Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Unmitigated praise, anyone?

Ok, it’s been close to a month since my last post. Not that I am delusioned enough to believe that there is a breathless public clamouring for my thoughts, but there’s something about the widening gap between now and the last date posted that makes me feel obligated to say something.

Here’s what’s on my mind today:
I choked.

Here’s what happened. I received this album about 6 weeks ago. I listened to it and I wrote what I thought was a fairly honest and sober review. Then I went to post it. A big thing about blogcritics is the revenue from Amazon. Each entry has at least one post to Amazon and each purchase that results from that linking counts towards blogcritics’s commission. When I went to post my review and list the link to the Amazon listing for this album there wasn’t one. So I emailed blogcritics owner, Eric Olsen. He said to hold off until the album was listed (it releases in January.)

Well, yesterday I got an email from the marketer for the album asking where my post was. I explained and suggested that he check with Eric. As it turns out this independently produced album may not get listed at Amazon. Eric told me to go ahead and list the review providing the artist’s web page as a place to buy the album.

In the flurry of emails about this issue, I noticed some from the artist himself. Now this buy has been at it awhile but he’s never made it big so his getting involved wasn’t that big of a deal in and of itself. It’s not like Bono was emailing me, eager for my review. But the thing that made me choke was that now I was sure that the artist was going to read my review. So, I promised to post my review and that should have been the end of it. Well, I went home and reconsidered the whole thing. I ended up writing the trite piece of cotton candy that you see through the link above.

I choked just because I knew that guy was going to read it and I didn’t want to be impolite!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Columbo and the Costumed Editor

In posting my review for rearview, I realized that it has not only been a while since I posted anything, it’s been much longer since I actually posted something other than reviews. As I mentioned in my first post, I feel a little silly keeping this blog, like I’m a victim of unwarranted arrogance. But it is also nice to be flinging these bits of me out there. There’s no telling where they might land….

Anyway, a lot has happened since I last spoke of myself. Most importantly, I finished my novel. I want to read through it a couple of times before I start fishing for an agent but, aside from a few little rewrites, it’s done. It took me just over ten months.

Bush was re-elected. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make this a political blog though I have some very strong feelings about this matter. So, I’ll just say that it happened and it is obviously an event of significance.

This next bit of news is perhaps more interesting. I need to tell a little story to tell it. First I need to mention Vicky. She works with me here at Spartech Plastics and is, perhaps, the most enthusiastic person in my life regarding my book. She has also read more of it than anyone else. I have tried repeatedly to get Celeste to read it but she is just not interested. She says it’s good but… Anyway, Vicky loves to be involved in things. It really doesn’t matter what, just whatever is going on, you’re sure to find Vicky elbowing her way to the center of it. So, given this and her enthusiasm about my writing, you can bet that she is all about trying to find ways for me to get published or further my writing career. Most of what she suggests misses the mark as she knows less than I about the business of books and I know nothing. But in this case, I think that she did me a great service. You see, Vicky does not live in Cape Girardeau. Her address is Uniontown, Missouri. It is a tiny berg north of here with a population numbered somewhere in the hundreds. Her community life is centered in a slightly larger town, Perryville. Perryville is still a pretty small town – smaller than Cape. But it has a newspaper and Vicky knows the de facto editor quite well. See where this is going? So, Vicky throws an annual Halloween party with costumes, a bonfire, etc. She invited Celeste and I this year and told the editor, who always comes, about me. That it was a costume party was a great source of conversation and debate in our house. Celeste and I are not participants. We would both rather observe. But I knew that Vicky was selling me to the editor and I knew that she was a willing participant in the costumed silliness. I didn’t want to make a poor impression by showing up in my street clothes. So, I thought, I’ll buy one of those headpieces that make it look like you’ve been pierced by an arrow. After going to four stores and not finding one, I finally located one at Spencers for $17! I bought it. Then as I was leaving, looking at the thing and anticipating the headache it would cause, it occurred to me that for the same amount I could go to Goodwill and throw together a pretty good Columbo outfit. Plus this would give me an excuse to buy and smoke cigars all night long. That’s what I call a win-win situation. Celeste had her sons BDUs – that’s army clothes for those of you like me that have no idea what BDU might mean – so she went as a soldier. I returned the arrow. So, we showed up and got introduced to a bunch of people. Vicky didn’t let on who the editor was and nobody said, “Well, you’re Bryce, come over here and lets talk.” It was a couple of hours before she finally approached me and we started to talk. She asked about my book. I think that she thought it sounded kind of silly. Then she started asking about what else I’ve written. I told her that most of the rest of it was navel-gazing kind of stuff except for the reviews for blogcritics. She told me that she’s not interested in reviews. What she wanted was serialized fiction for adults. They had run a series for children that was a big hit and now she was looking for something for adults. She wondered if I might have a short story that could work. I knew that I didn’t but I promised her that I would look. We left it at that but I definitely had the feeling that she had hired me right there. I’m planning on starting a piece soon about a senior couple that decides to rob banks. That should be interesting and appealing to the audience of this small town paper and it should provide plenty of cliffhanger type spots.

