Archive for December, 2013

25
Dec
13

Now Available: MAKING SANTA-ADVENT

RevolvingDoorFor lots of years now, I’ve spent every Christmas putting together an original short story to share with anybody who cared to read it. It’s a little tradition of mine that I love doing, and I’d feel pretty crummy if I ever stopped it. This year, I’ve done it again. But this year’s story is going to be different in several ways.

Making Santa: Advent is — to begin with — not a short story. It’s just a hair too long to give that title, tipping into the “novella” range. So there’s that, first of all.

Second, it’s not quite a self-contained story. Oh, it can be read in and of itself. It doesn’t end with a big cliffhanger or anything, and if these characters never appeared again, I don’t think anybody would feel particularly cheated. However, that’s not the intention. Advent is the first book in what I’m planning as a quartet. Next Christmas (God willing) should bring you the second volume, Christmas Eve. That will be followed by Twelve Days and, finally Epiphany. Now those three novellas have not been written yet, but I’ve actually got them mapped out (and not just in my head) in far greater detail than I usually do my stories, so I’m feeling pretty confidant that they’re going to happen.

The third thing that’s different is that, for now at least, the book is going to be exclusive to the Amazon Kindle device. I mentioned a few months ago that I was considering doing some Kindle-exclusive volumes to take advantage of their promotional machine, and I’ve decided this is the time to do it. For those of you who don’t have a Kindle or a device with a Kindle App, I’m genuinely sorry. If it helps, I fully intend to release the quartet as a combined print volume once all four of them are written.

Then there’s one last thing — the price. I’ve always given my Christmas stories away, initially at least, for free. And I intended to do that with this one too. But on Christmas Eve, once I finally had it up and in the Kindle Store, I went to the section of website where I could set the book as being free for a promotional period and — lo and behold — it didn’t work. I kept getting an error, “this service unavailable at this time, we are trying to fix this problem, please try again later,” blah blah blah. And like someone who didn’t have health insurance, I spent the next three hours meticulously punching in the information on the website in a desperate attempt to set the two-day “free” window I intended for Christmas Day and the day after. And finally, it came through! Finally, it worked!

At 12:10 a.m. Christmas Day had already begun, and it was too late to start a promotion on that day.

If you’ll allow me a brief moment bereft of Christmas cheer, I definitely wanted to find someone at Amazon and make them use that universal health coverage at that instant.

So instead, guys, today the book is carrying its usual price. It’s still just a measly $1.99, nothing to fine folks such as yourselves. But — but if you want to wait a little bit and pick it up after Christmas, the book will be available totally for free on Dec. 26 and 27. I also intend to run another free promotion on this one next Christmas, just before Christmas Eve is released.

Oh geez, I guess I should tell you a little about the book, shouldn’t I? Well, obviously, it’s a Christmas story, and it’s a weird one even for me. Nicholas Grace and 199 other men abducted by a group of allegedly-benevolent aliens. These advanced lifeforms, having achieved perfect harmony on their own planet, now travel the universe hoping to help younger worlds evolve by supplying them with something they lack, something that’s missing. An icon, for example, a symbol of hope, a character for the world to latch on to.

Nick Grace is one of 200 candidates to become Santa Claus.

Making Santa: Advent is now available for the Amazon Kindle and on any device with a Kindle App.

Hope you enjoy it, guys. Merry Christmas!

(And thanks, as always, to the awesome Jacob Bascle for the cover art!)

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05
Dec
13

A Very Nerdy Christmas

Next year, Erin and I will finally celebrate our first Christmas together. I couldn’t be more excited, and I know she’s already making certain plans in terms of traditions and decorations and the like.

However, over the years I’ve assembled a small but — I think — amusing collection of Christmas ornaments of my own. Many of them have been given to me as gifts, the rest have mostly been the result of Hallmark’s after-Christmas clearance sales. It never seemed sensible to spend a ton of money on decorations until I had someone to decorate with. So while I’m sure next year the two of us will bring together all her ornaments and all my ornaments and probably a bunch of new ornaments, today I thought I’d share with you guys my collection as it stands today, such as it is.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

First up is my Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. While not technically an ornament, it’s one of my most prized Christmas decorations and also will serve as the model for most of the upcoming pictures. Erin gave me this tree a few years ago and I love it. I actually wound up getting a second tree to place in my classroom at school, knowing that this tree was far too precious to risk in a room full of high school students.

