Friday, July 30, 2010

Purple Penguin Snowcone Shack

Last week, it was hot. Really hot. Having lived here since 1985, I've experienced my share of hot. But last week was scorching.

Las Vegas recorded a week of over-110 degrees (Farenheit) temperatures, and buildings were literally bursting into flame. More than a few people I know had their air-conditionings fail, and, though I relish our summer heat, I lived like a vampire: during daylight hours, I just stayed indoors.

But I did need to venture forth once into the blazing sunshine, and, after running a couple of errands with the Princess, we decided we needed something cold and refreshing.

At the corner of Horizon Ridge and Arroyo Grande in Henderson sits a small shack with a colorful paint-job that offered exactly what we needed.

The Purple Penguin Snowcone Shack has an impressive menu of flavors available, and a big cup of deliciously-flavored ice is just the thing to keep you from overheating.

(The Princess about to order her snowcone.)

Now, you may scoff at the idea of traveling anywhere to get a cup of flavored ice, and, given my own past experience with such things, I would tend to agree. But the Purple Penguin Snowcone Shack surpassed my expectations with the sheer quality of their product.

(Tamarind & Tiger's Blood on the left, Daiquiri & Grape on the right)

The Princess went with a mix of grape & daiquiri flavorings, while I went with tamarind & Tiger's Blood (which is a mixture of strawberry & coconut, I think).

The mix of ice and syrup is just right, sweet but not too sweet, and the ice is perfectly textured so as to keep its shape without melting into slush or turning into a block. The Purple Penguin even offers to put sweet cream in the bottom of your cup to add an extra layer of deliciousness. With a menu of 37 flavors, you're bound to find just the right flavor.

The two cups shown above (a medium and a small) cost a total of $5, and were well worth it -- the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon in the heat. While we were there, we saw several cars pull up with parents shepherding their kids towards some icy goodness.

There was even an impromptu family reunion, as separate vehicles from different directions pulled in and their passengers disembarked and hailed and hugged each other in the blazing summer heat. Who says Las Vegas ain't a family town?

The Purple Penguin Snowcone Shack opens at noon (1pm on Sundays) and is a seasonal business. Their last day this year will be August 29th. I suggest you stop by at least once before you have to wait until next summer.

Horizon Ridge & Arroyo Grande
(in the Speedee Mart parking lot)
Henderson, NV

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

In a fairer world, Daniel Woodrell would be a household name. His books are as entertaining as any bestseller, and he is a lyrical and powerful writer of the first order. He doesn't just create characters; he portrays people, using language that will turn your head.

And, the truth is, he just keeps getting better. He is the author of eight novels now, and, since the publication of Give Us A Kiss in 1996, I've had the same reaction every time I've read his latest book: I always think, "This one's his best."

Woodrell's eighth novel, Winter's Bone, came out in 2006, and I loved it, just as I loved The Death of Sweet Mister, Woodrell's previous work. Now, with the release of a movie adaptation that's won prizes at Sundance, I've taken the opportunity to revisit Winter's Bone, and I am happy to declare that it holds up.

The book opens with a great line: "Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. Meat hung from trees across the creek."

Winter's Bone then follows the trials of sixteen year-old Ree Dolly, an inhabitant of a corner of the Missouri Ozarks that seems mired in another time. Except that it isn't.

While ancient clan ties still determine much of life in Ree's part of the world, the very contemporary scourge of methamphetamines also plays a major role in the local illicit economy. See, Ree's father is a "half-famous" cooker of meth, and he's just skipped bail, so Ree needs to find him before she and her family (two young brothers and an addled mother who's "lost to the present") lose the house that he's put up as collateral.

Thus begins Ree's quest. It's a self-appointed mission that pits her against members of her own clan, but Ree is tough and resourceful, though enlightenment always has its costs. It's a hard-boiled sort of plot, tight and mean, but Woodrell manages to wring some poetry out of it, as in this description of the boys:
"Sonny and Harold were eighteen months apart in age. They nearly always went about shoulder to shoulder, running side by side and turning this way or veering that way at the same sudden instant, without a word, moving about in a spooky, instinctive tandem, like scampering quotation marks."
Ree is fiercely protective of her family, coaching her brothers with tough love and teaching them how to cook and shoot and fight, even as she herself longs to join the Army in order to get the hell out of this inbred and dangerous valley. But, as they say, life is what happens while you make other plans, and Ree's life soon takes some dramatic turns as she works to find her father and secure the roof over her head.

