Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite Reads of 2011

Just a day and half to get out a few lists of my favorite reads from the past year. And I've decided to break them down into three lists: LGBT Books, Horror Books, and Overall Reads (all my favorites regardless of genre). I know many of you have food to cook, parties to plan, bar-hopping routes to MapQuest so I'll dive right in with the first list....

Favorite LGBT Reads of 2011



1. On Picking Fruit by Arthur Wooten
2. The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse by Mabel Maney
3. Pryor Rendering by Gary Reed
4. Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells
5. Zombiality edited by Bill Tucker





Favorite Horror Reads of 2011

1. Autumn: Disintegration by David Moody
2. Henry VIII: Wolfman by A.E. Moorat
3. Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist
4. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
5. Autumn: Purification by David Moody
6. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
7. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
8. This Is the End by Eric Pollarine
9. Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells
10. Zombiality edited by Bill Tucker


Favorite Overall Reads from 2011

1. Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
3. Autumn: Disintegration by David Moody
4. On Picking Fruit by Arthur Wooten
5. Now and Forever by Ray Bradbury
6. Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland
7. Henry VIII: Wolfman by A.E. Moorat
8. The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse by Mabel Maney
9. Pryor Rendering by Gary Reed
10. Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson

I read close to 70 books this past year, and whittling them down to these three lists wasn't too easy. I recommend all these books and would like to know of some of your favorite books from the past year. I'm always looking for something to read.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

Caesar and I managed to sneak in one more movie before the 2011 comes to a close, the animated feature The Adventures of Tintin. I think I wanted to see it more than he did, mostly because I fondly remember the comic books from my high school French classes. (During sophomore French, my teacher, Mlle. Richards, gave us copies of the comics to read in order to help us pick up language skills.) As it turn out, we were both a bit mixed on our views of the movie.

I liked the story, as well as the animation of the characters. Studios are getting closer and closer to creating lifelike CGI characters, and these are some of the best to date. I also found the action scenes -- mainly, the two sailing ships clashing in the ocean and the chase through the streets of Bagghar -- though I must agree with Caesar that they felt like something used simply to break up the storyline. And they felt very Speilberg, as if he needed to put his two cents in to say "Look what I can do!" (But they were exciting!)

The characters of Thomson and Thompson (or, if you're being picky, Dupont et Dupond) are mainstays of the comics, providing comic relief as bumbling detectives, but their main storyline in the movie -- trying to capture a nefarious pickpocket -- really didn't seem to fit with Tintin's search for the Unicorn and its secret. The movie could have done without it, and, I hate to say it, without Thomson and Thompson.

The story itself was okay and made for a good adventure, but I thought the movie's creators took for granted that the audience would know who Tintin was. I would have liked a bit more information about Tintin, why we should like him. True, I'm familiar with the characters, but Caesar wasn't. Many moviegoers have probably never heard of Tintin, either. And what's up with Haddock, the raging alcoholic? I thought that was mishandled.

All in all, The Adventures of Tintin was okay. The action scenes look great on the big screen, but you can probably wait until the DVD comes out.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Observatory

For my first day of vacation, I talked my friend Clark into taking a day trip to Los Angeles to eat at Umami Burger and to visit the Griffith Observatory. The burgers were amazing: Clark ordered the signature Umami Burger (which had a shiitake mushroom, parmesan crisps, carmelized onions and homemade umami ketchup) while I tried the Manly Burger (bacon lardons, smoke-salt onion strings, and beer-cheddar cheese). I'm kicking myself for not taking a photograph before we devoured these most delicious burgers. And let's not forget the tempura-battered onion rings. 'Twas the food of the gods....

Still reeling from burger overload, we wound our way through Griffith Park to the observatory and spent a few hours wandering all the exhibits, touching meteorites, gazing at sunspots, and enjoying one of the clearest views of Los Angeles I've ever experienced -- we could see all the way to Santa Catalina Island. Below are just a few pictures from the Observatory.











If you're ever in the LA area, the Observatory is worth a visit -- and it's free!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ashes

The captain of the ship must have thought we were the strangest family he'd ever seen. I'm sure he expected us to be somber, grieving the loss of a family member. Instead, we all laughed and made ourselves merry while he steered the bought through Newport Harbor.

