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!


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