Nov 26, 2006

After the Turkey Day

I hope all you American readers had a happy Thanksgiving! Heck, I hope my blog actually HAS readers ... I really don't update it often enough to get any kind of following.

I will spare you the boring details of my actual Thanksgiving with mom, dad, aunt, & grandma. I stuck around for six days, and just before I flew back to L.A., I went to my ten year high school reunion. With trepidation. I was a shy, artsy loner in high school, and my way of coping with a misspent youth was to not remember much about it. Therefore, I was worried that I wouldn't remember or recognize anyone at the reunion. I decided to go because I keep in touch via email with a few friends from high school. I also had contact with a few more people from my class of 1996 via MySpace (isn't that site amazing?). I figured if nothing else, it would be cool to blog about the experience.

You know, I'm glad I went. I didn't invent Post-it notes or anything to brag about, but I found some cool people whom I never talked to when I was in high school. Maybe we never shared classes, or maybe I was too shy. In any case, it was like meeting them for the first time, in a setting where we all had something to talk about to break the ice. There were a few people whom I remembered being friendly with, and they were as nice as I'd remembered. And what about the so-called "popular kids", the cliques? They became ordinary. Or rather, I saw them as ordinary in a concrete way for the first time. Some seemed much nicer than I remembered, which I'm sure is an aspect of my memory and not a fundamental change in their personality. I was amused by how a few people were much taller or shorter than I remembered. I have no idea what happened there. As far as location goes, I was surprised by how many stayed in New Hampshire. It's a small enough state that the borders are never more than an hour's drive, maybe two hours. I was also surprised by how many from my class became teachers. I guess that shouldn't surprise me, since we were between Harvard and Dartmouth, and New England tends to be big on education. And ten years leaves a lot of room for marriage, so quite a few people showed up with bored spouses. A few high school sweethearts got married, some pairings that seemed strange to me. I wasn't the only single there, although I thought it skewed towards women. Oh well!

One of these days, I'm going to write an article about why I don't like New Hampshire. I mean no offense to those who like it. The things that I find repulsive (statewide headlines about a telephone pole getting knocked over, for instance) are the same things that attract people to that state, in ways I understand. But there can be no doubt that I exist more easily on the West coast. The people are different, the atmosphere is different, the climate, the houses, the terrain, the wildlife, the businesses, and everything is different. I think I'm happy for the reminder every once in a while. When I went to my high school reunion, I saw a few glints of the things that irritate me about people from my home town, and I sort of breathed a sigh of relief when I got on the plane.

Oct 26, 2006

The Three Musketeers

Whenever I finish a book, I want to discuss it, but the urge usually goes away because I'll start a new book before I can sit down and write a well-thought out review. Lately I've been spewing out spontaneous reviews on my MySpace blog because it's convenient. Tonight I'll break the habit and spew it out here.

The only other book I've ever read by the great Alexandre Dumas is The Count of Monte Cristo. I enjoyed it enough to buy two more books by him, and considering the fact that the author died in 1870 and I usually stick to modern genre fiction, that's really saying something. If Dumas were alive today, I believe he'd regularly hit the bestseller lists.

Okay, The Three Musketeers takes place in 17th century France, so it's historical fiction written by a 19th century Frenchman. At first, as the main character was introduced, I had trouble liking him and getting into the story. I had the impression that Dumas was trying too hard to settle into the literary tropes of the past. He took pains to compare his protagonist to Don Quixote, although D'Artagnan has nothing in common with the former. But the story quickly picked up. Dumas has what I think of as a modern sense of pacing. He devotes most of his words to action, dialogue, and suspense, and he builds scenes so you have to turn the page and find out what will happen next. In reading this book, I expected a conventional swashbuckling tale of friends who go around doing heroic deeds. But this book exceeded my expectations by a long shot. I think one of the main elements that sets it apart from similar fiction is the villain. She's a clever, beautiful, ruthless bitch. This story takes place in a time when women were considered lesser creatures, but all of the male characters are terrified of her, and with good reason. It sounds cartoony, but Dumas makes her believable without reducing the heroism of the protagonists in any way. She's almost funny, mostly scary. In the end, I respected her and wanted to kill her myself. We've all seen our share of ruthless female villains, but this one stands out in my mind as being a cut above the rest. She doesn't use magic--it's not that kind of book--but her skills at seduction are pushed just slightly beyond the realm of human ability, and she's pretty much a genius, so she achieves a demonic status to the male characters and to the reader.

