Wednesday, August 31, 2011

End of an Era


I was going to unreview another book today, but nobody really cared about the one I didn't review yesterday, so I'm going to blather on about something else. Namely the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

I've been listening to a feature on NPR this week about the closing of the U.S. Army's most famous hospital. They've been covering it all week long so far on Morning Edition, and they've had some interesting angles to discuss.

Most of us probably remember Walter Reed (the facility, not the man) for the 2007 Walter Reed Army Medical Center neglect scandal, but the hospital has had a long and storied history, being the country's leading military hospital for over 100 years, sitting on a campus that includes a Civil War battlefield, and helping countless soldiers and their families recover from the wounds of war.

General and former president Dwight D. Eisenhower was treated and died there. So did generals "Black Jack" Pershing, Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall.

Here's a glimpse of what the hospital looked like in 1919:


But now that it's closing, there is some debate as to what to do with the property. More than half, about 70 acres, of the facility will transfer to the District of Columbia, and the rest will revert to the State Department. There's been no announcement as far as any official plans for the grounds, but D.C. residents have plenty of ideas.

There's talk of student housing, or affordable public family housing. Others want parks, or retail space. I can't imagine anything being done to the iconic buildings, but with the government in charge I suppose you never know.

There will be some interesting developments to come. For example, for the last hundred years, the property has been federal land, and therefore un-taxable. If it reverts to the city, and especially if it becomes some kind of commercial space, there are estimates that it could generate 20 million dollars a year in tax revenue.

Anyway, I've never served in the military, but some of my ancestors and relatives have, and I'll be curious to find out what ends up happening with this famous hospital.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

I'm being tricky today.

I'm actually not writing about this here.

I don't really "review" books over here anymore.

Actually I don't really "review" books at all.

I'm a writer, not a critic.

But I do recommend books that I really loved.

I just don't do it here.

I do it: here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Great News!

So guess what? Human Resources, after checking with the Department of Labor, has determined that the ridiculous schedule my job had me working was illegal! I know. Crazy, right?

I mean I know the schedule was cruel and unusual punishment, myself, but I had no idea such things were illegal in this society. I can't say I'm the least bit upset. So the great news is that I'm back to my regular 9 to 5, which is actually 6 to 3, but I'm going to be able to be a real blogger again, not to mention a writer and critique partner. You might think I would have gotten more done with more time off, but you'd be wrong.

I've never been much of a morning person, or anything like that, but I definitely am more productive when I'm up in the morning, with a plan of action, and out of the house where the urge to just chill is too great.

So there you have it. I can finally read your blogs again!

Also, more good news: since I joined a gym a month ago I've lost 15 pounds. I still have a beer-muscle the size of the Hindu-Kush, but I'm working on it, and things are going well so far.

Thanks for all your support through the rough times, but I'm glad to be back.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Behind the Scenes Storytellers - Part III: Richard Price


All right. So thank you very much for your patience and support yesterday. I know you guys have been loving this series, and I'm sorry I had to interrupt it, but I'm obligated to my incredible peers over at Project Mayhem.

Anyway, let's get back to work. I'm going to cheat a little bit this morning. I know. I'm sorry, but I think you'll find you're willing to forgive me. Today I've selected Richard Price as my behind the scenes storyteller. The reason I call this cheating is that Richard is actually a relatively famous "crime novelist," which is certainly not a behind the scenes role, but he is also pretty well unknown for being an incredibly talented screenwriter, which is a position that almost never gets the glory.

Mr. Price wrote the scripts for a few famous films like Sea of Love, and The Color of Money, but the way I discovered his talent was through the HBO series, which may be the best television show ever written: The Wire.

Before I get to the reason I'm actually featuring Richard toady: his screenwriting, I want to share with you one of the greatest interviews I have ever had the pleasure to witness in my personal pursuit of understanding writing. Richard Price was interviewed by Terry Gross, from NPR's Fresh Air, in 2008, about his then new novel: Lush Life. It's technically a crime novel, but IMHO it's also one of the greatest modern character studies in English Literature:



It's pretty long, but if you have time, PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS INTERVIEW. It's one of the best discussions of writing I've ever heard. The interview is mostly about the novel, but if you listen to the whole thing, you'll find he talks a lot about writing for the HBO TV series, The Wire, as well.

