Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Group 7 Access Restored.

Here’s the intro scene I want:

Jack Palance, looking like he did circa 1989, strolls through a dimly lit, dust-shrouded room cluttered with arcade games, Timex Sinclairs and Atari 2600 consoles and Commodore 64s hooked up to small televisions. A VHS player hums while WarGames silently unfolds. Jack looks into the camera as he walks, fingers brushing the artifacts as he passes. “John Booth,” he says, “was 11 years old in the summer of 1982. He shoveled quarters into video games like coal into a ravenous locomotive engine, wore Atari joystick blisters like badges of honor and dreamed in pixels when he slept. Lasers and lightsabers and robots and spaceships and computers were the ever-whirling sparks in his brain, setting fires that would burn for years to come.”

“And yet he never saw Tron.” (Trademark Jack Palance inhale & pause, then…) “Believe it … or not.

Totally true.

The closest I ever came was in middle school, when my math teacher decided to show it on video during the last week of school – maybe even the last day of the year. It was hard enough to see the TV up at the front of room, because I think he’d invited another class to join us, so kids were all sitting on their desks and stuff, and at any rate, the impending summer vacation had everyone so hyper that I couldn’t hear the movie anyway.

Not seeing the movie, of course, didn’t stop me from plugging countless quarters into the original Tron video game over the next few years, or from buying my little brother “Surround” for our Atari because it was the closest thing I could get to a light-cycle race. (Digression: One of the “Surround” configurations allowed you to hold down the joystick button and, for strategic purposes, stop leaving a destructive trail. My favorite way to play the game was selecting that option,  clamping down on the button for several minutes while the game speed increased to its peak, then letting go and trying to run a full-throttle head-to-head battle, which usually lasted all of 10 seconds.)

Every so often since those years, I’d get the notion into my head to watch Tron, but I never did.

I honestly don’t recall which version of the sequel trailer – the 2008 San Diego Comic Con version teased TR2N while the newer edition last year revealed the title as Tron Legacy – pushed me  once and for all into the “gotta watch the original before the sequel comes out” territory, but I eventually remembered to put in a library request, and the 20th Anniversary DVD edition of Tron finally made its way to my house last week.

Now, while the Tron Legacy trailer really got me excited, a friend of mine warned me when I mentioned last Friday that I was staying up late for my first-ever Tron viewing, “OK:  You REALLY need to put your mind back into its 1982 pre-teen geek mode. Try to imagine NEVER having seen CG before…”

I was already sort of preparing for this, since I’ve had my heart wince more than a few times when I’ve gone back and taken a look at the things of that era I remember enjoying. (Saturday morning Godzilla cartoon, anyone? >shudder, whimper<)

So when I shut off the lights and settled in for 97 minutes of retro, I did so with an attitude of “If nothing else, this will be fun.”

I was utterly unprepared to find myself thinking, “Um, wow: This movie kind of kicks ass.

Maybe it was because Jeff Bridges is ridiculously entertaining and cool as a video gamer while still subtly hinting at the darker side of his character, and David Warner is, well, David Freaking Warner, even in a goofy foam-rubber-looking King Tut-eqsue helmet.

Maybe it was because of Wendy Carlos’ amazing synthesized soundtrack: While I’d never seen this movie, big chunks of the musical score lived in my head courtesy of that arcade game, making it even easier to spend awhile in that still-12-years-old corner of my mind.

Maybe it was because the visuals, which, while obviously dated, hold up remarkably well in terms of mood and aesthetic and which yes, while primitive by today’s standards, fit so cleanly and neatly into that world and that narrative that they don’t feel fake or hokey. (It was only while doing a little research for this that I learned that Tron wasn’t even nominated for Best Visual Effects award in 1982 because the Academy felt that using computers for special effects was cheating. (“Hindsight?” “Yes, John?” “Take the DeLorean and go slap the 1982 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hard.”)

Yes, Tron‘s concept is a bit goofy: computer programs imagined as tiny “people” and a laser-scanning thing that takes real world objects – and Bridges’ Kevin Flynn, of course – into the virtual world? Of course it’s cheesy. Then again, how about a computer network that becomes sentient and invents time-traveling killer robots, or another one that – get this – farms humans as batteries to survive?

