Revising the Work In Progress
The idea of wanting to be a writer has been with me always, but I never attempted turning the idea into reality until just after graduation from college. I knew that my writing wasn't the best, as evidenced by every reaction of my last writing teacher to a project. Constructive criticisms, yes, but even others in the class noticed a particular negative slant in his comments toward my stories. So one day, I bought a copy of Writer's Digest hoping it would provide some clues as to how to improve my skills, and the ad for a writers correspondence course seemed to be the perfect solution.
I sent my check and a week or so later received a thick, three-ringed binder, with assignments, writing exercises and a letter from a published horror author who was to be my teacher. How fantastic! Working with someone who's been where I was at and made it. (Granted, I'd never actually heard of the author or read any of her books. I still haven't, as a matter of fact.) Her letter of introduction welcomed me to the course, briefly went over what I could expect, and dove directly into the first exercise. Over the course of six weeks, I began hammering out a story that I'd been playing over in my mind for a few years. I liked the idea, the characters, the monster that I'd created and was excited to get a professional's opinion.
I tore open the envelope with her notes and comments on my first draft, eager to use her advice to improve my story. But her first comment, written in blue letters above my title, stated that no writer ever harms a cat in a story. I'm sure my mouth dropped open as I re-read that comment. Had she never hear of Pet Sematary? The remainder of her comments all took on a negative tone. Maybe that's simply how I interpreted them. My ballooning excitement at becoming a writer quickly deflated. I re-stuffed the story draft in the envelope and shoved it in a drawer, then took the binder to the side year of the house and dumped it in the trash.
Flash forward many years -- MANY years -- and a different story that I wrote, which involves a zombified cat, managed to be accepted for publishing. So I rummaged through my files and found that old story. I've been working on it for the past few weeks, and man, is it awful! I deleted roughly 1500 words, shuffled the order of events, moved the location from Petaluma to Long Beach, even changed the sex of one character. I thought of a new direction for the flow of action and think this might be a good one to submit. Then again, I never truly like anything that I write.
But I didn't change a thing with the cat.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Revising the Work In Progress
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Book Review: Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland
Where do they all come from?
"Eleanor Rigby", John Lennon/Paul McCartney
For Liz Dunn, life is fairly routine, dull and lonely. She's single, overweight, works a fairly tedious job and tries to put on a comrade-like face when dealing with co-workers. She doesn't realize how stuck in a rut she is until a Vancouver hospital calls, saying that a young man has been admitted, and the only number he carries happens to be hers. She visits him in the hospital and takes a chance on him, allowing the charming young man with strange, apocalyptic visions of farmers, into her home, changing her outlook of loneliness and life forever.
Eleanor Rigby weaves a fun tale of a woman overcoming her self-made obstacles to regain the life she thought she would never have. As Liz begins to learn more about the mysterious young man, she re-examines her teen years, realizing her life wasn't as bad as she makes it out to be. She traveled to Europe on her own, made a fairly decent amount of money in the stock market, and has a secret that at one time, she thought would be her undoing but instead has made her a better person. I like that she grows as the story progresses, and as a reader, I can see the changes as she becomes more outgoing and learns to allow others into her life rather than keeping them at a distance. Oh, and her conversations with the young stranger are wonderfully written, the kind of talks I wish I could have with people, saying whatever comes to mind and not feeling judged for it.
This is the first book I've read this year which put a smile on my face as I closed the cover. It's well worth reading, and I recommend it highly.
by Douglas Coupland
hardcover, 249 pgs.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Saturday Is for Movies
I'm usually up and about early Saturday morning, headed to the beach for a little exercise/walk or cleaning around the apartment. But not this time. The rainy weather put a kibosh on any chance of a morning stroll which in turn made me less inclined to putter around with cleaning utensils. So I popped a DVD into the player.
