Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This is the Way We Go

The way I've been writing lately is to allow the story to lead itself along. I like the idea of exploring a story scene-by-scene. Letting it develop and come into view by the actions of the characters. But being a Capricorn, I have an inborn need to see the path ahead of me.

Earlier this week, my goat nature took over. I was writing a scene where the characters are escaping a situation and I realized that I had no idea where they were going. I hadn't lost track of where the story was leading, just the actual annoying details like setting and plot.

Some writers skip scenes when this happens, moving on to a later point in the plot that is clear to them. This is something I'm not equipped to do. I felt my note taking instinct take hold. It was time to clear the path a little. Get straight in my head which character knew what and when. Work backwards a little to figure out how my cast was going to move from Point A to Point B.

Twenty hours later...they were back on course. Another puzzle solved.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pirates on the High Seas

Two weeks ago I posted about the Japanese versions of my Pirate School series and talked about the new illustrations. Now that there are three different sets of illustrations for this series, I thought it would be fun to take a look at them side-by-side.

The styles are all very much in keeping with the current trends for chapter books published in each country. The American illustrations are cute, funny, and mildly cartoonish. The German art is much quieter and proper. The kids are rarely seen being as wild as they are in other version. The Japanese version ramps up the wildness and fills the pages with a frantic energy that leaps off the page. It's also interesting for me to see which scenes were illustrated in each as not every illustrator chose the same moments to capture. Naturally, the different illustrators seemed to pick moments that fit their style best.

Above is scene which all three books illustrated. In this scene, the two pirate siblings, Vicky and Aaron, have made their favorite family recipe, Sea Slug Cereal, for the rest of the gang. Needless to say, it isn't a hit. It smells rotten and tastes worse. The different approach in overall attitude is pretty clear in these illustrations.

As an author writing a book you know will be illustrated, it can be quite a nervous adventure waiting to see what those pictures will look like. The tone of the pictures can very well alter the tone of the story in the readers mind. And given that an author has very little say or control over the direction of the art, it's always a point of worry. I was extremely lucky with this series that all three versions do the stories a great service.

(Peter, Aaron, Vicky, Gary, Inna - U.S. version)

(Vicky, Aaron, Gary, Inna, Peter - German version)

(Gary, Inna, Peter, Vicky, Aaron - Japanese version)
(Gary, Vicky, Peter, Inna, Aaron - My original sketch)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

This was one of those weeks where listening habits kind of went out the window. I didn't listen to much of anything new. Or I did, but I've been so wrapped up in the story that I'm writing, that I barely paid much attention to what I was listening to. At least not enough that I felt comfortable reviewing them. However there were two or three albums that I listened over and over this week. It was a short rotation. That's something I haven't done in a while. I decided for this week to feature one those select albums. Enjoy.

Ghost - Ghost: I purchased this CD in 1996 when I was in my Drag City phase. After a few stunning discoveries on that label, I would typically take a chance on anything released on Drag City. That, along with a strong recommendation from one of my best friends was enough to get me to pick this one up (used, that much I know because of the notch in the case, as that was the NYC record store way of scarring used CDs). Released in 1990, this is the debut album from the Japanese psychedelic band that is still releasing quality albums today.

As followers of the Roundup are aware, I'm a big fan of '70s progressive folk. A lot of that stems from this album, with is very much in that early freak folk tradition. In the early years Ghost was very acoustic. It was some time last week when, out of the blue, I had the sudden urge to listen to this specific album. I hadn't listened to this album of theirs in several years and what a mistake that has been. This is an album sure to fill your head with stories.

Also recommended Ghost albums: Second Time Around; Snuffbox Immanence, Lama Rabi Rabi, and In Stormy Nights (in that order).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Books for a Grown-Up Saturday

I'm feeling a little grown-up today, or perhaps just a bit groggy from a late night. But essentially aren't they the same thing? In honor of this rare occasion of feeling like an adult, I thought I'd share my thoughts on some 'big people' books that I've read relatively recently.

