Why The Words?

I’m bad at updating this blog, for any number of reasons.  I don’t always like to talk about myself, I’m terrible at self-promoting, etc…

Lately, with the atrocities committed by the government in this country that I’m supposed to hold dear, I’ve been noisy on social media.  I feel like any long form commentary will devolve into angry ramblings at this point, lacking anything productive that other people haven’t said already.

Instead, I’ve been thinking about the authors I love, those whose words inspire me.  One of my current favorites, both for his fiction and opinions, would be Chuck Wendig.  Follow him on Twitter.  Read his blog, especially this piece here.  He speaks volumes.

The authors we grow up reading are the ones that influence us, whether we are cognizant of it at the time.  Our list of favorite books may grow over time, but the memories of the past linger.  One of my all-time favorite authors, Steven Brust, wrote a thing for Tor.com about another one of my all-time favorite authors, Roger Zelazny.  His thoughts about the quality of the writing and how inspiring it was, well, it inspired me to write about it.  Coincidentally, Brust and I share an opinion on Zelazny’s writing.  It’s complex layers, even when the story didn’t work fully.  The depth, the juxtaposition.  The ability to speak to a reader.  Brust’s work, inspired in part by Zelazny, has had a similar effect on me.

The list of authors whose back catalogue I seek out, who’s bibliography always has a place on my shelf, is not a long one.  They are more often than not fantasy writers, but ones that have attained a mythological aspect of their own.  They are writing fantastical stories, in our world or in another, that are most decidedly human.

Neil Gaiman

A household name for the nerd set, needing no introduction from myself.  His work with the Sandman series was not only the first comic book that bound my brain, but the first time I read something that fit into a spiritual mindset I had started to form.  My first encounter with the concept of consensual reality, that is, the idea that if enough people believe in it, it exists.

Roger Zelazny

I was introduced to Zelazny almost concurrently by my father and stepfather, in the form of The Chronicles of Amber.  A sweeping epic of philosophy, many worlds and the godlike beings from Amber that could walk between them.  There were politics, feuds, epic battles, fights against demons and otherworldly beings.  There was philosophy and poetry, and they were laden with intense layers that I wouldn’t even begin to comprehend until much later.  They showed me the importance of authorial voice, how well one could use an unreliable narrator and how to take a flawed protagonist to a deeper level.  Lord of LightJack of Shadows, and Damnation Alley are just a few others that hold root in my mind.

Charles De Lint

De Lint, both a prolific author and a very talented musician, was the first urban fantasy writer I discovered, or rather, was introduced to.  He wrote stories of myths, faerie tales and more, brought into our modern world.  The fictional city of Newford was vibrant and alive, with characters that formed a central core.  And yet, all of the short stories (of which there are a plethora) and the novels stood on their own.  There were familiar faces, that grew and evolved if you read them in the order they were written, but rarely were they the sole protagonists.  Someplace To Be Flying is still my go-to read when I need something comforting and familiar, and the book still reveals new details each time.  The body of work that Charles De Lint wrought serves as a constant reminder of the importance of Mystery and Grace in our world.

Steven Brust

My stepdad introduced me to Steven Brust’s Jhereg some time after I’d devoured the Amber series.  As a teenager, I was enamored of this sarcastic, witty assassin and his wisecracking familiar.  A crime story in a fantasy world unlike anything I’d seen before.  Each novel just the right pace.  The books did not come out in chronological order, but in a fashion that made sense to Vlad as he narrated.  Or to Steven as he wrote it.  Every time a new iteration in the series comes out, I reread them all.  I am never disappointed, even by a few of the weird ones in the middle.  Having read them chronologically, I find that I prefer the order they were published in.  With the newest one, Vallista, coming out shortly, I feel the series reread approaching.

And I love his other work, like The Gypsy (cowritten with Megan Lindholm), but then he had to go blow it all out of the water.  He wrote The Incrementalists with Skylar White, and it is a book that I am still processing, especially in light of current events.  The sequel, The Skill Of Our Hands, was just released and is proving as elegant and thought-provoking as one would expect.

The Others

The list of authors that I love is a long one, and most things I read impact the way I view stories, for good or for ill.  Sometimes I read something that leaves me stunned, wishing I had half the gumption to conjure such sorcery with fingers and keys.

