Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Slogging through the editing process

First actual run of training this morning. Verdict is: I don't like running in the cold. I think it aggravates my old athletic-induced asthma.

The big news is that I'm starting to make some serious headway in editing the rider. A couple weeks back I took the weekend and read the novel from cover to cover. This more than anything else showed me how truly far I still have to go. Beyond the couple of "ADD SCENE HERE" notes there were bad jumps in logic, and wandery, unfocused passages, and just a lot more mess than I thought when I first finished the novel. All to be expected. What was the pleasant surprise was just how many problems had really clear and smart solutions that are easily rectified in the rewriting.

The issues started right away with chapter one. Mort Castle, my teacher and friend from Columbia, was always fond of the idea of starting at the start. He explained this as the writer often times needing a few pages when in first draft to just play around and really get settled in the story before the plot takes off. This was exactly what happened (though I'd sworn before that it wasn't) at the beginning of the rider, taking its gentle time introducing us to things slowly before the ball starts rolling. It was an odd sort of juxtaposition, considering how the novel from then on is one relentless barreling barrage to the ending. So I made about a three thousand word chop from the beginning of the rider, knowing that once things get rolling I could go back and touch more on what's been missing. It's been a very smart move.

Finished chapter 2 today with not much hassle and have started outlining the intricate storyline mess of chapter 3.
The actual events aren't all that confusing, as everything sort of all comes together around the rider and ends with him massacring the lot of them (pretty typical device I've noticed in this story), it's just the intercutting between story lines to make sure that the suspense builds properly.

When it comes to the rewriting process, I've found another of my skills has been sharpened to an efficient point. Procrastinating by web surfing. It's unearthed some great gems.

Like a video shot within the University of Michigan Libraries where I work:

And also this wonderful "viral marketing" website about doll warriors that just has to be seen to be believed.


That is all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Best Kind of Marathon Training

When June 15, 2009 rolled around and I started training for the Detroit Marathon, I had no idea at the time what I was getting myself into. The furthest I'd run before then was no more than 10 miles, and even that was something I was insanely proud of. Yes I could run double digits. I also didn't think that come October and the race I'd be already docking up my next marathon. What I did know was that I liked the training program Kate (my marathon buddy) pointed me towards. Because on Day 1, the training read:

"Monday is always a day of rest...Let's begin this Monday, the first day of your marathon journey, by contemplating the training that will begin tomorrow."
So here on January 5 (now the 26th by the time this thing gets posted) I am again. Resting comfortably with a hot toddy in my basement watching Zodiac. This, long-time readers, is the best kind of marathon training.

Things are a little bit different this time around. When I started last year it was the middle of summer, I was steeped in an internship, just at the end of my first novel. I had a brand new pair of shoes (Size 13 Mizuno Waves). Now it's January. The middle of winter. I'm too broke to buy a new pair of shoes (The ones I have, have at least 460 miles and probably more like 500 miles on them). I'm back in school, and I'm editing the novel that I was finishing. The race instead of training in the heat and running in the cold will be an exact opposite. Training in the cold and running the last weekend of May. Madison here I come.

An interesting fact I discovered: The distance run during training could get me well past Madison (which is only roughly 376 miles).

Tomorrow is the first run distance: 3 miles. A nice casual start.

I was planning on doing a blog on funny discoveries in my journal, that'll wait for tomorrow.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Under The Dome: A Review

There's two thing that I've learned over the last couple years of reading Stephen King. The first is that Stephen King loves sprawling ensemble casts. He even mentions it in the afterword of his 2009 sprawling ensemble epic, Under the Dome. That 1100 page tome sports a cast of almost 30 major characters, outstripping his other 1200 page behemoth, The Stand. The other thing I've learned is that, as much as he loves these large cast grand epics, he has a tendency to biff these novels by relying on a less than satisfying deus ex machina to shake things up at the end. He is, as I can see, better suited to shorter novels (The Gunslinger, The Shining, Carrie, etc) and short stories. But in Under the Dome, King manages to use his weaknesses to his advantage, crafting a scathing commentary on small town life, politics and fear in a post 9/11 world.

It's mid-October in our favorite New England neck of the woods, not far from Castle Rock, and close enough to Shawshank that the fear of imprisonment hangs over one of the characters in the opening chapters. From the sky their drops down a (maybe inappropriately named) Dome around the town of Chester's Mill. A woodchuck is sheered in half, and an airplane is crushed like a fly on a windshield. The dome is completely invisible, save for where they townsfolk stain it with their fruitless attempts to flee, and polution coats it in a shroud of muck. The dome is also for the most part impermiable. The two-thousand-ish residents are trapped and left to their own devices.

