Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hop - Start of a New Niche?

I've decided to start doing lenses about movies, mostly ones that are about to open. I was looking at one lensmaster's lenses. She's got a lot of lenses about movie soundtracks and they appear to be doing very well. And that's just for the soundtracks. When I started looking for lenses on the movies, however, I wasn't finding much, which surprised me. It was a pleasant surprise, though, because that meant I wouldn't be competing with other lensmasters if I started making lenses about new movies.

I probably still need to refine where I'll be going with this, but I think I'll start by doing lenses about movies that I think will both be popular, and also ones I might like. Of course, I don't actually have the money to see all the movies, but there's a lot of information out about them, so I should be able to put together some useful information.

I started with one that's opening Friday, April 1: Hop, and since I expect to be doing more lenses I called it 2011 Movies: Hop.

Hop is a live action/animated film which gives a whole new take on the Easter bunny legend. Santa Claus has the North Pole for his magical workshop. The Easter bunny has, where else, Easter Island, where all those giant brooding heads stare out to sea. Of course, you've probably never heard anything about it, but that's because the magical workshop is underground - and besides, it's magical.

Of course there was plenty of information at the official website (part of the URL address is "iwantcandy"). There were several movie trailers available, but I only used one. There were nearly a dozen movie tie-in products, with several books for very young readers or books to read to those too young to read. There were news feeds and Twitter feeds and interviews with several of the stars.

The movie stars the voice of Russell Brand, an English comic who strikes me as England's answer to Robin Williams, at least back when Williams was Brand's age. He's the voice of E. B., the teenage rabbit on the verge of becoming the Easter bunny when he decides to take off for Hollywood to become a famous rock drummer. Starring as Fred O'Hare (great last name for a movie where the main character is a rabbit, naturally) is James Marsden, who played Cyclops in X-Men: The Last Stand. Kayley Cuoco, known to most as Penny in the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory, plays Fred's sister Sam.

The movie opens tomorrow, and I got so interested I just might go see it. A good reason to go is that I can write a review after I get back.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sarah Vowell at the Bagdad Theater

Sarah Vowell, subject of one of my Squidoo lenses, first became known to the American public through her appearances on the National Public Radio program This American Life. She has a voice that's instantly recognizable, one that was carried to many non-NPR listeners in the animated movie The Incredibles where she did the voice of the teenage Violet.

Tonight, Tuesday, March 29, she appeared at the Bagdad Theater (yes, that is how they spell it) on Hawthorne Street in Portland. She's on a book tour for her latest, Unfamiliar Fishes, which is about Hawaii from the time of the arrival of the missionaries in 1820 to its annexation by the United States in 1898. I was a bit undecided on whether to go because in order to get in, you had to buy the book at list price, $25.95. The ebook version is $12.99.

I didn't buy an advance ticket and while I was always leaning toward going, I didn't really commit until after 5 o'clock. Doors opened at 6. I ended up getting there just before 6. The lobby was full and the line was growing out the door. It was a mixture of ticket holders and those who didn't have them yet. As I was waiting, I overheard a woman talking to the couple just ahead of me. She said she was going to be joined by a friend who had an extra ticket. When the friend showed up and spoke about her extra ticket, I immediately said I'd buy it from her. She said she'd sell it to me for $25. The handling fee for buying online, which she had done, was $6.44, so I saved over $7. That paid for a couple of slices of pizza once I got in.

I almost had a problem. I was hungry and concentrating on the food booth ahead. There was a guy who marked off my ticket. What I didn't realize at the time was I should have turned from him on my right to the books on my left. Instead I just went toward the food booth, realized the line was a lot longer and got at the end. I got lucky because a guy came up to the end of the line where I was and said he had a few slices of pizza plus drinks at another little booth and I ended up being his second customer.

It wasn't until I was about halfway through eating my first pizza slice at my seat near the front that I looked around and noticed everyone else had the book. Uh oh. I finished the slice, and went back out to the lobby. I told the woman behind the book display I hadn't picked up the book on my way in. She noticed the guy had marked off my ticket printout, but when I explained I'd walked by, not being used to the setup, she didn't give me any trouble, so I got my book and went back to eat the second pizza slice.

The light wasn't that great, but I did a little reading, which I probably shouldn't have bothered with because when Sarah came out, after a brief bit of introductory talk, she began reading and of course, most of what she read was what I had read only a short while before. Oh well, I always enjoy listening to her.