Thinking about it, we had ample time for grieving in the month since my Grandmother's passing. Many tears, many hugs, and much comforting occurred. That first week was hard for my Mom, dealing with the hospice, the lawyers, doctors, and all that "rigamarole" (as my Mom would say). Fortunately, the Neptune Society took care of many essentials regarding Grandmother's body and the death certificates which helped immensely.

My Mom and Aunt held off the memorial service until my Cousin arrived from Spain so this past Monday found the five of us -- Mom, Aunt, Brother, Cousin, and myself -- aboard the Orca Too, laughing, admiring the festive holiday decorations on the multi-million-dollar homes along the harbor, and remembering all the good times with my Grandmother. We pointed to the enormous sea lions lounging on the decks of commandeered boats near the Balboa Fun Zone. We took pictures. My brother waved to his co-workers who trekked from his store to the cliffs to watch the boat stream past the jetty into the open Pacific. I listened to the seals barking as the lone buoy bounced int the water.

And at a calm-ish spot in the ocean, I read the memorial poem as rose petals accompanied my Grandmother's ashes through the air to powder the water.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Favorite CDs of 2011

It's time once again from my list of favorite CDs from 2011. Unlike many lists, my criteria are twofold: first, the CD had to be released in 2011, and second, either Caesar or myself purchased a copy. Which is why you won't see many of the top-selling popular albums on this list so I don't want to hear any complaining about who's not on the list. This is totally subjective....

10. Alpocalypse by "Weird Al" Yankovic: I've been a fan of his parodies since the Dr. Demento days. This album proves that he still has the comedy-musical chops. Just take a look at his parody of Lady Gaga's Born This Way: Perform This Way

9. Biophilia by Björk: the album is not as electronica as previous albums, featuring a more earthy and experimental feel.

8. New Blood by Peter Gabriel: covers of his own songs but with a full orchestra (minus any electric instruments)

7. Marc Broussard by Marc Broussard: a nice mix of southern soul music. If you ever have an opportunity to see him live, he puts on a great show.

6. 50 Words for Snow by Kate Bush: downtempo songs featuring mostly Kate and the piano. For me, it's one of those albums that I put on and actually listen to the music, to the stories that she's telling.

5. Torches by Foster the People: it's quirky, and I like it. That is all.

4. The Silent Surf by All India Radio: the past few years, I've noticed myself listening to more and more mood music. Nothing with heavy guitars, thumping drums, or trancelike electronics -- just casual, downtempo instrumentals. This is the best of All India Radio's albums to date, as far as I'm concerned.

3. Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars: think of The Swell Season (who won an Oscar for Falling Slowly from the movie Once) only with a more folk-Americana feel.

2. Wasting Light by Foo Fighters: simply awesome. And I love Dear Rosemary with Bob Mould.

1. Ceremonials by Florence + the Machine: I actually like this album even better than their first effort, Lungs. The songs have a more cohesive sound from the first album, carried not only by Florence's amazing and strong voice, but also by the music and lyrics themselves.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quickie Book Review: Monster Gallery edited by George Wilhite

I make no qualms about the fact that I love short fiction. Anyone who can grab the readers attention in a short amount of time and satisfy that craving for a good, quick story deserves much respect. What earns even more respect are those who take the short story one step further, into the realm of flash fiction.

Flash fiction stories are much, much shorter, usually between 75 and 1,000 words. For me, I love the challenge of writing something so quick, crafting a compelling story with some sort of twist, and even more, reading the flash fiction works of others is just as much fun.

Like the 93 stories in the anthology Monster Gallery. Each tale of terror focuses on a monster of some kind, ranging from the traditional vampires and werewolves to new creations like a man-eating tunnel or from where restaurants actually get those wines you drink. A few of the authors even take something traditionally non-scary and turn the tables, such as with one of Santa's elves or a lonely cat waiting for someone to come home.

A great collection, and I'm not just saying that because two of my own stories can be found within its pages. They're perfect little tidbits, just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat and wanting more.

Monster Gallery
edited by George Wilhite
Pill Hill Press
trade paperback, 196 pgs.

purchased book

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Such a Card!

Almost two years ago around this time of the year, our apartment was filled with holiday cards from family and friends all across the country. But this year, we've received a total of one card. One. Same thing at the office: it seems that companies are deciding to forgo sending cards to clients and other companies. I know a few people will say it's because sending an electronic holiday greeting card is so much easier and less expensive!

When was the last time you sent or received an electronic greeting card?

