Sunday, 31 August 2014

Music Review - Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits (VOL 2)

This second album from talented Melbourne songwriter, Bernie Manning, shows a development from the merely entertaining towards the stance of the protest singer. This is not background music, not music to dance to or to play softly during dinner or housework. It is listening music.

Most of the vocals are performed by Jeff Burstin, whom you will know from iconic Australian band Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons. Mr Burstin's deep, sinister, angst-ridden tones bring a sharp edge to the new material,  some of which (Nature, Occupy Australia, The Other Side of the Law) has crossed over into the Protest Song Proper, a development which pleased me mightily, and I hope to see more of it. God knows our country needs protest singers. 

Manning's lyrics are a delight, informed by a deep sympathy with the natural world and the plight of the other. His empathy brings a reality to the songs that lifts them out of the realm of the merely descriptive and into the experiential. The few tracks where he performs himself are presented as spoken poems rather than songs, and the musical backing well supports this, providing a textured, atmospheric support to the material.

A special treat for those who were already fans of Volume One is provided in the last two tracks, where Manning, in a pair of short, witty monograms, brings us Men's Secret Fears. As a humourist myself, these were a particular delight to me, and had me laughing out loud at several points. Again, Manning's warm, gentle humour prevents these tracks from sinking into the merely bitchy, eliciting our sympathy even as we laugh.

Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits, Volumes One, Two and Three, are available from  Bernie's own website.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

On Vivisection

"If I, or someone I love, can be saved from a fatal illness, then yes, I do think it's justified," said my friend, Sue*. Sadly I looked at her across the room. Here at last, I thought, was my chance to unpack this horrible attitude.

"So, you believe the end justifies the means," I began carefully.

"Yes, it does."

"Ok," I went on,  "so it's alright for a person to be tortured to death as long as there is a chance that it might result in your getting something you want?"

"It's not being tortured to death, don't be so stupid."

"Oh, you don't think being, say, strapped down and having body parts removed is at all unpleasant? Or, say, having detergent put in your eyes every day? Or having your spine snapped, without anaesthetic, so that people can study the effect of paralysis...." here my stomach failed me. I don't want to think about that kind of crap any more than the next person.

"Don't be disgusting."

"Well, you do know that's the kind of thing that goes on, right?"

"Yes, but-"

"But what? It doesn't matter because it isn't someone you know? But those animals might have had someone that loved them just like you love Rover*. What if it was Rover having those things done to him? Would that be ok, for him to be tortured so that you might have a slim chance of recovering from some illness?"

"Of course not. I'd never let anything happen to my snookums." She wrapped her arms around Rover and gave him a big, smoochy kiss. Rover sighed and rolled over to have his stomach rubbed.

"But it's okay for it to happen to other dogs, as long as you might get something you want, then? So it's okay for someone to be tortured to death as long as you have a chance of getting something you want, and it doesn't cost you anything personally?"


"Okay, listen, I've got an idea. You've been complaining that you're broke, and you know I'm always broke. Why don't we go downtown tonight and rob a bottle shop or a servo? They always have stacks of cash. We can wear masks and bash the shop assistant over the head."

"Don't be stupid, that's just wrong."

"What, because it's stealing? And we'd hurt someone?"

"Well, yeah." Big eye roll.

"But you might get a lot of free money, and it's no one you know, so what if some shop person gets a concussion and loses his job? He's nothing to you."

"You just can't do things like that. You can't bash some guy over the head just to steal money."

"So you admit that some things are just wrong in themselves, and it's never ok to do them?"

"Of course."

"Don't you think that torturing someone to death is like that? It's much worse than a whack over the head."

At this point, Sue burst into tears, recanted her views and promised never again to buy a product not listed on the Cruelty Free list.

Of course, this whole conversation, except for the first couple of sentences, took place in my imagination. Real life people don't obligingly adopt the 'straight man' role in a Socratic dialogue. What actually happened was that Sue lost her temper, accused me of picking a fight with her and of wanting her to die of cancer (even though she was perfectly healthy).

