Sunday, January 8, 2017

Would You Rather Read or Play a Novel?

In an old episode of Star Trek: Voyager (“Future’s End, Part I,”: Season 3, 1996), the crew travels from the 24th century to late 20th century Earth, there to encounter the wonders of ‘modern’ civilization, including soap operas. As Neelix (the crew’s cook) tries to explain the intricacies of a specific episode, Ensign Harry Kim is puzzled, remarking “how strange to watch a story you don’t interact with.” He is of course referring to the Holodeck, where the crew literally becomes part of their favorite stories, be it Beowulf or a desperate defense of the Alamo. In the 24th century, stories are meant to be lived in and through—not as passive intellectual entertainment. In a sense, it is the ultimate merging of literature and video games, where classic stories can be re-lived and re-imagined, a basic story template upon which a ‘reader’ can play different roles that lead to unexpected outcomes. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Giacchino's Rogue One: A Soundtrack Story

Many people were understandably upset (myself included) when we learned that John Williams would not score Rogue One, though he thankfully remains committed to Episode VIII, and we assume, IX. After all, there has never been a Star Wars installment without Williams, from the familiar fanfare to the trademark themes and leitmotifs. But Rogue One always set out to be something different, not part of the trilogy proper, but an addendum, showing us the behind-the-scenes work that led to the heroics of Luke, Han, and Leia. To add to our collective confusion, the composer tapped to provide this installment, Alexandre Desplat, was replaced at the last minute with the uber-busy film composer, Michael Giacchino, fresh off his magnificent score for Doctor Strange. If we believe the press, Giacchino had a mere four weeks to score the entire film—no laughing matter for an epic that spans over two hours of screen time. However, I wonder whether or not that was simply to lower expectations for the score and deflect criticism of a non-Williams work? Either way, what we hear in the film—and on disc or MP3—are simply the notes, no matter how they were composed. After all, Mozart wrote the famous overture to Don Giovanni in the hours before its first performance, and his even more famous Symphony No.36 in a week. So why not a film score in four? 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Musical Mount Everest: 36 Hours and 104 Symphonies With Joseph Haydn

One of the most daunting tasks in classical music is navigating the symphonic output of Joseph Haydn, the so-called “father” of the symphony. For most composers, the symphony is the most august, serious, philosophical statement one can make in music. A symphony is like a four-act play, with each act/movement capturing something of the struggle of being human, or of contemplating the divine. Even a light-hearted symphony is written ‘big,’ for the gargantuan modern symphony orchestra (often over one hundred players strong) and made to sound like the entire universe is singing. For this reason, many composers wait until middle-age to tackle a symphony, if only because the greatest composers are in their rear-view mirror, seeming hoarding the best themes, structures, and innovations. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

FREE to Download this Friday-Saturday: The Count of the Living Death

This Friday-Saturday you can download my second novel for FREE, a comic gothic-fantasy novel following the exploits of a pampered count, an eccentric magician, a no-nonsense countess-to-be, a mysterious half-brother, and a menacing chest which hides unspeakable terrors under three magic locks. It's not quite as serious as it all sounds (or is it?), and it makes for a quick, enjoyable read, especially for those who enjoy books like The Hobbit, The Princess Bride, and the great comic-Gothic book that started it all, The Castle of Otranto.

Click on the link to download the book on your Kindle or Kindle app:

Or, click "read more" below to sample the first three chapters...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Revolutionary Rhino of Venice

In 1751, the Venetian painter, Pietro Longhi, created one of his most unusual works: a painting of fashionable spectators gawking at a rhinoceros. In an age before zoos (or at least humane ones), Europeans had little opportunity to see the wondrous diversity of biological life, relying instead of fanciful books by unreliable travelers. So you can imagine their delight to see a real Indian rhino in the flesh, part of a tour that was sweeping across Europe. The rhinoceros in question made quite a footnote in history: her name was Clara, captured as an infant by a Dutch captain in 1738. He took care of her for a time, but eventually sold her to someone with an entrepreneurial eye. Clara made the grand tour of Europe, spending several months in all the major capitals. By the time she made it to Venice, Clara was nearing the end of her life, though her final stop would be in England, where she died in 1758. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

You Are What You Read: How The Power of Myth Showed Me The “Penultimate Truth”

In my Critical Responses to Poetry course, we were discussing theories of identity in literature, and how literature not only expresses/records the world around us, but consciously shapes it by the very act of description. That is, people read these works and then imitate them, making a second-hand version of life into a performance of life itself. In Chapter 8 of his book, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, he writes,

“Literature has not only made identity a theme; it has played a significant role in the construction of the identity of readers...Literary works encourage identification with characters by showing things from their point of view. Poems and novels address us in ways that demand identification, and identification works to create identity; we become who we are by identifying with figures we read about” (113). 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Debt of Authorship: And Who Has To Pay?

What does an author owe to his or her readers? A book, certainly. But beyond that, does the contract between writer and fan demand any further obligation? For example, what about a real name? We all know that many authors opt for a pen name, some as simple as J.K. Rowling, while others create a completely false identity to throw off the scent in case he/she has a respectable day job which might be threatened by purple prose and exotic sex scenes. And some authors, of course, switch genders in the fear that boys won’t read books by girls—or vice versa. At the same time, it’s become customary to feature a glossy head shot of the author on the back flap of the book, assuring us that the author has brains and looks. Who wants to read a book by a total fright, after all?