Category Archives: Events

Side Comments of the Month XI — Post-Holiday Catch-Up

Side Comments of the Month XI — Post-Holiday Catch-Up

Top row: books courtesy of the SF Book Review and some angels connected with the Young to Publishing Group. Bottom row: gifts from friends and Adam.

 

1. I got another haul of great books this past holiday season. I know I shouldn’t crow that friends and strangers send me books, but damn it, I like big books and I cannot lie. I had to part with so many books when I moved countries, so there’s a pleasure in rebuilding the collection.

These babies are now in my ever-growing Books To Read pile, which still is bigger than my new Books Finished and Now Must Review pile.

 

2. Last week, my family drove to the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation to see the newly opened Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

My nephews spent a lot of time waiting to sit in a real hovercraft while I had silly fun with  the “give your robot facial expressions” terminal. A family friend, Kevin, lamented that Hans Solo trapped in carbonite was nowhere to be seen, aside a ton of Boba Fett-related props. I didn’t even notice these omissions until he mentioned them because there were tons of other cool models. I especially liked Obi-Wan Kenobi’s sweet, scratched-up ride from Episode IV: A New Hope.

Since I was feeling queasy that day, I skipped The Millennium Falcon Experience. I didn’t want to risk throwing up midway. Lots of people at the exhibit were unable to see it too due to limited seats. If you’re planning to visit this exhibit—it runs until February—I highly recommend buying all your tickets online.

 

3. Adam and I just finished watching all the episodes of Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals (also known as Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth). For a gag anime that features tons of cross-dressing and silliness, the last episode had at least three shifts in art styles during a furious fight scene. I think the animators wanted to outdo themselves for the finale! It was unexpected.

This show is the animated equivalent of cotton candy and Pop Tarts. I think I will miss it.

We have now returned to more serious, age-appropriate fare like Mushishi and Space Brothers. 

 

Side Comments of the Month X

Side Comments of the Month X

1. I’m a firm believer in serendipity. So when I get unexpected invitations to book launchings, I go. Last week’s chance event was Kate Perry’s book launch at the Presidio Social Club.

I’m usually shy around absolute strangers—especially in a tightly knit crowd—but the atmosphere was warm and accommodating. Kate and her team made me feel at ease at once! I haven’t started reading her book, Say You Will, but it’s now in queue on my “to read” shelf.

I met some fabulous people like Regency romance author Sara Ramsey, who just kept me in stitches. I had a good time and I can’t wait for more events like this to come my way.

 

2. Adam and I just finished the latest South Park three-episode arc. It’s a fine skewering of Black Friday, HBO’s A Game of Thrones, and the never-ending video game console wars.

I always adore South Park episodes that have the kids role-playing. It’s amusing to watch Stan and Kyle in medieval attire, debating the merits of the Xbox One versus PlayStation 4. This arc doesn’t surpass the brilliance of Imaginationland, but it tries hard. The social commentary has a clean bite.

In these episodes, Eric Cartman channels his inner Littlefinger while Kenny unleashes his love for blonde braids. Kenny’s newest incarnation as magical princess Kenny is the polar opposite of his other alter ego, Mysterion. I don’t know which alter ego I like better.

 

An example of the film's beautiful symmetry. And I'm not referring to Christian Bale's cheekbones, either.

3. When the weather is temperamental, nothing compares to curling up on the sofa and watching a guilty pleasure on Netflix. So over the weekend, I found myself watching Equilibrium (2002) again.

I’ve had a thing for Christian Bale forever (trust me to have a crush on him since Empire of the Sun). Sure, I loved him as Batman, but his portrayal of John Preston brings on the giggles and the glee. The look of consternation on his face when he first holds a puppy is priceless.

Equilibrium has many hammy moments, and maybe mixing guns and martial arts is an idea that the Mythbusters should debunk. I don’t know. I think these elements are balanced out with the film’s beautiful shots and immaculate symmetry.