Chester's Mill, like any good small town has its own self-important politics and politicos, and it also has its share of dark secrets. Its darkest of which is hidden in the christian radio station on the edge of town. And its this dark secret which might spell doom for the residents of Chester's Mill. The town also has its own demagogue who is both Dick Cheney and George Bush, who is a bit of Hitler, and a bit of Stalin, who is, as every good King villain is, charismatic, and utterly evil. Cut off from the rest of the world this villain, Jim Rennie, a used car salesman and town selectman, assumes slow power complete with his own burning of the Reichstag. And in true Stephen King form this town will be put through the ringer.

The lines get drawn, and for much of it, Under the Dome turns into a black and white battle of good versus evil. A battle which pit neighbors against neighbors, and family against each other, and for the lion's share of the novel, the dome itself takes a backseat to this gruesome small town showdown. And a warning for those approaching this novel expecting explicit explanations, you should know that in terms of story what you're getting yourself into is more Spielberg's War of the Worlds than Emmerich's Independence Day. These are normal folks caught up in a shitstorm, not scientists and soldiers fighting the good fight. This also isn't a bad thing.

Under The Dome takes its time, showing us the town and surrounding area, introducing us to the people that inhabit it, and putting us through the paces with them. The writing is always the breezy prose of Stephen King, never getting bogged down in thick prose, and always promising us a story. At this point King knows how to handle a large cast spread over a large area without losing the big picture and the geographical locations of all his characters. But King is not without his faults. Some of his descriptions almost too original that they illicit groans where awe should be. The sound of an explosion being described as "God's own vacuum sweeper" had me full of chuckles at the wrong time. And certain conclusions are more appropriate but less satisfying than they should be.

Those few minor complaints aside, Under The Dome is one of King's premier works. We are in the throes of a pulp god, and this is one creation of his that should not be missed.

A Later Evening, and kind of Early Morning post.

Frontier Ruckus at the Blind Pig was everything it should've been. I had all my closest friends gathered from Portland, Kalamazoo, and elsewhere. My friends from as far back as elementary school, and as recent as grad school were all together, drinks were involved as well as good music, and it was, as Magnet said, "a little slice of heaven."

Now we're watching the Family Guy Star Wars special, drinking hot buttered rums, and I'm wishing I could've finished Under the Dome tonight. I'm thinking tomorrow it'll happen. And by tomorrow, of course, I mean later today.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Waking up has been very stuttery today. Around 8:30 I was jingled awake by the dog coming around the edge of my door, looking at me and going "woo....woo..." really quietly to let her outside. My first reaction was to want to fly off the handle because I'm waking up, but then I stopped and thought, "she's saving me trouble of having to clean up a 'this is what happens when I'm angry' present in the living room." So I let her out in my pajamas and watched her run around the back yard, and the brisk morning air was waking me up to a point where I didn't think getting back to bed was an option. But still I came back in and laid down. And fell asleep.
Then I rolled over to the sound of my alarm at 9:30. I'd forgotten to turn it off from earlier this week when I have to wake up and hit the road to Ann Arbor for school (86 days left). With that once again off I laid on my back listening to the rattle of the heater stuttering on and off. Thinking, "ok, a few more minutes and I'll get out of bed." And promptly fell asleep again.

Now it's five minutes to 11. It's rather later than I'd like, but because I have the blog open, I'm definitely up at this point. Now I just need to stumble to the kitchen and get some coffee going and attempt to make sense of the day.

Friends from Portland (who were in the first place from here) are back in town for the week. We celebrated their return last night at Dublin Irish Square, a pub that has very little to do with Dublin, and only a passing "hey we have Guinness and Jameson!" fancy to do with the Irish. It was a bizarre evening with a crowd of my Portland friends' friends passing through. We also ran into people none of us had seen since High School (a thing that happens when you go out drinking in your hometown).

Tonight we're going to the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor to see Frontier Ruckus.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Back To School

I love having a stationary bike in my room near the TV. With training for the Madison marathon still 2 weeks away, and no desire to run in the cold unless I have to, I've been spending an hour or so a night on the bike, riding and working my way through Lost (just started the second episode of season 5). Yesterday I rode 25 miles and through the season 4 finale.