Another great discussion of the novel is available, in one of Evil Editor's book chats, here.

So. That's a lot about Richard Price's novel writing. I promised this post wouldn't be about that, and I suppose I've failed, but I do want to talk about his screenwriting. I've obviously never written a script, and I've never been to film school, but I imagine writing for TV is as different from writing for film as writing a Picture Book is from writing a novel. Not to imply that any of the four should be considered as less than any of the others, just that they're different.

Yeah. That's all beyond my scope of understanding, but I will say this: I know a powerful scene when I witness one, no matter what the medium, so I want to share with you a scene from near the end of The Wire, which Richard wrote, in which the policewoman, Kima, who happens to be gay, and has just ended her relationship, is reconnecting with her young son, who cannot sleep. The scene is not quite as powerful taken out of context, but I consider it an interesting, and surprisingly contemporary, take on a classic story:



And that, I suppose, is that. I could go on, but I'm sure you'd all get bored, so instead I'll just say this: anyone who is interested in discovering a great writer you might have never heard of should look into Richard Price. Here are a few resources:

Price interviewed by the City Paper.

Richard Price in the LA Weekly.

Richard Price in New York Magazine.

Thanks for reading, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PM

We interrupt the regularly scheduled series for this week, because today is my day to post over at Project Mayhem. Please stop by, and read my post.

Thanks!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Behind the Scenes Storytellers - Part II: Roger Deakins

In case you missed yesterday's post, this week I'm blogging about the people who take part in telling great stories, but work behind the scenes, and are not often well known by the public.

Today I'm writing about Roger Antony Deakins, ASC, BSC. Roger is a Cinematographer, which is sometimes also referred to as a Director of Photography. I'm no film major, so it's possible the two terms are not exactly interchangeable, but they're basically the same thing as far as I know.

Anyway. Roger is mostly known (or unknown) for his collaboration with the Coen brothers, and has been the cinematographer on almost every one of their feature films. But he doesn't only work with them. Deakins was born in England, and studied film at both the Bath School of Art and Design and the National Film and Television School.

He got started as a camera operator not long after school, and his early career consisted mostly of documentaries about Africa. Who doesn't love a good documentary? After that he moved into films about music, working on "rockumentaries" and music features like Van Morrison in Ireland and Sid and Nancy.

Deakins' first American feature was Mountains of the Moon, in 1990, but he worked with the Coen brothers soon after, on the 1991 film, Barton Fink. Deakins received his first major award from the American Society of Cinematographers for his outstanding achievement in cinematography for the internationally praised major motion picture, The Shawshank Redemption. In 2008, Deakins became the first cinematographer in history to receive dual ASC nominations for his works, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men.

He received the 2011 American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Lifetime Achievement Award.

Roger has been nominated for no less than 9 Academy Awards, but for some reason unknown to god or man, has never won.

Here is a list of some of his most famous films:

  • Barton Fink
  • The Hudsucker Proxy
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Fargo
  • Kundun
  • The Big Lebowski
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • The Man Who Wasn't There
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Intolerable Cruelty
  • The Ladykillers
  • Jarhead
  • No Country for Old Men
  • The Reader
  • Revolutionary Road
  • A Serious Man
  • True Grit

Here are some clips of his work.

Here is a video of him discussing a scene in The Shawshank Redemption with NPR's Melissa Block. The audio is great, but somehow they ruined the video:



Here's another video from the same interview, where the video isn't ruined:



And here's a great featurette about True Grit:



Another unsung hero of behind the scene storytellers. I have to take a break from this series tomorrow, but please still come back!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Behind the Scenes Storytellers - Part I: Sly and Robbie

This week I'm going to be focusing on storytellers that ply their craft behind the scenes. Many of these people may be people you've never heard of, but I'll bet you're familiar with some of their work.

I don't know if many people would count music producers as storytellers, but I do, and this is my blog.

Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare are probably the most prolific recording artists in the history of music, and most people have never heard of them. They've produced more songs than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, and even Rick Rubin. It's estimated that they have performed on, or helped produce, over 200,000 songs.

