Sunday, December 30, 2012

The U2 Countdown

I've made no secret of my love for U2. Their music is great, but the band itself is a source of great inspiration. Their road to success is one that writers should probably look at (I talked about that here), because it wasn't overnight. They pursued it and worked at it even after they achieved it. But they are so much more than just a band (a great book about that is Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas).

As my wife was saying, the reason for this post may just be an excuse for me to get to listen to a lot of U2. And, believe me, I've done just that. In the last few days, I've gone back through every album, some of them more than once (just because I'd forgotten how good, say, Zooropa actually is) and listed out all of my favorite songs from each album. Of course, there's also that I've been saying I should do this for, probably, over a year, so, since this is the list time of year, I figured it was as good a time as any. And, then, there was the listening to U2. What I've found is that boiling U2 down to 10 songs may be impossible, so let's see how I do with that.

But, before I go on to the list, I did make an interesting observation: the degree to which I like an album may not be related to how much I like the individual songs on it. For instance, I love No Line on the Horizon. It has a great overall sound and continuity, but I don't love the songs individually as much as I like songs on other albums, albums which I may not actually like as much as No Line. In fact, many of my favorite songs come from The Joshua Tree, but it's not higher than third on my list of albums from them (which does not change my mind on the fact that I think it's probably the greatest album of all time and, yet, I still love Achtung Baby more).

At any rate, U2 has probably been the most significant band in history, which is not to say that a lot of people wouldn't argue about that, but, mostly, people will argue from the place of what they prefer rather than what it means to be significant. The Beatles are probably the only real contender as most significant band, but, applying some objective measures to what each band has accomplished, other than make music, The Beatles didn't really accomplish all that much. Then, again, I'm biased, which is why I say people may want to argue about it. I'll say this as a comparison, though: I love the band The Alarm, but I would never try to make an argument for them being significant. Anyway... I don't suppose any of that is really all that important. A band's significance has nothing to do with whether anyone will like or not like their music. I don't much care for The Beatles, but I can't deny their significance.

One other thing I should say about me and music: I'm highly attracted to lyric content. By that I mean I want my songs to say something. It's not uncommon that I will like a song when I first hear it because I like the music, but, once I figure out the words, I will quit liking it either because I don't like the message or it just doesn't have one. U2 appeals to me in that their music is about something. Often, their songs are about conflict, both external and internal, and those contradictions appeal to me. That being said, some of the double listings (but not all) are for songs that are thematically equivalent (at least, in my mind). Mostly, the double listings are just because I couldn't pull a top 10 out of the 40+ songs I had listed.

Okay! On to the list! My top songs by U2 (links provided if you want to listen to the songs):

10. "October" from October and "40" from War

  • "October" -- I just love this one. Beautiful music and a powerful message.
  • "40" -- How could I not include the song they used to end all of their concerts with? Besides, the lyrics are pulled from "Psalm 40," just like the title says.

9. "Window in the Skies" from U218

  • Like many of U2's best songs, this one has a meaning under the obvious one, not that the obvious one isn't good enough for a song. You'd have to do away with nearly every love song out there if love wasn't a strong enough message, but it's more than just a song about love, because it's a song about the transformative power of Love. And, then, the song goes deeper than that.

8. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" from How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" from All That You Can't Leave Behind

  • These two songs speak to me on the same level; both are about people not being able to admit that they need help. Too many people can't or won't admit they need help, and, sometimes, I'm one of those people. I hate when I hit a situation that I just can't deal with. Often, there are people on the outside of those situations saying, "Hey, I can help," but we just don't want to listen.

7. "One" from Achtung Baby and "All I Want Is You" from Rattle and Hum

  • These two songs are simultaneously alike and different. I mean, completely alike as in almost the same and, yet, completely opposed to one another. Listen to the songs if you want to figure that out.

6. "The First Time" from Zooropa

  • I don't know what to say about this song without actually going through the whole thing, which I'm not going to do. It just has some amazing lyric images, especially about how we may respond to unconditional love.

5. "Elevation" from All That You Can't Leave Behind and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" from The Unforgettable Fire

  • "Elevation" -- Immediately my favorite song from All That You Can't Leave Behind, which is probably my second favorite album and has a lot of songs on it that I just love. My oldest was four when the album came out, and we used to blast this song in the car and sing it together. Yes, it has some sentimental value to it. The video's a lot of fun, too.
  • "Pride (In the Name of Love)" -- A tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. with an obvious meaning and message. It's a great song.

4. "New Year's Day" from War

  • I almost put this song with "Pride," but I really do like it more. It's probably actually in competition for a spot higher than this, but it just gets edged down the list, hitting #4. It wants to be higher but can't quite overpower the powerhouse of Joshua Tree. "Gold is the reason for the wars we wage."

3. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" from The Joshua Tree

  • "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- This is, in many ways, the quintessential U2 song for me. More than any other song, it openly displays the conflict between belief and, well, belief. I believe, but I'm not satisfied with the options. I'm still looking. I believe, help my unbelief.
  • "Where the Streets Have No Name" -- This song is so linked to "Still Haven't Found" for me that I can't separate them. Different songs with a similar theme in that they both deal with what we, as humans, are striving for. This one, though, is the reach for a better place, a place where we are not judged by what street we live on, a place where the streets have no name. Heaven. When I was in high school, my youth pastor made a snide remark to me about listening to this song, to which I replied, "Mike, what place do you think they mean when they say 'where the streets have no name?'" He just sort of stared at me for a moment and turned and walked away. One of my favorite performances of this song was done by the band Mercy Me at a Christian music festival. They ended with this song, saying it was their favorite song from their teens about heaven. After they finished, the host came out on stage and said something like how "even a band like U2" can give us praise music... "even a band like U2." Talk about being ignorant of your subject matter. But, then, I suppose Jesus faced the same kind of thing from the pharisees. Which is not to draw a comparison between U2 and Jesus, but...

2. "With Or Without You" from The Joshua Tree

  • This song, which I love, gets the #2 spot largely for sentimental reasons. I do think they have better songs, but this was the first song I ever heard by them, and it caught my attention the very first time I heard it. I had one of those "who is that?" moments, which I don't actually have all that often and had never had before. None of the people I was with knew who it was, either. I'm not sure what that says about any of us. Actually, I know what it says about me: Prior to U2 I listened to what was classified as "light" rock, stuff like Air Supply. "With Or Without You" was the first song that fit the music profile of the radio station I listened to back then, so it was the first song I heard by them because it was the first song my station ever played by them. However, I have nothing to say for my friends, since they all listened to rock music and really have no excuse for not at least knowing who U2 was.

1. "Bad" from The Unforgettable Fire

  • Bono has said that the writing in this song isn't actually very good, but that it manages to be a good song anyway. In fact, he never really even finished writing it. Nevertheless, it's been my favorite song by them since shortly after I found it during my U2 exploration. I worked my way back through all of their albums, and, even with as much as I love Joshua Tree, I love this song more. It's the discordant images.
Honorable mentions:

"Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" -- Not my favorite U2 song, but almost my favorite Christmas song. Yeah, sure, if I have to choose, there are Christmas songs I like more, but, still, it's not Christmas for me without this song. The one thing it does do is make me wish U2 would do a Christmas album.

"Sweetest Thing" -- U2 is the only band I know of that have had numerous B-sides go on to become hits. As it's been said by many people in the music industry, U2 discards songs to B-sides that most bands would be more than happy to lead with from an album. "Sweetest Thing" is my favorite of U2s B-sides, and it almost made the top "10."