Winter's Bone is a short, pungent work that nevertheless packs more character and context into its plot than most novels twice its length. Like all great works of art, there's something primal and basic at play in Winter's Bone, something that applies to all of us.

And I haven't even mentioned Woodrell's dialog, which is wonderful in its mix of local accent, dark humor, and psychological insight. His characters live and breathe, and they come alive on the page. It's a testament to Woodrell's skill that he does all of this in less than two-hundred pages.

The book ends with the same musical prose with which it begins: "Fading light buttered the ridges until shadows licked them clean and they were lost to fresh nightfall." But along the way, we've enjoyed quite a story, and we've gotten to know some people whose lives burn as brightly as our actual neighbors, evoking our sympathies (and our antipathies) in much the same way.

I can only hope that the movie adaptation of Winter's Bone lives up to its initial buzz and that it shines a brighter light on the work of Daniel Woodrell. His books deserve it.

by Daniel Woodrell

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anne Rice & Christianity

Today, on Facebook, Anne Rice made two very provocative posts. I will now reprint each of the two posts in their entirety:

First post by Anne Rice: "For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
Second post by Anne Rice: "As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

 Taken together, these posts represent a growing sentiment that Anne Rice has been expressing over the past few weeks, and I, for one, applaud her conclusion. I see it as the culmination of her frustrations, an awakening to a more tolerant & inclusive spirituality.

I have never understood those who use religion to be intolerant and insensitive, and Anne Rice has succinctly expressed reservations that I myself have held for years. I have often found that those who most readily proclaim their faith(s) are also often the least pleasant, most thin-skinned people I have ever met.

I do not say this to attack all of the faithful. I have also met practicing faithful whose generosity and empathy are nothing less than heroic. But these heroes are few and are vastly outnumbered by the dangerous.

Let's see how much understanding and empathy Anne Rice's declarations now stir up.

Monday, July 26, 2010

War by Sebastian Junger

There is a long tradition of soldier's-eye-view accounts of battle, going all the way back through recorded history. One could argue that Homer's "Iliad" is such an account. More recent masterpieces in the genre include Michael Herr's Dispatches and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

While it's a bit early to call Sebastian Junger's War a masterpiece, I have to say it's a powerful and convincing book.

Over the course of a year, from June of 2007 to June of 2008, Junger made five long visits to Afghanistan, where he was embedded with a platoon of U.S. Army soldiers in the Korengal valley, near the border with Pakistan. Junger describes the place as "an extraordinarily violent slit in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains in eastern Afghanistan."

Violent, indeed.

The soldiers Junger depicts endure extremely harsh conditions (sweltering days & freezing nights, with insects so voracious that the men wear flea collars on their ankles) as well as harrowing firefights, some of which involve squads who withstand a one-hundred percent casualty rate. In fact, according to Junger, during the time he writes about, one-fifth of all U.S. casualties in Afghanistan occurred in this little, six mile-long valley.

Much of War is focused on a soldier named O'Byrne, a tough, thoughtful, and troubled young man whose conversations with Junger help personalize the experience of fighting in the Korengal. O'Byrne's own story of how he came to be a soldier is compelling in its own right, and his sometimes-paradoxical reactions struck me as utterly human. Junger could not have imagined a better focal point for his book.

But Junger has a deeper purpose than merely detailing the daily toils of soldiers on this particular piece of contested ground. As his grandiose title suggests, Junger hopes to say something about the universal conditions of combat. Under section headings entitled, "Fear," "Killing," and finally, "Love," Junger is able to relate the specifics of this particular company's deployment to Korengal to the perennial circumstances of war itself.

With asides that veer into biology and psychology and history, Junger contextualizes the minute-by-minute action he narrates, showing how combat both is and isn't what civilians expect it to be. For instance, Junger tells us that front-line soldiers rarely discuss the larger, geopolitical reasons for their deployment. Indeed, such concerns are almost impractical for men who need to be supernaturally vigilant in the face of constant attacks from the enemy.

Junger writes, "There's so much human energy involved – so much courage, so much honor, so much blood – you could easily go a year here without questioning whether any of this needs to be happening in the first place." He adds, "The moral basis of the war doesn't seem to interest soldiers much, and its long-term success or failure has a relevance of almost zero."

