Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pirates in Switzerland

As I went walking through the town of Aarau, my surrogate home in Switzerland, the other day, I happened to notice my Pirate School book displayed in the window. It was the newest Die Piratenschule book, a translation of Book #4: Port of Spies. Needless to say, it was pretty exciting to see. There's nothing quite like seeing your book displayed in the window...especially in a foreign country and in a foreign language. 

Inside, the books were on the center table in the children's section. They had several copies of the new title along with a full set of the first three. I suppose this means the books are doing pretty well in the German market. Probably because of all the swearing that was translated into them (see my previous post on the subject). 

I purchased a copy for myself, incognito. I'm happy to report, it came with a Piratenschule bookmark, which pretty much rocks. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Never Trust a Writer

Yet I honestly think that in her absence, and over time, she became powerfully present to him. Perhaps this is simply the way it is with writers. It is when they don't see you that you matter. Because then you can belong to them in a way that permits them complete possession. You are determined by them. You are controlled. You are, generally speaking, exaggerated.

Alice Walker

Unfortunately, I find this often to be true.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Here I Am Now, Entertain Me...

My award for the most entertaining piece of entertainment for the year doesn't go to an album, a book, or a movie...but to a video game. Keeping in mind, that I am in the prime demographic for video games, I still couldn't believe how amazingly entertaining Fallout 3 was. It had everything that a game should in my opinion. The story was incredibly well thought-out. The characters were developed (even some of the minor character like Mr. Tenpenny and of course the kids in Little Lamplight). The world was detailed and expansive and free-range. You could play the game or just wander and either way was a treat. Add in the fact that was post-apocalypse and that was it...two months of my life were lost playing this game.

One of the most intriguing features of the game was how varied you could make your character by choosing and adjusting which components you valued (strength, intelligence, etc). A very D&D approach that works well. But what was more amazing was how these choices and how your actions affected the game and storyline. As the character, you were allowed to chose between right and wrong and those decisions had consequences. 

There was also no stone left unturned in how they thought out this post-apocalyptic world. Given that it was made for adults, they didn't hold back anything, including a side missions that gave you the choice whether or not to sell kids into slavery. I've seen how some are horrified this was included in the game, but again, this game is legally only sold to adults (If you buy this for your children, you might want to rethink your parenting). 

Sidenote: I did appreciate and applaud the fact that children in the game were immune for weapons and could not die. 

So, why have this element in the game? Easy. It adds to the storytelling and the completion of this pretty brutal landscape. 

I honestly see games like this as the future of the novel in many ways. The story is all written and created, but YOU, the reader are able to interact with the story. The main character is you and you can fill out the novel however you wish. This is the first step to the Star Trek holodeck...which any Voyager fan will remember, had celebrated holo-novelists. Book people might not want to hear this, but it's evolution. I don't think it replaces books, because nothing can replace the cerebral bliss of imaging a story or the pure poetry of prose....but this kind of storytelling can also be good writing in the same way I'd say movies like "Memento" or "City of Lost Children" are amazing writing. 

So congrats Fallout are my Entertainer of the Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Music Roundup

So I lied...I'm doing one more of these before my year end list. Mostly because I don't have the time or energy to do the year end list it's full justice today (though it's ready to go, just deciding on 50 or 25.) Plus, I've been listening to a ton of music in the past two weeks and wanted give some recognition to the more interesting listens. But I've decided not to include anything on here that will likely be on the year's best lists...which means most of this is old. But oldies are goodies, don't you know.

Dinah Washington - Wise Woman Blues: I found this collection at the local vinyl shop and was curious. I know mostly Dinah in her prime, and wanted to hear some 'rare and early' as the cover promised. This was really good fusion of an amazing voice backed by big band jazz. I love that that kind of stuff. 

Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass - Whipped Cream and Other Delights: I don't if I was just in the mood for this kind of easy listening pop jazz or what, but I put this vinyl on one evening and was feeling it. In a more sober mood, who knows?

Admiral James T. - I Did It Your Way!: This missus really dug on this about a year ago and I heard it in passing and liked it, but until we got our hardrive in order, I'd forgotten to nab this one to enjoy it properly. Swiss garage rock that swings. Reminds me of early Makers. Really good album if you're into the revival. 

Alasdair Roberts - The Wyrd Meme: This ep doesn't stray at all from the style of Alasdair's full length Spoils from earlier this year. Scottish folk songs like fairy tales for music loving adults. Equally as good as Spoils. After a few dull albums, Alasdair is back on track.

