Thursday, December 29, 2011

Watch this now: Video essay on David Lynch's movies

Here's a lovely video paying tribute to David Lynch's films. Nice to see some of his lesser-viewed works like The Straight Story, Dune, and Fire Walk With Me get time.

David Lynch in Four Movements - A Tribute from Richard Vezina on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kelly's big score: Santa's got a brand new bag edition

The bad news is that Christmas, my favorite time of year, is now over. The good news is that I scored some good books.

As gifts, I received:

The Babylonian Trilogy - Sebastien Doubinsky

Nightmare Movies - Kim Newman

11/22/63 - Stephen King

Bistro Cooking - Patricia Wells (am dying to make some recipes from this)

With gift cards, today I got:

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - Horace McCoy

Hell House - Richard Matheson

Here be Dragons - Sharon Kay Penman

I also bought The Complete Calvin and Hobbes as a Christmas gift for the whole family.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Watch this now: Trailer for The Hobbit (part 1)

Make no mistake, I love the Lord of the Rings movies. But I've been skeptical about the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. Does it really need to be split into two movies? And what's with shoehorning in characters from LOTR who weren't in the book of The Hobbit (we see Galadriel in the trailer, and I've heard rumors that Legolas and even Saruman (!!) will be in it as well).

At any rate, the trailer is here and it's a weird mix of the new and the familiar, and is a little too vague for my taste - shouldn't we mention the reason for Bilbo's adventure? And what about Smaug? However, I do like the fact that most of the dwarves don't look like Doc and Sleepy.

I'll reserve final judgment until the film's actually showing (next year), but for now I'm cautiously optimistic.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: The Reflecting Skin

My review of the brilliant, beautiful, and often horrific film The Reflecting Skin is up at Horrorview.

Imagine if David Lynch directed a Ray Bradbury adaptation, and that sums up this movie. If that lights up all your dials, then watch it as soon as you can.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: Kill the Irishman

My review of the disappointing Irish vs. Italians gangster movie Kill the Irishman is up at Horrorview.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kelly's big score: Here we go a-wassailing edition

For the weekend after Thanksgiving we did our usual thing and went up to the town of Solvang, which was decorated for Christmas, and where we indulged in shopping and pancakes to take our minds off the mess the recent winds made of our yard.

I also went to the town's three bookstores and came home with:

Mary Ann in Autumn - Armistead Maupin

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven - Sherman Alexie

The Executioners - John D. MacDonald

Separate Beds - LaVyrle Spencer

The Other Side of Midnight - Sidney Sheldon (shut up, sometimes you need to read some trash)

Diary of a Mad Housewife - Sue Kaufman

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan - Alduous Huxley

Track of the Cat - Nevada Barr

The Two-Bear Mambo - Joe R. Lansdale

Fine Just the Way it Is - Annie Proulx

Revenge of the Rose - Nicole Galland

That ought to keep me occupied for a week or so!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Now that's what I call writing: funny stuff

Comedy is so subjective - that's why it's my least favorite movie genre, because when it doesn't work, it's deadly.

The following selections are from books that may not necessarily be great writing - they won't win awards for the beauteous lyricism of their prose - but they made me laugh, and that's always a good thing.

First, from Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding:

Tuesday 19 December
9:45 a.m. Oh God, feel awful: horrible sick acidic hangover and today is office disco lunch. ... Better go to work - but will not have anything to drink at disco lunch, just be friendly and professional, stay til about 3:30 p.m., then leave and do my Christmas cards.
2 a.m. Course is OK - everyone drunks office Christmas parties. Is a good fun. Must gust sleep doen mattr about clothesoff.

Wednesday 20 December
5:30 a.m. Oh my God. Oh my God. Where am I?

And this one's from David Wong's John Dies at the End, as a group of people are about to face a horde of demons.

John said to me, "If I die, I want you to tell everybody I died in the coolest way possible. You can have my CDs. My brother will demand the Playstation, since I borrowed it from him a year ago, so don't fight him for it."

Jennifer hesitated for a long moment before saying, "Um, there's a loose floorboard under my bed. I keep stuff down there. There's some pot and a little notebook with like, some guys' names in it, and - some other stuff. If I die I want one of you to go in my bedroom and get all that stuff out so my mom doesn't find it."

Next Fred piped up. "Okay. If I don't come back, and say they don't got my body, like if Justin eats me or somethin', tell everybody you don't know what happened. Make it mysterious. And then a year later spread rumors that you've seen me wanderin' around town. That way I'll be like Bigfoot, everybody claiming to have seen me here and there. Legend of Fred Chu. And then, like, once a year go out and mutilate some livestock. Tell everybody I did it, that you saw me flyin' my UFO around that night it happened."

It turns out that the character John is the singer for a band, and the band's songs have an effect against demons, in particular the song "Camel Holocaust". Given the lyrics, you can understand this.

My melon soul
Crushed by your Gallagher of apathy
Sledgehammer! Hammmerrrrr!
Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!

There's a wolf behind you
No wait, it's just a dog
Oh, shit! Badger! Baaaaadgeerrrr!
Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!

I'd happily cough up some money to make this song a reality.

So if you need a laugh, check out both of these books. They're lots of fun.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writing craft: Getting ideas from advice columns

I've always been an advice column fan. Even back in high school, I loved reading Dear Abby over my morning coffee and Cheerios. And nowadays there are lots of advice columns, thanks to the Internet, to provide me with reading pleasure and yes, some artistic inspiration.

Admittedly there's a certain voyeuristic aspect to reading advice columns, with their real people and real problems. But the columns do provide valuable insight into people and how they do or don't deal with the things life throws at them. This is a real boon, especially if (like me) you've led a fairly sheltered existence and have a family and upbringing that's pretty darn functional.

A good source for online columns is this one, where you'll find several columns for your perusal. My favorite of them being Annie's Mailbox, which offers a good blend of problems mundane, serious, and batshit crazy. Another good column, Ask Amy, can be found here. And then there's the Since You Asked column, which is good fodder if you're interested in First World Problems.

The columns - including not just the questions but the replies and any reader comments - give a good window into peoples' emotions and actions. After reading these columns for any amount of time, as a writer you'll understand that it's perfectly plausible for characters to avoid conflict and not talk to each other about matters that could be solved with one simple conversation, because people in real life avoid conflict and don't speak about their problems.

It is possible to get burned out on advice columns, particularly when you notice that a resounding majority of the questions can be answered one of three ways:

  1. Mind your own business
  2. Grow a spine and deal with it
  3. Write back when you have an actual problem

But it's all worth it for the genuine problems, which provide real food for thought, and grist for the fiction mill. And it's REALLY worth it for the occasional doozys. Just off the top of my head, those have included:

  • A dad who wants to turn in his daughter to the FBI because she's now an atheist
  • A dad who's worried that his preschooler daughter will grow up to be promiscuous because she has lots of stuffed animals (no, I don't understand his logic either)
  • A woman whose neighbor has raised her kids to think that the ghost of their dead brother controls the weather
  • A woman who wants to bust up her son's relationship with his girlfriend because she makes him happy and encourages him in life (the woman wants her son to be prepared for life to be a disappointment)
  • A woman who thinks her sister-in-law deliberately got pregnant at the same time the woman did to share the spotlight
  • A woman whose boyfriend is demanding that she take a lie detector test to prove that she's faithful

And so on.

Online columns are a particular boon because readers will project the most amazing things into their responses, especially when the person who wrote in did not go into excruciating detail. Often the reader responses are more entertaining than the columnist's responses.

So read away! I know that some of the things I've read have been helpful for characterization in my books.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Watch this now: Trailer for The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games trilogy was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've had this year, and to my relief, the trailer for the movie adaptation looks pretty good. Watch it now.

Happy that November is here

Not for NaNoWriMo. As usual, I am too busy to make much headway on fiction. (Why can't we have "Write a novel in March" month? Nothing much happens in March.)

But November and December are my favorite times of year for several reasons. One is the weather. September and October should be considered Autumn, but Southern California still thinks those months are Summer, so you have a lot of hot, dry, nasty weather. This is a problem not just because I'm sick of the heat, but because I'm sick of grilling and want to roast something or make some soup.

October is an improvement on September, but not by a whole lot. Yes, there's a holiday but it's Halloween. This will come as a surprise to those of you who know that I like horror movies and books, but I really don't care much for Halloween. I don't like dressing up in costume, and hate having to come up with a costume for the kid. Yeah, candy's cool, but the last thing I need right now is a bunch of candy sitting around tempting me.

