31 August 2014

A Sunday Laugh

I'm feeling lazy today, so instead of blogging about something, I'm going to share this photo, which made me smile a ton.


Happy Sunday!

30 August 2014

Ramey Wines Tasting

Last Monday I got to attend a tasting of 6 bottlings from Ramey Wine Cellars. We tried six wines in an hour, and though my note-taking wasn't up to its usual standard, I did jot down what I could, and I thought it would be fun to share.

Wine #1: 2011 Ramey Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. It turns out winemaker David Ramey is an amazing vintner of Chardonnay. I had only ever had his reds before, but this was impeccable. It had a nose of toast and firewood. It was acidic, round, with floral and petrol flavor notes, along with a touch of lemon curd. Aged in 25% new oak for one year. [I find that out from the gentleman leading the tasting. I am not such an expert that I can tell that by taste.]

Wine #2: 2011 Ramey Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Tasty but meatier than #1. A lot more fruit forward, with tropical notes. 25% new oak for one year.

Wine #3: 2010 Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay. OH. MY. GOD. I've never had such amazing Chardonnay from the USA. It's like a beautiful White Burgundy in complexity, but it's all-American in its flavors. Airy, light, buttery, with hints of orange marmalade and chalk. It was powerful but smooth all the way to the lingering finish. 50% new oak for 18 months.

Wine #4: 2012 Ramey Claret. The 2007 Ramey Claret was my first bottle of Ramey and it's what started my love affair with David Ramey's wines. The 2012 was bold, with licorice and red currant notes, opening up to candy flavors. It had nice round tannins, more grapey than woody. I can't wait to try it with some barbecue.

Wine #5: 2011 Ramey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Oaky, woodsy, opening up to raisiny flavors. I got some hints of potato and rosemary, too. I bet it's amazing with steak.

Wine #6: 2012 Ramey Sonoma Coast Syrah. This was actually my first Syrah from Sonoma. Most of my Syrah tastings have been from Paso Robles, Spain, France, or Washington State (I'm looking at you, K Vintners!). This was nice, though: full of cherry flavor, super food-friendly, and nice floral notes, too.

Sadly, my tolerance for alcohol is pretty low, so I only got a few sips of each wine - less than half of the tasting pour in my glass, and even then I knew if I had more I'd be buzzed. I'm very sad about that, because I would have liked to taste them more.

But I bought some, so I'll get that opportunity in the future.

29 August 2014

Tor Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Clone 4 2011


After experiencing Tor’s wines at Bistro 360 in Nashville (on the same excursion that resulted in my first taste of Chateau Margaux), my good friends signed up for the mailing list, and this bottle was from this year’s release.

The To Kalon Vineyard is one of the most hallowed sites in Napa, spoken in the same reverent tones as Pritchard Hill and...well, that’s the only other amazing place I can think of off the top of my head. Anyway, the terroir comes through so beautifully. You can just taste where this wine came from. It’s delicious.

The wine was deep, beautiful garnet. Having been through one bottle of wine already (shared with friends) I was a bit buzzed and forgot to decant this bottle, so its nose was tight and closed and malty. It opened up as we drank but at that point I was too busy enjoying to take more notes. I just remember it was GOOD.

Even without decanting, it was oh so smooth, bursting with red apple and cinnamon notes. The tannins were sharp at first, but they smoothed out as we drank.

It was a delightful bottle, a great followup to the 2010 Anniversary Cuvee, and could not have been drunk in better company.

28 August 2014

Internets and Neurotransmitters

I've been involved in WriteOnCon the past week, and while it's been a blast, it has brought back memories of my childhood, when I had a problem with borderline internet addiction.

Spending too much time on the internet and suffering from depression were a sort of perfect storm for me when I was a teenager. I'd go on the internet and escape to chat rooms and forums, getting excited every time I "met" someone and thought we were friends. That's not to say you can't be friends with someone over the internet, but it's a different sort of friendship, and at that age I couldn't tell the difference.

There's a lot of science being done these days about how the internet stimulates the reward centers of our brain, and how there's very little difference (physically) between what happens when you're hooked to the internet and what happens when you're hooked to, say, cocaine.

I think I've grown into a more comfortable place with the internet. I know when I need to avoid it, how much time I can give myself, and where to draw the lines. But it's never easy. You can't spell dopamine without [the cognate] dope.

