Copan and the Mayan Legacy; A World that Will Not End in 2012 (Vámonos Vol. 19)

You are bound to hear a great deal about the Mayans this year. It’s been said that the Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012. That is not true. The world may or may not end in 2012, but the Mayans never predicted it.

For a traveler, a student of history, or just a person living in the Americas there is a lot to be learned from a society that whose height lasted for 600 years, according to William R. Coe’s article in “American Anthropologist.” But let’s start by laying the persistent rumor to bed.

Mayan elders have heard a number of questions on the subject of the coming apocalypse. Apolinario Chile Pixtun is quoted in an AP article saying “they had me fed up with this (2012) stuff.” The same article later quotes David Stuart a specialist in Mayan writing who says flatly, “The Maya never said the world would end.”

This sentiment is echoed by physicist and Discovery News contributor Ian O’Neill. “There’s no evidence to suggest the Mayans believed the end of their long count calendar would spell doomsday,” he said. “There’s no real prophecy that says this is going to be the end of the world, not from the Mayan ruins, anyway,” added archeologist Christopher Powell.

The idea of a Mayan predicted apocalypse was greatly strengthened by the viral promotion for and 2009 release of the film “2012.” The Internet Movie Database says the John Cusack vehicle has grossed more than $750 million worldwide at last count. So, at least somebody is getting something out of this misinformation.

But behind the popular pseudo-science and movie lip service, a vibrant culture occupied the Yucatan Peninsula as far back as 2600 B.C. The dates for the earliest Mayans come from radiocarbon dating done at a prehistoric Maya site in Cuello, Belize, and published in “Nature.” But the Mayans whose classic period happened much later, around 300 – 900 A.D. according to Coe, left behind more physical tangible evidence of the world they lived in.

As a tourist there are many Mayan sites you might visit. The empire, as described in the “Nature” article, stretched across the southern part of Mexico southwest into Honduras. Perhaps the greatest remnants of that past are the Ruins of Copán.

“The amount of inscribed materials at Copán is truly astounding,” said David Stuart, chair of the Art and Art History Department at the University of Texas. These inscribed materials are so important because they provide a written way to look into the distant past. The once great Mayan City, which sits near what, is now the border between Honduras and Guatemala is a treasure trove of these artifacts.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization recognizes Copán as a world heritage site, a distinction that puts the ruins on par with the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China. UNESCO praised the ruins of the great city as the site of “significant achievements in mathematics, astronomy, and hieroglyphic writing.”

The mathematic achievement obliquely referred to here is probably the Mayan base 20 number system, a system that was described in depth in the J.J. O’Connor and E.F. Robertson article “Mayan Mathematics.” This mathematic system combined with what Ian O’Neill calls “keen and highly accurate astronomy,” contributed to the Mayans to creation of the famous long calendar; a calendar that today is still emblazoned on t-shirts and cemented into Chicago sidewalks. But while that calendar does finish, it doesn’t call for the apocalypse. Ideas about the end times are more likely to come from The Book of Revelations than Mayan texts. Chile Pixtun concluded that these 2012 end-of-the-world theories come from western ideas.

So the Mayans didn’t predict that the world would end this year and neither do I. But if you get a chance to visit Copán this year, I predict you’ll enjoy it.

Compromise and Companionship on the Road (Vámonos Vol. 18)

A good family movie gets laughs from kids and adults.  The movie shouldn’t soar over the heads of young, or bore the… less young. Easier said than done.  Jokes that adults find tiresome, might be a kids favorite part of the movie, content adults enjoy could be inappropriate for young eyes, or incomprehensible to young minds.  The word “family” signals a wide aim or an inherent compromise.  If you’re traveling with companions, family or otherwise, you’re going to have to compromise.

Some relish the chance to travel alone, they love the independence, but I have always preferred to have a friend along.  Funny experiences or surprises are more fun if you don’t experience them alone.  You want to be able to say “did you see that” to someone.  But a trip with companions, like a family movie, needs to accommodate a wider audience.

Accommodating tastes isn’t something to be worried or disappointed about, but there is an art to it.  First, keep an open mind when thinking about what you’d like to see.  If you’re seeing something new there is always an element of the unknown.  Sites you visit for the first time might match your imagination or they might not.  So try to keep a guarded optimism about the things you’ll see. 

