Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy New Year and Spectraland Saga Factoids

To all my readers (of both blog and novel), thank you for your support. 2012 was an amazing year, and hopefully we can keep it going in 2013 and beyond. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics that you'd like to see me write about in this blog, please let me know.

The second book in the Spectraland Saga is coming along well. I'm now up to about 13,000 words, which translates to roughly 52 pages. It would be nice if I could get it all done by the fall of next year, but we'll see. I'm not going to rush it.

2013 may also see the unveiling of recordings by a couple of the bands that I'm involved in. Keep watching this space for updates.

I'll leave you with some random Spectraland Saga factoids (you head these here first!):

- I chose Suzuki as Joel's last name because I wanted a name that was easy to remember and pronounce. I figured that most people in the U.S. were familiar with the Suzuki car company and, maybe to a lesser extent, Ichiro Suzuki (formerly of the Seattle Mariners, now with some moderately successful team on the East Coast).

- Felicity's name came from an older story idea I had that involved kids who could transform into animals (yes, I know, so original). She was going to be able to transform into a cat, so, you know, cat . . . felis . . . Felicity . . . you get the idea. But, Felicity also means "happiness," which happened to work out very well with the main theme of Secret of the Songshell, which is about the pursuit of, well, happiness.

- The original working title for Secret of the Songshell was "Minstrel."

That's all for now. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Real-Life Hero on the Autism Spectrum

Joel Suzuki is a literary hero on the autism spectrum. Here is a story about a real-life hero on the autism spectrum - someone who saved the day with his special qualities, not despite them.

Wonderful and inspiring stories like this one are more important than ever in light of recent tragic events. Please read this blog post from my friends at Autism Empowerment; it captures my thoughts on the matter very eloquently.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

More Publicity Tips for Authors and Musicians

For all you aspiring or current authors and musicians out there, I share some of my experiences in a podcast interview with my awesome PR company, Arts Seen & Heard. Check it out here!

Also, if you have any questions about DIY book or music marketing, feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll be happy to answer them as best I can.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Signing Epilogue

The book signing at Kazoodles was a success! Mahalo to: Mary Sisson for being an awesome host; John and Karen Krejcha (and family) for referring me to Mary and promoting the event; and everyone who came out and bought a book. You guys rock.

That's me in the corner
If you live in the Vancouver/Portland area and haven't been to Kazoodles yet, I highly recommend checking them out for all of your Christmas (and beyond) toy-shopping needs.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Signing @ Kazoodles This Saturday!

For those of you in the Vancouver/Portland area, I'll be signing copies of Secret of the Songshell at Kazoodles Toys this coming Saturday, December 8th, from 4pm - 6pm! Kazoodles is at 13503 SE Mill Plain Blvd #B-3 (Columbia Square Shopping Center), Vancouver WA 98684. My friends from Autism Empowerment will also be there. And if the mood is right, I may even do a reading, which means you'll be able to hear my world-famous* Marshall Byle British accent . . .

* not actually world famous

Monday, December 3, 2012

Indie vs Mainstream

My latest favorite band is The Lonely Forest, out of Anacortes, WA. I first heard them on "94/7 Too," (910 AM for those of you in the Portland area), a station that plays music from Northwest bands exclusively (as well as Mariners baseball during the summer - I dig this station).

I fell in love with The Lonely Forest's song "We Sing In Time" and was excited to think that this was possibly a local, unsigned band (I'd heard unsigned bands like my friends in Ramune Rocket 3 on 94/7 Too before). After finding out who they were, it turned out that although they were from the Northwest, they were actually signed to a label that had connections to a major record company.

Did this make any difference to me? Absolutely not.

The forest probably isn't as lonely any more
I've always felt that the main and only criterion for whether or not I liked a certain book, song or film was: whether I liked it or not. The Hunger Games - published by Scholastic - getting tons of buzz? Okay, I'll check it out. Local unsigned band The Crash Engine rocking a show? Cool, I'll buy their CD. (Yes, I admit that I originally resisted Harry Potter because of the hype, but hey, nobody's perfect.)

One reason being a finalist in the 2012 USA Best Book Awards was so gratifying was that it was open to books from both traditional and independent publishers. The winner in the fantasy fiction category was a book on major imprint Harper Voyager (Deliverance: Mortal Path Book 3 by Dakota Banks) so it was nice to be recognized alongside a novel that was put out by a big publishing house.

If you want to dismiss certain works of art out of hand simply by virtue of whether they're indie or mainstream, then that's your prerogative, of course. But just be aware - you're probably missing out on some great stuff.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Autism Empowerment

I'd like to take a moment to say thanks to my good friends Karen and John Krejcha of Autism Empowerment. When I made the decision earlier this year to independently publish Secret of the Songshell, they were the first people that I informed. It was extremely important to me that my characters represented accurate portrayals of people on the autism spectrum, and although I had my son as an example to work from, I asked Karen and John to review a draft of the book and provide any feedback they had regarding the characters and the story in general. It wasn't until I had their blessing that I had the confidence to proceed.