In another instance, Junger portrays how a particular new lieutenant is able to command the respect of his unit by allowing them to beat him up. How such a thing could be true shows how counter-intuitive battlefront circumstances can be. Junger also explains such telling details as why the men's body odor begins to smell like ammonia, or how a single teenager with a rifle (being paid five dollars per day by the Taliban) can tie up an entire company for a whole day.

And Junger himself steers clear of discussing the ultimate rightness or wrongness of America's military strategy in Afghanistan. Instead, War posits a direct connection between the daily firefights (and sometimes-bizarre interpersonal interactions) and the challenges faced by soldiers throughout history. It's almost as if the current political situation were irrelevant. Warfare is as innate to mankind as hunger.

War begins with a epigraph about the definition of cowardice, and its final section ("Love") builds the best explanation for battlefield bravery that I have ever read. Essentially, what we think of as bravery is a function of group loyalty, not patriotism or morality. It's an explanation I've heard over and over in accounts of Congressional Medal of Honor winners: "I did it for my buddies."

But I've just done a grave disservice to Junger's insight. I've reduced it to a platitude, whereas Junger himself built it up by observing, in minute detail, the daily lives of a platoon of young men on the front lines. After reading War, this final insight has an almost physical force, explaining why so many young men have trouble adapting to post-combat life.

I found War to be an engaging page-turner. Not only is the battlefield action exciting, but Junger's insights into the reality of combat are thought-provoking, not least of which is his assertion that any attempt to rid humanity of the scourge of warfare must take into account "the excitement of battle." Junger further observes that "civilians balk at recognizing that one of the most traumatic things about combat is having to give it up."

An interesting side-note to War is that Junger also filmed a documentary while embedded with the soldiers of the Second Platoon of Battle Company. The resulting film is entitled "Restrepo" for an outpost named for a beloved company medic who was killed in the Korengal, and it won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance film festival in January of 2010.

From what I can gather, "Restrepo" is a kind of complement to War, giving a compressed account of essentially the same story. Based on how much I enjoyed War, I will be watching "Restrepo" at the earliest opportunity.

by Sebastian Junger

My Bacon Martini Experience...

Something I recently read reminded me of last Christmas, when I met some friends at the Double Down Saloon for a late-night, holiday drink. It's a tradition my friends have had since our college days, meeting late on Christmas night at the best dive bar in America for a quick nightcap.

This time, I commented to the group that I had noticed a hand-drawn sign on the wall advertising bacon martinis. I realized that the sign had been there for years, but I had never seen anyone order the drink. The bartender quickly went into hard-sell mode, basically insulting my manhood for pointing out the sign and then balking at the idea of actually following through.

In short order, my stalwart companions ordered me a bacon martini, exerting bar-wide, full-press peer-pressure for me to drink it.

Turns out the Double Down makes their own bacon vodka, using long strips of the cheapest, fattiest bacon to infuse the liquor with the flavor and fatty viscosity of the bacon. The resulting liquor has an aftertaste that lingers...and lingers, tainting the rest of your night with bacon overtones that a full, over-toothpasted brushing cannot dim.

The pics that follow say enough about the experience that I shall comment no more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir" now available in paperback from Amazon!

So, I've just been informed that the paperback edition of my novel Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir has now gone live on Amazon!

I'm excited. For all my bluster about e-books, there's nothing quite like the palpable, tactile quality of holding an actual book in your hands, so the increased availability of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir delights me to no end.

Hopefully, you feel the same way.

Of course, editions of the novel have been available for some time for the Kindle and as a pdf file directly from me. But this new avenue of distribution will allow more readers to enjoy my story. I hope.

As I've mentioned before, I wrote Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir as a deliberate exercise in plot-driven entertainment, complete with cliffhangers and lots of violence and sex. And I wanted to set it in my hometown, with recognizable, real-world settings. Even in the midst of our fiery summer, I really love this town.

As the jacket copy states, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is "a sexy, blood-soaked romp through Sin City!" And we all know that jacket copy never lies.

And, yes, there is a sequel in the works, although I am currently drafting a kind of action comedy right now. It, too, is set here in Las Vegas, and I hope to finish it by the end of the year.

For a self-publishing, self-promoting writer, an ambitious writing schedule is called for, don't you think? Plus, I started late, way too late, on following my calling. I'm count myself incredibly lucky to still have the opportunity to do so.

Which leads me to thoughts on the publishing industry...

