Mark Duplass is My Spirit Animal

What can I say about 2016 that hasn’t already been said? It was a difficult year filled with countless hurdles, heartbreaking losses, and growing uneasiness about the future. Yes, 2016 felt like a never-ending downward spiral, however, it also turned out to be a breakthrough year for me on my journey of self-discovery.

In 2016 I saw a wonderful film called Blue Jay, written by Mark Duplass (side note: I’ve discovered over the last several years that Mark Duplass is in fact my spirit animal, and our iPods are soul mates). The movie is a nostalgic, gut-wrenching tale of two former high school sweethearts reconnecting twenty-four years later, and reflecting on their past.

Although I found the film deeply moving and poignant, it was actually something Duplass said about his inspiration to write it that resonated with me even more. He was about to turn forty-years-old, and took stock of his life, wondering if it had turned out the way he’d imagined in his youth.

“I lead the complex life of a 39-year-old husband, dad, runner of businesses. But once, I was just a 15-year-old who would stay up all night crafting a journal entry about my feelings. I was melodramatic and romantic, and I didn’t edit myself. But I suddenly woke up feeling like that person had died, and I didn’t know how to get that person back.”

These words stuck with me long after the film because I realized that’s what was happening to me. I, too, was turning forty-years-old, and an unexplained melancholy writhed in my gut. On the surface, I had no reason to complain, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I’d strayed too far from my path in life—that I’d somehow disappointed my younger self.

So, I followed Mark’s lead and took inventory of my life, and the results were surprising. Although I had much to be thankful for, what I lacked was passion, something I once had in excess. But at forty-years-old, most of my time was allocated to a job that grew more soul-crushing by the day, which drove a wedge between me and my passion.

After much introspection, I arrived at a simple conclusion: My passion is to create, and long have I neglected it. But no more. I made the decision to do something about it, starting with saying goodbye to my soul-crushing job in October.

In the two months that have since past, I’ve devoted more time and resources into feeding my passion. I feel wonderful, and exercising my creativity again has greatly improved my overall mood. While there are many things about 2016 that I can’t change, I enter 2017, hopeful, and continuing to focus on the things that I can. That path begins with the release of my new novel Icarus on January 27th.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year, and encourage you to explore your passions deeper than ever. Let’s make 2017 a brighter year together.

God Fodder: Celebrating the Album that Helped Me Overcome Bullying

One of my all-time favorite albums turned twenty-five this year: Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s “God Fodder.” This album has meant a great deal to me, and helped me through a rough period in my life. In honor of its 25th anniversary, I thought I’d share my story of how this album empowered me, and altered my course in life.

GodFodder

Middle school was a difficult time for me. I was a decent enough student and had an exemplary attendance record, but I didn’t fit in where I wanted to be in the social hierarchy. I wanted to be one of the “cool kids,” and reap the benefits of being popular: lots of friends; stylish clothes; a dab of Drakkar Noir behind the ears; and something fun going on every weekend.

Alas, it was not to be. I was an overweight, nerdy kid, and had already been labeled a loser by the upper echelon. That didn’t stop me from trying, however. I wore the hottest brands from head to toe, thinking that once the cool kids saw me in familiar clothes they’d welcome me into the fold with open arms.

Instead, they mocked me and told me I wasn’t cool enough to be wearing that stuff. On a good day, they’d make pen marks on my shirts when my back was turned. On a bad day, they’d spit loogies or throw leftover food.

This treatment continued all through middle school, and when high school rolled around, I saw it as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and try again. Unfortunately, most of those same kids came with me to the new school. So, I upped the ante. I stayed current with the latest trends, hair styles, TV shows, and music, but none of it had any effect on my social status.

The bullying only intensified. The cool kids called me names, hurled insults, and slammed me into lockers. One guy even placed tacks on my chair when I got up to hand in a homework assignment. My parents went to the principal and complained—so uncool—and I was forced to turn in my bloody underwear as “evidence.” Needless to say, my path to become cool had reached its end.

Every day began and ended in tears after that. I couldn’t deal with those mean kids anymore. I thought the bullying was the worst of it, then came the panic attacks. Getting out of bed each morning was a struggle. At first I missed a few days of school here and there. Then I missed a few days every week. In 1991, crippling anxiety eventually forced me to drop out of school all together at only 14 years old.

I began homeschooling in the evenings, which left me with a lot of free time during the day. I spent the vast majority of it watching TV. I remember flipping channels one morning and a bright and colorful video on MTV caught my attention.

The lead singer looked like Mike Patton from Faith No More, so I listened because I didn’t recognize the song. Its melodic groove and crunchy guitars were super-catchy, much different than what I’d come to expect from Faith No More. I was hooked. I got lost in the music, tapping my foot and bobbing my head to the beat.

