Little Miss Bang Bang

See that? See what I did there, combining two movie titles like that? Clever, I know. And maybe slightly dirty, too, if your mind wanders down those types of alleyways. That's why they pay me the big bucks.

So Alissa and I saw Little Miss Sunshine Saturday night. First off, the theatre was packed. I was really surprised. It was a very impressive audience for a little indie flick that, a month ago, no one had ever heard of. Secondly, the movie is hilarious. Go see it. It puts your dysfunctional family to shame. How do I know? Because it puts my dysfunctional family to shame.

The movie is about a family that goes on a road trip so that the 7-year-old daughter can compete in a beauty pageant in California. The family includes the wannabe-self-help-guru father, near-the-breaking-point mother, heroin-addicted grandfather, voluntarily-mute-until-he-joins-the-Air-Force son, suicidal-Proust-scholar uncle (Steve Carell has never been better), and the aforementioned beauty-pageant-entering daughter. If that's not a recipe for comedy, then I don't know what is.

Seriously. See the movie. You can thank me later.

Also, I watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang tonight, the quirky crime noir caper written and directed by the king of '80s action flicks, Shane Black.

Starring Val Kilmer and Robert Downey, Jr., Bang Bang takes everything you know or think you know about the action movie, the noir movie, and deliciously serves it up to you, albeit slightly askew, as if you were slipped a mickey before the film begins.

It might be one of my new favorite movies, along with Sunshine. Not quite top five. Hell, maybe not even top 10, but I like a lot of movies, so take that for what it's worth. It's a great, funny, slightly insane movie, but that's all part of its charm. Highly recommended.


Writing Exercise #1

The first assignment for my Fundamentals of Fiction class was to write a two-page story about where I grew up, but with a lie. I asked the teacher if we were to create just one lie, or if the whole thing could be a lie, and she said whichever, just as long as there was at least one untruth in the story.

See if you can pick out my lie.

And, enjoy.


One week down, many to go

Well, I've survived the first week of what will probably be my most difficult semester of being back in school to date. Of course, what with this being the first week, it's not like there was much work to be done. But still, a few of the days are a real grind. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I get to campus before 10 for my job in the computer lab and get home sometime between 8:30 and 9:30, give or take. The majority of my classes meet only once a week, so they're each about three hours long.

I've finished most of the assignments that are due next week, with mainly just some reading to do...and a two-page story to finish, of which I have about a page left to write. It's supposed to be a story about where I grew up, but with a lie in it. I asked the teacher, "One lie? Can the whole thing be a lie?" And she basically said, "whatever," so I'm having a bit of fun with this one. I'll post it to my fiction blog for comments and harsh criticisms when I'm done with it.

I think the Astronomy class will be the easiest of the four. It's just an Intro class, so there really isn't a whole lot of work. Just the labs, which will be finished in-class, and some short magazine article reviews, for lack of a better term.

I'm not sure which class I'm going to enjoy the most yet. The News Writing one should be interesting, and, as I wrote before, I think I'm going to be able to handle the Fiction Writing one a lot better than I did all those many years ago.

The Small Group Communication class...that one might be the most trying. We were assigned our groups on Wednesday and I'm sure we'll all get along fine, for the most part. It's just that, okay, one of the guys, he's pretty gung-ho about this stupid war we're fighting, so that could lead to some...conversations. And the other guy, he has "no respect for" gay people. I believe he mentioned something about gays being an insult to God or some crap like that, so he annoys me solely on principle. I wanted to ask him, "Have you ever even met a gay person? Why does something that doesn't affect you whatsoever bother you so much?" But I didn't. I guess I can save that for one of our out-of-class get-togethers. I'm sure I'll get along just fine with the two girls in the group, however. They don't seem to be as close-minded (yes, I see the irony of that statement because I'm pretty close-minded about certain things, too, like, you know, prejudice and pointless wars), just young and maybe a little naive.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes. Gotta clear off the table for dinner tonight. My sister and her family are coming over. And then there's a Steelers preseason game on ESPN. And I have the new issue of Wired to read.

Remind me to mention later the new CDs I picked up this week, and the book I finished reading yesterday, The Everlasting, which I really enjoyed, though much of it unnerved me in its familiarity.


Beta Blogger

I sure hope this new version of Blogger is worth the headache it's currently giving me.


