Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To La Jolla and Back

Nothing ever seems to go quite as planned, especially when that certain "nothing" is out of your control. We learned that Saturday night after driving south to La Jolla from Long Beach. We made good time, stopping at the Original Pancake House near my folks for breakfast, then to their house to check on my Dad (he fell earlier in the week and banged his head pretty good). About an hour later, we weaved our way through the traffic and were soon checking into the hotel room.

We shopped (a new pair of jeans and two shirts for me; two shirts for Caesar), rested for a bit in the room, then dressed nice for dinner before the show. Then, the unexpected happened.

Caesar received a phone call from the theater. Due to a fire on the UCSD campus, that evening's performance of the show at the La Jolla Playhouse -- that we'd driven down specifically to see -- had been cancelled. We debated through diner about what to do: shopping was out of the question, no other shows nearby, and most of the movies in the area had either already begun or wouldn't start until almost 9PM. However, we did find one movie with a start time close to when we would finish dinner, so we hesitantly opted to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Turns out, it was a fine movie. Good performances from a star-studded British cast, and we were both pleasantly surprised by the gay-themed story for one of the characters.

As for the show, we decided to try our luck the next day. Maybe the power would be back on, and we could exchange the tickets for the matinée performance. After a good night's sleep and a decent brunch, we waited in line at the box office for about 15 minutes and, as luck would have it, we managed two almost dead-center seats for the 2PM show that day. And I am so glad we chose to try or luck. The show, a new musical called Hands on a Hardbody, surpassed our expectations. The background story centers on a contest at a car dealership: whoever kept his or her hand on the body of a new truck the longest, would win that truck. It's based on a documentary of the same name that followed up with the original contestants to uncover how their lives had changed due to the contest. The musical tells each of their stories, why they decided to take time away from their lives for the chance to win a truck. An odd idea for a musical, but it works. Their stories are a glimpse into America with some dealing with long-term unemployment or facing racial discrimination or life after serving in the military. Speaking for myself, I empathized with all the characters to the point that when it was down to the last two, I audibly gasped -- along with more than half the audience -- when one of the characters accidentally removed a hand from the truck.

The music rock with a hint of country, but that takes a backseat to the truck that's onstage the entire time. The contestants have at least one hand on it for much of the show, coordinating their dances with it, spinning and pushing it about the stage. It's amazing to watch.

The entire cast and crew were fantastic. And I just learned that the show is now headed for Broadway in the Spring. So if you get a chance, go see it. (If we lived closer, I'd go see it again before it closes out here.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Quickie Book Review: The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten

by Harrison Geillor

No one in the sleepy town of Lake Woebegotten, Minnesota, knew about the zombies until Gunther Montcrief awoke in the wee hours of the morning needing to relieve himself. He stepped outside, the cold numbing his nose, and quickly took care of business. But a bright flash of a meteor sailing across the sky and exploding into so much dusk froze him in his tracks for a moment until the fading light -- and increasing cold -- told him to return to his little fish shack. Once inside, the commotion caused by the walleye in his cooler caught his attention, seeing as how he hooked them while fishing earlier in the day. They should, by all rights, be deceased, and yet there they were, snapping and eating each other inside their insulated prison. Even chopping their heads off and throwing them in the lake didn't stop the activity.

Unbeknownst to Gunther, the same thing was happening all over the world. It took some time for residents of Lake Woebegotten to believe it, thinking that the big cities being shown on TV were simply full of rioters. When they finally did after poor Clem was attacked by Mr. Levit's zombified dog Alta, the townsfolk -- headed by the newly-designated Chief of Police Stevie Ray, Father Edsel and Pastor Daniel Inkfist -- set about shoring up the town in preparation for the zombie apocalypse.