Finally, my last bit of news, on Sunday the guy that runs blogcritics, Eric Olsen, said that he needed an editor for the site. I volunteered so now I’ll be an Book Review Editor for blogcritics.org.

All in all, things seem to be coming together for my writing career. It might still be a year or longer before I can leave the corporate world, but I’m making progress.

Music Review: rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991-2003) - Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam fans rejoice! After more than ten years, Eddie and the boys are releasing a greatest hits collection. While there are no new songs here, this is an important anthology chronicling the band’s eleven years following their first major album, Ten.
The songs are divided into two disks. The order of this collection is interesting. Disk one starts with “Once” from Ten and ends with “Save You” from Riot Act, their most recently released studio album, and follows the chronology implied. Then the second disk opens with “Black,” from Ten and more or less repeats the same sequential order. So, what was the criteria for this arrangement? If pressed one could call disk one the angry anthems and disk two the introspective songs. But, like everything with this band, it is really too hard to nail down and label.
Since the disks are individually chronological, one is treated to two fascinating studies of the band’s growth from the early, heady days when they helped carve a place for grunge to today. Presented this way, the listener is struck by the untraveled roads this band still takes that keeps it an interesting and relevant band when so many of its early contemporaries have fallen away. But that is not to say that this is a disjointed or jarring collection to listen to. Quite the contrary. Where many artist’s or band’s hits collected over a similar time period would produce an album with a dissembling sound, Pearl Jam has a consistency, even a constancy, that makes each recording uniquely theirs though they may experiment with greatly varied sounds and structures.
Finally, this collection presents their evolution from the burgeoning rock stars that led the charge of alternative and grunge music in the early nineties to the mature, more thoughtful, and yet no less experimental Pearl Jam of today. Where they stunned with their rebellion then, they mesmerize with their complexity and depth now.
While the hard core fan of this band may question this list of “greatest” hits, it would be hard to deny that this collection includes many of their best tunes. Fans, here’s another jewel for your collection. Casual admirers, this would be a perfect acquisition if you have considered adding a taste of Pearl Jam to your library.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Music Review: Putumayo's Blues Lounge

This is the latest addition to Putumayo’s Lounge series. Preceding it were World Lounge, Euro Lounge and Sahara Lounge. Those familiar with the Putumayo label might find the premise for this collection a little unusual. But the mood and sound of the CD are not so far removed from their usual international collections that a fan of the label cannot take pleasure in it.

The first requirement to enjoy this disk is an appreciation or at least a tolerance for electronica. The idea behind Blues Lounge is a collection that uses, to varying degrees, blues samples. The overall collection is mellow and mesmerizing as the slow rhythms glide from one track to the next.

The pieces cover the spectrum of electronica interpretation. The most obvious and common to those familiar with the genre, are those tracks, such as the ones by Tangle Eye and Moby, that simply re-mix already existing blues pieces. While their work on these recordings provides an interesting frame for the original performance, it also acts to sanitize it. Gone is the gritty soul of the original and we are served a very pleasing but unchallenging song.

The other electronica extreme displayed here can be found in the tracks by Little Axe and Johnny Farmer. They feature entirely new recordings made specifically for these ultra-produced pieces. Again, while they are reminiscent of traditional blues, they seem to miss the heart of it.

Finally, right in the middle, we have tracks such as those by Mo’ Horizons and Organic Grooves. Their work features both live musicians and samples from old recordings.

