Sunday, May 17, 2015

Every Day I Have The Blues

The Blues (and, yes, I capitalize the Blues, out of respect) is something I’ve always loved, even before I understood what it was. When I was growing up, the house was always filled with music, courtesy of my dad’s beloved stereo turntable. In the songs of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and all of those other rock acts that emerged from the 1960s, there was a sound that I eventually came to recognize as the Blues. Janis Joplin, though hailed as a rock icon, is nothing but the Blues to me. One of my favorite Beatles songs is an obscure one from the White Album called “Yer Blues.” (“My mother was of the SKY; my father was of the EARTH; well I am of the UNIVERSE, and you know what it’s worth…!”) I never really understood what the Blues was during that time because, well, I was rather young. Plus my parents were never very good at explaining the finer details of things like music to me, much as they loved it. Perhaps they themselves didn’t know. They were young, too.

In my teen years, I finally got a firm handle on the Blues thanks to, weird as it seems, the Blues Brothers. I was struck by the fact that, silly though they were, there was a certain dignity about the Blues Brothers and about the Blues in general that other forms of popular music lacked. Also, unlike Rock, Pop, Rap, or even certain types of Jazz performers, Blues performers only seem to get better with age, as they gain wisdom and experience.

The Blues is also the parent of modern popular music. Sure, a case could be made for Gospel music, but like early Classical music, Gospel's origins are firmly rooted in the ancient influence of religion. The Blues is about humanity, without a specific religion attached to it. Even when it does include religion, the Blues sometimes cheerfully embraces the darker side of religion, with songs about people indulging their sins or making pacts with demons and devils. The Blues does not discriminate. It celebrates humanity and all of its aspects, good and bad, chaste and naughty. It’s this trait that has carried over to all of the children of the Blues -- Jazz, Rock, Pop, Rap, etc. The Blues has even permeated Classical, Country, Bhangra… almost any other type of music imagined. I think that’s another reason I’ve always loved it. For me, it’s always been there, no matter what I’ve been listening to.

So, after years of listening to a music that I loved, the Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, finally supplied me with a definition and with the history of the Blues. I not only came to understand where the Blues came from, I finally understood what it is, at least for me. The Blues isn’t really about sadness and depression. It’s about persevering in spite of those things. I’ll always be grateful to Aykroyd and Belushi for not only helping me understand the Blues but also to introducing me to its long history of artists, including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Booker T. & the MG’s, -- and, of course, B.B.King.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about B.B.King the man. I never even had the privilege of seeing him perform, though I do own CDs and MP3s of many, perhaps most, perhaps ALL of his recordings. That I’ve long loved his music is an understatement. B.B.King’s guitar playing always sounded deceptively simple, with many single notes and trills. It always deeply reflected the emotion of the song, whether B.B. was playing a song filled with anger or with humor.

I can add only one modest story to the many tales told of B.B.King over this past weekend. Approximately ten years ago an author that I worked with emailed me from Las Vegas with the message, “Guess who I got to meet last night, in person! The King of the Blues himself!”

Naturally I wrote back, “You met B.B.King? Where? I’m JEALOUS!”

The author had won a contest allowing him to meet B.B.King after a concert. Upon finding himself in the presence of B.B., the author, himself a well-known man, fell upon his knees in respect for the great monarch of Blues music. B.B. apparently chuckled, told his subject, “You may rise,” and then smiled warmly as the author gushed his undying admiration for B.B. and his music.

I’m not sure how I would have reacted to meeting B.B. Whenever I meet celebrities, I tend to nod politely at them and leave them be, unless I have to conduct business with them -- and then I’m pretty much nothing but business. However, B.B.King was the much deserving KING of the Blues, my favorite form of music -- so I may have completely lost it in his presence for all I know. All I can state is that I am grateful for B.B.King’s music, for his artistic generosity, and for his long, active, and ever-musical life. ‘Bye, B.B., and thanks for being such a grand, glorious, and worthy monarch.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My unintentional Mother’s Day present

Last night, Mr. Sea, Mighty Mite (who is seven years old) and I were watching SciFi Saturday Night on MeTV. I’ve mentioned this before: MeTV on Saturday nights has what I consider to be the greatest TV show lineup in broadcast history, consisting of 1950s Superman, 1960s Batman, 1970s Wonder Woman, classic Star Trek, and then Svengoolie and whatever weird old horror movie he’s showing for the evening. Really, geek TV doesn’t get much better.

Anyway, we were watching the Batman episode, “Tut’s Case is Shut,” which shows Batman (Adam West) at one point drinking six glasses of buttermilk to counter a drug used by King Tut.

As she’s watching Batman drink all that buttermilk, Mighty Mite says, very casually, “Wow. He’s gonna fart a LOT.”

I swear on my grandfather’s grave -- In all of the 48 years I’ve been a Batman fan, not once -- NOT ONCE -- have I ever come close to entertaining the idea of Batman farting. Villains farting, sure. Other heroes farting -- Spider-Man, Superman, the Human Torch -- sure. NEVER Batman. Don’t ask me why I never thought of Batman farting. I have no idea. Maybe some subconscious part of me just thought Batman was too cool to fart. Sure, I’ve imagined Batman in plenty of other embarrassing and funny situations. NEVER farting.

I couldn’t help it. I started laughing. Mighty Mite then drew me a picture:

So, Happy Mother’s Day to me. My kid has introduced me to the idea of Batman farting.

Oh, geez loweez…! What if WONDER WOMAN farts?!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Herald by N.F. Houck is Finally a Proper eBook

Yes, it’s finally happened. Herald by N.F. Houck (that’s my pen name -- well, one of them), my fictional “autobiography” of the Greek god Hermes, is at long last in eReader-friendly form, meaning it is now downloadable from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., for Kindles, Nooks, etc. To find it in a bookseller’s website, just do a search for “Herald Houck” and it should pop up. Sorry this whole process took so long. Modern ebook conversion methods are a bit more involved than I anticipated.