Musings on characters

Well, I'm about halfway through my day. I got to campus around 10 this morning, sat in the computer lab for two hours, walked across to the Fine Arts building, sat in a classroom for two and a half hours, and now I'm back in the computer lab for another two hours. Then I have my News Writing & Reporting class from 6 to 9ish. Then I finally get to go home, only to do almost the exact same schedule tomorrow.


There will, apparently, be a lot of writing involved with this Small Group Communication class I have Mondays and Wednesdays, along with the requisite (and obvious) group work. There are a few group papers to go along with our own reflections of how the group is working together.

Not so surprising is the amount of writing involved in the Fiction Writing class. I took this class, god, it must be about six or seven years ago by now. Same teacher. I didn't really see eye-to-eye with her about the so-called "Fundamentals of Fiction Writing" back then. I thought I knew everything I needed to know, y'know? I was kind of arrogant. Plus I didn't really care, especially by the end of the semester. I don't think she remembers me, which is probably for the best.

See, the thing that got to me last time was her, in my mind, disrespect of the types of stories I enjoy. So-called "genre" stories. You know, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. She had this spiel (which she gave again today) about how we're not there to write these "formula" stories, that we're going to be doing more "literary" fiction, which I took as a slam against some of my favorite writers. Neil Gaiman, while he writes mostly in the fantasy genre, is one of the best writers around. Period. I think he was my prime example back then, that these favorite writers of mine, also including Peter David, Frank Miller, Warren Ellis, while they may write in a particular genre of storytelling, their work is far from formulaic.

Of course, me being the arrogant fool that I was, I took exception to this without actually thinking about what she was talking about, nor thinking about what my favorite writers were writing about. This teacher, I understand now, was railing against formulaic writing with good reason. It's boring. Been there, read that. Her goal is to emphasize characterization, that all good stories have good characters first, and if you have good characters then you can stick them in a sci-fi setting, a fantasy setting, crime fiction, whatever, and it works. Had I actually given thought to all this back then, I like to think I would have reacted quite differently, but probably not because, like I said, this was around the time that I really stopped caring about school in general.

It hit me, of course, later on, that the reason I enjoy the writers I do is because they understand this, they write great characters who just happen to live in certain time periods or universes or whatever. As long as you make your characters real and believable, you can put them in any situation you want. You can write about the Singularity and thousands of years in the future if you want to as long as you create real people to inhabit that world. Gaiman can write about ancient gods in present-day America and it works because his characterization, his attention to detail, makes you believe that, in this story, under these conditions, this is real.

My favorite writers may write in various genres, but they don't follow any particular formula. And that's the trick. I can pick up any Gaiman story, or Greg Rucka, or Charles Stross, and I have no idea, regardless of genre, where the story is going to go. Rucka's last Atticus Kodiak novel is a perfect example of this. With the first four novels he set up a world where Kodiak runs a personal protection service, bodyguards for hire, basically, and each novel is him and his team taking a new case. We meet Kodiak and his crew and get to really know them over the course of those few books, but the fifth one, Critical Space, completely turns the concept on its ear, ripping Kodiak, and the readers, from his comfort zone. It was quite a shock, and while not coming completely out of left field, it was extremely unexpected.

Essentially, at its core, writing is all about character. The greatest concept in the world will become an absolute shit story if there aren't realistic characters bringing us along for the ride.

So I can write my superhero story. I can write my half-Mexican/half-Japanese samurai hero's journey or my world-weary, noir-infused crime story. I can write in all these various genres as long as I inhabit the world with real people.


Another day, another semester

Fall semester begins today. I have pretty light Monday schedule, just Small Group Communication and Leadership, whatever the hell that is, from 1 to 2:15. It counts as a Speech credit, and I'll still need one more Speech class after this one. I know how to fuckin' talk, y'know? I've been communicating for over 25 years. I don't know why I need these classes, but whatever.

Thursday is also a pretty light schedule, with just my Astronomy lab that night from 6 to 7:50, though I do work from 1 to 5 during the day, too.

Tuesday is my writing day, with Fiction Writing early in the afternoon (after a couple hours of work) and News Writing at night (after a couple more hours of work), and Wednesday is the aforementioned Speech class (after a couple hours of work) and then the actual Astronomy class in the evening (after a couple more hours of work - sense a pattern?).

This job, TJ's old job, sounds like it should be a breeze, just sittin' on my butt in a computer lab for two to four hours at a time. It's only 12 hours a week, so it shouldn't interfere with school work whatsoever. I should, in fact, be able to get at least some work done while sitting there.

