Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quickie Book Review: The Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley

When I first discovered the two "Top 100 Lesbian/Gay Novels Lists" over at The Publishing Triangle, I set myself the goal of trying to read each and every title on both lists. So far, I've finished 63 of the 100 titles on the author-chosen list, and with The Object of My Affection, I've now read 42 of the 88 on the visitor-chosen list. That's a whole lot of books since 2006.

I started reading The Object of My Affection back in August and didn't finish it until earlier this month -- which should be pretty telling about my thoughts of the book. From the blurb on the back cover, the story ostensibly is about roommates Nina and George, who've been sharing a small, cluttered apartment in Brooklyn for the better part of a year. When Nina learns that she's pregnant, she immediately distances herself from the baby's father and asks George to raise the child with her. George is flabbergasted: what does he -- a single gay man -- know about raising a child?!

I figured the greater part of the story would revolve around the stress put on their relationship as friends and roommates, but instead, more emphasis seemed to be placed on George's self-defeating attempts to establish a romantic connection with two different men. That makes for an interesting novel in and of itself, but I felt that Nina and her pregnancy took a back seat when they should have been in the passenger's seat right alongside George.

And to me, George and Nina didn't appear to have much chemistry. George was too wrapped up in a job he didn't like and trying to decide whether or not he should continue his romantic fling with a former professor. Nina kept herself closed off from everyone in the book, finding ways not to have to interact with the baby's father or, if he managed to worm his way into the apartment, she would placate and almost patronize him for no particularly good reason.

Maybe it's not that they didn't have much chemistry, but more that I didn't like either of them. Maybe dislike of the main characters permeated the entire book for me which would explain why it took so long to finish.

Well, at least I can say that I've read it.

The Object of My Affection
by Stephen McCauley
Pocket Books (19998)
massmarket paperback, 374 pgs.



purchased book

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monster Gallery

News flash: Two of my flash fiction stories now appear in print! The anthology Monster Gallery from Static Movement was just released and contains my stories The Tunnel and Behind the Door.

Buy the book at Pill Hill Press (second title from the top), and I believe it will be available soon on Amazon.

I also added some links at the very bottom of this blog directing anyone interested to the books. Geez! I almost feel like a real writer!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's Time To Play the Music

What's the long holiday weekend without a movie?

Yesterday, Caesar and I braved hordes of screaming children -- and their exasperated parents -- to see The Muppets. I grew up with them on Sesame Street, through their own variety show, and most of their movies so spending a few buck to watch them in action wasn't a difficult decision.

And I'm glad we went. It's the old "let's-put-a-show-together-to-save-the-studio" story, but Jason Segel's script is witty and very current with pop culture. It gently pokes fun at the previous Muppet films as well as making movies in general. Plus, as with any Muppet movie, there are cameos aplenty: Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg, Feist, Alan Arkin, Neil Patrick Harris (who seems to be in everything these days), Dave Grohl (yes, DAVE GROHL), and even Mickey Rooney. I felt old when the young man behind us asked out loud who Mickey Rooney was. And the acting is great. I didn't know that Segel could dance and sing, Amy Adams is completely charming, Chris Cooper raps (just go with it), and the Muppets are as dysfunctional as ever. The music's good, too, especially the barbershop quartet version of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

We couldn't help but love the film and talked about it throughout dinner afterwards. So go see it!!

However, if you prefer something a bit more heavy and thought-provoking, check out my review of Fritz Lang's 1929 silent film Woman in the Moon over at The G.A.S.P. Factor.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Black Friday

Instead of spending the night waiting outside a shopping mall so I could squeeze inside and enjoy the remotest possibility of actually buying anything, I decided to spend today at the Discovery Science Center. In all the years I've lived in Southern California, not once have I ever visited so I thought it would be something fun for my day off. Plus, they hosted a Star Wars exhibit with models and costumes from the movies as well as some hands-on physics displays from the Star Wars world.

