Top 10 gifts for the writer in your life

The holidays are slowly approaching. Halloween is by far the best, but we won’t get into that here. With that in mind, let’s take a look at choice gifts for the writer in your life.

Now, I’m not insinuating that I personally want any of these things. That would be greedy and wrong. ;)

10. Netflix subscription. Writers often have odd schedules. I’m one of them. I also don’t watch a lot of television. So when I do, I like to pick and choose. The no-commerical status of Netlifx preserves the mind and soul, too. This is a great way to unwind from constant reading and research.

9. A Kindle or Nook. Hardcover purists would scoff at this, but you can fit a hell of a lot of books onto one.
Furthermore, Kindle/Nooks are the perfect device for those with slight and not-so-slight OCD tendencies (clutter). I prefer the older E-ink versions to the Fire.

8. A gas card. Eventually, even writers need to go outside. Hopefully it’s someplace beautiful and not the local strip mall. Road trips feed the imagination.

7. Vicodin. These good-time super pills will have your beloved writer shedding manuscripts like leaves from an October maple. Aches and pains interfering with your immersion? Gone. Normally tired after 2,000 words. Ha! Let’s go another 2k, pardner’. Pick and choose your spots, though, or these little white devils will have your ass faster than you can delete a form rejection.

6. Red Bull/Green Tea/Coffee. Yes. I know some prefer chocolate, but as writers we spend way too much time sitting on our ass, so low-cal boosts are superior.

5. Music. Lots of music. Check Rate Your Music for exceptional (and quite possibly definitive) all-time and year-end lists.

4. Something to play music. An iPod. Or Neil Young’s new Pono player. Even better, a CD player and head unit that plays actual CD’s. Or vinyl.

3. Microsoft Word. It’s still the best.

2. Final Draft. For the screenwriter in your life.

1. A real computer monitor. Too many writers are stuck using 13 inch TN panel laptops. TN panels do not have a stable image. Even moving your head an inch causes severe color shift and contrast issues. Some writers even use iPads (a true horror story). No. Just no. Do your favorite writer a favor and splurge on a decent IPS panel. I recommend the Asus PA248Q. The Asus comes calibrated from the factory, has no viewing angle issues, and even connects to most laptops via HDMI and DVI.

Top ten greatest albums of all time

Everyone who knows me and/or reads this site knows I’m a music freak. And every year I create a new list of top ten albums. It’s normal for a listener to crave certain albums, fall out with them, and then perhaps, a few years later fall back in love with that album.

So what is it about these albums that speak to me? There’s a certain organicism layered with the albums. The engineers and producers had a knack for creating a sonic work that doesn’t shout “this is from the 80′s” or whatever time period the recording emerged from.

In this list you’ll find a mix of “classics” with modern classics, and maybe a couple you’ve never heard. So, let us begin.

10. The Beatles – The Beatles

The Beatles gets picked on by critics for “filler” and a chaotic nature, but this is exactly what makes The Beatles great. The album is fun and adventurous with the occasional melancholic piece. I know some would consider this blasphemy, but I much prefer the Beatles work on Abbey Road and The Beatles to Revolver and Rubber Soul.

9. The Trials of Van Occupanther – Midlake

If the first track “Roscoe” doesn’t convince you that Midlake is something special, well….The album is a work of genius, laced with melody, nuance and fine imagery. If “Roscoe” doesn’t convince, try “Van Occupanther” and the McCartney-esque “Branches“.

8. Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts – M83

M83 has received a lot of attention lately (from movie producers and Victoria’s Secret especially), but Dead Cities is still their best.

7. Our Mother the Mountain – Townes Van Zandt

A dark, weird alternative country record before anyone even knew what the word meant. A few critics have knocked the album for overproduction (including Steve Earle), but I call bullshit. The production imparts an otherworldly ambiance onto these tracks, separating them from the lame country played on radio stations. Can production every really hinder Townes’ songwriting? No. The songcraft and melodies are just too strong. If you want the songs pared down, seek the live albums.

6. Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan

Dylan is at his best singing epic ballads, and this album is mostly epic ballads. Therefore, it is Dylan’s best album.

5. Southern Rock Opera – The Drive By Truckers

The greatest pure rock album of the last twenty years. Big, sprawling, in-your-face but also nuanced and full of great storytelling. The Truckers sound never got bigger or wilder after this (and for some reason the production has sounded smaller on each consecutive album, not sure why, but it has hurt the music). Southern Rock Opera is the greatest southern rock album of all time, and easily eclipses the best from Lynyrd Skynyrd.

4. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - The Flaming Lips

The album that launched The Flaming Lips from indie to mainstream. Still, you can’t deny the melodies. This might be one of the first truly accessible weird albums.

3. Sumday – Grandaddy

Jason Lytle sounds almost too relaxed on Sumday, but don’t be fooled. On Sumday you’ll find limousines that never drove rock stars, a group of neophyte office workers set loose in nature for the first time, and the saddest parking lot in the world. The songwriting is deceptively grand, while at the same time Lytle paints miniature scenes that will stay with you forever.

2. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven – Godspeed You Black Emperor

The greatest post-rock album of all time. Chilling, yet inspirational. The moment with the preacher will haunt you, and the catharsis on “Storm” will make you cry with joy.

1. Meddle – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd with no concepts, no grand theme, no pressure. Just four of the greatest musicians to ever grace the earth focused on experimentation. Meddle sounds almost free compared to the next few albums. It’s also the sound Roger Waters and Pink Floyd should have returned to after The Wall. Instead, Waters kept making weaker and weaker version of The Wall. Gilmour tried to find this sound again on The Division Bell with Mason and Wright, and sort of came close with “Poles Apart” and “Cluster One”.

Meddle is probably the greatest Pink Floyd album, and quite possibly the finest rock record of all time (#89 all time at Rate Your Music).

Fellow travellers

Yellowstone. Glacier. Grand Teton. Redwood. Sequoia/Kings Canyon. Yosemite. Lassen. Sierra NF. Trinity NF. Six Rivers NF. Klamath NF. California coast. Crater Lake. Oregon desert. Oregon coast. Siuslaw NF. Tillamook SF. Mt. Hood. Mt. Rainier. Mt. Saint Helens. Wenatche NF. Craters of the Moon. Sawtooth NF. Boise NF. Bitterroot NF. Lolo NF. Kaniksu NF. Kootenai NF. Flathead NF. Lewis and Clark NF. Gallatin NF. Custer NF. Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF. Helena NF. Payette NF. Shoshone NF. Teton NF. Targhee NF. Chippewa NF. Badlands. Custer. Black Hills NF. Theodore Roosevelt. Superior NF. Porcupine Mountains SP. Ottawa NF. Polar vortex’s, monsoons, droughts, floods, wildfires, wildlife poachers, bears, earthquakes, tens of thousands of miles of two tracks and gravel forest roads, and many other state parks, forests, and campgrounds too numerous to mention.

In all of this, not once was I left stranded. Not once.

My mind, my thoughts, were always about the destination. But this car? It was the places in-between.

Goodbye old friend. It would bring me great joy to see you on the road again one day. Even better, I hope you pass me.

Michael Hodges author writer fiction

Outside Magazine Yosemite Sunrise Squirrel (Glacier Point)

I’ve been getting a ton of hits and emails on this, so I felt inclined to make this post. This is in fact the Michael Hodges that took the parting shot photo in the June 2014 issue of Outside Magazine. I do have prints for sale. You can purchase them here. Along with nature photography, I also write speculative fiction, sometimes with heavy nature themes.

There’s also a story behind the photo, which I hope to post soon.

It really was quite an experience, one I’ll never forget. Several factors went into the image, including doing everything I could to avoid crowds. This was the most important part.

Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and the circumstances which created the image were amongst the most unusual I’ve had in years of photography. If you have not been to Glacier Point, I suggest you see it at least once in your life. A big thanks to Outside Magazine for picking up the photo. It couldn’t have found a better home.

june-mag-cover

Outdoor Magazine June 2014 Parting Shot