Thursday, December 30, 2010

Space Available: Parameters.

I figure it would behoove me, as I set on the creation of Space Available, to lay some ground rules, some parameters as I embark on this experiment. Just a little something to make the challenge more challenging and to make sure I stick to my vision. It's always a good idea, when writing, to place some accountability out there, to let others know what you're doing, how you plan on doing it, and when you plan on having it done. Trust me, writers: this is to your advantage. It's far too easy just to waste time when you sit down to write, deceiving yourself into thinking you're using your time well ("I really SHOULD check my Facebook homepage again, even though I just checked it two minutes ago; what if someone made a status update I can use in my book?!"). Having some accountability keeps you honest.

Okay, so the rules. There aren't many, but here's what I have so far:

Writing. Writing must be done using only the Twitter interface. Writing it beforehand in Microsoft Word or any other program, and then copying and pasting it into Twitter is cheating and counter to the whole experiment. I'm not using Twitter to transmit my novel; I'm using it to create it.

Format. Since I'm writing it specifically in Twitter, I'm going to attempt to incorporate the methodology of Twitter into the story. I don't know exactly yet how this will happen, but it's a goal and something I want to let you all know about ahead of time so I don't get cold feet and bail on this particular challenge.

The Account Itself. Starting January 1, 2011, through December 31, 2011, my Twitter account of @AdamAuthor will be used exclusively and solely for writing Space Available. In other words, I will not coexist on Twitter with my book. I will not respond to "at" tweets and I will not retweet anything. If you want to communicate with me, you can do it the old-fashioned way: through Facebook or by sending an email to adampalmer 75 [at] gmail (dot) com.

Perspective. The reader must remain in the main character's head at all times. In other words, no switching around through multiple characters' points of view. I did this already in Knuckle Sandwich, and it was a conscious choice. In one respect it's limiting, in that it takes away the omniscience many authors enjoy, but on the other hand, it gives a concrete platform to work from. Also, on a completely practical level, I'm going to write it in first-person, a first for me. Why first-person? Because I have so few letters in each tweet, I don't want to waste any of them by constantly typing my main character's name over and over when I can just type "I."

Editing. For the time being, what's there is what's there. Obviously, I can't go back and edit previous tweets, but I'm also not going to go back and edit by selectively deleting any previous tweets either. For better or for worse, the book, in 2011, will be what I tweet as I tweet it. Now, when it comes time to go to press, I'm 100% certain my publisher will want to edit it (and I'm also certain it will need it), which makes it all the more important for you to follow along in 2011. The published version will differ, I'm sure, from the tweeted version. And besides, you only live once, right?

Blogging. I intend to write a semi-weekly-or-so post here on Dregs explaining some of my thoughts as I continue on with Space Available, just to keep track of my headspace throughout the year, and hopefully answer any questions you may have. You're welcome to ask those via the comments section here or by shooting me an email at adampalmer75 [at] gmail [dot] com. Hopefully these posts will be insightful as to the writing process and stuff like that. Maybe not.

Well, that's all I can think of rules-wise for now. It's going to be a grand experiment, for sure, and I'm humbled that so many of you are heading down this road with me. As I told someone else, I'm equal parts pants-wetting excited and pants-soiling frightened. And I think that's a good thing.

See you in 2011. I should probably think of a first sentence now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Space Available: The Cover.

[Many thanks to my good friend Sean Lorenz for his most excellent cover.]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Space Available: My Expectations.

So, now that I've announced my upcoming Twitter novel, Space Available, I thought it'd be a good idea to lay down some expectations both for myself and for whomever winds up reading the thing. Just some thoughts and ideas, some of the ways I see it going and some of the ways I can foresee it changing. That sort of thing. Oh, and maybe some preemptive answers to possible questions about the writing process in general. So. Here goes.

Plot. I've written two other novels, and with both of those, I had a plot in mind before I began, but nothing really set in stone. With Mooch, I knew I wanted to write a heist caper, and I had the setup pretty firmly established (rich guy dies/ buried with fortune/ our heroes want to steal it), but I didn't really know how deviously mooch-y Jake would wind up being. And I had absolutely no intention of making it as much of a love story as it became--that just happened as I was writing it. I guess I'm just a hopeless romantic and couldn't help putting that stuff into it.

Knuckle Sandwich was a different bird altogether. Here's how I originally pitched it to NavPress:

A local Christian rock band known as Knuckle Sandwich is doing their best to make it to the big time. They work hard, rehearse three times a week, play any and every show they can, and save up their money to record a demo. Then they finally get a gig opening for a major Christian act, and everything changes.

This one’s been percolating for some time, and it would ideally be a blistering (but loving) satire of the entire Christian subculture. Topics examined/lampooned: Christian music vs. secular music, bumper-sticker-deep faith, the recent explosion of selfish and self-centered Christianity, and the galling idea of the Christian celebrity.

