Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kipling and Casablanca

Welcome back! I see that I’ve let a couple of weeks slide by since the last post. Time is a serious constraint for me these days: I’m finishing up a contract gig with En Masse that keeps me out of the house from 8 am to 6 pm every day, I’m doing design work and Kickstarter preparation for my upcoming Alternity sci-fi game, I’m shepherding my Plan Number B expansion for Ultimate Scheme through art and layout, and I’m working on the second draft of my novel Restless Lightnings. 

With all that going on, blog posts tend to fall to the bottom of the stack. I guess the “good” news is that my contract at EME is winding up, so I’ll be able to devote 50 more hours a week to my writing and my own game design. I can use a few weeks to catch up on my various projects before the next contract rolls around, although I have to admit that I’ll miss that regular paycheck. That’s the life of a writer, I guess.

I Don’t Know, I’ve Never Kippled

I’ve been spending a few hours here and there over the last couple of months reading through Rudyard Kipling’s poetry because I’ve been looking for catchy turns of phrase I might use as titles in my Sikander North series. The first title, Valiant Dust, is drawn from the Kipling poem “Recessional.” The second title, Restless Lightnings, comes from the poem “The Islanders.” Then I discovered that I’d inadvertently established a “personality trait-inanimate object” naming system in my first two titles, and I needed to find a third turn of phrase that followed the established system. Naturally, finding just one more that suited me proved much harder than I’d expected! I’ve read dozens of Kipling poems in search of the right bit of verse.

Kipling is a writer not remembered kindly in many quarters these days. Yes, it’s tough to get around the jingoism of “South Africa” or the racism of “The White Man’s Burden.” But Kipling loved India enough to write Kim and The Jungle Book. And the man who wrote “Buddha at Kamakura” was no Christian supremacist. That last one is worth a read if you’ve never run across it. I’ve been thinking about it for days. I'm beginning to think that Kipling was a much more complex guy than we give him credit for nowadays.

I did finally find a title phrase I like, but I’m going to keep it to myself for a little bit longer. Book 3 is still a long ways away! If you’re curious, though, you might try reading “The Destroyers.”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the heading… it’s an old, old punchline. The joke begins: “Do you like Kipling?”

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

I watched The Maltese Falcon for the first time on Saturday evening. It’s been on my list of movies to watch for years now—I’m something of a Humphrey Bogart fan and I just hadn’t checked “the Black Bird” off my list yet. I’m afraid the movie just didn’t do much for my wife or my mother-in-law, but I liked it well enough, especially the great dialogue between Sydney Greenstreet’s “Fat Man” and Bogart’s Sam Spade. Casablanca, Key Largo, The African Queen, and The Caine Mutiny still retain their top billing at the top of my Bogart list, but I liked seeing Bogart play a quick-thinking, resourceful troublemaker. Sam Spade’s not as cynical or world-weary as other iconic Bogart characters, although I suppose that The Maltese Falcon was early in Bogart’s career.

(Note to self: Track down The Big Sleep sometime. Still need to check that off, too.)

I don’t know if this is official writer advice or not, but I’ll recommend it anyway: Read and watch some of the classics. Casablanca’s dialogue is pure genius; it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time if you haven’t ever seen it, because you’ll learn something about snappy and unforgettable dialogue if you pay attention. Heck, The Caine Mutiny’s court martial scene did “You can’t handle the truth” to perfection forty years before A Few Good Men.

So, there you go: Read old poems. Watch old movies. You might learn something!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Rich's Teenage Ten Albums

There was an interesting question circulating around Facebook a couple of weeks ago: What 10 albums most affected your teenage years? I’ve been thinking about this one off and on for days, trying to remember what was really important to me when I first started listening to “my own” music and developing my tastes. Naturally, I decided to answer the question here rather than answer it on Facebook—why waste a good blog topic on a single post?

Let me establish a couple of things right up front. First, I became a teenager on October 1, 1979 (yeah, I’m getting old). I turned 20 on October 1, 1986. But some albums on this list predates that 7-year window because I tended to pick up records that had songs I liked, regardless of whether they were current—I was starting my collection with stuff that was in some cases ten years old already. Second, being a big sci-fi and fantasy nerd, I naturally zeroed in on any album that had a science fiction or fantasy theme to it. Teenage rebellion wasn’t really my thing, sorry.

