Music Soothes the Savage Lamm

I’m going to risk sounding like a curmudgeon and complain about modern music. But I’ll make up for it, I promise. And I won’t complain about all modern music, just the stuff that follows the usual formula. You know what I mean. It’s music that was meant to be danced to and not listened to. It’s music written for people who won’t really be paying attention. And just so you know, I have absolutely zero problem with that kind of music… when I’m not really paying attention. Otherwise, I need music to tell me a story.

It sounds like an odd request, doesn’t it? I mean song lyrics are just supposed to be poems about falling in love or breaking up, right? NO! A THOUSAND TIMES NO! From the beginning, songs were stories set to music. I don’t understand why the majority of pop music ignores this. But all is not lost for those of us who want to be simultaneously rapt by a great song and sitting on the edge of our seats wondering what will happen next. There are many modern musical bards out there. And I’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of some of my favorites, along with an example of why I think they’re awesome.

Cake

“Going the Distance”

No trophy, no flowers, no flash bulbs, no wine.
He’s haunted by something he cannot define.
Bowel shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse,
Assail him, impale him with monster truck force.

This band has such a unique sound and atypical instrumentation that the stories they tell are just icing on the already awesome cake. “Going the Distance” is a song about a guy who can’t stop driving his car around the racetrack because he’s obsessively mourning the one that got away. I love it. It’s tragic, and the music echoes an engine sound beautifully.

The Decemberists

“The Mariner’s Revenge”

And then, that fateful night,
We had you in our sight,
After twenty months at sea.
Your starboard flank abeam,
I was getting my muskets clean,
When came this rumbling from beneath.
The ocean shook,
The sky went black,
And the captain quailed.
And before us grew
The angry jaws
Of a giant whale.

They had me at the giant whale, which shows up in the first verse (this is a later one). This song is chilling and creepy and oh so very yes! I recall going to one of their concerts where they saved this song until last, and the whole crowed roared when they heard it. Because you can’t NOT love it. And this isn’t their only great story. The lead singer, Colin Meloy, graduated with an MFA in creative writing, and it shows. Just a fun FYI, I named Duke Eli Mahler after their song “Eli the Barrow Boy” and I gave him a wheelbarrow scene just because.

Ben Folds

“Cigarette”

Fred Jones was worn out,
From caring for his often
Screaming and crying wife,
During the day, but
He couldn’t sleep at night for fear that she,
In a stupor from the drugs that didn’t ease the pain,
Would set the house ablaze
With a cigarette.

This is the song in its entirety. Ben Folds can really spin a tale, and it doesn’t take him long to do so. Fred Jones even has a sequel in which the title character loses his job, poor guy. This is flash fiction at its best.

Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley

“A Campaign of Shock and Awe”

Behold, the eighth wonder of the natural world!
Come one and come all, see the two-headed girl.
Stupendous! Revolting!
You’ll be shocked, you’ll be awed!
A true freak of nature, a blunder of God!
But possessing such talents,
Hear them sing, see them dance.
As seen in the highest class parlors of France.
Just ten bucks a photograph,
Get your seats while they last.
We take Visa and MasterCard, debit or cash.

Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley created an entire album dedicated to their characters, Evelyn and Evelyn, conjoined twins who work in a circus side-show. It’s both humorous and heartbreaking. The title song has me emotionally invested after the first few lines (here’s a beautiful stop-motion video made for “Evelyn Evelyn”).

Sufjan Stevens

“The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us”

North of Savanna we swim in the palisades.
I come out wearing my brother’s red hat.
There on his shoulder my best friend is bit seven times;
He runs washing his face in his hands.

Oh, how I meant to tease him.
Oh, how I meant no harm.
Touching his back with my hand, I kiss him.
I see the wasp on the length of my arm.

I’ve been mad for Sufjan ever since one of his songs gave me nightmares before I even knew it existed. I’d heard his “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” courtesy of my alarm clock, and instead of waking up to it, dreamed about a terrifying killer clown. The above song, though, is probably my favorite of his. The imagery in it is so full of nostalgia, I almost feel like he’s singing about my own memories.

