Saturday, August 23, 2014

(July 12, 2014 - Archived)  Rave Reviews! (part 1) 

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For an author, nothing keeps the ball rolling, the sales coming in, like good reviews. And when those reviews come from literary giants, well, it’s humbling, to say the least.
My novel, Profile, was released on Monday, July 14. But a few old friends got early release copies and put in their two cents.

Jack Kerouac took some time out from his quest to find meaning in our meaningless existence to read Profile. Always one to spontaneously relate his unfiltered opinion, but not one to take a breath very often, he had this to say:

Profile is a blaze of glory in a brown paper bag, an inconspicuous thing that makes you laugh, and makes you shudder, makes you want to be Arden Chase, and really live, the kind of life that’s bright and fabulous and glorious, but has a hard, cold darkness at its center, and you bite down on it and you go “Damn, that hurt,” but you’re glad you did it.
When pressed about whether that meant he liked it or not, he said, “Yeah, it was great. That Evelyn was a real piece of work, though.”

Ray Bradbury, beloved science fiction/fantasy author, was a little less direct.
A couple of weeks in Colorado, not quite winter, but it’s cold. The yellow sun, nearing its farthest distance from earth, took its warmth from the planet. It left behind a bitterness, heard in the words of Arden Chase, a not quite remarkable man, nor an admirable one, but a likable one nevertheless.

Jane Austen, when asked of her thoughts on the book, lent her effusive prose to a description of her impressions:

How I have misjudged this work! I, who have glorified books and valued the author’s craft! who have spent many a blissful hour steeped in the prose dripping from his pen! How embarrassed I am at this mournful discovery, for having once cautiously dipped my toe in Mr. Grey’s composition, I became enamoured with his hero, Arden Chase, and though I cannot, in good conscience, recommend nor condone his choices and actions, I can indeed sympathise with them. For his wife was of such a wretched and contemptible nature that I fear that I myself, if placed in his position, sadly might have taken that woeful course as well.
My predisposition of disdain toward Profile was, I fear, woefully premature, and having now reveled in Mr. Chase’s adventures, I must now endeavour to exclaim, without fear of censure or criticism, that I adore this book!

Papa Hemingway was gallivanting around the world, shooting stuff. But that didn’t mean he didn’t have time to relax and catch up on his reading. Profile was the first book he read from his TBR stack, and he had this to say:

Arden Chase is a likable guy and a man’s man. He wants to be decent and good but he is driven by forces on the outside to surrender to forces on the inside. The book is short and the storytelling is compelling and concise. Read it.

Good advice! Check it out. More reviews next week.

(July 12, 2014 - Archived)  Chautauqua Park 

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In my novel Profile, my character, Arden Chase, spends several scenes in Chautauqua Park. That’s a beautiful, natural reserve on the southwest side of Boulder, Colorado, Arden’s hometown.
Chautauqua is pronounced just like it sounds. If you don’t know how it sounds, it’s kind of like this: shuh-TAW-kwuh
But Haydn, you may be asking, what is the history of Chautauqua Park? If you’re not asking that, you’re either a barbaric oaf of philistine mentality, or I just beat you to it.
I’ll just assume the best.
But to answer your question, the beginnings of Chautauqua Park can be traced back to an adult education program begun in the 19th century. The New York Chautauqua Assembly was organized in 1874 by clergyman John Heyl Vincent and businessman Lewis Miller. This educational summer camp was held on the shores of Chautauqua Lake, on the western end of New York State.
The program in this original Chautauqua Assembly, and in the spin-off Chautauquas, included lectures of both secular and religious content, as well as musical entertainment. Soon, Chautauquas were popping up all over the country, most in the temporary camp site setting, but a few in permanent buildings.
The Colorado Chautauqua, originally known as the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua Association, was started in 1898. It’s the only Chautauqua still in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River, and is the only one in the country that operates year-round.
The Association and the city of Boulder agreed to establish their Chautauqua near Boulder, if the city could provide ample acreage and felicitous facilities. Following a city bond election on April 5, 1898, and the appointment of a Committee on Parks on April 18, the Bachelder Ranch was purchased as the permanent site for the Chautauqua, and was promptly renamed Texado Park.
On May 12, construction of the Chautauqua Auditorium began, and on the Dining Hall a week later. Both were finished in time for the opening of the first Colorado Chautauqua season on July 4.
Obviously they had never heard of red tape!
Over the years, various other structures were built for administration, lodging, etc. The Chautauqua has seen its share of ups and downs over the last century. But it’s now a popular destination in the area. According to Wikipedia:
The Colorado Chautauqua gradually returned to its roots in the late 20th century, scheduling much more live music and a modest number of additional lectures. Jazz and bluegrass concerts were introduced, with good popular success. Guest performers have included composer-pianist Peter Kater, Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, Doc Watson, Hot Rize, George Winston, Bill Monroe, Lyle Lovett, Randy Newman, Bobby McFerrin, Bruce Cockburn, Suzanne Vega, Bela Fleck, Roger McGuinn, Loudon Wainwright III, Michelle Shocked, and the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.
Besides these cultural attractions, Chautauqua Park also adjoins open space and trail heads that lead to the Flatirons and beyond, into the mountains. Chautauqua Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006, and is now a thriving cultural attraction.
Arden Chase spent one scene in Profile engaging in nefarious online hijinks in Chautauqua Park, but other times spent some quality time with his daughter, Lanelle. If you haven’t read it yet, well, that’s because it’s not out yet. But it will be soon. Watch for it on July 21.
Then you can see some of what Boulder is all about.
Right. Like that’s what you’ll be reading it for!