"Silver and Gold" -- Another B-side that has become a big hit for them. Great song.

"Unchained Melody" -- My favorite cover by U2. I like the original, but I like U2's even better.

There you go, my top 15 "Top 10" U2 songs. Plus a few more. And, I just have to say, this post took me longer to research and write than any other post I've ever done, which is actually saying something. But it was great fun. And, yes, I know I probably know more about U2 than is normal, but I also know even more about Lewis and Tolkien, and I bet none of you think that's weird. And none of that comes close to what I know about Star Wars, and, hey, compared to what some people know, what I know about Star Wars is practically normal.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pantsing, Plotting, and the Grocery List

I hate the "grocery list." I do. I hate it. You want to know why? Fine, I'll tell you why. Because I didn't used to need one, and I hate the fact that I need one now. Seriously, ten years ago, I could walk  into the grocery store with no list despite needing 30 different things, and I'd walk out with every single thing on my not-list. I never got home and had to deal with "CRAP! I forgot the <one thing I went to get in the first place>!" These days, if I go to the store needing three things, I might come home with two of them. Yes, I said "might."

It's all very distressing. Mostly, it's distressing for my ego. I've been in list training now for probably five years or so. 'Cause, see, I hate the idea of needing the list, so I try to brush off the need, "No, I don't need no steenking list!" But, yet, coming home with only 2/3 of what you went in to get just doesn't work very well, and it causes repeated trips to the store to get the things I forgot, and I hate that even more. Especially if it's something I need right then, which does happen.

Granted, one of the reasons I forget things is my kids, specifically, my daughter. She likes to go to the store with me, and we never make it even 10' into the store before she's asking for things, and, pretty soon, the flood of items she's inserting into my mental landscape has completely blotted out the actual mental list that was there. Which is why I need a paper list. Besides, she likes the paper list. She gets to hold it, and she likes to go get things while I'm, say, picking through the apples trying to find ones that aren't bruised.

Which brings me to pantsing. We were at the store the other day without a list, my wife, my daughter, and I. Theoretically, since my wife was with me, we should have had a list, especially since she's the one that makes lists in our house and is in charge of my list training. Seriously, she loves lists. But we didn't have a list, and there was a reason for that that I just can't remember right now. See, I should have written it down (except I didn't know I'd want that particular piece of information again). Anyway, we were walking through the store tossing back and forth the things we needed to get and going back and forth in store as we remembered things that we'd already passed and all of that, and it occurred to me how like pantsing it is to go to the store without a list. [For any of you non-writers that may be reading this, "pantsing" is not what you might be thinking and has nothing to do with high school hazing. Pantsing is short for "by the seat of your pants" or, in other words, not having a plan. Writing without a plan (plot), specifically. To look at from an Indiana Jones perspective: "I don't know. I'm making it up as I go."]

Without the list, the following things happen:
1. I spend a lot of time walking back-and-forth through the store trying to get things as I remember them rather than starting at one side of the store and ending at the other. In other words, it takes a lot longer because it wastes a lot of time. [To put this in writing terms, it's like having to do a lot of revising as you go back and put things in that you forgot. Like forgetting to have one character tell some other character some vital piece of information that he wouldn't know otherwise.]
2. I still forget things. This is especially true of items I only need every few weeks. Like laundry detergent. I hate when laundry detergent is one of the things I need on a given trip, because, if that's not written down, I will forget it. That means an immediate trip back to the store or putting off the laundry, and, let me just say, you can only put off doing the laundry so many times. Not having laundry detergent is not an excuse when  other people can smell you. [In writing terms, this are major revisions. Having to go back into the draft over and over to fix the holes you left.]
3. I buy things I don't really need to be buying (this is especially problematic when my daughter is with me). If I have a list, I go directly to the things I need, finishing my trip quickly and efficiently. When I don't, I wander through the store and pick up extra things "just in case." "Oooh! Cheese ball! Things I wouldn't see if I wasn't wandering around trying to remember what I was supposed to be getting. [This is like writing things in that don't really serve your story just because you like them. Sometimes, these things can be entertaining side bits (like "Oooh! Cheese ball!"), but, often, these are just things that bloat the story (like those Oreos you know you should have just walked on past and are now sitting in the cupboard causing all sorts of guilt) and would be better left out. Yes, I'm calling your story fat.]
4. I let my daughter talk me into buying things that no one else in the family wants to eat and, really, we don't want her to eat. Like the jar of nutella sitting in the cupboard that no else likes, and we won't let her eat any of it more than once a month or so because it has so much sugar in it (actually, that wasn't a whim purchase, but it serves to illustrate the point, because that stuff is in our cupboard only because of my daughter). [This is like applying every piece of advice you hear to your manuscript, whether it's coming from CPs or agents or whomever. I don't have definitive data for this, but it seems to me that pantsers have a much more difficult time with not responding to every suggestion about their manuscripts that come along. (Plotters tend to be more focused and more easily discard bad advice.)]

I'm sure you've figured out that the list is a metaphor for plotting. Just to be clear.

Having said all of that, I'm not saying that being a pantser is a bad thing. It's just a bad thing for me. If I don't have a plan, if I don't, at least, have notes, I don't remember it. So I make story notes. Right now, I have notes for about half a dozen different stories or books for the future that I add to when I have ideas. It's just... necessary for me. If I'd started all of this before I had kids to distract me, maybe it wouldn't matter, but it does, so I have to plan out what I'm doing just so that I remember what I'm doing.

Which is not to say that I'm extreme or anything. I don't storyboard everything or anything like that. Heck, I don't even make actual outlines (which is ironic, because I was trying to teach my daughter the importance of outlining, recently, because she was working on an essay for school, and she kept mixing up her main points with her evidence). But I do need a list. There are probably a lot of you out there that don't need lists, yet, but there's one thing I can tell you for sure: even if you don't need it, it never hurts to have one. Just in case.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cat Angst

I've taken ownership of  the cat.
As you can see, I've got him all packed up and ready to go. Actually, no, that's just the cat taking ownership of my daughter's accordion case. Anything that looks like something he shouldn't be in is something he decides he wants to be in.

But back to my original statement: I've taken ownership of the cat. Not that I know what I would do if the technical owner showed up at my door tomorrow and said he wanted the cat back. I suppose I could say, "Let's leave it up to the cat" (because I'm sure the cat would pick me, since,  in effect, he already has), but I don't know if that's a thing with pets like it is with kids.

See, although the cat clearly wants to live with us and has been living with us for quite some time, it still fills me with angst knowing that there's some guy in the neighborhood that is the technical owner of the cat. The fact that he could, theoretically, knock on my door and break my daughter's heart fills me with all sorts of angst over the whole cat issue and what we should do about  the cat. But no more.

As of today, I'm declaring the cat ours. Sort of like planting a flag. See, now, I've had to spend money on the cat, real money, and if I'm going to have to take the cat to the vet for medical attention, the cat is mine. That's just all there is to it.

Let me explain:

A few weeks ago as we were walking out the door to go somewhere, the cat came limping up with a swollen left shoulder. It looked rather like someone had stuffed an orange in  there, but that wasn't the first time the cat had hurt himself, and we had somewhere we had to be, so we let him in and left. The swelling had gone down by the time we got home, so that was good. We did see, at that point, that he had some kind of wound in his shoulder.

