Mike’s Prattle


Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


Posted by Mike on January 12, 2009

Crazy weekend. Turned in my essay for this book, an illustrated collection of essays on Krautrock from a somewhat cosmic perspective. I did an essay called Amon Duuality, bridging the Beatles, Theosophy and the Amon Duul commune. Should be quite neat, there’s some interesting names writing essays in the book. Waiting on publisher comments and the like…

Got hooked on the FX show Damages, some of the best TV I’ve seen in a while, perhaps better than any show I was staying current with last year. Rose Byrne plays a young lawyer signing up with a firm who’s in the middle of tackling a major case against a powerful senator. Framed from the present where Byrne’s character emerges shellshocked and drenched in blood and is taken into custody, the 13 episodes are masterfully plotted with a host of great actors (Glenn Close, Ted Danson, Zeljko Ivanek, etc). Looks like Season 1 is on line. I’ve learned my lesson from The Shield not to watch anything this intense on a worknight, so I’m happy to hear Season 2, which started last Wednesday, will be going up on line as well. Awesome, addictive TV.

24 just started as well in what I’m calling “The 24 Case for Torture.” For this show, which ranges from epic fun to completely idiotic, sometimes in one episode, I always have to brush logic to the side and “play pretend,” guess who the traitors are and stuff, since it’s generally stupid as hell and could be totally offensive I sat down to think about it. But when Sutherland gets scrunchy face it’s hard not to want to urge him to twist that arm a little harder. Or use that ballpoint pen. Anyway TV is slowly returning, including the last run of Battlestar Galactica this weekend. And the return of Friday Night Lights to NBC for those of us without direct TV. And everyone’s favorite polygamist drama, Big Love Sunday.

And my oldest nephew is now 7. Yike. In the cool developments they didn’t have when I was a kid category (along with 30,000 toys) are bowling gutter fences. These turned my youngest nephew into a near master bowler on Sunday. But I can rest confident that our arcades were a LOT cooler than theirs. All that’s left is driving games and variations on ticket-spewing foozball. On the other hand Atari 2600’s did not have Nerf guns you could shoot at TVs. Alas.

All cool, until I turned up to find my license plate stolen. Some serious Murphy’s law in effect lately…


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News, TV and other ramblings

Posted by Mike on November 18, 2008

I may have finally broken into the paying market with music writing, probably just at the very point I’d given up on it. I’ve been asked to contribute to a book of essays on a particular music subject by a British book company, with a theme pretty close to my interests. I’ve done quite a bit of work for product over the years, but it’s nice to start getting some pro work on the resume and I’m excited to be part of this project. More news and specifics when things get concrete… Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Mike on August 22, 2008

A little while back I mentioned I was writing a novel. About a month or so ago, I reached a point where I wasn’t quite sure where to take the narrative, after I spent a lot of time developing the characters and their interactions and motivations on a personal level. Last night as I was just about to doze off, it all came to me like a lightning bolt, that is the plot elements and the vague framework of the novel’s universe. Terribly pleased about this. But I’ve been trying to figure out what I can say about it without saying anything about it.

It basically takes place, initially, in the San Francisco bay area among five interrelated friends, most likely in their mid to late 20s. There are complicated issues among four of the five people that get a great deal more complicated after an event at an unusual gathering leaves the relationships between them changed, including the disappearance of one of the five friends. Only one of the friends is actually aware that things have changed and it isn’t the protagonist/main viewpoint. The mystery of what’s happening starts to increase as the protag becomes bewildered when the unchanged friend starts to make bizarre statements including asking him to find and read a mysterious book. The protag, who has started a new job at an obscure start-up firm, manages to find the book, hides it in an awkward moment and then can’t locate the book when he comes back for it with the suspicion that the chief of the firm he works for was responsible. Where before his curiosity was only mildly roused by his friend, losing the book only increases his interest, leading him on a course that will encompass a bewildering litany of mysteries, including a legendary cache of a rare, entheogenic aloeswood, a little-known corporate installation in a Turkish mountain range, and the hunt for a priceless and unique feather rumored not to be avian. I’ll stop before I sound like I’m writing cover copy. 🙂

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Music, Outer Music, Progressive Music, etc.

