July 6, 2012
If you have access to the Internet, and use it for something other than checking for winks on Match.com, you may have read how the lovely folks at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have discovered a new particle they believe to be the Higgs boson, affectionately known by us laypeople as the “God particle.” The LHC is a 17-mile tube situated a football field or so below ground outside Geneva, near the Swiss-Franco border. In this tube, ridiculously smart physicists are able to accelerate tiny particles called protons to nearly the speed of light by using 1,600 superconducting magnets, each of which weighs almost 60,000 pounds. And for these magnets to work properly, they must be cooled to a soul-crushing temperature of -456.25 degrees Fahrenheit, which is two degrees colder than outer space.
The cost to build such a tube? Around $10 billion, and it was only that cheap because there was already a tunnel there from a previous particle accelerator called the LEP. And then there are the operating costs, which include a couple of thousand physicists, staff, and one hell of an electric bill, all of which add up to about $1 billion a year…and that’s not including the ridiculously-generous vacation time afforded to those Eurowhiners on their socialist hellhole of a continent.
What’s the point of all this expensive whiz bang gadgetry, you ask? To figure out how the universe works at the subatomic level. We already know a lot of it, or think we know, but if there is no Higgs boson, we’ll have to throw out seventy-five years of work and start over. The crux of the matter is we’ve discovered all these different kinds of particles, but we don’t know why one weighs more than the other. This guy, Peter Higgs, theorized almost fifty years ago that there might be a kickass field that permeates the universe, and the degree to which particles interact with that field determines their mass. Luckily the guy isn’t dead yet, so he actually gets to enjoy the accolades generated by the fruit of his creative mind, unlike most of us writers who don’t get recognized for our talents until moss has overgrown our tombstones.
It’s natural to wonder about the practical considerations of discovering the Higgs. No one is ever going to lay their eyes on a Higgs particle, or any particle for that matter. The only way we even know about these things is to smash protons together, record the nature of the shrapnel, and then use a giant farm of computers to sift through the data and guess what it means. It’s not like the Higgs is a key that unlocks the existential secrets of the universe, despite the boson’s pop culture moniker, the “God particle.” (If you didn’t already read it in one of the myriad Higgs stories available online, the physicist who coined the term “God particle,” Leon Lederman, originally wanted to call it the “Goddamn particle,” because it was proving so difficult to find. There is no metaphysical or otherworldly nature to the particle, despite the protestations of new age crackpots and a certain novelist who happens to write for TNB.)
However, it turns out that there are a few real-world implications of this new physics discovery, and I’m here to bring them to your attention:
1) Weight loss: Have you been trying to lose that stubborn spare tire of blubber around your midsection? Need to lose 15 pounds to get into your wedding dress? Because the Higgs boson confers mass to elementary particles, all you have to do is get rid of some of your mass, and you’ll lose weight. I suggest a combination of diet and exercise to create a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day. On such a plan you can expect to lose about a pound a week.
2) Cure insomnia: Do you have trouble sleeping? Try reading the Higgs Boson Papers. If you’re not comatose by the third or fourth paragraph, you’re obviously a theoretical physicist looking for answers to big questions and shouldn’t be wasting time reading my essay in the first place.
3) Be entertained! A little more than seven years ago, I stole the phrase and book title The God Particle, and turned it into a techno thriller packed with more steamy sex than a Penthouse Forum “Best of” anthology. Of course my version of events was soapier than the actual Higgs experiments, and includes a metaphysical subplot where humans find a way to tap into the collective consciousness of a sentient universe, but it’s a lot more exciting than combing through petabytes of data describing particle shrapnel. And since I’m shamelessly promoting my own work, if particle physics isn’t your thing, try my newest psychological thriller about a man going insane…or perhaps becoming the only sane person in an insane world.
For more information about the LHC, visit their web site.
To purchase Leon Lederman’s treatise on particle physics, go here.
To learn more about Europe’s fantastic vacation policies, read this.
To read about the most ridiculous political flip-flop in presidential campaign history, go here.
To shed unwanted pounds, try using Livestrong.com to track your calorie intake. Or figure out how to rid yourself of some of those extraneous Higgs bosons.