During the question period following the reading, someone asked her about her formal education. She mentioned going to Montana State and then doing graduate work at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her graduate degree is in Art History. She told of how she really didn't care for the reading assignments and how that influenced the way she writes. She felt most of the people she had to read often were just very obscure and she wanted to write clearly. I think she succeeds in that quite nicely.

She mentioned she'd lived in Portland about 22 years ago and used to work in the coffee shop across the street from the Bagdad at a time in her life when she really wasn't too sure what she wanted to do with her life. She spoke of the lady whose coffee was never hot enough and the college students who were never straight enough. She said it was really nice to be back across the street from where she'd worked, only this time with her name on the marquee outside and she had a podium inside.

Someone asked her to share an anecdote of having dinner with the people from This American Life and that kind of stumped her for a bit because well, these folks, to her, are just coworkers and it wasn't like they got together as a sort of modern-day Algonquin Roundtable. She mentioned how the last time she'd gotten together with Ira Glass they'd ended up talking about The Book of Mormon - not the religious text, but the show. She also mentioned the time she'd gotten a new lamp and just couldn't figure out how to turn it on, so she called up David Sedaris, who came over, looked at the lamp, figured it out, turned it on, said, "See ya!" and left. So much for the glamor of public radio stars.

Sarah said she doesn't think of herself as an historian but rather as more a journalist who happens to write much longer stories. One thing she liked about doing the book about Hawaii was that she felt that the people she was talking to while she was doing the research really felt involved in the history of Hawaii. There are still some native Hawaiians who still resent the takeover of the islands by the United States. She hadn't felt that sense of involvement by ordinary people when she was working on her previous books.

One thing I like to do while reading one of Sarah Vowell's books is to read it with her voice in my head. She has a unique outlook on her subjects to go along with her unique voice and it just wouldn't seem right to read it without hearing her voice. If you need to refresh your memory on the sound of her voice, my Sarah Vowell lens has five videos including the newest one near the top in which she talks about that Hawaiian institution, the plate lunch. And of course, you can order Unfamiliar Fishes or any of her previous books from the lens.

The photo at the top of this entry isn't from tonight. I took my camera, but we were told no flash photography and lighting was dim. So the photo is from when she appeared at Powell's in Beaverton in October 2009.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Coloring Pages & Books: Castles

My newest Squidoo lens is Coloring Pages & Books: Castles published today (Saturday). My other coloring pages lens, Coloring Pages & Books: Ireland, published about two weeks ago, has been doing fairly well, having move up well into the second tier of lensranking (2,001 to 10,000). It appears coloring pages lenses do pretty well. Other lensmasters have coloring page lenses up in the top tiers so it's incentive for me to create more coloring pages lenses. The tricky part is finding a subject that hasn't been covered or at least hasn't been covered well.

Originally I thought I'd be doing a coloring page lens on Scotland, and Scotland has some castles. That led me to look up castle coloring pages and there seemed to be enough for a lens in itself, so I put the Scotland lens off for a while.

I looked up a lot of castle coloring pages on the Internet and found about a dozen. Putting them all into one module as links was one of the easier parts of making the lens. I also found four Dover Publications coloring books on Amazon. Adding them took more time as I had to write blurbs for them and the lens template I used still has some old coding that had to be modified.

Some of the reviews for the books indicated using colored pencils instead of crayons might be a good way to use the books, so I added one of Crayola's offerings to the lens along with the crayon and washable markers modules copied over from the Ireland lens.

I haven't done any coloring myself since a brief time in the '70s, but at least that experience told me it's not just for kids. Quite a few of the reviewers for the Dover books on Amazon indicated they enjoyed it and recommended it for older kids and adults even though three of the four books gave an age range of four to eight and the other range was nine to twelve.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fiction Best Sellers Updated

My Squidoo lens Fiction Best Sellers has been updated to reflect sales ending the week of March 19, 2011. Things were pretty quiet this time around, with only one new book in the top 10 and only one or two new books in the rest of the list.

I had developed a new button-looking thing (actually a very short paragraph with rounded-corner borders) for the lens I did for Wendy Rule earlier this week. With a little minor tweaking it works just fine for books as well as CDs. I had noticed that any text I created below the boxed text descriptions would start under the CD image on Wendy's lens, so I used that little feature to get the button under the book image as well. The only catch is the description box has to be longer than the book cover image, otherwise the button ends up below the text. So sometimes I need to put in some line breaks to make the description box long enough. I think it looks pretty good and draws more attention to the Buy now from link.

