A Quick Update

I passed the 100,000 word mark a few weeks ago and I thought I should give an update on how the new book is going even though this usually devolves into babble and artsy talk.

Things are, to put it mildly, all over the freaking place. I’ve never written a book like this before. Through no overall plan, but because it was just the way things worked out, I always had people reading along as I wrote all my other books. Sections would get finished and given a little polish and then I’d give them out to a few friends. I decided before writing this one that I was going to try it alone for the entire first draft and I’m finding the experience very strange.

When you have someone read your work it solidifies it in a lot of ways. It’s a strange sensation but I always describe writing a story as bridge building. Only as the author the absolute most I can build is half a bridge. The other half doesn’t get built until you come along and read it and only then does the story become real. I know that’s a little hokey sounding but it’s the truth. Until my work has been observed by another party it doesn’t actually exist except inside my head. And that isn’t a story, that’s just me messing around. A story can’t exist with one person; it requires a teller and a listener.

At any rate, since nobody has been solidifying the past for me this time through I’m finding things to be freakishly fluid. I’ll change moods at the drop of a hat or slip in new plot points as they come to me. Not that you’ll ever know as I’ll go back and change the beginning during rewrites so it all flows as one and the old discarded decisions will no longer exist. Even I won’t remember them. Which I always find odd. Sometimes I go over old journal entries and am amazed at what my initial sketches read like for stories and chuckle that I could have possibly thought of naming so-and-so that (for the die hards you’ll be amused that Remmy was initially named Ralph in my first brainstorms…now be amused!).

All of which is to say that my “bad guy and side kick,” and I still find it very weird that I’m even writing stories with bad guys and side kicks, gelled completely over the course of this week and that I am extremely pleased with them now. Before they were kind of plodding along and were a little paper-cut-out-ish but now, to paraphrase Homer, “Mmmmmmm…bad guy.”

They changed so much in one instant, though, it’s going to be hell on the rewrites.

So that’s that.

Just wanted to give another update to those who are eagerly awaiting the next time I throw the doors open to the world of Matthew and Epp and Kyo and Mary to name a few.

Cheers.

Disney World vs New York City

Having spent most of last week in Disney World with my family I found myself a little confused upon returning to New York. I was constantly stepping into lines expecting to see some sort of show or animatronic pirate at the end only to be greeted by people wondering how I take my coffee.

While living in this odd mindset of half Disney, half New York I decided to host a little competition between these two worlds to see which came out on top.

Round 1: Friendly Vermin

Actually I’m going to open this up to all animal performers and not just rats. But we’ll start with the rodents and that puts New York out to an early lead. Our rats have character, grit and verve. Disney’s rat has massive (and I mean massive) kid appeal but really doesn’t do anything entertaining outside of being famous. Mickey Mouse is like Paris Hilton that way. I’ll take New York’s rodents every time. Watching them scamper and play around the third rail has whiled away many a long subway wait for me.

However, when we throw open the net to all animals Disney starts to edge out New York. In Disney World I saw an all-bear band playing a hoedown complete with washboard and jug.

New York’s bear is depressed and on prozac.

Decision: Disney

Summary: They have bears playing jugs in a hoedown. Come on. That’s like eight Simpson’s jokes fully realized.

Round 2: Spontaneous Performances

One of the more remarkable things at Disney World is the number of “spontaneous” events that crop up all around you during a day in the parks. Parades and floor shows and characters dancing, they all start to seem old hat once you’re on your third day of Disney and by day four you get a little miffed if you stop for some french fries and a chipmunk on a unicycle doesn’t instantly appear to entertain you.

That being said, New York City has its own type of floor shows and during my first few moments back in town I walked past a drummer in the subway going absolutely Bonham on some buckets and I began to realize that these worlds weren’t all that different and maybe New York could compete on this front.

So who wins? Disney, as mentioned, does a great job constantly making the world seem like freaking a Hollywood musical with everyone around pouncing on any opportunity that presents itself to sing and dance.

I realize the commitment it takes for you to watch a three minute video while surfing the web is immense but I really have to recommend checking this out. They break dance on a moving subway which is making stops the whole time and their grand finale is to form a human wheel and roll up and down the car slaloming between the poles.