Among dystopian movies, Equilibrium not as bleak as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or as hip as The Hunger Games. Still, I re-watch this film when I want to see Christian Bale kill as many opponents as possible. He never disappoints.

Side Comments of the Month: the Literati Edition

Side Comments of the Month: the Literati Edition

I'm a sucker for free books (that are pertinent to my interests). These titles are courtesy of Ten Speed Press.

1) I attended the second “Write Now!” at the Mechanics’ Institute last Tuesday. I like this new monthly event because it forces me to write under pressure. There’s nothing like being stuck in a room with twelve other people with equally puzzled faces: “How do I tackle this prompt?”

Not everything produced under time pressure can be epic but that’s not the point. The point is to get the juices flowing. Rewriting and editing can come later.

Tarlyn Edwards, event facilitator and librarian, distributes old postcards at each meeting to serve as visual prompts. Attendees are allowed to keep the photos because the library has more images than they know what to do with. Since I’m a sucker for vintage postcards, I get a thrill out of picking my photo. I will post the photos and my flash fiction in another entry.

 

2) Literary agent Michael Larsen delivered a talk on “10 Keys to Becoming a Successful Writer” at the Mechanics’ Institute. (My Chicago Manual of Style-trained brain is just itching to correct “10” to “Ten,” but I suppose I shouldn’t because that was the proper title of the talk.)

His talk was informative and honest. I’m sure that the handout he gave, which included a flowchart of the publishing process, was a complete surprise to many of the other writers in attendance. In Manila there are no literary agents. Since I’ve never met one before, I found his insights fascinating.

 

3) Yesterday, my lovely classmates and I attended “Movin’ on Up: Getting Hired and Promoted in Publishing.” This was organized by the Young to Publishing Group, a volunteer-based initiative that aims to mentor and educate people new to the industry.

It was a well-attended event, with a predominantly young, female crowd. The panelists were up front on how difficult it is so get an in-house editorial job. I like how they differentiated between East Coast and West Coast publishing. This clarified certain nagging questions in my head.

I tend to lump “American publishing practices” into one messy ball, so now I will be more mindful in thinking it’s all homogenous. A small press will operate differently from Chronicle Books, which has around 200 employees, and both San Francisco-based companies won’t match the hectic pace of the Big Five in New York. It may seem obvious but until I heard someone share their industry experience, the reality of it didn’t sink in.

 

. . .

All these events touched upon various stages of the publishing process—writing, selling a manuscript, editing—and it made me think there’s a huge disconnect between novice writers and the rest of the publishing industry. Some of the questions and comments at the “10 Keys” talk had a wonderful, heartbreaking naiveté behind it.

Perhaps it’s awful for me to say so because I remember being equally shocked by some opinions expressed at the first Litquake event I attended. That was almost two years ago; now it no longer comes as a complete surprise.

There was a woman who almost had an attack of the vapors when Mr. Larsen said a successful book is “ten percent writing, ninety percent marketing.” I didn’t get to chat with her afterwards, which is a shame. I really wanted to tell her that, no, excellent writing is not the sole keystone to a successful, bestselling book. It’s only the first step in a long, arduous process. Yes, badly written books become runaway hits all the time.

If it’s possible to accept the current challenges of the industry and still desire to deal with words—whether to write, edit, or publish them—then congratulations. Welcome to the working week. There’s more to book production than putting words on a page.

 

 

Side Comments for the Month IV

Side Comments for the Month IV

This represents a fraction of the number of books I've read and skimmed through over the past six months.

1. I might as well come out and say it—I’m writing my first genre novel. I started last October. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come and gone and yet I am still plugging away. I broke the 60,000 word barrier a month ago. Since my personal goal is at least 100,000 words, I have a long way to go.

This is a huge achievement for myself, as all my previous attempts at writing a full-length novel have failed. It’s easy to get discouraged with a personal project when one doesn’t have much self-confidence. I hope I just didn’t jinx myself with announcing this project!

