C. A. Casey

Another worthless writers blog

Spike, Dig, Kill – Part 1

Posted by Casey on January 3, 2008


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Well, we went to the semi-finals and finals of the 2007 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship. It’s one of those events I’ve always seen on TV and wished it would happen close to where I lived so I could see it in person. Well, it happened at Arco Arena in Sacramento this year.

Thousands of fans for the four teams–Stanford, USC, California, Penn State–converged on Arco Arena. College crowds are a lot different than professional sports crowds. Everyone’s excited that their team made it to the Final Four and the groups from the different schools try to out-do each other in school pride with cheers, chants, and banners. Most of the fans had to travel a ways to get there, the Penn State fans traveling the longest distance.

We were up in the nosebleed section because the bottom section seats were reserved for the colleges. But it was fun up there, surrounded by local people who, like me, wanted to go because it was close enough to attend. There were also a lot of fans of different teams up there with us.

We, of course, were rooting for Stanford.

In the semi-finals, Stanford played USC and California played Penn State. Over 13,000 people showed up, making it the second largest crowd for the semi-finals.

Stanford beat USC in a five game show down. They were evenly matched and the victory could have gone either way, making for an exciting game. We had a good vantage point because we were looking down and could see the whole court.

Here’s the photo gallery for the game. Not bad for shooting from the top of the arena:

Game 1 NCAA Division 1 Volleyball Tournament

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Good Way to Start the New Year

Posted by Casey on January 1, 2008

I got a pleasant email this morning. My story “The Last Hero of Wodling” has been accepted by Sorcerous Signals. It’s a new market that’s good fit for my little story about a woman warrior who tries to lift a centuries old spell from her village.

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Happy New Year

Posted by Casey on January 1, 2008

I’ve been playing hooky from the blog. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the computer, since I’m on it for work and for play. I have two big December events to post and I’m working on them now. Let’s just say, they involve lots of photos.

Here’s a photo I took December 22, from the back of an SUV, on a gazillion lane freeway, heading south to Palo Alto. I saw the shot, grabbed my camera, and prayed that the photos wouldn’t be too blurry because I was shaking all over the place from trying to keep the zoom lens steady in the moving car.

Yep, that’s the Golden Gate Bridge . . .

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Happy Winter Solstice

Posted by Casey on December 21, 2007

Tis the season to embrace peace . . .

“The Christians and the Pagans” by Dar Williams

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Ups and Downs

Posted by Casey on December 16, 2007

Three unexpected things happened today . . .

This morning I went to a funeral for a cat. Mr. Whiskers belonged to a friend and was hit by a car this morning. He was a fun loving cat with lots of personality and his presence will be missed. He was buried out in the country on a horse ranch, between a pair of trees.

This afternoon I got an email informing me that my story “Harleys in Driftwood” has been selected for an anthology–A TIME TO … Volume 2 – The Best of The Lorelei Signal 2007. That was a nice surprise.

This evening when I came back from part 2 of my life list experience (you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what it is) I got an email announcing that the December Special Issue of Coyote Wild is up. My story “Lighthouse at the Edge of the Universe” happens to be in that issue. So that was a really nice surprise.

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Between Interesting Stuff

Posted by Casey on December 13, 2007

My life has been pitifully boring lately. That’s about to change tomorrow night. I get to mark something else off my life list.

Until then . . . enjoy this music video . . . YouTube won’t let me embed it, so you’ll have to click on the image to get to it.

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Makes me kind of nostalgic for my old pairs of ripped jeans . . . When I looked like this . . .

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Yep, I raided old photo albums when I visited my mom over Thanksgiving. This was my high school photo when I was a junior and I’m pretty sure the jeans I was wearing (out of sight of the camera lens) had rips in them.

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Tis the Season to Give Presents

Posted by Casey on December 9, 2007

Some of us don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday but rather recognize X-mas simply as a day of giving gifts. So as I mull over what to get everyone this year, I can’t forget my many furry friends . . .

Do you think they’d like one of these?

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The Kitty Wig

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The Golden Compass — The Film

Posted by Casey on December 2, 2007

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We went to a sneak preview of The Golden Compass last night. The fact that it was a sneak preview was entertaining in itself. A lady in front of us stood with a clipboard, taking notes on the people coming in, along with counting them with a clicker. She said the film studio wants all kinds of information. The studio should be pleased that most of the audience arrived early and almost filled the theater. They were also a very attentive and respectful of the film. I suspect many were fans of the books. I thought it interesting the only time the audience really came alive and applauded was when the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison defeated the king of the armored bears.