What the book actually became was a coming-of-age/faith story about a college kid who realized that his idea of Jesus had been too small all along. Yes, some of the Christian subculture satire is in there, but the book became much less about that and much more of an examination of a kid who'd grown up in that subculture and who therefore had only an intellectual relationship with God.

Looking back at my original pitch, I can see that there wasn't a lot of plot to begin with--it was really just a kernel of an idea that lent itself well to becoming a character study, which it did. As I got deeper into the writing, I began to realize more and more the trajectory my characters were headed on, and I started to see some plot machinations I wanted to throw at them to see how they'd handle it. I didn't have a plot outline, but I did create a sort of timeline to keep track of the two years or so that the novel encompasses.

As far as this pertains to Space Available, I've decided it would be a good idea to outline as much of a plot as I can, while still allowing breathing room. My other novels I wrote in a month--they consumed all my time for thirty straight days. This time around, I'm writing it in small bursts over the course of an entire year, and that's a recipe for an extremely wandering and unfocused plot. So I'm mitigating that as much as possible by creating an overarching outline.

I've actually started to think of this almost episodically, not unlike my favorite television show of the past few years, "LOST." Once they got to season three and negotiated an end date with ABC, the creators outlined the entire arc of the rest of the series, episode by episode, to make sure they doled out the necessary information in a smart and satisfying way, and to make sure they treated all their characters fairly. I'm thinking along those same lines.

Characters. In both my previous novels, the characters sprang into my mind almost as I started writing. For example, with Mooch, I based Jake (loosely) on myself and Louisa (not-so-loosely) on my wife, and then added the other characters as I needed them. Jake needed a boss, so here comes Del. All good heist capers need a team of crack experts that each bring their own special skill, so here come Jeremy and Chiffon. In fact, I based Chiffon on a reality show personality who just happened to be on the television as I wrote her first scene.

Sometimes characters change the entire course of a book. The first time I thought through Knuckle Sandwich, I thought it'd be an interesting dynamic to have Matt and Jeremiah both be vying for Liz's affections. But when it came time to introduce Liz, I decided to do it at Club David, the Christian dance club they happened to be visiting, and I realized that this cool girl Liz would not be there by herself. That would be out of character for her. So I invented her friend Amanda, and adding just that one character changed not just that situation but the story itself. (And changed it for the better, I might add.)

The problem with Space Available is that I've locked myself into a certain plot structure, so what happens if I introduce a character who can make the story better in a direction I didn't foresee? I'm sure I'll have to balance out sticking to my outline and exploring more interesting avenues that crop up as I write. I anticipate this will be my most difficult challenge.

Plus, I abhor having the plot dictate the characters. That's really a backward way of writing, and a great way to write something completely boring. It's really fascinating to get to know your characters and let them take over your story. Fascinating both to you as the writer and to your eventual readers. I really hope to be able to let this happen as I create Space Available.

Again, I think of "LOST." While they had their overall plot planned out years in advance, they also built in room to adjust (or perhaps they'd say "course-correct") to the many, many different trials and challenges of producing a network television show. For example, they'd written a multi-season arc for one character, but the actor who played that character hated being in Hawaii away from his friends and family and wanted off the show. His arc was important to the mythology of the show, though, so they had to give his entire arc to a different character and find a way to make it work. That's sort of thing I'm anticipating needing to do, and I'm trying not to soil myself with anxiety thinking about it.

Medium. My previous two novels were written with the vomit-it-into-your-computer-and-clean-it-up-later method endorsed by the folks at National Novel Writing Month. I've had a blast writing like that, just pounding the coffee and then pounding the keys, letting whatever hops into my brain leak out onto the page, knowing that I'll go through with a big, fat, red pen and fix it all later on. It's freeing.

That obviously isn't going to work here. For starters, this is for keeps. Everyone is reading along, as I write it. I can't go back. There are no do-overs. Every tweet is final.

So how can I write with abandon while knowing that I can't go back and edit? I'll let you know once I do it. If I do it.

Next post: The rules of the game. What impositions and boundaries I'm setting up for myself as I write Space Available. Should be fun.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Announcing: Space Available.

It's official. The papers have been signed and countersigned and my next novel, Space Available, will be published with Marcher Lord Press.

What will it be? Perhaps this handy checklist will pique your interest:

__Science fiction.
__On Twitter.

Hopefully I can hit at least two of those.

Watch this space for more info! I'll be jotting down some thoughts and expectations as I head into bold unknown of writing a novel on Twitter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A New Project.

So, I signed up for Twitter a couple of months ago as a means of using yet another social media platform to market my writing services. When I first started using it, I assumed it was a narcissistic way to vomit your immediate thoughts onto the internet, but as I began to navigate Twitter's waters, I began to realize: this is a marvelous construct to hone the craft of writing.

I began to "follow" (oh, how it galls me to use that word in this context) people who I knew to be good writers, mostly comedians, and began to gape in awe at their ability to fashion perfect zingers. The character limitation forces out every unnecessary word and distills the thoughts down to their powerful essence. Maybe Shakespeare was right when he wrote that "brevity is the soul of wit" (Or the Reduced Shakespeare Company when they wrote in their play The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged): "brevity is... wit").

