As you may or may not know, I'm a big fan of singer/songwriter/producer Matt Hales, otherwise known as Aqualung. [livejournal.com profile] renisanz introduced me to him some years ago, and I've been eagerly buying up his albums ever since. His most recent (and maddeningly hard to find) album 10 Futures features a single called "Be Beautiful", and when I first listened to it just over a year ago I heard the following lines:

Perfection is silent
And elegance is still
Beauty won't catch your eye
The way that passion will

I was really struck by that, seeing as I was struggling a lot with perfectionism at the time, and finding my pleasure in storytelling blighted by fear that my prose wasn't lyrical enough. That I didn't have enough witty similes or sumptuous metaphors or breathtaking turns of phrase for my writing to make an impression in people's minds. I thought sadly of Peter S. Beagle and Patricia McKillip and other magnificent prose stylists of my fantasy-reading youth, and I cast a wistful eye at Maggie Stiefvater and Erin Bow, and I heaved a mental sigh for my own competent but seemingly unexceptional writing style.

Of course I knew that plenty of successful and well-loved fantasy authors write prose that is functional at best (*cough*JKR*cough*). But because I get so much pleasure from smart narration (when I was reading Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co. series aloud to my children, I kept stopping mid-paragraph to yell about how good he is), it was hard to convince myself that striving for a more literary style might not be crucial to my development as a writer. That my own natural storytelling voice, plain as it might seem to me, could be good enough.

But that stanza in "Be Beautiful" made me think again. What really grabs people and makes a lasting impression on them? Is it perfection in the aesthetic sense -- in which case any catalogue model or finely designed piece of furniture should do -- or is it the spark and vitality that come from an idea, a picture, a story, that the creator is genuinely passionate about?

Not that passion on its own, especially divorced from any element of skill or craftsmanship or good judgment, is always admirable. There are plenty of terrible artists, and terrible human beings, who feel passionate about what they're doing. But passion is memorable, for good or ill, in a way that mere artistry can't match.

So I decided that if I ever wrote another book, I would hold out for an idea that was not merely interesting to me or potentially saleable to a publisher, but one that I felt truly passionate about. I would try to hold onto that urgency, that conviction, and let it shape the words I was writing instead of trying to force myself to write in a way that doesn't come naturally.

Amazing, isn't it? The power of music.

* * *

Fast forward to yesterday, when I was singing along to "Be Beautiful" in the car and realized I had no idea what half the words actually were (to be fair, the guest singer on that particular song does not enunciate well). So I decided to look up the lyrics when I got home and...

You can see this coming, can't you?

I'd misheard that stanza. It's not "beauty won't catch your eye / the way that passion will," it's "the way the bad stuff will." 

And I have zero idea what that means.

* * *

But that's okay. I heard in that song what I needed to hear, the truth I was already grappling with inside. Good writing isn't about doing all the technical bits perfectly and silencing all your critics with the elegance of your prose. It's not about copying the style and content of other authors you admire. It's about writing what really matters to you, to the very best of your ability, with the voice God's given you. I believe that firmly now, and if mishearing Matt Hales' lyrics helped to cement it in my mind, that's not a bad thing.

(Anyway, I still think my version sounds better and makes way more sense in context. So there.)
Oh dear, has it really been that long since I updated my journal? Well, at least the time away has been well spent, as I was able to turn in the revised draft of Swift to my UK editor on Friday. So that is Happy-Making Thing #1 at the moment for me.

Here's a little taste of what's to come, from the beginning of Chapter 2:

[Ivy] took a step backward, feeling the dirt crumble beneath her bare feet. All at once she was acutely aware of the hairs standing up on her forearms and the nape of her neck, the boom-boom-boom of her heartbeat, the stench of her own cold sweat. “How--“ Her voice wavered. “How do you know my name?”

The spriggan moved closer, teeth gleaming in the shadows of his hood. “That’s good,” he said. “I didn’t even have to tell you not to scream. I think we’re going to get along very well.”


Hm, maybe that particular excerpt is not very happy-making. But you get the idea. Action! Excitement! Danger! That sort of thing.

***

Thing #2 that fills me with delight at the moment is this video, from singer Kina Grannis:


In Your Arms - Kina Grannis (on YouTube)

As an animation geek, I found the "Making Of" video even more interesting, but it's a sweet song and a lovely bit of stop-motion work.

***

And Thing #3 I've been enjoying of late are the books of Zoë Marriott, a UK-based author I met on Twitter who said some lovely things about my books, which caused me to check out her blog, which led me to the page of her website describing her books, where I found out that said books involved non-white female MCs, interracial romances, disability and mental health issues, high fantasy worlds based on non-Western history and culture, and other things Relevant To My Interests, which led me to leap to Book Depository and order all her books immediately.

