Season of the Squid

"It ain't no sin, to take off your skin and dance around in your bones" -Tom Waits

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History and Its Malcontents 
There are a number of problems that one discovers when writing historical fiction, and even historical fantasy. One problem is that not only do the long-accepted schoolbook versions of events prove to be oversimplified or flat-out wrong at closer inspection, but that the events of 100, 500, or 1500 years ago can prove to be maddeningly elusive in spite of our assurance that the past has “happened” and is therefore firmly within our grasp. Look no further than today and you will see the tendency for any annalist/analyst to reject reality and substitute their own; it was no different in the past, and while we can praise the gods for the neutral parties who do their best to provide unbiased commentary, turn back the clock and it is difficult to know who was truly unbiased, and given that modern journalism practices were nonexistent, such sources may have been a rare to mythical breed.
Another problem we run into is that the experts can’t seem to agree amongst themselves, leaving the writer on the verge of throwing everything down and walking away. Small wonder some of us just make things up. Part of the problem is that some experts have agendas, whether they admit to it or not, and the other part of the problem is that historical events, especially those occurring in the distant past, have the maddening tendency to still make sense when seen from completely different angles. Was William Rufus murdered, or was it an accident? The events look highly suspicious when presented by one person, then not at all when presented by another. The saving grace for the fiction writer is…you’re writing fiction. It only has to make sense within the framework of your story. I would implore everyone to fight the scourge that is Hollywood History and make it as accurate as humanly possible, all stumbling blocks aside, but fiction does allow for some leeway, and fantasy for even more.
But then comes another problem. Some people have opinions. Not just opinions: they seem to think that they know exactly what happened 700 years ago, and that they know these people personally, and they somehow missed the “Fiction” designation on your book. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about them, even though they have the potential to be the most damaging to you. You can’t cure stupid. And then, at the opposite end of the spectrum are the people that want everything played so safe that the characters have the personalities of marble statues and the novel reads like a history text book. A good cure for insomnia, maybe, but is that what you’re going for?  
As for myself, I’ll be taking refuge in both obscurity and audacity, for Children of Stone, when it is finished, will be damn near a comedy despite the life-or-death situation of its characters. And why shouldn’t it be, with Chaucer as the narrator? Scholars put him on a pedestal as the father of the English language, but he was also the father of dick-and-fart jokes, with a healthy streak of sarcasm in his work. The depiction may delight some, and ruffle the feathers of others who take the man far more seriously than they probably should. Riskier still is depicting a national figure like Owain Glyndwr, however sympathetically. Some might not like to be reminded that he faithfully served an English king and only rebelled when that king was deposed and murdered (“See you later, you cunts. By the way…I’m taking Wales with me.”) These risks, among others, I am willing to take, even though there are always (in this case very humorless) readers and sometimes fellow authors who are quite willing to curb-stomp an ambitious small-timer for their transgressions. The majority, however, will hopefully be entertained, for in throwing all caution to the wind I think I’ve got a lively tale in the telling. With The Bearkeeper, I had a very difficult narrator in Matthew; he was chosen mainly for his unique thoughts and perspective and, because of his clairvoyance, the opportunity for me to write in both first and third person. But he came with his drawbacks, and I don’t think I will use him again. With Chaucer, the perspective is unfortunately more limited, but holy shit, it’s fun. He has come out as sarcastic, wily, perceptive, vacillating between humility and egotism, often hypocritical, gruff but sympathetic, crass (an “old satyr” as one friend put it), and with a tendency to become tongue-tied when put on the spot. I have found it unusual for female writers to stray from writing from the perspective of women, though many do, and successfully. Still, the fact that I have slipped into the mindset of a fat, ornery old man so easily scares me a little.
By my estimates I am now past halfway finished, and so long as I do not encounter more setbacks (brain damage, even minor brain damage, is a world of suck,) things seem to be back on track. In the meantime, I implore you all to do your research to the best of your ability, keep an open mind, and, holy crap, check out Theda/Cleopatra up there. Snake boobs. Rowr.        

