Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Surprising Things I've Done (Which You Likely Haven't)

There's a meme of sorts going around the SF writers' blogosphere lately, in which participants detail ten of the most remarkable things to happen to them in their lives -- experiences that most of us have probably not been privy to. In fact, even the current president and vice-president of the Science-Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have joined in on the fun. So, naturally you know I just had to add myself to this august list of goofballs.

Now, I must first make note that these 10 items are not meant as bragging rights. Honestly, some of the entries on this list are not the proudest moments of my life. Although a few are. Also, I'm sure *some* of you out there have done a few of these things, or at least something similar. But I'm willing to bet not many.

So, without further delay, here are my "Top 10 Surprising Things":

1. Chatted briefly with, and gave a hug to, Mother Teresa.

2. Got married in Las Vegas (although not by Elvis).

3. Had a full-length dream in Mandarin Chinese, complete with English subtitles.

4. Crashed into a speeding car head-on while riding a bike down a hill at top speed, and survived with no broken bones or emergency room visit.

5. Hiked 18 miles through a national park in one day while carrying a full pack with camping gear.

6. Drank a diluted cup of Clorox bleach and lived to tell about it.

7. Had picture taken and small blurb written about me in the New York Times.

8. Had eight shots of Tequila in one hour and not only did not die, but was still coherent afterwards.

9. Read a 350-page sci-fi novel in under 6 hours.

10. Gave James Gandolfini (Mr. Tony Soprano!) change for a $20 bill.

EDIT: If anyone would like elaboration upon one or more of the above points, ask me in the comments section below and I shall oblige. :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is This Truly Portland?

Jacked this from the blog of SF writer and Portland, OR native, Mary Robinette Kowal. It's a skit poking loving fun at the city of Portland and starring Saturday Night Live alumn, Fred Armisen. Apparently it's a promo of sorts for an upcoming mini-series on IFC called "Portlandia," which I'm guessing takes place in this northwestern city. The tune of this video is catchy at the very least, but I can't attest to the authenticity of its claims of being perpetually stuck in the 90s since I've never been there. But check out the video for yourself below. And if you're from Portland, please chime in on the comments section with your impressions:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Validation For My Crazy Plans

Recently on his blog, acclaimed sci-fi author and current SFWA president extraordinaire, John Scalzi, put up a bucket list of sorts detailing the things he would like to do in life. It's a good list. You should check it out. Speaking of which, I should write up my own sometime this week.

But in the meantime, what caught my attention in particular was this passage:

"In the case of writing a script I can see myself doing what I did when I first tried writing a novel, which is to do a “practice” one first — just thinking up some story I’m not hugely mentally invested and then going off and writing and not worrying if it’s worth reading by anyone else, but rather just doing it to learn what I need to do better the next time. It worked reasonably well with the novels."

See? I knew I had the right idea when I announced nearly a year ago that I would be writing a practice novel as my very first attempt at the long form. As I recall, I received many raised eyebrows from friends, family, and peers alike at this announcement. My reasoning at the time--almost down to the same wording--was very much in line with what Scalzi says above.

Of course, many people felt that I shouldn't bother with a practice novel and just try my hand at a serious run for broke. The product of which I just knew I would have to shop around and try to sell. But this to me didn't sit right with my goals. See, I'm not in a rush to get published. I want to first learn the craft properly. I'm not going to hide in the shadows forever, no. But for the time being this practice novel I'm writing is purely for me to get a handle of what it's like to put together such a daunting project. You know, to rob the idea of writing a novel of its mystique and intimidation factor. The novel I'm writing now is no lightweight, though. It's a fully fledged undertaking. But on a subject I did not come up with on my own, based on an already existing property.

For me, this is my safety blanket. I'll spend the better part of a year writing and revising this baby, and learning all that I can in the process. Afterwards, I'll let a few friends and family read the results before shelving it away for good.

Such is life. Don't cry for me, Argentina.

But I'm floored that this crazy idea of mine turns out not to be so crazy after all. In fact, in retrospect of what Scalzi had to say, now I seem rather clever, don't I?

Now if only that cleverness can translate over to the novel in progress. We shall have to wait and see, won't we?

The Christmas Blizzard of '10

So, as you may have heard, New York City got gob-smacked by nature's wintry fury the day after Christmas. For the second time this year, we got blasted by a blizzard dumping close to two feet of snow on the Five Boroughs. It started around 10:30 am yesterday morning, and got particularly bad around 6 pm in the evening. I woke up this morning to find quite the winter wonderland spread out below my 10th story vantage point. I even took a few time-lapse panoramics over the course of a 24-hour period with my iPhone 4. I started at 11:30 am on Dec. 26th, and took my last photo at 11:30 am on Dec. 27th. Check out the progression below:

The South Bronx is actually kind of peaceful looking when it's buried under over 20 inches of snow, ain't it? This is part of the reason why I love the winter so much. It makes a much more honest entity out of this murderous beast I call home.

I hope those of you dealing with the aftermath of these winter storms are safe and warm in your neck of the woods. Thank god I'm off from work until after New Year's.

Now This Is How You Remake A Show!

I don't know how many of you remember this, but back in 2008 NBC remade a classic show from my childhood called Knight Rider. Yeah, you might have heard of that one. Most 80s brats know it well. Aside from being a pretty cool show that all the kids were talking about in class the next day, what I remember most is the kick-ass intro. Usually, for me at least, a show's opening credits is what makes or break it in my mind. So when the rebooted tv series premiered over two years ago, one of the most pressing questions for my money was how well they handled the opening.

See for yourself: Here's the original opening from way back when . . . and here's the shitty 2008 intro.

Now, you tell me -- WTF was that? Setting aside the visuals, how can you take such an awesome musical theme as what you had with the original version . . . and then crap on it by going off on a completely different cue? And I tried to make the new show work, really I did. But in addition to the crappy cast and boring plots, having to listen to this new theme music just really pissed in my pudding. Blech!

And for a while there, it seemed The Powers That Be at the big networks were content to continue taking huge, collective shats on my childhood memories. Remaking shows from the glorious past and reworking the theme music. Anyone see ABC's V last year? Yeah, 'nuff said.

The people who make these decisions are idiots. How can you alienate the old time fans by completely slapping them in the face with intros that don't pay proper homage to the original shows? Who does that?

Well, I'm happy to say the folks over at CBS have done it right. Yes, I'm talking about the remake of Hawaii Five-O, which premiered earlier this Fall. Yet another favorite of mine from when I was just a wee tyke. And, if anything, it was a show with an even more memorable opener than Knight Rider! *gasp* So naturally I was ready to hate on this new 2010 update. Of keen interest to me was the extent to which they would mangle the famous brass instrumental music of the theme.

But, color me surprised! Not only is the show actually compelling and entertaining to watch, but the intro was clearly crafted by someone who loved the original opener and wanted to pay proper respect to the music. Below I'll post up a clip of the original 1968 opening sequence, followed by the 2010 one. Although the newer intro is far too short thanks to modern ADD sensibilities these days, I have to say I love this reworked theme. It still retains all of the important cues from the older theme, but with a nice contemporary interpretation that works just fine for this fan. Also, I love some of the visual ticks that the new one borrows from the original. Watch both clips closely and see if you can catch the similarities:

I don't know about you, but that alone made me HYPED to see this new show. And lo and behold it actually does not suck! If you have not checked out this series yet this year, do yourself a favor and catch up before the new episodes resume in late January. Particularly if you were even a middling fan of the original. This is remake television done right!

Plus, I love any show that is filmed in and supports the local economy of that wonderful island state of Hawaii. If for nothing else, it changes the tired scenery from so many shows which use L.A. or Vancouver as their filming base. So refreshing!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So It's Only, Like, About Damn Time!


As you can see above, we're finally getting Blu-ray releases of El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico -- the films that were Robert Rodriguez's own take on "The Man With No Name" trilogy. This time, though, the gunslinger is a mariachi . . . and he's in modern-day Mexico!

Of course, I have no idea why the hell the first two movies are being packaged together on the same disc, while the third film is being sold separately. All three will be hitting shelves on Jan. 4, though, so we have less than two weeks for awesome greatness!

Well, only Desperado was awesome. The other two are "meh" at best. I think they knew this, which is why Desperado is not being sold alone. Heh, heh . . . smart, Sony. Smart. Even smarter would have been to release all 3 together in one nice trilogy box set. But then, what do I know about video marketing?

Anyway, click here and here if you want to read the one-sheets.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Taking A Short Break From The Novel . . .

