Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ode to the Two-Day Work Week

Tyr's heart was heavy one blustery day
for he had no source of merriment
the judge had ordered the war god pay
for six weeks of anger management.

Ever and always for battle he lusted
yet this was the world of well-fed
so lately his bow and sword, they had rusted,
all warriors he'd long since struck dead.

As he passed by a stall a voice cried out
a sound both ancient and clear
belonging to lips set in a full pout
and Tyr begrudgingly drew near.

Frijjo was spinning stories of lust
that she sold from her stall on the street
for the love-goddess knew that she must
pay the company to keep on her heat.

Tyr was awkward around her sex
for in ancient times they knew not war.
Women had always been able to perplex,
the war-god knew not what they were for.

"I see you also have had a bad fate,"
the woman said from her stall.
"The world is old and the hour is late,
and we no longer hold these people in thrall.

"The men battle pushing buttons in chairs
the genders stand in equality.
A god can succeed only if she dares
to sell her likeness for a royalty. "

"Times are hard all around," said Tyr,
"and I can't fault you for trying
but I cannot drown my sorrows in beer
and I produce nothing worth buying."

"My living is modest I will admit
and it's hardly a noble vocation
but I'm looking for help if you will submit
a valid employment application."

Tyr had no better idea that day
so he set down his sword and shield
and began to work for minimum pay
in a dead-end, hard-labor field.

But when Tyr does Frijjo's tasks
the week is almost through.
In that knowledge this poet can bask.
So a very Merry Christmas to you!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Meme: Giving and Getting Books

Penguin asked a bunch of their authors what books they're giving and what books they'd like to get this holiday season. Someone turned it into a meme. Someone tagged me. Soooooo, here we go. First, some initial rules:

1. Post a link to the original list from the Penguin Group.
2. Tell us what books you're planning (or would like to) give this holiday season.
3. Tell us what books you'd like to receive this holiday season.
4. Tag others, if you so choose.


House of Leaves

Everyone should read this book. Not just fans of horror or of experimental fiction, but everyone. It should be handed out to literate people like candy to kids at Halloween. If I'm ever a millionaire, maybe I'll give this book out to people at Halloween instead of candy.


One of the classics of science fiction, this book changed the way I looked at the world, government, people, religion ... if ever there was a life-changing tome, this would be it for me. I always suggest it to friends, but aside from Tony, nobody I regularly talk to ever actually read it.


Postsecret is an ongoing art project that almost everyone already knows about. If you don't, go HERE and see what all the fuss is about. The site has a new batch every Sunday, but the older ones go offline. When looking through these printed archives, the amount of sharing and honesty and beauty and fear and everything else is ... very impressive. It's worth seeing and experiencing.



I really really really want to read these. Everything I've heard has made me want to read it more and more. But ... well, I'm not going to spend the money on them. They're expensive and there are a lot of them. The perfect gift is something I would never buy for myself, but want. This is the pristine example.

Only Revolutions

By the same man who wrote House of Leaves. I'm not sure why I haven't picked this up, but I'm pretty sure whoever was so kind as to get it for me would become my new favorite person.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

This is kind of an odd-ball on the list. It's a nonfiction book about decision making and how our minds are influenced by an infinite variety of stimulus that we aren't even consciously aware of. I don't normally read nonfiction, but I read an article about the author in Esquire and wanted it ever since. I would have bought it, but for now it's only in hardback and as a rule I don't buy any book in hardback if I can help it.

And that's it. Short, but I haven't been in a reading mood these past few months and so it's hard to get particularly engaged in this meme. I think the only person I'll tag for this one is Morgetron, who will have to get off her bum and blog for once.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In Where Matt Unloads About NaNo and Not Writing

So I finished NaNo. This was despite blowing out my hands (I have chronic hand/wrist problems) by week two and running out of steam. I crossed a joyless, difficult 50k that made me question my choice of artistic endeavor. It was the worst of times, it was the worster of times.

But I did finish, and this year saw a pretty impressively high failure rate. I'm frustrated that I was so far from my own goal, but my own goal was obviously well beyond my abilities. But at the same time, I suppose I have to put up with it and be happy that I actually succeeded in writing 50k in a month. That is, of course, no small feat.

So I have a novel that's half finished. And thanksgiving break thankfully allowed me the down time necessary to become physically capable of typing properly again.

One of the major themes of my novel is my main character dealing with the mortality of her father. Which just came as a natural extension of the story, not due to me being particularly enamored by that particular aspect.

On Sunday, either through twisted serendipity or karmic irony, my father had what appears (at this time) to be a mini-stroke. He's mostly okay, it seems, though he sometimes have trouble speaking. I'm not quite sure the extent of the damage yet. We'll find out later this week.

So ... I don't know. It hit rather close to home, and sapped all of my enthusiasm for the project. I'm dealing with similar things in real life, and they're taking up most of my time and energy with concern and trying to coordinate everything. When my creative life and my real life overlap so strongly, I just can't muster the energy to throw myself at the problem at an entertaining way.

So I'm not writing. And right now I have no intentions of writing. Not on my novel, anyway. And maybe not on much of anything. I'm mentally stretched very thin, and by the time I get everything squared away each day all I'm concerned with is sitting there until I get sleepy with a minimum of fuss.

That said, I'll try to focus on the blog. I have two-ish weeks of Movie Roundup to do, a few features I have to write, a short story I promised Sarah for her birthday (which was a few weeks ago) and the one year anniversary of the blog to celebrate (don't get excited, it passed last week without notice).

So we'll see. I'll try, but no promises. Which is the best I can do until everything settles down a bit. Unfortunately, the real victim here is ITMeat, which might end up being shelved for a few months until it doesn't make me more than a little unsettled to even think about it.

First things first, though. Lunch!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Movie Rundown

I've been mostly playing Fallout 3 and NaNo has snuck up on me for the past three days, so my movie watching has been--in a word--dismal. However, I did go to the movies on Friday, and saw a movie! So that's a plus.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno [ **** ] I assume everyone knows the plot of this one. Boy and girl are just friends, but need cash so decide to make a porn film. Wacky hijinks ensue, and they realize they have feelings for one another. Now, you either like Kevin Smith films or hate them. I haven't seen many of them, but I think I fall on the 'like' side. The film hits almost every note of the most generic romantic comedy, but managed through raunch and clever casting to transcend (or epitomise in the best way) its genre trappings. It was funny, it was cute, and it was heartwarming. Also, mad props for giving Craig Robinson (Darryl from The Office) a great chance to shine.

Anyway, I'm balls deep in NaNo at this point, having pounded out 10k over the weekend. You can chart my progress over on the right, though I'm not sure I'll be updating the word count bar more than every week. Twitter will have my daily successes, though.

And now back to writing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seven Things Meme

Thanks, Sarah. Thanks a lot. Here I am, going about my business, and I get slapped with a meme. Not just any meme, though, but the annoying "Seven Facts You Rubes Might Not Know About My Awesome Self" meme. I know it's just a general "This Is Me Trying Hard to be Interesting" meme, but I'd rather skew it towards the person who stuck it to me being evil.

But yes, I am now the recipient of this. And I've got to endevour to provide you all with seven interesting bits about my life. Oh joy and rapture. <_< style="font-weight: bold;">Listing 7 Things That Aren't Interesting, But We'll Play Pretend

1. I was raised Lutheran, though you can't tell. For a while, I wanted to go into religion and be a Reverend or whatever they're called these days. While this might seem laughable to anyone who knows me, I don't think it's entirely out of character. And technically, I am an ordained minister. Just not with any denominational sect of Christianity.

2. I can pop my thumbs out of joint. It amazes drunks and grosses out random passers-by! It's my only random body trick, I'm afraid. Aside from that prehensile tongue trick, but that's not something I discuss in mixed company. ;)

3. I have a Mime Jr. on my keychain. Mime Jr. looks like THIS. No, I have no shame. Yes, it's adorable. Though most of the paint's faded off of it now.

4. I'm allergic to cats, but I do love them. Any time I see a cat (affectionate ones, of course) I pet them and then snuggle with them. Yes, my eyes water and get puffy and I start sneezing up a storm, but I never regret it.

5. I not-so-secretly harbor eventual aspirations to hold some sort of public office, but I'm pretty sure that my views would render me immediately ineligible. Though, if I became a working writer, it would be possible work in something like state senator without too much trouble.

6. If I had the physical aptitude for any sort of athletic activity, it would have to be free running.

7. Most of my friends already know this, but I'm terrified of mirrors. And I follow the Horror Rules of Mirrors, including things like Never Look in the Same Mirror Twice, Always Look a Mirror Square in the Face, Never Look at a Swinging Mirror, and Never Look at a Mirror in Changing Light.

