Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Books of the Decade

My favorite books of the past 10 years was a little easier than picking the best music/TV/movies of the past decade simply because I haven't read that many modern books; I frequently run into the problem of being discouraged from trying new authors when there's a wealth of older authors I have read. Still, I have managed to read through a few dozen post-2000 books over the past 10 years, and these have been my favorite.

Check out Diana's list later tonight when she posts it.

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowlings -- It will take a long time for any series to even come close to matching this one.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000) -- I'm not sure the Great American Novel really exist, but this book is one of the closest things to it I've ever read.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (2000) -- This book isn't Eggers' greatest, but I appreciate it for the movement that followed; I'm not sure McSweeney's would have exploded w/o it.

Chronicles by Bob Dylan (2004) -- Every once and awhile a memoir will come out that seems at times more like reading history than about someone's life; that's what this book is. Dylan remains reserved about his life as he always is, but does give true insight into the village life, and the folk movement.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (2005) -- Wallace invented the creative this awesome collection of essays if you want to know why.

Jarhead by Anthony Swofford (2005) -- Best war book I've read over the past 10 years.

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler (2006) -- Living in Anaheim, I'm always a sucker to hear any Disney history; this bio on Walt is the best out there.

Dwelling Places: A Novel by Vinita Hampton Wright (2006) --When it comes to well written Christian fiction, Wright is the best there is (actually she's about the only one there is); she rights about themes many Christians just pretend don't exist (like depression)

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (2006) -- I've heard people say The Case for Christ is a modern version of Mere Christianity; I can see that...except for the fact that the book is lousy. Bell's book makes a better case for comparison.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008) -- This is the best series I've read sense Harry Potter ended.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Movies of the Decade

Deciding what my favorite movies are of the past 10 years is a quite difficult task. For this list, I decided to list my five favorite series, and then my ten favorite single movies. My decision for each movie is based mostly on watchability; I've seen plenty of good movies, but these are the ones I will watch over and over again and never get tired of.  Like my music list, it's in chronological order. Make sure and check out Diana's list too when she posts it a little later today.

Best Franchises:
Lord of the Rings - Series (2001 - 2003) -- Not only my favorite series of all time, but also my favorite movie of the past 10 years, and certainly one of my top 5 movies of all time.

Harry Potter (2001 to 2009) -- Nowhere near as good as the books, it's still a fun movie that never gets old.

The Jason Bourne Series (2002 / 2004 / 2007) -- Not only one of my favorite series, but also one of my favorite action flicks ever.

Batman Begins / The Dark Night (2005 / 2008) -- Complex characters, unpredictable plots, and really cool gadgets--what's not to like about this series?

Flags of Our Father / Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) -- Clint Eastwood does war--you can't go wrong with that! What's so masterful about these two films is how different they are, and how perfectly they capture the themes of war and pride in country.

Best Movies:
Billy Elliot (2000) -- Ballet doesn't have to be gay; this movie proves that it can be quite masculine in its beauty.

Donnie Darko (2001) -- Every time I watch this classic, I see something new.

Black Hawk Down (2001) -- When it comes to war movies, this is as good as it gets.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) -- Anytime Charlie Kaufman writes something, you know you'll be in for a wild ride (unless it's the "The Dana Carvey Show"). This was my favorite movie he wrote of the past decade.

Children of Men (2006) -- I'm a sucker for any movie that shows a world gone wrong.

Ladron que Roba a Ladron (2007) -- This movie is a cross between a Spanish Novella and the Ocean's 11 series. It's funny, cheesy, and one of the best caper movies ever wrote!

Once (2007) -- This was the best romance of the past 10 years, and also the best movie soundtrack.

Sunshine (2007) -- When people talk about Danny Boyle, they are probably talking about Slumdogs or 28 Days Later; I don't know why. This is Boyle's best movie in my opinion.

Wall-e (2008) -- I've almost cried in one other movie ("Wild Strawberries"); the beauty in this movie wasn't in what was said, it was in what was not said. Actions speak louder than words, which made the love story in this movie one of the best ever on screen.

Moon (2009) -- The best movie of 2009 that nobody saw; this movie proved that it doesn't take millions of dollars to make a good sci-fi flick.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Favorite Music of the Decade

My wife and I our spending this week reflecting (like way too many people) about the best of the decade. Today we're both writing about our favorite music from the past 10 years; tomorrow and throughout the week we are both also writing what our favorite movies, books, and TV shows have been. You can see her list here.

I am not big on music; Diana's usually the ones discovering new bands. Still a few stood out--suprisingly Kelly Clarkson didn't make the was a very close call.

