Friday, June 21, 2013

Now that's what they call Rock: The Zombies in Concert

My wife and I just got back from one of the single best concerts I've ever had the privilege to see: The Zombies at Penn's Peak, outside of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

As is usual with Penn's Peak, the opening act Et tu Bruce was a bit of a letdown, no matter the line-up (featuring the son of original Zombie Chris White). Their music was interesting, but I really couldn't define what sort of style they were going for. And there was this woman named Jo providing back-up vocals that really dragged the performance down with a lack of personality. She did play the cowbell masterfully in the final number, I will admit.

The Zombies played a variety of songs from their original albums, solo work and their newest album, Breathe In, Breathe Out. They did all their big hits, naturally, along with a vibrant set that showcased the fifty years of history the band encompasses.

The legendary Odessey and Oracle album was represented quite well, as "A Rose for Emily", "Care of Cell 44", "I Want Her, She Wants Me" and, of course, "Time of the Season" were performed in as a suite of songs.

I'd have to say the highlight of the concert for me were Colin Blunstone's performance of "Old and Wise", a song he sang on the Alan Parsons Project album Eye in the Sky. Most people know that the Project was primarily a studio creation, having only performed live in its original incarnation once. To hear one of their songs, and such a poignant, beautiful tune as it is, performed live brought a tear to my eye.

Rod Argent's hit (with the band Argent) "Hold Your Head Up" got the crowd on its feet (though really, most of the band's songs did that). He even made a point to explain that the chorus was indeed "Hold Your Head Up, Woman", no matter what nearly every lyrics engine tells you.

The final two songs were again special: One of the Zombies' hardest-to-find songs, "Just Out of Reach" was played; This song was one of two featured in the Otto Preminger movie Bunny Lake is Missing, a classic thriller/whodunit with Lawrence Olivier, Kier Dullea and Carol Lynley. (My thanks to Jon Pike for intriguing me enough about this film back in our college days to make me hunt it down.) The concert closed with, of all things, a George Gershwin song from 1936. "Summertime" had been intended as the first Zombies single way back when, but was shelved for "She's Not There". A classy number to end a very classy, professional and obviously fun concert for audience and band members alike.

No pictures this time around, since I thought I'd try the camera in my new TracFone. Unfortunately, the camera in a new TracFone sucks for actually taking photos. Luckily, it's cheap for what we use it for. Y'know, as a phone.

Next week, we're raring to go for the Happy Together Tour, which features Chuck Negron (of Three Dog Night), Gary Puckett, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Mark Lindsay (of Paul Revere and the Raiders), the Union Gap Band, and the Turtles, complete with Flo and Eddie!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kneel Before Zon!

One of the new big things that a lot of the fear-mongers have focused up lately is the fact that Amazon, on their forums and in e-mails, have stated that a reader doesn't have to read a book in order to review it. As if there weren't already far too many things the Evil 'Zon was doing to stick and twist the knives into the backs of independent authors.

Well, it's true. And that's a fact that's not just true for Amazon. It is a fact for ANY review, ANYWHERE. How do you prove someone read a book? Should they have to take a test on what they read? Y'know, like we often had to do in grade school. Well, at least my classes did. That and book reports. Oh wait, a book report is kind of a review, too, isn't it? With a lot more spoilers we actually expect.

At least Amazon has a differentiation between verified sales and people just wandering to the site after <shudder> reading the book at a library. I guess those folks shouldn't have the ability to leave a review in a perfect world. Bad enough those cheap bastiches didn't buy the book to begin with right? Oh crap, I think my Overdrive loan is almost up! I better go check...

Nope, still got a week. Anyway, if the people are upfront and honest by saying "Well, I didn't read this book, but I am making this comment because <insert reason here>" or "I read the preview and it didn't inspire me to read the rest. This is why <insert reason here>", I don't see the problem. It is an honest evaluation of their feelings on the book in question, and why they are making that particular statement at that particular time.

Authors have got to remember one thing: Reviews are NOT for authors. Reviews are for other people - potential readers, potential users, potential customers. They are paeans to quality or warnings for dreck. Some folks make them humorous, some detailed and sophisticated, some just emulate Frankenstein with a "Book good! or "Book bad!" Most potential customers know how to take what is written in reviews with a grain of salt.

If I see a book with nothing but five-star reviews, that smells of yesterday's fish. If I see fifty five-star, a smattering of two- to four-stars, and six one-star, then I can actually gauge what's going on in a book. There's at least a few people who weren't reviewing out of some sort of obligation or agenda.

No one likes everything, and consequently, everything is not liked by everyone. If an author can't understand that fact, they would be better off in another, less criticism-driven profession. Everyone's got a book in them, they say. But not everyone has the skills to get that book out to the masses properly. It's a sad truth; not every writer out there now should necessarily be a writer. I think You've got to have a few chops in order to get the job done. I think everyone should at least try once, but to make sure you have your head and ego about you before you make that decision to hit the publish button.  If you don't, you are just opening yourself up for disappointment.

One way to avoid bad reviews is to write better. Forget the politics, forget the bullshit and WRITE! It's a great thing to learn by doing and it won't cost you a bloody cent!  Rather than wasting your time worrying about bad reviews (or bad reviews that the Evil Zon is foisting upon you, of course), try perfecting your craft a bit more and then try publishing crap that doesn't have a bloody agenda beyond entertaining, informing or selling books! That's what you're doing this for, isn't it?

