Third World Symphony: Just One Song

A friend of mine*, Shaun Groves, released an album yesterday. It’s called Third World Symphony and it’s pretty good. I scored an early digital copy on Kickstarter and got my CD in the mail yesterday. I am 1 of 462 unique fans.

Gosh I love the new music industry.

Anyway, I think you should check out Shaun’s album. It’s good stuff. But rather than point you to the entire album, I think you should just check out one song. It’s called “Enough.” It features a whoop (the word ‘ruckus’ comes to mind), fine mandolin picking (do you pick a mandolin?) and some nice rises and falls that just make it shine. Take a listen:

Enough by shaungroves

The rest of the album isn’t quite like that (the ruckus part), but it’s still good (lots of mandolin pickin’). So check it out.

*While Shaun Groves is a (soft) rock star, I’ve also had dinner** with him and talked to him on the phone, so I think that qualifies as a friend.

**If “dinner” qualifies as a cherry Coke and some chips and queso at Chili’s. He offered to buy me dinner***, but I wasn’t that hungry.

***OK, now I’m just bragging. Sorry.

Libyan Tunnels: Fredd & I the Spies

As the Libyan rebels raided Colonel Gaddafi’s compound this week I was reminded of a story I wrote in fourth grade: Fredd and I the Spies. The basic plot is that President George H.W. Bush asks me, a 9-year-old boy, to make a friend in Italy (the oddly spelled “Fredd”) and spy on a chemical weapons plant in Libya.

Why a 9-year-old spy?

“If we sent a grown-up man then it would be more obvious.”

As you can imagine, it’s pretty incredible.

Incredibly painful.

One of my favorite moments is that they give me a car that converts to a submarine and that’s how I get to Libya. I drive across the Atlantic Ocean:

“It took me a few hours, but I finally made it.”


We did much of our spy work by reading a newspaper article in a McDonald’s which laid out Libya’s plans to attack the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (yes, that’s what it was called when I was in fourth grade) with chemical weapons.

A less ludicrous plot point in the story is that we discover a secret tunnel that gives us access to the chemical weapons plant. Fast-forward 20+ years: This week the Libyan rebels discovered a secret network of tunnels under Tripoli.

But my life as a spy was not meant to be. When President Bush asked me if I’d like to be a full-time spy during a press conference (!) announcing the success of our mission, I declined.

“I’d rather have friends than bullet holes.”

After 36 hand-written pages of James Bond-inspired (i.e. heavily borrowed) violence, I suddenly became aware of the potential for harm.

(While the story is packed with James Bond references—this was 1989 and the height [and end] of the Timothy Dalton as James Bond resurrgence—I was pleasantly surprised to see a reference to the “pocket grenades used by Leonard (in Leonard Part 6).” If you’re not familiar with it, Leonard Part 6 is a 1987 Bill Cosby spy spoof so bad that Cosby himself urged people not to see it. He went so far as to buy the television rights so it would never appear on TV. My 9-year-old self disagreed. I still remember a spectacular scene where Cosby fended off man-eating lobsters using their natural enemy—what else?—melted butter [surprisingly, the clip doesn’t hold up as well on YouTube]. I also remember wishing I could watch the five previous installments that surely existed. Ah, to be 9 and have such low expectations. Despite Cosby’s efforts, Leonard Part 6 is available on DVD and Amazon’s Instant Video.)

Antiques: Society’s Detritus

IMG_0811.JPGAfter four years in our house Abby and I finally got around to decorating our bedroom. This included buying real bedroom furniture, instead of just using whatever random furniture we had leftover as nightstands. And no bed frame—we’ve been married for over 10 years and we’re just now getting a headboard. We feel so grown up.

Anyway, the space we have for nightstands is very limited so we were coming up empty looking at our usual haunts. So we started shopping at antique stores trying to find furniture with just the right character.

Going back to antique stores is kind of like going home for me. My parents were big on antiques. Half the furniture in our house was antique—kitchen table and chairs, coffee table, TV stand, you name it. At one point we had our library of VHS tapes in an old chicken coop. Half the stuff on the walls was older than my grandparents. Speaking of them, their house was no different. It was like stepping back in time and then taking everyday stuff and hanging it on the wall or using it to store magazines. It’d be like taking a case of beer to store your magazines today. Come to think of it, decorating with antiques is kind of like a college dorm room in time warp.

As a child I accompanied my mom to many antique stores and weekend shows. There was usually the vague promise of baseball cards and later old yo-yo’s that kept me vaguely interested. So lately as we’ve been wondering around antique stores looking for bedroom furniture it’s been like going back.

