Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong

So I have not been getting the results out of my diet that past experience tells me I should be getting. Either I'm doing something terribly wrong, or else my system just doesn't react in my late 40's the way it did ten years ago (probably a bit of both). So in the process of tweaking to find a more effective approach, I decided to try giving up soda for a week.

Disaster. After two days, my weight had gone up two pounds. Why? Because without the occasional sweet kick of diet soda, I ended up turning to actual sweets, which (I'm guessing) spiked my insulin and led me to retain water. Not a big problem in the overall scheme of things, but it's obviously a step in the wrong direction. So today, I switched back to soda, and I haven't been tempted by cookies or frozen pops.

I also tried working out again today after taking an extra couple of days off due to soreness from the run. And that was a disaster, too. I don't know if I tried working out too early in the day since I'm now accustomed to working out in the afternoon, or just too soon after breakfast. but my energy crashed big-time, and I had to quit. A couple of hours later, I tried again, changing up the order, and got through most everything, but seriously. I used to be able to figure out my body's signals better than this.

I mean, it's not as if I'm getting no results. It's just that the results so far are merely tangible. Which means that I can't really see any results in the mirror nor on the scale (over a month of weigh-ins, and today I weighed in one pound less than the day I started keeping track). But I can feel the results when, say, I shower. My body is firmer and stronger, but nowhere near where I should be after over a month of diet and exercise.

In other news, I finished Hero Go Home last night and set it to drop Friday, and now I'm casting about for a final plan for to continue. I intend to pick up Super Movie Mondays again, as well as another possible feature that might be fun. Ideas are developing for my new book, but I'm still not sure it's the one I want to write right now. And I'm pretty sure that it's about the least commercial idea I will ever have, while what I need right now is a moneymaker.

But you can't fake the funk on that stuff. Trying to chase a commercial trend right now would probably not only not make me any money, but also result in a worse book.

I do have four other ideas: two Diggers (prequel and sequel), a Secret Project I've toyed with for over a year that I could not publish under my own name, and an expanded version of my fragment from last year's Christmas contest (in which Santa Claus is a soldier-of-fortune having international adventures in the months between Christmases).

I don't really have a plot for that last one, but of all my character and setting ideas, that one looks as if it would stand the best chance of selling as a YA novel. Other than that, I've got nothing. So it looks like 20's supernatural detective for now, and hope like hell that somehow comes into vogue by the time I'm ready to submit to somebody.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Green Lantern

My ass hurts. I did my normal workout a couple of days ago, doing kettlebell swings, which really work your legs and butt. Then yesterday, I got the bright idea to try running for the first time in ages. My legs did not thank me. Now every step I take, my thighs and butt ache.

Went to see Green Lantern today, and BTW there are spoilers in here, but seriously: it's Green Lantern. How can you really "spoil" it?

I'd heard awful things about the movie, but it wasn't as horrible as I expected. Ryan Reynolds makes a fun hero and there were some decent things happening in the script.

Unfortunately, the good things they did were overshadowed by two problems, one major and the other one... well, pretty major, but only to those who recognize the references.

The first problem: the two big opposing forces are identified by color--Green signifying Will, and Yellow signifying Fear. The Green Lanterns and the Guardians are the good guys, while the bad guy is a former guardian gone rogue (yellow). It's the Jedi and the Sith, only less subtle. It's like a Rainbow Brite version of Star Wars, and you know you're on shaky ground when people say you're oversimplifying Star Wars.

The second major problem: the good guys keep talking about how their power derives from Will. Now, in the Silver Age Green Lantern comics, the term was "willpower." And I'm not such a dorky fanboy that I quibble over them changing the wording, except that "Will" has unfortunate connotations.

But hey, it's not as if this were the only Hollywood film to pay tribute to Leni Riefenstahl.

Hands down, the worst scene in the movie is the one where Hal Jordan goes to the Guardians to ask for help in fighting the evil, and somehow manages to talk them into allowing him to fight alone instead. Truly makes no damn sense.