If you’re not going to watch the video then please go ahead and reread that last sentence.

Disney has nothing on these guys.

Decision: New York City

Summary: Seriously? If you still need a summary you obviously haven’t watched the video.

Round 3: International Flair

The above image isn’t quite what I was shooting for but I couldn’t get a picture that nailed Epcot’s World Pavilion so I had to go with the iconic Epcot ball and leave it at that.

See it’s the World Pavilion, with its one hundred and eighty degrees of globe hopping, that I’m pitting against the multi-cultural neighborhoods of New York.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “What could Disney World’s little toy ‘cities’ have that could possibly compete against the diversity of a real live thriving metropolis? One is fake the other is real.”

Well pipe down there, Pepe. I’ve made this argument before and I’ll make it again, partly because I like arguing and partly because I refuse to let anyone out-cynical me. The areas of your cities that you call Chinatown and Little Italy are about as Chinese and Italian as fortune cookies and Chef-Boy-Ardee. Which is to say not at all. It’s all fake. Or at the very least it’s all the original culture sort of mushed up with the local culture and then boiled together over time. Anyone who claims to like “Italian food” and then goes to Italy quickly catches on that there are, in reality, eighty bajillion different types of Italian cuisine from southern to Sicilian to Tuscan to northern and that most of them serve horse. And none of them put olive oil on the table with your bread. And the bread sort of sucks.

One of the wonderful things about culture is how flimsy it is, which makes it a terrific medium for soaking up whatever happens to be around at the time and taking it to heart. My point here is that I’m more than happy to view the fake Epcot worlds as being just as real as Little Italy and Chinatown no matter how un-hip that makes me seem. So take off your Che Guevara t-shirt and shut the fuck up.

That being said the food at Epcot is nothing compared to the food in New York City’s neighborhoods, plus you get a lot more diversity in New York with the additions of Korea and Ethiopia and Nepal and on and on.

On the other hand wandering through twelve cultures in New York would ring up about two-hundred dollars in cab fare while at Disney it’s a nice leisurely stroll that you get drunk during.

Decision: Disney World

Summary: It’s all nuts to me and Disney allows roadies.

Round 4: Rides

The rides are one of the biggest attractions at Disney World, and for good reason. From The Tower of Terror, which is just so very wonderful, to Dumbo, which my 3-year old niece thinks is just so very wonderful, the flying, spinning storytelling trips through time and space in everything from tea cups to train cars tend to make up the bulk of most memories from Disney World. The negative to this is, of course, that everyone else in the park is trying to get on these rides and you can burn a lot of time waiting on lines. Still, it’s a theme park and lines are de rigueur so I can’t take too many points off for that.

Plus you can spend a lot of time waiting for one of New York’s rides, especially if it’s on the cursed orange line. And when you do board your train it usually goes sort of slow and at no point does it suddenly plummet down thirteen stories. So at first blush Disney seems to win here.

However, on New York City subways the people are as much a part of the ride as anything and dear god do I love the people. Crazy or happy, neurotic or asleep, dressed in full-on pimp gear or decked out like a wizard you will see every possible combination of everything if you take a seat on a subway car and keep your eyes open. I’ve gotten countless stories and characters from the nutcases and briefcases that have bounced in and out of my subway rides and just when you think you’ve seen it all you catch a train while a Knicks game is letting out and your car fills up with inebriated lunatics speaking in dialects that have yet to be recorded anywhere. And then someone walks by selling batteries at a very reasonable price. Combine that with a subway going to the boroughs where you break through into daylight for the first time and look back at the city framed in bridges and we have our winner.

Decision: New York City

Summary: People watching never loses its thrill. Also…seriously…why batteries?

Round 5: Soundtracks

I utterly loathe any and all musicals. As a friend of mine who shares this sentiment put it: “If you’re sitting there and the actors break into song and all you do is cringe and think, ‘Oh Jesus god no they’re singing again?!’ You are probably not a fan of musical theater.”

