Sunday, November 21, 2010

Memory Palace.

As an avowed Star Wars geek...

...You know - perhaps I shouldn't have started this post with that sentence because, already, I can imagine a good bulk of you groaning and switching off. But stick with me here because this is a good one - I swear. 


I have met and interacted with a lot a like minded Star Wars geeks over the years and many of these interactions have been wonderful with a lot of mutual geeking out, talking all things Skywalker, Vader, the Galaxy far, far away and much playing with Kenner/Hasbro figurines...

Still with me?

One of the most significant of these interactions however, was one of those unique experiences that is tinged with a little tragedy. In 1999, which was of course the year Episode One was released into cinemas, I was nursing here in Adelaide and I came across a young cancer patient who was possibly the biggest Star Wars fan I had come across - apart from myself. His name was David and over the course of about 6 weeks in April/May of that year, I spent a lot of hours looking after David. 

The writing was on the wall for David. 

He was terribly ill, terminally ill as it were and everyone knew that his days were numbered. His room at the hospital was decked out with Star Wars paraphernalia, posters, toys, books. Someone had brought in a TV and video set up so that he could watch the films back to back (this was of course the Original Trilogy on VHS at that time). For a short time, while David was there in the hospital, you could step into his room and disappear into a kind of localized galaxy not so far away. 

And of course me, being a well known Star Wars geek amongst my colleagues, found myself (well...I made sure I found myself) allocated to his care most of the time. Which suited us just fine. Most shifts were me and him swapping stories, sharing collectibles and like I said before...just geeking out.

A well understood but not often discussed reality between us was the likelihood that David would not survive to see Episode One and, given his parlous condition in the lead-up to the film's release, it was highly unlikely that we could ever get him into a position where we could get him to the cinema - not that we didn't investigate the possibility mind you.

I could continue the story in words here and now but I'd like to share with you, a short piece of audio that I recorded for the Star Wars internet radio show The Force Cast. I recounted the story during a period where the Kyle Newman directed movie "Fanboys" was going through a pretty rough patch in it's development - precisely because it's own story dealt with a very similar case of someone facing death in the lead-up to the release of Episode One.

It's not a long piece of audio but even now, it says much about all that is good about Star Wars and it's fan base. 




Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Brave Ones.

Kayleigh Hendricks is a wonderful soul who is a part of a team behind a campaign to raise awareness of hate crimes.  She recently hit me up via the 'Book' and drew my attention towards a cause that I think is perhaps one of the most noble I've seen in a while.

Kayleigh Hendricks, the wonderful mind behind a wonderful cause.

On November 21 in Hollywood, California a walk will take place for everyone who has ever been an innocent victim of a hate crime(s), for everyone who has ever been discriminated against. People are encouraged to walk for anyone who has ever lived in fear because they were "different". People are encouraged to walk against intolerance so that perhaps those who are fearful and angry can be impacted in a positive way. 
The walk is a message to those who strike against beautiful, innocent human beings. Beings who deserve nothing more than to be swimming gracefully and confidently in the same pool all of us swim in. No one here in this world is different lest they choose to be and even then, "the sun rises in the morning on ALL of us." Everyone is encouraged to come together, create a buzz, and show Los Angeles and anyone who hears about or reads about the rally what those participating stand for and what everyone all deserve.
It's an awesome thing to do and I really applaud Kayleigh and her friends who have put so much effort into getting this up and off the ground. If I could have been there, I would have but geography as it does, often gets in the way. Still...

Check out their excellent FB page and if you can participate in the event, please do.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Internal Voices Rule - Lily: The Quest For Reason by LM DeWalt

I'm not in the habit of reviewing books. In fact I'm not really sure what the protocol is for reviewing books. Does one have to be terminally cynical and completely wedded to the technical aspects of a story? Should one offer up a critique of the story based upon plot, characterization and mood? I dunno. 

I have just finished up the following book that I'm going to talk about. I felt that it was right to say a few words about - because it was so damned good! So, as a reader (as much as I am a writer) I'm going to have a go at giving you a review and we'll see if it - my reviewing - is any good.