It's too hard to call some of these albums better than others, so the list is in chronological order:

White Blood Cells - The White Stripes (2001) -- This was one of the first album's I ever bought--I rarely ever buy albums (or download them for that matter). When I "Fell in Love with a Girl," I went to the store right away, and have bought every album they've did since.

Nirvana - Nivana (2002) -- This is cheating a little, but the album featured the unreleased track, "You Know You're Right," which was a great song.

Mouthfuls - Fruit Bats (2003) -- This is one of the first bands Diana ever recommended to me, and I'm glad she did; I love both of their records, but this one always stands out.

The Grey Album - Danger Mouse (2004) -- Why this album is illegal is beyond me--something this good should be beyond laws.

Wolfmother - Wolfmother (2005) -- They rip off Led Zeppelin in almost everyway, but boy do I love them.

Black Holes & Revelations - Muse (2006) -- They're a louder version of Cold Play, yes, but I never get tired of listening to them.

The Crane Wife - The Decemberists (2006) -- This album is more like listening to a story (a very good one) than an album.

Modern Times - Bob Dylan (2006) -- Listening to this record was like sitting in an old blues bar; it was really like nothing I've heard before, and it never has grown old on me.

Neon Bible - Arcade Fire (2007) -- The first time I heard "Intervention" played on the radio, I was sold.

Riot! - Paramore (2007) -- It's pop rock and it's catchy; I listen to the album way too much.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Quiet, Please: The Blocks! Available now one Etsy

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best Movies of 09

Best of the Year:
Inglourious Basterds - War movies is my favorite genre, and this one now ranks in my top five of all war movies ever made; it's the closest thing to Hitler on Ice I've ever seen.

Moon - It's a pity hardly anyone saw this movie, and movie chains didn't give it a chance; unless you live next to a indie movie theater then chances are you'll have to see this on DVD; it's hands down one of the best movies I've seen it recent years. It has a plot that's fresh, and themes that are quite powerful and even moving.

Star Trek - Is it Star Trek for generation Ritalin? I guess--but isn't that the point? To introduce Star Trek to a new generation of fans? It wasn't the deepest movie I've seen, but I preferred it to any of the original Star Treks, which always felt too poorly paced.

Up - Why does Pixar keep trying to make me cry? Next to Wall-e this was the most beautiful movie they've did, but I'm looking forward to seeing a Pixar movie that doesn't spend the first 30 minutes trying to depress me.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox - How does Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs make more money than this piece?! I've never seen a cartoon where I could actually tell who directed it--it was SO Wes Anderson, but that's what made it so grand!

Watchmen - This movie would rank much higher if not for that ridiculous love story; every time I see it, I spend a week complaining to Diana about how terrible it is. The girl is a bigger slut than Tiger Woods--I'm really surprised she didn't sleep with her father, because in the scene where she meets him she seems to be contemplating it. Still, next to Batman, it's one of the best superhero movies I've seen.

District 9 - I appreciate this movie because it was groundbreaking more than because it was good; for a sci-fi move to be this good on such a limited budget was quite impressive; as sci-fi goes, however, Moon was 10 times better.

Food, Inc. - One of the more important movies I've seen this year, and one that every person should have to watch.

Taken - It was a fun move. What more can I say?

The Hangover and I Love You, Man -- Just to round out the list and make it all even, two comedies; they were raunchy and over the top, but fantastically funny.

Guilty Pleasures:
G.I. Joe - I didn't expect this to be great; didn't even think it would be my favorites; I just hoped it would make me marvel a bit in my youth, and it did, so I really can't complain.

Most Overrated Movie:
(500) Days of Summer - What was all the fuss about this movie? It was boring and it really never went anywhere. It had it's moments of charm, but those moments were brief. The Hangover had better chemistry and romance than this movie did.

Julie and Julia - Not a horrible movie, but I would have liked to see more of Julia and less of Julie. Actually, I would have preferred to see none of Julie.

The Hurt Locker -- Interesting movie, but not much of a plot; didn't quite see what the fuss was about

Where the Wild Things Are and Away We Go -- I like Dave Eggers; he's a brilliant writer; but the movies he's writing are not good. His movies so far have been long, boring, depressing, and sort of confusing.

Worse Movies of the Year:
Bridewars - I've seen my share of chick flicks; they're never my favorites, but they're usually entertaining. This? Pointless. Words really cannot describe how bad this movie is, so I won't try.

