Sunday, May 12, 2019

Episode 11:The Stanley Parable, Plantaze Snagorski Vranachs, and A Journey to Nerdopolis


Helloooo everybody! In this episode of Geekery and Wine: The Stanley Parable, Plantaze Snagorski Vranachs, and A Journey to Nerdopolis. 
So grab your lanyard and laminated con badge and for gosh sakes listen to the disembodied narrator’s voice as we plunge into another episode of Geekery and Wine!

The Geek Side -- The Stanley Parable
This installment is a lovely throwback for me.  As I’ve said in earlier episodes, first-person shooters have always been my favorite computer game genre. I mean I think I could say that I started with Doom or even Wolfenstein 3D but that wouldn’t tell the whole story, because actually what started my love of this genre with was Tunnels of Doom.

Yep, that Grand Old Warhorse, the Texas Instruments TI 99-4A was my first computer and Tunnels of Doom did have you traversing hallways in fabulous 3D! They weren’t great hallways…but still. There were dragons…that looked largely like big seahorses with side-wings…but they were cool. It was 1982, man.

But back to The Stanley Parable. This game itself is a mod of the Half-Life 2 engine, so I was already expecting great things. And it is first-person, yes. But a shooter? Hardly.

You are an office worker named Stanley. I mean, who doesn’t want to be one of those in a computer game, right? This is what we all dream of when we game. Ninjas and superheroes are soooo last week!

And as you begin to traverse your day as an average office drone everything is narrated by a V.O.G. or Voice of God narrator. And right away…you’re thinking, but that means I have to do what he’s saying right?

Nope. When you diverge from his narrations, he changes the narrative to backwardly justify what he has already said. It is wonderfully silly.

Another thing that I absolutely love about this game is that it is short!

Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some of games with grand scope; where after 60 hours there are still amazing adventures to be had and achievements to unlock. But, I’m not the same person I was twenty years ago or even ten years ago. There are kids and a wife that all have STUFF to do and that means I can’t hide away for 60+ hours of uninterrupted computer gaming.

Therefore, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for a game that hops in there entertains me and then gives me the feeling of a fulfilling narrative.

Perhaps my best comparison would be other visual media. I LOVE a good TV series that takes its time exploring elements of the characters that I can binge or even stretch out my enjoyment of said universe. Take Gilmore Girls the series that ran on the WB and CW from 2000 to 2007 and was revived on Netflix in 2016. Loved it! But I also have a big love for a film that can create a universe, tell a yarn and then be done. I have no idea why but the film Event Horizon is hopping into my mind, for some reason. Now what a romantic comedy TV series centering on a mother/daughter relationship and an outer space Cthulhu story of cosmic horror have in common is anyone’s guess!

But…get in, entertain and get out is what The Stanley Parable does in a wacky, WTF is happening kind of way.

It also took what was, at the time, a method of adventure that was clichéd and overly relied on its tropes. When you took up the mantle of the character (behind their eyes) you took for granted that your life would be an action film! In The Stanley Parable, this expectation is subverted with an existential dread you need to grapple with.

A computer game that actually causes you to think about your life. I think there should be a primal scream here!

What follows is a section that might be a bit spoilerish. So, proceed with caution.

As the protagonist, Stanley, you begin to see that there may be more going on in your dreary office than what you had originally thought. The office you are in is deserted by design! Which I think is absolutely clever. Considering this was released in 2013 and making convincing animated costars was difficult, to say the least.

Here is an interesting tidbit…I was recently online doing a bit of research about The Stanley Parable for this episode and found out that the game is going to be re-released in an Ultimate Edition that will also be available on consoles.

And even though I am not usually one to re-buy something I have already had the experience of…
Wait, wait, wait…we are a geek nation of reboots and sequels, prequels and…probably equals, too. 

Nevermind, I TOTALLY am someone who rebuys the experience I have already had and enjoyed.
Carry on!

Right, I will probably see what The Stanley Parable: The Ultimate Edition will be like on Xbox. And if it is like the current incarnation, which features mind control, mythical significant others and long walks into the sunshine and uneasy peace of mind, I think it will totally be worth it.

The Wine SidePlantaze Snagorski Vranachs

I would love to say there was some deep abiding spiritual reason for the wine I chose for this episode. But honestly, I just like the weird! So when I was looking for a wine to talk about I originally started looking for interesting Israeli wines and found many of them to be Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and I glanced to the right on the shelf and found Plantaze Snagorski Vranachs.
In a World...hang on, I can do that better.
 “In a world”…there we go.
In a world of Merlots, cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, etc I was drawn to a varietal that I don’t think I would be able to pronounce without looking up a few things on YouTube! 

