Thursday, January 24, 2019

Episode 9: Florence, My Boyfriend is a Bear, Angosto Tinto and Batman Unauthorized

Love, Dark Knights, and Spanish reds dominate today…in this episode: Florence, My Boyfriend is a Bear, Angosto Tinto, and Batman Unauthorized. So grab that languishing set of watercolors and turn on the Bat-signal, it’s time to get started with Geekery and Wine:

The Geek Side – Florence and My Boyfriend is a Bear
I have a bit of a confession to make. I am a romantic.
There is a moment, a perfect moment, in the 1984 film, Romancing the Stone where confronted by her best friend, Gloria, our protagonist, Joan Wilder, says what I believe to be the truest words ever spoken in film:

Gloria: Joanie, you are now a world-class hopeless romantic.

Joan: No…hopeful. Hopeful romantic.  

And that’s been me, my whole life.

In elementary school…yes, even then…I saw myself as a besotted romantic. There was this thing I did called Zorro notes. But more on that later.

Today we’ll be exploring two romantic geek items. One is a videogame called Florence and the other is a graphic novel called My Boyfriend is a Bear.

Florence is a game released by Annapurna media in February and March of 2018 on iOS and Android, respectively and starts with your phone.

Yup, you heard that right 2018! The game I’m talking about is actually current!

And ahem, continuing…

It starts with your phone. Now usually I would have a problem with this. I think of video games as art. And I want to experience art in a suitable way. Not on the teeny, tiny screen of my smartphone. Bejeweled while waiting in the dentist’s office…just trying not to think about the scraping and polishing and such. That’s what a game on my phone is for.

I want to be able to metaphorically fall into the game, and I never really think of that as possible unless the perimeter of the screen is something I could physically fit through.

Yes? You there in the back of the class?

“But what about books? The perimeter of a paperback while opened is quite small as is the screen size on your tablet, upon which you read novels and comic books.”

To which I say, “Away with you and your LOGIC!” Video games are different. They just are!

And by the way…”Here there be spoilers!!! Proceed with caution!”

So…

Florence is a tale of a romance…but it is the tale of the complete romance. Full spectrum. Beginning to end. Overture to Curtain call.

Unlike other romantic tales where the conflict is resolved by the getting together of the two romantic leads, Florence goes further. There, naturally, is the meet-cute, then the infatuation and heady days of first dates and trying to figure out what to say to one another and it’s all delightful.

But in life, not every relationship works out. And Florence seeks to let the player take the whole ride, not just the first half, and ultimately the relationship ends. The brilliance of the game though, is that most of that early stuff was fairly easy.
Now the game gets more difficult.

Because the end of any relationship is more fragmented and harder to get through. And Florence conveys this in a poignant way.

I sat in the pickup lane at the middle school on my phone waiting for my youngest daughter and trying to work my way through the most difficult part of the breakup chapters, and there was a moment where I said, “I don’t think I can do this. It isn’t solvable!”

Oh, wait.

Yeah. Just like life.

The way the game handles the kaleidoscopic nature of time is brilliant as well. In certain scenes at the bottom of the screen is an analog clock, and by turning the hands of the clock, the player moves time forward to reveal the next scene. But the images within the picture change in subtle and beautiful ways. Florence changes her hairstyle as she goes through her break up. Of course, she does.

Because it’s exactly what you do when marking the end of a personal epoch.

With no way of knowing how this game played out, I was hoping for certain conclusions to the relationship and I’ll be darned if those aren’t addressed in the story as well. I won’t go into complete detail because it is just so satisfying when you get there.

Finally, I’d be very remiss if I didn’t mention the work of Composer Kevin Penkin. His music, featuring an almost vocal cello and softly accented piano is in turn joyful and mournful and just plain beautiful.

Find Florence in the Google Play store or the iTunes App store if you are someone who uses fruit-based computing. It was $4.99 and money well spent.

Super awesome romantic bonus stuff!!! –My Boyfriend is a Bear

My Boyfriend is a Bear is a graphic novel by Pamela Ribon and Cat Fariss, was released in April of 2018 and is a sweet tale of a young woman whose boyfriend is a bear…no really, an honest-to-goodness bear. And this graphic novel details all of the travails of their early relationship.

Personal background: My wife will occasionally get frustrated with me because I will persistently ask her “what’s wrong” when she seems upset and sometimes I will preface that with, “What did I do?” She will kinda impatiently tell me “Everything is not always about you.” And it’s a message I should definitely internalize more. In My Boyfriend is a Bear this comes through reeeeeeeally clearly. The majority of the conflict happens inside our female protagonist, Nora’s head, based on what she thinks the relationship should be. Added in are the best friends who discusses Nora and Bear’s relationship. Telling her things, some helpful, some decidedly not.  

And the whole time the eponymous bear is…well, being a bear. Doing bear things…at first. And then trying different ways to make Nora happy. He gets a job and puts on a shirt and tie for work.  But it’s really not about him. He only ever says one thing “GRAH!” And it’s totally perfect.

This is a romantic story of the more traditional type and we leave their journey at the end in a Happily Ever After. But the journey getting there is a total delight. You are in the hands of a storyteller who is masterful in her art. And by the way, she was also a screenwriter on both Moana and Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Okay, I think I’ve kept you waiting long enough. What exactly is a “Zorro note?”

As a 6th grader, I would write up a sappy bit of romantic poetry on my super cool IBM Selectric typewriter (to preserve my anonymity, natch) don a black domino mask and go running up to a girl I liked and hand the poem to her and then…heroically run away!

And get this, the last line of the Zorro note was typically “Wouldst thou go with me?”

Wow.

Awful lot to unpack here.

Why Zorro? Well, I thought he was cool. He was a sword-fighting vigilante who swung from chandeliers and had a Spanish accent. How rad!  Side note: this was six years before one Indigo Montoya was introduced to me on film. A movie called Zorro, the Gay Blade came out in 1981, which I watched many times on HBO.