Lily (The Quest For Reason) by fellow ireadiwrite author LM DeWalt is an intoxicating read. From the synopsis we find that Lily is a lonely vampire desperate for love and a normal existence. When she finally finds someone she can love and a group of vampires she can call family, her long lost maker comes back to claim her. To save the ones she loves, Lily must face, and possibly destroy, the one who stole her choices and her very life.

I came to Lily intrigued by the synopsis of Lily as a solitary figure but colored somewhat by my "is this going to be similar to 'a certain vampire franchise'?" I've enjoyed reading within the genre in the past - have been a fan of Anne Rice, I admit to watching & enjoying "Buffy" and "Angel" and I thought that "The Lost Boys" was a kick arse piece of cinema back in the day. I am - and I apologize in advance for this - less enamored with the whole "Twilight" franchise.

What I discovered in Lily, however was a completely unique interpretation of a vampire with a 'heart' to speak. And I was totally tuned into Lily's inner "voice" - this was one of the things I liked most about the book. I commented whilst reading Lily that I was totally taken with Lily's internal conflict borne of vulnerability. I was moved by her loneliness and her desire to connect with others and was suitably disturbed by the animal nature of what she is - a vampire.

LM DeWalt, Author of "Lily - The Quest For Reason"

LM DeWalt has crafted a wonderfully rich tableaux in the journey of Lily which is really quite stunning. Her settings were vivid, the conversations convincing and 'real' and the love story at the core of Lily is bewitching which, like the previous reviewer said - will have you on your feet cheering for this wonderful soul.

LM DeWalt is a Peruvian American who has been living in the US for 30 years. She works as a teacher of ESL, Spanish, French, and accent reduction and is also an interpreter and translator and runs creative writing groups. She is currently attending teacher's college. She has written for several Spanish language newspapers but her dream was always to write novels. Her love of vampires started when she was seven years old and saw Bella Lugosi's Dracula.

She currently resides in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where it's way too cold, with her husband, three teenage sons and two cats.

Lily is written with such care that it is easy to see that this was a story very close to LM DeWalt's heart. I am additionally blown away by the fact that Lily is available not only in English but also in Spanish.

Cover art for the Spanish version.

Read Lily, Loved Lily, Read Lily!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Revisiting Keith.

I first wrote the following piece back in December, 2009, during a period in my life when I was struggling personally on a number of fronts. 

I have been a fan of the internet talk radio podcast "Keith & The Girl" almost since it's inception. It is a talk show like no other, where no topic or conversation is off limits. It is delivered each weekday with an integrity, enthusiasm and commitment by both Keith Malley and Chemda Kahlili. So much so that I have the highest regard and affection for these two individuals. Their show has carried me through some of the most difficult times in my adult life - also some of the best times. I honestly believe that if it were not for their counsel, I would have been committed ages ago. 

With the upcoming release of Keith Malley's autobiography "The Great American Novel" (which I pre-ordered the day the pre-orders opened), I thought it appropriate to revisit the following piece, simply entitled "Keith"

Whenever I think of Pennsylvania in the United States, I have an image in my mind of peaceful fields, an Amtrak bullet train rushing by, dairy cows grazing, a languid breeze that caresses the top of the meadow creating gentle, swirling patterns. Sometimes, I think of Amish people, farmers - husbands, wives and children strolling across the fields in their quaint clothing as depicted so beguilingly in one of my most favorite films of all time "Witness". Sometimes, I think of Bill Cosby...but I'm spoiling the mood here.

Somerset County, Pennsylvania is probably typical of this image I have, although I can't be sure because, of course, I've never been there.

In the 2000 census, Somerset County's population was listed as 6,762. One of its claims to fame was that it was the stage for the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 - one of the most contentious historical occurrences in U.S. history though I suspect that it's largely forgotten now. During 9/11, United Airlines Flight 93 - the only plane not to have wrought unspeakable destruction - crashed in Shanksville, near Somerset, killing all 45 persons on board. In 2002 nine coal miners were trapped underground for 3 days at Que creek just outside of Somerset attracting global attention.

Somerset is also the childhood home of Keith...

Who is Keith?

Well, that is a hard question to answer because, again, I have never met him. But I hear him speak pretty much every day so in a sense I feel as though I know him very well.