Posted by Mike on August 18, 2008

I’ve had this intense feeling I’ve been juggling too many balls in the air at once. Most of this is due to Olfactory Rescue Service and the site’s growing success in the incense community, which has basically reduced this blog to tumbleweeds since I moved the incense to ORS (making Prattle the perfect venue for this sort of ramble). To say the least, my experience in incense has been something of an exercise of comparing and contrasting with my experience in the music fields.

In ten years, my musical outlook and tastes have vastly changed. In the 90s I was involved with several progressive rock magazines: Expose, Audion, Melodie e Dissonanze. In the last 90s/early 00s I was coresponsible for starting the Gnosis project. But it always felt like as soon as I created something in the music field, my tastes had already changed to the point where I never felt part of the audience these projects were aimed at. I’ve always felt more comfortable in areas where people had more multiplicity and breadth in their musical tastes and have always felt that certain musical communities were quite insular and navel gazing. That is, I think it’s possible to like something without the act of that like becoming an implicit dislike of something else.

Overall, I don’t have the musical appetite that I used to and think that perhaps some of this interest has just transferred to my passion over incense. WIth music, I generally feel satisfied with what I’ve collected and feel very rarely that when I add something new to the pile that it sufficiently enhances it. For years I’ve had that idea that trying to appreciate something outside your tastes enhances your life and while it does, it has the exact opposite effect on your pocketbook. The major event for me was “cracking” the Grateful Dead. Never liked them much growing up, but around 2000-2001, I figured I’d give them the benefit of the doubt, started playing Europe 72, broke through my hesitancy and became a fan. But what it did for me most importantly was realize how much pleasure I could get out of one band. And learning this, along with some other influences, more or less ended the “need to hear everything” mentality I picked up from progressive rock. I find more satisfaction in trying to get to know something better than I do in trying to get to know something new.

Another aspect of this was retiring from Expose. As a writer you stay up on everything and are generally aware of almost everything remotely connected to the genre that comes out. All other issues aside, leaving the magazine was a relief in that hours of listening to promos you’d rather not could be used for something else. Being fully in control of what you listen to means you gravitate more and more to what you naturally like, passionate listening rather than intellectual. And overall, I think I’ve found I just generally like late 60s and early 70s music above all else, no matter if it’s rock, jazz, funk, soul or anything else. My respect for the avant garde is almost entirely intellectual or mental, never particularly passionate.

All of these questions are sort of hanging over me in a very Virgo-like way, as I consider hanging up musical activities. I sometimes have to resist the urge to make clean breaks. At the moment I don’t have a particular urge or desire to return to music writing of any sort. Not only have my tastes moved away from progressive rock but it’s a genre without any intellectual/academic dialogue while being tailor-made for it. Like the entire political landscape of the day, facts aren’t facts anymore, it’s a matter of how you feel and who yells the loudest. The genre’s greatest strength, its eclecticism, has now just become another competing idealogy with those who think its greatest strength is melodrama.

So, if you’re here wondering why I’m taking a (probably permanent) sabbatical from music forums and writing activities, this is generally where my head’s at. I honestly don’t feel like the world of progressive rock is going to miss my voice much at all, after all it’s not a voice much representative of the genre or its fans anymore (if it ever really was). And remember, I’m saying that as a progressive rock fan in love with its eclecticism not its melodrama. It’s not a statement fishing for someone to convince me otherwise, just someone who sees the art of criticism as opening a dialogue rather than digging a trench, while seeing the landscape of progressive music as a map of trenches where the dominant aesthetic is to lob grenades at each other. I’ve had grenades lobbed at me in the incense world as well, the difference there is that your fellow soldiers will deliver the A-bomb back, where in progressive rock they’ll blame you for the war.

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Vernor Vinge “Fast Times at Fairmont High;” Jeff VanderMeer – City of Saints and Madmen; etc.