Progress on this current project has been slow since I’ve been eagerly reading up on 19th century history, social customs, and language. As a reader, anachronisms are a major pet peeve of mine, so I think I am going completely overboard with research. I started a database of archaic words and idioms, in the hopes it gives my depiction of the era more credibility.

I actually suffered a bit of a setback recently. In the middle of fact-checking, I found out a natural calamity occurred in the neighborhood where my novel is set. It infuriated me that I hadn’t known about it before. After a few days of seething, I got back to work and decided to scrap two entire chapters. It’s gotten to the point I can almost laugh about it. At the time I really felt like banging my head against the wall.

Littlefinger and his kitten companion plot world domination via AU fanfics. Tumblr, fire your engines.

2. Adam and I have finished The Wire. Now, the next time I watch Game of Thrones I am going to be thinking, Damn it, Carcetti, you used to be my favorite political sleazeball, now you’re just the sleazeball that let me down.

When we started watching, Adam told me that Aidan Gillen acts more like Littlefinger in The Wire than he does in Game of Thrones. Perhaps this statement will not make sense to anyone who hasn’t read all the G.R.R. Martin novels yet, but really, it must be seen to be believed. (He certainly wins my vote for having the cutest animal companion on an IMDB page.)

Anyway, season five was amazing. The ending was absolutely satisfying—even the heart-breaking moments were good. Most of the loose ends were tied up, and almost everyone who mattered—whether it was in season one or season four—came back for one last scene, whether it was in a montage or a cameo. I know it’s a hipster thing to fawn all over The Wire but the show does have incredible writing and plotting. If I had watched it while it was airing on TV, I probably wouldn’t have had the patience to wait week after week. But seeing it marathon-style was a schooling in crime fiction writing.

And McNulty, I’m through talking to you. I rooted for you and you broke my little fangirl heart.

An Instragram snapshot of the exhibit.

3. Two weeks ago, I went downtown with my sister and our friend Mabel to check out the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the Asian Art Museum.

The warriors they had on display were larger than I thought they would be. I do not think they are equal to the size of Chinese males living during that era. The warriors had large, beefy hands, too, which I found absurd. Nevertheless, everything else about them was impeccable, from their hairlines to their armor.

Some of the figures still had traces of their original finish. While there were colored simulations of how the warriors must have appeared when they were first made, I actually prefer them with their current muted shades. I grew up with that mental image, so the idea they were originally painted garish colors seems an anathema to me. I first encountered their original coloring in a recent copy of National Geographic. I haven’t gotten used to it.

Aside from the warriors, the exhibit also showcased many gold and brass ornaments, some still covered with thick layers of patina. The real stand-out among these objects were the horses.

Now, I do not consider myself a horse person. As a child, I didn’t go through that classic “I want a pony” stage. The last time I was impressed with a horse, it was a beautiful ceramic specimen I saw in the Art Institute of Chicago. But those terracotta horses. Jesus Christ! Their craftsmanship made my jaw drop. They are beautiful and majestic, and they looked great from every angle. If it was possible, I would prostrate myself in front of the artisans who made those horses and asked to be made their unpaid apprentice.

The exhibit ends on May 27, so there is still time to catch it. If you are in the area, please check it out. Go for the warriors, but stay for the horses. It might be easier than flying to China.

A promotional still for Parade's End. Courtesy of BBC and HBO.

4. I also finished watching HBO-BBC’s new mini-series, Parade’s End. I wonder if Benedict Cumberbatch will ever get tired of wearing top hats and World War I uniforms, because he seems so well-suited to the Edwardian era.

I’ve never read any Ford Madox Ford or Edith Wharton, but Parade’s End reminded me of Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993). The geographic and temporal settings differ but they both involve male leads who are just dying to commit adultery. Yet due to their own scruples and sense of honor, they can’t seem to bring themselves to do the deed.

The main difference may be the women they are thinking of cheating on. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is married to a saintly wife, while Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) is shackled to the most manipulative, unfaithful bitch in London—she’s like a flapper version of Cersei Lannister. Have I said too much?