Why a note asking someone to go steady? Especially since girls weren’t even a consideration in those days.

An apt comparison might be the age-old dogs chasing cars joke. What would he do if he actually caught one?

No idea. Probably stand there flummoxed.

Oh, okaaaaay? What now? Do we hold hands or…share a pudding cup from a single lunch tray...dunno.

Probably, though, it had a lot more to do with The Art of Courtly Love.  No, really!
My favorite book in elementary school was The Boy’s King Arthur. The check-out card in the front pocket of this McDonald Elementary School library book was filled with my…name…only.

And Knights were supposed to win the heart of Lady Fair…that’s one-third of their job! (the other two-thirds being dragon-slaying and limerick writing about being BOLD…presumably).

Now, were girls mostly icky? Well, sure.

But that didn’t matter. One had to interact with the fairer sex if only to have a decent working relationship so that one might be able to take a mythical lake-sword when offered.

I mean, you have to be polite, right? Even if they did have cooties. And THAT’S a Zorro Note.

I found My Boyfriend is a Bear on ComiXology for $11.44. It will give you warm fuzzies and all the feels!

And because of the…

News alert: I am now being told that I cannot use the phrase “all the feels” by both of my daughters.

They are being quoted as saying “No, Dad…just…no.”

The Wine Side—Angosto Tinto

Another Spanish wine? Jeez, Colby are you stuck in a rut? Well, one could use the oft-recited phrase, “The only difference between a rut and a groove is depth perception.” And I prefer to think of myself as being in a groove. So, back to Spain.

The setting is Elena’s Gourmet Grocery store in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. I was coming home from Fitchburg and, as anyone who lives there can tell you, if you don’t use the interstate or the main highways you will go through about a bazillion little townships on the way home. Now stereotypically this should mean that all of these quaint New England towns are inundated with antique stores, local coffee shops, antique stores, diners and sometimes, antique stores.

When I first stopped at Elena’s it was because I thought there might be some interesting things to make for dinner. After all, it said “grocery” in the name. But, in actuality, fully half the store is wine. A lot of great selections. The other half of the store is comprised of things you might want to put in a gift basket to someone you actually like.  Artisanal cheeses and sausages and small-batch jams and jellies.

The wines, though, were cool and a single bottle caught my eye. The bottle itself was dark green had a sloping shoulder, like you might find with a Pinot Noir. The other popular alternative bottle type being a high shoulder for your cabernet sauvignons and merlots. But this was a Spanish wine and had a comic-book-esque couple illustrated on the label. It was around $12, so I took it home and tried it. And it was really great. So great I went back a few more times and got additional bottles.

The season got colder and one day I found myself missing that wine and I popped in to grab a bottle.

And it wasn’t there!

But you said just in the last episode you’ve got to write these things down! You didn’t write it down?

Nope.

Because I had a location to go to and I even knew which bin I was walking over toward, it never occurred to me to write down the name. All I could say was, “Yeah it has this hand-drawn couple on the bottle. The guy has sunglasses…pretty sure. 
Weeeeeeell, there is indeed a hand-drawn couple on the bottle. The background is mostly red and the couple is drawn in the style of 60’s office chic. A bit like Mad Men, if you like. And the glasses that I mistook for sunglasses are actually more horn-rimmed; which when you think about the classic Ray-Ban they are usually horn-rimmed.

The wine is from Valencia, Spain a region all along the eastern coast.
When I first sampled Angosto Tinto the flavor was very…general…and yet I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think I’ve had this wine more than a dozen times and I’ve recommended it to friends (like I’m doing right now). It’s just that nothing really stuck out. When I have a bottle of wine that is a Grenache or (Garnache) I can always count on getting a big whiff of freshly-baked bread. I’m not sure if it is the yeast used in the fermentation process or if it’s the oak barrels it’s aged in. Conversely, inhaling the fragrances of a white, like a Viognier, can smell like grapefruit.

But this wine…nada.

So, I did a little more research and I found out that Angosto Tinto is a blend of equal parts: Syrah, Graciano, Garnacha Tintorera, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.
Oh, well sure. That would explain why it was difficult to get those really specific varietal factors of taste and smell. The idea is that the best qualities of each would come together to make a great wine. But I think it can also cover up the flaws of each grape expressed as a single varietal, too.

Angosto Tinto sold for $11.49 a bottle at Elena’s.

If you are looking for Elena’s Gourmet Grocery, it is down the street from the antique store and diagonal from the…local coffee shop…sigh, fine I guess there is some truth to these New England stereotypes.

But in case you don’t live in my neighborhood, I also found it at Empire Wine at empirewine.com.

Audio Goodness – Batman Unauthorized

A lot of the story of the genesis of Batman Unauthorized is told in my essay and audiobook short, A Journey to Nerdopolis. How I went to San Diego Comic-Con (aka Comic-Con International) and spoke with the editor-in-chief of SmartPop Books at their booth on the Comic-Con floor.

But what happened after that?

Batman Unauthorized was repped by a literary agency and although Leah, the editor-in-chief, thought it was a great idea, I needed to work through the literary agency to iron out the details.

I spoke to some of the folks at the agency and eventually found Linda. It was such a great process working with her. We both wanted the audiobook to get made and be incredible and we were able to craft a contract between us that everyone was happy with. It was really cool! And, she said, now that she knew what my company, Last Word Audio, was all about, she’d keep an eye out for works that might fit my developing brand! Stay tuned, because in a later episode I’ll talk about a second book that happened because of this new partnership.