Second, I don’t recommend trying to “hit every site,” in the hopes of pleasing everybody. Yes, you have limited time on your trip.  Yes, it might seem like you don’t risk missing something if you don’t touch base at every recommended site in your guidebook.  But you risk missing a lot more if you don’t give yourself a chance to enjoy the places you visit.  Remember, tourism is not an assignment from a boss you need to impress.  Some of us have to travel for work and that is a beast of a different stripe.  If you’re traveling for your own enjoyment, see the things that engage you, not just some travel writer’s top ten sites.

Too many times the idea of accommodating others sounds like surrender to us, and compromise becomes a dirty word. But remember, the people you travel with by choice or by circumstance are likely to be the most important part of your trip. They can expand your experience improve it. They may take you places you didn’t know you wanted to go. If you can find a way to engage with them you’re both going to enjoy the trip more.

The Story of the 2011 – 2012 Bears Season

Last Sunday when the Lions won and the Bears lost, the book was shut on any Super Bowl hopes for the Bears.  Scenarios in which the Bears enter the playoffs are now so improbable, that Sam Hurd is more likely to get into the Hall of Fame than the Bears are to get into the playoffs.

The season came to its climax in a series of spectacular failures.  With the playoffs out of reach, the last few games left in the season are only footnotes. It’s time to write the story of the season. No, the patient is not in the coffin yet, but it’s time to prepare the eulogy.


Expectations (Prologue)

After such an abysmal game against the lackluster Seahawks team, it can be hard to remember that this season wasn’t always a disappointment.

In the pre-season, the Bears were nobody’s Cinderella pick.  Still, most of Las Vegas, Grantland and I, myself, all picked the Bears to finish somewhere around 8-8.  They had a murderous first quarter of the season, an unhappy running back, coming off of a season that, by his standards, was below average. People also worried about the rule changes limiting the Bears on special teams, what’s more, the division seemed to be getting better all around them.

After the Bears went 7-3, expectations rose considerably, thanks to the continued success of an aging defense and the excellent play of that, as yet un-contracted, running back.


The First Ten Games (Acts 1 and 2)

The Bears worked their way into the front position for the NFC Wild Card with a record of 7-3.  While their rivals in Green Bay won the initial tilt and maintained a stranglehold on the Division lead, the Bears were able to beat the teams they were supposed to beat and rack up a 4-1 record against teams under .500.


The Losing Streak (Act 3)

The Bears season took a turn during the November 27th game against the Oakland Raiders, when Jay Cutler succumbed to a shoulder injury.  This marked the first of a series of injuries to key offensive players including Matt Forte and Johnny Knox.

At first pundits argued that with a relatively weak upcoming schedule, the injuries were happening at the best possible time.  That did not prove to be the case and with the Sunday’s loss to Seattle, the Bears all but sealed their fate.


The Next two games (Epilogue)

Is it possible to have a good season after a series of crushing defeats that knock them out of the playoffs? No.  But, as Lovie Smith and other Bears players and personnel were eager to point out after the game, the Bears have the Packers next week.  And they always get up for their rivals, playoffs or no playoffs. Maybe, maybe not.

No one had to ask Lovie if he was disappointed after the game, the emotion showed on his face and in his voice.  Whatever joy the Bears might take in winning a largely meaningless game against Green Bay, will disappear the first time they have to watch the Packers play in the playoffs.


Cutler’s break-out season (Appendix)

Before the year began two sentiments were unavoidable:

1. If the Colts go 0-16, Peyton Manning should get the MVP by default

2. This was Cutler’s year to break out with the Bears.

After the Colts’ victory this Sunday, Peyton won’t be getting the MVP in absentia that he may deserve, but few players’ reputations can have benefited more from their injuries and the teams resulting incompetence than Jay Cutler’s.

Cutler played well this season (though not transcendently), his injury was the turning point in the narrative of the Bear’s season.  For better or worse, the story of the 2011 Bears season will split into “pre-injury” and “post-injury. “ Cutler’s ability will be remembered as the key component to the Bears success.  At least somebody gets a happy ending.

Never Been, But I saw “Hawaii Five-O” One Time (Vámonos Vol. 16)

Do your homework!

