What makes a classic, according to a 13 year old

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On Thursday afternoon, I was working with my son on his homeschool reading. He’d just finished Fahrenheit 451, and he explained that he liked the chase scenes at the end more than the setup at the beginning and middle.

“It seems to me,” he explained, “that in books that are considered classics, they’re more concerned with the… psychology of the characters than in the chase stuff.”

I agreed with him.

That night was family movie night. we picked MARATHON MAN, which was on Netflix Streaming. Spy thrillers are a big hit with the kid, because he’s a big fan of, as he puts it, “smart people being smart.” That’s why he prefers Mission Impossible to James Bond, and why he had an allergic reaction to Dumb and Dumber.

Anyway, Marathon Man’s dental stuff went by without much comment, but the movie was slow (compared to the stuff we make the time to see in the theater) and it was low-key, and it was concerned with the relationship between the characters. When it was over, I asked him what he thought.

“I liked some parts.”

That’s his answer when he finds long stretches of a film kinda dull.

“It’s a classic seventies thriller. Remember what we said earlier about classics? The long shots of people’s faces, or the awkward conversations they have, are their to show the psychology, like you said. Maybe the greatest story ever would combine the character and the exciting event, but we can’t all be Shakespeare.”

Then he nodded and pointed at me, and retreated to his bedroom to draw or read his latest light novel. Anything to avoid a longer conversation about a movie or book.

My wife squeezed my hand and said “Very good. Very good.” She’s happy when we can explicitly tie movie night into his schooling. “But it was pretty slow.”

The Kid Curates His Own Homeschool Reading List (thx to reddit)

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A couple of days ago, I tweeted this:

Here’s the list of reddit’s 100 favorite books. There’s some good mixed in with a lot of not so good, just like reddit, but he wanted to know which of those books we had in our apartment. That, naturally, led me to search through my bookshelves, which lead to this:

My wife is an enthusiast. When she sees something exciting, she commits, and the idea that our son would return to reading in a big way had her tearing through our shelves looking for books on the list to give him. And if there we didn’t have a particular book but did have something else by the author, that got tossed into the mix, too.

It’s dangerous. As much as I love her passion, I know it can over run someone else’s tentative interest in a thing in the same way a hurricane will blow out a camp fire. So we don’t have The Unbearable Lightness of Being but that doesn’t mean you can toss The Last Temptation of Christ on the pile. And you don’t just add some Marshall McLuhan because you think it’s worthy and he ought to be interested. And I’m sorry, but you can’t substitute Dhalgren for Dune.

Anyway, while she’s at work, I’ve gone through the stacks she’s put together and set aside the books that aren’t on the list. Books not on the list by authors who are have been placed nearby, but except when they aren’t. And LOTR… well, I’m not going to bother.

For a few years, he’s hated the idea of reading anything, and did so only for homeschool assignment. Resentfully. Recently, he’s been reading ebooks of Japanese “light novels.” Then he found the list, realized we had the #1 book on the shelf, and grabbed it.

When I gave that book to him a couple years ago, he rolled his eyes, read a few pages, then pushed it away. When reddit recommends it, he’s in love.

And that’s fine. I knew he would turn around at some point. Now we just have to nurture this interest instead of vomiting a reading list on him.

My kid buys a hat

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On Tuesday, I tweeted this:

We were at Target solely because there’s a Best Buy on the floor below, and he wanted to get a new headset for his computer without waiting for online delivery. And why not pop in to Target to see if he could replace his old Minecraft baseball cap?

He looked good in that fedora, but he went with a plain black cap instead. Then we got home and discovered the headset was fucked up.

His mom took him back there yesterday to return the headset for a new (more expensive! grr!) model, and while they were there, he decided to rethink that hat.

Picture posted with his permission: Continue reading

Today is my son’s birthday

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My son was born on Boxing Day, and his mom and I have always made an effort to make this day special for him. Not just a little christmas, where he gets a few more gifts but everything is all colored lights and decorated tree. My wive and I used to strip all the Christmassy stuff off the table and replace it with a bright yellow table cloth, balloons, and birthday pie (never cake).

