Friday, April 30, 2010

Road Trip

Live music is amazing. I'm sure all of you out there in blog land have a favorite artist or band or two and wear their CDs out. And I'm sure that you'll agree with me that a CD just doesn't quite compare to hearing them live and in person.

Last night Patrick and I traveled to Charlottesville to hear Edwin McCain play at the Jefferson Theater. The trip came off without incident (though Patrick missed a turn and we didn't realize it until 23 miles later). The Jefferson is a fully restored theater with state of the art sound systems, ventilation, food and, most importantly, no smoking. We met up with Robert at The Mall and walked our way to the theater, where he roamed around enough to find the acoustical sweet spot (he has an ear for these things).

After the opening act, Edwin came on stage at 9 p.m. and played for right around two solid hours with barely a break in the set. He opened up acoustically, jammed with his full band and then polished off the night with a two song acoustic set that was amazing. We were about twenty feet from the stage and near the middle of the room (though at the rear of the crowd) and he jumped down off the stage and ran over to where we were and finished a song, which was pretty cool.

He didn't play a lot of my personal favorites, but he played some new stuff we hadn't heard and some great stuff in between. He wrapped up the show with a solo performance of 3 a.m., which is one of my favorite songs. He hasn't played it live for about 7 years now and he's just playing it again since it's on his greatest hits album. Getting to hear that live was worth the trip.

Whenever I go to concerts, I go for the music. I even imagine how much fun it would be to be the one up the stage putting on the show (though chances are that's not in my future). But when I look at the people around me, I smile a little and think about my Mom.

See, Mom's the kind of person that enjoys that music but also enjoys watching people have a good time. She likes seeing people dancing and enjoying life. Well, there was one guy there last night she probably rarely would have taken her eyes off of.

This guy was huge. He probably could have been a bouncer if he'd applied for the job. Goatee, shaved head and was so muscular and so big he looked like he could've eaten a weight bench if he'd set his mind to the task. He was right up against the stage, even drumming on it (you can stand right against the stage at The Jefferson). And the dude was dancing his butt off, singing every lyric to every song. I looked closely a few times and never saw a drink in his hand. I don't know if he'd taken a nip or two before the show but he was dancing and shaking his butt for everything he was worth. As much as I enjoyed the concert, I don't think that I came close to enjoying it like he did.

World's full of interesting people, isn't it?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


It's been one of those weeks that make me wish I could be a kid again.  I'm not going in to details. I'm tired of details and I haven't even been the one dealing with the hardest parts.

Instead, I'm going to reminisce about being a kid. I learned to read when I was little, I think about the kindergarten or the first grade. I remember hating the reading assignment we took home one night. Something about a bear and a grasshopper. I don't know, but I remember hating having to do it.

I was blessed with parents who, while they probably didn't understand my love for the written word, loved me enough to keep books coming my way. They didn't read and for the most part still don't, so instead of handing me their own favorite novels they helped me go out and find my own.

To this day, I'm not a fan of school. Never have been and never will be. But I can remember three distinct books that I discovered at Sharon Elementary that I might not have found otherwise. The first is C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. A true classic that my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Carroll, read out loud to us. I won't ever forget her reading that. I've never even re-read it myself, much preferring to savor that experience instead.

The second of these novels was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Mrs. Carter read this to us at the end of the year way back in seventh grade and committed the cardinal sin of not finishing the book before school let out. Naturally, I had to finish it myself and answer the question of "whodunit?" It's a classic puzzle mystery that even won a Newbury Award.

Next up on the list is my first true sci-fi novel, also discovered in Mrs. Carter's class, 2010: Odyssey Two. Written by Arthur C. Clarke, the grandmaster of sci-fi, I was riveted to its pages even though it never left the solar system. The book was filled with so much mystery, so much wonder, that I can even remember reading it in the back seat of my parents' old van on the way to Grandma's house in a raging thunderstorm as we neared the exit.

While we're discussing school, I should mention one of the few bright spots of being trapped inside those walls: Scholastic Book Orders. I think these have probably gone the way of the dodo in today's high tech world, but back then before Amazon and eBay these were a great way to find great books for kids. They were filled with Newbury award winners and the type of literary fiction that should teach children to love to read. They were about four pages long and came out every few weeks. Somehow I always managed to talk Mom out of a book.

It was in the pages of one of these book orders that I first met Calvin & Hobbes. When Revenge of the Baby-Sat came to my attention, I immediately begged Mom for it. I can't remember what it was that made me want it, but it looked interesting. I was already a fan of Garfield. It didn't seem like a stretch for me to enjoy another comic strip.

Boy, was I right. Calvin & Hobbes became a staple of my reading from then on. Not a year goes by that I don't read at least half of the collection. I even get a strip in my e-mail each day. Calvin firmly lodged me in a world of enjoying newspaper comic strips and offered a little backhanded and unexpected food for thought.