It's strange to me sometimes how my taste in children's books is very traditional in many ways, while my taste in literature has always leaned toward the bizarre, experimental, and obscure. They tend to be very dark stories written in unconventional means. These two selections aren't very different. Hope you enjoy...after all, everyone should take a chance now and then with a book outside their comfort zone. You may be pleasantly surprised--or horrified. Either way, it's worth the risk.

by Tito Perdue

This is the story of Lee as he journeys to college and sets off to discover the world. What he finds is a place that both thrills him with its possibilities and disgusts him with its pointless conventions and promises of empty lives. Lee is one of those characters who embodies the idealism and invisibility one feels at that time in life, when the world suddenly seems to open up to expose itself. But the wonderful thing about The Sweet-Scented Manuscript is that it allows the reader to identify with Lee, root for him, yet always be aware of the flaws in his view of the world.

But as with other Tito Perdue novels, the story is secondary to the art of his writing. He has a talent for wording every sentence is such a way that it makes you ponder it. The phrasing is odd. The rhythm is always changing. Yet it's always great writing. He reminds me of Richard Brautigan in that way. Also like Brautigan, he is able to show us our world in a way that makes it feel unfamiliar.
by Nick Cave

A departure from Cave's previous, brilliant novel (And the Ass Saw the Angel), The Death of Bunny Munro is a modern story of a rather loathsome character who the reader cannot help but identify with despite wishing we didn't see ourselves in him. But we do, or at least, I did. Perhaps that says more about me than the book.

In nearly every way, this novel reminded me of Irvine Welsh's novels. Bunny was like the bastard offspring of Juice Terry, Rent Boy, and Bigby all rolled into one, only with more heart. Bunny's not at all a bad guy, just ill equipped to live in the world.

The tale is a fast-paced blitz through the insanity of our modern society, espousing the adventures of a man on a collision course with his own destruction and his nine-year-old son along for the ride who is desperately trying to make sense of asylum like world he suddenly inhabits.

-I just found this world a hard place to be good in- Bunny Munro says at one point, summing up the essence of this very worthwhile novel.

Don't we all sometimes, don't we all.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Yesterday, a court in New York may have saved the last shred of copyright law by rightfully defeating Google's attempt to claim ownership for millions of books by essentially putting the burden of proving copyright on the copyright holders.

Though there were some good intentions in what Google was attempting to do, there was always an eye on profit. And I know everybody wants everything to be free these days, but we can't live in a capitalist society and not have copyright law. Some of us have to survive on our intellectual property and asking us to surrender it to Google because of they say so, just doesn't sit right with me.

The issue is quite complicated and I won't attempt to summarize it. I'll leave that to the experts. Here's an article from The Guardian explaining the decision (article). This is a victory not only for authors, but for all of us. We can't allow corporations to simply bypass the law to create systems that are more beneficial for them alone.

And yes, I'm aware of the irony that I'm posting this with Google's free blog service.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Story Goes Where A Story Goes...

Sometimes I feel like I'm completely in charge of a story, guiding it through the dangers that surround it until it comes out on the other side, safe and sound. Other times I feel like the story is pulling me along as I stumble on my feet, trying to keep up with a beast that has broken from the leash. But if one is the proper way of writing a story and the other the wrong, I have yet to determine which is which.

In the end, stories are like must treat them each according their own disposition.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

It's always around this time when the year begins to take shape musically. Sure there are always a few solid releases in the early months, but it seems to be around March when the first albums I'm really dying to hear start making their way into the world. Recently I've been neglecting new releases, but this week I've been invested in 2011. Of course, I could never stay forever in the present. So I've added a couple of records from the past to keep things interesting. Enjoy.

Alex Turner - Submarine: These six songs, recorded as part of a soundtrack for a film of the same title, show a side of the Arctic Monkeys and Last Shadow Puppets front man that is rarely heard on the recordings of those bands. Accompanied mainly by acoustic guitar and piano, these tracks are softer than the hard edged early Monkeys material, or their grander recent work. The result is a pretty wonderful little album by one of the best songwriters of the past 10 years.

o'death - outside: The fourth album by the pioneering New York gothic folk outfit was one of my most anticipated albums of this year. Easily one of my favorite bands to emerge in the last five years, their previous albums all rank highly on my list of albums of the last decade. It only makes sense that this is hands-down the best album I've heard this year. Shifting slightly away from the death-folk harshness of their previous album, the band finds a something of a beautiful calm on this one. It's almost as if the last album, Broken Hymns, Limbs & Skin was an act of violent death and this album is the peace found afterward. Truly brilliant.

