Sunday, November 27, 2005

Long Time, No Blog

At least really blog. With the kind of content I like to write about. But I've been a bit distracted as of late.

The most recent distraction was, probably like most people, the holidays. #2 is my Nano work in progress. Which despite my not updating my NanoWriMo profile I have kept up with a bit. Mid-week I crossed the 20k word threshhold, which was my initial goal for the month. Even though it's scattered as hell and would probably get me a one way ticket to the nearest Asylum (which, I think, is St. Elizabeth's) I've got 3 complete chapters. Or at least complete enough that I have a better idea of where things are going than I did four weeks ago.

But my main distraction, both this past week and really all this month, is career related. Finding that right career path is dificult for everyone, but you throw in the desire to actively pursue interests like writing into the mix and it gets more difficult. Do you get a job that makes you write during the day, possibly making you sick of writing by the time you get home, or do you pursue something completely different? I once heard Samuel Delany say that every writer in the beginning of his career should work as a ditch digger. It doesn't demand anything of you mentally, so you have time during the day to think about writing and then time at night to actually do the writing. Trouble is, I'm getting to that point that I'm looking towards big life things like marriage, kids, a house....all that normal crap everyone wants. I've spent most of my working life in different jobs at arts organizations, and I've tried teaching college. Arts jobs just aren't doing it for me anymore, and while I loved teaching I grew tired of hearing that I'd have to slave away as a part-time adjunct for 5-10 years before getting anything full time.

So I started looking at libraries. It's working with books, helping people find information and literature, but not in the same corporate way that it would be if I worked for a publishing house. Whether or not it's the right choice, I don't know for sure. But it seems a better path than the one I'm on now. I applied to graduate school late last month, and somewhat to my surprise I was accepted to my first choice of schools. Now I'm facing that big life change. I'm excited about learning something new and taking some steps in another direction, but nervous that the steps are the wrong ones. Only time, I suppose, will tell.

But in the meantime, I have a novel to keep cranking away at and book reviews to churn out and life to live. I hope to keep reporting on all of the above as I go through it.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I've spent most of the last two days cleaning and doing yardwork, getting ready for the two houseguests for Thanksgiving. A lot of work, with small gratification. But that's okay. It will be a nice day once the food's in the oven. We're actually having ham, not the glorious turducken shown in the photo above. No one else seems as intrigued by the concept of the turducken (a hen shoved inside a duck, then shoved inside a turkey doused in cajun seasoning) as me, so I may just have to order my own sometime.

Hope everyone has a great day. I'll have something writing/reading related up tomorrow.


Saturday, November 19, 2005


Yesterday Miss L and I took a break from everything and took in a matinee of the new Harry Potter movie, Goblet of Fire. As a preface, I'll make it known that I'm not a mega-fan of all things Potter. I've enjoyed the books I've read (about half of them) and the movies have all been pretty entertaining but I don't approach Potter with the sheer mania and extreme fandom some seem to. My boss at work, for example, re-read the entire series thus far in the weeks leading up to the release of the HP novel that came out this fall. She also keeps pretty extensive notes on everything Potter, trying to forecast future plotlines like some great psychic. Her fandom is not limited to HP, though. The background image on her computer at work is a mildly racy photo of actor Scott Bakula.

But I was writing about Harry Potter.

Goblet of Fire is a surprisingly fun movie. From someone who's only read the book once, and not in some time, I was really pleased. It's much better paced than the last HP movie and Finnes as Voldemort is one of the creepiest figures I've seen in recent cinema. I won't go so far to call it great art, but it's probably the movie I've enjoyed most on a sheer entertainment level this year, with Batman Begins coming in at a very close 2nd. The challenges the four go through for the Tri-Wizard contest made me think a bit more about some of my plot twists and obstacles, and I'm rethinking them a bit. Because, at least for now, it's all about the NanoNovel. I can't even walk down the street anymore without thinking how it might tie into the NanoNovel.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nano Update

I lost my writing flow the last few days. A few weeks ago I caught a pretty bad head cold, and the cough was still lingering. For some reason last Friday I decided to go running, and I spent the rest of the day hacking up my lungs. That combined with staying up way to late several days in a row caught up with me and got me sick again. So I napped during my lunch hour at work, napped on the metro ride home and went to bed right after dinner every night the last several days.

But I'm feeling more human again. Yesterday I finally got hero #2 to the fantasy world, and I've written a few scenes from the point of view of Clive the talking dog. Now that I'm in the fantasy world I'm going to try to just let my mind go and populate it with some crazy races of creatures. Creatures with spider torsos and human heads. Sentient being who eat through photosynthesis. And the always required Birdmen. Or maybe not, I haven't decided yet.

Today's my day off, and I'll be fine-tuning some book reviews and then trying to crank out 5 pages or so for the NanoNovel. Good luck to any others out there trying to keep pace.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Google Print

I know this topic already is taking up a lot of bandwidth, airtime and printspace in lots of other venues, but it's important enough to spread as much info as possible.

