Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Undertow paperback now on sale!

Good news for the print loyalists! The paperback edition of Undertow is now available (ebook readers need to wait til Tuesday). Take a look and buy yourself a copy if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

One from the vaults: Reflections on Pink Floyd's The Final Cut

My favorite band, Pink Floyd, have just released The Endless River, their first album since 1994. I won't be hearing it until most likely Christmas (big hint: it's on my Amazon wish list). But the combination of overcast weather and Veterans' Day created the appropriate mood for one of their unjustly overlooked albums: The Final Cut.

The Final Cut was doomed to be a failure (though most artists should be so lucky as to have such a failure on their resumes). To understand why, a little history is in order: It was originally intended to be an add-on to the film adaptation of The Wall, giving a vinyl home to songs that were either substantially revised for or entirely new to the film. In fact, the 45 release of "When the Tigers Broke Free" shows stills from The Wall movie and says it's from the upcoming album The Final Cut. But chief songwriter Roger Waters, angered by the Falkland Islands War and what he saw as a betrayal of what World War II soldiers (including his father) fought and died for, created an entirely new album. This turn of events was complicated by the fact that the band itself was in nearly complete disarray, with its internal power struggles and personality conflicts having reached their peak. The result is a somewhat awkward and uneven but emotionally powerful song cycle about the price of war and what happens when we fail to honor the sacrifices of the fallen.

The album gets off to an uneven start with "The Post-War Dream" and "Your Possible Pasts." The former opens with some classic use of sound effects: passing cars, news radio reports, and the strangely ominous sound of someone slowly counting out coins. The lyrics are less successful than they might be, when Waters' impassioned plea to know if the current state of affairs in England is really what soldiers fought and died for is marred by a bizarre tangent about shipbuilding getting outsourced to Japan. The issues with the second song, "Your Possible Pasts," are different - the lyrics are interesting and point toward squandered opportunities, but the muddled imagery muffles the effect. Fortunately, the song features some excellent Hammond organ work (its "church-y" sound is perfect for the album's elegiac tone) and the first of several scorching guitar solos by Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.

The album hits a powerful stride with its next few songs. "One of the Few" presents us with the character of an unnamed World War II veteran who, traumatized by his war experience, finds a living as a teacher and starts shaping the next generation. This, of course, is a take on the famous abusive schoolteacher from The Wall, and in the next few songs Waters gives a surprising amount of characterization and empathy to the character. "The Hero's Return" takes us back into Wall territory not only in its study of the veteran/teacher but in its driving, angry music; in "The Gunner's Dream" we learn one reason for the veteran/teacher's trauma - hearing a soldier's dying words, said words being a wish for his death not to have been in vain, and for a better society to have come from this war.Of course, this wish hasn't come true.

If the album's first half ends on a somewhat anticlimactic note with "Paranoid Eyes" - a nice study of isolation but nothing too essential - the second half literally starts with a bang. Featuring one of the band's most memorable song titles (no mean feat from a group that gave us "Careful With that Axe, Eugene" and "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave and Grooving With a Pict"), "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert" opens with a very distant voice screeching the title words. The screecher's only answer is a disinterested "What'd he say?" followed by the whoosh and explosion of a missile. A deliciously satirical violin section leads us into a vignette about the present-day (of 1983) conflicts, taking to task current world leaders. This theme continues into the next song, "The Fletcher Memorial Home." Furious yet elegiac, the song proposes that bloodthirsty politicians and leaders be put in a special home (named for Waters' father) "for incurable wasters of life and limb." Past sacrifice and present futility are present in "Southampton Dock," which juxtaposes soldiers' return from World War II with a pledge "to sheathe the sacrificial knives" with Margaret Thatcher sending a new generation to die in the Falklands, not out of necessity but to hold on to the "slippery reins" of power.

It's a curious contradiction of the album that its next song, "The Final Cut," is something of a misstep, yet it's not just my favorite song on the album, it's one of my favorite Floyd songs of all time. The song doesn't really fit in with the overall themes of the album, and it's here (and with the next song, "Not Now John") that the album's origins as an add-on to The Wall become apparent. The music for the song "The Final Cut" is a direct ripoff of/homage to The Wall's "Comfortably Numb," complete with string section and achingly beautiful guitar solo; its lyrics tell of depression, isolation, and a desperate need for love (not so much for its own sake but to keep the demons at bay). The album then takes a sharp right turn into the raucous, belligerent "Not Now John," which dismisses all the issues raised by the album so far with a curt "Fuck all that." After all, there's no time for worrying about the failure of the post-war dream when there's the need to "bring the Russian bear to his knees...Make us feel tough and wouldn't Maggie be pleased." There's something curiously cathartic about the song, not so much for its own merits (it's a bit of a muddle and Gilmour, in his sole vocal role on the album, doesn't sound very enthusiastic) but for its sheer aggression and volume. 

