Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

Interview with DJ Tina T

On a non-writing contest related note, I recently had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with DJ Tina T regarding her DJ youth camp, Camp Spin Off. Because arts education is one of my passions, it’s my pleasure to share this interview about an artist who focuses on giving back to young people.

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DJ Tina T, voted Las Vegas’ “Top Female DJ” for the third consecutive year, is a well-known disc jockey playing in the hottest clubs in Vegas. Despite her meteoric success, DJ Tina T also has a passion for mentoring teens.


She founded Camp Spin-Off (now in its second year), a one-of-a-kind camp focused on teaching music and positive messages to teenagers.

Q: You’ve had a successful career thus far. What made you decide to start Camp Spin Off?

DJ Tina T: I went to all types of summer camps growing up and have the best memories from it all. Camp Spin-Off is a way to combine my passion for DJing with traditional summer camp in a positive way.


Q: Camp Spin Off is the first and only sleep-away DJ camp of its kind. What advantages does a sleepaway camp offer for musical kids?

DJ Tina T: Having it be a camp where we actually stay in cabins and live together as a community for one week allows everyone to be fully submerged in the culture. You eat, sleep, breathe DJing at camp. For many of these kids, it’s their first time staying away from home and it becomes a much more unique and memorable experience than just a day camp.

Q: What is your favorite class offered at Camp Spin Off and why?

DJ Tina T: My favorite class at Camp Spin Off is the basic DJing class using turntables and vinyl. Most of the kids have never touched a turntable before and with the technology these days, many of them will not end up using vinyl records. Its nice to see everyone taught in the original format before moving on to other platforms.

Q: I love the motto on your website: Less Skin, More Skill. What other positive messages and ideas does Camp Spin Off offer?

DJ Tina T: Every staff person, camp counselor and guest DJ brings a positive message to camp. I feel like we also break down stereotypes of DJs and show the kids that we are normal, down to earth people that they can talk to. Another positive message specifically to the girls who attend is that it’s not just the boys anymore.

We have an equal ratio of girls to boys at camp which helps girls not feel intimidated in a male dominated industry.

Q: You were voted best Female DJ in Las Vegas in 2010, 2011 and 2012. What special challenges do female DJs face? What do you find easier to accomplish because you are a female DJ?

DJ Tina T: The biggest challenge is being taken seriously as a DJ and not just a “female DJ.” As much as I am honored to get awards like this and love representing for the ladies, I also want to just be recognized as a great DJ and not someone who is good (for a girl).

It is easier to accomplish things like: getting your foot in the door with clubs who are doing niche female DJ promotions and getting booked for female industry related events in fashion, beauty etc.

Q: What makes you passionate about helping young people discover music?

DJ Tina T: Discovering my love for DJing when I was 15 makes me passionate about working with young kids who are in the same place I was. When the interest is there, you need people to support, motivate and inspire you. It feels great to make a difference in someone’s life.


Interested in Camp Spin-Off? You too can be a summer DJ star!

WHAT: Camp Spin-Off, where aspiring young DJs between ages of 13-17 go to play and learn

WHERE:
Forest Home Ojai Valley
655 Burnham Road
Oak View, CA 93022
Topatopa Mountains

WHEN: July 29 to August 2

WHO:
This five-day, sleep-away camp is located in beautiful Ojai, CA, where young teens get access to great hiking and outdoors activities. The teens are mentored by some of the biggest names in the DJ world.

Tina also sponsors a limited number of scholarships that fund the education of kids in need.

Learn more about Camp Spin-Off: http://www.campspinoff.com/

For more about DJ Tina T: http://djtinat.com/

Article first published as Interview with DJ Tina T on Blogcritics.

PC Game Review – The Book of Unwritten Tales

The Book of Unwritten Tales begins with a “spirited leap” onto the back of a dragon and doesn’t let go till the very end, some 20-odd hours later.



The action in the game is third person point and click. You play as a number of characters throughout the game: the gnome Wilbur Weathervane, elvish Princess Ivo, Nate the human buccaneer, or his creature Critter who is a…creature.

Some videogames have annoying and repetitive music and voices. This is not the case with The Book of Unwritten Tales. The few times when I had to play in a quiet area, I got my headphones so I didn’t miss a moment.

