Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Morning Glory

This week, I want to share a line that has been stuck with me for fourteen years. For over a year, The Verve's Northern Soul album felt like the soundtrack to my life. The words and music completely captured the way I felt, living in a small apartment on St. Mark's Place in New York City, my body filled with substances and my mind filled with make-believe. There are many, many lines in that album that I could pick out, but there is one in particular that my mind always returns to. It comes from the song "Life's An Ocean" and it goes like this:

-Imagine the future, woke up with a scream
I was buying some feelings from a vending machine-
Richard Ashcroft

What a horrifying, yet believable image even in the mid '90s. It is even more believable today in a world where so many emotions are controlled by prescription. In a more metaphorical sense, we can download applications designed for momentary enjoyment and our serotonin levels are constantly jumping with each new posted comment or text that comes into our world. We are sort of living that future now and forever marching forward.

As with the previous two lines, this one was integral to the development of one of the main characters in my new novel. He views the world through the same lens as one who might write that line. Another bit of trivia, the lines that follow these in the song make up the quote in the beginning of my novel Perfect World.

-There's something inside of me
Crying out for something else
And if someone hears this scream
Put it in a letter to me-
Richard Ashcroft

As I said, this album played a huge part in my life in the years where I was really finding out who I was artistically. If you don't own it, I highly recommend you do. It is still one of ten favorite albums of all time.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup (A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N Roll)

There's something about sweltering early summer days that makes me want to listen to something with a little twang in it. I'm not talking about that horrible garbage that pollutes the airwaves which popular culture calls "country" music when really it's just corporate radio rock packaged in a cowboy hat and some over-the-top wholesome American patriotism. That ain't country music's crap. Country music is kind of the opposite of that sound. Country music is raw and sorrowful and full of keen observations on culture. Now, I will confess to liking my country to be of the folk, roots rock, or y'alternative variety. If you do too, here's some great stuff I've been listening to of late.

Wilco - Wilco (The Album): This was the one remaining album from last year that I'd been dying to hear. I purchased it this week on vinyl ($22 but came with the album on CD as well...considering the CD alone sells for $18, that's a crazy deal). If nothing else, Wilco is consistent. This feels almost like a mirror album to their last, Sky Blue Sky. In my opinion, that's a good thing. Jeff Tweedy has an amazing voice and writes great heartfelt songs. Just solidly good music.

Carl Perkins - On Top: This 1969 album was a comeback album of sorts for one of the original rock pioneers. Like Elvis's Vegas concert or Cash's comeback, Carl comes out hard edged on this album. With tracks written by Bob Dylan and others, this is quite a good album. It doesn't sound like someone trying regain past glory, but rather someone who still has something to say from a wiser point of view.

Turner Cody - Great Migration: This is the second Turner album I picked up, after loving The Cody Choir. This wasn't quite as good, but still exceptional. He plays this kind of roots folk that is a hodgepodge of bluegrass, country, and indie rock. The result is a great back-beat and smart lyrics. I could see some people not really caring for his voice, but personally I enjoy it.

Eugene McDaniels - Outlaw: More psychedelic soul than country, but given its uprising feel, it sort of fits here in spirit. Personally, I didn't love this album but many people do. I will say that the charged atmosphere of this 1970 album did appeal to me and the music grooves for sure. Overall though, it just fell a little short. It's like a Dylan album on speed, and that doesn't quite work.

Eleventh Dream Day - Wayne: I picked up this 1988 EP yesterday on vinyl and was pretty psyched for it. I really love this bands debut Prairie School Freak Out (from the same year). This band for me is one of the earliest reinterpretations of Neil Young into something heavier. It's bands like Eleventh Dream Day that earned Neil his title as the Grandfather of Grunge. Though they definitely refer back to Neil (there's even a cover on here), they aren't simply reproducing his sound. Their songs are heavier and dirtier and really reflect a much under represented aspect of American life in the '80s.