Wednesday was the official start of the semester, and though I wasn't supposed have class until Friday, by some sheer coincidence I found myself in Ann Arbor at noon working for four hours and then going to class. Originally my schedule had me taking two classes on Monday and one on Friday (a graphic design class that I signed up for strictly because there was a lack of other classes that were interesting or in my field). Then at 11:30 PM on Tuesday night an email goes out saying "Hey, we're offering SI:515 on Wednesday from 4-7." SI:515 "Material Culture and the Interpretation of Objects" is more an Archivist class than a strict library science class, but it interested me, and was one that I'd originally wanted to take. And by sheer coincidence, a four hour work shift opened up beforehand. Check out the Open courseware syllabus here.

Yesterday I read the first 200 pages of The Rider, in an attempt to start on the editing process. There having been about 6 months since I finished it, it was like reading a brand new novel, which is exactly what I'd been hoping for. There are some glaringly obvious errors and weak spots. Better than that, there are stronger solutions logically presenting themselves that I can work on over the next couple months of editing. I'm hoping to finish the readthrough (minus note-taking) tomorrow.

I was invited along Chrissie (a fellow SI student and gamer) to start writing for The Indie Arcade, an independent game review and news site. I'll get a permanent link up soon.

I'm also currently reading Stephen King's Under the Dome. It's a lot of super fun. Full review on the way.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

2009 In Review

Alrighty, here's another recap continuing and catching up what's happened over the last year.

All through New Years Eve and the last week leading up to and following the start of the year, there has been an overflowing amount of cynicism and anger to the end of the decade. And I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I joined in with the choruses berating 2009 as being a terrible year. Then I sat down to write this blog, figuring I'd be talking about the strife of my mom's job hunt, or the exhaustingly long semesters, maybe the summer internship that was unpaid, and how I owe my dad for floating me through it with cash, maybe about how my car is sinking very slowly (the trunk wont open, the door had to get welded back on, the wheels have been replaced as well as other stuff underneath that I can't even remember), but the more I started making lists of stuff during the past year, the more and more awesome 2009 turned out to be.

Here's something for each month.

In January I got a random girl's number, and was featured in Neil Gaiman's blog about a library issues post.

In February I flew out to LA. (it was a quiet month (as far as I can remember with my blog) but that's ok). I also had a date at some point during this month (first in a long while).

In March I was in LA, and Chicago, and Kalamazoo, and East Lansing, and Ann Arbor, and just generally living the travel heavy life that I love.

In April I finished up school for the summer and moved back home.

In May I moved back home and officially became a single unemployed 23 year old living in my parent's basement (not good, not bad, but at least there's a deadline at the end).

In June I started training for the Detroit Marathon. I started my internship at the Capital Area District Library in Lansing. But the real whopper of the month was the fact that after 2 years of diligent (that should be surrounded by wacky finger quotations) work on the novel, I finished it with a whopping 117,000 words.

In July I helped protest the closing of the Michigan Department of History Arts and Libraries (MHAL) that was closed by the governor I voted for, Jennifer Granholm... I also went and saw Dave Matthews down in Indiana, and stayed at my friend's, Nate and Justine Bell's.

In August my internship (a massively successful one if I might say so myself) came to a close, and with it was published CADL's teen literary magazine. You can get an issue of it online here, but just please respect the copyright of these kids' hard work.

September honestly just sort of blurs by. It's amazing what school will do to you.

October was the other big month. I ran my first marathon in Detroit, and managed to finish with an admirable 3:55:28.

November was another all school all the time month. As was December.

So all in all it was a pretty good, and very busy year.

Now to look forward: 2010 is going to be even better. I've got graduation in April, which means moving somewhere and getting a real job. I want to be published this year. I also want to get the Rider out in the hands of publishers, and be finished with at least the first draft of a second novel. I've got the Madison Wisconsin Marathon in May, and another sometime at the end of the year. Maybe something in California, maybe the Vegas marathon. We'll see.

Friday, January 01, 2010

10 Albums of and Around 2009

Ok, so looking back over the dates in my blog it's been about 3 months since my last post, which probably means my readership is toast. One of my new years resolutions (same as last year's) will be to post a little more regularly on here. More on that with my next post (a year in review).

Last year I did a "10 albums that rocked me during 2008" post that you can read by clicking here. So, I figure an inaugural post for the new decade covering the new music that rocked me through 2009 would be good. As I said last year, these albums didn't necessarily come out during 2009 (though many of them did), and, except for my album of the year, are in no particular order.

First off here are a few statistics for the number crunchers. Of the ten albums, eight are from 2009. One is from 2008 and one is from 2007. Four of the 10 different artists are returners from last years list. The ten albums have a total of 127 songs, which equates to about 7.8 hours of music. And with that, on to the albums.