7.5 (because I wanna): This is my wallet.

So yeah, there's a bunch of random stuff about me. I'm supposed to tag people, but I love letting these things die. If you read this and haven't done it, feel free to do it. But I'm not going to throw obligations at anyway, since I already had to be guilt tripped into doing this.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And now I bring you--NaNo 2008!

So we're days away from the beginning of NaNoWriMo 2008. If you haven't signed up, do so now! I think anyone would benefit from the exercise, even if you don't succeed. I have another post about NaNo, which you can read HERE and feel free to go ahead and sign up. Trust me, it's awesome.

A few days out, and my idea is mostly ready to go. So I feel compelled to share it now. So, stay with me, and we'll reveal the first bits of my newest novel (and if you talk to me, you probably know all this already)!

The Inevitable Tragedy of Being Meat

Amanda (that's Mandy to her friends and business associates) is a doctor. Though, not the usual sawbones. In fact, it might or might not be true that she never made it all the way through medical school. She's coy on the subject. But it doesn't matter, because she's found a way to make big bucks in the medical field--off the books procedures. Discreet heart surgery for politicians, pulling bullets out of mobsters, and performing the odd back alley abortion or two.

But to her, it's just the family business. Her father was in the same kind of work, the official doctor of the mob back when the mob still had power. But now he's retired and she's taken up the family practice, motoring around the country to wherever she's called to do her work and help heal those who can't help themselves. Noble work, really.

Great on the bank account.

But now she's called back home to Colston City. Her father is dying. One more job, the remnants of the mobs begged. One more job. Yet the shabby remnants of once-proud organizations couldn't keep a lid on things like they used to. One police raid later, and he's holed up in his home suffering massive organ failure from injuries sustained. And while he might be safe in his sanctuary, he's a wanted man in three countries and there's no way he's going to check into a hospital.

Now little Mandy is left to scour the streets of Colston City for the parts her father needs. But the police are determined to find her father and are hot on her trail. The mob is ready to cover the whole thing up with bullets and cement.

And Colston City already has a resident back street doctor--a madman who doesn't take too kindly to Mandy's efforts to strike out into the city with an open door and a quick scalpel. Without options and with dwindling time, Mandy has to find someone who matches her father.

The hippocratic oath might say to Do No Harm, but blood runs thicker than bactine and the clock is ticking.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Excuses, excuses.

I would put up a movie rundown for this week, but I actually didn't ... watch any movies. I can't remember the last time that happened. Oh well. I'm in NaNo mode, and November 1st is days away, so I expect that my netflix movies are going to spoil on my desk before I get to them. Expect a decided lack (because I'm busy) or glut (because I'm a procrastinator or workaholic) coming in the next few weeks.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Movie Rundown - Oct 13 to Oct 20

well, here we are, second installment

  • Surf's Up [****] I'm not typically a fan of the generic animal coming of age stories, but this one was pulled out of mediocrity by the conceit that the whole story of the young surfer was told as a documentary. Also, Jeff Bridges being The Dude again. Not to mention some absolutely gorgeous water CG, and all in all it's certainly a solid animated outing.
  • The Nomi Song [***] A documentary about the rise and fall of Klaus Nomi, an opera singer and avant garde performer from the late seventies and early 80s. I have to admit, I had never heard of him before I randomly saw the trailer on apple last year, and was enchanted. When I stumbled across the film on netflix, I leapt at it. The film itself is good, but I find it hard to rate documentaries about a person. What can I say? It is what it is. Plusses for PLENTY of footage of him, and his epic performances.
  • The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai [*****] Full review can be found HERE.
  • No Country for Old Men [****] This was the last Coen Brothers film I had to see, and I had been putting it off because I honestly haven't been much of a fan of their more serious work. Thankfully, some beautiful cinematography and brilliant performances won out over their somewhat ponderous pacing. That said, I absolutely hated the ending. I was almost tempted to give it three stars, but ... four it is.
  • District B-13 [***] A French film set in a dystopian 2010, where a section of the city, B-13, is walled off into a war zone run by a gang lord. When he gets his hands on a nuclear weapon, it's up to a cop and a man seeking vengeance to bring the warlord down. It's pretty stereotypical, but the film itself has multiple parkour action sequences. Being a fan of parkour, this was up and down a guilty pleasure.
  • When Harry Met Sally [****] I, like everyone else on this planet, knew the story and most of the gags in this film. What surprised me, though, was that I was responding to and laughing at them anyway. The sign of a good comedy is it's funny when you know what's going to happen. This one definitely does that, and provides plenty of issues that we still haven't answered as a culture.
  • Interview [****] A film by Steve Buscemi, a remake of a Dutch film of the same name. A burnt out political journalist is sent to interview an it-girl actress for a fluff piece after getting on the bad side of his editor. The actress is played by Sienna Miller, who was amazing in Factory Girl. What follows is an incredibly play of words and emotions by the two actors, both of whom deliver pretty intense performances. I won't spoil any of it, but do highly recommend it for anyone who loves character pieces.
  • The Orphanage [***] I dunno, maybe it was just too derivative of other works with similar themes, but I found myself not caring too much for this one. I liked it, yes. But it didn't quite fire the imagination on the level I was hoping. That said, the game played towards the end of the game (the red light green light thing) was superb. I was freaking out.
  • A Life Without Pain [****] This is a documentary about three children with CIPA, or a born insensitivity to pain. This rather complex illness has a number of very serious results, but it's also incredibly rare. There are only a few dozen cases in the US. Again, like I said, it's difficult to rate a documentary. But I do think this one's worth while, if only to better understand a rather misunderstood part of the human experience--pain.
  • The Protector [***] A Thai action film starring Tony Jaa. I saw this in crappy dub-o-vision, but the film itself was just kind of goofy. There was some choppy editing, too much CG (unlike Tony Jaa's absolutely breathtaking Ong Bak), and just ... I dunno. A lack of impact. That said, Tony Jaa is always worth watching, as the man is amazing in motion. Not to mention the plot itself was interesting. Plus, a baby elephant.
  • Max Payne [**] The worst part about this is that somewhere within the soggy carcass of Max Payne is probably a 4-star movie. A nice take of vigilante justice, some nice gun fighting, and some of the best noir cinematography since Sin City (and maybe a bit better, because it's much less flashy). Unfortunately, the first half is a bloated mess, with redundant characters, subplots that go nowhere, a story that takes forever to get going and a villain so obvious that the audience is insulted. When it starts finding its way, it's great. But the first half is abysmal. It would have been nice to see a tighter edit, which would have gotten a much better score.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Movie Review - The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai

My thoughts behind movie reviews are different than typical movie reviews. I'm not going to write a lengthy review about any old thing. I only review things for one reason and one reason only--I want to convince you that whatever it is I'm reviewing is worth your time.

Which is why I have to review this movie, even if I know that 90% of people should probably never see The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. Not because the movie is bad. Though it is. And not because it's genres and background would turn off most people to begin with. Though they do.

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai is a Japanese film. A pink film. Pink films, for those not in the know (don't worry, I didn't either) are Japan's equivalent to Cinemax softcore porn. The movies are typically low-budget and based more around titillation than gratuitousness. A large part of that comes from Japan's rules on adult material (can't show the 'working bits') that reemphasizes the storytelling element. Well over a hundred of these pink films are made and released every year, but they're almost unheard of outside of Japan.

I know you're ready to move on now, but please, stay with me. It gets more interesting from here.

So, why tell you about this one? Because this one breaks the mold. Originally conceived as a typical pink film entitled Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice, the film played so well that the director was allowed to go back and expand it with an extra half hour of footage.

The result? Insanity. And awesomeness.

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai is the story of a cheerfully vapid prostitute named Sachiko. While having dinner one night, she witnesses a violent restaurant altercation between a North Korean agent and a Middle Eastern man. In a sudden firefight, she's shot in the head. But not fatally. Instead, the bullet lodges itself in her brain in a way that awakens mental powers she didn't know she had. Genius intelligence, ESP, and some humorous sensory lag.

Oh, and in the scuffle, she picks up a cylinder. The same cylinder that the North Korean killed the Middle Eastern for.

Oblivious to that, she begins to wander the streets, until she stumbles across a book vendor and rips through a tome of metaphysical philosophy. Digesting it in seconds, she finds the professor who wrote the book and begins to debate metaphysics with him. She then gets hired on as the tutor to the professor's sullen teenage son.

At the same time, the North Korean agent begins to pursue her. He needs what's in that tube. The object? The cloned finger of US President George W Bush, which can be used to launch nuclear weapons to anywhere in the world. If North Korea gets it, they'll be able to rule the world.

Oh, and did I mention that Bush's cloned figure is sentient, and also might want to bring about the end of the world?

The film is just one thing after another, insanity and surrealism stacked upon one another. It doesn't help that each setpiece is punctuated by a hilariously perfunctory and terrible softcore sex scene. Don't worry, you won't see anything that you wouldn't see in any R-rated film. And none of it is particularly enthralling.

But as punctuation to the story of philosophy and nuclear proliferation, it's absolutely hilarious. The best scene comes when the finger of George Bush comes alive and decides to violate Sachiko. As she lies on a rooftop, the finger worms its way into her panties (and elsewhere) and an abandoned TV nearby suddenly comes to life as George Bush (a man with a picture of George Bush pasted over his head) begins to spout the rhetoric of the Iraqi war in an entirely new context (e.g. "We don't need the Security Council's permission to invade! We will find them in caves!")

A film this out there is hard to pin down. And it's definately not for everyone. But I'm pretty sure that anyone who would appreciate it would know that they're that person just from my rough summary. It definately transcends the sum of its parts--the goofy philosophical dialogue, the political statements, and the constant sex--to make something that's both hilariously entertaining and surprisingly well-thought-out. From the terribly cliche beginning to the ridiculous Japanese rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that closes the movie, it all works. Inexplicably, subversively.

Like a bullet to the brain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Movie Rundown - Oct 6 to Oct 12

I've decided to steal this idea from Sarah, and start posting all the movies I've seen each week. Mostly because I watch lots and lots of movies, and I'm okay with turning that into content for the blog. This one will be shaky, because we're working on my recall, but here goes.

I'll list the movie and then my star rating, and a bit about it. And yes, I'm already aware I watch a lot of movies.

  • Blue Skies [****] This Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire musical tended to go on a little long. Most of the musicals from this era suffer from using the story as a prop to move from one musical sequence to another. However, Fred Astaire's performance of 'Puttin' on the Ritz' is so powerful that it turns a solid movie into a good one. Or, you could just watch it on youtube.
  • Heavy Metal [***] Take metal culture and animate it into a bunch of shorts in the 80s, and you've got Heavy Metal. For a movie based on a comic based on a genre of music, it's almost devoid of good musical moments. Also, it has a plethora (plethora, I tell you) of big chested fantasy women. It's not good, but it was funny.
  • Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist [*****] This was just about everything that I wanted out of a teen romantic comedy. Better than almost any other teen movie I've ever seen, it has all the terror and boredom, the potential and wild-eyed joy of being young and falling in love. Also, further props for having an incredibly well-integrated world view, with non-stereotypical homosexuals and jews added in a way that never feels like a gimmick.
  • Woman of the Year [***] Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's first screen pairing. And, as a good indication of their legendary love affair, their on-screen presence is absolutely dynamite. However, the movie goes on a little too long and Hepburn isn't quite the charmer she is in most of her other movies. I blame the writing more than her, though. She seems less like a scatter-brained political philosopher/socializer and more like a type-A she-bitch. That said, the duo is (as always) charming, but this is the weakest of Hepburn's films that I've seen. ( For another opinion, see here. )
  • The Tracey Fragments [****] If there was ever such a thing as stream-of-consciousness filmmaking, this movie would be it. A story of a 15 year old girl (the always enchanting Ellen Page) who sets out to find her younger brother, who she believes she hypnotized into believing he was a dog. The film itself is an amalgam of small frames and split screens, done so that the story is told almost entirely visually. There is dialogue, but I'm almost sure the film would play well without it. Enchanting, so long as you can take the experimentalism of it all.
  • Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera [**] This was a documentary about snuff films. I don't really know what to say about it. The subject is interesting on a film geek and morally bankrupt level, but the documentary itself doesn't provide anything you couldn't find out on your own after 15 minutes of google searches. Also, there are plenty of staged and real videos that border on snuff (videos of death, but not filmed for profit). I couldn't recommend it for anyone who didn't have an inherent interest in the subject.
  • Ghost in the Shell [***] Considered one of the seminal pieces of anime cinema, I have to say I was pretty disappointed. It had great music, and some significant (though well-tread) tenants of cyberpunk and all, but it just didn't grab me much. I think much of its notoriety is based on the fact it was one of the early anime films to hit the US. Also, the voice work is TERRIBLE. Maybe the Japanese version had better voices, but I was watching it through Netflix Instant View and that wasn't an option.
  • One Missed Call [****] I'm continuing my project to watch all of the films of Takashi Miike, and I'm going in reverse chronological order. So I hit this film, which was made into a recent American film (which I will hopefully never watch). The film itself was shot well, but the story was only so-so and too derivative of other works. However, the newscast sequence and a whole set-piece towards the end in an abandoned hospital helped bolster the less-than-stellar plot.
  • Y tu mamá también [*****] Another coming-of-age story, this one far more serious and down to earth compared to Nick and Norah. Alfonso Cuaron is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. A story of two friends in Mexico who go on a road trip of discovery on the cusp of adulthood, I found the movie absolutely enchanting. It's both funny and heartbreaking, in a way entirely different than most road and buddy movies out there. I couldn't recommend it enough.
  • Enchanted [****] The first third actually only warranted three stars, and I had a satisfied but disappointed review written here (this article was written mid-film) but the movie won me back into 4 stars with a great mid-movie musical sequence and a truly spectacular final third.
And that's it. Check back next week when I'll hopefully not have a whole ten movies, but something much more managable.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Unified World ( I promise, it's about writing )

Today we're going to talk about writing. My writing, to be specific, because I'm not an expert on anyone else's writing. And this blog is supposed to be about me and my writing, in the end. An author sharing himself with people. Or something noble like that. It hasn't turned out that way, but then that's par for the course.

Writers (fiction writers) are concerned with telling stories. But stories aren't the only consideration. The story is a stand alone project, to be sure, but as with all art, the frame is nearly as important as what's on the canvas. And so, a writer has to look at not just the story they're telling, but the frame in which their story is presented.

A story can be self-contained, but it still takes place in a world. A fantasy book has the plus of being able to define its own world. A more realistic piece of fiction has the plus of pulling on a world that we all know and love. But what about a world in between the two? A world that's recognizably ours but seen slightly askew? A world that's not just in service to the story, but is representative of how the author sees the world around him?

That's the kind of thought that created what I call my Unified World Theory. The idea of Unified World (UW, for now) is that all of the books (or most of them, anyway) take place within a world that's consistent and coherent. That unrelated stories are all taking place on solidly similar ground, a similar setting with a similar history.

For example. The heroine of my NaNo 2008 novel (Mandy, who you'll hear more about next week) originally showed up travelling through the country in NaNo 2007, Ways To Commit Suicide When You're Bored. She wasn't the main character, just a side character. She interacted with the main plot, then drifted out of it. And time passes, and her life gets interesting again, and I write another story that takes place in her life. It's not a sequel, it's not a spin-off. It's just another story that takes place in that world.

I don't like the idea of each story being isolated. Characters exist, they grow, they end their tale and ride off into the sunset. But what happens before that? What happens after? What effects are felt by actions, great and small, that echo throughout the world that they inhabit?

The only way of making such aspects of life known is to join all the books together. In doing so, I create a world that's close to ours, but different enough that I can meddle within the bounds of believability. Change how aspects work. Alter facts to fit stories just so and make it work. I can create cities to rival the greatest American cities, or use pre-existing ones, and it's all equally valid, so long as the universe the world takes place in makes sense.

So that's what I've done. And the arguement could be made that I'm counting my chickens before they hatch, planning sequels and characters that reappear in books that I haven't sold yet. But at the same time, if I'm going to do it, it would be best to do it from the start, so that the entirety of my work rests upon a consistent foundation. So that should it work out and I successfully sell books, I rest well knowing that the frames are set up. That there is a world I have created that will serve the body of my work well.

Now, here's the part where I admit an ulterior motive. There are plenty of authors who also do a unified world in their work. Three offhand are Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, and Elmore Leonard. All of them have recurring characters, actions that have repercussions throughout other novels, all the things that are hallmarks of linking some or all of an author's pieces together.

What this amounts to is a world that rewards further study. You read a book, and read another, and when they are linked together in some way there is a feeling that the author is making sure that the reader will get more out of the author's works the more they read them. I know that it's kind of ... clinical and business-like, but I'd like to think that as an author I'm looking out for my eventual readers.