And in my mind began to form a challenge. One I would give to myself. And the more I thought about it, the more insanely fun and difficult it sounded. And so, I am proud to announce, in conjunction with Marcher Lord Press, that I am going to spend the calendar year of 2011 writing my next novel...

...using only Twitter.

Okay, I'm positive this has been done before, but not by me, and so therefore I'm also positive that it's going to be a blast. A challenging blast, but a blast nonetheless.

Keep an eye on this space in the coming days as I expand on the challenge with format announcements, self-imposed limitations, expectations, extra stuff with Marcher Lord Press (so excited about them!) and more. And as I continue on with the project, I'll be offering a running commentary here on Dregs with my thoughts about the novel as it's taking shape.

In the meantime, click here to visit my Twitter page and, if you're so inclined, follow along on this wild, wacky ride into the abyss of... I can't think of a way to finish that sentence.

Write on!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Dogfooding," A Word I Can Get Behind.

Much thanks to the great John August, a practicing screenwriter who isn't afraid to share the nuts and bolts of storytelling. He put up a post about "Dogfooding" and its "close cousin," which he refers to as "scratching your own itch." In his words:

If you’re writing a movie you yourself wouldn’t buy a ticket to see, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

It's tempting, when writing books, just to throw stuff in there to meet a contractual word count, or to vomit into the word processor in order to produce some letters that will go in between covers. But we must always fight the temptation and instead work to produce something we ourselves would value.

August's advice goes for any story you're telling, whether it be in fiction, nonfiction, or face-to-face. Heck, even the story you're telling with your life. Make it worthwhile, or you're wasting everyone's time.

FYI: The full post can be found here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I'm Huge In Chattanooga.

I did an interview last week with Clint Cooper from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and it turned into this really nice piece about The Soul of Spider-Man.

An excerpt:

The third movie, Palmer said, makes a good catalyst to talk about the nature of sin.

"It's the idea," he said, "that sin is not really deciding purposely to be evil or anti-God but to be self-oriented."

When an extra-terrestrial symbiote attaches itself to Peter in "Spider-Man 3," an already more confident Peter Parker becomes more vengeful, selfish and arrogant.

Similarly Christians, according to the author, decide they know what's best for themselves and determine if something simply feels right -- not considering the consequences -- they should do it.

My favorite part is the "according to the author" aside in that last paragraph. It just made me chuckle.

Anyway, thanks to Clint Cooper for the pub.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spidey Goes Viral!

So, my friend Paul sends me a link today and says, "Look what I just came across. You never told me you did an interview with The Huffington Post!" He was referring to this piece, which appeared on HuffPo completely by surprise.

On Monday I did an interview about The Soul of Spider-Man with a very nice woman from Religion News Service, who thoughtfully wrote up my answers (edited for length--I'm a rambler sometimes [ask my kids if you don't believe me]) and published them on the internet. And somehow, one of the web's most trusted and widely read news gathering organizations picked up the interview and put it on their home page.

What a wonderful, mad, crazy world we live in.

Oh, and if you're wondering, you can buy the book in question here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Turns Out That Surfing Can Make You Shallow.

Roger Ebert wrote a splendid blog entry that sent me to this Wired story about the way we take in information from the internet, and what it does to our minds. Here's a salivary quote:

What kind of brain is the Web giving us? That question will no doubt be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise—and the news is quite disturbing. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

As an author of books (they're like an iPad, but with a different kind of pages), I've long felt that our society has become more fractured in its thinking, less able to think deeply. I see it even in myself (something that Mr. Ebert cops to as well). But the study referenced above gives an indication, possibly, as to the recent downturn in the publishing world. However, as scientists love to tell us, correlation is not causation.

Still, it's interesting to think about. And yes, I noted the irony of a story bemoaning the use of hyperlinks... using hyperlinks. In all fairness, the story originally ran in the print version of Wired, and is excerpted from a forthcoming book about this topic.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good Storytelling Philosophy.

So, as you may have guessed if you've ever read any of my media reviews, when it comes to television, I like LOST, and that's about it. The show is winding down to its final three hours, all the characters are in play, everything is poised for awesomeness, and the showrunners took an episode away from that focus in order to explain some of the larger island mythology.

Before I ever started writing books, I never really thought through the types of deliberate choices that authors--and all storytellers, really--make to get their characters from the first page to the last. Or even who those characters are. It really is a step-by-step process that requires a lot of decision-making. And when you're writing a book, you can make those decisions in a vacuum so that everyone gets to read them all at once. But writing an episodic show that will be told in 120 installments over a period of six years--that can get downright terrifying.

All that to say, I really appreciate what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the two showrunners for LOST, have to say in this extensive interview. Lots of interesting looks into their overall storytelling philosophy, both about the show and about telling stories in general.

