Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review - what I read

Now playing on the iPod - "Bad" (Wide Awake in America version) - U2

It's New Year's Eve, and as usual I've nothing to do. So it's time for the Year in Review for What I Read!

Many tales of dysfunctionality in this year's list, for some reason. But some fun reads and some great discoveries as well.

The Gathering – Anne Enright †
Brown’s Requiem – James Ellroy
Finn – Jon Clinch
Abide With Me – Elizabeth Strout †
Till We Have Faces – C. S. Lewis *
Just After Sunset – Stephen King
How Not to Write a Novel – Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
Stardust – Neil Gaiman
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Reflections in a Golden Eye – Carson McCullers
Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett
The Terror – Dan Simmons *
A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin *
Child of God – Cormac McCarthy
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
The Code of the Woosters – P. G. Wodehouse
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
The Dramatist – Ken Bruen †
Leave Her to Heaven – Ben Ames Williams †
Gladiatrix – Russell Whitfield
The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
Mistress of the Sun – Sandra Gulland
Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West – Cormac McCarthy *
Welcome to the Monkey House – Kurt Vonnegut
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon – Gideon Defoe
Garlic and Sapphires – Ruth Reichl
After Dark, My Sweet – Jim Thompson
My Sister, My Love – Joyce Carol Oates
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout *
World War Z – Max Brooks
The Accidental Tourist – Anne Tyler *
Something Borrowed – Emily Giffin †
Jake’s Wake – John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow
My Sweet Audrina – V. C. Andrews
Katherine – Anya Seton
The Quick Red Fox – John D. MacDonald
Spider Kiss – Harlan Ellison
Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding *
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing – Melissa Banks †
The Summer of Cotton Candy – Debbie Vigue
Vanilla Bright Like Eminem – Michel Faber
Real World – Natsuo Kirino
The Big Red One – Sam Fuller
Crippen – John Boyne †
The Werewolf’s Guide to Life
A Stolen Tongue – Sheri Holman †
The Autobiography of Henry VIII – Margaret George *
The Great Stink – Clare Clark *
Cavedweller – Dorothy Allison *
Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell
Under the Dome – Stephen King
American Tabloid – James Ellroy
Heir to the Glimmering World – Cynthia Ozick †
Last Night at the Lobster – Stewart O’Nan
The Dark Queen – Susan Carroll

† = unfinished
* = re-reads

That's 58 books total. I'm hoping to have bigger numbers next year, as I'm taking a six-month hiatus off any new fiction projects (not sure if that'll really help the reading seeing as how I have one manuscript to get agent-ready and one to revise and do a publication, not to mention my usual reviewing duties).

Anyway, of those 58 here are the top ten best (re-reads don't count) in alphabetical order:

American Tabloid - Political noir as only James Ellroy can tell it.

The Big Red One - Will never will prizes for its prose but is a harsh, funny, and captivating portrayal of war by someone who lived through it.

Catch-22 - Dances the fine line between comedy and tragedy.

Child of God - Not on a par with The Road or Blood Meridian, but a haunting portrait of a person who's an outsider in so many ways.

Finn - A fascinating and often frightening take on Huckleberry Finn's father.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - I was put off by the twee-sounding title, but it was one of the most enjoyable books this year, and I'm still thinking about many of the characters.

My Sister, My Love - Joyce Carol Oates' haunting and satiric spin on the JonBenet Ramsey case.

Spider Kiss - Harlan Ellison's only published novel puts his knack for description and his savage wit to work on the world of rock music.

Under the Dome - The King is back. 'Nuff said.

World War Z - Max Brooks' take on the aftermath of a zombie plague was unputdownable.

Honorable mention: The Pirates! In an Adventure With Napoleon - So good to see the Pirate Captain and his crew again.

Looking forward to another year of reading!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Daybreakers

My review of the surprisingly good vampire movie Daybreakers is up at Horrorview.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hot chicks reading books

Courtesy of the Like Fire blog, this post (with pictures!) of hot chicks reading books. Oil paintings, if you please, so it's Art.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

Now that was one dandy Christmas.

Fairly low key - only two guests, my buddies Erik and Gerry, but it was kind of nice not to be completely exhausted by the time the day was done.

Made a great feast consisting of: New York strip loin roast with garlic herb crust, creamed corn, potatoes savoyarde, Yorkshire pudding with sage and bacon, Vichy carrots, and for dessert, poached pears flambe. Yes, we had flaming dessert and no one's hair caught on fire, nor did the tablecloth, etc. Yum. Eating will continue with waffles tomorrow (thanks to the pancake/waffle batter mix Mom and Dad sent and the waffle iron my sister sent). Also need to eat more of that yummy cheese that came with the pancake/syrup box set from Mom and Dad. I am full as a tick.

In other present news: Got the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set from Scott, and the new Joseph Wambaugh book, Hollywood Moon, from Erik and Gerry. My brother-in-law sent four books by Walter Moers: Rumo and his Miraculous Adventures, The City of Dreaming Books (love that title!), The Alchemaster's Apprentice, and The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear. They all look promising.

Must go and eat more tidy up from the day's festivities. It was a good day, most of all because I am blessed to have such wonderful family and friends.

Merry Christmas and God bless us every one!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dear Santa

Dear Santa:

I have just watched Inglourious Basterds again and I am happy to say it holds up on a second viewing. (I originally feared it might not, but watching it a second time is a much more pleasurable experience because I'm not in physical agony from the suspense, like I was on the first viewing.)

Anyway, I have decided what I want for Christmas: I want the Hugo Stiglitz treatment. I want to be SO bad-ass that at random intervals in my everyday life I get a title card in a funky 1970s blaxploitation movie font, complete with guitar riff and Samuel L. Jackson narrating about what an awesome bad-ass I am.

I have been very good this year. I know this is a tall order for the elves but I have faith in you.

Thanks! Give my love to Mrs. Claus!


Now that's what I call writing: Charles Dickens

Now playing on the iPod: "Waltz of the Snowflakes" from The Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky

It isn't Christmas until I read this segment from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which bright, gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there, and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch there sat a jolly giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge as he came peeping round the door.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit. "Look upon me!"

Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple, deep-green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare, and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark-brown curls were long and free, free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanor, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard, but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.

Zut alors, how I love that passage. (The detail of the empty, rusty scabbard nags at me - clearly it has some significance, but what?)

Speaking of A Christmas Carol, I finally saw The Muppet Christmas Carol today and it's a joy to watch. Not only is it remarkably faithful to Dickens' text, but has some great humor ("Storytellers are omniscient; I know everything!" "Hoity-toity, Mr. God-like smartypants!"), and a fantastic performance by Michael Caine as Scrooge (all the more noteworthy because for the most part he was acting opposite some talking puppets). Go forth and watch it as soon as you can.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Writing craft: Misconceptions

Now playing on Internet radio - "Come in Number 51, Your Time is Up" - Pink Floyd

Over at the forums on, there's a discussion titled "Mistaken notions people have about your job". And while writing isn't my job per se (meaning, it doesn't pay the bills), there are a few misconceptions about it that I've run into over the years, and since I'm slightly crabby and have nothing else to do while I wait for the brownies I baked for tomorrow's work potluck to cool down, here goes.