There's an orange tabby cat in the neighborhood that is the neighborhood cat bully. He likes to stand over other cats making this horrible meowing, pinning them down. He does this without actually touching them, but I've had to rescue Jack (my cat) from him several times, and I've seen him keeping other cats hiding under cars or against walls or whatever. We don't like this cat, and I think it and Jack may have gotten into a scrape that resulted in Jack's wound. That or the dead gopher Jack left as an offering for us (and, yes, they are actually offerings) managed to bite Jack before he partially skinned it.

But Jack didn't "belong" to us, so I decided to just keep an eye on the wound in the hopes that the actual owner might show that he was still keeping an eye out on the cat and do something about it. But that didn't happen.

Still, the wound seemed to be healing up just fine. Jack quit licking it all the time, and it had closed up and everything. Until a couple of days ago.

This may be coincidence, but Jack and The Orange (my name for the bully cat) had another go at it. The Orange was making his horrible noise, and I went out to see what was going on, and The Orange had Jack trapped up against the gate to our backyard. I got in between them, and Jack took off toward the car (where he often hides from The Orange), but The Orange went for him, and Jack turned around and took a swipe at him. Good for him, right?

So, maybe, the cats went at it, and Jack's wound got reopened. Or, maybe, it was just itching because it was healing. We don't really know what started it, but Jack started licking at it again and licked all the hair off of it and the surrounding area. It was pretty gross, but the wound was smaller than the nail on my pinky finger, so, again, I thought we should just keep an eye on it.

Today, though, something changed in all of that. The wound broke open, doubling in size, and was actively oozing. I don't know if he scratched or licked it open or if he got into another fight or what. It was fine when he left the house this morning, but, when he came back in around 2:00, it was a mess.

That was the end of the angst. I took ownership of the cat and took him to the vet. He got all kinds of shots (both immunizations and an antibiotic) and a couple of staples in his shoulder.
I figure for $300, the cat is mine. Especially since he has to go back in two weeks and again in four weeks. The good news is that the vet said he's a strong, healthy cat. In fact, everyone was admiring him. The cat has got some charisma is all I can say; after all, he got me to like him. I mean actively like him, not just kind of like him in that way I like most animals.

And here's the allegory:
A lot of things in life are like Jack. There are these things out there, situations or whatever, that someone else should have responsibility for. However, for whatever reason, those people won't take responsibility for whatever it is. Maybe, they just don't care. Or care enough. Or, maybe, there are some sort of extenuating circumstances. Who knows. In the end, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that, if it's something you care about, you take responsibility for it. Just do it. Don't wait for someone else to step up to the plate and do the job. Most of the time, if you're waiting for that happen, you're just going to be disappointed.

Let's look back at the situation with Jack:
Initially, it was apparent that the cat was just out on his own nearly all of the time. He wasn't really being cared for. That included being fed on a regular basis. Whether this was the fault of the cat not going home to eat or the fault of the "owner" not providing food, doesn't really matter. Now, we didn't know if the cat had an owner at the time, so we started slipping him so food, but, even after we found out who the owner was, it was clear the cat was still going unfed. Eventually, it was also clear that the cat only ever stayed at or around our house. We took on the feeding responsibility because the cat was (is) important to my daughter. It was something that needed to be done, and no one else was doing it or doing it adequately. All of that lead to us taking care of the cat's wound. Because someone had to do it. The person that should have been responsible didn't do the job. Because we care about the cat and don't want him to die from something that is completely preventable, we took care of it.

And that's kind of how life needs to be. People need to pick up the responsibility for the things they care about and quit waiting for other people to do it. Even if those other people are the people that ought to be doing it. Sometimes, those things are even our things. Things that we ought to be responsible for, things we say we care about, but we're too busy waiting around to see if someone else will come along and do them for us. Those things can cause all sorts of angst.

It felt good to actually say, "You know what, I'm taking responsibility for this cat. This cat is now mine." No more angst. So, if you have a Jack in your life, pick him up and take responsibility for him. Scratch him under the chin and listen to him purr.
The cat also plays the piano.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Star Wars Christmas Special

No, not that Star Wars Christmas Special. Which is just the oddest thing in the world to have a cult following. I mean, have you seen the "Star Wars Holiday Special"? Of course, when I was a kid and I saw it, I loved it. But I was eight. And it was Star Wars. I sort of agree with Lucas, now, though, in that it's the worst thing that's ever been made. I can barely see clips from up without thinking, "What were you thinking? Seriously?" The point is that it's a lot of those same people that hate Jar Jar that also love the Star Wars Christmas thing, and I can only think, "What are you thinking? Seriously?" These are the people that call the Holiday Special the Holy Grail of Star Wars.

But that's people for you.

And we're not watching the "Star Wars Holiday Special" at my house this year. Mostly because I don't own it unlike those made for TV ewok movies which we do own and my kids used to watch constantly.
But I digress...

All of that to say that Star Wars is always a big part of Christmas at our house. For those of you that were around last year, you may remember that I got this:
And I made these (although I don't think I ever posted pictures of them):
(there were also regular peppermint bark ones, but Han shows up better in these)

I added a couple of molds this year and made these:

Then we had not one but two Lego Star Wars Advent calendars!
I'm voting for Snow2-D2 as the astromech's name, but my son hasn't approved it.

There are even Star Wars ornaments on the tree (which is nothing compared to what I have planned for next year!)
Next year, the Death Star will have to be at the top of the tree.
Naboo being attacked by a giant space dinosaur. Yes, we also have dinosaurs on our tree. And Spider-Man (not pictured).

So there's just a little flavor of Christmas at my house. It's kind of pepperminty, don't you think?
Oh! I also have it on good authority that Santa's bringing season 4 of Clone Wars, so I see a marathon coming starting the day after Christmas.

So... however it is you celebrate your holiday, I hope it is a grand and joyous one!
Merry Christmas!!!

[As a special Christmas bonus, most everything I have available will be FREE! for your Kindle or Kindle app on Christmas day and the day after. Just go here for a full list!]

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Problem of Criticism

My oldest son has been in a production this month of the play Stage Door (there was a movie adapted from the play that I was going to link you to, but, after looking at the movie specifics, I'm not doing that, because the plot of the movie is almost unrecognizable when compared to the plot of the play). It's just a small part, because he has the lead in their other production, Look Homeward, Angel, to be performed next year. To put it mildly, things have been busy, lately, our weekends packed with events, not the least of which have been shuttling our kids all over the place.

Before we went to the play, we asked my son about it, trying to figure out the best time to go and how much priority to give the play for his, basically, three minute performance. He completely downplayed it to the point where I kind of thought we should just skip it, because we were going to have to go on a school night, which was going to mean being out way past bedtime for the kids, since the play didn't even start until 7:00, and it was two and a half hours long. See, our son said Stage Door really wasn't very good. It wasn't about anything, and he really didn't like it.

No, he didn't try out for a play he didn't like. He didn't try out for it at all. They asked him to do the part because they were running short of guys, so he acquiesced.

We did try to get more out of him, but, basically, all we got was that it's about a bunch of girls living in a boarding house in New York trying to make it on Broadway. And that is what's about. But that's not a plot, and, as far as my son was concerned, it didn't have one. I have to say, I was ready to skip this one after hearing him talk about it. Oh, and it was being billed as a comedy, and my son couldn't figure out why, because he didn't think it was funny. Oh, there were a few places with laughs, but, you know, not a comedy. Not that he knew what it was.

But my wife wanted to go anyway, and I get that. We do want to support the program he's in even if it's just for three minutes of him on stage.