But reflections and rage alike may well mean nothing, if the album's last song holds true. "Two Suns in the Sunset" is one of the more mellow takes on nuclear apocalypse, painting it with the simple yet horrifying imagery of a "sun" appearing where no sun has any right to be. Perhaps the song's quiet take on Armageddon is one of resignation, a "can't stop what's coming" tone that perfectly captures the mood of that era - the feeling that we were all just one international crisis away from world destruction. Waters seems to reflect this also in returning to the same sounds of news reports and passing cars that opened the album - not only a typical Floydian "isn't this where we came in" moment but also a reflection of the (at the time) feeling that such an end was inevitable. 

Though the album overall is slightly confused in its themes (one gets the feeling that it was written in a great burst of emotional catharsis), and hampered by the music not quite jelling at times (due no doubt to the extremely fractured state of the band - at times it's practically a Waters solo album), there's no denying the raw emotional power it often wields. Surprisingly, one of its strongest points is Waters' vocals; if you're on board with his vocal style (and you'd be well forgiven if you weren't as they're definitely an acquired taste) you'll find he's at his peak, with his obvious sincerity and passion for the material outweighing his limitations as a singer. I'm particularly fond of his enunciation: No one can work every syllable of a word like Waters when he's on a roll, as in the way he says the word "hallucination."  Likewise the lyrics, for the most part, are quite good. The political insights won't be much beyond what you can find in the Sunday editorial page, but there's excellent imagery throughout, and a depth of characterization that hadn't been seen in Waters' lyrics since his portrayal of the ruthless businessman in "Dogs" from the Animals album. And though the music does have its issues, the album is blessed with some lovely keyboard and piano work, and several great guitar solos, one of which (the one for the title track) is a personal all-time favorite.

It's a flawed album, without question. Yet it captures a moment in time that's worth revisiting, and it taps into powerful feelings of loss and of earning the sacrifice that those who've protected us have offered. It's not an album I revisit often, as it is quite possibly the most depressing album in the Floyd canon (which is saying quite a bit). But when the circumstances are right, it offers an emotional experience unlike any other album in the band's repertoire.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

Interview at The Cult of Me blog

Care to know a little bit more about me and my books? No? Well, there is an interview with me over at The Cult Of Me, for your reading enjoyment.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Literary pet peeves

I was thinking the other day of some things that annoy me in fiction. In general, I'm a pretty forgiving reader. Plot coincidences? Sure, as long as they work within the context of the story. Occasionally clunky writing? As long as the storytelling is sincere and I'm engaged with the characters, I'll allow it. But there are a few things that really bug me.

"Because I Said So" Relationships: Character interactions are important to me. As a reader, I need to have an understanding of why characters are friends, enemies, lovers, etc. It doesn't have to be spelled out for me in letters three feet high. All I need is for the character relationships to feel believable and organic. But sometimes there will be interactions that just don't seem to work. For example, one character is deeply fascinated with another and wants to learn more about that person, but the reader doesn't see what makes the person so fascinating. This is the peeve I'm most lenient on — heck, there are people in my own family whose relationships leave me scratching my head.

"Eye of the Hurricane" Characters: Often found in "Because I Said So" Relationships, these characters have interesting things happen around them, and to them. Yet the characters themselves are not interesting. Oftentimes these characters are not so much people in their own right, but catalysts for the other characters' growth and actions. It's especially unfortunate when this not-to-interesting character is the main character — it gives the book a hollow feel.

The Character Arc Loop-De-Loop: This is the peeve I cannot let slide. Few things irritate me more than when a character, who's been established as behaving a certain way, decides to behave a radically different way just to keep the plot moving. This is not to say that characters can't change. They can, and should, but the change has to be organic, and dictated by what has happened to them over the course of the novel. A previously taciturn character should not suddenly become talkative and sassy just because a talkative-and-sassy character would have livened things up. A character who's been established as having strong views on a certain topic should not suddenly change those views in order to take the plot in a given direction. There are some books that I used to enjoy a great deal until on a re-read I realized they had the Character Arc Loop-De-Loop, and my affection for those books has waned a great deal.