History and Its Malcontents 

There are a number of problems that one discovers when writing historical fiction, and even historical fantasy. One problem is that not only do the long-accepted schoolbook versions of events prove to be oversimplified or flat-out wrong at closer inspection, but that the events of 100, 500, or 1500 years ago can prove to be maddeningly elusive in spite of our assurance that the past has “happened” and is therefore firmly within our grasp. Look no further than today and you will see the tendency for any annalist/analyst to reject reality and substitute their own; it was no different in the past, and while we can praise the gods for the neutral parties who do their best to provide unbiased commentary, turn back the clock and it is difficult to know who was truly unbiased, and given that modern journalism practices were nonexistent, such sources may have been a rare to mythical breed.

Another problem we run into is that the experts can’t seem to agree amongst themselves, leaving the writer on the verge of throwing everything down and walking away. Small wonder some of us just make things up. Part of the problem is that some experts have agendas, whether they admit to it or not, and the other part of the problem is that historical events, especially those occurring in the distant past, have the maddening tendency to still make sense when seen from completely different angles. Was William Rufus murdered, or was it an accident? The events look highly suspicious when presented by one person, then not at all when presented by another. The saving grace for the fiction writer is…you’re writing fiction. It only has to make sense within the framework of your story. I would implore everyone to fight the scourge that is Hollywood History and make it as accurate as humanly possible, all stumbling blocks aside, but fiction does allow for some leeway, and fantasy for even more.

But then comes another problem. Some people have opinions. Not just opinions: they seem to think that they know exactly what happened 700 years ago, and that they know these people personally, and they somehow missed the “Fiction” designation on your book. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about them, even though they have the potential to be the most damaging to you. You can’t cure stupid. And then, at the opposite end of the spectrum are the people that want everything played so safe that the characters have the personalities of marble statues and the novel reads like a history text book. A good cure for insomnia, maybe, but is that what you’re going for?  

As for myself, I’ll be taking refuge in both obscurity and audacity, for Children of Stone, when it is finished, will be damn near a comedy despite the life-or-death situation of its characters. And why shouldn’t it be, with Chaucer as the narrator? Scholars put him on a pedestal as the father of the English language, but he was also the father of dick-and-fart jokes, with a healthy streak of sarcasm in his work. The depiction may delight some, and ruffle the feathers of others who take the man far more seriously than they probably should. Riskier still is depicting a national figure like Owain Glyndwr, however sympathetically. Some might not like to be reminded that he faithfully served an English king and only rebelled when that king was deposed and murdered (“See you later, you cunts. By the way…I’m taking Wales with me.”) These risks, among others, I am willing to take, even though there are always (in this case very humorless) readers and sometimes fellow authors who are quite willing to curb-stomp an ambitious small-timer for their transgressions. The majority, however, will hopefully be entertained, for in throwing all caution to the wind I think I’ve got a lively tale in the telling. With The Bearkeeper, I had a very difficult narrator in Matthew; he was chosen mainly for his unique thoughts and perspective and, because of his clairvoyance, the opportunity for me to write in both first and third person. But he came with his drawbacks, and I don’t think I will use him again. With Chaucer, the perspective is unfortunately more limited, but holy shit, it’s fun. He has come out as sarcastic, wily, perceptive, vacillating between humility and egotism, often hypocritical, gruff but sympathetic, crass (an “old satyr” as one friend put it), and with a tendency to become tongue-tied when put on the spot. I have found it unusual for female writers to stray from writing from the perspective of women, though many do, and successfully. Still, the fact that I have slipped into the mindset of a fat, ornery old man so easily scares me a little.

By my estimates I am now past halfway finished, and so long as I do not encounter more setbacks (brain damage, even minor brain damage, is a world of suck,) things seem to be back on track. In the meantime, I implore you all to do your research to the best of your ability, keep an open mind, and, holy crap, check out Theda/Cleopatra up there. Snake boobs. Rowr.        

Filed under writing historical fiction historical fantasy alternate timeline The Bearkeeper history Theda Bara chaucer owain glyndwr

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Because continuity is a harsh mistress, I’ve been re-reading my own novel. This morning I sent this to a friend as a joke because it was his favorite quote from the book. (It is now his desktop background.) When I’m bored, I may create a series of “inspirational posters” based on ridiculous, wrong-headed, or asshole things various characters have said.

Because continuity is a harsh mistress, I’ve been re-reading my own novel. This morning I sent this to a friend as a joke because it was his favorite quote from the book. (It is now his desktop background.) When I’m bored, I may create a series of “inspirational posters” based on ridiculous, wrong-headed, or asshole things various characters have said.