I'm so glad we went, because, well, he was just completely wrong about that play. It was great! And it was, actually, about something: the struggle to hold onto your dreams in the face of repeated rejection, something you writers out there ought to be familiar with. There were several story lines, but, really, all of them dealt with that same subject. It was good, and it was funny, although it did contain tragedy. Still, definitely a comedy since it has a happy ending.

So how could my son be so wrong about it? What was the problem with his criticism? Well, it's the source: he's a 16-year-old boy that just didn't "get" what the play is about. He had no context for understanding the struggles the young women were going through, so, to him, the play wasn't about anything more than a bunch of girls living in a house together. Later, maybe, once he's been out in the world a bit, he'll be able to understand. But not now.

The whole situation got me to thinking, though, again, about criticism and reviews and all of that stuff and how important it is to remember the source of the criticism (criticism here being used as the objective measure of merits and faults of a work). It reinforces my belief that negative reviews are just as necessary as possible ones, because we should all be looking at the source of any review or criticism. Does the review just bash a work without giving any reasons? Does it unashamedly praise the work without any given reasons? Neither of those things are helpful. Unless the source of the critique tells why s/he liked or didn't like a work, it's fairly unhelpful. Unless you have a feeling of why the source likes or doesn't like particular types of things, it isn't helpful.

All of that to say that the first thing I should have done when my son was telling me how much he doesn't like Stage Door was to consider the source. I know what he likes. He likes nerdy, geek stuff. ThinkGeek is his favorite non-place in the world. If it had been a play about aliens girls in a boarding house, he would have loved it. But it wasn't that, and it dealt with subject matter that he's not equipped to understand, yet, so he didn't like it. What I should have done was seek a better source of information.

That's always the problem with criticism. The source of it. In that respect, there's more of a responsibility on the reader to find what s/he feels is a reliable source. "What does this person like?" "Does this person give reasons for what s/he likes?" Because, you know, if you know what kind of things a reviewer likes, you can decide that you should check something out even based on a bad review.

And here's a good example:
The recent trashing of Guy Fieri's restaurant by the New York Times (and other New York food reviewers) resulted in a packed house for Fieri as people flooded the place to see if the food really could be as bad as the reviewer said. Here's a better response to all of that than I can give, never having eaten there. It's a good example, though, of taking into account the source of the review.

I wish all of you could go see Stage Door, but they ended their run this past weekend, even if you did live close enough to go see it. As the play teaches, hold onto your dreams. And, as I'm saying, remember the source of criticism. Weigh it as much as you would the material being reviewed. Positive or negative.

[Oh, and don't forget to drop by A Beer for the Shower and vote for my party! Thanks so much!]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Men in Black

Well, it's been a while, but it's finally time for another big, whopping bowl of pop culture! Evidently, my pop culture diet has been lacking, lately, and it's been making me irregular. (okay, no, I don't know what that means, but it just... you know what? never mind! It's my blog, and I can say those things if I want to)

I like movies. Let me re-phrase that: I'm really into movies. There was a time, once, long ago, when I was actually thinking about going into movies. Special effects, specifically. I even got accepted into some programs, but... yeah, there's always a but... money and distance was an issue. In other words, the distance was an issue because of the money. But that's beside the point.

Anyway, I used to really do movies. Especially during the summer. I'd see a dozen easy, and some of those I'd see more than once. However, time and money are an issue these days, so I don't really make it to the movies the way I'd like to be able to. I mean, it's one thing when it's just me, and I can hit a matinee for $8.00, but, when you're trying to coordinate an entire family, even for a matinee, $40 per movie adds up pretty quickly. It means choices have to be made.

Every summer, we have to really look at the movies coming out and decide which are the ones we most want to see. This past summer, that was Avengers and Brave. I also managed to go see Spider-Man with my younger son (because no one else cared to go see it) and Batman (by myself). [All of those links go back to the reviews I did of those movies.] You may see a comic book theme here. One movie, a comic book movie, that got missed, because everyone wanted to see it and we just couldn't squeeze it in and several members of the family cried "foul" when I suggested that I would just go see it alone, was Men in Black 3. I was pretty bummed about missing it in the theater, but that's just how things are some times.

I'm even more bummed, now, about having missed it in the theater, because I finally saw it. Wow! What a great movie.

I'm already a big Men in Black fan. It's based on a comic book, Jones and Smith (or should that be Smith and Jones?) are excellent and excellent together, and the first two movies were just so much fun. Say what you want about the second; it was still a lot of fun, and I like it. So do my kids. Well, MiB3 did not disappoint.

Smith and Jones were just as excellent as they always are, but it was Josh Brolin that really stole the show. He was amazing! He was as much Agent K as Tommy Lee Jones was. I mean, my kids thought it was some kind CGI magic and didn't realize that it was some other actor playing the character until we told them. That's some amazing stuff right there, and the movie is worth seeing just for his performance. Facial expressions, voice, everything.

It was nice to see Emma Thompson in the movie, also, although I was disappointed by the lack of Rip Torn as Zed. Of course, there was also Will Arnett in a small but hilarious role. He's great in those kind of walk on parts. And there was Bill Hader who is also just SO funny, and just the fact that he was playing Andy Warhol was a laugh all by itself.

On top of the great acting, the story was well done. The time travel stuff was handled well, and that's always an issue with any movie with time travel. And there was an emotional aspect to this one that was really lacking in the other two, and that was fabulous. It actually, literally, brought tears to my eyes, and, when a movie can bring tears to my eyes, well, that's saying something for the movie.

If I could retroactively go back, I would much rather have seen MiB3 in the theater than the Batman release, and Rises was just such a huge theater movie that that's actually saying a lot, because I would give up the theater experience of Rises to see MiB3 in the theater instead. That's how good it was. [And to give you some perspective on my belief in the theater experience: I hated Independence Day. It's one of the worst movies ever. But I'm glad I saw it in the theater, because it was, without doubt, a theater movie. I just don't ever want to see it again.] If you haven't seen Men in Black 3, you should definitely take the time to do it. It's a movie I'll be purchasing at some point, because I already want to see it again.

I hope you've enjoyed this bowl of pop culture. Remember, eat it while it's still crunchy, because no one likes a big bowl of soggy culture!

[Note: Tomorrow, the Showering Beer Guys will be having a vote to see who threw the best party for Slim. My party is here. I'd like to just ask for you to go vote for me (tomorrow) just because, well, you know, it's me, BUT they will have a list up of all the parties people threw in case you want to go read through them and vote for the best. That's the most important thing after all, voting for the most deserving. Stop by tomorrow and pop over to their post and vote! Thanks!]

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Expected Self-Indulgence

The more I heard about The Hobbit in the lead up to its release the more trepidatious I became. The Lord of the Rings, overall, is an excellent adaptation of the book. They're great movies, but they are also great adaptations. Mostly. Except for the few places where Peter Jackson got all self-indulgent and added stuff in just because he liked it better that way. Like the elves at Helm's Deep, which still just makes my ears steam. To hear him say in an interview that he added them in there because he just wanted there to be more elves because he loves elves so much just makes me want to smack him, because what he did completely undermines Tolkien's purpose for that battle.

And let's just not even talk about King Kong, because that was three hours of the most self-indulgent crap ever.

At any rate, the more I heard about what Jackson was doing with The Hobbit, the more I worried that that was what he was doing, making a completely self-indulgent movie. But my wife kept telling me to give him the benefit of the doubt because he'd done such a good job with LotR. >sigh< It turned out I was correct. Jackson needs three movies for his version of The Hobbit because it is exactly that: his version. And his version is not a better a version. In many places, it destroys what Tolkien did just so that Jackson could shove The Hobbit into his version of Middle Earth. [And now I know why the Tolkien family has restricted Jackson from any more of Tolkien's material than he already has access to (meaning he was only allowed what was in The Hobbit and LotR and denied everything else).]

