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12.29.2013

Looking Back, Looking Ahead...

The vast majority of my reading in 2013 was non-fiction, and I read some great books. What follows here is a short list of stuff that I enjoyed and experienced last year, in addition to a couple of resolutions that I want to observe in 2014.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The Saturated Self, Orality and Literacy, Convergence Culture, Writing Space, and Alone Together were all excellent books. How Information Came of Age and The New Media Reader were also invaluable texts...

I enjoyed Katherine Tomlinson's Just Another Day in Paradise...

Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages really did something neat with "Wakulla Springs." Not just the best story I read in 2013, but one of the best stories I've ever read in my life...

Cap's on the Water never disappoints, and I had the best scored flounder there back in the spring. It was lightly fried in a rice flour batter and then topped with a peach and mango glaze. Dang, it was delicious...

I had my first eagle in Florida back in August. Stepped up on the first tee at Mill Cove and hit my drive 280. Punched a fairway medal onto the green to about twenty feet, pin high, then made the putt. It was with a Srixon golf ball my daughter gave me with an angry bird logo on it. I promptly lost that sucker in the pond two holes later...

I coached the Arlington YMCA Mustangs to a 4-4 record on the year. The team was a joy to work with, and the kids did a great job of taking coaching. I'm hoping the same group will get together again this spring...

Enjoyed the Players Championship again this year with Kris, even though I had to visit the ER a day before when I cut my foot open while kayaking. That was one nasty gash, but the skin knit up nicely and it hasn't given me any problems. Thank goodness I avoided the flesh-eating bacteria...

Argo was excellent--very engaging film. I also really liked The Conjuring. Just re-watched Prancer with my daughter on Christmas Eve. What an underrated Christmas movie. On the other end of the spectrum, I have no idea what Guillermo del Toro was thinking with Pacific Rim. I laughed the whole way through that film, and there wasn't a joke in that damned thing. I honestly think the actors were being serious with that crap. Thor: The Dark World was equally terrible, and I gave up on The Haunted Mesa. Talk about repetitive and, well, dull...

I had a nice time returning to the classroom at FSCJ, working with about 125 students. I will continue to tweak a few things in the materials I use and the approach to working on the writing process...


For 2014...

I resolve not to laugh at the kids up the street that always scrape their lowriders when they pull into their driveway...

I resolve to read more fiction and write more short stories...

More fish and wine in my diet...less steak and beer...

I resolve to keep a golf handicap, hit ten buckets of balls, and break eighty in back-to-back outings...

More sunscreen and longer runs...

More movies in the theater... 



12.24.2013

SURVIVAL

Survival
The weather outside may be frightful where you are, but be thankful that you don't have to survive a twenty-four-hour blood-drenched gauntlet for the right to become a father.

If you're looking for an exciting, plot-driven afternoon read for your holiday break, take a look at Survival, a dystopian novelette that can be purchased for under a buck for this week only!

As always, thanks very much for reading, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours! 

12.23.2013

The Gators of the Paynes Prairie Preserve

State wildlife biologists believe that the alligator population down at Paynes Praire Preserve State Park may in fact be cannibalistic. Recent droughts have led biologists to theorize that the large alligators fed on smaller alligators as food sources became scarce.

Paynes Praire Preserve really sounds like a place worth visiting. There is a population of American bison inside the park, an impressive wildlife observation deck, freshwater lake fishing, loads of gators, and ranger-led storytelling sessions on Saturday nights in the winter. 

I just finished a run through the JAX Arboretum, and I have to say that I'm actually excited that a cold front is coming in tonight. It's 81 right now, and we have the AC on as I write this. Last night, there were crickets chirping and lizards hopping around on the back patio. With temperatures plunging into the low thirties on Wednesday morning, it'll be a welcome changeup for Christmas Day...

12.22.2013

Come Out to the Coast!



The Silver Coast and Other Stories

If you're looking for a mixture of horror, dark fantasy, and apocalyptic storytelling, The Silver Coast and Other Stories is just $1.99 for the next two days. Pick it up for half off and enjoy some dark narratives this holiday season...

12.19.2013

Frozen



I saw fifteen films in the theater this year, and none was better than Frozen. It had likable characters, a couple of very good musical sequences, some stunning animation, some humor that appeals to parents and kids alike, and an excellent story. I would see this again today if I wasn't going to go check out the latest installment in Jackson's The Hobbit re-imagining. The best Disney film since Wall-E and Up, and much better than either of those, to be sure...

12.18.2013

Constructive Criticism



Barry Hinson just gave a great interview on Jay Mohr Sports. He apologized for calling his athletes out by name, but he wouldn't apologize for the rest of it, and I give him credit for his stance. In the interview with Mohr, he talks about a lack of accountability among his athletes, and an inability for them to take criticism. Every time he tries to correct a bad behavior, or introduce them to something new via analogies or stories, these young people roll their eyes at him. They're too apathetic to be bothered, according to Coach Hinson.

It was interesting to hear him talk about communication as well. He stated that he thought texting and e-mail communication has created an environment in which digital natives have a hard time dealing with confrontation. His point is that, when he has something to say, or an issue to contend, he just makes a phone call or schedules a meeting.