But November and December? My time.

For the most part, the weather finally starts to realize that it's Autumn, or as close to Autumn as we get in these parts. This means I can leave the grill alone and fire up the oven. Just last weekend it was cold and blustery and rainy, and I made French onion soup (with my home-made veal stock). Lovely!

The weather also means I can change my reading habits. Some books are more suited to warmer times of year, and some are best suited to cooler temperatures. Ditto with music - call me crazy, but I cannot listen to k. d. lang's album Drag when it's hot and sunny. It's a rainy-day record.

The best part of November/December is, without a doubt, the holidays.

Thanksgiving is an overlooked holiday these days, mostly because it doesn't lend itself to merchandising the way Halloween and Christmas do. Also, the traditional Thanksgiving feast is considered to be a duty rather than a pleasure, at least for the cooks. Well, not this cook. I've done the feast often enough that I've got it pretty much down (though the final coordination and timing can be tricky, especially the mashed potatoes). It's a busy day but I take pleasure in the cooking, and in knowing that at the end of my efforts we'll have a big feast the whole gathering can enjoy.

As for Christmas, I've talked before about my affinity for the season. All that I talked about then still holds true, and let's not forget planning the feast. (The Christmas feast is a bit more fun than Thanksgiving, as fewer set-in-stone traditions mean I can play around with the menu more.) I am sad to see that traditions like Christmas cards seem to be fading away, but the month of December always has a special place in my heart.

And the best news for my Constant Readers? Once the holidays are done, I should be all fired up to get serious on a new project. Anyone interested in a murder mystery set at a cheesy theme park?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Watch this now: Quentin Tarantino - the Works

An excellent montage of Tarantino films.

Makes me want to watch them all again, right now.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Read this now: Ray Bradbury's The October Game

Best Halloween story EVER! Includes illustrations from the EC Comics adaptation.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Word count odometer: 868

You have to start somewhere. So I'm 868 words into a new fiction piece. Probably a novella, but time will tell. For the Constant Readers, this is the book about my Eskimo Sally character. This'll be a fun one.

Much Ado About Whedon

So Joss Whedon and a few friends (such as Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and Nathan Fillion) have done a modern adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Can I see this, like, yesterday?

Review: The Woman

My review of Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee's book The Woman is up at Horrorview. If you can't see the movie, read the book!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Joss Whedon is my master now

Swiped from No comment necessary.

Monday, October 17, 2011

John Carpenter's The Thing - The musical!

The world really does not need a remake/prequel/whatever they're calling it for John Carpenter's The Thing.

But what the world does need? A musical! I'm not kidding. Check this out.

Now that's what I call awesome.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Tron Legacy

My review of the eye-candy-riffic Tron: Legacy is up at Horrorview. Get on your lightcycle and check it out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I am not at all sure how I feel about this

Stephen King has almost completed a sequel to The Shining. Full story at Ain't It Cool News.

I'm going to just say "Hmmmm" for now. I love King, and The Shining is one of my favorites. But a sequel? I'm just not sure...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Countess Dracula

It's the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, done as only Hammer films can. See my review of Countess Dracula at Horrorview.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Ironclad

My review of the medieval Magnificent Seven movie Ironclad is up at Horrorview.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Writing craft: Writers will get this, no one else will

I have a mental list of phrases and overheard things that I plan on using in books. It always pleases me inordinately, because some of these things have been in my head for decades before I got to use them (i.e., "He thinks he's such a socialist, but he buys Twinkies at the grocery store just like everybody else." in The Day After Yesterday).

I'm in the planning stages on a new book (the "Eskimo Sally and the haunted bed-and-breakfast" book for you Constant Readers) and finally have a chance to use the line "I just lit some white sage over that bad boy and prayed to the grandfathers of the earth. That cleared it up." And the phrase, "Shut your pie-hole" which has always made me giggle, I can't explain it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing craft - Padding, misery porn, and “The Mr. Wonderful Syndrome”

I’m a firm believer that, when it comes to writing, you can often learn more from a bad example than a good one. It can be much easier to understand why something doesn’t work than why it does.

I’ve read some books and seen movies lately that illustrate storytelling flaws. These aren’t the most egregious problems out there, and I can overlook them to some degree if there are compensating factors, but they should still be avoided.


Funnily enough, padding has nothing to do with the overall length of a book. I’m partial to big, fat books – I’m one of those people who thought The Crimson Petal and the White wasn’t too long (in fact, it could have gone on for another few hundred pages and I’d have been happy).

Where padding is a problem is when it detracts from the story. You can put in as much detail as you want – as long as it serves the story. That is, as long as it contributes toward the plot, the setting, the characters, or the themes. But if it’s just the writer showing off how much research went into the book, or taking side trips that may be well-written (and even enjoyable on their own) but derail the momentum of the story, you’ve got padding.

Ask yourself (or get a Constant Reader to ask you) “what is this doing here?” And remember that “Um, because it’s cool?” or anything beginning with “Yeah, but…” are not acceptable answers.

Misery porn

All right, I can already hear giggling from the peanut gallery. “Kelly, I can’t believe you are calling other books out for being misery porn!” Well, hear me out first.

I recently read a book in which the protagonist, who’d recently been through a big tragic event, joined a club devoted to a certain art-and-craft to take her mind off things. (I’m being cagey because I don’t want to reveal the name of the book.) It turned out that every member of the art-and-craft club had a big tragic backstory as well, and of course we had to hear all about it! (Didn’t exactly make me want to take up that particular art-and-craft.) What made this misery porn was watching a steady parade of characters we didn’t know much about come in, introduce themselves, and then give their big tragic backstories (barely 100 pages into the book there had already been three, count ‘em, three dead kids). And yet none of it was all that enlightening - the reader knew so little about the characters that the backstories had no resonance.

It was rather like a certain type of film, in which a bunch of characters we barely know show up, take off their clothes, and hijinks ensue – yet because we don’t know much about the characters, there’s little beyond surface entertainment. (I’m being cagey because, hey, my Mom reads this blog.) Misery in books is like sex in the real world – a lot more rewarding with someone you care about.

The Mr. Wonderful Syndrome

So how do you create a character your readers will care about?

What you don’t do is make a character perfect.

We’re all flawed, and even your awesome characters – the ones you wish existed in real life so you could hang around with them – must have flaws.

When characters are too good to be true, you the Mr. Wonderful Syndrome. The problem with Mr. Wonderful is that while he is supposed to gain the reader’s favor because he’s so awesome, he never does because his perfection makes him unbelievable. Nobody likes a goody-two-shoes, and readers won’t care much about your perfect character. For a stellar example of the Mr. Wonderful Syndrome, see Tommy Wiseau’s movie The Room: the protagonist is so wonderful that he showers his shrewish fiancée with gifts (he even declares that he treats her like a princess), puts a creepy man-child through college, and even the lady at the flower shop says for all to hear that he’s her favorite customer. And the audience doesn’t buy it for a minute.

A true Mr. Wonderful needs flaws. Not huge ones – he shouldn’t beat his wife, she shouldn’t embezzle from her parents – but flaws that are just enough to make them human, and therefore deserving of interest and sympathy. If the characterization is done right, readers will understand and forgive those flaws.

The most crucial point is that a true Mr. Wonderful would never believe that he is Mr. Wonderful. If you told him that he’s Mr. Wonderful, he’d laugh and thank you for the compliment, but would never really believe it. When a Mr. Wonderful believes his own hype, he ceases to be Mr. Wonderful.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A mere coincidence???

Has anyone noticed that the sigil of House Targaryen in A Song of Ice and Fire looks like King Ghidorah from the Godzilla movies?

See for yourself!

Here's King Ghidorah (Showa-era Godzilla version).

Here's the sigil for House Targaryen (HBO series version).


You know, it's at times like this I think I might be a bit too much of a nerd.

EC Archives are back on track!

Many people ask me if I like comics. I always hesitate before answering because while technically, I do, the only ones I really like are the EC comics from the 1950s. Tales From the Crypt is the most famous title, but there were also The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Two-Fisted Tales, Crime SuspenStories, Weird Science, and my personal favorite, Shock SuspenStories.

The EC Archives, a reprint of these comics in gorgeous full-color hardcover editions, had been going along for awhile until the publishing company was hit hard by the recession. Publishing has been on hiatus for the last couple years, but is now scheduled to get back underway. Full details here!