They started out as the rhythm section of drummer Lowell Dunbar (nicknamed Sly after Sly Stone) and bass guitarist Robert Shakespeare, but have since evolved into a production team making all kinds of music from Dancehall and Reggae, to Rock, Pop, and R&B. They are known for a distinctive drum and bass, reggae swing sound, and make some of the best beats and basslines I've ever heard.

From Wikipedia:

Far from restricting themselves to the Jamaican scene, (in which they have played for virtually every prominent Jamaican musical artist from Beenie Man to Sean Paul to Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Ini Kamoze and others), they have been one of pop music's most sought after rhythm sections, playing for and producing superstars such as Ben Harper, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones, Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Gilberto Gil, Joe Cocker, Matisyahu, Serge Gainsbourg, Simply Red, Michael Franti, Sting, Khaled, Mey Vidal, Naniwaman, Tricky, Doug E. Fresh, Carlos Santana, Sinéad O'Connor, and many more.

I don't think I've ever come across a song that Sly and Robbie had a part in making that I didn't like. They don't get a lot of recognition for their work, even though they work hard, but they've played a big part in making a lot of great songs for a lot of great artists.

Here are a few songs you probably didn't know they made:



Matisyahu - Jerusalem (Out Of The Darkness Comes Light)



Mick Jagger - She's the Boss



Michael Franti and Spearhead - Say Hey (I Love You)



Madonna - Supernatural (Remix)



Herbie Hancock - Rockit (12 inch maxi-mix)



No Doubt - Underneath It All ft. Lady Saw



Chaka Demus & Pliers - Murder She Wrote



No Doubt - Hey Baby ft. Bounty Killer

Please come back tomorrow for another unknown taleweaver.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My First Author Meeting: Joe Lunievicz


I just met Joe Lunievicz for lunch at the Buckhead Diner! Joe and I have been friends online for a while, nearly a year, and I know you know (because of my review) that I loved his novel, but it's a totally different story meeting an author friend, mentor, and inspiration in real life like this.

We had a wonderful, long conversation, which I'm not going to go into here, but I will just say that it's an amazing feeling as an aspiring writer to know that you are not alone in your doubts and struggles, and it feels good to be understood.

It was very kind of Joe to take time out of his vacation to come meet me, so I just want to say: thank you, Joe! It was an honor and a pleasure meeting you.

Here are some quick reminders about where you can find Joe:

The blog section of Joe's website.

The rest of Joe's website.

Open Wounds Facebook Fan Page. 

And Open Wounds:

IndieBound

GoodReads

Powells

Amazon

I know I've been absent of late dear readers, but I've got a cool new series planned for next week (starting tomorrow) so please keep coming back!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Blog Chain: The Brave New Publishing World

So here I am, at work at 7 PM, the first shift in my new schedule, the DuPont schedule, which is a behemoth you can read more about, here.

Anyway, partly because of this new schedule, and partly because I just suck at organization, I missed the first post I was supposed to put up yesterday for this new blog chain I've joined. The topic for today, in fact for the entire chain, is this:

Have the recent changes in the publishing industry affected your writing plans/career? If so, how?

Before I get to answering that, I want to explain how the blog chain works, and introduce you to the other members of the group. It works by one member picking a topic, and then writing about it on the first day. What makes it a chain is that each subsequent blogger then covers the same topic, also linking to both the previous, and the next blog.

I screwed all that up, so I'm going to link to all the blogs.

First, let me introduce you to the other new members of the chain, most of whom you may already know. Amparo, Tere, PK, Katrina, and Jon. The already existing members of the chain, some of whom I already knew, but others whom I just met, are: Christine, Sarah, Michelle M., Shaun, Cole, Kate, Sandra, Eric, Margie, Michelle H., and Abby.

Now I realize that's a lot of blogs, but you don't have to read them all right now. Just go follow them, and I promise you won't be disappointed. For now just read the post that came before mine, Sandra's, and then go read the one that comes tomorrow (which by the way is actually today since I screwed all this up), Kate's.

Now that we've gotten all that housekeeping out of the way, let's get down to the topic.

My opinion, and please take this with a grain of salt as I am a completely amateur and unpublished writer, is that it is both an exciting and a terrifying time to be (or be attempting to be) in the publishing industry. I say that in all my comments whenever the topic comes up, and I mean it.

I used to own a small, independent record label in Minneapolis. My partner had all the musical talent, and I (supposedly) had all the business acumen. We didn't get rich, but we had a lot of fun.