After all of the paperwork was finished and I could start on the book itself, I had some stylistic choices to make. Batman Unauthorized is a collection of scholarly essays that focus on Gotham’s Dark Knight. It breaks down the character as a cultural icon and symbol, as a psychologically-damaged human being and participant in history. And the most intriguing part is that each essay is penned by someone who is an expert in that field. It’s pop culture but it’s smart, hence the imprint “SmartPop.”

I did have a concern, though. Was going this direction…the “Unofficial” or “Unauthorized” direction going to be a hindrance or burden later on? Would I be penalized because I jumped the queue in order to make books about the things that I loved? I mean after being shut down for doing the sequel to a book I had narrated and loved, I worried that I would create a lot of art but then the subjects of that art would resent me for being “Unauthorized.” I really didn’t know. I knew that the people writing these essays were authors that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. I mean Dennis (aka) Denny O’Neil, c’mon! He was one of the creators of the Batman villain Rha’s al Ghul and he wrote The DC Guide to Writing in Comics, for Pete’s sake!
I decided to press on. Better to have remorse than regret, right?

I started in on the text. One performance element that I tried to carry over from The Supergirls was to play Batman in a historically accurate way when talking about him. The Batman and Bruce Wayne of Adam West had a much different approach from Kevin Conroy in Batman: The Animated Series and Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight from Tim Burton’s film.

It was so much fun to step into each of the cowls worn by these great Batmen. It was all going so well. 

And then…the sickness. 

When I was in college and thought myself superhuman I would power myself on caffeine, little sleep and try to do as much as I possibly could. “Overextended” was my standard operating condition. But “the sickness” hadn’t struck me in a long time. And I was really excited about this new project. I might have pushed myself a little too hard, or more likely, one of the kids brought home a really good cold and I didn’t take care of myself. The net result was I was chugging along and all of a sudden over the course of a weekend, when I went back to the work on Monday my voice was a harsh, hoarse whisper(do it)…let’s just put a pin in that for now.

I had to ask the two ladies whose opinions I trust in all situations. My wife and one of our very best friends Sue. Sue is amazing by the way. She makes it her mission to live an interesting life. How interesting? Volunteer firefighter, cadaver transport driver, and cremation are but a few of the job’s she has had recently. I’ve known her for many years and we first met when our kids were in grade school and we would chat at the playground. She wanted to learn more about audiobooks and I could really use the help in getting more of the editing and error-correcting done, so that I could concentrate on the recording aspect. So, she started working with me.

So, the sickness…

If memory serves, it’s most noticeably coming on as I get closer to Michael Marano’s essay entitled, “Ra’s al Ghul: Father Figure as Terrorist.” I tried to soldier on through the whole thing. When I finished I sent it over to Sue to get her opinion and I asked my wife what she thought about the quality of the recording.

It was unanimous: I needed to rerecord the whole essay. It just didn’t sound like me. It sounded as though I was struggling to get through it. And to be sure, I was. So, I waited a few days and tried to take it easy. (Lots of tea, lots of soup) Yet there was still some remnants of that cold in there and if you listen closely you can still hear it.

Batman Unauthorized was also the first audiobook I submitted for review to AudioFile magazine, the trade publication for the audiobook industry. It was incredibly exciting! I felt as though I was able to really put myself out there on a larger stage. And my lack of industry exposure was probably one of the reasons why I wasn’t considered as a possibility for Bill’s Pest Control sequel. Hopefully, this would remedy that situation.
Two months after its release this review came out in AudioFile magazine:

“Colby Elliott's deep, raspy voice fits perfectly and proves somewhat reminiscent of Batman himself. He narrates the essays with all the seriousness that the authors themselves have for their subject but is also capable of lightening his tone for the occasional joke or pun. His emphasis and pacing will keep listeners engaged throughout the production.”

Hey, that’s pretty awesome. Maybe I should keep doing this audiobook thing!

Find Batman Unauthorized on Audible.com, iTunes or Amazon. To check out all my audiobooks go to Lastwordaudio.com, and be sure to never miss a release by signing up for Monkey Missives.  

Next Time on Geekery and Wine: A Voyage through Dungeon’s & Dragons, Goats Do Roam, and Guesswork.

Until then…
My Geeks
My Nerds
My dear, dear friends…
Adieu


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Episode 8: Betrayal at House on the Hill, Charumba, and Cross Dressing

Howdy peeps…in this episode: Betrayal at House on the Hill, Charumba (Shah-rumba), and Cross Dressing. So grab your Omens Counter and your ministerial collar, it’s time for Geekery and Wine:

The Geek Side – Betrayal at House on the Hill

There is a certain dark romance to the haunted house, that classic gothic set piece of horror. Whether it be the abandoned castle on a mountain peak or just “that spooky home at the end of the lane where, legend has it, something horrible happened!” something about just gets the blood pumping.

It was a powerful enough trope to occupy my mind even as I started teaching high school.
I needed a way to teach to my technical theatre students the notion that their art forms can develop mood. The lights, the sound, the set are all things that can be powerful players in a drama. If done well enough, the House itself is a character. And to illustrate the point I showed them the 1963 black and white film The Haunting based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

The thing that was most intriguing was that according to IMDB, The Haunting is rated “G.” So, I could say to my students, “I bet I know of a rated G movie that will scare you.”

Today’s bit of geeky goodness, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a tabletop board game first published by Avalon Hill in 2004 and is, in many ways, a hybrid of a board game and a tabletop role-playing game.

I got it on Mass Drop (massdrop.com), a very cool collective purchasing site, wherein people with similar interests bargain with publishers to get great deals on various cool things. There are sections of the site for the stylishly-minded, those that love tools and gadgets, and many others. But the sections that I love most are the Games section and the Audiophile section.

So, I got Betrayal at House on the Hill in a bundle with the Widow’s Walk Expansion, meaning another 50 possible endings to the game and several different variations on the house itself, including a new attic region.

