If we stream all our movies and download all our books, what's left to ask for as a Christmas gift?

If we stream all our movies and download all our books, what's left to ask for as a Christmas gift?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fascinating book


Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing features entertaining, informative essays by writers who regularly produce media tie-in books... you know, those books (often paperbacks, but increasingly appearing in hardback form, too) that adapt blockbuster movies and fan-favorite television series, as well as present original stories featuring the characters from those sources. I used to read a lot of these in my high school and college days, and- recognizing that a good book can come from anywhere- still pick one up here and there.

The contributing writers discuss the fun and challenge of producung these works, and their various approaches to the job. Some, for example, have great respect for a character's dialogue as conceived for the original movie or TV show they're adapting, and don't change it in their written version (aside from adding new dialogue to get their tale up to proper book length). Others happily change dialogue at will, believing that the visual and literary mediums have different needs, and what sounds good in a movie might not work in a book. All very interesting stuff.

There seems to be one area of agreement among the writers, however: that those working in the tie-in arena should have a passion for their material but not be outright in love with it. This is because the characters being written about- whether they're from Star Trek, CSI, Bones, Star Wars, Murder, She Wrote, or any of the many other entertainment properties that regularly generate tie-in books- don't belong to the writer producing the tie-in book, and the publisher and licensor (usually a studio) can weigh in at will and make the writer change things. And usually do.

The advice here for potential tie-in writers is to try to see that inevitable outside input as more of an opportunity to deliver the best book possible than as creativity-killing interference. Getting too attached to the material, though, is a definite no-no, as tie-in writers will eventually be given marching orders they won't want to follow. My favorite example of this is when Max Allan Collins relates in his essay that he was told not to reveal the identity of the mystery villain in his adaptation of the movie Dick Tracy, because the movie producers wanted the film's big reveal at the end to remain secret. So he had to essentially write a mystery novel without solving the mystery!

Other pleasures of the book include an entertaining look at tie-in books of the 1960s (a kind of golden age of the form), which also doubles as a tribute to the highly-regarded I Spy tie-in books written by Walter Wager; and a long interview with Raymond Benson, who discusses what it was like to write several James Bond continuation novels in the 1990s.

Quibbles are small. A few essays could have been a little shorter and a few cried out for more length and detail. And someone should have corrected the fair amount of typos, dropped words, and other technical glitches. On that last point, I'm guessing that tie-in writers are very busy people and that many of the contributors quickly finished up their essays to make deadline, without giving them a final proofing, and that editor Lee Goldberg may have been equally busy with his own tie-in work to do a detailed proofing, too. In any event, the errors (enough to be annoying, but not so numerous to cause me to not recommend the book) can be immediately fixed for the e-book edition of Tied In (the version I read) if someone puts his or her mind to it. Maybe they've already been noticed and fixed by the time you read this.

With its twenty or so breezy, engaging essays, Tied In nicely illuminates an under-discussed part of the literary landscape and also reminds writers of a potentially interesting area in which to toil. It was a worthwhile project and I'm glad it was undertaken.

Tied In is available for $2.99 on Kindle, a huge savings over Amazon's $14.99 price for the print version of the book.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Poll results

Seven of you responded to my recent poll that asked the following question: How often do you see movies in theaters? Here was the final breakdown:

Quite often 1

Sometimes 0

Rarely 6

Never 0

For the record, the Quite often vote came from me. Despite rising ticket prices and people talking or texting on their cell phones during a film, we still like to get out to the movies every couple of weeks.

I'll report the results of my latest poll in a future post, once voting has closed. To those of you who subscribe to Kindle Taproom on your Kindle (I want to thank both of you!), you have to go to the web site version of this blog to participate in my frequent polls.

On DVD: Temple Grandin


If the HBO film, Temple Grandin, had simply been about a woman dealing with her autism during a time when the condition wasn't understood very well, this would have been a compelling story. Likewise, if the movie had simply been about a woman trying to break into the heavily male-dominated cattle industry in the 1970's and 80's, that would have been compelling, too. Amazingly, though, the movie is about both of these things, making it especially rich and interesting.

