Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 33

Excerpt from The Glory of Our Angel 003 (access previous Communications)

The people of New City parted as she entered the town. Her Rabbit-Eared followers clung to her side as if they were her own sisters. I had carried her to the city reaches as the children hummed and their humming healed her wounds. As the Boy Scout Soldiers called out from the parapets, Our Angel stood. Her wings were spread wide and the young boys put down their sonic rifles and saluted her.

Silence swept the crowd that had been weeping only days before when I left them to retrieve Puella's body. Coughs were stifled. Amazement was held in check by quiet disbelief. Even babies hushed their fussing because all among us, even the smallest, were aware of the magic in this moment, for Our Angel was an angel after all and not Rabbit Soldiers or Human Councils could declare otherwise. And then, she spoke--her voice like a song sung only in Heaven.

"We are not part of the past.
We are part of now. We are something new. We are beautiful.
We are together."

The Rabbit Girls tossed flowers on the ground and I stood with them. The tired and hungry shed their shadowy gloom and rejoiced and the dreary city brightened with the light of a thousand stars all shining at once. We were human and we were one with an angel to guide us. I, an apostle of the remaining settlement, joined hands with the girl the Rabbit-Eared Children called their leader, Bianca. We were made the first apostles of our New Society.

- The Apostle Thomas Erdan

(Tune in next Story Time Tuesday for the next installment)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sparks Grow

I've been intrigued by where stories come from ever since last week's dreams that have spawned the idea for a novel. I always tell young writers to carry some kind of notebook with them (or notepad feature on some electronic device) because the smallest ideas can grow. This isn't just toss off advice, it's real. I have proof.

While going through an old sketchbook the other day, I found the above drawing which was the first initial spark for:

Everything that seems interesting is worth making a note of...you never know when it might come in handy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

What a strange week it's been as far as new music. To be honest, I only listened to a handful of new albums this week, mostly because my work time meant reading time which is why you'll see a return of drone folk halfway down the list. But I've also been listening to a lot of old stuff of late. It's been one of those weeks where I spin old favorites, all-time top kind of albums. I think this is a learned behavior leftover from school days. It's nearing that dreaded beginning of school time and the end of summer was always a time of nostalgia. Even the stuff on this list, which is new to me, has an obvious nostalgic feel. Enjoy.

Oasis - Sing Me Something New: Okay, I admit that I've been listening to this for weeks. But that's because it's an 8 disc set chronicling the first performance of every song Oasis played (including rarities and covers). In a word; EPIC! There's so many gems on here, I won't even begin to name them. Best British band of the last 30 years, hands down. I was happy to see that one song was from the time I saw them in '98, the first time they played their cover of Bowie's "Heroes".

Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart: The new album from one of my favorite current bands is due out next week and it's really good. I've seen a lot of negative early reviews for it and that's probably because it's a departure from their previous more straight up Sabbath indie sound, though there is some of that here certainly, especially on the title track. But they've also infused a country folk sound into it, but a heavy country folk sound. And I personally like the increased role of Amber Webber (also of Lightning Dust) but I've always been a sucker for soft female voice with heavy riffs.

The Dolly Rocker Movement - Our Days Mind the Tyme: This is one of those albums that has been sitting on my wishlist, a 2009 release that I just never got around to but really wanted. This '60s retro psychedelic outfit from Australia really impressed me with their last album, Electric Sunshine. This album is more of the same, psych pop perfection. Obviously, there's a heavy "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne" Syd Barrett influence (the band title comes from a Barrett song). A great way to end the summer.

Sean Lennon - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead: Another hard to find 2009 release that I finally got. I've been on a huge Sean kick after seeing him live last weekend playing an acoustic set from his new folkish outfit The Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger. This has a similar feel, though instrumental. It's a film score for a movie I haven't seen. It's very pretty music and beautiful. But as with most scores, it's meant to accompany pictures and therefore seems to be lacking something. Still a nice tide-me-over until the album comes out next month.

Natural Snow Buildings - Sung to the North: It's been a while since I've sung the praises of my favorite drone folk band. Known for their epic, 3-8 hour albums, this French band have become a mainstay for me when I'm working. It's perfect for reading because I find it tunes and focuses my mind. Plus, I was lucky enough to have a few rainy days in a row and drone folk is awesome on grey days. This isn't the bands best effort, but still a very engaging hour and half.

