My Photos

I’ve been taking photos for almost a year now and outside of family pics, which I send around to relatives, I’ve really been doing absolutely nothing with the shots I take.  I’m going to look into a Flickr account…I think…I have so very many accounts on so very many websites I kind of want to curtail that.

For now, though, I decided to pick out some of my favorite shots and share them on here. You can click on any of these (I think) to get a larger view.

We’ll start with some baskets I saw at a street fair:Baskets

Baskets 2

The neon sign on the booze store by me:

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This one is great.  That’s the Boat Pond in Central Park that these lunatics are standing on:

Boat Pond

My morning coffee:

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Spring has sprung:

White Flowers

Purple Flowers

Yellow Flowers

Signage at Gray’s Papaya:

Grays Papaya

These two are fun.  Readers of Probability Angels might remember in “Part 4: A Body At Rest” when Epp talks about the biggest push of his existence. That whole section takes place around Bethesda Fountain in Central Park which is pictured below.  The mix of the setting plus the footprints lingering in ice stuck with me:

Bethesda Fountain

Footprints in Ice

This is leading into the tunnel right outside the fountain:

Tile

This is another tunnel…I like tunnels:

Man in a Tunnel

And arches.  Gotta love arches.  After all tunnels are just fancy arches.  This is from The Cloisters:

Arch at Cloisters

This is my hood.  I love the color of the sky in this shot. Granted I probably Photoshopped it to look like that, but that’s how I remember it and in the end that’s all that matters:

Upper West Side

This sign always cracks me up. I don’t know what a drunk bird next to a dismembered hand on a stack of magazines has to do with being wild…but there you go:

Forever Wild Sign

Some stacks of fences:

Fences

We’ll end with this one.  Just a sticker on a bench but probably my favorite photo I’ve taken since I got my new camera:

Sticker

My Long Take

The following is the opening shot from Orson Welles’ 1958 film, “Touch of Evil.”  You will note that, for three and a half minutes, the camera weaves in and out of traffic at a border station on the US-Mexican border and during this entire time the camera never blinks.  Which is to say that this was all shot in one long take.

This is probably the most famous long take in all of cinema. There are numerous others, of course.

Altman’s opening for  “The Player” is another one of my favorites, mainly because you get the feeling after seeing it a number of times that Altman is making fun of long takes by using a long take…which is just plain wonderful:

To round out this group I’ll go with Henry Hill’s walk through the Copa in Scorcese’s “Goodfellas:”

There are tons of reasons why these shots are impressive. First, especially for the “Touch of Evil” one, is the technical aspect.  Welles shot that in 1958.  In 1958 you weren’t supposed to be doing things like that.  For most people it wasn’t even possible to do things like that.  Welles had to push the limits of all sorts of technology from lighting apparatus to camera cranes to get his shot made.  Nowadays the technical aspect gets a bit lost.  If you’ve seen Yoda levitate a space ship somehow watching a long dolly tracking shot loses some of its verve. But, still, all shots like these possess an aspect of technological wizardry.  Just watch the one from “The Player” and ask yourself how they were holding the camera.

The second thing that’s amazing about long takes is the human element.  You get one chance to do everything right.  If something goes wrong, somebody flubs a line or somebody misses a mark, then that’s it.  You have to cut and start the entire shot over from the beginning.  Rumor has it that during the long take in “Goodfellas” Henny Youngman (the last person to have dialogue in the shot) kept messing up his lines.  Which is to say that they would shoot the entire thing and then Henny Youngman would mess up and they’d have to redo the whole shebang.

Then again that might be just a rumor.

All of this, though, the choreographing of a long take and and (at least for Welles) getting the lighting and sound correct, all of this really doesn’t mean a whole lot outside of cinema classes except for one very important thing.  They work.  These shots work.  You can marvel at how cool it is that the directors pulled them off but you can also ignore that entirely and the shot still works within the context of the movie.  You can debate exactly why they work, whether you want to discuss the narrow hallways that the “Goodfellas” shot leads us though or the pacing set up in “The Player,” the point is these shots add something to the movie as a whole.  They aren’t the director just showing off.

Which is why Welles is the king of these things in my mind.  The first thing we see in “Touch of Evil” is a bomb getting put into the trunk of a car.  Then we have this three minute shot where we’re bouncing through everything, all the while wondering about that bomb, wondering when it’s going to go off and even, at one point, listening to the passenger in the car complaining about some “ticking noise” that she says won’t go away. It builds ridiculous tension and sets up the movie to come amazingly well.

