Friday, December 9, 2011

check out these downtown Tacoma street banners

I had the privilege and pleasure of being part of a street banner project for downtown Tacoma. These were meant to be relevant from Thanksgiving to Chinese New Year, so had to be more about winter than Christmas. We came up with the idea of doing snippets of imagined, overheard conversations that might have occurred on a downtown street in the wintertime.

The words are from my friend Bill Kupinse and me. Bill is an associate professor of English Lit at University of Puget Sound, a really talented poet and a courageous promoter of other poets. The great design is by my dear friend Lance Kagey, who is just good at this stuff. And last and definitely least, the photography is from my much-despised Blackberry phone.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bryan John Appleby is playing our Christmas Party - 12/10, King's Books 7 p.m.

My favorite event of the year is our annual Beautiful Angle Christmas Party and Poster Sale, held this year at King's Books in Tacoma at 7 p.m. I first saw BJA with his band at a Warehouse show in Tacoma with Cobirds Unite. We went to see Cobirds, who were great, but we had never seen BJA before. He pretty much blew us away. An amazing lyricist, a pure voice, and just the right touch on a guitar.

At our party, he'll be playing solo, but will be bringing a special guest, The Living, who will be playing a few songs as well.

The rest of the party will be great, too. We're buying the food, beer and wine. We're selling Beautiful Angle posters at fire sale prices. And all the proceeds of our poster sales go to l'Arche Tacoma, one of our favorite charities in the world. Why? Because they help developmentally disabled adults and they make handmade paper. The setting is one of our happy places--Kings Books, where sweet pea leads the Tacoma lit scene and sells books. If you come, please buy books and support this amazing store.

But the main reason we love this night is because you'll be there. We love hanging out with our favorite people. On December 10, a whole bunch of them will be in one room, eating, drinking, talking, and listening together. If you see one, give them a hug for us.

Here's a link to the evite:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Die Kippen Haus? Der Kippen Haus? Das Kippen Haus?

Ausgezeichnet! The Tilting House is well on its way to being released in Germany. Thanks to my agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, and Erzsi Deak, our foreign rights agent (who apparently is also esteemed), we have received an actual offer from an actual publisher in Germany, which begins some sort of mysterious negotiating period between a few potential bidders.

I've got a soft spot in my heart for Deutschland, my wife and I having hosted an exchange student, Eva Busch, who became a great friend and a surrogate daughter. The fam and I went and stayed with Eva's family a few years ago in Homberg, a small village near Kassel. We also went to Venice on that trip, but I must say I liked Germany more. Great urban planners. Lovely people. Amazing beer and chocolate.

So keep your eyes peeled for Der Kippen Haus (or is it Die Kippen Haus?). Coming soon to a Barnes und Noble near you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A couple of nice press mentions about Rotator Magazine

We're even closer to our Friday night launch party for Rotator Magazine. The Tacoma News Tribune (the 800-pound gorilla of South Sound news) and Post Defiance (the scrappy online local news source) have both created nice articles on the launch.

See the News Tribune article.

See the Post Defiance article.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Another amazing collectible magazine - Visionaire

As we continue to draw closer to the October 14 launch of Rotator Magazine (the launch party is at Fulcrum Gallery in Tacoma at 7 p.m.), I've been checking out other cool magazine projects that do the same sort of thing. Up near the top of the heap is Visionaire. It talks about all sorts of stuff I don't give a hoot about, like high fashion and perfume and such (bleah), but boy is it beautiful.

The magazine is sold at a starting price of $295  per issue. But collectors are said to pay up to $5,000 for hard-to-find issues such as No. 18, which came in its own Louis Vuitton portfolio case, which is pretty dang cool.

Rotator will have much more of an industrial aesthetic, and while it will not come in a Louis Vuitton case, it will come with a hand-letterpressed cover. And it's only twenty bucks for the inaugural issue. Cheap!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Check out the new First Night poster by Lance Kagey

My dear friend, designer, artist and letterpress printer, Lance Kagey just finished the hand-printing of Tacoma's First Night posters. It's the Year of the Dragon, baby. Check out the split fountain on the flames.

This looks like it will be an amazing, community-gathering event. It may even be cooler than this beautiful poster.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A set of lyrics worth sharing

I've been writing songs with my friend Ed Dobeas for about thirty years. Seriously. Ed's a multi-instrumentalist songwriter who now lives in Spain, so now our collaboration is mostly via email. I don't always hit it out of the park on the lyrical end, but I like this set so I thought I'd post it here.

