Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Respecting the Streak

"A player on a streak has to respect the streak. You know why? Because they don't happen very often. If you believe you're playing well because your getting laid or because you're not getting laid or because you're wearing women's underwear, then you are!"

--Crash Davis, Bull Durham

Sorry for the lack of content, folks, but at least the reason isn't bad! It is, though, the usual one: I am concentrating on the book. PRINC3SSES IN SPAC3 (not the actual title) is really cooking along now, and like Crash says in the movie, I have to respect the streak. The book is almost done -- another couple weeks oughta do it -- and the momentum is real. This past weekend I took four days off from work and cranked out nearly 8000 words in the book's big action set-piece.

I'm not doing a hiatus or anything, but content will be sparse 'round here until this draft is DONE and I can let out a sigh of relief. Thanks for hanging in, and we'll catch you on the flip side!

Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bad Joke Friday

Two fish are in a tank.

One fish turns to the other and says,

“How do we drive this thing??”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Something for Thursday

You know who hasn't been featured in this space in a long time? John Denver, that's who. So here's some John Denver.

(And if you don't like John Denver, you're wrong.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

That is NOT a pie!

Headline on Mashable.com:

Getting hit in the face with a pie will always be funny

But then they show this video of a kid playing a game called "Pie Face" with his grandfather. It's a game of chance where, if you lose, a dollop of whipped cream about two inches in diameter gets plopped onto your nose.

That is about as much getting hit in the face with a pie as those post-game baseball celebrations where the "pie" is a towel shmeared with shaving cream.

This is a pie. Get it right, America!

Thank you.

In other news, it's entirely possible that I have issues, and all the writing I've been doing is getting to my brain....

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Wanna go to Joe's?" "Ummm...I'm not sure I can get in there."

A video about a bar called Joe's Knight Hawk, in Waverly, IA:

This bar is located on a streetcorner very near the campus of Wartburg College. I spent a few nights there while attending that very school. I remember being there and trying to scramble out of the way of a fight that had just broken out; I remember the fine art of sneaking in when I was underage. You had to be 19 to get in, but if you timed it well, you could get in by just glomming onto a large group of people entering. They couldn't card 'em all, right? I remember playing a few performances with the jazz band in that bar, during which as an underage kid I learned the usefulness of the phrase, "I'm with the band." And I remember celebrating my roommate's 19th birthday -- or maybe it was his 20th? -- and at one point realizing that the girl I was sitting next to was kinda cute. That observation served me well, as six years and some change later I'd marry her.

Long live Joe's! (I wonder if they ever stopped serving wings with the tips still on? Always bugged me, as a right proper Buffalonian.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lord of Cups

More info here!

Here's hoping this thing, the King of Trophies, eventually finds a home here in Buffalo.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII.V: The Force Stretches And Turns On The Coffee Machine

I haven't said anything about the new trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens yet, so a few thoughts.

:: First, here's the trailer, just in case you somehow missed it.

:: A Star Destroyer and an X-Wing fighter, both wrecked on the desert planet which we're being told is not Tatooine. OK.

:: Voiceover from Luke Skywalker. Interesting. I wonder who he's talking to.

:: Vader's melted helmet, distorted to the point of looking skull-like. Again, interesting.

:: Lots of quick visuals. X-Wings in a combat configuration, but on a planet surface. Lots of new-ish stormtroopers standing beneath a flag we haven't seen before. Quick glimpses of the red lightsaber in action.

:: My favorite shot in this trailer? What looks like a TIE fighter just hovering above a landing bay, blasting everything in sight.

:: "Chewie, we're home." Oh yeah, babe. That helps a lot.

I've seen some commentary to the effect that "This trailer makes us feel like we're eight years old again!" I don't know about that, and even so, I'm not sure being transported back to that age is really possible. I think it's that expectation that partially caused people to elevate their desires to levels no film could match, not the least of which would be the three Prequel Trilogy movies. Besides, I don't want to be transported back to when I was eight.

And, as usual, any new bit of Star Wars news seems to bring out all the folks who want to sharpen their anti-Lucas axe at every opportunity. I almost dread new Star Wars stuff for that very reason.

But anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing this in December. It feels a bit odd, really, having new Star Wars on the way for which I have virtually no investment in terms of the characters or idea of what the story is doing. This is almost virgin territory for me!

