Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Say Whatever You Say

I'm currently doing something I haven't done in quite some time...I'm writing without a plan. I started a story and I'm just letting the character talk and tell me whatever is on his mind. It's funny because I used to always write that way and it was easy. I'm sort of out of practice though and find myself always asking where I'm intending to go with this. The answer is that I don't know and I like it that way.

I typically have a summary of a story before I start working and skeleton outlines once I start. I've always worked with rough outlines, more of a plan of events than an outline really. I'd be lying if I said that I don't have some for this story too, or at least tons of notes. But I don't have the summary. I only started summaries when I started selling books to publishers before they were written. Naturally, they wanted to know what the story was about before forking over an advance. I kind of got into the habit of it, even though the story always changes and it's a bit of a process breaking free once again.

With this one, I want to wander. The character is a fifth grade boy based heavily on myself as a fifth grade boy. I felt the nature of such a creature would best be captured by letting him loose. I hope he takes me somewhere great. So far, I've worked on the first chapter for a few days and yesterday I think I finally got his voice and style down. Later today, it's off to the races.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 37

Excerpt from The Cadet Manifest 004 (access previous Communications)

The war of the last generation has now become our war. We didn't begin it, but we have been brought into it and brought up by it and now we must now bring an end to it. The Dawn Scout Team made a discovery on this morning's rounds that make it impossible to ignore the Rabbit Army's intentions. It is now our war too.

It had been seven days since one of our brave Cadets risked his life on a mission to escort a Rabbit Girl to sever the head from the Rabbit Army once and for all. It seems they managed only to clip the ears and their bodies were found less than a mile from the walls of our New Society. The Rabbit Soldiers didn't even have the mercy for sonic weapons, choosing more violent means that would make any human stomach crawl.

The following message was found in Cadet Riley's bloody uniform:

The Rabbit Girl went berserk on the mission. She can't or won't recall what happened in the chamber with Fival, but I heard it. It was horrifying, the noises. It shivers me. And then what I saw, it was...but she doesn't remember any of it. She keeps singing songs. When she does talk, she isn't talking to me. She's talking as if talking to a diary.

We keep moving. Without sleep, we've been going for two days and stopping not even to eat. Still I hear them behind us. The Rabbit Soldiers. Top fleet ones by how fast they're tracking us. The howls! They sound more like coyotes these days than when we were babies with them. I asked the Rabbit Girl if she noticed but I don't think she heard me.

They're getting closer now. We must move.

- Scout Riley

I informed Bianca upon hearing the news of the gruesome discovery and we went together to see the bodies. She looked at the storm in the sky and breathed deeply. "Put the bodies in the river, but do it gently. Don't let their heads bend toward the ground, do it right. Then we keep this silent as we prepare our defense."

The Scouts gave both noble children their proper send off. Our new city's first casualties. Some the Scouts cried to see their friends torn apart and gone. But our pain and sorrow is our human strength. There is a mourning and then it passes. Our cadets wiped their eyes, their noses, and knew what they had to do.

On the way back into the city walls, I heard howling in the wind way out on the horizon. The end will soon be near.

- Scout Master 155

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ideas are Dangerous

It's that time of year of again, Banned Books Week, when all of us in favor of intellectual freedom rally against the forces of censorship who seek to protect us from ourselves. Of course, the majority of challenged and banned books are books written for children and teenagers as a way of protecting them. But it's what they are protecting them from which is often disturbing.

In many cases it's simply ideas. It some cases it's exposure to concepts that might be disturbing or uncomfortable. Now I'll be the first one to admit that there are certainly books out there that are inappropriate for this child or that child, but it's on an individual level...not a school wide level, not a town wide level, or nationally. No one has the right to inflict their values or insecurities on others. What might be disturbing for one child to read could actually be crucial for another.

The Diary of Anne Frank (a most-often challenged book) comes to mind. Some might find it upsetting, others simply object to her innocent first observations and thoughts about sex. But for many young readers, it makes learning about the Holocaust personal. It stops being a subject told in black and white pictures and history text books or Hollywood interpretations and becomes about a girl you end up knowing and thinking of as a friend by the end of the book. To make something as powerful as that unavailable is the kind of mentality that led to books' existence in the first place.