(July 5, 2014 - Archived)  Frozen Dead Guy Days 

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the now defunct Naked Pumpkin Run in Boulder, Colorado, the setting of my novel, Profile. Something about the quirky nature of that event made me think of another even quirkier event.
It’s not mentioned in Profile. It doesn’t even take place in Boulder.
Get over it.
It happens in Nederland, Colorado, about a half hour drive west of Boulder, up into the mountains. It’s called Frozen Dead Guy Days. The festival celebrates a corpse kept frozen in a Tuff Shed for the last twenty-five years. Because, well, it’s Nederland, Colorado.
It all makes perfect sense once you hear the story. (Yeah, right.)
The frozen dead guy is Norwegian Bredo Morstøl, brought to America after his death by his grandson, Trygve Bauge in 1989. He made the trip to America packed in dry ice, but was then stored in liquid nitrogen in a cryonics facility in California.
In 1993, Trygve, being quite the entrepreneur, packed his grandfather in dry ice again and brought him to Colorado with the hopes of starting his own cryonics business. Bredo was stored in a shack behind the unfinished house of his daughter, Aud, Trygve’s mother. Trygve, however, wasn’t able to see his dream come to fruition as he overstayed his visa and was deported back to Norway.
His dream, and Bredo’s future life, was now in Aud’s hands.
Aud’s house remained unfinished, and as a result, she was evicted for being in violation of local ordinances prohibiting residents from living in houses without plumbing or electricity. Yes, it was that unfinished!
Fearful of what that would mean for her father’s frozen corpse, Aud pleaded her case to a local reporter, who then took it up with city hall. One might think that it would be against the law to keep “the whole or any part of the person, body or carcass of a human being or animal or other biological species which is not alive upon any property.” But since there actually was no law on the books to that effect, they created one.
However, because of all the publicity that resulted around this case, they made an exception for Bredo, a grandfather clause.
Yes, a grandfather clause that actually applied to a literal grandfather.
In 1995, a local Tuff Shed supplier teamed up with a local radio station and built Bredo a new final resting place, and a caretaker was contracted to keep him packed in dry ice. And being Nederland, Colorado, an annual festival has been celebrated in Bredo’s honor since 2002.
Observed on the first full weekend in March, Frozen Dead Guy Days includes tours of the Tuff Shed where Bredo’s body is still kept at -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Festivities also include a polar plunge, which usually necessitates breaking through the ice to get to the water, a dance, called “Grandpa’s Blue Ball,” coffin races, a slow-motion parade, and a Frozen Dead Guy lookalike contest.
They don’t call us Colorful Colorado for nuthin’.

(June 28, 2014 - Archived)  The Flatirons 

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In my novel Profile, my character Arden Chase, a resident of Boulder, Colorado, mentions the Flatirons several times. They’re rock formations, but what exactly do they look like?
Depends on where you’re standing. Looking at them straight on, it can be difficult to distinguish them from the mountain that they are considered a part of, Green Mountain. To appreciate their unique features, you have to view them from an angle.
Now, I know most of you come here to enjoy the delights of my clever prose and my sardonic wit. So let’s just get this sciency stuff out of the way.
According to Wikipedia:
The Flatirons consist of conglomeratic sandstone of the Fountain Formation. Geologists estimate the age of these rocks as 290 to 296 million years; they were lifted and tilted into their present orientation between 35 and 80 million years ago, during the Laramide Orogeny. The Flatirons were subsequently exposed by erosion. Other manifestations of the Fountain Formation can be found in many places along the Colorado Front Range, including Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, Roxborough State Park in Douglas County, and Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison.
What does all that mean? How the hell should I know? I’m a fiction writer, not a rock scientist. Suffice to say they’re old, they’re rocks, and there are other examples of them besides Boulder.
Wikipedia mentioned Garden of the Gods and Roxborough State Park, both of which I’ve hiked in. I’ve also been to Red Rocks Amphitheatre several times. Not to hike, but any of you who have been there know what a hike (and climb) it is to get from the parking lots to the amphitheatre itself. Wear good, comfortable shoes and be really sure that the concert you’re going to see is worth it. (The Beatles played there in 1964. That one would have been worth it, but I was only five at the time.)
Anyway, back to the Flatirons. They, along with these other formations, began forming long ago, when the Rocky Mountains were little more than a twinkle in the great inland sea. Numerous marine fossils have been found on these rocks which once formed the seabed. But as the seas retreated and one tectonic plate slid under another, it forced the seabed to turn upward, eventually resulting in the diagonal slabs of sandstone known as the Flatirons.
The majority of the people who visit the Flatirons close-up, though, don’t care how or when they formed. They’re just there to climb on them. That’s right, since the Flatirons are part of the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks system, they’re popular destinations for hikers and rock climbers.
Arden, like me, was more of a computer jockey than an adrenaline junky. He never climbed the Flatirons, but he (and I) hiked near them in Chautauqua Park. In this area, the Flatirons are so universally recognized that the word and the image are included in countless company names and logos. So it just seemed to make sense to refer to them in a story that was set here.
They truly are eye-catching formations. For those of you who can’t make it out here to see them, there’s actually a web cam that shows views of the Flatirons throughout the day, and even assembles them into a time lapse video.
Almost like being here, huh?

