Kind words from

As someone who grew up in the Philadelphia area and now lives in town, I was particularly pleased and grateful to see a kindly review for Hangman’s Game in the Inquirer and on The Inquirer is the first paper I ever read regularly.

The review ends with the line, “I look forward to Syken’s next Nick Gallow story.” So do I. In the latter stages of a first draft. Back to work.



Natalie Prass, and great shows

Last Wednesday I saw Natalie Prass at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, and she was very good, with the song My Baby Don’t Understand Me a true high point. After the show I realized I’ve seen more great live music in 2015 than I have in a while, and I had the idea to write a blog post about it. Celebrating live music didn’t feel like a political idea at the time, but now it does, after the murder of 89 people at a concert in Paris on Friday

Here’s the best I’ve seen this year, with links to either specific songs or entire shows. If these artists come your way, go see them and enjoy their gifts.

hopalongDavid Garza, Disco Ball World. I saw Garza at the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love in Marfa, Texas. Such a great event. This song got me out of my seat.

Hop Along, Texas Funeral. A Philly band (pictured right) that I had to go to Marfa to discover. My favorite song of theirs is Texas Funeral, and of course they performed it at the Marfa show.

Mexican Institute of Sound: Another Trans-Pecos act. No specific music of theirs to link to, because you really had to be there. I am 47 years old and at midnight I am usually asleep in bed, not pogo-ing under the stars. Great respect for their entertaining frontman/DJ Camilo Lara.

Further Trans-Pecos love for Jenny Lewis, Ben Kweller, Bee Caves, and Langhorne Slim.

Audra McDonald, Stars and the Moon. She’s a wonder of the world. I’m not a huge Broadway guy, but I’ve seen her twice, and in those concerts she repeated only two songs. Stars and the Moon was one of them. It comes from an Off-Broadway show I’ve never heard of, and it perfectly suits her gifts of musical storytelling.

Built to Spill, How Soon is Now. I’ve seen Built to Spill five times now, going back to the late 1990s. This Smiths cover was the perfect vehicle for the sincere intensity Doug Martsch brings to his shows.

New Pornographers. I saw this band for the first time in 2014, and caught them again this year. Despite their awful name, it is my intention to see the New Pornographers every chance I get for the rest of my life. The band is, as Dan Rather might say, tighter than the rusted lug nuts on a ’57 Chevy. For these guys I am providing a link to an entire show.

Thao and The Get Down, Stay Down: I like to get to concerts early enough to see the opening band, because you never know when you’re going to discover someone great. Years ago I saw the Black Keys and came away in love with the opening act, the Heartless Bastards. It happened again before the New Pornographers show, with Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. They gave a headline-quality performance, in large measure because of the stage presence of their lead singer Thao, which only grew stronger as the show went on. Another full performance link, but please, if you can, do yourself a favor and see Thao and all of these great artists live.

Coming Clean, by Kimberly Rae Miller

16218778One of the  benefits of having a ladyfriend with an encyclopedic knowledge of publishing is that she is able to direct me to a book like Coming Clean, by Kimberly Rae Miller. I had been talking to Jen about a writing problem, a character whose background I needed to think out, and she suggested I read this 2013 memoir.

In Coming Clean, Kimberly Rae Miller tells the story of her parents’ hoarding. What’s starting is not so much the scale of their hoarding, but the characters themselves. She portrays her parents not as selfish and neglectful monsters, even as they render home after home unlivable, but as decent people with an uncontrollable. She’s remarkably kind toward them, even as she repeatedly cleans up their house, only to see her parents ruin it again.

Even though hoarding itself will not come up in the book I am writing — a possible sequel to HANGMAN’S GAME that is tentatively titled HANGMAN’S BENDER— the recommendation hit the bulls-eye in its portrait of continuing affection toward those who behave horribly.

The Purification Ceremony, by Mark T. Sullivan

51WKBK1TYGL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_A couple weeks ago my agent sent me a copy of Mark T. Sullivan’s The Purification Ceremony for reasons that became obvious as I plowed into it. The book is a master class in the marriage of suspense and character-driven story telling, the kind that I aimed to do in HANGMAN’S GAME, and that I am now hoping to continue as I work on its sequel, very tentatively titled HANGMAN’S BENDER. The pace that Sullivan maintains as he toggles between live action and looks back into the history of the characters is one I can only hope to emulate.

The Purification Ceremony also has, like HANGMAN’S GAME, a narrator who is a civilian rather than a standard detective. She takes you into the world of elite deer hunters, and then another related world, that of Native American mysticism, all the while coming to terms with the struggles of her life.

If you have writing ambitions in this direction, read The Purification Ceremony.