Pink Floyd: The Endless River

Pink Floyd: The Endless RiverThe Endless River

Pink Floyd

If David Gilmore is to be believed, this is the end of Pink Floyd. And what an end it is. Some of it ambient. Some of it loud and psychedelic. All of it Floyd in a way A Momentary Lapse of Reason tried to be in 1987.

This album is Floyd more in how it differs from previous work than how similar it is. In the late 1960s, the band tried an album of long-form suites called Umma Gumma in the wake of Syd Barrett’s breakdown and departure. Ironically, Barrett’s solo work proved to be more coherent and interesting, but then the remaining four Floyds still did not know what Pink Floyd was without their eccentric front man. Building on work left over from The Division Bell and around the late Rick Wright’s keyboard work, David Gilmore and Nick Mason revisit the Umma Gumma concept to tell the story, mostly without lyrics, of a band called Pink Floyd. There have been Syd Barrett albums by Floyd and Roger Waters albums and David Gilmore albums, all with Nick Mason weaving some of the sonic flourishes through it from Meddle on until now. There has never really been a Rick Wright album. As “Side 1″ (really, the first three pieces) shows, Wish You Were Here came closest. There are keyboard phrases that hearken back to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” really Wright’s greatest performance with Floyd.

“Side 2,” or the second trio of songs, goes all the way back to the Barrett era and Atom Heart Mother and makes one wonder if Waters sat in listening to the finished recording splitting some herb with his former bandmates. My first thought on hearing the album was that Barrett was actually louder on this album than Wright, and Wright’s fingerprints are all over this, six years after his death and 44 years after Barrett recorded his last note.

Even Waters is present in the bass work, some of which is played by Wright’s son-in-law and Gilmore-era bassist Guy Pratt. Instead of pretending he quit the band in a fit of rage, Gilmore and Mason are telling his part of the story. In interviews, Waters is gracious about his absence Whereas he once railed against the Gilmore/Wright version of Floyd as a fraud, he simply laughs and says, “I left Pink Floyd in 1985.” (Though he and Mason have voiced a desire for one last bow following the 2008 Live 8 performance.)

Many have said it stopped being Floyd when Waters quit in 1985. He, Gilmore, and Mason would disagree. Since his death in 2008, the trio has acknowledged that Wright was the actual essential member. 1983′s Wright-less The Final Cut was essentially a Waters solo album. 1987′s A Momentary Lapse of Reason was written with the idea bringing Wright back, but lacked something that did not bring back all the fans. The Division Bell saw a return to the thematic and musical coherence of albums from Dark Side of the Moon through Animals, but ultimately left many Floyd fans unsatisfied.

The Endless River acknowledges all that was Pink Floyd in all its many incarnations. It’s not a radio-friendly album, and maybe that’s why this coda may be one of the band’s best efforts. It’s all Floyd in 53 minutes that quotes the past without being derivative of it.

Getting It Right

red-inked manuscript

(C) 2008 Nic McPhee, used under Creative Commons

Northcoast Shakedown and Second Hand Goods were edited. Road Rules and Bad Religion were heavily beta read.  Now, as I prepare to publish Gypsy’s Kiss, the final Nick Kepler story, I need to see how to handle that. To that end, I’ve started speaking with an editor.

The rates are extremely reasonable, and I’m already familiar with the lady’s work. So it’s not like I scraped the bottom of the barrel to find a starving college student.

This part really concerned me as Gypsy will likely not see traditional publication. I also have two novellas and a novel written as Dick that need editing.

I’m not naming names yet as we haven’t agreed to rates or even figured out what work the manuscript needs. There were two that I wanted to hire, but I could not justify the expense. (It would be money well-spent, just hard to explain to the wife when we have car payments, a mortgage, liquor tab utlilities, etc. to pay.) The first was Seattle freelance editor and writer Jim Thomsen. (And I highly recommend him just based on some editing advice he’s given me over time.) The other was Bryon Quertermous, who went freelance for a while after Exhibit A Books folded. I know both by work and by reputation, and if I was selling more copies, I’d have likely picked Jim for the Kepler and possibly Holland Bay (Historical fiction writer Brian Thornton stepped up in a barter deal for that.) and Bryon for Dick’s scifi adventures as Bryon used to do work for an SF imprint. (Incidentally, Bryon, if you’re still taking clients, by all means, chime in.)

I still want to work with these guys at some point, but the pump needs to be primed. Good editing is an investment and not something you want to do on the cheap.  I’ve found someone with proven ability who is building a client list. So it’s a convergence of needs. What would I have done if I didn’t have this opportunity?

Barter. Heavy beta reads. Sometimes, you have to do that. The reality is that indie pub is, as Chuck Wendig puts it, a shit volcano. There are things you can do to make your work standout: Good covers, social media blitz and blog touring, recruiting street teams, etc. But in the end, you have to write a good story. I’ve heard a few people question the value of freelance editing, including a couple of once-successful midlisters who should know better. (They’re not exactly hurting going independent.) I’ve taken it as a given that the worst person to edit or even proofread something is the person who wrote the work. Too much of the work is still in your head, and we can’t read your mind.

