Winter Lights

Christmas lights, Portland, Maine

downtown Christmas lights in Portland, Maine

The solstice has now passed and the days are getting longer, but the thermometer is dropping, as the New Year quickly approaches.

What better time to walk around in the freezing cold and photograph some of the seasonal creations that are on display in this northern city, where hours of actual daylight dips below ten hours.

Perhaps this explains why some of the older cultures resorted to building large bonfires to light up the winter night sky.

Nowadays, in the modern era we have the electricity to do the chore for us.

Here in Portland the popular thing to do is to decorate the tress or buildings with balls of lights. It really does look quite splendid in the long winter sky, but I have noticed that the lighting displays have become increasing thinner as the nation struggles throught he darkness of lean economic times.

Tree with lights

tree with lights in Deering Park in Portland Maine

Here is another picture taken from the city park with a hint of afterglow in the night sky. This concept of hanging lights on trees is quite unique to my eyes and quite wonderful as well.

And finally one more picture of some lights on a tree along with the moon in the night sky which is close to full.

Such is the wonder of the new digital technology, which allows me to go out and take the night picture with a hand held Kodak digital camera, come home and slide the SD card into the slot on my computer and post this picture just hours after it was taken. Best wishes and a Happy New Year, Everett Autumn

Christmas-lights-and-moon

Christmas lights covering a tree accented by the moon

Have a Merry, Merry, Heavy Metal Christmas

winter light display in Portland, Maine by Everett Autumn Today is Christmas Eve and the Christmas season is almost upon us, for tomorrow begins the twelve days of Christmas. Here in the west we celebrate the holiday on day one (or sometimes Christmas Eve), but go to Eastern Europe and Russia and you will find that Christmas comes at the end of the first week of January, which would right around the twelfth day of Christmas. The more than merrier.

Well anyone, our town, Portland Maine likes to put lights everywhere. Here are some that are descending from the top of the sixth story of the Maine College of Art. They are strung from long lines the traverse the distance.

Speaking of unusual ways of celebrating Christmas, this is the year that I discovered heavy metal Christmas albums. By chance I was in the record store the other day, making my selection, when the clerk drew my attention to the Judas Priest album that was playing. Actually, it was a series of Christmas and seasonal songs recorded by Robert Halford, called “Winter Songs”. The album sounded nice on the store sound system, but I went ahead and purchased Bob Dylan’s Christmas effort anyway.

Since that day I have done a little researching and come across some surprising results; and that my friends, is there are all sorts of folks from Alice Cooper to Twisted Sister have put out at least a few X-mas songs and some have actually completed and released a whole album. Check out Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister. For those of you who might be interested here is a link to the Houston Press and their choice for five best Heavy Metal Christmas Songs.

My favorite though has to be the Charlie Brown Heavy Metal Christmas with music by Tourniquet. Check it out. It is two and a half minutes of pure pleasure.

And on a final note for those of you who just received a box of candies in the mail from Aunt Ida and Uncle Rico, who you haven’t seen or talked to in ten years, here’s a quick and easy way to respond. Just send them a Jib Jab Christmas card by e-mail.

Merry Christmas from E. Autumn

NaNoWriMo Continues

sombrero galaxy

Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared, Credit: R. Kennicutt (Steward Obs.) et al., SSC, JPL, Caltech, NASA

Today I managed to find a little time to continue working    on a novel-length piece of fiction, even though the deadline that I set for myself during November, when NaNoWriMo (that stands for National Novel Writing Month) was going strong has long since past.

To qualify for Na NoWri Mo certification, one needs to complete 50,000 (hopefully coherent) words within the 30 day period, we call November. I barely managed 10,000 during last month, but it looks like I might reach 25,000 by the first of the year. Not the fastest pace in the world, but I do kind of like the way the story is developing.

This is my second attempt with this organization. Last year I sat down and cranked out 40.000 words for a manuscript that still sits in a drawer, half finished. However early last year, I did manage to forge a large group of related short stories into a workable novel, which I thoroughly shopped around this past summer to no avail. Maybe this year’s effort will go better. I hope so, for I would like to think that experience amounts to something.

For those of you, who like myself are struggling through the never-never land of novel writing, you are in luck.  “TheWriter” magazine has just published a list of its most favorite literary websites and there are several that may be of help to aspiring writers, like myself. Most obvious is a site called How To Write A Novel (you have to give them credit for honesty in advertising). There first suggestion is to write one word at a time; can’t go wrong there!

