Ten Days, Ten Albums, Some Explanation

Over on Facebook, a bunch of my friends have been doing this thing where they post a series of albums that influenced them significantly. Over the course of ten days, you post ten album covers, but offer no explanation as to how or why you chose the albums you did. I just finished doing it myself, but I enjoy explaining things and going into detail about why I’ve made the choices I made. So, for your reading enjoyment, I present my ten days, ten albums, with some explanation.

1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes!Damn The Torpedoes

The first Tom Petty album I owned, and the one that I go back to time and time again. The damn thing plays like a greatest hits collection, and there’s not a bad song on there. I still think it’s the most essential Tom Petty album there is, even moreso than Full Moon Fever or Wildflowers (and I’ve already gone on at length about my love for Wildflowers).

2018-04-25 14.22.05.jpg2. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

This album was my introduction to the Flaming Lips (I mean, aside from “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which everyone had heard on 90210). The first song, “Fight Test,” just floored me. The mixture of weird electronic squiggles and beeps with the acoustic guitar and Wayne Coyne’s strained, heartfelt vocals . . . I was hooked.

3. The Beatles, Rubber Soul2009-04-28 15.03.36.jpg

If you didn’t think I was going to include a Beatles album on a list like this, you haven’t been paying attention. The Beatles are the alpha and the omega, the source of everything I love about music, and Rubber Soul is their best album, if you ask me. It’s the perfect balance between their earlier, more raucous work and their later, more deliberate and formalist efforts. They made more interesting and experimental albums after this one, but they never made another album as cohesive and awesome as it.

2018-04-25 14.23.114. Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind

And here’s the requisite Dylan album. Time Out of Mind might seem like an odd choice–there are definitely better Dylan albums to choose from–but it’s the one that had the greatest impact on me. Discovering that he could still produce music that was this visceral and heartfelt, even as his voice broke completely and he seemed well-past his prime . . . it was inspiring. And the songs are pretty damn good, too.

5. Queen, A Night at the Opera2018-04-29 12.37.57

Queen blew my tiny little middle school mind like nothing else. The obvious epic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is there, but so is the biblical apocalyptica of “The Prophet’s Song” and the nasty character assassination of “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To…).” The sheer stylistic range on display is incredible, with heavy rockers, music hall goofs, and folky acoustic numbers with soaring harmonies. God, the layered harmonies. And don’t forget Brian May’s guitar work. The album kicks ass from start to finish.

2018-04-27 12.45.596. Pink Floyd, Meddle

This little-known Floyd album is one of my all-time favorites. The pulsing bass of opener “One of These Days,” the dreamy quality of “Fearless,” and the laid-back fun of “San Tropez” and “Seamus” make for a varied, entertaining album that doesn’t get weighed down in the concept album pretensions that most Floyd albums have to deal with. And the closer, the epic “Echoes,” with the sonar ping and murky, underwater feel…classic.

7. Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat2018-04-27 12.46.24

I had the privilege of seeing this album performed live in its entirety last year, and it was one of the best concert experiences of my life. The harmonies are the obvious highlight, but Jenny Lewis’s lyrics and songwriting are just as sharp and incisive as they were almost 15 years ago when this album came out.

2018-04-27 12.46.488. The National, Boxer

My introduction to the National was through a bootlegged live show right after this album came out. The show was made up almost entirely of songs from the new album, and I was intrigued so I sought Boxer out. Now, they’re one of my favorite bands, and this record is the reason why. Personal favorites include “Slow Show” and closer “Gospel,” though there’s really not a bad song on the album.

9. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska2018-04-27 12.47.09

Until the release of the likes of Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils + Dust, Nebraska was a weird outlier for the Boss. Solo acoustic, just his voice and guitar and a harmonica with a four-track recorder: that’s pretty much all there is to Nebraska. But it’s haunting, and glorious, and full of fire and brimstone and the sort of carefully-sketched character studies that Springsteen is known for. It’s the polar opposite of what Springsteen was known for: stripped down instead of piled high with overdubs, loose and slightly sloppy instead of precision-perfect.

2018-04-27 12.47.30

10. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

My introduction to Wilco came when I was listening to a Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) bootleg solo acoustic show. Folks in the audience were calling out what they wanted to hear next, and some dude kept asking him to play a Wilco song. And then he threw in a reference to them in one of his own songs, and I decided to check them out. YHF blew my mind, with its mix of acoustic instrumentation, weird blips and beeps and effects, and phenomenal songwriting. The fact that this album led me to so many other amazing bands–The Minus 5 and Uncle Tupelo being the two most prominent–and also led to me finding out about the Mermaid Avenue collections (Billy Bragg and Wilco play around with old Woody Guthrie lyrics? Hell yes!) is just gravy.