Tomorrow representatives from Google, the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers will meet in NY City to discuss the big hullabaloo over Google wanting to scan and publish vast quantities of material online. A large part of the disagreement seems to come from the way tech companies do business; tech companies often get so enamored with their new toys and blaze ahead, hoping law will restructure around them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is bound to cause some intense debate over the next several months until both sides come to some kind of an agreement. Whatever happens, the publishing industry and writers may very well face some of the same issues music labels have dealt with ever since Napster first went online.

Quite possibly one of the better looks at the issues involved comes not from a lawyer or a tech expert, but a lone writer in Scotland. Author Charlie Stross speaks from the unique point of view of an author who offered his recent novel Accelerando for free online while you could still buy a hardcopy at your local bookstore. More than anything, I appreciate his point that he just wants to be asked first.

If you need more detailed info, take a look at the COCOA proposal and even sign their petition. It's an important issue for anyone who writes or who wants to write for a living, and best to be informed as much as you can.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Happy B-Day Mr. Vonnegut

Yep. Today is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday, and he reaches the well earned age of 83 if the article I read this morning is at all accurate.

Of late Vonnegut's become somewhat of a letdown to me. His recent books still have their clever moments but by and large lack the punch his masterworks like Breakfast of Champions deliver. His political essays written for various magazines and newspapers since 9-11 have also lacked a certain polish, although they certainly contain a lot of the anger he's always had, just none of the clever pathos. Despite that, I'll always have a soft spot in my reading heart for Mr. Vonnegut. His books cracked my head open to some pomo ideas that I still love to play with, and I don't think anyone else has delivered them in a manner quite so universal as Vonnegut. When I'm out at dinner tonight with Miss L and some of her pals I'll insist on a toast to one of the great writers and satirists of our age.

And for any who would deny his influence upon society, just pay a visit here.


Nano Update

I hadn't intended to be reading Mieville's collection Looking for Jake as inspiration reading while scrawling out my NanoWriMo entry, but it's kind of turned out that way. I'm really impressed with how he takes an unusual fear or psychosis and makes it reality in his fiction. Probably my favorite story thus far is "Different Skies". The man character is an elderly gent living in London. Teens are getting a bit wilder and the old timer is a bit afraid of them. He has a new window installed in his apartment; by day it's normal but at night one of the panes of glass looks not outside his own home but onto a dark, dirty alleyway. A gang of shadowy kids lurk there in the mysterious alleyway, taunting him with messages in chalk on the walls and tossing rocks at his window. Very odd, very distinctive and very creepy.

My own writing is going ok. As of now, I'm a little shy of 15k words. So I'm actually ahead of schedule for my own goal of 20k words. I'm pretty much ignoring everyone pushing so hard to 50k. Someone in the forum said it best when they said, "NanoWriMo isn't about competing with other writers. It's about competing with yourself and whatever goals you set." Approaching it that way, I feel pretty good about what I'm doing and what I'm writing. It's a big stinking mess at this point, but after everything's laid out I feel pretty sure I can straighten it up a bit after about a thousand edits.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Porgy and Bess

A good write-up at The Post for the free broadcast of Porgy and Bess the Washington Opera put together on the National Mall this past Sunday. Basically, they set up a large screen on the mall near the Hirshhorn Sculpture garden and did a live broadcast of their performance that afternoon at the Kennedy Center.

I myself was not able to attend. Sadly, I was working. My Mom, however, did go and I had the chance to "interview" her about her experience over dinner at the nearby Gordon Biersch restaurant. So with a blackened Mahi Mahi in front of me and some kind of stir fry in front of her, I asked my mom about the whole event.

Heb: So, how was it?

Heb's Mom: Right before it started they said they had an estimated turnout of 7000 people. But more kept coming as the screening continued.

Heb: Ok. So how was the music.

Heb's Mom: Oh, it was great. I've heard Porgy and Bess on albums before but I've never sat through an actual performance. Not even on television. Even though it was in English, they still used Supertitles. It really helped me keep up with the story. The sound system they used was great and whoever ran the cameras did a fabulous job shooting from different perspectives.

Heb: What kind of people came to the screening?

Heb's Mom: A mixture. Most were people were middle-aged or older. But a lot of families with small children. A number of people brought dogs. The dogs didn't seem to like it, though.

Heb: No?

Heb's Mom: Well, they would bark pretty loudly everytime one of the sopranos sang. One thing they really did well was have plenty of porta-potties set up. Some of the mroe uppity people looked at them like they were some kind of abomination, but everyone used them during intermission.

Heb: So will you go to more things by the Washington Opera?

Heb's Mom: I'll think about it. I already subscribe to two other things and the Washington Opera is a lot more expensive. Maybe if I drop one next year I'll start going.

So there you have it.