Another intriguing site is Advanced Fiction Writing, which features the snowflake method. Seeing that today is the first day of winter that might be a good idea also.

Also of importance is a place called the Fiction Factor. This is an informative site that has articles in the form of an online magazine, as well as a listing of markets and contests. Looks like another good choice!

And then last but not least is a place on the internet called “Chapter One“. This website is put up by the Washington Post and it is place where you can go to read (for free) the first chapter of recently published books that have been reviewed by the Post newspaper. Be aware that there is a lot to choose from, as the Washington Post book reviewers are a busy lot.

So there you go. No need to procrastinate, the time to write is now.

house in winter

pastel drawing of a house in winter

Have a happy solstice,  and enjoy the fact that the days will start getting longer from now on.

Best wishes,

Everett Autumn.

Christmas Music 2009: Gordon Matthew Sumner vs. Robert Allen Zimmerman

Winter landscape

Winter landscape - credit; ImagesFromBulgaria.com

Have you wondered what kind of weirdo would go out and actually pay good money for Christmas music by over the hill “Rock and Roll Stars”. I never have, for all I had to do, was look in the mirror to get the answer to such a ridiculous question like that.

This year I have made two yuletide purchases of seasonal music and I thought I would share my results with you. The recording artists involved might surprise you, for they are our own homegrown, Bob Dylan, who hails from that marvelous winter wonderland Mecca, called Minnesota; and on the other hand is a man, who calls himself, Sting and is originally from Newcastle, an English city located just south of the Scottish Borderlands and the English-Scottish border. The two recordings are called, “Christmas from the Heart” (by Dylan) and “If On a Winter’s Night” (by Sting).

First, a few words about Mr. Dylan and his first Christmas offering, “Christmas from the Heart”, which can be purchased in two versions. One is the straight CD, and the second version includes four Christmas Cards, for which you have to pay an extra ten dollars. Here is the album cover for “from the Heart”, which kind of looks like an old Christmas card.

Heart_dylan_lp

album cover for Christmas For the Heart

My guess is that  if you purchase the CD that includes the X-mas cards, this is the image that you will receive. Enough for the visuals, but what about the music. When asked by Bill Flanagan of the Street News Service, why he recorded an album of traditional Christmas songs in such a straightforward manner, Bob replied, “There wasn’t any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight, too.” And perhaps that is the best intro one can give for the somber collection of Christmas tunes that includes such classics as “Little Drummer Boy”, “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. For a surprisingly, honest rendition of some seasonal classic give this album a try. You’ll like it.

And now on to Sting, who has released his own eclectic recording of music that is more closely tied to theme of winter than that of Christmas. Still many of his songs embrace the Christian theme, as well as the seasonal handle. My favorite song of the album is titled, “Cherry Tree Carol”, a charming medieval tale of how Joseph is requested by the Virgin Mary to gather cherries for the oncoming winter.

Overall Stings musical effort warms your heart, as easily as a mid-January fire burning in a brick-hearth fireplace. Sting, who describes winter as his favorite of the four seasons, says this about the winter season. “Winter is the season of ghosts and ghosts, if they can be said to reside anywhere, reside here in the season of frosts and in these long hours of darkness.”

album cover from "If on a Winter's Night".

So, hopefully your bills are all paid, your woodshed is full of firewood, so you can light up a flame in the fireplace and enjoy the warmth of crackling timbers during the cold of a winter’s night. That’s the atmosphere you will find, when you play this music.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad E-book

a glass of beer

a glass of beer

Last week I had the privilege of attending a Mediabistro function in downtown Boston. The get-together was held at a popular watering hole. right in the center of Boston’s financial district. It was the first time I’ve ever attended such an event, but I have taken several classes through the organization, and so for a good hour or so, I got to hob nob with some of the professional writers, who make their living around the great city of Boston. No great superstars here, just some entertaining and hardworking people , who seemed to know what they were doing and were fun to talk to.

New York City Skyline, credit; NOAA.gov

New York City Skyline, credit; NOAA.gov

Now Mediabistro is a national organization, for they are also active in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a handful of other major American cities. In fact, other places around the country had a seasonal party that occurred about the same time that the Boston party happened. Their website is fun and informative, especially their award winning  blog called GalleyCat.  Also check out their other blog, eBook Newser, which is entirely devoted to the up and coming e-book.