The View - Bread and Circuses: The third album from these four Scottish lads was another one of my highly anticipated albums of the year. Their 2009 album, Witch Bitch? was one of my favorite of the year, full of clever shifting arrangements and perspective that reminded me of The Kinks (not so much in sound, but in spirit). However, I must admit that though I enjoyed that album on first listen, it took many listens to really appreciate. In some ways, I'm seeing the same thing with Bread and Circuses. When I listened to it the first time, I thought it was just okay. But the funny thing was, I couldn't stop listening to it. Now, several listens in, there are a handful of songs that I truly love and I suspect the others will follow. It's a more mature album and more subtle in its shifts than the previous. But there is still an incredible energy to this band that always shows through. This is a band that truly deserves a larger audience.

J. Mascis - Several Shades of Why: The new solo acoustic album by the Dinosaur Jr. front man follows in the footsteps of 2005 similar Sing + Chant for Amma, only with more defined song structure. I very much enjoyed that album and was interested in checking this one out. What I discovered was an album by a musician that, decades into his career, is really hitting a new creative high. This is an album that simply grooves. It never feels forced. It just taps into a vibe and keeps going through it until the end. Once it was over, I found myself thinking, damn that was really good.

R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now: Even in the early '90s, I would be reluctant to ever say I was huge fan of this band, though I do own many of their albums and love many of their songs. The problem with R.E.M. for me has always been inconsistancy within each album. There are moments of alt-pop rock greatness, but they are mixed in with songs that border on annoyance. After seeing the video for the new single "Mine Smell Like Honey," and enjoying the song, I was curious to hear what this band had to say to the world today. My reaction to the album is about the same as previous. There's a bunch of songs that I could care less about. However, there are a handful of songs on here that rank among the band's best. "ƜBerlin," "All the Best," "Oh My Heart," "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I" and "Mine Smell Like Honey" make up a spectacular EP and thanks to the power of iTunes, that's what I've been listening to and loving.

Portugal. The Man. - Waiter: You Vultures!: Due to it's rarity, this 2006 debut is the last of this band's albums that I've acquired. Regular readers will know that I tend to gush about this band. They've had albums in my Top 10 of the year for three years running. This album, while also great, is naturally far less defined than the albums that came after. They are still experimenting with their sound and sometimes it doesn't quite work as well as others. There are still some epic songs on here. "How the Leopard Got Its Spots," "AKA M80 and the Wolf," "Elephants," and "Bad Bad Levi Brown" are all exceptional indie insanity.

Irma Thomas - Wish Someone Would Care: This 1964 debut album from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas is great piece of soulful love songs. Irma's voice is amazing. The emotion shines through the way it should with any good soul singer. The one drawback here is the that the music isn't as memorable as Irma. The band isn't bad, but it sounds like a band you might hear in any good era nightclub. Still, there are some unforgettable tracks. "Time is On My Side," "Break-A-Way," and "I've Been There" are soul classics.

The Ugly Ducklings - Somewhere Outside: I was in no way unfamiliar with this Toronto garage rock outfit upon listening to this, their 1966 debut. I've long owned the compilation album Too Much, Too Soon (the only thing of theirs available on CD in the early part of last decade when I purchased it) which includes most of the songs on here. But I always like to hear the original LPs. Mick Jagger once called The Ugly Ducklings his favorite Canadian band, and for good reason. A mix of covers and originals, this is a fuzzy garage rock masterpiece. "Gaslight" is powerhouse. The band didn't last long, but they rocked while they did.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Question of Character

The other day, I got to spend an enjoyable evening in the company with creatures of my own kind as part of a panel with other writers for NYC Teen Author Festival. It's always nice hanging out with other writers every once in a while, if for nothing else than to reassure yourself you're not the only crazy one out there. It's especially nice when we've gathered for the purpose of talking about our craft. Even though every writer has to figure out the process that works best for them, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to learn from hearing about someone else's process.

Our discussion on Monday centered around the idea of character and voice. It was fascinating to hear how others go about discovering their characters. It seems many of us wait to begin a project until we feel as though we hear the main character in our heads. But how we go about finding that voice seems to range widely.

Some writers find a character within a plot they want to tell. I tend to start with the character and let he or she find the plot, though I've worked the other way too. One thing I learned by listening to the other writers was that the way you approach a project depends greatly on what the project is. I know that might sound fairly obvious, but it's less obvious than it seems.

Writing is like any artistic discipline, once you figure out a way that works, you tend to stick with it. But the danger in that is the risk of becoming stale. The skeleton of the process probably needs to stay in place, but there has to be room to freshen it up with new ideas.

