Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: You Were Awesome, Smell Ya Later

Well, Blogger's pushing me to switch to their new version by hobbling the old one, and I'll be forced into it. Even posting this holiday-themed photo of the skyline from our balcony has been a nightmare. I'll conform. Tomorrow. But posting today, for the last time this year, I'm using my Christmas laptop for the first time! Surprisingly, my five year-old one doesn't really stink, but this new one is much more mobile and cleanly designed, with a better set of capabilties and horsepower. I look forward to being able to do much more multimedia-- like posting videos and audio podcasts-- next year.

2006 was actually a pretty great year, feeble in personal woes and strong in progress. I hope it's been so for you, but if not, it's over. Onward and upward. I'm going to try to continue to get narrow and deep, like the Marianas Trench, merging my disparate activites into more central places where they can all feed each other. I'm looking forward to new audiences and playing around with enhanced bells and whistles, especially since my regular readers all have new machines that simply gobble up the higher bandwidth goodies. I expect to revise a bunch of things, migrate some to a different web site, and get a little more frequent, if a little more focused, in my posting. Oddities will remain, however. What's life without wonder?

Also, in the last couple of days, as a sort of late Xmas gift (yet certainly before Three Kings Day), I finally got an idea (THE IDEA) for my next stand-alone suspense novel. It's a tremendous Whew. Now that an agent's repping the first, a prospective publisher might want another in a similar vein, or at least might consider one with the same sort of tone and approach. My agent asked me what else I had or thought might be next. Well.... uh.... What do you think they'd like? I had nothing. Sure, I have my comic/absurdist/mystery thing I'm working on, something I love but which is weird enough that it'll have to sell itself after completion, and I might need a pseudonym depending upon how distracting to my non-existent career it's considered. Problematically, it's also not easily prepackaged or even explained, but I think if I don't disappoint myself and take my time (simple enough since nobody wants it), it could be fantastically entertaining and I'd be very proud to see that. However, every time until last Friday that I thought about writing a follow-up thriller, I just felt a hollow bonging in my skull. To feel barren of ideas is anxiety-making in the extreme for someone who's supposed to be full of 'em, but I tried to stay calm while waiting for something to happen. And a notion did emerge, in the manner it does for me, almost fully formed.

A few years ago, the manuscript-now-for-sale's plot came up over lunch at Bennigan's with my Ideal Reader, and after bullet-proofing the motives and action through the back-and-forth tennis of "What if?", I wrote up a chapter-by-chapter outline that evening, just a paragraph of the important stuff in each one so I wouldn't forget. Over the course of writing and revision, things changed and were added and refined, but if you read that outline today, the eventual novel's storyline is unmistakeable, and all the juiciest surprises would be wrecked for you.

So last Friday night over steak with my previous plot collaborator, into existence sprang a new idea, starting with a simple solution to one basic problem. Since I'm no law enforcement/emergency procedure/medical/legal expert, if I set the next book in Manhattan versus anywhere else, how do I keep a story of dramatic content including death (deaths?) from being quickly swept into one giant institutional flow or another about which I can't and don't wish to write? And I conceived an answer based on circumstances which have always felt to me as magical as they are dangerous. Perhaps greatest of all, the story also includes another theme/setting that I had seriously intended to use a year or two ago and had therefore researched with great interest, even developing highly-regarded and knowledgeable contacts in that industry as resources. Then, I had some characters rattling around in my mind, but I couldn't ever spark the story into independent motion. Discouragingly, the bones of the storyline never soldified, and it never jumped to its feet and sprinted. At a certain point, for me, the story I want to tell has to start leaping ahead with possibilities faster than I can keep up. I'll imagine conversations, lines of observations, flashes of scenes that overlap and begin interlinking as they pop into being, all jockeying for position in my final scheme.

In my experience, if ever a story "writes itself", it's now. Once my ideal plan exists and is documented, the work of making sure my Wren cathedral blueprint doesn't finally manifest itself as an outhouse is sheer, arduous labor. That's why I have to love the idea so much, because writing it purely sucks. That's my process, different than other people's and I daily wish I sat scribbling like them with joy in my heart, but this is how my deal works. And it does eventually work, no matter how gruesomely my sausages are made. Anyway, that fabulous compunding, metastasizing story effect happened to me Friday night, and the additions and enhancements have continued through today, like a rock sugar crystal that's added elegant structures and strength every time I think to look at it.