In fact, the music and vocal work is truly exceptional, the soundtrack nuanced with believable sound effects. Unlike some games that force two voice actors to create five or six different voices, this game has a sizable vocal cast about a dozen and you can tell as you encounter people throughout the world.

The visuals are five star, a dizzying array of locales. There are icy mountains, underground caverns, and dark forests.



 The pacing of the plot dynamic and keeps you interested.  The puzzles range in challenge from easy to ‘scratch your head difficult.’  The game raises the difficulty by disguising objects so perfectly into the background that you can’t perceive them.

Several mini-games require a series of quick key presses to progress, which creates a little urgency in a linear game since you cannot progress otherwise. Like most adventure games, the player has to combine unexpected elements. Fasten the rubber chicken to the torture device to create a makeshift slingshot? Check.

You also often have to switch characters during cooperative play as you often need to use a character’s specific skill to solve a puzzle.

Lots of humor is written into both the dialogue and the tiny reaction animations. The designers don’t take anything too seriously, a great deal is tongue-in-cheek. There are countless gaming and geek references: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, Magic: the Gathering, Mission Impossible…and those are just the ones I caught on the first go-thru.


Not only are there countless references in-game, but also musical jokes to those attuned to the soundtrack. Early in the game, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” starts playing to underscore with ominous bassoon a risky venture by the main gnome. I often found myself laughing out loud.
If you are not a fan of puns, some of the humor in the game may strike you the wrong way (i.e. you encounter a cast-iron safe for saved games). On the other hand, who can resist cheeky termites talking in a Cockney accent?  “Get out of our sun, homeotherm!”

The game, however, is not without a few issues. The animation to switch characters is odd; they half walk in a circle around each other to swap instead of instantaneous, which gets old when you have to constantly switch. The same half-circle happens when going in and out of doorways and entrances.

Though the script is very good, the last few lines of dialogue in the game is in untranslated German. It was an odd way to finish, but a small mar of the face of an otherwise excellent game-playing experience.

Some lessons to take away from The Book of Unwritten Tales:
• Don’t tee off the trolls.
• If you can’t see the solution to the puzzle, it’s likely under your nose.
• Individually, tiny creatures are no threat. Collectively, they can cart you off and toss you into the bushes.

The Book of Unwritten Tales definitely gives you your money’s worth. The game is presented as a book, divided into five chapters. I’m quite adept at adventure games and I found myself stuck in several places for a day or two. I opted not to use the walk-thru, as that takes all the fun out of it.



Like any good tale, I did not want it to end and didn’t want to leave these characters behind. Does plucky little Wilbur have the courage to adventure forth and be a true mage? Do Ivo and Nate end up floating off into their own sunset in a gnome balloon? Well, I’ll let you play and write the story on your own.

There are strong hints of a sequel–“Maybe there’s another adventure out there for us,” says Wilbur–and there’s definitely room for more creative adventure games like The Book of Unwritten Tales.

Game Trailer:

You can also buy the full game as a digital download for only $29.99.

The Book of Unwritten Tales is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB

Article first published as PC Game Review: The Book of Unwritten Tales on Blogcritics.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Matthias Malzieu


What if falling in love cost you your life? Would you be able to resist?

The story opens in Edinburgh, in the late 1800s, during the greatest freeze the city has known. In this introduction, the cold and snow almost become a character on their own. You meet the protagonist, Jack, as a frail infant abandoned by his mother to the idiosyncratic and brilliant Dr. Madeleine.
To save his life, Madeleine grafts a cuckoo clock to his heart, but this alteration requires rules that cannot be broken:
“FIRSTLY: DON’T TOUCH THE HANDS OF YOUR CUCKOO-CLOCK HEART. SECONDLY: MASTER YOUR ANGER. THIRDLY: NEVER EVER FALL IN LOVE. FOR IF YOU DO, THE HOUR HAND WILL POKE THROUGH YOUR SKIN, YOUR BONES WILL SHATTER, AND YOUR HEART WILL BREAK ONCE MORE.”