(June 21, 2014 - Archived)  Naked Pumpkin Run 

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In my novel Profile, I mentioned some of the attractions of Boulder, Colorado, the home of my character, Arden Chase:

I lived in Boulder, proudly described locally as ‘twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality.’ It was a popular destination for hippies in the sixties, and that free-spirit mentality has been a part of Boulder culture ever since then. Situated right at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, it’s the site of various athletic events and music festivals, as well as such refined affairs as the Polar Bear Plunge and the Naked Pumpkin Run.
Profile is a work of fiction, but the information in this paragraph is true, including the part that sounds the most like something that was made up.
The Naked Pumpkin Run has taken place in Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon and Arcata, California. But Boulder, Colorado has the distinction of being the proud birthplace of this event. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Boulder “has always taken pride in its liberal-to-the-point-of-loony reputation.”
That liberal looniness has long included clothing-optional events. Back in 1974, hundreds of University of Colorado students ran naked across campus to try to set a Guinness world record. (They didn’t.)
Starting in 1998, the Naked Pumpkin Run began, and it’s just what it sounds like. Late on Halloween night, dozens of people made a run through downtown Boulder, wearing nothing but running shoes on their feet and a carved pumpkin on their heads.
Who would have thought that taking off your clothes and running through town on a cold night, wearing a heavy, smelly pumpkin shell over your head, in front of hundreds of spectators would become so popular? But it was an event that was tailor-made for Boulder. In 2008, more than 150 people participated.
Those less liberal-minded in the population took notice. So on Halloween of 2009, the police issued a warning that more than forty police officers would be stationed along the route, and even two SWAT teams nearby. One would assume the SWAT teams would be in case any of the runners were carrying concealed weapons. The police were ordered to arrest any naked runners and charge them as sex offenders.
This was kind of a sticky stance, because being naked in downtown Boulder is not a crime. Nudity has had a place in Boulder for quite a long time. Besides the aforementioned UC Boulder Guinness attempt, Boulder has also hosted a Naked Bike Ride to encourage freedom from fossil fuels.
Since there’s no law against nudity in Boulder, the police instead made use of Colorado’s indecent exposure statute. Under this law, it was a misdemeanor to expose one’s genitals under circumstances that were “likely to cause affront or alarm.”
According to the Wall Street Journal article, “given that the Naked Pumpkin Run starts at 11 p.m., long after young trick-or-treaters have retired, and given that the route is packed with fans who come out specifically to see the event, runners argue that it's absurd to think their prank is causing either affront or alarm.”
Participants, who included professional people like lawyers and scientists, were understandably fearful of being labeled sex offenders. So nobody showed up. Boulder’s Naked Pumpkin Run is now a thing of the past.
Boulder no longer allows people to run or ride a bicycle naked. Boulder still proclaims itself “twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality.” But their liberal lunacy is now a little more conservative.

(June 8, 2014 - Archived)  Poke Me! 

