Archive for November, 2014

What Would Miss Marple Think of Charly?

November 28, 2014

It’s been busy, so I’ve been “reading” more via audio…  How do you handle the busy times?

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

Guinea Pigs Don't Read Books?

Guinea Pigs Don’t Read Books?

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Lang.  Non-fiction.  A remarkably well-written and fascinating look at several American writers (Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Carver) and the role of alcohol in their lives.  Neither preachy nor apologetic in tone.  The inclusion of medical information on how alcohol works on the brain – and why those workings would be particularly appealing to these men was a great element in the puzzle.

Fifth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones.  Audiobook.  Weak start.  Charly and Reyes’ sex life still annoys me.  However, the novel changed focus about half-way in, introducing some interesting prophesies.  I’ll probably continue on to Number Six.

4:50 from Paddington and A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie.  Audiobooks.  All my holds refused to come in – I’m now Number 1 on the list for three different audiobooks! – so I quickly downloaded a couple old friends.  I love Miss Marple.

Some Chinese Ghosts by Lafcadio Hearn.  Short but interesting.

In Progress:

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Audiobook.  Alan Robson’s mention in his wot i red on my hols column of a recent autobiography of Harrison gave me a desire to re-read.

Also:

Got the proofs for Artemis Invaded done and off to Tor.  I’ve been doing a lot of research reading, including an atlas so large I need to put it on a table to look at it.

TT: Hey, Hey…

November 27, 2014

JANE: First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.  Of course, for you, Alan, it isn’t Thanksgiving, so I’ll let you provide our opening gambit…

ALAN: Now, please don’t shout at me, but at this point I really feel that I have to mention The Monkees

Underestimated Talent?

Underestimated Talent?

JANE: Do!  I like their stuff.  Have since I was a kid watching the show in reruns.  In fact, one of the CDs in my car right now is a Monkees compilation.

ALAN: Oh, I’m so pleased to hear you say that. There’s a tendency to sneer at The Monkees because they were a “manufactured” group, supposedly America’s answer to the Beatles. But actually I felt that they quickly transcended their origins and made a lot of interesting and clever music. Both Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith are very talented musicians, and both of them have a strong folk music background.

JANE: Yes…  Despite the marketing of them as “new discoveries,” both Nesmith and Tork had recorded prior to joining The Monkees.  Tork, the most downplayed member of The Monkees, was a seasoned performer.  Davy Jones came out of acting – including Oliver! – a show that demands singing talent.  Dolenz had mostly acted, but he had performed music on the side.

Would you like to hear a cool story about the song “Mary, Mary”?

ALAN: Yes please. I would.

JANE: “Mary, Mary” had been a hit for The Paul Buttersfield Blues Band and, when it was released by The Monkees,  including having it credited to them, there was much furor.  How could that horrible pop group make such a claim!

Thing is, “Mary, Mary” had actually been written by Mike Nesmith (although Mickey Dolenz sings it on The Monkees’ album), a thing that somehow, mysteriously, The Paul Buttersfield Blues Band had failed to mention on their album.

ALAN: I never knew that. OK – my turn. Would you like to hear a cool story about the song “Randy Scouse Git”?

JANE: Absolutely!

ALAN: The song was written by The Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz after a visit to England where he saw a TV programme called Till Death Us Do Part. It was a comedy about a working class British man called Alf Garnett who held strongly conservative and racist views. Garnett spent much of the programme screaming virulent abuse at all and sundry. A very, very mild and watered down version of the programme appeared on American TV under the title All In The Family. A constantly recurring phrase in the show was Garnett’s description of his son-in-law as a “randy scouse git.” The phrase tickled Dolenz’ fancy and so he used it as the title of the song.

JANE: Uh, what is a “randy scouse git”?

ALAN: “Randy” means sexually excited. A “scouse” (or scouser) is a person from Liverpool (the Beatles were all scousers). And a “git” is an annoying and stupid person. So the phrase as a whole would probably translate into American as a “horny jerk from Liverpool.”

Obviously it’s not a polite thing to say, and certain strait-laced recording company executives objected to it and asked Dolenz for an alternate title. So he called the song “Alternate Title,” which is a joke that never ceases to amuse me.  Micky Dolenz was actually the lead singer on the song. Davy Jones, the usual singer, stayed in the background for this one. The lyrics are very clever (and often funny) and the music is pleasingly complex with some elegantly handled time changes. I think it’s probably my favourite Monkees track.