When ebooks were in their infancy, the process of converting print to ebook form was very easy. All one had to do to create an ebook was use the same electronic files used to create the print book, usually via a PDF. Almost nothing had to be stripped out, converted, reformatted, etc. That’s not true anymore -- the EPUB/MOBI process has additional requirements. Because Herald had some tricky formatting and graphics, some changes had to be made to get it properly converted to EPUB form. Most of the changes had to do with the general appearance of the print book and a few of its “perks.” For example, in the new ebook, there are no Greek alphabet characters. The map has been removed, as well as some little graphics that were embedded in the text. The result is lean, mean, efficient text that was very easy to convert. The hardest part was having all of the original formatting stripped out. The final ebook STILL has a few formatting errors -- Nothing that affects overall readability, so… It’s just time to let it go.

I couldn’t resist having a few text corrections made. Nothing major. I couldn’t help it. The opportunity was there, and the editor in me decided to take advantage of it (even though, admittedly, it is almost impossible for the average editor to edit his/her own stuff). As many have said, in this digital age, is a book ever truly finished?

Anyway, now that Herald is finally converted over, I can devote 100% of my attention to the sequel.

Okay, it’s not really a sequel -- more of a continuation. Part 2 of a series, if you will. Hermes is NOT the narrator of the second book. The narrator is a different deity, one that’s providing me with a completely different writing experience from Herald.

I have been asked several times how to write a book. Every author writes differently -- or in my case, writes differently every time. Because of this, in my opinion, the best way to write a book is to just sit down and start writing. Get your words -- what you want to write about -- down, and worry about all the technical stuff later. By doing that, you’ll discover how YOU write a book. Despite what many seem to believe, just sitting down to write a book is NOT easy for most people. It requires a great deal of self-discipline and work to make yourself write an entire book from beginning to end. It’s very time-consuming, and oftentimes it’s just plain BORING. With computers, there’s a huge advantage to just getting all of the preliminary writing down in a word processing file (I use OpenOffice) and then going back over it later to reorganize and make changes. So, just sit down and start writing. If you find you don’t have the patience or self-discipline to write an entire book, or you can’t think of something to write about, maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Also, let me clear up one thing right now -- Bestselling authors are EXTREMELY rare. Less than 97% of all book writers make enough money from their publications to allow them to quit their day jobs. The reason bestselling authors become famous is because they ARE so rare. You can’t write a book expecting to get rich or famous. Getting rich would be nice, but the primary reason to write should be because you have a need to express yourself through the written word.

I have found that my writing style has a lot in common with method acting -- that is, getting inside the heads of characters and then just turning them loose. It’s a little dangerous, actually. Writing as Hermes was an almost completely joyful experience, as if he was eager to get the story out. Writing as this other deity -- okay, GODDESS -- for the second book is entirely different. It’s like, she wants to get her story out as well, but she’s worried about it. Also, there’s so much in her history that’s downright horrific, I start feeling depressed when I write for long stretches. That’s probably why it’s been taking me so long to get the book done. It WILL get done, though.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers, Daredevil, and More


Well, okay, the first thing isn't a spoiler:

Mr. Sea has kidney stones AGAIN.

Yeah. Figures. I start blogging again, and he gets kidney stones. THREE of them this time. TRIPLETS. They're not serious or anything (yet), but Mr. Sea is not having a good time.

Next item: I finished Daredevil on Netflix. I made sure I didn't fly through the episodes, because I wanted to savor them. It was difficult, because some of the episodes ended with really good cliffhangers. Final verdict? I want to REWATCH the entire series, because that's how much I enjoyed it. The plot is engrossing. The fight scenes are FABULOUS. The character development was very good, especially for Daredevil and Kingpin, and all of their various contradictions (yes, Matt is a lawyer AND a vigilante, and he does struggle with the ethical incompatibility of those two disciplines -- just as he always has in the comics).

Weird as this may seem, there was only one thing in the series that disappointed me, and that was when Daredevil finally switched from the "Dread Pirate Roberts" look to his final, iconic costume. As often happens when attempts are made to make real-life versions of what are essentially drawn costumes, the final Daredevil costume looked a bit -- well -- cheesy to me. But, really, what else can you do with an acrobat costume with devil horns on the cowl? Even Batman's costumers still have trouble with the bat threads, after close to 70 years of attempts. At least Daredevil's costume doesn't look cumbersome. To the designer's credit, Daredevil actually looks like he wouldn't have any trouble doing real acrobatics.

I'm also glad they didn't start off with the Electra saga, though she is mentioned, rather coyly, in one episode (when Foggy asks Matt about a "Greek" woman he dated). Maybe Electra will appear in Season 2 -- along with Bullseye...?

It's funny, because I have tried watching Arrow, Gotham, and the Flash. NONE of them held my attention past the second episode. Daredevil, I made it all the way through without any trouble.

Finally -- I did see Avengers: Age of Ultron on Saturday. I LOVED it. No, I don't think it's the greatest movie of all time, or even the greatest super-hero movie (it's more chaotic than the first Avengers film, and some stuff may be lost on people who don't know Avengers history), but it is FUN, FUN, FUN. I also made a startling discovery about myself. I was really looking forward to seeing Ultron -- easily my favorite Avengers villain -- but what really had me totally geeking out (and, in fact, had even my just-as-geeky brother rolling his eyes at me) was the appearance of THE VISION. Holy cow, was I ever so happy to see the Vision! I can't BELIEVE how happy I was to see the Vision -- and, yes, I was pleased with how they presented him. I finally had to acknowledge that I love the Vision as a character. I just never realized it before. After all, most of my Avengers knowledge dates back to the late 70s and early 80s. But, oh, I was ever so happy to see the Vision, and to see him and the Scarlet Witch be ever so delicately interested in one another. Oooooooooh, I loved it! So --Wow. I'm a Vision fan. Who knew?

