scop (noun):

Old English – bard, minstrel, storyteller

Fiction for the Ears:
Storytelling for Shut-Ins

March 30th, 2020

[…] there would be three months of enforced isolation and leisure, between the harvest that takes place just before the rise of the swamps and the clearing of new farms when the water goes down […]. As the swamps rose, the old men found it too difficult the walk from one homestead to the next, and […] as the swamps rose even higher all activities but one came to an end […]. They drank and sang or they drank and told stories.

The above is from “Shakespeare in the Bush” (1966) by anthropologist Laura Bohannan. Recounting the activities of a Nigerian tribe during the rainy season, it serves as a reminder that social isolation is hardly new.

In the past, when nature forced communities inward, people relied on songs and stories to see them through. (And yes, they also drank, but that’s a topic for another post.) We see similar examples throughout history – from the traveling storytellers of Anglo-Saxon mead-halls (see earlier posts An Evening of 21st-Century Scops and  Scop 101) to the bards of ancient Greece.

Thus, to cope with what for us is a new normal, we can revert to the old – the transporting power of song and story.

If this were the Nigerian rainy season depicted in “Shakespeare in the Bush” or a long Anglo-Saxon winter in early Britain, we’d need to gather physically for a storytelling session. But we have other options.

Thanks to the good folks at The Wicked Library, I have a new story to share. It’s titled “The Other Kind,” and it centers on a man who has chosen a life of social isolation, a wounded warrior who finds uncanny meaning in his nightmares.

Are you with me? If so, I’ll meet you in the library. The doors are open. You can enter via Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, the Wicked Library website, or by simply clicking the player below.

Come inside. I have a story to share.

Listen to “TWL 1002: “The Other Kind”, by Lawrence C. Connolly” on Spreaker.

Images:

A bushman tribal chief acts out a story as a group of children sit around him, the southern Kalahari Desert in central-southern Africa, 1947. (Photo by Nat Farbman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Beowulf in the Mead-Hall by John Henry Frederick Bacon, from Hero Myths and Legends of the British Race, 1910.

The Wicked Library Season 10 artwork by Jeanette Andromeda. 

 

Surviving World War C:
Music to Span the Social Distance

March 24th, 2020

Last week’s post offered a list of “Podcasts for Shut-Ins,” which included what was then an unreleased installment of Inside The Hive. Although I had expected that podcast to feature an interview with screenwriter Scott Burns (Contagion), it instead offered a conversation with radio host Kai Ryssdal (Marketplace). Titled “Coronovirus against the World,” the interview concluded with Ryssdal giving some sage advice: “You got to know what the news is, but you don’t have to know what it is all the time. Just check in once or twice a day and then take care of yourself.”

So let’s assume that you have addressed the latter. You are stocked up, settled in, and asymptomatic. Situation stable. Now what?

This time, I’d like to offer some music recommendations. And, in keeping with this blog’s consideration of the writing life, we’ll focus on the work of contemporary writers who are also musicians.

Image: “Typewriter + guitar = steampunk,” guitarpang.wordpress.com

Up first: The Theatre of Time, an album of ambient music featuring the ethereal guitar of fantasy artist and author Martin Springett. I’ve written about Martin’s music before, in the posts “The River of Stars Suite” (April 2014) and “Ready to be Reborn” (October 2015).

Lately, I’ve been playing his collection The Theatre of Time in heavy rotation. The album opens with “Gypsy Caravan (Soul Of A Rose)” – a shimmering blend of eastern sitar, electric guitar, and acoustic twelve-string. By turns meditative and rollicking, the tune — like much of Martin’s music — has the power to lift the soul and take it for a cosmic spin.

You can listen to Martin’s music for free online, but you’ll likely want to pay the piper for the benefit of downloading and taking the magic with you. The music is the perfect accompaniment for a solitary walk, sitting in the grass — or any of your favorite social-distance activities.

You’ll find six of Martin’s albums available for instant play and permanent download at his Bandcamp page.