2012 - It's a blow them up action flick in the grand tradition of Day After Tomorrow. But instead of no brainer fun, it's terrible--horrible--down right bad. The acting sucks; the plot sucks; the action sucks; the special effects made me laugh. I've never laughed so hard because something was bad. With lines like "Download my blog" how can anyone sort of take it seriously?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Random House vs. Writers

A lot of people are talking about Random House's attempt to claim they have electronic rights on all of the books in their back list.

Their argument seems odd considering they already lost the battle over five years ago; travel back in time to 2001 when Rosetta Books decided it was going to publish electronic works from several authors; the argument was the same--Random House did not control electronic rights because it wasn't in the contract. The courts sided with Rosetta Books.

Authors, by and large, aren't upset because they don't want their books published electronically (though some are); they're upset that they are getting the same cut that they would on traditional books even though publishing a book electronically cost next to nothing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Roughing It Sample

As promised, the first two chapters from my Middle Grade novel, Roughing It.

Chapter One:
The Gateway to Knowledge

Thomas Weaver starred blankly at the clock behind the librarian’s desk. It was 5:30, thirty minutes before his mom would pick him up, and he still had not wrote a single sentence of his sixth grade Gold Rush report paper, which was due the next day.
Thomas hated school. He hated the teachers, and the reports they made him write; he hated the kids that picked on him for being a little overweight; he even hated the smell of his textbook.
His fifth grade teacher, Mr. Nelson, told him he’d like this part of history because it had lots of adventure, and people making money; he had found nothing interesting about it in all the books the librarian helped him find at the library. Even the pictures were boring.
Soon Thomas got tired of starring at the clock and began wandering around the library. He walked in and out of the aisles of books pretending to be looking for a book. He did this for nearly ten minutes when his eyes suddenly caught sight of a book that’s title read, “Don’t read me.” Thomas was of course immediately interested in this book, and pulled it from the shelf.
When he removed the book, the entire shelf began to shake and the entire column of books in front of him slowly moved forward, and then slid to the side revealing a stairway. Thomas nervously looked around. Nobody had noticed what had happened.
Thomas cautiously looked into the passageway, and with the book still in his hand he slowly moved inside. The stairway was dark; torches hung from the walls dimly lighting the passage. He carefully stepped down two steps, and then turned to make sure the door was still open. The stairs were made of wood and made creaking noises as he stepped on them.
He stepped down six more steps, and became more confident with each step. He heard a rumble behind him, and quickly turned just in time to see the bookcase close.
Thomas ran back up the steps, and tried to open the bookcase back up, but he could not do so. He starred back down the staircase nervously. He knew the only way out would be to travel down the stairs and look for another exit.
He went down the steps anxiously, and almost tripped more than once. After nearly one hundred steps he reached the bottom, and was completely out of breath.
It was dark and seemed empty. “Hello?” Thomas said quietly, and then a little louder, “Is anyone in here?”
Suddenly lights went on from the floor, and the room was bright. “Keep your voice down,” A loud voice said, “You’re in a library, for Pete’s sake.”
Thomas looked all around the room for where the voice came from. He saw nothing except the lights on the ground. “Where are you?” Thomas nervously asked.
“I’m down here.”
Thomas looked down again at the lights but saw nothing.
“Stop being silly.” The voice said, “You’re looking up—I’m down here.”
Thomas looked up and saw starring down at him a large four-eyed frog standing on top of a large oak desk similar to the one the librarian upstairs sat behind. “You’re a frog.”
“I am.”
“And you’re talking.”
“You’re a clever one—would you also like to point out that I have four eyes?”
Thomas shrugged, and asked, “Why are you upside down?”
“I’m not—you are.”
“I…” Thomas started to say, but suddenly he fell upward and landed in front of the desk. He started to stand, but got dizzy and fell back down.
“Just give it a second—you need to get used to being in another dimension.”
“Another dimension?”
The frog nodded. “You’ve entered the gateway of knowledge. This is the place where ideas are stored. My names Fox, and I’m the librarian.”
“Oh I get it.” Thomas said, “This is a dream—I fell asleep in the library, so naturally I’m dreaming about the library. I just need to lie down and close my eyes, and then I’ll wake up.”
“Why do they always do this?” Fox asked looking up at the ceiling. He looked at Thomas who had tightly closed his eyes, “Go ahead Thomas, pinch yourself. If this is a dream then it won’t hurt.”
Thomas did so and let out a yelp. He opened his eyes, and looked at Fox oddly, “How’d you know my name?”
“I know everything—I’m a librarian. Now why don’t you try and stand back up. You should be used to the atmosphere by now.”
Thomas slowly stood up, and then looked at Fox amazed, “This really isn’t a dream is it?”
Fox sighed. “I thought we already figured that part out—no it’s not a dream.”
Thomas looked behind the desk and saw for the first time rows of books that went as far as he could see. It did not look like a normal library. The books in this library floated—one on top of the other—stacked neatly in aisles. There were millions of them. Each book looked like a bright florescent hologram.
“This place is cool.”
Fox nodded. “We try to keep the air conditioning up real high—librarians do better in cool places.”
Thomas looked at him oddly, but said nothing.
“Now,” Fox said, “As I was saying before you decided you’d try and take a nap, this is the place where ideas are born. Every person who writes a book has a reason for writing it—all of their ideas come from somewhere. This is where those ideas are stored.”
“Those?” Thomas said looking at the floating books, “They look more like books than ideas.”
“Got to store an ideas somehow—why not a book?”
Thomas shrugged.
“The only humans that are supposed to know about this place are librarians, but I suppose now that you’ve found it, then you might as well make the best of it.” He paused and then said, “I believe you were in the library looking for books on the gold rush.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Like I said, I’m a librarian—I know everything…well almost everything.”
“How would you like to see the gold rush first hand?”
“First hand?”
“Stop answering my questions with other questions—a simple yes or no answer, please.”
“Sure I guess.”
“Yes or no?”
“Yes.” Thomas nervously said.
“Very well.” Fox hopped off the desk, and went towards the books. “Ever heard of Mark Twain?”
“In school I think.” Thomas replied slowly following from behind.
“He’s full of ideas about the gold rush—spent a lot of time in California during it. How’d you like to meet him?”
Fox hopped past hundreds of books then suddenly stopped. “Get that one for me.” He said looking at several books with nothing written on the spine.
Thomas reached for one and began to take it.
“Not that one!” Fox yelled. “The one just to the right of it.”
Thomas put his finger on the spine of the book and asked, “This one?”
“That’s right—now open it.”
He slowly opened the page, and lights flew from the book. The room became so bright that he couldn’t even make anything out. He didn’t know why, but he yelled for help, which did nothing.
“Just hold on to that book!” Fox commanded.
Thomas felt himself spinning out of control, and then falling downward. He felt like he was being sucked through a straw, and his whole body felt like it were being tightly squeezed. He thought he would die for sure.

Chapter Two:
A Bumpy Ride

The spinning finally stopped after several seconds, and Thomas crashed face first into the ground.
“You dead?” Fox said.
“I don’t think so.” Thomas mumbled with his face still in the ground. He felt the ground below him rumble, and he slowly sat up. He was not in the library anymore. “Where are we?” He asked Fox who sat on the bench in front of him.
“We’re on a stagecoach.”
“A stagecoach?” Thomas said looking around. He had never been in a stagecoach, but he had seen pictures and this was exactly how he imagined it. It was a small compartment with room for about six people to sit in. There were two benches, although mail was stacked on top of the one opposite Fox. He looked out the window and could tell they were traveling quickly. He never imagined stagecoaches went so fast.
“Actually the full name is the Pike’s Peak Express Company Stagecoach. And just for your information, the year is 1865.”
“1865?” Thomas said in disbelief, “That’s impossible.”
Fox laughed and shook his head, “Thomas, you’re going to have to realize that anything is possible when we’re dealing with ideas.” He paused, and then looked at Thomas seriously. “Sit down—I need to tell you what’s going to happen.”
Thomas quickly obeyed, and sat next to Fox.
“We’re heading to a place called Angelss Camp in Calaveras County. Once we’re there, there’s going to be a man named Ben Boone who will pick you up. You’ll be staying with his family for the next couple days.”
“Couple days?” Thomas said shaking his head no, “I can’t stay here. My mom is going to get worried when she doesn’t see me in the library.”
“She won’t worry—time doesn’t exist in this place.”
“How can it not exist?”
“We’re in the world of ideas—there is no concept of time here. Don’t worry.”
Thomas looked at Fox unconvinced.
“Honest, she won’t worry.” Fox assured him.
Thomas finally nodded and looked out the window at the distant hills. A yellowish green grass covered them. The land went for miles with no buildings in site; Thomas had never seen land so open.
“So as I was saying, you’ll be staying with Ben Boone’s family. He’ll think you’re his sister’s son from Carson City—so call him uncle.”
Thomas nodded, even though the idea seemed strange to him.
“He has a cattle ranch, and you’re supposed to be helping him.”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“He’s going to show you everything you need to know.”
“What about Mark Twain?”
“Mark Twain?”
“Isn’t this Mark Twain’s idea?”
“Oh,” Fox laughed, “I completely forgot about that—yes, yes, you’ll meet him. Of course he doesn’t go by Mark Twain—he just uses that name when he writes. His real name is Samuel Clemens. And just because this is his idea, that doesn’t mean you’re going to see him.”
“I’m not going to see him.”
Fox nodded no. “I didn’t say that.”
“So when do we meet?”
“Soon enough.” He looked at a box sitting on the bench behind Thomas and said, “Inside that box are your new clothes—get dressed. We’ll be there soon.”
Thomas looked down at his clothes; he was wearing brown jeans and a green t-shirt. “Why do I need to change?”
“This is 1865—people dressed different.”
“Well I’m not changing in front of you.”
“I’ll turn around.” Fox said turning.
“And what about the windows—people can see right into the inside of the stagecoach.”
Fox laughed, “Look out there—do you see anyone?”
He looked carefully out the window. He could occasionally hear the men on top who were driving the stagecoach talking, but the outside looked empty. There were trees and grass, but no buildings. There weren’t even paved roads. Thomas lived in Southern California, which was a very busy city.
Thomas decided it was safe to change and opened the box. It contained brown slacks, a white button shirt, and a brown vest that matched the pants. “I’ll look stupid in this.” He complained.
“That’s what people wear here.”
Thomas dressed quickly. “There.” He said rolling his eyes when he finished.
