Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3)The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the pacing of a Dan Brown novel. He keeps you turning pages. This book was filled with his usual suspenseful mystery imbued with interesting trivia about secret societies and symbols. Brown's villains are my favorite part of his novels. They are creepy but believably intelligent and cunning enough to keep you wondering how the hero will escape the latest trap. The ending was a little anticlimactic, but it was still a very good read.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tough Get Going!

A little over a year ago I started a personal journey toward a goal - writing a novel. I decided that this was the year that I finish the final draft of the manuscript.  I'm not a novelist, at least not yet, but I do write for a living.  I brought those skills to a class offered at Southern Methodist University (SMU) continuing education program on creative writing. The course consists of approximately six classes and I've taken three of them.  The hardest course, at least by my standards, is the next course call "Chapters."  As the title indicates, the goal is to keep you writing chapters of your project until you finish the entire manuscript and you share those chapters with the other writers in the class for feedback.  The final two courses are "Revisions" and "Polish" - which means you must have a manuscript to revise and polish.  This is the part of my journey where I must finally write the novel.

As the saying goes - when the going gets tough the tough get going.  To give myself the best chance at success I decided to take the "Chapters" course during the annual writers trip to SMU's campus in Taos, New Mexico.  Instead of the one night a week for seven weeks, like the other courses, I will spend the seven days in Taos completely isolated from my regular world so I can just concentrate on what needs to be done.  There are activities to break up the days and nights of endless writing, but it is mostly about pushing the project forward.  I'm both excited and scared.

At the orientation last night the trip felt more real than when I registered - it was really happening. We will be staying in dorm rooms - which should be an interesting retrospective since it has been a decade and a half since I lived dorm life.  The campus is on the edge of a national forest and we will be issued mountain bikes when we arrive as the easiest way to get to and from class - another thing I gave up when I left the University of Utah many years ago. Mostly what I will get is time - an ever shrinking commodity in my world.  I try and find an hour or two each day to write - and that is a challenge most days.  For the seven days in Taos I will have nothing but time to write - interrupted only by a couple hours of class and a few activities to give us some rest and relaxation from the day's labors.

This should be an interesting and, hopefully, productive experience.  Wish me luck as I prepare for and go on this next step in my writing adventure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Innocent by Scott Turow

InnocentInnocent by Scott Turow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. This is the sequel to Turow's Presumed Innocent and I never read the first book, but did see the movie adaptation with Harrison Ford. This story is told through the eyes of three main characters. Rusty Sabich (former prosecutor accused of murder in the first book) is now older and sits as a judge on the Court of Appeals and is running for the State Supreme Court. His son, Nat, is also a lawyer and trying to find his own place in the world and make sense of the relationship with his father. Then there is Tommy Molto, who is the prosecuting attorney from the previous book and current head of the prosecuting attorney's office.

The Story starts and then revolves around the death of Rusty's wife, Barbara, and the peculiar circumstance of Rusty waiting 24 hours before calling anyone about her death. This raises suspicions among the old nemesis from the first novel, Tommy Molto.  The story takes several interesting twists and turns from there and keeps you guessing the entire time. I found the trial portions of the book very compelling because of their accuracy and the time Turow spent explaining why lawyers make certain decisions and the inherent risks in each decision regarding the presentation of evidence at trial. I felt like a member of the trial team on both sides as they tried to make their best case and not step on land mines they knew were there.

The family dialogue was also very well done. These were imperfect people trying to explain their imperfections and hide things that they felt would not benefit from disclosure. The conversations felt real because they don't say everything they know and, especially when dealing with family, censor themselves in order to prevent hurting people they care about. As a reader you are kept on the edge wondering if they are going to drop the bombshell but understand don't because the justification is explained in the internal dialogue or previous construction of the character.  There are plenty of bombshells along the way, no matter how hard the characters try and keep them hidden.

Very well done.

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Monday, June 13, 2011


Texas is hot.  The high 90 and 100 degree weather starts in June and doesn't relent until the middle or end of September. The high temperatures become particularly unbearable in August when the wind stops.  To avoid certain death by dehydration, I always have a drink in my hand.  Water is fine, but not preferred.  The sugary sodas or Gatorade get old real fast.  My drink of choice is an iced-tea because it is minimally sweet (at least the way I make it) but always refreshing.  The picture is my absolute favorite.  The original recipe is from, but I've adapted it to ease preparation.  My recipe is listed below.  When your own temperatures reach the triple digits make yourself a pitcher - or two.

Iced Citrus Sun Tea

2 1/2 Cups Orange Juice (made into ice-cubes)
4 Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea bags
5 cups of water
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

Heat 2 1/2 cups water to boiling and add tea bags.  Steep tea for five to seven minutes and then remove tea bags. Add 1/4 of sugar and stir until dissolved.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups of cold water (can add ice instead of water if you want to chill tea faster).  Add lemon and lime juice and stir completely.  Serve over orange juice ice cubes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Fling with a College Girl

Although we technically met in High School, we really didn't know each other until college - and not the same college.  She was smart, funny, beautiful, and a firebrand.  I loved everything about her - so I married her.

15 years and two kids later, she's back in school.  She had a successful career as a chemist working for a large pharmaceutical company and a slightly smaller bio tech company.  After much deliberation, she decided to take a sabbatical from that career to have an raise our two children.  She didn't trust anyone else to do a better job.  I would have supported any decision she made, but secretly I didn't trust anyone else to do a better job either.