Anyway, here’s my list. Enjoy!

10. The Wall (Pink Floyd). If you were a schoolkid in 1979, “Another Brick in the Wall” was your anthem. I listened to this album a lot in college, but I long ago decided that I like Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon, and Meddle way, way more than The Wall. It’s just too damned dark for me to really enjoy listening to it.

9. The Game (Queen). In 7th grade I fell in with three good friends, and the four of us played D&D together throughout high school. I didn’t like “Another One Bites the Dust” (and still don’t, Queen was so much better than that), but we killed a lot of monsters to that song. And there was an off-track on the album called “Dragon Attack,” which as you might imagine was pretty popular at the table too.

8. Rumors (Fleetwood Mac). My discovery of Rumors just squeaks into my teenage years. In my college days I spent entire semesters drinking beer and throwing darts at a dart bar called Ton-80. They played Rumors just about every night in that place. Everyone knows the mega-hits on the first side, but I always liked the second side better; “Gold Dust Woman” and “The Chain” are serious, powerful songs.

7. Heavy Metal (various). The movie Heavy Metal came out in 1981. Thanks to the wonderful magic of HBO, I eagerly watched a rated-R sci-fi cartoon with a great rock and roll soundtrack. I guess I’ve outgrown a lot of the songs from the collection (and the drug jokes and animated sex scenes), but to this day I love Donald Fagen’s “True Companion.” 

6. Synchronicity (The Police). The Police owned the charts for a couple of years when I was in high school. I wasn’t a huge Police fan, but when they came to Atlantic City, I saw an opportunity to impress a girl I wanted to impress, so I went. I had to take my sister and her friend too, but that was okay—I saw the Police Synchronicity tour. 

5. Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie). Let’s Dance was Bowie’s giant hit album during my teenage years, but I was always drawn to his earlier stuff. God, Ziggy Stardust is a great album. I can listen to “Starman” or “Moonage Daydream” all day long and not get tired of ‘em.

4. Decade (Steely Dan). I often started my exploration of different bands by picking up a “Best of” album. Steely Dan’s Decade compilation was the one that converted me into a lifelong Steely Dan fan. I bought all their studio albums on vinyl, then bought ‘em again on CD. I think Steely Dan is the only band I can say that about. If I had to pick a favorite Steely Dan album, I’d say Aja—it’s simply perfect. But they’re all good. I’ve also had the good fortune to catch Steely Dan in concert a couple of times.

3. Fire of Unknown Origin (Blue Oyster Cult). Remember that sci-fi thing? Well, a heavy metal band with science-fiction themed albums was pretty much sure to win over teenaged Rich. Fire of Unknown Origin was BOC’s big commercial success, and put them on the map at exactly the right time for me to notice. From there, I picked up Cultosaurus Erectus and Agents of Fortune and loved those albums too, although these days I think Spectres is their best. I’ve seen BOC play a couple of times—they still tour, believe it or not! 

2. Led Zeppelin IV (um, Led Zeppelin). I bet I don’t have to tell you about Led Zeppelin IV. Let’s just say that “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Battle of Evermore” hit my not-so-hidden Tolkien geek right between the eyes (although “Misty Mountain Hop” really doesn’t have anything to do with The Hobbit). Anyway, this was another soundtrack to those D&D games of my teenage years.

1. The Yes Album (Yes). When I turned 14, I got my very first album: The Yes Album. It was a gift from my Uncle Jeff. Jeff was a music guy and he knew I was into science fiction, so he figured a little progressive rock would be up my alley. Turns out he was right. I didn’t know a thing about Yes before I got the cassette, but I listened to The Yes Album until I wore out the tape. When I wrote The Last Mythal trilogy, a book about elves in the Forgotten Realms, I pretty much listened to Close to the Edge and The Yes Album continuously to put me in an elf-y frame of mind. Yes actually came through Seattle a couple of years ago with a show in which they promised to play The Yes Album in its entirety, and I couldn’t talk anyone into going with me. I should’ve gone by my darned self.

These ten albums aren’t necessarily my top ten right now. My tastes have broadened over time, and believe it or not I don’t just listen to prog-rock all day. Anyway, I had fun thinking up this list, and maybe I reminded you of some albums you used to love when you were a teenager.