In The Curve Of A Measuring Tape

I’m taking refuge
in the curve of a measuring tape.
I’m hiding from my fate
in the space between the numbers.

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

Johnny Damon
of the Boston Red Sox
hit a ball
at a certain velocity.
It rolled to a stop
on a precise point
in the misty ballpark
of XYZ.

He stopped at third
and contemplated numbers,
considered the dimensions
of hickory trees,
then he uttered a curse
and ran in the face
of the likelihood percentage
of a suicide squeeze.

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

Everything that happened
between you and me
reduced to its elemental parts.
Everything ordered
from the time of our birth
to the moment of death
to the five hundred thousandth
beat of our hearts.

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

Is a dance step predictable?
Is a stumble under account?
If I cry are the tears
measured within
the margin of error
of a predetermined amount?

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

I’m taking refuge
in the curve of a measuring tape.
I’m hiding from my fate
in the space between the numbers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Print is dead. Long live print.

The magazine is dead. As a realistic medium, magazines are dust. In the ground and in the grave and never coming back.

That's why we're launching a magazine. Because death is the first step in new life.

When I say WE, I mean amazing artists, photographers, writers, designers and contributors like Lance Kagey, Art Chantry,Tyler Kalberg, Brian Hutcheson, Chloe and Chelsie Scheffe, James Stowe, Michael Sullivan, Eric Jacobsen, Dennis Flannigan, Mary Boone and others.

It's time to re-imagine the magazine, not as a news medium, but as the newest art form.

Join us for the launch party on Friday, October 14 at Fulcrum Gallery in Tacoma.

Long live the magazine. Long live print.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shhhh...It's a secret!

I'm part of a new artistic project that I am so excited about, but can't yet talk about. it is the coolest thing I've become involved with, well, since the founding of Beautiful Angle.

The best part about it--just like the best part about the Angle, is that I get to work with such amazingly talented and fascinating people, including:

Amazing designers:

Lance Kagey
Adam Welch
Brian Hutcheson
Chelsey Scheffe
Chloe Scheffe
Waymond Hampton

Astounding photographers:

Tyler Kalberg
Sharon Styer
Dylan Priest
Kristen Tourtillotte

One luminous illustrator:

James Stowe

Remarkable writers:

Michael Sullivan
Eric Jacobsen
Dennis Flannigan
Art Chantry
Dan Voelpel
Tim Isaacson
Mary Boone

And brilliant people who get sh*t done:

Ken King
Dana Kagey

This project is coming your way very soon. One month, to be exact! You'll be able to see it, it interact with it, read it, and, of course, buy it. And you will want to own one for your own.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Art Chantry: Parkland is Burning!!!!!!

 Graphic designer Art Chantry has a show opening tonight at the best gallery in Tacoma: Fulcrum Gallery. I'm going to the opening and dragging a few kids along so they can get a thrill looking at Art's amazing rock posters and album covers and get another thrill hearing a regular grown-up drop F-bombs all over the room.

Tacoma, my home town, has an amazing arts scene right now. And an amazing writing scene, too. Being active in both scenes feels like such a gift. Time will tell, but it really feels like a significant place, a significant time and a significant group of people. Like Chicago during the Ashcan School days of the nineteen teens or Harlem in the renaissance days of the 1920s or New York and L.A. in the Pop Art days of the 1960s. Tacoma's scene is more industrial. As much craft as it is art. With grease stains, sweat stains and shot-glass stains fully intact.

Most people associate Art Chantry with Seattle in the 1980s. Grunge. The Rocket. That's fine. Associate away. But Art is the first to admit he is a Tacoma boy--or more accurately, a Parkland boy. And he's also the loudest and angriest to claim that most great cultural things the Northwest claims start in my town.

Tacoma is an incubator. Art happens to be one its best-laid eggs. Come check out the show.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What is cool?

What makes a person cool? What does it have to do with looks? With dress? 

Cool is something that cannot be worried about. Those who worry about how cool they dress are, nine times out of ten, not cool. They are posers. They are mannequins for their own fashion. The cool folks are the ones who simply do their thing and look the way that comes naturally to them.  They don't worry about their "personal brand," but mayhaps they develop one anyway, simply because they are true to themselves.