Gorillaz

“Fire Coming Out Of A Monkey’s Head”

Once upon a time at the foot of a great mountain,
there was a town where the people known as Happyfolk lived,
their very existence a mystery to the rest of the world,
obscured as it was by great clouds.
Here they played out their peaceful lives,
innocent of the litany of excess and violence that was growing in the world below.
To live in harmony with the spirit of the mountain called Monkey was enough.
Then one day Strangefolk arrived in the town.
They came in camouflage, hidden behind dark glasses, but no one noticed them; they only saw shadows.
You see, without the Truth of the Eyes, the Happyfolk were blind.

How could I not mention Gorillaz? The whole band is an incredibly imaginative, animated fiction. Every song sounds different from the last, and each story has a different feel. I never tire of them.

And last but so far from least, it’s scary:

Tom Waits

“Circus”

We put up our tent on a dark,
Green knoll outside of town by
The train tracks and a seagull dump.
Topping the bill was Horse Face Ethel
And her ‘Marvellous Pigs In Satin.’
We pounded our stakes in the ground,
All powder brown,
And the branches spread like scary
Fingers reaching.
We were in a pasture outside Kankakee.
And One Eyed Myra, the queen of
The galley, who trained the
Ostrich and the camels,
She looked at me squinty with her
One good eye in a Roy Orbison
T-shirt as she bottle fed
An orangutan named Tripod.

There are so many awesome Tom Waits story-songs, I couldn’t possibly list them all in one blog post and not look like a freak. But if you’ve never had a taste of this man’s delicious voice and darkly humorous music, you’ve missed something truly unique. The day I first heard him, I fell head over heals. The man is iconic. Honestly. Go and have a listen to some of his work. It speaks for itself.

So have I missed anyone? I’m sure I have. Feel free to list any great storytelling musicians you think I’ve overlooked. I’m always on the lookout for more.

My First Love Was Not a Dark Lord of the Sith

I had my next blog post all planned out. No really. And then something happened that made me toss it out the window.

For secret reasons, The Other Lamm and I have been searching through boxes and boxes of old paperwork. It was unbearably tedious work, until he tossed me an old, deteriorating folder and said, “This looks like yours.” At first I didn’t recognize it. Then I opened it.

You know that feeling you get when you smell the musty scent of your grandmother’s basement again as an adult, or you find your mother’s panda-shaped cake mould that hasn’t been used since your fifth birthday, or you hear a song you used to wake up to every morning for the first time in years? That’s how I felt when I opened that old folder and found, among a collection of treasures from my childhood, the story I wrote the day I decided I wanted to write down stories for the rest of my life. All of a sudden, I remembered finding the book that drove me to it.

I saw it for the first time in my elementary school library. As a child, I had a secret love affair with dragons that my parents didn’t approve of (“too dark, Jodi; try collecting unicorns instead”), and this book’s cover had a fiercely beautiful dragon on it. It was love at first sight. Though I was much too young to understand the story completely, I devoured it. I even memorized where it was on the shelves so I could go back and read more the next day without checking it out and taking it home to my potentially disapproving parents. When I finally came to a scene that made me cry for the story’s villain, I decided I wanted to create a story, too. I folded paper into a little book and began to write. I imitated my secret love as best I could. I had just learned to read and write, but I was determined to make something as beautiful as that book. When I finished my first attempt, I moved on to the next. I haven’t stopped since.

Finding my little homemade book brought back the experience of getting lost in a story for the first time ever—how I treasured that well-worn library book like it was pure gold in my hands. So when people ask me who my first love was, even though I usually answer Darth Vader, the truth is my first love was Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep. Darth Vader was second.

As soon as I have access to a good scanner, I’ll post a scan of my first efforts in an “About the Author” section of this website, so you can laugh with me at my atrocious spelling and awkward plot, and so you will believe me when I assure you that storytelling is something I have always done. It’s not a new hobby I’ll likely drop in a year or two; it’s part of who I am. And I am just so incredibly excited to finally be able to share it with you.

Why I Won’t Touch Time Travel with a Ten Foot Elder Wand

There are some things in writing I’d rather not touch. I’m not particularly fond of description that makes my stomach turn. Graphic abuse, torture, drowning kittens: things like that. And there are some things I won’t touch simply because I KNOW I will inevitably screw them up. One of those things is time travel.