I can absolutely say that this box, with all of the best of intentions, would probably have just languished on the shelves with all the books that “I really should get around to reading because of their tremendous literary value,” were it not for the YouTube Channel Tabletop, hosted by Wil Wheaton (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MINNKyE4fjs) .

Here’s how the game is played.

Everyone begins with a character, just like in a role playing game. They represent archetypes you might find in a horror movie—some with a bit of flavor. A small kid, an athletic bruiser, a mad scientist, a fortune teller…you get the idea. And each has a miniature figure that is their marker on the board.

Each character has four statistics: Speed, Might, Sanity, and Knowledge: two mental and two physical which represent your abilities within the game and tell the player how many dice to roll on any given challenge.

This is a tile-based game, so that means the game board (or haunted house in this case) is in a different configuration every time you play.

Now this could just be an “explore the house” kind of game and that by itself would be fun, but what happens is that by exploring the house the players reveal “omens” that gradually push the game toward The Haunt, which is the “betrayal”
in the aforementioned title.

Now about those dice I mentioned. They seem like regular, six-sided dice one would find in most board games, but instead of having the numbers 1 through 6, they have two blanks, two 1’s and two 2’s. Whenever someone finds an Omen and draws that card the players move the Omen Counter up by one and that player roles 6 of the dice. And so long as the number generated by the dice is below the Omen Counter number, you are golden. But keep in mind, it is possible to roll a ZERO.

“Ah, but it’s so easy. We only have to roll a 1 or a 2 to continue exploring the house,” a player says giving a small chuckle. There is a splash of dice and play moves on.
True. But every time an Omen is revealed, another roll occurs and those chuckles become nervous giggles which slowly become anxious finger-tapping as the number gradually climbs.

Exploring the tiles of the house can give the players Events, Items or Omens. And each of those are wonderful occurrences on their own.  An animated corpse could burst from the ground, or an entire area could be enveloped in a mystical, impermeable silence. It’s also possible to find companions and weapons that can help you as you explore the house. So, it’s not all dire. And many times these are being brought out in quick succession because the characters are all exploring and revealing the house in different directions. It’s a horror game so OF COURSE the characters have to split up so they can “cover more ground.”

But once The Haunt is triggered by a failed Omen roll, the game changes.

Two booklets are brought out. A Betrayer is revealed! It seems that one of the characters has lured the others to this house in order to kill them off.

The booklets reveal the situation that has come to pass. Whom “The Betrayer” is and how each side can either win or simply survive.

The Betrayer could be luring the others to the house to be sacrificed to a Pazuzu-like demon.

Or…

The Betrayer is in actuality a Renfield-type toadie bringing the characters back to be vampire kibble.

And dozens or more other possibilities with the expansion.

And the cool part of it is that you have no idea who the betrayer is until The Haunt is triggered. It could even be you!

So, early on one of the players finds an enchanted dagger that makes them into a combat badass and you think “Sweet! That will be handy against the Big Evil later on.”

Then later the same player is revealed to be The Betrayer and now you think, “My God, we are all dead meat.”

The ratcheting tension and the whiplash turn of events make this game incredible. And this is a board game.

Because of the random nature of the tiles and the multitude of outcomes and endgames, it is wonderfully replayable.

Although I have found one inexplicable element of repetition within the game.
I’ve played Betrayal at House on the Hill many times with my kids and it seems that my eldest daughter, anytime she is playing the game, inexplicably almost always ends up being The Betrayer!

And she will, invariably, let out the cry of the long-suffering and put upon:
“Aw, c’mon!”

The upside though is The Betrayer gets to run ALL the bad guys, too. The summoned demon horde, the pack of hungry werewolves, the ghosts of the coven of witches –all were are her armies to command. And she found that kinda groovy.

One of the latest iterations of Betrayal was Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate released in October of 2017, which shifts the action from a haunted house to a city in the Forgotten Realms plane of the game Dungeons & Dragons. I played this with my Thursday Night role-playing group and it was epic. Instead of horror movie archetypes, we were a party of D&D characters: paladins, warlocks, rogues, clerics, all with their own character powers, fighting some cool classic D&D monsters.

Dungeons & Dragons meets Betrayal at House on the Hill – a veritable Reese’s peanut butter cup of gaming fun!

And yet most recently, another iteration has come out – Betrayal Legacy, which endeavors to tell the story of the house through the generations. I can’t wait to try it out.

The Wine Side – (Sha Rumba) Charumba

What with our last episode flying us off to Spain, you can imagine that this episode, featuring a Portuguese red blend, will have us drinking wine in a pretty exotic locale…and you’d be right.

Imagine the seasonal decorations…and the folding tables…and…the instructions about how to properly wash your hands, and know you’re A B C’s ????
“Wait, huh?”

I was introduced to Charumba while drinking wine at a preschool.

Well, pre-school wasn’t in session when we were there, obviously. But it was where Aurora Parks and Recreation had their monthly wine tasting. And, we’d brought two (count ‘em two!) appetizer dishes to share! Additionally, each person had eight wine glasses set in a slight curve in front of them.

You see, each class sampled 8 wines and let’s say among those wines there are two that you really liked. If you go to the class every month it’s offered (in our case, I think 9 months out of the year) you sampled 72 wines and loved, probably, 18 of them. For beginners, that means that when you walked into the wine shop there would be at least 18 wines on those shelves that you are not only familiar with, but also like very much. But here’s the kicker…you MUST write this stuff down! You might think you’ll remember a wine from 9 months ago just from its very distinctive label…but the winemakers periodically change those suckers and the wines themselves will be slightly different from year-to-year. But at least you start to have the framework of what you like.

Now about those appetizer dishes…some of them are appetizers in only the broadest sense. They could also be small desserts. The idea was to have something to pair with the wine because wine is generally not consumed in isolation. It’s with a meal or something knosh-able. And finding out that some of the pairings are pure magic while others are the culinary equivalent of toothpaste and orange juice is part of the fun—unless you get that toothpaste pairing…bleh.