As a script, Tron suffers from nothing unusual, really: Stiff, cartoony dialogue, a bit of clunky storytelling, the old standbys of elderly mentors and life lessons.

But I enjoyed the hell out of this movie in much more than a nostalgic way, which was a wonderful surprise. And I’m glad that over the past decade or so, it seems to have earned the wider appreciation which eluded it for so long.

Also, now I’m just stupid psyched for Tron Legacy. End of line.

February 28, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, Games, geek, science fiction, video games, Web/Tech | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Geeky reasons to buy “100 Stories for Haiti”

Go check out some of the nerdcentric contributors to the book as noted on my post at GeekDad. I’m not going to name them here, so you’ll just have to click.

February 25, 2010 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, geek, Weblogs, writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest post: “100 Stories for Haiti” creator Greg McQueen

Today – meaning Feb. 25, because even though it’s before midnight here, it’s already Thursday over in Europe –  I’m turning Cornfield Meet over to the inspired and ambitious Greg McQueen, whose brainspark got the “100 Stories for Haiti” fire going in the first place. And because he clearly has no need for sleep, the guy’s in the midst of “blog tour,” writing about the book for various sites and talking about different angles of the project, to which I contributed a story called “The Painting.”

Read on for a glimpse into the process of bringing an 80,000-word book from concept to finalized reality in just a few weeks:

Thanks for letting me graffiti your blog, John.

If you’re just joining this blog tour, you can catch up HERE and HERE … Oh, and HERE.

Today I want to talk a little about how we handled submissions and chose the 100 stories for the book. As you can imagine, it was a huge task, and I have to admit that I didn’t have as much to do with it as I’d wished.

To give you a rough idea how big a task it was … We had 420 submissions within about a week. Each submission, on average, was at least 800 words, so that’s about 336,000 words that needed to be read within a matter of days.

When I started the project, I fully expected to be hands-on with the story selections. However coordinating everything — answering emails, arranging stuff with the publishers, sorting out agreements for the authors, plus a million things that I never expected would be part of producing a book — took up most of my time. I read as many of the stories as I could, but the real credit for making sure that each and every submission was read goes to Amy Burns and the team of volunteer editors.

So, I want you to get up now and give them a standing ovation. They deserve it. They all worked their wobbly bits off to make this book happen.

Okay. Thanks. Be seated and read on.

We started out with about 25 readers and editors. Everyone gave as much time as they could spare. I set up a special web forum for everyone to work in. For the geek-a-trons among you, we used Basecamp from 37 Signals. I chose Basecamp because 37 Signals like to create products that don’t need a manual (and they come pretty darn close!). They also have a system called Writeboards, which are amazing for writers because they save every version of a document. So, it made it easy to encourage readers to correct typos as they found them because we could always rollback to a previous version of the story if needed.

The way we initially vetted submissions was simple. I described it to one of the editors as the literary equivalent to a wrestle-mania smackdown. Each story had to be read three times, and each person had to vote, Yes, No, or Maybe.

2 x Yes = Stays for the next round.

2 x No = Knock out.

2 x Maybe = Stays for the next round.

There were disagreements and discussions over pieces, which was where I stepped in. The original spec for submissions was 1000 words, any genre, no massive death-destruction-violence, feel good stories – the kind that makes you tell grumpy old men that life really ain’t that bad. We had to compromise on the specs a bit, not too much, though.

As the submissions dwindled to about 150, Amy volunteered as Head Editor, and whip-cracked to get those submissions down to 100.

This was where encouraging readers to make corrections as they found them really paid off because we ended up with stories that needed little or no corrections. Amy and a team of about five core editors then re-read and re-edited the remaining 100 stories to get them close to publishing standards.

I’d be lying if I said that I’d planned the whole thing. I started the 100 Stories for Haiti project because I wanted to help. I didn’t sit down and think it through at all … If anything, my plan was that I had no plan. I felt that many of the people involved in the editing process were experienced writers and editors. I told them from the start that I had this crazy notion that they’d be able to just roll up sleeves, knowing the kind of stories that we were looking for, and do what they do best — read and edit, choose stories that resonated with them, and fight to have them included in the book.

