Monday, December 27, 2010

The Aftermath

Ah, Christmas. It's like a really good sneeze, isn't it? The holiday has such a tremendous build up and then it all passes by so quickly in a blur of 24 hours that you find yourself waiting for someone to say God Bless You as you recover from it.

And recovering is the trick. I'm fortunate that the front of the house is fairly clean. The kitchen's in good shape, and so is the dining room and the living room. The problem is the back rooms. Everything we were given for Christmas now has to find it's place. While the DVDs and games are easily put away, the books I was given will now have to be precariously balanced in my to-read pile for me to catch up to. They're great books, I can't wait to wade into them, particularly My Reading Life and Pat Conroy's Cookbook, both by one of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy.

I'm anticipating a slow week at work, something I haven't experienced since my return to the newspaper in November. The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve is traditionally slow, and I hope this one follows tradition to a T.

The writing is progressing. I'm chipping away at projects and I'm looking forward to getting into a steady groove of it after we enter 2011. The months between January and May tend to be my most productive in the writing world and I'm anticipating finishing at least one novel in the coming months.

But I'm also going to take the time to study music just a little bit. And I'm going to figure out what to cook with this jar of really cool, homemade cayenne-infused olive oil given to me by Mr. Pie and The Student Knitter.

But first I have to clean up this house and do a little laundry. Those sneezes are rough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm Ready For My Close Up


One of the cool things about being a reporter is that you just never quite know what's going to happen next. 

I met this regal looking little fella this afternoon just across the street from the newsroom. Word filtered into us that he collided with the movie theater doors and was sitting comfortably on the sidewalk as he recovered from his concussion.

Naturally, I grabbed the closest camera and went over to get up close and personal. I sat down on the sidewalk with him, but he wasn't happy with that. Instead he fluttered up to a higher perch on the ticket office and I gladly snapped a few close ups. I literally was inches away from this hawk. It was as close as I've ever been to one of these majestic creatures.

He'll grace the front page on Wednesday's edition (in a different photo). I'm happy to say I made his acquaintance.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Interesting Week

I've had an interesting week.

It started out on Monday when I put in an extra morning's work just to handle two Christmas parades. Naturally, one of the parade organizers didn't get around to sending their information to me until right at the deadline, so it was a frantic half hour of taking in data and getting press ready.

That evening I covered the Covington City School Board meeting, where the superintendent announced they had signed an agreement with the City Manager to put a resource officer in the local high school. The next night I covered the city council meeting when a council member and the city manager had a little debate over the issue, citing what I wrote in my article in that afternoon's paper.

Let me tell you that was an interesting moment. It was the first real bit of controversy that I'd ever stirred, even during my first hitch at the paper. See, the first time around I did mostly sports, a little hard news, and feature stories. This time I have a regular beat to cover and one that I've had very little experience at. In fact, before this week I'd never covered a school board meeting at all. So when the councilman pulled out the newspaper and started off with the words "I read in this afternoon's paper..." I had a brief moment of panic where I prayed that everything was correct in that article. Fortunately it was and the debate that followed had absolutely nothing to do with any error I might have made.

The rest of the week was spent deep in the Christmas spirit. And by deep in the Christmas spirit I mean typing hundreds of letters to Santa that the newspaper receives this time of year. We're one of the very few that runs those letters on Christmas Eve. It's a great tradition and that's why we do it. But behind that great tradition is countless hours of typing until your hand hurts from pounding keys for so long.

In the middle of all this, we had our first real snow of the year Thursday. It amounted to about six or seven inches. At the newspaper, when hell and high water happens, we don't call in. We go take a picture of it. So after getting Bethany to work I plowed my way to the office, where we faced a deadline that was an hour earlier so we could get the carriers off the roads at a decent hour. Everything was going smoothly and we were all just about finished with our assigned sections when a late breaking resignation of a prominent local government figure hit the company e-mail. So there went at least thirty minutes of reading, processing and tearing up Plan A so we could drop back to Plan B on the fly.

And today I'm sitting here, waiting patiently on the obituaries to filter in to my Inbox so I can get out the door and on my way to a very scenic Hot Springs where the Bath County Christmas parade will be taking place.

I'll grant you that this job has it's moments, but it's never quite the same thing from day to day. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it sometimes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Arctic Touch

It's really, really cold out there. Don't believe me? Go open your door. Here we have have temperatures that are struggling to break into the 20s with wind gusts that are cracking on in the upper 40 mph range. I don't think that I really appreciated just how hard the wind was blowing until I went to the post office a few minutes ago.

I like post offices. They're the last buildings around here that were really built to show power. The two bigger ones around here are so large, so high-ceilinged that every little think you do in there echoes. Sometimes I think putting a stamp on an envelope echoes. But they're built to impress you with the authority and power of the United States Government and on the inside, particularly the older ones where I live, they pull it off.

After purchasing my book of Christmas evergreen stamps I went over to the table to affix them to the envelopes of the last bit of our Christmas cards to get into the mail. As I was working the envelopes, the wind started to howl. And I mean howl. Not just that little moan you sometimes hear in the winter. I mean a full on, screaming banshee wail that was enough to make you look up and take notice. The windows rattled and the doors of the post office actually creaked inward under the force of the wind.

That was the first thing that made me notice the ferocity of the wind. The second was the moment that I opened the door to step back onto the street and was hit with a blast of wind that made it hard to breath for a couple of seconds.

We didn't see hardly any precipitation off of the big storm that crashed through the area over the weekend, but we're sure feeling the arctic touch at the moment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What You Choose To See

Every now and then, something I've heard a hundred times over just strikes me in a different way.

I had that very experience this morning. I was driving to work (which is still something of a new notion for me after nine months of unemployment) and jamming to three or four different CDs as I drove. I'm driving Bethany's car for mechanical reasons and it has a working CD player. Since my Jeep doesn't at the moment, it's been months since I've been able to enjoy my collection.

I made it through The Band Perry, switched over to Dave Matthews and decided I wasn't in the mood for that, so I moved on to Clint Black and finished up at Edwin McCain as I was driving past the high school a few blocks from my office. I flipped through Scream & Whisper until I landed at track number 7, Farewell to Tinkerbell.

The song is exactly what it sounds like: Peter Pan writing a letter to Tinkerbell saying goodbye because he's fallen in love with Wendy and can never return to Neverland. I've always seen that song as bittersweet. I've always looked at it with eyes that were tinged with sadness because of the friendship that was parting ways.

But I never listened to it the other way around. I never thought about how Peter was so happy now that he was giving up his innocence, an immortal life of childhood, to fall in love with one woman and grow old with her.

I'll never be able to listen to that song the same way again. I don't think I can not hear the utter happiness that triumphs over the wistful bittersweetness. Sure, Peter revels in his victory over Captain Hook and you can hear the wistfulness in his voice when he says  "Tink you know you'll always have my everlasting love," but wow, just for a moment, forget about what he's giving up and think about what he's found.

It's incredible.

Perspective, my friends. It's all in how you look at the world...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'd Forgotten How Much It Hurts

I'd forgotten how much guitar play hurts. Wow.

I'm not talking about my fingertips now. Though I haven't seriously attempted anything on the guitar in a long while the calluses on my fingertips are still there and up to snuff. No, what I'm talking about is my left forearm. It's been so long since I've played that it almost cramps up as I twist my fingers back into the different chord shapes. I feel like I usually do after I hit the gym after a couple of months of not being in there.

I'm making an effort to do this right and study the different notes and learn to read the music. I have the sheet music to Misguided Roses by Edwin McCain and I also have Before These Crowded Streets and Crash by Dave Matthews coming in the mail. All three of these albums are music that has inspired me and I want to learn to play them right.

The first thing I've had to do is start Guitar 101 all over again and practice my chord shapes and switching between them. Now I have to get my hand accustomed to bar chords again, which, as you might imagine, is a royal pain. But I'm getting there. Now that I have a steady job with steady income I can take my mind off my worries for a while and concentrate more on the things I enjoy.

Devan and I are tentatively planning on a work session Monday it things go our way. And if it doesn't, we'll reschedule for another day soon after. We're both excited because it's the first time we've been on the same side of the world in months and we have some pretty good ideas to get down on paper.

This weekend is Bethany's big Christmas concert with the Greenbrier Valley Chorale at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg. If you're interested in coming, you'll have to call the ticket office at (304) 645-7917. I'll warn you that there's a chance they may already be sold out, but the good news is that Bethany found out today they'll be singing at The Greenbrier on December 23, which is the day before the night before Christmas. I don't think I've ever been in The Greenbrier and I can't wait for that evening.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gathering 'Round The Bookshelves

Boy, is it cold out there. And I don't mean just a little cold. I mean the kind of cold that makes me wonder why I'm not living at the beach where they shoot those Corona commercials. Actually, it's not that cold out there but the wind is brutal. We went to dinner at Devan's apartment over in Buchanan and on the way home it was all I could to do keep the Jeep on the road sometimes.

