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Album Review: Victor Sierra’s “The Manchurian Pass”

Album Review: Victor Sierra’s “The Manchurian Pass”

I am very happy to once again have the privilege of filling my head with the glorious sounds of my Parisian friends The Legendary Converted Princess, Big Machine, and Commander Bob a.k.a. the marvelous steampunk band Victor Sierra.

Their fourth album – take that in! four albums – was released earlier this month, and it is yet another wonderful, fantastical jaunt into the realms of alterverses, distant planets, and eternal social struggles.

I’m a storyteller at heart, and what I love best about Victor Sierra’s albums is that enjoyed individually, each song has a tale to tell – a disenfranchised defector, the crashlanding of a spaceship crew on a distant planet populated with the statues of long-dead fantastical creature, the cry of a woman in this age of Fake News – but taken together, the whole album has an overarching narrative to relay.

This time the intrepid crew of their ‘punked up airship the Hydrogen Queen has travelled off world, and into realms of bizarre bazzars, aborted missions, and strange realms.

What I have always liked best about Victor Sierra is how distinctive their music sounds – not just among other industrial rock groups, but other steampunk bands as well: Vaguely atonal, always just a bit uncomfortable, deliberately off-beat in places, voices honest. There is nothing pretty, or pre-packed, or overly engineered about their sound. Victor Sierra is not a slick, shiney fabricated music with autotuned voices, poppy sounds and insipid lyrics.

They dare to sound exact as they are – raw, authentic, cobbled-together. This is Maker-Space sound. This is what the beating heart in the clockwork chest of Steampunk sounds like.

And yet, this time around, while the songs absolutely still sound like Victor Sierra, the melodies are fresh, and this album infinitely hummable. I will admit, there’s nothing I like more in a song than my ability to sing it later all by myself!

We open the album with Visitors, which is an apt title for the theme-setting song of the narrative of discovering the new and the weird.  I especially like the chugging backbeat of this song because it sounds like the train featured on the cover and sets the pace for the rest of the album – relentless, sometimes exhausted, sometimes triumphant, but all about what it means to keep going, keep going, keep going at all costs.

My favourite has to be Track Four – “Arguments & Facts”, featuring Mark Rossmore. It’s framed as a woman refusing to bend to the pressures of her society – and as a steampunk world we can imagine what sorts of issues she must face – but is also a scathing critique of modern media, fake-news sharing culture, and Google Science.

The lyrics are:

 

PAIN RUNNING ‘ROUND MY BRAIN ALL DAY
I MUST GET A GRIP ON MYSELF
THEY WANT ME TO THINK THE SAME OLD WAY
AND LEAVE MY SENSES ON THE SHELF

I’D LIKE TO FLEE THIS KINGDOM OF ENNUI
AND SPEAK WITH THE MASTER OF CLOCKS
WE’D FIGHT OVER THE THEORY
AND SPEND EVERY NIGHT ON THE DOCKS

SUSTAINING A NEVER ENDING INNER FIGHT
WHILE VERITY IS FADING AWAY
SOME PRETEND TO BE BEACONS IN THE NIGHT
STRUTTING WITH VERY LITTLE TO SAY

ARGUMENTS AND FACTS / INTELLECT VS QUACKS
BETTER USE YOUR NEURONS AND SYNAPSES TO THE MAX
ARGUMENTS AND FACTS

THEY CHOSE NEW SPINELESS KINGS TO ENTHRONE
IT’S A CORNERSTONE OF THE BOHO’S ROUTINE
I DRINK TO THE SPIRIT OF THE UNKNOWN
EVEN THOUGH THEY PUT ME IN QUARANTINE

SOMETIMES TALKING TAKES SUCH A HEAVY TOLL
SOMETIMES I’M LOSING CONTROL

My only critique is that I do wish there had been one or two ballads where the relentless pace of the chugging machine had slowed for a few minutes. But maybe that’s the point.

In this modern world, we all have our side hustle, our crazy schedules, our personal and societal battles, or ideals and convictions. And Victor Sierra gives us the soundtrack for fighting the good fight.

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I was provided a copy of The Manchurian Pass by the band for review purposes.

 

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JM FreyAlbum Review: Victor Sierra’s “The Manchurian Pass”
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?

Hello, my lovely readers! Welcome to a special guest WORDS FOR WRITERS post from Beverly Johnson! Want to know all about travel writing? Read on! –J

Photo by Pexels

How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?
by Beverly Johnson

The thing about travel writing that George Stone articulated perfectly is this: Everyone is a travel writer, but not everyone knows it. People tweet, take photographs, and scribble notes whenever they travel, and each activity is a unique take on your experience in a new place. The Editor in Chief of National Geographic Travel argues that the only difference between a normal traveler and a travel writer is a deadline.

