Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

As the weather begins to turn from fall into winter up here in the mountains, I've noticed my listening habits retreating back to its folk roots. It doesn't help that the book I'm currently writing is steeped in late autumn imagery and requires the same type of inspiration. As a result this week's list is crowded with a variation of a folk, from traditional to more progressive psychedelic. Of course, one cannot survive on one genre of music, so naturally some other albums found their way into the rotation this week. Enjoy.

The Bevis Frond - The Leaving of London: Nick Saloman has been releasing quality psychedelic indie rock records as The Bevis Frond since 1986. I own many of them, and they are all quite excellent. This is his first album since 2004 and is definitely worth the wait. With 18 tracks, spanning an hour and twenty minutes of great music. The formula hasn't changed much since the late '90s...driving guitars, piano melodies, and a wonderfully interesting voice singing songs representing a sense of disenchantment with the world. I've been listening to this a lot over the past two weeks and it's quickly becoming one of my favorites of the year.

Richard Swift - Walt Wolfman: The L.A. singer songwriter Richard Swift has put out some of my favorite albums of the last decade, including The Novelist (2003) and Dressed Up For the Letdown (2007). In the past few years, he's released a bunch of playful EPs, most notably, Richard Swift as Onasis (2008). Walt Wolfman, released two weeks ago, continues the trend. Like the other EPs, it is steeped in proto-rock roots of twanging guitars and boulder heavy drums. The seven tracks here are decent numbers that remind me a bit of old Jack Starr tunes. Nothing groundbreaking however, unless you include the great cover and unbeatably awesome title.

Nirvana - Live at the Paramount: This 1991 concert was recently released during the media blitz surrounding the 20th anniversary of Nevermind's release. Though it had never officially been available before, I've had this show on CD since the mid-90s as part of the ultra rare bootleg Nirvana box set Into the Black. The band is in great form during this show, playing songs from Bleach era and showcasing tracks from the just-released Nevermind. They also play an early version of "Rape Me." I recently watched the video and multiple cameras provide a nice feel for the concert. If you recently purchased the Live at Reading DVD a few years ago, probably not necessary to get this as well, but certainly you couldn't go wrong having both. Otherwise, the audio is widely available in bootleg form.

Slowness - Hopeless but Otherwise: This 2011 debut, four song EP from San Francisco trio Slowness shows a lot of promise. It's a familiar sound of layered guitars with an undercurrent of moody dreamlike vocals that's very reminiscent of early '90s UK bands such as Th' Faith Healers and My Bloody Valentine. It's hard to say whether Slowness would grow tiresome over a full-record, and there's little done to update the sound, but as an EP, it's not a bad listen and makes me curious to find out.

Donovan - Fairytale: Released in 1965, this is the UK folk hero's second full-length album and, in my opinion, his best. The songs on here are so honest and simple and descriptive that they become haunting even as you're listening to them. "Sunny Goodge Street," "Colours," and "To Try for the Sun" are easily among his best songs. Later albums, though I still love them, can be gimmicky at times. None of that exists on this one. Fantastic.

The Grateful Dead - Golden Gate Studios 1965: These sessions, recorded when the band was still known as The Warlocks are the band's first studio sessions. This early version of the band was quite different, borrowing from the early California psychedelic garage sound than their later groove oriented material. On Jerry's songs, you can hear a heavy Dylan influence. Some of the songs would later evolve and appear on Grateful Dead albums, but in different forms. On these sessions you can hear a band that is still growing, but one that is clearly ready to take off. A great glimpse into the beginning of the San Francisco sound.

Nick Drake - Tanworth-in-Arden: This bootleg of home recordings made between 1967 and 1968 consists almost entirely of covers or takes on traditional folk songs. I'd heard this album back in college when my friend and I were heavily listening to Nick Drake, but hadn't heard it in in over fifteen years until this week and it really blew me away. The beauty of Nick's music is the tortured sadness that seems to surround his voice. That aspect comes out wonderfully on these home recordings. Particularly of interest for me are the several covers of Jackson C. Frank songs and his version of "Summertime." Though I own all of Nick Drake's records, I never realized how incomplete the collection was until this week. This is a must have for any fan.