Other personal news -- I start a new job on Monday! Well, sorta. It's actually a temp job with my old company (different location). It's not glamorous, and the pay is less than my last job, but it's income, and it keeps my resume from having a huge dead zone in it. So, it looks like my days as a stay-at-home mom are coming to an end.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Sad Tail of Bubbles the Goldfish

Presenting Bubbles. Bubbles is a goldfish. To be more precise, Bubbles is a Comet/common goldfish, the type usually found in large “feeder fish” tanks in pet stores. Feeder fish, for those who don’t know, are inexpensive fish sold to pet owners with large pets (usually other, larger fish) requiring live food to stay healthy. As intended bait for larger critters, feeder goldfish aren’t dealt a great hand in the poker game of life -- but bigger critters gotta eat, right? Bubbles is one of those rare goldfish to escape the feeder fish fate, but I’m not sure Bubbles was all that lucky in that regard.

A while back, I established a tank of Lake Malawi African Cichlids, fully aware that they weren’t the most, er, mellow of pet fish. However, I wanted fish that were colorful, tough, and didn’t require a lot of babying. Yes, African Cichlids will start killing each other if their environment isn’t ideal, so I took all the precautions that well-meaning Cichlid lovers recommend. Before getting the fish, I made sure the water quality was just right. I aquascaped the tank with lots of little terra cotta flowerpots (at least two per fish) to give the fish plenty of hiding places, so they could stake out territories and avoid each other. (The tank looked like the dumping ground of an unscrupulous flower shop, but I was determined to do right by my fishies.) I acquired baby Cichlids, all of the same species -- nine little fish total, in a 50-gallon tank. I made sure to feed them three small meals three times a day.

Because there were nine of them, the Cichlids were all named after Santa’s reindeer (including Rudolph), and at first all seemed well. I thought I’d succeeded in creating a good environment for the cute, spunky, colorful little fish.

Alas, my efforts were in vain. As they grew, the little buggers started eating each other. Eventually there was just one big fat triumphant fish left -- a big blue bully that my daughter renamed Carson for some reason. We don’t even know anyone named Carson.

Pecking orders and natural selection be darned -- I couldn’t even look at Carson without feeling bad for all those other murdered fish (never mind that they rather gleefully attacked each other before Carson did them in). So, Carson was returned to the pet store, which was more than happy to take in a big pretty blue Cichlid that could be resold to another (hopefully more experienced) Cichlid lover.

Still, I had to have something in that big ol’ fishtank of mine, but I didn’t want any more grumpy fish or any delicate fish. My options seemed limited. I finally decided to get something simple: GOLDFISH. Nice, simple, domesticated, benign, drama-free goldfish.

I started off with four small Comet goldfish, rescued from the feeder tank at the pet store. I figured, if any fish deserved a nice home, it was a feeder fish -- and besides, feeder fish are nice and colorful, and they cost next to nothing. Once the goldfish were established in their new home, I thought my aquarium fish issues were finally over.

There were four goldfish, three red/orange fish and one mostly-white fish. They all seemed to get along nicely. I also liked the way they crowded together at the front of the tank and watched me, the hubby, the kid, and the dog as we all walked around the living room. The mostly-white one even earned a name -- Bubbles. Such cheery, personable fish! It was a nice change from the grumpy Cichlids. No issues for a month. This was back in September.

In October, we went on a week-long trip and left the house in the care of our favorite house sitter -- someone who’s always been good at taking care of the dog and the fish. We arrived back home late on Saturday night, and …

Y’know, when I return home from vacation, one of the last things I want to hear from the house sitter is, “I don’t know how this happened, but--!”

Turned out the three orange goldfish -- my nice, benign, domesticated, stress-free goldfish -- ATE BUBBLES. Well, okay, they tried to eat Bubbles. More specifically, they ate all of Bubbles’ fins off, including most of Bubbles’ tail. There were nothing but little stumps where Bubbles’ fins used to be, and the tail was chewed down to a sad little nub. The house sitter still swears that the fish were regularly fed and seemed fine. The attack on Bubbles seemed to have happened one afternoon while the sitter was out.

None of the other smug little bastard goldfish had a mark on them.

How does a fish swim without fins and a tail, you might ask? Well, it tends to wiggle a lot. REALLY wiggle. That’s what Bubbles was reduced to doing, just to keep functioning as a proper fish. Lots and lots of wiggling. It had to be very tiresome work, but survival is a very impressive instinct, particularly in a goldfish.

Again, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the bully fish, but I didn’t want to return them to their previous pet-store-feeder-fish-tank fate. Thankfully, in my mom’s back yard is a very large, very established goldfish pond, and she agreed to add the three bullies to the fleet of Comets and Kois. So, off they went. Given the size of some of those Koi, though, maybe the little buggers ended up being feeder fish after all. I’ll probably never know.

Bubbles has been alone in that big 50-gallon tank since last October and doesn’t seem to mind the solitude one bit. I did tape some little round craft store mirrors to the outside of one end of the tank, just so Bubbles can at least see another fish when the need arises. Really, though, Bubbles seems fine. Bubbles still wiggles to get around the tank, still comes to the front of the tank to watch us, and still has a healthy appetite. Best of all, Bubbles’ fins are starting to grow back! Well, at least some of them are. They seem to be growing from back-to-front, starting with the tail. Bubbles’ tail -- that sad stub of a tail -- is almost completely grown back. Also, the anal fin is almost back to normal and the dorsal fin is about halfway grown. It remains to be seen if Bubbles’ pectoral and pelvic fins will return, but there’s hope.

So, I guess Bubbles is lucky in that he didn’t end up being fed to a larger critter, but talk about being unlucky amongst one’s peers!

