Saturday, June 28, 2008

Redefining over the top

Tonight, we prepped for the Sunday fireworks show. Because of my hurt back, I couldn't lift any of the boxes, so all I did was direct traffic, leaving me feeling completely and utterly useless and a failure. The others did great work, however, and we ended with two vans loaded with over 1,200 pounds of fireworks. The show should be spectacular!

We then retired to my house to eat take-out Chinese and watch a DVD. In keeping with the explosive nature of the 'works, we opted for a Takashi Miike film, Dead or Alive, that none of us had ever seen. (If you don't know Miike and you enjoy strange, ultraviolent Asian cinema, you must check him out.)

Dead or Alive redefined what over the top means to me--and I have seen many, many, many over the top movies. This strange beast of a film is weirder, delivers more violence, and breaks more taboos in its insanely long opening montage than most films ever achieve. Over and over and over again one of us would exclaim our disbelief at some new bit of screen weirdness. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I must note that just when you thought it could not possibly go any further, it takes another gigantic step into strangeness.

You either desperately need to see this movie, or you should never let it near you. You'll have to decide in which camp you belong.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Finding your families

It's usually easy to find the family into which you were born. Those people are, however, just your first family. As we move through life, we find other families, some temporary, others enduring. These are families we choose because their members share something vital with us.

I'm lucky enough, for example, to be part of a large extended family of people who live in this area and who plan to continue to live here.

Science fiction fans often find a family at conventions, where for intense weekends they feel they have finally found people who understand.

Tonight, I went to the celebration reading at Sarah's writers' camp. Many of those reading went out of the way to proclaim their love for this group and their joy in being part of it. Some even used the term "family." From watching the reactions of at least a few of the parents there, the usage clearly struck them as silly, threatening, or perhaps both.

They shouldn't react that way. They should be glad, damned glad, that their child has found a group that for at least these two weeks felt like a second home, another family. Being a human is tough work, at least in part because it's so damn hard not to feel alone. Being a teenager is terribly harder.

I understand the threatened feeling. At some level I think most of us parents would like to be able to be everything our kids need, but we can't be. It just doesn't work that way. We can love them with everything we have, treat them with respect and consideration, and hope we get to grow old with them both loving us and being our friends, but we have to allow them to find their other families as well.

I envy Sarah this group. If I had found such a gathering when I was a teen, you'd have had to drag me kicking and screaming away from it. I'd have given blood to have even a single day when I felt like all the people around me were like me.

My life is full of good people. My days are crammed with human contact. But inside I walk around feeling a little bit distant from everyone else, unworthy of anyone's love, somehow not quite human, at some level not sure how I'm supposed to act, the fires of passion and rage and love and joy all burning inside me so hot I sometimes don't know how to contain them. My families ground me, provide me brief instants when I think that someone else does understand.

Sarah, I suspect, gets many of those moments from her camp, and so do a lot of her fellow campers. Good for them. I hope they hold tight to those feelings and treasure them always. I hope they get more such wonderful moments from their birth families, as I hope Sarah gets more from us.

We all, each woman, man and child, need every bit of joy, every moment of understanding, every second of belonging that we can get.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doing the time warp for health

First, a correction: Pam pointed out that Tomorrow's Voices actually appeared in 1984, not 1983 as I'd incorrectly written. I fixed the error in yesterday's blog entry, so now it reads correctly, but for those of you who've already read that post, I wanted to note the change.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

As you may recall, I hurt my back rather badly. I'm still recovering and far from fully healed, but I am getting better. As part of this recovery, the chiropractor has been inventing new forms of torture and humiliation for me. Monday, for example, he dug his knuckles into the largest muscle of my butt, pushed until I squeaked, and then said, "You have a tight ass." Insert your own joke here; I won't do it for you.

The exercises, however, have provided the greatest opportunities for mockery. First, he gave me my lying pelvic thrusts: Lie down. Pull your feet closer to your body so your knees are up and your thighs are at a forty-five-degree angle to the floor. Put your hands beside you, palms up, so you're not using them to help. Tighten your abs. Do a slight pelvic thrust, holding at the top for a count of three. Do ten total.

Being caught on my office floor doing this is just so much fun.

The other exercise is even tougher to justify when you're caught, unless the person catching you is a movie fan. Stand with your legs a little bit wider than your shoulders. Turn your toes inward so you're as pigeon-toed as you can go (which in my case is a lot). Put your hands on your hips. Thurst your pelvis slightly forward and stand very straight. Tighten your glutes and hold for a count of twenty. Repeat three times.

Yes, it's a stationary time warp dance. I look like a refugee from The Rocky Horror Picture Show frozen in fear as he tries to stop Dr. Frank-N-Furter from ambushing him from behind.

I can't wait to see what other exercises the sadist has designed for me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A field guide to the Jon & Lobo universe

My friend Susan, a talented costumer and dancer who blogs here and who posted a couple of comments on an entry two days ago, asked if I had a bibliography of stories in the Jon & Lobo universe. I didn't, but when I finish writing this entry, we all will.

