Friday, December 31, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

This Disney film interpretation of a video game was last night's late show and, wow, is it a stinker. Cheesy special effects, bad acting, and worse writing combined to make this movie bad in pretty much every conceivable way, yet all too rarely did it make the leap from bad to amusingly bad.

None of us had ever played the video game, but Kyle had just finished reading a book that discussed the game and its conclusion, in which the player must choose to save the girl or save the world. In this Disney-fied version, Jake Gyllenhaal, who spends the entire film looking slightly amused and half stoned, gets to do both. Thus, the movie manages to have even less moral complexity than the video game.

As Kyle and I were discussing the film afterward, we agreed that it was as if someone had gotten a big pile of money, rounded up a cast, a director, a production team, a special effects company, a caterer, an insurer, and on and on--and then said, "Hey, where's the writer? Did you get the writer? I didn't."

At the risk of stereotypically taking the side of writing, more and more movies seem to have pushed story and dialog aside in favor of pretty much every other aspect of the film, and they suffer a great deal for this choice.

Of course, as a writer, I would think that.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

True Grit

A group of us ventured forth last night to check out this new offering from the Coen brothers, and I have to say that it blew me away. With much of the Coen brothers' strengths and few of their weaknesses, it was a delight from beginning to end. I absolutely loved it.

The shots were, as you'd expect, wonderful. With all the skill you'd expect from them, they captured the beauty of the wilderness and the dirtiness of the settlements, the harshness of the elements, and, of course, the action. Their love affair with language was also delightfully evident, with each character's admittedly stylized dialog true to him or her and a joy to hear.

Though I'm a big fan of theirs, I have to say that some of the films from Joel and Ethan Coen feel a bit hollow, as if they'd sacrificed heart for technique. Not here, though; this film wears its heart on its sleeve and earns that right, so that by the end you care for the lead characters.

The actors playing those roles--Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld--deliver wonderful performances. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see both Bridges and Steinfeld notch some award nominations in the coming few months.

By the end, it's clear that the Coen brothers are creating myths, moving from the story to something larger, and then in the wonderful few closing scenes showing the fates of those myths.

I may well have thought more of the movie than anyone else in our group, but all of us at least liked it, and I adored it. Do not miss this one.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl

When Kyle is visiting, as he is now, we have a tradition of watching a late movie, typically a bad film of the humorously entertaining variety. Tonight, he, Scott, and I braved the late hours to screen this Japanese gore-fest.

All I can say is, "Wow!"

It's not a good movie, of course, nor were we expecting it to be. It is, however, one of the most over-the-top Japanese flicks I've seen in quite some time--and considering how many I've watched, that's saying something.

At its core is a love triangle that initially appears to be the struggle of two teenage girls for a boy's heart but that ultimately, of course, ends up being a battle between the title characters for control of the boy. The conflict is particularly silly because neither girl seems to really care about him; he's just a trophy over which they're fighting.

Of course, in a movie like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, speaking of characters and motivations is an inherently silly exercise. Such normal narrative factors are far and away the least relevant parts of the story.

Far more interesting to the director, and to us, are the battles between the various forms of Franken-teens and the vampire girl; the rantings and experiments of the demented vice principal, who's also the father of the Frankengirl-to-be; the janitor who is also the vampire girl's Igor slave; and the amazing mech visuals, most of which appear during a battle on the Japanese Eiffel Tower.

If you can stand astounding amounts of blood-spurting, skin-tearing gore, and if you're a fan of Japanese extreme cinema, don't miss this one. If your stomach is at all weak, however, give it a very wide pass.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Better Off Ted

We recently finished watching the first season of this short-lived show, and I am amazed at how good it was. I cannot recommend it too highly. The writing is witty and quick and will leave you laughing out loud frequently; the pause and rewind buttons are musts for viewings of this show. As soon as the second season is available on DVD, I'll be picking it up.

What most amazes me, though, is how poorly the show fared when it was on the air. So far, every single person to whom I've recommended it or who has watched it has found it marvelous. When it was on TV, however, its ratings were as abysmal as its critical rankings were high. Its subject--life in a big, uncaring corporation--is certainly accessible and relevant to a huge audience. The tone was wry and the events frequently fantastic, but everything about Better Off Ted made it clear that this was a comic fantasy. The actors were uniformly wonderful, each over the top in all the right ways for her or his character. Everything about it screamed "winner," but it was a ratings disaster and died before they'd even broadcast all of the second-season episodes they'd filmed.

I would have bet money on this one to be a sure thing, so it's proof once again that I am not someone you should trust to predict popular taste.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Why don't you...

I receive a lot of questions that begin with these three words, so I thought I'd try to answer the most frequent ones here. One day, when we get around to adding an FAQ to the site, we'll probably include a lot of these. In the meantime, in case you've been wondering, here, in no particular order, are some of the most common queries and my answers to them.

...write more books?

Time. I have a very demanding day job, a family, a complex extended family, and, oh yeah, I like to eat and go to movies and do other fun stuff. I'm writing as much as I can currently manage.

...write your books faster?

This is, of course, just the other side of the coin of the first question, and its answer is the same: time. To write faster, I'd need more time per day. So far, to my great frustration I'm still stuck with the same old 24 hours I've always had; you'd think they'd have fixed that by now.

...tell us what's coming in the rest of the Jon & Lobo novels?

That is, of course, the job of the novels, so I'll have to let them do it.

More seriously, until I write a book, I don't know everything about it, so anything I could tell you now would be incomplete. Plus, what I say in advance would color your perceptions of the book, and I want you to be able to come to each one fresh, so that each stands on its own merits.

And, of course, I don't want to tell you. So there. Call me a big meanie; see if I care.

...do a Jon & Lobo movie?

I don't know how to do movies. Sure, if someone were to offer me a couple hundred million dollars of budget, I might try to learn, but more likely I'd try to skim a bit and then get a real director and a real producer and all those sorts of folks involved. Of course, the real issue here is that no one has approached me seriously (there have been a few insubstantial nibbles, but none went anywhere) about doing such a film. I'd love to see it, particularly if James Cameron would direct it and Will Smith would star in it.

...get on Facebook?

Remember that whole "time" thing? Each activity I add to my day takes time that used to go to something else. I fear that Facebook would suck down writing time, and I can't let that happen.

...get on Twitter and start tweeting?

See the FaceBook answer above. Plus, I have to wonder if I would have anything worth saying in the course of most days.

...come to my city for a reading and signing?

Because no one has paid my expenses to come. I attend some conventions for fun, and some pay my expenses. You can find the current 2011 list (six cons as of now) on my Appearances page.

Also, truthfully, I'm just not a popular enough writer to justify my publisher paying to send me on a book tour. If I were topping the New York Times bestseller list, I expect she'd eagerly pony up the money to do so, but I'm not; I'm not even close.

...tell us how much money you've raised for Falling Whistles from the Children No More program?

Because I don't know how much it is. I won't know until I learn how the hardback sold, which won't happen until I receive my May, 2011 royalty statement. I gave them my entire advance, and I expect to add to that, but it'll be a while before I know the total. Plus, I'll then have to decide whether I want to share all the info, whether doing so would upset Publisher Toni, and all that.

In the meantime, if you want to help with this cause, buy the book or donate directly to them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Who loves the rare snow
that blankets us now?

Holden, certainly, as he rushes into it.
(As always, click on any image to enlarge it. Photos courtesy of Sarah.)


Trees, of course, because it makes them so ethereally beautiful.


Scott, for whom it provides both fun and sustenance, and his buddy the snowman, who could not exist without it.


Driveways, which so rarely get to dress up.


Sarah, as she stands under the magic arch and wonders where it will take her.


Rana, as she flies down the driveway into it.


And trampolines, of course, which love the way it makes them feel.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas wish for you

In this wonderful Stephen Kellogg song, the studio version of which is on an album, The Bear, that I consider to be the best CD I heard this year, he sings about the sleep of a satisfied man and what a treasure it is. I wish that satisfaction for you all--and maybe, one day, for myself as well.



