November is National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo

It took Jack Kerouc three weeks to draft his classic, On The Road. You might think that influenced the launch of The National Novel Writing Month. The event itself is a challenge: write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It’s the fourth day of NaNoWriteMo and things are going swimmingly. Novice and seasoned writers are rallying ’round the challenge. All it takes, for this endeavor, is the desire to write, a sense of adventure, and some discipline for time management. There are as many ways to write a novel as there are writers who have written one. NaNoWriteMo isn’t out to echo Kerouc’s three-week endeavor, though, “it’s about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces (the participants) to lower (their) expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”

Last year’s challenge drew 80-thousand participants. Not bad for a nine-year-old event, which boasted 21 competitors the first year. Started by Chris Baty as a local Bay Area event, NaNoWriMo continued to evolve and now draws challengers from the US and overseas. Writers can pursue any theme in any genre as long as it’s a “lengthy work of fiction.” The novel itself must be written during the contest window, though previously scripted notes are allowed. Writers can find tips, strategies, and fun online in forums, such as “plot doctoring”, “character plot and realism”, “role playing and communal story building”, and “games, diversions, and other exciting forms of diversion.” It doesn’t end there, NaNoWriMo communities can be found in many regions throughout the globe.

Rewards for the winners are more spiritual than material. Anyone reaching the 50-thousand word goal is a winner, though “the 50,000 word limit is a threshold, not necessarily a stopping place.” Participants can submit their novels five days before the contest’s close. Once the word count is verified, the electronic certificate is available for printing.

A number of participants provide updates on their progress with Twitter, a social networking service and Vox, a blog hosting service. Twitters from mwpetersen, living in Austin, TX, reports a current word count of 5,000 words; jen_b, a librarian from British Columbia, states that she is “writing while chatting and playing scrabble. I don’t know why this works, but it does.”; embereye, “a Brooklyn girl” from New York, says “I’m at 6155! Now to write another…oh…4k tomorrow! It’ll be great!”; cjnash, from Edmonton, Alberta, writes while going home on the bus. He provides more details on Vox, “I only managed to write 875 words yesterday. On the one hand, pretty cool. On the other hand, about half the daily amount I’ll need to finish with 50,000 by November 30.”

For those who think the writing is simply an exercise in discipline, a number of novels rose above the pile and have been published, including: Jessica Burkhart’s High Jumps at Collins Academy (Simon & Schuster), Lani Diane Rich’s Time Off for Good Behavior (Warner Books), David Niall Wilson’s The Mote in Andrea’s Eye (Five Star), Rebecca Agiewich’s BreakupBabe (Ballantine Books), Jon F. Merz’s The Destructor (Pinnacle Books), Francesca Segre’s Daughter of the Bride (Berkeley Books), Gayle Brandeis’ Self Storage (Ballantine Books), and, a New York Times best seller, Flying Changes by Sarah Gruen (HarperCollins).

More than 15-thousand kids and teenagers registered with the NaNoWriMo Young-Writers program in 2006. The Young Writers webpage offers games, exercises, and information for the younger writer. Classroom starter kits were created for teachers who wanted to have their class participate.

NaNoWriMo, a non-profit organization since last year, formed a partnership with Room to Read, a non-profit children’s literacy group, a few years back. Half of the net proceeds from 2004 and 2005 helped build libraries in Southeast Asia (three in Cambodia and seven in Laos.) The estimated budget for 2007 is approximately $195K. Donations from supporters and proceeds from the T-shirts, books, and other items sold at the store help defray costs.

Budding novelists can refer to Chris Baty’s two books for assistance year round, No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing A novel in 30 Days and The No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit.

Stevie Nicks: Way Back Before The Mac

Fleetwood Mac’s evolution from a blues band to a pop entity has been well documented. Most know the story of how Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came to the attention of Mick Fleetwood. For those who want a refresher, Fleetwood, looking to fill a spot in his band, heard Frozen Love, a track from Stevie’s and Lindsey’s self titled debut as a duo, and asked “Who’s the guitarist?” After the discovery, Fleetwood rang up Buckingham and made an offer. Lindsey insisted on a package deal, so Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac and soon helped turn things ’round big time.

I picked up on Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks soon after the release of the Buckingham Nicks album back in 1973. My copy credits Stevi Nicks. I was never able to officially confirm if that was a typo or the way she spelled her name at the time. She gave herself the nickname, Stevie, because, as a kid, she couldn’t pronounce Stephanie. Hard to believe, but there was a minute where some were unsure which one was Stevie and which one was Lindsey, (non-gender specific names, I presume) though that was quickly clarified by the jocks who played cuts from the album on local rock radio. It was obvious that Buckingham and Nicks possessed an abundance of talent as singer-songwriters.