I am, currently, 16,488 words into my next book and I have yet to take a scene break.  And while I know the comparison between the written word and film is flawed, it is time to admit to myself that I’m in the midst of a very long take.

And I’m not sure it’s working.

This week I’m going to honestly ask myself if I couldn’t be telling my opening better by putting some section breaks in or if this giant long take following various characters through their day is for real. Because it’s starting to feel silly and I have no real way to get from the scene I’m in to the scene I want to write next without a section break, and if I jump scenes now then I see no reason to bother keeping this up.  If I could do the entire opening in one giant scene, yes, that would be something.  But if I have to put one break in anywhere I see no reason not to go back and put breaks in everywhere.

And even if I could do it all in one take, so to speak, what I really need to ask myself is, “Does it work?”

Or am I just over complicating things for no good reason?

National Skirt Day

legs2Winter is coming to an end in the northern hemisphere, an event that has long been celebrated by our species in a variety of ways. The need to get the hell out of the house once the snow is gone and dance around in expectation of new crops and livestock has produced a variety of parties in a variety of cultures. A lot of religious events even get wrapped up in this most basic need to rejoice, for whether you celebrate the fact that your ancestors’ first born children were spared or that a Jewish carpenter came back to life, in some ways you’re also celebrating the very deep instinctive joy that comes with knowing that you didn’t starve during the winter.

I, however, eschew most of these other observations and prefer my own method of marking when Spring has arrived: the reappearance on New York City streets of the piece of female anatomy known as “the leg.”

The female leg goes into hiding around mid-October in these parts and over the course of winter becomes more myth than reality, disappearing into bulky overcoats, thick jeans and weird articles of clothing I don’t even know the name of.

But all that is over now and for one day I suddenly stop caring if I’m being a horrible disgusting pig of a man because praise Jesus, Moses and Superman the women of New York City are displaying their gams again.

National Skirt Day is upon us.  And it is good.

On the Writing of Sequels

twofilmthumbMatthew and Epp 2: The Search for Blackbeard’s Gold is well underway…and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.  Oh, the word count keeps growing (you can see it down under the most popular stories on the right), but I sort of feel like more should be happening plot-wise by this point.  Right now all I’m doing is touching base with my characters in a pretty odd way, bouncing in and out of their day, picking up their threads.  I guess this is normal, and very needed.  I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to remind you people about concerning the happenings of the first book, but I’m pretty sure a little refresher course is needed.  It’s just that I hate writing summaries along those lines, especially when I try to pass them off coyly as part of the new story.  I wind up with clunky transitions like, “Timmy looked at his dog and thought about how last year he and his friends had foiled an international ring of thieves in their attempt to steal priceless treasures out of the Louvre.  His dog was brown.”

There are times when I long to be able to use the Star Wars opening scroll.  Just three quick paragraphs of summary, there we are, here’s what happened, here’s where we’re at, and now we’re off to the desert to kill a giant talking slug on a flying Winnebago. But that format doesn’t work well with what I want to do.

Which leaves me with what seems an inordinate amount of words being spent doing little more than shaking hands with all my main characters (and some completely new ones that won’t get off the damned stage) and I’m kind of scared that I should be finding a faster way to do this.  One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is that you can’t write afraid.  Trying to over think things so they seem “good” results in massive writer’s block and it’s best to let your story be what it’s going to be.  After all, it’s not like the stuff I’m writing is boring or anything.  Where Jonathan wound up alone is one of the more interesting things I’ve found myself writing in awhile.  And, while I do know the most basic bare bones of my story (I can sum it up in one word), the details remain a mystery and there’s really no way to figure out those details than to poke around inside the story itself via the writing process and see what’s what.

My only worry is that I got too comfortable feeling out of control while writing Probability Angels.  The creation of that book was, completely and utterly, out of my hands.  It was Matthew and Epp’s show; I was merely the stenographer.  I have to wonder if this book isn’t craving more discipline.

That came out kind of weird. Like my book needs a spanking.

Right.  Well.  Back to writing.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village…and also Nietzsche is there

laytonthumbI love video games. Even though they seem intent on devouring me whole and leaving me a mindless zombie. Their seductive flashing lights and endorphin releasing game play could easily pull me in way more than it already does if I didn’t put some self regulations in place.

This is why I was very surprised to watch myself order a Nintendo DS
a few months ago.  Somehow under the cover of educatoinal games as well as eye exercises this portable gaming device slipped in under my radar.  This is bad.  This thing has more gaming power than all the systems I had as a child combined and I can take it outside.  I could, in theory, go sit in the park and tell myself I’m being outdoorsy while I play video games.