And just this week in New York, Mediabistro sponsored an e-book summit, an event which drew speakers and participants from all over the country and beyond. Anybody who wants to know how the conference went can find a very nice twitter transcript here, but this is really not necessary because the subject of e-books is all over the internet, especially if you follow the blogs of some of the more popular literary agents.

For example, Nathan Bransford recently undertook a survey among his readers to see how the e-book was faring. And guess what! The new format is gaining popularity. You can see the poll results for the last three years here . Also from Nathan is this post on November 23 of this year entitled, “The Top Ten Myths About E-books”.

Here’s another agent blogger, Agent Sydney, discussing e-book deals on the very informative agent blog, “Call My Agent”. Basically, this agent is saying that if you have already published an e-book, it might be more difficult to find a literary agent, because you have taken away the possibility of allowing the agency to handle e-book rights. And finally here is some advice from Jessica Faust at Bookends on the subject of something called e-publishing.

But the question of the day remains; is the e-book going anywhere with its limited commercial success and increased popularity? I am of the opinion that it is not, but I will be the first to admit that this assumption is anywhere from an educated hunch to a wild guess. Best of luck and good searching.

Truly, Everett Autumn.

Boston Public Library

Thinking of Escher, photo of Boston Public Library by E. Autumn

The House Of Seven Gables

House of Seven Gables

The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts

The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Mass is a genuine 17th century sea captain’s mansion and by some streak of good fortune cannot considered to be one of the many Mardi Gras-Halloween tourist traps that have come to dominate this once-notorious American city. Every October this seaside Boston suburb goes all out to celebrate All Hallows Eve. In fact, a sure sign that Halloween season  is quickly approaching are the numerous brightly-colored outhouses plastic outhouses that line the street to accommodate the large street crowds that find Salen a nice place to spend the last day of October.

Meanwhile over on the north shoreline quietly stands the House of Seven Gables with an intriguing silhouette that mildly suggests some of the mysteries that Nathanial Hawthorne penned to the building. This famous house has been a non-profit venture, since 1910 when Caroline Emmerton took over the place and started the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, which has restored the unusual house to somewhat resemble its original condition with a few amusing exceptions that were put in place to match the storyline of Hawthorne’s popular novel.

Four out of seven gables

Four of the gables rendered in a somewhat ominous light

For all you architectural purists, a one-cent shop was added on the first floor, as was a secret staircase. Visitors today can climb the secret staircase (it is quite believable, but alas not part of the original design) from its hidden entrance in the wood closet in the living room and arrive in the second floor hallway of the very interesting colonial domicile. In fact the entire house is an architecture treasure and worth viewing for that reason alone.

Nearby at the harbor,  is the Friendship, a realistic replica of the actual ship that plied the four seas until it was seized during the war of 1812. Today it spends much of its time in the Salem port, but in the golden years of sail, these watercraft ventured around the world, trading as they went.  These ships made small fortunes for sea captains like John Turner, who built the house in 1668 (OK, that’s a little bit early for such a big ship, but you get the idea).

The Friendship, a real ship,

a modern-day replica of the original Friendship

Nathanial Hawthorne was born just around the corner from the House of Seven gables in 1804. His father was a sea captain, who died at sea when Nathaniel was 4 years old, and his grandfather was Judge Hathorne (Nathanial changed the family name slightly supposedly to avoid direct association with the infamous ancestor)who presided at the Salem Witch Trials and reportedly was one of the few involved who never regretted his participation or showed any remorse. So you it is easy to see that when Nathanial graduated from Bowdoin college in Maine and returned to his native Salem as a young man aged in his early twenties, he most likely had a lot on his mind.

The House of Seven Gables was Hawthorne’s second popular novel, following close on the heels of The Scarlet Letter, a literary effort that is probably more popular today. The Seven Gables  is a story about family shame and redemption, a topic that Nathanial understood very well because of his grandfather the judge. Readers should realize that the story that Hawthorne placed on the seven-gabled house does not parallel the real-life events that its actual residents experienced. Instead it is a colorful look at the inner world of Nathaniel Hawthorne  in the early 19th century.

Birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne

The birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne, which has been moved a few blocks and now sits next to the House of 7 Gables

Adding To The Slushpile

Roadside in Halifax, England

In snowed yesterday here in northern New England, then turned to a heavy rain and left a real big mess. One big slush pile is what I would call the deposit that Mother Nature made on our fair city. Further inland, the ski resorts and mountain residents received a good hefty amount of snow, while further to the south, our good New England neighbors got nothing but rain. However, this pile of slush that we received yesterday is now frozen solid, but at least the rain followed in ample amounts to wash the streets and side walks clean.

Strange that this real-life, slush dumping would arrive almost exactly at the same time that I had finished my six month contribution to another proverbial slush pile. That is the one accumulated by editors and especially literary agents, as they wade through the weighty stacks of paper and endless lists of e-mail submissions that eager and ambitious novelists and writers, like myself, have so graciously sent their way in hopeful anticipation of that ever-so-elusive intangible object, known as the book contract.

Fortunately, by time this latest snow event had come our way, I had called it quits on my contribution to the literary slush pile. Nearly 100 queries and only two real requests for written material have left me in the same boat as sports fans everywhere, who can be heard around the country uttering the famous words, “Wait until next year!”.

pile of paper

A pile of paper

I think I have given my fair share to the ideas of literary quest during this year, but have I learned anything from my unsuccessful endeavors. The answer to that timely question is a definite yes. And here’s what I have gathered in from events.

Some writers do succeed in becoming authors via sending large numbers queries to one of the many literary agents, located around the country, but they are few and far between. I think it is fair to say that submitting unsolicited queries is a long shot, but there might be better ways to achieve the impossible. Here are a few of my suggestions.

1 – Getting to know agents at conferences and other similar gatherings will greatly improve your chance of finding an agent.

2 – Finding a referral from an established writer or other important literary person will also open doors for you.

3 – Getting an MFA in Creative Writing will not get you a book contract, but it may get you a teaching job or some other kind of similar employment.

4 – Bitching to an agent about a rejection slip is a complete waste of time and energy.

5 – Publishing short stories in well read and admired literary journals can be of great benefit.

Skiers in slush

Skiers attempting to navigate the slushpile

And for those of you who are so inclined to undertake such an endeavor, here are two links that list literary agents and provide some basic info about each one. You can find Query tracker at this address and there is also Agent Query, which can be located here. They both are very good and inclusive, and also free, but I have a slight preference for Query Tracker. This is partly due to their blog and partly due to the way they organize their site.

And finally for those of you who like to keep tabs on what literary agents are up to and how they operate, here is a partial and incomplete list of some of the more popular blogs put out by agents. Probably the post popular blog is that published by Nathan Bransford, who is an agent for Curtis and Brown in San Francisco. You can check out the blog here and find out why for yourself why he is so popular. Another interesting blog is Call My Agent, which is put out by an Australian literary agent, who goes by the name of Agent Sydney. I have also mentioned the blog put out by Query Tracker. This daily (weekdays only) posting actually involves four bloggers, who post on a rotating basis. And then there is Guide To Literary Agents put out by Chuck Sambuchino, which is always a good read. And of course, last but not least is the fabulous rant once published by a fictitious Miss Snark. She hasn’t posted since May 2007, but her fabulous and humorous comments are still worth the time and effort. Be sure to check them out as the whole blog can still be read online.

Good day and I hope you find this post helpful, Everett Autumn

First Snowfall

December snow Shadows

Shadows from a December snowfall

Our first snowfall arrived Saturday night and when I awoke on Sunday morning Mother Nature had left us with several inches of the white stuff. It pretty much covered everything and since the sun came out bright and shiny on the day after, I ventured out with my little compact digital camera to see what I could do with the shadows. Here are the results.

Photographing freshly-fallen snow on a sunny day can be a daunting task, if you don’t take some time to access the overall conditions and study the lighting when can be quite intense in contrast. Often it is better to make pictures in the early morning light or late afternoon, when the sun is not so intense.

For an interesting picture it is nifty idea to study the shadows and let the long black lines that go zigzagging across the white surface be the main compositional element of your picture.

Walking around your local neighborhood or even your backyard can be a lot of fun, even after a small snowfall. Here is what i shot on our first snow event of the year, which left us with a few inches here in Portland, Maine. All in all it was a relaxing diversion from my writing.

December Snow Shadow

First Snowfall Leaves Portland Area Covered In White

December snow Shadow

Shadows in the snow

Coen Brothers Have A New Movie

scene from A Serious Man

scene from A Serious Man

Here is a still picture from the newest release by Joe and Ethan Coen, entitled A Serious Man. It is an image of the main character standing on the roof of his own home, which is located in a very mundane and grassy suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The setting works very well for this mastery-told story that follows the trials and tribulations of a Jewish Physics Professor, Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg).