Stephanie Lynn Nicks met Lindsey Adams Buckingham while in high school. She left Changing Times, a group similar to the Mamas and the Papas, when she moved from Phoenix to San Francisco. Time passed before the two met again and kick-started their long-term professional relationship with the Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band, simply known as Fritz, a psychedelic rock band. Buckingham was already their guitarist. Fritz played covers at high school dances, fraternity parties, then focused on their own material. They group became proficient enough to open for Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Nicks played guitar on stage and worked to develop her stage performance, a glimmer of her future stage presence evident on her interpretation of Buffy St. Marie’s Codeine.   Fritz disbanded in 1971. Nicks left San Jose State University, where she majored in speech communication, to concentrate on music. Stevie and Lindsey committed to each other romantically and continued to forge a musical career as a duo. Buckinham invested some inheritance money to record a few demos on what would become the Buckingham Nicks album.

Toni Brown’s Rabbit Hole Soul

Caterpillar: “Who are you?”

Alice: “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present –at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

“What you achieve through the journey of life is not as important as who you become.” – Anon

Toni Brown

Some time back I took a break from rock journalism and public relations to pursue other interests; classes in animal care, private investigation, paralegal, and happily ending up in library school. Occasionally I felt like Alice plunging through the rabbit hole and watching things become curious and curiouser. I wouldn’t commit to saying what a long strange trip it’s been, but I would say the journey, so far, has been an intriguing one. Ultimately, all points converged in proper order and I ended up, well, as a grad student in library school. I’m precisely where I want to/should be. When the urge to journal returned, I sent off emails to several handfuls of those who once possessed some influence over my writing life. Surprisingly, all responded with updates; some had remained on the same track; others, like me, made leaps to new destinations.

Once upon a time, Toni Brown published a few of my rock interviews in her Relix Magazine. Relix focused on The Grateful Dead and extended music scene. It became a great outlet for writers who offered interviews with the likes of Pat Benatar, U2, and Flo and Eddie, along with anything related to the Dead. Relix also provided coverage for many new bands. Relix Records was launched to gain exposure for the artist covered in the magazine. As the owner, Publisher, and Editorial Director of Relix, Brown was a major supporter of the “improvisational jamband scene.” After 15 years of putting her heart and soul into all things Relix, Brown took a break from the empire to record and perform with many of the artists covered in the magazine and/or signed to the record label. She shared the stage with Blues Traveler, Hot Tuna, Vassar Clements, Merl Saunders, Bela Fleck, New Riders, Commander Cody, and scores of other notables. Brown sold Relix in 2000 and concentrated on other projects: publicity, songwriting, performing, and producing. She’s covered a lot of ground on the tour circuit: U.S. France, Japan, and Barbados. She mentions in her email that she’s co-writing a book, working on a new CD, and launching a “Classic Rock Enthusiasts” club for people of a certain age. Her journey continues.

While I was first waiting for Brown’s response to my where are you now email, I got a hold of Rabbit Hole Soul, her third, and most recent, solo project (and I also listened to a few tracks from her first two). It’s a great collection of acoustic folk songs, marking a different direction than her first two solo projects (Blue Morning and Dare to Dream). There’s a cover of Donovan’s Catch The Wind; the other 11 tunes are written or co-written by Brown. She’s had years to master time management, so it comes as no surprise that these wonderful compositions were written in the studio. If you didn’t know that bit of info or didn’t actually know Toni Brown, you’d swear that these songs were among a collection that was crafted during a much longer time period.

The title track leads the way. Piano, fiddle, and Brown’s clear vocals join together and set the pace. “Fell right down the rabbit hole; time to settle down rest my soul; life was moving a bit too fast; I found myself at home at last.” Brown’s songs are intimate. She sings about a silver tongued devil in Way You Talk; the spark of romance in Night; a love derailed in Sounds So Clear; hope that love still exists in Lights On; missing love in Blue Morning; love’s pain in Come To Me. Her anguish is apparent in Stolen Kisses, “The rains came and you left me alone; one day I woke up and away you had flown; left me with more pain than I’d ever known; you’re free, though you’ve imprisoned me.”

By the way, this isn’t a piano and fiddle project. Brown sings, plays rhythm guitar and percussion; Paul Harlyn’s on bass, keyboards, piano, organ, percussion and on guitar on Night, Sounds So Clear, and Bad News; Corey Dwyer plays mandolin, fiddle, lap steel, dobro, lead acoustic and lead electric guitars.

Brown writes that “I’ve found a creative niche in the singer/songwriter tradition.” I strongly agree and look forward to her next project.