Odd thing is … Turned out I was right.

You’re going to read/hear me say this a lot during this blog tour. It’s because I am proud of the book. I want people to read it. More importantly, I want people to buy it. Not because I want a best-seller of some sort, simply because I think it’s a cracking read, made by a talented and dedicated team of writers and editors who want nothing more than to raise money for the Haiti Earthquake and Disaster Recovery appeals. Here goes …

100 Stories for Haiti comes out as an ebook and paperback on March 4th, 2010. The paperback costs £11.99 + P&P. It is available to pre-order here:

Tomorrow, the blog tour takes me  HERE and will feature a few more extracts from the book.


Thanks for stopping by, Greg!

Okay, so, to sum up: Buy a book that The Gone-Away World author Nick Harkaway describes with the phrase “the sheer weight of unrefined awesome contained within these covers,” and all the proceeds go to the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti, because every bit of time and work going into 100 Stories has been donated. (And yes, for those of us living outside the United Kingdom, the shipping costs don’t come cheap: If that’s an issue – which I totally understand – buy the electronic version: It’ll be coming out via Smashwords the same day as Bridge House releases the paperback, March 4.)

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, science fiction, Web/Tech, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ah, college weirdness.

Jenn just found this lying around the other day. I remember rediscovering it fairly recently but losing track of it again, so now I’ve taken the step of preserving it electronically, because it’s a reminder of a strange and fun little slice of my Bowling Green years:

Coming up next: Nitzer Ebb, Lush and Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry.

Click to embiggen in all its, um, "glory?"

Yes, “John Wilkes Booth” was my radio name on 88.1 fm WBGU (“The Shark!”) effectively cutting off the assassination-of-Lincoln jokes at the knees, see? Also, it required extraordinarily little effort in its creation.

And as on-air, er, “talent,” we were given free rein regarding flyer creation and posting and generous access to the BGSU administrative copy services. This was, I think, the only promotional material I ever made. Photo scanning and manipulation courtesy of my friend Jeff, who had the awesomest computer setup 1990 could provide, because not only did it allow you to create lasting and important art like this, but you could also play Marble Madness.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | geek, Music, Ohio | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Important Person in the Whole Wide World

One of my favorite things about living in the future?

Our access to the past.

About three seconds of the opening theme to this Saturday morning PSA wandered through my head five minutes ago, and POOF! Here it is:

What’s funny to me is that of the cartoon segments, I only remembered the visuals, not the music and lyrics. But the opening theme and the live action shots and even the title font all bubbled up from the recesses of my brain as soon as I saw that striped cup at the birthday party. The closing animation with the birds and that little furry guy on the rope? Classic.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, Television | , , , , | 3 Comments

Pre-order “100 Stories for Haiti”

Thanks to the timely arrival of some funds in my PayPal account, I just ordered my paperback copy of  100 Stories for Haiti.

100 Stories for Haiti

The paperback edition from Bridge House Publishing in the UK is set for a March 4 release, and there’s a Smashwords electronic edition on the way, too.

This is such an amazingly cool worldwide effort, and if you don’t believe me, check the list of author bios, which is not only jaw-dropping in its diversity but has introduced several new writers and books to my own must-read list.

Still on the fence? Consider this bit from Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World:

“Of course, while giving is, according to a recent scientific study, more pleasurable and healthy than receiving, it can become a bit burdensome after a while — especially if you can’t see the real time effects of your gifts. That’s where this book comes in. The writers and publishers will do the actual giving, and you just have to buy some really great stories which you would, of course, have rushed to buy anyway because of the sheer weight of unrefined awesome contained within these covers.”

So you get 80,000-plus words of good book, and all the proceeds go to the Red Cross’ relief efforts in Haiti.