I arrived early which gave me a chance to check out some of the regular exhibits: like the nose from the Space Shuttle Endeavor, an eco-friendly grocery store which tasks you with finding Earth-safe products to fit your shopping list, the physics and math behind hockey, an earthquake simulator, and lots of hands-on activities to get kids involved. (Much more fun than standing and reading boring display cases.)

I then entered the Star Wars exhibit and spent a good hour checking out models, miniatures, and mattes from the movies, as well as the costumes for Han Solo, Chewbacca, Padme, Darth Vader and more. They provided Lego stations to create hover crafts with the intent of learning how magnets make the vehicles hover. I think the most interesting section was where I sat at a table with a set of cards bearing odd symbols that I would place in front of a camera. Then, through the magic of augmented reality, water towers or creatures would appear, and I would need to place them strategically to create a water farm. The adults loved this stuff just as much as the kids.

The Center also had a "Science of Gingerbread" exhibit, which was a separate ticketed event, so I didn't take part. But dozens of kids were walking away with their faces smothered in icing and cookie crumbs.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone the best this Thanksgiving Day. I hope you're spending it with family, friends, the special people in your life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wild Man

One of my favorite artists has a new album, so I scoured YouTube looking for a new video. All I could find was a snippet of animation from the video, but it's from the artist's official YouTube site. From Kate Bush's new album, 50 Words for Snow, here's a sampling from Wild Man:



I've already updated my Amazon wish list . . . in case anyone wanted to know.


Update 11/23/11: I bought the CD on the way home from work. A quietly elegant and beautiful album. One of the best albums of the year.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quickie Book Review: Autumn: Disintegration by David Moody

A little over a month has passed since the world changed and millions of people died within an instant. To those who survived, the worse was still to come as many of the recently deceased quietly rose, stumbling about the roads and cities, and soon turned their aggressive attentions toward the living.

A small group of the survivors found themselves trapped within a vacated apartment building but managed to set up a few defenses to keep the dead at bay. Even so, food is becoming scarce, and the trips to the world outside their makeshift stronghold are more treacherous as they must venture farther to find what they need. That's only strengthened their resolve to meet the dead head on with brutal force whenever necessary.

A short distance away, another group of survivors hides in the empty rooms of a hotel. They've managed to re-direct the hordes of dead bodies away from the hotel, herding them into the golf course while keeping themselves quiet and out of sight within the hotel. Their one problem: after almost finishing all the food in the hotel's kitchen, they've nothing left and have yet to venture outside on foraging trips, too afraid to draw the unwanted attention of the dead.

When disease strikes the survivors at the apartment building and they begin to notice disturbing changes in the dead, a choice must be made that will effect not only their chances but those of the survivors at the hotel as well.

Author David Moody's take on zombies is a refreshing one. They aren't the typical brain-eating types that many of us are used to. Don't get me wrong -- I love the usual zombie mayhem, with the newly undead chasing the living with the sole purpose of spreading infection. But with Moody's undead, their goal isn't so clear cut. And in fact, these undead begin to become aware of their surrounding, to learn, to work together. And that's even more frightening.

What's great about Autumn: Disintegration is that the book stands apart from the first three in the series. Disintegration introduces an entire new set of characters and fits them into two camps, each one battling not only the threat of the ever-evolving undead, but also with each other as desperate choices need to be made that impact and challenge their very views of the world. Plus, Moody provides enough background story from the first books to set this one apart. (And yet, if you've read the first three, it makes a certain sub-story involving a helicopter all the more intriguing.)

After the novel ends, I'm still left with questions about certain characters, their futures, what happened to bring about the worldwide demise, and I hope that in the future, those will be answered (i.e., more Autumn books, perhaps?).

Disintegration is an exciting, thrill ride of an addition to the series. Fans of zombies and/or post-apocalyptic tales will definitely get a rush from this one.