Case in point: Bill Evans.
This is a photograph of pianist Bill Evans, one of the coolest guys ever. I listen to Bill Evans all the time when I write. His music is way at the top of my list. It moves me and makes me sad. He's the only white member of Miles Davis' famous sextet in the late 1950s and early 60s. His style was the single biggest influence on Davis' seminal album, "Kind of Blue." But look at the guy. He looks like an accountant who somehow wandered up on stage. Like he works hard to look as square as he does.

Here's another photo of Evans. This time he has a cigarette. How much does that help? This is the primary reason why people smoke, right? Because it looks cool.

Here's a third picture. This one shows Evans with, from left, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis. Three of the coolest cats to ever walk the earth. So Evans is cool by association, right?

This is Evans at the height of his career. Honestly, he looks like a dork. If not for the word "JAZZ" on the cover, you'd think this was an educational record on the dangers of venereal disease.

Here he is in the 1970s, much later in life. He had been seriously struggling with drugs for more than a decade by now and his career was more of a struggle, but look at him. You'd never say this guy didn't look cool. Ironically, the guy in the earlier pictures--the one who looked like a dork--that was Evans when he was at his best.

The moral of this story: Don't ever worry about cool. Cool is simply oppression in a black turtleneck.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The value of story telling by Leo Leoni

I'm gonna stick on the philosophical bent for another day. What is the value of storytelling? Does it put food on the table? Does it get the dishes done? Does it make money? Mostly, no.

My favorite explanation of the value of story comes in, of course, the form of a story. When I was a wee little kid, my sister Jan and I had a picture book called  Frederick. It was about a mouse who sat around dreaming the summer away while his mouse brothers and sisters worked to store away food. When they accused him, he said, “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days." On other pages and on other days, Frederick gathers colors and words. Winter comes. The mice eat the grain. So does Frederick. But the grain finally runs low. Frederick gets them through their despair by sharing all he stored. He tells them of the sun, of the colors of summer. He does this with words. He tells stories.

The author, designer and illustrator, Leo Leoni, gathered his own colors and words and told this story. It's still a remarkable book all these years later. The pictures are all simple paper cut-outs. The pages are mostly white. A few mice. A few words. More like a cave painting than a video game. Beautifully stark.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's it all about, Alfie?

This is a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, a surrealist Italian painter. I love his work because it is an external expression of the internal.

I spend a lot of time in my own head. I can get really moody. I can feel really burdened by self-doubts. And then I can feel amazingly motivated by self-doubt as well, as in, "Heck yes, I can do this. I am gonna prove it to myself and the world that I can." I'm going through one of those doubtful periods right now.

I have one book out. The Tilting House. It did pretty well. Got really solid reviews. The sales were good, but not enough to make me feel completely rock solid in my success trajectory. I have another manuscript being shopped. Letter Off Dead. My agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, loves it and is shopping it around right now. She keeps telling me not to worry. But I worry. I'm a worrier. I come from a long line of worriers. It's what we do. We're good at it. And I have another complete manuscript that is close to the copy edit stage. Is it good? I think it is.  Will publishers like it? Will readers like it? I really hope so.

One of main reasons I want to be an author is because I think the work is so valuable. Not my work. Just the general work of telling stories. There is little in life that is worth more than a really good story. The media of story telling may have changed: from cooking fires and cave paintings, to epic poems told with goatskins full of wine, to tragedies performed in togas, to traveling minstrels singing songs of green-capped heroes and royal outlaws, to hunting songs and songs of lost loves, to poetic plays performed in the round, to folk songs of sailors and heartbroken widows, to serialized novels so popular that you'd dive in the water to greet the mail boat, to pulp fiction about cowboys, detectives and shiny robots, to musicals to movies to television miniseries to video games. A video game and a campfire story may look different, but the value--the soul-touching, self-losing, story-telling value--is very much the same.

I think it's important work. As important as anything and far more important than almost everything. But it's hard to get a story told and shared. And it's hard to make it really good. Can I do it? Are my stories good enough? Can I withstand the bone-grinding process of idea to book?

Ask me tomorrow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How do you choose which projects to do? Ask Bruce Mau.

I work a full-time job and have four kids. That's plenty for normal people.

I also coach soccer, play bass, and teach Sunday school.  But still, any involved parent might do that.

I'm half of a street art project called Beautiful Angle. Lance Kagey and I create an original poster each month and hang it around Tacoma.

Then I do this book writing thing. One published. Two others written and being shopped. One more underway. And I blog and tweet as well.

But on top of all that, I'm still asked to get involved in other projects. And sometimes I say yes.