The Jayhawks - The Jayhawks: This 1986 debut was reissued for the first time this past week and I quickly snatched it up on new vinyl. I read a review that said this album is before they found their sound and that they are basically a Gram Parson's tribute act here. I can't really argue with that, but personally, I think there should be more Gram tribute acts. A very enjoyable listen and interesting to see where a band begins and where they go on their journey.

Cat Power - You Are Free: For whatever reason, I skipped this album when it came out in 2003, despite having all previous and later releases. I guess at the time I was still into the others I had and there were other more pressing buys. That was a mistake. This is a real gem. Certainly there is a level of a Cat Power album being a Cat Power album, but this one is on the melancholy side, where I think her voice works best. A very powerful record of slowcore folk perfect for starting your day along with a hot cup of coffee before the sun spoils the afternoon with its oppressive heat.

Songs: Ohia - Protection Spells: As regular readers of the Round Up know, I love everything Jason Molina does. This is one of the few releases I hadn't yet had and picked it up recently. As with nearly all Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Co. releases, it's pretty stellar. Whereas Eleventh Dream Day are Neil Young ramped up, Molina is Neil slowed down to its most fragile and beautiful. You can't go wrong with any of his albums.

Arlo Guthrie - Washington County/ Arlo Guthrie - Hobo's Lullaby: This past week, I gave both of these albums a shot, having never listened to any Arlo before but knowing a lot about him. These are both very much Bob Dylan disciple records (which makes sense since, in his early days, Bob was a disciple of Arlo's father Woody), but both are well-done examples of it. There's some great songs on both. "City of New Orleans" on Hobo's Lullaby is fantastic even if the song has been butchered by John Denver. Though all-in-all, I have to say I preferred Washington County for its more folky feel. Fans of Dylan would be hard-pressed not enjoy either of these records.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Artful Crooklyn Dodger

Most writers have the ability to know a place intimately after spending just a little bit of time there. This is the gift that allows writers to make a setting come alive for a place they have maybe only visited once. Even when not trying to, a writer is always observing and taking note of the impressions thing make upon them. It's a blessing an a curse in many ways.

I just returned home from spending three days in Brooklyn. This was the longest period of time I've stayed in NYC since I moved out over five years ago. I never lived in Brooklyn though. I spent ten years in Manhattan and I think I went to Brooklyn maybe ten times in those years. Though part of the same city, these two places are very different. There's a tension to Manhattan that eases once one crosses the East River. Sure, some it lingers. It has to, being so woven into the character of NYC, but it's not all consuming the way it can be on the island. The fact that it was once separate, a city swallowed by another, is a big part of what gives the two places such different vibes. Different vibes tell different stories.

When I visit a place, even for only a few hours or simply driving through, I'm always kind of auditioning it as a setting for a story. I feel it out and see what type of story the place evokes for me and then judge to see if that's the kind of story I want to tell or it matches up with any I've had floating around. I'm like a one-man Olympic committee only without the promise of billions of dollars. Recent winners have been L.A., London, Oxford, San Fran, Maplecrest, Great Barrington. Will Brooklyn be next?

Probably didn't fit any of the stories that are currently running through my head. But down the road, I thought it would make for a great modern Mary Poppins. I'll put that one in my pipe and hold onto it for down the lane apiece.

But that's basically how I go about setting my books. I match the mood of my story with a setting that has a similar feel to me. I'm sure there's other writers who have a much more practical way of going about this.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 21

Internal Rodent Army Memo 002 (access previous Communications)
(Confiscated in Raid on Outer Warrens during Second Human Offensive)

-----(Date Classified)----

We Rabbits have long held the belief that our greatest weapons can be found within ourselves. Our determination. Our survival instincts. Our sharp wire-snipping teeth. Our agility. Our strict adherence to social order. But there is one of us in particular with a skill that will win us this war against the humans and that is General Nippon's right paw rabbit, Fival the Hypnotizer.

