28 December 2011

Five Up

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) Evaluating a Traditional Publisher. Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes you through some question you could ask. I generally just say "Sign where? Here? OK!" But maybe you're more discerning.

(2) Neesha Meminger on From Margin to Center: Writing Characters of Color (2009)

(3) The Art of Leviathan. Part one with Scott Westerfeld, part two with artist Keith Thompson. (2009)


(5) Portlandia: Did You Read? I don't watch this show but many of the clips are hilarious.

23 December 2011

Brand New

When procrastinating I generally turn to redesigning blogs. Ameer and I just finished redoing our music blog, The End Starts Today, and now I turn my attention to this thing here. Sure I just redid it ten months ago but sometimes you just get sick of a look right?

I'm gonna miss that fun photo slider thing from the old template but 2012 is about cutting things out and paring everything back to the basics. And compartmentalizing. To that end, this is going to be all writing and books all the time, and everything not related to those two is going over to my personal blog. Well, except for dance movie reviews, those have to stay here.

One of these days I need to learn to actually code. I'm starting to suspect that copy/pasting and pecking takes me ten times longer than a real designer.

While you're here, please head over to Sophia Chang's blog to read about the "Top 3 Things Well-Meaning Bloggers Do that Drive Readers Nuts." Number two on her list, partial RSS feeds, is also a huge pet peeve of mine and if you know what's good for the world, go full feed please. And if you're not using Google Reader, well, I pity the fool.

21 December 2011

A Reading Nightcap

BOOKS READ:
  • Beijing Welcomes You, Tom Scocca
  • Scalzi on Writing, John Scalzi
  • The Search for WondLa, Tony DiTerlizzi
  • Cross My Heart, Katie Klein
  • Huntress, Malinda Lo
  • The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl, Barry Lyga
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E.Lockhart
  • Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld
  • How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, Edward Winkleman
  • Fury of the Phoenix, Cindy Pon
  • School of Fear, Gitty Daneshvari
  • Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke
  • Super Zero, Rhonda Stapleton
  • Bras and Broomsticks, Sarah Mlynowski
  • Moriboto: Guardian of the Spirit, Nahoko Uehashi
  • Beyond the Valley of the Thorns, Patrick Carman
  • Dragon's Blood, Jane Yolen
  • Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
  • King of Ithaka, Tracy Barrett
  • Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
After a three year layoff, Stuff I've Been Reading is back! Well it'll be back next month but since I'm reviving the long dead "what I just read" format, I thought I might as well cover this past year in reading.

I started 2011 off with The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl and finished up with The Search for WondLa. In-between there was stuff like the surprisingly enjoyable Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery. The latter doesn't indicate any actual plans to start an art gallery, but it sure was interesting. If I had a spare hundred thousand dollars lying around, I'd like to throw together a combination book store, art space, and comic book store. We'd serve some sort of sweets too. Maybe éclairs. Actually no, we'd serve shaved ice, of course.

The oldest book I read this year was from 1996, Clay's Ark by Octavia Butler, an author I'm ashamed to say I've never really read. I promised myself to, for years and years, but haven't actually gotten there. My friend Irene gave me a copy of Clay's Ark back in March and now that I'm over the initial hump, I need to read all of Butler's stuff so I can slowly work away my embarrassment. Perhaps I'll take a minor in Butler for fiftyfifty.me -- as a major would be probably impossible.

My biggest non-read in 2011 was A Visit From the Goon Squad, which was my very first Kindle purchase. I have no doubt it's amazing but for some reason I just keep it sitting there. That error will be rectified shortly.

Back in 2008, when I last did the Stuff I'm Reading thing, I was not yet an author who met other authors. Now I meet them, get to say hello, maybe hang out a little bit, and then when I head home, I look up their websites, check out their Wikipedias, and try to read their books.

As you can imagine, this order of operations changes how I take in their work. Oftentimes the authors I meet write amazing stuff I knew nothing about so when I'm hurtling through their book, I have to stop halfway through and try to wrap my head around the fact that I just interacted with this person in a previous life. I'm speaking of a previous life where I hadn't read their book and wasn't able to gush all about them.

I mean, it's probably better I met these authors before I read them, because then I wouldn't have to be that weirdo asking about things they wrote years ago. "So how did you come up with this, this and this? Can I just touch the hand that wrote this passage?" Or some such. I tend to turn fanboy pretty quickly given the proper provocation and who knows what I'm capable of when properly wowed.

Another way to describe this feeling is when you hear someone incredible sing. You are talking to them like a normal person -- work, weather, what's on television -- but then they get on stage or pick up a microphone and blow you away. Suddenly it's impossible to look at them without being aware of the massive talent inside.  And every conversation you have with them from there on out is tinged with "soooo amazing" echoing inside your head.

The "meet before fan" situation is very strange, as usually it's the other way around.

A highly recommended blog that features a lot of Stuff I've Been Reading type posts is Claire Light's. Her blog in general is a favorite of mine but I especially look forward to her reviews and views on books.  And may I again recommend Slightly Foxed, which is some of the best reading about reading one could ever hope for.

16 December 2011

50 Things I Love About You

It's been a bad year of reading for me. Not because I read bad books -- quite the contrary actually -- but because I didn't read enough of them. My total for the year, including a library fueled blitz last month, was twenty books. That's less than two a month. Pathetic.

For a guy with a lot of time on his hands, I fell completely off the reading wagon this year. Well no more. Lilly and I are starting up fiftyfifty.me, a books and movies challenge. Basically we're going to read fifty books and watch fifty movies in 2012. That sounds like a lot maybe. I mean, who has time for fifty of anything anymore?

Actually, we believe everyone does! And if you don't have the time, what are you doing? Watching television? Going outside? Hanging out with friends? Overrated.

I marvel at other reading challenges where people crank out over 100+ books a year. "How is anyone reading that much?!" I think to myself. Personally I'll have no problem hitting the movies watched mark, but fifty books a year could take some effort. But life's about setting goals (so I hear) so I'm gonna start with Dan Simmons' Hyperion on January 1st and not look back till I'm across the finish line.

We'll be blogging fun things on the fiftyfifty.me site, hoping you join up, and rocking out to the New Kids On The Block: Christmas Special all the way through! "50 books. 50 movies. 1 you."

14 December 2011

Five For Fighting

A weekly feature of things I co-sign: 

(1) Bark: A Blog of Literature, Culture, and Art. Everything is just good on this.

(2) Forces of Nature, Acts of God, and Other Reasons a Book Can Flop. Oh, good to know. Actually, Rachel Stark's entire Trac Changes blog is quite follow worthy.

(3) Days of Yore. Interviews with artists before they made it.  The one with Daniel Chun initially caught my eye. Other ones with Jennifer Egan and James Franco will catch yours.

(4) Saundra Mitchell's "I Have a Life!" Marketing Plan. Saundra knows so much about book marketing it's scary. And here she is with a fantastic bare bones solution.