Diary of a Mad Fat Girl
The self-published first novel and ebook-only Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee, which appeared at #31 on the list last week is still on the list this week at #32. Amazon has given it their Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and Stephanie says she's getting communications from literary agents that are not rejection letters.

As one of the last of the big spenders, I decided to risk a whole 99 cents and just bought the book for my Nook from Barnes & Noble. It'll probably be a fun read even though it's not my usual fare.

I still think it's pretty cool that a self-published ebook only first novel has made it to one of The New York Times best seller lists.  It's not an easy thing to do.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Squidoo Lens - Faerie Music: Wendy Rule

Wendy Rule is a vocalist and songwriter from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia who draws upon her love of nature and her experiences as a practicing Pagan Witch to create mythical mystical journeys through soundscapes that call to mind worlds seen and unseen.

She has released six studio albums since the mid-1990s along with several side projects. She has toured in Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the US her music has been used extensively in the pagan community and she has been a guest of honor at a number of pagan festivals. She will be appearing at Faerieworlds in Eugene, Oregon June 17-19, 2011. She was scheduled to appear last year, but last minute problems getting into the US prevented her appearance as it did with the Mediaeval Baebes.

With the completion of this lens, I've got all the main stage musicians for Faerieworlds 2011 represented in either separate lenses or in my Faerie Music lens which includes performers who have released three or fewer CDs.

I have separate lenses for:

Other 2011 performers included in the Faerie Music lens are:

  • Delhi 2 Dublin
  • Trillian Green (just recently added to the lineup at Faerieworlds)
  • Brother
I've also created lenses for past performers Faun and the Gypsy Nomads who appeared last year, Alexander James Adams who has appeared solo and with Tricky Pixie, plus a lens for the Mediaeval Baebes who, as mentioned, were scheduled last year. While I wasn't aware of it at the time I created a lens for Solas, they appeared at Faerieworlds in 2004, two years before I started attending.

The Faerie Music lens also includes performers who appeared at Faerieworlds in the past back to 2006. I may break out Brother to their own lens since they appear to have more CDs available through Amazon than last year when I included them in the lens.

The Faerieworlds folks have said there's going to be a major musical announcement tomorrow, Tuesday, so we'll see if that leads to another lens. The  Faerieworlds lens needs a major overhaul for 2011 in any case.

New Faerie Music Lens: S. J. Tucker

On Saturday, March 19, I created a new lens about S. J. Tucker, who is a petite gypsy vagabond who has been on tour pretty much continuously since 2004 singing her mystical, mythical music influenced by Celtic magic with a good dose of rock and some punk thrown in. She's also part of Tricky Pixie, a group formed at Faerieworlds in 2006 when the Fairytale Minstrel, Alexander James Adams, asked her if she wanted a fiddler. As she tells it, "When this one asks if you want a fiddler, the answer is 'Yes!'"

S. J. had already been working with Betsy Tinney, who appeared regularly at Faerieworlds as part of the Gaia Consort (now known as the Bone Poets Orchestra). The three got together when Tucker was in the Northwest and their first show at Soul Food Books in Redmond, Washington in July 2007 was a resounding success. They appeared at Faerieworlds at the end of that month, where they were enthusiastically received and they've been back every year since and will be there this year as well. S. J. will also be performing as a solo act.

When not appearing as part of Tricky Pixie, S. J. is on the road appearing solo as the Skinny White Chick and also as part of the trio The Traveling Fates. She has a devoted following among the pagan and fae communities nationwide.

She takes some breaks from touring to record albums and she has also collaborated on two albums with author Catherynne M. Valenti that have centered around Valenti's The Orphan's Tales.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Amazon and Me

I've mentioned before that I'm an Amazon Associate. What that means is that I get to put links on this blog, on my Squidoo lenses (I have 125 at the moment and it'll grow), or anywhere else I'm allowed to put them, such as my signature on Delphi Forums where I link to the Kindle page. See that Amazon search box over to the right? That's one example of a link that will help me out. More on that later. By the way, the logo above this paragraph is not a link.

The links, if clicked on, take you to or in some cases to (you'll probably use the UK links only if you're in the UK or Europe). Usually the links take you to a specific product page on Amazon. If you buy the product, I'll get a commission. That commission does not increase your cost. It's built in to all of Amazon's prices as part of their promotional costs.

