Functional Nerds Podcast: #writing #violins #scrivener

John Anealio and Patrick Hester, hosts of the Functional Nerds podcast, interviewed me recently (Episode #198). We covered a range of interesting topics, which are listed below so that, even if you only have a few minutes, you can tune in and hear select bits. I’m also including links to some other podcast episodes you may enjoy. If you’re not already a Functional Nerds subscriber, check it out. Podcasts are free, but if you like what you hear, consider donating and/or sharing the links!

04:10 — My Pick of the Week: A Natural History of Dragons

09:09 — Patrick’s Pick of the Week: Magic: The Gathering

12:40 — John’s Pick of the Week: The Shambling Guide to New York City

14:00 — How my past career as a lawyer impacts my writing

18:20 — My alma maters: Penn State and University of Baltimore

19:20 — Me, rambling about how/when I started writing

22:20 — The Episode’s Big Reveal: Patrick tells me there’s a sequel to The Devil Went Down to Georgia (! — I had no idea).

23:10 — I talk about how I used to play the violin; great discussion on kids and music

29:00 — I do a horrible job discussing the original blog post that caught John’s attention (my post at SF Signal: What Is It With The Devil And Violins?). For some insane reason, I thought this would be the one thing John wouldn’t want to talk about (naively assumed he’d have a been there, done that feeling about the topic. Duh.) John’s articulate. I am not. Please forgive and read my original post instead of listening to my inane, totally unprepared response.

38:40 — We discuss fan conventions. John and Patrick share their favorites and recommend some for me.

42:00 — Urged on by me, Patrick gives a mini-intro to Scrivener spiel. I’ve written in Word pretty much since I first switched from typewriter to computer so I wanted to hear his perspective on why Scrivener’s so great.

51:10 — Episode closes with — what else? — The Devil Went Down to Georgia 😀

Other Functional Nerds podcasts you might enjoy:

Episode 195 — James SA Corey

Episode 148 — Mur Lafferty Part 1

Episode 149 — Mur Lafferty Part 2

Episode 146 — Delilah S. Dawson Part 1

Episode 147 — Delilah S. Dawson Part 2

I hope everyone is having a great July!

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Snakes, Sharks, and Planes: Lesley Carter of Bucket List Publications Encourages Us To Dream BIG

Lesley Carter is a travel adventure blogger I discovered through WordPress. She has posted about traveling all over the world, extreme adventures closer to home, as well as sporting events, spa days, and the importance of friends and family. Her online magazine, Bucket List Publications, is still relatively new and yet has an impressive number of subscribers and followers. Her core philosophy (live life to the fullest) is inspiring no matter what your age or tolerance for risk. She’s currently competing in an online competition to win a trip around the world and hopes to spread the word about it. So I asked her if she’d be willing to answer a few questions and share a few photos. She happily agreed. That’s her, upside down, in the biplane picture below.

Biplane

Jill Archer: Your blog is all about embracing life. You’ve often said that some people have a bucket list because they are dying, but you want one because you want to live. When did you first discover this unquenchable thirst for living life? Were you an adventurous child?

Lesley Carter: While other kids were playing dolls and dress-up, I was playing airline attendant and explorer. The passion to see, explore, and experience more was always there. Even at 8 years old, I planned a trip for my brother and I to fly and see my aunts who lived in a different province. I went as far as contacting the airline to see if we could travel alone. It’s in my blood.

JA: You write about pursuing life’s dreams. Bungee jumping, sky diving, adventure travel, etc. But what about the dreams you have while sleeping? Want to share one of your funniest, or scariest, nighttime dreams with us?

LC: Those are the things I dream about while sleeping. In most of my actual dreams, I can fly; not like with wings, but just fly. It’s peaceful and natural. Sometimes I’m flying to save someone from a burning building or sometimes I’m flying to get somewhere. I have a recurring dream that I’m flying to school but when I arrive I can’t stop flying, literally. I guess I’ve mastered the flight, just not the landing.

Snake

JA: Many of my followers are bibliophiles and book addicts. #39 on your personal Bucket List for this year is “Be a Motivational Speaker at an Event.” If you were speaking to a room of library and book lovers, how would you inspire them to pursue their passion in a new and unique way? In your extensive travels, have you discovered a place which would be “the perfect place to read” or “the best bookstore in the world”?

LC: In The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom, my favorite author, he says, “The true value of time is that you’ve got to make your decisions in each day count, otherwise you could live forever and it won’t make much difference.” I try to reflect on that quote or at least that philosophy daily. We are only given one shot at this life, as far as I know, so it’s important to live life to the fullest. If you dream of visiting Italy, go! If you dream of skydiving, get up there and do it. Make this life count. Don’t ever wake up and say, “I wish I would have….” Your older, happier self will thank you.

