3.28.2011

Gone Fishin'

All of the college's online services (Artemis, Blackboard, campus e-mail) are down for maintenance. If you sent an e-mail to my campus mailbox, I'll be back in touch in one week. In order for Jeanne and I to properly get in the mood for the spring break, we are going to take a look at the venerable Piranha 3D (2010) tonight. I've heard it's kind of a cross between The Pianist and The English Patient.

3.24.2011

Balance in the Universe

Duke and Arizona are playing hoops in March Madness. That, my friends, is excellent!

Edited: That thing you see bleeding over there in the corner is my bracket. Dang it, Duke, one of these years I'm going to wise up and not pick you to win it all! Too much blue blood out there on the court when Derek Williams is going manchild...

3.22.2011

Tipping Points in Publishing

Before Joe Konrath became the patron saint of quality independent publishing, he was the grinder of all grinders. Joe was the hustler of all hustlers, doing thousands of talks and conventions and interviews and book tours to support his many titles.

And he never busted through with the legacy publishers the way he's busted through by putting his books out there in all kinds of different formats (he still sells paper books pretty briskly through CreateSpace).

He's an excellent writer--a wordsmith who cranks out compelling horror stories and thrillers with the best of them. The writing has never been an issue.

I've been reading his stuff for a long time, and he deserves all the good things he's made happen for himself.

His blog is both hilarious and informative, and maybe none of his posts exemplify that combination better than this long and rambling and excellent interview with Barry Eisler. Mr. Eisler turned down a $500,000 offer from a legacy publisher to maintain the rights to his next book.

$500,000. No typo.

$500,000.

Drop by and read this, and then go back through Joe's archives. You might want to grab a couple of cold'uns and pull up a chair. Lots of interesting stuff in that particular post...

3.21.2011

Childhood Chillers

The passage of time has a way of amplifying the emotions of youth. It seems to either make everything sentimental or nostalgic or, in some cases, bizarrely hyperbolic or dramatic. I think I'd like to read John Bellairs's The House with a Clock in its Walls again just to see how it measures up.

I read that sucker in an afternoon back when I was a youngster. It scared me to death, but I also remember as I was reading it that the writing was top notch. It was a book that stuck with me for a lot of years. I read almost everything Bellairs wrote, but nothing was ever quite as resonant as that text.

I was similarly bewitched by an innocent little Disney movie called The Watcher in the Woods. I distinctly recall laying out the pillows and blankets and settling in for a movie on the living room floor with my older sister. We were both dead still and quiet while that little beauty unfolded on screen. A few times I wanted to crawl up on the couch with my folks. It's a suspenseful little booger, a film in which the tension just builds toward the third act. Then, in the story's conclusion, it's not at all what you think it is.

That scene where Bette Davis's Mrs. Aylwood is trying to free Jan from the branches in the water?

Chilling.

These were two creative works that really got under my skin when I was a kid; it will be interesting to see how they stack up all these years later, when I encounter them again with my daughter...

3.16.2011

Remarkable Photo...


The extent of the damage in Japan is just staggering. My thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese...

3.15.2011

By Your Side

I reserve judgment on this woman's decision to leave her children. It's absolutely not my place to comment (and the vitriol in the article's comments is pretty disgusting).

It's true that the familial dynamic has been changing for at least sixty years in this country, and I certainly understand the conundrum presented by the opportunity to write an important book.

But this video pretty much speaks to how I feel about my wife. It's a sad reality that Rahna Reiko Rizzuto's marriage dissolved, but her article reads like she was just waiting for the optimal moment to hit the ejection button.

3.14.2011

The Paper Menagerie

The March/April issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction features a nice blend of content and style. I like my speculative fiction darker--I also like mundane spec. fic.--and this issue has more of both than what I read in the digest's last installment.

Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie" blew me away as I read it last night. It's a story of personal and cultural identity, the connection between a mother and a son, and the subtle influences of the fantastic in our daily lives.