These comics are a treat. The artwork is often astonishing, and the tales, though often gruesome, are quite moralistic, in a good way (the innocent may suffer but the sinners are always punished harshly). The comics weren't just about cheap thrills, though. Adaptations of Ray Bradbury stories made for some of the most memorable stories. And the stories often tackled social issues such as racism and anti-Communist hysteria. (These stories aren't especially progressive by today's standards - I think by now we all know we shouldn't burn down our neighbor's house because he's Jewish - but judging by the letters readers sent in, which are also reprinted in these editions, these stories needed to be told.)

Looking forward to the first installment of Haunt of Fear and the next installment of Vault of Horror this fall!

Friday, September 2, 2011

I cannot decide...

If this promo photo for Castle Season 4 is making the wait more bearable or less bearable.

Love the noir motif.

And I want to see Nathan wear fedoras more often. And by "more often" I mean "all the time, damn it."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Kelly's big score ("summertime, and the living is easy" edition)

We were up in Solvang (and the nearby beach areas) this week. I descended upon the town's three bookstores (two used, one new) and through a combination of good-customer discounts, trade-ins of books, and "aaaah, so what" disregard for things budgetary, I came home with:

Outer Dark - Cormac McCarthy

Catching Fire and Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Joy in the Morning - P. G. Wodehouse

Hummingbird - LaVyrle Spencer

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John LeCarre

Brothers - William Goldman

Bright Orange for the Shroud, Cinnamon Skin, and The Empty Copper Sea - John D. MacDonald (only three more books and I'll have the entire Travis McGee series!)

Bellefleur - Joyce Carol Oates (has some of the teeniest typeface I have ever seen in a novel)

Anything for Billy - Larry McMurtry

A Circle of Quiet - Madeline L'Engle

The Exploits of Han Solo (Han Solo's Revenge, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, Han Solo at Star's End) - Brian Daley (original box set from 1979! I don't know if I'll actually read these, but they were too gloriously cheesy to pass up.)

The rest of the vacation was nice too. Lots of eating, playing at the beach and in the pool, and getting some garden items (bird feeders, cacti).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Watch this now: Trailer for "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

The trailer for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy looks amazing. (Too bad they couldn't get much of a cast, though.) Consider my ticket bought.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: Naked Heat

My review of the second in the Nikki Heat series (tie-in to the show Castle, of course), Naked Heat, is up at Horrorview. Read it while you wait for Season 4!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Last post about Comic-Con

I mean it.

My good friend Jeremy pointed me to this collection of photos taken at the con, in the San Diego Reader. Scroll down about 1/4 of the way to see yours truly in Phantom of the Paradise costume.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Somebody wake up Hicks."

This was on the last day of Comic-Con, when exhaustion could no longer be staved off.

Good times!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 Day 4: Have Fun Storming the Castle!

Got up entirely too early Sunday to make sure I got a seat for the Castle panel (missing last year's panel was the lowlight of last year's con). I dropped off my suitcase with the bell captain but carried my laptop and costume (didn't want to risk either laptop or Phantom helmet getting lost or damaged) and got in line. Many, many other Castle and Firefly fans were there, waiting. I felt kind of bad for the panel before Castle, which was Wild Cards (and therefore included George R. R. Martin), who knew perfectly well that 90 percent of the people there were just waiting for the Castle panel but seemed to find all that amusing.

The Castle panel itself was a hoot, with cast members Jon Huertas, Tamala Jones, Seamus Dever, Molly Quinn (who dressed as Capt. Mal Reynolds and won the adoration of the entire room) and of course Nathan Fillion. We got to see the first scene of the season 4 premier and watch the cast all joke around. Lots of fun.

I failed to luck out for winning a signing from the Castle panel, and I failed to score a signing Nathan Fillion was doing at the California Browncoats booth. But who did NOT fail was my friend Erik, who had teamed up with a bunch of other Doctor Who fans to dress in costume as the various doctors. After a signing with current Doctor Matt Smith and companion Karen Gillan, the various doctors sneaked into the room and asked Smith and Gillan to pose with them for a photo. Smith and Gillan were delighted, as you can see below, but Con management was less than delighted and the various doctors had to beat a hasty retreat. But it was a moment no one there will forget!

Many, many versions of Doctor Who (look for my friend Erik in the back, with the curly blond wig and umbrella)

By now I (and plenty of others) was getting into the "glassy-eyed with exhaustion" phase of the con, so I caught a bit of the Buffy musical episode and then headed back to the hotel to retrieve my bag. Then the three of us went to our traditional end-of-con dinner at the ever-fabulous Lou and Mickey's (the garlic broiled shrimp are to die for) and then caught the trolley to the train station.

I always feel like Comic-Con isn't over until the train ride is done, and that was actually true, because on the train I saw Castle cast member Molly Quinn - I said hello, told her how much I was looking forward to the new season and how awesome her costume at the panel was. She was traveling with her mom and they were both friendly and excited about the day and the show.

The Con isn't perfect. The organizers still haven't figured out how to match panel demand to appropriate room size, the triaging of seats between panels could be handled much better, and ticketing is still a fiasco. But I still had a really good time, and I'm looking forward to next year.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 Day 3: I Am A Consumer Whore!

Slept in this morning and then skipped over to the con's vendor room to do a bit of shopping.

The vendor floor is a lot of fun, if a bit claustrophobic over in the big media sections. I have no interest in figures and other knicknacks, so I stuck mostly over to the comics/books section and at the "artist's alley". I ended up purchasing:

  • A t-shirt for Scott (the NASA logo redone as TARDIS for Doctor Who)
  • Several Star Wars action figures and a comic book for Alex
  • A couple of books for me: a Harlan Ellison story collection and the humor book All My Friends Are Dead (signed by the writers)
  • A many-sided dice necklace (sue me, it was cute)
  • A print from Last Kiss Comics (it says "More caffeine! I've got lives to run!")
  • An original Shock SuspenStories from the 1950s. It's a little tattered, as well it should be, but the Shock comics are my favorites of EC's lineup and now that Gemstone Publishing seems to have discontinued its EC reprints, I couldn't pass this up.

And the day wasn't over yet! I grabbed some lunch from Starbucks and then headed over to Joltin' Joe's on 4th street for one of the events being put on by Nerd Machine. The event in question was "A Conversation with Nathan Fillion" so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see that my seat for the event was essentially front row center. Yes, I was just about 10 feet from Mr. Fillion. Sigh.

Where was I? Anyway, after an intro by Zachary Levi, who set up the Nerd Machine events, Nathan Fillion came on, and then welcomed his fellow Firefly cast members Adam Baldwin and Jewel Staite. For an hour the three of them took questions and joked with us and each other. It was a very fun time, one of the highlights of this year's con.

Left to right: Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Nathan Fillion

After I wandered back to the hotel in something of a daze, I finally picked up my swag from the Game of Thrones panel - impressive! A bag containing a Targaryen t-shirt, a copy of Game of Thrones (which I gave to Gerry in hopes he'll get hooked on the series), and a mouse pad with a map of Westeros. After that, I took a break and jumped in the pool. Then we met Erik and Gerry's friends Scott and Debbie for dinner. The appetizers were great (especially the lobster potstickers and the coconut shrimp) as was the dark chocolate lava cake dessert; I was less enthused about the entree (mahi mahi) but overall a fine dinner.

And now, I confess that because I'm at the end of the blog entry, I have to finish packing. Waaaah. But I need to do it, because the last day of the con will be a busy one. No update until Monday, as I'll have Boswell the Laptop packed away for the train trip home.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 Day 2: I Thought It Was a Costume Ball!

I've been going to Comic-Con since 2008, but I've never dressed up in costume. But now that I've finally assembled my Phantom of the Paradise outfit, I decided this year would be the year.

Started off the morning in normal clothes, however, as I had a signing ticket for George R. R. Martin to acquire, an event to check in for (more on that tomorrow), and an errand to run. But once all that was done I assembled my complete ensemble.

Yours truly as the Phantom of the Paradise.

Special thanks to my friend Jeremy for telling me about the mask when one became available on eBay. Without this, the costume would not have been possible.

I tried to shop while wearing the outfit but soon found this was impossible. Awesome as that mask looks, it has very poor visibility. So I settled for strolling around, doing the "see and be seen" thing. The movie of Phantom of the Paradise is over 3 decades old and rather obscure, so it was gratifying that I got at least 30, probably closer to 40 people asking to take my picture. I even was photographed when I was taking a break and having a tall nonfat latte! One guy actually bowed down and worshiped me! The reactions from people were lots of fun and the whole thing gave me a fresh perspective on the con.

