Monday, November 30, 2009

Fiction Mondays: NaNoWriMo Is Done!

Well, today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month, and I'm DONE! Well, by "done," I mean I have 50,000 words, and the beginning (probably the first half or so) of a novel draft. It might be closer to 2/3 of the novel, depending on how quickly the ending happens, but we'll see. I'm going to keep working on this draft, because I really feel like I've gotten to know the characters, and I'm excited to see how it pans out. Massive rewrites will happen eventually, but today I'm going to just bask in the accomplishment of getting so much done in a month. November has been long and difficult. I'm looking forward to December.

I'm currently reading "Pictures at a Revolution," which I will write more about soon. But for now: go read this book. If you're into film history, it's an essential read, full of stories about classic Hollywood and the changes that brought the "Film School Brats" to such prominence in the 1970s. Think of it as a kind of prequel to "A Decade Under the Influence."

And now, I'm off to Christmas shop for Cyber Monday!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Musical Wednesdays: Home for the Holiday

Thanks to Dan Lehr, another Rainy September participant I follow on Twitter, I found out about the band Home, an early 90s band that I would probably classify as lo-fi if I was trying to say what they sound like. Their first eight albums, released on cassette tapes and not widely distributed, have now been released as the Home Box Set (also available on iTunes and Amazon), and you should definitely go out and buy it. It's only 15.95, and contains 95 songs, so it's a great value and a really excellent collection.

The first time I heard their songs, my main thought was that it was really familiar, for a band I had never even heard of, and I think it's because a lot of my favorite bands adopted a similar sound, as well as the incorporation of random clips of other sounds into their music (I'm thinking of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Mountain Goats specifically). I think that the band's name is really apt, because listening to the collected tapes is a really welcoming experience, songs you can put on and kind of disappear into.

The tapes also feature some awesome and unexpected covers--Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and AC/DC's "Thunderstruck"--that show a really fun side of the band, and to me they seem like songs that might have just been run through in rehearsals to such success that they made the album. The lo-fi version of "Thunderstruck" is especially strange (and I mean that in a good way), because I have to confess I really love AC/DC, and it's awesome to see them get some attention from indie rock.

And, unlike some other early 1990s lo-fi bands, Home is still around. Still playing shows, in fact. No ten-year hiatus for them. Over on Dan's blog, he has a lot of clips of live shows that I really recommend checking out. They have a ton of albums in addition to the Box Set, and they maintain a very funny blog. So check them out. And if you've got a long drive or flight ahead of you for Thanksgiving, the Box Set will make a great soundtrack for that trip.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! No post on Friday, but I'll see you all again on Monday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fiction Mondays: Full-Circle

Well, I've done it. I got through Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," my sanity intact. The ending was crazy, very fast paced (but he still had time for allusions to Isaac and Abraham and the Tarot, as well as Kabbala) and it ended in a very similar way to how it started, with a screaming coming across the sky. I still haven't one-hundred percent cycled through my thoughts about it, but I am glad I read it and I'm glad to move on. In comparison to reading Pynchon, anything else is easy. Well, almost anything else. I'm reading "Pictures at a Revolution," which I'm getting through really quickly. Expect a post on that soon, but not too soon (December will be focused on holidays, I'm thinking).

In writing news: the onslaught that is November will be over soon. My big projects are coming to a close (both NaNoWriMo and real-world projects), and I'm looking forward to the clearing out that will occur on December 2nd. It feels strange to have so many things wrapping up at once--graduate school applications included--and it will be a very welcome break. What will I do with my time, besides returning to a sane daily pace and blogging before 6pm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? Well, like I mentioned earlier, Chanterelles will not be done, not in my opinion, by the end of the month, so I'll probably wrap up a draft of that. Everything has its trajectory set (I need to get out of rocket-thinking soon. I blame Pynchon.) and the ending will be interesting. But in a short amount of time, I've grown attached to these characters. I'll be sad to see this draft end. But it's never over, is it?

What else? Editing my previous manuscript, maybe returning to work on my Zeppelin story. I'm trying to decide on a title for that one. How about "To Be a Rock, and Not to Roll"? Or "Houses of the Holy"? I also got a very strange idea for a story--I don't know how I'd categorize it, because right now it's literally a sentence and a line of dialogue in my notebook, but maybe I'd call it a fable. Or it might be some kind of horror story. I really don't know. I won't reveal too much, but the idea is really calling out to me and I'm excited to see where it goes.

Well, I'll see you all on Wednesday. I think the post might be about the band Home, who I started listening to recently.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday, but not Films

Just a quick post today.

If you're looking to see some great art, head over to the brand new website of Allison Mosher and check out her work! The painting above is a quick preview, a work called "Gemini" that hangs above my bed. Head on over, take a look!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fiction Mondays: Halfway?