The best guideline I've found on whether or not to get involved in a new project comes from design guru Bruce Mau, one of my personal heroes and most common sources of rank plagiarism. So let me plagiarize Bruce again and share his Four P's, as reported in Fast Company Magazine:

"[Mau] is clear about what kinds of projects he wants to work on. "We have what we call the 'Four Ps' checklist," he says. The four "P"s stand for "people," "project," "profit," and "plate." Mau evaluates whether a client is someone he'd enjoy working with. He asks whether the project is one that BMD could learn from, as well as whether the firm can make money doing it. Finally, he considers how the project would fit onto BMD's plate: What impact would it have on the already-overcommitted team?"

Think about this for yourself when you're considering a project: Will you be working with people you like? Are you likely to learn something from the project? Are you likely to make money or get some other kind of reimbursement, like great connections or career advancement or personal satisfaction? And will it fit on your plate?

OK, honestly, I do pretty good with the first two: people and project. But my plate is always overloaded and I rarely make any money on my side projects. So maybe I only have two P's.

I never liked P's anyway.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Great characters and dialogue - in a video game???

I'm not a big gamer, but I have one at home. My son Abel thinks of games as the primary medium of his generation. I'm pretty sure he's right. Based on numbers alone, gaming has been generating more money than movies since 2005 and more than music since 2007. It's gaining while the others are losing. Then again, books still make more money!

But set that all aside for now. Book lovers think of games as mindless violent wastes of time. That's changing. Case in point: L.A. Noire by Rockstar Games (the company who made the controversially-violent Grand Theft Auto series). L.A. Noire is still a violent game for the uninitiated, but for the most part it sets violence aside in favor of plot, characters, sets, acting and dialogue. This sounds more like a book or movie, right? Well, the game plays like a book or movie. It's set in post-WW2 Los Angeles, and follows the struggles of a clean cop trying to solve murders in a violent city. The set is based on historic photos and maps. The characters are created through a motion capture technology (think Beowulf or Gollum) that does an impressive job even with facial features. And the dialogue, more often than not, is simply damn good writing. Let me say that another way: The writing in this video game is often great. Better than many movies and books.

So far the game is not an overwhelming success, but it points to the future possibilities of gaming and how the medium might begin to woo the more cinematic and (gulp) even more literary among us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ways I've made money as a writer

hundreds of print ads
dozens of bilboards
hundreds of audio scripts
hundreds of video scripts
hundreds of web pages (maybe thousands)
dozens of live speech scripts
dozens of talking point scripts
dozens of on-hold messages
dozens of call center scripts
hundreds of brochures (maybe thousands)
dozens of environmental signs
hundreds of bylined articles
dozens of white papers
hundreds of press releases
dozens of tv commercials
dozens of radio spots
hundreds of trade publication articles
dozens of magazine articles
hundreds of newspaper articles
hundreds of resumes
hundreds of corporate blog posts
hundreds of powerpoint presentations
dozens of menus
hundreds of event themes
dozens of packages
hundreds of posters book (so far).

I've generally made a pretty good living with my English degree. Books pay the least by far (so far). I've got a great writing-based day job. And my hourly freelance rate is north of one hundred bucks. Book writing, I figure, pays significantly less than minimum wage (so far). So why do I obsess over it so?

Monday, September 5, 2011

The history of Labor Day

In 2011, Labor Day is simply seen as the last long weekend of summer. We forget that it is a day set aside to honor The Worker. We forget the blood that was shed to end the exploitation of child workers, factory towns and exploitative monopolies. We shouldn't forget. And we should keep a close eye on the distribution of wealth in this great country of ours.

To that end, I'm taking a day off blogging today to honor the workers. Instead, I'm reprinting this article from PBS about the history of Labor Day and how we have unions and radicals to thank for this holiday. Hail hail.