“Oh come on, Blake,” you’re saying. “They’re in eleventh grade. Surely they can be trusted to be in proximity to a decoration with just a single ornament without worrying about them breaking it.”

Heh. It’s cute that you think that.

Doctor Who TARDIS

Doctor Who: The TARDIS

Next up is my TARDIS decoration. You may or may not know (except if you know anything about me at all, in which case you absolutely know) that I’m a bit of a Doctor Who fan. This particular glass ornament was given to me by my buddy and frequent Showcase co-host, Kenny. Thanks, pal! I know that Erin will want to be certain it gets a place of honor next Christmas.

Donald Duck Wakeup Hallmark

Donald’s Wake-Up Cup

I love Disney and I love Christmas, so it’s not surprising that many of my decorations are Disney characters. Of course, as I’ve done most of my shopping in the clearance sales, my selection is particularly eclectic. I’d grab whatever looked like it was worth the money, and the deeper the discount the lower that threshold would become. For example, here’s Donald Duck, having just rolled out of bed, drinking a cup of coffee. Probably because I got it for pennies.

Mickey Mouse Ears

Mickey Mouse Ears

From the “My parents went to Disney World and all I got was this…” line. A few years ago, my parents took a trip to Disney World and brought this personalized set of mini-Mouse Ears to me. (That’s “Mini” as in “small,” not “Minnie” as in “Mickey’s girlfriend.”) They brought an identical pair of ears for Erin. Hers are currently dangling from the rear view mirror in her car.

Scrooge McDuck from "Mickey's Christmas Carol"

Scrooge McDuck from “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”

Another Hallmark Keepsake ornament, this one depicts my favorite Disney Character — Scrooge McDuck — as he appeared in the classic 1983 animated feature Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Hey, speaking of A Christmas Carol, have you guys been following my Reel to Reel movie blog? All this month, leading up to Christmas I’m reviewing and analyzing different versions of Charles Dickens’s classic novel. All of your favorites are there — Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Mr. Magoo… go on, check it out.

Disney Vinylmation 2012

Disney Vinylmation 2012

My brother and sister are big fans of Disney’s Vinylmation figures — a series of toys all set in the same Mickey Mouse-shaped mold and decorated in an infinite number of ways. I’ve got a lot of them too, but I’ve been a bit more selective in my Vinylmation purchases than them. This one came out last year — it’s a regular Vinylmation figure with an ornament loop on the head. This one depicts Donald Duck trapped in a snow globe, presumably the work of a genie or his nephews or something.

Vinylmation Hot Chocolate

Vinylmation Hot Chocolate

Another Vinylmation figure-slash-ornament, this one depicts a chocolate bar in the shape of Mickey Mouse. As you can tell, whoever got this bar in his stocking eats his Mickey chocolate the same way everybody eats their Easter rabbits — he bites the ears first. This figure also smells like hot chocolate. Well… the box says it’s hot chocolate. There’s a definite cocoa flavor to the aroma, but I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Perry Christmas from Phineas and Ferb

Perry Christmas from Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb is without question, the best cartoon for kids in decades. I dare you to find anything that’s even remotely as entertaining. You need to go back to the 90s heyday of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. These kids rock.

Also, this was the last picture I took. I thought I was finished, I put my Charlie Brown tree in its place of honor (which is rather high up and out of reach of cats and three-year-old nieces), and when I realized I missed this one I just said the hell with it and took the picture on the table.

Dooby dooby doo-wah, A! GENT! P!

Dooby dooby doo-wah, A! GENT! P!

Courtesy of Target, here’s Phineas and Ferb’s best pal Perry the Platypus in his other identity: Agent P of the OWCA (Organization Without a Cool Acronym). I like to imagine here that he’s just stumbled into an insidious yuletide trap set by his arch-nemesis, Dr. Doofinshmirtz. Don’t worry, guys, Doof isn’t really that big a threat. And he actually doesn’t hate Christmas anyway, he has a burning indifference.

Prep and Landing Hallmark

Prep and Landing: Wayne and Lanny

A few years ago Disney introduced these guys, Wayne and Lanny, members of Santa Claus’s special Prep and Landing task force. These are the elves that scout ahead of Santa Claus to make sure the house is ready, the children are nestled all snug in their beds, and not a creature is stirring. If you have a Merry Christmas morning, it’s because Wayne and Lanny did their job right so that Santa could come behind them and do his.

