Monday, January 30, 2012

Something About the Weather

It has been unseasonably warm in Southern California the past few days, and I think the warm temperatures fooled the plants into believing it's Springtime. Two of the palm trees in front of my parents' house started dropping their black seeds all over their driveway this weekend -- that usually doesn't happen until early March. The two tea roses in their backyard were covered in pink and white clouds of petals. And inside their house, the Amaryllis my Mom received for Christmas was just about to fully bloom, as you can see in the picture. It makes me wish we had space for our own little flower garden....

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pink Zombies

As you know, I read quite a bit, but thanks to one of my writing gigs, I can't always post a review here of what I've read. Such is the case with a novella called Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells that I reviewed for The G.O.R.E. Score. For those interested in reading LGBT books, I recommend taking a looksee at this one. Just be wary of the zombies....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Quickie Book Review: The Silver Hearted by David McConnell

In an unnamed part of the world, a young man is hired to transport a cache of silver from a port city about to be torn apart by rebellion. Shortly after loading the silver, the inevitable happens as a violent and bloody battle begins in the city of B. The young man and what remains of the crew and passengers watch the horrors from the supposed safety of the Myrrah before the captain hastily sets the ship sailing. As the Myrrah journeys down the river, the young man tries to get suss out what he can about those left aboard ship, from the curious Van Loon who seems to have a finger in all the different activities within B to the grossly overweight captain of the ship to the young sailor Topher Ammidon Smith who helped him carry the boxes aboard.

Topher intrigues the young man, who wants to trust him, to care for him, but not sure if he can because of the threat behind the silver and its rightful owners. Yet he tries to get closer to Topher once they reach Alejandrina, allowing him to be the only one to know where the silver is being hidden and being allowed into part of Topher's personal life. But everything for the young man leads back to the silver, and with the threat of the rebellion heading toward Alejandrina, he needs to find a boat heading to the city of Z as soon as possible.

When I first started reading The Silver Hearted, I found the time period and location confusing, not quite sure if was in South America or Asia (until the narrator mentioned the Mandarins) nor when it was taking place (until the narrator mentioned the helicopters). Perhaps that was only to add to the confusion created by the rebellion and the fighting going on during the first few chapters, but it slowed my getting into the story. But once past that, it's an interesting read, and to me, focused more on the character of the unnamed narrator. I felt his subtle paranoia and distrust of everyone throughout the story, even when he showed some kind of interest (or lust) for Topher. The narrator is an interesting character in a world of interesting characters, and they each do their part to create a grimy, seedy, untrustworthy world in and around Alejandrina and the river.

It's definitely worth checking out.

The Silver Hearted
by David McConnell
Alyson Books
trade paperback, 213 pgs.

Purchased book

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stop/Start

After almost 5 years, my car battery finally gave up the ghost.

The morning started just fine, with the car casually catching once I turned the key in the ignition. I made my way to my parents' home in Laguna--about 35 miles south--without any problems. From there, I drove to my bank. Park the car, deposit a check and have the key in the ignition in less than 10 minutes.

I turned the key, and the dashboard briefly flashed to life before quickly fading away. A few more times, and the same nothingness happened. So I let it rest for a few minutes, tried again--no luck.

Thank goodness for AAA...the mechanic arrived within 20 minutes. Checked the battery and was shocked that the car hadn't given out earlier. He showed me the readings from the battery tests, and the power line was near the skull and crossbones. He replaced the battery right then and there. $95 and a three-year warranty isn't too high a price for that kind of service on a Sunday. It all happened in less than an hour, and I made it home before the downpour.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Artist

We've started playing "catch-up" trying to see some of the movies that are generating much Oscar buzz. Luckily for us, the Art Theatre just up the street started showing The Artist on Thursday, which afforded us the chance to see it last night.

For those who don't know much about the film, it tells the tale of actor George Valentin, one of the Silent Era's top-grossing stars. At the peak of his stardom, movie studios begin introducing a new feature to movies: talking pictures. He sees "talkies" as a passing fad, but soon realizes that the public disagrees. His star quickly begins to dim, while that of Peppy Miller, a young actress who stumbled upon her big break thanks to Valentin, begins to ascend to the top or the talking pictures.

It's a wonderful film, perfectly capturing that specific time period in motion pictures when the silents were quickly fading into history. Not simply because the story is set during the latter part of the 1920s, but the movie is silent, using title cards and a beautiful score from Ludovic Bource to tell the tale. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Béjo could have been silent movie stars, they're performances were so spot-on. Plus, the supporting cast, including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle and Uggie the dog, were flawless.