What if you go to Amazon through one of my links and change your mind about what to buy? As far as Amazon's concerned, go ahead and buy something else. I'll still get the commission. The commission isn't so much for getting you to buy a specific item, it's for getting you to go to Amazon in the first place. So go ahead and click on a link for a paperback book and end up buying a digital camera instead. I'd love that, in fact. Or click on a link for a digital camera and buy a paperback book instead. OK, I'd love that less, but at least you bought something and that's good.

What if you go to Amazon through one of my links and don't buy right away, but you return within 24 hours and buy something? As long as you haven't visited Amazon through someone else's link, I'll still get the commission. But if your second visit is through a click on say, The New York Times website for best sellers, I don't get a commission even if your first click through to Amazon was from my Fiction Best Sellers lens on Squidoo.

If after 24 hours you visit Amazon by just entering in your browser or click through from another site, I don't get a commission. If you view this blog or one of my Squidoo lenses and then just enter into your browser, I don't get a commission. So if you'd like to help me out, keep this blog or my Squidoo lenses in mind and enter through Amazon links on either of them.

The best and simplest way is through this blog. Remember I mentioned the fairly big Amazon search box at the top right side of this page? (If you're not seeing it, you may need to turn off your ad-blocking software. Please do, at least while you're here, then turn it back on later.) That search box is keyed to my Amazon Associates ID. Use it to enter, buy something, and you've helped me out a bit or maybe a lot if you're on a shopping spree. Whether it's only a few cents or a few dollars, though, I really appreciate it.

I'd appreciate if you'd bookmark this blog in your computer's browser your work computer's browser, your iPad or other tablet's browser or your smartphone's browser. Did I miss anything? Bookmark it on that too. Then use that bookmark any time you think of Amazon. It's an extra click, but that extra click helps someone who's trying to keep on paying the bills.

Thank you to any and all who use my Amazon Associates links. Every little bit helps.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Celtic Music's Big Stage Shows

Three years ago I started a series of Celtic Music lenses on Squidoo. I concentrated on performers I was personally familiar with to begin with. Some are no longer recording, but their CDs are still available, others are recording and making a living, probably a modest one in many cases, from playing smaller venues like pubs, small halls and clubs. A few, like Enya, Loreena McKennitt and The Chieftains, are doing very well.

The sense I've gotten about these performers, from the obscure to the ones people who aren't necessarily Celtic music fans might have heard of, is that to start with they had a great love of the music and a joy in playing it. It comes through very clearly in their music. To me, the heart of Celtic music is in these people and they share that love with their audiences. They do it for the love and joy, with money only being a means to the end of sharing the music.

Over the years I've gotten a fair number of reader comments on my Celtic music lenses and even though I hadn't done lenses for them, Riverdance, Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder got mentioned now and again. People mentioning them often said they hadn't heard much about Celtic music beyond those shows or maybe they knew of Enya, maybe Loreena McKennitt or The Chieftains, but not much else. They were finding out more through my lenses.

Since the big stage shows have influenced people to do a bit more exploring of Celtic music, it seemed only natural that I should create lenses about them. I was most familiar with Riverdance, having seen it on video and heard the music on CD. It's a spectacular show for the big stage, with extremely talented performers. And it grew out of the more modest Celtic music scene. Composer Bill Whelan was at one time a member of the Irish group Planxty and along with fellow Planxty member Donal Lunny, had put together a piece called "Timedance" as an interval act for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, hosted that year by Ireland. Out of that idea grew the interval act for the 1994 contest, again hosted by Ireland and that went on to become the Riverdance stage show. So I started with Celtic Music: Riverdance earlier this week.

Once I got that done, it seemed a good idea to quickly move on to Celtic Music: Celtic Woman, which I started late on Tuesday and finished on Wednesday. It took a bit longer than I thought it would because I included some solo albums by Celtic Woman performers in addition to the CDs and related DVDs by the group. I finished and published that by late afternoon.

Next I thought I'd get the Celtic Music: Celtic Thunder lens at least started, planning at the time to finish it up today. Instead I just kept going throughout the evening and published it.

Once I'd done all that, then I went to the Celtic Music: Lenses lens and added a new category, "Stage Shows" plus descriptions and links for the three lenses.

I probably should have then done this blog entry last night, but since publishing also means sending out Twitter tweets, Facebook entries and Squidcasts (notes to my Squidoo fans), by the time I got the Celtic Thunder lens published I was a bit tired of typing and was finding myself typing "Cletic" and "mucis" a lot more than usual.