Christmas Product Placement #2: anything by Phil Keaggy

All right, you got some nice Christmas music for Aunt Billie-Joe Bob. You also tried to take back that hideous all cat choir Christmas CD to that specialty shop that sell things for cats and by cats that had popped up in the decrepit section of the mall. However, the store owner is just as frantic to get rid of her stock as you are. So not only have you not returned the Cat Christmas CD, but somehow, you’ve been suckered into buying four more copies.

So as you stare at five identical CD covers of cats looking non-plussed in bright Santa hats, maybe you should wander over to the nearest music store again to try to clear your head. What else can you get for your poor aunt? May I suggest Phil Keaggy?

phil-keaggy.jpgEveryone knows Phil Keaggy. Christian singer, quite popular in the 70s and 80s with his band Glass Harp, then on his own. Incredible guitarist with nine-and-a-half fingers, having to always put down the rumors of when Jimmy Hendricks was asked if anyone was better than him, he replied, “Phil Keaggy.” Musician who keeps putting out CD after CD after CD after CD, and yet each one seems different–instrumental, blues, acoustic, electric jam, Spanish flamenco. This guy is so prolific, it’s getting hard to keep up with his releases, and I’ve been collected stuff from him since my college days.

Even if you’re not a Christian, you should listen to this guy. The man is a musical whiz, and at least his instruments are fun to listen to. But for you Christians out there, you must have at least one CD. One! Because if you don’t, you’re missing out on some awesome Christian music.

What CD do I recommend? Hard to tell. He’s done so many–nearly 50 CDs to date, in fact. Feeling a little Beatlesque? Get “Sunday’s Child”. Want a more soothing tone with vocals? Get “It’s Personal” (one of my favorites–his voice is a little deeper than his previous works). In the mood for Spanish Guitar? Get “Lights of Madrid” (another favorite). Want more kick-butt electric? Get “On the Fly”? Do you just want him doing Christian Contemporary? Get “Inseparable” or his self-titled “Phil Keaggy”. Are you a writer, or any other type of artist? Do your craft while listening to “Music to Paint By”. Are you one of those who went to his concerts and saw him looping back his own music through a Jamman and thought, “Man, wouldn’t it be great if he released a CD with just him doing that?” Why are you even reading this review? Chances are, you already have “Roundabout”. Don’t have a clue what that last sentence meant? Get the “Philly Live” DVD and watch him be a one-man band. Overwhelmed by the mere snippets of choices I mentioned? Then subscribe to his monthly podcast at, then put on some earphones and grooooooove….

With all the stuff he’s put out, it’s surprising that he’s not super popular. When was the last time you heard a song from him on Christian radio? Do people simply consider him as part of the great wave of musicians of the 80s who happened to fade into the background with the advent of Christian alternative and pop? I don’t know. With Christian music, it’s always hard to tell. Maybe it’s because his music isn’t really considered pop-worthy anymore. His music is far more diverse and ‘musical’ than that. In a sense, Keaggy’s music is underrated in the Christian Music Industry. No one knows how to classify it, because the man just puts out a lot. Maybe that will change with his latest vocal CD “Dream Again”, but I’m not holding my breath.

But you know what? It’s okay. Phil has never been about how popular his music is. He just wants to worship God using the best gift he has, and if we have fun with him, hey, that’s cool too.

Goodness, where did that soapbox come from? This is supposed to be a Christmas Product Placement, not a rant on the Christian Music industry. So let me tuck that soapbox under my desk and get to the true meaning of the Christmas Spirit. Buy Phil Keaggy’s music! Buy! Buy! Buy! Get several copies of his library if you have to. Wipe out your checking account! You can always sell the unopened gifts on eBay to get your cash back. You’re gonna have to do that with the Catty Christmas CDs anyhow.