This wine comes from Montenegro in the Balkans. I chose it mostly because it reminds me of a friend I haven’t spoken to in a long time. My friend Zack. He and his wife moved to Bosnia and taught at some of the schools used by diplomats kids overseas and then moved to China and adopted a son. Well, as is often the case when people live a long ways away…we drifted. And his new son became endlessly fascinating to him and I don’t blame him. I was a little jealous. For a long time, he was that trusted intellectual confidante that you talk about the deep weighty issues with. And I miss him. I still see him on Facebook doing things with his family but I miss the really long emails, the conversations we used to have together. It’s always hard moving on, and in a lot of ways, I guess I just don’t want to. So I found this wine that is probably grown 163 miles from where he USED to live.
Long sigh tinged with ennui….

In other geek news, it’s also a three-hour drive from where the wine was made to where The Red Viper met his end at the hands of The Mountain in Game of Thrones, at least where it was filmed in the series, anyhow!

Weird coincidence…The strangest thing happened to me as I went down to the basement to look at the bottle. I found it actually WAS from 2013…is there some vast intelligence that knew this? Is there some all-powerful narrator who is guiding my actions while writing this blog? Would it be amazing it if it actually WAS Kevan Brighting!!!  The dude who narrated The Stanley Parable!!!! Wait…that was the last section.

We should probably take a hard left turn and talk about how I experience my wine.

This is not an easily answered question. It’s a bit more nuanced. And this is true of most wines I drink.

The first 5-ounce pour may be a bit much for me especially the big Barolos or cabs – all I can taste is the alcohol or maybe the Big Pucker of a particularly sour note.

The second 5-ounce pour I’m getting used to the flavors and finding nuances.
But the third…it doesn’t usually taste very good, the wine begins to lose something, I think my taste buds are starting to get anesthetized and it’s not as pleasurable to me as it was when I started.
Vranachs, tastes very green to me. There is something akin to a slight bitterness one might taste in a banana that wasn’t quite as yellow as it should be. Think the tart taste of a cranberry but with the finish of an olive. So, just like its name Vranach is different from the other wines I came across. Those finishing notes hang with the wine into the second glass, too. 

BT Dubbs, A complete bottle of wine is about 5, five-ounce glasses.

If I ever were to sit down and finish a bottle over the course of an evening it would have to be something like a Chateauneuf du Pape…while watching a lot of something on TV and snacking a bunch.

Vranach is not that wine, though.

Also very importantly is how a wine is on the second day!

And I mean without any pumping out of air or sealing and whatnot. Some wines will lose all of their zazz on the second day whereas others actually melooow of just flat-out improve!

Vranach stays very consistent. On the second day, it is very like the wine I had the day before. Which for me means it is a nice weekday wine that can be enjoyed over the course of several dinners.
I bought Plantaze Snagorski Vranachs for $11.99 at New Hampshire Wine and Liquor Outlet but you can find it online at potomacwines.com for $7.99….ugh, gimme a break! Ah, but wait...it seems they don’t ship to Massachusetts. Well, fine.

Audio goodness -- A Journey to Nerdopolis or How I did San Diego Comic-con

Well, this was going to be different. To be very frank I was petrified to put myself out there. Reading someone else’s work is easy…emotionally. I would connect with the piece and perform it, but ultimately it’s not mine. I could always say of a bad review, “Welp, it was the author’s writing the listener had a problem with, not me. On some websites, the review is even broken down by performance, story and overall rating.

Another concern is that after a creative piece is out in the world…it is a permanent statement of the author. At least that is how it is perceived. And there was no sense that it would be listened to within the context of the other writing and work I’d done. What about when my ideas on any subject progress and change? What then!!!??

Ugh, why did I include the DATE? Why did I let Scott (my cover artist) put the date on the cover? Fine, fine, fine…why did I instruct him to put the date on the cover because that’s what I said in the audiobook?

All of these things ping-ponged around my brain as I decided whether or not now was the time to actually narrate a piece of my own writing.

On one hand, I can absolutely attest to and support the opinion that very few authors are able to read their own work well.

There are exceptions of course. The great and good Neil Gaiman comes to mind. But most of the time it can be pretty dreadful. You are asking someone to do a one-person show, play all the characters and do so with little-to-no acting training. That’s not particularly fair.