The trouble with time travel is it’s a plot-hole magnet. No matter how careful or brilliant you are, you will dig a great big plot hole in any time travel story. Either that or your characters will have to be “too stupid to live” in order to make it work.

Even if you’re the most talented, awesome, lovable author in the world (let’s say… J.K. Rowling), and you’ve only included one little time-travel device in your world, you’ll most likely have a plot hole on your hands. Of course, J.K. Rowling is the Grand Empress of World-Building and the Immortal Overlord of Awesome Characters. She can overcome the time travel curse. But I can’t. At least, I don’t think I can.

So I’m not going to play with time travel. It’s too dangerous. Here, I’ll show you… What? You thought I came here without evidence? Never! I have evidence. Time travel is dangerous. Observe (it should be noted that all these reviews/videos contain spoilers for their respective films):

 

 

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gcJcgpTqUgI%5D

 

Or just watch the movie Timecrimes and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, mostly this post was just an excuse to share with you two awesome Harry Potter spoofs and my favorite reviewer of bad horror movies. Still…

I WILL NOT PLAY WITH TIME TRAVEL
I WILL NOT PLAY WITH TIME TRAVEL
I WILL NOT PLAY WITH TIME TRAVEL
I WILL NOT PLAY WITH TIME TRAVEL

How to Apply Pascal’s Wager to Publishing

[SPOILER ALERT: This post shares some secrets from the film, The Ring. If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so, and then come back here and tell me how awesome it was. You’re welcome.]

Blogging is not at all like riding a bicycle. You completely forget how to do it once you’ve stopped. Although, for someone like me, riding a bicycle is not at all like riding a bicycle either. So there’s that.

Still, not to be dissuaded, I asked The Other Lamm what I ought to write about in my new blog, and he said, “Why don’t you just write about writing? Or publishing?”

“But there are already a million blogs on writing and publishing,” I said.

“So?”

So I’ve decided to write what I know, and also what I don’t know, and also what I imagine I know but most likely don’t. The first question I should probably address is why I am choosing to self-publish.

To begin with, here’s something I learned about storytelling (not writing, since there is a difference): if no one gets to enjoy your stories, you’re doing it wrong. Storytelling is, remarkably, about telling stories. To other people. Of course, you can tell them to yourself, but you can do a lot of things to yourself and we all know what most people call that. So, yes, in order to tell stories, you have to find an audience, even if that audience consists of one slightly distracted person.

For years, I had no audience. I hid my stories in a dresser drawer (I didn’t need the space for clothes, being so fashionably unfashionable as I was). And maybe I escaped some humiliation by doing so—God knows I’m no A.S. Byatt—but there comes a time in most people’s lives when getting out there and risking humiliation is better than hiding in the dark. So I plan to step out into the light and suffer the usual bleary-eyed confusion until I’ve learned to adjust. Or not. Maybe I’ll never adjust. I don’t know, but I’m willing to try. And I’ve decided to try with Titan Magic.

Why self-publish? Because every story deserves the chance to be loved. I did introduce the manuscript to quite a few kind professionals who said it was attractive, well-mannered, and clever enough, but they just didn’t feel that marry-me-now spark of enthusiasm. Still, I thought, someone out there might love this story. And a story’s purpose is to be told.

So it’s settled. I’m going to tell you a story. If you don’t like it, I will cry bitter, bitter tears. If you take some enjoyment in it, I will dance the dance of the supremely happy. And if you fall in love with it, I will consider you a kindred spirit and adore you forever.

Now I know there are a lot of people who say self-publishing fiction is a terrible idea, and they may be right. I may be sabotaging myself. On the other hand, what if my characters are like Samara from The Ring? What if they can only exist in the minds of others, and if I don’t pass them on, they’ll crawl out of my book like proper Japanese ghosts and terrify me to death? Huh? Has anyone thought about that? I mean, on the one hand, I could get some bad reviews, but on the other, I could SCREAM UNTIL I DIE. Not a difficult choice, as far as I’m concerned.

And that’s why I’ll be publishing Titan Magic through Amazon and B&N this fall.