Some great Atmospheres reviews

If you're new here, you may want to check out my books and stories, and subscribe to my mailing list to find out first when new writing is released and to get free stuff. Thanks for visiting!

I always forget to look at Goodreads reviews. I think part if it is they make them so damn hard to find. And I don’t think they have as much of a result on book sales as actual Amazon reviews, which is bad because they’re the same damn company now, and GR reviews are usually much better written.

Anyway, Atmospheres has been slowly seeing some good reviews over on Goodreads. I know I should be pushing the newer book, but Atmospheres is one of my favorites, and it’s much more “me.”  And the audio book is coming soon.

A couple of recent ones worth sharing.  I really like this one:

Kon·ra·thi·an adjective \ˈkän-rath-ēən\

: a sentence or phrase used, in caustic hyperbole, to describe the complete meaninglessness of American culture and its icons

Another good one from the always spot-on Arthur Graham:

By removing the tracks of linear narrative and allowing the totality of his twisted visions to coalesce into a more appropriate form, Konrath does not merely dump a clusterfuck of unrelated awfulness into a book, just because he’s too lazy to glue it all together in an orderly fashion, or just because he’s more interested in pissing off the average reader (although he may be up to a bit of the latter). Rather, by eschewing the traditional tracks in favor of more train, what paradoxically emerges are the tracks of a form reinforced by its own chaotic content, and let me tell you: Konrath’s train is in a perpetual state of wreck.

The author could be viewed as a depressive nihilist if he didn’t obviously believe in what he’s doing and enjoy doing it, even if half of what he does is more like a hopelessly insane nightmare than anything a normal person would want to read. He crosses the line and then he crosses it again a few more times, and the end result is usually nothing short of genius and hilarity.

What did you think?  If you got the book, I’d love to see your review.  And if you didn’t get it yet, you should go take care of that, pronto.

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

Linklater, Benning

I’ve recently fallen down a frantic rabbit hole of youtube searches and article reading involving director James Benning, a pioneer in experimental, narrative-less film.  Richard Linklater mentioned him in the director’s commentary for It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which is a movie I’ve been obsessed with for a bit.  That movie is an essentially narrative-less film, and I’ve written about it earlier, but I was interested in his influences, and if there were other similar films, which led me to Benning.

This searching has pulled me in deep, because interviews with Benning are fascinating.  And I’m also about 80% sure my father-in-law probably knows him, because they’re both from Milwaukee and both came up through the draft resistance and civil rights movements in the 60s, and my FiL worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum and seems to know everybody.  It’s been hard to actually track down any of Benning’s work, because it’s not really on DVD, and you pretty much have to catch it at a museum.  There are bits of it online, but not entire movies.  But there are lots of interviews knocking around, and they are all good reads.

Here’s a snippet from one that particularly moved me, at least from the standpoint of this no-plot windmill I’ve been chasing:

*** from http://www.moviemag.org/2014/06/interview-james-benning/
You work with very small budgets – what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

A lot of people want to make narrative films and my advice would be to not do that. I don’t really like films very much. But I like using film as a way of saying things. I’m not interested in drama that’s contrived. I don’t like acting. My advice would be very strange – but just don’t make another “good” film, there are too many good films! Produce a film that’s going to make us question cinema itself and expand its language. Make us think about our own lives and the context of our lives in the world.
***

There’s a very good documentary that just came out called Double Play, about Linklater’s relationship with Benning, how they’re friends and it riffs off of both of their work a bit. It’s on Amazon and maybe iTunes.  I watched it last week, and it’s worth checking out, particularly as a retrospective of all of Linklater’s work and how it’s interconnected.

That said, I’m in the middle of plotting a book, so maybe it didn’t stick.  But I have about 40K words into the next iteration of Atmospheres, or whatever it may be, so there’s more in the pipeline.

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

Review my book Thunderbird for free and win stuff

OK, here’s the deal: I have this book Thunderbird. It came out in 2013.  It’s a pretty good book. It did so-so and then fell off the radar.  I think more people should give it a read.

So, I’m doing a giveaway through Story Cartel. For the next three weeks, you can go there, sign up, and get a copy of the ebook for free.

Now, part of the reason I’m doing this is I hope you read it and like it and write a review.  I really need more reviews, because they are the only way you can sell books if you’re a self-published author.  And I don’t pull in huge audiences because I write weird books. So, I’d appreciate it if you went to Amazon or Goodreads and wrote a review.

Here’s the good part.  Story Cartel has a giveaway every month.  They give away ebook readers (Kindles and Nooks and whatnot) and gift cards to Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you go and download the free book, you are entered into the monthly drawing. If you go write a review of my book, you are entered again.

(If you’ve already read the book, you can still sign up, and you’ll be entered into the contest. If you read the book and didn’t review it, you’re now motivated to write a review and you’re entered again.)

Here’s the link for the book: https://storycartel.com/books/thunderbird

I’d appreciate it if you went there and clicked those “share” buttons and spread the word on this one.  Thanks!