If you don't care about all my personally blathery B.S., enjoy Dave Barry's year-end wrap-up as ye may.
Long link form to copy-and-paste instead of nifty short form (or color or bold) since Blogger's pulling the old carpet runner out on me.

Next year, the look of things here will be new, if I can't guarantee they'll be improved. My affections toward you, dear pals, are nothing new and cannot be improved upon. To a cheery 2007!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Nogs and Logs

Just a few more items that won't wait:

1) The story behind one of my favorite new-old chestnuts, The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth sung by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. I'm with Bowie. The inane, nonsensical repetition of the original starts to make me feel deranged by the second verse, but this version I like.

2) A manly man and his dreamy, homemade Christmas wreaths. Got a problem with that?

3) Think your family's holiday customs are weird? Think Festivus is wacky and way-out? Well, this image of a sh*tt*ng Santa comes from this site, which includes another translated explanation of the phenomenon covered in this article. At this time of year, Catalonia in Spain goes absolutely poop-crazy, believing it to be a symbol of fertility and prosoperity. Besides the turd candy and toys, you can get defecating figures (with lucky piles of sewage) for your nativity scene. They come in many personages: scubadivers, babies, bride and groom, doctors, executives, Pope Benedict 16, King Juan Carlos... Browse for your favorite.

I might be ashamed to dwell on such an unattractive (if culturally authentic) topic, if I hadn't simultaneously conferred such good fortune and wonderful well-wishes upon you all.
Poops up, peeps!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

For Christmas: A Cat in the Pants

Not specifically festive, but I liked this Daily Kitten picture, because I'd forgotten that lots of cats do this, as you'll read in the DK comments.

1) This once happened to me at an acquaintance's house. The cat had sneaked into the bathroom behind me, then entangled itself between my ankles while I was preoccupied. Not knowing the cat, I was leery of picking it up to hoist it away from the vicinity of my nethers, but it bore the relocation placidly. Not the first time, I suppose, since the owner later told me this was standard feline operating procedure at their house. As this season of parties and guests and visiting swings into action, that's exactly the kind of thing about which you might wish to forewarn visitors. Just my tip, hospitality-wise.

2) In other holiday-related animalia, a virgin dragon will give birth this holiday season. Well, actually her eggs will hatch, and this ability, while not observed among female Komodos before this year, is well-known among other reptile species. Still, don't depend on a journalist to spoil a great lede with overmuch clarity.

3) In other things weird and wonderful, a Canadian meteorite has been found to be older than the sun. Cool, I want to buy it and put it on a pedestal in the garden. Maybe on a mantelpiece. Or I'll break it into nuggets to sell as fashion jewelry. I mean, after they've sampled enough to study the origins of the universe, of course.

4) Australian Cougar Arts teach a variety of Man-skillz embodied currently in a fantastic organ soundtrack and a mustachioed idol. Dong the Gong in the man skillz test. You must see and hear to love enough. When they ask if you're over 18 and awesome at Kung Fu, click YES, or you'll get an alcohol awareness education, since apparently Cougar Spirits underwrites the International Fence Busting Affiliated Organisation.

Founded by Brian "The Guru" Watson in 1968, The Cougar Arts Federation became known for its unique philosophy - "Don't try to get away with anything too big at first, and then try a bit harder and gradually you'll probably get somewhere."

Barry "The Cougar" Dawson is now Head Instructor at the school. He is a Black Belt Master and an exponent of "Man-Skills" - a set of powerful techniques including "Mind Control" "Speediness" and "Invisible-ness".

5) I know they say this is a New York thing, and it makes sense given most people's habitations. But I was aware of it as a child in Texas and California, I recall. And this year, we even have a choice of classically crusty or slickly modern televised Yule Logs.

May you, too, blaze on, my pals, and enjoy the season!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not Feeling Holly Jolly Towards Chase Visa

This Scrooge image once appeared somewhere in the Bear Valley News. Metaphorically, it represents not only the droopy dunce cap that finally broke the hat rack of my tolerance, but also shows my intensity of contempt. That's me...hating you, Chase Visa.