The Snowbringer Cult: This nearly three hour album is a combination of three interconnected bands, with Isengrind doing the first third, TwinSisterMoon doing the second third and Natural Snow Buildings closing it out. Having a finely turned ear for drone folk, I could hear the differences between the bands and the NSB set is by far the best, but the TwinSisterMoon is also very good and perhaps the best I've heard from that band. Worth checking out if you're into the genre.

The Thermals - The Body, the Blood, the Machine: This is the indie pop Portland punk band's third album that came out in 2006. I remember being into the single, "Returning to the Fold" a lot that year, but never picked up the album until recently. This is a concept album that's very much about Bush era America and very good. It reminds me a lot of Bad Religion and rougher, and much better Green Day. Their new album just came out recently, I haven't listened to it yet, but I really have a feeling this band is going to get bigger.

Marilyn Manson and The Spooky Kids - White Trash: A bootleg of the earliest Manson recordings from the early '90s. I'm definitely a Manson fan, I think he really knows how to make industrial music that's heavy and catchy and intelligent. It's interesting to see where the band that was formed as a way to test the limits actually began. Musically, the beats are very early '90s industrial and not very interesting, sort of Front 242 and early Skinny Puppy. But there are moments when you hear the potential. "Son of Man" is one them, using "Iron Man" to create an anthem. Of course, there's also a lot of a showmanship that is fun...titles like "Bitchy Beginnings of an Oversexed Twelve Year Old", a song poem with a childlike voice singing "Jesus is my boyfriend" hint at his future inclination to provoke.

Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain: This is Goldfrapp's first album from 2000 and it's definitely more Portishead than anything else, which is a good thing. There's eerie beats, dream cabaret vocals and the a touch of trip-hop. It's a solid album and certainly good when you're in that mood. It's much better than the sort of '80s retro thing that she's got going on now. Solid effort.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Two Very Different but Delightful Books

It's a been a month since I posted any book reviews on here, so it's about time for some more. I've been reading like a madman since the end of last winter. It's not like I've ever taken a break from reading. I don't think there's been a moment in the last twenty years where I haven't had at least one book with a page marker in it. But recently, I've been thirsty for books in a way I haven't been in several years. I've always believed that reading, as a writer, serves to fill the idea bank. You can't keep making withdraws without keeping up on your deposits. Here's two wonderful books I've added to my account of late.

Told from the point of view of two kindred souls, a fifty-something concierge named Renee and a somber twelve-year old named Paloma, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a clever take on class structure, but also on the hidden lives that people often lead. Both characters try to hide who they are by disguising themselves as the personalities people expect them to be. The characters took a few chapters to grow on me, because they reveal themselves little-by-little to the reader as well. Once I got to know them, I liked them both immensely.

Renee, as the extremely intelligent and observant lower class concierge for upper class snobs, is hilarious. The novel is full of her subtle wit, which much like the character, tries to hide itself but can't keep from spilling over in bunches. It reminded me in spirit of Raymond Queneau's novels, displaying a similar intellectual and literary humor.

Renee is basically an outsider to the entire world and her insights into it are often profound even though it is Paloma whose chapters are titled Profound Thought #.... Paloma's insights are equally tinged with humor, however the humor is colored with a sense of sadness. Where Renee has earned her bitter outlook on life, coming from young Paloma, it serves as a reminder of how unhealthy it can be to become so jaded at such an early age. But as the two of them are brought together around a new tenant who bucks all the conventions that seem to block Renee and Paloma in, both characters come to realize that they are not as isolated as they feel and that perhaps allowing their true personalities show isn't the worst thing.

The conclusion of the book is very surprising and unbelievably moving. The event that transpires gives the message of the book an immediacy that isn't felt until then. A very good read for anyone who has ever felt the idiocy of the world weighing down on them. I actually cried at the end. I can't remember the last time a book made me cry.

The Underneath by Kati Appelt

Any follower of Children's Literature is probably aware of this title. It was recognized with both a Newbery Honor award and as a National Book Award Finalist. It was much deserving too. This is such a beautifully written story with so much heart and valuable life lessons, it should go down with classics such as Charlotte's Web and The Yearling.