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

Ode to a Mid-2010 MacBook Pro

My MacBook died yesterday. Shit.

It wasn’t a full-on, catastrophic death, the kind with no backup and fire and smoke and no hope. It was more of a long goodbye. I replaced the battery last fall, the third battery in its almost five years of heavy use. It looked like the battery was holding a full charge, an app saying it had low cycles and high milliamp-hours. But it would lose a few percent per minute, and then would get down to about 20% and power off with no warning.

I thought this was one of those background-process-sucking-power things, like some damn Adobe vampire lurking in the shadows, constantly pinging home and scanning every file on the hard drive. I tried killing everything imaginable, and then tried a fresh install, zapping the NVRAM, resetting the SMC. After a 24-hour marathon of file copying and reinstalling, it died on 90% battery.

I bought this computer in 2010, in the spring. I jumped on board right on the first day of the new model, when the first i7 Macs appeared. I remember this well, because it was right after I switched jobs and left Samsung, so I worked in Palo Alto. I was in a funk, writing-wise, trying to pull back out of a long stretch of not doing anything except writing every day about how I could not write.

I drove to the Apple store in Palo Alto on my lunch hour to buy the computer. They had them in stock, and $2500 later, I had the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro. I took it back to my cube, unboxed it, snapped photos, and took a quick look. Then it sat on my desk while I stared at it, waiting until the end of my shift for my long commute back to the house. Then I plugged it into my old Mac, and did the eternal wait for the migration assistant to slowly slurp all of the files from one hard drive to another.

This was both exciting and sad. I had an unusual attachment to my first Macbook, one of the 2007 white plastic not-Pro Macbooks. I wanted a new laptop bad, but wasn’t working that summer. I was sitting on a bunch of junk after we moved to Denver, though – things I could easily dump on eBay. There were years of bachelor-mode acquisitions ripe for the picking: collectible coins, old electronics, DVD and CD box sets, and a bunch of barely-used gadgets and trinkets. I spent the first part of the summer unloading all of this on eBay, making sales and watching auctions and driving to the Denver post office to ship off boxes and packages to far-off buyers around the country. The PayPal balance grew, and by the end of June, I got within target, and orderedd my new machine. I then watched the tracking number, as the machine left China, went to Anchorage, and then jetted down to Colorado. I loved that machine, and it went with me everywhere. It also represented that odd, brief period of 2007, a period of nostalgic landing I always want to visit again.

That machine got quickly retired for its more powerful aluminum unibody sibling. And by the fall of 2010, I started working from home, and got a lot more serious about writing. I can’t thank the machine or the schedule, but launched into a new mode of writing and publishing. And that machine was at the center of all of it. Since I got that MacBook Pro, I’ve published five books (plus republished another) and probably written a half-million words, easy. I also used it for a lot of photography, video, music, and other work. It’s been a real workhorse, and I’ve become very attached to it over the last four and a half years.

That Mac has held up well, all things considered. It did have the dreaded NVIDIA curse, though. That was the first model with a discrete video processor on the logic board, a second GPU that it could switch to for heavy processing, or shut back off for better power use. And a lot of the machines had bad failures. Mine started to crap out a few months in, and ended up getting two logic board replacements, along with a battery replacement because of a recall issue. I doubled the memory, and moved to an SSD. But otherwise, the machine ran well, and lasted longer than any other laptop I’ve had.

I managed to bring that thing everywhere, too. It went to Europe twice; the Midwest a bunch of times; work trips to New York; Hawaii; a bunch of trips all over California. I got a lot of writing done on the road, because I used it as both my desktop and portable. It got scratches and scuffs, but that aluminum case kept it together, and still looks decent.

The battery thing was the kicker, though. I don’t even know if the battery itself was bad, or if it’s another logic board flake-out. It’s still a decent machine, CPU-wise, although the lowest-end MacBook Air now benchmarks higher than the 2010 top-of-the-line. It didn’t have USB3 or Thunderbolt, and had the slower SATA bus, so the SSD drive didn’t work at full speed. I also could not increase the RAM any more than 8GB, and it would not mirror its display to an Apple TV. I seemed to get in at exactly the wrong time, when all of these technical innovations were showing up. It was a great machine, but it was starting to show its age.

After yesterday’s death, I gave up, ran to the Apple store, and bought the latest MacBook Pro Retina. I went down to the 13-inch model, which feels insanely light and small compared to the old one. I’ve spent the last day porting things over, and it’s such a huge improvement in speed. Plus it’s got USB and Thunderbolt, and gigabit ethernet, and the Retina display is insanely nice. Most importantly, I’ve been working for an hour now, and the battery is just down to 97%.

So, start of a new era.  And PSA: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE. Go get a CrashPlan account, drag your important stuff to Dropbox, and get an external drive.  Get two, they’re cheap.  Now, on to the next era of writing with this new toy.