If there's anyone who is, or wants to be, a writer and you happen to be in the New York City area Friday or Saturday, I highly recommend you attend some of the panels that are taking place on those days. There's an unbelievable amount of talent gathered to discuss different aspects of the writing process. They are all free and you'll learn a great deal. (Check here for a full schedule.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so...

The other day I received a package I've been waiting for ever since I first heard my Pirate School series was being translated in Japanese and being re-illustrated. I'm a huge anime fan, so naturally I couldn't wait to see my characters done in that style. After nearly a year or more of waiting, I finally got to see them...and they're awesome.

One of the best moments (or potentially worst) of being a writer of children's books is getting to see the illustrations that accompany your story. I've been lucky enough to experience that three different times with these books. First the originals, then the German editions, and now the Japanese. It's amazing how each gives the story a different feel.

As expected, the Japanese versions of my characters are hyper expressive and everything they do is exaggerated. In many ways they fit the story perfectly. Plus the layout of the language allows for bigger illustrations and more interaction between text and picture, as did the Taiwanese versions, which kept the original illustrations.

The covers of the first four books are below. I'm not even sure which characters are my name and I kind of like it that way.

Pirate School #1: The Curse of Snake Island

Pirate School #2: Ghost Ship, Ahead!

Pirate School #3: Attack on the High Seas

Pirate School #4: Port of Spies

I feel very fortunate these stories that I've created have been able to reach so many children in so many different cultures. I'm especially proud to have them reach Japan, a culture that has greatly influenced my own imagination. I only wish it were under better circumstances. The situation there has upset me a great deal this past week. If just one child in that country can read these books and momentarily forget the horrible events taking place, then I will have done my job. Saving the world one story at a time isn't just a name for this blog, it's something that I believe in and will continue doing for as long as I can.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Speaking Out

I don't do many appearances for one reason or another, but I will showing up in public this evening as part of a panel discussion with eight other great YA authors to talk about finding a character's voice. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how important character is to my work and how the development of that character is a huge part of my writing process. It should be a great discussion. So, if you're in NYC, come by...also if you're in the area, there are events all week long. I've posted all the details below. For those of you who can't make it, I'll be sure to tell everyone how it went.

2011 NYC Teen Author Festival Schedule!

Monday, March 14 (Chatham Square Branch of the NYPL, 33 E Broadway., 6-8):
Finding Voice, Giving Voice: Speaking Up for Characters

Cathleen Bell
Jen Calonita
Cecil Castellucci
Brent Crawford
Elizabeth Eulberg
Brian James
Kekla Magoon
Melina Marchetta
Marie Rutkoski

Moderator: David Levithan

Tuesday, March 15 (B&N Union Square, 7-8:30):
YA Reader’s Theater

Holly Black
Judy Blundell
Gayle Forman
Eliot Schrefer (aka E. Archer)

Host: David Levithan

Wednesday. March 16 (South Court, 42nd St NYPL, 6-8):
YA Rocks, featuring Tiger Beat!

Tiger Beat:
Libba Bray
Daniel Ehrenhaft
Barnabas Miller
Natalie Standiford

With music-related readings from:
Philana Marie Boles
Libba Bray
Daniel Ehrenhaft
Barnabas Miller
Jon Skovron
Jeri Smith-Ready
Rita Williams-Garcia

Host: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

Thursday, March 17 (Five Borough Read, 10-12):


Seward Park Branch, 192 E Broadway, Manhattan, 10am
Alma Alexander
Philana Marie Boles
Leanna Renee Hieber
Lena Roy
Mark Shulman

96th Street Branch, 228 E 96th St, Manhattan, 10am
Violet Haberdasher
Kimberly Marcus
Micol Ostow
Eliot Schrefer
Natalie Standiford

Washington Irving H.S (in conjunction with Mulberry St Branch) - 40 Irving Place, 10am.
Eireann Corrigan
Jocelyn Davies
Anne Heltzel
Matt de la Pena
Patrick Ryan
Leila Sales

Muhlenburg Branch, NYPL, 209 W 23rd St
Alexandra Bullen
Helen Ellis
Sarah Mlynowski
Matthue Roth
Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Robin Wasserman

Central Branch, Brooklyn Public Library, Dweck Auditorim, 10 Grand Army Plaza

Cathleen Bell
Gayle Forman
Christopher Grant
Melissa Kantor
Jeri Smith-Ready
Melissa Walker