This is an animal story, and I'm a sucker for talking animal stories and always have been. The friendships that form and the love that binds them together is so powerful and tangible. However, so is the cruelty of the man who tries to destroy it, creating page-turning dramatic tension. This book really pulled me in and I felt completely immersed in its world. The writing is suburb and David Small's illustrations are wonderful, as usual.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

All in a Dream

A few months ago, I had a dream that really felt like a great Middle Grade novel. Of course, I wrote it down in as much detail as possible. This story has been brewing since then. I've been compiling notes and pictures and whatever else seemed to fit. All of these have been stuck in a folder and growing. It's really a story I want to tackle sooner rather than later.

Last night, the idea revisited my dreams at a later point in the story and really did a lot to develop the overall picture. The characters were more complete and vocal and there was a connection there. I knew them. Two dreams...now I'm onto something.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Name is Everything

I'm working on hopefully what will be the final draft of my new novel which means it's time to settle on a title. I'm terrible at titles. Mostly because I know there is a lot of importance to what a book is called. Here's what I believe:

A title has to relate to the story. I hate when titles are misleading.

A title has to convey the mood of the story.

Those two criteria alone aren't so difficult. The trick is, the title also has to be appealing. I can think up a million creative titles that capture the mood and essence of the story, but they typically end up being what we in the biz term 'quiet titles' and quiet titles in a flooded market are deathly.

I currently have a list of several dozen possible titles for this book with none are jumping out at me at the moment. I still have faith that it will come to me in the end. Several of my novels have been titled only after I've finished the last draft and only after hours of exhaustive work. I just need to be drained to come up with them...otherwise, as this post makes obviously clear, I over think such a minor detail as the title.

Come to think of it, I have a hard time naming characters as well. I typically change their names at least once in the writing process. Perhaps this is why I've thought about names for a potential child since I was seventeen...and the by the way, still not settled on that either.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 32

Excerpt from The Glory of Our Angel 002 (access previous Communications)

If the miracle hadn't happened before my very eyes, I would've been hard pressed to believe the tale coming from my own tongue. I've been a man of reason my entire life, a member of the High Human Council, a civic leader and supporter of the scientists that destroyed this world. It was only the horrors of this war that opened my mind to faith. But is was Our Angel who made me believe.

I watched the Rabbit-Eared Children dance around her crucifixion for an entire morning. I listened to their squealing laughter as they delightfully tossed flowers at Our Angel's weather-beaten flesh. "She told us that she's coming back," the children kept telling me as I wiped the tears from my eyes staring at the coal black holes where Our Angel's eyes had been pecked by crows. At that point, I didn't care if the Rabbit Soldiers found me, tortured me, and forced the same fate upon me. I'd come to take Our Angel's body back to her followers...in the end, I returned with a miracle.

The Rabbit-Eared Children surrounded the post upon which Our Angel hung. They held hands and began to hum, louder and louder until the noise was at a pitch that caused my ears to bubble. It caused the wood to splinter too. The charred post creaked and bent before finally snapping. I screamed silently to see her body fall into the muddy ground but the Rabbit-Eared Children simply continued their song. When I pushed my way forward and they finally parted, I saw her --Our Angel-- her eyes open and shimmering with color borrowed from the sky.

There was coughing and there was blood. Then she smiled. The rabbit girls knelt and held her hands and combed her hair and touched her delicate wings. I approached and when she saw me, she said, "Thomas, it's time to take me home." Without a word, I bent down and lifted her in my arms. We marched the day's journey back to our settlement with the Rabbit-Eared Children following closely at my heels in song.

- The Apostle Thomas Erdan

(Tune in next Story Time Tuesday for the next installment)

Monday, August 23, 2010

When Reading Becomes Telepathic

I wonder if non-writers realize just how many times a writer is forced to read their own manuscript. Re-reading is the first step before every draft. Read and edit. Read and edit. Sometimes it feels like an endless cycle.

I estimate that I read every manuscript at least ten times before publication. Of course, every time the pages say something slightly, if not completely different. Even so, by the time the book goes to print, I'm usually left with the feeling of never wanting to read a word of it again.