JANE: I also like it and, funny thing, the horrible phrase “Randy Scouse Git” never appears in the song.  I’m sure most Americans – if they thought about it at all – assumed it was the name of the narrator of the song.

I’ll argue with you about Davy Jones being the “usual” singer.  Certainly, he did most of the ballads and sappy love songs (“I Wanna Be Free,” “Daydeam Believer,” “Valerie”) but Micky Dolenz does the lead on some of their most well-known pieces, including their theme song, “Last Train to Clarksville,” and “Steppin’ Stone.” Oh…  and “Words” – possibly one of the nastiest break-up songs ever.

Dolenz also proves that he can sing “scat” in the brilliant and really insane song “Going Down,” which is the narrative of a man who, while inebriated, jumps in the river to drown himself when his girl tells “him to forget it” and then regrets his choice.

I can keep up with Dolenz’s singing for the first part, but then I fall behind.  It’s a running game with me to see how far I can go.  Jim is very tolerant.

Mike Nesmith sings lead less often, but does a good job on “Listen to the Band.”  Peter Tork does an interesting turn with Mickey Dolenz on “Words.”

Uh…  You triggered a waterfall.  Sorry.  Your turn.

ALAN: I’ll just go and dry myself off with a Bob Dylan song. Dylan, of course, was the most famous of the folk-influenced “rock” singers. There was an incident at the Newport Festival in 1965 when he was booed because he played a set with an electric guitar rather than the acoustic guitar that he’d always played previously. A section of the audience obviously felt that he was denying his heritage.

JANE: Yet the folk sensibility that Dylan brought to rock gave permission for American groups to sing about something more serious than 1) I love my baby 2) My baby doesn’t love me 3) variation on the same.

Without Dylan, Jefferson Airplane would never have convinced their studio to let them do pieces like “Volunteers,” “We Can Be Together,” or any of their other politically charged pieces.  But the times, they were a’changin’…

ALAN: Indeed they were. In England The Strawbs were making similar political statements. They had a hit record with “Part Of The Union,” a very clever song which the trade union movement unofficially adopted as an anthem for the working man. However, the lyrics can also be read sarcastically, and if you do that, it turns into a strong anti-trade union song. Now that’s having your cake and eating it too!

JANE: I love lyrics like that.

ALAN: Riding on Dylan’s coat-tails, we had Donovan. His first big song was the very Dylan-esque “Catch The Wind” and on the strength of it many critics began referring to him as the British Bob Dylan. There’s no doubt that Donovan was a talented singer/songwriter, but he couldn’t really hold a candle to Dylan and maybe the comparison did him more harm than good in the long run.  He seems to have fallen silent these days. I always liked him a lot, and I still listen to his album A Gift From A Flower To A Garden with enormous pleasure.

JANE: I’ve heard some Donovan and quite liked some of his songs.  He did one called “Fly Jefferson Airplane,” written to express his reaction to the San Francisco folk/rock scene. Later, Jefferson Airplane would incorporate Donovan’s song into their own performances.

Tangenting off for a moment…  You’re right that being compared to someone else like that is never good for artists of any sort.  If the artist tries to be the writer they’re compared to, they’re forever in the shadow.  If they don’t, there will always be those who are disappointed.

Now, in part because of my splurge on The Monkees, I’m going to need to stop before mentioning my favorite rocker who started in folk.  Let me save that for next time…

Talking with Emily Mah Tippets

November 26, 2014
Two of Emily's Novels

Two of Emily’s Novels

News Flash!  Indies First is a promotion where writers step up to encourage book buyers to support their independent bookstores.  This year’s spokespersons are Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.  As part of this, I’ll be at Page One Books here in Albuquerque from 1:00 to 2:00 on the afternoon of Saturday, November 29th, acting as a guest bookseller.  Even if  you can’t drop in while I’m there, other authors – and other bookstores – are taking part in the promotion.  I hope you’ll take advantage of it!

I thought it might be fun to introduce the readers of the Wednesday Wanderings to some of the other writers I associate with regularly, both from the New Mexico crowd and elsewhere.