27 August 2014

Marooned

This is one of my favorite instrumentals ever. It won a Grammy, too.

Yea.

The new video is pretty epic as well. Enjoy!

26 August 2014

The Iceberg

I was pondering writing today, thinking about one of the best pieces of advice I ever got (ironically, in film school when talking about directing):

No scene should ever be about what it's really about.

To put it another way, consider an iceberg.

Text, subtext, context, metatext

Scenes are like icebergs: what's above the surface is only 10% of the total mass of the iceberg. A scene, and a story as a whole, should be the same.


Hooray for creative commons!

Anyway, I think a lot of subtext starts out as text, and during revisions you are able to help it slip under the water to give your scenes power. That's certainly been my methodology.

There are times, though, when you can let the whole text dip under the water, and that's when you're in trouble. That's the problem I've had lately: finding that equilibrium. I think I've found it now, at least for my current problem area. Time will tell.

25 August 2014

Paul Pernot et Ses Fils Puligny-Montrachet Chardonnay 2010


I’d been holding onto this bottle for several years. It’s from one of my favorite producers in Burgundy - though granted, I’ve not had the chance to experience many. I’ll definitely be working to remedy that.

The wine was a nice gold color, with a minerally nose. After struggling for some time to identify what else I was smelling, I consulted my handy Flavor Wheel (yes, such a thing exists), and decided I was smelling cedar, too.


I’ve written about the beautiful butteriness of white Burgundy before, and this bottle was no exception. There were hints of apricot, but the strongest note was that buttery, oaky goodness. It was round, balanced, and delightful. I shared it with great friends and enjoyed some delicious cheeses with it. And then we followed it up with a bottle of Tor Beckstoffer To Kalon 2011.

24 August 2014

Revisions

I've been attending WriteOnCon, an online writing conference, and having a blast! I've had some thoughts about revising and thought I'd share them.

Revising is my favorite part of the writing process. Dragging a story kicking and screaming into the light is hard, but making it great is beyond rewarding.

I've come to the conclusion that one should NEVER revise while drunk. But writing while a bit tipsy has yielded some exciting words for me, so I've developed a new axom:

Write drunk. Revise sober.

I kind of want to get T-shirts made.

Now, as far as my own method for revising, I'm a big fan of revising on paper. I write on my computer, because I type a lot faster than I write, but when I revise, I like to imagine it's a real book and I'm fixing all the problems in it.

I have a Waterman fountain pen I like to use. It makes me feel very important.

Once I've made it all the way through the paper, I go back and type in the changes - and as I do so, I edit again. Especially when cutting down a bloated manuscript (which I am known for), the two-pass system helps me let go of things I don't really need. I took my last manuscript from 120,000 words down to 73,000 without losing any story at all. But I needed to passes to be willing to cut what needed to go.

Polishing is a different beast for me. It's said art is never finished, only abandoned, and that might be the case with polishing. I LOVE where my manuscript is right now. But if I reread it again in six months, I'm sure I'll want to change things up again. Tastes change all the time, including my own.

I don't know if there was much point to all this, but I enjoyed getting my ideas down. That's what writing's all about, after all. Maybe it'll help someone, somewhere, with their own revisions.

If nothing else, remember:

Write drunk. Revise sober.

23 August 2014

On Magic Systems

The inimitable Janet Reid shared this article on magic systems and world-building a few days ago:

My Magician Is Better Than Yours...

In the article, Jeff Somers covers magic systems - and how interesting or how boring they can be - as well as the trope of the Chosen One and how overdone it can be.

As examples, he offers four different stories with magic in them, none of which I have read. I'll have to check them out. One of them is actually rather similar to something that's been percolating at the back of my mind. It's true what they say: there are no new ideas!

The thesis of the article, though, is sound. Making your hero the hero because they have to be is much less interesting than them choosing to be.

22 August 2014

Broadbent Vinho Verde NV



Another under-$10 buy, Broadbent’s Vinho Verde lacked a vintage on its label, which I found strange. But I bought it, chilled it, and opened it up.

What a surprise when it was bubbly! So I decided, maybe, it deserved to be called Non-Vintage.

The wine was paler than any white I’ve had in a long, long while. It was almost clear.