Liu's prose is handsomely crafted. Simple, concise sentences effectively communicate our first-person narrator's increasing detachment from his mother and his heritage. At first the voice is endearing, as the young son of an immigrant basks in the love and gifts of his mother. And then it becomes a narrative burr, as the boy grows distant from his mother in his quest to become "American." We never grow to dislike him, but we do resent his indifference toward his mother in the third act. This indifference makes the final sentences all the more affecting, however.

Mom is a wonderfully rendered character. Her preternatural abilities are remarkable, but not as remarkable as the tale of her perseverance through a hard childhood and her subsequent journey to America. Her love for her son is palpable, and the letter she leaves him, to be read during Qingming, the Chinese festival of the dead, drives the nature of that love home in the story's gut-wrenching third act.

Why won't you talk to me, son? The pain makes it hard to write.

The story is satisfyingly emotional without wallowing in the syrup of sentiment. It spices its human core with the supernatural, rather than relying on speculative parlor tricks. Indeed, part of the story's success is the narrator's unabashed acceptance of his mother's gifts. This acceptance is as staunch a proof of the genetic inheritance of our ancestors as is the narrator's first mumbled words "...in Chinese that had the same accent as my mother and me."

And for such a sad story, the piece ends in a remarkably hopeful fashion. It's an expertly told tale--economical and affecting.

I read a lot of short fiction, and this is the best story I've encountered so far in 2011...

3.13.2011

Kissimmee

Central Florida, the only part of the state where I haven't spent a decent amount of time, is really nice. You can tell the land is a long tranitional zone between two ecosystems--the hardwood canopy of North Florida and the Everglades swamps of South Florida.

We had a great day at the ballpark yesterday. There was, unfortunately, a wicked line drive that hit a fan and halted the game for thirty minutes while emergency personnel attended to her. We certainly hope everything is okay with the woman who was injured--it was pretty frightening to see.

We had dogs and lemonade and popcorn. I brought the old glove out, but didn't snag any foul balls. The stadium is really fan-friendly and both teams were signing autographs before the game. The grapefruit league is neat--affordable and accessible. It's almost like the players forget they're in the big leagues for a month.

I met a member of the Astros front office and came away really impressed. He and I sat far down the third-base line and chatted about baseball and our families. The Astros made a fan of me (although it was nice to see my Orioles take home the win--the Birds looked good!), to be sure.

We visited historic St. Cloud and Lake Helen, a pair of beautiful Florida villages that just oozed charm. Orlando was easy to navigate and clean; I imagine Disney has a large say in ensuring that the city sparkles when folks pass through.

All in all it was a nice one-day trip. I think we'll look at maybe hitting a few more games during spring break at the end of the month. Anyone out there thinking about looking to relocate to Central Florida should take a visit. Very nice part of the country...

3.11.2011

Quid Pro Quo?

I'm late to the table in reading Robert Smartwood's fiction and his blog, but I think both are quite good. In this post, Smartwood outlines his thoughts on the tit-for-tat that goes on in the world of publishing and e-book promotion.

I've seen a bit of this, and I'm not a fan. Honestly, if I write nice things about your fiction, it's because I like the writing. I am not fishing for an "attaboy" and I don't want face time on your blog. I don't spend much time on message boards, and I loathe the idea of going onto facebook and myspace and twitter. My time is finite, and I already get sucked into participating in too much online crap already.

I've carved out this tiny corner of cyberspace to write about current events, speculative storytelling, family observations and teaching. I catalog stories that I use in class. I actually thought about nuking the blog about a month ago, but then I read some of my old posts about my family and I just can't let those go.

It's the only place online that I cultivate, and on a good day my stats show about fifty pageloads. I'm not setting the world on fire with An Autumn Harvest (in my best month, I sold about forty copies of that shortish novel), and I don't want to do the things that many say are necessary to put a spike in those figures.

I don't think I'm lazy--I just don't value much of that blog hopping as a useful expenditure of my time. I like to run and write and cook and work with my students and spend time with my family. Those aren't things that are done online (except for my Blackboard responsibilities, of course), thank goodness.

To sum this up, nobody owes me anything. I'm not in debt to anyone else. I appreciate those that drop by here from time to time (hi Mom!), for sure. But, as Smartwood concludes, writers write. The rest of it often gets in the way of that...

