Monday, November 26, 2007

Chicago and the 1986-1994 Era

Over at one of the boards devoted to the band Chicago, there was a question regarding eras in the band. The question was whether or not the years 1986-1994 constitute and era. Here is my response.

I actually do consider 86-94 a distinct era...and here's why.

86-92 (with Jason and Dawayne in the band, keep the *rock* aspect of CHI alive) saw the band continuing in the vein started by Foster/Cetera: less horns, more ballads, culminating in the Arsenio performance of "You Come to My Senses." I think after that (and the zero performances of any tune from 21 in concert) that the band decided to go to the studio and make a record they wanted to make, not a record (a la 21) that the suits wanted them to make. Granted, 21 has some signs of what SOS was to be (If It Were You, God Save the Queen, Who Do You Love) but way too many songs that was the "typical Chicago sound" of the 1980s.

So they all get in a studio with a producer and create something from their heart and soul. Songs that rocked (SOS, The Pull); songs with heart (BTE, HWM); songs with rap (SITMOTBA); songs with funk (Mah-Jong); songs with a message (CFTL, ATY); songs as close to hard rock/metal that they'll ever get (GOT); and even a now traditional ballad (LTAL). Chicago 22 had it all. They loved it, they were proud of it. It was, to me, the most personal album Chicago had made since VII (when they basically made an LP for themselves [1st] and an LP for the radio [2nd]). SOS was the most adventurous CD since VII. They were ready to redefine themselves as a rock band.

Then, the suits knocked CHI to their knees. The suits shelved the CD because 'it didn't sound like Chicago.' I bet these were the suits who thought 16 was CHI's first album. The band's reaction was where we are now. Dawayne left CHI and, to me, Chicago ceased to become a ROCK band with horns. CHI then became, I hate to admit it, an oldies act. Their soul was gone. Now, they just went through the motions.

Granted that N&D and 25 showed incredible talent in arranging and performing (N&D tour was awesome, especially the unplugged part) but the band's heart was not in it. Even the '2 New Songs' from the HOC and XXVI CDs (good songs, mind you) were cut from the 'now traditional Chicago sound' mold. And then, with XXX, you did get some decent songs (tracks 7-12) that harken back to the good old days. But you can tell where the focus was: the new, traditional Chicago sound (tracks 1-7). I mean, serious, why would you *even* create a single by *Chicago* without horns?

These guys are immensely talented. Just witness the various solo CDs. But as far as Chicago goes, they are taking it easy. And, shoot, why not? They are in their 60s and make a great living playing great songs to great fans.

So, yeah, to me, 86-94 was an era. And now we're in another era: 95-end. But no matter what, this band is, and will forever remain, my favorite band.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Novel Update

Since my last entry, I've only written about 400+ new words. As of today, I'm stopping the old/new words list. It's now just total words. No, that's not the way NNWM's supposed to be but there it is.

Why? Because I now know my entire book in my head! I have mapped it all out, scene-by-scene, with Acts I, II, III. I've got the grand finale and, I think, a fantastic ending. It's full speed ahead from now on. Who knows? I might even finish this puppy by 30 November.

For the sake of numbers, I'm up to 14,247 words.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

NaNoWriMo - Update 2

I got some great feedback from my writing group last night. I gave them my new Chapter 2.

NNWM Word count = 3500
Total word count = 11,400

Monday, November 5, 2007

NaNoWriMo - Word Count Update

During my lunch hour, I banged out my new chapter 2 and revised my old chapter 3. Remember: I am only counting *new* words for the sake of the NNWM month.

New words = 2810.
Total words (including previous material) = 6400.

The beauty of my storyboarding technique is that I never have to ponder what to write when I have a chance to sit down and write. I look at the next scene in line, visualize it, and write it down. And, to be honest, when I'm in the process of writing a book, I'm rarely not thinking about it. As a result, I visualize many scenes in advance. So my writing time is merely recording of the details of the scenes already in my head. I have 38+ scenes mapped out that will take me to the 90% mark of the book. I know the ending (I think) but I'm leaving the last 10% open to chance.

This is the first time since I finished my first novel in June 2006 where all the cylinders are firing and writing--the actual business of typing words on a page, not just the conceptualizing--is fun again.


NaNoWriMo - Update

Okay, so I did not get off to a good *writing* start. I have yet to write a *new* word. (I say "New word" because, as I mentioned, I have already started portions of this book. I just plan to finish it in this month.)

However, I did get off to a great structural start. As of today, I finally have the entire book mapped out, scene-by-scene, from the beginning to the end. So I think the weekend was a success. I ran the overview by my wife and got the thumbs up. So, today, I start writing new words.

This is very exciting.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

NaNoWriMo and That Previously-mentioned Rut

Well, it turns out that the rut was deeper than I expected. No sooner than I had two great ideas and a method for my approach to the writing of both projects that I began to second guess myself. Not a good things for a writer to do.

My biggest obstacle was doubting the connection in my main story, the Houston crime story with my female detective. There were scenes and events that, to *me*, seemed coincidental. When I brought that up with my author friend, Victoria Graydale (see links), she commented that come of the things I deemed coincidental or too easy were not. Wonderful encouragement. Makes my original story ideas seem okay.

So, how to start again? Well, why not join NaNoWriMo? Two of my friends are signing up and I guess I got swept up in their enthusiasm. Granted, I have already started writing my second novel so I won't be starting from the proverbial blank page. But I will be complying with the spirit of the game if not the letter of the law. Whatever word count number I come up with, I'll basically write 50,000 words beyond that. So, I'll end up with a 50,000+ book but I will have written 50,000 new words this month.

I expect NaNoWriMo to accomplish two things for me. One, I expect to complete my second novel in 30 days. Then, I can begin editing it. Two, I expect to get back in the habit of writing something, anything, every day. This blog will be part of that. That will make this blog more fun to visit as I'll be blogging about the NaNoWriMo experience.

Then there is this other thing. I fancy myself as a wanna-be crime novelist and that does include the pulp fiction aspect. I just picked up the latest Hard Case Crime novel, Mickey Spillane's last novel, "Dead Street." (There's a nice review here at Entertainment Weekly). Back in the day, writers churned out short stories in days and novels in weeks. And they kept doing it over and over. It enabled their job to be writer rather than something else. Even modern writers such as Charlie Huston have commented that the pace of their writing enables their career. I finished my first novel in June 2006 and I have yet to write my second. It's infuriating because the only person to blame is myself.

Now, I'm taking charge again. I want to be a professional writer. To do so, I need to write. To date, I have not. That changes. Today.

And I'm off...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I *Was* Stuck in a Rut

There seem to be two main enemies that writers face: Writer’s Block and Motivation. I have never had a problem with the former. In fact, I have so many ideas running around in my head that I know I could make some of them into coherent stories with little trouble. I struggle with the latter more often than not. And it’s never one of “What should I write” because, like I just mentioned, I *know* what I want to write about. It’s usually the *how*.