Autumn: Disintegration
by David Moody
Thomas Dunne Books
trade paperback, 342 pgs.


received book from publisher

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Blood

A few weeks ago, Caesar and I discovered a new album from Peter Gabriel called New Blood while shopping around Best Buy. The album presents new recordings of some of his classic songs, but with the backing of a full orchestra. No drum machines. No electric guitars. In fact, after listening to the full CD, we both realized that it was the music from the second half of his concert we saw earlier this Summer at the Hollywood Bowl.

The presentation and arrangements of the songs on New Blood enhances each of one, allowing the listener to focus on the intensity of The Rhythm of the Heat or the menace in The Intruder or even the outright joy of In Your Arms. The only drawback is the main female voice which can't seem to hold up with Gabriel's. (Perhaps I'm a bit biased, but I still prefer Don't Give Up duet with Kate Bush.) Even so, the arrangements and Gabriel's presence make for an incredible album. Take a listen to the New Blood version of The Rhythm of the Heat:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rejected!

These letters come with the territory when you're a struggling author. I receive my share of "Thanks but no thanks" missives since What the Cat Dragged In was published, though I have yet to come across something as blunt as that picture. I don't expect such letters to provide much information, but I recently received two that caught me offguard with their genuine politeness.

I submitted a story to a magazine, and the email I received back did not say it was a terrible story. Nor did it slam the door in my face. Instead, the editor suggested submitting the story to a different magazine and provided all the information about it.

So I did, and the story was rejected a second time. However, the editor of this magazine saw something in the story, mentioning that I should shop it around to a few more places, and if no one takes it, to re-submit in a few months with the understanding that we could work together to tweak the story.

Instead of feeling crestfallen, I somehow feel encouraged. Maybe writing short fiction is something I can really do. So I'm not just sitting on the manuscript, but am searching for other magazine or anthologies, but keeping that second magazine in mind. You know, just in case.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Quickie Book Review: Weight by Jeanette Winterson

A few years ago, Canongate Books conceived of a project asking some of the best authors in the world to re-tell classic myths in their own style. The series, known collectively as the Canongate Myth Series first appeared in 2005, and since then, 14 novels have appeared from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Alexander McCall Smith, and Philip Pullman.

As an avid reader, one thing I seem to gravitate to are re-tellings of well-known stories by authors. Something about a different take on the story, possibly challenging my own likes or dislikes about the original tale, has always appealed to me, and is probably why I'm such a fan of the Wicked series from Gregory Maguire. So a few weeks ago while I browsed the shelves at the local branch of the library, I stumbled across one of The Myths series written by author Jeanette Winterson that piqued my interest.

Weight presents her take on the classic Atlas and Heracles myth.

Atlas did the unthinkable -- siding with the Titans in their war against the Olympian Gods. As punishment, Zeus ordered him to support the weight of the entire cosmos on his shoulders for all eternity. While he knelt, listening to the world and not realizing how much time was passing, who should happen to appear but Heracles, laboring through the twelve tasks set to him by King Eurystheus.

One of Heracles' tasks is to secure three golden apples from a tree in the Garden of the Hesperides, but he himself is not allowed to pick them. So he devises the brilliant idea of having Atlas retrieve the apples for him. Atlas finds this brief respite from holding the world a chance to taste freedom, even if only for a little while, and agrees. The night before they are to temporarily trade places, they talked over a meal, Heracles ranting about having to obey Eurystheus, why did he need to do that? Atlas replied that there is no such thing as free will, only the will of the Gods.

The next day, after switching places, a question starts buzzing about Heracles' brain: What if Atlas doesn't return, leaving him to hold up the weight of the world?

Winterson takes her re-telling one step farther by having Atlas, holding the world, the sky and space on his shoulders, ask the question: What if he put it down? It's an interesting take on the myth, focusing more on the nature of boundaries, who sets them, and why we follow them. For Heracles, it challenges his concept of destiny, forced to endure inhuman tasks with the hope of pleasing the Gods; for Atlas, it forces him to re-examine the way he blindly believes everything. What if: two little words with so much power behind them.