In unrelated news, I'm giddy for the Orioles game down in Kissimmee tomorrow! I'm taking Lyla for her first baseball glove later tonight. The only downer is ticketmaster (I refuse to do them the courtesy of capitalization). Those suckers charged $4.25 per ticket as a convenience charge to pick up tickets at will-call.

At will-call!

The only convenience is for their profitability. Boo, Astros, for partnering with such a nefarious company. Then they had the nerve to cahrge me an additional $4.10 for processing. I hate those suckers, and I don't use the operative term there lightly...

3.10.2011

Not for Me...

In the dreary golf-parenting business today, there's no couple like Scott and Judy Thompson of Coral Springs, Fla. Their oldest, Nicholas, 28, is a tour pro with a homemade swing and more than $3 million in earnings. Curtis, 18, is a freshman at LSU on a full-ride golf scholarship. Lexi, 16, turned pro last June and the next month finished second in the Evian Masters, earning nearly $250,000. The kids inherited the golf gene from Judy, who played junior golf in South Florida in the 1970s. It was Scott who gave them their edge.

I was a little put off by
"Titanic Thompsons." It's pretty clear that these people have turned their children into golf monsters. Sure, perhaps it would have been their destiny without all their parents' influence. Maybe they love golf that much.

But I'll tell you this: no way for my kids. I'll encourage them in whatever they want to do, but one thing I'll always admire about my own folks is how they were supportive throughout my life without dictating my future.

There's a telling paragraph near the conclusion of the story:

"If the LPGA goes out of business, I'll bulk her up, get her to hit it 320 and have her start playing the men," Scott said the other day. He was joking.

Not so sure about that, buddy. When you read stories like this, it perhaps sheds a bit more light on sad stories like this one, about Erica Blasberg...

3.09.2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Based on a 1954 Philip K. Dick story called "Adjustment Team," George Rolfi's The Adjustment Bureau (2011) is an uneven effort that, ultimately, adds up to little more than an engaging afternoon entertainment. It attempts to wrestle with some interesting metaphysical subjects--namely the influence of chance on human development (and identity) and the fallacy of free will.

Rolfi wrote the screenplay and directed the film. He's a bit better at creating an enjoyable pace for the film than executing a crisp expository narrative. In places, the backstory is just so much information dumping that it becomes a distraction. If David Norris (Matt Damon in a strong performance) is really the man the film depicts him to be in the opening ten minutes, then why not allow him to discover for himself how manipulative this shadow agency is at creating our reality? I think the film's weakest segment, its second act, would have been much better for a bit more of Norris in the wilds (so to speak) of Bureau protocol.

Rolfi jumps ahead three years just like that, and the story's best moments, the onscreen chemistry between Emily Blunt's Elise and Norris, are nullified by the lost time. Are you telling me this up-and-coming politician couldn't marshal his considerable resources to locate her? And his silence throughout that time is utterly absolute? I would have liked a bit more in the interim here, as the pulse-pounding conclusion of the film would have made more sense if Norris had vigorously challenged what he "knew." That was his character, after all.

It's a love story, made compelling and entertaining by the delightful chemistry shared between Damon and Blunt. Damon does a lot of that half-moon upside down smile of his; Blunt can bat those eyes with the best of them. They are undeniably charismatic together on camera. The kiss they share on the rooftop in the final act is simply wonderful: a circular shot of them together as forces beyond their control converge. If only we could stay stong together in this moment, then we'll be safe, that shot says.

Good stuff.

The soundtrack/score complements the action nicely and, as I said above, the film moves pretty well. I had a minor quibble with Anthony Mackie's performance as Harry Mitchell: he seemed lethargic in such an integral role. Terence Stamp was delightfully ominous as Thompson.

At its core, this is a classic test of virtue: love or power? For a film that asks such an important question, and with such great central performances at its heart, it's too bad that the rest of it falls just a bit short. B/B- overall...

3.07.2011

Angry Robot Books

Angry Robot is reading unsolicited submissions throughout March. If you've written a speculative novel and you have a snappy query letter, it's worth the time to put together a submission package...

3.05.2011

To-do list!

