Saturday, October 31, 2009

How New York City Killed Halloween

My least favorite holiday has arrived. Yeah, that's right, I can't stand Halloween. It wasn't always that way. Like any other kid, I loved it once upon a time. Free candy was and still is an elementary school dream come true. I remember how impossible it was to believe you could just go around and strangers give you candy, and for that one day of the year, it was okay. (provided you searched apples for razorblades and candy wrappers for syringe punctures.)

Starting in the early teen years, the freedom to run around in a pack of hormonal wildness certainly had appeal. In later teen years, there was a lawlessness that lent itself to a lot of misadventures (readers of Pure Sunshine will know the kind of misadventure I'm talking about). 

Then everything changed come college and my move to NYC. I grew to hate the holiday. In various states of consciousness, I discovered how the day was just an excuse for people to wander the streets in full freak regalia. The whole idea of dressing up became super unappealing. Odd, considering that for a living, I pretend to be other people. But I can't stomach it. My last inspired costume was being Teenwolf in 5th grade. I'm not sure I could ever top that anyway. But I don't even want to try, so much is my dislike for this one day of the year where everything is out of tune with the universe. 

And thanks to my residence in the middle of nowhere, I don't even have the good fortune to enjoy the one possibly fun thing that remains about the holiday. I would enjoy giving out candy and making kids happy. But alas, no trick or treaters wander these hills. So, as far as I'm concerned, it's just October 31st...another day to try and remember to say "Rabbit, Rabbit" fist thing upon waking up tomorrow morning. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Piecing it All Together

I've been writing, working on my new novel, every day for the past week or so. I've finished the pivotal first two chapters and have started work on the third. It's always around this time in the process, as I'm delving into a new scene, when it hits me...I need an outline. Without one, my character takes too much control. And as all characters are mischievous by nature, I mustn't let that happen. 

I never like to start with an outline, because I like to explore a little at first. But eventually, when working many ideas into one story, there comes a time when all of the pieces need to be arranged properly or risk becoming a mess. 

I have all of these scenes and bits of conversations that will take place over the course of the book. I know where the character is coming from and where she's going. Now I have to decide the best way to dole out this information so that story is compelling. I've always felt pacing to be one of the keys to writing a good novel. And this is the one place where a rough outline can really help. It keeps me from wandering or repeating myself by helping me focus on the scene at hand. I no longer worry about all the other things I want to say...because of the outline, I know they're covered, all in their own time.

So, I'm off to the cafe to sort through these pieces. Hopefully to return with a really good frame with a blank canvas to fill in. (artwork above by the wonderful James Jean).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nice to Meet You...I Will Be Your Author for This Book (Part II)

So just over a week ago, I wrote about how as an author, you have to spend time getting to know your character. Oddly enough, I started reading a new book the other day that coincidentally relates.

The premise of Raymond Queneau's the flight of is icarus is about an author who has lost his main character after only "10 or 15 pages" and begins a desperate search to find him, as he had high hopes for this character. 

At first he is convinced that one of his colleagues has stolen the character. He hires a literary detective to track down his missing character (who actually blew off the pages and out the window when the novelist carelessly left his manuscript out on morning). Here's edited excerpt from his first meeting with the detective (The ... indicates part of the passage I left out):

HUBERT Well then. Let me introduce myself: Hubert Lubert, a novelist by profession, by vocation, even, and I might add, of some renown. Since I am a novelist, then, I write novels. And since I write novels, I deal with characters. And now one of them has vanished. Literally. A novel I had just begun, about ten pages, fifteen at the most, and in which I had placed the highest hopes, an now the principal character, whom I had barely begun to outline, disappears. As I obviously cannot continue without him, I have come to ask you to find him for me.


 MORCOL All right, all right. Obviously you haven’t got a photograph.

 HUBERT Obviously not.

 MORCOL Allow me to ask you a few questions. Age?

HUBERT Young, as I saw him.


MORCOL Special peculiarities?

HUBERT I haven’t given him any.

MORCOL Residence?

HUBERT I intended him to live in the rue Bleue.

MORCOL What number?

HUBERT An odd number.

MORCOL Which one? There are quite a lot.

HUBERT I haven’t decided yet.

MORCOL None of this helps me very much.

HUBERT As I told you, I’d only just begun him.

MORCOL Has he any relations? Any friends?