Both of Karen and John's sons are on the spectrum, as is Karen herself. I was fortunate enough to meet them long before Secret of the Songshell was even a thought, as our kids went to school together. Through Autism Empowerment, their educational and charitable non-profit organization, they are doing wonderful things to raise awareness about the autism spectrum and to service the local, national and international autism community. I am very happy and grateful for the opportunity to help support them, and for their continued support of my little fantasy book series.

Thank you, Karen and John.

(P.S. Book Two is up to 7300 words!)

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I'm thankful for life, health, freedom, family, and friends.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to share my writing and music with the world.

Every day is Thanksgiving. Never take anything for granted.

Have a wonderful day everyone.

Gotta run - the food is calling.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

I am honored to announce that Secret of the Songshell has been selected as a Finalist in the 2012 USA Best Book Awards for fantasy fiction.

The competition was open to traditional as well as independent publishers, and the winners and finalists were well-represented by both groups.

So, if you're an indie author with a recent release, enter the 2013 contest now!

Also, if you're a resident of the Vancouver, WA area, you may have seen an article in today's Columbian newspaper about their book recommendations for holiday reading and gift-giving. If you haven't, here's the link! And yes, Secret of the Songshell was included.

Now that looks cozy
The paperback version of the book has been re-issued with a new cover that features the Grub Street Reads endorsement seal on the front, and cool reviewer quotes on the back (so for all of you who bought the original version, you now have a collector's item). Check it out on Amazon, buy copies as holiday presents, and keep checking this space (or the book's Facebook page) for upcoming signing events. Don't forget, a portion of proceeds from book sales are donated to Autism Empowerment, a local non-profit organization that works to promote autism awareness and education. So not only are you getting a fun, nationally recognized sci-fi/fantasy story to fill that Harry Potter void, you're giving to a great cause as well.

Okay, commercial is over! We will return to regularly scheduled programming, um, soon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spooky Hero #2

I think it's time for another installment of everyone's favorite comic-strip band, Spooky Hero. This one is from 2006, hence the Franz Ferdinand and American Idiot references (I'm too lazy to change them). Again, the Joel in this strip is not the Joel from The Spectraland Saga. They are two different imaginary people. Seriously. 


Friday, November 9, 2012

Quick 'n' Dirty Songwriting Tips: Writing Melodies

Want to write stronger, more memorable melodies? Try these quick, non-musical-theory tips:

- Can your melody stand on its own? Test it by singing it in the shower or playing it on a piano, without accompaniment. If you find yourself repeating the same note over and over again, you may want to think about changing it up a bit (although, admittedly, sometimes the monotone thing works really well).

- For a four-line verse or chorus, employ the classic "Happy Birthday" structure: line 1 - introduction; line 2 - continuation; line 3 - escalation; line 4 - resolution. Sing the Happy Birthday song to yourself and you'll understand what I mean. Or, listen to this example. Or this one.

A picture of a guitar
So what are you waiting for? Get writing!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Orycon 34, or How I Spent My Weekend

So this was my first time attending Orycon, Oregon's premier science fiction convention. I had wanted to check it out in the past, but never got around to it. This year, I actually got to go as a member of NIWA, the Northwest Independent Writers Association.

The left side of our awesome booth
We took turns being the Featured Author O' The Hour, and I was the first one up on the first day (Friday). Neat! I experimented with two different sitting positions behind the table before we all agreed that standing out in front was the much superior alternative.

Standing, but not yet in front
I also attended a panel called The Future of Small Press Publishing, the basic take-home message of which was: the future is bright! Seriously, though, with all of the options and resources available these days, it's a great time to be an author. Which segues back into...

NIWA! If you're an indie author in the northwest, check us out. Not only do we do cool stuff like have a communal table at Orycon, it's a great way to network with other writers and share resources and ideas. Everyone is friendly and supportive, and it's just a lot of fun.

Would you buy a book from these people? Yes, yes you would
And did I mention the party? Yes, there was an after-party in the convention hotel on Saturday night. You can find pics of it on the NIWA Facebook page, but if you're looking for a summary from me, let's just say, what happens at Orycon...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy National Author's Day!

Did you know that today is National Author's Day? Well, it is. Seriously.

In celebration, the cool folks at Grub Street Reads have rounded up their endorsed authors and put us all together in this blog post, where we answer that age-old question, "Why Do You Write?" So stop whatever you're doing and check it out! Although what you're doing right now is reading my blog, so I guess that goes without saying.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Persistence Pays Off!

If you're feeling burnt out and/or discouraged with your efforts to promote your indie band/book/whatever, I suggest you read this story about a Seattle guy who got Billy Idol to play at his birthday party.