I've found that I get more accomplished when I make a list of stuff that needs to get done. There's a busy week coming up:
  • Go fishing;
  • Catch some fish;
  • Try to kayak around Mill Cove and catch some fish;
  • Hook a big fish;
  • Maybe do some fishing;
  • Eat some grilled shrimp.

3.04.2011

Sports...

Walked off the golf course yesterday (shot a 96) and dropped in for a pint of beer at my local watering hole. Holy cow but there was a ballgame on! I watched the Braves (the Chicago Cubs of the South) win in the bottom of the night against Detroit (the Chicago Cubs of the American League). Man, I love baseball. We're heading down to Kissimmee a week from today to watch my Orioles play the Astros. With the additions of Vlad Guerrero and Derek Lee, I like our offense this year. Thing is, if we want a winning season for the first time in thirteen years, we need our bullpen to show up.

I'm sad to see Mike Sims-Walker go, but the fact is that he dropped too many catchable passes. He flashed here at times, but the inconsistency was too much to overcome. He'd have a catch, then get shut out, then have nine for 153 and two touchdowns. This team hasn't ever been able to replace Jimmy Smith (who is a nice guy--I spoke with him a few times back when I exercised at GloboGym) and Keenan McCardell, and the search, it would seem, continues...

The reports on Oregon aren't pretty, but I'm not shook up about Coach Kelly and the integrity of the program. Recruiting is shady. The NCAA is shady. The whole system seems out of whack. As long as Oregon is operating within the guidelines (again--rules of a shady game made by a shady organization) then I'm fine with it. In Chip we trust...

And finally, congratulations to the UNF men's hoops team. I listened to their win against JU yesterday on the course, and it was our elation for those guys to finally get over the hump (JU whipped up on them 12/13 times before the UNF win)!

Some Roads are Just Closed

Years ago, my wife and my best friend and I piled into my old Nissan and decided to see the American West. Oregon-California-Nevada-Arizona-Utah-Idaho and back home again. Ten days, a little bit of sunshine and some good friends.

Crescent City, San Francisco, Las Vegas--we hit some great spots. I'll never forget cresting the Sierra Nevadas and coasting down an 8% grade clear into Death Valley, about twenty-four inches from certain death off the right side of that car.

If you're a longhaul trucker and that's your route? You deserve a raise, friend.

Anyway, a few days into our trip we were trying to get into Vegas. Kris, our backseat navigator, found a great route just south of Lake Tahoe. The map said the road would be open after March 1. It was well after March 1.

Guess what?

That road was fucking closed.

We arrived just after dark. Tahoe shined in the distance and there was a metal gate with a padlock and a sign on it, and the road had a glacier on it. I swear, there was ten feet of snow on that road.

It was a bit more than the Sentra could handle.

I was righteously pissed.

"That map said it would be open! Rand McNally's full of shit, man!"

"Look at all that snow! Some roads are just closed!" my wife and my buddy said.

I fumed and we re-routed and drove five extra hours out of our way. Nine times I wanted to stop in the little tumbleweed towns and Norman-Bates-style motels to crash for the night, but Jeanne and Kris said we had to keep our schedule.

I drove and they laughed about it, and eventually I did too. We coasted into Bishop and found some kamikazes and an all-night diner (where we were pretty sure we were going to be eaten--the premise of one of my early short stories, "Dinner at Shorty's") and had one of those glorious, gut-busting moments at the table that we still laugh about when we get together here in Florida every May.

I can't hear the phrase "hog and jog" to this day without snickering.

Anyway, my point here is that the trip was much better for the improvisation. I'll never forget that night in Bishop, and I doubt I would have remembered it as fondly if we'd taken an easier route.

Life is filled with delightful detours, and some roads are just closed.

The trick is to be thankful for the ones that are open--and to be thankful for your fellow travelers.

On Fridays, my road often brings me to Dunkin Donuts. My companion is Lyla--a light and a blessing in our lives. She goes to her favorite chair and we get messy together over crullers and chocolate milk. It probably doesn't sound like much of a road to some, but it's the best I'll ever travel.

And it's easy, sometimes, to overlook that. I probably never say it enough, but I couldn't be more thankful for the roads that have delivered me to the place I am today.

Uncovering Original Ideas

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope....