Saturday, May 31, 2008

Somebody else's graduation

I've never been a fan of graduation ceremonies. I attended my high school graduation under protest. I skipped both my undergraduate and graduate ceremonies. I've attended a few for friends in the intervening years, but none of them has particularly worked for me.

This morning, I went to the graduation at my kids' school. I attended because both my kids were involved, though not graduating: Sarah acting as a junior marshall, and Scott playing in the orchestra.

In the same way that last night's movie had a lot going for it, this ceremony had a ton going against it:

* It started at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday, so I had less than four hours of sleep and walked onto the field already pissed at losing the benefits of my best sleep night.

* It was outdoors. Though overcast and cooler than most end of May days, the weather still verged on hot and was often muggy.

* My back is still sore and far from fully healed, and I had to sit in lousy chairs or the bleachers. (We went for the bleachers, and with a hurt back it sucked about as much as you'd expect. At least I got to sit on the ground level, so I could periodically get up and walk around.)

* Neither of my kids was graduating, so I had no family stake in the outcome.

Despite all that, I found the event far better than I had expected. Several moments were downright touching, the speakers were decent or better, and the fact that one of the seniors is one of Sarah's very best friends gave me someone to cheer for.

I actually quite enjoyed the address of Dr. Benjamin Bernard Dunlap, the President of Wofford College and the main speaker. He was erudite, funny, had enough of value to say that those listening might get real value from his speech, and he kept it reasonably short. Even the two student speakers did good jobs.

The most moving moment, though, was a part of the ceremony that may sound trite: each senior took a rose and presented it to his or her mother. Seeing all these young men and women hug their moms, watching the expressions on the faces of the moms and their kids, and having a clue from Rana's countless hours doing school-related things for the kids about how much moms make schools work gave me a stronger than ever understanding of what so many of these women have sacrificed for their kids. (Yes, I find it vaguely annoying that there's no corresponding event for the dads, but as Chris Rock observed, we get the big piece of chicken and that's about it.) I know that no single moment can ever repay eighteen years of work and sacrifice, but these moments do count. They do help. The moms deserve them, and this one was lovely.

The rose ceremony even made me wish someone at my high school had made me give a rose to my mom. Most of my eighteen-year-old self would have hated it, but I like to think that some small part of me would have realized even then just how much she gave up to get me to that point in life. I sure realize it now.

Vampires: The Turning

If you needed more proof that I will watch anything, this movie might convince you. This fine piece of cinematic goofiness was the entertainment for C&C tonight. It certainly held promise:

* Thailand setting

* fu, both Muay Thai and sword

* a hot female key supporting actress

* vampires on motorcyles, including one in a kind of zebra-skinned print jump suit and silver fangs

* an interesting tweak on the love triangle

* only 83 minutes long; how much could it do wrong?

Alas, it failed to deliver, and it felt far longer than its meager duration. Though far from the worst C&C pick of mine, it ultimately was too silly, too badly acted, and too serious about itself to make the grade as either a good movie or a good bad one. If it had been more violent or more sexy, it might also have made the leap to a higher rating, but it did not.

Watch this one only if, like me, you must.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Food chemistry at home

Ever wanted to make caviar from peas? I have, ever since I first ate them at Minibar in Cafe Atlantico. Well, now we all can indulge in a little bit of food chemistry--or molecular gastronomy, as the fancier name goes--in our own kitchens, courtesy of the Texturas Spherification Minikit from Dean & DeLuca.

It won't be easy. Your odds of success the first time are low, because this is tricky stuff. You have to spend a lot to get started: this kit runs $200 before taxes and shipping. Once you get over those two obstacles, however, you can play with this chemistry set for foodies and try to recreate some of the recipes that come with it--or roll your own. The product is the creation of El Bullitaller, which is the workshop where Ferran Adria, the famous chef of El Bulli, and his brother, Albert, devise new recipes.

El Bulli, by the way, is one of the few restaurants in the world that might cause me to fly across an ocean for dinner.

