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Joey Z's Meatballs

Has it really been a year since I bothered updating my LJ? Holy crap. Guess I'm not much of a blogger.

However, if you're still reading this, I have one request:

Give a buck to my very dear friends Joe and Sabrina Zitzelberger.

That link will take you to the Kickstarter page where Joe and Sabrina are trying to procure funding for a restaurant they'd like to open here in Pittsburgh. It'll be devoted to meatball sandwiches -- and not just marinara & cheese. Think chicken meatballs covered in alfredo sauce and bacon. Think buffalo chicken meatball subs. Think spicy southwest barbecue meatball subs. Think General Tso's meatball sub.

Joe is to the meatball sub what Willie Wonka is to exploitive labor practices.

And when I ask you to give a dollar, really. I'd love it if you could give 'em more, but even a single humble dollar increases the visibility of their project on the Kickstarter site. And if they don't make their goal of $10,000, your credit card won't even be charged.

It would mean a lot to me.

Do it.

For the meatballs.
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That's Not Irony

Okay, so.

There's this webcomic I like called Guilded Age. It's a game-based epic fantasy comic done right, following a band of adventurers as they solve problems with violence, with varying degrees of success. Sort of a less-tongue-in-cheek-but-still-snarky version of the magnificent Order of the Stick, with really top-notch artwork.*

(* -- Not that OotS's artwork is BAD, necessarily. Artist Rich Burlew uses clever, clean minimalism to load his comic with visual information. But it's still stick figures. And GA ... ain't stick figures.)

Byron the Berserker leads Guilded Age's little band of combat-savvy misfits, and as their leader, does a damn fine job. He's level-headed, has a good nose for strategy, inspires loyalty from his crew, etc., etc. Thing is, as a an actual warrior, he's ... well, not incompetent, certainly. Dude can handle himself. But when it's time to bring the pain, plate-clad nun-gone-bad murder machine Frigg Akerfeldt is the team's go-to gal. Byron has a nasty habit of getting clobbered in fights where you'd think he'd at least make it interesting. As a frustrated Frigg herself put it after he got taken out yet again early in a brawl, "Byron, you useless piece of shit. If you're gonna get chumped alla time, stay dead!"

He's got "Berserker" on his business cards, and one of his defining traits is "level-headed." It's enough to make a reader wonder if Byron's name is the fantasy equivalent of nicknaming a bald guy "Curly," or a fat dude "Slim." Eight chapters into the story, and not a single frothing berserker rage -- or even a hint that one may possibly have been imminent -- to be seen.

Until today.

The wait. It was so very worth it.
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So last month, I went to ConText in Columbus, Ohio. One of the most notable small publishers there was Shroud Publishing -- and by notable I mean, of course, "They plied me with liquor." Free booze and readings that will appeal to people you've been giving free booze to -- now that's how you make a lasting impressing and move some damn product.

Among the Shroud offerings that left Columbus in my possession was Hiram Grange & the Twelve Little Hitlers, the second of (thus far) five novellas about a paranormal "investigator" who was described to me at the party as "Hunter S. Thompson with Fox Mulder's job." (Twelve Little Hitlers was written by Scott Christian Carr; all five entries are by different authors.) With a recommendation like that, how could I resist?

So, how does the book read in the harsh, cruel light of post-convention sobriety?

... meh.

I don't think I'd call it bad, necessarily. I give it props for style and uniqueness; I'm quite certain this is the first time I've seen an ultra-violent basket case fighting through a blinding narcotic haze to bring down twelve clones of Adolf Hitler who may or may not be the pawns of some malevolent extra-dimensional entity. And it's audacious as fuck; there are twists I'd have needed serious drugs to have even considered, let alone see coming.

But it needs more, very badly. It sprays audacity from every orifice, but doesn't have a lot of wit. It revels in sadism, and comes up short on actual insight. Oodles of style where it needs reasons to give a shit.

It mistakes its protagonist's perpetual motion for character movement, action for reader interest. Hiram Grange is a pitiable, debauched wretch, easily manipulated and motivated by little more than dark whimsy. The Big Bad's ultimate goal is the destruction of this man, but the book never gives the reader a reason to care. Grange is so self-destructive that one wonders why the demon bothered with such an intricate Hitler-tastic plan and didn't simply hand him a bus ticket to Tijuana.

The finale switches from ludicrous farce to Dark Tragic Pathos with all the grace of shifting from fifth gear to reverse while on the interstate, which is far less spectacular than it sounds. According to Mythbusters, try this and your transmission won't explode from the car in an orgy of twisted metal and flying automotive debris; it will merely make an unpleasant noise while you lose momentum and futilely try to make the car do something it's just not going to do. I could almost hear chunks of metal fruitlessly grinding together as the novella struggled to elicit some emotion other than "boredom, with a side of mildly-bemused detachment" as Grange plummeted to his nadir.

