Real Fiction

When I was a master’s student, I remember a professor waxing philosophical about the future of academia. In one of her lectures, she discussed the possibility of a degree concentration in Counter-History, in which scholars imagine history differently than it transpired, perhaps even contrary to actual events, in an effort to uncover new perspectives. Of course, some of this might be revealed in Cartesian philosophical orientation, but as of today, I know no doctoral program in Counter-History.

Though it may not exist in academia, I’ve found it to be alive and kicking in the literary world.

These days, it seems like a great novelist is more than a story teller. She or he is a historical analyst, an investigative journalist, and a first-rate researcher. A rich historical context, along with the possibility that a story could be “based on true events,” makes a story real and far more intriguing to read. Of course, none of this is actually new. Popular novelists have been borrowing from history for generations (Jo Rowling and Rick “Percy Jackson” Riordan commonly feature figures that exist historically, either in real life or in literature). But I’m not talking about borrowing from history, I’m talking about recreating history, and creating the mystery around the possibility of a new truth. I’ve found this gem of novel writing in two recent books: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and The Poe Shadow.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine B. Howe. I have to admit, I stumbled upon this book with quite a bit of serendipity. While waiting for the free samples at Cost co one day, I saw this book promoted on their table display. I judged the book by its cover (I’m a sucker for nicely designed books), picked it up and, after reading the back cover, rushed…to the library to get a copy. Brilliantly researched book by the descendent of not one but TWO condemned salem witches, which works great since it’s a book about the Salem Witch Trials. Many of the events and circumstances were real. The story, however, was not. Nonetheless, there was so much real about Howe’s book, I couldn’t put it down, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The Poe Shadow, by Matthew Pearl: I actually found this book, again, by accident. Howe had acknowledged Pearl at the end of her Physick, for his literary help on the book. When I later found the book, noticed Pearl’s name, and checked to make sure the title and picture on front were intriguing enough (book cover judging again), I was sold (figuratively of course, it doesn’t cost money to borrow a book at the library, though I do believe I had $.50 in late fees on it). In the Poe Shadow, Pearl takes the mystery of the last days of Edgar Allen Poe and builds it into a seemingly real-life narrative of the effort to uncover the mystery. Though some of his characters are fictitious, the argument he makes for what may really have happened the days before Poe was found listless in a Baltimore Tavern shortly before his death. With his cleverly spun tale, not only is Pearl’s book real, but in it he proposes hypotheses and demonstrates findings that are entirely new to the debate. So instead of writing an academic paper spawning a lecture series about Poe’s last days, he writes an ingenius narrative that is both compelling and unforgettable.

These are only two of a voluminous library of books that recreate history, taking literary liberties for both the good of the reader, and history itself. Through this genre of historical-based novels, writers put a new spin on history and keep the eternal flame of history’s many and varied stories burning.

All for Social Good

I posted this over on my other blog, and I couldn’t help posting it here too…Love the band, love the video. Spread the love.

Social capital has been our main topic of conversation in my Digital PR and Advertising class at the University of Houston. The notion that an organization can assess communication efforts based on the resources available through social connections (particularly facilitated through digital and social media), is both an intriguing concept and one that should stretch organizational strategy beyond the normal harvesting of customer databases, or even Facebook followers and Twits. The real power of social capital is what is possible by tapping into that social capital, preferably for both organizational and societal benefit.  New England rock banders, Guster, may have discovered this spontaneously, when they harnessed the power of their social capital in a recent contest. The story goes, that they invited fans to produce their own videos for each of their 12 songs on their new EP Easy Wonderful, and one lucky fan video for each song would be chosen and highlighted on their site (Social Capital Recap: Access your followers/fans? CHECK. Get them to do something for you? CHECK. Get them to do something that builds your reputation? keep reading).

The videos produced included the usual cadre of interesting images, abstract stories, and quirky cinematography (including one video that had one poor bloke being pelted by paint-filled balloons). But one video, in particular, gave Guster more than just a quirky video credit. Check it out:

4 strangers, helping more strangers, and the giving goes viral, as the companies involved paid it forward after they heard what the pizza and flowers were for. Rather than social capital for organizational good, this is social capital for  social good, and it’s something that’s infectious, if not serendipitous (in this case).

