Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cyborg Assassins I Have Known

I'm currently reading and enjoying the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. I bought the book because of the opening chapter, "Foiled Again," narrated by an incarcerated super-villain named Dr. Impossible. It is unarguably in the vein of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and (for me at least) that's a good thing. The other half of the narrative is from the point of view of an ex-government cyborg special agent who is trying to find her place in the world after beating the crap out of a team mate who made the mistake of speculating within ear shot just how much of her anatomy might be original parts. As I mentioned last year around this time, I enjoy a long (albeit wary) friendship with an android kill-bot known as cs10. She gets extremely cross when I don't pass on good reads as soon as I find them, and since she sometimes scans this blog, and since this novel prominently features a cyborg assassin as a principal character, and since making cs10 "extremely cross" can have dire consequences, I am mentioning the book right now, before I have even finished it.

(Special thanks to Forbidden Planet International, from whom I snagged an image of the UK edition of the book, which is waaay cooler than the American cover.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Greetings NOW IN THREE-D!!

Paste Magazine has a cool interactive 3D card on their website this year. You can experience it here. (Note, it requires a web camera.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

XKCD repost: "Close to You"

This made me happy today. It combines Critter's love of sappy Carpenter's music with my love of zombies.

That's what love is all about, people—finding common ground.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Tale of the Birthday Bat

This is a true story.

Last year, on Critter's birthday, we discovered a tiny brown bat sleeping in our bathroom sink. We were not concerned. Our house is almost 140 years old, and it has had stranger occupants—most notably the dead girl in my closet and the snake-thing in the basement. We collected the little guy, kept him warm, and released him that evening.

Today the birthday bat returned. It was four days early, but still, how charming.

I found it on the floor of the bedroom. It was very still and somewhat moist.

I must speak to the cats about opening other people's gifts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mathematica: 88.18% off!

What do you get for the mathematician hobbyist who has everything except a  Mathematica license? How about a  Mathematica license?

Wolfram research has started selling a "Home Edition" of Mathematica for $295, which ain't pocket change, but it's a darn sight cheaper than the commercial retail price of $2495 (which is what we professional's pay). The thing is, the Home Edition is EXACTLY the same as the commercial version (with the exception of 64-bit functionality), not some watered down Mathematica-Lite. (I'm looking at Mathematica Player.)

Since I happen to know there is a strong correlation among my readers of math-geeks and music-geeks, here is something to make both hemispheres happy.

"Science of Zombies" on NPR's Science Friday

In case you missed this, Ira Flato's guest on October 30 was Dr. Steven Schlozman, who discussed the neurobiology of "Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome" (i.e. zombies). You can download a recording or read the transcript. Enjoy!

(The picture above is from Skulls in the Star's post, "Zombies for Romney.")

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy Blogiversary!

I just realized that I started this blog on October 27, 2008. I'm glad that I didn't kill it back on April 20, 2009, but I'm also glad that I stopped trying to write in it every day.

By the way, if you're wondering why I'm writing in the blog right now, it's because I promised my (potential) editor a sample chapter and book proposal before the end of the month, and that means everything is more appealing than working on the book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Half Minute Horrors

cs10 told me about a fabulous new children's book called Half Minute Horrors. They were inviting new submissions, so I wrote one for cs10.


"File Under 'Friends, Robot — Important Considerations' "

Do not say to your robot friend,

"There is more than one way to skin a cat,"

Unless you have more than one cat.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More poetry

I have never cared for the minimalist poetry of William Carlos Williams, and yet, when I am moved to write a poem, the fragile things are rarely more than one sentence long.

Life is, indeed, a mystery.


"Shell" (a less self-indulgent rework of this poem)

Pressing my ear
to his lips
I imagined oceans
in the void.


"My inheritance"

The sum of my inheritance
a pair of oil-stained overalls
a jeep reduced to carapace
with kittens nesting in the wells.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Toy

I just bought a LiveScribe Pulse SmartPen. In brief, it is a clever device that uses optical encoding to digitally record what you are writing and hearing simultaneously. You can then play back the audio by clicking on the notes—great for situations where people are talking faster than you can write. It also records in stereo (the ear-plugs are stereo microphones), so you capture the localization of the sounds as well. I can see that songwriters might love this. (You know who you are...)

But I'm not a songwriter. I bought the pen to see if it might be useful as a digital lab notebook. Here are my impressions, as captured by the SmartPen itself as a pencast (and a brief addendum).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Enough. Already.

I declare this horse dead and beaten.

(And yes, I'm just a touch bitter, for reasons that are known to many of you.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Destination Moon

Just wanted to plug Moon, a science fiction film that is making the independent theater circuit. For those who like their science fiction carefully-paced and cerebral (think 2001), this is a movie for you. The film is full of my favorite kind of special effects—invisible ones. There is a lot of very clever camera work and computer graphics, but their purpose is to support the story, not "wow" the viewer.

I am deliberately abstaining from including links to the movie's website, as I think the trailer and the synopsis reveal more than most people would want to know. If you like the paranoid and claustrophobic (but very human) films of such directors as Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott, then just go see the movie.

Trust me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What Are YOU Doing Tomorrow Night?

I'm going to see a screening of Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space with a live audio commentary by the RiffTrax guys (i.e. the folks responsible for Mystery Science Theater 3000).