I don't know the works of Hunter S. Thompson particularly well, but I'm prepared to say that it takes more than booze, guns, belligerence, and a cornucopia of psychotropic drugs to do justice to the good doctor's legacy. I don't regret spending a few hours on this oddity and I certainly wouldn't strenuously dissuade the curious, but I'm not ordering the other installments in the series. Hiram Grange may continue his epic Binge without me.
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Happy Fun Times

So, I just got done with a vacation-plus-coda with my girlfriend Cheyenne, and had a blast. I needed this. Most of it took place in Erie, PA.

Friday: Went to a casino for the first time evar! Observations from the Presque Isle Downs & Casino:
  • Holy hell are slots designed to be addictive. Random reward pattern? Check. Wide variety of bright shiny images? Check. The First Hit Is Always Free? Big check. They gave me and Chey $17 each in slot-machine-first-timer pseudo-money that we were free to try converting into real money as we saw fit. Chey walked away with about $9.50, I retained $1.50. I'm willing to bet we were both well above average.
  • Slot machines make me feel like a rat with a feeder bar. A retarded, easily-amused rat. Fuck slot machines.
  • Over 90% of the casino floor was slot machines.
  • Of the table games, I played craps and blackjack. Lost more or less instantly at craps. Went up $10 my first attempt at blackjack before ultimately losing my $20 stake. Before we left, on a whim I tossed another $20 onto the table, and got on a little hot streak. When I hit $60, I pulled $50 aside and told myself that I was only going to play as long as the remaining chips lasted. I got as high as $80 before putting $30 on a losing hand. I walked away from the table with $52.50, up from my $20 buy-in. So between two rounds of Blackjack, craps, slot machines, and blowing $5 on a horse that came in third (Horse racing! I'm throwing my money away anyway! Why not?), I finished the night down precisely $1.
Saturday: Split our time between Presque Isle State Park and the Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park. Our original plan for the weekend was to go to Indiana Dunes State Park (a favorite vacation destination as a kid), but with the weather turning cool and a bit dodgy, we turned to our whimsical "Indoor water park!" Plan B for the weekend's centerpiece.

Presque Isle was lovely. Because this particular vacation was being driven by the impulse of "Ooh! Shiny!", we rented a surrey -- a pedal-powered four-wheeled contraption that reminded me of Fred Flintstone's car. There was a monument four miles down the surrey-approved path; we made it about two and a half and said "Screw this noise" before turning around. The surrey had no gears, you see, and was really a beast to maneuver or propel. Chey was steering, and was often faced with the choice of "Have a head-on collision with that other pedal-powered vehicle, or put my boyfriend into the weeds." I can't really hold her decision against her.

All the pedal-powered vehicles available to rent were heavy one-speed slabs of metal, though. I'd love to explore the place on a decent mountain bike; it's flat as a pancake, with beaches and lighthouses and big art-deco pillars and other such cool stuff to find. We may need to go back.

Splash Lagoon was a hoot. It's the off-season, so it was mercifully uncrowded. Of its seven water slides, the two I'd most recommend are the Big Kahuna and the Cyclone. Both inner-tube slides, the Cyclone dumps you into this enormous bowl that you go round and round before slowing and getting funneled into the exit tunnel. Simple, but immense fun. The Big Kahuna was a more traditional water slide, and stood out because you could see where the hell you were going. Pitch-black-tube water slides are a fun change of pace, but Splash Lagoon goes to that well early and often. I'm not sure that Kahuna's tube was supposed to be translucent or if that was a result of sun bleaching, but whatever. It was fun.

Which is more than I'm willing to say for Hurricane Hole, the one slide I truly disliked. It was much like the Cyclone in that you went round and round a big bowl, but with no inner tube. Which wouldn't be a problem, if the seams between the sections comprising the bowl were perfectly smooth; they weren't, and kinda stung. And on my first time around, I managed to bang my foot against the entrance hole I'd come through. And rather than an exit tube, there was just a big damn hole in the center, like in your toilet, and whether you go feet-first or head-first depends on the whims of physics. After a profoundly graceless "dive" into six and a half feet of water, I was so disoriented and stunned I'd kinda forgotten how to swim, and awkwardly doggie-paddled my way out, under the watchful eye of an apathetic lifeguard. Or, to summarize my real-time reaction to the ride:


Luckily, there was a grown-ups only hot tub in which to soak away the shame of getting my ass handed to me by a water slide.