I think maybe I’ll stick with just one fish from now on.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dumb things one regularly says during the course of a day

It’s a rainy, gloomy day here in Indianapolis. The first thing I did this morning when I noticed the rain was to imitate the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan and start belting out that blues classic, “The SKY is CRYIN’….!” Then, later in the morning a light bulb blew out in the living room ceiling and I had to get out a ladder to change the darned thing. Immediately upon switching the light back on to make sure the new bulb was working, the first thing I said was, “What light thru yonder window breaks! ‘Tis the east and Juliet is the sun!”

It’s finally occurred to me -- I say these things every frickin’ time it rains or I have to change a light bulb. Every time! Why do I say these things every time? The light bulb thing doesn’t even make sense. The bulb is not shining at me through a window, and I’m not even a huge Shakespeare fan. I mean, I like Shakespeare just fine, but Romeo and Juliet isn’t exactly at the top of my all-time-favorite-stories list.

So, I’ve been scared into paying attention to every little thing I say, and I’ve noticed other things. For example, I seem to say “Y’know” an awful lot. I think that’s a Midwestern USA thing: “Y’know, y’know, y’know…” No one’s ever corrected me on it, but that’s hardly surprising. I’m usually surrounded by fellow Midwesterners after all, plus there aren’t many people willing to admit that, hey, they DON’T know.

I also seem to use the word “actually” a lot, usually at the beginning of sentences: “Actually, we did run out of yogurt this weekend…”

WEIRD that one’s subconscious can latch onto making one repeat certain words and/or phrases during the course of a day. Is it an “autopilot” function? Laziness of expression? A reflection of a comfort zone of the brain? Merely a normal function/side effect of speech development? I wonder if someone’s done a study on this?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Totally digging Daredevil on Netflix

No real spoilers.

No offense to Mr. Sea’s godparents, who have had very long and impressive careers in the television industry, but I have not been a huge watcher of broadcast television for many, many years -- DECADES, in fact. I think the last regular prime time TV show I was addicted to was the original broadcast of Star Trek: The Next Generation(!). Most of the regular viewing I’ve had in the last few years have involved either old reruns (MeTV is wonderful), or various DC animated series, or the stuff Mighty Mite watches on PBS Kids (most of which is actually pretty entertaining for adults, too). I even ditched cable/satellite TV a few years ago when it finally dawned on me that I was paying an awful lot of money for something I hardly watched. I much prefer viewing movies and BBC stuff, new and old, on my own terms -- so for the last couple of years, I’ve been subscribing to Netflix’s streaming service and watching everything mostly through Amazon/Kindle and the PlayStation Network.

Netflix has been streaming its own series programming for a while, which I’ve basically dismissed with a shrug -- until now. As an ancient and certified comic book fangeek, how could I resist giving the new Daredevil series a shot?

My brother watched the entire series in a relentless Saturday night marathon. I’ve made it to episode 8 so far, and that’s saying something. I generally dump TV series pretty quickly if they don’t catch my interest in the first episode or two -- part of the reason why I’m not much of a series viewer. THIS series, though … Wow.

When we were kids, my brother collected mostly Marvel and I collected DC, and then we read each others’ collections. Worked out pretty well for us. So, most of my Daredevil knowledge dates from the 1970s and early ‘80s -- yes, including the Frank Miller era. Netflix’s Daredevil draws so heavily from that era that watching it, I almost feel like a teenager again, sitting on that awful orange shag carpeting in my brother’s bedroom and reading through his box of Daredevil comics.

Netflix’s Daredevil is gritty, gruesome, and glorious (plus no commercials -- yay!). It definitely earns its TV-MA rating -- NOT kid friendly AT ALL. However, given the circumstances in this series’ version of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and the crime organizations involved, the violence and blood do not feel gratuitous. For the most part, the actors’ portrayals are spot-on. Charlie Cox is intense and deceptively low-key as Matt Murdock. The villains are deplorable characters, but fascinatingly complex and nuanced, especially Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin. And Elden Henson, bless his heart, not only nails Foggy Nelson’s behavior without making him too much of a jerk, he even looks like Foggy Nelson.

A huge, huge, HUGE thanks to the series creators for telling Daredevil’s origins mostly via backstory snippets throughout the episodes. I despise series that start off with one big fat origin story -- I just wanna get to the action! Okay, so Daredevil hasn’t appeared in costume yet, but … Seriously, most people watching the series already know Daredevil’s origins, so kudos to everyone involved for just skipping ahead to the good stuff.

Will this series attract any new Daredevil fans? Not sure. My guess is that many new viewers will be strongly reminded of Batman. Indeed, watching this series so far, I’ve been reminded of Nolan’s Dark Knight movies more than once. This is not a criticism -- quite the contrary. After all, the modern interpretations of both Batman and Daredevil have been heavily influenced by Frank Miller, so how can there not be similarities? Still, this TV Daredevil’s universe has been so well-fleshed-out in only a few episodes, I can’t imagine there won’t be any new fans.

Warner Bros., take note: When Disney first acquired Marvel, I was a bit worried. The gritty Marvel universe didn’t seem like a logical fit, and it appeared Disney merely wanted Marvel because they wanted to compete with Warner Bros.’s ownership of DC. Well, that may have been the case, but I don’t think Disney could have done a better job with Marvel right out of the starting gate. Indeed, they have surpassed Warner’s accomplishments with DC in live action, and I think it’s now obvious that Warner’s is scrambling to catch up, what with the Superman/Batman film, and the upcoming Wonder Woman film, et al. One very important thing that has given Disney an edge here is that Disney has not forgotten that all of these characters exist in the same universe. In fact, they capitalize on this fact, which is also a bit of a Marvel tradition -- These characters do not and never have existed in individual vacuums. Warner’s has a history of isolating the DC characters in their live-action films -- “Oh, no, you can’t have XYZ appearing in THIS film, because we’re thinking about putting him in ANOTHER film. So don’t even mention XYZ in THIS film.” In the modern Marvel films, by contrast, TV and movie, there’s a lot of cross-pollination, and characters freely refer to each other. (I like how in Daredevil, the characters tend to comment on the Avengers’ “incident.”) This not only keeps the Marvel film universe rich and well fleshed-out, it generates more interest among viewers so they’re more likely to watch all of these films. It’s fun, and it’s good business. I think Warner’s has finally figured this out, but we’ll see.