HUBERT I haven’t thought about that yet, but I have very pure fiancĂ©e in mind for him.

MORCOL Does he like her?

HUBERT We haven't reached that point yet.

Queneau is such a fantastic writer of dialogue, I've always been able to hear the inflections in the voices without any effort. And he has a great sense of humor which shows through in subtle word play that I've always enjoyed. This particular passage cracked me up, as just last week, I would have felt much like Hubert trying to describe my main character. 

I'm happy to report that me and my character are much closer now. We've bonded. Then again, she's only about 10-15 pages old, so I'd better be sure not to lose her in a strong wind. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup

I did something this week that I haven't done in a long time, I bought a bunch of CDs at the mall. Now, living in the sticks as I do, my mall is some forty minutes away and is one of the strangest malls I've ever inhabited. Growing up in Dirty Jersey as I did, where hanging out at the mall is pretty much the favored past time between the ages of 11 years old and 18 years old, trust me when I saw I know malls and I know this mall is bizarre. But I digress...the point is, I was there to do some necessary shopping and see a flick, when I passed the F.Y.E.  Now as far as mall record shops go, it's not horrible. I'll stop in on occasion, but not religiously. But as I passed by, I noticed the banner "All CDs $9.99 or Less" and did a double take. Certainly worth a breeze through. Some made it on this list, but some I'm saving for next week.

Langhorne Slim - Be Set Free: The newest by Slim is another great set of songs in the best Cat Stevens, Jim Croce style of songwriting. An amazing voice, great plucking, what more could you ask. You can't wrong with any of his three albums.

The Raveonettes - In and Out of Control: The Raveonettes are one of those bands that I've always liked, but never really got way into. Their earlier greaser inspired rock is fun, but never stuck too much. Then came their last album, Lust Lust Lust and I loved the shoegazer appeal of it. This album seemed a mix of the old and new sound. On first listen, I wasn't too thrilled. But after the third listen, I realized I really enjoyed this. Not as profound as Lust, but very good. Like a milder Lush which I always thought Lush needed to be a bit clearer and milder. 

Amelie - Dina Dinah: Very much a Joanna Newsome imitation, but not in a bad way. This was a very enjoyable listen of a old tyme ren-folk. I was attracted to it by the catgirl motif (CatKid forces me to check out anything Nekko) Plus, I couldn't help but think there was an Alice reference as Dinah is Alice's cat's name. Not sure that there was, but an enjoyable listen nonetheless. 

Nightmare of You - infomaniac: This is the follow-up to the band's 2006 debut which made a minor splash in the world. I never heard that entire album, but enjoyed the few songs that I had listened to. This was one of $9.99 purchases and it was well worth it. This is a soft sound, along the lines of the Portland bands around, but very expansive in its own way. 

Florence and the Machine - Lungs: The voice is the star of this album. It soars and leaves a trail of emotion behind. In a lot of ways, it's very Bjork in her controlled moments (think Selma Songs) but with more depth. Whereas Bjork's voice comes out her head, Florence's aptly comes from the lungs. Musically, it's catchy, which is nice change. I feel like most bands with a such a powerful singer would hide the music is very simple rhythms. 

Hourglass - Oblivious to the Obvious: This album belongs to new school of prog-metal albums that seem to be everywhere these days. I do love me some prog-metal, which usually depends on the voice and lyrics as to whether it falls under great or corny. Hourglass has all the right components. This album never bored me, but at the same time, it kind of felt like an average Porcupine Tree album. Still though, an average Porcupine Tree album is still better than a lot of the prog metal out there.  

Brand New - Daisy: Unfairly categorized as 'emo' which has become a terrible tag, Brand New is a very interesting band. I enjoyed their last album (though not as much as the demo bootleg that preceded it). In my opinion, this album shows a leap forward to the band. Sure, that makes them more commercial, but at the same time, they've gotten more ambitious and experimental. This is the best that power rock gets these days. 

Natural Snow Buildings - The Winter Ray: This is older album by my favorite drone folk band. Though surely not their best, this is great soundscape record. Over two hours of winter sounds. There's more of a Boards of Canada sound on here (not turntables but more ambient) and I love the mixture of field recordings. It should hold me over until I pick up their new album.