The Phantom gives Jeremy what for.

Whilst still in costume I saw George R. R. Martin and he signed my copy of A Game of Thrones, and I thanked him for his wonderful books. Then after visiting my friends Mary and Jeremy, I went to the hotel to strip off costume. In addition to the mask it included vinyl pants, so I was very sweaty and very thankful to get all that off. No one said nerditry was comfortable.

Torgo and The Master outside the Rifftrax panel.

After a shower and a change into regular clothes, I went into the con to see if I could get into the Rifftrax panel. I did, if only for the last 15 minutes, but what I saw was amusing. (And when we went back to the hotel, I bumped into Rifftrax fellows Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy, and got to shake their hands. They've given me lots of entertainment over the years so it was a thrill to be able to do that.

The Ghostbusters car makes an appearance.

We met up with friends La Tisha and Craig for dinner, then Erik and I took a much-needed soak in the hot tub.

Tomorrow: shopping!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 Day 1: Patience Pays Off

The first actual day of festivities at Comic-Con got off to a decent start. I got in line to get my badges. I was worried this was going to be a pain as I could not get a four-day pass and had to get individual passes for each day; in the past they made you stand in line every day to get your pass for that day. This year, thankfully, the Con organizers had a moment of lucidity and let people get all four day's badges at once. Hooray!

I ran over to Ballroom 20 to get in line for the Burn Notice panel - I don't watch the show but I cannot resist the chance to see Bruce Campbell work a room full of nerds as only he can. Unfortunately I didn't get into the room in time (but I saw Bruce at last year's Weekend of Horror con so I'm not complaining). But I did eventually get into the room where I camped out so I would be guaranteed a seat for the Game of Thrones panel.

Game of Thrones heraldry outside Ballroom 20.

3 pm finally came and so did George R. R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Also along were some cast members from the HBO Game of Thrones adaptation: Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), and Kit Harington (Jon Snow). The panel was fun and informative, with the show stolen by Jason Momoa. I was happy I sat around most of the day for it!

A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin.

After the panel I swung by the freebie table to drop off bookmarks promoting Bookballoon, then I met up with Erik and Gerry and we went for an early dinner, as none of us had had much lunch. We had a very tasty meal at The Old Spaghetti Factory, then headed back to the con. There Erik and a bunch of his Doctor Who friends did a big photo opportunity, then we all went over to catch the tail end of a Spike and Mike animation show (some really good stuff), and then a showing of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which had a guest appearance by star Felicia Day.

A whole lotta Doctor Who fans.

Then it was back to the hotel for rest and relaxation!

Tomorrow: My first costume at Comic-Con!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 Day 0: A Long-Expected Party

We caught the train from Anaheim and made it to San Diego without incident. I love the train ride. It gives a certain special quality to our pilgrims' progress to Nerdvana. (Get it? Nerdvana? Oh, never mind.)

My friends Erik and Gerry and I are getting ready to consolidate our schedules and plan tomorrow's plan of attack. My top priorities for Thursday are the Game of Thrones panel and the showing of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

In the meantime, everybody feast your eyes on these shots from our hotel room balcony. You know, even though it's not cheap there's something to be said for staying at the hotel right next to the con. The view from the 11th floor is lovely.

Look! Batman on the side of a building!

The view from our balcony.

I bet I could drop a penny right into the pool.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Off to Comic-Con

I'll be one of 10,000 nerds descending on San Diego to turn it into Geek Heaven for the next few days. Really looking forward to panels for Game of Thrones and Castle, not to mention the usual gazillion vendors and celebrities. And of course, the chance to hobnob with my brethren in nerditry.

Look for regular blog updates, time and technology willing. It should be fun!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dancing about Dance With Dragons

Will have A Dance With Dragons finished by the end of the weekend, and I'm quite happy with it. I can't wait to jump into the next installment of the series!

Oh... wait.

I will have a review/analysis coming soon - possibly not til after Comic-Con this coming week, but keep your eyes peeled for my thoughts on the book and its take on power, responsibility, and ice zombies.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

One week

One week til we get George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons. Yes, I'm looking forward to it just a bit, why do you ask?

Review: Carrion Comfort

My review of Dan Simmons' disappointing novel Carrion Comfort is up at Horrorview.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kelly's big score ("vacation, all I ever wanted" edition)

While on vacation back east, I stopped at the delightful Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, DE. As part of my duty to support bookstores in general and indie ones in particular, I bought:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (read it on the plane home, it's great!)

The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald

Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Also got a local cookbook.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The ghosts of best-sellers past

I have a reading project I've been working on over the years - catching up on books that were much talked about in their day. Best-sellers of yore. Many of them were popular when I was a kid - I'd see them listed in book club ads (which always intrigued me - all those books for just a dollar!). I found them fascinating in the same way I did the independent movie theater listings - what were these things?

What I've come to find is that most of these books, or at least the ones I've read, aren't all that great from a literary standpoint. But it's been an interesting reading experience, because for the most part I can tell why these books were talked about in their day, and as cultural artifacts some of them are interesting.

In no particular order:

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
Oh, how I wanted to like this book. I love a big, fat book, especially if there's plenty of the four food groups of fiction* to go around. But scandal alone can't make a book readable, not when the protagonist is a shallow, unlikable sociopath. The title character sleeps and marries her way up through society, all the while carrying a torch for a man who doesn't give a damn about her. Amber comes off as a pathetic stalker, and I could only make it through half of the book's 800-some pages before tossing it into the giveaway basket.

Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams
A real missed opportunity. The story of a novelist who marries a woman who turns out to be unhealthily obsessed with him (he resembles her dead father, never a good sign) and pathologically jealous of anything or anyone that takes attention away from her (including their unborn child!) could have made for a compelling melodrama. Unfortunately Williams makes the crucial error of making the woman one of the story's narrators, which takes much of the mystery out of things, and makes the novelist hero look oblivious at best as he misses signs of the woman's sociopathy. Watch the movie instead.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Speaking of watching the movie instead! Puzo's book is a strange beast, with some excellent drama marred by inconsistent characterization (I'd ditch that cipher Michael and have a book with nothing but Vito Corleone and Tom Hagen) and weird subplots that add nothing (the girl with the gynecological problems). Would make an excellent reading double bill with Peter Benchley's Jaws, another instance of a literary sow's ear turned into a cinematic silk purse.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner
Probably one of the best of the past best-sellers I've read. At times it felt almost like science fiction, with its detailed portrayal of a culture that's fairly recent but seems so alien to me, and a protagonist who's both pathetic and sympathetic as she looks for physical connection while shunning emotional ties. It's not a pleasant read, and might have worked better without its preface that reveals the protagonist's fate at the outset, but it's worth reading if you've an interested in the seedier side of the 1970s. Would make a good double bill with Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays for a "Who Knew the 70s Were So Depressing" read.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
Wow. Just... wow. And that's not a good wow. Even now, Peyton Place packs a wallop, mostly because it combines some truly terrible writing and overheated melodrama with a creepy sexuality. I don't recall there being a single healthy relationship in the book. Every encounter in the book is suffused with a perverse atmosphere, from a man dreamily reminiscing about the first time he molested his step-daughter to the tryst between the protagonist's mother and the high school principal that gets uncomfortably into date-rape territory. It makes for a thoroughly unpleasant read, and yet I keep it on the shelf. Because it's Peyton Place.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
I feel about Valley of the Dolls (as well as Susann's Once Is Not Enough) the same way I do about Keanu Reeves' acting. It's not, strictly speaking, good. But like Keanu, Susann tries so hard I can't help but like her. Plus, sincerity counts for a lot and Susann obviously had a story she deeply believed in and wanted to tell. The surprisingly dark story of three women who find that fame and fortune isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially when addiction to "dolls" (pills) takes its toll, is a soap opera but an involving one. It's easy to see why people couldn't put it down, back in the day.

And I'll be off to the bookstore soon (got a trip coming up and need to pack some books) - who knows, maybe another Best-seller from Days of Yore will find its way into my carry-on luggage!

*The four food groups of fiction are: crime, sex, death, and insanity.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's funny because it's true

Truth in advertising.

And the funny thing is, if this really was the title, that probably wouldn't dissuade me from reading it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Valhalla Rising

Want to see an artsy, enigmatic, yet hyper-violent Viking movie? Sure you do! Check out my review of Valhalla Rising over at Horrorview.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Late-breaking news: Fun at the Festival of Books

Egads, what is wrong with me! I completely spaced on letting my readership know how the L.A. Times Festival of Books went.