While that last part is true for magazine writers, it’s not the case if you’re looking to write a book on your own spare time. Still, the demands are the same: You must sweep the reader off their feet to be present in your journey with you; you must take them on a spatial, outward journey, but also inward and across time; and you must, most importantly, do it well. But how exactly do you turn your travel bucket list into a book worthy of a reader’s time, money, and effort?

Getting started

For starters, make sure your bucket list is as detailed as possible. Lottoland explains that this can take the form of one long list of things you want to do or a shorter one exclusively related to travel goals. The latter is better suited for the purposes of your writing. Avoid general entries like hiking, spending a day in a village, etc. Modify your list so it revolves around a specific place (Things to do in Bangkok), or activities under a common theme encompassing several destinations (Studying the Nuances of Southeast Asian Cuisine).

Making your list is the first step you can take to shape the book you are about to write. Your trip shouldn’t just be the story itself but rather, a series of events from which you can draw your narrative. There are plenty of books and websites out there following the Bucket List format (The Top Places to See in the World and so on), so it’s best to write from your own point of view. Instead of simply recommending places to visit, challenge yourself to weave a story in connection to your travel bucket list and your own experiences and thoughts. As Carl Rogers succinctly puts it, what is most personal is most universal, and this remains true in psychology and in writing. In truth, some of the best travel books not only offer marvelous views into the world out there; they also take a journey through a writer’s life and psyche, which can altogether be more fascinating.

The nitty gritty

With this in mind, remember that there is no need to tell your entire trip chronologically. Skip the touristy areas, ask a lot of questions, make friends, take notes of what people say and how, and snap a lot of photographs. Sometimes, a taking strolls along the streets can tell you more about a place and its culture than any number of museums you visit. Try shopping at a local wet market or eat alongside residents in simple restaurants. Save the best pieces, anecdotes, and descriptions you absorb during the trip to tell the story. Make it truly your story by interweaving facts, descriptions, and observations in your narrative.

The great thing about travel writing is that there’s absolutely no shortage of inspiration anywhere you go. However, if at any point you’re feeling stuck, check out the guide to getting over a block previously shared here on the J.M. Frey blog.

The hard part

Of course, your project doesn’t end with all that nitty gritty work! As any writer with publishing experience will tell you, the hardest part is the homestretch. For instance, editing isn’t just about getting perfect grammar, it’s about making sure your story works; it’s relatable; and that it draws out the best from your travel experience. Travel writers of The Guardian emphasize the importance of triple-checking your facts and being economical about your work. Be ruthless about editing out words and anecdotes that no longer add to your book’s purpose and do your best to avoid clichés. Have a trusted friend or beta reader to go through your work, if you wish.

After all of this, it’s finally time to reach out to publishers about your book. Granted, going through an agent isn’t for everyone, but as explained in another Words for Writers blog post, there are still many advantages related to having one.

Have any more questions? Be sure to check out more WORDS FOR WRITERS articles or CONTACT J.M. HERE.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?
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Words for Writers: Different Ways to Get Over A Block

Words for Writers: Different Ways to Get Over A Block

 

 

Q: Hello there! How about: what are some good tips (read: not commonly stated) that can help overcome writers block?

 

Jeeze, louise there, Dear Reader. You sure go for the big guns, don’t you!

So, okay, here’s the thing. Confession time…. ready for it?

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block.

I know, okay? I know. I’ve heard it all.  But see, the thing for me is that I think Writer’s Block isn’t a real disease that affects creators. Like “Hysteria” of old, I think it’s made-up boogie-man name for a bunch of symptoms that people have decided to bundle together simply because they all have to do with the same thing. Only this time, it’s being creative as a writer, instead of being female.

When someone is unable to write – whether that is because they can’t think of ideas or because they just can’t force themselves to sit and put pen to paper or fingers to keys – it’s not because some mythical muse in a flowy toga has turned off the taps to divine inspiration in their brain. That’s not how this works.

So, ways to get over a Writer’s Block, dearest reader? My best advice is to call it what it is:

Some sort of issue or concern that is keeping you, as a writer, from being able to write that particular story at that particular point of time.

Name the monster under the bed, and take away its power.

Sure, that’s easy for you to say, J.M., you may think. But don’t you think that if I knew what it was I would do something about it already?

Possibly. Probably. But sometimes writers get so stuck in their own heads (and we are an imaginative lot, so I bet we can think of lots of great doomsday scenarios for ourselves) that we sometimes forget to take a deep breath and analyze why it is that we’re not able to write.