If you celebrate Christmas, I hope yours is grand and filled with love and joy. If you don't, I still hope your day is grand and filled with love and joy.

That's all for me for today!

Friday, December 24, 2010

TRON: Legacy

Last night, a group of us went to check out this sequel to the 1982 film that many of us remember fondly--though for its look, which at the time was quite cool, not its story. My expectations were low, but as a card-carrying geek (what? you don't have yours?), I had to give it a try.

Like its predecessor, the movie looked nifty. Its world was no longer new, so it was not revolutionary, but it was stylized enough that as long as you didn't question the silliness of characters who were on the run wearing glowing clothing, you could enjoy the graphics.

It also had a strong Daft Punk soundtrack, one that, as Kyle noted, improved every scene in which it was playing.

Also like its predecessor, TRON: Legacy displayed terrible science, dialog that was weak at best, and a plot that worked only so long as you never thought for a moment about it and instead just accepted that you'd be watching the characters go here and there doing this and that.

Despite all the film's weaknesses, I enjoyed it well enough that, unlike when I went to The Tourist, I didn't leave the theater regretting the time and money I'd expended. I can't honestly recommend TRON: Legacy, but if you're a geek, you'll be going anyway, and you'll have a pleasant enough time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Seasonal Celebration

A while back, I mentioned a fancy party and promised to talk a little bit more about it. I forgot, but some readers didn't, so at their urging, here's some additional information on it.

On Saturday, December 11, we held PT's annual end-of-year/holiday party, which we call the Seasonal Celebration (SC). We've been using that term for longer than PT has existed; it dates back to our days at Ziff-Davis. We chose it because it offends no religion; everyone can celebrate any season. Most of the attendees dress up--way up, think gowns and fancy dresses and suits and, for Bill and me, our tuxes. Each employee can bring a guest, and most do. We have an open-bar reception for an hour, then a fancy sit-down meal at a great local place.

After dinner, we thank all the folks who work at PT for their dedication and great efforts, and we thank their friends and family for putting up with all that the company requires of them. We also show them a presentation about how the past year went; this time, it was a wonderful animated show that for confidentiality reasons I can't put here.

Finally, we thank people in concrete ways: with some gifts, which until then are secret, and with profit-sharing checks (assuming, of course, that the company was profitable that year).

I'm always proud to be part of the PT team and humbled by the chance to get to help lead such a fine group. The SC is a high point for us each year, and I know some folks are already looking forward to 2011's.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Unstoppable

The most amazing thing about Unstoppable is how well it works despite everything you know when you walk into the theater:

* The train isn't going to derail and cause a giant crisis in central Pennsylvania because, hey, you would have heard about that mess when it happened.

* No attempt at stopping the train is going to work in the first ninety minutes, because big movies today have to be longer than that.

* Denzel Washington's character isn't going to die, because (1) he's Denzel, and (2) it's not an art-house movie that going's to net him an Oscar, so there's no way in hell he's going to die without a shot at that gold.

* Chris Pine's character isn't going to die, because (1) he's the hot young male lead, and (2) Denzel's in charge, and no one's going to die on Denzel's watch unless he has a shot at that Oscar gold.

* Rosario Dawson's character can't get in big trouble, because (1) she's Rosario Dawson, and (2) if Denzel's not getting hurt, no way is Rosario down for the pain.

* All three of those actors are so much prettier than the people they portray that the train would have stopped just to stare at them.

Even with all that going against it, the movie works. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. It builds the suspense gradually and correctly. The failures seem plausible and rope you into cheering for them.

It is a triumph of suspenseful style over content.

If you haven't seen it already, check it out before it leaves the theaters. It looks good on the big screen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Tourist

Never has a film wasted so much beauty as The Tourist. Angelina Jolie alternates between achingly beautiful and searingly hot. Johnny Depp delivers his bumbling everyman character with all of his customary charm and appeal. The brief moments in Paris made me ache to return, and Venice has never been lovelier. Even the room in the Hotel Danieli looked better than any lodging should.

Sadly, beauty was all the film had going for it. The lead actors were as disconnected from one another as if they had never met. The plot meandered along in entirely predictable steps, so that by the big surprise at the end all that was left for me to wonder was when they would finally, please, God, finally tell us the "surprise." To call The Tourist formulaic would be to praise it.

I am a hardcore Angelina fan, and I own the DVDs of every film of hers, but I don't plan to pick up this one. Spend your holiday entertainment money and time elsewhere.

Monday, December 20, 2010

[ONE]

One of our area's better restaurants has, for some years now, been Chef Shane Ingram's Foursquare Restaurant. It's no surprise, then, that the moment I learned Ingram had opened a new place, [ONE] Restaurant, I was intrigued. Then, I read a review and learned that Ingram's team at [ONE] was dabbling in deconstructing dishes and even a bit of molecular gastronomy.

I immediately secured a reservation for a group of us, and the other night we headed over to check it out.

I'm very glad we did. The meal was excellent. Every dish we tasted was delicious, and several were stunning. The pork belly croutons deserve all the accolades they've been garnering. The short rib meat was so tender it practically fell apart and a perfect rich, strong dish on a cold winter night. The mushroom pizza combined a perfect thin crust with flavorful mushrooms and a gentle scattering of covering cheese.

Even the desserts, which are often suspect in an adventurous kitchen, were superb; in fact, they may have trumped the main courses. We tried five, and each was a winner; I was particularly fond of the deconstructed goat's cheese cheesecake.

I also loved the look of the place: gray and red chairs, gray walls, black floors and ceilings, everything elegant and subdued so that nothing drew attention from the real star: the massive open kitchen that runs along one side of the main dining room. (If you go with a small group, sit at the bar and enjoy the show from the best seats in the house.)

Though [ONE] is new, it is already among the best local restaurants. I recommend it highly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

If you're feeling down on yourself

as a lot of people I know are feeling right now, as they confront rough personal issues during what should be a joy-filled holiday season, maybe this song will help.

Finally

Yesterday, the Senate voted 65 to 31 to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. Finally, gay and lesbian members of the armed forces don't have to hide their love.

I know a young man who is going through college in ROTC. He is a conservative, a Republican, and a patriot. I doubt we could have a political conversation longer than five minutes without getting into an argument, but I respect greatly his choice to serve his country, and I like him. Until yesterday, he could not hold his boyfriend's hand in public without risking his career. As far as I'm concerned, that's just wrong, and I'm glad the law that made him have to hide is now behind us.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bill Nighy is amazing

Though I've linked to this video before, I simply must do it again. Even if you've never watched Love Actually (though, as I wrote yesterday, you really should), you will be amazed by Bill Nighy as aging rocker Billy Mack in this video. The video as a whole never appeared in the movie, which showed us only snippets, but Richard Curtis was wise enough to make it anyway and use it as an extra on the DVD.

I can't get a firm count of all the videos Curtis is lampooning here, though "Addicted To Love" is clearly the most prominent.

Watch Nighy's hands, which he uses more oddly than any actor I know.

Enjoy.

No email for me tonight

If you're trying to reach me on email, you might as well give up until after I wake up Saturday (afternoon, I hope). My provider is doing maintenance for most of the night, so I have no access to personal email. You'll have to catch me tomorrow. Sorry about that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is it Love Actually time already?

Why, yes, it is. Thank you for asking.

As long-time readers know, around this time each year, I hold a dinner and viewing of this fine Richard Curtis film, one of my very favorites movies. Tonight, we watched it again, and I found it as powerful and charming and moving as the first time I saw it years ago.

What amazes me about Love Actually is that even though I know what the director is doing, even though every tug on my heart strings is abundantly clear, it works, it just works. The magic parts--and there are many, many of those--retain their magic no matter how many times you see it. Just as importantly, the characters are real enough and there is enough pain sprinkled among the happy segments that the film, at least for me, never cloys.