Misconception #1: You can't write about something you haven't experienced.

Actually: If that were the case, I wouldn't write at all. Frankly, my life wouldn't make a good story, and considering that fiction derives from conflict, which in turn derives from bad things happening, it's probably just as well. I have used some elements and experiences from my life in my fiction, but the most fun in writing comes from imagining what it's like to be in a situation unlike any I've been in, and how that person (not I) would act in that situation. Which leads to...

Misconception #2: All characters are just the writer in disguise.

Actually: Many writers do write about themselves, and as long as that works for them, more power to them. I do put some elements of my life and personality into my characters (i.e., journalism training, tendencies to be somewhat insecure). But those are condiments rather than the whole meal. I once read an interview with an actor in which he said that he approached roles by wondering, "I wonder what it's like to be this character." That's much like the approach I take - how is a given character I've created going to react to a particular situation? How will character A's reaction differ from character B's? How can I keep the reader interested in these people, even when their actions and reactions aren't always admirable? Which segues nicely into...

Misconception #3: The writer heartily approves of every thought, word, and deed his characters have.

Actually: Boy, where to begin? I once read a strange Internet post (no really) by a fellow who said a well-known thriller/horror writer was no better than a murderer. Because (so went the rationale) the writer had to imagine the thoughts and actions a murderous character had, and that meant the writer was just a baby step away from being a murderer himself. Uh, OK. Leaving aside the fact that this fellow had a shaky grasp on the distinction between thought and deed, let alone fantasy and reality, consider this. If every character had to mirror the writer's exact personality, every book would have not a set of characters but a bunch of identical people - and how boring would that be?

This fellow's post was an extreme example of what I've become all too aware of - that a depressingly large number of people don't have an imaginative life at all. They have trouble comprehending any thoughts or worldviews that don't mirror their own, and therefore can't fathom how a writer can create the thoughts and actions of a character who may be completely unlike the writer. Which is a shame - the most fun I've had in writing was with the characters who were least like me, and in a few cases these characters were utterly loathsome people. It was like putting on a Halloween costume - for however long it takes to write a particular chapter, I got to put on a disguise as Character X, and see the world through that person's eyes. And when I was done, off came the disguise and I was back to the regular me.

Villains and other loathsome sorts aside, every character needs flaws. Even fun, fine, upstanding people can have (and should have) flaws that make them recognizable as human beings. Otherwise they're cardboard (or worse, they're a Mary Sue). Nobody is perfect, and none of one's characters should be. Even wonderful, often admirable people have flaws - insecurity, inability to let go of the past, pettiness, mistrust, or even being too nice and accommodating (and becoming an Emotional Vending Machine).

Characters don't always have to be nice, but they do have to be interesting - not just to the reader, but to the author as well (because if the people who created these characters doesn't give a tinker's damn about them, no one else will either).

And lastly, here's....

Misconception #4: All you need to write a book is a good idea.

Actually: While an idea (preferably a good one) is the starting point for a book, there's much more that's needed. An idea is usually based on a situation, and a situation is not the same as a story. A situation is an event. The story lies in what takes place before, during, and after that event; in the people who are cause and/or are affected by the event; where all this happens, and when. And so much more. If that sounds like a lot of hard work, it is. But if the notion appeals - if you want to shape that story and build that world - go for it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Literary gear

Literary-themed T-shirts? And a percentage of the profits go toward fighting illiteracy? I think I love you, KafkaCotton, and you even have a cool name.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: Under the Dome

Now playing on the iPod - "Marshmallow World" - Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra

My review of Stephen King's latest, Under the Dome, is up at Horrorview. Great book.

Haul out the holly

Now playing on the iPod - "O Tannenbaum" - Vince Guaraldi Trio

As you may have noticed from my recent "what's playing" notes, it's officially holiday time at Casa del Cozy. Thanksgiving to Epiphany/Twelfth Night is my favorite time of year, and I refuse to apologize for this. Yes, the stores put out their decorations and wares too early. Yes, the season brings us abominations like "The Christmas Shoes" and family fare like The [insert name of cute animal] Who Saved Christmas.

But it's a special season for me, and I'm not exactly sure why. Probably not a good idea to examine it all too closely, but it may have its roots in Christmas Eves at my Grandma's house. I can still see the decorations she put up every year, smell the lasagna she'd make, recall that drowsy ride home and how I'd keep an eye out for Rudolph leading the team through the sky. I always try to re-create that feeling as much as I can, and share it with others as well. My fondness for the season even creeps into my fiction: a good barometer of how characters are faring is how they spend Christmas.

Anyway, for those who care here are my traditions and rules for proper holiday enjoyment.

Music: Christmas music should be played only from Thanksgiving through Epiphany (though I do allow myself a fix in mid-summer, about the time I'm utterly sick of the heat). I don't like "all Christmas all the time" stations as they're too reliant on screechy divas rending "O Holy Night" asunder, novelty songs that were tiresome the first time around, and the aforementioned "Christmas Shoes". I'm fairly traditional in my holiday music. It's hard to go wrong with Christmas with the Rat Pack, A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, and the Mediaeval Baebes' Mistletoe and Wine. Collections I like include Most Fabulous Christmas Album Ever, Croon and Swoon, and Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker.

Movies: Again, I'm pretty traditional. It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are as good as they ever were. As Christmas Carols go, I'm partial to the one with George C. Scott (aided and abetted by David Warner, Angela Pleasance, the late Edward Woodward, and Roger Rees). I'm too young for the exact flavor of nostalgia found in A Christmas Story, but it has more resonance for me now that I have a young son. And if one needs a bitter chaser to the holiday sweetness, one could do worse than to watch The Ref, in which catburglar Denis Leary spends Christmas Eve taking hostage a bickering couple, played to utter perfection by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey.

TV: Video is a boon to me - I haven't had cable in years and ironically enough live too close to Mount Wilson to get broadcast reception (which is why I have to watch Castle on But thanks to DVD I can watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated if you please, not the Ron Howard abomination), A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and let's not forget the delightfully wackadoo Year Without a Santa Claus (the one with the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser).

Books: As if you need to ask. I always re-read A Christmas Carol although by now I've read it so many times I have it nearly memorized. Less familiar but just as enjoyable are Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales and Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory.

If all this can't get you in the mood for Christmas, then come on over to my house for the holiday dinner. I'll have the front room all decorated, candy galore, and a feast including roast beast!