That is all.
March 27, 2012
Hi. My name is Richard and I’m writing a test blog on my new fancy WordPress blog that Matt Hackmann integrated into my old school web site. Let’s see how it looks!
July 25, 2006
Over on MySpace, a friend posted a picture of herself in a mug shot and asked people to submit a story that began with, "So, I was sitting outside of 7/11…" and ended up with her arrested. This was my entry.
So there I was, sitting outside 7/11, waiting for the good-looking college kid to finish his shift. Yeah, I was twenty-nine and married, but every woman can use a young piece of meat on the side.
So midnight finally arrived, and the night-shift guy walked in the front door, but the cute college kid didn’t walk out. After a few minutes I figured out he might have used a back door, so I drove around the building. There he was, crouched behind a dumpster.
When the headlights hit him, the kid broke into a run. On impulse, I jumped out of my car and followed him. There was something in his hand, some kind of shiny metal object. Probably drugs; it was always drugs. The kid wasn’t much of an athlete, and I’d been a competitive swimmer in college, so I caught him quickly. We stopped on a deserted farm road behind the 7/11. He smelled electric, like adrenaline. His brown hair was a mess and his skin was silvery in the moonlight.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“You,” I told him. Sure, it was forward, but a shy kid like this was never going to ask.
He didn’t say anything, but his eyes widened, and I guessed that he’d never been with a woman. This close he looked younger than I remembered.
“What year were you born?” I asked him. I learned that trick from working in a liquor store…if you ask the year it’s more difficult to lie.
That made him nineteen, a relief. So he wasn’t jail bait.
“What’s in your hand?”
He looked away from me, slyly, side-to-side, like someone in a movie might. Then he opened his hand and help up the shiny object for me to see. It was some kind of lightweight foil, wrapped loosely around a bunch of fine wires.
“What is it?” I asked again.
“You’ll laugh if I tell you.”
“If you tell me,” I said to him, nodding toward the car, “I’ll make you a very happy man.”
“It’s supposed to be a time machine. I’m going to be a physics major, and I had this idea the other day, about how simple everything is. How we’re all connected. I thought…well, it’s supposed to be powered by human emotions.”
I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t. Instead I pushed him in the direction of the car. “You’re such a cute kid.”
He was shaking as I undressed him. His hands never stopped clutching that bundle of wires and foil. The night was humid, and the windows fogged over quickly. Seeing the joy on that kid’s face recalled my own teenage years, when sex was a strange and wondrous new discovery. It was wrong, doing this as a married woman, but in the climactic moment, as I imagined light flickering all around us, nothing could have been more right.
We dozed for a while afterwards. I dreamt of my college days, when I had thought myself a rebel, when I had more fun than a girl should be allowed to have.
Then a sharp knock on the window startled me awake. Through the silvery window I could see the vague shape of a man. A police officer.
“Step out of the car, ma’am.”
A million things ran through my mind as the cop watched me get dressed, as the kid pulled on his own clothes. He looked smaller to me now, younger, and I felt guilty for having taking advantage of him.
The cop asked for my driver’s license, and then looked over at the kid.
“Lewis, I guess it was your lucky day today.”
The kid stared at the ground and didn’t say a thing.
“Ms. Blank,” the officer said. “I’m placing you under arrest for having sex with a minor. Would you like to hear your rights?”
“What? He’s nineteen years old.”
“Ma’am, this young man is my neighbor’s son. He’s a sophomore in high school.”
“But he said he was born in 1987! Why would he lie?”
“I think,” the officer said, “that you could use another trip to high school yourself. Being that it’s 2003 and all, the math works out for me.”
Unreality washed over me, and my instinct was to lash out at the cop for his sarcasm. But then I looked again at the kid, who indeed appeared smaller and younger than he had last night. In his hand he was still clutching that bundle of foil.
Yeah, so maybe I went to jail that night, and I’m probably going to do some time. But somehow that’s okay with me, now that I know there is magic in the world.
What do you think about this story idea?