The Marty Gold Children's Chorus - Songs from How the Grinch Stole Christmas: I still have my vinyl of this from when I was a very little kid. I pulled it out the other day, given the season. Scratched all the way through, but still plays nicely. "Welcome Christmas" is the only Christmas song I truly love as a song and this version of "You're a Mean One" is also great.

Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise: One of the most celebrated albums of 2005, I had heard this in 2005 and liked it a lot. A friend actually burned me a copy of it on a snowy day in 2005, but when I got it home to put it on, it didn't play. My disappointment kept from pursuing it again until recently. Really outstanding singer/songwriter album in the style of a mellow Andrew Bird. 

Material - Intonarumori: Experimental hip-hop ala 1999, I got this mainly for the only officially released track by Nature Boy Jim Kelly track (which is pure dopeness). But the album was much more than just that. It's reminds me a lot of the kind of trip-hop Mowax label was putting out in late 90's. Really otherwordly ambient beats with fresh rhyme on top. Very decent album. 

Country Joe & the Fish - Together: My Country Joe vinyl collection is getting pretty good, with this, I now have the first 3 albums on vinyl. Together is another amazing record that sees the band moving a little past the San Fran psychedelic sound into something like angry acid rock. There's some moments on the second side of the record that move into early punk...and we're talking '68. Amazing.

Alice Cooper - Billion Dollar Babies: Followers will recognize my early Cooper obsession of late, this being the third of his albums to be on here in the last few months. But this might be my favorite so far. It moves through so many different styles to create a complete heavy glam masterpiece. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Cats

This is hereby an announcement from my cat. From now on, he wishes to be referred to by his full name. 

Mr. Mowgli Rockefeller BoJangles

He's a bit of a dandy and doesn't wish the world to ignore his fanciness. Hence, he's also taken to wearing a top hat and monocle.  As for the Mitzie, she still has hopes of one day becoming a pirate. 

Friday, December 18, 2009


Just a little update on the new's moving along rather nicely at the moment. I just passed the crucial half-way scene and I can't believe how well it came out. The mysteries of the first third of the book are answered, a bombshell is dropped, and the reader's relationship with the character swings...all in ten pages. That's what a middle scene is supposed to do in my opinion.

Here's to hoping it continues to move along at a nice clip and that a brief holiday break doesn't kill my momentum. But I don't anticipate that happening. Me and my main character are pretty well united at this point. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Decade's Best On Screen

The book list was easy for me as I still read mostly things published in long gone days, but the movie list and music lists are much harder due to the sheer volume of amazingness to process. This is by no means a complete or ordered list, but these are certainly most of my favorite movies of the least, of the ones I gave 5 stars to on netflix...I'm sure if I spent more time, there would be a 4 star or two that belong here, but alas I have deadlines.

French arthouse film that is an entire metaphor of childhood and it's eventual end. But an extremely clever one and visually striking. 

Inland Empire-
This makes the list because it is hands down the best example I've ever seen of someone able to film what a dream feels like. It unfolds in dream logic. Looks like a dream. Truly an accomplishment.

The Assassination of Jesse James-
A rare biopic that manages to portray the many complicated sides of one of history's more interesting characters....and I'm not just saying that because me and Jesse are kin (which we are). Beyond the historical, it's just a great portrait of someone suffering from manic depression.

The Science of Sleep-
Gondry's best in my opinion. This movie is so full of visual imagination and creativity. In reality, it's a simple story. To me, it's a movie for adults made with a children's book sensibility.

The Proposition-
Written by Nick Cave, this Australian western is brutal and intense. A story of revenge, greed, and unchecked human nature. Powerful.

Hitler's last days in the bunkers below Berlin (as remembered in the memoir of his secretary). An amazing glimpse into the world of a man, who was on the verge of having everything he schemed for, coming undone by the fact that it has all fallen apart around him. Riveting. Sad. Horrifying. Unforgettable. 

The Life Aquatic-
A lot of people hate this movie...they are weird. It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not...just a fun, quirky modern Moby Dick. I'd fly Kentucky Air anytime.

Dark Water (Japan)-
The pinnacle of Japanese horror in my opinion. I've written about this movie on my blog before, it's use of slow-motion horror...of lingering shots to make the viewer uncomfortable is amazing. There aren't any shocks or fast cuts. It's just unsettling. And it works because the story is heartfelt and sad at it's core.