This was the festival's debut at USC campus, and although I had been very skeptical, I was pleased. The layout seemed to disperse the crowds somewhat, and I confess it was nice to not have to deal with those steps at UCLA. Restrooms and signage were plentiful and my only quibble was that some of the panel locations seemed far away from the main area.

At any rate, fun was had. I saw a panel about the future of publishing, met up with my friend Lynn, and of course, did some shopping. I came home with:

The Getaway and Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson

Butcher's Moon by Richard Stark (although I can't see his name without thinking "Winter is coming.")

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi (fun fact - Charles Manson and I are the same height!)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Also got a Calvin & Hobbes book and an Asterix book for Alex.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My kingdom for HBO!

Well, I'm annoyed as all-get-out that (a) I don't have cable, let alone HBO, (b) no one I know has HBO, and (c) HBO has not seen fit to put the Game of Thrones adaptation online or on Netflix. Argh!

Guess I'll just have to read the Song of Ice and Fire books again (which I was going to do anyway, what with A Dance With Dragons coming our way in just a few months). And I can watch this lovely gif of Tyrion giving Joffrey the bitch-slap he most richly deserves, over and over and over again.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

In praise of cookbooks

Now playing on the iPod - "Orchestral Suite #1 in C" - Bach

I love books and I love cooking, so it's probably no surprise that I love cookbooks. I've got two full shelves of them, and most of them have seen tour of duty in my kitchen.

They come in a variety of styles. Some have no photography, just line illustrations. Some cover a variety of cuisines. Others are partial to a region (France, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Mexico). Quite a few are from places I've been, from Lake Tahoe to Disney World. One is a self-published compilation of family recipes that I helped put together about 10 years ago, which I still refer to often. And there's a Betty Crocker cookbook so old that there's no mention of balsamic vinegar, which I drag out whenever I need to remember how long to bake a potato or want to make sugar cookies.

I've recently begun singing the praises of Cook's Illustrated's Best International Recipes cookbook. So far everything I've made from this book has turned out wonderfully. I've made tabbouleh, couscous with raisins and almonds, Swedish meatballs, and tonight, drunken beans (which paired up well with tequila lime chicken). Cook's Illustrated's cookbooks are lacking in "food porn" photography, but who needs that when you've got such good (and easy!) recipes. Yum. Their Cover and Bake cookbook also is the source for some of the best mac and cheese ever.

Go on, buy a cookbook today and make yourself something tasty. Or buy a cookbook for me and I'll make you something tasty.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rejected children's books

Read this now: Rejected Children's Books. Oh how I wish some of these were real, particularly "Teddy Bears Picnic: The Sole Survivor" and "Bunnies Have Agendas".

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: Super

Shut up, crime! My review of the gory, profane, and hilarious movie Super is up at

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What writers can do to make editors happy

As a writer and an editor, I wholeheartedly agree with all of the points made in this post from the mystery publishing blog Hey There's A Dead Guy In The Living Room. Read and take notes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Geek Season approaches

April may be the cruelest month, according to T. S. Eliot, but it's also the start of ... Geek Season!

For the next few months, there's something going on to please my not-so-inner nerd.

April brings Monsterpalooza, which I must attend not only because it's by all accounts a good, old-fashioned con, but because Malcolm McDowell, star of A Clockwork Orange, Cat People, Caligula, Time After Time, and many more (and also a member of my Imaginary Boyfriends Hall of Fame), will be there. Closing out the month will be the L. A. Times Festival of Books. I'm still uncertain about the Festival's relocation to USC campus (in the past it's always been at UCLA) but I can't resist the chance to go hang out with thousands of book geeks.

In May there is the Weekend of Horror con, which this year will feature legendary director John Carpenter. I'm also excited about the presence of Scott Wilson, who played one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite movies (Captain Billy Cutshaw in The Ninth Configuration).

And of course, July brings us the San Diego Comic-Con. It's too big, too crowded, and the ticket sales process has been an utter boondoggle for two years in a row, but damn if I'm not excited to be going for all four days. Look for me to be wearing my Phantom of the Paradise outfit at least one of those days.

Let your geek flag fly!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Want to go to Haiti? I didn't think so. Instead, read my review of Wes Craven's voodoo horror film The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Welcome to Write Club

Welcome to Write Club.

The first rule of Write Club is: You do not give away the ending.

The second rule of Write Club is: You DO NOT give away the ending.

Third rule of Write Club: If a constant reader says "it stinks!", gets bored, or opts out, rewrite the story.

Fourth rule of Write Club: Work on only one story at a time.

Fifth rule: All stories get edited, no matter how good you think you are.

Sixth rule: Stories go on as long as they have to.

And the final rule is: If this is your first time at Write Club, you HAVE to write.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kelly's big score ("me day" edition)

Really, really needed a "me day" so I took one, and went up to Solvang with the express purpose of cruising the bookstores at my own pace, unencumbered by others.

At Valley Books I said hello to the ever-awesome Courtney and traded in a bunch of used books. I got:

Dreamsongs Vol. 1 - George R. R. Martin (this should tide me over until A Dance With Dragons, and yes it's weird to say that and not be sarcastic)

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

Two Calvin and Hobbes books: A Magical World and The Days Are Just Packed

Then it was on to Martins' Used Books, where I got:

The Gamble - LaVyrle Spencer

Cry to Heaven - Anne Rice

Tinsel - William Goldman (yoohoo Albert - now I don't have to borrow this from you!)

And a bunch of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books

Then at The Book Loft I picked up:

A Maiden Fair - Joyce Carol Oates

Poison - Sara Poole

Now that's what I call a productive day!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dance With Dragons update

Now playing on the iPod - "The Ballad of John and Yoko" - The Beatles

Can it be true? A July 2011 release date for George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Writing craft: Don't write what you know, write what you don't know you know. You know?

Now playing on the iPod - "Caught A Lite Sneeze" - Tori Amos

I’ve probably mentioned before that “write what you know” is some of the worst advice a writer can get. It’s usually interpreted as “write about what you have directly experienced” and if writers followed that rule to the letter, there’d be a lot of really boring books out there (mine in particular!).

I haven’t changed my view that “write what you know” is bad advice, but I’m starting to believe that most of us, whether we know it or not, are writing about things we know: the distinction is twofold. One, we’re writing about things we may not have directly experienced but have heard about from others’ lives or stories. Two, many of these things lodge in our subconscious, and we end up writing about them without realizing we’re doing so.

A few years ago, I was watching the 1980 horror film The Changeling with some friends. I’d seen the film before, but not since I was in my early teens. (Side note: It’s an excellent, spooky film with almost no onscreen violence and a fantastic performance by George C. Scott. Go rent it now.) The film opens with the main character losing his family in a roadside accident. One of my friends called out: “Look familiar, Kelly?” and I realized that I had written a scene much like that in one of my stories. And even though I hadn’t seen the film in well over a decade when I wrote the scene in question, it was there in my subconscious.

Likewise, recently I got to thinking about a girl I knew in grade school. The girl had a younger brother, and it was very clear the brother was much favored by the parents. He had a full bedroom, whereas the girl’s room was actually the closet of her younger brother’s room. (The girl also knew from overhearing parental conversation that she was an “ooops” resulting from faulty birth control.) I hadn’t thought about this girl in years, as I haven’t seen her since 8th grade, but now I’m wondering if that family dynamic was in any way an inspiration for a similar one in my book The Day After Yesterday (although for that one I know that I consciously was inspired by the Harry Potter books and how Harry is so shabbily treated by his aunt and uncle).

I think a lot of the writing process may be subconscious. After a manuscript has sat in the drawer and I’m revising it, I’ll see connections and motifs that I didn’t recall planning out. But there they are. And I suspect that a lot of what we think falls into the “stuff I haven’t experienced” is really “stuff I’ve heard about from friends/read about/seen in other books or movies”. As long as the writer does the job well, no one need know (or should care) that an event or character’s backstory has no direct correlation to the writer’s past.

It might be intriguing to see a map of the brain, and figure out where all this comes from. But no, let’s leave it a mystery. Let’s not lose the moment of “Oh, that’s where that came from.” Those moments are sometimes funny, sometimes creepy, but they’re always interesting.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Red Sonja

My review of the too-silly-to-be-dramatic, too-dull-to-be-campy sword-and-sorcery movie Red Sonja is up at

Monday, February 21, 2011

Awesome movie review site

One of my favorite movie review sites, Cinema de Merde, just got a dandy new look. (I confess I did like the old green-on-black look, but I still say "groovy" so I'm not the most with-it of people.)