Bronx Library Center, 310 E Kingsbridge Road, Bronx

Margie Gelbwasser
Sarah Darer Littman
Arlaina Tibensky
Maryrose Wood

Library TK

Brent Crawford
Barry Lyga
Melina Marchetta
Neesha Meminger

Staten Island:
St George Branch, 5 Central Ave, Staten Island, 10am

Elizabeth Eulberg
David Levithan
Michael Northrup
Danette Vigliante

Friday March 18th, Symposium (South Court, 42nd Street, 2-6)

2:00 Introduction

2:10 – 3:00: Telling the Truths – Hard Topics, Illuminating Fiction

Eireann Corrigan
Donna Freitas
Sarah Darer Littman
Kimberly Marcus
Micol Ostow

Moderator: David Levithan

3:00 – 3:50: Debut Author Showcase

Jocelyn Davies
Margie Gelbwasser
Christopher Grant
Anne Heltzel
Kimberly Marcus
Arlaina Tibensky

Moderator: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

3:50 – 4:00: Break

4:00 - 5:00: I Think I Love You (But Maybe I Don’t?) – Writing About Teens in Love

E. Lockhart
Terra Elan McVoy
Sarah Mylnowski
Patrick Ryan

Moderator: David Levithan

5:00 – 6:00: Under the Influences: Discussing Influences on YA Fiction

Libba Bray
Susane Colasanti
Barry Lyga
Carolyn Mackler
Lena Roy
Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Maryrose Wood

Moderator: Barry Lyga

Saturday. March 19th, Symposium (South Court, 42nd Street, 1-5:30)

1:00 – Introduction

1:10 – 2:00: The Ties That Bind, Part One: The Struggle Against Darkness

Kim Harrington
Lisa McMann
Maggie Stiefvater
Robin Wasserman

Moderator: David Levithan

2:00 – 2:45: The Ties That Bind, Part Two: Family Bonds

Melissa Kantor
Melina Marchetta
Alyssa Sheinmel
Natalie Standiford
Danette Vigilante

Moderator: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

2:45 – 3:30: The Ties That Bind, Part Three: Friends and Community

Matt de la Pena
Ellen Hopkins
Torrey Maldonado
Michael Northrop
Leila Sales

Moderator: Barry Lyga

3:30-3:40 – Break

3:40 – 4:20 – Tribute to Michael Cart

Host/Opening: Jack Martin

Speakers/Readers: David Levithan and Jacqueline Woodson

Acceptance: Michael Cart

4:20-5:30: LGBTYA: Past, Present, and Future

Nick Burd
Michael Cart
David Levithan
Patrick Ryan
Jacqueline Woodson

Moderator: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

Sunday afternoon:
Books of Wonder Signing (1-4, 18 W 18th St)


Lizabeth Zindel (A Girl, A Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills, Penguin)
Maryrose Wood (The Hidden Gallery, Harper)
Suzanne Weyn (Empty, Scholastic)
Danette Vigilante (The Trouble with Half a Moon, Penguin)
Maggie Stiefvater (Linger, Scholastic)
Natalie Standiford (Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, Scholastic)
Mark Shulman (Scrawl, Roaring Brook)
Alyssa Sheinmel (The Beautiful Between, RH)
Kieran Scott (She’s So Dead to Us, S&S)
Leila Sales (Mostly Good Girls, S&S)
Patrick Ryan (Gemini Bites, Scholastic)

Marie Rutkoski (The Celestial Globe, FSG)
Lena Roy (Edges, FSG)
Michael Northrup (Trapped, Scholastic)
Sarah Mlynowski (Gimme a Call, RH)
Neesha Meminger (Jazz in Love, Ignite)
Terra Elan McVoy (After the Kiss, S&S)
Lisa McMann (Cryer’s Cross, S&S)
Kimberly Marcus (Exposed, RH)
Melina Marchetta (The Piper’s Son, Candlewick)
Torrey Maldonado (Secret Saturdays, Penguin)
Barry Lyga (Archvillain, Scholastic)

E. Lockhart (Real Live Boyfriends, RH)
Sarah Darer Littman (Life After, Scholastic)
David Levithan (Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, RH)
Melissa Kantor (The Darlings Are Forever, Hyperion)
Carla Jablonksi (Resistance, First Second)
Ellen Hopkins (Fallout, S&S)
Gwendolyn Heasley (Where I Belong, Harper)
Kim Harrington (Clarity, Scholastic)
Christopher Grant (Teenie, RH)
Margie Gelbwasser (Inconvenient, Flux)
Elizabeth Eulberg (Prom & Prejudice, Scholastic)
Helen Ellis (The Turning, Sourcebooks)