A young Alabama farmer in 1857 accidentally receives a letter from a beautiful Senator’s daughter who is secretly helping slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. In the letter, the daughter pleads for help from an aging preacher who was once friends with the Senator, so the farmer sets out to find the preacher. Soon, slave owners are after both of them, and the farmer is eventually drawn into the Civil War, where his excellence in gun battle turns him into a top soldier.
Sound familiar? It should, since it’s based on the opening scenes of arguably the most popular and influential film of all time. Except in Star Wars, the preacher is a Jedi, and instead of firearms Luke flies an X-Wing and eventually masters the light saber.
If the first movie developed a rabid following, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would never show up to ridicule the fans waiting in line to see a film premiere. But when the movie is "Attack of the Clones," boy, does he have fun taking the piss out of them. That’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on TV.
The original Star Wars obviously appealed to moviegoers of all kinds, not just sci-fi/fantasy fans. Why? Because it told an excellent story. What difference does it make if the story takes place in outer space or in the farmland of Alabama? A good story is a good story, right?
But unfortunately there aren’t that many good stories out there, which is surprising, since there are so many writers. So how to sell more books and movies? By creating categories and genres. If you identify an audience that enjoys stories told in a certain setting, whether it be mysteries, romance, sci-fi, history–that audience will accept lower-quality stories as long as they are told in their preferred genre.
One time I heard a small-press horror author say this: "When I write horror, it’s genre fiction, but when Stephen King writes it, it’s literature. Why is that?"
Well, buddy, I’ll tell you why: because Stephen King is a far better writer than you. His stories transcend genre. In fact, in my opinion, they aren’t genre at all. Genre stories depend heavily on their conventions to make the story successful. Dennis Lehane wrote some very good genre novels, and then he wrote Mystic River, a modern classic that doesn’t rely on convention.
The point of all this is that when I wrote The God Particle, part of what I wanted to do was convince people that science is interesting. If you know just a little about physics, about cosmology, about biology, you realize the universe is a fucking miracle. Every person on Earth is made up of matter that once existed in the heart of some long-dead star. Somehow a bunch of stupid hydrogen atoms have become carbon and are now organized as my body, writing this blog. Fucking amazing, no?
Why don’t more people care about this? Isn’t it more interesting than a bunch of idiots trying to vote themselves off an island?
When I tell people what my novels are about, they say, "Oh, so you write science fiction." Well, it depends on your definition. Did you enjoy Jurassic Park? Terminator 2? E.T.? Those movies involve science, bogus or not. But when it comes to reading books that contain scientific elements, people seem to have a different opinion of them. Why is it different? If I tell a decent story where the main character is a physicist, I will still encounter people who say "I don’t read that sort of thing." Why? You watch it on film. What makes a book any different?
My best guess is that the most visible fans of science fiction/fantasy novels do not appeal to the average reader. There are millions of sci-fi fans out there, but only the most dedicated (obsessed?) get any media time. And that’s because they dress up like Stormtroopers and Klingons or they collect action figures or they wish they lived in the Shire with Bilbo instead of in the real world.
But sorry, Triumph: If you think these people don’t have sex, you are sorely mistaken. They get together at conventions and have costume balls and have a lot more casual sex than you would ever guess. Because at a convention, unlike the real world, they don’t have to be embarrassed by their hobbies or by their appearance. For a person unfamiliar with these proceedings–like me–going to a convention like this can be eye-opening to say the least. I went to one last weekend to speak on a panel, as a matter of fact. I’m speaking at another this weekend: Conestoga 10 in Tulsa. Drop by and say "Hi" if you’re in the area. Buy me a drink if you want.
Just remember: The effect of science is everywhere. You’re able to read this blog because of the work of scientists. You live longer because of them. Your French fries taste better because of them.
If you’d like to read some fantastic literature that contains sci-fi/fantasy elements, try these:
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
The Talisman – Stephen King/Peter Straub
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
The Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
The Sparrow – Maria Doria Russell
1984 – George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
July 6, 2006
Ever since I began writing, when I was eleven, I’ve craved feedbackabout my work. A lot of beginning writers are afraid to let others readtheir work, but not me. My first role as a writer has always been toentertain, and the primary way to gauge my success is to solicitfeedback.
