North, East, West, & South 1/28/09

There’s an apocryphal explanation for the term news that says it’s an acronym for the four points of the compass, N(orth)E(ast)W(est)S(outh), in other words, all the stuff happening in all directions. The truth is much more plebeian, with news simply being a plural of new, and meaning “new things,” but I’ve always liked the elegance of that apocrypha, so I’m gonna use it for a brand new feature under ye olde outlaw moon, North East West & South, which will appear at suspenseful intervals of no pre-determined schedule.

In this feature, I’ll share a few bits of the latest news of whatever sort I find interesting or amusing, and I may comment, perhaps in a snide, sarcastic, cruel, bemused, or ironic way. So, here we go…

Jessica Alba vs. Bill O’Reilly


Kudos to the delectable Ms. Alba for publicly showing that she not only has some brains, but has more of them than right-wing nitwit Bill O’Reilly. In an interview just after Obama’s inauguration, Alba called O’Reilly “kind of an a-hole.” Later, a “reporter” from TMZ (a cheesy gossip site) tried to put her on the spot about it, and she playfully asked him what Barack Obama’s greatest characteristic was. The TMZ goon demurred, saying he was uncomfortable answering because he was a (ahem) journalist. Alba told him to “be neutral — be Sweden about it.”

Both O’Reilly and TMZ attacked Alba for her apparent idiocy, because any idiot knows that it’s Switzerland that stayed neutral during WWII, and she of course meant that. Except, no, she meant exactly what she’d said, and retaliated by writing this in her blog:

I find it depressing that, in the midst of perhaps the most salient time in our country’s history, individuals are taking it upon themselves to encourage negativity and stupidity. Last week, Mr. Bill O’Reilly and some really classy sites (i.e. TMZ) insinuated I was dumb by claiming Sweden was a neutral country. I appreciate the fact that he is a news anchor and that gossip sites are inundated with intelligent reporting, but seriously people… it’s so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland. I appreciate the name calling and the accurate reporting. Keep it up!

And yeah, I could have put a picture of O’Reilly up there, instead of one of Alba, but it’s almost dinner-time.

Another Reason to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is one of the chief supervillains in the fattening of the American populace. I’ve seen graphs which show how American weight started to spike steadily upward in the years since HFCS was introduced in the 1970s, and any good nutritionist can explain the reasons why (if you’re curious, go to this link, where it’s explained concisely and simply). Read over the ingredients of the food you buy very closely, and you’ll find HFCS in many surprising places. It ain’t good for you.

Now, it seems, it’s probably not just fattening, but toxic. As reported at Associated Content:

A recent report published in Environmental Health might make you rethink your next trip to the grocery store. Mercury was discovered in almost half of the samples taken from high fructose corn syrup used in commercial applications. Products by Smucker’s, Kraft, Hershey’s, and Quaker all tested positive for the toxic metal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested 20 samples of high fructose corn syrup in 2005. Nine of the 20 samples had detectable amounts of mercury in them. Even though the FDA knew about this mercury problem four years ago, consumers were not informed, and no additional testing was ordered. A different study conducted by IATP, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, found mercury in almost one-third of 55 different products containing high fructose corn syrup as one of the top two ingredients.

What? The FDA under the Bush Administration didn’t bother to let the American public know about this? But they were usually so forthcoming!


And what does mercury do to us? The piece at Associated Content sums it up:

Mercury ingestion can harm people of all ages, but it can be especially harmful to children, infants, and developing fetuses. Mercury can affect a person’s memory, fine motor and spatial skills, cognitive thinking skills, and attention span. It can also impair a person’s hearing, speech, and ability to walk. It can cause muscle weakness and make one uncoordinated, and can cause a “pins and needles” sensation.

In short, stay the hell away from HFCS.

The Dark Knight Snubbed

Last years masterpiece of noir superhero cinema, The Dark Knight, was not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Christopher Nolan was not nominated for Best Director. But you know what?