Are there some naturals? Of course—the aforementioned Neil Gaiman is one. Anne Lammot’s reading her book Bird by Bird is another. But mostly it’s painful and one can feel either the desire to do good that is not coupled with the much-needed skill set, or the straight-up dread the author has for performing (“someone made me do this, but I don’t wanna” ). Neither is something you want to spend a great deal of time with in your ears.

Here’s why. As an author, you are looking at how the machine works. Are the plot points coming together in a way that makes sense? Are all of the characters arcing in a way that makes the reader care about them? Yet as an actor, I have but a single job: render the character that is currently front and center honestly and when the next character comes into scene do it again and keep doing it until you get to the part of the text that says, “The End.” I mean there are funny voices, oodles of things regarding working with microphones and on and on…but truth in performance is at the core.

What if the Chekov’s gun in act one is still unused in act three? Not my problem!

What if my conflict with a minor character is still unresolved by the end of the book? Someone else’s job.

I liken this to The Race Car Driver and The Mechanic. Can mechanics be good race car drivers? Sure. But these are radically different skill sets and each is focusing on different things while using them.

Now…after I narrated my piece, I listened to it with a theatre director’s critical ear. But with my own work I wonder if I am not more subdued than another narrator might be because I am so familiar with it? Am I still able to bring across the “The Illusion of the first time”—that theatrical notion that this is the first time these events have spontaneously taken place?

But here is another thought. I was at that point in my career where I hadn’t nurtured any relationships with publishers. No one was going to lay a high-value property in my lap with only 10 or so titles under my belt. So, I had to take advantage of the unique access to the author that is…me.
So, I was hired by me to read me. And if I owned the rights to the song I Am My Own Grandpa, I’d play it here!

I spoke a little about the difficulties in writing A Journey to Nerdopolis actually in the text. It was this if I’m being intellectually honest, and how could I not be with YOU dear listener, it is really hard for me to write about the first instance of an amazing experience in isolation, because, it is, usually in repeating the experience, that I find out what my opinion is. Nerdopolis was actually written about my 2nd visit to Comic-Con International.

“Hang on! Even with wine, is this the case?” YES, absolutely!

I didn’t intentionally have a vertical tasting in the last episode! I had a vertical tasting because when I went back to get more…THE VINTAGE HAD CHANGED! As an aside to the aside, I probably won’t be doing a tasting of a $500 bottle of wine from 1972 because I really, really want to write about PONG for that very reason!

Side-quest 

I decided to check out exactly what it might take to have a wine from 1972. And I found a 1972 Chateau Saint Georges Bordeaux for $142.64 at Sodivin.com. So that’s all it would cost me to talk about PONG? Wait…they don’t ship to Massachusetts. If I still lived in Colorado they would, though.
Drat! End Side-quest! As well as the aside to the aside…of the original aside.

So, now I wonder, as I contemplate this work both its print and audio form. Am I tiring of the comic con scene? The original title was A Journey to Nerdopolis: or How I Did San-Diego Comic Con 2013. 2013? And then the audio came out in 2014. The Kindle single came out in 2018 and I ‘m talking about the experience of it a year later. I’ve attended countless conventions in the intervening time.

Or, is the con scene becoming tiresome in general? That can’t be. The big conventions still grow and sell out every year. It must be me.

When I found theatre teacher conventions tiring in the middle of my teaching career, it was time to become an instructor at those same conventions. I’d heard what my mentors had to say many times and now knew I had to help others get where I was now. And I can’t help but feel that this is where I’m at, not only as a pop culture fan, but as a narrator, too.

I think I need to add to the conversation.

Find A Journey to Nerdopolis: or How I Did San-Diego Comic-Con and all of my audiobooks at lastwordaudio.com; they’re also available at audible.com, iTunes and Amazon Digital Download.
If you’ve been loving Geekery and Wine, let some folks know by writing a review in Apple Podcasts, it helps other folks find the show.

I tweet @colbyelliott and you can also find Last Word Audio on Facebook.