But the effects are good and Tim Robbins dies horribly, so it's not all bad.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Transformation Illusion

So I really desperately need a new job, or some pathway to writing success, neither of which are in the offing right now. Because my life feels really positive right now, but only because I'm completely ignoring a couple of very large financial hammers poised to drop on my head.

What I'm saying is, I'm functioning better than I have in almost three years, but only by basically ignoring or denying reality. How bad has it gotten? A few times in the past couple of weeks, I've actually wondered about the feasibility of moving back in with my wife (yes, the one who's divorcing me).

I understand part of why it's happening. Several big things have changed in the past few weeks. I've been moved to a different job area at work, which has resulted in me having a more consistent and predictable schedule, which has done wonders for my attitude. And my wife's grandmother has moved out of the house, which would make living there more endurable.

But the biggest part has been that I've started a diet and exercise regimen. And here's where the danger zone is for me, because I've gone through this a few times before.

As I transform my body, I begin to enter this trance where I feel as if everything in my life could potentially change radically for the better, if only I would have the confidence to try. I don't know if it's low blood sugar or just too many crappy movies, but it seems to happen every time.

Like today. I spent the afternoon shopping around the mall looking at the things I want to buy when my finances magically change for the better after I've finished working through the immediate issues in my life and completed my physical transformation.

But here's the thing: the shape I want to be in, I've been in before. The weight I want to achieve, I've achieved before. And my life did not suddenly get better. Women did not suddenly find me more attractive, my self-confidence didn't skyrocket and job offers didn't come pouring in.

This is not to say that my life can't get better, only that there's nothing magic about weighing 150 lbs. that will make things radically better than weighing 165 lbs. And while it was nice to spend the afternoon in a trance, fantasizing about a better life, I actually need to get to work to make it happen, and even then, it probably won't, not in a hugely dramatic way, anyway.

And speaking of fantasy, I have a problem. I have accumulated a shit-ton of plastic 2-liter soda bottles. I have been loath to throw them out with the regular garbage, because they are mostly air, which seem like a waste of trash bag volume to me. At one time, I was cutting the bottles in half and stacking the halves inside one another to save space, but that's a lot of work, and I have too many bottles now to contemplate such a move.

So what's a good way to dispose of a bunch of 2-liter bottles? Yes, I know the problem took a long time to reach its current proportions, but I'd still like a solution that's a) relatively easy and b) relatively quick. Perhaps I'm asking too much, but then, I've spent the afternoon in a trance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wrapping Up and Looking Forward

No, this post is not about my impending divorce, although the title certainly fits that as well.

Hero Go Home will be officially wrapping up next week. The final chapter publishes on July 1, and with any luck, I'll have the entire thing available as an ebook by August 1, exactly one year after I published the first chapter on-line.

The experience has been really interesting. Since I had already written two previous drafts of the story, I was able to keep up with deadlines at many points by simply defaulting to large chunks of stuff that had already been written. On the other hand, entire chapters were written completely from scratch, and the storyline overall is very different from the previous drafts, even though some incidents play out almost exactly the same.

What has really been interesting for the last few weeks, though, is how the process of writing the climax has progressed. Normally, when writing the climax, I really barrel along. I can sometimes barely ooze out the middle act, but when I get to the big action setpiece at the end, I get in the zone and can knock out 5,000 words in a day, easy.

This time, though, strangely, exactly the opposite has happened. Forced by the deadlines of weekly serialization, I cranked out the middle chapters at a good clip. And now that I'm at the end, that same weekly chapter pace has me lingering over every paragraph, rereading and polishing over and over.