The dishes people brought fell into three categories:
a) “I just picked this up from the King Soopers deli on the way over to class” (aka Dude, we’re busy!) 

Category b) “I spent the better part of an afternoon tracking down exotic ingredients to impress you and then cook them in an amazing way because, by God, I WILL WIN WINE CLASS!” 

And c) I found some stuff at the grocery store and assembled and heated it, it’s not homemade, and that’s totally fine. I don’t hang my head, but neither am I asking for a Michelin star”…yeah, that was me most months, option C.

Next, you’d grab a plate of your crunchings and munchings and sit and pair them with the 8 wines in front of you.

Let’s talk about those glasses. These are for tasting! Not for drinking…obvs Is drinking eight glasses of wine or slightly more than a bottle a good idea?

No. That would be irresponsible, dangerous and insane! You taste. Drinking the wine is done later…at home. Some people even do the spit thing, where they wash the wine around their mouth and then spit it into a bucket. I can’t do that.

But remember, there will be some wines you absolutely cannot stand. Por exemplo, my wife took a sip of a particular red, declared, “Cough syrup,” pushed it to the edge of the ring of glasses and that was that.

Another reason to not diminish one faculties is that immediately after every wine class my wife and I would go to Chambers Wine and Liquor to find the one or two bottles we liked the best. Alas, the wine shop elves were not always aware of what direction the wine expert Will was going and we ended up referring to our class notes quite a lot while trying to find the bottle we loved. To make matters more challenging, sometimes Will would put things on the tasting menu that he hadn’t decided to stock in the store yet. We were his presale focus group.

And that focus group is pretty eclectic.

You will meet a group of nurses or teachers that are there to blow off some steam.

Yeah, I’ve been there…

And delightful couples like Tina and Tim and who absolutely had me in stitches. You see, Tim is a self-described beer-guy. But month by month, he got into wine. There are the people who are total wine snobs and complete neophytes and everything in between. There’s a little bit of magic there. I hope you have the same experience!

Back in Massachusetts, I ended up finding Charumba down the street at Craven’s Package store for about $7.99 dollars a bottle. I used to buy it at Chambers Wine and Liquor for about that same amount and for those who are following “The George Rule” from a previous episode (it comes in at less than $10 a bottle)

Whoa, Whoa WHOA!!!!

Hold your horses, right there!

So this little clip that I am inserting in this episode of Geekery and Wine is to fix an oversight.

Normally I write the episode.

I voice the episode.

And then I edit and mix in the sound effects and such. And this happens over the course of a few days.

Well, thing is, in the intervening time, I think about the episode and then compose the next section. Or ponder the way I want to record it as I drive.

But in this case…I was driving down a tree-lined road in North Central Massachusetts when it occurred to me…in telling all the great stories surrounding Charumba…I completely forgot to talk about how the wine tastes! AAAAh-Hahaha!

So, here goes, this wine comes on strong! With the potency of between 13 to 14% alcohol depending on vintage… but it also quickly overwhelms the taste buds and then smooths out.

What was a really beefy red I would set next to any Cabernet starts to resemble a fruity Spanish Grenache/Tempranillo blend by the second glass. For me, it makes it incredibly versatile at the dinner table. It stands up to a steak no problem but also complements a pizza that has red sauce, too.

Yup, that’s it. Okay, horsey…you may go…

Audio Goodness – Cross Dressing

The novel Cross Dressing was my second narration for author Bill Fitzhugh. But here’s the thing, at the time I was really hesitant to do it. My best friend Eric had given me Pest Control to read and it was hilarious! There were hitmen, and bugs and funny references to classic songs. What would this new one be like? I emailed Bill a few times and had even spoken to him on the phone. I found him to be really cool and funny, but I was intimidated. He lives in Hollywood and has a lot of experience working with publishers. Would it be like my experience with Alex’s agent where I ended up feeling defeated? 

In case you missed it...

PREVIOUSLY ON GEEKERY AND WINE

In our last couple of episodes, I had had a bit of a traumatic experience producing my last two audiobooks. I’d gone in unprepared (for Sandstone) and uneducated (for Nimbus) and had promptly been metaphorically bopped on the nose. I was gun shy.
But while we were talking, Bill mentioned that he was also currently writing a sequel to Pest Control! I could go back and play those characters that I loved so much. He was finishing the book sending it off to the publisher and, after checking with them, we’d be able to plan a course of action.

And then I waited.

I talked to Bill a while later and found out that Busted Flush Press, the publisher for the sequel to be called The Exterminators had ceased operations, so now the book was in limbo.

Footnote: While writing this audioblog I found out that part of the reason Busted Flush stopped publications is that one of the co-founders had died suddenly. I’d always thought of publishing houses as being these giant monolithic entities, it never occurred to me that the smaller mom-and-pop houses might not survive the death of either mom or pop. End Footnote.

But Bill asked, “Would I like to do a different book while the situation settles?”

Yes, yes I would.

“So, would we be doing The Organ Grinders next?” I asked. It was the next published book. It had come out in 1998.

Bill said simply, “Ya know, if I had it to do over again I would put out Cross Dressing first.” And that was enough for me.

I started working on Cross Dressing and found it was really cool. The protagonist, a morally dubious sales guys named Dan Steele tries to help his identical twin brother, a destitute and ill missionary priest, by giving him his insurance information so he can get medical care. Except the priest dies as Dan, so now Dan has to take on his brother’s ministerial identity or go to jail for fraud. And as they say…much hilarity ensues. But with Bill’s books it’s always so much more than that. There are elements about religion, world events, Big Medical and even sales that show this amazing dramatic collision between worlds and their costs to normal human beings. That and the characters are deep and motivated and reeeeeeally fun to play.