This week I’m talking to Emily Mah Tippetts, author of Somebody Else’s Fairytale and its sequels, Nobody’s Damsel and The Hunt for the Big Bad Wolf, along with short stories that have been published in markets like Analog, and The Black Gate.  Once we’re done chatting, you might like to check out her websites: www.emtippetts.com and www.emilymah.com

JANE:  So, Emily, in my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came writing somewhat later.

Where do you fall in this spectrum?

EMILY: In the former. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I found out where books came from. There isn’t a time I can remember when I didn’t make up stories, and to put that in perspective, I clearly remember my first day of preschool, meeting my little sister for the first time, and so on. I have a very long memory!

JANE:   You do, indeed!  I know you have a law degree and have been involved in a variety of very interesting projects – including founding an afterschool camp back when you were a Girl Scout.

What made you decide to make writing a major focus in your life?

EMILY:  It was always my goal. I went to law school because it required me to constantly work on expressing myself in writing, and because it can provide a good income. But the moment graduation was in sight, I applied to Clarion West and got in. After graduation, I packed up my things and drove up to Seattle to attend.

JANE: That shows real planning!

I met you through the local SF/F community, so I know that’s one of the types of fiction you write.  What draws you to SF/F?

EMILY: Growing up in Los Alamos where everyone works in science and technology, I guess? I’m not really sure; if my younger self could see me now, she’d probably be a little shocked. The first science fiction movie I ever saw was E.T. and it gave me nightmares for years. Literally, years. So did the sand people in Star Wars. So, I’m not sure how I managed to fall in love with science fiction.

JANE: Are any of your SF/F titles available?

EMILY: I’ve only ever sold short stories in the genre, and yes, they’re available on Amazon. I’m adding each one as I get the rights back.

JANE:  We both have stories in Steve (S.M.) Stirling’s forthcoming “Emberverse” anthology: The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth.  Can you supply us with a teaser for your story?

EMILY: Marc was finally enjoying life. He’d left his backwoods hometown, started building a social life online, and even had a chance at romance with a girl he met on his mission in Chile. His future was bright, until the lights went out for good.

JANE: That sounds interesting…   I like the contrast between “bright” future and lights going out.  The mention of “mission” reminds me…  Steve had already incorporated LDS into the “Emberverse.”  What made you decide to make your character a member?

EMILY: In SM Stirling’s Change universe, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains order in the Rocky Mountain corridor. While Latter-day Saints have appeared as secondary characters in his books, I figured it would be interesting to show the Change from the perspective of one. I’m LDS myself, so it made logical sense that I tell one of these stories.

JANE: Ah…  A classic example of “write what you know.”  Good use of resources.

 You write in other genres than SF/F.  I’m particularly fond of Someone Else’s Fairytale which turns on its head the hackneyed romance trope of girl meets unattainable guy and, against the odds, he falls for her.  In fact, I wouldn’t call it a “romance novel” at all – it’s a great book about what it takes to make and maintain a relationship.

What other sorts of fiction do you write?

EMILY: I’m not sure how to classify my other fiction. Fairytale is pretty representative of my style; I like to subvert romance tropes. I’m not a fan of love as destiny stories. To me, the best romances explain how it is the characters get to their happily ever after. Because of the ages of my characters, much of what I write would be YA and upper-YA.

JANE: I agree.  Love is important, but it’s what a person does with love that interests me.  A romantic relationship should be the beginning of the story, not the end.

One last question…  You’re a very busy person.  You’re married, have two children in single digits, run your own business, and still find time to write.

What advice do you have for those of us who sometimes find life taking over our writing time?

EMILY: I wish I had some! Honestly, I think it’s a matter of just making use of every second you have and putting things in priority. But sometimes even that breaks down. My business, EM Tippetts Book Designs  is structured so that most of the work (and money) goes to my contractor formatters, who are fantastic. I just manage the files and do the customer service. Whenever I take on something new, I make sure I have a plan for how to make it manageable.

But it’s still a balancing act! I never finish a day having done everything I wanted to.

JANE: Me either.  I’m beginning to wish that I could do without sleep!

Thanks for taking time from your busy day to let me interview you.  Now I’ll let you (and me) get back to work.