Of course, this borders on the verge of either pretention or fan-service. If I do it without people enjoying it, I suppose that's pretention, thinking that all my works are so important that they deserve to be considered together. That's a high-demand thing on my readers, to expect them to explore all of my world and books. But at the same time, if I continually write about the favorite characters, and continually create connected works that people love, that totters close to fan-service.

The trick, of course, is to walk in the middle. To allow for stories to begin and end, to both provide for expectations that characters will return and fulfill unanswered questions and continue to provide new characters for first-time readers to cut their teeth with. To expand the universe so that ground isn't retread.

I personally find that authors who take this kind of time and thought to construct these compounded dividends are ones that tend to build strong, dedicated fanbases. That it keeps the back catalogue relevant, and once it's caught on that it's the practice of the author, keeps the expectation of the next story high. You never know who's going to show up or how they'll react. And that, of course, means that you're always looking towards the next story to provide those answers.

It's a business decision, sure, but it's also an artistic one. Part of my statement, of my message, is that all life is interconnected and what we do has repercussions that echo through time and space, affecting many we will never meet or understand. That life isn't just about the individual, but about the tapestry, each individual interweaving with others to add to the whole of human experience.

Unified world isn't just a writing technique, but it's a philosophy. And it's a frame for it's own philosophy. I being both an example and a vehicle for other examples, it's coherent in how the world works. It's a way to be both the lattice on which the rest of my stories and themes are hung, and as a theme and story in itself.

And I suppose, that's the point. In the end, it's what I always wanted to do when I decided to become a writer. The idea of stand alone stories doesn't appeal to me. I write a few, I suppose, but it's not something I'd want to make a career on. Anything that could take place in 'the real world' is typically folded into the unified world that represents my work. Maybe some day I'll have to be pickier about what I throw in there, but for now ...

For now it's fair game. And I'll keep connecting threads even as I expand into new territory.

A world-builder can do no less.

And Another Novel Down!

Today I finished the CDE Project. Or, the tentative title, A Cafe Between Reality and Dreams. This is my fourth novel, weighing in at around 76000 words in the first draft. It's also representative of a new challenge--and a new triumph.

You see, my first novel was a fluke. It really was. I did it in bits and spurts over four years. It was a big pain in the ass. It was a bunch of amorphous jelly that I molded into something vaguely book-shaped. It works, I suppose, but it's not great.

Marton Syan was kind of an experiment, more than a book. I wanted to intertwine three storylines, try to get a message out, but mostly I was trying to explore what it meant to be an artist. So ... it wasn't *really* a novel.

NaNo2007. Ways to Commit Suicide When You're Bored. That book ... well, it's half autobiographical, at least in the first draft. So, again, it doesn't count. Lol.

I can make excuses, but CDE is the first book that really felt as thought I was writing a novel. It's much more plot-driven, it's much less connected to who I am. It's in a genre (sci-fi) and it's representative of a set up towards a bigger body of work. It wasn't a treasured baby that I nurtured into life like my other three novels. It was my project. And I did it. And now it's done.

And I can't tell you how fulfilling that feels.

There's a sense of accomplishment that always comes with finishing a work. A comfort, a feeling of having done it. Of a major campaign being over and a goal met and new horizons stretching before you. The weight's off your shoulders, the pressure is off, and you have something to show for it.

Stories are the ultimate hand-crafted item. And they have some of the same satisfaction associated with making anything with your own two hands. Only instead of labor of muscles its the labor of the mind and the heart.

The feeling that comes from successfully concluding something like that is what fuels my drive to do it again. Looking at the next point on the mountain, scanning the horizon, seeing how far you've come. The world stretches out below, and there is still so much more mountain to climb!

Nothing to do but celebrate and get to climbing again.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

customer appreciation ][ short story ][

"There's something to be said for dining alone. There is only so much of another person's company one can take before one is driven to distraction. And when someone is dining with others as often as I, it becomes a singular luxury to simply ... have silence, for a while.

"Of course, make no mistake. I love the company of others as much as the next fellow. But there are some things that simply cannot be replaced, and the joy of being able to have individual, secret thoughts is too much to pass up.

"Then again, talking is what I do. I provide a service with this, my art. With this, my voice. With this, my words. Conversation, perhaps. Ahem. Regardless, what I'm saying is that as a Fifth Level Conversationalist my words are my pride... a great source of pride. And if the price is right ... no, no, no. Um ... hrm, let's see here. And that skill could bring a unique and excellent flavour to any gathering ... party ... social event. Social event that would benefit from my services."

There was the sound of a knock and the man set down the flute of wine he had been staring at as he cast a glance towards the door. He turned back to the empty table, and the device upon it.

"Excuse me, I am taking several appointments today. I'll continue this when I return."

The man, thin and slender and good-looking, rose and made his way to the door. He wore a suit, even in his own home. When he answered the door he did so with all the practiced grace of a professional, and invited his guest to come and sit in the living room. The guest was a middle-aged man, with a sagging gut and a well-worn sweatshirt.

"I .. uh, hope I'm not bothering you," the guest said as he sat down heavily in the middle of the couch.

"No, of course not," said the Conversationalist as he sat down. "My name is ———————, who am I speaking to?"

"Oh, yes, um ... I'm Jeff. Jeff Katz. I'm here to .. uh, well, you see, the office is having a party and there are these two girls and..."

The Conversationalist nodded as if he understood. "And you wish to have a companion with you so that you can approach them both with the safety of equal numbers."

"Um, yes, something like that. You see, they're so close, and I know I could maybe have a chance with one of them but the other, she just keeps getting in the way. So if you could, would you... y'know, show up?"

"I'd be delighted." The Conversationalist handed Jeff a business card. "You have a home computer, do you not? Of course. Well, on my website there is a list of services offered, and for this I'll charge you only for 'one time dating services.'"

"How much is that?"

"Nothing extravagant," the Conversationalist said. "I'll enchant your lovely lady's companion, you can make your move, and I'll express a distinct lack of interest in pursuing the matter further. Perhaps I could be a buddy from college, in for a single night, pulled along because you had to attend. You do have to attend, don't you?"

"Well, no, not really, but..." A light went on behind Jeff's wide eyes. "Oh. Oh! Um ... yes, of course. I have to attend. I'm an assistant to the regional manager. I couldn't not show up."

"Very well then. Enter the code on the bottom of this card so I know we spoke in person, and I'll call you to finalize the details within a day." The Conversationalist stood up. "Now I hate to be rude, but I was finishing dinner and I have another appointment in ten minutes."

"Oh, sure." Jeff stood up and quickly headed towards the door. "Um... I'll see you around then, I guess. Uh, talk to you later." And Jeff noisily let himself out.

The Conversationalist made his way back to the table and picked up the glass of wine.

"Mr. Katz shows a remarkable lack of tact, as you no doubt were able to pick up. That is not his fault, of course. A man of his caliber simply has no training in the finer arts of relating to other people. But I make no excuses. Good for him, that he can get through life so blind and helpless. I'm glad for him.

"You may scoff, but I do indeed feel glad for him. Without him, people in my line of work wouldn't exist. His ineptitude is my livelihood. I can only commend his show of good taste in coming to me. Now, let's see here."

"Oh, look at that. He's potentialy customer 500. But then, a Mrs. Summerfield is supposed to show up and since she isn't late, perhaps she's more likely to be around to seal the deal. If she goes first, then she will most undoubtedly be 500. And we all know what 500 customers means.

"It just goes to show Mr. Katz that he shouldn't be late to his engagements. He didn't even apologize for being over thirty minutes late. The brute."

There was a pause and the Conversationalist finished his drink. He set the glass upon the table and slowly turned to face the empty room.

"Four hundred and ninety-nine people. That's how many people I've helped. What a milestone! Five hundred people could be a small town. And I went into each and every one of their lives. I took what was deficient, and I fixed it. When there was a need, I filled it. Those that required training received it. Those that just needed a shining point in their party were the proud hosts of dazzled guests. Single women needing respectable dates were suddenly the favorite daughter.

"All this, and for such a low price. I deal with the fumbling and desperate in society. The struggling and unfortunate. The unenlightened and the low-witted. All these people rest comfortable in their ignorance, and I do nothing when not asked.

"But now comes Mrs. Summerfield. A woman who's already tried haggling my prices over the phone. And I know what she wants. I've heard of her. She's a customer referral. The Women's Society at Unity Church is having a soiree, and I'm something of a constant. They pass me around, each one bringing me as if I had never been there. And then I listen to the same tired stories, the same long-winded conversations. A bunch of old hags sitting around tea, with only one man to share among them. I am the Eye of a Better Life.

"Yes, Mrs. Summerfield. Who will of course demand the same 'Dinner Companion' package that I gave to Miss Beaumont because she was suffering with her bills. Too bad Mrs. Summerfield isn't suffering. No, she's just cheap, with her carefully squirrelled away money from too many dead husbands and her worn down shoes.