And while I was recording Cross Dressing, good news and bad news hit. The good news, Bill found a new home The Exterminators! The bad news, despite speaking to the new company, Poisoned Pen Press, on my behalf (he said, “I got this great guy who did the first book and has mad skillz”) they said that they had their own audio team that they worked with and it wasn’t going to be me.

(Sigh) I’m going to let you inside my brain a bit here.

I was sad.

I was disappointed.

I was hurt and angry.

There were probably a few other stages of grief in there, too. Some bargaining, probably.

And then I thought about it…

I was a narrator with only six titles under my belt. I’d never been to an industry event. I wasn’t in the SAG AFTRA union. I had never been reviewed in an industry or major press publication and no one even knew who I was.

So…I kinda got it. But it still stung. And there were moments of immaturity.

Moments where I said, “God, why…even…bother?!?”

“I found this author and started making his books into audio!”

“Now somebody wants to sweep in and replace ME?”

“I am NEVER doing another of THIS AUTHOR’S books AGAIN!”

Insert temper tantrum here. Think Godzilla destroying Tokyo only instead of real Godzilla it’s just some off-brand monster being played by a child in a rubber suit and instead of Tokyo, it’s a little collection of Lego and cardboard boxes made to look like a city.

But, c’mon…I really needed to get a grip.

The book publication deal was contingent on using their resources to do the other aspects…like audio.

Did I really expect him to say, “Nope! No deal! If Colby does do the audiobook…I walk.”

Well, that’s just silly.

And later Bill sent me this great email saying I was free to do any of his other work and one line in particular stuck out at me.

“You are my audiobook guy.”

And that was pretty darned sweet.

Find Cross Dressing at Audible.com, iTunes or Amazon. 

To check out all my audiobooks go to Lastwordaudio.com, and be sure to never miss a release by signing up for Monkey Missives.

Next Time on Geekery and Wine: My Boyfriend the Bear, Florence, Angosto tinto, and Batman Unauthorized.

Until then…
My Geeks
My Nerds
My dear, dear friends…
Adieu



Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Episode 7: The Wil Wheaton conundrum, Mar de Frades Alberiño, and Sandstone

Buenos tardes or dias depending on your listening time…in this episode: The Wil Wheaton conundrum, Mar de Frades Alberiño, and Sandstone. So grab your Starfleet Academy acceptance letter and your Antonio Banderas action figure, it’s time for Geekery and Wine:

The Geek Side
This week we pose a question: Why do Wil Wheaton’s televised characters so many times seem to come off as a smug ass-hats?

First Mr. Wheaton’s selective CV.

Of course, the erstwhile Wesley Crusher on Star Trek the Next Generation, lately, cartoon voice-over workhorse in such shows as Teen Titans Go!, Transformers and Guardians of the Galaxy, audiobook narrator extraordinaire, tabletop gaming wizard and teacher and smaller roles on shows on the SyFy network as well as playing himself on the Big Bang Theory.

But where I want to start today is The Wil Wheaton Project.

I watched The Wil Wheaton Project in the summer of 2014 on SyFy and I wanted to like it…scratch that , I wanted to love it. It was a weekly clip/sketch/nerd news show with the likable Wil Wheaton as host. If you’re curious about it, the first 9 episodes are on YouTube.

This should have been the perfect vehicle for Wil. He has long been known as something of a nerd demigod! He was voted in as fictional co-president (with author Cory Doctorow) of The Oasis is Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.

He comes across as a nice guy and patient teacher in his web series Table Top.
He was a fantastic entertainer at w00tstock! A variety show he produced with Adam Savage and Paul and Storm during San Diego Comic Con. He performed standup, a notoriously tough gig. And he was awesome at it.

His personal mantra is “Don’t be a dick.”
So, what’s the problem?

Every time on The Wil Wheaton Project he said, “Nerds!” it was meant to be an “all of us together,” statement, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt either ironic (ala hipster) or like name-calling. Something middle-aged nerds grew up with and still makes one’s skin crawl.

When Nerd Culture or Comic-Con Culture was on the rise, the biggest thing it had going for it was that the Geek world wanted everyone to be able to love the media that they loved without shame. If Dungeons & Dragons was your jam…great. If My Little Pony was the song that your heart sang…super. But as he talked about how some shows were being canceled and how some things didn’t turn out the way the Nerd World at large had hoped, he sounded critical. And it just shouldn’t be that way!
The fact that a show was canceled after just a single season, doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t great, or that it didn’t have a dedicated fan base that loved it to pieces.
Two such examples, The Middleman by Javier Grillo Marxauch and the venerable Firefly by Joss Whedon.

On the character acting side, the roles he keeps getting cast in aren’t helping. On SyFy, he played the evil Alexander Rook on Dark Matter, his beard taunting us with its conspicuous, bald patch front-and-center. Going back further he played Dr. Isaac Perrish on Eureka, playing the jerky-geek we all prayed we didn’t project onto the world while tormenting the more likable scientists.

And on The Big Bang Theory he is playing himself. Even then he tends toward douchebaggery. “62 mortal enemies since the newly added Brent Spiner.”
In that show, he gave The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon his last mint-in-package action figure of himself.

But is he likable there only because he’s the foil to the annoyingly-flawed Sheldon Cooper?

I think part of the problem is that old Hollywood quote about sincerity, “Once you can fake that, you can do anything.”

And yet Wil isn’t faking. He is the genuine goods!

I was at Denver Comic-Con in 2013 with my kids and heard him offering the kindest most heartfelt advice to a girl on how he responded to being called a nerd.  


I was THERE. I experienced that in REAL TIME.

So, again, I ask, why the negative?

Could it be latent jealousy? He had the role most kids dream of as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation and as I’ve been watching Next Gen with my daughter, who is a senior in high school, I see what a wonderful window into the Star Trek universe his performance provided for her.