Which reminds me -- I would LOVE to see Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow appear in the Daredevil series, given the comic book history between the two characters. Here’s hoping!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Well, at least I'm writing again

It’s strange, frightening, and weirdly liberating to be unemployed. Being unemployed this time was not of my choosing. I did enjoy my job very much. I was incredibly lucky in that my job involved working at home, on a computer supplied by the publishing company, and I could more or less make my own hours. If Mighty Mite had to miss school for any reason, it wasn’t a big deal at all – I was already home, and most of the time I didn’t have to excuse myself from my job. It was IDEAL for a working mom.

However, publishing has always been a volatile and fickle business. As has happened many times throughout my career, the company was purchased (by a corporation named after a Greek god, ironically enough) and the new owners decided to “trim the fat.” Whenever something like this happens, departments responsible for things like quality control are usually to first the go -- because they’re responsible for things that are generally impossible to track in budget and balance sheets. That’s what happened to me.

It hasn’t been all bad. After all, I did try to escape the publishing industry once before -- though I'd be lying if I claimed I didn't miss it. We’re lucky in that Mr. Sea loves his job and makes enough money to cover bills and living expenses, though I’d be lying if I said we didn’t miss the cash I’d been bringing in. At least now there’s always someone home to take care of emergencies, which is a VERY good thing. Best of all, I finally have time to do little things like painting the house and, at long last, WRITING.

It’s been nearly a decade since Herald was first published. I do have many more books in the works (so far consisting of notes and notes and more notes ...), and I’ve been sitting on the half-finished followup to Herald for quite some time. Since the beginning of the year, though, I’ve been writing like crazy, and I’m confident that the followup (it’s not really a sequel) to Herald will be published before the end of this year. I don’t want to make promises, though. Don’t want to jinx myself.

The best thing about writing is that it’s still work and it’s still at home. So, I guess I really am employed, at least in a way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

55 Questions, 2015 -- Five Years Later

It's weird how age really does make time seem to go by faster. Perhaps it's because as we age, we get used to certain things happening on a regular basis, so they all kind of start blurring together …? Also, I think that as we get older and gain more experience and exposure to a wide variety of things, it becomes more difficult to surprise us – so, fewer incidents really stand out for us. I must admit, as an older parent with a kid in grade school, it’s rather nice to not be fazed by half the things that Mighty Mite does – or by half the things that Mr. Sea does, come to think of it.

Anyway, I haven’t blogged in ages, and it’s been five years since my last inane personal questionnaire. For the purpose of self-inventory, I think I should fill out one of these things now, just to see if anything has changed. Here goes:

1. What time did you get up this morning?
6:00. Perfect example of something that happens on a regular basis, day after day, year after year ...

2. Diamonds or pearls?
Still amethysts – and really well-carved intaglios. I have an intaglio of Athena carved in amethyst. GORGEOUS.

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Big Hero Six with Mighty Mite. I used to love going to the movies on opening days, but now I’d rather stay home and wait for them to show up for downloading on Amazon or the PSN – or even wait for Netflix. The sense of urgency seems to be gone. Either that or I've seen so many movies that they just aren’t very exciting anymore. Ah, the curse of the jaded old fogey! To think I once thought of being a film critic. Thank goodness THAT didn't happen.

4. What is your favorite TV show?
I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since the Tom Baker days, and I also enjoy Sherlock, but via Netflix. Really, the only broadcast television I watch on a regular basis anymore is whatever Mighty Mite is watching, usually on PBS. (Let’s hear it for Wild Kratts and Odd Squad!) Also, it’s really hard to beat MeTV’s SciFi Saturday Nights. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, (classic) Star Trek, and then Svengoolie? That HAS to be one of the greatest broadcast TV lineups of all time.

5. What do you usually have for breakfast?
A cup of coffee and a fistful of vitamins -- and maybe a bagel before lunchtime.

6. What is your favorite Pixar character?
Anton Ego from Ratatouille.

7. What food do you dislike?
Mostly fish -- the exception being a very well-made blackened grouper sandwich.

8. What is your favorite album at the moment?
deadmau5, while(1<2).

9. What kind of car do you drive?
Still driving Black Beauty, my black Dodge Caliber. Hey, she's paid for!

10. Favorite sandwich?
A really good Reuben.

11. What characteristic do you despise?
Still abusive behavior -- physical, vocal or virtual.

12. Favorite item of clothing?
Uhhhh ... Don't really have one at the moment. That is, I don't have a FAVORITE item of clothing. I do have plenty of clothing!

13. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
London in the middle of winter.

14. Favorite brand of clothing?
Still don’t have one.

15. Where would you retire to?
I still love Indianapolis. I will never leave it.

16. What was your most memorable birthday?
Still the infamous Bambi birthday. Turning 50 really wasn't a big deal.

17. Favorite sport to watch?
Still Colts football and the Indianapolis 500.

18. Favorite weather?
Either early-to-mid spring or early-to-mid fall weather -- a light wind right before the temperature starts to get warm or starts to get cold. I'd be happy with 65 degrees F. year-round, but without sacrificing snow or thunderstorms.