A Casting Coincidence

I don't tend to spend a lot of time -- at all -- thinking about what real-life actors might play the roles in the inevitable movies which will be made from my books. First of all, I don't want to get locked down in my head to a single look or voice, and second, well...that's the writer's equivalent of the kid with the bat stepping up to home plate on an empty neighborhood field and saying to himself, "It's the bottom of the ninth. Game seven of the World Series. Timmy steps up...."

But like all rules, I don't follow this one specifically, and there are two roles in the Forgotten Stars books that I have mentally filled with specific actors. One is the stern, business-like, and highly competent Lieutenant Penda Rasharri, who serves as an unplanned mentor to Princess Tariana Osono, giving the Princess her first lessons in what it is to be a Stardancer. I'm not sure why, but the actor I've always had in my mind as playing Rasharri is Taraji P. Henson.

But here's something weird: via SamuraiFrog's blog, I literally just learned -- after loving Henson's work on Person of Interest for the first three seasons -- that the 'P' in her name stands for Penda.

(And who is the other character for whom I've had a specific face in mind? Hmmmm...any guesses. folks who have read Stardancer?)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Something for Thursday: In remembrance of the Shoah

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Daughter has, this past week, watched Schindler's List in school. I don't know if this is because of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or if it's a coincidence that their study of the WWII and the Holocaust period happened to line up with today. Schindler's List is a favorite film of mine, a deeply human testament to the evil that can arise out of simple human nature and the good that can also arise out of the same thing. What begins for Schindler as an easy way to make money over time becomes a mission to save as many lives as he can, and he's never even aware of the shift; there's no moment when he sits down and says, "I am going to save them." He just...does. By the time his mission has become humanitarian, all the Nazis around him are so utterly convinced of his skill as a businessman that it never even occurs to them that he's not making money and that he is literally buying their lives.

Likewise, the film's flip side is the staggering banality of its evil. Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), kills sometimes because he is enraged and sometimes because he clearly loathes the Jews, but other times, he is shown killing because he has nothing else to do. He's up one morning and shooting Jews with his rifle and then he leans back to pop his spine a few times and then he shoots a few more and then he goes to the bathroom and so on. Much has been written over the years of how the Nazis managed to elevate their evil to industrial levels, and no scene establishes that in this movie quite so well as the scene when Goeth is ordered by Berlin to have his men dig up the mass graves and cremate the bodies instead. The shots here are jaw-dropping in their horrific nature: giant piles of bodies being set aflame, and a conveyor belt thing being used to drag them from the carts and dump them on the pyre. A horrified Oskar Schindler arrives on the scene, and Goeth turns to him and says in the tone of an annoyed and overworked office worker, "Can you believe this? As if I don't have enough to do, they come up with this?" That's when it hits me, in this movie: the Nazis didn't just make one of the most egregious evils of all time into an industry. They made it people's jobs. People showed up to work, punching a clock and bitching about their workloads at lunchtime, to kill six million Jews.

Here is the scene where the war has ended and Schindler, technically a fugitive, must go on the run. It's my understanding that this did not happen in history. I don't care.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Hey folks! Yup, another blogging slow-down. Work at The Store is calming back down a bit, so that's good, but what isn't calming down is Princesses III, which is now starting to really get into the meat of the climactic bits. And that's great! But most of my writing fire is going there right now, and rightly so. Bear with me!

(In a procedural note, I'm thrilled to see that this third book is markedly different in tone and style and content from the second, which was likewise different from the first. I seem to be avoiding the trap of basically telling the same story three different times, and I'm deepening the mysteries and broadening the canvas each time out. Structurally, I'm hoping for each book to tell a slightly bigger story than the previous one, until by the end of the series, I've got a Galactic Epic going. We'll see how that goes, but that's the foundational idea, at least.)

Anyway, here's a picture. This is a large-ish (about a foot tall) action figure of Han Solo that we're selling at The Store. It looks, as I think you'll agree, almost nothing like Harrison Ford. Problem is, it does look like somebody.

OK, who does this Han Solo figurine resemble? 'Cause it ain't Harrison Ford. #StarWars

Who does this figure look like, folks?

(And note the Disney branding....)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Stuff

Oddities and amusements for your Sunday pleasure....