The nose was bursting with peaches, nectarines, and even a hint of orange blossoms.


The taste was a little harder to quantify: was it stonefruit again, or was it tart apple? Or was that a citrus note? Either way, it was pleasant, crisp and acidic. A gem of a find on a budget!

21 August 2014

Childhood Mental Illness

I read this amazing article yesterday, but I'd already blogged about something, so I saved it for today!

In Praise of Oddballs and Unexpected Flavors

I will allow you to read before you continue, so that my comments have context...

It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. What Dr. Vlock wrote about her son not expecting to survive to twelve - that he expected to commit suicide before then - really hit home to me. When I was at my own lowest point and having suicidal thoughts, it wasn't until I was 15. For Benjy to be having them at age 11 is just painful to me.

But you know what? As painful as it was, the article also made me feel very reassured. One of the hallmarks of depression is feelings of isolation. It's good to remember that we're not alone.

I'm in a much better place now and I hope Benjy gets there too. And meanwhile, I hope he gets to read things that remind him that he is not alone, either.

20 August 2014

On An Island

I've been working on the solos from David Gilmour's "On An Island" (the song, not the album) the last few weeks. It's a beautiful pair of solos. I just wish I had my tone in order to get the kind of crazy sustain that David Gilmour does. It's sooooo awesome.

19 August 2014

Diversity or Tokenism

I've been thinking a lot about diversity in books. It's something that gets talked about a lot in the blogosphere, and I think it's worth examining.

People talk a lot about how we need diverse books. There's even a hashtag for it. But the challenge lies in how you go about making them.

To me, at least, you can't just go and make a character diverse, like it's a coat of paint you can slap on them. Whether they're differently abled, LGBTQwhyaretheresomanyletterstoremember, ethnic minority, you name it, they have to be conceived of that way and honestly portrayed.

That's been a big challenge for me. Where I grew up, it was mostly white people. I have to do a lot of research if I want to delve into a different culture. And I'm happy to do that research - don't get me wrong - but it definitely makes it more difficult. I love a challenge. But I can't hold of writing just because I don't understand my topic yet, so I write on something else while I research.

I firmly reject the insertion of diverse characters in books simply to fulfill a quota. It does no good to anybody if the characters aren't portrayed honestly.

End rant, I guess.

18 August 2014

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Full disclosure, I adore JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and I knew going in to The Cuckoo’s Calling who had actually written it.  I am, therefore, more than a little biased.  That said, I’ve never had much affinity for private detective stories.  I’ve read plenty of Sherlock Holmes, sure, but still, the genre isn’t one I usually seek out.

That being said, I enjoyed The Silkworm immensely.

The Silkworm is the sequel to The Cuckoo’s Calling and follows private detective Cormoran Strike and his plucky assistant Robin on their latest case.  After the events of The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike has gained some fame from his success with the Lula Landry case, and The Silkworm finds him overworked due to an oversized client base composed almost entirely of wealthy people engaged in acrimonious divorces.

Then comes the new case: Leonora Quine, wife of writer Owen Quine, wants Strike to find her husband.  And find her, he does, though Quine is in fact dead.

It wouldn’t be a murder mystery otherwise, would it?

Much like The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike assembles quite a rogue’s gallery of memorable characters as possible suspects, assets, and friends.  Clues are carefully assembled, and Galbraith (Rowling) rations out the clues with relish, sometimes letting us know what Strike has found and other times leaving us to guess what his latest deduction is.

The relationship of Strike and Robin is explored more, as well, and we get to see just how resourceful Robin can be.  She even reveals heretofore hidden depths of badassery.

I wish I could figure out how to say more about The Silkworm without spoiling it, but I’m having trouble doing so.

I would say that I thought it was somehow both exciting and illicit to see the glimpse of the publishing world that Rowling shares.  No doubt it’s exaggerated and twisted, but there’s still the thrilling sense that Rowling is, ever so slightly, biting the hand that feeds her.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.  Either way, it made it exciting, and the conclusion was extremely satisfying.

Yea.

17 August 2014

Catlateral Damage

I just heard about this game from my friend. It sounds amazing:

http://www.catlateraldamage.com

There's even a video!


IT LOOKS SO AMAZING!

16 August 2014

Summer is for Rosé!

