Saturday, May 26, 2007

Balticon, day 1: Big Balti, little con for me

I worked late last night, as usual, but I then slept for almost eight glorious hours, more than the previous two nights combined. I awoke not fully recharged but no longer on empty, and definitely more than a little energetic. Excellent.

Today we were at the con only long enough to register; the rest of the day Baltimore was the star.

We spent much of the afternoon wandering along 36th street, which is in Hampden and is a pleasure to walk. Lunch was at Cafe Hon, which as you can see is fun both outside and in.

The giant pink flamingo is a great touch. Of course, I'd love this place just for the soda fountain even if it had no other virtues. Fortunately, its virtues are many, including classic and better than average diner fare, a great atmosphere, a funky little shop in the corner, and a nice staff. Catch it if you're in the area.

As in any such area, not all shops are to my taste. The one that featured scores of little painted shells tripped my weird meter the wrong way, not because of the concept, which I liked, but because the paintings weren't odd enough.

On the other hand, I can't recommend too highly Atomic Books. It makes me happy to see an independent bookstore with such a strange and varied selection. From art books to counter-culture manifestos to odd sorts of porn, from graphic novels to John Waters material, this place covers a very broad range of strange and fun material. I suspect something in it will offend most shoppers, which I consider a good thing.

I do wish they carried One Jump Ahead, of course, but I turned too shy to ask them to do so. I suspect they would have passed, so I would also have had to deal with rejection, but I probably should have tried. Ah, well, maybe they'll read this and take pity on me. (That particular approach never worked with girls, and I don't expect it to work with booksellers, but I thought I'd give it a try.)

Did I mention a small cardboard box by the door with odd free comics and the handwritten legend, "Because we love you". This place rocks.

And so does its new (at least to me) sister store, Atomic Pop. Down the street and around the corner from the original, this one specializes in strange toys (most of them Japanese), design books, and other related goodies. I picked up several fascinating volumes here, including picture books of street art from Japan and Iceland.

Who could resist such treats?

For dinner tonight we hit one of my favorite restaurants in this part of the country, Cindy Wolf's Charleston. If you haven't eaten here and are anywhere nearby, make a reservation now. The food tonight was, as always, perfectly prepared and wonderful. My friends, Jennie and Kyle, and I enjoyed many courses, a great cheese selection, and very good service. We even managed a few minutes with the chef herself, who was gracious and charming. I want a cookbook from her, and she said one is in the early stages.

I still have work to do, and posting picture-laden entries is more time-consuming than I had realized. I must put the Web weasel on the job and see if she can make this simpler for me.

Tomorrow, the con itself, including a reading I expect no one who is not already a friend will attend, and then to Kyle's for the UFC pay-per-view.

And writing and work, of course, always those.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Getting fat in style

As I've mentioned previously, I collect great restaurants. On the way to Balticon, we stopped today at one I'd visited once previously, Michel Richard Citronelle. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, it's because the chef, Michel Richard, just won the 2007 Beard award for Outstanding Chef. (The restaurant's sommelier, Mark Slater, won for Outstanding Wine Service, but as a non-drinker, I didn't interact with him.)

Richard was sitting outside when we first walked by the restaurant, and he was later sitting in the kitchen when we sat down to eat, but he was not, of course, cooking. I'm not sure how rich or famous I'd have to be to get that level of service, but I wouldn't mind finding out.

His presence in the active kitchen is not key, of course, because you're very rarely going to find the great and famous chefs actually preparing your meal. The great restaurants live and die on a daily basis by the work of their non-celebrity cooks, and this team did not let Richard down.

We had the ten-course tasting menu, and from the three-part amuse bouche, which featured the best escargot dish I've ever tasted, three tiny bites of food joy, to the five small cheese portions accompanied by five small slices of homemade raisin pistachio bread, from the veal with sweetbreads to the two dessert rounds, everything was top-drawer. I wouldn't rate the meal as flawless--the sweetbreads were a bit strong for my taste and the veal a tiny bit past where I'd have liked them to stop cooking, for example--but it was nonetheless a great meal. I feel privileged to have been able to eat it.

I also feel (and am) fat, but at least I'm getting fat in style.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hitting the road

The next twelve days will be crazed. I'm heading to Balticon, then home for a few days, then off to BEA and from it straight to TechEd. I'm hoping to catch a few noteworthy meals along the way. Watch this space for reports from the various events--or what little I get to see of them.

Perhaps I should pack sometime soon.

Random note: If you haven't listened to The Hold Steady, check out their CD, Boys and Girls in America. It's good the first time, and it repays multiple listening.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Excited about books

Do you get excited when a new book appears from an author you like? As a writer, I certainly hope so. As a reader, I still do.

Today's mail brought me an order from the UK: Richard Morgan's newest, Black Man. If you don't already read him, pick up Altered Carbon and give it a go. It's dark, noirish SF/mystery, and I quite enjoy it.

Tomorrow's mail will, I hope, provide my copy of Barry Eisler's latest, Requiem for an Assassin. I'm a sucker for good assassin books, and Eisler's John Rain novels may be the best of the genre currently appearing.

I'm looking forward to reading both of these new books and recommend these writers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The third Jon and Lobo book

Driving back from Artsplosure yesterday, in the middle of a conversation, in a flash I remembered a Jon & Lobo idea I'd had in a shower and forgotten to record, and in the next flash I knew what the third Jon & Lobo novel would be. A few moments later, the title came to me. I rushed home and immediately wrote some notes in my favorite fiction notebook, and all was well.

This development may sound trivial, but to me it is anything but. Knowing the very rough shape of that book is a huge win, and I'm quite excited about it.

Of course, I haven't told my publisher yet; perhaps I'll wait to see if she ever reads this blog. Or perhaps that sentence will cost me. We'll have to see.

If by chance you are aware of the Jon & Lobo series to be, you may know that the first book, One Jump Ahead, isn't even due on the stands until sometime in June. If by some even rarer chance you know the second one, Slanted Jack, isn't to appear until June, 2008, you may wonder why I'm thinking about the third. To a degree, I share that curiosity. After all, I'm in the middle (not the exact middle, but well enough along) of writing Slanted Jack, so it dominates my fictional thinking. I guess the reason the third book was nibbling at the edges of my mind is that I had no clue what it would be. Knowing its nature allays my concerns quite nicely.

By the way, I started this post simply to note my excitement, but upon scanning it again I can see how one might view it as cheap marketing. I'd let that bother me more were it not that the whole site is in some ways cheap marketing. Whatever.

Can you tell I over-analyze?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Many voices, many songs

After this morning's soccer game (a hardfought 0-1 loss in which the Arrows played very well), several of us in my extended family went to a Raleigh street fair, Artsplosure. We ate street food--always a favorite activity of mine--and wandered slowly through the many arts and crafts booths.

As you might expect, some of the art worked for me, and some did not. To be completely truthful, most of it was not to my taste. That said, I uniformly admired the passion and dedication of the artists who braved the heat and, probably more importantly, the vast indifference of most passersby to display and hawk their treasures.

That indifference is a foe all artists must face. For many years, I fought an internal war over writing, unable and unwilling to give it up, but also so sure that I would be embarrassingly bad at it that I could scarcely make myself do it. In the course of the over two decades of this struggle, I produced and sold about a dozen stories, a pitiful output for all the time and heartache. Finally, about two years ago I decided to write at least a little bit every day, because by this technique I would no matter what be creating something daily.

I still carry on the same internal struggle, and I remain convinced at a very deep level that I'll never write anything truly worthwhile, but now I have one novel done, another in progress, and a few new stories and story rewrites in print. I intend to keep writing no matter what.

A poster in the music room where my kids used to practice said something to the effect of "if the only bird in the forest who sang was the one with the prettiest voice, how sad the woods would be." In art as in all things, no single arbiter exists, so even saying which voice is prettiest is, I believe, impossible. Despite that fact, every artist I've ever known wrestles with some mutation of this problem.

So I have come to admire all the Artsplosure artists and craftspeople, as well as all the artists and craftspeople who toil daily at their passion no matter the reception, for keeping on singing their own songs in their own voices. The forest is large enough for us all.

And now, a quiz: At one point in the afternoon, we stopped at a purveyor of good chocolates, Peche, so some in our group could indulge in sweets and all of us could rest in air conditioning. My daughter, Sarah, particularly enjoyed her stay there. These two pictures are both from today's Artsplosure expedition; can you spot my daughter?

(Hints: She's the one with the smaller nose, and she's sufficiently beautiful that I know you're wondering if I'm really her father. I am; the sense of humor resemblance tells the tale.)


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