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I started reading His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman after I finished the Harry Potter books. These two sets of fantasy works will be forever linked since they became popular at roughly the same time. Although Pullman said in an interview, “I was quite happy for Harry Potter to get all the attention so I could creep in underneath all of it.” The book Northern Lights–known as The Golden Compass in the US–was first published in 1995 and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone–know as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US–was first published in 1997. Both gained popularity in England before crossing the pond for greater fame and fortune.

I wasn’t quite ready to commit to reading another series, so I’m only a couple of chapters into The Golden Compass. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I think I’m ready to read the trilogy.

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I’ve read enough of Philip Pullman’s work to know he writes with a depth and intellectual awareness that is not found in Rowling’s work. Like the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, Pullman’s books have strong thematic substructures that are difficult to translate to a visual/aural medium. Since I’ve read only a bit of The Golden Compass, I can’t comment on the faithfulness of the film adaptation to the original text. I can say the screenwriters found a narrative thread that was easy to follow and made sense dramatically.

Having said that, two things I know aren’t the same as in the book. The whole opening sequence with the kids doesn’t open the book and the Master is the one who poison’s the wine in the book, not the scuzzy bad guy from the Magisterium in the film. Maybe I’ll understand these changes when I finish the book.

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The director, Chris Weitz, “decided to move the final three chapters of The Golden Compass to the beginning of The Subtle Knife. To me, this provides the most promising conclusion to the first film and the best possible beginning to the second.” Pullman agreed to this change. A similar decision had been made in the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

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At the heart of the series is a tough eleven-year-old girl, Lyra Belacqua. Dakota Blue Richards went to an open audition and beat out 10,000 other girls for the part. It’s a difficult role because Lyra is a tough, unruly, orphan who has basically been allowed to run free and raise herself. So it’s amazing they found a girl who has never acted before, so perfect in the role.

As for the religious controversy surrounding these books . . . It’s fantasy fiction with the same moralistic and thematic weight as those other monumental fantasy series that has drawn some sort of religious controversy. Works such as the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Narnia is usually criticized because it’s too allegorical and LotR for not having any religion at all.

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The funniest part of the whole controversy is that the ringleader for the controversy, William A. Donahoe of the Catholic League thinks, because The Golden Compass is the least religiously offensive of the books and the filmmakers supposedly have been careful to keep the offending elements from the film, parents won’t find anything wrong with it and buy the books for their kids to read. Only too late will these parents learn that these books, according to Donahoe “promote atheism for kids.”

An article posted today in the Los Angeles Times puts this so-called controversy into perspective. Laura Miller states in “Religious furor over Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ ” :

Most preposterous, of course, is the idea that anyone would make a $180-million movie with the purpose of tricking children into reading a seditious book. What self-respecting kid ever needed that much encouragement to ferret out whatever the adults are trying to hide?

 

Also — whoops! — no one’s been hiding “His Dark Materials.” To date, 15 million copies of Pullman’s books have been sold worldwide. “The Golden Compass” won not only the 1995 Carnegie Medal, a prize awarded by British children’s librarians, but also the “Carnegie of Carnegies,” as the public’s favorite book in the prize’s 70-year history. The final novel in the trilogy, “The Amber Spyglass,” won the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 2001, the first children’s book ever to do so. It’s safe to say that copies of the trilogy reside in every decent children’s library in the nation. If there is indeed a “deceitful stealth campaign” afoot to lure children to Pullman’s books — as William Donohue, spokesman for the Catholic League, insists — it’s remarkably short on stealth.

I enjoyed the film. It’s visually stunning, well-acted, and goes along at a good pace. All the critters surrounding the people–their dæmons–are fun to watch and the bears rock. For me, that’s all I need for a good time at the movies.

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CA to AZ

Posted by Casey on November 19, 2007

Well, I’m going from this–taken last weekend at Bodega Bay . . .

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to this . . .

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for a week, while I do the family thing over Thanksgiving in Tucson.

I really can’t get into a holiday that celebrates eating a defenseless bird, so I spend the day mourning the slaughter of all those poor turkeys. For the record, the last time I had turkey for Thanksgiving was 32 years ago.

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Stanford vs USA

Posted by Casey on November 19, 2007

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The USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team ended their two-week eight-game college tour Thursday night at Stanford.

It was an amazingly beautiful day, sunny with no fog and mild down there in Palo Alto. It was so clear, we could see the fog drifting over San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. We had dinner at Hobee’s, a chain of restaurants south of SF. It has a nice mix of carnivore and herbivore food.