But wouldn't it be lovely, if we could have this kind of conversation in real life? If even a few people were willing to examine their beliefs and pick out the inconsistencies, and then change the course of their conduct according to the conclusions they reached? Of course we can't force anyone to do this. But we can, always, set an example.

* names changed to protect the writer

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Hidden Price of Insomnia

From time to time it happens to me, as it does to everyone. A night where try as I may, I cannot get to sleep.

Turned over the pillow to the cool side - check.
Fetched wayward cat from the kitchen heating vent - check.
Got a drink of water - check.

It's not so bad if you aren't really tired. Then you just put on the light and read. Extra reading time, yay. That's fine. Or, if you're a writer, hey, no reason you can't get up and work!

It's not so bad, either, if when you wake and can't get back to sleep it's almost morning. Any time after 4:00 I can get up and begin my day. Those quiet hours while the rest of the household remains in torpid slumber are both productive and satisfying. Get an extra 3 hours work done while at the same time you feel smug about being so much more industrious than everyone else. Hard to beat this for an all-round great start to the day.

The trouble comes when you really are tired. So tired that your whole body aches. So tired that even another chapter of the latest James Patterson has lost its appeal. The hours left before you will HAVE to get up stretch out, both horribly long (hours of unwanted consciousness and discomfort to be endured) and terrifyingly short (shrinking opportunity to fit yourself for the coming day).

In this kind of state, it's very difficult to take any positive benefit from being awake. And the other night, when it happened to me, I spent the hours between 2:00 and 4:00 in watching myself. Watching my thoughts. Trying to see what is going on that prevents me from 'switching off'.

It seemed to me, although allowance must be made for a certain lack of objectivity, that it was memories that took over my brain. One after another, memories from the past rose up to occupy my mind, and over and over again I found myself helplessly circling the beaten track of these past events.

As there were many repetitions of this - catch myself dwelling on yet another memory. Sternly wrench my erring mind back to stillness and quiet. GOTO 0010 - I found I had the opportunity to look for common elements in the various things that I caught myself rehashing, and surprisingly, I did find a strong common thread running through the lot of them. Every one of these memories that so forbade my sleep was a terrible one. Deaths of loved ones. Other calamities. Even, I blush to admit, the school bullies who made my childhood a constant misery. I should be over that, surely, at 57. All these things rose up in the night hours to smite me, again and again, as if I deserved some bizarre punishment for having experienced misfortune. Not one of these spontaneously occurring memories was of anything positive, or delightful. When I tried to fix my mind on happy memories, they slipped away like a handful of water.

Further introspection between the hours of 3:30 and 4:00 suggested a possible reason for this. All of the terrible things I remembered that gruesome night were events that had changed me in some way. Bent me from what path I was on towards the person I would eventually become. It occurs to me now that generally, events that have this effect of bringing about a change in a person are rarely pleasant ones. I wondered if it were not the effectiveness of the memories my sleepless mind had chosen rather than their dreadfulness. Instead of trying to focus on pleasant memories in general, if I had chosen life hinges that were actually pleasant, I wonder if I'd not have had a better time. We all have some of those along with the other sort, although they seem to lack the drama of the bad ones. They don't stick up from the landscape of memory in such a violent way, but they are there.

It's now my idea to create in advance a list of these positive life changing events, and keep it in the drawer in my bedside table for use in another such emergency. For this lying in the dark and dwelling on the failures of the past needs to be avoided at all costs, particularly by anyone with any kind of mood disorder. It strips away one's self-image and confidence like a belt sander; one might as well be listening to one's mother. I think there are few more harmful things one can do to oneself. And the more one allows this to happen, the more certain it is to happen in the future, not only on sleepless nights but in the quiet quotidian moments that ought naturally to be a refreshment in one's day, until the carping of the enemy voices of the past may drown out everything else.

And so, my advice to any insomniac is this: First, put on the light.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Book Trailer as Entertainment - Innovations from a Cutting Edge Author

Today's post introduces something I have never seen before, a ground-breaking innovation in the amorphous world of the book trailer. Canadian author Joseph Picard has created a short film in which, instead of directly plugging the book, he shows an interview with the main character in his book, Rubberman's Cage.