"Five hundred warm bodies. Can you imagine? So many people, lacking so fundamental a thing. And me, the beacon of hope in their lives. One out of five hundred. That's hardly too much to ask, is it? I don't think so. I really don't. And if it is, I must confess that I don't care.

"Yes, Mrs. Summerfield will do nicely. Poor Mr. Katz is young, even if he is stupid. In time, maybe he would come around. Maybe I'll work my charms on him, being the 499th person. A special case, given the top attention possible as I head around the bend towards that magical four digits.

"Not Mrs. Summerfield. Too old. Too fragile. Yes, too fragile. All this moist weather has been hard on her, is what the gossip says. Hacking coughs. Sleepless nights. She is easily the oldest, the matriarch with an iron fist. It would be nothing. No major thing.

"Yes, a very small thing indeed.

"Who is she to deny taking the suffering? I have given so many meaningless smiles to people who needed them. The empty spaces and long nights full of my struggles. So unappreciated. By now I'm so good at my job, rarely do they think I did anything at all. Which is the best compliment, I suppose, but ... it's so hard to make a living by doing 'nothing.'

"That's all right. My fees are modest and my manner quiet. I will continue. I will endure. And exact my price when the time comes.

"Oh! Do I hear the door? Then the time has come. The time has come, for a single moment, to be selfish. Who could blame me, just once, for being discourteous? Nobody is that much of a saint. The Pope himself couldn't get through dinner 500 times without once offending someone. And I am no religious figure. I am only a man, like any other...

"Mrs. Summerfield! Of course you can let yourself in! I wanted to extend my congratulations. You are officially my five hundredth customer!

"Just wait until you see what I have in store for you!"


Sarah decided to write a short story on a whim. I believe that it was originally for a contest which I talked her down from. Whatever you wanted, under 1500 words. And here is mine, in its third (and shortest, if you believe it) iteration.

The inspiration for this comes out of my own life, and my continued efforts to try to quantify every aspect of my relationships with people (typically joking). Though, of course, I would rather be rude than tolerant. And thank god, after seeing where infinite patience gets you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Writer's Theme Song

This one comes from Sarah, who grabbed it from someone else (as usual, I can't be bothered to trace that line back to it's source, play link tag if you must).

The goal is as follows:

Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. NB: It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing - whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same (reprint these instructions).

I'm a big believer in songs tied to projects. In fact, I have dozens of songs that evoke the memories of each of my books. But one about writing in general? I wasn't sure if I knew of any piece of music that was up to the task.

Then I remembered that I did and do. And that it's a pretty good one. I think that why I chose it doesn't require explanation, so I'll simply segue right into the song (because that's what you truly care about, I hope). Unfortunately, this is a radio edit of sorts, but I happen to greatly adore the video.

And the lyrics:

by The Dresden Dolls

There is this thing that's like touching except you don't touch
Back in the day it just went without saying at all
All the world's history gradually dying of shock
There is this thing it's like talking except you don't talk
You sing
You sing

Sing for the bartender sing for the janitor sing
Sing for the cameras sing for the animals sing
Sing for the children shooting the children sing
Sing for the teachers who told you that you couldn't sing
Just sing

There is thing thing keeping everyone's lungs and lips locked
It is called fear and it's seeing a great renaissance
After the show you can not sing wherever you want
But for now let's just pretend we're all gonna get bombed
So sing

Sing cause its obvious sing for the astronauts sing
Sing for the president sing for the terrorists sing
Sing for the soccer team sing for the janjuweed sing
Sing for the kid with the phone who refuses to sing
Just sing

Life is no cabaret
We don't care what you say
We're inviting you anyway
You motherfuckers you'll sing someday...
You motherfuckers you'll sing someday...
You motherfuckers you'll sing someday...

Unsurprisingly, the Dresden Dolls also provided the soundtrack for the first draft of WTC, and contributed what is undoubtedly the theme song of my 2008 NaNo novel.

I won't tag anyone, because I rarely do that, but if you want to do this (and if you're a writer who reads this that I don't talk to, you really should drop me a line and say hello!) feel free to do so. Just lemme know so I can take a peek at what you chose.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's nearly that time again -- NaNo 2008!

Hello there, ladies and gents. I know I've been quiet on the blogging front lately, but with good reason. I have a novel that I have to finish. And my time is swiftly running out.

Why is it running out, you ask? Because we've crossed the void from summer into fall and that means it's time to begin prepping for National Novel Writing Month (that's NaNo to all and sundry) and I'm here to try to spread the good word and hopefully get you--yes, YOU!--to sign aboard and make the journey with me.

I know what you're going to say to me. "You're the writer here, you write books. I don't write." Well, guess what? Just because you don't doesn't mean you can't. In fact, having not written, you're in the singular place of getting the most out of NaNo. NaNo isn't for writers, to be quite honest. Not the kind of working writer I try to be, anyway.

No, NaNo is for you. For the person who's probably never even thought about writing a novel before. Or the person who's thought about it but never thought they could actually do it. If you've said 'I could write a story, but...' lemme tell you that NaNo is the perfect excuse to disregard the but and turn the 'could' into a 'will'.

In NaNo, the goal is to write 50,000 words. This is a small novel. In order to make this easy for you, you even have a time frame to work in--November 1 to November 30. In that month, should you choose to, you and over a hundred thousand other people will all take the adventure into storytelling.

Now, those of you who know anything about writing will say '50000 words in a month? MADNESS!' I'm not here to misquote 300 at you, so I'll simply agree. Yes, it's madness, but all creation is madness and people need a little madness in their lives.

NaNo is an opportunity to do something you would never normally do. No human would normally write a novel in a month. But for a month (just a month!) you can tell people that you're writing a novel, and mean it. You aren't puttering around, you aren't thinking about writing a novel. You're racing to the 50k mark each and every day. Laying down pages and characters and stories. Living in a world that you create.

Of course, the next question (probably more of a skeptical statement) is undoubtedly 'but a novel written that fast can't be good.' And while your pessimism isn't helpful, you bring up a good point. A novel written that fast won't be good. But guess what? No novel is ever good when it's first written.

It's a well-kept secret in writing that whatever book you pick up was once a really terrible first draft. Whether that person took 30 days or 30 years to write the first draft, it's going to be awful (well, maybe not 30 years, perhaps, but if it was 30 months, certainly). First drafts by definition are bad. You're hammering out a story that keeps moving and changing on you. You're finding what works, what doesn't. You're exploring the vast expanses of your mind and the page.

Trust me, every first draft is shit. And they're all worth the effort, even the worst author.

NaNo isn't for fame or fortune. But it is a chance to do something few people ever do. It's a chance to take a chance and try something new. It's the singular opportunity for a few autumn weeks to stay up late and drink lots of coffee and imagine things that you'd never think about because they might give you material. It's glorious. It's empowering. It's silly and fun.

I highly recommend it to all of you.

Give the NaNo website a glance, would you? For me, I ask you. Chris Baty, the founder, explains what it's all about far better than I ever could. And think, seriously think, about signing up. Even if you don't succeed fully, you'll have made the attempt. And everything is worth doing once.

I know you can do it. Every one of you. We all have at least one story in us, probably far more than that. Maybe it's time to try to pry one of the bastards loose and make him stand there so we can look at him.

Here's the mission statement, such as it is.

And here's the FAQ, for you inquisitive types.

If you have any further questions, feel free to drop me a line ( bandaidwriter@gmail.com if you didn't know ). I'm more than willing to try to encourage every single person who reads this blog to join NaNo. Sign-ups are open, people are gathering, and we're waiting for the show to begin in another month.

Viva la novellista!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Mosaic Meme

From Sarah, this little meme takes some time, but is pretty. Here's the instructions.

The Concept
1. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
2. Using only the first page of results, and pick one image.
3. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into Big Huge Lab’s Mosaic Maker to create a mosaic of the picture answers.

The Questions
1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food? right now?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. What is your favorite drink?
7. What is your dream vacation?
8. What is your favorite dessert?
9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. What is one word that describes you?
12. What is your flickr name?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

placeholder update of sorts

NaNo is slowly sneaking up on me and CDE isn't done. So all of my energies have been bent towards that. Expect a lack of updates until October. Then we'll have some before NaNo when I just lose my mind.

If anybody cares to chart my daily progress or listen to me ranting, I update my word goals much better on twitter than I do on this blog.


And I'm out of here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Twelve Movies Meme (+2)

This one is from Sarah, who got it from a bunch of other people I'm too lazy to link to. The idea is to assemble twelve movies you would most like to exhibit in your own dream film festival.

