Monday, December 31, 2007


Yesterday's post was my 200th--not a big deal to anyone but me, yet to me an odd sort of milestone. Today is the last day of 2007--not a big deal on its own, just another day, but to many Americans a big milestone. Funny how that works.

I try to resist the lure of such made-up milestones; after all, today I got up, exercised, ate, worked, and so on, all as usual. It's just another day.

Of course, I fail most of the time. It's not just another day, not inside me and not inside most people. Thoughts of successes and failures, goals, and transition inevitably come to mind.

I'll spare you my own goals for 2008. Instead I'll simply say that I'm grateful to all who have supported my writing and enriched my life, and I hope the new year brings you much joy, love, and prosperity.

And later tonight, after our party, I'll work on Overthrowing Heaven, because New Year's Eve though it may be, it is just another writing day.

And the rain came

It rained all day today, sometimes only a drizzle but at other times a thunderstorm, and it was glorious. Our area desperately needs rain, so that alone was enough to make the day good. I also simply enjoy rainy days, particularly when, as today, I can sleep late. Snuggling under the covers on a dark day with drops plunking against the skylights is a great treat.

The thunder has also prompted hopes--in some, such as Sarah, but not in me--of snow sometime in the next seven to ten days, per the old folk wisdom. I don't see that happening, but I'd certainly enjoy the snow if it came, so in this case I'd prefer they were right and I was wrong.

Now, if we could have a day this rainy twice a week for the next few months, we might actually get out of our drought....

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Snapshots of an odd evening

Scott taking on Kyle, Sarah, and me in Halo 3 and kicking our butts. Ouch. I was again the meat.

Wagyu beef pigs in blankets and Wagyu beef sliders, Allen Bros. steak dogs, Jain's deviled eggs, Jennie's mac and cheese, Rana's salad. Yum. Wow, did I eat too much.

Lucy Liu as a vampire hunting vampires in Rise, a bad movie that still held its own against recent films that should have been vastly better (ref. my Sweeney Todd and National Treasure 2 entries).

UFC 79: A generally excellent card, excepting the boring heavyweights. Highlights include Manny Gamburyan's ankle lock, Chuck Liddell owning Wanderlei Silva, and in the fight I cared about most, Georges St. Pierre dominating and ultimately submitting Matt Hughes--who was surprisingly gracious in defeat, almost as gracious as GSP was in victory.

Bacon baklava--yes, you read that correctly--from Lisa, from a Food & Wine recipe. Opinions were mixed, but I liked it. The maple syrup taste hits you first, then the bacon comes in on top of it like a lead guitarist starting a solo. Interesting indeed.

Two tres leches cakes from Jennie, both delicious.

Great ice cream from The Chocolate Shoppe in Madison and a local Ben & Jerry's. Did I mention I ate too much?

And now I work on notes for Overthrowing Heaven. I think I see the light....

National Treasure 2

was no better than Sweeney Todd, but because my expectations were lower, I enjoyed it more. That said, it was as derivative a copycat sequel as I've seen in a while, and its grasp on history was even more tenuous than in the first movie. Nicolas Cage is also continuing to mutate in odd ways and is now more watchable for how weird he is than for how well he performs.

The highlight of the film, at least for me, was Helen Mirren, who lights up the screen whenever she appears.

If you need a break from thinking and aren't in a demanding mood, check it out. Otherwise, choose another film.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sweeney Todd

We decided to ignore the reviews and went to see the movie. All the adults were fans of the play; Rana and I had even been fortunate enough to see it on Broadway with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. We were all also Tim Burton fans.

We left disappointed. The reviews were generally right.

Mind you, none of us regret having seen the film; the visuals alone were worth the price of admission. No one can shoot a grimy street scene like Tim Burton. No one can play mad and brooding like Johnny Depp.

The plot, though, was clipped too far, we all pined for the missing chorus, the blood managed to be both gory and ineffective, with the exception of the young sailor's, none of the other singing voices were up to their material--I could go on, but you get the point.

If you're going to see a lot of films this holiday season, keep Sweeney Todd on your list. If you're having to see only one or two, however, save this one for DVD.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I have to confess it. I cannot hide my shame: Sarah just now whipped me in RPS and is the owner of a five-day winning streak. Ouch.

And now, speaking of said RPS loser-to-be, here's a word from Sarah:


CHRISTMAS BREAK (a compilation)

-Beating Dad at RPS 5 (count them 5) days in a row
-Waking up at 1 p.m.
-"Hands on Me" by Vanessa Carlton, "Sleep" by the Dandy Warhols, "Alone on the Sea" by Steel Train, "Glasgow Love Theme" by Craig Armstrong, "Look Up" and "What the Snowman Learned About Love" by Stars
-Food and sleep combined, with a dream that included me actually waking up and making an order for Fettuccine Alfredo (hooray obesity! notrly)
-"Murder, She Wrote" and chocolate cake at midnight (HELLZ YES)
-50 lines of Latin translation (Poem 68 - Catullus, lines 1-40, plus the entirety of Poem 74)
-Sarah is Anderson Silva. You are Rich Franklin.



What can I say? I let it all stand, despite the obvious falsehood of the penultimate line and the fact that nobody invited me for the chocolate cake.

I'll have to drown my sorrow in BCP and Zanzibar chocolate. There are always consolations.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More and less

I always dreamed that I'd be more. Long before my current age, I would have changed the world, done great things, become someone important.

I never dreamed I'd have as much as I do now. I never imagined having such a great family and extended family, so many friends and things, such a nice house, you name it.

The uncharted space between the distant boundaries of the dream and the vast territory of the undreamt is where I wander most of the time, uncomfortable in my skin, in my life, in my head.

I won't lie and say that I spent no time like that today; I did. I always do.

But today, Christmas, I choose each year to focus almost entirely on how lucky I am to have people I'm privileged to love--most especially my children, the life with which I'm blessed, prosperity, health, and all the other good things in my life.

I hope to learn to maintain that focus for more and more of my days.

My thanks to all of you who help me have this life. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christopher Walken

is amazing. No matter how over the top his performance, he still manages to come across as fun, charming, and always watchable. As we sometimes do on Christmas Eve, tonight we took a chance on a DVD of a bad movie, Balls of Fury. It had some funny moments, but mostly it was a comedic, ping-pong-based remix of Return of the Dragon that never quite got in gear.

Except for Walken. He delivered the stupidest lines in the most outrageous manner, and yet he was a joy.

In completely unrelated news, each time I think I might be ready to start typing up the overall outline for Overthrowing Heaven, I realize I've missed some new key point. I know it's better that I deal with these problems now than later, but I am looking forward to finishing the plotting and starting the writing. A few more weeks, I suspect, a few more weeks.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another of our traditions

is the Yule/Solstice party, normally Jennie's, this year hers and her sister's, Jain. The food theme was Southern, and everything was, as always, delicious. We ate the main course at one house, then crossed the street for dessert at the other.

It's easy at this time to bemoan that it's the same fifteen to twenty folks who show up at most of these events, but I see the same data very differently: I'm amazed and grateful to have so many long-time friends. When we gather for these various parties, what we have most to celebrate, in my opinion, is our great good fortune at having a strong group of people who care about one another. The holidays bring that fact into sharp focus, but it's true year-round, and I'm continually amazed and delighted at the fine folks with whom I get to share my life.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Two views of the same scene

Both from a shopping trip I made yesterday.


A middle-aged man in a gray car parks in front of the Lowe's. He gets out, walks to the hot-dog stand near the store's entrance, and waits in line, a stern look on his face, while the slow clerk serves the two customers in front of him. When his turn comes, he buys two hot dogs, takes them to his car, and eats them, alone in a nondescript vehicle on a gray day, the Friday before Christmas.


I had some errands to run and was looking forward to the time alone and offline, no way for email to reach me. As a food gift to myself during the calorie-rich holidays, I went to a nearby hot dog stand that serves Sabretts. On the drive there, I listened to and enjoyed the last few songs on John Fogerty's recent album, Revival. The stand operator was busy helping two other people, but I didn't mind, because he was quick, efficient, and kept up an entertaining, non-stop patter as he perfectly composed each tube steak to the customer's taste. He also made my dogs just as I wanted them. I took them back to the car. I ate them slowly, savoring the taste, as I listened to the excellent John Hiatt album, Live from Austin, TX. Christmas was almost here, I was having a treat, great music was playing, and no work would touch me for a few hours. Life was good.


Point of view is so very, very important.

My other essential Christmas movie is

Bad Santa, well, actually, the unrated Badder Santa version. It's crude, rude, offensive, and outrageous, but by the end it shows its heart, and along the way you laugh madly. We gathered tonight to watch it, eat sandwiches (if you don't know the film, Granny in it is oblivious to most of the world but always offers to make sandwiches), and then ate amazing desserts from what in my opinion is the best bakery in Raleigh, Hereghty.

While grocery shopping I indulged a whim and bought a lot of bacon, which Rana was nice enough to cook. We consumed 2.5 pounds of it in our sandwiches! Everything's better with bacon.

And now back to plotting.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's cold and rainy and I'm glad

Well, I'm not glad about the cold part, but I am very glad it's raining. We're in the midst of a long and bad drought, so any rain is good. We're not getting much, but I'm glad for every drop that falls.

A plot and a mountain of gifts to wrap are calling my name, so I'll keep it short tonight and hope that your weather pleases you as much as mine does me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dropping stitches

Between my company being crazy busy, the demands of the holidays, and my daily work on Overthrowing Heaven, I'm not sleeping a lot these days. I'm doing fine on the jobs, but I'm making a lot of errors in personal areas. Tonight I made a doozie: I forgot to invite Dave and Jo to our annual tree-trimming party. I've made similar email list errors recently as well. I hate screwing up, and I really hate it when my friends pay for my errors.