Getting the old crew together is a rare thing these days, though tonight we've decided to make it a little less rare. It's kind of cool how nothing ever really changes. We all more or  less fall into the same roles that we always do. Patrick takes over the food and becomes Devan's favorite target, Devan tries to entertain everyone in the room (he sees the world as an audience) and generally sticks his foot in the mouth and I fall somewhere in between and generally just argue with whoever I decide to disagree with on any given night.

We've all mellowed a bit since we've been married. Actually, we've all married a bit since we've gotten older. I'd say we've become more mature, but, and let's be honest here, that just probably isn't the case. We don't stay up as late as we once did, nor do we eat as much or argue at the top of our lungs as much as we once did (though that last one is a near thing).

One of my favorite parts of any given evening with Devan and Patrick is the traditional gathering 'round the bookshelves to see what books we want to steal. I came away with two novels this evening, both completely unfamiliar and recommended by Devan. He's yet to steer me wrong on a literary recommendation, so I feel like these will be worth looking into. Patrick borrowed Fever Dream, the latest Pendergast novel.

But what we actually take away from the shelves is not nearly as interesting as the conversations that happen around them. It doesn't take long for us to start batting titles around of the latest and greatest books we've read. If we're not rushed to get somewhere and eat something, our discussion eventually lands in one of those titles and we start picking apart the reasons why we liked it. Often times this happens as one of us is trying to pitch the book to the others, but the most interesting discussions happen when we're talking about a novel we've all read.

I tend to pick up on the broader themes and how the novel fits into the larger scheme of the series as a whole. Patrick tends to hit on one or two really insightful and emotional moments that really hit him hard and drove home the feelings of a particular character. Devan usually picks out the one minuscule little detail that we missed that changed the entire plot.

It's the type of literary discussion you'd never see taken seriously on any kind of talk show or podcast because it'd be next to impossible to follow it if you haven't been hanging out with us for as long as we have. Just ask my Dad. These discussions drive him nuts. In all honestly, though, these discussions are probably one of the big reasons that we've all been able to stay friends for all this time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Now That Was A Christmas Parade

I'm usually not a fan of Christmas parades, but Covington's parade was pretty cool Saturday night. Sure, it had the usual array of fire trucks and cement trucks and snow plows all festooned with Christmas lights, but it had more than it's usual share of floats and, most importantly, snow.

I like downtown Covington. Main Street looks like something out of the past with all it's streetlights and clocks and lit trees. Add in the kind of blowing snow that we had Saturday and it became the perfect backdrop for just about anything festive. There were even people handing out free hot chocolate and cookies. How it gets any better than that I just don't know.

Winter has officially settled in my neck of the woods. We had our first snowfall that only amounted to a couple of rapidly melting inches. It's interesting to note, however, that this year's first snowfall fell on the exact same date as last year's first snowfall, and we all know about the blizzard that happened soon after that.

Regardless of the snow, it's cold outside and the wind is much colder than the air temperature. It's the perfect time to be hunkered down on the couch with a roaring fire and a good book in hand. Which is exactly how I plan to spend the rest of my evening until the Ravens and Steelers kick off at 8:30.

I love winter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Snug and Warm

As I sit here in the newsroom awaiting the rush of work that's going to fill my afternoon, the first snowflakes of the year are drifting down from a uniformly gray sky that holds the promise of accumulation. It's perfect timing, really, when you consider that this is the first weekend of December.

I'm glad that I'm not out in it today, though I will be for an hour or two tonight. This is the kind of snowfall that puts me in mind of quieter, calmer times. Of fireplaces lit and overflowing with warmth, of stacks of books piled high beside my favorite chair.

I read an interesting post over at JM Tohline's blog about the most creative time of the year for writers. Not surprisingly, quite a few of those who chimed in chose fall and winter as their best times. My best writing time of the year begins December 26.

This dark and cold time of year is among my favorite times. It's a time of year that just begs to be enjoyed from inside a snug home with books both to be written and to be read and DVDs to be watched. All three of my novels, Chaos Reborn,  The Crownless King and Blood and Steel were written between the months of December and May. With luck, I'll be putting the finishing touches on both Blood and Steel and the young adult book I'm working on with Devan by the time the winter breaks.

Yes, I'll be combatting the dark days of winter by studying the art of storytelling. Be it in a television show, a movie, or in writing, I'll spend these next months wrapped in a warm blanket of words. It's enough to make me wish I lived in a colder, darker and snowier climate.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back To Work

After a month of working at The Virginian Review I can tell you that very little has changed since my departure four years ago.

The faces are still the same, the people I'm dealing with are still the same and the job is even still the same. There are a few cosmetic changes, but it's more or less the same place I left a few years ago. The sweet times to be in the newsroom are between 12:30 and 1 o'clock in the afternoon and that final half hour of the day that begins at 4:30. Those are the two most peaceful times at The Virginian Review. At 12:30 the day's paper has been sent across the hall to the press and there are 30 minutes left, on an average day, to kick back, talk and wait for the clock to tell us to go to lunch. At 4:30 things tend to be more or less wrapped up for the day and there comes a point somewhere in there where you decide you've done all you're going to do for the day and you start browsing the AP news wire or the Internet until the clock says it's time to go home.

This job has its moments, though. Two of them are going to come around this weekend. Friday and Saturday evening you'll be able to find me on the streets of Clifton Forge and Covington watching the Christmas parades roll by. There isn't a thing I can do while the parade is going on, but I'm supposed to be there. True, it's overtime, but I could write the story without ever laying eyes on a single float. The boss man prefers that I be there, however, so I will be.

Among the employees of the paper there is a lot of goofing off and a great deal of an attitude that's too far away from doing the job right in the first place. Frankly, I don't care if I have to go spend extra time covering events that don't hold my interest. After nine months of unemployment, I'm happier than a bird with a french fry just having a job again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What To Read?

My To-Do List today is piled 16 items deep. Some of them are fairly simple and will be crossed off easily today (barring catastrophe or shiny distractions, and let's face it, there are a lot of shiny distractions). Others, like moving things into storage so we can set up the extra small bedroom for Christmas, will take all week.

The list at work is a fairly heavy one as well. I have three features to chase down this week in addition to covering the Clifton Forge and Covington Christmas parades. I also have a task at City Hall to complete, though that shouldn't take all that long to do.

And in the true spirit of Christmas the weatherman is calling for the first bit of snow to fall here this weekend. Since it's coupled with rain I doubt that it's going to amount to much, but I'm all happy about the return of winter weather (even if I have to cover a parade in it). It's just going to be a matter of time before I break out the soundtrack to Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, which just happens to be one of the bestselling jazz albums of all time.

Christmas is always a magical time for me. When I was a kid it was filled with toys and as I grew older the toys were gradually replaced by books. If I'm being honest, I still receive a few toys every year, but, then again, who doesn't? It was Christmas when I was first introduced to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. It was a snowy Christmas a long time ago when I first read The Return of Sherlock Holmes after checking out a 1942 illustrated hardcover edition from the Clifton Forge Public Library.

This year I'm debating, just a bit, about what to read over the holidays and I'm giving serious consideration to returning to some of my favorites. Seeing the amazing adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last weekend in the theater has me hankering a little bit of that series, but then again both Star Wars and Star Trek hold the promise of new and old goodness for me reading pleasure. Of course I can't forget about Sherlock Holmes. Those stories never get old, even if I've read them all about three times.

Any suggestions, anyone?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Successful Day

We finally finished processing the last of our October weddings. It was a chore to get it polished off today, but after a long session of both of us processing we've managed to get it knocked down. Bethany has a couple of sessions left to put through Photoshop but they're most definitely a lighter task than the weddings.

Saturday morning at work I finished reading The Lost Hero, the new Percy Jackson novel, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. By the end of the novel I had pieced together enough of the foreshadowing to be able to guess at what the big secret was, so I can't say that I was surprised at the conclusion. However, I can say I'm pretty happy with it and I can't wait to read the rest of the series (which hasn't been written yet). I was fortunate to not start the first series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians until after they were all published. It only took me about two weeks to plow through those five novels. Yes, they're written for a younger audience but they're also really well written and highly addicting.