The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten does a fine job parodying Garrison Keillor's homespun and humorous style, giving a "quaint" turn to the typical zombie apocalypse. And while it has the requisite zombie attacks, the story brings forth the underbelly of such a sleepy little town with a fantastic cast of characters: Eileen, head of the Lutheran Women's Circle, who just murdered her husband the mayor; Rufus, the recently-returned college student who thinks because he reads about zombies and has mastered Call of Duty that he can take charge of a zombie attack; Cyrus Bell, slightly crazy but loaded down with an arsenal of end-of-the-world protection (i.e., guns like you would not believe); and a serial killer. I enjoyed following their antics trying to take control of the town while at the same time keeping the townsfolk safe from any and all zombies. (And I especially like the use of zombie animals.) It's full of humor and definitely a fun read.

The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten
by Harrison Geillor
Night Shade Books
trade paperback, 293 pgs.

borrowed book from a friend

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strictly Ballroom

After our experience last year at the taping of Dancing with the Stars, we knew to arrive early in order to stake out the best spot near the front of the line. So we arrived at The Grove around 10AM and grabbed a bit to eat in the Farmer's Market. We wandered around the shops, bought a $36 bottle of sunscreen (which was actually worth it, surprisingly), and headed for the CBS Studio Gates to wait. And wait.

And wait.

Luckily, Caesar downloaded some games on his iPhone to keep him occupied while I started reading Alien, Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the movie. For some reason, I thought the movie was based on the book, but that just wasn't true.)

3 hours later, and we were directed through the big doors and into the studio. They proceeded to seat me behind a long lightboard which blocked half the stage from my view, and the poor woman next to me couldn't see anything. Then, we were told that we must sit during the entire show. Um...no. Caesar spoke with the seating folks, and we moved to one of the balconies with a fantastic view of the stage, the judges and the Celebraquarium. While everyone was being seated, we spotted past contestants like Donny Osmond and the amazingly stunning Jane Seymour.

The show did not disappoint with incredible dancing and acrobatics from all the contestants and with the requisite shirt-ripping from William Levy. By the end of it all, Katherine Jenkins led William Levy and Donald Driver by one measly point. However, I think William will win -- in large part thanks to the fan vote. But both his dances amazed the crowd, even if we were forced to boo Len Goodman for awarding a sad 9 to William's Latin-styled freestyle.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dancing with the Audience

Tonight, Caesar and I will be in the audience for the final dance-off show of Dancing with the Stars.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Howdy, Pardner

When you're at a Western-themed birthday party for a six-year-old, you must dress the part.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Quickie Book Review: The Sisters Brothers

by Patrick DeWitt

Eli and Charlie Sisters are two of the most-feared hired guns in the Old West, and no one knows this more than the Commodore who has hired the brothers to kill one Hermann Kermit Warm. Unlike his brother Charlie, Eli lacks the knack -- not to mention the desire -- to continue with these jobs. During their long trek to San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush, Eli ponders what his life might be like when he settles down, finds a woman, opens a general store. But the life of a hired gun is the only one he's ever known.

The brothers run into a wide array of characters on their journey to California, and each meeting convinces Eli to examine his life and to question his brother's actions to to take a stand for himself.

The Sisters Brothers is a darkly comic western. Not "ha ha" funny, but one that makes you smile as the brothers, tempered by Eli's ponderings, interact with the prostitutes, shady businessmen, miners touched by Gold Fever, and even Eli's sickly horse Tub. I like how the brothers act as two sides of the same coin, Charlie viewing their work as necessary and reaping the benefits while Eli struggles to reconcile himself with all they've done. And yet, they still love and respect each other as brothers in spite of their differences. I did find the language a little odd, almost too formal for how I envision cowboys talked, but I think that adds to the philosophical nature of Eli. Not having read many westerns, I don't know if I can rightly call this a "typical" western, but this certainly is a fine example of one.

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick DeWitt
ECCO/HarperCollins
hardcover, 328 pgs.

purchased book

Thursday, May 17, 2012

RIP Donna Summer

We caught her in concert almost two years ago at the Hollywood Bowl. But going back farther, I still have the double lp for Bad Girls though no record player. The discs probably wouldn't play anyway as I think I wore the grooves out listening to Dim All the Lights and Hot Stuff non-stop for months.

