Archive for Personal News

2014: Year in Review

2014.
Also known as: The Year That Time Forgot
At least in my life.

Near the end of 2013, my wife and I welcomed a new baby into our little family, which pretty much occupied the rest of the remaining year. Naturally, the full-time job of caring for an infant carried over into 2014, which meant that most of this year was spent changing diapers, entertaining him, and trying to still make time for his neglected older sister. So now, as the year has wrapped, I really don’t feel like I did all that much worth noting.

I read a lot of Reddit posts. Took a lot of Instagram photos. I wrote some unspectacular posts for Mental Floss. I put out a handful of podcast episodes. I basically just tried to get through every day, all of which have mostly melted together to form one long haze of existence.

The one thing I did worth mentioning was write, produce, direct, and mix The Thing Read-Along Record Book. Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m damn proud of, but it’s not exactly enough to hang your hat on for an entire year. And even though it’s only been four months since it was released, it feels so long ago that I barely remember that it was, in fact, this year.

I’m disappointed with 2014. I wanted to do more. I tried, but it just didn’t happen. I reached out to some local ad agencies to see about freelance work – and never heard back from any of them. I worked on some long-gestating personal projects – but I didn’t make any real progress, let alone finish any of them. I had plans for my new podcast, The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop – but wound up doing very little with it. I pitched some ideas for a local ad agency – and they decided to go in another direction. I wanted to work on a new record book – but got crippled by fear of the sophomore slump.

Naturally, good things happened, too. Every day my wife and I laughed at our kids. Every day we laughed with each other. Every day we found something to be happy about, even if it was something as mundane as a silly cat video on YouTube. I don’t want to discount these things, because they’re what make life worth living. But when you measure so much of who you are by the things you do, by the things you create, by the mark you leave on this world, a year when you have very little to point to and say, “I did that”, feels like a year wasted.

So it is with heavy heart that I say goodbye, 2014. Not because I wish you could stick around forever, but because you seem to have sucked for everybody – and I worry your influence is only going to carry over into the new year. This year we saw damaging breaches of online privacy. We saw video gamers who justified their misogyny by waving a false flag of journalistic integrity. We saw racial conflict bubble to the surface, with no real relief in sight. We heard almost daily how our civil rights are being violated by our own government, but we only raised a ruckus after a Seth Rogen comedy was pulled from movie theaters. We bought guns in record numbers because we’re terrified of our neighbors. We’re excited about lower gas prices right now without worrying about what’s going to happen once the Saudis have driven out the competition. We were essentially told there is nothing we can do anymore to prevent the devastating effects of climate change, and yet some of us still don’t believe it’s ever going to happen. We read documents detailing torture that has been done in our names, and some of us feel it was all justified. 2014 was toxic. What is there to miss?

All that being said, I am hopeful for 2015. I have a short list of things I want to accomplish. They’re realistic goals too, I think. But there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to boldly step into the new year with my head held high. I may not be able to change the world, but I can at least make my little corner as bright as possible. And the only way to do that is to keep moving forward.

Just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming.

Good luck to you in 2015.
Good luck to us all.

The Thing Read-Along Record Book

Yes, it’s here, folks!  My super-secret audio project has finally been released.  As you can see by the title of this post, it is an original read-along record book of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Long story short, I love those old record books that were popular in the 1970s and 80s, but they were always made primarily for kid’s movies, TV shows, and comic books.  But that means a lot of great films that came out during that time period never got the full record book treatment.

So, along with some of my geeky friends, I decided to correct this oversight, and am now working on read-along record books for the films that never got them in the first place.  My first choice was John Carpenter’s classic 1982 cult hit, The Thing.

This is also an opportunity to announce my new podcast, The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop, hosted over at spacemonkeyx.net.  You can read more about The Thing record book and the new podcast over there.

Here’s a direct link to The Thing podcast episode.  Don’t forget to download the PDF record book, too!

Or if you’d prefer to the get the audio and the record book in once place, just hit Play on the YouTube video below.

April/May Update

Jeesh.  I have to do a better job of keeping this place updated.  Anyway, here we go…

Mental_Floss

My Strange State series continues with Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

The editor also asked me to update a classic story of mine, The Complete History of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was republished and proved popular once again.

Other Writing Stuff

I’ve also been doing some writing for an advertising agency from my Champaign-Urbana days.  I can’t reveal the client or anything, but I’ve gone through three rounds of brainstorming on taglines for a government agency, and I’m still not sure if they liked any of my suggestions.

I’ve also written a piece that will be featured in an upcoming issue of a publication put out by the University of Illinois.  It’s my first of what will hopefully be many more to come.

I’m catching up on my stack of books to review for Top Hat Sasquatch, so I’ll have some more links coming soon.