There are two novels coming out Tuesday that I plan to purchase, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Vortex and the newest Star Trek: Typhon Pact novel. They'll both be released at midnight and will happily download to my Kindle while I'm sleeping. I really am surprised at how much I'm enjoying reading on my Kindle. True, it's not the same as having a book in my hands, but I really appreciate the ease and freedom that a Kindle brings to my life. I live in a semi-remote area and the closest book store is an hour away from my front door. We once had a local bookstore that I absolutely loved (I was officially named their best customer) but, sadly, it went under. Amazon.com wasn't a bad replacement, but there was the interminable delay caused by my books being shipped from their warehouse. The Kindle allows my to shop from my library, in my pajamas, and have the book downloaded in my hands within a minute. Pre-ordered books are delivered as I sleep. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Since it was Sunday I did a little light cooking this afternoon. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. All I did was marinate some sliced chicken breast in white wine and a little olive oil. I seasoned with basil, parsley, minced garlic with a touch of salt and pepper. I boiled some instant rice and a few broccoli sprouts (it takes about four minutes in boiling water to get broccoli tender with just enough crunch to be satisfying) and then mixed it all together. It was flavorful but it needed just a little more flair. At any rate, it's something to experiment with in the future.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

The Christmas season has officially arrived. Sure, it's still November, but it's also two days after Thanksgiving. Our Christmas tree is up, there are lights on are house and there are even presents already wrapped under the tree.

At least I waited until the day after Thanksgiving instead of decorating in October like all the stores do.

Every year our outdoor light show expands just a bit. The first year I think we only had icicle lights on the house. Then we added lights to the porch and the maple out front (we had to wait for it to get tall enough). This year, since we had some spiffy new icicle lights that were slightly longer than we needed, we ran lights down the gutter and into the butterfly bush. There's some debate about running them from the bush into the two other trees on the far side of the yard, but that would require the purchase of more lights.

When I left the house this morning the interior still needed some work. There were boxes to put away and garland and other things to hang. We just ran out of time last night since the tradition is to not start hanging lights until after dark. It's just more fun if you can't see what you're doing.

The weather here is finally cooperating and dipping into the colder winter temperatures we all know and love. In fact, looking at the forecast here on my desk, the temperatures barely hit 50 degrees at all next week. It's cold and dark by the time that I get home and that's just fine with me. I have The Last Airbender to watch, John Adams to watch and a deep pile of books to get me through the winter.

Ah, if only it would snow...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

'Tis The Night Before Thanksgiving

'Tis the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house, the smell of fresh bread pervades the night air.

Thanksgiving is at our house this year and right now things are looking like fun. The turkey's been thawing in the refrigerator today. The two loaves of bread that Bethany and I made are in the oven. All the ingredients for the other dishes are laid out on the counter, all ready to be sliced, diced, chopped, stirred and cooked for the Thanksgiving feast.

Yes, life is good.

To top it off I've even collected a my second paycheck in nine months and this one was my first full one. I celebrated by taking Bethany to dinner, buying her flowers and then myself John Adams and The Last Airbender. I missed The Last Airbender when it was out in theaters and it looks like the kind of fantasy action movie that's right up my alley. John Adams is the seven part HBO miniseries that garnered 13 Emmys when it aired last year. I've been hankering to own it for a while and I'm looking forward to settling in to watching it next week. The Revolutionary War is probably one of my favorite periods of history and this docudrama looks to be entertaining.

In the meantime I'm reading The Lost Hero, the first book in the newest Percy Jackson series. It's true that Percy Jackson's adventures are intended for a younger audience, but they sure are a lot of fun. I'm enjoying the fun twists on the Greek myths that I was taught in elementary school and it's been something of an education reading the series. I don't know where my readings will take me next, but I do have quite a to-read pile to keep me happy.

The writing is going well this week. Tuesday evening I covered the Covington City Council meeting and then had the house to myself as Bethany was in Lewisburg practicing for the upcoming chorale concert. They're performing selections from Handel's Messiah on Dec. 12 and I'm looking forward to that concert. It's been a great part of my early Christmas season since she joined the Greenbrier Valley Chorale a couple years ago. But I digress. I spent the better part of two hours on the second draft of Blood and Steel Tuesday evening and added something in the neighborhood of 3,000 words. I'm about to really delve into the meat of the plot and I'm pleased so far with both my first draft and the smoothing over that's occurring in the second draft.

Since the bread now requires some attention, I believe I'm going to wrap this post up. I'd write a little more after dealing with the baking, but I just can't seem to put The Lost Hero down.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Better Photograph


Since the last photograph I uploaded wasn't my best work I thought I'd offer up this one tonight. After all, I couldn't let you think that the last photo was the best of my football work. If you're looking for the story in the photography, you'll have to know Covington football to understand it.

Covington doesn't throw the ball unless they're behind, and with a 6-6 final record, that happens more than the Cougars would like it to. When they do throw it, they tend to put in another quarterback, who you can see scrambling to get the ball out of his hand before he's sacked. There's not a lot of drama in the photo, but if you've watched enough Covington High School football you know what's going on.

It is the week of Thanksgiving and we're slowly getting ready for it. The turkey (all 22 pounds of it) is in the refrigerator happily thawing out for the big day. I went to Kroger today and bought the last of the things we need to have on hand when Thursday rolls around. I think we'll have a grand total of eight people, which should make for a nice dinner. It's a shame that the only football that's going to be on television is the Patriots at the Lions, which should be a complete massacre.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Photo That Almost Happened


This is the photo that almost happened.

You see, sports photography is about 5% knowledge of the camera and photo techniques, 5% knowledge of the game your game, 5% willingness to grit your teeth and hope that the guy doesn't hit you while you're shooting and about 85% luck. Anyone that tells you any different is just flat lying to you. You might be able to shave some of that percentage of luck with a little advance preparation, but there's only so much wiggle room to be had in that formula.

Friday night I was prowling the Covington sidelines as they traveled to East Montgomery High School on the other side of Salem. For their troubles Covington received an old fashioned butt-whooping by a team that's likely to be the state champions of the Single A division. I've shot plenty of high school football before, so I'm familiar with what I'm doing, even if I'm just a little rusty after a four year sabbatical from the work.

During half time, I set my camera to Automatic to take a couple of shots of a CHS helmet. I figured it would be a nice graphic to have somewhere down the line at the newspaper. When the second half started, I forgot to switch my camera back to the Manual setting where, combined with the flash, I had a high enough shutter speed to stop the motion of the game.

Covington was trailing by three scores by the time they had their first possession of the half, so it was time to air it out (note the knowledge of the game). I went down the sideline and set up, waiting for the deep pass that I knew was coming. My powers of prognostication didn't let me down and the quarterback uncorked a deep through to the sideline.

I saw the receiver and the cornerback coming closer and closer, but I stood still (note the willingness to grit my teeth and hope I didn't get hit) because the play was unfolding directly in front of me (note the healthy dose of luck that was actually in my favor for once). Sadly, the pass was incomplete and so was my photo because I had failed to switch back to the Manual setting. When the image popped up on my screen I knew what I'd done and why I'd blown the shot, so I was able to reset and move on with the shooting.

This photo was nowhere near good enough to make the paper, but I like it for some reason. The motion blur speaks a little to how I see the game of football: as a very fast paced game that has a great deal of violent and sudden stops. This would never show up in a black and white photo on the newsprint we use at The Virginian Review so I'm just going to add this one to my collection.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back In The Saddle

So having regained the ranks of the gainfully employed I find myself working on a daily basis. I'm making a living writing again, which is kind of cool. The duties are a little different this time around. I don't have so much of the jack of all trades label, but I am getting a crack at a high school football playoff game Friday night.

I'll be prowling the sidelines, bundled up against the cold with my camera in hand trying to catch the kind of stunning football photographs that Sports Illustrated would be lucky to have a shot at purchasing. Mostly I'll just be freezing my butt off.

Saturday will also be my new debut as Local News Editor with a front page story about neighborhood watch programs. It's a magnificent piece of journalism that will never win me a Pulitzer, but who keeps track of those things anyway?

In the meantime I'm continuing work on the second draft of Blood & Steel. I'm almost 10,000 words in, which is a pretty significant chunk of writing, actually. There are all the little rewrites happening along the way that usually accompany the creation of a second draft and I can happily report that progress is good.

On the photography front Bethany and I are still wading through some wedding photos and other sittings from October. We're pushing to have it all done by the first of December, an entirely feasible goal.

I have to say that it feels good to be employed again. Now if I could just get Bethany's car fixed...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back From Vacation

Life might actually be returning to some semblance of normal.

(Even as I type that I kind of duck and hunch over my keyboard, looking cautiously over my shoulders to see from what direction I'm going to be thrown the next curve.)

Tuesday morning I'll report to work at The Virginian Review and collect my first actual paycheck in nearly nine months. It won't be a full week's pay since Bethany and I went to Pigeon Forge for most of last week, but even still, it will be a paycheck.