As for the perfect place to read – the airplane! All you have is time. 😉

JA: Although many of the things you’ve written about are extreme adventures (flying with a jet pack, swimming with sharks), some are about quieter moments (experiencing a spa day, seeing the sun rise)and some are just about the joys of being with family (giving birth to your daughter, returning to your childhood home, the importance of your husband and sister in your life). How do you stay so well-balanced?

LC: Each night, I reflect on what I’ve accomplished that day and what I’d like to accomplish in the days to come. I’ve learned that if I don’t find balance, I can’t truly enjoy the things that I love. For example, I wanted to swim with the whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium a few months ago. Athena was sick, though, and the drive to Georgia was frustrating. She was fussy and I was starting to feel terrible myself. Darren and I were up all night and I hadn’t really slept in a few days. I decided that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so I went anyway. I got into the tank, started to swim, and passed out. If I would have changed the date, it would have been the most memorable, positive experience; instead, I had to be pulled out of the pool and miss the swim. The next weekend we went to Asheville for a spa day. I learned my lesson.

Sharks

JA: I think one of the neatest things about your blog is that you’ve not only encouraged others to pursue their dreams through your posts, but you’ve also organized a handful of bucket list adventures for others. Please share a bit about how you make OTHER PEOPLE’S bucket list dreams come true.

LC: In the last year and a half, I’ve gained a substantial following and support. I currently have 16,032,115 page views and 58,685 subscribers. I’ve used those numbers and klout to help others make their dreams a reality. People send me their bucket lists regularly and I do everything in my power to make them a reality. You can see examples by clicking here. I organized and found a way to offer these experiences for free for my readers. One reader drove a NASCAR and hung out in the pit with the crew, another reader went skydiving, and another went heliskiing at one of the top resorts in Canada. These are just a few examples.

Mud

JA: You’re currently competing in My Destination’s Biggest, Baddest Bucket List Contest. (And you’re currently in FIRST PLACE). If you win, you’ll have a chance to win a trip around the world and $50,000 to help you pay for expenses along the way. What is your tentative travel plan? What do you hope to accomplish with this trip? Of course, we’re happy for you! You sound amazing and inspiring! But what can we look forward to READING while you’re on tour? What’s your plan for keeping in touch with the folks that voted for you?

LC: Once the winner, me, is selected, My Destination will help make the travel plans. There are some countries that I haven’t seen that will definitely make the cut including:

  • South Africa
  • Kenya
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Austria
  • Iceland
  • Russia
  • Brazil

Darren will not be able to join me on the trip, but I plan to bring Athena. I have a great friend, Jessica, who I’ve traveled with in the past. She will join me as Athena’s nanny. Most days we will participate in activities together, but when I want to experience extreme adventures, Jessica will take Athena for a playdate. With a lot of planning and organization, it is all possible and who better to help plan it than My Destination? During the trip, I will continue to post daily or as much as possible. I want my readers to experience the world with me. Maybe you physically can’t be there this year, but I’ll make sure you don’t miss a thing. Like when I was in Fiji, I will utilize all forms of social media including WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and my website. After all, this is my wildest dreams come true. Traveling the world and sharing my experiences with others… it doesn’t get any better.

[JA: Darren is Lesley’s husband and Athena is her daughter. She blogs about them too. :-)]

QUICKIE QUESTIONS

  1. Favorite comfort food? McDonalds
  2. Best food you’ve ever had while traveling? Anything and everything in Italy!
  3. Favorite book? The Five People You Meet in Heaven
  4. Top resource for travel info (besides you ;-)) Other bloggers or travelers

If you enjoyed this interview, please consider voting for Lesley’s entry in My Destination’s Biggest, Baddest Bucket List Contest by clicking here so she can stay in first place, win the competition, and keep inspiring and entertaining us! 😀 A big thanks to Lesley for doing this interview. Hope everyone is having a terrific week!

NEW YORK COMIC CON Pt. 1: Authors Panel and the Conference

NYCC
2012 New York Comic Con at the Javits Center

This past weekend, I attended the New York Comic Con. This was my first experience attending a fan conference. It was every bit as much fun as I thought it would be. The crowds, the costumes, the vendors and events… the other authors, artists, fans, readers, and book bloggers – it was all fantastic.

Bummer that he's blurry!