Much to my surprise, when the song ended it hadn’t been Faith No More at all. It was an MTV “Buzz Clip” from an English band called Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. The song: Grey Cell Green.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Grey Cell Green (Official Video) from timmi x on Vimeo.

I’d been saving my allowance for a new Super Nintendo game, but Ned’s Atomic Dustbin became priority number one. I bought their album “God Fodder” and played it nonstop for weeks. They quickly became my favorite band. We didn’t have the internet back then, so to find out more about them, I bought countless issues of Spin, Rolling Stone, NME, and Melody Maker.

Not only did my love for the band deepen through feature articles and interviews, but the magazines also helped me discover more great music I’d have otherwise been unexposed to. By the end of 1991, my musical tastes had completely transformed. I’d gone from Guns N’ Roses and Bell Biv DeVoe to new favorites including The Wonderstuff, Teenage Fanclub, Lush, Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course, Nirvana.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my musical preferences weren’t the only thing changing. I was maturing and finding myself. The “alternative scene” was about more than music. It was about rejecting the societal norms and celebrating individuality. Suddenly being popular and cool didn’t matter to me because it was all subjective. Who was anyone to tell me I wasn’t cool?

I returned to school in the fall of 1992 with newfound confidence. The overweight kid with coiffed hair and Body Glove t-shirts now had long, braided hair, concert tees, and ripped jeans. I didn’t worry about fitting in anymore. I’d become something far better than popular: me.

Dave
Me (right) in ’93

Although I’ve lost a great deal of weight since then, I’m proud to say that inside this 39-year-old body is that same 15-year-old kid… and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is still in there, too.

IMG_2373
Me in 2016

Happy Anniversary, “God Fodder,” and my sincerest thanks to Jonn, Rat, Mat, Alex, and Dan for creating incredible music, and helping a lost kid find himself.

My Favorite Book of 2015

While I spent the bulk of my free time last year writing and wasn’t able to consume as many new books as I would’ve liked, selecting my favorite read of 2015 proved to be a no-brainer: Past Dark by Tony Healey.

Past Dark by Tony Healey

I’ve enjoyed Tony’s fine work for the last several years, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch him develop and mature as a storyteller. He continues to raise the bar every year, and in 2015 he produced some incredible work, including my pick for best read, Past Dark.

Compared to much of Tony Healey’s other work, Past Dark is a slow burn. It begins as a sentimental, yet bittersweet voyage back to the summer of 1995, a time Chris Peterson spent with his best friends, Ant & Kay. Chris recalls the innocence of youth: Building go-karts, going to carnivals, dealing with bullies, a first kiss… and then something far darker. Yes, once you’ve settled in, Healey flips the script, and you’ll love it!

20 years later, tragedy draws Chris back to the town he grew up in, and old wounds are ripped open. Although Chris had escaped from a turbulent period in his childhood, returning to the scene of where it all began brings back the pain and terrifying memories.

Past Dark is masterfully told, and calls to mind the work of Stephen King. I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys traditional horror.

Get your copy on Amazon here.

Tell me your favorite books of 2015 in the comments!

Sci-Fi & Ambient Music: Like Peanut Butter & Jelly

NGC_4414_(NASA-med)Today, I want to talk to you about the importance of soundtracks. We use music to accompany a variety of tasks, such as exercise, housework, or to help us sleep. Something about music makes even the most mundane activities tolerable, and I say this as someone who has mowed an acre lot… with a push mower.

I love music, and I’m not talking about high school romance type of love. I’m talking about full-on, put a ring on its finger level of dedication. Think about a memory from your past—any memory at all. Can you still remember the song that played when it happened? If not, is there a song that reminds you of that time in your life? If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, then you *get* how amazing music can be.

Music is also a powerful mood enhancer, and some writers use that to their advantage to get into a particular mindset for their work-in-progress. I have peers who listen to loud, aggressive rock to inspire their dystopian playground, and I have peers who listen to classical music to maintain a calm state for their romance novel. Would it surprise you to know that I listen to ambient music when I write?

I know what you’re thinking: how on Earth could beautiful, ambient music inspire the crazy stuff that springs forth from my imagination, right? I don’t know how to explain the connection, but ambient music has always been a key ingredient in my storytelling recipe. The layers of sound swirl around my eardrums, and paint the scenes for me to write.

Whether I’m writing sci-fi, horror, or something in-between, there is always Hammock playing in the background. Pitchfork once referred to the Nashville duo as “Intensely visual music,” and I don’t think I could’ve said it any better myself. Their music jumps out of the speaker, and pours into the worlds I’m creating.