It wasn't really until my senior year of high school and freshman year of college that I came to enjoy works of fantasy. My senior year was the year that Harry Potter gained national and Hollywood attention and The Lord of the Rings regained the notoriety it so richly deserves. The Harry Potter series was magical enough that I was hooked on the first read and spend the next few weeks chasing down copies of the books (ah, the days before Amazon became an option for my go-to book source). The Lord of the Rings was a bit confusing and deep for a fantasy newbie, but it didn't take long for me to appreciate the depth of Middle Earth and the beauty of Tolkien's creation.

It was Devan who finally came around with the book that would hook me into fantasy. When he came back from boot camp he went digging for a book he'd started reading there and didn't get to finish...Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. That novel is everything a fantasy novel should be, smartly written, multi-layered and full of high adventure and philosophical meandering. We spent the summer reading that series, The Sword of Truth. We'd make trips to Mountain Book Company and order them two at a time. When we picked up one order, we ordered the next and we were generally waiting to read them by the time they came in.

From there I moved on to the world of Dragonlance and Robert Jordan's impressive Wheel of Time series. I spent an entire summer reading the Dragonlance core novels and an entire semester, from January all the way to graduation, reading The Wheel of Time. These books heavily inspired our work on The Chaos Chronicles and are, to this day, the reason that I sometimes get in the mood to spend months reading an entire series in one go.

There are books and then there are Books. Books have scenes and characters in them that stick with you your entire life. I've touched on a few Books in this post. Next time I think I'll talk about them a little more.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Panoramic Falls

It's been a while since I last posted. I would tell you that I've been busy writing and penning words that would move you to tears and provoke you to gales of laughter, but the truth is I haven't.

The weekend was completely taken up by Bethany's birthday and the week with various other chores. However, I did manage to make it to the base of Falling Spring Falls Monday afternoon.

The image you see posted above is a composite of three photographs, stitched together and cropped into a panoramic 12x36. The file size was huge, so I had to save it for use on the Internet. That option degrades the quality a bit, so if it seems a little fuzzy that's why.

Interestingly enough, the mist coming off the falls gave a nice, soft focus affect to the shot without me having to  add it on in Photoshop. I plan on offering some of these for sale in the future, which is why it has a border and my name on it. Hopefully I'll be back on the regular blogging schedule this week.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Irony, Edits & Visions

How's this for irony?

Devan and I lived less than 10 minutes apart for most of our lives. When was engaged he lived in Lexington, 30 minutes away from my home. When he entered a state of wedded bliss, he moved to Roanoke, roughly 50 minutes away. Now, he's in Iraq, which is literally half a world a way and in a different hemisphere. And in the past few days we've managed to make more progress on The Sixth Sword than we have in over a year.

The Sixth Sword is turning into a much more collaborative effort that Chaos Reborn. Which is a good thing. Devan and I are now working to merge our separate visions of the end of our original story into one. This book will complete our original idea that we came up with in elementary school and began working on in high school. Chaos Reborn was published in fall of 2006 and The Sixth Sword will likely see a 2011 release. Chaos Reborn will be under contract until 2013, at which point we'll regain all the publishing rights to the novel. At that point we'll do a little tweaking, clean up some errors and make our debut novel as clean as it should have been to begin with. We may actually merge the two into a collector's edition single volume, but that remains to be seen.

Interestingly enough, this will be another change in what I've been writing. It's been a long time since I've written true fantasy and even longer since I've read it. I'll have to dive back into that world for a while to find my feet again. I'll also have to dig up Breaking Benjamin's Phobia, the album that was the soundtrack for writing The Sixth Sword.

The Crownless King is the best thing I've written to date. Neither Chaos Reborn or The Sixth Sword can compete with that, in my mind (even though The Sixth Sword is pretty good, if I do say so myself). Yet I believe in what Devan and I are creating here. I think that someday we'll have a legitimate shot at the big time with these novels. It's just a matter of staying true to what we want to write and continuing to have fun with it.

Devan has dreams of a much longer series than we originally intended (especially considering that we only planned one book). I'm on board for that. Now we're weaving in the threads that will lead to that longer series. I can't wait to see how it all plays out.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mowing The Lawn Is Overrated

My lawn mower started this morning.

I was hoping that it wouldn't, which would give me an excuse to put off mowing the yard another few days as I puzzled over the mechanical intricacies of the beast. But, alas, after three pulls the mower ended its hibernation and roared to life. So I had to mow the grass.

I don't like mowing grass. I never have and probably never will. I come from a family who enjoys work. When I was younger, they had to make me put down a book and go outside to work so I could come to appreciate yard work and physical labor. It was moments like those that made me wonder if I was adopted. Yard work is still something I loathe. Mowing grass every week during the summer just seems like an exercise in futility. It's just going to grow and need cut again. If you ask me, I'd say let it grow up all green and tall. Give the birds and the insects something to crawl around in.

I often wonder if mowing grass is just something we do to please our neighbors. I bet if you took a poll of your neighborhood, many of the fine people living around you would be happy to have tall, hearty grass and would be happy not to cut it if you were OK with that. The same goes for raking leaves. I laugh every time I see someone raking leaves into nice neat piles to be bagged when they have a yard surrounded by trees that haven't shed their leaves yet. I have an oak tree in my back yard that doesn't shed all of its leaves until the new buds in the spring push them off the tree. I don't bother touching my yard until that happens. I have a fence so my leaves are happily contained in my own back yard. When the last of them come off in the spring, I mulch them with the mower.