Readers, what are some of your literary pet peeves?



Saturday, October 11, 2014

One week left! Enter the giveaway over at The Book Bag

The Book Bag blog is celebrating 1000 posts with a big giveaway. There's a week left to enter for the chance to win a variety of books. What are you waiting for?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ashes ebook on sale for 99 cents!

Looking for a good read at a great price? Ashes, book 1 in my two-book suspense series, is on sale for 99 cents through October 12. It's available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords. Why not get yourself a copy, or gift it to a friend?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

1000th post celebration and giveaway at The Book Bag

The ever-awesome Susan at The Book Bag is celebrating her 1000th blog post with a massive giveaway. Be sure to take a look at all the books available (including a copy of The Day After Yesterday) and enter to win!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kindle edition of Undertow available for pre-order

My mystery Undertow will be released on November 18, but if you're a Kindle reader you can pre-order your copy!


There will also be a print edition, and it will be available at release time for Nook, iBook, and Kobo e-readers. More details to come!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

This could be the beginning of something good...

Got in nearly 2,000 words in on a new writing project! More details to come, but I'm feeling very good about this day's work.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kelly's Big Score: Hot Fun in the Summertime Edition

Roadtripped up to (you guessed it) Solvang the other day and visited, among other places, The Book Loft and Martin's Used Books. I came home with:


  • The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride by Victoria Alexander
  • The Hero by Robyn Carr
  • My Sweet Audrina by V. C. Andrews
  • Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant
  • The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
  • The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (I know, I'm the last person to get around to reading this)


Full bookshelves are happy bookshelves!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

In praise of vintage paperbacks

I'm currently reading Murderers' Row by Donald Hamilton, book 5 in his Matt Helm series. The series is, sadly, long out of print, and my copy is a vintage paperback from 1962, complete with cheesy illustrated cover and a retail price of 40 cents.

One of the great joys I experience when I go to a used bookstore is pawing through the vintage paperbacks. Depending on the store, the vintage ones are mixed in with the ordinary used books, but at the store where I bought Murderers' Row, most of the vintage paperbacks were tucked off in a little hallway (the bookstore, Bart's Books in Ojai, is converted from an old house).

I'm used to the sideways head-tilt needed to scan the shelves, but these books were at the end of a hallway so narrow and dim that I had to pull the books off the shelf to get a look at them. The protective plastic they were wrapped in made a quick scan of titles impossible, and some shelves were so high that I had to ask a bookstore employee for a stepladder. Then came the task of going through all the paperbacks, looking for hidden treasure. Had to take it one by one, my hands getting dustier and dustier, because the order of the books was only somewhat alphabetical.

(Not to be a book snob, but I think was a"men from the boys" level of effort.)

You find all sorts of oddities in vintage paperbacks. Everything from delightfully (and probably deservedly) obscure trash to classics marketed in strange ways. I was on a quest specifically for Matt Helm books, as I adore the series (do not be misled by the Dean Martin movie adaptations; the books are gritty, grim secret agent fare), and the books are not easy to find.

Perseverance paid off. I was dusty and filthy-handed, and had a copy of Murderers' Row. Yes, I could  have gotten it online, for less effort and possibly less money. But there's something about the vintage paperback treasure hunt that's so sweet.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Today in Nerditry: 40th Anniversary showing of Phantom of the Paradise



Last night at the Cinerama Dome was a 40th-Anniversary showing of Phantom of the Paradise, and yours truly was there. In addition to seeing the movie with a full house of enthusiasts and even a few cosplayers, I got a nice limited-edition lithograph and a t-shirt. After the movie was a Q&A hosted by Edgar Wright, with Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, two members of the "Juicy Fruits" band, and the movie's editor. And to top it all off, at the end I managed to get my issue of Cinefantastique that has Phantom on the cover signed by Paul Williams. This evening has special resonance for me, as Phantom was one of the key films that warped my psyche at a young age and made me into the nerd I am today. It's significant that Phantom was the first film I reviewed for Horrorview, and that review will be included in my upcoming A Nerd Girl's Guide to Cinema.