(5) Writer's Guide to Hunger Games. I just finished Catching Fire so I'm ready to examine why the series captures the attention so. Thankfully Jenna Cooper is taking care of this for me.

12 December 2011

Consider the Seating Chart

Have you ever had this problem? A big group of people go out to dinner, you all sit down and conversation just dies. Maybe not right away, maybe not even obviously, but the fun spirit of eating out with people is totally gone. This wasn't a problem until a few years ago. In college, you can roll to dinners with twenty plus people and spirits remain high for hours. But that's college. Who has the energy nowadays?

For years, my friend and I have undertaken a rigorous course of observation about what makes group dinners "work" and we've decided that seating arrangements are the key. Given the chance, I'd socially manipulate every dinner I attend. Oh what power! Oh what fun! Is there a job where I can just seat arrange people all the time? Like a supplementary service to a wedding planner? I'd do it for free.

Let's come up with a scenario and work through it. A group of eight have reservations for a nice sit down meal. Most of them at least know each other, a few are close friends, and there is also a semi-stranger in the mix. First, let's consider the formation. Assuming a rectangular table, do you go boy-girl-boy-girl style like Emily Post suggests, or do you do something entirely different? I think we should forget Ms. Post, since she's slightly outdated and too formal for this crowd.

My seating arrangement philosophy centers around noise. Generally speaking, if talking, laughing, and discussions are happening, the dinner is happening. So where do you place the loud talkers? The ones with all the stories, the ones who make people laugh, the ones that spice up the place? More than likely, loud talkers congregate toward the middle, as those are the traditional power seats. I think this is a terrible mistake. If all the loud people are centered, the two edges are suddenly relegated to, well, the edge. The loud talkers need to be interspersed otherwise their sheer volume will make it look like their end of the table is having all the fun.

In fact, I prefer to stack the ends of the table with the two loudest people. They are the anchors for each side, #1 and #8. Plus, if they need to speak to each other, there's a great chance their voices will travel. The person least familiar with everyone must be nestled in the middle at #4, eliminating the chance that they'll feel left out.

Put the person closest to #4 at position #3, or if there isn't one, throw in someone good at being engaging and welcoming. That person is #4's lifeline, should they need it, and in charge of taking care of the newbie. A common mistake is to put the add-on and their friend (#3) next to each other. This just turns into them having a side-to-side conversation while facing each other, forcing everyone else out. Don't make this mistake, put them across from each other.

Your third loudest person goes at position #5. They must provide the energy to bridge the two sides of the table. And then there's the most crucial position of all, number six. Whoever sits at #6 has the potential to ruin everything. If they decide to turn away from the stranger at #4 and instead focus on talking to #5, 7, 8, the group conversation is done and the table is bifurcated. Disaster!

Number Six is the glue seat, the one that requires the most versatile talker and listener. This is the person that makes sure the group meal stays a group meal. It's a big responsibility, so be careful who you choose. A good number six will bond with #4, occasionally interact with all the odd numbers on the board, and shush #8 when he gets too loud. Which he will.

For seat #2, put a good friend of #1 there. These two need to have an easy relaxed rapport together. They'll be in charge of double teaming #4 when needed (to give #3 a break), or sometimes just interact amongst themselves for a moment. However, they can't be the type of duo who exclude everyone else, otherwise they just downsized an eight top into a six. The worst person to put at #2 is a quiet person, especially someone #1 doesn't really know. The reason is because #1 will then have to keep tossing "getting to know you" darts to #2, instead of being loud like their position requires.

Now there's two options as to what happens at #7. You can safely put a quiet person here, as they will be sitting near #5 and #7. Sure they could be volumed out but at least they'll feel like they're part of the party if #5, 6, 8 do their jobs right. The other thing you can do with #7 is to make it a dump seat. Sometimes someone is having a bad day, or they have a headache, or they just aren't into it. If they're going to be checking their cell phone all night or craning their neck to see the television, just put them at #7. That way they can be easily x'ed out without the table losing any momentum.

So that's my ideal formation/arrangement. How would you set up a table to maximize interaction and fun? You can ignore all this if for some reason all your big group dinners are sterling and super fun. Your fabulous friends must just magically coalesce around a table. Congratulations.

Lest you think all I care about is noise, that's not actually true. "Loud" is a catch all category for people who are engaging, socially (over-)adept, able to maintain constant chatter, and have the innate ability to just grab attention and entertain. Actual decibel level is not as important as a nice mix of these other characteristics. If you are simply loud without any of these qualities, you should probably just fucking pipe down.

A few notes: You cannot allow the good friends to clump together. They will leave everyone else out. Four people is a clump, sometimes even three. Split the friends apart, they'll get to see each other later. This splitting also applies for clumps of any kind. Like if you get me and two or more of my tech dorks sitting together, we're going to be talking about torrenting or the optimal way to set up your keyboard configuration or something. The rest of the table starts nodding off and that kills the mood.

Also, in a perfect world, you could switch seats mid-meal. This would be awesome and is a tradition I'd like to see ported over from wherever people regularly do that kind of thing. Short of doing that, it's good enough if people feel comfortable about temporarily switching seats when someone pops out to the bathroom. A quick seat swap always changes the dynamic and change is good. Nothing feels worse than feeling stuck at your seat. Move around, shake it out. Play musical chairs if things aren't working! Truth: Sometimes my friend and I will text each other to swap seats real quick to see if it makes a difference. Results are mixed but at least we try.

Another take home life assignment: What's your favorite/most qualified position to sit in assuming my positions and formation? Under normal circumstances, I generally like to be #2, sometimes #3.

Okay this is getting way too long. I may be too passionate about this topic. Perhaps I need to make a podcast about this so I can go more in-depth and also explore some alternate plans. Next time out I'd like to address specific types of people and where to seat them. For example: The Conversation Killer, The Quiet Talker, The Rude One, The Exclusionaire, The Sad Sack, The Platitude, The Couple, The Attention Hog, The Person Who Always Eats Too Loud, The Instant Food Coma-er, The Laugher, The "I don't want to talk about anything of substance" hater, etc. Basically it'll be a post calling out my friends.

07 December 2011

High Five

A new weekly feature of things I co-sign (actually "feature" is a bit grandiose):

(1) The Other Side of the Story. Most writing advice blogs lose my interest pretty quickly but Janice Hardy's is great because it's organized well and filled with tons of content. Also, Super Hero Nation, a blog specifically geared toward writing the super powered.

(2) Nova Ren Suma's "What Inspires You?" blog series. I found myself coming back over and over the past month.  Also, I can't wait to read Fade Out, formerly known as Dani Noir.

(3) Kirkus On Demand.  I didn't realize you could just pay Kirkus to do a review for you. I wonder if you can also just buy a star like you can a vowel.

(4) Stephen Sondheim on critics. "If you're going to believe your good reviews, you're going to have to believe the less good ones as well, unless you're deeply self-delusional."