Posted by Mike on June 13, 2006

I gave precedence to Vernor Vinge's novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High" after buying his newest novel Rainbow's End, which is his first full-length since the Hugo-winning A Deepness in the Sky. He's a must read writer, possibly one of the few in the science fiction field, and this novella is a precursor to the novel, set in a near future where internet/virtual technology has advanced to a degree where junior high school children are being tested at a level unheard of today. Like Vinge's far futures, his near future scenario is cleverly laid out with a lot of plausible advancements in technology that boggle the mind, including advances in computer and medical technology and the movie industry. Like his last two novels, this novella also won a Hugo and it's easy to see why, as the ideas are huge and the plot believable with moderately filled out characters.

I'd talked about the novella "Dradin, in Love" several weeks ago, the opening salvo in this bizarre collection by writer and critic VanderMeer, who has been a source in many ways of a lot of recent reading (especially the Whittemore and Carter novels). City of Saints and Madmen includes a number of other stories, three that follow "Dradin" in the table of contents and then about half a book of metafiction including a hilarious scientific treatise on King Squid, a glossary of Ambergris and a number of shorts all attributed to various characters in the Ambergris world. Having started the collected fictions of Jorge Luis Borges, it's easy to see the influence, especially in the glossary. However, the strongest material is definitely before the appendix (which might be larger than the book itself), with a history of Ambergris, the World Fantasy winning "The Transformation of Martin Lake" and a surreal piece about a man in an insane asylum who believes he's in Chicago and has dreamt up Ambergris, which increasingly impinges on his reality. The writing is pretty amazing, especially some of the stylistic switches between his "writers." The tonal difference between "King Squid" and, say, the history of the Hoegbottoms is pronounced. While I found some of the appendixes a bit tedious (I might have found them more digestible as paged stories or maybe it was the glossary at the end) and some of the prose verging on the overwrought, the imagination that has gone into this world is virile and endless in permutation. I'll definitely be grabbing a copy of his next Ambergris novel, Shriek, when it comes out in August.

Bought a few books last weekend, the first in a long while:

  • Hal Duncan – Vellum
  • Vernor Vinge – Rainbow's End
  • Flann O'Brian – At Swim-Two-Birds
  • Salman Rushdie – Midnight's Children

And I'll be spending part of the weekend finishing up my liner notes for the Water Records reissue of Alan Sorrenti's Aria, which is the first thing I've written about on music in quite some time. Another album that defies the need to canonize a definition of progressive rock.

Spending time watching TV stuff as well, mostly Blake's 7 and Deadwood episodes (redoing the first two seasons to refresh my memory for the new season). All sort of comfort food for an extreme paradigm shift.

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Posted by Mike on April 14, 2006

When it rains it pours…

  • Jack Ketchum – Offseason The Unexpurgated Edition (hb)
  • Bradley Denton – A Conflagration Artist
  • Eric Wagner – An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson
  • Thomas Pynchon – Gravity's Rainbow
  • Jeff Vandermeer/Forrest Aguirre ed. – Leviathan 3
  • John Pelan/Benjamin Adams ed. – The Children of Cthulhu
  • Jeffrey Ford – The Empire of Ice Cream (hb)
  • Ben Okri – The Famished Road
  • Jack Dann et. al. – The Fiction Factory (hb)
  • Count Jan Potocki – The Manuscript Found in Saragossa
  • Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita
  • Paul Auster – The New York Trilogy (Penguin Classics Delux Edition – they went all out to make it look like a very old, creased up book)

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Progress etc.

Posted by Mike on March 29, 2006

Been trying to find the perfect metaphor for the mood lately, kind of like the idea of an electrical applicance being left on too long. Maybe it's my recent perspective, but the creative urge has been like a flamethrower lately, it literally drove me to writing yesterday and I ended up with about 5 pages of handwritten manuscript for the first chapter. I'm going to have to learn more about London architecture for one thing and even plan a trip at some point to be able to get the visceral effect. It has been over 20 years since I was there last.

