Archive for October, 2010

Signing at OSU Bookstore

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

OSU campus bookstore, B&N
1598 N High Street
Columbus, OH 43201

This is a huge mass signing of many people at World Fantasy, including Mary Robinette Kowal and similar literary luminaries. 20+ authors for the price of one (ie, free, though you may end up buying more books than you planned on).

Signing in Columbus, OH

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

1739 Olentangy River Road
Columbus, OH 43212

7-8pm, Friday, Oct 29

Listening to music on a desert island

Monday, October 11th, 2010

This is two music-themed posts in a row; weird.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me: “If you were trapped on a desert island and could only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?” I love these kinds of questions because the important part is the limitation, and the desert island is not only irrelevant but actually changes the situation drastically. If I can only listen to three albums again for the rest of my life, okay, I see where you’re going with this and I can formulate an answer, but what does the desert island have to do with it? Does this island have electricity? Does it even have a CD player or an iPod or something to play the music on? Am I to assume this device will never break down, and the electricity to power it will never run out? If so, then should I further assume that I’m trapped there with the Professor from Gilligan’s Island? These are important things to know, and they could drastically alter my answer (for example, if Maryanne’s there, I’ll choose two Barry White albums and Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing).

But I’m going to go with the intent of the question and ignore the desert island: I can only listen to three albums again for the rest of my life. This is an interesting question, subtly yet intriguingly different from “What are your three favorite albums,” because it seems to call for a bit of variety in your selections. It may very well be that two, or even all three, of your favorite albums are from the Rolling Stones, but if you were forced to listen to those and nothing else you might get sick of a single style of music and voice, so you’d be better off choosing just one Rolling Stones album and then two different albums you also love in order to switch things up a bit. Or you might be a bigger Stones fan than I think you are, which is also fine. You make your list, I’ll make mine.

My first album is a windmill slam, no-questions-asked, how-could-I-ever-pick-anything-else kind of pick: Abbey Road, by the Beatles. I love the Beatles with the same kind of eye-scratching obsession that teenage girls loved them with in the 60s, and Abbey Road is by far their best album. BY FAR. Don’t argue this point, because I will cut you. Side one is fun and wacky, with super hits like Come Together, kooky classics like Octopus’s Garden and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, and one of the best love song’s ever written: Something. All great songs, but not yet transcendent; that’s where side two comes in. Side two of Abbey Road doesn’t just present some more songs, it changes the entire concept of what an album, or even a song, can be. The first two songs are catchy, trippy Beatles-ness, leading us step by step into deeper, weirder, downright brilliant section that’s half medley, half pop-rock suite, and overflowing with awesomeness. Themes rise, fall, repeat, and weave through each other, both musically and lyrically, and the whole thing comes together in a crashing, pitch-perfect ending. The goofball Her Majesty track stuck onto the end is like an inside joke where the Beatles wink and let you know they’re just kidding around, except the fact that they wink let’s you know that they aren’t, and I don’t know what to think anymore I just want to listen to it again. This is my favorite album of all time, and I would happily listen to it forever, desert island or not.

My second album is going to surprise most of you: Donde Estan Los Ladrones?, by Shakira. Shakira is famous in America primarily for being a Latina booty-shaker, but before she entered what I’ll call the “Britney Spears” phase of her career, she had a much softer, more poetic, sort of “Alanis Morisette/Jewel” kind of phase of her career, and this is the one I love. This started with Pies Descalsos, which I loved, and thought nothing could beat, but she followed it up with Donde Estan Los Ladrones? which was, quite simply, so much better it made Pies Descalsos look pretty amateurish in comparison. I still love them both, but if I have to choose only three albums for the rest of my life Donde Estan Los Ladrones? will definitely be one of them. I love every track on this album, covering every musical genre from rock to mariachi to pop to country to some kind of Lebanese thing in the radio hit Ojos Asi. More than the music, though, it’s the lyrics that I love. Listen to Moscas en la Casa, or Ciega, Sordomuda, or my favorite, Tu, and marvel at the sheer poetry of it, sometimes happy, sometimes heartbreaking, always fiercely intelligent and achingly self-aware. As with Abbey Road, this is one of my favorite albums of all time, and I would gladly listen to very little else for the rest of my life.

Now, the hard part. The first two were easy, but the third? I honestly have no idea. Graceland, by Paul Simon? Or if we’re allowing “best of” compliations, Negotiations and Love Songs by Paul Simon? Or how about the Silversun Pickups–they’re arguably my favorite band currently playing, but I don’t know which of their albums I’d choose; Carnavas is the strongest album overall, but my favorite individual songs are on Pikul and Swoon. I’m a huge fan of Radiohead, and I’d seriously consider The Bends as one of my desert island albums, but…I don’t know. As much as I love that album, I don’t know if I feel strongly enough to take the plunge and choose it. So let’s expand the net a bit: how about the mashup album American Edit? Santana’s lots-of-guests album Supernatural? Some hypothetical Pearl Jam album that just contains everything on Ten plus Given to Fly? Or maybe it’s something I haven’t even considered yet, like Weezer’s blue album, or Don Mclean’s American Pie, or Tapestry by Carole King. I don’t want to include “best ofs” because then I’m just choosing artists, not albums, and I think that’s cheating. Anthologies, on the other hand, would probably be fine as long as they were produced by a real studio–no mix tapes allowed–which means I could maybe choose the Forrest Gump soundtrack. I don’t know, this is too hard.