But he’s turning 13 today, so it’s unlikely we’ll be spending the day together like we used to. He got a new gaming keyboard and mouse yesterday, so I expect he’ll want to spend at least part of the day trying to get used to his new “rig.” (God, I can’t believe he calls it that.)

Still, we planned lunch at a local Japanese place that he likes, and we have gifts to give him: a couple of books and some Tshirts from Threadless.

And I have work to do. Some folks are having problems with the books I published, plus I’m trying to work out some publicity, plus I have end of the year payments and tax stuff to do. Will I be online, doing all that stuff, or will I be press-ganged into a co-op game or something?

Time will tell. In the meantime, if you received bookstore gift cards, you can pick up a copy of The Way Into Chaos. Order a paper copy now and, like the Kickstarter backers, you’ll get the version with the massive but invisible proofing error on the back cover. Seriously, readers send me typos all the time, but no one has caught this. (I certainly didn’t!)

Packaging for Kickstarter Fulfillment (with pix)

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After being six months past the “there’s-no-way-these-books-will-take-longer-than-this” deadline, I finally ordered the trade paperbacks for my new trilogy, The Great Way. The expected delivery date from UPS was last night, and I rescheduled a bunch of work so I would be ready when the boxes of books arrived (16 of them) and could slip them into the already-addressed and sorted envelopes.

Then, on Tuesday morning, I double-checked the UPS tracking numbers and realized the books had been bumped a day, to Wednesday. Sure, the boxes had arrived in Seattle before 3 am on Tuesday morning, but apparently UPS needed 30 hours to get them on a truck.

Do I need to say I was disappointed and angry? I griped about it on Twitter, and a UPS help account encouraged me to email their customer service department with the tracking numbers and other details to confirm that they were actually sitting in a warehouse down in south Seattle.

The customer service rep confirmed it. My books, which had been delivered to Seattle the night before, still had not been unloaded and sorted. I’d have to wait for them to be delivered the next day.

Three hours later, sixteen boxes of books arrived.

My son, to my great surprise, believed me when I said I needed his help. He got off his computer (not a small deal) so he could slip bookmarks into books so I could turn to the title page quickly and seal envelopes. When my wife got home at 9pm after a long day of physical work, she cheered to see us working together, then chipped in.

I started alone at 5:30. We sent the boy to bed at midnight. My wife and I didn’t finish until almost two am. This morning, we got up early, called a cab, and transported all the books to the local post office to mail them out.

Pictures behind the cut. Continue reading

Now you can listen to my son’s music

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My son put his music on Soundcloud, which is apparently a place where people can post their music for free, where you can listen for free. If you’re the sort of person who goes for electronic music in general or dubstep in particular, give it a listen. He recommends people start with the song “Cavernous” although I think that one, while it has a strong drop, isn’t as strong as some of the music he hasn’t uploaded. It certainly has an unpromising start, IMO, but it’s his music.

And lest we forget, he’s 12. so please don’t be rude about the work he’s doing.

Yesterday’s birthday celebration

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How many places around the U.S. (around the world, even) would be amused that yesterday’s high temps set a new record for July 1st: 94F, over a previous record high of 89F? In many places those numbers capture temps in the early morning, not the high for the day, but those places also have central air or even just air conditioners. My apartment in Seattle has no insulation and it doesn’t circulate air well, unless it’s a very windy day.

Anyway, we broke out the fan for the first time, but I still had an outbreak of heat-induced urticaria. (I keep meaning to blog about my health issues but never seem to find the time.)

My main birthday gift was a day when I didn’t have to do any work at all. The trash had been taken out, the floor cleaned, the toilet scrubbed, the carpet vacuumed (all by me the day before) so I had literally nothing to do around the apartment. I took a day off from my writing responsibilities, too. All I wanted to do was sack out on the couch and watch the extended LOTR movies.

You guys, I was really surprised by how much I was looking forward to this. Yeah, I do things that are fun or that count as goofing off, but they always come with a portion of guilt.

Yesterday was a day off from guilt.

Also, when I watch most movies I’m tempted to look at Twitter or have a comic book open next to me, but LOTR had my attention from the start. I managed to sit down close to my start time (which was 7am) and aside from looking at Twitter messages during DVD changes or checking the World Cup score for the Belgium match, I was offline most of the day. The movies themselves were engaging enough, even after multiple viewings, that I had no urge to turn away or fill dull time. What’s more, my wife–who generally has zero interest in Tolkien or other kinds of fantasy–was nearly late for work because the movie was so absorbing. I started the movies just after 7am and finished 8:30pm, and now I want to reread the books and replay the Lego game.

Weird thing: my kid is going through one of his bouts of late night wakefulness, where he sleeps all day and stays up all hours of the night. In fact, when I woke this morning, I found a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast waiting for me. My wife explained that she woke at 4am and found the boy wide awake in the kitchen cooking. He wanted to make a prepare breakfast for me, despite not being a kitchen person.

So, he dug up some YouTube videos for making scrambled eggs with bacon (and the video suggested boiling the bacon until the water steamed off and it could be browned in the skillet). Yes, by 6:45am, everything was stone cold, but while the bacon was a little bland, it was pretty good. Well, it was better than you could expect from twelve-year-old who never cooks and could barely sleep.

Dinner was delivery from a favorite pizza place. Lunch was a meatball sandwich on a fancy baguette, followed by the birthday cake cantalope-free fruit salad. See:

Inside the bag was a bottle of fancy rye whiskey. It was a good day, you guys, even if I did squeeze in a little writing work at the very end of the day.

I am 49.

Vacation (with pics)

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Last week, we hopped a train down to San Jose to visit my wife’s uncle and visit him and his home city, Santa Cruz. It wasn’t long enough, and sleeping in coach on a train may be better than sleeping on a plane, but still: sleeping in a chair. (The train ride from Seattle to SJC was 24 hours, 20 minutes.)

So, it was not long enough. Few vacations ever are. However, my uncle has a beautiful little house with a pretty little garden (filled with drought-resistant plants, because California) and the beach was only literally a ten-minute walk away.

Pics behind the cut: Continue reading

Walk The Fire 2 Title Page

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One of the perqs of the Walk The Fire 2 Kickstarter is a signed “title page” from each of the authors. It’s just a sheet of paper with the name of the story, my name, and my signature (in a font other than Comic Sans).

Anyway, my design sense is sort of crap, so I turned it over to the closest designer I know: my 12-year-old son. This is what he came up with:

The gray circle prints up lighter than it shows here, but that’s to its advantage.

The kid did a fine job, I think.

Guest Post: Free Possessed Chickens

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Today we have a guest post, courtesy of my son. I told him a story of seeing a tiny chicken coop set out between the curb and the sidewalk like a discarded couch (Seattle is full of residential chicken coops) and he wanted to write a post for my blog, which turned out to be a pastiche of his current favorite book: Hyperbole and a Half. Interestingly, he wrote it from “my” point of view. Here it is:

The Box

Yesterday, while walking to my local Starbucks, I passed a Large-ish (is that a word?) Box out on that grassy strip of space between the road and Sidewalk.

I stopped to take a closer look, as boxes sometimes have interesting contents. The Box was really a sort of Wooden frame, filled by chicken wire, and It contained chickens. One was kind of lying there, dragging itself across the cage back and forth, seemingly with no real goal. The other chicken, however, Looked like it was from a horror movie where aliens invade chicken’s brains before they realize chickens are kept in neat little cages.

Chickens

It repeatedly slammed itself at the walls of the cage.

The chicken didn’t seem to be attacking me in particular, but instead, the shape of the house. maybe this is why the chickens were abandoned out here in the savage sidewalk-roadlands.

I can almost imagine a sign that says “FREE POSSESSED CHICKENS!”

I may have to go back with some paper and a sharpie.