Monday, April 27, 2015

Author Kelley Grant releases first novel, "Desert Rising," speaks at Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo

Kelley Grant has had a busy week.

A few days after her first novel, "Desert Rising," was released, Grant was part of a panel discussion - "Authors of Epic Fantasy" - at C2E2. "Desert Rising" is the first book in a three-book series being published by Harper Voyager Impulse.

I had the chance to talk to Grant about the book.

Q - It's been a big week for you. I understand that the book was released on April 21.

And it's my first novel that I've had published. It's released digitally first, and then in May, it will come out in paperback.

Q - And this is your first time at C2E2, I understand. What are your impressions?

It's just a kaleidoscope. It's just all these wonderful costumes, and there is just so much to do. It's just amazing.

Q - How did the idea for "Desert Rising" come about?

I actually started writing just a book about somebody who is going to school in a weird place. And I hated the main character. She was so boring.

And it ended up that I really liked what was supposed to be the villain. So I ended up switching those, and out of her desert culture, I created the whole world, I created the four deities, and I created the companion animals - the big cats that are with her and help her communicate with the four deities.

All of those kind of came out of that little switch, and realizing that sometimes it's more interesting to have somebody who's very bold and doesn't turn back.

Q - I understand that growing up, you were an avid reader, that books were really your lifeline.

We read constantly. My mom always read to us.

We didn't have a lot of money growing up, but anytime we wanted a book, my mom would buy it for us.

Q - And do you think that propelled you to want to become an author?

When I was a kid, I didn't know anybody who was an author. I knew coal truck drivers.

I grew up in Ohio's Amish country, and women were expected to get married at a young age. But my parents wanted a lot more for me than that.

It wasn't until I was in college until I realized that writers were normal people, and that writing was a career path. That was a big boost for me.

Q - I understand that you have a three book deal with Harper. What was it that impressed them?

They liked my characters, and they like the worldbuilding a lot. I love to build worlds, and I love the mythology of things.

Tolkien was really into languages, but that's not my thing. I really like worldbuilding myths. What is the mythology, and how does that create a culture?

So I have this whole culture with at least a 1,000-year back story.

Q - What appeals to you about the fantasy genre?

I really like it when an author can kind of take the problems of this world, and take them outside of the world, so you can see them without an emotional bias.

It helps you see things in a different way, like racial bias outside of this world, and can flip it around a little bit. You can see how different cultures are thinking.

Q - A lot of fantasy books are being turned into movies and TV shows. Do you see this book series being made into a movie? 

Wouldn't I love that? It would be a lot of fun. I think it would be a lot of fun to see how they would choose my characters.

Can they train a cheetah to be a companion animal? I don't know. Of course, they can do so much with computer-generated imagery now.

Q - You also teach yoga. What do you get out of doing yoga or teaching yoga?

I have been diagnosed with being seasonal clinically depressive. Yoga has helped me.

It calms the mind, all those worrisome thoughts. It really ups my energy, too.

It's also been great for writing. Meditation has been wonderful.

I can calm my mind a lot faster. It's really helped my focus.

Q - Do you have any words of wisdom for an aspiring author or writer?

Don't give up.  Keep trying. You really have to keep trying.

You have to have faith in yourself.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

New comic book series, "Hero Cats," in the spotlight at Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo


While dogs may be man's best friend, cats are the ones that you want on your side.

That's the premise behind a new action comic book series, "Hero Cats." I had the chance to talk to writer/creator Kyle Puttkammer, who was part of the C2E2 convention.

Q - How did you come up with this idea?

My daughters love cats. They like to tell stories about cats.

I love comics. And it just seemed natural that if we're going to get new readers, if we're going to get all ages into the comic shops, this spoke to me as something that would accomplish that. 

Q - How long has it been out?

It got picked up last August by Action Lab Entertainment. They only had a few books at the time, but now they are doing really well. And "Hero Cats" is a top performer for them.

Q - So what are you looking to do with this?

I want the George Lucas deal, without the prequels.

Q - So you see "Hero Cats" being made into a movie?

There's already people talking about wanting to, yeah. I've got a lot of friends in the industry.

Right now, what I want to do is really establish it. And then once we've got a good bit of material, then we will start developing the other properties.

Q - As far as the dialogue for the cats and the situations for the cats, how do you come up with all that?

Essentially, I am just drawing from all the different influences of my childhood, "Star Wars," "Firefly," all the great movies from Marvel, all those interactions of characters.