Of course, a kick-ass villain is nothing without kick-ass protagonists. D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are a study in contrast. One is brave and too impulsive, one is a near-suicidal former nobleman, one is a gigantic idiot, and one is a peaceful wannabe monk. The way they meet each other is hilarious, and their interaction throughout the novel is just pure fun. I think the reason Dumas's novels are so popular is because everything is pushed just slightly beyond the bounds of reality, without becoming fantasy or even beyond possibility. The relationship between the four protags isn't quite as silly as that between Egon, Ray, Venkman, and Winston from Ghostbusters, because these guys have their serious moments and their arguments. As with any great story, the larger-than-life characters are portrayed as real people.

I feel a little silly for reviewing a novel that must have been reviewed by thousands of people before me. Oh well. I'm glad I bought Queen Margot, because I want more Dumas.

In the meantime, I'm taking a break from translated French novels to listen to a modern crime/action novel by David Baldacci. It's called Last Man Standing. So far, so good, although it's a little too testosterone-laden for my tastes. I would rather read about a guy's inner feelings than the specifics of all the guns he owns. But I like the premise. An FBI hostage rescue team goes into a drug operation to take out the bad guys, but it turns out the team was set up, and everyone gets killed except for one fluke--the main character, who froze at the critical moment and therefore missed the gunfire meant to kill him. Now people believe he betrayed his team, and he has to endure the accusing stares of the widows of his best buddies, not to mention his coworkers and bosses. I suppose his moment of freezing must have been psychic intuition, but I will read and find out.

Since I'm on this long review kick, I'll add a final blurb about the movie The Prestige. It's worth seeing, and it will bend your mind in weird new ways. However, I thought it was a bit too convoluted. The ending was especially hard to get, at least for me. You have to think outside the magic box. Still ... fun premise, awesome acting, cool cinematography, and so forth. And it is very different from The Illusionist, so see both of them if you can.

Aug 5, 2006

An Evening With Harry, Carrie & Garp

I needed that vacation!

I just got back from a two week trip, in which I went to Comic Con in San Diego, then flew to New Hampshire to visit my family and friends, then drove to Manhattan to see my film screened at the Museum of Modern Art, and more visiting. I plan to post lots of photos online soon. You'll see me with a bunch of Storm Troopers, some nice views of Lake Winnipesaukee, and a few great shots of Manhattan, if I do say so myself.

Are there any J.K. Rowling fans reading this blog? How about Stephen King or John Irving fans? I admire all three, and consider myself their fans, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see them perform readings at Radio City Music Hall on August 1st. There's a lot to respect about these authors. They've become wildly successful in a waning industry where the odds are stacked high against any writer, and they've actually earned their success (so I believe). Also, unlike many celebrities, they respect their fans, and aim to please them, rather than treating fans as a nuisance. These qualities make them rare among artists of any discipline and any level.

I could talk about the rest of my vacation, but I'll save that for another blog entry, if at all. "An Evening With Harry, Carrie & Garp" was for two nights only, and these are three of the world's most respected living authors. I doubt they'll do another public event together again. I need to share the experience. No cameras or recording devices were allowed in the theatre, so it's all words from here.

Six thousand people bought tickets; the show was sold out. As the seats filled, I noticed lots of families with Harry Potter aged children. Some wore wizard robes and hats. I heard a lot of buzz about Rowling, and I began to worry that 1) these kids would get bored and restless during the readings by the other two authors, and that 2) fans of King and Irving would be a minority, which seemed unfair, considering how many readers they must have.

Whoopi Goldberg, a fan of all three authors, came onstage to give a warm introduction. She mentioned that the King and Irving fans were out there, just not as outspoken as the Harry Potter crowd. I was happy that each author received a huge round of applause; Rowling had not overshadowed the other two.