As she re-writes the myth, Winterson also interjects her own journey as a writer and why she decided to use the myth of Atlas and Heracles to work through her own inner struggles. After all, much of writing is fantasizing on the what ifs and seeing how they play out.

Weight
by Jeanette Winterson
Canongate
ISBN: 1-84195-799-2
trade paperback, 151 pgs.


borrowed book from the Long Beach Public Library

Image from bibliographing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

50/50

Another weekend, another movie. And this time, it's one that we wanted to see when it was first released at the end of September: 50/50. In the film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the mild-mannered Adam, living in Seattle with his girlfriend Rachael, an aspiring artist. When lingering back pain drives Adam to the doctor, he learns that he has a tumor slowly growing near the base of his spine.
His friend Kyle copes with the news by using it as an excuse to pick up women. His mother only wants to smother and to take care of him. His girlfriend can't handle the pressure.

As Adam begins chemotherapy, he also starts meeting with a therapist -- Katherine, an intern who has only worked with two other patients before Adam. Through those off-beat session and with the help of Kyle, Adam learns to stop taking a back seat and to take hold of the wheel, driving him down a new path and a new way of dealing with life.

You can't help but like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He plays Adam like a regular, everyday guy, and the gamut of emotions he portrays throughout the film never feel fake or forced. Anna Kendrick as Adam's therapist Katherine also does a find job playing the novice therapist still trying to get her bearings in the medical world.

For the most part, the story is very believable. But -- SPOILER ALERT! -- when a therapist falls for a patient in real life, none of what happened in the movie would play out. She would be brought under review, possibly be kicked out of the intern program, etc. etc. But it's a movie so a little "poetic license" is okay.

50/50 uses humor to deal with the very heavy subject of cancer. We laughed quite a bit, and I even found myself tearing up once or twice. Okay, more than that. It's definitely a movie worth seeing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quickie Book Review: Them or Us by David Moody

In the not-too-distant past, most people led uneventful lives: work, family, an appearance of a social life whenever possible. Then, the entire world change, and friends suddenly found themselves at war with what used to be friends, co-workers, family. A primal urge directed the changed -- the Haters -- to attack and kill those who were Unchanged before they could do the same to them. After months of battles between the Haters and the Unchanged, those that remained alive now struggle to survive in a harsh nuclear winter.

Many of the Haters have collected in the town of Lowestoft, and Danny McCoyne tries to eke out a living as the tool of the town's tyrannical leader, Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe's sole goal is to rid the world of the remaining Unchanged, and he's found McCoyne to be very useful. McCoyne has a special ability to withhold the Hate, allowing him to infiltrate the dens of the Unchanged, to flush them out so they can be destroyed.

But with fewer of the Unchanged being found and with his body aching from terrible fits of coughing and pain, McCoyne attempts to distance himself from the society of Lowestoft. Yet someone from his last mission has other ideas, ideas which force McCoyne to challenge the very nature of what being a Hater is and what the war between Haters and the Unchanged accomplished. A dividing line has been drawn, and Danny must decide on which side he stands.

This final book in the Hater trilogy is definitely the most thought-provoking of the series. Whereas the first two novels focused on the physical aspects of the changed versus the unchanged, the bloody battles, family member against family member, and all out war, Them or Us asks the reader to understand the results of the fighting and to question the reasoning behind it. Human civilization is probably at an end, and even though the Haters try desperately to return to some kind of normalcy, they still harbor an instinctive need to kill the Unchanged. It's through Danny that the reader tries to understand why the world changed. His ability to withhold the Hate offers the unexpected side effect of making him question the world and the people like Hinchcliffe.

The story is still as gritty and unforgiving as the first two novels, but it also offers a surprising ray of hope. Them or Us brings David Moody's Hater trilogy to a satisfying and optimistic conclusion.

Them or Us
by David Moody
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-53583-4
hardcover, 354 pgs.


received book from the publisher

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Grandma Betty

My brother called minutes before 3PM yesterday. My Grandmother had passed away. It was inevitable, something for which we'd been steeling ourselves over the past few weeks.