Now, having crossed to the other side, I occasionally have theopportunity to review the work of aspiring authors. Sometimes I’masked, and sometime I do the asking. This is one of the most rewardingaspects of being published–people actually respect your opinion aboutsomething. (Boy, do I have them fooled!)
To me, the first step in becoming a published author is to write coherent sentences. Yes, a good plot goes a long way, but if you write really clunky prose, yours will be an uphill battle. I know there are plenty of clunky writers out there making millions, but good writing helps maximize your chances. And really, who aspires to be the poorly-reviewed hack with the big bank account? Actually, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.
The novels I love the most embed a great story within poetic prose. These don’t come around very often, but the experience of reading them is truly electrifying. I’m not going to build a list here, but a few off the top of my head from varying genres: Deliverance by James Dickey, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Juror by George Dawes Green, The Shining by Stephen King, Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
Obviously, the pieces I review come from writers of differentexperience levels. Sometimes it’s a selection from their first book,sometimes it’s something from book 4, sometimes they’ve only writtenpoetry before and are trying their hand at prose. As you might expect,some of this work is great and some is scary bad. But I firmly believethat if you possess the tiniest bit of natural ability, combine it withhard work, and be completely honest with yourself, you can make it as awriter. The honesty bit is important…you absolutely must be your ownworst critic and never be content with what you write. You may beimpressed from time to time, but I think the moment you decide you’regood is the moment you stop getting better. And most of us have plentyof room to improve.
To be honest, most of the pieces I review are not ready forpublication. Overwriting is very common, as is overwrought description.Poor rhythm is a problem. Perhaps the most obvious difference betweenbeginning writers and those with more experience is the attention todetail. New writers are often generic in their descriptions of scenesand situations, and thus make it difficult for a reader to suspend hisor her belief. Good writers describe with economic precision. Awell-chosen word here or there makes all the difference.
But I don’t care how much a piece of shit your first story is, if youhold yourself to a high standard, your next one will probably bebetter. Still, you must be honest with yourself. When well-read peopleoffer feedback, listen to them. When writers offer feedback, listen.There is no right or wrong when it comes to literature, but even if youdisagree with certain opinions, there is usually something you canlearn from them. Having published two books does not make me anexpert–far from it. But when it comes to my own work, I never dismissany opinion. The very fact that someone took the time to consider mywork enough to express an opinion obliges me to evaluate it. And thereis almost always something I agree with…usually quite a bit ofsomething.
I was looking through my box of old projects tonight and ran across thefirst typed story I ever wrote. Below is the first paragraph of thatstory reproduced with all spelling and grammar mistakes intact. I wrotethis when I was seventeen. It’s not very good. By this time in mycareer I had handwritten maybe ten other stories (which to my dismay Icannot find), and still my skills were feeble at best. It was fourteenyears between this story and the year my first novel sold. I did notsell one piece of fiction in between. Not one. For those of us withaverage skills or average education, it’s a hard fucking road topublication.
But man, it feels good when you get there.
If you have ever been in South Texas during the summer, (or spring or fall, for that matter) you know just how miserably hot it can get. Not Death Valley dry-hot, or deadly Sahara Desert-hot, but sweltering, humid, sweat-wrenching-hot, with temperatures in the 90′s, but head-indexes in the 120′s. That’s how it was on this steaming mid-October day in the small town of Port Johnston, a coastal rural community between Port O’ Connor and Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast. Port Johnston was not exactly what you would call a bustling community, but it did have it’s fair (but small) share of enterprise. On the north end of town was the familiar small-town Dairy Queen, which drew its biggest crowd 6 a.m. every morning when the old, retired cronies of Port Johnston gathered to drink coffee and discuss the weather, oil prices, and the Dallas Cowboys. On Main Street, which, as you might guess, ran straight through the middle of town (north-south) were the usual small businesses such as the General Store, the Drug Store, and of course the Town Hall, which was right in the middle of the town square. There were a few more stores, an Affiliated Stop-N-Shop, a liquor store, a hardware store, and then on the far south end of town was the town’s only real restaurant, Southern Bar-B-Q. Southern Bar-B-Q was most well known for the never-ending smoke that swirled away from the place. You always knew who worked there, if not for the monogrammed shirts, then by the smell of the person, which was of sizzling briskets, and mesquite-smoke. What a way to be marked.
