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. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Fiction of Real Life: Shostakovich’s Testimony

One of the most fascinating literary documents of 20th century music has to be the alleged memoirs of Dimitri Shostakovich, known as Testimony in English translation. The book has inspired intense debate since its publication in 1979 (when the USSR remained firmly in existence) with a reputation that has waxed and waned ever since. The story is simple: Solomon Volkov, then a young musicologist in Leningrad, befriended the great composer Dimitri Shostakovich. Over  period of time they became more intimately acquainted, and according to Volkov, Shostakovich began reluctantly revealing details of his private life and thoughts. Volkov recorded these in succeeding interviews, until Shostakovich became more loquacious, eventually writing out long passages himself. Volkov smuggled the manuscript out of the USSR with the promise not to publish them until after the composer’s death. Shostakovich died in 1976, and Volkov found eager interest in the West for the uncensored memoirs of a much-loved and much-persecuted Soviet composer. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Doodling On Your Drafts

A book is a precious object. Though mass-produced, each one is unique, with its own slight imperfections, all the more so if purchased used. What book lover hasn’t delighted in the unique smell of a book: the deep, husky smell of a used book, or the sharp, bright smell of a book straight off the press? Furthermore, books can be easily personalized by the reader: his or her name can be inscribed at the front, pages can be dog-eared or marked up, or they can become notepads, recording forgotten phone numbers and irrelevant doodles. They can be given to friends or passed down through the generations. To place books in a bookshelf is no different than placing original artwork in a frame. It’s meant to be admired and observed as well as read. Books are objects and adornments; they are some of the most original works of art. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Art For the Sake of Sanity

Artists have always held a precarious position in society, being seen paradoxically as truth tellers and outright liars. Plato feared the power of poets (writing in The Republic) and most totalitarian regimes target artists and writers exclusively as ‘trouble makers’ and dissidents. In Soviet Russia under Stalin, the arts were ruthlessly manicured by cultural watchdogs so that no artist could apply a single brushstroke or write a single word without looking over his or her shoulder.

Monday, June 20, 2016

FREE for 2 days: The Winged Turban

Please download, share, read, and review my novel, The Winged Turban, which has been floundering on Amazon since September. I'm desperately trying to get some reviews for the book, since without reviews, no one really sees the book--or if they do, they figure it's just some silly self-published book (which it is, but still...) 

Click here for the Amazon page and preview the book, or simply roll the dice and download it for free:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Be Derivative and Find Yourself

Here’s the best writing advice I can offer any writer just starting out: be derivative. Don’t try to “find your own voice.” Don’t think about world building or unique characters or unknown alien races. Don’t develop your own plucky narrative style that announces ‘you’ on every page. And don’t do something shocking to set the world on fire. Instead, do  what your favorite authors do. Mimic their style, their characters, their narrative, even their plots. Don’t steal—and definitely don’t plagiarize. But emulate, copy, pose, ape, and mimic. There will be time to be original and groundbreaking later. However, if you really want to be a writer (rather than someone who just sells books) you have to go through the all-important stage of mimicry necessary to create great art—or just books worth reading. It’s the most important way to “write what you know.” You know?