And the plotting, ah, it is a joy to behold. Many details that pass by almost undetected prove to be important, and at the end you realize you've watched a masterful construction.

I also greatly admire director Richard Curtis' utter and complete dedication to pursuing the magic of love no matter where that chase leads him. If the story's logic calls for an otherwise insanely improbable event to occur, you can bet that event will come to pass--and it will make sense, story sense, that it does.

If you haven't seen Love Actually, I can't recommend it too highly. If you have, now is a grand time to watch it again.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eating logic at our house

Email from Sarah to me in the middle of the afternoon today, a day in which snow and sleet fell all morning.

Hey Dad, when are you planning to come home tonight? And might there be a chance of ElDo? I hear they have seasonal decorations on their boat now.
What could I do? Ignoring the river of cheese at our favorite nearby Mexican place is always a risky proposition, and it's doubly so on a day of inclement weather.

We clearly had to go. In fact, we clearly needed two vats of cheese dip.

After eating, we discussed the menu options for tomorrow night's annual gathering to watch Love Actually. We considered going with traditional British food, but, well, you know. So, instead we settled on Indian; after all, some of the best Indian food I've ever eaten was in London.

Then began a game of give and take:
I need to go to a Barnes & Noble.

Did you know Barnes & Noble sells Cheesecake Factory cheesecakes?

That's right!

And what goes well with Indian food?

Cheesecake!

There's a Barnes & Noble in the shopping complex right across the street.

So there is!

The weather isn't all that bad...yet.

True.

We were obviously meant to go.

Obviously.
Which is how, a short time after dinner, I found myself at a cash register in the corner of the local B&N buying a full cheesecake.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Check out the decked-out tree

We have quite a few holiday traditions, as you may have gathered from posts in this and past Decembers. One is a tree-trimming party, in which a group of us gather, string lights, hang a zillion ornaments, and eat dinner. Here, courtesy of Gina, is how the tree looks after tonight's party. (Click on any photo to see a bigger image.)


As you can see, the tree is now carrying a rather weighty coating of ornamentation.

What's a tree, though, without a lovely dog posing in front of it?

Hardly anything, Holden answers.


Neither Holden nor Pixil could stand to let the tree outshine them, so they turned into circus performers. Here's Pixil in full stretch, with Holden getting ready to join her.



Not to be outdone by his sister, Holden then showed how the big dog does it.


Yes, it is true: Holden is the best dog in the world.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sherlock

My friend and fellow writer, John Lambshead, recommended this BBC series to me when I wrote about the recent Sherlock Holmes film. Trusting John, I picked up the Blu-Ray collection when it became available. We finished watching the last of the three ninety-minute episodes tonight.

It was magnificent.

I was originally more than a bit suspicious of the concept of updating Holmes to today, but I relaxed as soon as I learned that the wonderful writer Steven Moffatt was one of its creators. Moffatt and co-creator Mark Gatiss indeed delivered the goods: taut tales full of vintage Holmes deduction and action--but all set in contemporary London.

The two lead actors, Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson, are superb and make a formidable, if rarely entirely in sync, partnership. Cumberbatch is a particular joy to watch, his haircut odd, his eyes odder, his movements frequently not quite human. Freeman's Watson is every bit as normal on the outside as Cumberbatch's Holmes is strange, but inside this Watson is an ex-soldier who can kill without remorse and who is still trying to find a place other than the battlefield in which he belongs.

If you've ever been a Holmes fan, catch these shows on TV or buy a DVD set, but do not miss them.

I already regret that the BBC won't broadcast the next series until August and so I will not get to watch them until about a year from now.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Yeah, we like a big Christmas tree

Long-time readers may recall that last year's try was a stately beast that stood about ten feet tall.

Some of us thought it was a fine size.

The more sensible among us (for a sufficiently loose definition of "sensible") disagreed. In fact, that group--Sarah, Scott, and I--felt we had erred on the conservative side. We are, after all, the folks who use a thirty-five-pound, industrial stand rated to hold trees up to fifteen feet tall.

No point in not being prepared.

We vowed not to be quite as conservative this year.

The result is the one you can see in this picture, which I took right after we stood up the tree. It's already a great deal broader as the branches are slowly descending.


To give you a little perspective, Scott is in tennis shoes and so is standing close to 5'11".

Yeah, we're closer to twelve feet at the very peak this year.

Oh, yeah, that's a tree.

Wait'll we get the lights and approximately 3.7 million ornaments on it.

On a completely unrelated note, some folks I care about are going through some rough times right now. They're feeling alone, as if no one understands them or what they've been through or are enduring now. To some degree, of course, they're right; each of our experiences is unique. In a greater sense, though, they are not alone. I'm here, others who care about them are around, and even if only in spirit, we are with them. I've linked to this song before, but it fits now, for them, so I'll use it again. (Sorry about the commercial; it's the cost of a free, high-quality video.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The weather outside is frightful

and so has sapped my will to blog. All I want to do is hide in the bed. It's cold and wet and much like living under an old gray dog blanket that's been in the woods covering a kid's fort during three weeks of steady rain.

Here's a snapshot from a local weather service of a main road here.


So, news of my company's party and last night's UFC fights will have to wait another day.

Trust me: if you were here, you'd agree with this choice.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Scott snags his first college acceptance

Many interesting events occurred today, but the most important of them, to me, was that Scott was accepted to the one university to which he applied early action. (That means that the school accepted him early but he is not obligated to attend it.) That college was one of his top choices, so he now locked down an option he quite likes. As is typical of students at his high school, he's applying to quite a few colleges, so the process is far from over, but it's still nice to have an acceptance early.

I am so very proud of him.

More tomorrow on some of the other stuff.

It may not sound good

but a sandwich with fried bologna, bleu cheese, roast beef, muenster cheese, and ham is a tasty concoction indeed, particularly after you heat it up in a panini maker.

I'm just sayin'.

No one else seemed to appreciate my magnificent creation, but when are artists, even sandwich artists, truly appreciated in their lifetimes?

Yeah, it was make-your-own-sandwiches night here as we indulged in the annual viewing of the unrated cut of Bad Santa.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Writer line of the day

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the fine books from Subterranean Press. If you're not already buying books from them, I strongly encourage you to check them out. Bill Schafer, who runs the show there, is also a swell guy, another reason to buy from them.

Yesterday, I received from them a copy of Hellcats and Honeygirls, a book I ordered the moment I heard about it. This lovely hardback collects all three of the short mystery novels that Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake published under pseudonyms. I greatly admire the work of both of these writers, so I can't wait to read their collaborations.

Block provided an introduction to the collection, and in it I found a line, from Westlake, that hit home with me. I suspect it will with many, if not all, writers. Here's the excerpt that contains the line, with it in bold.

When Don agreed to have Hard Case Crime reissue some of his early books--crime novels, I should point out, which had nothing to apologize for--a mutual friend asked him why he thought this was a good idea. The money didn't amount to much, after all, and the work was not as good as what he'd produced since then, and--

"The difference between being in print and out of print," Don told him, "is the same as the difference between being alive and being dead."
I'm sure some writers would disagree and claim not to feel that way.

I suspect they'd be lying.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

30 years ago

John Lennon was murdered. He was only 40 years old. I was 25. It still bugs me.

So listen to this song, which still matters. It really does.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I've seen the final cover art for The Wild Side

and it is gorgeous and hot and perfect for the book. No, I can't show it to you yet--I can only tease you--but as soon as I can, I will.

Well done, Dan Dos Santos!

Monday, December 6, 2010

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 4

Almost all of last night went to a fabulous dinner at Robuchon, one of America's few Michelin three-star restaurants and a bastion of French cuisine in the U.S. We opted, of course, for the largest menu, the sixteen-course Menu Degustation, and then we added a seventeenth course, a selection from the spectacular cheese trolley. One of the treats of this restaurant is its amazing bread cart, which offers over a dozen types of bread that they bake daily. We sampled entirely too many of them.