Now if you'll pardon me, I'm off to wrap some presents!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Kelly's big score

Now playing on the iPod - "Winter Wonderland" - Darlene Love

Made our annual jaunt to Solvang and I made out like a bandit at the town's two bookstores (The Book Loft and Valley Books). I came home with:

Cormac McCarthy - Cities of the Plain and Suttree

Peter Matthiessen - At Play in the Fields of the Lord

Ray Bradbury - Now and Forever

Kathleen Kent - The Heretic's Daughter

Sandra Gulland - The Last Great Dance on Earth

John Irving - The Cider House Rules

Susan Carroll - The Dark Queen

And Young Master Cozy got a Magic Treehouse book, a pile of coloring books, and the new Skippyjon Jones book. We were both pleased with our hauls.

So now the to-be-read shelves are overflowing again. Oh well.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Review: Beat the Reaper

Now playing on the iPod - "Mistletoe and Holly" - Frank Sinatra

My review of Josh Bazell's debut novel Beat the Reaper is up at Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What I've just read: American Tabloid

It's too soon to tabulate the year's best reads (hey, still a few weeks left!), but James Ellroy's American Tabloid will be on that list.

Thanks to my good buddy and fellow writer A. J. for sending me a copy (so I didn't have to read the one Mr. Ellroy signed at this year's Festival of Books and risk getting it damaged somehow).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tummy too full... mind is going...

Can you blame me for overindulging when I cooked such a gorgeous bird (if I do say so myself)?

Thanks to my friend Karen for snapping this photo of the bird before it was carved and devoured.

We also had the usual trimmings: cornbread dressing, mashed spuds, gravy, green beans with shallots and almonds, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, two kinds of pie (apple and pumpkin) and rhubarb crumble (thanks again to Karen!). It was all so good. I might be hungry again in time for the Christmas feast!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Writing craft: I'm so glad we had this time together

Warning: Post contains metaphysical blather.

A friend once asked me if I felt sad whenever I finished writing a book.

I don't feel sad, though there's a certain bittersweet feeling. If I got the ending right, my emotions are similar to those you have when hearing the last note of a piece of music, or the final scene of a movie. It has to end, and no matter how enjoyable the journey has been (even though you may think "I don't want this to end"), the ending, if done well, makes you think, "Yes, this is how it's supposed to be." A feeling of completion.

The bittersweet comes in when I think about the characters. By the time I near the end of a book I've spent hours thinking about these people, and being in their heads. I know them better than I know many real-life people, including tons of details that don't make it into the actual book. And although they are my creations, by the end I see them almost as guests in my mind.

In the acknowledgments for The Color Purple, Alice Walker thanks all the characters for coming to the story. I didn't understand this sentiment before I started writing but now I do. Now I wish there were a way to throw a wrap party and say thank you to all the characters who made telling the story so much fun.

Because characters are what it's all about. You can have a dizzying, glorious prose style or a pulse-quickening plot but if the characters are cliches or ciphers, there's going to be a hollowness at the core of your story. "What's going to happen to these people?" - that's the question that often drives me when I read a story. And not just the heroes, but the villains as well. A fine example was Stephen King's Under the Dome: I could not wait to find out if one particular rat bastard was going to get his much-deserved comeuppance.

For me, one of the hallmarks of a great novel is how much I think about the characters afterward. Even though I know they're not real, I wonder what happened to them, did things work out OK, and so on. But I know I can't have that. All I can do is thank the writers who came up with these people.

As for my own characters - guys, thanks for showing up. I know I put some of you through hell, but I think you'll understand that's what had to happen. (If you're mad, blame the Muse - I've got Melpomene's number here somewhere...) Anyway, thanks for being the guests of honor in my brain. I couldn't do it without you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oooh, it's the evening on Thanksgiving Day and I am stuffed. Just ate a bunch of spaghetti with my eight-hours-in-the-crock-pot sauce and garlic bread too. And I -

No, I'm not bucking tradition. I do a very traditional spread for Thanksgiving (look for pictures posted tomorrow). It's just that I do it the day after Thanksgiving, so that my guests can have the day itself at family gatherings (nice reason), and because it gives me an extra day of prep time (selfish reason).

So while it's pasta tonight at Casa del Cozy, tomorrow will be turkey and all trimmings. As Eli Roth* would say: "White meat. Dark meat. All will be carved."

*Warning: Link is very tasteless and not work safe at all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Draft 1 - complete!

The first draft of my mainstream novel is now complete. Document stats say it took one year and two days. 142,000 words. I am thrilled and tired, and will have more coherent things to say on this later. I will take a break from the food-related festivities of the next few days to talk a bit about finishing the book.

Starting to think I might not ever get paid for writing - no one pays you to have this much fun.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: Laserblast

My review of the lame 1970s science fiction film Laserblast is up at If you must watch it, track down the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oh yes, THIS won't be addicting

Need to explore the entitled, crazy, and stupid side of humanity? Visit Stories of entitled, crazy, and stupid customers. Oh my. Amusement and grist for the fiction mill.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fangirl, interrupted

Bad enough that Ennio Morricone cancelled his concert last month at the Hollywood Bowl, but now the ever-awesome Nathan Fillion has bowed out of this upcoming weekend's Serenity/Firefly con.

Why, guys, why? Is it my breath or something?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: Zabriskie Point

My review of Michelangelo Antonioni's notorious flop Zabriskie Point is up at Horrorview. The review will convey all the awfulness of the movie to you and you won't have to waste two hours like I did. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Darn you, Stephen King!

Now playing on the iPod - "Spread Your Wings" - Queen

Here I am with an evening to myself, supposed to be kicking ass and taking names on my work in progress (only one chapter and an epilogue to go!) and I keep getting distracted from my True Purpose because your book, Under the Dome, is a damn fine read. Very old school. Reminiscent of 'Salem's Lot and Needful Things but more tightly focused. So now I'm going to read a chapter while I have a popcorn break, then get back to my own writing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writing craft: Research and other necessary evils

Now playing on the iPod - "The Boxer" - Simon and Garfunkle

I'm the first to admit that research is my least favorite part of the writing process. I know it's necessary but it feels like an impediment. I want to get to the writing, damn it! I don't have time to worry about every little technical detail.

Well, the bad news is that some research has to be done at some point. And if you're writing, say, historical fiction not only will you have to do a lot of it, but you'll have to love that part of it. (This sums up why I love reading historical fiction but am not going to attempt it any time soon.)

The good news is that there are ways to make research fun for you.

1. The Internet is your friend. The beauty of the Web is that quick answers are readily available. Little details that I've needed - the layout of the Green Bay airport, drink recipes, the symbolic/holistic meaning of gemstones and crystals - are just a few clicks away. The usual caveats apply, of course, but if nothing else it's a good starting point.