This image is everywhere, as a promotion for the film. Only after seeing the movie did I realize that this particular still, both satirizes and also confirms the archetype of “The Fiddler On the Roof”. I think it is safe to say that this scene, where Larry Gopnik has to climb up on the roof to adjust the family TV antennae, so that his teenage son can watch F-Troop, is designed as a late sixties version of the classic Jewish tale. In fact throughout this thoroughly engaging film, there is the constant presence of Jewish religious thought, often portrayed by a series of rabbis both young and green and old and learned. But don’t let the presence of a large number of religious leaders deter anyone from viewing this comic gem of a movie. For in this witty piece of cinematic storytelling, the religious message is relayed through a series of humorous, entertaining and sometimes tragic events. The movie makes the forever valid assertion that good storytelling involves tragedy and misfortune as often as it does triumph and success.

Coen Brothers

Coen Brothers on the set of O Brother

This movie is really two fables. The first one occurs in the past, somewhere in Poland, where the three characters where clothing and inhabit a setting straight out of Fiddler on the Roof. This excellent piece is very short and at first appears to have no relationship to the main tale. The bulk of the movie follows Professor Gropnik through an extraordinary series of mid-life crises that seemed to have come his way by divine providence,  just to rattle his soul and test his faith.

All in all, A Serious Man is a very good perhaps even a great movie, which was written from scratch by the two talented brothers. This cinematic episode is another fine effort from these two, as the pair continues to leave their artistic stamp on the Hollywood movies of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Hope all is well, as we quickly approach the Holiday season and New Year. Best wishes Everett Autumn.

Christopher Hitchens Sounds Off On Swedish Crime Fiction

Swedish Movie Poster

Swedish Movie Poster for Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Here is the Swedish movie poster for The Girl With The Golden Tattoo, which has already been released to Scandinavian audiences at the cinema and also on DVD (Swedish only). Meanwhile back here in the states, Hollywood has purchased rights for the story, but has yet to reach the casting stage for the film.  The movie comes from a novel written by the recently-deceased (2004) Swedish author, Stieg Larsson, who is currently taking the literary world of crime fiction by storm with his recent release of a crime trilogy, of which this book is the first. Also available in English (or soon to be) are The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Does Anybody see a trend here.

Recently, Stieg Larsson made headlines by picking top awards at the U.S mystery convention, Boucheron. In fact Scandinavian Crime Fiction has become the talk of the literary world, most evident that noted author and TV commentator, Christopher Hitchens, who has sounded off on the late Mr. Larsson with a recent article in Vanity Fair. Christopher does an excellent job of delving into the dark side of Swedish life and the emergence or rather the continual presence of extreme right and pro Nazi forces in modern day Sweden. Anyone, who thinks this Nordic country is a poster advertisement for idyllic Socialist life should definitely read Mr. Hitchens article and maybe even one of Mr. Larsson’s lengthy novels as well.

Dont’ forget that in the mid-eighties Sweden lost a prime minister to assassination, a crime which still has not been solved. During this era, Stieg Larsson was a reporter who wrote about Sweden’s undercurrent of drug dealings, criminals and right wing extremists, who survived and sometimes thrived in the industrial Scandinavian nation. Some readers attribute Larsson’s death at age 50 to evil forces, especially since it occurred on November 9th, the date of Hitler’s Kristallnacht, but many more suggest his death was the result of extreme overwork, chain smoking and poor nutrition. Whatever the cause of demise, the trilogy of books is causing quite a stir, not to mention that each written piece will generate a movie, both in Sweden and the U.S.

Picture of the swedisn author

Picture of the swedisn author

One important note is that Stieg had plans for at least ten full-length novels, but in reality did not get past the first three. Still, considering the length of each piece, this is quite an accomplishment in itself and I’m sure that his readers will immensely enjoy the published effort.

In recent years, Scandinavia (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) have seen a bountiful cultural resurgence not only in literature, but also in contemporary and traditional music. Perhaps, it is the recent economic surge that has come to these northern countries or maybe it is the awakening of  old flames and aspirations. But no matter what the reason for the cultural expression,  the authors and musicians of this small corner of the world do not seem to be finished with their current creative mood.