For example, Damon, speaking on how you have to decide what your story is, instead of deciding all the things it is not:

Usually, when we get criticisms, it's along the lines of, "I really wish you hadn't done that." Or "I wish it had been different." And you throw it back at them and ask, "Well, what did you want it to be?" And they say, "I wanted to see the statue built," or "I wanted the Man in Black's first name," or "I want to know about the guy Sayid shot on the golf course." Okay, that's cool, you wanted those answers and we decided not to provide them to you. It's not because we're being cutesie, it's because that that didn't fit with our vision of the show.

Or Carlton, explaining why, so late in the game, they're still introducing new mysteries to the fabric of the show:

We feel that we as storytellers, basically can only approach the storytelling the way that we do, which is it felt like there was no way that we could just be answering existing questions without the show feeling didactic. There would have been no larger narrative motor. For the show to devolve into running through a checklist of answers, we would have been, honestly, crucified for that version of the show. It's ironic that the episode that's generating so much controversy is one in which we answered questions, but it's not surprising to us. Between what the audience thinks they want and what they will find entertaining - we have tried ot make the show in a way that people would find it entertaining, moving engaging. To do that required having new mysteries. That's the way we operated.

Anyway, lots of good stuff in that interview. If you haven't watched up to the most recent episode ("Across the Sea"), you'll probably want to avoid it. If you've never watched the show before, you can at least watch seasons 1 through 5 for free at Hulu through December 31, 2010.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Look Under The Mask.

Coming soon, to a bookstore near you: The Soul of Spider-Man, a legendary exploration of spiritual themes that my friend Jeff and I found in the first three Spider-Man motion pictures. It turned out really cool--so cool, in fact, that Regal is bumping up the release date to this summer because they love it so much!

You can pre-order it now on Amazon or go bug your local bookstore for it. Hound them, please! Incessantly!

Many happy returns.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Media Review 2009.

I thought my exile to Uganda would leave me movie-less during my time there, but I didn't count on the various friendly neighborhood bootleg DVD shops set up along Main Street in Jinja that sell DVDs for just under $2 each. These guys actually got pretty decent copies of just about everything that released in the States, though usually with "Property of [Studio Name]. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited" at the bottom of the screen popping up every thirty minutes. But I worked around it and saw more movies this year than I would have back in the US. Thus, my list was very difficult to compile, because I had a lot to work from. Anyway, here it is:

5) Inglourious Basterds [Loved the audacity of it, and loved Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. Well-written screenplay that goes places you don't expect--I'll always appreciate that.]
4) The Hurt Locker [I knew absolutely nothing about this movie before I saw it, other than the fact that a bunch of critics liked it. Pretty much blew my mind.]
3) Up [Sentimental and screwball at the same time. Is there anything Pixar can't do?]
2) The Informant! [I thought this was going to be one thing and then it turned out to be something completely different. Soderbergh's most genius stroke (in a movie full of them)? Hiring Marvin Hamlisch to do the score.]
1) Fantastic Mr. Fox [I became convinced this was the top movie of 2009 after I watched it a second time. Only then did its brilliance settle into place for me. It's a cracking good script, for starters, and visually inventive while remaining distinctly human. Well done, Wes.]

In the Loop [Hands-down the funniest movie of the year. Actually of the last several years. Incredibly well-written and acted, especially by Peter Capaldi, who is able to contort profanity into shapes never before imagined. Be warned, though: it's very, very profane in the language department.]
Moon [Thought-provoking science fiction that asks more questions than it answers. That's my catnip.]
Goodbye Solo [Probably the most emotional time I had during a movie this year. It's a small, character-driven drama that focuses mainly on the odd bond between an African cab driver and a sorta redneck old man. Very affecting.]
A Serious Man [The Coen brothers personal spin on the story of Job, with maybe a little King David thrown in there. Pretty much beyond description.]
Five Minutes of Heaven [An actors' picture, this may have been a stageplay converted into a movie. Don't know. Anyway, it's Liam Neeson, who you know, and James Nesbitt, who you probably don't, and it's very Irish and intense, and very, very watchable.]

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
(500) Days of Summer
Where the Wild Things Are

An Education
The Road
Bright Star
The White Ribbon

Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Crazy Heart
The Blind Side

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

The Rise of Cobra
Revenge of the Fallen

Artistically sound directors of my generation tackling children's movies in a thought-provoking and creative way (i.e. Pete Docter's Up, Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are and even Henry Selick's Coraline). What's next? Michel Gondry's The Little Prince and Quentin Tarantino's Pat the Bunny?

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [My thoughts on this movie were fully documented on my decade list.]

