Posts Tagged ‘Absconded by Sin’

Recent Musical Finds

May 22, 2017

You never know when inspiration will strike, so I sometimes take a few nights to focus on my blog rather than on my novels.  I have a backlog of blog stubs, nothing nearly as robust as I’d like, for circumstances where I want to focus on my writing.  That backlog didn’t work out so well over the past few weeks, as I haven’t been inspired to publish any of them.  Something happened last week that inspired me to freshen up this one: Chris Cornell’s death.  Audioslave was the soundtrack to my first couple of years in college.  While my roommates and friends had albums from Collective Soul, Depeche Mode, Dashboard Confessional, and U2 blaring from their computer speakers, I picked up Audioslave from one of my closest college friends, and played that album regularly. 

I don’t think “Like a Stone” ever made it to my weekly radio show, but that’s because I focused on bands I knew and loved from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  In music terms, I was a throwback; my musical tastes are classic rock, and are probably considered oldies by now.  I rarely picked up new albums, because I was too busy fishing through bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the more I listened to bands of that era, the more obscure the bands became.  Things have changed over the past year.  For the past year (at least), I’ve been listening to WKIT: The Rock of Bangor, and I’ve picked up a lot of songs that weren’t standards in my rotation.  One of those songs was Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” from his 2015 album, Higher Truth.

The following includes some of my more-or-less recent finds in music.  These intentionally excluded bands and musicians I knew, such as Alice Cooper’s new band, Hollywood Vampires; David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar; or Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart.”

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Recent Finds for Music

A few months ago now, I caught myself trying to remember the lyrics to Midnight Oil’s song “Beds Are Burning.” A year ago, I had no idea this song existed.  Heck, I didn’t know that the band existed.  It’s one of those bands, much like Manic Street Preachers, where I had no idea who they were in their heyday, and it wasn’t until much later (“Bed are Burning,” for example, was a popular song in 1987), when I stumbled upon the song for the first time.

Mountain Climbing – Joe Bonamassa

How is it that I’m only now hearing about Bonamassa?  The 39 year old Bonamassa opened for B.B. King 27 years ago.

I’ll let that sink in.

As WKIT calls him, “Joey B” was only 12 when he opened for B.B. King.  When I was 12, I thought my little tan recorder was too difficult.  As a teenager, he was rubbing elbows with famous guitarists, such as Robbie Krieger of the Doors, and was playing in a band with Krieger’s son, Waylon; Miles Davis’ son, Erin; and Berry Oakley’s (of the Allman Brothers) son, Berry Duane.  Bonamassa first charted on the Billboard Blues chart as a 23 year old.

In 2016, the 38 year old Bonamassa released Blues of Desperation.  On that, he included track number 2, “Mountain Climbing.”  If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this track was written and performed by Robert Johnson after he made a deal with the Crossroads Demon.  (Johnson, one of the original members of the “27 Club,” died in 1938).  This may be classified as a blues song, but make no mistake about it, this is a hard rocker.  It has the B.B. King sound, but it could just as easily be Jimmy Page on the guitar and Robert Plant penning the lyrics.  Bonamassa’s movement between ‘clean’ guitar work and distortion adds a unique voice to his guitar, and compliments the throaty tenor of his singing voice.

Rebel Heart – The Shelters

The Shelters owe their big break due to producer Tom Petty’s ear for talent.  Guitarists Chase Simpson and Josh Jove were studio musicians on the 2014 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album Hypnotic Eye.  After forming The Shelters in 2015, the four person band released their eponymous album in June 2016.  The first single off of that album, as well as the first track, is “Rebel Heart.”

So, what makes “Rebel Heart” special, aside from the fact that I first heard of it on WKIT?  Well, it’s a throwback.  I think that the folks at WKIT compare it to the Monkees, but I don’t see that.  It does have a poppy, ‘60s style to it, but the guitar work reminds me a little bit of the Byrds, and most particularly of Jim/Roger McGuinn’s guitar solo on “Eight Miles High.”  There are elements that remind me of a Beatles single, as well, but the vocals are decidedly from this century, as Josh Jove’s lead vocals, as well as the band’s backing vocals, are melodic without being the silky smooth harmonies that were popular in the ‘60s.  I haven’t heard any of The Shelters’ other work, but this song alone hearkens back to an era of rock that has been buried by album after album of pop and R&B.

Heartbeat Smile – Alejandro Escovedo

First, let’s talk about the man and his pedigree. Alejandro Escovedo, a first generation Mexican-American from San Antonio, started his career with San Francisco punk band “The Nuns” in the mid-‘70s.  He has been a part of the Austin music scene since the ‘80s, and has cut his own solo albums since 1992.  His family includes his niece, Sheila E, one of Prince’s frequent collaborators; his brothers Coke and Pete, one-time members of Santana’s band; his brother Mario, the frontman for the Dragons; and brother Javier, former frontman for the Zeros.  Clearly, Alejandro has both years of experience and a family bond that ties him to music.