We got to Stanford about quarter to six and as the faculty and staff were escaping campus, we got a parking place right across from Maples Pavilion. People were already there waiting to get in and by the time they opened the doors at six, there was a nice crowd waiting. That was a good sign–people were there an hour before to see the warmups, etc. Showed real interest in women’s basketball.

A teenage girl in line in front of me had a UConn sweatshirt on. The woman sitting next to me had a Seattle Storm shirt on. Then the Monarchs fans showed up. Quite a few like us came on their own, but three bus loads arrived from Arco Arena and suddenly purple competed with Cardinal red as the dominant color.

The shoot around was very relaxed. The coaches and players stood around chatting. Something you never see in a WNBA game–a player chatting with the coach of the opposing team. Taurasi, who talks to everyone at any time, chatted with Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.

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All of a sudden the players gathered at mid-court stripping off their warmups for a group picture. The teams also exchanged gifts before the game. I wonder what they were.

It took a little getting used to having Lisa Leslie and Diana Taurasi introduced without any boos. Or them making points without any boos. In fact, both teams got equal applause and cheers, showing appreciation for good plays, no matter who made them. That was the best part about the game. It was a friendly and everyone was relaxed and just having a good time.

The three bus loads of Monarchs fans were there to see Kara Lawson play. When she took the court for the first time, she got the loudest cheers of any player. When she made a basket the mob of purple clad yelled her name, beat thundersticks, and one woman rang her cow bell–just like at a Monarchs game. The Stanford fans looked a little bemused by these displays.

Monarchs Ticha Penichiera, DeMya Walker, and former Monarch and Olympic gold medalist Ruthie Bolton also hopped the buses at Arco, so it was a mini-Monarchs reunion of sorts.

The anarchic Stanford band and the infamous Stanford Tree entertained during timeouts. The halftime entertainment were Irish dancers, who did a good job.

The game itself was one of the best I’ve seen in person. USA played like a well oiled machine. It was fun seeing in person Bird and Taurasi on the same team together. They ran a couple of fun plays they’ve probably been doing since their UConn days and could do in their sleep.

Bird played a perfect game. She had a game-high 19 points, plus 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals. K-Law didn’t disappoint her faithful following with 15 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal. I think she’s done a good job of pleading her case for a permanent spot on the National Team. The final score was 97-62, USA all the way.

Something else you usually don’t see in a game–USA player Jamie Carey was called over to the Stanford bench during free throws in the second half, where Tara had a few words with her. Just like the old days for both of them when Jamie Carey was the point guard for the Stanford team.

The USA team went its separate ways after the game. Bird and Taurasi are off to Russia to join LJ, Tina Thompson, Izi Castro Marques, Kelly Mazzante, and Kelly Miller on the Spartak Moscow Region team. Pokey Chatman is now an assistant coach on that team. Wow that’s some team.

I ‘m starting something new. I’ve created a secondary blog for photo galleries and other things that are related to the posts here.

So here’s photo gallery for the USA-Stanford game.

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While We’re Waiting for My Stanford vs USA Blog

Posted by Casey on November 18, 2007

I ended up at Bodega Bay today and this little lady was nice enough to pose.

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Watch Out World . . .

Posted by Casey on November 15, 2007

Kara Lawson called her “the real deal.”

Diana Taurasi said “she’s the man.”

Her name’s Maya Moore and she’s a freshman on the UConn women’s basketball team. I saw her play in a high school tournament on tv last year and she was not only so much better than everyone else, she played with a grace and maturity that most players don’t develop until they’ve gone pro.

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She’s the first UConn freshman to score in double figures in her first two college games since Swin Cash did it in 1998 and is the first freshman to score at least 20 points in those first two games. On top of that, she scored 17 points against Swin Cash and the US Women’s National Team a couple of weeks ago.

She got a double-double in the first game of the season against Stony Brook. In 20 minutes she scored 21 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, plus 4 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.

UConn went against Holy Cross for their second game. Moore played only 19 minutes but scored a mind-boggling 31 points–shot 14 of 16 from the floor–grabbed 5 rebounds, plus 4 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. When she saw the stats after the game, she shook her head and said, “Not enough rebounds.”

It’s going to be a fun year with her breathing down the necks of the CP3‘s (Candace Parker and Courtney Paris) , Sylvia Fowles, and Candice Wiggins for the college players to watch.

I get to see Wiggins and her Stanford team play tonight against the US women’s national team. It’s the last game in the two-week eight game college tour by the US team.

This is another one of those life list things–seeing the national team in person. Covering the Monarchs, I’ve seen all the individual players in person several times but it’s different with them all together wearing the USA uniform.

