Thursday, October 31, 2013


About six years ago I was working as a carpenter in San Francisco, completely re-doing a house in Noe Valley for a rich Google exec. The project was so involved that we actually cut the house off its foundation, hoisted it into the air, and built another level to lower it down onto--effectively turning a three-story building into a four-story. (Probably would have been cheaper and easier to just demolish the whole building and start fresh, but San Francisco has some pretty restrictive building codes that we were able to get around by preserving some of the original structure, and the Google guy had plenty of money to burn.) Shortly after hoisting the house, the general contractor in charge promised all the grunt carpenters a free iPod if we could get things ready to drop the house by a certain date. We managed it, and we got our iPods.

In all honesty, I'm not too fond of the iPod, or the iTunes program you have to install in order to use it. I feel like the program is always mucking about with my music collection--my iPod ended up jammed full of repeated songs, and irritatingly void of full albums. Plus it seems like iTunes wants me to update my version every other day, which is a drag, and which seems to screw around the rest of my computer. On top of all that, the iPod battery lasts only a fraction of what it used to, and replacing the battery isn't really a feasible option.

But there is one good part of this story: through iTunes I discovered the Druidcast. It's a monthly podcast sponsored by, and affiliated with, the U.K.-based Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and hosted by Damh the Bard. I originally downloaded the first four podcasts, and then something went weird with my iTunes and I didn't get any more. But those first four episodes were marvelous--they introduced me to an eloquent, organized, friendly form of neo-paganism, with an active group of intellectually-stimulating folks who cared about some of the things that were beginning to become important to me.

For a long time I was limited to those first four episodes. I listened to them all more than once, and they helped form part of the foundation of my interests in mysticism, pantheism, spirituality, and the natural world--especially the idea that nature can provide succor from the challenges of modern life. Those first four episodes planted seeds that would later bear fruit in many of my creative endeavors, most notably for my novel Blood Brothers--Verlvik's view of the world, and Athemon's special abilities, both reflect ideas and thoughts that started germinating in me during the time period in which I discovered the Druidcast.

I never went on to explore the other offerings of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, but recently (finally) I've gotten around to downloading further podcasts. I've listened through the seventh episode now, and they continue to be just as crucial as the first four.

To help give you an idea of the sorts of things the Druidcast covers, and which I find inspiring, here's a transcription of a snippet of Philip Carr-Gomm--the leader of the Order--speaking of the life of the order's founder, Ross Nichols:

"The message I take from him is it's worth striving for ideals--even if you've been wounded, even if you're going through difficult times, or the world is going through difficult times, hold on to those ideals, and cherish them. Create if you can some kind of sanctuary--a little place, a corner in your garden or in your home, or if you can get away to a little patch... do that, hold on, and keep connecting as much as possible to the natural world and to your spiritual path. And this will manifest, your dream will come true. It may not come true in your own life... [but] the benefits and the blessings will pass to lots of people, people all over the world. Which is what you can see now with the Order."

If you're interested in hearing the Druidcast for yourself, you can access all back episodes by clicking this link.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the fussy librarian

It's been almost five months since I self-published Blood Brothers, my first full-length novel, on Amazon. The book has gotten good reviews (15 reviews at the time of this post, with an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars), but it hasn't managed to build a significant audience, and it's lost most of the momentum from its initial release launch. Chances are, if I leave the book on its own at this point, it'll probably fade into total obscurity.

With that in mind, I've been looking at different promotional opportunities. I've heard of other indie authors paying for advertising, but I'm trying not to spend any more money on Blood Brothers until the book has earned back what I've already spent on formatting and cover design. Fortunately, I've stumbled across a promising-looking advertising opportunity that isn't charging for its services... yet. The Fussy Librarian is an email service promoting free and bargain books to ebook readers--you give them your email address, and they email you recommended titles. There are other websites that offer similar services, but as far as I know, The Fussy Librarian is the first to let people choose not only the genre of books they want to get announcements for, but also the levels of violence/sex/profanity that they're comfortable reading--from none to plenty. Here's how they announce their services:

Readers: Did you know you can get your very own librarian, for free. It’s true! Choose from 30 genres, select content preferences and she’ll send you daily ebook recommendations.

They've agreed to include Blood Brothers in their November 3rd email for Fantasy readers who don't shy away from depictions of violence. Here's hoping their service helps my book connect with some new readers!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

the problem with Woody Allen's new movie

I've watched Woody Allen's last five movies in the theater, and I'm not big on going to theaters. In other words, he's on a roll as far as I'm concerned. Every movie has been a cut above the usual stuff that I can't be bothered to shell out $10+ to go see, and some of them (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for example), made five-star status in my book.

But his newest movie--Blue Jasmine--is a bust.

It's so much of a bust that I forgot all about it less than twenty minutes after walking out of the theater. In fact, the movie made so little of an impression on me that I only just now remembered it existed, and that I saw it.

I had high hopes going into it, too. The reviews were good, peppered with Oscar buzz for Cate Blanchett, and accolades for Allen himself. One critic went so far as to claim the movie was a "quantum leap" for Allen. Consider that claim for a second. Old Woody's been making movies for just shy of 50 years. His films have earned 23 Oscar nominations, and 4 wins. Sounds like he's already got things pretty figured out, and now a critic is claiming this new film is a "quantum leap" above the rest of Allen's stuff. What the hell does that even mean? Does the movie reveal the meaning of life, or something?

Just in case you were wondering: the movie doesn't reveal the meaning of life. And it doesn't live up to the hype, either. Not even halfway.

Here's why: remember that roll I mentioned earlier, the one that Allen is on? One key element of it is the way Allen uses the settings of the movies like actual characters. The culture of each place becomes integral to the plot. In fact, the city-settings are so important they're mentioned in the movie titles: Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The hype about Blue Jasmine was that he'd been giving San Francisco that treatment. But then he didn't.

Have you seen the movie? It's a New York movie, filmed in San Francisco. The Mission District is Allen's stand-in for Staten Island--you hardly even see any Latino people, and definitely don't hear a word of Spanish. Union Square becomes Park Avenue--a bunch of rich shoppers, not a tourist in site. There isn't even a single Asian character, and more than half the people who actually live in San Francisco are Chinese!

Instead, you've got all the New York stereotypes plugged into a San Francisco setting: loud-mouthed, blue-collar Italian-American characters; snobby blue-bloods for those blue-collar boors to clash with; people jumping in and out of Taxi cabs. All of that is New York.

In the real San Francisco, the Italian-Americans are actually Italian. They hang out in North Beach, wear fancy suits, and speak with Italian accents. The old-money blue-bloods are a marginalized group relegated to Nob Hill, with relatively little presence in the wider city. San Francisco's real money-class is the dot-com startup CEOs.

And that points to a crucial thing about San Francisco that Allen's movie missed entirely: its love of the new, the innovative, the exotic. San Francisco is a city that has always been in love with the wider world. New York is a city in love with itself.

Because of the writing I've been doing recently (my new series is set in San Francisco) I've been thinking about this stuff a lot, trying to understand what San Francisco is, what it means. I lived in San Francisco for more than a third of my life, and I still think a complete understanding of its nature is beyond me. But one thing I will say, with no hesitation whatsoever: my writing comes closer to the real San Francisco than Woody Allen's film does... even if the San Francisco in my stories is being overrun by zombies.

And you can tell Woody I said so.