The only thing I was slightly concerned about was having time between work and class to get my car from the parking garage at Crossroads and grab a bite to eat during the day, but after looking at my class schedule and work schedule side-by-side I think I'll have enough time, depending on how quickly the buses are running between the mall and campus.

Hopefully this will be an easy (and maybe even fun) semester. I can't imagine the Astronomy or Speech classes being overly difficult, and the writing ones, well, I guess I'll just have a lot of deadlines this semester.

I'm off to grab some food before I head to campus. Later...


Oy, my head...

So I was chugging caffeine pretty regularly the past couple of weeks, starting with my trip to Chicago, and now it seems to have come back and smacked me in the head rather soundly. I've had an awful headache since last night. Coincidentally enough, I haven't had any Mt. Dew Code Red since Monday afternoon.

Throughout my recent collegiate studies I've drank maybe a bottle of something caffeinated twice a week, but no more than that. But in Chicago I was drinking a bottle at least once a day, if not more. Same in Pittsburgh. And now I've got to get this crap out of my system. I should feel better by tonight, tomorrow at the latest, but until then, this really sucks.

Finally saw Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night. It recently premiered on HBO. What a funny movie. I didn't think I was going to laugh as much as I did, but it was so funny and absurd, what with the singing, dancing Oompa-Loompas and Johnny Depp's great performance. He cracked me up with all his mannerisms and tics. Very enjoyable film, that one.

I have to wait for the remainder of my financial aid monies to arrive before I can head to UNO for books and such, and I hope it turns up soon since classes start on Monday. My tuition was automatically paid this semester and then they send out a check for whatever's left over. I think I used to have to pick up the check from the financial aid office back in the day, but things change, I suppose.

Other than the headache I feel sufficiently rested from the recent trips. Got the car washed yesterday, and my back cracked. Laundry is beginning to pile up, though. I'll either take care of that today or tomorrow. I should swing by the comic book store since I haven't been there since before Chicago. You know what's great about comics? It's like every week is a holiday and there's a new present waiting for you.


Home again (for good...for a while)

We got back around 3:30 this afternoon. Those last few hours in the car were pretty brutal. It seemed like the closer we got home, the longer the drive.

It was a fun trip, for the most part. I'll write more about it tomorrow, probably. Classes start next week, so I need to spend time this week getting my things in order, getting books, a parking pass, etc.

Know what I was thinkin'? After all that time in the car, I could really go for a nice massage. Oh, if only I knew one who was schooled in the art of, well, massaging (nudge, nudge, hint, hint).


Quick hits

The Heinz Field tour this morning was pretty cool. It's a beautiful stadium. I can only imagine how loud it must be on game day.

And despite the final score (Cardinals 1, Pirates 7), the Cardinals/Pirates game tonight was really fun. I saw Albert Pujols go 4 for 4 with 3 doubles for St. Louis and Zach Duke pitch an 8-hit, 1-run complete game for Pittsburgh.

Plus I finally got to meet my cousin's wife (she seems very nice).

So it was a good day all around. Some pictures are up at my Flickr site. (I really need to upgrade to a pay account so I can upload more pictures per month.)

Enjoy. G'nite.

::EDIT 8/12/06::

Incidentally, I got an "A" in my Magazine Article Writing class and a "B" in my Native American Lit class.

Fall classes start on the 21st.


Final Chicago article

Here is my article about that live art party I went to last weekend. I think it turned out pretty well, though I wish I had more quotes from some of the other artists. I might go back and re-write bits of it, get it updated on the site.

So, we're in Pittsburgh. Had an interesting conversation with my grandmother today. She's scared, basically, to move to Omaha. She's lived in Pittsburgh her entire life (88 years) and the idea of upping and moving across the country, even to a city she's been to, a city where her son, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren live, is nearly terrifying to her.

I can understand her fears, but the life she has here in Pittsburgh isn't really much of a life at all, you know? Her friends are all dead. She has one grandson here, and he and his wife don't live close enough that, should something happen to her, they can be here in five minutes. They think she should move to Omaha where there are more people available who can help her.

It's just difficult for her to admit that she might actually need help with certain things, whether it's getting around the city or grocery shopping.

So, yeah, I think we're starting to get through to her, but she's been so resistant to moving for so long I don't know if she'll ever agree to it.