I enjoyed Parade’s End—it’s not for the impatient or those who dislike subtlety—but then I also happen to love that historical era. There’s not much in the way of fan service—Mr. Cumberbatch only takes off his shirt in the fifth episode—so if you are looking for cheap thrills, you need to look elsewhere.

For Cabin Pressure fans, there’s an added kick: Roger Allam (the guy who plays Douglas) shows up at a commanding officer in the last episodes. Every time he popped up on screen, I kept thinking, “why do I know that voice?” And then something on TV Tropes clarified it all for me. (Ye gads, Douglas outranks Martin once more! My mind is blown!) After that realization, all it needed was John Finnemore as a subservient batman. Now that would have turned Parade’s End into something incredibly surreal. I’m glad the BBC held off on that.

Side Comments for the Month II

Side Comments for the Month II

1. I am ashamed to say that my book backlog is piling up with no end in sight. While wading through research on nineteenth century history, I am also concurrently reading Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s Kafka in Love and Jorge Amado’s The Discovery of America by the Turks. I’m studying for my finals, too.

In the midst of this mental over-exertion, I was lucky to receive a complete set of Dream of the Red Mansions for free. My copy editing class had a field trip to Sinomedia, a San Francisco-based publisher that specializes in Chinese and Asian titles. While touring their facilities, I had a nerdgasm because they had stuff like a hardbound boxed set of the complete Lu Xun.

So many books, so little time.

Chinese literature happens to be a frustration of mine since my university days, when I was unable to take the survey course on the topic due to scheduling conflicts. The literature department never offered the class again, either—for someone who took six units of Chinese language, it was unbelievably infuriating. (I decided on Chinese because all the hip cats were taking Japanese for their language requirements.)

Since those days I’ve managed to read some of the classics in translation on my own—Journey to the West, the Tao Te Ching, the short stories by Lu Xun, and a lovely poetry anthology edited by Wai-lim Yip. (I also have an anthology edited by Cyril Birch but I prefer Yip’s translations for some of the overlapping material.)

Despite these forays, my sense of self-education always felt incomplete because I hadn’t tackled Dream of the Red Mansions. Also known as Dream of the Red Chamber, it is one of the four masterpieces of classical Chinese literature. I felt that if I was worth my salt as a student of Asian literature, I just had to read it. (A similar moment occurred after taking the survey class on Japanese literature, when my professor announced we would not tackle the entire Tale of Genji. I’m proud to say I read that on my own too, even if some of the hip cats sneered at me for the effort. I was told by these well-meaning types that “real” Japanese kids don’t bother with it. I thought this was a ridiculous argument for being too lazy to even try.)

Good intentions aside, a complete, unabridged version of Dream of the Red Chamber proved difficult to find in Manila back then. So you can imagine my disbelief and excitement when I was presented with these volumes last week! Just receiving these copies ends an on-and-off search that started in the late 90s.

As soon as I can concentrate on it, I will definitely sink my teeth into these books. I hope I am up to this challenge.

 

A low-res shot from up front.

2. In more news of Things I Should Have Experienced Fifteen Years Ago, my sister and I watched the Toad the Wet Sprocket gig in San Francisco and it was a satisfying musical experience. I was happy that the audience wasn’t terribly geriatric, like the time I watched Brian Wilson (the Beach Boy, not the SF Giant.)

A local band called Luce opened for them and I think they were the best front act for me to encounter all year. Toad played through the entire Dulcinea album and I was ecstatic to hear Stupid, Nanci, and Windmills live after all this time. Even at the height of their popularity, I don’t think Toad even toured Asia. Back then I resigned myself to never seeing one of my favorite bands… and this was even before they broke up. It’s nice that they got back together again, and more importantly, they are in the middle of writing and recording new material.

If you wish to live vicariously, Toad recorded some tracks from their San Francisco gigs and it’s available for digital download over here. All proceeds from the EP will be going to Amnesty International, if you care about those things. So please don’t be an ass and try to pirate the EP, okay?