Tis a slippery slope.

Anyway, after I got bored of the educational crap I bought this Professor Layton game.

The game is all about riddles.  Based on a flimsy pretext, which we’ll go into in a second, you run around in the weirdest god damned village in the world being assaulted by lunatics who won’t so much as sell you an apple without making you solve a matchstick puzzle first.

It’s great fun, especially since I love riddles, but the pretext that I mentioned…holy cow does it get weird. I mean, I get it. Your game is all riddles but you want to embed that in a story so it doesn’t seem so drab.  And I can get how figuring out subtle ways for 180 riddles to get thrown at the player might be difficult.  But I found this guy a little creepy:

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And, yes, that opening somehow segues into him asking you a riddle.  Of course Gordon up there was nothing compared to the lovely Martha:

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No, Martha, you didn’t mention that.  Also I never asked you anything remotely pertaining to your freaky man-wants (and yes the above conversation does somehow work back around to riddles).

The riddle-hungry village does, believe it or not, sort of get explained by the end.  But that only furthered my utter amazement at the things this game was throwing at me. The explanation is really something.

We’ll end this here with two more screen shots from the game and I’ll just say that my hat goes off to you, oh Professor Layton creators, for designing a game where you move matchsticks around, solve an olde timey murder mystery and delve into the philosophical ramifications of artificial intelligence with a small boy:

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layton

The Theater of the Crapulent

curtainsA hush falls over the crowd as they sit, entranced, unchewed popcorn dissolving in their mouths as the curtain begins to rise.

During my scrambling around behind the scenes here I sometimes create things that have no business seeing the light of day.  An attempt to teach myself how to use a snippet of code correctly will have me putting useless widgets up or some new feature I stumble onto with my camera will have me taking 800 pictures of a stop sign.

Some of these things, even though I created them with no intent to ever look at them again, I find myself going back to over and over, usually because they make me laugh.

A few weeks ago I wanted to try out some things in Photoshop and wound up making a comic strip I affectionately called, “The Adventures of Joe and Charles,” based (incredibly loosely) on what things are like around the ol’ office when management and I are meeting.

Because this ridiculous thing has provided me with endless joy (and because I possibly might make more) I have decided to share.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, “The Adventures of Joe and Charles.”

The Adventures of Joe and Charles

The “We’re Already Out of Contests” Contest

confusedmonkeythumbSo…yeah.  We came up with a bunch of ideas for new contests for April, but they all seemed like warmed over “Pick Your Favorite Blank” sort of ideas and we wanted to give you something more interesting.

The answer was simple.  You tell us what contests you want and if we like your idea the best we’ll throw a $50 Amazon Gift Card your way.

The rules will be familiar to those who have been here before.  Leave a comment on the official contest page with your idea for a contest we can run, anything at all, we like crazy ideas.  Then, on April 30th, we’ll shut down the comments and pick our favorite and that person will win a $50 Amazon Gift Card.

You artsy types out there can think of this as us using the internet as a surrealist medium where contests beget more contests and nothing is what it seems.  The rest of you can just have fun.

If you’re hoping for some tips on what we’re looking for…well truthfully we’re looking for contests that we wouldn’t normally think of so tips are perhaps counter-productive.  But if you need them I guess you can keep in mind that contests have three main goals for us.

We like contests that:

  1. Give our audience a chance to have some fun.
  2. Encourage new readers to interact with my fiction and the site.
  3. Put me in the same room as attractive women.

If you hit 1 and 2 you’re doing just fine.

So go throw your zany ideas our way, and good luck.

My New Very Plain Widget

widgetIt’s in the lower right underneath the “Most Popular Stories.”  It’s a word count for the current book.  I’ve been updating it nightly so I can keep track of how productive I’m being and then recently I started adding random thoughts whenever I update it.

Pretty revolutionary, no?  No.  Lots of people do this and now I do too.  But it’s fun and I really did need a place to put a word count so I can make sure I stay productive day after day.  It’s embarrassing how often I’ll open my Word document and just start typing and bopping along and then realize I forgot to grab a word count before I started thus leaving me with zero semblance of accountability.  Because it happens quite often when I am keeping track that I’ll immerse myself in my story for hours and come up for air and to check the word count and my thought process will run something like, “Damn that was a good bout of work.  I must have churned out, like, 5,000 words…I’ll just check the word count…I see…and then we subtract the word count I had before I started writing this morning and…oh dear god that was only 4oo words?! Didn’t I write like twelve scenes?  How was that only 400 words?” Then it trails off into uncontrollable sobbing.

