Theatre of Illusion.

We had a busy, but magic filled weekend.  Saturday, we took the kids to see The Spencers, Theatre of Illusion.  The magicians Kevin and Cindy Spencer performed at our local community college theater, but do not be fooled.  The production was fantastic, worthy of a far bigger stage than that might make it sound.  The show tours the country so if they come by you, I highly recommend it, especially as a family fun activity.   (You can find details about them and their schedule here:

Even more awesome, this was a special needs friendly performance which generally means the flash and bang are cut back so as not to overstimulate those kids with a sensitivity to that.  The style and showmanship were top notch, and I can see why they've won many awards for their performances.  They engaged the audience in a way that invited you to be a part with the show, not just sit back and be clinical observers.   Oh, sure, they had the typical volunteers from the audience, but it wasn't just that.  It was the story telling, the art, of the performance that made you feel like you had a connection to these people, instead of just being up there and doing trick after trick until done.  You can tell that they have fun, even though I am certain they must spend a lot of time doing the same performances over and over again.

But what's awesome about them isn't just that they do magic, they also do outreach to the community.  Sunday, they held a special class at the theater for kids with special needs.  We got to go, and learn a few tricks along with a class of great kids.  I really felt that the Spencers and their whole crew knew how to help the kids feel comfortable and empowered up on stage performing their new learned skills for everyone.  They even encouraged the kids to develop their own story to go along with their tricks and give them the experience that magic is as much about sharing stories as it is about fooling the eye.

Then, home, my son was not content enough with what he's learned (we also bought a small kit they sell as fundraisers to support their outreach program teaching special needs kids) and now he's spent every spare moment he can watching a show that aired some years back where a magician reveals all the big secrets on how they perform their illusions.  It's been magic morning noon and night.  But I don't mind.  I keep hoping I can get him to do more than just read/watch/observe the illusions and to actually focus long enough to learn more than a handful of tricks.  He's got the energy to be up on stage, and he crafted a very fun (if very convoluted) story for his one trick he got up to perform.  Now to help him direct it.


Last night I was fortunate enough to get to the NYC premiere for the moving coming out this coming friday, Insurgent.   It's the second movie in the series, Divergent, by Veronica Roth, and it's based upon the second book.  Insurgent.   I have not yet read the books, though my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the first movie, and I would say we enjoyed the second one as well.  Though, as with any second movie in a series, it has some bumps along the way.  The visuals and effects on the movie are stunning, and for that alone, I'd say its worth seeing in the theater on the big screen.  If you can't, then at least try to see it in High Def when you see it on the small screen, as I think the cinematography warrants it.   For me, I suspect that if you compare it to the novel, they had to make sacrifices in the story to get it to fit in the roughly two hour window they had to tell the tale.  At the after party, there were a few young girls who were going around getting actors and even Veronica to sign their copies of their book.  (OK author friends, yes, I think that's a goal to go on the list, get to be at your own NYC Premiere for a movie based on your own novel, right?)  I glanced at the novel and it was quite thick.  (And can I just say, all the actors at the after party seemed quite wonderful, taking pictures with fans, signing, etc.  Very approachable, etc.)  In any case, with just a quick glance, it seemed clear to me there's no way they covered all the intracsies of the book in that movie, and so I'm wondering what got cut short for time.  I think Peter Jackson has spoiled me, because now I always want the extended cut to watch on DVD to see what parts of the movie had to be left out so they could keep it in a reasonable amount of time.  I plan at some point to go back and start reading the books, to hopefully pick up on those missing bits.  Though I'm tempted to wait until after the final movie so I don't spoil myself for the ending.  That's a hard choice.  I tried to do that for Harry Potter and I couldn't last past movie/book three.  With a shorter series, maybe the will will be strong enough.

If you are a fan of YA Dystopias, I think you'll very much enjoy it.  If you're the average moviegoer, it's a good film, though if you haven't seen Divergent first, go see it before trying to hit up this one in the theaters.   I think if you aren't familiar already from reading the books or seeing the first film, you are going to have a hard time keeping up, and the first movie definitely shoulders a huge portion of the world building that isn't repeated in the movie.  (It might be in the book, I do not know.)

Goal met: 30 books.