Christmas Product Placement Week! The Darkest Night of the Year by Over the Rhine

So it’s a couple of weeks before Christmas. You’re rushing through the stores, panicked. Aunt Billie-Joe Bob is coming to stay at your place for a week, and the gift you’d originally gotten for her, the ‘It’s a Catty Christmas–All Christmas Songs Hits sung by cats” is looking mighty tacky right about now. You got to find another gift, pronto, that will endear you to her good side and that you can all enjoy as well. But the choices are endless, and time is running out. The pressure is on. What will you get her?!?!

First of all, relax. You don’t know that the reason Aunt Billie-Joe Bob is really coming is so she can get away from her smoking, boozing husband who snores like a banshee. She’s just grateful that she is able to get away from the week–if she sleeps on the floor in the bathroom, she’s happy. Plus, she gets the added bonus of spending the week with you, whom she hasn’t seen in ten years. Just the fact that she gets to pinch your cheeks and you groan, “Come on, I’m thirty-two already,” makes her heart sigh with happiness, because she gets to hear your complaint in person. So spend some time with her. Take her out for dinner. Arrange for a day at a spa for her, or, if you’re really brave, do it yourself with letting her take over the bathroom for a night. Really, she’s that easy to please.

But if you still insist on getting her a gift, then perhaps my Christmas Product Placement Guide will help. I’ve decided to take a day this week to give you ideas on music, books, anime (because, Aunt Billie-Joe Bob is a closet anime fan, and you would know that if you spent more time with her, you selfish old goat) and other things that pop into my mind. Reason why I’m doing this? Feh, no particular reason. Really, I’m doing this for fun. (And if my family is trolling for ideas for me, sorry, I already own most of what’s going to be up here. You know where to go for other ideas.)

otr.jpgSo let’s get started with Christmas music. I highly suggest getting Over the Rhine’s The Darkest Night of the Year. This CD gives its own directions on the perfect time to listen to it: at midnight, December 1, in the dark, with a glass of wine.

It’s hard to classify Over the Rhine. They’re not exactly a Christian band, although they are Christian. It’s definitely not Contemporary Christian. More alternate folk pop, with a lot of bluesy bluegrass jazz, and a touch of country gospel sprinkled liberally. What I do know is that the music is good.

Over the Rhine is fronted by married songwriting couple Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler. Karin provides the haunting vocals while Linford plays the piano. He does play other instruments, but the man is a virtuoso at the piano. If you’re lucky to watch them live, watch the man’s fingers–they almost dance over the black and white keys. Listening his piano alone is sheer audio pleasure, but add Karin’s pure crystalline voice to the mix, and you got soul music coming out of your speakers.

This is not a cheery, happy CD that will have you dancing. It’s for those nights where you sit and watch the snow falling, creating a blanket of white all over. That still, vaguely melancholy feeling. The first track “The First Noel” sets the tone with low, trembling organ and the voice of a cello vibrating deep in your bones. In fact, I don’t think there’s many instruments on the CD. There are several piano/cello collaborations, and there’s some songs with electric guitar and drums. But there’s also a couple of songs with just Karin singing and Linford playing the piano, like’s “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” that sounds so perfect you never want it to end. Besides traditional carols, there’s also several original tracks that fits well in the Christmas spirit. My personal favorite is “Mary’s Waltz”, a song about a dying little girl who only wishes to dance.

Over the Rhine is coming out with a new Christmas CD this month, made entirely of original songs called Snow Angels. I listened to the first couple of tracks and got instantly hooked, so it will be going into my Christmas library soon. But if you never heard the group before, I’d suggest getting the Darkest Night of the Year first. Then, turn off all the lights in your house, open wide the windows, settle yourself on the couch and breathe the music in. Deeply.

Beware the Daniel-Ninja!

Who’s that sneaking about, all dressed in black, with nothing showing but his beautiful sloe-eyes? It’s the Daniel-Ninja. Do not be put off by his size. He will whip you up and down until next Thursday.

Daniel-Ninja cares not that it’s towards the end of ‘Dress as a Ninja Day’. Time does not exisdaniel-ninjat for Daniel-Ninja. He follows no rules, no boundaries. If it’s ten o’clock at night, is he asleep like good little boys his age? No! Daniel-Ninja cares not for sleep! He will continue jumping in his crib until you cry for mercy. He is Daniel-Ninja. He will rule you!

