Monday, June 30, 2008

Movie of the Weekend

Nothing beats a great western. There's no doubt in my mind that Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is one of the finest westerns committed to film. Directed and edited by the brilliant Sam Peckinpah, it doesn't get any better than this, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly notwithstanding. Like Sergio Leone's classic, there is a great deal of pathos in the characters, more than you would automatically expect from a pop classic.

James Coburn and Kris Kristoffersen play the respective leads, and Bob Dylan shows up as a knife-wielding sidekick; you also have Slim Pickens in a memorable role along with many more familiar faces (like a young Harry Dean Stanton, fresh off Cool Hand Luke). One unforgettable sequence early on is Billy's escape from jail. After blasting his way out using a shotgun loaded with dimes (why not?), he proceeds to smash the gun and throw the pieces into the street. This is not the kind of action you usually expect from an Old West outlaw, and the film is full of little nuances like this. What's better, as the townspeople slowly gather around the corpse of Billy's jailer, he serenades them with a song; the fact that it is Kris Kristoffersen improvising on-camera makes this scene that much more mesmerizing.

Some weekend sit back with a few brewskies and sink into this classic film. You will not regret it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Overheard Down at the Cube Farm

Down at the cube farm you hear no end of things, some that are funny, some that are strange, and sometimes even things that are unprintable. Though it is tempting to relate items from the third column, for the sake of peace I will refrain. Something strange I heard the other morning here at the cube farm was an upper management-type disrupting a confab with some body awkwardness.

Keep in mind that I did not see any of this. The soul of discretion, I cowered behind my cube partition and peeked not once. There was nothing, however, to prevent my ears from catching every word and rustle of cloth; like me, your mind will have to provide the visuals.

The manager was holding an impromptu meeting with three associates, barreling along with a commanding baritone about this and that live issue. Others piped in on occasion but for the most part it was the manager's show. Then something happened and there was complete silence. I heard a rustle, like a pants leg being slid up a calf, and then the manager offering an apology. "Sorry," I heard him say, "I don't mean to gross you guys out."

No response from the others. What had happened? Had the manager revealed a festering wound on his ankle, or perhaps an exposed shard of bone? Was he boldy proclaiming a choice of socks in bad taste? I don't know. As I said, all I could do was listen. The manager went on to say,

"I knew it would callous over and the spine work its way out..." More rustling. "I think that's happening." He apologized again and resumed talking about whatever business it was they were talking about. Eventually the others began speaking and within minutes the meeting had dispersed.

But the peace of my day had been permanently shattered.

Had the manager encountered a porcupine some days or weeks back and gotten one of its spines lodged under the skin? I heard him say "splinter" as well as "spine", so it might have been a rude collision with a bench to blame. Whatever the source of the manager's ailment, it certainly was provocative without some visual backup to provide more details. And what a scenario for a television comedy: a senior employee exposing a callous within which is lodged or half-lodged a sliver of some kind. I could only imagine the suffering endured by the man while he waited out the callousing process (is there a proper verb for that?), feeling and sensing day after day the intruder in his leg or arm, feeling it shifting around and making its way toward the surface with such slowness that a callous was able to form: what a pain threshold the man must possess, not to mention a good dose of patience while he waited for the whole thing to play out. I didn't get the sense that the offending spine was entirely separated right there at the meeting and it is most likely that even as I type the manager is enduring the slow migration of an invader from his limb.

My biggest question: Where do they teach that the best way to deal with something lodged under your skin is to let it callous over?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Arte Y Pico Award

The fabulous Rollerblog has bestowed upon me the Arte Y Pico Award, an award shared among bloggers to recognize others who inspire with their art and creativity. Let me just say that Rollerblog is a definite source of inspiration for me and if there is anything like a "Right Back At You" award, she deserves it.

So, now that I have gotten up off the shag rug and dusted myself off, I can share with you some blogs that I believe are more than worthy of this prize. These are blogs I visit and take inspiration from daily:

Comics Legends and Lore

Waterrose Handcrafted Obsessions


Dead Rooster

Take a moment to check out these excellent blogs, and in the spirit of Arte y Pico, pass on the award to blogs that inspire you.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All Hail The 70's

I will always think of the 70's as the "brown decade" -brown polyester, brown mustaches, brown air, brown shag... there was a lot of brown in those days. It is a time I remember with fondness. As a kid I used to buy comics at a Bait and Tackle shop in downtown Redwood City, or at the local Alpha Beta. Sadly, comics from that time get a bad rap from just about everybody, as if they belong in a big pile of brown. It isn't entirely just: some great books were created, and artists and writers famous today were cutting their teeth lo those nearly forty years ago.