And then comes the agonizing choice of what to do next. Part of me wants to do the Johnny-Dollar-Meets-Cthulhuzilla book, while part of me wants to try writing for one of those houses that publishes exploitative crap under house names. Then again, part of me wants to write something that my daughter will enjoy reading. Guess which option I totally don't have an idea for? There's also another Digger novel partially plotted, but I'm a little Digger'd out right now.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Musical Romance Without Vampires

Just finished watching the Korean drama I Am Legend yesterday, which not only has nothing to do with vampires, but turns out to be sort of the exception which proves the rule with Korean drama. I think I had mentioned before that the shows function mainly on strong writing that overshadows all the other elements.

I Am Legend was written well enough, but what really carried the show was the performance by lead actress Kim Jung Eun. She plays Jeon Seol Hee, a former wild child in high school who is currently trapped in a loveless marriage with a high-powered attorney from a rich family. They got married after she accidentally got pregnant, and after a miscarriage, her husband and mother-in-law never forgave her. They treat her with utter contempt, and she suspects her husband is having an affair with another attorney at work. Seol Hee spends most of her time feeling isolated and miserable.

There is only one bright spot in her life. She still rehearses with her high-school garage band, rocking out wherever they can manage to find a practice space. They don't perform in public--her husband's family would never allow it, for one thing--but she likes to imagine them playing for adoring crowds.

But when her sister is diagnosed with leukemia and her husband and mother-in-law forbid her from donating marrow to save her sister's life, it's the last straw. Seol Hee moves out and asks for a divorce. It seems at first as if this will be a drama mainly about Seol Hee finding a new life with her band and new love with another musician, but it doesn't quite work that way.

The divorce plot ends up eating about half the series before it's completely resolved, but instead of clearing the decks for the band's story to really take center stage (to mix some metaphors), it merely makes way for a completely unrelated legal case to start up, as Seol Hee takes a job with the lawyer who helped her with her divorce. The second half of the series splits time between the band and the legal case. Seol Hee is like a Korean Erin Brockovich, if she had also been Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go's in her spare time.

So the writing ends up being pretty much all over the place, and though there are some really good moments, the story overall kind of disappoints. Two things really make the series memorable: the music (the women playing the band members are all musicians and have continued to play as the fictional band even after the series ended, sort of like The Monkees) and the performance by Kim Jung Eun.

What really sells her performance is her eyes. In scenes where she is confronted with a crisis, she gets the crazy eyes.

It's hard to describe or capture in a single frame, but it happens over and over again: she faces some kind of adversity and is ready to give up, go along just to get along, until someone decides to push her just a little too far. Then her eyes flash with this almost desperate energy, and the next thing you know, she's fighting back, hard, whether it's in the divorce against her husband, or in a bar fight against a couple of drunken thugs messing with one of her friends. She even gets much the same look when their first public gigs with the band don't go the way they'd hoped.

And then about two thirds of the way through, the band has one of their first major gigs at a music festival, where they debut their signature song, "Comeback Madonna." The lyrics in the bridge are about pushing forward in life and love, knowing that you are worth the effort. And the first time she sings it, she's singing to the man who helped her write the song, her new love interest who is serving as the band's unofficial mentor. Her eyes are full of affection, and it's a nice moment.

But then they hit the instrumental break, and she sees her evil mother-in-law standing in the audience. One of the big issues during the divorce was the husband's family trying to keep her from performing in public, to keep from being an embarrassment to her husband, who had political ambitions. So needless to say, Mom-in-Law has never shown up to a gig before, and isn't there to be loving and supportive.

As Seol Hee notices the evil old woman glaring at her from the audience, she falters and her hands fall away from the keyboard (although the piano on the soundtrack keeps playing--a sad technical glitch distracting from such a dramatic moment). But then she gets that flash in her eyes again, and when she resumes the bridge, she's singing to her former mother-in-law with defiant joy (which once again was hard to capture in a single frame, but I did my best).

It's a brilliant moment, and I almost wish the series had ended there, because it never quite got that good again afterward.