Then the printed book arrives several months later and I'm struck with an urge to re-read it and usually find that I didn't remember the story being quite the way it is. I shift and add and delete so many scenes to my books over the course of the writing process, that realistically, the characters have two novels worth of story in my head. I don't always remember which are in and which are out.

I'm reading through my latest novel now for hopefully the last time before copy edits. At this point, I'm confident the opening line will stay the same, so I thought I'd share:

Something is wrong with the sky, yet it's perfect in it's own way.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

Another mix of old and new this week. Looking at the selections, I must also admit to there being no theme or connection between most of the albums. I spent the week editing, which unlike actual writing, doesn't really require me to set the mood as specifically. In addition, I blame the weather. The end of August around these parts is the climate of a place on the verge. Two seasons are colliding. It was one of those weeks where it would be summer one day, autumn the next, back to summer. Thankfully, autumn is slowly winning out...so be warned, the days of dreary folk lists are on the horizon.

Holly Miranda - Choose to See EP: I've been loving Holly's full-length album The Magician's Private Library (previously reviewed). It's been one of my favorites of the year so far. I saw her perform in my town two weekends ago on the front porch of a store, just her with an acoustic guitar and no microphone. She played mostly songs from this EP (which was a promo given away with the album at Rough Trade stores in London). Composed of five covers, it has the same electro-folk feel as the album. The acoustic cover of Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor" is fantastic. A good companion to a great album.

J. Tillman - Singing Ax: I discovered Tillman from the two great sessions he did for Daytrotter.com and was excited to check out this, his newest album (he has several others that I still need to track down). This is very minimal acoustic singer-songwriter folk, but absolutely beautiful. It reminds me a lot of Songs:Ohia. Probably will remain in heavy rotation as the Fall weather continues.

Korn - Korn III: Remember Who You Are: Okay, I know...but whatever, I like this band. Their first few albums were groundbreaking and introduced a wealth of horrible music that followed them, but that's not their fault. This new album is kind of awesome. Like much of their recent work, it has more heavy grooves than the band's original sound. It reminds me, as most of their music does, of some of the more industrial tracks on the Use Your Illusion albums.

I Am Kloot - Sky at Night: The new album from the Manchester outfit is a bit of a departure from the earlier material. There's a grander sound to this than the Indie-Brit they're known for. There's elements of cabaret and a Big Band hugeness to the songs. But at the same time, there's a later Beatles vibe on songs like "Lately" and acoustic lullabies like "Still Do". A very varied and enjoyable album.

The Rosewood Thieves - From the Decker House: This 2006 EP from the Brooklyn based band has been my favorite album of the past two weeks. I've been playing this like crazy. This has been on my wishlist for ages and I can't believe I waited so long. "Los Angeles" and "Back Home to Harlem" are incredibly. They have a sound that fits the gap between the Beatles and Oasis.

Fischerspooner - Odyssey: I listened to this, along with their fist album (#1) this week and they are okay. This falls into that genre known as electro-clash, which is basically just evolved techno, beats with dream pop vocals. Though these were okay listens, I just can't get into the genre at all. It just feels so hallow. The voices are swallowed by the machines and become nothing more than the echo of ghosts.

Stina Nordenstam - This is Stina Nordenstam: I bought this when it came out back in 2001 and liked it a lot, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle. I rediscovered it again while reorganizing my collection a few months back. She has such a beautiful childlike voice that blends well with the electronic dream pop and acoustic guitar strumming. It's sort of Mazzy Star-esque, though a little more experimental. I've recently picked up another of her albums but have yet to listen to it. I'm curious.

Melvins - Bullhead: The trio's 1991 release is seen as the turn in their progression into the sludge metal pioneers they were to become. On this album we see the development of their slow heavy sound that resembles Black Sabbath played at wrong speed. Not my favorite of theirs, but this one is great when you just need something heavier than lead.

Spacemen 3 - Sound of Confusion: The 1986 debut from the space rock titans still sounds amazing. Being a huge Spiritualized fan (J. Pierce's post Spacemen 3 band), I'd of course heard this album way back when, but for whatever reason always hesitated to get any of their albums. Mostly because of the consistent high import price of the albums, but also because I was worried they would be disappointing. They aren't. They're different than Spiritualized, but still amazing. The 17 minute mix of "Rollercoaster" is dynamite.