I've kind of grown up in the comic book industry for the past 24 years. And so, it just comes out on the pages.

Q - Why do you think cats are a good comic book hero?

Honestly, cats are a little bit of a cheat. The people who come into the stores or to the conventions, they yell, "Cats!"

And I'm treating it seriously. I'm actually providing real good drama and character interaction.

I'm not speaking down to the children. We are writing these for all ages.

It will always remain somewhat innocent in regards to the material. But it won't be something that will bore the adults. It is kind of like a DreamWorks movie, where there is something for everybody.

C2E2 once again attracts a cast of interesting characters

Friend or foe?

Can you do this?

All smiles.

Beaker is happy to see you.

Chad Coleman (Tyreese from "The Walking Dead"), in his booth at C2E2.

Things that make you say, "Hey, that's pretty cool."

Chewbacca is a friend to everyone.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Chicago band The Luck of Eden Hall raising funds for U.K. tour, live album


Chicago band The Luck of Eden Hall needs your help to go back to the United Kingdom.

The band earlier this month launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the upcoming tour. Prior to the tour, the band plans to record a live album at a chateau in the north of France.

I had the chance to talk to The Luck of Eden Hall frontman Greg Curvey about the band's latest activities. 

Q - Great talking to you. This is your third Kickstarter campaign. Does the fact that people are willing to fund the band's projects give you additional gratification that people really believe in what the band is doing? Do you think Kickstarter is a good tool in this ever-changing music industry?

Oh, Kickstarter is a fabulous tool and one of the main ways The Luck of Eden Hall generates income to invest in our big projects. We treat these campaigns as a mass sale of stocked items and make pre-orders available for our new albums.

It’s a great way to generate excitement about our current and future opportunities and rile up our fans. I’m incredibly honored that folks are willing to trust us enough to invest in music they haven’t even heard.

Q - You guys are headed back to Europe. I understand that your 2013 European tour was very successful. What do you like about touring in Europe? How are the audiences different than those in the United States?

The United Kingdom seems to have taken us under their [collective] wing. I suppose it has to do with the labels we work with, both of which are located in Europe, and it could be the prog and British influences in our music, as well.

When we we’re there in 2013, I was really floored to see people in the audiences singing to our songs. I'd like to get involved with a label here in the states too, because it would help expand our audience at home.

We use Bandcamp, CD Baby and other outlets to great success, but as the saying goes, "Together Everyone Achieves More" and labels help get your name out there, do their own advertising and other useful things for a band like us. 

Once we establish our name brand and have a larger fan base that might be different, but I have seen the positive results that working with indie labels has done for us with European audiences, and it’s great.

Q - The band recently released the single, "The Happine$$ Vending Machine," and will soon be releasing its next album, "The Acceleration of Time." What should people expect from the new album?

I think both songs on that 7” [single] represent the new album very well. It’s more of our popped psychedelic rock and rollisms with a wonderful pinch of prog throw in.

I’d say it's a blended array of melody, rock, atmosphere, pop and feedback fueled by the anxiety of one’s eminent expiration date. Or something like that.

Q - Tell me a little about the writing process. Do the lyrics come before the music, or vice versa? Does each band member bring ideas to the table?

When I write a song, the music is always first. Then I spend a while trying to write lyrics to fit the mood. 

Sometimes I sing a scratch vocal track when recording a demo and keep the train of thought nonsense for phrasing. I pretty much compose all of the main parts then let the rest of the band work in their individual stylings.

 In past years, a lot of my lyrics were inspired by my daughter, but lately, I’ve found that I enjoy writing lyrics more if I stick with a theme, like the songs on our last album, "Victoria Moon." [Co-founder] Mark [Lofgren] and I decided to try that again for the new album, "The Acceleration of Time," so that all of the songs that we bring to the plate will fit together, and possibly even accentuate a short story, to be included in the album.

Q - It seems like the band is juggling many projects these days. The "Moochie Kalala Detectives Club" television show on WTTW11 features the band's music. How did you get connected to the show? Do you see the show as another outlet to introduce people to your music?

A couple of years ago I composed all of the music for a movie that Kelli and Estlin at Dreaming Tree Films were working on called "The Stream," starring Rainn Wilson and some other folks. Last summer, it showed at CANNES in France and was picked up by Cinedigm for distribution.

At that time, the producers had also been working on episodes for a new science- themed kid’s TV show and happened to be big fans of The Luck of Eden Hall; they asked if they could use our music in the show. So, I reworked some of our tracks and composed a theme song. 