In the early days of this holy crusade, Fival developed and secured the Human Child Inclusion Program. In the first raids of our military campaigns against the human science labs, our brave Fival discovered that his sonic whisper, due to the irregular nature of his front teeth, produced a wavelength which reacted quite harshly on human children. Through much experimentation, he has perfected the technique and it now ranks as our utmost weapon against the humans. Thanks to this great rabbit, the grounds above and around the Central Warrens and Outer Warrens are shielded from attack by his new species of docile humans. For some reason, the weak-hearted human soldiers refuse to engage them. Though even if they did, these rabbit children have been well-trained and would easily defeat them.

Naturally, the captured children have come to dread their appointments with Fival. The procedure can be frightening to their small minds and in rare cases, headaches persist for some hours after. But is should be known that they are in no danger--unless they resist. However, their terrified cries have led some cowardly rabbits to suggest our dear Fival has gone mad. This noble hero does not deserve such ridicule. Any rabbit in the warrens heard slandering him in such a way will be put out of the warrens without trial and escorted to the border of the Badlands where the wolves rule. All Warren Officers are hereby instructed to post notice.

Long Live Nippon! Long Live the Great Society!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Morning Glory

To continue my series of revealing amazing lines or phrases that for one reason or other haunt me, this week I've chosen what might be the most interesting sentence ever written. I'm incredibly jealous of this sentence. From the first time I read it in spring of '97, I've been kind of obsessed with its author.

"In Watermelon Sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar."

Not only is this line a perfect bit of surrealism that captures the kind of imaginative childhood imagery that has always fascinated me, but it also an amazing little piece of writing with a cadence and rhythm that is so striking. The rhythm of words is such a huge part of my writing style. I'm forever reading and re-reading sentences and playing with them until they not only say what I want but also sound write. Brautigan's sentence is one of those measuring sticks for me. It says something interesting, in an interesting way, and sounds beautiful as it says it.

This also happens to be the opening line from the book, In Watermelon Sugar. Now, that's an opening. This book was very much on my mind in the earliest stages of working on the novel I've recently finished. There's a dream quality to the book that is handled so beautifully and delicately that I admire. I didn't go back to look at the book, because I never like to be influenced by, but rather inspired by. Instead, I just dwelt on the impressions I had from reading it so long ago. Those impressions became the inspiration for some of the elements in my book.

Opening lines aren't really my thing. I mean, I appreciate them and spend a lot of time on my own, but I'm not obsessive about them either as some readers tend to be. But since I happened to chose one today, I thought I'd share another.

"A screaming comes across the sky."
Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow)

Arguably the finest opening line ever, this one also inspired part in my new novel. When I read this book two years back, I spent many hours thinking about this line. I still do. It certainly inspired a key element in my story. I could never get the image of my head...neither can my character.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, & The Fab Five)

Ah, that time of year when the bugs are out, the sun is shining, I'm cutting the lawn and drinking beer, driving with the windows down and just want to listen to the good old rock 'n roll. Lately I've been listening to a gathering some bootlegs of my three of my eternal favorites in the genre. As I've stated before, I'm a bootleg junkie and always have been. Living in the East Village in the mid '90s, I was in boot heaven. The CD revolution met up with the used CD establishments to produce several Meccas for a fuzzy rarities collector like myself. My love has never waned and I continue to be a sucker for a stellar bootleg by a favorite band. (Rule #6 for Bootleg Newbies: bootlegs are reserved for favorite bands). Here's a handful of recent discoveries by legends.

The Beatles - Lord of Madness: This is an excellant set taken from a 1968 EMI studio session. The band sounds great and this is one of my favorite stages of the Fab Four. Amid the strife of their last years, all four members were emerging as individual artists that would soon find their creative peaks. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Not Guilty," and "Yer Blues" are stand outs for me.