AC/DC - Powerage: By 1978, when this album was released, I think the Australian rockers were beginning to lose their edge a bit. This album has the standard all-out rock blitz that the band, and then lead singer Bon Scott were known for, however to me it feels a little like they're not giving the full effort. It's certainly no High Voltage, that's for sure. But I'd still take this over any the band's Brian Johnson albums.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Tree Grows In Me

Over the past few days, I've gotten some amazing emails from readers telling me how much my books have meant to them or how my writing has inspired them to write. What I love about these letters is not the praise (though a little flattery certainly never hurts), but how willing these teenagers are to honestly express their feelings. It shows how connected they feel to the books and that's really rewarding.

I always answer every email that comes to me from a fan. The reason is simple. If someone has taken the time and effort to reach out to you, the least you can do is write them back. I'm not so busy that I don't have a few minutes a day. I made my mind up to do this ages ago. When I was 19, I read Betty Smith's amazing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and in the introduction, she talks about answering fan mail. She tells the story of writing a letter to her favorite author as a child and the disappointment of receiving no reply.

According to Betty Smith, she vowed to reply to every letter written to her if she ever became an author, a promise she kept even after the book sold millions. I remember reading that and being moved by the sadness she must have felt as a child to commit to such a promise. In my little, dimly lit apartment, I read that and vowed that if I were ever to become an author, I would answer every letter as well.

The one time I failed was a when a girl in a juvenile detention center sent me an incredibly moving letter about how one of my books turned her life around. I kept the letter in the book I was reading on a flight from NYC to Seattle, planning to answer her on my vacation. I was staying several hours outside of Seattle and by the time I discovered I'd left the book in the seat pocket, it was too late to recover it...the plane was long gone and no one had turned in the book. I was devastated. I even mentioned her in the Acknowledgements of my next novel, hoping she would see it. I have no way of knowing if she did, but I hope so.

When you write books for teenagers about difficult subjects, I honestly believe you are taking on a level of responsibility...otherwise, you're just adding to the confusion.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mind if I Intrude...

This week I've finally started tackling what should be the final revision of my novel. These changes are different than my own neurotic self-doubt that guide earlier drafts, they're actually based on my editor's input. Last week, I spent enough time thinking about the changes, reading through through the manuscript and making notes that it was time to get in there with the carving knife. Well, more like a scalpel. It's not so much an overhaul that needs doing as it is a nip and tuck that will change the overall effect.

One thing I was really nervous about was finding the voice again. Surprisingly, that hasn't been so hard. My character, Sabrina, has a very unusual perspective that I thought it would be harder to get back inside her head. It really hasn't been. She's feeling cooperative. Her companion is being a bit stubborn, but that's in his nature.

The hardest part is trusting the choices I make. A lot of what I'm doing is shifting the order of scenes around, deleting scenes, and trying to take the important parts of those deleted scenes and incorporate them into existing scenes. This is a frustrating process simply because there is so much plot to keep track of. The problem stems from the fact that the existing plot is weaved into a tightened narrative where one idea flows into next. You start pulling threads and...well, you know how it goes.

While I tread carefully, I find it interesting how the characters take the complete turning upside down of their world all in stride. There's a life lesson there I'm sure of it. Not that they have much of choice though. So perhaps the life lesson should be on hold for now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 31

Excerpt from The Glory of Our Angel 001 (access previous Communications)

The winged girl Puella was taken from us as we all feared she would be. The rabbit demons came as the sun was low in the sky. Their evil cast a shadow over our shabby settlement. They brought no humans with them. They wanted no humans to take, only our angel. She told us they were approaching even before we heard their steps inside the ruined streets of what once was a great city.

She instructed us not to resist, that she would go willingly. We wallowed in despair as they took her away. They had taken her once before and she had returned. "I will return again," she told us. "I was dropped from the sky to protect you." But this time it was different. The Boy Scout soldiers who keep us safe from the watchful eyes of the occupying Rodent Army had not been informed of Puella's pending arrest. It was an omen that did not speak well for her return.

The next morning at dawn, the cries could be heard clear across the horizon as our angel was murdered. Some of us had been brought to witness. The Rabbit Soldiers stood sentry, forcing us to keep our eyes open as they drove stakes threw the one pure and good spirit that had not been damaged by this war. In the days that followed, even the news of an invasion by the far off Human Nations could not penetrate the sorrow within our doomed camp. It didn't matter that several warrens had been wiped from the ground, even if we were liberated, they were too late to save our souls.

On the seventh day, I journeyed to the site of our angel's crucifixion. At the risk of death, were were prepared to retrieve the body and provide a human burial. As the small group of followers that I brought with me approached, we discovered a must unusual spectacle. A dozen or so of the Rabbit-Earred Children were gathered at the foot of our angel. They were singing and talking with her. She always believed those children were part of our future and now she was reaching them in her death.

"She's coming back," the children told me. "She told us that she's coming back."

- The Apostle Thomas Erdan

(Tune in next Story Time Tuesday for the next installment)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Maybe You See the Same as Me...

I was around eight years old when I had what I believed amounted to a profound thought. All of the sudden, I wondered if all people saw colors the same way. It seemed highly possible that they did not. Maybe what I saw as blue, someone else saw as pink, but we called them the same thing because we learn language by association.

I didn't know then that what I was really discovering, in my own way, was the idea of perception. We all see the world in different ways. I play with this concept a lot in my books. My characters often have a unique and strange way of filtering the world through their own particular lenses.

With my new novel (which still doesn't have a final title and that's why I annoyingly continue to refer to it as "my new novel") I took this concept a step farther. The main character suffers from acute Schizophrenia and truly sees the world differently. She can see the sky change colors. She can see outlines on the sun. She can see static moving through air. To tell her story, I truly had to make myself see the way she does -- I had trade pink for green.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

I spent a good deal of time this week occupied in reading through things and reading is the one activity that I find isn't better served with musical accompaniment. That's not to say I don't partake in a little jazz music on rainy Sundays curled up with a book. But in general, I prefer to read in silence. I still made time for new music this week because I always make time for new music. However, it also gives me the chance to review a few albums that have been patiently waiting their turn for a shot at glory on the Roundup. The first five are new, the second five are the patient ones. Enjoy.

Dirty Projectors + Björk - Mount Wittenburg Orca: This is a download only collaborative A Capella album that the two have decided to release to help save the whales. If that sounds pretentious, you should hear the album. My five word review: Weird and not very good.

Dead Confederate - Sugar: This was high on my anticipated releases for the year. Their self-titled debut EP and album Wrecking Ball were two of my favorite albums that I picked up last year. Oddly, this sounds like a different band. Gone is the melancholic Southern gothic sound which made the first two releases so strong. It's hard to explain, but this sounds like a big step backward...though I have to admit it grew on me upon a second listen. Perhaps I just need to shed my expectations to hear it properly. Divorced from the previous albums, this one is a solid OK. Paired with them, it's a big disappointment for me.

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk: The third album pairing Isobel (Belle and Sebastian) and Mark (Soulsavers, Screaming Trees, and all around new Tom Waits) surprised me a bit. I really didn't care for their first album and skipped the second. I've also been less impressed with Mark's recent work after a five year run of amazingness. That said, there's more of dark country folk vibe to this album that really works. A nice album.

Best Coast - Crazy for You: I've reviewed this fuzz riddled indie pop band's earlier releases and felt them to be decent sunshine California noise. Then came their brilliant single "When I'm With You" (which can be found on this album) and my hopes skyrocketed. Well, that is still the best song on this album, but the album is a step up. It's a little more fun than previous albums. Definitely more surfer garage rock inspired which makes it more catchy, but still remains airy enough to qualify as a mood piece.

Avenged Sevenfold - Nightmare: I'm not ashamed to say I love this band. They are one of the few bands around playing good hard rock. They get slammed from the metal crowd, but that's not really fair because that's not really their game. This one is their best since 2005's City of Evil. They continue to produce music that fits somewhere in between Appetite for Destruction and Master of Puppets and as always the dueling guitars shred. It helps that I like M. Shadow's voice. This album just plain rocks.

