In honor of the new year, let me point you toward some free things that have been giving me much enjoyment over the past week.
First, Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy)! This week, The New Yorker has a profile of this great American singer-songwriter. If you want to sample some of his music, you can get four legal, free downloads at Daytrotter. (His version of "Goodbye Dear Old Stepstone" is gorgeous. To hear Bascom Lamar Lunsford's version, go to this marvelous page of free mp3s of recordings from the '20s and '30s.) My first exposure to Oldham was through his acting -- his performance as the child preacher Danny in one of my favorite movies, Matewan. Much later, I heard he was a musician. I was skeptical -- actors who become musicians, bah! But one day Meghan McCarron and I were driving from Brooklyn to New Hampshire, and she gave me control of her iPod, and I discovered she had the Superwolf album that Oldham did with Matt Sweeney. I loved it. I bought a copy. Suddenly I no longer thought of Tom Waits as writing the saddest and most beautiful songs in the world. For a taste of that album, check out the music video of "I Gave You".
The other free item this week is a real wonder -- a screenwriting software called Celtx that is, as far as I can tell so far, at least the equal of Final Draft, with what I find to be a more useful interface (similar in some ways to Scrivener, in fact). I'm working on a little screenplay project with a friend, but hadn't done any screenwriting in a couple years, and my copy of Final Draft was owned by my previous employer, so I couldn't re-activate it, and even if I could afford a copy of my own, which I can't right now, I'd never been happy enough with it that I would have felt comfortable spending the money. After writing 40 pages in Word, I was frustrated enough that I decided to see if there was any simple, cheap solution -- I would have been happy with anything that made formatting simpler than Word does. Celtx does much, much more than that. Hooray for open source projects! If Celtx had been priced like Scrivener (which is underpriced for what it does), I would have bought it in a second after trying it, but it really is free. Development of it seems to have continued pretty quickly, too, so I expect some of the various features people are suggesting will be added. It's designed to be not just a screenwriting program, but a pre-production organizer, and I bet some of its tools would be useful to people writing novels or working on projects of various sorts. It's really an extraordinary program.