Daniel Ehrenhaft (Friend is Not a Verb, Harper)
Sarah Beth Durst (Enchanted Ivy, S&S)
Matt De La Pena (I Will Save You, RH)
Brent Crawford (Carter Finally Gets It, Hyperion)
Eireann Corrigan (Accomplice, Scholastic)
Susane Colasanti (Something Like Fate, Penguin)
Marina Budhos (Tell Us We’re Home, S&S)
Kate Brian (Book of Spells, S&S)
Philana Marie Boles (Glitz, Penguin)
Judy Blundell (Strings Attached, Scholastic)
Cathleen Bell (Little Blog on the Prairie, Bloomsbury)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

I was away for the second half of this past week, soaking up the sun in Florida. Now anyone who knows me knows that I despise the sun. I'll be happy when it dies out and leaves us all alone. But that said, a few days away from winter is never so bad. Though I love winter, it is nice to be warm for a spell. Perhaps that is why most of the selections I've chosen for this week's music picks tend to fall on the sunny side. Nearly exclusively, these albums are meant more for the warm weather of summer (except maybe The Jesus Lizard). Hope you enjoy them.

The Notorious xx: This is the last of a series of mash-up albums that I sought out about a month ago when I was going through a phase of looking for the most intriguing pairings. This album combines Notorious B.I.G. songs with songs from the 2009 debut album from the xx. The pairing is quite decent, especially when the best xx songs are used, such as "Islands". But as a mash-up, it isn't quite as integrated as it could be. It sounds more like a DJ album mixing the two together, which is still fun. But the best mash-ups take two sounds, blend them together, and create something that sounds brand new.

Lissie - Daytrotter Sessions 2008 & 2010: I first heard this singer-songwriter on a television performance and was captivated by her voice. When that happens, I typically go to to see if they have recorded any sessions (Daytrotter Sessions are available for FREE download and they have an archive of amazing artists). These seven songs are all quite good. It's standard indie folk but Lissie's voice really brings out the emotion in the songs and elevates them into something more beautiful. I have yet to listen to her full length albums, but I plan to in the near future.

Pink Floyd - The Complete Zabriskie Point Sessions: These recordings from 1969 make up one of the two great lost Pink Floyd albums, along with The Man & The Journey. This is solidly in Pink Floyd's experimental phase, recorded around the time of Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, one of my favorite Floyd phases. The songs on here are more story pieces, but wonderful examples of them. Though nothing on here is as great as their masterpieces in the genre such as 'Careful with that Ax, Eugene" or 'Echoes', they are still an essential missing piece in the Floyd catalog that I can't believe I waited so long to pick up.

The Jesus Lizard - Head & Pure: In the '90s, this Chicago post-hardcore band was one of the fringe bands that were just a little too strange to ride the wave of alternative stardom. That didn't stop them from being one of my favorite bands of the era. They recorded some of my favorite albums of the '90s, but until I recently, I didn't own this, this compilation of their first album and first EP. Like all of their work, it's explosive. The Jesus Lizard taps into the darkest ends of the imagination and lets it come out sounding like The Stooges being played in a dirty public restroom. The energy they bring is unmistakable and the stories they tell are unforgettable. This is as close as any band will ever get to making music that captures the novels of William Burroughs.

Brenda Lee - Too Many Rivers: This is Brenda's third album to come in 1965 and falls solidly in her swirling pop era. I picked this up on vinyl a few weeks ago in my quest to complete my early Brenda Lee collection. Like 1963's All Alone Am I, this is a wonderful collection of contemporary pop tunes and covers. Brenda's voice is in prime performance and songs like "Too Many Rivers" and "Unforgettable" are, well, unforgettable. Not quite as great as All Alone Am I, but still pretty spectacular.

Savoy Brown - Shake Down: The 1967 debut album from the British Blues band is another fine example of the genre. I know it seems I review one album from this genre every week, but that's only because it's one of my favorite periods of music. The revival of the American blues sound, reinterpreted in the swinging '60s of the UK produces such an amazing combination of old blues and rock music. This is pretty heavy blues, though the band would get even heavier as the '70s came. "Black Night" is the stand-out track on here.