Recent news that Amazon is now selling more Kindle editions of books than hardcovers seems to signal a tectonic shift in the publishing industry in the same way that the music industry changed with the advent of file-sharing and Itunes. I think of it as a hopeful sign for independent authors like myself.

As in the music industry, the means of production and distribution have been decentralized, allowing for more grassroots artists to promote themselves. While I agree that publishers have acted as quality-control agents and risk-aggregators, I applaud the technological advances that are forcing publishers to adapt their business models to allow for more competition from self-published writers.

The upshot, I believe, is that publishing, like music, will become a market where more artists will have an opportunity to make a living, while creating fewer superstars. I think of all this as a democratization of publishing.

Yes, there will be those, especially those who are already established in the publishing industry, who will decry these changes as a loss of quality, but such complaints strike me as outmoded snobbery, like John Henry bemoaning the advent of the steam engine. In the near future, there will indeed be chaos, but I believe that quality will always out.

No matter how much the publishing industry changes, I think that Auden's axiom will always apply: "Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered."

I have to confess that I am deeply ambivalent about my own work. Sure, I constructed Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir as pure entertainment, and I stand by my book. I just never envisioned that my first book would feature vampires.

But I also recognize that my opinion of my work doesn't really matter. What matters is what readers think. They're the ones who will determine the success or failure of any work, no matter what the industry is doing.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception - written & directed by Christopher Nolan

The movies of Christopher Nolan are dark, oddly-shaped jigsaw puzzles. They can be ponderous because of his deliberate pacing, but they are never uninteresting.

Nolan's moviemaking career went wide with Memento and developed through a remake of Insomnia (whose original is fantastic) and an adaptation of The Prestige. Nolan then delivered his blockbusting masterwork in the Batman franchise with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Throughout these works, Nolan has shown real skill in crafting serious thrillers with deeply flawed heroes. He favors tricky plots, and he sure does love crashing vehicles into things.

Inception is a logical next step in Nolan's career. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, a mercenary dream thief who longs to return home safely to his kids. And it's yet another intricately-plotted action thriller with an interestingly compromised protagonist. Unlike Memento, however, Inception had a very large budget for CGI effects. Other than that, it's in many respects the same essential story.

Here's the setup: Cobb works for large, multinational corporations, and he steals secrets for them from the sleeping minds of his victims. To do this, he uses a bit of cutting-edge technology, some illicit chemicals, and a practical understanding of dream mechanics. But a troubled history is beginning to erode Cobb's skills just when he needs them most. Oh, and he seems to be a fugitive who can't come home to America for fear of getting arrested for something.

Here's the hook: When a prospective client makes Cobb an offer he can't refuse, Inception becomes a nested tangle of plots as our hero works to complete his mission while navigating shifting dreamscapes that give the director plenty of opportunities to engage in breathtaking special effects, including what's become something of a trademark since Nolan's Batman movies: a large, incongruous vehicle (like the Batmobile or a train) bashing its way at high speed through inner-city traffic.

In assembling a team while dodging pursuers from a previously botched job, Cobb temporarily becomes enmeshed in an episode of Mission: Impossible, bringing together a cast of underground specialists including Ellen Page as Ariadne, an "architect" of dreams, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Cobb's long-time junior partner.

The rest of the team is nicely rounded out, and these secondary characters are unburdened with the weight of carrying a whole movie on their shoulders. This allows them to perform as humorous foils to DiCaprio's brooding, distracted dream raider. Though none of them steals scenes the way Heath Ledger did in The Dark Knight, they leaven this heavy loaf of a movie nicely. This is a story that needs its injections of wisecracks, few as they are.

As I suggested above, the complications in Inception arise as much from Cobb's own troubled past as from the machinations of his rivals. His wife, played by Marion Cotillard, keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times, and he is continuously haunted by visions of his children playing in the yard. That all of this comes to have a direct bearing on the success of his mission will surprise no one.

Originality is over-praised as an artistic attribute, as no work of art comes without its precedents and contexts. In other words, every work of art has a history, and its components are drawn from other works, whether the artist is conscious of those works or not. Artists steal as much as they make up, and Christopher Nolan is no exception.

What I'm saying is, Inception isn't as original as it may first appear. (But what is?) For the two-and-a-half hours of its duration, Inception uses well-established tropes from espionage thrillers, heist movies, action movies, and science-fiction. In fact, as its characters reason their way through their ever-changing circumstances, they begin to resemble nothing so much as Star Trek characters stuck on a strange planet and having to use their wits to cobble a way back to their ship.

