Friday, July 30, 2010

How to Waste an Hour (Or More)

We all know about Fail blog and the various Cheezburger sites for time wasting. But have you seen 2Leep? It's more visual and updated throughout the day.  Why is it that whenever I want to accomplish something I get sidetracked by looking at Toilets with a nice view?

Summer Sale Ends Tomorrow

Smashwords' month-long summer sale ends tomorrow and my novel, "On The Gathering Storm" is being offered at a 50% discount. To get the deal, visit the book's page, and enter the discount coupon code ( SWS50 ) at the checkout. Get it soon, because the sale concludes with the stroke of midnight tomorrow.

Smashwords offers many great books in different genres so, even if my story isn't your cup of tea, use this as an opportunity to fill your e-reader with something new or different and support an independent author.

Thanks to everyone who has already purchased the book! It means so much to me that many of you are reading my words and getting something meaningful out of Hannah's journey.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Candy-Red Licorice Ladder Up To The Azure Blue Sky

If you're like me, you like to read from different genres and a multitude of authors. Like movies, music and almost any other form of consumed art, we tend to like variety. But, in the end we probably lean in one direction more than another. I'm curious about what direction people lean and the kinds of stories people tend to prefer so I offer this comparison.

What reads better to you? Thick, rich, vibrant descriptions like this one from Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels:

From the other bank, I watched darkness turn to purple-orange light above the town; the color of flesh transforming to spirit. They flew up. The dead passed above me, weird haloes and arcs smothering the stars. The trees bent under their weight. I'd never been alone in the night forest, the wild bare branches were frozen snakes. The ground tilted and I didn't hold on. I strained to join them, to rise with them, to peel from the ground like paper ungluing at its edges. I know why we bury our dead and mark the place with stone, with the heaviest, most permanent thing we can think of: because the dead are everywhere but the ground. I stayed where I was. Clammy with cold, stuck to the ground. I begged: If I can't rise, then let me sink, sink into the forest floor like a seal into wax.

Or, simple, straightforward narrative, short sentences where every single word has a very clear meaning, less open to the fanciful interpretation of poetry, like The Road by Cormac McCarthy:

They passed through the city at noon of the day following. He kept the pistol to hand on the folded tarp on top of the cart. He kept the boy close to his side. The city was mostly burned. No sign of life. Cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust. Fossil tracks in the dried sludge. A corpse in a doorway dried to leather. Grimacing at the day. He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.

You forget some things, dont you?

Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

Which is a better read for you? Does one or the other reveal the story better or worse? Does a simple narrative let the reader introduce her own bias and experience of the world?

Or, perhaps it totally depends on your mood.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Driving to work this morning, I saw a man in a haz-mat suit with a surgical mask and plastic hood. This was in a very busy downtown area, filled with people getting coffee, newspapers and hurrying to work in the surrounding office towers. The man was carrying a large plastic jug of blue liquid connected to a spraying nozzle. The nozzle was dribbling the blue liquid onto the pavement and concrete as he stumbled through an intersection, stopping the cars which had the right-of-way to keep travelling. He waved.

If this blue chemical is safe for all the folks getting coffee and walking their dogs, why's this guy in a plastic onesie and a Michael Jackson face mask?

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Yesterday a beautiful female pedestrian was crossing a busy street at a designated crosswalk while the crosswalk flashers were lit. A car came to a screeching halt a few feet from her and layed on the horn, apparently thinking she shouldn't be in his way. She threw up both her middle fingers and yelled the f-word at the driver before he sped off. Disconcerting for all, but why such extreme measures? Just the adrenaline of such a close encounter? Or did each person genuinely believe they were "in the right"? 

Are we all on increasingly on edge these days or is it my imagination?

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Saw "Inception" the other day and was mostly impressed. Came out of the dark theatre into the harsh light of a sunlit parking lot appreciating the fast pace and depth of the story but feeling hungover and dense with a fog of the mind. Wondered how "the masses" would truly enjoy something so "heady" and also wished for a better explanation of how you and I could lay down next to each other and share a dream space.

Went to a nearby sushi place to think it over, learned that my dynamite rolls would be a few minutes so went to pick up a case of beer. Reached into the cooler at the liquor store and the bottom fell out of the six-pack carton of Heineken. Dropped six bottles of beer onto a concrete floor where they erupted onto me, the coolers, the walls. Stunned, still stuck in the head space of the movie, I backed away as the manager and all store occupants converged on my location to see if I was okay.