Kicking off with an artist who appeared here last year, Regina Spektor came back strong with her first new release since 2006 (unless of course you count the wasted and phoned in "You Don't Know Me" on Ben Folds's 2008, "Way to Normal"). Far is, in my opinion, her best album to date. From the first few seconds of its strong opening track, "The Calculation" through to the very end "Man of a Thousand Faces," the one strength that stands out above all the rest is the recording. For my ears, this is one of the most perfectly mixed sonic recordings I've ever heard. Each instrument and vocal is clear and crisp and can be picked out while not overpowering the appropriate mix. Standing at the forefront of this album in my opinion, and what would've definitely made a better closing track than the actual album closer is "One More Time With Feeling."

One of the most important part of my writing processes, one that is hotly debated by writers as a strenght or a detriment to the writing process, is a good soundtrack. Ask a dozen authors and you'll get one of two answers: "I can't write without music," or "I can't write with music." A good soundtrack is essential for me. The two major artists that put me in the mood while writing the Rider during the last year both put out new albums during 2009, and both have made the list.

The first of these two bands is Pilot Speed. Their album, "Into the West" was (like much of my music) a random discovery on my iPod. With hints of U2 and Coldplay filtered through a more "indie" sound, their heartwrenching crescendoing compositions became the voice of the bleak arid world that Edmund is riding his motorcycle across. So when a month back I discovered their third quarter release Wooden Bones I was expecting more of the same. What I got was nothing at all like that, and it was freaking great! Still building and layering, their sound has become harder, and Todd Clark's voice more mature. For my money, nothing beats the strong opening track, "Put the Phone Down," but I can't get away without mentioning the way the title track, "Wooden Bones," opens up about halfway through into a soaring epic.

The second band ironically took the exact opposite approach. Paring away the huge string sections and the wall of sound effects, Sleeping At Last has instead taken their introspective and poetic lyrics and let its quiet ruminations on faith, life, and love infect the music with a stripped away simplicity that hides a mature intricacy. Storyboards shows the band's range and their ability to create a truly intimate experience with their sound. I would be lying if I didn't say that I found their 2003 release, Ghosts, a better album overall. That album, more than any other, defined the Rider for me (as can be seen with each song having a playcount well into the triple digits), but Storyboards does come strong and will no doubt grow with my in the coming year. Check out Clockwork from that album.

I Monster was sort of the trojan horse of my music collection. A few years back, Duke put them on my computer, and made me put them on my iPod with the promise that I'd listen to them soon. "Sure, sure," I said until he let it drop, and I probably did listen to it at the time. Or, at the very least, I turned it on and let it play. Whether or not I did, I couldn't remember ever hearing it and enjoying it, but for some reason, it stayed on my iPod. Then, at some point back around August or September I was feeling sort of stagnant with the music I'd been listening to and flipped to a random artist. It was, of course, I Monster, and their 2003 release, Neveroddoreven. It was great! It stayed at the front of my listening for a week, accompanying me as I made my twice a week trips to and from Ann Arbor for class. Of course, not much after, the first thing I did was seek out more of their music. By coincedence or otherwise, when I went hunting for them, happened to be the same week that A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars was released, and what I'd enjoyed in their first album was exponentially increased with their sophomore release six years later. Bending genres like a rolled over semi truck bending fenders across an eight lane highway, I Monster is something like psychadellia, and something like electronica, and something like what lounge music might sound like if Bosch, Dali, and Dr. Seuss had a morbid bastard child lounge singer with a huge libido. Picking a track off this album is tough, but I'll go with my first love and tell you to check out "Dear John." This album almost took the album of the year position.

Mike Doughty is an artist very near and dear to my heart. He's also one of those artists who releases shorter albums more frequently, so last year his 2008 release, Golden Delicious, made my list. He's back with Sad Man, Happy Man, an album that at once feels more akin to his early solo record Skittish, but benefits from the production values of his later albums. The compositions here are more spoken word acoustic rap than before, but his joy of chorus's repeated ad nauseum are not gone. I can't get the drums and driving sound of "Lord Lord Help Me Just to Rock Rock On" out of my head.

One of the two albums not released this year that are making it onto my list is Angels and Airwaves' sophomore release, I-Empire. Knowing that they are band members from Blink 182, The Offspring, and 30 Seconds to Mars, would've been an immediate turnoff for me, but thankfully I was nowhere near a computer when I first heard the album. Like Sleeping At Last, and artists that made last year's list (Coldplay and Snow Patrol), Angels and Airwaves hits you with an epic anthemic wall of sound, sweeping string sections, and balls to the wall driving intensity. Their guitars ape U2 at its biggest, and their lyrics all bleed with craving and intensity. I eagerly await their 2010 release Love, and the accompanying movie. Secret Crowds is the song to check out.