(5) Malinda Lo looks at YA sci-fi covers. I believe that is a harmonica on the cover of Singing the Dogstar Blues. I love it.

01 December 2011

It's time now to sing out, though the story never ends

If only NaNoWriMo's winning requirement was for 525,600 words, then I could make up NaNo lyrics to Seasons of Love more accurately. "Fifty one thousand one hundred eighty one wo-rds / Fifty one thousand one hundred eighty one moments so dear" just does not have the same ring as the original. Of course, writing five hundred thousand words in a month would probably explode my mind and leave my fingers crippled.

I'm still in recovery from doing 51,181 words over the past four weeks.

In the past, I never considered doing NaNo because I thought that (in theory) every month should be "write a novel a month" for me. I mean, wasn't I already a disciplined and productive writer by trade? Haha, yeah right. After being a little more honest about my output, I decided that getting into the spirit of NaNo might be something I should try once. Like eating stinky tofu. Or riding roller coasters. Or watching an American Idol concert. Live.

So I did it this year. National Novel Writing Month. And as of yesterday, I'm a winner. Please, hold the applause till the end. You may not want to clap after you hear me out.

Aside from crossing the finish line with 50,000+ words in November, my goal was to just write as many consecutive days as I could. Normally my writing style is to cram when deadlines are looming. That means I'll just hunker down for a week or two and pump out words in-between sleeping and eating. Shun sunlight, social obligations, and all other forms of sanity. With this "method," I'd never written for more than ten days at one shot, much less sustained a whole month straight. NaNo would teach me to put my ass in the chair every day and throw down some words.

The good news is that except for a brief unproductive mid-month excursion to Los Angeles, I wrote just about every single day. The bad news is, all of my writing was pretty much drivel and I'd hardly call it even a first draft. I'd consider it more like an expanded outline. Some of my characters don't have names, there's a whole lot of "insert action scene here" notes, and if there was ever a plot or a point, it got messed up way back.

At the beginning of the month, I took my time and tried to outline and research and write some quality words. I even attempted to follow along with Scott Westerfeld's NaNo advice posts (from last year). But that was taking too damn long. By the end, I was just trying to get through my daily 2,100 words as fast as possible. I did my best to just keep churning without looking back or editing. And now I have fifty thousand plus words that will probably all need to be re-written.

Heck, I even cheated a little. I wrote about 30,000 words of one book before starting another and then going 20,000 on that one. Basically I had two different stories I wanted to try out so I just sort of did both. One was high fantasy, the other cyberpunky. Both all over the place.

What is nice though, is that these were the first projects I've ever tried that weren't already under contract or headed for some sort of editor to look at. So it was fun to just write down whatever I wanted and not worry about the end product. If my swords and sorcery veered into superhero land and then back across to techie science fiction, so be it. Nobody's going to read these things in their current iteration and they didn't have to make any sense. Rainbow colored elves? Yes please. Coffee powered androids? Gimme some. I just threw in whatever I was thinking about that day and figured I'd sort it all out later.

I'm going to try to carry on the momentum of writing daily, but dial it back some so I can do editing on what I did for NaNo and try to whip it into semi-cohesive shape. To all the winners past, present, and especially future: I salute you! (And we can all say "I have that t-shirt.")

29 November 2011

Marie Lu

You've probably seen Legend everywhere already, since it's about to blow up. I was a bit surprised it was coming out just now actually, as I thought it had been released awhile ago because I've been reading interviews and reviews for months. But no, Legend releases today and that's awesome news because it means nobody is late to the party!

I actually found out about Marie's work first on the art side. I'm always digging around for irresponsibly cute illustrations of animals and I somehow I stumbled onto Fuzz Academy and its selection of great animals. Snow tigers, sun bears, chubby mammoths, c'mon now, how can a person resist? Little did I know that the person behind Fuzz Academy was also a YA writer. Here's the synopsis for Marie's first book in her trilogy:
"What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets."
I believe Legend is already optioned by the Twilight producers and hopefully ready to hit the big screen soon. Fast track it guys, we need something for 2013's holiday season. In the meantime, since Marie's got serious drawing skills, she's done up some character sketches on Legend's Facebook page.

Did I mention she used to art direct at a video game company? And she name checks Ender's Game in her PBS interview? Her list of cool points just rises by the Google search. Immigrating from Beijing at a young age, Marie is giving us Chinese FOBs some serious shine. I feel like my mom is beaming, and she doesn't even know Marie!

21 November 2011

Show Me the Money

For some reason I completely missed out on Work of Art: The Next Great Artist last season. Well, there's probably a great reason, as I try to avoid TV when possible. However, I remain intrigued by a competitive reality show about producing art so I caught a few episodes of season two the other day.

Whatever you think about the role of an artist and their relationship to their work and the public, Work of Art doesn't capture it. Produced by the same people behind Project Runway and Top Chef, WoA suffers from something the other two do not: an end product you probably won't actually like. You can watch a fashion or cooking show and lust after the dresses or food, but with WoA, just seeing the finished pieces isn't enough to keep your attention.

I think this is because a show about art should concentrate more on process instead of result. Instead, the format of WoA's contrived weekly challenges tends to brush aside any possible insight by concentrating on interpersonal plot lines. Then again, how do you depict the creative process on-screen anyway? You could argue that it's an interesting show simply because it shows artists period. In order for people to support the arts, they have to know some artists maybe? Even under any microscope or format?

What will keep me coming back to Work of Art is the critiques which probably mirror real art school critiques in their harshness. Because I generally just viscerally react to a piece of art, I don't actually have the vocabulary to disparage something I don't like. Work of Art is helping me out in this regard tremendously. "This is so second hand surrealism. You failed to draw me in as a voyeur or a viewer."

The show also probably reflects a lot about the confusion of artists about how their pieces are judged. They think they went from concept to execution pretty well, and then get torn down by the panel. Inside the must be thinking "What do you know about art?!" In this case however, some of these judges purportedly do know a lot about art. Purportedly.
Most of the good art documentaries I've seen are retrospective, or have engaging protagonists or smart talking heads. Sadly some of the stuff I've been watching recently has been lacking. The short piece about the making of MOCA's recent Art in the Streets exhibit wasn't that good, despite my high expectations.

In that genre, I'd recommend Dirty Hands, the David Choi documentary ten times more. I'd also highly recommend checking out Art 21 from PBS, which is well produced and explores the working lives of contemporary artists. Start with this episode about Identity hosted by Steve Martin.

And I recently read this little book called "How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery" and while I have no aspirations on doing any such a thing (unless you want to lend me a few million dollars), it was a really interesting look into the commerical side of the art world. I'm always curious who owns art galleries, or how they make any money, this book shed some insight into that.

17 November 2011

Thanhha Lai

Since Lonely Comma is no more, I thought I'd continue the Asian American author spotlights here. I had Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again all queued up awhile ago because her cover was just so amazing. I mean, seriously, it's fantastic. Just look at it. It jumped out to me at the bookstore and I loved the title too.