And I was not disappointed. I enjoyed Ms. Marriott's most recent book Shadows on the Moon, a loose retelling of Cinderella in a fantasy world based on historical Japan (with a few bits of China and references to a quasi-African country), quite a bit -- she handled some thorny issues in a very interesting way, and created compelling characters that I came to care about a great deal over the course of the book.

But even then I was unprepared for how much I absolutely loved Daughter of the Flames, her second book (yes, I am reading them in reverse order). Seriously, it's like she had a checklist of tropes and ideas that I either adore unconditionally (swords! acrobatics! fire! amazing descriptions of food!), or would like to see handled in a new and interesting way (religion! disability! culture clashes!), and was ticking them off in every chapter. I actually squeaked out loud when I got to page 174 in the UK edition because [classic romance trope redacted] is one of My Favourite Things (right along with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens) and she handled it so very well.

So now I just have The Swan Kingdom, Ms. Marriott's first novel, left to read, but part of me is almost afraid to start into it because once I've read it there will be no more left until her next book comes out...
Here I am resurfacing from the wilds of nowhere (where I have been reading a great many books, and getting housework done, and other mundane but necessary things -- not that reading books is mundane, because it is actually quite awesome; but chores and such, definitely) to share with you an assortment of Things Relevant To Your (or possibly just My) Interests.

***

First, I think it is very important that you all learn the correct way to peel a banana.

Helpful video under the cut )

Seriously, I had NO IDEA. Why did no one tell me about this?! It's brilliant! I want to open bananas all day long now, and I don't even like them that much!

***

Second, the hardcover of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter may be listed as a bargain book on Amazon ($6.80, people! Buy one for Aunt Bessie while you can!), but it is doing rather nicely in other respects -- including being nominated for the Clive Staples Award. Right now the coordinator of the awards, Rebecca LuElla Miller, is doing an in-depth survey of all the titles with links to excerpts, reviews and so on, and I have to say I've got some pretty stiff competition here!

To vote, you have to have read at least two of the nominated titles, so this isn't just a popularity contest to see who has the biggest fanbase -- it's meant to encourage the reading and writing of speculative fiction by Christian authors. And I am totally behind that, so I plan to check out one or two of the other nominated titles myself! Voting begins in August.

***

Third, I am gearing up for this weekend when I appear on the panel "FTW = Fandom Trained Writers" along with Naomi Novik, Sarah Rees Brennan, Karen Healey, Ali Wilgus and Peg Kerr at Infinitus 2010 in Orlando. I am ridiculously excited about this and looking forward to creating large amounts of havoc with Sarah and Karen, which you can count on Sarah to sum up in hilarious fashion on her LJ when we get back. (Or else I will be very boring and she will just have to make up a pack of outrageous lies, but she is good at that too!)

***

Fourth, I went to see Crowded House in Toronto last night with two of my three older brothers. This was a landmark occasion, not only because Pete and Mark are fab people, but because the last time I attended a Crowded House concert was on my 16th birthday and I will always remember that as the best concert I've ever been to in my entire life. So I knew that even though the band has aged considerably since then (and so have I), I would not be disappointed.

And oh my, I was not. It was a wonderful show indeed. AND THEN THEY PLAYED THIS SONG, which made me insanely happy:

Video from the concert )

"Fingers of Love" (link is to album version) is on the Touching Indigo soundtrack, and rightly so. The way the music crashes in on "Colour is its own reward" alone makes me see stars, and I'm not even a synaesthete. Sigh.

***

And I think that is all for now!
Serendipity is a word that sounds like it belongs in an Andrew Bird song, and that's fitting because that's exactly how I discovered his music.

Lava flows over crooks and craggy cliffs to the ocean
And explodes in a steam heat fevered cyclical motion
-- "Fitz & the Dizzyspells"


A couple of weeks ago, I was struggling to write the final section of Touching Indigo and feeling like I needed a little boost of inspiration. So I decided to go hunting for pictures that reminded me of my characters. I'd never found a really good Faraday, despite combing numerous stock photo sites looking for males of the right age and coloring, so I decided to try something new. Where would I be likely to find a guy in his mid-to-late twenties with scruffy, badly cut brown hair, who had an interesting face but didn't look like a model or an actor?

Andrew Bird



Aha, I said to myself, what I need is an indie musician.

So I went to Wikipedia and looked up their "List of Indie Musicians" and first of the solo artists on the list is some guy I've never heard of. I clicked on the link without much hope -- after all, what are the odds of finding someone who looked like Faraday after a mere two minutes' searching? But as soon as I made my way to Andrew Bird's MySpace page, I knew I didn't need to look any further.