Thank you for joining us today, Joseph, and you've just completed a very innovative project where you made a video interviewing the main character in your new book, Rubberman's Cage. Tell me, what was the genesis of this idea?

Well, it comes from two elements. Book trailers, when they started out, were often drab affairs inspired by movie trailers, with buzz phrases relating to the book appearing over in-theme pictures... some still are. Some are better.
Also, while I've been on both ends of a review, (usually in text, occasionally in audio or video, but most often text), I've only recently seen interviews of characters. I reviewed a character from a book by Cas Peace a while ago, and it was a ton of fun. Playing make believe is what fiction's all about...

So it's basically a souped-up book trailer, with the character interview giving the reader a real look inside the book in place of the usual tired sales pitch that we see in so many book trailers?

I guess so. I toyed with doing readings into video, but those got boring (for me, and likely any viewers) pretty quick. They got more and more experimental, until I decided to act out a scene from Echoes of Erebus. It was badly acted, but the silliness of it took the wind out of my otherwise honed (coughHAHAHAcough) thespian skillz.
And I played both parts, one of which was female. I wore a Merida (from Brave) wig. And it wasn't even the right colour for the character!

I'll have to look for that one! In the instant work, only one of the parts, that of Lenth, the protagonist of Rubberman's Cage, is acted, the other part appearing as text. Was that done for effect?

Well, originally no. The interviewer happened to be on the wrong side of the globe [and whose fault is THAT?? ]* to get in front of my camera, but the end result worked out really well... I plan to use a similar format for the next one. It will be another from Rubberman's Cage, so visually, it will help them get along together. Even if the next one is quite a bit sillier.

* Joseph is referring to the fact that I played the part of the interviewer for him when he was creating the script for the film.

I agree - actually the anonymous print in my view contributes to the sinister feeling of the whole video. Now as far as the acting that is done in it, that is you yourself appearing as Lenth, is it not? And your portrayal of a man with an impoverished upbringing and few social skills is quite masterful. Had you experience as an actor?

Mainly in that I'm full of shi- er, I was happy to be the class clown. I got into character a bit physically, too. Lenth is pretty cleanly shaven (not by choice), and that was darned convenient. When I lose my chin fuzz, I drop about 10 years in age. Lenth is 22. I am... more than 32. I still think my 'Lenth' looks older than 22, but it's not bad.

He does look young, and I heartily salute your dedication to getting the right look. You shaved off your beard AND your hair! I don't think I would go that far.
Now, what about the other business; the music, for example? It has a marvellously sinister sound that I think fits your dystopian society to a T. Where did that come from?

I shave my head regularly.. not always THAT close though.. and it's hot as heck right now here.. so it was a task happily taken. I have fun with my hair- every other halloween season, I do this triple mohawk thing that looks better on me than I expected it to. And no one believes me that I once had a ponytail that went to the small of my back. That looked far WORSE on me than I expected.
Once upon a time, when only dorks went on the internet, and the 3L337 nerds were on dialup BBSs, I was very busy composing music. The tune in the Lenth interview was called "Radar", but the title didn't mean a lot. I made a ton of music, most of it horrible, and titles were a low priority after a while.

 Ohhh so you really did everything in the video yourself, didn't you, just like Enya! Good job! And what was the process like? What would you say were the main difficulties that you had to overcome?

Well, for one thing, I had to get new video editing software... I took a chance on a free (for basic functions) called Lightworks. I'll spare you the details, but it has a very unique way of thinking that's hard to get used to- such as no SAVE button. I think it saves after every change, then you just quit, putting your faith in the program.
Shooting location was a fun adventure, scouting locations... and after I found a good spot, the shoot went horrible, and the footage was unusable. I had to re-shoot in a more convenient, but less thematic location. Then today, I stumble across a spot literally in my back yard that's perfect with a little tweak. I used it today for the next video.
Beyond that, it was mainly the fumbling nonsense of lining up a shot on myself, while trying to avoid knocking over the tripod with my wheelchair.

Well you did a great job. And that aseptic white room was actually part of your back yard? Amazing!
So what do you hope to achieve with this video?