The first story in this future history is "My Sister, My Self." It appeared in 1984 in the original anthology, Isaac Asimov's Tomorrow's Voices. Jon is 16 at the time, so it's about 135 years earlier in his life than the next story. Lobo doesn't appear, because they haven't met yet. This story is very different from the Jon & Lobo tales, but I like it quite a bit. An editor has said he'd buy reprint rights to the story, but the deal isn't done yet, so I don't have anything to announce. When I do, you'll read it here first. Until then, I'm afraid the only way to read this one is to prowl the used-book sites.

The next story chronologically is also the first to feature both Jon and Lobo. "Bring Out the Ugly" appeared in Cosmic Tales II: Adventures in Far Futures. If you've read One Jump Ahead, you'll recognize many of this story's events. When the story and the book conflict, however, take the book as the definitive version.

The third and only other story in this universe is "Broken Bits," which appeared in Future Weapons of War. Again, if you've read OJA, you'll recognize much of what happens in this story, but, as above, when the story and the book conflict, the book version rules.

I wrote both of these stories, by the way, before I wrote the book, but as you can tell I did not feel at all obligated to treat them as sacrosanct.

Looking ahead, Slanted Jack, which as I noted in an earlier post is now available on Amazon and should be in bookstores soon, is the second Jon & Lobo novel. It is a completely standalone book; you don't have to have even seen OJA to enjoy it (though if I've done my job right, it will feel richer to those who read the first book). Other than Jon & Lobo, no characters from OJA appear in this book.

Third in the series is Overthrowing Heaven, which I'm writing now. It is also a completely standalone book, though as above if you've read the others you'll find it an even richer story. Once again, no one other than Jon & Lobo reappears from the past books. This one does, however, give you some significant back story on Lobo and answers some key questions about his past. (It would take major bribes to get me to say more, but I am always open to them.)

The fourth book and the last one under current contract will be Children No More. I'll speak further about it after I finish the current book.

If the series sales figures follow the proper path (which would be upward) and the publisher thus wants more of these novels (which I hope will be the case), then I have many interesting plans. I have at least rough ideas for about a dozen books, including prequels, spin-offs (wonder what Alissa Lim's been doing?), a concordance to this rather complicated future history, and some big answers to some big questions.

I think that covers it, but if you want to know something else about the Jon & Lobo universe, just drop me a note via the site or post a comment, and I'll either answer your question or tease you with forbidden knowledge; ya never know.

Grace notes

As I was heading to the chiropractor this morning, I was trying to ready myself for the work day ahead. Depression had been my companion the previous night, as you can tell from the entry before this one, and I'd slept rather badly. My mood was shaky at best.

I was still on our neighborhood's one street, no other cars around me, when a bunny hopped into the road in front of me and stopped. I also stopped. It stared at me. I stared at it. Then it hopped away into the neighbor's woods, and I started rolling again.

Three houses down, two young deer--bucks, I saw as I drew closer--were feasting on apples that had fallen from a neighbor's tree. They stopped eating. I stopped moving. They stared at me. I stared at them. After a bit, I rolled forward very slowly and quietly, letting the slope of the street more than the engine carry me away from them. I watched in my rearview mirror as they resumed eating.

I'm stressed and in pain and fighting depression, but a bunny stared me down, and in the clear, mid-morning light I got to watch two deer eat. How cool is that?

Life grants us grace notes, those fleeting moments of magic, far more than we usually realize. Seeing and then cherishing them is the key. These two turned around the start of my day, and for them I am quite, quite grateful.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The cruelest economy

I'm way past blue tonight and heading down. What's eating me is time, or more accurately the cruel truth about time: what you give to one person or thing is gone and never available to another.

When I'm writing, I'm not with the kids. When I'm with the kids, I'm not fixing the disaster area that is my office. When I work on my office, I'm not spending time with any of the adults I care for. When I'm with one of them, I'm not with the others.

I'm always failing more people and causes than I'm treating well.

I bet I could have left out the opening sentence and you'd still have figured out that I wasn't at my happiest.

One of the few great things about writing at this hour is that it greatly lowers my percentage of failure, because most people are asleep. As Monty Python once sang, "Always look on the bright side of life."

Ah, well. One of my good traits is that I rarely let my mood affect my productivity. Another is that once I focus on a task, the world tends to fade away. So, I'll turn now to Overthrowing Heaven and hope both aspects of my personality hold true tonight.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Mint does it again

Tonight, four of us drove through the rain to The Mint for a second try at the tasting menu. We were curious whether our initial experience was a fluke or if the place really was that good.

Four and a half hours and about thirteen courses later, the verdict was clear: The Mint is indeed our area's best restaurant. Chef Jeremy Clayman outdid his previous offering. Our lead server, Thea (who did not give her last name), was efficient and charming and everything a server should be. Every single dish was interesting, inventive, and, most importantly, delicious.

If you live in the Research Triangle area, save up your money, call The Mint, ask for a tasting menu, and tell them I sent you. You won't regret it.

On the writing front, Overthrowing Heaven continues to grow, though never as quickly as I'd like. I have no clue how big this book will be, but my current belief is that it will be longer than Slanted Jack, which was longer by about eighteen percent than One Jump Ahead. We'll see. I know I'm still enjoying this one, which as I've explained earlier in true neurotic writer fashion does worry me a bit. Nonetheless, I must now return to the world of Jon and Lobo.


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