It made a godzillion dollars (popular success), scored incredible reviews (critical success: 94% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which averages all the reviews), and showed just how smart, topical, and arty a movie about superheroes can actually be.

Fuck Oscar. They haven’t been meaningful in any way except as a boost to advertising for movies in a long damn time.

Though I do hope Heath Ledger gets that posthumous trophy for his Joker, because he was awesome.

Gaiman Wins The Newbery

A hearty congratulations to Neil Gaiman who just won the Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book, the book I blogged about so lovingly not long ago.

Neil Gaiman: What I Look Like The Day After I Win The Newbery

And yeah, I’m up at 4:14 am, what about it? I been up for hours, beeyotch.

I need sleep. Anybody have any?

Writing Tips From Joss Whedon

Danny Stack at his “Scriptwriting in the U.K.” blog offers up “Joss Whedon’s Anatomy of a Screenplay,” a short piece originally published in 4Talent magazine. As Joss is one of the living gods of Story Itself, I am always willing and eager to absorb any wisdom that trickles down from his pad on Olympus (or his Olympus typewriter, maybe, which would be a cool bit of godlike wisdom product placement, except he probably writes on a computer like the rest of us schlubs, so damn). (But then again, his pad on Olympus, that’s not bad, because it can be his domicile, but it can also be his writing pad, which is something he probably does still use, even in this digital age, so hey, that works, right…right? Damnit, I need coffee. Or something.).


The piece is basically Joss’s ten tips for screenwriters (with a slight emphasis on script-doctoring, which is hiring on to touch up someone else’s script). I love the fact that Step 1 is “Finish It,” and my favorite bit of advice is #9:

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.

The fact that this is my favorite bit would probably come as no shock to my editor (though I listened to him waaaaay more than I didn’t, and the book is better for it).

Go here for the full piece:

It Takes a Graveyard to Raise a Child

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.


So begins The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman’s latest dark wonder, in which he kind of retells Kipling’s Jungle Book, but has the orphaned boy raised not in a jungle by wild things, but in a cemetery by things that go bump in the night.

It works. Gaiman is a master, and this book is pure Gaiman, spooky and clever and wry, written with a simple grace that belies its artful complexity. It’s one of those books that’s like drinking eggnog; it’s so good, you gulp it down, finishing it fast then immediately wishing you had more. (Plus, Gaiman’s book has no calories, so it won’t add to your gut).

The Graveyard Book is a fine book, and a great read for anyone over ten.

Interested readers should also check out Gaiman’s blog at

The Omega Turd

It’s cold comfort, after eight years,  degradation of the Constitution, loss of global respect, the near destruction of of our economy, and hundreds of thousands of deaths, but the majority of Americans have, indeed, finally recognized that George W. Bush is the Omega Turd of U.S. presidents:

President Bush will leave office as one of the most unpopular departing presidents in history, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll showing Mr. Bush’s final approval rating at 22 percent.

Seventy-three percent say they disapprove of the way Mr. Bush has handled his job as president over the last eight years.

Mr. Bush’s final approval rating is the lowest final rating for an outgoing president since Gallup began asking about presidential approval more than 70 years ago.

The rating is far below the final ratings of recent two-term presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who both ended their terms with a 68 percent approval rating, according to CBS News

Recent one term presidents also had higher ratings than Mr. Bush. His father George H.W. Bush had an end-of-term rating of 54 percent, while Jimmy Carter’s rating was 44 percent.

Source: CBS News

And Dick Cheney? He’s leaving office with a 13% approval rating.

Sophisticated Beehavior

Interesting article at Scientific American about the nature of consciousness, using bees as an example:

Although these experiments do not tell us that bees are conscious, they caution us that we have no principled reason at this point to reject this assertion. Bees are highly adaptive and sophisticated creatures with a bit fewer than one million neurons, which are interconnected in ways that are beyond our current understanding, jammed into less than one cubic millimeter of brain tissue. The neural density in the bee’s brain is about 10 times higher than that in a mammalian ce­rebral cortex, which most of us take to be the pinnacle of evolu­tion on this planet. In humans, widespread loss of cerebral cortex, as in the vegetative patient Terri Schiavo, leads to an irreversible loss of con­scious­ness. That is not to say that a cerebral cortex is necessary for consciousness in creatures with a different evolutionary heritage.