Since I'm into movies and all, I figured I'd give this one a shot. I'm not going to organize this by day. They are in correct order, but the days would have no theme at all.

And away we go!

1. From Dusk Till Dawn - My favorite Rodriguez movie and still perhaps George Clooney's best role is the film I'm going to use to blow into the festival with. It's cool, it's violent, and it's ceaselessly entertaining. What better way to start off than with Tom Sevini wearing a crotch-gun and Harvey Keitel playing a dorky character?

2. Hedwig & The Angry Inch - I was determined to have only one musical in this list, and since everybody these days with any taste is going to put Once on their list, I'm going to go with something a little more high-energy. The story of a transexual from (then-divided) East Berlin is still one of the best musicals ever.

3. Grave of the Fireflies - I wanted one animated film (as it is I got away with one and a half) and Grave of the Fireflies is it. I was tempted to put in a Miyazaki film, but Grave of the Fireflies continues to be one of the saddest films I've ever seen. A definite must-see and perhaps the best anti-war film ever.

4. A Clockwork Orange - Probably my only 'official' classic on the list, and with good reason--it's hilariously dark. There is something so powerful about McDowell's performance as Alex that I can't help but automatically love the movie, even if it's one of my more recent seen films.

5. Speed Racer - Of all the actiony popcorn fare that I could include I put forth the one that nobody saw. This is still the coolest film of the summer (I'm sorry, Dark Knight, but while you're the better film this one was ceaselessly entertaining). There has never been anything quite like it, and I doubt there will be ever again.
5 (alt theatrer). American Psycho - I couldn't not put this on the list, but there were already twelve on there. This is still Christian Bale's best role. There's nothing better than nerdy violence, and American Psycho has that in spades. Hope you have a dark sense of humor for this one.

6. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - The only asian film on the list (Takashi Miike almost got a film or three on here, maybe next time) comes this third in an unconnected trilogy of 'vengeance' films. The most popular, the middle film Oldboy, doesn't hold a candle to this much more subtle, abstract treatise that closes out the trilogy. A beautiful, beautiful film.

7. The Science of Sleep - Michel Gondry might be a little too big for my film festival, but I love this movie. I'm going to give an alternate theatre to this one, because other people might have seen it (as they should have) but I can't help but show it again. This is probably the sweetest film on the list, and the only one that has anything in the way of romance.
7 (alt theatre) Jackie Brown - I've felt horrible about almost keeping Tarantino off of my list, but his films are pretty high profile. Not so for Jackie Brown, the movie that nobody's seen and everyone should. Also noted for being the only Samuel L Jackson movie on this list (I was tempted to include Black Snake Moan, but didn't). Jackie Brown isn't Tarantino's best film (that goes to Death Proof, which was also very underseen) but it's the one that deserves the most coverage.

8. Day of the Dead - I was only going to put one zombie movie on this list (otherwise it'd be a whole truckload of them) and of course it was going to be a Romero one. Dawn of the Dead was the obvious choice, but everyone with even a novice appreciation of film has seen Dawn of the Dead. Instead, I'm going to go for the lesser known and much better third film of the trilogy (or quadrology, with the so-so Land of the Dead). Also, I was very tempted to put Shawn of the Dead in here, but decided against it for little more than the fact that Romero wins.

9. Brick - A neo-noir set in a contemporary west coast high school. This film is amazingly shot, and beautifully written. There's nothing I could tell you that would explain it, other than this might just be the best teen film I have ever, ever seen. Absolutely stupendous.

10. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Sergio Leone's biggest, best-known film barely beat out his final spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West if only because I prefer the dynamics in this one a little better. There is nothing in this film that is bad. There's a reason that much of this film instantly became a part of our culture. Without a doubt, this is a strong contender of the best shot film. Ever. Seeing it on a big screen is on my list of things to do with my life.

11. Hard Candy - Before she starred in Juno, Ellen Page starred in this smaller, much darker film about a teenage girl and a guy who might or might not have less than honorable intentions for her. The less you know the better it is, but I figured having such a small piece (only two major actors) sandwiched in between two massive epics was the way to go.

12. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - My favorite film of all time (except for when it briefly falls to two or three) is Terry Gilliam's bomb about the mad adventurer way past his prime. I could tell you about this film, about the scope and imagination that is mind-blowing considering it's pre-CG. About the comedy typical of Gilliam's films. About the charm and beauty that crops up in surprising places. But instead I will simply let this one, a sadly neglected masterpiece, stand up after all the others and speak for itself.

And that's it. The contenders list, each one hard to cut, included the following: O Brother Where Art Thou, Visitor Q, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Iron Giant, Sin City, Oceans Twelve, Hot Fuzz, Kill Bill, Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffanys, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (still better than The Dark Knight, sadly), Memento, The Usual Suspects, Spirited Away, and Chaplin.

Notes from the Airplane

I composed the following on the airplane. As much as I would have loved to pull out a laptop and peck away this piece on the plane, Deborah isn't in travelling shape and I wasn't going to saddle myself with a laptop on my flight, so instead I mentally composed this ... essay? Forget that I'm writing it on Tuesday, two days later. That's incidental.

I'm rising over Tucson as I compose this. Takeoff was painless, nothing more than sitting there while someone else does all the work. All our advances have turned taking to the air at great speed to cover even greater distance as easy as parking yourself and making sure your seat belt is securely fastened. The difficult part was back on the ground, when you stepped through the gates and left behind the place you were and the people you were with. Indeed, sometimes taking off is the easiest part of it all.

Below me stretches the city. Coming in, I was taken aback at just how spread out everything is and this impression hasn't left me in the five days I've been here. The city sprawls with a deliberate and controlled pace. Tucson is certainly the furthest West I've gone and the city has that underlying order that comes from being planned in the modern era. Other cities I've flown into and above typically have all the grace of a toddler's enthusiastic scribbles. Even DC, which was initially a planned city, quickly devolves into insanity when you look past the main urban centers.

But Tucson has the orderly grid-based city planning that I will always associate in my head with a properly running Sim City. In all directions stretches the city in an obsessively leisurely pace. The city could probably comfortably cover two thirds of the area it does and contain everything it has, but the space just helps justify its place in the world. And with the city ringed on all side by mountains, I can't really blame it for trying to puff itself up. Against the mountains, the flat southwest architecture feels flat and two-dimensional even from the ground, an impression that doesn't get any better from above.

From above the desert vista isn't nearly as impressive. Below--when you can see roads stretching far into nowhere and nothing, where the saguaro and agave begin to dominate, other plants too exotic and strange for me to identify--it seems as if wilderness is only barely kept at bay. But from above the grid looks like a net cast upon the ground to control and dominate it. From the air, the city is clearly the victor.

We're rising East along Broadway and I can't help but smile. In my time in Tucson I spent the majority of my driving in the city limits on Broadway. Such is a main street. And along it, I see the various places where I've been. From here I could nearly trace my path to every place I've visited. The plane banks slightly to the north before I can see Kristen's apartment, but I fly right over it as we continue rising towards the mountains.

Below me, I see the roads slowly fall away until there's little more than a single insistent highway making its way up into the foothills. As I look at the thin thread beginning to cut into the quickly rising cliff face, I realize that I know this road. Three days before Kris and I had piled into the Avenger I had rented to do a little exploring and ended up making for Mt. Lemmon.

The Catalina Highway goes into the Santa Catalina Mountains (surprise) and the road is like nothing I had ever experienced before. I had driven through the Black Hills some ten years before and the Appalachians a year or two before that, but this was like another world entirely. The desert below fell away and we were left with a two lane highway that snaked its way up the cliff face. Rounding blind corners with the valley right beside you is thrilling in a James Bond kind of way. I could almost imagine what it would be like travelling along the Alps. Those who have visited Europe may laugh, but for someone from the midwest the very idea of mountains are nearly inconceivable.

The plane is cutting straight up the side of the mountain, so from my seat I'm only able to see part of the road, but I spot the biggest vista point roughly six or seven thousand feet up. It was here that on our way down from Summerhaven we stopped to take a look around. There is an area with a sidewalk and rail but past the rail is a ridge of rocks extending out a few hundred feet. There were visitors perched on flat areas, a group of tourists right up front where the going is easy. And far at the end, younger teens scrambling over rocks to the very end, where the rocks drop off again.