Well, the content inside is clearly just as great because Thanhha just won the National Book Award for her debut. I've never read a novel in verse before but I think I'm going to start with hers. Here's the synopsis:

"For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by—and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape—and the strength of her very own family."

Amidst all this hoopla about authors needing an online presence, I can't find much about Thanhha to share here with you. (Except that she was born in Vietnam and didn't learn English until after she got here at ten years old!) No author website, few interviews, no social networks, no nothing. It just goes to show, if you got it, you got it.

11 November 2011

Friendship is Magic

Sometimes you just wake up on a Sunday morning and get caught up researching all the hoopla around men who obsesses over My Little Ponies. This article will shed some light on what I'm talking about, "Hey Bro, That's My Little Pony!"

For starters, doesn't everyone already love My Little Pony? George and I were blessed in our youth to own the MLP Dream Castle. She probably got it in response to me receiving a Castle Grayskull. Since our toys were often mixed together, I know there were probably some epic wars between our action figures, as mounted GI Joes faced off against Barbies astride Battle Cat and Panthor. Oh those were the days.

Basically most of my morning was spent watching the new My Little Pony series on one computer screen while exclaiming "Oh this was my favorite!" as I browsed through old toys on the other. Looking over these classics from the 1980's, I'm stunned (and a bit ashamed) by how many we had. Clearly we were suckers for every marketing ploy and our parents were easily cajoled into buying us things. If my child insisted on purchasing all this crap now, I would not bow down to their unfettered consumerism. Plus I probably couldn't afford it since I'd have to buy two of each; one for playing, one for saving.

While one day does not a brony make, I am subscribing to Equestria Daily, the main MLP blog. I need to keep tabs on this fascinating community after all -- I have already recruited a pegasister and chosen Rainbow Dash as my favorite pony. If you've forgotten the original series, I recommend you check out the pilot episode here. I think you'll be surprised at the dragons versus ponies plotline; it's like super violent compared to the new series.

Aside from the fantastic animation style, I also really appreciate the many horse puns in MLP: Friendship is Magic. For example, "Canterlot" is the capital city of Equestria and the villainous pony calls everyone "little foals (as in 'fools')." And if you want to insult a pony that doesn't have their cutie mark yet, you can call them a "blank flank." A hint for the pop quiz tomorrow, The Elements of Harmony are honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, loyalty, and magic. Study up kids.

10 November 2011

What is it you do exactly?

I spent an hour or so earlier playing this video game about making a video game. So meta. In Game Dev Story, you manage a studio by hiring coders, designers, sound engineers, developers, and writers. Along with selecting the right staff, you're in charge of advertising and picking the genre of game to produce.

My first attempt was to create a ninja puzzle. It pretty much got terrible reviews and bombed. Then I created a romantic action game that did slightly better. As my team worked to pump out some hits, I had to make sure they were paid on time, that they had energy to perform at their best, and also decide if we should pay out licensing fees and try to anticipate what our fan base wanted.

After reading Harold Underdown's "What a Publisher Does," I thought about how cool it would be if there was a publishing game just like this. I mean, unless you work in a particular industry, it's easy to overlook how complicated things can be. "Don't products just magically appear?" Even when I was in the gaming industry as a tester, I wasn't fully aware of what all the other departments did until after a few months. Imagine if a game could replicate the entire chain of decisions toward publishing a smash book. Or how bad you would feel when your company launched something without proper marketing and it struggled.

Heck, imagine if games like this existed for every industry. I have no idea what most of my friends do every day at their jobs. I'd love a game that showed me what someone in advertising does all day, or what sort of decisions go into investment banking and architecturing. I mean, I learned the basics about a fast food company's supply chain from the McDonald's Game!

Actually, the company that makes Game Dev Story already sort of does this. Kairosoft has simulation games for managing a cruise ship, becoming a music mogul, becoming an illustrator, running a sushi joint, and one that I'm eagerly waiting to be ported over from Android: being the dictator of a soccer team. Power over little people, it's the thing that makes me keep playing these things.

Growing up, I played this basketball simulation game where you managed your team over many seasons. Keep in mind, you didn't even get to play the games, you just lorded over them by trading players, substituting different lineups, and adjusting pre-game strategy. I probably went through a dozen consecutive seasons of this. Just sitting at my computer screen watching little basketball players play each other. And I wonder where my childhood went.

Of course, as an adult, one could just go work in these other industries to find out what they're like. Or you know, I could read a book, do an interview, and research or something. But where's the fun in that?

31 October 2011

I Will Remember You


Hey, remember that 2009 Debs eBook anthology I was talking about a few months back? Well it's here! Thanks to the hard work of editors Rhonda Stapleton and Jessica Verday, The First Time is ready to be downloaded onto your favorite eReader. What's also thrilling is that I haven't read anybody else's stories so I'm excited to tear through them all in the next couple of days. Here's the book description and links to all the contributing authors!
"In The First Time, 25 young adult authors contribute 25 stories all about firsts: first loves, first kisses, first zombie slayings, and more. Featuring New York Times bestselling authors Carrie Ryan and Jessica Verday, plus a host of others. From humor to horror, and everything in between, these stories will make you laugh, cry, cheer, (and maybe even scream) as you experience something brand new from the authors that you love."
Cyn Balog, Lauren Bjorkman, Leigh Brescia, Jennifer Brown, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Janet Gurtler, Teri Hall, Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Stacey Jay, Heidi R. Kling, C. Lee McKenzie, Saundra Mitchell, Jenny Moss, Jackson Pearce, Shani Petroff, Carrie Ryan, Sydney Salter, Kurtis Scaletta, Jon Skovron, Kristina Springer, Rhonda Stapleton, Charity Tahmaseb, Jessica Verday, J. A. Yang, and Lara Zielin.
My short story is about...well, let me just tease you with a line from it:
"What Perfect Firsts does, at the basic level, is to provide a perfect first boyfriend or girlfriend for people in need. Who qualifies as 'in need?' Everyone."

You're totally intrigued aren't you? You totally wish you had the perfect first relationship don't you? Is my story even fictional or based on true events?! I'll never tell. Okay if you buy the anthology and then read every single one of the stories inside, maybe then I'll tell.

And if you don't have an eReader, you can still download the free Kindle or Nook app and read from there on your computer, phone, iPad, etc. Oh technology, you make my heart sing. Plus you can follow all the 2009 Debs with just one click via a Google Reader bundle or a Twitter list.

While we're at it, let's have a contest where the prize is a free copy of The First Time. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and tell me an interesting fact you learned recently. Let's educate each other! If you haven't learned anything interesting recently, well, just tell me what your favorite mythological creature is I suppose. But if you choose to go that route, I'm a little concerned about what you do every day. No judging, no judging.