I was once a sixth grade math teacher, so I am used to telling people to do things that aren’t fun. I tried to do as little of that as possible when I was a teacher and I try to do the same as the columnist for Vámanos but I want to tell you again that you should do your homework before a trip and it will be more fun.

Generally, I have suggested looking for people to talk about the place you’re going to, reading a guidebook or doing some online research. Basically, finding out as much as you can about the place you go before you get there. I stand by those suggestions (they are fun, not only in themselves but also because they make you more excited about the trip you are about to go on. I should never have called them homework). But there is also something to be said for reading and watching fiction.

I remember when I saw Michigan Avenue in “The Fugitive” as a kid and feeling a great connection to the movie whose plot was beyond my 7-year-old understanding (up to that point, I was just scared of Tommy Lee Jones). I had a similar feeling reading “American Gods” and following the hero all around the Midwest or thinking about rural Nebraska and a trip I took to the Black Hills while paging through Jason Aaron’s, “Scalped.”

If you absolutely refuse to read, you can often get a sense of the place you’re going to visit on the screen. I recently spoke with a friend who said that he watched Hawaii Five-O, for the sole reason that he loved Maui and Kawai. But watch out: screens can be deceiving. For instance, you may find yourself imagining Woodstock in Ground Hog’s Day, which is supposed to take place in Punxsutawney, Pa. or Cadiz in one of the Pierce Brosnon Bond movies, which is supposed to be Havana. There is something about film that is immersive and powerful.

Watching movies is not the same as reading a guide. They won’t give you a tip on where to get cheap booze or give you the phrases you’ll need if you get stuck in the hospital. But screens have the potential to do something the guide can’t. Fiction can wrap you up in a story, a tale can immerse you, and it might be in reruns on cable.

This article was originally published by Extra and is also en Español and English on their website.

Airport Season (Vámonos Vol. 15)

The holidays happen at the wrong time of the year.

From Thanksgiving, the busiest travel holiday in the U.S, to New Year’s week, there
is an excess of travelers. We all try to make it through the airports in a lump, like a
big mouse in a small snake, and the airports have trouble digesting us. The problem
isn’t just the glut of people, it is the changing weather.

The beginning of winter is the most difficult to handle, not because it’s coldest, but
because the weather is still changing. Beginnings can be the most vulnerable times.

Machines and people come under the greatest pressure when they are adjusting to
new conditions. Computers, for instance, are particularly vulnerable when they are
first put to use. Around 5-7% of hard drives break in the first 30 days estimates
Willie Cade, Owner of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers. If the hard drive gets through
that danger period, the chances are good it will run for years.

But, unless you work at Hallmark, you probably can’t move holidays to some other
time of year. So, wear the shoes that are easy to take on and off, spend as much of
your inevitable delay in uninhabited terminals and bring a good book.


Is there anything you can do to make airport travel easier during the holidays?

  • Drink water after you get through security but before you get stuck in the dry air of the plane.  If you try to take water through security it will probably get confiscated.
  • If you have electronics, find a place to plug in, even if it means sitting on the floor.
  • Let children walk off their excess energy off before they get on the plane.  Three-year-olds usually love the huge hallways of airports.
  • Wear layers , it is hard to know how warm or cold it will be on planes and in terminals.
  • If possible, travel during the off season (see previous Vámanos “Off Season and Off the Beaten Path”), but if you can’t, temper your travel time expectations and relax.

This article was originally published by Extra and is also available on their website. 

“The Bigger and More Obvious the Flaw the Better” – Interview with Jason Aaron (Week 11 – Book a Week)

Born in Alabama but currently living in Kansas City, Jason Aaron is the comic book writer, co-creator behind the gritty crime thriller Scalped.  Earlier this year, he announced that Scalped (which has already run four years) would end its story and its run at issue #60.  During its run of over four years, this story of reservations, casinos and meth has been nominated for the Eisner and Harvey the two most prestigious awards in comics.

Aaron also writes Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine and the X-men, and Punisher Max for Marvel.  Both Hulk and the new title, Wolverine and the X-Men, launched number one issues November 2 the week Newcity got to talk to him.  We started the conversation by asking how he felt about those two comics and the response they had gotten that week.

How’s the response been to the books that came out this week?

I am really happy.  Both books seem to be getting a great response, especially X-Men.

