Monday, January 29, 2007

International House of Dissappointment


I'm not sure why, but the missus and I have been craving IHOD something fierce for, I dunno, MONTHS. Like a bad addiction to pure uncut Columbian White that eats at your nerves and breaks down your arteries until one day you find yourself selling a few quarts of plasma to some backalley surgeon named Vinnie for another sweet sweet taste of that forbidden nee--, what was I saying? Oh yeah, pancakes! Flapjakes! Hotcakes! The poor man's crepe! The attractive and socially acceptable way to eat batter soaked in tree sap for breakfast!

It's all that darn marketing, and perhaps, the fact that the restaurant has the word "Pancakes" in the title, but we really figured we were in for something special. I dunno, maybe a surly cook from the Midwest with his special batter recipe passed down through generations (all the way back to the Civil War where it was used as axle grease, a poor substitute for laudanam, and sometimes actually used to feed the fighting men). He'd be the sort who likes a little gristle on the grill and who sees no problem smoking a cigarette or twenty while making your breakfast. (Could be a function of American cinema, but the most authentic pancake I can imaginate is made by the modern day version of Cookie, that grizzly and more than a little crazy cook from Saturday Morning Westerns.) And he'd always have a special ingredient that he'd keep secret, and nobody could figure out, even though he ordered nutmeg in bulk.

And maybe the restaurant would be visited by lumberjacks or people who work in a mill of somesort. Preferably they'd have a mask of facial hair and would describe the pancakes as 'sticking to the ribs' (as if the same description used for prison shivs is somehow appealing to breakfast foods). And maybe, just maybe they have an Amish family that delivers fresh jams and produce to top onto those heavenly batter-y joys of flat breakfasty goodness. They'd say give ol' Cookie a blessing which would make him flinch while he peppers his batter with nutmeg.

The reality, as it turns out, is quite a bit different. First off, the IHOD we went to was at a mall. And malls the world over attract a certain... teenage... and/or trash of the trailer variety to it's retail utopia of faux brick walkways and overtly authentic atrium mosaics. So there's that. And then there is the constant crushing rush of a mix of humanity all dying to get some flapjacks. Now.

If you can get past all that, the meal wasn't that bad. Besides the whole food part. What I mean to say is, the coffee was hot, my 'farmer sausage' came with one entire unopened mustard pack, and I'm pretty sure the waitress didn't scrape off the whipping cream left on miche's pancakes (she ordered it without) with her name tag. Also, the pancakes were edible! And there was an array of four, count em, FOUR maple simulated Berrry™ infused cornstarch laden Syrap™ toppings! It was precisely the sort of place to take your child if you wanted to illustrate the difference between the Imagine Fairland created by the Advertising World, and the Nuts and Bolts Where the Rubber Meets the Road world of What you are Actually Paying For.

But hey, it was an experience. We didn't see any bearded lumberjacks or pancake chefs named Cookie, but sure as heck got rid of our IHOD craving. Forever.

NOTE: The real name of the pancake house has been changed to avoid slandering the guilty. It has been cleverly disguised however. Those of you used to doing 3 dimensional matrices in your head while simultaneously creating and solving 100 grid Sudoku puzzles, and playing Deep Blue via email as a nice break, may break the code.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Book Review : Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

In an effort to add more content to my blog -- besides the usually whinging and whining of a wannabe novelist -- I've decided to add book reviews. Now, I'm not one of those people who read disgustingly fast. Depending on the book, I can read at a speed approximating that of a slo motion turtle on heroin doing the moonwalk on a glacier (Atlas Shrugged) or with the voracious appetite of a 15 year old virgin reading through the instructions of a condom package (Enders Game).

Now Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a beast of a book. 1000 pages or something like that, written by an English professor. I think. A professor of something anyways. The sort of profession that loves foot notes and addendums, and boy howdy, does it show.