I want to pay these artists due respect and will conduct a survey. In a post to come, I will publish the top ten comics of the 70's. Let me know if you're like me, if you think some great comics came out of that decade; results will be published at the end of the month.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Casting Call

To help me get a grip on the novel's central characters, I "cast" them with actors. Here we have Chiaki Kuriyama as "Yumiko"; I first saw her in Battle Royale, but she's more famous for swinging a spiked ball on a chain at Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol 1;
Lana Parilla as "Sally", whom I've seen in supporting roles on 24 and Lost, and currently resides in Swingtown;

Kurt Russell as "Macready", pictured here from one of my favorite movies, The Thing, and from whom I stole not only his likeness but his name as well (his name is Macready in the film);
and Keith David as "Ozzy", an actor who carries so much grace and dignity in voice and form, there was no better choice for the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

City of Destiny

Another prominent location in the novel is Edinburgh, city of destiny and the arts. My family is a sept of the Macgregor clan and when I visited Scotland for the first time a few years back, it set my native blood singing (which sounds like a disturbing experience but was actually quite pleasant). The hostel where I spent most of my stay was an incredible spot and left such an impression on me that I decided to use it as a location in the book. While I did take photos of it on real film, unfortunately I don't have any digital copies, so I can't share it with you. However, I do have some other images that give you a fair taste of what Edinburgh looks like. It really is an incredible city and I recommend a visit to everyone, whether you're Scottish or not.Lastly, a look inside The Elephant House, the "birthplace of Harry Potter". Legend has it that JK Rowling did some early writing here, and the staff confirm it as fact. It is a brilliant writing spot, full of students and funky community tables, with the castle on full display through the windows; most importantly, they can pull a mighty decent shot of espresso, roasted locally.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Movie of the Weekend

Come to Winnipeg, capital of sorrow, at the peak of the Depression: they are holding a contest for the saddest music in the world. The prize is $25,000 and all the Canadian lager you want. You will see Lady Port-Huntley dance on glass legs filled with beer; you will learn the prognostications of a tapeworm; the fate of a man's soul will be decided and sadly it goes badly for him; finally, witness the victor of Lady Port-Huntley's saddest music in the world contest, rendered in gorgeous Super-8.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book of the Week

I can state with perfect confidence that the entire Philip K Dick catalog fits into a suitcase. I know this because I used to store his novels this way, slowly filling up a Samsonite until all 45+ titles were represented in the collection; then I promptly delivered the suitcase to my neighborhood bookshop and delighted the buyer by offering it to her at a bargain price. I had read each of the novels multiple times and knew them back and forward, and why not pass them on to fledglings. After all, I had gotten my start years ago discovering one of PKD's novels -UBIK- in a bookseller window and it gave me a little charge knowing that I would enable someone to have the same experience.

Lo and behold, that bargain dump did not mark the end of my relationship with the great author. So powerful and enthralling are his stories, in certain instances I cannot stop myself from going back and revisiting them. Recently I picked up Now Wait For Last Year, a novel of the future that touches on all of PKD's signature themes: conspiracy, questionable reality, body doubles, perception experiments, and the non-linear nature of time. It's the last theme in particular that comes to mind as I read the book this week.

Having experienced PKD's entire body of output, it's interesting to see what he does with his pet interests. Like other great artists -Woody Allen leaps to mind- he is not so much inventing a story as telling the same one over again and investing it with progressions of his themes. This touches on the non-linearity of time, as you can see him developing concepts of how time really works and the impact it has on characters in each iteration.

Since this a middle period novel, I can touch on later books and see where he went with the idea of overlapping time; I can also go back to earlier works and see where PKD first introduced his idea. This is one aspect of the author where he gets short shrift: he was a bonafide scholar working out a thorough schematic of perception, totally earnest and many times brilliant in his insight.

In Now Wait For Last Year, a narcotic is responsible for opening characters' perceptions to the overlapping nature of time. Once ingested, the drug causes them to recede chronologically; for the duration of the drug's effects, a character is literally in the past and can affect the present while they are there, sometimes literally plucking a past self and transplanting them to take over their life. One character who takes full advantage of being able to do this is Gino Molinari.

Here is the unforgettable introduction:

"The guest; the man they had come here to see. Reclining, his face empty and slack, lips bulging dark purple and irregular, eyes fixed absently on nothing, was Gino Molinari. Supreme elected leader of Terra's unified planetary culture, and the supreme commander of its armed forces in the war against the reegs.
"His fly was unbuttoned."