Its worst parts come when exposition is needed, as in the first few conversations between DiCaprio and Page, the intelligent ingenue who figures out how Cobb's past is impinging on their present. Instead of humor, these scenes (full of DiCaprio's ruminations on the nature and use of dreams) are punctuated with visual derring-do, including the signature scene of a Paris neighborhood folding over on itself.

Inception's best parts are some of its action sequences, including Gordon-Levitt's fight in a tumbling hotel hallway. Maybe I'm too jaded nowadays, but CGI-created vistas don't really do anything for me anymore, no matter how paradoxical and supposedly mind-boggling the view is. But this fight, which ends in weightlessness, is a nice display of combat choreography.

And, as impressive as some of these scenes are (and, truthfully, most of them are pretty run-of-the-mill), I don't think I missed anything by not watching this movie in 3-D or IMAX. Until such technologies have a direct bearing on the story being told, I can't help thinking of them as gimmicks, as nourishing as a handful of popcorn, with similarly short-lived implications.

My biggest criticism of this movie is its too-narrow treatment of dreams. Forgetting all the psychobabble hokum that always seems to accompany any serious artistic depiction of dreams, what struck me as most telling in Inception is the lack of any real strangeness in Nolan's dreamscapes. They're almost all city settings, and the people in them (besides the main characters) are as ornamental as street lamps. They do turn out to have a plot function, but it's a mechanical one. These bystanders might as well be robots.

And when I complain about these dreams, I'm not talking about the props and setups that allow for the movie's fights and chases; I'm talking about real, lifelike strangeness. While Inception makes much of the lack of physics in these dreams, there's very little that's organic or vital in them. In my own dreams, images and people pop in and out in unexplainable but emotionally true ways. My friends' dreams seem to operate the same way. This is why using logic to explain dreams is always a dicey proposition.

Yet the dreams in Inception are almost mechanistic, such as their insistence that secrets are always locked in safes. They end up being more like the simulations in The Matrix than like actual dreams. Cobb attempts to gloss this over with some exposition about the difference between dreams and memories, but it rings hollow, more of an excuse than an explanation.

The best dream detail in the movie comes from an explanation of why it's raining heavily in one character's personal dreamscape. I won't ruin it here, but it's the one detail that rang the most true in the whole movie. And it turns out to be funny.

But how ridiculous is it to expect a movie that uses dreams as tools of corporate espionage to use them realistically? It's like asking the director of a vampire movie to make sure his vampires act like real vampires.

Having said that, I enjoyed the movie, and I have to recommend it. The plot of Inception moves expertly (if not quickly) to a resolution that ties everything neatly into a finished package. There's even an evocative final shot that rife with implication. In all, Inception is a fun ride and a cool way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

written & directed by Christopher Nolan
starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir - the paperback!

I finally got my paperback proof of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir today, after missing the mail-carrier yesterday because I was in the shower when he came to the door (and, since it was an express delivery, he couldn't just drop it off).

I'm like a proud father. Kind of corny of me, I know. But I can't help it. For all my advocacy of e-books, nothing quite compares to the feel and heft of holding an actual book in your hands.

It's 166 pages in 54 short chapters, laid out in a nice, 5-by-8 trim size. It has a list price of $8.99, which is as cheap as I could get it, given such factors as page count and trim size.

And I'm also a little proud of the cover design, since I did it myself, under duress and with admittedly limited talents.

So, now that the proof has been reviewed & approved, it will take a day or two for CreateSpace to propagate the novel to Amazon's site. (Is my impatience showing, yet?)

For those of you who are in a hurry to buy it, you can get it directly from CreateSpace by clicking on the pictures above. (Again, the paperback will be $8.99 plus shipping.)

Of course, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is also still available for Amazon's Kindle (see the box on the left) and as a pdf file purchased directly from me (see below).

Bloodsucking Vegas (pdf)

For the pdf file, just click on the "Buy Now" button, and once you've paid your $3.99 through Paypal, I will email it directly to you.

You can be sure I'll be updating everyone I know once the paperback is available on Amazon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why I am self-publishing Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir

I got my copy of the latest OK GO album, Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky, in the mail today, and it reminded me of why I decided to self-publish my first novel, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir.