Go check it out, and read some of the fine, fun reviews while you're at it.

For your convenience: Inception "THWOOOOMM" sound on command

One of the biggest problems in life is the lack of awesome musical cues to punctuate life's more dramatic moments.

Well, here to make life easier is the "THWOOOOMM" sound from Inception (really do need to get around to seeing that) right here for your convenience. Click the link, press the button and presto! I mean, THWOOOOMM.

Monday, February 14, 2011

One down...

Just finished Chapter One of the new book, tentatively titled Sideshow. I'm behind schedule thanks mostly to circumstances beyond my control (i.e., broken elbow) but there's always a nice buzz that accompanies the first chapter milestone.

Bookstore Watch: It's looking grim for Borders

I used to love, love, love Borders (books and music and movies! together! like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup!). But the chain's been in decline for some time now, and according to a story at Shelf Awareness, it looks like Chapter 11 is imminent.

I hate to say this but I'm not surprised. I started noticing a decline in the store's selection a few years back. Then the local one jettisoned its music section. When I can go into a store with $50 in mad money and have trouble finding novels to buy, there are serious problems afoot (after all, I'm not that hard to please - always been more of a "sure, I'll read that!" gal).

I recall when I realized just how badly the selection had been pared back. Seeing more and more books with covers facing out. The "sideways neck bend" one uses when perusing bookstore shelves isn't getting more comfortable as I get older, but it's one of the prices you pay for the pleasure of finding books to buy. That's when I noticed the shelves were full of Hot New Releases and Tried-and-True Classics - with very little in between.

There's always Barnes and Noble (the one near my workplace isn't big but I can nearly always find something there, even if it's another Discworld or Travis McGee). But I want to try and put my dollars towards the indies. Check out those links on the right for "Indie Bookstores I Like". They're all fine places. Support them if you're nearby, and support your local stores if you have them. These places respect readers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Just because I don't CARE, doesn't mean I don't UNDERSTAND."

The above quote, from a Mr. Homer Simpson, more or less explains the reason why I end up bailing on some of the books I read. It's not that I don't get the stories or see what the writer is doing, but I simply don't care about the characters or what happened to them.

This is not to say these are bad books. Characters are like real-life people, and the people (real or imaginary) I want to hang around with may well be people another person cannot stand. And that's fine.

But when I'm reading, I want to care about what happens to the characters. I can forgive a lot of flaws -- clunky writing, melodramatics -- if I care about the characters. Just glancing over the fiction shelves here at Rancho del Cozy, as I look at the book titles I remember the characters. I remember hoping things would work out for them and being happy for them when things went well (and saddened when things didn't go well). The most memorable books are ones when I either want to break the fourth wall and go in and save characters who didn't make it, or ones that after I had closed the book cover and moved on, I would think, "Gee, I wonder what ever happened to so-and-so?"

This is not to say that the characters always have to be likable. You don't have to want a good outcome to care about the characters -- in a way, thinking to yourself, "Ye gods, I hope character X gets what's coming to him" is caring about him.

If I don't care about characters in a book I'm reading, I at least have to be interested in them. The one disappointment I had when reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian was that I didn't care about the characters, though I was deeply interested in and fascinated by Judge Holden. But The Kid didn't move me or interest me much. However, McCarthy did give me characters I cared about in The Road, which makes it one of the few books I've read that's brought me to tears.

Your milage may vary, of course, but here are some of the books I've read that featured characters I cared about.

Cavedweller - Dorothy Allison
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood
The Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean M. Auel
L.A. Confidential - James Ellroy
The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber
Boys and Girls Together - William Goldman
A Song of Ice and Fire series - George R. R. Martin
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
Harry Potter series - J. K. Rowling
Blonde - Joyce Carol Oates
The Terror - Dan Simmons
The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan
The Shipping News - Annie Proulx
The Stand - Stephen King
The Shining - Stephen King
The Painted Veil - Somerset Maugham
The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving
Watership Down - Richard Adams
The Accidental Tourist - Anne Tyler

And now I'm at work on a new book, and it's time to not only get to know a new set of characters (or "imaginary friends" as I think of them) but to make sure that the readers care about them as much as I do.

Review: Tales From the Crypt

Not the TV show or its movie spinoffs with the annoying puppet, but a British adaptation of five E. C. comics tales. Tales From the Crypt should be retitled Schadenfreude: The Movie.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Back to work! I mean play!

Finally! The elbow is (more or less) healed, I have my laptop set up, and am 891 words into the new project (tentatively titled Sideshow). And I am relieved because fiction writing is play, and you know what all work and no play makes, don't you?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Disney World trip report

My dearth of posts in December can be explained thusly: We went to Disney World. And here for your enjoyment is the long-awaited trip report!

The dates: December 18-27, 2010

The people: Kelly Cozy, Scott Cozy, Alex Cozy

The objective (primary): Have fun

The objective (secondary): Operation Candy Cane (see below)


Because the Disney World trip of December 2010 was a spur-of-the-moment decision (inasmuch as any multi-day stay at Disney during the busiest time of the year can be a spur-of-the-moment decision), we didn’t tell Alex until the night before. As far as he knew, his Christmas break was going to be spent at home doing not much of anything. But on Friday the 17th we informed him that we needed to pack up some clothes because the very next morning, we’d be going to Disney World.

And so on December 18 we got up at an unbearably early hour to load our suitcases into the car, rouse Alex, and drive down to our friend John’s house (he lives 5 minutes from LAX and let us park our car at his place so we’d save on transportation and parking). We also implemented Phase Two of Operation Candy Cane – as we drove from the house I “forgot” something, ran back in, and set out Santa presents and filled stockings so they would be waiting for us when we got home. (Phase One had been implemented a week earlier when I mailed some Santa presents to our hotel so they’d be waiting for us.)

Day 1

Because of some confusion about the flight number (flight was booked with US Airways but run by United) I didn’t want to risk using Magical Express for the luggage and having it not arrive at the hotel. So we checked in our bags ourselves and had a peaceful, noneventful flight. Upon arriving at Orlando airport I made what would turn out to be the worst decision of the trip – getting a quick meal at the Wendy’s there. The food tasted fine at the time but there were consequences. Oh mais oui.

We picked up our bags and hopped aboard our Magical Express bus, which took us to the Polynesian. I’d already checked in online and I was pleased to see that information was ready and waiting for us, and also that we’d gotten a room in the Tahiti building (I’d requested Tahiti, Rapa Nui, or Tokelau for their proximity to the Transportation and Ticket Center as I knew we’d be spending a fair amount of time at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. We got our leis and made our way to the room, Tahiti 3045. Our box of Santa presents was already there and waiting for us on one of the beds (so we had to distract Alex while we hid the box).

The Polynesian is a gorgeous hotel, all tiki torches, tropical foliage (some of which was having a very hard time in the cold weather), and a very mellow, laid-back atmosphere. We were fortunate in that after arriving, it was just warm enough to visit the Volcano Pool and play around. The pool has two awesome things – a zero-entry end that is perfect if you want to sit in the pool (and enjoy the warm water) while keeping your head above the surface, and a slide down the volcano. I rode the slide and then stood in the pool, exclaiming “Vacation has officially begun!”

Then it was into the lobby to have some dinner. We ate at the hotel’s quick-service restaurant, Captain Cook’s. Scott had a stir fry, Alex had the cheese flat bread/pizza, and I had a grilled cheese sandwich. The good news is that Captain Cook’s has Dole Whips (pineapple soft-serve ice cream). The bad news is that you can also get vanilla in addition to pineapple, and we learned that pineapple/vanilla swirl just isn’t that satisfying as an all-pineapple one.

Day 2

Being jet-lagged and travel-weary, we slept in, then went to the Poly’s central building (aka the Great Ceremonial House) for breakfast (fruit and bagels mostly). The Ceremonial House also boasts a nice coffee bar, so we were able to get espresso drinks that got the morning off to a good start.

Alex’s choice for our first day was, surprisingly, Animal Kingdom. We caught the bus to the park; the bus was supposed to stop at Blizzard Beach but no one was going there so the driver just took us straight to Animal Kingdom. Unfortunately, the weather had taken a precipitous temperature dip (the forecast was for the mid-sixties but I doubt it made it out of the fifties). The biggest downside of the cold weather is that many animals, such as the komodo dragon, were hiding from view, no doubt draped over a heat lamp. Can’t say that I blame them. We still saw plenty, including tigers, bats, a golden pheasant, and siamangs in the Asia section (as well as some insane people riding the Kali River Raft ride). We picked up fast-passes for Expedition Everest for Scott and myself (Alex isn’t into rollercoasters these days), then went to Flame Tree Barbecue for lunch, where I had the ribs, Scott had the pulled pork sandwich, and Alex had drumsticks.