You can't compare the music industry to publishing with a one to one correlation, because they're very different, but I can make an analogy that I hope will make my opinion about the state of publishing more clear.

When a record gets put out (for us it was usually 12 inch singles, which is actually just 2 songs, an A side, and a B side, and then possibly an instrumental and an acapella version of each) the record label generally recoups all costs before any artists get paid, which can be quite substantial depending on the scope and quality of the production. In general, independently produced music allows for better art to get from the artist to the fan (or listener) for a lower cost, and with more of the fair share of profits actually making it into the artist's hand (or bank account).

It seems to me that the same will eventually be true of publishing, but I don't think we're there yet, not even close. So far, self and e-publishing (or even vanity, which is NOT the same thing) has always had a very negative stigma attached to it. In the sense that self-published books are of lower quality, because the author simply got impatient about trying to get published traditionally. I can't personally tell you whether or not that was ever true, because I haven't read a lot of self-published books, but I can tell you the stigma was there.

I think all of that's changing, and fast. My friend PJ Hoover has already shown that you can write a great book, one good enough to get an agent, and then still choose to publish it outside of the traditional channels. I haven't read the whole thing, yet, but I've read an excerpt of Solstice, and I can tell you that PJ is a damn fine writer.

For my own career, I still intend to get published traditionally, at least once, if only to prove that I can do it. After that, who knows? All I really care about is telling great stories and having them reach as many readers who will love them as much as I do, as possible.

I could go on, but I've probably already said too much. Please bear with me as I try to wrap my head around this crazy thing that is my life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Several Announcements

::BEGIN FOOTBALL TALK::

I do have several important things I need to update you all about, but before we get to that I want to talk about the Minnesota Vikings.

I know most of you don't care about the NFL, and I'm okay with that, basically because I don't care whether you care or not.

Point is: I'm extremely worried about my team this year. I'm really happy with the Donovan McNabb pickup, for several reasons, but mostly because the Vikings are known for resurrecting the careers of black quarterbacks. We picked up Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham; won with Duante Culpepper even though he was young, and are now set to define the twilight of another hall of fame black QB: Donovan McNabb.

Those are all good things.

But I'm worried about this season because as much as I love and respect McNabb, he doesn't have the weapons that any QB would expect to have in order to succeed. I realize the only major free agency loss we had this off season, when related to Donovan, was Sidney Rice, but the best argument I can make to that is this: our number one deep threat receiver is now: Bernard Berrian. Bernard Berrian, y'all.

::END FOOTBALL TALK::

Anyway, I've probably said way too much about football by now, and I should move on to more important and relevant things.

The next announcement, as you probably already know, if we're friends on Facebook, is that I just finished what I'm calling the umpteenth draft of Warrior-Monks. It's taken me over two years to get here, and I've had to cut it from 477,000 words to 160,000 but now it is finally out with some writers I trust to help me polish it to a nice finish, and I honestly have to say: I don't know what I'm going to do with my days.

Write the next story, I guess.

Finally, and this is bad news in some way, but I'm also still undecided, my day job has asked me to move to a new shift. It's call the DuPont schedule, and it's probably unlike anything you've ever heard of. I'll be working 12 hour shifts, 4 day shifts the first week of the month, then three days off. 4 night shifts the second week of the month, then another three days off. Then 6 shifts, 3 night and 3 day, followed by 7 days in a row off. There are some major advantages to this shift, like getting 7 days off every month without having to use any vacation time, but the thing that worries me the most is that I've gotten into a great routine with my writing and blogging, and I'm concerned that this change is really going to affect that.

In particular, I will no longer be able to blog every weekday at 7 AM EDT. I would love to write a bunch of posts ahead of time and schedule them for the mornings, but that's just not me. I'm an off the top of the head kind of blogger, and though I may schedule a post ahead of time every once in a while, it won't be happening on a regular basis.

Hopefully things will settle in soon enough, and I'm sure I'll be able to adjust (especially since they're offering me a VOIP phone and a laptop so I can do my night and weekend shifts from home), but it's going to take some time to get used to, and I just don't know what kind of blogging presence I can expect to have, yet.