FF: Issues of Trust and Honesty

November 21, 2014

Welcome to my side of a book chat…

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Father Reads to Son

Father Reads to Son

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

My Real Children by Jo Walton.  Beautifully written, but I had the plot figured out by a third in.  Not a book with surprises.

Icefall by Matthew Kirby.  Audiobook.  I really liked this.  The material from Norse mythology is given a new freshness by being incorporated into this tale of a small group of Vikings, isolated and suspecting a traitor in their midst.

In Progress:

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Lang.  Non-fiction.  A remarkably well-written and fluid look at several American writers (Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Carver) and the role of alcohol in their lives.  Neither preachy nor apologetic in tone, just fascinating.

Fifth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones.  Audiobook.  I’m giving this series one more try, because there are plot elements that fascinate me, even as I grow increasingly annoyed with Charli’s messed up attitude toward any form of intimacy – emotional or physical.

Also:

Page proofs for Artemis Invaded.  Still.  I keep getting interrupted.

TT: Folk? Rock?

November 20, 2014

JANE: So, Alan, for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been discussing folk music.

ALAN: I’m sorry, perhaps I let my enthusiasm run away with me.

JANE: Not at all.   It’s been fun and I learned a lot – including that I like a lot more folk music than I realized!  One thing I found myself thinking about is how folk music has had quite an influence on modern rock. Do you agree?

A Little Bit Folkie, A Little Bit Rock n Roll

A Little Bit Folkie, A Little Bit Rock n Roll

ALAN: Oh, indeed. Traditional folk music often made contemporary social and political comment and that’s a trend that overlaps with much modern rock music. My favourite example is perhaps Jethro Tull who sang one of my favourite songs in “Aqualung” (…sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent…).

That song goes on to extoll the virtues of a cup of tea, so it isn’t all bad! The band leader Ian Anderson was hugely influenced by the folk tradition (Jethro Tull  played several gigs with Fairport Convention). Just listen to Heavy Horses, and Songs from the Wood. Any song on those albums could happily have been played in a smoky bar on the folk club circuit, and often was.

JANE: Ooh…  You’ve punched a button here.  I hate the song “Aqualung.”   Positively.  Passionately.  The image you quote is simply too creepy.  Jim’s had trouble getting me to listen to any Jethro Tull because of that, even though I love the inclusion of flute.

ALAN: Oh it’s a creepy image, no doubt about that, but what the song is actually about is homelessness, not paedophilia. The whole album (which is also called Aqualung) can be regarded as a concept album whose theme is the distinction between religion and God. In many ways it’s an extraordinarily cerebral album. Nevertheless it was one of Jethro Tull’s bestselling works…

Ian Anderson (the singer and flautist) always denied that it was a concept album and as a direct reaction to the idea, he wrote and performed the concept album to end all concept albums Thick As A Brick which had only one song on it which meandered all over both sides of the record and which had a huge number of time and theme changes. I love its pretentiousness and it remains my favourite Tull album.

JANE: I guess I could give it a try…  I wonder why he didn’t call it “Thick as Two Short Planks.”  Never mind, it’s sort of obvious.

What’s interesting to me is that, if I had been asked to classify them, I would have said Jethro Tull was a rock band, not a folk group.  The truth is, there are a lot of groups – both American and British – that wobbled back and forth across that line.

ALAN: Exactly! I think we’re facing the same categorical problem that we struggled with when we tried to define science fiction and fantasy. While the mainstream examples of a genre are quite obvious, it’s on the borders where all sorts of disparate influences can be brought to bear, that the most interesting art takes place. Jethro Tull is perhaps the perfect example. Calling them a rock band is a valid label to hang on them, but it is by no means the whole story.

JANE: Based on what you’ve said – and the flute – I’d agree.

ALAN: One of the reasons that I find the music of my youth so exciting, pretentious though much of it was, is because of that genre crossover.

JANE: What’s interesting is how many groups that would come to be known as “rock” bands came out of folk.  Jim and I recently watched a DVD about Jefferson Airplane that led to us both reading what might be called a biography of the group.

Most of the musicians in the group were originally “folkies.”  Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen was already an accomplished enough musician that he was teaching guitar.  He claimed that his audition with Jefferson Airplane was his first encounter with electric guitar and a desire to pursue that – rather than any actual interest in joining a band – was why he eventually signed up.

