Thursday, October 22, 2015

Compton: A Little City You Might Have Heard Of

Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre is a record by a 50-year old man, allegedly hip hop's first billionaire, and as such, perhaps it's not always clear who this album is for--old school rap fans, those into modern sounds, a wide audience, a limited one--but one thing is certain: it's not for lazy people. It's there in the song titles ("All in a Day's Work", "It's All On Me"), it's forefront in the lyrics ("Don't ever call me fortunate, you don't know what it cost me, So anybody complaining about they circumstances lost me"), and it lurks in the grooves, some of which do take time to absorb. But the effort is always  rewarded, as they consistently reward repeat listens. 

While not perfect by any means--the murder scene that closes "Loose Cannons", while cinematic, seems an odd fit; the clapping during the speech of "All in a Day's Work" is either pretend, phony clapping or clapping from phony people; at times, the vocals are over-processed and abrasive. Still, this is a master at work. Comparisons to Dre's previous albums are inevitable, but it's no matter; those weren't perfect, either, but we like them anyway (Eazy-E gay jokes and a barrage of misogyny were never going to age well). 

If we're willing to forgive the sins of Dre's prior albums, then so to should we appreciate Compton. As yet, that has not necessarily been the case; reaction seems mixed. Maybe when the DVD for the movie this album was inspired by drops, people will begin to catch on. Until then, for me it's Dre Day, and I'll be celebrating.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hummel Park Legends Come to Life

So I was on TV this morning...

For those not aware, my new short story collection The Legend of Hummel Park and Other Stories is available now. Right here. You should really pick up a copy because, well, why wouldn't you? You know you need to read more. Stop talking about it and do it!

Anyway, we shot it last week, and they did a fantastic job of editing the story together. I loved the shifts to black and white and the images they spliced over me reading from the first story. Loved how they panned around the cover image. The folks at Channel 6 did a great job and had a lot of fun with it, which was the whole idea behind me writing it. It's fun.

Well, except for the people dying part. But other than some gruesome murders, assaults, and so forth, it's fun! And from time to time, maybe I have something to say, but not in a way that gets in the way of it being fun. I hope.

Check the story out at the link below, and thanks very much to Jenna Jaynes and Channel 6 for making it happen!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Thoughts on the Midnight Circus Reading

So Midnight Circus had its first reading, and it was glorious.

For those not familiar with Midnight Circus--not enough are--it is EAB Publishing's flagship publication, a quarterly literary mag that attracts talent from around the world. That's no joke; the submissions have come from a worldwide pool. It's awesome.

I happen to be the Production Manager of this fine publication, which is a pretty simple job despite the fancy title. All I do is make sure that every submission received is reviewed by people far more qualified than me. Well, those types of people are easy enough to find. Once the stories and poems are whittled down, I format the interior so that the scattered and various submissions become a book. It's fun. I get that little thrill that comes from creating a new piece of art without all of the torture and agony that often accompanies such an endeavor.

When it comes to the reading, I wasn't sure what to expect. As mentioned, this was the first one. Things usually go wrong the first time you try something. Would anybody show? Where was this UNO-Kaneko Library? Or is it the Kaneko-UNO Library? What was EAB thinking with this? Do people really come out to hear writers read?

Turns out, they do. Indeed they do. Somehow or another, I ended up with the job of adding chairs. Seems like a very Production Manager-y thing to me, so I was all for it. Seats would fill up, new arrivers wouldn't have anywhere to sit, and so I'd go to the back and grab more. Easy enough-- people seemed to arrive in pairs, so I'd grab a couple, set them up, and then grab a couple more, just in case, knowing nobody else would show up because we were already pretty full.

Then I'd repeat the process.

I think we added an extra 25 chairs to the 30 or so initially present--the people kept coming. It was great.

And why wouldn't they come, because the lineup was fantastic. Let's run it down. These aren't all names you might know now, but with any luck, you will soon. A.E. Stueve was killing it as MC. The readers: Jeff Lawler. Carrie Helmberger. Liz Kay. Kristen Clanton. Jeremy Johnson. Barbara Schmitz. Julie Rowse. Karen Shoemaker. All of them have appeared in Circus. Lots of talent, which was evident from the first reader, and they kept on coming. Honestly, this was the first reading I've ever attended, it always seemed to me that it would be a little awkward to hear writers read because it feels awkward for me to share my stuff. Well, I get it now.