June 13, 2006
On April 10, 1979, a massive tornado devastated the city of Wichita Falls, Texas.
When most people think of tornadoes, they probably picture something like this:
Or maybe this:
Regardless of how the media treats them, tornadoes are not common. Manypeople who live in “Tornado Alley” have never seen even a small one. But occasionally atmospheric conditions set up in just the right way that intense tornadoes are possible. Many people in Oklahoma remember May 3, 1999, when 66 tornadoes ravaged the state, including one rated F5 that completely destroyed homes and businesses with winds over 300 mph.
In the book I’m working on now, The Boys of Summer, the Wichita Falls tornado of 1979 is a major set piece. Locals refer to that day in April as Terrible Tuesday, because when the storm was finished with the city, over 20,000 people were left homeless. There were only 96,000 people living there at the time.
It’s difficult to compare tornadoes with an event like hurricane Katrina, because hurricanes are far, far larger–hundreds of miles across–and when one hits an unprepared city below sea level, the devastation is immense. Many more people died in Katrina than in any tornado. The number of lives lost in the Pacific tsunami last year is even greater.
But for their size, tornadoes are the most destructive force on Earth. Their winds can be two or three times more intense than those in a strong hurricane.
A typical tornado, like those pictured above, are only a few hundred yards across. The one that hit Wichita Falls that day was 1.5 miles in diameter, which is over 2600 yards. It is not the strongest tornado on record, nor the largest, and because of modern technology and warnings it did not kill the most people. But it is arguably the most destructive tornado in history because of the wide swath of almost unimaginable destruction cut through an 8-mile section of a heavily populated area.
When the tornado touched down just outside the city, it was already larger than most mature tornadoes. It began as three separate funnels that merged. This is a photo of touchdown:
The storm then moved into the city, first damaging a football stadiumand then a junior high school. Fortunately classes were already out forthe day. This is what the junior high looked like afterwards:
As it plowed into the city, the tornado widened and its winds became more intense:
What makes the Wichita Falls tornado different than most powerful tornadoes is the width of its most intense destruction. Even F5 tornadoes generally only inflict their worst damage in a narrow corridor of the overall funnel path. The Wichita Falls tornado inflicted near-F5 damage in a half-mile wide swath, which is exceedingly rare. Here is a aerial photo of some of the damage:
The destruction was so severe and widespread that people were forced to spray paint the names of their streets on the curb, because the landmarks were all gone. For weeks afterward, the National Guard flew over residential areas at night to discourage looting. Thousands of mobile homes were brought in to house people until their residences could be rebuilt. This is a photo of the tornado taken from across a lake, a couple of miles away. Notice how the inflow winds are so strong that even this far away there are whitecaps on the water:
Tornadoes are generally wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. This one was so wide that many people didn’t even recognize it was a tornado. Including this guy, who kept taking pictures until he was blown into his garage:
Comparing one tornado to another is not easy, and ultimately there is no way to define the “worst.” But according to the National Weather Service, the single tornado that hit Wichita Falls in 1979 destroyed more homes and buildings than all 66 of the 1999 Oklahoma tornadoes combined.
Here’s a photo of it as it left the city. By now it had separated into five separate funnels orbiting around a center:
After the tornado, scientists studied the destruction and noticed an important thing–in houses that weren’t completely blown away, there was usually an interior closet or bathroom still left standing. People who took refuge in these rooms generally survived the storm. Since that time, weather experts have encouraged residents to take advantage of these interior rooms, which is why you hear that recommendation on television when a tornado warning is issued.
If you weren’t raised in Tornado Alley, you may think this sort of thing happens all the time. It doesn’t. It’s very rare. Still, I don’t know if there is a sight more ominous than looking out your window one day and seeing this:
Note: The above pictures of the April 10 Wichita Falls tornado were referenced from the National Weather Service site in Norman, OK. More information can be found here.