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Friend in Print

Posted by Casey on November 13, 2007

baryspanish1.jpg Bary in summer school

My buddy Bary, a fellow librarian who works at the National Gallery of Art in DC, attended the Summer Language Program at Middlebury College in Vermont. He had to habla Spanish all summer. Better yet, he wrote about his experience. It’s on page 4 of the Fall, 2007 issue of Sketches:

A Middlebury College Language School Summer, or, “No English Spoken Here” by Bary Johnson

Sounds way too much like work to me.

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New Strings and a Shine

Posted by Casey on November 13, 2007

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Watermelon Music in Davis, California does a cool thing once a year. They have a restring clinic for guitars, ukeleles, and mandolins with free strings donated by D’Addario. They polish your instrument and put on the new strings in exchange for a non-perishable food item for the Yolo County Food Bank.

I showed up early with my blue guitar and I’m glad I did because by the time my instrument was shiny with new strings, the line was out the door in a light rain no less.

I enjoy visiting Davis. It’s a small college town with beautiful tree lined streets and a really cool downtown. They also have a Food Coop where I can buy things I can’t get anywhere else. I grew up in a town like this and I always feel a bit nostalgic when I go there, especially on overcast cool fall days like Saturday.

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This Just In

Posted by Casey on November 10, 2007

BJ was also in Los Angeles last Saturday to watch the Los Angeles Amazons play the So Cal Scorpions. Those are women’s football teams. Well, it seems she wandered to a little known part of the Walk of Fame and found this star.

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Who knew they had stars for crazy photographers.

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It Ain’t Easy Being Green

Posted by Casey on November 10, 2007

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So why was I leaning against a pillar outside the Burbank Marriott on Saturday morning? Well, here’s a hint . . .

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Yes, a bunch of us jumped on a plane in Sacramento, flew into Burbank, briefly detoured to the Burbank Marriott to eat lunch and get ready for the shuttle to pick us up and take us to Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard to see Wicked.

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There was a tiny hitch on the way to the theater. The block in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was blocked off. I glanced down the road and saw snow and Christmas trees and a red carpet. They were getting ready for the premiere of Fred Claus.

We finally got to the theater and had to deal with a couple of bus loads of tourists because it’s in the middle of the Walk of Fame. Plus it was just a typical crazy Saturday afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard. Insane, touristy, and compelling in its own way.

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The Pantages Theatre is art deco gone amuck. It was built in 1930 and reflects the gawdy Hollywood taste of the time. The interior is ornate gold, upon silver, upon copper in bizarre layer upon layer of pseudo ancient Egyptian, ancient Roman, ancient Mayan/Aztec design.

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As for Wicked — good lyrics and book, rather mediocre score. Sets and costumes, stunning. The performances were good, except the guy who played Fiyero. He’s basically a dancer and his singing and acting were very weak, especially in comparison with the rest of the cast.

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After the show we walked up Hollywood Boulevard to the Kodak Theatre. We first tried to find John Wayne’s star on Vine, but went in the wrong direction. I did find some of my favorites.

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And the star of the Unknown Celebrity

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Just kidding. There were a lot of empty stars. I wonder if some of the locations are more prime than others. Actually, Hollywood Boulevard is in the, let’s call it, funky part of town, so a star has as much chance of being in front of the Pantages Theatre, MacDonalds, a tattoo parlor or under a marquee proclaiming “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
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Most of the crowd was in front of the Kodak Theatre/Mall.

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As the sun went down the crowds got bigger and we had to cross the street to get any view of Grauman’s Theatre. The crowd was just as heavy on that side of the street and the sidewalk is split for people who just want to walk and people who want to stop and gawk.

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We got the shuttle to pick us up across the playing fields for Hollywood High, which is just a block away from the Kodak and Grauman’s Theatres. Lunch hour must be fun for those students.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, a Farscape Convention is going on. What can I say? Life’s a carnival. I’m usually at a Xena Convention at that hotel and I was flashing back in the middle of the night when the hotel bar closed and singing and laughter wafted up from the courtyard as the party spilled outside. Just like at the XenaCon.

One added highlight of the trip. On the way south, we flew past Yosemite and I got a good view of Half Dome and El Capitan.

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Harry Potter and the End of His Saga

Posted by Casey on November 6, 2007

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With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we come to the end of the story of “the Boy Who Lived.”

Rowling has said that her favorite books to write were 3, 6, and 7. Her least favorite is 5. As I’ve noted, 3 and 6 are the best written and 5 is the worse, so she has a good feel for her creative process. I think she liked 7 because it was the end of a long, exhausting creative journey. Readers have no idea how difficult a feat it is to write a series like this, much less write most of it with her publishers, a film company, merchandisers, and millions of readers breathing down her neck.