Part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits theaters Friday and I can't wait to see it. Well, I can, since obviously I'm going to have to, but I'm looking forward to it. This will be the first time I've seen a movie adaptation of a book actually go to the effort of splitting the film into two parts to cover it all. I hope they do a better job than they did with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I can't think of another time that I left a movie theater that angry.

Before I left last week I spent some time on the second draft of Blood & Steel. I made it through a good chunk of typing and I'm still getting into the opening act of the novel, but it felt good to be writing again. And it feels good to be earning a living with my pen again.

To make it even better, the holidays are coming up. Bethany and I did the first bit of Christmas shopping while we were on vacation and we even have the gifts wrapped and waiting to go under a tree the day after Thanksgiving. Since we're speaking of Thanksgiving, we also made it out to Kroger this morning where we purchased a handsome 21 pound turkey for the holiday feast. I'm figuring on having about eight people total at dinner for Thanksgiving and that works out to almost three pounds of turkey per person. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Oh, and I now have plenty to read. So much so that I doubt I'll be purchasing much in the way of fine literature until next year. I have one or two titles that I plan to add to the Kindle when they're released because I'm closely following those series, but I think I'm pretty well set for a while.

Yes, life is good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It's Good To Be Me

There are some days that are just meant for not doing anything.

Today's been one of those days. I wish I could regale you with an exciting tale of adventure and narrow escapes, but it's just not that kind of day.

No, today is the kind of day where it looks warmer than it really is. Even the thermometer deceives. It makes you think it's about 60 degrees outside, but what it doesn't take into account is the wind. This wind holds more than the whisper of winter that comes in early fall. This is a full blown promise of the bitter cold that's coming.

The answer to that promise is soup. And hot homemade bread and a cold glass of Pepsi. And falling asleep on the couch watching reruns of Castle. And a good book, which I haven't yet made it to, but I will. I have plenty to read.

You're also reading the words of a man who's two days away from a nice little vacation in Pigeon Forge that will celebrate our second anniversary. Before that, I have two days of fill in work at The Virginian Review. Apparently the person who took my job after I left three years ago left yesterday and the editor asked if I'd come in and lend a hand to get them through. Which is cool. It'll be neat to get back in the newsroom after taking some time off from it for a few years.

But before that is a Sunday of football.

Yes, it's good to be me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cold Pizza & Engine Grease

I like it when things are going my way. Who doesn't? And it's a good week here on the hill. On Tuesday evening and it's nice and cold out (great sleeping weather). It's the first of the month and the bills are paid without any major financial legerdemain, I have a couple of shiny new books to read (including two new Robert Jordan novels I've been saving) and next week Bethany and I are going to Tennessee for a little three day get away. Everything is going nice and smoothly.

So where's the catch, you ask? I found it last night.

Bryan's been working for two weeks in the evenings to replace the motor in his '05 Explorer. It gave up the ghost after a little more than 70,000 miles. The project isn't simple, but it is possible. But it gets more complicated as it goes. We found sand all over the interior, especially in some places where the presence of sand is most definitely Not A Good Thing. In a moment of frustration last week, Bryan busted the radiator as he pried on something with a crow bar. (I've seen Bryan stick a crow bar in a motor twice now and neither time has been good. The last time he attempted to use a crow bar to take the tension off the belt on the Volvo we spent twenty minutes with a hammer trying to get it out.) That was a $200 moment of frustration that was fixable.

The catch in my week that's going just a little too smoothly is that we spent three hours trying to get the new motor mounted in place last night. We started at 5:30, called a pizza in with intentions of going up and grabbing it before we were heavy in the middle of it. But Bryan's friend Dave (who has done this before and was there to be extra muscle to get the motor in place) convinced him to start while there was daylight since it wouldn't take long.

Wouldn't take long. Famous last words.

At 8:30 we still haven't wrangled the beast in place, though we have two bolts in and have managed to lock the harmonic stabilizer in a bind so that we can't turn it, which means there's a good chance that we have to back up and start over. We took a break, shed the coveralls and went for the pizza, flashlights and some batteries.

It was Pizza Hut's new Big Italy pizza, which is too big to fit in their warmer, so they just set it aside 'till we made it there. The pizza was only slightly warmer than the night air we were working in, which was solidly in the 40s.

But by the time made it back to Dave's he had fixed the problem and all we had to do was add the bolts.

Fortunately I like cold pizza. It even tastes better with a touch of engine grease.

Monday, November 1, 2010

If It Wasn't For The Turkey

If it wasn't for the turkey I'd almost skip Thanksgiving and move straight on to Christmas.

And why not? Christmas is a magical time of snow and trees and decorations and Christmas cookies and...well, this list could go on for pages.

It's the first day of November and I'm already looking forward to the 26th. You see, the day after Thanksgiving is the day that we invite people up to decorate our house celebrate the day after Thanksgiving. There are usually cookies, leftovers and much laughter coupled with frustration as we try to figure out how to get all the lights connected and shining.

After running a couple errands today in Covington I was in the mood to walk through Wal-Mart. I wasn't necessarily looking to purchase anything, but I did walk away with a pair of much needed rip-stop cargo pants that look incredibly comfortable. Anyway, I noticed that Wal-Mart was gearing up for Christmas on the day after Halloween. So I drifted over the the Lawn & Garden/Christmas section. It smelled like cinnamon and candle wax. There were Christmas trees up and lit and three empty aisles in the process of being filled with Christmas paraphernalia (I really just wanted to use a bigger word there instead of stuff). And they had Christmas lights on sale. I picked up two boxes of icicle lights for $6 that I needed to replace what the blizzard ruined last year.

Since I was feeling the spirit and had some more time on my hands I meandered over to Hallmark to peruse the ornaments. They have some really cool new ornaments that light up, but they were on the expensive end of the price range. So I settled for a nice, carved-looking Santa and one A Christmas Story ornament for Bethany.

So, yea, if it wasn't for the turkey I'd be ready to put up a Christmas tree. I really love Christmas. But then again, I also like to eat...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Amy's Leaf


This photograph adequately sums of the frustration of my fall.

I've been waiting and waiting for the explosion of color that we typically have this time of year and I've been disappointed. That's not to say that it hasn't been beautiful, because it has in its own way, but from a photographic standpoint the colors just weren't very vivid. It's almost as if most of the foliage just fell off while it was still green.

Instead of a landscape teeming with bright oranges, reds and yellows I've found myself shooting at a world that only has splashes of color. During a bridal portrait shoot this afternoon that Bethany conducted I was walking along the lake trail at Douthat and noticed that most of the leaves had fallen. Then I noticed that most of the leaves were brown or very dully colored. We stopped at a bench in front of the water fall at the lake and I noticed that of all the leaves at my feet, there was only one that had any real color to it. I stared at it for a long moment and then took the photo without disturbing anything.

Last year we had an abundance of color amid a wet and almost constantly raining autumn. It was great and it eventually led to a heavier than usual winter. This year the colors have been as sparse as the rain and I've found myself searching in different places for the splashes of color that I've been wanting to add to my collection.

But then again, I should be thankful for what color we have in the world. After everything that's happened this week I've gained a little more perspective on life than I once had. I know a girl who would have loved to have been able to see another autumn, but this one was her last. It was the message her mom imparted to me at the family visitation.

"If there's something you want to do in life, Josh, then do it. Don't make excuses not to. Don't put it off. Just do it. That was the only thing Amy regretted, the things she didn't do and won't get to do."

Heavy words that were driven home by the poignancy of the moment. Amy's life was cut short by disease that she fought with everything she had but couldn't beat. She'll never get to finish her degree, have children and do a thousand other things that I'm sure she wanted to do. Perhaps most heartbreakingly, she won't get to grow old with her husband.

When I die I hope that I can do so after a long life lived to its fullest. So as much as I wanted as vivid a fall as last year's, I think I'm just going to appreciate this one and the fact that, most likely and God willing, I'll be able to get up in the morning to enjoy another day with my wife.

So today (I'm writing this as Saturday turns to Sunday) when Bethany has another shoot and I walk along the same trail and see this leaf, I'm going to remember Amy, tell my wife I love her and be thankful for what I have.

I'd like to think that Amy would be happy knowing that I took that away from visiting with her family in the days after her passing.

I still wish the outcome could have been different...

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Little Pick Me Up

I had an interesting, if somewhat vain experience today.

During the trek back down from Roaring Run falls last week I lost a foot off my tripod. It has a screw missing that tightens the clamp that holds the foot and I just keep forgetting to replace the screw. On the other hand, I usually remember to keep up with the feet of my tripod. Last week I didn't, but by fortunate happenstance a member of the camera club went back on the trail just the other day looking for his lost cell phone and came away with my foot.