Yeah, I enjoyed that book myself. It’s a new direction for Wolverine. He’s wearing a suit and running a school, instead of just carving people up with those claws.  Is it fun to do something new with Wolverine?

Sure, that’s one of the problems with Wolverine.  He’s been around for a long time, he appears in a lot of books, he’s been in a lot of different kinds of situations, it’s hard to find something brand new to do with him.  I love the chance to put him in a situation we’ve never seen before, especially one he’s not comfortable in.

It’s cool to see how you have this rebellious character that has to deal with bureaucrats and such.  How do you keep Wolverine in this interesting new world and keep him kicking ass?

Well, I am not changing who Wolverine is.  I’ve been writing Wolverine for about as long as I’ve been in comics and I just came out with one of the darkest Wolverine stories anybody’s ever done.

It’s not that I’m trying to neuter Wolverine or change who he is or what people have always enjoyed about him.   It’s just putting him in a different environment.

In some sense, it’s an evolution of the character and we’re watching him embrace the new responsibility that he’s never had before but he still going to be the guy he’s always been.  If anything, he feels like it’s only more important that he’s going out and doing what he does.  Keeping problems from ever making it to the doorstep.

Bringing up that story with the dark ending,  (Wolverine’s Revenge, a story that involves Wolverine unknowingly killing his illegitimate children) do you purposely try to tell very different stories and stretch the character?

With a character like Wolverine, sure.  He’s one of those characters that you can put in lots of different kinds of stories.  Just in the Wolverine stuff I’ve done in the last few years, you can see that I try to do a lot of different genres and tones–very different sort of situations.

You can’t do that with every character, he’s one of those that you can and I am always going to try and take advantage of that.

With the #1 issues, how do you make sure they’re accessible? 

I am always trying to do that with anything I’ve done.  Going back to my first big Marvel gig with Ghost Rider.  Ghost Rider’s got as convoluted and complicated a back-story as any character in comics.   It was a struggle to make it fresh and accessible without throwing out everything that had come before.   And I always try to do that with everything.

There’s no secret recipe, there ‘s no special formula.  I’ve been reading comics for years but. even I, don’t remember the back-stories and all the history of most characters.

You don’t just completely rewrite history you got to understand that other people have written these characters before you and other people will write them again after you’re gone.  And you’re just kind of a caretaker of these characters. You’re not the be-all-end-all.

There’s no trick to an issue #1? It doesn’t have to have X,Y and Z components?

No, I don’t think so.  I’ve written a lot of issue #1’s that are all pretty different from one another.  It just depends on what kind of story your trying to tell

In your other #1 this week, the Hulk story, you have the Hulk separated from Bruce Banner (the hulk’s human identity).  How did this idea, get percolating?

It was just me wanting to do a new take on the Hulk-Banner dynamic.  I wanted to do something that was fresh and accessible to people who hadn’t been reading Hulk the last several years but still honor that core dynamic that has driven Hulk stories for decades.

Let’s shift gears and talk about Scalped, is it true that you’ve been writing Scalped for as long as you’ve been in comics?

Yeah, pretty much.  It wasn’t the very first thing.  I won a Marvel Talent Search contest and the first thing I wrote was a short little Wolverine story and the first 22-page comic I wrote was The Other Side for Vertigo, but Scalped started coming out alongside The Other Side or it may have been two issues afterword.

Now, 53 issues in, do you feel excited to be putting this thing to bed and moving on to other characters and projects or is it hard to be putting aside this opus you have been working on for several years now?

I am certainly not bored, it’s not that I’m bored.  I still like writing these characters.  But it is exciting to be wrapping things up and bringing these arcs to their end point.  Telling stories I have had in my head for year now, I am excited for that.

Once I get to the end and realize I don’t get to write these characters anymore, it may be a little sad or surreal.  But for now I am still excited.

How many issues ahead of us are you?

Just a couple.

Are you loyal to an original outline or, as you’re writing these issues, do you find yourself saying, “Well, now that I am writing it, the story should take this turn or contain this detail?”

Sure, that always happens and I don’t think you can be beholden to an outline that you came up with years ago just because you did come up with it years ago.  For the most part, I stuck pretty close to the way I had the ending planned out.  I’ve had the ending for most characters mapped out pretty early on in the process, and I’ve stayed pretty close to that, but I always try to leave myself room to go with things as they come to me as I’m writing.

