Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stress City Reading

Last night I had a really nice, relaxed time at the launch party for Stress City: A Big Fat Book of Fiction by 51 DC Guys at Politics and Prose. The newest anthology pulled together by editor Richard Peabody over at Paycock Press, it includes fiction by the likes of Matt Kirkpatrick, RIchard McCann and yours truly.

It was a great turnout. I got there about ten minutes early and counted 82 heads, but more came after I got there. Considering DC residents often leave DC in the summer to make way for tourists and that it was a Friday night it was a real testament to both Peabody and the writing community of DC in general.

Because it would have been crazy to have 51 people read from their work----we'd still probably be there---nine of the contributors read small sections from their stories. From Brian Gilmore's tale about a lawyer named Funk to Richard McCann's elegy of a dead lover via memories of a gay bar to Dave Housely's Avant Pop twist on the old Davy and Goliath cartoon, they really showed the broad spectrum of the kind of writing that goes on in this town. And I'm happy to say not one of the pieces were political thrillers. Other readers included RR Angell, Juan H. Gaddis, Charles R. Larson, Alex MacLennan, David Nicholson, and Jim Patterson.

The reading was followed up by a Q+A session moderated by poet Rose Solari and author Jim Patterson. Questions raised were the solitary nature of men in fiction, the lack of issues like gender strife and parental issues that often appear in the work of women, how mean "deal" with problems instead of just "cope", and how writing and art in general let men to enter modes of introspection and intimacy that men don't normally allow themselves to enter. Reading those I know it all sounds very serious but it was all fairly light-hearted and fun.

Afterwards I caught up with a couple of people I haven't seen in awhile and picked up a couple extra things from the shelves of the bookstore. I even had a nice older couple ask me to sign their copy of the anthology when they found out I have a piece in the book. It was great feeling part of a writing community again, even in a very small way. Once I find my full time job and get myself settled in our near Baltimore that's one of the things high on my list to seek out. While I brought a camera, I sadly neglected to included working batteries. If other sites put up pics I'll update here with some links.

Anways, I highly recommend the book. If you're interested you can probably pick it up in person at places like Politics and Prose and the Writer's Center, and you can also order it via Amazon.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Artscape 2008

A few days late in posting this, but Miss L and I had a pretty good time on Sunday traipsing around this year's Artscape. For anyone out of the area, Artscape is billed as the "largest free public arts festival" and is Baltimore's unique contribution to the world of summertime fairs. It takes over several city blocks, cutting through at least three different neighborhoods and is always, always on the hottest weekend of the summer. Individual and group artists have small tents to sell their work and promote themselves, and there are also stages for performances----this year's big headliner was Joan Jett---and more fried food than any reasonable person can comprehend.

As always, we had to visit the Artcars. It was a pretty packed area, so it was hard to take many photos here. But my personal favorite was this nature car, decorated with real and fake pieces of trees, dirt and rocks.


But really my favorite part of the whole day was just sitting back and people-watching. It's often a fun way for me to pass the time and it's even more entertaining when you jam so many different people together all in one place. At one point Miss L was having her makeup done in a tent, so I sat down on a curb nearby and just started shooting some photos. For some reason this guy fascinated me; he kept pacing back and forth in front of me, seemingly overwhelmed and unsure where to go. This lasted for a good ten minutes.



Later on in the day I saw him playing blues guitar on a stage, so he may have just been trying to figure out where the music stage was.

I'll have a new review up in the next day or so, as well as some other rants about things going on. Good summer to everyone!


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Review: Heavy Metal Islam by Mark Levine

In the 1970’s heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden created dark, violent music that worked as much as political and social protest as it did as adrenaline-laced sounds energizing the mosh pit. In his new book Heavy Metal Islam, Mark Levine looks at the current Heavy Metal, Punk and Hip Hop scenes of the Middle East in this very way, presenting the backgrounds of each scene and exploring the social import of their messages.


With lyrics crying for political and social change these are the screams of angry youth, but angry youth that for the most part still regard themselves as devout Muslims. It's this dichotomy that makes the core of the book: these musicians trying to understand a bizarre, often violent world that doesn't match up to the promises made in their religion.

Broken into easily read chapters each one examines a different nation and its music scene. Although it’s not surprising that the most active centers are the more westernized nations like Morocco and Israel, the most fascinating chapters are those that cover places like Iran where the music is not just looked at with suspicion but often considered illegal. Many of the musicians are in their late teens and early twenties, making this a book Western teens will be able to read and use to make rare connections with their counterparts in the Middle East.

