they found the delicate intricacies of their sound. It has a Elvis Perkins meets Fleet Foxes sound.

Angus & Julia Stone - Hollywood ep: A very enjoyable male/female singer songwriter duo. It's one of those sunny Sunday morning albums. Every collection needs a bunch of those.

Two Dark Birds - Two Dark Birds:  Part of the '70 singer songwriter/ Cat Stevens revival, this album does it as good as anyone. Very similar to Langhorn Slim, which in my mind, ain't a bad thing.

Portugal. The Man - Church Mouth: The 2007 album from one of the bands quickly moving up my "favorites" list. There's just such a great blend of sound on their work that really symbolizes the sound of the first decade in the 2000's. It's vast, it's manic at times, sing along calm at others, and always good.

Amadine - Leave Out the Sad Parts: This ep from a band hailing from Sweden doesn't fall from the sound of other Scandinavian bands that I've loved of the past few years (Peter Murphy's Carver Combo, Dexter Jone's Circus Orchestra, Alamo Race Tracks, etc). There a gloom, grey atmosphere over the sound that is music to my ears.
F.J. McMahon - Spirit of the Golden Juice: This folk album from 1969 was a great find. A friend gave me a mix of a bunch of hippy freak folk and there was one F.J. track on it. I searched this out, his only album. It's a great lo-fi, downer, hippy freak folk album. Reminded me a ton of Jackson C. Frank's album (which is one of my favorites.)

Songs: Ohia - The Lioness: I know it seems like there's a Songs:Ohia album on each of these lists (and there will be future Jason Molina/ Magnolia Electric Co. albums to come) but that's only because they belong here. The Neil Young of our time.

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: My love affair with early-to-mid '70's Elton continues. I picked up this double album on vinyl for $3 a few weeks ago and it was worth it. Not nearly as good as Madman Across the Water, but this one is also worth adding to the collection.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another Visit to Wonderland

I've been an Alice fanatic since I was 15yo. I got into it for all of the wrong reasons. But the important thing is, I got into. Now I have quite a collection of Alice books, probably 30 or 40 different versions with different illustrations. Two summers ago, I made a pilgrimage to Oxford and walked around the grounds of the Christ Church where the real Alice heard the story for the first time. I have a photo of real Alice on my ipod, taken by Lewis Carroll.  

There's an easy explanation for this...Lewis Carroll is easily one of the biggest influences on me becoming a writer. He's an incredibly interesting figure. I credit him with inventing children's books as we know it. Prior to him, books for children were primarily for instruction. He wrote 
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland purely for the entertainment it could provide for one child. And despite the over-popularized notion, the book has nothing to do with drugs. It's about logic and about a child trying to understand the absurdity of the adult world.  

Needless to say, I'm also a sucker for anything with an Alice spin on it.

Last night I watched Phoebe in Wonderland, a wonderful film that used Alice properly. It used Wonderland in a modern way to address the problems a girl was facing in our world. I'd been wanting to see this since I first watched the trailer last winter. Being a bit of an Alice geek, I could see that it had potential. And I'm happy to say it delivered. It was heartbreaking, moving, and uplifting at the same time. Wonderland is used as a metaphor for escape for Phoebe. She doesn't fit in, the world doesn't make sense to her...but when she envelopes herself in the story, she feels at ease. It's a must see for any Alice fan.

As added benefit...here's my list of other great Alice inspired projects that you should check out:

Alice by Jan Svenkmajer- My favorite film version of the book, but it's still an interpretation and not a straight forward telling. It's a surrealist movie that captures the imagination of the story.

Coraline- I loved both the book and the movie. It borrows a lot of elements from Alice in order to tell a completely different kind of story. The movie skews a little younger but is beautiful. The novel is a little darker...but in a good way.

Miyukichan in the Wonderland- An anime film done by CLAMP (my favorite Japanese art team responsible for Cardcaptor Sakura amongst other wonderful projects.) This a complete reinterpretation of the story and focuses on the the imagery. It's a wonderful tale. (Not for young children).