Cage the Elephant: I became intrigued by this band after seeing their rather odd video on Subterranean last week. There was something very '90s Seattle about them, but in a real way, not in a industry "you should try this sound" sort of way. It was natural. And that's sort of what it is, like the Vines or others. If that's your thing, it's a solid effort. I enjoyed it. 

Seatrain: A late '60s progressive folk outfit, Seatrain was a band recommended to me by my mom a few months ago. While in the city two weeks ago, I came across this '69 debut used on vinyl and picked it up. I like it a lot. There's kind of an early Jethro Tull feel to it. Good stuff and a sound there is never enough of out there.

Sebedoh - Harmacy: I was never a big Sebedoh fan back in the day (ie. the first half of the '90s), but I've always respected Lou Barlow's other projects (Dinosaur Jr., Folk Explosion, solo). My roommate had most of the Sebedoh albums, so there was no need to ever buy them and I never replaced them as I had many other things from his collection. But recently been interested in revisiting. I picked this one up and of course, loved the Lou Barlow songs. Not so into the others which are more or less toss-off punk songs. But then again, that's what makes Sebedoh different from a Lou Barlow solo album. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

When the World Suddenly Seems too Big

There's a moment in life, usually around adolescence, when we realize that our childhood has ended and things can't ever go back to the way they were. We learn that we can't always make everything alright by saying sorry or drawing a picture (not that those things ever fail to help a little). That there are some things that are going to be terrible and cause us hurt no matter what we do about them. 

I was so thoroughly impressed with the way Where the Wild Things dealt with this harsh subject matter. The film uses the imaginative retreat of the book as a metaphor for a child coming to terms with this difficult life lesson. It never strays from the issue, never tries to coat it, and never loses touch with the tough emotional struggle that goes along with it. 

There's a line in the Arcade Fire song used in the advertising of the film that sums up the movie very well. The song, addressed to children, warns "Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up." For many of us, that's how we feel in those years between being a child and finally feeling comfortable with the freedom of our late teenage years. I was surprise how geared this movie was toward that age group...not really at all toward the under 12 crowd. 

Sure, the movie is full of beautiful images, talking muppets, sweeping sets and other marvels. But all of that takes a back seat to the moving performance of the kid playing Max. At its heart, this movie is about a boy dealing with issues of a splintered family, loneliness, and general fears about a world that suddenly seems too big to shut out of the forts he builds out of bedding or snow. And while there is a deep sadness to the movie, there is also a overwhelming sense of hope. Unlike most kid-fare or Hollywood story lines, the message isn't that everything will be okay. The message is very clear. Everything will not be okay or work out how you always want, but in the end there is enough good to outweigh the bad as long as we're considerate and accepting. 

I also just finished a very good book called Ronia, The Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame. I picked up an old hardcover copy this book at my local library's sale two weekends ago for the sweet price of 25¢ -- I felt like I was stealing. Though a vastly different story than the modern tale in Where the Wild Things Are, this light fantasy set long ago in the deep woods of Scandinavia, also deals quite a bit with the end of childhood. 

Like Max, Ronia struggles with a parent's actions that she doesn't agree with, causing them both much pain. Also like Max, Ronia is wild and imaginative and a bit stubborn when the world doesn't bow to her plans for it. Along the way, she learns that compromise is part of growing up. The messages are very different, but then again, I think the audience for this is much younger. It's like an advance warning where as Where the Wild Things is really a document to help kids having already gone through it comes to terms with this period of life.

As childhood gets further away, for some reason many of us tend to look at it as such a free and easy time. Though it can be, I think many people often forget that it's also the time when many of life's most difficult lessons are learned. This is a theme I think about often. It plays out a lot in my own writing and the novel I'm currently working on is no exception. It was nice to encounter two pieces in the same week that dealt with it so well.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Insect Wars

I hate insects. 

If that makes me a bigot, or speciest, or mammalist, then so be it. But I swear by all things furry that those exoskeleton miniature monsters give me the hibby-jibbies. 

I hate their size. I hate their immense population of astronomical numbers. I hate the way they move in that insectiod way of theirs. I make a fist at the sight of bees. I scream at the sight of spiders (only the real ugly big ones though). I swat skeeters. I kill flies mercilessly. I am a soldier in the good fight. 