May 25, 2006
One of these days I’m going to study music theory and understand why certain songs or pieces move me the way they do, why they evoke certain emotions, why they inspire. Music stirs creativity in me and it comes in all forms–excitement, jubilation, empowerment, tragedy, nihilism, even a vague sense of spirituality, which for me says a lot.
So I always write to music. Much of the time I use a laptop and sit in my living room, with the lights off, and turn the music up loud. I have a good home theater system, and when I sit in the middle of the sofa the music is lively and enveloping. It helps transport me to the place I’m imagining, whether it be a physical or emotional place. One of the coolest things about reading is how a book can take you to places and situations like no other creative medium can. Books leverage your own imagination, rather than feed the experience to you like a film or TV show. But films have an advantage in that they engage more of your real senses. Listening to music while writing is sort of like using a soundtrack, except only I get to hear it.
Here’s the cool thing, though: when the book is finished, the artistic product that emerges contains the emotional experience of the music I listened to along the way. The word choices on the page, character emotions, maybe even plot points themselves all are influenced by the music. In addition, the sum total of every book I’ve read, every film I’ve seen, all my life experiences, they all go into the creation of the book. In some ways you don’t write a book so much as birth it. I think someone has probably said that already.
I’m not an artist in the way of the best authors, but what I produce is art to some degree. Any creative endeavor qualifies, in my opinion. Some pieces are more complex than others, evoke emotion or represent life more realistically than others, but almost all have a place in the art universe. And I think the most rewarding aspect of having contributed to that universe is that you do not stand alone. Everything influences everything else, because art is not created in an informational vacuum.
Music is a recurring motif throughout my next novel, The Boys of Summer. Some sections are introduced with lyrics. Popular songs create a kind of link between the various time periods that occur in the book. There are occasions when characters, consciously or not, quote song lyrics. There have no doubt been countless authors who composed their own work in a similar way, but considering my last two novels (The God Particle is the other) have been written, in part, to embrace this idea of universal influence, I think it makes sense to acknowledge the process of shared creation. Because I’m not sure there is such a thing as a completely original work of art.
May 9, 2006
When I was eleven years old, my favorite musical artist was OliviaNewton-John. There, I said it. My favorite song was “Physical.” I liked Journey, also. Kool & the Gang. Hall & Oates. I was eleven years old. I’m not ashamed to admit it.
And if you want to know the truth, once I’ve liked something, Igenerally don’t unlike it. The time always comes when I get sick ofcertain songs and artists, or I outgrow them, or whatever. But almostevery song I’ve ever enjoyed is on my computer somewhere. No matter howembarrassing or cheesy or juvenile, there will come a time when I’lllisten to every song in my library. I’m kind of nostalgic like that.
But not everyone is the same. There is a lot of music snobbery out there. And by snobbery, I mean you look down upon music that other people enjoy. Maybe you even attempt to draw conclusions between the music people enjoy and their IQ. Or you draw conclusions about their ability to distinguish between “real” music and pop crap.
I bring this up because over time I have found myself becoming one of these music snobs.
There was a time when I would never admit to a new friend the kind of music I enjoyed. I like to think of myself as a kind of intelligent guy, and I want other people to think so, and certain bands I enjoyed might have portrayed me as some other kind of guy. Some less-intelligent, less-cultured guy.
Into my early and mid-20s, I didn’t listen to any kind of fringe music. The reason for this is because I only ever heard music that was played on the radio where I lived. In my life I’ve moved ten times, and still the largest city I ever called home was the one I live in now. And Tulsa isn’t that big. I didn’t know about U2 until The Unforgettable Fire and then only because some “fringe” friend of mine told me about them (I put fringe between parentheses because he only thought he was fringe.) To be honest I don’t consider this lack of musical knowledge my fault. There were country stations and pop stations and classical. Those were my choices. I listened to pop and sometimes classical, but never, ever country. Never. Ever. But that’s not snobbery, that’s just common sense.
As I got older, though, I began to dislike what was played on the radio. It was boring. So I crawled into a hole and mainly listened to what I already owned. Stopped buying CDs (which were overpriced, anyway). Focused on other things.