Here's a clip of the "riffed" movie:

Dr. SkullStars: In the extremely unlikely event that you do not already know about this life-changing event, you can catch the simulcast in Charlotte at the Regal Stonecrest 22 theater.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Notes from Shakespeare's Writing Group

Hey Bill,

Caught Hamlet in the park last night for the sixth time. (Critter had been playing Osric.) Still love the play, but I think there is room for some improvement. Thought you might appreciate some comments:
  • The play could use some clarification as to why young Hamlet is not crowned king upon his father's death. Having the king's brother take the thrown in preference to the adult son is peculiar (although not entirely without precedent). A line or two (or, as is the case in this play, a long soliloquy) about the royal ascension practices of Denmark might be helpful.
  • It felt really odd that the two men who fight to the death at the end of the play don't actually have a scene together until Act 5. Instead people just talk about how much Hamlet admires Laertes. Consider adding some interaction between the two characters in the first act, before Laertes heads off to France. Remember the old saw: "Show, don't tell"!
  • Now, the play is already long (I mean really, really long!), so I can understand your resistance to adding the above material. However there is room to cut a few things to make room. For example, that whole bit with Polonius sending Reynaldo to spy on Laertes in Paris does absolutely nothing to advance the plot. Just drop it.
  • It's really the little things, though, that will streamline the play. The characters are constantly spouting obvious information. For example, you really don't need lines like "Oh, I am slain!" and "Oh, I die..." and "I am poison'd." Just let the actors die. The audience will figure it out.
  • One final note. There are a few phrases that sound a bit awkward, and which might be improved by slight rearrangement. For example dangling the verb at the end of "The lady doth protest too much, methinks" sounds clunky. Have you considered "Methinks the lady doth protest too much"?
All in all, a terrific play, though. Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Unpleasant Personal Revelation

I just finished watching the Who Killed Amanda Palmer DVD. Tucked at the end are a couple of concert videos. Here, is the video for "Have to Drive."

The ending of the video tore me up even more than the "Sound of Music" video I shared back in April. I was absolutely bawling.

And I have to ask myself, "Why does that happen?"

I don't cry much. It's not a "tough guy" thing. I cry if I feel like it. The thing is, I rarely feel like it, and the instances that do make me cry are generally beautiful rather than tragic. I speculated before that beauty makes me cry because in general, the universe is just not a beautiful place.

Upon further reflection, I've come to a radically different conclusion.


I look at people bringing joy to total strangers, and it stabs me in the heart. It makes me say, "What the fuck am I doing with my life?"

And the answer to that question is not pleasant.

I make better bombs.

When the hell did that happen?

How the hell did that happen?

I never thought I would be the sort of person who would question the direction of his life, because I've been judicious in how I've spent it. If life is a path, then at every fork in the road, I picked the steeper ascent. My assumption has been that "up" is an intrinsically good direction.

But I'm beginning to sense a dissonance between my values and myself, and, at the age of 37, I'm looking down at the four decades I spent clambering to this summit and aside from the vertigo, I'm concerned that maybe, just maybe, I climbed the wrong mountain.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

This New Chick I'm Seeing

The new thing making me happy is Amanda Palmer.

You may remember that I killed her. (Don't blame me—she started it, and besides, I wouldn't have done it if Neil hadn't told me to.)

The first step to becoming an Amanda Palmer fan is to watch the videos. (I fell in love at "Ampersand." You might have to wait until "Strength through Music," or hell, the opening credits might do you. Then again her pop song about rape and abortion might make you feel so oogie (kendra's word) that you need to read this essay.)

Then you'll get the album. (If you order a real-life CD from (aka Lakeshore Record Exchange, aka my local music store), then they'll throw in a free DVD of videos while supplies last.)

Then you'll read the liner notes and be all, "Holy shit, she's got Zoë Keating (formerly of Rasputina) on cello and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) singing back up. That's even cooler than Neil Freakin' Gaiman writing her liner notes."

And then you'll be an Amanda Palmer fan.

Oh, and welcome to the blog, Ventilator. I'm not sure how you ended up here, but thanks for reading.
And farewell, Donigan. Thanks for following for as long as you did. Glad we could share a happy music experience!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Power of Pretension

I didn't mean to let this blog get quite so stagnant, especially as it's where I hold myself publicly accountable for the writing I'm doing (or not doing).

Since May 16 I've been slowly working on the book proposal. The book is going to be a popular science book with a narrative thread. (Well... "popular" as in for the populace. Not "popular" as in high school.) It's taken a long time to convince myself that I'm qualified to write this book. I can name dozens of people who are more qualified. That being said, those people have not written such a book, and if they were to do so, it wouldn't be my book.

Today I started writing the first chapter.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Killing Amanda Palmer

It's probably easier to read about this than for me to explain it.

The first "We Killed Amanda Palmer" photo to catch my eye was the one above, taken by Kyle Cassidy. I hammered out a story immediately, but writing "short" is so much harder than writing long. (Ask a poet.) Two months later, here it is. (Thank you, Demon Insomnia.)



I never knew Amanda Palmer, but I recognized the body. Not the “who” of the body, but the “how.” How it’s not so much a crime scene as a mise-en-scène. I knew she was one of his right away. If dying is an art, then so’s killing... and he does it exceptionally well.

I’m not supposed to use his real name anymore. He gets real funny about that, and I’m not about to cross him. So let’s call him “Dawn.” As near as I can tell, this all got started way back in 1980. Maybe there were one or two bodies before then, but 1980 was the first really professional kill. That’s when people started to notice. After that, things got real crazy, real fast.

It wasn’t until 1988 that our paths crossed, Dawn’s and mine... either I wandered into his world, or he wandered into mine. And I’ll admit to being a gawker. He was exotic and scary, and for a few furtive bucks there were plenty of folks willing to let me in on his story. I started following him, watching the corpses fall... learning their names from their toe tags.

And then he started killing people I cared about... people he’d introduced me to... one guy I could have loved, way back before I knew I was gonna swing that way.

A corpse a month, or so it seemed. Each a gift... a moment frozen and incorruptible. Even now, I find it hard to remember all those people in terms of their lives. It’s the deaths that sustain. Every life is a story, true enough, but a story is only as good as its ending.

But I guess you know that now.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I.D. and ego

Just a word of advice.

OK, more than one word.

If you are flying domestically... even if the flight is less than an hour... take at least two forms of government-issued ID.

Case in point: I lost my drivers license during my trip to New York City. The only ID I had was a few credit cards, and some membership cards, none of which had a photo of me.

Now technically, you don't need a photo ID to fly in the US. Specifically, the TSA rules state:

"Passengers who do not or cannot present an acceptable ID will have to provide information to the Transportation Security Officer performing Travel Document Checking duties in order to verify their identity. Passengers who are cleared through this process may be subject to additional screening. Passengers whose identity cannot be verified by TSA may not be allowed to go through the checkpoint or onto an airplane."

It is helpful to know the above rule, and it is useful to cite it should a TSA agent attempt to deny you boarding simply because you do not have ID. That being said, everything is completely up to the discretion of the agent at that point. Despite the tacky uniform and weary expression, it is vitally important to remember that a TSA agent is not a mall cop. They are real federal agents. In this post-Patriot Act world, they can make your bad day become a very VERY bad day. Be polite, be contrite, and be sincere. Don't argue, don't threaten, and don't condescend.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Skinny

I mentioned awhile ago that I was trying to lose some weight. I'm happy to report that I met my weight goal, and I've been able to maintain a BMI of 21.5. I largely credit Lose It! for my success. (That's not exactly blog-pimping, as it's a free application.)

[Sorry for the self-serving post. I'll write something more interesting soon. My book research has turned up some unsavory characters in the field of early holographic research. Maybe I'll share one of those stories in the future.]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Why This Blog Still Exists

There are two philosophies about sharing your ambitions. One is that you should keep them to yourself, or you will "jinx" them. The other philosophy is that you should share your ambitions so that you can benefit from the encouragement and criticism of your peers.

I have muscled myself into the latter category, although I am far more comfortable in the former. I find that I accomplish more that way, if only because the shame of public failure is a fantastic motivator. That's why this blog came into existence. I was going to shut it down, but something new has come up to justify its existence.

So here goes.

I'm sort of writing a book. As in a "for real" book. As in there's an acquisitions editor involved. I am miles away from a contract. Pulling together a proper book proposal is intimidating. I may very well bollocks the whole thing.

But there, I said it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Always a Groomsman...

Just got back from the Skulls in the Stars / Two Bad Kitties wedding. (What will they call the children? I vote for "Skull Kittens.") Above is a photo snapped by Critter. Here's a tip in these tough financial times, folks: if your groomsman happens to be gay, it's like getting an extra bridesmaid... er... bridesman... free! As a groomsman, I corralled missing family members to the photo session, but as bridesman, I made sure that the bride's bustle made her butt look good. See, two essential services for the price of one. (Plus a rental tuxedo is waaay cheaper than a bridesmaid gown.)

And for those living in New York state, if you would like to ever see Critter and I legally tie the knot (it's only been 1.5 decades...), then please consider contacting your state legislator and senator and asking them to vote in support of the marriage equity bill that should be moving toward a vote this week!!!

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Show Me Where It Hurts" or "Why I Make People Uncomfortable"

After decades of searching, I finally found and purchased a copy of Edmundo Vasconcelos' Modern Methods of Amputation. Everything I know about unintended irony(*), I learned from this book. I will be making T-shirts.

(*) cs10 is welcome to chime in on whether it is linguistically possible for irony to be unintentional. She may also chime in on whether, in her experience, this figure accurately depicts the best position to take when extracting all four limbs from a human, with the caveat that the author's intention is that the amputee survive the procedure.

Also, I suck at quitting blogging.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Opposite of Terror

Nerkygrrl's gramma shared this video with me today.

It actually chokes me up every time I watch it. Nowadays when I think of a group of people carefully orchestrating a surprise at a train station... well... I think of this. The realization that there are people out there (at least in Belgium), committing senseless acts of joy makes my heart swell and my eyes water. Furthermore, it makes me want to be part of it. I know that it's a trick of choreography, but the magic of the event is that you can't tell which bystander is next going to seamlessly joining the other dancers, as if strangers have stepped out of their lives to become part of something spontaneous and wonderful.

That's the sort of universe that I want to live in. One where every person, if they open themselves to it, feels an internal pulse and connection to everyone else. Where, given the right music and the right moment, everybody dances.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Celebrations throughout Bryceland!

The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio broadcasts are available on CD in the US at a reasonable price. This includes the two original radio series (which inspired the first two books) and the later three radio series (which were inspired by the three later books. Confused?)

Oh happy day!

I can finally upgrade from my dubbed cassette tapes that I made from Bryceland's originals back in... egad... 1989.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Signing Off Soon

As is my wont, I will be shutting this blog down in a few days, now that it has served it's purpose— i.e. it got me writing every day. That's a good thing. A very good thing. Unfortunately, once I actually got in the writing habit, writing the blog started getting in the way of writing the fiction. Since starting this blog, I've written two short stories, joined a writing group, and finally found the ending to the novel that's been sitting on my desk for three years. I feel really good about all of that.

Thanks for everyone who read and supported this, and I'd like to extend a special thank-you to Brad Green and Donigan and CD, who I met through this site. I'll try to keep up on reading your stuff.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Free the Furr

Sub Pop records is giving away a CD sampler that includes the song "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper (whom I last wrote about here). Get it here from Amazon.

On the topic of Sub Pop, one of Critter's former writing students is being courted by said record label. She played at my house Saturday night, during our farewell party for Greg Paul. I guess I'll leave her name out of this, as I don't know how much of this is supposed to be public, but it just makes me so happy to see someone's hard work pay off.