Family - Fearless: This UK progressive folk band released six albums in its first three years, from 1968 to 1971, with this being the last of the six. During that time, the band's sound grew heavier, moving away from prog-folk to prog-rock. The one thing about their albums that really impresses me is the immense range found from beginning to end, making very hard to pin them down. I suppose the closest comparison I could make for this album would be to Jethro Tull's Stand Up, but even that doesn't quite fit for the whole album. But if you're into that era UK rock, this album (as well as their previous albums) are definitely worth checking out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In the Realms of the Unreal

Henry Darger spent nearly his entire life writing and creating art for his novel, In the Realms of the Unreal: The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. At over 15,000 pages, it is believed to be the longest novel ever written, though it has never been published, excluding excerpts to be found in many of the wonderful books of his artwork.

I've been fascinated with this story since I first encountered it as a college student. Along with the artwork, it's been one of the major influences on my imagination over the last fifteen years or so. Darger's work showed me how it was possible to stretch the imagination without limits. Elements creep into my work frequently, appearing in odd ways, most notably in Thief and my upcoming book Life is But a Dream.

Another aspect of In the Realms of the Unreal that fascinates me is Darger's real life obsession with a missing photograph that weaves its way into this brutal playland he creates. He had once possessed a newspaper clipping with a photo of a murdered Chicago girl named Elsie Paroubek. Somehow or other he lost it and spent years afterward trying to track it down. He prayed daily to find it again and grew angry when it never materialized. He was so angry with God that he wrote himself into the story on the side of evil.

After encountering the story, I set off on my own search for the photograph. Even in the digital age, it wasn't easy to find. Librarian friends of mine searched with no avail (though they did manage to get me the actual article that accompanied the photo). A few years ago I met someone who worked with one of Darger's biographers and she was able to send me the picture.

It's haunting.

Elsie has since influenced quite a few of my character since.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Little Birds Born Without a Mother or a Father

Tonight I'm going to see Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) play a concert at a small theater in Woodstock, NY. For those of you not familiar with the story, it goes something like this. With their second album, Neutral Milk Hotel achieved a mild level of success within the indie world and by 1998 were well on their way to stardom. Then they simply stopped playing.

In the years since, there have a been only a handful of Jeff Mangum solo shows. Recently this summer, he began playing a very small tour. When this show was announced so near my home, I couldn't miss it. And not only is it a chance to see one of my favorite songwriters of all time, it's also a benefit concert for the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary--the home of Albie, the three-legged goat I sponsored this year. I'll be there with my friend Dan, the same person I saw NMH hotel with over thirteen years ago. It should be a near religious experience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zombie Blondes Movie Update

Last week, Smash Media publicly announced that they were going forward with a film adaptation of my book Zombie Blondes. The option for the film rights were picked up over two years ago, so it was exciting to hear the idea was moving forward. Plus, my name got into Variety, which is super cool. Two writers have been hired to write the script, Lior Chefetz and Joe Swanson. Both have written and directed a number of short films which look interesting.

Since the announcement, a lot of people have asked me what kind of input I have in the script. The answer is, that at this stage, not very much. Back when the whole process began, I did have a few conversations with the producer, Harry Winer, about certain additions that would need to be made to the story. I know some people hate it when a book is changed for the movie, but the truth is that it's often necessary.

Books, especially books like mine written in the first person, tend to be cerebral, giving a lot of personal introspection from the character's point of view. A movie on the other hand needs to have a certain level of drama play out on screen. So we discussed possible scenarios that could be added to fill out the story and were on the same page as to what needed to happen. I felt very confident in handing the story over to a screenwriter. It's a very different kind of writing compared to novel writing and that's what they've been trained to do.

At this point, there's still no guarantee that the film will be coming to a theater near you anytime soon, but it's a great feeling to know it's moved onto the next step. And judging from the overwhelming excitement in the horror blog world, I have a good feeling about our chances. Plus, it already as it's own page on IMDb (and now, so do I).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

One thing that I always find interesting in the course of the grand musical adventure in life is how one sound can lead you to another even if they seemingly have no identifiable connection. Reading habits are the same way. I think that's what makes those two mediums so attractive to me, this sense of being on journey that starts early in your life and one which you never leave off. Sometimes it's like being on a interstate, checking off the mile markers and going with the natural course. Other times, you detour and wind through those strange back roads. This past week began was a lot of that for me. It seemed with each chapter I was writing, I was finding completely different inspiration. Enjoy.