The party itself was as it should be: low-key but fun. Because we shopped late, this year's tree is smaller than usual, but it has a good shape, is well over seven feet tall, and looks great decorated. We hung ornaments and lights on it; ate spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, and apple cake; chatted about this and that; and generally had a nice time.

My plotting work on Overthrowing Heaven continues. I'm grooving on the book, because it's coming together (albeit slower than I would like). I expect to be typing up an outline by January and writing for real before that month is out. I look forward to being at the stage of staring at a blank screen until drops of blood appear on my forehead.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Slanted Jack is off to production

Today was a happy day for Slanted Jack, and thus for me as well. Toni accepted the novel yesterday and said it would head into production after the holidays. I received my turn-in payment from the always prompt Baen Books. I made a few printouts and gave them out.

I'm done with that book until it's time to review the copyedited ms.

I look forward to seeing it as a Baen eARC and then in print.

My focus now is Overthrowing Heaven, whose plot is beginning to show signs of coming together. I'm continuing to like this one, and I hope others will, too--when they get to read it in 2009.

Of course, when The Dread hits me in a few months this optimism will vanish, but for now the book is bright and shiny and full of possibility. I'm enjoying the feeling.

Things that piss me off

Stores that make it hard for you to spend your money.

We've all suffered through them, but this time of year they're particularly annoying.

You're in a hurry. You rush into the store, are lucky enough to find the item you want after having to dodge only three salespeople, take it to the register, have your credit card and driver's license ready, and think you're going to escape unscathed.

Wrong. The ordeal is just beginning.

Clerk: "Is that all?"


"Did you see our special on [some damn crap you don't want]?"

"No, and I don't care. I just want to buy this and go."

"So that's all?"


"Would you like to save ten percent by signing up for a store credit card?"

"No. I just want to buy this."

"It's a great deal. You should try it."

"No. I just want to buy this."

Much fumbling of keys, scanning of labels, removing and/or demagnetizing of security devices, and so on. "Your total is [too damn much]. Will that be cash or credit?"

Waving the credit card that's been in front of the clerk's face the whole time, as well as the driver's license you've had at the ready with it, you say, "Credit card."

After taking both, the clerk says, "I'll need to see your id." Giggle. [I must now interrupt the narrative flow to note that if you're like me, that giggle is almost too much. It isn't amusing. It's infuriating. You're now wondering how bad it would be in jail. At least there's no shopping in the Big House. Back to the clerk.] "Oh, you already have it out."

No response this time; you don't dare.

And now, here's a special detour through Hell you probably don't have to take: Clerk stares at license for a few minutes, forehead crinkling with the effort of thought. Then, "Did you know your last name is 'Name'?"

Depending on my rage level, I either

* say nothing and scowl, praying that perhaps I have finally developed the power to boil the brain of another purely with my mind

* smile and say nothing, hoping the fates will reward the kindness of a smile with the power to boil the brain of another purely with my mind

* respond, "Really? I hadn't."

At which point, the clerk points to the card, begins to speak, emits the piercing giggle again--as you realize that it's the giggle, not your mind, that has the power to boil brains--and says, "Oh, that's a joke, right?"

Back to the pain we all share.

After much fumbling of cards and scanners, the clerk smiles at the successful charge and says, "Would you like a box for that?"

"No. I just want to go."

More fumbling in the search for a bag that's big enough but not too big--wouldn't want to waste bag space--and the clerk hands you the merchandise.

"And my credit card and id?"

The giggle. More boiling of your brain as key details about the plot of the new novel vanish in the heat death of irreplaceable neurons. "Sorry." Back comes the credit card.

"And my driver's license?"

"Oh, yeah." Back comes the driver's license.

One trip through hell complete.

Is it any wonder online shopping continues to grow?

Monday, December 17, 2007

I Am Legend

We went to see this movie last night. Let's start with the two big negatives (though the first matters only if you're a fan of the original Richard Matheson novel):

* It does not follow the plot of the book.
* The happy (more or less) ending is pure Hollywood schlock.

If you can get past those, and I obviously could, then only one more thing should stand between you and going to see it:

* The movie is amazingly tense and creepy.

How tense? The other three people with me left partway through and watched bits of other films or hung out while I stayed to finish the movie. (Okay, so my behavior wasn't the most gallant, but I had paid to see the movie, and they said they were cool with me finishing it.)

I consider the high tension level of the movie, by the way, a great reason to go. You have trouble looking away. Will Smith does a terrific job, his sanity always in question and yet not initially so far gone that you can't believe in him. He holds your attention through even the most mundane parts of his days.

I recommend this movie--but with the above reservations.

Oh, yeah: Speaking of recommendations, we ate dinner beforehand at Piedmont in Durham. If you live locally and want a great meal, trust me: you need to go there.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I miss John Lennon

I've been listening recently to Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, a two-CD set of covers of John Lennon songs. Hearing these familiar pieces again has made me realize how much of what Lennon wrote is still, sadly, applicable. The experience has also made me appreciate his original versions all the more.

That's not to say that all the covers are bad; they're not. The standout is Green Day's take on "Working Class Hero," a song I've always liked. Many others range from good to acceptable. The low point belongs to Aerosmith, which contributes all the worst parts of an unlikely collaboration with the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars on "Give Peace a Chance."

The proceeds from the CD's sales go to Amnesty International's work in Darfur (and probably elsewhere). If the Darfur region of western Sudan had oil, we'd have intervened long ago; alas, it does not.

Give to a good cause, enjoy the tunes, and then listen to the Lennon originals again.

Love Actually

is one of the two movies you must watch every Christmas season, so tonight we gathered for it and a vaguely British dinner (Shepherd's pie, Welsh Rarebit, and some bread and cheese). All present seemed to enjoy the film, including the few who had not seen it before.

What I adore about this movie is that writer/director Richard Curtis unabashedly sets out to find and celebrate the love in a large group of connected lives. He certainly shows pain, both from love betrayed and love unrequited, but he focuses most of all on the joy of love. He presents completely improbable (if not impossible) love of all sorts with absolutely no shame, and in the end you want to believe they could happen. Comic moments abound, but Bill Nighy as an aging rocker with a truly crass Christmas song is pure genius. His performance alone makes the movie worth seeing.

If you don't know this film, find it and watch it. If you've already seen it, get the DVD and plan a few happy hours this holiday season.

Next Friday night, we're planning to watch my other essential Christmas movie, a very, very different beast indeed. If you don't know already what it is, you'll have to wait until then to find out. (Hint: One actor appears in both it and Love Actually.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Web Weasel says it's not her fault

What, you may ask, is the Web Weasel declaring not her responsibility? The heavily pixilated photo of me in the right sidebar of the blog. She swears that this is a blogger problem and that Google knows about it.

So, it's not her fault, and she doesn't want to hear about it.

It's not my fault, either.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Last night's WEC show

As my late-evening break last night, I watched the WEC fight show that I had DVR'd when it ran earlier that evening on the Versus network. All the bouts they showed were entertaining, and some were way above normal.

Two particularly interesting fights were the ones involving Jens Pulver and Uriah Faber.

Pulver, who just left the UFC (which owns the WEC) so he could drop down to his natural fighting weight of 145 pounds, is known for his heavy striking, particularly his left. His opponent, Cub Swanson, was in most forums I read considered to be the better-rounded fighter. Pulver dispatched Swanson quickly--but not with a knock-out. Instead, to everyone's surprise he submitted the much younger man with a choke.

Faber, the WEC featherweight (145 pound weight limit) champion, looks like a surfer dude--a heavily muscled surfer dude. He typically runs right through his opponents, but in this fight he actually spent much of the first round on his back. (Despite that typically bad position, he never looked upset in any way; one close-up of his face showed he was completely relaxed.) In the second round, he punished his opponent, Jeff Curran, and then won with a choke submission--even though Curran is a well-regarded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. Faber is simply amazing.

If you're into MMA and have a chance to catch this show on a rerun, don't miss it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm liking it

Today, to my surprise I've been upbeat about Overthrowing Heaven. I can tell when a book's story is working for me via a simple but reliable indicator: I find myself mumbling "Oh, this is good," and similar phrases.

Of course, I still don't have the whole plot or even most of the links between the bits I think are cool, but at least right now the new novel is pleasing me. I've got to enjoy the feeling while I can.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The shifty, useless time

These days, my writing time consists of staring into space and occasionally jotting notes by hand into a notebook. The notes range from ideas to questions to myself to answers to those questions. Every now and then, I'll cross one thing out or underline another and annotate it as "good" or "could be!", but that's about as exciting as it gets. I have nothing productive to show for the time. I don't feel like I'm writing. I feel like I'm wasting time.

I keep going only because intellectually I also understand that this is how the process works for me. If I don't invest this time, I won't do good work.

Just as importantly, the time I'm sitting and taking notes and doing nothing but thinking about the novel really is just the small visible part of the writing iceberg. All during the day, my subconscious churns on the story, and at random moments new insights appear.

I hate this time, and it's likely to continue for at least a few more weeks. I also don't know a way around it.

Eventually, I'll have enough notions that I can handwrite a rough outline, and then after more days of work, I'll be ready to start typing up a significantly longer (typically over 7K words) outline. When I finish that, when I finally write the first sentence of the book, then I'll feel like a writer again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

School concert night

Today's big event was the school holiday concert, in which both Sarah and Scott played violin as part of the string ensemble and then again with the full symphony orchestra. Both are very good violinists (and, more generally, musicians), and I love to watch and listen to them play.