Feed: All Plugged In and No Place To Go

Feed Abby F. reviews Feed (M.T. Anderson)

Is it really necessary to keep every possible line of communication open? Many believe so and eagerly sign up for any new or novel method for keeping in touch with people and information. Search engines and the WWW, email and webcams, lol @ new codes for conversation, text messaging and IMs, MySpace, Facebook, and Eons. Something for every generation, today. I won’t be left behind. I’ve bookmarked, registered, befriended, twittered, pinged, and checked my blog logs. RSS Feeds, trackbacks, pingbacks. Let’s not forgot the pop-ups and ads embedded in email pages. Social networking, consumerism, and information retrieval at its zenith. It’s so del.icio.us.

Creativity, technical genius, and big business join forces to offer a future full of possibilities. Revolution. Evolution. What’s next? Imagine if all those born and those young enough to adapt were given a new way of life. Instant gratification en masse. A strange new world, perhaps, ultimately a brave one. Mathew Tobin Anderson shows us such a world.

Titus and his friends are typical teenagers. They hang together and share good and bad times. The shared adventures are enhanced by a feed, a transmitter in their brain, which allows them to retrieve just about any bit of information and share it instantaneously with one friend or the whole group. Titus and friends head off to the moon to celebrate spring break. They depend on the feed to secure a hotel reservation and help them in almost every other way. The ability to read, write, and think for oneself is sacrificed for the sake of the feed. Ignorance, in this case, is bliss. At a party, Titus spots a beautiful girl. They connect through the feed when suddenly it all goes wrong. Titus, some of his friends, and the beautiful girl, are hacked.

The beautiful girl is Violet, who, unlike most of her contemporaries, received her feed when she was seven. While Titus and his group recover, things don’t go as well for Violent. Her feed is damaged. Titus never questioned the severe dependence on the feed or the things it took away. How can you miss what you never had? Violet knows and attempts to reach out to Titus.

Feed is a novel for young adults, but don’t let that tag get in your way. It’s a compelling story that goes beyond a simple tale of a futuristic society. Feed won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and was a National Book Award finalist. These are very significant honors. The slang spoken by Titus and his friends had me off to a slow start, but didn’t hold me back for long. The story was so compelling, I couldn’t put the book down.

After the publication of George Orwell’s 1984 there was much trepidation that the predictions in the book would come true. Think about how much of 1984‘s plot is real life today. Frightening? Can we truly dismiss Feed‘s premise, then, as a non-possibility? How many of us send text messages to a friend or colleague who is sitting in the same room? or have kids who check their cell for instant updates from a friend one row over in the same classroom? When we make an online purchase it’s often cross-matched so offers of related products display on screen. How many of us are on the street with a small phone device attached to our ear? Make these connections and soon it’s not much of a stretch.

Once British: The American TV Tragedy

I recently confessed my delight about Life on Mars, the British TV series, partially shown on BBC America. There was much to like about this show: it was British, the songs were good ones and worked in the context of the episodes, it was British, the 2006/1973 mystery, and it was British. Unfortunately, the empty-hearted stiffs at BBC America did not care to air the second – final – season and wouldn’t ‘fess up the reasons why they’d stop half-way. The news gets worse. Life On Mars is being redressed for American TV, and, David E. Kelley, writer/creator/producer extraordinaire, is to blame.

Yes, I know that American TV execs have been “borrowing” from the Brits for decades and decades (and American series have been turned into British hits and misses). The sad and basic truth for me is when comparing a British series and the American remake, there is no comparison. If I had the chance to see both versions, with few exceptions, I’d choose the UK broadcast. The British sensibilities, writing, presentation, and, those delightful accents, win every time. [OK, the exception is that I’d rather see Hugh Laurie in House than in Blackadder any day.] I love British TV, always have; ever since I watched The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise every single week, with my dad. Later, we added Monty Python. I can’t recall laughing at American comedy shows that much.

A number of American shows (borrowed from the Brits) have risen up the ranks to become classics in their own right, All in the Family, for example. I was vaguely aware of Til Death Us Do Part, the original source, because it was mentioned in press articles heralding the debut and rise of All in the Family. I never saw one single minute of the British smash and was a bit intrigued to discover that Germany, Japan, and Hong Kong had their own version of the show. I began to wonder just how many series from the UK remade their way onto American TV schedules. This partial list includes the good, the bad, and the forgettable:

British Original /American Remake

George & Mildred/The Ropers

Man About the House/Three’s Company

Steptoe and Son/Sanford and Son

I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here/I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here

Absolutely Fabulous/Cybill

Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing With The Stars

Scrapheap Challenge/Junkyard Wars

Coupling/Coupling

Keep it in the Family/Too Close For Comfort

Not the Nine O’Clock News/Not Necessarily the News

The Office/The Office

One Foot in the Grave/Cosby

Antiques Roadshow/Antiques Roadshow

Pop Idol/American Idol

Dear John/Dear John

Please Sir/Welcome Back Kotter

*Robin’s Nest*/**Three’s A Crowd

(*follow-up to Man About the House/*follow-up to Three’s Company)

Max Headroom/Max Headroom

There are so many more; some didn’t even require a new name. British Wife Swap spawned two American copies, Wife Swap and Trading Spouses. The two programs aired on different networks.  Nothing is sacred, apparently. A UK-US collaboration  designed to revive Dr. Who aired in the states as a TV movie pilot.  It didn’t work and was relaunched in England. Doctors nos. 9 and 10 are airing (this moment) on BBC American and the Sci-Fi Channel. Hoo-hah.

