Thursday, August 29, 2013

Music - The Latin American Sounds of Fania Records

One of the great things about Freegal is the vast amount of smaller record labels that are part of the Sony Records empire.  One such label I’ve been delving into lately has been Fania Records, a company that thrived in the 1960s and '70s with its distinct sound of Latin rhythms melded with American jazz, funk, and R&B. You can get a good feel for the music by listening to any of the songs on the excellent El Barrio Funk sampler (the cover of which, by the way, perfectly embodies the Fania ethos), or you may just want to try these three songs:

Subway JoeJoe Bataan
"Subway Joe"
From Subway Joe 

Coming on like Motown by way of Spanish Harlem, “Subway Joe” uses a humorous tale about an eventful subway ride to capture the excitement of a night spent wandering around a busy multicultural metropolis. Half Filipino and half African American, Joe Bataan is a great representative for a label that specialized in musical hybrids.     

Ray Barretto
From Acid

The repetition of a simple but funky bass riff is the bedrock from which Ray Barretto and band build an infectious groove on “Acid.”  There are also some wild horn shenanigans and a cool piano figure, but the main attraction here is Barretto’s impassioned percussion performance. His conga solo is mesmerizing in its speed, intensity, and fluctuation of rhythmic patterns.  

File:Cosa Nuestra.jpegWillie Colón
"Che Che Colé"
From Cosa Nuestra

“Che Che Colé” features the vocals of Héctor Lavoe, a legendary salsa singer who first made his name with Willie Colon’s band.  It’s a great song—the piano dances, the percussion makes you want to move your hips, and Lavoe’s voice floats lightly over the music.  Interestingly, singer Marc Anthony starred as Lavoe in the biopic El Cantante, and he also recorded a version of “Che Che Colé” for the soundtrack.        

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Rowling by Any Other Name

J.K. Rowling set the literary world abuzz a few weeks ago when it was revealed she had published the detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling earlier this year under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In response we’ve put together a list of famous authors who have published under pseudonyms:

The author: Stephen King
The alias: Richard Bachman
The books: The Bachman Books

Early in his career Stephen King published four novels under the name Richard Bachman— Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man. His reasons for using the pseudonym were two-fold: first, his publisher didn’t want to flood the market with Stephen King novels; and second, he wanted to see if he could replicate his success under a different name. Eventually he was outed when astute readers noticed similarities in style between Bachman and King.    
The author: Nora Roberts
The alias: J.D. Robb
The books: The In Death series

The In Death series is another case of a writer’s prodigious output overwhelming a publisher and causing the writer to take on a pseudonym. When prolific romance author Roberts wanted to branch out into the suspense genre, her agent suggested she publish under a different name. Combining the first initials of her oldest sons, Roberts came up with the name J.D. Robb for use on her futuristic novels about Lt. Eve Dallas.

The author: Barbara Mertz
The aliases: Barbara Michaels, Elizabeth Peters
The books:  Peters’ Amanda Peabody series; Michaels’ Wings of the Falcon and more

Some writers adopt a pseudonym to distinguish their scholarly writings from their fiction.  Thus, Dr. Barbara Mertz, author of two non-fiction titles on Egyptology, is more widely known by her two pseudonyms—Barbara Michaels, the nom de plume on her supernatural thrillers, and Elizabeth Peters, the pen name she uses for her mystery series about the adventures of Egyptologist Amelia Peabody.

The author: Ann Rice 
The alias: A.N. Roquelaure
The books: The Sleeping Beauty trilogy

And some writers adopt a pseudonym for work too sensational to be published under their real name.  Such was the case for the original printings of Ann Rice’s steamy trilogy of erotic novels The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment, and Beauty’s Release. With the name A.N. Roquelaure, Rice even provided an obscure hint that the name was hiding the author’s true identity:  roquelaure is an old French word for a type of cloak. 

The author: Ruth Rendell
The alias: Barbara Vine
The books:  King Solomon’s Carpet, Anna’s Book, and more

Authors often use a pseudonym to hide their true identity or branch out into a completely different genre; for Ruth Rendell it was more a matter of making a slight adjustment to her usual style so she could approach her psychological mysteries from a different perspective. Both her real name and pseudonym were on the cover of her earliest works as Barbara Vine, further proof that she had no desire to fool her readers.      