Devil is a "locked room" mystery of sorts. Five strangers step onto an elevator which becomes stuck between floors. Then, they're picked off one by one, by someone or something unseen. The unknown turns out to be the Devil, and those random strangers aren't as innocent as they appeared to be. Each has a sordid past: Ponzi schemes, blackmail, a prison record, theft, hit-and-run. The movie turns into a guessing game as to which elevator rider is the Devil in disguise, thanks to some clever storytelling which constantly switches your sympathies for each character as more and more is revealed about their histories. Good acting, good story, and a well-crafted film.
In the early evening after a few loads of laundry and a bit of Epic Mickey on the Wii, Caesar and I headed for Marina Pacifica to catch a showing of Sucker Punch.
After her mother dies, Baby Doll is locked away in an asylum, thanks to her money-hungry step-father. Once she learns that he has made arrangements so that she will never leave the asylum, she convinces a team of other girls also locked away to help her find five items that will free them from their captivity.
Visually, the film is stunning. The CGI fantasy/action sequences display the best of movie magic: from a battle between Baby Doll and three towering Samurai demons at a snow-bound temple to fighting hordes of WWI, steam-punked, living dead German soldiers to a "Lord of the Rings"-styled battle with a dragon. Set those to an amazing soundtrack filled with Björk's Army of Me, a mash up of I Want It All and We Will Rock You by Queen w/ Armageddon, and a slowed-down, electro-goth version of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Emily Browning, and you have two-thirds of an amazing film.
The storyline is decent, but I have issues with which story to follow. The movie begins with Baby Doll entering the asylum and then switches suddenly to the same chain of events and characters, but now, they're all stuck inside a bordello run by a sadistic roaring-twenties styled pimp. Once that change is made, the initial part in the asylum is only fleetingly referenced then doesn't appear again until the last twenty or so minutes of the film. I feel as if the bookending with the asylum wasn't necessary, and made the film overly long and perhaps a little confusing.
Then there's the little matter of Baby Doll's dancing. Those scenes are used to segue into the better elements of the film -- the fantasy fights with zombies and dragons -- but watching her character prep for those transitions was uncomfortable to watch. The music begins, and Baby Doll sways back and forth with a constipated look on her face. Then queue the fantasy sequences. Once the fight's over and we're returned to her bordello reality, everyone's in awe of how Baby Doll dances, and we're left wondering what was so good about her dancing.
In spite of that, Sucker Punch is still a fun movie, and I plan on buying the soundtrack.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Feeling a Little Wicked
Continuing an annual tradition I started with my Mom I don't remember how many years ago, we treated my parents to Wicked. And by "we", I mean Caesar, myself, my Brother and Sister-in-Law. What a fantastic time, the six of us seated in the orchestra section, eyes fixed on the magic happening on stage. Even my Brother will (grudgingly) admit to enjoying the show. Nothing brings a family together like musical theater, and with such a spectacular production. My Mom and Dad could talk of nothing but the finale to Act I, how breathtaking and amazing it was to watch Elphaba rise above the stage. My SIL loved the duet "For Good". I enjoyed watching a show with my family, like we used to do when my Brother and I were still in elementary school.
Too bad we only seem to do this once a year.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Book Review: Falling Sideways by Thomas E. Kennedy
At the Copenhagen offices of The Tank, the managers are called to a meeting to go over the company's future. Among those in attendance is Martin Kampman, the CEO of The Tank and the man with a reputation for "streamlining" companies. One of the first to fall victim to the new plans for the future is Fred Breathwaite, the only non-Danish employee at the company and the one responsible for all foreign relations, especially with The Tank's counterpart in Dublin. Once he learns his fate, he sets out to engineer a future for his youngest son Jes by getting his replacement to convince Kampman that a good speaker of English is necessary. Jes, however, see things differently and doesn't want to burdened like his father in what he considers a dead-end life of work and nothing but work. As if to show his lack of desire to work in an office, Jes takes a job in a Muslim-owned bar. On the other hand, Fred's replacement -- Harald Jaeger -- is trying to deal with his new job duties while trying to maintain his visitation rights with his daughters and his insatiable yearning for women.