Everyone needs to make decisions for themselves and their families...but don't make them me or mine.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week has passed and I've come another step closer to autumn. The leaves up here in the mountains change rapidly. Over the past week, the scenery crossed the threshold to looking more like Fall than Summer. As a result, my music tastes are beginning to change again. I find myself once more drawn to the moodier pieces and nostalgic listening. A good number of reviews in the next few weeks will be from my recent vinyl splurging as well as from the box records recently unearthed by parents. But as always, I will try always throw in some new things for the indie kids.

Guns N' Roses - Patience: This is a recording of an acoustic gig the band did at CBGB's in 1988 where they are debuting songs from their then upcoming EP "GNR Lies". I've had this bootleg for years, but around two years ago, my disc stopped playing. Thankfully, the recording showed up again last week and I've been listening to it a lot ever since. This may be the most relaxed this band has ever sounded. The performances of both "One in A Million" and "Patience" are only the second time the band every played the songs and they both outstanding. "Move to the City" (on of the inspirations for my novel Tomorrow, Maybe by the way) is crazy good too. This isn't just for die-hards, this is a must have for even any casual fan of America's greatest rock n roll band.

Sir - The Night I Met My Second Wife: This album dates back to 2000 and is from the relatively unknown Australian band Sir. This was given to me by a friend as I'd never heard of it either. More people definitely should hear it though. There's a darkness to this album that is like the sound of ghosts whispering over a slowcore dreamscape. Not unsurprisingly, there is a lot of Nick Cave influence (as everything from Down Under seems to be either Nick Cave or AC/DC inspired), but it sounds like early Nick Cave wondering through a twisted Wonderland.

The Delta Sisters - Music from the Old Timey Hotel: It must be known that I'm sucker for "old timey" music and had to give this a listen when it popped up. This 1981 album is good piece fiddle americana. Another interesting thing is that a number of the songs are in French. Who would have thought French and American old timey folk would mix well? It's fun album if you're into this sort of thing. A nice find.

Nina Nastasia - Dogs: Another lost gem from 2000 given to me by the same friend (thanks Dan). On the surface this is just another singer songwriter acoustic folk album, but when you really listen to it, it's quite remarkable. It's easy to compare it with Elliot Smith's more lo-fi albums, telling the same sort of observed stories of being lost and confused. But there's also an anger in some of her observations, making some songs sound to me what Courtney Love might sound like making folk songs. All in all, quite exceptional.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - thank god for mental illness: This 1996 album for me is the band at its absolute peak. Coming right after their other masterpiece Their Satanic Majesty's Second Request, everything is clicking for the band at this point. It's perfect blend of the weirdest period Beatles and Stones, taking that psychedelic madness and interpreting it into the chaos of L.A. in the '90s. Absolutely great.

Pat Benatar - Live From Earth: I've been on a Pat Benatar kick ever since I watched the "Love is a Battlefield" video on VH1 Classics On Demand a few weeks ago. When I was digging through my parents' box of found albums, I snatched this one and it's really quite good. Listening to it, it still sounds very NYC and you can hear the influence she still has on NYC indie bands. It's a clever mix of new wave pop and something heavier with the Judas Priest like riffs on "Heartbreaker". Guilty pleasure? Maybe, but I don't think so. I think it's one of the few lasting sounds from an era of forgettable albums.

Those Poor Bastards - Hellfire Hymns: The Madison, WI band's 2007 second album falls between the two I already have and is just as good as those. Along with O' Death, Those Poor Bastards are the standard bearer for gothic country / death folk. This album reads like tales of damnation and grief. In many ways, this is the natural progression of Johnny Cash into the modern age. If you don't know this band, I highly recommend checking them out.

Alice Cooper - Easy Action: Over the last year, I've grown to love Alice Cooper's early catalog and when I saw this on vinyl at a recent record sale, I had to have it. It's the band's second album dating from 1970 and sounds very much like their 1970 Detroit contemporaries, The Stooges. It's straight up garage acid rock and a little more experimental than the stellar albums that follow. Side A is simple fantastic. Side B is a little messy.

Iron Butterfly - In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida: Of course I know the title track inside and out, any child that grew up listening to classic rock radio does. But I'd never bothered to check out an entire album until the other day. It opens weakly with two hippy pop tracks, but then gets considerably stronger. The rest of the album is a solid Cream impression that makes for a decent psychedelic classic rock album.

