Happy 50th birthday, BB&M!

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purpose of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

Released 22 April 1968, The Birds, the Bees, & The Monkees was The Monkees’ fifth studio album, and their first to not reach #1. It reached #3 in the U.S., #5 in Australia, #6 in Canada, #8 in Finland, #28 in the two Germanies, and #44 in Japan. The album failed to chart at all in the U.K.

This album came at a very difficult crossroads in the band’s career. Their awesome TV show had been cancelled (the last episode aired 25 March 1968); their trippy movie Head was a box office flop; and the bulk of their fanbase were starting to move on to other music.

Track listing of the most widely-available remastering, with stars by bonus tracks:

“Dream World” (written by Davy and Steve Pitts)
“Auntie’s Municipal Court” (Nez and Keith Allison; an unusual example of Micky singing lead on a Nez song)
“We Were Made for Each Other” (Carole Bayer and George Fischoff)
“Tapioca Tundra” (Nez) (#34 in the U.S.)
“Daydream Believer” (John Stewart) (#1 in the U.S.; #5 in the U.K.)
“Writing Wrongs” (Nez)
“I’ll Be Back Up on My Feet” (Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell)
“The Poster” (Davy and Steve Pitts)
“P.O. Box 9847” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart)
“Magnolia Simms” (Nez)
“Valleri” (Boyce and Hart) (#3 in the U.S.; #12 in the U.K.)
“Zor and Zam” (Bill and John Chadwick)
“Alvin” (Nicholas Thorkelson)*
“I’m Gonna Try” (Davy and Steve Pitts)*
“P.O. Box 9847” (Early Mix)*
“The Girl I Left Behind Me” (Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer)*
“Lady’s Baby” (Peter)*

I have a 1996 vinyl reissue with two bonus tracks, “I’m Gonna Try” and an alternate mix of “P.O. Box 9847.” It was sealed, but I had to open it. I normally don’t buy sealed editions, but that was the one and only copy in stock at either branch of Last Vestige Records. This was also 2003, so it wasn’t that old. I never would’ve opened a sealed LP of very old vintage. The plastic wrap is still loose around it.

In 2010, Rhino released a deluxe 3-CD edition, available only online from their website. As far as I can determine, it’s no longer for sale through Rhino, though one can find it through third-party sellers on sites like Amazon and e-Bay (for quite a steep price). This boxed set has the original album in both stereo and mono, along with over 60 bonus tracks, an essay booklet, and a commemorative pin.

My favourite tracks are “Writing Wrongs,” “Tapioca Tundra,” “I’ll Be Back Up on My Feet,” and “Zor and Zam.” The lattermost appears in the final episode of The Monkees, and the end never fails to give me goosebumps. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t heard it. “Zor and Zam” is also powerful evidence for Micky as one of rock’s most underrated male vocalists.

A lot of people trash “Writing Wrongs” as one of the band’s worst songs, but I absolutely adore how trippy and out there it is. The comparison to The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” is very apt. Many people hate that song too, but I’ve listened to it on repeat many times. You either love or hate it.

BB&M is often called The Monkees’ White Album, with each Monkee doing songs in his own respective style, a band album that’s more like a solo showcase for each. While I’d rate this album 5 stars without contest, I can see how it might not be the most ideal album for a potential new fan. It’s more of an album to save for after one’s fandom is stronger and more established.

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WeWriWa—One final knee inspection

Happy heavenly 123rd birthday to my favorite actor, Rudolph Valentino!


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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 23-year-old Canadian Army medic Yuriy gave his 18-year-old crush Inga an elephant charm and invited her to get ice-cream before he has to go to the depot at the end of furlough.

Yuriy also said he’d like to inspect her injured knee one last time.

“Sure, I’ll get ice-cream with you, but you’ll have to look at my knee downstairs.  My father left instructions about how to navigate the subway, so I won’t get lost.”

“I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not a big deal to look at your knee here.  No one’s looking in the window, and there’s nothing scandalous about sitting on a bed alone, if that’s all you do.  I’m nothing like my blood father.  I hope he dies in Siberia, if he’s not dead already.”

Inga sits down and looks away as she pulls her skirt over her knee.  Yuriy unwraps yesterday’s gauze, cleans out the healing wound, dusts it with a thin layer of ointment, and wraps it back up with fresh gauze.  As soon as he’s done, he stands back up, wishing Inga weren’t almost five and a half years his junior.  Were she only a few years older, he could ask for more, and keep that nice memory with him when he’s far from home.

IWSG—Miraculously regained momentum

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?
In past years, I remember having felt more inspiration and renewal for writing as spring took bloom, though I can’t specifically recall the same experience in recent years.

Due to my shaken confidence in my usual daily wordcounts, I set my April Camp NaNo goal at only 25K. The first 5,200-odd words came from A Dream Deferred (since I had to finish that chapter before switching gears), but everything else came from my alternative history.

I reached my lowball goal on Day 14, validated as soon as Day 20 began, and ended up at just shy of 55K.

This book is written wildly out of order, which I still feel I need to do emotionally, but that strategy also makes it harder to go on a consistent, beginning-to-end emotional journey with these characters. Regularly jumping from Point A to Point D to Point R to Point Z to Point L and back again means I don’t always remember important developments or details.

I finished the last chapter in Part II, and have finished most of Part III. I also did a smidgen of work in Part I, though my primary focus during Camp NaNo was Part III. Once that’s done, I’ll spend May going through from the start, editing, rewriting, and filling in any remaining gaps.

With my rate of progress this past month, I’m confident I can power through Part IV (about 25% done), and then work on these appendices I totally forgot I’d planned.

I also realized part of the reason for my admitted emotional distance (most glaring in Part I) was because I was trying to be too close to third-person limited. That’s just not my natural voice at all, even when a book is unusually (for me) focused on just one or two characters instead of a large ensemble cast.