As of this morning's drive in, I've "read" 30 books this year.  That meets my goal I set back in January for the whole year.  If I keep up this pace, I might well hit 60 books.  But I'm deciding right now, I need to start backing off.   Too much reading, not enough writing.  It's important to figure out the balance point.   Last year, I definitely did far more the former and not enough of the latter, and it feels like I'm falling into the same trap now.  So...reading will be dropping to a far lower priority for the rest of the year, away from a need to do, to a nice to do.

Time to dig in and get some words on the page.

School's out.

While I'm tempted to find an Alice Cooper video, to go with the title of the post, I'm not sure that ole AC is appropriate for the Pre-K and 1st grader.

The boys are both excited to be done, and I think at the same time a bit sad.  I remember how that feels.  You crave the comfort and familiarity of a teacher you know, and a class filled with kids you have made friends with.  But you also look forward to moving forward, the feeling of accomplishment that means you've advanced to the next grade.  Kind of like finishing off a level in a video game, and advancing to find yourself on the next board.  (OK, maybe that analogy is a stretch.)

I'll leave you with this snippet of conversation between Little Man and Younger Son and myself.

Me (to Little Man): After tomorrow, you won't be a first grader any more.  You'll be...
LM: A second grader.
Me (to Younger Son): And you won't be in Pre-K, you'll be...
After a pause..
YS: I don't know.
LM: A kindergartener.
YS (pumps his fists into the air): Yes!
LM: Have you been waiting your whole life to be a kindergartener?
YS (pulls his fists down his chest in a sort of victory gesture): Yes!

Hope you all have a fabulous start to your summer.

Color me Bluegrass

So, Amazon recently launched their Amazon Music Prime promotion thing.  If you happen to already be a Prime member, there's a whole bunch of songs you can add free to your purchased/stored music.  (I've been using Amazon MP3/Cloud music for a few years now, instead of iTunes, because I already have an investment there, and it seemed ridiculous to have tons of disparate segregated pockets of tech solutions.  I'm sure at some point that's going to bite me in the ass, but seemed like a good thought at the time.)  So, you know, I have to try it out, and it works essentially the same as buying so no big deal.  Might as well browse to see if there are any albums or artists I'd been meaning to purchase but hadn't had the spare cash for.  (Most of my music is my own CDs I owned and burned up so I can access on the cloud.)

Well, I ran across this selection:  Bluegrass Tribute to Classic Rock

Yeah, that's right, classic rock songs turned into Bluegrass tunes.  Color me intrigued.   First song:  Come Sail Away by Styx.   Sold.   (Which, in this case just means I clicked on add to library, so not really costing me anything.)  Styx.  Journey.  Kansas.  Steppenwolf.  Queen & Bowie.  It's totally a blast.  I am not, by any stretch a Bluegrass expert, though I do like Banjo, and keep meaning to get around to learning to play, but that's a whole nother thing.  So I can't tell you if this is quality bluegrass for the true fans, or just a gimmicky way to enjoy some familiar songs.  But, in my opinion, they are doing a good job here, so I snagged a few others from the series.   Might turn it into my new writing jam.

In particular, I'm a big fan of people who take an existing song and make it into their own style, and for me, I think that's why this works.  (Though I will admit to a little cognitave dissonance for the chorus of Joan Jett's I Love Rock and Roll with a bluegrass sound.)  Check it out if you're a fan of Bluegrass, or just like listening to different takes on songs you're totally familiar with.


School year ending, summer is rising.

There's one more week of the school year for Little Man and Younger Son.  And it strikes me, as that time nears, how odd it is, that for so many years of our lives (well, mine, in particular after 20 years of school) how odd it is to have a year ending at the cusp of Spring into Summer.  For reasons I can't really explain, other than long attenuated habit, this time of year feels more like the "end of the year" for me than does the transition of calendar years.  I'm sure those in education probably share that trait.  And of course, it follows too, for many, if not all of us, to think of the summer as a different season.  The time of going away.  Vacation.  The beach.  Swimming.  I'm sure the list is varied for everyone, but somehow, the transition into that time is like going off into faerie land.  More so, I think for children who in fact get a very long break from the day to day life of school, and homework.   Perhaps I'm waxing nostalgic about summers because I've got plans in two weeks to meet up with a bunch of old neighborhood friends from my carefree bike wherever I want all day long and do whatever I feel like with the gang days.  They were quite good days filled with crazy adventures.  Insane risks.  Fights.  Friendship and bonding.

