Since I mentioned little Gracie V in the last post, here's more Grace-goodness for you...
I finally picked up Grace Vanderwaal's new CD, Just the Beginning, this weekend (about a week after it was available). Opening up the CD and dismantling the contents to put them in my CD binder, I was reminded of the joy I used to receive from the CDs and, yes, cassettes I purchased in my youth. It contained not only a full album of very enjoyable music and a picture-imprinted CD, it also came with CD liner notes full of pictures, credits, and fun art that people sent to Grace (the only thing missing was the lyrics). Amazing. Believe it or not, even cassette cases contained liner notes for a while way back in the old days. Unless you got them from Columbia House - and then all bets were off. But enough of my old man reminiscing...
To be honest, I preferred the songs on the Grace Vanderwaal EP that preceded this album - most of them were more raw and not so over-produced (which is to be expected, since the music was all written by Grace herself). This album continues to move a little further down the over-production road. After listening to the album on endless-repeat while I finished working on a project for an Android development class I'm taking (almost endless - I did stop eventually), I think I've decided that my favorite song is Talk Good. I can't listen to it without laughing a little. And smiling throughout. It sounds more like the songs on Perfectly Imperfect (through the music part of this song is, admittedly, almost as equally-overproduced).
Give it a listen (it's not on Youtube yet, but will surely be soon).
I've also read a bunch of mean comments about Grace, saying she's trying to act too much like an adult, that she's being forced to give up her childhood, etc. And while the childhood comments may have some merit (touring at thirteen has got to be really weird for a kid), she's definitely still just a goofy kid.
Exhibit #1 for the defense, Grace Wants Strawberries
Just a Crush is a perfect example of a song Grace obviously didn't write and that - to me - sounds weird coming from a 13 year-old girl.
You're looking at me
I'm looking at you
This is never gonna sort itself out
I don't know what will do
'Cause you're talking 'bout a marriage
And a life together
But oh honey I'm not looking for anything like
What you're searching for, oh
You're, you're just a crush
I hope you understand
What I'm trying to tell you
I don't wanna be confusing
Consider me one of the dudes
And yes it would be nice
To hold hands once in a while
But you're over here
Planning like wild
Yes, you're talking 'bout a marriage
And a life together
Honey I'm not looking for anything like
What you're searching for, oh
Or maybe these are the sort of conversations going on amongst 8th grade kids these days. What do I know? I'm old. Either way, you should buy this album today. You can thank me later.
Tim Powers Signing at Mysterious Galaxy for Down and Out in Purgatory
I hadn't been to a book signing for a few years before the recent Bruce Campbell signing - not counting the Neil Gaiman non-signing appearance I had to pay to attend in April - and now I've been to two within the past couple of weeks. Both were at the Mysterious Galaxy book store and, though very different (one for an author loosely associated with the film industry and the other an actor who has written a couple of autobiographical books), they were both great and very much worth my time.
Most people would recognize the name "Tim Powers" (if at all) as the the author of the book that the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides, was very loosely based upon. Tim has been a published author for about forty years, but has accumulated a surprisingly small number of novels and short stories - only eighteen full-length novels and twenty short stories/novellas. And I've only read a handful of them, but have enjoyed them all (especially the aforementioned On Stranger Tides - which is a million times better than, and much different from, the version Disney shoe-horned into the Jack Sparrow pirate universe). The signing tour is for the release of the collection of all his short stories, confusingly given the same name as a novella he published about a year ago that I happened to pick up from Amazon when I saw it, Down and Out in Purgatory - which is also one of the stories in the collection.
Sadly, there were only around 10 or 12 people at the signing. Unlike Bruce Campbell's signing, there were no lines out the door or standing room only for attendees. I say "sadly" because Tim Powers deserves all the adulation that a celebrity like Bruce Campbell gets - even though I was grateful there weren't a few hundred other people there crowding me and forcing Tim to rush each attendee out the door as quickly as possible. In fact, this signing was anything but rushed, but more about that in a second...