Airplane bassist, Jack Cassidy commented that when they first encountered The Who, whose stage antics included destroying guitars, they were shocked because, I paraphrase, “We came out of the folk  and jazz traditions, where your guitar was sacred, like the altar of your art.”

ALAN: You’re quite right when you say that Jefferson Airplane wasn’t the only group with that kind of background. You can see it, for example, in the music of both The Byrds and The Mamas and the Papas. By the way, do you remember how I mentioned that the British folk groups all knew each other and freely exchanged personnel?

JANE: You bet!

ALAN: Well, I always found it amusing that, to an extent, The Mamas and the Papas and The Byrds had a similar relationship. If you listen to the lyrics of “Creeque Alley”, it documents some of the backwards and forwards movements as they combined and recombined in a search for their musical identity.

JANE: I hadn’t known that.  Janis Joplin eventually became the prototype of the screeching female rocker, sobbing out her pain to the world, but she also started out with a strong folk influence.  I’ve seen a DVD clip of one of the music festivals where Janis Joplin is up on stage wailing out her heart and Mama Cass in in the audience, awe writ large on her face.

ALAN: Oh! I’ve seen that clip. The look on her face is absolutely ecstatic!

There’s another band that I think fits perfectly into this discussion, but I’m afraid you’ll shout at me if I start talking about them…

JANE: I promise I won’t but, sadly, I need to go off and actually do some work.  Can you save it for next time?

The Sensual Writer

November 19, 2014

These past few Sunday evenings, I’ve been running a complicated “chapter” in my role-playing game.  The game’s title is Hostages in the Court of the Faceless Tyrant.  If I was going to give this particular chapter a title, it would be “The Challenge of Fear.”

Who Would You Cast?

Who Would You Cast?

Anyhow, the following morning, Jim and I were both still a bit “buzzed” from the conclusion of this chapter.  We started pretending that the game was actually a show we were watching, creating teasers for each of the three sections we’d already completed.

“What!  Father Beneficius and Pavel are missing?  What’s this about rainbows, mists, and mirrors?  And Damna’s with them?”

“We’ve found them, but it looks like our problems are just beginning.  [Olive voice over] ‘Why skeletons?  I thought the Minosians didn’t allow necromancy!'”

“Fire, rats, and snakes…  Someone knows us too well.  Let’s give it our best!  [Rafael voice over] ‘Damna, does this mean we’re breaking up?'”

I tossed in a teaser for next week’s game.

“Contradictio’s back and it’s time for Persephone’s Big Decision. [Persephone voice over] ‘Oh, no!  What should I do?'”

This made me think about one of the questions I have the hardest time answering as a novelist: “If your book was made into a movie (or television series), who would you want to play…?”

I’m always floored by this question and my usual reply is “Well, I haven’t watched a television series since Xena and Hercules, and we didn’t even finish those.  The last movie we saw in the theater was the final installment of ‘The Lord of the Rings.’  I’m just not up-to-date on actors.”

(Just in case you wonder, we’re not snobs who think any visual media isn’t worth watching.  It’s just that lately we’ve been watching anime or classic movies.)

While my “usual reply” is perfectly true, as Jim and I were constructing the “teasers” for our episodic game, I realized that the reason I have trouble “casting” my books is a lot more complicated.  People often talk about being “visual” writers.  I’m not, at least not in the sense this is usually meant, which implies stepping back and “seeing” the action as if you were directing a movie or play.

I’m more what I’ll term a “sensual writer.”  Especially when I write novels, I rarely use the omniscient point of view.  Whether I’m writing in first person or third person, I stay locked within the point of view of a specific character.  I “see” the action through their eyes, experience it through their senses.  This makes it a lot harder to visualize the characters as one thing or another, because different people see the same person completely differently.

When I was a kid, we had a book – I think it was part of a series on basic psychology – that showed a diagram of how differently the same person was seen by the people in his life.  The center of the picture showed a very average, middle-aged man.  Around the edges, were four pictures showing how this man looked to himself, his wife, his secretary, and his boss.