19. Favorite painting?
Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

20. When is your birthday?
Still New Year’s Eve!

21. Are you a morning person or a night person?
Sort of a mid-morning person.

22. What is your shoe size?
Still 8-1/2. I understand shoe sizes can change as you age.

23. Pets?
Still have my crazy Shiba Inu, plus a goldfish named Bubbles. I am DONE with cichlids and other tropical fish.

24. Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with us?
Er, nothing really exciting. I am unemployed again, thanks to my company being bought out and my division being closed, which happens to publishing companies all the time. There are two things I can do about it -- I can LOOK, and I can WRITE.

25. What do you want to do when you grow up?
Finish writing and publishing more books.

26. How are you today?
Fine! Healthier than I've been in years -- no more colds! A little gloomy today because it's raining; otherwise, just fine.

27. What is your favorite candy?
Chocolate mint truffles from Shakolad. Mmmmmm ...

28. What is your favorite flower?
Cherry blossoms.

29. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?
Nothing at the moment. Don't have any specific plans, which is a luxury of sorts.

30. What's your full name?
Still anonymous, thank you.

31. What are you listening to right now?
Listening to my dog snore!

32. What was the last thing you ate?
A hard-boiled egg.

33. Do you wish on stars?
Yes, still -- when I get to see them.

34. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

35. How is the weather right now?
AGAIN rainy. Gray. Gloomy. Cold.

36. What is your natural hair color?
Still brown! I only have two gray hairs and they're BOTH on my right eyebrow. Weird.

37. Favorite soft drink?
Diet Sierra Mist.

38. Favorite restaurant?
Still Smee’s Place, Indianapolis. Even still have the same waitress!

39. Favorite color of nail polish?
#160 Mauve It, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri. It's all Mighty Mite's fault.

40. What was your favorite drink as a child?
Root beer!

41. Something you’ve taken from a spouse/friend/significant other that you really should return?
Mr. Sea’s flash drive.

42. Hugs or kisses?
Hugs are for everyone.

43. Chocolate or Vanilla?

44. Coffee or tea?
Jasmine tea.

45. Favorite culinary guilty pleasure?
Cheese straws!

46. When was the last time you cried?
When I watched Alfonso Cuaron’s A Little Princess with Mighty Mite the other night.

47. What is under your bed?
Nothing, but there'll probably be a dismantled DeLonghi heater stored under there soon.

48. What did you do last night?
Went to bed early after reading a ton of notes on Antoninus Liberalis.

49. What are you afraid of?
Anything bad happening to Mr. Sea or Mighty Mite.

50. Favorite video game?
Recently? Dragon Age: Inquisition. Of all time? It's a tie between Skyrim and the old, original Atari Adventure game. I think Adventure must have been the very first "sword-and-board" video game ...? I still play DC Universe Online occasionally. I wish they would do away with the “grind” factor. I’ve played Marvel Heroes, too. Great game, but I had to delete it because it was hogging WAY too much space on my computer. Wish they’d make it available via PlayStation.

51. How many keys on your key ring?
Down to one key ring and 14 keys!

52. How many years at your current job?
Currently and magnificently unemployed.

53. Favorite day of the week?
Weirdly enough, Monday.

54. How many towns have you lived in?
Still only four: Indianapolis, Indiana; Fishers, Indiana; Bloomington, Indiana (college); and (sorta) Dunedin, Florida.

55. Do you make friends easily?
Depends on where I am and what mood I'm in!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Daddy/Daughter Halloween, 2013

Ah, nothing like family togetherness on Halloween. Mighty Mite is age 5 in this photo. I'm not allowed to give out Mr. Sea's age.

Only Mighty Mite would give Princess Leia pink boots.

Dunno yet what we're going to do for Halloween this year. So far, Mighty Mite wants to dress like Merida from the movie Brave and have me follow her around dressed like a bear. Not sure I want to go along with that idea.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Before anyone asks, the costumes were strictly Mighty Mite's idea. That's m'girl!

Hope everyone is well! Everything is fine here -- and I'm still working my tail off. Have a great Halloween, everyone!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mighty Mite, the Pop-Culture Nightmare

THIS is what Mighty Mite decided she wanted to wear to school this morning:

Beatles Yellow Submarine t-shirt, Captain America mask, Batman cape, Hulk hands. She was a walking pop-culture nightmare. OF COURSE, I had to take a picture. I asked her who she was dressed as, and she said, very proudly, "I'm Captain Cha-Cha!"

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Captain Cha-Cha.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Green Lantern video game: God of War, Green Lantern style!

Let's face it – video games that are movie tie-ins usually stink. They almost always have poor graphics and they have gameplay that's either way too easy or impossibly hard, but never anything in between – AND they can generally be counted on to be hopelessly bound, creatively, by the movie they're based on. It also doesn't seem to matter if the original movie was a good one or a bad one – the game can generally be counted on to be bad. (Though Pixar films are visually state-of-the-art, there's yet to be a Pixar video game tie-in that looks [or plays] even half as good. The Harry Potter games started off promising and then became progressively worse in quality as the movie series grew and matured. And the James Bond video games, much like the James Bond movies, are hit-and-miss quality-wise.)

In spite of this woefully poor record, I actually picked up a copy of the new game, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters. I expected it to stink as much as any other movie tie-in. To my great surprise, though, this game is actually FUN.

Maybe it helps that the game's only obvious ties to the Green Lantern movie are skin deep. It DOES use Ryan Reynolds' voice and likeness for Hal, and there are a few design elements from the movie – but all similarities to the movie end there. If you're at all familiar with the popular video game God of War, that's what this game is – it's God of War, Green Lantern-style, and it's AWESOME.

In the game, of course, as Green Lantern, you can generate constructs – some of which, like the maces-and-chains, are incredibly cool and do a great deal of damage. (My personal favorite construct is the giant baseball bat – and Hal has surprisingly good form swinging that thing.) The graphics are even rather good quality, especially for a movie tie-in. Everything is all nice and glowy and pretty, as you would expect the Green Lantern universe to be.