If anyone's been paying attention to the "Novel In Progress" tracker in the upper right corner over the past couple of days, you might have noticed that it's been stuck on 56,560 words all this time. Let me clear up what's happening.

First of all: No, I haven't given up on the novel. I haven't burned out, nor ran out of juice. And I'm not suffering from writer's block. In fact, one of the things I've been blessed with on this novel is knowing exactly how and where I want to take the narrative, thanks to a rather extensive outlining process I worked on over and over again over the course of 2010.

Secondly: I'm doing okay myself. I'm not dealing with personal issues, or going through a rough patch at work or at home. There's no current crisis keeping me away from my writing. In fact, short of the zombie apocalypse, there's very little excuse for me to take a break from writing even if I happen to be dealing with some issues in my life. After all, writing for me is therapy. I genuinely have FUN writing my stories -- it's why I got into this whole crazy spec. fic. writing thing anyway.

So, thanks for worrying about me everyone. But both me and the novel are in good shape, so no need to keep asking. And, no, this is also not the scheduled break on the novel which I was planning on taking anyway after I wrote the core chapters. You may recall in this post that I mentioned I would be taking a 4 - 6 week break in order to work on some other stuff, not the least of which was researching the remaining chapters.

Well, this current break is a much smaller beast, though somewhat related. I decided the short stories that need to be written . . . need to be written RIGHT NOW! Which surprises me because I'm actually on a pretty good roll with the novel and just finished writing a very awesome scene that I'm proud of. But, see, that scene marked the exact middle point of the core chapters I'm writing. So far I have 13 chapters written completely, out of a planned 26 core chapters. Moreover, I'm at a natural pause within the narrative itself, where my characters were just hit with a major revelation and are now about to embark on the most dangerous leg of their journey. In other words, I've entered the dreaded 3rd Act -- that part of the novel which makes or breaks it for the writer. I don't know about you, but this seems to be the perfect opportunity to take a step back and breathe a little.

So, I have some short stories to write in the interim, including a rewrite of the piece that I just had critiqued by the fabulous Altered Fluid group here in NYC. I've been thinking long and hard on this rewrite and it looks like--just as I had suspected 2 weeks ago--that I'm going to end up tossing the entire story out and writing it from scratch all over again. This time with major changes to the plot, tone, and even the main character. Some of the secondary characters will still be present, but retooled to perform different tasks now. At least, that's what I *think* I'll be doing. Part of the reason why I've been non-active on the writing front these past few days is that I'm trying to organize everything in my head before I sit before the computer. I should be starting the rewrite sometime tonight and working through the week, including Christmas Day if so needed.

So, this is just a warning to you all to not bug me about the fact that my novel isn't being worked on. Yeah, I know all about it and am on top of things. I promise. No need to point it out to me anymore. This is a self-imposed break for very necessary reasons. When I do resume work on the novel, you'll be the first to know. Until then, let's talk about other things, 'kay?

Thanks, all. You're the best!

P.S. -- Oh, and the reason I keep referring to the novel as "THE NOVEL," and probably will until the very end, is that I rarely assign titles to my works before they're finished. I always found that practice by other newbie writers a bit presumptuous, given the fact that a story can change a great deal from the initial drawing board stage to the final rewrite. Which is why, of the fews time I *do* mention a title for a work-in-progress, I always provide a disclaimer that the title is only temporary. To put it plainly, the title of a WiP is the least important thing a writer should be worrying about.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Most Anticipated Movie This Month has their review up of True Grit, a movie who's trailer I gushed over here on this blog a while back. You can read the full review by clicking here. Besides giving the film 4.5 out of 5 stars, and calling it "the best Western since Unforgiven," IGN's Jim Vejvoda also had this to say:

"Just when you thought the Coens had made their career best with the neo-Western No Country for Old Men they make this gem. True Grit is one of the top films of 2010, and can now be added to the ranks of Best Picture Oscar front runners such as Inception, The Social Network, The King's Speech and 127 Hours."

I mean -- WOW! I knew this movie was going to be good, but from the sounds of it True Grit is even better than I imagined. I don't think next Wednesday can come fast enough, and I'll almost certainly catch this on opening day.

I'm also especially pleased that the young actress portraying the 14-year old Mattie Ross--newcomer Hailee Steinfeld--is receiving such great praise for her performance:

"Steinfeld is a revelation here . . . [she] simply owns the screen from her very first scene, fast establishing herself as a commanding presence to both the other characters and the viewer. She is smart, tough, vulnerable, funny and has range. It will be very intriguing to see where Steinfeld goes from here professionally as she'll most likely earn an Oscar nomination for her performance."

I had a feeling from watching the trailer that she would be one of the film's many shining gems. Glad to see my hunch may be right. Of course, I'll see for myself come next week. But so far everything about this movie is looking fantastic! And, hey, Barry Pepper is in this one, too!

And speaking of the trailer, I'm going to re-post it below for those of you who haven't seen it and want to know what all the buzz is about. I'll probably have a good time watching that other big December sci-fi movie coming out this week -- but True Grit is what I'm hurtin' to see right now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

GRRRR . . . HRRRR . . . UNGH!!!!!

That's me today, because I feel like one of the living dead.

Last night was one of those unexpected moments when the wife and I crawled into bed together fully intending to sleep and . . . ended up talking the night away until 4:30 in the morning! HOLY HELLS, I am so brain-dead tired right now! It's amazing I even have the presence of mind to type these words.

What did we talk about? Oh, just life. Well, mostly our respective families, and also about how much we worry about today's children. Especially our nieces and nephews, who are so smart and adorable and deserving of the best life can bring. Unfortunately, if they continue living in the Bronx, they will most assuredly end up not living to their full potential. It's a fact of life around here. The entire borough is a cesspool for destroyed childhoods and unfulfilled dreams. It eats you up and spits you out unless you have the extraordinary strength of will to persevere despite all the obstacles. Which I did, and my wife did. But to which too many younger family members in both our respective families have not. Some who paid with their lives for the shortcomings of this ridiculous "ghetto fabulous" culture that permeates here.

I want those little toddlers in our family to live a good life, and so we agreed to keep on keeping on the parents, and push them to move away from this place. We will ourselves at some point, too; definitely if we have children of our own. The Bronx is safe to raise kids up until around the age of 7 or 8. Then you have to get the hell out of Dodge if you want to salvage their futures. For real!

Anyway, as you can see, we talked about some heady stuff. Mostly our fears and our hopes. It's nice to have that connect in the dark of night when the tv is off, the writing stopped, the PC shutdown, the cell phones left in the coat closet, etc. Unfortunately, I didn't seem to take into account that I had to wake up at 6:30 for work. So now I'm paying the price, operating on just 2 hours of sleep.

I have a loooong day ahead of me . . . but strangely, it feels worth it. Just one more way I'm reminded I married the right person.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Three Awesome New Game Trailers In One Day!

So, anyone watch the VGAs over the weekend?

For those who don't know, Spike TV aired its annual Video Game Awards show Saturday night, this year hosted by none other than NPH himself -- Neil Patrick Harris! He and some of the other presenters flubbed up a few times, but all in all it was a decent show. I was a bit miffed that Heavy Rain wasn't even nominated for Game of the Year, though, despite the fact that the title which did win (Red Dead Redemption) was my very close runner-up for that particular honor. Seriously, though, Heavy Rain is the clear winner for me. I mean, DAMN I love that game!

Of course, the most important reason to watch the VGAs is for the exclusive sneak peeks at the upcoming big games of 2011. And in this category, Spike TV did not disappoint! A bunch of big trailers were shown--like Resistance 3, SSX: Deadly Descents, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Forza 4--and we also learned that Kratos will be playable in the next Mortal Kombat game, which is just off the chart AWESOME!

But to be honest, 3 particular trailers stood out for me above the rest. It helps, of course, that these are sequels to games I just absolutely adore, each representing in their own way what I consider to currently be the primo best titles in their respective genres and/or console platforms. I'm going to embed a clip of each teaser trailer for you to enjoy after the jump below, in ascending order of personal excitement. Even if you never played these games but are interested in gaming in general, you simply *must* check these out. Trust me on this.


Milestone Weekend

Well, looks like my last entry achieved a milestone I should have been more aware of, but was not. Seems I crossed the 200 post mark for the year on The Bimillennial Man.

Wow, where has the year gone? And WTF did I have to blabber on about so much? Dunno. But I'm glad I can keep this blog going even despite my hectic schedule and other writing responsibilities. Portioning off specific times of the day to devote to various activities help. For one, I almost never blog at night. Night time is creative writing time for me. I'm useless in the morning and early afternoon when it comes to creative endeavors, so I usually reserve those times for less creative work. From years of schooling and the drudgery of working in an office, the daylight hours have rewired my brain for more mundane work and tasks which I can accomplish by rote.