I am writing my second novel, a Crime Story set here in Houston. On paper, I started working on it in early fall 2006. In fact, over the 2007 Labor Day weekend, as my family and I did our new tradition of going to Camp Allen, I read my journal entry from 2006. I then noted that I had made a breakthrough on the new story. And the story is still not finished. I am on my fourth attempt at getting these character to act and talk. I know, flat-out, what this story is about. It’s how to tell it and whom should tell it.

Where I am now (female detective is the lead POV) is the best way of telling this story. Once I made that realization, the entire book fell into place. What I next struggled with is style. Elmore Leonard once commented that he developed his unique style only after writing a million words. I look at my first draft of my first novel (114,000 words) and realize I have about 10 more books to write until I reach that mark. So, I better get moving, hadn’t I?

I also decided to make this new story a multiple-POV story. You see, I have my female detective, an ex-con trying to make a life for himself out of the slammer, and an evacuee (among other) who are trying to cope with the loss of their city (NOLA) while living in a new city (Houston). I mean, some of the scenes just write themselves. But I fret over my style. Is it edgy enough? Does it flow right? Does it feel right? Is the reader going to care about these people? I am the first reader and, well, I care for them. And its my job to make the other readers care, too. That’s where I am on that.

Then, just this past Sunday, the theme of that morning’s sermon awoke my original inclination on how I saw this story, that is, the ex-con as the lead POV character and his struggle to stay out of jail and out of police stations. And the sermon quoted Micah 6:8 (change the translation selection to get different takes on the words). I mean, is that not a life’s mission statement in a few simple words? The end result? I started writing the ex-con’s ‘origin story’…and I’m up to chapter 3 already.

Originally, the crime story was the ex-con’s origin story but that did not feel right. Now, it’s after his ‘origin.’ But the new story I just started? That’s the new origin story.

So, I am now writing *two* novels. Granted, as one takes off, I’m likely to let the other one slip. But the Origin Story I’m writing long-hand and the Crime Story I’m writing straight on the Mac. Helps keep them straight.

That’s the update…

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Treason at Hanford: Now an Award-winning Manuscript

Over the weekend, I attended the Ft. Bend Writer's Conference. It was a wonderful day and I met some great folks (Hey Dawn and Joe!). The subject of the conference was screen writing. Granted, I'm still working on my novels but most of the tips can apply to novels as well as screenplays.

Anyway, I entered Treason at Hanford into the Novel-Writing Contest...and won third place. There were others who tied for 3rd with me but the simple fact is I Won Third Place. Yippee!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Nostalgia Triggers

I don’t know about y’all but almost anything can trigger a nostalgia trip for me. It can be a smell, a song, seeing and holding something from my past, etc. It doesn’t matter. And there are two seasons of the year that trigger the greatest nostalgia: summer and Christmas. I’m probably not alone with that.

Lately, since my 5-year-old is growing up, my trips have been back to my own childhood. This summer has two very different trips. One, of course, is the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. That shot me back to the summer of 1977 (and 1978, a year early). The other is the realization that 20 years ago, I was preparing to go to college at The University of Texas at Austin. Hook’em.

There are times where I aim to trigger the nostalgia myself. In trying to figure out what to eat for lunch, I settled on McDonald’s and its wonderful sandwich, the Big Mac. Why is this an important milestone for me? Well, as I was a growing boy, Mickey D’s was the closest fast food restaurant to our house so we’d go there a lot. It was also on the way to our church. Back then, ordering a Big Mac and actually eating it was a goal I had. I can remember the first time I did it. My dad and I were going to an astronomy club meeting at the local high school. I was not yet a high schooler. I ordered a Big Mac, complete with its environmentally UN-friendly Styrofoam container, and I ate the whole thing. I even went home and told my mom. It was that big a deal.

Nowadays, of course, with the expanding waistline problem and the lack of physical activity to rival my childhood, I eat Big Mac rarely. But when I do go to Mickey D’s, I almost always order a Big Mac. And today’s Big Mac is especially tasty. And I'm ten-years-old again. And it's summer. And I'm smiling.

What are y’all’s favorite nostalgia triggers?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Return to the Comic Book Store

Over this past weekend, for the first time in years—I think I calculated it to before my five-and-a-half year old son was born—I went into a comic store. And not just any store but the one I used to go to every Saturday: Third Planet here in Houston. Every Saturday, I would have breakfast with my grandfather and we’d talk. Then, I’d mow his lawn and he’d overpay me for the work, as grandfathers are wont to do. With fresh cash in hand, I’d go to Third Planet and buy the latest issues of all my favorite books.

I’m a DC man, always have been. I like Marvel characters but I always gravitate toward the DCU. So, on Friday last, as my son looked at all the Star Wars memorabilia (see, I trained him well), I talked with one of the guys who worked there about the state of Marvel and DC. His only comment on Marvel was “This is not the time to get into Marvel.” Okay, I thought, done. And then he proceeded to tell me what’s what in the DCU. Quite interesting, stuff.

What got me in there in the first place was a link from some website about a new version of The Brave and the Bold. That book was my favorite book when I was growing up. I have at least 125 of the 200 issues. And, since Batman was (and is) my favorite character, having him team up with various members of the DCU was cool The old DC Comics Presents (where Superman teamed up with other characters) was fine but BatB was better.

I ended up buying issue #1 of the new BatB and read it that night. It was like going back in time. I blazed through it, enjoying the George Perez art (he’s still one of the best) and the mere fact I was reading an actual comic book. I have kept somewhat current with DC Comics through the trade paperbacks issued every year. Honestly, that’s the best way to read an entire story: when all the issues are collected and there’s new front and back matter by the artists and writers. In fact, I liked the new issue so much that I went back to the comic store and bought issues 2-6, the current one. And, at the current cover price of $2.95, I don’t’ know how modern kids keep it up. Back when I was buying comics, the special Annuals were $1.00 and the books were $0.25 to $0.75 cents. It was a travesty when comics went to $1.00 for a regular issue and the Annuals were even more.

It’s neat to be reading comics again. It’s another link to my childhood that still exists for me. Star Wars will always be there and, I think, comics will, too. I think now to those young’uns for whom Harry Potter represents childhood. I wonder if, in the future, when they read the adventures of Harry Potter to their children, if the feelings of childhood will return for them. I think so.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Deathly Hallows Completed...

SPOILER to Dealthly Hallows in Paragraph #1:

This is my immediate reaction to finishing Deathly Hallows, which I did Thursday, 7/26. I will write about my reactions to the content later.