The program was almost completely Christmas music, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Though I certainly can and sometimes do overdose on Christmas tunes, I typically like them--provided, of course, that you not start playing them until at least the day after Thanksgiving.

I've talked with a lot of parents who dread going to school concerts. Particularly when the kids are younger, you certainly hear a lot of awkward playing and missed notes, but even in those days then I liked the events overall. There's something wondrous about a group of young people making music, giving themselves if only for a short time to the sole purpose of art. I often come away thinking we grown-ups would be better served spending more of our time on art.

Which is one of the many reasons I now, after over two decades of flirting with and occasionally engaging in fiction, now write every day.

I'm proud making music is part of Sarah's and Scott's lives, I'm proud of the way they play, and I'm just proud of them. Seeing them in tux and long dress on stage, playing well and looking good, made me quite happy.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Latke time

Tonight was Gina's annual Chanukah party, at which we celebrate that holiday, eat latkes, socialize, eat latkes, laugh, eat latkes, and eat latkes. Then, we eat ice cream cake and cheese cake.

Sometimes, for a break, we eat chips and dip.

Latkes are always available for the hungry.

I can't understand why I have weight trouble this time of year.

The party was fun and, thanks to the hard-working fry crew moving to the deck, significantly easier on that team than in the past. (They make a lot of latkes.)

In unrelated news, last night I went to bed tormented by the change in direction of Overthrowing Heaven. Though I knew I was doing the right thing by moving to this new approach, I had figured out virtually nothing about it, so I was quite concerned. While in the shower after the walk, however, my subconscious spit out idea after idea, and suddenly the book has form and I'm excited about it. I think it's going to be a really cool book. I'll have to hope that others feel the same way, when about eighteen months from now they get to read it.

Seasonal celebration

Our company, Principled Technologies, held its fifth seasonal celebration tonight at a lovely Raleigh restaurant, Second Empire. The folks there were good to work with, the food was delicious, and I think everyone had a very nice time.

At this event each year, we thank the employees, and we also thank their families, who have to put up with the demands the company makes. We thank employees verbally and, when the company has a profitable year, with profit sharing.

I'm proud to be able to work with these folks. I am completely confident that we are the best in the world at what we do. Tonight, my hat is off to my colleagues.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Changing already and The Golden Compass

I knew the title of the next book: Overthrowing Heaven. I knew the opening scene: no, I won't tell you, and you know I don't do that. I knew the type of story it was: again, I'm not telling.

And then on the first day of work on it, at the end of my writing session, it changed on me.

I haven't experienced this before. I was making notes, pondering a problem, and suddenly my gut told me that I had to change some key notions about the book.

So, I am. I think the novel is going to be even better than before, but now in many ways it's back to the drawing board for me.

On a completely unrelated front, tonight we went to see The Golden Compass. Though frequently pretty, it was even more frequently disjointed. Though sometimes moving, it was never as moving as I wanted.

I don't regret seeing it, but I wanted better, much better, from it.

My hope is that somewhere a three-hour director's cut is waiting to redeem it on DVD.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The mornings after

I've learned through experience that finishing a book is a weird thing. That was true with One Jump Ahead, and it's definitely the case with Slanted Jack.

On the one hand, I'm really glad Slanted Jack is done. I've lived the story for so long that I want others to get to read it, too. I want to talk to them about my favorite characters and scenes, see if people liked what I liked and caught my hints and so on.

On the other hand, what if they don't like it? What if even the publisher doesn't like it and no one wants to publish it and on and on?

Isn't it amazing how quickly insecurity can follow on the footsteps of happiness? In my case, I've found that the latter can be so close to the former as to walk all over it.

I'm also exhausted, though for no good reason; yesterday was no harder or longer a work day than the one before. Something about finishing a book leaves me incredibly tired.

I also have to confront a new fear and a new excitement: the next novel, in my case, Overthrowing Heaven. I'm scared, because I don't know how this book will work out. I haven't plotted it, don't know all the characters well, and so on. Anything could go wrong. I'm also excited, because I get the joy of creating and discovering--the two are tightly entertwined--a new tale.

A weird time, but one that I will not let slow me down.

Slanted Jack is done

I finished it a few minutes ago, made multiple backups, and sent it to Toni. At about 119K words, it's a fair amount longer than One Jump Ahead. I hope folks like it.

I'm going to take my late-night break, eat some fruit, and watch the final episode of this season's The Ultimate Fighter.

Tomorrow, I'll begin noodling at the edges of a plot for Overthrowing Heaven.

I am spent.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Gina's rules for life (today's installment)

Gina was saying that if she had a blog, she'd use it to lay down some rules for life. I, of course, immediately offered to help by letting her relay those instructions through my blog. So, here are the first two of her rules for life.

1) If you're on a two-lane road, drive no slower than the speed limit.

Don't make Gina yell at you.

She added that if you're on a four-lane road, you can go slower than the speed limit as long as you're in the right lane. I'm not sure I agree--I believe you should never drive slower than the limit unless you're carrying an odd and large load--but these are her rules.

2) If you're female and you're going into the Dead Sea, coat your sensitive parts with petroleum jelly first.

Really; this is her rule, based on experience. I'm not making this up.

I wonder what men should do?

Tomorrow, we return to our regularly scheduled blog.

An odd redo

Sunday night, I edited two more chapters of Slanted Jack. No news there. I didn't sleep well, however, and I awoke Monday morning with the conviction that I had not done something right during the editing. We're talking about the fifth pass over the complete ms., so at this stage I'm fine-tuning and messing up in a big way is extremely unlikely.

The feeling, however, wouldn't go away.

Finally, late last night, well after I wrote my blog entry, I stopped fighting my subconscious and redid the previous day's work--and a little more for good measure.

My subconscious was right. I hadn't done anything seriously wrong, but I had failed to get certain very subtle bits of language pacing the way I wanted them. I'm not sure anyone else would even notice, but I know the book is now better for this extra effort, and that's enough.

Note to self: Trust your subconscious in such matters.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In search of to-do list software

First, the bad news: I don't have any pictures of the roller derby game to show you. I will, because Gina gave me a CD full of shots she took, but I haven't had time today to look through them. Sorry about that. Perhaps later this week.

Now, to my current problem: I can't find to-list software that does what I want. Specifically, I want to arrange a group of categories of tasks on a display so that the categories appear in rows. Each category's entry would be a box that would scroll if the category had more tasks than would fit. The whole window would scroll if I had more categories than available display real estate. This is the sort of work "dashboard" that I do on paper to organize myself, but I want to do it on a PC (or Mac) so I'll have the data electronically.

I've tried Outlook, of course, but it can't do the job. Its only organization of categories is a vertical stack.

I've Googled a bit and followed many links, but so far I've not encountered any program that can do the job.

Does anyone know of software that might fill this bill? If so, please drop me a line via the Web site or post candidates as comments here.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Denise Lightning saved the day

Snot Rocket was unstoppable for much of the game, but when the match was on the line, Denise Lightning stepped up to the challenge of shutting down the nation's number one jammer.

Oh, yeah: the topic is roller derby.

Specifically, for her birthday party tonight Anna Bess held the single most interesting (at least to me) event of any of our parties in ages: after a very early dinner at Baja Burrito, a favorite place of hers, we went to Dorton Arena to see the game between the #4 Carolina Rollergirls and the #1 Kansas City Roller Warriors.

A jammer, by the way, is the one player on each team who can score. The names I gave are the ones the women use, and they alone were enough to win my heart. How can you not want to cheer for a thin but tough as nails blonde named Snot Rocket who again and again found openings where none appeared to exist and then jetted ahead of the pack? Too bad she was on the opposing team.

The flat-track skating was fun, fast, and physical. Most of our group sat in the stands, but a few of us, myself included, sat in "the pit," the concrete floor area just outside the skating track.

One color commentator's name was Corn Dog.

The crowd was larger than I had expected, ranged all over the place in age and other demographics, and had a sizable contingent of young, heavily inked people of both genders.

After taking an early lead, Carolina's defense gave up points again and again, until it was a one-point game--and then Denise Lightning saved the day.

I had a blast, recommend it highly, and hope to go again.

Beowulf and an RPS update

Tonight we ate dinner at Wasabi, a place with good sushi, good Thai food, and service that ranges from mediocre to bad. The meal was tasty, and after it we passed some time in a Barnes & Noble before going to see Beowulf.

My reactions to the film are decidedly mixed. The story modifications didn't trouble me terribly, though from time to time they did intrude. The animation, however, bothered me frequently. At the end of the movie, I found myself wishing for either pure animation or live action with CGI as necessary for monsters and such. On balance, I'm glad I saw this one, but it left me hungry for a really good movie. (I have high hopes for The Golden Compass next week.)
On the RPS front, Sarah, despite having lost tonight and last night, decided it was time to celebrate her RPS skills (and to send Kyle a message); check out her artwork here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Great band names & more random walks

You can't have these; they're mine:

One Fine Comb
This Week's Pants

Now, I just have to start a band.

I can't wait to taste bacon salt. Don't you love that it's kosher?

When I host the UFC PPV on December 29, I plan to have the world's most expensive sliders and pigs in blankets. Because I can.

Thanks to Karen for alerting me to this very cool animation.

I know Renoir's a sentimentalist, but I've sat for the better part of an hour at the National Gallery staring into the eyes of Madame Henriot.

