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? 

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Cutpurse Code is Free to Download this Thursday-Friday

My novel, The Cutpurse Code, about a bunch of would-be thieves in a Europe that never was, is available to download for free from Amazon this Thursday-Friday. It's my first official novel (of 4), though the last one published since I was scared to read it again after all these years. After a few months of revisions I decided to publish it along with the others, mostly to see if I could get a few readers. No one had even seen this work before I let it go (which is a very scary thing). I've gotten some good reviews on Inkitt (where I published a few chapters simultaneously), but only one brief review of the book on Goodreads (which said "good, but hard to get into" basically). So anxious to see if I can scrounge up a few more readers to see if the novel needs more work, or is ready to carve a small niche for itself in the vast ocean of indie fantasy novels.

Here's the link for the book, and the blurb and First Chapter follows below as a preview. Download it for free if it interests you, or pay a whopping 99 cents once the sale ends! Here's the link:

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where Did the Scores Go? Can Movies Survive Without Music?

As a life-long fan of classical music from all periods, I’ve always been drawn to film music—and indeed, I inherited my love of classical music from film music. I cut my teeth on John Williams’ scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T., which provided me the basic musical vocabulary for encountering and appreciating composers such as Strauss, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Schoenberg, and so many others—and some without ‘S’’s. The richness of the orchestration, as well as the glorious melodies that seemed to emerge from the characters’ own thoughts and situations, moved me to the core, and helped me ‘see’ similar psychological richness in abstract music such as a four-movement, hour-long symphony. In fact, film music made me question whether there really is such a thing as ‘abstract’ music, since everything has its own story—you just have to find it (for yourself, mostly). Moving from film music backwards was probably the best musical education I could have received, and I attained it early: the first music I ever purchased (or had purchased for me) was the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back in the very early eighties. A handful of years later I was listening to The Rite of Spring and Shostakovich’s Fifth. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Do Great Books Grow Old? Or Do We Just Forget How To Read Them?

A few days ago, the BookBub blog posted an article entitled “12 Books We Should Stop Making High Schoolers Read”, which you can find here:

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to this list, since I teach high school students—that is, high school students who suddenly find themselves first-year college students at a small regional university in Oklahoma. They haven’t magically transformed from twelfth grade to year one of college; they’re still the same students who (largely) don’t like to read or write, and (mostly) have avoided reading as much as possible. When ordering books for a prospective class, I always think, “oh, can they really read book X? Isn’t it too hard? Will they stick with it? Can I possibly make them see the big ideas here? Shouldn’t I try something easier or more modern?” So on the face of it, this list is an honest admission that students hate reading, so why not at least try to meet them on their own terms? What’s wrong with switching out Moby Dick with The Martian? (though I’ve got to think alliteration had something to do with this switcheroo, since they have almost zero in common). If high school students bitch about reading A Tale of Two Cities, why not substitute I am Malala, a non-fiction book by a brave woman who is admittedly not a writer and had a professional writer help her along (which doesn’t exactly compare to Dickens, one of our greatest writers of novels). But hey, if it gets students reading, why the hell not? Reading is reading, and all reading is good. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Heralding Hanson's Symphonies on Amazon

Review of Howard Hanson: Complete Symphonies by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle SO:

I own all these recordings on the original cds, which are scuffed up and barely play without skips and distortion, so it was wonderful to see them repackaged in a bargain set like this. Schwarz's recordings of Hanson are glorious and first turned me onto this glorious repertoire 20 years ago. Thanks to a generation or two of Serialism and its numerous proponents, great composers like Hanson were basically blacklisted from concert life, their works seen as quaint, reactionary throwbacks to an earlier age. Yet Hanson went on composing (as well as teaching future generations of musicians), developing in his own, quiet, original way based on the models of past masters. While Hanson might fit strangely in the hierarchy of 20th century American composers, he will be welcomed by anyone who enjoys the work of Samuel Barber of Nicholas Flagello. Yet to my mind, Hanson is the greater master, as he unapologetically wrote in an "old" style and found so many new things to say. His Seven Symphonies are minor masterpieces just a step behind the great Seven of Sibelius (whom he is musically a student of), and his musical thumbprint is recognizable after a handful of notes. The combination of distinct melodies, superior craftsmanship, and dazzling orchestration, mark out Hanson's music every time. Hanson's music speaks of wide-open vistas on the Northern plains; of long, forgotten struggles among people who were often serious, but never sober; and of a boundless optimism that may have immigrated from another land but remains firmly, and defiantly, American.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Seven Voyages of Sibelius: An Appreciation of His Symphonic Cycle

About a hundred years ago, when symphony orchestras still drew large—and young!—audiences, Sibelius’ music featured on many programs, particularly his series of romantic-modernist symphonies. Not since Beethoven and Brahms was a composer’s voice so naturally attuned to symphonic thought, yet without making the listener feel the heavy lifting of contrapuntal development and sonata form. Like his contemporary, Gustav Mahler, Sibelius began with both feet planted firmly in the late Romantic period, yet with each symphony, he ventured further afield into the thickets of Modernism—on his own terms. Sadly, though his music is still often played by orchestras around the world, the average listener knows little of his music beyond orchestral hits like Finlandia, Valse Triste, or an excerpt from a longer suite, The Swan of Tuonela. His symphonies are often seen as derivative of Brahms or Tchaikovsky by some, while others find them too thorny or difficult (particularly the later ones). Many people would much prefer to hear something more familiar and toothsome and call it a night. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

From the Vaults of the Imagination: The Forgotten Short Stories of Clark Ashton Smith

Clark Ashton Smith is a name that exists at the periphery of science fiction and fantasy lore, a name often evoked but rarely read. He is sometimes dismissed as an imitator of Lovecraft; at other times, as a writer whose exotic, hot-house prose often carried him away from his subjects. Yet the titles of his numerous short stories are too tempting to leave to second-hand wisdom: works like “The City of the Singing Flame,” “The Dark Eidolon,” and “Ubbo-Sathla” remind me of long-lost AD&D campaigns and hidden, forgotten evils buried in the appendix of the Fiend Folio. There’s some truth to this, as without Clark’s stories, so much of the modern fantasy mythos would cease to exist. Along with Lovecraft and Tolkein, Smith’s stories were mined for their outlandish visions of Atlantean worlds and unspeakable terrors. What others left behind was Smith’s unique language—he is unparalleled as a crafter of prose in fantasy writing—and his ability to create tension and twist endings. Smith excelled at the short story, and a 10-page tale from Smith often contains more beauty, wonder, and mystery than many a thousand-page tome making lavish promises on its book jacket.