Archive for August, 2011

D’You Know What I Mean? on MVM

It was August 1997.  Just before midnight on the eve of the the album’s release, and I was milling around downtown waiting for CD Alley, the local CD store, to open.  The streetlights gave the white painted brick storefront a pale glow as about a dozen people were standing around, waiting for the store to be unlocked. I had reserved two copies of Be Here Now – one for me and one for my friend Danny who was about to enter his senior year of high school. 

“Wonderwall” had been everywhere, and I had already picked up Morning Glory, and Danny had introduced me to Definitely Maybe.  This was back when the music mattered (it still does, but these days, even if everything hadn’t gone digital, I’d be less likely to stand outside a music store at midnight just to get an eagerly awaited release).

So here’s to joy of music and memories… d’you know what I mean?

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Survived Irene…

Yeap. Not much else to say about that at the moment. The wind and rains came, and were steady for most of the day yesterday. Only minor water seepage from under a door (for the patio, and considering the speed and direction of the winds, I can’t say that I’m surprised the water came in there).

I know a lot of others are still without power, or (were earlier today, like my folks & sister), so I wish them well and hope they can get service resumed, so life can get back to normal soon.

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An Open Letter To The Management of the Wyndham near RDU…

Dear Sir or Madam:

I regret to inform you that after two recent stays, my wife and I have decided that we will no longer be considering staying at your establishment as part of our future travel plans. Here is why:

I understand that our arrival coincided with renovations to the property. To that end, I am willing to overlook the lack of consistent water pressure for the sink in our room (and the few spurts of brown water that came out the third time we used the sink).

What I am not willing to overlook, however, is the lack of professionalism and customer service skills from your front desk staff – specifically the night auditor that was working both the morning of our departure and upon our return. During our first night’s stay, we had requested a 4am wake-up call, so that we could make sure to be in the lobby for our 4:30am cab to the airport. By the time we had come down to the lobby around 4:20am, there had been no wake-up call. That is a vital service that, if there are system issues due the upgrades, I would encourage you to have the desk staff make the calls manually.

At our initial check-out, I had also requested a hotel business card, primarily for the purposes of being able to contact the hotel upon our return so we could arrange for the shuttle. A secondary purpose was so that I could contact you to advise you of the poor experience we had. When the Night Auditor advised me that “they didn’t have any cards” I was shocked. If the management team is new (which I find hard to believe  the entire management staff is new), I can accept not having specific cards, but I find it to be very poor judgement from a service standpoint that there was not at least a generic hotel card available.

The final straw, however, was the night of our return. The auditor was working to resolve a room issue with another guest. Even after almost eight hours of flying (across three time zones), having to wait a few more minutes to check in isn’t what bothered us. What bothered me, however, was the lack of acknowledgement that we were waiting. Had the auditor simply said something (anything) to the effect of, “Hi, I’ll be with you in a moment” instead of the blank stare into the computer screen (while waiting to hear from another team member, to adjust how a room was listed as clean/unclean by housekeeping), then I would have been content.

As someone with both a degree in Hospitality Management, and years of working for three different hotel chains and managing two different restaurant concepts, I simply do not feel that we got the level of service that should be expected from a property of your brand’s caliber.

With regards,

Jeff Evans

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Worldcon Report (General Edition)

Here’s what I have learned in the last year: casual is okay. Mellow is okay.

My first convention was 2010’s Readercon (July). Then came Boskone in February 2011. Worldcon was my third. First, I recommend the experience. Caveat: you have to be into the genre (duh!) and you might want to spend time reviewing the program events before walking in the door to make sure you can screen for interesting topics & panels that you want to listen to.

Walking through the airport on arrival and seeing all of the banners up (these happened to be in the baggage claim area) was quite cool, and different from past airport adventures. Since I was going to be presenting (my first “professional” type talk, no less), I felt a little more excitement than if I were just going. There were butterflies, and a sense of pride, and a sense of relief at having finally made it (after being up since about 4am EST for flights… more on that later).

The space itself (in the convention center) was huge – the space used for the dealer’s room was almost big enough to match the entirety of the space for Readercon. Seats for one hundred people in a room was common, with twice that for some of the larger panel spaces. The Con Suite was set up across a sky bridge in the Atlantis, while the Hugo’s and Writer’s Workshops were being held up the street at the Peppermill (both facilities were considered “Host Hotels” with room blocks for the convention).

Walking through the halls, it was nice to be able to look around and mentally (or, to MC if she asked) identify speakers from some past conventions, or to sit in on a panel and be able to put a face with a name I’ve seen on a book cover.