Very interesting stuff.

Appaloosa, A Book and Film Review

It was a long time ago, now, and there were many gunfights to follow, but I remember as well, perhaps, as I remember anything, the first time I saw Virgil Cole shoot. Time slowed down for him. He fought with an odd stateliness. Always steady and never fast, but always faster than the man he was fighting.

Last year I saw a trailer for Appaloosa, the cinematic adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s western novel, directed by Ed Harris, starring Harris and Viggo Mortensen. This trailer got me very excited, as I’ve been a huge fan of Parker’s for a very long time, I love westerns, and Ed Harris is not only a damn fine actor but a superior director as well (proven in 2000’s Pollock). And Viggo’s no slouch either, nor is Jeremy Irons, who’s also in the film.

But Appaloosa had actually sat unread on my shelf for a couple of years because Parker’s previous foray into the old West, Gunman’s Rhapsody (a novel about Wyatt Earp, one of my favorite historical figures), had been a disappointment. I’d intended to get to it (thus the fact it was on the shelf at all), but hadn’t yet. Since I generally prefer to read a book before seeing the movie it inspires, I immediately rescued Appaloosa from its lonely spot and dove in. Continue reading

The Bush Era In Perspective (aka, We Laugh So We Don’t Scream)

As we near the blessed day that (hopefully) the door hits George W. Bush in the ass on his way out, I want to commemorate two bits of canny reportage by The Onion that serve as a pair of bookends to the worst presidency our country has ever inflicted upon itself and the world.

The first, Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over’ was one of the single most prescient bits of political writing I’ve ever seen, and had to have actually been written by a time-traveler from the future (or perhaps someone who was actually paying attention to George W. Bush at the time):

“My fellow Americans,” Bush said, “at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us.”

The second, the video Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency, is very recent and accurately sums the whole time up in a very funny way:

Goodbye, George. May your name rot forever in history.

Santa Claus Conquers The Homophobes

Not long ago, I shared my review (and recommendation) of a great and blessed bit of splatterpunk profanity called Santa Steps Out, by a writer named Robert Devereaux. I got my hands on the Leisure paperback of that book back in 2000, and loved it so much I gave it as a Christmas gift to all my closest friends.

As last Christmas neared, I decided to point other folks toward the book by putting my old Amazon review on the blog. While visiting the book’s page on Amazon, I made two discoveries, one bad, one good.

The bad was that the book is no longer in print. [UPDATE: As of Dec 2020, the book is available from Amazon as a Kindle download] At the time, I think there were some reasonably priced used copies listed, but I just checked and saw that the only available copies on Amazon are all priced to screw the buyer enrich the seller. Searching Alibris, I found pretty much the same, but doing a search on Google Shopping, I managed to find some reasonably priced copies for under $15, including a “worn” copy at Powells for $2.50. So if you want to read this book, with a bit of detective work you can find a copy without buying a pool table for some schmo. Hopefully Devereaux will find a new publisher for it, or at the very least take advantage of the many print-on-demand possibilities available to make the book more easily available.

The good discovery was that Devereaux has published a sequel, Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes. I immediately ordered it, just finished reading it, and can recommend it almost as highly as the first book.

In this tale, Santa and his holy brood become disgusted at the hatred and violence being perpetrated, in the name of the sacred, upon those born with homosexual proclivities, and they decide to take action. To go into any real detail would rob you of the book’s many, many pleasures, but rest assured it’s a rousing story, masterfully told, full of wit and wisdom, and consistently moving.