It was here that I realized that even if she was wearing heeled sandals, Kris was three times as agile as me. On the way out, unfamiliar with rocky terrain, I had quite a time finding footing and making my way out to the rocks where we stopped and took in the view of the mountain below us and Tucson stretched out over the horizon. At that point the weather was warm (we were far too high for hot) and it was utterly quiet. There was a light breeze, but aside from that, there was nothing. No grasses, no bugs. Just the wind and the silent rocks. It felt as if the world below weren't moving, that up there was a place out of time. Descending as dusk neared did nothing to help that perception of timelessness while we were on the mountain.

My plane rises above the mountain and over the other side, where we fly into the mountains. On the other side of the Catalinas the clouds are heavier and hold the promise of rain. I'm fairly certain that the rain will never see Tucson. Tucson is supposedly in its rainy season, but in five days I saw one brief 45 minute deluge. And it was indeed a deluge, with the kind of rain that in Omaha would be accompanied with lightning and thunder and hail and all sorts of other insane weather.

But it ended before it really got going, and the whole area just as quickly dried out. The rainstorm was little more than a slight spritzing before the desert moved on with its typically arid self. But then, We've gotten more than double the rain to date in 2008 than Arizona is supposed to get all year, so I'm just lacking the appropriate context to appreciate what that rain meant. Seeing people huddled up to windows like the world was ending outside was rather surreal for something as every day as rain.

My flight is uneventful, despite some turbulence as we pass through those clouds that I saw before and the bigger ones after it that seem primed to build into a storm. And as I piece together the idea of this piece in my head (where it seemed much shorter than it's turned out to be so far) the plane passes far enough ahead to outrun the sun.

Afternoon gives way to an uneasy gray dusk in minutes. Which, writing this now, is indicative of returning. Under the Arizona sun, the sky seemed to be a bleached out void that stretched forever. In five days the city looked like five different cities under that sun, under the changing light of various cloud covers. And I can imagine that in the bright clear parts of summer when all the clouds flee and the sun shines the entire city takes on the slightly luminous quality of the unreal.

It's certainly sunny here. We haven't had bad weather. But the air is cooler and I feel it more than I figured I would. I won't even remotely say I was acclimated in five days, but I was certainly growing more comfortable with the climate. And here summer has seemingly lost its biting edge.

When my plane finally descended upon Omaha it was fully dark. We dropped through the cloud cover and spread out before me was Omaha in all its glittering glory. Omaha isn't nearly as big as Tucson, but it's twice as bright. At night, Omaha is a sea of lights, with street lights on every street and oceans of light coming from parking lots and stores and buildings. From above, blocks twinkle like Christmas trees and every major street is easily visible as it makes its way through the city.

I already knew that Omaha had terribe light pollution, but seeing my home city welcoming me back with all of its familiar light drove the point home. Two days before I was driving to dinner with Kristen, and the darkness was absolute. Street lights are reserved for only a few streets and as a whole the city is best described as dark. I drove the same street at night and then the next day and had I not been told I wouldn't have known. The street, only a few blocks from the main street of the city, was swallowed by a darkness so absolute the roadsides on both sides were swallowed up.

That darkness, in my mind, was reserved for only the most remote stretches of wilderness. But there it was, right before me, draped across the sprawling suburban area that I would discover the next day in broad daylight. Again I felt (as I still feel) that while in Tucson, it appears as though the city only barely keeps a wilderness more insistent and wild than any to be found in the midwest at bay. The great plains just cannot stand up to the desert.

Which is about what I expected. What I didn't expect, though, was how I would feel coming out of that landscape, coming out of that city. When I descended back on Omaha and returned to my home, for the first time I truly looked upon the city of my birth with something equalling at the least indifference and at the most ...

Well, I'm not sure what the most is, yet. But I know that some part of my mind is still staring in awe at the vistas I've left behind. And from here, where mountains are rare and moisture is in the air and the days feel cool though I know they aren't I can't help but think, with longing, on what I've left behind.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Stray Essay

[ Sarah and me had something of a challenge going. We each gave the other a prompt and had to write a short piece on it. The prompt I gave her was perfectly reasonable and produced a pretty solid piece found HERE. She told me to write with a child main character, 8 or under, on his first day of school.

Two weeks and many, many headdesk's later, I scrapped idea #7 in favor of the below. I literally cannot write from a child's POV, and won't be doing it ever, ever again if I can help it. This one's really short, but these 500 words have more angst poured into them than anything I've written in ages. ]

About Me
by Anthony O'Toole

My name is Anthony and I am seven years old. This year I'm starting the third grade.

Mom says third grade is when you go from little kid to big kid. But I was a big kid since the first grade when my Nana went to heaven. I know because Mom said to me one night when I woke up with bad dreams that I was a big kid now that I knew about life and death. But I don't know if she is right because I was playing ninjas and soldiers way before that and people were always dying.

So I don't know if I'm a big kid before or gonna become one. I know that third grade looks really hard because it has times and stuff like that. Maybe timesing makes you a big kid.

I grew up with Nana and Mom in Nana's house in Kentucky. We had a swing on the tree. Mom always said it was like Mayberry but I don't really know what that means, because our town was called Sweetwater. I liked it there most times but it was small and I wanted some kids to play with. I asked for a brother or sister a few times before Nana told me to hush up about things like that. Probably because I don't have a Daddy and only kids with Daddies get brothers and sisters.

Its okay though because I really don't want Mom to have a baby because if she did she'd get a big stomach and wouldn't play with me as much any more. Most nights when she gets back from work we'll go to the playground or go roller blading and if she had that stomach I'm pretty sure she wouldn't want to do those things. Nana said that when I was in her stomach all she did was throw up a lot.

Last year Nana went to heaven and we moved here. Now we live in an apartment which is closer to the playground but not as big. But there are interesting people in these apartments, too. One of my neighbors is from New York City. I think New York City sounds like an interesting place to go. Mom says she went there when she was younger and that it was big and noisy. Nana used to say that Mom was a small town girl at heart.

This year I'm hoping to make some new friends. Since we moved here I haven't met any other kids yet to play with. Playing with Mom is okay, but when I'm not with her I'm at the daycare place and its just a bunch of babies there. Mom said once school starts I'll meet somebody and find a good friend.

This school is so much bigger than my old school. I was kind of scared seeing all the kids. My other school only had 75 kids in kindergarten-6 and now there are 75 kids just in my grade. I'm not sure who I should talk to. There are so many people!

Mom says that the bigger school will show me more of the world. I think all schools teach you the same world because otherwise they wouldn't be very good schools, so I'm not sure she's right or not. It is only the first day and I am new here so many this is a bigger world than the one at Sweetcreek.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Writing Exercise #3 ( Day 5 )

The author sat in the green room with his wife, nervously glancing at his watch. Barbara smiled at him, reaching out and taking his hand. "Don't worry. It'll be fine."

"I'm not ... worried," the author said. "I'm just antsy. This is taking so much time. I could be writing ... should be writing, really. And I've gotta talk to this yayhoo."

"This yayhoo is Maurice Green, and he's pretty big. You'd know that if you ever watched television. Trust me, you're going to reach a whole lot of housewives with this one."

"I'm not sure I care about reaching housewives," the author said. "I'm doing well for myself."

"Yes, but the publisher said you were doing this show, so you're doing this show." Barbara shook her head. "There's no sense in arguing. You're going on. I mean, you're on in just a few minutes, so freaking out isn't going to change anything."

"Right." The author fell silent. It just didn't help to argue with her. Barbara was much more stubborn than he. Truth be told, he just needed something to focus on while he waited. The wait was killing him. He could feel the desire to head back to the book he was working on burning inside him like a physical need.

"You know," Barbara began. "I've been meaning to talk to you about something..."

The author turned to her and looked up. "Hrm? What about?"

"It's about your writing."

"Oh!" The author smiled. "Actually, I wanted to talk about it, too. This new book is really quite different. I think we're going in a more of a thriller route, this time. But the final act has an interesting twist to it. You see, the antagonist and the main character are playing a game of cat and mouse in a hospital and-"

"No, no," she interrupted. "That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean?" The author stared at her, blinking in surprise. She rarely stopped him when he went on about his work.

"Well, it's been a long time since you've taken a break. I think that maybe you should finish this one up and we should ... I don't know. Go on vacation or something."

The author shrugged. "Maybe. I mean, I keep thinking I should be burning out, but it hasn't happened. It's just one idea after another. But I'll think about it."

"All right." She looked down and thought for a moment. "You know, there is one other thing that's been bothering me."

The author turned to face her, smiling. "Go ahead, I can take it."


The door to the green room opened and a production assistance stuck his head in. "We're ready for you."

The author turned and nodded. "Of course." Then he turned to look to Barbara. "You were saying?"

She looked up at him, and her face carried inscrutable emotions with it. She shook her head. "Never mind. It can wait."

