Thursday, February 28, 2013

Walking in Oblivion

The most terrifying moments for an author are undoubtedly when the first readers of a manuscript have finished the story and are prepared to tell you what they think. No matter how many times you may think to yourself that you are doing good work during the course of writing a manuscript, there is always that nagging fear that the words truly suck and you've only been tricking yourself into believing otherwise due to laziness. This is what makes the first response from another reader so critical, and so nerve wracking. Like it or not, the truth will be revealed.

When I recently finished the novel I'd been working on for the past several months, I felt good about it. I knew I'd worked hard, that I'd supported the characters actions and that the story had depth and meaning, yet I still worried about the possible criticisms that might come my way. I made some daring narrative choices with this book, which even though I was happy with, I knew they were a bit of gamble. But I committed to them. A writer needs to commit to the story he or she feels they want to tell.

Yesterday I heard back from my agent. I must confess to a level of dread upon seeing the email in my inbox, but as it turns out, my anxiety was all for nothing. The response was overwhelmingly positive. As always, there are a few places for improvement, but they are minor and I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing the choices you've made and the work you've put in has paid off in some way. Hopefully you will all be able to read this story in near future.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

As I mentioned last week, the pull of new music had been awakened within me recently. Perhaps it was the clearing of the mind that comes with the completion of a story, or perhaps from the unseasonable weather that has blown into the hills. Either way, I spent most of this week dusting through the first few months of 2013 releases. As with every crop that is harvested, there have been some positives and negatives in the yield so far. I've also included two 2012 leftovers just to mix things up a little a bit. But don't worry, 2013 albums will make up a huge part of the mix for the foreseeable future. Enjoy.

Cancer Bats - Dead Set on Living: Released last year, this is the fourth album from the Toronto band. They have been getting a lot of attention over the past year, but it wasn't until their billing on the Blur Hyde Park show that I bothered to look into them. I was surprised by how heavy they are. They are basically a metal band that for whatever reason are linked to the indie circuit. I definitely appreciate the hardcore elements, even if they aren't very pioneering.

I am Kloot - Let It All In: This Manchester band is one I came to via friends in Switzerland nearly a decade ago. In that time, they still have yet to break into the States in any way, and it's really a shame. This is their sixth album, and quite possibly their best. It shows incredible growth, using many different influences to create an eerie indie sound. "Let Them In" is one of the best songs I've heard in a while. If you don't know this band, I highly suggest checking them out. This is a great place to start.

Beth Orton - Sugaring Season: The London based singer songwriter made two of my favorite albums of the late '90's, Trailer Park in 1996 and Central Reservation in 1999. She made two other albums after that, the last one being in 2006. In the six years since her last album, Beth has returned to the formula that make those earlier albums so amazing. There's a folkish quality to her voice and the acoustic guitar that accompanies it. But the music also includes a wonderful mix of strings that make the songs swell with energy and life. Truly beautiful, and had I heard it a month earlier, it very possibly would have made my best of list for last year.

Johnny Marr - The Messenger: The former Smiths guitarist has finally released his first solo album, a full 25 years after the iconic band's split. He hasn't been lazy in the interim, having fronted the short-lived band Electronic and being a member of Modest Mouse. This solo album is definitely respectable, following a traditional Britpop blueprint. However, I hate to admit that if it had been anyone else releasing this album, it wouldn't get nearly the attention it is getting. There are a few stand-out tracks like "Generate! Generate!" and "New Town Velocity," but most of it kind of just exists. A decent enough album and certainly worth a listen.

Low - The Invisible Way: One of my favorite bands of all time, these slowcore legends return with their follow-up to 2011's outstanding C'mon. There's no real new ground covered on this record, but there doesn't need to be. When you've perfected a sound as well as these guys, there's no real reason to mess with it. Their songs are incredibly minimal, but incredibly powerful emotionally. Another truly wonderful album to add to their catalog.