However, I love pretty much all the Disney films. Sneaking songs in via cartoons is downright dirty pool but it works and I’ve been known to sing “Under the Sea” in the shower in an awful Jamaican accent with the best of them.  And while you’re in Disney World you hear all the classics over and over, and over and over. Long after the kids are in bed and you’re having a drink at the bar you still find yourself humming along to “Be Our Guest.” I honestly can’t tell if this is a positive for the strength of impact or a negative.

So while we’re deliberating let’s go to New York. What do we have? Well we’ve got Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” after every Yankee win. We’ve got Billy Joel and his “New York State of Mind” as well as Alicia Keys and Jay-Z with their Empire rejoinder. We’ve got hip-hop and doo-wop and Ella and Louis singing about Autumn in New York. There’s The Beastie Boys and “The Boy From New York City,” Neil Diamond’s “Brooklyn Roads” and Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.” Simon and Garfunkel boxed here, Croce didn’t mess with Jim here, AC/DC feels safe here. The Pogues put on a fairy tale while The Ramones rode to Rockaway Beach. There’s jazz and show-tunes, trance and punk, ballads and beats, from uptown girls to downtown where the lights are bright to Bono singing about angels.

And anything that got left out Bruce has covered.

No contest.

Decision: New York City

Summary: I’m not repeating that.

Final Tally

Disney World: 2

New York City: 3

It’s good to be home.

Oh, How I Love Sky Mall

As I mentioned the other day, I was away last weekend on a family vacation. This means that I had to board an airplane. And boarding an airplane means I got to read Sky Mall, the single most ridiculous magazine ever printed anywhere. This is not the first blog to be written about Sky Mall, this won’t be the last blog written about Sky Mall, this is simply the most current blog written about Sky Mall.

If you don’t know what Sky Mall is, it’s a phone order catalog that Continental Airlines provides in the seat-back pouch for you to peruse while you fly. I don’t know anyone who has ever thumbed through it who hasn’t immediately begun mocking it mercilessly. It’s the Washington Generals of the airways.

It’s such a weird mix of odd copy and strange products and horrible presentation that…well here:

No. No, I can’t sleep comfortably in any seat. Clearly this man is capable of dozing off having never received the gift of shame. I also could sleep comfortably anywhere if i didn’t care at all what others thought of my shirt, facial hair or gigantic inflatable turquoise rhombus.

Speaking of facial hair, I dare you to name the last catalog in which you saw a mustache, outside of Mustaches Weekly or something.

And yet…

Alllllll the porn stars get their expense reports done early and then relax for the rest of the flight.

I like this one even thought it’s really not a Sky Mall thing. Technically this is just an odd photo.

This is for people who are worried that their walrus-dogs will muddy up the rug. With their flippers. Because that’s a FREAKING WALRUS-DOG!

Anyway, back to the catalog.

Here are some pajamas:

These are world famous. You know how well the fame of pajamas travels. Granted, footed pj’s aren’t the craziest thing in the world…I guess. If you’re a girl. There’s a certain cuteness to them.

No.

Absolutely no. Just…no. There isn’t a man on the planet who could pull off these hideous things. For girls they were a stretch and, frankly, borderline creepy. On this dude? I mean, Jesus Christ, turn in your testicles and go take a nap with the guy on the giant inflatable trapezoid. And…no.

Sky Mall also has some strange infatuation with products that slip over your head and massage you. There’s this.

And this.

And this.

Yes. You know this is a good product because the model is deep in thought. Most likely about the movie Tron.

That last one, actually, was featured on the same page at this:

I think we should slap the two of those together for a shiny stainless steel radar head helmet thing.

What would it do? I don’t know. It would massage you while you listen through your monocular to the neighbors. Or something.

Look. What it does really isn’t important.

When your customer base is willing to pay money for this…whatever this is. A suicide kit I think:

Or this lawn yeti:

Or this cat planter limousine (I’m sorry but that cat looks like it’s stepping onto the red carpet to me):

You really don’t need to concern yourself with what your products do perse.

You just sell them.

Using hideous models.

Perfect.

I’m Not Here

So last Friday I left for a family vacation to Disney World and I’m not back yet.