I'll do my best to keep you guys up to date.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Adam Russell Stephens' Current Query Critiqued

All right. Let's get right down to business. For those who haven't seen me do this before, my thoughts, feedback, embarrassing anecdotes, parenthetical asides, and corny jokes will be in red. Intro and outro will be bold. Adam's query will just be regular old text. I would say black, but I can't remember if my blog style forces it into some other color, like old-crone-grey, or doo-doo-brown.

Anyway. Before I get to critiquing what Adam has shared with us already, I want to talk about query letters, and the standard structure I generally suggest when people ask me to help them with their query. However, before I even get to that, I want to point out that there are no ultimate rules. For an example of an excellent, incredibly short query (by my friend Josin L. McQuein) that broke all the standard expectations, but still worked, please see this post, at Query Shark. Seriously, read that query; it will blow your mind.

Now I'm not saying you should break the rules, just showing that it can be done.

Anyway, so assuming you want to write a regular old query letter, this is how it works: One page or less, 250 words is generally a good guideline. Usually 3 paragraphs. First is your opening hook and pitch. You need to get across a strong sense of character right away, and if you can sprinkle in some backstory, in a nice, organic way, that's great. Second, you want to introduce the conflict. If you can sprinkle in setting and stakes, great. Finally, you need to give us an idea of what choices your character has to make in order to overcome the conflict.

So that's: Character. Conflict. Choice. The three Cs.

I'm not saying this query doesn't do that, in fact it does have all the basics, but I think it's missing other things. We'll get to that in a moment.

Before I get to the actual feedback, I want to point you to one more post. My own query (which isn't anywhere near perfect, and it still a WIP), won a contest at WriteOnCon last year, and I posted the analysis of it by Literary Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, which you can find: right here. She does a great job of explaining what works, and why.

Anyway, to the query:

Dear Agent,

My name is Adam Stephens, the author of a 45,000-word YA novel entitled IMPERFECT SYMMETRY.

You can skip all this. Your name needs to go at the end, with the rest of your contact info. Housekeeping like word count and genre can go up front like this, and some agents prefer it that way, but I advise people to get right to what matters: the story.

IMPERFECT SYMMETRY tells the story of 17-year-old Adam Smith, who lives a double life. Your first sentence really needs more punch than this. The first sentence is the most important one. It's good you've included his age, but we need a better sense of character. You get right to some great stuff in the next sentence, but if you can incorporate his duality into the opening, it would make for a much stronger hook. And "lives a double life" is a bit cliche. On the internet, where he has spent a substantial amount of his summer, Adam is openly gay and, as a result, has developed a suitable relationship. What is a suitable relationship? I have a suitable relationship with my boss, because even though I can't stand him, he still signs my paycheck. The people I actually care about? Our relationships better be more than just suitable. I think I know what you mean, but you need to reword it. Is it loving? Caring? Exciting? All of the above? At home, the son of a chaplain at a private Christian boarding school, Adam appears Appears? To who? I think you can use a different (better) verb here. more conservative, his orientation a deeply buried secret he hopes no one suspects. Adam’s secret is well-kept until the day his online boyfriend—who lives in Scotland—shows up Shows up, or enrolls? You need to make this clear, because the way it's written here it sounds random, and comes out of left field. I know from your blog that he enrolls, so you need to just say that in the query, although it still seems pretty random, I think it can work if you just make it clear. at Pisgah Heights Academy, Move this up to where you first mention his dad is the chaplain, and you won't have to repeat these ideas. the school where Adam attends and where his father works as chaplain. Suddenly, he must choose between his church His Faith? Is Adam a Christian, or does he fake it for his dad's sake? and his boyfriend, his heart’s truth or his secret’s lie This is vague. I like the language of it, but I don't understand what it means. What is the lie of his secret? Just the fact that he's hiding it? Ultimately, Adam also knows whatever decision he makes will no longer simply impact his life, but the lives of everyone else around him. This is pretty good. A nice sense of the stakes, even though it might be considered obvious. Only, Adam isn’t entirely sure his heart, scathed by past burns, Get specific here. What past burns? Where's mom? can take another plunge into the fire.

The full manuscript is available upon request. Thanks for your consideration.