One of my favorite series is Bordertown, from the brilliant minds of Terri Windling, Ellen Kushner and a whole slew of others.  A techno-magical dystopian city that exists on the border of Faerie and The World, where neither magic nor technology act as they should.  Where punk kids, outsiders and the Elven Lords intermingle, with motorcycles powered by spells and magical books inside magical books.  It steadied the rage within me, gave me a place to dream of and a thing I wanted to be a part of, not just as a reader but as a writer.

Coincidentally, Charles De Lint, Neil Gaiman and Steven Brust have also contributed to the Bordertown legacy, along with other favorites like Emma Bull, Will Shetterley, Midori Snyder, Delia Sherman, Holly Black, Cory Doctorow and Jane Yolen.  I keep working at a short story, an offering to the Border.  Maybe some day, my name will grace the table of contents of an anthology.

Writing, for me at least, is a part of a never-ending urge to create, to tell stories, to mutate perspective.  A way to filter truth, and to create something lasting that will find purpose for others beyond my original intentions.  I hope that in time my legacy will be as powerful as any of the authors listed above, that perhaps some 30 or 40 years from now (if reading hasn’t been outlawed), someone will include me in this list, even as a footnote.

Arrival

I have had three drafts of a review for Arrival.  WordPress ate one and I deleted the other two.  One was moony and fawning, the other was overly florid, pretentious swill.

I’m a writer, a book lover.  I’m terrible at languages other than English, but I know a smattering of a few Romance languages and a few more complicated, like Finnish or Gaelic.  Enough to fuck up the grammar if I put them in a book.  Or use a word out of context or inaccurately.  So after Arrival, I found myself looking up linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity.  After Arrival, I felt like I had been looking at the world through a pinhole.

I don’t always feel the need to be a critic.  I love peer review, beta reading and editing, but reviewing a final work always seems disingenuous.  I have to separate my Feeling and instead qualify and quantify.

Holy shit, I fucking loved Arrival.  It was beautiful and poetic, well filmed and well paced.  There were no dramatic scenes of military might repelling hostile invaders.  No dramatic presidential speeches.  What there was in plenty were questions, morals, ethics and a whole lot of science.  There were some cool aliens and some very nice visuals.

Arrival is a film about love, language, the nature of humanity and how we perceive the world.  It is almost an infinite loop.  There ought to be more films that are unafraid to be intelligent and to ask questions of the viewer rather than answer them.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the film is based off “Story of your Life,” a short story by Ted Chiang.  The story is very well written and worth the read.  Go do that thing…

Deep Dish Youth

What follows is my attempt at recollection, a memoir if you will.  My road from waiting tables in high school to fine dining line chef.  There will likely be detours on the way, or stray tangents.  The lessons I’ve learned, the things to pass on.  I’m going to try to start at the beginning.

*~*~*~*~*

I think it’s common knowledge that I grew up in a foodie household.  My mother is an excellent cook and she used to be a professional in her youth, before I was born.  She also made the desserts for my wedding, which were perfectly amazing.

I spent a lot of time helping my mother in the kitchen while I was growing up.  I learned the basics of a kitchen, as well as an appreciation for some of the finer aspects of the culinary arts.  Of course, none of these reasons explain why I chose to work in restaurants instead of just throwing exemplary dinner parties like a sensible person.

In truth, the road to the back of the house was practical in some choices, desperate in others.  Though a passion for good food drives me, skill and need drew me deeper into the well.

I never wanted to work in restaurants.  Except maybe as the cool bartender or something, before I knew how much actual work was involved.  I wanted to be a rockstar/famous actor-director.  Or I was going to be a cult-of-personality writing sensation.  I think I even seriously considered black magic as a means to instant wealth.

Through hindsight I can call it foreshadowing, but in reality my mother begged, cajoled, needled and threatened dire punishment until I dragged my heels into Edwardo’s Pizza and the owner was kind enough to take a chance on me.  I worked there for most of my senior year of high school, waiting tables while doing homework and radiating teen angst.

I’ve really only got vague memories of that place.  I barely cared about it and didn’t fully appreciate even a meager paycheck or cash in my pocket.  I learned how to pour a glass of wine and fill a pitcher of beer without too much head.  I had to relearn that later, when serving beer became a bigger part of my job.

I also had my first taste of how people treat service professionals, from kindness to blatant disregard.  I got $10 tips on $10 checks and had $200 tables of ten walkout without leaving so much as a penny.  I can and will write a whole chapter on dining etiquette in restaurants, be they fast food chains or three Michelin starred.  But I don’t want to get distracted now.