Covered in beer, I retrieved my sushi and went home. Had I just experienced my own dream within a dream?

Monday, July 19, 2010

My New Obsession

Can't stop playing this song:

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Home

John Tesh Hath Told Me His Truth

It's funny-strange how susceptible we are to suggestion, isn't it? It explains how old ladies fall for telephone scams and hand over their life savings. It explains how all advertising works and it makes for a good discussion about why my hands still itch. Let me explain.

I've been doing a big home renovation project this weekend and have been listening to a junky old radio because it's easier to just unplug it and move it from outlet to outlet as I work, rather than messing around with headphones or setting up a stereo or computer in the messy workspace where I'm doing the reno.

Also, yesterday I had the front door open for quite a while during a delivery of some doors and moulding so I noticed several flies and mosquitoes buzzing around.  Before I went to bed, exhausted from the work, I unsheathed my fly swatter as a creaky Scottish knight might take up his sword. I went hunting. But I know that I allowed at least two healthy-sized skeeters to live because I was simply too tired to keep up the fight. I went to bed and woke up with around twenty or twenty-five tiny mosquito bites on my fingers, knuckles and wrists -- the only parts of me that weren't under the blankets while I slept.

The itch and burn were immediately unbearable and I knew I couldn't get back to sleep. As I type this early in the morning, I keep looking around for a six or seven pound mosquito lying on its side in a corner or on a dresser: panting, grinning, breathlessly sated from siphoning off the literal "blood from my hands", his belly distended and pink.

He hasn't turned up yet. I can still hear his tinny buzz coming closer and then receding.

In the meantime I turned to some advice I heard from the junky old radio I had been listening to as I worked. The John Tesh Radio Show and his brand of "Intelligence for Your Life" was a constant in and amongst the Rod Stewart, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Michael Buble and near-constant repetitions of Ladies Gaga and Antebellum.

His advice for a mosquito bite? Put some anti-perspirant on it. The aluminum will reduce the swelling and help your body re-absorb the liquid inside the bite, making it stop itching fast, Tesh told me.

I followed his advice, and slathered on some of my wife's Dove anti-perspirant as it was the only kind with aluminum I could find. And now, looking down as I type, I see my fingers are white with chalk, I smell like baby powder and my fingers are continually slipping off the keys.

The itch remains.

But John Tesh told me this would work. And he got the advice from an !*expert*!

So. I. Will. Not. Scratch.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Pearly Gates

On the way home one afternoon, I spotted a seasonal greenhouse alongside the road proclaiming a sale on perennials.  I stopped in to buy some day lilies and some chicks n' hens.  The purveyor was a grizzly, past-middle age man with an unkempt beard and long hair. Quite honestly, he looked like the hippie that time forgot.  But he was pleasant as all get-out and knowledgeable about plants, to boot.  We got to talking as I looked over his plants and he continued to give them a long drink on this hot summer day.  I asked him what he did with his time during the rest of the year and he told me that he spent his winters in Thailand, building Orgonite towers and introducing them into the canals and other bodies of water.

Now, I don't know a thing about orgonite or its proported powers, so if you're curious about it, check out some information here. What I do know is that the friendly old hippie dude at the greenhouse believes this material and these towers are essential to help "cleanse" the earth, bring balance back to nature and that his plan is to introduce ten thousand-plus of these towers into the water in Thailand and other places around the world this year, and thousands upon thousands more each season for as long as he remains upright and breathing.

He genuinely believes that his efforts are going to help save the earth.

I'm not going to judge him or his work. Nor am I going to say that I believe in the powers of this material called orgonite or whether I think it is, as Sheldon Cooper might say, nothing but hokum.

But it did get me to thinking about a person's "life's work". I'd certainly like to reach my inevitable and (hopefully natural) end, knowing that what I largely spent my time and energies on in my days on earth was worthwhile. Meaningful. Maybe even helpful to humankind and the planet we call home.

I do wonder, though. When the green-thumbed hippie gets to whatever his version of the Pearly gates is, will someone tell him that all the metal shavings and plasticine he dumped into the rivers and oceans really helped us all? Or was it a complete waste and he should have done something else with all the time and talent he was given?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who Do You "Write Like"?

