Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Criticizing the Critics

As any reader here probably knows by now, my new novel Life is But a Dream comes out next month. The first reviews are starting to come out in from the journals and they are mostly positive evaluations of the book. Normally, I'm not one to complain about negative things said of my work. I've never written for the typical reader and as a result, there are often people who don't appreciate the way I write. I'm fine with that. That said, there is one review that really bothers me:

Sabrina lives in a beautiful world that no one else can see. Whether it is fanciful colors in the sky or whole vistas, she believes in their power but cannot convince anyone else. Through a series of flashbacks while she is at the Wellness Center, backstories are revealed about a near-perfect childhood and trouble at school as a young adult. Separated from her parents and classmates, Sabrina is drawn to outspoken Alec, who accepts her dreams simply because they are real to her. Life Is but a Dream is a fast read with extensive dialogue and fantastic visual descriptions. Troubled Alec adds believable romance and danger when the young couple struggles to be together. Though Sabrina and Alec are strongly defined characters, their parents are simply overprotective and overachieving. Sabrina's parents do not see her issues stemming from schizophrenia—it would be too hard to admit that their perfect daughter is mentally ill. Alec's parents cannot conceive that their strong-willed teenager is simply rebellious, and search for a diagnosis to explain his behavior. The word crazy is not used often in the book, but seeing it twice on the cover seems judgmental, an automatic assumption that a neurological imbalance deserves scorn. Because mental illness is rarely discussed at home or school, Life Is But a Dream should have resources at the end to help young adults identify friends who might need help or to look for more information about schizophrenia. from VOYA

This review is actually quite positive, aside from the slight about the characters' parents, which naturally I believe to be an oversimplification. The struggle that Sabrina's parents go through is more than just denial. But, that's not what really irks me about this review. What really gets under my skin is the the critique in the final sentences about the word "crazy" and about the lack of resources in the back.

First of all, they are reviewing an Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which as a professional journal, they are fully aware that it is not final. For all they know, there are resources in the final book. And as a matter of fact, the line they point to on the cover has indeed been changed on the final book. That is why a review is supposed to focus on the content of the novel, not things such as tag lines on the cover and lack of back matter. These aren't critiques of the work I poured my soul into for a year, they are attacks on the marketing plan of the book. As an industry journal, I believe they should know better.

By the way, there is still time left to enter the contest to win a signed ARC. Details below:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Life Is But a Dream by Brian James

Life Is But a Dream

by Brian James

Giveaway ends March 01, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Monday, February 27, 2012

Star Wars: Episode 1

Last week I went to see Star Wars Episode 1 in 3D. Now, it should be noted up front that I'm one of the few Star Wars fans that doesn't hate this movie. Aside from it being slightly slow to begin with, I find it quite entertaining. Before entering the theater, I hadn't seen the complete movie in almost ten years. I've watched clips here and there when it's been on television, but it was nice seeing it in its entirety.

The strangest thing I noticed this time around was the competing soul of the movie. While it's easily the most kid-friendly of the films, especially with young Anakin stealing the show for most of the movie and the overall silliness of the Gungans, it's also the most weighty in terms of galactic politics. If it's geared towards kids, why dwell so much on the dysfunction of corrupt democratic institutions? Though, I have to say, I find that aspect of the movie to be the most compelling, and even more so today given the current nature of our government. Blending the two however makes the movie a bit confused as to what it wants to be.

As for the 3D, I like the fact they didn't go for gimmicks of making things jump out at you. The effect here was one to add dimension to the world. It was no frills, but that's okay. But 3D or not, it's just always nice to see Star Wars on the big screen. The lightsaber duels are still some of the best in any of the movies and Darth Maul is still the baddest character this side of Cade Bane. I didn't even mind the midiclorians this time around. It used to really annoy me, but as I was watching, I thought that an organized Republic, with centuries of peace, would probably have some kind of technology tied to the force. It made sense to me in a way it didn't before.