Summary Two magicians in Victorian Era England. Norrel teaches Strange stuff. War happens. Strange helps out. Norrel tries to wrest power from Strange. Some creepy guy with thistledown hair whisks various people to a dreary place to dance and stuff. Stuff happens. Strange and Norrel battle for supremacy.

What it's Like If Jane Austen wrote a fantasy novel, this would be it. It has that sort of tone. One gets the sensation of dreary, dull gray days spent in drawing rooms discussing social minutiae of waxy complexioned people who have more money than god but nevertheless have the constitution of an anemic Skeletor on his death bed. When you're done, you really get the sense of reading a Literary Novel. With the capital L, and the capital N. It's quite an accomplishment. If you like this sort of tone throughout, like magic, and love Victorian England, drop everything and buy this book.

Rating four scones out of a possible 23 lightly honeyed Earl Grey teas. It's good, just not something I would go out of my way to read. Again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Welcome To the Fiery-- Friendly Skies


Welcome to the Friendly Skies! We'll be cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet. Please just sit back and enjoy the flight. Your flight attendants will be by shortly to close the window shieldson the left hand side of the plane. No need to worry yourself. There is nothing of interest on that side. It's just a routine procedure. Not an effort to stop widespread panic in the plane at all. Did I say panic? There is no need to. Just look striaght ahead. Or to the right of the plane. The right of the plane has many non-exploding engi-- beautiful views.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wrong Genre?

Ah, that's a question that all writers ask themselves. Or writers of obscure genres that no one reads anymore. Sometimes a reader (meaning work or family friend) reads my stuff, and says, "but it's nothing like your msn convos/blog posts/odd etchings into the bathroom wall that I find so enlightening/humourous/pathetically amusing." Which is true.

I mean, the genre I'm currently writing in (I'm not sure I could write in any other) is called comic fantasy, or humourous fantasy, and it had it's heyday in the 80's. It still is enormously strong in the UK (as in, almost Harry Potterish strong), but it's dominated by one and one writer, Terry Pratchett. It's not very widely read except apparently by the English, between their musings on their latent and declining naval powers and that charming period that they had the entire world at their feet. All while eating crumpets and scones, of course.

So the sorts of people who I would hope would find my stuff entertaining would be the same sort who thought "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was fantastic, "The Neverending Story" was a charmer, Terry Pratchett is god, and understood almost every joke tossed into the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. This is not a large group. This is the same group that, perhaps, found programming their Texas Instruments calculators to be the height of frivolity. The sort that tivo every episode of Mythbusters. The sort who watch Battlestar Galactica mainly to point out it's deficiencies to the 80's classic. Again, a small, small group.

So my hope is that the sorts of people who enjoy the preceding activities and media will find my book mildly amusing. Perhaps enough to spend 7 bucks on it in a paperback. But maybe not. It's a long shot, as there isn't really anyone in North America writing this sort of stuff, that I know of.

But in the end, it's just the sort of stories that I would like to read. Some people who have read it abhor it. Some people don't get it at all. And a very small number think it's pretty entertaining. So don't worry if you are reading it and want to take a toothbrush to your brain in an effort to clean it free from all references of pandas named Steve. Or cheese pirates. Or multi-tiered floating cities. That's completely normal.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Email Post : Superbowl

Sure, I glean my emails for anything witty I may have intentionally or not intentionally written. What of it? The blogosphere ('ew' word of the year) is a hungry, hungry place. Like hungry hungry hippo except without the carcinogenic but oh so colourful plastic beasties and the great 80's design aesthetic.

So, without further adieu, is my email to my critiquing group regarding moving the group meeting on Sunday because of the Superbowl. Edited of course, for clarity:

And whatever this organized sport that you all seem to
know so much about, I call fraud! SuperBowl? Is that
like one of the rejected members of the Justice
League? Along with the entire Fighting Fork Four and
the Sporks for Great Justice? Honestly, if you guys
want to meet earlier, no need to make up sporting
events.

Wait, are you accusing me of not knowing my sports!? I
know my sports! Oh, I so do. Sports.. and teams.. and
.. you know, digging down deep, just trying to score
one more for the gipper. Because, it's a team effort
really, and we just watned it a little bit more than
the other guy.