In Praise of Short Stories

I’ve been stalling out working on novel-length stuff lately, but I have been working on short stories.

I’ve always liked short stories. I enjoy being able to get in, tell a story,  and get out. You don’t have to worry about setting things up for the next book in the series or building a massive, epic narrative. You can tell small, simple stories that are complete in and of themselves.

I often use short stories to experiment with themes, narrative devices, and storytelling styles. The Hazzard Pay novels have a very specific tone and style to them that doesn’t allow for me to try lots of new things from book to book, unfortunately. And while I definitely enjoy writing in Eddie Hazzard’s voice, it’s fun to try out different things sometimes, different tones and genres and narrative conventions. And since they’re experiments, if they fail? No big deal.

Anyway, I’ll probably put up one of the stories I’ve written lately here on the website in the next week or so.

 

Death Comes Calling

The new book, Death Comes Calling, is out today! Go pick up your copy from Amazon right now! Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell random strangers you encounter on the street! Shout it from rooftops and with bullhorns and while frothing at the mouth and grabbing people by their lapels!

Well, okay, maybe not that last one. But definitely the rest of them!

Review: Steen Jones, The Lost Door

About a year ago, I reviewed Steen Jones’s debut novel, The Door Keeper. There was a lot to love about it: the characters were great, the plot was tight, and the story kept me engaged from the very first line. So I was pretty excited when, a few weeks ago, she released the sequel with little-to-no-fanfare.

The new book, The Lost Door, picks up seven years after the end of The Door Keeper. Life for Eden and her family – both the one she’s made for herself on Earth and the one she rediscovered in the first book on the world of Caelum – is good.

Then mysterious things start to happen with the doors, and Eden rushes off to solve the mystery. Instead, she’s kidnapped by a new foe who wants to use her unique gifts to open up other worlds to allow him to conquer them. Together with her family – especially her daughter, Gabby, who discovers her own gifts this time around – Eden must protect the doors and save the day.

I’m not doing the plot justice. It’s both more complex and much simpler than how I’d describing it. Steen Jones remains an excellent plotter; the action comes quickly but isn’t rushed, and the only lulls in the action are of the “calm before the storm” variety.

Steen splits the first-person point of view between Eden, the protagonist from the first book, and her daughter Gabby. Both characters have distinctive, separate voices, and the trading off of POV doesn’t distract as it can often do. It’s never easy to pull off the multiple POV trick, but it’s to Steen Jones’s credit that she makes it look effortless.

In addition to the main characters carried over from the first novel, there’s a whole host of new protagonists and a new antagonist. Steen manages to set up the new antagonist, Aslek, as both a sympathetic individual and an evil, dastardly villain. She walks a fine line, but sticks the landing on it. I was a bit surprised when his character seemed to disappear about halfway through the book, to be replaced by a secondary antagonist left over from the first book, but Aslek does manage to loom over the proceedings despite receiving very little actual time in front of the reader.

I do have a few points of criticism, though most of them have nothing to do with the story or its characters. I love those things. But it feels like the book needed another round of editing to be ready. Really obvious mistakes – consistently misspelling lightning as lightening, misplaced apostrophes in plural possessive words (making the words singular possessive instead), rod iron instead of wrought iron – cropped up every few pages. Lord knows my own novels have typos in them (there’s probably at least two just in this review, I betcha), but a good editor should have caught these. Most of them are consistent, recurring mistakes, especially the lightning/lightening thing. The errors rarely impeded my ability to understand what the author was trying to say, but it did happen on occasion and I did sometimes have to go back and re-read sentences to make sure I understood what they were trying to say.

Overall, The Lost Door is a fun, adventurous sequel to Steen Jones’s The Door Keeper. It’s fun, fast-paced, and enjoyable. It’s nice seeing characters who make an effort to understand one another, whose relationships are driven by character and genuine emotions rather than what would be narratively convenient. Everyone’s actions make sense, their choices feel genuine, and the story leaves me wanting more. I can’t wait for the final act in the trilogy.

Epithets

I’ve been teaching my World History I classes about the Middle Ages the past week or two, which led to a brief discussion on epithets. Y’know, those descriptors folks had back in the day instead of a family name, it seems? Eric the Red, or Charles the Bald, or Charles Martel (which means “the Hammer” and is my favorite)…everyone seemed to have one back in the day. Brandon the Bearded. Lothar the Dungstomper. Steve the Exceptionally Irritating.