The result was a delicious meal in which we hit the food wall; we ran out of room and waddled out of the place like over-stuffed penguins.

After entirely too little sleep--the meal took nearly five hours--I arose at a time I frequently go to sleep, showered, and headed for the airport. The flights have been on time, however, and I'm in first class and enjoying bandwidth, so I cannot complain at all.

I'm posting now because I'll go straight from the airport to Scott's concert and from there to the usual whirlwind of settling in work at home.

Another trip to Las Vegas has passed without poker; I really must fix that!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 3

I should probably be embarrassed that I'm in Las Vegas and doing little more than whiling away the day resting, but I'm not; I need the rest.

I should confess that I am also doing some research for the special project I'm not willing to announce yet. That is taking some time. More on it in a few months.

Tonight's dinner promises to be quite lovely, a meal at Robuchon, but I'll report on it tomorrow.

Back to the small tasks and resting.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 2

I slept enough last night that I awakened feeling a little rested, which after the previous night's minimal sleep was quite a welcome change. After some work and a shower, I joined our group at the appointed time, and we headed over to the Venetian for brunch at Bouchon. Damn but it was good, with every dish tasty and food spilling off the table.

Afterward, we dragged our food-clogged selves around the high-end shops, a trip that included a stop at the Louboutin store.

From there, we caught a cab to the Palms and the Ultimate Fighter Finale, the event we came here to see. The fights were almost all quite entertaining, with a handful being very exciting. The guy I had hoped would win it all--Jonathan Brookins--did so, which was a nice treat.

Dinner was at Craftsteak, where we'd also dined on the same night last year. The meat was amazing, the sides good, and we all had a very nice meal.

A little more work, and then I shall crash.

Friday, December 3, 2010

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 1

I'm a guy who doesn't need a ton of sleep, but 70 minutes--all I got last night--is not enough even for me. So, while I was able to work on the first flight thanks to the on-plane bandwidth, I dozed off and on for much of the bandwidth-free second leg. Still, I can't complain about on-time flights in which I was sitting in first class.

I hit the hotel room and dove into work. After catching up, our group hit the Bellagio for sightseeing and some gelato, then walked around a bit and wound our way to the new Aria. We ate dinner at the buffet there, which was over-priced and okay but not up to the top buffets in town (which for my money are those at the Bellagio, the reigning champ, and the Wynn).

The evening's entertainment was Cirque du Soleil's new show, Viva Elvis. We all had a good time at it, but I'm the only one of our group who would see it a second time. It was definitely too long on dance and too short on the sort of athletic entertainments that typically characterize a Cirque show. It also rather predictably presented a wholly whitewashed view of Elvis' life. Despite all that, it worked for me, though I would rank it the second weakest (with Zumanity far and away the weakest) of the Cirque shows in town.

I do hope to have a very long sleep tonight.

A blast from the past: a Balticon 2009 interview with me

I just received a message that the good folks at the Balticon podcast have put up the interview they did with me in 2009. Apparently, I discussed not only my writing but also my zombie survival plan. I don't remember the conversation very well, so if you hear anything interesting, let me know. You can check it out here.

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Update on my health: eating better!

I'm definitely healing--and well ahead of the doctor's predictions. I spent all day Monday and Tuesday, as well as until dinner on Wednesday, eating exactly as the doctor ordered: the BRAT diet. Wow, is it dull! Here's my menu for those days:

Lunch: turkey and rice soup, two pieces of dry white toast
Dinner: chicken noodle soup, two pieces of dry white toast
Late-night snack: applesauce--once on two pieces of dry white toast

My beverages were water, rather a lot of it, and about eight ounces of Gatorade a day.

Wednesday night, though, was Gina's Hanukkah party, and I was feeling good, so I indulged in two latkes, one with sour cream and the other with applesauce, two small glasses of Coke Zero, some chips, and a small bowl of dessert (small piece of ice cream cake, two bites of chocolate cake). My body handled it without a problem, for which I am grateful.

Today was my company's monthly all-hands meeting, at which we always serve pizza. I normally go the meat route, but this was my first pizza in some time, so I opted for two pieces of plain cheese pie. No problem. I gave my stomach a more formidable challenge tonight at a friend's birthday dinner at a local burrito place she favors. Again, no problem.

So, I conclude I am progressing nicely, which is good, because I leave for Las Vegas at oh-dark-thirty!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,
Part 1

More than any movie I've seen recently, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,
Part 1
plays perfectly to the faithful--and very badly to everyone else. If you love either the books or the movies (or both), you will find this one a very good way to spend two and a half hours. If you're in neither camp, though, you'll end up bored, annoyed, and frustrated.

The same characteristics trigger both sets of reactions.

The movie is full of close-ups of the three young leads as they wrestle with their relationships with one another, the stresses of the bad guys chasing them, and their teenage angst. If you care about the characters already, you won't mind all these lengthy reaction shots; in fact, you'll rather like them. If you don't, however, you'll want to yell at the screen almost as much as all but the hardcore faithful did in the Star Trek films with the original cast.

Similarly, the film abounds with exotic, gorgeous location shots, which you'll find beautiful and entrancing if you love the saga--and beautiful but ultimately annoying if you don't. As Scott observed, it's almost as if they used every cool place in the book in an attempt to hide the fact that the plot doesn't progress very far at all.

I've read only the first two books, but I've seen and quite liked all the movies, so I thoroughly enjoyed this film and never checked my watch once. Others in our group, however, were bored within the first quarter hour. If you haven't already seen it, decide which camp is yours before you head to the theater.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In which my brain goes all Zen on me

I was staring at my lunch today--the same as yesterday, a bowl of turkey and rice soup, plus two pieces of dry toast, just what the doctor ordered--when I realized that one could learn valuable basic life lessons from a bowl of soup.

For example, you can learn that you can't gauge a thing's power by its size. The bowl of soup is tiny compared to me, but its energy is enough to warm me through and through.

You can also learn the importance of perspective. If I handed most people an empty soup bowl and told them to fill it with a soup spoon, they would say how stupid the approach was. Give them the same bowl full of soup, however, and emptying it a spoon at a time is only natural.

Of course, the most important lesson is probably that thoughts like these are why people prefer when I'm focused on work during lunch.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bear, cave, rock

Quite a few folks have sent me get-well wishes, which I genuinely appreciate. Several have also asked what kind of sick person I am, so I thought I'd answer that question for everyone:

I'm the bear who wants to go into its cave and pull a rock over the entrance until it's all better.

I do appreciate it when someone provides food, though right now my dietary excitement is largely chicken noodle soup and toast. That's about it, though.

I want to crawl into my cave, which is my home office when I'm working and my bed when I'm not, pretend the world doesn't exist, and reappear when I'm at full strength and ready once again to do battle with it.

I suppose this also makes me a rather grumpy, pain-in-the-ass sick person.

Aren't you glad you don't live here?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My day: the walk-in clinic

I awoke feeling lousy and weak after a very long, very bad night, so I kept to my word and in the early afternoon headed to a local urgent-care clinic.

It was closed, as in kaput, a harbinger of the joy the rest of the afternoon would bring.

My next stop was a slightly more distant urgent-care clinic, which was still in business and open until 8:00 p.m. Excellent.

Unfortunately, it had a two- to two-and-a-half-hour wait. I had a book, though, so I was set. I also had my non-stop nausea and weakness for company, which was nice in a it's-good-to-have-something-you-can-count-on way.

The first sign that I was worse than I'd hoped came when they took my vitals. After I'd waited only an hour, they called me inside, and my hopes rose. They took my pulse and blood pressure, then sent me back to the waiting room. Such teases. My pulse, which is normally 64 to 68, was 95. My blood pressure, which was most recently 92 over 68, was 107 over 78. The bp news wasn't great, but the pulse reading was definitely bad.