It brings to mind how different the world is today, in many ways, from those days, oh, only a few decades ago.  Sure, there's plenty that's just the same.  But I can't imagine the unmitigated trust my parents had in me that I had 8-10 weeks of the year where I would essentially disappear into the ethereal landscape with my friends and just who knows what sort of mischief we got ourselves into during those hours, until, when it was dusk enough to realize it, I'd meander on home (if I hadn't stayed out too late already and my folks or brother would come get me.)  And of course, things were different because it only mostly seemed as if we were unsupervised kids.  But our families had roots in the neighborhood.  Aunts and uncles that saw us pass by.  Kept tabs on the kids.  Knew enough to tell when we were pushing the boundaries that bit too far.  (Well, mostly.  I know we got away with some things we never should have.)   But today, families spread out more.  We don't have the same roots.  My children don't have aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles, and great cousins, etc. peppered all through our block.

Of course as an adult, you don't get to visit faerie land the same way.  As a child, you saw it as wonder.  That freedom.  That blank slate.  That moment when you, and your companions could take on any adventure you could dream.  As a adult, as a parent, you see the dangers lurking in that wood.  And the terror that hides around the corner.  And it makes you anxious.  Anxious to let the little ones go off in carefree fashion.  A conundrum, how to keep them safe, without cutting off their own ability to explore, to wonder, to do?  I'm sure it's a conundrum that has faced countless generations before, but, well, this is the time I stare into it.  Of course, my boys are young yet, so I have time to ponder it before I have to decide how we will live it.  But faerie land is there.  Every year, waiting--waiting to share its promise of fireflies and moonlight, and thunderstorms and sun showers, open fields, and dark woods.


The Sound of Purple.

So the other day, Audible had a daily deal on The Color Purple by Alice Walker.  Super cheap.  And it was narrated by the author.  This is one of those books that I've been meaning to get around to reading.  And I had a feeling that, getting to hear it narrated by the author would either be totally awesome, or a flop.  If it's a flop, I could just switch to reading the actual book, which is somewhere here in the house, though it would take me a bit to find it.  I had an instinct though, that the narration would be good, and it is.

You might think that reading by the author is always top notch.  After all, if anyone understands the nuance of the words on the page, it should be the author, yes?  While there's certainly some truth to that, not every author is meant to be a narrator.  Oh, sure, it's well expected that authors will go to events and give readings of their works, especially either their famous ones or their newest.  That comes with the territory.  But not everyone has the gift of oration.  Not every author can get up and give a great reading.  Many of us, well we make do as best we can.  Some, however, are exceptional.  Professional narrators can definitely make a book even more enjoyable.   When an author approaches or reaches that level, well, that's a wonderful bonus.  I think Alice Walker is right there.   So, it is a pleasant and happy surprise instead of a disappointment.  Now, I'm not done with the book just yet.  So, not going to discuss the contents or anything, other than to say it is exceptionally good to remind myself that I do need to continue to branch out from my usual fictional stomping grounds.  There's nothing wrong with enjoying fantasy and sf, but it's important both as a reader, and as an author to make efforts to keep the mind open to many different types of stories.  If you let yourself settle on just one kind of tale ever, you'll miss out on large territories of great stories.   Maybe it takes you out of your comfort zone, maybe it pushes you a little.  But I think that's just fine.

What book have you read lately that took you out of your usual stomping grounds? 

Monday's broke.

Woke up this morning, rainy, bleary day.  No one really wants to get moving, and yet somehow we did.  Wasn't exactly in racing form, but the kids got out the door and to school on time.  Unfortunately, I got into my car, and....nothing.  Not even a meager attempt of the car to turn over.  The battery is dead. (Again.)  Time to sit on AAA and hope they come soon to get me started.  This is not an auspicious way to start off the work week.
drinks, friends, dinner

This year's Viable Paradise applications, closing June 15th.

In 2012, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the Viable Paradise workshop.  I had excellent instructors, fantastic staff, and a spectacular cohort of writers that joined me in a journey to learn what we could and improve our craft.  I made a great many friends, and I find myself cheering on these great writers as they each build their career.  Every publication by one of my fellow VP 16 graduates gives me goosebumps.  These are good authors, and I'm thrilled to have been witness to some part of that journey with them.

If you are looking for a week long writing workshop/retreat that specializes in SF & Fantasy, this might just be it.  You can find more information here:

I will be forever grateful for the time I spent there among that group of talented individuals, and should you apply, I hope you have as informative, inspiring, and empowering time as I did.