Panels & Screenings

Legendary Comics

Friday night I sat in on the Legendary Entertainment panel. The highlight was hearing about Guillermo del Toro’s latest project — his upcoming movie, Pacific Rim. (Click here for a great recap of the panel by Sandy Schaefer at Screen Rant). We got to see the Pacific Rim trailer (previously only shown at SDCC). Needless to say, it looks awesome and I can’t WAIT to see it! Was also great to hear del Toro talk about the movie and its making. I hadn’t had the opportunity to see or hear him before in person so just watching the panel discussion was fun. As you can imagine, del Toro was very entertaining! 😀

Genre Bending Panel

I was enormously pleased to have been included in a last-minute panel that NYCC put together for Saturday afternoon. The topic is one I find particularly interesting, as both writer and reader. [Frankly, let’s just be honest here, I *LOVE* genre-bending books! And Dark Light of Day is the poster child of genre-bending books since it has elements of fantasy, romance, mystery, and post-apocalyptic, even legal fiction and new adult!] On the panel with me were:

  • Lia Habel, author of Dearly, Departed (steampunk zombie romance)
  • Steve Walker, co-author of The Battle of Blood and Ink (steampunk graphic novel featuring the “swashbuckling, indomitable clouddog Ashe”)
  • Kalayna Price, author of the Alex Craft novels (urban fantasy with elements of mystery and romance)
  • Steve Bein, author of Daughter of the Sword (attempted theft of an old samurai sword — fantasy, police procedural, and historical fiction)
  • Myke Cole, author of the Shadow Ops series (“Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men” — fantasy and military fiction)
  • Benjamin Tate, author of Leaves of Flame (epic fantasy)

Cici James, co-owner of Singularity & Co., NYC’s only science fiction and fantasy dedicated bookshop, moderated the panel. She asked some great questions, focusing the discussion on areas like reader reactions to genre-bending books and the prevalence of strong, female leads in the books of most (though not all) of the authors on the panel. We discussed covers, always a popular topic. For my part, I was still soaking up all the intense and wonderful Comic Con vibes so I hope I did Dark Light of Day and Noon Onyx justice with my answers. I shared my thoughts that a genre-bending book can serve as a reader gateway from one genre to another. Some of the reader comments that have made me the happiest so far have come from romance readers who took a chance on DLOD “despite” its fantasy setting and have said the book made them consider reading more fantasy, which is terrific!

Was great meeting book bloggers and online writers group chapter mates like Jessica Kong, who also brought her kids to the panel.

Graphic Novels & Comic Books

During the post-panel autographing session I was lucky enough to sit next to Steve Walker.

Steve Walker, co-author of The Battle of Blood and Ink

So this is what I got to bring home:

The Battle of Blood and Ink

Steve drew Ashe, the indomitable heroine from The Battle of Blood and Ink; A Fable of the Flying City, on the front page as we chatted. Super cool, huh? 😀

And, because it was a Comic Con, I had to buy some comics, of course! [Disclaimer: Okay, it’s true. I’m not a big comic book reader. I think the last comic I read was Calvin & Hobbes. Make fun of me if you want. But it seemed silly to come all the way to Comic Con and NOT buy comics and these guys were really nice!]

These comics feature Steven James, whose mission is to keep the XenoGlyphs, stones with elemental powers, from falling into the wrong hands

Interesting People

Anyone who regularly follows my blog knows I love meeting interesting people. And, as I suspected, there’s no better place to meet interesting people than at a Comic Con. Here are a few of the really neat people I met there:

Joe Zanetti: Produces video games for Longtail Studios and film/TV projects for Frozen Fish Productions. I sat next to Joe at the Legendary panel and then hung out with him afterwards. We chatted about one of my favorite subjects: Movies! 😀

Kim Guidone: Independent producer for a future project featuring Terrifica, the “Anti-Sex in the City Superhero”  [Gotta ‘fess up that Kim’s a good friend of mine! ;-)]

Sarah Beth Durst: Author of Vessel, a fantasy novel with serpents made of unbreakable glass and wolves made of sand. (She was wearing the coolest glass dragon necklace).

Steve Bein: Fellow panelist and debut Ace/Roc author. He’s a full-time philosophy professor, but we talked books and writing, not philosophy. 🙂

Also briefly met Garrett Jones, Staff Editor and Reviewer for The Ranting Dragon, Grace Fonseca from Livre de Amour, and was very happy to chat with Sally from The Qwillery!

Sally ‘Qwill’ Janin from The Qwillery and Jill Archer

All in all, the Genre Benders Authors Panel and the New York Comic Con was a wonderfully immersive experience. Stay tuned for NEW YORK COMIC CON Pt. 2: First Booksigning and NYC!

Interview with Shamus Williams, New Jersey State Trooper and “River Cop”

Police Officer Interview
The association between cops and donuts is as accurate as the one between lawyers and ambulances

I met with NJ State Trooper Shamus Williams the day after St. Patrick’s Day. How appropriate for interviewing an Irish cop, right? I tried to convince him to meet me the night before for some green beer, but he was having none of it. Not because he doesn’t celebrate St. Pat’s Day (he does), but because he doesn’t drink beer, green or otherwise. Over glasses of water, we discussed what it takes to be a State Trooper and what it’s like to work on the Delaware River. Shamus told me his thoughts on the movies TRAINING DAY and STRIKING DISTANCE. He’s also an avid fantasy reader and shared an author recommendation for those who like fantasy with both demon and law enforcement elements.

