Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the last two weeks--Part Two

So, where was I?

Oh yeah. Following the weekend where I went across the state of MI twice, watched the Red Wings lose, ran a 8k race, and listened to my published story, I crashed pretty hard on Sunday. I needed to, because there was a lot going on the following week.

See, Neil Gaiman's book Neverwhere was chosen as this year's One Book One Chicago. Those of you that know me know that Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and sort of one of my hero's. If we were in the Middle Ages, I would beg to be his apprentice, do all his chores, and sleep outside his house, learning all that I could from this master-storyteller. Nowadays that's apparently "illegal" and author's apparently will call the fascist police who will "arrest" you for "stalking." Whatever, I guess I know some people who hate freedom.

Gaiman's wrote all the Sandman comics (which are amongst my favorite comics ever), the book American Gods (which inspired "The Sparrow"), the Newberry Awarding-winning The Graveyard Book, the book Stardust (which the movie is based on), and whole slew of excellent short stories, comic books, and poems. He is who I want to be when I grow up. Sans British accent.

Neverwhere initially started out as a TV show for the BBC which Gaiman created, but wasn't happy with (due to budget restrictions) and subsequently wrote as a book. Its one of the best urban fantasy's out there. There is London Above, which normal folks like you and me walk around going about our daily lives... and there is London Below. London Below is populated by the forgotten people, people who've slipped through the cracks. It is where the myths dwell, where succubi and rat folk go to war, where souls can be kept in blue eggs for safe-keeping. In London Below, Knight's Bridge, and all the other tube stations are named quite literally. I enjoyed the book immensely when I read it years ago and quite enjoyed Lifeline Theater's adaption of it last summer. So when I found out that Neil was coming to give several talks for One Book One Chicago, I was like, "Oh hell yes I'm going to these events, no matter what the restraining orders say."

The first event was to be a conversation with Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife and Neil, held in Harold Washington Library. I've met Audrey very briefly through a friend at work. Very interesting lady. Talented writer, fantastic artist, and an eclectic conversationalist. The problem was that this was scheduled the very same evening as my guitar class at Old Town School of Folk Music. This was a bit of dilemma. I loved the class and I wasn't going to miss it (especially after paying $160 for the 8 lessons). However... NEIL GAIMAN IN CHICAGO!!! I couldn't miss that either. However, I knew he was scheduled to go to another event the following night, so I figured I'd be responsible, skip this first event and go to class. That is until I walked by Harold Washington library, saw the really cool Neverwhere poster in the library and figured, "What the hell? I can make it work."

So I waited in line, reading some newly-checked out books, and got in. Not in the room that Neil and Audrey were in. That seats only a few hundred I'm afraid. I did get into the overflow room, where I had a front seat to a giant movie screen to watch the interview live. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Many interesting things were said. I did have to leave early, sprinting across Chicago, riding trains, leaping onto buses, packing guitars and flagging down cabs, but I also made it to guitar class--only 10 minutes late. And I also had time to buy a signed copy of American Gods along the way.

One event down, one more to go. The second Gaiman talk the next day promised to be more fun than the first. The Cathedral at U of C is beautiful, though the seats in the pews aren't comfortable. (Favorite comment from the event was a college student telling her friend, "Well he's British, so of course he's ADORABLE.) " Gaiman gave a half hour reading from the pulpit (hilarious) and then a short talk followed by Q&A from the audience. No, I did not ask him anything, but we did learn, amongst other things, that HBO is talks with him to produce a show based on American Gods.

Part of the reason I think HBO initiated these talks with Gaiman is because of next item on my list of interesting things I was very excited about. See, two weekends ago, HBO PREMIERED GAME OF THRONES!!!

I've been waiting years to watch this adaptation. Game of Thrones is the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George Martin. I've posted about it before--it might be the best fantasy currently being written. That HBO has decided to adapt it makes me happy beyond belief. The first episode was amazing--as both a viewer and a fan. The reactions were so positive that HBO already decided to renew for a second season! Some say its fantasy for people who don't like fantasy. Others say its Lord of the Rings meets Sopranos or The Wire. I think its simply a beautifully written story containing some of the most fully realized human characters I've ever read. The first two episodes have been simply amazing--from acting, to setting, to special effects--they're knocking it out of the frickin' park. The geek in me is very pleased.

Not only that, but GRRM (the acronym for George R.R. Martin) just announced today that he's finished with book #5 in the series! A DANCE WITH DRAGONS IS DONE! I've been waiting for that book for five years! It comes out on July 12th and I can promise you I will have taken that day off.

Finally, a bit of an update on my story "The Sparrow" up on Cast Macabre. The editor of the site asked me to either write or record an explanation of how I came up with the story and my writing process in general. Using the free software Audacity, and my Mac's built-in mike, I recorded a two-minute on it. Its going to be posted soon. And apparently, the editor enjoyed it enough that he's interested in having me read a few of their stories!

OK, that's all for now. There's a few other things I could mention (some interesting writing and reading lately), guitar performances, running schedules, Great Books Chicago, Decepticons attacking the building where I work, interesting encounters with homeless people and bike messengers--but I'll hold off. Have to save something for the next entry!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

the last two weeks--Part One

Happy Easter folks!

So I just finished watching HBO's Game of Thrones and, at the moment, I'm sipping some mead (brought to the apartment courtesy of the lovely Jen Vanderplaats) and reflecting: I have to say it's been an pretty interesting, pretty awesome last few weeks.