I can relate to his points, but I do think it was a mistake to single out an athlete on the air. After his rant went live on SportsCenter, one of his athletes let him have it on Twitter. He later deleted the tweet, but that's a good example of how difficult communication can be between the coach and his athletes in the digital era. Dashing off a quick tweet is just too immediate, and it doesn't take any formulation of an actual argument. It's merely reactionary, and it has zero rhetorical value at all when one just deletes it a few hours after pressing "send." 

I like Coach Hinson and I applaud him for his passion to compete and his implementation of tough standards. It's an important lesson for these coddled college students to learn--life is filled with challenging expectations and interpersonal conflict, and Coach Hinson is going the extra mile to help prepare these athletes to meet those challenges.

Oh, and as I write this, Coach Hinson is just killing it in terms of positive audience reaction. I think there is a real thirst in this country for the kind of tough correction methods that Coach Hinson is bringing to this SIU hoops squad. These are adults, not kids...they need to step up and accept criticism when they under perform, skip practice, and refuse to take coaching... 

12.14.2013

A Few Titles for the Holidays

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman, one of the more consistently excellent speculative writers out there, delivers another fine story in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A short novel filled with the kind of world-sucking menace that exists at the heart of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, the writing here is very keen, the narrator's voice endearing. There is love, wonder, magic, myth, and longing here; in short, this is a Gaiman story.


The Novellas
I love novellas, and I'm a new fan of the work of Kealan Patrick Burke. His writing is powerful--haunting and lyrical, with strong plotting and characterization. These stories will stick with you, and they are all above average. A novella represents a great way to kill an hour or two without committing to a story over a longer haul, which is perfect for a holiday afternoon. 
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Four

Ellen Datlow did a really nice job with this one. I've been quite surprised by the mixed reactions in many of the public forums that I've encountered with this one, as I found it consistently unsettling. There wasn't a tale in the bunch I thought undeserving, and there are a few (the tales by Barron, King, and Lanagan, to be sure) that are excellent. 


In Search Of and Others


One of my favorite books of the year, this is another collection with consistently excellent content--cover to cover. Will's writing shows tremendous insight into the human condition, and he has an innate ability to find the weird in the otherwise mundane.
Joyland
I have already blogged my review of this one, but I have to say it was my favorite King release in 2014. Don't get me wrong, Doctor Sleep is a good book. But this feels more like vintage Stephen King. There's a nostalgia about being young and in love that is just so authentic in this story, and it's another example of King's prowess in writing across generally acknowledged genre boundaries.

I expect to return to more reading (and writing, and blogging) in the speculative genres next year, as I am nearing completion of the coursework portion of my degree down at UCF. I'm hoping to get re-acquainted with a number of authors that I've missed out on reading, and whose work would ordinarily appear here in a much larger list...


12.11.2013

Seasonal Change


"I like it warm outside," she says. I'm speaking with my little girl, who absolutely can't stand the cold weather. 

"What if we lived on top of a mountain, high in the Cascade Mountains?" 

A shrug of the shoulders. "I still like it better warm. I don't like the cold weather at all. It makes me cry."

Her and the rest of the peninsula. I just took a jog at the Jacksonville Arboretum, and folks out hiking the trails were seriously bundled up.

And it's only about 55 degrees!

I played golf on Monday afternoon, up at Deerfield Lakes in Callahan. It's a beautiful course and the folks were nice. I haven't spent much time on Lem Turner Boulevard, but I could get used to life in that part of the world. The lots are huge, the traffic slow and easy. There was livestock all over the place, and a couple of country restaurants and feed stores. Very pastoral, and very nice...

But I got out on the course in 82-degree weather and actually had to question whether I had brought a sweatshirt with me. Fortunately, it never cooled down and I played a quick eighteen holes in stunning weather for December 09.

But now we're supposed to get some cooler weather, including frost warnings for some parts of the area, and it always feels nice to get that seasonal change in the climate. It's that great time of the year when the parking lots at Deerwood are empty because students are only taking finals, but the campus has that anxious energy because students are wrapping up final papers or cramming for exams. We're just a few days away from the conclusion of the term, and it's been a great term for me to become re-acquainted with teaching. 

I spent last year on sabbatical, working with students down at UCF in Orlando, and I didn't realize how much I missed working with our kids up here at FSCJ. The seven (!) groups I worked with throughout this term did great work and made real strides. Many are moving on to other institutions, some as early as next month, and I'm hopeful they're well prepared to excel at the next level.

I'm hoping to get back to the blog more frequently now that I will have some more time to devote to writing for pleasure. I have my final three courses in the T&T program coming up in the spring, and then it's a full slate of summer courses before taking my comprehensive exams at UCF. 

Time is really cranking by, so I'm looking forward to it slowing down over the next month as I spend time with Jeanne and Lyla--even in the frigid forties that December visits upon Northeast Florida! 


12.06.2013

Feeling Chilly?


Frozen is yours for less than a dollar, for a limited time. Pick up a copy and enjoy some serious crazy, way up there in the Colorado Rockies...