I was going to write up a witty and clever post and schedule it to fire off this morning so you would never know I was gone but I got all hopped up on vacation thoughts last week and my discipline went to shit and I never wrote a post.

Then I thought I’d just put some pictures up…but I put up a photo album like a week ago and I haven’t taken any new shots.

Then I thought I’d put a riddle up or something to entertain you but I don’t know any riddles.

So we’re back to the guy going off the diving board in a kayak again.

Tada!!!

Snow Day

Snowmagaddon was predicted for here in New York yesterday. The same thing was predicted last weekend and we got exactly zero inches of snow. This time around we got some weather and, expecting epic levels of powder, I took my camera around with me whenever I went out during the day to document, you know, stuff and things.

Out for morning coffee I took a detour through the park and was duly impressed. You can click on any of these for a larger view.

There were even sections of the park where you could sort of zoom in and, presto! You were in a snowy woodland.

And even at eight in the morning there were children at play. Or tourists. Same difference.

And then of course, because people are insane, there’s this lady.

That was the scene whilst out for morning coffee. I really thought we’d have something. Then a few hours later I went out for lunch.

The snow hadn’t kept up the pace.

I mean it’s obvious that a storm has come through but it’s not exactly Doctor Zhivago out there now is it?

Here’s my favorite New York City landmark, Gray’s Papaya, covered in literally centimeters of snow.

I don’t know. It’s early afternoon as I’m writing this. I guess if it picks up again and goes on throughout the day it might turn into something, but right now I’m not impressed by this storm.

I am, however, impressed by the fact that the reflective paint used on police cars apparently makes them look really cool when photographed at high speeds.

I leave you with the time traveling cop car.

Okay. Update. I went out for dinner.

My Big Mouth: 0

Crazy-Ass Storm: 1

It most certainly picked up throughout the day.

Here’s the park, the benches to the right were the same benches I photographed in the morning.

So…Thus far I give it a 7 out of 10. It’s no blizzard of two-thousand but it has a beat and I can dance to it.

And it’s still going strong. We’ll see where we end up.

But I ain’t going back out there.

Why I Love and Hate Google

Superbowl Sunday is a favorite night for me, the over-the-top hype (we need more people involved in the coin toss next year), the ridiculous bets my cousin makes (I wind up rooting a lot for safeties) and championship level football (that onsides kick was craziness) never fails to draw me in.

But you can’t always count on the football game being interesting, which leaves what used to be my favorite part of all of this: the ads. I was going to do a little recap today of my favorite ads but weirdly enough the trend over the past few years has been for the football game to be exciting and the ads to be…well…sort of awful.

Honestly? How many ads were there with small furry varmints and people with no pants on? I can understand Bud Light going for the crotch-kicking humor angle but when did the law get passed that every single ad needed to go this route? You can almost hear the thinking, “This is one of the biggest venues of the year. Everyone watches it. We need our ad to be geared towards football fans.”

Nobody seems to put all of this together and arrive at the notion that the Superbowl has so many spectators you could branch out and advertise more towards your brand’s heart than towards the “Let’s chase drunken Saint’s fans” notion.

Cue the Google ad.

If you missed it (for some reason I can’t embed  it here) the ad consists of nothing but the Google homepage and search results as an unseen “narrator” proceeds to search for various things. As the ad progresses you come to realize that the things he’s searching for are telling you a story concerning his pursuit of a girl in Paris. The searches range from their first meeting as the cursor asks Google to translate a French phrase, to their first date as the cursor asks Google to find a cafe by the “louve” and on into their life as the cursor starts looking for job opportunities in Paris.

Again, you see nothing but these searches getting typed in and the various results that Google can provide, they even have the “narrator” misspell a number of things allowing Google to offer up the correct spelling. I don’t want to give away the ending but a search for “churches in Paris”  pops up after awhile.

It was freaking brilliant. And not only because it acknowledged that everybody watches the Superbowl and so you can target damned near any demographic and still land a bull’s eye (while my cousin in the same room as me ignored the ad and tried to figure out where he stood in his pool I could almost hear my sisters sighing from across state lines when the spot ended).

It’s brilliant because, well, because it’s brilliant.

