May 27, 2016
Denver Comic Con is coming up. I’ll be there Saturday only, doing a number of panels and signings and things. I’ll post the schedule when I have it. And I’ll have my brother in tow! So fun!
Also for Denver peeps: next week, One Night Stand Theater is performing a poetry-themed event, including a presentation of my short story “In Time,” about Emily Dickinson and her dog Carlo. Check it out!
Coming soon: Swords v. Cthulhu, an anthology edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington that will include my SECOND EVER Lovecraftian story, “The Lady of Shalott,” a retelling of the ultimate story of what happens when one gazes upon the unseeable.
And in just a couple of weeks, a book of essays edited by Liesa Mignogna, Last Night a Superhero Saved my Life, in which a bunch of writers and artists and creators talk about the impact superheroes have had on their lives. I wrote about Wonder Woman, of course, and that one time on the preschool playground when I was four. . .
And I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but I’ll let you know when I remember what that is…
May 25, 2016
My big iris are finally blooming.
My little iris have been doing great for a couple of years now, thick growth and lots of blooms, but the big iris have taken a few years to settle into the bad clay soil we have here. The first couple of years, they didn’t bloom at all. Then they had one or two blooms. Last year, they produced a lot of blooming stalks — which were promptly flattened in a late snow storm.
But this year, they’ve finally done what iris are supposed to do:
May 23, 2016
That probably should have been a 20 minute skit rather than a 100 minute movie.
Also: Not enough kitten. When you make a movie about a couple of nerds who get caught up in the middle of gangsters and drug dealers fighting over a kitten, there’d better be A LOT of kitten.
May 20, 2016
I’m in that state where I have a bunch of things I ought to be reading, so of course instead I sat down and re-read Austen’s Persuasion. It’s my favorite of hers. I just finished that and am now trying out Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road, which appears to be an unabashed pastiche of late Victorian adventure novels, which is totally in my wheelhouse. Although he dedicates the book to Michael Moorcock, which also tells you where it’s coming from. There’s also a dash of Fritz Leiber in there. I’m intrigued at how Chabon built up a reputation as a wholly literary writer, but then has used that platform to unabashedly mess around with various genres and genre conventions. In the process he’s won a Pulitzer and a Hugo. Nice work if you can get it.
I’m absolutely fascinated by the current popular phenomenon of mystery boxes like Loot Crate. Everyone is talking about them. Everyone posts pictures of their goodies on FB or whatever. At Wondercon, there were at least three or four companies, including Loot Crate, selling boxes out of their booths. I totally get the attraction. It’s like Christmas and the lottery wrapped up in one. Getting things in the mail is already awesome, but getting a big surprise in the mail is even more awesome.
But I’ll tell you my problem: Right now I’m trying to get rid of things, not get more things, and most of these boxes seem to be all about things. Tchotchkies. Cool nerd stuff, but still stuff, that then ends up in boxes or as clutter. I’ve spent two years sorting out things and carting them off to the thrift store, I don’t need more. Prediction: in about 10-15 years every thrift store in the country is going to have walls full of Funko Pop figures that no one has room for anymore and that no one wants to keep.
Well, at the Creative Ink Festival I was introduced to the Novel Tea Club. This is a mystery box club where you get a book (you can pick the genre), and then some things like tea, tea infusers, candles, bath stuff, etc. All designed for a nice relaxing read-in. And — all entirely consumable. No clutter, nothing to find space for. It’s all stuff you use. And then get more of. Fantastic idea.
And today, the sun is shining, I’m out in short sleeves, and it’s magnificent. That gray weather we had all last week really got me down. But I’m better now.
May 18, 2016
I want to talk about both because this is such an interesting example of how an adaptation can go horribly, horribly wrong.
The Big Year by Mark Obmascik is a great read, an example of what makes the general nonfiction category so interesting: he tells a story that reveals and illuminates a subculture that many people may not know about, and makes the topic and its players fascinating. This is the story of the 1998 Big Year, when three birders competed to ID the most bird species in North America in a year when El Nino and odd weather patterns brought an unusual number of odd migrants to the continent, pushing the possible number of sightings to record highs. The competition is entirely unofficial, and deeply obsessive, requiring tens of thousands of miles of travel. The three players here are interesting and quirky in their own rights, and the story is all about the intersection of their lives and shared obsession.
If you’re at all interested in birds and birding it’s a must-read. If you just like good stories about weird things that actually happened to interesting people, I recommend this one.
And then in 2011 they turned the book into a movie, starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black. The movie is. . .frustrating.
The first sign we know that something has gone sideways is that even though the three characters in the movie correspond specifically to the real people from the book, the movie has changed their names and some important details about them, enough so that it’s no longer anything resembling biography.
This is because it turns out the movie is not really interested in birding at all. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have birds — it actually has a handful of sequences that illuminate exactly why birding is so cool, and how endlessly fascinating birds are. Like when they find a pair of bald eagles in the middle of their mating dance. They’ve all seen plenty of bald eagles, but they’ll watch this because it’s just cool.
But what the movie really wants to do is shoe-horn these characters and this situation into a really disgustingly bog-standard Hollywood story about “what’s really important in life.” The Wilson character’s wife is going through fertility treatments so they can have a kid but the marriage ends when he picks birding over her. Note: this isn’t in the book at all. Not even a little. The Martin character decides he’d rather spend more time with his new grandbaby than with birding. Also a plotline not in the book at all. The Black character finds romance on his Big Year and decides he likes her better than birds. ALSO NOT IN THE BOOK. Are we sensing a pattern here? The end of the movie: Wilson’s character “wins” the year, but is left feeling unfulfilled as he stares at a young family with a baby across a pond. Meanwhile, our other characters are the real “winners” because they’ve learned what’s really “important” in life. i.e. Not birding.