I'll randomly select a winner next Monday, November 7th! Also, feel free to become a follower on that little gadget on the right, or stalk my Twitter or something. Both are semi-accurate measures of my self-esteem.

30 October 2011

What's a Nubian?

Went out last week to the Diversity in YA Fiction tour stop in San Diego. Despite sorta living here, it's the very first book event I've ever been to in my area. Crazy right? This stop featured DIYA founders Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, along with their special guests Holly Black, Cinda Williams Chima, Karen Healey, and Greg van Eekhout.

All six are fantasy authors and that lent an interesting perspective to the topic of diversity. There were discussions about writing beyond your own experiences, dealing with people who say your work isn't authentic, and how easy it can be to get things wrong that might hurt people -- even by accident or oversight. However, all of this doesn't mean that writers shouldn't write about what they don't have direct experience with, as long as they do their best to research and to be respectful.

Greg van Eekhout made a great point about how unlike making a movie, if you don't like something in a book, you don't have to do an expensive reshoot, you can just make edits on a document. This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, how convenient it is to be a writer from an equipment standpoint. Most other artists need cameras, brushes, kitchens, instruments, special shoes, etc. Writers don't need much of anything to get down to work.

Author Mette Ivie Harrison live tweeted some quotes and highlights from the hour and a half long panel. I took a transcript of her tweets here. While the DIYA tour is now officially over, the DIYA blog is still going strong so head on over to check out the monthly new books, features, interviews, and guest posts by a variety of book people.


While we're semi on the topic, I totally recommend this site: Comp Lit and Mediaphilia. Hannah is a getting a few graduate degrees right now at Simmons and she talks about a great mix of writing, politics, books, and literature on her blog. The first post I read of hers was "Biracial Literature #3: The Finding Identity By Going on a Literal Journey Trope," and was immediately compelled to read what she thought about everything else. I'm pretty sure you'll feel the same way.

27 October 2011

Just Tell Me the Song and I'll Sing It

Currently pushing: Stephen Elliot's "An Oral History of Myself" series. I've been a loyal reader of Elliot's Daily Rumpus emails for about a year now and he's like a uni-directional BFF. I know more about his thoughts and life than I do about most of my friends, which is weird but also fascinating.

I recently found out about his oral history series and have been going through them all. The project is this: "In 2005 I [Elliot] began interviewing people I grew up with and transcribing, then editing, the interviews, creating a kind of memoir but in other people's words." Oral histories are all the rage now. Like the one for Friday Night Lights, the mammoth ESPN book, the MTV book. I think everyone should create an oral history.

The Daily Rumpus is consistently one of my favorite reads but it's not available via blog or anything, as far as I know. Thus I recommend subscribing to the email list immediately.

I went to the library today, for the first time in a long time. I had sort of forgotten about the actual purpose of a library. The last few times I've been in libraries it's been for readings, panels, workshops, blow out sales, celebrations, bathroom pit stops. The last time I checked something out was 2007. As a friend deadpanned to me when I told her how cool it was that I could use my Kindle to borrow books for free: "So it's like a library." Riiiight, good point. Now that I know where I'll be for more than three weeks -- San Diego until 2012 -- I decided it would be best to start hitting up the local branch again.

At the beginning of this year I lamented how much I haven't been reading. Well, eleven months later and I still haven't been reading. I do have a beautiful spreadsheet of things acquired but only nine titles are marked "finished." That's totally pathetic. I'm not exactly cruising through Gravity's Rainbow here either. It only took a few hours each to polish off the stuff I have read. The problem is so much of my reading intake is now long form articles and stuff online that my diet is totally disproportionate. My Kindle was supposed to change this but I've finished a grand total of one book on it so far.

Anyway, long whining short, I'm going to breeze through a book a day this week and try to get my rhythm back. Plus I want to win a reading medal. They still give those out right? Or maybe that's so passé now. I mean, this library in Canada is having a contest to award a trip to WrestleMania for teens who read at least five books. I'm so gonna beat them (up).

Yesterday, Elliot talked about the difference between breaking into the film world versus the publishing world -- excerpted here. What got me was this last bit: "A book is an author alone in a room multiplied by a passage of time. A book isn’t set on permission, a book is grounded on faith."

24 October 2011

I'll Show You

Since joining, I haven't been able to do any of Rachael Harrie's Campaign Challenges yet so I thought I better hop on the last one! The rules are over here and this one is about "show not tell." I'm running out the door for some basketball so had to whip this up and hopefully it'll work! And let's hope I don't break anything trying to recapture my youth.

"Write a blog post in 300 words or less, excluding the title. The post can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should show: (1) that it’s morning (2) that a man or a woman -- or both -- is at the beach (3) that the main character is bored (4) that something stinks behind where he/she is sitting (5) that something surprising happens."
Dictionary Brown wiggled his toes against the sand, trying to move them even an inch. How long before the tide rolled back in? Fifteen minutes, an hour? Would he try to hold his breath or would he just let the water wash over him? He tried to clench his hands but they too, didn’t respond.

Barely able to crane his neck more than a few degrees, he saw a familiar sight at the edge of his peripheral vision. It was slumped over, long titian-colored hair obscuring the face of his girlfriend. A thin darker shade of red dripped from the crown of her head. “Nancy!” he gurgled out, throat constricting with the effort.

A breeze brought the scent of her distinctive shampoo floating his way. Dictionary hated that smell but Nancy loved it because it was unique. “Amorphophallus titanum, it’s the corpse flower!” It had cost her $49.99 on darketsy.com, her favorite shopping site. Even though the stench of it threatened to make him dizzier than he already was, he tried to capture every last whiff.

How would he describe this situation later in his memoirs? “Adjective: Reckless or dangerous because of despair or urgency. Leaving little to no hope. Extremely bad; intolerable or shocking.” No, he’d use “bored.” Yes, that’s how he would describe it. It would be more accurate.

A shadow passed over him, blocking his view of the rising sun. “Hello Leroy,” he said, staring up at his brother. Addressing the pair behind Encyclopedia, he added, “Frank, Joe, good to see you too.” The two dimwits used to work for him but had recently deserted one cause or party for the opposite faction.
Turncoats.
Assholes.
It wouldn’t matter. Dictionary had gotten the TV show, he had gotten the girl, and now, he was going to get even.

23 October 2011

Music Makes Me High

It's been a year since my last mixtape, mass apologies. Last time my songs were to celebrate summer but this time I'd like to gear us up for the long winter ahead. While I tried to keep the number of songs manageable -- I already cut down from 80-plus -- there were just way too many good ones to trim any further. For the first time ever, I don't think I used the same artist twice. I know, you're so impressed.

If you follow along to my "Listening to" tag or with Ameer's music blog, The End Starts Today, a few of these selections should be familiar to you. With T.E.S.T gaining momentum, I may have to transfer all my future music selections over there so come on along.
40oz to Freedom
Track list - Zip file
40 songs, 2 hr 20 mins, 248.8 MB
Most of these tracks have lyrics attached, courtesy of Get Lyrical. When you play songs in iTunes, the program searches for lyrics to insert into the track notes. How amazing is that? Singing along will never be easier!