According to the fun new website, I Write Like, the first two pages of my novel have a writing style very similar to Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk. Not so bad. I really enjoy both of these authors.

I Write Like allows you to paste in some copy you've written whether it's from a recent blog post or your Pulitzer prize-winning news story about refugees in Afghanistan, and the master computer behind the big blue curtain will analyze it and compare it to the language style of many famous authors. Try it!

How many new authors out there would love it/hate it to be told they write like someone else? Do you think there really is such a thing as a "fresh new voice"?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Novel Now Available on Apple iPad and iPhone 4

Smashwords offers "On The Gathering Storm" and tons of other ebooks on their website in the appropriate format to read on your iPad, iPhone 4, Palm, Nook, Kindle and Sony Reader devices but now my novel is also available right on Apple's iBookstore on the iPad and iPhone 4 devices. So get your iPhone updated to the latest software and download the free iBooks app to get your copy of the book!

If you're a new reader, I'd love to know how you feel the book reads on your iPhone or iPad.  Do you think it takes advantage of the full colour presentation and the new-fangled "Retina Display" that Apple is bragging about?

Update: A co-worker has an iPad and, this morning, he was generous enough to purchase the novel and show me how it looks and reads. I must say that it is rather impressive to see my story come to life on the iPad platform.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How To Save Television

Note: Of course, I write this with my tongue in my cheek a bit. I don't actually think I have the knowledge to remake an entire industry. It's fun, as an outsider, to muse a bit on how one would like to see something evolve or change.

Every network, over the last five years, seems to be trying to recreate the TV show, "Lost".  It started with "Heroes" and "The Nine" and "Invasion" and there are probably a half dozen others that aren't springing to mind as I write this. Currently ABC itself has axed "Flashforward" and the remake of "V" is on the bubble of getting tossed as well.

"Lost" was a big success. It had its detractors, its supporters and its deserters along the way, but you can't argue that, at its best moments it was a well-written, well-executed show with a solid cast of actors and an interesting stable of characters.

But every TV exec wants the lightning to strike twice. They are all trying out these expensive, intricate series with large casts and long story arcs that they plan to spread out over five years. They want to lock viewers in, ensure big viewership of a single show and have a guaranteed cash cow over several viewing seasons. So far, they haven't found another one to function the same way that show did.

Quite honestly, I think TV viewers are tired of these heavily serialized shows. Lost may have been an exception but I don't really like the idea of sitting down to a show when I may have to wait six years to see how it all turns out. Many mediums are getting shorter these days. Music album lengths are shrinking from more than an hour to less than forty-five minutes. And average fiction book lengths are getting tighter and tighter (except for certain genres where they are bucking this trend).

The idea that I have to commit the kind of time and energy to simple entertainment tires me out. And, what if the show I like and invest in doesn't come back next year? Won't I ever know how it ends? And in the case of "Lost", what if the ending is ambiguous and I feel like I didn't get the resolution I expected?

I'd like to see TV producers (and movie producers for that matter) hit up some of the grass roots talent out there.  Go to a website like Smashwords, for example and do some reading. Invest in a "not-yet-a-name" author by buying the rights to her book for a reasonable sum and make a six or ten episode mini series out of it. Advertise it like it's a major event --just the same as a major Hollywood film release-- and then turn around and do another one. And then another one. Two hour episodes once a week, on the same night for ten weeks and then a new story takes its place for the subsequent ten weeks in that time slot. Wait two months until some Internet buzz builds for a particular mini and then re-run it to grab advertising dollars from those who didn't see it the first time. Then send it to secondary markets like DVDs  and digital downloads via iTunes or other video-for-dollars vendors. The material that is quality and sees healthy viewership gets another lease on life as a regular series or maybe another mini arc. The stuff that doesn't fly has a definite ending for those of us who saw it and aren't left flapping in the wind.

Seriously, there are so many quality stories out there. Why do both TV-Land and Hollywood want to re-sell us the same stuff over and over? How many iterations of "Lost" will we endure before they find a new trend to flog?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Round and Round We Go

Partly because I've always loved the song, "Half Acre" by Hem, and partly because the ad itself is so effective, I want to share this "Pay it Forward" message with you.  It's too bad that the ad was commissioned by an insurance company, of all things, but greatness takes on many forms. Quite frankly, it's a solid ad and they got their money's worth.