Another scene that I wish I had screencapped when I first saw it because I can't find again without practically watching the series over featured an incredibly subtle performance by Kim Seung Soo as her ex-husband. There's a scene where the attorney he's having the affair with proposes that they take their relationship public after the divorce (an impossible prospect, since she is divorced with a child, unsuitable for a man with ambitions for a political career).

Kim Seung Soo plays his role in the mold of other stone-faced Asian men, playing most of his scenes very cool and neutral. So as the other woman makes her proposal, his expression remains almost unchanged; I could screencap the first and last frames of the shot, and you would be hard-pressed to spot the difference. Yet you can see in a miniscule twitch around his eyes and mouth how the wall slams down emotionally between the two in the matter of a second. It's a really well-played scene.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Twin Peaks

So one of the things I promised myself as part of my rejuvenation was to let myself eat out once in a while (and by eat out, I mean go to a sit-down place, not fast food). Today, I decided to take myself up on it.

I went to a place called Twin Peaks, which someone at work had described as basically "Hooters with good food." Now actually, I have not been dissatisfied with the food at Hooters, but still decided to give Twin Peaks a try. I drove out to the hell-corner of 71st and Memorial, found the place and went in.

The place looked just as expected. It's decorated with rustic fashions to suggest a mountain lodge, while the female staff dress like Naughty Lumberjacks (or should I say Jills?). First disappointment: there seems to be no lunch menu, so I had to order off the full menu. But yeah, that's just my cheapness talking.

So I ordered the Steak Sliders, described on the menu as "mini ribeye steak sandwiches." The waitress, a gorgeous girl whose nametag read "Bambi," said it was her favorite dish on the menu. When the food arrived, I received my second disappointment.

The sliders were not steak. Or let's say, you could technically describe them as steak only in terms of what cut of the cow they came from. But steak to me says the beef should be grilled or broiled. What I got tasted like it had been simmering in a crock pot for a few hours. It was soft and mushy and bland. It certainly did not have the savory flavor I had hoped for. Part of the mushiness may have come from the sauteed onions slathered on top. I appreciate the zing of a good sauteed onion, but these were also mushy and overcooked, and there were so many that they overwhelmed the beef, which was also overwhelmed by the thick, thick bread slices.

I ended up taking the sandwiches apart and eating all the constituent bits separately in an attempt to wring some flavor out of the individual elements. That made them edible, at least. I probably should have just had a cup of coffee.

Bambi was very friendly and had a great rack, but I didn't like the food, nor did I love the ambience. There may be a lot of guys who just love the mountain lodge/sports bar aesthetic, but I tolerate it for the women. So I probably won't be back.

A few years ago, before I made the Biggest Mistake of my Life, I had an idea for a geek-themed place. I was seeing it as more of a bar than a restaurant, but a restaurant would probably work better. The idea was to decorate kind of like a sci-fi Hard Rock cafe, with lots of different SF and Fantasy memorabilia. The waitresses would dress in cosplay outfits, and instead of a bar or a live music stage, there would be a discussion pit where geeks could debate DS9 vs. Babylon 5 to their heart's content. It would be like a con suite, only year round and with hot women. I didn't have a good name for it, so my working title was "The Fan Club."

I doubt if such a place could actually succeed, especially in Tulsa, but it was fun to fantasize about for a while.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Revelation of Sorts

Even though I've made some professional sales, I sometimes feel like a bit of an imposter at this whole writing thing. My writing often seems plain and graceless compared to other writers I admire. I'm not very prolific, and I rarely have the confidence to submit what I written. Even when I am confident enough to submit, it only takes three or four rejections to make me give up on that story and move on.

The lack of reaction to Hero Go Home and slow sales on both Death Wave and Digger Breaks Through! have just reinforced that notion that I'm just not good enough.

And yet...

Two of the stories in Digger Breaks Through! are stories written for Codex contests. The first one placed second in Codexian Idol four years ago, and the second one placed third three years ago. There was another writer in the contest both years, a guy named Eric James Stone. I placed ahead of him the first year, and right behind him the second. This year, he won the Nebula award for Best Novelette.