Yesterday I had three (count 'em, THREE!) glasses of rosé over the course of the day, one with lunch and two with dinner.

I didn't take extensive notes, since it was not an appropriate venue and I didn't get to see the bottles anyway, but I do have some reflections on them.

The first glass was from Austria. I had it at Affäre, a Modern-German restaurant in downtown Kansas City with a delicious lunch of seared sirloin, plus a starter of pretzel bread and delicious wursts. I had the presence of mind to write its name down: Sattler Burgenland 2013 Rosé. Ermagerd it was good. So fruity and light, almost like a Riesling.

Then I had dinner at Justus Drugstore, a Farm-to-Table restaurant in Smithville, Missouri. I had two glasses of rosé from France, but I did not have the presence of mind to write them down.

One was fruity, and I think it came from the Loire because it had that airy quality that I associate with Vouvray. Actually, I think it came from Chinon.

The second glass was drier, and definitely came from the Rhone Valley, and it too was delightful.

I almost never go after rosé. But I'm glad I did yesterday. Summer's almost up, so I'll have to get in a bit more while I can.

15 August 2014

On Depression

I was thinking this morning about depression again. In the wake of Robin Williams' death and the spotlight it's cast on the issue of mental health, it seems appropriate to share some of my own experiences and thoughts.

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when I was 12, if I remember correctly. Over the next three years I worked with my psychiatrist trying out countless combinations of medications to find one that got me on a more or less even keel, and I also started seeing a counselor. We played chess a lot.

I sort of coasted along for a while, until freshman year of high school, when my parents got divorced and I had a much more severe depressive episode. For a little while I was on a tranquilizer - so strong that I was like a zombie all day. Thankfully that didn't last long.

Sophomore year I was more or less unable to leave the house for an entire month, because I was so depressed. I missed four weeks of school. Not good.

Junior and senior years weren't that bad. Same with my first two years of college.

All through this, I was medicated. I didn't know it at the time, but I was also sort of insensate. If I could go back I would have tried to adjust my meds more to make me feel like a more normal human. As it was, I was just kind of deadened inside. I didn't realize how bad it was until I quit taking them.

Here is the embarrassing part. I quit my antidepressants cold-turkey my sophomore year of college, more or less on accident. I was going to school out of state and I was stressed out and didn't realize I had run out until they were gone. By the time my refills arrived it was two weeks later and I'd made it through the worst and I felt alive like I hadn't in a long time. Not only that, I'd grown up and learned how to cope with things a lot better, and so I didn't feel the need to return to the meds at the time.

Now, 8 years later, there are definitely times - days, weeks, sometimes even months - when I feel that old depression coming back. I fight it hard, because I don't want to go back to being a medicated zombie. But I know that if it gets too bad, I do have to go back.

Not only have I suffered from depression, I've lived with it all my life. I have several family members who suffer from it, sometimes in the form of bipolar disorder and sometimes coupled with anxiety disorder as well.

Even though I've lived through it myself, there are times when I have a hard time understanding what they're going through. If you're not in that mindset - if you're not depressed at the time - it can be very hard to empathize. At least, I have found it so. Maybe it's just because of how badly I don't want to go back there that I push it away so strongly.

I'm not sure there was much point to writing all this out. I guess I just hope that, if someone ever does stumble upon this, they'll maybe feel a little less alone. Though I know when I was depressed, even in a crowded room full of other depressed people, I felt alone.

So maybe it's better for people who aren't suffering from depression to come across this. Maybe it'll help them understand a little better. Even if they can't empathize, they don't necessarily have to. They just have to be there, and be vigilant. You can't save everyone, but you can sure as hell try.

14 August 2014

Naveran 2011 Cava



Now here was an interesting bottle.  Vintage Cava.  I know, right?

I’ve had Cava a few times before, but this was my very first vintage bottle.  It was a surprise.

The wine was pale straw colored, darker than most champagnes I’ve had before.  It put me in the mind of a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris.  

It was quite bubbly.  I’m not familiar enough with sparkling wine to be able to say much more than that on the quality of its bubbles.

The nose had notes of citrus fruits and flowers.  The taste had subtle hints of honey and pear.

It was an easy-drinking wine, enjoyable just sitting on a summer afternoon and drinking it without accompaniment.  I’ll pay more attention to Cava from now on.