So do that, right now. Step away, close your eyes, lift your face to the sun and expand your chest to the sky, and just breathe deeply.  

Back? Feeling relaxed and oxygenated? Great.

Now close your eyes and ask yourself, “Why Can’t I Write?” You have three answers to choose from.

Is it…

  • Mental?
  • Physical?
  • Emotional?

What is the root of this problem? Where does it sit in you?  In your chest, around your heart? In your head, between your ears? In your shoulders, and back, and hips, like an ache?

If it’s Mental, consider that you may be:

  • The story isn’t working, and you subconsciously know this.
  • Characters aren’t communicating with you, you don’t know who they are or what they want.
  • The Plot is too convoluted or too simple; you’re confused or bored.
  • You’re lost the thread of what you were doing.
  • You’re being too picky and perfectionist about the book. Are you using the excuse of wanting it to be ‘perfect’ to go over the same sections over and over again and not add anything new?
  • You’re overwriting it because you’re afraid of letting it go. Are you building the plot out (like a deck) instead of up (like a ladder)?
  • You don’t trust your audience is clever enough to understand what you’re putting down. Are you bogging the plot down with exposition, backstory, detail?
  • The narrative isn’t working in this medium. You’re having a hard time jamming all the story into a short, or coming up with enough stuff to fill a novel. The story is too visual and dialogue heavy, it really would make a better script or comic.
  • Stopping the flow of writing to research too often.
  • Writing in the wrong order. There’s no rule saying you have to start at the beginning and finish at the end.
  • There are outside pressures getting in the way, like stress at work, or no specifically carved-out time for your writing?

If it’s Physical, consider that you may be:

  • Sick, and it’s fogging up your brain.
  • Sore or injured, and it’s making it hard for you to sit and write.
  • Have chronic pain or acute conditions from bad ergonomics or lighting.
  • Missed your meds, are dehydrated, haven’t eaten, haven’t slept.
  • Writing in the wrong space – is it too loud? Too quiet? Too bright? Too dim? Smells funny? Too overstimulating? Too sleep-inducing? Not inspirational enough?
  • You don’t have your own space to write in, and that’s keeping you from dedicated time as well.
  • Writing in the wrong medium. Pen-and-paper is poetic, but too slow to keep up with your brain. Maybe keyboards are frustrating. Maybe you should be looking into dictation. Maybe you need to consider different writing software, like Scrivenr, or Celtx, or something more aligned to how you like to tell stories.

If it’s Emotional, consider if you:

  • Have lost the passion for this particular story. (Perhaps just for now, perhaps forever)
  • Don’t love this story as much as you thought you did and your “meh” feeling is making it hard to commit.
  • Have another project you’d rather pursue.
  • Hate, or don’t connect with your protagonist / POV character
  • Imposing “fake” limits on yourself, which is caging in your story. Such as: “All YA must be written in the first person and I hate writing in the first person.” Not actually a Real Rule (™)
  • Burned out or exhausted, either by your writing schedule, or Real Life, or the pressure you’ve put on yourself

Of course, it’s not always as simple as just one of the above. It could be multiples and mixes, or something I haven’t listed here. But the point is that you figure what the real roadblock is.

Now, what to do about it?

If it’s a small “Block”, then changing something up or shaking up your routine might be what’s necessary. You could:

  • Take a break – go do something physical if you’ve been stationary for a while, like walking the dog or going to the gym. Go relax in a bubble bath or a hot shower and let your mind wander. Get a massage or have dinner with friends.
  • Have a conversation with your characters – do some acting or improv character-finding exercises while you do the dishes. Come right out and ask your characters why they’re not cooperating, or why they’re acting out of character, or why they’re resisting. Think through the answers you get back from them.
  • Address your physical or medial concerns – figure out a more ergonomic solution to your writing location, or get a stand up/treadmill desk. Go see a doctor, or your therapist, or your local massage clinic. Take your meds, have some water, take a nap, stretch, do yoga.
  • Try some fun writing exercises or challenges to discover different parts of your worlds, character, or stories that won’t necessarily end up in the book. Trust me, it’s not wasted work if it freshens your approach.
  • Write the ending right now. Write out of order. If you usually write out of order, then write in order. Shake up how you get it on the page.