Then it was on to Kilimanjaro Safaris, where we saw gazelles, giraffes (that ran alongside the tram at one point – amazing sight!), wildebeests, ostriches, and a lion. We then walked the trail and saw more animals, including the gorillas and meerkats. Then it was on to the Boneyard, where we took turns hanging out with Alex while the other rode Expedition Everest. I can best describe Expedition Everest as “The Matterhorn on steroids” – it really is astounding in both its thrills and its attention to detail. Unfortunately I wasn’t wearing my glasses (didn’t want them to fly off) and couldn’t see the yeti at the end of the ride.

Dinner was back at the Polynesian. At Kona Café we had the sticky wings appetizer. Scott had the rib-eye, I had the mahi mahi, and Alex had Mickey ravioli. We also consumed several drinks with glowy things in them, and Scott got an “eco-tini” which came with a free acai seed bracelet (more bling for me!). The mahi mahi came with fried plantains and was very good

Day 3

We slept in and got a late start. After our usual quick-grab breakfast at the Ceremonial House, we went to Magic Kingdom. First we went on Stitch’s Great Escape, which Alex adores. Then we went on Mickey’s PhilHarMagic, which was new since we’d last been. It’s a 3-D show like the MuppetVision one, and is really well done and enjoyable, so we were pleasantly surprised. After that it was Haunted Mansion.

For lunch we went to see if El Pirata Y El Perico was open. The good news, it was open. The bad news, no more beef tacos! I got a vegetarian burrito (rice and black beans) which was quite tasty especially after I’d added some cheese from the topping bar. Alex had the kids’ quesadilla meal and Scott had nachos.

After lunch we went and signed Alex up for the Pirate League. Here you can get your face made up as a pirate, get a pirate name, photos, etc., even an outfit if you’re willing to spend the money. Because it was an impulse decision, we ended up having to wait a while for Alex’s turn, but he was a good sport and waited patiently (I also went on a Dole Whip run for us).

After he was all dolled up in pirate gear (and christened with his pirate name “Bart Stormfury”) we went on the Pirates ride, which is considerably shorter than its Disneyland equivalent and far less awesome. Alex declared: “They fast forwarded it. This is a ripoff!” We went on the Stitch ride again and rode the PeopleMover, then had dinner at Cosmic Ray’s (Scott and I had bacon cheeseburgers, which were surprisingly good, and Alex had chicken nuggets). Then it was back to the hotel. As we were waiting for the monorail, Alex met a girl about his age who, like him, had bought a Stitch doll at the park and the two of them bonded.

Day 4

Remember what I said on Day 1 about my bad decision with regards to fast food at the airport? Well, the chickens came home to roost Monday night. I’d been feeling a bit “off” Monday afternoon but attributed it to travel and tiredness. However, to be perfectly, blunt all Monday night I was horribly sick.

Tuesday morning the worst was over. Scott had gone to Great Ceremonial House to get me some ginger ale, powerade, bananas, and applesauce (the only available applesauce was baby food aka “apple gruel”). So I stayed home and recuperated while Scott and Alex went to Epcot (this was doubly upsetting as Epcot is my favorite of the WDW parks, but at the time I was feeling too awful physically to care much). I spent the day writing postcards, reading, and napping. It was very quiet and calm all day. I had the balcony door open (natch, it was a warm, gorgeous day) and the only noise I heard was the toot of the boat transportation and an occasional honk from the trams at Transportation and Ticket Center. Housekeeping obeyed the “privacy please” sign (which was nice because I really didn’t feel like having to explain the situation) and even left a voice mail later asking if they’d done right by this and making sure all was OK. I really appreciated that.

Not an ideal way to spend the day, but I got some reading done (finished Vows by LaVyrle Spencer and got well into Dress Her in Indigo by John D. MacDonald).

Day 5

I felt much, much better, so we went to Epcot. We got there reasonably early (I didn’t sleep in as I’d slept a lot the previous day), and rode Spaceship Earth. (In line Alex was chatting with a girl who, upon learning we were from California and had been to Disneyland, insisted that Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen head is stored at Disneyland; this really annoyed Alex!)

Then it was on to Universe of Energy, which Alex liked a lot. Afterward we took turns riding Test Track with fast passes. I had gotten Alex a fast pass in case he decided he wanted to go, and when he didn’t, I tried giving away his fast pass. It was surprisingly difficult. I was standing there saying, “Fast pass, good for right now, get your fast pass here.” Finally someone took me up on it. (To be fair, it was just for one person, but by that time the single rider line was over an hour so I’m surprised it took so long to give it away.)

The previous day Alex and Scott had spent lots of time in Epcot doing the Kim Possible stuff. What you do is sign up at a booth, and then you get cell phone communicators that take you through “missions” located all over World Showcase. Kids have to find certain spots in a country’s pavilion, then perform tasks that cause interactive things to happen. It is very well done and an excellent way to get the kids interested in World Showcase, which doesn’t always have a lot of appeal for the younger crowd.

We got fast passes for Maelstrom. I took advantage of being in Norway to get a salmon and egg sandwich from Kringla Bakeri. It was the perfect thing for my still-recovering system. Alex wanted something more plain, so I got him chicken nuggets at the Liberty Inn, and we sat by the giant gingerbread house. Scott picked up some teriyaki at Yakitori House, and while we ate he regaled us with his tale of a woman in line at Yakitori House who had such a weird, complicated order (all sorts of really oddball demands and substitutions) that even though she was 8 customers ahead of Scott (in the other line) she was still ordering when he got his food and left to meet us. Bizarre.

After lunch we spent the afternoon meandering around World Showcase looking at stuff, riding Maelstrom, and doing the Kim Possible things. For dinner we went to the new restaurant in Mexico, La Hacienda de San Angel. Dining here was a late decision but am I glad we made it. ¡La comida es muy fantastica! I had the tacos de camarones (I ordered in Spanish and the waitress complimented me on my pronunciation, which pleased me inordinately); Scott had two appetizers, the queso fundido and the taquiza taco trio; Alex had the usual chicken tenders. Food was excellent. The portions were very generous and the spicing was perfect. We also had margaritas that were very strong (or possibly my still-recovering system wasn’t up for the alcohol yet). We will definitely come back here next time we visit.

Day 6

Back to Animal Kingdom! We picked up fast passes for Expedition Everest and then headed for the safari, stopping on the way to see the siamangs. Lots of animals on both the safari and the trail, including some we hadn’t seen the last time (including rhinos). For lunch we picked up some food at Pizzafari for Alex (who didn’t want barbecue today) and then we went to Flame Tree Barbecue. My ribs weren’t as good this time, being a bit fatty (but when you’re cooking ribs by the metric ton, you’re going to have the occasional ones that aren’t lean). After lunch Expedition Everest was down, so we hung around the Boneyard for a while. After Everest was back up we rode that, then went to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which none of us had ever been to. Being late in the day, many of the animals were already put away for the day, but we still got to see some cool things. Unfortuantely someone had told Scott and Alex there was a cobra here (I wasn’t there for the conversation) which got Alex all excited, but there were no cobras to be found.

We caught a bus to Boma over at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Love Boma! The only downside was that they didn’t have some of the soups I liked so well at our last visit. No matter, everything was good. The standout this time was the fufu, which I hadn’t had before – it tastes like pumpkin pie! The meal was worth the hassle of getting a bus back to Magic Kingdom then the monorail to the TTC (a kind lady on the bus saw how exhausted Alex was and gave her seat to him).

Day 7

Poor Alex! He was goofing around on the beds, fell off, and did a face plant on the floor. His pride seemed to be more bruised than his body, but he had some rug burns on his face. We did some quick checks to make sure he wasn’t concussed, and once we were all comfortable that he was OK we went off to Epcot.

We’d decided that Biergarten would be nice for a Christmas Eve dinner, and in honor of Biergarten Scott wore his lederhosen. He looks very, uh, ethnic in them and got comments all day long from guests and cast members alike. The highlight was when he was walking along with a beer in hand, and a passing guest exclaimed, “Look, y’all! A real German!” As if a German was some exotic creature he’d heard tell of but never actually seen.