10 years ago, she began showing signs of Alzheimer's, but it wasn't until the past year that the last stages of dementia struck. Not just memory loss but the inability to recognize faces, names, people. Gradually shutting herself to the outside world. Long days of seemingly endless sleep. My Mom bore the brunt of it, spending everyday with her, taking care of her finances to make sure her medical bills and rent were paid on time, overseeing the medical care that she received in the assisted living home. Two weeks ago, she contracted pneumonia. One week after that she stopped eating and drinking. I'd like to believe that she died peacefully, though I know the nurses gave her numerous injections of morphine during that last week to ease the pain of her body shutting down. Hopefully, that provided enough respite that she allowed herself to finally let go.

Geez...I never knew writing this would be so difficult. My eyes are starting to tear up remembering all the good times together: summers at her home in Ventura when we'd take trips to Santa Barbara or to the beach in Carpinteria, the one Thanksgiving where she joked with my Dad about carving the turkey and chased him around the kitchen with an electric carving knife, spending a few hours teaching my Brother and me the basics of shuffleboard.

Wherever you are Grandma, know that you are and always will be loved.

1916 - 2011

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Frisky Two Times

It seems like ages since we last set foot inside a movie theater, but thankfully yesterday, we broke the cycle. We braved the chilly November day and caught a matinee screening of Puss in Boots at the Long Beach Town Center.

The movie tells the story of Puss in Boots, trying to clear his name. Teaming with Humpty Dumpty, whom he befriended at an orphanage, and Kitty Softpaws, they attempt to steal three legendary magic beans from Jack & Jill. If the old story was true, a giant beanstalk will grow, taking them to the giant's castle and the home of the goose that lays the golden eggs. For Puss, just one of those eggs means repaying an old debt and setting things right. But someone else in the group has other plans.

Puss in Boots turned out to be a fun and funny action/adventure, along the lines of the old westerns or Zorro movies. Chases, sword fights -- even a cat dance fight, the action never slows down, and neither does the story. I liked that the setting remained in the Kingdom of Far, Far Away allowing it to become part of the world already created in the Shrek movies. Plus, the many jokes and references make this a film that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Bottom line, it's a fast-paced and fun adventure. Go see it!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Zombies in Long Beach

The only Halloween-related activity we attempted was the Zombie Walk in Long Beach on Saturday night. Caesar was brave, venturing out into the damp night with his head cold and sore throat, but it was worth it. Hundreds of people dressed either as the walking undead or in the Halloween finery. (As it turns out, the Long Beach Comic Con was also that day so many of the revelers joined in the walk.) We saw everything from zombies on stilts or dragging zombie babies still attached by umbilical cord to non-zombified Indiana Jones, Captain America and others.

Makeup tents had also been set up, turning walkers into the undead. We watched for a good 15 minutes as one artist slowly made the flesh peel from one willing victim's face while another artist warmed latex pieces on another's face to shape them into scars and gashes and bleeding wounds.

By 8PM, the walk began, with zombies lurching from the convention center, up Pine St. to the Promenade amidst flashing cameras, gasping spectators and people just out to have a fun evening on the town.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Moving Pictures

This year's crop of movies hasn't captured my interest much, which is why I've been very lax in posting anything about them. The last movie we saw in a theater was Captain America...at least, I think that was the last. It's been so long. At this moment, only a few movies sound appealing to me: 50/50, Paranormal Activity 3 and Puss in Boots. And I am looking forward to Hugo and Tintin.

This doesn't mean that I've given up on movies altogether. Oh no, I've been watching DVDs of some very questionable horror and sci-fi films and submitting my reviews to The G.A.S.P. Factor. In fact, the latest posted review is for a little mockumentary I saw before we left for Hawai'i called The Wicksboro Incident. Take a moment to check it out and post comments over there.

And I promise, the next movie we see will have a review here. Pinky swear.