Still the weakest of the six films, but if this is worst, then really, there's nothing to complain about.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

I have to admit, it's been sort of an explosive few weeks in my music listening. I always have phases where enthusiasm wanes and then picks back up. I'm happy to say, I'm on the climb. A lot different sources have been converging to excite me. One of them has been a steady diet of Metal Evolution episodes on VH1. If you haven't watched any and you're a rock fan, not just metal, then I highly suggest it. It's a great program that examines the way rock grew heavier over time, tracing the roots through bands and scenes like an entertaining college course. I'm currently into exploring more "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" these days and have a couple here on the list. But folk is never far from my heart either. Enjoy.

Einar Stray - Chiaroscuro: Last week I reviewed the newest OndaDrops compilation and mentioned this Norwegian band's song "For the Country" as being a highlight. This week I tracked down their 2011 debut album to hear their other work. It's actually quite different than the lone track I'd known. This is an album of swirling sounds and dreamy moments. At times it gets lost in its airy arrangements, but overall a pretty enough album. I certainly look forward to hearing what they do in the future.

Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself: Releasing next week, the newest album by Andrew Bird is on the grande scale one has come to expect from the chamber folk maestro. The album feels slightly more intricate than some of his more recent work and somehow more personal too. There's a solid folk song structure that hangs over the songs, giving them a truly beautiful feel. "Give it Away," "Lazy Projector," and "Near Death Experience Experience" make up the middle core of the album are pure perfection. I can easily see this ending up on my favorite albums of the year.

Pink Floyd - A Nice Pair: This double album is a bind-up of the band's first two studio albums, repackaged in 1973 to cash in on their chart-topping popularity. I own both of these albums on CD and when I saw the original vinyl pressing recently, it seemed like a good way to get 'a nice pair' of great albums. I prefer this sound of the band to their 70's heyday, full of their more manic space constructions like "Let There Be More Light," "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," and "Interstellar Overdrive." In addition, the albums include some Syd gems like "Scarecrow" and "Bike." A great gatefold presentation really adds to the niceness of this record.

Deep Purple - In Rock: By the time 1970 rolled around, this UK band was looking for a switch and it came with the introduction of Ian Gillian on vocals. This is the band's fourth album, but really the first to feature their heavier sound. Considered one of the founding albums of heavy metal, this album speeds up the blues and attacks it, yet keeps some of the space rock elements mixed in. There's a reason this is their 'classic' album. It opens with a blast of "Speed King," which has that in your face attitude and killer beat. I can't believe I waited so long to get this album.

Dirty Three - Toward the Low Sun: This experimental three-piece instrumental folk-rock band released great albums in the second half of the 90's that most people probably never heard. Ocean Songs and Sad and Dangerous and fantastic. This is their first album in seven years, and it continues the epic scope of their music. It plays like the soundtrack to a tragic fairytale shot in grainy colors. It's quite beautiful. "Rain Song" is a real standout track in my opinion.

Iron Maiden - Killers: Growing up, I was never really exposed to Maiden too much, and it wasn't until one of my metal phases a few years back that I really got into their debut album, which I love. In what is probably the longest span between loving an album and getting the band's next in the history of my musical education, I finally picked up the band's 1981 second album a little over a week ago. It's another blistering guitar album with a pounding back beat. It is also the last album with singer Paul Di'Anno, whose voice is perfect for both the band's faster songs and eerier ballads. In this album, you can really hear the roots of the L.A. glam metal scene that would emerge in next few years, but still it has a firm hold in the Judas Priest style of British metal. Another rock solid scorcher of an album to be sure.

Saxon - Wheels of Steel: Another British metal band that emerged at the same time as Iron Maiden, Saxon is a power riff machine on this 1980 record, their second album. Playing at a reckless pace, this album reminds me of early Mötley Crüe (a compliment in my book) and Hanoi Rocks, but with more a nod to metal than glam, especially on tracks like "Stand Up and Be Counted" and "Street Fighting Gang." A great, straight-forward heavy rock album.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar Grouch Alert...