It’s definitely a great outlet for folks to hear our music and I learned some scientific facts from watching each episode myself. It’s very cool to see Estlin's different interpretations of how my music can be used and I love the show!

Q - Last year marked the 25th anniversary of The Luck of Eden Hall. How do you think the band's music has evolved over the years? Where do you see the band going in the future?

Time is a funny thing. Rock and Roll has matured, grown old and died.

When I was young, music fads were constantly evolving. Back then, some new and exciting sound or clothing style would come along and you would see its influence spread through pop culture like heat lightning.

Now all of the barriers have been broken. Alternative has become mainstream, elevator music has become hip, and for the last two decades it seems that anything goes, which has allowed us to work within the same realm of musical purgatory without really being in or out of fashion.
With the release of "Victoria Moon," we came full circle. Back to the beginning.

If you pop in our "Under The Sea" cassette from 1992 you’ll see what I mean. We have evolved as The Luck of Eden Hall. 

The sounds we make are classic, in the rock sense, but the music we create isn’t. It’s not wholly progressive, but we can have our moments. 

I create music that resonates with something deep in my '70s Michigan boy psyche. Chances are, if you grew up the the Midwest, it will resonate with you too.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chicago band Antony & The Tramps will perform at Lincoln Hall to celebrate release of second album


For those who like their music to be a bit of a stew, Chicago band Antony & The Tramps fits the bill.

The band blends roots rock, acoustic folk and other genres to create a captivating sound. Antony & The Tramps continues to make intriguing music, as it demonstrates on its second full-length album "Digital Arms," set for release on May 5.

To celebrate the release of the album, Antony & The Tramps will perform April 17 at Lincoln Hall,  2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

Brother George, Midnite on Pearl Beach and Maren Celest also are on the bill. The music starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door, available by going to

I had the chance to talk to frontman Antony Ablan about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Digital Arms," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a story behind the album's name?

Our goal was to make a sexy album. Masculine grooves, feminine melody and harmony.

The title, "Digital Arms”, plays off that same relationship, its a reoccurring theme on the record, and in our lives as modern musicians/humans. The virtual world is more and more a reality, for better and worse.

Q - I understand you recorded the album in your own studio. What was that experience like compared to recording your first album?

We built a studio with engineer Chris Kress, in the Redlight building by the Metra tracks on Ashland. For a year, we had complete access to it, recording at any hour.

It allowed us to get to really new places through experimenting, total freedom. It also gave me plenty of rope to hang myself with…many times over.

That's the flip side. But I like creating from that place too.

Q - One of the songs, "Little Black Anxiety Box," is about your obsession with your phone. Describe your songwriting process and where you find inspiration for your songs.

Inspiration comes from anywhere, that's the nature of it. When you’re in the mindset of writing, you’re more open to being inspired, your antenna is up at all times.

It's like traveling, or wearing a camera around your neck: more stuff turns you on, things that normally wouldn’t. LBAB was written in minutes, it all happened at once, music, lyrics.

Even recording in one take — that's always convenient.  My relationship with my phone is a perverse, constant power struggle with strange attractions.

Q - How did the group come together in the first place? What do you think are the strengths of the band?

I started working with different musicians years ago when I split from my last band to create otherwise. You have to find people you fall in love with musically.

So you date around for a while. In this case I had to find four mates, which is a little trickier and takes time, a couple of years.

The five of us have found our sound together, everyone shines in a different way. The three-part harmonies are uniquely us, Kej and Joe are absolutely amazing singers.

Chris and Ryan are such an invincible rhythm section, such a strong foundation we can build anything we want on that and it's always unshakable.

Q - Who would you say are the band's biggest musical influences and how have they impacted your music?

We all have very different backgrounds musically, there’s not one ‘big influence’ that's common to us all.  That's what makes us Tramps.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the band fits into it?

My relationship to Chicago is like my relationship to my phone, except I’m more proud of it.  We’ve carved our own corner out in the huge sprawl of creativity.

It fills me with inspiration to take chances, and the anxiety to keep working without rest.  Originality is appreciated in this city, that's not true of all great cities, and a lot of the so-called great music towns.

I like this town.  This album wouldn’t be the same if we lived somewhere else. 

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

We’re hungry to get better as a band, always, and with every new thing. "Great" is the goal, always.

That's the strongest force in this band. We don’t expect anything handed to us, we just keep creating better stuff.

And when our fans show up for shows, buy our records, and tell their friends about us, it's always a big reward. So, we keep working to be better.