Gliss - Langsom Dans:  This is the L.A. shoegazer band's first album in four years and well worth the wait. Their 2006 debut, Love the Virgins, made a huge impression on me when it came out and ranks among one of my favorite L.A. albums, no small achievement given my love for that city's brand of rock. Since that record, they've transformed from a rock band into a more etherial producer of dreamscapes. Every second of this album is quite beautiful and they certainly deserve the same attention as bands like Best Coast.

Mystical Weapons - Mystical Weapons: This free form instrumental record is a collaboration between Sean Lennon and Deerhof's Greg Saunier. It has moments of experimental jazz fused with whining David Gilmore like guitar. It's very much a noise record, one that avoids being trapped into any kind of groove. This element makes it both fascinating and grating at the same time. Certainly not for everyone, but with the right pair of ears, and while in the proper mood, it can be quite an enjoyable listen.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fiction Friday: Wildwood Edition

After a slow few months of reading books that failed to truly inspire me, I've now read two in a row that kicked my imagination into overdrive. Last week I discussed the first of those novels, and now I'd like to present you with the next. Written by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, this is a book I'd been dying to read for over a year. I just finished it last night, and I have to say it's one of the best Middle Grade fantasies I've ever read. The term modern classic is used a lot...too much...but in this case, I think it may actually apply.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy
(Harper, 2011)

As a long time fan of The Decemberists, and Middle Grade fantasy, I was thrilled to hear about this book when it was published. This goes against my typical reaction when I hear an artist from another field is writing a children's book. Usually, I'm skeptical. This time, I was ecstatic. The reason for that is quite simple, even in his songs, Colin Meloy is a natural storyteller. He can tell a richly imagined story in just a few minutes, so naturally I couldn't wait to see what he'd do with 500 pages. As it turns out, the result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Wildwood is an ambitious novel, setting out to create an imagined realm much like Oz, or Wonderland, but with a small twist; this world exists in the middle of Portland, OR. Anyone who has ever tried to create such a place knows how impossibly difficult the task can be. It's hard enough creating a believable place which the character must to travel to through a rabbit hole or a tornado, let alone establishing it within plain sight. Pulling that off is the novel's first of many achievements.

At its core, Wildwood is a quest novel, following a young girl on a mission to save her baby brother after he is abducted by a murder of crows. On her journey, she encounters many wondrous things: an army of coyotes, an evil witch, a troop of bandits, a nation of birds, and much more. But as with any quest, the main character also discovers much about herself in the process. It's an epic story with political intrigue, fierce battles, and always a hint of danger. But all of that is just decoration for the book's important themes of family and friendship.

Both main characters, Prue and Curtis, are fully realized, facing each challenge with determined bravery. They both make mistakes, but as with any well thought-out Middle Grade story, they learn from these mistakes and grow because of them. If you ever feel like getting lost in another world, I highly recommend accompanying them on their journey.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Returning to Forgotten Lands

The other day I picked up a manuscript I'd completed nearly two year ago and hadn't looked at since typing the final world. I had always planned to go back to it, but I continued to get sidetracked by one project or another. Recently I was inspired by two books I've read to revisit the strange universe found in the pages of my forgotten story.

I've been reading it slowly and carefully and find myself changing the voice slightly. That could prove a headache as I go on, but I really can't be sure seeing as how I don't recall all that much about what happens. There's a good chance the voice will fall into line on its own. One thing that I have found quite fascinating, stemming from the fact that I don't remember what comes next, is how I keep making revisions only to find a near word-for-word match in the next paragraph. At least I'm consistent. 

I don't really know what to expect from this journey, but hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised by my own imagination.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

For a second week in a row, I'm attempting to go through my accumulated albums that are still awaiting reviews. Though having finished the second draft of my new manuscript, and with more administrative duties lined up for the next week, I'm feeling the itch to go on a new music spree. So expect a bunch of new releases for next time. For this week, nearly all of the albums were released at the end of 2012 and may be ones you missed. Most were contenders for my best of list, so they are definitely worth checking out. Enjoy.

Kaizers Orchestra - Violeta, Violeta Volume 3: Over the past two years, the Norwegian indie rock band has released this trilogy with an album coming every six months or so. I've been a fan of their eerie sound for over a decade and this certainly represents one of their most involved projects. This third volume may be my favorite. It's return to orchestral folk conjures a City of Lost Children type world, or a vaudeville infused The Wall. An excellent payoff to an ambitious endeavor.