…and then he decided to walk away, as to not be pigeon-holed. Anyone who knows anything about acting knows that to be type-cast is a career death sentence. This was probably a smart move. He talks about it in his biography Just a Geek.

And yet… And yet…

The Nerd Collective said, “He walked away from us. He left our fold because he wanted to go be with the popular kids (i.e. have a varied career).”

Maybe the tribe never forgave him. Maybe, now, it seems like he is the ex that treated you poorly and now wants so desperately to get back with you because they say “I didn’t know how great I had it while I was with you.”

Perhaps I am the wrong person to ask as I am a fan of his. A true fan. Once at a place called Nerd HQ at Comic-Con, I went over and stood right next to him as he played some cool board game with a group of folks at one of the bar tables. I couldn’t speak to him. Wil Wheaton was PLAYING a game, for gosh sakes! What kind of tool would interrupt that?

And as many know, Wil is also an amazing audiobook narrator. My favorites are Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which I discussed in a previous episode and Redshirts by John Scalzi. Redshirts plays with the Star Trek trope of those that beam down with the captain on away missions being expendable and rather prone to injury and death and Scalzi just runs with it. Wil’s connection to the Star Trek universe gives it a wonderful sense of being in on the joke. I love it and I laughed out loud when I listened to it. 

Just how good is he? Well, he’s won two Audie Awards, which is the audiobook equivalent of an Oscar. If you think you might like to hear him do non-fiction check out Masters of Doom by David Kushner. It’s an immersive story about what basically is the genesis of the 1st person shooter genre.

Wil’s narrative style has been described by John Scalzi as a “Narrator of Clarity” as opposed to a “Narrator of Expression.” When I was at New York Comic-Con a few years ago I got to hear Scalzi himself break down how he views narration and it was really interesting. A Narrator of Clarity brings across the ideas and images of the author in a wonderful way, yet doesn’t necessarily do that by changing their voice to a large degree. Those that are the Narrator-of-10,000-voices types are Narrators of Expression. And I see where Scalzi’s coming from. Wil’s characters themselves aren’t all that different from one another, they all sound like Wil Wheaton…and yet…they are all very distinct.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention more current events:
On May 9th, 2018 Wil wrote a blog about dealing with chronic depression, and it is incredibly powerful. The title is: My name is Wil Wheaton, I live with chronic depression and I am not ashamed.

I just hope his puzzle gets figured out. Actors face it all the time: the discrepancy between the characters they create and who they really are causes a disconnect. Maybe he should start his own production company.

When I was onstage in college I had a similar problem. I was generally cast as Lotharios in plays and operas, but I didn’t usually feel that way. But after a long enough period of time having people tell you, “this is what you are” I can understand the impulse to simply say, “Fine, you know what, if that’s all I can be in your eyes, here you go! I’ll be that!”

But my goodness, it sounds like the origin story of a supervillain. Or at least a smug ass-hat.

The Wine Side – Mar de Frades Albariño
This episode’s wine is a white. And it comes with a story. Ah, but don’t they all?

We moved to Massachusetts from Colorado about 3 years ago. And that move was, truth be told, expensive. Since that was the case, any summer vacations we had taken were close to where we lived. We had gone to Boston many times. We’d driven to Washington, DC. We’d even gone to western Connecticut once in the fall for Gilmore Girls Fan Fest! (more about that in a later episode).

And then a year and a half ago we’d met some new friends in our small New England town and had them over for dinner one night. And the tales they had to tell of their family vacations were amazing! They had taken their 3 daughters to Thailand, the European continent, Great Britain and others, having amazing adventures. They were inspiring on so many levels. And the planning it must have taken to make all that happen…sheesh! I was very jealous.

My wife was jealous, too.

And one thing I should note is that my wife is very competitive!

A succession of phrases began appearing in the Elliott household.

“Wow, I can’t believe they did all that.” 

Followed by, “Could WE do that?”

And then: “We SHOULD do that.”

And ultimately: “Our daughter is only going to be in high school a short time we need to do a trip like that!”

So, we started saving up. Then we started planning. It finally came down to Spain. My wife had been a foreign exchange student there and the two of us had been with friends in our 20’s. Through a lot of (very competitive) comparison shopping, all the elements came into place.

While in Spain we were in the city of Malaga on the Mediterranean coast. FYI, it is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and the hometown of actor Antonio Banderas, so I immediately felt more handsome and artistic just by being there.

In the evening we were walking around the city center when we came across a restaurant that we’d had dinner at on our previous trip some 15 years ago. A little place called Lo Gueno and we had a wonderful wine called Mar De Frades it was labeled a “North Atlantic Albariño.” I’d heard of Alberiño’s before but not been too familiar with them. Martin Codex was one I knew. It was a hot day, and the wine was cool. It was dry and tasted a little like white grapefruit. You could smell the ocean in it and at the end there was something of a metallic taste at the edges of your tongue, but it wasn’t unpleasant. 

But what I really liked best about it was the expression it put on my wife’s face. A radiant smile and look as though she had found Her Happy Place.

Later on, we walked toward the bay of Malaga with a Ferris wheel by the sea and I looked over and saw a billboard for the exact wine we’d had that evening. How cool!

And so, with that kind of positive experience and repetition…hey, I can be taught. But the biggest thing was, I wanted to figure out how to take my wife on a mini-vacation to Spain throughout the year. So, my mission was to track down Mar de Frades in the US of A.

Finding it was tricky at least from my home in Massachusetts.

I ended up finding it at internationalwineshop.com for about $24 dollars a bottle. A little expensive for a white, but a bargain as a Spanish vacation in a bottle.

Audio Goodness – Sandstone
I’m gonna start by saying that this section could have been narrated like this instead “Audio Goodness???” Because this is largely weird.