So hard numbers are good.  Also it helps me write everyday to have the little widget that needs updating. I feel bad when my creations are neglected. And everyone says that you need to write every single day to be productive.  Of course I basically disproved that whole concept last year during the “26 Stories in 52 Weeks” project when I’d go for whole weeks without writing then cram in a short story over the course of a weekend.  For that matter, Probability Angels would be dropped for months at a time while I wrote other short stories and then I’d come back to it and add another section.  So I don’t know what to think.  I’m pretty sure that all writers need to figure out for themselves how they write best, and at the beginning the “Write Every Day” law isn’t a bad one to go by, but if not writing every day and then chaining yourself to your desk on the weekend with a bunch of scratch paper, a package of colored Sharpie markers and a truly shameful Pandora station works for you then I think you should run with it.  That’s how, “The Monk, the Warrior and the Lord,” got written after all.

FYI, this is what I do with the scratch paper and Sharpie markers.  This happens whenever I stop to think.  We won’t go into what the Pandora station is used for:

doodles

A Week’s Worth of Twitter Thoughts in Cloud Form

Twitter

As part of this odd road I’m on towards self publishing success I’ve learned that part of my job is to dive into every new little social networking thing on the planet.

In that vein, last week management and I took the plunge into Twitter (I’m @josephdevon, he’s @cpasadena).  For those who don’t know what Twitter is…I am not the place to find answers.  But I’ll try and explain it anyway.

Imagine you can send text messages into the ether using your computer.  And imagine that anyone who wants to can pluck up your texts and read them.  And you, in turn, can pick people whose texts you want to read.

And that’s it.  Millions of people sending 140 character long messages to no one in particular, but anyone who wants to follow you can and they will receive every text you send out at their Twitter homepage.  Likewise you can follow anyone you want and you will receive every text message they send out on your Twitter homepage.  So you wind up with this stream of consciousness barrage of messages about what people are eating and what they’re selling and articles they like and who’s feeling gassy and what the weather is like in England.

And, of course, there are tons of bells and whistles added on at this point.  There are ways to tag things in tweets so they’ll show up easily in searches, ways to attach pictures or music, and ways to search for Twitterers (I refuse to use the word Tweeple) whose streams might be pleasing for you to wade in.

So that was last week.  Management and I finally started Twittering in earnest to try and figure out what Twitter is all about.  After a few days I started jotting down the various Twitter thoughts that were coming out of our mouths.  Then this morning I went over to Wordle and turned those thoughts into the following cloud.  Reactions, obviously, varied.

Twitter Cloud

As the artistic end of JosephDevon.com, I found myself rather enjoying the odd underlying social experiment of the whole Twitter thing.   I can see what Tony Hawk, Eddie Izzard and Neil Gaiman are thinking about while they wait for flights or head to work.  As the person in charge of Customer Relations here at JosephDevon.com, this strikes me as a great tool to provide more value to fans.  The thought process being something like, “Well, I enjoy following artists I like on this thing, so fans of mine might possibly enjoy hearing my odd ramblings too.” Not to mention some of the innovative things I’ve seen people doing.  Tony Hawk, for instance, is currently hiding signed skateboards in various places that he visits and then Twittering their locations to his fans.  The first fan to find the skateboard wins the skateboard.  Not only one of the cooler things I’ve seen in the Twitterverse, but one of the cooler things I’ve seen anywhere.

Moving away from my reaction and more towards management’s reaction is the middle ground we both occupy in which we have found a simple joy in always having something new to read while, say, waiting for the bus. We are both starting to settle into nicely personalized twitter streams; people we find annoying have been dropped and new people we find interesting have been added so that checking in on Twitter has, largely, become an enjoyable experience.  At first this wasn’t so.  In a frantic effort to jump start things we both followed tons of people willy-nilly resulting in a very muddy stream with lots of jagged rocks and irritating bugs.  Take warning, potential Twitterers, you are in charge of your stream and it requires constant, though not particularly intensive, maintenance.  The goal, to push this stream analogy further, is a Twitter stream somewhat comparable to a stream you might go tubing in.  Lazy, slow, comfortable, with maybe a few bumps and scary parts but nothing you need a helmet for and nothing you can’t manage after six beers.