Each author got a separate introduction by a surprise guest celebrity-fan. Kathy Bates introduced King, relating a story that King used to carry a rubber rat in his pocket during the shooting of The Stand miniseries, and he'd whip it out to scare people. Once introduced, King strolled onstage and got a standing ovation (as did the other two authors, later). He looked fit and healthy, and comfortable in front of this huge audience. He promptly sat in the rural country stageset that had been arranged for him, and launched into reading the pie eating contest scene from The Body in his Different Seasons collection.

I thought this was an odd choice. He could have read an excerpt from The Eyes of the Dragon, or one of his less R-rated short stories. The pie eating contest is a child-friendly scene, but it might make some people feel uncomfortable. Well, King read it with great relish and delight, and the audience laughed quite a lot. I think it held everyone's interest. At one gross-out scene, King interrupted himself, saying, "Who writes this stuff?" Pause for audience laugh, and then he said (with glee), "Let's press on, shall we?" And the next sentence was even more disgusting.

Andre Braugher introduced John Irving. In contrast to King's rural Maine stageset, Irving got an Ivy League New Hampshire setup. He sat down in an ornate leather armchair and read the manger casting scene from A Prayer for Owen Meaney. Like King, he was relaxed in front of the crowd and kept everyone interested. He did a funny, squeaky voice when reading Owen's lines.

John Stewart, a fan of all three authors, strolled out to great applause and introduced J.K. Rowling. He acted as if books were threatening the TV industry, a nice touch of ironic sarcasm. Rowling had a wizardish throne setup. She was a little nervous at first, and joked about being classed in the caliber of King and Irving. Of course, she's much younger than those two, and less prolific at this point in her career. She did an excellent reading of a scene from the sixth Harry Potter book, where Harry accompanies a memory of Dumbledore recruiting Tom Riddle to Hogwarts. Afterwards, she remained alone onstage to answer four audience questions. Among other things, she said that Draco would not have murdered Dumbledore, had that scene panned out differently. She wrote the finale of her series before she began it.

The authors answered twelve selected fan questions, out of a thousand. Soledad O'Brien introduced each fan. Among the answers to their questions:

Irving is a compulsive rewriter, and claims that 3/4ths of his career as a writer is spent revising. He enjoys rewriting, but gets nervous about first drafts. He writes by hand or typewriter, without saving files, which I suppose makes rewriting both more necessary and more difficult.

Rowling was surprised by much of the fan fiction devoted to her series, which she found when bored one night and Googling "Harry Potter." She also has a morbid urge to scroll through the Amazon reviews in search of the harsh ones, and does not recommend doing so.

Irving writes the endings of his stories first, feeling them out emotionally, then meticulously planning and building on the mood structure. He saves beginnings for last and finds them the most difficult. King works the opposite way, starting from the beginning and pulling through without a plan, discovering the plot and characters and mood as he writes it.

Rowling got an agent on her second attempt, but collected rejections for two years before the book sold. She knew from the beginning that Harry Potter was an idea she needed to write, and she never felt like giving up on getting his story published. Hypothetically speaking, if she'd gone through every last publisher without selling the book, she would have kept trying. She would have supported herself as a schoolteacher while continuing to pursue her dream.

Irving said that his book The Fourth Hand was inspired by a TV news story about a hand transplant, and a comment his wife made about visiting the transplanted hand of one's donor spouse. Then his wife went to bed, and he was up all night thinking about it.

Someone asked King how he could come up with such ideas without being demented. King answered that there's no good answer to that question. He didn't have much to say to any of his questions: what scares you, what was the most inopportune place you got a story idea ... he's answered these before. I wish they'd chosen different audience questions for him. Mine, for instance. What would you change about the publishing industry, if you could?

You may wonder what I got from seeing these authors live instead of on TV. The answer (aside from the pleasure of hearing them perform their work specifically for fans like me, and experiencing them along with six thousand readers) is seeing their public personas. One can't hide personal mannerisms when live and onstage for a few hours. I expected one of them to come across as a jerk in some way. Instead, all three seemed down to Earth, not arrogant, very confident in themselves and in touch with their fans. That's a wonderful thing to see.

If you'd like to check out some other reviews of the event:
The Slush God
Tom Richmond
Sense of Soot

Jul 26, 2006

Lost River, NH

NOTE: This should be dated July 26, 2006.