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I didn’t like Book 7. It had the same floundering without going anywhere quality as Book 5. When I was on page 551, I said out loud that I could stop reading and not care how the whole series came out. After six-and-a-half books, I still hadn’t mustered enough empathy with the characters to care.

The biggest question was whether Harry Potter was going to live or not. From a literary point of view his fate could have gone either way. Rowling makes an interesting compromise in answer to this question. In a sense, Potter does die (or gets as close to death as one can get and still be alive) and makes the decision to live because he hasn’t finished what he’s fated to do or die trying. As long as there’s life in him, he’ll battle Voldemort.

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Something wonderful was revealed in this book and it made the whole series worthwhile for me. It made me giddy with excitement. We discover that these books aren’t really about Harry Potter at all. He is not the hero of these books. He’s a victim of circumstance and not the only one. These books could have just as easily been Neville Longbottom and the Whatever but Harry got the unlucky spin of the wheel. I’m pleased that Neville follows Harry’s final instructions to him and is the one who performs the final act that gives Harry the only chance he has to defeat Voldemort.

The true hero of this series is Severus Snape. The whole story hinges on Snape doing his job. He doesn’t have to like Potter to play his part. In fact, he hates Potter, which makes his role in this series all the more fascinating. In the end, Potter considers Snape the bravest man he has ever met.

By the way, the whole Draco/Elder’s wand thing . . . For me, it’s a little too coincidental that Harry Potter ends up with Draco’s wand. It would have been a little more believable if someone (like Snape) who knew the significance of the wand had a hand in Potter gaining possession of it.

So that’s it. I can see how dissertations and endless papers will be devoted to this series, both for its rise as a popular culture phenomenon and as a deeply flawed literary work.

I like to think that Rowling will revisit this series in a decade or so and decide to take the time to work out the flaws and do a proper job of telling the story without the whole world nipping at her heels. Rowling’s favorite author is Jane Austen. Well, even Jane Austen wasn’t satisfied with her first version of Pride and Prejudice (called First Impressions) and rewrote it. The result was one of the greatest books ever written.

I’m rather glad I read this series, if for no other reason than to know what it’s about. But it also helped get my stalled creative juices going again. Watch out world.

Posted in Literature | 2 Comments »

Personal Heroes

Posted by Casey on November 6, 2007

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Thomas Paine has been a personal hero of mind ever since I learned about him in American history class and read his amazing pamphlet, Common Sense. His global thinking makes him both ahead of his time and timeless.

Much of what he says about the world and about governments in Common Sense and his other works is still true. If he lived today, I can’t help but think he would have the same impassioned reaction to the environmental ruin of our planet that he had for life, liberty, and the pursuit of freedom, and would be one of the most persuasive voices to finally get the right people (locally and globally) to open their eyes and implement the changes in how we humans inhabit this planet that need to be implemented now.

In other words, I’d like to think he would have produced works (in the most appropriate medium) that would have the same impact on the world as Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Age of Reason. His written work influenced the ideas and wording of the Declaration of Independence. He spent four months in France helping Lafayette draw up The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — one of the primary documents of freedom during the French Revolution. He even suggested the new American country be called the “United States of America.”

He was a revolutionary, radical, liberal intellectual. For some, all or several of those four words may have a negative connotation and may perhaps even be a little frightening. For me, those four words sum up all the positive aspects of the world and age I grew up in. Thomas Paine fit right in with my life and everything surrounding my life in the late 1960s, early 1970s, when I first learned about him.

He lived an interesting life where his ideas and writings made him famous and infamous, embraced by nations and influential people, and scorned by nations and influential people. In the case of France, he got a taste of all worlds, including just missing the guillotine because of a happy circumstance that probably wouldn’t have been believed if written in a work of fiction. Truth can be stranger than fiction.

I just want to note a couple of passages from Common Sense. Paine could be sitting in a Starbucks expressing these opinions (in slightly more modern speech pattern and terminology) and be commentating on what he had just read in the newspaper. Not much has really changed in the world between 1776 and 2007.

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From the INTRODUCTION:

Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

From the section OF THE ORIGIN AND DESIGN OF GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL:

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

Thank you Mr. Paine for continuing to be the voice of reason.

Posted in Literature | 4 Comments »

Harry Potter and Halfway Decent Book

Posted by Casey on October 31, 2007

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is 657 pages. That alone makes it better than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I don’t agree with this visual review of the Half-Blood Prince:

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Harry Potter regains his pre-Book 5 personality, which is a good thing. Ron and Hermione are the ones going through growing pains in this one, but that’s okay because the reader knows where all that’s leading to.