After Scalped wraps up at issue 60, do you have anything in the works that would be creator-owned or away from the whole capes and cowls world?

Yeah, you’ll certainly see me do more creator-owned stuff.  Probably not until Scalped wraps up.  But as long as I’m in comics, I want to be doing creator-owned work in some capacity or another.

I love what I do at Marvel.  I’m very happy at Marvel but I will always have my hand in creator-owned work as well.

In terms of writing a crime comic in this gritty world where horrible things are done to people,  how do you get your head into these characters?  How do you write these folks?

Those are the kind of characters I’ve always been interested in as a writer and as a reader, the bigger and more obvious the flaw the better.  That’s the stuff I’ve always been attracted to.

Those kind of tortured characters are the ones I gravitate toward.  Those are the kind of characters that are at the heart of noir.  Characters who are flawed and oftentimes realize what their flaws are but still can’t help but succumb to them.  Often, you know how things are going wrap up and you know they’re going to be bad but you want to stick around to watch the train-wreck that’s going to happen.

In some ways that’s what Scalped is.  There are twists and turns but it’s not a book that’s going to dazzle people with plot mechanics.  It’s very much a character-driven book and I think that’s what people have latched onto and it’s why we’ve been able to do 54 issues.  People love these characters as much as Guerra (penciler for Scalped) and I do.


This interview was originally published by NewCity and is also available on their website.

“The Sigh” by Marjane Satrapi (Week 9 – Book a Week)

Marjane Satrapi is best known for her autobiographical graphic novel work, “Persepolis,” which was later made into a film. Her latest project, “The Sigh,”  goes in a new direction: Rather than stories from Satrapi’s life, “The Sigh” is a fairy tale about a woman in a fantastical world who’s trying to save her lost love. It’s told as an illustrated story rather than a work of sequential art.

The eponymous sigh, which begins the story, summons a magical creature, Ah the Sigh, from the Kingdom of Sighs. Rose, a merchant’s daughter, follows this creature back to its realm where she meets and soon loses a prince.

The story builds in traditional fairytale style with one important difference. Instead of allowing herself to be held hostage by her strange world, Rose becomes an adventurer who moves the story forward. Unlike Rapunzel or Cinderella, she’s not a damsel in distress waiting for a man to save her. Instead, Rose sets out to rescue her prince and ends up helping a number of families by saving their sons and husbands from various magical predicaments along the way.

The story reads quickly, with frequent pictures keeping the magical world present. The simple evocative backgrounds from Satrapi’s previous works are largely gone here. Because the book has prose passages, the illustrations no longer do as much of the storytelling. Instead, they show the emotions and reactions of the characters.

Though the art style will be familiar to people who have read “Persepolis,” rough coloring helps to highlight the fantastical material and whimsical subjects and to emphasize the contrast between Rose’s home world and the magical one she is brought to by the sigh.

“The Sigh” is an all-ages book but it would be perfect for an intelligent nine-year-old. Adult comic readers and fans of Satrapi’s other work may find the story too light. It’s a charming adventure, enjoyable as long as you go in knowing you’re getting a snack, not a meal.


This review was originally published by NewCity and is also available on their website.

“Machine Man” Interview with Max Barry and his Serial/Novel (Week 7 – Book a Week)

Australian author Max Barry recently published the science fiction thriller/dark comedy “Machine Man.” The novel is the second incarnation of a story he originally published online as a serial, one page at a time. Rather than a reprint of the online content, the novel “Machine Man,” is a distillation of Barry’s original idea: a future in which corporations turn people’s bodies into a product, a weapon or worse. The movie rights for the book have already been purchased, with Darren Aronofsky signed on to direct it. Max Barry recently talked to us about writing a serial, his Skype tour and the changing landscape of publishing.

How did writing in serial, on the Internet, affect your process—and your end product? 
The readers really helped me keep track of how the story looked to someone who’s not writing it. That is a difficult thing to keep hold of when you’re writing a novel. You tend to veer off into your own world. When you’re halfway through you can forget why you started and what story you mean to tell. You keep veering off in strange directions. [Writing in serial] was a really good way to keep me grounded. The story didn’t veer off into ridiculousness, which happens sometimes with my first drafts.