It's not a perfect game, by any means, but it's very fun to play – I found it neither too easy nor too hard, and just challenging enough. There are three levels of play: Emerald Knight, Enforcer, and Poozer(!). You begin with a few basic constructs and then can form much more elaborate constructs as you gain experience. The game also follows a plot that's very faithful to the Green Lantern universe: Hal, Sinestro, and Kilowog are on Oa. Hal has been a Green Lantern only for a little while, and the three Lanterns are making funeral preparations for Abin Sur. Suddenly, the Manhunter robots attack. The Guardians tell the Lanterns to (more or less), “GO GET 'EM, BOYS,” and the game is on!

The battle begins on Oa, moves to Zamaron, and then movies to Biot (the Manhunter homeworld) before moving back to Oa. The main protagonist is Hal, and in one-player mode you're stuck with being Hal. In 2-player mode, though, the second player gets to be Sinestro, and there are some very nifty attacks that Hal and Sinestro can orchestrate together. (I'm very fond of the Baseball maneuver, shown in the following image.) And while you don't get to play as Kilowog, you do get to fight alongside him a bit – and rescue him from the Manhunters. The other Lanterns really don't put in an appearance, but the Zamarons certainly do!

The main villain isn't one that's a huge surprise for regular GL readers, but the game creators did a good job of setting up the main bad guy – and the final battle. Along the way, there are plenty of bad guys, and plenty of big (Boss) battles. The way to get through the really tough battles is to come up with the right combination of constructs (Sword? Turret gun? Battle armor? Giant hammer...?) that's the most effective against specific foes. I'm not used to having to use shields when playing first-person fighting games, but I definitely had to use them in a couple of battles here.

And, believe it or not, the Zamarons are a pain in the #%$# to fight.

A few minor gripes:

- I think I'm too used to playing DC Universe Online, because I kind of resented the fact that my freedom of movement was restricted to what this game wanted me to do – but I guess that's normal for a game like this.

- The cut scenes are rather good, but there doesn't seem to be any way to skip past them. That became very annoying whenever I ran into a Boss that kept "killing" me, and I ended up having to re-watch the same friggin' cut scene over and over and over …

- Ryan Reynolds is GOOD as Hal, but I got kind of tired of him saying “What the hell” all the time. I blame the script.

- There are some flying missions, and the controls for those are a WEE bit too sensitive. It helps a lot, though, to build up Hal's ring power so that it surges. This encases Hal in a fighter jet, complete with heat-seeking missiles!

All in all, though – FUN game! Better than a movie tie-in game deserves to be, really.

There's one small, inspired detail in the game that I absolutely love. It's a precious, precious detail that's NOT in the movie. I'm not even sure it's ever, even been explored in the comics: In the game, Hal's ring talks – just like it does in the comics. The VOICE of Hal's ring is a WOMAN's voice. A very NICE and SEXY-sounding woman's voice. I LOVE that detail. It's so perfect, and goes a long way toward explaining a LOT about Hal's relationship with his ring.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Green Lantern movie review: By GL fans for certain GL fans

SPOILERS ahead: This movie was definitely influenced by a very specific GL fan – namely, longtime GL writer Geoff Johns, who is listed as a co-producer. The movie has his fingerprints all over it. Heck, even most of Kilowog's lines are straight out of Johns' Secret Origin story.

That said – I loved the movie. I really didn't expect to love it, but I was pleasantly surprised. So (I think) was most of the audience I was sitting with. I only read Roger Ebert's review prior to going to see the movie, because he and I agree more often than not on movies. He thought the movie was reasonably entertaining, so I figured it was worth my time and money. Hey, it's the Green Lantern universe, which is one of the most interesting universes in super-hero comics. That alone makes the movie worth at least a look-see.

Mr. Sea and I saw the movie Friday night at Trader's Point here in Indy. We sat in on the 2D version, and the theater was PACKED. Best of all, it was packed with people who were mostly wearing GL t-shirts, so I know we were in gloriously geeky company. As a whole, the audience seemed to really enjoy the movie. They laughed, and they CHEERED and CLAPPED. It's been a while since I sat in a theater with an audience that was having so much fun.

I also thought the movie was surprisingly kid-friendly, for a PG-13 film. There are some very slight hints at sexuality that would go over most kids' heads, and the villains can be a little scary, but I wouldn't hesitate to let Mighty Mite watch this movie. She loves action movies and super-heroes, and I think this would be a fun movie for her. GL fans expecting the blood and gore of the GL Corps comic would be VERY disappointed, though. GL fans expecting to see Secret Origin word for word are also going to be disappointed.

MANY longtime GL plot details and traditions have been changed for the movie, but they didn't bother me in the slightest – and I've been a Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) fan for 40 years. It's a MOVIE, not the comics. Quality-wise, it's not Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2 (it does drag in a couple of spots, and some of the editing is choppy), but I thought it was at least as good as the very first X-men movie.

Ryan Reynolds is FUN as Hal and gets some good lines ("By the power of Greyskull!"), and Blake Lively is a much better Carol Ferris than I thought she'd be. Bless her heart, she actually gets to do the ONE THING that I always wanted to see in the comics, because it's something I've always suspected of Carol (though for YEARS in the comics, Carol didn't let on about this AT ALL): In the movie, she recognizes Hal as Green Lantern ALMOST IMMEDIATELY. Best of all, she gives him HELL about his lame attempts to hide his identity (“I've seen you NAKED!”). It's beautiful – and very funny.