Guided By Voices - The Bears for Lunch: The lo-fi legends released this album in November, their second full length record of 2012. As with Class Clown Spots a UFO, the band finds itself right back in their late '90s peak. They vary their sound so much, drawing on influences from Syd Barrett to 70's hard rock, that their albums never cease to bring surprising turns. Like their masterpiece Bee Thousand, there are close to 20 short songs on here and there isn't a weak one among them.

GWAR - This Toilet Earth: Released in 1994, this is the demon metal band's fourth album and combines the same thrash metal and punk influences from their previous records. The musicianship is just as strong as ever, and the genre bending inclusions are just as clever as they've ever been. However this album definitely feels like an attempt to be slightly more commercial, leaning toward the heavier end of the mid-90s alternative success. As a result there are more than a few songs that feel forced and out of place. Still, a quality record with many treats.

Thee Oh Sees - Putrifiers II: These San Fran psychedelic rockers have released ten albums in the six years since their debut. Though much more lo-fi than Tame Impala there is something similar in the swirling sunshine of their songs, but with a heavy dose of fuzz to go with it. This is an album that I considered for my best of list, but just missed the cut. Like Apples in Stereo, The Minders, Sunshine Fix, and other Elephant 6 bands, there's an obvious influence of '60s garage pop. Great stuff.

Roc Marciano - Reloaded: On his third album, the NY rapper attempts to single-handedly bring back old school East Coast hardcore. A obvious decedent of legends such as AZ, Nas, Raekwon, and Mobb Deep, Roc brings back the stories of NYC dangerous streetlife. His flow is undeniable and he twists words with remarkable skill. Definitely a throwback to the glory days and a welcome one at that.

Alberta Cross - Daytrotter Sessions: Easily one of my favorite bands that I discovered for the first time last year, their 2012 release having made it onto my top albums. These four songs all come from that album, Songs of Patience. However, the acoustic versions presented here surpass even the wonderful editions from the album. I honestly can't wait to see what this London band does next. (This session can be heard on

The Sword - Apocryphon: The Austin metal band's fourth album is possibly their best. Continuing their own self-mythology, the type not really seen since the 70's and 80's metal heyday, they create an amazingly relentless album that combines the swing pulse of Sabbath with the shredding guitars of bands from the new wave of British heavy metal. One of the best metal albums in years.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fiction Friday: Peculiar Edition

As a writer, the true measure of an amazing book is when I encounter one I wish I had written. Recently I read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and it was one of those books. With every turn of the page, I was enthralled with not only the imaginative story, but also the wonderful characters that inhabit it. In my own writing, I often include elements of classic children's fiction in a contemporary setting. This book weaves in those magical elements in such an excellent way, creating a modern fairy tale with all the development of a fictional universe.

I don't want to tell too much about the plot, because this is definitely a book where the surprises are worth waiting for. However, there a few aspects that I need to mention. The first is the brilliant concept of a time loop; a place hidden in time where those under it's protection live the same day over and over again, aware that outside the loop, time still passes as usual.  In this case, the inhabitants are children with unusual gifts such as invisibility, levitation, and animating the dead. Not since The Watchmen have I met such a intriguing cast of individuals that were so geniusly executed.

In addition to the wonderful world created in its pages, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is also a hypnotizing suspense novel. It was such an inspiring read, one that made me rethink several stories I've had floating around. For me, that is the mark of story that will stay with me forever. Absolutely wonderful. I can't wait for the next one. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Will Tear Us Apart Again

It seems only fitting that I finished the second draft of my new tragic love story on the day before Valentine's Day. The love story is really the heart and soul of this manuscript, and consequently, what happens to love when life gets in the way. 

The true idealists will always tell you that love is enough. Love conquers all. And though I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that philosophy, I think there is an implication hidden in there that somehow suggests that love is easy. The truth is that love is complicated and grows more complicated when the actions of those individuals involved don't necessarily mirror the choices of the other. True love involves a depth of selflessness that goes against our human nature.