All of you teachers out there, take heart. Sometimes the kids really are paying attention to you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

You're Soaking In It

We have an enormous Victorian clawfoot tub. That is one of the few advantages of owning a house that's over 140 years old. I don't use it often, but last night I steeped myself for about 30 minutes along with a Geo Phyzz bath bomb from Lush.


They are not an efficient way to clean yourself. Unless you shower first, you are basically wallowing in your own filth.

Boy, they feel wonderful though.

My sympathies go out to Donigan, who lost his tub in a tragic plumbing accident.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

File Under "Fools, Rushing In"

Today's advise: Do something that you are afraid will make you look foolish.

You'll feel better because you made a fool of yourself and the world didn't end.

The first singing lesson was a low-key but liberating experience. My teacher (who is at least 10 years younger than I am but sports a beard I couldn't grow in this lifetime) lives in a dilapidated green house in Rochester's "Neighborhood of the Arts." I knew I had the right house because I could hear the saxophone from the street. When I peeked through the screen (yes, it was that warm today), he just nodded at me and kept playing. I followed him into his music room, where he set the sax on a pedestal between two electric guitars. Further along the wall was an acoustic guitar and a gorgeous vermilion mandolin. No banjo in sight, which was odd, as that's his specialty.

I guess I should clarify that I'm not taking vocal lessons, exactly. I'm taking music lessons, but my instrument is going to be my voice. It's more portable than a piano, you see, and thus easier to practice while I'm driving. We began the lesson with some low-level musical aptitude testing to see what I already knew. The conclusion is that I can tell the difference between double and triple time, I can tell the difference between major and minor keys, and I can repeat a melody that I hear. I cannot, however, maintain that melody in the presence of a harmony. We then sang together to check my technique, and from this we learned that I breathe correctly (yeah, yoga!), but I don't vocalize well. What followed then was a lot of singing scales while performing strange visualization exercises involving "pointing" my vocal chords and then "projecting" the notes equally outward onto a level plane. By the end of the lesson I could hear an improvement in how I was singing (particularly notes at the upper end of my range), but I'm fascinated that abstract imagery can affect the way I shape and hold notes.

I recorded myself singing along with a recording of "Latter Days" by Over the Rhine. I was going to embed it here as a digital archive of where I'm starting from. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), Blogger only supports embedded video. I suppose I could make a blank video with just a sound-track, but... eh. Why bother? Let's just say that it's not bad (or at least not opening-round-of-American-Idol bad), but it's a long way from good.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Time Crisis

I'm thirty-seven, and that means it's time to start doing self-indulgent, middle-aged shit. To that end, I am starting vocal lessons. Feeling excited... and a bit nervous... but mostly sort of foolish.

As far as mid-life identity crises go, though, this is a whole lot cheaper than a Maserati.

I'm taking lessons from one of the guys behind The Varnish Cooks, an old-time country and blue-grass band here in Rochester. They are currently kind of defunct, which is a pity, because they could really shake up a room.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Easy Noodles for Lunch

Today's happiness is the recipe for the lunch I eat on a regular basis. I love the Trader Joe's noodles-in-a-box stuff, but (1) we don't have Trader Joe's in Rochester, (2) the calories and sodium are through the roof if you eat the entire box, and (3) all that extra packaging makes me feel guilty. I came up with a much healthier subsitute that is super-simple to make the night before, and it tastes like lots more work than it really is. It causes serious lunch-envy at the office.

What you need:
  • Microwave-safe container
  • 1 package of pre-cooked udon noodles (7 oz) [If the noodles come with a packet of seasoning mix, read the sodium content. Read it again. Say "That can't possibly be right." Read it again. Drop the seasoning packet into the garbage in horror. Try to forget how much Ramen you ate in college.]
  • 1 cup frozen chopped vegetables (although there's nothing wrong with fresh!)
  • 1 cup frozen pre-cooked meat-like substance (I use Quorn)
  • 3 tablespoons of marinade
Put the ingredients into the microwave-safe container in the order listed, seal the lid, shake, then refrigerate until meal time (for me, that's overnight). When you're ready to eat, shake the container to distribute the sauce, unseal one edge of the lid, and microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Stir and enjoy.

This dish is a pretty balanced, filling meal, it takes less than five minutes to put together, and the calorie count is only 405 as long as you're sensible in your choice of marinade, and stick to only a few tablespoons (which is all you need, because the dish is going to soak in the seasonings all night). Most commercial marinade's only have about 30 calories/tablespoon, which isn't bad. I sometimes add a tablespoon of peanut butter, which adds more protein and fiber, but you have to be mindful of the added calories, sodium, and fat if that's a concern.

I'd love to find a healthier alternative to the pre-cooked Udon noodles (i.e. something with whole wheat) that doesn't sacrifice the "I can make this in five minutes" easiness. If you have any ideas, let me know...

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Loss is Your Gain

My friend Gregory Paul's music career seems to be taking off, so he is moving from Rochester, NY to California. I wish him the very best, but I'm going to miss the hell out of seeing him perform locally on a regular basis. I'm embedding a video of him singing "Threadbare Heart", my favorite song off his new album This Side of the Ground.

For some reason the descending scale that this song is built upon just rips my guts out every time I hear it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to Be Dead

"The way I see it, being dead is not so terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you."

—Mary Roach in Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Double Happiness

TWO bits of happiness to share today.

First, via Cheerio Road, I learned that Leonard Cohen's recent New York City performance is available for free from NPR's All Songs Considered. You can catch it here. Enjoy!

