Just When You Think It’s Safe to Live, You Remember Death

This was me two weeks ago, playing a heist in GTA5 online. The FIRST heist. Shhhh. My team pretended they weren't super pissed. They were.

I turned 40 recently. F-O-R-T-Y. 

And you know, part of me wants to hide it. To leave everyone who doesn’t know me in real life kind of guessing. Like, “How old is that chick who wrote that book with a bad ass heroine who seriously kicks ass?” So that they’ll think I’m younger and much cooler and well, wait. I am cool. Heh heh. 

Yeah.  

Come on. YOUTH does not equal cool. OK. So if you are a young person, like say younger than 30, let me just give you a bit of advice (I know you want it!) . . .

Oh damn. Did I almost just turn into one of those curmudgeons that goes around telling younger people that they’re nothing special just because they’re young?

“In my day . . . *grumble, grumble* hey, kid, get of my lawn!” 

Well, at least I caught myself before I one hundred percent became a crotchety butthead. 

CRISIS AVERTED.  

My age doesn’t matter, guys! I’ll be fucking sky-diving at 80 with my blue hair whipping in the wind and my face on fire with happiness because that’s how I roll. 

Yeah. And that’s *ahem* how I’m planning my escape from the flesh . . . skydiving “accident” at 85. So, this is the only warning you’ll get, all you younger people who will want me to stick around well into my 120s. 

So now you know. I just turned 40. And so far it’s been pretty damn great. I let out a back-cracking sigh when it happened and then I had a party with my husband because I don’t do big group parties. I like to know the people I’m with. Like, really know them.

I probably should have emphasized really in that last sentence because know is starting to, I don’t know, look like a biblical sense of the word. 

But I’m gonna leave it because it’s funny. To me.

That’s how all my humor works. It’s me, not you. 😉

Anyway. The people in my life. I like to know what songs they like. I think I know what they love about themselves and I sort of know what they hate about themselves and I love them for both. 

So tonight, I was making this Spotify playlist for a friend who will never listen to it, because that’s also how I roll. I like to make them. And sometimes I never give them to the person because honestly, I don’t think they’d give a crap.

But it’s one way I remember the people I love, with music, and sort of like thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember how [insert name here] turned me on to Widespread Panic. What a cool jerkface they were. I miss them!” Except I don’t love Widespread much anymore. That was an ill-advised detour into Phish-like jambands. And I was never high enough to really appreciate it in the longterm. Not high. That’s key.  

I thought about all this stuff, and I realized this thing out of nowhere (sort of):  I have a lot of friends who’ve died. And I still remember them like they’re alive. 

So what I want to do is make a list of the friends I’ve lost. I know I’ve forgotten some of the people, which is kind of sucky of me. But as I get closer to my own old age, creeping closer to me like the River Lethe, that is my excuse: old age. Forgetfulness. 

If you’re reading this, thank god, you’re still alive. Drop me a line. Let’s hang out. Grab a drink. Have a chat. I fucking miss you. 

Christie B. How we met: 3rd grade. She was funny and interesting and I was jealous of her for being one of two children. Just the other day I remembered how, during college, she used to take a jar of pennies to the airport (pre-9/11) and fake-trip down the walkway and “spill” her jar of pennies. Then she’d clean them up and act embarrassed and secretly laugh at the situation. Her sense of humor was prime–and apparently quite physical and situational–and I am lucky that I knew her for so long. Her song, the one that I think of when I think of her: Faith Hill, “It Matters to Me.” Granted, Christie had a lot of songs she liked, but I’ll never forget her asking me if I was going to try singing, randomly, when worked at JCrew in Nashville to try to get a record deal, because that’s how Faith got discovered.

Drew. How we met: he was a customer at the indie record store where I worked during college. And he was sweet, and pretty damn adorable. He smoked and I thought I could influence him to maybe be a bit less cynical. For some reason I was less cynical than a lot of the people around me. Call it naivete. Because that’s what it was. Drew was studying something intriguing like environmental engineering (I made that up) because he was more interesting than me (English lit, gag). He acted tough and he wore square dark-framed glasses that were uber handsome on his face…His death was this random shock. I think it was a freak heart-attack when we were in our twenties. His song, and how i knew that he was a damn softy beneath that tough exterior: Rocky Votolato, “White Daisy Passing.” 