The Taxi Navigator by Richard Mosher- I read this middle grade novel when I was in college and interning at the publishing house that put it out. I picked it up because of photo of the real Alice that appears on bottom right hand of the cover. In this great story about New York's West Village neighborhood, a boy meets Alice. Very enjoyable read.

The Last Mimzy - Unlike most, I actually liked the film's story better than the short story on which it was based. But either way, there's an Alice connection in that the real Alice was one of the children that received one of the messages from the future. This is a sci-fi take on the story...Sci-Fi and Alice...two of my favorites in one.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Heights: New Review

This was one of those reviews that as an author, I read and was said to myself, "Yes, they got it." It was especially rewarding in that this publication is all about the audience. It's odd sometimes when I think that nearly all the major review publications dealing with YA novels (and children's books) are geared towards adults. I understand it...they are the gatekeepers, either as librarians, teachers, or parents. But it's nice when something targeted to the intended audience appreciates a book. 

I suppose that's also why kid's reviews of my children's books mean much more to me than an industry journal. I liked it because it made me laugh, A LOT by an 8 year old, is a better review in my mind than all the praise that major publication could heap upon a book. 

My Other Bloggin' Part 4 & 5

Here's the links to the next two posts I've done for Tor.com

This one's about writing for teens...click here

This one's about horror and writing it...click here


Monday, June 22, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup (Best of the last 4 Weeks)

I know I've missed that four weekends. The problem is that I listen to so much a week that when I miss one, it starts to get overwhelming. Then I miss two and forget. But I want to get back on track. So I've picked some of the highlights over the past 4 weeks to share. These are 4 star or better albums for me...so I recommend them highly.

Pandoras.box - barriers: This is in the same catagory as Mountain of One. It's another German band, neo-psyche record. I think the Germans are finally finding their musical niche.

The Duke & The King - Nothing Gold Can Stay: Just a great singer/songwriter duo, folk record in the style of Elvis Perkins (on my all time favs). 

Quad Throw Salchow - Speed: Very interesting post-punk record. Lots of great rhythms and I love the singer's voice. Just great rockin' weirdness.

TwinSisterMoon - The Hollow Mountain: The latest side project from the Natural Snow Buildings set. A wonderful mellow freak folk album, great for drinking tea.

Band of Skulls - baby darling doll face honey: I love this album. It's a great mash-up of lots of songs that all have that "this sounds like..." appeal. The sounds like ranges from Elliot Smith, to MGMT, to Verve. Not too shabby.

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer: I was so relieved when I heard this and it was brilliant. The last SR album was a huge letdown for me. The s/t E.P. and "Shut Up I'm Dreaming" are some of my favorite albums and I love Spencer's work with Wolf Parade and Swan Lake. This is a return to form. A for Amazing.
Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers: The Manics new one...this is going to get its own post shortly, but I couldn't leave it off. It's a follow up of sorts to The Holy Bible (which came out 15 years ago and if you don't have it, you're collection is incomplete, plain and simple). I will talk in depth about later...but don't wait...get it now.

Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum: The third effort from Kfasabian harkens back a little to the first in it's experimentation with sonic structures. Groovy...eerie...bitchin'

iron and wine - around the well: I have to admit I was a little weary of this double disc set of previous toss-offs. I loved the first I&W ep five years ago, and even the LP was great. I enjoyed the record with Calexico a little less...and then his subsequent work even less less. SO expectations weren't real high. Boy, was I off the mark. An hour an half of similar sounding songs and I didn't tire of it once. If you don't know his work, this ain't a bad place to start.
Dead Confederate - Wrecking Ball: From Athens, GA this band has that dirty Nirvana sound (not the polished Nirvana imitation sound that pollutes the airwaves). It's grimey, it's loud, and it's great.
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs - Dirt Don't Hurt: Holly's best known as a garage rocker (famously appearing on White Stripes Elephant) But this album takes on a more country sound...but garage country...with a Ralph Stanely vibe. 

Ray's Vast Basement - Starvation Under Orange Trees: Songs based on Steinbeck stories (as the more literati of you may have gathered from the title) this was a great find. It's got a Woody Guthrie mixed with freak folk sound. Very americana but for the 21st century.