Not that writing this blog falls under that category . . . but it hardly takes nearly the amount of mental resources as crafting an engaging narrative from scratch does.

Anyway, last year--my first full year of The Bimillennial Man--I was able to rack up around 230 posts. I'm not coming near that this year, nor does it really matter. But I will say that my commitment to keeping this blog from falling by the wayside has resulted in steadily increasing traffic numbers throughout the year. I won't say exactly what those numbers are (the truth is still embarrassingly low), but on a percentage scale I'm averaging almost a whopping 300% increase in the number of daily unique visitors to this site compared to the beginning of 2010.

And that, my friends, is simply CRAZY talk!!!

But I thank you all for continuing to join me on this journey. I know, according to my counter, that the majority of you are coming here for my Highlander Paris tours and trip report photos . . . but it's all appreciated. Your continuing interest in this site makes it all worthwhile, truly.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My New Favorite Small Press SF Magazine

As I mentioned earlier this week, I recently had a chance to meet with the Altered Fluid Writer's Group here in NYC to have a recent story of mine critiqued. Well, it turns out a good many members of this group also put together a great little SF 'zine that's been garnering rave reviews over the course of its run.

I only found out about Sybil's Garage over the summer, unfortunately -- rather belatedly, to my chagrin. But I recently purchased and downloaded the latest issue, No. 7, onto my iPhone book reader last month. And, WOW . . . I was stunned by not only the amazing stories and poetry pieces themselves, but by the breadth and scope of the different genres covered. All of the works represented within this smartly designed booklet fall under the umbrella of "speculative fiction," so you'll find a little of something for everyone.

My favorite short stories were: "Under the Leaves" by A.C. Wise, "The Noise" by Richard Larson, "The Unbeeing of Once-Leela" by Swapna Kishore, and "My Father's Eyes" by E.C. Myers, to name just a few.

However--and this goes out to all my movie buff friends out there--you really need to check out this amazing non-fiction essay written by Avi Kotzer, in which he explorers the themes (hidden or otherwise) on display within Quentin Tarantino's seminal WWII masterpiece, Inglourious Basterds. The title of the essay is "Glourious Homage: Quentin Tarantino’s Love Letter to Cinema", of which an abridged version appeared in this latest issue of the magazine (click on the link above to read the full version).

This essay just blew my mind. Those of you who I've spoken to about the film already know how much I love Tarantino's latest work . . . but reading this piece brought a new facet of understanding to the way I now see the movie. In other words, Inglourious Basterds is even more awesome than most of us probably realized.

I know! Is such a thing even possible?

Certainly Avi Kotzer believes so, and I have to say he makes a compelling argument for just why it's such an important movie. Especially with regards to Tarantino's self-avowed love affair with cinema.

So if you love great SF, and small press publications of such in particular, you can't do any better than Sybil's Garage. I'm now a devoted fan, and am eagerly awaiting the next issue. If you're interested, click on the link and peruse the various methods by which you may procure a copy for yourself. Whether you're a writer in the genre or just a fan, you owe it to yourself to see what's coming out of this small Brooklyn-based publisher these days. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sci-Fi Friday Movie Trailers

No, this is not the start of a new series of blog entries. It's just that, for some reason, I seemed to have woke up this morning and found not one, not two . . . but THREE new sci-fi movie trailers for films coming out next year.

More Advice From A Cartoon Princess . . .

Last September I introduced to this blog a series of short comedy pieces from Second City alumn, Danielle Uhlarik, titled "Advice For Young Girls From a Cartoon Princess." If you recall, the first two pieces lambasted the Disney animated films Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Little Mermaid. You can click on this link to take you back to that entry and view the original clips.

At the time, I speculated on what the subject of the next go-round would be. Well, looks like my first pick was correct. This time around, Danielle pokes the sarcasm stick at Snow White herself. I still think the Beauty and the Beast skit was the best, but check out this one too for a quick chuckle:

LOL! "Fair, fair, fairest . . .white, white, WHITEST!" Oh man, that stings. If you would like to see more of Danielle Uhlarik, check out her (very) short film, "Stages of Emily," by clicking here. She produced, wrote, and starred in this short, which I thought was fresh and very well done.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Favorite Sword Duels At The Movies

Swords. Let's not deny it, we all have a weird fascination with the bladed weapons--a romance, let's say--that you simply cannot get from kicks and punches, or even guns. Sword duels in particular capture our imaginations in the media like no other form of personalized combat. Unlike gun fights in Westerns, swords by their very design require the combatants to face off in close proximity to one another like real men (or women). You know that the victor of a sword fight will not make it out alive by sheer luck. Swords require real skill and years upon years of vigorous training to master. Yet, in Hollywood at least, the good sword duel is hard to come by these days. Back in the time of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks movies, sure, the swashbuckling tales were a dime a dozen. But that era has been long gone. While cowboy and pugilistic genres have risen and fallen only to rise again in Hollywood, the sword movie has never recovered its true heyday of old.

Which is why, when a film does come along and display not only a competent sword duel on the big screen, but one that's a true crowd pleaser at that, I for one take notice. You might not concern yourself with such matters, but rest assured I *live* for these types of films. Without fail, if you were to look at a list of movies that influenced me the most since childhood, more often that not you're seeing a list that contains movies where sword fighting plays, at the very least, a marginal role in society.

Highlander, Star Wars, The Hunted, Excalibur, Dune, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, etc . . . . Need I go on? So what better way to celebrate the more subtle art form of good movie combat than for me to create yet another "Top 10" list? Below you'll find my list in descending order from best to BESTEST of my favorite sword moments in film. As with my other lists, these choices won't necessarily represent *your* favorite scenes. But then you can just write up your own list now, can't you? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Without further ado, I give you my Top 10 sword duels at the movies . . . after the jump.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

So, A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way Home From Work Last Night

I came across this bunch of roving misfits:

From left to right: Tom Crosshill, Rajan Khanna, Kris Dikeman,
Matthew Kressel, K. Tempest Bradford, David Mercurio Rivera,
Alaya Dawn Johnson, Nora Jemisin, Paul Berger, Devin Poore.

Actually, this is the Altered Fluid Writer's Group -- the folks who agreed to critique a recent short story of mine in return for favors of a demeaning nature out of the kindness of their hearts. What's cool is that they meet up in an office building just one city block north of my own office, so the walk over took me all of 1.5 minutes! You may recall I won a guest spot with them via the KGB Fantastic Fiction raffle back in October, which I gushed about in this blog entry.

Well, as you can see I lived to blog another day. It was truly an honor to get my ass handed to me, critique-wise, by this group of supremely talented writers -- some of whom I've been a big fan of for years! Gosh, I don't think words alone can explain how much fun I had spending over an hour putting one of my latest stories--"Beethoven's 10th"--through the proverbial ringer. It might not sound like fun to some, but you have to understand how much I crave constructive criticism on my work. Every story of mine to see publication has only done so after first going through a lengthy and harrowing crit process. What this tells me as a writer, and what I knew going into the meeting last night, was that my stories always need a lot of work in the initial stages. And that, when I am receptive to the suggestions being thrown my way by other writers, my stories cannot help but change for the better as a result.

I have a lot to think about in terms of where to take this story in the rewrite stage to follow. Of course, I am in the middle of writing my first novel, as well as mulling over not just one but TWO "big ideas" for short stories that are begging me to hurry up and write them already.

For now the novel takes priority until I reach a natural break point (which should be at the end of the month) during which I can focus on other writing. I think I'll write out one of the two new ideas first (a sub 5000-word short, tentatively titled "How I Spent My Summer As A New York City Taxi Cab") straight off the bat, since that is the story idea I currently can't stop thinking about. Afterwards, I'll try the rewrite of "Beethoven's 10th," including a most probable title change. If I have time before resuming the novel, I'll write out the 2nd of my nifty new story ideas. That one will most likely be a dystopian short story, also under 5k, with a horror/alien body snatchers twist at the end.

Yes, I know what you're thinking: aren't you biting off too much at once? And I can see why you'd think that. But, really, this is the way my mind works best. I compartmentalize the projects I work on, so that one doesn't bleed over into the other. I'm going to need a break of about 4 - 6 weeks from the novel anyway, so that I can research Eastern Christian Orthodoxy, which I think should be more than enough time to work on some short stories in the interim.