The Beatles - Acetates: A collection of out-takes, studio sessions, and radio broadcasts, mostly dating from Magical Mystery Tour era. In my opinion, the band sounds at its pyschedelic weirdness best on this collection. Their "psychedelic" studio albums have always felt too polished for me, which is contrast to the nature of the music. Much more raw versions of the songs are here and many of them benefit from it. "A Day in the Life" and "Blue Jay Way" are perfect examples. An early tune "Bad to Me" is great too.

The Beatles - Acetates II: This is a double CD, with Disc 1 being estentially the same album as the one above with the addition of an incredible version of "I Me Mine" and a 12 minute radio chat with John which is vintage John brilliance that made me laugh out loud several times. The second disc spans both the early years and later years of the band (the early period being my other favorite era of the band). Fantastic stuff, including a different version of my all time favorite Beatles tune "Don't Let Me Down."

The Rolling Stones - Ultra Rare Trax Volume 1: The Ultra Rare Trax series is familiar to any bootleg collector worth their salt. I have entries from their Pink Floyd, Nirvana, and Beatles series and all are pretty great at digging up unrealesed tracks and very different takes. I was pretty excited to snag a few by the Stones, my personal favorite band of the old school. Volume one is a nice collection of the bluesy Stones. An alternate take of "Memo From Turner" was a bit of a revelation.

The Rolling Stones - Ultra Rare Trax Volume 2: This one is a little more subdued. A lot of instrumental jams (one with Gram Parsons) and all in all, an okay collection. The version of "Jiving Sister Fanny" is pretty great and I'm always a fan of "Andrew's Blues."

The Rolling Stones - Ultra Rare Trax Volume 5: Now I know what you're thinking, I only got 1,2, and 5 because they had the cool members of the band on the covers. Actually, that was just luck. There are volumes 3,4, and 6 also available but the song selection was less to my liking. This volume is probably my favorite of the three. The unreleased track "Stuck Out Alone" is amazing. "Downtown Suzie" and "If You Need Me" are great. And of course, "C--ksucker Blues" is always of the best British Blues songs ever written.

The Rolling Stones - Beat Beat Beat at the BEEB: Another bootleg bit of truth is that you can pretty guarantee anything "at the BEEB" is going to be worth the effort. These are BBC recordings and the quality is always pretty great. All songs from this album date from '64 and '65 and feature the young, raw, brash Stones. I've always been fond of saying, "I used to think the Beatles were the best band...then I heard the Stones." And it's true, I didn't get into the Stones until I was about 20. This era Stones you can really hear that even from the beginning, the Stones were going to be the ones to push rock into sleaze of the '70s. I'm forever grateful to them for that.

Oasis - Noel's Songs...Early Demos: Five acoustic songs written and sung by Noel that date from a 1989 demo. What's really intriguing about these songs is that they sound more like Oasis of the past 5 years than Oasis of the early '90s. These songs are obvious before the band started develop their early Stone Roses sound (pre-their Beatles sound). These are very enjoyable songs and fascinating to hear the beginnings of one my generations' greatest songwriters.

Oasis - Boardwalk, Manchester '92: A live demo tape handed out by the band during a boardwalk performance when they were a still an unsigned band trying drum up label interest. This is really the band's first EP and the songs on here don't end going on the albums or even as one of their many, many B-Sides. This is the Stone Roses sounding incarnation of the band. I've been familiar with these songs since '95 when they were included on one of those many NYC bootlegs I spoke of earlier but it's still nice to hear them as they were intended. I love these songs, even though I know many who hate them. But "Colour My Life", "Take Me" and "Must Be the Music" are the three great lost Oasis tracks in my opinion.

Oasis - Live Demonstration II: The second tape handed out by the band is the one that I read is credited with getting them signed to Creation. Unlike the first one, many of these songs ended up on the debut or as B-Sides from that album. But these are completely different version with a raw sound of a band hungry to become the biggest band in the world, which they'd manage a few short years later.