I visit New Hampshire every summer. I live in California, but it's nice for me to remember where I grew up (and why I moved). Anyway, during this trip back east, I went on a day excursion to the White Mountains with my friend Amy. We drove from Manchester for about 2 or 3 hours north, to the White Mountain National Park. This is basically a gigantic forest. It stretches from Eastern Canada all the way to the Southern USA. The northern New Hampshire part of it is extremely unpopulated. You might find a quaint town or two, but mostly, it's trees. Lots of trees. The mountains are furred with pine trees and look like hills or clouds from a distance, because they're round and hump-like, but up close, you can see they're taller than hills. The tallest White Mountains are known as the Presidential Range (named after U.S. Presidents), and they tend to have tundra or bare granite peaks due to the awful weather at the top. In midsummer, the tops of these mountains experience freezing rain and the highest windspeeds on Earth. In winter, it gets worse.

We didn't visit any granite peaks on this trip. Instead, we visited Lost River Gorge.

Lost River, NH
This is one of several parks in upstate New Hampshire where you can explore granite caves (the most well-known one is the Polar Caves). At Lost River, you follow the trail, which consists of walkways between, over, and under giant boulders in the woods. Every so often, you'll see a crack between boulders with a sign inviting you to enter the cave. If you can contort your body through the crack, you're fine. Some of these caves involve spaces that a child has trouble crawling through. Seriously, you need to be flexible and NOT claustrophobic.

Here's a man emerging from a cave:

a grown man emerging from one of the caves
Here's a view of the White Mountains. Appalachia at its finest!

a view of the White Mountains, from Lost River gorge
So, what does one find in a Lost River cave? Somtimes chilly little underground ponds. Sometimes old-style lanterns. Sometimes ladders made out of sticks that you have to climb in order to get out. Sometimes children (or adults) looking for an easier way out. Not much else!

Abby at Lost River, admiring a waterfall
At least it's a fun hike, and there are plenty of nice views.

Jul 21, 2006

ComicCon 2006

So far, I've been to two ComicCons, each more crowded than the last. Nerds take over the entire city of San Diego! Look at them all:

San Diego ComicCon 2006
Last year, in 2005, I had the supreme honor of being a guest at a private fan dinner with author Robert Jordan. This year, I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friends Brianne and Heather. Here we are in front of the Star of India, a sailing ship near our hotel:

Heather, Brianne, Abby
We met a number of pirates, but Captain Jack Sparrow had a certain allure, so we took photos with him.

Captain Jack Sparrow with Brianne and Heather

Captain Jack Sparrow with Abby
Part of the joy of being an Attending Professional is avoiding lines. Comic Con attracts over 150,000 people from all over the world. Some of them wait in line for hours just to enter to convention center. Here's a line we skipped:

Comic Con line to get in
Last year, I avoided the crowded floor and spent most of the weekend at panels, which were fun and enlightening. This year, I avoided the panels and browsed the floor. The San Diego convention center is so huge, no photograph can convey its size. There are over 5,000 booths in one massive room. There are contests, clothing and jewelry, prints and fine art, comics and toys, celebrities, costumes, novels and author signings. You can spend a day on the floor and not see it all.

Here's a sliver of it:

Comic Con floor
We met some storm troopers and Jedi:

Storm troopers and Jedi at Comic Con
And Heather met some comic book heroes:

DC comic heroes
We saw lots of strange costumes, including five women dressed like Wonder Woman, a giant panda on a tricycle, and a naked old man. The thick crowds made it hard to snap shots of individuals. Here's some strange ones:

Comic Con costumes
Finally, we took breaks and explored beautiful downtown San Diego. We went to clubs (full of Comic Con attendees) and restaurants (full of Comic Con attendees). Here's a view of the harbor within walking distance of the convention center:

San Diego harbor
Will I go again? Surely! But if the convention keeps growing like this, they'll need to rent a larger city.

May 9, 2006

relieving traffic congestion while improving our standard of living

I am uniquely lucky in one respect: I live in the Los Angeles area, and I almost never face rush hour traffic. This is because a) I live two blocks away from my office building, and b) I'm a night owl who rarely sees the sunny side of the AM hours.