So I came up with a short activity: the students had to think about five adjectives that could serve as their epithets, then pick one and explain why that’s the one that they think best describes them. I’m not sure how seriously they’re taking the assignment (or any assignment I give them; this is a tough freshman class, y’all), but it got me thinking about my own description. What epithet would they give me, if I were a king or other important personage? Would I be Charlie the Wise? Charlie the Educated? Or maybe Charlie the Amiable. Charlie the Anxious. Charlie the Storyteller. Charlie the Diabetic. Charlie the Hopeless with Maintaining Basic Routines (that one is maybe a little unwieldy for daily usage). Charlie the Inept.

Epithets were both boasts and pejoratives, an elevation of character and a verbal jab at weaknesses. And I’m not so sure of myself that I’d be certain my epithet would necessarily be a positive one. I’m sure everyone thinks about their legacy and how they’ll be remembered when they’re gone. I’m not unique in that respect (or, possibly, any other respect. But that could be the depression talking). How would those who knew me best remember me? How would my students or coworkers remember me? Or my readers? It’s a frustrating question to ask, because there’s no one right answer to it and no way for me to know before I’m gone. I hope – as do most people, I’m sure – that I’ve left a positive impression in my time on earth. Or any impression. Being forgotten seems more than a little sad to me.

What would your epithet be?

Format

I’ve been busy since last week, getting files formatted and polished for the upcoming release. Book 3’s Kindle .mobi file is all formatted and uploaded; I’m currently looking at a PDF of the paperback version to make sure everything is in order there before final approval (which, thank goodness I am, ’cause I just noticed a pretty glaring typo in the title for Part Three of the book).

It’s got me going back to reexamine the eBook files for the first two books, just to ensure consistency (I did this with the paperbacks already; when I got the rights back to The Invisible Crown, I re-formatted the paperback completely so I could (1) understand how book formatting really worked and (2) so I could credit the new cover artist). What I’ve discovered is that I…wasn’t very consistent with how I set up the first two books’ .mobi files.

Yesterday, I fixed up The Hidden Throne‘s eBook file and re-uploaded it; that corrected version is now the one available on Amazon.

But I apparently never did anything to Book 1 other than slap a new cover on it and call it a day (probably because I didn’t put the new cover on it until a few months after the rights had reverted back to me). I’m having to go back and create a whole new .mobi file from the original text, setting up all the chapter breaks and the hyperlinked table of contents and all that. Thankfully, it’s a simple matter of copying and pasting from the original Word document into a Scrivener file, though I then have to fiddle with all sorts of formatting details to make it look right.

The upshot will be greater consistency in formatting and styling across the three books. The downside is it’s a tedious pain in the ass. But I think it will ultimately be worth it when everything is all done and all the books have a more uniform formatting.

Book Three Cover Reveal (and Release Date!)

I’ve been toiling away behind the scenes, getting things done on the third Hazzard Pay book. The good news is, all that hard work is paying off! The book is almost ready to release into the wild that is Amazon, where hopefully it won’t be eaten by wolves (or a grue. Those things are mean).

Anyway! I’m not the only one who has been hard at work. So has my cover artist, the always-wonderful rebecacovers over at fiverr.com. She’s put together a pretty awesome cover for the new book, which is titled Death Comes Calling. Care to have a look?

Charlie_Cottrell_1_ebook

Spooky and awesome, right? Here’s the blurb that goes along with said book:

Death stalks the streets of Arcadia, and no one is safe.

Eddie Hazzard’s mentor-turned-nemesis, John Bodewell, is out on parole and on his last legs. He’s looking to make amends, but Eddie isn’t having it.

Then Bodewell turns up dead, and Eddie is left with a cryptic message from his old partner hinting that a secret of epic proportions is out there, just waiting to be discovered. Whether he likes it or not, Eddie has to solve the mystery Bodewell’s death left behind. But Eddie’s not the only one after Bodewell’s treasure. If he’s not careful, Eddie might end up just as dead as his old mentor.

Now, for the fun part: the book will be release on March 27th of this year. Hey, that’s my birthday! What wacky guy planned that, I wonder? It’ll be $2.99 for the eBook and $11.99 for the dead tree edition.

So, tell your friends, tell your family, tell your neighbor who loves mysteries but hates having to leave the house: Death Comes Calling on March 27th! It’s definitely not a pointed commentary on my own aging and impending mortality.