Heavy beta reads can work. They got Road Rules into an agent’s hands and a couple of sniffs away from publication. But full editing, be it developmental or copy/line editing, is better. An editor is tasked with taking what you wrote and making it do what you wanted it to do better. The best editors are like Rick Rubin, producer extraordinaire, who makes suggestions and lets his artists handle the creative heavy lifting. This has let him work with everyone from Johnny Cash to the Beastie Boys to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A good editor does not rewrite your work. They tell you what needs rewritten, cut, added.But you’re the one that does it and fixes the rest so the changes fit seamlessly. It should be that way. It’s your work. They show you how to be you better than you were before.

Friday Reviews: Bread and Blood Relatives by Ed McBain

Bread by Ed McBainBread

McBain shakes up his 87th Precinct series once more by introducing one of its best known characters in this 1974 installment. Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes have one of bigoted Andy Parker’s cases dumped in their laps by a distraught warehouse owner who suffered a fire. Seems Parker did the minimum work required, never filed a report, and went on vacation. Carella, who punched Parker in the squad room, has to go visit Parker, whose idea of a vacation is sitting around in his underwear swilling beer.

Carella and Hawes begin pulling strings and find themselves crossing paths with Fat Ollie Weeks, another bigoted cop. Unlike Parker, Weeks is actually, yanno, good. Between the three of them, they uncover shady real estate dealings in one of Isola’s worst neighborhoods, a call girl ring, and a case of insurance fraud involving a German company.

This novel is a bit more light-hearted than the previous installment, Hail to the Chief. Hail was politically charged and captured the tension of the early 1970′s perfectly. Bread moves the 87th Precinct firmly into the 70′s, however. The one-time World War II vets of the squad are now implied to have served in Vietnam, one of the problems with putting characters on a sliding calendar. But it’s the mid-1970′s, and when even the most benign prejudices surface, we feel the black characters’ discomfort and humiliation more. Plus, Parker has become obsolete at this point. At this point in time, Parker would already face civil rights charges simply for his behavior toward Detective Arthur Brown.

Hence, Ollie Weeks. Ollie is a bigot, but he’s more of an Archie Bunker type vs. Parker, who belongs in a stereotypical Southern town. Weeks’ bias is not so much deliberate as it is ignorant. He apologizes to one suspect when he realizes the man is probably clean, but is genuinely puzzled when Carella calls him out for being a lout. In other words, Parker is a cardboard cutout; Weeks is complex and even tolerable. Plus McBain seems tired of having an idiot working among his cops. The hapless Rick Genero fills that role nicely.

Blood Relatives by Ed McBainBlood Relatives

If Bread had a lighter tone, Blood Relatives goes dark. Very dark.

We open with a bloodied Patricia Lowery staggering into the 87th Precinct to announce that her cousin was raped and murdered before her eyes. The killer than tried to do the same to her. Meanwhile, a patrolman finds said cousin lying dead in the rain, obviously violated and dead. What follows is a twisting, winding tale of obsession, incest, and misdirection. At first, Patricia describes an unknown man, then accuses her brother, who had an obsession with his first cousin. Eventually, Bert Kling and Steve Carella find the dead girl’s diary, which reveals yet another suspect. The ending is disturbing, surprising, and tragic.

Becoming Dean Wesley

Dean Wesley Smith is a freak of nature. The man regularly produces 80,000 words. A month. That averages out to 20,000 words a week or roughly 2700 words a day. Stephen King writes 2000 words a day, but his output is slower. Yes, I just said someone who writes his own work is faster than Stephen King.

I’m no Dean Wesley Smith. I have a full time job that threatens to suck up more than its allotted 40 hours per week. (The dangers of working in e-commerce.) And I have a bachelors degree I should have finished a few presidents ago I’m still working on.

Still, I devote my early mornings to writing original work. My lunch hours are given over to revising work in the pipeline. As a result, there are three stories in the can for the first Winter’s Quarterly due out in January, two seasonal stories that have appeared in Get Into Jim’s Shorts, and three science fiction stories in Dick’s name making rounds, with three more in beta. I did three novellas over the summer and am about ti revise one of them.

Even a year ago, I would not have dreamed of producing this much. Indeed, the idea of doing my own magazine (thanks to a dearth of paying crime markets) would have seemed impossible. But I have to write for two bylines which do not acknowledge each other. The rule has become “Do at least 500 words of original work every morning.” Even the bogus rocker autobiography contributes to this.

That’s not to say I don’t deal with betas or want to deal with editors. Why else would “Dick” be sending so much stuff out to science fiction markets? Or a novella to an editor? Or why would I be working with an agent on Holland Bay.

The biggest benefit of all for this has been that annoying problem when I finish a work: “What do I do next?”

Now the problem is “When do I get a break?”

It doesn’t make me Dean Wesley Smith. But it does tell me how he does what he does.

This Old House

Last week was a rough one at Chateau Nita. We live in a four-room postwar cottage in a quiet suburb, one that predates the subdivisions despised in the old Rush song. The house is sturdy but has show its age in recent years. We had to have a drain ripped out as the World War II-era line out of the kitchen sink. Last year, we replaced the furnace after 30 years of faithful service. So we’re on top of it. Right?