Everyone in the film is great, but Claire Danes as Temple is especially excellent, delivering a strong, detailed portrayal, but never overplaying or letting the performance drift over into mere mimicry. Also pleasures are the fine, understated performances of Julia Ormond, Catherine O'Hara, and David Strathairn, as Temple's mother, aunt, and a favorite teacher.

Temple Grandin looks sharp and clean on the standard DVD I watched. There's a short but interesting "making of" piece on the DVD, too, as well as a commentary track. Both feature the real-life Temple Grandin, who's still an active force on the world stage.

Give this one a whirl if you want both your head and your heart stimulated.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oxymorons

1. Is it good if a vacuum cleaner really sucks?

2. Why is the third hand on your wristwatch called the second hand?

3. Why do slow down and slow up mean the same thing?

4. Likewise, why do fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing?

5. Why do tugboats push their barges?

6. Why do we sing Take me out to the ball game when we're already there?

7. Why are they called stands when they are made for sitting?

8. Why is it called after dark when it really is after light?

9. Why are a wise man and a wise guy considered opposites?

10. Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?

11. Why is phonics not spelled the way it sounds?

12. If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?

13. Why is bra singular and panties plural?

14. Why do we put suits in garment bags and garments in suitcases?

15. How come abbreviated is such a long word?

Just some things to think about.

Off the cuff

I may write more on one or two of the following items, but for now here are some quickie observations:

The American was a decent, intelligent movie, but you won't be able to enjoy it unless you can roll with the essentially reprehensible nature of George Clooney's hitman character and just enjoy the story.

I recently finished the first season of the old 1950's Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, on DVD. Of the 39 episodes, the breakdown was pretty even: about a quarter were really good, a quarter perfectly enjoyable, a quarter predictable but watchable, and a quarter tired and dated.

The ebook exclusive, Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing, displays the best and worst aspects of the ebook revolution: The topic, writers of novels based on movie and television characters they themselves didn't create and don't totally control, is a fascinating one that traditional publishers would have nevertheless likely rejected because of its perceived esoteric nature. However, the coolness of being able to read a book like this on Kindle is somewhat undercut by the numerous typos, dropped words, and other editorial glitches. Didn't someone look at this before it went out? Hell, for a case of beer or two good martinis, I would have proofed the darn thing. Anyway, I'm still enjoying the book otherwise.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Up for a good read?


Happy Friday! On the chance you'd like to maybe start a fresh new book to celebrate the start of the weekend, here are the top five titles in the Kindle Store as of this morning, along with their current prices:

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. $6.64

2. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson. $9.99

3. The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson. $7.59

4. Triple Exposure, by Colleen Thompson. $5.59

5. Freedom: A Novel, by Jonathan Franzen. $12.99

Anything catching your fancy?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Listen up...


A new U.S. Army captain is assigned to an outfit in a remote post in the desert in Afghanistan. During his first inspection of his new outfit, he notices a camel hitched up behind the mess tent.

Curious, he asks his sergeant why the camel is kept there. The nervous sergeant replies, "Well, sir, as you know, there are 250 men here on the post and no women, and, uh, sir, sometimes the men have urges. That's why we have Molly the camel."

"Hmmmmm," the captain says. "I can't say that I exactly condone this, but I understand about urges, so the camel can stay."

About a month later, the captain starts having his own urges. After a moment's hesitation, he asks the sergeant to bring the camel to his tent.

Putting a ladder behind the camel, the captain stands on it, pulls his pants down, and has wild, insane sex with the camel.

When he's done, he asks the sergeant, "Ha, I suppose that's how the men do it, too, right?"

"No, not really, sir," the sergeant replies. "They usually just ride the camel into town where the girls are."