Aside from all that personal history, antique stores just fascinate me. They’re the repositories of our societal detritus. Forget the museum, they’ve got the valuable stuff. Antique stores have the everyday stuff. They’ve got old bottles and boxes and side tables and postcards and photos. It’s such a random and weird assortment of stuff. I find myself picking up a box and wondering what it was used for and how it got so scratched up and what the original owner would think to see it sitting in antique shop 100 years later priced at $64 and ending up as someone’s nightstand.

Makes me wonder what crap of ours will hang on someone’s wall in the year 2111.

“Wow, what’s that?”

“It’s called a mouse. That’s how they used computers before they were surgically implanted at birth.”

Even now that we have our bedroom furniture mostly taken care of, I feel myself pulled back to these repositories of stuff from another era. I want to sift through the layers like some kind of geologist and put together the pieces. Who is the couple in that faded photograph? What was this box used for? Who thought to save this jar of hair tonic? Why are there so many bad reproductions of Jesus paintings? (my favorite so far is sacred heart Jesus on a bright yellow and blue clock face with the words “Jesus is my dad.”)

What to Do About Back Story

For some odd reason I’ve found myself editing one of my old novels lately. I guess it’s time to actually finish something.

But I’m stuck.

My story is full of back story. It’s probably half back story. The main character is fixated on what happened in the past, so there’s a lot of talking about the past. However, popular writing wisdom says not to dump lots of back story on your readers in the beginning. I love the first couple chapters, but they were specifically engineered to efficiently dump back story. That’s strike one.

I also introduce a new character in the each of the first two chapters, a character that’s less than minor and plays no significant role in the story. In a short novel it seems ridiculous to start out with characters that don’t matter. Strike two.

So I’m stuck.

Do I give in and just let the story start with lots of back story? It has to come in sooner or later, so as long as the story keeps moving and we’re not stuck in flashback mode forever that’s OK, right?

And what about the characters? Should I ditch these minor characters and find a way to introduce the story with characters that actually matter? Or am I worrying too much and should just use these characters for what they’re for? Use ’em and lose ’em?

Clearly I’m thinking too much and just need to vent. But if any readers out there have opinions, I’d gladly hear them.

My Summer Has Evaporated

I didn’t know it, but my summer evaporated as soon as I went on that impromptu trip to Dallas for the Echo conference. The next week we had to travel out of town for a funeral. Then Abby had an all-week conference while making final preparations for our church’s VBS. This week is that VBS, which goes all morning (it’s 4 in the afternoon and I’m the only one awake). And next week Abby goes back to work.

Summer over.

Life has been slipping by lately and it’s all I can do to hold on. In a span of a few days I attended a funeral and a baptism (oddly enough in that order, which I’m choosing to see as hopeful).

Great Grandma and the neighbor’s dog both died within a week and a half of each other, which prompted all kinds of odd conversations: “Why did Domino die?” “Because he was old and sick.” “And why did Great Grandma die?” “Um, because she was old and sick.”

And for once the frustration and right answer actually matched up: “But how does Grandma get to heaven? She can’t just fly, she’s dead!” “I don’t know, Lexi.”

The other day I was half lamenting, half apologizing to my neighbor for not keeping up with the yard work. “You’re not raising grass, you’re raising kids,” she told me.

It’s a small comfort, but I’ll take it.

Cell Phone Cheapness: Pay-As-You-Go vs. iPhone

Last year we gave up our monthly minute cell phone plan and went the pay as you go route. We went from 700 minutes per month to about 2,000 minutes per year. And we went from paying roughly $800 a year to about $300.

It helps that we don’t text that often, have a phone at home (VOIP actually) and I just don’t use a cell phone much. The savings seem like a no-brainer.

But now the iPhone is looking more and more tempting. I may not use a cell phone much, but the idea of having the Internet at my fingertips is pretty tempting. I refuse to become one of those obnoxious people who checks Twitter in the middle of a real life conversation, but I still think I could make good use of an iPhone. Even more so now that the Table Project has released their iPhone app.

Yet every time I’m tempted by an iPhone I crunch the numbers and try not to choke. Two-year cost for my current, cheapo, pay-as-you-go plan? About $600. Two-year cost for an iPhone with minimal minutes and middle-of-the-road data? About $3,000. (That’s two phones, by the way. My wife would kill me if I got an iPhone and left her with the cheapo phone.) That’s a $2,400 difference.


Now when I’m tempted I think about what I could do with $2,400.

(The funny thing is I’ll probably find some work-related reason why I need an iPhone and I’ll look back at this post and feel embarrassed. Kind of like when I blogged about returning my Wii in 2008, only to buy one in 2011 and play it nearly every day. Or like when I blogged about how much I hate public speaking, only to agree to more public speaking.)