What about you guys? I’m not asking for suggestions because, frankly, your tastes are not mine, and vice versa; this isn’t an empirical list of best albums, this is three albums that you, personally, would choose to listen to if you couldn’t ever listen to anything else.

I Want to Tear You Apart

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

I write all of my books to music, as I’ve mentioned before. Some of my books are written while listening to music, but the process for Mr. Monster was different, and a little unique. Every day as I sat down to write I would pull up She Wants Revenge, a sort of Interpol-ish band that I really like, and listen to the song “Tear You Apart.” It was almost like a ritual before writing, to get myself into the right mood and frame of mind; once I’d listened to the song I’d turn my music off and dive into the manuscript.

The song, if you haven’t heard it, is dark and shocking and conflicted and awesome–it captures perfectly the way I wanted John and his story to feel in the book. The lyrics tell the story of a young man struggling shyly and awkwardly with a crush: he likes a girl, but he doesn’t know how to talk to her. He grows closer to her, kind of sweet but also kind of creepy–just a little obsessed–until the chorus finally allows him to express himself, using words we’re fairly certain he’d never have the courage to say to her face: “I want to hold you close,” etc. etc., getting more and more intimate until we’re shocked by the fierce “I want to ******* tear you apart.”

This is the most wonderful depiction of sociopathic romance I’ve ever seen: a superficially sweet attraction is in fact obsessive and premeditated (“Got a big plan, his mind set, maybe it’s right, at the right place and right time: maybe tonight.”) You can listen to it here, in the official, bad-words-bleeped-out video on youtube, though I recommend that you don’t actually watch the video the first few times–it’s cool, but it’s telling a very different story than the actual lyrics and I want you to experience it first the way it was intended. The young man in the song tries to get closer to the girl, to find excuses to talk to her, but when he sees her he gets too freaked out and actually throws up and has to hide. As his emotions bubble closer and closer to the surface they become harsher, more dangerous, until the line between love and violence is suddenly and shockingly broken, and his dream of making out turns into a violent fantasy. One of the lines I especially love is “Lie still, close your eyes girl; so lovely, it feels so right,” which would sound fairly innocuous in a peppy pop song by, say, Jimmy Eat World or Matchbox 20, but here takes on a deliciously subtle connotation of necrophilia. This man’s problems go far beyond not knowing how to talk to a girl: he literally doesn’t know how to feel or express love in anything approaching a healthy or positive way.

This is incredibly accurate to the sociopathic mindset–in fact, it is the mental link between love and violence that defines most serial killers and sets them on the path toward murder. A child who is beaten or abused by an authority figure, especially if that abuse is sexual, develops a completely unique set of emotional benchmarks that literally change they way they feel and perceive love. Think about how you define love, intimacy, and family interaction: getting a hug from your dad, giving a hug to your child, snuggling on the couch with a baby in your lap or a comforting arm around your shoulder. Most people in the world learn about love from loving people–we get a hug and kiss from our mother and it makes us feel good, and we learn to connect our concept of “love” with actions such as “hugging,” “comforting,” “helping,” and so on. Now imagine on the other hand a mother who beats her child, viciously and with very little provocation; she might even say something like “I’m doing this because I love you,” partly to justify the beating to herself as a valid form of punishment. In especially dysfunctional homes that beating might be the only physical contact or intimacy the child ever has with his mother–what emotions and actions will that child associate with the concept of love? Now consider a father who sexually abuses his daughter, or beats and berates his wife in full view of the children–what perception will those children gain of the concept of love and physical intimacy? For many of these children the entire concept of love is broken: they don’t see it the same way we do because they’ve never experienced it the way we have.

This is not to suggest, of course, that abused children will grow up to be killers–it’s true that most abused children grow up to become abusers, but the percentage that actually turn into killers is fairly small. It’s also true that some people become serial killers without ever experiencing abuse–their wires get crossed not by the actions of others but by their own fantasies, born of pornography or other media, teaching them that people are objects and that love is a form of control.

Turning a child into a serial killer takes a precise mix of ingredients: first you need the right mindset, the early stages of Conduct Disorder (a precursor to sociopathy) that change the way a child sees and interacts with other people. Then throw in some crossed emotional wires, either through abuse or extensive sexual fantasies, linking his feelings of love and attraction with thoughts of violence, control, and pain. Once the child has these thoughts in his head he needs an opportunity to act on them, whether through accident or design, but this is the key–the decision to hurt another person still lies wholly within that person’s power. They can still say yes or no; no one is “forced” to become a killer or a rapist or an abuser, though it can often be very difficult to avoid.

This is the place where we find John Cleaver in Mr. Monster: he has the disorder, he has the skewed perception of love, and he has a beautiful girl thrust wildly into his life–in the past he’s always avoided this kind of contact, knowing what it could lead to, but that’s simply not an option anymore. He drives Brooke to school; she talks to him at lunch; even his mother starts pushing them together, hoping that a good, healthy friendship will help pull John out of this silly sociopathic funk he’s been wallowing in. But John is not very good at healthy friendships, and the pressure is building, and the closer he gets to her the closer he gets to simply breaking down, losing control, and tearing her apart.