Can you imagine if every soul walking the earth practiced this way of life for more than the sixty-second length of the advertisement?

Novel Now Available on Sony Reader Website

Smashwords offers "On The Gathering Storm" and tons of other ebooks on their website in the appropriate format to read on your iPad, iPhone 4, Palm, Nook, Kindle and Sony Reader devices but now my novel is also available at the Sony Reader Store. And! The book is currently on sale there. Check it out!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On The Gathering Sale!

Right now, Smashwords is having a summer reading sale and my novel, "On The Gathering Storm" is being offered at a 25% discount*.  To get the deal, visit the book's page, and enter the discount coupon code ( SWS25 ) at the checkout. Get it soon, because the sale concludes with the end of July.

*It's actually 26% off the regular price, but who's counting, right?

J Goes To The Movies

Loves me some movies.  But, unfortunately, this summer has been an absolute gas at the theatre.  Very few of the current offerings interest me and nothing is getting great reviews.  I was totally revved to see "The Last Airbender" a film by M. Night Shyamalan, but it is getting reamed by the critics and public alike.  After his first few films blew me away with their originality and story-telling style, he's had a couple of real duds in a row and everyone seemed to be holding their breath that this one would break his bad streak and show off his talents once again.  Now, I will reserve judgement on the film until I've actually seen it for myself but based on the bad buzz, I won't rush out for it.

(I still remember being on a holiday out of town and rushing to the local theatre to see "Lady in the Water" the day it came out because M. Night's flicks had been elevated to the automatic "see-at-all-costs" stature for me based on his previous efforts. I hadn't read a word about the movie, nor had I seen any ads or trailers because I didn't want anything spoiled.  Well, twenty minutes into the blasted thing, I wanted to actually get up and leave the theatre.  Part of me still wishes I had.)

Christopher Nolan, another director I admire, has a film coming out on July 16 called "Inception" and this one is getting nothing but positive buzz.  I must say I'm on the bandwagon with this one and I will be avoiding all pictures, reviews, trailers and such regarding it and seeing it the first week it arrives.  I've been a Nolan fan since his first indie film, "Following" and his bigger indie film "Memento".  He's had other mainstream films like "Insomnia", "The Prestige" and of course, his Dark Knight films which are, if I'm not mistaken, some of the most successful films of all time.

The second Twilight film was so bad that I couldn't even get through it so I won't be seeing the third or any subsequent ones.  I'm not it's target audience so I won't be too sad to miss it.  The first Danish film based on Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is queued up at home but I just haven't found the time to give it my full attention yet.  It's waiting for an evening when absolutely nothing else calls for my attention.

I love tearjerkers, thought-provokers, and adrenaline-pumpers.  I'm a big fan of movies of any kind, age or genre.  But, please tell me.  Are there any other summer movies that I absolutely need to see?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Local Bookstore Closes; Blames eBooks

Recently, the owner of a long-standing local book store announced the store's closure. He blames the onslaught of online book retailers like Amazon, the insurgence of large, warehouse-style chain stores like Chapters, and the new-ish ebook format for killing his business.  

"We could continue to fight," he said. "But in the end we stand no chance."

This got me thinking. It makes me sad that this man, his family, and the nineteen employees who made a living (or perhaps a portion of a living if they worked part-time) at his book store now have to search elsewhere for their income. This particular store was a touchstone in this city for many years and technology, whether better or not (that can be debated) has created a new world for them.  A world in which the book store as we know it will be gone. Simply gone.

My personal belief is that a quality ebook reader plus the equally-usable infrastructure for buying and downloading the content which populates the reader can actually be a better fit for most book readers, but there is still a sadness at the passing of this torch.  It's not unlike a modern-day version of the Pony Express being killed by the invention of the telegraph machine.  I like being able to access four million books at my fingertips instead of only twenty-five thousand, the one I really want being on back-order for up to eight weeks while it ships from Albuquerque.  But it's still hard to watch those ponies put out to pasture after they ran so fast and so hard in their prime.  What beautiful, lithesome creatures.

The ebook seems to be doing the same thing to the traditional book binding and selling business as downloaded music has been doing to the Sam The Record Man and other brick and mortar record shops.  I can only wonder if wider bandwidths and the increasing availability of high definition video will mark the beginning of the end for movie theatres and cable TV providers.  What do you think?
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