Thursday, May 30, 2013

Out of Our Heads

I've always tried to infuse elements of pure imagination into my stories, even if they are categorized as realistic fiction. You can see it in my early novels, mostly just in imagery, but it's there. In later books like Thief and Life is But a Dream, this pull becomes even clearer. And since then, I've been wrapped up in manuscripts that are more traditional fantasy. Perhaps that is why the novel which is currently out on submission is the complete opposite. It's steeped in reality, actually taking place over the course of one day. But with that out of my system, I seem poised for another run at the imaginative worlds. 

I've always wanted to create worlds within my writing that stood apart from ours. Until recently, I suppose I never felt like I had enough experience to pull it least not to my standards. In my early novels, I was able to achieve a sense of this simply by having them all connected through the characters. So even though the stories existed within our world, they were able to carve out their own little section. But now I feel confident enough to tackle some of these more immaginative stories that have lived inside of me for so long.

Writing is about knowing your limitations. As with any artistic form, you need to be aware of what you do very well and what you don't. That is not to say you shouldn't be ambitious, or push yourself, but you should also avoid setting yourself up for failure. I honestly believe that is the primary reason most young writers give up writing at some point. The quickly come to think they can't write, when actually, it might simply be a matter of not being able to write the story they've attempted. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

It's the unofficial start of summer, the most dreaded of all the seasons in the Northeast, but tempered with the proliferation of music releases meant to hype up the endless touring schedules all across the country. Meanwhile, I'm still struggling to keep up with all the exceptional releases that came out in the spring. Many of the albums on this week's list are from the past few months, with the addition of two old albums that I acquired on vinyl in the last couple of weeks. Lots of rock on this list, so get your lighters out, throw up some devil horns, and turn it up loud. Enjoy.

Jack White - Live at Third Man Records: This limited release is a recording of a concert put on at Third Man's Nashville headquarters. Using two different backing bands, The Peacocks and The Buzzards, this show took place sometime before the release of last year's Blunderbuss album and features the first performance of many of the songs from that album. But it also includes many White Stripes classics, serving as a nice career spanning set. This album really captures the manic energy of Jack White live. Definitely a must for fans. 

Mötley Crüe - Too Fast for Love: I've been listening to this album a ton lately, having dusted off my old CD a few weeks back. So when I came across a copy on vinyl the other day, I had to pick it up. This is the band's 1981 sleaze glam debut. I've always thought of this album as the California response to the New York Dolls. "Live Wire" "Piece of the Action," and the title track are real stand-outs, not that there is really any filler on here. It's fast, raw, and stone cold rocks.

The Black Angles - Indigo Meadow: Back in 2006, this Austin psych band blew me away with their debut album Passover. Borrowing heavily from late '60s and 70's heavy psych rock, they revived a kind of sound that had all but faded into the past. Now with their forth album, and first since 2010, they continue to draw on the same influences and feed my appetite for this genre of music. Through their career, they've always been consistent, never delivering a bad record. If you don't know this band, but are into psych rock, definitely check them out.

The Animals - The Best of The Animals: I'm not usually one to go for Greatest Hits or Best Of albums. They account for only about two dozen or so of the thousands of albums in my collection. But there are some exceptions and this compilation is one of them. It's not a typical "Best Of" as it was released in 1966, a mere four years after the band's first release. It was too nice of a collection to turn away from a $5 copy of the original vinyl pressing. It collects most of the A-sides from the early EPs, including "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "It's My Life," and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." One of the best, and most overlooked bands of the British Invasion.

The Go - Fiesta: Founded way back in 1998, this Detroit band was on of the ignitors of the garage rock revival of the last decade, which former member, Jack White, would go on to become the poster idol for. In that time, the band has only released four albums. Released in march, Fiesta is their first album since 2007, and not much has changed in the six years since. They still produce some of the best retro psychedelic rock around. A double album of twenty tracks, there is a lot of great music on here. It could probably be cut down by a few tracks, but that's just being picky.