18 October 2011

Footloose (2011)

In what could prove to be my most important piece of work yet during my dance movie review series, I'm here to compare the old Footloose with the new Footloose, which I rushed to see opening weekend. Warning, many spoilers ahead. In short, if you didn't plan on watching the new Footloose, you should, because it's actually pretty good. Note: All category scores are for the remake because no number can reflect how fantastic the original is.

Tagline: After some Googling, it looks like the original had quite a few taglines: (1) "He’s a big-city kid in a small town. They said he’d never win. He knew he had to." (2) "All he wanted to do was dance." (3) "One kid. One town. One chance." (4) "The music is on his side." None of them are real winners but the remake has "Cut Loose" and "This Is Our Time" as the taglines so it didn't exactly try to up the ante. EDGE: None

1. Plot (7) They changed a few things in the remake but surprisingly, most of the plot points are the same. Directors love to mix things up but Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snack Moan) did a great job of not messing with a good thing. Everything he did change, I fully support, as they made sense or enhanced the drama.

In the new version, Ren is from Boston instead of Chicago and moves to Bomont after his mother's death instead of with her. Good choice as this gives Ren more depth and eliminates a totally unnecessary character. Ren's uncle is given a lot more to do in the remake and adds an extra dose of humor. The biggest change Brewer made was probably showing us the five seniors partying and then getting killed. Wise move as this made for a much more exciting opening.

Also, changing Bomont's location to Georgia allowed for the inclusion of minorities. A point which we'll come back to later. The original Footloose had no people of color in it, not one. Unless you count Sarah Jessica Parker, who was glowing rainbows. Overall the remake just makes a lot more sense from every angle, including the reasoning behind the dance ban. EDGE: Remake

2. Can the lead characters dance? (9) After watching his audition tape on the Footloose Deluxe DVD, I can tell you that Kevin Bacon was a pretty good dancer. Also, he did most of his own dance scenes in the movie, except the warehouse acrobatics. Not bad. Of course, since Kenny Wormald is a professional dancer who already starred in Center Stage: Turn It Up, it's hard not to give him the edge here. I did hate his strange spinning arms move and didn't think he was actually amazing amazing, but he used to dance backup for Justin Timberlake so what do I know.

The Lori Singer versus Julianne Hough matchup is similarly stacked. Hough was a former Dancing With the Stars pro (as well as a best selling country singer) and co-starred in Burlesque. Her parents met as as teammates on their college's ballroom dancing team. While Singer always wanted to be a dancer, she instead became a cello prodigy and actress. Her mom and dad are a concert pianist and a symphony conductor -- her brother is Marc Singer, of Beastmaster and V fame. Some people get all the talent. I'll give the edge here to Hough, even though Singer was probably very talented as a dancer too.

Oh Willard. Chris Penn didn't even know there was dancing involved when he signed up for Footloose. After putting in many hours of work, he proved to be the perfect mix of awkward and endearing. I thought he couldn't be topped but Miles Teller is just as good. In theory, Teller has to be a dancer than Penn but it really doesn't matter because Willard's job is to make us laugh. In that category, both Penn and Teller are equally fantastic. EDGE: Remake

3. How're the dance scenes? (8) You can't top the dance scenes in the original. Or wait, can you? For a dance movie, there were very few dancing scenes in Footloose. The opening shoes montage, the warehouse scene, going out in the big city, the teaching montage, and then the prom. That's it.

The remake adds two additional dance scenes but quantity doesn't improve things. For example, the new warehouse scene is awful. Yes it's hard to redo such an iconic scene but the song they picked was terrible. I felt no thrill watching Wormald bounce around and venting his emotions. I'd have preferred them just splicing the original Bacon part into the remake.

Also, the prom dance wasn't nearly as thrilling. Yes the original had weird camera obscuring color blotches superimposed on everything but it also featured more frantic excitement. That was a party I would have wanted to go to. The remake's prom didn't seem quite as fun.

Let's now talk about how popular dancing has evolved in the twenty five years since the original Footloose. This will only take one word: b-boying. While I love break dancing and all that, seeing it in Footloose threw me off. I missed seeing exuberant 80's dancing with arms akimbo and lots of jumping around. I don't need to see crunking in my nostalgia movie, not for one second. But I guess the remake has to evolve with the times. I would have preferred more stuff like the new country dancing scene, which is modern yet not jarringly out of place. Or something like what Wormald and Hough performed on DWTS. EDGE: Original

4. How's the love story? (6) Who cares, this is about the love of dance! At least we can understand why Ren and Ariel are attracted to each other, which is a big step up from most dance movies. There's no explanation for Willard and Rusty in either version though, and I would have enjoyed watching Willard awkwardly flirt.

5. Rate the sidekicks (9) We've already discussed Penn and Teller as Willard. Now let's compare the other support staff. Ariel's best friend, Rusty, has inexplicably been transformed into a Puerto Rican. That's fine but when the entire rest of the cast is white or black, I'm wondering where the other minorities are. Assuming this is set in the present day, there's only one non-white/black family in town? Really? I don't need a complete palette swap in small town Georgia but this weak concession to diversity is ridiculous. (I had to look up what ethnicity actress Ziah Colon was because as her bio states, her agent saw "[Colon's] ethnic ambiguity as an advantage.")

Either way, Sarah Jessica Parker is all kinds of missed here. She was the ideal giddy sidekick and I'd say her character added a lot to the original. Sadly, in the remake Rusty is high pitched and annoying. Overwhelming edge to Parker's Rusty here.

As for Ariel's parents, it's John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest versus Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell. I wondered why Kevin Bacon wasn't given the dad role but Dennis Quaid is everyone's favorite cinematic father so I can understand the decision. John Lithgow seems more like a creeper than a preacher so I'd say Quaid wins here. As for Wiest versus MacDowell, it didn't really matter because a cardboard cutout could have filled MacDowell's role in the remake. Seriously, I think she had three lines total and I don't know why she even took the role. You're better than that Andie, you're better than that.

I didn't think I wanted to talk about Chuck Cranston here but there was something vaguely appealing about the remake's version. I think it was because the actor who played him, Patrick John Flueger, vaguely resembled a young Patrick Swayze. Like if Swayze had been a stock car racing, woman beating, redneck. The new Chuck was less menacing but I liked what he brought to the film. EDGE: Original, I'd rather have SJP than the upgrade from Lithgow to Quaid.