 I had a taste of life as a service professional and I hated it.  On my feet for six to twelve hours, underpaid and underappreciated.  That I was a self-involved teenage shithead with no plan and no solid ambition probably didn’t help.

I should add that, being a good Chicagoan, I love deep dish pizza.  I wish that I had learned to make them while I was a that place.  That beautiful chewy, flaky crust rising up over glorious pizza, covered in thick marinara and stuffed full of cheese and goodies.  Spinach and pesto is my favorite from Edwardo’s.  Chicago’s?  Roast beef and garlic.  Giordano’s?  Sausage and spinach.  Gino’s East doesn’t stuff their pizza, but their cornmeal crust is nice.  I like their pizza with pepperoni.

Along with my disdain for making a living at the mercy of others, a foolish notion in its own right, I decided that rather than going to college I was going to move into Chicago proper.  Oh the stories that could be told from the years that followed.  Sex, drugs, booze and rock ’n’ roll, and a party that didn’t always end well.  I could probably fill a book just from my years living in the apartment known as the House of the Lotus Eaters.

I worked in a now-closed SF/F bookstore in Evanston for a while.  Then did some clerical work for a homeopathic clinic at the edge of Lincoln Park.  Another place deserving of a book to itself, between the doctors and the clients.  From there I went to a legit clerical position with a major non-profit, where I learned the hard way why I don’t do desk jobs.

Eventually, due to what amounted to a minor nervous breakdown, I left the non-profit and failed to find work.

I’m almost certain that I was a pretty unpleasant person to be around in those days.  Broke, hungry and usually drunk or high.  No savings and ever-growing debt on top of terrible credit.  I still wasn’t very good about forethought and planning, so I couldn’t pay bills or rent and I was about to get kicked out of another apartment.

Fortunately one of my close friends had just returned from a vacation in Yosemite National Park.  I was on the verge of full-blown panic when I called him.  He told me he’d think about my situation and call me back.

He did, about ten minutes later, with a brilliant suggestion.  Get a job at Yosemite.  He had met some folks that worked there and I would fit in.  He paid for the train ride and put me up at his place until I got hired.

I sold or stored my things, stripped myself down to the bare essentials.  I was going to live in the mountains so I didn’t need much at all.  I spent a couple weeks saying my goodbyes and I was off.  For the first time, I was leaving Chicago without knowing when I’d see it or the people in it again.

Even in the thick of the chaos that was my life back then, I understood that I was at a precipice.  Though I was running off half-cocked, I knew that whatever came next would change me.  I was getting back to nature, to gain focus and perspective.  More importantly, I was taking direct action, instead of just waiting for something awesome to just happen.  And so off to California I went.

*~*~*~*~*

Next up (in no particular order)

– Lessons in Humility, the Road to Adulthood (or How I Stopped Worrying and Embraced the Mundane)

– Proper Etiquette For Dining Out

– Adventures at 10,000 Feet

Eleven Years

I’ve spent most of this day in reflection and contemplation.  How that could possibly be different than any other day is a riddle to me.  But this particular occasion marks the eleventh anniversary of Thomas Maenpaa’s death.  He was a good man, one that aspired to be a great man – not great in the world-sweeping change sort of way, but great in the impact he had on others.

My dad and I were close while he was alive, despite the difficulties and disagreements we had.  His absence in my life has been significant, though I’m sure it has contributed to my strength.  Now, with my own fatherhood visible on the horizon, it has cast his absence in a whole new light.  No longer is it about the things he’s missed in my life – graduation, adventure, marriage – but what he’s going to miss in the lives of my future children.  And what they’ll miss by not knowing him.

All these thoughts cluster in my mind, fragments at times or lingering details.  Sad and mildly frightening things – like not being able to instantly summon his voice in my ear.  Working to remember the little things, like the way he smelled.t

So I went hiking today, to get closer to his memory and to get some peace and quiet.  Colorado Chautauqua is within the city limits, with trails leading up into the Flatiron Mountains.  It was on the chilly side, a bit damp and gray – perfect weather for hiking.  I took my time, did a nice couple mile loop.  Brought some leftover pizza for lunch and a lot of water.