Half-Blood Prince is the beginning of the long, sometimes tedious denouement for the series. Dumbledore prepares Harry in a rather haphazard and inadequate way for his ultimate confrontation with Voldemort. The interesting thing about this book is Rowling’s about face attitude toward adults as helpers for Harry. Dumbledore suddenly is not the wizard who can get everyone out of impossible fixes and concoct cover-ups better than major government officials.

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Dumbledore’s mentoring causes more confusion than clarity, leaving Harry woefully unprepared to deal with pretty much everything that happens in Book 7. Snape is the one who steps in and takes matters into his own hands, but on the surface, his actions appear to be the opposite of saving the day. I’m not going to give away key events, in case others want to read these books. I’ll just say, Snape continues to be the most interesting character in these books.

This is a better paced book than Books 4 or 5, which means it doesn’t drag all the way through. Rowling still hasn’t learned the useful fiction device–narrative summary–to reduce the number of redundant scenes that don’t contribute to the story but denotes the passage of time. At least the redundancy doesn’t get as out of hand as it does in Book 7.

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This book ends with Harry ready to do what he can to save the wizarding world by destroying Voldemort once and for all. So on to the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter saga.

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Harry Potter and the Train Wreck in Slow Motion

Posted by Casey on October 30, 2007

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With great relief, I finished Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix. I like thick fantasy epics as much as the next person but content must be up to the task of filling, say 870 pages. Unfortunately, the 870 pages that contain the Order of Phoenix only provides more space for the already pedantic pace set in the previous Potter books to ooze into something slow enough to imitate a Stupefy spell.

Reading this book is like listening to a Presto by Haydn played at a Largo tempo. It plods on and on and on with only brief spurts of get up and go.

Having said that, Phoenix has some of the most entertaining plot and character elements of the series so far. The adaptation to film focused on these elements, making the film much better than the book. In all honestly, 350 to 400 pages could be trimmed away and not only help the pace, but turn it into a pretty good book–except for a minor point that I’ll discuss a little later. Even Rowling said, “There are minor plot things that I– I would change going back. I’d certainly– edit Phoenix a bit better because it’s– I think it’s too long.”

But you know what? There’s a section where the pace actually works, really works for the first time in the first five books. For the first time, Rowling seems to be enjoying what she’s writing. For the first time the story leaps off the page.

It’s odd to say, but her writing has a remote feel, which is interesting because the story (except for introductory scenes at the beginning of most of the volumes and a few minor POV slips) is from Harry’s POV. Perhaps that’s the reason I haven’t been able to muster enough empathy with Harry to really care. And, as I’ve been known to say, novels are about characters, not setting or story. After five books, I haven’t become a Harry Potter convert because I haven’t found a reason to like Harry Potter beyond him being a boy with an interesting problem to overcome.

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The section where I feel Rowling demonstrates she can indeed write in an entertaining, engaging way is when the Weasley twins begin their campaign to get expelled from Hogwarts. Suddenly, we have action and pace in glorious harmony. The section where they set off the fireworks was good writing–all the way through to when all the fireworks burn themselves out.

Unfortunately, Harry does not endear himself to the reader or to anyone who comes within shouting distance of him for that matter. He spends the entire 870 pages pissed off at everyone. A fifteen-year-old yelling and pouting and storming about and fuming in anger does not make for fun reading.

The worse thing a writer can do is change a character’s personality so much that it’s not the same character. In this case, Harry Potter has been replaced by a bad actor, who makes up for lack of skill with over-the-top dramatics. I just wanted to fling a stupefy spell at him and tell him to get over himself and grow up. A more experienced writer would have been able to maintain the personality of the Harry in the first four books as he deals with the extremes of going through too many major physical, emotional, and mental changes in this book.

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This is another example of Rowling not having a complete understanding of how to maintain a compelling fictional dream. She often plays fast and loose with what should be the constants in her world (such as the magic and, in this case, characterization) so certain plot points will happen.

Which brings us to the two major problems with this book . . .

The first is where the main characters suddenly turn stupid so certain events can unfold.

Page 745:

Snape gave her an ironic bow and turned to leave. Harry knew his last chance of letting the Order know what was going on was walking out the door.

 

“He’s got Padfoot!” he shouted. “He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden!”

 

Snape had stopped with his hand on Umbridge’s door handle.

 

“Padfoot?” cried Professor Umbridge, looking eagerly from Harry to Snape. “What is Padfoot? Where what is hidden? What does he mean, Snape?”