Do all the cops really hang out in the donut shop?

Jill Archer: If someone was interested in a career in law enforcement, what are some of the things they need to do?

Shamus Williams: If you are young enough that you are looking for a career in law enforcement, then the most important thing is to keep your record clean — not just for the sake of keeping your record clean — but because that is the type of person you need to be. You have to respect the law and that lifestyle has to come naturally to you. Otherwise, it’ll never fly. You won’t be able to maintain the required level of commitment and we’ll be reading about you in the paper as one of those people who never should have become a police officer in the first place.

You also need 60 college credits and two years of work experience — any work experience . You just need a work record that the investigators can use to look into your work habits. Then you’ll need to take a written test. If your score is high enough, they’ll issue you an application. The New Jersey State Trooper application is the most thorough application I’ve ever seen. It details everything about your entire life, education, work history, personal habits. Everything. All of it.

After the application is completed, they do a background check. Old teachers, neighbors, landlords, friends, ex-girlfriends, ex-boyfriends, spouses, your family, every person you’ve ever known, is asked to provide information about you. Then you submit to a medical exam and physical test. Everything is written up, and the summary is sent to a review board. Then you’re called before the review board to answer questions. Finally, you are given a score. The high scorers are sent to the Academy. After six months in the Academy — if you graduate — you become a trooper.

JA: What was the Academy like?

SW: [laughs, but I’m guessing from the sound of it that nothing about the Academy was funny] Everyone has Academy stories and, well… it’s an environment that you really can’t understand unless you’re there.

Hmm, I think. Maybe like law school, but with a physical component? Frankly, I can’t imagine experiencing that in real life and it makes me even more grateful for the people who are willing to put themselves through it just to keep the rest of us safe.

SW: I remember before I went to the Academy, I asked another trooper, “What’s the hardest part?” and he said, “The first day to the last day. You just have to go prepared for anything. Do whatever you’re asked to do, and try to do your best all the time, every day, from the time you wake up, until the time you go to bed, and if you can commit to that for six months, you’ll be okay.”

JA: What happens after that? Do you get your first assignment?

SW: Yes. You get a “trooper coach” [a mentor]. You ride every day, for two months, with that coach. The coach is supposed to make sure you know all the basics and can handle yourself. After that, you’re on your own.

Police in the Movies

JA: Did you see the movie Training Day?

SW: Yeah…

It’s clear he’s not a fan.

SW: I’ve noticed there tends to be two stereotypes for police in movies. The one is very robotic. Those are the ones where the government is usually the “bad guy.” The police follow orders and don’t think for themselves (unless it’s the hero). And the other is total incompetence. Police can’t do anything right and the criminals dance circles around them. Luckily, those stereotypes are generally not true. Most police are reasonable and are people, just like everyone else. They’re doing their jobs as well as they’ve been trained to do them.

JA: And how about Striking Distance? What did you think of that?

Shamus laughed and shrugged. He said he got a kick out of the scene where Bruce Willis throttles the boat and his partner falls off the back. It’s ridiculous “movie land” stuff.

Cops On the Job

JA: If you could describe the ideal police officer, what would they be like?

SW: Honorable. I think if you have that everything else just falls into line.

JA: Describe a typical day…

SW: There’s no such thing. Show up at work, prepare yourself for whatever is going on that day. Go out on patrol. Depending on the weather, we might be out all day.

JA: Do you have a partner? I feel like the general perception is that police work in pairs, maybe because we always see that on TV.

SW: No. I’ve never had a partner. The New Jersey state police don’t operate that way. Many city police departments do, but not us. You may work on a squad with other people, and if the situation calls for it, you might be sent out with multiple troopers. But normally, it’s one trooper assigned to one job.

JA: So… I want to hear a funny story about law enforcement. I imagine you may have had some humorous car stops, or at the least, you might be able to provide us with a brief what-not-to-do list if any of us are pulled over?

Shamus decided to let common sense be our guide as to how to behave during a car stop, but it’s not because he doesn’t have a sense of humor. Prior to our interview, I’d forwarded to him a list of phrases that cops have allegedly used during car stops. He confided that he thought “If you run, you’ll only go to jail tired” and “Can you run faster than 1200 feet per second? Because that’s the speed of the bullet that will be chasing you” were — somewhat — humorous.