I'm not saying I write as well as he does, or that I will ever be so good as to win a major award. But maybe I'm not as mediocre as I all too often run myself down as. Maybe it's time to start trying to play with the big kids again instead of telling myself I'm out of my league.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Too Many Things to Say

I haven't been posting much, not because I had nothing to say, but because I have had so much to say that I was almost afraid to take the time to write such long posts. For instance, the last Korean drama I watched, My Girl, got me literally angry--so angry that I was screaming at my computer monitor. But I didn't write a post, partly because it was triggered by the main character acting like my wife as our marriage was dissolving.

The drama before that, You're Beautiful, also had me thinking of a lot of things to post. Actually, every drama I watch reminds me of stuff from Korean culture that I think might make an interesting post, except I end up deciding that the people who would be interested already know what I'm going to talk about, and the people who don't know won't be interested.

Right now, between the low-carb diet I'm trying to follow (not well so far--no real results to speak of) and the food porn drama I'm in the middle of (Pasta), I'm getting kind of cooking-obsessed. I've ended up restocking my pantry and refrigerator almost completely, and today, I finally ended up breaking out the old wok and the stove-top grill to try to do a proper bulgogi. Still need to work on the marinade, though.

Tonight's supper was stir-fried steak and vegetables (I'm writing this out so I can remember what I did--it wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good). In the wok, I stir-fried sliced green onion, chopped red pepper, minced garlic and grated ginger. I rubbed the juice from the ginger on the meat before slicing it into strips. I added soy sauce and a dash of Liquid Smoke before adding the meat, and after letting all that cook down, I threw in some spinach leaves to help pick up the sauce and balance out the spiciness right before removing it from the heat. Like I said, it was pretty good, but I really think some five-spice or hoisin would have added a lot of flavor.

It's not the kind of thing I plan to do a lot; that's more prep than I usually enjoy. But I've been cooking at home a lot more and saving some money on eating out, and for the moment, I'm really enjoying it.

I'm also plotting my next book, which is turning out strange. It's my Johnny Dollar vs. Cthulhuzilla book, only I'm overlaying a Korean-romance-style formula. And it's a little bleak, given the impending divorce. My wife introduced me to someone as her "ex-husband" the other day. And it's not like it's a surprise (and it may not even be the first time, now that I think of it). But not only is the divorce not final, the paperwork to start the process is not even turned in yet. So it feels weird to be called the ex. It's like reading the will before pulling the plug.

I"m in a weird place, anyway. On the one hand, the prospect of making things official seems like it has prompted me to start putting my life back together, which is good. And all the romances I've been watching certainly have me thinking about dating again. But there's still a part of me that doesn't want the divorce, that wants instead to rediscover with my wife the things that made us fall in love in the first place. And it's so frustrating to watch stories in which even estranged lovers end up winning through their disillusionment to finally reconcile in the end, knowing that it can't happen for me. My life is not a movie and I'm no leading man.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Perils of Parenting

You want to believe somewhere in your heart of hearts that your child is a miniature you, only better. Like she got all your good qualities and all your interesting quirks, but none of the major hang-ups that have caused you so many problems throughout your life. And when she's very young, you can shape her interests to a degree. What you like, she likes, and what you don't, she often doesn't.

But then one day, you discover that she has somehow become an actual person while you were looking the other way. And on the one hand, it's inevitable and good, but on the other, it's sad.

What brought this on, you ask? Last week, I was watching my daughter for a day (one measure of how far I've cleaned up the mess from the Worst Mistake of My Life is that I was finally willing, after over two years, to let my daughter come into my house again--the house is far from clean, but I'm not too ashamed to let her in the door anymore), I decided to share with her one of the great treasures from my own childhood. I showed her the original Star Wars.

Okay, it wasn't the original, or the VHS version I have that's really close to the original. It was the Special Edition (ptooey!) which I have on DVD and which is mostly the original.