The first chapter opens in November 1887 with William Wynn Westcott going to receive the cipher manuscripts through his connections with the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. The chapter will introduce the mystery that will run through the book; Westcott is going to quickly and accidentally get a glimpse of someone he shouldn't have, a mystery that I'm going to play off as the unknown factor in the newly formed order's internal politics. I'm not sure how large the scope is going to be as I'm not sure how far I want to cover the history, whether I want to  take it to the Horos scandal or if I want to take it even farther. Essential to the progress of the novel is the disintegration of Mathers, that he was both genius and increasingly dominated by ego.

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The novel that writes itself

Posted by Mike on March 28, 2006

I'm about to order one very important book I need for this novel, Ellic Howe's documentary The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. In fact, not only can I not wait because I need more facts, but it's a book that's out of print and growing in cost. It's not hard to find books with the practical knowledge of the order in print, but those that document the history are increasingly rare. The book I'm using for research now, R. A. Gilbert's The Golden Dawn Scrapbook paints a pretty ugly picture, but gives me so much to work with that I've already started the writing. In fact, given all the recent changes, my guess is that I'm going to be scarcer than usual for a while. I'm going to probably have to set aside a day a weekend at least until it gets done. It's not waiting for my plans, the casual idea of writing this over a few years.

One idea I have that I'm not sure is entirely feasible for a number of reasons is to weave the documentary accounts of magic into the narrative so that the only fantastic elements in the book are those statements I can quote. However, I have no idea about the legal ramifications of doing so in terms of publishing, so it's something I'm just keeping in mind. There's just so much to work with in terms of the human drama, especially the idea that the frail elements of human ego can sabotage one's higher efforts and how love complicates this, that it will be interesting to see how influential this resonance is on other elements. In other words this is a broad palette and every new, learned fact uncovers another piece of the puzzle.

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Creativity level: high

Posted by Mike on March 12, 2006

It’s sort of hard to explain why exactly, but life has been a series of extremely strange epiphanies and experiences in the last few days. Conversations where receptivity wasn’t expected but instead flourished. It reminds me that sometimes it is just effortless and that the most unlikely things can happen when they’re ready to.

It’s taken me a little while to become consciously aware of it, but it’s the idea that when things kind of flow effortlessly it’s not a bad idea to get some work done. So I got back to focusing on some esoteric work (I manage to keep continuity, but sometimes that’s a moving front and other times a hanging thread) and ended tonight by finishing the outline of what is essentially the first thread in my novel idea. I’m honestly surprised noone’s ever thought of this idea, so I hope I don’t find out it’s not fiction when I start doing research. I don’t think I could even go with it if it didn’t fit in so well with history. It’s that whole story writes itself myth come to life.

An important question reflected the Empress this weekend. Cue Shocking Blue.

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The next morning…

Posted by Mike on March 2, 2006

I spent at least an hour or two last night madly scribbling down all the ideas for this novel. It’s a very strange experience to have all this occur to you as if you just opened floodgates. The last time I even remotely had an experience like this was when I was writing music for the band Spiritcircle.

The very basic idea I have for the novel is that it’s set in the late 1800s and early 1900s and is a “secret history” of sorts. Two friends I told about it thought the Da Vinci Code immediately, but about all I want from that allusion is Brown’s audience*. The main difference is that it’s probably more Foucault’s Pendulum than Da Vinci Code in that I really want to develop character and stick to the human elements, rather than trying to write something that has some sort of wild religious revelations, some sort of shock and awe bestsller motif. And the idea of the sort of secret history I have probably comes from Tim Powers a la The Stress of Her Regard, not my favorite of his books but the best model for the idea, except that the fictional element that drives the story won’t be fantastic in the supernatural sense, even if the Victorian era was fraught with spiritualism, theosophy etc. Powers pointed the way towards finding gaps in history and extrapolating on how those gaps hide a mystery. I’ve found three “gaps” in the history of the subject I’ll be covering that suggest a narrative of intrigue and romance behind the scenes.

*Ironically enough, when the book came out and I read a review or two, I thought that the Da Vinci Code was just rehashing the old Holy Blood, Holy Grail conspiracy and sure enough a lawsuit has just been introduced in court a few days ago.

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