And I’m not alone. Hammock recently released two sci-fi inspired music videos in promotion of Oblivion Hymns (Deluxe Edition). Through these videos, watch as an immersive, gut-wrenching story unfolds without a single lyric or caption. Those emotions you’re feeling? That’s what fuels me as I create. Enjoy!

Part 1: In the Middle of This Nowhere

Part 2: My Mind Was a Fog… My Heart Became a Bomb

A Day in the Life of a Community Manager

One of the questions I’m commonly asked is “What does a community manager do?” More often than not, this is followed by “Don’t you basically just hang out on Facebook and Twitter all day?” Although I’m sure the role differs from company to company, being a community manager at EA is sort of like being an air traffic controller. Massive amounts of communication flow through the community manager, and a key part of our job is to ensure we deliver those messages on time and without flaw.

Of course that’s only one facet of the job. While coordinating messages across various teams is a crucial part of the process, we also have many other tasks and responsibilities to attend to. So, for those interested in a future of community management, I’m lifting the veil and offering an inside peek into my world. Below you will find documentation of a day in my life on the job.

tl;dr – No, we don’t just basically hang out on Facebook and Twitter all day.

 

November 4, 2014

Hour 1: 7:00am – 8:00am

  • Check email: 71 new messages overnight. Our business is global, which means the other side of the world is working while those of us in North America sleep. I log all my action items on a “To Do” list. Notepads are your friend in this line of work.
  • Review daily reports: Waiting in my inbox every morning is a report that recaps the past 24 hours on our social media channels. This is where fan feedback really comes into play. Who is talking about us? What are they saying? Are there any topics that need to be escalated to the broader team?
  • Review performance metrics: I look at yesterday’s content on our social media channels and take note of their performance. How many people did it reach? Did people seem to like the posts? Did they share the content? Can our team learn anything from this to create even cooler content in the future?
  • Prep YouTube video: It’s a bit busier morning than usual because we have a new video going up at 9am. At this point, I perform the final checks to ensure that the video is ready to go live on time for both social media and the website.
  • Submit a blog to International team: As community manager, I am sometimes asked to write blogs for various outlets across the globe. For today’s video release, I’ve written a short article for Sony’s European PlayStation blog. I use this time to review final edits, give it one last read, and then pass along to our European team.
  • Check-in with mods: A team of diligent and friendly folks help us moderate our social channels to ensure that two-way communication is always available to our fans. Some of them work overseas to cover the channels during North American off hours, so I check-in during the shift change and exchange updates.

Hour 2: 8:00am – 9:00am

  • Submit a new blog to Editing: I’ve just received approval on a proposed blog I’ve written, so now I submit it to the extremely talented Editing team for a final coat of polish. Remember this, writers: Hug your editors. They bring your best qualities forward and prevent your worst from ever seeing the light of day.
  • Review upcoming merchandise calendar: New items are added to the BioWare store each week, and during the holiday season especially, it’s more important than ever to maintain an accurate snapshot of what’s coming and when to communicate it. This week is extremely active because Friday is N7 Day, and we’re debuting new products every day until then!
  • Send a personal tweet: Since we’re releasing a new video, I like to tweet my followers on Twitter to give them a heads up. Because it’s my personal account, I can speak more casually, and do things like give spoiler warnings. I enjoy being able to interact with our community by exchanging memes, or just listening all about Cullen. 🙂
  • Check-in with graphic designer: While reviewing our weekly content schedule, I create a list of custom assets needed for our social channels. This work is done by an amazing designer named Christie. Why is she so amazing, you ask? Because I am a terrible art director, and yet she still manages to create stellar pieces of work!

Hour 3: 9:00am – 10:00am

  • Set video live: With all preparations complete, the time has come to set the video live on YouTube, and get the word out across our social channels. Right on schedule! Following that, I add the video to our ever-growing DAI playlist.
  • Check fan messages: Now that the video is live, I have some free time to check all of our private messages on Facebook and Twitter. If you’ve ever wondered who replies to those, hello! Pleased to meet you. Remember, when you send feedback, keep in mind that it does get read by a real person that wants to listen, so as best you can, please be nice. We have feelings, too. 🙂

Hour 4: 10:00am – 11:00am

  • Content review meeting – This is where team leads assemble and review the plan for the upcoming week together. Did we capture everything? Is everyone clear on the plan? Are there any new opportunities for our teams to explore together? The call wrapped ahead of schedule, so we took a few minutes to review the latest #AlexAtTarget memes. You know, for research purposes, of course. 🙂 Side note: Turns out that whole #AlexAtTarget thing was a viral marketing campaign. Who knew?
  • Review new screenshots – Our marketing team supplied a fresh batch of screens to use. I sift through them and look for ways to incorporate them into our social media content plan. What is the best way to use these? What kind of story can we tell with them? Which ones should be added to the website?
  • Test new video file – Today we’re trying something new: adding custom DAI videos to Instagram. In particular, we’ve created a short clip showing off the Sword & Shield of the Dragon from the Flames of the Inquisition arsenal pack. The first attempt needs some additional optimization, which I communicate back to the video team and await an updated version.
  • Finalize blog – The Editing team has returned the blog I submitted earlier this morning. Through tracked changes, I quickly review the recommended edits and update the text. As usual, the Editing team has worked their magic and made it better.