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

The Movies That Influenced The Memory Hunter

I wrote this new book, The Memory Hunter. It’s an absurdist cyberpunk book, a retro thing, and to make it absurd, I borrowed heavily from every imaginable trope in the cyberpunk genre. (You should go buy it.)

But to be honest, I haven’t read much cyberpunk. I mean, I love Snow Crash, and I’ve read a fair amount of Philip K. Dick’s work, which is sort of “granddaddy-of-cyberpunk” and predated the big 80s/90s movement headed by Gibson and others. What really moved me during the writing of this book was film. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, which was a time rich with high-concept science fiction blockbusters, the pre-CGI era of big-budget films about our inevitable near-future, which of course never happened.  But I loved that stuff, the action stars of the day, in a sound stage in Burbank done up to look like the surface of Mars.  I’d rent those movies from Blockbuster, and watch the VHS over and over in late-night marathons with my college buddies.

And I dreamed of a cyberpunk future, because I lived in what I thought was the start of it.  I used the Internet before there was a web, telnetting into BBSes and FTPing text zines like Phrack, reading all of the tales of hacking and connecting to faraway mainframes. I lusted after X Terminal workstations, and saw the GUI unix computers as the next step.  Soon, these graphical displays would become 3D, turn into headsets, and we’d all jack into this total immersion virtual reality.  The game Doom came out, and I knew it would happen soon. And then it didn’t.  The Web came out, and became commercial and dumb, and here we are, looking at stupid articles about 5 Ways To Lose Weight For The Holidays By Eating Blue Foods.

That’s why I wrote this book, so the dream would not be dead; it would be in an alternate reality.  And that reality is based on my memories of these old VHS classics.  Here’s my list.  I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, so when you go buy my book the plot won’t be spoiled.

  • Blade Runner – The gold standard of noir-inspired cyberpunk. I honestly didn’t get into this PKD-based classic until much later. When I bought my first not-family-shared VCR right after college, this was one of the first VHS videos I purchased. I’ve read endless books on the making of it (Future Noir is the best one) and you can get wrapped up in the “Deckard is a replicant” thing.In this book, I borrowed a lot of the imagery of this movie, the futuristic yet beaten-up city, the constant rain, the neon lights and Japanese-inspired architecture.
    One of the tropes that Blade Runner used that I remember from the 80s was this idea that the Japanese were taking over the world, that they were flooding us with technology and buying up all of our real estate and would eventually run the planet.  It’s something prevalent in many 80s movies like Gung Ho, and almost every 80s comedy had a geeky Japanese guy who could barely speak English for humorous effect.  (Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds, etc.)There’s also a lot of plot borrowed from this movie, but in an indirect way.  Most noir movies follow a very similar Chandler-esque three-act plot, and use tropes like the fallen protagonist with a troubled past, the female love interest, the big switcharoo, and so on.Oh, and spinnercars.  You’ve gotta love a good hovercar.
  • Total Recall – “GET YOUR ASS TO MARS!”  Man, I loved this movie when it came out. I didn’t see it in theaters, but a friend had a copy recorded off of HBO, and after watching it once, I rented it and watched it constantly.  I popped in the DVD recently and wrote about it, and it didn’t hold up at all.  The technology was all wrong, the miniature models looked really bad, and the acting was super-corny.  But, I love all of that. I remember every little line that Ahnold said, the way the secondary characters acted. And you’ve got the PKD mojo again, with the script being (loosely) based on a story of his.I borrowed heavily from this movie.  The concept of memory implants is there, along with the idea of mining colonies on other planets worked by indentured servants who end up getting screwed up by their mega-corporate overlords.  I also stole the common PKD trope of robot-controlled cabs, and the evil Big Boss.  I also wanted to use some of the outdated technology in this movie, like video phones, CRT monitors, and dot matrix printers.
  • Johnny Mnemonic- This movie is so bad it’s good, even though it flopped so badly, it was the beginning of the end of the cyberpunk genre.  There were some capable actors that did poorly, some stunt-casting that didn’t work out (Henry Rollins, Ice T) and a bleak look at 2021 that’s now incredibly dated.The big trope I swiped from this movie was the visual look of The Net, the idea of putting on a headset and swiping your arms in the air to move around blocks of “data” or whatever, or travel down an Information Superhighway of vector graphics and neon grids.  I also borrowed the concept of memory couriering, carrying around data in an implant for later retrieval. And my book has IDES, a degenerative disease that slowly rots away implants, something similar to nerve attenuation syndrome in this movie.
  • Sneakers – I lovethis movie.  It’s probably one of my favorite films of all time, and I remember seeing it at least a half-dozen times in the theater. It’s not a cyberpunk movie, but it’s a good thriller with enough high-tech stuff in it that it really hit hard when I saw it back in 1992.I borrowed a lot of plot-based tropes from this. There’s once again the fallen hero scraping by in a bad job.  (“It’s a living” / “Not much of one”)  There’s the weirdo expert in the field.  The “calling the CIA and tracing the trace” bit, or at least the pacing and tension of that scene, is something I use in act three (and don’t want to spoil – go read the book.)  I also used a big switcheroo like they did.  And the concept of “who is the enemy, really?” is one I loved to use.
  • Honorable mentions – here are a few that either don’t have to do with cyberpunk or that weren’t something I watched back in the day, but that also inspired my plot:
    • The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep – I’m not a noir guy.  But after reading about Blade Runner, I knew I had to get back to the source, so I read and watched The Big Sleep, and then to figure out what Chandler ripped off, I read and watched The Maltese Falcon. My plot outline is so similar to Sleep, I probably shouldn’t publicly admit it. But almost any noir is.  I borrowed a lot of tropes here: detective in a crappy office, fallen from his old job; wise-ass secretary (but in my case, it’s an intelligent AI program); the case that’s too good to be true; the employer that turns on you; the damsel in distress; getting captured and beat up at the end of Act 2; it’s all there.  I prefer Chandler’s work because it’s a little more fuzzy around the edges and has some complexity.  (And don’t worry, this is the last genre book like this I’m writing, unless someone shows up with a huge check for the sequel.)
    • UHF – this Weird Al vehicle is a parody itself, but the evil boss is something I cribbed a bit.
    • RoboCop – A lot of people are going to see this one, and it’s a minor influence in the Prometheus story plot, which is totally different from what I’m doing.  Its near future is also a little more near than mine.  But the overarching OCP and a lot of the little sayings and slogans (“I’d buy that for a dollar!”) got their stink all over my novel.