The man saw himself as younger than he was, his hairline not as receding, with fewer lines on his face.  His wife, by contrast, saw every line and a distinct weariness.  His secretary saw him with a slight leer.  His boss as hangdog.  What fascinated me was that each of these depictions were probably true to a point, reflecting different situations.  The one that was not true was how the man saw himself…

Something similar happens to me with my characters.  I don’t see them as generically “cast,” “Five foot two, eyes of blue…”  I see them through the eyes of the other characters.

Let’s take Adara, one of the main characters in Artemis Awakening.  Both Griffin and Terrell see Adara through the filter of their admiration for her, colored by a very natural sexual attraction.

 In contrast, Bruin’s view of Adara is colored by the fact that he’s known Adara since she was about five years old.   His view of her is a prism cut from the nineteen years that he has effectively served as her father.

 Kipper, Bruin’s newest charge, is young enough that he doesn’t see Adara so much as a woman as a role model.  In his eyes, Adara’s the heroic figure he hopes to be someday.

Adara would see herself completely differently…  And, like the man in the psychology book, her vision would be the least reliable.

I could keep going, with examples from other characters or other books, but I trust you get my point.

The funny thing is that, while I have trouble “casting” my characters, I have no problem at all in knowing when a depiction of one of them is right or somehow off the mark.  If I was working with one of those police sketch artists , I’d have no problem saying things like:  “No, the eyes are too wide.  The hairline isn’t quite that high.  Great cheekbones.  She’s slim, yes, but not that willowy.”

I’ve decided that if the day comes that anyone wants to make a movie or television series based on one of my works, I won’t even try to cast it myself.  I’ll come to my readers and ask them for their opinions.  It would be fun to learn how they see these people I know so well.

FF: What’s Real?

November 14, 2014

Welcome to my side of a book chat…

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Kel Contemplates

Kel Contemplates

This week the question of reality keeps cropping up.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater.  Sequel to the excellent The Raven Boys.  Equally excellent.  I’m going to be starting the next one soon.

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook. This light series seems to be losing weight as time goes on.  Still, I keep finding something to enjoy.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook. Sometimes there’s nothing like visiting with an old friend.  I’ve loved Miss Marple for more years than I am willing to admit.

Top Secret Twenty-one by Janet Evanovich.

In Progress:

My Real Children by Jo Walton.

Icefall by Matthew Kirby.  Audiobook.  I liked his Clockwork Three.

Also:

Page proofs for Artemis Invaded.

TT: A Closer Look at the Folk

November 13, 2014

JANE: Last time, I pointed out that there are many varieties of folk music and suggested that we might take a closer look.

You commented that one of the great things about folk was that it wasn’t limited to traditional pieces, but was open to new material as well.  Afterwards, I was thinking how this extended further – that even traditional pieces were open to reinterpretation.

One Song, Two Variations

One Song, Two Variations

ALAN: You really are a secret folkie, aren’t you? That happens a lot, and it’s one of the reasons why the music stays so alive and relevant.

JANE:  I’m discovering that I know a lot more about folk than I realized.  That’s for sure!

One song that immediately came to mind was “The Cherry Tree Carol.”  This is a lovely piece often included on Christmas albums, although it really isn’t a Christmas song.  It tells the tale of how Mary told Joseph she was pregnant – and how Joseph didn’t take this announcement well at all.

The song begins: “When Joseph was an old man/an old man was he/ he wedded Virgin Mary/ the queen of Galilee…”

Are you familiar with it?

ALAN: No – that one seems to have passed me by. Do go on!

JANE: What’s interesting is how different groups have rewritten the payoff.  The basics are the same.  Mary makes her announcement.  Joseph is not happy, Baby Jesus speaks “from his mother’s womb” asking the cherry tree to bow down so his pregnant mother can pick cherries.

However, in the version by the group Just Friends on their album A Dulcimer Holiday the lyric is something like: “and Mary gathered cherries/ while Joseph stood around.”

The Clancy Brothers version is much harder on Joseph: “Mary shall have cherries/ and Joseph shall have none.”  Jim found this very unfair to poor Joseph, so I pulled out the other version for him.  He was relieved to learn that the interpretation wasn’t absolute.

ALAN: That kind of thing is very common. There really isn’t any such thing as a definitive version of many of the old songs. James Francis Child (in the nineteenth century) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (in the twentieth century) compiled huge collections of traditional material and again and again and again they set down variant lyrics for the same song.

