Saturday, January 16, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 4 - Arisia, day 2

I fell into bed a little after five a.m., so my eleven-thirty wake-up came earlier than I would have liked. Still, by my normal lights over six hours of sleep is generous, so I didn't feel too bad.

What proved annoying was that the reason I got up, my reading, turned into a waste of time, because no one showed up. That's happened to me before and will happen again, but I do wish all no-show readings occurred in the middle of afternoons.

Lunch was a pair of lukewarm hot dogs from the cart in the hotel lobby. I love hot dogs, but these could have stood more time in the water or steamer. After that, we hit the art show, where Jain's work was the very best stuff by far, and then wandered through all the dealers. I signed a few books and saw a little interesting stuff, but nothing yelled at me to take it home.

After some work, I headed off to a panel on hard SF. Allen Steele did a good job of moderating it, I got to chat for a few minutes with Alex Jablokov, and a decent-size audience stayed the whole time, so I have to count it as a win.

More work, then off to the next panel, this one on machines augmenting people. All the panelists contributed, I was able to moderate reasonably, and the SRO crowd applauded at the end, so I was as happy with it as I tend to be with these discussions.

We checked out the masquerade, which was fun, and then headed to dinner at Eastern Standard with John Grace of Brilliance Audio. The conversation was lively and far-ranging, and the food was good (but never better than good), so I had a nice time.

A party is happening right outside my door, but I have speakers for my iPod, and work on my book is proceeding. To that work I go.

Friday, January 15, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 3 - Arisia, day 1

The con officially began today, and so, of course, did my con-related duties. Work filled much of my day and late into the night, but scattered among the work hours were two panels and a tasty dinner.

The first panel, Trauma as Character Development, preceded dinner. Five of us discussed trauma from both personal and literary perspectives. The (admittedly too small) room was packed, with people leaning against the rear wall and many folks turning away after being unable to make it inside. The discussion never came together as well as I would have liked, but it was interesting and seemed to keep the audience fully engaged for the entire hour. At the end, one young woman came up and thanked me for a rather forceful statement I'd made about people with PTSD; what the statement meant to her was enough, all by itself, to make the entire trip worthwhile.

Dinner found us at Troquet, where we, of course, tried the tasting menu. In keeping with the norms for this trip so far, it was good but not great. Perhaps our standards have grown too high. Still, we quite enjoyed it, and one item was actually the best of its kind I have ever tasted: the small scoop of salty caramel ice cream. It was amazing, utterly perfect.

After some more work, I headed downstairs for my second panel of the evening: Tokyo's Media Shadow. I wasn't sure before entering the room if I had much to contribute, and afterward I was positive: I did not. All of five people showed up to watch the five-person panel, and a few of those in the audience came with the panelists. I don't know how it played from the house's perspective, but to me it was a train wreck of a panel that never came together in focus and that wallowed often in inaccuracy and stereotypes. I apologize to those five audience members for not contributing more, but after a bit I became concerned that if I were to speak, I might not be entirely polite or appropriate.

That said, I still must praise Arisia's programming folks for holding generally strong panels and its members for usually turning out in good numbers. The topic could have resulted in a solid or better discussion, but we panelists failed to deliver the goods.

And now, to write.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 2

When your day job is all about confidential work, you don't give out details of novels or stories in progress, and you try to respect the privacy of others, the most you have to report on some trips is what you ate. That's my situation today.

Dinner tonight was an augmented version of the tasting menu at Asana, a lovely restaurant in the gorgeous Mandarin Oriental hotel. I say "augmented" because we added a foie gras course and opted for both the cheese course and the dessert; oink, oink. The meal was good but not great, but three courses were perfectly executed exemplars of their type: the truffled risotto, the foie gras, and the dessert. I'd go back just for those three.

I'm making my way through the second pass of Children No More, and after revising the first eight chapters, I'm happy to say that at least so far, I think this thing is pretty damn good. I must admit, of course, that I'm probably the worst person on the planet to judge it, and I haven't hit the part where I (intentionally, of course) juke the narrative in unexpected ways, but I was rather pleasantly surprised by this initial bit. Here's hoping the surprise continues.

On the music front, I've been wearing the electrons out of the (top-quality, WAV format, of course) copy of The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound on my iPod. I'm chair-dancing as I work. I'm here to tell you that there's not a bad track on this one.

Join me in another one: "Great Expectations." Enjoy

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 1

When you fly on a commuter jet, as I did today, there's only one way to improve the flight: get an exit row seat. I was able to score one, and the plane landed safely and on time, so I rate the trip a resounding success.

Dinner tonight was at Craigie on Main, a highly rated establishment whose chef, Tony Maws, was a 2009 Beard nominee for Best Chef, Northeast. Where there's a tasting menu, you'll find us, so of course we opted for the ten-course offering. All the dishes were tasty, with the pork belly the stand-out of the group, but nothing blew us away. Last weekend's dinner at Heron's cost about the same per person and easily topped this meal at every turn.