In 2016, the 65-year-old Alejandro released Burn Something Beautiful.  The second track on that, “Heartbeat Smile,” is a catchy tune with some pleasing rock riffs.  The lyrics aren’t deep, and he’s not going to be confused with Robert Plant anytime soon, but the simple aesthetic of his lyrics lends itself to something that is a cross between sorrow and joy.

Two Stroke Machine – 7horse

A lot of people have side projects, and the same is also true of professional musicians. Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt have been members of the alternative rock band dada since 1992, where Calio is a singer and guitarist and Leavitt is a drummer.  They lose guitarist Michael Gurley when they tour as 7horse, a blues and rock duo, and Leavitt takes the lead vocals duties.  In 2016, 7horse released the album Living in a Bitch of a World, with the song “Two Stroke Machine” as one of its lead singles.

“Two Stroke Machine” isn’t the most uplifting of songs, as its full of signs of serious family dysfunction, and I like to pretend that I don’t know the lyrics when it comes on, because it is a bit of a downer. However, it is a catchy song with pace and instrumentation that’s reminiscent of old school blues and rock and roll.

When I first heard this song, I was under the impression that this was a much older song.  The lead singer reminded me of Tom Petty, only without his characteristic twang.  It surprised me to read that he (Leavitt) has made a career out of something other than lead vocals.

All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You – Halestorm

First of all, nobody quite compares to the divine Ann Wilson when it comes to vocals, just as nobody quite builds upon the almost engineer-like precision and complexity of sister Nancy’s guitars.  The only way you could improve upon Heart is by getting rid of the synth in their poppy ‘80s era and replacing it with a combination of electric and acoustic guitars.  Lzzy Hale doesn’t quite have the depth of Ann Wilson’s voice, but she manages to provide a sharper edge to Ann Wilson’s lyrics in Halestorm’s interpretation of “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You.”

If you look at my music collection, you’ll find a lot of males: male drummers, male guitarists, male bassists, and male vocalists.  This is what I get for insisting that it must be rock.  I have looked at bands with female leads.  Yes, some of them absolutely rock, but none of them carry that sustained intensity that comes with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who or Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.  Halestorm is one band with a woman who rocks.  Out of Red Lion, PA, Halestorm may only have one woman, but she absolutely delivers as both a vocalist and a guitarist.  I am not as keen on their original work, but Lzzy and the band shine on some of their covers.  They’ve covered Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Soundgarden, but I think their best cover is that of Heart’s “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You” off of their ReAniMate: The CoVeRs EP (2011).

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As mentioned, the occasion of Chris Cornell’s death wouldn’t have reminded me of this post if I hadn’t heard “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” recently on WKIT.  It’s funny, because before I heard this song I’d never really thought about Cornell’s vocals, his charisma, or even his guitar as what made Soundgarden and Audioslave special.  Instead, I attributed it to the ensemble of each group.  Now that I have been able to single out Cornell, I realize the gravity that Cornell’s death has with respect to the total rock scene.

I listen to music throughout the day, but I don’t always listen to music with lyrics when I write because I prefer to focus on the words on the page.  Perhaps in a future blog post, I’ll discuss what I listen to when I write.

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Update: Absconded by Sin (5/22/2017)

I am still looking into publishing Absconded by Sin.  I’ve shared bits and pieces of the novel through Facebook Live and through writers’ circles, but its publication has taken a backseat toward completing other projects.  If you’d be interested in seeing Absconded by Sin in publication, please let me know.  I’ll talk more about this in later posts, I’m sure.

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Update: Their Sharpest Thorns (5/22/2017)

Last night, I finally completed a very rough first draft of Their Sharpest Thorns.  It was very drafty, as I wanted to get most of the story on the page, and I will soon commence going through and tightening it, firming up characterization and improving overall cohesion.  The initial draft is ~92,500 words, which is a little shorter than what I anticipated.  Considering that I am already aware of areas that need more verbiage, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have 105,000 words by the end of my second or third review.

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Update: The Modern Meltdown

I’m still in the queue in terms of my debut on a podcast.  No word yet on when that might be, but it’s still at least two weeks out.  The host, Holly Hunt, publishes about twice per month, and her most recent post was on Friday.

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Do you have something that you’d like to see me discuss in my blog posts?  You can reach me through this blog, or by tweeting to me at @jowenenglish, or by connecting with me by other electronic means, if I’ve otherwise provided them to you.  Bear in mind that I’m already work full time, and I’m moonlighting as a novelist, so it might take a while before I get to blog about your topic.  That said, I’m always interested in new ideas!

Picture credit (applies to links from other sites only): Tookapic via Pexels, CC0 License.