13 August 2014

DAC Red



The latest offering from my wine club is this table wine from Portugal, which is making great strides in approachable, enjoyable wines outside of its normal Port offerings.

DAC Red was a lovely rouge color, with a fascinating nose full of menthol and licorice wrapped around the taut core of fruit.

On the palate, the wine was bursting with black cherry flavors and threads of licorice.  The finish tended toward the overly acidic, and it got a bit more so as the wine developed.


It was a decent bottle, but not my best from Portugal.

12 August 2014

Robin Williams

I was very sad to hear about Robin Williams's passing yesterday. The entire Internet seems abuzz with people reflecting on his life, his acting, his role in our Millennial childhoods, and, especially, his struggle with addiction and depression.

As tragic as his death is, I find myself strangely hopeful at the outpouring of support for mental illness, the attention being paid to the cost is has on its sufferers and their friends and families.

This is probably the best article I've read on the whole thing: Robin Williams's death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish (via The Guardian)

I don't really have anything else to say. As someone who has struggled with clinical depression myself, I can only hope that things will get better.

11 August 2014

Honoro Vera Garnacha

I was out of wine and wanted a budget bottle, so I picked this one up at the grocery store for less than $10.

Garnacha (Grenache outside of Spain) was the first wine I truly fell in love with.  My first experience was with Zeta Garnacha, the 2006 bottling if memory serves.  I’ve not seen Zeta at any of my wine stores ever since The Wine Cellar closed, but I still remember it fondly as the first time I realized what red wine could be.

Anyway, Honoro Vera’s Garnacha was a deep ruby color, with hints of smoky tobacco.  The nose was tight and closed, and to be honest, I had a hard time picking up many other scents.

The tannins were green, and were a little too strong, overwhelming the subtle red currant fruit in the background.  The wine was also a little too acidic for my tastes.

I thought perhaps aeration might improve it, but it never really got any better, it just got looser.


All in all, not my favorite Garnacha.

10 August 2014

So Tired!

Ugh, I am so tired today! I lack any thoughts to share on the blog other than my general malaise.

Actually, no, I do have a few thoughts. Last night I worked Kansas City's own TEDx event, aptly named TEDxKC, and there were some takeaways I suppose.

Speaker Ondi Timoner, a documentary filmmaker, mentioned research done that shows our brains get a hit of dopamine when we post something on social media and get attention for it.

That explains why I feel giddy when someone favorites or retweets me.

Author/Comedian/Technologist Baratunde Thurston, author of How To Be Black, talked about finding comedy in unexpected places, especially on the web, and shared Timesify, a gem of a website that will make whatever embarrassing article you're reading appear as if it's from the New York Times. Hilarious...

And Michel Laberge, a physicist from Vancouver, talked about how nuclear fusion may be within reach in our lifetimes. Which is cool.

And then after the show we loaded it all out, took down the giant inflatable screen from outside, and I got home at 2AM and promptly slept for a long time.

So, yea.

09 August 2014

Reflections on Rewriting

I came across this blog post today, shared via Twitter:

http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2008/01/02/how-to-rewrite/

It can be hard to self-assess like this. No matter how many times you go through and kill your babies, you probably left some in that you just can't see. That being said, as I read through the article, I was heartened, because I had made a lot of hard but necessary changes in my manuscript. I was very lucky to have good beta readers and critique partners along the way.

Some of the things that I did, without being too specific:

-Removed the opening
-Wrote a new opening
-Removed that opening too
-Wrote a third opening
-Yup, that went as well
-Changed ending
-Changed ending again
-Added secondary love interest
-Removed secondary love interest
-Added several characters
-Removed several characters
-Completely changed motivation of main character
-Overhauled main character's arc several times

Justine's blog post has an excellent section on line editing, too. She touches on a problem that I myself have: overusing certain words. Putting my manuscript into a word cloud helped me identify mine.

So, back to writing!

08 August 2014

Chateau les Marias 2011


This was a red wine from my wine club, and it was, as you can tell by the name, a Bordeaux.  Chateau les Marias is a Merlot-based red, and while I don’t normally seek out Merlot, I do enjoy a good bottle when I come across one.