Jack is tortured by the continual presence of his clock heart, which ticks and whirrs and cuckoos at the least convenient moment. He is bullied and mocked at school and it embarrasses him in public. 
The cast of characters that surrounds Jack as he grows is colorful and eclectic, a peg-leg prostitute and a Scotsman with a musical spine, all overseen by the protective and loving Dr. Madeleine, who has adopted her boy with the cuckoo clock heart.
The heart of the story is Jack’s doomed love for the coquettish, mercurial and short-sighted Miss Acacia, a street singer turned cabaret performer. For Jack, the perils of love are very real and shape all of his choices throughout the book. It’s not only love he has to control, but jealousy and anger ground through the gears of love, as his rival Big Joe vies for the hand of Miss Acacia. 
Jack later teams up with the famous film pioneer and illusionist Géorges Melies, who becomes enamored of his condition and its ramifications. The theme of illusions figures strongly, for nothing is quite as it seems in this little fable.
Malzieu seamlessly integrates the elements of steampunk with literary fiction, allowing this novella to transcend the usually cursed designation of “genre fiction”. It should, for this is really literary steampunk and you need neither to be really very literary or steampunk to enjoy it.
Melzieu’s prose has a dreamy, cinematic elegance, distinctly European. The pacing ticks along steadily – it is a quick read at 172 pages – and the action winds tighter and tighter until you cannot wait any longer for the denouement. The vivid characters stay with you long after you close this slim volume. There is a twist at the end, which cuts sharp as the second hand of a clock.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart has already been lauded as an adult fairytale, but it seems even more than that. The story concerns the lies we tell ourselves and others in our pursuit of love and our fear of love’s loss. It’s a magical journey that ends too soon, but makes the re-reading all too pleasurable.
Mathias Melzieu is also known as the lead singer of the French band, Dionysos. I have included the peculiarly wonderful book trailer, set to the music of Dionysos. The book is currently in production to become a full-length animated film, La Mécanique du Coeur, directed by the author and Stéphane Berla. In short, Malzieu proves steampunk offers stories with a beating heart.
Article first published as Book Review:The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu on Blogcritics.

Singing the Dragons to Sleep: Farewell to Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)

Today marks the end of an era: author Anne McCaffrey passed away at the age of 85, from a stroke at her home in Ireland.

I remember the first time I saw an Anne McCaffrey book: I was in a used bookstore, one that I frequently haunted in hopes of discovering some dusty paperback treasure. The books were always shelved stacked, spine-out, so you could scan whole stacks in a hurry. I was about 11 years old.

I was getting bored, as I already had a small book pile tucked under my arm, so I ran my finger down the shelf for “M-Mc.” The word “Dragon” caught my eye. I pulled it out; it was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I had never heard of her, but I definitely liked dragons and I liked that there was a girl riding on the back of the dragon and that she seemed to have most of her clothes on. Even at the age of 11, I was skeptical about the fantasy novels that featured scantily-clad barbarian ladies on the cover.


I had read The Hobbit a few years before and had shuddered at visions of Smaug curled up, one eye half-open, gleaming with his gold. Who wasn’t fascinated with dragons? Who didn’t want to fly?

When I was older, I learned to appreciate her accomplishments. The White Dragon was the first science fiction novel written by a woman to make the New York Times Bestseller List. Her work often had strong female protagonists, not to mention queen dragons. She was the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. She paved the way for countless female genre writers thereafter.

Anne brought us a whole world, blended science fiction and fantasy with carefree elan. Pern takes its place alongside hallowed fantasy lands: Middle Earth, Narnia, Oz, Earthsea, Discworld. Her writing allowed us to feel the wind blasting our hair back as the dragon launched into the air, to hear the flap of mighty wings.

She allowed us to fly. So ride the dragon’s wings to your well-deserved rest, Anne. Pern awaits.

Article first published as Singing the Dragons to Sleep: Farewell to Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011) on Blogcritics.

Q & A with Neil Gaiman, or Why Neil Gaiman is a Gentleman

Neil Gaiman is a gentleman. I had always suspected as much, but after my recent Q&A conference call with him, it was confirmed.