Not dancing with himself anymore
It's not quite the same thing as trying to sell your self-produced CD or novel, but the basic principles are the same. Basically, it took courage, creativity, patience and perseverance - all the factors needed to make a DIY dream come true.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tips on Selling Your Indie Record or Book

A big reason why I decided to publish Secret of the Songshell myself was that I had previous experience in indie publicity and marketing. When I lived in Hawaii, I was a part-owner and managing partner of Crash The Luau Records, a record label that I started up with my bandmates in Tone Deaf Teens. Crash The Luau started as a vehicle for us to put out our own CDs, but we ended up signing a couple of our friends' bands and putting their albums out as well.

"Drive" by 7 Degrees North (Crash The Luau Records)
So here's my quick and dirty tip list for DIY marketing:

1. Treat it as a business. Set up your record label or small press as a real company and treat it as such. For Crash The Luau Records, we formed a general partnership and had our own checking account and credit card and everything. I'm running Prism Valley Press as a sole proprietorship so it's not quite as fancy, but I still keep separate records for all my publishing-related expenses. Don't know anything about starting and running a business? See step #2.

2. Learn everything you can. When deciding on a major for college, I eschewed music or english and opted for business instead. My rationale was that I wanted to make a living with my art, and I knew that to do so, I would need to learn the business side of things. You don't have to go to that extreme, but with all the books and free advice resources out there, you can practically earn yourself an indie degree. If you don't like reading, seek out small labels or presses and offer them free help in exchange for on-the-job training.

3. Do something every day. Make it a goal to do at least one thing every day to promote your album, book, or whatever. Have a list of activities you can pick from so that you can choose something depending on your mood and schedule. Feeling social that day? Go out to a club and talk to the owner about booking your band there. Sick in bed? Write a blog entry about the last novel you read. Of course, if you have the time and energy, do more than one thing, just make sure to pace yourself so that you don't burn out. Which leads us to . . .

4. Don't get overwhelmed. It's not as hard as you think. I found that it helped to break the process down into the following sections:

     - Production (activities related to the actual creation of your album or book)
     - Promotion
       - Live (gigs, book signings, launch parties, etc.)
       - Print (newspapers, magazines)
       - Radio
       - TV
       - Internet (website, social media, blogs)
       - Other (flyers, etc.)
     - Distribution (how are you going to get your record or book into the hands of your fans/readers?)
     - Business/Misc. (registering your trade name, printing up business cards, etc.)

5. Explore as many opportunities as you can. There was a TV show called "Hot Hawaiian Nights" that featured bands and artists who played soft and mellow Hawaiian music. We sent them a Tone Deaf Teens press kit anyway. Turns out, the producer of the show was a fan of rock music (his favorite band was AC/DC) so he was actually excited and happy to book us on the show.

6. Think about baseball. Baseball players who fail 7 out of 10 times are doing great! Keep swinging and don't get discouraged.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Awesomeness Alert and Book Two Status Update

First off, if you haven't watched Jodi DiPiazza and Katy Perry singing "Firework" on Jon Stewart's Night of Too Many Stars, go and do that now.

Wasn't that amazing?

So Book Two is coming along. I've drafted about 4000 words so far, some of which will get cut, re-written, or otherwised sliced up and used as digital confetti (totally environmentally friendly, I promise). I find that I'm falling into a self-editing mode more often than I want to, which is slowing things up, but as I get further into the story I think I'll be able to ignore that inner critic's voice with a bit more regularity. That's my hope, anyway. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grub Street Reads Likes My Book!

Secret of the Songshell has just received a Grub Street Reads endorsement!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Grub Street Reads, they're a company that specializes in reviewing independently-published novels and endorses those that meet their quality standards. What kind of standards, you ask? Well, they include: well-developed characters, strong pacing, a well-researched world and a powerful overall voice.

Many books that they review don't earn their endorsement, so this is pretty cool. Check it out at

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wordstock 2012

So this was my second year attending the Wordstock book fair at the Oregon Convention Center - my first year as a published author. I manned the Williamette Writers table for an afternoon shift (I signed up a new member!) and sold my book as well. This year's event was just as cool as last year's, except there weren't as many food choices.

Forgot to take a picture so instead here is the Wordstock logo
At last year's event, I attended a panel where several literary agents spoke. On my way out, I bumped into one of them in the elevator. For a moment, I thought that perhaps this was a moment of serendipity - that one day I could say, yes, I actually did meet my agent in an elevator. After I delivered my pitch, though, she informed me that she didn't handle YA sci-fi/fantasy (she wasn't just blowing me off - I confirmed this fact later on her website). So much for serendipity.