5) Surrounded by Lights, Jesse Sprinkle [Remember the '90s Christian band Poor Old Lu? This is the drummer, writing music that you would find at the intersection of Elliott Smith and Vigilantes of Love. Seriously good art-pop.]
4) Wilco (The Album), Wilco [The best Wilco record since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. "You And I," with guest vocalist Leslie Feist is a real treasure and makes me wish she would come out with a new record already.]
3) Sex, Drugs & Self-Control, John Reuben [John Reuben consistently restores my faith in hip-hop as a valid art form.]
2) No Line on the Horizon, U2 [I was on the fence about this one when I first heard it--it felt like another minor U2 album, like Pop or Zooropa. But the more I listened to it, the more it became a part of my psyche. I'm not ready to stand it alongside The Joshua Tree or All That You Can't Leave Behind, but it's definitely up there for me in the overall U2 pantheon of legendary records.]
1) Kingdom of Rust, Doves [Typical Doves--brilliant from start to finish. Flawless.]

Embryonic, The Flaming Lips
The Good Album, All Star United
The Open Door EP, Death Cab for Cutie
Zero Balance, Isaac Witty

No idea.

Due to limited availability over there in Uganda, I read hardly any books from this year. So, with that in mind, I've bookended my list with two classics, while the middle three books I got from the library within the first month of being back in the US.

5) To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee [I bought this from a missionary garage sale after they were done using it to homeschool their kids. I hadn't read it since high school, and I was intrigued as to whether I would even like it. Well, it's even better--definitely an American classic, and with good reason. And if I was Harper Lee, I wouldn't have written another book either.]
4) Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon [Chabon takes a break from alternate-history novels and completely awesome-sounding screenplay writing (he's currently adapting Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars for Andrew Stanton!) to collect a series of essays about the different roles of being a dude (husband, father, son). It's kind of hit-or-miss, but when he hits, he knocks it out of the park.]
3) Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, M.T. Anderson [It would be best if you read the first two books in this meta-hilarious series (Whales on Stilts and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen), but even if you didn't, you might enjoy this delicious spoof of all those crappy series books that have been cranked out for kids since Tom Swift. You will marvel at this depiction of Delaware as a third-world country full of savage natives, ancient ruins, and tropical jungles. Brilliant.]
2) Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: A Natural History of English, John McWhorter [McWhorter is a linguist who writes with an attitude, and this informative yet compulsively readable volume presents much of his humor on display as he takes you from the beginnings of Olde Englyshe to the language we currently call our own. By turns fascinating and hilarious--and I learned a whole lot, too.]
1) C.S. Lewis: Signature Classics, C.S. Lewis [Totally cheating here, but whatever. This is seven classic books from Lewis compiled into one volume (the titles being: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, and A Grief Observed). This thing preserved my sanity while I was in Uganda, and I don't know if I could've made it there without my good friend Lewis with me.]

Set Apart: Devotions of God's Steadfast Pursuit of You, a bunch of people including myself
I AM Standing Up: True Confessions of a Total Freak of Nature, Luke Lang

The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown [It was better than The Da Vinci Code, I'll give it that. But it was still, quite literally, stupid. And condescending. And that's difficult to do, to be both of those at the same time. Anyway, I'd like to say that I can't understand how something like this can be so successful, but, unfortunately, I understand it all too well (see my thoughts on American Idol from my decade review for further reading on this topic).]

I watched one show in 2009. That was LOST. The show would air on Wednesday nights here in the States, and iTunes would make it available overnight--usually about 12:30 Thursday afternoon my time. I would begin to download it on my 64 kbps connection (that cost $100/month and that never achieved the 64 kbps speed) and it would generally, barring any power or internet outages, be finished downloading between 22 and 24 hours later. So, the LOST episode everyone saw here on Wednesday night, I would watch as soon as possible, which was generally late Friday afternoon. Incidentally, the two-hour season finale took exactly two minutes shy of 48 hours to download.

Someone loaned me the first season of Flight of the Conchords on DVD during our Uganda stay. That stuff's pretty funny, but it wasn't around in 2009.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2000-2009 Media Review

Well, I'm waiting to see a couple of movies before I can give the full 2009 breakdown, but since those movies will likely not wind up in the decade-best list, I thought I'd go ahead and jump-start the decade-best conversation with my take on the popular entertainment from 2000-2009. This is, naturally, a snapshot of my psyche right now, and this list will probably look very different with a few years' hindsight. But, nevertheless, it is what it is. My 2009 media review will be forthcoming, but until then, I now present:

a list that means something to--and was compiled by--Adam Palmer

|| Books ||
I read a lot of books, but not many I would consider life-changing enough to include in a list like this. So, these aren't judgments of really the "best," these are all books that had an impact on me this decade, enough of an impact to direct the course of my life, however small.

