Thursday, July 29, 2010

Words

A little over 4,600 of them, filling 22 double-spaced pages.

I finished the very first draft of the story a week ago, and if I may be allowed to gloat a bit, I'm proud of myself for following through so far. Many times, many New Year resolutions of deciding to submit something for publishing falling by the wayside, and this time, I've stuck with it.

My friend (and former blogger) Jef received a copy of the draft to read, review and pummel...er, give advice. I set it aside after finishing it, hoping to give myself a fresh set of eyes when I start the revising. But keeping the story from my mind hasn't been as easy as I thought. One minute I'd be playing Harry Potter on my Nintendo and then I'd look up, thinking Hey! I should move this event closer to the beginning because it would make what these characters do flow so much better. the same thing while eating dinner or QA testing at work.

And worse yet, tangential stories with some of the secondary characters run rampant through my head so I find myself not lacking anything else to write should this be accepted and more opportunities present themselves.

So tonight begins the official revising process. Now I wonder if I'll have a story ready to submit by October....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book Review: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
Julius is part of the Bitchun Society, living through his third lifetime after science found a way to eradicate death. All he wants to do now is to follow his dream of living in the Magic Kingdom. Happily, he's found a way to do that by moving in with his girlfriend Lil, a member of the ad hoc committee charged with taking care of the Haunted Mansion. But an enemy looms quite close on the horizon in the form of Debra, a new breed of Disney enthusiast who wants to bring the Haunted Mansion, as well as the rest of Disney World, up-to-date with technology.

Debra's already enjoyed much success with her efforts at Disney Beijing, and with all the Whuffie she's earned from all the well-wishers, she might get her way soon. Julian, who sees her as a threat to the centuries of fun and entertainment that the theme park has brought to the world, will do whatever it takes to stop her. The only problem is that he's been murdered so along with trying to stop a technological overhaul of his beloved Mansion, he needs to find out who killed him. With Lil and his friend Keep A-Movin' Dan, he sets out to the Magic Kingdom's soul.

A kind of cyber-mystery, Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom turns out to be a fun ride. I enjoyed the battle between the ad hocs, one side trying to maintain the Haunted Mansion as we know it today, with its Doom Buggies, ghosts twirling about the ballroom floor, mysterious chills wafting down corridors, and that wonderful song of Grim Grinning Ghosts playing non-stop throughout your head. The other side wants to make the attraction even more interactive by flash-burning ghostly tales directly into a guest's uplink so the thrills and scares are more realistic. This makes for a great backdrop to Julius tale of trying to find his killer while maintaining some kind of connection with Lil.

In Doctorow's universe, everyone is connected by an uplink. Anyone can ping someone, find out their background or Whuffie levels (which is worth more than money ever was), plug in to what millions of people are saying or doing, anywhere in the universe, call anyone through a cochlear implant just by thik king about it. (Sounds almost like the social media of today, doesn't it? Minus the implants, of course.) But Julius, after his murder, loses the connection and must figure out how to function and to survive without it, without something he takes for granted as always being there. I liked the twist of watching him flounder without all the connectivity but still keep plugging on, not allowing it to keep him from his goal.

Anyone who enjoys science fiction or Disney or both will definitely love the story as much as I did.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
by Cory Doctorow
A Tor Book
ISBN: 0-765-30436-8
hardcover, 206pp.

borrowed from the Long Beach Public Library

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Foodie Fix

We spent much of today at Rainbow Lagoon in Downtown Long Beach, enjoying the sights, smells and flavors from the many catering trucks at the Long Beach Street Food Fest. Especially the flavors....

After a quick round of the grounds to see what fine foods were offered, we stopped for tacos. I chose the Kabob Express truck, specializing in a Mexican-Mediterranean mix of foods for my first stop, chowing down two tacos: lamb with humus and chicken shwarma with humus. Drizzle a little tzatziki on the meat, and my mouth was in Heaven. Caesar sampled a Taco de Papas (made with Yukon Gold potatoes) and a BBQ Burnt Pork Ends taco from The Knockout Taco Truck. Actually, we both sampled, trading bites from each.