Finally, at the other end of the Twitter spectrum, is management’s attempts to utilize Twitter as a marketing tool.  This is nothing short of baffling.  There are tons of articles about how Twitter is the new whatever and I believe Skittles pulled off a marketing coup a few weeks ago that has everyone talking without anyone having the slightest idea of what the hell actually happened.  A reaction was obtained, but what that reaction did for sales and marketing is anyone’s guess.  Which, in the end, is a very Twitter-esque result.

One of the defining things about Twitter is that, due to a strict 140 character limit, brevity is built in.  You can’t grandstand, you can’t hog the stream, messages are constantly floating past and many of them drop off the bottom of your monitor, technically readable later when you have more time to click through to your history, but in reality never to be seen again. You can’t do much but float along and any attempts to clog peoples’ streams with constant tweets will result in you being dropped because the other great thing about Twitter is its fluidity.  The number of people following you is always rising and falling and the people you follow are constantly being edited.  There are no sign up forms, no permissions to obtain, no messages to send, you just click “Stop Following” and you stop following.  The effort is minimal allowing for real time reactions to, and from, your fellow Twitterers.

With something that nebulous it’s very hard to “market” to people because what’s hot, what’s watched, what’s followed changes rapidly and in the end the things people gravitate towards are the things people want to gravitate toward, not what you want them to gravitate toward. You can’t buy more space for your message.  Skittles has the same gravity on Twitter as Jenna Jamison or some random guy from Duluth who makes funny observations.  To compound things, there is the ability to RT (ReTweet) messages you enjoy, citing their source of course, causing things to cascade in weird ways that are basically uncontrollable.  Not that this is anything new on the Internet, but with Twitter it seems to go one step beyond the Internet’s normal viral nature with patterns emerging and folding in organic ways as celebrities ReTweet fans and actors give mention to their favorite Tweeters who give mention to artists who give mention to their Mommy And Me Groups so that trends coalesce and form out of mere background noise.  It’s like when you step into the Twitterverse the volatility of the Internet starts taking steroids…and acid.

One of the more remarkable Twitter marketing pushes I’ve seen yet (outside of Tony Hawk’s skateboard hunts) occurred a few weekends ago during the premier of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s new show on Comedy Central.  Jim Gaffigan, who the Wednesday before was Tweeting things like, “I have no idea how to use Twitter,” simply Tweeted a lot that his show was premiering soon.  He fielded questions from fans letting them know what channel and time.  Then, during the show, he tweeted about how weird it was watching himself on tv, how he really must like bacon, and also ReTweeted fans’ messages to him about…well about bacon mostly. The guy’s new show is  like forty percent bacon. Since I follow Jim Gaffigan I received all of his tweets, but I also received tweets from other people discussing the show as well as, and this really gets weird, people ReTweeting what Jim Gaffigan was saying not to mention ReTweeting Jim Gaffigan’s ReTweets about what people were tweeting to him.

Confused?  So was I. But the end result was that Jim Gaffigan was everywhere in the Twitterverse and had people talking about him and his new show like crazy.

How did he do it?

In the end I think it’s pretty easy.  Twitter is so all over the place that you have to step back to obtain any real concrete footing and this forces one to admit that gathering 50,000 new followers who won’t read a thing you write in a week isn’t an actual result. Twitter is just a place where it’s easy to drop quick notes to people.  Whether what you’re dropping notes about is interesting or whether people find you interesting has nothing to do with your Twittering skills and more to do with your underlying product, be that product your new store, your personality or your comedy special.

I  believe I can sum up Jim Gaffigan’s secret in a Twitter friendly 140 character sentence:

“He spent the last 18 yrs creating great comedy giving him a fan base on Twitter that enjoys talking about him and sharing him w/ friends.”

Simple really.

March’s Contest Winner

So the “Pick Your Favorite Character Contest” drew to a close last night…or the night before…I don’t feel like thinking ahead in time to figure out when this post is actually going to surface on the site.

The lucky winner, Gem (that’s the name they typed in so that’s the name I’m using…my apologies Gem if I’m using the wrong part of your name), has been notified by email and there’s not much left to do except break down all the results into a pie chart. Naturally.

Here it is:

picchart

Wow, do my Excel abilities suck.  I’m not kidding you, and this comes from someone who hates baking, but I’m pretty sure I could have presented this data better with an actual pie.

Anyway, thanks to all who entered.  We’re hard at work behind the scenes here coming up with the next contest.  Wheels are spinning, gears are turning, hamsters are running and all that good stuff.

I’ll be in touch.