So, all-in-all I have to say meeting everyone at Altered Fluid paid off in a HUGE way. It got me thinking about how to make my story a whole lot better, and yet didn't send me running home to curl up in a ball, crying. That's a win-win right there by my standards.

Lisa was so cute about it, though. After I came home and crawled into bed, she said to me:

"I kept worrying all day long, hoping that they would be nice to you."

I told her "nice" doesn't enter into the factoring, but that, yes, they actually were very good to me. Too good, in fact. It's sweet that she worried, though. I guess she picked up on the fact that this experience meant a lot to me.

To all you guys over at AF . . . thank you, thank you, THANK YOU so much! For the record, you guys rock hard!!! Hopefully I'll see most, if not all, of you around at KGB.

My Booklist

I recently signed up for Dropbox, a very cool service that allows you to create an online virtual folder in which you can place all your stuff (e.g., doc, pics, music, etc.) and have it accessible across any number of platforms -- home P.C., laptop, work P.C., iPhone, and so on . . . simultaneously! So, for instance, if I'm working on my novel, I can back up any new scenes into my desktop's Dropbox mirror folder, and then make small edits via my iPhone if I'm out and about and remember to add some minor plot detail I forgot. This also eliminates the need for me to constantly transfer my Word files back and forth via thumb drive, as well as providing a handy online backup of everything I write. If anything should happen to one of my computers with the Dropbox folder installed, I can still access the same files on another PC, or any platform with Internet access for that matter. Nifty!

You can take a video tour of the service by clicking here and deciding whether you want to sign up for yourself. If you do, please use that link since it's a referral linked directly to me. This way, if you do decide to join after watching the video, we'll both get an extra 250MB of storage free! And we all like free stuff, right? RIGHT????

One of the other things you can do is to allow the public to view certain items -- only those you specifically allow public access to (duh!). I wanted to try it out, so I thought I'd let the world see the book list I've been keeping all these years. In theory, this is a list of all the books I've read ever since the 1st grade. I say "in theory" because, quite frankly, trying to remember every single book I've ever read is a pain in the ass. I've been compiling this since around 2000, based on a more extensive list I kept in high school, circa 1993. And while I've only included the titles that I for a fact remember reading, a lot more have slipped through the cracks of this faulty vessel of mine I call my brain.

Click here if you want to view this list. Actually, please click on it and let me know in the comments below whether or not this works for you. The link will open a dialogue window asking if you either want to "Open" or "Save" the Word doc. I would recommend you "open" it if you just want a quick glance at the list. I'll be putting a more permanent link in my sidebar soon for archival purposes.

In the meantime, check out Dropbox and see if it's the right fit for you. Personally, I love it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Behind-The-Scenes-Footage On Game Of Thrones

So, HBO aired a behind-the-scenes look at their upcoming new show in 2011, Game of Thrones, last night before the season finale of Boardwalk Empire.

For most of us fans, this is our first really in-depth look at the faithfully recreated land of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms, as adapted from the novel. And all I have to say is: this is so fucking AWESOME!!! No, seriously, I can't believe how much I've been geeking out over what I'm seeing. I was particularly worried about the snowy scenes in the North, beyond the Wall, since the original footage was shot using fake snow and it looked horrible. Either they re-shot these scenes with real snow, or else the CGI department worked over time, because now the snow looks fantastic! (I'm leaning more toward the latter explanation, btw.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Three Celeb Crushes In One Movie!

Lisa and I went to see two movies tonight -- Black Swan (posterized above), and The Warrior's Way (pictured way below).

Surprisingly for me, Black Swan was the better movie. It was supremely good, in fact. Save for the ending, which kinda sucked . . . and not just because it wasn't a happy ending, which I can deal with normally. It just seemed tacked on, I guess is the best way to explain it. Done just to be "tragic" like the ballet of Swan Lake which the movie revolves around. At the end of the movie, when I asked Lisa what she took away from the experience, she said: "Why are women always such bitches to each other?"

Yes, why indeed!

But I have to say, one of the biggest highlights of the movie for me was seeing not one, not two -- but THREE of my top Hollywood dream women in the same flick! Natalie Portman (yum!), Mila Kunis (super YUM!), and my all-time fave, Winona Ryder (mega superlicious YUMMY!). Sure, she's crazier than a sack full of cave bats, but damn if this actress doesn't represent everything I find sexy in a woman!

So, yeah, this movie's done good by me. I highly recommend it to you all. Click here to view the trailer if you had no idea such a movie even existed. I believe it's in limited release this week, although I might be wrong. If so, it should see a wider release later in the month I imagine.

As for The Warrior's Way? Eh, no. This is one of those high-fallutin CGI action movies not dissimilar to Kung-Fu Hustle . . . if Kung-Fu Hustle sucked ass. It had its moments, but ultimately the story is so barely there and the characters never truly fleshed out that you walk away from the experience feeling like you wasted your time and money. Which I did, both.

I say: skip this. If you really need to know what this movie is about, check out the trailer by clicking here.

What about you? Did you see any movies worth mentioning this weekend? Or, do either of these two movies interest you? Sound off in the comments section below, please.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oops! No New Life Form On Saturn's Moon

Two days ago I mentioned here a Gizmodo article concerning a NASA press conference scheduled for later this afternoon. At the time, the educated guess was that arsenic had been discovered on one of Saturn's moons, Titan. Further speculation generated the possibility that there may have also been evidence found of an arsenic-based bacterium living on Titan.

Well, looks like everyone was WRONG! The announcement, in fact, was about an experiment conducted on bacteria dredged up from a a poisonous, arsenic-filled lake in California, which had the phosphorous element of its DNA removed and replaced with arsenic. Bacteria have been known to process arsenic before, but never to actually be made from it. The fact that this bacteria was able to propagate after the replacement has broad implications for the possibility of life existing on other planets where Earth conditions are not the norm.

So, sorry. No alien life forms discovered. But, for biologists, this is actually a very cool moment. It was previously thought unlikely that anything could live based on arsenic. Now we know better, and thus we learn that life doesn't have to be unique to Earth.

That's pretty awesome in my book!

For more info, check out this article in today's Popular Science update.

Latest Trailer For Game Of Thrones

HBO aired the latest teaser trailer for their upcoming Spring 2011 show, Game of Thrones, based on the popular fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, by the acclaimed George R. R. Martin. If you recall, I was a huge fan of the books long before this show was a glimmer in anybody's eye, and heartily recommend the series to anyone who prefers gritty "realism" to their fantasy -- rather than sissy elves and fairies and wizards waving wands around. Click on the video below for a first glimpse at what's shaping up to be another awesome hit show for HBO. My brief reaction follows after the clip:

You know, up until now, I didn't know quite what to make of the early pics and brief footage shown of the production thus far. Only after viewing this teaser does it start to hammer home just how deep and wonderfully produced this show has become. Filmed mostly in Northern Ireland, but also in parts of Scotland and Malta, the footage truly does have an epic look to it, doesn't it? I wonder if this makes anyone want to go out and read the first book? So far, everything I'm seeing in this teaser is taken directly from the opening chapters of the first novel. Seeing Sean Bean as Eddard Stark is so AWESOME, and the conversation he has with Bran about how "the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword" is one of those moments you simply never forget reading on the pages of the book, no matter how many years have passed. It's also an eerie foreshadowing of Ned's own terrible fate to come.

Apparently a 15-minute behind-the-scenes look will be airing at 8:45 this Sunday night before the season finale of Boardwalk Empire. If you have HBO, don't forget to check it out. If not, I'll eventually post the video here (if I have permission). In the meantime, let me know if you cannot get the video to work above. You might want to check out this YouTube version instead, if that's the case.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Did A Month Named 'November' Come Through Here?

Looked at my calendar this morning and -- WHOA! -- where the hell did the whole month go? I think this might have been the fastest November on record. At least, to me. Thinking back on it, I think I have a reasonable explanation why it flew by so quickly.

If I had to guess, I would say it had something to do with starting the novel. Since I began writing at the start of the month, I've written more than 40,000 words. That's not enough to qualify by NaNoWriMo standards, maybe -- but that's still quite a lot of writing for someone who has a day job and can only write 2 hours out of every night. I'm very lucky that I took a year beforehand to really think long and hard on the novel I would be writing, and to work out on paper many of the larger issues before I even began the proper crafting. As it stands now, I'm making very good progress according to the outline I devised. Some scenes were hairier to plow through than first anticipated, and I ended up making some minor adjustments that I think make my characters more fleshed out. But so far it's been fairly smooth sailing.