Keith is a dichotomy. Which, I know is a curious description but Keith is perhaps the most individual person I have ever encountered. I'll explain why in a moment.
Keith grew up in Somerset, the son of god fearing folk who brought him up in the strict Christian tenets of the faith. He railed against it, of course, as most kids did back in the day. For all intents and purposes his early life could have been the John Cougar Mellencamp song "Small Town"...except that Keith got out.

His was a strict upbringing. It was, perhaps, an unforgiving upbringing. But it was an upbringing that gave Keith the tools to embark on his own life's' journey and it gave him a strong foundation upon which to develop his own code - moral and practical. He has freely admitted that he doesn’t consider himself a Christian but this should not exclude him, or anyone for that matter, from being regarded as a good human being. It is an irrelevant proposition.

Keith joined the Army, a source for much pride within his parents. He then left the Army a little while later...which was met with an equal amount of disappointment as their previous pride.

Keith got into some trouble a few years back. Though the crime risked no-one and lives were not endangered, he knew the crime was egregious enough to warrant custodial punishment and so he served time and repaid his debt to society.

Keith went to New York and worked as a waiter - a job that, he has indicated, he was not proud of but it paid the bills. He also worked as a clown doing kids parties - a job far removed from the khaki and mud of the military but one, arguably, no less treacherous than a fire fight in enemy territory.

Keith met Chemda, a vivacious and proud Israeli and a person who - I would argue - ranks among the most beautiful people on the planet. They have been together some seven years and they are very much in love. They live in Queens and do an internet radio show together. They are extremely popular and justifiably so.

Five nights a week, for anywhere up to two and a half hours Keith and Chemda host this show whereby no topic you can conceivably think of remains untouched. From politics to popular culture, to relationships and sex, to friends and family and even justice (Keith's justice!) the minutiae of life is picked apart like bad knitting, examined and then put back together (knit 1, pearl 2, slip a stitch and...). It is then handed to their loyal audience in such a way that if you are not rolling on the floor laughing your arse off then you're not really trying.

There is a collection of regular guests who take turns in contributing to the hilarity, the agony and the ecstasy. There's Brother Love - a million watt personality with a million watt shock of raven black hair who, when he's not singing his lungs out to the most kick-arse soul tunes I've heard in a long time, he's manning the drums for an equally kick arse country rock out-fit called HER & Kings County. Brother Love himself is worth an entire article alone but I'll save that for another time. Suffice to say he is dearly loved by Keith and Chemda.

There's Patrice, the gossip queen who rolls up on Thursdays to give the gang the low down on Britney's latest melt-down, Lindsay's latest hoe-down and Paris' latest go-down. Patrice  examines celebrity the way legendary boxing commentator Stu Nahan used to examine a boxing bout. It is witty, it is intelligent, it is acerbic.

There's McNally, Keith's spiritual brother from Canada. McNally's a kind of orator on life whose always entertaining sometimes thought provoking and ever illuminating.

There are others who deserve a mention here but this is about Keith so I will keep it about Keith. The show has a compelling quality about it. They fearlessly discuss their subject matter without compromise even if that subject matter treads into personal territory.

In life, the human beings I admire most are the ones who have run the gamut of life's experience and have enhanced themselves because of it. That is to say, they have experienced resounding success as well as crushing failure. They have made choices that have yielded material and emotional wealth and they have made significant mistakes that have momentarily stopped them short.

But - they learn from these mistakes and have used the experience as a tool for learning, for evolving. And, rather than profit from that experience, individually, they choose to share it, perpetuating the potential for that experience to resonate with others who might then choose to learn from it themselves.

This is Keith's contribution.

The time in my life where I feel the least sure about myself is the time that I reside in now.

My 20's were a breeze in most respects, homage to the conventional. Get a job, meet a girl and get married, buy a house and settle down. Life was a template based upon the experiences of my predecessors - my family and friends.

But in an effort to live up to the expectations of others I found myself constantly falling short. This resulted in increasing sadness, a loss of identity, a loss of self. Sadness led to frustration and depression. Depression led to the dark places - places where most of us do not wish to go.

In my 30's things kind of fell apart. My marriage ended, I was consumed by depression and, despite receiving support people closest to me, there came a point at which I had gone beyond the life experience of my family. They couldn't help me emotionally anymore. This lead to a kind of turning away from me, of sorts, by some. And there was conflict. Conflict born out of misunderstanding.