 

Snape looked around at Harry. His face was inscrutable. Harry could not tell whether he had understood or not, but he did not dare speak more plainly in front of Umbridge.

 

“I have no idea, ” said Snape coldly. “Potter, when I want nonsense shouted at me I shall give you a Babbling Beverage . . .”

At this point, as a reader, I said, “Bravo.” Snape’s a good wild card to pull at this point in the unfolding drama. But, just as Harry and Hermione are suddenly too stupid to figure out the contradiction of the rules related to the Time-Turner, they don’t seem to remember Harry gave Snape the above information so Snape can find out what’s going on with Sirius. They seem to have forgotten about Snape completely after they leave the centaurs to deal with Umbridge.

The whole scene of Harry and his posse going to the Ministry of Magic and getting caught up in endless pointless actions that go on and on, only to be saved, again, by grownups is just a mess. It reads like an action movie that tries to overwhelm the audience with too many special effects to take its mind off the fact that nothing is happening plot-wise.

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This mess is a good indication the story strayed away from the logical narrative line, especially when too many things have to be explained at the end, like on page 830:

“Kreacher told me last night,” said Dumbledore. “You see, when you gave Professor Snape that cryptic warning, he realized that you had had a vision of Sirius trapped in the bowels of the Department of Mysteries. He, like you, attempted to contact Sirius at once. I should explain that members of the Order of Phoenix have more reliable methods of communicating than the fire in Dolores Umbridge’s office. Professor Snape found that Sirius was alive and safe at Grimmauld Place.

 

“When, however, you did not return from your trip into the forest with Dolores Umbridge, Professor Snape grew worried that you still believed Sirius to be captive of Lord Voldemort’s. He alerted the Order members at once.”

The grownups–the Order members–come and save the day because Potter and his friends have been all but defeated by the Death Eaters at that point.

The question is, why didn’t Hermione, who’s always on top of things, ask, when they’re mounting broomsticks and thestrals for London, “Shouldn’t we see if Snape’s found out anything?” The fact that she nor Harry nor Ron even ask the question is out of character for all of them. Another example of where Rowling sacrifices one of the most important constants in fiction–characterization–for plot points. Even if they still go to London after debating whether they should check with Snape would, at least, restore some credibility to the direction the story takes.

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The second problem is the grownups come in to save the day. It’s almost as if Rowling couldn’t figure out how to get the kids out of the Department of Mysteries after being chased around far too long by the Death Eaters without two of the major plot points not happening yet. It reads exactly like what it is. A plot cop-out. At this point in the series, it’s almost irresponsible because Harry has more than demonstrated that he can handle the bad guys–all it takes is a little more imagination from Harry’s creator, who opted, once again, to take the easy way out.

Bellatrix raised her wand. “Crucio!

 

Neville screamed, his legs drawn up to his chest so that the Death Eater holding him was momentarily holding him off the ground. The Death Eater dropped him and he fell to the floor, twitching and screaming in agony.

 

“That was just a taster!” said Bellatrix, raising her wand so that Neville’s screams stopped and he lay sobbing at her feet. She turned and gazed up at Harry. “Now, Potter, either give us the prophecy, or watch you little friend die the hard way!”

 

Harry did not have to think; there was no choice. The prophecy was hot with the heat from his clutching hand as he held it out. Malfoy jumped forward to take it.

 

Then, high above them, two more doors burst open and five more people sprinted into the room: Sirius, Lupin, Moody, Tonks, and Kingley.

I don’t doubt Rowling would like to take another stab at getting this book right, especially from page 745 on. All the elements for the dramatic climax are there, they just need to be pulled into focused and arranged in a logical credible sequence and have Harry more in control of the situation when the grownups arrive as re-enforcements, not saviors.

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This could have been the best book so far. It has a lot of good things in it. The formation of Dumbledore’s Army, the Weasley twins’ anarchic rampage, and the concept for the Department of Magic makes the book fun. But, unfortunately, it’s the worse book of the first five.

I confess I’ve read Book 6 and 7. I decided not to stop after 5 and plowed through to the end, just finishing 7 today. So I’ll be blogging about the last two books this week, and then I can put this exercise in reluctant reading far behind me.

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Putting the Curl in Curling

Posted by Casey on October 27, 2007

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Well, I played my second game of curling last night and my team won. Yeah. We actually didn’t do bad once I got the hang of throwing the first two stones lighter than heavier. Skill in knowing how much muscle to put behind the stone and releasing it so it curls properly is only half the equation. The other half is the ever changing condition of the ice.