Tomorrow night, I won't be watching much of the Academy Awards. It's not out of any kind of protest or hatred. I actually believe in the credibility of winning an Oscar, but this year I haven't seen many of the movies nominated. But that's mostly because not many of them interest me, and that's kind of my problem with the Oscars the last few years.

More and more it feels like these Award movies are essentially churned out by the same machine recycling blockbuster movies. The feast is being prepared the same way, just using different ingredients. Action movies are like coffee from the corner deli and Award movies are something a little more gourmet--but in the end, it's still just burnt coffee that probably costs too much.

I did see The Descendants and I thought it was a pretty good movie. But was it a 'Best Picture'...I don't know, not in my opinion. That label needs to be saved for something special and none of the nominees feel that way to me. Sure, many of them look like good movies. And yes, I'm dying to see Hugo. But we know that isn't going to win, so what's there goes that reason to watch. As for The Artist, I honestly have zero interest. It just feels so prepackaged to me and kind of gimmicky. It's one of those movies that feels like I've seen enough of it in clips to know it's not for me.

Here's to hoping next year is different...and for the record, of the few movies I did see last year, my current 'Best Picture of 2011' title still firmly belongs to Super 8.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fiction Friday (8)

I noticed this morning that it's been quite some time since I had a Fiction Friday. This is partially due to my blog slowdown in January, but mainly due to the fact that I spent over a month reading the same book. That's something that hasn't happened in some time. It wasn't a lack of reading that caused this but rather the length of the book. But as always, I conquered the text and have moved on. In order to properly put the past two months behind me, I give you reviews on the two books that occupied my reading time during that span. Enjoy.

Forever by Pete Hamill
(Back Bay Books, 2002)

This is the type of book I'd never pick up on my own, but which I read because it was a gift. The reason I say that is simply because a flip-through in the store would reveal that the writing style is not the kind I gravitate towards. I prefer more surrealistic language and transporting prose, and given that Pete Hamill is first and foremost a journalist, this novel is written in a more direct manner. For many people, that is probably a pro rather than a con, which is also probably why it has the "National Bestseller" tag printed on the cover while most of the books I read do not. All of that said, I did quite enjoy the book, even if it is a book with competing aspects, some of which I thought were far more intriguing than others.

The first hundred pages or so are firmly steeped in Celtic folklore and the conditions of Northern Ireland during the mid-1700's. It follows the story of a boy and his parents who live as protestants while secretly holding shunned religious beliefs. This world comes alive quite nicely, but as with the book as a whole, I found it tries to tackle too much, to be too all-inclusive, thus muddling the points it tries to make.

This first part of the book serves to set up a semi-epic frame tale that carries the rest of the narrative. It's a folktale-ish story of revenge and mysticism that plays out over 250 years in Manhattan. But the real highlight of the book for me was witnessing the evolution of New York through the character's eyes. Having been a New Yorker, it was utterly fascinating to see how this small island beat the odds to survive.

Then comes the last part of the book. As soon as this segment begins, it's painfully obvious that the story is going to turn into a 9/11 story. It felt disappointing to me because the book was so much more than that, yet it was ultimately going to be bunched into this sub-genre. But I suppose one can't talk about the history of New York City without dealing with the most important day in the city's history. And to it's credit, it covers the topic excellently. Having been in the relative area on that day, I felt this account captured the confusion and numbness that most New Yorkers experienced that day. Yet, at the same time, seems to discredit it by steeping it once again in mysticism.

In the end, this was a fascinating read that sometimes got lost trying to present social consciousness regarding slavery and equality within a context of folklore.

Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
(NYRB Classic, 2009)

Another fascinating book in the NYRB series, a series which attempts to bring lost books back into the world. This time it's a collection of several longish short stories by a Russian author. Most of these stories were written in 1920s, in the earliest days of the Soviet Union, but somehow they feel incredibly contemporary.