2. Have weird friends. My mom once asked me if I had any normal friends, to which I replied, "No." (She said, "That's what I thought.") Well, that's not a bad thing: my circle of friends includes a gunsmith, someone who's worked in both a hospital and a morgue, someone who knows a lot about women's college basketball, an army brat, people who've worked in theater/TV/music, and engineers of various sorts. And thankfully most of them are perfectly comfortable with me asking things like, "What kind of gun would this rogue secret agent carry?" and "How much does a human head weigh?" People love to be asked about things they know about, just make sure you include them in your book's acknowledgements

3. Entertain yourself while you learn. Not all research has to be dry-as-dust. If you write mysteries, thrillers, or any book in which mayhem happens (even mainstream books can have plenty of mayhem), by all means check out Dr. D. P. Lyle's books Forensics & Fiction and Murder & Mayhem, which answer all sorts of questions sent in by readers, from the straightforward to the esoteric ("Do zombie killers leave behind forensic evidence?"). Also of note is the Howdunit series of books from Writer's Digest Books. I've referred to Deadly Doses (poisons), Body Trauma (wounds and injuries), Cause of Death (forensics), and Missing Persons. Some are no longer in print but used copies are readily available on Amazon. Not only are the books informative, they're entertaining as hell and you can use your newfound knowledge to call shenanigans during factually inaccurate TV shows.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Watch this now: finale of Zabriskie Point

Now playing on the iPod - "Suede" - Tori Amos

How do you mess up a sure-fire combination like multiple explosions set to an awesome Pink Floyd song? Well, if you're Michelangelo Antonioni, you do it like this. (Full review of Zabriskie Point coming soon!)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Requiem for a Vampire

Now playing on the iPod - "Quan Vey La Lauzeta" - The Mediaeval Baebes

My review of the dull-yet-interesting French vampire film Requiem for a Vampire is up at Horrorview. Take a peek if you're so inclined.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Writing craft: Apostrophes

Learning the nuts and bolts of punctuation doesn't have to be boring, as this helpful primer on apostrophes demonstrates.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writing craft: Getting ideas from movies

One piece of advice I would give to all writers is this - read a lot. By reading a lot, you can not only learn things and get ideas, but you can see how the execution of ideas works (or doesn't work, and frankly, often you can learn more from a bad example than from a good one).

But your sources of inspiration shouldn't be limited to books. I often get ideas from watching movies - in particular, by paying attention to how movies are structured and how they use imagery.

For example, one of my future book projects is a novel about a serial killer bumping off college frat boys at a Midwestern college (most of my friends, being academic fraternity members or GDIs, are very enthusiastic about this idea). I'm taking a cue from Frenzy, one of Alfred Hitchcock's last films, which is about a serial rapist/murderer. Though the murderer kills several people over the course of the film, only one of the killings is shown in detail (in perhaps too much detail - it's a very unpleasant scene, so be forewarned). But none of the others are. What's perhaps more distressing than the first killing is the second, in which the killer goes to the apartment of a likable female character, and the camera does a long, slow pull-out. We see and hear nothing of what is going on in the apartment - we don't need to.

I'm thinking of using this technique in that future book - because my killer always uses the same method, I only need to show one of the murders in any sort of detail once. The rest can all be done off-page if I so desire.

Of course, the problem with getting inspiration from movies is that certain scenes work well in one medium and not in another. And there's the problem of film-makers who work more with atmosphere, imagery, and emotion rather than plot or dialogue. See my post below with the "The Voice of Love" link to the final scene from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. I desperately want to write something that's as transcendently lovely as this scene. I'm not sure I will.

But I'll have fun trying!

Review: What Have You Done to Solange?

Now playing on the iPod: "The Voice of Love" - Angelo Badalamenti

My review of the sleazy-but-smart thriller What Have You Done to Solange? is up at Horrorview. Check it out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Read this now

And this post is why Janet Reid is, in addition to being a great agent, a good person as well. As a writer, I thank you, Janet!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What will YOU do this November?

Now playing on the iPod: "Song to the Siren" - This Mortal Coil

November is fast on the way, and if you've always said, "I ought to write a book one day" - why, now's your chance!

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo to use Internet-speak) challenges aspiring writers to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. It sounds tough but it can be done.

So go on, give it a try. Yes, nothing may come of this novel. Does that matter? You'll have done what many people say they will do but never even attempt. There are few things as satisfying as finishing a novel, and that's especially true of the first.

You may like what you've done well enough to take the next step. Edit, revise, edit again. Show it to those whose opinions you respect and find out what they think. (Remember, you can't go directly from NaNoWriMo to being published!)

And who knows, you may even decide to write another novel! (You know what they say - First one's free!)

Go on and do it. You know you want to!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Now that's what I call writing: Stephen King and Peter Straub

Now playing on the iPod: "Magic and Ecstasy" - Ennio Morricone *

The following passage from Stephen King and Peter Straub's Black House is a favorite of mine. Usually I don't like my foreshadowing quite this blatant (I prefer the "sucker punch" approach to Bad Things Happening to Good Characters), but something about this passage resonates with me.

Still, they are safe. And our guys are safe, too. All of them came back in one piece from the other side, and surely we did not expect that; most quests of this type usually demand at least one sacrifice. All's well that ends well. And this can be the end, if you want it to be; neither of the scribbling fellows who have brought you this far would deny you that. If you do choose to go on, never say you weren't warned: you're not going to like what happens next.

Ooooh, yes! And you know what? They were right!

* Stealing an idea from the Pub Rants blog. Agent Kristin starts every blog entry with what she's listening to at the time, and since I don't talk about music enough on this blog, I'll follow suit.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bargain time!

Didn't believe it til I saw it with my own eyes, but Stephen King's new book Under the Dome is available for $9 pre-order at Amazon. That's right, $9. For a 1008-page book, that's quite the bargain, methinks. See for yourself at Amazon if you're so inclined.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: The Werewolf's Guide to Life

My book review for The Werewolf's Guide to Life is up at Check it out.

This picture is a beautiful thing

I adore this. Thanks to Jim at for sharing this with me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review: Rain of Fire

My review of the Omen-ripoff Rain of Fire (starring Kirk Douglas and his manly square jaw) is up at Horrorview. Check it out.

Fragment from a conversation

Constant Reader Gerry: "You can't smite characters just because it will make your friends mad."
Me: "Why not?"

Gerry need not be alarmed; I was being facetious. I would never smite a character just to annoy my friends who like that character. Character deaths are determined solely by the story.

Making my friends mad is a bonus. ;-D

Nonfacetiously: A reader's reaction to a character's death was the first time I truly felt the power a writer can wield. I thought of all those times I cried out, "No! Not [character's name]!" because I'd come to care for that character, and then realized that a reader was saying that to me, about one of my characters. (The reader also called me a bitch - goodness me, such language! - but I did take a perfectly nice character and turn him into roadkill, so I may have earned that epithet...)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Can I borrow a book?

See, I am very excited about James Ellroy's new book, Blood's a Rover. I've loved almost everything I've read by Mr. Ellroy and the new one is getting very good buzz.

Problem is, it's the third in a loose trilogy, and I haven't read the first book in said trilogy, American Tabloid. Problem is, I have American Tabloid but Mr. Ellroy signed it for me at last June's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (very nice personal signature) and I don't want to read that copy lest I drop it in the bathtub or something (I'm not always the most careful person with my books, hence all the dog-ears and coffee stains).

Anyone got a copy I could borrow? If I drop your copy in the bathtub I'll buy you another one.