There is something churning inside of me…and I don’t know what it is. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last night at 1:22am so I cannot discount fatigue. It did not help that my son woke up twice last night, around 2am and again around3:30. the second time was because he was scared and my mind flitted to the epilogue of Deathly Hallows where Harry himself is a parent, comforting his middle child on his first trip to Hogwarts.

So it might be fatigue. Another part, too, is the inevitable sense of loss and emptiness I feel for having completed the saga, having made it to the finish line with good friends and allies. We readers all knew the was coming, we all couldn’t wait to know how it all turned out but dreaded that very thing. We all wanted to savor these last few, never-been-read pages. Sure, we can—and we will—re-read these books but we’ll never agin have that feeling we had during one glorious week (or days or hours) in July 2007.

Now we must all ask ourselves “What’s next?” What other book can capture us the way J.K. Rowling’s books did? Before 21 July, I was reading Elmore Leonard’s first novel, a western. Now, it seems so quaint. I loved the epic nature of Harry’s story, his journey. I want that again. But, I think, reading only epics would dilute their grandeur, so I won’t. There’s always Stephen King’s Dark Tower series but that’s something else entirely.

Fatigue, loss and emptiness, longing for what’s next. That pretty much leaves only one thing: write one myself. Not a Harry Potter fan fiction piece, but a full-fledged epic. Maybe not seven books but something. But I’m not sure I’m ready yet. I think I need year on me, practice. JKR didn’t need practice, you say, and maybe I don’t either. We’ll see. But right now—as this little missive here demonstrates—writing is a salve and it burns within me to do only one thing: write.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Laziness is Next to...

My friend Doug has written about his current state of Non-Writing-Ness over at his blog. He talks about the differences in writing that first and second novel. He outlined his first but with his second, he is "flying blind." And that got me to thinking about my first two books.

My first novel, the Harry Truman mystery novel, Treason at Hanford, I decided to outline the entire book from start to finish. Back in 2005 when I was first writing that book, I learned that F. Scott Fitzgerald outlined all of his books. Hey, I thought, if he did it, why not me? And I also learned that even though outlining was a form of structure, the words and text took on a life of their own, revealing themselves in little nuances here and there. Another good factor about my outlining--I did it in scenes, written on note cards, and thumbtacked to a cork board--process was that in those precious two hours a day I had to write (10pm-midnight), I did not have any 'starting at the ceiling' moments. I knew exactly what I was to write that day. It helped. I wrote my first book in a little over 8 months.

With my second, however, things have changed. I am writing a contemporary crime novel set here in Houston post-Katrina. And, since I outlined the first book, I kept to that tradition. And I've found myself in Outline Hell! For the longest time, I told myself "You can't start writing until you know how the book ends." That has led to paralysis. I keep trying to figure out what the book was about and whom should be the focus. I keep trying to make the book perfect from the get-go. Wrong idea.

Originally, I had as my main character a black, ex-con, former enforcer, out of prison and seeking redemption. Now, my main character is a white, female, HPD detective with a streak of compassion running through her. How's that for a shift in focus?

But lately, I've made two crucial decisions and it all stems from the mantra Get It Written. One, I've decided to make my story a multiple-POV story. My ex-con, my detective, and some of the New Orleans evacuees will all share top billing and I will have certain chapters from each person's POV. That's a far cry from my original first-person POV versions of the book (I'm on version 4 now). Two, I'm just going to write it all down and if, after I've done that, the book does not flow with all of these characters, I'll trim it back. But I'll have the text down. As it is right now, I have nearly 100pp of written material...most of which I can't use. But it has all led me to this moment: Just Get It Written.

And, I've abandoned my intense desire to have the book 100% outlined before I start. I have 75-80% of it in my head and written down and I know how I'd like the book to end. It's just that the parts just after Act II ends and the big finale that are cloudy. But, I'm forging ahead.

I originally wanted the book finished by Memorial Day 2007 so I could shop it at the MWA-Southwest conference in Dallas back in June 2007. Then, I decided to complete the first draft by Labor Day 2007. Now, while I'll have a good chunk written by then, I'm not sure I'll have the entire thing finished. But I'll be well on my way. And, with a complete draft ready by the fall, I'll be able to start shopping my second novel around while I write/submit some short stories and start to work on Novel #3: probably a SF book. We'll see.

Oh, and once I get the software and hardware necessary, I'll be podcasting my Harry Truman novel over at And, if that goes well, I'll podcast my second book. It's an adventure, writing, but it is a glorious one.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Last Blog before the Deathly Hallows

It is now 9:42pm on Friday, 20 July 2007. Zero Hour is 137 minutes away. Wow. I have not felt this excited since Revenge of the Sith back in 2005.

I have just reviewed my list of predictions. I basically stand by them. I have learned since then that the true definition of 'half-blood' is *any* Muggle blood in your ancestry, not just one of your immediate parents. So, the Lily-losing-her-powers thing is one I should officially withdraw. But, the good thing is that if it *does* turn out to be true, I did see it.

The reason I'm writing tonight is that I was thinking about the prophesy. And I even did the daring thing of looking it up on Wiki tonight, complete with my eyes narrowed just in case a spoiler comes out. Here is the prophesy:

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."

Now, I'm still thinking that Harry will sacrifice himself...but the second to last line of the prophesy does leave the door cracked for Harry living. One must die. That is a given. You KNOW it ain't going to be Voldemort. So, that might be JKR's out. But I still can't see Harry and Ginny just living happily ever after having experienced so much. Who knows? We all will, starting tomorrow.

I can't wait. See y'all on the other side.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Voice of Harry Potter is Coming to Houston

In preparation for this week's release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I have been reading quite a number of articles online. The Washington Post has the Hogwarts Hub. Be sure to read the excellent essay, "Proud to be a Potterhead," by Sabaa Saleem Tahir. I'd be willing to bet that many adults followed the same path to Harry as her husband.

Today, in the New York Times, brings a great article about Jim Dale, the voice of Harry Potter for us Americans. In the article, I read the following magical words:

"After the book is released, he will do a tour of Houston, Washington, Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C."

A quick Google search led me to the delightful revelation that Mr. Dale is coming to Blue Willow Bookshop, the great little independent bookstore near my house. I called just now and they still have tickets. Give'em a shout.

I have already extolled the wonders of Mr. Dale's reading in my earlier Harry Potter posts. Now, I get to see him live.

I have to admit: as a Star Wars geek, I did not think anything would come close to the feeling of excitement I got from waiting on all the new movies, especially The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Waiting for Book 7 (with all of its double-edged feelings of excitement and dread at the end of the journey) comes close.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Epiphanies Or Why Was I Not Already Doing It?

Epiphanies are funny. They provide that moment of clarity that, for whatever reason, you didn’t have before. Most epiphanies—at least mine—prompt you to say “Yo, dude, why hadn’t you been doing that before now? Why did it take, well, an epiphany to show you?” I can never answer, really. I always just chalk it up to “It Wasn’t the Right Time”.