Oh alright, I do know what the SuperBowl is. That's
that overhyped event where hormonally enraged men do
massive soft tissue damage over each other in order to
propel a long dead and tanned pigskin across an
arbitrary number of yards for the supposed pride of a
city which in no way contributed to the effort except
by buying their overinflated hyper-trademarked
merchandise?

But hey, I hear the ads are fantastic!

Thought of the Day #1

The more you think about humour, the more it runs away, like a best friend from your really great Amway opportunity.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thought of the Day #2 : All Natural

I heard one of the most ridiculous things on the bus a few days ago. Someone was talking about the cleanup of Stanley Park. The other person replied "Some people think we should leave it the way it is, it's natural." Let me tell you something, natural sucks.

Not that synthetic is that much better. Carcinogenic, ulcer enhancing, May Cause Stroke and Mild Blindness, easily flammable, Can Unintentionally and Spontaneously Collapse, ozone depleting, Now Made With 30% less Dinosaur Biomass. Synethetic products have a ton of undesireable traits. But it's much worse, in my opinion, to give the ethical stamp of "Oh look at me going back to the ways of the oft-malignbed and nearly wiped out indigenious people of [insert tribe du jour here] by following the natural rhythms of the land and buying this product made by this small company right in the rainforests (which had just been bought out by a mulitnational corporatijon that has more accountants than a Las Vegas bookie and more lawyers than hell (not much more, mind you)) " on products simply because they are natural.

It burns my hide. Because you know what else is natural? Opium, tobacco, mad cow disease, Montezuma's Revenge, E. Coli, nicotine, the redneck stylings of Jeff Foxworthy. That doesn't mean it's good for you. Hell, strychnine is 'natural'. And as a matter of fact, many of the natural things in the world are just trying to either a) eat you or b)well, let's face it, eat you. Why should we give chemicals and plants a free pass? They are from the same wild world that is trying it's best to get your soft, unarmored, unfanged, fleshy body into its belly. And yes, I said chemicals. Just because it comes from a plant doesn't mean its not a chemical. It only means it was made available to the public by a buncha people in lab coats with a Ph.D in Botany rather than Chemistry.

Holy Nietsche in Plaid Nickerbockers. Do I ever fricking ramble. The take home point here is that natural is not equal to good. Natural is equal to label a boardroom of marketers put on a product to "get out of skepticism free card and maybe be featured by Oprah".

Saturday, January 20, 2007

First Rejection Letter

Mmmmm, rejection. Got my very very first agent rejection a few days ago. It was pretty cool, actually, as he detailed what he didn't like about it (which apparently, is the sub-genre).That's the next best thing to an agent taking you on, as 90% of time it's form letters. Which, thinking about it, this might very well have been. Meaning this agent gets a bevy of humourous fantasy novels involving dancing pandas. Damnable saturated markets!

I know in my head that I'm going to getting alot more of these rejection letters. But, you know, it still sucks. In some ways, it's the only objective assessment of one's work. The willingingess of someone to stake part of their income on you. Because the fact of the matter is, no one you know... or probably no one you know, is willing to say "Guess what, this sucks. Hard. Like, enough to pressure wash the Empire State building." Which is also a nature of the craft. Doubly so if you are attempting to write things that are funny. Sometimes when writing, I feel like the papa fish in "Finding Nemo", the blank computer screen leaning ever so slightly in and saying "So, you're a 'humour' writer eh? Say something funny..." with that expectant pause.

I'm reminded of a really pithy, if simplistic Heinlein's Rules of Writing:
1. You must write.

2. You must finish what you write.

3. You must not revise except to editorial direction.

4. You must send out what you have written.

5. You must keep sending out things you have written until they sell.

Let me tell you, 4 and 5 are a complete bitch.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Chapter 1

So for those of you who read this blog, and are interested in my first novel, here is Chapter 1. It's titled "The Panda Is Mightier Than the Sword".