Well, November is halfway over, which means that so is National Novel Writing Month. I'm right at my word count goal, over 25,000 with half of the month left to go, and I can come to a conclusion I arrived at before this thing even started: 50,000 words is nowhere near long enough to constitute a fully-formed novel, at least the way I write. Now, that is not to say I think the month (so far) has been a bust in any way--the opposite, in fact--it tells me that my idea, "Chanterelles," needs more room to breathe than 50,000 will allow. Here's the thing: the story is about forming a band, recording and album, and heading out on tour. That's the first part, and the second part is the unraveling of that band (not in the usual ways bands tend to fall apart, bickering and bloated, in that kind of story, just so you know).

But here's the problem: in the first 25,000 words, a band has formed. It took a lot of people figuring out how this was going to work, making deals and poaching members of other bands, to form the thing in the first place. And while that's coming along, the protagonist has his own things going on, plus there needs to be enough that the lead singer is not just the lead singer, but a three-dimensional character. She needs to write a song (she has), but she also needs to understand the nature of the business--and of the current trends in music that she's up against (see my earlier post, re: the schizophrenia of pop music in 1966). So this is all happening before they step into the studio.

So here is what I'm saying: unless I gloss over huge sections, there is no way this thing is going to fit into 50,000 words. When I'm working on a longer piece, I am a hybrid of the type of writer who plans things and the type who wings it. I love setting up a lot of pieces in the beginning to see how they are going to play out in the second half. That discovery, that moment where I understand how things from that first half are going to fit together or come apart in the end, is one of my favorite parts of writing. I know roughly what happens in the second half--very roughly--but it's the discovery of why that might happen, or the way it does, that excites me.

Here is how I see the rest of the month playing out: I'm going to get to 50,000 words, but I do not expect the last two to be "The End." I will just keep writing, keep on setting things up so that at the moment things turn, I know exactly how the characters are going to react. There is a very good chance that the 50,000 word mark will be right in the middle of that section, where everything makes sense and I can begin to see the final parts, but no, my 50,000 words will not be anything but a beginning. And I think that's okay: if the goal of this enterprise is to force you to just get that draft out, I will be on the path to doing that, and too wrapped up in it to slow down. To me, that will mean it's been a successful month.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Films: I Want to See "Up in the Air"

George Clooney is a very busy guy this fall--between "The Men Who Stare at Goats," "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," and "Up in the Air," he is possibly the most-employed person in Hollywood right now. I want to see "Fantastic Mr. Fox"--I can see the stop-motion model, which requires excessive attention to detail, being a really good fit for Wes Anderson, whose attention to detail is sometimes detracts from the rest of the movie ("Darjeeling Limited"? Great design and a terrible script.), but last weekend, during the "Mad Men" season finale, they showed the preview for "Up in the Air," and that one has moved to the top of my list.

It's a new movie by Jason Reitman, who directed "Juno" and "Thank You For Smoking," and it seems to be in the same spirit as the latter: a miserable bastard of a character finding redemption. Or not. The movie is about Clooney's character, who flies around the country firing people. And Zach Galifianakis is in it. And Jason Bateman. Here's the long preview:

I have a good feeling about this movie. It's a great concept with a really strong writer and director, lead actor, and supporting actors. I like everyone involved with it. Both previews I've seen so far use a bit of a speech Clooney delivers about the weight of a life, and it struck me as a really interesting idea (some research tells me that the movie is based on a novel by Walter Kirn, who I have not read. Should I?). I hope this plays in East Stroudsburg (I'm talking to you, Pocono Community Theater) soon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musical Wednesdays: Dewey Decimal and the System

I'm taking this Musical Wednesday as an opportunity to plug a friend's band: Dewey Decimal and the System. A few reasons you should check this band out:

1. Their name. Go libraries!

2. Their album name: "O Pioneers!" is a Walt Whitman reference.

3. Their sound: when I heard them for the first time, I was reminded of the Band--they have a really great sound that I can't quite categorize, but they identify themselves as "Americana/Rockabilly/Country." I'd say that's a good start. They cover a great old Hank Williams song, "I Saw the Light," on their album, and the rest are really solid originals.

4. Their album design: the full Whitman quote ("Follow well in order, get your weapons ready/Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?/Pioneers! O pioneers!") is hidden behind the CD, which has the image of a pistol printed on it. It's extremely cool, and I just love the way it all works together, along with the photos of the whole band.

