Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Bradbury Institute

I've mentioned posting a free web serial before - well, today's the day it starts.

A bit of background from the Stories page:

The Bradbury Institute is a small private organization dedicated to the study of magic and the occult. Its members are scholars, magicians, psychics, plus a few individuals of … unique origin. In addition to academic research members are often involved in the search for rare magical artifacts, as well as a larger secret mission.

Stories will include dangerous grimoires, fantastical creatures, heroes and villains, and whatever else the author can come up with. Also adult language, occasional violence, and quite probably sex - so consider yourself warned.

And here's a brief blurb about the first story, The Key of Darkness:

The Key of Darkness is an ancient grimoire designed for summoning and subjugating a powerful entity from deep within the lowest levels of Hell. The sorcerer who utilizes the Key will have unimaginable evil at their fingertips, to do with as their darkest desires dictate.

The Key was meant to be entrusted for safe-keeping at the Bradbury Institute but it has been stolen by an impulsive young thief. Now the race is on to retrieve the grimoire before he sells it to the highest bidder.

A new chapter will be posted every Wednesday. The Key of Darkness begins today so go on over to The Bradbury Institute and check it out. I'm having a lot of fun writing this and I hope readers enjoy it too!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A question for my readers

Would you be interested in a free online serial?

I've mentioned before that I have a story I work on for fun, something that would work really well in serialized format. So far it's up to forty pages, just under twenty thousand words broken into twelve chapters. The chapters vary in length from 1200 to about 2000 words. That's a little long for a blog post but I'd probably only be posting once a week. I think I would give it it's own blog home instead of posting it here, but I'm not sure.

A few years ago I started reading an online serial that got me interested in the whole format and the freedom it gives you. Not to mention the writing was awesome. It was called The Agency and it was by Dianne Sylvan, who's now publishing a terrific urban fantasy series, the first of which is called Queen of Shadows. Here is the home page for The Agency if you want to go back through and read these terrific stories. You will fall in love with Jason and Rowan, but I have to warn  you - there haven't been any updates since the book deal. It ends with a completed story arc but the larger plot is unfinished. Even so, it's amazing and I highly recommend both the serial and Queen of Shadows.

My current serial love is Tonia Brown's Railroad!. It is a steampunk paranormal western about a train, the Sleipnir, that lays its own tracks, and the adventures of the crew. There's great characters (I love Rodger Dodger), great gadgets (the train itself is cool, and there's a modified Colt .45 that will make your jaw drop), and paranormal elements that look like they're going to be truly scary in future installments (the pack, gah!). There's a new post every Monday and though she recently finished the first volume it's not too late to catch up and read those earlier installments.

You can find a lot of online serials. The Agency and Railroad happen to be my two favorites. Now I want to do my own. Here's the rough blurb I came up with for the first story:

The Key of Darkness is an ancient grimoire designed for summoning and subjugating a powerful entity from deep within the lowest levels of Hell. The sorcerer who utilizes the Key will have unimaginable evil at their fingertips, to do with as their darkest desires dictate. 
The Key was meant to be entrusted for safe-keeping at the Bradbury Institute, a repository of knowledge on magic and the occult, but it has been stolen by an impulsive young thief. Now the race is on to retrieve the grimoire before he sells it to the highest bidder. 

I posted a brief snippet of it for Six Sentence Sunday yesterday, which you can read here.

While I am writing this for my own amusement - I just named the Big Bad's two henchmen Crantz and Stern, as in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Hamlet, tee hee - I would love to share this too. So what do you think? Is anyone interested in a free weekly paranormal serial from me?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Love for the Big Man

Dancing in the Dark made for an innocuous introduction to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for a child. It made me buy the Born in the USA album which I listened to over and over. I remember being surprised by the album. Dancing in the Dark was a light radio-friendly pop tune; Born in the USA was an angry heartbroken protest song. The rest of the album filled every part of the spectrum in between the two extremes. It was probably the most challenging music, lyrically speaking, that I had gravitated to by that time. Even so, it barely prepared me for what I would discover in my next E Street album - Live 1975-85. A three-cassette set (which I wore out and eventually had to replace with CDs) of live recordings of some of the band's greatest songs up to that point. It also had a large booklet full of concert pictures and lyrics. English teachers would sell off pieces of their soul to have students put as much effort into studying poetry as I did poring over those lyrics. It was an education in and of itself. America has always been a myth of its own making, so has rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen made a place for himself at the intersection of those two loud raucous mythologies, and by his side stood the Big Man, Clarence Clemons.