Second, Critter and I caught the movie Synecdoche, New York tonight. It is unambiguously a Charlie Kaufman story (the first he's directed himself, though)... gorgeous and strange and brilliant. We loved it, but opinions will vary, depending on one's taste for bold fusions of pathos and absurdity. We laughed uncomfortably through the first half, and then Critter pretty much wept through the entire second half (and he is so cute when he cries). As my favorite band sings, "What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be."

Oh... and here's a poorly hidden bonus happiness.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spreadin' The Love

I love reading Neil Gaiman's journal. Partly it's fun to see inside his world, but mostly it's that almost every single day he digs up some strange treasure from the Internet and lays it at my feet. I had a cat that used to do something like that, except with mouse entrails. Same difference, though.

So that's what I want to do for awhile... at least for a month. Every day or so, I'll share one thing that is making me happy.

Today I'm happy that I'm losing some weight. We're only talking about a few pounds, but these are the persistent pounds I picked up seven years ago, when I turned thirty. It was like, "You're thirty? Happy birthday! Here's your love handles."

The key to my recent success has been self-honesty about the calorie deficit between how much I eat and how much I actually exercise. Instead of the weight-lifting of my youth, I now focus on yoga. It's been great for my flexibility and back health, but it doesn't burn nearly as many calories. That's fine... but it means that I shouldn't eat like I used to. Recently I started using an iPhone application called Lose It! to track what I eat and how I exercise. The program is free and dead simple (the two key feature of most great portable apps), but it's really been doing the trick for me. I feel best about my weight when I am at 153 pounds, and right now I'm at 155.4 and falling. At the current rate, I'll probably be back to 153 pounds in another week or so.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Free Etta

Pssst! You... yeah, you.

If you're a Writers on Writing listener, then you know that Barbara ends just about every radio broadcast with Etta James' torch song "I'd Rather Go Blind."

For a limited time Amazon is giving that song away FREE as part of the digital EP Chess Records Black History Month. Nab it while you still can...


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yet Another Brilliant Dan Simmons Novel

On the way to and from Cleveland this weekend, Critter picked up the audio book edition of Dan Simmons' new novel Drood.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

In brief, Dan Simmons sets out to solve Charles Dickens' unfinished masterpiece The Mystery of Edwin Drood, although in this case, the mystery is not so much the unfinished ending as it is why the novel went unfinished. If you've read any Dan Simmons, then you know that his "thing" is imaginitively weaving classical literature and history into his fiction (and if you haven't ready any Dan Simmons, then please stop reading this blog and just pick something off the bookstore shelf at random, or, if not at random, then just read Hyperion). In construction, Drood is very much like Simmons' prior novel The Terror in that he takes the known facts of the last 5 years of Dickens' life, and uses them as a skaffolding upon which to build a deeply disturbing story. Drood is in the form of a fictional memoir of those five years, as written by Dickens real-life close friend and collaborator, Wilkie Collins. The resulting novel is a bit like Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus by way of David Cronenberg's film adaptation of Naked Lunch. More than that, I shall not say.

I had never heard of Wilkie Collins (Critter had, of course), but one of the many advantages of living in sin with a literature teacher is that tonight I'll be reading a hard bound collection of Victorian fiction that includes Collins' short story "A Terribly Strange Bed." This is a particular delight for me, as I recently learned that the Terribly Strange Bed is now located at a quaint bed and breakfast in the Shambles district of Chicago.

(Incidentally, for those of you who do not have a library lined with cherry bookshelves, each filled to over-flowing with literature of every stripe, I suppose you could just read the story here. Seriously, though... consider shagging a literary professional.)

I should also say that Simon Prebble's reading of the novel is superb. One of the key plot elements of the story is the series of theatrical readings that Dickens performed immediately prior to his death. Dickens was famed for being able to personify his characters in voice and action, and Prebble shows a similar skill at presenting the many characters in the novel.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What the Cookie Said, iii

Yesterday's fortune cookie, just before going to the show:

They will be grateful that you cared enough to make it.

And they were!


Do you see how close I am to 14,000 words this month?! Do you see that over half of that is actual work on the actual novel?! I am just busting with pride. Mind you, "pride" is one of the seven deadly sins. Then again, if pride is this much fun and correlates to this much productivity, I am definitely going to check out the other six.

Night of Good Music

Went to the Bug Jar tonight with friends. The primary reason was to see my friend Gregory Paul perform, but an added treat tonight was Blitzen Trapper. I adore their song "Furr" (which I first heard via the KEXP "Song of the Day" podcast). I have embedded a video below.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Notes on Notes on Camp

I saw a fantastic one act play this past weekend. It is called "Leni Riefenstahl vs. the Twentieth Century", and it just debuted at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre's Rhubarb Festival (a Toronto fringe theater festival). In the play Susan Sontag and Leni Riefenstahl discuss politics, cinema, and body fascism while playing chess in Purgatory. The show is punctuated by perfectly executed cabaret musical numbers performed by a four-part male chorus. Following the climax of the show, Susan Sontag plays electric guitar while singing a song based on "Notes on 'Camp'". It's the most brilliant thing I've seen in years...

Here's the blurb for the piece, which really doesn't do it justice:

9:45pm, The Chamber
An Ecce Homo Production
Written and Directed by Alistair Newton
Performed by Kaitlyn Regehr, Evalyn Parry, Noah Henne, Bryce Kulak, Chy Ryan Spain and Matthew Eger
Nazi propagandist and cinematic genius Leni Riefenstahl takes on superstar New York intellectual Susan Sontag in an ideological battle of the wills. It's fascinating fascism vs cultural camp as Ecce Homo looks cock-eyed into the icy stare of the fascist aesthetic; an expressionist cabaret on big themes for troubled times.


I've been fighting this gnawing self-doubt about spending so much time writing a novel that might just turn out to be complete crap. I realized, though, that the amazing power of being the author is that I can actually jump ahead and peek at the ending. I just have to write it first. If it actually is crap, then I have a legitimate reason to quite all this nonsense.

So that's what I've been doing the past week... writing the end of the novel. Funny thing, though... so far it's not crap... or at least not complete crap.

So there. That's my writing advice for the day. Take it for what it's worth.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Why Do You Write?"

Last Wednesday at 2:30 AM I was driven out of bed by insomnia. That used to be a frustrating and frequent occurrence... I would snap out of a fitful sleep, my thoughts spinning. It would be great to say that my mind was consumed with some ingenious solution to the fighting in Gaza or to the spreading economic collapse, but these brain seizures never seem to address anything significant... even on a personal level. It's just some short-circuit of the mind... and suddenly all processing power is devoted to some triviality like naming every teacher that I have ever had... it's just crazy, useless shit.

Mercifully, the insomnia doesn't happen much anymore. When it does, I no longer lie in bed while the ball lightning bounces around my skull. I get up and do something. Usually I write. On that evening I wrote about why I write. I didn't post it on the blog, because I don't let myself blog after bedtime. (Partly to encourage a regular sleep cycle, and partly to prevent myself from posting stupider-than-normal stuff.) After I finished dumping my brain into my journal, I checked the blogs I read, and was suitably stunned to see that Brad Green (over at "Elevate the Ordinary") had posted an entry entitled "Why do you write?" the previous evening. Quite a strange synchronicity... must be some disturbance in the ether.

So, all of this is a rather long preamble to summarizing what I wrote about why I write. It is, in fact, rather telling that in order to figure out why I write, I wrote about it. Writing is my natural method of problem solving, both on a personal and professional level. On the one hand, it's how I told my Dad that I'm gay, and it's how I grieved when my dog Dante died. On the other, it's how I get myself unstuck when the research isn't moving forward at work—I just pull up a blank page and start exploring my assumptions.

I write in the same way that other people hum to themselves or sketch in notebooks. It is how I explore and map my internal landscape. Because I have been writing for as long as I have known how to spell, and because I write every single day, I have achieved a certain level of skill. I take it very seriously, but only in the same way that a jogger takes running very seriously. Like anyone else, I have fantasies that my novel will be successful; those fantasies are not what get me up before dawn every day, though. I don't expect to become a best-selling author any more than a serious jogger expects to win the Boston marathon. That's not cynicism or false modesty—it's just statistics. The brutal truth is that, if I decide to try to publish my novel, I probably won't even secure an agent. If I find an agent, she probably won't be able to attract a publisher. If the book gets published, it probably won't survive a month on bookshelves. And finally, even if the book did sell well, the next one probably won't.

So, no, I don't write because of any particularly lofty ambitions. The simple truth is that I write because it comes naturally to me, because it is personally challenging, and because it keeps me healthy. That's all I need.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Welcome to the world, Sarah Ann. It's a bit of a mess, I know. Sorry about that. We've all just been really, really busy, you know? But we've cleared out a nice space for you, and we know you're just going to love the neighborhood once you get used to it. Most of the people are really nice, and the foods good too. Oh, and I hope you like music. It may seem a bit weird at first, but you'll catch on quick.

Oh, and dogs! You are so totally going to love dogs.

(Congratulations, M&M! Does this mean the end of gestational diabetes?)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The "Essential" Buffy

I'm going to use this entry to migrate a comment thread to an upper tier. cs10 and I have been having a long chat in the "Wrapping Up the Holidays" comments, and I mentioned that I am mired in Season Four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A very generous friend loaned us the entire DVD collections of Buffy and Angel, and we are finally coming to terms with the fact that we are just not going to become Buffy fans. We recognize the brilliance of some episodes, and we appreciate the ambitious story arc, but as vampire Willow once said "Bored now."

So I need a list of essential Buffy/Angel episodes to watch so that I can return the discs with the best possible final impression of the show. cs10 said that it would be helpful if I said what episodes we have liked. Off the top of my head, I would have to say that "Passion" was one of the best bits of TV drama I have ever seen. We also liked the big climax to Season 3 (although neither of us really cared for the character of Faith). I liked the two "vampire Willow" episodes. I also like the character of Anya.

I haven't been able to get into Angel. It has the monster-a-week thing that bugged me about 1st season Buffy, and I don't really dig any of the characters except maybe Angel's cop friend (whose name I'm blanking on).

Oh, and I loved Firefly.

So, have at it folks. What Buffy/Angel episodes do I need to maintain geek cred?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My Darlin' Coraline

I'm going to commit a cardinal sin and plug a movie I haven't seen. Please, please, please go see Coraline this weekend if you can. I am a huge fan of animation in general, and stop motion animation in particular. If this movie doesn't have a good opening, the small animation studio that made it will probably shut down. That would mean they would never tackle their next film—"a sweet comedy about a boy who communes with his dead grandmother and who must take on a small army of misguided zombies." Do you really want to live in a universe that didn't produce that magnum opus? (Thanks to Neil Gaiman for the article link.)

I spent awhile tonight talking to Nerkymarg, and she gently castigated me for not updating the blog daily. I guess I'll try to be more regular about that, although writing the blog is not as important to me as writing the novel. Still, it's great that people are checking in on me and my progress, and as that is the ostensible purpose of this blog, I'd better stick to it.

If you don't routinely check out the links on the left side of my blog, Brad Green wrote a superb essay entitled "Plucking a Wild Growth." Please check it out. BG has a flair for indelible imagery and metaphor, and I sometimes turn a mottled emerald when I read his stuff.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What the Cookie Said, ii

As I have said before, I love fortune cookies.

Yesterday's fortune was:

How much deeper would the
ocean be without sponges?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Purity of Body

Did you answer one of those "purity tests" when you were in college (or whatever you were doing in your early twenties)? Despite being pretty inexperienced at that age, I tended to score as rather "impure" simply because homosexuality was seen as intrinsically more corrupt than heterosexuality. Apparently things have come a long way. For one thing, "The Unisex, Omnisexual Purity Test" specifically levels the playing field so that the hets don't have an advantage. (Or was that a disadvantage?) For another, though, I'm just completely stunned by the fairly new notion among young Christian adults that non-vaginal sex doesn't count as sex. Church Discipline has a really nice entry on this, and he argues (from Augustine, no less), that the kids have got it right—oral and anal sex are A-OK from a virginity standpoint... with the caveat that you're still tainting your immortal soul with lust.

Now, if that's the case, and modern Christians are fully embracing non-procreative sex as a fun way to wile away the evenings, then why-oh-why do these same folks get in such a snit about homosexuality?

More importantly, though: If they are right, and non-vaginal sex is not sex, then what happens to my nearly two decades as a practicing homosexual? I was getting really good at it! Now I'm a virgin again? Who wants to have sex with a thirty-seven year old virgin? I feel like such a loser.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Return of the Word Count Graph

In my previous NaNoWriMo blogs I would post progress charts of my daily word totals. They were pretty popular (well, OK it was only cs10 who commented on them, but we make every effort to content the kill-bot), so here they are again.

The graphs are built by a spreadsheet that I use to track my writing totals. It also calculates how much I have to write per day to stay on pace to meet my monthly goal. Maybe I'll write more about that another time.

The January total was 14,519, which was 94% of my goal. We'll grade that as an "A", right?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Really Writing for Real

I've been doing real writing on my novel every day since my PMS rant a few days back. I allow myself to edit the previous days writing for just 15 minutes, and then I move forward with 500 words of new stuff. That pace feels slow, but I've noticed that by limiting how much I write every day to 500 words, the stuff that I'm planning to write simmers in the back of my mind all day long. That makes it easier to face the computer every morning, because I already have an inkling of what I want to write next. I also let myself write whatever comes to mind, with the knowledge that I can cross it out tomorrow if it sounds awful upon rereading it. That has led to some interesting rabbit trails.

One thing that remains intimidating is the sheer scope of this project. So far I have written about 2,100 words, and that represents less than one sentence of my revised plot summary. At that rate I'm looking at roughly a 200,000 word novel. I think that's a gross over-estimate, because the opening chapter is naturally a bit dense with explanatory material. Still, even if I'm off by a factor of two, it's going to take most of a year of writing every single day to get my "second first draft" finished.

Best not to think about it.

(Yeah, I know it's silly, but, yes, I've taken to calling this my second first draft. I have my original draft printed out next to me, and I do use it as a writing prompt, but I'm rewriting everything from scratch.)

Today's writing totals:
Novel: 500 words
Blog: 275 words
DAILY TOTAL: 775 words

JANUARY RUNNING TOTAL: 12,822/15,500 words = 82% of monthly goal

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Me and My Menses

Not a happy writing day today. Not a happy day period, actually. Not quite sure why. I got enough sleep. I got up on time. I did my usual morning thing of writing and exercising. I even ate a nutritious breakfast. All of those things should have me coasting on perky endorphins. Instead I am irritable and tense. It is exercise in self control not to snap at everyone who crosses my path. To reduce the risk of homicide, I sequestered myself at a remote café with my laptop and a sequence of very large mocha lattés. I felt like crying for no particular reason. I made it through the day by just focusing on my To Do list one item at a time and ignoring all incoming calls.

The chicks out there will recognize the above description as classic PMS. The fact that I can accomplish this without a uterus is a medical miracle. Somebody notify Lancet.

My foul mood did lead to a realization about the novel, though, which is that I am not really writing anymore... or at least I am not creating anything. There is an issue of diminishing returns when plotting and researching, and I can touch the asymptote from where I am standing. Furthermore, not only is the planning unfinished, but it is also un-fun. I don't mind working hard. Hell, I love working hard. Whatever it is that I'm doing, I'm not loving it, and if I'm not loving it, then it's not working.

So, you know what? Fuck it. Fuck Snowflake Methods and character charts and timelines. Fuck scene outlines and story arcs. Fuck it all. I’m just going to start rewriting the damn novel. I didn't know what I was doing when I wrote the first draft. How much worse can writing the second draft be?

Tomorrow begins today.

Today's writing totals:
Plot: 273 words
Journal: 325 words
Blog: 309 words
DAILY TOTAL: 907 words

JANUARY RUNNING TOTAL: 9,838/15,500 words

Monday, January 19, 2009

How Many "S"es in "Salsa"?

People like my salsa. They ask me for recipes. I never have a very good answer. Salsa simply means "sauce", so there is immense flexibility in making it. There are no fixed ingredients. There are no fixed methods of preparation. For me, it is more of a philosophy than a recipe. I am therefore going to share my philosophy, but first I will share a recipe. This came from my friend, the artist and proud Texan, Susan Medler, who adapted it from the Moosewood Cookbook:

Combine & chill the following:
3 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 scallions, finely minced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
handful of fresh parsely, finely minced
1 t cumin seeds, toasted
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
1 T lime juice
crushed red pepper to taste
avocado chunks
touch of honey

The above recipe makes a very nice salsa, but it also embodies what I have come to think of as the "Four 'S'es" of salsa. They are: Spice, Savor, Sour, and Sweet. If you stay focused on balancing those elements, then your salsa will be rich and satisfying. Too many people focus on "spice" and "sour." Be sure to balance the bite of the salsa with earthier herbal flavors and a touch of sweetness.