The biggest problem, though, was that, while watching the movie, it was amazing. I mean, it really was amazing! But I couldn't get immersed in it, not completely, because the back of my head kept poking at me, saying, "But it's wrong!" And the problem with that is the farther away from actually watching the movie I get, the more the wrong parts bother me. So, although I enjoyed it while I was actually watching it (most of it, anyway -- the part with domino trees was just DUMB (and took me back to the swinging dinosaurs in Kong, which was also DUMB)), the more I think about it, talk about it, read about it, the more upset about it I get and the less I like it. Which will not keep me from seeing the others and, probably, owning all of them. And that bothers me, too!

And speaking of reading about it, my first impression upon walking out of the movie was that people who have not read the books would probably find more to like in the movie, because they wouldn't have the feeling of wrongness about it that I have. However, the more reviews I look at from people that have no other exposure to Tolkien than the movies (and some that haven't even seen LotR), the more I'm finding that people that don't already like Tolkien don't like this movie. So... if you haven't read Tolkien, you won't like this movie. If you have read Tolkien... well, you might like it if you read Tolkien a long time ago and aren't really "into" it, but if you are really into Middle Earth, I'm not seeing how you can really like what Jackson's done to it.

My sons are good examples of this. My younger son is most upset about the lack of the songs, because they are mostly excluded. And he hates the inclusion of the pale orc. As does my older son. (As do I.) They both have complaints about the movie that are at war with the fact that they enjoyed watching the movie. You shouldn't come out of a movie feeling both "I loved it!" and "I hated it!" You just shouldn't. The short of that is that we are all conflicted about it. Everyone except my daughter, I suppose, because she hasn't read any Tolkien, yet, but, because she lives in a Tolkien-ish environment, she has a predilection toward it.

Or, maybe, people who are really into LotR but not The Hobbit, people that read the trilogy because of the movies but never bothered with Hobbit, will really like it, because Jackson really did everything he could to make this (series of) movie(s) as epic in scope as LotR. But, see, that's not what The Hobbit is, so the movie is continuing to just bother me.

In fact, Jackson just mapped Hobbit onto his LotR template, so it's wrong from the very beginning: the prologue. It worked in Fellowship, because there is so much back story in LotR that the prologue gave us a sense of history that lead up to the events in the trilogy, but it fails completely in An Unexpected Journey. For one thing, Bilbo doesn't all that stuff before he goes off on his journey; he finds out as he goes along, so we lose the sense of discovery that Bilbo had, because Jackson just lays it all out for us at the beginning. I squirmed in my seat during that part, but I was still reserving judgment. By the end of the movie, though, I was annoyed with it.

I was annoyed with it because Jackson uses that bit of prologue to introduce Thorin's non-existent nemesis. Non-existent in the book, I mean. This piece of plot that has been woven in is the biggest weakness of the film. I say that because every member of my family (except my daughter) came out of the movie hating the pale orc. Not necessarily for the same reason, but we all hated him being in the movie. He is so NOT needed.

But, see, the prologue is not the only way we see Jackson trying to harmonize the movies. The fight with the goblins and the Great Goblin is just like the flight through Moria with the falling stairs and all of that with the Great Goblin subbing in as the Balrog. Bilbo puts the ring on for the first time in the very same way that Frodo does. The elves come in and rescue the dwarves from a fight that doesn't even exist in the book. The stone giants... oh, well, I don't know where the heck that crap came from, but it was dumb. Having them would have been great, but having the party end up climbing around on them was ludicrous. And since when were they actually made from stone? Did I say self-indulgent? Oh, yeah, I think I did.

Having said all of that, the movie was still beautiful and wondrous to behold. The acting was... well, Martin Freeman was ohmygosh awesome. And it's a good thing, too, because Jackson gave much of Gandalf's role in the story to Bilbo in order to increase Bilbo's importance at an earlier stage in the story. (Bah!) Richard Armitage (whom I loved in BBC's Robin Hood) was dashing as Thorin and completely not what I expected but in a good way as opposed to the rest of the movie. Dwalin and Kili are the only two other dwarves that get large enough roles to actually comment on beyond the fact that they are there and they are dwarves, and both of them do just fine. If you've seen the other movies, the rest is as should be expected. Oh, the scene with Gollum was excellent in that Andy Serkis was, again, incredible.

Of course, there's Radagast... Sylvester McCoy (a previous Doctor, so I'm pre-disposed toward him already) did a great job with the part he was given; I'm just not quite sure how I feel about that part. On the one hand, I really liked it; on the other, really? Really? That's what Jackson came up with?  He had the opportunity to bring Radagast, a character hardly mentioned in any of the books, to life for the first time, and that's what he came up with? Seriously? He had freaking bird poop running down his face! Of course, he had a sleigh pulled by rabbits, too, which was really cool.

I think the real problem with the whole thing is that Jackson didn't have anyone standing next to him during all of this to say, "What the heck? Is that seriously what you're doing there?"

And before anyone starts comparing this with Lucas and the prequels, there is a huge difference: Star Wars belongs to Lucas. He wasn't screwing around with something that belonged to someone else. Middle Earth and The Hobbit don't belong to Jackson, so all the screwing around he did is rather disrespectful to the source material.

Oh, and speaking of Star Wars, there were parts where I felt like I was watching that instead. The Great Goblin was so much Jabba the Hutt. And, actually, the part where the Pale Orc is demanding Thorin's head made me feel like I was at Jabba's court. And, then, there was the line by Galadriel, "The riddle of the morgul blade..." >sigh<

My general reaction to An Unexpected Journey has been much the same as my reaction to The Dark Knight Rises: I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but the more time I have to think about it the more it gets under my skin. Like a thorn. And I'm just picking at it and picking at it trying to get it out but succeeding only in working it deeper. And there are two more of these movies to go! But I really want to see Smaug!

Let's just not talk about the moose, okay. We're gonna try to forget about that altogether.
Now I want to go watch "A Room with a Moose" from Invader Zim, the only place we should have a moose, I'm sure.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Let's Have a (Slim) Christmas Party

Today, I'm kind of double-booked. First, I'm taking part in Briane Pagel's
The Merry Christmas
To All
(e)Book A Day
Traveling Blogathon
(of Doom!)
There will be more of this
in relation to that

Also, today is the release party of
by the guys from A Beer for the Shower, and I'm supposed to be throwing a party for Slim for the release of his new book. I figure the best way to handle all of that is to combine the two events.

So we're gonna have a Christmas party for Slim and his book!
[Now, there are a bunch of rules for throwing this party, but I'm not gonna go through them all here. If you really want to know what they are, you can click this and go read them.]

The first thing you need for a Christmas party, a real Christmas party, is a Santa Claus, so that was the first order of business. I beat the pavement at the malls and shopping centers and found a few down on their luck Salvation Army Santa's that were more interested in the bottle than their collection buckets, if you know what I mean. I even recognized a couple of them from the local shelter where they would stumble into during other parts of the year. I'm pretty sure one of them didn't even work for the Salvation Army and only used his money for booze. I convinced them to show up at the park around noon on Saturday, figuring that at least one of them would make it.