From PBS' Jim Lehrer Online News Hour:

Pullman, Illinois was a company town, founded in 1880 by George Pullman, president of the railroad sleeping car company. Pullman designed and built the town to stand as a utopian workers' community insulated from the moral (and political) seductions of nearby Chicago.
The town was strictly, almost feudally, organized: row houses for the assembly and craft workers; modest Victorians for the managers; and a luxurious hotel where Pullman himself lived and where visiting customers, suppliers, and salesman would lodge while in town.
Its residents all worked for the Pullman company, their paychecks drawn from Pullman bank, and their rent, set by Pullman, deducted automatically from their weekly paychecks. The town, and the company, operated smoothly and successfully for more than a decade.
But in 1893, the Pullman company was caught in the nationwide economic depression. Orders for railroad sleeping cars declined, and George Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of employees. Those who remained endured wage cuts, even while rents in Pullman remained consistent. Take-home paychecks plummeted.
And so the employees walked out, demanding lower rents and higher pay. The American Railway Union, led by a young Eugene V. Debs, came to the cause of the striking workers, and railroad workers across the nation boycotted trains carrying Pullman cars. Rioting, pillaging, and burning of railroad cars soon ensued; mobs of non-union workers joined in.

The strike instantly became a national issue. President Grover Cleveland, faced with nervous railroad executives and interrupted mail trains, declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. Violence erupted, and two men were killed when U.S. deputy marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, near Chicago, but the strike was doomed.
On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over. Debs went to prison, his ARU was disbanded, and Pullman employees henceforth signed a pledge that they would never again unionize. Aside from the already existing American Federation of Labor and the various railroad brotherhoods, industrial workers' unions were effectively stamped out and remained so until the Great Depression.
It was not the last time Debs would find himself behind bars, either. Campaigning from his jail cell, Debs would later win almost a million votes for the Socialist ticket in the 1920 presidential race.

In an attempt to appease the nation's workers,
Labor Day is born
The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland's harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation's workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.
1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. He was not reelected.
In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, called it "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."
Labor Day: a good-bye to summer
Almost a century since Gompers spoke those words, though, Labor Day is seen as the last long weekend of summer rather than a day for political organizing. In 1995, less than 15 percent of American workers belonged to unions, down from a high in the 1950's of nearly 50 percent, though nearly all have benefited from the victories of the Labor movement.
And everyone who can takes a vacation on the first Monday of September. Friends and families gather, and clog the highways, and the picnic grounds, and their own backyards -- and bid farewell to summer.

Friday, September 2, 2011

I love me an ad that includes the term "ass imprint."

I've always been a fan of ads with lots of words, being a writer and all. But when a stock photography company does an ad with no photos in it, then you just got to give them their propers.

Check out this print ad by fotolia, as seen in the July issue of How Magazine. It includes the line: "Alternately, you could secure your universal legacy through your ass imprint on the vinyl seat at the local sizzler, but why?"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Twitter guide to typography

Are you a typography fanatic?

My day job surrounds me with graphic designers and font fiends. I also am half of a letterpress poster project called Beautiful Angle that is all about wood and lead type. So while I’m no expert, I love serifs, descenders and ligatures.

It turns out that there is a serious community of typographetishists on Twitter. The July issue of How magazine ( had this great list of type tweeters that you may want to follow:

Tiffany Wardle: @typegirl
The review blog: @typographica
The popular type blog: @ilovetypography
Typomaniac Erik Spiekermann: @espiekermann
Hoefler & Frere-Jones type foundry: @H_FJ

Follow away.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not that anyone has offered me an award...

...but wouldn't this be a great response if they did?








Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Tacoma settings of A Matter of Life and Seth + sweet pea

My recently completed manuscript, A Matter of Life and Seth, is my most Tacoma-centric book to date. It's a young adult novel, but written in noir style. In the same way that noir master Raymond Chandler made 1930s Los Angeles into an almost-living character in his books, I wanted to get painterly in my chosen setting of Tacoma.

The following landmarks are featured in the story:

Frisko Freeze
King's Books
MSM Deli
Stadium High School
Pho Bac
Ruston Way
The grain silos
The brewery district
The Wedge neighborhood
Trinity Presbyterian Church
The North End
The Hilltop

There are also a number of other businesses that were used for inspiration, but whose names will be forever protected.

The book will also feature an important minor character who runs an independent bookstore. His name is sweet pea. I asked permission of The Man Himself and got it.

Give a little love to Kings Books.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Walter Mosley: Detectives, Blue Light and Futureland

One of my favorite writers in the universe is Walter Mosley, mostly known for his bestselling Easy Rawlins detective series, which adds a new twist to the hardboiled crime genre by making the lead character a black man in post-World War Two Los Angeles. More on the brilliance of this series later.

The thing I love about Mosley is that while his primary success has come from genre-writing—detective stories, he refuses to be pigeon-holed. He writes short stories, YA, nonfiction, and sci-fi. Blue Light and Futureland are his two science fiction works to date. Both have received middling reviews. Both might never have seen the light of day had Mosley not already been a marketable brand.