Anyway, we kicked the day off with Universe of Energy (we let Alex pick first attraction as he was still a bit upset about the face plant). We skipped Spaceship Earth but did the “Body Builder” game in the exit area, which Alex found very fascinating. Then it was on to the Seas, which is always nice.

The boys got pizza from Cool Wash for lunch, while I got another salmon and egg sandwich from Kringla Bakeri. Then we got Kim Possible communicators and roamed around World Showcase, with an extended interlude at the Mitsukoshi Department Store where I did the “pick a pearl” thing (this took forever because some people were getting multiple pearls). But it was fun and the pearl was “ours” because we all voted on which oyster to pick.

At the Biergarten, the cast members all went nuts for Scott’s lederhosen. We had a great meal, especially the roast chicken and potatoes, and the schnapps shots were delightful. The band came out and played, and when they invited kids down the bandleader told the story of the song “Silent Night” and they played that. Very nice!

Upon returning to the hotel, it was time for the full implementation of Operation Candy Cane. After Alex went to bed we retrieved the Santa presents from their hiding space in the closet, arranged them on the table, and included a note from Santa (composed by me, written by my friend Gerry so Alex wouldn’t recognize the handwriting).

Day 8

We woke up and Alex got his Santa presents – the last of the Lego Bionicle figures (they’re discontinuing that line), which he was very happy with. He spent the morning building those, and then we caught the bus for Disney Hollywood Studio. Since it was the warmest day we’d had so far, the plan was that we’d do the few things at Hollywood Studios that we liked, then come back for pool time and dinner at Ohana.

The day got off to a surreal start as I listened to the music playing on the bus and realized it was the theme from John Carpenter’s Halloween! More Halloween-themed stuff played and I realized that whoever selected the CD or whatever for today had picked the wrong holiday!

Once at Hollywood Studios we had our two top priorities established – attend the Lights! Motors! Stunt show for Alex and get fast passes for Rock and Roller Coaster for Scott and me. The stunt show was fun, even though those things are not my usual cup of tea. After the show we rode Rock and Roller Coaster, which is a blast as always (even though I was terrified of my glasses flying out of the little mesh bag that’s supposed to contain your valuables). (And having just attended two of Roger Waters’ Wall concerts, I can’t help fantasizing about a Wall-themed roller coaster, possibly centering around the What Shall We Do Now sequence, though that would likely induce psychosis in many of the riders.)

I digress. After the coaster it was on to get some lunch. On impulse we decided to see if we could score a seat at the Sci Fi Dine In. We’d had ressies for dinner there on Tuesday but I’d canceled since I was incapacitated and Scott and Alex decided they would rather just eat in Epcot. It turned out seats were available, and even though we were in the back and were “hitch hikers” it was a blast. We adored the trailers and other footage that played, and had either seen or had heard of most of the movies. Basically, if we had designed a restaurant for ourselves and our friends, it would be like this. The food was good, as well. It took a while to arrive but we didn’t mind because we had the films to occupy our attention (plus Scott and I had alcoholic beverages the size of our heads). I had the beef and blue salad, Scott had the burger, and Alex had pizza. I also had a hot fudge sundae for dessert. It was all very tasty.

By now the excitement of the trip and the fact that he hadn’t slept well the night before was showing in Alex, so we went to MuppetVision, which is always enjoyable. Then it was back to the hotel for pool time. Other than the unfortunate illness, my biggest regret about the trip is that the weather didn’t allow for more lolling by the pool with fruity drinks, or lazing in the hammock on the beach. Maybe in a few years we’ll come back in May or October, when the weather is warm but not horribly hot.

After the pool we headed over to Ohana. I love Ohana but it really is too much of a good thing. They need to eliminate the appetizers except for the noodles and salad, and I need to say no to the beef and yes to the shrimp (in fact, I could forgo all the meat and just have the shrimp). That said, the bread pudding is heavenly, and I usually hate bread pudding. I kept wanting to eat just one more bite, until I had to stop for fear of being like Mr. Creosote.

Day 9

Well, from warm and pleasant we went to cold and blustery. I mean REALLY cold and blustery. We headed off to Magic Kingdom (we’d avoided it on Christmas day, knowing there’d be massive crowds there). When we arrived the boys went to Tomorrowland while I did some shopping, and lucky I did, too, as I ended up buying gloves for us all. They ended up being worth every penny. At least the cold seemed to keep the crowds to a minimum.

Shopping done, I met up with the boys in Tomorrowland where we rode the PeopleMover and then went to the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor – this was a pleasant surprise, and not just because Scott was one of the people picked to be on camera. Very funny and well done. We then headed to Fantasyland, where we rode the Carrousel, then PhilHarMagic. After that it was lunch at the Columbia Harbor House, where I had the fried shrimp basket, Scott had the BLT salad, and Alex had chicken nuggets.

After lunch we went to Tom Sawyer’s Island. I prefer Disneyland’s version for the suspension bridge, but this version’s caves are much less claustrophobic. After a good long while on the island we headed over to Adventureland. Alex could not be talked out of that abomination they call the Tiki Room (we love the Disneyland version and will accept no substitutes) and even he said afterward it was lame. We rode Jungle Cruise and Aladdin’s Magic Carpets (two times for Aladdin), and then it was off to Epcot for dinner.

The Rose and Crown had set up its patio with plastic enclosures and space heating, so we were able to eat outside and not be too cold. We had the fruit and cheese appetizer, which was a hit with us all – even Alex loved the combo of apples and Irish cheddar, particularly after we told him it would be just like what Remy does in Ratatouille. As for the entrée, I had the fish and chips, which were very good – the fish perfectly cooked and the batter not too heavy or greasy. Scott had the shepherd’s pie and I forget what Alex had (probably pizza). As for beverage, I had the English Rose, which would have been better suited to a hot day, as it was so light and sweet – it packed a surprising punch, though, so I was able to indulge in one of my favorite Disney World pastimes, which is walking through World Showcase with a buzz on.

Then it was back to the hotel for our last evening!

Day 10

We’d stayed up late packing the night before, and had everything ready to go. We called Bell Services and got our luggage hauled to the Great Ceremonial house so we could check it in for Magical Express and stash our carry-ons until it was time to go. The Bell Services staff was amazingly fast and very courteous.

Once all that was taken care of we went to the character breakfast at Ohana. I hadn’t told Alex which characters would be there in case one didn’t show up, but he was happy to see Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto. The food was surprisingly good – a juice blend that we all loved, Mickey waffles, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and biscuits. We ate entirely too much, and then we were off for our last bit of fun.

At Magic Kingdom we spent our time in Adventureland, riding Aladdin and Jungle Cruise, going on Tiki Room for some reason (I swear I am never going to this again until they start serving alcohol in the Magic Kingdom and I can use booze to ease the pain), steering the remote control boats, and going in the treehouse. Then it was off to Epcot for one last ride on Maelstrom and Gran Fiesta Tour (and one last salmon and egg sandwich at Kringla Bakeri for me). Then we hauled it back to the Polynesian to catch the Magical Express to the airport.

We caught an earlier-than-scheduled bus (thanks to my OCD “must not be late, ever” tendencies). And then we were leaving the magic behind. I’ve noticed that the Magical Express leaving Disney World is much quieter than the one arriving there.

All in all, a few bumps aside, a very fun and successful trip.

Random observations and thoughts:

There seemed to be fewer instances of really awful parenting this time out. At least I didn’t see parents whacking their kids or bullying them into going on rides they were scared of. There were a few of the usual “Damien. Don’t do that, Damien. I said don’t do that, Damien. Stop, or I’ll say stop again, Damien” parents, but that wasn’t so bad. Kudos go to the good parents, particularly the woman I saw with two very young children in line for Rafiki Planet Watch train. They were getting very overexcited and squirrelly, and she got them singing “Old MacDonald” and gave them a way to channel the energy. I wanted to give her a medal.

I didn’t see rude guests so much as I saw utterly clueless ones. There were many incidents of people stopping dead in walkways to consult maps, discuss with their friends/family what they should do next, or gawk at something or other. This happened so much that we gave it a name: “There’s No One In the Park But Me Syndrome”.

The staff at the hotel were all great.

I can't stand the Disney Dining Plan. You'll be in line, just wanting a salmon and egg sandwich and a cappucino, and the people in front of you are wondering if this thing counts as a snack, does that thing count as a meal, blah blah on and on. Cast members seemed relieved whenever we told them we weren't on the plan.

All in all a very good trip. Can't wait for the next one!