The result is a very relaxing, even hypnotic, album. It can easily slip away from the listener’s conscience attention as the synthesizers and drum machine rhythms loll along. If you are a fan of electronica and are intrigued by a slightly different twist on the often frantic nature of that style, you will probably greatly enjoy this album. On the other hand, if you are a devotee of historic and more modern blues music, the collection here will likely disappoint.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Book Review: Unfit Commander by Glenn W. Smith

OK, before I get to the book, did I mention why I actually started this blog? I wanted to be a contributor at Blogcritics.org. And now I am but one of the few requirements of membership is that I maintain a personal blog. So, I will be posting my reviews that I write for blogcritics here as well just to keep it going. And now, on to the review...

‘Tis the season for political punditry passing as books. In the ticker-tape tornado of tomes about the Texan, we now have Unfit Commander. Glenn W. Smith addresses the president's military record with the focus and intensity of a victim of OCD washing his hands for the fiftieth time. He admits a certain degree of narcissism when he says, “My own feelings about the issue are deeply personal.” The degree of relevancy of this perennial issue aside, it is unlikely that anyone that has been awake through this or the 2000 presidential campaign doubts that there is something questionable about George W. Bush’s appointment and subsequent performance in the Texas Air National Guard. But it is also apparent that, despite the fact that there are legitimate questions about his service, the voters are willing to overlook them both in Texas and in the nation as a whole.

The first chapter, and the only real writing done by Mr. Smith, is a long and rambling journey through Bush’s military past and his administration’s somewhat deconstructionist interpretation the documents related to it. He wanders in and out of his own narrative, reminding us that this is a right and good fight that he fights. He says, “the real reason for publishing Unfit Commander [is] because in the swirl of charge and counter charge, it is imperative that Americans not lose sight of the real question, which is, quite simply, How did George W. Bush choose to serve his country during the Vietnam era?” Chapter Two is entirely concerned with the White House press briefings relevant to the documents that have trickled down throughout 2004 regarding Bush’s military record. Finally, in Chapter Three, we are actually presented with the documents themselves. The reader can thumb through page after page of blurry and hard to read copies that chronicle, more or less, George’s brief and inglorious military career.

The facts are there. If it were not so before, this book makes it crystal clear that something was not completely fair about George W. Bush’s time in the military compared to that of any other young man of that time whose family was not rich and politically connected. But there is little to that. That is to say, this has been true throughout history and, fair or not, there is a degree of grudging acceptance of it by the voters. Nor is there anything new to the fact that the White House has tried to spin the story. There might have been a story here if the young George had turned down what was offered him then or if the White House now freely admitted that the obvious conclusions are also the right ones. All in all, though, Mr. Smith’s cry for truth is a weak one in the roaring whirlwind of spin and re-spin that crowds the shelves of the bookstores here at the end of this campaign season.

Friday, October 15, 2004

My default position

My dominate trait is depression. Have you seen many Ben Stiller films? You know the same character that he plays in every one of them, then, right? Furry, bent, dark and angry. I don’t find his films funny at all because I am that guy. All the slaps that life gives him make me wince while everybody else sniggers.

I don’t have a point that I’m leading up to, I just haven’t posted in a while and this is why. I very seldom have much to say except to complain and I don’t even complain in an entertaining way. So there it is.

My birthday was two days ago. Now, don’t start jumping to the obvious conclusion that I’m only saying these things because I have that depression that comes with this anniversary. You know, the melancholy that comes from reflecting on your life and realizing that you are so far off of the goal, that you can’t even remember what the goal was. The blue feeling that engulfs the anniversaried because they’ve passed another one year milestone and, if they died tomorrow, the world would not even notice their passing. No, those feelings don’t take me during the birthday days - they live with me all the time like noisy neighbors that I know will never move.

And I have met some life goals. I got my pilot’s license. Nothing to sneeze at, that. I am fully qualified to jump into a simple, single engine Cherokee and fly anywhere I want. Ho-hum. I haven’t exercised that right for 10 months. Mostly because of money, it’s an expensive hobby.