New Riders of the Purple Sage - New Riders of the Purple Sage: This is a band I've been listening to for the past two years or so, but I recently got this, their 1971 debut. This band, started by Jerry Garcia, was a combination of Bay Area musicians. Their blend of California country rock is a sound that really appeals to me. It's very easy-going music that taps into the groove of the time and place. This is a solid effort, though I still think their third album, Gypsy Cowboy is far superior.

Tom Waits - The Heart of Saturday Night: For someone whose music is so identifiable, it sometimes amazes me how diverse Tom Waits can be. This 1974 album, his second, really defines his early sound, which is very influenced by jazz and the Beat Poets. It's a stunning album with many amazing songs, including "New Coat of Paint" and "San Diego Serenade". Though I prefer the more manic albums that would follow, this is an essential album in his catalog, full of drunken soul.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reading Your Life Away

I'm currently on vacation in the sunny nether regions of our nation's most southern peninsula and figured it was a good time to catch up on sharing some wonderful books that I've recently read. Much like musicians listen to albums searching for something quite different than us non-musician listeners, writers read books that inspire them in their craft. Recently my book reviews have focused mainly on Middle Grade fiction, which I've been reading a lot of, however not exclusively by any means. Today I thought I'd share two fantastic books in another genre that has always intrigued me and of which I've written several books of my own...the great coming of age novel. Of course, also much like my own books, I'm drawn to the bleak version of these stories and these books are no different. But if you can handle a nice dose of sadness, then I promise you won't be disappointed with either of these gems.

Mouchette by Georges Bernanos

This is one of those novels that doesn't overpower the reader with its sadness, but rather works slowly to overwhelm them in a such a subtle way that the true impact falls upon you only after you've turned the last page. Mouchette is the story of a young girl, who at fourteen, is lost somewhere between the world of childish confusion and grown-up intuition. Told in such beautiful and easy prose, the harshness of the story is elevated into something pleasurable, almost hiding the painful reality of Mouchette's plight.
"Of course, thoughts never passed through Mouchette's mind in such a logical way. She was vague and jumped quickly from one thing to another. If the very poor could associate the various images of their poverty they would be overwhelmed by it, but their wretchedness seems to them to consist simply of an endless succession of miseries, a series of unfortunate changes. They are like blind men who with trembling fingers count out the coins whose value they cannot calculate."
The emotion of the book comes not from the brutal events that befall Mouchette but from the fact that she barely cares. She has resigned herself to being the 'little savage' that her teacher and townspeople see. She is aware of her ability to suffer through life, but to what end? To become like the adults around her with only new and different pains to come? In much the same way as Kate Chopin's Awakening, the reader accepts Mouchette's unwillingness to be bound to that sort of life and curses a world that allows such a decision to become the only appropriate one.
Another amazing novel in the NYRB (New York Review Book) series of reissues of incredible novels that deserve to live on.

Broken by Daniel Clay

Simply put, this is an unforgettable novel which at once highlights many of the unforgivable flaws in our modern society as well as the very things that keep us going. There is such brutal force to the characters that the consequences of every little action can't help but ripple throughout the novel and take on a momentum of their own. Told in gripping, lyrical prose, I found this book impossible to put down and read it in two sittings. On one hand, this bleak novel, illustrates the ways society corrupts innocence. On the other, it celebrates the potential that very innocence has to become our salvation.
An absolutely brilliant book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Story Hunting

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
-Lewis Carroll
Hunting stories is a dangerous business that I don't recommend anyone undertake lightly. To find and capture your story is not enough. You have to make sure you get it home alive. Treating it like prey will only make it fight back. Before you know it, you've speared it dead and then it's time to start all over again.

Treating the beast like a pet typically works better. If nothing else, at least it will keep you comfort while the cast of characters gets their act together and the scenery decides to fill in the empty patches. If you care for it long enough, it'll will grow into something worth keeping.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

My journey through the past has continued for yet another week as I've been listening to albums that I've owned for months, and in some cases years. Perhaps it's just the desire to wrap myself in the comfort of winter's last vestige, wallowing in familiar sounds before the explosion of spring sets my ears off in newer directions. But for whatever reason, looking at this week's list, I'm struck by the fact that it could very well represent my musical interests for this time of the year circa 1998 (provided of course these albums all existed then). I suppose no matter how much our artistic interests evolve, there will always be a core foundation upon which all is built. Enjoy.