Next stop, even though the line was a bit long (but not as long as the one for the gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches), we ordered some balls. From Great Balls on Tires. That's right: meatballs. I ordered the Balligators -- two deep-fried alligator meatballs dripping with Jamaican jerk sauce and resting on a bed of mango salsa (bottom of the picture). Caesar chose the Ball Gogi -- Korean BBQ beef mixed with black sesame seeds, served over kimchi and Asian noodles (top of the picture). The Gogi had a surprisingly sweet taste and mixed with the kimchi was incredible. This was the one truck at which people ordered multiple "To Go" boxes, tasting as many of the meatballs as they could: the Inaugural Ball (squid and shrimp), the Ballywood (chicken masala), Ciao Balla (veal, pork and pancetta marinara), and the IncrediBall (made with kobe beef).

We took a quick break after that. Even though we hadn't eaten a lot of food, the portions were just the right size to make us both feel full. So before tackling any desserts, we walked to Borders, skimmed through the books, then headed back to the festival.

I really wanted to try the red velvet ice cream cookie from Cool Haus, but they ran out before we even reached the window. A little grumpy from lack of ice cream, we strolled around looking for something sweet, and I opted for a soft frozen watermelonade. While waiting in line, Caesar found the truck from Ahn-Joo and ordered a grilled nutella bhang -- two slices of sweet bread filled with nutella and berries then grilled like French toast. Talk about delicious! Yet, even after quickly finishing that, we still bought one more item: butterscotch bread pudding from World Fare.

I think it goes without saying that we waddled to the bus stop because neither of us would have made the walk home after three hours of grubbing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review: Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee
Paul Rayment is struck by a car while bicycling, resulting in the loss of his leg. Being in his 60s and stubborn as a mule, he refuses a prosthesis and grudgingly gives in to having a home care professional visit him daily to help with laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc. The first few caregivers leave a bad impression, but he decides to try one more. Which is how he meets Marijana.

Marijana stops by daily to take care of all the things he can't do for himself. But as she works, he takes notice of her, finds out more about her family, her likes and dislikes, and finds himself quietly falling in love with her. But when he begins to waffle about telling her his feelings, a strange woman named Elizabeth Costello shows up announced on his doorstep. She tells him that she's a writer and that she's arrived to help Paul move things along. The problem is, he has no idea who she is or how she seems to know so much about his life and Marijana's. And try as he might to rid her from his life, she simply won't leave until he makes some kind of decision about his love for Marjiana.

Much of J.M. Coetzee's novel deals with growing older and with relationships. Does aging mean we are forced to rely on others to get by, to lose our sense of self? Paul, who was so accustomed to fending for himself, running errands on his own, biking all over Adelaide -- especially for a man of his age -- suddenly has his self-reliance taken away and struggles to deal with others meddling and poking around in his life. And as for love, does he really love Marijana? As Elizabeth points out, he hardly knows anything about her, about her family, where she came from, what kind of life she's lead. How can he base love on such little information?

The question that kept nagging at me, though, throughout the book focused on what is real. Elizabeth does seem to know quite a bit about Paul's life, and that of Marijana and her family, even the life of a woman he briefly met in an elevator at the hospital. Because of this and her ability to pop up when he needs to make a decision, Paul questions whether or not he's living his own life or is a character in one of her stories. Reading through, I questioned that myself and after finishing the book, I still can't give a definitive answer.

But that adds to the effectiveness of Slow Man. Elizabeth's aim is to get Paul to make a decision, to take an active role in his life now that he's older and missing a leg, rather than standing by while everyone does everything for him. Whether or not he's a character in one of her books, he still must decide for himself.

Slow Man
by J.M. Coetzee
Viking
ISBN: 0-670-03459-2
hardcover, 263pp.

purchased copy

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Night Out

Saturday night, my cousin dropped by for a visit. He's in the States for a month and a half, to be joined at the beginning of August by his husband. Caesar and I hadn't seen him in at least two years so we decided to treat him to some good food and a little gay Long Beach night life.