In an interesting and rather unsettling move, the squab came with the leg bones sticking straight up and the toes, complete with nails, curled in the diner's direction. Had I been seeking some bones for divination or perhaps a curse, this would have been handy, but as a presentation device it fell over the line of cleverness into Creepytown.

As you can see in this picture, the overall effect was to leave you temporarily unsure whether you were engaged in eating or in battling with undead birds come to claw out your brains.

One of the day's most entertaining moments came in the taxi ride back to the hotel, during which our cabbie explained to us why "the metaphysic is mathematics" and how, after studying the same Michael Jackson video seven times and meditating upon it, he knew Jackson would die at age 50. "What you think, they write down somewhere," he said, "and you get it, either in this life, or after you die and come back, in that one." Words to live by. Or not. In any case, his running patter made for a very pleasant ride.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The two most fun words to type are

I know this for a fact, because I wrote them last night, as I finished the first draft of Children No More. I cannot yet tell if this novel is utter shite, pure brilliance, or just another pile of words due to serve as brain candy (which is not, by the way, a bad thing), but I do know these two additional things for certain:
1. The first draft is done.
2. I have a ton of work to do to make this novel as good as I can manage.
That work, though, is far easier and far, far quicker than the first draft.

I turn to the second draft today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Contacting me

Recently, multiple folks have expressed some frustration with my response time or the shortness of my email replies. These people have ranged from friends to occasional correspondents to first-time emailing readers. On the one hand, I feel bad about not responding as quickly as they, or in most cases, I, would have liked. On the other hand, I also have to ask one simple thing:

Please cut me some slack.

By way of explanation, not complaint, I'd like to point out that my email total for most days is over 500 messages (that's the combination of my work and personal accounts, and in each one both the messages I receive and those I send.) I have a rather demanding job as CEO and head salesperson of a growing tech services company. I read and reply to all my own email. I blog daily. I read and respond to all blog comments (though the Web Weasel does also see those and could, in a pinch, handle them for me.) I write daily. I do some consulting. I'm editing an anthology. I have interviews, promotional material, and so on that also demands my attention. I have to write and work on my stand-up routines.

In short, I'm a bit busy.

And then there's that whole life thing, with family and extended family and friends.

Oh, yeah: sleep. I like a little of that now and again.

Again, I'm not complaining; I've chosen this life.

I would, though, appreciate your understanding if my responses to you are short, or if I do a quick email rather than a phone call, or if it takes me multiple hours or even--gasp!--a day to reply.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

The new best restaurant in the Triangle: Heron's

We'd eaten at Heron's not long after it opened, and we'd had a completely adequate meal--but at prices higher than the quality merited. When we learned that a new chef, Scott Crawford, was on the job, we tried it again, and the food was better but still not what we'd hoped. Our server explained, however, that Crawford had not yet fully redone the menu, and we should try again later.

A couple of weeks ago, the newspaper's food critic awarded Heron's his first five-star review, so we decided the time was right for that return visit.

When I made the reservation, I asked that the woman relay to Chef Crawford my desire to experience his very best and my willingness to pay whatever extra amount was appropriate. She said she would, but she was doubtful he would do anything different. That's fair enough; a restaurant in a hotel is not an easy place to concoct one-off tasting menus. Later, though, she called me back and said the chef might just do something special.

So, when we arrived tonight, we had no idea whether we'd be eating the normal five-course tasting menu or something Crawford had created for us. Our servers ushered us into a lovely partially open room, a space that made me happy all night, and asked if we wanted to see our menu at the beginning or the end of the meal. By quick consensus, we opted for the end; we would be surprised.

Crawford did indeed assemble a special menu for us, one with seven courses, and every bite was delicious. From start to finish, the food was outstanding. With the fall of The Mint and with this one meal, Heron's is, at least to my taste, the best restaurant in the area. Each dish merged three key elements--an emphasis on local ingredients, a bow to the season, and classic technique--with a restrained but always evident playfulness that made you pause and admire your plate before proceeding.

Consider this example, which was the fish course. Rather than go with a traditional fish, Crawford sent us vanilla poached lobster with parsnip, warm buttered tangerine, and almonds. The presentation made it easy to put all the tastes together while also obviously and humorously evoking the fish shape. Most importantly, it was delicious, the lobster cooked perfectly and the use of tangerine inspired.

The only flaw in the meal was the service, which though quite good was still not where it should be, with tiny missteps abounding. None of these issues, mind you, would be noticeable in a lesser establishment, but in a restaurant with a chef of this caliber and so gorgeous a setting and ambitions of earning three Michelin stars, the service should be flawless.

That truly is nit-picking, though, and if you live in this area, it should not slow you for one second from heading to Heron's, ordering the tasting menu, and letting the artful kitchen work.


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