Um…

Friday night, with AJ at work and Nita out with her sister for her birthday, I found myself alone enjoying the one of the last nights with the windows open. We had not run the air conditioner in about a week or two. Only the temperature dropped below 65. That’s a tad chilly for my tastes, so I fired up ye olde furnace and…

Nothing. Well, maybe it needs a few minutes to kick in. It’s a new furnace, works differently than the old one. Right? Fifteen minutes later, it’s 60 degrees. I put the furnace on 75. Crap.

One of the things you learn growing up poor is how to make do when something expensive breaks. So I decided it was time to make a frozen pizza even though I’d eaten not that long ago. And I forgot to turn the oven off. I forgot until the house temperature rose to about 68 degrees.

Unfortunately, the guy who installed our furnace wouldn’t get out to us until the following week. Since this wasn’t a particularly cold week, I arranged an afternoon off to meet him on Thursday. A nice, new space heater could do the job until then. So, that’s all we had to worry about. Right?

I come home Tuesday night to find a very angry Nita waiting for me. The deadbolt on the back door broke. In the locked position. It snapped on AJ before he went to work, and, in a panic, he focused on getting the door off. Unfortunately, he had to leave, so Nita discovered the broken lock all over again. She had the same reaction. I’d found out about it by the time I got home, so my reaction was not one of panic. (Otherwise, I’d have been screaming about how the damn deadbolt broke.)

So I spent Wednesday stewing about it. That thing couldn’t wait until my afternoon off. Nobody wanted to walk the dog around the house every time she needed to go out. And anyway, don’t people in apartment buildings get locked out all the time? How do they get their doors open? I found myself alone again the next night and hit Google. One short knife and a screwdriver later, I had the latch popped, locked in the open position, and duct-taped.

So we could at least use the back door.

The next day, the lock guy and the furnace guy arrived at the same time. The lock, we were pleased to discover, was something the shop kept in stock. The furnace… That took a while. Part of it was a pressure switch, which sometimes clogs up on modern furnaces. OK, no problem. My guy got a piece of wire to clean that out with. Only we had one other problem. I Googled “Why doesn’t my furnace start” and learned about condensation pumps. The float on these sometimes gets stuck (usually when you run the AC, but sometimes the furnace.) So I drained all the water out of the pump and its lines.

Er… That made the pressure switch problem worse. I drained too much water out of the lines. A couple cups of water back in and… Hey, whattaya know. Heat. And just in time, too. That night, the temperatures would fall below thirty for the first time this year. The new space heater wasn’t going to cut it.

While the lock was something we could not predict, the furnace… Moral of the story: Keep things tuned up. It’s a cold winter if you don’t.

Friday Reviews: Secret Windows by Stephen King

Secret Windows by Stephen KingSecret Windows

Stephen King

The follow-up to his classic writing memoir, On Writing, compiles a series of essays, lectures, and the odd short piece of fiction on the craft of writing. Meant to be a companion piece to the former book, Secret Windows takes its name from the novella of the same name, later a Johnny Depp movie. The intro to the original Secret Windows is here, as is a large chunk of Danse Macabre, King’s first non-fiction book on the subject of modern horror.

Many people wonder why horror is so full of absolute dreck, and yet King is considered one of our premier novelists.It’s simple. King writes about us. His setting is a fictionalized version of Maine. Derry, setting for It is Bangor, right down to the canal bisecting downtown. Castle Rock is the same small town where King grew up. Dark Score Lake and TR90, from The Dark Half and Bag of Bones, are the same lakeside unincorporated township where the King family has a summer home, and where King himself had an unhappy collision with a Dodge minivan that nearly killed him.

In other words, King takes his own everyday reality, clones it into his fiction, and drops in horror elements to take his characters out of their comfort zones (or even the land of the living.) Ed McBain did this with New York City. And even when the cities are real, authors use that same familiarity to plunge something out of the ordinary into otherwise unremarkable, or at least predictable, lives. That’s why King’s horror works.

The best part of the book is the lectures. King doesn’t call them lectures. He just riffs for an hour or two to his audience, sometimes vulgar and cranky, sometimes like a favorite uncle telling you stories about where he works. In either case, he’s very comfortable, showing us that writers are no different from anyone else. They just have more vivid imaginations. He also questions the sanity of people who think you have to be insane to write horror. Isn’t it insane, he posits, to pretend bad things don’t happen? He thinks that’s why a novel like Salem’s Lot worked. The people most offended by it were the people being skewered. (And, as a side note, the vampire and his toadie seemed to be the most normal people in that book.)

What didn’t work for me was plunking down 150 pages of Danse Macabre in the middle of the book. I already read Danse Macabre. A short excerpt would have been fine, but without those chapters, the book would have been 250-300 instead of 431 and still held the reader’s interest.

Still, if you haven’t read any of King’s non-fiction, this isn’t a bad intro. It’s also expensive, with both the paperback and hard cover editions listed as $40 new on Amazon. Obviously, it’s meant for collectors and King aficionados.