Her legendary voice will be missed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Flowers for Mother's Day

I always order flowers for my Mom from a reputable online florist (which shall remain nameless, though it's been around since 1910). The last two years, the flower delivery hasn't quite lived up to expectations: they arrive late in the evening, or the deliveryman leaves the bouquet on the front porch without knocking or ringing the doorbell so the flowers sit for hours unattended. This year was no exception.

I ordered the flowers a week early, requesting that they arrive on Friday before Mother's Day. I even called my Dad to give him notice about the flowers arriving so he could check the front porch. And when Friday rolled around, my Mom called around 8:00 PM to gush over the flowers, the colors, the variety of blooms.

Which was all well and good until I treated her to lunch on Sunday and saw the flowers for myself. The flowers were beautiful, but the bouquet itself was roughly half the size of what I ordered, and they arrived close to 8:00 PM on a Friday night from a florist almost 20 miles away instead of local. I kept my mouth shut because she absolutely loved the flowers, and that's all that mattered.

We left for lunch after watching some golf on TV and enjoyed a ginormous meal at a new steakhouse nearby. My Dad's salad was made fresh at the table, my Mom's petite prime rib was almost too big for the plate, and I've never had au gratin potatoes made with whole potatoes. But I digress.... When we pulled into the driveway at their house, I noticed a bouquet of flowers on the porch, and mentioned it to my Mom. I thought maybe my brother had sent flowers, too.

I picked up the bouquet and examined the card only to find it contained the exact same message from my earlier bouquet. Not only that, the flowers were the same variety and color scheme so I figured the florist realized their mistake and sent the additional bouquet.

Which elated my Mom. I mean, you can never get enough flowers, right?

Happy (belated) Mother's Day (post)!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Past Few Days....

I've been a bad blogger the past few days, not posting a thing since the book review on Wednesday. But I have good excuses!

  1. Thursday, I had to leave work early in order to have yet another cyst excised. Fortunately, it was much smaller than the last though just as infected, according to the doctor who started describing the cottage cheese-like substance draining from it before I stopped him. My current batch of Keflex should last about 7 days, and hopefully, keep this thing from creeping back.
  2. I had to find the right Mother's Day gift and card -- which I did -- and the flowers that I ordered for her arrived yesterday, as planned. I need to wrap the gift then head on down tomorrow to take her to lunch.
  3. I needed to finish and review two books, plus an additional two are on the way from the publishers. Zombies, zombies, and more zombies!
  4. Facebook games are the real cause of global procrastination. Or just my procrastination. Though I am almost finished with 4 Elements.
  5. My car breached 70K miles so it was time for a checkup. I must return to the mechanic next week to have a switch replaced in my driver-side door that affects the opening/closing of the window on the passenger-side door.
  6. The story I'm working on takes up much of my free time -- that is, when I'm not reading books or playing games on Facebook. I just edited 800 words from the story and need to re-work them into something legible, or else it won't reach the minimum word limit for the anthology.
I think I need a nap....

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Quickie Book Review: The Killing Floor

by Craig DiLouie

Weeks have passed since the Infection started spreading, when one out of every five people suddenly collapsed, writhing in pain. It didn't kill them, but many wish it had, because after three days, those who originally fell, got back up and started attacking. The chased and bit into their victims to spread the infection, but they were not alone in their war. Strange creature appeared to help spread their infection or to kill.

A small band of uninfected set out to destroy a bridge leading to one encampment of survivors, and though they managed to stem the violent hordes on the other side of the chasm, a few of their own were bitten or, in Ray's case, were stung by one of the behemoth Demons -- gigantic creatures with stingered tentacles in constant search of victims. Anne, the leader of the small group demolishing the bridge, knows that she should kill him, but her heart tells her to let him be after all he's done to help the survivors.

Ray wanders off to find someplace to die, winding up in an empty house. Yet, after a fevered dream, he wakes up to discover that he has not died. He has somehow beat the infection. If he can beat it, then maybe he holds the cure! Ray decides to head to Washington, DC, to offer himself as a possible means to end the terror. But as he travels, he notices something strange about the infected, the way that they seem to be following him without attacking. It isn't until the horror at Camp Defiance when he finally learns what he's become.

And so has Anne and her small group of fighters. She convinces her group to put an end to the threat once and for all, beginning a chase between her and Ray that may mean the end for everyone.