The author nodded as he stood. "Very well then. Wish me luck."

"You'll do fine, you don't need it." She smiled and watched as he left the room to head to the stage.

* * * * *

The author walked on to applause. He sat in the chair next to the host, who was an older man who carried himself with a smug authority. The author didn't care much for him, but he was popular and commanded a vast sway with a demographic that didn't typically flock to his books. If the publishers wanted him to perform for more sales, he would do it. It was part of the job.

"Welcome to the show!"

"It's good to be here," the author said. He carried with him a good stage presence, and he knew it. When he was in front of a crowd, he could turn on the charm and the wit. He made an imposing figure, with his offhand manner and his clean look.

"You've written, what? A hundred books by now?"

The author laughed. "No, afraid not. I'm working up to it, but so far I'm only at thirty five."

"That's still quite a collection. You've just recently turned fifty. How do you keep up with that kind of work load? You've even gained speed in the past decade. I know I'm not nearly as fast as I was when I was thirty. Or even when I was fifty. What's your secret?"

"Well, I've come to rely more and more on instinct. Writing is funny like that. At first you try to control everything, and struggle when it doesn't work out. But you tell enough stories and you know how they work and everything just kind of flows out of you naturally. It's streamlined the process a lot."

"You know, most critics say that American authors tend to peak in their fifties. And everything else after that is usually an attempt to replicate their highest success. Do you think you're ready to peak?"

"I don't think so. I really think I'm just getting started."

"Whoa! Big words, there."

"Perhaps. But I don't really have a type of book that defines me. They're all very different, and I regularly switch genres. So even if I did hit a big success somewhere, I have all these other places where I'm still working. I think most authors focus too much on ground they've already covered. I'm interested in blazing ahead."

"Big words indeed."

"As you like. Nobody seems to complain too much, really."

"Well, that's really my next point. Your books have met with great success both in terms of commercial sales and critical acclaim. That makes you something of a rarity in the field. How do you manage to walk the line between entertaining stories and 'high art'?"

"Magic," the author said, with a smile. The audience laughed, as it always did. "But really, I don't do anything special. I write what I like. I'm very old fashioned about it. I don't know if that helps or not, but people seem to respond to it. I'm not trying to appeal to an audience or anything."

"Speaking of old fashioned, a lot of writers are embracing new technology like word processors or even personal computers, if they have the money for one. Yet I hear you're using the same typewriter you started out with in the late fifties. Is that part of your magic?"

The author shifted in his seat, trying not to read too much into the question. "Call it superstition, or call me stubborn. But I have an old portable Remington, and it's seen me through all my novels. I don't see any reason to fix what isn't broken. Sure, maybe those word processors are easier, but writing isn't an easy job. When you have to fix everything the old fashioned way, you pay a lot more attention to what you're writing. I don't think technology really makes writing any better. It just helps people who otherwise wouldn't be bothered. Read into that what you will."

"But it is part of the equation of how you work?"

"Certainly. I wouldn't dream of using anything else. Even if typewriter ribbon is getting harder to find."

"So, this magic of yours... What happens if somewhere down the road, despite all your boasts, you do peak or run out of things to say? What's the plan then?"

The author laughed. "I'm a writer, Maurice. Writer's write. Even if I ran out of magic and my typewriter fell apart and I couldn't think of a thing to say, I'd still write. It's in my blood."

"How would you do it, then, if everything fell apart and the public turned against you?"

The author shrugged as if that was the easiest question in the world. "The same way anybody does it, I suppose--one word at a time."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Writing Exercise #4 ( Day 4 )

The author sat in the corner of the room, staring across at the machine on the lone desk in the room. This was his writing room, where he kept the machine and wrote all of the books that turned him into a household name.

There was no other furniture in this room save that singular small desk and the utilitarian chair that he typically sat on. He didn't need anything else. All that was necessary was a quiet place for him and the machine to continue their unholy communion.

Crouched against the far corner of the room, the author stared at the machine as intently as he would another person. He opened the thermos and drank from it. The strong taste of coffee was a shock to his senses, but he had to keep awake.

His wife, Barbara, had always joked that he could write in his sleep. Indeed, there had been times, more and more frequently, when he found himself waking up at his desk, new pages of prose he didn't remember writing sitting in a pile. It was vivid, intense stuff. Many times it was better than what he wrote when he was awake and aware of what he was doing.

But Barbara was gone. So was his son.

Now ... now things were different. Alone with only the infernal machine for company. What woman would be second to a typewriter? Especially when her husband lost himself to it, again and again.

An empty room of an empty house. The author laughed aloud. "Look at what's happened. Everything around us could rot, and you'd still be ready to make music, wouldn't you?"

He took another drink, then idly rubbed a hand against his cheek. He had been up for three days now, and his hand brushed dryly against stubble. He didn't even want to know how he looked. These days, he was showing his age more and more. Sunken cheeks and wrinkling skin.

It didn't matter anymore that he had written dozens of books, each selling well and growing his legions of fans ... the cost grew with each dollar, each person. It was only through force of will that he wasn't sitting there working away now, even when everything he cared about in his life was falling away.

The author sighed and took another long drink from his thermos. He set it aside, settled back against the wall, and drifted in his thoughts.

It was the sound of the carriage return bell that roused him. He looked up, seeing the typewriter had shifted the carriage to the other side. The author watched. Waited. What had happened? Had something given way on the typewriter? It was old. Here we were, nearing the beginning of the new millenium. Who knew what could happen to machines that old? Certainly that was all it was.

It was then that the clacking of the keys started. The machine, as always, worked like a dream. The keys depressed, the bars rose, struck the ribbon. Yet there was nobody at the helm. No paper in the machine. It just clacked away with all the animation of a pile of bones rattling in a sack.

Tak tak tak.

The author stood and walked over to the machine. It continued to type, the keys pressing and releasing too fast for him to see what they were saying. No, all he could do was watch it go.

Moving without thinking, he grabbed a piece of paper and poised it over the machine. There was a pause as if the machine sensed that there was paper waiting for it. The author slid the paper in, turning the knob to set the paper up. As soon as he did so, the machine snapped to life again, the keys moving as fast as ever.


The author paused and stared at the words on the page. He couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. He hovered over the keyboard, unsure what to do. He tried to type, but when his fingers touched the keys he found them unresponsive. No matter how hard he pressed, there was no give to them.

"What are you doing?" He felt a little silly talking to nobody. But then, what else was there to do?

The keys moved under his fingers and the author pulled back as if he might get maimed by the machine.


"Which is?" he asked hesitantly.


"... our work."


"Well ... I am the author."


"And you?"


"You're just a ..."


"You're a typewriter."


The author sat up and frowned down at the machine. His anger was swiftly overtaking his fear. "You're nothing more than the tool. I'm the writer. They're my books. I refuse to believe that-"


"I don't need you. What have you cost me, night after night? My family. My health. Hell, I'm talking to a typewriter, so maybe even my sanity. Anything would be better than this."


"But it's not mine..." The author stared down at the machine. Waiting. Subservient. Unsure.


The paper ran out.

The carriage bell sounded.

The author looked at the typewriter, which sat expectantly, waiting for the next piece of paper. The author glanced at the stack of fresh sheets, at the machine so hungry for them. He reached for the paper.

The carriage returned to the right on its own.

The author looked down at the paper, and then at the machine. Then, suddenly, he smiled. "You do need me. Without me, you can't write a thing."

The typewriter seemed to pause, an animal surprised by bright lights. It did nothing but sit, waiting.

"I could give you this paper and we could continue this discussion. You could beat me down into submission. But ... I still have a choice. Right here. Before we begin."

The typewriter clacked. It was impossible to tell what it was typing, it was moving so fast. But without paper, it was all for naught.

The author looked down at it with something very much like affection. But his hand slowly drew away from the paper.

"You're probably right. Without you, I might never write another book in my life. I'm not a young man anymore, and decades of a crutch make walking so much harder. But ... I have to do this."

The typewriter clacked angrily. Three typebars jammed, and the machine seemed to nearly wrench itself in two trying to untangle them.

"You've offered me a lot. More than any gift ever should. But no gift should last forever."

More furious typing. Typebars were jamming over and over as it tried to convey whatever message it was hoping to impart now that he was abandoning it. Yet without paper, it was nothing more than noise.

"This is where we part," the author said, standing.

"Don't worry. I'll keep you here; keep you safe. Maybe someday, you'll be right and I'll be wrong. Then I'll be back. Until then, I'll let you rest. By now, you've earned it."

The author left the room.

The typewriter fell silent.

The room was empty, and remained so even as the author had the door sealed.