I'm sure Washington Opera hopes the free concert, which their own board apparently paid for, will increase interest in their performances. The only opera I've been to was a free dress rehearsal held a few years ago at Constitution Hall. But I'm afraid I have to agree with my mom on this one. Their bottom end seats run $45, and prices run all the way up to $290. A low level worker bee like me has to think twice when he sees a movie for $12, so even their low end seats are a stretch for a joe blow like me. Special events like these are great, because they expose people to opera who might not otherwise be able to drop $290 or even $45. So keep doing the freebies...people love them.


Stop Reading....

and go vote, you slacker!

There are important state-wide elections going on in most states in the U.S. today. Some states, like New Jersey and my own Virginia, are particularly vital because we are electing new governors and the races look like they will be close ones.

I stopped at my local polling station on my way to work today. Very sad to see only two people in line ahead of me, and both of them obviously part of the retired set. I know most people go after work, but still. If you haven't voted, leave work early, run out on your lunch break. If nothing else, you get a free sticker.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Fast Cars and Sweaty Guys in Jumpsuits=Hot Romance

Good reliable Harlequin Romances recently announced a new line of titles based on the still growing Nascar racing trend. The debut novel In the Groove by romance author Pamela Britton is slated to be released in January of 2006, right before the Daytona 500.

I never really caught Nascar fever. I went to undergrad in a pretty small town and I clearly remember my friends and I making fun of all the people who shopped in the Nascar store at the local mall. I didn't get it then, and I don't really get it now. But it's an undeniable phenomenon, and not surprising romance would take steps into the Nascar market.

I'm imagining romantic laisons committed on top of cars, in cars while they zoom around the track and perhaps even on those little flat platforms on wheels mechanics use to work under cars. I'm hoping for a retooled version of Ballard's Crash, but I doubt things will get that racy. More likely we'll have Fabio squezzed into a skintight jumpsuit, smelling of sweat oil and gasoline, flexing his fabulous pecs and gawking at an innumerable ammount of heaving bosoms.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Nanowrimo: Day 4

My progress so far has been pretty slow, writing a couple hundred words each day. Initially, I hand-write everything. Probably part of why I'm so slow.

I'm not exactly sure what happened, but this afternoon I started typing in what I had so far, expanding and editing a bit as I went along. Somehow I ended up with 4k words. Not sure how I did that. Placed alongside some very speedy writers out there dishing out 5-10k a day, it's not that impressive. But I'm quite pleased with the progress. At that rate, I'll hit around 20k or a little more. A number I'll be pretty happy with for a month's work. The trick will be to keep going after November.

The next chapter will probably be tougher. I now enter the actual fantasy world of my fantasy (there's some hopping back and forth between the "real" world and a fantasy world). I don't have the fantasy world as well thought out as I probably should, so I'll be relying pretty heavily on my inner critic shutting the hell up and the little kid in me letting loose with every weird detail he can muster up. I may be sidetracked here and there by odd real life things as well, but I hope not too much.

I plan on making coffee my best friend over the next few weeks. That's the only way I'll be able to keep up.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

That's Entertainment

Gaiman follows up the success of his modern-day, mythical fantasy American Gods with the equally mythical and darkly comic gem Anansi Boys. Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy leads a normal, ordinary, even boring existence. Strapped to a London office job he's less than thrilled with, his approaching wedding with his fiancĂ© Rosie is the only thing he has to look forward to in life. One day Charlie calls the U.S. to invite his estranged father to the wedding and finds out he just died. After jetting off to Florida for the funeral he not only discovers a brother he didn't know he had, he also learns his father is the West African trickster god known as Anansi. Charlie’s brother Spider, who possesses a wide array of magical powers almost equal Anansi’s, later visits poor Charlie in London and spins Charlie’s life out of control. Spider takes over Charlie’s life and gets him fired, sleeps with his fiancĂ©e and even gets him arrested for involvement in white collar crime Charlie had nothing to do with. When Spider refuses to leave Charlie decides to fight back by getting assistance from other gods, some of whom are not so fond of Anansi. And that's when the real trouble begins. The other gods lead the brothers into adventures that are at times scary, and others downright hysterical. At first Charlie is completely overwhelmed by this new world, but he is, in the end, Anansi's son and shows just as much flair for trickery as his brother.

With its quirky myths and inventive fantasy fans of Gaiman will be thrilled with AB. But Gaiman writes this time with a fuller sense of character. American Gods held such a large cast it sometimes got a little distracting. But here focusing on a smaller handful gives Gaiman the room to really breathe life into these amazing characters. His writing is also funnier, sillier and readable in that special way that looks so much easier than it really is.

The end result is fantasy that is funny, readable and extremely entertaining. I wondered sometimes, though, if just being entertaining is enough. Particularly now as I pen my own crappy submission for Nanowrimo, I wonder if we need to ask more of writers and more of ourselves when we write. Perhaps after grad school and reviewing various books for awhile it's hard for me to sit down and just plain enjoy a good read. But I can't help but feel that Gaiman is capable of just a little more in terms of a story that will really, really move his readers on a deeper emotional level. Don't get me wrong....he's earned his status as a popular and respected writer and I'd love to have his career. But if AB was a meal at my favorite eatery, I came away from the table still just the tiniest bit hungry.