I’m also hoping to have a new When You Hear This Sound podcast episode coming out soon.  Everything is written; it’s just a matter of finding time to record and edit.

Personal Stuff

Other than that, I’ve been spending a lot of free time working on my super secret, still unfinished audio project.  I’m making major strides with it, though, so here’s hoping I can have it finished soon and reveal it to the world.  I’d like to make that announcement by the end of June, but time will tell.

 

2013 Year in Review

And so we come to the close of another year.

This means another year-end recap post to help me reflect and reassess the previous 365 days.  Sadly, much of 2013 is not worth remembering.

To start, Mashable brought their writing in-house, so my January 2 article on the future of tablets was my final piece for them.  I was disappointed to lose them, not only because they gave me some great topics to write about and the editors were great, but the inclusion of such a high-profile website on my resume definitely brought some much-needed attention my way.

Shortly after Mashable was done, I had prospects to write for Univision when a former editor at Mashable took a new position there.  I even wrote an article for the website, but never submitted it because Univision requires any employees – even freelance writers – to sign contracts in-person at a Univision office.  The closest Univision office to St. Louis is either Chicago or Kansas City, meaning I had to travel on my own dime just to spend 10 minutes signing some papers.  I would have needed to write at least three articles to cover my expenses, and in the crazy world of freelance writing, those three articles might never even come.  In the end, the job never materialized.

Perhaps the biggest blow came in June, though, when The Dim, a web series that a friend and I had been developing for a year, fizzled out.  We’d found a director for the pilot episode.  We found a location that would work for the shoot.  But as we started to fine-tune the script, there were creative differences with the director, and we wound up parting ways.  We tried to sign on another person we’d met with, but they were now too busy with other projects to come aboard.  It wasn’t long before the project died on the vine like so many creative endeavors do.  The director moved on, my co-producing buddy understandably shifted his focus to an exciting new business venture, and I…well, I was left standing in the rubble.  Hundreds of hours of research, writing, and editing down the drain with only nine unproduced scripts to show for it.  Nine scripts that had extensive notes for additional drafts, so it’s not like they’re polished and ready to shoot, either.  I’m still reeling from the defeat, honestly, because I had high hopes for it to succeed.  Maybe we can pick it up again someday, but for now I need to put it behind me and move forward.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been an easy thing to do and has been a shadow cast over the rest of my creative year.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though.  I’m still writing for mental_floss, though it’s less consistent than it was a few years ago.  I only wrote a handful of articles in 2013, none of which were big successes, before hitting on an idea for a regular feature called Strange States.  It’s an ongoing project which hasn’t exactly blown up the blogosphere, but I’m having fun with it.  It will conclude sometime in 2014, so keep an eye out for it here.

My big creative achievement this year has been When You Hear This Sound, “a podcast dedicated to the weird and wonderful world of record books and storybook vinyl”, hosted over at Bubble Pipe Network.  I’ve really enjoyed working on this one-man show since it’s debut in June, and look forward to continuing throughout 2014.  It’s been tons of fun and I’ve learned a lot about audio production, so it’s been a good project for me, even if only two or three people have ever actually listened to it.

With my focus on When You Hear This Sound, it means Watching the List, my movie podcast, has been put on hiatus.  The show was so time-consuming to produce that it just wasn’t worth it in the end.  I’d love to see it revived in some format for 2014, but I’m still trying to figure out how to make that happen.

I also worked on a few art projects this year.  The first was a piece I drew for myself, but wound up giving to my grandfather for his 99th birthday after he said how much he liked the one I made for my niece last Christmas.  He hung it in his room at the assisted living facility, and even included it alongside some of his own paintings in a small local art show.  Sadly, he passed away shortly after, but I’m glad he appreciated it while he could.  I also worked on a Pac-Man series that I really enjoyed.  And I drew a few more pieces as Christmas gifts – one for my parents for Christmas and the other for an Instagram friend.  I have a few ideas I’d like to experiment with in 2014, and might even try selling a few if I can find someplace that produces good quality prints at an affordable price.

Despite the rough year I had creatively, 2013 was a big year for me and my family.  While much of the time things were fairly quiet, things really picked up with the birth of our son in August.  Then, just a few days later, our daughter started kindergarten.  Talk about a whirlwind of activity!  Things have settled down to some extent – as much as it can in a family with two kids, anyway – but I’m sure the year ahead will be filled with plenty of adventures and milestones to fill our days.

As for 2014, I’m determined to make some changes.  Not resolutions per se, but I feel like the New Year is as good a time as any to decide to do things differently.