I think one of the reasons teenage love is often portrayed so tragically is because it basically is. The chances of you staying with that first love for the rest of your life are very slim. So despite all the promises, the love will most likely end. But the beautiful thing about that first love is that it does last forever in many ways. You never completely forget that person. That is the type of relationship I attempted to bring to life in this story. Only time will tell if I succeeded.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

It's been a little while since I've contributed to the endless stream of internet ramblings. I have no excuse other than trying to focus my energy elsewhere, most notably on finishing the second draft of my novel. But alas, I have returned. And what more fitting way is there to jump back into the swing than with a fresh round of album reviews. As I have not been keeping up, I had a whole mess of albums to choose from for today's list. I decided on a little of this and a little of that, but basically these have been the albums I've been listening to over the past few weeks. Enjoy.

The xx - Coexist: Released in September, this is the London based dream pop band's long awaited follow-up to their breakout 2009 self-titled debut. Now I must confess that while I enjoyed the first album and thought there were a number of amazing songs on it, I wasn't completely won over the way many people were. So when this album came out, I didn't have the huge expectations of some. Perhaps that's why I found myself taken by surprise by what a complete voyage this album takes the listener on. None of it is unexpected, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful. There is something of a Massive Attack infused with the gentleness of Mazzy Star to this band that just really clicks. "Tides" is a real stand-out track.

Proud Mary - The Same Old Blues: This Manchester band was discovered by Noel Gallagher and the first signed to Oasis's Sour Mash label back in 2001. Noel went on to produce this album and it's downright lost classic. The opening track "Give a Little Love" is simply wonderful and the album never really lets up from there. Like Oasis, they wear their influences on their sleeve. From the Stones, to Creedence, they are steeped in 60's blues rock, but as with any great album, they bring something new to it. This is one of those albums I can't believe I missed for so long. Easily my find of the year so far.

Godfathers - Birth, School, Work, Death: This is the London garage rock band's second album, released in 1988, more than decade into the British Empire's economic woes. From the title and the title track, it's obvious this album espouses the traditional working class angst, railing against the system. Like all good garage rock, its power stems from its ability to drive a message home with hard hitting directness. There's definite influences of the punk movement that swept through a decade before, but equally influenced by the burgeoning indie rock of the time. A solid album with some memorable songs. Definitely worth checking out.

L.A. Guns - Hollywood Forever: One of the most under appreciated glam bands, L.A. Guns' 1988 debut ranks up there among my favorite of the era. I've continued to follow the band through their many line-up changes and they managed to record a few decent albums at the end of the '90s and early '00s. This is their first album of new material in ten years, and though founding member Tracii Guns is sorely missed, the record still pretty much rocks. The title track is great and Phil Lewis still sounds amazing. Nothing ground breaking here, but quality hard rock is a rarity these days. Worthwhile for fans of the genre.

Clinic - Free Reign: The four lads from Liverpool return with their first album in two years. The band continues to exist in the neo-psychedelic realms of their creation. It's one of the things that I've always enjoyed about them. Like Joy Division or even The Coral, their music belongs to some strange Interzone reality that survives only between the beginning and the end of the songs. This is a very enjoyable album and quite accessible even to those outside the psychedelic comfort zone. 

Goat - World Music: This is the debut album from the Swedish heavy psych band, released last summer. As the album title suggests, there are so many varied influences on this record. It pulls from all sorts of different music and miraculously, it all comes together into something quite wonderful. This is really one of those modern albums, something that couldn't have existed even 15 years ago. It's the kind of inclusive vibe that Cornershop was going for way back when but never managed to truly capture. This nearly made it onto my best of list for last year, and perhaps given more time, it might have.

Pop Levi - Medicine: I included this in my best of the year list without ever giving it a proper review, so I'm including it here again. This is the psychedelic pop rocker's third solo album, and first in four years. I've always enjoyed the way he fuses chaos with glam rock beats and was excited to finally hear this one. This is probably his most complete album. Every song captures the essence of what he's all about. A super fun freak out of an album. A real modern day Crazy World of Arthur Brown.