For me, too much was going on in the story, too many little side stories trying to weave their way into the main storyline that I never quite grasped what the main storyline was supposed to be. Is this a book about employees dealing with drastic changes at their employer and how those changes affect their everyday lives? Or even how that change affects office politics? Is it about the next generation not wanting to follow along in the footsteps of their parents -- such as with Jes and his father Fred, or other characters (Harald Jaegaer and his son Adam, Jalâl al-Din and his estranged son Zaid)? How about fathers trying to connect with sons? Or simply people trying to connect with others any way they can?
I like that each chapter focuses on a specific character, showing events and the mindset of one individual. It offers a great opportunity to get to know the characters, and many times, these chapters could stand on their own as short stories. Such as Chapter 6. The Mumble Club. During this chapter, the reader witnesses the initial meeting with the CEO that sets things in motion, and all from the perspective of Harald Jaeger. He tries to focus on the content of the meeting, but the little details capture his attention more, like the beautiful Birgitte Sommer, the way the shadows vary his perception of the CEO, what others in the room are doing. It's the perfect picture of a board meeting.
Yet even with such chapters, the entire book ends leaving more questions and seems unfinished. Nothing appears to be resolved. I wanted Breathwaite to be more savvy, Jaeger to show a little more backbone, but they sort of fizzled toward the finale. For me, that's an unsatisfying way to leave things.
by Thomas E. Kennedy
hardcover, 291 pgs.
received book from publisher via LibraryThing.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I think I finally learned -- albeit unwittingly -- where this phrase comes from.
Last night, while sitting in front of the TV and enjoying our mac and cheese, Diesel headed for the kitchen to scrounge for scraps. As usual. After a few moments of silence, Diesel hissed and threw himself against the back screen door, screaming and meowing like a mad cat. I followed the noise and watched Diesel facing off with another cat on the opposite of the screen. That cat just sat there, his gaze flitting from Diesel, haunched and rampaging that he couldn't strike him, to me, slowly approaching to frighten him off. I banged on the screen door, and the cat fled.
Then Diesel attacked. He clamped onto my right leg and screamed up a storm. I yelled, and Caesar rushed in, having to pry the cat from my leg. I rolled up the leg of my jeans to survey the damage: a two-to-three inch scratch beginning at the back of the knee and contouring to the knee cap, and myriad scratches along the calf and ankle. Meanwhile, Diesel continued hissing, growling, ears laid flat against his head, not allowing anyone near him for the next 20 minutes. He seemed possessed and in what I finally realized was a "hissing fit".
We've changed his name to Bruiser LaRue.
Friday, March 18, 2011
One of the worst things about using foursquare concerns the earning of badges. For their partner badges -- such as those that relate to BravoTV, LogoTV, VH1, etc. -- all that's required is following that particular brand on foursquare, then checking into a particular location associated with the brand. That feeds my "must-have" need to possess the badges. Almost like Gollum and his precious. However, the vast majority of the foursquare badges require multiple checkins or visiting multiple locations -- like the Gym Rat badge which requires checking into a gym 10 separate times/days within a 30-day period. So patience is required, something which doesn't come easily to me.
I've researched how to earn certain badges, and slowly, methodically, I'm setting up multiple chains of events that will eventually result in new badges for my trophy case. For example, one partner badge is for Lucky Magazine and requires 5 checkins at locations tagged with their special tag. Not surprisingly, the Disneyland Resort has five such locations, but instead of finding them all at once, I checked in to one location last week and another last night. With my annual pass, I have time to complete the remaining checkins. I'm even going to great lengths for the VH1 Fanatics badge, which requires checking into 3 specific music venues. Last night, I checked in at the House of Blues Anaheim. We're traveling to Las Vegas at the end of April at which time I will checkin to the House of Blues Las Vegas. Later in July, we're going to see Dolly Parton at the Hollywood Bowl, making the third checkin, and the badge should be mine.
Obsessive . . . probably. But thanks to foursquare, I'm making an effort to discover new places and try new things.