Look out for Daniel-Ninja! He is crafty with his mad-ninja skills. He can run very fast, faster if it’s time to take a bath. He’ll slip right through your hands. He can disappear into the background. Calling his name won’t bring him out. You’ll need to flush him out with a well-placed Thomas the Train Engine. But Daniel-Ninja does not fall for such tricks. He will run circles around you, around and around and around and around, until you grow dizzy and faint. Then, he will jump on you, again and again and again, until you plead for mercy. But there is no mercy from the Daniel-Ninja. He simply laughs at your calls for help. Sometimes, he’ll even mimic your pathetic cry. “Help! Somebody help me!” he’ll shout, gleefully.

Daniel-Ninja has many weapons in his arsenal. A scream that will shatter your eardrums. Tiny feet that are sharp when kicking. A very hard head, useful for headbutting. And, when he is truly in need of escape, his very favorite weapon–lethal gas, coming from his pellets of doom that will have one gasping on the floor, praying for death.

The Daniel-Ninja. Fear Him!

NaNoWriMo Wrapup Thoughts

Okay. Now I can say that I’m officially done.

Thirty days of writing. I think I averaged about 2000 words per day. With the extra day of writing after I hit 50,000, I wrote an extra 3472 words, which bring the total word count of Willow to 53818. Usually, when I work on Willow, I average about 4 chapters a month. In November, I wrote about 8 1/2 chapters, almost two per week. I can safely say that I’m no longer in the beginning portion of the book. I’m about to step foot into the middle arc of the storyline.

Not too shabby!

So, the question for today is, now that I’ve done this experiment and gotten very good results, what am I going to do with it? There’s no question that if I want to finish Willow on a timely basis, I do need to up my word count. If I continue at the same pace as I did in November, either I’d have to give up working on short stories and essays, or I’ll need to find more time to focus on writing.

Looking at it realistically, I’ll have to go for the latter. As much as I love working on Willow, I also want to do other things too (and the fact that I did cheat a little in November by working on a short story to send off proves it). In fact, I have a lot of catching up to do–there’s a couple of essays I wanted to finish by the end of December, and a short story I put on the back burner to do NaNoWriMo that I’m itching to get back to.

It’s weird, though. I’ve also been really itching to get back to work on Willow, too. I took the weekend off of writing to celebrate–because hey, when you set goals for yourself, and you actually reach them, you gotta celebrate. My hubby asked me, “Now that you’ve done this constant freewriting on Willow, are you going to go back and work on that chapter you wished you could do over?” He’s talking about when, around November 13, I had two new characters suddenly pop up and create a major plot change, but at the time, I couldn’t go back and write their introduction into the story. I chosen just to write them in as if I had done their introduction, then go back in December. I’m not sure I want to go back and do that rewrite now. I think wrote enough that once I do the major rewrite, I’ll be able to look at my notes for that chapter and rewrite it better then. If I ever get a huge urge to rewrite it in the future, then sure, I’ll do it. But right now, I got a good groove going.

And finding time just got a whole lot easier. I think I found a good daycare place for Daniel to go to starting in January. My writing schedule plan, then, will be this: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I’ll go back to my normal routine of doing short stories, essays, poetry, etc. during Daniel’s naps, then work on Willow at night. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll devote those days completely to Willow. And once I get those extra hours when Daniel’s in daycare, that will really make a difference in moving the story along.

Overall, what did I think of NaNoWriMo? I had great fun doing it. But I think if I’ll do this next year, I’m going to start a new book, maybe start working on the next book in the Willow trilogy. Or, maybe I’ll just work on something new. Who knows. But one thing I do know: if I can keep up the pace of writing 8 chapters per month, I’ll be done with the first draft of Willow by this time next year–assuming that it’s going to be 96 chapters or less.

So what am I doing gabbing away here? I need to get writing!