What kicked the whole thing off was that I’ve never been really satisfied reading fiction online. I found the Internet to be a really distracting medium. I can’t give myself over to a complete chapter to read. The idea was to write a serial where each page would be very short, something that people could just read for a couple minutes and then get back to what they were doing. It would be in their inbox and it would be just a distraction, competing with all the other distractions.

Various people have tried with varying degrees of success to try and do Twitter stories. I felt like each of those were interesting in their own way, but I thought something on Twitter was too short for me to do something interesting. And a chapter was too long. So I thought I could do something in between a couple hundred and six hundred words. They would vary. Some days I would give pages that were just a single sentence. Being able to control the passing of the story like that is something that I just can’t do with a normal novel.

I started doing it five days a week. I had to figure out and then respect the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. For example, each page I had to start with some sort of subtle reminder of where we were in the story. I had to make the thing fairly self-contained, without too many references—to make the thing satisfying in its own right. And, ideally, I had to leave the reader on some sort of cliffhanger or looking forward to the next page. So it’s a series of cliffhangers: 185 cliffhangers.

Did producing a cliffhanger every day end up being useful for your final product of the novel that you published in print? Did it fuel you in creating cliff hangers you wouldn’t otherwise have come to, or did it lead to a lot of ridiculous things that hit the cutting room floor?
It was a bit of both. I pulled out all the stops so if I had a way-out-there idea I would run with it. See how it went. When it came time to distill this thing down to a novel I had all this material to choose from. But the problem was when I actually read the serial straight through, start to finish, it didn’t work as a novel at all. Because of all this cliffhanging, you couldn’t go two minutes without a cliffhanger knocking you out of the story. It felt incredibly stop-start, and I had to do a lot of work to retell the story as something that you could sit down and tear into for a few hours. I had to do a lot of rewriting to fit the format of a novel.

The serial is about 50,000 words and the novel is about 85,000 words. It’s the same core story. I feel like if you described the serial in three sentences it would sound exactly like the novel, whereas if you actually picked out a part of them they are quite different.

What was it like putting a piece of writing out there every day and getting instantaneous feedback on it?
The actual writing part was not too dissimilar from what I normally do, because it’s me sitting at my computer writing a few hundred words every day. But posting one page of this thing on my website each day and then having people read it straight away… They were reading a first draft ostensibly and then posting their comments that I would read. That would guide the story. That was completely different to how I’ve operated before. I don’t think it’s something that I could have handled if I was any earlier in my career. It’s quite intimidating writing with someone reading over your shoulder.

It was on my website, so I hoped for kind of a positive bias—if you sign up for presumably you like what I write. I didn’t get that negative feedback that made me curl up in a ball, and be unable to write any further. The readers really helped keep me motivated and keep me going on with the story. People suggested all kinds of ideas, some of which I used, some of which I didn’t.

There was pushback. At first, the publisher offered me a contract that said I would have to take the serial off the Internet. I felt that was self-destructive. First of all, I didn’t want this serial to disappear from the net. I felt it was an end product in its own right. It was similar to the novel but it was not the same story. But also in terms of marketing I didn’t think it made sense. They can read the book and the serial or just the serial if they want. But it’s all just helpful. People can find and choose the content they like. We convinced the publisher to allow us to keep that material up as long as we made it clear that the serial is different from the novel.

I heard you did a Skype tour.
The publisher wasn’t doing [a traditional book tour]. I thought, “Well, it’s always good to actually get to talk to people. It’s like my one opportunity to actually go and physically meet the people who read my books. It would be insane to miss that altogether.” And I had the idea of doing the Skype thing.

I had been bracing myself for a lot of insane people. The sort of person who really wanted to talk to me. But the people were wonderful. There was not one insane person among them. I had eight or ten minutes to talk to each person. When it’s in line, it is nice to actually sign a book for someone, but they get maybe thirty seconds tops and then that’s it.

Many authors have print books that are now going digital. How is it going the other way?
A lot of reading is moving from print to electronic, and I feel like I’m out in front of that since I have always dealt with an electronic medium. I don’t think that people switching to e-books from print is such a bad thing at all. [In the past,] I don’t think it’s been that easy to find good books. You have to talk to people who share your interests or read newspapers with reviewers you agree with. With the Internet, we have these vast data networks that can actually figure out with a fairly high degree of accuracy which book you’re likely to love next based on what books you’ve liked in the past.