Elvis - Rock 'n Roll Forever: This ten track compilation gathers some of the King's biggest hits, from ballads like "Love Me Tender" to big beat thumpers like "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," and "All Shook Up." What's amazing is that all of these iconic songs were recorded in a period of less than two years. I also love the cover, so for $5 this was a steal on vinyl.

The White Stripes - Aluminium: As a general rule, I'm not really into orchestral interpretations of rock music, but I gave this one a try anyway. The UK orchestra had been working on this project when Jack White was informed about it. Apparently it has his blessing and was released as an album 2006. Basically it transforms a fair number of well known White Stripes songs into arrangements that would feel at home in a Tim Burton animated movie. It's fairly enjoyable and adds a new dimension to the material. "Astro" and "Let's Build A Home" are particularly intriguing. Definitely worth a listen or two.

Bow Wow Wow - When The Going Gets Tough...: This is the third and last full length album from the new wave act, released in 1983. I have some of their earlier material, and though I was never a huge fan I picked this up on vinyl several weeks ago because it was only $1. I'm happy to say it was money extremely well spent. There are some amazing songs on here. "Aphrodisiac" opens the album with a bang. Then it moves onto tracks like "Lonesome Tonight" and "Love Me," which have a sound that feels like the place where Joy Division meets pop. One of the best new wave albums of the era.

Soap & Skin - Lovetune for Vacuum: The debut album from this Austrian singer-songwriter was recorded when she was eighteen and released in 2009. There are lot of comparisons that can made to her voice, with Nico being the clearest I think. She sings in a similar sense of removed sadness, but musically the album is very current. Part beautiful piano tunes and part electronic interference, the album has a soothing nightmare sound that is quite good. It also reminds me a bit Holly Miranda's The Magician's Private Library.

Katie Jane Garside - Lullabies in a Glass Wilderness: When this was released in 2006, it was one of my favorite albums of the year. I've always been a huge fan of hers and her bands (Daisy Chainsaw, Queenadreena, Ruby Throat). She has an amazing childlike quality to her voice that really shines on this lo-fi solo album. I pulled this out again this week and have been listening to it pretty much every day. It's been a great writing album, full of amazing imagery and insanity. Easily one of the best albums of the last decade.

W.A.S.P. - The Headless Children: So given my taste for metal over the past few weeks, I decided to check out this 1989 album from the L.A. glam metal band and it totally rocks. The guitars shred and Blackie Lawless has an amazing metal voice. There's really no bad songs on this record. Simply a great heavy album.

Black Sabbath - John Peel's Sunday Show: Always the innovator, John Peel had these Birmingham lads on his radio show in 1970 as they were just beginning to get their rocks off. Consisting of four tracks, this bootlegged show is pretty phenomenal. It opens with the wonderful "Fairies Wear Boots" continues to "Behind the Wall of Sleep" and then onto "Walpurgis" (an early version of "War Pigs"), finally ending with "Black Sabbath." Each song is played with the excellence I've come to expect from the band, but the real treat here is "Walpurgis" which has vastly different lyrics than the final version, including a great refrain about sinners eating dead rats' innards. This is widely available and I highly recommend it even if you know all of the songs already.

Nico - Desertshore: The third solo album from the former Velvet Underground member and '60s icon Nico was released in 1970 and is considered by many to be her best. In some ways this avant-folk album is a continuation of her work with Velvet Underground. It's trespasses into the same dark dens of imagination that the band explored on their earliest albums. There is nothing even close to a radio friendly song on the album, wallowing in strange arrangements and art world coolness. There are moments when the album is beautifully weird and others when it can be frustrating in its overbearing attempts at being unique. In the right mood, it can be fantastic. In any other mood, it's simply interesting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fiction Friday (3)

It's the end of the week, time for me to share some thoughts on books I've read recently. There really is no theme to these two books except that they take place in houses by the sea. I thought since I was currently writing about a harbor town, that it might be fitting to choose these two. Having lived in New York City for so long, which many people don't realize is an ocean city, and now living in the mountains, whenever I visit a town with the smell of saltwater in the air, it kind of captures my imagination. Both of these books take advantage of that to varying degrees. Enjoy.