Keeping with the prog-rock vibe, I also recommend the album Symphony for a Million Mice from the band Horsefeathers. Featuring lead vocals by writer, director, producer Mick Garris, Horsefeathers began in the early 70s with a sound that the band describes as “commedia dell’arte rock.” Their vintage recordings (largely unreleased when they were together) have now been remixed, remastered, and released as a full-length CD that is as much fun as the band’s name implies.

You can hear the entire album at the Horsefeather’s website, where you can also order the CD in either a regular or signed edition.

If you’re interested in the work singer-songwriters, you’ll want to check out the music of sf writer Sarah Pinsker. According to the Windy City Times, “Pinsker’s original songs are catchy and hummable. They will lift your spirits […] and then set your spirit free.” I first heard Sarah when we performed together at the Baltimore Book Festival in 2013. I’ve been a fan ever since.

You can hear excerpts, download tracks, and order CDs at Sarah’s CD Baby page. You can also catch a terrific interview/performance recorded live at Paste Studios in NYC.

Another singer-songwriter dominating my playlist is Craig Spector, whose life story is as inspiring as his tunes.

After graduating with honors from the Berklee College of Music, Craig went on to become a New York Times bestselling author, screenwriter, editor, and songwriter. His solo albums Resurrection Road (2017), Outposts (2018), and Kicking Cans (2019) are distinguished by virtuoso guitar playing, soulful vocals, and powerful lyrics. Consider the opening lines of  “Gratitude,” from his forthcoming CD Dangertown: “Just as it seems that all is lost and everything is ash / comes a feeble bit of light like a preternatural flash, /and in that moment we can see the cost / and everything is clear.”

According to his website, Craig began living with stage-four cancer in 2016. Of the experience, he writes: “The last few years have been a journey, and what a strange trip it’s been.”

And what an inspiring one, considering the musical output that began with Resurrection Road and promises to continue with Dangertown.

You can read more of Craig’s story on his website, where you’ll also be able to play and order his music.

Finally, I’ve just received a preview CD from P.G. Sturges and R.C. Matheson, the writer-musicians who (along with Craig Spector) brought us Smash Cut, (reviewed here in August 2018). Titled Fool Skool, the new CD features Sturges on guitar and vocals, Matheson on drums, and a cadre of fellow musicians who together call themselves Pearly King & The Temple Thieves. The CD features ten tracks of indie rock that are about as solid as anything I’ve heard.

Executive producer David Pascal of Pascal Records reports that Fool Skool will be available within a month or so, and I’ll be posting a complete review with details on where to find it soon. In the meantime, their previous album Smash Cut is available on YouTube. Click here to play, and I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as Skool’s in session.

One final note (a public service announcement, if you will):

These days of social distance have been particularly tough on musicians. I speak from experience since the Celtic-influenced music of both the Laughrey-Connolly and Connolly-Davis Bands usually keeps me hopping on and around St. Patrick’s Day. For years we have played March shows to SRO crowd. But not this year.

Moreover, although there might have been a time when a reasonably successful band could rely on recorded music to earn its keep, these days the money is mostly in live performances.  Recognizing the challenge, the music platform Bandcamp recently held a sale to raise awareness regarding “the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere,” during which they waived their revenue share to “put much-needed money directly into artists’ pockets.”

So … if you enjoy the music featured above, and if you have the ability to do so, you might consider purchasing a few downloads. You’ll be supporting original music, and the tunes will be yours to play wherever you want.

For now, I’ll leave you with a video featuring the music and art of Martic Springett from the album The Gardening Club — sights and sounds to span the social distance.

Podcasts for Shut-Ins:
Tune In, Hunker Down

March 19th, 2020

I’ve been trying to track down a piece that I heard on NPR following the 9-11 attacks. I can’t remember who delivered it, but the voice in my memory sounds like Scott Simon. It was a reflective piece about the uncertainty felt in the aftermath of the attacks, a time when the country was bracing for an uncertain future.

As I recall, the commentator contrasted the moment with bombings in Europe during WWII, when people would hunker down and await the all-clear. The piece ended with the question: Will there ever be an all-clear this time?

That question seems even more relevant now.

