COVER REVEAL: ‘Fur & Gold’, the first of my ‘Variations’ series

I’m publishing a series of stories, called Variations, on the KDP Direct Program. It’s a series that plays with fairytale motifs, with flourishes of horror. The first piece, to be published soon, is called Fur & Gold. It was inspired by Tanith Lee, Angela Carter, the music of Bat for Lashes, the art of Jean Cocteau and transgressive fiction of Jean Genet.

The cover credits are as follows:

Kindle cover art designed and composited by Tom Drymon, drymondesign; images © shutterstock.com, © Nejron Photo, © Willyam Bradberry.

Look for Fur & Gold this Monday (March 3, 2014)!

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MUSIC: Marissa Nadler & Suzanne Vega. Sirens of Folk-Rock.

Suzanne Vega: Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles

Vega

The new Suzanne Vega album is built around a tarot theme. The Knight of Wands, the Fool, and, of course the titular Queen of Pentacles appear in this collection. There are also off-cycle songs, including a retelling of a Biblical story (“Jacob and the Angel“). Vega often gets accused of making the same album– steely, aloof singing and gentle folk with rock and electronic flourishes.  The real star, of course, her lyrics. Vega is one of the true poets of pop music, and each song has meticulously crafted language, full of wit and beauty. Vega’s voice treats each phrase as if it were a precious jewel. Her melodies never meander; she has a healthy respect for form. TFTROTQOF, like all of Vega’s work, make me feel like I’ve finished reading a deckle-edged short story collection, set in an elegant serif font.

Marissa Nadler: July

02-12-Discs-Marissa-Nadler-July

The doom-laden folk of Nadler conjures up images of ghostly girls, garbed in diaphanous lace gowns, old Victorian houses mouldering in ruin, and faded, sepia-tinged daguerreotypes.  The songs, even those set in the present day, are full of expertly culled minor keys, reverbed guitars, and her lush mezzo-soprano voice. Her lyrics are literate, but they are not the point. The point is the sultry funereal atmosphere. It’s a dark jewel of an album.

BOOK REVIEW: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. Wonder, awe and revolution.

Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. You are prepared to accept the irrational, but not the transcendent.”

Alif the Unseen is not just one kind of novel. It starts out as cyber-thriller Neal Stephenson kind of novel and turns into a Neil Gaiman styled fantasia involving the world of djinn. But that’s just the plot. It’s multi-layered, with treatises on religion and politics. In fact, I would say the novel is as much a political allegory–a kind of magical version of the “Arab Spring” revolution–as it is a fantasy adventure. It’s a novel about liminality: between the West and the East, the seen and the unseen, religion and the supernatural, the sacred and the profane.

It’s a novel full of humor and has a rapid, quick-fire plot that never lags. But when it does slow down, there are moments of “wonder and awe” that take your breath away. My favorite sentence:

“As he slipped deeper into sleep, he heard her begin to sing: a soft, wordless cat-song of love gone and children grown, trilling and sad.”

Alif the Unseen is a rare novel that manages to work on the “brain-candy” level and on a deeper level.

STORY REVIEW: A Rumor of Angels by Dale Bailey. Magical-realist Americana

A Rumor of Angels: A Tor.Com OriginalA Rumor of Angels: A Tor.Com Original by Dale Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The real star of this moody tale is the evocative, immaculately crafted language. At its heart, this is a simple tale that sets a coming-of-age story against the Great Migration during Dust Bowl days. The fantasy element, while essential to the story, is slight and belongs in the Magical Realist tradition of Ray Bradbury. The sense-of-place piece recalls the work of Willa Cather and John Steinbeck.

Winter’s City: The photography of Colin Winterbottom

Today, Washington DC is mantled in snow. The world is chiaroscuro, in tones of grey and white. It looks like a photograph by Colin Winterbottom.

Winterbottom

Winterbottom captures DC’s architecture in his photographs. The city becomes a gothic landscape through his lens. The photographs are full of statues, fountains, columns, plinths, cornices and monuments. He chronicles the secret history of my hometown with images made of shadow and light.

In addition to capturing the more iconic touchstones (the Capitol, and the Monument), there is also a nod to the DC’s esoteric places. Abandoned buildings and cemeteries tell their stories to the viewer. There’s a series he’s done on the legendary mental hospital, St. Elizabeth’s—a place where my father did his internship.

DC is his muse, but it’s not his only subject. There are also studies in color (the luminous jewel toned stain glass of the Cathedral) and the abstract images that studies of rust and decay.

MUSES (#blackhistory edition): Moms Mabley, Patron Goddess of the Chiltin’ Curcuit.

The story is that my Aunt Dee went into labor during a Moms Mabley show in Washington, DC. It’s not hard to imagine that, since Mabley was so damned funny.

Jackie "Moms" Mabley
Jackie “Moms” Mabley

I love listening to recordings of her comedy bits. She was one of the queens of the Chitlin Curcuit. She appeared on stage dressed as a frump, in a brightly patterned, tacky nightgown ensemble, and crowned with a cap. She took out her fake teeth and spoke, flapping her gums. Her comedy was in the storytelling mode–raunchy, ribald, and full of witty anecdotes. Listening to her speak is a window in black life in the 20th Century.

Like many comedians, her personal life was more than full of its share of pain. But in spite of (or in some cases, because of) the significant hurdles she faced as an African-American who grew up in the Jim Crow South, as a survivor of sexual abuse, and as a lesbian, she mastered the art of comedic storytelling.

On Lisa Germano’s “Cry Wolf.” (Haunting Music)

Her voice is a bruised, angry little thing, wispy and gravelly at once. It isn’t a pretty voice by a long shot, one that can’t sustain a note for a long time. Her lyrics are stream-of-conscious ramblings, perhaps written at the behest of a therapist, full of self-deprecation and caustic wit. The music is the same, vague, desultory quality, full of reverb and tremolo, with stray bits of violins colliding over simple guitar riffs. Lisa Germano’s music is an acquired taste. It’s uncomfortable and confessional. There are no real hooks per se; it reveals its charms gradually. My favorite song of hers is ‘Cry Wolf.’ It’s written from the point of view of a date-rape victim. The central theme is in a minor, eerie key and very hypnotic. Blurry background voices ooo over the rippling guitar as Germano in lays bare the rhetoric of date rape: Girl who wants it but has no clue/ She’s says she’ll give it, cry, cry wolf/A change of mind in a back seat or that dirty room /They say she got just what she wanted. It’s the center piece song on her concept album, Geek the Girl, about an awkward girl’s misadventures in love.