Next Time on Geekery and Wine:
A Wolf Among Us
Monte Antico Toscana
And Sly Flourish’s The Lazy Dungeon Master

So Until Then
My Geeks…
My Nerds…
My dear, dear friends…
Adieu

Friday, March 22, 2019

Episode 10: A Voyage Through Dungeons & Dragons, Goats Do Roam, and Guesswork

“All aboard the SS” You All Meet in a Tavern …in this episode: A voyage through Dungeons and Dragons, Goats Do Roam, and Guesswork. So grab your 10-foot pole and your classic Sony Walkman, it’s time for Geekery and Wine:

The Geek Side – A Voyage through Dungeons and Dragons
Where do I even begin? Trying to describe my life-journey through Dungeons & Dragons is a nigh-insurmountable task. It’s like trying to write a review for pizza. Everybody likes it. Even when it’s bad, it’s kinda good.
Do I start with the friend who had brittle bones and lived 5 houses down from my childhood home? When we were both 10, D&D was something we could bond over.
Or maybe start with the friends in junior high that were the first amigos that shared my love of fantasy and science fiction, who helped me hone my tastes and opinions in those genres?

Or perhaps I should start with the co-ed D&D group that helped me talk to the opposite sex even though I was really shy?

Hmmm…

It might be better to begin with the group of high school friends that played on weekends and was made up of some of the “popular guys,” who gave me an “in” to see that I was worth it.

I could even begin generationally with the purchasing of the core D&D books for my son, because I knew it would be the best way for him, to find his tribe.

Or I could begin at the end. I could start with knowing I would never feel at ease after moving my family across the country until I finally found a role-playing group. And when we played D&D it felt like coming home.

Every step along the way, I gamed. And D&D was the fundamental form that everybody knew. It was how we all spoke Common.

Along the way, there’s been tragedy, too. I’ve lost 3 friends to suicide and all of them were guys I played D&D with.  There was also a time when my parents were worried and influenced by The Satanic Panic in the ’80s. About the game I was “obsessed with” and my Dad tore up my books in front of me.

All these were formative and helped to sculpt the creative I am today.
And they’re all interesting asides and I’ll probably come back to them, if not today, then sometime in a future posting.

For me, D&D started with Basic. That’s the Moldvay Set with the red cover designed by Erol Otus that came out in 1981. And our first adventures were Keep on the Borderlands and later on The Isle of Dread. I think that first edition is a huge factor on what kind of player you will end up. In the same way that the Doctor you saw first will always be YOUR Doctor Who. You like that style of play (heavy or light on detail depending on edition) as much as you might like have a weakness for extra-long scarves or fezzes and bow ties in combination.

Everybody has their favorite. Rules lite? BECMI: that’s Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal. Love the rules minutiae? 3.5 is number one with a bullet!.
Our early games were wild, free association Mont Haul affairs. That’s Haul with a “u.” And to be fair, lots of dungeon masters go through a Monte Haul phase. You want to see what each of the magical items can do AND you want your players to have a good time, so you basically give away the store. And soon the player characters or PC’s are so utterly jacked and undefeatable you need to sick the gods of multiple pantheons on them in order to give them a challenge.

Now when we weren’t playing D&D we were waiting for the next adventure module or supplement to come out. And our favorite supplier was Sir Jim’s Hobby and Toy Castle in North Platte, Nebraska.  

Sir Jim’s was a really great attempt to do something interesting in a town didn’t necessarily do exotic in “that way.” So it was a largely boxy building with a funky castle façade on the front and a tower on either of the two front corners. But again, North Platte didn’t really do fancy in those days, so the castle looked to be built from grey cinderblocks and stopped right on the middle of the sides of the building. Almost as if to say, “You see what we were going for, right? You can fill in the gaps.”
That bit of inspiration was paired with a subscription to Dragon Magazine, a monthly publication by TSR the company that made D&D and I read it cover-to-cover. Every month.

Although I lived for adventuring through modules, most of D&D was the “lonely fun” of rolling up characters and designing the floorplans of Dungeons. Never has so much graph paper been put to such creative use!

And amongst all that die rolling, creativity and gaming statistics here’s a figure that will set you back on your heels.

It’s been 45 years as of January 2019.

And there are now so many ways to enjoy not just the game but the history of the game. There’s the graphic novel, Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D by David Kushner and Koren Shadmi. Then there’s the Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer, and there’s the audiobook Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt narrated by the author and Mikael Narramore (the most perfect last name for an audiobook reader since Simon Q. Readswell…a narrator I just made up).

All of them detailing aspects of the game of D&D, the hobby of tabletop roleplaying in general and even the art of the game specifically. Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History also by Michael Witwer released in 2018…wow, busy guy.