So, reaching goals doesn’t help. Or at least reaching that one didn’t. So now I’m chasing the dream of the book. I pound away at that thing like my life depends on it. And in a way it does. Not on the book per se, but on the idea that I have a plan to escape to that greener grass. If it wasn’t the book, it would be something else. But for now it’s the book.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Book Fair

I imagine that most writers that really want it, have a network of cheerleaders that believe that they have the next Stephen King in their midst and are eager to provide whatever advice and inspiration that they can. I certainly have my. My group of supporters is small but passionate. Among them is my older sister. Recently she emailed a link to me about a book fair that she thought I might be interested in. The website said, in part, “All throughout the day (10am-5pm), various publishers and distributors will have their tables set up…”

Well, this was a book fair and not a writers’ conference but I thought that, given this sentence, there might be something useful for me here. You see, according to what I’ve read and what I’ve been told, most conferences take place between April and September. I wasn’t ready to start thinking in this direction this summer so I didn’t look for a conference. They cost money, usually a few hundred just to attend. Then most are in big and distant cities so I’d have to pay to go and stay as well. That’s a healthy chunk of money in the end for a project that I’m still not even sure of. So, I stayed home and I wrote.

My understanding is that the point of conferences is twofold. One is for technical, nuts and bolts, advice on the publishing industry and writing and, for a few dollars more, even the piece that you are working on. That alone would be wonderful. But the other purpose is to put a horde of writers in a room with a horde of agents and publishers. Few deals are closed at these things but contacts are made. People network. I hate that word!

But I didn’t go to any. I stayed at home with my indecision and my laptop and here I am, nearing the end and I have no friends in the industry, no contacts that I’ve networked and schmoozed. I can send blind letters to agents but those have a pretty high failure rate.

Which brings us back to the book fair and that line. “Contacts,” I thought and happily headed out for it.

It was held in an Episcopal Church in St. Louis. When I walked through the door, I was hit in the face with the ripe smell of pot and body odor. This wasn’t your typical “I just went jogging” body odor. This was the well seasoned stink of somebody that hasn’t showered for days and using the laundry system of, “I’ll wash it when it walks to the washing machine and begs me.”

The main room was rather small and crammed with long folding tables. They were lined up wall to call and cover with pamphlets. OK, there were a few books but mostly pamphlets. On one table was a stack of Xerox copies that were stapled together and being sold for $1. There were a couple of proper publishers but they had manned their tables with hippy kids that wouldn’t have known how to buy my book. Besides, there wasn’t a bit of fiction to be found.

This was a book fair for the far left wing, “let’s legalize everything” crowd, certainly not the right venue for networking and contacts. I waded through the muck for a little while but eventually had to just leave.

Oh well, there’s another book fair at the end of October. Maybe this one will go better, y’think?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

A fool and his money

This morning I went to K-Mart to buy earphones. Why you ask? Well, the only pair that I have have that broken wire thing going on where you have to hold your head at a very particular neck stiffening tilt to keep a proper stereo sound in both ears. But, Bryce, you say, you’re not such a consumer that something like this would cause you to spend money? Get out your duct tape, man!

Well, there’re two issues that led to this purchase. The first has to do with writer’s block. While I don’t think that I’ve actually had this problem, and I’m not even sure it exists, I do occasionally get stuck for the right word or where to go next with my story. I have two ways of solving this. The first is to skip that part and go on. Usually whatever has escaped me will come later, often in the shower. I have no idea why, but most of my best ideas come to me while I am showering. Admittedly, this solution has led to a lot of discarded writing. If the solution doesn’t fit what I wrote when I skipped it, then I just have to throw that whole bit away. At the time it feels like wasted effort but a larger view tells me that I am just massaging the story and playing with the characters until I get it right. My second solution for being stuck, and the one I most often use is to go somewhere else, physically, I mean. I find another venue. One of my favorites is a coffee shop here in Cape Girardeau called Grace’s Café. They serve all of the cappuccino type drinks as well as pastries in the mornings and sandwiches and soups the rest of the day. It’s a nice place and usually by the time I’ve ordered my coffee and found a seat and gotten started up, the ideas are flowing again. I wrote a great deal of the first draft of my novel in that store. Then The Mouth came. I’m not sure when he first showed up; he gradually crept into my consciousness. He’s a loud talker. There is nowhere to sit in Grace’s that is safe from his inane babble. And he now comes every morning. He and his friends, none of which I can hear talking, sit and chat every single morning of the week in there. He ruined the place for me. I thought the headphones, plugged into my lap top which has about five hours of George Winston loaded into it, might save me from his blather. We’ll see. The other reason that I bought these headphones is that I have got to start working out. There’s a new gym in town. It has these neat little computer screens at most machines. You sit at the machine, type in your id and it tells you where you had the seat, how much weight you used and how many reps you did the last time you used it. That’s pretty cool! But you have to go through an individual orientation process to use it. I had mine this morning. It turns out that that cardio machines all have earphone plugs. You can plug in and listen to one of the six tvs running on the wall. I’ve tried reading on those things and I just can’t do it. And they are boring so, having these headphones will allow me to workout and not be bored to tears. Maybe I will stick with it this time.