So I went by the Fire & Light Gallery to retrieve it (where I also picked up a set of nice handmade coat hangers) and decided that I'd stop by the Clifton Forge Public Library on my way home to peruse the shelves. I have a Kindle, as I'm sure I've mentioned on this blog in the past, so going to the library has become a little like shopping in a bookstore for me now. Most stores don't care for the Kindle because it's an Amazon only product. Barnes & Noble has their own e-reader, the Nook, but I like the Kindle better and therefore I can't take the Kindle into a B&N and download books from Amazon and not the B&N online store.

So I go to the store and take notes on what books I want to buy. Or I just go to the library and look around. I was walking down a general fiction aisle at the library and I stumbled across my own two novels setting on the shelf. My novels. My name was on them. And they were on the shelf that was one of my favorites when I was kid, where I found Star Trek and Star Wars novels and later fantasy novels that introduced me to entire new worlds.

And my books were on those same shelves.

It's been a hard week and a long and busy month. I needed that little pick me up and didn't even realize it. I needed to see those books on that shelf and remember why I started writing in the first place.

I'd better be getting back to it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blowing My Own Horn


This may be something of a record week for me. Three blog posts and three photographs. Not a bad bit of work if I do say so myself. (And I do. In the words of one Chiefie O'Rourke, if you don't blow your own horn, who will?)

This is the third keeper from my Roaring Run trip and, unlike the others, not something I've shot before. In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that this is the bottom of the cascade in yesterday's blog post. I really enjoy the shape of the water sliding down the rocks. I've never seen a stream move quite like that before. Notice how it sort of swings out, back in and then curves back out again? I think that's pretty neat. I'm also a fan of how the water almost (but not quite) seems to be an afterthought in the photograph. I wish that the sun had made a bigger impression in the photograph, but I think that having it there is a nice touch. Oh, an if you'll look closely in the foliage on the right, I'm fairly certain that's Gavin Dressler standing in my photograph.

In looking at everything I've shot recently I'm discovering that I much prefer to take a vertical photograph as opposed to a horizontal one. I'm not sure why, particularly since most of my photojournalism training involved shooting horizontally as a pretty standard practice and then cropping vertical later in post processing if I wanted to. It definitely lends itself well to shooting streams and waterfalls, so I think I'll keep the habit for now.

I may yet pull out one or two others from Sunday's trip, but these three were definitely the highlights for me. I only took about 20 photographs and I've culled the three I've shown you as the best.  The photograph below was taken by Jeff Bartley (who has an aversion to being in these photographs) who volunteered to take the group photo of everyone that went on the outing. This isn't all the members of the Alleghany Camera Club by far and there were even a couple more people who showed up after the photograph was taken. Chuck Almarez passed this along to everyone after the outing, so I thought I'd post it here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Then & Now


I've shot quite a bit up at Roaring Run, particularly in autumn, and I always seem to come up with something new. Sometimes I'll even revisit an old favorite and see it in a different light.

This is another one of my keepers from Sunday's Roaring Run trip. I took a photo last year from almost the same position but at a completely different angle. The water was higher last year, taking away a lot of the gentle rolling you see in this image. There was also a great deal more color in the forest then as opposed to now.

The assignment for Sunday was capturing motion and light. Usually I use a really dark Neutral Density filter (about 9 stops worth) and take a three minute or so exposure. I was traveling in a pack Sunday and didn't have a great deal of time to spend on each photo like I normally would. So instead I shot with my 28mm wide angle lens and 50mm macro and closed the lens all the way down, lowered my ISO and used a polarizer to bring out the colors and give me another couple of stops of darkness.

Using the polarizer instead of the other filter gave me an entirely different image of the water. Sure, it wasn't as silky smooth as the others, but look at the image above. The water has a nice blue tint to it (mostly due to the fading light) and a great deal of flowing motion that may have been smoothed over in a longer exposure. I especially love the fact that the water fills up the entire bottom portion of the photograph before flowing to the left and then away from the camera.

Oh, and just for comparison, below you'll find the image I shot around the same time last year. See the difference?


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Camera Club Outing


Sunday afternoon was the inaugural outing of the Alleghany Camera Club. Since Saturday saw Bethany, Sarah and I shooting what should be the last wedding of the fall season, it was a great opportunity to go out and take a few nature photographs (which is the type of photography I love to do anyway).

About a dozen people, give or take a couple, showed up and hiked the 0.6 mile trail up to the top of Roaring Run. I came away with three really good shots that I'm pleased with and a fourth that I'm still mulling over. The assignment was Capturing Light & Motion, so the challenge was to show the motion of the water without leaving out the fall colors (fading as they are).

This photo was taken about halfway up the creek at the third bridge that spans Roaring Run Creek. I took a similar picture last fall and the only fall color I had then was a vivid yellow. This year the colors aren't quite as vibrant but they are still very pretty. 

What I like most about this photograph is the stump that's laying in the creek. I'm shooting from a low angle, so the tree stump looks much more massive than it really is. The stump was full of character, so much so that I actually stopped on the way back down the creek and spent another five minutes just looking at it and wondering how I could capture it's character. It really was a pretty big stump, I'd say every bit of three to four feet across the bottom. 

I looked at that stump in the fading light of day for a long moment as I made my way back down. It made me think of an older time, almost prehistoric, when trees and animals were much greater in size than they are today. Ever seen The Land Before Time cartoon where the leaf falls down and lands on the head of the Apatosaurus and covers his entire head? Or see the fossils of the dragonflies that had a wingspan of six feet? This tree stump laying calmly in the creek reminded me of those this, as if this once mighty giant tree belonged to an older time.

I didn't realize it figured so prominently into this shot until I made it back home and put it up on the monitor for processing. I'm glad that I took it now, because I think I captured the character of that old stump as it appeared to me then. That may be one of the more successful images I've ever made.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Meetings

If ever there was a fall day, it's this one. The sun is shining and it's a little warm, but there's a stiff breeze blowing that holds the first whispers of winter. Every couple of minutes I hear it whistle outside my window, accompanied by the skittering of leaves as they're strewn haphazardly across the world.

It was on a day like this when I first met Drizzt Do'Urden.

Those of you who read fantasy are no doubt familiar with the dark elf who turned his back on a life of evil and instead dedicated himself to the light. R.A. Salvatore created him back in the late 80s, I believe, and gave us one of fantasy's most popular heroes.

I discovered Drizzt during my freshman year of college. Over the summer Devan had introduced me to epic fantasy in the form of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. Coupled with Tolkien's masterpieces, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it was enough to spark my interest in a world of reading that I hadn't really explored.

I remember buying my first Drizzt book, The Legacy of the Drow at Waldenbooks in Tanglewood Mall. It was an omnibus edition that held four books and it seemed like a bargain at $20. The illustration on the cover was badly done, but I looked past that long enough to try it out. Salvatore's world was unlike anything I'd ever read before and a bit confusing at first, but I found myself hooked inside of a dozen pages.

I don't usually find a great deal of depth in Salvatore's novels. They tend to deliver hard hitting, rollicking fantasy adventures laced with heavier themes that may or may not be picked up at the reader's leisure. His characters are vibrant and fun, particularly his dwarves. And let me tell you that no one writes dwarves like Salvatore.

His dwarves are hard drinking, hard living, hard fighting heroes that are comic just because they're so over the top. These guys are the friends you want to have because there is no doubting where you stand with them. They are what they are and they revel in it.

Bethany and I had our first date after Christmas that year. There was a movie out that I wanted to see, The Last Samurai and it was playing only in one theater in Roanoke. We made it over there in time to take a detour by the mall to stop at Waldenbooks to pick up The Cleric Quintet, another omnibus of five books set in Drizzt's world. I had a little money saved, enough to take her out to the movies and to purchase a new book. I'm willing to bet that Bethany doesn't remember buying that book, but I do. (And before you chime in about the lack of romance inherent in taking a date to the bookstore, I can also tell you what she wore, what theater we were in and where we sat. So there.)

Salvatore has been a heavy part of my fall reading since that year. It seems almost a tradition now that he publishes a new novel, somehow related to Drizzt, ever October. It was the next year that The Hunter's Blades trilogy came out and I found myself once more traveling down an autumn road with Drizzt with the wind at our backs, scimitar in hand, daring any enemy that had the nerve to challenge us.

It was great to see that Salvatore published another Drizzt tale again this fall. It was even better to realize that my forays into The Wheel of Time, and A Song Of Ice and Fire had caused me to miss a Drizzt novel. So now I have to play a little catch up and see if I can make it to the newest novel before October ends.