Amusingly, Vaughan Williams’ first name is pronounced “Rafe.”  I just thought you’d like to know that…

JANE: “Ralph” = “Rafe”?  You Brits are definitely pronunciation challenged.

Any other thoughts on how folk music stays “alive” rather than being trapped in tradition?

ALAN: Absolutely! Not only do the lyrics vary, so do the musical styles. On the one hand, you might find the much derided Morris Dancing music, on the other hand something vaguely Elizabethan involving dulcimers and lutes, and on the gripping hand something with pounding rock rhythms. All can live happily together, and indeed all may well be in the repertoire of a single group of people.

I have a record of Morris Dancing music which Robin absolutely hates (though I love it). Once I had a student on a course who asked if he could leave early on the Friday afternoon because he had to get back home in time to attend a Morris Dancing ceremony to welcome the new sun. If he didn’t get back in time, the sun wouldn’t rise the next morning. He was completely serious. I made certain to time the course appropriately. I didn’t want to lose the sun…

JANE: I was introduced to Morris Dancing in Terry Pratchett novels.  I’m not sure it made it to the U.S., although I’d be happy to be informed otherwise.  Maybe re-creation groups have kept it going here.  That would be very good, since making sure the sun will rise should not be left to any one population!

ALAN: Absolutely! Good backups are vital.

I spent much of my teens and twenties travelling the wilds of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in search of obscure pubs with folk singers in the attic. I saw many of my heroes live. Traditionally, folk singers stick a finger in their ear, the better to hear their demonic wailings via bone conduction. Once I saw Martin Carthy (very famous in the field) playing live. He used two hands to stick fingers into both ears. Memory insists that he continued to play his guitar with one foot and his willy. But I must be making that up…

JANE: Well, if he was using his willy, that would explain why folk music gradually died out on the pop music scene.  That’s a joke.  I know folk remains a vital, multi-cultural musical force.  In fact, it’s so varied that it’s unfair to lump all forms of folk music together.

For example, my immediate reaction if someone says “Do you like folk music?” is to wince, because I’m thinking of poorly done harmonies, badly-mixed albums where banjo, harmonica, and jangling tambourines overwhelm the gentler instruments, while school children shrill with atonal enthusiasm.  This is like judging SF after reading a handful of poorly written pulp pieces.

ALAN: That’s a perfect analogy. You’re exactly right.

JANE: I love dulcimers…  They’re magical.  Harps are great, too.  Good acoustic guitar, flute…   All these make my heart soar.  And, like you, I have a weakness for songs that tell stories.

Any suggestions as to groups I might like?

ALAN: Oh, I could make a huge list! But before I do, you need to understand that, in the UK anyway, everybody knows everybody else and the groups change personnel between themselves all the time. The cover of my LP The History of Fairport Convention is a family tree that attempts to define the coming and going of various personnel among various groups during the years 1967 to 1972. It’s so bewilderingly complex that at several points the diagram simply gives up.

So you must realise that the Steeleye Span who made the album Please to See the King in 1971 is a very different Steeleye Span from the group that made the album Parcel of Rogues in 1973. Nevertheless, there is a degree of stylistic continuity. Steeleye Span have always concentrated largely on traditional material.

Renaissance, on the other hand, while obviously influenced by the folk tradition, never performed any traditional material at all. The lyrics of many of their songs were written by a poet who rejoiced in the magnificent name Betty Thatcher-Newsinger (about whom I know nothing). The Renaissance members wrote their own music to go with Betty’s lyrics.

Pentangle straddled those two extremes with an eclectic mix of traditional and modern material.

And, more recently, I’ve fallen in love with a British group, Mumford and Sons. And an American group, The Decemberists. Both of them sing original material that is obviously very influenced by the folk tradition.

JANE: Thanks for the recommendations.  I’ve heard of Steeleye Span and Renaissance.  Jim might even have some of their albums.

Anyone else want to offer recommendations?

Artemis Invaded: Proofs and Sneak Peek

November 12, 2014

The page proofs for Artemis Invaded, the sequel to Artemis Awakening, arrived earlier this morning.  Guess what I’m going to be doing this week?

Awakeing and Invaded

Awakeing and Invaded

Yep.  I’m going to be re-reading the novel, looking for any and all flaws that might have crept in during the process of formatting (still often called “typesetting”) the manuscript.  I know some authors race through this process, but I’ve had enough odd experiences that I am always very careful.