A metaphor that has crept up in a lot of my writing (and even more so in a stack of unfinished experimental novels I wrote in the early half of this decade) is this idea that insects are spies in a war against humanity communicating with their masters through those clicking antenna. This idea comes from various sources. Burroughs toyed with it. But my primary fear of the buggards didn't really develop until I moved to New York and had to deal with palm-sized waterbugs (giant, giant roaches for those who are unfamilar...if you've ever played Fallout 3 and beat Radroaches to death with a baseball bat, you have some idea what I'm talking about.) Everything changed one day, in the sub-basement of a building on Broadway, I encountered one of these brutes unlike the rest. It had a diamond shaped pattern on its back and was not intimidated by me. I didn't dare kill it, for I knew it was the leader.

Since that day, the insects are onto me. I have a deal with the roaches, but the roaches have enemies. I fought an epic war with the carpenter ants this past summer. No truce could be reached and I had to call the professionals with the chemical weapons. The front is quiet for not. 

But my war is a two front war. One of the odd things about where I live is that on any warm day in the fall, the sky fills with so many ladybugs, one might think it were raining. Now, I know you're all thinking, Ladybugs! I love ladybugs! They're so cute. And yes, they are probably the only insect that can crawl on me and I don't totally freak out. But when there's thousands of them, the cuteness wears off and they become a know, kind of like children. 

Apparently, they swarm on warm fall days looking for a place to spend the winter. That place tends to be somebody's house. My house. They creep and crawl over the outside searching for any tiny crack. You can't stop them from getting in. You can't defend from the outside either, because they're everywhere and will land all over you like little parachuters. The only defense is from the inside. 

My war plan is simple. Wait until nightfall. Turn on one light in the loft so that it shines on the ceiling. Then make multiple trips to collect those that fall for the trap. The other day, I spent all evening removing them and tossing them outside (yes, even I try my best not to kill ladybugs, but sometimes, there are accidents). I must have released three hundred back into the wild in this method.

The trick is to get them out as they arrive, or you'll be dealing with them all winter long. It's frustrating, but after the ant disaster, I'm less annoyed. I hope to reach a peace accord with the ladybugs at some point. If I can get them on my side, the larger war might turn in my favor. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Watch Out for the Mirror Man and Elixir Sue

There's something going on with the moon this autumn which has been lending me its gift of rather epic dreams. One seemed to last an entire summer. Another involved discovering that a friend I've known for nearly twenty years was actually a serial killer. (There was also some weird unrelated blood worms crawling out of a drain grate in the middle of his bathroom floor too, but that's beside the point.)

As odd as any of that might sound, the oddest thing is that in the past four or five days, I've had two dreams where I've looked into a mirror. This is a rare thing for me. I can only recall a handful of such dreams ever, so two in one week is quite an experience.

There's nothing quite as jilting as catching your reflection and it's someone else staring back at you. There's a flickering moment of horror, when that happens. But it quickly fades. Instantly, it's as if you have indeed become that reflection and it's completely normal. You inhabit the role. The imagination is skipping the needle, feeding the plot, and changing the direction of the narrative. 

If you've been following the past month or so, you know I've been dream obsessed lately as part of the book I'm working on. So naturally, I've been digesting this latest phenomenon and wondering how it could be used. The most obvious interpretation is that we are not who we appear to be . . nor who we think we are . . and of course, that others don't see us the way we see ourselves. There's tons of Freudian applications as well. I always love to think about Freudian applications. I've always believed them to be somewhat truth, though I've always doubted the strength of these buried feelings in driving our motivations or actions. It's good fun to think about, but that's all.

If you're still reading, I'm sure you're wondering what I saw. I will share:

Dream 1: I was at a huge party with strangers in this expansive house with a giant courtyard somewhere in Brooklyn that could only exist in a dream. There was a massive organized game of charades going on. We were all assigned into teams and had to perform a scene from some assigned movie. In typical dream logic, the game was being played across global lines as the performances were being televised to another group in China who were the ones guessing. My team of strangers and I were given "Meet Me In St. Louis" (where that came from, I have no idea). When I caught my reflection, I was no longer me. I was Margret O'Brien.  (Talk about a Freudian field day)

Dream 2: This one I blame on video games, but in the dream I blew up a crowd of policeman standing outside a station in some pseudo-Manhattan. It was an accidental act of terror. I had been confused and regretted the action right away. The explosion was intense. I'm pretty sure I felt some sort of pain, or at least, felt like I should have. (Probably my cat pawing at my face, wanting her breakfast). In order to hide, I ditched my gear, and strolled right into the police station. Chaos reigned. I blended in and went to the Men's Room. When I looked in the mirror, my hand was bloody and there were deep cuts all over me. The oddest thing however, was that the person staring back WAS really me. I don't remember that happening before. I've been Margret O'Brien, I've been a Vietnamese soldier, I've even been a pregnant woman, but I can't recall ever seeing my own reflection before. It was in some ways more unsettling.