Personally, I couldn’t make it through Blue Light. I found it kind of lousy.  And I love me some Mosley.

But, I so respect Mosley for doing his thing. He’s an admitted science fiction fan, so he took a shot at writing science fiction. Because he wanted to.

Here’s an excerpt from a Bill Moyers PBS interview with Mosley:

"I didn't start off being a mystery writer. I became that. And when I wrote, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, I didn't know it was going to be a mystery. It just was. I write mysteries. I'm also a science fiction writer. I'm also a writer of non fiction. I'm also a literary writer.
There's many things that I am. And all of those things come together at some point. If somebody wants to limit me, you know and they'll say, 'Well, this is Walter Mosley, the mystery writer.' I don't like that. Because I do many things. So why do you pick that one thing? And then it's always an economic reason. 'Well you sell more of these books than you those books.' Not a good reason."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Paper Man - a good/bad movie about writer struggles

As a dedicated insomniac, I spent tonight watching a movie with two of my favorite actors--Jeff Daniels and Emma Stone. The movie is called Paper Man and it's got all sorts of problems--cliches, sappiness, overdone quirkiness, but it's still totally worth watching.

Jeff Daniels plays a writer with (guess what?) writer's block. All writers in movies, from The Shining, to Barton Fink to Throw Momma From The Train, have writer's block. It's a rule. Writers in movies must stare at typewriters. Just like the rule about how a cough in real life means nothing, but a cough in a movie means you'll die soon. In real life, by the way, writers don't stare at typewriters. They stare at laptops. Anyway, Daniels has writer's block and an annoying imaginary friend, but he's still a joy to watch. Emma Stone plays her standard bitter-but-lovable teen role, but she's just so damn good that you put up with the cliches they loaded her character with. Kieran Kulkin is in it, too, but he's a weird-looking kid and I mostly just wish he'd stay off the screen so we could see more of Daniels and Stone. Same with Ryan Reynolds, who is occasionally a good actor, but his imaginary-friend role in this movie sucks.

The filmmakers seem to be going for a Lost In Translation vibe. Sometimes they get it, but they try too hard.

All that said, you should still watch this movie, because it's still a good examination of the sometimes-solitary job of writing. The distractions, the self-inflicted pressure, the obsessing over single words and names, the always-present self-doubt. And it's Jeff Daniels, whose never been bad in a movie.

If it sounds too full of problems to waste your time, then just watch him in Something Wild.

The movie is also set in the South Shore area near Boston, where my brother Dan lives. It's a lot nicer than they make it look in the movie.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Teen Noir Driver's Guide

What is teen noir? And why should I care?

My recently completed manuscript, A Matter of Life and Seth, takes great inspiration from the classic noir stories of the 1930s and 40s, then updates that style into present day, with a teenaged hero.

So let's spend a few minutes on a noir primer.

Film noir:

Most people associate the term noir with films, particularly the shadowy, pessimistic crime movies of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, such as Murder, My Sweet, Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon and my favorite, The Big Sleep. What defines these movies as noir? As this is a style created by countless directors and actors, there's no truly accurate definition, but here are some typical characteristics of a noir movie:

  • Low lighting, with plenty of shadows
  • A bleak, urban setting
  • Characters who are world-weary, many of whom are corrupt
  • Crime, and usually a murder or two
  • Beautiful-but-deadly women
  • Great, snappy dialogue
Check out this list of Top 50 Film Noir titles, as selected by IMDB users:

Where did film noir come from?

It came from books, of course. When we move over to literature, the name changes. We call this style Hardboiled Crime Fiction.

Imagine you were a mystery fan in the 1920s. Most of your choices were in the style Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle--well-mannered murders that occurred in a conservatory with a candlestick. The murderers were ladies and gentlemen who always paused in their killing during afternoon tea.

American crime writers kicked this stuff out the @#$%ing window and began writing in a style that actually considered the kind of people involved. Murder is a desperate act, performed by desperate men and women. This new style reflected that. It wasn't polite.

Suddenly, you had Raymond Chandler a writing about criminals who packed heat, slept around, drank too much, shot up heroin and carried dirty pictures in their wallets. James M. Cain wrote about a drifter who murdered his landlord so he could make off with the guy's wife. Dashiell Hammett's characters threw around racial slurs, slapped women and left a wake of dead bodies.