It’s clear Shamus takes his job seriously, which can only be a good thing. The first thing they teach us when we learn how to drive is how deadly a car can be. So it’s good to hear that someone who wields a gun, has the power to arrest people, and who is generally tasked with keeping the peace, takes his job seriously. That’s how it should be.

JA: What about a scary story?

SW: Scary? Hmm… I don’t know. I think I’m one of those people who hasn’t yet perceived real fear…

JA: You’re very lucky…

SW: Well, maybe, in a way. Sometimes. It’s worked out that, so far, I’ve always been able to talk to people and to diffuse situations before they get out of hand. But it could have gone the other way a few times, I suppose, if I hadn’t been able to communicate well with the other person. It could have been bad…

JA: What sort of things can go wrong?

Shamus looks at me incredulously for a moment, surely contemplating how I could ask such a broad, open-ended question of someone whose job it is to be on call for any emergency. But then he gamely answers.

SW: [laughing] Well, the list is limitless, really. I hate to give a cliché answer, but the problem is, you’re dealing with life. So anything that can go wrong in life, we can be called in to deal with.

Working on the River

JA: What did you do before being assigned to patrol the Delaware River? And what’s it like being a river cop?

SW: I spent twelve years on the road, at road stations, and then one year in the Fatal Accident Investigations Unit. And now I’ve spent almost four years in the Marine Services Bureau. Basically, we patrol the river.

JA: What kind of specialized training have you had for the Marine Services Bureau?

SW: A lot is hands-on, and a lot has changed since I was trained. When I went through, there was a one week course in the classroom, followed by 120 hours on a vessel. It usually ends up being much more than that, but that’s the minimum. Obviously, you have to know how to operate a boat. We participate in various emergency drills, search and rescue operations, and general safety patrols.

Common Misperceptions

JA: I always like to ask people about common career misperceptions. I think it’s because I used to be a lawyer and, as you know — you’re married to a lawyer — there are a lot of misperceptions about lawyers. So how about cops? Do they really hang out in the donut shop?

SW: I hate donuts.

While I thought Shamus was either kidding, or possibly hated them because of the stereotype, or maybe because he’s a fitness fanatic, he shared with me the real reason.

SW: When I was young, my parents would get donuts after church on Sunday and bring them home. One day I hadn’t eaten anything else and I ate four donuts, got sick, and now I can’t stand them. Haven’t had a donut since I was fifteen.

JA: What about funnel cakes?

Shamus just laughed. (He truly is a health nut). 🙂

Cop as Reader and Writer

SW: [joking] Usually, when people ask me, “What are you going to do after you retire?” my answer is… “Nothing.” But actually I’d like to focus on my own writing then.

Shamus and I talked about writing for a bit. Currently, he’s in the process of querying agents regarding a fantasy novel he recently completed and he’s in the process of writing a supernatural story about a Philadelphia police detective. Shamus is a regular fantasy reader (he’s a frequent commenter on my blog), but I asked him if he ever reads police procedurals.

SW: I’ve read the series that begins with Mark of the Demon [by Diana Rowland]. That series was written by a former police officer and I think she did a good job in showing what the actual activities are like in the police world. That’s an urban fantasy novel where the author clearly incorporated her police knowledge into the story and it came off pretty well.

JA: Have any recommendations on books for people who are interested in law enforcement? What should they be reading?

SW: One guy [John Stark] wrote a book called Troopers Behind the Badge. In the forward, he tells readers that he carried around a recorder for hundreds of hours on trooper ride-alongs and he told them, “If you ever want me to turn off the tape, just let me know” and they never did. If you’re looking to get a trooper’s first hand perspective on what happens every day, that’s a compilation of stories that is spot on, straight from the troopers who were involved in both significant and ordinary, everyday events.

Other Interests

Shamus is into “Crossfit.” For anyone unfamiliar with it, Crossfit is the “sport of fitness.” When I admitted I’d never heard of Crossfit, Shamus told me there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of websites — and thousands of YouTube videos — devoted to the subject.

SW: The Crossfit Open, which is going on right now [March 2012], is the largest, most inclusive athletic competition in the world. There’s about 68,500 of us competing against one another.

JA: [frowning in confusion, still not really getting what Crossfit is] How does that work?

SW: There are two ways to compete. One is you can go to a Crossfit affiliate to compete and be judged by the Crossfit affiliate. Or you can upload a video tape of yourself doing the appropriate workout and post it on You Tube for judgment in the competition. In the Open, there are five workouts. Each workout is posted on Wednesday and you have until Sunday to post your score or video.

JA: What kind of activities do you compete in? Weight lifting events? Cardio?

SW: The thing about Crossfit is, it’s everything. You can be given any task.

JA: [nonplussed] You don’t even know what you’re going to be asked to do? Then how do you train for it?