But alas, these are the great mysteries that surround dreams and why they've always fascinated me. A really epic dream in a way is like experiencing a great novel in that fictional events make lasting impressions. Dreams are fiction that stay with you, makes you think, and makes you consider things differently. Somehow this will all tie together in the new book, but for now...just something to think about.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup (Monday Morning Edition)

Though it's Monday, today is my unofficial weekend day as I was working the entire 'real' weekend. But don't fret. A day late just means more audio satisfaction to pass onto you all. That's why this list is expanded to 12 albums from the usual ten. 

This past week was a return to habit. I've been working on cutting down my endlessly ballooning wishlist, so the spread here is a nice mix of old and new. A very diverse list with something for the whole family.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Pol Pot's Pleasure Penthouse: This is an interesting listen for fans. On this early release, the band hasn't yet perfected their signature neo-pysch sound. But the roots of it are there. Hearing it mixed with a more traditional shoegazer sound makes this a solid listen. Plus, the title. They always have the best titles.
Sivert Hoyem - Moon Landing: This is the third solo album from the frontman of one of this decades best bands (Madrugada). His voice sounds like it rose up from the icy depths of the Scandinavian landscape . . one of those voices that you feel in your bones. This collection of songs is very good. But it does feel like a collection of songs. Worth it for fans, but if you don't his work, I'd still recommend picking up his fist solo album and the first few Madrugada albums.

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic: The album that completely blew me away this week would have to be this one. Now, I'm not a huge Lips fan. Like everybody else, I appreciate the beautiful concept album Yoshimi and enjoy The Soft Bulletin, but most everything else I've heard from them feels over indulgent and bloated. So, my expectations for this were non-existent. I put it on, half feeling like I'd pay attention to it. It got my attention from song one and held it throughout. It feels huge but doesn't feel bloated. It's like a sci-fi or fantasy novel that is successful in creating another world. It's an epic work. 

Kaizers Orchestra - Vare demoner: The newest from Norway's Kaizer's outfit is probably not as good as some of the earlier releases this decade, but it's still very good. What I love about them is that the music is very clever. In my mind, their albums run like conspiracy plots involving very shady characters. Perhaps that's because I don't understand everything they're saying, but the music alone definitely tells a story. It's dark, up-tempo garage with a clean sound. 

Dead Man's Bones - Close second for the album that blew me away award. This is Ryan Gosling (the actor) playing with a Children's Choir singing very roots kind of folk songs (mostly about death) with lots of chimes and bells and other calamities to make the sound of marching skeletons. His voice is deep and surprisingly great. The children are amazing. The combination...perfect. 
The Littl'ans - Primitive World: This London band has been one of my latest obsessions the past few weeks. After listening to an EP they did with Pete Doherty, I was instantly hooked by their jangling free-form tales of travels through the seedy underworld. This, their only full-length was equally good, actually better because there's more songs. I dare you to be able to listen to Chelsea and not get it out of your head for two days. 

Janis Joplin & Jorma Kaukonen - The Typewriter Tape: Recorded in Jorma's home in the summer of '64, this is one of those great lost treasures. Two legendary musicians got together and played this very relaxed set of blues. Stripped of all production, you hear the talent and the enjoyment they had laying down these tracks. The title comes from the fact that Jorma's wife is playing the typewriter keys throughout. Some may find that annoying. I actually love it, but I'm a sucker for typewriters for obvious reasons. Plus, it adds to the "being in the room" feel.

Fredrik - Na Na Ni: This is turning into the Scandinavian list (unintentionally). Hailing from Sweden, this band is one of those experimental folk outfits that I love so much. This is a very solid record. It's not quite up to Natural Snow Buildings, but along those lines. Though, it should be noted that Fredrik strives for more of a pop melody than NSB, which is probably a welcomed note for some of you.