Melvins - Everybody Loves Sausages: Released in April, the fathers of stoner sludge rock gave us this album of covers. This is actually the band's second covers album, following 2000's The Crybaby. Sadly, this album lacks the creative surge that their previous covers album had. Perhaps it was the more inspired song list, or the guests, but The Crybaby succeeds in being one of those amazing covers albums that makes every song sound new. And while the songs still sound new on this record, I'm not sure they really sound all that good. "Black Betty" sounds great, but not very different than the original...but I suppose on some level the band is aware of all of this, hence the name which suggests this is just filler before an album of new material.

Sparrow and the Workshop - Murderopolis: Released this past spring, this is the third album from the Glasgow based folk trio. I've enjoyed this band ever since their 2010 debut Crystals Fall. While staying true to their indie folk roots, this album does veer a little further into the rock genre, which sounds refreshing for them. Honestly though, I think I could listen to Jill O'Sullivan sing just about anything. A beautiful record. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Lost Art of Lost Art

This past week, I've spent a lot of time painting, something I haven't done in quite a while. For many years, it was part of my routine. I always believed that one creative outlet fed another like a conjoined parasite. An image I drew would become inspiration for a scene I would write, and an image I wrote would become the seed of something to paint. I lived in that circle quite contently for a long time, but eventually the demands of one outweighed the time left for another. 

After this week, I realize again how important the connection is between them. If for no other reason, it allows the imagination to work in a different way, to pull free from the tracks that keep it running on a straight course and take it for a scenic loop. Sometimes detours are the best route to take.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup

As promised, the Roundup returns back to it's regularly scheduled programming this week. The cusp of summer has arrived here in the hills, bringing with it the buzzing of bees and swarms of pollen that swells in the humidity. The only redemption we have from this horrible season is the sweet sounds of music that seem to glide easily through the warm air. The albums this week, though I've been listening to them for weeks, will most likely have a shelf life through the summer. Quite a range, hopefully you'll find something you enjoy.

Daughter - The Wild Youth EP: The London based art folk band released two EPs in 2011, before releasing their debut album earlier this year. This is the second of the two EPs and it's four songs of beautiful brilliance. From the heartbreaking opening track "Home," this release sinks into you and doesn't leave. Sure, there are lots of other bands that sound like this, First Aid Kit and Smoke Fairies come to mind, but there is something special about these songs that makes them stand-out in my opinion. This is one of those records that sounds super in the morning and is well worth checking out.

Adam and the Ants - Kings of the Wild Frontier: Released in 1980, this is the new wave Godfather's second album with the Ants. As followers are sure to notice by now, I've been on a huge Adam Ant kick over the past few months and am ready to declare him a musical genius. This album is simply fantastic, incorporating all the quirkiness of early new wave infused with leftover elements from their punk roots. "Antmusic," "Ants Invasion," "Killer in the Home," and "Feed Me to the Lions," are stand out tracks, though to be honest there aren't really any bad tracks on here.

Johnossi - Transitions: Released last month, this is the Stockholm indie rock band's fourth album, and easily their best since 2005's phenomenal self-titled debut. It's been three years since their last album, and the time off was well worth the wait. After the brilliant promise on their debut, the band slowly wilted into a somewhat generic indie rock band, but with Transitions they return to form, living up to the potential shown eight years ago. In many ways, this sounds like the true follow-up, at least to my ears. The edge has returned to the songwriting, giving it a polished garage rock feel that the Scandinavians do so well. "Bear/Bull," "Seventeen," and "Tell the World" are stand out tracks.

Kadavar - Abra Kadavar: The second album from Berlin's heavy psyche rock band is nearly enough to propel them to legendary status in my mind. Following up on last year's fantastic self-titled debut, the band continues to pound out perfect metal grooves. They wisely combine the appeal of stoner metal with the boom of Black Sabbath. Just like their last album, this one seems destined to make my best of the year list. Along with bands like The Sword and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats we are experiencing a comeback of psychedelic metal, and for that, I'm thankful.

Bowerbirds - Lost Souls EP: It's hard to believe this contemporary folk band has been around nearly a decade, having released three solid albums since 2006. This EP, released in February, is the follow up to last year's The Clearing. At five tracks, this is a nice little album featuring their typical scaled back sound and interesting arrangements. Another great morning album, and like most of their work, it seems more suited for grey skies than sunshine. "Brave World" is the real stand out track for me.

Pagoda - Rebirth: After six years of silence, Micheal Pitt's band finally returns with a new album. There were a lot people who hated on their 2007 self-titled album, but I was not one of them. In fact, I still listen to it quite frequently. There was a poetry to the lyrics on that album that fit well with the Seattle inspired music. They were written off as Nirvana imitators, but that wasn't really fair. They took the 'grunge' sound into new territory. This album explores even deeper, but in its exploration, abandons almost any traditional song structure. Perhaps trying to break away from the labels thrown on the band, they've stretched themselves. There were moments on their fist album that felt like a shaman quest, "Death to Birth" certainly did. This album feels even more like a trip into the spirit world, encountering moments of calm like in "Blood Crosses," and moments of terror like "Drop D." This album is interesting, certainly not for everyone, and certainly an album one must be in the mood for. Even then, however, there are songs that I admit, I'm just not that into.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fiction Friday (E.L. Konigsburg Edition)

“Before you can be anything, you have to be yourself.”
E.L. Konigsburg

Last month, the children's book world lost one it's greatest voices. E.L. Konigsburg entertained and inspired not just one generation of children, but many. I still remember my third grade teacher Ms. Cutts reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to us and how mesmerized I was by the story. After hearing of her passing, I plucked that book from my shelves and re-read it for the first time since and it still captivated me. Though the storyteller may be gone, the stories live forever in the imaginations of those who read them.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

When Claudia decides to run away from her Connecticut home, she realizes she loves the comforts of her suburban life far too much to simply live on the streets. Luckily, she's very good at making plans and hatches a scheme to not simply run away to New York City, but to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Due to his thriftiness, and abundance of savings in his piggy bank, she decides to take her little brother along with her and what ensues is an adventure of self-discovery.

One of the great joys of this novel is simply the idea of being in a museum after everyone has left. As a child, we all wonder what it would be like to live in places such as these and this story captures the excitement of it perfectly. It's wonderful seeing these resourceful children avoid getting caught.

In addition to the pure adventure involved in their running away, this is also a story about family life. The relationship between the siblings is pitch perfect. Sometimes they argue, sometimes they get frustrated with each other, but they always manage to help the other when their help is truly needed. All of this plays into the larger quest of the story, Claudia's longing to be somewhat different and changed. It's not exactly a coming-of-age story, but a story about that first moment when one feels childhood slipping away and the confusing feelings involved in that time of life. For Claudia, these emotions become wrapped up in solving the mystery of a statue recently acquired by the museum. As the public speculates as to whether or not this statue was carved by Michelangelo, she is determined to find out definitively, and once she does, she knows she can return home because in some tiny way, she will be different.

Reading this story brought back so many memories of what it was like to be that age, ready to conquer the world, but not yet able to quite understand it. Some of the dialogue feels dated, and certainly the value of the dollar is far different, but none of that detracts from the story. The emotions are still honest and the mystery is as engaging as ever. Truly a classic and the kind of book that would never get published today because of concerns over the kids running away.

Also, read my review of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William Mckinley, And Me, Elizabeth here.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup (Mother's Day Edition)

It's Mother's Day, time to pay tribute to all the songs celebrating mothers of all kinds. This little playlist is perfect, or maybe not, to share with your mother. I promise that next weekend I will return with a proper list of reviews, but being on the road makes it too difficult to give due diligence to the many fantastic albums still waiting for their turn under the headphones. And besides, you shouldn't be reading this, you should be calling your mother. Enjoy.

John Lennon - Mother: From his debut solo record, which is far better than most Beatles records.

The Misfits - Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight: Something for all the psychopaths.

My Chemical Romance - Mama: A twisted letter to mother.

The Decemberists - A Cautionary Tale: A song about all the things a mother does for her child.

Danzig - Mother: A warning to all good mothers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Here Muppet, Here Boy!

One thing that defines people of my generation is muppets. As children, we didn't realize that previous generations didn't grow up with this unique breed of puppet, and we probably take for granted that children today are probably less familiar with them. But for a glorious period in history, our lives with filled with Jim Henson's creations and I've been thinking a lot about their brilliance recently. Last weekend, my mom had put the family dog to sleep, who was very much muppetish. Though I never shared home with Pepper, I did spend a lot of time with her over the years. She was a great dog and in honor of her, I thought I'd share a list of my favorite muppet pups.