Unfortunately Levine does a poor job describing the music itself, throwing out terms like Grind Core and Black Metal without defining them. Readers already knowledgeable of different forms of Heavy Metal won’t have a problem with this, but anyone coming from the outside might find all the undefined labels a little confusing. Levine does, however, provide a useful list of websites (mostly Myspace sites) that provide samples of the music; a companion audio CD is sold separately.

What stops me from giving this a rave review more than anything is his writing style. Levine opens each chapter with a first person account of him sitting in cafe, heading to a club or hanging out in a record store. Levine as narrator and arbiter of taste keeps floating into the writing, whether it's an explanation of a band's history, and interview or a well-written description of a concert. It becomes obvious Levine sees these musicians as a force for positive change and this view intrudes quite a bit. I would have preferred he pull back a bit and let the readers make these conclusions for themselves. Sometimes you just have to have faith in the readers to figure things out. Although a more journalistic approach might make this work more convincing, it’s still a fascinating read about a unique subculture few will have the opportunity to experience for themselves.


Monday, July 07, 2008

I went to Winchester and all I brought you was this firescreen

Our long weekend in Winchester, Va. turned out pretty nice. We mostly hit the big historical sites, places like Abram's Delight (built in 1754, it's the oldest standing home in the town), an office George Washington used when he worked as a surveyor for Lord Fairfax, and a home Stonewall Jackson used as a HQ for a few months during the Civil War. But probably out of all the places we visited, my favorite was probably the Handley Library, the main library for the city.


I like where I work, but this place just feels like a library. You can't help but want to read when you walk in and start moving through the stacks of a beautiful historic building like this one.

But by far the highlight for the weekend was really the night of the 4th. It was raining off and on most of the afternoon and into the night, so we decided to skip out on the concert with Survivor taking place at a park just outside of town. We went to the downtown area searching for a good place to eat and found a nice---and pretty cheap---Thai place. Afterwards, walking back to our car we came across a small concert in the town square featuring a Bluegrass/jazz quartet. During an intermission they handed out door prizes donated by area businesses and somehow I won this firescreen.


I guess this was the grand prize, because the other two prizes were a gift certificate for a local eatery and a road atlas. I'll probably give this to my mom, since I don't have a fireplace of my own. If she doesn't want it maybe I'll sell it on ebay and donate the money to charity.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th

Happy July 4 to everyone! Miss L and I look at a lot of options for celebrating this year: DC, NY City, Philly. Finally, we decided on...Winchester?

I've been meaning to head back there for awhile, it just happened that our trip is falling on the July 4 weekend. And that Survivor is playing the area fireworks fest is just an added treat for everyone involved.

Our hotel is supposed to have wi-fi, so possibly more later....?


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Review: Mind the Gap

Combined, authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon have put out more than 30 books. Now they've joined forces with Mind the Gap to bring a thriller set inside an urban fantasy world.


Teenager Jasmine “Jazz” Towne returns to her London home one afternoon to find her mother murdered and the killers searching for her. With a little guile and a lot of luck Jazz manages to slip away from her pursuers by plunging into London’s Tube and hiding in old, abandoned stations and forgotten bomb shelters. Jazz then falls in with a group of teenaged thieves led by the Fagin-esque Harry Fowler, a man who is beguilingly both enigmatic and welcoming. She takes to thieving quite well and quickly becomes the charmed member of the crew Fowler sends out on the most difficult jobs.

Emboldened by her new skills Jazz sets out to rob the mansion of one of the very men who killed her mother. There Jazz meets Terence, another thief she catches robbing the same house. Through Terence Jazz learns that everything---her mother’s murder, the father she never knew and even Fowler----are all wrapped into the plot of a secret society striving to revive the ancient spirits and magic hidden below the streets of London and use it for their own dark gains. The only way to get revenge for her mother’s death and to guarantee her own safety is to help Terence set the spirits free.

The premise is unique, in fact I'm not sure I've seen one quite like it before. Most urban fantasies focus on the clash between the real and the fantastic, and often feature the fantastic dying or fading because humanity is too lazy to see it anymore. But the twist with the good guys fighting to release the magic and remove it from London for the greater good is a fresh take. The basic setting of the story, with the underground tunnels and mysterious magic, reminds me a lot of Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The fantasy elements, though, are more toned down, making this a fantasy novel for people who don't normally like the genre.

Of course it all really works because of Jazz. Jazz herself is the perfect young heroine: capable, confident and possessing both a love of trouble and enough smarts to generally get out of it. The other characters all feel like stock characters, people pulled from other tales to fill a role. But Jazz and her unique outlook on life gives this fantasy thriller a little more emotional weight than the normal fare.