5. And finally, a little story:
A few weeks ago, the Pocono Community Theater, run by a member of the band, hosted an event called "Silent Films Set to Loud Music." The band played last, standing in front of the film "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Since it was Halloween, a group of very drunk, very slutty girls showed up. Two of them wandered onstage and proceeded to stay, for the entire set. Now, I have been drunk before, but I have never been wander-onto-the-stage-uninvited drunk. One, dressed as a slutty cop, tried to frisk every band member. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable for the audience, but the band just played their music. Two of them, the keyboardist and bass player, avoided these girls like they were plague-bearing (or, more likely, herpes-bearing) rats. I think if you can play "I Saw the Light" while morons invade your stage, it's a testament to your band.

So check them out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fiction Mondays: Button Classic

How is everyone doing? I’m very busy today, just a lot of things in the air. But the increasingly-misnamed Rainy September is winding down, and NaNoWriMo is chugging along (15,000-ish words. And some good ones in there!), and most importantly, graduate applications are coming together. So I’m going to go ahead and apologize for this post being short, but…well, it’s a busy day. They’re all busy days until Thanksgiving, I think. But stay tuned, because December will be appropriately holiday-themed. That's right, you can expect Musical Wednesdays about "Fairytale of New York" and Fiction Mondays about--well, that's a tough one. What are some great books that take place around the holidays?

But that doesn’t mean a reduction in posts (ignore the one I missed on Friday—I hadn’t seen any movies recently), it just means that the Short List is going to be right-sizing. Sorry, I had to use that one…my favorite corporate neologism of the day.

The article that links to seems like a joke from 30 Rock--not the article itself, just the way the CEO talks: "reduce our overall rent expense and lease-adjusted leverage and generate cash flow through sales and working capital reductions" sounds an awful lot like "Consuming Lunch and Simple Socializing" from the "Retreat to Move Forward."

"I don't know, I liked the old button."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Musical Wednesdays: Soundtrack for a Novel, Take Two

Okay, day four of NaNoWriMo and I am going strong. I am writing about pop music in the 1960s, and since starting, I've learned that pop music in that decade was, more than anything else, totally schizophrenic. You'd go from the Supremes to "Good Vibrations" to Johnny Rivers (of "Secret Agent Man" fame) in just over a month. The longest time anything spent at the top of the charts in 1966 was a four-week period where Frank and Nancy Sinatra had a duet in the number-one slot. So history gives one of my main characters, a record executive, a crisis. How do you sign the next big act if you have no idea what people are going to want in a week?

So in the spirit of the insane music of the 1960s, I'm expanding my playlist:

1. The Ronettes - Be My Baby
2. The Supremes - You Keep Me Hanging On
3. The Marvelettes - Twistin' Postman
4. The Crystals - He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)
5. 13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me
6. The Animals - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
7. The Beatles - Penny Lane
8. Beach Boys - Good Vibrations
9. Otis Redding - Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay
10. Janis Joplin - Piece of My Heart
11. Nancy Sinatra - These Boots Are Made For Walking
12. Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone
13. Pete Seeger - We Shall Overcome

This playlist will be expanded and revised as I go, but right now, this is the music that is acting as the soundtrack to writing right at this moment. I'm sure there are a million songs that capture the tumult and the sea changes going on in popular music and culture at the moment, so feel free to leave any suggestions!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fiction Mondays: NaNoWriMo

If you're a regular here, you may have noticed the new picture to the right. That's right: "Participant." This month, I'm really doing it. I am going to tackle the one-month novel. I've thought about doing it before, but this month I'm not chickening out. I've written a first draft of a first novel, and I am not afraid of writing another. I have an idea that I really love--the 60s girl group I mentioned a few months ago--and a really vague idea of where it's heading. I know my two main characters and (kind of) the plot trajectory--a band that disappears into America. A desperate attempt to beat Motown in the Billboard Charts. The idealism of the Monterey Pop festival and the impending doom of the end of the decade. I can do this.

Now, I know I have enough on my plate, with work and graduate school applications, and if I was to pick a month to force myself to write 50,000 words, I would probably not pick this one. But I think I need it. Other than the short story I've been working on, my writing output has not been great the past few weeks. It's time for an emergency injection of month-long writing insanity. To quote Buster Bluth, "This might be just the shot in the arm our relationship needs!" And to further quote Buster, "Unlimited juice? This party is going to be off the hook!" I just threw that one in there because it amuses me.

So here we go. When this posts, I will have been working for one day, and will hopefully have some messy, ill-thought-out words on the page. But for now, I'm assembling a writing soundtrack. More on this Wednesday, but it contains:

1. The Ronettes - Be My Baby
2. The Supremes - You Keep Me Hanging On
3. The Marvelettes - Twistin' Postman
4. Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run (yes, Wings. I know. But I like the story of a vanishing band, and it has ties to my plot.)

More on Wednesday. Happy Writing!