Admittedly he's still slightly too conventionally handsome to be a perfect match for the Faraday in my head: more like Faraday crossed with Daniel Day-Lewis. But there are worse faults, to be sure, and I doubt I could find a better candidate even if I spent another five hours looking for one.

The fact that I fell in love with the first song of his that I listened to -- well, that was a bonus.



Andrew Bird's music is quirky, smart, and multilayered -- his most recent album Noble Beast, for instance, took me several listenings to really get a handle on, but after that I realized this was the kind of album I could listen to for the rest of my life. So I ended up buying The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha as well, and I've been listening to them incessantly ever since.

If you're interested in hearing more from this artist, you could watch him perform six songs live in a cathedral, armed with nothing but a violin, a guitar, a loop machine, and his own whistling. Or check out some of my favorite songs on this playlist.
So I said I was going to post about some of the great new music I discovered during this year's Great Hiatus (a.k.a. the seven weeks I just spent finishing off Touching Indigo), and I am making good on that promise by telling you about Matt Hales, the artist more popularly known as Aqualung.

I'd never heard of this guy until [livejournal.com profile] renisanz recommended his song "Pressure Suit", and once I'd listened to it a couple of times I fell in love with its geeky, atmospheric romanticism. But it wasn't until I bit the bullet and started checking out more tunes by the same artist that I realized just how versatile and clever this guy really was, and what a fabulous lyricist. His rhymes are natural but never predictable, and he can sustain a literary conceit without becoming pompous, which is a rare talent in itself:

You say I'm a black hole, a singularity
An old supernova, a phase in blind catastrophe
But once I was a star
A long time before that, somebody's sun...

Basically, Aqualung has everything I like about Coldplay (strong melodies, memorable riffs) and none of the things I don't (musical sameness, cringe-worthy rhymes, beating those memorable riffs into the ground). I came across a review of an Aqualung album which remarked that Chris Martin should be sitting in the corner taking notes from Matt Hales because this is how it's done, and I agree.

Also, Matt Hales references Comet in Moominland in the same song I just quoted ("Black Hole"), which endeared him to me for life. It's one thing to be a science geek with a knack for writing lovely tunes, and another thing to love the Moomins, and anybody who can combine the two gets my vote, no question.

Anyway, if you're interested in checking out a sampler of Aqualung tunes, you can do so here on Playlist.com, since LiveJournal seems to choke on such things.

Next up: Andrew Bird.
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I asked the Twitter folk if I should post the soundtrack I listened to during the final editing stages of Knife a.k.a. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, and the consensus seemed to be that yes, people are interested in such things. So here, with special thanks to [livejournal.com profile] megancrewe (who has a much broader knowledge of recent music than I do, particularly where female artists are concerned), are some samples from the Highly Unofficial Soundtrack for Knife:

If I had to pick the one song on this list that I felt was utterly and completely perfect for this book, it would be "Somebody's Daughter" by Beth Orton. "Rock In This Pocket" by Suzanne Vega comes a very close second, but believe it or not that song fits better with Wayfarer a.k.a. Rebel than it does here...

Anyway, if you do give the songs a listen, let me know what you think!
Should have talked it over
Should have thought it through
I think I might have bit off
A little more than I could chew
Well, I have got to get out
From underneath this weight
Or it's gonna kill me

But the shining of the silver
The glimmer of the gold
Kept giving me a fever
But left me feeling cold
I'm right back in the middle
And if I don't come out soon
Come in and get me

'Cause I keep slaying all these dragons
But more keep coming
And I keep praying for this fight to end

Uh, oh, here I go
Wading through a lot of stuff you know
Juggling it all while I'm balancing on a wire
Slow down, I have found
Seems that every time I turn around
Got one foot in the muck and another foot in the mire
Well, I'm scaling down, pulling back
Got to try
To simplify


I put my golden ring on
Unseen I went down where
War and peace collided
Inside the dragon's lair
When pleasure is your master
Convenience is your king
Your heart's divided

I keep weighing
All these options
More keep a-coming
I keep straying
From the way I'm told

Uh, oh, here I go
Wading through a lot of stuff you know
Juggling it all while I'm balancing on a wire
Slow down, I have found
Seems that every time I turn around
Got one foot in the muck and another foot in the mire
Well, I'm scaling down, pulling back
Got to try
To simplify


-- From the album "A Room Full of Stories" (1997)
Lyrics by Wes King and Wayne Kirkpatrick

Listen to a 30-second sample on last.fm
It's entirely possible that nobody who reads this post is going to love this song the way I do, or even love it at all -- but nevertheless, it's one of my favorite songs of all time. It moved me to tears the first time I heard it, and it still affects me a thousand listenings later. And it strikes me as eminently suitable for a Good Friday post, so I share it with you here.