Another thing I’ve picked up from conventions is that I am more likely to follow somebody (read their blogs, seek out their books, etc.) if I’ve been able to get a sense of them as a person. To me, just being mellow and honest to who you are is the ultimate way for a writer to pimp their work. It’s an association and reference thing, I guess.

As for the hotels. Not quite like Vegas.

The Atlantis was okay, and spatially felt a little better than the Peppermill if you had to walk through the casino (which you had to, if you wanted to look for the restaurants). Atlantis felt like was an old school Vegas hotel, or one that is situated off the strip. The Peppermill casino had too much neon and too many mirrors, which made it easy to get turned around and side-tracked (a far cry from the spacious layout of several casino floors along the Vegas strip).

But the room… oh, the hotel room. We were in the Tuscan Tower of the Peppermill, and (to borrow from Ferris Bueller, “It’s so choice. If you have the means…”) I would suggest it. The room was easily comparable to what amenities we’ve experienced in Vegas: double sink, separate water closet, dual head shower. After a long day of walking around the convention center, it was nice to return to the room, sink into the king bed, and recover sleep. The restaurants were generally great as well (we recommend the Monte Cristo if you eat at Biscotti’s in the Peppermill; the Steak House in Atlantis was worth the little bit extra, too), but we were both severely underwhelmed by the Breakfast Buffet at the Peppermill.

Would I go back? To Worldcon? Definitely. I hear they do it yearly and can definitely see myself at them in the future. To Reno? Maybe, but probably only for other conferences and professional gigs. I’m not knocking Reno, the scenic views were awesome to wake up to, but I didn’t get the same kind of “I want to go explore” vibe that I’ve gotten from places like Boston or “I want to see shows” like in New York and Las Vegas.

Which leads me to some of my highlights: Attending the Hugos. Seeing the presentation of Whatnot but Other Hand Productions. Actually meeting Scalzi (side story to follow), and being able to listen to those that have already walked the publishing path, which further helps to remove the veil of mystery and awe that’s surrounded writer’s since I was kid.

That is all (for now).

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Thoughts about Worldcon (Hugo Edition)

First off, I will echo Scalzi on this point, and suggest you go check out the video for yourself… congratulations to all of the Hugo winners.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, to be honest. It was a rather informal formal event. After years of Military Balls in college, I was initially a little nervous (as was MC) that we would be underdressed for the event. That was not the case – we were about middle of the pack. We also got to the ballroom about fifteen minutes before the ceremony was due to start, so we were also in the back third of the room.

That was also part of things I wasn’t expecting: chairs. Just chairs. No tables, only chairs. Yes, I’ve seen awards shows on television. Rows upon rows of people seated (in a theater space). I have also seen some where there were tables set up. Again, harkening back to my college days, those mil-balls where my reference images for formal events. Of course, food was served when the tables were used, and I didn’t expect food at the event.

Not bad expectations to vary from, and not a bad implementation for the event. It’s an experience you just have to experience. I recommend it. I hear they’re doing it again next year. In Chicago. You should look into it.

 

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One Year Gone…

Just over one year ago (the 13th), MC and I drove to the Outer Banks for her younger brother’s wedding. Yes, it was Friday the 13th, and we were out there for the weekend.  On the 15th we were driving back when we got a phone call. “One of your cats got out. Snoopy.” Both cats had slipped into the back yard while the dogs were sent out for their business, and were doing whatever cats do while outside. It was something that had happened dozens of times before, but on that day, Snoopy had other ideas.

He found a small crawl-hole in the fence (smaller than him, btw) and when the person who was animal sitting wasn’t looking, he squeezed himself through the hole into the neighbor’s yard. By the time she noticed the last of his black tail sliding under the fence her was bounding across the neighbor’s back yard. By the time she got through the house and out front, her was squeezing himself under the neighbor’s fence and was out in the neighborhood. And he bolted.

Normally, if he were running Snoopy would go a few yards, then stop, drop and roll (the “Rub my belly,” exposure). This time, though, he didn’t. He disappeared into an unmowed fields (lots that are still waiting to be built on. When we got home and into the house, we started canvasing the neighborhood. I walked around with a container of cat treats, rattling it as I went. MC drove around, looking. The next night some of our friends (a couple) came over and we did it all again (this time, with posters, and the ladies went door to door, and the other guy went with me to walk the fields again.

Nothing.

A few calls trickled in about possible sightings over the next week, but he was gone. I had had Snoopy since he was a kitten, only about two months old. He was the only black and white kitten in a litter of white when I got him from the pet store, a few days before Christmas in 2000. He was a few months shy of his 10th birthday when he left.