Farewell to Hitch and Cole


Robert B. Parker's final entry in his "Hitch and Cole" western series is pretty much as satisfying as the previous three books (Appaloosa, Resolution, and Brimstone). It features the same amiable, easygoing, yet somehow still always razor-focused exchanges between the two expert gunmen; several humorous scenes revolving around the quality (or lack thereof) of Cole's woman Allie's cooking; and a few memorable bursts of violence.

One thing that's new this time out is an interesting discussion of politics. Blue-Eyed Devil, among other plot points, features a town lawman who wants to become sheriff, later mayor, and ultimately President of the United States. While it's clear to Hitch and Cole that most of the lawman's actions are geared more toward getting him elected than doing the right thing in a given situation, they concede that sometimes it takes a cold, calculating figure, with a healthy dose of self-interest, to get things done in a town. I enjoyed the complexity of those discussions between Hitch and Cole, who usually see things in more black-and-white terms. The lawman, by the way, eventually becomes the book's main antagonist, when he starts to take things too far in his pursuit of power.

More familiarly, there is also plenty of the usual discussion among the characters about their own codes of honor and those of their enemies, to the point where everyone always knows how everyone else is going to act in any given situation, which somewhat impacts the story's ability to generate suspense. Heck, Cole even feels comfortable and perfectly safe socializing and working with the well-dressed assassin from New Orleans hired to kill him, because he knows the assassin's code of honor will prevent him from making a run at Cole until their present business at hand (the book's main plot throws them together as temporary allies) is concluded. It might have been more fun if Cole had to worry at least a little about working side by side with a guy hired to put a bullet in him.

For better or worse, there are three or four other situations in the book where Hitch, Cole, and even the dandy assassin discuss how certain characters are going to act in a given situation, and, well, that's exactly how those characters do act when the time comes. Mostly it's interesting to see things play out exactly as Hitch and Cole predicted they would, but sometimes I felt the book could have benefitted from more surprises.

When all is said and done, however, Blue-Eyed Devil, with its many scenarios that are both sharply dramatic and wistfully melancholy, is a very entertaining western novel that makes me sad that it's the last installment in Dr. Parker's fine, late-career series.

I actually listened to the unabridged audio recording of Blue-Eyed Devil, downloaded from Audible.com and read by Titus Welliver. I liked Mr. Welliver's approach: he mostly read the story in a dry, understated manner, but knew when to pepper in the emotion and drama. Blue-Eyed Devil is also available on Kindle for $12.99.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Today's pharmacology report

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been looking for a generic name for Viagra. For example, the pain reliever with the trade name Tylenol was later given the generic name Acetaminophen, and Advil was later paired with the generic title Ibuprofin. Along these lines, after careful consideration, the FDA recently announced that for the popular drug Viagra, it has settled on the generic name of Mycoxafloppin. Also considered were Mycoxafailin, Mydixadrupin, Mydixarizin, Dixafix, and of course, Ibepokin.

In related news, Pfizer Corporation announced today that Viagra will soon be available in liquid form, and will be marketed by Pepsi Cola as a power beverage suitable for use as a mixer. This means that it will now be possible for a man to literally pour himself a stiff one. Obviously, despite the Pepsi connection, the product couldn't be referred to as a "soft drink", and it also gives new meaning to the terms "cocktail", "highball", and just a good old-fashioned "stiff drink". Pepsi will market the new beverage under the following nam: "MOUNT & DO".

One final thought on this topic: Presently, there is significantly more money being spent on breast implant technology and Viagra research than on Alzheimer's prevention. This means that by 2040, there will be a large elderly population with perky boobs and huge erections and absolutely no recollection of what to do with them.

Never let it be said that Kindle Taproom doesn't cover the serious issues.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My weight-loss adventures, part two

After a whopping 12-pound weight loss in June 2009, my July 2009 weigh-in numbers yielded more modest results. But everything still kept moving in the right direction (well, mostly). Here are my weight numbers from each of my four official weigh-ins that month:

Monday, July 6, 2009: 170 pounds

Monday, July 13, 2009: 171 pounds (oops- nobody's perfect!)