I try not to send eCards unless absolutely necessary. A paper card to me has more meaning, and it's nice to open a real mailbox to find a hand-signed card in it. I guess it's a sign -- or victim -- of the economic times.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who Knew?!

Two years ago, one of my New Year resolutions was to have something published: a movie or book review, a short story, a magazine article. It took most of 2010, but by the end of October, that resolution came to fruition, and since then, I've been infected with some kind of frenzied bug to send in more stories with the hope of potential publication.

This past Friday, I learned that a story that I submitted to four different anthologies was finally accepted by the fourth publisher and should appear sometime next year in a gay-themed anthology called Queer Fish 2 from Pink Narcissus. The stories involves a young gay couple who buy their first home together and start to renovate only to discover they aren't alone in the house. And even more exciting, I received an email last night that my first foray into science fiction has been accepted and will see the light of day in an anthology titled Before Plan 9: Plans 1-8 from Outer Space from TwinStar Media. For anyone familiar with Ed Wood's movie, this collection imagines what the first 8 plans might have been.

I never thought I would ever see one of my stories in print and now...that makes 6, so far. I probably won't reach the mega-author status of Stephen King, but a boy can dream, can't he?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Melancholia

When I first heard of Melancholia, I knew that I wanted to see it. The preview showed slow-motion scenes of a wedding party slowly crumbling while a wayward planet (SPOILER!!) threatens to crash into the Earth. Kind of an interesting mix of drama and apocalypse and well within my area of movie interest.

And now that I've seen it, I'm not quite sure what to think.

The movie unfolds in two parts. Wait ... scratch that. The movie begins with a slow-motion, highly stylized synopsis of the entire story. And it's very, very long. Or perhaps the slow-motion just makes it feel that way. Then, the movie unfolds in two parts.

Part One tells the story of Justine and Michael who are almost two hours late to their own wedding reception. Justine's sister Claire tries to keep up a good front, but it's easy to see that she's terribly upset at the fiasco their tardiness has caused, and she hurries the happy couple up the steps to the party. Before they enter the house, Justine asks her Broth-in-Law John what that red star is in the sky. He's surprised that she can see it without the aid of a telescope and assures her that it's just a part of a constellation.

Finally inside, the reception can continue, but something is noticeably wrong with Justine. She's lethargic and sad, and those feelings threaten to ruin the entire evening. Certain members of the wedding reception also add to the creeping disdain at the festivities: Justine's father who has problems with his memory; her mother who hates weddings and has not one decent word to say to anyone; her boss -- who also happens to be the groom's Best Man -- who still insists that she works while at the reception. As the night wears on, it becomes apparent to Justine that the entire day was a mistake.

Part Two continues the story, but from Claire's perspective. Days (or months) have passed, and Justine's depression has steadily grown worse, turning her an invalid who can't take care of herself. Claire has her move into her enormous house, trying her best to bring Justine out of her stupor. But also weighing on her mind is Melancholia, a planet that had been hidden behind the Sun and was now on a course to pass near the Earth. She fears it to be a collision course, as discussed on many non-scientific websites she's read, but her husband John insists that the scientists are correct when they say it will simply pass by.

Each part works well on its own, telling a perfect story, with fine performances from Kirsten Dunst as Justine, Charlotte Gainsbourg as her sister Claire, and Keifer Sutherland as Claire's husband John. I felt, though, that I was watching two different movies. Other than using the same characters, they really don't seem to be part of the same story. Melancholia is mentioned only in passing during Justine's story (and not even by name), and even then, it's simply a red star noticed for a moment near the beginning. Yet in Claire's story, it's the main catalyst for everything that happens. I would have liked some stronger connection between the two parts.

The second problem is Justine. Her lethargy and sadness are never explained, though it becomes apparent during Claire's story that they have something to do with Melancholia (the planet). Whatever the cause Dunst gave an amazing performance in the role so that makes up a bit for the lack of understanding the origins of the issue. (And the special effects are very good, from the slow-motion opening sequence to the different scenes of the Earth and Melancholia colliding.)

Melancholia is an interesting take on the "end of the world" scenario, and if you're a fan of director Lars von Trier's work, then this is a definite "must see". Great performances and a good story (or, as I see it, stories).