The masters--like these three--wrote in a truly American style--with short, sharp sentences, language full of street slang, and a taste for violence. But they also wrote with a point. They had something to say. Amidst the killings, their characters talked about the human condition, about moral struggles, about love and mortality.

Hollywood noticed. Many of the best noir movies had their start as the best hardboiled crime novels.

That's enough for now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I'm on a YA author panel for actual Young Adults - This Friday in Dupont

Hey all you YA readers: Come to Dupont Library this Friday night to hang with a bunch of really talented Young Adult authors. Eat pizza and cupcakes, play video games, go on a photo scavenger hunt, and listen to local YA authors speak at the DuPont’s Library’s first ever after hours party for teens! Authors include:
Kimberly Derting, "The Body Finder"
Gwen Hayes, "Falling Under"
Tom Llewellyn, "The Titlting House"
Megan Bostic, "Never Eighteen"
Danny Marks, "Velveteen"

Did you see my name up there? Yes, you did. I don't really know how this thing is going to work, but most of all I'm excited to hang out with some of these other authors. If some interested teen readers show up, bonus.

The event is open to teens from 12-18. Go here for more information.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Now this is casual furniture.

What I'm reading right now.

I’m blazing through the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Right now I’m on the third book, A Storm of Swords. This is epic fantasy. Five books so far. Two more scheduled. Each book about 700 pages. Do the math. Each book is told from the point of view of dozens of characters. Each character is multi-faceted. You’ll find no shining-white Aragorns or Gandalfs here. The good guys commit treachery. The bad guys show mercy. Lots of violence. Lots of sex. Lots and lots of melancholy.

Martin is a beast. He’s a hardcore geek (and looks like one), loves attending Cons, loves teaching, writes sci-fi, scripts, exec produces (whatever that means) the HBO series based on his books, and doesn’t mind frustrating fans with six-year gaps between his novels. He’s also a masterful storyteller, in the sense of a campfire-style storyteller. He uses all the tricks. He gets you lathered up on a certain character’s storyline, swinging a sword at their bare neck, then he ends the chapter and jumps to another character. He speeds the pace of the plot up to a fever pitch, then slams on the brakes, creating frustration and suspense. Bait and switch, wild goose chases, trickery—he uses them all. Aaand, he’ll get you deeply invested in a character and then kill them off without mercy. This makes you realize that any character at any time could die (because they do), increasing the page-turning tension.

I’m about the millionth blogger to talk about these books, but who cares? It’s great stuff. Definitely not young adult, but o so compelling.

By the way, Martin is also a masterful self-promoter. He blogs almost daily on his blog, which is called “Not a blog.” He attends tons of cons, he is a generously-available teacher. Pretty amazing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Your work.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
— Steve Jobs

Wayzgoose? What the @#$% is a wayzgoose?

On August 27, 2011, Beautiful Angle, a letterpress poster project cofounded by Lance Kagey and me, will be taking part in the 10th annual SVC Wayzgoose and Steamroller Smackdown.

A wayzgoose is a gathering of printers. This is your opportunity to check out some of the coolest letterpress talent in the Northwest, which, by the way, is a center of letterpress arts.

We’ll also be printing massive letterpress posters with a real-live steamroller (an idea SVC “borrowed” from the Tacoma Wayzgoose, who in turn “borrowed” it from a group in San Francisco). Beautiful Angle will be steamroller printing from one o’clock to 2:15, so that’s when you want to be there.

Join the fun from one to six at 500 Aurora Ave N. This event is put on by Seattle’s beloved School of Visual Concepts.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to pronounce noir

I've been writing about teen noir and film noir. Easy to write about. Harder to say.
So how do you pronounce noir?
Here are a few different opinions:

The talking dictionary at says neu-whah (ch). Hear it here.

The famously undependable Yahoo Answers has at least a half dozen different suggestions: nwah, nwar, nu-whar, new-wahr, no-war, nu-whah (ch).

The very nice Pronunciation Book YouTube series covers this for Pinot Noir, and the second word comes out: new-whar.

And finally, says new-ahhhh and neu-awwch.

I like the Pronunciation book version. It sounds less snooty. That's all for today.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Teen Noir visual aid

My agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, decribed my recently completed manuscript as teen noir. What does that mean?

Here's the short explanation: Imagine the shadowy, violent, atmospheric style of classic books or movies from the 1930s and 1940s, such as The Big Sleep or The Postman Always Rings Twice. Then imagine updating that style into modern day and making the protagonist a teenager. That's about it.