Monday, July 20, 2009: 169 pounds (back on track!)

Monday, July 27, 2009: 167 pounds

The above showed that I lost another four pounds since the end of June 2009 (when I weighed 171 pounds) and a dramatic 16 pounds since the June 1, 2009 start of my diet. Actually, I was glad that my second-month weight loss was more realistic and not as dramatic as month one. A radical, too-quick loss of weight can be scary, don't you think?

Okay, I told you that I would share my new approach to eating this time, so here it is: I decided to try the Atkins controlled-carbohydrate approach to eating. In short, the Atkins approach tells you to initially eliminate, and later control your consumption of, high-carbohydrate foods like breads, pasta, potatoes, and anything containing processed sugar.

Don't worry, I'm not going to come off like an Atkins guru who will constantly tell you that this is the only successful way one can lose weight and keep it off. In future posts, I'll just politely tell you why this approach has worked for me, and gently suggest why it might work for you. I'll also dispel a few myths about the diet, so you can make your own decision about maybe trying it out, without worrying about some of the scare tactics some of the diet's critics toss about.

But I promised to keep these occasional weight-poss posts short, so I'll close for now. But I'll be back shortly with my August 2009 results and a little more banter on what I did to achieve the happy numbers revealed each week by my scale.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Serious, but nice


I don't usually do major drinking at lunch, but, well... today is Friday. So a couple of us sampled a bottle of a nice Pouilly-Fuisse today. Now, as I understand things from the grilling I gave to my patient barmaid Beth, when one orders a "nice Pouilly-Fuisse" (pronounced POOL-lee FOO-say, by the way), you're basically getting a decent white wine made principally from Chardonnay grapes, but grown in the Pouilly-Fuisse region of France. Specifically, the wine we ordered was a "Alfio Moriconi Selection" Pouilly-Fuisse.

My first thought after tasting this Pouilly-Fuisse was, "We're not talking a fruity, fun wine here." No, this is a serious wine, somewhat dry, and maybe even a little syrupy (though that's maybe too strong an adjective for its non-lightness). But, in the end, I thought it was quite excellent. Just consider it a serious wine for serious topics. Enjoy it while you're discussing the state of the world, the eighteen reasons you hate this or that candidate in the upcoming midterm elections, or why you love the Beethoven Ninth Symphony so much.

We paid about $60.00 for the bottle, but that takes into account the typical restaurant mark-up. I'm guessing that you can pick up this "Alfio-Moriconi Selection" Pouilly-Fuisse for about $35.00 retail, maybe less. In any event, it's definitely worth seeking out if you occasionally like to spend a little more than usual for a memorable wine.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Does its job


In the end, the James Patterson & Liza Marklund collaboration, The Postcard Killers, was slight but somewhat interesting, so- perhaps appropriately- I'll just write a slight and (hopefully) somewhat interesting review: The book's initial chapters were slick and unsavory (the latter due to the intense violence graphically depicted when a traveling couple is murdered), but things eventually even out a little when we meet some of the more sympathetic characters, especially the New York cop Jason Kanon and Swedish journalist Dessie Larsson, both of whom are looking into the murders the book centers around. Jason's and Dessie's quirky personalities and eventual romance add a little texture to the story, as well as provide a break from the graphic killings.

Maybe it's because I listened to the well-produced audio version of the story (nicely read by Katherine Kellgren, Erik Singer, and Reg Rogers, with just the right hint of music and sound effects), but I found the end result perfectly okay. The Postcard Killers is not spectacular, mind you, or nuanced, artful, ground breaking or anything like that. But it was a perfectly engaging little thriller that will neither make me rush out to purchase, or avoid like the plague, the next James Patterson collaboration that comes down the pike. It was just a decent little thriller and nothing more. And I was fine with that.