The main thing I’m really going to focus on this year is doing more.  I want to get back to a more regular schedule of articles for mental_floss.  I want to get When You Hear This Sound on a consistent bi-monthly release schedule.  I have ideas for a few kid’s books that I’ve written down, but never developed, and it’s time I start working on those.  I have some experimental podcast concepts that I’d like to see produced.  I’d like to get back to some old creative writing projects I have in my archives and see about maybe reviving them for a new medium (podcast?  screenplay?  serial adventure?  RPG adventure?)  And, as all writers do, I’d like to find more time to work on new ideas as they come to me.

In order to do this and still manage to be with my family every once in a while, I’m going to have to be better about using my time wisely in 2014.  This is a skill that I and many creatives often lack, but I’m determined to be a “maker” – not a “wisher” – this year.  I haven’t completely worked out my plan for making this happen just yet, but I’m kicking around a few ideas that I hope to implement sooner rather than later.  I have a feeling extensive, complicated To Do lists will somehow be involved.  Maybe a spreadsheet or two as well…

Anyway, goodbye and good riddance, 2013.  Don’t let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you.

Hello, 2014.  May you be filled with creativity and good fortune for this lowly little space-based simian.

To my family and friends out there in InternetLand, I hope you all have a great New Year, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what kind of trouble I can get myself into.

When You Hear This Sound

WhenYouHearThisSound_500x500

For Christmas this year, my lovely wife gave me something I’ve been pining for for years – a record player.  It’s not a top of the line model or anything (I think it cost less than $50 on clearance), but it plays records, which is all I was really looking for.  As a bonus, it outputs directly to a computer via USB, so you can record MP3s of the album.

While I know vinyl has become something of a hipster pursuit, my interest was about as far away from hipster-y as possible.  Sure, I’d love to pick up some old classic albums to play while I do dishes, but I was more interested in getting some of the spoken word albums I had back at my parents’ house, specifically the books and stories on record.

See, I was born during a transitional period between vinyl and cassette tape.  So when I was a little kid, vinyl was still king, but once I got to my teenage years and started to get into music, the Walkman was introduced, making tapes the music medium of choice.  So the only music I actually bought on vinyl were little 45 singles of weird stuff like the theme from The Greatest American Hero (seriously…I own that); things I would have wanted to hear when I was seven, but not when I was 13.  Everything in those formative years of music was on cassette or even CD (my first CD was Huey Lewis and the News’ 1996 release, Fore!).  Which means that most of the vinyl I had was from my much younger days.  And since I was less into music at 5 years old and more into superheroes, Disney cartoons, and Star Wars, my parents bought me a lot of story records.  So while my older sister was jamming out to David Bowie on vinyl, I was listening to Spider-Man adventures adapted from The Electric Company.

We celebrated our big family Christmas after my wife had given me the record player, so when we went to my parents’ house, I dug out the blue plastic bin where our old vinyl had been languishing for years.  I was thrilled to find my Batman record, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back read-along books, four of the five-disc set of Gremlins read-along books that were available exclusively at Hardee’s, as well as a few of my favorite albums, The Story of Star Wars and The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, both of which featured the music, sound effects, and dialog lifted directly from the first two movies in the Star Wars trilogy.

As I was looking through these old albums, I noticed there was an advertisement for a Kojak read-along book.  There was also a picture teasing a Batman album with the Caped Crusader facing off against a gorilla and Sherlock Holmes.  How could I not try to track those albums down?  In addition, I thought it would be really nice to complete my Gremlins collection, since I only needed the last disc.  And, while I was at it, maybe get the Return of the Jedi read-along book, too.  Again, just to complete the collection.

Flash forward a few months and now I’m in full-on addiction mode.  I scour eBay for good deals on read-along record book adaptations of The Last Starfighter and Goonies, as well as story records featuring He-Man and Godzilla.  I’ve added a handful of fun titles to my collection and am having a great time reconnecting with this dying (or some could say already dead) artform.

And it’s with this enthusiasm in mind that I’ve decided to share these records with the world – for those who want to relive their childhood, as well as for those who are hearing them for the first time.  I’ve started a podcast over at Bubble Pipe Network called When You Hear This Sound, featuring recordings of some of the stories in my collection.  The title is an homage to one of the most memorable aspects of these read-along adventures – the tone, or chimes, or R2-D2 beeping that signals when you should turn the page in your book.  The narrator always introduced the page turn signal using some variation of the phrase, “You’ll know it is time to turn the page when you hear this sound…”

The intro episode is available now on iTunes and via RSS on bubblepipe.net, with the first official episode dropping next week.  So be sure to head over there and subscribe so you won’t miss any exciting adventures that I’ll be posting in the future.  And if you have any fond memories of these albums, please share them here, on the Bubble Pipe Network page for the show, or on the show’s Twitter or Instagram accounts.