SW: By doing as many varied tasks as you can.

JA: [sputters indignantly on behalf of planners, preparers, and plotters everywhere. Clearly all Crossfitters are pantsers!]

SW: Weight lifting is a big part of it, of course. Running, jumping, throwing… There are several theories of fitness that have been examined over the years that discuss the perfect definition of fitness. One of those theories is that there are ten aspects of fitness, and he who is best at all ten, is the most fit.

I’m sure Shamus meant to say, “and he — or she — who is best at all ten, is the most fit.” Well, it won’t be me, but more power (and the rest of those nine godlike aspects of physical fitness) to them! 😀

Final Advice

SW: As a final piece of advice, if you can’t swim, don’t get on an inner tube and float in the river.

I thought he was kidding. Unfortunately not. So I’m gonna end this interview the way I end some of my tweets and FB status updates — stay safe, people!

So, readers and writers, how about you? Are you working on any stories with law enforcement elements or characters who are cops? Do you love to read stories about law officers or policemen? Have you ever considered a career in law enforcement? Did you see the movies Training Day or Striking Distance? What did you think?

Why I Blog — Some Foodie Metaphors for Thought

Blog posts are like butlered apps at the internet cocktail party

Today’s post is about why I blog, who I’ve connected with, a thank you to readers, a celebration of how many countries I’ve managed to reach, and an open invite to people I haven’t yet found.

Creative Intermezzo

Foodgeeks defines an intermezzo as something that “cleanses the palate in between courses.” It’s something you consume that is “small, light, and refreshing.” Writing a novel takes a long time. (Sometimes, longer than you want it to!) For me, the process is quite lengthy. There’s all the prep work: designing characters & settings, creating premises & plots, thinking up all that GMC, writing the synopsis, first draft, second draft… You get the idea. It takes FOREVER. Sometimes, I just want to read something that gives me a quick, refreshing break. Someone else’s blog post, especially if it’s about something I’m interested in, is perfect!

Amuse Bouche

An amuse bouche is an “amusement for the mouth.” It’s served at the very beginning of a meal, not in between courses. Instead of cleansing the palate as an intermezzo would, the amuse bouche seeks to invigorate it. More than the intermezzo, the amuse bouche seems to be a reflection of the chef’s tastes or current interests. But unlike appetizers or intermezzos where guests may be offered some choice, all guests are served the same amuse bouche. As One Chef’s Odyssey said, selection of the amuse bouche is determined entirely by “the Chef’s discretion and creativity.” Sometimes (when I’m in the mood to use fancy food words in lieu of actually cooking), I think of my blog posts as amuse bouches. I try to be creative in what I offer and each post gives guests a peek at my writer’s voice and life interests. Hopefully, visitors will also find them invigorating!

Some of the Interesting People I’ve Found So Far

Yesterday I posted my answers to fellow blogger Justjacqui2‘s excellent questions in the 11 Questions Game. It was a fun exercise and also a chance to highlight some of the interesting blogs I’ve found since I started blogging. Since I first “went live” with this blog five months ago, I’ve connected with all sorts of fascinating people: writers, book reviewers, movie reviewers, poets, life enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and documentary filmmakers. It’s been great!!

I want to give a late shout out to a blog I should have tagged yesterday and didn’t: the Storytelling Nomad, written by Katy Hulme from down under, who recently traveled through five European countries in four weeks, posting an A-Z blog series the entire way. Her posts were charming and informative, accompanied by great pics, and well worth reading. Katy is currently working on her first fantasy novel. I told her I hope she keeps us updated on her new journey through future blog updates! (For all of you women fantasy writers and fans of female fantasy protags, she wrote a great article, Heroes and Heroines: Females in Fantasy, which can be found here).

Thank You to Followers and Blog Readers — 40+ Countries is Awesome!!!

Part of today’s post is also a huge THANK YOU to readers. I’m extremely grateful for each and every subscriber. I’m also happy to see that this blog is reaching an international audience. How thrilling it’s been for me to see visits from people in:

Australia, Austria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Vietnam

Future Connections

If you have a blog (or any other online presence) focusing on any of the areas below, feel free to ‘like’ this post or comment below so that I can find you!

  • Books: Are you a writer? Avid reader? Do you love fantasy, science fiction, supernatural thrillers, romance, and/or mysteries?
  • Movies: Do you love to watch movies? Review them? Are you a screenwriter or independent filmmaker?
  • Outdoor Adventures: I’ll admit, I can be an armchair warrior at times, but my family is into recreational flying and in the summer we like to hike, bike, boat, and camp.
  • Interesting Career or Hobby: Do you have an interesting career or hobby? Something that’s unusual or unique that people might be interested in learning more about? If so, please e-mail me or get in touch with me through my contact page. I’d love to discuss the possibility of interviewing you.
  • Authors: I’d love to start working in guest posts and more author interviews. If you are interested, please contact me. If we both feel the fit is right, it would be great to discuss a possible future post!