First, I'm impatient. And the process of finding an agent and publisher is frustratingly slow. I know, it's immature of me, but it's true. In May of 2009, I quit the company where I'd worked for 18 years in order to pursue writing full-time, and I also quit the novel I'd been agonizing over for the last 15 years. Call it my mid-life crisis, but Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir was born a couple of months later -- and, once I'd finished it, I've been anxious to kick it out of the nest to see if it can fly.

Second, while I have nothing against agents & publishers (and can see myself using them in the future), I really want to test the notion of using all this fabulous technology to kick-start my career. After all, I've waited long enough to even start my writing career, so I figure a little kick-start is just what it needs.

Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir was written as a test. I was testing myself to see if I could create a work within a fairly narrow set of parameters, one of which was a tight time-frame. I missed my arbitrary one-year deadline, but not by much. And I wanted to tell a story that unfolds quickly, with as many cliffhangers as I could manage.

I feel that I passed this test. Sure, it was self-administered and, yes, it's self-graded. But I stand by my assessment. And I'm eager to find out if the rest of the world sees it the way I do. So far, initial reactions have been positive, for which I am grateful.

Also, the careers of OK GO and Jonathan Coulton have inspired me. Here are two artists who have bucked the vertically-integrated systems of production & distribution in their markets to build successful careers on their own, using the internet to promote themselves. Neither artist has seemed to burn any bridges in the process, either.

I like the idea of being both self-sufficient and able to work within my chosen industry (if they'll have me). After all, a rebel without a cause is just a punk. Sure, I want to be my own man, but I also like to have as many friends as possible.

While the paperback edition is almost here, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is available for Amazon's Kindle (by clicking on the box on the left. It is also available directly from me as a pdf file, using the Paypal button below.

Bloodsucking Vegas (pdf)

Just click on the "Buy Now" button, and once you've paid your $3.99 through Paypal, I will email the pdf file directly to you.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

UPDATE: Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir in paperback soon!

UPDATE: I just got confirmation that the proofs for the paperback edition of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir are on their way. As soon as I review & approve them, I will pull the trigger on them. Hopefully, that means that you will start purchasing Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir in droves!

Remember, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is also available for Amazon's Kindle! And I'm selling it for only $3.99 (US). Talk about an entertainment bargain...

For those of you who own a Kindle, you can have my novel downloaded for your reading pleasure in less than a minute. And if you don't own a Kindle, you can use the free Kindle application on your Ipad, Iphone, Blackberry, Android, Mac, or Windows PC to read Kindle books.

And with the Kindle's WhisperSync feature, you can synchronize any Kindle book across all of your devices so that it's available to you everywhere, and you never lose your place!

As for my book...

Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is the story of a nomadic vampire who comes to Las Vegas for the first time, only to find himself fighting for his life in ways that change everything he knows about himself.

Featuring authentic Las Vegas locations and wide cast of characters, it's a sexy, blood-soaked romp through Sin City.

While the paperback edition is almost here, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is also available directly from me as a pdf file, using the Paypal button below.

Bloodsucking Vegas (pdf)

Once you complete the Paypal transaction, I will email Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir directly to you.

So, your choices are now the Kindle and pdf versions of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir. And soon you can also get a paperback.

Personally, I think you should get all three...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Todd's Unique Dining

It's been a very lean year for Brother Juan and me, but we both got some good news recently. So, we decided to celebrate at our favorite neighborhood eatery, Todd's Unique Dining.

Located on Sunset Road just a few blocks from where we live in Henderson, Todd's Unique Dining is an oasis of excellence in the desert of chain-restaurant mediocrity at this end of the Las Vegas valley. They specialize in steak and seafood, with an ever-changing menu that focuses on seasonal freshness and strong technique to create some really wonderful dishes.

We sat at the bar, where we've always received superb service. The staff is friendly and attentive, with a thorough knowledge of their menu and drink selections.

Since we hadn't been there in a while, and since Brother Juan is on a first-name basis with the entire crew, we were treated to a free round of drinks as a welcome back. While Brother Juan stuck to his usual Gentleman Jack-and-coke, the Princess opted for a Cherry Cosmo that had just the right amount of sweetness without turning this classic concoction into a sickening confection. I chose a Miller's gin-and-tonic on the bartender's recommendation. It turned out to be the perfect refreshment: not too tart, not too syrupy, and the squeezed lime added a nice note of citrus.

