Strange Days!

I like to hit the golf course on Thursdays. When I turn fifty years old one day, I'd like to be a scratch golfer with a chance of playing on the Champions Tour.

Super pipe dream, but I shot a low score today on the back nine at Mill Cove...

Anyway, I went to my usual nineteenth hole (Mudville Grille) and I had to hit the can. I'm handling things when the fellow next to me says, "I read your book on vacation. I loved the stories. You have a lot of talent!"

He was talking about These Strange Worlds. He went on, while we were both using the urinals, to highlight his favorite stories ("Picture This," "The Graduate Student" and "Brinn's Mural").

I was flattered, for sure. And thankful. I offered to buy him a beer, but he said he'd get me one the next time he saw me.

I opened up my e-mail the other day to find some fan mail. From Maine! "Dust Country" and "The Graduate Student" scored big, and it was nice to get the feedback.

These are the reasons I hit the word processor. These are the reasons that I really enjoy the creative process.

It's just nice to tell stories that people enjoy...



Living in a Zoo...

One of the many reasons that I enjoy living in Jacksonville is its proximity to wildlife. I left the office yesterday and stepped into a beautiful afternoon. The temperature was in the low 90s, and the humidity was almost non-existent. That's a rarity in the South in late July, as most of our days here are just as hot and steamy as an afternoon at the dry cleaners.

I came home and found my girls, both of them enjoying their summer vacation, just home from the pool. They seem to live in swimming suits this time of the year, and they always smell like sunscreen. It's nice.

I wanted to take advantage of the day, so I had an early dinner and lit out for Blue Cypress, a local golf club that is just so typically Old Florida. Blue Cypress is a fairly easy track. The clubhouse is a double-wide trailer with a big screen television and a bunch of card tables. Thursday night is steak night, when they grill up New York strips on a huge outdoor grill for about forty golfers that know each other by name.

They always have a kind word for their patrons.

It's a nice little place. I picked up a couple of Pabst tallboys ($1.50) and went out for nine holes. During my round, I saw a gopher tortoise, a number of jumping bass and warmouths, a big ol' Florida hare, a couple of wood storks, a flock of cattle egrets, a few herons and, possibly, the fleeting immersion of an alligator in the pond off of the sixth green.

In recent years, we've had opportunities to leave Florida, but it's places like Blue Cypress that make me feel such a strong connection to this place. The truth is, whether its armadillos and bobcats and alligators or just the garden-variety reptile menagerie that lives on my back porch and in amongst the tomato bushes, living here is kind of like living in a nature preserve.

I remember a few years ago, Jeanne and I were hiking the Willow Pond trail at Fort Clinch.

"There have to be alligators all around here," I told her. "They're watching us. I know it."

"But where are they?" she replied.

I crouched, Steve Zissou-style, and waded into the brush. There, not four feet away, was a maneater (probably eight feet long) hiding in the brush. He had duckweed all over his snout and he watched us with those cold, unblinking eyes.

Jeez, I got out of there quick.

It's a neat thing, finding places that are still so primal. I know that a golf course, of all places, doesn't fit that bill, but it makes for interesting days nevertheless...


Ah, Shoot...

Borders, which declared bankruptcy back in January, will now liquidate assets in its last 400 stores. Layoffs will total in the thousands. Adding 10,000 workers back into our struggling economy is bad.

Shutting down another of the viable avenues for writers and readers to connect is also bad.

This paragraph really stands out in the article:

Publishers said with Borders gone, they would plan for smaller print runs and shipments. Employees at major publishing houses worried that layoffs could be imminent, as many companies have dedicated staff members that work only with Borders.

One of my friends back in Oregon used to work for Borders. At one time, the climate there in the store was pretty good: staff had some autonomy and control, and they worked hard to encourage writers to drop by and give readings and sign books. They did a lot of community outreach in Portland, a place that's crazy about books anyway, and the people there were receptive.

But the tides turned and Borders suffered from the same corporate malaise that seems typical of many floundering companies. My friend went on to greener pastures at a different bookstore.

It's a sad day for the world of letters. Here's to hoping Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble step up to fill the void left by the chains, and that our great independent shops see some business funneled their way as a result of this news.