Fox turned around, and closely looked Thomas over, then finally announced sincerely. “You look very handsome.”
“No I don’t—I look stupid.”
“You’ll blend in well.”
Thomas said sarcastically, “A well dressed boy and his four-eyed frog. I’ll blend in real well.”
“Good thing I’m not going to go with you.”
“You’re leaving me?”
“I’ll be back when it’s time for you to leave.”
“How will I find you?”
“I’ll find you.”
“When?” Thomas nervously asked.
“Don’t be such a worrywart.” Fox laughed. “You’ll leave when you’ve fully experienced the gold rush.”
He didn’t look too assured.
“If it’s an emergency, then just say, ‘Fox, I need you’ three times, and I’ll be right there.” He paused, and then stressed, “But you have to be alone—nobody else can see me.”
Thomas nodded and looked out the window again. He noticed for the first time that they were now in a town. The buildings looked like an old western movie he had watched once with his grandpa. Some of the buildings were large and two stories, while others were one story and seemed to be built with what ever piece of scrap they found lying around; one building wasn’t even a building—it was a tent with a post in front of it that said ‘supplies.’ He saw a few people, and they were all dressed as stupid as him. The women even wore big fancy dresses that he thought looked just as dumb as his outfit.
“Welcome to Angels Camp.” Fox said brightly.
“Doesn’t look like a campground to me.”
“It’s not a camp.” Fox corrected, “That’s just the name of the city.”
The stagecoach began to slow down, and Fox said, “And now that we’re here, that means it’s about time for me to leave you.”
He nodded.
“How am I going to find Ben?” Thomas nervously asked as the stagecoach stopped.
“You’ll find him.”
“See that building.” Fox said pointing.
Thomas nodded.
“Go inside there and wait. He’ll find you.”
Thomas looked out the window once more at the building, then turned to protest, but when he did Fox was gone. “Fox?” he said. He looked around, but he was gone.
“Rides over, buddy.” A large man said opening the door. He looked like a cowboy. Thomas looked at him frightened and slowly moved towards the door.
“You okay?” The man asked.
Thomas nodded shyly. He got out of the stagecoach, then turned, and saw the stagecoach from the outside for the first time.
“Someone supposed to meet you here?” The man asked interrupting his stare.
He nodded once more and started to walk towards the building Fox told him about.
“Hey kid,” the man called.
Thomas turned and the man pointed at a large rectangle box that the other driver was pulling from the top of the stagecoach, “You forgot your luggage.”
The box was heavy, and Thomas had to drag it. “It’s heavy,” he said to the driver.
“You want some help?”
“I guess.”
He helped him drag it to the outside of the building then quickly left. Thomas dragged it into the building uncertain of what he was going to find inside.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Roughing It

A few years ago, I toyed with the idea of writing a kids series about authors; each book would find the character going back in time to discover what the world was like that the author wrote about. I penned one book in the series. It's called "Roughing It." It parallels many of Mark Twain's books, but mostly it's about California during the Gold Rush. The real life author (Mark Twain in this book) would always play a minor role in the story, but the book itself was more about the times that author lived in. The next book would have been about the movie industry during the 30s and would have paralleled the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I've toyed with the thought of revisiting the series, and retooling it a little. For now, however, the project is very deep in my list of things to write.

If you'd like to read the first book, it's now available on Kindle. You can read it here.

Tomorrow I'll post the first couple chapters from the story.

"Roughing it" buy it now!