She got bored less than halfway through and stopped paying attention. After Ben Kenobi died, she looked up and wondered why Luke was sad; she had been doodling throughout the entire lightsaber duel. When they were tensely running down the Death Star trench, she briefly looked up and asked, "What are they doing?" having completely missed the significance of, well, every scene in the movie talking about how the Death Star was the ultimate enemy they had to destroy.

And it's not as if I expected her to have the same reaction I did. When I saw it, I was in a theater coming out of a period when any movie with a happy ending was considered a kid's movie. Movies were depressing and often incoherent. And special effects, even the good ones, were crude at best and usually just laughably awful. And the movies those effects featured in were usually stilted and boring until the brief shining moments when cool stuff happened.

Star Wars was different, fast-paced and funny with effects totally unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Without Star Wars, I would not have gone to the University of Southern California. The movie changed my entire life. It is not an understatement to say that it was, for me, a religious experience.

I didn't expect it to have the same effect on my daughter. To her, effects like that and even better are an everyday experience. And the movies she has seen have all been influenced by Star Wars to such an extent that it's no longer the unique experience it was for me. So no, I didn't expect her to speak in tongues after watching it. But I did expect it to at least hold her interest.

*sound of heart breaking*

But all is not lost. She came over again on Thursday, and I showed her Raiders of the Lost Ark. And that one, she not only watched all the way through, but really seemed to like (I'm super-duper hoping that she wasn't saying "awesome" just to keep from hurting my feelings). So yeah, there's hope.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Old School Shave

So anyone who has known me for a while knows I've got this nostalgia thing going. I love old movies, good or bad, I love old radio shows, I like to wear my vintage hat now and then. I took it to such an extreme degree while I was writing Death Wave (which takes place during the Great Depression) that I even switched from regular shaving cream in a can to old-style mug shaving soap with a brush (and never went back) with old-school Bay Rum for aftershave and old-style Brylcreem on my hair on those occasions when I would wear my vintage fedora.

The thing I didn't change was my razor. I've been using a Gilette Mach 3 since I was sent a free sample handle in the mail years ago and liked the shave I got with it. But when I had to cut back on my expenses, I could no longer afford the replacement blades, which are getting a lot more expensive. I tried switching to a cheaper generic drugstore alternative, but it just magnified the frustration I'd been feeling with the Mach 3.

What frustration? When I let my beard grow for a few days, I get a crap shave with it, because the whiskers clog up the spaces between the blades. And all too often, I miss spots that I don't notice until later in the day, and when I get in a hurry, I cut myself with it. I also tend to overuse the blades, stretching them out way past the time I should, because the replacements are so expensive, meaning worse shaves and more cuts.

So between the frustration and the expense, I've been mulling for a while switching to an old-school safety razor like my dad used when I was a kid. You sometimes see specialty boutiques carrying new ones, but they're always really expensive. But last week, I finally decided to look some up on eBay and see how much an old, used one would cost.

After doing some shopping around and losing my first bid, I won my second for amazingly little. Even with shipping, it was only around 5 dollars, and a pack of 5 blades at Med-X is $1.50. By comparison, a four pack of Mach 3 blades is somewhere in the neighborhood of eight bucks, so
I'm already saving money. (Are there any journalists cringing at the style inconsistencies in this paragraph?)

I got the razor in the mail today and just tried it out. Don't know how I'll feel in the long run, but after the first shave, I like it. I hadn't shaved in several days, but there was no problems with clogging; the entire shave went smoothly (so to speak). And it feels as if there's more feedback with the single blade. You can really feel the blade interacting with the whiskers, which I like. I understand that cuts are probably more likely with this razor, especially given my inexperience with it, but at the same time, I have to be more mindful of the way I'm shaving, take my time and be more deliberate, which should help me avoid cuts and missed spots. All in all, I like the result.

I've got a couple of big announcements to make, but I'll wait, since something is still cooking, so to speak. I'll space them out over the next couple of days.