I'm almost at the halfway mark for the core chapters. Once I'm done with those (which should be around the 85,000 word mark), I'll take a short break to work on some short stories before returning and tackling the chapters of the secondary characters in the novel. I'm saving the ending chapters for last, as I want to make sure I pull it off just right. I also will most likely be extending the final word count goal from 120 to 150K words. The novel is going to be longer than I thought it might be, but really no longer than your typical hard-backed fantasy tome. I'm thinking it will come in at roughly 425 pages in the end.

All that being said, if the writing continues apace as it has so far, I would imagine December will fly by just as fast as November. Of course, we have all the holiday drama that might take away from the time I can devote to this project, but I don't anticipate anything stopping me cold turkey.

Hope you all had a great month, too. Onward toward the end of the year!!!

Two Pics Worth The Price Of A Chuckle Today

Upon checking out Gizmodo this afternoon, I came across this article mentioning some important NASA press conference scheduled for this Thursday concerning a possible "astrobiology finding" on one of Saturn's moons. In this case, Titan, which we already know has liquid on its surface in the form of the hydrocarbon ethane. Could there actually be life on this moon?

Anyway, in the comments at the end of the article, I came across two embedded pics which had me ROTFLMAO -- and which adequately displays my frustration at NASA's previous "important" announcements:

That's so wrong . . . and yet, so RIGHT! LOL! On a tangent note, but also offering up equal hilarity is another pic I found in the comments, which so perfectly sums up my annoyance sometimes when I read my science magazines:

That right there is so on the money! I subscribe to three scientific mags -- Discover, Scientific American, and Archaeology -- as well as pick up the occasional Astronomy and National Geographic when the mood strikes my fancy. I can't tell you how many articles I'm starting to skip now because this is how they almost always turn out. The headline presents a provocative supposition of some potentially ground-breaking paradigm shift . . . only to end up being a "wouldn't it be cool if?" spec piece, or containing a flat out "yeah, keep dreaming" conclusion. ARGH!!! So aggravating! But such is the nature of the game of science journalism. Ground breaking discoveries are not made every day, and yet they still need to sell subscriptions.

Anyway, I guess I'll be keeping my ears peeled for Thursday's announcement. I agree with this Jason Kottke person that it will mostly likely be about the discovery of arsenic, which has already been theorized before as a likely candidate to be found on Titan. Don't get me wrong, this will be great news. Even better if they actually do have evidence of some kind of bacteria living off the arsenic. But then, NASA has gotten my hopes up before. So for now I'll just remain cautiously optimistic and wait to see what comes of it.

Are you excited by the possibilities?

Monday, November 29, 2010

If Martians Existed, NASA Would Be The Sixth Branch Of The U.S. Armed Forces

On the train ride to work this morning, I was going over the idea of how much more advanced our space exploration technology would be if Mars was a viable planet with a diverse ecosystem and life on a general parallel with our own. If Martians existed, and at roughly the same time and level of technological development as how we've progressed over the millennia . . . could you imagine the possibilities? Just think how much of human history would have been changed by this one premise.

Would the first astronomers to use optical instruments have been surprised to find Martian telescopes winking back at them? What would this have done for religion? For communications technology? I think we would have developed radio much, much sooner if we knew there were other species out there in the great beyond to talk with. I know radio waves would not be the ideal way to communicate with Mars, but it's where the technology would have started, just as it did in our present timeline. Or perhaps we would have developed a light-based communication system with the Martians -- something akin to semaphore, or a laser-based version of Morse Code. But this could have all started much earlier in our history, like during the Middle Ages or slightly earlier.

When Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, would European merchants already be focusing their efforts on plotting the quickest route to Mars? Given enough greed and determination -- not to mention a clear and obvious goal staring down at them from the night sky -- might we not have figured out rocket propulsion and space flight sooner? After all, we did have Leonardo Da Vinci back then. I'm sure his crackpot ideas would have been given a whole lot more credence by the ruling European elite of the time had Martians been a part of the picture.

So, yes, we would have had space flight a lot sooner. Not only that, but our space program would not be the under-funded, curiously neutered thing it is today. No. It would probably be the most important government agency of them all. We probably would've been traveling to Mars and back since the 19th century, especially during those moments when the orbits of both planets are closest to one another. I have to wonder if other star systems with two or more habitable planets might not already be benefiting from this set-up. When not suffering from the pig-headed and illogical belief that your race is the only intelligent species out there in the whole cosmos, what is it that a race of intelligent thinkers cannot accomplish?

So for a while there I started to bemoan the fact that our solar system is devoid of life similar to ours. We would probably be a far more advanced people if we had a sister world to reach out toward.

But then, of course, my cynical side takes over. Humans being humans, more likely we would have advanced rapidly to outer space only so that we could conquer Mars and absorb all of its resources. Moreover, without even the veil of human decency to curb our actions (after all, do Martians even have souls?), wholesale genocide of the Martians would probably not even generate a batted eyelid from the general public back home on Earth. Imagine the monsters we would have become as a race of Martian baby killers?

Or, an even worse scenario: what if the reverse happened? After all, who's to say the Martians didn't get a jump start on us? For that matter, maybe in that hypothetical star system that does have more than one habitable planet sustaining life, the species of those worlds battled each other to extinction. And maybe that's why we don't see them venturing out to our corner of the Milky Way?

Hmm, on second thought, maybe it's a good thing that our solar system only has one Earth-like planet with intelligent life on it. Any accelerated technological advantages we might have enjoyed as a result of our sister planet being habitable and inhabited might have come at too steep a price. If both our planets aren't destroyed outright in the War of Worlds that would have surely ensued, at the very least the victor would emerge as a cruel, despotic explorer, using the advanced weapons of war to seek out and destroy other cosmic civilizations located outside our solar system.

Maybe it's best, then, that Earth figures out its own troubles in isolation, and how to treat its fellow human beings better before we develop the technology to leave our sandbox and seek out other company. Perhaps a Gene Rodenberry-esque future is not so improbable. After all, the way things look now, we won't be getting off this rock any time soon until we figure out how to get along and stop trying to solve everything by hurling penis-shaped projectiles at one another.

By the time we're ready for true space exploration, perhaps we will have had the time to evolve better sense. Something I don't think would happen if we had Martians to contend with.

Still, it's an intriguing concept, this idea of a sister world so close to our own that our ancestors might have reached out and touched someone . . . green!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Are You An Emotional Eater?

Was just watching another episode of Luther today, that BBC show I mentioned yesterday. And there was a scene where someone distraught was drinking a bottle of wine to dull the pain. And once again it brought home for me just how different I am than most people when faced with a stressful or depressing scenario. I never can understand why people overeat or booze it up when sad. I think my wiring must be completely off, then. Because for me, the last thing I want to do in such a scenario is eat or drink or do any of the things I do normally when I'm happy. It's like hypocrisy for me to stuff my face when the whole world is going to shit around me.

I guess the reason why some people do this is because food and drink actually does release happy endorphins into their bodies. Like eating chocolate when sad, for instance. Whereas for me, if those endorphins are being released, my brain doesn't seem to be registering the effect when I'm blue. A good meal or bottle of wine doesn't make me feel any better, and as such I tend not to have much of an appetite when I'm down.

Then again, I'm very rarely down. It's not that I live such a wonderful, Disney-fied life or anything. Just that I'm generally not somebody who focuses too much on how bad the world is or on the things I *wish* I had in my life. Despite my innate sarcasm and the don't-fuck-with-me persona which I adopt in public, I'm actually an optimist. I see the best in humanity, and the world, even when evidence to the contrary abounds everywhere I look. And even despite the pretty shitty things that have happened to me in my past.

So, are you a depressive binger? Does food make you feel happy when you're down? Or, like me, can you only properly enjoy food when you are already happy first? There is a difference, in case you haven't realized.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Enough With This Black Friday Crap!

Lisa and I spent a very quiet Thanksgiving yesterday. No family. No friends. Just the two of us, alone in our apartment, catching up on tv shows we missed last week and ordering in. We checked out two British shows that I Tivo'd off the BBC America channel -- Luther, starring Idris Elba and Indira Varma (yummy!), and Law & Order U.K., starring among other people Jamie Bamber, "Apollo" of Battlestar Galactica fame. It also co-stars Freema Agyeman, an actress I've never seen before, but whom I shall be taking a special interest in henceforth.

Freema Agyeman . . . she's staring into your SOUL!