So, there I was, sitting in front of my computer, and I read SFSignal’s report of Day 1 of ApolloCon. Dang, if it wasn’t in Houston, my hometown and where I now reside. Why the heck didn’t I know about this? And much of the focus was on SF/F *writing*. Aw man! And, the capper: David Hartwell, the editor of the Year’s Best SF anthologies published every year. The latest is Number 12. Again, I asked myself: why wasn’t I there?

Grumpily, I tell my wife about the ApolloCon and her first response was this: “Geek as you are, how did you not know about it?” Leave it to spouses to reinforce everything. My answer: well, I have not been paying attention to SF because I’m writing a straight mystery after my historical mystery. And that’s when I dawned on me: why am I doing that? Why, indeed.

Chris Roberson said it best in this interview:

“Science fiction is my native culture. (I'm stealing this phrase from someone else, but I can't for the life of me remember who originally said it. If no one steps forward, I'll claim it as my own.) Growing up in the States in the seventies and eighties, science fiction was ubiquitous. Everything from Saturday-morning cartoons to comic books to late-night B-movies to pulp novel reprints to blockbuster summer movies--it was all science fiction, in one form or another.

So I…decided not to fight it anymore.”

Bingo! That’s me, too. I mean, I have already written about how Star Wars changed my life and my love for the Harry Potter books. Why am I not writing anything science fictional? Dunno. But I’m starting now.

I took out my ideas book (Yeah, SF geek that I am, I still love the hard copy experience when compiling ideas) and wrote down all the various ideas that have been floating in my head for the past year. All of these that I have abandoned in some bizarre culling method to get to just ‘real’ stuff. Whatever.

Oh, and I bought Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF 12. Got to know what kind of stories that are being compiled in year’s best anthologies so I can, someday, get my work in there, too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Writing that First Chapter...Finally!

Later on, when I finish my next novel, I can credit both my friend, Victoria Graydale, and Elmore Leonard for getting me off the snide and writing the first chapter. Last night, I attended a book signing for Graydale’s first novel, The Wizard’s Daughter, at OoLaLa in Houston, TX. It was the first book signing by an author I already know. And it was tres cool. Just seeing her there, copies of her book piled on the table, her artist bio poster acting as a backdrop, big smile on her face was a great feeling. And it reinforced my desire to do the same thing: have a signing for my books.

So how does Elmore Leonard come into play? I am reading (actually listening to the audiobook via his latest book, Up in Honey’s Room. I am greatly enjoying it, especially his co-star, Carl Webster. The reader does an especially fine job of conveying the speaking style of Carl, a boy who was born in Oklahoma in 1906, and all the other characters in Detroit of 1945.

But it is Leonard’s casual prose styling that I’ve been paying most attention to. His style is not flashy, just straightforward. As I have listened to this story, I remembered what my wife said to me as I tried, in vain, to write chapter 1. You are the storyteller, she said, so just tell me the story. I protested. But my wont is to be flashy, literary, unique. She smiled, and just repeated what she had just said: just tell me the story.

And I took that advice to heart last night. I pounded out six pages of text. And it felt good. It flowed nicely. So, I’m on the road. Thanks to Victoria and Elmore. See y’all on the other side.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chicago III (1971): An Appreciation

Over at the Chicagofans site (free registration required), there is a new discussion about Chicago III (1971). For those who don’t know, III was Chicago’s third straight double-LP in two years. Later in 1971, they would release the 4-LP Chicago at Carnegie Hall. Impressive debut, if you ask me. Ten LPs, totaling 20 sides of music from 1969-1971.

Anyway, the consensus is mixed on III. Some love its obvious musical experimentation while some hate the mix or the overlong songs. In order to get my take on III, you have to know how I break down Chicago’s catalog. There was the Originals, that is 1967-1977. This included their first LP (Chicago Transit Authority) through Chicago XI. In January 1977, original guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath accidentally shot himself. So, no matter how good Chicago would go on to become, there was always a tinge of loss.

Of the decade that I call the Originals, Chicago at Carnegie Hall (usually given the moniker IV) marked a natural break. After IV, Chicago released its first single LP, the phenomenal Chicago V (1972) which walked the tightrope of long pieces and radio-friendly shorter songs. Chicago VI was more even more radio-friendly. By the time Chicago VII was released, the band’s last double-LP to date, Chicago was a radio-friendly band. How did they know that? Lots of fans dismissed LP#1 of Chicago VII, which had long instrumental tracks of more musical experimentation. Fans in concert grew bored with these longer passages and Chicago learned from that.

All this is to allow me to put Chicago III in context. While LP#1 of Chicago VII was their attempt to *return* to their experimental time, Chicago III was made when they were in the *middle* of it. You can tell they did not care about song lengths because they made three suites of music. And with four sides of music, only side 1/LP1 did not contain a suite. In their minds, they were creating extended musical statements, not necessarily extended solos.

Chicago III was, to my mind, the last record they made *for themselves* until 1993 and the still-unreleased Stone of Sisyphus. They did whatever they wanted. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young? Check with “Flight 602.” Classically-oriented horn piece? Check with “Elegy.” Environmental song? Check with “Mother,” a fascinating horn piece where trombonist Jimmy Pankow solos alongside…Jimmy Pankow. Latin-inspired number? Check with “Happy Cause I’m Going Home.” Social commentary? Check with the ending of Elegy, the Travel Suite, and Robert Lamm’s reading of “When All the Laughter Dies in Sorrow.” Killer guitar solo by Terry Kath? Check with "Sing a Mean Tune Kid." A couple of radio-friendly pieces? Check with “Lowdown” and “Free,” the latter of which includes on of the best horn breaks in all of Chicago’s oeuvre.

And then there's that album cover design of the logo... It evokes life in America during the final years of Vietnam. And the album insert had all seven band members dressed in various military uniforms posing in Arlington National Cemetery.

How do I rank III? While I have never ranked it among my Top 5 favorite records (CTA, II, Stone of Sisyphus, V, 17), it is in the top 10, usually jockeying with VII for positions number 6 or 7.

In short, Chicago III has a little bit of everything. And that might be its undoing in the eyes of many fans. There are other, more streamlined and precise LPs, even in the early catalog. But III, as a whole, is a bit untidy. And that, to me, is one of its graces.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Podcasting and the Future

I just finished listening to an interview with Scott Sigler over at Adventures in SciFi Publishing. Sigler podcasted his books and gained an actual print contract because of it. Just hearing his enthusiasm for the medium and the new way to get books out to people is infectious.