Tomorrow morning Dad and I are going to take a tour of Heinz Field, home of the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. And then there's the Cardinals/Pirates game tomorrow night. (Pictures are forthcoming.)

Not sure what's on tap for Saturday. Breakfast with an old friend of Dad's and then...? Dad mentioned stopping by the cemetary to say 'hello' to a few people, so we might do that in the afternoon.

Probably start heading home on Sunday after brunch with my cousin and his wife, so I'll be back in Omaha on Monday.

Be good til then.


Goodbye Chicago, Hello Pittsburgh

I had a pretty good time in Chicago at the comic convention. I got in free, which is always nice, and I'm getting paid for the few articles I wrote for CBR (also nice). It's very exhausting, though. The convention center is pretty big and I was running all over the place, from panel to panel, booth to booth, looking for people to interview (and for the bathroom, which is never in a convenient place).

The best part of the weekend was the live art party Saturday night at this bar called The Black Beetle in downtown Chicago. A bunch of killer artists, like Jim Mahfood, Dave Crosland and Jose Garibaldi, painted some awesome pictures all night (I'll have some photos up on my flickr site soon) to the phat beats of some great DJs, one of whom was Mahfood's younger brother.

Good times.

Another highlight was this writing seminar, for lack of a better term, conducted by one of my all-time favorite writers, Peter David. He discussed the necessity of character, story and plot, and the basic three-act structure of storytelling. It was a lot of fun and served to reinforce some key aspects of writing for me.

I was pretty wiped out on Monday when I had to drive home. I left Chicago around 9:30 and felt myself starting to nod off while driving at around 2. I got to Des Moines at 3, got gas, had lunch and did the final 130+ miles in about two hours. I would say that I don't want to do a drive like that again for a while, but seeing as how I'm heading to Pittsburgh tomorrow with my father...

The main reason for this trip is, I suppose, to attempt to convince my grandmother that she probably shouldn't be living alone anymore. Or, at least, that she should be living in Omaha where most of her family is, in case something happens. She shouldn't be driving anymore. She's 88 years old, y'know? Age catches up to all of us whether we want it to or not.

Other reasons for the trip include seeing my cousin (I finally get to meet his wife, Ann 2) and some of my dad's old friends. And, of course, the Cardinals/Pirates game (I think we're going Friday night). On TV it looks like a gorgeous stadium. I'll have pictures of the whole trip when we get back next week.

Anyway, like before, my cell phone will be on and I'll be able to check my email at least once a day.

(And it totally sucks that Jennie is coming to town this weekend and I'm gonna be in Pittsburgh.)



And I'm back (but not for long)

Home from Chicago. Man, is that drive brutal. But I learned I can do Omaha to Chicago (and Chicago to Omaha) in 7 1/2 hours.

My father and I are leaving for Pittsburgh on Wednesday. We're going to catch a ballgame (Cardinals versus Pirates), see my cousin (I finally get to meet his wife) and try to figure out what we're going to do about my grandmother, who sometimes has difficulty telling night from day, amongst other issues. She should probably move to Omaha, but she's been resistant to that idea in the past. So this should be interesting.

I'll write some about Chicago later. Dinner's here.


Wizard World Chicago

I'm taking off in the morning for Chicago. This weekend is the big, middle-of-the-country comic convention. I'm going to be reporting on a few panels and snapping some photos for Comic Book Resources, so if I don't completely fuck up the articles you'll be able to see them periodically over the weekend at the CBR website.

I'll be able to check email and I'll have my cell on if anything vitally important comes up. I'll be back in Omaha Monday night.

Be good.

::UPDATE - 8/04::

My first byline.

And number two.

::UPDATE - 8/05::

Third time's the charm.

Miami Vice

Let me qualify the following mini-review before I begin: I love Michael Mann films. I think he is one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. It is quite possible that he could film a car commercial and I would watch it over and over again.

With that out of the way...I really enjoyed the new film version of Miami Vice. It fits nicely with Mann's other recent gritty crime dramas, Heat and Collateral. He's got such a unique visual style. You can just tell when you're watching a Michael Mann movie.

The story was almost secondary for me with this movie, I was so mesmerized by the images floating by on the screen, but I think it holds up well enough for the film to be enjoyable. You simply have to pay attention and you'll understand everything.

And, yeah, that's about it. I need to get to bed so I can get up early, make some phone calls and finish my papers before I head to Chicago on Thursday. More on that later.