Anyway, that’s a good starting list. Hope you get a chance to check out the book – I need to go fall down a rabbit hole of old movies.

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

Scrivener Tips, Redux

I am in the midst of production work for my next book, and this is the time I always learn new things about Scrivener.  Here are some random bits of info.  If this makes no sense to you, don’t worry; I’m mostly documenting this so that a year from now, I’ll google it again and find it here.  BTW all of this is in the latest version on the Mac.

Using a Code character style in Kindle output

Need to have a monospace font code style that shows up in your final Kindle output?

  1. Surround your text with the HTML <code> tag.  Like this
  2. Select the text, and select Format > Formatting > Preserve Formatting.  Your text gets surrounded by a little blue dotted outline.
  3. When you compile your book, under Compilation Options, select HTML Settings,  and under HTML, select Treat “Preserve Formatting” blocks as raw HTML.

Making first paragraphs in a chapter or section not indented

  1. When compiling, under Compilation Options, select Formatting.
  2. This gets a little squirrely, because it depends on how you break up your documents/scrivs/folders.  For this project, I had a scriv per chapter, and within them, I had blank lines for sections (where you’d normally have * * * or something in a print book.)  In that situation, select the Section Type of Level 1+ with just one document (the bottom item).
  3. Click Options.
  4. Select Remove first paragraph indents and the relevant option.  I used After empty lines and centered text, but yours might be something else.
  5. You might have to do this for different Section Type levels, depending on your structure.

My About the Author chapter is showing up as Chapter 32 in the Kindle TOC

  1. Make sure your scriv for the chapter has a properly-cased and human-readable title, like “About the Author” and not “WTF FFUUUCKCK FIX ME”.
  2. Under Compilation Options, go to Title Adjustments.
  3. There is a thing labeled Do not add title prefix or suffix to documents:.  It has a little gear next to it.  It’s not very OSX-ish and super easy to miss. Click the gear.
  4. Select the documents you want to not name “Chapter x”
  5. Click outside of this pop-up to close it, like on the dialog underneath it.  (It has no close button. I told you it was a junky piece of UI.)

I imported a Scrivener-generated Word doc into Pages and when I try to have different head/foot/page numbers in a section, it freaks the fuck out and I think my computer is possessed by Satan

Scrivener probably put a page break instead of a section break between a couple of chapters, and now the Pages “use previous section” heading/footing setting behaves wrong. Change the page breaks to section breaks.

Also, if you don’t use section breaks between chapters and your chapters start on even pages of your book, stop doing that.

The spell check isn’t catching things

That’s because it sucks.  You might want to check your spelling and grammar in another program.

Hope these help someone, or at least help me in six months when I do this again.

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

The Cloud, the Book, the Pissing Contest

I’ve been bitching and moaning about how Adobe decided to move all of their software to the cloud, and make people pay per month forever to use their stuff.  I’ve also been bitching about how Apple decided to kill off Aperture, which happened about ten minutes after I imported and tagged 50,000 pictures, and would probably require me to spend six months of my life migrating to Lightroom.

Well, fuck it, I decided to give up and get a Creative Cloud membership, while Adobe is trying to court Aperture users and is quoting a lowball price.  I joined with the photographer’s membership, which is ten bucks a month, and includes Lightroom, Photoshop, and 2GB of cloud storage.  There’s some other junk that I don’t need or understand (Typekit?  Bridge?)  and there’s a ton of “try this!” links everywhere, to get you to upgrade to a full-blown membership.  But I don’t need Illustrator or InDesign this second, so I’m fine.