I am an avid listener of audiobooks. With a 45-minute (one-way) commute, I get more books read via audiobook than I do via hard copy. I have already given thought to podcasting Treason at Hanford. Now, with the success of Sigler’s (and others at, I’m thinking that I definitely will podcast Treason. It is very, very exciting to ponder the possibilities…but not without realizing that it will not be easy. It will take hard work. The good thing is that I’m willing to do it.

Now, I just need to test my sound system and make sure I have good enough quality audio equipment. Stay tuned...

My take on Springsteen's "Born to Run"

I originally wrote this in 2002 after Springsteen's The Rising was released.

“Born to Run” has many elements that make it one of the quintessential rock and roll songs. It has meaningful lyrics that do not pander but tell it like it is for many people: isolation, desolation, searching, redemption. The fury with which the original blasted through the speakers is tempered only by the solo acoustic version of 1988. The fury with which the music is played counterpoints the desperation of the lyrics, the search for something better in life and in love. And, I could argue, the sax solo is the climax of the love affair between the singer and Wendy. After they are spent, they realize that there is still the search for 'that place in the sun,' a search that may never be resolved. But, they are together and, together, they will search.

And the more-adult, older Bruce that sings BTR with only his acoustic guitar is, one could argue, talking to the singer of BTR from the vantage point of age. Bruce, with his failed first marriage and the infidelities within, lived the life of one of his characters. The Bruce of 1988 is telling the Bruce of 1975 that even when you might think you have everything, it can crumble and leave you lower than before. So, the search continues and, the redemption [for all of its faults] is the love of a wife and children that he sings about on his 1992 CDs, Human Touch and Lucky Town.

In light of the redemptive qualities from his 2002 CD, The Rising, “Born to Run” is bittersweet. It is redemptive but still tentative.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Politics, Harry Potter, and Modern Culture

If you remember my earlier column detailing why I started reading the Harry Potter series this spring (21 May, "Reading Harry Potter"), here's another example of how aspects of the Harry Potter series has crept into our vocabulary (as well as a couple of other dreadful folks as well).

Here is the quote from this article:

Given the standing of these men at this moment, it was a little like watching Lord Voldemort trying to defend himself with character testimonies from Sauron of Mordor and the White Witch from Narnia.

Now that I've finished books 1-6, I know exactly what the author is talking about and can smile knowingly.

As, as a marker for history to judge, the title of that article is "The Democrats can't lose. Except in two ways." Hmm, let's see if this article is available during the first week of November 2008.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Summer Reading List

Now that I have finished the first six books of the Harry Potter series, here are the rest of the books that are on my summer reading list.

  • The Wizard’s Daughter by Victoria Graydale – a first novel by a friend of mine. The more I discuss promotional possibilities about her book the more I can’t wait for my first novel to find a publisher so I can get on with my writing career.
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon – Chabon is that unique writer who can be at home both in the geek world of genre literature and the frou-frou world of Literature. In fact, his 2001 book, The Adventure of Kavalier and Clay did both…and won him the Pulitzer. Now, he’s crafted an alternate history, noir, detective novel set in Alaska where the Jewish nation was not created in the Middle East but in the town of Sitka. Chabon’s prose is what makes him special. Oh, to write close to that…
  • Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard – The Dialogue Master. Leonard’s way of writing is to get characters together, get them talking, and see what happens. That’s not exactly my way of doing things—so far, I’m an outliner because I like to plan my books and stories—but Leonard’s books are just plain fun.
  • The Overlook by Michael Connelly – The revised Harry Bosch story first published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I created an eBook version of the NYT story and, as a writer, it is fascinating to compare the two works and figure out why Connelly made certain corrections. It shall be a lesson in writing and a dang good story. I recently met him at a book signing and he inscribed the neatest thing for me: “Writing is fighting. I hope you knock them out.”
  • Short Science Fiction – For a few years, every summer I would buy both Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and David Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF. I don’t have a lot of time to read so I let them cull the field and then I’d read those stories. I got behind so I’m working my way through the ones I already have, both to finish the books as well as research into the current state of SF. I plan to publish SF in my writing career as well as historical novels and mysteries.
  • The Space Opera Renaissance - I am curious about space opera in the printed world. Sure, the movie/TV stuff is easy to watch and like: Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, the Adventure of Brisco County, Jr. But how did it evolve in the printed world. That's a question for the summer, too.
  • Heinlein’s YA Books – Ever since visiting DisneyWorld in April, the world of YA fiction has awakened in me. I’d like to try my hand at it. And since I can’t determine if my stories should be SF or straight-up mysteries, I’m starting with Heinlein’s classics: Have Spacesuit Will Travel, The Rolling Stones, and Citizen of the Galaxy. Why those? Because the library has audiobook versions.
  • Audiobooks – speaking of audiobooks, here is my list of audiobooks I’ll be listening to this summer: Boomsday, Nixon and Kissenger, Kingdom Keepers (another DisneyWorld connection), and Walt Disney’s biography.
  • One Hundred years of Solitude – It’s just one of those books I’ve wanted to read for about 15 years now. I know I should. Perhaps this will be the summer it happens.

That’s about all for now. This list keeps churning and changing so I’ll update it when necessary.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" and Modern Life

D-Day + 63 years.

I watched “The Day the Earth Stood Still” last night. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it all the way through because I did not recognize hardly anything past the first five minutes. Among the interesting extras on the DVD was a 1951 newsreel clip. I watched it first so it set the tone before I watched the movie. I have a couple of thoughts about the film.

One, the movie is a perfect reflection of its time. The Korean War was raging, the Communists seemed to be everywhere, the Soviets had the A-Bomb, and a sense of unease permeated the country despite the happy diversions of radio and the then-emerging TV. It makes me wonder what the equivalent movie and story would be for 2007. Is there a way to illustrate our current malaise in an SF allegory or trope? That might be the new question of the summer.

Two, the nostalgic longing. I rarely get nostalgic for something I never knew. I have always enjoyed living in the time I have lived. That said, the seemingly ‘more simple time’ aspect of TDTESS was nice. Heck, I even liked the communal aspect of the boarding house in which Patricia Neal and her son lived. Granted, as a parent, the fact that she’d let her son wander the city with Klaatu (‘disguised’ as Mr. Carpenter), a man who just moved into the boarding house the previous day, a little disconcerting but that was the time. That was the time before JFK was killed, before MLK and RFK were killed, before Vietnam, before Watergate, and way before 9/11. Is it wrong to want to go back and live the more simple life, a less complicated life? There is so much to appreciate in the world of today but there is also much more complications. But it’s how we deal with both the good and bad things in life that define us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Thoughts on Bruce Springsteen's New DVD: Live in Dublin

Today, released on DVD, CD, or a combination of both, is Bruce Springsteen’s Live in Dublin. For those who don’t know, this is a concert from Dublin with the Boss and his Seeger Sessions band. For press releases, go to his website.