:: Hmmmmm:

The man behind me in the queue was trying to be helpful: “It’s true, though, right? They are used as weapons in Asia. I go there a lot and I’ve seen them do it—they’re lethal.” He made a sudden gesture, like Spiderman throwing a web.

I was torn between asking this stranger to unpack his astonishing assertion and trying to prevent the airport security guard from unpacking my luggage. I resolved the impasse by laughing nervously, which had precisely the wrong effect. The security guard studied me suspiciously. “You’ll have to come with me, sir.”

What weapon did this guy try bringing on a plane? Would you believe...a yo-yo?

:: Why Sherman was right to burn Atlanta.

:: New research methods have resulted in Shakespeare's output going up. Wow. Of course, I'm afraid that if they ever study my stuff, the conclusion will be, "Wow, this dude stole from everything!" Because I did, and do. Im shameless.

More next week!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Answers, the third!

So, continuing to play catch-up with questions asked two months ago, reader Josh asks this:

What are your thoughts on the Star Wars Clone Wars CGI TV series? Do you think they improved the Prequels?

I really hate this question, but not because it’s a bad question. I hate it because it forces me to make an embarrassing admission: I’ve only watched three episodes of The Clone Wars thus far. And that’s just stupid, because (a) I’m a Star Wars fan; (b) I’ve heard all kinds of good things about the series; and (c) the individual episodes are only twenty-two minutes apiece, so it’s not like I don’t have time. I just end up doing other stuff, be it reading or writing or whatever.

I know, this answer is terrible. I’ve been impressed by the three episodes that I have seen; even that small number gives an idea of big places that show wanted to go, and I do intend to start watching them more faithfully. Sometimes I’m just not that good at being a geek.

Next up, Roger starts asking stuff. Let’s go!

Are you Charlie Hebdo? 

Yes. The notion of violently attacking, by any means, anyone at all for voicing dissenting views even in an offensive way is staggeringly appalling.

And I think it very much worth noting that one of the police officers on the scene, and killed for his trouble, was a French Muslim of Arabic descent.

Thinking about Mario Cuomo: rank the governors of New York State in your lifetime, and a little about why. Heck, if you want to add the governors BEFORE your lifetime (the Clintons, the Roosevelts), feel free!

My lifetime? That goes back to 1971, and we didn’t move to New York State until 1981. I’ll only rank the ones whose administrations I have any functional knowledge of, and in all honesty...I’m not really in love with any of these guys, Mario Cuomo included. Cuomo the Elder was a brilliant speaker, but he was a wonderfully eloquent voice for liberalism at a time when liberalism was at its lowest ebb since the 20s, and the political nature of New York State is such that he really couldn’t push those policies quite as well as I might have liked. Not one of these Governors has thus far been able to put the brakes on New York's decades-long outflow of population, for one thing, which I think exists mainly because Albany policy tends to be deeply skewed toward New York City and thus often creates a less-than-hospitable business climate to the places that are not New York City. Aside from that, there’s always been a sort of built-in dysfunction in Albany that does not show any signs of going away soon, even if they've at least figured out how to get the friggin' state budget done on time. (Seriously, for years it was an annual thing that the New York State budget was always late.) Ultimately, I honestly can't say I've ever really, really admired one of the governors during my life here.

Here’s how I’d rank these guys (and seriously, isn't New York, one of the bluest states and supposedly a stronghold of liberalism, about due to elect a woman to this office?!):

1. Mario Cuomo

2. Andrew Cuomo (And I am not a huge fan of Cuomo the Younger. His education policy is a tire fire, his actions in dealing with New York's legendary corruption are deeply disquieting, and even in matters of policy on which I agree with him -- guns being a good example -- there's just always something smarmy about the guy.)

3. George Pataki (We had twelve years of this guy? Really? Nobody better? You couldn’t come up with a blander flavor of Meh if you tried. He kept a sure and steady hand on the wheel, that's for sure. Never mind that the ship was anchored in port the entire time.)

4. David Paterson (I never had a feel for this guy. But I’m not sure he did, either. Every vibe I got from him screamed, “GAHHH get me out of this job!” I wonder why the hell he ever wanted to be the LG in the first place. It's a thankless, crappy job.)