I have not used Photoshop in a long time.  I’ve been using Pixelmator for a while, to do book covers and whatnot.  (Here is my latest.)  And I make endless stupid things like the above drawing I re-captioned.  But I haven’t used Photoshop in forever.  It’s interesting to see how much it changed.

Back in 1991 when I returned to Bloomington after a year at IUSB commuter college hell, they had a shit-ton of new computer gear, because they’d recently tacked on a technology fee to tuition and were in a mad rush to spend it. The Fine Arts college had this cluster of brand spanking new top-of-the-line Macs, which I think were the IIfx at that time.  Each one had a gigantic color monitor, probably 20 inches, but about a yard thick, plus a second paperwhite portrait screen, along with a scanner and a Jazz drive, which used those insanely expensive removable hard drives that could hold something like 100 Megs, which was pure science fiction at the time. Anyway, they had Photoshop 1.0. I recently found a color printout me and my buddy Ray did when he visited once, an Ann Geddes overhead shot of nine babies in a nursery, but we’d horribly mangled them all: one beheaded, another eating that head, one with a swastika on its forehead, one spitting blood, etc.

That was my first exposure to Photoshop, and the new version makes the 1.0 version look more primitive than MS Paint. I am absolutely amazed by all of the retouching and healing tools, and how you can do stuff like move parts of an image and it will automatically fix the background.  The $10 a month is well-spent on getting more book covers done.  (And of course, photoshopping dicks into the mouths of various Facebook friends.)

Speaking of books, I am almost done with the next one.  I’m in the last sprint of edits, and I have a roughed-in cover, and I’m maybe a week from entering production drudgery.  This book is so amazingly different from anything I’m written, I’m not sure what people will think.  It’s absurdist, but it has an incredibly plotted story, like Michael Bay plotted.  I think it will really show readers that I have the ability to do more than just stories about taking a dump at the county fair.  But, I’m anxious to get it done, so I can get back to writing stories about taking a dump at the county fair.   Anyway, stay tuned.

I wanted to write something about Amazon Unlimited, and about the huge pissing contest between Amazon and Hachette.  But I really do not have the energy to care.  It’s billionaires fighting billionaires, and every move Amazon makes to make you think they are on your side or they’re saving you money is really one they’re making to increase their monopoly.  Amazon Unlimited is nothing but a race to the bottom, creating the equivalent of a thousand-channel cable TV plan that will cause readers to read five pages of everything and enjoy nothing.  And Hachette charges too much for ebooks, but Amazon is only bringing that to your attention because they want more of your money.

It’s all bullshit.  I’m still selling on Amazon, but eventually, their monopoly will squeeze out small authors, and I’m waiting for the day when they start charging KDP writers insane prices to list their books, or drop their royalties, or start an inane approval process for self-pubbed books “to increase quality to customers” (i.e. make it impossible for anyone they don’t like to publish weird stuff.)  It will happen.  But I’ll still be here.  If I have to photocopy my books at the local Kinko’s and sell them out of the trunk of my car, I will.  If I have to memorize them and go town to town reciting them like one of those poor fuckers with The Iliad, fine.  If I was here to make millions, I would have started selling penny stocks back in 1997.

OK, back to editing.  What’s up with you?

 

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

My occasional history with film

I’m still thinking about film a lot, maybe too much. I’ve ended up buying two 35mm cameras on eBay this week, a Canonet QL17 rangefinder and an Olympus Trip 35 point/shoot.  I ran the first roll of film through the Trip (see attached picture) and I love it.  I need to take more pictures, figure out a good workflow for developing, scanning, and posting things, and determine what I’m really doing with photography. Mostly, I need to learn, and I feel like there’s a deep rabbit-hole of things out there to master. And the whole thing has me falling down a deep nostalgia hole, thinking about previous experiences with analog film.

A couple of years ago, I bought a photo book by the parents of Christopher McCandless, the guy that died in Alaska, described in the book and movie Into the Wild. His parents self-pubbed Back Into the Wild, which contained his journals, letters, and snapshots.  The book had a strong impact on me, not because I particularly admire his story and plight, but because it was a strong link to a nostalgic period of the recent past.

All of the guy’s photos were taken with cheap 35mm cameras, the point-and-shoot variety now largely forgotten.  The book also included copies of post cards and envelopes, with old stamps and cancellation/postmarkings that also reminded me of the early 90s.  I did so much mail for the zine around that time, and the look of those old 22-cent stamps and the cancellations, with their little public-service messages (“end breast cancer!” or whatever) draw me back instantly.  I still have old paper mail in storage, pieces in their well-creased envelopes, and it all reminds me of that period so much.