The decor at Todd's Unique Dining is simple, straightforward, and elegant. I wouldn't call it bland, because every detail speaks of craftsmanship, but it doesn't draw attention to itself. Nor does it detract from the overall experience. Like everything at Todd's Unique Dining, it strikes a perfect balance on the palate.

But it is pretty dark in there at dinnertime, which is why our Iphone-generated pictures didn't turn out very well.

The Princess's watermelon salad was a nice starter. Small cubes of watermelon are mixed with spicy cooked pumpkin seeds, lime juice, and paprika, and feta cheese is crumbled into it, making for a sweet, tantalizing summer salad.

Along with my gin-and-tonic and the yummy selection of breads, the watermelon salad had pretty much satisfied my hunger.

Then our entrees arrived.

Brother Juan and I each ordered the night's special, which was a Guadalajara Hanger Steak, served medium rare. Marinated with a tangy blend of spices and grilled with a deft touch that created a crunchy, flavorful crust while keeping the center of the steak moist and juicy with just the right amount of chewiness, this steak was beefy perfection.

It was accompanied by a generous helping of polenta that had been seasoned with green onions and lashings of sriracha that gave the creamy side-dish real bite while still allowing it to fulfill its function as a sop for those precious drippings from the steak.

The Princess chose an old favorite of hers: Todd's pork tenderloin with granny smith apple glaze. It's an elegant version of one of the Princess's favorite comfort foods, with the moist pork seasoned very nicely and the glaze adding a nice note of tart sweetness. Her mashed potatoes came laced with caramelized onions, adding another layer of sweetness, though this was leavened somewhat by the tang of the onion. A lesser chef could have cooked those onions to near tastelessness or left them too raw and biting, but, as you've probably gathered, Todd knows what he's doing.

We were stuffed and happy by this point in the evening. Being lightweights, the Princess and I had nursed our drinks along, but Brother Juan was polishing off his second Gentleman Jack-and-coke and was seriously contemplating a third, when our bartender suggested a dessert.

At the mention of apple cobbler, the Princess nearly burst into tears. Her entree had already filled her with blissful nostalgia, but the night's featured dessert threatened to awaken some full-blown homesickness in her. Needless to say, we decided to share an order.

The cobbler was, of course, delicious with a thick, brown-sugar crust that quickly quieted my normally-raging sweet tooth. But the real coup de grace of this dish was the scoop of homemade cinnamon gelato that topped it. It was very nearly too much, but we couldn't resist. We descended on it like we hadn't eaten all day. Even our normally-unflappable bartender was a little taken aback by the frenzy with which we attacked it with our spoons.

Ever the gracious companion, Brother Juan picked up the check, and we staggered from Todd's Unique Dining, thankful that we only had a few blocks to go before we could collapse on our couches in a delerium of complete satisfaction.

We'll be going back to Todd's Unique Dining. Soon.

4350 E. Sunset Road
Henderson, NV 89014

Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir - now on Kindle!

My novel Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is now available for Amazon's Kindle! And I'm selling it for only $3.99 (US). Talk about an entertainment bargain...

For those of you who own a Kindle, you can have my novel downloaded for your reading pleasure in less than a minute. And if you don't own a Kindle, you can use the free Kindle application on your Ipad, Iphone, Blackberry, Android, Mac, or Windows PC to read Kindle books.

And with the Kindle's WhisperSync feature, you can synchronize any Kindle book across all of your devices so that it's available to you everywhere, and you never lose your place!

As for my book...

Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is the story of a nomadic vampire who comes to Las Vegas for the first time, only to find himself fighting for his life in ways that change everything he knows about himself.

Featuring authentic Las Vegas locations and wide cast of characters, it's a sexy, blood-soaked romp through Sin City.

While the paperback edition is still in the works, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is also available directly from me as a pdf file, using the Paypal button below.

Bloodsucking Vegas (pdf)

Once you complete the Paypal transaction, I will email Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir directly to you.

So, your choices are now the Kindle and pdf versions of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir. And soon you can also get a paperback.

Personally, I think you should get all three...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Entry for Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw website

I wrote the little essay below for Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw website.

"Why You Don't Just Kill Yourself"

I distrust religions and political ideologies. Beyond the basic tenets of treating your neighbors decently and resisting the urge go on homicidal rampages, they all resort to fantasy and balderdash when they try to explain any more than that. All the concrete evidence points to life being short and brutish at its core, so you might as well enjoy as much as you can before you're fertilizer.