What about you? Do you blog? If so, why? If not, why not? Have any recommendations about who I should be connecting with? Are you a blogger that blogs about books, movies, outdoor adventures, or anything else that I might find inspiring? If so, give yourself a shout out.  I’d love to connect with you!

Steve Yeager, Movie Director

Steve Yeager is an American independent filmmaker with twenty-five years of experience in acting and directing in both the film and theater communities. His 1998 movie DIVINE TRASH won the Filmmakers Trophy for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. He has worked with actors such as Howard Rollins, Jr. (Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor for RAGTIME), Steve Buscemi, Kathleen Turner, and the Director John Waters.

Steve on the set of EDWIN WILSON
Steve on the set of EDWIN WILSON

Mere days after Hurricane Irene whipped up the East Coast, I met Steve at an outdoor cafe in Charles Village, an eclectic urban neighborhood in Baltimore that is home to the Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Museum of Art, numerous charming “painted lady” row houses, and quite a few pubs with wonderful sidewalk seating. Against the backdrop of city buildings, piles of tree limbs, and the hustle and bustle of folks getting back to business after a brush with disaster, Steve sketched out the details of his current project, the film EDWIN WILSON, and shared his thoughts on what it’s like to be a director. An excerpt of our talk is posted below. (The full interview is posted under the Notes section of my Facebook page).

Early Career Path

JA: Filmmaking… Did you know this was what you always wanted to do? When you were a kid, did you grow up and say, “I’m gonna make movies”?

SY: I didn’t. After I got a lead in a sixth grade play, I was leaning toward acting. But then I went to the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, which is a real technical school. I did not belong there. It was a fight to get through. The emphasis there is not on the arts. The concentration is science and math… I had an awful time.

JA: If you were leaning toward acting early on, then why did you choose a trade school like BPI for your high school years?

SY: Starting in ninth grade, some of my friends were going into classes there [grins], and I did not do a lot of investigating. I didn’t know that I really wanted to be an artist. I knew I really liked theater, but I wasn’t thinking professionally.

Steve also shared that the other reason he went to BPI was a promise to his dad. He told his father he would get a technical degree — and he did. He was even accepted into Towson University’s engineering program, but two weeks after he got there, he dropped all his engineering courses and switched to theater and English. “By the time I was a sophomore, I cared more about the overall productions than I did about just one role.” After that, becoming an independent filmmaker was just a matter of time, and lots of hard work.

Young Filmmakers Workshop

Steve teaches acting and directing for UMBC and the Towson University. He also runs a summer film camp for 10-17 year olds called the Young Filmmakers Workshop. When he told me the themes for past years camps (“Zombies,” “Film Noir,” and “Body Snatchers”), I wanted to sign up! But, alas, I’m too old. Bummer, because I’m apparently missing out on one heck of an opportunity.

SY: The younger kids do short films and the older kids do longer features. For the past two years though, we’ve done vignettes so that we could get more kids involved… and we show all the films at The Senator theater (Baltimore’s historic single screen art deco movie theater) on a Sunday morning in October and the kids come and the parents pool their resources and rent a couple limos for the kids. We roll out the red carpet and they come all dressed up. It’s their big ‘Hollywood’ opening.

JA: Fantastic! Do you think next summer’s theme will be supernaturally related?

SY: [pauses diplomatically] Well, each year we try to come up with a different theme. We haven’t figured out yet what we’re going to do next year. Each year I always try to set the bar a little higher. Last year, we did a Bollywood musical. I had all 60 kids out on this athletic field with no shade, 100 degree heat, doing a big Bollywood dance number.

JA: Hey, at least it wasn’t football practice, right?

SY: [laughs] Right. This year I promised the kids we’d do a scene in 3D. My graphics designer — who worked with George Lucas for 10 years — assures me that we can do the program cover in 3D at least.  [Teaching the Young Filmmakers Workshop] is probably one of the more rewarding things I do. I’ve had half a dozen kids go on to film programs in major colleges.

JA: What is your goal with the summer camp? Other than giving them a chance to be creative and have some fun, what are you trying to accomplish with the Young Filmmakers Workshop?

SY: From the very beginning, we tell them that there are jobs in the film industry other than just being the director and the camera person. You can do props, you can do sets… The kids that sign up for the production design program seem to come back year after year.