Okay. So I think the strength of your premise may be enough to garner some requests even if you don't change this query, but if you do want to tighten it up some, I would try to start with something like this:

17 year-old attacking-midfielder Adam Smith has to juggle more than just soccer balls. He spent his summer on the internet, falling in love with his Scottish boyfriend, but at home he must hide his sexual orientation, because his father is the Chaplain of the Christian boarding school he attends: Pisgah Heights Academy. His relationship isn't just a lie to be kept secret, to dad it's a sin.

So obviously that's really cheesy, and you probably wouldn't want to write it that way, but it's just an example of how you can squeeze more of the important information right into the first line or two, in order to pack more punch, and hook the agent right away.

The last thing I would say is that this query comes off as dry, and lacking voice. This is a YA novel, so try to write the query using the language that Adam Smith would. The only caveat to that is that the voice and tone of the query needs to match the style the novel is written in. If this story ends in tragedy, and therefore the writing in the book is a bit more formal, then this query's voice might be good. If the story is funny, or more lighthearted, then you will want to inject that into your query.

So that's it. What do you guys think? Can anyone write a better opening hook than I did? Come on, mine was pretty bad, surely one of you dear readers can do better.

Please leave your feedback in the comments, and feel free to disagree with me!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Adam Russell Stephens' Current Query

Good morning. Today we're getting back to our roots. As in covering another query.

Adam Russell Stephens is a new friend of mine I met at Ghost Medicine, the wonderfully disturbing and occasionally hilarious blog of Andrew Smith, who I probably talk about too much over here (check my labels), but that's all beside the point. Adam is both an aspiring YA novelist, which is near to my heart, and a librarian, which is dear to my mind.

Anyway, before we get to his query, please go follow his blog, Novelist by Nature (get it? Like Naughty by Nature? Oh come on, they sang that O.P.P. song in the 90s. Some of you are old enough to know that, right?).

You did it, right? I mean went and followed him, not pulled up hip-hop videos from the 90s on Youtube. Of course you did, you lovely people always follow my instructions.

So, the query:

Dear Agent,

My name is Adam Stephens, the author of a 45,000-word YA novel entitled IMPERFECT SYMMETRY.

IMPERFECT SYMMETRY tells the story of 17-year-old Adam Smith, who lives a double life. On the internet, where he has spent a substantial amount of his summer, Adam is openly gay and, as a result, has developed a suitable relationship. At home, the son of a chaplain at a private Christian boarding school, Adam appears more conservative, his orientation a deeply buried secret he hopes no one suspects. Adam’s secret is well-kept until the day his online boyfriend—who lives in Scotland—shows up at Pisgah Heights Academy, the school where Adam attends and where his father works as chaplain. Suddenly, he must choose between his church and his boyfriend, his heart’s truth or his secret’s lie. Ultimately, Adam also knows whatever decision he makes will no longer simply impact his life, but the lives of everyone else around him. Only, Adam isn’t entirely sure his heart, scathed by past burns, can take another plunge into the fire.

The full manuscript is available upon request. Thanks for your consideration.

Okay. So clearly this needs work, and Adam knows that, and that's why he came to me.

Please save your feedback for tomorrow, and together we'll do our best to twist this query until it matches the strength of what is clearly a great premise for a tale. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Rest of the Crap I Did in Seattle

I'm just going to try to wrap the rest of it up in this last post. I'm helping a friend with a query tomorrow and Friday, and then perhaps we'll get into other things next week. We'll see.

First I have an announcement: the winner of Tawna Fenske's Making Waves is Heather M. Gardner. She got 4000 points, so it was basically a mathematically forgone conclusion. I have your email address, Heather, so I'll be in touch about your snail mail address. Thanks for playing, everyone.

Okay. So, back to Seattle. We did lots of different things, some of it very touristy like visiting the Space Needle and touring Pike Place Market, and other stuff more personal, like visiting my cousin in beautiful Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula (it's not far from Port Angeles for you Twilight lovers).

So here are some more photos, in random order:


The girls and I in front of the Market.


This photo pisses me off because Mount Rainier was prominent and majestic, hovering behind the city to the right, but you can't see it at all in this photo.


Madison with a silver statue man outside the market.


Madison in front of the Post Alley wall of ABC gum. Disgusting. In case you haven't figured it out yet, Kylie is shy like her dad, and Madison is a ham sandwich.