If you're into food and have the dough, check out the spherification kit before Dean & Deluca runs out of stock.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The first day home after a trip

is always a rough one, because somehow no matter how hard you try to keep up while you're away, you find out you're behind once you're home. Today was no exception. I was up late last night processing mail, unpacking, getting settled, and so on, and then it felt like I started running when I woke up and never stopped. So, I'll keep this short.

John Scalzi was nice enough to mention Slanted Jack, One Jump Ahead, the Compton Crook award, and me over at his blog. If you're an SF fan, you probably already read this fun site at least now and then, but if you don't, give it a look. Scalzi's been at blogging a long time, he works at it consistently, and he does good work. His fiction also deserves your attention--and judging from the Hugo award and reprints and so on, it's getting that recognition.

In completely unrelated news that I may have mentioned before, I'm looking for a new chair for my home office, because ever since my last chair died I've been using this twenty-five-year-old POS that hurts my back. If you know of a great office chair, particularly one designed for lots of ass in chair time (a key part of writing), please let me know. This task has been living at the bottom of my enormous to-do list for a long time, but my aching back is helping it rise to the top.

The introduction of a major character awaits me in Overthrowing Heaven, so I'm off to write her first appearance.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On the road again: Balticon, day 6

The trip from Washington, VA to Raleigh is not a long one, maybe five or so hours by car. With a hurt back, however, it can seem like a very long time indeed. To make the ride more tolerable for me, we stopped multiple times, which of course increased the drive's overall duration.

We made one of the stops in Ashland, VA, where we ate our amazing Inn at Little Washington picnic at a wooden table outside the official Ashland Visitor Center. This small old building sits beside some active railroad tracks and is across the street and down a bit from Randolph Macon College. To get to the place, you have to know it’s there and go around the block a bit, because the only road adjacent to it is one way the wrong way from the main feed off I-95. Once we found it, however, we were able both to enjoy our meal and to brush up on local Civil War history. I recommend the stop, if only for the odd, quaint quality of the place.

The older I get and the longer I write, the clearer it is to me that every time you think about the stuff related to writing--reviews, fans, awards, literary value, movie rights, you name it--you make doing the work that much harder. I suspect you also hurt the work, though I tend to be focused enough that once I’m actually writing that noise vanishes and I become totally immersed in the story. Plus, later passes afford you the opportunity to fix the shortcomings of your first draft. Still, I wish I could completely ignore everything but the work itself. I can’t, and I suspect no writer can, but I intend to try harder to do so.

On a science-fictional note, Pam sent me a link to an interesting story on a novel therapy intended to let people regrow body parts. I’m quite optimistic that we as a race will solve this and many other medical challenges. I expect some disasters along the way--we always make mistakes, and some mistakes have dire consequences--but I do believe we’ll succeed. Unfortunately, I think our success will come too late for me to benefit, which sucks, but I’m going to invest a lot of effort over the next couple of years in becoming healthier so I can improve my odds of being around long enough to reap the rewards of the coming improvements in medical science.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On the road again: Balticon, day 5

I ended up working very late again last night and so did not get enough sleep; so it goes. Much of the day went to the logistics of travel, from shower to packing to lunch to driving to unpacking. I'm overnighting at The Inn at Little Washington, which as I mentioned in last year's report of my first visit here is simply one of the best places I've ever stayed.

An amazing meal at one of the two kitchen tables ended with a very nice conversation with Chef and Proprietor Patrick O'Connell. Though it began as a social obligation on his part, he lingered far longer than last time because we became absorbed in a discussion first of politics and then of the joys of having total control over certain experiences, him in work he does with the Inn and its various facilities, me in novels. Creative control freaks connecting, I suppose, but I enjoyed the talk very much.

An oddity of the modern world is that I can write this entry, do email, and browse the Web in the comfort of my lovely room in a very rural section of Virginia, but I cannot use my cell phone, because there's no signal for approximately 23 square miles around us (that figure courtesy of the information book in the room).

I must write now and hope for more sleep tonight, so I will attend to that. The book grows--too slowly, but it grows.