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Have you ever been poked?
Oh stop it! I’m talking about Facebook pokes, one of the more obscure and misunderstood features of the social networking site. You get a notice that one of your friends poked you, and you have the option of poking them back. Facebook is also nice enough to provide suggestions of other people you could poke, if you were so inclined.
I’ve never initiated a poke, but I have returned them. Sometimes. More on that later.
First, what the hell is it?
I’ve seen numerous status updates of people asking what a Facebook poke means. The responses cover a range similar to those found at the web site
  • Just to say a quick "hello"
  • To remind someone that you're waiting on a reply or message from him or her
  • To check in and see if a person has visited Facebook lately
  • To let someone know you're thinking of him or her
  • Just for fun
In some Facebook circles, though, the poke takes on a bit more of a sexual connotation, with messages posted similar to, “Oh yeah, poke me, baby!” I’ve seen memes posted with milestone numbers such as 200 pokes, 500 pokes, etc., occasionally including the names of the people involved in the pokefest.
In my novel Profile, Arden Chase said this about Facebook pokes:

Now I never understood the point of a Facebook poke. It seemed to me like a “hello,” but without all the commitment, a greeting for people who don’t want to go to the trouble of actually connecting with another person.
Since Arden is essentially an autobiographical character, that’s basically my thought about the Facebook poke. If you want to contact someone, why not just say something? “Hi.” “What are you up to?” But I guess sometimes we just want to make a quick, noncommittal contact with someone without taking the time to actually say anything.
Still, I can’t really get past the sexual connotation. And that’s never more discernible to me than when I receive pokes from male friends.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I just don’t swing that way. So on those rare occasions that I receive a poke from a male friend, I don’t return it.
No offense.

(June 1, 2014 - Archived)  Trust me. I'm on Facebook 

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Okay, this one might look familiar to you, if you've been a faithful follower of Grey Matters since its inception. I decided it was time to get the original blog posts uploaded to the new home of Grey Matters. Once I started using this outside site for the blog, the original posts at my web site were no longer accessible. Granted, there aren't a lot of them, but it's important stuff.

And it takes time, so I'm wimping out this week. I'll have a new blog post next week. Until then, relive the glory of the first few installments of Grey Matters. And feel free to leave your comments about them, something you weren't able to do before. Starting with the first entry:

If you’re on Facebook, chances are you’re friends with lots of people you’ve never met.
I know, duh.
But do you know the names of all your friends? I’m not talking about the name they go by on Facebook. I mean their real name.
I don’t mean to shock you, but I’m betting that Bill’s last name isn’t really Luvs2ski. Really, though, that’s no big deal. Everybody knows that it’s a made-up name.
But what about that friend you’ve never met with a common-sounding name?
Over the years, people in general have become much more savvy about their online business. But surprisingly, it’s still not that uncommon to hear about some poor sap who trusted someone he shouldn’t have, and ended up being taken for a financial ride.
The thing is the terminology employed by Facebook tends to breed trust. Facebook users have “friends.” You can trust your friends, right?
When I first got the idea for Profile, I didn’t want the story to get lost amid unrealistic details. I wanted to see how easy it was to actually create and maintain a fake Facebook identity.
The answer, it turned out, is “Pretty damn easy!”
I won’t devote space here to how I did it. Buy the book. The way Arden Chase went about it is pretty much what I did.
While his fake identity in the book is Augustine Smith, mine was Pennington Clark. As “Penn,” I created a persona, complete with backstory, and I began interacting with my new “friends.” His voice was pretty much my own, as was much of his story, which probably helped to make it come across as genuine to most people.
I say “most” people, because there was one person with whom I was chatting who thought something wasn’t quite right. She wanted proof that I was who I said I was. I went along with it for a while because I wanted to establish Penn as a real person, and I didn’t want to raise any more red flags.
This was research!
Well, I unfriended her first chance I got. But what I learned from her about the “Location” feature when using the Facebook app on a cell phone was useful in that it found its way into the story.
Of course that feature also has its weaknesses. There are ways around it. Turns out I was safe from her finding out my true identity. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
But you can bet that there are plenty of scammers out there who do realize and make use of all of Facebook’s weaknesses.
Some create fake Facebook profiles of people you actually do know. That way, when your friend contacts you and says they’ve had some trouble and need cash, you might be more willing to help out.
And since we are certain that everybody must be fascinated by every facet of our lives, we post everything on Facebook. So anybody who follows you knows when you’re on vacation, or even at that favorite restaurant of yours. And depending on how much personal information you put into your profile, or what features you have enabled on your phone, they may know what town you live in, what part of town, possibly even your exact address, complete with a map.
Don’t get me wrong. I love interacting with my friends on Facebook. It’s a great way to connect with people you know, and even to get to know new people. Its features, which change more frequently than some of us like, are powerful, and even helpful if used wisely.
Technology has advanced faster than some of us geezers care to keep up with. You can bet, though, that the scammers have kept up with it. So how do you protect yourself?
Interestingly, the advice hasn’t really changed much since the inception of the e-mail scam, or of the telephone scam.
Use your head!
It’s that simple, really. Be careful about how much information you share concerning certain sensitive things. Check your settings to determine who can see what you post. And if someone asks you for money, just say no. Or at least check it out to determine whether or not it’s valid.
Or course, it could be a writer trying to sell you a really great novel. In that case, it’s okay.
Really. You can trust me. I’m on Facebook.