I put the text in the first comment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Writing Really Really Poorly

'Winners' of the worst first lines competition. Here's the thing. I've written PLENTY of lines like that in my writing. And not all of them are caught in editing. Oh despair!

I'm pretty sure all those 'winners' didn't intend to write poor sentences. But you just get too close to the writing. Like a myopic member of the bomb squad, you know you are working with something terribly dangerous, but you just can't see it, no matter how much you want to. No matter how strong your preference for "not being blown to small, vulture digestible chunks" is, those clunky sentences aren't going to reveal themselves.

And, if you've been reading this blog at all, you know I'm the master of clunky sentences. For me, it's a matter of attention span. Why write a single sentence to mean one idea, when you can write one sentence with twenty eight parenthetical statements, a footnote, 3 endnotes, an aside and maybe an idea or twelve? I blame my youth, young adulthood, adulthood, and any other hood i'm in for, spent on video games. Lovley, attention obliterating video games. Mmmm, focus, it's what's for dinner.

Back to writing poor sentences. Sometimes when I'm writing, it's a chore just to get out a single paragraph. Clunkiness is the name of the day. Participles hanging, gerunds, subjunctive clauses, and many more grammary things that I talk about and drop in passing but which, if pressed, I wouldn't be able to distinguish from a 2nd tier NFL football team. Or first tier. Or any tier of any sport that isn't sponsored by Nvidia™ and or Intel™. If you didn't get that joke, then there is a marked lower probability that you have a Star Trek™ uniform in your closet. Even lower chance that you have a Star Trek™ uniform in your closet not just for the kitsch value.

Out of things to say for now. Count yourself lucky, I almost had an entire post going about kitsch.

(What the hell is kitsch? Is it like, crap that's not cool unless that terribly eccentric hipster with the CDs of bands that never made it (becaause they didn't sell out (and also, because they sucked ass)) and the kicky cardigan with the ironic hammer and sickle embroidered in the sleeve says it is? It's like the cool kids arbitrarily deciding what's cool and what's not. Not that what is cool and what's not isn't completely arbitrary. I'm just against any individual having conscious input into it. Massive corporations that sell a marketing logo sewn ontop of the same sweat-shop produced garments I get at WalMart, yes, Cody down the street who finds any main stream film (or any film not film on a super 8 and written in ancient Uzbekistani) just not cool enough, no. )

Damn, it's 12:30 and I still haven't got any words down today for my book. Have at ye!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

One Weather, Two Outlooks

My wife has a decidedly Norman Rockwellian outlook on life. I mean, all things being equal, that's not the worst outlook to have on life. It allows one to enjoy musicals, www.cuteoverload.com, and Santa Parades. Not that I, cynical and sarcastic wannabe hipster elite that I am, would EVER enjoy those things. Why, I've never even heard of cuteoverload. How dare you accuse me of such things. Ok, maybe a little bit.

But invariably, I have the more gritty and sarcastic outlook on life. Where she sees the glass half full, I see it as a breeding ground for some mouth-borne illness seeing as it has clearly been drunk from. Where she sees the magic of street chistmas lights, I see hundreds of lights being powered to illuminate trees that we blissfully ignore 11 months of the year. Where she sees puppies, I see witty itty bitty cutey puppies! Er, maybe not that example. But you get the idea. Maybe this is a male-female dynamic. Maybe I'm just naturally cyncial about anything that doesn't come in a box, has screenshots on the back, and has clear indications on what the minimum PC requirements are.

So this morning went something like this. My wife, no doubt with a nice Bing Crosby song playing in her head, and the misty eyed nostalgia of New Hampshire-esque christmases we've never had, announced in a heady whisper. "It's snowing."

I replied, groggy, in the same misty-eyed tone "Snowing?". Then the part of my brain that processes sarcasm, anger, and general malice towards the world woke up. Visions of a ball-freezing ass-chapping slush-infested commute filled my mind. Without even opening my eyes I added, "Fuck."