Hour 5: 11:00am – 12:00pm

  • Instagram update – A new version of the Instagram test video has been received from the video team. Nailed it! I post it to Instagram and keep an eye on the reaction of our community.
  • UGC review – BioWare fans create some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. No joke. We’re always on the lookout for things that we think our broader community would be interested in seeing as well. Today we came across an Inquisition rap song. Pretty amazing quality, even if rap music is not your thing.

Hour 6: 12:00pm – 1:00pm

  • Lunch – Even during a busy time such as a title launch, it’s important to always take your breaks. Sitting in front of your computer all day is not healthy, and I’ve got bills from my massage therapist to prove it. Eating a sandwich while continuing to work is not good enough. The work will still be there when you get back. Stand up, stretch, go eat lunch, and relax for an hour. That’s what it’s there for.

Hour 7: 1:00pm – 2:00pm

  • Odds and ends – Many of my co-workers have taken a later lunch today, so it’s relatively quiet right now. I use this time to review works-in-progress, and complete my portion before passing along to the next person.

Hour 8: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

  • N7 Day meetingDragon Age: Inquisition may be coming, but we’ve still got N7 Day to prepare for before it gets here. The community team reviews the agenda for this year’s N7 Day festivities, and makes sure we’re all aligned on the same page.
  • BioWare Austin meeting – Every two weeks, I meet with my counterparts at BioWare Austin to catch up, review upcoming plans, and talk shop. Eric, Courtney, and Tait are all awesome folks!
  • Revisit direct messages – With all my meetings over for the day, I have some time to go back and check new messages from our social media channels. We receive over a hundred per day, so it’s important to check them as frequently as possible.

Hour 9: 3:00pm – 4:00pm

  • Revise drafts of works-in-progress – Projects I’m working on have been sent back to me with suggested revisions. That’s one of the best parts about working as a team: everyone lends their talents to ensure that each project is representing the best quality we’re capable of.
  • Award prizes for giveaways – We do a lot of contests and giveaways on our social channels, and each week I award prizes to the latest batch of winners. If that includes you, congratulations!

Hour 10: 4:00pm – 5:00pm

  • Catching up – As the workday draws to a close, I use the last bit of daylight to catch up on any new business that has come up throughout the day. This typically includes smaller tasks such as sending screenshots to partners, answering emails, confirming details on upcoming initiatives, and general preparation for the next 24 hours.

So, there you have it. Just a typical Tuesday in the world of community management. I hope you’ve found it educational. 🙂 Got questions for me? Leave them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.

Mentors & Goodbyes: A Thank You Letter to Jessica Merizan

Most of you probably don’t know me. I am the community manager at BioWare for Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but I am not a public-facing figure. Although 99% of my job is done behind the scenes, there’s a good chance that you see my work several times a week. I don’t often step out from behind my desk, but on this occasion, I felt it was warranted.

As you may have heard by now, Jessica Merizan has left BioWare after serving as its community manager for the past three years. That would be sad enough in its own right, but it cuts a bit deeper for me personally. Having worked with Jess every day of my two-plus years with the company, I’m losing more than a co-worker and teammate. I’m also losing a mentor.

Jess_and_Dave

Let’s talk about mentors, shall we? In a perfect world, we’d all have a plethora of them to pick and choose from, but that’s not the reality we live in. We probably all work–or have at some point worked–with intelligent, caring people. Leaders that we’d follow into battle. However, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a suitable mentor by itself.

In addition to those characteristics, a mentor is imbued with vision, patience, and most importantly, a desire to invest in your future. A good mentor nurtures your development without ever losing sight of their own. A great mentor is a perfect cocktail of all these things, and assumes the role without even being asked. That’s what Jess was for me: a damn great mentor.

When I first came to BioWare in 2012, it was intimidating to say the least. Mass Effect 3 had just released, and well, we already know how that story goes. Needless to say, folks were busy. Despite the tumultuous time, Jess took me under her wing from day one and continued to do so every day that followed.