I've gotten bad reviews. I've left bad reviews. I've gotten glowing reviews and left the same. I've gotten some reviews from people who obviously didn't read my book. Oh, it cut me so deeply to the heart. Not.  Guess what? I don't let it get to me. Why? Because in the long run, it's not all that important a thing. I could get all bitter and vindictive, but then when would I find the time to be a proper smart ass and wiseacre?   That's a word that really needs to come back into common usage. Along with the name "Gertrude." It's a fine name. It's got character. I had a chicken with that name when I was a lad.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Facebooking (with apologies to Roger Waters).

There are some days when you realize, even on the small scale of Facebook, what kind of people there are in the world. There are those misguided to the point of evil, and those who are more than willing to go to bat for what's right.

Things start weird sometimes. I think deep down, people usually have good intentions; people want to help others. It's part of being social creatures, even if it's just the virtual sociability of the internet. Someone asks what they think is a legitimate question or concern. Someone posts an opinion on a situation. Other people chime in with answers and additional information. Often times, a question gets answered or a problem gets solved. Everyone gets happy and moves on with their lives.

But there are those who don't really want any real help or advice. What they post is the only position on a topic that they care to embrace. An opposing view is anathema. Pointing out a flaw in their view of the topic is a cause for outrage. Logical thought? That goes out the window, as the individual feels obligated to mount a major defense against all those who would dare to shake the foundations of their worldview.

The details are never important. Vengeance must be theirs! There is a sense of justice to be assuaged, and it can only be done through righteousness! But ... that righteous furor must not be traced back to them. Oh, no. That would look bad on them. So let's allow some imaginary friends to come into play. Revenge and a clean slate! No one will know! They will be getting over on the whole world, not just those pitiful fools who dared to challenge them with things as untoward as facts. Only then can they sleep at night.

A group of my Facebook friends, all authors or reviewers, were unfortunately put in this sort of situation this week. The details of the offense aren't important; needless to say we tried to give someone some clarity on what could end up being a litigious point. What happened afterward is also not that important, other than to say everyone who attempted to provide that clarity was mercilessly insulted and defamed by a fake account of the individual.

What is important is that, unlike said individual, real friends came to each other's defense, getting nearly all of the libelous posts removed from Facebook, while providing succor and support to each other. Many of us are real serious about our art. Many of us just goof around. Many of us are mixtures of both ends of that spectrum. But ALL of us came together to offer support to those defamed by this malicious attack.

And that will probably make the individual in question even more annoyed and self-righteous. Unlike that person, we all had real people to offer that support. Not a figment of their imagination defending them. But good people.

To those people, I give my undying thanks. They know who was drawn into this miasma for no reason, and helped me solve the problem.

To the individual who did this, actually, you also have my thanks. I knew I had good friends on Facebook, but it takes an incident like this to truly appreciate the etheric tendrils that link folks together. Unlike you, we have each other's backs. I feel nothing but pity for you, stuck in your tiny world of hate. Best of luck to you on your future endeavors, and I hope you find something that will soothe whatever ails you inside.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Flash Fiction: Meta-Lovecraft.

“No!” screamed James. “That chant is for certain to bring forth one of the Old Ones!”

James tossed the knife into the chest of the necromancer, hoping to forestall the inevitable. But he knew it was too late. James noticed a black form oozing into existence in front of the gateway and his blood turned cold.

A strange feeling came over Bob as he finished typing, a strange, sick reverberation that got to his very bones.

“Hah!” He said out loud triumphantly. “If that can make me feel creepy just by typing it, it’s gonna knock the socks off my readers!”

He clicked “Save” with his mouse and leaned back in his chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw it. Black and glistening, it filled the doorway to his room. His eyes had little time to focus as the blackness surged forward. It knocked him off his chair and he was completely enveloped by the cool moistness. Almost immediately, the pain began - searing, burning pain, as if acid was burning through his clothes, his skin, his eyes, his throat.

It was quick, as death’s go, but he felt every nanosecond of it. And as his body dissolved and even his fear was absorbed by the blackness, his last thought was: “This would’ve been a great ending for the book!”

Rich looked at the screen and sighed. Another flash fiction story finished, he sighed to himself. Rich grabbed his Mountain Dew and turned, only to face the blackn

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Flash Fiction: The cost of a virtual easement in the funny papers.

“Okay, this is what happens,” George said with an evil gleam in his eye. “First, I make a long razor slice from the back of your neck down to your butt. Then I peel off all of your skin like a suit.”

George smiled a little more. “Next, I cover you in rubber cement. After that, I roll you in broken glass."

George offhandedly added, "And then I shake three drops of tabasco on your backside." George thought for a moment. "Oh, what the heck, I'll squeeze a lemon and add some salt there, too."

“Then it’s time to pull that skin suit back on.” George said triumphantly. “Then it's time for a short trip, as I push you down the cellar steps.”

George's eyes narrowed. "Do you understand now, boys?"

The boys just looked at George with a shocked glazed over their eyes.

After a few seconds, Dennis slowly turned to Joey and whispered “Gee, maybe we shouldn’t cut across Mr. Wilson's yard anymore, huh?”