5. Eliot Spitzer (So much promise, which he tossed aside for the stupidest of reasons. Ugh. I do, though, sometimes wish the same rules that apply to Republicans when they have sex scandals also applied to Democrats.)

ISIS had beheaded several of its captives, and immolated one. The videos can be found. Have you watched one (or more)? Why or why not?

I haven’t watched any ISIS videos, and I don’t intend to. I did watch one of the beheading videos from the post-Iraq invasion turmoil, years ago, and...well, one of those is enough. It wasn’t gory, really; you couldn’t really tell what was going on as these masked guys clustered around the poor victim. Lots of shouting and some screaming. Utterly horrific, obviously. And it’s a particularly cowardly evil, isn’t it? If you’re that certain in your religious fervor that what you’re doing has the backing of God himself, then why would you need to wear a mask while doing it?

It seems clear to me that the methods of execution are being selected for their shock factor and their ability to get attention. Just shooting the victim in the back of the head has little to no shock value, but beheading with a machete does. So does locking a person in a cage and setting it on fire. So does leading blindfolded victims onto the roof of a building and pushing them off.
I don’t want to end on so depressing a note, so one more:

What's the first rock/pop concert you ever attended?

This may sound bad, but...in reality, I suppose it would have to be the Trans Siberian Orchestra four or five years ago. Seriously. I’ve never been to an actual rock concert of any type, nor even a pop concert, really. I’m not sure why, to be honest; there are a lot of bands and artists that I would have liked (and would still like) to see in live performance. I suppose it’s mainly an issue of expense, ultimately; because of ticket prices, I’ve never much seen live music as a huge priority, except for Buffalo Philharmonic concerts. I did want to go see Neil Diamond when he was in town a couple weeks ago, but we weren't free that night, alas.

More to come!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bad Joke Friday

I want to get a job cleaning mirrors.

I mean, I could really see myself doing that.

Tank You Very Much

Is it ever OK for sports teams to lose on purpose?

I'm sure we'd all say, "Probably not". After all, there's a very real reason that gambling is strictly forbidden in baseball, and there's a very real reason one of the game's greatest players -- Shoeless Joe Jackson -- will likely never get in the Hall of Fame. It has to do with losing on purpose.

But is it OK for a team to be purposely assembled by management with the goal in mind of being bad?

Well...if you're in Buffalo, the answer is almost certainly a resounding "YES!!!"

Our NHL team in these parts, the Sabres, is virtually beloved. It's entirely possible that hockey fandom is a bigger thing here than football fandom, although I suspect that's because the Sabres had a brief period of being awesome eight or nine years ago while the Bills have been crappy for fifteen. But right now, the Sabres are awful. With one more loss, they will clinch the worst record in the NHL this season, and most fans here are fine with that.


Because the NHL Draft has not one but two astonishing prospects lined up to very likely go first and second in the first round. If the Sabres finish dead last, one of those two kids will end up playing in Buffalo. These guys (Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel) are referred to almost universally as "generational" players, the kinds of players who only tend to come along once every ten years or so. We're talking Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux territory here.

But why would the Sabres be interested in both of those guys if they finish dead last? Well, that's because the NHL does not do what the NFL and Major League Baseball do with their drafts. Those leagues slot their drafts strictly according to order of finish: the top pick goes to the team with the worst record, second pick to the second-worst, and so on, using various tie-breaker formulas to distinguish between teams with identical records. The NHL, instead, uses a lottery to determine the top pick, so this year (the lottery rules change next year, for some reason), the team that finishes dead last has only a 20 percent chance of picking first, that team is guaranteed to pick second if they don't get the top pick. Which means that the team finishing dead last is guaranteed one of these two amazing players, who are both the type of talent that hasn't resided in Buffalo in many moons, or maybe ever.

And the Sabres this year are bad. Really bad. Cataclysmically bad. Some sports people have determined that the Sabres are, statistically-speaking, historically bad. Ouch.

And they're this bad, this year, on purpose.

Is that wrong? Is it wrong for a sports team's management to purposely field an awful team?

Well, here's the thing: I don't think it is.