The ad is ridiculously simple, displays the astonishing range of Google’s functionality (I had sort of never noticed just how many different results Google now gives from maps to flight results to translations) and tells a very cute love story.

Which is why I hated it.

I feel a lot like KGB, the preposterous service that also advertised during the Superbowl, their ad running somewhere near the Google ad. KGB stands for the “Knowledge Generation Bureau” and offers you answers to any question you want to ask them via text. Their ad consisted of two very scrawny and scared young men facing off against a fierce sumo wrestler. Armed only with their phones they had to figure out how to say, “I surrender,” in Japanese to avoid a pounding. One used KGB and got their result. The other only had the web and search engines and was, according to the ad, at a complete loss. Because he only had search engines. Search engines like Google. Which we just watched translate various things from French to English. Note, we didn’t just watch an ad where Google told us they could translate things, we literally watched Google do some instant translating.

For free.

The KGB concept baffles me, mainly because everyone I knew in college had this idea in 1998 but eventually came to realize that it was silly as the Internet became more prevalent and mobile phones became more robust. Apparently the KGB people missed this memo…and also have been hiding under a rock for most of this century.

And yet I feel for them. Granted they exist at some extreme end of this spectrum but it has to be difficult to be out there trying to do interesting things with the Internet only to turn around and see Google kicking your concept’s ass up and down the block without even trying. Hell, the Google ad has actually been on YouTube for months and they sort of randomly decided to air it during the Superbowl.

That’s like training to run a marathon for years and thinking you’ve got a chance at coming out on top only to have someone absolutely tromp you who wasn’t even training for a marathon, they were training for something else, like baseball, and the marathon thing kind of dovetailed with their baseball training so they decided they’d run one for fun and it turns out, gee willikers, that they kick ass at that too. And then they sleep with your wife. Who they wooed using Google.

So as absurd as I find KGB I really do feel for them.

I’m sitting here sweating decision after decision as I try to write a love story and Google comes along and with stunning lack of effort pulls a cute, original love story out of their god damned search engine.

Oh well.

At least their love story didn’t have zombies in it.

The Five Stages of Netflix

A number of my friends have recently taken the plunge and subscribed to NetFlix, a service that’s becoming less and less definable as the sexual tension between my computer and TV continues to mount to the point where they should really just do it already so I can stop pretending  they’re not together. However, I do still love Netflix and I wanted to share the various stages I’ve gone through over the past five years of getting DVD’s mailed to me.

Stage 1) You embrace a whole new world of art and culture:

Upon first signing up for the Netflix service one immediately creates a queue of forty seven bazillion movies that have been on some mental back list for years. Godard, Felini, Kurosawa, other names with vowels. You are suddenly presented with the largest video library ever known to this earth and you become downright giddy in your ability to finally lay your hands on all those old artsy movies that are never on TV and certainly weren’t at your Blockbuster. These are the works of masters, and as a lover of film you will finally round out your viewing history.

Stage 2) You realize you aren’t French:

Two months in and something called 8 1/2 has been sitting on your desk for so long you thought it was a coaster. It occurs to you that being able to say, “Yes, I’ve seen a number of Lean’s works,” is more important to you than actually watching any of these weird old movies where people stare off screen for hours at a time and the sound of a tractor on a potato farm is all that’s heard. Sure, you were glad to finally see Psycho and Cinema Paradiso was cute but for the love of god how many movies dissecting the notion that all actors are prostitutes did you really think you were going to sit through? At least mix in some explosions with your subtle implications that man, at heart, is no more than a machine. You get it. Their life sucks. Your life sucks too which is why you used to like watching movies. Surely you can get better use out of your subscription. Remember all those old comedies and action movies from your childhood that provided so much joy? Why, you can put those on your queue and relive your youth! You cut your losses and finally mail back the movies with names you can’t pronounce that have been sitting on your desk unwatched for months.

Stage 3) Nope, nostalgia sucks too:

God, your taste used to blow. Chevy Chase was only funny in, like, two movies and you already own Vacation. Old Arnold movies are…I mean wow. And Stallone is basically retarded as, quite clearly, were most of the 80’s.