And then, like magic, the Internet came along. At first it was slow and you couldn’t call me if I was online (*70 to cancel call waiting, or else you disconnected me from AOL, J-Hole). Then it became faster, much faster, and soon music providers began to pop up. The original Napster was great, but I mainly found old music on there. What turned me around were sites like Yahoo Launchcast, and then iTunes, and now even last.fm. Sites that observe your listening habits and suggest other artists based on them. One day I’m listening to some electronic music on Yahoo, and a song called “God is God” comes up, by Juno Reactor. Never heard of it, but wow! The song rocked! So I rated it a 10, and pretty soon other, similar music began to play, and wow again! All this great music out there that I’d never even heard of!
Gradually, through a combination of active searching and suggestions by iTunes and last.fm, I’ve found all kinds of great stuff. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, Death in Vegas, Explosions in the Sky, etc. I’ve found that I really enjoy experimental, instrumental music, whether rock or ambient or classical, or a combination of all. Godspeed is probably my favorite, although Death in Vegas is great because of the different genres they cover.
I said before that I’ve found myself becoming a sort of music snob. As in, if someone asks me what kind of music I enjoy, let me see how many obscure bands I can recite. If the person asking frowns at my answer, or shakes their head, that’s success! They think I’m cool because I listen to bands that only three other people know about! Rock on!
But that isn’t cool. It just seems cool. I have a friend who, when he gets tired of a band, can no longer listen to them. Ever. He’s so passionate about it that he will sell any CD that has fallen out of favor with him. A year after Cobain died, he got rid of his Nirvana CDs. They were no longer cool for him. If that’s what makes him happy, great.
For me, having confidence in yourself, in the things you enjoy, that’s cool. Do I listen to the radio these days? No. Too many commercials and not enough good music (I don’t have satellite in my car.) And the new bands I like aren’t played much on the radio. But just because I don’t like today’s pop music doesn’t mean I think it’s bad. Most of it isn’t for me, that’s all.
But I do have guilty pleasures. My rule is, if I liked a song or album once, it’s still okay with me. It’s like a musical grandfather clause. So go ahead, have your laughs. Because every one of us has their own guilty pleasures. That’s cool.
Be who you are.
April 28, 2006
You ever see those video clips of the nerdy dudes chasing tornadoes? Guys wearing glasses with giant frames, 80s haircuts, wearing acid washed jeans or too-short shorts that aren’t hiding enough of their too-white legs?
Okay, not exactly. I’m not a professional storm chaser, and I dress a little differently, and I tan easily. But I do have a certificate issued by the National Weather Service demonstrating that I took a severe storm chasing class taught by them. I can tell you what a mesocyclone is. Inflow and outflow and RFD (rear flank downdraft). I know all that stuff. And by the way, “Twister” was complete bullshit. Cows don’t float, even in Oklahoma.
Anyway, I’ve been out twice this year. Both times the storms I picked were intensifying until I began photographing them. Then they went kaput. Which is great for anyone that might have been in their paths, but which sucks for me, since the only tornado I’ve seen was wrapped in rain and thus not seen by me, even though I was less than a mile away. The first time this year I drove through a rain shaft so heavy that I could barely see fifty yards in front of me. I watched a wall cloud pass almost overhead. I saw dust being stirred up by a storm that was rotating, but didn’t pull that rotation tight enough to form a funnel.
This past Tuesday was my second time, and I shot some video of a large wall cloud that passed right over downtown Tulsa. I shot it from the parking lot of In the Raw, one of our sushi restaurants, which sits on a hill and looks across the city. Toward the end of the video you can see what might be a small funnel, but which also could just be a funnel-shaped cloud that isn’t rotating. It was beneath the wall cloud, but I was too far away to know for sure. It’s kind of ominous-looking to see this large wall cloud hanging over the city, but the real bonus of the two-minute video is at the very end.
It was a few hours later, and I was at my computer, writing, when I heard a loud clap of thunder outside. So I went to the front door with my camcorder (which is old and sucks). There is a huge tree across the street from my house, and I’ve always wanted to capture it being hit by lightning on video. So I’m standing there in the dark, pointing the camera across the street, when a bolt of lightning streaks down and nearly blinds me. It was burned into my retina for like two minutes afterwards. I don’t know what the bolt hit, because it wasn’t the tree. And stupid me, I didn’t realize the damn camera was still zoomed from the funnel/non-funnel cloud. So the bolt was just out of frame, which disappointed me to no end. Amateur! Loser!