A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
(Candlewick, 2006)

Though I admit my initial interest in this book came from the striking similarity of the girl on the cover to Alice Liddell, the book turned out to be worth the chance. This is one of those great stories that works on many levels. The surface action is immensely intriguing, following an 11 year old orphan girl named Maud who is adopted by three old ladies despite the efforts of the orphanage's Superintendent to persuade them to adopt a better child. As soon as Maud sets off with her new guardians, it's clear to the reader that something fishy is going on. But like Maud herself, you want so badly for this misunderstood child to enjoy her unexpected happiness that you tend to look past your suspicions.

As the book continues and we learn the true nature of Maud's predicament, I found myself trying to rationalize along with Maud, even though I knew better. But that's the strength of this book, that the reader shares the longings of the main character. The depth and subtlety with which it captures a lonely child's need to be loved is quite remarkable. In a round about way, it's also a surprisingly honest look at dysfunction within families, as well as the patchwork way in which families sometimes come together. This is a book I enjoyed very much and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books with strong female adolescent characters.

Dark Stranger by Julien Gracq

There were moments where I truly loved this book with its flashes of beautiful prose and places where time ceases to exist that intrigued me. It followers a group of wealthy vacationers collected in a sleepy beach resort on the north coast of France between the wars. The author does a delightful job in capturing the almost stifling calm and leisure that surrounds them. However, by doing so, the book tends to drag, sometimes drawing the reader too deeply into the mood. The mysterious Allan character, which is meant to be the driving force of the novel, was often times not nearly as compelling as he probably should have been. It is also one of those books that leaves so much unsaid and inferred. As a matter of preference, it is not my favorite style of story telling, though I can appreciate the effort when done well. My problem with its implementation in this novel is that there wasn't enough else going on to drive the narrative. Another element that distracted me was the presentation of conversations. In the rare scenes of long conversation, the author would delve solely into the two speaking voices, allowing any sense of place or action to disappear.

The ending is pretty masterful. It certainly redeemed an uneasiness that I felt through the last third of the book. It offers a profound look at the romantic hero. The book also serves as a document for the period between the wars, the haunting horror of the first and the pending horror of the second. Though well written, it simply wasn't my kind of book. I'd imagine fans of Hemmingway enjoying this novel...unfortunately, I'm not.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We're All In This Together

Characters have a way of developing their own relationships with each other. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of writing a novel. Interactions that you never anticipated begin to develop and start to shape a story in unexpected ways.

When planning a story, you think in terms of connections. These characters are siblings, or lovers, or enemies, etc. A story can be hatched in those terms, but what those terms inevitably mean become complicated. For me, the earliest chapters of a manuscript are a way of establishing these relationships.

It can be painfully complex and slow at first, but once I've figured out how two important characters relate to each other, it makes everything that comes after that much easier to write. Motivations for their actions become second nature and even their reaction to situations is easier to see. I'm happy to say the two main characters in my new manuscript have reached a level of comfort with each other that should allow me to move forward smoothly.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

I won't lie, I was straight grooving this week. As I mentioned two weeks ago, jazz has been the unexpected soundtrack while writing the new book I'm working on. So most of my working hours were spent listening to old Coltrane and Dolphy albums. When I wasn't writing however, I was feeling some '70s hard rock. I picked up a few fantastic records from that era over the past few weeks that are included here. In general, it was one of those weeks that I heard a lot of things that kind of thrilled me. It feels like a while since one of those weeks, so I'm happy to share this list. Enjoy.

Black Sabbath - Master of Reality: My chronological musical history with Sabbath is an odd one. In college, when money was tight, the way to go with Sabbath was to have the We Sold Our Soul For Rock N Roll hits album. So over the years as I tried to fill in the collection with the actual albums, it was tough to decide which order to get them since I knew a good number of songs from each. I've been on a big Sabbath kick for a few months now and decided it was time to fill in the remaining gaps. This 1971 album, the band's third, is perhaps their most complete. From the opening cough of "Sweet Leaf" this album is perfection all the way through. The two acoustic short pieces work amazingly among the heavy vibe of the rest. "The Lord of This World" is a track I didn't know and is easily among their best songs. Now if only the crazy dragon moon 1987 cover existed on vinyl, it would one of the best finds ever.

