Sunday, May 17, 2015

Every Day I Have The Blues

The Blues (and, yes, I capitalize the Blues, out of respect) is something I’ve always loved, even before I understood what it was. When I was growing up, the house was always filled with music, courtesy of my dad’s beloved stereo turntable. In the songs of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and all of those other rock acts that emerged from the 1960s, there was a sound that I eventually came to recognize as the Blues. Janis Joplin, though hailed as a rock icon, is nothing but the Blues to me. One of my favorite Beatles songs is an obscure one from the White Album called “Yer Blues.” (“My mother was of the SKY; my father was of the EARTH; well I am of the UNIVERSE, and you know what it’s worth…!”) I never really understood what the Blues was during that time because, well, I was rather young. Plus my parents were never very good at explaining the finer details of things like music to me, much as they loved it. Perhaps they themselves didn’t know. They were young, too.

In my teen years, I finally got a firm handle on the Blues thanks to, weird as it seems, the Blues Brothers. I was struck by the fact that, silly though they were, there was a certain dignity about the Blues Brothers and about the Blues in general that other forms of popular music lacked. Also, unlike Rock, Pop, Rap, or even certain types of Jazz performers, Blues performers only seem to get better with age, as they gain wisdom and experience.

The Blues is also the parent of modern popular music. Sure, a case could be made for Gospel music, but like early Classical music, Gospel's origins are firmly rooted in the ancient influence of religion. The Blues is about humanity, without a specific religion attached to it. Even when it does include religion, the Blues sometimes cheerfully embraces the darker side of religion, with songs about people indulging their sins or making pacts with demons and devils. The Blues does not discriminate. It celebrates humanity and all of its aspects, good and bad, chaste and naughty. It’s this trait that has carried over to all of the children of the Blues -- Jazz, Rock, Pop, Rap, etc. The Blues has even permeated Classical, Country, Bhangra… almost any other type of music imagined. I think that’s another reason I’ve always loved it. For me, it’s always been there, no matter what I’ve been listening to.

So, after years of listening to a music that I loved, the Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, finally supplied me with a definition and with the history of the Blues. I not only came to understand where the Blues came from, I finally understood what it is, at least for me. The Blues isn’t really about sadness and depression. It’s about persevering in spite of those things. I’ll always be grateful to Aykroyd and Belushi for not only helping me understand the Blues but also to introducing me to its long history of artists, including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Booker T. & the MG’s, -- and, of course, B.B.King.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about B.B.King the man. I never even had the privilege of seeing him perform, though I do own CDs and MP3s of many, perhaps most, perhaps ALL of his recordings. That I’ve long loved his music is an understatement. B.B.King’s guitar playing always sounded deceptively simple, with many single notes and trills. It always deeply reflected the emotion of the song, whether B.B. was playing a song filled with anger or with humor.

I can add only one modest story to the many tales told of B.B.King over this past weekend. Approximately ten years ago an author that I worked with emailed me from Las Vegas with the message, “Guess who I got to meet last night, in person! The King of the Blues himself!”

Naturally I wrote back, “You met B.B.King? Where? I’m JEALOUS!”

The author had won a contest allowing him to meet B.B.King after a concert. Upon finding himself in the presence of B.B., the author, himself a well-known man, fell upon his knees in respect for the great monarch of Blues music. B.B. apparently chuckled, told his subject, “You may rise,” and then smiled warmly as the author gushed his undying admiration for B.B. and his music.

I’m not sure how I would have reacted to meeting B.B. Whenever I meet celebrities, I tend to nod politely at them and leave them be, unless I have to conduct business with them -- and then I’m pretty much nothing but business. However, B.B.King was the much deserving KING of the Blues, my favorite form of music -- so I may have completely lost it in his presence for all I know. All I can state is that I am grateful for B.B.King’s music, for his artistic generosity, and for his long, active, and ever-musical life. ‘Bye, B.B., and thanks for being such a grand, glorious, and worthy monarch.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Herald by N.F. Houck is Finally a Proper eBook

Yes, it’s finally happened. Herald by N.F. Houck (that’s my pen name -- well, one of them), my fictional “autobiography” of the Greek god Hermes, is at long last in eReader-friendly form, meaning it is now downloadable from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., for Kindles, Nooks, etc. To find it in a bookseller’s website, just do a search for “Herald Houck” and it should pop up. Sorry this whole process took so long. Modern ebook conversion methods are a bit more involved than I anticipated.

When ebooks were in their infancy, the process of converting print to ebook form was very easy. All one had to do to create an ebook was use the same electronic files used to create the print book, usually via a PDF. Almost nothing had to be stripped out, converted, reformatted, etc. That’s not true anymore -- the EPUB/MOBI process has additional requirements. Because Herald had some tricky formatting and graphics, some changes had to be made to get it properly converted to EPUB form. Most of the changes had to do with the general appearance of the print book and a few of its “perks.” For example, in the new ebook, there are no Greek alphabet characters. The map has been removed, as well as some little graphics that were embedded in the text. The result is lean, mean, efficient text that was very easy to convert. The hardest part was having all of the original formatting stripped out. The final ebook STILL has a few formatting errors -- Nothing that affects overall readability, so… It’s just time to let it go.