Opening chapters: What NOT to do

From the Guide to Literary Agents blog, a list of agents' pet peeves regarding opening chapters.

Are you checking your opening chapter to see if it includes any of those. Good, because I am too!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bradbury season

It means cooler weather and that I can finally make chicken and dumplings again! (Did that tonight, as a matter of fact. Mmm-mmm good!)

More importantly, it means we're in Bradbury season. If you know what I'm referring to, good for you.

If you don't, by all means educate yourself. Your assignment will be to read a Bradbury story a day for the month of October. Don't worry, they are short (some are only a couple pages long). But if after reading these you still don't know why October is Bradbury season... well, can't help you any more.

My recommendations, in no particular order:
  1. Homecoming
  2. The Lake
  3. There Will Come Soft Rains
  4. Mars is Heaven
  5. A Sound of Thunder
  6. Skeleton
  7. The Jar
  8. The Small Assassin
  9. The Black Ferris
  10. The Women
  11. The Aqueduct
  12. The Shoreline at Sunset
  13. The Emissary
  14. The Scythe
  15. Usher II
  16. The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl
  17. Let's Play "Poison"
  18. The Veldt
  19. The Kilimanjaro Device
  20. The Fog Horn
  21. Exorcism
  22. The Next in Line
  23. The Haunting of the New
  24. The Playground
  25. The Parrot Who Met Papa
  26. Fever Dream
  27. Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!
  28. The One Who Waits
  29. The Screaming Woman
  30. The Trolley
  31. The October Game
Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Writing craft; Right where I left you

Haven't done any work on the mainstream MS since August, as I've been busy with revisions on Undertow. But now the revisions are complete and Undertow is in someone else's hands. Back to the mainstream MS (I swear I'll think of a title one of these days).

A bit odd getting back into the story after the hiatus. Usually I keep bashing on and on until I finish a book but the hiatus was necessary. Think I'm finding the rhythm again, though. It's like seeing some friends you haven't visited in a while and catching up with them (fortunately I left the characters in a good situation for a change, hee hee).

Probably about 6 or 7 chapters and this one will be finished. Hoping to get that done before things get too crazy with the holidays.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Listen up: Ennio Morricone

As if his movies in themselves weren't enough reason to like him, I give props to Quentin Tarantino for using Ennio Morricone's music. Part of what made Inglourious Basterds so special was the excellent use of Morricone's music (my personal favorite is probably "Un Amico").

Inspired by this, I recently tracked down A Fistful of Film Music, a compilation of Morricone's scores that covers several decades. The compilation's out of print but used copies are available online and it's an excellent introduction to his work. There's classic spaghetti Western music such as "Una Pistola Per Ringo" and the lovely "The Ecstasy of Gold" (this latter one bridges nicely Morricone's Western scores and his more lyrical works such as the score for The Mission).

But Morricone's got his fun side as well with "Ad Ogni Costo" - if I ever get published and use the advance to buy one of these, I'll put "Ad Ogni Costo" on a continuous loop and play it as I drive about town. Or if I'm in a bad mood I'll play "Il Giardino Delle Delizie" and its half surf guitar, half progressive rock sound. Then for the drive home, "Regan's Theme" from Morricone's score for Exorcist 2: The Heretic (ignore the movie clips, I'll tackle that film in a future review).

And guess what? On Sunday, October 25 I'll be seeing Morricone at the Hollywood Bowl. I cannot wait!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Watch this now: Firefly - The Big Damn Musical

Oh mais oui. Check this out - extremely shiny.

I never see this issue discussed in writing manuals

Now that phase 3 of revisions on Undertow is complete, here comes the big question: What do I do with all the marked-up pages? Recycle is the obvious answer of course (which will prevent the Lorax from showing up to finger-wag, not to mention prevent angry trees from exacting revenge a la Evil Dead 2).

Yet it seems there ought to be a more practical use for these busted pages. Paper airplanes? Stuffing a mattress? I thought of giving them to Young Master to turn into confetti, but now that he's learning to read that might be such a good idea - with my luck he'll decide to test drive his reading skills on a page with some f-bombs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Writing craft: What's in a name?

Depending on your writing style, you can take a while to decide what a character looks like. You can have the character's backstory meticulously mapped out before you start writing or you can discover it as you go along. But one thing you have to have is the character's name.

I've heard that Annie Proulx finds many of her idiosyncratic character names from cemetery tombstones. It's a question I don't often see asked of writers - how do they come up with character names? I think it's an important question because the right name can work so well for a character - think of Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson's books. Of course the wrong name can not work so well - I confess I giggle every time I think the name "Rayford Steele" in the Left Behind series.

As for my own naming process, I generally try to avoid "loaded" names - those can work well, as in the aforementioned Thomas Covenant or Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim. But in the wrong hands they can be deadly and I'm not up for the risk. Probably the closest I've come to a loaded name was giving a female sociopath the name Juliette - I named her for De Sade's Juliette, not Shakespeare's Juliet.

Often I get a mental image of a character, and think a bit about the character's situation when the story starts, as well as about his or her past. For first names, I start "trying on" character names to see what fits. Baby name web sites are quite helpful for this, especially if I'm looking for an unusual name or one that fits a particular ethnic heritage. This leads us to last names - when I know a bit about the character I have an idea of his or her family background and from there will look up surnames relating to that character's heritage, whether it's Irish (Cahill, Bannion, Kincaid, Monahan), WASP (Halsey), Armenian (Danayan), Czech (Novak), French (Beaumont, Delacroix, Pavour), Portuguese (Salto), German (Kessler), or relatively generic (Thomson, Whitman, Finley, Cross).

I don't think there's a writer alive who doesn't love certain words just for the way they sound (I'm strangely fond of the word "congeal"), and names are no different. I have a mental list of names, both first and last, that I just like the sound of. I named a character Evie for a girl I knew in college - I'd always liked the way her name sounded and was pleased when I found a character to give it to. Likewise the last name Kincaid, which just had a nice ring to it.

A good source for surnames is your workplace's employee directory (it helps if you work for a big corporation). I needed an ordinary name for an ordinary character and had the first name (Jennifer) but couldn't think of a surname. After trolling through the directory for commonplace names, I found the name I needed (Thomson - and it was a weird feeling when I one day ran into a person named Jennifer Thomson. Thankfully she looked nothing like my character or I'd have been really creeped out.)

Occasionally I'll take a name from fiction - I gave a character the last name Tally after reading Ray Bradbury's haunting story "The Lake", for the lost and drowned girl the narrator mourns for. Another character's surname, MacReady, came from the name of Kurt Russell's character in The Thing.

And I also like to name incidental characters (what my Mom calls "the milkman who arrived on the big day" characters) after writers I like. So far I've taken surnames from Annie Proulx, Richard Yates, Anna Quindlen, and more I can't recall now. There are too many names - I can't remember them all! I need to start keeping a database!

Monday, September 21, 2009

My true motive revealed!