Probably need to go hit the Bookmark, in Atlantic Beach tomorrow, just to pick up a title. If anyone has a suggestion for a quick beach read (dark speculative fiction, preferably), I'd love some tips...


Hide and Seek

Time Management

I admire a writer who sticks to a plan and doesn't make excuses.

In short, I admire those who do.

Too often, we justify away our reasons to be creative. We rationalize our decisions to do everything and anything but the thing we know in our hearts will be the most satisfying. I'm writing this for myself, more than for anyone that might read it, as a reminder to remain true to those activities, whether it's a long run in the heat of the day or a marathon session at the word processor.

And so for you, whether you're planting a garden or making a key lime pie or writing a poem or sitting at your desk, working out the best way to sell flood insurance to coastal farmers in Tillamook County, there is no time like the present...


What I've Been Watching...

Some thoughts on some stuff that's been clogging up the DVR, the DVD player and those darned synapses...

Battle Los Angeles (2011) let me down. A decent bit of good early exposition for Aaron Eckhart's Sgt. Nantz was squandered when paired with a series of brief, sterile glimpses at the rest of his platoon. It felt like Jonathon Liebesman might have wanted to tell a human story, but was pushed by his producers into more of the shooting and the explosions. The trailer showed some compelling footage of surfers on the swell, watching in awe as the mysterious meteors morphed into human-killing annihilation squads.

Unfortunately, that shot never made the final cut.

Instead, we are left with a series of inconsequential fighting scenes. No tension. No pathos. No real reason to care. A decent cast tries to spice things up, but even the normally good Michael Pena and Michelle Rodriguez can't breath life into their characters. They show up on screen and they run and say stuff.

The special effects were silly, the aliens themselves far less than menacing. This film was a D+ for poor execution, poor storytelling, and a lack of any compelling reason to care.

The special effects in Doghouse (2009), on the other hand, were pretty darned good for what must have been a scant budget. Just get a look at that grand dame below and tell me they cheated us on the good stuff!

This film left me entertained, despite a series of early stumbles. The set-up is good. A bunch of buddies convene in the creepy British town of Moodly (great name for the place, by the way) to help their friend get over a nasty divorce. The six (!) of them arrive after a long trip from London and the madness ensues from the get-go.

It turns out that a military experiment gone awry has turned every woman in the village into a murdering, man-hating cannibal. The gender bashing goes both ways, and it just drips off the screen, but never in a bad way. The film keeps its tongue firmly in cheek, and it makes for a fun viewing experience (B). Thank goodness for the IFC!

Director Jake West creates a highly stylized series of character introductions, complete with stop-action, lens filter, and text graphic, that seems out of place. It also, like many British films in recent years, seems to lean on the requisite jangly British score a little much early on, and then not at all in the second and third acts. That kind of imbalance just struck me as odd, but was a minor deal once the action started and the comedy kicked in.

These femmes are part zombie, part Tarantino gonzo character. The main cannibals all have a gimmick--the hair dresser and her scissors, the butcher and her cleaver, the newlywed and her bloody wedding dress. It's a fun take on the zombie/military trope, to be sure.

Get a sixer of Harps and give this one a look.

Falling Skies (2011) is a B-, thus far. The skitters aren't terrifically rendered, and the commercial breaks are awkwardly spaced. They stop any momentum this earnest series has dead in its tracks. Noah Wylie is good as Tom Mason. He does a fine job as the father trying to keep his family in tact in the aftermath of an alien invasion.

The threat of real danger in this show, that sense of dread or tension, is what's missing. It would definitely benefit from less running and more conflict. Still, it's been a fun summer diversion and I'll try to keep up with it...


On The Little Mermaid...

My two-year-old daughter is crazy about mermaids (she calls them merdades, and it's been established around here that they are not to be eaten!), and we've been watching a lot of The Little Mermaid and The Little Mermaid II. I think, because I can't get the damned songs out of my head and I know every aspect of both storyboards, I'm qualified to offer the following observations:
  • King Triton has a sea witch problem. Over and over again, these sea witches are messing with the man. If I'm in his kingdom, I consider the idea of doing a recall on his position of leadership. The man simply can't control these sea witches!
  • Sebastian is no kind of a reliable caretaker. After he completely lost control of Ariel in the first movie, how could that same lady trust her daughter in the sequel to the care of a six-ounce crab?
  • Scuttle kicks ass.
  • That deleted scene where the fishermen roast a merperson on the beach while dancing to the sounds of a deejay and drinking Corona is inappropriate for toddlers.