Betty Wright - My First Time Around: This is a record I missed last Fall when I was doing my kidcore studies, but I'm glad I found it eventually. Only 15 when this Southern Soul singer recorded this stomping album, Betty Wright's voice sounds much older and wiser than her years. (Not that 15 years old can't be wise, mind you). A must for any late '60s soul fan.
The Incredible String Band: I'm by no means an ISB illiterate, owning three of their other freak folk classics (which is probably three more than my wife feels necessary). Going back to my college days, my best friend and I would throw on The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and mellow out to their crazy hippy vibe. When I saw this, their first release, used on vinyl at Kim's in the city for $4.99, I had to get it...and it just may be my favorite of theirs. It's much more controlled, much calmer, but at the same time sounds out of this world. It sounds like you kind of expect it to have been recorded right there as they were taking that cover photo. All hail the freak folk pioneers. 

Tim Buckley - Starsailor: Tim is one of many who have been on my "someday, you need to check this out" list for years. He's a legend, but I can honestly say I didn't know any of his music. I picked this up with years of curiosity going into the first listen. Lots of times, that's a dangerous thing and a sure way to disappointment. Not this time however. It was more than I ever imagined. I expected a folk singer-songwriter. I got something much more experimental and lasting. I feel this will be in heavy rotation for the long winter months, much as Sandy Hurvitz's was last winter.

Alice Kooper - Killer: My recent experiences with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden have caused me to go back and look at some of these earlier acts that, by the time I started getting into music, had become kind of caricatures of themselves and were dismissed for the youth of the day (meaning late '80s). Alice was one of those. Over the years, I've always been a little curious to check out his early 70's work. I knew it was one of the roots of glam and being that I love Detroit rock, it only seemed natural that I'd like these albums. I finally listened to Killer and wow, that's some good rock and roll. Aptly titled, there's the swagger of the New York Dolls and the grit of the Stooges on this album...can't wait to hear some more.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cheerful Friday

Yesterday was a good day and not only because my yard saw the first snow of the season. Though, that's a big part of it. I love winter. I love snow. I love the short days and the grey clouds that hang over the trees like the stretched remains of slaughtered ghosts. I've always felt more creative in the winter. 

Every novel I've ever written has been written during the winter months. The fallen leaves are like words scattered about for the choosing. I pick up the ones that fit, the ones with the right color, and place them where they need to go. So the wet snow that fell yesterday was a good omen as I begin the new novel in earnest.

But the other piece of good news yesterday came from a young fan. I had recently allowed a bright 11 year old girl read the manuscript for the middle grade book that I finished last spring. As it makes its way through the publisher rounds, I thought it couldn't hurt to get the opinion of someone from the intended audience. And no one will give you an honest opinion quite like a bright 11 year old girl.

I got her feedback yesterday. She said, "It is such a great amazing story and I so totally wasn't ready for the ending!" In short, she very much enjoyed it. She had to read a 300 page manuscript on the computer in a matter of days. I think that equals a Starred Review from any of the journals as far as I'm concerned.

Needless to say, the praise made me happy. I believed the story was good, but it ain't good until a kid says it's good . . because unlike novels where the process is really about a selfish sense of satisfaction, children's book writing is really about pleasing the audience. You tell a child a story not for the enjoyment of telling but for the enjoyment of the listener. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nice to Meet You...I Will Be Your Author for This Book

As I get ready to embark on the exhausting process of actually writing my next novel, rather than the months of just taking notes and thinking about it, the time has come for me to formally introduce myself to my main character. 

To write in a character's voice, one that's other than my own, I really need to get to know that person . . their habits, their expressions, the things that sadden them and how they show that or don't show it, the little things that make them laugh, what they like to eat . . basically everything. During the writing process, the main character character is going to be as real as anybody else for the writer. A writer needs to made the effort to gain their trust if he or she hopes to be lent the character's voice.

So over the next few days, I'll be spending a lot of time getting inside this character's head, or better yet, getting her inside of mine. Of course, we've met already. I know many things about her. 

* I know she's not naive though people assume she is.

* I know she's generally happy though people assume she is not.

* I know she doesn't like conversations with people 
   who aren't interested in what she has to say.

She's spoken to me in bits and pieces over the past few months. But this weekend, it's time for us to have a heart-to-heart. With my pen in hand, I'll sit back by the fire, spin some records and let her open up. I'm all ears. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Being Fluffy Tuffy

For good reason, a lot of writers swear they never look at reviews. They don't want to see them because for as much as a great review feels validating, a terrible review gnaws at you until you want to find the person and scream at them about all the things they didn't get. Because that's the thing about writers, though we'll accept constructive criticism and concede certain points, in the end, we're sure we're right.

Unfortunately for me, I'm weak willed and not one of these writers that can avoid the curiosity of what's being said about my work. So, I went trolling and came across a review of Zombie Blondes the other day that really upset me. It was on one of the endless book review blogs. Now, unlike some people I know, I don't have a problem with these blogs. In fact, I'm very appreciative of them. I think many of them (especially those run by teens) do a better job of getting information on new books out to other teens than publishers ever have. But with more reviewers out there without a literary background, it strongly increases the the chance for the "Oh my god! I HATED this book" review. And in some ways, those sting more coming from the audience than from some picky librarian.

I guess what really bothers me about the negative Zombie Blondes reviews (and there's a lot of them, though I'm happy to say there's a lot of good ones too) is that so often the review doesn't stem from the book but from the reader's expectations. Being part of a genre trend (though let me point out that Zombie Blondes along with Generation Dead were the start of the trend), doesn't help. The current zombie and vampire books all fit a mold of which my book doesn't belong to, but gets lumped into. 

My books isn't a light-hearted romp. It isn't an action novel. It isn't a romance novel in a goth disguise. MY NOVEL is a novel about the willingness to ignore bad situations, about shutting off that voice inside us that is warning us against certain decisions in favor of temptation. It's a novel about the lure of fascism and the regret of succumbing to its appeal. It's a novel about the cult of popularity and the abuse of power structures. It's about seeing past the surface of society and glimpsing the fettering evil ugliness that makes it run. 

But alas, I know these things shouldn't bother me. Maybe I just to need be more like my cats, fluffy tuffy and let it wash over me. But it's not in my nature, which doesn't bode well for me since it's also in a writer's nature to be overly sensitive. I believe Richard Brautigan summed us best in this metaphor.

I will be very careful the next time I fall in love, she told herself. Also, she had made a promise to herself that she intended on keeping. She was never going to go out with another writer: no matter how charming, sensitive, inventive or fun they could be. They weren’t worth it in the long run. They were emotionally too expensive and the upkeep was too complicated. They were like having a vacuum cleaner around that broke all the time and only Einstein could fix.

 She wanted her next lover to be a broom.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup

I almost decided against a roundup this week seeing as how the last two posts were also music related, but I thought better of bucking against tradition. So without further delay, here's the crop of musical musings for the week. Most of the past two weeks, I've been spending more time with albums I've acquired over the summer. Ones that have previously appeared on this list and were deserving of more quality time. But that said, there's always time for some new finds.

Sea of Trees - Live at the Linda: This is a band from Albany (my general region of residence). They were offering this E.P. as a free download from their website and I decided to give some local music a chance. Glad I did. This is a beautiful set of songs. Swirling vocals, Elephant 6ish constructions, each song sounds a shoegazer interpretation of the NMH's  "Oh, Comely", which is to say...damned good. I hope to see them live soon. (If you guys are reading this, play Woodstock!) 

Cocoon - Back to Panda Mountain: This is a live album from one the best French indie-pop bands around. Their debut album My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash has been one of my favorites for the last year or so. They sing beautiful campfire pop songs that are also incredibly sad. They don't lose anything live and the crowd's interaction almost adds to the nature of the songs. 

Noel Gallagher - The Dreams We Have As Children: A recording of Noel's solo concert at the Royal Albert Hall was a vastly pleasant surprise. A lot of these songs, I've heard Noel sing before, either because he sings them on the albums or they're songs such as "Wonderwall" where Liam has refused to sing over the years. Some, were new to me with Noel's voice and they sound great. I love Liam's voice, but there's also something about hearing the emotion that the songwriter puts into a tune that is pretty unbeatable.