I gave my Dad, for his birthday in June, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Yes, I did it because I knew he'd like this awesome series. But I had another, darker, more sinister reason.

Because I wanted someone to commiserate with me while I wait for book 5! And behold! My scheme was even more successful than I had planned, for Mom is now hooked on the series too! We can all wait together!

Of course, I did feel somewhat bad about this so I've promised that when A Dance With Dragons comes out, I'll buy them a hardcover copy. So we can all read it together. Whenever that may be.

(I promise, this will be the last time I grumble about the wait for A Dance With Dragons. I'm a writer, I know how these things go.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Today's a good day

Lots of awesomeness today, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  • Phase two of revisions to my mystery novel Undertow is complete. Third and final stage begins tomorrow. Schedule is well in hand and the MS is looking good. Big shout-out to all my Constant Readers, especially Erik, Gerry, Alyca, A. J., and Karen. Thanks, all of you. Dinner at my place when phase 3 is done - be there.

  • Made a batch of lasagna today with help from Alex the sous chef. It's my Grandma's recipe and I got very nostalgic for dinners at her house, especially Christmas eve. I miss you, Gram.

Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

My review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is up at Dog will hunt!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A pause for refreshment

Taking an evening off from revisions. What to do, what to do... say! Here's some fun with David Lynch!'s assessment of David Lynch works - WARNING: Contains nightmare-inducing Laura Dern face from Inland Empire

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Out of print but still in demand

This is pretty cool:'s top ten lists of the most sought-after out-of-print books.

Some pretty interesting titles. I'm a bit pleased that I have one of these titles (Stephen King's Rage, which I have as part of the Bachman Books anthology). And I see plenty of other titles I wouldn't mind finding in a used bookstore: Dark Carnival, No Blade of Grass, The Big Country. And a Salvador Dali-illustrated Bible? I'd be all over that.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Random kvetch

Revising is not nearly as much fun as writing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Catching up: Julia, Basterds, and more

Been a busy couple weeks what with Young Master starting school and various other goings-on, so I'm going to do a big catch-up post.

Julie and Julia: Saw this a little while ago and I know that's going to come as a surprise to most of my readers who are used to me watching things that have blood and mayhem and explosions (haven't forsaken that of course, as you'll learn as you read on). But as a foodie I had to see this, and it was quite the enjoyable evening, once I got over my surprise at being in a movie theater almost entirely filled with women.

Meryl Streep should definitely get an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Julia Child; she's not an imitation or a caricature but a woman both talented and modest, who leads an incredibly rich, fulfilling life and helps inspire others yet never lets that go to her head.

The movie also celebrates food and the pleasure it brings - not just to the palate but to the people we gather around us to share in a meal. Unfortunately this seems lost on many of the people who've been buying Mastering the Art of French Cooking and are dismayed to learn that (gasp!) many of these recipes can't be banged out in 20 minutes or that (quelle horreur!) you actually have to use butter or pork fat! As Charlotte Freeman of Bookslut points out in her excellent column about the Child's classic cookbook, America has been made to fear food or to view preparation of it as tedious. Forget that. I've made Child's French onion soup and yes it took me several hours but it was not nearly as difficult as I would have imagined, and it tasted divine.

The Julie segments are much less successful (see the review at Cinema de Merde, which sums it up nicely), and it's to Amy Adams' credit that she makes these sequences work as well as they do. My favorite "Julie" scene is when she comes home from a bad day at work and says that the great thing about cooking is that no matter what else is going on in life, you know that if you put the pieces of a recipe together, you'll have something very tasty at the end of it.

Amen to that! It's why I made one of my favorite comforting meals tonight - spaghetti carbonara and bruschetta (made with roasted garlic and red, yellow, and orange tomatoes for extra visual appeal). Yum.

Inglorious Basterds: For once I'm glad that another Horrorview reviewer beat me to the punch and reviewed this movie before I could (good review, A.J.!). Because two days later I'm still not sure I could summon the right words. It's Tarantino's most mature work (bear in mind I haven't seen Jackie Brown) yet it's still so recognizably his - no one else could have made this movie. It is one that I will long to re-experience for the first time. I can't recall the last time a film put me through the wringer of suspense so much, and so well. Bravura acting all around, especially Christoph Waltz, whose SS officer is such a believably human monster.

Review: Mad Monster Party

My review of the 1967 Rankin-Bass monsterfest Mad Monster Party is up at Horrorview.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review: Psychomania

My review of the 1973 British undead biker movie Psychomania is up at Horrorview. Take a gander, it's groovy baby!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Farewell summer

Well, summer's officially at an end, now that Labor Day weekend is over. I'd rather it hadn't ended in such dramatic fashion with the Station Fire but the worst is over - my neck of the woods is out of danger and the air is even breathable again.  But we made the most of the weekend, heading down to Disneyland where we stayed overnight and had a very enjoyable time.

School has started for Young Master and I'm gearing up for some deadline meeting - I have a top-priority project for my mystery Undertow to be done by the end of the month, and then I plan to resume work on the mainstream book and have the first draft of it done by the end of the year. 

I'm glad I have all this to occupy me as this time of year is my least favorite. I'm tired of summer but the weather here usually doesn't get the memo that summer's over until end of October at least. I've never much cared for Halloween as I'm no good at costumes and don't have much of a sweet tooth - yet because I have a kid I can't ignore the holiday and spend it in my usual way (turning the porch lights out to fool trick-or-treaters and lurking in the back room watching something like Suspiria or maybe The Changeling ). For me, the next thing to really look forward to is Thanksgiving, when I'll cook up a righteous feast. In the meantime, I'll be putting the nose to the grindstone, and enjoying every minute of it. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

Watch this now: Don't write a book

Lewis Black advises all of us to not write a book. Watch it now.

"The Burning of Los Angeles"

In Nathanael West's novel The Day of the Locust, a wannabe Hollywood artist works on a surreal mural called "The Burning of Los Angeles".  The flames currently engulfing a huge swath of the Angeles National Forest cannot be ignored, even if they are not in sight and your home is in no danger, for the smoke hangs over the city and the scent of burning is always there.

Me and mine are safe but many others are not. Please keep those who've evacuated and the firefighters in your thoughts and your prayers, and let's hope the fire is put out soon.

Review: 42nd Street Forever Vol. 5 - Alamo Drafthouse Edition

My review of the latest trailers compilation in the 42nd Street Forever series, the Alamo Drafthouse Edition, is up at Horrorview. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Going to my cave

There's a bit in the movie Fight Club where, as part of a meditation process, people are encouraged to go to a place in their mind that's safe and comforting - their cave. 

Last week I went to a place I think of as my cave. First, camping for three days at El Capitan State Beach. I've been going there since I was a kid and I've always loved it there. After exiting off the 101 you drive down a road through the woods - ancient oaks that form a canopy overhead. Once you're checked in and set up, take a walk to the beach. The campsites are on high sandstone bluffs that overlook the beach, and you take a path and stairs down to the beach. It's a south-facing beach so the waves aren't much but you don't have to worry about rip tides. And even if you aren't camped very close to the bluffs, if you wake up late in the night and listen, you'll hear the sigh and boom of the surf. Lovely.