My son starts kindergarten in the fall, my daughter starts preschool as well.  My wife decided she was ready to start considering what to do when they both spend a majority of their day outside the home.  Her decision - nursing school.  She had considered it several times, mentioned it to a friend, and they both took the plunge together.  They both tested out of a basic course but this week was the first time back in the classroom.

We met in college, were married in college, and survived both of our graduate educations together.  I recognized the anxiety of classwork returning, but I also see that glint of happiness at learning something new and testing her skills in the arena - so to speak. She loves competition, mostly because she wins so often (she was valedictorian in high school, finished her chemistry degree a year early, and qualifies for Mensa but doesn't join because she really only needs to know that she can). She would never say anything about her accomplishments and is probably shaking her head as she reads this post - by the way, thanks for reading my blog sweetheart.  

What do I get out of the deal?  A happy wife, a lot more free time to finish that novel I'm working on (or blog - this is my second post today), and the ability to tell everyone that I'm having a fling with a college girl.

Reading with the Stars

In today's news I read that Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel on the hit show Glee) has been given a two book deal. I love Glee, first season more than the last season but still a great show.  This post has  nothing to do with Colfer, Glee, or his books - for all I know they will be wonderful.  However, I have noticed a trend that celebrity sometimes begets a publishing deal but not vice versa.

I'm not talking about memoirs or the "why it's so great to be me" books.  There is an obvious market of people who eat and breathe everything about the people who play their favorite characters on television and movies.  I always appreciate the craft of acting, but really have no interest in their "real" lives.  I find them much more interesting as characters than people.  I'm also not talking about the novels that are ghostwritten by real authors and then reviewed and approved by celebrities so they can use their fame to sell the copies.  I'm talking about full fledged writing of a novel not having much, or anything, to do with their acting career.  This is Colfer's deal - he is writing a childrens adventure story. 

There are several other examples.  Ethan Hawke was a A-list actor in the late 80s and early 90s when he appeared in Dead Poets Society and Reality Bites (two great movies).  He cashed in on that fame and published two novels The Hottest State and Ash Wednesday. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia from Star Wars) has six books to her credit. Many other celebrities also have books under their belts.  Like Colfer's deal, I pass no judgment on the quality of the novels written by celebrities.  I have a great respect for anyone, even celebrities, who can finish a full length novel.  I'm learning each day how hard that journey is to complete.

The definition of "celebrity novelist" that I found online is "a famous person that has published a novel or a novelist that has become a celebrity." I know plenty of examples of the first type of celebrity novelist (like outlined above) but don't think the second definition exists.  Authors have their own fame.  Their names are well known, their faces may become well known - but usually not.  Everyone knows Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark, etc. by name but I doubt they get mobbed at the grocery store for autographs or need to wear disguises at ballgames.  The most ardent fans may recognize them and politely stop them  - but I doubt it's a regular occurrence.  For the most part, I think they can just live a regular life without much spotlight.  The tabloids don't have cover-stories about author's antics at wild parties, affairs, or how much weight they have gained since their last novel.  In my opinion, it's they may be famous but not really celebrities. 

Perhaps this is a good thing and many authors probably appreciate the anonymity.  The book and it's characters are more popular than the person that created them and that is probably expected and appreciated.  Maybe some authors would like to be famous and have their spotlight - I don't really know.  I wonder if it will change as ebooks and social media put more marketing power in the hands of the author and more information on the book's creator out in cyberspace.  I have started to follow my favorite authors on Twitter and enjoy their posts as much as their novels. I still don't think I would recognize them in public but I wouldn't miss Paris Hilton passing me on the street - how sad is that? 

I think that authors deserve to be celebrities as a reward for writing a good novel.  Just like the directors and actors that bring the story and characters to life in the movies the novelist deserves the fame for putting the story and characters into words for the imagination of the readers and filmmakers. They deserve their mob of adoring fans who want to know what they eat for breakfast, what they wear, who they marry or date, and any other aspect of their lives that lets them live vicariously through them.   

To start spreading the spotlight, I'll try to do some research on the author's of some of my favorite books and start getting some celebrity pieces for the authors I know and love.  This way, if we see them roaming the real world, we can treat them like the celebrities they are.

Who are your favorite novelists?  Do you know enough about them to fill a People magazine article?Do you want to know?  If so, please share.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

On this day, 35 years ago, I was born.  Birthdays for me are a little strange.  I tend not to celebrate them with much fanfare and sometimes request that they go unnoticed.  They never do, and I'm secretly thankful for that. My children colored me a banner with birthday wishes and pictures of their favorite things.  My lovely wife made me the birthday meal I request every year.  Fish tacos with dressed arugula and papaya avocado salsa.  Key lime pie (I prefer it to birthday cake) was my dessert topped with whipped cream - because it's my birthday.  Because it is already reaching 100 degrees in Texas we tried a new citrus infused herbal iced tea as our beverage.  Everyone enjoyed the meal.  Pictures of the tacos and pie are below.  If you want any of the recipes just let me know and I'll send them to you.  This meal actually occurred on Memorial day because my birthday is on a weekday and the weekend was more convenient.

Thanks to the power of social media dozens of the Facebook friends wished me a happy birthday causing a wonderful notification chime from my phone throughout the day.  Friends from work wished me a happy birthday and poked fun at aging throughout the day.  My family visited me for lunch at work.  I fielded calls and emails from my parents, grandparents, in-laws, and friends throughout the evening.  Thanks to everyone out there who thought of me on my birthday.  I'm another year older and very happy for everything I have.