Basically, the message of the book is: Birding can get really obsessive but it’s also really awesome and attracts all kinds of interesting, driven people.
The message of the movie: Everything else is more important than birding.
What really frustrated me is the original story of The Big Year already has plenty of plot and obstacles that make for great drama without inventing all this “true meaning of life” bullshit. The person the Jack Black character is based on? Gets sick halfway through the year and is eventually diagnosed with cancer. (He lives. I guess Hollywood couldn’t figure out how to tell a story about someone with cancer who lives.)
The movie uses birding as a crutch to tell this really boring story. But it never explains why birding in the first place. What turned these people onto birding? How did they all get started and why have they all become so passionate about it? The movie never tells us. It could just as easily have been about golf or stamp collecting or curling. But I really wanted to know why birding, because then it would mean so much more when the characters start questioning their obsessions with birding.
I wish I had liked this movie better because the actors were actually pretty good — especially Black, who gets across the drive and exhaustion of someone financially struggling to make his Year happen (that is in the book) — and I enjoyed watching them interact and play out the story. But the story was just so weak. I wish the movie had trusted its subject and source material more.
May 16, 2016
Western Grebes at Barr Lake State Park. Aren’t they pretty?
So I was one of over 14,000 birders who submitted checklists for eBird’s Global Big Day. Pretty cool, huh?
The day did not go as I originally planned. I have three really great birding spots within an hour’s drive of me, and I did a triangle between them, plus a stop at the Boulder County Fairgrounds to visit the ospreys. Which seems a little like cheating, but hey, they’re there. You can see them too via this bird cam.
First off, Saturday was seriously mucking cold for this time of year. Temperature never got much above 50 F. The day started out at 38 F, with a misting rain, at the Pawnee National Grasslands. I left when my hands were shaking too much for me to look through the binoculars. And that was with gloves! But I saw some great birds like a lazuli bunting, brown thrashers, a western tanager, and some cool warblers and vireos. I want to go back to this spot. When it’s sunny and warm.
Then I hit Barr Lake State Park. It stopped raining by then, so yay! And saw some more great stuff like orioles, warblers, western grebes, a nuthatch, spotted sandpipers, and so on. Then Ty called me from the airport — he was stuck on a 6 hour layover and did I want to come have lunch with him? It just so happens that Barr Lake is about 20 minutes away from the airport, so of course I went to have lunch with him.
I almost hit a jackrabbit on the way there. Like, not a little cottontail bunny like we usually see, but a honking big mutant-legged giant jackrabbit. Whew.
After hanging out with Ty it was getting pretty late. I headed over to Walden Ponds in Boulder and was rewarded with a snowy egret. That was nice.
I just barely hit my 50 species goal. But this is not an exact science — there were a couple of species I just couldn’t ID. Like flycatchers: hey, that’s a flycatcher-shaped thing that’s kind of grayish with yellow underneath! *checks ID book* *discovers that all flycatchers are grayish with yellow underneath* *curses* I also probably spotted a couple of things that I could have counted, that I’m pretty sure on, but didn’t get a good enough look at to be sure. Like those black-capped chickadees.
I also managed to go the whole day without seeing a plain old pigeon, which is just weird.
I also got tired. Part of this was the cold, part of this was the unexpected side trip to the airport. I got to a point where I just didn’t want to look through the binoculars anymore. I probably could have chased down those pigeons and chickadees and a couple of others besides. But by the end of the day I was cold and tired and wanted to go home.
And I only did about 12 hours. eBird’s pro team was also in Colorado, birded the whole 24 hours, and got 232 species. Wow. I need to hang out with those guys just to learn from them.
I think next time (I’ll probably do this again), I may focus on just one or two spots instead of trying to cover a quarter of the state. I may try to get the scope out and really search one area rather than trying to cover a lot of ground. Take frequent breaks. Eat more and drink more water. Get better about IDing things.
Wait for a sunny day. Heh.
May 12, 2016
A couple of links for you:
My Lightspeed review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is now live. Short version: I think it’s worth a look, especially if you like medieval-fantasy action type movies.
George has posted an excerpt from the next Wild Cards book, High Stakes, which is due out later this year. I’m not in this one, but you can bet I’m reading it. I hear he also posted a chapter from the next Ice and Fire book, but I know you all are really interested in Wild Cards, right?
Also, I’m planning on a thing this weekend. eBird’s Global Big Day. You might have heard of a birding Big Year because of the movie that came out a few years ago — hardcore birders try to log as many different species as they can in a year. (I finally saw the movie last week — the book is way better, and I’m thinking of writing a review of both soon.) A Big Year is huge, but a Big Day? I think I can do that. This Saturday. For Science!
In a twist, eBird’s pro team is targeting Colorado, and I think they’re aiming for something like 200+ species. Me? 50. I think I can log 50. Mainly because I’m not going from midnight to midnight, and I’m really not that good a birder. But I have a plan, and I’m super excited to try.
It also occurs to me that this is the birding version of NaNoWriMo, which is kind of hilarious.
(If you think the Big Day sounds awesome and want to support bird research and conservation, you might think of donating.)