The author: Jayne Castle
The aliases: Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick
The books: Midnight Crystal by Jayne Castle, Deception by Amanda Quick, and others

Romance author Jayne Castle is best known for her pseudonym Jayne Ann Krentz, though her first novels were published using her real name. Because she had signed a contract giving away her rights to the Castle name, it was only after switching publishers mid-career that she began to use Krentz, her married name. Later she would go back to using Castle for futuristic romances and adopt the name Amanda Quick for historical romance novels.   

The author: Evan Hunter
The alias: Ed McBain
The books:  The 87th Precinct series

In 1952, young writer Salvatore Albert Lombino legally changed his name to Evan Hunter, a name deemed more appealing for American readers.  Two years later he had a huge hit with The Blackboard Jungle, which was later turned into a successful movie.  Today he is probably best known for his work as Ed McBain, particularly his 87th Precinct series of crime fiction. In a strange twist, Evan Hunter wrote the screenplay for the film version of Ed McBain’s novel Fuzz.

The author: Madeleine Wickham
The alias: Sophie Kinsella
The books: The Tennis Party, The Gatecrasher, Cocktails for Three, and more

Former financial journalist turned chick lit author Madeleine Wickham had penned several novels, including her debut The Tennis Party, when she anonymously submitted the manuscript for Confessions of a Shopaholic to her publisher. Unaware of her true identity, they agreed to publish the novel, which became a smashing success and spawned a handful of sequels. With the publication of Can You Keep a Secret?, it was revealed that Kinsella and Wickham were one and the same. 

The author: Patricia O’Brien
The alias: Kate Alcott
The book: The Dressmaker 

Patricia O’Brien adopted a pseudonym out of necessity.  When twelve publishers rejected her manuscript for The Dressmaker because of lackluster sales on her previous novel, O’Brien decided to resubmit the book, this time using the name Kate Alcott.  Her clever ploy worked, resulting in a book deal, a hit novel, and renewed interest her historical fiction novels, such as Harriet and Isabella, written as O’Brien.         

The author: Donald Westlake
The alias: Richard Stark
The books: Payback, Flashfire, Breakout, and more 

Richard Stark was one of more than 10 pseudonyms used by crime writer Donald Westlake during a career in which he authored over 100 books. Of the 28 novels published under the Stark moniker, 24 featured his famed protagonist Parker, a ruthless but highly skilled thief. The Parker series has been the basis for several movies, including Parker starring Jason Statham, Payback starring Mel Gibson, and Point Black starring Lee Marvin.

The author: Daniel Handler
The alias: Lemony Snicket
The book: Adverbs

Okay, this is one occasion where the pseudonym is probably more famous than the real name. As Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler wrote the amazingly popular and wickedly funny children’s books A Series of Unfortunate Events, though many people are unaware of his novels for adults published under his given name. His book Adverbs is a clever collection of interwoven stories about the various permutations of love.

The author: Agatha Christie
The alias: Mary Westmacott
The books: Six Mary Westmacott novels

Even Agatha Christie, the Grand Dame of Mystery, needed a break from her usual genre every now and then. From 1930 to 1956 Christie published six novels using the name Mary Westmacott. Unlike her usual whodunits, the Westmacott novels are often described as psychological romances. Some readers feel Christie’s best work is contained in these realistic character studies about doomed romances and illicit affairs.

The author: Eleanor Hibbert
The aliases: Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr
The books: Too many to name

Why stop at one pseudonym? This seems to be the question posed by Eleanor Hibbert, an author who had tremendous success writing under several different names. After writing 32 contemporary novels in 20 years as Eleanor Burford, her maiden name, Hibbert didn’t truly hit it big until she began publishing historical fiction under the name Jean Plaidy. She again matched this success with a series of Gothic romances written as Victoria Holt. Finally, she produced another 19 novels as Philippa Carr. Whew!

The alias: Ellis Peters
The author: Edith Pargeter
The books: The Brother Cadfael series

It’s funny how an author’s work under a pseudonym can sometimes overshadow their work under their real name. Such is the case with Edith Pargeter, who wrote more than 20 well received novels under her given name, but whose Brother Cadfael series, written as Ellis Peters, remains her most popular work. Pargeter’s substantial body of work proves she was capable of writing in a variety of genres, and her Heaven Tree trilogy is a meticulously researched historical saga of 13th century England.