The writing style feels more in line with fiction of today than of the past. There's almost a post-modernist angle to many of the themes in the book, especially those dealing with the end of ideas and the bankruptcy of literature. There were so many great concepts and details in these stories that I continue to think about, now more than a month after finishing the book. One in particular involves an expanding room that reminds me so much of Doctor Who and his brand of Time Lord science. Certainly worth checking out from literary historian point of view.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Life is But a Dream (Teaser 4)

There is gravity in Kayliegh's laugh that pulls everyone around her into orbit. Her gravity is strongest with me--I am the planet revolving closet to her star. (page 121 Life is But a Dream)

When she smiles, the lavender walls in my room turn to gold. Sparks fly up around her. I want to feel them on my skin. Part of me wants to reach across the bed and trace her smile with my fingers but I now better than to act on every whim the way I used to when we were younger.
(page 123 Life is But a Dream)

It's only a month now until Life is But a Dream will be in stores. The waiting has been harder with this book than others, but finally the wait will be soon be over. Of course, the book is about a girl diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, and naturally most of the early reviews have dealt with that. But one of the things I'm most proud of about this book is how other everyday struggles of teen life radiate outward from this central issue, because Sabrina is still first and foremost a teenager trying to deal with the same issues as her friends.

One of those issues revolves around her best friend. She is at that age when her childhood friendships begin to shift and change, sometimes leaving her not knowing where she stands. I really tried to capture the conflicting nature of these evolving relationships...the constant pulling away and pulling back and self-adjustments made to feel as though you are keeping up. I think it's one of the more painful themes in the book, but also one of most relevant. A recent reviewer touched on this aspect of the book and how powerful they thought it was. It's a really nice feeling to know you've affected somebody in that way.

Meanwhile, if you haven't entered to win a signed Advance Reader's Copy of the book on Goodreads yet, there's still one week left to do so. And if you haven't, really, what are you waiting for? It's as easy as clicking a button.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Life Is But a Dream by Brian James

Life Is But a Dream

by Brian James

Giveaway ends March 01, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Moons Over My Hammy

By nature I'm not really a conspiracy guy. I feel most conspiracy theories involve a level of cooperation and strategic planning that don't coincide with our inherent sense of greed and selfishness. That said, anyone who believes we landed on the moon in 1969 is downright delusional.

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of NASA's first manned orbit of the Earth. I saw it mentioned twice on CNN during the day, and both times the segment ended with the proclamation that these orbits paved the way for us to land on the moon seven years later. It awakened my outrage, which to be fair, is never slumbering too deeply. I raged at the television: SEVEN YEARS! You're telling me we went from a guy circling the earth three times in a tin can at low orbit to putting all kinds of roving equipment on the moon in seven years?

Things don't even move that fast today and we have computers that would make those geeks in the '60s loose their minds. It took nearly seven years for Chevy to get the Volt up and running and it's still barely up and running. Back then we couldn't make a car able to get to the nearest grocery store on less than a tank of gas, but we could send people to the moon? And speaking of that, I don't recall seeing that rover spewing black clouds of diesel.

I don't want to get into all the photographic evidence, of which there is plenty. If you're interested, here's a site to check out. Now in fairness, this is a site refuting the conspiracy claims. But if you read the refutes, they sound as if he's reaching for as many straws as the conspiracy theorists. Personally I think you can boil this one down to common sense...did I mention SEVEN YEARS.

My position is that we had everything to gain from a public relations point of view to get to the moon first. Even on CNN yesterday, they mentioned how the moon landing ultimately lead to a victory in the Cold War (their words, and something I've been saying for years). Now I ask you what's more likely, that we had the technology to go to the moon or the technology to make a really convincing movie?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

The new releases continue to flood the market as we near spring and I haven't found myself being able to keep up with them. Once again, there are a number of albums that I listened to this week that I just didn't feel ready to put down my opinions in words. Luckily, I was finally able to catch up with last week's leftovers, as well as find time to enjoy a few older gems that have been cluttering my airwaves of late. Rather heavy on the singer-songwriter's this week, but that's never a bad thing in my opinion. Overall, I'm very pleased with these selections and hope you are too. Enjoy.