Many will disagree with me on this one, they saw it's slow, boring, and exploitive. I couldn't disagree more. The multiple angles of the same scene from different perspectives is fascinating. The characters are enthralling. And the message is eye-opening. This movie transports you into this school. You are a student with everyone else. In that way, it reminds me of my own books.

Lost in Translation-
A metaphor for how we are all lost in the world, in love, and even to ourselves. Wonderfully acted. Not too heavy-handed. The way a film should be made so sit back and's Santori Time.

28 Days Later-
Chilling. The only horror movie of the decade that scared the crap out of me so badly that I had to take a break from watching it. Alex Garland is one of my favorite writers. Danny Boyle is a great director. The combination adds up to a smart horror movie that transcends the genre.

Spirited Away-
My favorite anime director's finest movie (well, it's a close race with Totoro). The kind of imagination in this film is jaw dropping and envious from a writer's point of view. The main character is, in my opinion, the most realized animated character ever put on screen. Absolute brilliance. 

Though still no City of Lost Children, it's easily the closet Jean-Pierre Jeunet has come to making a film as good. He fills his movies with an incredible amount of imagination and thought-out little details that always come together in this amazing bigger story that it's impossible not to get swept away and enjoy his movies.

The Royal Tenenbaums-
Wes Anderson's modern family fairy tale is so original (though with so many imitations since, it easy to lose sight of how great this movie is). The family dysfunction is at absurd levels, but there's always a charm to it and always a laugh. 

The most intelligent and original writing I've encountered. This is how Robbe-Grillet would make a movie. Brilliant. I can't even imagine how one could go about conceiving of this story.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy-
I'm counting these as one movie, and though they lose their luster a little each time I catch part of one on TNT, it's still an achievement that needs recognized and I was blown away in the theater.

Monsters, Inc.-
Forget the Finding Nemo hubbub, this is the best Pixar movie ever made. The scope of its imagination is unparalleled. Plus, Boo is one of the funniest understated characters ever put on film. 

O Brother, Where Art Thou?-
One of the most quotable comedies ever. I've seen it a million times and still crack up. "I want Dapper Dan. I'm a Dapper Dan man goddammit!"

Dancer in the Dark - 
One of the saddest, most emotionally draining movies you'll ever watch. But beautiful too in it's exploration of love and sacrifice. (I watched this hours before writing the last 30 pages to my book Tomorrow, Maybe).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Are You Talking to Me?

For the last two days I've been writing a chapter which is primarily dialogue between two characters. I always find it interesting to write these scenes because in actuality, I am having a conversation with myself. 

As readers, we unconsciously forget that it is essentially the same person talking throughout. That's a credit to the craft, I suppose. Still, it's funny to be writing a conversation between two mentally unnerved characters...they're mentally unnerved? I'm the one having a conversation with myself. 

The most amazing example of this for me is Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before. The entire massive book is a philosophical discussion between two characters. The fact the he was able to argue both points of view so thoroughly and convincingly is astounding. At least with mine, I have the luxury of having two characters who agree.

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Tis the Season

I don't know what it is about winter and the holiday season that always makes me wish the world would suddenly turn into a cartoon. Imagine what a great place it would be if there were a catbus roaming the countryside or if we could be hit over the head with an anvil and see blue birds circling our heads. Good times, that's what it would be.

I realize I will probably never get my wish. So instead, I would simply like my own pet cartoon. One that would follow me around much like the daemons in The Golden Compass.  My cats try their best and satisfy this urge to some extent, but alas they can't fly no matter how many times they've promised me they would grow wings. 

So, if anyone out there is looking to make this perpetual kid happy with a gift...send a cartoon character my way....preferably one with the hilarity of Daffy and comic timing of Pebbles and the charm of Totoro.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Season's Readings

I've been pondering the end of the decade for the past week, which was really the first time it dawned on my that the 0's were ending. Of course, like everyone else, I've been mentally putting together my best-of lists. I think it's a basic human need to rank and categorize everything. It just helps to sort us out in our own minds, which is important as we often identify ourselves but what we like and what we don't like. 

In that spirit, here is my list of my favorite books of the decade. I figured I'd start with books as it's a subject on which I have a little bit of credibility. 

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy-

Hands down, I think this is the best written book of the decade. Reading it, you can't help but feel the overpowering sense of sadness the permeates every page. It's a sadness not only for the father and son, but for all of humanity.

In my opinion, the brilliance of this book stems from the fact that as the reader, you are forced to feel all the things the main character refuses to let himself feel because he must concentrate on surviving. He can't allow himself to feel the sorrow around him or to feel sorrowful for the boy...the reader, safe in the world, can't help but feel those things as we become a surrogate for all the suffering. 
One of those rare books that will never leave you.