And, since eating is both necessary and potentially pleasurable, why not make the best of it? Sure, it's an ephemeral pleasure, but so is breathing. And no one I know advocates sniffing the effluvia wafting from a porta-potty just because you won't live forever.

So enjoying food is one of the basic ways to inject a little enjoyment into your daily toil. And the best way to enjoy food -- to truly appreciate its many layers and nuances -- is to make it yourself. A scrambled egg is a basic breakfast, but when YOU scramble that egg, adding a touch of spice, a pinch of salt, some scallions and grated cheese, and finishing it as caramelized or as runny as you like -- well, now you've made a meal that will start your day with style. Your tastebuds will thrill with the hints of other flavors you've introduced and cajoled into being. Because you never know when that breakfast may be your last, and who wants to cap off their lifespan with a McMuffin?

Also, even the most jaded and cynical among us needs some fellowship. And cooking well draws the fellow travelers in like nothing else (that's legal, anyway). And, no matter how much you may disagree over the topics of the day, a shared feast works better than any silver-tongued diplomat to keep relations from escalating. Should your neighbor begin spouting off about his views on social darwinism, you can always stuff his mouth with another serving of your special-recipe entree. It's a wholesome, humorous, and always-welcome way to get someone to shut their pie-hole, while the rest of your guest roll their eyes, wink at you, and tuck in themselves.

And I've found that cooking well encourages others to keep your bar well-stocked as they show up with bottles of wine or some obscure liquor they've picked up in their wanderings about the planet. Which is a raison d'etre all by itself.

So if you liked the essay, click on the pictures above to vote for it. Thanks!

Oh, and if you're looking to buy my novel, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir, then just click on the "Buy Now" button below. It's $3.99 (US) and I only accept Paypal for the time being. Also, it's in pdf format, but if that's a problem for you, just let me know via email once you've purchased it. I can always send it to you in other formats.

Bloodsucking Vegas (pdf)

Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir - Now Available!

My novel, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir, is now available as a pdf document directly from me.

Just purchase it via the Paypal button below, and I will email the novel (as a pdf document) to you.

(Unfortunately, I can only accept Paypal payments at this time. If, however, you need the novel in some other format than pdf, I'm sure we can work something out via email.)

I am making Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir available this way as a test of the direct-to-artist market channel that the beautiful internet provides.

Soon, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir will also be available for Amazon's Kindle and as a paperback. I am also working on publishing it via Apple's iBookstore (& Itunes) and Barnes & Noble.

Bloodsucking Vegas (pdf)

Just click the "Buy Now" button above to complete the transaction via Paypal, and I will email your copy of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir directly to you.

It really is as easy as that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir update

First, I want to thank everyone who has responded since I started previewing my novel "Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir" here on my blog. Your comments and reactions have been encouraging and helpful. There's nothing more gratifying than having someone read your work and give their honest reaction.

One of my favorite recent moments is when someone who read my chapters came to me and asked, with a completely straight face, "Have you ever met a vampire?"

Now, I tried really hard to get "Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir" finalized for publication today, but I need a few more days.

The good news is that it looks like I'll be able to sell both an e-book version of my novel on Amazon's Kindle AND a paperback version via CreateSpace. Due to the vagaries of publishing, the e-book will be cheaper than the paperback. And I am setting both prices as low as I possibly can, in order to encourage readers.

I can only hope you've enjoyed my preview chapters enough that you'll purchase one or both editions.

I'm sorry I didn't make my deadline, but I hope to publish by the end of the week.

And then I can move on to my next projects: a local comedy, a crime novel, and a superhero story. Who knows, maybe they'll even be worth reading.

In the meantime, if you're looking for some excellent reading material, I have to recommend Sebastian Junger's new book, War. I may do a full review later, but I'm on my second pass through this amazing true-life account of Americans waging war in a valley in Afghanistan. It's riveting and informative, focusing on one unit's struggles in the context of the larger war and the history of this troubled region.

Happy 4th of July!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Proposed book cover for Bloodsucking Vegas

This is the proposed bookcover for my novel. At first, I didn't like it, but the more I stare at it, the more it's growing on me. Could I just be hypnotizing myself?

Please let me know what you think.

Note: Click here to preview chapter 26 of Bloodsucking Vegas. Click here to start at the beginning.