On the road again: Balticon, day 4

I've never been a convention guest of honor before, so I have no basis for comparison, but as near as I can tell, if you're going to get to be one, Balticon is the place to be it. These folks have been incredibly gracious and accommodating.

My handler, Glen (I won't embarrass him by giving his full name), has been superb. I tell him he doesn't need to show up for this or that, and he smiles, allows as how he'll probably show up anyway or maybe even doesn't respond to me, and then shows up, just in case. My panel today ran an hour late due to an issue with the room, and I had voicemail waiting from Glen well before the original time. Always pleasant and on top of his game, he's been a joy to work with. As I understand things, I get to be a guest of honor here again next year (as the outgoing Compton Crook Award winner); if Glen wants to work with me again, I'm all for it.

My books sold out in the dealers' room, and plenty of folks asked me to sign them.

All the fans with whom I've spoken have been readers--something I quite value--and very nice to me. Every writer loves that, or, at least, every writer should.

While I was eating my pre-panel, high-nutrition lunch (two hot dogs from the hotel stand, their colors so far apart I wondered how two members of the same food pan could be so different), a con official whizzed by. "We sent someone to your hotel," he said, "and put your room bill on the Balticon tab so you wouldn't have to mess with reimbursement." Wow.

So, Balticon folks in general and Glen in particular, thank you, thank you, thank you. I will do all you ask next year, and I'll hope one day to earn the headliner guest of honor spot just so I can enjoy this treatment a third time.

In other news, I've done a boatload of company work today, enjoyed an excellent dinner at Cindy Wolf's Pazo, and worked a bit on Overthrowing Heaven, with more on that front still to come.

I constantly remind myself that the key is the work, that in the end it's all that matters, and I genuinely believe that to be true. I have to admit, however, that the award and the accompanying perks have been sweet. It is, therefore, good for me that those things vanish quickly, while the book in development is always, always calling for me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

On the road again: Balticon, day 3

It's late, I'm tired, and I still have work to do, so this entry may be shorter than yesterday's.

After five fairly unsatisfactory hours of sleep, I groaned my way out of bed, showered, worked a tiny bit, and headed to the con for my first event, a signing. At a table in the main lobby sat Naomi Novik, whose four fantasies are well established and very big with fans, and I, with my lone novel currently available. If you've gone to a convention before, you've witnessed a variation of this scene: she had about two dozen people in a fairly long line, while I had about five. Though I was pleased to sign books for anyone, I couldn't help but recall mystery writer Parnell Hall's song, "Signing at the Waldenbooks." I think most writers can relate to my situation.

From there I headed straight to a panel on body armor in SF. Only one other panelist showed up, but we nonetheless managed a discussion that, though ranging far from the topic, was interesting enough that we kept a fairly packed room of fifty or so folks until time ran out.

We headed out to lunch with friends, wandered the art show a bit, and then I joined the "Meet the Crooks" panel. This traditional bit of Balticon programming put all the Compton Crook award winners who were at the con behind the same table for the enjoyment (we hoped) of those in attendance. We introduced ourselves, discussed our current projects, and then answered questions. I enjoyed meeting the other writers, and the audience seemed okay with the content, so I consider this one a moderate success.

We then dashed out to meet Kyle at the nearby theater to watch the new Indiana Jones movie. Though it certainly had its moments, I felt like I was on the Universal Studios ride of a movie composed of the rotting flesh of the giants that had come before it. The writing in particular hurt the film. I can't recommend this one, but I expect it nonetheless to have a very strong couple of weeks at the box office.

After the movie, I did a bit of work in the room, rested a little, and then headed to the masquerade, where I helped my pal, Marty Gear (in his Uncle Vlad regalia for his role as masquerade emcee), present the awards to the winners of the very worthwhile BSFS Jack L. Chalker Young Writers' Contest. I'm all for encouraging young writers, so despite the awkwardness I felt I was glad to be able to participate.

As the masquerade was winding down, Kyle picked me up, took me to his place, and he, I, and some other friends watched the UFC pay-per-view event. Key takeaway: BJ Penn is amazing.

Whew. A busy day, but overall a good one...which I will now improve by writing.


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