Janis Ian - Between the Lines: Another album rescued from my parents that I was about to leave until my mom told me it was one of her favorites. I decided it was worth a listen. As soon as I put it on, I realized that I knew every song from my childhood. It's a contemporary folk album from 1975 that is very reminiscent of Carol King's Tapestry. "Seventeen" is the big hit song on here and it's still a great emotional pop song. Other stand-outs are "From Me to You" and "In the Winter."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Title For My New Novel

After months of searching for the right title for my new novel, it finally has one. Part of the problem with titling this book for me was that it's such a special novel. It's brimming over with the best imagery I've written to date and is such a powerful and heartfelt story that I felt the title needed to convey the mood of the book. With the help of my wonderful editor and publisher, I think it now does:

Life Is But A Dream

It evokes the character's state of mind as she struggles with reality, but also captures the sense of wonder that she has toward life. It's also a play on the Lewis Carroll quote that opens the story...."Is all our life, then, but a dream / Seen faintly in the golden gleam."

The book will be out some time next year. I will of course be more specific once I know the release date.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Far From Home

A few years ago, I went on a Star Trek: Voyager binge. Sometimes I'd watch three episodes a day as I made my way through the entire series. Now I've always been a Star Trek fan. As a child, I loved the original series and the movies. I never really got on board with The Next Generation, though I've probably seen them all. By the time Deep Space Nine hit the air, I'd grown bored. I watched the first season of that show and then abandoned it. So Voyager never made my radar when it was on. It has since become my favorite of the series by a light year.

I can hear the outcry from Trekkie hoards out there screaming at this proclamation...but it's true. Voyager is the best one hands down. The premise of the crew being in the Delta Quadrant is brilliant. It opens the show to whole new species and conflicts while also freeing them of the stale Federation mentality which had grown too pompous for it's own good. It's also the coolest Federation ship in the fleet too. Thankfully the muted colors of the new Enterprise are gone and given a grey make-over that fits the darker survival theme of the show. And last, but certainly not least, is the exceptional Captain Janeway. She's totally bad ass. Also, in it's favor, is the arc of the entire series from beginning to end. The series finale is such a big payoff, giving you exactly what you want but in a exciting way.

Why am I talking about this? Well, I've started watching it again and find myself pulled right back in. Star Trek has always been a writer's show, much like the Twilight Zone. There's a story behind the plot, an entire universe exists within it's borders. I must also confess to revisiting Deep Space Nine after my first Voyager binge and recognizing the intelligence of that show. It's an intriguing political drama amongst these invented societies.

If you need me, I'll be in the Delta Quadrant...currently within the Necred Expanse.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

State of Mind

Part of what makes a writer is an attachment to inanimate objects, mental images, and concepts of no importance. These are the outlets my imagination takes to sometimes. It likes to latch onto things and paint them with characteristics they may not inertly have. Numbers and letters have personalities for me. Silverware and certainly clothing. The different states are another such elusive entity that have personality for me and on that subject, I'm sure glad to live in The Empire State.

My feeling isn't really anything like pride or nationalism because I don't take any personal identity or meaning from living here or there. But it is one of those few states where I think people identify themselves by their state first and nation second. Certainly a New York City resident abroad would answer "I'm a New Yorker" before they said "I'm American." Perhaps it stems from a sense of self-sufficiency, real or imagined, that exists there. Perhaps it's because New York is one of those states that will still be around after the union collapses, along with California and Texas. It is, after all, The Empire State. Or perhaps is just the odd legends the old Dutch infused into the landscape that hold us hostage.

Whatever the reason, I've always felt at home within it's borders. I've always believed my imagination has room to roam and is welcome here. It's kind of crazy, but I suppose that's part of being a writer too. This past weekend, I was on the bus from Boston back to Albany and when I crossed state lines, I literally felt joy. But of course, that other state has always felt like unfamiliar ground, much like Delaware. There's just a lot of story left in the soil here and today I'm feeling ready to farm it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 36

Excerpt from The Cadet Manifest 003 (access previous Communications)

I did as I was instructed. Every morning on our journey to the Great Warren, I had the Rabbit Girl repeat her orders. Together we ran drills of the execution from dawn till twilight. In her sleep, she mumbled. She was fretful and nervous like all of the Rabbit Girls are. I should have known something wasn't right, but they are all so wiry and fried from repeated brain tinkering that it was hard to read exactly how badly this one was malfunctioning.