Oasis - The BBC Acoustic Sessions: Basically reads like a greatest hits collection, had their hits ended after What's the Story, Morning Glory. If you haven't heard this band acoustic, you should. They are one of those bands that sound completely new unplugged and they do it well. All the "classics" are here and with the BBC quality, it's a good place to start.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kids Rule!

I have a confession to make. I love writing books for young children. I love creating kid characters because they crack me up. They are inquisitive, sometimes confused, and often courageous. I've been working on some new chapter books like my Pirate School and CatKid series and really enjoy writing for this age. Though not quite a novel, this level has its own writing challenges. However, when it comes to creating a 7-9 year old character, I have a few rules that I stick by.

  1. Life is NOT Fair! - This an unflappable rule of kiddom. It's a known fact that grown-ups conspire against kids everywhere who are just trying to have fun.
  2. There is Nothing Wrong with Being Silly - I'm a firm believer that silly is one of our best sides and there's no reason ever to obey the command to "stop being silly."
  3. Though They Try Really Hard, Grown-Ups Don't Understand a Lot of Things - This one is self explanatory. I often wonder how some people forget the importance of certain things that we all knew to be facts as children.
  4. Kids are Clever Too - I'm a big believer in having kid characters finding creative solutions to their dilemmas. They should always be the star of their own show.
  5. Kids Are Allowed to be Kids - I really dislike those stories where kids try to be overly cool or sophisticated in an adult way. Because even when real kids behave that way, there are kiddish motivations behind it.
If you don't agree me...well...then I think you're stinky!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Impossible Questions, Unsatisfying Answers

Sometimes the simplest, most obvious questions are the most difficult to answer. One such question is the inevitable, "So, what's your new book about?"

Camera pans over to me. Eyes open wide. Mouth in a stutter. A maddening scramble of ums and ahs as I try to find a sentence or two that explains 300 pages of writing. It's not that I don't know what the book is about, it's just that I don't know how to convey it easily.

In the end, there's a lot "it's about (such and such) but that's not really what it's about." One of the problems is that character is such a big part of my writing that to simply describe the plot tells you very little about what I consider the reading experience or point of the book to be.

Also in my defense, if I could sum up what a novel was about in a few sentences, I wouldn't be a novelist. I'd write song lyrics. By our nature, novelists ramble. We can't tell a story quickly because we are obsessed with the little things. The details. The details. God how we love the details.

But of course, there is a need for a brief summary. A succinct phrasing to interest and tease. After all, readers need some way to pick and choose between the mountain range of books. So, here's my attempt:

My new book is about a young girl struggling with reality in a world that has gone insane.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Once You've Gone, I'm Alone

Upon finishing a novel, or any work where considerable time is spent with one character like a series, there's a grieving period that takes place. It happens to me every time. After months of a character's voice living with you, as a kind of ghost speaking through you, it suddenly goes silent.

I've always looked at characters as these kind of ghosts that the writer helps into existence. Once your task is complete and they've gone, you're left with a bit of an empty feeling. You miss them. Not in an overly depressing way, more like leaving a perfect visit with a good friend that you know you won't see for some time and somewhere in the back of your mind, you know the next time you meet, you might not be as close as you were.

This is the same feeling that drives readers to yearn for sequels, or when a reader really doesn't want a book to end and tries to turn the pages as slowly as possible. As the writer, the creator of these fictions, that feeling can be much more intense as you can imagine. For me, this is why it always means so much when readers say how much a book or character meant to them. It lets you know that didn't let go for nothing - that your character is off making new friends, living within more people, becoming more real with each one.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 20

Internal Rodent Army Memo 001 (access previous Communications)
(Confiscated in Raid on Outer Warrens during Second Human Offensive)

-----(Date Classified)----

Military operations in Human Cities to cease. Human populations in urban areas down to bare minimum. One hold-out city yet to fall. Sending reserves to extinguish stubborn survivors and drive them underground like other human cities. Burn all traces of our assault. Must keep our newly developed tactics secret. Humans are adaptable.