Today, as we adjust to a world profoundly different from the one we knew a couple of weeks ago, it may be difficult to believe things will ever return to a semblance of normal. Yet, though there are never guarantees, the odds are in our favor if we follow the guidelines offered by the CDC and other reliable sources — all of which urge avoiding close contact as much as possible.

Unfortunately, isolation leads to other problems, not the least of which is a sense of disconnection and boredom.  If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home, you already have part of the day covered. But what do you do with your downtime?

Books have always worked for me, and being able to download them from reliable vendors (a.k.a ones-that-pay-the-authors) makes it possible to access virtually anything without leaving the home. It’s the same with movies, where Universal is now making its latest theatrical releases available on your favorite streaming services. But lately, I’ve been turning to podcasts, where the conversations provide a sense of social connection. And unlike reading books and watching movies, I can tune in while walking, working out, cleaning my office, or doing home repairs that are not as easy to ignore as they used to be.

So what have I been listening to? Glad you asked. Here (in no particular order) are a few that work for me. Your mileage may vary, but all are worth a test drive.

First up is Inside the Hive from Vanity Fair. Hosted by tech-writer Nick Bilton, the blog covers technology, politics, and current events, with each show centering on a one-hour (give or take) conversation with writers, journalists, scientists, and political commentators. If you’re interested in checking it out, you might start with an episode from October titled “Sam Harris Explains Why There’s No Free Will” — just the thing to divert the mind from the fight-or-flight drive that seems to be running our lives today. Or, if you’re looking for an up-to-the-minute conversation about the current health crisis, you’ll want to check out this week’s show, where screenwriter Scott Burns (Contagion) is slated to talk about pandemics and other things related to the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century.

You’ll find it all at Vanity Fair, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. The interview with Scott Burns drops on Friday, March 20.

And if you want more conversation on the current state of affairs – and particularly if you like the Sam Harris interview on Inside the Hive – you’ll want to check out the most recent installments of Making Sense, where neuroscientist, philosopher, and best-selling author Sam Harris interviews Yale professor Nicholas A. Christakis (Episode 190), Johns Hopkins disease specialist Amesh Adalja (Episode 191), and psychologist Paul Bloom (Episode 192).

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a break from the challenges of the day, you might download Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast with Frank Santopadre, in which a hyperkinetic comedian (Gottfried) and a television writer (Santopadre) interview screenwriters, songwriters, comedians, directors, actors, and other folks who helped shape pop culture in the twentieth century.

Some of the best conversations are with people you may not have heard from in a while, like Michael Nesmith (guitarist for the Monkees) or Ron Dante (frontman for the Archies). The conversations are free-ranging and spontaneous, with the most interesting ones held together by Santopadre’s encyclopedic knowledge of each guest’s career. And Gottfried is hysterical, although there are times when he goes completely off the rails (as in a recent interview with Tony and Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan). You might find him an acquired taste, but when his antics work, there’s no one funnier.

And if you’re a horror fan, you might try Post Mortem with Mick Garris, which features interviews with some of the biggest names in scary movies. Currently produced by Fangoria, the podcast has featured conversations with Stephen King, Barbara Crampton, John Carpenter, and others. As a writer, director, and producer in his own right, Garris always makes the interviews sound like conversations between friends.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog might be the Post Mortem episode “Live at the Fantasia Film Festival,” recorded following the world premiere of Nightmare Cinema. It features directors Joe Dante, Ryuhei Kitamura and Alejandro Brugués along with writers Richard Christian Matheson, Sandra Becerril and the 21st-Century Scop himself in an hour-long conversation moderated by Fangoria’s own Tony Timpone. Pull up a chair and join us.

Also in the horror vein, there’s The Wicked Library, now in its 10th season of delivering novelette-length fiction for the ears. This year’s season kicks off just with the release of a new story by British writer Christopher Long. Read by Louie Pollard, scored by Nico Vetesse, and produced by 9th Story Studios, “Shiny Entrails” provides an interesting blend of psychological and ecological horror that rewards repeated listening. I found it a welcome diversion from the real horrors in the news streams of the day.

That’s some of what I’ve been listening to, but there’s lots more where that came from. Good thing too because it looks like it could be a while before we get the all-clear. Until then — hunker down, tune in … and scop on!