Endearing Characters

February 1, 2012

Today, I conducted my first job interview. I was part of a gauntlet of employees interviewing candidates for an open position within my company. I cannot speak to how this one candidate did it, but I am fairly certain that we were all impressed. We each had our takeaways of positives and negatives, and the odd thing is one person’s perception of this candidate was very different from the next, in large part because we were all looking for how this candidate would impact our sphere of influence. During our debriefing, the entire episode had me thinking about endearing characters. What makes a character endearing? I’d have to say that the creation of endearing characters is one of high risk, high reward. Yet again, I will call upon a couple of old standbys to describe characterization.
The subsequent tangent leaves me thinking about what I should read next, as well as how I can improve my characterization.

As a reader, I value books that are epic in scope. I love ensemble casts, and enjoy imagining Gary Sinise in one role and James Roday in another. Two of my favorite books in recent memory have been Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, not only because of their similar subject matter (the end of the Earth as we know it), but because of the ways in which they handle characters. I’ve come to realize that many of the characters that are so endearing in these books are endearing because of similar traits; they’re all loners or only trusting of a select few, they all have some uniqueness about them that goes beyond their personality, and they don’t need to be rocket scientists or wonder women to be heroic.

Both King and McCammon include characters who may seem inarticulate—or even flat out dumb—but who are, in fact, men of high moral fiber; the latter, Josh Hutchins, is a pariah and plays the heel in his wrestling career, while the former, Tom Cullen, is illiterate, slow-witted, and just as likely to end up in Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as he is in The Stand. Both make mistakes that cause them to become social pariahs—Hutchins accidentally injures another wrestler, while Cullen (on a much smaller level), rebukes the lust-driven Julie Lawry. At that same time, both also have a strong sense of protecting what is good and innocent; Hutchins protects Sue Wanda (Swan) after her mother dies, while Tom protects Nick Andros and Stu Redman. Though they may not be aware of why they do what they do—especially so in the case of Tom Cullen—they protect those who treat them well; ultimately, those who are the backbone of the story.

Both Tom and Josh befriend people who are innocent and, for the most part, helpless. Tom plays the white knight to Nick Andros, who is deaf and dumb (“M-O-O-N, that spells deaf and dumb”), while Josh’s ward, Swan, is a nine year old girl who becomes an orphan when her mother succumbs to radiation poisoning. Nick Andros, perhaps my favorite character in The Stand outside of Tom Cullen (or perhaps Glen Bateman, or… or… or), is a drifter. When we first encounter Nick, he is on his way through Arkansas before he gets accosted by the local welcoming committee. Pardon the turn of phrase, but he doesn’t even hear them coming. When he finally finds a survivor and compatriot, Nick cannot even communicate with the guy because he (Tom) is illiterate. In fact, he has to count on that same sex-crazed chaos-addicted Julie Lawry for any translation whatsoever. Swan, on the other hand, is young and helpless, having transplanted herself her entire life. She has a special gift, a liveliness to her that is infectious, but she is still a child. Admittedly, Nick has left a greater impression on me than Swan, but the idea is still there. Both are unique, and double exceptional in their own respective ways.

Speaking of doubly exceptional, King’s Donald Merwin Elbert (bumpty-bumpty-bump) and McCammon’s Sister Creep are the third pairing of endearing characters. Though they are endearing because of a similar issue, they are endearing for completely different reasons. Elbert, The Trashcan Man, is a pyromaniac—a mentally ill man driven there due to his own mistakes, the constant teasing he received in grade school, and a lifetime of institutionalization/incarceration. Though the Trashcan Man appears to worship the devil (i.e. R.F.), he isn’t entirely malicious. He feels some remorse for what he did that landed him in jail in the first place. Though he often acts out of hate, the way in which it is presented is sad, yet humorous; namely, a schizoid on a rampage. However, in his muddled brain, is he really that much more malicious than McCammon’s bag lady, Sister Creep? Sister Creep, the New York bag lady who has had psychotic episodes, whose alcoholism has led to death and whose depression has led to her forgetting her own name, starts out very much like The Trashcan Man, out to get hers and drawn in by her own paranoia, but her character arc is far more heroic. Ultimately, she sides with Swan and not the Devil, though she never quite wins the reader’s trust until she’s practically all of the way to Mary’s Rest (let’s skip the plot points on this one).

As mentioned, three different sets of characters, three different facets that define these characters. Though I have not delved into why these facets have made them so endearing, I’ve provided a jumping off point. In truth, the reason for this jumping off point comes from the fact that, while these are ‘recent reads,’ I last read them about a year ago, but it also speaks to a fundamental disconnect between the seed and the tree. I’ve shown you part of the seed, and now it’s up to you to read them for yourselves to find the tree.