For years, we've been paying extra for membership to a credit card that gives us airline miles (usefulish) and extended warranties that we haven't used as well as supposed concierge services and other discounts we haven't found particularly handy either. In the past, when the CV Co. is afraid there's fraud-- like anytime (frankly, every time) we're on vacation-- store clerks end up giving us their patented lugubrious expressions of We Regret The Necessity/Are You Broke?, and haul us towards the shop phone to verify our identities and geneology on our mother's sides. We get temporarily annoyed, and forget to do anything about it after arriving back home.

Obviously, it's a frustratingly repeated inconvenience for those (us) whom we assume are regarded as good customers. We put significant dollars through this card annually, so whether or not we carry a balance, they're paid by merchant fees on every charge plus our member fees and any specialty transaction fees for cash advances, checks, etc. If they increased the intelligence put toward examining the pattern of purchase types and vendors rather than simply location, such analysis might reveal that the roving charges are likely from us, because whether home or abroad, we always go to TCBY or Frankenstein Nail Spas (or wherever). Not a crime specialist, it still seems unlikely to me that garden-variety thieves are mainly using our hot plastic for fine dinners and non-transferrable hotel room charges, but whatever.

When we do happen to buy something criminally fungible like a pricey new winter coat or electronics, we're also likely to have our charges held for verification. Believe it or not, this once happened when buying a large batch of socks. I don't know about you, but I don't usually ration purchases of black and brown dress socks, and buy up bunches at a go rather than pacing myself. Because the CV Co. phone lines were jammed (an overload of incisive fraud checking?), we couldn't even call through for verification, and had to use another card. This is all simply the CV Co. protecting us, right? Well, no. It's them protecting themselves since they're on the hook for fake charges in excess of $50, provided we report them in a timely fashion. Lately, the companies have all gone preemptive. Don't wait for the customer to notice, jump in and assist! Ideally, this would be handled so it feels like it's us and CV Co. working against bad guys, but it doesn't feel like that at all. And today was the dunce cap that broke the hat rack.

My very own Santa purchased my Christmas present yesterday from a place where many other people enjoy shopping, too, because of their cool, but entirely distinctive, stuff. (DANGER, thinks the CV Co. Popular places are mostly frequented by lowlifes!) After receiving two phone messages this morning alone, I knew CV Co.'s onslaught of concern must've been triggered by yesterday's Xmas purchase. So, I contacted my personal Santa to make the confirmation call such that my surprise--now wrapped and beribboned beneath our tree-- wouldn't be ruined. Unfortunately, when my Santa verified the charge from yesterday, CV Co. also wanted to go back in history and check other recent charges, too. Just for thoroughness, of course. After all, who'd be doing more and more varied shopping than usual near Christmas? However (wouldn't you know it?), I'd also recently purchased an Xmas present online. This one happened to be for the other holder of our card from a merchant's website which is basically like

In order to walk down memory lane, transaction-style, with CV Co, I had to be conferenced in to illuminate the more elusive mysteries. Though, before I joined the call, my own Santa specifically asked that they not repeat the location of the charge for my gift yesterday, here's how it actually played out:

CV Co. employee has both of us on the line, and asks:
"Other than the charge at [screamingly obvious name of the vendor of my own gift], can you verify the charge at [screamingly obvious place where I purchased gift]?"

We were both quiet for a second until I thanked the fine Fraud Protection Specialist for ruining Christmas.

Most of our friends suggest Amex, because for the membership price (should you wish their add'l services), the service is supposed to be way better. It's even reported they don't treat customers like morons or like we're the persistent problem with their business.

Kiss us goodbye, Chase Visa, you low-rent, tone-deaf, killjoy, picayune, idiot army of Scrooge-y Douchebaggingtons.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Snootful of the Overdue and Bookish

I'm taking a vacation from my hiatus, and have, at long last, posted a new review at Mystery Book Spot. As I put it in a post to the multi-Book-Spot pals, I've just grabbed my machete and lopped off a couple of tentacles grabbing my time, so I can be more attentive to my reading, writing, and reviewing. Sometimes, things have long since become a no-fun, no-point, buzz-kill before I think to dump them. But now that I have, my innards feel all floaty and sweet.