I couldn’t resist having a few text corrections made. Nothing major. I couldn’t help it. The opportunity was there, and the editor in me decided to take advantage of it (even though, admittedly, it is almost impossible for the average editor to edit his/her own stuff). As many have said, in this digital age, is a book ever truly finished?

Anyway, now that Herald is finally converted over, I can devote 100% of my attention to the sequel.

Okay, it’s not really a sequel -- more of a continuation. Part 2 of a series, if you will. Hermes is NOT the narrator of the second book. The narrator is a different deity, one that’s providing me with a completely different writing experience from Herald.

I have been asked several times how to write a book. Every author writes differently -- or in my case, writes differently every time. Because of this, in my opinion, the best way to write a book is to just sit down and start writing. Get your words -- what you want to write about -- down, and worry about all the technical stuff later. By doing that, you’ll discover how YOU write a book. Despite what many seem to believe, just sitting down to write a book is NOT easy for most people. It requires a great deal of self-discipline and work to make yourself write an entire book from beginning to end. It’s very time-consuming, and oftentimes it’s just plain BORING. With computers, there’s a huge advantage to just getting all of the preliminary writing down in a word processing file (I use OpenOffice) and then going back over it later to reorganize and make changes. So, just sit down and start writing. If you find you don’t have the patience or self-discipline to write an entire book, or you can’t think of something to write about, maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Also, let me clear up one thing right now -- Bestselling authors are EXTREMELY rare. Less than 97% of all book writers make enough money from their publications to allow them to quit their day jobs. The reason bestselling authors become famous is because they ARE so rare. You can’t write a book expecting to get rich or famous. Getting rich would be nice, but the primary reason to write should be because you have a need to express yourself through the written word.

I have found that my writing style has a lot in common with method acting -- that is, getting inside the heads of characters and then just turning them loose. It’s a little dangerous, actually. Writing as Hermes was an almost completely joyful experience, as if he was eager to get the story out. Writing as this other deity -- okay, GODDESS -- for the second book is entirely different. It’s like, she wants to get her story out as well, but she’s worried about it. Also, there’s so much in her history that’s downright horrific, I start feeling depressed when I write for long stretches. That’s probably why it’s been taking me so long to get the book done. It WILL get done, though.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers, Daredevil, and More


Well, okay, the first thing isn't a spoiler:

Mr. Sea has kidney stones AGAIN.

Yeah. Figures. I start blogging again, and he gets kidney stones. THREE of them this time. TRIPLETS. They're not serious or anything (yet), but Mr. Sea is not having a good time.

Next item: I finished Daredevil on Netflix. I made sure I didn't fly through the episodes, because I wanted to savor them. It was difficult, because some of the episodes ended with really good cliffhangers. Final verdict? I want to REWATCH the entire series, because that's how much I enjoyed it. The plot is engrossing. The fight scenes are FABULOUS. The character development was very good, especially for Daredevil and Kingpin, and all of their various contradictions (yes, Matt is a lawyer AND a vigilante, and he does struggle with the ethical incompatibility of those two disciplines -- just as he always has in the comics).

Weird as this may seem, there was only one thing in the series that disappointed me, and that was when Daredevil finally switched from the "Dread Pirate Roberts" look to his final, iconic costume. As often happens when attempts are made to make real-life versions of what are essentially drawn costumes, the final Daredevil costume looked a bit -- well -- cheesy to me. But, really, what else can you do with an acrobat costume with devil horns on the cowl? Even Batman's costumers still have trouble with the bat threads, after close to 70 years of attempts. At least Daredevil's costume doesn't look cumbersome. To the designer's credit, Daredevil actually looks like he wouldn't have any trouble doing real acrobatics.

I'm also glad they didn't start off with the Electra saga, though she is mentioned, rather coyly, in one episode (when Foggy asks Matt about a "Greek" woman he dated). Maybe Electra will appear in Season 2 -- along with Bullseye...?

It's funny, because I have tried watching Arrow, Gotham, and the Flash. NONE of them held my attention past the second episode. Daredevil, I made it all the way through without any trouble.

Finally -- I did see Avengers: Age of Ultron on Saturday. I LOVED it. No, I don't think it's the greatest movie of all time, or even the greatest super-hero movie (it's more chaotic than the first Avengers film, and some stuff may be lost on people who don't know Avengers history), but it is FUN, FUN, FUN. I also made a startling discovery about myself. I was really looking forward to seeing Ultron -- easily my favorite Avengers villain -- but what really had me totally geeking out (and, in fact, had even my just-as-geeky brother rolling his eyes at me) was the appearance of THE VISION. Holy cow, was I ever so happy to see the Vision! I can't BELIEVE how happy I was to see the Vision -- and, yes, I was pleased with how they presented him. I finally had to acknowledge that I love the Vision as a character. I just never realized it before. After all, most of my Avengers knowledge dates back to the late 70s and early 80s. But, oh, I was ever so happy to see the Vision, and to see him and the Scarlet Witch be ever so delicately interested in one another. Oooooooooh, I loved it! So --Wow. I'm a Vision fan. Who knew?

Other personal news -- I start a new job on Monday! Well, sorta. It's actually a temp job with my old company (different location). It's not glamorous, and the pay is less than my last job, but it's income, and it keeps my resume from having a huge dead zone in it. So, it looks like my days as a stay-at-home mom are coming to an end.