And that dancing sequence at the end!

If you haven't seen The Artist yet, head to a theater now!!!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Take a Bow

One of my favorite singers has a new album coming out. Take a listen to Matt Alber's cover of Madonna's Take a Bow:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Holiday Musical Mashup

Our first foray into the theater this year, and it happens to be a holiday story. But not just any holiday story. Our favorite troupe, The Troubies, created a new mashup of a classic holiday movie with an odd selection of music. Their ingredients: the classic tale of a young boy who only wants a Red Rider gun for Christmas and the timeless love story of Tony and Maria. Throw them in a blender and what do you get? A Christmas Westide Story.

Dancing elves, a boy sticking his tongue on a frozen light pole, the leg lamp trophy prominently displayed in the window, a fireman stripping before the intermission, and the BB gun transmorphing into a beautiful cowgirl -- all misinterpreting the classic music of Westside Story. And with it being closing night, the actors had a little fun with each other, making the other actors laugh, ad libbing with the audience, changing props. And it was hysterical!

Every once in a while, you need something a bit silly and inane to allow you a good laugh, and this show definitely provided that. I can't wait for the next mash-up: The Two Gentlemen of Chicago -- Shakespeare and the supergroup Chicago. What could be better?!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cover Up

One of my stories is slated to appear in an anthology this year. The collection focuses on Ed Wood's film Plan 9 from Outer Space, but each of the stories explores what Plans 1-8 might have been. And it's aptly titled: Before Plan 9: Plans 1-8 from Outer Space. (Mine is plan #3, by the way.) I'm excited about this one--mainly because I've read books and stories from quite a few of the other authors in the collection, such as Jonathan Maberry, Craig DiLouie, Patrick D'Orazio, and I just received a coy of D.A. Chaney's Cryptic.

What's more, we finally saw the cover art, and I have permission to post it here, on my little ol' blog. So I present to you, Philip R. Rogers' cover art for Before Plan 9: Plans 1-8 from Outer Space:


My name! On the cover of a book! And with such incredible artwork!!

Image from Twinstar Media.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gotta Lose the Paunch

One of my goals this year is to lost a few pounds. AT my heaviest, I weighed 217 lbs., then managed to whittle that away to 195 lbs. two years ago. Since then, I've regained some of that, inching my way close to 206 lbs.

I don't particularly like myself when I'm heavy, feeling out of place when we go to trendy places in Hollywood or even clothes shopping. I usually avoid most of the clothes that I see on mannequins or that have the words "slim fit" or "fitted" on them as they weren't designed with a real-life human being in mind.

So I've set in motion a few things to help me re-lose the paunch.

First, I gave up my morning blueberry muffin. That's about 612 calories right there. Instead, I started eating a bowl of Active Lifestyle Chai Apple Oatmeal which is about 170 calories.

Second, I try to walk every day. At work, this turns out to be very simple: I walk for 30 minutes before eating lunch. The weekends are tougher because I like to be lazy, hang around the apartment, watch TV or read. Usually, I do spend a few hours on Sunday at Disneyland, walking a good majority of the time I'm there and avoiding all the sweets at Marcelline's Confecitonery.

Third, I try to eat a little something every few hours to keep my metabolism going. Like a light yogurt, or a kid-sized, prepackaged applesauce, or a granola bar. Nothing heavy or too sugary.

My weight held at 205.8 lbs. when I started last week. This morning, the scale showed 202.6 lbs. A good start, I should think.

But to help with the weight loss, I need to return to the gym 2-3 times per week. And cut out all sodas--even the diet ones. Drink more water. Develop a positive image of myself.

I've lost the weight before, and I can definitely do it again.


Image By Nator92 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 09, 2012

Quickie Book Review: You Can Get Arrested for That by Rich Smith

Who would have thought that a simple round of Balderdash would lead to one of the strangest crime sprees in America? But that's exactly what happened according to British writer Rich Smith in his book You Can Get Arrested for That: 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd American Crime Spree. After a rousing game on Christmas Day in 2004, Smith was helping to put the game away when he spied a question on one of the cards and asked everyone "what activity was illegal for divorced women in Florida to do on Sundays". The answer -- skydiving -- made no sense to Smith, but it did pique his interest, challenging him to uncover other bizarre laws in the United States. His researched produced a surprising amount of such laws, and he wondered if he could get away with breaking them.