Geez, I sound like an ad for foursquare. Maybe they should give me a badge just for promoting the heck out of it.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I purchased this blank, white vinyl Mickey probably two or three years ago because I became infatuated with those things. Trust me when I say you don't want to know how many of those little 3 inch figures are scattered about the living room. When the blank ones first arrived on the market, I picked one out, thinking it might be fun to decorate my very own. So much fun, in fact, that I left it on my dresser, confined to its little plastic baggie for two whole years.
Last night, though, something clicked inside when I picked up the blank Mickey. I grabbed a blue Sharpie and started drawing.
The pattern wraps around the little Mickey in a very random way. I had no idea really what I wanted to do but allowed my hand to guide then pen. I began at the nose, then wrapped around the right side of the face, across the back of the head, up and around both ears. The blue branches off in the back, heading down the right side and also across to the left and down to the feet. Definitely not the work of Shag, but I think it looks kinda cool, almost tribal in its own way.
I wonder if I could start my own line . . . .
Monday, March 14, 2011
Book Review: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
After four years, Elizabeth has settled into being Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Yet even he can tell that something's not right. It's only in the quiet moments when the two are out on watch together hunting the Dreadfuls, instead of having to play the part of dutiful wife beholden to the the mores of polite society, that she seems to be happier, more her true self. When he diverts their ride back to Pemberly for a chance to walk and to talk, he is bitten by one of the Dreadfuls. Elizabeth knows the laws, knows that she must behead her beloved before he turns, but she hesitates. She has heard of a possible cure in London, but the only way she knows to procure it is through her nemesis, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And the price Lady Catherine exacts could ruin Elizabeth's standing not only in society but in the eyes of her beloved Darcy forever.
Dreadfully Ever After is an entertaining mix of the zombie novel and the classic romance. Author Steve Hockensmith takes the beloved characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice -- and re-mixed into the original mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- and ponders an alternative take on the "happily ever after". The romance and heartbreak within the societal confines of English society are still ever-present, and all none of the characters veer from that, which creates much of the tension for Elizabeth. Though she may be one of the foremost zombie slayers of her time, being married to a gentleman of standing prohibits her from carrying weapons or joining in the battles against the undead -- much to her dismay. I think that's one thing I appreciated about this book: though what we consider modern-day monster creations run rampant, the structure and context in which they appear adhere to the original tale told by Austen. It would be so easy to veer from that, potentially turning the story from the good horror tale that it is into a parody of both zombie tales and classic literature.
Thankfully, Hockensmith keeps the characters, whether undead or alive, in check, and what the reader gets is a wonderfully crafted zombie tale.
Dreadfully Ever After
by Steve Hockensmith
trade paperback, 288 pgs.
received book from publisher
Sunday, March 13, 2011
The Dawning of Reason
Ah, yes. It finally dawned on me today, while maneuvering through the stroller-infested crowds of Disneyland just why I neglected to renew my annual pass over a year ago. It has nothing to do with the rides and attractions; I'm a huge fan of the Tower of Terror and the classics like Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Railroad. It isn't the food, which tends to be overpriced, but the taste more than makes up for that. And it isn't really the crowds because having grown up with Disneyland, I realize that crowds come with the territory.
What held me back from renewing -- and will probably keep me from purchasing a new one after the current pass expires -- is the lack of courtesy from everyone. Strollers being rolled over and over again into my heels as I'm walking. Groups huddled together at a standstill, smack dab in the middle of a busy walkway or sidewalk or path, and not caring that they're causing a bottleneck. Children being loosed upon the masses, running around in circles or screaming at the top of their lungs or climbing fences and barriers, and the parents not minding or paying attention -- yet when one of them falls and hurts his- or herself, they're quickest to lay blame on Disney for their lack of parenting skills. The stroller parking lots which take up most of the walking space near big attractions, the worst of which is in the transition from Adventureland to News Orleans Square.