I am a Springsteen fan. I used to not be—as recently as 1984, I called him the Constipation King because of the way he sounded—but I changed my mind with Tunnel of Love and have been a fan ever since. Admittedly, upon merely reading the Bruce was going to record some old folk songs as the follow-up to his acoustic “Devils and Dust” gave me trepidation. AS much as I love Springsteen, I prefer the band version over the acoustic version. But when I heard the actual CD (buy the second release with more songs, the American Land edition), I was pleasantly surprised. Even my wife—who considers Springsteen to be, at best, the third-most-important “Bruce” behind Cockburn and Hornsby—was interested to listen to some of the songs. She still does not like Springsteen all that much but appreciated the effort.

Now, comes the DVD of the concert. I missed the show because he did not bring his show to Houston. Bummer for me. But this DVD is fantastic. And the music is so much fun! I have always enjoyed Springsteen penchant for reinventing his songs in concert. I don’t’ necessarily want to hear the exact studio versions live. I want something different. And the Live in Dublin DVD delivers.

As a long-time fan, I enjoyed hearing what he’s done with the older songs in his catalog. “Atlantic City,” which already got the band treatment, is led off by banjo. It’s now a song that could have a home in Mississippi. “If I Should Fall Behind” has become something else entirely. Now, it is a husband and wife duet that rises to sensuality. And “Open All Night” is simply terrific. It might be my favorite song upon one listening. It’s a hootenanny. It’s swingin’, rappin’, foot-tappin’. I dare you to sit still when this song plays. And the newer Seeger Sessions songs get revamped as well. “Pay Me My Money Down” and “Old Dan Tucker” are just as lively as ever with extensive room for solo works. Since the show was filmed in Dublin, there is a good dose of Irish-sounding work throughout. And whoever heard of “When the Saints Go Marching In” as a ballad? It works.

Oh, and as a sax player, I loved the extensive use of the horn section, including the bari sax on the aforementioned “Open All Night.” And that trumpet player is just nasty good.

If I had to describe this concert in one word, it would be raucous. But I can’t just use one word. It is raucous, spiritual, fantastic, alive, fun…. It’s that good. Go buy it. Now.

Harry Potter and the Caught-Up Reader

A few thoughts today:

  • I’m finally finished! Now, I can read something else.
  • (sinking feeling of emptiness) I’m finished…I guess I’ll have to read something else…

Those are my contradictory thoughts on finishing Harry Potter books 1-6. In April, I decided to catch up with a large percentage of the world and get ready for Book 7 this summer. I have read nothing but Harry Potter since 22 April. I did the math last night: 6 books (of 3300+ pages) in 6 weeks. That was 550 pages a week, 78 pages a day. I have not read that much so fast since, perhaps elementary school when I blazed through Hardy Boys and Three Investigators books. As I mentioned in a prior post, the audiobook-in-the-day/real-book-at-night thing was great. I was never without Harry Potter and his friends. And the ending of the sixth book (I’m talking the last pages of the last chapter) really foreshadowed the feeling we all will get later this summer when we’ve all bought and read Book 7: life without Harry Potter will be upon us.

A few thoughts. I expected Ron and Hermoine to be together by now. The movies hinted at it quicker than the books. That surprised me. Harry and Ginny getting together. That was nice although I did not see it coming until Rowling wrote about Harry’s feelings. Makes sense, though. Draco’s hesitancy at killing Dumbledore was good to see. It showed his fa├žade as a ruthless person. Like the actor who plays Lucious said in the extras for the Chamber of Secrets movie, he wanted the audience to have some sympathy for Draco. Now, just like Harry, we actually do. It would be cool to have Harry save Draco in the sixth book.

So, like a lot of people, I’d like to write my Top-10 predictions. Why? Because that’s what I do. For those who still want to experience the joy of these books, stop reading now. SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.

  1. Snape is not purely evil nor is he purely on Voldemort’s side. Dumbledore has proof of Snape’s decision to be on Dumbledore’s side. I still trust Dumbledore. But, also, Draco said Snape is a double agent. Snape has his own agenda. And I think that somehow, somewhen, he made an unbreakable vow to James and/or Lily to look after and protect Harry. How else can you explain his actions against Harry at the end of Book 6. Snape could have easily just killed Harry but even in his flight, Snape kept teaching Harry, all but saying “The only way you can get me (and Voldemort) is to learn to cast spells without using your voice.”
  2. Ever since Book 2, I have had the sneaking suspicion that Harry, who was endowed with the power of love (no song, please) by his mother, would sacrifice himself. And, since Rowling has stated this is the end of the Harry Potter series, the best way for her to ensure no other books are written is to kill off her hero. Granted, that’s a bit of a market-driven reasoning but the Love Thing was emphasized in Book 6. So, somehow, I do think Harry is gone. It will all matter how Rowling sees her hero. For Frodo, he lived to destroy the ring. After that, he had nothing much to live for. For Luke Skywalker, he lived to become a Jedi and had something to live for. Which way will Harry go? A large part of me finds it hard to believe that Harry, after killing Voldemort, goes to work for the Ministry or becomes and Auror and lives happily ever after with Ginny.
  3. And speaking of Ginny, I think that she will not just allow Harry to go off and fight. Her steely resolve is part of the reason Harry is drawn to her. She will be there, in the end.
  4. But I also think that Snape will also sacrifice himself. It will bring him full-circle and rid himself of his irritating vows. He sneers at Harry partly because he sees James in Harry and, because of the vow, has to not take overt revenge on the son of his tormentor.
  5. Lily Potter. One thing that struck me at the end of Book 5: Dumbledore commented that Harry was a half-blood and that’s why Voldemort chose Harry over Neville. How is Harry a half-blood? James and Lily both went to Hogwarts. My only guess (and this goes to the flashback to the night Lily and James died) is that, somehow, Lily lost her powers. If I remember correctly, in the flashbacks, Voldemort asked Lily to leave and get out of the way. Perhaps that is because she did not have powers at that point. But that her sacrifice enabled her latent powers to be transferred to Harry.
  6. Draco. I’m thinking that his hesitation in killing Dumbledore will not be his undoing. Snape made the unbreakable vow to Draco’s mother and I predict he did it to James/Lily too. As such, I could certainly see Snape dying to save Draco or Harry.
  7. Harry and Draco. I don’t know if we’ll see a scene of the two of them teaming up to thwart the enemy but it is possible. At the very least, we’ll get a scene, I think, where Harry could easily choose to destroy/hurt Draco and choose not too. Now, depending on Draco’s reaction to this, he’ll either do something stupid and get in the way or ‘throw himself on his sword’. I don’t think the second is likely but it is possible.
  8. James’s death at the hands of Voldemort. IIRC, that has not yet been explained in detail. Snape figures in this, too.
  9. Sirius Black. I’m not sure he’s really dead but he’s certainly not walking on the earth. Since there were whispers from behind that curtain, he is certainly not alone. Might this be just one way to become a ghost.
  10. Neville. I’ve loved the progression of Neville’s character since book 1. And only he and Ginny responded to the alarm at the end of Book 6 so you know he’s ready for anything. There is still an outside shot the Neville can factor in Voldemort’s death.
  11. Ron and Hermoine. I do think they will end up together and will live happily ever after.