Barkley from Sesame Street: Never having a staring role in the show, I still always gravitated to this fluffy moppet when I was little. He has that great bouncy stroll and I love have you'd see him out and about on the streets of New York and nobody seemed freaked out by this beast. He also knew Snuffy, my favorite character, which gave him points in my book. Plus, he's been to the Great Wall of China. What a dog!

Ralph from The Muppets: The quintessential muppet dog, Ralph was always the cool one. I used to love watching him wail on the piano in the opening sequence of the Muppet Show. He's a dog with class and style, and though he never had the one-liners, he's a consistent comedian. 

Sprocket from Fraggle Rock: The most "doggish" of all the muppet pups, Sprocket was one of the many subtle strokes of genius on a show full of genius. He's one of those classic characters that knows more than the other characters, being fully aware of the Fraggles when his owner never caught on.
Wicket of the Ewoks: Okay, not technically a dog, but sort of. I know people seem to despise the ewoks, feeling they were a ploy to appeal to children, but I was a child, and they did appeal to me. I loved Wicket in all his roles, from Return to the Jedi to the two Ewok Adventure movies.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup (Vinyl Edition)

It's that time of year again when the windows are finally open, the breeze is blowing pollen into house, and the sweet sound of fuzzy warbles echoes through air. In honor of that, I'm doing an all vinyl list this week. All but on of these are albums I've bought in the last few weeks. Some I've already owned on CD for many years, others were new to my ears. Lots of classic rock/ folk on here, and nothing from the last ten years, but as they say, everything old is new again. Enjoy.

Mountain - Climbing: One of those records I just took a chance on, knowing very little about what the band sounded like. After catching a snippet of a song the other week, I remembered having seen this record used in the local vintage record store. I picked it up on my next trip and it's much heavier than I had always assumed. Pretty fantastic hard blues, and had it not been for Led Zeppelin, I think this album would be more widely discussed as one of the great early heavy rock album. It reminds of Buffalo's Volcanic Rock album.
Iggy and The Stooges - Metallic K.O.: Released in 1977, this concert was the band's final performance (before reforming this past decade). Though I had the remastered double CD of this, I still had to pick up the original vinyl when I saw it. The band is all raw energy, as always, but what makes this recording a must-have is the way Iggy antagonizes the crowd throughout as they pelt the stage with beer bottles. The entire thing is electric from the moment it begins to the moment where you hear the bottle break on Iggy's head...hence the title of the record. Legendary.

Leonard Cohen - Songs From a Room: This is the Montreal poet/ songwriter's second album, released in 1969 and includes some of his best known songs such as "Bird on a Wire," and "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes." In my opinion, this is his most complete album in that it feels like an album rather than a collection of songs. I absolutely love this record and was very excited to find an original pressing on vinyl.

The Mamas & The Papas - Deliver: After their breakout debut in 1966, the folk foursome released two more albums in the next year, including this, their third, in 1967. As a result this album may suffer a little from fatigue and a shrinking library of fresh songs to chose from. That said, there are still some amazing tracks on this album, especially the amazing "Creeque Alley." Very few folk bands have had the unique dynamic of The Mamas & The Papas, or the wonderful harmonies. 

Uncle Tupelo - March 16-20, 1992: The legendary alt-country band that would eventually break into Son Volt and Wilco, recorded this all acoustic album in 1992. Back in college, this was actually my introduction to the band, but I never owned it. On Record Store Day, I picked up the 180gram reissue and have been loving the down home country feel once again. "Warfare," "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down," "Lilli Schull," and "Fatal Wound" are stand out tracks among an album without a weak song.

Okkervil River - Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See: This is the Austin indie folk band's 2002 debut and one of the only albums of theirs that I didn't own. So when I saw this at the store on Record Store Day, I had to pick it up. A raw sound compared to what they will eventually evolve into, but there's a beauty in the fragile way it holds together. There definitely feels like a Saddle Creek influence here, along with a steady intrusion of Drag City.