The Killing Floor picks up from almost the exact same point as Craig DiLouie's The Infection, but don't worry if you haven't read that first novel. DiLouie provides enough background as the story rushes forward so that you don't feel left behind. It carries over the amazing and awful creatures of the infection -- the hoppers, the juggernauts (or Demons), the infected people -- and with an unexpected twist to the tale, allows the infection to mutate in a surprising way.

Though I despised him, Ray becomes one of the most interesting aspects of the story. He's burdened with what he knows could potentially kill the remaining human life from the planet and struggles with that. He also becomes a pawn of the Infection, using it to his own advantage regardless of who he hurts in the process. And at times, I even felt sorry for some of the Infected who fell victim to Ray's manipulating.

The overall story is filled with bloody action and monsters galore -- a perfect apocalyptic vision of the world. It's an exciting read, and definitely one of my favorite books this year.

The Killing Floor
by Craig DiLouie
Permuted Press
ebook, 290 pgs.

received ebook from author

Monday, May 07, 2012

Avenged

Yes, we were two of the many to see The Avengers this weekend. And, d'you know what? It was a great movie! Good script, fine acting, love the special effects, and even provided quite a bit of humor. We were forced to see it, though, in 3D which really didn't enhance the film at all. That was a waste of an extra $2-$3 per person. Go see it! And if you do, stick around for the tag ending after the credits....

Saturday, May 05, 2012

On Writing

"The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it." ~Jules Renard, "Diary," February 1895

That's only how it feels for me. I can imagine the entire story from beginning to end. The characters all say just the right things to move the story along. Settings are so vivid that I could take a snapshot and put it in an album. And everything works the way I want it to.

Then comes the actual writing, and I find myself writing a single sentence, stopping, editing, re-editing, wadding the page into a ball and tossing it in the trashcan. I'm my own worst enemy. The hard part is simply letting myself note everything before attacking it with a red pen and re-arranging plot points and characters. Sometimes, I'm amazed I managed to submit anything to publishers.

But I want my stories out there. I want people to read them (and hopefully, enjoy them). I need to just do it.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Ting Ting

What do you do when you can't think of anything to blog? You post a video from YouTube, of course. I bought The Ting Ting's latest album a few weeks ago and love it. The album, Sounds from Nowheresville, has a more mature sound than their first, but the the playfulness remains just mixed in with a more unified sound. I couldn't find a video for my favorite song from the album, so this one for Hang It Up will just have to suffice.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Quickie Book Review: Cryptic

by D.A. Chaney

Ed and Brock work as grave robbers in early 19th century England, resigning themselves to such an odious job in order to make ends meet. During one of their jobs, the two are approached by a rival gang of grave robbers and are separated in the battle that follows. While Brock stands and fights, Ed tricks some of the gang into a chase through the woods -- but it's all part of the duo's plan, and they will meet later at the pub in Lock's Landing. When Ed eventually makes it to the pub a few days later, Brock is nowhere to be found. As Ed soon discovers from a Mr. Albert Swicker, Brock and a few others volunteered to help find the animal that was attacking and killing people on the estate of Lord and Lady Lockette. Ed needs to find Brock so the only course is to follow Swicker back to the Lockette Estate to search for him.

When they arrive at the estate, no lights shine from any of the windows, and the front door hangs open tempting them to enter the darkness. Soon, the two find themselves battling the re-animated dead and something worse -- something hungrier and more dangerous than the dead who roam the estate.

Cryptic was quite a bit of fun to read. Lots of action and zombie goodness, but Chaney provides an interesting twist with the other creatures who are also trying to capture Ed -- the sleek and pale bodies with sharp claws, their natural aptitude for hunting humans, and the fact that they, too, are afraid of the zombies. The fast-pacing of the story and the well-drawn characters (especially Ed and the unnamed female creature) kept me reading into the wee hours, and by the end I was wondering along with Ed, what happened to Brock? The perfect set-up for a second book which I hope is on the way....

Cryptic
by D.A. Chaney
May December Publications
trade paperback, 151 pgs.

purchased book