If it’s a bigger problem, then build yourself a solution to it:

  • Take some time out to replot the novel – write it all out on a whiteboard, use the “Castle” method and string it all up so you can see the whole book at once, gets some note cards and highlighters and start color coding. If you take a step back and look at the structure, you may find the issue that’s keeping you from being able to move forward.
  • Suck it up and send the book off to a trusted beta reader if you’re having trouble letting go of it.  You’ll get as many cracks at it as you want after. There’s not a set limit of how many times you can edit. But get it out the door at least once, first.
  • Join NaNoWriMo, or a similar contest to push yourself into turning off your editing brain and just write the whole darn book.
  • Hire a researcher, or stop writing until you’ve put together a massive pile of resources for yourself and organized them in a handy way which means that when you have to look something up it won’t interrupt the flow of your writing time.
  • Say goodbye to something that isn’t working. Stick it in your morgue to Frankenstein into something else another time, or put it on a shelf to come back to in a few years. There’s no shame in realizing that the story isn’t working, or working right now.
  • Carve out some writing time and space, get yourself into a routine. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate office, it can just be those forty minutes of your commute every day, in a notebook. Or a corner of the living room when the kids are napping. Or vocally dictating it as you drive around on errands.
  • Consider whether you can change the POV character or swap out protagonists. Rewrite.
  • Go on a vacation
  • Go on a research trip
  • Ask for an extension or revise your self-imposed timeline.
  • If you’re having trouble finishing, impose a deadline on yourself. Tell friends and family so they’ll keep you accountable.
  • Go write in public. Or stop writing in public.

There are a hundred thousand different reasons why you’re unable to write. By giving it a mythical source and a made-up reason, you’re ignoring all the little ways that you’re actually telling yourself that something is wrong. When you figure that out, you can address that.

Treat the disease, not the symptoms.

And for goodness sake, stop believing in the wrong sorts of fairy tales so you can start writing some of your own.

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

JM FreyWords for Writers: Different Ways to Get Over A Block
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Happy Authors for Indies Day!

Happy Authors for Indies day! I was supposed to be over at Bakka Phoenix, my fave indie bookstore in Toronto this weekend, but schedules got flipped around for the play I’m in, and sadly I have to be at rehearsal instead.

But that’s okay, I can still profess my love for independent bookstores without being in one!

Firstly, what is Authors For Indies?

From the website:

Authors for Indies is a national campaign in support of independent bookstores. On Saturday April 29, hundreds of Canadian authors will be volunteering as guest booksellers at indie bookstores across the country. This is the day we authors give back to the bookstores who support us every day of the year.

 Independent bookstores are more than just retailers. Indie bookstores are spaces where you can open a book at random, fall into another world, and take it home with you forever. Where you can enter and breathe in that new book smell. Where you can talk to people who are passionate about recommending exactly the right book. Where you are part of a reading community.

 If that’s how you feel about bookstores, then come out on Saturday April 29. Every participating bookstore will feature different activities. We’ll be there to chat about good books, give readings, sign books, or call Bingo games, if that’s what the bookstore wants us to do.There could be music, cupcakes, kids’ events, art tables, or contests. For sure every store will feature Canadian authors and a great contest to win one of 20 signed, original prints created by acclaimed children’s author-illustrator Kevin Sylvester.

 Use FIND A STORE (on the menu bar on the website) to locate a participating bookstore near you. The closer we get to April 29 the more complete the list of participating bookstores and authors. Bring family and friends and make a day of it!

 What can you do to support your local indie bookstore?

Shop there! It’s as simple as that. Afraid that the store won’t have the selection that a regular big-box franchise would? Just ask! Indie book stores have the ability to order in exactly what you want, and more than that, you showing an interest means that they’ll pay attention and probably start stocking more books you’ll like. On top of that, the staff at an indie book store are always keen to help you find your next great read.

What can you do to support indie authors at indie bookstores?

Request our work, so that the shop owners learn about our books, and hopefully shelve them. Also suggest us for local literary festivals, reading events, and conventions. You want me to appear at your local indie bookshop? Let them know.

And because I love them, and they’ve done so much for me and my career, please follow and support:

Bakka Phoenix

RE: Reading

Roxanne’s Reflections

JM FreyHappy Authors for Indies Day!
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Aurora Awards Nomination Period Closing Soon

Hey all, just a reminder that the Aurora Awards nominations are closing on MAY 6TH.

This is a SF/F/Hr literature award that honors Canadian creators.

If there’s a work that you enjoyed in 2016 that you thinks deserves recognition, head over to the website to check out the list of eligible works and then nominate your favorites. You will have to register for the website in order to nominate and vote. You can also write in anything that you think should be nominated but is not on the list.

For Your Consideration, I have three works eligible this year:

Novel: “The Forgotten Tale
Short Fiction: “Ghosts
Related Work: “Your Voice Is Valid

JM FreyAurora Awards Nomination Period Closing Soon
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