Myself, I went through a bevy of emotions. This piece isn't about me, it's about a great night, but I can't help myself. As these creators kept reading, and knocking the breath out of the room, my thoughts went something like this:

This is great. Good stuff. Wow, great writing. This is really good. Ha ha, that was funny. So was that. Holy crap, I can't take it anymore--stop being good, people, you're making me feel bad. I call myself a writer? These are writers. I quit. I retire. Finished! Done! Matter of fact, I should just leave the room and return as a simple observer, because who am I to pretend I can lick these people's boots? Go out a wannabe writer and come back as whatever the hell I am.*

And so on. You know, self-doubt and all that stuff. But then something shifted, and while this great writing continued to come at me, I had a realization. An epiphany, if you will. I began to think crazy thoughts, like, well, maybe I do belong here. I thought of things I had written that might lack in certain areas, but can hang in others, and I thought, you know what, I could do this, too. My work could share the stage with these insanely creative people. Maybe I don't, um, suck? (Hey, why don't you buy my new short story collection The Legend of Hummel Park and find out for yourself, huh?)

So that was fun.

Great night.

*This presents a problem, because if writing isn't about figuring out who the hell you are, and who we are, then I don't know what it is.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Review of Lies Jane Austen Told Me

As a writer, I tend to believe that, ultimately, there are two reasons people write. Some do so simply because they want to, perhaps expecting notoriety, financial gains, personal entertainment, or something else. Others write because they have to. Myself, I have to write: there are stories rattling around in my head, stories of fiction, and they won't leave me alone until I get them out. I either write, or go nuts, probably.
I say this not to talk about my own writing, as much as I enjoy doing so, but to discuss Julie Rowse's book Lies Jane Austen Told Me. In truth, this is not a work I would have sought out—the dating life of a Mormon woman? No offense, but what do I care? Yet after blazing through the first 90 pages or so, I found myself enjoying the book and eager to read on. 
Still, as much as I was enjoying the book, I won’t deny that I would sometimes stop to grapple with a question: what made Rowse decide this story had to be told?  The book is well written, yes, and I was intrigued by a culture I knew little about. But that didn't give me my answer. What made Rowse want to share what is a highly personal story with the world?
Then, around the midway point, Rowse began to write of her fiancĂ©. He had been mentioned, briefly, earlier in the text. At the time, I wondered why the mention had been so scant. Clearly, this was an important part of her story. Here was a woman who was dying to be married, born in a culture that apparently believed the ultimate goal of a female was to become a wife and a mother, and yet she only wrote briefly of a full-fledged fiancĂ© without going into further detail?  
But as I read more about this man, it all became clear.  
Why did Julie Rowse decide to tell her story? I could be wrong, but I don't believe that she wanted to write this book. I am not certain she was bursting to showcase her personal insecurities and difficulties. No, I believe Rowse felt she had to write it, if not for herself, than as a potential warning for others. People who are willing to sacrifice their own personal integrity to live up to what we—all of us—believe society demands of us. Set in the context of this world, one that Rowse has respectfully brought us into (she is quite clear in stating the many benefits she has derived from her faith), this Mormon culture that seems to value one role for woman above all others, we are given a stark example of the many outside pressures people allow to measure themselves. 
This book dares to ask—is it worth it? Are there costs that we should refuse to pay? If so, what are they? What line are we not willing to cross to meet the expectations society has put on us?  
Rowse needed to tell this story. Chances are, you need to read it. 
(Full disclosure: I was given an advance copy of this book as EAB Publishing had published my last book. I did some minor copy editing on it while reading it. It had no impact on my personal thoughts of the book.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Exhaustive Review of All Four Sherlock Holmes Novels and 56 Short Stories

There's no bigger waste of time than reviewing the Sherlock Holmes series. They are great, everyone that can read has read them, and no doubt everyone has enjoyed the 4 novels and 56 short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as much as I did.

Wait. You haven't read them? Oh, you read them many, many years ago? Or you read a couple of them, or maybe just one, because they made you in high school? My God, man, you've found an even bigger waste of time than reviewing the original Sherlock Homes tales, which is reading reviews of those tales when you could be reading them right now.