Chateau les Marias was enjoyable.  It had a deep, ruby red color, with scents of loam, oak, leather, and pipe tobacco.  One of the things that’s so enjoyable about Bordeaux wines is the complex noses with scents that I usually don’t encounter anywhere else.  Oak and fruit tend to dominate most of the new world wines I drink, at least in scent.  

While the scent was all Bordeaux, the taste actually leaned toward a more American style, with much more fruit than I was expecting.  That’s not to say it wasn’t earthy, as well, but it was much less soily than other Bordeauxs I’ve experienced.  I don’t know if that’s because of the Merlot, the terroir, or simply my taste buds on the day I tasted it.

Regardless, it was a lovely, enjoyable, and affordable bottle of red Bordeaux. 

07 August 2014

Unrequited Love

So, I'm reading Noggin by John Corey Whaley right now (I started it last night and I have about 80 pages left, so...yeah...), and I was driving into work this morning and had a startling realization.

I am a total sap for unrequited love.

I will have to do more thinking about why this is, but I think it's the kind of realization that might in fact quantify a lot of what I write.

Actually, even as I write this, I can think of a few reasons why I am such a sucker for it, and one day I may write about that when I'm ready, but it's pretty personal. At least, the real-life version is. I suppose there's probably a fictional version in a lot of what I write.

In fact, I know there is. So...vague...yes...

06 August 2014

The Good Son by Michael Gruber

Wow.  The Good Son may be one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a long time.  It had stunning voices, a compelling plot, memorable characters.

It was a good book.  Perhaps even a great book.

The thing is, I’m not so sure that I actually liked it.

The book jacket blurb sums up the plot pretty well: Pakistani-American Theo Bailey, aka Theo Laghari, sets out to rescue his mother, Sonia, when she and her group are held hostage by terrorists while on a peace mission to Pakistan.

There’s so much more to it than that, though.

Theo and Sonia are two of the three threads the book follows.  The third is Cynthia Lam, a translator for the NSA who may or may not have stumbled upon a terrorist plan to build nuclear weapons.

All the characters have full, rich backstories, so rich that I find it hard to distill them in any meaningful way to describe them here.  I certainly couldn’t do it without spoiling major plot points; each revelation, each secret revealed, sheds light not only on what’s to come in the novel, but on what has come before.

All three main characters - plus the expansive cast of supporting characters - were real, believable, but I don’t know that I’d go so far as to calling any of them likable.  One of the themes The Good Son explores - and quite honestly, it seems to me - is the culture of Pakistan, in particular the Pashtun subculture - and many of the characters have to be viewed through this lens.  So while I can usually see where they are coming from, I don’t always approve of their choices.

I’m a bit of a sap, in that I want to root for characters. I want their virtues to overcome their flaws.  I suppose I want that for everyone, even myself.  That somehow, despite our mistakes, we can make better futures for ourselves.

The Good Son was a hard pill for me to swallow in this regard.  Maybe I just can’t articulate it well enough.  It was beautiful, it was thought provoking, it was a page-turner, it was brilliant.

In the end, though, it just wasn't for me. But I don't regret reading it in the least.

05 August 2014

Knights of Sidonia

Is the anime Knights of Sidonia really just Attack on Titan in space?

Yes. Yes it is. And you should watch it.

I first came across Knights of Sidonia because Netflix kept advertising it on their splash page, and so finally I decided to give it a try. It was a bit weird at first. The animation is good, but it sort of combines several styles, including CGI and cel-shading, and it reminded me of a video game more than anything else.

The world had very interesting rules. The idea of photosynthesizing humans was cool. So was the third gender, but they haven't really explored that very much yet.

Any anime with giant monsters that kill humans and an absurdly high death rate for named characters was bound to be compared to Attack on Titan, and while that's probably unfair, I think it's inevitable given Attack on Titan's popularity. Besides, many of the themes - militarism, pragmatism, extinction, loss of humanity - resonate across both shows.

Watch and see for yourself!


04 August 2014

Chateau Sylvain Raymond Graves 2011



I don’t have a lot of exposure to white Bordeaux, but this was an excellent venture.  It was a wine club offering.

Made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, it had more to it than the last Bordeaux Blanc I tasted.

It was a lovely corn-silk color.  The nose was bursting with floral and pineapple scents.

On the palate, it had a round, buttery presence, with a nice balance between minerals and fruit.


Very drinkable, and perfect for summer.