First of all, there's nothing new at all about this. In hockey terms, they call it "tanking", but a football team would likely refer to the phenomenon as "bottoming out"; you see it fairly often, when football teams whose rosters are aging and getting prohibitively expensive have a big purge of talent, resulting in a pretty bad team that has decided to go into "rebuilding mode". Rebuilding almost always involves being pretty bad for at least a year or two (or so the team hopes; NFL history is replete with rebuilding projects that failed, resulting in another rebuild three or four years after the first one). "Bottoming out" is a pretty common idea in the NFL, and in fact, in recent years a lot of local sports commentators have called for the Bills to "bottom out", so they might pick higher in the draft and maybe land on the best quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, the Sabres are definitely rebuilding. They have jettisoned virtually every high-priced player and every player who was due to become an unrestricted free agent, often in return for draft picks. This, too, is nothing new; baseball teams have been doing this for years. Over there it's commonly called "having a fire sale", when baseball teams that are pretty much out of contention start trading away players who are either going to be free agents or who command a high enough price in return that a team can use a trade to restock its minor league system with prospects. Are such teams "embracing losing", as some have accused the Sabres of doing? I find it hard to see how. Same with the football teams who have elected to enter a rebuilding process. Is it "embracing losing" to enter into a period where losing is almost certain?

And why is it that sports commentators -- columnists for the Buffalo News are notorious for this -- so often call for rebuilds, call for "blowing it up and starting over", call for "bottoming out", only to harshly criticize the team when the process of rebuilding, blowing it up and starting over, or bottoming out results in a period of losing?

Who knows, but it seems to me that there are conflicting impulses at work here. We expect the players on the ice, or the field, or the diamond, to always put out their best effort. But the problem is that sometimes the best effort of management actually involves being bad for a while. The players may expect to win each time, but management has a different job, and sometimes it means being bad for an entire year in hopes of landing a very, very good player on the other end of it.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Something for Thursday (Geoffrey Lewis edition)

I see that actor Geoffrey Lewis has died. He was a very common character actor when I was a kid, and I saw him in a lot of stuff, most memorably his turn as Orville, best friend of Clint Eastwood's Philo Beddoe in Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can. I know, they're "bad" movies, but while you can often return to things you loved as a kid and see their faults laid bare, not so for me with these two movies, as ridiculous as they are. (And boy howdy, are they.) But those aren't the only movies in which Lewis turned up; as I noted, he was in a lot of stuff. One memorable turn was as the town sheriff in the Mel Gibson teacher movie The Man Without A Face. In that film, it would have been easy to have the sheriff be wholly on the side of the townsfolk who eventually turn on the reclusive, disfigured teacher with a questionable past, and there are times when he definitely leans that way, but Lewis plays the sheriff as a man who seems to wearily know what's really happening but is simply unable (or not entirely willing) to stop it, or at least try to stand in its way.

Lewis was also active in an odd storytelling-music group called Celestial Navigations. I'm sure I've featured this here before, but it's really a fun bit of spoken-word art, and other Celestial Navigations performances with Geoffrey Lewis are well-worth tracking down.

I ain't makin' a move, I ain't sayin' a word -- until somebody pays me!

Thanks for all the great work, Geoffrey Lewis!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

A Progress Report

(crossposted from ForgottenStars.net)

So, how are things going? Well, when I'm actively producing a first draft, I track my daily output in a spreadsheet. Here's a photo of that spreadsheet, from the beginning of March:

Day 4: Fresh! Lots of fresh words going into Book III of late! #AmWriting #takentodaymarch15

Note that I started March with 106,522 words in the book.

As of tonight, here's where we stand:

Off to a torrid start this month! #AmWriting

So in 36 days I've written a little under 45,000 words. Cool!

What does that mean, though , in terms of the book itself? Well, my goal on the first two books in The Song of Forgotten Stars was a first draft of 180K words. Stardancer came in a little under that (but not much), and Princesses II: Electric Boogaloo (not the actual title) came in a little over it (but not much). I am currently expecting Princesses III: Flight of the Bumblebee (not the actual title) to come in over the 180K target by more than Princesses II, but still not by a huge amount. Maybe around 190K. There's a lot that happens in the final act, and in general, this book is turning out to be the most structurally complex of the series thus far.

Obviously I don't want to say too much, but seeing the evolution of this book as it's crystallized in my mind has been really interesting. I'm doing some things differently this time, in terms of narrative structure, that I didn't do in the first two, and this one has a totally different flavor, as well. I like that each of these books goes to different places, does different things, and focuses on other characters and relationships. I wish I could say more, but you'll all see what I'm talking about, in November 2016 when Book III comes out!

