Saturday, August 16, 2008

Heading out

Tomorrow morning, I head to San Francisco. I'm hoping to get to spend a little time with Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman of Borderlands Books. The main purpose of my trip, however, is to take in the Intel Developers' Forum (IDF). I will only get to attend the first full day of the show (Tuesday), but that day alone is worth the trip.

Over the coming months, I'll be traveling a lot. I always find travel interesting, but I also miss being home. I particularly miss getting to spend time with Sarah and Scott; I'm acutely aware of how rapidly they're changing and growing. I also have a great deal of trouble managing my weight while I'm traveling, and I need to lose a significant number of pounds. I know I can do it, but stress eating and travel go hand in hand with me. Challenges, challenges.

In any case, when I next write I should be in San Francisco.

John Hiatt and the safety cake

Five of us ventured into the rain tonight to see John Hiatt, a long-time favorite of mine, perform at the outdoor amphitheatre at the North Carolina Museum of Art. There was, however, one big obstacle: it was raining heavily and steadily. We ate dinner from the hot buffet at Whole Foods and pondered the situation. After much thought, we realized there was only one solution.

We had to buy a safety cake.

A safety cake is one you purchase as insurance. You buy it so the world knows that even if it keeps pissing you off--in this case, by raining--you will have a good night, because, after all, you have cake. So, the world has no choice but to relent.

The safety cake worked wonderfully. They decided to go on with the show unless lightning started. During the opener, the rain stopped. John Hiatt performed for two and a half hours, and the show was big fun. He played many of his hits, including "Slow Turning" and "Perfectly Good Guitar" (which he used to start the show), as well as a wide variety of songs old and new. The audience didn't know it, but they had us and the safety cake to thank for their show.

Afterward, though, we faced the one problem of the safety cake strategy: we had a cake.

Fearless and self-sacrificing people that we are, we took this giant chocolate and raspberry concoction to Jennie's and ate half of it while watching an episode of Burn Notice that we had missed. The other half will make its way to tomorrow night's party.

I should also mention the annoying sentence of the night. On the way to dinner, we noticed that a builder had the unfortunate name of Beezer. We then turned onto Ebenezer church road. This semi-rhyme situation led us to construct a sentence fragment about an old man with breathing problems doing a commercial for a cooling device specifically built to chill tweezers in a house from this builder on that road, or, to sum it up, the

wheezer geezer Ebenezer Beezer tweezer freezer teaser

Don't blame me; I just report the news.


Sarah wishes to announce the following song recommendation:

"Bleeding Heart Show," The New Pornographers

Check it out on pain of her cake-fueled wrath.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I like calling North Carolina home

It's a line from a song, but in my case it's also true. Tonight was one of the many reasons why.

On a whim of mine and with organization we did only in the mid-afternoon, but with unanimous agreement, a group of nine of us, family and extended family, headed out for an early dinner at Panzanella. Panzanella is a lovely Carrboro restaurant that specializes in serving locally sourced food. I ate an appetizer soup of potato and smoked gouda, then an entree of seared scallops and risotto. Both were delicious, as were all the other dishes I tasted--though, to be completely candid, the soup really could have benefited from bacon. (To be fair, most things would be better with bacon.)

We then drove over to Maple View Farm, a local dairy and meat supplier that I've mentioned before. We ordered cones and bowls of ice cream they make and serve right there. We ate on picnic benches and watched the sun vanish and the night slowly creep up the sky. The combination of a cool summer day and cold ice cream left some of us cold, and many huddled together for extra warmth. Some kids played on a mound of hay. Firefiles buzzed around us. Bats flew overhead. Absolutely nothing of consequence happened, but sometimes that's exactly what you want. It was a wonderful evening.