So today, I was required to show up for jury duty at a courthouse in San Fernando Valley. I woke up at 6am (which was painful) and belatedly realized that I was going to get stuck in morning traffic. Yup. I sat amidst cars in the smog-filled morning haze of L.A., and since I wasn't doing much else, I got to thinking about how much it must suck to have to commute every day.

Wouldn't the rush hour traffic be lessened if businesses adopted different schedules? Other night people like me exist; not every employee would voluntarily choose 9am till 5pm. I don't see why other businesses can't shift their schedules in an effort to alleviate traffic congestion. If some of the major corporations were to adopt 11am to 7pm shifts, that would help a lot. And please don't tell me "no one would agree to those hours." That's pure bullshit. If you think that way, then you're one of THEM ... a morning person.

And by the way, I spent my entire civic duty as a potential Juror reading a book. The trial was postponed or something, so they didn't need a jury. I guess that happens a lot! The free time was nice, though; my only complaint was having to wake up at 6am.

May 3, 2006

Reading and today's youth

Obviously, if you're reading this, you have enjoyed the act of reading at some time in your life (and maybe you still do). You don't habitually avoid large blocks of text. I'm so involved in the writing industry, I sometimes forget that there are huge portions of the population who don't read. They fall asleep when they pick up a novel. They may be proud of the fact that they prefer videogames to books, or they may be embarrassed and pretend to tout some book knowledge based off of the few novels they read in high school English classes. Either way, these people have probably never had the experience of becoming absorped in a novel. They've never read a story that tugged their emotions in an unforgettable way, experiencing something very different from the sort of emotional impact that a good movie or game can impart.

I suspect the reading attitude is cultivated in high school (or junior high) for most people. I wonder how much reading I'd do if I had never picked up Pet Semetary in 6th grade. What if the first adult book I ever read was, say, Moby Dick? What if I'd never read Stephen King or Anne Rice? What if my only encounters with literature were Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and a handful of V.C. Andrews and Nancy Drew? Well, I'll tell you: I would hate to read. I would chalk it up to an overrated waste of time.

Really, I wonder at the approach high schools take. The classics are important ... but they're not relevant to most teenagers in 2006. To me, emphasizing the Bronte sisters in a 10th grade English class is the equivalent of emphasizing silent films in a class about cinema in general. All of the focus is on one long-ago era, rather than what's innovative and current. Maybe a classic book will have a profound impact on one teenager, somewhere ... maybe. But the way I see it, kids aged 10 through 18 need to experience the joy of reading before they choose to study classic literature. And studying the classics ought to be a choice. I've heard people make a fuss about losing Shakespeare in high school classes, but I think these people are worried about the wrong aspect of the reading problem. Given the choice between losing a few Shakespearian quotes as part of our cultural vocabulary (and that changes every year anyway) and losing millions of readers each year, I choose to lose Shakespeare in high school. This is not the death of Shakespeare. Every reader has a love, many readers love Shakespeare, and they will keep him alive. I'm sure that colleges will continue to devote classes to Shakespeare, and people will continue to study and perform his plays. Meanwhile, high school students would become less familiar with Shakespeare ... which may have the effect of rekindling an interest in his works. Now, if those same high school English classes replaced Shakespeare and the classics with some modern, popular authors, we may actually have more readers entering society.

And one more thing: Most of the bookworms I know, including myself, started out by reading fun, modern authors. We identified with characters who lived in the same society we inhabit. Later on, we read about other worlds and time periods. Now, in our adult lives, some of us read (and enjoy) more classics than any high school would assign. But while we were in high school, we preferred those modern authors, who validated our feelings about the world around us, and showed us characters like our friends and ourselves. That is how we became readers. To me, that is the most important point.

What does society lose from having fewer readers? Let me put it this way: Right now, there are some people who don't know how to navigate the internet or send an email. They've been unable to access computers, or they've purposely avoided them. You're a computer user. What kind of disadvantages do you see those people as having?

Mar 20, 2006

St. Patrick's Day madness!