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Leveling Up


About a month ago, foursquare changed the way a few of their core badges work. Some of them had confusing or unknown methods to unlock, such as the Great Outdoors badge, or were time consuming, like the Pizzaiolo badge where a user needed to visit 20-25 different pizza parlors before laying claim to the little round graphic image. Now, these badges and certain others have been re-classified as Expertise badges, changing the way they unlock. Now for the Pizzaiolo, you only need to checkin five times to a single pizza place or one time at three different pizza parlors to unlock the badge. After that, you can level up the badge by visiting five different pizza parlors, going all the way to a level 10 badge -- which is the equivalent of 45 different pizza parlors.

foursquare also added new badges into the mix, such as Herbivore for checkins at vegetarian/vegan restaurants, Blue Note for checkins at jazz clubs, Bento for sushi restaurants, and Mall Rat for ... well, malls.

Personally, I like the idea since it forces the user to try new places in order to level up. In fact, I'm already at level 6 on one of the badges. And yes, it's the Mall Rat badge. Don't judge!

And thankfully, they did not include the Douchebag badge into the mix. I don't know that I'd actually want to unlock that one.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Quickie Book Review: Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead edited by Bill Tucker

I've read quite a bit of horror stories and always felt that teh gays were under-represented. Or were pigeonholed into the roles of villains or the throwaway character that always gets killed first. And yes, I now know how wrong it was of me to think that. My problem was that though the books are out there, trying to find them isn't an easy task. Barnes and Noble's in-store gay/lesbian section is mostly erotica and self-help, and unless I knew the name of a specific author or book, an online search through Amazon was just as fruitless. I mentioned my feelings to an author friend in passing, who kindly pointed me in the direction of an anthology in which he had a story: Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead. LGBT zombies! I searched on Amazon and actually found the book, purchasing a copy then and there.

The 28 stories in this anthology cover all aspects of zombiedom, from trying to remain hidden within the darkness of a gay bar in The Duval Crawl by David E. Chrisom to the infected slowly turning into the undead as with Eating Peaches by Rachel Green to life in the new world after the apocalypse in Humans Being Human by Patrick D'Orazio. Some stories even ventured to show the world through the eyes of the undead, such as in Dead Boy Number One by Quinn Smithwood about man slowly turning into a zombie but being able to make a living as an actor/artist with his newfound "life", and in Food Chain by C.S. Stephens in which the walking talking and thinking undead live normal lives whereas the living are raised as nothing more than food or pets. Some of the more intriguing stories such as Humans Being Human or Tony Schaab's Accepting Death broach the idea that zombies don't harm gay men and women and instead seek out straight people. Those two rank among my top three stories in the book, with Eric Andrews-Katz' s ZOMB-malion -- a gay and zombie take on Shaw's Pygmalion and starring Eliza Droolittle -- hilariously rounding out my favorites.

I admit to not enjoying all the stories. In Vince A Liaguno's Stonewall Rising, the idea that a zombie bite turns anyone into the gay undead was a bit off-putting to me. And with The Quick and the Undead from Thomas Farringer-Logan, I found the narrator's way of speaking difficult to follow, though the gist of the story is good.

But it's the main driving force behind each of these stories -- having LGBT characters as the protagonists, telling stories from their point of view -- that makes this a worthwhile collection of stories. Zombie fans, both gay and straight, will enjoy this gathering of undead.

Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead
edited by Bill Tucker
Library of the Living Dead Press
trade paperback, 383 pgs.


purchased book

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Freezing

Don't you love it when you wake up in the morning, turn on the shower until a nice, steady, warm stream flows down, strip down, and lather your face up with Irish Spring, only to hear the bathroom fan from the apartment below flick to life. Then, the water begins to sound from down there. You scream like a tween at a Jonas Brothers concert as the icy water strikes your skin.

Yeah, that was my morning.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Daily Flash 2012: Leap Year Edition

Another of my short stories has been published, this time in the flash fiction anthology Daily Flash 2012: Leap Year Edition. As the title suggests, that's one short-short story for every day of the year. The book has no table of contents, but I do know that my story The Closet appears on July 18.

You can find the book on Amazon, and I believe it will be available soon on Kindle and Nook.

What a great way to close out the year -- four stories in three books. Maybe one day, I'll actually earn a little bit from my writing....(resolution for net year).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

World AIDS Day

I've posted a few videos from the 1990 Red, Hot + Blue album benefiting HIV and AIDS research. In honor of World, I wanted to post another of the videos, this one from Neneh Cherry's interpretation of I've Got You Under My Skin.



This was the first single from the album. If you'd like to hear more of the songs or watch the videos, this Wikipedia page provides the links.