Roy Orbison - The Sun Years 1956-58: Young Roy finds a sound that slips somewhere between Buddy Holly's and Elvis. I really dig on the simple country rock back beat. At times, his voice, softer than either Buddy or Elvis, serves him well. On other songs, I find myself wanting that bigger Roy voice that will rear up later in his career. All in all, a fine addition to my growing '50s rock collection.

Stephen Stills & Manassas - Down the Road: Upbeat country folk led by Stills that is very much in the same vein as fellow band mates Neil Young and Crosby's solo output of the same time (1973). However, Stills decides to experiment a bit here, infusing Latin rock elements, which honestly fall a little flat. Luckily, that is limited and the overall album is a solid example of that early '70's blown out folk rock that I love and once again proves to me that Stills contends with Crosby as the second most talented member of CSNY.

The Hentchmen - Hentch-Forth.Five: Originally released in the '90s, I picked this up immediately when it was re-released in 2007. It's a Detroit garage rock band featuring Mister Jacky White on drums (one of his many pre-White Stripes outfits). If you like that revival sound that came out of the Motor City in the late '90s and early 00's, then get this one. It's not the Stripes, but it's good.

Scorpions - Animal Magnetism: This is the 1980 release from one the '70s best glam metal bands. If you only know this band's more radio popular '80s schlock, than you're missing some amazing music. This falls far short of the 1976's brilliant Virgin Killer, but still there are some great glam tracks on here. However, this is also the album where you can hear the band losing their edge a bit. The best songs though are great examples of excessive bliss.

Scarlett Johansson - anywhere I lay my head: When I read about this back in 2008 when it came out, like many I was left scratching my head. A starlet releasing an album of Tom Waits covers? Seems odd enough to be interesting. The first single wasn't bad and I remember remaining intrigued. I finally heard the whole album last week and it's not awful. On some tracks, her heavy voice completely transforms the songs into a dream pop sound that really works. Though, other tracks don't do the originals justice. But once you get past the comparison with Waits, the album is quite enjoyable. Also, seek out her cover of "Summertime" (not on this album)...it's quite beautiful.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hey, That's Not So Bad...

There's something about the writer's psychology that makes one question the quality of one's own work. I've often said that upon finishing a project, I'm peculiarly torn between believing it's the best thing I've ever done and totally worthless. I think all writers feel something like this, except maybe Faulkner -- I think he knew he pretty much nailed it every time.

I started reading through a chapter book manuscript yesterday that I wrote about two months ago, just after finishing the novel I'd been working on. I like to write a younger project after a novel as a way to unwind. But I put this story aside immediately after finishing it. By the end, I was feeling very unsure about it. I was surprised reading it and discovering it didn't suck. It is actually is pretty funny.

It's about a group of kids lost in space who are forced to take on an mad scientist. The above illustration is a sketch of the main character...I always sketch my main characters. With any luck, one of my publishers will also feel that it doesn't suck and turn it into a series. Per yesterday's post, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fears & Superstitions

What better day than Friday the 13th to talk about fears and superstitions? I have lots of them. It's never to the point where it interferes with my daily life, but they are certainly a part of my daily life. Just so you know what I'm talking about, here's a airing of grievances I have with reality:


* Bugs - the flying and the creepy crawly kind. I hate bugs. An ant invasion in the house kept me sleeping poorly for months last year. Palm-sized waterbugs in an apartment kept me restless the entire summer of 1995 in NYC. A see-through mutant gummy-looking spider that I saw in the bathroom of my 89th Street Apartment still gives me the shivers...but that's because spiders are the worst with their spidery way of moving. A close second is Bees. A bee comes near me and I make a fist. Though, I've tried to make peace and we have a tentative truce at the moment. I've negotiated a settlement with the spiders as well during the Ant Wars. We are uneasy allies like France and the UK in the big one.

* Bad Luck - I fear luck changing to misfortune. I'm a firm believer in luck and that luck is not something you can make. I've had incredible runs of good luck in my life and some relatively short stretches of bad luck. More than anything, I fear a long stretch of bad luck. Years of bad luck? *shudder* And there's nothing you can do about it except wish. Which brings me to...