No matter what, Jess always made herself available. Bad day at work? Jess was there to listen. Troubles in my personal life? Jess was there to listen. Generate ideas so crazy that Mike Laidlaw’s face was sure to melt? Jess was there to listen… and to prevent Mike’s face from melting. Are you starting to sense a theme here? 🙂

Jess

Jess has shown me more support than I could ever repay to her. If I’m being completely honest, she’s shown me more support than anyone I’ve ever worked with, and that’s saying a lot. I hope that in some small way, I made her time at BioWare a little easier by being on her team. At the very least, I hope I brightened her day every so often by simply being the goofy, dumb ass that I am.

I would love to thank Jess for everything she’s done for me, but words don’t really seem to cover the debt. She has gone above and beyond to help facilitate my career development, and she did it all selflessly. We were never in competition with each other for anything. We were a team. We were two, like-minded and creative people that wanted to be a part of something amazing. We both shared a genuine passion to entertain, celebrate with our fans (we’re huge fans, too!), and support the hard work of our incredibly gifted studio. We certainly gave it our best shot.

So, if you take anything with you from this blog post, please let it be this:

  • Find your mentor
  • Listen to them
  • Learn and evolve
  • Pay it forward

If you’ve already got a mentor, give ‘em a nice big hug and thank them (I love you Karin Weekes & Ann Lemay!). Remind them how much you appreciate their efforts. Someday, become that mentor to someone else, and help cultivate the next rising star in your world. Together, let’s all keep perpetuating awesome.

I love you, Jess. Whatever I accomplish during my career at BioWare will be largely attributed to you and your guidance as a mentor. I will miss you more than you know.

Jess_and_Dave2

Are Our Attention Spans Dwindling?

I’m going to ask a potentially volatile question, but I’m looking for a sincere answer: are we still compelled by a good mystery, or has the post-Internet world of instant gratification robbed us of our attention span?

Allow me to explain.

the-leftovers-premiere-hbo

This past Sunday marked the debut of The Leftovers, a new HBO series based on the book by Tom Perrotta. The promos were solid, and anything Damon Lindelof touches automatically grabs my interest, so I tuned in with high expectations.

Overall, it was a decent pilot, but it had some nagging production issues that removed me from the immersion. Still, it was captivating enough for me to stick with.

Hours later, I found myself still thinking about my concerns. Was I just being pretentious or did the elements that annoyed me bother anyone else? Although I rarely ever read user reviews online, with my curiosity piqued, I decided to comb through the IMDB message boards for other opinions. What I found there was a whole other conversation happening that I hadn’t expected.

** MINOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW **

Let’s start with what we learned from the first episode: two percent of the world’s population mysteriously vanished. Three years later, the “leftovers” are still in mourning, but attempting to move on with their lives. Science and religion debate while in search of an explanation. Some type of cult—referred to as the “GRs,”—have taken a vow of silence and smoke profusely in protest of a small town’s remembrance of those gone missing. Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location, a man named Wayne with seemingly mystical abilities warns that “the grace period is over,” and that chaos is coming.

Sounds pretty damn intriguing, right? Well, not everyone was impressed.

“…the plot had many holes and a bad storyline.”

“There’s too many questions and zero answers.”

“It left too many questions out there, basic questions, without rewarding me for having hung in there for the last hour.”

I wondered if perhaps some people thought The Leftovers was supposed to be a movie instead of a series. If a 90-minute movie leaves you with unanswered questions, that’s a problem, but a pilot’s job is to intrigue and keep you coming back for more. Surely they weren’t expecting all the mystery of a ten episode season to be solved in the pilot… right?

Much to my surprise, this negative criticism continued page after page. Reviewers expressed varying levels of animosity and frustration in their posts, but the underlying message was crystal clear: “I don’t like unanswered questions.”

What is it that causes this type of reaction? I guess it goes back to my original question at the beginning of this post: are we still compelled by a good mystery, or has the post-Internet world of instant gratification robbed us of our attention span?

I suppose the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While the reaction of the post-Internet generation can be explained by having never experienced a world without immediate answers available at their fingertips, what about us older folks?

This is where procedural television has significantly impacted viewer behavior. Not only can shows like Law & Order and CSI tell a good mystery, they can wrap it all up in less than 45-minutes. These stories are intended to be fun and digestible in small portions, and send the viewer to bed happy.

A similar feat cannot be accomplished with shows such as Lost or Fringe, which have complex storylines that take significant periods of time to unfold. However, if not paced properly, the viewership will gradually dissipate over time until all you’re left with are diehard fans. That’s when things get even harder for a storyteller.

Without a grand finale deemed worthy of the years of investment fans have put into the show, not only do you set yourself up for palpable outrage dismissing your work, but you also decrease the desire of viewers to invest in a “long game” story format ever again. And that, my friends, is sad, because there are some amazing stories that will never get told.