The construction doesn't help, either, but that will disappear eventually. Just remember, only two more visits, and the pass will have paid for itself.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
On Getting Older
Taking another look at the pictures from the book signing, the fact that I'm 40 finally sinks in. I have the paunch, though not as big as it was over a year ago. (Still managing to keep the 20 lbs. at bay, but unable to lose another 10.) And trying to get any kind of muscle mass or even muscle tone is like a neverending battle forcing me onto the losing side. The wrinkles are popping up more frequently, as are other skin issues which tend to run long and deep in my family. But the worst part is noticing how my hair is thinning. From the front, the change doesn't make itself apparent, yet when hunching over to sign a book, the thinness glares at me. My hairline is following along with that of my Dad's. Perhaps I should cut my losses and cut my hair similar to Dad's: close cropped to the scalp. Not a full buzz cut, more of a fuzz cut. I just don't know that my head offers the right shape. Or if I would look acceptable without the hair "to which I have become accustomed".
Ugh, the things we go through for beauty.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Book Review: First Time Dead by TW Brown (Ed.)
>First Time Dead represents the first book in a two-volume set of zombie-infected tales. What sets this apart from other such anthologies is that the authors are all first-timers. It may seem risky, but May December Publications gladly takes that risk and offers a collection of great additions to the zombie genre. The collection offers a wonderfully mixed take on the living dead, running the gamut from the day to day survival (The Overpass by John Lemut and Everything I Know About Zombies I Learned from "Star Trek" by Sam Christopher) to stories of a zombie's guilt (Forgive Me, Father, For I Have . . . Burp by Michael J. Evans) and one woman's struggle to keep her family "safe" (Just Another Day by Chantal Boudreau), to name a few. A fine gathering of new voices, and as a fan of zombie tales, this makes a nice addition to my collection. Highly recommended!
And I'm not just saying that because I'm in book 2 . . . .
First Time Dead
by TW Brown (Ed.)
May December Publications
trade paperback, 240 pgs.
Monday, March 07, 2011
To treat myself for 1) fulfilling my goal of getting something published and 2) surviving my first book signing, I treated myself to something that would fill a gaping hole that appeared a little over a year ago. (Get your minds out of the gutter!!) I renewed my Disneyland Annual Pass. Yes, it's been over a year since I last passed through the venerable gates of the Haus of Maus, and thanks to one of my tax refunds being deposited, I caved and bought a new pass. And it felt as though I hadn't missed anything -- well, except for all the construction. The same rides and attractions, the same overpriced food, the same hordes of people. It was like saying hello to an old friend.
Of course, it also allowed me to go wild checking in on foursquare. Downtown Disney, most of the attractions and restaurants, and when I first set foot in Town Square and checked in, I earned a nifty little badge from The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I wasn't expecting that, but it's a nice addition to my collection. I plan on checking in at least once to every attraction in both parks as well as checkin only once to Disneyland -- hopefully to earn a Swarm badge. I was so close yesterday, then I had to re-visit Captain EO. Damn!
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Yesterday, Caesar and I made the trek to Dark Delicacies in Burbank for my first official book signing for First Time Dead 2. I finally met one of my fellow first-time authors, Dave Minyard, who appears in First Time Dead (product placement. . . wink, wink) as well as Del and Sue Howison, the owners and founders of Dark Delicacies. A great group of people, and I hope they had as much fun as I did.
My family made the trip up from the nether regions of Orange County and spent much of the time buying books, snapping pictures, and getting a kick out of all the horror-related material in the store. And even while my folks were chatting away with Del, Dave and I started signing pre-ordered copies of both books. A few people walked in from the street and bought the books. We chatted with them, signed their copies, and spent much of the time talking about zombies, horror films, books and so on, recommending titles to each other and having a great time. Now, I can sit back and try to relax, keeping my fingers crossed that both books receive good reviews.
Friday, March 04, 2011
Book Review: The Infection by Craig DiLouie
The day started like any other for Ethan, a teacher at the local high school. He stood at the chalkboard, trying in vain to capture his students' interest in the current math problem, when the screaming started. First outside the school, then in the hallways and finally, one student in his classroom began screaming, dropped to floor in horrific pain. Thousands fell to screaming then into comas. But no one expected what happened days later when the screamers began to wake up.