Please! No More Series Books

The Indie Girl has been trying to get me to read a new book series she’s gotten into: Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull. This is the same Indie Girl who introduced me to Harry Potter over 10 years ago, and who’s book choices have always been superb. So why I have been hesitant to start the series? I have to say, I’m a little series’d out right now. And, in the end, I’m probably going to give in and read the darned Fablehaven series, because, the Indie Girl is usually right, but here’s a few reasons I’m dragging my feet:

1. Book series books are so overdone. I remember growing up reading one-and-done books like Cricket in Times Square. Simple little, one-dimensional stories that were reflective of the kiddie audience they were written for. Then comes Harry Potter (ok, Potter wasn’t the first in-depth kiddie series, some forget The Dark is Rising series and others). Jo Rowling introduced to the reading world that kid books could actually be good. Now there’s an idea. Deep plots with classic literary themes, the works. So why do I deride book series now? Everyone thinks it’s the format, the multiple books telling the same story, thing. So now instead of one-dimensional, one and done books, we now have one-dimensional one-and-done books spread out into more than one book, just to sell it. Not good.

2. A good story should be concise. I have a friend who is writing a book series. He asked me to review his plot line, characters, etc., and I found them to be quite enigmatic and engaging. When he told me it was going to be a book series, I told him: “Sure, it can be a book series, but why don’t you just write the story as one book?” The thing is, too many authors are thinking multiple books in a story line, when they should be looking at multiple story lines in one book. A good story should be as long as it needs to be. Harry Potter fits the bill, though she could have left out a few subplots. Percy Jackson and the Olympians? ENTIRELY too long. I think we could do without books 2 and 3 frankly. The problem? Book series tend to either have too many unrelated plotlines, making the series just a ploy to make more money, or they’re just one plot line stretched out over too many books. And for all those people who think they’re selling a great idea to publishers, think again. Most publishers don’t want someone who proposes a book series, because for them it doesn’t mean multiple book profits, it means multiple books they have to worry about marketing for.

3. Copy cats are never innovators. Now, don’t misunderstand me. There are a lot of good series books out there, and there will be many to come, but most authors who write a book series now seem to be trying to re-create what Jo Rowling and other authors have done. Peruse the kiddie section of the library and book series books are being done like it’s going out of style. I think it’s time to try something new. Write a story that begins on page one and ends when you close the book. I think the one-and-done book is the NEW book series book. It’s the new black too. And the new novel. Case in point. I love Eoin Colfer books. He’s a fantastic writer. One of my favorite junior lit authors actually. But I could never get into Artemis Fowl. Why? I hated the story. I know, it’s odd. Artemis Fowl is his Harry Potter. In my opinion though, his one-and-done books are much, much better. I particularly love Half Moon Investigations. I found it at a school book sale for like $2. It’s one of my favorite books I think I’ve ever read. So well-written. Such a great story line. And the ending is superb. One of my other favorite books, Airman. Yes, another Colfer one-and-doner. AMAZING story line. He effectively captures the Count of Monte Cristo theme, innovates it, and produces something special. Both books are supremely better than his book series.

All in all, am I condemning book series? No. In fact, I picked up Rick “Percy Jackson” Riordan’s newest book 1, the Red Pyramid (in which he does the same thing he did in Percy Jackson, but with Egyptian Mythology instead of Greek Mythology). The thing is, though, just writing a book series does not make it better than the one-and-done book. In fact, more often than not, we’re seeing it go the other way around.

In the end, I’m probably going to end up reading the Indie Girl’s new favorite: Fablehaven. And you know what, I’m probably going to love it, and the next blog post is probably going to be a gushing review of it, with all the usual pictures, links, pomp, and circumstance. But that’s going to be my last book series. Of course, until Indie Girl finds another good read.

Of Dada, Broken Social Scenes, and the Science of Slap

Once upon a LONG time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (that galaxy we often refer to as “undergraduate life”), I had an inspired professor who used a New Order Video to demonstrate Dada art, which he described as the anti-art: a rising art form in the 1980s that challenged the conventions of art as refined style. The video’s intro, which features two oddly dressed individuals slapping each other, has stuck in my head ever since, which is why I like the new Broken Social Scene video for All to All (props to who featured the video on their front page; boos to WordPress, who doesn’t allow more than 2 or 3 embedded video formats, making me use Youtube to show it to you):

What’s ironic is, I’m not even sure how much I like the song…but the video is genius for its perfect refinement of the type of Dada art in music videos that bands like New Order and others started over 30 years ago. I particularly like the way this video mixes classic Dr. Seuss (anyone remember a story about a bug that went Kachoo?) with the Indie music revolution.