So a little past halfway, and a lot of uphill, I find a nice spot to sit.  I had started a poem and was intent on finishing it.  And I figured that pizza would be good right about then.  So I sat there, eating cold pizza on a misty day in the woods, thinking about my father.  I had an epiphany right there – that moment, a culmination of my memories of him – it all came down to eating cold pizza in the woods.  He could have been sitting right next to me, telling me about some tree or flower, or showing me a caterpillar or strangely shaped piece of bark.  And in a way, he was.

Cold Pepperoni Pizza

They say that time heals all wounds, but I think that’s absolute poppycock.  Scars remain, and scars can be more painful than the rend that made them.  But I feel closer to him now than I have in years, better able to understand him even if I can’t actually speak to him.  All I can do is try to be as good to my kids as he was to me, to love them and teach them and show them the beauty of the world.

I’ll finish this off, before I begin to ramble.  Here’s that poem:

Observance and Reflection 2011

Walking through rain-soaked woods
In a world shrouded by mist
Tangled up with tatters of the past
And glimmers of a thousand futures

Fatherhood dwells on the edge of mystery
An endless pattern in the fabric
I wonder what he would say
And for a moment I can't remember
The sound of his voice

We'll never know those answers
But I can imagine
I can talk to him in dreams
But he still won't answer questions
Should I fear his legacy
or welcome it?
Will my child be cursed?

Both thoughts and rock are chilly
And purposefully oblique
But at the core all is bright
Except the rock

New life, the gift of bright fire
Brought with love and joy
No longer living through other's missteps
But still learning from my own
Closer to peace

Holy Damn

This blog has been collecting dust since April, and for that I apologize.  There was May, the month full of birthdays, as well as my starting a new job.  And in addition to all those shenanigans, Zoe and I put our move to Colorado into full gear.  In fact, we will be living in Boulder as of August 1st, which is at times far away and all too near.

We depart San Francisco with a wealth of experience and determination in pursuit of our dreams.  While San Francisco is an excellent city, it is too expensive for two writers to live easily in.  We’re not the kind that thrive on poverty.  So blue skies and mountains await us, and to be sure more mayhem and hilarity.

It makes a strange sort of sense that my last post was about A Game of Thrones, as my next couple posts will also be on that subject and then I’ll shut up about it until Season 2 or Winds of Winter (whichever happens first).  A review of the first season of the HBO series is pending, as well as a mirror of my review of A Dance With Dragons for Fantasy-Faction.

I suppose this is all theoretical, trying to find time to speak to empty air in the midst of packing and moving, writing fiction, looking for work and adapting to a new environment.

Big things on the way, so stay tuned.

In The Context Of Me

I’ve probably mentioned that I hang around this website called Fantasy Faction, loitering with the other bad seeds, discussing our fantasy and science-fiction literature and shunning the non-believers.  Being of the nerdy persuasion and having had access to the internet since I was young, I’ve spent a lot of time on message boards over the years.  I was even some sort of administrator type person for a video game politics forum a few years back.  We sent flowers and a nice letter to Jack Thompson, who proceeded to continue being a crazy person.

I’m big on etiquette and manners, though I often choose to ignore them in favor of sounding good.  I also dislike drama, though often find myself at the center of it and I’m known for hyperbole.  Still, I’ve learned a few things, like not being a troll, not starting pointless flame wars, how to ignore people who just want attention and how to avoid being a smug douche.  When confronted with those types of people, I usually just ignore the thread or write around them.  When I respond, I try to avoid doing it directly.  This may seem passive-aggressive, but its more for the sanctity of my sanity.

That being said, there is this guy that makes me crazy.  I ignored, thinking perhaps I was over-sensitive.  Then I noticed other people being irritated by him.  And still others.  I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of why.  His posts come off as both smug and defensive, as if you could some how forget how he is the Font of Knowledge for the Universe, so he will prove it to you anyways.  But, while annoying, the guy can occasionally muster a good point.  Hard to see through the piles of bullshit yet to be raked, but those good points are there.  I don’t want to silence the guy, because maybe someone doesn’t like my voice or opinion and I don’t want them to silence me.

We all go through life viewing things from our own unique perspective, filtered by our experiences and opinions.  We interpret the world through a context of ourselves.  The Context of Me involves minimizing my external stress factors, because I do a good enough job making myself crazy that I don’t often want or need help.