Okay, I'm not a bar-hopping type of girl, but for St. Patrick's Day, my friend convinced me to celebrate by going to an Irish pub. I wasn't sure what to expect. I figured we'd get hit on by all the wrong kinds of people and then leave after an hour, but at least I can pass for Irish if anything went wrong.

So we cruised around the O.C. It so happens that in Seal Beach, there are four Irish bars within a block of each other, and they were all full of St. P's Day revelers. About ten seconds after we walked through the door of The Irisher, a drunk woman started pinching my arm. She wanted to know why I wasn't wearing green ... apparently she didn't notice my bright green pants. Anyway, she was hurting me, so we escaped into the crowd.

Long story shortened (not because I can't remember what happened, but because it's censored, thank you very much): We stayed till closing time. I had a good time. I'm not sure what the point of this story is, except to say that I went to a bar as a single woman for the first time, and it's nice to be hit on.

And last night, I went to an art opening at Gallery Nucleus, where my friends have some artwork up. If you come to the Pasadena area, I highly recommend that you visit this art gallery. They have cool "underground" sort of prints, books, and T-shirts, too.

And earlier today, we had lunch at the 60's futuristic LAX restaurant, Encounter. It's worth a visit for the art deco architecture. Their elevator plays 60's scifi music.

I plan to post new photos on my site soon!

Feb 8, 2006

Email backlog

It has come to my attention that I have more than 200 emails awaiting replies. This is worse than usual. To Everyone: I'm sorry! I would send an auto-response that I'm busy, but I don't have time to figure out how to make one.

Here's my typical schedule: Go to work around 11am, run around totally busy until 7 or 8pm (I'm managing a small animation team), then go home and work on my novel revision until 2 or 3am. On weekends, I catch up with friends, or my sister, or actually go on a date. I don't have kids or pets, so honestly, I can't comprehend how someone with kids or pets ever answers email.

Mini-update on my writing:

I estimate I'll be finished with my novel revision around May 2006. Once I'm satisfied that it's better than the old version (test readers!!!), I'll throw every effort into trying to catch the attention of an agent or publisher. No more rewrites. No more agonizing over making it marketable. If the new version gets poor reactions, then I'll stick with the old version, and I mean stick with it. That is a resolution! Stand by for adventures in publishing . . .

Since I've thrown all my attention towards the novel, I haven't done anything with my short stories. Most of them need revisions. But, happily, I did get a rewrite request from Baen's Universe . . . that's almost a pro sale!

Regarding the monitor problem: Thanks for sending in advice. I gather that it could be a bad monitor cable, a conflict between hardware drivers, or a dying monitor. Since I wrote that blog entry, I haven't had a problem (go figure), but I'm sure it'll come back. I'll try different things and post about whatever works.

Jan 31, 2006

My computer is insane and wants to die

I just restarted my computer 18 times (maybe more than that), and the monitor never kicked in. The power's on, but nobody's home.

So I figured, maybe I have a dead monitor. Time to test it with another computer. I dragged out my ancient Windows 98 machine and hooked it up. The monitor worked, but it looked pixellated and weird. I began to hope that my problem truly is JUST that I need a new monitor. Replacing a monitor is easy. Replacing my computer would be a huge chore, because it has a ton of stuff on it that I don't want to lose in the transfer.

I hooked the monitor back to my newer computer . . . and lo, it worked fine. It was as if nothing was wrong at all.

You might say, "Well, Abby, maybe your monitor wasn't hooked up properly the first time." But you'd be wrong! Because this blank monitor is a recurring problem that's been happening AT RANDOM for the last half a year. Every once in a while--usually when I plug or unplug a USB device--the monitor goes blank. It's been happening more and more frequently. At first, it only happened once a month or so. Now it's very common, and sometimes the monitor won't work on start-up.

You might say, "Well, Abby, maybe you just have a bad video card." But you'd probably be wrong again! Because I've replaced my video card TWICE in the last year or so. If it's gone bad a third time, that's just not fair. Not fair, I say.

So . . . what do you think I should do? Buy a new monitor? Or bite the bullet and buy a new computer, even though I'd rather wait to do that? Please, if you're reading this and you know stuff about computers, I beg you for advice!

Thank you and good night.