Electricity is being restored and routed to the warrens. Manufacturing of sonic weapons to increase to highest level. All rabbits over one winter's age will be required to bear arms and join the ranks. Expansion into above ground territories vital to survival. Outposts to be established along former roads. Detailed maps to be kept of human movements.

Ministry of Rodent Science has been established in the Great Warren. New propaganda techniques being developed. Research has begun in continued rabbit genetics. We will improve on the advancements given to our race by Humans. Estimated date of complete worldwide takeover: one year and sixteen days.

Long Live Nippon! Long Live the Great Society!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Morning Glory

There are certain lines or phrases or bits of writing that are just simply perfect. I'm not necessarily talking about quotes. Quotes have to be complete thoughts to be relevant. I'm referring more to pure poetic expression where the combination of words adds up as tightly and beautifully as a complicated math equation. These are phrases that stick in my mind for days at a time, year after year, as I contemplate their completeness. From now on, I plan to set Monday mornings aside to share some of these lines.

The inaugural entry comes from the second verse of Leonard Cohen's song "Bird on a Wire":

Like a baby, stillborn
Like a beast with his horn,
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.

The first time I head this song was during my first semester at NYU while chain smoking in a girl named Kate's bedroom as we drank bottomless mugs of coffee and tried to conjugate german verbs. Upon hearing these lines, the young poet in me was blown away. I had never heard of Leonard Cohen before that moment, but soon would go on to read his poetry, buy his albums, and encounter Beautiful Losers, one of the best novels ever written.

I was listening to Joe Cocker's version of "Bird on a Wire" this past Saturday and was reminded again of how perfect those lines are. Two completely different images of a stillborn baby and horned animal come together to encompass the full range of both physical and emotional pain. The use of the word "torn" is brilliant in bringing the imagery together. This could very well be my favorite stanza written in the English language.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

Ah, it's Sunday again and time to poke through the list of recently listened to music to find a handful of albums to share my thoughts on. Having spent the last week going through old albums I own and didn't even know it, I got back to a regular schedule of discovering some new things. I've been working on a children's chapter book lately and when doing so, I have less of a need for specific theme or mood music as I do when writing a novel. When writing for the little ones, I definitely prefer rock music. But of course, I'm not always writing, so there's space and time for other things to creep in. This is a pretty random list. I have some theme lists planned in the future, but for now, enjoy the diversity.

Black Box Recorder - Final Statement: This two song single was released last week by the late '90s early '00s British band that's sort of a late era Britpop band. It's their first release in nearly 7 years and is meant, as the title suggests, to be a final farewell. Both songs are very typical of the band's catalog and sound great. It's a nice parting present. If you don't know the band, I highly recommend their debut England Made Me.

The Black Keys - Brothers: After a bit of a departure with their last album Attack and Release, the Black Keys are back with a new album of standard bluesy rock. Very solid album that can be listened to again and again. Nothing groundbreaking musically, they play it straightforward, but they do it excellently.

Evelyn Evelyn - Evelyn Evelyn: This one was a huge surprise for me. I admit to only checking it out because Francis Bean appears on it, but after several listens, that's the least interesting thing about it for me. A dark cabaret concept album with one of the best told stories, and intriguing stories that I've heard in a long time. I've listened to this album (and the also wonderful precursor EP Elephant, Elephant) four times this week. Its story is about conjoined sisters who survive attempted butchering at birth, a child brothel, a spell as circus performers, and the death of their beloved conjoined elephants Bimba and Kimba. It has a radio play grandness and a post fall of Berlin sentiment. The songs are intelligent, catchy, and again, the storytelling has that cabaret way of making the depressing seem at times funny and moving. One of my favorite albums of the year so far.