Connecting this affair to my personal writing, I have many characters that I want to make endearing, both in my first novel, Absconded by Sin, and in my current endeavor, Butano (tentative). However, the want and the activation are two separate things entirely. One of my beta readers identified Brooke (from Absconded by Sin) as an endearing character simply due to the way that she arrives on the scene, quibbling with a gas station attendant. Ironically, this character then floats through several sections of the novel, but that is where my beta reader gets hooked. Perhaps it’s all in the introduction, just like an interview. First impressions can be long lasting, after all.

Think back to some of the classic books or movies that you remember. Where do we first see Charlie Bucket? How about Willy Wonka? How about Nero Wolfe? If these names aren’t doing much for you, perhaps you’ve spent your down time differently, but it’s an interesting conclusion to posit (or maybe just a busy workweek doing the talking): to make a character endearing, you (read: the author) have to go back to the beginning. If you don’t endear the character to the reader immediately, then you’ll struggle to do so all the way through the last act.

The Countdown to NaNoWriMo 2011 Continues

October 13, 2011

Last November, in the midst of my epic first novel, I started NaNoWriMo. It seemed like a great idea, and I’d been toying with it since hearing about it several years ago (whether in college or in grad school, I do not know). Since I was in the midst of a long dry spell for employment, I figured that it would give me something to do. I’d treat writing (and editing) as a regular, 9-to-5 job. In reality, it was more like 7:30 until whenever, but it gave me something by which I could keep myself occupied during those hours when my wife was out winning our bread. Things are different this year.

This year, I will come in to NaNoWriMo having been gainfully employed for ten consecutive months, assuming I don’t pull an American Beauty and start lifting weights and smoking pot in the garage. This employment means that I am occupied from 8:30 to 6:00, assuming you take into account my commute. This leaves considerably less time for me to work on my novel–vote below in order to help me shake the “Tentative Title” that serves as a header for each page. Due to this, there are certain changes that have taken place in terms of my preparation.

While I did my research for last year’s novel, I was still able to churn out 183,000+ words through flying by the seat of my pants and knowing my characters. Henry would always be Henry, and Brooke would always be Brooke. It also helped that there were really only two primary characters, a half dozen secondary characters, and a glut of tertiary characters. I wasn’t dealing with the Fellowship of the Ring here!

This year, I am plotting in advance, and plotting heavily. At the end of NaNoWriMo, I want to have 50,000 words for November, but I’m also aiming for the month of December to be dedicated to mop-up work. In contrast, it took me around seven months to complete my first novel AFTER WriMo. The problem with this little endeavor is that it feels less organic. I was happy going by the seat of my pants last year. I will be happy writing this year, too, because I’m not married to plot points being in order. Good thing, too; my wife wouldn’t go for Mormon marriage.

It is a nice safety blanket, that much is certain. I am busy plotting seven sections of the novel. So far, I’ve plotted three… fora total of 81 plot points or ideas–of course, I’m using plot point quite loosely here. Assuming that I divvy up the 50,000 words evenly (and allow for a little bit of wiggle room), I’ll have about 7,500 words per section. Using that as a means of measuring those three sections, those 81 plot points should cover 22,500 words–less than 300 words per plot point/idea. Wow, who knew building a safety blanket would involve so many steps!

I’ve written additional points in the remaining four sections, but I am having more difficulty than I anticipated in plotting something with this level of detail that is so far ahead of my real-time novel writing. Characters develop, they change. Even stoic characters must change a little, no matter how much they resist. That is the most difficult aspect of it all, especially considering I have a hobo slumgullion of characters with their own unique needs and personalities. In addition, I’d be covering dangerous ground if I decided to change plot points that impact the resolution.

As I was on my commute home, as well as doing some late night grocery shopping, I started to wonder about some of the most recognizable writers and their stories. Did Stallone know that Rocky would beat Apollo? Did Robert Rodriguez really go in knowing that The Mariachi and Bucho were brothers? Did the team behind the newest BSG have a detailed list of who was a cylon and when it would be revealed? I think that these three examples run the spectrum from “absolutely” to “probably not,” and it leaves me to wonder. Some books translate very well to the box office, and follow a clearly discernible heroic arc. Some books get where you expect them to be, but the journey from the alpha to the omega is a bit of a roller-coaster. And there’s the last kind of book. The kind of book that makes you go “who’s on first, what’s on second, and what the hell was I supposed to ask Alice?”

As I work my way towards the end of this novel, I wonder how much I should plot it out and how much I should leave it all to chance. Stephen King talks about writing as if you’re unearthing a fossil. The story’s all there, but you have to be careful how you unearth it. I love that analogy. I also think that writing is a means of making the subconscious conscious, and I am wondering just how much I want to funnel those subconscious processes into a very focused form of consciousness.

As with many pursuits, writing is like life. Rather than jump around from one brain dropping to another, and trying to expound on this one, I’ll leave it up to you to make the connection. How do you like to live your life?