If you're an author and/or a lover of books, you really should check out Wordstock. Be prepared to spend a little bit of money: tickets this year were $7; parking was $7 for three hours or so; food at the restaurant was kinda pricey; and, of course, there were so many good books on sale. All things considered, I'd say it's worth it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bullying Panel

Last night I attended Autism Empowerment's Bullying Prevention & Support Panel. Lots of great information was shared. Much mahalos to my friends Karen and John of AE for allowing me to talk about my book while I was there.

Two messages struck me in particular: (1) when you have a problem with someone bullying your child, don't go directly to the bully's parents. Try to work through intermediaries like school officials, or members of law enforcement if necessary; and (2) your child will get through this. It's a difficult situation that is to be taken very seriously, but don't let it defeat you.

Joel, the protagonist in Secret of the Songshell, has his share of bully issues. He has one particular tormentor that revels in making up reasons to harrass Joel, mainly to cover for his own insecurities. Not to give away too much of the story here, but Joel is able to put what he's learned about dealing with bullies to good use on Spectraland, and the bully gets a bit of karmic payback later on.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Band Rec O' The Day

Saw the Zoobombs at East End last Friday. I'm going to refrain from superlatives here and just say that you should check them out and find out for yourself.

Apparently "Zoobombs" means "Rocks Really Hard" in Japanese
Also, try the fries at East End. They come with some kind of hot garlic sauce that does not contain ghost peppers.

That is all for now.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Authors In Pubs

Had a fun time at Authors in Pubs on Monday night. I read a few pages from Secret of the Songshell, and I got to hear other great writers read from their works as well, including fellow NIWA member Jen Willis and Jonathan Ems, whose "Poop Story" was abso-freakin-lutely hilarious. Some cool art by local artist Tara Williams was also on display (hey Tara, your magnet looks good on my fridge).

The more you drink, the better I sound

Big mahalos to Adam and Andy from NIWA and my Willamette Writers buddy Gail (w/husband in tow) for coming out.

I highly recommend checking this event out (even when I'm not there). There's no cover charge, and the quality of local talent on display is, for the most part, pretty amazing. There's even live music! Plus, the Jack London Bar was recently listed in Playboy Magazine as one of the best bars in America. How's that for an endorsement? I have one quibble, which is that there are only two beers on tap (how is that possible in Portland?), but the service is good, the food is delicious (I had the shredded chicken tacos) and the atmosphere is very cool for the following reasons, in no particular order:

(1) the dim lighting;
(2) the make-out couches near the back of the room;
(3) the flyers plastered on the walls;
(4) an overall vibe that inexplicably feels divey and classy at the same time;
(5) the fact that you have to make your way through the Rialto poolroom and walk down a flight of stairs to get to the place;
(6) the Amazon Unicorn Warrior Bouncer Statue by the entrance.

Just another reason why being an author/artist/musician/random-creative-type in the Portland area is so damn awesome.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Upcoming Earth-Shattering Events & Thursday Linkage

Got a lot of stuff coming up in October, so check back for more sexy, fun-filled blog content!

On tap:
- Live reading of Secret of the Songshell at Authors in Pubs
- Wordstock
- Couple of Second Player Score gigs
- More riveting episodes of Spooky Hero
- Book Two "You Head It Here First" updates

And much more! Well, probably not much more. Maybe a little.

Some cool sites you should check out right now:

Life with Aspergers

Bookingly Yours

Better Days

Ramune Rocket 3

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Spooky Hero

A few years ago (okay, more than a few), my band in Hawaii put out a little fanzine we called Cageliner. Having dabbled in cartooning as a kid, I decided to create a comic strip to be included in the Cageliner. This comic strip was dubbed Scat The Frisbee, after the name of the fictitious hard-luck hard rock band depicted in the strip.

The Cageliner lasted about four or five issues, and the hand-drawn Scat The Frisbee appeared in two of them. The main character was a bitter, jaded guitarist/singer named Joel (no relation to Joel Suzuki, the protagonist of The Spectraland Saga) who swore, smoked, drank, and was badly in need of a shave.

Anyway, a few years later (okay, more than a few), I decided to re-draw the strip on a computer, make some new installments (under the new name Spooky Hero because I wanted to avoid the inevitable lawsuits from Wham-O, the owners of the Frisbee trademark), and then possibly publish them as a webcomic or something. I accomplished the first two out of three, and then forgot about the whole thing for a while.

Yesterday, for some reason, I remembered that I had done this cartoon thing at one time, and decided that it might be fun to finally publish them, on this blog. So here, for your reading enjoyment, is the long-delayed world premiere of Spooky Hero, the webcomic.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ghost Peppers - Yes, Very Scary Indeed

Here's the confession of the day: I thought I was prepared for the "Marine" at local burger joint Killer Burger.

I love spicy food. I ask for extra jalapenos on my tuna sandwiches; I eat kim chee like candy; I pour sriracha sauce on my morning waffles. Okay, not really the last one, but you get the idea.

But this...this was not spicy. This was something totally different.