Actually, I thought it was a very funny film in general, especially for Hal Jordan fans. Let's face it -- Hal Jordan, the comic book character, is rather dull, and though Hal IS very heroic, he's also an arrogant jerk. Half the fun of being a Hal Jordan comic book fan is watching how his much-more-interesting supporting cast REACTS to the fact that he's such an arrogant, yet heroic, jerk. The movie is no different -- the other characters, including Hal's friends and family, give him hell every chance they get, and Ryan Reynolds does a good job of playing straight man to all of the verbal AND physical abuse hurled his way. It's hilarious, and very much in the spirit of the comics. I can understand how it would be off-putting to casual or more high-minded fans, though. (Just WHY is this a-hole a super-hero? Because the ring chose him. Sorry -- yer stuck with him.)

Tomar-Re and Sinestro are PERFECT, though this Sinestro comes across as so professional and noble, it's hard to picture him as the ruthless dictator that he becomes in the comics. A small scene halfway through the end credits, though, does point to impending corruption – and a good reason WHY Sinestro would become a villain.

There are LOTS of details that probably don't need to be in the movie -- except that they're there for certain GL fans. For example, Hal's brothers and nephew are in the film, in one scene. They don't need to be in the film -- it's a wasted scene. It's there only for people like ME -- "OMG, it's Jack and Jim! And Jack is giving Hal hell, as usual -- COOL!" The movie is FULL of throwaway stuff like that -- stuff that's probably completely lost on average viewers.

A few gripes: I've already mentioned that some of the scenes drag a bit, and some of the editing – especially when the movie switches back and forth between what's going on with Hal and Hector – is a bit choppy. AND it's yet another FRICKIN' super-hero origin story – I am SICK to DEATH of origin stories – but, oh well. There's also the obligatory hero-training scene – which really doesn't accomplish much in the way of training, but it's there to give Kilowog and Sinestro something to do. Also, some changes have been made to the villains Hector Hammond and Parallax that I don't really care for, but they make good sense for the movie. There is also a great deal of romance in the film (not sex, but ROMANCE) -- which viewers are either going to love or hate, depending on their level of interest in Hal's love life. All in all, though, I loved the movie, and it made for a good, entertaining night out.

The Captain America movie is next! Can't wait!

I just can't seem to get out of this business!

One of these days, I'm going to learn to never say “never.” Years ago, I said I was never gonna get married. I didn't WANT to be married, or so I thought. Then I met Mr. Sea, and … well, so much for the “never gonna get married” idea.

I once said I never wanted to be an editor – and then, for the next 20+ years, I ended up working as a book editor for various publishing companies. So much for my original plan of working in advertising.

I once said I never wanted to have kids. I was ADAMANT about it – I was never gonna have kids – and then Mighty Mite came into my life. I wouldn't trade the little bugger for ANYTHING.

I once said I never wanted to be an author – and then I ended up writing and publishing a novel.

THEN, last July (geez, has it really been almost a year?) I left my publishing job and told myself I was never going back into publishing. NEVER.

Once again, the gods looked down, pointed at me, and said, “Yeah, that's what YOU think! HaHAhahahahaHAhahahahaaaaaaa!” Sigh.

Believe it or not, Indianapolis is a big publishing town. True, it's mostly nonfiction publishing, which isn't terribly glamorous – but it can still make for a fun work environment, if you get to work with the right people. The really cool thing is, with the exception of a handful of editors who are isolationists, most Indy book editors know each other and have worked with each other at one time or another (leading editors to joke about what an incestuous business publishing is). I've found that staying in touch with fellow editors I've enjoyed working with definitely pays off.

At the end of February, an old boss of mine – one of the best bosses I've ever had – contacted me out of the blue and offered me a job at one of the biggest publishing companies in the world. Years ago, I told myself that if I EVER had a chance to work with this particular boss again, I would go for it. Figures she would do this to me, darn it. So, once again, I'm working in publishing, despite my best attempt to escape the industry. The twist is, though I do now have an office at one of the most prestigious locations in Indianapolis, I can make my own hours and do most of my work from home. I've NEVER had that kind of freedom before. It's NICE – and I recognize that I'm extraordinarily lucky to be in this position. I'm not gonna waste it.

So, that' s why I haven't been blogging – I'm working again, and when I'm not doing my paying job, I'm working on my house. One of the drawbacks of working from home is, while I'm busy doing my job, I'm also looking around my house and thinking things like, “DAMN, that wall needs repainting.” In other words, I've been working like a mad fiend of late. I'll probably continue working like a mad fiend, so blogging will continue to be sporadic at best.

In other news:

-- Mighty Mite is now THREE years old. THREE! Can you believe it? She's also a massive Beatles fan. Her favorite Beatle changes from day to day. It's always either John, George, or Ringo – but NEVER Paul. When naming off the Beatles, she always adds Paul to the lineup as an afterthought. Too funny.

-- Yes, yes -- I heard about DC's latest reboot, and I pretty much reacted to the whole thing with one big yawn. I mean, it's not like DC hasn't done this a zillion times before -- starting WAY back during the mid-1950s. (Yes, Barry Allen's original debut as the Flash was a REBOOT, folks.) Some of the changes will suck, and some won't. As long as they aren't messing with the main Green Lantern title, I really don't give a flying flip what DC does this time.

-- Like many DC Universe Online fans, I was kicked out of the environment when the PlayStation Network went down a couple of months ago thanks to those hackers. Yeah, well, whatever. It didn't stop me from using the PlayStation for its basic functions (music, Netflix, DVD and Blu-Ray viewing, DVD-ROM gameplay, Web surfing), and I'm finally caught up on some of the hardcopy games I've had sitting around. Everything's back online now, though, and I've been having a HECK of a great time playing the new Green Lantern video game. More on that in another post.

-- YES, I've seen the Green Lantern movie. It's not in the same class as The Dark Night or Spider-Man 2, but I LOVED it – and I've been a Green Lantern (and Hal Jordan) fan most of my life. Again, more on that in a later post.

Glad to see so many other comic book fans are still bloggin' right along!