So, am I defending The Leftovers? Not entirely. While I do believe the story is interesting enough to deserve my attention, it suffers from other problems that will be difficult to overlook if it doesn’t improve.

“I dig fantasy and sci-fi and have no problem giving a show a few episodes to get going, but there is just nothing about the characters that makes me want to invest in their stories.”

“… there wasn’t really any character to latch onto and say ‘I like this person’.”

The complaint about a lack of interesting characters is fair and valid. I didn’t find a single one that I connected with or that I’m anxious to see again. I’m willing to give it more time to develop, of course, but to me the most intriguing character was Wayne, a guy that supposedly doesn’t appear again until the season finale. That’s a problem.

10 Songs to Inspire Your Creativity

When I write, I need to be in a distraction-free zone. While that probably sounds like a no-brainer, you’d be amazed at the type of challenges I encounter when I sit down to write. Whether it’s my precious Welsh terrier’s urge to go outside every fifteen minutes (only when daddy is writing, mind you), or the neighbor’s children holding “screaming” contests on their trampoline, my brain is under constant attack from outside stimulation.

So, where can a writer turn during times of interruption and rising hostility?

The hills are alive…

When I need some quality, uninterrupted writing time, I turn to music. Music selection boils down entirely to a matter of personal preference, but for me, I find that louder, more aggressive music distracts me instead of inspires.

However, there is no wrong answer. Use whatever works best for your situation. Musical inspiration can come from any number of sources. For example, my friend and fellow author Bernard Schaffer created a playlist of Morrissey songs to fuel his creativity while writing Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes.

Enter Hammock…

When I write, I need something calming and melodic that I can get lost in. Most of my books have been written while the pleasing sounds of Hammock poured through my speakers. Hammock is pure ear candy, and quite easily the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

Hammock’s music penetrates deep into my soul and brings forth a new layer of creativity in me. It’s like seeing the world through shades of vibrant color and passing seasons all at the same time. While these may seem like lofty claims, the proof is in the very first Hammock song you hear.

hammock

The Playlist…

While you could start literally anywhere within Hammock’s expansive catalog of music and find pure bliss, here are ten of my all-time favorites that repeat often throughout my creative process (in no particular order):

  1. In the Middle of this Nowhere (from Oblivion Hymns)
  2. The More You Drink From the Well, the Higher the Waters Will Rise (from EPs, Singles and Remixes)
  3. Tape Recorder (from Departure Songs)
  4. The House Where We Grew Up (from Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo)
  5. My Mind was a Fog… My Heart Became a Bomb (from Oblivion Hymns)
  6. Tristia (from Chasing After Shadows… Living with the Ghosts)
  7. Maybe They Will Sing for us Tomorrow (from Maybe They Will Sing for us Tomorrow)
  8. Dark Beyond the Blue (from Longest Year)
  9. North (from EPs, Singles and Remixes)
  10. Blankets of Night (from Kenotic)

The next time you find yourself stuck and in need of a creative boost, I strongly recommend you give Hammock a try. Their music has made a world of difference for me!

Happy writing!

The Playlist

For our honeymoon destination, my wife and I picked Port Townsend: A beautifully preserved, old Victorian town up along the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. While the reality of a four and a half hour drive wasn’t the biggest selling point, I came up with an idea to help keep us entertained during our long road trip: A 1990s iPod playlist!

Me (right), circa 1994.
Me (right), circa 1994.

At full disclosure, I am a hardcore music snob. You see, being a little older than my wife, I sometimes forget that the 90s I experienced were quite a bit different than hers. It’s a fact that never becomes more evident than when comparing our musical tastes. Sure, she knew and liked all the blockbuster bands of the era, but she was sadly deprived of some of the deeper cuts that fueled my collection of mix tapes.

I saw this playlist as not only an opportunity to relive the soundtrack to my high school years, but also to introduce my wife to some of the great music that she missed out on the first time around. To the surprise of both of us, she remembered quite a bit more than she anticipated, and the playlist reconnected her to some long forgotten tracks.

To loop my friends in on the fun, I solicited their votes on Facebook for songs that we should include. Thanks to their participation, I was able to add a few tracks that I had overlooked. The only ask from them in return was that I share the final playlist at the end, which I am happy to oblige!

Below is the curated playlist, as it occurred during our trip. This is by no means a complete list of the best tracks from the 90s, but it’s a pretty damn good start, if I do say so myself. J Here’s hoping that you’ll find an old track or two to rediscover. Long live the 90s!!