03 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last night, and it was AWESOME.

Seriously.

I'm not just saying that because Chris Pratt from The LEGO Movie was in it. Though The LEGO Movie was also AWESOME.

No, Guardians was awesome because it was such a fun, entertaining movie, with a great balance of comedy and heart. Plus explosions. And great characters.

Speaking of characters, I'm more than passingly familiar with the Marvel line of comics in general, but I'd never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before the movie went into production, and I didn't know very much going in. I think that really worked for the movie. Most of the audience likely had no more preconceived notions than I did, and so the movie was able to be what it wanted to be, tweak our expectations when it could, and just surprise the hell out of us over and over.

I really loved it.

02 August 2014

Re-blog from Kameron Hurley on the Writing Life

I came across this yesterday and thought it was one of the best pieces on the life of a writer that I have ever read.

http://www.kameronhurley.com/?p=14009

In a strange way it made me feel a lot better about the future. Knowing there are plenty of writers out there who still have their day jobs makes me a lot less anxious. I don't know why that should be, exactly. I still have dreams of getting a fabulous advance, quitting my day job, and taking a Lord of the Rings tour of New Zealand. I guess it's just nice to know that even if all that doesn't happen, I can still be successful.

01 August 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

There are some books about life as a teenager that so perfectly capture what my life was like when I was sixteen.  Then there are books that perfectly capture what normal teenagers’ lives are like when they are sixteen.  Grasshopper Jungle was definitely one of the latter.  It was intense, absorbing, and a hell of a lot of fun.  But it did remind me how weird my teenage years were, enshrouded as they were in a haze of antidepressants.

So, to summarize: Austin Szerba and his best friend, Robby Brees, accidentally unleash a race of unstoppable six-foot-tall praying mantis soldiers on their hometown of Ealing, Iowa.

Put that way, it oversimplifies the book.  And strangely, I thought Grasshopper Jungle was at its best when it was dealing with things other than the end of the world.  I have no doubt it was intended to be so, but still, it bears mentioning.

The story is told in first person from Austin’s point of view, looking back at the week of events that led to the end of the world.  Austin is fascinated with history, filling books with his own history each and every day.  One of the things he talks about, constantly, is how humans tend to implicitly trust history, without knowing its provenance.  It wasn’t until about 3/4 of the way through the book before I realized I too was doing this, trusting Austin to know things he couldn’t actually know.

It made me wonder if Austin was an unreliable narrator, but by the end, my questions had been answered as regards Austin’s sources.

It’d be hard to examine the lives of 16-year-olds without addressing love and sex, and this is where Grasshopper Jungle really shone.  Austin’s budding sexuality, his confusion on the issue of love, were all portrayed beautifully and realistically.  Austin’s constant horniness could have easily devolved into caricature (or worse, erotica) but instead, he was open and honest and, at times, even lyrical about what it’s like to be a hormonal boy.

Grasshopper Jungle is one of the best books I've read this year, hands down. There’s more I want to say about it, but heed this warning:

STOP READING HERE IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS.

My favorite part of the novel was Austin’s best friend, Robby Brees, and more particularly, their relationship.  It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Robby Brees is gay, since that’s established fairly early in the novel.  It’s refreshing to see a gay character portrayed as being much more than just their “gayness.”  Robby is Austin’s best friend first and foremost.

There were some truly heartbreaking moments - like when Robby and Austin went to a gay bar to get a “preview of Robby’s future” - but it was far more heartwarming that by and large the characters who knew Robby just accepted him, and being gay wasn’t a big issue. In fact, Austin frequently points out that Robby Brees is a superhero. It's one of my favorite bits.

Now, here's where I delve into spoiler territory.  The relationship between Austin and Robby, as they experimented (it’s always italicized like that in the book) was so well done.  Austin was absolutely confused, and, as Robby points out to him late in the book, rather selfish as well.  It should be noted that Austin is dating a girl at this time as well.

Anyway, as Austin and Robby try to come to terms with each other, and just where the line between love-as-best-friends and love-as-lovers falls, you get a very real sense of what it’s like for these two boys as they try to figure it all out.  And the answer was pretty surprising.

I really enjoyed the ending of Grasshopper Jungle too.  It was bittersweet and hopeful at the same time.  Just the way I like it.