This book isn’t nearly as profane and transgressive as the first (and may therefore be an easier read for those with tender sensibilities), but it is full of notions that challenge the status quo in forthright and rich ways. Poppy Z. Brite said about the first book “The only two rules in Santa Steps Out are that everything is sacred and nothing is sacred,” and that is absolutely true about both books. They boldly rip apart the things civilized folk consider proper and sacred, but at the same time wholeheartedly embrace that which is truly sacred, both in the religious sense and the humanistic.

Devereaux is a wonderful writer, and constantly amazes with his inventiveness. His treatment of what you might call the mechanics of wonder, the way magic actually works in his literary world, is earthy in its matter-of-factness and lovely in its effects. His characters are full-bodied and layered, his depiction of the sacred both accessible and transcendent, and his allowance for redemption for any and all entities, no matter how saddled by personal weakness they may be, is more truly spiritual than any boxset of Touched By An Angel could ever be.

Santa Steps Out and Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes are masterworks of fantasy and sacred fictions. Devereaux has crafted a literary universe unlike anything else on the shelves, and it’s a universe I’ll revisit any chance I get.


Buffy Vs. Twilight

Alan Gratz (a really good writer, whose books you should read) has a blog post envisioning what a crossover betwixt Twilight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be like:

Following up on the tip from Oz’s werewolf contacts, Buffy climbs in the window of recent Sunnydale High transfer student BELLA SWAN to discover EDWARD CULLEN, a vampire, watching the girl as she sleeps. Edward, apparent-age 17, is impossibly beautiful, with angular features and marble-like skin that sparkles.

BUFFY: Whoa. Turn it down there, Tinkerbell.

EDWARD: Shhh! You’ll wake my darling Isabella!

BUFFY: Right. Sorry. It’s just you really ought to take the batteries out. Somebody might mistake you for a Christmas tree.

EDWARD: I’m sorry. It’s my vampire skin. It sparkles in the sun or the bright light of the moon.

BUFFY: Uh-huh.

It’s great fun, and can be read at

Work Habits

Cory Doctorow (whose book Little Brother I recommended with extreme prejudice a while back) has a piece at Locus Online called “Writing in the Age of Distraction,” which gives some pointers on work habits for writers. For instance, he recommends a “Short, regular work schedule:”

When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it. It’s not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it’s entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there’s always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn’t become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day’s page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you’ve already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.

This is interesting, because Cory’s pretty darned prolific, but it sounds like he’s not exactly at the Asimov end of the work habit spectrum. A page or two a day, that’d net you 365 to 730 pages a year, so yeah, it’ll add up. But I’m surprised that he doesn’t have a higher daily goal. Stephen King aims for ten pages a day, which is about 2,000 words.

I’m not prolific, but I’m working on at least earning the right to use the first three letters of the word to refer to myself. To do that, I continue developing my own work habits, trying to figure out what actually works for me. Continue reading

Read About The “Dead Folks”


This story was my first professional sale, and it has a weird history.

It was accepted twice, but never published until now. First Ed Hall, then the editor of a visionary magazine-on-tape called Verb, wanted it to be in Verb’s first issue. We even did some studio time, recording me reading the story, which was thirsty work.

Then I got word that my favorite magazine, Pulphouse, wanted the story. To put things in context, Pulphouse was very well known in genre circles, and very respected. It’s the only magazine I’ve ever read that I liked nearly every story they published. Not only that, but they wanted to put my story in a special Harlan Ellison issue, and the idea of sharing pages with Harlan was intoxicating.

So, with Ed’s cheerful understanding, I pulled the story from Verb. They went on to have Ha Jin, Robert Olen Butler, and James Dickey in their first issue. They got coverage on All Things Considered on NPR.

Meanwhile, Pulphouse folded just before the issue that was supposed to feature my story.

The most public exposure the story ever got was thanks to children’s author and master storyteller Carmen Deedy, who loved it enough to read it out loud at a gathering or two. Oh, and Anne Rivers Siddons read and adored it, and gave me lots of encouragement.

I always planned to look for a new home for the tale, but never got around to it. Now, for the recession-appropriate price of 99¢, you can download it to your magical computing box and read it to your heart’s content.