For those who wish to listen, the song starts at the 1:40 mark and ends at 6:33.



EDEN

Summer bled of Eden
Easter's heir uncrowns
Another destiny lies leechèd upon the ground

A gilded wreath on reason
The flower crushed conceives
A child of fragrance so much clearer in legacy

Everybody needs someone to live by
Rage on omnipotent


- From the album "Spirit of Eden" (1988), by Talk Talk
Lyrics by Mark Hollis

Amen.
The Wild Swans are STILL MAKING MUSIC?!!

And their new demos are every bit as lovely as anything on Bringing Home The Ashes, too. Wow.

Hey, maybe this means that eventually I will not be the only person on LJ to have "Wild Swans (the band)" in their Interests!

Gone to Earth

Nov. 28th, 2008 09:07 pm
rj_anderson: (a-ha - Take on Me)
Gacked from [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond, though I've seen it about a million places by now:

DIRECTIONS
1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must write that song name down no matter how silly it makes you look.
4. Title this post what the answer to your last question is.
5. Good luck and have fun!

IF SOMEONE SAYS "IS THIS OKAY" YOU SAY?
After Here Thru Midland - Cock Robin (I can only assume that means "not now, but possibly later"?)

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
Heaven That I'm Making - Crowded House (sorry, don't believe in salvation by works, try again *g*)

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
I Will - The Fixx (make me sound desperate, why don't you)

HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?
The Width of a Room - Japan (hey, that's mean! I'm Canadian, I didn't even eat Thanksgiving dinner yesterday!)

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?
Spider-Man Theme '67 (so that would be saving the world and climbing walls?)

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?
Call Me, Call Me - Cowboy Bebop (actually I think they talk to me often enough, seeing as they live downstairs)

WHAT DO YOU OFTEN THINK ABOUT?
God Man - David Sylvian (well, if you stuck an ampersand in there, it would be fairly appropriate)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Dark is the Night - a-ha (nope, can't figure that one at all)

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
Northern England - Wild Swans (so... a little melancholy but essentially melodic? And of British stock? Sure)

WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Café Europa - David Sylvian (I guess this means I want them to take me to a nice restaurant? That would be pretty accurate)

WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
Live This Mystery - Michael Card (not a bad choice, really!)

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?
Thought That It Was You - a-ha (which, given the lyrics, would not be inappropriate. You know my deepest sin / you've seen me deep within / so fill me now like wind / and let the miracle begin...)

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR?
Go The Distance - Clay Aiken (which part was more scary, the title or the artist here?)

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?
For What It's Worth - Talk Talk (apparently this secret is so dull that nobody really wants to hear it)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
Straighter Line - Cock Robin (not as delightfully skewed as I thought you all were?)

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO NAME THIS POST?
Gone to Earth - David Sylvian
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There is a new Keane album.

I knew this, actually: I heard about it briefly on the radio when I was in the UK back at the end of August.

But this is the first time I've heard a track from it.

...

"Spiralling", I love you. Never leave me.

*floats away on a happy tide of 80's British Invasion music revamped for the 00's*
Tags:
Gacked from [livejournal.com profile] reveilles, this is one of the niftiest things I've seen in a long while. Full screen for best effect (though I didn't, because I get motion-sick -- don't even talk to me about the hand-held camera work at the beginning of Persuasion, for instance):

At present I am about as far out of HP fandom as it is possible to be without actively loathing (or, I suppose, not having read) the series, but that being said --

I have just spent half the afternoon listening to Wizard Rock and it is entirely [livejournal.com profile] lizbee's fault.

The last time I checked out any WR it was Harry and the Potters and I thought it was lame, so I never bothered to listen further. But this guy -- he's actually good -- like, professional-quality-I-could-imagine-hearing-this-on-the-radio good.

The first one I listened to (and which grabbed me right away) was "The Flying Motorbike", but "Luna" has a zany Scissor-Sisters-meet-the-Bee-Gees vibe that made me laugh out loud, and "What You Believe" is my current favorite. And it really doesn't matter if you haven't read the books, either; you might even enjoy the lyrics more if you haven't.

Is that a rec? Why yes, it is. Go now and check out the album preview of Musical Decree Number Twenty-Four.
Tags:
Gacked from [livejournal.com profile] carbonelle:

What music did you listen to when you were a teen? Search YouTube for the album that you played the most in your green youth, and post the results...

You're all tired of hearing me burble about my love for Talk Talk and David Sylvian by now, I'm sure. Time for some Aztec Camera!



Love that pink eyeshadow and those red parachute pants... and now you know where the icon I've used on this post really comes from. But did you know that the album on which this fabulous song and cover art appears is called Knife? S'true.

Also, speaking of musicians who influenced my writing, you all need to go watch this video, because "Waning Moon" is a wonderful song and Peter Himmelman is the one who introduced me to the concept of synesthesia, and YouTube has disabled embedding by request, humph.
Tags:
I've occasionally mentioned before that I sing as part of a vocal duo, performing at church services and conferences and so on. My fellow singer/pianist Marsha and I have been working together for the last three years, and we'd had so many people ask us whether we had a CD that we finally decided to do one. So since last September, we've been getting together every month or so to record at a private studio.

The album isn't finished yet -- we only have four tracks out of fourteen mixed so far -- but last session our producer gave us a copy of the rough mixes to take home, and it was neat to see how they turned out. So today, in a fit of presumptuous enthusiasm, I set up a MySpace Music page for our duo and stuck the samples up on it.

If you're listening to the samples and wondering which voice is mine, I sing the higher part most of the time; in "He Takes Away" I sing the solo on the second verse that begins "Behold Him rise, the glorious Son..." and in "Depth of Mercy" it's my voice on the line "Would not hearken to His calls".

Now back to house-cleaning and other such exciting activities...
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[livejournal.com profile] jamesbow tagged me for the iTunes meme, which was a little tricky for me to do because I don't have an iPod and have never really used iTunes before, so I had to import my music library first AND I HOPE YOU APPRECIATE ALL THE WORK I DID FOR YOU, JAMES. ;)

How many total songs? 611, 1.8 days, 2.77 GB.

Sort by song title - first and last
(Seemingly) Nonstop July - a-ha
245 Days - Peter Himmelman

Sort by time - shortest and longest
Symphony No. 9 (Scherzo) - Beethoven (1:16)
Before the Bullfight - David Sylvian (9:45)

Sort by Album - first and last
After Here Through Midland - Cock Robin
Wild Seed - Morten Harket

Sort by Artist - first and last
a-ha
World Party

Top five played songs:
Can't do this, since I'm a WinAmp girl and it doesn't keep records of plays. However, I can tell you five songs I've been playing a lot recently:

I Don't Want to Save the World - Cock Robin
Too Far Gone - Sixpence None the Richer
Name - Peter Himmelman
Transit Lounge - Crowded House
Some Kind of Fool - David Sylvian

Find the following words. How many songs show up?
Sex: 0
Death: 0
Love: 25
You: 72
Home: 13
Boy: 20
Girl: 1

First five songs that come up on Party Shuffle:
Perfect Way - Scritti Politti
No Aphrodisiac - The Whitlams
I Need Love - Sixpence None the Richer
Eden - Talk Talk
Summer Moved On - a-ha
Tags:

BUH.

Nov. 22nd, 2007 01:50 pm
rj_anderson: (MWT - Queen of Attolia)
Go here and watch the video of acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela playing their song "Orion". What this pair can do is incredible -- you may think you've got the idea after a minute or so, but be sure to watch it through to the very end if you want to see some truly amazing musicianship.

Also, happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!
I'm really not a Michael Buble fan, but I have to say that his cover version of a certain classic television theme is, indisputably, MADE OF WIN.



No need to thank me, really. I do these things as a public service.
*hangs head in shame*

0 words.

I know, I know, this ought not to be. However, tomorrow I am going to drive all the kids over to my in-laws' farm for the day, and before I even leave, I am setting Temptation Blocker to lock me out of the Internet for eight hours. And if I don't get anything written in that time, even with a dead-peaceful house and no distractions, then you should all mock me. Ruthlessly.

On a brighter note, the new Cock Robin album is dead brilliant. I've had "I Don't Want To Save The World" on near-constant repeat for the last 24 hours, and I'm looking forward to getting better acquainted with the other tracks on the CD.
Okay, so there's a reason that all my entries from 2004 tagged "Kalan Porter" are also tagged "Temporary Insanity". That whole thing seems like a weird hazy dream to me now, and apart from a few cool people I still chat with now and then, I've really not found anything to tempt me back into the fandom.

That being said, [livejournal.com profile] shing_ has just pointed to a new song/video sneaking around the back alleys of YouTube, and I have to say, this one is hilarious in a good way, for a change:



Nothing like a nice relaxing game of Scrabble with grandma. And some hair mockery.

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