We’ve grown used to Archie Bunker, Meathead, Chrissie Snow, and Cliff Huxtable. I can’t picture them as beloved British characters. Can you? We isolate this bunch from the comparison.

I did conduct a few side-by-side comparisons: Airline, The Weakest Link, American Idol/Pop Idol, and Changing Rooms/Trading Spaces. I did see the British shows months before viewing their American counterparts. They were entertaining, especially Airline. The American Airline showed a lot of boorish people who wouldn’t take the blame for their own problems and airline employees who wouldn’t compromise airline policy, even when the rules were ridiculous. The British Airline did the same, but the travelers minded their manners a bit more and weren’t so boorish. The Weakest Link’s Anne Robinson was the stronger link. Her American replacement might have been chosen because of a striking physical resemblance, but he lacked her acerbic wit. Her personality propelled the show, making “You’re the weakest link, goodbye”, trademark material. American Idol reached the stratosphere. We’ll save that story for another day when the well runs dry. Redecorating the home of your friend or neighbor while they make over yours sounds like great fun. The British version just seems more exotic.

Getting back to Life On Mars, any tinkering of the original show heads in the wrong direction. However, it’s almost certain that the number of American fans aware of the original show will be dwarfed by those who watch the American version of this British gem. Network and affiliates still beat out specialty cable. That, my friends, is tragic.

Copyright October 13, 2007

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Looking For Life On Mars

lifeonmars.jpg

Life on Mars, a gem of a TV series, made a whistle stop on BBC America and left the station before we could all hop on and enjoy the whole ride. No word about airing the second, final, season. It’s not the first time BBC America disappoints and it won’t be the last. Some shows, like this one, are trimmed for program time slots. It was shown in its entirety in the UK, so we can plausibly buy a copy of both seasons. A simple DVD transfer from Region 2 to Region 1 and we’re ready to look at Life on Mars.

The show, titled to connect with David Bowie’s Life On Mars, opens in present day (2006) Manchester, England. Chief Inspector, Sam Tyler (John Simms), is pursuing a case when he’s run down by a car. Tyler loses consciousness, briefly. When he comes to he’s ensconced in Manchester, 1973. He’s still a cop, though, lower in rank, and struggles with all things faced by anyone going back in time. Viewers of the first season have eight episodes to ride along with Sam, watch him interact with “new” colleagues, resolve cases with antiquated forensics, and attempt to solve the big mystery. Where in the world is he?

Whether Tyler is really in 2006 or 1973 is answered in the final season. The cryptic clues lead us in several directions. I know how it all turned out, since I read all of season two’s episode summaries and interviews with VIP’s connected with the series. A viewing of the missing episodes, still, would take me along for the rest of the ride. I’d want to watch the series from beginning to end, actually, and catch the material that was edited out of BBC America’s programming.

Bowie’s Life On Mars connects Tyler to both time frames. It’s playing when he’s mowed down, playing when he wakes, and is featured during other moments in the series. I’d like to be with Sam, if only to rewind with the many British pop songs played throughout the series. I love that stuff. Sam is adorable, but he’s so distracted. Actually, most of Sam’s colleagues at the precinct are very engaging, Inspector Gene Hunt (Phillip Glenister), Constable Annie Cartwright (Liz White), DC Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), and DS Ray Carling (Dean Andrews).

If the American fans make enough noise, perhaps BBC America will release pristine copies of the dvd so we can see what we missed. Word has it that the story will continue. A jump to the 80s, a retitle to “Ashes to Ashes” (another Bowie tie-in), and Inspector Gene Hunt at the helm.

For those who won’t wait for the improbable, there’s the cd soundtrack. Many tunes failed to make the cut, but cheer for the ones that did. Artists include: David Bowie, Paul McCartney & Wings, Roxy Music, ELO, T. Rex, Free, Slade, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Faces, Thin Lizzie, and Uriah Heep.

Copyright © October 10, 2007
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Tag, You’re It (Another Plea For Help)

Now that we have tamed the putting a video on the blog entry beast, it’s time to tackle yet another monster. This one is not allowing me to add tags to my sidebar. I’d like to add a tag or three: Technorati, My Blog Log, and even a RSS feed.

My Widget Page doesn’t allow for such things. So, I deduce it’s because I’m not self hosting or because the widget wizard left town.

Same shout for help as before. Bring me my tags and widgets, please.