Flower Travellin' Band - Satori: A heavy prog/psyche band hailing from 1970 Tokyo. This was given to me by a friend and it totally blew my mind. A must for any fan of heavy 70's rock.

Circulatory System - Signal Morning: This is the first album in a few years by this collaborative band featuring members of Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. A very satisfying listen for any fans of those two bands. If you don't know those bands however...skip this and get OTC's Black Foliage or anything by NMH.

The Monkees - Pices, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, LTD.: I've been wanting this since last fall when I was playing the Monkee's Head album over and over. Fellow Monkees fans were telling me to get this one too. I found it on vinyl in the $1 bin at the local shop and what a steal. This record is amazing. I've always been fond of saying that nobody sounds like the Kinks (their '60s stuff). Well, I finally found something that does. 

My Other Bloggin' Part 3

The third guest blog spot is now up on Tor.com

you can check it out here

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Research Takes a Bunny Hop Away from the Long Ears

The research continues on the new chapter book series. But I'm getting close. The voice is starting to come to me. I had to finish the draft of my novel first and clear that voice out of my head. Now I'm feeling ready to hop in.

The latest book I read has nothing to do rabbits. (Still think you know where I'm going?). 

 Warriors: Warrior's Return: This kiddy manga is based on Erin Hunter's expansive children's book fantasy series about Cat clans. (I have yet to read the originals, but after checking this out, I plan to). It's obviously inspired by one of my all time favorite novels, Watership Down by Richard Adams. I really loved the bigness of the story, even in this short manga version, the scope was huge. The art was great and very appealing for the age group (4th grade-ish). It tells the story of Graystripe returning to his uprooted clan. The adventure scenes were very well done and the character relationships were skillful. 

I'd give 4 mice out 5.

My Other Bloggin' Part 2

My second guest blog is also up at Tor.com.

check it out here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Other Bloggin'

My first guest blog is now up on Tor.com

I'll be writing a few a week for next month, so check the first one out here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Research is for the Rabbits

So I thought I'd continue with reviewing the books I'm reading as way of research for my new children's chapter book series. (I'm wondering if you a pattern developing)

Stone Rabbit #1: B.C. Mambo

This graphic novel for younger kids follows a rabbit that discovers a portal in his bathroom. There he meets an primitive rabbit culture, fights dinosaurs, and battles and the world's first evil entrepreneur. Oh, and there's an incident with BBQ sauce. I loved the style of the book, nice bold lines reminiscent of the Powerpuff Girls. I thought the story could have been a little tighter, especially for the age group. It was too much like the wave of manic cartoons that have been dominating the toon networks over the past few years. It's the trend, so I understand why it's employed here, but I've always believed a book can and should provide a little more than that. I think a little more development of the main character would've gone a long way to fix that.

I'll give it 3 carrots out of 5. But again, 8yo boy in me would give it higher, but he wouldn't have actually read the words, just looked at the picture.

Monday, June 15, 2009


My blog is beginning to resemble my virtual baby....health, hunger, and happiness all in the red.

But the neglect stops now.

So, I've been working a lot of late. I've also been blogging (just not here). I'm writing a bunch of guest blogs for Tor.com that should appear in the next coming weeks. It's been a lot of fun writing for them. I've taken a Dr. Thompson gonzo approach. I'll post links once they're up.

In the meantime, I'm still plugging away at the 2nd/3rd draft of my novel and it's going really well. I've also got some interest on a new chapter book series. Right now I'm in the research stage. I went to the bookstore last week and picked up a bunch of things that had the feel of what I'm envisioning. I'm reading through those as I work out the storytelling style in my mind.

The first one that I read was Bunnicula by James Howe. This is a classic, but I'd actually never read it before. I read it one sitting and found it quite fun. The dog and cat characters are very authentic and complete with the quirks that make those animals so great for children's books. The two brothers were also hilarious characters and I almost wished there were more of their arguments. They reminded me a lot of the siblings in The Spiderwick Chronicles. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. In the beginning, I thought the choice of narration was going to be a problem (it was this older, wiser, voice) but it does an excellent job of adding just enough to show the voice isn't too wise. 

I'd give it 3 1/2 carrots out of 5 but the 8 year old inside me would give it 5 1/2 carrots out 4.