I never planned to settle anywhere. I grew up assuming I would move around. But I'm here for good, and though I often travel and hope to do so a great deal more, I'll always come back here. It's a great place to live, and I feel fortunate to have ended up here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I hope those weren't real

I seem to have more odd experiences in public restrooms than most people. (No, we're not talking U.S. Senator kind of experiences; put your filthy mind on hold.)

For example, on the way to Denver I had to change flights in O'Hare. I went in to use the bathroom. I was standing at the urinal, minding my own business, when a man carrying two red metal briefcases rushed into the room. His need was clearly urgent, and he was making so much noise clanging the briefcases together, that I couldn't help but see what was up. Despite his urgency, he took the time to position the briefcases between his legs: leg, briefcase, briefcase, leg. He than began to do his business.

If you're not a guy, or if you haven't recently used a urinal when you really, really had to go, you might not think immediately of the backsplash problem. This particular man, as I said, really, really had to go, so he almost continuously splashed back onto the briefcases he had carefully positioned on the floor between his legs.

When he finished, he picked up the damp briefcases, noticed they were wet, and shook and turned them.

I then saw that each was labeled as a carrying case for human organ transplants.

I sincerely hope this was a sick joke. It certainly made me both laugh and hope the seals on those cases were tight.

Connecting with joy

The Hold Steady were playing at The Cat's Cradle tonight, so of course we had to go see them. Sarah and I are both big fans of the group, and we'd seen them live once previously.

That earlier show was good. This one kicked its ass. The mix was one of the best I've experienced at a club, good enough that with or without earplugs you could understead lead singer Craig Finn's every word. With the storytelling style of their songs, that's vital. The band rocked hard for a total of about ninety minutes, with only a few minutes off between the main show and the long encore. The song selection was great, and everyone on stage and in the audience seemed to be having a great time.

Near the end of the encore, Finn said, as he did in the previous show, "There's a huge amount of joy in what we do up here, and we want to share it with you all." I know it's his standard closer, but I still believe he means it.

After the show ended, I was thinking about this concept in connection with both music and writing. The power of live music to let a group share joy is undeniable and vast; a great concert is an amazing experience.

As a writer, though, I sit alone in a room. When I nail something, when the story is alive in my mind and on the page, when I sit back and think, "Damn, that's actually what I wanted," I'm still alone. I know that thousands of people have purchased copies of One Jump Ahead (and I am grateful to each and every one of them), and I'm hoping that many more folks buy Slanted Jack and each successive book's sales grow, but the nature of the game is that I'll still be alone as I write. I think that if I could both believe I bring joy to others as they read the books and find a way to connect to that joy, I'd be a happier person.

Of course, that feels about as useful an observation as saying that if I could figure out how to grow a few more inches I'd be taller, but there you go; at least it feels like something that might one day help.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On the road again: Denvention, day 7 - travel and home

Today passed in a blur of work, travel, work, and travel. I reached home after 11:00 p.m., which was not much later than I'd expected. So, I really have nothing to complain about.

Days like this are usually boring, but every now and again they grant you a fun story. Mine came today in the men's restroom at RDU, our local airport. I was minding my business (and doing it) at an end urinal when a very tall, thin, blond man walked in and stood at the urinal to the immediate right of mine. That in itself was odd, because we were the only two men there, and standard male restroom etiquette is to take every other urinal. Little did I realize that the truly odd part was yet to come.

The man glanced down at me, then looked ahead and said in a loud, clear voice, "I don't know how to handle that."

I have to tell you, that's not what you want to hear in a restroom from another man. (Okay, if you favor men, maybe you want to hear that, but that's not my preference.)

I did the only thing one could reasonably do: stared straight ahead and tried to finish my business faster.

The man then said, "Really, I don't know what to do with that."

At that point, I finished, zipped, and noticed as I was leaving, as you have probably already surmised, that he was wearing a cell-phone earpiece on his right ear, the one I could not see.

Normally, I'd not be one to criticize about this practice; I've been known to talk on a mobile phone in the bathroom when alone. I have to say, however, that this goes too far. Mobile phone etiquette should include not talking in such situations, or at the very least choosing your words more carefully.