Eames. How we met: don’t remember, precisely, but we became rock climbing partners for a while. He was in a rough spot with his girlfriend, and I was in a rough spot with this guy (super ill-advised boyfriend, 14 years older than me, he dumped me for a YOUNGER girl, WTF?! Classy). At the time, my heart was raw and Eames’ heart was raw, and he was a better climber than I was (translate: he led all the climbs and set the route so I could just top-rope it ha ha ha ha, you wimp, you, Nik), so it was a match made in heaven. We hung out a lot and drove all over to climb. I kept a soft spot in my heart for Eames for a long long time. Though we spent a lot of time in the car driving to climbing haunts, I don’t remember what he listened to. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was something like DMB. He was a chill guy, who said words like “jonesin’ to get on the rock” and he wore Smith sunglasses and was always super cool and had beachy sensibilities. Good guy, old Eames.

I’m glad there’s only three. A lifetime is a long time to live without your friends. Not included here are the people who died in the traditional order of nature: my father, my grandmother, grandfather, uncles. 

Sometimes it just seems worth it to stop and take stock of what you have and what you’ve lost, I guess. So you don’t forget to appreciate the people you can still hold onto. 

That Moment When You’ve Written a Perfect Scene

The scene that I just wrote tonight, is perhaps the most perfect scene I’ve ever written.

Maybe it’s the mania talking–that feeling that comes after I’ve done something I think it is wicked awesome. Could be. I mean, it’s late, and I might have had one drink. And I might have gotten swept away in the song that I feel helped facilitate the scene (which I listened to on repeat), and so, in short, who knows?

I don’t know. I think the scene is perfect. It wasn’t easy to write either. I began it a few days ago, but it’s a night scene. A serious scene. And I was writing it while the sun ripped through the sky happily shining on everything, illuminating every last thing.

And this scene, is a poignant one. The setting is night. The emotion is sorrow and regret, and some form of penitence, mashed together with self-defense.

I couldn’t write it in the day. It needed to be night. And I needed to be in a certain frame of mind to tap into the emotions.

I’m still not sure if I did it justice for Holly Drake. I tried my best, and the readers (you!) will decide in the end if it works or not.

And tomorrow there’s a really good chance I’ll read back over it and laugh and ask, “What the fuck was I thinking?”

But right now, I feel like I’ve never written anything more tender and gentle about a character and her life than this one in this moment.

Holly Drake’s stories are sci-fi, steam punk, space opera. But I write real scenes about real grief and real joy. It’s not a love story, but there is love in it, and hope, and desire. And that’s because I think those are the things that make the excitement and adventure worth more than a monkey’s ass. Without the human grief and emotion, who really gives a shit about a wicked awesome scene where Holly is basically surfing through the sky on a thin slab of metal?

I ask you. What’s the point?

 

Oh, and here’s the amazing song I listened to on repeat. You’re welcome, my friend. You’re welcome.

A Paul Anka Mystery (with Peter Cetera!) Song!

Sometime in the late 70s/early 80s (exact date of song genesis unknown), Paul Anka wrote a song called “Hold Me Till the Morning Comes.” And then he proceeded to record about fifty thousand different versions. Since 1997, I have been looking for the version that appeared on a tape that some attractive Marine made for me during the autumn of 1996 (we didn’t last, as a couple).

But around the turn of the century, the Internet didn’t yet have the answer to every single question I might have, because, well, see for yourself:

Amazon literally looked like an unkempt rainforest back then, didn’t it? No wonder I couldn’t find answers!

(cont.) and so I ended up with the crappy version (from the 1983 album “Walk a Fine Line”) that appeared on the album “Body of Work” that came out in 1998. Confused? You should be. Because I was. And have been, for 17 years, apparently. Anyway, that version sounds like this:

The Youtuber who posted this is a marketing genius. Put Peter Cetera on the cover of your vid and get 239,952 views (5,000 of them are mine) vs. the comparison I’ll make later in this post.

And I knew it wasn’t the right version. Because this version just sounds . . . less punchy. It’s almost like Paul couldn’t let Peter have his moment, there, at the end, when Peter is saying, “Would you love me in the morning?” And Paul is like, “Would you lo-ove me?” over the top of Peter’s vocals. Not great.

I mean, I DO wonder what Paul was doing. And what he was thinking, because even if the critics didn’t love him or the album this song appeared on, he was hella successful. I mean, it’s the sort of thing when writers complain that Twilight sucked and why was it so successful? It’s crap! And then some wiser person, for instance, me, responds, “Yeah, it’s crap. That’s why Stephenie is laughing all the way to her bank account. The account in the bank she OWNS BECAUSE SHE’S UNIMAGINABLY RICH.”

That’s Paul Anka. He had some hits in the 50s, then made a series of business-brilliant moves and even if his voice is “slight” and “a little hard to hear” with “all that talent surrounding it” {link} HE DOESN’T have to be as impressive as Peter. Paul’s smart. And he did a lot of genius crap and now he’s reaping the rewards.

But I digress. That version, where Paul is like, “I will not let you steal my spotlight! I must dub my own vocals over Peter’s shit because he’s the BACKING vocals and I’m the main act!” It’s a crap version.

Amongst the weird vocal blips at the end, there are other instrumental differences as well, which I noticed and didn’t like. Plus I could obviously compare it to the track that was on the tape Matt the Marine made for me, because back then I still had my double-cassette tape deck. It looked exactly like this random image of the precise make and model of the stereo I had back when Matt made me that tape:

This puppy was for sale in Canada for $40. And now that I have no way to listen to cassettes, I obvs. wish I would have known. I could have bought it! And then proceeded to live in the past, where everything is sunnier and warmer all the time.

So, despite years of obstacles and insurmountable blockades by record labels looking to repeatedly release new albums full of bad versions of old songs and not reissue Japanese 45s, the Internet in 2017 wins. Because while it didn’t have the answer to every life-long mystery back in 1999 . . . . {drum roll}

IT HAS THEM NOW. Here is the BEST VERSION of Paul Anka’s hit “Hold Me Til the Morning Comes” (featuring Peter Cetera on backing [backing, dammit, backing!] vocals) :

Here’s that comparison for you: the above version of the song only has like 500 views, because unlike the other Youtuber, they didn’t put Peter on the cover. Or in the title. We need to get a marketing team on this, because it would be great to get that crap version of the song out of circulation!

And for your reference, here is the version I found before I found the version from the Japanese 45, which also features a hilarious (I just have to be honest about that) Euro-version at the end. I guess that one is supposed to be for the discotheques.

https://youtu.be/NTbKlJceLYk

TL;DR — It took me 17 years to find a version of a song that I first heard in 1996. The Internet saved me, finally, from taking the complete mystery to my grave.

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Twin Shadow Finds His Pop Sound on Eclipse

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George Lewis, Jr., the singer and songwriter behind Twin Shadow, doesn’t want to be trapped under the weight of genre. This is obvious from his flat-out admissions in interviews about the direction of his third full length release, Eclipse, but it’s even more clear from the radio-friendly lineup of tracks that made the final cut after months generating material in his new hometown of L.A. This, coupled with the sudden move away from heavyweight independent label 4AD to media-giant Warner Bros., tells us that if Lewis wants to make pop music, he’ll make pop music, pigeon-holes be damned. {Read More on Treblezine…}

 

Purity Ring’s Sound Goes Bigger on “Another Eternity”

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If any question loomed about the overall direction Purity Ring would go on their sophomore release, it gets answered pretty quickly on “Heartsigh,” the opener onAnother Eternity. It’s bolder, brighter and beefier than anything on 2012′s Shrines, and Megan James and Corin Roddick’s playful, often introspective electro-pop has transitioned into a vast, aural landscape that manages to be upbeat and energetic, more fun than ominous. The sort of quiet, somber musical channels that were explored onShrines in tracks like “Obedear” and “Shuck” are missing. And the eerie, sometimes uncomfortable wordplay that has been a staple of James’ lyrical ventures are either more sanitized or simply gone in favor of less complex, more digestible bits. {Read more on Treblezine…}

Father John Misty Sings the Hell Out of Being in Love

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Father John Misty is at his best when juxtaposing irreverent lyrics with the sublime beauty of a slow ’60s jam or a sunny, upbeat number, both found on his sophomore album, I Love You Honeybear. Gorgeous, swirling melodies and horn-infused tracks are jarring in their not-so-subtle, oft ribald subject matters. But this is nothing new for Tillman, who slipped under the Father John Misty moniker after he left Fleet Foxes. When Josh Tillman speaks about his art and the craft of the Father John Misty persona, you quickly realize if anything is true, it’s that the man is clever, eloquent, and possibly too bright to take for granted. {Read more on Treblezine…}

Recent Spins: Welcome to February, the Month of the Love Song

It’s all about love this month! I’ve put together some love-tracks (mostly). Broken hearts, hearts beating as one, heart-shaped candy, this is the season of song and hearts. And such. I love, love.

Anyway, I can’t be modest about it, but even though I have nothing to do with these awesome tracks, I DID find them. So many creative people are out there, doing fantastic things with their art, it just kills me! The following bands I heartily endorse. Listen till your heart bleeds!

I’m experimenting with embedding the tracks in my page via Spotify. I don’t THINK you have to have an account to listen, but I’m not certain. Let me know in the comments if you have trouble listening. I used to host the music on my own site but that got bandwidth-sucky.

First of all, Sky Ferreria. Just a good jam. She doesn’t mess around. She’s not Charli XCX, she’s more serious than that. Sky brings it.

 

FKA Twigs. “Two Weeks” is NSFW, probably, I mean, unless you work on the docks, a construction site, or possibly as stripper. It should be on the soundtrack to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” probably, I mean, I’ve never read that book, so I’m guessing. Yeah. But listen, it’s so good.

 

Little Green Cars. Don’t let the powerful opening fool you, this one is about falling for someone who doesn’t want you back. The harmonies are stunning, and the line “I know it’s your neglect / is the reason I’m so obsessed with you,” hits hard, and so true. I love it. “There’s more people out there to love / than people who love you.” Very good also. Well done.

 

Violent Mae. I’m still trying to figure out how this one is a “Mother’s Song,” because I haven’t had time to look up the lyrics. Upbeat, thoughtful, and easy to listen to. The song is fantastic. The vocalist has a great style. Straightforward excellent track.

 

Twin Shadow. I’ve been following Twin Shadow since 2010’s Forget. Retro, with that 80s feel, but so much better than anything that happened back then unless we’re talking about Joy Division, Jesus and the Mary Chain or other bands of that ilk. “To the Top” bursts with the kind of angst dreamers feast on.

 

Jessie Ware. Recommended if you like Sade, Rhye, and other artists that get a groove on. This track is amazing. The chorus will send you into cardiac arrest for love.

 

Sharon Van Etten. If you haven’t listened to this songstress yet, get on that. She’s evocative and vulnerable with a fragile quality that splits your heart. My favorite song of hers so far.

 

Enjoy! Let me know what you think in the comments and give me a heads up if there’s a band you think I need to hear. I never snub a recommendation.

 

Yours.

-N

Writing a Sequel to Feed

First things first, I just discovered this gem. It’s so good. And, confession, something about the vocalist reminds me of Tracy Chapman. Weird! But it’s lovely and brooding and pensive. It makes me want to break up just so I can have a bit of drama. Haha!

 

So, anyway, I’ve been thinking about how working on a book now, for me, is different. Like, oddly different. Other-worldly different.

When I first wrote Feed, it was built on a short story called “Life Feeds.” I liked the damn thing so much, I wanted to do more with it. So I did. It was great. No one was waiting for me to finish. No one cared but me. I could write at the pace that worked for me and I did. I only had one kid, a baby, and when he napped, I could scribble off a thousand words no problem. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

I published it when it was done and didn’t do any marketing at all. I had no idea how to even approach that. I didn’t research that stuff because I didn’t know that marketing my indie book was even a thing!

So, because of that, it made absolutely no splash. It slipped into the water like Greg Louganis: nary a drop. Hardly anyone read it. It snuck under the radar and pretty much stayed there. Forever. Even now it only has something like 15 reviews on Amazon.

But that has never deterred me and it didn’t then. So I began working on Blue Hearts of Mars right after that and worked hard on it, sometimes feeling like someone else was doing all the work because it came so effortlessly to me. I loved the story and I just did what felt natural.

I published Blue Hearts a year after Feed. And I didn’t market that one either. It was January, and I put it up for a short free period on Amazon. That helped a bit. But not much.

Then, I met my friend and author Megan Thomason, because her YA book Daynight was also running a free promotion and Blue Hearts couldn’t knock hers out of the number one free spot. So of course I emailed her to razz her for beating me (I’m competitive like that). Well, she’s awesome and went out of her way to teach me about marketing and much of what I learned for her I’ve implemented. It helped with Blue Hearts, but that’s still the only book of mine I’ve ever pushed.

Why? I don’t know. Confidence, maybe. I’m still insecure about my abilities and my stories, despite loving the hell out of them. At this point, I’m working on a sequel to Feed even though I never planned one.

Feed ended in what some have called a cliffhanger. I get it. In today’s world, it seems like a cliffhanger because everyone writes sequels, and the best way to do a sequel is to leave room for one. But Feed is a dystopian story, modeled after something like Eugene Zamiatin’s We, which was one of the first dystopian books, along with Jack London’s The Iron Heel and E.M. Forester’s “The Machine Stops.” If you’ve read We, you know that the end is just sort of mundane. There is the hint of hope and change, but it’s not totally certain. Nothing is. The protagonist is ruined by the One State and the real hero is revealed to be I-303.

When I wrote the end to Feed, I saw that I left hope for the reader. My original ending was that [****former plot spoiler alert****] Ramone died, but the resistance lived on, which is hopeful, right? Well. A few people read it and got REALLY REALLY REALLY PISSED. So I changed it.

People are still pissed. It didn’t seem to help that I altered the ending. Some people still find reasons to get pissed! It can be discouraging.

And so, here’s what I’m getting at: I like the world and the characters in Feed, so I thought, what the hell. I’ll write a sequel.

That’s what I’m doing.

But I’m still torn about how I’m responding to readers. Lord knows I didn’t want them to hate the ending of Feed, either of them, the controversial death included. I want to them to appreciate the story and feel something: rage, relief, whatever. I don’t want them to hate me for not fulfilling them in some way.

The rub is: I’ve learned that I can’t make everyone happy. Or anyone, even, possibly. Maybe? I’m experiencing a bit of external pressure to perform, to write the story and do it well and keep it exciting and thoughtful. I’m not sure I’m doing that. They always say, “Write for yourself.” “Write what you know.” Nice little pieces of advice, those are. But what the hell do I know? And what does that even mean? If I’m writing it, you can be damn sure I’m writing for me.

But that just doesn’t change the pressure and the knowledge that people are waiting. Patrick Rothfuss wrote his first book over the space of something like ten years. And it went viral (can books go viral?). Working on the second was a huge ordeal for him. He’s published some of the emails he’s gotten where people beg him to finish the second and tell him to get to work rather than playing around with his son and such, which just show that some people are huge dicks. Where do they get off telling him to write his book and how fast? That’s not helpful.

Luckily no one is really doing that to me, either because my fan base is the size of a sample cup at Costco (not to diminish how awesome my fans are! I love you guys!) or because they’re an unusually quiet bunch. Whatever reason, I’m not under direct pressure from them. Just from what I perceive, I think. I want to be past this. I want to move on. But I’m in this limbo spot where I have to tie up loose ends. I can’t move on. Not yet. I have to do something first.

 

 

 

Stars Light Up The Night With an Homage to the Club Scene

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Stars’ newest album No One Is Lost opens with one of their favorite tricks: a sound clip from their musical vaults. They’ve probably got an entire database designed for just this thing. Some clips are powerful statements, like the one that opened 2005’s Set Yourself On Fire, which was written by singer Torquil Campbell and recorded by his father (“When there is nothing left to burn, you’ve got to set yourself on fire”), while some seem to be from films or TV shows. “From the Night,” the opening song to No One Is Lost, and one of their best songs to date, features ambient street sounds and what sounds like a group of speakers conversing in French. {Read More}

Karen O Crushes On Her First Solo Album

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Karen O is nothing if not unpredictable. As lead vocalist for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — a band that delivers songs with deliberate throat-punches as well as having written some of the best love songs ever, she uses her voice like a whip — backed by musical arrangements as loud and thunderous as ten thousand horses. On her first solo album,Crush Songs, she strips away the landscape of the big instrumentation featured on her group productions and gives us songs about being unfulfilled and lonely in a lo-fi, half-finished demo-tape kind of way. {Read More}



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