The friendship between Bruce and Clarence, probably the most beloved sideman in rock, has been the stuff of musical legend for years. You can see the camaraderie in this performance of Growin' Up from 1978. It's one of countless examples of their easy give and take on stage, as well as how truly essential Big Man was to the dynamic of the band and the music. No session player could touch that tone or hope to take his place in the line up. Clarence was the heart and soul of the E Street Band.

The legendary saxophonist suffered a stroke barely a week ago but there had been hopeful sounding news of his condition. Learning of his passing Saturday night on Twitter (seriously, is there any other place for breaking news anymore?) I was surprised at the depth of my sadness. In Badlands Bruce wrote "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." Every note Clemons played was an emphatic AMEN to that optimistic sentiment, an affirmation of joy. The band's own mythology is the basis for one of the songs I always enjoyed from Live 1975-85: Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. "Well the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band," followed by a blast of sax - that never gets old.

Springsteen once said words to the effect that his music has always been about the distance between the American dream and the American reality (I can't find the exact quote right now, sorry.) You can hear that gulf plainly in the Big Man's Jungleland solo - words couldn't say it any better. Even now, after years of endless war, the gutting of our economy, and culture war distractions designed to keep people from realizing they're living in the darkness on the edge of town, it's hard not to reach for that bare hint of optimism you can almost feel in the yearning notes of that solo.

Sometimes the dream becomes reality. Not often enough, but when it does it should be celebrated. Preferably with a hearty laugh and a loud blast of saxophone. Clarence Clemons spent his life making music that brought people joy. He will be missed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Music of Mojo Queen guest post and giveaway

I've got a new guest post up at Bookin' It Reviews about the music that helped me write Mojo Queen. And there's a giveaway too, with a chance for a commenter to win a copy of the book. Here's the link: The Music of Mojo Queen.

And here's links to the songs I mention in the post, if you're unfamiliar with them and are curious.

Mojo Queen by Ike and Tina Turner
Bad Moon Rising by Rasputina
Night Life by Willie Nelson
Strong as Death, Sweet as Love by Al Green

I enjoyed writing this post, what with music being one of my favorite things to blather on about. Much thanks to blogger Talina Perkins for hosting it!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bullet the Blue Sky

A boy in science class, wearing a t-shirt that said "I can see those fighter planes" - that was my introduction to U2. It took another year for me to really fall in love with the band. The first U2 album I owned was Rattle and Hum, their 1988 concert album. I've always loved live albums and I think it's because I've been to so few concerts, due to either living too far away from venues or not having the money or time to travel or it just not working out. I certainly wasn't going to any great concerts as a kid, so Rattle and Hum was one of two epic live albums I owned that I just about wore out (I guess I should say cassettes.) At that time U2 was still an education for me, serious meaningful stuff that demanded thoughtfulness and careful attention*. This was adult music, in a much different fashion than anything from Prince or Madonna. Unlike Purple Rain, nobody was advising my mom to take Rattle and Hum away from me. To their everlasting credit, my parents never took an album or a book away from me no matter how silly someone got about what I was being exposed to. Looking back on some of the sensibilities I was beginning to soak up from what I considered truly adult music, I wonder if they grew to regret that decision.

My take-away from a song like Bullet the Blue Sky was the very simple yet somehow radical notion that we Americans are in fact not the center of the universe. Wacky thought, I know, but it was at odds with the environment in which I was raised. Well, part of the environment. I had one foot in that insular conservative military world, and one foot out in the rest of the world. Music was one of the things that helped me cross the bridge. The other was going to school with civilian kids, like the boy who wore that tee-shirt, and then moving to Germany. The idea of American exceptionalism is a strange one to me in large part because of the two and a half years we lived in Frankfurt. Okay, they did things a little different over there - so what? They seemed to be doing just fine, and still are (that whole mayonnaise on french fries thing notwithstanding). I'm trying to be light-hearted here because I feel like I accidentally stepped in a mine field, but I'm not going to delete anything.