Tron Legacy

I had low expectations for Tron: Legacy (2010), so I was very happily surprised when I found the film to be both a strong bit of visual storytelling and a wholly engaging entertainment. It's a darker film, both in mise-en-scene and in plot, with its muted blacks and blues and its central saw of Clu building a mindless army of cyber drones to take over the world. Kudos to Disney for doing a good job with a sequel that, twenty-eight years down the road, did justice to a 1982 original that was so much fun when it was first released.

Jeff Bridges is so danged good in just about everything he does. The same holds true in this story. He plays a few roles here, with the help of digital enhancements to show age differences, and he does a fine job in carrying them out.

Garrett Hedlund was really good as Sam Flynn. He shows passion when he needs to and he always comes across as believable. He also makes the fight scenes fun, bringing athleticism to his performance.

I was wondering when Olivia Wilde would break into films in a major way, and her portrayal of Quorra here certainly shows she can do it with style. Her IMDB profile shows a lot of work coming down the pipeline, which is good. She's been excellent on FOX's House series, and I'm excited to see where this second career takes her.

The score, done by Daft Punk, was nominated for an Oscar. It deserved it, fitting the digital universe of this film really well. I loved the ambush sequence in Castor's nightclub, and the faceless deejays spinning (what else?) electronica up there in the booth.

The visuals are stunning, the stadium of "GAMES" really nicely rendered. I give this film a B+. I know it hung around theaters for only about a month last year and most mainstream critics panned it, but it's fun and it's true to the original film in style and substance (which is to say that both are unabashedly far-fetched sci-fi yarns; Roger Ebert really struggled with the logistics of the film, but I think he was looking too far into it).

The original was a cult classic that failed to attract a large audience. The same holds true for this film, although it's well worth your time and attention. Recommended...


What Will Become of the Oregon Ducks?

LaMichael James is fast, but he and the Oregon Ducks are going to find it difficult to run away from the NCAA after this damning interview given by "recruiting guru" and all-around slimy character Willie Lyles.

Friday's revelations fly directly in the face of comments he made as recently as two months ago here.

The anti-Oregon sentiment has been ratcheted up, full throttle, back home and throughout PAC-12 country. The Ducks have had a great degree of success since the early 1990s. That, coupled with their lavish facilities and uber-booster financial backing by Phil Knight, have created some sore feelings by rivals in the conference.

After Coach Chip Kelly's amazing success in years one and two, many of these critics are elated to see Oregon's current misfortunes playing out in the national spotlight.

For what it's worth, I think Oregon will receive some minor penalties in this whole situation. The NCAA has some loopholes in its current guidelines, and the Lyles case above will come down to assessing whether or not he is a booster. Andy Staples outlines his thoughts here and, even in light of yesterday's Yahoo interview, I think this still holds true:

Because while the NCAA may have a mountain of circumstantial evidence that the payment had something to do with the recruitment of Temple, Texas, tailback Lache Seastrunk, investigators will have a difficult time proving Oregon's staff is guilty of anything other than being a lousy bunch of consumers. At best, the NCAA could ding Oregon with a ticky-tack violation of one of the January 2010 additions to the bylaw governing scouting services that requires services to provide information quarterly.

If someone's story changes, however, then that person could be veering into Bruce Pearl/Jim Tressel territory. That is Oregon's greatest challenge right now. The athletic department must explain this transaction in a plausible way, and everyone's stories must match up.

Expect John Canzano and a number of others critical of the Ducks' football operations to call for Kelly's resignation. I hope that doesn't happen. I hope that Oregon can clean this mess up and get on with preparing for the season because, sanctions or not, we just have about two months until it's time to play LSU in Dallas. I like and respect Coach Kelly, and I take him at his word when he calls this a "bad business deal."

But c'mon, Oregon!

Run a clean program. Play hard. Go to school. Respect others. Play with class.

That's what I ask of you. That's what I used to think Oregon was doing. That's what I hope we'll be sure to do moving forward.

But in the meantime? Man, it sure is hard to defend our football program right now with all of the things being written...

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...