First stop: Kafe Neo for some delicious Greek-American food. We started the meal with a plate featuring six different flavors of hummus, including a roasted red pepper one that disappeared quickly. To follow that, we each ordered a pita sandwich: chicken for Caesar, Gyro for me and spicy calamari and feta for my cousin. It's always amazing to me how time flies when you're enjoying good food and good conversation; by the time we paid the check and headed out the door, it was already 9:30PM.

We walked from the Kafe over to Broadway for drinks at The Brit and Mineshaft, staying not too long in either bar. It seems as we get older -- okay, as I get older -- the bars aren't my thing anymore. Loud music, obnoxious pool players at the far left table, very little talk from patrons, eyes roaming hungrily about the room. Once my small glass of water was finished, I was ready to head back to the apartment.

Ugh, I'm getting old....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Analyze This

I had one of my more recent blog posts analyzed and apparently:


I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!



Interesting....

And, since I'm on the topic of writing, I finished the first, rough draft of my zombie short story, tapping the keys at a tad over 4600 words (and 22 pages, double-spaced). I already know ways to change and (hopefully) to enhance the story, moving a scene here, removing a character there. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Getting My Movie Fix

It seems like ages since I wrote about going to a movie. But the cinematic dry spell is finally over!
Last Sunday, we treated Ceasar's nieces and nephews and some family friends with their kids to Toy Story 3 at the El Capitan in Hollywood. The El Capitan always turns out to be a fun place to watch movies: a stage show featuring an original Wurlitzer organ, the movie itself, then usually a movie-themed fun zone for the kids to enjoy afterward. Thank goodness for the fun zone, complete with a ferris wheel, Legos and other toys, character photo opportunities and quite a bit more. This time around, the toy Story movie seemed a bit darker than the first two; the characters dealt with prison-like circumstances and even confronted their own demise -- though in a kid-friendly way. Yet, by the end of the film, I was in tears. (As were Caesar and all the adults in our group.) The folks at Pixar know how to tell a good story, and this is probably one of their best. The 3D did nothing to enhance or to move the story, though.
The other film -- also from the folks at Disney -- we saw a few hours ago, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. After a mishap with the between movie tidbits, trivia questions and ads playing over the opening scene of the movie, we did eventually sit back and enjoy the film. It's by no means the most fantastic movie ever made, but it was full of great special effects, decent acting (LOVE Alfred Molina as the villain), and yes, the occasional joke that didn't quite live up to its potential. The Sorcerer's Apprentice earned a shout-out from me as a fun, matinée movie, something to enjoy without thinking too much. If you do see it, stick around after the credits; there's a brief tag ending....

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: Audition by Ryu Murakami
Seven years after the death of his wife, Aoyama's son Shige makes the suggestion -- "Why don't you find yourself a new wife, Pops?" He doesn't take his son too seriously, at first, but the idea takes root, and he tells his friend Yoshikawa about it. Yoshikawa, who works in the film industry, thinks that a new wife is just what Aoyama needs, and to help him find one, he pitches the idea of holding auditions for a fictional movie. He can screen each of the young women as a potential bride. Hesitant at first, Aoyama eventually gives in and goes with the idea.

With the project underway, the two men begin skimming through the responses to their call for actresses, and almost immediately, the picture and brief blurb from Yamasaki Asami catches Aoyama's eye. A one-time ballerina in training, she proffers just what he's looking for, and he becomes infatuated with her.

But Yamasaki isn't quite what she seems to be, as Aoyama finds out much too late.

It takes a bit to shock me, what with all the horror novels in my collection and movies I've seen, and Ryu Murakami's tale delivers. Even though hints appear throughout the story that something may not be quite right with Yamasaki, the last chapter of the book takes an unexpected and truly gruesome turn. And I couldn't put the book down once I started. Audition turns what could have been a typical story of a man's search for love into a story of surprising horror.