Filed under The Bearkeeper tornado Das Krakenhaus writing books quotes writer's problems

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Music and Writing
They are intimately entwined for me. I wanted to be a musician, and I tried, from grade school until my early twenties, but classes, lessons, and hours of practice brought me only a persistent mediocrity that was infuriating to say the least. With writing, I discovered that the returns were proportionate to the effort. I actually had potential, maybe even talent. (Some may dispute this, but fuck them. Unless they are David Mitchell…he is awesome enough to tell me I suck.) I’m still a little bitter about the music thing, but not in a way that makes me poisonous toward those who are succeeding at it. On the contrary, I try to do a great deal to support them, in part because I know just how difficult it really is.

But even though writing is my art, music is my life, and I couldn’t write without it. Even when I’m not at my desk it gives me ideas, sometimes more so than the books I read. When I sit down to write, the music comes on, and I still believe that a little bit of that mood, a little bit of that magic, will seep into the story. The Bearkeeper was composed to Erik Satie, Jill Tracy, Amber Asylum, Rachel’s, Sarband’s Danse Gothique. Night Music came along to Jill Tracy again, El Radio Fantastique’s Stories for Little Atoms, Sketches of an Amorous Window, Beirut, Hazy Loper, and Uncle Sinner. I am in the process of personally thanking several of these folks, those who are still alive; before you think it strange, understand that most of the above mentioned are not fabulously famous, and even if they have a good cult following, musicians can be surprisingly under-appreciated and music-lovers somewhat entitled. There is an attitude that doing what you love isn’t “work” and therefore doesn’t have to be respected/paid for. Or, worse perhaps, you have the fan who loves you so much that they feel entitled to the work itself, or to your very person.  
It hasn’t escaped my attention that my musician friends have been the most reciprocal about the creative process and the most interested in what I do as a writer…I’m not sure more than a couple of the writers I’ve met have ever asked me to talk in depth about what I was doing without immediately turning it into a conversation about themselves. Again, I don’t think this is malicious, just self-absorbed. This disparity may be due to the fact that the primary function of a musician is to listen; what they do requires a great deal of introspection and concentration, but they are always listening, to themselves, to other musicians, to the world. 
I would actually like to come back at a later date with this: what was it that compelled so many of my musician friends to take up music?And, as in my case, what failure in life compelled you to become a writer?(Please take the above statement as 50% ugly truth, 50% tongue-in-cheek, and try not to take yourself so damned seriously.) 

Music and Writing

They are intimately entwined for me. I wanted to be a musician, and I tried, from grade school until my early twenties, but classes, lessons, and hours of practice brought me only a persistent mediocrity that was infuriating to say the least. With writing, I discovered that the returns were proportionate to the effort. I actually had potential, maybe even talent. (Some may dispute this, but fuck them. Unless they are David Mitchell…he is awesome enough to tell me I suck.) I’m still a little bitter about the music thing, but not in a way that makes me poisonous toward those who are succeeding at it. On the contrary, I try to do a great deal to support them, in part because I know just how difficult it really is.

But even though writing is my art, music is my life, and I couldn’t write without it. Even when I’m not at my desk it gives me ideas, sometimes more so than the books I read. When I sit down to write, the music comes on, and I still believe that a little bit of that mood, a little bit of that magic, will seep into the story. The Bearkeeper was composed to Erik Satie, Jill Tracy, Amber Asylum, Rachel’s, Sarband’s Danse Gothique. Night Music came along to Jill Tracy again, El Radio Fantastique’s Stories for Little Atoms, Sketches of an Amorous Window, Beirut, Hazy Loper, and Uncle Sinner. I am in the process of personally thanking several of these folks, those who are still alive; before you think it strange, understand that most of the above mentioned are not fabulously famous, and even if they have a good cult following, musicians can be surprisingly under-appreciated and music-lovers somewhat entitled. There is an attitude that doing what you love isn’t “work” and therefore doesn’t have to be respected/paid for. Or, worse perhaps, you have the fan who loves you so much that they feel entitled to the work itself, or to your very person.  

It hasn’t escaped my attention that my musician friends have been the most reciprocal about the creative process and the most interested in what I do as a writer…I’m not sure more than a couple of the writers I’ve met have ever asked me to talk in depth about what I was doing without immediately turning it into a conversation about themselves. Again, I don’t think this is malicious, just self-absorbed. This disparity may be due to the fact that the primary function of a musician is to listen; what they do requires a great deal of introspection and concentration, but they are always listening, to themselves, to other musicians, to the world. 