For those of you who haven’t run into the term before, page proofs are the manuscript of the novel set up as it will be printed, including headings, dingbats, and any other flourishes.  The author is requested not to make any major changes – and is usually contractually restricted from doing so unless she wants to pay for the book being reformatted.

Even with today’s advances in computer typesetting, amazing errors can creep in.  Roger Zelazny warned me to always check the spelling of my name wherever it occurred in the text.  He’d caught his misspelled more than once, including a striking instance where it was misspelled at the top of every page.  I figured that such errors belonged to the age of the dinosaurs (or at least Guttenberg and handset type), until I found my own name spelled “Linskold.”

(This is almost as good as the David Weber anthology cover that rechristened me “Jan” Lindskold – and went to press that way.)

But Lindskold is not a particularly usual name.  In fact, many people pronounce it as if the first “d” is silent.  (Which is isn’t.)   I can see how the misspelling might be missed.

The error which always comes back to haunt me when I’m tempted to get lazy  and speed through the proofs – or heaven’s forfend, skip reviewing them entirely – is one that occurred in the mass market edition of my novel The Buried Pyramid.  I’d been very busy when these came in and figured “Why bother?  I’ve gone through these already for the hardcover printing.  Certainly nothing new will have cropped up.”

But my sense of responsibility got the better of me, so I decided to at least skim.  My red pencil came out on the very first page, filling in the first few words in the first sentence.  Not many new errors occurred; then, at the start of Chapter Two, again there were missing words.  And in Chapter Three and Chapter Four and…

That’s right.  Something in the formatting program had glitched, dropping roughly the first five words of every single chapter.  I’ll admit, I was seeing red (and not just from my marking pencil) by the end of my review.  Now, though, I’m glad this happened.  Never again will I be tempted to be lazy and skip the page proofs.  In fact, I’m more careful than ever, allowing enough time so that I can restrict myself to only a few chapters each sitting, so that I don’t become inattentive and tempted to skim.

Come along with me as I turn to the first chapter, “Forbidden Areas.”

“’Forbidden,’ you say?  That sounds promising.”

“Yes, I think it is.  Look at this codex, Griffin.  Maiden’s Tear has been a forbidden area since before the slaughter of the seegnur and death of machines.  There were other such prohibited zones, but they were not as absolutely off-limits as Maiden’s Tear seems to have been.”

Skipping down a paragraph or so:

“I asked, but couldn’t find out much about the place,” he continued.  “Maiden’s Tear was forbidden territory in the days of the seegnur.  Since then, it has been shunned by our people.”  Terrell looked uncomfortable.  “You see, Maiden’s Tear was where many of the seegnur met their deaths.”

I’m looking forward to reading on.  Excuse me while I get to work, won’t you?

FF: Graves, Apples, and Dream Thieves

November 7, 2014

Welcome to my side of a book chat…

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Lilybett Reads

Lilybett Reads

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

Forerunner by Andre Norton.  Future archeology and cool characters.  I’d read this decades ago, but have never read the sequel, which I have waiting.

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones.  Audiobook. Charley Davidson is the Grim Reaper…  Charley has PTSD from events in the previous book.  That only makes sense.  What makes less sense is why she continues to be turned on by violence on the part of her lovers.  Disconnect!  Very neat twist in one plotline.

Poison Apples: Poems for You My Pretty by Christine Heppermann.  Using free verse and fairy tale motifs, the author takes on the modern “beauty myth” and shows that what we all think of as a “new” problem maybe isn’t so new after all.  Very short volume.  Often punchy.

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  After behaving very slutty (her own word) in the previous two books, Stephanie is back to thinking about who her actions might hurt – including herself.  I found myself wondering if Ms Evanovich got some negative reaction to the prior novels.

In Progress:

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater.  Sequel to the excellent The Raven Boys.  I’d put off reading this in hope our library would get the audio version, but couldn’t wait any longer.  Dark – but the good dark that comes from shutting your eyes and digging around in your soul.

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Right now my greatest interest is in where the giraffe is hiding and why no one  is talking about it.

Also:

This week was a mess of small jobs, so the short stories have been on hold.  Where does time go?