And a day like today is perfect for reading.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Story In The Choice

In my quest to be come a successful novelist (and by successful I mean at a level where penning works of fiction is all that I do for a living) I've devoted a great deal of time and effort over the years to studying the works of others. Mostly I've been looking at how good authors build story lines and deal with character development. Sometimes I also look at the root of a story, at what the author's trying to say and how that message has affected his writing.

The great thing about the written word, and novels in particular, is that every now and then you come across a gem of a line that really strikes to the core of what the tale is about. I found one such line in my reading last night. The joy of reading on my Kindle is that I can now mark these gems and come back to them later. This one goes a little something like this:
"You know as well as I, Jean-Luc, that in times of crisis, difficult choices have to be made by good people willing to take on the burden, even if means damning themselves in the process."
You may guess that it comes from a Star Trek novel and while those novels tend to be written strictly for entertainment purposes there does tend to be a great deal of philosophical meandering hidden in them. Regardless of the source, I believe that this statement is meandering in the direction of attempting to define the role of heroes in literature from a writer's perspective.

Over the course of the past two years I've really been making an effort to look at my own writing and compare it truthfully and honestly with others that I've studied. One thing I've learned, and that this quotation brings to mind, is that it's not so much the act that makes the character heroic, but the choice.

After all, isn't the choice to serve one side or the other all that separates the heroes from the villains? There is no drama in knowing that your hero is going to save the day. Sure, we all suspect that he will. Who out there really thinks that, when presented the choice, that the main character is going to choose the darkness over the light and turn out to be a bad guy anyway?

I believe that the drama in every hero and heroic action is in the sacrifice the hero chooses to make. The decision to act heroically shouldn't be easily made, I think. It should be something that comes with a heavy price, with obvious and hidden consequences that the character should have to deal with.

In my career I've written epic fantasy and literary fiction and now I'm trying my hand at young adult fantasy and a mystery novel. To me, there is just something appealing about the fate of the world coming down to a choice that one man doesn't want to make. There's also something appealing about one man changing the fate of nations just because he's trying follow the demands of his conscience and for no other reason but the fact that he can sleep at night.

But in all the novels I've read, I've learned that the heroes I most admire and whose stories I'm interested in face choices like this. They don't want to be heroes. They don't ask to be heroes, but for whatever reason they choose to be heroes

In that choice, and in whatever sacrifice it demands, lies the story.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best Soup I've Made Yet

Last night I made the best homemade chicken noodle soup I've made yet.

The recipe came from my sister in law, Heather, though I can't confess to know where she picked it up from. I've put it on here in the past, but last night I decided to do something just a shade different. Ever see how those chefs on The Food Network take a healthy pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle it in their dishes? Well I did that before I boiled the chicken. Oh...it was perfection in a pot. The salt really sharpened the flavor of the chicken broth and had a great influence on the noodles.

I spent most of the day running errands in Roanoke. I was flying solo, which is a pretty rare event, so I spent a couple of quality hours in the bookstores perusing the shelves. I came home with a wedding photography book for Bethany as an early anniversary present that looks pretty interesting (which means I'll probably be reading it too).

Speaking of wedding photography, we're on the last week of our October wedding crush. We've successfully shot three weddings so far this month and we have a wedding in Vinton that promises to be very photogenic. So much so that we're bringing in a friend to add to the shoot and so we can train someone as a back up in case one of us ever gets sick or just wants to take a break from it.

Sunday I'll be leading the first outing of the Alleghany Camera Club at Roaring Run beginning at 4 p.m. The weather looks promising and I'm hoping we'll have a little more color to enjoy by then. I'm hoping to be able to snag a few outdoor photographs to place in the "Needs Processed" pile to shake things up a bit.

Judging by our shooting schedule we'll be polishing off the last of the fall portrait sessions by the sixth of November. Bethany and I are planning to take a little vacation the following week (to where exactly we haven't decided) and after than I'm hoping that I'll be able to settle back in and spend some quality time on my writing projects and perhaps even pick up another tune or two on the guitar.

I'm definitely hoping to get some more reading done as well. I've stumbled into a pretty rich vein of fall books. My current read is a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel called Hollow Men that is so intense that it almost feels like watching an episode. After that I'm thinking I'll get to James Patterson's Kiss The Girls, his second Alex Cross mystery novel, and then Dragons of the Hourglass Mage by long time favorites Weis & Hickman to round out the fall.

And by then it'll be time for all the holiday food....

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Loss For Words

I'm a writer. That means a lot of things, but it means I have a pretty heavy relationship with the written word. Sometimes it's long term and serious. Sometimes it's just flirty and fun and sometimes it's not something you ever admit to in public. At any level, the written word is a pretty solid part of the foundation of my life. I can't imagine my world without it.

So you can imagine my surprise when the written word fails.

The best writers look at the world and try to make sense out of it. You may not believe it, but at heart that's what any writer worth his ink is doing. Every hero is somehow a self portrait, every plot rooted somewhere in the rich soil of life. I guarantee you everyone, at some point in their lives, has written something that moved someone to tears or made someone's heart explode from happiness. The written word is a powerful, moving force in our lives, no matter how far past paper and ink technology takes us.

But sometimes the words just don't work. Sometimes there's just not any words that really mean a damn thing because life is just too large to condense into syllables. Sometimes you just can't make sense of it because there is no sense to be found.

I can hear my Mom fussing at me now, telling me that you just have to accept that that's the way it is sometimes. Where's your faith? Life isn't fair and not everyone gets a good deal, so don't worry so much about what you can't understand and treasure the good that you've enjoyed.

It's a good thought, one I can appreciate and even learn from. I still wish I could find the words that make sense of it all, the words that comfort and bring peace.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Two-Nighter & Pork Chops

The Green Mile was a two-nighter. In all honesty, it probably would have been an epic one night stand had I felt up to it. If you haven't read The Green Mile yet, go find a copy. I polished it off in basically two really long sittings. The story is excellent, the narration perfect and the premise is enough to provoke some pretty heavy heavy thoughts, all of which is a requirement to meet my "Must Read Standards."

I felt like Stephen King explained himself just enough to satisfy the reader and yet managed to leave enough mystery to leave the reader with a few tantalizing unanswered questions. I've only read three of his novels to date, but there's no doubt in my mind that he is a master storyteller. He may not crank out something at this level with every novel, but The Green Mile certainly stands out above the rest of his works in my mind.

I mentioned in a previous post that we were planning to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving last Sunday at The Student Knitter's house. We did and dinner was excellent (not that I expected any less. They really know how to cook). And, like any cool host, they sent us home with gifts: green peppers and jalapeƱos out of their garden. They have a problem that most people would like to have. Their garden just won't stop growing, even this late in the year.

Not one to allow good, garden fresh produce go to waste I tried out a new recipe tonight. Paula Deen had an episode about grilling last week and one of the things she grilled was pork chops topped with green peppers and pineapples. It looked delicious and I stored that away in my head to give it a try. Since I had some fresh peppers I served it up tonight.

I don't have a link for the recipe, but it's really pretty simple. Take whatever pork chops you want to use, place a thick slice of pepper and pineapple on each chop and wrap them individually in aluminum foil. I left mine on the grill for 20 minutes and they were cooked to perfection. You should salt and pepper the pork before cooking, something that I forgot to do. The pineapple flavor is pretty subtle and the peppers taste great. Granted, it wasn't the best thing I've ever grilled, but it's worth making a second time around.

It's about time to wrap this up since Ghost Hunters is about to come on SyFy. I have a few hundred wedding photos left to get through and I'm hoping to knock off a few of them right now. Tomorrow I'll be visiting my grandparents for their 71st wedding anniversary and then getting back the grind on Friday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Premature Review & An Invitation


I found my fall read.

Monday morning I blogged about how I hadn't yet found that exciting fall read to fill my free hours. I went to work, put in a few hours and started rereading a Star Trek novel. I sat that aside and on a whim picked up Stephen King's The Green Mile.

Incredible.

It's been quite a while since I've read a book that's kept me up all night and The Green Mile came pretty close to succeeding. I'm not really a Stephen King fan, though I've said all along that he's one of the best essayists around. If you don't believe me, check out this essay on the finale of Harry Potter and the series as a whole.

But I digress.

I have a close group of friends that read and I value their literary opinions highly. To a man, they've recommended The Green Mile. I put it off for a long time and I'm regretting having put it off for so long. I don't know what it is about this tale that's pulled me in. It's almost...homespun in a way. I get the feeling that I'm dipping in to something slightly surreal, something otherworldly when I read The Green Mile. The narration is down home simple, told from the first person perspective of the chief prison guard of the Depression Era death row known as the Green Mile.