(But this is funny: when I started the book, I actually knew what the last scene was. Each one of these books ends with something like a Marvel superhero movie post-credits thing that sets up something in the next book, and I knew what this book's ending cliffhanger was going to be, so I wrote it first, before even starting with Chapter One.

And now, things that have come to me since I started Chapter One have made it necessary for me to rewrite that cliffhanger scene! I love when my own writing surprises me.)

More updates to come! I'll certainly announce when I'm done with this draft, because when I am, it's time to start getting Princesses II ready for its November 2015 debut.

So, onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!

Monday, April 06, 2015


Presenting, without comment, some recent photographic documentation of my various atrocities....

Ready to face the day.... #overalls #awake #needcoffee

Morning helping of snow #Cane #DogsOfInstagram

I gotta write someplace else now. Snorey McSnoresnore here is distracting the hell out of me. #CatsOfInstagram #Julio

There's a doofus cat in this picture. Can you find him, kids? #Julio #CatsOfInstagram

Day 1: Favorite magical book. The "Book of Three", from Lloyd Alexander's PRYDAIN CHRONICLES. #bookphotoaday @bookaddict2408

Day 2: Selfie. #takentodaymarch15 #overalls #HickoryStripe #vintage #Lee #comicbookcaption

Day 3: Shut. My computer is closed and I'm going to bed. #takentodaymarch15

Erm. Awkward wristwatch is awkward. #WhatTimeIsIt #WaitWhat

Three rocks, two fingers. #scotch #Yum

Snowy walk with Cane at Sprague Brook Park. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #overalls #Dickies #BlueDenim #SpragueBrookPark

The Caniac! #Cane #DogsOfInstagram

Day 9: Magical book quote. From THE BRIDGE ACROSS FOREVER by Richard Bach. #magicalmarchbookchallenge #RichardBach

Pre-sunrise wisp of cloud, with contrail. #clouds #sky #sunrise

Prepping for Pi Day festivities! #CoconutCreamPie #overalls #pieintheface

Properly celebrating Pi Day with a pie in the face!

Pourover time for coffee. Urgleblurgle. #coffee #notawakeyet #overalls #vintage #Lee

Cold #winter

Day 14: Into. Back into the fray! #takentodaymarch15

Day 15: Bliss. Or, the stuff that makes non-bliss a little more blissy. #takentodaymarch15 #coffee

Day 17: Fill the screen with green! St. Paddy's Day hair, with Celtic hair tie! #takentodaymarch15 #StPatricksDay

Corned beef and cream cheese bagel sandwich #Yum

AGGGHHHH THE BRIGHT YELLOW SKYBALL BURNS #sunset #overalls #vintage #HickoryStripe #Lee

Day 19: Peekaboo. Playing peekaboo with the Sun. #takentodaymarch15 #sunrise

Saturday morning writing. My routine is off today, but sometimes that's cool. #AmWriting #overalls

How do you know I'm on a writing tear? My writespace is a right proper mess. #AmWriting #messydesk #overalls #vintage

Jigsawing. #woodworking #carpentry #tools

Day 25: Necessary. Cats are necessary on MY world

Man in the mirror #overalls #key #vintage #scarf #ootd

Day 28: The simple things. I have coffee and I'm wearing overalls. Not a bad tonic for Saturday after a crappy week. #takentodaymarch15 #overalls #vintage #coffee

Nice day for driving. (Don't worry, I was parked when I took this!) #overalls #driving #vintage #plaid #scarf

I'm sorry, you were trying to write? #Lester #CatsOfInstagram

GOOD MORNING STARSHINE!!! #MorningSun #AnotherDay #overalls #tiedye

Morning shadows #MorningSun #AnotherDay

Cane and I at Knox Farm

Julio enjoying the wife's stinky shoes. Weird cat. #CatsOfInstagram #Julio

Lester investigates the dee-oh-gee. #Lester #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #CatsOfInstagram

Early morning session. I'd love to finish this draft by April 30.... #AmWriting

Moonrise over Casa Jaquandor. #moon

Day 31: Still. Enjoying a moment of stillness as the sun sets, before I return to the manuscript.... #takentodaymarch15 #overalls #Dickies #AmWriting

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Answers, the Second!