She's been in a few other British shows, most notably Doctor Who and Torchwood. She's of Persian (Iranian mother) and African (Ghanaian father) ethnicity, which I'm pretty sure accounts for her immense attractiveness. It's the eyes, for me. It's all about the eyes! :)

Anyway, both shows are fantastic so far. Luther is absolutely brilliant! The writing and acting are of the highest caliber. Law & Order UK is serviceable at this time. Good, but not as well written or edited as the various U.S. versions. At least, not so far. But I'll give it time to catch up. Too bad the theme music sucks, though. I mean, it's really awful! Personally, I also believe the title should be "London" rather than "U.K." After all, the new American show set in Los Angeles is called "L.A.", not "California" or "West Coast" or, worse, "U.S."

But I'm nitpicking. Suffice to say, I recommend these shows to anyone with access to BBC, BBC America, or a good download site. Luther, I believe, was just released on DVD this past week. The first season (or "series" as they're called across the pond) is only six 60-minute episodes long, but you get a lot for your buck. Law & Order UK is already on its fourth series, although the show only just premiered last year. So I'm sure some of the seasons are already available on DVD as well (I haven't checked).

As for today, Black Friday . . . please don't bring it up. I'm so sick and tired of hearing about it. Seriously, the way the news media have been shoving it down our throats has made me so disgusted with capitalistic greed. I know I sound like a dirty socialist now, or worse -- a commie! -- but all this talk about consumers rushing out and spending tons of money on crap no one really needs has only made my wallet curl up in the fetal position and refuse to open. I'm so not in the consumerist spirit right now, although I am generally ebullient about the holidays being upon us.

No, this day -- once again -- will be about me and my wife spending quality time together. We're heading downtown to watch some movies, eat some popcorn, and then have a nice lovely dinner together while the mall crowds shop themselves silly around us. I have a tremendous ability to be the calm port in the middle of a stormy sea, so none of the craziness should affect me.

And what movies will we be checking out? I haven't quite decided yet (and yes, I'm usually the one that has to make these decisions for the both of us), but I think we will check out the new Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson film, Faster, as well as that new Disney animated flick, Tangled. Click on the titles of each movie to watch the trailers.

So, I hope you all had a wonderful T-Day if you're in the States, and a wonderful, eh . . . Thursday if you're not. And don't listen to all the downers out there who told you not to over indulge on the feasting this holiday -- that's what Thanksgiving is for, you fuckers!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Best 10 Video Game Openings

Happy Turkey Day to everybody!

Here at the Batista household, we plan on taking a relaxing day off from things -- and well-deserved, I must say! If you haven't noticed, I've been keeping myself scarce this past week. Work on the novel continues apace, and all is still going smashingly on that front. But don't think I've forgotten you all in the meantime, no no no. In fact, here's a fun blog entry I had waiting in the wings for a few days now, but decided that, in the festive spirit of this day in which we give thanks, that I would take a moment to show my appreciation for that obscure art -- the finely crafted video game introduction movie!

You may recall that I already have a blog entry on my Top 10 Games of all time. If you don't remember, I urge you to please click on that link and check out that list as well. Those of you who know my gaming habits well will probably not find anything surprising on it. But check it out anyway, and leave a comment while you're at it!

As for this new list . . . video game introductions are those indelible opening sequences that draw you in to a game before the actual gameplay even starts. They usually appear just before, or right after, the main title sequence. They're the little pieces of cinema that whet your appetite and leave you drooling for more.

Just what is my judging criteria for this list? Well, I have to be honest: all these picks are personal to me. They were picked not only due to their awesomeness, but because I was in a special place or moment when I first saw these. In other words, my list is not trying to be the definitive list. Nor is it going to be identical to *YOUR* list, okay?

So don't dare come to the comments section bitching about how *YOUR* favorite game intro is not on this list. Or how Game X on my list sucks, and that I don't know games. This is not the time or place for that. In fact, no time will ever be the right time for that, nor will this ever be the place. Not on this blog. This is my list and my games. Each one are titles I own and have played dozens of times. And part of the reason behind such rampant re-playability is very much due in fact to the way these games start out. You may not understand my reasoning. But just know that, to me, these opening movies kick ass!

And now, after the jump . . . on to the festivities!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Avast! Ye Scurvy Dogs

So, on Facebook I mentioned how I now know entirely way too much about 15th century sailing vessels. This is all due to the exhaustive research I've done in service to a scene I'm writing for the novel. Two of my chapters take place aboard a haunted pirate ship called the Ship O' Fools. In the video game, the ship is a blocky huge monstrosity that is never fully identified. All we know is that it is a pirate ship -- you really can't infer much else from the 2D levels and antiquated sprites.

So from this I had to extrapolate based on history what kind of pirate ship would be floating around the waters of the Mediterranean or Black seas circa the late 15th century. After looking at a tremendous number of ships (at one point I chose a Spanish galleon, although those didn't hit the scene until 200 years later), I finally settled on a carrack, or "nau" as it is called in Portuguese. What it has going for it is that it's huge (500 tons, 54 meters long), with 7 decks and around 35 cannon; it was in use around the time period my novel takes place; and more importantly it sailed many waters, including the Med and Black seas. I couldn't find much info on pirate naus, but I figured one could have theoretically been commandeered by pirates and then met an unfortunate end that "cursed" its crew.

So, with my historically accurate vessel picked out, I then had to learn everything I could about the layout and basic nautical terms of the ship. Wow, what an education I got! I scoured all over for sources other than Wikipedia (I hate that site!) and learned a ton of interesting stuff. Basic stuff that even the most amateur sailor already knows. Like the difference between a forecastle and an aftcastle. What a capstan is, or a bowsprit. That the three masts for my particular ship are: the foremast, the main mast, and the mizzenmast. What the heck the term "abaft" means, or "athwarthship". Where the quarterdeck is located, or that those funny net looking things leading up to the crow's nest are called "shrouds."

Armed with a wealth of knowledge (of which I'll probably only end up using less than 10%), I set about last night to start the first of the two chapters. Most of the writing centered around my three characters rowing a dinghy out to the haunted vessel, and a flashback of sorts being retold. I haven't started writing what happens once they get on the ship yet, though. That will be for tonight's session. But I did leave off with the trio having to climb up the hawsepipe to venture aboard, since none of the crew are around to hoist the dinghy up onto the main deck. All in all, I wrote an additional 2,050 words in the space of two hours. Not bad.

I'm really loving the way this novel is starting to take shape. I can't believe how much fun I'm still having. It really feels like I'm along for the adventure, waiting to see what happens next to my slowly developing characters. Sometimes I forget that I'm only writing a practice novel that will never see publication. Yes, it might seem like a waste of time to some, but for me I'm getting so much invaluable writing experience.

And, hey, it's my time to waste. So there!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night

No evil shall escape my sight!

Can't say that I've ever been a huge Green Lantern fan growing up. Save for Batman and Superman, most of the Silver Age DC comics superheroes always seemed so lame. I'm more of a Marvel guy. But the new movie coming out sometime next year, starring Ryan Reynolds as the Hal Jordan iteration of the Lantern, is shaping up rather nicely. This is the first official trailer to be seen by anybody. Check it out for yourselves, even if you don't know anything about the property. I daresay this doesn't seem quite so lame as I thought it would be. What about you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

First Major Milestone!

Wow, just look at that WiP counter in the upper right hand corner of this page. As you can see, I've been very busy working on the novel for the past couple of weeks. It started out slow, but now only halfway through the month I've already crossed the 25,000 word mark.

Hmmm, I guess maybe I should have joined NaNoWriMo after all. I mean, the goal for that is 50,000 words by the end of the month. And I'm halfway there on the 15th!

But, alas, where for most participants 50,000 marks the end of their novels . . . it won't even be the true halfway mark for my own work.

Good thing I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, though, so damned if I should care. As of right now I've written 6 full chapters, and part of the 7th. In actual page count I've written roughly 80-something double-spaced manuscript pages. Which, in terms of a hardcover fantasy novel you'd purchase from a bookseller, is only about 60 pages or under.

Yeah, not a lot, but I'm not daunted. Mentally I envision myself as only having barely scratched the surface. So I 'm still full of piss and vinegar to continue doing what I've been doing. I don't know if I'll be able to keep at the same exact pace over the next few weeks, because so far I've been blessed by no interruptions despite my always full schedule. But considering next week is a major holiday, I can't promise I'll be able to rely on another 2 weeks straight of consistent writing EVERY SINGLE DAY as I've been able to do so far.

But I'll get damn close. One thing about me is that, once I start a writing project, I write day in and day out without fail. I don't allow myself excuses, and only miss a day when I have absolutely no choice due to some family engagement or work-related snafu. And even then you'll find me sneaking in a few hundred words on a notepad or a family member's PC when I have a couple of minutes. Yes, I can be manic about it sometimes. I wasn't sure if I could keep the habit going with such a huge project like a novel . . . but so far, yes, I can!