But then last night I watched the video in super slow motion, and I saw something the video at regular speed failed to see. Two branches of the lightning passed IN FRONT of the tree, which is only like fifty yards away from me. Even though the main bolt was a million times brighter, it’s still cool to see these little stragglers. I froze the one frame so you can see it better. Check it out!
Have a great weekend,
April 20, 2006
When I was an unpublished novelist, struggling to break through, to find an agent, to find a publisher willing to pay me for the privilege of seeing my work on a store bookshelf, I thought the biggest day of my writing life would be the day of my first sale. And it was. The day my agent called to tell me that my first novel had been bought by Ballantine Books (an imprint of publishing giant Random House) I cried like an infant. I held it together while my agent gave me the news, but the moment we hung up I lost it. Then I called those close to me and cried with them, too. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I had been writing since I was eleven, and by then I was thirty, and that seemed like a really long time to me. Other writers have waited longer, some shorter. But for me it was basically my whole life, and it was an emotional day.
The impact of that day carried long and far. In every way I became a happier guy, a more confident guy. I was no longer living a life of quiet desperation. I had made my mark. I was going to be published. In hardcover. I mean, give me a fucking break, right?
But in the end, I’m nothing if not a realist, and after the high wore off I realized there were still hurdles awaiting me. Because if you want to publish your work, you don’t want to stop after a two-book deal, right? If you want to keep publishing, you have to sell enough copies to make it worth the publisher’s time. And to be honest my first novel didn’t make that big a splash. It’s hard to know why. Maybe it wasn’t good enough. Maybe the story idea made it seem like one kind of a book, but the content appealed to a different kind of reader. If I told you it was about a guy who volunteers for a scientific experiment gone awry, you might think of Michael Crichton. But the book is anything but Crichton. He’s a great writer of science thrillers, but Rift is more about an existential dilemma. The people who like it the most don’t read very many science thrillers. But how else do you market a book with a plot like that?
Same for book 2. The God Particle is a story about a businessman, a particle physicist, and a news anchor. It’s about the search for meaning in a confusing universe, both scientifically and spiritually. The plot sounds like hard science fiction, but in reality the book appealed to some sci-fi readers but not all. It turned off some of those sci-fi people because it was too much about characters and relationships. Which is exactly what I intended. I love sci-fi, but I never wanted to be solely a sci-fi writer myself.
Anyway, after a couple of years of mediocre sales it’s easy to become disillusioned. You wonder if maybe you’re writing for too small an audience. You expect, when you sell your first novel, that yours will be a life of book signings and media appearances and the like. Pub parties. Endless hours in front of your computer, churning out beloved novels. You write a third novel, try hard to do something different, unique, but you’re not sure if it’s unique or a discordant mess. Is it your most ambitious work or bile taking the form of words?
Today I did a local TV interview. There were a couple of authors and me. Ryan Jones and Jonathan Neff. They were very nice, and when one of them asked which agency I was with, and I told him, he remarked, “That’s a very powerful agency. How in the hell did you land them?”
It’s easy to forget that your agency reps one of the most popular novels of all time. That your agent is very successful and loves your work. That your editor is currently watching one of his authors climb into the top six on the NY Times hardcover bestseller list (and happens to also love your work.)
It’s easy to forget that you’re living your dream, even if it’s not (yet) exactly how you imagined it.
And there are all kind of bestseller lists, by the way. You have to start somewhere. In 2005, my two novels spent some time on the eBook bestseller lists. eBooks sell at a small fraction of traditional books, but they still compete with each other in the same way. And for a short time, both my novels performed well among national competition. Here are two (not-Photoshopped) screenshots I took. They don’t mean much, but they make me happy. Not because I think success means being a bestselling author, but because they give me hope that someday I might not have to worry whether the next book is going to be picked up or not.
Have a great weekend,