After three days we broke camp and went to one of my other favorite places, Solvang (where I always go for my DIY writer's retreats). Again, a place of physical and mental comfort, a place where the waiters and storekeepers recognize me and where I can find tasty pancakes at pretty much any time.

Not only do I feel much more relaxed now - not to mention primed and ready to finish the revisions on Undertow - but I realized afresh just how much these two places have worked their way into my subconscious, and in particular into my KellyVerse town of Los Cielos. The coastal geography of Los Cielos is similar in many ways to El Capitan (particularly the bluffs and the vegetation - brambly plants and wild anise); and elements of Solvang such as the surrey bikes and some of the shops have crept into the town too. It's almost a feeling of deja vu to see how something that's long been a part of your life (so much so you've taken it for granted) immerses itself into your creativity and into your work. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Review: Godzilla vs. Hedorah

Sorry it's been a while since the last update! Was off camping with the husband and the kid this last week (more on that soon).

Anyhoo, here's my Horrorview review of the utterly loopy kaiju Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Be sure to read the comments for a dissenting opinion by Horrorview's Big McLargeHuge.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: Jake's Wake

My first review at the new-and-improved Horrorview is up: my two cents on the novel Jake's Wake. Check it out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zut alors! Actual post about writing!

I realized, looking over the blog archives for the last month and a half make it look like I've forsaken writing for watching movie trailers and hobnobbing with minor celebrities. 

Far from it.  

In the interest of etiquette (and because I'm superstitious and afraid of jinxing things) let's just say that a window closed on one project but a door may have opened on another. So a quick juggling of priorities is in order for the next month or so. Trust me, it's all good.

In the meantime, I want to talk about something called world building. That is, creating the fictional world your characters live in. I used to think this term was only applicable to science fiction or fantasy writers and while it is of great importance to these writers as they build Middle Earth or Westeros, it's also important on worlds that are part of the everyday U.S. geography and culture. For example, Stephen King's town of Castle Rock.

I began to realize the importance of world building as I worked on my mystery Undertow. The novel is set in a town of my own invention, a California beach city that's also home to a small university. The town, Los Cielos (Spanish for "the clouds") had appeared in an earlier "trunk" novel and will probably be the setting of at least one more future book. As I started not just seeing the town through different characters' eyes but taking the characters about all their business in the town, I began to understand the importance of setting, and of creating a believable place for these people. 

It's important not just to give the reader a sense of where all this is taking place, but it gives the characters more room to breathe and behave like actual people. As I thought more and more about this location I thought about what the characters liked and didn't like about the town. For example, where did they go for dinner? That could vary a lot - so I understood that I needed to create different places for the characters to go. So there's the fancy place you go for a romantic evening out, the funky place on the pier that serves everything deep-fried, the awesome tavern.  Likewise, depending on my characters' circumstances I got to take them to different parts of the town - the swank place where the rich people live, the houses rented to the university students, even the sad apartment building where people who've just gotten divorced or otherwise had their lives upended live (think of the apartment inhabited by Paul Giamatti's character in Sideways).  Questions that have to be asked, depending on the story's needs, are: What are the town's employment opportunities besides the university? What's the crime rate like?  The challenge is to make even a great place to live not too idyllic and twee, or it will lose its believability.

It sounds like work but it's surprisingly fun. And I'm really looking forward to world-building in a future book - where I get to build a seedy amusement park. Now that will be a thrill!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"You are all weirdoes"

Several people have asked me about the Sam the Eagle "You are all weirdoes" mini-poster I got at Comic-Con. Here it is over at 

I'll get a frame for mine this weekend and hang it in my office. Next to this poster seems appropriate.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I have no response to this

Courtesy of the Judge a Book By Its Cover blog, the cover art of a book titled The Little People. I'd tell you what's on the cover but no words will do it justice. Just go and look. It's work-safe and all, just.... not right in so many ways.

I must have it in my library or I shall die.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New look for

Fabulous Jim over at has been working to bring the site in line with Web 2.0 and the results can now be viewed!  Check it out!  

Looking good! Best of all, now you can leave comments about a review, so feel free to tell me what you think of my reviews (as long as you agree with me).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Comic-Con Day 4: Too tired to think of a clever title

Ah, cold reality, why must you interrupt the geeky dream of Comic-Con? We rose early to pack our things, have breakfast, and leave our bags (which were much heavier than they'd been when we first arrived, strangely enough) with the bell captain and head over to the Center for the Dr. Who panel. Star David Tennant, writer Russell T. Davies, director Euros Lyn, and producer Julie Gardner talked about the show and showed previews of upcoming episodes that look very... intense.

One last round of shopping on the dealer floor, where I got Scott a DVD of The Decline of Western Civilization, got Alex a Boba Fett poster and a Star Wars action figure, and got
 myself a few odds and ends (Mulholland Drive poster, Miskatonic University mug, sticker to decorate Boswell the Laptop,  a Pink Floyd "hammer" patch for my fangirl jacket). By now exhaustion was setting in, the floor was packed, and I was ready to head outside and just read or something until time for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer panel. 

Then my phone rang with a call from Erik, advising me to get myself over to the California Browncoats because Firefly/Serenity star Nathan Fillion was doing a surprise signing.

(Ah, I love Comic-Con. You never know what's going to happen next.)

Anyway, queued up with the rest of the fangirls and got a Serenity comic signed (proceeds go to charity) and got a picture taken with the ever-affable Mr. Fillion. Thanks, Nathan, you're one of the good ones.

Last but certainly not least was the showing of "Once More With Feeling" the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All in all the perfect way to end the Con.

Afterward we hustled over to the hotel to get our bags, and then we lugged it all across the way to Lou and Mickeys for our celebratory dinner. I had the garlic broiled shrimp - very good. And the fine staff there were very understanding about our luggage - they let us tuck it away in a discreet corner and after our dinner they even flagged down a cab for us to get to the train station.

And then all that was left was to wend our way home. I just wish those benches at the train station were more comfortable.

Comic-Con Day 3: Master writers, tenth doctors, and overeager fans

Kicked off Day 3 with a spot o' looking around the dealer floor, the highlight of which was finding a booth that sold replicas of Captain Kirk's chair from the original Star Trek. So of course we all had to take turns sitting in said chair.

Then we finally made it over to the Gaslamp Quarter for lunch. Ate a fine meal at the Old Spaghetti Factory and then back to the Convention Center to get into the hall in time for Ray Bradbury. (Unfortunately this entailed having to sit through a Green Lantern panel that wasn't very interesting and I was pestered by an overenthusiastic fan who kept showing me the sketches he'd scored at the Con, which I think may be the geek equivalent of inviting someone upstairs to "show them your etchings".)