Months later, and with much British media attention, Smith and his buddy Bateman set out from England to the United States with the goal of breaking as many of the laws as they could. They began in San Francisco and drove their way East, through the Mojave Desert, crossing the Mississippi, and winding their way to New York, breaking -- or attempting to break -- as many laws as they could. Laws such as: it's illegal to peel an orange in a motel room in California; you can't play cards on the street with a Native American in Globe, Arizona; you can't fish while wearing pajamas in Chicago, Illinois; it's illegal to drive around the town square more than 100 times in a single session in Oxford, Mississippi.

Along the way they meet an interesting cast of characters, from a fortune teller in Long Beach, California, to Arden Deloris the Native American with whom they played cards in Arizona, and the residents of Mineral Point, Wisconsin -- the sister city to Smith and Bateman's hometown of Redruth. And that's where I think this book shines -- giving an outsider's glimpse at life in America thanks to the everyday people you meet on the street. People are friendlier and more willing to help than we give them credit for, and much of this travelog points that out.

I would have made an even more interesting story if Smith had been able to incorporate some history about the laws themselves, why a law banning someone from riding a bicycle in a pool in Baldwin Park or falling asleep in a cheese factory in South Dakota was necessary. Perhaps that's for another book?

You Can Get Arrested for That
by Rich Smith
Three Rivers Press
trade paperback, 243pgs.

purchased book

Friday, January 06, 2012

I Resolve....

Actually, I don't. I realized a few years ago that making resolutions around the start of the New Year really didn't work for me. Somehow I would either break them or, more often, neglect them--i.e., forget them completely. So the last few years, I've set goals for myself rather than resolutions. For some reason, that's made a difference. I've managed to lose 20 lbs. and have not one, but four stories printed in anthologies last year.

Not too shabby. So with that in mind, I'm setting a few more goals:

1. lose 10-15 more pounds to end up at a target weight of 190 lbs.
2. work on a novel. I have two in the works and will do my best to try for at least one to make it to actual book format.
3. get paid for some of my writing. (I can probably cross this one from the list already as the last two stories I had accepted in November will both offer payment. Not a lot, but I will be able to say that I'm a paid writer and mean it.)
4. read more of a variety of books -- not just horror.
5. explore the area more. LA and Long Beach have quite a bit to offer, and I want to visit the museums, eat at the restaurants, spend obscene amounts of money at stores....
6. blog more. I seem to have become lax in my posting duties and must do something to fix that.

I can probably come up with a few more but this is a good starter set. And now, on with the New Year!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

I Love a Piano

I've always liked piano music. Doesn't matter if it's ragtime or classical or jazz, something about the music itself immediately draws me in, and I find myself lost in the song. A few years ago, I happened upon a CD from a young jazz musician named Taylor Eigsti while wandering through Tower Music one last time before they closed forever. Standing at the listening station, I was transfixed by his jazz cover of Pictures at an Exhibition from classical composer Modest Mussorgsky. (Okay, and his dashing good looks. By the way, he's straight and engaged -- sorry boys.) I immediately bought the CD and played it non-stop for about 3 consecutive weeks. So yes, I've become a fan and have most of his CDs -- his most recent arrived this afternoon, thanks to Amazon. His original songs are great, as are his covers -- like I've Seen It All by Björk and Promenade, his take on Mussorgsky's classical piece. Take a listen to some great jazz....

Monday, January 02, 2012

Ringing in 2012

Usually for New Years Eve, we have a few friends over for dinner then watch cheesy movies until it's time for the Waterford crystal ball to drop in Time Square. This year, we decided to play it low key and opted for something that required less planning an organization.

Caesar found half-price orchestra tickets for Irving Berlin's White Christmas so we got all gussied up and spent the evening enjoying some great music from the Irving Berlin songbook: the classics from the movie, such as White Christmas and Snow, and songs from other productions, including Blue Skies from the musical Betsy and the song I Love a Piano. For the most part, the stage musical sticks to the main story of the movie -- song and dance team Wallace and Davis going to an inn in Vermont that's owned by their former General in the army. Songs are moved around and the storyline tweaked here and there, but they work well on stage. One of the best changes was how the Snow sequence was staged: on the train, Phil and Judy try to convince Bob and Betty that the snow in Vermont is worth the trip. Instead of the four of them singing the song (à la Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye), the entire cast slowly fills the train car and sings along about the joys of snow.

After the show, I carefully navigated the thick fog and found our way back to Long Beach, just in time to watch about an hour of Kathy Griffin torture Anderson Cooper before the ball dropped. Then, off to bed.

A nice, quiet New Year celebration -- just what we both needed after the crazy year that was 2011.