But if you want a more sensory explanation, just watch Brick. This great 2005 indie movie, written and directed by Rian Johnson and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is the best example I can think of.

Levitt finds the dead body of his ex-girlfriend. He sets out to find the killer and navigates his way through the violent underworld of a crime-ridden high school.

The movie grossed about $4 million. Not a lot. But it made back ten times its cost. Not bad. It's become a cult favorite along the way. Check it out.

Or, if you prefer to read, here's a good review.

By the way, others have described the TV series Veronica Mars as teen noir as well, but VM is about as noirish as a Clinique counter at Nordstrom.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Matter of Life and Seth

My teen noir novel, A Matter of Life and Seth, has been completed (at least by me) and sent to my agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun. After three chapters, Abigail said she liked it. Hope she still feels that way at the end. She asked me to write a synopsis. Here's what I came up with:

The setting is the streets of Tacoma, Washington. The hero is sixteen-year-old Seth, a tough high school dropout who lives with his mom in an apartment above a boxing gym. Seth’s part-time job brings him into contact with wealthy teen femme fatale, Azura Lear, and her controlling father.
When his mother is discovered dead in her car one night, Seth finds himself alone in a dangerous world. The police put little effort into investigating the case, so Seth takes it upon himself to solve the murder on his own. His quest for the killer takes him on a vivid tour—with a view only available to an urban teenager, taking the reader from the jocks and rich kids at the local high school to the colorful hangouts and characters of the inner city, from the wealthy addresses of Azura’s North End to the violent streets of the notorious Hilltop.
Seth may be falling in love with Azura, but he wonders if it’s possible for their love to last in spite of their different backgrounds and neighborhoods—hers rich and sanitized, his poor and deadly. His world has never been as full of danger as it is now, as Seth’s investigation brings him into contact with cold-blooded killers and demanding questions about death, family and his own morality.
Combining a brazen noir style with a teenage narrator who is both hard-boiled and heartfelt, A Matter of Life and Seth is a fast-moving mystery that swings to a modern urban rhythm.
That's the end of the synopsis.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Interview with Abigail Samoun

My agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, recently conducted a nutty IM interview with me about my first two books, the Random House-published The Tilting House, and the complete but as-yet unpublished Letter Off Dead. We also talked about puppies armed with chain saws and sadistic school teachers. It was a surprisingly satisfying way to be interviewed. Check it out here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Letter Off Dead - From Blog to Book to Blog to Book

Do you have time for a long, rollicking story? Back in September of 2009, I began publishing a book blog. It was called Letter Off Dead and was a correspondence between a 7th grade boy and his dead father. Trevor writes to his dad. Dad, who is dead, writes back. They both have issues, both need each others help.

It was good. In fact, good enough to get a contract from Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House Kids. Unfortunately, soon after that, RH decided to shut down that imprint. I got to keep my advance, which was nice, but the book deal stopped dead.

But from the ashes, etc.

My Tricycle editor, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, decided to become an agent. Now, as part of Red Fox Literary, she represents me (and a number of really talented illustrators and authors). And right now, even as you read these very words (!), she is shopping Letter Off Dead around again.

I still really like this story. If you'd like a messy, unedited sneak peak into what it was all about, you can go check it out at the blog, which, as of this writing, is still live.

The Tilting House

Have you checked out my first book? It's called The Tilting House and it was published by Tricycle Press an imprint of Random House Kids.

Here's a few of the reviews by some of my favorite critics:

Review, Publishers Weekly, June 21, 2010:"Llewellyn's debut is inventive, gripping, and shot through with macabre details."

Review, Kirkus Reviews:
"...a genre-blending page-turner with plenty of room in its eaves for sequels. One to watch."

Review, Booklist, August 1, 2010:"Llewellyn’s first novel takes the classic family-in-a-new-house motif and mixes in just the right creaky touches of the macabre..."

Review, Lit Fest, June 21, 2010:"The Tilting House will tickle and entertain young readers and draw great appreciation from parents."

Review, The News Tribune, June 4, 2010: “Kids ages 7 and older will love this book—this reviewer’s own daughter did—because there’s exactly the right mix of magic, science, adventure, mystery, and heroic kids.”

Review, Book Trends, August 1, 2010:"In a book with a slanting house, The Tilting House is a slant in the right direction. I hope it entertains children, as it did me, for many more years to come." —Brandon, 7th grade student. Rating: 5 stars