Yeah, the party had to be on a Saturday, because on Saturdays the park is always full of jumpy houses from the birthday parties going on there. There's always at least three and, sometimes, a lot more. I figured with that many parties going on, big family parties and stuff with tons of extended family, that we could mingle amongst them, and no one would know which party we belonged to. Plus there would be plenty of food already laid out, and that would be a big bonus on only a $10.00 budget.

And, then, there's the pool. It's a nice heated pool there at the aquatic center on the other side of the park, not the kind of place that's likely to let in Slim and his homeless friends in any normal circumstance, but I figured I could catch the side gate at some point and block it open and really throw a party that Slim and his friends had never seen before.

It was a perfect plan and one that almost worked out perfectly.
I got not one but two Santa's, both with their Salvation Army buckets in tow. There were four jumpy houses. The people at the parties thought the Santa's were part of someone's celebration, and the kids swarmed them, eager to unload their Christmas lists. Who cared if the Santa's didn't exactly smell the best? And all the kids gave me the chance to unload them of their half full bottles of assorted spirits and their money buckets, not they had much in them, having already splurged on alcohol. Still, I managed to scrape together $6.38 from the two buckets, bringing my party money up to more than $16.00!

Slim and his friends started filtering in, and, sure enough, no one noticed them. At least, not for a while. I suppose the fact that they quickly took advantage of the jumpy houses while the kids were off seeing Santa clued a few of the adults into something being wrong, and I saw little groups of them start to whisper and point and shabby men bouncing around somewhat like fleas or lice. I gotta tell you, though, you're not likely to see a more amusing sight than 20 homeless, inebriated guys bouncing around in a couple of jumpy houses. It was so funny that it delayed anyone making any calls for at least 10 minutes. In fact, it wasn't until little Jimmy started complaining about the smell while he was trying to bounce that one of the parents finally had enough.

At that point, I thought it was time for a swim, so I propped the gate open and announced to the guys that it was time for the hot tub. You will have never seen such a sight as 25 homeless guys charging a swimming pool, half of them getting ready to go in in their own birthday suits and the other half viewing it as wash day. One of the Santa's dumped a lap full of kids onto the ground and started stripping out of his Santa suit. I gotta tell ya, those kids are gonna need some therapy when they grow up.

Slim had never dressed up as Santa before and, seeing the distress of the kids, he gathered up the costume as the buck naked Santa ran for the pool. You know, that Slim is certainly a nice guy to get dressed up as Santa at his very own party, and he sat right down there and started taking requests from kids while trying to tell them about his unfinished novel, Genghis Khan's Mongolian Starship.

But that's when all the trouble started. Not with Slim, with all of his party goers. The people working at the pool didn't appreciate the swarm of homeless, especially since the pool water went from crystal clear to a somewhat soupy mud color fairly quickly. Not to mention the number of naked men and the fact that several of them were hanging their now washed clothes up on the fence to dry. Those guys at the pool called the cops before you could say Jiminy.

I took that as a sign to get out of there, having kept my head by staying away from the punch I spiked with alcohol I liberated from the Santa's. Come to think of it, it was just Slim's friends that were doing the inebriated bounce in the jumpy houses. I suppose the parents just thought their kids had been doing a bit too much jumping and that that explained why they were walking funny and slurring their words.

Most all of Slims friends got arrested and held over night, but they still thought it was a swell party. They got to bounce around, get a heated bath, and get a free meal down at the station. The cops left Slim at the party, thinking he was, in fact, Santa Claus. Before he left, the parents made sure he took his collection bucket with him, which many of them had donated to, especially after he'd sat so patiently listening to all the children. Slim made out even better than I did: $87.42! But that Slim is a bit too generous, and he took the money and dumped in some other Santa's bucket after the police wouldn't let him bail his friends out of jail with it. But Slim had a pretty fine time, too; he told me so.

And now for the gift part, because I'm supposed to give Slim a gift for the release of his gift. So I'm gonna give to Slim the same thing I'm gonna give to you, and this is where it ties back in to the blogathon. Today only, today being Monday, December 17, I'm making "Christmas on the Corner"
FREE! one more time.
But that's not all! Today is also the release of
"Part Eleven: The Kiss" and that's FREE!
And, because I'm such a nice guy and I want you guys and Slim to have such a nice Christmas, I'm making all of these others FREE!, too:
"The Evil That Men Do"
"Part One: The Tunnel"
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Five: The Police Car"
"Part Ten: The Broken Window"
Charter Shorts!
That's a lot of FREE!

Also, I want to support Brandon and Bryan in their endeavor to get Slim out into the world, I'll give one lucky person that says "I want it!" in the comments a copy of The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson. They've been posting chapter segments about Slim on their blog for a while, and it's shaping into a great story, so let me just say, "You want this." And you do. I'm not gonna just gonna pick a random commenter, you have to let me know you want a copy, then I'll use my super secret technology to pick a winner from those of you that let me know you want one. A Kindle copy, that is, that I can email to you.

And, last but not least, my book The House on the Corner is part of a special 12 Days of Christmas give away. You can win a signed, physical copy of the book and read the interview with yours truly over at Into 'da Fiyah. Make sure you stop by and check it out!

So... go grab all the FREE! stuff, and let all your Kindle app bearing friends know about them, too!
Oh, and have a
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reviewing "Christmas"

It's Friday, and, mostly, I don't post on Fridays. I'm making an exception today, because I got my first review for "Christmas on the Corner."
You can go read the review here or click the "Christmas" link above and read it on Amazon. I just want to quote one bit from his review, but, really, I think you should just go read it (and, then, of course, read the novella yourself):
"What I liked best, and what surprised me most about this story was the amazing depth of emotion. I'm not crazy about YA fiction, which is what Leon claims his books are -- but I read his because I don't think they're YA, really. Like J. K. Rowling, and Tolkien, Leon manages to write a story that can be enjoyed by younger readers, but the depths and range of emotion, as well as the darker elements in this one particularly, resonate with older readers."
So that's my spiel for the day. I'll have another post on Monday for Briane's blogathon with more FREE! stuff as well as a special, surprise guest appearance from a certain homeless writer. Y'all have a great weekend!
Merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Relationship with Death (part 4)

And so we arrive at it, the reason for all of these thoughts about death.

Several weeks ago as I was sitting down to write, well, I was just getting started for the morning, I "got a call" (it wasn't really a call, but that's a close enough equivalent). A friend of mine from high school, one of my best friends from high school, was dead. He had taken his own life (that's how I was told to say it). The call came from the actual scene of the event.

That's rough.

I was asked to deliver the news to our group of friends from back then because I still have minimal contact with most of them and because it's not the kind of thing that gets reported in a way where people are likely to find out.

That was more rough.

Some background might be good at this point.

(I'm changing his name in this post.)

Bob is someone I knew from church. I'm gonna guess I knew him from about 2nd grade on up. I know I knew him by 4th grade, though, because we were in Mrs. Stroud's Sunday school class together. And, then, a bunch of other stuff happened that has nothing to do with this, so we'll jump ahead to the end of my freshmen year of high school when I got involved in the youth group at my church.

There was going to be this thing, this big event, in Washington D.C. the summer between our freshmen and sophomore years, the summer of '85, called Youth Congress '85 (appropriate, no?), and we wanted to go. It was expensive, though, and neither of us had rich families. It was so expensive that everyone else in the youth group immediately discounted going at all. But Bob and I wanted to go, so we set about doing that. Our youth pastor found us another group to travel with, and Bob and I worked our butts off that summer to raise the money for the trip. Actually, we had about three weeks to do it. $2000 a piece. And find a chaperon that could go with us, because we wouldn't be allowed to go without one.