I now had their attention, and in fact in under an hour later I was talking with a doctor. He seemed smart and attentive and knowledgeable, and I quite liked him.

I didn't, however, like his statement that I was quite dehyrdated, but I couldn't argue with it, particularly given my pulse. So, after I provided a stool sample--always a fun part of any day--and took an anti-nausea pill he provided, they stuck in an IV and hooked me up to a liter of fluid.

An hour later--way longer than they had expected but not a surprise given how dehydrated I was--the fluid had drained into me, the anti-nausea medicine had taken hold, I'd read a fair amount, and I was up to feeling like a truck had side-swiped me--which was a big improvement from my previous state, in which the truck was driving back and forth over my gut.

He gave me two prescriptions--one for a flash two strong doses of Cipro, the other for more anti-nausea medicine, which I am to take as I need it--and told me to pick up some probiotic pills as well. I drove to the pharmacy, made the purchases, and am now very glad to be home.

In a beautiful bit of irony, the anti-nausea medicine, which is candy-flavored, predictably causes me to gag while I wait for it to dissolve under my tongue. Once it does, though, it helps.

I am to eat only clear liquids today, with maybe some toast and soup for the Cipro. The next two to three days, I am to stick to the BRAT (Bananas Rice Apple[sauce] Toast) diet. That's all fine, as long as I heal quickly, but I have to attend parties Wednesday and Thursday nights, and Friday morning, I fly to Vegas.

All I can say is this: Heal, body, heal!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I'm not dead yet

but I am seriously considering pining for the fjords. In fact, unless I wake up tomorrow around noon and feel remarkably better, I will take myself to an urgent-care clinic and see what they can do to help me beat whatever is in my gut.

More tomorrow as I know more.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fever redux

My friend the bed-soaking night fever came to visit last night. I'm pretty clearly not over this mess yet. A night of frequent wake-ups and frenzied fever frolics, combined with a lot of personal bathroom time, left me lighter than I entered Thanksgiving Day, but that's about the only good thing I can say about last night.

I very much hope to be better soon. I am tired of bathroom body and slow brain.

A few nights ago, Sarah and I were playing each other songs. With the release of the recent remaster and boxed set of the album containing this song, I had to spin it for her. The audio isn't ideal, but give it a watch; we can all stand to remember these lessons.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is not a break-from-writing day, because I don't believe in those.

It is, however, a (mostly) break from blogging day, because, well, I feel like it.

That said, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads this blog and everyone who buys my books and stories. You make it possible for me to continue to be paid to do something I love doing. You could not give me a greater gift.

I am truly and deeply grateful to you all for that.

Now, go eat some turkey and mashed potatoes and rolls and cranberry sauce and pie and...well, you get the idea.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some Jon and Lobo news

I've been working hard to stop myself from talking about works in progress, because I believe that doing so is one of the ways I create crazy noise in my head. (Many of my friends disagree with this decision, but so it goes.) Despite that inclination, I thought it might be nice to give you two fun facts about the next book, the fifth in the series.

First, it now seems fairly certain that it will appear in February, 2012. I know that's a long time--18 months--between books, but I got busy with some other stuff, including editing and writing an original story for The Wild Side. That anthology, with my contribution, "The Long Dark Night of Diego Chan," will appear this coming summer, as I've noted in earlier posts, so you'll at least have a nice chunk of new fiction from me in 2011.

Next, after more than than the usual amount of thought on the topic, I finally settled on a title for the novel, one that makes me happy because it works on multiple levels.

No, I won't tell you what those levels are; you'll just have to read the book.

So, in true James Bond style, I will close with this end-of-the-credits announcement:


Jon and Lobo will return in


No Going Back

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My favorite hotel design feature

of the most recent trip was one I've seen before in Europe but not yet in the U.S.: To enable the power in your room, you have to put your plastic card key in a slot right by the door. When you leave, you take your key, and out go the lights. It's a wonderfully simple way to reduce energy consumption, and it does so at no real cost to the user.

I wish all hotels here would adopt it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm so easy

When it comes to movie trailers, I really am. I want to believe they can all be good. I want them to be good. Even a trailer with obvious issues can still tempt me.

I've recently seen these three, and I am still clinging to the hope that all will be good.

In this case, the cast alone is enough to make me hold that belief.



In this one, on the other hand, I have to hold to my love of comic books that I treasured as a kid.



The third really stretches the limits of even my faith, but I'm going to pray for it to be at least stupidly good.



See? I really am that easy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the mend

I'm going to keep this short, partly because I'm not yet feeling all that great, and partly because most of today has been about sleep. My fever broke in the night, so new sheets were in order after I soaked the original set. Now, though, my temperature appears to be holding at or slightly above normal, and I am continuing to rest. More tomorrow.

My illness is dull and tedious to me, so I can only imagine how boring it must be to you, but it's pretty much what I've got right now.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On the road again: Barcelona, day 7

Wow did my flight from BCN to JFK suck. Whatever I caught--my current best guess is the ill-advised hot-and-sour-cat soup at the Chinese place in Figueres--hit me hard last night and then today as well. I've been able to get down maybe 150 calories--and then only for a few minutes; you don't want the details.

My fever comes and goes, I shake periodically, and my stomach constricts in pain frequently. So, I'm writing this entry from a JFK Admirals Club, and I'll be crawling into bed as soon as I can after I get home.

I'm sure I'll be fine in a day or two, with luck even tomorrow, but right now I feel as bad as I've felt in a very long time.

No more cat soup for me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On the road again: Barcelona, day 6

A very late bedtime and a very gray morning and early afternoon led to a very lazy final full day here, and that was just fine with me.

The middle of the day included a long time roaming Gaudi's Casa Batllo, which was simply amazing.

Dinner was at ABaC, a Michelin two-star restaurant. The food was excellent, but more on that later.

The reason for the short entry is that I have felt sick all day and now have a rather noticeable fever, so I'm going to crash. More later, when, with any luck at all, I will be back to normal.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On the road again: Barcelona, day 5

I'm still processing the elBulli meal, but here are a few key tidbits to tide over those interested in it:

* They served 38 courses, most of which were just a few bites.

* The restaurant seats 40 guests; 45 chefs were working in the kitchen.

* Ferran Adria was supervising.

* I couldn't get a firm handle on the size of the wait staff, but in the room where I was, 20 guests were eating, and at least ten servers were working.

* My first and second favorite dishes were his first and second favorites, as I learned after the meal.

* No music was ever playing. The sounds were of people talking, laughing, gasping, exclaiming, and generally being amazed and amused.

* When I told Adria, via the interpreter, that the meal had touched both my heart and my mind, he smiled, bowed slightly, and in English said, "Good. Correct."
More will undoubtedly follow.

Roses, the closest town, was insanely beautiful, a place straight out of a James Bond movie. How pretty, you might ask? Check out these shots from the room's two balconies. (As always, you can click on a picture to see a bigger version.)











The rest of the day went to a strange Chinese lunch and then multiple hours at the Dali museum (excellent!) in Figueres, a lot of work, and a very fine dinner at Alkimia.

Now, more work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the road again: Barcelona, day 4


Behind me in the blackness in the photo is the Mediterranean, its waves beating a slow rhythm on the shore.

My sense of luck and of somehow not quite deserving to be there, as well as my dislike of having my picture taken, account for the expression on my face.

To my left stands the door inside El Bulli.

Inside was the most amazing meal I've ever eaten. I'll write more on it in other times, but as I said to Chef Adria after dinner--yes, I got to chat briefly, via an interpreter, with Ferran Adria--the meal touched both my heart and my mind. I have a lot to process--and not just in my stomach.

I feel very, very lucky for having been able to eat there before Adria closes the deservedly famous institution.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On the road again: Barcelona, day 3

Jamon Iberico de Bellota is a wonderful thing indeed, and as I did my last time here, I'm eating small amounts of it each time I get the chance. Today, this taste treat was part of both my meals, lunch and dinner, and I loved every little bite.

A big chunk of today went to more time with the works of Antoni Gaudi, about whose art I've written before. Suffice to say that once again I found La Sagrada Familia amazing, a work of genius, and deeply moving in many ways. The singular vision behind both it and Parc Guell, which I also revisited today, always makes me think hard about creativity, great works of art, and, of course, my own pale attempts at creation. Gaudi was almost certainly more than a bit of a loon, but he saw the world differently from everyone else and, as Hunter S. Thompson once said of another, he stomped the terra.

Tomorrow brings the dinner at El Bulli, the event that transformed this trip from desirable to mandatory. I'm not looking forward to driving the crowded Barcelona streets or the single-lane country roads that lead to the restaurant, but I am quite excited about the meal itself--which I'll be sitting down to eat in about 17 hours.

Hot damn!

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the road again: Barcelona, day 2

I wish I could sleep well on planes. I really do. I can't manage it, though. The best I can do is awkward, uncomfortable, and unsatisfying dozing. Thus, when we landed this morning, I'd eaten the dinner and breakfast (both serviceable), watched a movie (the recent remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which I didn't hate the way most critics did), read (Matt Hilton's latest novel), and done some work.

To my great happiness, customs and luggage pick-up and immigration and the cab ride all proceeded without a hitch, so in relatively short order I was in my hotel, the W Barcelona. It and the lovely Hotel Arts Barcelona, where Scott and I stayed, stare at each other across the water like two champions preparing for battle. I love them both. From the outside, the W, with its amazing architecture and isolated location, exudes the rock-star-hotel vibe. It continues that feeling when you get inside, with a stunning lobby, bordello-red hallways, and impeccably designed and outfitted rooms.

After a nap and some work, we headed into the city for a long stroll down Las Ramblas and dinner at a restaurant we chose at random for its menu and look. Our choice proved to be wise, as the meal was very good. Highlights included the Iberico Bellota ham and the thin bread with brushings of oil and tomatoes that I've come to love, wonderful croquetas, and the cheesiest risotto I've ever tasted.

Tomorrow, some research, some work, some touristing, but now, some sleep.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the road again: Barcelona, day 1

Well, really, there is no Barcelona for me today. Instead, I'm heading there and will arrive tomorrow after the usual fly-all-night trek. Still, the trip is ultimately to Barcelona, so that will be the title for these entries.

At this red-hot moment, I'm sitting in the JFK Admirals Club enjoying their free water, Diet Coke, and carrots. I do wish for Coke Zero and a broader selection of snacks, but I find such complaints hard to make, sitting as I am in the lap of airplane lounge luxury. I am living a life of such greater affluence and experience than the teenage me would ever have believed possible that I feel ashamed whenever I utter such complaints.

Speaking of teenagers, I have two, and I both like and love (there is a huge difference, of course) them greatly. It helps that I am stuck at 16 on the inside, which means that both kids are now aging past me. (Of course, I don't know yet what their internal ages are, so perhaps we'll end up close.)

Two recent interchanges, one spoken and one in email, should serve to illustrate why I enjoy my time and conversations with them so much. Each is silly, of course, but in a very different way from the other.

The first is a snippet from a recent conversation with Scott that began after Rana observed that he was clean-shaven.

Scott: Yes, I shaved. In fact, I shaved a lot more than my face.

Me: I prefer to wax mine. Very smooth.

Scott: Nah. Shaving is better, because you can shave "THUG LIFE" into your pubes.

Me: Excellent point.
The other is a recent email exchange between Sarah and me.
Sarah:
I am emailing you because you are the most sensible of the family when it comes to proper dessert policy. Scratch just released its holiday menu and having spent so much time there this semester I kind of want to share how delightful their food is with you guys (although it is definitely expensive). Is there anything that catches your eye? If so, I could order and pick it up - if not, I'll just bring a couple donut muffins back with me.

Me:
I’d have to vote for at least the Vanilla, Mexican, and Apple pies, as well as the Pecan and Gingerbread cakes.

Of course, I’m holding down the quantity to try to be sensible, as always.

I’m so proud that you have inherited this great sensibility.
None of these desserts, by the way, are for the Thanksgiving holiday. These are the pre-holiday desserts, the safety desserts to ensure that the holiday goes well. It is only sensible that we get them.

It should be abundantly clear to anyone who knows me that yes, these are indeed my children.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

That mysterious trip I mentioned a while ago

starts tomorrow, when I leave mid-afternoon. I'm heading to Spain, Barcelona to be precise, for some research for a special project I'm not going to announce for a while. I won't be back home until late Saturday night.

I'm also going to be doing something extremely special while I'm there: eating at El Bulli.

[insert here an entirely unmanly squee of foodie delight]


If you don't already know about El Bulli, feel free to Google it for a few minutes; I'll wait.

As you'll quickly learn, El Bulli is one of the most famous and highest rated restaurants in the world. It and Ferran Adria, its chef, are legends among foodies and chefs alike (not that the two groups are mutually exclusive). Adria led the development of molecular gastronomy and has continued to innovate throughout his career. A seat there is one of the hardest reservations in the world to get.

Yet it's closing soon, to reopen in 2014 in a new form. I won't even pretend to summarize Adria's reasons for this choice; you'll have to read them (and there seem to be several) for yourself.

Its closing, however, makes it doubly lucky that I'm getting this chance to eat there.

Wednesday night at 7:30, I'll be doing just that.

Two squees would be entirely too much for one post, so instead imagine here a more manly, fist-thumping, "Hell, yeah!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Me vs. the needles

As I mentioned Wednesday, while I was at the allergy clinic giving them extortion money so I could keep taking allergy shots getting my annual check-up, the woman at the front desk who had processed my paperwork moments earlier called my house and asked if I could come in to pick up my allergy serum. So, yesterday, I returned to do just that.

The appointment started off perfectly when this same receptionist greeted me by saying, "Hi, Mr. Van Name. Weren't you just in here yesterday?"

I'm very proud to say that I did not yell at her, dive through the open window and beat her head against the desk while screaming, "Yes, you idiot, because you made me come back when you could have just given me my serum then," or even point out that she had made the trip necessary. Instead, I forced a smile, admittedly the kind of thin-lipped, angry smile you make right before inserting the shiv between two ribs, and then I sat and waited.

My Asian nemesis scouted me from behind the receptionist for a few seconds before opening the door and waving me in. No words: we are past the time for niceties, he and I.

Before I could sit in the chair, he showed me the two vials of serum and grunted. No words; just a grunt.

I said what I always say: "Yes, that's my name. My address, though, is still wrong."

He grunted again and smiled.

Damn! I fell for it. Score one for my nemesis.

He came to my right arm, but I shook my head and instead pulled my left from my long-sleeved shirt. Not a whole point, but a quarter of one.

Unfortunately, he countered that small gain by wiggling each needle unnecessarily once it was in my arm. I showed no reaction, however, so he got no more than that quarter point.

He pointed to the door, and out I went. We both know the drill.

He greeted the next person with a pleasant smile and a "Would you like to come back now?" invitation.

Ten minutes later, he emerged to check to see whether I had reacted excessively to the serum. As always, he was carrying my serum and a tube of cream, in case I had reacted.

I showed him my arm.

He didn't bother to measure. He just said, "You pass."

I stared at the tube in his hand.

He opened it, squeezed some cream onto his index finger...and I put my arm back in my sleeve.

Got him!

He glared, knowing we had tied, then left, his finger aloft until he could wipe it clean.

Not a victory, but after my earlier error, I was happy to have the draw.

As I was walking up to my car door, I noticed a woman sitting in the passenger seat of the car next to mine, a late-model Elantra. She was leaning all the way back, almost horizontal. Her toes, sporting the chipped red paint of an abandoned barn, tapped quietly on the dash. She was talking into a cell phone.

As I drew closer, she smiled, pointed at the phone, and kept on talking. "Yeah, baby, stroke it. You can do it for me. That's right, I want it. Oh, you know I do."

I got in my car and drove off.

Just another trip to the allergy clinic.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A few thoughts on Veterans Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice brought an end to the heavy fighting of the war to end all wars, World War I.

Would that it had been the last, but of course, many wars have followed it.

Today, we celebrated Veterans Day, though few people seem to remember that once it was Armistice Day, and few with whom I spoke today bothered to note the holiday.

I always note it, because though I never served in the military, many people I care about did. I'm going to focus on two.

One is my friend, Dave. He served in Viet Nam, and it messed him up. It still does. You can read his take on it here. He didn't believe in this war, but he did what he felt was his duty as a citizen. He paid a huge price. He still does.

The other is my stepfather, Edmund D. Livingston, Sr. Eddie died on July 19, 2000, while on vacation at the beach with all of us. He was a Marine in World War II. The day he died, he visited a Marine Corps base and an old battleship. In the war, he went ashore at Okinawa. He was wounded twice, but thanks to paperwork mess-ups, he received only one Purple Heart--a fact that angers me to this day. He was part of the occupation of Japan. The shrapnel he carried would still sometimes set off metal detectors over fifty years after he left the Marines. Ed paid hugely and many times for his service, but he wouldn't have dreamed of not serving when his country called.

Neither Dave nor Ed is the type of person who would seek a doctor's diagnosis, but I'd be stunned if PTSD didn't afflict them both. PTSD is a bitch; I know.

On this holiday, I don't want us just to thank the vets we know, or to think of those now gone. I want us to help those vets among us. I want all of us and our government to fully and openly acknowledge the traumas they endured and allocate enough funds to help them make it back to our world. (For a longer take on this topic, check out Aaron Sorkin's piece here.) It's not enough to say "thank you" to those who do the jobs most of us never want to touch; we must show that gratitude by welcoming them into the world they protected and helping them feel, after and despite all they've endured, that they finally once again belong.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Me vs. the allergy clinic--again

The ENT firm I use is the only one that would let me give myself the allergy shots when I started taking them. I knew I'd never keep up the shots if I had to invest 90 minutes each time to take them (30 minutes drive each way, 10 minutes waiting in the office, 20 minutes you have to wait after receiving the shots), so self-administering the shots was vital. Now, I've been with this firm for eight years, and they have all my records, etc. I'm locked in.

I'd like to think that's why they treat me with such a cavalierly incompetent attitude, but sadly the real answer is probably more simple: they abuse patients because they can, and because they're incompetent at customer service.

Today, for example, was my annual allergy check-up. This piece of health-care ripoffery involves the same ritual each year:

I arrive a few minutes late, hoping not to have to wait.

I wait a few minutes, frustrated as always with the utter lack of bandwidth or free wifi in the office.

A nurse deposits me in a small room, takes my pulse and blood pressure, and leaves.

I wait a few minutes more and begin to wonder if I could employ my otherwise useless iPhone as an edged weapon to kill the first enemy who walks through the door.

The doctor enters, shakes my hand, asks if everything is all right (it always is), and looks quickly in my ears, nose, and throat. (Wow, actual ENT-age.) Yes, indeed: all is well! One new prescription for an Epi-Pen, and one for more allergy shot needles, and I'm good to go.

Transaction time with the doctor: under four minutes.

Bill: over a hundred bucks. Yeah, sure, my insurance covers it, but, really?
On the way out, I ask the receptionist if there is anything else I need to do.

She says, no.

When I get home, I find a voicemail message on my home office phone--the number I have asked them for 7.5 years to stop calling--telling me I can pick up my allergy serum at the same damn place I had been this morning.

The timestamp on the voicemail is 11:15 a.m.

I was in the examination room at that exact time, and the woman who called was the receptionist who handled my paperwork and told me I didn't need to do anything else.

Now, I have to make another trip and face my Chinese nemesis mano-a-mano in allergy test fu.

My only solace is the faint possibility that he's behind the whole thing and I truly am facing a master torturer in a boss fight of wills.

A guy's gotta have hope.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why I'm not doing a reading or signing near you

Several folks have written and asked why, given that I've been doing all these readings and signings, I'm not doing one in their area.

The answer is simple: I'm not there.

Okay, that's the snarky answer, and these folks deserve better. First, I have to note that I don't really do many signings. To help raise money for Falling Whistles, I've done more this year than in the past, but most of them have been local, within less than an hour of my home. I also did an appearance in San Francisco, but that was because I happened to be there for business.

Some authors tour. When they do, it's usually because their publisher is paying for it, though some fund their own tours. I don't sell enough books to warrant a tour, and I'm not doing it on my own.

Thus, the more complete answer is that no one has set up a signing in your area and paid my expenses to come there.

I will, of course, sign books you send me, as I explained in the last post, so if you really want an autographed book from me, it's not that hard to get.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sit and listen a spell

I'm blessed to have amazing friends and family who are also amazingly talented. I'm always honored that they let me hang with them.

One of them, a friend since he was a student of mine in a computer science class I taught back in holy shit we can't be that old was it really 19-no way am I typing that some years ago, recently competed in a local StorySLAM competition at The Monti. I was unable to attend, because I was signing that night at The Regulator Bookshop, but I had really hoped to be there. Now, having listened to his entry, I'm doubly sorry I missed it, because he did a very fine job indeed.

Give his story a listen by going here and clicking on the entry with Eric's name under it.

You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

About signing books

Recently, some folks have emailed me about whether I would sign books for them. I have to dream that someday I'll be so successful that I'll receive so many such requests that I could never say yes to all of them, but that's not where I am today. So, yes, I'll happily sign your books. All you have to do is contact me (email me via the Contact page on my site) and I'll tell you where to send the books. When you mail the book(s), please include a return envelope and postage, and I'll get them back to you as quickly as I can.

Publisher Toni would have every right to beat me senseless if I didn't also add that copies of Children No More, Jump Gate Twist, Overthrowing Heaven, Slanted Jack, and One Jump Ahead make excellent holiday gifts for the entire family.

There. Now she won't beat me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood: Are people really not willing to hear what happened?

Yes.

Let me elaborate.

A lot of folks who've read my Lessons from a militarized childhood posts have asked me why I seem so angry at people not being willing to listen to the stories of those who've suffered abuse. Surely that doesn't happen, they say. Surely people are willing to hear about what happened to these poor folks.

Yes, it does happen. It happens all the time.

No, most people don't want to hear.

I hate that. It pisses me off.

I know women who've suffered abuse, physical and sexual, from family members, people whose sacred duty was to care for them, and they can't talk to their spouses. I know men who were beaten, and they can't talk to their spouses. I could go on, but I'm not going to enable anyone who knows me or my friends to play a guessing game; these folks get to choose if they want to talk.

What I wish is that the rest of the world would be willing to listen, to hear their stories, to not ask stupid questions, questions like, "What did you do to make it happen?" or "Why didn't you stop it?"

The answers, by the way, are the same as those for rape victims: nothing, and because they couldn't.

I don't enjoy talking about these parts of my past. Like all abused kids, I still at some level feel guilty and weak for somehow making it happen and for not stopping it--even though intellectually I know the right answers. The reason I am talking about it is that I want to demonstrate to these people that they are not alone.

That they have ever right to talk about what happened.

That those questions are stupid.

That people who care about them should listen and understand and comfort them and never never never blame them.

That it was not their fault.

Because it wasn't.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood: The day I decided to live

Quite a few people, upon learning of the rough parts of my childhood, have asked me if I ever considered suicide.

Three years in the paramilitary group, starting at age ten. Four years of almost daily physical abuse--beatings--starting at about the same time.

What do you think?

Of course I did. I'm not stupid. I contemplated every option available to me, from fighting back (tried it and failed), to running away (couldn't let my sister and brother face the abuse without me to protect them at least a little), to killing myself. I thought a great deal about all of the choices.

In fact, I pondered them so much and was in so much pain that I realized I needed to decide to live every bit as much as I would need to make a decision to end my life. I realized that living was a choice, too, albeit the default one.

The day I decided to live was a few months past my eleventh birthday. I don't remember the date, because that didn't matter to me. The abuse had been going on for over a year, as had my time in the paramilitary group. I was hurting and saw no way out.

Until I considered the future. I was right that the eleven-year-old me had no way out. From all the data available to me, however, I had every reason to believe that if I waited long enough, I would get big enough to stop the woman who was beating me. I would also age out of the youth group eventually. By doing those things, I would finally beat the people who were hurting me. I would win.

I liked the sound of that.

The way out was simple: take the pain, and wait for years. I didn't know how many, but I figured it would be at least three, maybe more.

I could do that time. I already knew the formula: Get up in the morning. Get angry; that was easy. Stay angry; also easy. Never let them see you cry. Go to sleep at night. Repeat.

Killing myself would have been losing, surrendering to them. No fucking way would I do that.

I decided to win, so I decided to live.

I won.

A lot of people who've endured great trauma have written me and talked to me about these entries. All of you, every battered kid, every sexually abused child, every veteran, every trauma worker, every cop--every single one of you had those moments, I know you did, when you, too, considered suicide. But you didn't do it. You didn't bow to the pain. You chose to live.

Stand tall. Be proud, even if you can't tell your closest friends why--and fuck those people who won't let you tell them your stories, who don't really want to know you. That's their loss.

You didn't lose. You're still here. You chose to live. You won.

You won.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jackass 3-D

Yes, I went to see it. Actually, Scott and I did, one Saturday afternoon a bit ago.

Yes, I know that, as Kyle said, I should be embarrassed at having done so. To a degree, I am. It was stupid and vulgar and, of course, entirely pointless. The 3-D effects made it even more so.

The thing is, though, that each and every person in the theater--about a dozen men and half a dozen women--was laughing so hard so often that we all forgot to be embarrassed. The movie was indeed all of those bad things, but it was also incredibly funny. I laughed so hard that my sides hurt.

Multiple women have told me that it's clearly a guy thing, and I've tended to agree, but the women watching with us laughed as hard and as loudly as we did, and on the way out they were praising the movie at least as much as the guys. (I notice these things, because I almost always stay to see the credits.)

I can't really recommend the film, but I can say that if you're in its audience, you will laugh loud and long and be glad you went.

And you'll also be a little embarrassed that you did.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

RED

I know this film came out quite a few weeks ago, but I've been meaning to talk about it for a while and just haven't gotten to it. So sue me.

First, the bottom line: I loved every completely silly minute of RED. It never dragged, nor did it ever stray remotely close to realism, and I'm completely fine with that. I didn't want it to be real. I wanted it to be what it was: a velocity exercise, a hey-let's-get-the-gang-together-again homage, a gasp of hope for older folks who still dream of being tough and hot.

All the stars delivered exactly the goods. Bruce Willis returned to his glory days and provided most of the action. Morgan Freeman was wise and smart and captivating. John Malkovich turned in one of his full-on crazy performances, and he does them so very well. Karl Urban, as the young agent chasing them, started out cardboard and then became more.

And, of course, there was Helen Mirren. While showing every bit of her age, she was graceful, hot, deadly, and funny; that woman can act.

If you haven't seen this movie and it's still playing anywhere near you, catch it on the big screen while you can.

To tide you over until you can see it, here's a little ironic musical commentary on aspects of the film: two songs from two great Jersey groups I love.

First, the newer one.



Then, the classic.

A little Shady Esperanto

courtesy of Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

VOTE!

Yes, I feel strongly enough about the topic to use both all capital letters and bold font. I really do.

Today is an election day. Exercise your constitutional right to vote. Head to your polling place, and vote for the candidates you prefer. If you feel that you don't know enough to vote yet, study up; you can find useful data and digest it in a short time. The polls will be open for at least several more hours.

More often than not in my years of voting, I have opted for candidates who lost. It doesn't matter. I tried. I gave them my vote, not enough other people did, and they lost. So it goes. What matters is that we all try to put in place the leaders we think will do the best jobs (or the least damage, which is sometimes the same thing).

Many Americans before us have shed blood, lost loved ones, given up everything they had, and in many cases died to secure for us the right to vote. Use that right, and vote today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Columbus, day 6

I hate travel days. They almost always start rough for me, because I don't sleep well when I know I have to get up early. So it was today, as I woke up about ninety minutes--a full sleep cycle--before I had to get up and could not fall fully asleep again despite being very tired.

Once I got out of bed, however, the day proceeded well, if in a haze of fatigue. The drive was long but uneventful, which is a good thing.

As we were cruising through West Virginia, we saw a sign I couldn't resist: Tudor's Biscuit World. Onto the exit and into the wilderness we drove, until in the town of Ripley we came to the small shop. Most of the business consisted of construction workers in trucks using the drive-through window, and the place was closing in less than half an hour, but we went inside; I wanted the full experience.

Not my best plan. The bathrooms had flooded, so the smell was on the funky side. The young woman behind the counter was surly and nearly unintelligible. The biscuits were better than cardboard but not by a huge margin, and their contents inspired such unfortunate discussion moments as the following:

"That could be a real egg."

"No way. That egg-like thing came from a bottle."

"But is sorta has white and yellow areas."
I can't speak to all the world's Tudors, but if you're in the Ripley area and considering this one, drive on by.

The resulting stomach aches, by the way, gave us all the excuse we needed to stop in Tamarck again, where the rest room is clean and they don't mind you sitting there for a spell. Once we were better, we had to sample the Katie's Korner ice cream, which from its Web site looked pretty good. Our samples sadly proved to be merely okay, with hints of oddness in their flavors. While I'll continue to order Jeni's whenever I can get it, I don't feel the need to try Katie's again.

I'm in my home office now and working like mad to catch up, so I'll return to that. It is good to be home.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, Columbus, day 5

I've eaten a fair number of rubber-chicken meals in my time, but this afternoon's World Fantasy Con awards banquet has to rank as one of the very worst.

Some of the bad aspects of the meal were predictable and fairly common: the overwrought salad dressing, the bread fresh from the packages in which the hotel bought it on sale last week, the meat cooked so dry it was only a few hours from turning to jerky, the mashed potatoes well on their way to setting solidly enough that the hotel could use them to repair the holes in my room's ceiling when Hyatt finally gets around to the way overdue renovations.

Other features, though, were unusual and added to the meal's very special standing. The desserts, for example, ranged from chewy to nearly impenetrable; Jürgen Snoeren, a Dutch publisher at our table, had to push hard on his fork to get it to penetrate his hockey puck of a chocolate cake. The servers were also a treat, each one surlier than the one before, all annoyed at everything we did, some reaching in to move our water glasses or forks or knives simply because we hadn't put those items where they felt we should.

Up to now, I'd thought this Hyatt was merely the worst example of its type I'd ever stayed in, but the banquet has shown me that there is always room to do worse.

After some work and rest in the afternoon, a large group of us walked to the Hyde Park steak house, where we enjoyed a good meal and a lot of conversation. For dessert, though, we left the restaurant and walked to--yes, you guessed it--the Jeni's up the street. I have greatly enjoyed all this ice cream, but I am very, very glad that it's not available anywhere near my home.

On a completely unrelated topic, several folks here have stopped to chat with me about the Children No More charity program and child soldiers. As you may have noted in the news, the U.S. government recently decided to issue a waiver of the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act and continue to provide aid to four countries that are still using child soldiers. I don't agree with this decision, though I must assume the people involved did not make it lightly and are considering many different issues. If you are also thinking about this recent action, or if you're just interested in the topic, I thought you might find these photos, which Kyle brought to my attention, both moving and disturbing.

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