6. Best line (8) There are a lot of memorable lines from the original. From Ren's quick comebacks to Ariel's screaming at her dad, "I'm no saint you know, I'm not even a virgin!" In church no less. However, the best line is undoubtedly Willard's answer to Ren when he asks about Ariel.
Willard: People think she's a hellraiser.
Ren: Is she?
Willard: I think she's been kissed a lot.
And a variation later on:
Ariel: Do you wanna kiss me?
Ren: Someday.
Ariel: What's this "someday" shit?
Ren: Well, it's just I get the feeling you've been kissed a lot, and I'm afraid I'd suffer by comparison.
The new screenplay ports over many of the same lines but makes everyone slightly wittier and funnier. I also much enjoyed Chuck's mispronunciation of "touché," which I didn't even catch because it was comically butchered so bad. EDGE: Even, acknowledging that most of the characters' interplay and good lines came from the original.

7. Music (9) You can't mess with the songs from the original and thankfully they didn't. While the songs were given a makeover, they did work pretty well. The exception is "Holding Out for a Hero," which gets related to a slim scene instead of being used for the chicken race. That misstep is made up for by the fantastic version of "Let's Hear It For the Boy" highlighting the remake. I know I tend to liberally say things are genius but the way they incorporate Deniece Williams' classic into the new version is absoutely genius. EDGE: Original

8. Fashion (6) There is a lot of hoopla made about Ren's tie. The original film's extras revealed that Ren was supposed to not want to wear a tie to school but does so at his mother's insistence. Kevin Bacon stepped in and thought his character would want to dress up. Over two decades later, that skinny tie has made a huge style comeback and now both old Ren and new Ren are cool and contemporary. Also still great are Ariel's red boots, the similarly floufy hair for Bacon and Wormald, and Willard's cowboy hat. I was saddened that the new Ren gave up his Chucks but that's a minor point -- at least he kept his yellow Volkswagen Bug! EDGE: Original

9. Cultural Impact (1) No contest here. The original spawned a remake, duh. However I think it's impressive that the remake didn't totally suck. Only those anticipating Razzies for the new Footloose will be disappointed. In fact there's a lot that's better about the remake. It's a more streamlined film, the character motivations are better, and all the things you loved about the original are here. If not for nostalgia value and the iconic dance scenes, it could be argued that the new one could stand alone. Then again, I'd love to hear from someone who watched the remake but not the original. I'd imagine the experience is not nearly the same. EDGE: Original

10. Miscellaneous (4) There's nothing exciting behind the scenes about the remake but I'd dedicated a lot of time looking up original Footloose lore and listening to the DVD commentary. I mean, how did Madonna lose out for the role of Ariel? Early Eighties Madonna wasn't perfect for the wild preacher's daughter?! The only comparable drama for the remake is how Zac Efron pulled out. Lame. Oh and why Kevin Bacon didn't make a cameo. I read that he turned the producers down when they asked. The role I think would have made the most sense for Bacon would have been as the cop who pulls Ren over early on in the movie. That would have been a nice role reversal and nod to the original right?

Let's return to Julianne Hough for a minute. While she can't be faulted for this, she looks so much older than Kenny Wormald. She's actually quite young but her face looks so much older opposite the cherubic Wormald. Also, her resemblance to Jennifer Aniston distracts from the movie. Not to say that Hough wasn't good in the remake but I just couldn't shake the similarity.

One thing that bothered me about the original was how after Ariel gets punched by her boyfriend, absolutely nothing happens. I was real curious if the remake would keep the assault in there. In fact it does, and doesn't shy away from the dad slapping Ariel either. However, there is no retribution or even acknowledgement that Ariel got beat up. I expected a scene in the remake to address the issue, or even a line from Ren during his fight with Chuck. Nada. Oh well, I guess you can't dance or play loud music in Bomont but you can slap a girl around. Thanks for the morality lesson Footloose.

FINAL VERDICT (67/100)
As a standalone, the remake's scores ranked right in-between Step Up and Step Up 3. It didn't approach the heights of Centerstage or You Got Served but if you loved the original, this is a must see. Some critics have even said that it improved on the 1984 version. I know, blasphemy! Now I think I need to watch the Footloose musical. I didn't even know there was one until recently. I wanna dance with somebody, don't you?

15 October 2011

It's a Small Wonder

Here with another edition of games you hate but love, an update on my current mobile game obsessions -- just in time for your shiny new iPhone 4S's. Two years ago it was Papaya Farm, the gateway drug. Last spring it was We Rule for a few furious months. Then in July we started in on Bakery Story. I was ready to quit my pastry chef career weeks ago but waited until I converted all my ovens and coffee makers into ice cream machines for a grand re-opening. Now I'm going to stop serving my delicious sundaes and let my demanding customers starve. I'm so over (virtual) desserts.

The preference for my play group -- five girls and three guys -- are that games have to be cute and there has to be a social element involved. No actual skill required. Surprisingly, it's not easy to find games that fit the bill despite the deluge in apps that are designed to these specifications.

Most of the zoo type games are no good because raising a few animals to stick in cages is hardly exciting. Dragon Vale was okay for about five seconds because who didn't love How to Train Your Dragon, but it ultimately proved to be too boring. Trying to breed dragons to get a particular species is interesting but I just kept wishing for an iPhone Pokemon.

The only animal game I'd get into has to involve some sort of safari theme where you try to balance the predators versus the prey -- all while preserving plant life, recovering from natural disasters, and avoiding poachers. I want to simulate the circle of life or nothing else. Give me some complexity in animal games already.

Luckily I have found two games worth checking out. The first one is a familiar theme, just Mafia Wars dressed up with graphics and action. While I don't espouse violence in real life, I have no problems mugging, robbing, and committing all manner of crimes to make my name feared across the five boroughs. There is a lot of satisfaction in watching your little avatar punch people out and then steal their money.

You also get to build a neighborhood of your own and so far I have a sparkling basketball court surrounded by a late night pizza joint and a classy abandoned building. Come on through, I've got the safest streets in Crime City because I believe in keeping danger off my stoop.

And since I like to brag, my record in fights versus my "rivals" is 104-4. That's a 0.963 winning percentage and three of those losses were when I wasn't looking and got jumped. The one legitimate loss was on my first day, when I was still wet behind the ears. Since then I've been practically undefeated. I'm pretty sure I was born to intimidate.

The other game is my favorite so far. It's called Tiny Tower and is an 8-bit treatise on life in the modern metropolis. Okay maybe it's not quite that deep. The goal of Tiny Tower is to build a skyscraper filled with happy residents and booming businesses. Each person has a dream job and if you put them in that position, they are like totally appreciative.

As you add floors to your building, you'll create photo studios, golf courses, banks, wood shops, grocery stores, and more delightful places to decorate and staff. Being able to hire, fire, and evict people is a powerful feeling. Also, your "bitizens" get to wear funny costumes and talk about each other in their own version of Facebook.

Download Tiny Tower already, it's megalomaniacal fun and unlike other freemium games, doesn't force you to pay real money to unlock stuff. Then friend me please! Well, after checking out this article, "How Skyscrapers Can Save the City."

12 October 2011

Sun Was High

This gap in my blogging doesn't mean we didn't make it cross country. In fact we made it very safe and sound, without much muss or fuss at all. Not one flat tire, rude local, or disgusting rest stop to be found. Given the chance I'd do the drive again but I'd take much longer.