At Second Player Score practice one day, for some reason we started talking about ghost peppers. I'd never tried them before, but the word was that they were incredibly hot. I thought, "Mm, sounds good." So when, a week or so later, I saw an article in the paper about Killer Burger that mentioned their "Marine," a burger that contains ghost peppers, I thought, "Hey, we should try that!" So we put it down on the calendar as something fun we could do one day after practice. It even turned into an official band event of sorts, with band members' relations planning to bring cameras and such.

Weeks went by, and the event kept getting postponed by schedule conflicts and last-minute show opportunities. In the interim, I noted that Killer Burger makes you sign a waiver before you eat the burger, which I thought was a brilliant marketing move. "Oo, a waiver, how scary!" I also spent the time ratcheting up my Tabasco consumption, to the point where it hardly registered a tingle on my tongue. I was going to be ready for this.

Anyway, the big day finally arrived. We got there and saw the warning on the hand-written menu above the registers: "The Marine Hot! - DON'T ORDER THIS!!" I smirked. The cashier tried to talk us out of ordering it. I smirked again as I reflected on the genius business tactic of telling your customers not to buy your product. People will always do what you tell them not to do.

Ten minutes and a signed waiver later, they brought the burgers out with the same fanfare reserved for birthdays at chain restaurants. People looked at us like we were nuts. I thought, "Okay, seriously? Come on now, it's a spicy burger. Everybody relax."

I decided to start by dipping a french fry in their "lava sauce," which also apparently contains ghost peppers. THIS WAS A BIG MISTAKE. The moment it hit my mouth, I could tell that this was no ordinary kind of spicy. You know how, when you're eating spicy food, the heat seems to accumulate over time? Well, there was no "time" involved here. This was an entire Thai-green-curry-with-the-"hot"-option-reaction condensed into a single second.

And it got worse from there. My eyes started to water uncontrollably as I tried to remain calm. My lips were on fire, but my mouth and head weren't - instead, they were on something beyond fire; it was like they had been transported to some kind of unholy realm of torture where someone was inserting power saw blades into my skull.

And it wasn't just my facial region feeling the wrath, my stomach was a helpless victim as well.

Stomach: I'm hungry, isn't it dinner time?
Stomach: Okay, great, here comes something.
Stomach: Whoopee, it's a french fry. Can't you do better than that? Wait, it's covered in some kind of sauce that -

And mind you, I hadn't even started eating the burger yet. Through my haze of agony I could barely make out some kid at a nearby table egging us on, saying things like "C'mon, it's like Man Vs. Food!" I figured, okay, I have to at least take one bite of this thing. THIS WAS A BIG MISTAKE.

After a tiny bite, I was done. The pain and nausea increased exponentially until I was in a Homer-Simpson-Guatemalan-Insanity-Pepper-like state of psychosis. All I could do was sit there, staring into space, as my intestines quickly shriveled up and turned into dust. The kid at the nearby table was now saying things like "blrkjkg alijoit ghlkj ahiogh," or at least that's what it sounded like to me.

And it wasn't over. After feeling like I had recovered somewhat, more waves of pain ensued. This evil cycle continued for about an hour afterwards before I was finally confident that I had escaped from the ghost pepper dungeon.

So yeah, they weren't kidding about the waiver.

Once coherency had returned, I did some research and found out that the ghost pepper, or Naga Bhut Jolokia, is roughly TWO HUNDRED TIMES hotter than Tabasco sauce. And that it can be used as a weapon. Well, duh.

I thought I could handle spicy foods. Turns out I had absolutely no idea.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Flow

This past Saturday I woke up in the Flow. Basically speaking, Flow is the state of mind where you are fully immersed in what you are doing, to the exclusion of the outside world. There's been a lot of research and discussion on this topic, which I won't go into simply because I'm too lazy and it's already well-documented in this Wikipedia entry.

Anyway, I got out of bed way earlier than I intended to because there was a melody swimming in my head. I rushed over to my guitar and searched for a chord progression that would fit under that melody. Once I found it, a chorus immediately suggested itself and I started working on that. To my dismay, after I nailed down the chorus, I found that I had forgotten the original melody that inspired the whole thing to begin with (when this happens, I try to make myself feel better by saying, "If I can't remember it, it must not have been that good in the first place.")

So I came up with a new verse melody, and "Sad & Glamorous" was born. Being still in the Flow, I finished up another song that I had been working on (using some riffs from Dan), and that became "Burn." It felt like only a few minutes had gone by, but after I was done, I realized that a couple of hours had passed and I hadn't eaten breakfast or taken a shower or done any of the other stuff that I usually do when I get up. We ended up practicing both songs that afternoon and playing Sad & Glamorous at a show that night.