My reviewing reprise is Julia Pomeroy's very good debut novel, The Dark End of Town. It was released in hardcover early in 2006, and I have finally written it up a woeful number of months after receiving it this summer from the author her-darned-self. However, the trade paperback is due out in March, 2007, so you will have plenty of opportunity to get your fisties around a copy.

Besides being a delightful dinner companion (I note this, should you happen to find yourself her table neighbor as I did), Julia Pomeroy's got history in Japan, Libya, Somalia, and Italy. After landing in America, she worked as a screen actor, translator, and restauranteur in upstate New York. She doesn't volunteer all this immediately via personal data dump (as I certainly would if I'd ever been interesting), but actually converses, so we'll reference the web for bonus material about her pet baboon.

Here's her interview with Illinois' own Rick the Librarian.
Here's another from the wonderful Julia Buckley's site, Mysterious Musings.

In other news bookish:
2) Douglas Dutton's suggestions for holiday bookgiving.

3) Should novelists be allowed near the screenplay adaptations of their work? The horribly Hollywoody saga of Clive Cussler's Sahara. If I could've been paid like one of those screenwriters without the burden of having my name permanently attached... Oh, boy. For the record, as action-adventure yarns go, I didn't think this popcorn-cruncher was so tragic on film.

4) Radar Reviews Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World's Most Colorful Despots.
Feast your eyes on details of the idiosycratic strongmen's tales of alien abduction and astrology, not to mention their hunger for teens and cadres of virginal bodyguards, armed and chaste and eager to die for their wackos-in-chief.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Blogging, Again?

This image is uncredited and unrelated to anything. I just liked thinking the greyhound track's pace bunny and this knackered squirrel might be commiserating over a break. You can almost sense the ciggie butt dangling just out of view from the squirrel's left paw.

I know. You'll soon be overwhelmed with the frequency. Because 3 of my occasional readers have scored new computers, I'm going to post a threesome of video links in honor of their enhanced media functionality.

1) This 8-plus minute performance by Jerome Murat is surely the Stairway to Heaven of modern-artsy French pantomime.

2) Richard Simmons's ubiquitous tank top and shorts were borderline ick decades ago. However, now that he's 103, I must give him props not only for his tone but his cool head when confronted with exploding appliances.

3) Via April: Dolphins "see" underwater and bats at night by sonar, analyzing the bouncing of sound around them to detect objects and obstacles. A boy whose eyes were removed due to cancer when he was a toddler has developed human echolocation. This blind teenager streetskates, plays foosball, accurately whips pillows at his friends, and even plays video games against his little brother. See his amazing skillz yourself. (Also explore the Human Marvels site for info on the furred Sacred Family of Burma and a man who smokes through his eyes.)

4) If you have a dusty old blog you're not using anymore, proud Euronihilist Tim Worstall wants it.

5) It's a special kind of low-rent spunkload who fakes retardation for 20 years to steal the gov't checks.

6) Although others are reporting this, too, I found the story my own darn self, and will credit no one- hear me? Many bathrooms have candles to help dissipate certain antisocial happenings. However, on a plane, even those with embarassing personal conditions can't go striking matches willy-nilly. Might I suggest activated-charcoal-lined undies and a less-than-3-ounce bottle of Febreze?

7) Even a finger sandwich's worth of John Waters provides several quotable and tasty morsels.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Digging on the Nice

It's been sooo long, I know. All is well and active, and I'll assume you've been too busy to notice the lapse on my part.

Today is the birthday of Ranier Maria Rilke (1875-1926), a German poet I first read in college and whose work figures prominently in the manuscript I HAVE AN AGENT to represent!

In honor of all nice things, because I'm generally feeling nice-ish these days, here is the list of Baskin-Robbins original 31 Flavors and this awesome picture of a unicorn.

Banana Nut Fudge, Black Walnut, Burgundy Cherry, Butter Pecan, Butterscotch Ribbon, Chocolate, Chocolate Almond, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Fudge, Chocolate Ribbon, Coffee, Coffee Candy, Date Nut, Egg Nog, French Vanilla, Green Mint, Lemon Crisp, Lemon Custard, Lemon Sherbet, Maple Walnut, Orange Sherbet, Peach, Peppermint Fudge, Peppermint Stick, Pineap ple Sherbet, Pistachio Nut, Raspberry Sherbet, Rocky Road, Strawberry, Vanilla, and Vanilla Burnt Almond.