As always, keep an eye out on that counter. I can't guarantee it will always progress so steadily, but at least by now you should get the idea that I'm not bullshitting here.

This is for *REAL* folks!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

No Time For Games

Someone asked me yesterday which games have I been playing lately. To which I responded: none.

It's true. Take a look at that "Now Playing" sidebar of mine. As you can see, the last time it was updated was back in May. Which is about the last time I played a video game at all. At the time, I stopped because I was busy preparing for our major 2-week Mediterranean cruise trip in July, of which every detail of our itinerary I planned all on my own.

And once I came back from the cruise -- surprise, surprise -- I *still* had no time to play games. I was too busy writing a short story and simultaneously outlining the novel I would begin later in the year. So, still no time.

Fast forward to now, and that novel I was preparing for has taken over all my waking moments in which I'm not at my day job or working out and/or eating. When I write short stories, I still have time to game. But, not surprisingly, a novel takes up far more time. More importantly, it takes a lot longer to finish. When I write, I go into a zone where nothing else around me matters anymore. And this novel has been no different.

Now, this is not to say that ALL my free time is taken up with writing the novel. A good deal of it is, but not all of it. When I do take a break, however, I usually only have an hour or two to myself. And, forgive me, but I'd rather spend that time with my wife or watching tv, or both! Oddly enough, gaming doesn't even factor in on my list of things to do whenever I have free "play" time these days.

However, the most startling revelation I've discovered for why I'm not getting back to my PS3, Xbox 360, or Wii is this: Writing this novel is actually more FUN than playing console games! Yeah, I'm as shocked to find that out as some of you might be to hear me say it. But it's true. Each day I look forward to going home and getting behind the keyboard to continue the adventures of my main protagonist and friends. I can't vouch for the quality of the actual writing getting done, but I'm having fun doing it.

Back before I started writing seriously, I used to think that video games robbed me of the impetus to write. As if all the pent-up energy I had to devote to my craft was instead finding an outlet through the action and adventure games I played. I thought, in order to become a good writer, I would have to quit games cold turkey.

Now I know better. I've since found out that I can play games and write perfectly fine. Just that the writing takes priority. However, now that I've started my first novel I'm learning that the reverse of my original observation might actually be true -- that writing kills my urge to play video games!

I find that hilarious, if true. I don't think it is, though. Just that, now the high I'm getting off this novel is eclipsing the same high I would get off of playing a really engaging video game.

So, if you notice that my sidebar is not getting updated, or that I'm not talking about up and coming games as much as before . . . now you know. I'm a little busy having too much fun from a different source.

I don't know, but this seems to be the right priority for things in my life. Oh, don't you agree?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cuz I Figured, What The Hell?

You may recall a few days ago I mentioned here that I was mulling over the idea of adding a word counter bar on the blog to update people on my progress with the novel I started earlier this week.

Well, looks like the decision has been made! Check it out right now, my very own progress bar. It's currently located above the "About Me" bio on the top right of the page, titled appropriately enough "Current Novel In Progress." If you want your very own progress bar, head on over to Writertopia's website and pick between two counter styles. The one I picked is the simple version called a "picometer." The other one is far more elaborate and is represented by a cartoon that graphically changes depending on what mood attributes you assign to the HTML coding. That one was just way too overboard for my tastes, however.

Depending on which one you pick, you'll have to go into your Blogger design settings and pick Add A Widget. Then pick the one that allows you to add basic HTML/Java tags. Follow the instructions on the Writertopia site and insert the HTML code into your widget box, write a title for the box, and VOILĂ€!

As you can see by my counter, I've made some headway in 7 days, but I still have a long ways to go. I had to decide on an overall word count for the novel, though, in order to generate that counter. Which is something I don't yet know. Originally I was aiming for something in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 words -- which is about the size of a sleek, quick-paced and tidy sci-fi novel. However, after completing a rough outline and getting a better understanding of my chapters, I can see I'm going to need more room to capture all the elements I'm planning on including.

Which shouldn't come as a surprise since I'm writing an alternate history fantasy/horror hybrid and not a sleek, cool sci-fi action piece like my usual. Fantasy novels tend to be longer, anyway. My goal will be to toe the fine line between "epic" and bloated piece of crap, though. Geez, I hope I can pull this off!

I'm not ruling out the fact that I might need to increase the goal marker, however. Although I hope not. 120,000 words is A LOT! To be honest, I'm pretty sure I'll come in more at the 100 to 110k range, though. But since this is my first attempt at a novel, I concede the possibility that I could be way conservative in my estimate. Time will tell.

In the meantime, if you're ever sitting there wondering just how the hell this novel of mine is coming along, now you can look at the top of the page and see for yourself. For those keeping score, I had a very slow start at the beginning of the week, and then made up a ton of lost ground near the end of the week and over the weekend. In fact, I'm about to head back to 15th century Wallachia right now and continue this here novel of mine . . .

See you later!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hmm, Signs Of Global Warming?

Nah, I don't think so. Not in only two years' time. However, this *is* a little strange. Check out this photo I took outside my window back on November 7th, 2008:

If you would like to see additional pics from different angles for the same photo shoot, check out the original blog entry from that day by clicking here. As you can see, the leaves on the tress in the park across the street are fully changed over to their Fall colors and had already started dropping. As I recall, that year we had a pretty average Summer with predictable rain fall amounts and no abnormal temp hikes. At the time I did believe that we were experiencing Fall later and later in the year than I remembered as a child, but eventually just took it as the norm. However, fast forward almost exactly 2 years to the day, and here is a pic I just took outside the same window this afternoon:

I also took a larger panoramic of the entire park to give you an overview of how the rest of the trees are faring  (click on the image to see a larger version):

Now, are my eyes deceiving me, or is the foliage nowhere near the same level of changeover as it was during this same time back in 2008? That's a pretty dramatic difference if you ask me, and I honestly don't have any explanation for it. This past Summer was one of the most brutal we've had in a while, with ridiculously high temperature spikes, very little rainfall, and quite a few severe wind storms approaching tornado levels on at least two separate occasions. This was not a kind Summer for trees in the 5 Boroughs of New York City. And yet, judging from the pic above, the trees are retaining their foliage far later into the Fall season than in previous years.

Does anybody out there have an explanation for this? I'm stumped!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Into The Heart Of Darkness

Well, I've sailed up the river and gone native . . . on my practice novel, that is. Although I'm still puttering away on the first chapter (only 3,500 words in, as of this writing), I'm having a blast so far. The story is invading most of my waking moments, and practically all of my sleeping ones as well.

And do you know what surprises me?

How much FUN I'm actually having! No, I mean seriously, taking on this huge project was very daunting to me back when I started to do the research and craft the first of many drafts of my outline. But now that I've actually started the *real* writing, it's been the most amazing experience. Now, sure, ask me again how I feel a month from now and perhaps I'll have a different outlook. But for now, living in this world and seeing what happens next is more exciting than playing my PS3. More exciting than even the original game this book is based on -- and that's saying a LOT!

I think what's also surprising me is just how smoothly the prose is flowing off my fingertips, a truer sign than any that I'm having fun as I write. Despite the fact that I'm writing much more slowly each day than my usual pace with short stories. I expect this will pick up as I get drawn even deeper into this world of 15th century Romanian horror, folklore, and politics . . . seriously, what's not to like about all that?

I'm debating whether or not to put a word counter on this blog, to update you all on my progress as I write. I have ambivalent feelings on the issue, so give me a few days to decide the matter one way or the other.

For now just know that I haven't collapsed into a heap of anguish and tears. Not yet, anyway. It helps that I have a very well-developed story that I fleshed out and elaborated upon numerous times over the past year. Knowing what my main themes are, plus how a majority of my separate lines will tie together by the end, helps tremendously in giving the direction I need to steer this ship on its proper course. If I run aground at any point, you probably won't hear about it. I doubt I'll be blogging much while I'm in the thick of things.

But on happy days like this one, where the writing is fresh and smart as it has been so far, I'll gladly keep you all abreast of my thoughts and temperament.