Haha, no, that was my baby-blue hallway. I ran filters and junk to wash it out, and the loss of some of my pigment in the process just fit in great for Lenth's upbringing.
What do I hope to achieve with it? Frankly, I have my doubts about the marketing power of book trailers and such, but really, I'm just my own biggest fanboy. It's fun, to see my characters in action, even if it's really just me. And embedded videos make my website less boring. It was that, or put in animated gifs of dancing hamsters.

OK, now a little about the content - yes, I know a lot of that was dictated by me since I asked the interview questions, but what made you situate the interview at the point within the book that you did? Rather than, perhaps, right at the beginning, or farther in?

When Lenth starts out, he's pretty much totally ignorant of his situation, or that anything about it was different. He didn't have much to talk about, and if someone appeared to start asking questions, he'd be far more shocked, (even frightened, maybe) to see a stranger. His Rubberman would likely get involved, and that would bring things to a halt pretty quick.
After about a third of the way in, he has a better understanding of his world, and is used to people outside of the small group he grew up with. He has an idea that there's more than he's seen so far, and aside from his goal to find his missing Brother, he's also enthusiastic to simply explore.
By contrast, if an interviewer met him far later, he would have too many answers. Maybe a little less open, maybe a little more burdened by his other concerns. At the time of the interview, he's just learning ... well... that he can learn. More than he was initially required to know. Oh my.... in the future, maybe book #42572597, he might discover the INTERNET!

Right! And then he could be interviewing us! Well, thanks for your time Joseph, and we look forward to reading the next book in the Rubberman saga.

Rubberman's Cage is due for release in September 2014. You can read my review of it HERE.

Find Joseph's other books at AMAZON and SMASHWORDS, and the author's own website, or connect with him on FACEBOOK.

And while you are about your shopping, don't forget to pick up your free copy of Summer Dreams and my own Dance of Chaos (use coupon code JF38B for a free download).




Monday, 11 August 2014

Book review - Lifehack, by Joseph Picard

On first starting Lifehack, I was inclined to feel a little disappointed - yet another zombie apocalypse, yada yada, I thought, despite the traditional science fiction origin of the zombies rather than the more overdone paranormal. But as the story developed I quickly realised that it was far from 'yet another' anything.

In a world gone crazy, its very existence threatened by a mad scientist, a traumatised young woman and a toughened combat veteran find the seeds of a great love. The development of the love between Regan and Major Terone builds slowly and comes gracefully to fruition just as they save the world. It's a charming and delicate love story, not marred by salaciousness or by over-sentimentalism, and providing a lovely counterpoint to scenes of violent action worthy of an Arnold Schwarzenegeer film.

The characters are well developed, and the different points of view well handled. Picard avoids the trap often seen in science fiction of boring on and on about the technology, and love scenes are handled with grace and restraint. There's a little spice of humour, and all in all Lifehack is a most enjoyable read which will appeal to science fiction afficionados and romance readers alike.

The book comes to a satisfying and definitive conclusion, avoiding the sin of the cliffhanger ending that is all too often perpetrated nowadays, but leaving enough doubt that the way is open for a sequel, and in fact I note with pleasant anticipation that two sequelae exist. 

Lifehack is available from AMAZON and SMASHWORDS and the author's own website.

And while you are about your shopping, don't forget to pick up your free copy of Summer Dreams and my own Dance of Chaos (use coupon code JF38B for a free download).

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Free books! Get them while you can!

In a joint promotion, the authors behind the anthology Summer Dreams are offering some of their other published work free and/or cheap. This offer is from 10 to 12 August inclusive. See below for the advertisement.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Announcement - How To Write A Book

It's been a long time in the making, but finally How To Write A Book, a joint effort from a group of writers within the BookGoodies Authors community, is available.

The book contains chapters on a wide variety of topics covering many aspects of writing, and there is something for everyone. It's an invaluable resource to the budding, or wannabe, writer, and also, dare I say it, has something to offer to the more experienced writer.

I must beware how loudly I sing the praises of the chapter on grammar and style issues, for that was written by me, but I will say that it provides a handy guide to the worst, and most common, pitfalls of new writers, and how to avoid them.

It is available at AMAZON