Sunday: Drove back. And Steelers game! Seriously, how did Mendenhall break that run for 50 yards? Atlanta had eight in the box! That hole never should have been there for him to exploit!

Monday: After an ordinary day of work, Deftones! The Deftones played Club Zoo tonight, and Chey and I went. Great show. Chey pointed out that they played a bunch of stuff off the album they're ostensibly touring to support, and then used their first three albums for the rest of the set, leaving albums #4 and #5 out entirely -- and it was probably a good choice. (Though we both would have liked to hear "Minerva.") The White Pony and Around the Fur songs were fabulous, as you'd expect, but the stuff off Adrenaline blew me away. Their first album, Adrenaline showed promise but was often dull and plodding -- and the material they played off it was anything but. Wow, did those songs come alive.

Oh, and this was my first proper metal concert in ... hell, ever, I'm pretty sure. One of the nifty things about Club Zoo is that the multi-level viewing area means that you can safely view the mosh pit from fairly close up.

My ears are still ringing. I need to get some ear plugs. Damn, I'm old.

Anyway. Good weekend.
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Squonk's Back!

I've just been notified that PodCastle shall be purchasing the long-delayed third story of the Squonk series, "Squonk and the Horde of Apprentices."

Originally, it looked like Squonk was going to stay on Escape Pod, but after much inter-editor discussion, it was decided to let the big green fella migrate over to PC. Either is a big ol' win, as they're both damn fine podcasts. (And I understand this will be the second PodCastle original story ever!)

It's my first sale in a long time; I'm very happy. And I also need to put the finishing touches on "Squonk and the Lake Monster." And decide what the fifth story is gonna be.

Good times. Good times.
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The Flaming Lips

I went to see The Flaming Lips live with Cheyenne Tuesday night, at the Trib Total Media Parking Lot Amphitheater at Station Square.

It was a damn good show ... if you were sober. If you were stoned, I suspect it wasn't so much "good" as "like getting oral sex from an angel."

The band's entrance was the sort of thing that could only be conceived with the benefit of a truly majestic "hallucinogen::common sense" ratio. The stage had a large screen; on it danced a psychedelically-colored nekkid chick. She eventually laid down and gave birth the the band, who entered through a very strategic door in the screen. Then, the lead singer went crowd surfing in an inflatable hamster ball. Then the confetti cannons started firing. And several dozen enormous balloons were released into the crowd. Later, the singer did one song from atop the shoulders of a guy in a bear suit. And there were other delightful oddities as well.

Oh, and the lead singer was fascinated by the train tracks that ran right next to the parking lot amphitheater, and had them miked. So between two songs, we just sat and listened to the train rolling by. It sounded pretty cool, but the dude seemed utterly fascinated. WHY is left as a (bloody simple) exercise for the reader.

Great show. Tremendous fun. Good music, memorable weirdness. If they're in your neighborhood, recommended.
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Boondocks is back!

The Boondocks frames its season 3 premiere as a documentary produced by a dour, self-important German director, an unmistakable parody of Werner Herzog. And to voice their Herzog doppelganger, they got....

Werner Herzog.

Freaking awesome.
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I Made A Reviewer Squee; I'm Pretty Sure That's A Good Thing

C.S.E. Cooney has reviewed Black Gate #14, and like the other two reviews, she seems pretty damn pleased with both it in general and my contribution in particular. Egotastic excerpt:
If [a novella is] good, I take such SATISFACTION from it, and "Two Blades" was good. Full immersion in place, a tangle of time and character that Pete Butler combs into a neat barbed wire braid, and the bard gets his comeuppance...
She also praised Shweta Narayan's story in an unrelated publication, which prompted a little conversation in the comments (and the aforementioned squeeing) when I mentioned I've had the privilege of publishing Shweta myself in Triangulation: Taking Flight. So, a good review AND an opportunity to talk about Triangulation in a context outside of "I published this! Go buy it!". A pretty good deal, I believe.
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Fresh Reviewage!

Another review for Black Gate #14, again mentioning Two Blades, this time from Locus Online. Here's the money quote:
It is definitely a moral-based story, yet the author lets consequences make the point, rather than lectures. Unlike many of the tales in this issue, the prose is self-effacing and flashless; it effectively creates some emotionally harrowing scenes.
So, not nearly as effusive as the other one (and the "RECOMMENDED" tag accompanying descriptions of three other stories was absent from mine), but nevertheless I'm prepared to take it as positive. "Self-effacing and flashless" seems more descriptive than a statement of quality, for good or ill, but for a story like this, "effectively creates some emotionally harrowing scenes" definitely counts as praise.

So, in short, I'm smiling.