That was a major bonding experience. We did all sorts of things, and our church helped us to find jobs to do. Some of them were pretty good, but they also included grooming this old lady's yard for $5.00. The woman was ancient, and she said she'd pay well to have someone come mow her yard. No big, right? But we got there, and she kept having us do more and more stuff. Trim the hedges. Trim the sidewalks. I don't even remember what all we did, but it took us an entire morning to do it. Three hours. At the end of it, she gave us $5.00. Not $5.00 each, she gave us $5.00 and said that that was the most she'd ever paid for yard work and wasn't about to start paying more now. So, yeah, we did a lot of stuff like that to earn the money we needed, but we managed to pull it off (and find a chaperon) and went to the conference. It was great!

That's kind of what our high school church experience was like.

I worked in the gym at church doing recreation stuff. It was a job I ended up earning in part due to that trip. I worked in the after school programs and I worked in the summer programs and I worked all the time. I was at church a lot. Bob didn't live that far away and, especially during the summers, he'd come up and hang out in the rec office with me. A lot of the teenagers came up, but Bob was there the most. He'd play DJ while I worked; we sort of collaborated together on music a lot and were always on the leading edge of what was new in Christian music to the point of being told some of the Christian music we brought in wasn't Christian enough. Like, we could get away with White Heart (barely), but Petra was a battle for a while. A lot of the music we discovered had its roots in that conference we went to.

Worth mentioning: One day while he was getting the music stuff set up  in the office, he went to plug in the tape deck and got blasted across the office into the opposite wall. I was standing about three feet away from him; there was a blast of blue light and a tiny sound of thunder, and he just slammed into the opposite wall. Yeah, that's the kind of events we had together.
Yes, I do have stories about D.C.

We grew up. I went off to college, and he got a job. About the time I moved back to Shreveport, he joined the Air Force. By the time he was back, I'd moved to California. Eventually, we reconnected on Facebook. Of all of my friends from my teen years and, even, my college years, he was the one I stayed most in touch with. He bought a signed copy of The House on the Corner for his daughter. He said he loved it and that he especially loved it because it had so much of Shreveport in it, especially Barksdale AFB, where he worked.

Back when I was overly addicted to Facebook games, we talked a lot. He'd IM me to chat when he saw me online. We did some of the games together and stuff. Eventually, though, the FB games were being too much of a distraction to me, and I started cutting them out. The cutting kept going until I'd cut all of them out. The last time we talked, which was over a year ago, he IM'd me to see if I wanted to play some new game, a game which looked like something I would like but which I knew I didn't have time for, so I kind of hedged and told him I'd take a look at it but I didn't think I'd have any time to play. In fact, I knew I wouldn't have time to play, because I was taking a stance against anything that distracted me from writing, but I didn't have it in me to just say "no, I'm not gonna play that."

I hate, now, that that was the last conversation we had. I was busy. And I was. So much so that I hardly ever even logged onto FB. And, so, I missed that he was having some kind of health issues. Not that he posted a lot about it, but I didn't even know that there was an issue. I wasn't around for him to talk to. It had been over a year since we'd talked at all when I got the message that he was dead.

And here's the thing: I don't understand. I mean, you can kind of understand when a teenager commits suicide, because, in a certain sense, they don't know any better. They don't yet know that things will get better, that things won't always be bad, so, when a teenager takes his/her own life, it's not necessarily something that is the teenager's fault. It's why we have a juvenile system. They're not old enough, yet, to "get" it. But an adult... And, AND! an adult with kids, three of them, like me. I just don't understand.

How do you get to that place? Not just a place where things seem so bad that you don't think you can go on, but a place that's so bad that you're willing to be entirely selfish and not think about what it is you're going to do will do to your children. I do not understand.

But I'd really like to understand. I want to know what he was going through. I do know bits and pieces, but I've only found those things out after the fact. I didn't know them when I might have been able to do something, to step in. I want to know what it was in his life that he thought was so bad that he would leave his kids, kids he loved, and I know he did, because he bragged about them all the time. To me, he especially talked about how much his oldest daughter liked to read.

This is the kind of thing that both baffles and scares me. I knew him. I would never have thought he would have done anything like this. Never. So I want to know what it is that could have brought him to a place where he would take his own life. What could have been that bad? Because I can't imagine anything that would take me to that place other than actually losing my children. But he hadn't lost his, and, now, they have to figure out how to go on living knowing that their father left them behind.

And there's nothing I can say to them. I don't even know them, but, if I did, there would be nothing I could say to explain what happened or make it better.

All I have is this:
I know that life can get bad. It can be dark. It can be horrible. It can seem as if all the light in your world is gone, and, maybe, it is all gone, BUT! But it won't stay gone. Life is change. Things will get better again. Ride it out. Hold steady in the storm. Don't give in to despair and give up before you know the outcome. Get help. GET HELP! Don't keep the darkness locked inside.

I have other friends doing their own battles with darkness. Some of them only talked about what they were going through because of Bob. All I know is that I don't want to hear about more friends doing what Bob did. I don't want more friends ending their lives without me ever getting to see them again. Not that I know if I will ever see any of my old friends again, but I know I will never see Bob again, and that fills me with an abiding sadness.

So, if there are any of you out there that need someone to talk to, need someone to reach out a hand, need someone to help you shine light into the darkness, find someone. If you don't think there is anyone else, you can email me. I'll do my best to connect you with someone that can help if I can't. Just don't let it pull you down until you can't find your way back out. Just don't.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Unsponsored Post

I don't get this whole cat thing on the Internet. What is it about cats? Seriously, what is it? More people like dogs, more people have dogs, yet it's cats that populate the web. Is it because cats are so weird? I'm sort of inclined to believe that. Cats are insane, and people want to watch it. Like a train wreck. Sure, dogs are cute, but they don't do things like this:
And, well, other things that the cat quits doing as soon as I get out my camera. He sits up and looks at me like "I don't know what you're talking about. I was just sitting here. Maybe you're insane."

And, maybe, I am. But that's beside the point.

Or, maybe, it's all a plot by cats to take over the web. A great PR campaign or something. Whatever it is, the few posts I did about our cat interloper got an inordinate amount of page views, which I just don't understand.

Those posts also lead to an offer of a sponsored post. My first. It was a lot of money. Okay, so it wasn't really a lot of money, but it was a LOT of MONEY. More money than I've made all year on e-sales of my book stuff. All because of the cat. And I have to say it was tempting. Oh so very tempting.

I mean, that's the goal, right? To make money off my writing? But there was an issue. I had to advertise for the people that would be paying me to write the post, and the post itself wasn't such a big deal; it was supposed to be about celebrities doing work to save pets or some such. That sounds good, right? But the people that wanted me to do this are from an online gambling website, and I would have had to post links to their site in the post, and I just couldn't bring myself to do that. Yeah, I'm not a supporter of organized gambling.

At any rate, it was kind of a surreal experience. On the one hand, it was, well, it was nice to get asked, to be recognized, you know? On the other hand, it had less to do with me and my actual writing than it had to do with the fact that I had put up a few posts about a cat. And, then, there was the whole gambling thing. It was kind of a bummer to have to turn them down. It was, after all, the first (and only) time I've had an offer like this, and, of course, the thought is, "If I turn them down will that mean I will never get another offer like this?"
That's kind of hard to say, but the one thing I did know, do know, is that I didn't want it to turn into an ongoing series of posts supporting some gambling website.