After two days of traveling, we finally reached the Great Warren. The Rabbit Soldiers stopped us at the underground entrance as we expected. Their large front teeth were filed down into sharp spikes and the Rabbit Girl shuddered and shivered and all but choked on her words, but she managed to get them out. "We're going to see Fival," she told them. They searched me, but let her pass. I was blind as a mole in those dark tunnels, but she skipped along as if it were midday, humming one of the girls' silly tunes that I didn't recognize.

"It's this way," she told me. I looked right and left, searching for any sign of Nippon's guard detail. I saw nothing. When we entered the small dirt chamber, there was only one rabbit perched in the corner. His eyes spun in maddening spirals and his ears twitched. It was Fival. I remembered him from my infant cadet days when I also had to stand before him. "What are we doing here?" I asked the Rabbit Girl. "We're not really supposed to see him."

The Rabbit Girl had been before him dozens of times, this I knew. Fival knew her after a second, a brief moment when his sanity returned from his ebb and flow of lunacy. He smiled. I saw his tongue dart out between his teeth. Then the Rabbit Girl screamed. A piercing noise that rumbled the cave's dirt walls. I tried to stop her, but had to cover my ears as they started to bleed. She removed the hidden sonic weapon from below her waistband and aimed.

Fival evaporated in a puff of fur and guts and the earth above our heads broke open to reveal the sky. The Rabbit Soldiers rushed toward us and I acted quickly to cave-in the room's doorway. The Rabbit Girl was hysterically out of her mind. Ignoring the accident staining her clothing, I removed her from the scene. The temptation to leave her behind to deal with her failure was strong, but I will let Bianca deal with her. My only concern now is getting back to the New Society Settlement before the Rabbit Soldiers catch us.

- Scout Riley

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Could Do That...

One thing that always annoys me as a writer of children's books is the seemingly endless parade of people who will say, "You know, I've always thought I should write a children's book." That in itself is condescending. I mean honestly, how many other careers would people do that for? There's this sense that it's easy and that it could be done on a whim, that's the implication that annoys me. Those horrible celebrity books don't help that misconception either.

Now, I'm not always so cranky and sometimes I'll show a genuine interest. "Oh really," I'll say. "What kind of children's books do like to read?" This is typically followed with blank stares that seem to ask me why they would ever read children's books. Not only does this show a lack of interest in the genre, but also a lack of knowledge when it comes to the writing craft.

You can't be a writer without being a reader. And you certainly can't be a writer of children's books without ever having studied the genre. This goes without saying. You wouldn't try to write a sonnet without ever having read one. And to be a professional writer, you have to at least partially follow the industry. I'm not suggesting you jump on every trend, but you have to know what's of interest readers and publishers. Even if you think whatever said popular title happens to be is total crap, you need to understand the appeal.

If you want to write a children's books, go for it...just do your research please.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup (Beatles vs. Stones)

I figured it was time for another theme week seeing as how I had a lot of releases by arguably the two greatest rock bands of all time waiting for reviews. The classic debate between the Beatles and the Stones is really just about a matter of taste seeing as the two bands are not so drastically different in the style of music they play. It's like watching Star Wars and sometimes you're drawn to the Rebels and other times, admit it, you like the Empire. I love both of these bands and both have the moments. Here's some of those moments captured forever.

The Beatles - Reunions 74 & 92: Well, not exactly a reunion but on these two different occasions, there were semi-reunions. The most interesting being the '74 home sessions with John and Paul (along with guests such as Stevie Wonder and Nilsson) got together simply to jam for fun. The result sounds a bit like band practice, a lot of aimless rambling, but when they do come together to play "Stand By Me" at the end, it's fantastic. The other reunion is Ringo joining George on stage for epic rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Really, this bootleg is for music history nerds like myself and not the casual fan.

The Beatles - Acoustic Masterpieces: Aptly titled, this is one of the best Beatles bootlegs I've ever heard. It's basically early studio sessions for The White Album with acoustic takes on almost every song as well as a bit of Beatles weirdness, the odd little tracks that never made it onto albums. It's completely amazing. Even songs that I don't typically enjoy, (ie. Back in the U.S.S.R) are fantastic.

The Beatles - Songs for Eleanor: This bootleg covers the recording sessions for the Help! film and album. Now, I love the early period Beatles. Help! is one of my favorite albums and this is a great insight on the process of that album. There are multiple takes of many songs, but all in all not too different from the final versions. There's of course some tossed away tracks that are worth a listen, and the prize is really "Yesterday (Take 1)" in which Paul is still teaching the track to the rest, it's beautiful.

The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street Rarities Edition: There was lot of hype when this (one of the best albums ever) was re-released a few months back with addition songs originally left off the album. After listening to it, it's clear most of these tracks were left off for a reason. With the exception of "Pass the Wine", these represent a collection of decent Stones period tracks, but nothing essential. Still though, pretty much anything done by the Stones in the late '60 and early '70s is worth hearing.

The Rolling Stones - headin' for an overload: This concert bootleg features songs from the Sticky Fingers, Goat's Head Soup, Beggar's Banquet, Exile era, the best era of Stones music. The set list is phenomenal, and the band sounds great. However the sound quality leaves something to be desired. Plus, a big part of the Stones live is the energy that can't really be captured on tape. But if you're a nut for concert albums, this is a good one to have.

The Rolling Stones - Sympathy for the Devil: Like the Beatles acoustic album above, this one is a must have for any fan of Beggars Banquet. These are outtake sessions featuring completely different arrangements on some songs and acoustic versions of others. If you listen to this and then the original, you can really see how varied and talented this band was.

The Rolling Stones - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction: I recently spied the '45 for this in a record shop and picked it up, mainly because the edition I bought had a B-Side credited to Nanker/Phelge, the pen name Jagger and Richards used for some raunchier material. The A-Side, though it's been played to death, is still such great song and one of the best riffs in rock.

Rather than review these separately, I'll talk about them as a collection. These are the Stones earliest singles from 1963 and 1964. A lot of tracks are covers (the best being the Buddy Holly "Not Fade Away"). The band hasn't developed it's edge yet, and these are very Beatles-esque tracks, more playful and raw than the Beatles, but in the same category to be sure. There's a lot of fun songs, "Poison Ivy", "Money" and "Tell Me" have always been favorites of mine. There are some tracks where you see the Stones trying to develop their own sound, and though they don't quite make it there, it's always interesting to hear the beginnings of what they eventually become.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Samantha Crain and Andrew Tanz- "Devils in Boston"

I'm in Boston for the day and thought I'd share one my favorite songs about this town.

Back home tomorrow for the Weekend Music Roundup.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Hazards of Having Cat Assistants

My office isn't exactly a hustling bustling corporate atmosphere. It's basically just me with piles of paper and books stacked in ever-expanding mountain range across the varied surfaces and floor. There's of course my rather giant stuffed elephant and his basket of apples that he picked, the dolls in the corner that whisper inspiration to me from the toy world and the army of visual stimulation that covers the walls. And then....there's the cats.

Having two cat assistants has its perks, but don't doubt for a minute that there aren't hazards. I figured today was as good as any to do their employee evaluations.

1. Always On Time: My one cat's mental alarm is hard to change the settings. She's persistent when it comes to wake-up time and other is persistent in marching me off to the office. There is the occasional ability to put the first cat on snooze, but it's a highly complicated process. Even when it works, the other cat acts as a back-up alarm. Though annoying, I suppose these traits are a benefit and they need some credit for this.

2. Lap Time: Now it may seem that having a purring cat nesting in your lap as you attempt to work on the computer is a nice thing and for the most part it is as long as you ignore the fact that it is simply there to rob you of heat and attention. There's also the nudging of the hand if petting ceases for too long, which always risks the spillage of coffee onto the keyboard and complete loss of potentially days worth of work. I have had many near misses over the past year.

3. Lunch Time/ Nap Time: The mid-day break requires an intricate ballet of behavior with both of the feline help and takes up more time than it need. The biggest danger is the cat habit of immediately snoozing after the feast and the tempting looks they use to encourage you to join them in the abyss of afternoon sleep.

4. Quitting Time is Absolute: Again this might feel like a plus. One should have an established quitting time. The cats adhere to it diligently. Work too long, and they begin a wrestling match among the previous mentioned mountains of papers, which regardless of their beliefs, are actually important. Trying to finish up those last minute things becomes a high stress bout of referee jurisdiction.

But despite all the trials and tribulations, I suppose I'd rehire them again anytime.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 35

Excerpt from The Cadet Manifest 002 (access previous Communications)

A gathering of the Order of Cadets was called while the civilians of the city slept. Bianca said it was critical that they and Our Angel know nothing of the plot to kill General Nippon. Secrecy is for their own good. They wouldn't understand. Bianca says they lack the courage to make harsh decisions.

The chosen Rabbit Girl was easy to confuse. Bianca introduced her to Cadet Riley, disguised as a village girl who was going to accompany her to the Great Warren to see Fival. The Rabbit Girl grew agitated. She wondered why she had to see Fival again. She did not like Fival. She believed when they followed Our Angel here that she would never need to see him again. "You won't have to," Bianca promised her. "You simply have to tell the Rabbit Soldiers guarding the warren that so they will allow you in. You tell them you need to have Riley given her ears. Then once you're in, you find General Nippon and you kill him. Riley will help."

The Rabbit Girl looked nervous but nodded. She took the small sonic weapon and hid it on her body. There was a good chance she would not be searched by the soldiers. And with that, the plot was sealed and along with it, our fate. The two of them set off before dawn. It's two days travel to the Great Warren. It will be four or five days before we know of their success or failure. Either they will return or an invading force will.

- Scout Master 155

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

My New Picture Book

Just a quick note to say my new picture book, Eight Spinning Planets is out now. It's a rhyming counting book with disappearing planets for preschoolers. It was a lot of fun writing in verse again, something I hadn't done since my first picture book The Shark Who Was Afraid of Everything. I still haven't seen a finished copy, but hopefully soon.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend Music Roundup

Two of my favorite weekends of the year over the past few years have been Memorial Day and Labor Day thanks in large part to guy in a nearby town who holds a huge vinyl and CD sale in his yard. The guy is one of these of trade show people who travels to Record Fairs and has quite wide collection of vinyl and CDs for sale in all genres. I typically spend two hours going through the goods and make my selections. Many of this past weekends are here, some are from other sources, and there will be more come. It's been one of those weeks of sketching out a new story, which always means lots of music in the air.

The Black Angels - Phosphene Dream: This the third album from the psychedelic Texas band and like the previous two albums, it's full on fuzzed out retro '60s psychedelic rock. It's ripe with heavy grooves and and an obvious 13th Floor Elevators influence. This one is a step-up from a solid, but slightly repetitive second album and is probably as good as the first, which is to say, pretty good indeed.

Miniature Tigers - Fortress: I'd read good things about this album which came out two months ago and was excited to hear it. At times, it has a Monkee's pop-weirdness from their great period the culminated with Head. I love those bits. At other times, it reminds me more of Animal Collective's more minimal period, which is okay but nothing that grabbed me. Overall, a solid OK.

Manchester Orchestra - Live at Park Ave.: I always find this band to be quite good and was excited to see this live EP that I hadn't been aware of. It's seven previously released tracks, but the acoustic arrangements make each song sound completely new. A nice slice of indie heaven.

Goldfrapp - Head First: The new album sees the former electronica-dream pop artist move into the ever popular '80s retro thing that is going on. I'm still not quite sure why there is so much emulation of bad early '80s going on, it rarely sounds good. There are few songs on here where she nails it. But as a whole it sounds like a bad Olivia Newton John movie soundtrack and a handful of catchy songs don't make up for it.

Gossip - Music For Men: Another 80's inspired album, but this time it works great. Gossip chose a heavy disco sound that just grooves. It doesn't hurt that Beth Ditto has an amazing voice. Certainly not an album for every occasion, but when your in the mood for it, it's super catchy.

Tapes 'N Tapes - Walk It Off: This is a holdover from 2008 wishlist that I finally picked up this past weekend. It's face paced indie rock that reminds me a bit of Arcade Fire only with more fuzz. Nothing earth shattering by any means, but a fun album that I'm really enjoying.

Bowerbirds - Hymns for a Dark Horse: This one is a holdover from the late great 2007 wishlist. Last year, their second album made it on my best-of list, but I think this one might be more intriquing. It's less polished and has a carnival folk feel. It sounds like a lounge singer in a dusty saloon of other times, out of place and beautiful.

Odetta sings Dylan: I found this LP on mono in the bins and was pretty thrilled. In fact, it was first album I listened to from the haul. Odetta is a fantastic blues singer and she has this really deep and beautiful voice. I couldn't wait to hear how her voice would transform Dylan's songs. The end result is that she takes these songs and makes them spiritualized. Amazing.