For example, due to time constraints we were forced to pass up the Oz Museum and Larry Bird's hometown. Seeing as they are related to two of my top five obsessions, visiting them would have been something.

My drivemate also said she thought we could go to check out Dorothy's House. Then we looked it up and Liberal, Kansas was too far off route. I tried to reason that three hours out of the way probably wasn't worth it to see a recreation of a fictional person's house. But you can get your name on a yellow brick there --- for an "appropriate donation" -- so maybe we made the wrong decision.

If you are a fellow Oz fanatic, allow me to recommend Was by Geoff Ryman. It combines an abused and fictional Dorothy Gael, a very real Frances Gumm (before she became Judy Garland), and an actor stricken with AIDS who plays the Scarecrow and is on the search for Dorothy's house. Why is the Wizard of Oz so ripe for dark re-imaginings?

While I was gone, my Google Reader collected thousands of unread items, my fantasy football teams tanked due lack of consistent quarterbacks, and lots of world things happened that I'm just catching up on now. Amanda Knox, better Kindles, and a new iPhone released. Farewell Jobs and Davis. Occupy Wall Street is spreading. The NBA is on serious lockout... I'm still digging out of two weeks ago. It's gonna take awhile.



If you're looking for something to read right now, can I suggest this? "In Memory of Troy Davis." Regardless of how you feel about the death penalty, the article has a lot of interesting things in it. For example, a fact embedded about halfway down surprised me greatly: apparently a chimera isn't just a mythological creature. "In modern biology, a chimera is the result of the death, in utero, of one of two non-identical twins, and the subsequent blending of two types of DNA in the surviving individual." That seems like it could make one hell of a story. Someone please write something riveting involving real life chimeras. Or maybe a criminal organization that exclusively recruits them.

Not it.

Also, the article talks the etymology of "witness" and points out how eyewitness accounts tend to sway juries quite a bit but in an entirely different context, an eyewitness is something justifiably unreliable. Just read the article, it's good. Well, unless you don't like this kind of stuff, in which case, don't read it. It's PG-17ish probably.
"It’s as if we forget, when we are under that spell, about the other possible meaning of 'first person.' Taken in a different context -- in literature -- it means almost the opposite of unassailable authority. It means limited omniscience. It means unreliability. It means subjectivity. It means, quite simply, one person's story."
-In Memory of Troy Davis-

25 September 2011

Once More with Feeling

In a few days I'll be embarking on my first cross country driving trip, from San Francisco to New York. Twenty year old me would have been mighty disappointed that he had failed to make such a journey during his reign. Thirtysomething me is mostly concerned with amenities along the way. Mainly which diners I'll be able to eat sandwiches and drink coffee in.

There's been plenty of opportunities for me to drive cross country before this but I never jumped on any of them. I guess I was just waiting for the perfect situation. Apparently that perfect situation consists of driving in a dying car with no AC, no stereo system, and a friend who comes self-advertised as "not the greatest driver." The good news is that I hate driving long distances. Like going from San Diego to Los Angeles is about my max. The longest drive I've ever participated in was post-9/11, from Manhattan to Ann Arbor in one ten hour burst. Going 3000+ miles will probably take much longer.

The idea of this particular friend and I setting off across the country has raised some alarm in our social circle. "Wait, are you sure? Just you two? Seriously? But you guys got lost going to Napa." We tried to recruit a third person but who has the time nowadays to just set off across the country on a whim? Nobody, that's who. So basically this trip is going to be a misadventure. That's what I'm hoping anyway.

For example, my friend also wants to go camping in Zion. Neither of us know anything about camping. In a pinch I could probably zip/unzip things and tap out some vowels in Morse code but that's about it. I'm leaving my friend in charge of planning this particular excursion. I mean, I already volunteered to bring a flashlight.

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty went cross country fueled by adrenaline and drugs. Leslie and I will be fueled by the Janet Jackson discography and fear of flying off the road. It should be exciting. In order to prevent total catastrophe, I'm going to tweet prolifically so people can keep track of our progress and possibly pinpoint our location for the authorities or the tow truck, whichever is needed first.

I have no idea when the term "bucket list" became so ubiquitous but I sort of hate it because not only was the movie terrible -- not that I've ever watched it -- but the term just sounds kind of stupid. A bucket list consists of things you want to do before you die right? Why not just say that? Anyway, since I'm possibly putting my life on the line with this drive, I'll allow myself the use of "bucket list" just once.

Driving cross country is one of the few things that's always been on my bucket list and after accomplishing this fancy feat, there won't be many more items left. Which means I've either achieved it all and can just wallow in my accomplishments, or more likely, I need to aspire to more.

19 September 2011

New Horizons to Pursue

I've been on a Dev Hynes kick this past week or so. After reading through stuff about Weeknd and Frank Ocean, someone referred to Hynes as the progenitor of their sound. While I'm still a bit flummoxed by that assertion, there's no doubt that I love his Lightspeed Champion stuff.

Oh right, Hynes is already three musical personas deep, from punk rock (Test Icicles) to indie folk (Lightspeed Champion) to synth pop (Blood Orange).
"I'm always weary of connotations. I don't want people to listen to the music I make presently because they liked my previous work, or to dismiss it because they didn't. I'm guilty of this as well -- having preconceptions about other artists -- but it's stupid because all music exists on its own and should be listened to with a clear head. That's what I'm hoping to achieve by giving different names to each new project I begin."
-Interview with Dev Hynes-
Aside from his constant genre switches, Hynes also has an interesting approach to making music. He's also a producer and song writer and his recordings often are things meant for other artists, or they are just experiments he's testing out. He isn't afraid to just put throw stuff down and go where his creativity takes him. His latest record, the recently released Coastal Grooves, is done from a "melodramatic female perspective."
"On Coastal Grooves, Blood Orange’s full-length debut, the 25-year-old British ex-pat imagines his Brooklyn neighborhood as a romantic wonderland, infused with endless possibility and sexual confusion. Most of the album’s 10 bedroom transmissions are written from a feminine point of view, which is no accident. Having spent the better part of the last year writing songs for Solange Knowles and Florence and the Machine, Hynes can comfortably assume what he calls a "melodramatic female perspective" -- in fact, it suits him perfectly. He’s never played by the rules."
-Devonté Hynes is Burning-
Also, Hynes has synesthesia, which allows him to literally see sounds. John Mayer has the same neurological condition, but Mayer's is slightly different as he sees colors when he hears sounds. Looking over the list of artists who "suffer" from synesthesia is like looking over a roster of X-Men. Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Nabokov, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Duke Ellington... I'm hoping my super powers will kick in soon too.

Regardless of how you feel about Hynes' music there's much to admire about his constant experimentation, the re-imagining of his style, his willingness to be angry, playful, romantic, etc. and overall prolificness.