The ice can be fast or slow and it can have rough or slick patches that will alter the course of the stone. The condition of the ice changes as stone after stone rolls over it and as slick paths are created by the sweepers and the players who glide on the Teflon soles. Also last night, the door to the ice was left open for a while. That warmed the rink down and, while it was more comfortable temperature wise, the ice got slicker and slicker and nearly every stone was too heavy–rolling all the way through the house. After someone closed the door, the ice hardened, changing the playing conditions again.

I’m getting better at keeping up with the faster stones while sweeping. Sweeping is a lot harder than it looks. First off you’re running kind of sideways on the ice, watching the stone, watching and listening to the Skip for instructions, watching for other sweepers in the neighboring lane, watching for guard stones in your path . . . it really gets fun when you have to do all this while you’re sweeping the ice in front of the stone.

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Now that I’m getting the hang of doing the basic things, I’m paying more attention to the strategy of the game. Being the Lead, I throw the first two stones that are hopefully guards or draws and I sweep for the other players. A game lasts two to two-and-a-half hours and has ten ends. That means I throw twenty stones and sweep sixty. No wonder my back feels it in the morning.

Part way through last night, I realized I was really enjoying myself. It was a turning point in my mind from beginner to actual contributing member of the team. Two weeks ago we were two beginners, a player with experience, and a player who’s been curling all his life. This week we were gelling as a team, concentrating more on strategy than on figuring out what we were doing.

The best thing, I haven’t fallen yet, and I’m wearing regular shoes.

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Winging It at Wild Wings

Posted by Casey on October 22, 2007

I was at Wild Wings Golf Course Saturday, outside Woodland, California, photographing the last regular season tournament for the Northern California division of the National Golf League.

We mostly hung around at the ninth hole, listening to the ’80s rock ‘n roll and talking to Kim, the DJ for the event. Kim was telling us how she had to cover a high school football game the night before in the pouring rain. Makes me thankful basketball is an indoor sport.

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It was windy but a beautiful sunny day and Wild Wings Country Club is a nice setting, wrapped around a community of homes outside of Woodland. I can think of worse ways to hang out on a Saturday.

I met Michael and Brenda–part owners of the Sacramento Sirens–and had an entertaining chat with them. I love their enthusiasm for women’s sports.

Every once in a while teams of golfers showed up to tee off the ninth.

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. . . Or No Deal

Posted by Casey on October 18, 2007

BJ has chronicled the Deal or No Deal watching party the Sirens and the Sac City Rollers held last night.

“Kimberly’s Deal” on Deal or No Deal

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Deal?

Posted by Casey on October 18, 2007

Kimberly Bradshaw, a Sacramento Siren and a Sac City Roller was on Deal or No Deal tonight. She’s no. 91 in the photo taken at the Team Golf tournament a few weeks ago.

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At the beginning of the show, they showed clips of her playing football with the Sirens. Great free publicity for the league. Then in the middle of the show half the Sirens (in their jerseys) and members of the Sac City Rollers team (on roller skates) come into an area behind the stage to root their teammate on.

It was fun seeing the Sirens having a good time shouting encouragements and chanting.

Kimberly’s son (the kid in the above photo) wanted her to take the deals. Smart kid. Kimberly took one too many chances and ended up with only $23,000.

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Scammers, Plagiarism and Witchcraft, Oh My

Posted by Casey on October 17, 2007

What happens when a blogger exposes a really stupid case of plagiarism? Well, a major drama filled with ever changing excuses, threats of lawsuits, and witchy curses. Not to mention a lot of entertaining comments from the literary peanut gallery.

My favorite part of this whole thing is when the scamming agent wants to sue the blogger, Jane (a lawyer), for exposing the plagiarism.

Jane emailed the agent with: “I don’t understand why you are emailing me. If you have a lawsuit, have your attorney contact me.”

To which the agent replied: “Don’t worry, when the papers are ready, you will hear from him, trust me. We had no clue this person [the author of the work that was ripped off] or his books existed until last week when YOU posted it. I asked you not to and YOU did, now we have this huge explosion going on and it started with YOU.”

In other words, she wants to sue Jane for publicly spilling the beans that the Prologue of the book Of Atlantis is actually the opening pages of Dark Prince by David Gemmell.

Her myopic stupidity leaves me speechless.

It all starts here . . .

Top 10 Tips for Plagiarists

continues to here . . .

Victoria Strauss — Christopher Hill Redux

and is discussed in greater detail here . . .

Weirdly Similar…

and more as the comments spill into October 17th . . .

How to Fling About Legal Insults Like a Lawyer, Part 1 of Many Parts

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