At the gig I picked up Glen Phillip’s Coyote Sessions. I’ve been following Glen’s solo career since Abulum and a new release is always a welcome addition to my iTunes. I’ve given the entire CD a couple of listens and my favorite tracks are “Still Carrying You” and “The Song is Still Here.”

 

3. On the anime manga front (can there be such a secret organization in existence… The United Anime-Manga Front? Instead of Internationale their theme song will be Fly Me to the Moon and its card-carrying members will wave red flags featuring the profiles of Hayao Miyazaki and Totoro? My imagination is running away with me on this cold afternoon…)

As I was trying to say before I interrupted myself, Adam and I finished Ergo Proxy and revisited Baccano!, courtesy of the official Funimation channel on YouTube.

A DVD cover for Ergo Proxy featuring Vincent Law.

Ergo Proxy was all sorts of confusing. Each subsequent episode left me slacked-jawed and mumbling strange things to myself. As far dystopian science fiction goes, it’s a competent, elegant series, as soon as I had all the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the plot firmly in my head. It’s not a series to watch in the midst of a debilitating depression or if you have the attention span of a goldfish.

Baccano!, of course, is famous for its skewered nonlinear storytelling — it hopscotches all over the place. Some people may argue that it’s a waste of time to re-watch a series, but Baccano! is one of those odd gifts that keeps on giving.

On a meta level, this time around nothing quite gave me the giggles as much as imagining Ichigo Kurosaki delivering Claire Stanfield’s lines. Graham Specter’s ridiculous declarations became more tolerable when I imagined Kyon delivering them to Haruhi Suzumiya, too. (Perhaps I should stop looking up voice actors and all the various roles they’ve had.)

Lastly, we are in the middle of watching the time-traveling series Stein;s Gate. I admit I got curious about this series due to this fan video. So far, the worst thing about it is its blatant misuse of punctuation in the title. Otherwise, the lab-coated main characters are adorably paranoid and madcap. I hope it continues to be satisfying.  Nothing is more infuriating than a good concept marred with a muddled, prolonged end (Eden of the East, I’m looking at you.)

 

4. I don’t know if I will find the time or energy to send postcards this year. In case I don’t write at length again in the coming days, happy holidays, everyone! I hope everybody I like (and a few I don’t) gets stuffed with food, drunk on spirits, and manage to do lots of silly things they will regret the next morning. That’s really the best I can hope for everyone.

Emperor Norton Lives On

Emperor Norton Lives On

Totally in character throughout the tour.

I enjoy walking tours and historical curiosities. The more obscure the detail is, the more my mind ties itself in knots over it. So when Auey told me there was an Emperor Norton walking tour, I just had to go.

Who is Emperor Norton? That’s a good question, something that the tour tried to answer over the course of a summer afternoon.

On the surface, Emperor Norton was a nineteenth century businessman named Joshua Abraham Norton, a man who lost his fortune with one unfortunate deal. After disappearing for a few years, Norton re-emerged to declare himself the first emperor of the United States.

As tour operator Joseph Amster noted, in any other city Emperor Norton would have been sent straight to the nearest asylum. But he was in San Francisco, the most tolerant and freethinking city in North America. Originally an object of interest to the local newspapers which needed to fill column inches, soon Norton became a mascot, a tourist attraction, and even an unofficial spokesperson for city’s downtrodden.

Here's a replica of the money issued by Emperor Norton.

Some of Emperor Norton’s far-sighted proclamations addressed the need for a bridge between San Francisco and the East Bay, and the need for an international council that promoted peace among all nations. Many people may have laughed at his ideas when he was alive, but the Bay Bridge and the UN were created anyway.

How an entire city could have humored and even encouraged the eccentricity of one man is fascinating. It’s unthinkable that this feat could ever be duplicated. Over a twenty-year period, Emperor Norton became an accepted part of city life. He was fed for free at certain restaurants, he was given free tickets to new shows, and he was even issued clothes by the local government.

The emperor's last moments, as depicted in The Sandman #31. A Vertigo DC Comics image.