Interpol - Interpol: This is a band that's difficult for me to evaluate fairly, having been friends with certain members before the band was famous. In many ways, it's the band I love to cheer for, kids from the old gang making it huge. I got this for Christmas, after being obsessed with the single 'Barricade' (which I still maintain is one of the best songs of last year and one the band's best songs since the first album). And though I really enjoy this album, it definitely falls easily into the background. It rarely commands your attention in the way I had hoped. I'm always skeptical when a band decides to self-title their fourth sends the signal of being creatively bankrupt. Thankfully, that's not the case here. However, the danger that used to be present under the surface of their songs seems to have vanished, leaving nice enough songs in the wake, if not entirely memorable ones.

Radiohead - The King of Limbs: There was a time when a new Radiohead album would instantly receive heavy rotation in my fuzzy warble spinner. I lived on a steady of diet of The Bends and OK Computer in the mid-90's. I was a decedent of Kid A and Amnesiac in early years of the last decade. And then came two albums that left me feeling, well, nothing much at all. Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows were both a bit messy and unsatisfying in my opinion. So it was more with a yawn than anything else that I decided to listen to the new album. I certainly like it better than those last two albums. At the very least there is a consistency that runs through it. It feels like an album. It's all very moody and pleasant, however it does tend to be a little boring. There's a lot of tinkering around. In many ways, it sounds like a demo album, a first draft of Amnesiac maybe. That said, I have been listening to it quite a bit. It's been a great background album while working. "Morning Mr. Magpie" and "Little by Little" are the two real standout tracks for me.

Big Blood & The Bleedin' Hearts: Those of you who follow the Roundup know that I raved about this Portland, Maine band a few weeks ago upon first hearing them. Ever since hearing those first two albums from the freak folk collective, I've been gathering the rest of their decade long catalog. This 2008 album is just as great as the others I've heard. They remind me of O'Death with a softer tempo and richer sense of traditional folk. What I love about Big Blood is that their music sounds so timeless, yet could never have existed in another decade. The Syd Barrett cover of 'Terrapin' borders on a religious experience for me. Wonderful stuff, this.

Dave Kelly - Keeps it in the Family: This 1969 debut album for UK blues man Dave Kelly is a wonderful lesser known blues album. What's sort of unique about it is that unlike his contemporaries like Peter Green or John Mayall, this is less of a 'British Blues' album and sticks real close to a traditional Robert Johnson style of blues. It's nothing earth shattering, it's a blues album. But it's a good one and one worth hearing.

Sandy Hurvitz - Sandy's Album Is Here at Last!: This is an album I first heard a few years ago and it quickly became a five star album for me and still is. I decided to review it this week because after digging it out the other day, I've listened to it four times in the past week. Sandy, later known as Essra Mohawk, a member of Zappa's Mothers of Invention, recorded this solo album when she was 16. It was produced by Zappa, but sounds more like a more raw, more experimental precursor to Carole King's Tapestry. It's so beautiful and heartbreaking that I could listen to it a million times and never tire of it. Easily on my Top 100 albums list with "Many Different Things" probably being my favorite song on it.

George Harrison - Beware of ABKCO!: This is hands-down one of the best bootlegs ever released. It gathers together early studio sessions for the landmark album All Things Must Pass (one of my Top 10 albums of all time). The versions of "Hear Me Lord" and "Art of Dying" are brilliant. Hearing George play these songs in stripped down versions and just listening to the emotion that comes out both in his voice and his guitar is amazing. For any fans of the Darkhorse, I highly recommend seeking this out. You won't regret it.

The Cosmic Jokers - The Cosmic Jokers: The 1973 debut album from a Krautrock collaboration of other Krautrock bands including Ash Ra Temple, The Cosmic Jokers is wonderful space rock piece of music. It's all very much like a full length wandering through the same space that Pink Floyd's 'Echoes' explores, which to my ears is a place I never tire of visiting.

Grateful Dead - Anthem of the Sun: A few weeks back, I bought this, the psychedelic band's second album from 1968 on vinyl after listening to Wake of the Flood for the hundredth time in two months. Though I prefer the bands later inclusion of country rock into their psychedelic folk, I do admire this earlier raw sound as well. And as it seems to be with all of their records, it grows on me with each listen. Though a bit messy in places, this album certain finds a groove and stays with it. A bit more experimental and less polished than what was to come, but in a way that's what makes this album interesting.