* Wishing - this is sort of like a religion for me, something that developed from my childhood and simply strengthened over time. I make wishes on eyelashes. I wish when the clock strikes 11:11 (I also do 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, 5:55, 10:10 and 12:12- but 11:11 has the most magic in it). I will wait by the clock if I see it a minute or two before one of these numbers, simply to make a wish. I throw pennies in fountains. I wish on shooting stars, luckily I live in a place where they are semi-frequent. I try (and mostly fail) to say "Rabbit, Rabbit" the first thing upon waking up on the first of any month. Oh, and I cross my fingers a LOT. I always take notice whenever someone says "Oh that's supposed to be good luck" and usually incorporate it into my religion.

To any reader of my books, either my novels or children's books, none of this will come as a surprise as these traits often find their way into my characters. A writer has to use their own insecurities, fears, and insanity to their advantage. These are your raw materials and you must mine them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kids Say the Best Things

Reading reviews of a book you've written can be an extremely uncomfortable experience akin to sitting in a dentist's waiting room or trying to sleep after seeing something spidery out of the corner of your eye. That is to say... reviews can be unpleasant and sometimes best to be avoided unless one is feeling unshakable.

Reading kids' reviews on the other hand is a bit like getting unexpected birthday cake because it's not even your birthday. Yesterday, I saw these two reviews on the Mayfield Blog of Books for two of my CatKid titles. Needless to say, it made my day. I don't know who this kid is, but she is awesome.


This could be rated 10 because it cool and kind of strange being a kid and a cat,so that makes a cat kid person.I think that most people will like it.I chose this book because it is my favorite books to read.The author is a great writer and the one that draws is a artist.The author's name is Brian James and it was illustrated by Ned Woodman.

Cat kid thinks the new girl in school is trying to Steal Maddie from her!It's just no fun being a Stray cat.So when the new girl throws a birthday bash, it's Cat kid's chance to win her best friend back.It will take one cool kitty to pull that off!

Cat Kid

CatKid was born to be a Star! She is excited when she's chosen to play theLead in her class production Snow White .But when she finds out that herprince will be billy the bully,CatKid gets cold feet.Even worse,the prince will have to kiss her!Will this fairy tale end happily ever after?

Please note: Color embellishments are all of the reviewers own choosing.

Young Adults Keep Getting Older Too...

The other day, I talked about how books published for teenagers, and their audience, was skewing younger. But there's another shift that has taken place in the world of teen literature over the past several years -- adults are now reading these books in record numbers. We can thank a certain wizard for making the Children's and Teen sections of the book store a must-stop for most readers. I'm grateful, not only for the increased sales, but also because it makes me look a little less creepy for trolling around the chapter book section.

With adult readers comes adult bloggers and influence. Influence in the publishing world translates into buying power, then into sales, and from there into editorial. On the surface, it would appear the adult presence would counter the trending toward younger books, but it doesn't always. Because the one thing I've noticed frequently is that most adult readers of YA fiction tend to get angry when the characters behave...well, like teenagers.

I see it all the time; a review by an adult reader that thinks such and such character behaves stupidly, or that such and such character drove them crazy. Perhaps that's because a real teenager would drive them crazy. The truth is, the life a teenager can be frustrating and confusing, and that's what realistic teen fiction tries to present. An adult reader doesn't necessarily want to dwell on those difficult times. And as I get older, it's remarkable how easily most adults forget completely what it was like to be a teen. Therefore, what is presented as realistic teen fiction today is kind of far from the reality of most teens.

So basically, where does that leave us? You have the more fantasy, fairy tale publishing for the younger readers (and some of the older readers too) and the more Chicklit Lite for the older readers (and some of the younger ones too). And to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with this. Readers enjoy it. They can be enjoyable books. However, what there seems to be lacking is a real sense of books for teenage readers of literature, not simply fiction. There's not much out there for that 15-17 year old who wants to read about their lives. And what is out there is poorly stocked in stores and hidden among the paranormal romance picks of the month.

Basically, the readers who brought the genre back from the brink a decade ago are being shut out once again. Which is really saddening. On the other hand, it's kind of nice to see that YA has become a genre as diverse as adult fiction. It's not simply problem-novels and Sweet Valley High anymore. There's a world of publishing from fantasy to romance. I just hope it doesn't devour itself with too much of the same old, same old.