I Am America (And So Can You!), Stephen Colbert
The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, John McWhorter
Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynne Truss
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
The Pleasure of My Company, Steve Martin
Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling

10) The World Without Us, Alan Wiseman [I didn't really understand the environmentally necessary ways our culture needed to change until I read this fascinating "thought experiment." The idea: what would happen to the world if mankind suddenly disappeared? The conclusions are mind-bendingly not what I expected.]
9) What Is The What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (A Novel), Dave Eggers [Valentino is a real guy. He was one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. He wanted to tell his story. Dave Eggers helped him. By writing it as a novel. Heartbreaking and intense, this is a pretty good glimpse into the differences between the African and American cultures.]
8) Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris / The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman [Both of these gentlemen are very, very funny, and both of these books exposed me to new ways to write hilariously.]
7) The Road, Cormac Mccarthy [Always a favorite at parties.]
6) Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, NT Wright [I think about heaven very differently now that I've read this book. It's both challenging and liberating, and would be the best God book of the decade were it not for...]
5) Red Moon Rising / God on Mute, Pete Greig [Both of these books hit me right where it hurts, while simultaneously giving me comfort in all my doubts and weaknesses. Odd.]
4) The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, Gregg Easterbrook [I can think of nothing to say other than this: read it and be astounded]
3) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay / The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon [Chabon (pronounced shay-bahn) is a bit of a show-off sometimes, but he's so good he gets away with it. I am constantly floored by this man's ability to tell a story in a way that is very uniquely his own.]
2) The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson [My first official cheat of this list, but a worthy one. Yes, Calvin & Hobbes ended its run in 1995, but Andrews McMeel did the right thing in 2005 and released this complete collection of every strip. The strips are all presented in the original aspect ratio that Watterson drew them in, making it all the easier to savor his art, wit, and humanity. Calvin & Hobbes was a gift to us, a gift that I treasured in my childhood and that I'm passing down to my kids.]
1) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke [Rival magicians come to the aid of the British Empire to defeat Napoleon. Yes, it's that, but it's so much more. Even though it's a daunting 782 pages, I promise you that every character counts, every plot thread is there for a reason, and it will all come together, deliciously, satisfyingly, in the end. Absolutely astounding.]

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown [I'm a little "meh" on all the theological controversy--I was just over-awed by the truly bad writing. You know that Seinfeld episode where Tim Whatley converts to Judaism so he can tell Jewish jokes? And then Jerry goes to a priest to talk about it? The priest says to Jerry, "This offends you as a Jewish person?" To which Jerry replies: "No, it offends me as a comedian." The Da Vinci Code offends me not as a Christian but as a writer. (And a very wealth-challenged one at that.)]

The Shack, William P. Young [This book offends me as both a Christian AND a writer. I don't even know where to begin. The serial killer element is manipulative and off-putting; the main character is a murderer, plain and simple, and it's never brought up or dealt with through the whole story; the theology is sketchy at best; the so-called "insights" are trite and shallow; and by the end of it all, Young has forgotten the very lesson he was trying to teach us all along. It saddens me that so many people are finding inspiration in this. I sure didn't.]

|| Music ||
Like everything else, this list is a snapshot of my tastes, likes, and emotional state today and would likely change tomorrow. I can say without reservation, though, that all these albums are golden from start to finish; I didn't allow an album that I liked only a few songs from and instead saved those for the "Honorable Mentions" below.

A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay
Kid A, Radiohead
In Your Honor, Foo Fighters
The Invisible Band, Travis
Veni Vidi Vicious, The Hives
The Beautiful Letdown, Switchfoot
Give Up, The Postal Service
O, Damien Rice
The Photo Album, Death Cab for Cutie
Sea Change, Beck
Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol

10) Birds of My Neighborhood / Christ Is My Hope, The Innocence Mission [Its beauty is its simplicity. The Innocence Mission released 7 records this decade, and three of them (maybe four--their lullaby album Now The Day Is Over is compulsively listenable) vied in my mind for inclusion on this list. But in the end, I decided to go with these two, which had the most profound impact on me personally in the aughties.]
9) Divine Discontent, Sixpence None the Richer [A brilliant piece of pop art from start to finish.]
8) The Beginning Stages Of... / Together We're Heavy / The Fragile Army, The Polyphonic Spree [I don't consider these to be three separate albums; instead, I think of The Polyphonic Spree as creating, and continuing to create, a work of art that has now spanned over three separate sections. I will be heavily invested in anything this band does in the future.]
7) Vrioon / Insen / Revep, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto [Once again, an ongoing musical work of art, this time between a German "electronic artist" and a Japanese composer. Noto makes all his sounds from scratch, and Sakamoto elegantly seasons them with simple piano. Whenever I need to focus on getting some writing done, these are my go-to guys for background music.]
6) Time (The Revelator), Gillian Welch [Technically, her music is considered bluegrass, but in my world, I just consider it awesome. Mellow, slow-burning, and about as close to country as Antarctica.]
5) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco [A towering artistic achievement, this is the album that introduced me to the excellence that is Wilco. Goes great with its companion documentary film, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (available on DVD from the Tulsa City-County Library)]
4) All That You Can't Leave Behind, U2 ["Beautiful Day." "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of." "Elevation." "Walk On." And that's just the first four tracks. If I throw out my nostalgia for The Joshua Tree and look at it as objectively as I can, I can see this being the best of U2's many excellent albums.]
3) The Last Broadcast, Doves [Just absolutely blew my mind, and the more I listened to it, the more of my mind it blew. And the hardest-to-believe thing about it? This band is a three-piece.]
2) ( ), Sigur Ros [Lead singer Jonsi Birgisson was once asked why their music was so hard to dissect. My paraphrase of his response: "In order to dissect something, it has to be dead first."]
1) Drunkard's Prayer, Over the Rhine [When I began to compile this list, I knew I was in for a tough task. Except for this slot. I knew #1 immediately. OtR is a husband-wife duo, and this album, chronicling the intersection of their marriage and their artistry and the conflict therein, came out at the exact same time my own wife and I, a husband-wife duo, were chronicling the intersection of our marriage and our artistry and the conflict therein. It speaks to me on a personal level that no other album will probably ever achieve, but beyond that, it is, in every sense of the word, perfect.]