REPETITION by Alain Robbe-Grillet -

The only book my favorite author of all time wrote this decade (his only in many many years) is one of his best. Set in a isolated section of post-war, lawless Berlin that resembles a Burrough's Interzone, this book touches on many of Robbe-Grillet's favorite themes of looped nightmares, illicit behaviors, and circular mystery. Certainly not for everybody.

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES by T. DiTerlizzi and H. Black -

Certainly this was the decade of fantasy in Children's Lit, but unlike most, I wasn't so terribly impressed with a certain boy wizard. For me, the real prize was this series about two brothers and a sister discovering a more set of foes in an ever expanding world right in their own backyard. Both the fantasy elements and real life elements are spot on. All five books are the definition of a page-turner. 

RISING UP AND RISING DOWN by William T. Vollmann-

One of our nation's unsung literary treasures is William T. Vollmann. Due to the length of many of his works, he is still widely unread. It's a shame too. Not only is he an incredibly important fiction writer, he's also one of the most in-depth writers of non-fiction. This book is a condensed 4,000 page abridgement of an original 7 volume work which chronicles the nature of violence through human history. Incredibly gripping and informative and should probably be taught in high schools in lieu of studying individual wars.

POPULAR MUSIC by Mikael Niemi-

A fantastic coming of age story about a boy growing up in Norway in his small village. At times hilarious, always moving, this is one of the best coming-of-age stories I've ever read....being that the theme is my specialty, this is one where I really know what I'm talking about.

GLUE by Irvine Welsh-

Though most of Irvine's best work was done in the '90s, he still continued to give me a lot of good reads this decade. This is the best of his '00s output. Like a more refined and ambitious Trainspotting, Glue follows a group of friends from childhood to adulthood, examining all the different paths life can take. Though they end up in vastly different places, they are always tied together by these shared experiences. Anybody who grew up as part of a close knit group of friends will identify with this book. 

LENORE - Roman Dirge

Lenore is the original cute little dead girl which has been copied and marketed to no end in the Hot Topic's of the world. But that exposure of imitators doesn't diminish the originality and humor of the Lenore books. Lenore is one of those characters whose unique spirit just grabs hold of you and keeps you laughing along the way. She's like a twisted female Calvin...but like, dead. Great comic with great art and great stories with lots of imagination.

OLIVIA by Ian Falconer -

If you would have told me this would end up being my favorite picture book of the decade the first time I saw it, I would have said you were crazy. Sure, I liked it, but didn't love it. Over the years though, I've really grown to love it. The more time I spend with this book, the more amazed I am at how, in so few words, Oliva can feel so alive.

JUNIE B. JONES is a Graduation Girl by  B. Park -

This, my favorite children's book series of all time, began in the '90s but continued with many strong titles this decade. The Graduation one is by far my favorite of this decade. It's the book where America's favorite kindergartner is about to move on to 1st grade (Personally, once the Junie B. First Grader books started, I thought the books slipped). The funniest thing ever written can be found in this book when Junie helps with her class graduation poem:
"Roses are Red, 
Violets are Blue,
Graduation is Here,
And Your Feet Smell Like Stink!"

ICY SPARKS by Gwyn Hyman Rubio -

This is another coming of age book, but with a twist because young Icy has tourettes. This is the kind of examination of some misunderstood child that became extremely popular in the decade, but rarely has it been captured with such genuine feeling as it is in this book. It's not coddling or sappy, it's raw and moving. Icy is one of those characters you want to befriend. You feel yourself wanting to shout and scream at the other characters to leave her alone. A truly remarkable book about a truly unforgettable character. 

SARAH by J. T. LeRoy -
Forget the controversy over who wrote what and the way the industry was hoodwinked...who cares? None of that prevents this from being one of the best books of the decade, and one of my personal favorite books of all time. I read this when it first came out, back in 2000, and it's definitely one of a handful of books that really influenced my wanting to write YA* (not that this is YA by any stretch, but it's about a young teen character). The writing is pitch perfect and the story is a perfect blend of surrealist realism. Add in its emotional impact and it's certainly deserving of all the hype it received.

Last, but not least, THE LOOKING GLASS WARS by Frank Beddor...see my review of each of the three books here:

* for those curious, the other titles are Smack by Melvin Burgess, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This Much by J. Woodson, I Am the Cheese by R. Cormier