I think the reason that people don’t read more books is they read a few bad ones, or they read a few that don’t engage them, and they give up. They go watch television or movies or browse the Internet. If we’re moving to a model where you can reliably find good stories then that’s going to be fantastic for the industry. I think people fundamentally want to read great books and the only reason they’re not buying more of them is because it’s too hard to find them.

Who are your greatest influences, beyond your commenters? Maybe because I love Vonnegut, I got a Vonnegut vibe.
Yeah, look, Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers as well. That’s not something that I consciously dealt with while I was writing. But I have read a lot of Vonnegut and I would be surprised if that didn’t influence me in some way.

I feel like this was kind of a Philip K. Dick story as well. Philip K. Dick wrote a lot of short stories about people discovering that their physical forms are less important than they think. So that’s very much at the core of this kind of story. And when I was a teenager I read so much Stephen King—now and again little elements of horror pop out.

What’s next?
I would like to do another serial. The idea I have for the next novel jumps in time and involves different characters’ perspectives, so I really need to be able to work on my own for twelve months so I can rearrange pieces. But if I have another idea that fits a serial than I’d love to do another one. It’s been a couple years since I started the serial. So I feel like I’m due for another one.

Two Languages one Band: Interview with Bilingual Band Making Movies (Feature for Extra)

“El frio me a tormenta” or the cold torments me, is the chorus of Making Movies pulsing rock song Tormenta. It’s about missing your family and wanting to visit your home, and family at Christmas.  That’s something that many immigrants in the US, who fear they will not be let back into the US, don’t have the freedom to do.  It speaks to a difficult situation, but it’s not self-pitying or sad.  The song is defiant.  It makes for the kind of building, anthemic, song that the group the specializes in.

Making Movies, whose name was inspired by a 1978 Dire Straits album with the same name, is a truly bilingual band.  Their music doesn’t throw the odd word in a different language, it’s not Black Eyed Peas yelling “mazel tov” for some reason.  The band crafts powerful songs in English and Spanish that are fully realized ideas.

Making Movies’ chief songwriter Enrique Chi is a truly bilingual writer.  Born in Panama, Enrique writes most of his songs in English first, “Writing is a very unconscious thing…  I live in the US so still most of my day I speak more English than Spanish, so when I go to write a lot of times it starts in English and have to go from the English to the Spanish.”

Asked to elaborate on when and how they choose to translate a song into Spanish, Enrique’s brother Diego Chi (who is also in the band) adds, “It’s another tool in the tool box.”  If something isn’t working on a song one option they have in changing the sound or the feel is changing the language. Enrique finished that thought by saying “It’s funny ‘cause some of our songs just don’t work in English.”

Extra spoke with Making Movies at the House of Blues on a night they were scheduled to open for Andres Calamaro.  After the show was cancelled, the band was disappointed, but still excited about their tour.  It’s a reality for an up and coming band on tour that not every opportunity works out, Making Movies talked about having been stiffed by shady promoters on other tours.  Happily, this tour, which brings the band back to Chicago Saturday the 15th to play at Juniors in Pilsen, seems to be more good than bad so far.  Juan-Carlos Chaurand who plays percussion and keyboards for the band talked about how they have started to build a following in some cities, while others are brand new.

The band’s touring the country in a 15 passenger van that the five musicians share with their instruments.  Each taking turns driving.  With 20 shows scheduled on a three-week tour they play a show just about every day. Before starting the interview Enrique talked about how much he and the band love to play.  For a band with a lot to say in two languages, a lot of shows is a good thing.

Article also available en Español

Vámonos Articles

Over the past month, since beginning work as a reporter for Extra Newspaper I have written a number of travel articles.  These articles are in a section called Vámonos  (“Let’s go” in English) and I am currently the only writer for that section.  So far, I have written an article every week for the last four weeks.  I hope to complete at least ten of these articles before moving to other projects.

I am posting these articles here at North and Clark for three reasons:

  1. To have a diverse portfolio of travel writing when I am done.
  2. In the interest of preserving this writing in a one place
  3. To share this work with people who might be interested in reading my writing who don’t have access to that paper

All of this content can also be seen every week (laid out much more artfully than I could hope to on this blog) in the physical copy Extra Newspaper and (laid out much less artfully than they show up on this blog) on

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