A Suburban Deal!

Welcome to the show. I’m your Indie Network Shopping host. You know why you’re here. You want good music that’s cheap. You want good music that’s free. You want good music that I’ll pay you to listen to!!!

Well friends, up on today’s Wheel of Fish is an Indie band you know and love. No, they’re not just a good Indie Band, they’re a GREAT Indie Band. And what’s more, they hail from the Great White North, the same wonderful country that brought us Rick Moranis and Michael J. Fox! The same nation that brought us Bullwinkle J. Moose and Dudley Do-Right (and not to mention, one in a long line of forgettable movies featuring Brendan Fraser)! They are Arcade Fire! And their latest album, the Suburbs, a masterful work of the type of Indie mellowdrama that you have come to cherish, has just been released. More than just another set of Indie songs you know your Ipod wants, this album is incredibly deep, with tunes that border “radio-friendliness” (The Suburbs), lyrics that mix themes in modern warfare with suburban innocence, and tunes that even feature roman numerals! This, my friends, is an album that you’ll leave playing all day–at work, at school, in your house while the kiddies play!

Now, friends, how much would you pay for this delectable dish of divine indie…delectability? $19.99? $15.99? $9.99?

How about: $7.99?

That’s right friends, Arcade Fire’s newest album is $7.99 at Target* (o.k., at least it is in the Houston area).

*No, this is not a commercial for target. No Target is not paying me to endorse their sale. Yes, I would like it if they would.

Free Download: Andy Clockwise – The Casanova

Andy sent me this track today to share with all my favorite Indie readers (ok, it was his management group, not him, but you’re still my favorite Indie readers). Usually, I’m not a big fan of folksy, slow Indie, but this one intrigues me. Take a listen and I’ll tell you why. Here, I’ll wait (click the link to download it):

Ok, got it? Yes, it’s got a sappy, sad-sack tone to it. And yes, his voice drones a little, almost as if he’s halfway between sleep and consciousness. But there’s something about this that I really like. I find it extremely moving. I even like the palindrome-type cliche that the chorus brings (I remember love – but love don’t remember me), even though that usually turns me off. It’s moving because it’s more than just a rusty old guitar and a voice. It’s the violins that get me. They add a nice bit of orchestration the piece. Sure, it’s amazingly simple, but a good violin track in a song can make all the difference. Take Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on serious depressants, mix in with some My Morning Jacket and Mountain Goats (without the high voice), throw in some violins and you’ve got a really haunting song. It’s like a campfire ghost story, with the raspiness of the hardened campfire veteran telling it. You can almost feel the chill of the night air, can’t you?

Pass me a s’more and let me know if you like it.

Mates of State in Houston

The Indie Girl and I went to see Mates of State a few weeks ago in Houston. Frequenters of this Indie life will know of this blogger’s extreme bias for Mates of State. Fantastic band. They’ve got such a fresh sound. And, frankly, their release in 2007: Re-arrange Us, is probably one of the best Indie Albums of the Indie Age (ahem, since the year 2000 or thereabouts). The concert did not disappoint. First, the venue, The Warehouse, is such an intimate setting. You really are THIS close to the band:

In their set, they played a good mix of old stuff (stuff from Team Boo even), as well as their newest stuff from their Crushes cover album (which, is quite the nice addition to your indie collection, if you haven’t purchased it yet)  and even new, new stuff, slated to come out later.

I’ll post a few videos soon: Apparently the file format (AVI) isn’t supported on WordPress, which I find is odd.

Stay tuned.

The Truth About Peter Johnson…uh, Percy Jackson

I’m convinced that the recently released “Lightning Thief” was written by Dionysus–the Demi-god loathing, ambivalent cretin who never gets Percy’s name right. Sure, the credits say “Joe Stillman”…but that’s got to be a pseudonym. It’s really Mr. D. The reason: The Lightning Thief could not be more off track from the book and poorly produced if Mr. D. had produced it himself.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve been duped, that any of us who were awaiting this book to movie permutation, will have to keep waiting. So much is missing from the book, and so many things have been changed, that the movie most certainly is NOT “The LIghtning Thief.” For those of you who haven’t read the book, and since Harry Potter comparisons are inevitable, let me give you a comparison: let’s imagine that the first Harry Potter movie was missing 1. Draco Malfoy 2. Harry’s Lightning Scar and 3. Voldemort. That’s the movie that Dionysus, I mean Joe Stillman wrote, and  Chris Columbus produced, because Percy’s world is missing the exact equivalent of those Potter necessities.