Caesar has seen the movie version and warned me about how intense the last part was, and the book lives up to it. From his questions, though, I understood that a few details from the movie aren't in the book which lead me to believe that the movie was made more purposefully gruesome. So it's a must see for me; I've added it to my rental queue. I just hope the movie, for me, lives up to the book.

Audition
by Ryu Murakami
W.W Norton & Company
ISBN: 978-0-393-33841-6
softcover, 190 pages


borrowed book from Caesar

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Writing Life

So far, I've typed roughly 2400 words in 3 days. Not too sure if that's good or if I'm somehow lagging behind. The submission guidelines require a minimum of 3000 words which I should hit within the next few days. My biggest problem right now is that I hate what I've written so far. Garbage. Crapola. Elementary-schoolish. This is just the first draft so I know nothing is as it should or will be. I've stopped myself numerous times from highlighting the entire document and pressing the delete key.

Another problem for me deals with editing. Because of my blog and how I write in general, I'm used to editing as I go. (In fact, I re-wrote that last sentence three times before feeling satisfied.) I set the story aside and my mind quickly jumps to better ways of saying this or describing that. Instead of re-booting the computer and typing away, I'm forcing myself to make notes elsewhere, to get the basic story written first. I can, and most definitely will, edit later.

And at the back of my mind, the doubts swirl and gain momentum. Will the publisher accept it? Will anyone want to read it? Is my writing really as bad as I think it is? I should give up now and be done with it, after all, this is something I want to do not need to do. I'm my own worst enemy at times.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sit Down, John
I'd like to say that our impending trip to Hershey and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania spurred us on to see the musical 1776. While there may be a smidgeon of truth to that, I've wanted to see this production since Musical Theatre West's season was announced last year, and I think I wore down Caesar enough that he caved in, too. So we called our friends Clark and Rob, and on Saturday night, we headed for the Carpenter Center.

A quick synopsis of the show: in 1776, John Adams tries almost in vain to get the Congress to support a proposition of independence from England. John Adams of Massachusetts tries everything he can to convince the southern Colonies that it's the right thing to do. But his fellow Congressmen from the South find him obnoxious -- and they're holding out for a possible reconciliation with King George. Meanwhile, General George Washington sends missives to Congress of his downtrodden troops as they await the onslaught of the English military.

When the idea of writing a declaration of the need for independence arises, along with the potential for it to gain the approval of the southern Colonies, Adams -- along with Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and the young Thomas Jefferson of Virginia -- work together to draft the declaration, and then to convince the rest of Congress to adopt it.

This turned out to be a very effective and funny show. Even in the last few scenes, knowing full well what would happen, I still gripped the arm rests on my seat, wondering if Adam, Franklin and Jefferson would be able to get the southern approval, especially after being shown the hypocrisy of their desire abolish slavery. From all the gasping in the audience, I think many others felt the same.

The cast was amazing: Steven Glaudini as John Adams on the verge of a nervous breakdown thanks to a Congress that can't get anything done; Stephen Vinovich as Benjamin Franklin, spouting his good-humored wisdom and keeping Adams grounded; John Bisom as Thomas Jefferson who watches his words take shape then get ripped to shreds; Robert J. Townsend as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, whose slick smarminess with the song Molasses To Rum shoved the hypocrisy back in Adams' face; Davis Gaines as a happy-go-lucky Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, so sure of his family's standing in the colonies that he has no doubt of his ability to convince Virginia to follow the path to independence; and the rest.

I liked the use of shutters throughout the production. It was so hot in Philadelphia that the windows needed to be open, but that allowed the myriad flies to swarm about the room; Martha Jefferson throwing open the shutters after spending the first night in a long time with her husband and conversing with Adams and Franklin on the street below; a large shutter unfolding to hide the stage when not needed. And a main song dealing with opening up a window.

The only minor drawback was the orchestra which at times seemed to overpower the performers, but I'd seen the movie enough to understand what was being sung. And yes, the First Act lasted almost two full hours, but for such a wonderful show, that didn't matter too much.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Letters

Jake glanced at the clock then back to where Mr. Weaver sat at his usual window table, lips silently mouthing words, pen frantically scratching and scribbling across the newspaper, hand forcing its way through his hair. Just one more minute, Jake thought.

Mr. Weaver noted the time on his watch, set dropped his pen on the newspaper and quietly stood. He brushed a few remnants of his morning danish from his shirt as he walked and nodded a quick, smiling hello to Jake then disappeared down the restroom hallway.

When the door clicked shut, Jake made his move. He grabbed the pot of decaf and hurried to Mr. Weaver’s table. He scanned the left side of the page, filled with words that had been scratched out and re-written, trying the letters in different combinations but never seeming to find the right one. On the other side of the page, the crossword puzzle was well under way. But to Jake’s eyes, Mr. Weaver seemed to have become stuck on one of the Across clues. He skimmed the clue, counted the number of squares and quickly rifled through the useless trivia tucked away in his brain.

And there it was: the answer Mr. Weaver needed to move along with the puzzle. Jake checked the hallway to make sure he was in the clear, then grabbed the pen. He quickly filled in the squares to one of the down clues. Just a letter there, and Mr. Weaver should be able to figure this one out, thought Jake with a knowing smile.

He heard the door click open and dropped the pen. He picked up the coffee cup and some decaf into it.

“Thank you for the refresher,” Mr. Weaver said as he waited for Jake to finish pouring before sitting down.

“Anytime, Mr. Weaver.”

Jake stopped by other the tables on his way back to the counter, re-filling cups as he went.

a work of fiction, ©G.A. Carter, 2010

This was my entry for a contest on NPR. It didn't win, but I wanted to post it here, now that the contest is over.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

I'm Just Wild About Harry
I bought a Nintendo DS copy of Lego® Harry Potter™ Years 1-4 for Caesar's birthday. The game arrived a few days ago from Amazon.com, but their version of packaging -- which involves shrink wrap and heat -- somehow damaged the game, melting much of the plastic on the game case and singeing parts of the paper sleeve. What kind of birthday gift would that have been so I returned it and drove Caesar to Best Buy for a fresh copy. Meanwhile, Amazon sent another, brand-spankin'-new copy of the game which arrived today. We each have a game to ourselves, and we sat on the couch after dinner, the TV mumbling something in the background as we both toured our ways through Hogwarts, casting spells, catching frogs, and collecting Lego® studs. Safe to say at this point that we're both hooked. Good luck trying to contact us by phone or email; we may not respond until sometime next week....

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Taking a Chance

Through Twitter, I discovered a horror publisher that's looking for first time writers to submit stories for a zombie anthology. And I decided to take a chance with a story. I've written and re-written and re-re-written the opening more times than I can count and feel as though I;m running in circles so I'm setting a deadline for myself much like we had in the creative writing classes I enjoyed in college.

By July 20th, I will have a rough draft of the story complete and sent to a friend back East to read through. I'll re-work and re-write the story with his help and hopefully have a polished tale to submit by the October 15th submission deadline.

I'm excited and nervous at the same time. For years, I've been telling myself to submit something for publication, and now the opportunity's presented itself. I'm going for it!!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Book Review: In My Father's House
After coming out to his wealthy Detroit family, Bentley L. Dean III moved to Miami and opened Picture Perfect -- one of the hottest African-American modeling agencies in South Beach. Times are tough, though -- both economically and on the romantic front. With companies slowing down, not many are in need of models; Bentley could ask his Father or Mother for a little financial help, but he worries that they aren't ready to forgive him for coming out. Things could be turning around, though, when he reluctantly agrees to allow some of his male models to be eye candy at an exclusive men-only party on Star Island.

As for a relationship, he called off his wedding to be with Warren, the man he loved, only to be dumped in turn after moving to Miami. At the party on Star Island, Bentley runs into Warren and hopes to re-ignite what they once had. But when one of Bentley's younger models named Jah falls head over heels for the host of the party, a movie mogul on the "down low" named Seth Sinclair, and he learns of some rough dealings that involved Sinclair's former boi, Bentley fears for Jah's safety and begins to question what exactly Warren's role in this whole scheme is.

E. Lynn Harris' In My Father's House took me into a different side of the gay world, that of the closeted, or "down low", black men. On the public side, they have families, well-paying jobs, the respect of the community; on the private side, they attend exclusive parties, hoping for a little action with a hot man or boi. At all times, they're on guard, doing whatever it takes to keep their secret lives a secret, damn the consequences. Throw Bentley L. Dean III into the mix, handsome and confident with his own sexuality, and the tensions simmer and boil over until someone makes a wrong move.

Bentley's inner struggles with regards to his family -- and more specifically, his father -- weave nicely into the tale. He came out to them in order to be true to himself and to his family, but now, isn't sure of his place. Do they still love me? Will they help me if I reach out to them? So many gay men and women deal with those questions, I found it comforting to follow a character dealing with those issues on a realistic level and not like a melodrama.

In My Father's House is definitely a beach read, something to sit with for a few hours, get caught up in the story and just have as much fun as you can. The intertwining stories -- finding work for the modeling agency; testing the waters of love after a bad breakup; the secret parties of high-powered closeted gay black men; Bentley's struggle with his relationship with his father -- made for a book that I couldn't put down once I started.


In My Father's House
by E. Lynn Harris
St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-54191-0
hardcover, 297p.

Received book free from publisher, via LibraryThing.

Cleaning House

Saturday morning, we rented a Rug Doctor The once-beige berber carpets had a blackish hue thanks to Diesel vomiting one too many times and to heavy foot traffic. Not to mention the old-lady-living-with-twenty-cats smell that permeated the front room and hallway. We normally shampoo the carpets before New Years Eve, but without people coming over, we decided to let it go for a time, and finally, with my cousin and his husband flying over from Spain for a two-month long visit, the dirt couldn't remain.

We lugged the machine up the back steps to the apartment and set it in the bedroom so we could move furniture and vacuum. The coffee table, chairs, the church donation box serving as stand next to the front door, and the smaller pieces of furniture were whisked away without any problems. Then came my tall DVD stand. We tilted it, maneuvered it around the corner and into the kitchen, then I twisted to get a better grip and twinged something in my back.

What a way to start the holiday weekend.

My lower back pinching and throbbing, we managed to clear the room, vacuum and being the two-hour shampooing process. I thought the 4 inches of cat hair, kitty litter, dirt and dust sucked up by the vacuum was gross; you should have seen the blackened water that Caesar poured from the machine after every few minutes. Gross does not even cover it! How does that much gunk get into the carpets?!?! And worse, why did we wait longer than usual to clean it??!!

Two hours later, the carpet looked much more beige, brighter, less like skid marks on the street. We laid a few sheets down between the front door and the bedroom so we could return the Rug Doctor and run a few more errands before returning the furniture to its proper places.

And maybe my back would begin to feel better after downing a few ibuprofen.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Book Review: Sheep and Wolves by Jeremy C. Shipp
I'm always on the lookout for new horror, a terrifying tale that grabs me not because it follows suit with other horror stories, but something that takes the genre and turns it on its ear and forces me to think in a new way. Jeremy C. Shipp's collection Sheep and Wolves does just that. With stories showing the dark side of non-conformity or of being an outsider -- Camp follows the young narrator as he dares to confront what he believes to be wrong, with terrible consequences -- or those who do what they're told only to uncover the truth -- American Sheep's narrator finds himself in a series of rooms, with a loud voice booming instructions that become gradually worse and debasing -- Shipp's stories are the closest I've come to what a dream or nightmare actually is: the quick and subtle changes in place and time that should be awkward but aren't, the bizarre array of characters and creatures that feel normal though they shouldn't. They are delightfully twisted tales of horror, each one darkly humorous, each one somehow just the right length to leave you both satisfied and craving to read more.

purchased book