Despite his obvious eccentricities, Emperor Norton was never declared insane. I asked specifically if anyone had tried to have him committed. According to his research, Joseph said that the Emperor was even autopsied after his grand funeral. The doctors could find no sign of brain damage. The consensus was that there was nothing wrong with him at all.

It’s as if the man—gasp!—lived upon a dream.

For my Neil Gaiman-loving friends, Emperor Norton may be a familiar name. He appears in one issue of The Sandman as the object of a bet between the Endless siblings. It’s a memorable one-shot, punctuated with a Mark Twain cameo. When I first read it years ago I thought it was all fiction, so it was a pleasure to find out that Gaiman embroidered little on reality. It was definitely an amazing treat to walk the streets where this strange man once trod.

II.

The walking tour started promptly at two thirty. We started at Union Square and crisscrossed all over the city, and somehow ended up in Chinatown. My favorite points included the history of Maiden Lane, all the many anecdotes connected to Lotta’s Fountain, and the origins of Bummer and Lazarus, the city’s most famous stray dogs.

Joseph is an engaging, entertaining guide, with an encyclopedic and intimate knowledge of the city. He’s not afraid to improvise either. He simply burst out into song at one street corner, when he realized that the two opera singers (who sideline as buskers) weren’t working that day!

Emperor Norton is the central figure in this mural found in Maxfield's Pied Piper Bar.

Probably the best—and totally unscripted—moments of the tour were the locals who were delighted to see Emperor Norton (or at least someone cosplaying him). Around Barnaby Coast one bicyclist roared, “the Emperor has returned!” while several foreign tourists couldn’t resist photographing “the Emperor” in all his splendor. It was a momentary glimpse of how the real Emperor Norton was treated during his heyday.

While the tour ends at the corner of Grace Cathedral and it’s a thirteen-minute drive from there, I think the best way to finish up an Emperor Norton tour is to drop by Elixir, a lovely saloon-styled bar on 16th Street. I interviewed the owner, H. Joseph Ehrrman for Gastronomique En Vogue magazine, a week or so before I went on the tour so it was a bit of serendipity. Among the many fabulous summer concoctions H. made was the refreshing Emperor Norton’s Second Mistress. Since I love fresh strawberries and I have a soft spot for bourbon, I have to recommend this cocktail.

Whether you think Emperor Norton was a crazy coot or not, the drink named after him is certainly fit for a king.

 

Music and Nostalgia at the Indie-Pino Underground Music Fest

Music and Nostalgia at the Indie-Pino Underground Music Fest

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Indie-Pino: Underground Music Festival, which was held at the Yerba Buena Gardens yesterday. I should have never doubted that the Filipino-American community can manage to bring the temperature and mood of home to central San Francisco.

From the crazy old guy dancing Pandanggo sa Ilaw with imaginary candles to the summer heat beating down on our heads, it certainly felt like a world away. I can’t remember the last time I stood around and endured the heat so aimlessly, and yet so determinedly. It reminded me of a cross between annual Labor Day celebrations at the old Post Office to any street gig held at Cubao X. From the free-range children running around the performance area to the power accidentally cut off mid-song—these elements were familiar and oddly comforting.

A blurry cell phone photo of the Jack Lords Orchestra.

It would be unfair to all the bands if I pretended to have a professional opinion of their music. I have a tin ear at best; at worst I am a scourge of videoke machines. Years of listening to musically gifted friends debate about guitars and effects does not make it any easier to fake it.

Still, even someone as tone-deaf as myself was delighted with the Jack Lords Orchestra. I understand that they hail from New York and they brought a bit of East Coast style with them. The old fogey in me really appreciated the vintage vibe they projected. Their polished aura goes well with their color coordination and their lovely harmonies.

Since I’m awful with these things, I cannot fully describe or classify their music; their set  simply reminded me of many beautiful things. That may be beastly unhelpful, so here’s their official YouTube channel instead. Please lend them your ears and listen well.