I arrived at the bookstore around thirty minutes before the signing because I didn't have a copy of the book for the signing yet (I did bring my hardcover of the novella of the same name). In fact, the book wasn't even available for sale outside of signings until November 7, so I got a copy of the book a few days before it was for sale publicly. As I entered the store and waited for my turn at the cash register (the stack of books was at the register), I noticed Tim Powers walking around the store, looking at books, and talking to other customers. I didn't try to chat him up because I become a rambling, incoherent boob around...well, pretty much any author/actor I've been around. See my Lev Grossman encounter for a perfect example of the extent of my disability. Before he left the store, after the signing, Tim had acquired a stack of books to purchase.
The signing started out with Tim just talking. Talking about the new collection, talking about the publishing industry, talking about the supernatural, talking about people asking him when he was finally going to write a "real" book, and pretty much just talking about anything he thought people might be interested in. Then he took questions from the attendees. Amongst the questions were questions about his elbow-rubbing with other authors, why he sets a lot of his books in the vicinity of L.A./Southern California, the effect of the On Stranger Tides adaptation on the sale of the novel, the way Hollywood/book optioning works, his writing process,and details of the Disney adaptation process. Throughout the Q&A session, Tim kept us chuckling. He's a great storyteller in person and in his books.
Here are a few of the answers (or just things I overheard Tim telling other attendees while I waited in line) that stood out enough for me to remember them in any kind of detail (not to say that anything Tim shared was uninteresting, but there was so much that it overwhelmed my faulty memory).
Tim revealed that On Stranger Tides was actually optioned as the fourth film in the series by Disney before the first Pirates of the Caribbean was even filmed. At the time, there was no guarantee that the series would become a successful franchise and even make it to four films, so Tim and his wife kept a close eye on the success of each of the Pirates movies. He recalled a fake story about Johnny Depp being killed in a car accident before the third movie was filmed. And his elation when it turned out to be a fake story. He was forbidden by Disney from telling anyone about the option deal in place - as he was signing my books, I remarked on what he'd written on my copy of On Stranger Tides at a signing years earlier and he responded that he was lucky Disney hadn't found out about it and sued him. One other thing Tim mentioned was his complete non-involvement with the script writing for the film and being on set for a day and briefly meeting Johnny Depp.
Tim knew Philip K Dick (the guy who wrote the story Blade Runner was based on and also the story that the Amazon series The Man in High Castle came from) for last 12 year of his life and is actually a character named David in the semi-autobiographical story Valis. Actual conversations and events from Tim's life are in the book verbatim (Tim told us he was a little distraught at some of the imagined dialog that was put in his character's mouth that would never be uttered by him the the real world).
Tim spoke about having to acquire and use piles of books to see photos and get background on the locales he used in his books before the Internet and Google Earth made it possible to be there and see a location by dropping the little orange man anywhere and looking at everything in 360 degree views. He also mentioned how easy it is to just go look at an actual location with the books set in L.A. and how there was one place he would never visit in person, despite it being relatively nearby: Amboy.
Tim told a story about a friend who was stationed at TwentyOne Palms (which is about 60 miles away from Amboy) being warned, when he was first stationed at TwentyOne Palms, against ever even driving through Amboy (even though it was a faster route from base to parts east). But being a big, brave military guy in possession of a handgun with a fifteen-round magazine, he decided to ignore the warnings and take the shorter Route 66 drive through Amboy.
As he drove into town (what little there was of a "town" - a motel/restaurant, a few ramshackle homes, and a gas station) he saw a car stopped diagonally across the highway ahead of him and two bodies lying on the pavement motionless. He slowed for a moment, and then remembered all the stories he'd been told about human sacrifices, death cults and disappearances in Amboy, and instead of stopping to help, he sped back up and drove around the car on the shoulder, speeding away. In his rear-view mirror, he saw the two "bodies" on the road stand up and twenty or more people who had been hiding by the side of the road come out of hiding. He never chanced driving through Amboy again after that day.
I don't know if there's any truth to this story (I found a very similar version online). But I suppose it's possible that the author of the story I found is the same person Tim Powers knows. Or maybe somebody who heard the story from Tim - which would make it no less true.
Before signing my books, Tim asked me my name. When I told him, he remarked that I share a name with a character in the book he's currently working on. But then he apologized that his character is a bad guy in the story.
Tim told a story about an early encounter with Kurt Vonnegut Jr. at a signing just after Tim published his first book. Tim brought a signed copy with him and proudly gave it to Vonnegut, only to find it, after the signing, in a planter outside the venue. Tim lamented that Kurt Vonnegut couldn't even take the time to throw it in a trash receptacle with a lid to spare him the shame. He then commented on Vonnegut's mental absence from the event, saying that if each of us is born with a limited amount of attention we give to other people, Vonnegut had long since used all of his up.
Tim talked in depth about his writing process, his tendency to procrastinate, and talked about how his writing process had evolved with the introduction of computers.
He also talked about the dearth of editors for many publishing houses, how publishers now tell writers to get their own editors, and the important role editors play in making a novel really shine.
Tim's wife was also at the signing. Tim mentioned her several times during his remarks, and in the responses to the questions. One thing he said specifically about his wife is that she is the first reader of all his drafts. She's well-read, intelligent, and most importantly - not an author - so her analysis is helpful and appreciated. Tim commented on other authors being the worst audience for commentary on an author's work. Even his own commentary would be all about how to make the draft he was reading into a Tim Powers book, not a better version of the author's book.
I was surprised to hear that Tim teaches a writing class in an L.A. area High School. That would have been my favorite class ever (I did have a few memorable English teachers - I'm looking at you Ms Clack - though none who wrote an epic pirate novel). Tim told a story about commenting to another teacher about how exceptional High School students are these days - one of his students was reading Voltaire for fun - and the teacher told him that he's seeing a tiny exceptional microcosm of the students. When Tim looked outisde those in his class, he saw the sad truth.
I asked, in the Q&A session, if Tim would ever consider returning to the Age of Piracy for a future novel and Tim replied that there is a huge swath of history to be mined during the age of piracy, so it was definitely a possibility - which was music to my ears!
Tim mentioned a few times how collections of short stories weren't something a publisher willingly spends the money to publish because they don't make nearly as much money as full-length novels. He suspects the only reason they allowed him to publish this collection of short stories is because he just changed publishers and the new publisher is trying to score points with their new author.
I had intended to take a few photos, but I was so entranced by all the great stories I was hearing that I never touched my phone. And as I mentioned, I was at the end of a short signing line (or almost, I was actually second to last) so I was close enough to hear most of the stories Tim shared with the people ahead of me. He shared something different with everyone. This is the kind of signing Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Lev Grossman used to have at Mysterious Galaxy. Maybe a little bit (or a lot, actually) smaller, but much more personal. So cool.
I haven't read Down and Out in Purgatory (the short story collection) yet - though I have read the novella by the same name - so I can't say anything specific about the collection. I'm still reading Mark Geragos's Mistrial and an eBook that I'm really not enjoying much, so I won't be reading anything new for a little while.
As I was driving into work (and heard an Imagine Dragons song being played as background for a Ford ad), I was reminded of something I saw a week or two ago (whenever I last saw a movie in the theater). As we walked to our seats, I heard the Grace Vanderwaal song Beautiful Thing playing - which I thought was a nice surprise - as a video montage played on the screen. I thought the music was just being piped into the theater (the lights were still on) and the video montage was independent of the song. But as we sat and watched as we listened, I realized the song and the scenes of the video were synced. And then the video ended and I realized it was an advertisement for Windex and the song was, in fact, part of the ad. Good for Grace. And Imagine Dragons.
Here's the Windex Ad. It's pretty awesome.
I did just buy the new Grace Vanderwaal CD, so I might talk about that one of these days. And I also saw Thor Ragnarok today, so it might warrant a response, too. It was well worth all the dough it cost to get the whole family into the theater.
The family took a trip up to Disneyland last week. We had one day-one-park passes that didn't cost us anything so we decided to upgrade those passes, before entering the park, with So Cal annual passes since we could apply the value of the no-cost passes against the cost of annual passes. So now we can go back as often as we want - to both parks - for the next 12 months. I think I would have rather gone to Harry Potterland over the next 12 months if the drive through LA wasn't such a horrendous beast. And it would have been a few hundred dollars cheaper - even after deducting the value of the one-day passes - but Disneyland wins the day thanks to its relative proximity to San Diego.
We were optimistic that crowds in the park weren't going to be insane because the ticketing windows were pretty light...think again, foolish mortal. It wasn't as bad as the ill-fated Christmas Day trip we took a couple of years ago to break in our passes. But it was pretty bad. All the rides we tried had 30 or more minute waits to get on, which is probably just a average day at Disneyland, but we were there on a non-holiday school day (Wednesday) in late-October so we expected lighter crowds.
Even the restaurant we picked in New Orleans Square, the French Market, had a long line for it's buffet style assembly line food (this one was our second choice - the first one, Cafe Orleans, ended up requiring reservations). I really want to try Blue Bayou one of these days, but it also requires a reservation. Regardless, the beef stew in the sourdough bread bowl from the French Market Restaurant was extremely tasty. If I don't make a reservation for the other eateries again next time, I'd definitely have that again.
An observation I made about the ticket-sellers and the ticket-takers as we were making our way into the park - every one of them appeared to be at least sixty. And most appeared older (and all the ones I saw were female). I didn't see a lot of of gray heads inside the park, but Walt's grandparents are manning the gates.
As far as changes since we last visited (a year or more ago) -
Halloween decoration were up all over the park and Jack Skellington was in charge of the Haunted Mansion. but that's pretty normal for October.
The Star Wars stuff still appears to be in early stages of construction.
We saw the Haunted Hotel transformation from outside California Adventure (we stayed in Disneyland the whole day, so didn't see it up close or anything else in the "other" park).
There was a restaurant under construction in FrontierLand (yawn).
We didn't do much in TomorrowLand - we just walked through the back side (by the submarine ride) en route to the train, so I don't know if anything changed there
I think they added a lightning-strike to the dinosaur tunnel on the train ride. But that may have already been there and just bee non-functional for the past few years. Who knows?
Thankfully, the Pirates of the Caribbean Wench Auction was still intact (there are rumors that it was going to be redone with a feminist theme).
It was 102 degrees near three or four o'clock when we started to eye the exit (the forecast was for a high of 104, but I don't know if it ever got that hot). In October. Which of the seven circle of Hell is Disneyland in?
Oh, one final observation - as much as I dislike the crowds, I appreciate the effect the hot weather has on some of the visitors' attire in the park.
My co-workers decided we should ress up as Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs at work this year, but I'd already planned to let Emeli work her special effects magic on me before this was decided, so I was a Zombie (or at least badly injured) dwarf at work this year. The gray dwarf beard I purchased online from Amazon broke the night before, so I had to improvise with that, too (I ended up with weird gray patches of beard glued at random invervals along my jawline - continuing the zombie theme).
I also learned about the importance of not storing dry ice in the freezer before you plan to use it - unless you want it to dissipate down to a tiny little chunk of dry ice that won't really do much for fog-creation...
I don't know that I'll ever get around to giving the following books their due, but I don't want to disregard them altogether, so here's a brief mention of several books I've read over the past year or so that I've never quite managed to compile my thoughts on.
JK Rowling - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
I was happy to see that the Harry Potter stories were continuing. But less happy to see that they were only continuing in script form. The story was interesting and well-done (the Harry Potter kids are adults with kids of their own, and the kids are now struggling with similar issues that their parents had years before), but I find reading a script to be painful. And so much less descriptive than a novel. I wouldn't mind seeing a film adaptation of the story, but I wouldn't recommend reading the script version. Unless you really like reading scripts.
Terry Pratchett - The Long Cosmos
This was the final Terry Pratchett collaboration novel with Stephen Baxter and, as with all the other Long Earth books, it felt less like a Terry Pratchett book than a book done by someone else. There were moments with Sancho the Troll that felt very Pratchett-esque, and I have enjoyed all these books, but I would have rather read another Tiffany Aching story - those books are amazing. These are a whole different breed of stories from the Tiffany Aching stories, though, and there's nothing wrong with them. So if you're a fan of multiple-dimension/universe theory and like to explore interesting ideas, this - and the previous novels - are for you. I remember reading that Stephen Baxter is continuing with at least one more novel in the series. Not sure if I'm interested in a Pratchett-less Long Earth story, though. We'll see.
Rick Black - Maximus
Rick Black is a long time friend of our family and a good dude. I never suspected he was capable of writing a historical novel. Yet...here it is. It's the story of Jesus Christ, though told from a completely new perspective. It's not the observations made by one of the Apostles, but from a Roman Officer who is sent on a mission to observe the threat of this Jewish guy who was accumulating more and more followers every day. The Roman Officer goes undercover and immerses himself in Jewish culture with another soldier, Androcles, and they find themselves going native. And becoming believers. It's an interesting perspective. Oh, and there are pirates in the story, too, so how can you go wrong?
William Forstchen - One year After
I just picked up the final book in this series (or the most recent, anyway). I've really enjoyed these apocalypse-via-EMP stories. The stories have no zombies, magic or plastic-eating viruses that don't exist - just good old fashioned currently-known-tech delivered via known means of delivery. They're more about the struggle to survive as society crumbles around you. I honestly don't remember as much about this specific novel as I do the series in general, but I do know that I enjoyed this story well enough to pick up the next book in the series, which is sitting on my reading shelf.
Greg Bear - War Dogs & Killing Titan
I can't believe I haven't mentioned either of these books, especially since I've long been a fan of Greg Bear's books. I did mention War Dogs in passing a while back, but never in enough detail to explain what I really liked about it. Sadly, it's now been so long that I don't have a real clear memory of the books, but I do remember them in general (and there's one more in the series yet to be read, which I do plan to acquire in the near future). Basically, these are books about space marines (very StarCraftish) taking on aliens invading the solar system (the story is set pretty far in the future), very similar to the general plot of Ender's Game at first glance. But there are several differences. The main one: Earth has been prepped to battle these invaliding aliens by another race of super-advanced aliens who come in very small numbers and share their tech with the people of Earth - but at a cost. The story twists and turns and you're often left wondering who the real bad guy of the story is. I don't know that I loved these books as much as I have some of the others I've read recently, but they were good enough that I'm looking forward to book three, Take Back the Sky (which is out, I just don't have it yet).
Adam Carolla - Daddy, Stop Talking
I had every intention of doing a full-write-up for Daddy, Stop talking. I'm pretty sure I even collected quotes, scanned photos from the book and did all the legwork up to just putting it together. But I guess there was just too much other madness around the time I finished reading it and now I can only find a coupe of the scans. Regardless, this was another very funny Carolla book, full of priceless parenting advice. And life advice. And complaints. Oh, yeah, there are a lot of complaints. But at least they're all well-reasoned complaints. You will laugh out loud as your read this book. I definitely recommend it to the not-easily-offended (because there is a lot in the book that's offensive and profanity is pretty common in all the Carolla books).
And of course there are photos and photo-shopped images all throughout.