But the film, the cameras – they mentioned a few of the makes and models, and I googled these, wanting to see what gear he brought along on his adventures.  In the 80s and 90s, there were so many junk cameras, so many different brands.  it was like that with any electronics, too. Today, if you wanted a CD player, you’d have a choice of maybe three or four brands (Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and some no-name Chinese thing) and maybe three or four models for each brand, and each one would be very similar to the other, aside from a differentiating feature like Surround Sound or digital output.  But back in the 80s, if you wanted, say, a VCR, there were dozens of brands, all of these different major Asian players shelling out radically different versions, competing with a dozen different American firms, with factories in San Jose or Dallas, plus all of the no-name Korean brands imported and given an American label, like the JC Penney brands or Sears versions.  And they were all so completely different, not identical in any way.

I remember I used to go through a lot of jam box tape players, because for a long period, I didn’t have a good car stereo, and would instead go to a pawn shop and buy a $50 jam box and then wire a 12-volt adapter in the car and use that until it got stolen a few months later.  And at the pawn shop, that $50 would buy so many different types, with removable speakers, various space-age plastic chrome finishes and grilles, fabric-covered woofers, and mystical buttons that offered hi-fi settings or switched on LCD power meters that measured nothing from a scientific standpoint, but would light and rise and fall with the volume of the music.  And they all had different EQ types and tone knobs or “boost” switches and different tape counters and ejection mechanisms, and the feel of the mechanical buttons was always different.

Cameras were the same way.  There were the high-end SLRs, which were all too expensive for my blood, but I had a friend or two, usually working for the yearbook club, who would learn how to work a good Canon or Nikon, and maybe borrow one from the school. SLRs all looked similar, but had weird differences, and there were the usual Pepsi/Coke religious wars about which one was best, although it was a ten-front war back then, not just Nikon/Canon.  There were also the low-end things, the Kodak 110s and disc cameras, and cheap Polaroid one-shots with no controls at all, just a dust cover, a trigger button, and a place to plug in the flip-flash with the exploding bulbs that would cost a fortune and smell of burning plastic after they ignited.  My parents liked these cameras, the ones with no settings, the Brownie or the 126, with nothing but maybe a film advance lever to manually crank through the roll after each shot.  And there were also a wide variety of cameras between the two, with some advanced features, some things missing, and some fully automated.

When I was a kid, I won one of the cheap-o cameras at the company picnic for my dad’s job.  It was a Kodak 110 kit, a little rectangle with the lid that pivoted open and worked as a sort of handle, hanging off to one side.  It was as thick as one of the plastic film cartridges, and had a little eyehole to look through, to frame shots.  This model had a “zoom” lens, a glass piece that slid back and forth on a track, so you could snap it into place and increase the range by a small factor.  Everything else was manual, with no focus, no aperture setting, just a film advance lever and a shutter button.  It would take me a year to take a dozen shots, carefully framing them, snapping a picture, and then not knowing for months if it turned out or not.  As a ten-year-old, I never had money for a flash, and would shoot everything in daylight with fingers crossed.  When done, the exposed film got thrown in a junk drawer, with pens and checkbooks and broken calculators and instruction books to appliances.  If we were lucky, a third of the film I shot as a kid was developed.  It always looked bad, with faded colors, grainy prints, and half of the shots underexposed or dark.  Everyone had red eyes, and all of the macro photography I attempted with Star Wars models never looked anything like the films.  It was disappointing, and not a hobby for me to get into, so I didn’t.

In high school, on a lark, I bought another 110 camera.  This was a small “spy” camera, a tiny piece of plastic that clipped over a 110 cartridge, leaving most of the film case exposed on the outside, not much more than a lens and advancing mechanism that clipped over the film cart.  I don’t remember if it had a flash, but I do remember it had no viewfinder, just a small plastic rectangle that clicked up on the top.  I bought this in October of my senior year, right before visiting Canada for the first time.  I took a few rolls of shots with this, and paid to develop them myself, since the $3.45/hour wages at my job afforded me this luxury.  The quality wasn’t much better, but there was more immediacy, and I took a lot of pictures of things.  I knew I’d leave town in a year, and want to remember old friends and my old car and my old house, so I captured it all to film.  And that Canada trip yielded a few good shots, too.  The film quality was still bad, lots of reds to the color mix, and the plastic-lens camera was total garbage.  But the small size, the novelty, and the budget to actually develop photos made it a decent experience.

In my freshman year of college, I had a few bucks of christmas money to blow on the after-holiday sales, and bought a 35mm camera at an Osco drug store.  It was some semi-known name, like Vivitar, but was a low-end, all-manual affair, similar to the ones McCandless used.  This was my first foray into a middle ground that existed, with the pro film format (35mm) but the cheap and easy to use camera that offered not settings or adjustments.  It did have a cheap flash, and it maybe had an aperture setting (a little lever with an icon of the sun and another of a cloud).  And it may have had a similar focus (picture of a mountain, picture of a person’s head.)  But it had no zoom, no focus ring, no tripod mount, none of that.  It also had a manual film advance, and you had to load the film by hand, stretching the first flap out of the film canister across a set of sprockets before closing the back door.