Anything affiliated with American Idol [More commentary on this abomination of a television show below...]

|| Television ||
I know, I know: I should watch House. And The Wire. And Dexter and The Sopranos and Mad Men and Curb Your Enthusiasm and all those other shows that everyone says are so great. I'll just let you in on a little secret: I don't care. Television is like those marshmallow Peeps that come out around Easter time. I see those, and I usually think, "Oh, yeah. I like those." And then I eat one, maybe two, and then I'm good until next Easter. I have no inclination to gorge myself silly on them, and I don't crave them year-round. So, in the same respect, a little television goes a long way for me. Hence, out of this entire decade, I only have eight shows to list. And they are...

8) Flight of the Conchords [The natural progression from Arrested Development, which itself was a natural progression from Seinfeld. I've only seen season one on DVD, but I've watched it so much I can sing almost all the songs verbatim.]
7) 24 [Yeah, they ran out of ideas pretty quickly, but seasons one through three were, you have to admit, pretty awesome. And let's bear in mind that, when this show debuted, pretty much all television, save soap operas, was episodic. Sure, you'd have your cliffhangers every now and then, but mostly everything was wrapped up in the hour. The big to-do about 24 when it debuted was whether people would tune in every week to see the story continue, and this show's success made it the progenitor for other long-form shows, from LOST and even to The Office and 30 Rock. Mock it if you must, but 24 was a pioneer.]
6) The Office [I know nothing about this current season, but what I've seen indicates this show is now treading water. But at least it's good water to tread, I suppose. I had my doubts, because the British version was a thing of beauty, but doggone it if Steve Carell didn't manage to top Ricky Gervais in making his take on the dumb boss less of a caricature and more like a human being. A wayward, immature, hilariously clueless human being.]
5) 30 Rock [Remarkably consistent and still funny, this show merges absurdity and sophistication almost as well as Arrested Development did. Alec Baldwin belongs in comedy, and I can now no longer watch him in serious roles (especially The Departed and Glengarry Glen Ross) without thinking he's hilarious.]
4) Seinfeld on DVD [I know just about every line of every episode from memory, and this show still makes me laugh. It very well could be the best comedy ever put on television. Anyway, Sony did the right thing this decade and made it available on DVD, which was great while we were in Uganda, because we could still enjoy our nightly Seinfeld fix.]
3) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart / The Colbert Report [My disgust for 24-hour news channels is thinly veiled, so I all the more appreciate the way these gentlemen turn the media establishment on its ear.]
2) Arrested Development [In some ways, it's good this show only lasted three seasons, because I fear it might have run out of steam and become either stupid or offensively bawdy or both. As it is, it's 53 rip-roaring episodes--that's an approximate 1,166 minutes of running time--and maybe five or ten of those minutes are unfunny. My wife rolls her eyes and finds something else to do whenever I begin quoting this show with a friend, because she knows I'll be there for hours.]
1) LOST [In a word, ambitious. It just keeps getting better and better, and I can't wait to see how it wraps up its final season (beginning in just a month!). If this thing goes out like I think it will, I will hold LOST in high regard for being not just the greatest show ever to air on television but also for being one of the greatest pieces of popular art ever created.]

American Idol [Here's an idea: let's invent this huge behemoth of a show that holds mentally challenged people up to ridicule while simultaneously celebrating so-called "artistry" by making it into a competition. And the winner of that competition? The person who can appeal to the broadest section of our audience. Yes, we will give the crown to the person who can be, by definition, the most average. America, you voted... and created a terrifying phenomenon.]

|| Motion Pictures ||
Such a tough time narrowing these down, but I'd say this part of the list was the most fun to compile. And here they are, complete with geeky year-of-release notations:

The Departed (2006)
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Finding Nemo (2003)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Children of Men (2006)
The Bourne Supremacy (2002)
United 93 (2006)
WALL-E (2008)