If you decide to read The Postcard Killers on your Kindle, you can pick it up from the Kindle Store for $12.99. I'm sure it's just as painless in prose form as it is on audio.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Obligatory cat photo


I mentioned in my previous post that my cat kept getting in the way while I was trying to take a photo of the bag of coffee I was writing about. Well, because the darn thing was so determined to be a star, here's a photo of her. I took it moments after finishing with my involved coffee shoot, which basically consisted of taking three quick shots with my camera phone and picking the least blurry shot of the coffee bag to use with the post. Anyway, meet Muffin. It also took me about three shots of her little squirming self to get a semi-decent one to use here.

We have another cat, Buddy, who I'll probably eventually show you. But let's not have too much excitement on one day, right?

Some fine coffee


As part of Amazon's "Vine Voice" program, I'm given the opportunity to sample, at no cost, a variety of products that Amazon sells. All Amazon asks for in return is an honest review of the product on its site. How do you become part of Amazon's "Vine" program? Simple. File lots and lots of reviews at Amazon and you'll eventually be asked to join. Anyway, here's a review I just posted of some nice coffee that Amazon sent my way.

My bag of Melitta Cafe Collection Parisian Vanilla Ground Coffee has been a pleasant treat these past few days. The coffee's strength and complexity sits somewhere between a "normal" cup of coffee (the kind you might get at Dunkin Donuts, for instance, or brew from your supply of canned supermarket coffee) and more rich and complex "coffee house" style coffees. In other words, this is great when you want a basic cup of coffee, but still with a hint of something extra. Actually, you get two "something-extra" hints here: a shade more complexity than regular coffee, and the vanilla flavor.

It's sometimes said that one should avoid flavored coffees because their manufacturers often use the flavor to cover up lesser-tier beans. I don't think that's the case here. The vanilla is (happily) subtle to begin with, but regardless, it's pretty apparent that the coffee itself is of high quality. It's rich and flavorful, with a burnished, non-acidic finish.

And just to be clear, it's not a sweetened vanilla flavor that's used here, just a subtle undercurrent that slightly enhances your coffee experience. You can add your own sweetener if you want a sweet vanilla taste. Myself, I just add a little half-and-half and I'm happy.

If you like flavored coffees on a regular or semi-regular basis (I'm more in the latter camp), this is a fine product to pick up and add to your cupboard. Even if you like a flavored coffee only occasionally, you may use this up faster than you think.

The accompanying photograph, by the way, is a Kindle Taproom exclusive. Once my cat got out of the way, I was able to take a nice shot of the product.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Well-crafted thrills


The terrifically entertaining Secret Prey starts out as a clever whodunit set in the world of high-priced corporate politics: several top-tier bank executives are manuveuring for power during a merger when one of them is murdered. But as fun as it is to witness the watching-every-dime cops (well, except for series lead Lucas Davenport, who certainly isn't poor) grilling the millionaire executives, the book becomes even more interesting later on, when it becomes clear who the culprit is.

At that point, about two-thirds of the way into the book, the story morphs into one about dysfunctional families and the broken personalities they can produce. Yet everything- the earlier straight up whodunit and the latter dark psychological study- fits together nicely. And, have no fears, both aspects feature well done thriller elements that will keep you devouring chapters.

Adding further texture to the proceedings are the latest developments in Lucas Davenport's love life, which center around the sad dissolving of Lucas' relationship with surgeon Weather Karkinnen and the subsequent spicy affair Lucas initiates with a colleague. Well, it's really she who does the initiating, in a funny, memorable scene.

This ninth book in John Sandford's "Lucas Davenport" series is a particularly strong entry and shouldn't be missed if you have any affinity for this character or series.

Interestingly, I just finished this book on my Kindle, but when I checked the Kindle Store just now to refesh my memory on its cost (I think I paid six or seven bucks for it), the book no longer seems to be available. It could be a glitch, as several other books in the series are still available, or perhaps its absence is due to a price dispute between the publisher and Amazon, resulting in the temporary removal of the title from the Kindle Store. In any event, Secret Prey is a great book if you can find it.