Nazareth - Hair of the Dog: This is a record I bought on a whim. It was $5 with 30% off and with that cover, I figured it was worth a risk. This album from 1975 is probably the Scottish hard rock band's best known. As soon as I put it on, at least four of the album's eight tracks were familiar to me, most notably "Love Hurts." I'd also known the GNR cover of "Hair of the Dog" and hearing the original, it's no wonder they covered it. This album is an obvious influence on Guns N Roses. It's not just the likeness of Dan McCafferty's voice to Axl's, it's the hard driven blues riffs as well. Just a really upbeat driving rock record.

The Beatles - Live at the BBC: Released din 1994, this double disc was the start of a wealth of Beatles material to be released. It's price tag always kept me away from picking this up back in the day, but on a recent trip to Switzerland, it was one of the few acceptable car ride selections on the in-laws music shelf. I'm really into these early performances of a lot of lesser known songs, as well as good number of popular ones. What you hear on these tapes is a young band just beginning to realize their potential. While it may not always be them at their best, it's always them at their most relaxed. Some stand out songs for me "Ooh! My Soul", "Memphis, Tennessee," "You Really Got a Hold on Me," and "Hard Day's Night."

Heavy Metal Kids - Heavy Metal Kids: This 1974 album is the London glam rock band's debut and it rocks. One note about the name, a lot of people don't realize that the term 'heavy metal' comes from William Burroughs and this band's name is taken from there, which gives them automatic cool points. This is another album whose influence is clearly heard in Guns N Roses, not to mention all of the L.A. glam rock bands. "Nature of My Game" "Kind Woman," and "Hangin' On" are standout tracks for me.

Calexico - Feast of Wire: After recently revisiting the album Calexico did with Iron & Wine, I decided to give this band another shot. I'd heard a few of their albums in the past, and hadn't paid much attention. But listening to this 2003 album over the past week, it really kind of blew me away. It's the kind of alt-country that can be heard on Wilco's albums of the last decade, but they have a way of bringing their own ingredients to it. The use of horns is subtle and affective. The songs on this album are melancholy and beautiful. It's a really good album. For me it stands out above a lot of other similar albums by much more acknowledged bands. A real treat...even with one of the worst album covers I've ever seen. Not only is it ugly, it suggests nothing of the cold feeling the album evokes.

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake: After finally hearing this album in its entirety, it's easy to see why it's currently the highest rated album of this year on Rate Your Music. Harvey has continued to reinvent herself and evolve over her career. The trek has lead to this stellar alternative folkish album about England. It incorporates many different genres in an effortless cohesion of moody songs. Not my absolute favorite album of the year, but certainly high on the list.

Charles Mingus - The Art of Charles Mingus: The thing I've always loved about jazz is the stories told within the songs. It's really a visual type of music and never fails to create pictures in my mind. With my increased listening of jazz lately, I picked up this beautiful double vinyl album last weekend and have been listening to it pretty much every evening since. Listening to Mingus is just as Donovan once sang, "listening to Mingus mellow fantastic." These recordings date between 1956 and 1961 and are generally superb. A lot of the really great songs on here come from the album Pithecanthropus Erectus. I really could sit back and swing to this album all night long.

Hawkwind - Bring Me the Head of Yuri Gagarin: This one of many infamous Hawkwind releases considered by many fans to be a blatant attempt to rip people off. Since the band's heyday, many releases of poor quality continue to surface. Back in the day, I'll admit to being a victim myself. However, this is one I always wanted despite the fact that it may be the most despised out of all the slew of '80s reissues. What can I say, the title is just impossible to resist. I finally got my hands on it and I'm happy to say it's not as bad as reported. The main issue with fans is the poor recording quality. It's a concert from 1973 that was obviously bootlegged and the quality never improved before proper release. But as far as bootleg quality goes, this isn't so terrible. You can hear everything, it's a little muddy, but the energy is still there. The track list is great, like a short Space Ritual. Certainly a worthy addition to any extended Hawkwind collection. If you're new to Hawkwind though, begin with Space Ritual.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Escape Artist

Writing a novel sometimes feels like a series of escape moves. I keep writing my characters into these situations, knowing eventually that I'll have to write a way out for them. I don't mind. It's interesting work. I just hope they realize just how much effort I go through for them...and so go the thoughts of a man after the seventh hour of writing in a day that has provided two great escapes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Computer

It's only a few short months now before Life Is But a Dream is released. That means it's about time for the nerves to kick in as I wait to see how it will be received.

Though I've promised myself not to get worked up about reviews, I imagine that I probably will. It's kind of inevitable not to be curious what the reaction is to a story you've spent so much time creating.

Lately, the book has shown up on a good number of blogs and there seems to be a lot of anticipation and excitement for the book. I also noticed that a lot of Advanced Reader Copies were shipped recently as it turned up in a number of In My Mailbox posts over the past few days. So the good news is, it's getting attention. The bad news...potentially more reviews to avoid.

In the meantime, I recently did an interview on Trisha's Book Blog that you can read here. I'm sure this will be the first post in many concerning my neurotic worries that seem to come with the territory of putting your work into the world.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

I've been doing a lot vinyl shopping the last few weeks. I discovered a great store in Albany NY that was well stocked with '60s and '70s vinyl in great condition for reasonable prices. I also did a little shopping at the local shop and picked up some nice things. Some of those are reflected here, while others will show up in the next few weeks. I was writing most of the week again and found some old music very inspirational. However, I did make time for some new releases as well. All in all, a pretty interesting list. Hope you enjoy.

Bonnie Prince Billy - Wolfroy Goes to Town: Released this past week, the new album from Americana pioneer Will Oldhman is actually his first full-length solo album in two years after doing a bunch of collaboration projects. This album is more low-key than some of his more iconic releases, but I've been enjoying it very much. It's very much music for sitting on your porch, but that's okay, it just so happens that kind of music also makes for good writing music. Standout tracks include the single "Quail & Dumplings," "Cows," and "Black Captain."
The Besnard Lakes - You Lived in the City: Last year's full length from this Montreal neo-psychedelic band was one that really grew on me with each listen, so I was pretty excited when this EP was released last month. The last album had bits of Pink Floyd soaring soundscapes, this one is quite different. It's more of a psychedelic folk album consisting of four songs all over six minutes in length. There's nothing revolutionary that stands out, but it's extremely solid. It reminds a little of The Skygreen Leopards.

The Grateful Dead - Workingman's Dead: This is one my favorite albums by the Dead and I finally found a first pressing copy for a great price. Released in 1970, the band had really perfected their country rock sound on this record. This is one of those rare records where everything just clicks and every song sounds so effortlessly good. "Dire Wolf," "Cumberland Blues," and "New Speedway Boogie," are simply perfect.

The Decemberists - A Practical Handbook: This is a concert video released in 2007, but I'm only reviewing the audio track. I have all of the band's albums, so I know all the songs intimately. It's a great collection that represents their catalog up to that point. I can't argue with the song selection. Though I must say that really none of these version surpass the album versions and some are just downright lackluster. Instead, I would highly recommend 2008's Colin Meloy Sings Live!, a solo concert by the lead singer which is fantastic.

Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band - Relax Your Mind: I got this record for Christmas and was appalled to discover this week that I hadn't yet reviewed it. Released in 1966, this is the band's third album. Last year I fell in love with their second album Jug Band Music which came out the year before. This album isn't quite as perfect as that one, but it's pretty close. The band plays an old timey folk revival sound, but also very influenced with the emerging counter culture. The closest comparison would be Country Joe, but decidedly more east coast. Definitely a band worth exploring if you don't know them.

Family - Music in a Doll's House: I've been listening to this album all year and was thrilled to find a copy of it on vinyl last weekend. I reviewed it back in February, here's what I had to say then and it still holds true. This progressive folk album from 1968 had been on my wishlist for quite some time. This is a fantastic album, one of the gems of the genre. Using blues, rock, and folk elements, it creates an album that reminds me a little of Jethro Tull's Stand Up, but at the same time is remarkably different. It's quickly becoming a favorite discovery of the year.
George Benson - The Other Side of Abbey Road: I came across this jazz soul interpretation of the Beatles from 1970 and was intrigued by the cover and the concept. For $5, and in perfect condition, I couldn't resist giving it a try and I'm glad I did. It's a wonderfully smooth album. There's some great musicians on this record and the arrangements are amazing.