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Mind the Sharks… on MVM

Continuing the big-hair thing this week, here’s one from another of the formative radio staples that I came of age with.  While the band has had other albums and other successes, this is the track that comes to mind when I think of Great White. 

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Have Some Pie… on MVM

Back in middle school, young and mostly innocent as I was, I just thought the song was cool because of the hook-y guitar work and slick sound (since that was kind of what I was into at the time).  I still think the song has held up well over the years, even after arriving at a position to actually, you know, understand the lyrics the way a 12-13 year-old normally doesn’t.

Jani Lane, the singer, died last week, and while I was never a huge Warrant fan the song was a staple for big-hairband-listening life in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Grab your whipped cream, and enjoy a slice of pie in his memory.

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Probably Not Really PC*

I just read this article on CNN about an Italian village that the SS paid a visit to in 1944.  Unlike the occupation depicted in the second half of Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise (set in 1941), this was worse. Much. Worse.

I can’t say that I’m surprised that this little *ahem* gem *ahem* of an event**, and many others like it, are little known outside of their areas for local history.  I’m sure that there are lots of similar events that took place in wars throughout history, by both invaders and the invaded. It’s the victors razing of the local economy to break morale. It’s the lashing out of the losing side to inflict as much damage as possible before the defeat becomes official. It’s the destruction by the overrun to make life difficult for the opressors.

In this case, it was the cowardice of those about to be defeated. I don’t condone it (despise it, actually) but I am tactically aware of “why” it happened.

*My original title was going to be “Nazi’s Are Fun…” followed by “… if you’re looking for ideas and examples of bad guys for fiction.” From Hitler’s occult agenda to their quest for world domination… that’s why there are so many options for WWII Alternate History stories. Transpose the concepts and events to some other time and place, and the possibilities skyrocket.
**And I do mean that to be laden with sarcasm. Stories like this make me sad that they happened. Positive-ish stories like The King’s Speech and Defiance, of other little events that have come to light after so many years, truly are gems. The only way I see this as a “gem” is as a writer always watching for things that might trigger stories. See transposition comment above.

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A Brief Response to Uncle Orson…

Not to, per say, but more about… let me explain.  Uncle Orson is Orson Scott Card.  If you don’t have name recognition (especially if you are into SF/Fantasy) then you must be very pasty white living under that rock.  Have I read any of his fiction?  Admittedly, not yet.  But I have read his technique books on writing.  But there’s more story here…

Back in February, I was in Boston at Boskone, and one one of the vendor tables was a copy of OSC’s Characters & Viewpoint.  Having been advised that “depth of character” in some of my earlier projects (read – hurried short stories for college classes) was an issue (a mixed thought I’ll play with in a minute), I snatched it up. In March, I went to Stellarcon (near Greensboro, NC) with my friend Chris, and I hit the writer’s panels. Then went to the book launch party that Saturday night for How To Write Magical Words, edited by Edmund Schubert (who also edits OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show).  During the party we spoke briefly, but he introduced me to (aka – made me aware of) Uncle Orson’s Writer’s Boot Camp.

The Boot Camp is a weeklong session broken into two parts: a writing class/lecture for two days, open to anyone, and three days of workshopping for a select few.  With other plans I had in the works, I only signed up for the two day seminar.  Which is how I have spent my last two days, and why I am writing this.

I entered the class having earned both a BA & MA in Creative writing (and all of the baggage that comes with it).  There were moments of clarity sitting in the OSC class that flew in the face of most of what I had learned in all my years of (academic) writing classes, and they were liberating. Here’s why: I have always wanted to write, and needed the academic classes to introduce me to some of the concepts (at the time I was doing my BA, anyway; the MA was to get me back onto the horse and into a routine).  They were the closest thing to a writing community in my area. And academic classes are great for the mechanical techniques of writing, but there wasn’t a significant focus on discussing the story in a workshop. Workshop session usually devolve into flaws of handling a student’s work and (subconsciously) comparing it to everything else the reader has read in literature classes and filtering through the literature (interpretation) lens. It’s the story that’s the key, the writing is just the presentation.

As someone that wants to teach creative writing, but had become frustrated with the narrow field of vision that I noticed in academic settings, one of the best things for me was the shift in conceptual thinking, the clarity of how I would like to teach my courses.

The other reason the class was liberating: it is taught by an award winning, very much working author in a genre that I want to someday work in as well. That should be a no-brainer.

My thoughts on Uncle Orson’s Boot Camp? The writing session was definitely worth it.  Him as a person (for those that are curious)? Gracious, patient, and someone that I wouldn’t mind being just a little bit like when doing public events.

My response to Orson Scott Card: Thank you.

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