The Context of Annoying Forum Guy is that everything is self-referential.  He is the guy who always has to reference his own opinions while giving you his opinions.  He’s the guy that makes everything about his Epic Novel Which Has Been Read By Acclaimed Author You’ve Never Heard Of.  He’s the guy that will give you all the crunchy numbers and statistics to prove that he is in fact right, but when you poke a hole in his logic, will then shun the non-believer.  He is the sort of asshole who probably doesn’t mean to be, but just can’t shift his perception of the world past his own bloated ego.  On better days, I chuckle and ignore.  On the worst days, I find myself contemplating technology that will allow me to physically pimpslap someone through the internet.

Yet I am still only perceiving these actions through my own filters.  One of those old adages, those ones your parents or grandparents tell you when attempting to appear wise, has stuck with me.  That which we dislike in others is a reflection of what we dislike in ourselves.  These are the traits we attempt to avoid, be it for moral reasons or because we are ashamed of our own bad habits.

I’m going to keep Annoying Forum Guy anonymous for a few reasons.  The first is that I don’t point fingers, because I don’t want somebody pointing back at me.  Goes against the whole ‘no drama’ policy I’m trying to establish.  Keep the action and intrigue to the novels, people.  The second reason is that Annoying Forum Guy’s name doesn’t matter.  You don’t know my particular case, but if you’ve spent any time on message boards or comment sections on the internet, you know Annoying Forum Guy or some other incarnation.  And thirdly, I have a moral message for you.  And you’ve read this far, so you may as well keep going.

It comes down to fairness, respect and integrity.  Words that often get chucked in with honor and out with the trash.  It comes down to being an adult and treating others the way you’d like to be treated.  Being both empathetic and sympathetic, while still maintaining a low tolerance for petty bullshit.  Love thy neighbor.  Some other tiresome cliche.

I’ll wind down my rant now.  I mentioned above that I’ve been on Fantasy Faction, writing some articles on some stuff.  My latest can be read here.  Progress has been made on the Western, though not as much as I’d like.  I have a handful of drafts started for blog posts, but I can’t bring myself to finish them.  I’ll try and throw another short story up here later this week, for your viewing pleasure.

In the meantime, be nice to each other.  And remember:  Arguing on the internet solves nothing.  It only makes you look dumb.

You Can’t Stop the Signal…

…but you sure can misinterpret.

 

Let me start by saying that I am both a Browncoat and a Whedonite.  I started watching Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the pilot on the WB, refusing to leave the house unless my dad promised to tape every episode thereafter.  In high school we had Buffy and Angel night, which kept up afterward.  I missed Firefly while it was on the air because I didn’t have a TV for a few years, but now own it on DVD.  I saw Serenity in the theater a half dozen times, and every time that last “I am a leaf on the wind…” happened, I gasped.  I’m such a Whedon devotee that I stuck it out for Dollhouse, watching every episode.

The whole Help Nathan Buy Firefly campaign is great.  Browncoats are numerous, and more crop up every day.  This is an awesome thing, and the series deserves it.  Moreover, we as fans deserve more Firefly.  Fox canceling it was a terrible decision, and they should pass the rights on to somebody who could do something with it.  That will not happen, even if you, me, Nathan Fillion, Patrick Rothfuss and Fidel Castro came up with 1 billion dollars and tried to bury Fox executives with it.  This article over at Inside TV has a very good explanation why.

I’m not trying to be needlessly pessimistic.  I want more Firefly, more of the crew of the Serenity, more awesome space cowboys and crazy ‘readers’ and Reavers.  I want Joss to do it, with all the cast returning.  Is it likely to happen?  Probably not.  Why not?  Well in the most immediate sense, Joss Whedon is busy.  Who else could be the showrunner?  None that I would trust with the integrity of the property.

But really, the whole impetus of this latest charge to resurrect our favorite canceled program was a misread signal.  The interview that spurred all this, Nathan Fillion made an off-handed comment.  “If I won the lottery….”  How many times have you said, “If I won the lottery, I could do X.”  Numerous, I’m sure.  The people running HNBF understand this, thankfully.

Fillion tweeted yesterday “It’s beautiful to dream of more Firefly, but PLEASE DON’T SEND ANY MONEY. Just keep being great Browncoats, which you are!”

So watch the DVDs of Firefly and Serenity.  Buy the comic books.  Watch Castle (because they like to make references and because its awesome).  Be the best Browncoat you can.  But don’t get your hopes up that Firefly is returning.  You’ll only crush them.