I mean, what more do you people want from me, eh? :)

Have a good weekend everybody!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The World Series That Wasn't

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants for winning their first World Series in around 56 years or so! It sucked that my Yankees weren't in it this year, but hey -- you can't win them all. To be honest, I'm still basking in the glow from last year's win, so I think it's rather gracious of us that we allowed someone else to win this year. Don't you? :)

Seriously, though, it was a special treat watching the high and mighty Texas Rangers get their asses handed to them -- and in their own home, too! Even more priceless was seeing that sorry sad monkey face on George W. Bush as the pride of Texas went down in flames right before his eyes. Ah, Cliff Lee . . . I like you as a person, but your team's fans deserved to see you bomb not just once but twice in the series. Kudos! I've always found you to be a humble and generally deserving of all your praise. But Rangers fans were getting way too full of themselves, pinning all their hopes on just one man like that. I hope they learned a lesson, and I hope you stick it out with the team for at least another year. As a Yankees fan, I know I'm supposed to root for you to come over to our team. But, honestly, you have a good fit where you are now. Let's see if you can make it happen next year, 'kay?

Of course, I'm hoping to have a rematch between the Rangers and Yanks next year. I get the feeling things won't pan out quite the same way then as they did this year. But we'll see.

But, yes . . . Giants FTW!!! As a former big time New York team, you do us proud!

Monday, November 1, 2010

One Or Two Quick Notes

Won't have much time to blog over the next several weeks, so I thought I'd catch you up on a couple of items:

First,  if you didn't catch my blog update yesterday, AMC premiered their new zombie series "The Walking Dead" last night -- and oh what a doozy of a pilot episode it was.

It was AWESOME! It was 90 minutes long, and I didn't get to watch it until close to midnight . . . but I was riveted the entire time! I had only intended to watch 30 mins or so, but ended up just staying put on the couch straight through from the opening to the ending credits. Not many shows can keep me interested right off the bat and for that long of a stretch.

Honestly, if you like dystopians and zombies and survival movies all rolled into one weekly serial, you're doing yourself a huge disservice by missing this show. The make-up and creature effects were just simply out of this world -- the best zombies I've ever seen, even better than a Romero movie! And Frank Darabont, the developer and producer of the series, also directed this pilot. This is the guy who directed The Shawshank Redemption people, perhaps the greatest movie of all time.

Do yourself a favor and WATCH THIS SHOW! If you need to, click on the link above for the trailer.

And secondly . . .

Yes, fear not. I did indeed start the novel last night, despite all the blog updates and tv show watching. Since we don't have any kids to fuss over, Halloween is a non-event in the Batista household. So just like I said it would, work has officially begun on my horror-fantasy manuscript on this All Hallows' Even. I didn't get very far into the opening chapter (which in fact will probably end up being chapter 7 or 8 when the actual book is done and ordered). I was met with some major stumbling blocks that needed overcoming, which hampered my usual writing speed of 800 words per hour. Mostly big picture decisions like narrative tone and atmosphere, which I generally get a good read on right out the gate on short stories, but which seemed like a much more daunting task at the start of an actual big novel like this one.

Then there was also the huge weight of the undertaking, my first ever attempt at a novel. I spent most of an hour simply worrying about the proper way to start off the chapter. Finally, in the end, it all came together well enough as I conquered my anxieties and the words started to flow.

Unfortunately, it was already late and the rest of the chapter was going to require my full energy and alertness for some pretty intense action scenes coming up. I thought it best to call it a night at this point, and to continue the next day after work . . . which is what I'll be doing tonight. Right now I'm exactly 502 words in after one day's attempt.

So, one day down -- 59 more to go!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NYC Subway Survival Guide (Part 4)

One of the oldest and most extensive underground mass rapid transportation systems in the world, the New York City subway can be a daunting task to navigate even for the most seasoned of straphangers. This is where I come in. I'm a New Yorker born and bred, having lived here for all 34 years of my life. Mine has been a continuous love/hate relationship with the labyrinthine rail system ever since I started riding it at the age of 9, and I'm here to present my tips and observations to you.

The Subway Survival Guide is meant to keep you alive and well to live another day in New York City. Ignore its warnings at your own peril.

But before we get started on the next installment of this ongoing series, please check out these previous entries at your own leisure:

Part 1: Trust No One!
Part 2: Make Yourself Less of a Target.
Part 3: Getting Around.

And now, let us continue:

Part 4 - Racial Profiling.

The New York City subway is a crowded mess, let's not pretend it's not. And the quest for the rare, ever-elusive empty seat during rush hour can seem like an impossible task. But if you take note of who's already sitting down around you, it's possible that a seat can be yours in just under 15 mins, tops. Now normally racial profiling is a bad, bad thing. As someone who's been on the receiving end of it, trust me: it's so not cool. And yet, I'm about to get downright un-PC with what I'm going to suggest next. See, when it comes down to survival in the urban jungle, sometimes you need to be a little un-PC. It's the law of the land.

The German tourist family is the obvious first choice when you're standing in a crowded express commute car heading home after work. They're not hard to spot: just search for a group of, like, 9 extended family members, blond and blue-eyed and all sitting in a neat row staring intently up at the subway line map. Their pale moon faces and flush red cheeks (a complexion, I imagine, you can only get from milking cows in the crisp Bavarian countryside) are a dead giveaway. If you're on a train traveling uptown, this large group WITHOUT FAIL will be getting off at Times Square. You can bet money on this.

The next sure bet is . . . Asian people. If you know your train is traveling anywhere that has a stop named "Canal Street" in Manhattan -- and believe me, your train will be -- then this is where they'll be getting off. It doesn't matter if they're Chinese, Korean, Malaysian, Japanese . . . Chinatown is where they'll be going! Especially if the Asian man or woman is elderly and/or carrying pink plastic bags filled with fresh garden vegetables or fish. Stand close to these folks and wait for the Canal Street station to slide into view. If you time it just right, you can slip into the seat abandoned by the old Asian man before anyone else standing is even aware of what just happened. If you're traveling uptown, however, and you have already passed Canal St., then look for the Asian straphanger to get off at Times Square, so as to catch the 7 line out to Flushing. With. Out. Fail.

White people are the next popular group to give up seats with predictable timing. If you're on the Lexington Avenue line traveling uptown, for instance -- find the Caucasian executive dressed in a suit and/or dress shirt with tie. If they have a briefcase, SCORE! I don't know why, but these folks ALWAYS get off at 42nd Street Grand Central. My guess is to catch the Metro North lines out to the suburbs. Any remaining white people on your train will either get off at the next stop, or the one after that. So stick by them if no businessmen are available in your immediate vicinity.

Relax, nobody of the Caucasian persuasion travels above 86th street on the Lex. Express. This is because the next stop after 86th is *gasp* HARLEM! Oh god, NO!!! All the "darkies" live there, and heaven forbid you should ever end up here if you're white. Why, you might get mugged. Or raped! Or mugged, then raped! So if you stood by whitey and still don't have a seat after 86th street, tap him or her on the shoulder and warn them. It's the civic thing to do.

Now, have you exhausted all these options and still don't have a seat? Sorry dude, you're S-O-L. If all you can see around you is a sea of minorities, then tough it up and resign yourself to a very long standing ride uptown. Blacks and Latinos never get off at the next stop. EVAR! It's like they all live at the very last stop. Or so it always seems to me.

Above all else, avoid standing near the morbidly obese black female (MOBF) who may also be in the same boat as you, hunting for a seat. Even if a seat becomes available nearest you and is only wide enough to fit a normal-sized human being, you'll not be the one getting it. The MOBF is a fierce seat predator. Whether she can fit into it or not, she will claw and bite her way through you for that perch -- as her sense of entitlement is STRONG. Any poor fool sitting in proximity as the MOBF defiantly squeezes her titanically round rear into the square peg of a seat must forfeit the use of his or her arm and/or kneecap for the remainder of the ride. It belongs to her now, and her ass is always HUNGRY!

Now, to be sure, there ARE exceptions to these rules, Nothing is absolute in the real world. But 9 times out of 10, if you follow the advice above, you WILL get a seat. The best is when you find a long stretch of bench with a mixture of all three types -- tourists, Asians, and white people. In such a scenario, and if you stick very close to your target so that no one else can cut in front of you when they eventually get up, you will have a seat within two stops. Guaranteed!

Be aware, however: you're not the only one who knows these rules. The MOBF in particular is just as aware of subway herd tendencies as you are now. In fact, she's better equipped to act on these observations, as her large bulk and overwhelming SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT powers are more than a match for the mild-mannered, average and tired nine-to-fiver just trying make it home after a long day. So be wary and stick to your guns. You have to be absolutely fierce! If you must give ground to the HUNGRY raging MOBF, have no fear. Simply reuse the rules stated above to hunt down another target who will give up their seat soon. In midtown Manhattan, there's usually more than one prospect on any given subway car.

Just remember: relax. You can do it!

Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...