So... here's my unsponsored post that's not really about cats at all, although there is a cat in it, and  the cat sort of started it. I wonder what the cat would think about that. It's probably all a part of his infiltration plan anyway. Get into a new house and get the people to post pics of him on the Internet, thus spreading the control of Catkind across the world.

Personally, I think cats are still just upset about losing that whole godhood thing that the ancient Egyptians gave them. They're still trying to get it back...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ninja Killer

I'm gonna come right out and say it: I'm not a big fan of ninjas.
Yeah, you heard me. In the whole Pirates vs Ninjas thing, I'm totally for the pirates. Not that I like pirates all the much either, but, you know, at least a pirate is honest about what he is. A scurvy dog, right?

But the ninja? No, the ninja has spent centuries developing this idea about themselves that just isn't true. That they're these awesome fighters and all of that. It reached a peak in the 80's, and, I have to say, I was as sucked in as the next guy. I loved the show The Master, for instance, although I may have been the only one considering how quickly it went away. Huh, I didn't remember Demi Moore being in that. Weird. Of course, it has been nearly 30 years since I've seen it. Heck, even the original Transformers animated series had a ninja robot in it built by humans! And I can't even get started on G. I. Joe. I have only one thing to say about that: Snake Eyes! In the 80's, ninjas were cool.

Then I learned about them. Not on purpose, mind you, because, like I said, I was as sucked in as everyone else, but, as I've mentioned before, I went to nerd school, and my world history teacher gave us some actual ninja learning. That was my introduction to the web of lies that ninjas have built around themselves. But, then, it does serve their purposes, because, what they want, is not to fight. If everyone thinks ninjas are all badass, which they're not, people will run away from them, and they don't have to do any real fighting. See how that works?

No, a ninja's real job is to be a sneaky killer. They don't do direct confrontation. They're the guys that sneak around and poison food or kill you in your sleep or sneak up behind you. Anything not to be seen, kill their target, and get away, again, without being seen.

My favorite ninja story?
This ninja needed to kill this guy, and, to do it, he hid in an outhouse. But not just in the outhouse, in the outhouse. As in under the seat down in all the urine and feces. He brought supplies so that he could camp out down there, which he did for three days. Three days! Three days in a toilet making no noise while people did their business on him. After three days, his target finally showed up. The guy sat down to do his business, the ninja took his spear and, while the guy was reading the equivalent of the Tokyo Times, the ninja shoved his spear right up the guy's bum. What a way to go.

See, if I was a ninja, and I was willing to go to that kind of length to kill someone (which I'm not), I would totally own it. I would own that... um... forget that next word... um... stuff! I would own that stuff! And, then, I would respect the ninja. But, then, I guess the whole lying thing is just a part of what they are in order to do their job.

The thing is, though, in a straight up fight of pirates vs ninjas, the ninjas would all run away. Of course, there's always waiting for the pirates to get drunk and fall asleep, which is what the ninjas would do.

Anyway... all I'm saying is that if ninjas were honest about who and what they are, I'd be okay with them.

But all of that is not really what all of this is about, now is it? Because this is the
Question the first:
What does Alex look like?
Alex looks like George Clooney with a guitar. Probably not as well dressed. I imagine him walking down railroad tracks with the guitar slung over his back.

Question the second:
Who could play Alex in a documentary?
Well, of course, George Clooney. Or, maybe, Ben Affleck playing George Clooney, because, as Kevin Smith says, "Affleck could be the shark."

Question the third:
Who does Alex remind me of?
At this point, how can I not say George Clooney? I can't not say that, so I will: George Clooney.

Flash Fiction (bah! I mostly dislike flash fiction):
George Cavanaugh was making his way down the tracks one day with his guitar slung over his shoulder. Cavanaugh had stolen the plans for an IWSG from a secret government installation, but he'd found that no one paid any attention to hobos with guitars, so it was his MO to sneak away in this particular guise. Besides, if he needed to be inconspicuous, he could always stop and play on a street corner, because even fewer people paid any attention to those guys other than tossing some bills into his case, which would mean he wouldn't have to pay for supper, either, so, really, it was a win-win. However, a ninja had tracked him and was, at that very moment, sneaking up behind him, sword drawn. Cavanaugh knew all about the ninja, though, and was just luring him out. At the last moment before the ninja struck, Cavanaugh spun while drawing his cosbolt and shot the ninja right in the eye slit. "New pajamas," Cavanaugh thought, as he stripped the body.

Bonus Points?
Wait, who said anything about points? This is an arbitrary thing, right? Besides, I've used up all my words. I'll just keep it short: Thanks for sharing!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas on the Corner

This post is part of Briane Pagel's
The Merry Christmas To All
(e)Book A Day
Traveling Blogathon
(of Doom!)

Kids measure time in holidays. They're like landmarks when you're driving. Unless you're my wife. She has some kind of weird grid in her head with navigational equipment and... and... data and stuff! Me, I have to know where stuff is to get to places. It's sort of like a big dot-to-dot in my head. But I digress. I'm pretty sure kids measure time like this. Summer (yeah, it's like a really long holiday). School starting (bad holiday). Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. String in some birthdays and lesser holidays, and you have a big Time dot-to-dot for kids.

When I wrote The House on the Corner, I took this approach, although I wasn't thinking of it exactly like this at the time; it's still what I was doing. House begins with the end of school and summer. Independence Day is in there. School starts. Halloween is a big one, and the book ends just at Thanksgiving. The problem is that the sequel, Brother's Keeper (see the tab at the top of the page), picks up some months later. Christmas gets skipped!

For a kid, that would be blasphemous.

I knew last year after I released The First Person Edition that I wanted to write a Christmas story, and I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do with it, but the story didn't come together in my mind in time to write it for last Christmas. But I wanted to, and I thought about it all year. Of course, I've been working on Shadow Spinner, so I kept not doing it.

I've gotten into this weird habit where I work on two projects at once: one on the computer and one in a notebook. Shadow Spinner started in a notebook but has long since progressed to the computer. So I started working on Christmas on the Corner
in my notebook during my kids' ice skating lessons. Initially, I was thinking, "Oh, I'll just write a little 5,000 - 10,000 word short story just to get a Christmas story into the mix." I mean, the whole House universe is perfect for little short stories (and I hope to do a collection of them some day); if you've read it, you should understand why. At any rate, I sat down (metaphorically (and literally, I guess, since I was sitting)) to write and kept fleshing out and fleshing out, and what I got was not a short story but a novella (that's actually bordering on a short novel at 30,000 words). There are some important elements in this that will be showing up later.

I like it.

Oh! So, yeah, this is part of the Christmas Blogathon of Doom!, so I'm supposed to draw a name for a free book from the comments, but I'm not gonna do that. Nope! It's Christmas, and I have this new Christmas story, so I'm just gonna give it away today. Yeah, you heard that correctly, Today, Christmas on the Corner is FREE! You don't even have to comment! Just click the link, and go get it! 

And that's not all! Nope, not at all!

Today is also the next chapter in the aforementioned Shadow Spinner, so you can also go get "Part Ten: The Broken Window"
today and tomorrow for FREE! I know you don't want to miss that! And! AND! because I'm such a nice guy you can also get "Part Six: The Man with No Eyes" and "Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree" for FREE!, today, too! But those are just today.

That's FOUR different things that are completely FREE! today!

Now, if you'd like to give me a Christmas present in return, you can click the little "like" button when you pick these things up. It would be a great help. And if you really want to give me a present, leave a review. I'd really appreciate that!

To everyone out there:

[Note: if you're here looking for the Cavanaugh blogfest post, that one will be up tomorrow.]