I might add a fifth "s", although it's not related to flavor: "Simple." Although it can be fun to experiment with more time-intensive preparation techniques (caramelized onions or fresh-roasted peppers, for example), it's easy to make a delicious fresh salsa in less than 20 minutes.

Today's writing totals:
Blog: 234 words
Novel: 664 words (plot, plot, plot)
DAILY TOTAL: 898 words

JANUARY RUNNING TOTAL: 8,662/15,500 words

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Post-Proposal Post

I submitted the grant proposal this morning at 4 AM... for a 6 AM deadline—not my most shining hour. Regardless (or "irregardless", as my Dad would say), the thing is done, and I can start to catch up on my own writing. There were only a few days this month that I actually did not write, so I'm pretty proud that I didn't let work completely devour my life. Actually, in addition to this morning's grant proposal submission, I actually finished the revised plot summary for the novel. Deeply reworking something so large has been an interesting/challenging/frustrating/rewarding experience. Although the tone, characters, and general setting have survived, I don't think much of the actual writing from the first draft is going to be useable, and that feels a bit disheartening. Having written two novels without a pre-ordained plot (thanks to Chris Baty's fun book No Plot? No Problem!), I have discovered that it is awfully inefficient for me to write a 50,000 first draft that, in the end, is only a sketch for the real writing. Next time I write a novel (hopefully beginning later this year), I will try thoroughly plotting it before hand to see how that works for me.

Today's self-indulgent breakfast: single-serving homemade brownie with homemade tangerine marmalade and a tiny dollop of Edy's "Samoa" ice cream. I totally deserved it.

Today's writing totals:
Blog: 233 words
Novel: 139 words (plot, plot, plot)
Journal: 321 words
DAILY TOTAL: 793 words

JANUARY RUNNING TOTAL: 4,794/15,500 words

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Other people's stuff

I'm still pounding away at grant proposals (...and miles to go before I sleep...), so I will do what all the other bloggers do when they don't have time to write original content. Link, link, link!

Here's an article in Locus by Cory Doctorow on "Writing in the Age of Distraction." (h/t to Pen on Fire) I particularly love that he recommends using a no-frills text editor like vi or Emacs. (I know at least two readers of this blog who will nod sagely in agreement.) For me, I'm still using Bean. I liked WriteRoom, but the $25 price was hard to swallow for such a stripped down product.

Donald Morgan has compiled a fascinating (and long!) list of Biblical inconsistencies. As an ex-Fundamentalist Baptist, I'm still stunned at how much of this stuff I just glossed over. (h/t to Church Discipline) Mr. Morgan has written a lot of other stuff critical of literal interpretations of the Bible, but for me the quintessential tool of Biblical exposé is not the pen—it's the Lego.

Today's writing totals:
Blog: 124 words
Novel: 604 words
DAILY TOTAL: 728 words

JANUARY RUNNING TOTAL: 3,269/15,500 words (Egad! 2,231 words behind my pace!)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lymeric Loophole

I have a couple of grant proposals due next week, and it's proving hard to keep up my good habits, specifically writing every day and exercising every day. Oh, and sleeping. Something's gonna have to give, I suppose. Probably the sleep.

Then again, if I didn't let myself get distracted by shiny blog-related stuff, I'd have an extra hour in my day.

So, let me cut this short, and just report my writing totals. In lieu of my own wit, I encourage you to visit the iTunes store and search for "Good Ship Venus." It's a fantastically lewd folk song, and iTunes has half a dozen versions of it. Inexplicably, only one version is labeled "EXPLICIT." Should you innocently click on Loudon Wainwright III's version for example (go on, you know you wanna), you will be treated to a ribald limerick the gist of which is "Our second mate was nicely endowed until we brutally castrated him for ejaculating in our beverages."

Now, who wouldn't buy that for $0.99!

Today's writing totals:
Blog: 170 words
Novel: 415 words
DAILY TOTAL: 585 words

JANUARY RUNNING TOTAL: 2,208/15,500 words

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wrapping Up the Holidays

The Significant Other (SO) and I and the dogs made an epic winter road trip to Kansas City for the holidays. (Note to dog travelers: invest in the Kurgo Wander Hammock for your car. Our dogs loved it and mostly slept for the entire two thousand mile journey.) I squeezed in some writing when I could, and the grand total for December was... 12,636. No blogging, though, so let me catch up on a few things.

Death and the acceptance thereof seem to have been the theme for the past two weeks.

First, condolences go out to BC-S, whose mother passed away unexpectedly after making hard-earned progress during her three-year fight against carcinoid cancer. BC-S wrote a really wonderful eulogy for her, which serves as a poignant bookend to the one he wrote for his father three years ago. I'm finding it impossible to write a response to those eulogies that doesn't seem flat or maudlin. There is just such beauty in a life well-lived. Just read his stuff, and I'll get on with my own.

I wanted to plug a couple of things that I picked up for the trip, which tie in with the whole "beauty in death" theme.

The road trip score was provided by Gregory Paul's new CD, This Side of the Ground, which opens and closes with his take on a pair of death-themed folk spirituals ("Oh, Death" and "Wayfaring Stranger"). There's plenty of death in his original tunes too. Beautiful stuff, though, if you're into it.

The road trip libretto was Neil Gaiman's new novel, The Graveyard Book, which I loved even more than Coraline. It made me want to write an invitation to him on some sort of extravagantly embossed stationary (lavender-scented, of course), inviting him to a picnic at Mount Hope Cemetery. I'd make cucumber and watercress sandwiches and show him where H.P. Lovecraft's ancestors are buried.

Today's writing totals:
Blog: 323 words
Novel: 0 words
DAILY TOTAL: 323 words

JANUARY RUNNING TOTAL: 1,194/15,500 words