My back yard was given its first hair cut of the year this morning. I'd been busy all week and wasn't able to get to it in the record breaking heat we've had up until today. I went out this morning with the grudgingly accepted goal of taking care of the yard and I found a chilly, wind swept day that just wasn't comfortable at all. With Garrison Keillor's The News From Lake Wobegon podcast playing on my iPod I went to work. I finished mowing the back yard as the wind and the allergens made me all teary eyed and sneezey. The temperature was barely hovering above 50 degrees and the wind wasn't helping matters at all.

So I decided to come in. The kitchen needs a little sprucing up from the chicken enchiladas that Sarah made us last night. But that can wait too. I'm thinking a tall glass of Pepsi, a warm bath and a good book...

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Holy City

Last night I began reading Pat Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to have briefly met the esteemed author at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Rockville, Maryland.

I attended the conference because I had won second place in their short story contest and my family was good enough to spend way more than the $200 prize money to take me up there so I could indulge myself in the literary world for a day. I attended a great writing workshop, listened to Conroy speak, have the chance to ask him a question and then get a book signed.

Up until that point in my life, I'd never heard of Pat Conroy. I had no idea the man even existed, much less that he wrote very critically acclaimed novels. I purchased a beat up copy of Lords of Discipline at the Goodwill store to see if he was any good. Turns out, he's an amazing writer.

So while I was at the conference I purchased a new, trade paperback copy of Lords of Discipline and had it signed. He saw on my name badge that I was the second place winner in the short story contest and personalized my book with a note of congratulations. I'm proud of that autograph. In fact, if my library was burning down, that's probably one of the first books I'd try to save.

Conroy is one of the few authors I can point to as having a major influence on my own writing. In My Losing Season Conroy writes about the first time he thought of himself as a writer and how that changed his writing career. He wrote about a lot of things in that novel that helped me as a writer and consider some aspects of my life in a different light.

In reading South of Broad, Conroy has made me better understand one of my favorite songs. On Edwin McCain's Misguided Roses album there is a song called The Holy City. It's an awesome song full of imagery and depth and a song that I always thought was about New Orleans. I had no idea that Charleston, South Carolina, is called The Holy City because of the number of churches located within the city.

In the first chapter of South of Broad the main character rides his bike along his early morning paper route and is drinking in the sights and sounds of Charleston. Conroy is describing it so vividly that I can almost smell the salt on the air. What was neat about that for me is that he's writing about some of the same stuff McCain sings about in The Holy City and now I'm seeing that song in an entirely new light.

It's amazing how the written word can change the way we see things.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Simple Pleasures

It is the simple pleasures in life, my friends, that make life worth living.

Take just a moment and think about the simple things in life that you enjoy. I did that today. I opened up every window in the house that has a bug screen (because Bethany really doesn't like it when I let bugs in the house) as well as the front door and let Spring breeze its way into my home. I tidied up a bit and took care of the things that had piled up over the course of the past week since we haven't been home.

Next I went Krogering. It may sound odd to you, but I like grocery shopping. Filling my kitchen up is one of the simple things that I enjoy about my life. Grocery stores are a lot like book stores in that they are full of potential. There are so many ingredients, so many potential great and epic meals to be made...

Then I came home, cleaned up the kitchen and made a nice, hearty, thick turkey and swiss sandwich on toasted bread. Accompanying my sandwich of choice was a fresh bag of Lays potato chips and a nice tall glass of iced Kool-Aide, freshly made and stirred with a wooden spoon.

After lunch there was a workout. A leg workout that was absolutely great. We followed it up with a game of 21. There was an adult yoga class about to start in the other half of the gym, so we cut it short, but for a brief moment we had an audience of women watching us play.

Now that might sound like fun, but in all honesty Bryan and I are a couple of white boys (yes, I know that sounds racist. Go look at the NBA and then tell me that it isn't true.) out there chasing a ball just for the sake of stretching out our muscles and getting in a little cardio. Once upon a time, however, I played basketball and I was good. Those days have passed, but my shot is still pretty decent. I'm back up to about 50 percent from the floor. I've finally learned what my old ball coach (Dad) meant when he would fuss at me to "square up to the basket". I do that now. I get it. It has made a tremendous difference in my shooting.

Well, I had the ball at the top of the key and I noticed we had an audience of a couple of women. So, with Bryan guarding, I dribbled around to the right, staying on the perimeter instead of driving, pulled up and launched a jump shot as Bryan, who didn't expect me to stop, ran past me.

"Not a chance," he said, but I knew he was wrong. I knew it was good the moment that ball left my finger tips. It had way too much arc, yet I could have closed my eyes and not watched that orange sphere sail through the air and absolutely know that ball was going to go in. And it did. Stripped the net with the prettiest swish you'd ever want to hear.

As I went to the line to take my free throw that is the reward for making a basket in 21 I casually glanced toward the door to see if our audience noticed such a masterful display of shooting.

They were gone.

Prettiest swish you'd ever want to hear. The simple pleasures of life, my friends.