A small band of survivors -- those who weren't affected by the screaming or managed to outlast the violent Screamers -- trek across Pennsylvania, hoping to find one of the refugee camps set up by the government. Along the way, the group encounters hordes of Screamers wanting nothing more than to pass on their infection, and nightmarish creatures far worse than the Screamers.
Craig DiLouie's The Infection takes an interesting slant on the traditional zombie tale. These "zombies" don't fit the normal mode -- dying first then re-animating with an unquenchable hunger. Instead, the Screamers lapse into comas only to re-awaken and wreak violent havoc, with the specific intent to spread infection. They aren't decomposing, their joints stiff with rigor mortis, the ability to move hampered by withering muscle tissue. The Screamers are strong, quick and nasty. Throw into that a mixture of bizarre, Cthulu-like creatures whose mysterious appearance coincides with the waking of the Screamers, and you have one terror-filled tale.
As for the survivors, at first they all come across as the same: shell-shocked, trying to understand how and why their world has become unhinged, doing what they can to maintain some level of control. As they story progresses, more of their personalities and personal histories come to light, allowing each character to grow as individuals as they become a new family of sorts.
It's a great story, filled with all the gruesomeness and monster madness that zombie and horror fans will love, mixed with good stories of man struggling to keep his humanity and his will to survive. Highly recommended.
by Craig DiLouie
trade paperback, 289 pgs.
received book from publisher
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Sea Life and Comedy
The cold, ail-filled night disappeared into a cool, brisk, blue-sky morning on Sunday so we took advantage of this lull in the weather to stop by the Birch Aquarium of the Scripps Institute. (It didn't hurt, either, that we earned a 2-for-1 discount by checking in on foursquare.)
After walking by the towering sculpture of two whales jumping into the air, I was drawn out the back doors of the entrance hall. The magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean from atop the cliff was breathtaking. The beach and the clear blue waters stretched almost to forever no matter which direction I looked, and I almost regretted turning my back on that view to return to the aquarium. But what waited directly behind us were a series of unique man-made tidepools with water pumped up directly from the ocean. dozens of fish, starfish, shelled creatures, crabs, anemones and sea cucumbers rested quietly in the cold water, gently gliding with the flow of the tides. Caesar and I both brushed fingers along the slimy sea cucumbers, and I snapped a few pictures. The bloom of the sea anemone in the picture was quite a bit bigger than my open hand.
Once back inside the building, we turned left and followed a few families into the hall featuring the tanks. Jellyfish, moray eels, sea horses, sea dragons and myriad corals and anemones filled each of the tanks. One of the docents told us, as we stood before the reddish dark of the octopus display, that they were slowly changing the lighting in order to show off the octopus. Since they are more active during the night, the darkened tank brings them out in daylight hours so that guests would be able to see them eating, swimming around, interacting with other residents in the tank. We walked among the remaining tanks, stopping about halfway through the exhibit to watch a feeding show in a large, floor-to-ceiling tank representing the waters just off the coast of La Jolla. Like the tidepools out back, the water in the tank was pumped directly from the ocean, unfiltered so the fish and other sea life would be able to extract what they needed. The sharks and eels didn't bother the other fish, instead taking their turns eating what was offered by one of the divers.
We spent maybe an hour touring the rest of the exhibits before finally hitting the road back to Long Beach.
Later Sunday evening, we headed down to Irvine to catch comedian Jo Koy at the Irvine Improv. (Plus, it gave me a chance to collect two more foursquare badges: the "Bravo Newbie" for checking into the Irvine Spectrum -- I guess one of the "Real Housewives" of OC left a tip on the Bravo page about it -- and the "Jobs" badge for checking into a third Apple Store.) Jo Koy had us in stitches, riffing off audience members and music and loosely sticking to his set.
I'm very glad we bought tickets a week ahead of time. The club was packed, without an empty seat in the place. In fact, they added a later show a few days before, and as we were exiting from his extended set, the line waiting to go outside stretched around the building and down toward the parking structure. Yes, his shows are that good. If he ever stops by a comedy club nearby, go see him!