Codeine Velvet Club - Codeine Velvet Club: This album came out around Christmas but for some reason was completely off my radar. It's the new project from Jon Lawler (aka Jon Fratelli of the Fratellis). Much like Alex Turner did with the Last Shadow Puppets, this is an attempt to really expand upon the signature pub rock sound of the Fratellis into something richer. Depending on who you ask, this is achieved with mixed results. Frankly, I think it accomplishes it amazingly well. Partner in the project is Lou Hickey, a female nightclub singer that gives the band this old jazz vocal feel but with the energy of indie brit rock. The two sounds actually blend together very well (think Sweet 75's). Well done. Unfortunately, the Fratellis appear over, but if this band continues, I could be okay with that.

Quadron - Quadron: This is the kind of album that falls somewhere in between being pure blue eyed soul and more euro pop. It reminds me a lot of the trip-hop era of British beats bands with beautiful female voices (ie Portishead) but certainly more straight forward. It's not exactly my usual taste, but it's a very well crafted album and great for when I'm in the mood for it. It sort of reminded me of a more interesting Sade.

Hole - Nobody's Daughter: I have to be honest that up until a month ago, I had zero interest in ever hearing this album. Now, I'm big Courtney fan and I love Hole's first two albums, but really disliked Celebrity Skin. Then came the solo album, which even though I don't think is as bad as some other people do, it wasn't great. I was extremely skeptical of this album and wondered if Courtney had anything left to say. But then, after listening to the unplugged album (which I reviewed a few weeks ago), and listening to my old Hole seven inches, I started to get interested. I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. This is a very solid album. Courtney is on top of her game. I really like the inclusion of so many acoustic strumming and the lyrics are great and certainly have something to say. This is definitely the best work since Live Through This.

Joe Cocker - Joe Cocker: This is the 1969 self-titled (there's another 1972 self-titled). This album is made up of covers and is fantastic. "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window", "Bird on a Wire", "Something," etc. There's something about Joe's voice that tells you when he's singing, he's giving 110%. He feels every note and it comes through. Also, this was a vinyl buy, and his voice in particular seems much more suited to that medium.

The Brady Bunch - The Kids from the Brady Bunch: Definitely a nostalgia listen, I grew up watching two episodes a day and know my fair share of Brady trivia. I used to own a compilation CD of Brady tunes, but sold it for cash back in college. Recently, I got "It's a Sunshine Day" stuck in my head and had to hear the album. Now though that song is the only real standout Brady song, there's some other decent tunes on here. "Love me Do" is fun, "Ben" is okay, and "Saturday in the Park" kind of rocks.

Metallica - Master of Puppets: Now, like pretty much every boy my age who was into rock, I had this album once upon a time on cassette, but never reacquired it on CD, mostly because it was one of those albums you never saw used and for good reason. It rocks! I still remember the first time I hear this...sixth grade bus ride, sitting fourth seat from the back on the bus and a 8th grader named Mike Trout always had a boom box blasting from the back seat. This tape was in heavy rotation in the winter of '87. I'm actually listening to it now as I type and it's still just as good.

Silversun Pickups - Unplugged: I have both albums by this band and I'm kind of lukewarm on those albums. Both have one real stand out track for me, but the rest kind of sounds like Siamese Dream updated. However, I caught their unplugged episode and was blown away. The songs sound amazing. I have two acoustic sets by them and both are top notch. One has a cover of Joy Division's "Shadowplay" that is superb.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Book Signings

One of the things I'm asked most often by readers is if I'm planning to do a reading or signing in their area any time soon. There's no schedule for me to check. I know the answer. The answer is pretty much always no because I haven't done a book store reading in quite some time. It's not that I'm fundamentally opposed to it, I just haven't been asked and haven't sought it either. I would never say no to the opportunity, but I'm not the kind of person who would go out their way to line up a bunch of appearances.