Queenadreena - Djin: The highlight of the second half of my week was when the new album by one of my favorite bands of the decade came in the mail. Rising from the ashes of Daisy Chainsaw, this is Queenadreena's first album since The Butcher and the Butterfly, one of my 10 favorites of the decade, and this is just as brutal and powerful. Self-released, this is only available from the band's website as of now, but worth the buy. Katie Jane Garside's voice is just as brilliant as it was back in 1992 when Daisy Chainsaw burst onto the scene. David Gray's guitar playing is violent and amazing. Highly recommend you get anything and everything by this band.

Bear Hands - Golden EP: This was the opening band for the Manics on Wednesday, so I checked them out before hand. This is the Brooklyn based band's only release thus far, but I understand a full-length is soon on the way. They're in the mold of other recent NYC post-punk outfits producing a fuzzed-out fast paced rock that's also strangely danceable. Reminds me a lot of Death From Above (1979). Good stuff.

The Executioner's Last Song - Volume 1: This compilation is a collection of songs surrounding death, capital punishment, and sadness featuring greats like Neko Case, Johnny Dowd, and many more. Some great death folk music on here with a political message. Great for fans of Murder by Death, Bonnie Prince Billy's I See a Darkness, and other such greats. 

Etta James - Come a Little Closer: I picked this up on vinyl this week and really enjoyed it. Etta's voice is always amazing, but there's an added element of a tortured soul in this collection of soul songs. Recorded while she was in rehab, you can hear the tinge of defeat and sadness even in the upbeat songs, which gives them an added depth. 

Harry Nilsson - A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night: Nilsson had become a rock star prior to recording this album, and rumor is, he didn't like being one. So came this album that must have shocked fans of his previous albums at the time. This is a collection of standards, crooned in Rat Pack glory. But it's a great listen and Nilsson's voice never sounded better. 


Due to the lack of new material, I've decide to pull out two from my vaults. These 5 star albums date back to my college days in the mid-90's, but they still impress me every time I listen to them. Plus, these bands never get enough attention.

Ghost - Second Time Around: The second album from Japan's psychedelic legends is perhaps my favorite. More folky than some other efforts, this album is like the soundtrack to another place . . a dreamscape of sorts. But it also hits with incredible moments of sonic grooving that get the head spinning and bobbing. 

Groundhogs - Thank Christ for the Bomb: It's a tragedy that this British blues-rock outfit doesn't get more love while many of their contemporaries are revered. Their playing is unmatched and their message and lyrics are on par with the bests of the era. Though I love many of their albums, this is the classic must-have. "Soldier" and "Thank Christ for The Bomb" will make all those fans of Pink Floyd's The Wall want to toss that record on the floor and complete the conversion to the church of Groundhogs.

Friday, October 9, 2009

In the Beginning, When We Were Winning

So here it is, the Manics concert followup, which I meant to post yesterday but was too tired and still digesting. I'm not going to write a song by song review. Mostly because it would read like an adolescent boy's daily lunchtime conversation about video games; Awesome! Awesomer! So Awesome. For me, there's a deeper connection to the Manic Street Preachers' music than just loving the songs and that's what I want to talk about . . that connection that we make as individuals to certain pieces of art.

Though there are many bands that I love with a passion, there are only a handful that I ever felt, at one time or another in my life, as if they were speaking directly to me. Figuratively, of course. I'm not so far crazy yet that I think the television is talking to me (which actually happens to be the premise behind the first children's story I ever wrote when I was 17, but that's a story for another time). 

The Manics are one of those few bands. There's a collective world view presented in their songs that very much aligns with my own. Issues of class, capitalism, society, emotion, and being on the outside of all of those things looking in, I listen to them and just nod my head, thinking right on. And the fact that they choose to express those opinions in literary ways, endears the music to me even more. 

As I was watching the show, I was thinking about this idea of connection. It occurred to me that the way I felt at that moment was probably similar to way many of the readers who have emailed me about my writing, feel about my books. I mean, I knew that before. But I guess I never felt it. It was quite a wonderful feeling. I'm really appreciative of having such dedicated and unique fans. 

I think sometimes people think that the whole notion of praise or "the love of the crowd" is somehow vanity. Though I suppose it could be, I don't think that's true in a lot of cases. For some, myself included, it's about howling into the world and getting a response that tells you you're not alone. I honestly believe that's what the Manics are about too. They are more than a band with fans. They believe in the we that are the fans. They believe in art as revolution, or at least in its power to change minds. I have to say, I do too.