On the road again: Denvention, day 6 - winding down and a sad but expected loss

The con is winding down today, and so is my involvement in it. I took advantage of this change to sleep late, which was glorious; I slept off and on for over nine hours. If I could do this for another few months, I'd be good. No such luck, of course, but a man can dream.

After much deliberation and multiple visits to the dealers' room, I decided to pass on some expensive but lovely books. Chief among them was a $300 visual history of illustrations of Lovecraft's work. I may still order that book from the dealer who had it, but for now I'm giving it a pass.

After lunch we rode the free shuttle to The Tattered Cover, a wonderful old Denver bookstore. This store and another of their three locations were out of Slanted Jack, and only one copy remained in the third, which I think is a good thing.

I'm writing this entry early today because tonight after dinner (Rioja, for the well-deserved second visit) I will have more work to do on the book plus packing. I want to get a decent amount of rest tonight, try to exercise tomorrow morning, and then brace myself for a long day of flying. We're going through DFW, and the current forecast shows storms there, so we may have a fun time. So it goes; there's no point in sweating such stuff.

And now to the sad but expected loss I mentioned in the title of today's entry.

Earlier today, Clarence Chadbourne, a man I barely knew, died. He was almost ninety. Clarence contracted polio in his twenties and ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He and his wife, Marian, who survives him, had two children, both of whom died. When I met him at the funeral of Jennie's father, Clarence had the use of one hand and little else. That day, though, he sat upright in his wheelchair, a prominent figure at this gathering of his family, his cowboy hat atop his head, and he shook hands with everyone there. He was a proud, strong, stubborn Montanan who loved Jennie, his niece, fiercely, and who kept busy and working until his body failed him utterly. He was as mean at times and as tough as a snake too long in the sun, but you had to admire his will. It was a miracle he lived as long as he did, but he was a fighter, this one, a fighter with all the heart in the world. I admire that, and though as I said I hardly knew him, I couldn't help but think of him often, and now I mourn his loss. If there's a next life, you can bet your ass he's sitting tall in a saddle, thinking it's about damn time that he's out of that chair, wondering what he needs to do first to get the land into shape, and waiting for Marian and the rest of his family to join him. RIP, Clarence.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On the road again: Denvention, day 5 - con stuff and cover art

My con work began today with a panel on the business side of writing. The audience was small but very interested and very attentive, and overall I thought it went reasonably well. My particular focus was on basics, such as setting aside half of all your earnings for taxes, a practice that could have saved a lot of writers I know a great deal of pain.

After a nice Cuban sandwich lunch and some work, I joined my second panel of the day, a discussion of future inventions. Though the multi-hundred-person audience stayed and seemed engaged, I felt we jumped the rails and descended into chaos. Still, if the audience is happy, I should be happy.

I then found a quiet, private place and chatted for about half an hour with Steve Hickman, who will be doing the cover art for Overthrowing Heaven, the Jon and Lobo book I'm writing now. I haven't finished the book yet, and I don't show unfinished work to anyone, so as we did with Slanted Jack last year at this time, Steve and I went through part of the new book by phone. Steve found the scene he wants to use for the cover; I think it's going to be a great one. It'll definitely surprise folks--but it will be true to the novel and, I think, sell books, the most important function of the cover. I can't wait to see it.

After more work, we headed to the Hugos. I enjoyed the ceremony, though I always fantasize about being a nominee one day and so often find it somewhat bittersweet. I was very sorry to see Barry Malzberg's fine work, Breakfast in the Ruins, not win. In my opinion, and with no intent to disrespect the other fine nominees, I think Breakfast deserved the award.

After some time at the Baen party, both fun and compulsory attendance for all Baen authors, I headed back to work, which I'm doing now. I'd be a lot happier if I was further along in this book, but I'll get there.


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