OK, what the heck happened? Well, here’s what: I kicked off Ask Me Anything at the worst possible time: when I was entering the toughest part of writing a novel. See, as a proud member of Team Pants when it comes to writing, the second act in any book is usually where I have the most problems. I spend a lot of sessions wondering where any of this is going, and how I’m going to make it all work, and just what it is I’m setting up. Act II is supposed to set up Act III, but if I don’t know what’s going to happen in Act III, Act II can be really difficult. So I spend an enormous amount of mental energy writing the book, and a lot less on things like blogging.

And then, sometimes, real life intrudes: days when I have to be at work extremely early, which sap even more mental energy; school concerts and training classes for the dee-oh-gee; and lately, a very busy and draining couple of weeks at work. In the great game of rock-paper-scissors that is life, “Novel” beats out “Blog post” every time. The lesson here is simple: in the future, if I'm hip-deep in a complex novel in February, I'll probably not do Ask Me Anything! then. We'll see.

So that’s what’s going on, and that’s why so many questions have just gone unanswered, until now. Obviously I make no promises as to how things will go, but I’ve got this opportunity, so here we go, starting with Andy, who has a question about guitar solos.

WOO HOO!!! So while pondering important stuff while acting like I am working, I want your option on something. Now I have ALWAYS a thought the guitar solo that Eddie Van Halen does in the live version in 5150 was the best ever but now as I get a little bit older, I think the one in Hotel California is pretty darn good and don't forget David Gilmore's in 'Comfortably Numb' is awesome too. What say you OBI Won??

For reference, here are the three songs he cites:

I had never actually heard the live version of “5150” until now, so that’s really cool. My stock answer to the question “Van Halen or Van Hagar?” has always been some variant of “I like both equally”, but if I’m being very honest, the simple fact is this: if I get in the mood to listen to some Van Halen, I will usually end up listening to something from the Sammy era before I listen to something from the DLR era. That’s just the way it is, and I’m not going to debate it. I just love so many of the songs from the Sammy era, and the DLR era was just fantastic. We’re talking about, oh, “Do you like burgers or pizza more?” territory here. Plus, there’s some sentiment involved: when Teenage Me was just discovering rock music (before that, I was all about movie music and classical), Sammy Hagar was just joining Van Halen. That first album, 5150, blew my mind, and I still love it dearly to this day. The song “5150” is an underrated gem, in my opinion; it wasn’t one of the album’s singles, but that album simply does not have a weak song on it.

But anyway, I’d never heard Eddie Van Halen’s live solo until now, so that’s cool. And it’s quite the solo, going off in many different directions, not all of which are entirely related to the song itself. That’s not a problem, really – live solos are usually more elaborate and go farther afield than their album versions.

As for “Hotel California”, that’s pretty classic in itself, isn’t it? That song is so iconic it’s become almost a cliché, which is kind of sad, because it really is a very good song in itself with some terrific guitar work. And then there’s “Comfortably Numb”, that deeply odd song from a typically deeply odd Pink Floyd album. The solos in the song are deservedly revered, although I have heard some grumblings in the past that they’re not quite the technical masterpieces they sound like since they were (allegedly) cobbled together for the album out of different takes. I have no idea of the truth of that, but I do remember reading a blog post years ago by someone (geez, this sounds bad, doesn’t it) whose son was teaching himself guitar solos. Apparently he scoffed at the “Comfortably Numb” solo, which doesn’t sound all that technically difficult. And no, it doesn’t; that solo isn’t full of Van Halenesque guitar pyrotechnics. It’s all about the sound: you have to really know how to make that guitar sing, if you’re going to play that solo in any way convincingly. It’s demanding in a completely different way than “5150” or even “Hotel California”.

So what is the “greatest guitar solo of all time”? Well, who knows? Any of these could qualify, surely. And many others. Who can forget “Freebird”?

Along the “singing guitar” line, there’s this terribly underheard ballad from ZZ Top, “Rough Boy”.

And frankly, this deserves mention. Listen to what Prince does here when he steps up, halfway through a live all-star performance of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

So, readers, what guitar solos do you admire? Don't limit yourselves to rock, either! There's some great guitar work in blues and country and folk, and even classical!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015