  • Big Me – Foo Fighters
  • Sliver – Nirvana
  • Spin the Bottle – Juliana Hatfield Three
  • 100% – Sonic Youth
  • Believe – Dig
  • Laid – James
  • Buddy Holly – Weezer
  • Celebrity Skin – Hole
  • Man in the Box – Alice in Chains
  • Into Your Arms – The Lemonheads
  • All the Small Things – Blink 182
  • If I Could Talk I’d Tell You – The Lemonheads
  • Far Gone and Out – Jesus and Mary Chain
  • Welcome to the Cheap Seats – The Wonderstuff
  • Vasoline – Stone Temple Pilots
  • Monkey Gone to Heaven – The Pixies
  • Sabotage – Beastie Boys
  • Kill Your Television – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
  • Miss World – Hole
  • Walk on the Ocean – Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • I’ve Got a Feelin’ – Ivy
  • Basket Case – Green Day
  • Dream All Day – The Posies
  • Cut Your Hair – Pavement
  • It’s a Shame About Ray – The Lemonheads
  • Right Here Right Now – Jesus Jones
  • Jerry Was a Race Car Driver – Primus
  • Miss Misery – Elliot Smith
  • Brain Stew – Green Day
  • There’s No Other Way – Blur
  • All I Want – Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • Operation Spirit – Live
  • Detachable Penis – King Missile
  • Today – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Here Comes Your Man – The Pixies
  • My Name is Jonas – Weezer
  • My Sister – Juliana Hatfield Three
  • Verse Chorus Verse – Nirvana
  • Renaissance Affair – Hooverphonic
  • Ladyfingers – Luscious Jackson
  • Would? – Alice in Chains
  • Into the Fire – Sarah McLachlan
  • A Little Respect – Erasure (1988, but had a renaissance in the 90s)
  • Cannonball – The Breeders
  • Shimmer – Fuel
  • Been Caught Stealing – Jane’s Addiction
  • Am I Wrong – Love Spit Love
  • Window Pane – The Real People
  • Pets – Porno For Pyros
  • So What’cha Want – Beastie Boys
  • I’ve Been Waiting – Matthew Sweet
  • High – The Cure
  • I Think I’m Paranoid – Garbage
  • Friday I’m in Love – The Cure
  • What I Didn’t Know – Athenaeum
  • The Beautiful People – Marilyn Manson
  • Come As You Are – Nirvana
  • Girlfriend – Matthew Sweet
  • Naked Rain – This Picture
  • Twisterella – Ride
  • Bound for the Floor – Local H
  • The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get – Morrissey
  • Grey Cell Green – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
  • Crank – Catherine Wheel
  • Taillights Fade – Buffalo Tom
  • Popular – Nada Surf
  • Ironic – Alanis Morissette
  • Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine
  • American Music – Violent Femmes
  • Until She Comes – The Psychedelic Furs
  • I Alone – Live
  • Monkey Wrench – Foo Fighters
  • I’ll Stick Around – Foo Fighters
  • Hit – The Sugarcubes
  • Thunder Kiss ’65 – White Zombie
  • Which Way Should I Jump? – The Milltown Brothers
  • Lullaby (Weren’t We Wild) – The Judybats
  • Ballerina Out of Control – The Ocean Blue
  • Here’s Where the Story Ends – The Sundays
  • Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters
  • Creep – Radiohead
  • Unsung – Helmet
  • Mayor of Simpleton – XTC
  • Happy – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
  • Set Adrift on Memory Bliss – PM Dawn
  • Sweet Surrender – Sarah McLachlan
  • Abuse Me – Silverchair
  • Mysterious Ways – U2
  • Adia – Sarah McLachlan
  • Tomorrow – Morrissey
  • Kool Thing – Sonic Youth
  • Spoonman – Soundgarden
  • Dizz Knee Land – Dada
  • Regret – New Order
  • You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
  • What Do I Have to Do? – Stabbing Westward
  • Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
  • Naked Eye – Luscious Jackson
  • Everlong – Foo Fighters
  • Debonair – Afghan Whigs
  • Tonight, Tonight – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Barely Breathing – Duncan Sheik
  • Sadness (Pt.1) – Enigma
  • Simple Kind of Life – No Doubt (Technically 2000, but I’m counting it)
  • Machinehead – Bush
  • Only Shallow – My Bloody Valentine
  • High and Dry – Radiohead
  • Wonderwall – Oasis
  • Angry Johnny – Poe
  • Bullet With Butterfly Wings – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Vapour Trail – Ride
  • Say it Ain’t So – Weezer
  • Rush – Big Audio Dynamite
  • Siva – Smashing Pumpkins
  • My Hero – Foo Fighters
  • Poison – Bell Biv DeVoe
  • Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver – Primus
  • Kiss Them For Me – Siouxsie and the Banshees
  • Turn – Travis
  • Little Things – Bush
  • Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Rusty Cage – Soundgarden
  • Tomorrow – Silverchair
  • 1979 – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Glycerine – Bush
  • Sodajerk – Buffalo Tom
  • Sister – The Nixons
  • The Freshman – The Verve Pipe
  • More Human Than Human – White Zombie
  • Name – Goo Goo Dolls
  • Brick – Ben Folds Five
  • Watery Hands – Superchunk
  • Mr. Jones – Counting Crows
  • High – Feeder
  • Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley
  • Linger – The Cranberries
  • One – U2
  • Queer – Garbage
  • Everything Zen – Bush
  • Possession – Sarah McLachlan
  • Waltz #2 – Elliot Smith
  • Corduroy – Pearl Jam
  • Red – Treble Charger
  • Heart Shaped Box – Nirvana
  • Give it Away – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • From Your Mouth – God Lives Underwater
  • Late in the Day – Supergrass
  • Wild Horses – The Sundays
  • Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead
  • Even Flow – Pearl Jam
  • Policy of Truth – Depeche Mode
  • Traffic – Stereophonics
  • Fade Into You – Mazzy Star
  • Cuts You Up – Peter Murphy
  • A Long December – Counting Crows
  • Something’s Always Wrong – Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • Cherub Rock – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Under the Milky Way – The Church
  • Pure Massacre – Silverchair
  • Head Like a Hole – Nine Inch Nails
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Changes – Sugar
  • River of Deceit – Mad Season
  • Undone (The Sweater Song) – Weezer
  • Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam
  • Sober – Tool
  • Stars – Hum
  • Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine
  • Hey Man Nice Shot – Filter
  • Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
  • Jeremy – Pearl Jam
  • Step On – Happy Mondays
  • Love Shack – The B-52’s (Right on the cusp of the decade, so I’m counting it)
  • Dirty Boots – Sonic Youth
  • Start Choppin’ – Dinosaur Jr
  • Alive – Pearl Jam
  • Buffalo Stance – Neneh Cherry
  • Take a Picture – Filter
  • The Concept – Teenage Fanclub
  • Enjoy the Silence – Depeche Mode
  • Duel – Swervedriver
  • Angel – Massive Attack
  • Paranoid Android – Radiohead
  • Rhinoceros – Smashing Pumpkins
  • AEnima – Tool
  • Black Metallic – Catherine Wheel