But none of that mattered once Ray Bradbury showed up. Ray is 89 but has never missed a Comic-Con, and it was a joy to see him. He also brought along footage of his commentary on the night of the moon landing (said footage doubly nostalgic because it featured the late Walter Cronkite). It was also a joy to see the fans that turned out for Ray - preteens to seniors, fans of all stripes - and to see Ray still with us and as always such a gentleman.

After Ray's panel we went back downstairs to see if we'd won the raffle for entry into the Joss Whedon signing (we didn't, and a debate about whose "loser cooties" caused this negative outcome ensued). 

Then it was back upstairs to catch the showing of episode five of Torchwood's "Children of Earth" mini-series, followed by the Dr. Who episode "Planet of the Dead". While in line we made friends with a fan named Sarah, who was endearing in her hyper enthusiasm for Torchwood/Dr. Who and nearly fainted when Tenth Doctor David Tennant was spotted walking by.  As for the shows, I hadn't seen the earlier installments of the Torchwood series before, but now I must see all of this mini-series - it's very good. The Dr. Who episode was, despite its title, a fairly lighthearted affair, and the whole evening was very enjoyable. Plus we got to see Tennant and Torchwood star John Barrowman kiss (they're both a treat to look at and it was rather hot to see).

Exited the screenings and realized that tomorrow would be our last day (waaah!) and that instead of lounging in the hot tub we ought to pack (WAAAAH!).

Edit to add:  Overheard gem from a young woman on a cell phone. "You want to know why I love Comic-Con? MARK HAMILL HUGGED ME! I will never wash my body again!"

Friday, July 24, 2009

Comic-Con Day 2: Torgo, I just met a fellow named Torgo (updated post)

Feeling a tinge under the weather today (nothing serious, long story) so after a brief bit o' shopping (scored two Harlan Ellison books (Alone Against Tomorrow and Approaching Oblivion) and a great poster of muppet Sam The Eagle saying "You are all weirdos") I returned to the hotel and went out to the pool. 

It's probably damaging my nerd cred to admit that I spent part of the day not in the throng of the con but at the pool, but I haven't had a chance to lounge by a pool in years. Twas very relaxing. I settled in with a ginger ale and shrimp cocktail and soaked up some rays. Also, part of the beauty of lounging poolside during Comic-Con is that there  is always someone flabbier and more ghastly pale than you are. Plus, where else can you lounge poolside and see three fellows walking by who are all dressed up as Boba Fett -- and not give it a thought?

Met up with my buddies and we all went over to the Convention Center for the live RiffTrax panel. (RiffTrax being a spinoff of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 show). The boys did a fine, live riff of a hilariously gruesome 1970s-era industrial safety short called "Shake Hands With Danger" and then took audience suggestions for a future movie to snark on. The winner appears to be Dragon Wars, which strangely enough I have not seen.

Fangirl alert! Saw Ted Raimi in the crowds as we were leaving the RiffTrax panel.

And as you can see, there was a fellow there dressed as Torgo from Manos: The Hands of 
Fate. He kindly agreed to grope at my hair.

Comic-Con Day 1: A Horrible evening (post updated)

Day 1 of Comic-Con got off to an extremely nerdy start. 

While we were having breakfast we spotted Stan Lee in the restaurant - he was eating Cheerios. Then it was off to the convention center where we did a lot of looking around, a bit o' shopping, and I attended a panel on crime fiction which was fun (panel featured Max Allan Collins, Alexander Irvine, Gregg Hurwitz, and Kat Richardson among others).

Tried to get into the Terry Gilliam Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus panel but never even got close. (Will I ever get into Hall H? It is a mystery.) So after a bit more lollygagging we dropped Gerry at the hotel and then Erik and I went to the Dr. Horrible sing-along, introduced by Felicia Day, put on by the California Browncoats.

The Browncoats presented both the Dr. Horrible show and Commentary! The Musical. They provided lyric sheets (and Rocky Horror-esque callbacks), cardboard Dr. Horrible glasses, and a poster I can hang up in my cube to puzzle my coworkers. After the show several of the creators - Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Zack Whedon - showed up to thank us ("It's a year later and you still like us!").

Not too much I'm interested in for Friday so probably will do a bit of shopping, take a swim in the pool, and catch the live Rifftrax and perhaps the Creepy comic panel.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comic-Con Day 0: Welcome to Nerdville, population me!

Caught the train from Anaheim to San Diego with buddies Erik and Gerry. Upon arriving we couldn't get a cab because of traffic around the convention center, so we took two of those bicycle cabs to the center. An unusual and quite fun experience, helped by the fact that the weather is delightfully cool in San Diego as opposed to disgustingly hot Pasadena.

Got checked into the Marriott Hotel and Marina - gorgeous place with a pool I can't wait to jump into, and right next door to the convention center. Then we registered and got our badges at the Con. After that a nice dinner in the hotel, unpacking in our room, and I think we're all going to crash early in anticipation of what the next day will bring. Looking forward to it!

On the way to Comic-Con

Heading out the door to meet up with my friends - this afternoon we'll be taking the train down to San Diego where we'll join the rest of Nerd Nation for Comic-Con. This will be my second year attending and I can't wait!

I'll be taking Boswell the Laptop with me and hopefully will be able to update from the hotel. If not, expect a full report when I get back in town.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Books into Celluloid: A Boy and His Dog

My book vs. movie comparison column this time takes on a short story vs. movie: Harlan Ellison's story A Boy and His Dog, adapted into a film by director L. Q. Jones.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Watch this now: trailers galore! has chosen the 50 greatest trailers of all time

I like the fact that they didn't shy away from genre or exploitation films, and that they recognized that a trailer can be fantastic even if the movie is... less-than-fantastic. (I love Stephen King but Maximum Overdrive is a pretty awful movie. Righteous trailer, though, as evidenced by its inclusion on this list.) 

Those trailers for The Shining and Alien are real head-benders, aren't they? The trailer for Corruption looks delightfully insane, I wish the movie was on DVD.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Macbeth

My review of Roman Polanski's adaptation of Macbeth is up at Horrorview. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Random notes

Interesting news on several fronts.

- Independence Day BBQ a smashing success. 13 guests, three of whom were small children, and including three dogs. Everyone got along, no meltdowns, and the food was good (grilled chicken with root beer BBQ sauce, spinach salad with candied pecans, corn on the cob, cornbread (made in those cute cast-iron corn stick pans), summer berry pie).

- One of my BBQ guests is writing a cookbook, and invited me to be one of his "test kitchen" chefs for the recipes. This is one of the coolest things I've ever been asked to do. Can't wait!

- Took a gift card and coupon to the Barnes and Noble in Burbank and came home with: The Quick Red Fox (John D. MacDonald), The Killer Inside Me (Jim Thompson), World War Z (Max Brooks), The Widows of Eastwick (John Updike), and Something Borrowed (Emily Giffin). 

- My sister (and Constant Reader) Meg reported in with a positive review of my mystery Undertow. Now I feel all warm 'n' fuzzy.

Hope the holiday weekend was good for everyone out there.