The darkness didn’t last forever and coming out of a sort of exile, I met someone new, we fell in love and our child was born.

Though it was a happy time, I was still struggling with defining myself. Now I was to be a father too - a new role to integrate into my evolving life canvas. It was then that I realized that I hadn't fully stepped out of the shadows of my parents. In fact I wasn't
sure that I had ever stepped out at all.

I happened upon Keith, Chemda and their show in late 2005. Initially, I could only wonder about it from afar because, for the longest time, I only had dial-up internet and could never listen to it. I could only visit the website. I then got ADSL and things changed.

Of the themes that imbue Keith and Chemda's show with such soul, the recurring conversations about relationships are the ones that provide the most compelling radio I think I have ever heard. Keith's relationship with his father in particular is guaranteed to have me dropping everything in order to devote my full attention to.

Keith's father is some kind of minister, of what religion I am not quite certain. Suffice to say it seems as though it is hard core. As I said before Keith freely admits that he's not 'of the faith'.

And that's okay.

We evolve differently as individuals from that of our predecessors and make our own choices in life that will define us - none of the choices are wrong. But not everyone sees it that way.

Keith has talked extensively about the problems in his relationship with his father as exemplified most recently when Keith's father 'disowned' him because he dared share his communion bread with Chemda during church on a recent family visit to Somerset, Pennsylvania.

That Keith would dare to disrespect such a sacrament of the church was unforgivable in his father's eyes. I think the reaction was a little extreme personally.

I saw it as merely a gesture of love towards Chemda who, being Jewish, had not experienced the communion and was open to the idea of experiencing it as a naturally curious human being. To my mind it is something to be lauded rather than derided. Sadly, such is the exclusivity of many churches, that they are more successful at alienating rather than embracing.

But this issue was only part of the problem. It would seem that Keith's father has a problem with many of Keith's lifestyle choices including his show where many of the frailties of both Keith's and his father's relationship are laid bare to a wide audience.

Where Keith's father might see this as irresponsible and a betrayal of confidence I think he underestimates the power and the import of Keith's notoriety and his message.

I have experienced difficulties in my own relationship with my father and though they fall into a different realm than Keith's experience there are many common themes that I can identify in them. Sometimes those difficulties have been deeply troubling, a cause of much anxiety. Sometimes the difficulties have been so significant that I have not known where to turn, who to talk to. It has been very isolating. At what point in life do we emerge from the bosom of our parents and become own individuals? Do we ever step out? Or do we merely step to the side and continue our journey, not fully independent of them? These are the questions I have wrestled with in the difficulties I have experienced.

American author and mythologist, Joseph Campbell in his most celebrated work "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" posed Seventeen Stages of the Mono-myth (or the Hero's Journey) as a way of summarizing the common themes that can be found in many examples of popular and classic literature.

One of these - atonement with the father - states that the hero reconciles the tyrant and merciful aspects of the father-like authority figure to understand himself as well as this figure. Campbell also talks about the hero as a teacher - an individual who experiences his journey and who returns to share that experience with others so that they may benefit from his wisdom.

Keith, whether he knows it or not, is a hero to many because of these very maxims.

The discussion of the relationship with his father may well be a way of him seeking to understand his father as well as himself. And in discussing the difficulties he has experienced with his father he endears himself to his audience because they can identify many similar, if not exacting, themes within their own paternal relationships. I have found much comfort and guidance from the discussion of Keith's father. When I have felt that I have had nowhere to turn to, no answers to my questions Keith offers up another conversation of his son/father dynamic and everything feels less worrisome, I feel that everything - somehow - will be alright...or maybe they won't...but I know that I am not alone.

Keith is a person I admire because of the personal story he has shared without fear or favor.

Keith's father, in remaining closed off to the achievements of his son, the success of his show and the success of how Keith reaches people all over the world - and helps them, underestimates the success that Keith has attained through his own journey - a journey that continues.

This is Keith's contribution to the human good...

Keith Malley's "The Great American Novel" is available for pre-order now from Keith & The Girl's Store. If you're looking for a no hold's barred account of the most interesting kind, I highly recommend you purchase this book.