Let me back up a bit. I have long been an admirer of Neil’s work. My first introduction was his magnificent opus, The Sandman graphic novel series. I was entranced how he combined humor, pathos and allusions from pop culture to Greek Mythology to reinvigorate the graphical novel format. I was so inspired that my musician friend Paul and I used it as the starting point for a gothic opera, Veil & Subdue.

After that, I couldn’t get enough. Neverwhere was a particular favorite, then Coraline, then American Gods and Anansi Boys and so on. In brief, he was on my short list of writers who transcended simple fantasy into the fantastical. Thus, when the opportunity to do a Q&A on behalf of Blogcritics showed up, I nearly broke my laptop’s touchpad in my haste to claim it.

It was my first official Q&A and I was so nervous. I had fewer than 20 hours to prepare a question for someone whom I considered not only extremely talented, but supportive to other writers and readers (more on that later).

Naturally, I slept not a wink. Questions floated through my head; I plucked haplessly at them like dandelion seeds: some were too obvious, some too pandering and a few too cutesy.

The hour of the conference call arrived. I dialed in early and listened to the hold music. The instructions came on: Press *1 if you have a question. “Oh, do I,” thought I. Done, I pressed the keypad.

And then Neil Gaiman came on the line. He was as witty and self-effacing as I had imagined, with a wonderful speaking voice – sonorous, yet gentle. His answers were humorous and diplomatic. One reporter asked him if he felt there was something missing in the current glut of vampires, werewolves and zombies books. His response went straight to the point, which is diminishing literary returns with the loss of passion:

“There’s always this problem in any form of literature. [Books] happen because the time is right for them and they get written by people who believe in them…whether it’s wizards or vampires – whatever. Other people look around and go, ‘Oh, this is a way to make money or a way to cash in.’ They mean less and less; it’s like old-style photocopies. You photocopy a copy of a copy and pretty soon you end up with a grey sheet of paper with lines on them.”

Neil Gaiman is a tireless advocate for writers. Here is his latest advice to those suffering through National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo). He also supports readers of all ages, as the founder of All Hallows Read and countless other literary projects. He spoke eloquently on the importance of books to kids, regardless of whether the books themselves are perceived as quality: “The truth is that when kids encounter books, they bring themselves to them. The place you find the magic can be anywhere…because you’re bringing yourself as a reader to it.”

I enjoyed his answers and sat quietly, waiting my turn until the moderator said, “Ok, there are no more questions, so thank you Mr. Gaiman.”

Fortunately, our phones were muted, because I wailed, NOoooOOoooOO!” and pressed buttons, to no avail. I had botched it; the system had beaten me. I was not going to get a question answered by Neil Gaiman.

In despair, I popped onto Twitter and sent this:

“I was on the conference call and system didn’t pick up that I had a ?: As far as performing dialogue, do you ever act out your own while writing or was this a completely new experience?”

It was a half-hearted hope. I had been following his Twitter account since I joined, six months ago, but he has 1.6 million followers. Imagine my shock when this popped up:

…and then he answered my question.

Such a small courtesy, yet so unexpected. He was likely weary of the questions and the strained Q&A format – the long silences and the stutters as each participant was piped in and out.

I responded with: 

“Did you enjoy being Simpsonized? Do you feel more yellow-ish now?”

And he said:


And so that, dear reader, is how I got a personal answer to my question. So I hope you had a chance to watch The Simpsons on Sunday, because it features the voice of Neil Gaiman, New York Times best-selling writer and a true gentleman. Also now in yellow.


The Book Job Episode Synopsis
Lisa loses faith in the legitimacy of the “tween lit” industry and decides to pen her own novel. Homer, once informed of the lucrative opportunities, assembles a team to write the next big tween best-seller. Neil Gaiman as Himself joins the group to lend a seasoned writer’s eye, but the Springfield crew ends up with more than they expect in The Book Job, a parody of The Italian Job.

Neil Gaiman is a New York Times best-selling author and the recipient of numerous literary awards. His novels include Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys and Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, as well as a children’s book author. Although originally from England, he currently lives in America.

He is not, in fact, yellow.

You can visit Gaiman at his official site.

Article first published as Q & A with Neil Gaiman, or Why Neil Gaiman is a Gentleman on Blogcritics.