This camera only lasted a few weeks, before the film spool broke, the cheap plastic splitting apart, in an unrepairable way that instantly let in the light, making the $25 gadget useless.  But I got two rolls of film through it; one while I was still home, and one at school.  The school roll had some great shots on it.  I walked a loop of the campus during the day, and the January sun and blue sky made for some great shots of the old limestone buildings, a perfect capture of the 1990 glory of Indiana University.  The home set of snaps had a couple of good pictures of Tom Sample at New Year’s, and the only picture of first college girlfriend Angie I still have.  (A horrible picture of her in my mom’s car.)

I did not have another camera until the middle of 1993, when I was home for the summer  I don’t know what compelled me to dip back into photography, but I think it was from working on the zine, the idea that I would take pictures at shows.  I spent close to $100 on another 35mm camera, once again one of those fixed-focus things.  This one was closer to a DSLR in its general shape, and it did have a motorized zoom lens, along with a better flash, and a motorized auto-load, the kind where you would put in a can of film and it would quickly suck up the end after you closed the back door.  And then at the end of the roll, it would suck the film back into the canister for you, instead of spending minutes cranking on a small dial or lever manually.

I got really into the idea of becoming “a photographer” even though it was a cheap and cheesy all-plastic camera.  I’d buy expensive film, like 1600 ISO Fujifilm or Kodachrome, and keep it in the fridge and get it developed at the one-hour place, always asking for matte prints.  I went to a lot of shows that summer for the zine, getting in for free by talking to record labels, and I’d always ask for a “photo pass” to try and get better access.  I never got any good pictures at shows, just blurry, poorly-lit snaps of Glen Benton or Cannibal Corpse, completely unusable stuff. I took some decent snapshots though, artsy pictures of Goshen College, some pictures of friends, along with a roll or two of the Milwaukee Metalfest, although none that were actually of the bands, just the booths and the drive there and back.  I also got the last few shots of the Mitchell House before I moved out, the only pictures I have of that place.

The camera went into “occasional mode” after that, only getting pulled out on a whim here and there, for parties or trips.  I wish I would have taken far more photos back then, many more shots of people and places, images capturing the Bloomington of 1994 and 1995.  I never knew the importance of these things, that I’d want to write about them, and I got a few good shots, but not enough.  I did a little more later, but I’ve taken more digital pictures in the last three months than the grand total of every frame I ran through that cheap 35mm.

That camera followed me to Seattle, chronicling that voyage.  I didn’t travel much when I was living in Jet City, but it made a few trips down to California. And then after K and I broke up, there was a period where I wanted to be a “photographer” again and went around taking pictures of cemeteries and airplanes and lakes.  It also went with on my long trip from Seattle to New York in 99. Once I got to NY, maybe a roll or two went through it, shots of my apartment, or maybe Times Square.  I’d switched to video for the most part by then, which is bad because the quality is so low, and the camcorder was bulky enough, I didn’t shoot as much.    By the time I started to take vacations, like my first trips to Vegas, it was 2000, and I had my first digital camera, so the film went away forever.

Anyway, the McCandless book reminded me of this, because he took these shots of the desert, the wide open spaces of Alaska, the plains states, and everywhere else off the beaten path of the early 1990s America.  And his pictures, the feel of film going through the low-end optics of a cheap import camera, I could feel the places he visited, much more so than if he’d just snapped some Instagram pics with his iPhone.  That particular type of shot, the lenses or the grain of the film or whatever else, just screamed 1990, the same way my dad’s old slide film 135 shots from when he was in the service are easily IDed as being from the late 1960s.  They just had a certain feel to them.

I made that journey across the desert in 1999, driving through New Mexico and Arizona and Nevada and Texas, on some of the same roads as him, and pulled over many times to walk across the flats and look at dry riverbeds and take a few shots with my cheap camera.  And his pictures remind me of my pictures.  And my pictures remind me of standing there alone, feeling the nature and lack of mankind around me, in a way that a hundred snaps from a camphone would not.  That era is so close to us now, only a few years ago, but it seems like a lifetime away.  And when I pick up a film print I took from them, or look at the copies of his, it makes me jump from my life back to that one.

Anyway, enough rambling.  More film will be shot.  And I have a huge project I dread, involving scans and restoration of these giant tupperware storage bins of negatives and prints, before they all rot into rancid chemicals and fade into nothing.  I should get on that.

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare

Why I love analog

Real film. Not an instagram filter.

After shooting some 25,000 digital photos in the last decade and a half, I finally did something I never thought I would: I started shooting film again.

In a fit of boredom, I bought a Lomography Diana F+ camera. It’s a 40-buck plastic toy camera that shoots 120 roll film, with manual everything and a plastic lens that takes hipster-esque Instagram-y pictures. I took it out and ran three rolls through it, just to see what it would be like. It was tough, clunky, and awkward, but I loved it.