I love being in the Flow. Mostly it's a state that just occurs randomly, and the conventional wisdom is that it cannot be forced. But I think that as far as creative endeavors are concerned, you can prime yourself for possible Flow entry by simply staying creative - write or play anything, no matter how silly or stream-of-consciousness it may be. Write aimless blog entries about what you did on Saturday morning. Read books and listen to music to gain inspiration. I had spent time the night before thinking about plot details for Book Two, and I believe that doing so led directly to my Saturday Flow experience.

Just don't forget to shower before you head out the door.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Two Status Update

A few people have already expressed their desire for the second book in the Spectraland series. Which is great! I'm really glad that they found Book One to be captivating enough that they want to know what's next in store for Joel and company.

I must confess, though (I seem to do a lot of confessing on this blog)...Book Two isn't anywhere close to being done yet. Rest assured, I am hard at work on it. Really, I am.

As of this moment, I'm pretty sure that I've settled on a title. I had a working title that I didn't care for, but this past week I came up with something that I like a lot more. I won't reveal it yet as it still may change, but once it's set in stone, you, my faithful blog readers, will be the first to know (HINT: it's similar to the title of Book One in certain ways. And it has something to do with Spectraland's astrology. You'll never figure it out. You'll just have to keep reading this blog for more hints.)

But aha, I don't just have a title! I'm also waist-deep in developing the detailed outline. It's a really fun process. No, seriously, it is! I'm not being sarcastic this time. Stephen King compared the writing process to archaeology, where the writer is simply uncovering a pre-existing world as opposed to creating something from scratch. Not to say that I'm in the same league as Mr. King (and I plot in advance while he, as I understand it, does not) but there are definitely times that I feel like I'm doing just that. The same goes for songwriting, by the way. I think Sting may have said something on that how we're just radio transmitters for these great songs that are floating around. Was that Sting? I can't remember. (If you know, please tell me in the comments. It's driving me crazy.)

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, the outline. I have the broad story arc sketched out, and the details of about five chapters are pretty much solid. That is, until something happens in chapter six that will require me to re-shuffle everything that happened before that. Sometimes writing feels like archaeology, where what you've uncovered is a puzzle with many moving parts that change the very nature of what you have as you dig it up. It''s a pot! No, it's a spear! Wait, no, no, it', it's a pot again! But this time with four handles instead of two!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bookingly Yours

I wrote a guest post for the award-winning book review blog Bookingly Yours. Drop whatever you're doing and check it out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: The Speed of Dark

Finished reading The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Bottom Line: 4 out of 5 stars; recommended. Best suited for high school readers and up.

For a summary, see the Wikipedia entry here.

My review (includes spoilers):

Lou Arrendale, the autistic protagonist of The Speed of Dark, is very adept at noticing patterns. If he were to read this book, he might recognize a pattern that went something like this: extreme brilliance / kind of slow/ extreme brilliance / a bit dull / extreme brilliance / rather boring / extreme brilliance.

My brain doesn't recognize patterns quite as well as Lou's (or my son's, for that matter), but that was the feeling I had while reading TSoD, the 2003 Nebula Award winner for Best Novel. Elizabeth Moon has a son on the autism spectrum, which I'm sure provided her with a lot of source material for Lou's character, but she goes into a level of detail (on a variety of subjects) that just screamed "hundreds of hours of research." It was awe-inspiring, but also provided moments where I was able to exhale and comfortably put the book down for a while to take a break (my most favorite books are always the ones that I have to forcibly tear myself away from.)

Moon does an excellent job at painting a representative picture of how a person on the spectrum may behave and what they may be thinking. There were a lot of similarities between Lou and Joel Suzuki, the protagonist of my book, and whenever I noticed one, I thought, "cool, I was on the right track." At times, I felt like there were a little too many autism-isms, but that's probably because I'm already familiar with a lot of the characteristics that she was trying to illustrate.

Spoilers coming below!

The aforementioned moments of extreme brilliance are emotional and riveting. I looooved the part where Lou calmly disarms Don by noticing and following Don's patterns of movement. Also very gripping were the parts where Lou ponders whether "normal" people are actually any happier than folks on the spectrum.

I have a little quibble with the ending, which, to me, communicated that once Lou was "cured" of autism, he was then able to accomplish this glamorous dream of becoming an astronaut (leaving his mundane office job behind), and that he no longer felt the same attraction to Marjory. I understand that Moon did not want to romanticize autism, but I would have preferred it if Lou had stepped into the unknown of receiving the treatment, and then found out that he was still largely the same person after all.

Overall, the moments of brilliance far outweigh the slower passages, and my criticisms of the book stem mostly from my personal biases. TSoD is a moving, thoughtful, and powerful work that is well-deserving of its Nebula Award.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Writing Process

People often ask me, "How long did it take to write your book?" (They are, of course, referring to Secret of the Songshell, since that's the only book I've written so far. I'm working on the second one in the series now. Really. I am. Seriously.)