I'll start the recap on Friday, April 8th. Technically two weeks and two days, but close enough, says I. Anyway, I took that day off and took the Amtrak Wolverine train back to Portage, MI to visit the family. The reason for the visit is that I bought my dad and my brother Sean tickets to the Red Wings vs. Blackhawks game at Joe Louis Arena as a Christmas gift. I try to do something like this every year, either for my mom or sisters, or my dad and my brother. Event gifts are fun, and its a good way to keep in touch with my family, since almost all of them are in Michigan.

So after spending a few pleasant hours at home, Dad, Sean, and I drove 2.5 hours to Joe Louis in Detroit to watch the game. I had a nice time talking with my dad and little brother during the drive. The game, unfortunately was a bit of a blowout. The frickin' Blackhawks scored in literally the first minute and added two more goals before the end of the first period. Halfway through the game, it was pretty clear we were in for a blowout. The three of us still had fun. Can't wait until Sean is 21 (he's 10 years younger than me--so just turned 20) and we can all have some beers. Of course, two days later the Wings had an awesome game and destroyed the Blackhawks in Chicago. Would have been nice of you to play that well for me and my family, fellas!

We drove the long 2.5 hours back and I spent the night in Portage and took a train back next afternoon to Chicago. Had to leave that afternoon, because I was running the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago Sunday morning. I have a bit of an interesting history with that race. The first time I ran it in 2005 with my very good friend and former roommate Nick Vanderkwaak and my family came to watch. Nick and I did pretty good, clocking in at around 38 minutes, just under 8 minutes per mile. I think we even qualified for a competitive start the next year. The second time next I ran it in 2006 I wasn't as fast, about 42 minutes, but it was still fun. After that race, I ran into my good friend Jackie Hurley's mom, who happens to actually be in charge of the event--which is the 2nd largest race in Chicago. She hooked me up with tickets to the Champion Tent. It was hilarious. Suffice to say, the tent was a little nicer than what the average finisher gets. There's mimosas. Chef's making omelettes. Bacon. Pastries. Fresh fruit. And here's stocky me, amongst all these stick thin elite runners. I proceeded to smuggle food out to all my non-champion friends outside the tent. The fifth time I was in line, the chef looked at me with raised eyebrows, to which I responded, "Hey, I run like a champion, I eat like a champion." The third time I signed up for the race in 2007, I... didn't run. I skipped. We had a really wild party the night before. Shame. There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

Fast forward a few years later, and I decided to make the Shamrock my first race of 2011 but it happened to be on the same weekend that I was going to the Red Wings game with Dad and Sean. No worries, I could make that work. Saturday night, after getting back from MI, I stopped off at my friend James Brock's place to get my race packet he'd picked up for me while I was watching the Wings get slaughtered. Brock and I both did the Chicago Marathon last year. The one that was hot as hell. (though not as bad as the one in 2006) This time, we told ourselves, at least we didn't have to worry about the weather. I mean, what were the chances it would be 80 degrees on April 10th?

Of course, it was 82 degrees that morning during the race. Brock and I must have pissed off God or something. Despite the shitty hot weather, I was pretty happy with my run. I've gotten a bit slower in my old age (and fatter) and I was in this case just hoping to break 50 minutes, which I did. 48 minutes. 10 minutes slower than I was 5 years ago. Running 9:44 per mile as opposed to 7:44. Hmmm. I told myself I'd have to see what I could do about that. But I'd worry about that later. After the race, Brock, Cheryl (his wife), and I met up with another friend Jamie and others, had some beers and a late brunch and called it a morning.

It was a good weekend. Not just because I got to see family, watch the Red Wings lose, or run a race with friends. That weekend I also received word that my short story "The Sparrow" was released on Cast Macabre, a podcast website (see previous post for details). It was fucking awesome to listen to a voice actor (with a British accent--to give it a touch of class) read my story. I was really happy with it. (more on that to come)

Just realized how long this entry is becoming and I've decided to split it here. Will work on Part Two tomorrow. There's still lots of interesting stuff to come!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Sparrow out on Cast Macabre!

I'm proud to be able to say that one of my stories "The Sparrow" can now be listened to on the excellent podcast site Cast Macabre.

You can go to the website linked above where it is episode #37*, download (or subscribe) via iTunes, or listen directly here.

SPOILERS: "The Sparrow" takes place in what is called the Middle Passage, a rather non-descript term used to refer to the appallingly brutal voyage slave traders took between the African continent and the United States in the 18th century. It may also feature zombies. All this to basically say that it might not be for the squeamish: there's explicit violence, gore, and language. /END SPOILERS

"The Sparrow" is now officially my most re-published story. It was first released a few years back on the now defunct Horror Library's website where it won a monthly contest. Then it was republished in the excellent e-zine Allegory. (which you can download and read from their website for $2--links on the side of my blog page)

Now its available to LISTEN to as an audio play. I have to confess I like Cast Macabre's version best! Reader Graeme Dunlop does an excellent job with the voices of the characters and the music and sound effects are superb.

Its a half hour long, but if you get a chance, please listen to it and let me know what you think.

*Odd coincidence enough, this is the second story that is an Episode #37 on a podcast (another of my stories, "Luna Springs" is Episode #37 on The Drabblecast podcast)