It goes back to the summer of 2012.

My wife said to me, “You’re waiting and wondering what to do next, you could knock this out very quickly. Why not?”

What she was talking about was a 12,400-word short story/novella called Sandstone.
So, I didn’t exactly read it very closely ooooor all the way through before deciding to do this. And upon closer inspection…well, it didn’t seem very solid. As a performer and perfectionist I immediately think, “Ok, it must be me. This is unrecognized genius and I am simply not equipped to understand it. BUT, once I perform it the subtleties of the piece will reveal themselves to me. It’s just like when I would sing in college or professional choirs! The really hard stuff ends up being the most rewarding, but at the start, it is always difficult to understand. That understanding is gained through living with the piece.

So, I worked at it. I read and re-read the piece. I analyzed the characters on a deep level. I spent some serious TIME on this baby. From a “knock-this-out quickly standpoint…erm…it wasn’t.”

I finished the initial recording.

I located my errors and went back and corrected them.

I did the final smoothing and filtering to make it all sound oh-so-sweet.

And…

This was not good.

This was a prosaic sketch. Something to build upon…but not a satisfying story.

I really do hope I’m wrong. I hope that many years down the line someone will listen to this blog and have the same reaction to it as today’s readers do when Decca’s Dick Rowe apocryphally dismissed The Beatles back in 1962 saying to their manager "Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr. Epstein."

My interactions with the author were, odd to say the least.

The first message was, “I’m attaching the text. Thanks for sending me your email. Please see the following link for music ideas.”

Three weeks before the due date I got an email from the author asking “How progress was going.”

Three days before the due date I get a message saying, “I hope your work is turning out well.  I've started to adapt Sandstone into the workings of a novel. It's very slow going. I guess I'm not a natural writer. Anyhow, please keep me posted on how it's going.”
Dude, the due date is literally later in the week. You can’t wait that long to hear the finished product?

I also noticed that the name of the author on the work and the name on the contract were not the same.

That’s not all that unusual, many authors have pen names.

Next, I get:

Hi Colby,
Good news delivery. Thanks.  I love audiobooks, but I admit it was different hearing your sample.  I'm working to put my ego aside before going over the whole thing.  Also as an fyi, as it might go to your benefit, since you're close to this text right now, I've copylefted the sale version.  Please have a look-- http://authorsname.com/free

And all the best w/ your work, too. 

Talk soon,

This keeps getting more and more bizarre. Am I living in a thriller and not realizing it until it’s too late?

I then get notes on how he “liked the sibilants I used and could I change a few things and not to worry, he was just going to rewrite this in the next version.”

Sigh…So this wasn’t ever going make money or be amazing…this warped wanna-be author has no idea what he is doing or why.

Ultimately, the recording gets done and uploaded to the site. I think I am done.

And then after receiving the recording on the site, he sent me a few more notes.

Now, about those notes:
From a philosophical aspect, one could make the argument of “Keeping the mistakes” is a time-honored tradition in jazz. Like Miles Davis in Kind of Blue, there is a phrase in So, What? that is blown (the note is missed), but Miles keeps it in the recording. It feels raw and natural. Could I make this argument in audiobooks? Weeeeeell.
But really, it is a pain to change things in a recording. Try as you might, a keen ear will note the differences in the first recording and the follow-up. It could be something as beyond your control as the barometric pressure that day. And it sucks, going back and listening to the original recording and doing what is basically an impression of yourself re-doing the line. And if you know, up-front, that this project was an amateur using you for batting practice and it isn’t going anywhere it feels like a fool’s errand.

The error: Within the story, the author used the word f-r-i-s-s-o-n, I pronounced it fri-zhun, instead of free-zohn. (It is a French word and the author was absolutely correct)
I even spoke to my friend Zack an amazing English/Language Arts teacher who taught AP Lit and Composition and asked him how he would pronounce this word, and he agreed with me.

But here it is: I was so fed up with what I felt was the nonsensical nature of the work, and knowing that punching in was going to mar the work yet further for one minor mispronunciation.

…so, I said “No,”

I just needed to move on.

Yet I get still more bizarre emails from this person. I won’t trouble you dear listener with all the craziness, but I will say, the second to last email I got from this author had “Any help?” in the subject line. 
The message was this:
“Form: hello, I have a court date in Hugo at 9:30a tuesday (21st) I can pay fuel charges and something for your time. Can you move a muscle?”

And finally, the last email I got from the author said, “Can you send me the text of Sandstone, I need it?”

The text of the story…he sent me…in…his…first…email.

What did I learn? I really have to have a strong gut-feeling for a piece in order to narrate it. I work slowly and methodically and think about things to an insane degree. And if it is a work that will be out there for YEARS and I will be living with for a MONTH of creation minimum, it had better be…if not the song of my soul…at least one that "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it."

Additionally, although my wife is wonderful in so many ways, choosing the artistic work I produce is not in her skill set. Nor should it be. I got lazy and wanted someone to tell me what to do next because then I wouldn’t have to take the knocks if it wasn’t ridiculously successful.

I am the producer.

I am the business owner.

It is my call. Make the call confidently and live with the consequences.

Final tally: Since August 2012, Sandstone has sold 11 copies. Earning $19.11. It is a 68-minute recording. It takes roughly 3 times that amount of time to edit, proof and master in addition to the actual finished runtime. So, figure 204 minutes or 3 hours and 24 minutes. That is about…$6.40 per hour…and minimum wage is $7.25. I learned a valuable lesson. That, I suppose, is worth something.

You can find Sandstone on Audible…if you REALLY feel like you have to. But, if you don’t, yeah, I get that too.

Next Time on Geekery and Wine: Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Charumba , and Cross Dressing.

Until then…
My Geeks
My Nerds
My dear, dear friends…
Adieu