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Current Project: Edwin Wilson

Steve’s currently pursuing an MFA at UMBC. Fellow students’ backgrounds are as varied as Steve’s (there’s a professional dancer, still photographer, model designer, and engineer). Steve’s master thesis project is the movie EDWIN WILSON, which is the story of his uncle’s untimely death. (Steve’s uncle, Edwin Wilson, was a U.S. military member stationed in Germany during WWII. Two weeks after V-Day was declared, Edwin was poisoned in a German restaurant. He died two days after his nineteenth birthday.)

Edwin’s girlfriend, a Rosie the Riveter type character, will be shown in the film writing letters to Edwin and receiving the horrible news of his death. Steve and his crew filmed that emotional moment at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum.

The UMBC 2012 Thesis Show opens February 1, 2012.

So how about you? Did you ever dream of being a filmmaker? Do you wish there was an “Old Filmmakers Workshop”? What do you think of the pictures from the set of EDWIN WILSON? Doesn’t the young actress who plays the Rosie the Riveter character look just like her?!? Steve, thanks for sharing your inspirational stories and fascinating career with us!

Jeff Finch, Master Falconer

Wakiya

A couple months ago, I was vacationing on a private farm in northwestern PA and had the chance to speak with Jeff Finch, a Master Falconer and former President of the Pennsylvania Falconry and Hawk Trust. He had recently acquired a new raptor, Wakiya, who is one of the coolest looking birds I’ve ever seen. (That’s her beautiful, lethal looking face to the left, but there are more pics of her on my Facebook page in the album “Amazing White Mutant Red Tailed Hawk.”)

I was so taken with Wakiya’s grace and beauty — not to mention the whole mystery of raptors and what it’s like to have and hunt with one — that I sat down with Jeff and asked him a few questions about what it’s like to be a falconer. An excerpt of our talk is posted below. (The full interview is posted under the Notes section of my Facebook page).

Who’s a pretty girl?

Wakiya is a Native American word that means “thundering wings” or “thunderbird.” According to web sources, Wakiya was the Guardian Spirit of Thunder and Lightning. He was created by Zenith, the very first Beast King, who was the most powerful Guardian in the world. According to North American legends, the Wakiya thunderbird has horns and teeth not unlike a demon, creates massive storms with its immense wings, and shoots lightning from its eyes. In short, this is not a beast you want to get on the bad side of. Jeff named his female raptor after this fierce male Native American spirit because she’s one of the toughest looking birds around.

Powerful Birds of Prey

JA: How powerful are raptors? What sort of damage can these birds do? What’s the danger to you, if any?

JF: They have amazing foot strength, and at the end of their feet are needles, so that “pounds per square inch” pressure calculation is just… astronomical. They can penetrate bone. They can go through your hand — in one side and out the other. They could (although I’ve never seen it happen) gouge your eyes out. When you first catch them, they’re fearful. But their instinct is to get away from you, not attack you.

JA: What’s the worst injury you’ve sustained?

JF: I got a talon through my lip, which went into my gum and out through the side of my nose.

JA: What is the scariest thing you’ve ever experienced as a falconer?

JF: I once had a bird that was killed by another bird. It’s the only bird I ever had that died on me. It was a fluke. There was a little gap between these two areas where the birds were being housed. Only a three quarter inch space and I thought, “What can happen through that?” Well, one bird saw movement through that space and went and clung to the frame there and the other bird shot its foot through and stabbed it in the neck with its talon.

JA: Was that just a lucky shot?

JF: Well, they’re not tolerant of each other. They will try to kill one another. That was awful. Maybe not scary, but awful.

JA: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever experienced as a falconer?

JF: There was one thing that happened that was hysterical — if you’re not the guy that it happened to. Wakiya, as I mentioned, is not exactly the ideal hunting bird.

Wakiya’s strong and she’s pretty, but she thinks humans are, as Jeff puts it, “meat buttons” because he rescued her at an age when she was too young to be ideally trained. So Jeff only hunts her with experienced falconers so they know what to watch for.

JF: Once Wakiya starts getting bored or if you’re not producing game, you have to watch her. If you stick your hands in your pockets (a bad habit I allowed her to pick up), she thinks you’re reaching for food. So I tell the guys I hunt with not to reach into their pockets around her. Well, this guy’s cell phone rings and he goes to reach into his back pocket… I’m yelling, but it’s too late… she’s already coming for him… and she latches right onto his ass.

Jeff’s not joking. Needless to say, I am horrified.

“Did she get her talons in him?” I ask, and then I can’t resist. “That gives new meaning to ‘Pain in the Ass,’ huh?” 😀

So, what about you? Are you as fascinated by this sport as I am? Do you think Wakiya’s as pretty as I do? Historical or fantasy authors: I don’t know about you, but I think Wakiya makes excellent inspiration for a lethal beasty — all ghostly white, stealthily silent, and deadly beautiful. Jeff, thanks for sharing your remarkable bird with us!!!