Walking and Talking:
Things to Come in 2020

February 29th, 2020

“If you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk.” You know the expression. It’s all about the importance of doing, as in Death of a Salesman, where all-talk Willy Loman is amazed to learn that all-walk Bernard is going to argue a case before the supreme court.

“The Supreme Court!” Willy says. “And he didn’t even mention it!”

To which Bernard’s father replies, “He don’t have to – he’s gonna do it!”

Don Keefer reprising his Broadway role as Bernard in the 1951 film version of Death of A Salesman, with Fredric March as Willy Loman. IMDB.com

I find it helpful to remember that exchange when I fall behind on this blog. “I’m busy walking the walk,” I tell myself, even though there are folks out there who manage both.

A few years back, I did a blog post on “The Writer & Social Media,” in which I quoted Robert J. Sawyer (one of the first sf writers to have a blog) on the current state of author websites. “Almost all author webpages are appallingly hard to read, not updated, and lacking in current content,” Sawyer said. Now, to be fair, those qualities likely results from writers being busy writing stuff that pays. Nevertheless, to avoid being one of those guys with an out-of-date webpage, I’d like to take a moment to share some news about what I’ve got cooking for 2020.

Here’s a quick preview:

First up, hot off the presses, is Issue 12 of Unnerving Magazine, the publication that a recent review in Amazing Stories called a “must-read” for fans of the horror genre. The current issue includes a feature titled “My First Horror” with Cat Rambo, Daniel Kraus, and Richard Chizmar; an interview with the prolific William Meikle; and a roster of fiction that includes my story “Circle of Lias.”

“Lias” first appeared in Tom Montelelone’s Borderlands 4 back in 1994, and though it received good notice, it has only been reprinted once (in my collection This Way to Egress) until now. “Lias” is one of my personal favorites, and I’m thrilled to have it back in print.

Next, coming to earbuds everywhere, the popular horror-story podcast The Wicked Library will soon be launching its tenth season with a roster of all-new creepy tales.

Founded by writer and vocal performer Nelson W. Pyles, The Wicked Library’s stated mission is “to provide a showcase where you can find the work of the best existing and up-and-coming voices working in the world of Speculative Fiction and Horror.” The episodes are performed by a talented team of voice actors and produced by Daniel Foytik of 9th Story Studios, with musical scores by resident composer Nico Vetesse.

Each installment is available for free at The Wicked Library website, where listeners have the opportunity to access additional content by signing on as a patreon member. It’s money well spent.

Season 10 of The Wicked Library launches in March, and among the stories will be my new novelette “The Other Kind,” for which I’ll also be doing the audio narration. But there’s no reason to wait until then to become a listener. Dive in now, and you’ll be hooked when “The Other Kind” lands in your podcast queue. I recommend starting with Season 9’s “Cinnamon to Taste,” by Christi Nogle. Featuring a strong performance by Sara Ruth Thomas; it was my introduction to the series, and I’ve been a regular listener ever since.

And coming up in the journal Dissections, I’ll have a new essay titled “Existential Threats” in the forthcoming issue, which is scheduled to coincide with this year’s installment of The International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts to be held March 18-21 in Orlando, Florida. The essay presents what I trust is a timely consideration of two vintage short stories — Ray Bradbury’s “The Murderer” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “Dial F for Frankenstein.” Considered together, the stories present a dire warning for the world of 2020. I’ll share a link to the issue as soon as it’s available.

Also in the works is a U.S. edition of Nightmares. The Mexican release generated good notice when it made its debut at the SusteFest International Film Festival in Valle de Santiago last October. The new edition will contain the first U.S. publication of Mick Garris’s “Chocolate” (the story that became the basis for his Masters of Horror segment of the same name), the first English-language publication of a story by Sandra Becerril (one of Mexico’s bestselling horror writers), a gripping piece of psychological terror by Richard Christian Matheson, and the first-ever American reprint of one of my tales from This Way to Egress. We’re also working on including some special content that will be new to the American edition. I hope to have more to report on this one soon.

Until then … scop on!