I would actually like to come back at a later date with this: what was it that compelled so many of my musician friends to take up music?

And, as in my case, what failure in life compelled you to become a writer?
(Please take the above statement as 50% ugly truth, 50% tongue-in-cheek, and try not to take yourself so damned seriously.) 

Filed under writing music musicians david mitchell cloud atlas The Bearkeeper night music erik satie jill tracy amber asylum rachel's el radio fantastique sketches of an amorous window beirut hazy loper uncle sinner gloria swanson

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valinaraii:

Different portraits of Ana Mendoza de la Cerda, Princess of Eboli. Married when she was twelve years old, lost an eye in a duel, was one of the most celebrated beauties of her time and died in prison.

Gotta love a woman with a lace ruff and an motherf!cking eyepatch.

(via countess--olenska)

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13 Albums That Changed My Life 

#13. Rykarda Parasol, For Blood and Wine, Our Hearts First Meet

Okay, so this is two albums, but they belong together as a pair. I discovered her alongside Antic Clay, and she’s almost his skinny blonde doppelganger. They have a dark-Americana musical style, deep expressive voices, and if their songs are to be believed, both have survived some heinous emotional shit. I’d like to see them sit down together with a bottle of whiskey and record the results.

I’ve seen many female singer/musicians adopt a swagger, and it often falls flat to me. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s affected, or just unnecessarily antagonistic. Hers does not seem to be. It’s gender-bending, wounded, and fearless. Her posturing comes across as deeply human in that it is doomed to sometimes fail.

Filed under 13 albums that changed my life rykarda parasol music michael bradley antic clay americana

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13 Albums That Changed My Life 

#12. Antic Clay, Hilarious Death Blues

A.k.a. Michael Bradley. My theory is that Michael Gira of Swans and Nick Cave had a baby who grew up to be a country/western/blues singer in Georgia. If that sounds awesome to you, then this may be the most perfect album ever made. This is a one-man accomplishment—Bradley is responsible for everything you hear, including the remarkable wordplay of the lyrics. This has surpassed anything that Tom Waits has ever done as my favorite recording, and that says a lot.

This man deserves to be better known. Songs of Michael Bradley, people.

Filed under 13 albums that changed my life music antic clay myssouri michael bradley swans nick cave tom waits americana

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13 Albums that Changed My Life 

#11. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, The Doldrums

This was the first in a line of albums to hit me with what I can only describe as a vague, eerie, late-70’s early-childhood nostalgia gut-punch. Others include albums by Boards of Canada and Bibio. It also makes me think of sitting in my beloved gas-hog ghetto-sled Mercury, still tripping and listing to 70’s late night AM radio. Anyway, it did things to me that I could barely put my finger on. Good show, sir.

Filed under 13 albums that changed my life ariel pink music lo-fi

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13 Albums That Changed My Life 

#10. Erik Satie, Gnossiennes

A personal hero of mine. An eccentric musician of the Victorian age, labelled untalented and worthless by his teachers and largely reviled by the musical society of the time, which treasured bombast, familiarity and strict adherence to musical conventions. He was championed by Claude Debussy, however, and was a friend and influence upon Ravel. A composer and chapel master for the Rosicrucian Order, he later became affiliated with the Surrealist and Dadaist movements, and died due to the overconsumption of absinthe.

Somehow, through some gentle alchemy of simplicity and introspection, he hits you like a brick. Hours of same-sounding symphonic fulminations on the radio, and it was this guy who made me sit up from my haze and say “Who the fuck are you?" And, over ten years later, I still ask that same question.

Filed under 13 albums that changed my life erik satie music gnossiennes classical

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13 Albums That Changed My Life 

#9. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

I’ve been a jazz fan since I was a kid due to the age and interests of my father, but it bloomed when I moved to Chicago, for I ended up working at the Field Museum on a security team full of jazz musicians and jazz fans. It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Because it was the night shift, we had plenty of down time to swap music and chat, and some of the guys would even bring in their instruments and practice in the auditorium during lunch hour. If I was forced to pick a favorite song of all time, it would be this one. I have no high and mighty intellectual things to say about it. It just brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it, a sort of wordless, sublime beauty that feels unwelcome in this day and age, an acknowledgement that Love exists.

Filed under 13 albums that changed my life music jazz john coltrane