Another returning band from last year's list is The Panderers. Where many of the previous artists rely on chorus pedals and synth fill to bolster their sound and fill them out to a broad sweeping size, the Panderers do the exact opposite, stripping away everything until you have a clean electric guitar, thumping plucked bass, and a drumset that probably has a snare, a tom, a ride cymbal, a high-hat, and a kick, and nothing else. These guys are in your face with simplicity and catchiness that can't be matched. Their first major label release, Mucho Diggo, has a plain stripped away southern rock feel. The kind of music that makes you feel like a badass listening to it. The closing track, The Prison Song, is the one to check out, sounding like something Johnny Cash forgot to record.

Back at the start of the year Zach (guitarist of Ambush of Tigers) introduced me to the band School of Seven Bells. This trio (made up of a skinny guy and two attractive twins) is an electronica group hailing from New York. Their freshman release, Alpinisms, is a fun electronica album with ethereal synths and driving beats. Check out "Face to Face on High Places."

These last two albums presented a challenge for me. Both have been huge on my playlist this last year since I found them, and both are deserving of album of the year, but after much deliberation I've picked one (not wanting to cop out).

The runner up was an end of the summer discovery. Duke got it from his work, and, on the night James left to meet Zach and the rest of Ambush of Tigers out in Portland, we drove around and listened to the entire thing. Owl City is the insomnia-induced project of Adam Young. With its catchy pop hooks, and tight electronic instrumentation, Owl City's third album, Ocean Eyes is their best yet. When we heard it, all three of us (Duke James and I) knew that we were hearing the long sought after second coming of the Postal Service. After a bunch more listens, I can't necessarily say that it was as groundbreaking or generation defining, but the album is above all else, damn good and freaking catchy. By this point everyone knows their single, "Fireflies," but if that's all you've heard, it's just scratching the surface of this album. Veering wildly from its roots in the Postal Service to 80s New Wave and synthpop and 90s dance electronica, Owl City is able to do it all with a mostly straight faced. It's also the only band that could get away with terribly punny lyrics like "I've been to the dentist a thousand times, so I know the drill," and other great zingers. This entire album is great, and that's why it gets the number 2 slot, but the track that really stole my heart was "On the Wing." Make sure to check out his other 2 albums under the moniker Owl City, their quality is just as good as Ocean Eyes.

The Album of the year slot for me was, as I said, a really tough decision. Hell, the ten albums of the year was hard enough (I had 15 on the list when I started this post). But after a lot of thinking, and polling friends, I finally picked one. Returning from last year's ten list, with their newly released Act III: Life and Death, Casey Crescenzo's solo project, The Dear Hunter has managed to take a stonking great project and move it another step further along. Act I gave us their sound, heavily produced, intricately layered, and utterly shameless. Act II showed us their range, veering from harmonies that would sound at home on a Boys2Men album, to tango, to the emo-rock of "Red Hands." Critics of Act II decried the variation as too schizophrenic, unfocused. With Act III, the Dear Hunter takes the range and breadth of Act II, and puts forth a unified and maturing sound. The story takes our hero, The Dear Hunter, and sends him off to war in a situation that is like the worst nightmare of the Great War's western front. The album takes us to the midpoint of the six album cycle, and with its release came the announcement of an even more ambitious nine album project based off the seven colors, bookended by a black and white album. Casey Crescenzo is, as far as I can tell, certifiably insane with work, but his output has been constantly good, and he's not disappointed us with delays or wanderiness (here's looking at you Sufjan). I'm eagerly awaiting his next album. Everything on this album is pure gold. Perfect Production mixes, great lyrics, and gorgeous sound. But to pick one that really took the album and made it stick, I'd have to go with "The Tank."

So those are the ten new albums that got me through 2009, and will stick with me for years to come. Others that didn't make the list included Passion Pit's "Manners," Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago," Styrofoam's "A Thousand Words," Ben Folds' "Way to Normal," and the bizarre Beatle's solo projects mashup pretending to be the new beatles album from an alternate universe, "Everyday Chemistry."

Next up I'll do a recap of 2009 (with pictures) and a sneak peek of things to come in 2010. Thanks for sticking with me.

(note: all images are copyright of their respective whatevers, and are used without permission...if this pisses you off in some way, let me know, and I'll pull em)