A Reading From My Wedding

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Before I could marry the most amazing woman in the world, our officiant recommended that we schedule readings as part of the ceremony. These readings did not carry a specific set of rules–We were allowed to write our own, select from an archive of previously vetted material, or even invite a guest to perform a reading of their creation. I chose to write my own.

A reading is separate from a vow. A vow contains all the promises to love, to have and to hold, and to cherish one another. A reading can be anything, provided it comes from the heart. I’ve seen people at other weddings use this opportunity to tell stories of how they met, their first kiss, the day they knew that their partner was “the one,” and so on. My wife is the single greatest person I know, and as a writer, I definitely felt the pressure to step up my game and produce something worthy of her.

Below is a transcript of the reading I prepared for my wife. My goal was simple: Make her laugh, make her cry, but above all else, fill her heart with love. I hope I rose to the occasion and delivered a message that she will always remember.

 

In the five years that I’ve known you, I’ve probably already used up all my best material before we even made it to the wedding, but since we’re all gathered here today in front of our family and friends… and of course, [our officiant] Kevin, I’ll give it my best shot.

I still sometimes think about the man I was before I met you, but the truth is, I barely remember him anymore. I know that he was unhappy and unfulfilled, but those feelings are so foreign to me now that it’s hard to imagine anything other than complete happiness. With all of the good that you’ve brought into my life, there’s simply no room left for anything else. And although I recognize the clichéd nature of what I’m about to say, it doesn’t make it any less true: For the first time in my life, I am whole. I am a better person because of you.

I don’t consider myself a lucky man, because finding you stretches far beyond the definition of luck. I’m not normally the kind of person to say things like “fate,” “serendipity,” or “kismet”… mainly because they remind me of Kate Hudson movies… however, I truly believe in my heart of hearts that some unknown mystical force was at play the day you entered my life.

I’m not telling anyone here in attendance today anything about you that they don’t already know. Anyone that has ever met you has been touched by your kindness, your compassion, your light… and your crazy theories about who Gossip Girl is.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re just the greatest person I have ever known, and choosing to spend the rest of my life with you is the easiest decision I will ever make. It was meant to be. I only hope that I can return a fraction of the joy that you have given me, but you have my undying promise that I will never stop trying.

I know that I don’t get to kiss you until the end of our ceremony, but if it’s all right with you, I’d like to give you a hug, because I love you with all my heart, and this is the greatest day of my life.

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