I know these can be a great way to meet with your audience and to promote a book. But I have mixed feelings about personally doing them. Why you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

  • I've done book store visits where I've read to two people. (Living a scene from Spinal Tap is a sure blow to the ego).
  • I write books for teenagers. Most book stores don't know how to get teens to such events.
  • I've done readings where the audience was made up of people who just happened to finishing their coffee and had little or no interest, leaving me to feel like an idiot.
  • Though I'm a fluent reader and fairly good at it (I don't. do. the slow. reading. like this. that so many. authors. do. because they. think. it sounds poetic.) But that said, I'm not a performer. I'm writer. Writer's by their nature are hermits and observers among crowds.
  • I find that when I do well attended readings with real fans, it can be uncomfortable being in a celebrity position. There is this level of expectation to be a certain way and fans tend to get question shy.
This isn't to say I haven't done readings that weren't wonderful experiences. Once, I got a great line from a girl's t-shirt that I used in Thief. I've met some great authors who I've appeared with. And all the children's book readings (mostly in classrooms) I've done have been a lot of fun. But all in all, I prefer to "meet" my audience via email where they are more comfortable and frankly, so am I.

Any other writers out there feel this way? Or am I just channeling my inner J.D.?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Following the Candy Trail

After finishing a huge project like a novel, I'm always torn between the two forces of wanting to jump right in to begin another and needing some time to recover.

Being a writer for me is like being a child in a Grimm Fairy Tale wandering in an imaginative woods. There are lots of dark paths and evil temptations calling for us to visit. As in a those Choose-Your-Own Adventure books that were ever so popular in my youth, some paths lead to good graces and being rescued by helicopters while others leave you trapped on a cliff with the option to do jumping jacks for warmth or perish from the cold.

The completion of a story is proof of successfully navigating one such path through those dark woods. Reaching the clearing on a high, the momentum urges you on to the next path. But if you start skipping away too hastily, you might miss the wolf waiting behind the trees. I know because I used to be that foolish character. There are the skeletons of many dead manuscripts in my closet to prove it.

I have three fantastic (in my opinion) novel ideas waiting to be written. In some ways this is a good speed bump since I can't write them all at once. I will let them all stew in my cauldron for a bit. I will take a rest in the middle of the haunted woods and let the apparitions visit me. I will ask them careful questions, figure out their game, and chose the right path after careful consideration and a freshly baked muffin or two. In the meantime, I'm keeping my mind busy by writing a children's book that takes place on the other side of the galaxy.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 19

Entry from Recovered Rabbit Child's Diary 003 (access previous documents)

The twenty-second day of Rabbit Month, Year One

Dear Journal,

I spoke to her, the angel girl. She says her name is Kendra. She's not a real angel, she's a girl just like me. But her wings are real, not like my rabbit ears. She says that the rabbits are wrong to fight with people. She says the humans are wrong to fight with the rabbits. She wants us all to be friends together and so do the people who follow her. She wants me to come live with them in their camp outside of the old city. But I told her that I never could. Bianca watches me all of the time now. It's been hard enough just to sneak away to bring her food.

One of the humans says he knows me. He says I'm his cousin and that we used to go to school together. I don't remember school. I don't remember cousins either. The rabbits tell us that we have no human family. They say all of us rabbit children were born together in the Great Warren. I'm pretty sure now they have been lying to us.

Today, I went to see Kendra again. She was waiting for me by the trees just like always. I was running to meet her when I heard the loud squeaks of Rabbit Soldiers. I didn't know they followed me. Bianca must have told them to keep an eye on me. Once I heard them, I told Kendra to run, but she wouldn't. She stood there and held her arms out to her side. The Rabbit Soldiers took her away. I saw them bite her and bunny kick her. It was terrible! I hate them.

They took me too. They say I'm being sent back to the Great Warren. They say I need to meet with Fival again. I'm scared. His eyes spin around and around until they make me dizzy. I think he going to make me go crazy one day soon. But maybe they took her there too. If they did, I will try to help her.

I'm going to have to bury you, journal. I want you to stay safe from Bianca. I don't want her to find you. So I'm putting you in the ground right now before they take me away. I will rescue you when I come back. I promise.

Good Bye Journal.