Madison playing giant chess in Occidental Park, against a street person. I didn't give her any help, and she lost, but you can learn just as much from losing as you can from winning, sometimes more. Right, Ted?


Tree huggers.


That's the Chief Seattle fireboat, but more importantly this is what it looks like outside Ivar's where you give your french fries to the gulls. I thought Andrew would like this, because he likes gulls.

Funny story: the day we were walking to the monorail, I literally saw a gull trying to bomb Kelly. I told her to watch out, she jumped back, and the bird shit seriously would have hit her if I hadn't saved the day. I'm her hero.


Once There Were Birds.


This is a sculpture outside the Science Museum.


This one's a little blurry, but I helped Madison make this shirt with bubble paint for when we finally went to see Harry Potter.


This is basically the view from my dad's house. Looking at this really makes me hate Georgia.


Finally a decent photo of Mount Rainier.


What a beautiful city.


This thing is called the Fremont Troll. You can't see it, but it has a Volkswagen in its hand.


This is a plaque outside the elevator to the grid inside the Seattle Opera House. Marcus Rush was my dad. Rest in peace, pop.


This is this really weird but kind of awesome old fort in Port Townsend. You would think it was from World War II, what with the war in the pacific and everything, but it was built around 1911. I don't know who we were scared of then, but it makes for a cool place to explore.

And that's it. Is that enough photos for you guys? Sorry the post is so long, but I wanted to squeeze the rest in, so we could move on to other things ... like, oh I don't know, talking about writing.

Anyway. Have a great Wednesday, all!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Japanese Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum

Okay. Finally back to Things I Did on Vacation in Seattle with my Family. Is that title too long? Who cares. It's all about the photos anyway.

If you don't know this by now, I consider myself an Asian-o-phile. My writing includes several things I find awesome about Asian culture, like martial-arts, calligraphy, religion, mysticism, and so forth. I don't know exactly where that love comes from, but it's been there as long as I can remember.

My daughter Kylie is the same, except she is really fascinated by Japan, in particular. She's already taught herself to speak some Japanese, and even write the simplified form (Hiragana and Katakana, as opposed to Kanji, which is the more complicated writing most of us are familiar with).

Anyway, the point is, one of the most beautiful places we visited while in Seattle was the Japanese Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum. They have a real Tea House, which was unfortunately closed when we visited, and a pond that is filled with some of the largest Koi I have ever seen.

Here are some photos:


These lanterns are either iron or stone, I can't remember. They're absolutely beautiful at night, though.


Here come the Koi.



For some reason I couldn't capture one with his mouth wide open. They look really funny if you can.


This lantern was a gift from Seattle's sister city, Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. It weighs three and a half tons, and is hand carved out of granite. It is nearly 200 years old.


That's my daughter, Madison, pouting on the grass. We had a bit of a meltdown that day because we'd been doing so much walking.


Those are turtles, sunning themselves on the rocks. Madison would not believe us that they were real because they literally did not move for hours.

Our camera is shite, and none of us are great photographers, but these pictures turned out okay, don't you think?

If you'd like to know more about the Japanese Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum, please visit the website.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Scary Good Book, by Anita Laydon Miller

I promise to get to more about my vacation soon, but today I have to announce that my friend Anita has released her second novel.

This one is a middle grade mystery titled A SCARY GOOD BOOK. Here is the official description:

Twelve-year-old Hannah Stone tells everyone she’s “okay,” but that’s a total lie. Two years ago her dad was killed by a hit-and-run driver. The detective in charge of the case never found the driver, but he somehow managed to get Hannah’s mom to fall in love with him. The jerk. And speaking of love, Hannah’s developed a major crush on Ollie Ortega—he’s her best friend and the only one she can talk to—a crush on Ollie is so not a good idea.

Also not a good idea? Searching for a missing person with no help from the police. But that’s exactly what Hannah does when she finds messages in library books—underlined words that point her in the direction of someone who needs her.

And, suddenly, Hannah’s even further from okay. She breaks into a library, gets caught in a kidnapper’s web, and is stalked by her dad’s killer, all in an effort to save a life…but can she save herself, too?

I haven't personally read it yet (it's just being released today), but I know Anita well enough to know that this is certainly a fun kids' ebook. And at $0.99 you absolutely cannot beat the price.