Muppets Kermit Target

Kermit the Very Shiny Frog

This one is a Target find rather than Hallmark. Erin picked it up for me last Thanksgiving when we were shopping. This was either a few days before or a few days after I asked her to marry me, I don’t remember which, and it doesn’t matter. It’s special anyway. And yes, that’s a reflection of me and my phone in Kermit’s face. You try hiding your reflection when taking a picture of a shiny glass amphibian. It’s not that easy.

Peanuts-Erins Snoopy

Snoopy and Woodstock go for a drive

Snoopy and Woodstock here were a gift from Erin. She found it for me at work and included it in a stocking full of candy and little gifts last year. The girl knows me all too well, doesn’t she?

Peanuts on Ice

Peanuts on Ice

This is actually four separate ornaments put together. The “Peanuts on Ice” figures from Hallmark each have a magnet in the base, allowing you to connect them. I’m not sure how many there were in the series, but I know how many I got. Four. I got four.

You’ll notice that Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, has no magnet and therefore is not connected to the rest of the Peanuts gang. I like to imagine that Linus, sick and tired of her years of sexual harassment, disabled the magnet in her base in the hopes that she would slide away and suffer a tragic mishap in the ice. Wow, that took a dark turn.

The Flash

The Flash

Another Hallmark ornament, here we have Barry Allen, the Flash. (How do I know it’s Barry Allen and not Wally West? Because Wally’s belt always came to a point in the front, only Barry wore the straight belt for his entire career in the Pre-Crisis era. Yes, I’m THAT kind of nerd.) Barry here, if I’m not mistaken, is actually the oldest ornament in my collection. I’m pretty sure I’ve had him since high school, and I don’t even remember when I got him.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

Hal Jordan. Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814. Current leader of the Green Lantern Corps. Another Hallmark keepsake ornament. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Golden Age Superman

Golden Age Superman

I’ve got a few different Superman ornaments. Try not to be surprised.

This Hallmark ornament is actually two in one. In the front we have the Golden Age Superman, the way he first appeared in 1938. In the background is the second ornament, the cover of Action Comics #1, in which he made his first appearance. Actually, now that I look at it, the figure isn’t exactly right for that comic. His “S”-symbol, at that point, was actually just a yellow shield with the letter drawn in it, not the stylized version it would later become, and his boots hadn’t yet evolved to what we see here either. Wow, now I’m furious at the inaccuracy of my ornament. Christmas is RUINED.

Modern Superman

Modern Superman

This more modern Superman is a one-piece ornament, with the Man of Steel bursting out of the cover of a comic book. And this actually is a comic book, you can open that sucker up and read it. There aren’t any credits, but I think the short re-telling of his origin story was drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, a classic DC Comics artist who contributed a lot of art for various DC merchandise over the years. I told you, I’m that kind of nerd.

Superman Luxor

Lenox China Superman

I think I’ve shown this one off before but I don’t mind doing it again. This Lenox China Superman figure has the trademarks of that elegant line of decorations — the white glass is used in his cape, and the Lenox gold lines the figure in several places. This, too, is a gift from Erin, which should be obvious because those Lenox ornaments are pretty expensive for a guy that, until now, got most of his Christmas decorations from Hallmark’s 20% off table.

Dwight Schrute: Talking Bobblehead

Dwight Schrute: Talking Bobblehead

From The Office, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Schrute. This ornament is actually based on the Valentine’s Day episode in which his girlfriend gave him a bobblehead doll of himself. The ornament is a working bobblehead, plus, it talks when you push that little button in the front. I briefly considered shooting a short video demonstrating these features, but then I realized that would require way more of a commitment than I was ready to put into this little article.

Elise's Ornament

Elise’s Ornament

Now we’re getting into the ornaments that have an actual emotional connection for me. This one, for example, was a gift from Erin’s niece Elise last Christmas. Hey — I guess that means she’s going to be my niece too. Cool.

For Erin's teacher

For Erin’s teacher

Another Erin find. This “For My Teacher” apple came to her at work and she brought it home to me. Go ahead: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaw…”

Engagement Encounter: Be Joyful

Engagement Encounter: Be Joyful

And finally, probably the most meaningful ornament on the list is this little Cross. Last summer, Erin and I attended an engagement encounter at a monastery in Pittsburgh. We wanted a keepsake of the weekend, and decided on this Christmas ornament. The message, I think, was just right.




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