None of this is finishing Slanted Jack, so I better try working instead.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Musing on style

Dave and I recently had a brief email and phone conversation about prose style. I've been pondering the topic further.

I once worried a great deal about my writing style. I had goals for it. Concerns about it often dominated my thinking about the piece of fiction on which I was working.

I now try not to focus on it. Instead, I care most about telling a good story. I want to write books and stories that I would enjoy reading. To do that, I use all sorts of prose techniques, and I think a great deal about the right style for the right scene, sentence pacing, and on and on--but it's all in service to the story.

Story first.

Everything else second.

I believe this is appropriate, but it's had an interesting effect: I've found myself striving more and more to make my prose clean and clear and not the center of attention. You could argue that this means I'm aiming to have no prose style, and I suppose there's a case to be made for that notion. I contend, however, that this approach is a style; it's just not one that's yelling for attention.

I also believe I have a huge amount to learn and a long way to go before I'll write as well in any area of fiction as I'd like. At one level, I find that belief depressing, because it means I'm not doing my job well enough. At another, however, I consider it natural: when you stop striving to improve, a bit of you dies.

Back to Slanted Jack. I'm ready to finish this one and send it to Toni!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Photo day

I left the office in the middle of the afternoon to drive downtown to Bryan Regan Photography, site of the torture, er, photo session. Despite my misgivings, which actually have almost nothing to do with the process and everything to do with my self image, the time passed quickly and pleasantly. Bryan has a very cool setup, he's a nice guy, and as you can see on his site, he does great work. He took a ton of pictures, and we occasionally geeked on computers.

Bryan shot digitally, so while we were there he uploaded all the images. Some, such as those of me in a red shirt holding an ax, will definitely end up somewhere on the Web site. Others will fit PT's needs. Predictably, the worst photos are those in which I look most like myself.

Fortunately, he took some artsy shots that came out very well. One of them is likely to end up on the inside flap of the dustjacket of Slanted Jack. We won't know for sure until we get the final CD of photos, of course, but the versions we saw looked cool--and not as much like me as the others.

If you're in the market for a serious professional photographer, I recommend Bryan. If you want to see how the shots came out, keep dropping by my site; some will definitely appear over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tomorrow is photo day

I'm more than a little nervous about tomorrow, because I'll spend a chunk of it with a professional photographer taking pictures of me. The goal is to produce shots we can use on PT's site, my Web site, and book jackets. I'm not happy about my appearance at the best of times, and given my bad eating habits of the last many months and my consequently porky appearance, these are far from the best of times.

I also turn shy in front of cameras. In fact, for many years I would not let anyone take my picture. I now somewhat regret that policy, because the number of pictures of me with my kids is far lower than I would like.

Despite my misgivings, I will do my best to cooperate with the photographer to produce the best pictures we can given the material at hand (which would be me).

Wish me luck!

Sarah won today's blog entry

by beating me for the eighth straight day at Rock Paper Scissors. The family record, which I, of course, own, is a ten-day winning streak, but I am getting perilously close to giving Sarah a share in that record. I must not let it happen!

That said, because Sarah owns this entry, I must repeat what she asked me to post:

"Get in the car, Kyle!"

Go figure.

In unrelated news, today was insanely busy at work, I'm crawling toward the finish line with Slanted Jack but still not there, one can (and I very well may for New Year's Eve) order Wagyu beef sliders and pigs in blankets, and the weather forecast for tonight is dark, continuing until morning, when at first scattered light and then full light will appear.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lewis Shiner's next book

Lew Shiner is a friend of mine. We don't see each other often, probably not more than once or twice in the last few years, but we've been friends since we met at a Sycamore Hill Writers' Conference in 1985. So, what I'm about to say may be biased.

Subterranean Press is bringing out Lew's new novel, Black & White. If you know Lew's work, you also probably already know that you need to order this one ASAP. (I ordered a Limited edition the moment I heard the news.) If you don't know his fiction, you can check some out at his site or his fiction site--and then order the book. Lew's work always contains beautiful prose, heart, and soul.

Give the good folks at Subterranean a little business, help Black & White be a hit there, and hope a mainstream publisher will then find a way to give both it and Lew the broader audience they deserve.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Another day, another three million calories

Lunch out at a favorite Mexican stand-by, cheese dip, Allyn's birthday party, great burgers and dogs, wonderful gelato (yes, I tried a little of each of the seven flavors), fabulous chocolate cake--these are the ways I count my calories today. At my current rate of expansion, I will be suitable for colonization by humankind long before the Earth can die--provided, of course, that we can find a way to get my fat butt into orbit.

Perhaps I will have some ice cream and ponder the problem.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No Country for Old Men

is easily one of the best movies of the year, provided your criteria for judging films do not include making you happy or upbeat, because it's also perhaps the bleakest Hollywood film of 2007. If you know the book, you won't find that fact surprising, but if you haven't read it, don't blame me if you see the movie and come away disturbed or depressed. The violence is graphic, the language is realistic--and thus sometimes crude, and the ending is downbeat. I wouldn't want a steady diet of this sort of thing, but everything else about this movie is so well done that I have to recommend it.

In unrelated news, I set a new world record for dessert eating by a man whose stomach has yet to explode.

If there's a blog entry tomorrow, you'll know I can change "yet to explode" to "did not explode."

Right now, that's still anyone's call.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone reading this had a good day. I slept late, then drove, as we do each Thanksgiving, to the Drake's. Our extended family and friends shared a wonderful meal--no thanks to me; I did nothing other than eat--and each other's company. I ate more than was reasonable, took a break to socialize and work on Slanted Jack, and then ate a large plate of dessert.

I don't take much for granted. I'm thankful each and every time someone prepares a meal for me. I'm thankful for small and large kindnesses. I'm thankful to have loved ones who can overlook all that's wrong with me and actually care about me. I'm thankful that enough people have been willing to buy my book that my publisher is willing to pay me to write more of them. I'm thankful that my company's clients keep doing business with us. I'm thankful that my kids are smart and healthy and generally the best kids in the world. I'm thankful that I have the privilege to work and associate with smart and decent people.

If it sounds like I'm thankful a lot, that's because I am. I've seen people who've lost everything, and I'm acutely aware that could happen to me or to any of us.

I'm a very lucky man.

An important difference between this war and the war in Viet Nam

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, while at Philcon I moderated a panel on military science fiction. One of the panelists made the usual analogies between the war in Iraq and the war in Viet Nam, and I generally agreed with his points. A small part of one comment, however, really upset me, because it basically implied a difference of intent on the part of the soldiers in each war.

When it was my turn to talk, I illustrated my point by asking the audience members to raise their hands if they felt the soldiers in Iraq were evil.

As you would expect, no hands went into the air.

I then said that if I had taken this same survey about the soldiers in Viet Nam in a typical conference room in 1970, at least half the hands would have shot up.

No one disagreed with that assessment.

That attitude difference--on the part of civilians about the soldiers, not on the part of the soldiers--is, I submit, huge.

I continued by saying that I was not a veteran, but of course I do know some. (The only thing for which I'm likely to thank that dead crook Nixon is canceling the draft a few weeks before I was due to report after high school.) All the vets I know, including my friend, David Drake, went to Viet Nam because they thought it was their duty, not because they believed that particular war was a great idea. (I'm sure some vets did; I just don't happen to know any who held that opinion.)

When these poor souls came home, however, they faced outrage and anger against them, as if they, not the politicians, had chosen the war.

To put it mildly, I'm not a fan of this administration or its PR machine, but I will say that as part of selling the war they've done at least one good thing: the men and women coming home from Iraq don't face what Dave and other vets encountered when they hit the World again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The great assistant hunt continues

As I've noted before, we're trying to hire an assistant who will help me with my PT job, with work, and with personal stuff, such as organizing my writing office. We posted the job on craigslist, and we're going to be interviewing at least a few promising applicants.

The question that plagues me is one I've mentioned before: how do you interview for the most important traits, such as intelligence, drive, loyalty, trustworthiness (especially with very confidential material), willingness to do whatever it takes, and so on? I don't know the answer, so I'll end up stumbling around and hoping for the best.

I suppose one test might be to see which of the candidates Googled me, found my site, read my blog, and now know of my dilemma. The Web makes for interesting situations....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The airport gauntlet

I'm home safely. The plane flight was uneventful and only ten minutes late. Lunch at the airport was from Au Bon Pain, which is real food (as opposed to much of what you buy to eat at airports).

What made today's travel special was getting to the other side of airport security.

The fun started at the hotel. We waited for the slightly late hotel shuttle. When it arrived, three fans lumbered out behind us. They were wheeling a hotel cart jammed to overflowing with luggage, and two of them were a great deal wider than I am. The shuttle had three seats open--as long as you were willing to cram three people into a space only two were occupying in any other row. The driver was willing to try to squeeze all five of us into the van. The thought of half an hour with someone else's fat warming me was more than I could take.

We paid the ten buck premium for a taxi.

On the way out of security on Thursday, we'd noticed a block-long line to get past the checkpoint. So, we'd planned appropriately and arrived early. We'd also learned that an outage at DFW was affecting airports all over the country, and that PHL was foggy, but that was okay; we were way, way early.

The line, of course, was two blocks long. No problem. We had a bottle of water, we knew what was coming, and so we stood patiently. We stood some more. Eventually, we made it inside the security maze, around several turns, and to the last cattle chute before the actual check-in machines. Success was in sight.

The power went out. Not the whole airport's power, mind you; that would have been too general. No, just the power for the security machines. This torture was ours.

So, TSA routed us back out of the maze, down a hall, down some stairs, outside in the rain for a block, up an escalator, and into another security area...which already had a block-long line before we and our fellow passengers descended on it.

So, we waited another long stretch, made it to the maze, entered the maze, caught a break and got routed to a short line, actually put our stuff in bins...and were cut off by a series of angry senior citizens frustrated with the process.

After enough of them had passed through the machines, our turns came, and from there on it was smooth sailing.

I heart airports.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Philcon, day 3

I got nowhere near as much sleep as I wanted last night, but I did at least catch up on PT work and start pass five of Slanted Jack.

Brunch today was at La Croix, and though expensive it was worth doing. The portions were all appropriately small, the selection was huge, and the quality ranged from good to excellent. I recommend it, provided you're willing to pay a lot for a fancy brunch.

After talking with friends at the con and a final run around the dealers' room, I resumed work.

In the late afternoon, I met with Eric Flint for a general chat, then with Baen editor Jim Minz for a longer conversation. Both talks were enjoyable; I like and get along with both men.

After some more work, we headed to dinner at Morimoto, where we ate the Iron Chef's omakase, or tasting menu. The best meal of the trip, it was inventive, superbly crafted, delicious, and generally a great dinner. The menu featured truffles in every course; the premium they commanded was more than worthwhile. The restaurant itself is also impressive, like Morimoto himself an unusual blend of traditional Japanese design elements with bits of big-city night clubs.

And thence to more work on Slanted Jack. It's going slower than I would like, but it's going, and sooner or later I'll finish it. And turn to the next book.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Philcon, day 2

I slept late, which was glorious. (I realize it may seem sad to some folks that I find sleep so exciting, but I don't get a lot of it, so I enjoy it when I can.)

My first con activity of the day was to listen to a panel on electronic publishing. The panelists--Eric Flint, Gordon Van Gelder, Jim Kelly, and Eva Chalker-Whitley--presented mostly intelligent commentary, and though it was old and familiar ground to me, I wanted to be there to support Eric.

I stayed in that room to be on the next panel, whose topic was SF and myth. I didn't know any of my fellow panelists, though the moderator, John Henry (who writes as Jack Campbell), had been on a Balticon panel with me. He did a good job, and I enjoyed my discussions with him as well as some parts of the panel. Overall, I'm not sure the audience got much from us, but almost all of the twenty or so folks stayed to the end, which is something.

By this time we needed to eat, but pickings were slim, so I settled for two hot dogs from a small hotel snack table in the lobby. The dogs were soaking in slightly discolored water, but I've eaten worse, so I wolfed them down. After a walk through the largely uninspiring though well-intentioned art show and another pass through the dealer's room, I went upstairs to work--and to give myself some quiet time while the hot dogs waged war against my stomach. My digestive system carried the day, but it was rough going for a while.

I attended Eric's guest of honor speech at 4:00, which though enjoyable--he's a fun enough speaker--did cover much of the same ground as the earlier panel.

Dinner tonight was at Le Bec-Fin. The meal was expensive and extremely good, but having eaten at what are arguably the two best French restaurants in the country, Robuchon at the Mansion and Guy Savoy, both in Las Vegas, I was expecting better than I got. Still, the comparison is probably unfair to Le Bec Fin, and we certainly enjoyed our ten-course tasting menu.

And now I'm working, which is, I suppose, what I can say about this hour of most nights.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Philcon, day 1

When I finally couldn't stay awake any longer last night, I crashed and had over eigh delicious sleep, the longest stretch of rack time in quite a while. I worked a bit, showered, and we hit South Street, a part-fashionable, part-funky Philly district.

Our first stop was lunch at Bridget Foy's, a place I wholeheartedly recommend. I had the mac and cheese, and Jennie went for the grilled cheese sandwich with tomato-fennel soup with a drizzle of soup. All three were yummy.

We crawled the shops and ended at Atomic City Comics, where I exhibited great self control and didn't buy a thing. I did try on at a previous place the $700 Affliction leather jacket, but I didn't love it enough to buy it on the spot. I'm still pondering it, though the price is certainly a factor.

From there we cabbed back to the hotel, where we encountered perhaps the least well organized SF con registration team I've yet seen. We registered, chatted with friends, and I called home.

At 7:00, I moderated a panel on military SF. My sense of the mindset of the folks who wrote the panel description was that they thought writers of military SF should be embarrassed at what they do, but no one was. The audience of not quite twenty folks--respectable given the dinner hour and the very hard to find location--seemed generally attentive and amused, so I shouldn't complain.

Dinner was back near South Street at Gayle, where an inventive chef delivered extremely tasty dishes while showing astonishing restraint in their menu descriptions. Rather than follow the modern vogue of listing every esoteric ingredient, this menu gave simple descriptions of complex dishes. The risotto fingers with truffle soy sabayon was superb, as was my venison.

After more work back at the hotel, I plowed into Slanted Jack and can now happily report that I have finished pass four. All that remains is for me to read the entire book from start to finish on my computer and make any necessary final corrections, tweaks, and other edits that strike my fancy. I hope to ship it to Toni sometime reasonably soon. Hurrah!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Philadelphia clogged my arteries

though it was all my fault. Vicki picked us up at the airport and bravely drove us downtown, where we finally found a parking garage, ditched the car, and walked a couple of blocks in the rain to Reading Market. There we ate Rick's cheesesteak; I went for the whiz. It was yummy. I took pictures, but I'm too tired to invest the upload time right now. (I slept only 2.5 hours, which even for me is not enough.)

We then dropped by the hotel, checked in, ditched our stuff, and headed out to Vicki's and Ken's new (to us; they've been in it for a while now) house. We'd seen the plans, which looked very cool, and it's even better in person. We had a nice time visiting there, first with Vicki and then with both of them when Ken came home. I also begged bandwidth and snuck in an hour and a half of work. (That was in addition to an hour I was able to do via iPhone while riding in the back of the car. I'd rather not have to work this way, but given that I do, I love how technology helps.)

We then piled into Vicki's car and headed to a different part of Philadelphia for Geno's cheesesteak; this time, I elected the wiz but also shared some cheese fries. Both were tasty goodness, but I'm now sure my arteries are screaming for mercy.

And then I went to work, which I will now resume. I'm dead tired, but I'm hoping for a lot of sleep tonight.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On the road again

Yes, tomorrow morning I hit the road again, this time by plane to Philadelphia for Philcon. Our friend Vicki is picking us up at the airport and transporting us post haste to a cheesesteak emporium, where I will boost my IQ with cheesy meaty goodness. We'll check into the hotel, then finally get to see Vicki and Ken's new house. Dinner will, I hope, be the other kind of cheesesteak.

If you're not a cheesesteak fan, you may not know a few key facts about this amazing sandwich:

* Getting a Pennyslvania-class cheesesteak outside of Pennsylvania is almost impossible.

* Philadelphia is a center of cheesesteak greatness--some would say it's the center.

* The cheese can be either whiz or provolone. I like 'em both, though in a pinch I'd have to endorse the whiz.

I'm taking blogcam, and with luck my workload will be such that I'll have the energy to upload con photos--and maybe, just maybe, finish Slanted Jack on this trip.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If you have to do it, is it fun?

After Tai Chi this morning, my friend, Eric, asked me a question that he thought might form the basis of a useful blog entry. My first reaction was no, but on further thought I believe he was right.

He had read an interview with Hugh Jackman in which the actor said that when he received the script for X-Men II he was afraid for a bit to read it, because whether it was good or bad he knew he had to do it--he'd signed a contract. Eric asked whether being committed to Jon & Lobo books I had not yet written would lead me to a similar reaction.

My answer was an immediate no. I like Jon & Lobo, I like the universe, and I'm having fun writing stories in it. For my taste, Slanted Jack is a stronger book than One Jump Ahead, and I hope Overthrowing Heaven is better still, and Children No More even better, and on and on.

I certainly have talked to writers for whom series have become mere obligations, commitments they wished they didn't have to honor. I can't picture that happening with these characters, but then again, I've only written two books in the series so far. Still, my vision for it, such grand plan as I have, extends out for at least a dozen books--and that's when we really start cranking!

The key difference between my position and Jackman's (other than the fact that he'll get paid about a zillion times more money for any movie than I will for any book) is that he can control only his performance; I control the whole book.

So, I not only don't feel trapped, I'm quite excited about writing the future books. I hope folks keep buying them--in fact, I want more and more people to buy them, lots and lots of people--so I can keep writing them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Things that piss me off

People who stop at the end of the escalator and ponder where to go next, oblivious of their effect on the poor fools behind them. These people are putting others at risk, even if only of collision with them, without ever being aware of it. A classic example happened to me yesterday, where at a mall so crowded that parking places were at a premium a rather wide middle-aged woman stopped dead at the top of the escalator, put her hands on her hips, and stood perfectly still, staring at her destination options. I was fourth in line behind her, and each of us scrambled and stumbled to find a way off the escalator without running her over. When the person behind me accidentally bumped her, she indignantly turned and began berating him for his clumsiness.

More generally, why do so few people have any sense of their surroundings and their effect--and potential effect--on nearby people? Sure, we all have daydreaming interludes, and we all mess up occasionally, but my time in airports and malls has convinced me that a significant percentage of Americans are clueless about what they are doing to others.

I'm all for personal freedom, but my mom raised me with the notion that one person's freedom ends at the next person's nose, and I'd extend that rule to include some personal space for each of us. I wish everyone would.

Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited

Normally, I'd title a post about a movie with the name of the movie or, in rare cases, with its star. I put the director first on this entry for a simple reason: Anderson dominates his films. His approach to his work is so striking, so idosyncratic, that you know it's a Wes Anderson movie the moment you see it.

His filmography as director is fairly short:

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) (it includes as an opening short film, Hotel Chevalier)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Rushmore (1998)
Bottle Rocket (1996)

I've seen all of them, and I recommend them all--but with qualifications in every case.

The Darjeeling Limited is classic Anderson: dull to the point of inducing sleep and gripping, stupid and wise, hilarious and missing a comedic beat, heartachingly touching and off-putting--like all of his films, it is, at least for me, a study in contradictions. He tends to work with many of the same actors, and the actors all too often seem to be delivering only mildly different versions of their performances from their earlier work for him. His obsession with dysfunctional families runs through his work and may be part of the cause for some of the similarities in performances. He frequently indulges in artsy shots that seem, to me, to be more for the sake of art than for the story.

And yet I walked out glad I had seen the movie, as I have at the end of all of his films.

If Slanted Jack weren't calling me, I'd muse further about just why this is so, but I know I don't have the answers, so if you have any opinions on this front, feel free to comment. Slanted Jack is calling.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Things that piss me off

Cooked dishes that include shrimp with their tails still attached. Why does anyone do this? The crunchy tail bits are not tasty, and I don't know anyone who likes eating them. When you encounter them in a dish, you have to stop, pull off the tail parts, put them aside, and resume eating. This is a waste of time and energy, and it's messy.

I encountered this tonight in my entree, Pad Thai with jumbo shrimp, at Kin, a relatively new Raleigh restaurant. The appetizers for our group were uniformly quite good, with the crab rangoons and the raw fish sampler being, to my taste, particularly yummy. My Pad Thai was quite spicy, but I like it that way, so I was pleased. My first bite of shrimp was perfect, and I was content--until I had to start removing tails. The desserts were tasty but came with amateurish presentation that featured whipped cream from a can on top of otherwise good basics. I recommend the restaurant, but it could use better desserts.

I know the shrimp tail issue is, in the global scheme of things, insignificant, but if the goal is to create a great dining experience, details count. Chefs, please take off the shrimp tails for us!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Marvel comics stamps

If you haven't seen this offering from the USPS, you have to check it out. The limited edition, which Jennie kindly gave me as a gift, comes with a comic book and a set of 20 stamps. The images on the stamps are a mix of individual character portraits and classic Marvel comics. (I own every comic on a stamp, of course.) I can't say that I agree with all their choices--Black Widow would have been a win over Spider-Woman any day, for example--but the selections are at least defensible.

I have to admit that I haven't read the comic yet, because I haven't been able to make myself spoil the pristine package and open it. I'll probably have to buy myself a second set to read and to use.

I am such a geek.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The pipeline

A few folks have asked me what I'll be writing after I finish editing the Transhuman galleys and making the last passes over Slanted Jack. I should complete both of those projects before the end of November, so I have actually started thinking ahead in idle moments. Here's the list of what's coming:

Overthrowing Heaven: The third book in the Jon & Lobo series, this one, at least right now in its primordial ooze stage, is going to be yet another book with no returning characters beyond the big two. Despite that fact, I have some hope that you'll like it; I'm already enjoying thinking about it.

Children No More: The fourth (and last on the current contract) book in the Jon & Lobo series. I'm not willing to say much, but I will tell you that some old friends will return for this one.

Fatal Circle: The currently on-the-shelf crime/spy/thriller novel. As you can tell, I don't know to what precise sub-genre it belongs, but I do know that I was having fun with the 38K words I'd written before I had to put it aside in favor of contracted books. No one's bought this one yet, but that's probably at least in part because I haven't given anyone a chance to do so.

And that's far as I know right now. I expect odd things to creep into the mix, I have some ideas for an urban fantasy, for a shared-world collection, and so on, but I also have a day job, so I expect to focus my writing primarily, if not exclusively, on the above novels.

Back to it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Hiring really good people is hard. I know, because my company is trying to do it. We're looking for a marketing/client relations/process person, and we're also seeking a personal/executive assistant for me (primarily, but also some for my partner and co-founder). We're seeking highly motivated, intelligent people who want to do great work and who are loyal, trustworthy, and able to work without constant supervision and to deal with confidential information.

You may notice that nothing in the list of key qualities we're seeking specifies a particular background or skill set; that's intentional. We do have other, more detailed requirements (such as strong oral and written communication abilities, solid background with Microsoft Office on a PC, and so on), but the big items are in that earlier list. We'd be a great opportunity for a couple of people, but now we have to find them. We're going to be doing some limited posting/advertising, but because one of the jobs is a personal assistant, I thought I'd mention them here.

Wish us luck in hiring!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wanting but not wanting

Certain items fall into an odd category: I want them, but I don't really want them. To be precise, I lust after them, but if I had them they would largely gather dust, though from time to time I would peer at them with great pride and wonder.

Consider, for example, the three lovely classes of hot dog devices on the home page of a site I can't help but love, Hot Dog World. Do I need a hot dog steamer, broiler, or roller grill? Of course not. Would I use one if I had one? Probably not more than once or twice.

But, you have to admit they're deeply cool.

Well, okay, maybe you don't, but I do.

Thinking of these lovely bits of machinery naturally causes me to reflect on the noble tube steak. I've long sought to find the best hot dog in the world: not the best way to prepare a hot dog, but rather the actual piece of meat (well, more or less meat) itself. Nathan's can make a claim at the title, though right now I'd award it to the tasty offerings from Allen Brothers.

If you know of a better hot dog, please clue me in.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Busy, busy

I'm overdue on my edit of the galleys of Transhuman. Much to read and check!
I've finished pass three of Slanted Jack and must now key in the changes.

And then there's work, the rest of my life, etc.

I'd complain about it all, but I'm lucky to have both books, lucky to have a day job with good work, good people, and a decent paycheck, and so instead I'll shut up and get back to work.

On a completely unrelated MMA note, I feel sorry for Frank Mir. The UFC is feeding him to Brock Lesnar in their February 2 show. Unless Mir regains his championship form, something he's been unable to do since his motorcycle accident, I expect we will see a short, brutal fight with Lesnar destroying him. All that said, I'd love to see Mir back in top shape, taking this one to the ground and submitting Lesnar.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Small Miracles

Blue Rodeo is one of my favorite groups. They're a Canadian band that's been mixing rock, country, and bits of jazz with most of the same people--and the same two singer-songwriters--since 1987 or so. I picked up their brilliant debut CD, Outskirts, after hearing a cut from it in Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in Tornoto. I saw them first live a few weeks later The Diamond in Toronto. Outskirts remains one of my desert island Top 10 CDs.

On this weekend's trip, we listened to their new CD, Small Miracles. It's a strong offering, with songs that range all over the map in subject matter and musical tone. Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy, the band's two leads, handle the singing well, and the band continues to be a very good musical team.

If you don't know Blue Rodeo, you should.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hank's wake

I got up at 7:10 a.m., picked up Jennie about 8:05, and we drove to Athens, Georgia for Hank Reinhardt's wake. A blend of sadness, memories, and funny stories, it was an event I think Hank would have liked a great deal. Toni asked me to read a favorite short short story of Hank's, "Billy the Rooster," by Mike Stam, and I was honored to do so. I could see why Hank liked it.

Later, we grabbed hot dogs for dinner at the famous drive-in, The Varsity. Though the dogs were good, they were not, in my opinion, great.

We then watched Gone Baby Gone, which was an excellent movie adaptation of an excellent Dennis Lehane book of the same name. (If you haven't read Lehane, what are you waiting for?)

Tonight's one of my favorite nights of the year, because I love the extra hour of sleep. I hope to enjoy it.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

If you're tired enough, everything is a metaphor

Very little sleep, then up early to drive from the hotel to PDX.

Wet fog coats the city, and the instructions I'm holding are new to me. I head into the damp darkness not knowing if the path I'm on will take me anywhere.

I'm in luck: the instructions work. I find the entrance to the freeway and think I'm good to go, only to discover that I must cross a high, winding bridge in the fog and the dark. I hurtle over the city, looking at but still separate from everyone and everything in it.

I make it across the bridge and merge onto a wide highway jammed with fellow travelers. I wonder where they're going, if they're also tired, if they're heading away from or to home, if they wonder about me.

My journey ends at the airport, where of course I'm only beginning another one.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Earlier tonight, Gina and I had the privilege of watching Henry Rollins perform for a bit over three hours on his spoken word tour, Provoked. (Yes, I bought the shirt, and one for Sarah, too, though mine may be a bit too small and hers a bit too tight--but there was only one size of the women's tank-top.) Rollins was amazing, as always, with intelligence, charity, kindness, anger, and humor all weaving in and out of the stories he told.

I've had friends say Rollins was too much about himself for their taste, but I don't agree. Yes, he's so alienated that a big part of his subject matter is himself, but he's also a passionate and increasingly compassionate observer of the human race.

If you get a chance to catch this show, don't miss it. If you don't, hope for him to bring it to DVD.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Snippets of a day

Lots of work today, with email, meetings, and calls eating most of my waking hours.

Will bounce at home only briefly, then drive Saturday morning to Hank's wake. I hate the unexpected trip, most particularly for its cause, but I am also determined to go.

Dinner at Paley's Place, just declared by Portland Monthly the city's best restaurant and a Gourmet Top 50 restaurant last year. This was my third time there, and though the food remained very good, the service was terrible. I'll hope the holiday was to blame.

Wandered Powell's Books for a bit--my first time there. Amazing place. How could a book fan not love it? They had copies of One Jump Ahead, so I steeled my nerve and asked if they'd like me to sign them. They agreed, I signed the copies, and on went the "Autographed" stickers. This type of self-promotion is very awkward for me, but if it helps sell books, I'll learn to do it.

I'm three quarters of the way through the third pass of Slanted Jack. I can never tell what anyone else will think, but I believe it's better than One Jump Ahead, and I have experienced more moments of fun reading it than I did with the earlier book. I believe that's a good thing, but who knows?

And back to it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hank Reinhardt died this morning

At Toni Weisskopf's request, I alerted the Baen's Bar folks with this post this morning:

I got the call from Danielle a little bit ago. Toni asked that I let everyone here know that Hank died this morning.

I dove into work for a bit so I could buy time to compose myself.

Hank was a good guy, a vibrant man full of energy and life. Sometime in the past year, I can't remember exactly when, he, Toni, Dave Drake, Jo Drake, Jennie Faries, and I shared a lovely meal at a kitchen table in the Angus Barn. Afterward, he showed us prototypes of a new line of practice weapons he was debuting. He was excited and hopeful and ready to launch this new project. He was that way every time I saw him.

Some men are insecure around powerful women. Hank was not; he knew himself, and he knew Toni. At WorldCon in LA, Toni and I were meeting in the living room of their suite about 2:30 in the morning. Hank came out, saw us, said, "Still working?", and when Toni replied yes, he nodded and headed back to sleep.

Toni will be incommunicado for a while. I know she takes all of our good wishes with her during this extraordinarily hard time.

I'm replicating it here to get the word out to more people.

Those who'd like to see a picture of that dinner can find it on Dave Drake's Web site; just follow the link and scroll down a bit.

I hate that this happened to Hank, and I feel horrible for Toni. If you know Toni, you know she's had a brutal last year and a half. This sucks.

The nights before morning flights

I hate them. In addition to forcing me to wake up during what would normally be prime sleep time, they also inevitably shorten due to all the extra stuff I have to do to leave town. Last night was particularly bad, because I woke up Sunday morning in a small puddle due to a leak in the waterbed and so had to sleep Sunday night in a different bed. Between that change and all the work, I wound up hitting the sack at 2:10, not falling asleep until after 3:10, waking up a bit after four o'clock and then again after five o'clock, and finally getting up for good at 5:45 a.m. I didn't complete a single sleep cycle.

Travel went reasonably well, with only one thirty-minute delay that I filled with work thanks to good T-Mobile bandwidth in DFW. I also made solid progress on the paper edit of Slanted Jack, though I'm still nowhere near the end.

The Heathman Hotel here in Portland is lovely, as usual, and dinner at its restaurant was quite good. If I hadn't already been up for almost 21 hours, the vast majority of it working, and if I weren't still staring at a couple more hours of work, I'd be positively cheerful, or maybe that's giddy from fatigue. Whatever.

Back to it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pumpkin carving and on the road again

I have to get up in six hours and fifteen minutes, and I still have work to do and haven't started to pack, so I'll keep this brief. Tonight, a group of us gathered for pumpkin carving, another of our many extended family traditions. I thought we collectively created quite a few lovely glowing specimens, and perhaps if time permits tomorrow night I'll upload a photo or two of them.

In the morning, Gina and I head to Portland for business with clients there. Though the vast majority of the trip will, as always, be work, I hope to eat several good meals. I definitely plan to attend one event about which I'm quite excited: Henry Rollins' sold-out spoken-word show, Provoked, at Portland's Aladdin Theater. More on that after the show.

The big red binder will, of course, be traveling with me as carry-on baggage.

Bellydance superstars

Art week continued tonight with a trip by Jennie, Sarah, and me to see Bellydance Superstars. I've enjoyed the local bellydance shows ("haflas") that I've attended, but they haven't made me feel compelled to seek out more bellydancing. Tonight's performance was, as one would expect from a national touring company, a much more accomplished presentation than the local shows, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The twelve dancers were all at least very good, and several were amazing. I particularly enjoyed the main dancer and the gothic tribal dancers.

I also liked the fact that this show did not shy away from the roots of bellydance: a celebration of the female form, or, more to the point, sex. While never being crass or resorting to unnecessary nudity, they combined artistry with sensuality beautifully. As someone who studiously avoids most dance shows, I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Get on the bus

Too much art can be dangerous. It reminds me of all that I haven't accomplished and makes me yearn for more time for writing and moviemaking and other arts, time I can't afford to give.

Tonight, Sarah performed four piano pieces at Fourth Friday, then hopped in the car with a friend of hers and me to zip off to the Stars concert at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro. I know very little about the band's music, but the show--despite the typical lousy club mix--made me determined to check them out further. Though the drive home in the pouring rain--for which all of us in this area are quite grateful--was exhausting, I'm still glad I went.

In thinking about art tonight, I realized that I am on the bus, at least a little: I write every day. I find some small solace in that fact, and I hope that I will be able to carve out bigger chunks of time each day in the months and years that I hope are still to come.

Oh, lest I forget: Sarah is today's RPS sad panda, because the streak is over.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Random walk

I'm going to be up very late tonight, because I'm quite behind on work, so of course my brain is going in every direction at once. Here are the lead points of just a few of those vectors.

I'm a sad RPS panda. To see why, check Sarah's triumph.

Sarah also asked that I put here a message for Kyle: "Get in the car, Kyle!" (Don't ask.)

The galleys for Transhuman arrived today. I'm glad to have the chance to proof them, but I'm also neck-deep in work, so it's one more stress. So it goes. I am looking forward to the book's publication.

While working I listened to a couple of interviews with Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens. I was a huge Cat Stevens fan in high school and college, and I still love a lot of his music.

Dave, my one draft reader for each book, gave me a lot of great comments on Slanted Jack. For reasons related to details of the scene, one suggestion didn't work as he'd written it, but the instinct behind it was superb. Last night, I worked on that scene, and I greatly improved it (I hope) after thinking a lot about Dave's comment. Thanks, Dave.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

School concert, The Hold Steady, and a drunken jerk

Tonight was packed. I left work early (for me: 6:15) to head to a school concert. Sarah and Scott were violinists with the strings ensemble and the symphony orchestra, and I greatly enjoyed hearing them play. I also had a good time listening to the other groups that performed, but I can't help but be biased toward music my kids make. They're talented musicians, and I'm incredibly proud of them.

Immediately after the show ended, four of us--Sarah, her friend, Jennie, and I--headed to the Lincoln Theater to see The Hold Steady, a band whose most recent CD all of us have liked. The opening act, Art Brut, was better than I expected but not quite good enough to entice me to buy any of their albums.

After the usual club delays, The Hold Steady took the stage. Despite the typical club bad sound mix, I was having a good time listening to the music and shuffling my feet in place in what for me passes for dancing.

Then the problem began.

A drunken man in his twenties or thirties hit on all three of the women in succession. Jennie said she gave him a mean enough look that he moved right past her. Sarah looked away and didn't respond, and her friend did the same. The jerk unfortunately fixated on her friend and kept bumping into the girl. And we are talking a girl here, someone well under 18. I explained her age and asked the guy to stop it, but he kept finding little ways to be annoying, so we all moved to a position against the wall far away from him. First rule of conflict: walk away if you can.

That should have been the end of it.

But it wasn't. On his way to buy more beer, this idiot stopped to talk to Sarah's friend. I quickly put my body between the two of them. He explained he would always stop to talk to a sad face, and I explained that he would not, at least not this particular one. When he kept trying to get around me and would not listen to what I was saying, I used my body to move him a few yards away, where he continued arguing and started yelling at me. I told him to back off and leave the girl alone, but he persisted in moving toward her.

If you know me, you realize what a bad idea this was. If you don't know me, all you really need to understand is this: if someone is under my protection, I would die before I would let them get hurt--but first, I would do violence to any attacker. (If you think I'm being melodramatic, you don't know me.)

The jerk saw an overweight middle-aged man, so he pushed.

The next thing he saw was my arm squeezing his throat and jamming him against the wall. I explained to him, rather less calmly, that he would stay away, or I would hurt him a great deal more than I was already doing. He fussed for a moment, then went limp--his first smart move of the night. I released my grip, and he left.

A bit later, he approached her again. I intervened, and he immediately began apologizing. You might think this was his second smart move, but it wasn't, because to make the apology he again intruded on the girl's space.

Unfortunately, by this time, Sarah's friend was scared--she did not know she was safe with me, and she did not know the guy was apologizing--and went to the restroom in tears, Jennie and Sarah in fast pursuit. I followed them and waited, quivering from adrenaline, outside the restroom. What I wanted to do was pummel the jerk who made her cry, but I have enough self-control to stop myself from doing that.

We enjoyed the rest of the show from the upstairs balcony. The guy came up one time to use the bathroom, but he swerved around us and did not make eye contact--his second smart move.

Being a dad, I couldn't help but use the experience to impart some lessons to the girls on the drive home.

I hate that those lessons are necessary, but they are. Men can be jerks in many circumstances, but when they're drunk, the probability of bad behavior goes way up. So, too, does the likelihood of stupidity, because only a stupid man picks a confrontation with no data about his adversary.

I should end by noting that I'm not writing this because I'm proud of my behavior, nor because I enjoyed it. I'm writing it in part because I'm a writer and it's what I do, and in part because I'm still buzzed with adrenaline and draining some more of it from my system by relating the story is better than many of the alternatives. I couldn't communicate to that idiot that I would not let him hurt anyone with me, and I came perilously close to hurting him. I hate that I did, I hate that I ended up at a violent solution, and I hate that I'm paying for it, but words alone would not get him to stop bothering Sarah's friend, and letting him bug her was never an option. Yeah, we could have left the show, but we'd paid to attend, and we'd been enjoying ourselves, and frankly I'm simply not that good a pacifist.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A qualified recommendation

A while back, I finally managed to order and receive some of Dr. Bob's ice cream. I say "finally" because it took three attempts for one to succeed. I'd read good things about this gourmet ice cream maker, and I'm always up for importing the best frozen comestibles, so I persisted.

I'm glad I did. For taste, I have to give the ice cream high marks. Its chocolates are some of the best I've ever tasted, and all of the flavors we sampled were very good or better. If you love ice cream, you'll want to taste Dr. Bob's.

What led me to make the overall recommendation a qualified one is that getting the ice cream is difficult. You can't mix and match flavors exactly as you'd like, each set of six pints must be a separate order, and I had multiple problems even getting an order to reach me. That said, the people there were unfailingly nice, and the ice cream is so good that I plan to order it again.

Monday, October 22, 2007

On game design

I've corresponded briefly with Kyle about a very good article on game design that he wrote and posted on his site. If you play video games at all or are even mildly interested in them, it's a fun, if somewhat formal and technical, read, and I recommend it.

When Kyle visits, we inevitably spend a chunk of time discussing how to design fun games and exactly what it is that makes a game fun. Why did I enjoy MechAssault so much but not bother to finish MechAssault 2? (Sales figures generally aligned with my feelings, by the way, so it wasn't simply that my taste was odd--though that is often the case.) Why are the Halo games so much fun?

These may sound like questions that matter only to geeks, but they're not. The video game business is huge, and the costs of making the big games is equally large: think $15M and up for a single game. With that much money on the line, figuring out how to come closer to being fun for the player is worth a lot.

Kyle's paper has a lot of good insights, and game designers would do well to heed them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Anderson Silva is amazing

Last night, a few of us gathered to watch the latest UFC PPV offering. The main event was a fight between the middleweight (185 lb.) champion, Anderson "Spider" Silva, and the former champion, Rich "Ace" Franklin. Silva won the title from Franklin about a year ago in a fight that ended in the first round with Silva demolishing Franklin. Franklin, who had previously looked unstoppable, spent a long time regrouping (and having his nose reconstructed), then won a couple of fights on his way to earning this rematch. Every MMA fan I know felt Silva would win, but we all hoped Franklin would make it a real contest.

He did--for all of a few minutes.

Then, Silva took over. He nearly won the fight in the first round, and he destroyed Franklin early in the second.

After the fight, Silva bowed to his opponent, treated him with great respect, and only praised him (via a translator). Silva is a class act, an amazing fighter, and pound for pound possibly the best in the MMA world. If you're at all into MMA and get a chance to catch this fight on replay, don't miss it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

An unusual lunch

Yesterday, I spent my lunchtime with David Beaver, founder of the World Space Center and Mindspace Multimedia, and creator of the Magic Theatre Project. I'd seen an early demo of the Magic Theatre technology in the late 1980s during a Sycamore Hill Writers' Workshop, and it was interesting. I'm a believer in space technology, so I agreed to meet with David to discuss his efforts to use his technology to help bring the overview effect, the sensations astronauts feel when they view the Earth from space, to the masses. (Go here for Frank White's book on the overview effect.)

I didn't leave the lunch convinced that David's business plans would work, nor do I have enough current data about his technology to be able to form a solid opinion about whether it's truly compelling. I am convinced, however, of his own deep belief, both in his technology and in the value of making the overview effect available to a broader audience.

You can judge for yourself, at least in part, by visiting the various links I've provided and reading the available information.

I wish him luck.

Best brain fart of Slanted Jack

The award for the best brain fart moment in Slanted Jack goes to me, of course, for writing about gorilla groups seeking arms.

As Dave, who found this error for me (thanks, Dave!), noted, such behavior would certainly cut down on poaching.

I do know, of course, that I should have written (and will, in the final book), "guerilla" (the spelling variant I prefer), but somehow while focusing on the scene a homonym error crept in.

Now, I'm tempted to write a story about gorilla groups amassing weapons for a revolt--but first I'd have to find a way to avoid all resemblances to The Planet of the Apes.

Then again, perhaps this is one of those ideas that should go on the shelf, way in the back, in the dusty, never-cleaned areas where the dust rhinos roam.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Music and my writing

Many folks have asked me whether I listen to music while writing, so I thought I'd answer the question here. (Web Weasel, are you noticing that this is another potential FAQ candidate? Back off.)

I usually write in silence, but often because I forgot to put on music. I actually prefer writing to music, because it helps enhance the trance-like effect of intense concentration, but the music must meet one of two requirements: it must either have no words and a relatively consistent tone, or it must be music I have listened to so many times that the words fade away for me.

For example, over the years I have written many columns, stories, and novel parts to the sounds of Blue Rodeo's Outskirts, one of the best albums ever. I've also written a great many parts of my first two novels while listening to the two Smallville soundtracks, particularly the first one, and the lovely Snow Patrol album, Eyes Open.

If you don't know Eyes Open and you at all like emotional (okay, emo) music, you should check out this CD. It was, in my opinion, the best album of last year. (The Killers' Hot Fuss was the best of the previous year. I'm not sure about this year's best.)

I've amassed a number of albums that meet my requirements, and I am always listening to new ones and adding them to the list by giving them heavy rotation on my playlist. I like having a range of available music, so I can match the sounds to the emotions of what I'm writing at the time.

New albums, though, never qualify, because they distract me. I can't have that.

My thanks to The State of Things crew

If you didn't notice it on my home page, I spent about an hour today at the Durham studios of WUNC Radio, where I was the second guest on the show, The State of Things. Frank Stasio, the voice of the show, Lindsay Thomas, the producer who worked on my segment, and all the folks I met there were gracious, helpful, and generally good professionals. I enjoyed the interview, which took a different approach than most discussions I've had about One Jump Ahead, and I think it came off okay.

If you're interested, you can check for yourself via the link on my home page. I'd replicate it here to save you time, but the show is going to be moving around on their site as it heads toward their archives, and I don't want to have to maintain two links.

The experience there reminded me that I'm almost always impressed with and happy to be around professionals who are good at their jobs--whatever those jobs may be. Competence matters a great deal to me.

On an related note, the guest after me on the show was Bryan Zupon, a Duke senior who runs an underground kitchen at which I've had the pleasure to eat once and who writes about food. Bryan is a very good cook, and it was great to see him again. We exchanged restaurant stories, and I joined his segment to add my praises for his cooking. If you're a local foodie, you should be trying to eat Bryan's cooking before he graduates. I'm certainly going to try to set up another meal with him.

And now, as on most evenings, it's time for me to return to Slanted Jack.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The potentially pretentious middle initial

One of these days, the Web weasel will herd me into a corner and snap at me repeatedly until I write the FAQ for my site. Because I've successfully evaded her teeth and claws thus far, I've left unanswered a pair of related questions I hear frequently: "What's with the 'L.' in your name on all your publications? Isn't 'Mark Van Name' long enough?"

To answer the second question first, yes, my name is long enough without the middle initial. The problem is, without that initial my name provokes a comment that is the answer to the first question, the reason I always include my middle initial:

"Did you know your name was Name [heh, heh]?"

The chuckle is almost always part of the question.

This remark used to really piss me off. Now, I've grown to find it only annoying. If I'm not in a hurry, I try to answer: "Really? I'd never noticed." If the questioner believes me, I know we're unlikely to have a lot to talk about.

You might think this interchange would be rare, but it's common enough that I don't ever plan to drop the "L." from my byline.

(Note to Web weasel: Look, I've written what could be an FAQ entry. Back off.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The third Jon & Lobo book (revised)

Back on May 22, I announced here that I'd suddenly flashed on what the third Jon & Lobo book would be. Well, I later realized I was wrong: the idea I'd envisioned will not be the third Jon & Lobo book.

Instead, it'll be the fourth.

I didn't make this change in position arbitrarily; I had reasons, reasons I'll eventually make clear.

This switch, however, left me with a blank slate for the third book.

That slate is now full. I know what the third book in the series will be. Its story is already percolating in the deepest parts of my brain, those few neurons not currently obsessed with finishing Slanted Jack.

I'd announce the titles of the books here, but I probably ought to tell my publisher first. Seems prudent.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The big red binder rides again

I've finished the second pass of Slanted Jack, and I'm very pleased to have reached this point. I enjoyed the book quite a lot, and I believe I improved it greatly with this last pass.

My next pass involves printing it, which I have already done, and going over the pages with a red pen in my hand. Reading the work on paper is still, to me, very different from seeing it on the screen. Because the book is now fairly polished, this pass typically goes fairly quickly, but I expect to find plenty of things I want to change.

Slanted Jack now weighs in at over 118K words and, depending on the printer I use, 445 or 446 pages. Toting that much paper around has the potential be a hassle, and I take it with me most places, just in case I get time to work on it. To make the carrying task easier, when I reached this point with One Jump Ahead, I asked Gina if she could find me a large binder to hold the three-hole-punched printout. She did, and I'm using that binder again for Slanted Jack.

I've posted a few pictures of it here. I know: what a geek.

Still, with 445 pages and a weight (ms., binder, and two red pens) of six pounds five ounces, it represents, to me, quite an achievement.

I'll be even happier when I've finished it and sent it to Toni.


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