Now, here’s what you do: You can go to the 100 Stories for Haiti site and order from there, or to the Bridge House site and order from there. If, like me, you’re ordering from the U.S., since the book project is UK-based, you’ll need to buy through that little button/option marked “Rest of World” or “ROW” (a note of caution: I very nearly ordered an extra UK-shipped edition due to a default setting somewhere that put both an ROW order and a standard order in my PayPal cart, so play close attention). And PayPal automatically handled the pounds-to-dollars conversion swimmingly, I say.

Also, tell a lot of people about it.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, science fiction, Travel, writing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekend: Avatar, The Big Bang Theory and Star Wars

Quick Monday morning catch-up on weekend stuff:

Jenn & Kelsey were out of town Friday night, and after some brief waffling over an evening of videogaming or catching a 3-D showing of Avatar, I went for the latter. (After which, of course, I came home and played video games.)

I went into the movie with expectations set to medium, and those were exceeded on most counts.

From a visual and immersive standpoint, there is absolutely nothing like this movie, and I’m glad I shelled out the extra bucks to see it in 3-D, because it was absolutely incredible, as advertised. Story-wise, well … look, I’m going to skip all the heavy overtone drama discussion because, frankly, it’s all been said elsewhere and I went into this thing for the ride, because that’s what you get in a James Cameron movie.

The story is decent enough, though there’s never any doubt where it’s going, and how it’s going to end, and given the rich setting and environment, I was pulled in pretty easily, though I never reached that pit-of-your-stomach connection you get with a really well-written story and characters. As opposed, say, to District 9 – also a science-fiction movie with a too-easily-trumped-up-and-heavy-handed-allegory and, at its heart, the story of one human’s literal and metaphorical transformative journey – which absolutely did hit me in that fantastic, unexpected sock-in-the-gut way.

I won’t be surprised if Avatar wins the Best Picture Oscar, and while part of me thinks it would be great to finally see a science fiction movie take home that trophy, it will also bug me because it will mean epic visuals and a wave of hype will have – not for the first time, either – beaten better storytelling.

Now to the small screen for just a minute: Last week, I picked up The Big Bang Theory season one DVDs from the library to do a little flashback test and see if the early shows were as cringe-inducing as I remembered. I had fun writing up my thoughts in a  Friday morning post for GeekDad, and got a nice Twitter reply about it from one of the show’s writers. (Incidentally, it’s very difficult for me to write that and adequately express how neat a feeling it is. Even the briefest note of appreciation for something I’ve written never fails to move me. And when it comes from someone whose own work has inspired and entertained me, well damn, that’s something to keep tucked away for those “Hey, You Suck” kind of days.) Saturday morning, I woke up to find that the GeekDad post had gone popular on Digg, which is a first among my contributions to the site and another nice surprise.

I spent Saturday afternoon in Hudson for a shared Collect All 21! and Deus Ex Comica reading at The Learned Owl, and hanging out with Adam and catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. This marked the second time I’ve done a presentation based on my Star Wars memories, and I built on the reading I did at JediCon WV last October and had a lot of fun doing it. I’ve got another one on the calendar in May around the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back which I’ll share details on as it gets closer.

Which brings me back to the Quest for 1,000 Star Wars Fans & Friends I decided to shoot for about two-and-a-half weeks ago. I’ve gotten a lot of great notes of support and sharing on Twitter, for which I remain inexpressibly grateful, and on the advice and encouragement of friends, I built a Facebook page for the book. I’ve also added a direct-buy button for the PDF version of the book on the Collect All 21! home page, which includes, as a bonus, the front and back cover images that the Lulu electronic edition lacks.

Adding up distribution sales estimates plus Lulu buys plus the copies I sold over the weekend and last week at the Harper Comics Akron-Canton Comic Con, I’m up to 1/67th of my goal and thankful for every reader and supporter and friend along the way.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Television, writing | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Icicle Works.

Because our house was built 30-some years ago and has old-style gutter guards, a couple times every winter we get these ginormous icicles just outside our back door. We’re talking 5-plus feet long and 6-8 inches thick at the top in some cases. This year one even managed to grow all the way down to a snow-covered patio chair, creating a continuous ground-to-roof ice pillar.

Click to embiggen.

These are the icicles Ralphie’s mom sees in her nightmares.

In fact, if you were quietly sharing a secret beneath these things, and one fell on you, I bet your voice would go quickly from a whisper to a scream.

There are a couple more shots in my Flickr photostream.

Click to make it bigger.

More sizes at Flickr.

February 11, 2010 Posted by | geek, Ohio, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a Mad, Mad, Madhatter World.

One of the things I love about reading Adam‘s ongoing series of music recollections is the sheer avalanche of quick-hit memories and images and emotions they trigger.

His latest entry, on  Cowboy Junkies’ “Sweet Jane,” for instance, includes this bit:

I remember discovering the The Trinity Session wasn’t their first album when I stumbled upon Whites Off Earth Now!! on vinyl at Madhatter Music Co. (another independent music store now gone) in downtown Bowling Green.

Now, it’s entirely possible that I knew Madhatter was gone, but the last time Adam and I visited our old college town, it was still there. According to its Myspace page

Madhatter Music Co. was founded in 1988 by Billy Hanway and Ed Cratty. Its first customer was a madman by the name of Jim Cummer, who became manager and eventually bought the store. For 18 years, Madhatter has stood for good music, flying under the radar of a diseased popular culture, communing with fellow like-minded freaks and lifers, and rocking out at all costs.

In October 2006, PB Army drummer and local music journalist/heart patient Keith Bergman took the torch and attempted to lead Madhatter from its recalcitrant teenage years into the murky waters of young adulthood. Sadly, he’s packed his bags and inventory, never to return. The store is officially closed.

Now, I remember Billy Hanway. At least inasmuch as he was “that guy Billy” who owned Madhatter.

And while I’ve lost track of which CDs of mine may have come from Madhatter – They Might Be Giants Flood, I’m pretty sure is one, though –  I know for certain that I have two flawless LPs I got there when I still had my first stereo system, since it still included a turntable. One is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which I have still never owned in any other format, and the other is The Police, Synchronicity, which I picked up to replace my cassette. I think I paid maybe three bucks each for these.

But what really socked me while reading that blurb was that Madhatter was founded in 1988, meaning that when we started our freshman year at BG in the fall of ’89, the store was only a year or so old. The thing is, it felt like the sort of place that had existed for decades, sandwiched in that dingy little building between bars and gas stations and alleys. Frankly, I figured Madhatter had in all likelihood, been there since the one year my Dad attended BG back in the late 1960s. I would have at least figured the place dated back to the ’70s, but man, I’m telling you: It felt like it could have.

I mean, if you’re what, older than 30, you know this kind of store. You walk in, and there’s a rack of local music rags and a wall that’s been tacked over with countless layers of band flyers and bar show announcements. And there’s one glass case layered with stuff like “Corporate Rock Sucks” patches and anarchy logo buttons and bumper stickers, and another case filled with CDs from Europe and rare reissues and B-side collections and concert bootlegs. The walls are covered in posters and lined with racks of CDs and LP records – and one sadly-neglected bin of cassette tapes is over in a corner – and you go in and start flipping through stuff that you’ve seen before, but maybe something new is out this week, or maybe someone traded in a collection you’re looking for.

Odds are the place smells like someone’s basement that you know – like an old couch and a candle and patchouli and a bit of mustiness that never quite congeals into “rank,” but still kind of encloses you a little bit claustrophobically. It’s not anything you’d call a pleasant smell, but recalling it, by association, puts me in a mood of remembering an important and special time in my life.

Suck it, iTunes. Bite me, Amazon. Yeah, you’re convenient and wondrous and I can’t live without you, but you’ll never be my Madhatter, you hear me?


February 8, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Music, Ohio, writing | , , , | 4 Comments

Wookiee Whiteout

As of roughly 5:45 a.m. EST, that little bump is the only visible clue to Giant Vintage Kenner Chewbacca’s whereabouts

"Ha! That stupid probe droid'll NEVER find me now..."

So, yeah, holy shit, we got a lot of snow last night.

February 6, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, Ohio | , , , , | 1 Comment

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