The short answer to that question is "four months." That's how long it took me to write the first draft. However, I spent around a year prior to that developing the idea, working on an outline (or two, or three) and writing an initial 40 pages that ended up in the recycle bin. After the first draft was done, I then spent another year+ rewriting, editing, and formatting.

So in all, SotS was more like 2.5 years in the making. That's crazy when I think about it. I'm sure that Book Two won't take that long. I'm sure! I will keep telling myself that!

When writing the first draft of SotS, I set a goal of 400 words a day, no matter what. Even if it was 400 words of incomprehensible garbage. Even if it was just typing "Joel Joel Joel" over and over again until I got to 400. The main thing was to get the words out, and then fix them later on if need be (no wonder I spent over a year rewriting.)

That was the beauty of working from an outline - as long as I had a vague idea of where the story was supposed to go, then I could at least stumble my way from Point A to Point B on the days (or late nights) when I really didn't feel like writing. It was like:

Me (thinking to myself): Okay, the outline says that Joel, Felicity, Marshall and Greenseed are supposed to ride along the Coast of Fang on their way to the Caves of Wrath. All right, here we go. Ummm

Me (typing): "Joel and the others rode along the Coast of Fang, on their way to the Caves of Wrath."

Me (thinking to myself): Woohoo! That's, uh, fifteen...sixteen...seventeen...eighteen words! Just 382 more to go! I will take a short break now to drink a beer and watch Mariners baseball.

(For those of you who haven't bought the book yet, please note: I AM BEING FACETIOUS. Really. I am. Seriously. Did I mention I spent over a year doing rewrites?)

So anyway, that was my writing process for SotS. It worked pretty well for me because I'm one of those kinds of people who, if I don't meet some arbitrary self-imposed goal, I beat myself up and feel like crap for hours afterwards. If you're like that too, and you want to write a book, I would definitely recommend this approach. Start now! Go!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Confessional

Okay, I have a shocking confession to make. At a Halloween gig at the Hard Rock Cafe a number of years ago, I dressed up in a blonde wig and I...oh, wait, not that confession. Never mind.

No, today's shocking confession is this: I didn't start reading the Harry Potter series until after Deathly Hallows was already out. There. I said it. Whew.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I loooooove the Boy Who Lived and all of his cohorts, to the point where I'll put on a DVD of Half-Blood Prince just to have as wallpaper and background noise while I do chores around the house.

But this wasn't always the case. During the series' entire hysterical rampage through the literary world during the late '90s and early 2000s, I resisted. I refused to get sucked into the hype. I spent my childhood (and, yes, parts of my adulthood as well) inhaling fantasy books of every stripe, from the requisite Tolkein reading to The Elfstones of Shannara to The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to the Deryni novels to holy cow this list could go on and on forever, and when I heard the Potter premise about a young boy who finds out he's a wizard and then goes to a boarding school where he learns magic, I thought: meh. How could this newcomer possibly measure up?

And the more notoriety the series gained, the more I stayed away. Now, I myself realize how ridiculous it is to shun something just because it's popular (especially if you haven't tried it yourself), but hey, that's the space I was in at the time.

Then a friend told me: just try it. Give it a chance. I'll even lend you my copies, she said. So I sighed and said, all right.

At that moment, my life literally changed.

Sometimes things are massively popular because they actually deserve to be. What a concept, right? I fell in love with these books (although Goblet of Fire was still a bit of a slog), and they were a huge source of inspiration when I was writing my first novel. By the time I got to Deathly Hallows, I couldn't put the thing down. And that, to me, is the sign of a great book: something that makes you postpone real life - eating; sleeping; caring for dependents - while you read just one more chapter. And one more. And one more.

So, thanks, Ms. Rowling, for creating this wonderfully entertaining and inspiring series. And yes, I bought my own copies.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Randomness

Still jazzed about Wednesday's perfect game by Felix Hernandez. I've always been a fan of dominant performances, whether in sports, music, or whatever. It's fun and inspiring to see a master of their craft at their finest. I'll have more to say about this subject later.

Just finished reading Into the Wild, the first book in the Warriors series. Very fun story, and now I have a clue about why my former cat, Mindy, used to vanish for days at a time. Recommended for readers around 8-11 years old and people like me who also enjoy that kind of stuff.

Started playing Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. I'm doing these totally out of order; I finished Twilight Princess first, then Skyward Sword. I tend to be late to the party a lot (I'm halfway through The Help only now). These Zelda games are simply awesome. Although I assume you already knew that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Favorite Quote Of The Day

From the website:

There’s an old saying in publishing: “If you need an answer right now, the answer is no.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rock For Autism

Had a great time this past Saturday at Rock For Autism, a benefit concert/silent auction for the Children's Occupational Therapy Charitable Trust. One of my bands (*shameless self-promotion alert*), Second Player Score, hit the stage around 12:30, and my guitar hit the stage, literally, around 1pm. I've just got to get that strap lock fixed once and for all. Anyway, after years of constant abuse, my poor Les Paul finally decided that it had had enough and chose not to stay in tune after that. Fortunately, we had only one more song to go, our wonderfully punkish cover of The Police's Synchronicity II, made even punkier by the fact that I played the entire thing in some sort of strange F-A#-C#-A-C-D tuning.