Paul (the narrator) reminds me just a little of the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Remember how in the beginning the Mariner reaches out and grabs the wedding party and holds them spellbound as he relates his tale? I've been under his spell since late Monday evening. I've reeled off nearly 300 pages since then. It's gripping, at times gruesome as it unabashedly wallows in the macabre...yet there's something more here that I haven't seen yet.

I haven't finished, so if you comment, please don't spoil anything for me just yet. I've been carrying the book around with me everywhere I've went today, trying to sneak in a few pages when no one was looking between tasks. With any luck I'll be blogging about the end within a day.

Switching Gears

How's that for a smooth transition? Hey, at least I warned you.

The photo above is from one of my absolute favorite shooting locations: Roaring Run. It was one of the last I took last year and I though it fitting to post tonight since my thoughts have been taking me back along that stream these past few days.

On October 24th I'll be leading a photo outing for the Alleghany Camera Club to that very site. I've been asked to make some notes and a very brief, but helpful (I hope) presentation on capturing motion and light. We're going to meet at Fire & Light Gallery at 3 p.m., leave by 3:15 and be on the trail by 4 p.m. If the weather cooperates we should have some pretty sweet diffuse light coupled with an array of fall colors, a perfect recipe for great photographs if there ever was one.

This photo comes from about the halfway point of the hike. The stream takes a hard bend to the left (as you're walking upstream) and the trail breaks away to a higher vantage point for a hundred feet or so. To get this photo I actually jumped off the trail and crawled down the edge of the river. I put the feet of the tripod in the water by the bank and took about a 3 minute exposure to capture this image. There are a thousand different ways to shoot a moving stream, but one of my go to methods is to get right down in the water and shoot upstream.

If you're interested in attending, please do. You can comment here on this blog or e-mail me at SportsWriter2303@aol.com. I'll be happy to reply with directions or an e-mailed copy of the notes once I work them up.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Looking For The Next Read

I love fall. Just thinking about it brings about the scent of crisp, cool air laden with the rich aroma of falling leaves and the first chill, pure hint of winter. Leaves crunch under food. The days become shorter and grayer. Publishers start cranking out new reads.

Ok. Admittedly that last part may be something that only I notice. It is true, however. There is usually a big push push before summer that's highly publicized. Publishers try to capitalize on the idea of the summer reading list and the perfect beach read. The same thing happens in the fall of the year, only to less fanfare.

My reading tends to move in cycles. Usually in the summer time I have a fairly long series to see me through the dog days. I spent one summer in the world of the Sword of Truth. Another summer in the core of the DragonLance world and my most recent summer aboard the HMS Surprise with Captain Jack Aubrey. 

In the fall I tend to look toward the new releases to satisfy my fall reads. Last year David Liss kept me entertained while Paolini didn't quite deliver the action packed sequel I was looking for. The pickings were slim last fall, though I'm not sure why. Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson did offer up the first of the final three books of The Wheel of Time, but I've been holding back a bit on those so I can savor the ending of a series I've been following since I was a freshman at college.

I've mentioned my latest trend of reading mystery novels, but frankly I'm at a loss in this genre. I've picked up a few and have been let down so far. They're so over the top dramatic that it's hard to take for long stretches at a time. The detectives all come off has too hard boiled, or as if they're trying to be. The suspense and the drama is done with a heavy hand that bludgeons the reader instead of a soft hand that gently allows the elements to build without notice until they've reached the boiling point. I've read the Castle novels, which are a lot of fun, and I've dipped back in to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot again (let's face it, the Brits know how to spin a darn good mystery yarn).

What it all boils down to is I'm looking for my next good read. My to read shelf has certainly dwindled and I'm just not in the mood for what's left. Perhaps it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt since most of what is left are the second and third books in a various series. I want something solid, something satisfying and thought provoking. Length isn't an issue. In fact, the longer the better. Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Some Of My Best Thinking

I do some of my best thinking when I'm not thinking. It's true. That may sound a little counter intuitive, but let's face it...I lead a rugged life of adventure and non stop hilarity that would entertain millions of people if anyone ever wanted to make a sitcom of my life.

But I digress.

As I was saying, I do some of my best thinking when I'm not really thinking about what I need to be thinking about. Take yesterday for example. I was all over the place, from Covington to Lewisburg chasing down some drafting work while putting in some part time hours at the old job. Somewhere along the line, when I wasn't completely paying attention to what I should have been paying attention to, I figured out my character.

You see, I wasn't kidding when I said I wanted to write a murder mystery. I really did write them when I was a kid. I didn't understand near enough about the genre or life in general to pull it off with any degree of realism, but I did try to model my would be detectives on the classics...Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, the guy that Bill Cosby played on The Cosby Mysteries...

I've learned in my writing that to really write a character well, you have to understand that character. That's why Sam in The Crownless King is more or less a fictional me. That's also why Crownless is some of my best work to date. In revisiting the idea of creating a fictional detective I've been considering his back story as a way to really get inside his head without making him another fictional me. (By the way, is that something authors do a great deal of? I wonder how many famous characters are just fictionalized versions of their creator, who's living vicariously through them.)

And out of the blue it hit me. I've already written the back story. I just had to apply it. You see, when I was in high school I had this idea for the ending of a novel. I could see it all in my head. When I was a freshman at DSLCC, I put it down on paper (in John Barnes' World History class. I do my best work when I'm not supposed to be doing it.) I took it home, typed it up, edited a half a dozen times, and created a dozen pages of something that I've been proud to have written for six or seven years now.

But it was the ending to a novel that I had no idea where it started. There have been some vague rumblings, but nothing definite ever came to life. Now, however, it has become the back story of fiction's newest detective. I'm going to apply it and then see where writing new adventures with this detective takes the old story. If I can ever hash out the beginning of that novel, it will be a prequel to the new stuff I write. Who knows? Maybe I'll strike gold and write a bestseller that gets turned into a movie.

Then I can play the main character in the movie.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Allergic Refraction


I have found these days that the only real writing I'm accomplishing is this blog. It surprises me, because not only have I been attempting to write every day I've been attempting to work on the Druid project with Devan.

But you know what? I'm pragmatic, I'll roll with it. Photography is taking on a pretty big role in my life at the moment and I'm just going to take the time to deal with that so that it settles back in to the routine of my creative life. I've mentioned that we have a full October, but to give you a glimpse into that I will tell you know that I've already processed approximately 1,100 photographs this week. I have just about as many more to hopefully get finished before Saturday.

In my last post I mentioned the first meeting of the Alleghany Camera Club. It was a success and there's another meeting set for October 28. Not only that, but there is an outing scheduled for one of my favorite shooting locations, Roaring Run, and it's my job to see to the organization of it. I don't know just what's involved yet, but I think I'll have the opportunity to find out tomorrow when I meet with Chuck Almarez. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

I should mention that on the list of things I'm looking forward to is Canadian Thanksgiving. We have a good friend, Sarah, (The Student Knitter) who just happens to be Canadian. So of course she celebrates Canadian Thanksgiving, which is earlier than the American version of the holiday. Which is cool because, in effect, we get to attend two Thanksgiving dinners. It was a pretty relaxed dinner party and we're looking forward to more of the same on Sunday. 

Last year I was introduced to cribbage, a pretty cool card game that took me a couple of hands to figure out and that I've probably forgotten how to play in the year that followed. I was also introduced to Bubbles & Squeak, a dish that I doubt I would've tried otherwise. This year I've heard there is going to be a Butternut Squash Risotto. I've never had that and it sounds pretty good. The cooking at Sarah's house tends toward the excellent and varied and I'm looking forward to trying something new.

In the past week I've managed to gain a better understanding of my job situation. That's been a weight off my shoulders that I didn't realize was as heavy as it was. Dealing with that has made me feel much better about a lot of things, including life in general. I've a lot to look forward to in the days ahead.

Since it's fall and I haven't shot anything new outdoors, I'm offering up the above photo as a place holder. I shot it in the months before my marriage nearly two years ago. It's rag weed pinned up against a wall by a sheet of glass that's reflecting the image of the woods behind my grandpa's house. I've named it Allergic Refraction and I even entered it in the Fall Festival Art Show the year that I took it. It didn't place (I've never placed in any photo competition) but it did receive a great deal of positive feedback. It's one of the few prints of my own work that I have up in our house.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dreaming of Sleep

I have never really been an insomniac, but every now and then I just can't make myself drift off to sleep the way I'd like to. When I was employed full time I could be asleep nearly as soon as my head hit the pillow. It was a skill developed over the years by cramming all the activities that I actually wanted to do into the late evening hours before resting up to spend the better part of my day doing all the work related activities that I had to do.