Thus, I developed some of the secondary characters more, even though this isn’t their story. I also finally figured out what to do with Grand Duchess Anastasiya, who had zero lines in all those words. Her reaction to the traumatic cataclysm is to shut down and barely say more than five words at a time.

Her second-cousin, Prince Roman Petrovich (who survived in real life), has a marvellous effect on her, so much so her uncle, Grand Duke Mikhail (the Regent), realizes what a good marriage match they’d be. Prior, it was just announced they’d married in early 1920.

I do think a more formal voice works for this specific book, but as it stood, it was too emotionally distant. Better to find solutions for it now, instead of going through mental gymnastics to justify it and only belatedly realizing what a snafu that was.

Near the start of April, I changed my desktop picture to feature my protagonist and his sisters. Every time I look at it, I’m held accountable for finishing the damn book already! I have an obligation to the memory of the dead.

The Zayande River

Copyright Ms96

The Zayande River (Zayanderud) is the largest river in central Iran’s Iranian Plateau. Its genesis is in the Zard-Kuh subrange of the Zagros Mountains, near the southwestern corner of Iran. It ends in the Gavkhouni swamp, east of Isfahan.

The river flows for 249 miles (400 kilometers).

Copyright ظهیری

People have lived along the Zayande for over 50,000 years. The Qaleh Bozi cave complex was home to our Neanderthal cousins, as evidenced by their bones, stone tools, and animal bones. They had a marvellous view of both the river and the plain from their caves.

They were attracted to the area by the permanent river, good sunlight, and a variety of landscapes offering many different types of game and edible plants.

Copyright Alireza Javaheri

Next on the scene was the Zayande River Civilisation, which flourished in the 6th millennium BCE. They lived concurrently to other great ancient civilisations, such as Sumeria and the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Further archaeological expeditions are planned to uncover more details about both this civilisation and the Neanderthals. They’ll focus on two historic hills, in the Gavkhouni swamp and midway alongside the Zayande.

Copyright Alireza Javaheri

Many historic bridges from the Safavid era (1501–1736) cross the river. Isfahan alone has four—Siosepol, Marnan, Joui, and Khaju. There’s also a much-older bridge, Shahrestan, whose foundations date back to the third century BCE. Its top was renovated in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Shahrestan

Khaju, Copyright Saeed Majidi

Siosepol, Copyright آرش

The Zayande used to flow through many parks, but much of the river has sadly dried up in recent years. Isfahan was an oasis settlement for centuries, and got its wealth and fertile lands from the Zayande, whose name means “life-giver.”

The water wasn’t used for much outside of agriculture till the 1960s, but a higher cost of living, increased population, and the creation of large steel plants and other modern industries changed everything.

Chadegan Dam, Copyright Meghdad thrust

Chadegan Dam (formerly Shah Abbas Dam), built from 1967–71, has helped to stabilise water flow, create electricity, and prevent seasonal flooding. During Nowruz, the Persian New Year (20, 21, or 22 March), water discharge is upped so as to let the Zayande flow through Isfahan for the holiday.

Today, 80% of the Zayande is used for agriculture, 10% for human consumption, 7% for industry, and 3% for miscellany.

Sadly, the river’s lower reaches are dried-up. Humans caused this drought by poor planning and populist politics which led to overuse and misuse.

Copyright Adam Jones; Source

In Isfahan, where the Zayande still flows, there are many nearby cafés, teahouses, restaurants, parks, and paddle boat rentals.

The Zayande is on Iran’s Natural Heritage List, a project of their Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organisation.

Copyright Amin.salehi.16

My characters Inna Zhirinovskaya and Mrs. Brezhneva escape to Isfahan with 40 children and 10 other employees of their orphanage in 1937, during the Great Terror. Inna also takes her little niece Velira, and is soon joined by her younger brother Vitya.

Also in Isfahan is Arkasha Orlov, a former prince whom they met during a brief stop in Aden. Arkasha is smitten with Inna almost from the start, and makes no secret of his romantic interest in her.

On Inna’s 31st birthday in October, they go for a walk along the Siosepol at night, and Inna lets Arkasha kiss her. Arkasha has awakened something inside her, and made her rethink her conviction that she’s meant to be a spinster.

Copyright Babak Farrokhi; Source

I’m still planning to visit Iran to do firsthand research for the final draft of Journey Through a Dark Forest. Americans can apply for Iranian visas through the Pakistan Embassy. It’s a beautiful country, with wonderful people, in spite of how the media portrays it.

The protests which began in December 2017 prove how deeply many Iranians want change. They’re tired of living under a repressive theocracy, and want to return to being a modern, democratic country.

Many protestors have been killed, arrested, or tortured, but that hasn’t stopped them from taking a stand. Change never happened because people sat down and just accepted the status quo. Freedom is never free.

WeWriWa—First gift

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, as 23-year-old Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov visits his 18-year-old crush Inga Savvina before his furlough ends. He’s just asked if she can write him letters with her fountain pen and stationary, instead of using a typewriter.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.

Yuriy opens his satchel and hands her a silver elephant charm. “I got this for you.  You can wear it on a chain for good luck.  Don’t feel bad you didn’t get me a going-away present, since I wasn’t expecting anything.”

Inga puts it on her pillow beside Dotnara. “That’s very nice of you.  I’ll take very good care of it.”

“Would you like to get some ice-cream before I go to the depot?  I hope you know how to get to my aunt’s store by two.  I’d also like to check on your knee one more time.”

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Inga now works at the Russian gifts boutique run by Yuriy’s aunt Valya, her husband, and their three children. One of her duties is painting Matryoshka dolls. Yuriy suggested this job to her so she can stay close with his family.