The Mole, as the character is commonly known, is a great portrait of a hypochondriac; he literally lives to be sick, having such a sensitive nature that he assumes the ailments of people around him; he is a wounded clown who rules from the gurney. I cannot do the complexity of the character justice here, except to say that he makes for very enjoyable reading. His exchanges with an 18-year-old mistress, who dominates him with crude bantering, are a prime example of PKD's antic powers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

History of the Internet

Remember Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, the 80's tv celebration of wealthy elites? It was hosted by this man, Robin Leach:

In printed form, the magazine Vanity Fair serves a similar function of the long-gone show, providing a telescope into lives of privilege otherwise barred to scruffies like me. I take guilty pleasure from reading about debutantes and their hair. However, there is more to the magazine than you might expect, and this month it offers a pleasant twist.

The latest edition has a fascinating oral history of the internet, the first history of its kind to address the still-unlimited possibilities of this profound leap forward in communication. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of ARPAnet, the progenitor of what we know today as the World Wide Web, the men and... more men (there's a female investment banker who pops in at the very end) talk about how it all began. I couldn't stop reading, fascinated especially by the goals of free community and universal protocols that these pioneers brought about.

(I might be biased, too; having grown up in the Bay Area where a lot of the early networking was laid out, I have to confess to a bit of hometown pride.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Midnight Run Greatest Hits

Abba Pentalewon

Throughout my novel several different locales are featured, ranging from Africa to the moon. Over the course of researching these different places, I have accrued a small collection of images to give me inspiration. It struck me the other day that it might be kind of fun to share them and build some anticipation for those who haven't yet read the book.A central point of interest in the book is a monastery in the Ethiopian capitol of Axum. Though it is greatly changed in the future setting of my book, the monastery itself is intact and frames a couple of important sequences. It takes its name from Abba Pentalewon, one of the Nine Saints who fled to Ethiopia to escape persecution after the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon proclaimed Monophysitism a heresy.

While my book does not take up the Monophysitism debate, it does prominently feature Abba Pentalewon. As you can see here, it looks like a lovely spot for bird-watching. Other locations used in the book are Seattle, Edinburgh, and a helium mine on the moon's Heraclides Plain; you will see them in future posts. I'm thinking also of sharing how I "cast" the book -let me know if this is something you would like to see!

Friday, June 06, 2008

What do you mean, "You people?"

Though I rarely get out to the movies anymore, I will definitely be setting time aside to see Tropic Thunder. Watch the trailer and tell me Robert Downey Jr is not ready to kill us all with comedy genius. I mean, just look at him:With Iron Man already a big hit this year, there is no doubt that this great actor is on the rebound from some troubled times. Speaking of which, another man in this category is Tom Cruise, who makes a cameo appearance in Tropic Thunder, looking like this:The former star has hit bottom, but with a belly like that, rebounding shouldn't be too tough.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bless the Readers

I have gone about writing my novel in a piecemeal fashion. It has been the absolute worst trial-and-error-in-your-free-time approach that I would not recommend to anyone; counterproductive and at times like pouring lye on a bare patch of skin. The opposite of how to effectively compose a work of 70,000+ words. That being said, at the end of three years of work it looks like I might have produced something coherent. My readers will be the final arbiters.

For the longest time I dreaded that the book would amount to nothing more than a jumbled pile of half-baked plotlines. After some judicious editing on a draft completed in November, the book resembles its original form only superficially -like a colicky infant eschewing its clangor and performing Toscanini for royalty.

I recently embarked on the last round of edits -filling out character details, adding dialogue for clarification, creating two ancillary scenes, and rearranging the final sequence. If all goes as planned (and it never does), I'll complete work by the end of the month.

It struck me this morning that I've had a lot of help from readers. I want to take the opportunity to give a shout out to these good people who have offered invaluable encouragement and feedback: my monthly writing group (Danny, Will, Brian and Caleb), Jonathan Shaw, Doug&Anna Dalrymple, Megan Dodgson, Jen Phoenix, Anne Overstreet, Katy Shaw, Beth Haidle, Andy Bates, and Heather Guerrero, who read in its entirety an early draft and offered tremendous insight; I should also like to thank Danny Walter for the use of his PC, upon which a lot of early composition was done. Truly, I could not have carried on without the input of these wonderful people!

Now the manuscript is nearing readiness to be sent to agents and publishing houses, and I plan to be more regular in my updates... about the current novel and news about the next one. Here's hoping I've learned how to do it a little better the second time around.