10) Downfall (2004) [A German true-story movie about the last days of Hitler, told from the point-of-view of one of Hitler's secretaries. I grew up thinking that all Nazis were evil people, and many of them were, but this movie helped me to understand that most of them were humans, following orders, sometimes against their will, doing the best they could to live a clean and upstanding life. It may sound cliche, but this movie honestly went a long way in showing me that God really does love everyone. But Hitler was still a bastard.]
9) Memento (2000) [I watched it at a late showing at the AMC (I think it started at 10:30 or 11:00), then came home so wound up from it that I had to watch another movie (I think it was The Princess Bride) just so I could get some sleep for the rest of the night. It's the only movie on this list I haven't revisited recently, but I feel confident it would hold up over time (unlike, say, The Matrix and its sequels, which are noticeably absent).]
8) O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) [I'm pretty sure every line in this epic undertaking is quotable, and every time I watch it, I come away with a new favorite (currently: "Mister? Some o' yer foldin' money's comin' unstole."]
7) The Fountain (2006) [A treatise on life and death that asks a lot of questions and answers almost none of them. Naturally, this ambiguity made it box-office poison. I've watched it several times since and every time it still leaves me pondering the mysteries of life for days. Probably the most thought-provoking movie of the decade. Well, one of them (see also: #3)]
6) X-Men (2000) / Batman Begins (2005) [Okay, we can all agree that X2 was better than the first X-Men, and yet it isn't listed here. Why? Because, if you'll recall, the last major superhero movie we had before X-Men was the deplorable Batman & Robin, and just a year previously, superhero movies had been written off as comedy in the satire Mystery Men. And then along comes Bryan Singer to not only make the genre profitable, but to ground it in a sense of reality apart from the comics. Storm had normal hair. Their outfits were matching leather ("What were you expecting? Blue and yellow spandex?"). Actual actors with gravitas were in major roles (except for Halle Berry). This movie changed superhero movies forever, and all the Iron Mans and Batmans and Spider-Mans would not be here without it. Now, Batman Begins took that reality grounding and ran with it into legitimate character development and the darker sides of the superhero personality. And honestly, though it pains me to say it, it's a better overall film than The Dark Knight. There. It's out now.]
5) The Harry Potter movies (2001-2009) [Totally cheating on this one, but these have gotten so progressively good that there's no way to separate them. Plus, the idea of making this franchise into something so consistently good (and profitable--all six pictures are in the top 60 moneymakers of all time) is truly a remarkable feat of production. If I had to pick a favorite, it'd split between #3 and #5, but really the films build so well on each other that I have to include them as a bunch.]
4) The Incredibles (2004) [The best superhero movie of all time. I cannot watch this without being emotionally affected, and I've seen it dozens of times (including New Year's Eve, when my kids picked it for our final movie of 2009). Such a humdinger of a script, real honest-to-God character development, and so very, very many laughs. Pixar movies are always a triumph (well, maybe not Cars), but this one tops them all.]
3) No Country for Old Men (2007) [Typically quotable dialogue from the Coen brothers, but the line that always gets me comes from a minor character, Ed Tom's cousin (I think) Ellis: "What you got ain't nothin' new. It ain't all dependin' on you. That's vanity." Oh, and it has the perfect ending. The Academy got it right when they gave it Best Picture (those of you with long memories will recall I listed it as my second-favorite movie of 2007, after Once. I have since re-watched both pictures and have reversed their order).]
2) The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) [I think film historians will look back several years from now and realize that Wes Anderson is my generation's defining director. Even when he has an off day, like The Life Aquatic, the movie is still good. Yet this film hits all the right notes and no wrong ones, with perfect performances all around, notably from Danny Glover and Gene Hackman. Combine it with a double feature of The Darjeeling Limited, which is almost a Tenenbaums sequel, and you have a quirk-filled night of films that are about something. "I'm talkin' about putting a brick through the other guy's windshield. I'm talkin' about... takin' it out. And choppin' it up."]
1) The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) [Was there any doubt?]

Crash (2004) [There were many, many bad and mediocre films made in this decade, but none so warmly and openly embraced by the public as being worthy of artistic merit. Don't get me started on this contrived, cliche claptrap masquerading as something sensitive and insightful. This film creates a series of stereotypes who interact solely on the basis of the stereotype standing in front of them, and then pats itself on the back for being so smug and condescending. Whoop-de-freakin'-doo. I shall end with the words of film critic Walter Chaw, excerpting his review of the movie: "[Don] Cheadle... opens the film by saying that the people in the City of Angels are so disconnected that they crash into one another 'just so we can feel something.' I wrote something like that in a journal as a fifteen-year-old. Pathetic then, pathetic now... [It's easy] in a fiction to reduce the great unsolvable, immutable complexities of the world to a series of meticulously manufactured dialogues spoken by machine-tooled automatons in a gunmetal universe as slick and un-mysterious as a snake-oil salesman's huck-and-jive." Agreed.]

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) [It's not just poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly directed (though it is all that). It's also vulgar, revolting, disgusting, misogynistic, racist, incoherent, contemptible, illiterate, insipid, masturbatory, vile, self-indulgent, tone-deaf, obnoxious, immature, soul-deadening, a travesty of cinema, and a sign of the coming Apocalypse. It actively hates its audience. If you liked it, please tell me why so I know how to pray for you.]