OndaDrops Vol. 5 - Postcards From the North: This is the webzine's fifth compilation in the last two years to feature underground folk artists. Having previously selected their talent based on theme, this album turns its attention to Scandinavian folk bands, a personal favorite of mine, and as result produces one of the best compilations in the series. Borrowed heavily from mid-western American folk styles, the artists of the frozen north have incorporated decidedly old world elements into the genre and the combination is simply beautiful. Some stand out tracks are Christine Owman's "Day 1", I'm Kingfisher's "A Continent Lost," and Einar Stray's "For the Country." The best part is that these compilations are FREE. You can find a link for the album here, on the bottom of the page. With each new release, I always discover several amazing bands. I highly recommend checking it out.

Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour: The London rock trio's long awaited sophomore follow-up to 2009's Baby Darling Doll Face Honey will finally be released this week. There was an element of Northern Soul on that album that reminded me of The Verve which isn't to be found on this album. Instead, they have taken a heavy blues approach to their blend of slightly psychedelic rock. There are times when the album feels a little flat, but it's more than made up for by the moments where it excels like on "Lay My Head Down," "Navigate," and "Such a Fool."

Sophie Zelmani - The Ocean and Me: A few weeks back, I reviewed one of this Swedish singer-songwriter's earlier albums, Sing and Dance from 2001. Fast-forward seven years and three albums later and she still delivers wonderfully crafted folk pop. I compared her earlier album to Aimee Mann, and there is still a resemblance on this album, but in many ways Sophie aspires for less art and more raw emotion. That said, the emotion is always grounded and never over dramatic. A real talent that probably deserves more recognition here in the States.

Tim Buckley - Happy Sad: This 1969 record, the folk artist's third, began a prolific period that continued up to his death in 1975. Unlike the other folk acts of the late '60s and early '70s, Tim Buckley shunned the traditional structure, instead composing lengthy arrangements that owe as much to jazz as they do to Dylan. Considered one of his best, this album really captures the coming sadness of that would be felt on records throughout the next few years. This album reminds me a lot of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks (released the prior year), but with a distinct California flavor to it. All six songs on here are quite brilliant.

Elliot Smith - New Moon: Not a new album for me by any means. I'd been a big fan of the late singer-songwriter for years before his untimely passing and certainly purchased this double album shortly after it came out in 2007. Over the past several weeks, I've been listening to it quite a bit and thought I'd review it here. This collection of demos and outtakes is a revealing insight into one of the greatest singer-songwriters of my generation. Some of his best songs are unearthed on this record, including "High Times," "Riot Coming," "Either/Or," and the fantastic cover of Wilco's "Thirteen."

Soft Machine - Fourth: In the late '60s and early '70s, this Canterbury jazz-fusion band was hard at work laying the roots for what become prog-rock. As the title suggest, this 1971 album is the band's fourth album in as many years. It is the first album that is entirely instrumental, though the previous one was pretty close, and also the last one to feature founding member Robert Wyatt. In structure, it differs little from Third, featuring expansive experimental pieces that sometimes seem to battle with themselves. As a matter of taste, I prefer Third, but this is certainly another worthy record in the band's stellar early career.

The Mars Volta - The Malkin Jewel: Born from the ashes of At the Drive In, this band emerged in 2003 and through a series of spectacular new-era prog records, quietly became one of the biggest bands in the world, with albums frequently debuting in the top 20. Then...nothing since 2009's Octahedron. That is until last week when this single was released. This song erupts into a hard hitting riff and near demented vocals, calming down in the middle section into quiet insanity, and then once again building for the end. So rejoice all ye fans, the kings of prog revival have returned. I for one can't wait until the album, Notctourniquet, is released later next month (on the same day as my book).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Clear as an Unmuddied Lake...