Let my try putting it this way: you will not find any non-citizen of the United States who loves America more than Bono. Seriously. U2 have always loved America, loved the idea of America. Loved it so much that when they saw things that flew in the face of what they believed to be truly great and worthy ideals, they did not shy away from saying "Hey America, what the hell are you doing?!" That is basically what Bullet the Blue Sky is - you can see it in the lyrics. Written about American foreign policy in the 1980s toward Central America, sadly the song is still relevant today, just about a different part of the world. It is no small thing to speak up to a person or institution or in this case an entire country and say: "You are better than this, so please act like it." And it is a very large thing to look such flaws in the face and still feel love. Blind devotion is easy and costs nothing, except for maybe integrity. Dissent - now, that is expensive, as high-priced as honesty. Admitting there is bad as well as good to this country, and acknowledging that the bad needs to be set right, should not be a hard thing, but it is for a lot of people. It was a strange lesson for someone raised in a very patriotic home to take in and it took four Irishmen and a guy from New Jersey** to teach me.

Musically the song is a freaking powerhouse. Bono takes his usual swagger to the next level with some intense aggression. Adam and Larry are relentless, showing they are one of the tightest rhythm sections in rock. And Edge - damn. The clear ringing tone of his guitar cleaves the air with its fury, leaving no doubt this low-key unassuming musician is one BAMF.

* As opposed to the more intuitive, chaotic experiences of U2's middle period albums Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop.

** Sooner or later there will be much, MUCH discussion of Asbury Park, New Jersey's favorite son.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mojo Queen central casting

Cross-posted from Write Club.

I'm sick and plan to spend the weekend curled up with my Kindle reading some of the books I bought today. I had a few ideas for a post but frankly they all required more work than I can handle right now. ;) So! How about something fun...

No matter how unlikely it is to happen, there's probably not a writer alive who doesn't fantasize at least once about their book being optioned for a movie. For me all this involves is casting the movie. I don't really care about Oscars but an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss or Best Fight would be cool. I mean, if we're going to be shallow here, let's be shallow all the way. Anyway, back to casting.

It took a while for me to figure who I would cast in Mojo Queen. For main character Roxie Mathis, I eventually settled on Rachel Weisz. She is English and I have no idea if she could do a decent Southern accent, though she could certainly do no worse than the hot mess of fake accents you hear on True Blood. I definitely think she could bring to life Roxie's mixture of vulnerability and boldness that keeps me so interested in writing the character. I couldn't find a picture of Weisz in glasses but I really like this pic to represent Roxie. She looks like she's saying, cross the line, I dare you. (Saying that to Blake, no doubt.)

Daniel Rambin, Roxie's vampire ancestor and best friend, was easier to cast. He's charming, he's a little goofy, he can flip out to crazy-dangerous at the worst of times, he looks like a young Robert Redford. Who else but Brad Pitt?

And I'm not even that much of a Brad Pitt fan, but I think he'd make a great Daniel. I can see him playing the character with great relish in a scene where Daniel busts out with some old country song, something crazy like Harper Valley PTA. That would at least have to make the cut as a DVD extra.

Blake Harvill was the really tough one to cast. He started out as a bad guy, then became Roxie's love interest. He's a sorcerer, shady and dangerous and kind of flaky. Once he became the love interest he was tall and had dark hair and a sexy arrogant smirk. Sometimes I considered David Boreanaz as Blake, because, well, David Boreanaz is just freaking awesome. I mean, my love for Spike is eternal, but Angel had his moments. Boy did Angel have his moments. And Boreanaz is the only reason I can still sit through an episode of Bones.

But then I stumbled across a picture of Zachary Quinto that immediately made me say "That's Blake!"

Dark chocolate eyes, stubble, and Roxie likes it when he bites his lip. (I don't know, she just does.) I think they both could play Blake's darkness and his occasional flakiness. Boreanaz might have the edge when it came time for Blake to tempt Roxie with his seductive side.

So what do you think of my casting choices? Who would you cast as the leads in a movie of your own book? Share in the comments, or even better write your own post about it (don't forget pictures!) and leave the link in the comments. I'd love to read similar posts.