You can find the Kindle edition for sale on Amazon, here, but if you're not sure whether this might be for you, I suggest you at least visit both of Anita's great blogs, and get to know her a little better:

Anita Laydon Miller's blog.
Anita Laydon Miller's Middle Grade blog.

Thanks!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier

I know you guys are dying to hear more about what I did on my vacation, and I promise I'll get to that, but today is my day to post over at Project Mayhem.

I'm reviewing a most excellent new Middle Grade novel, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier. Please come by, and let me know what you think. Here's a link.

NOTE: If you happened to miss my post from yesterday, about visiting Bruce Lee's grave while on vacation, it's right there. Look down.

DOUBLE NOTE: The uncontest for Making Waves, by Tawna Fenske, is still open, and will be all weekend. Scroll down a little further, or just click this.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bruce and Brandon Lee's Graves

Okay. So I promised to talk about what I did while I was out of town. One of those things was visiting Bruce and Brandon Lee's grave. Bruce, and his son, Brandon, are buried next to each other at Lakeview Cemetary, on Capitol Hill, in Seattle.

It's a famous cemetary, filled with the graves of many of the cities founders and captains of industry, but the Lee grave and memorial is the most famous, and most visited of all of them.

If you don't know who Bruce Lee was, I probably can't help you, but I'm sure most of you do, so I'll just go ahead and get right to the pictures:



Your Inspiration Continues To Guide
Us Toward Our Personal Liberation


"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five time more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."
For Brandon and Eliza
Ever Joined in True Love's Beauty


The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.

Rest in peace, gentlemen. We will remember you always. May your lessons shroud the earth in their humble authenticity.

NOTE: The giveaway for Tawna Fenske's Making Waves is still open. Scroll down to yesterday's post to find out how to enter.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Making Waves, by Tawna Fenske

Okay. I'm back from my vacation, and back to work. I promise to give you all several posts about What I Did, and How Much I Love Seattle, but first I want to do something for a friend.

Do you all know Tawna Fenske? Before I talk about her book, I just want to tell you a bit about her. Tawna was the first published author who read and critiqued a part of my novel. Okay, she wasn't technically published yet, at the time, but she already had a deal in place. I won a critique from her and her CP Cynthia Reese, in a contest on Candace's blog.

Anyway, point is, Tawna and I don't write anywhere near the same genre, style, or anything, but her critique contained some of the best writing advice I'd ever seen, and even more importantly it was incredibly encouraging, and funny as hell. I wasn't too familiar with her before that experience, but I've read her blog every day since.

You should do the same.

You won't regret it, I promise.

Tawna is absolutely hilarious, but she's also honest and very open about this process we call getting published. Mostly her blog will make you laugh, out loud, literally, but there is also a lot to be learned there as well. Please go visit Don't pet me, I'm writing, now, and become a follower.

Now, the reason I'm hyping Tawna today is that her debut Romantic Comedy, Making Waves, was just released. I haven't read it yet, but I intend to, even though I don't read romances, because I know it will be side-splittingly funny. But what's even cooler than that is I'm going to give one of you a copy.

I don't often do contests here, because I'm really lazy, and not organized enough to do them well, but I think this calls for one. I'll buy a copy of this book and ship it to one of you lucky readers. All you have to do is leave a comment. You can tweet, blog or Facebook it if you want, but I'm not giving points for that because I'm too lazy to check that you actually did it. Instead I'll give you points like this: +1 for your comment (only rewarded once), +1 if you become a follower of my blog today, +1 if you become a follower of Tawna's blog today, +2 if you're an old follower of my blog, +2 if you're an old follower of Tawna's blog, and +5 if you already followed both (no, those will not stack). Don't lie, even though I won't be checking.

Tell me how much you earned in your comment, and then I'll just pick who I want to give the book to, and ignore all the points.

Just kidding.

You all know how these things work.

If you don't win, here is where you can find Making Waves for yourself:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell's
Indiebound

And here is where you can find Tawna, in addition to her blog:

Tawna's Website
On Twitter
Facebook

So that's it. Except if you say something funny, and relevant, in your comment, you might get an extra point. Or not. Good luck!

NOTE: I better limit this to U.S. readers only, I'm not sure what customs would make of a story like this.