The past few weeks, I've been suffering under the same troubles as my newest main character. This is not unusual for me. I often endure their hardships along with them. Whether it is because they are part of me, or because I have a habit of becoming them, the inevitable conclusion is that our fates have a funny way of intertwining.

In the current stage of my manuscript, my main character is being continuously deceived and hoodwinked by creatures she believes to be more clever than her. Likewise, I've found my own plot trying to steer me off course into similar traps. I knew the last section was turning into a bit of a muddle, but I hoped for a breakthrough that would make the final section as clear as it was to be in the beginning. I knew if I could get the ending right, then fixing the muddled section in the middle would be much easier.

Thankfully, it seemed to happen yesterday. As my character momentarily broke out of her slumber, everything felt suddenly clearer. I see the end and how it relates to the beginning. I know what I have to do. I know where to go to make the rest of what is written make sense. It's a great feeling. Now I just have to be mindful the goblins don't trick me again...with any luck, we'll both make it out of this mess.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

I spent most of this week listening to new music, something I hadn't done in a while. Perhaps that's because it's now February, which traditionally means the beginning of the onslaught for new releases. There have been a lot albums released recently that I'm excited about. Some made it on this list, but others felt like I needed more time to digest them before putting a review up. Therefore, a couple of older albums are mixed in, ones that I've been listening to over the past few weeks that round out the Roundup. Enjoy.

Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II: Released one year after the first part, this record is the second half of the band's drone epic. Though toiling in the same genre since the early '90s, Earth have certainly evolved and fine-tuned their style. Equally as good as the first part, and on par with other recent albums like Hex and The Bees Made Honey..., this is another soundscape of a gloomy place that is a pleasure to visit. Not for anyone who isn't a fan of heavy music played slowly.

Dr. Dog - Be the Void: The Philly band's seventh album, released this week, is certainly one of the albums I've been looking forward to it. Having been one of the most consistent rock bands of the last decade, and one of my favorites, I was eager to hear what they've been up to since 2010's Shame, Shame. The answer seems to be more of the same classic rock revival in a psychedelic folk disguise. I have to say this is not my favorite of theirs. Though good enough to enjoy, it does feel a little forced at times. It's certainly a more mainstream release than previous albums. Somehow the high production value seems to strip the honesty that I've always enjoyed in their music. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes their biggest album to date.

Little Dragon - Ritual Union: A few weeks back, I reviewed one this Swedish electro-pop band's earlier albums. Released last summer, this is the band's latest effort. This is definitely dance music, owing a lot to Michael Jackson Off the Wall era, which is just fine with me. I love that Motown disco sound. They do it well, even if the songs do feel two dimensional at times. The title track is easily the best song on here, but the others are decent enough. Certainly an album that one must be in the mood for.

Caribou - Andorra: London indie electro-pop artist Dan Snaith released his first two albums under the name Manitoba but was forced to change names to Caribou starting in 2005. This 2007 record is the second release under that name. It's an album that has grown on me with each listen. I honestly didn't care much for it until the third or fourth listen, then I heard it with new ears. There are blissful pop moments here that remind me The Olivia Tremor Control and Sunshine Fix. Really a beautiful album. The opening track "Melody Day" is amazing.

The Inmates - First Offence: The 1979 debut album from London pub rockers was a nice find when I first heard it a few years ago. There's certainly nothing innovative here. The band does its best Rolling Stones impression, but it's a good one. I recently picked the album up on vinyl for $1 and have been enjoying it all over again. "Mr. Unreliable" is a real standout song on an album of high energy rock. Certainly worth checking out for anyone that likes '60s era Rolling Stones.

Grateful Dead - Europe '72: Considered one of the band's classic live albums, this 1972 triple album chronicles the band's European tour and covers a large section of their catalog. Though known for their live shows, I sometimes have a problem the Dead's live albums. They tend to ramble through songs a little too long for my taste. But there are still some amazing tunes on here. "Jack Straw," "You Win Again," and "Ramble on Rose" are pure perfection. But for a live Grateful Dead album, I'd still recommend 1969's Live Dead.