Stina Nordenstam - And She Closed Her Eyes: A few weeks ago I reviewed one of Stina's newer albums and promised to get a hold of some of her older stuff. This 1994 album is her second album and significantly more lo-fi than 2001 album I reveiwed before. This soft folk sound suits her voice perfectly. This is one of those ideal morning albums and I plan on using it to wake up on many occasions of the next few weeks.

The Animals - Animalism: The Animals are one of the truly unsung bands of the British Invasion, in my opinion they deserve to be in the same conversation with the Beatles, Stones, and Kinks. They brought the heavy British blues sound over with them and rocked it. This album came in 1966 (the band's third album of the year) and it's brilliant. This was a nice find on original vinyl.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Fox and the Child

I'm always looking for unique styles of storytelling. This week I watched an interesting movie that was a good example. The Fox and the Child (from the director of March of the Penguins) is a mixture between nature photography and fictional narrative. It's a children's the story about a lonely little girl who befriends a wild fox over the period of one year. It reminded me a lot of classics like Charlotte's Web and The Yearling, but much more realistic and with minimal story. But it's great story and the movie is shot beautifully in the mountains of France, Italy, and Romania.

The girl's story is made to look like a fairy tale, which mixtures surprisingly well with the amazing nature photography that really makes the fox into a complex character. It was a very literary kind of story. A wonderful piece of storytelling.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Smells Like School

(Me: first day 1st grade; altered)

The Wednesday after Labor Day was always the first day of school in the town where I grew up, so even though it's been years since I've sat in a classroom, the air felt damp with a chalky smell when I woke up this morning. Something about the first days of elementary school always felt oddly magical to me, but magical in the fairy tale sort of way where anything, good or evil, was possible in the world. (I was strangely introspective child.) There was something about the world that looked and smelled differently on those days.

It seemed to me back then that colors changed overnight as I slept. Gone was the glossy glow of summer, replaced by the matte finish of autumn. The air grew thinner with the far off threat of winter. And like the weather, you were a different person than you had been the day before because now you had a new identity that came with a new class and new teacher and new grade. The first day of school was the measuring day of your life's calendar and the tone of the next year was going to be set in the next several hours. It's a weighty thing for a child and needless to say, left me most often with a stomachache.

In a way, starting to explore the story of a new novel is similar. It's like entering the woods and not knowing what lurks around each corner. Some trees may hide friends. Others hide wolves and witches. It's up to you, the writer, to shed light into the underbrush and make the place exactly how you want it to be. Elementary school and childhood for me was kind of the same way. Imagination is so powerful at that age, you can make the world whatever you want it to least within your own mind.

So it's back to school for me today in a sense. It feels like as good a day as any to make some of the difficult choices that must be made early on in writing a novel. These are the kind of pivotal choices that define the type of book it's going to be. Let's hope I make the right ones and that this is going to be a good year.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Great Rabbit Wars Pt. 34

Excerpt from The Cadet Manifest 001 (access previous Communications)

Security for the New Settlement is our duty. All Boy Scout Cadets take shifts on the parapets and at the main gate. Since the return of Our Angel, Bianca has ordered us to refuse entry to any and all Rabbit Soldiers. There have been bloody altercations as a result, but we've held them off every time. Drastic action must be taken however, or else our infant settlement will perish.

"We must kill General Nippon," Bianca informed us at the last rally of cadets in the town square. "Once he is eliminated, we will be left alone." The boys cheered and shouted and stomped their feet and pushed and jostled to step forward and be the volunteer chosen for the honor of our enemy's death. "No," Bianca said. "We mustn't use one of you brave boys. The rodents don't trust you. We must use one of the girls. She'll be able to get close without being suspected."

The girl chosen is one Bianca says has been difficult with her training. She's visited Fival more than any of the other girls. The cadets all question whether or not she can be trusted with such a difficult operation but Bianca assures us, "She will do splendidly." To ease our fears, one cadet will picked to escort her to the warrens, disguised as rabbit girl. The number of volunteers was far less for that task but we still have one of our best Scouts paired with her. If all goes according to plan, Nippon will be dead in a week and the Rodent Army will fall apart from within.

- Scout Master 155

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