Oh, and I can’t wait until 21 July to see if I’m correct and to take one last long ride with Harry Potter.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

SF, Fantasy, and the Sense of Wonder

Here is a quote from Russell Kirkpatrick's webpage (as linked from one of my favorite websites SF Signal):

"A generation ago we lived in a world where progress towards utopia was taken for granted. We believed technology and human ingenuity would overcome any obstacle. In this period science fiction proliferated. However, we’ve more recently had a rude awakening: people are asking ‘who benefits from all this technology?’ and are realising the wealth is not spread evenly. More, we have come to recognise the environmental damage we’ve done with our unthinking trust in technology. I believe the 1970s saw the beginning of a widespread public rejection of the ‘tech fix’, and this is mirrored by the rise of the fantasy novel, in which technology is absent or at least tightly prescribed, and the consequent decline of science fiction."

The comments by readers also is enlightening. Read on.

I have wondered about this for a few years now. I have wondered where the SF version of Harry Potter was. Where is the modern equivalent of Tom Swift? (Actually, a fellow writer is trying to fill that void now with his first novel.)

But, to continue, the sense of wonder in modern SF is, I think, missing. I may be wrong, here, and please correct me if I am. But back in the day, when Asimov, Heinlein, and others were writing about their future (our present), they envisioned flying cars, rocket ships to Mars, and other wonderous things. Well, we've lived through 2001 and I want my flying car. Moreover, I realize that I'll never see a flying car. So where did the sense of wonder go? Was it technology--inventive as it is--that killed the sense of wonder? Was it our knowledge of the limitations of technology that has driven wonder out of the realm of SF and landed it in fantasy? Is modern technology, with all its coolnesses (iPods, TV on the internet, etc.), the thing that killed the sense of wonder? Are we so jaded to realize that technology is not the end-all be-all?

I am developing a couple of SF books and stories set it two different types of universes. For one, I'm doing a dystopian future thing but with a new twist. But for the second, I aim to reclaim the sense of wonder that once existed in SF. I want to reclaim the sense of wonder John Carter felt when he transported to Mars or that any kid felt during the 1960s when they looked up at the moon and dreamed of walking on it.

What are your thoughts? Did SF kill the sense of wonder? Do we have the situation of the more we learn, the less the sense of wonder exists? How can we reclaim it?

Friday, May 25, 2007

My Life with Star Wars (or What have I been doing these past thirty years?)

May 25, 1977. I have no clue what I was doing that day but it was not standing in line to watch “Star Wars.” Actually, I can’t remember how long it was before I saw the movie. But I eventually did—at the Palm Theater in Sugarland, TX—and, like almost everyone else, it changed my childhood.

Oh, I expect my childhood would have still been wonderful but Star Wars just made everything appear in a sort of Technicolor. Suddenly, upon one viewing (and another and another and…), whole chunks of my imagination woke up. At one moment, space was something you got to by rocket ship, the next, you had TIE fighters, X-Wings, space freighters, and giant ships the shapes of flattened pyramids. And you had the Death Star. You had swords that were lasers and guns that shot laser bolts. You had robots galore. And the aliens. Wow, the aliens! And, for a boy like me, instant heroes that were more thrilling than the ones on the football field.

Star Wars changed everything for me. Just tonight, I watched the original version (not SE) with my five-year-old son. It was fun, too, because I still have my toys and action figures so we watched the movie with the action figures and the Falcon and the X-Wing close by. And tonight, 30 years later, this movie still gets me. My heart still beat faster as Luke “set up for his attack run.” I still got goosebumps when the Death Star exploded. I still loved it that Han shot first. It still gets me and I think it always will.

Now, the biggest criticism I have with Star Wars is the stuff Lucas cut out. Having read the novel a few times and listened to the radio drama, Luke’s relationship with Biggs is an integral part of his maturation process. I would have liked for Lucas to have kept the Tatoonie sequence in (where Luke sees the battle in space and then tells Biggs good-bye) and, especially, the scenes just before the Battle of Yavin where he meets Biggs again. Integral parts, to me.

And, in the years since the SE came out, I love the added material (especially the Jabba/Han scene) and the expanded Mos Eisley sequence. You add in the Biggs scenes and keep Han shooting first and you’d have a movie that would surpass TESB. Now, as an adult, TESB is a better film but Star Wars is still my favorite.

I’ve told this to my friends more than once. Of all the thirty years living with Star Wars, my favorite time is still the years between the first two films, after those chunks of imagination have been opened. There was no father-son issue, there was no sister-brother issue, there was no Emperor (although he was mentioned in the first film). There was just Luke, Han, Leia, and the others against Vader. That was it. And the Star Wars universe was limitless.

I remember ogling Marvel Comics issue #7, the first story that was not in the movie. It involved Han and Chewie and their band of space pirates. I remember devouring Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. I devoured Brian Daley’s Han Solo at Star’s End. I devoured everything in print. There is something fun about having to rely on magazines, comics, and trading cards and not having an Internet with the world’s knowledge at one’s fingertips. It was like searching for treasure in every new issue of Starlog just to see if they had some new photo of Star Wars. It was getting those first action figures (mine was Kenobi because Han and Luke were sold out; it was also at a drugstore, go figure) and playing with them. It was the cool Sears Mos Eisley cantina play set with the special Snaggletooth. I even dug (at the time) the Christmas special that I had to see on a black and white TV in a hospital as we were visiting a sick relative. Sigh. It was everything.

Star Wars turned me on to instrumental music. I wore out my first copy of the soundtrack and had to buy it again. I also wore out my The Story of Star Wars record (the one with the movie) and that allowed me to be able to remember mundane facts like the trash compactor number (3263827). Now, thirty years later, I can merely listen to the soundtrack and ‘see’ the movie.

But there is nothing that quite compares to seeing these movies on the screen. Sure, it’s been ten years since I last saw these films on the big screen (the SEs came out in 1997) but it’s still magical even on the small screen.

The older I get and the more folks I meet, I find that Star Wars is a common point of reference. When I meet fellow fathers, Star Wars somehow comes up. Once that point of contact is made, it’s like an unknown fraternity brother has been located. It’s just that way. And I think it always shall be.

Nothing will compare to Star Wars in my opinion. The only thing that comes close (and it does come close, mind you) is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those films are almost a quintessential piece of filmmaking. But, then, so is Star Wars.