For me, the grand historical moment where Dungeons & Dragons and my creativity converged was with the campaign setting of Planescape for 2nd edition AD&D.
I’d always found the different planes of existence a really cool idea in D&D but just never felt like it was all that well developed. Or at least not in a way that this “Bear of little brain” could understand. If you aren't familiar with the idea of the different Planes of existence, it’s essentially this. Each element: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water has its own world within the greater multiverse. Every deity that exists has its own plane or a plane that it is tied to. And every can encompass EVERY. So, you can go to Mount Olympus, or Asgard or even, with a little leniency from the DM, Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts to summon Yog Sothoth. 
But what truly defined and brought alive the Planescape world was the art of Tony DiTerlizzi.

What was amazing about this time, in the mid ’90s is I’d recently graduated college and gotten married and I didn’t even really have a D&D group at the time, but these books fired my imagination and I imagined the games I might run someday. My worry was that the campaign setting was so vast, I’d never be able to be prepared for where my players might want to go.

Later, Tony and Holly Black created The Spiderwick Chronicles which I read to my children. And even now I have his Realms book on my coffee table.

The grand coming home for me with Planescape happened just a few months ago and it wasn’t even technically D&D. I called it Amazing Adventures in Plansecape.

I had taken the game Amazing Adventures which is a Pulp Heroes Role playing game (think The Shadow, The Phantom, and Doc Savage) and contains many of the same game mechanics of the old Moldvay Basic set and thrown the heroes into the Planescape setting. The good news many of the heroes had firearms that could easily dispatch the sword-wielding monsters and their primitive armor. The bad news, once the ammo was gone guns were basically unwieldy clubs!

I used the module collection, The Infinite Staircase as the mechanism to get them from plane-to-plane and it is really fun. I talked about it on James Intrecaso’s podcast Tabletop Babble. https://dontsplitthepodcastnetwork.com/table-top-babble/108

You can still find all the Planescape supplements at DrivethruRPG.com. This site has digital editions of all of the old Planescape books and, if you have a fellow gamer who works in the Staples copy center, you can have a nice spiral bound copy of the book to run your game from.

So, now that it seems to have finally come back into the public consciousness, with celebrities copping to playing and even leading campaigns live online, when someone asks if you have you tried D&D or when was the last time you played, say yes to trying it for the first time or say yes to coming back, because I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening or an afternoon than creating epic stories with some of your closest friends.

Most recently on Amazon, the Fifth Edition D&D starter set was on sale for $9.59. I got it for my youngest daughter for her birthday. Maybe the tradition will continue with new adventures!

The Wine Side—Goats Do Roam
To start with, Goats Do Roam is an odd name and the bottle has an illustration of a goat that’s reminiscent of a script illumination from the middle ages on the front of the bottle. So, yeah…goats.

If you are still learning your varietal combinations, this is a play on words. Please forgive me if this is totally obvious to some folks, but just in case. There is a kind of wine referred to as Cotes du Rhone, it is a blend of varietals from southern France. And it is pretty darned delicious. Buuut, you can’t call something Cotes du Rhone unless it is actually FROM that area. Kinda like how you can’t call something Champagne unless it is from the Champagne region of France. Everything else is a sparkling wine. There are many of these substitutions and we can totally talk about them later on. Another example is Bordeaux. Bordeaux is a red blend from the Bordeaux region of France consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Cab Franc, and others, but if you get the same sort of blend and it is from, say, Oregon, you are going to be getting something called a Meritage. What is a Meritage? Basically that vintner’s take on Bordeaux.

Right. So and thus…Goats Do Roam is a South African vintner’s take on Cotes du Rhone. Wheeew!

And what is that blend exactly? Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre. Sometimes called the Holy Trinity. There is even an Australian vintner from the Barossa Valley that has a label that is called The Holy Trinity.

So, I tried both the 2015 and 2016 vintage of Goats Do Roam and they were both great. By the way, I recently found out this is called a “vertical tasting” although, mini-vertical tasting is probably more apt with just two years.

The wine starts with a fruity plum taste that then cascades to the edges of the tongue and becomes a bit bitter. It’s very smooth and this could be the tannins presenting themselves and that bitter flavor lingers on the tongue but not unpleasantly.

And I have to say I was having a really tough time coming up with the scent and flavor combinations. So I turned to an old friend when it comes to olfactory descriptors. Last year my wife went on-line and found an 88 aroma collection case. Inside are small vials of liquid like you might expect to find in an old school chemistry set. Inside, organized by number is an amazing collection of scents. Green bell peppers, tea, blackberries and oh-so-many varieties of flower that I am not-at-all familiar with. I’m not the 8 Crayola of nose identification but neither am I the 128 either.