Tim Buckley - Blue Afternoon: This is the singer/ songwriter's fourth album released in 1969, and like his others, it's a masterpiece of psychedelic folk. One of the pivotal aspects of Tim's music is how he's consistently a few years ahead of his time. He really ushers in the sound of '70s folk, capturing a deep sadness to his music that won't reach the mainstream until after the end of the Summer of Love. "Happy Time," "Chase the Blues Away," and "The River," are real stand out tracks for me.

The Rolling Stones - Out of Our Heads: This 1965 classic is one of the band's break-out releases and includes the mega hit "Satisfaction". It also includes a ton of Jagger/ Richards penned songs that really signal a sea change in the band's direction to come. "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotional Man," "Play with Fire," and "The Spider and the Fly" show the Stones moving toward the subversive icons that they would become in the second half of the '60s and early '70s. A fantastic record and so happy I found it in Mono.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fiction Friday (16)

Lately I've been reading a lot of Middle Grade novels, and they all seem to be quite thick, which accounts for my decline in book reviews on here. But now with several behind me, I finally have time to reflect on what incredible stories I've had the chance to visit over the past few months. As a mater of fact, since Christmas, I've been on an incredible winning streak when it comes to reading selections. I haven't encountered this kind of succession of brilliance in years, and with a stack of other highly anticipated stories in waiting, I don't expect it to end any time soon. This week I'm sharing with you a 2007 New Times Bestseller. Enjoy.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
(Little Brown, 2007)

Pulled together through unusual circumstances, four orphan children combine their skills to form The Mysterious Benedict Society, and may just possibly save the world why they're at it. That's the driving premise of Trenton Lee Stewart's massive Middle Grade novel. Essentially this is an old fashioned caper story with lots of exciting and dangerous twists.

When a strange form of subliminal brainwashing shows up in Stonetown Harbor, the only person who seems aware of it is the reclusive, yet brilliant, Mr. Benedict. Unable to convince the authorities that these messages are coming from a secretive institute for gifted children, he recruits children of his own to infiltrate the school and stop the devious plan before it's too late. Bringing together a group of outcast orphans, each with their own special skills, their risky plan is set into motion.

The book moves rather slowly at times, but that's only because it is so thorough. We see each of the four children develop a sense of trust with each other and within themselves. I enjoy this type of detailed attention, though others may find it plodding, but if you stick around, you're rewarded with fast-paced concluding action. The one thing that did sort of bother me was how little explanation was offered when it came to the villain's evil invention. It wasn't left completely unexplained, but the science of it didn't seem too thought out either. In this kind of story, I think those details need to be carefully thought out.

All of that is secondary to the main enjoyment of the book, which is watching the friendship of these four great characters grow and seeing them rewarded for all their hard work and hardships. And it's always fun encountering a story where children are able to achieve something that adults could not. All in all, an intelligent and entertaining book. (This is the first book in a trilogy. Books #2 and #3 are already published).

My favorite passage:
Kate nodded, agreeing. She seemed pleasant enough. She had very bright, watery blue eyes, a fair complexion, and rosy cheeks, and was unusually tall and broad-shouldered for a twelve-year-old. (She announced her age right away, for children consider their ages every bit as important as their names....) page 37-38

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Implausible Truth

The old saying that truth is stranger than fiction is one that has stuck around because it often proves itself to be correct. All of us experience events where the circumstances and solutions that befall us would be categorically rejected if we were presented with the same situation in a story. Yet, we all seem so quick to judge the work of some one's imagination with a dismissive oh that could never happen.

The funny thing about that reaction is that those who say it are not actually seeking a truthful ending. What they really want is a something unexpected and dramatic at the same time. If we were concerned with ending stories with a what would most likely happen in real life, all books would end with the character sitting in front of the television, debating whether or not to pack it in for night or watch one more rerun.
There's a been a steady movement away from reality in most teen fiction these days. Even the so-called contemporary realistic fiction steers away from actuality by imbuing either the characters or setting with a sense of whimsy that is never found in real life. There's nothing wrong with that. I've been guilty of it myself. We want fantasy in our stories because we enjoy the escapism offered in books. The only thing that worries me is when there is a bit of actual reality that seeps in, it's written off as implausible or anti-climatic. But sometimes that's how life goes, and sometimes that's the way a story should end. 

In my opinion, if your dealing with tough situations that real people face, it does everyone a disservice to dress it up too much.