It turns out that basic cable has being treating your childhood pretty well all these years and the stuff worth watching was being played on TNT six times a weekend anyway. Really you weren’t missing anything and re-watching everything else is only serving to bleed the few happy memories from your childhood away. You were better off utterly wrong, but utterly happy, in the notion that Cobra was good. You’ve successfully made yourself feel not only stupid at this point for not embracing cultural art house films, but embarrassed as well for having such shockingly poor taste.

Stage 4) You discover TV and things go horribly wrong:

Movies are boring and long, all the new releases are impossible to get and you’d rather see them in the theaters anyway. Anything worth showing is on some channel or another, most likely on demand, especially since Showtime is so desperate for viewers it constantly throws free months at you. And whatever slips through the cracks Starz picks up. But television shows? Now you’re on to something. They’re bite-size so when you have three discs sitting on your desk you don’t feel like some horrible obstacle is slowly being built tiny red envelope by tiny red envelope. And TV has become a groundbreaking art form. Over the past decade the shows on the air have moved from half hour plots structured around a jingle to truly great storytelling. Suddenly you’ve got the cultural feel you joined Netflix to get and it’s divvied up into smaller, bite-size pieces.

But you don’t realize the slippery slope you’ve stepped onto. The dramas are only forty minutes long without commercials and the comedies? Those are like eight minutes. It seems like this makes it easier to watch only a little and move on but once you hit that play button everything bleeds together. Episodes into discs into seasons and TV was not made to be watched like this. How many freaking bad days can one CTU agent have? It never stops! The surreal disjointed plots from your early French movie days are looked back upon with nostalgia as eight seasons of mafia character arcs get condensed into one month. What was supposed to be a few slow paced mob hits strung out over a decade is now fourteen murders crammed into one Sunday. And then you start watching Lost…and you are forever gone. Because Lost at the speed of NetFlix is like a Nyquil dream and you stay up late nights wondering if that hatch and that hydrogen bomb are really from the same show.

5) You give up and start watching cartoons:

Seriously. I’m done. And now they’re putting stuff online now so the very needed delay that used to be inserted by the United States Postal Service is vanishing. I watched The Shield straight through, all seven seasons. From early November till a few weeks ago all I ingested through my television concerned Vic Mackey and his horribly depressing spiral into oblivion. I can’t remember anymore if LA is a real city or not.

I have something called The Last Airbender heading my way in the mail. It was written for twelve year olds.

It sounds perfect.

I can’t handle any more art.

The Babes of Boston Book Club

Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to travel up to Boston to meet with a friend’s book club that had chosen Probability Angels as their January read. I spent two and a half hours on Saturday night listening to a room full of brilliant and beautiful women discuss my work and ask me questions about the art of writing. Then they fed me bacon. To say that I enjoyed myself wouldn’t just be an understatement, it would be an insult to understatements everywhere.

It was, quite simply, one of the greatest experiences ever to come out of my obsession with words and I wanted to thank the BBBC publicly for taking my work to heart and giving me the chance to sit in on their meeting.

I continue to be astonished at the range of people who enjoy Probability Angels. After I finished writing this book if you had asked me: “What sort of audience do you think this will attract?” I never in a million years would have replied, “Oh, well clearly professional women in their twenties with extensive educations are the optimal target for my book about zombie knife fights.”

Which just goes to show you that whenever possible I should avoid thinking about such things because all manner of people keep reading it and all manner of people keep loving it and, really, there’s a lot more going on in this book than zombie knife fights…but I’ll always lovingly think of this as my zombie story.

Plus maybe zombies are more universal than I realized.

Extensive thanks to the BBBC for taking this notion of a wider audience to a whole new level and ruining me forever for all future book clubs. Seriously. If you invite me to your book club you’d damn well better bring some heat. And then feed me bacon. You have a serious bar to surmount.

I honestly might have convinced myself that I made the entire thing up but there’s no way my imagination could have created such a perfect night and, also, I have photographic proof. Granted I look rather deer-in-the-headlights here but…well look at them! And it’s a book about zombies! Who wouldn’t have been surprised by this?

Thanks again.

Hopefully the sequel merits a return trip. It’s a love story after all…with zombies in it.