Sunday, May 29, 2016

Eric Peters' Far Side of the Sea (A Review)

Am I a man of few words? Not really. More like a man of short sentences.
I once summarized Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea in five words:
Old man. Fishing. No fish.

I can be brief.

And while I thought about using twitter for this review... The Far Side of the Sea--the new album by Eric Peters-- definitely deserves more than 140 characters.

When I was hosting the Twelve Minute Muse podcast a couple of years ago, Eric was kind enough to do an interview; you can hear that interview HERE. At that point he had started working on the concept and songs for this album. Fast forward to today...the digital version released to Kickstarter patrons just a couple of weeks ago, and the CDs began arriving in mailboxes this week.

So let's explore The Far Side of the Sea.
Throughout, the imagery takes us outdoors.
We start with lightning,
Then, we go to the shore. Next, the starry night, and then "the fields that are covered in dust ."
There are "Vapor trails [that] disappear in the sky," " the trampled earth,"
"Finding breath in the bone dry dirt," and "Under skies of old routine, when the earth brings no relief."

All along this nature so often prompts us... we are forced to come to grips with our smallness...our frailty. Do you know what I mean?
Have you ever stood on the shoreline and gazed at the vastness of the water...the tide both calming you and somehow terrifying you all at once?  In the same way, have you stood beneath the sway of a giant oak tree amidst the approach of a summer storm?  Again...did you simultaneously feel the sense of both comfort and terror?

As Peters' songs carry us through these scenes, he captures that sense of wonder and despair. The tracks flow seamlessly into each other until we reach number 6. "Beautiful One (Nowhere)" is the magnificent tree in the middle of the metaphorical forest we are walking through.We are forced to slow down, walk around it a few times, ponder its weightiness. As we move ahead from there, our step seems lighter. Our confidence strengthened somewhat. Maybe it's that feeling of the light at the end of the tunnel...that sense that we will make it out of the woods.

All the way through this journey, Peters voices a confessional with equal parts transparency...honesty...fragile humanity...despair...hopefulness...and trust...somehow looking beyond the present doubts and difficult circumstances to a promise of something better. He notes the "rusted things wearing worn-out crowns," but looks beyond to "a light that will guide me home."

Musically, I hear a palette of Peter Gabriel...Jackson Browne... and slight traces of Andrew Peterson and Steven Curtis Chapman. The music is atmospheric, providing a canvas for the brilliant, lyrical sketches of Eric Peters.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why I Wrote a Children's Picture Book

First, let me make this clear: The concept and the words for Mr. Mosquito were mine, but the illustrations of the talented Ellen Howell brought the character to life. 

The Kindle version of Mr. Mosquito will be free Thursday and Friday, May 26-27. Here's a link to it.

I live in south Louisiana, so there are two things I understand: humidity and mosquitos.

At some point in late 2014 the muse struck. I was sitting at my desk, sipping on my first cup of coffee, pecking away at the laptop keyboard...and you guessed it-- a pesky mosquito buzzed me. Right away, I thought about the trivial fact that only female mosquitoes feed on humans, and that prompted me to consider the poor, misunderstood male mosquito. I started typing life from his perspective. Within minutes, the rough draft for the book was on the page.

I decided to send it to my friend Ellen to see if it inspired her enough to illustrate. She and I worked together via email to collaboratively work out details between the words and the images.

That's basically how the book came about. Another question, though, is "why?"

Why write a children's picture book?

1. We need books for children that are FUN. Brain researchers have found that our brains retain information when it is tied to emotion. If we smile or laugh while reading a book, the odds are greater that we'll remember what we've read.

2. A children's book is a very ACCESSIBLE way to teach scientific facts. While the premise of the book may seem trivial, it's still a biological fact.  I can't tell you the number of times people have told me that they did not know that only female mosquitoes "bite."  

3. SIMPLE truths told as stories can operate as ANALOGIES. As you read Mr. Mosquito, you will laugh at his tormented existence (using your best Inspector Clouseau accent, please), but you might also realize that there are people who suffer harm in one fashion or another due to the ignorance of others. When we understand the perspective of the male mosquito, it makes us want to ask the question before swatting next time..."is that Mr. Mosquito or Ms, Mosquito?" Unfortunately, male mosquitoes don't all wear black and white striped shirts. That would make it so much easier to tell the difference.

So if you're thinking about writing a children's book, I say "go for it!"  Do the illustrations yourself if you're able; if not, find someone who can capture the essence of your characters on canvas. You will grow from the experience, and you'll share something that will encourage or instruct someone in your audience. Don't let fear of rejection or the ideal of perfection stop you from getting started. 

Have you written a children's book or thought about writing one?
What are other reasons you think we need them?
Join the discussion by leaving a comment.