I haven’t shot film since 2000.  I got my first digital camera, a 1-MP Olympus point/shoot, at J&R Electronics in New York at the very end of that year.  I remember this well, because I had to take a bunch of use-it-or-lose-it vacation and essentially split work very early in the month of December for the rest of the year, and I got really sick on the first day off. I spent the whole vacation in a NyQuil daze, sleeping for 30 hours, waking up in the middle of the night to order hot and sour soup by the gallon from the crap Chinese place down the street, then going back to bed.  I eventually got ambulatory enough on the day after Christmas to brave a snowstorm that dumped a few feet of fluffy white snow over the island. I took the N train down to the City Hall stop to go into the electronics superstore that stood near the foot of the mighty twin towers of the World Trade Center.  I bought the camera, stumbled home, and took a bunch of shots of my kitchen and bathroom, amazed at how they instantly showed up in the tiny LCD screen.

Digital changed my life.  I didn’t have to go to labs, didn’t have to wait to see if a shot worked, and didn’t have the nagging self-censorship that a flunkie working the film counter at Osco’s would be looking at my prints. I took a ton of pictures with that little junk camera, and then moved on to a series of better point/shoots through the 00s before graduating to a DSLR in 2010.  I love shooting with the big Canon, but I still take more pictures with my iPhone. Both are fast, easy, and cheap.

But, there’s a disconnect. I average a few hundred shots a month, although it’s in fits and spurts; I will take out the DSLR for vacation or a baseball game and run a few thousand shots, but then it goes back to the shelf; the iPhone grabs a funny picture or something interesting maybe a few times a week, mostly snapshots of the cats or stupid products in stores. Sometimes these go to flickr, endless galleries of vacation shots that nobody looks at. Hell, I don’t look at them half the time.  I enjoy going back to remember something from ten years ago, but my least favorite part about vacation is trimming a thousand pictures down to a hundred and trying to caption them.  I wish there was a program that would do it automatically, as I’ve said before, but that’s a ways off.

I think that disconnect between us and what we capture, the intermediary of the digital screen and the promise of quick/easy/cheap causes us to produce things we don’t care about.  I don’t give a shit about most of those 25,000 shots I have in Aperture. Maybe 100 are really good works of art, and maybe 1000 of them are things I want to remember. And everyone is that way. Everyone with a digital camera has a million shots and nowhere to put them.  And nobody likes looking at them, except people you don’t want prying into them, like stalkers and annoying relatives. Nobody creates with a camera anymore; we capture, hoping it will help us remember what we quickly forget in our fast-paced world, but we never go back to look at it, and none of it matters. It’s something we feel we should do, like when people take a thousand pictures an hour when they have kids, but nobody’s going to cherish those pictures. They’re probably going to be gone in a dozen years, from a dead hard drive or some new change to formats that will make them all obsolete.

So the first reaction from anyone I told about this new camera is “why the hell are you shooting film?  Don’t you have an iPhone?”  And the answer is that the lack of immediacy, the fact that I need to think because each shot is costing me a buck and I won’t see it for two weeks, makes me more cognizant of what I’m doing. It gives me more of a relationship with what I’m creating. I mean, my iPhone is still taking better pictures, but there’s something about the process of going to the photo shop and talking to the clerk and being handed that envelope of prints and negatives, and then the surprise of opening it and going through to see what worked and what didn’t. I enjoy the process, even if it takes longer.

It reminds me of the days of going to a real record store, talking to the people there about what’s new and what’s cool, flipping through the stacks, looking at the artwork, smelling the vinyl in the air and seeing the other people there.  The whole ritual of going there is something I painfully miss, and buying albums made me more aware of them.  It’s damn convenient to go to iTunes, listen to a few samples, and click the buy button to instantly have it on your computer. But I buy stuff and don’t even listen to it, forget about it, and have to force myself to use playlists and rate things to find them and get into them.  I’m not aware of the music I have anymore.

It’s also the same with books.  Everyone is into the Kindle, and I sell more ebooks than paper these days.  But I download Kindle books that go free, or things I see online, and I never, ever read them.  I have hundreds of Kindle books I will never in a million years open. I read 100% of everything on paper, and I love collecting books. I cherish the print copies of things I really dig, and nothing beats the hypnotic experience of holding a dead tree in your hands and flipping through the pages.  Yes, it’s easier to search through a tech manual or textbook and find what you need on a Kindle or in a PDF. But the relationship between the reader and the work is much more solid on paper.  Will the Kindle disrupt publishing?  Sure.  The CD disrupted the production of vinyl. But people who love music are back to buying it.  Books are the same thing.

Anyway, the first film came out okay.  It’s going to take some practice to get into it, and I probably need a cheaper 35mm to do some learning. Here are the first shots. It’s a fun distraction, so I’m going to keep at it. I’m still shooting as much or even more digital, but there’s just something about analog I can’t shake.

Google ReaderRedditFacebookStumbleUponTwitterInstapaperShare