So, I bought headphones. But that’s not my point. I bought a pair for fifteen dollars that are actually earplugs that shove deep into the ears. The package said “maximum isolation,” see The Mouth above. I used my ATM card to pay for it and, at the same time, took $20. I went to my car, stopping on the way to throw away the bag they gave me. Usually I tell the cashier that I don’t need a bag but I didn’t today. Then I drove to Grace’s to get a cup of coffee - to go, see The Mouth above. I pulled into the parking lot behind the café and went to grab the $20 bill. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t in my wallet, my pocket, in the seat, under the seat, down the crack beside the seat. It wasn’t there. Even while I searched these places I knew where it was: in the trash can, with the bag. And it was an open trash can. Anybody walking by could see it and grab it if the wind didn’t take it. So, I got in my car and drove back to K Mart. By now it had been about 20 minutes since I’d left the store. But when I got there, there was my money, perched on top of the trash! I retrieved it and still had time to grab my coffee and make it to work exactly on time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

In the beginning...

... was the blog and the blog was good.

It seems an arrogant thing, to presume to post my thoughts and feelings in this public forum. But then it’s not really public, is it? People will have to seek me out and, being that I’m not much of a salesman, I doubt that many will find their way here.

Unless, that is, my book is a hit. At this point I can’t even imagine such a thing. I hope that someday I call this up and smile at the memory. But for now, being called an author is only something that I aspire to. It is a dream that is all consuming to me. Since I first had the idea of my book last December, I have done little else with my spare time.

My idea began with the line from Macbeth: “By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes.” (By the way, if you haven’t read “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury, do yourself a favor and find a copy.) My thought was to build a story for the character, the Second Witch, who says this. And so I did. I spent a couple of months at the library researching Scotland of the period and reading Holinshed. That was completely fascinating and I still pick up H just for reading enjoyment. Those histories are just packed with fascinating stories. If the day comes that I can make a living writing novels, I will turn to this source when I’m looking for new ideas.

Anyway, I began writing in earnest in late February or March 2004. I frantically wrote the whole thing, beginning to end. I finished sometime in May, I think. During this first writing, I refused to let myself think about anything but the story. If a question of grammar or fact came up, I simply changed the text to red and made a note to myself to look it up later.

So, I got the story down. Then the rewrite began and that has proven to be the hardest and most time consuming part. To begin with, I decided that the first chapters moved rather slowly. It seems that’s a common thing. I read advice from a published author that said when you get done with your novel, whatever is happening with it, dump the first chapter. I dumped the first ten or so. This created huge holes in the character’s story that I’ve used to provided a sense of tension. She doesn’t know what’s come before but knowledge of her past is slowly revealed. This is the tension that leads to the climax of the book. Given all of that, the second draft became more than just a rewrite, it became a re-creation. I’m still in the midst of that stage but when I emerge, I will emerge with the completed book as I am not moving to the next chapters until I am satisfied with the current one. I’m working on Chapter 22 now and expect around 30.

Next, I have to find an agent and get it published. Not something I’m looking forward to. Honestly, what I most want to do is to get started on the next book. I have a few ideas clunking about in my head that I want to explore.

All the while I keep my full time job. I work for Spartech Plastics. My title is Credit Manager – Western region. My function is whipping boy for the accounting and sales department. There’s little of interest here so I won’t spend much time on the bills paying aspect of my life.