Bowerbirds - The Clearing: This album comes out in March and is the third album the North Carolina contemporary folk outfit. Like their stunning first two albums, this is delicate music. On this album, they borrow a little from Andrew Bird, going for a more Baroque influence. It works quite nicely, producing beautiful songs. Certainly worth checking out for any fan of the current folk revival.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Of Magic Paws, Handcuffs and Coughs...

One of my cats, Mr. Mowgli Rockefeller BoJangles Major Tom Hotpants, has really big paws. He's polydactyl, meaning he has many extra toes on each paw. His paws are like mittens. There's a lot of magic in those paws--healing magic.

Last night was a rough one. I've been battling a cough for the past few days and for some reason it only seems active when I'm trying to sleep. So even during the day when I'm not hacking away, I've been a little tired. Even so, last night I ventured out to meet some friends for Mexican food. Running late, and being stuck behind a series of slow drivers, I attempted to make up time on the last stretch of highway. There's never any cops on that road...except for the one driving behind me apparently.

There was no way out of this one as I pulled over. I handed over my license and awaited the damage. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't get a ticket. So when the cop came back a few minutes later and handed me my license back with the warning "Slow down," I was shocked. Disaster avoided. Things were looking up.

Fast forward to four in the morning. An endless stream of coughing wakes me and prevents me from falling back asleep. After an hour of this, Mowgli came and curled up next to my head, placing his magic paws against my neck. The coughing disappeared, taken over by his purring.

All of this comes together in a way that makes me suspect some tricky currents of fate stirring in the stars. There is certainly danger about, but danger that can be avoided through strange circumstances. I should probably check my horoscope.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Life is But a Dream GIVEAWAY

I know I've been promising to have a giveaway contest for a Advance Reader's Copy of my upcoming book Life is But a Dream and I'm happy to announce the contest is now up on Goodreads. If you're not a member yet, and you're a book fan, then this is the time to sign up. It's one of my favorite sites, offering reader's a forum to express their thoughts without the burden of selling as on Amazon. You can enter the contest HERE.

I'm also planning some author events on the west coast for April and will be filling you all in on those details as soon as I have them. I'm really excited about this book and all the positive feedback that has been coming in over the past month. I hope all of you will be just as excited when and if you have the chance to read it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

As promised last week, I return to the usual Roundup format. Having not done it in quite a few weeks, I had a lot of albums to choose from, dating back from more than a month ago. I decided to go with a diverse mix of sounds. There's some obscure albums here as well as some classics. All kinds of genres are represented. Hopefully a little something for everyone. Enjoy.
Miles Kane -Colour of the Trap: Released last spring, this is Miles Kane's first solo album, though he previously fronted The Rascals and was one half of The Last Shadow Puppets (along with Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys). He comes from the same breed, playing aggressive indie rock, but somehow lacks the ingenuity of Alex Turner. The album is a solid collection of songs, even if there isn't a lot of range. Still, a decent British rock album.

The Cure - Three Imaginary Boys: This 1979 debut has long been my favorite Cure album and when I was in Europe last month I was lucky enough to come across a copy of the first printing German edition on vinyl. Given that it was never released in the States, it was certainly the kind of find I was hoping for over there. The band hasn't developed it's gloom rock style yet. This is pure post-punk glory. Every song is amazing, but "Fire in Cairo," "Meat Hook," "Accuracy," and "10:15 Saturday Night" are the real standouts.

Kanye West - Eyes Closed: This mix-tape album came out last summer as a follow-up to the phenomenal My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As with most hip-hop releases of this top, there are a lot toss-off, throw-away type tracks. A lot of it is also very raw. As a result, it kinds of falls flat, especially when compared with the album. But there are moments of greatness as is to be expected from such a talented artist. "Chain Heavy" is the real stand-out track. Otherwise, really just for fans.

Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs: I've had this album since shortly after it came out in 2005 and have been listening to it endlessly this past week. Though Andrew Bird has released several excellent albums, this one is by far the best in my opinion. From beginning to end, it has an incredible flow and tells amazing stories. "A Nervous Tick Motion...," and "Measuring Cups" are two of my favorite songs of all time. If you don't know this one, I highly recommend picking it up.

Agalloch - Of Stone, Wind and Pillor: A folk-metal band from Portland, Agalloch has put out four albums and six EPs in the last twelve years. This EP was released in 2001, still in the early days of the band. This is very much a mood piece, creating a soundscape not terribly different from the story invoked from album cover. At times it gets lost a little in its soft sludge, but overall is an interesting piece of music.

Black Sabbath - Live at Last: This 1980 release was a European only release, though later released on CD in the US in the late '80s. I found a first printing on vinyl in Switzerland and was pretty excited as I'd never heard it. The concert dates back to 1973 however and it's a great setlist, including "War Pigs," "Sweet Leaf," "Children of the Grave," and "Snowblind." Sound quality is a bit of an issue as always with live albums, but it still rocks.

Comus - First Utterance: The 1971 debut album from British progressive folk band Comus is certainly one of the more interesting albums I've heard in some time. It weaves in and out of traditional British folk and insanity arrangements. At times it reminded me of crazier Incredible String Band albums, but even manages to take it a step farther. Certainly a must hear for fans of the genre.

Built to Spill - You in Reverse: After a five year absence following 2001's triumphant Ancient Melodies of the Future, this was considered a comeback album when it came out in 2006. There were many times I picked it up in a store between now and then but never committed. Finally a few weeks ago I got to listen to this and was very impressed. It's a far more mature album than their previous work, which I also love by the way. This is an intelligent indie album with great arrangements and depth. Long overdue but I'm making up for it with many extended listens of late.

Friday, February 3, 2012

More Than Meets the Eye

Recently I've been watching a lot of the Transformers animated series. The HUB, a new animated channel that sprung up on my cable about a year ago, had been airing the original series for a long time. I watched that, but found myself longing for the series that ran after the movie. My wish was been granted a few weeks ago and luckily I started recording it just at the beginning.

Though I was a fan of the original episodes when they first aired, watching them again last year, I found the concept to be a bit stale. The second series however is much more entertaining. I remember watching those too, every day right after school. The key to these episodes is the expansion of the story. Set decades in the future from the original, this is more of traditional science fiction series. It hardly ever takes place on Earth and introduces all sorts of alien races with endless consequences.

The second generation of characters are also better. Galvatron, the reincarnation of Megatron, is cunning and more evil. Cybertron in once again in the hands of the Autobots, led by Hot Rod after Optimus Prime's death, though he is resurrected a dozen or so episodes in. Both sides have a shared enemy, the Quintessons. These are devious creatures, much like the Daleks in Doctor Who. In addition there is plenty of alien mythology thrown in with each new civilization they meet. Of course, there is still element of the show where each episode is used to introduce a new toy, especially the endless string of merging super-Transformers. But that's okay, the more the merrier.

It's a shame those horrible movies have sullied the franchise. In it's heyday, it was a revolutionary American cartoon, taking elements of Japanese style and bringing them here. It certainly was one of the prime stories that captured and shaped my young imagination. It's nice to know that it still has the power to do so.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trudging Through...

The last third of a manuscript are always the roughest for me. Partially it's fatigue, but it's also the stress of tying themes and plot strands together into a presentable package. For whatever reason, as I enter that last stretch my doubt seeps in. I start to be consumed with the notion that everything written up to that point is a failure. Luckily, like I said, this always happens and so I'm used to it.

I know my doubts are probably only half-earned.
And I know second drafts work miracles.

Still though, it would be nice if for once the ending could be as exciting and enthusiastic as the beginning. But so go the hazards of a creative life. Already my mind has begun to wander to what's next rather than remain focused on the task at hand. But I will get through...I always do.