I wonder if it can ever be duplicated. I think not. It is too special. It is one of a kind.

What are your thoughts on what Star Wars has meant to you?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reading Harry Potter

[Another repost from my Myspace page]

The week prior to my vacation to DisneyWorld, I was listening to the NPR show "Wait, wait, don't tell me" and there was a reference to Voldemort. Now, I knew enough about the Harry Potter universe to know who Voldemort is. I read the first book back in 2000 and watched the first movie back on DVD back in 2002. But, for some reason, Harry Potter fell off my radar. Why? I can't really say. I mean, it's right up my alley. But, for some unknown reason, I never continued with the series.

The reference to Voldemort brought laughter from the panel and the audience and a thought struck me: I'm out of the loop. I am missing a common cultural connection with millions of other folks. [I don't watch American Idol and miss those cultural connections, too, but that does not bother me.] I have kept up, vaguely, with the books of Harry Potter. I knew that book 7, Deathly Hallows, is coming out on P-Day, 21 July 2007. I knew the titles of all seven books and, well, I made a decision: why not read books 1 through 6 before 21 July and then be able to join in all the fun of reading book 7 with the rest of the world? Plus, I didn't want to know the ending before reading the entire series. You could say this is me jumping on the Harry Potter bandwagon and, well, you'd be right.

And, what better place to start the series than in DisneyWorld, the land of magic? Thus, I started re-reading Harry Potter 1 while in the Magic Kingdom.

About halfway through book one--about the time Harry found out he was a wizard--I remembered how much fun these book are. And I got riveted by Harry Potter. It helps that book 1 was around 300 pages. Blew through that one in a week. I already owned book 2, Chamber of Secrets, so I started it the Sunday after I returned from DisneyWorld. Blew through that one in a week, too. And, with book 2, the larger Potter universe began to be revealed. I was hooked. There was no turning back. In fact, there was even the question of why had I waited so long. Obviously, reading these books prior to 2007 was not when I was supposed to read them.

One of the best things about reading this series three months before the last book comes out is that books 1-6 are all in used bookstores. Within two days of my return to work, I had acquired books 3, 4, and 6. Book 5 was elusive—I was determined not to buy a new copy; don't ask me why but there is something exciting about trolling around in a used bookstore and finding exactly what you are looking for. I decided to go ahead and read books 2-4 and get book 5 when the time came. I'd settle for a new copy but hoped for a used one. Two weeks later, I found book 5.

Another thing that has enabled me to blaze through these books is the audiobook versions of these stories. Before I left for DisneyWorld, I placed all the audiobooks on hold from the library. When I returned, they all were available for me. Thus, I was able to read these books in the following manner. I read the novel itself at night. In the mornings, during my 50-minute commute, I would listen to the audio version. Ditto for the evening commute. Later that night, I had the fun task of opening the novel and flashing forward a good chunk of pages to find out where I left off in the car. Then, I would read the novel and be sure to end the evening's readings at a chapter head, making it easier to find my spot on my audiobook the next morning.

The results were impressive. I read book 1 in about 6 days (including the trip). I read book 2—each book gets longer and longer—also in about six days. I read book 3 in about five days. Now, I have about 200 pages to go in the 743-page book 4. I expect each of the last three books (that is, 4-6) to take about 2-weeks each to read. I do work, after all.

Another good thing is that movies 1-4 are out on DVD now. So, as I finished one of the books, I watched the film. It helps to solidify things in my head. And, seeing the actors age helps me remember that the characters are aging, too.

A couple of interesting things about reading a series like this over weeks with all six books at my disposal rather than the way the books were published, with years between books. The obvious one is that as soon as I finish a book, I can pick up the next one. No wait whatsoever. Pretty cool, that. To be honest, after finishing book 2, I thought "Well, now, I read those pretty quickly. And I have until 21 July to read just four more books. Why don't I read something else?" That lasted less than a chapter of the 'something else' until I put that book down and read three chapters of book 3. It hooks you, it really does.

It is also fun to relate to two of my friends who have already read all six books where I am in the series. One likes to smile knowingly and give me cryptic hints, just like Rowling. The other can't wait until "I'm caught up" so we can have a good gab session about what to expect in Book 7. I imagine that they are 're-reading' the books as I read them for the first time.

A word about Rowling: I am a writer. I have written my first novel and am now writing my second. Rowling is a fantastic writer. Her prose is rich with ebullient emotion. The characters jump off the page. And she keeps things so close to the vest that when a secret is revealed, it is a joy. And everything is so tied together. By the time I'm reading book 4, I *know* that nothing is by-chance. So I pore over every detail.

And, finally, a word about Jim Dale, the reader of all the audiobook versions. (One note: with my commute and my home life, audiobooks is my primary medium for reading books. I listen to a lot of them.) I don't think I have ever heard a better reader who digs in and gets behind all the characters with his voice. He inhabits these characters and this world bringing it all to life.

It's such a fun adventure. I know I'm going to be waiting in line on 21 July to buy my copy. I've already told my two fellow Potter fans that we will have to refer to chapter numbers as we read Book 7 at different speeds. We'll have none of this "hey, what did you think when this happned?" moments (when you have not read that part). I have it all planned out that way.

Literary Nostalgia

[I'm reposting this from my Myspace page.]

Recently, my family visited DisneyWorld and I have to tell you, it was a blast. There is no place else in the world where everyone can be a kid again.

While visiting EPCOT, I had the strangest feeling. While I walking around the Spaceship: Earth ride [that is, the 'giant golfball' at the entrance to EPCOT], I was overcome by the memories and feelings I experienced when I went to EPCOT in 1984. I remembered the 14-year-old boy who thought the future was then, now, in the middle of EPCOT. And, strangely enough, I remembered the books I was reading while on that trip: the Star Trek Logs (can't remember which ones) and Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two. The feeling was strong enough that, when I returned home, I thumbed through my old copies of the Star Trek Logs and 2010. Again, I was awash in the old feelings of 1984.

(Incidentally, wandering DisneyWorld while reading the first Harry Potter book has awoken in me all the cool, wonderous feelings I used to have reading SF. I remember, even in 1984, thinking that Clarke's books 2001 and 2010 were sooo far away. Well, we've past 2001 and 2010 is only 2.5 years away. So, with all the information at our fingertips, what's left in the world to create a sense of wonder? That's a topic for a different blog.)

This type of thing still occurs to me now that I'm an adult. I listen to a lot of audiobooks especially when I'm doing yardwork. I can be in certain parts of my yard and remember which books I was listening to: there's the Mystic River Tree (Dennis Lehane) or the Hell to Pay Hedges (George Pelecanos) or the LBJ Shrubs (Robert Caro's Master of the Senate).

Has that ever happened to y'all? What are the books and memories associated with them?