So many people to thank: Lisa from PDX Pediatrics; the other acts that shared the stage with us (Ramble On; Butterfly Breakdown; The Lucy Hammond Band; Ethan - awesome voice, dude; and the great solo singer/guitarist whose name I missed because I was running around like crazy); all the people that bought my book and/or bid on it at the silent auction; my booth neighbors Duncan Saffir from Goddesses At Play and Courtney Freitag from Spectrums Magazine; and, of course, everyone that came out to see us play and support a great cause at the same time. You guys rock.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Reasons Why The Dambuilders Rock:

10. The bass player is the lead singer. Seems like all of the bands that have lead singer/bassists are cool (The Police, Rush, Motorhead, Primus, Slayer, local Portland band The Crash Engine, etc.)

9. Joan Wasser. Great violin lines, and the male/female vocal thing is super hot

8. The costumes for the Against the Stars album

7. A band name that is original yet simple

6. 50 songs for 50 states

5. Any band with song titles like "Slo-Mo Kikaida" and "Kill Haole Day" is automatically awesome

4. Dave and Eric are from Hawaii

3. Catchy-as-hell songs that are accessible yet still interesting

2. Face-melting live shows

1. This video

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Weekend

Just got done with the three-day Willamette Writers conference. Like always, it was a great experience - seeing old friends, making new ones, and absorbing tons of information. I highly recommend it for all authors and screenwriters. You can pitch your project to agents, attend great workshops, and network with fellow creatives. And you just might run into a celebrity or two.

It still amazes me how many people I come across whose lives are touched by the austism spectrum in some way. Either they're related to or know someone on the spectrum, they teach classes for special needs kids, or they're on the spectrum themselves. And the conference was no exception, both this year and last.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Indie Review Thursday - Wicked Scarlet

DISCLAIMER: I know these folks personally. In fact, I know them so personally that I wouldn't be afraid to post a negative review if it was warranted.

Wicked Scarlet - Frankly, My Dear (CD)

Unlike a lot of what passes for “rock” these days, this album actually does rock, in a straightforward, throwback manner that is just plain fun to listen to. Passionate dual female lead vocals (and harmonies by the other members on top of that), virtuoso guitar work, strong and solid rhythm section…Heart meets Van Halen, perhaps? Or for a different generation, maybe some Veruca Salt sprinkled over a plate of Foo Fighters…either way, Frankly, My Dear makes for ideal listening when cranked up in your car stereo as you’re cruising down the freeway, or maybe engaged in more, ahem, intimate activities. My favorite tracks include Can’t Take It, Without You, Light of Lonely (totally lighter-worthy), and Basket Boy #9. Buy this album. Now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

2012 is 7/12s Over. Commence Panicking

It's August already. How in the world did that happen?

Have you ever thought to yourself "ten years ago, I was doing (this), and the world was like (that)." It's a fun little exercise to reflect on what has changed and what hasn't. Sometimes, even short time frames provide a sense of "wow, did that really happen?" (Four months ago, I had no idea that I would be self-publishing my novel.)

If you told me three years ago that in August 2012, Matt Hasselbeck would be a Titan, Brandon Roy would be a Timberwolf, and Ichiro would be a Yankee, I would have laughed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just Dad

I know that this subject has been brought up by many other people, but it's still funny when it happens to you. I'm talking about the "Just Dad" rule, which states:

No matter how famous or notable you are, to your kids you will always be "Just Dad."

(There is, of course, the "Just Mom" equivalent to this rule, but hey, we're talking about me here. Go write your own blog.)

After I received the proof copy of my book in the mail, I showed it to my kids. My daughter communicated her overflowing level of excitement by saying: "That's nice. What's for lunch?"

Then, later, after an article about the book came out in the local paper, I showed it to them. They both looked at it for a second and then walked away without comment, returning to whatever it was they were engaged in previously.

Believe me, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Discovering Bands

I just found out today about a band called B'z. These guys have been around since 1988 and apparently have sold over 80 million albums in Japan. Why have I not heard about them until now?

Sometimes you discover bands in the most random of ways. My friend learned about B'z from the Gibson guitar website and passed the info on to me. That same friend found what became one of my favorite bands, In This Moment, by reading a guitar magazine in a test center waiting room.

The director of a video by one of my old bands heard us over the piped-in music in a Los Angeles hotel restaurant.

You just never know where you might dig up some new (or new to you, anyway) music that changes your life, or at least adds to it in some small way.