It can be a magical experience finding the matching scent. It’s like when there’s a word you can’t think of, but it’s there. You just know it. Finding the scent gives you the words to express that smell that was before just simply generally pleasant or floral.
Here’s what I was able to ascertain from the 88 Aromas kit. Goats Do Roam has the smell that is most often referred to in the wine world as “barnyard.” Here’s the weird part…that’s a good thing! There are notes in this wine that suggest the smell of leather…like a saddle. And an earthiness that is kinda like a well-fertilized field, with everything that suggests. And the lingering flavor for me is plums.

I found Goats Do Roam at New Hampshire Wine and Liquor Outlet in Nashua for $11.99 but when I went to find an option online I found it for $7.99 from The Wine Buyer (winebuyer.com) and $9.99 from the International Wine Shop (internationalwineshop.com). The same shop that had the awesome Mar De Frades I talked about a few episodes ago. So…yeah, go with one of the last two would be my advice. Well, depending on shipping and tax.

Audio Goodness – Guesswork
The most exciting thing for me about the novel Guesswork: a Prim and Odin Mystery was that it was going to be another collaboration with a dear friend.
My friend Scott and I had met many years before, when I had first moved to Denver. We had been in role-playing sessions together at various conventions and eventually we decided to play in a weekly game together. And I would put that role-playing group up against any I had ever had the privilege to be in. It was a round-robin group. So, that meant, unlike other groups that had a single Dungeon Master all the time, in this case, everyone who wanted to, could choose a game that they enjoyed and game master it for the rest of us. The games we played were incredibly diverse as it was up to whoever was running the table what the game was. Eventually, we found that we wanted a game that had fewer rules and tables that needed to be constantly consulted so Scott wrote a role-playing game and called it The Window.

I was always really comfortable around Scott so it wasn’t long before we were looking for other creative projects to work on together. He knew the director of the Denver Art Museum, and maybe I wanted to develop something for them. Why, yes, I would.
We came up with a computer game called “What The?,” which museum-goers played as they entered The Retrospectacle, a collection of many of the museum’s long-stored/little-seen pieces. What was my contribution? Why funny voices of course! I think I must have done something in the neighborhood of 20 voices for that game. And we also had the chance to write the scripts together which was amazing and wonderfully collaborative.

We also had a thought to try and do a live-action role-playing game at one of the conventions. It was to be festooned with Circus performers in a big top and was entitled Punish the Monkey. It was incredibly clever for the two of us in our twenties.
We ultimately did another piece for the Denver Art Museum called The Adventures of Roxi the Robot and The Adventures of Scoop the Fox. Scott, in a fabulously retro move, designed the game to be played on the Nintendo DS and was carried around the new Hamilton wing of the museum by young patrons. The experience was wonderful and memorable. But it seemed we weren’t done yet.

You see, Scott had been working on a mystery novel set in Colorado in the 1980s. Why the 80’s? Mostly because he hated the idea that so many elements of the mystery could be solved by the use of cell phones. They detracted from character interaction and was just way too much information in the hands of a protagonist…thereby lessening the dramatic tension of the mystery.

There were similar flavor notes reminiscent of the Punish the Monkey LARP we had made together. There was a fair and a “sideshow guesser.” Layered onto this was a teen detective and plot and characters that were more realistic, darker and more tragic, yet in other ways more hopeful.

Doing the character of Odin was my favorite. He had this resonant voice that contrasted delightfully with Aunt Veronica and Primrose Whistler herself.

And I am about to tell a bit of an audiobook secret. Many times characters are ones that we cast in our minds but are really disguised versions of famous actors. Or probably more accurate to say, that is the mental totem in mind while portraying that character.
But In this case, Odin was literally no one I could think of. He was so incredibly distinct I just had to play him as he was written. And I think the character is the better for it.

Find Guesswork 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. 

Before I sign off, I need to give special thanks to “pearable” who left this review on iTunes:

Get your geek on! 
    One of the things I love most about the 21st century is how much easier it makes “finding the others” - you know what I mean... the fellow enthusiastic, passionate lovers of whatever you’re into.

For geeks, nerds, whovians, jedi’s, metas, brown coats, trekkers and trekkies alike - go ahead and click “subscribe” now... you’ve got a home with Colby here, and he won’t let you down!

Thanks, pearable, that means a lot.

Next Time on Geekery and Wine: The Stanley Parable, Plantaze Crnogorski Vranac, and A Journey to Nerdopolis.

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

Adieu

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