Having not been employed on any regular basis since February, my sleep schedule has become pretty varied. I've been able to spend long nights reading, playing video games or scratching away at a notebook by a dim light as Bethany slept soundly beside me. Tonight is one of those nights that I just can't make myself get to sleep.

I finally rolled out of bed just before 1 a.m. and decided I would do a little writing. Nothing too serious, just a little meandering on a murder mystery idea I've had bouncing around in various forms since high school. I've tapping away at it for the last 35 minutes (and by the way, we finally broke down and purchased a new Microsoft ergonomic keyboard. Not one of the fancy ones that has the keyboard broken into two segments, but one of the comfortable, gently curbed black ones that are an absolute joy to type on.) and I just realized that everything I've written is bad. Painfully bad. So bad that I hit the close button immediately and declined to save any of the few hundred words I'd cranked out.

So...it's not a night for writing. Except I'm going to blog. About nothing in general, really. It's almost quiet enough in the house at 1:30 in the morning to hear the gentle pitter-patter of the drizzling rain outside. Tomorrow is supposed to be cold and rainy and even though the rest of the week is supposed to be dry I'm hoping that these cool temperatures will shock the leaves into turning colors.

After a busy week and weekend of shooting, Bethany and I easily have a couple thousand photos to sort through and process with another wedding looming on the horizon for Saturday. I've set myself the goal of finishing the three portrait sessions and at least my half of the wedding by Friday. If we don't stay ahead of this  we'll be buried under a digital mountain by the end of the month.

Speaking of endings, I finished Patrick O'Brian's The Wine Dark Sea almost two hours ago, book #17 in his Aubrey-Marturin series. I really am going to miss this series when I've read it all. There are 20 full novels and one that was left incomplete upon O'Brian's death a few years ago. There are some books that I wish I could read for the first time again and without exception every book in that series has been like that. The next two books, The Commodore and The Yellow Admiral are in the mail at the cost of a penny a piece, thanks to the wonders of Amazon.

Until they get here I'm going to delve in to Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's The Wheel of Darkness. It's had resoundingly bad review from my trust literary circle so far, but it's the next in the Pendergast series and I'm bound to read it if I want to get any further along. The good news is that Preston and Child have just the right touch of the macabre to make for the perfect October read.

And since it's October I may pull Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree off the shelf. It's a classic kid's book that my seventh grade teacher read to us in the fall of that year. It stuck with me for so long that I finally chased down a copy of it last year after Halloween and it deserves another appreciative read, much like The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, a perennial favorite. I don't know how many times I've read that little yellow paged novel, but that Newbury Award winning puzzle mystery has never gotten old.

And it's now almost 2 a.m. Think I'm going to give this sleep thing another try.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The First Meeting of the Alleghany Camera Club


Last night was the second meeting, but first official, of the Alleghany Camera Club. It was a very enjoyable experience. Everyone was supposed to bring in their favorite picture and tell why and how they took it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed hearing everyone's stories. 

Since I've already posted the photo I used at the meeting last night I'm posting this one. This photo is the first bird picture that I took with my 75-300mm lens about seven years ago. It was taken in Patrick's backyard before I even really knew what I was doing and I ended up with a photo that I've kept for this long. I was digging through some old files to find some sports photos for a portfolio for a job interview when I found the digital file for this one. I thought I'd lost the file and was very happy to add that to my collection of processed work.

The meeting was held at Chuck Almarez's Fire & Light Gallery in downtown Clifton Forge, a gallery that I'm happy to say I've worked at a bit. Chuck has let me freelance shoot a lot over the past few years and I'm looking forward to helping him again next week. His KidPix Photography business has been shooting area sports teams for years and it's pretty cool to get to help out with that on occasion.

It looks like our next meeting is going to be October 28 and we'll also have the opportunity to participate in a tour of The Roanoke Times and hear a presentation from the head of the paper's photography department a week before that. It all sounds pretty interesting.

It's the first weekend in October and the beginning of our crush of weddings. We'll be shooting the Persinger-Walton wedding tomorrow. It's an outdoor wedding, so that takes some of the stress of lighting away. The reception looks like it's going to be fun and it's going to have my favorite ham rolls from the A&B Bakery, so I'm good to go.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Very Happy Friday


It was almost Christmas for me today. I've been working on cleaning the house today and doing some other odds and ends. While I was seeing to those chores I kept an anxious eye on the window for the UPS truck and the mail. I kept a pretty solid watch until I went to the bathroom and I came back out to realize I'd missed them both.

The UPS truck delivered a box from Amazon, which is always a delight. I now have in my possession the second seasons of both Castle and Psych, two of my favorite mystery shows. Castle will be viewed with Bethany but Psych will be my own little treasure to sit and view as I process photos all month.

My order from Mpix came in today. I love the quality of the work at Mpix and they've never let me down once. I've been told their prices could be lower, but I don't mind paying for such high quality at the exceptional speed at which they work. I ordered three prints and I thought I ordered them matted. Turns out I ordered them flush mounted on matting material and while it wasn't what I thought I was ordering (my mistake, not theirs) the end result is very, very nice.

I ordered three prints, two of which will be shown at the next meeting of the Alleghany Camera Club Thursday evening and the third that was a test to see how the image looked printed. One of the two for the ACC was a photo of Bethany's and I have to admit that her shot is the best of the three. The other one for the club is one my favorite motion blurs. The assignment was bring in your favorite photo and explain why you took it and I think we've both accomplished that.

Speaking of my favorite photos, the photo included on this post is going to be added to this list. I really enjoy how clear and pure the water looks and I especially like the sharpness of the ripples. We were up there early in the day last Sunday and just happened to catch the light at the perfect angle for this kind of shot. I took it last weekend during a photo shoot of a young boy with his mom and grandma. As usual, it seems that I do some of my best work when I'm doing something other than what I'm supposed to be doing. I can't explain this phenomena, I just roll with it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Change Of Perspective

I must admit to being something of a nerd. I'm not the painfully nerdy type you see on The Big Bang Theory or anything like that, but I do geek out on occasion. I can't wait for the next Star Trek novel to come out. I'm drooling over Firefly on Blu-Ray. I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are two television series that were fine examples of drama, action and comedy.

That list could go on for a long time so let's just end it there.

The point is that among the things that I "geek out" about is good writing. I watch television shows and wonder what goes into making them. I read books and wonder how the author knew to take his characters in that direction. I want to know how it's done. I want to know the gritty, messy details that are covered up by the scenes. So I often watch the writer/director commentary on DVDs. (Yes, go on. Add that to the list of nerdiness in the first paragraph. It's OK.)

I've spent the week trying to get caught up on processing photos before the October rush. When I'm processing I usually flip on a disc or two of a television series that I have on DVD and just let it roll as I get into the groove of processing. Today I started out with Two and a Half Men and quickly realized I was bored with it. I didn't make it through the first 22 minute episode before pulling the plug. Instead I put in my Blu-Ray copy of Serenity, scrolled through the extras and put on the writer/director commentary.

I have a knack for being able to do one thing and listen to another. It's how I made it through school without ever studying. So as I processed I listened to what Joss Whedon talked about on the show. Some of it was interesting without being useful. I found the commentary on lenses he used during the shooting fascinating, though I doubt it will translate into photography usefulness. What I really focused on instead was the commentary on the characters themselves and I learned a few surprising things.

The first thing I didn't realize, though in hindsight I should have, is that the movie is Mal's story as told by River. The entire movie is wrapped around getting Mal from the dark place he starts at to the better place he ends at because of River's plight. Fascinating.

The second thing I keyed on was how the story itself was told, what little tricks of the trade were used to pull the viewer in and give him all the back story he needed without beating him over the head with it. Again, some of that I noticed, some of it I didn't.

What really struck me the hardest, however, was listening to Joss Whedon speak about the vision he had for the movie and the characters he'd created. Everything he did, every scene, every bit of dialog was aimed at bringing that vision to life. There wasn't a single bit of extraneous material.

But more importantly, Whedon had a vision. He knew what he was sitting down to create. He may not have known all the stops the story would take along the way, but he knew what he was creating. It was analyzed and thought through before the pen hit the page.

It made me realize that I rarely, if ever, have asked myself an important question when starting a project, namely this one: What is it I'm trying to do? What is it I'm trying to create? Why am I doing this?

Looking back I can see where that's hurt my creative efforts. I think I've only satisfactorily answered that question once, with The Crownless King. The Sixth Sword may very well come in a close second at that. Yet for the most part weak answers to those questions have made the quality of my work less than in could be, I believe, and have caused me to lack focus lately.

I'm not saying the past six months have been wasted, but I see now how answering those questions could have made me put the time to a better creative use. I can see now that I must readjust my perspective if I'm going to have a shot at a successful writing career at all.