The Dandy Warhols - ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down: This in album that I dug up off the shelves, one I've had for well over a decade. After listening to their recent session on Daytrotter, I had a craving to pull out this classic. Released in 1997, this is easily the Portland band's most solid album. Every song on here is perfect indie pop. "Boys Better", "Hard on for Jesus," and of course "Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" are brilliant. It was definitely worthy of rediscovering.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fiction Friday (2)

When I'm working on a project, I try not to read anything that I think resembles the same tone of the book I'm writing. This isn't because I'm afraid it will influence me. I more afraid it will discourage me from continuing. I'm terrified I'd encounter a book I loved and would always be trying measure up to it. Instead, I read books that put me in the mind for whatever the next idea I have floating around. While writing Afterworld, I read two amazing books that definitely helped me focus my vision for the book I'm writing now. Both of these novels sort of represent the current state of mind when it comes to working these days. Enjoy.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

I'd been wanting to read this classic British Children's book ever since I was nineteen and learned The Cure song of the same title was based on it. I recently found a used copy on a rainy day in great NYC bookshop called The Housing Works. I started reading it a few days later. That's saying a lot considering books typically sit on my to read shelf for months or even years. But this was one I just couldn't resist.

When Charlotte wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she discovers she's not quite the same in the morning...and neither is anyone else. In fact, Charlotte is somebody entirely different. Due to a magical phenomenon, skillfully left unexplained, she has swapped places with a girl named Clare who lived fifty or so years before. Switching back every other day, the two girls leave each other notes to help ease their confusion. Then one day, Clare and her sister are moved out of the boarding school leaving Charlotte stuck in the past. The longer she remains in 1918, the less Charlotte seems to remember who the real her really is.

The aspect of this book that I found remarkable was its tone. Penelope Farmer is able to capture the worry and excitement of a character in this situation in very subtle and moving ways. The emotion is restrained, yet powerful. The same can be said about the bigger themes that run through the novel such self-discovery, family bonds, friendship, and the lingering shadow of World War I that hangs over the narrative. They are dealt with in a way that feels natural and effortless. An excellently written novel that I enjoyed very much.

The Little Girl Who LIves Down The Lane by Laird Koenig

I opened this book not knowing anything about it and was completely blown away. I literally couldn't put it down and read it in one sitting. It follows a 13 year old English girl named Rynn who has recently relocated to Long Island in the '70s. Now I must confess that Rynn is my favorite type of character, a strong willed, intelligent young protagonist who refuses to bow to the unfairness of the adult world. In that sense, the book reminded me of some of my all time favorites like Paper Moon and The Demon Flower. But in addition to creating such a wonderful character, Laird Koenig is able to build suspense in such a clever way. In the past, in regards to my own novel Zombie Blondes, I've written extensively about my appreciation for what I've termed 'slow-motion' horror. This books is a perfect example of the genre. The suspense comes from the reader's concern for Rynn, not from the fear of something. Most of the fear happens behind the surface, keeping the reader guessing all the way to the end...and the actual ending is phenomenally handled, leaving the reader with a joyously evil grin on their face as they turn the last page.

There are some powerful scenes in this book. And besides Rynn, there are other unforgettable characters. Frank Hallet has to be one of the creepiest characters I've ever encountered. The mood and dialogue in this novel are pitch perfect. I'm amazed sometimes that books this good can be forgotten by the world. It's more than a simple suspense novel, it's also an incredible, and unconventional, coming of age story. An absolutely fantastic read. If you ever come across this book at a used book store, do yourself a favor and snatch it up immediately.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Putting a Leash on Your Characters

Allow your characters too much freedom and they will sprint away from the story. You want them to be adventurous, but within the confines of the page. Once they get out...well, things just get messy.

It's really in the early chapters that a writer must get a firm grip on the behavior of the main characters. Like the director of a play, you must give cues. Tell them where to enter. Set up the scene and let them know what they are expected to accomplish. Then sit back and let them act. They'll test you at first. Lizzie is currently trying to get the upper hand on me. But I think maybe today we'll come to some sort of understanding.