The question I keep asking myself is “Why”…or “How” How could this movie be so off track? Potential answers:

1. The book is too long to fit into a 2 hour movie. That’s a good one usually, but here, it doesn’t apply. There were specific scenes that they unnecessarily altered. For example: There’s no reason Percy couldn’t have killed Ms. Dodds/The Kindly One in the beginning of the movie. Besides being true to the book, it would have been more entertaining than having Chiron give her a dirty look that scares her right out the window! And it only gets worse from there. The whole plot was completely distorted from the Nashville encounter with a Hydra  to the Pearls of Persephone. None of it is in the book…or any book for that matter.

2. Changes were because of acting needs/casting necessities. I bring this one up because the screenwriters, addressing concerns from movie goers on their story and actor choices, reassured audiences that it was for the best.  The actors, who were 4 or 5 years older than they were supposed to be, were chosen for their acting acumen, and, they promised, we would see that they really were “Percy, Annabeth, and Grover”. I have to disagree here. The acting was horrendous. There was NO character development, and they might as well have chosen people who were 12 because the older teens had no clue how to sell a scene or act in character (reciting lines isn’t acting).  Then again, I can’t fault them: the script was just bad. We’re talking “Titanic” bad. Dialogue randomly placed. Everything overstated. I kept having flashbacks to Leo DiCapprio and Kate Winslet onboard the Titanic. “Jack, this is wonderful.” “Yes Rose, it is.” “Jack, I love you!” “Rose, I love you too” “Jack” “Rose” “Jack” “Rose”…

With the abovementioned two potential reasons squashed…that leaves us with only one other reason why the movie diverges so much from the book, and that answer might be:

3. The movie producers/writers don’t care about the real fans. Humor me for a moment. Those of us who have actually read the Percy Jackson series are few. I’m serious. Check the Percy Jackson Facebook page. The same 3 people make comments. So, in stead of sticking to the book, which would have required apparently way too much effort for Chris and company,  they went with a dumbed down version that general moviegoers could get behind easily. There’s a marketing lesson here ladies and gentleman. Hit the widest market you can. Only problem: They missed the mark. Even if only a few of the non-readers go back and re-read the book (thus adding to our growing numbers of “duped” fans), the movie wasn’t just dumbed-down, it was dumb.

This takes us to the real TRUTH about the Percy Jackson movie, the reason for the change in the script, and the overall “duping” of its key audience:

4. The movie producers/writers don’t care about ANY moviegoers.Think I’m out of line? Humor me.Let’s say there never was a book series, and this was just a movie. What do you have? Trade in your “This isn’t like the book!” complaints, and instead you’ll get:

No character development. A Flat plot. And bad acting. This makes Twilight look Oscar-worthy. In fact, half way through the movie, I started asking myself, “wait, am I watching a blockbuster film, or a made for TV movie on a Saturday afternoon?” Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but think that it was the latter.

Bottom line: I’m still waiting for the Lightning Thief movie to be released. I hear it’s going to be good!

Reason # 423 Why I like Facebook

423. Friend Farming.

It’s a simple concept really. It’s not just who you know, but who your friends know. With each new connection, you have new opportunities to find people you forgot about.

You see, the problem with looking for friends is that when you click on that “Find Friends” link, it’s like an automatic mind freeze. You forget every name you thought of looking up.  Hours later, you’ll be doing something completely different when all of a sudden you’ll think, “Oh! I wonder if [insert name here] is on Facebook. Mental note to check when I’m back online.” Of course, the thought vanishes the second you try to look for Insert Name Here.

Enter Friend Farming: Forget the friend search altogether, piggy back and your friends’ friend lists and memory problems are nill. What’s more, Facebook facilitates friend farming, with their dozens of friend suggestions.

I’m on a mission to connect with every last person I have ever known. That one kid who…um…well, there was that one person who….well, either way, thank you Facebook, for making my dreams come true.