I’ve polished it very slightly,  mainly updating some cultural references, but it remains very much a product of the early eighties and a much younger writer. There’s some stuff in it about racists that seems kind of cartoonish these days (and I address that a bit in a new author’s note before the story). But mainly, it’s an odd bit of Southern magic realism owing more than a bit to Mark Twain and Stephen King.

Come on in, sit a while, and visit with the dead folks.

[UPDATE: As of March 30, 2011, “Dead Folks” is available at Amazon in Kindle format for 99¢ , and will soon be available at Barnes & Noble and other online vendors in other ebook formats.]

A Few Great Books

In my previous post, “Brains on Fire: On Kids and Reading,” I recommended an article by James Patterson on that very topic. At the end of that article, Patterson included a list of his favorite books for kids, and it inspired me to make my own list of recommendations. Continue reading

Another Win By The Good Guys

Or, at least, another win by the guys who stand against the bad guys.

From the Huffington Post:

The Minnesota State Canvassing Board confirmed on Monday that Al Franken has won his Senate election, ending a weeks-long recount process that started with the Democratic challenger facing a roughly 215-vote deficit.

Hopefully in the next election, the Democrats can pick up the seats (they’re one short now, right?) needed to secure their filibuster-proof power.

Cry Little Sister Revisited

Okay, after having sat through Lost Boys 2, I felt compelled to revisit the original to see if it still lives up to my memory of it. It does.

It’s one of those Joel Schumacher movies that’s actually not only worth viewing, but really truly works. It’s visually sweet, dynamically told, and full of witty touches (like Grandpa’s taxidermy). The cast is uniformly fun, especially Kiefer Sutherland (though Jason Patric’s performance is sort of a non-burning brood for most of the pic).

It’s nice to revisit something you enjoyed in your youth and find it still maintains all its charms. We made our way through the Back to the Future trilogy recently, and it, too, has lost nothing over the years.

Know Her Before She’s Famous

Meet Kimberly Derting, of the Great Northwest.

I’ve privately congratulated Kim, and figured I’d also do so publicly, because she recently got some really awesome news: HarperCollins gave her a buttload of currency to let them publish her first two books (in a deal made by agent supreme Laura Rennert, who also sold my book, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom).

The first book, The Body Finder, is due next year, with the as-yet-untitled second book to follow in 2010. The Body Finder tells the tale of a young girl with an intriguing psychic ability who tries to use it to track a serial killer. Make a note of that title, and Kim’s name, and make sure to grab the book when it comes out so you’ll be the proud owner of a Kimberly Derting first edition, which I’m thinking will escalate quite a bit in value.

For more info, visit, Kim’s incredible website that makes me cry because it’s so much nicer than mine.

Cry Little Sister

Took a risk the other night and watched Lost Boys 2: The Tribe, the sequel to (you guessed it) Lost Boys.

I expected it to be utter crap, like most direct-to-DVD sequels, and it wasn’t, actually. It was fairly good, with an entertaining enough story and a game cast (including Angus Sutherland, younger half-brother of Kiefer, who of course starred in the original). As a B-flick, it worked nicely, except when Corey Feldman, reprising his role as Edgar Frog, was onscreen. Feldman was fun as a goofy teenage vampire hunter, but as a grown-up Corey trying to growl like Clint Eastwood, he’s terrible. Apparently, a Lost Boys 3 is in the works which will focus on Edgar Frog’s epic battles. Something to look forward to, I guess, unless you’re anybody but Corey Feldman.

[I originally referred to Corey as Corey Haim, but apparently I had my Coreys crossed, as Edgar is played by the Feldman Corey. I take some pride in the fact that I wasn’t familiar enough with the two of them to have their names straight.]

Among the highlights (or, well, the main highlights) were two mouth-wateringly hot vampire chicks (one of whom was the protagonist’s sister) and Aiden’s cover of the Gerard McMann song “Cry Little Sister,” offered below: