Wednesday, June 22, 2016

PAGE to STAGE

James Hook and crew are one step closer to their stage debut!

This poster was released today for the Santa Cruz Parks & Rec Teen Theatre production of Alias Hook! Pretty cool, huh?

(I especially love the little hook, tossed rakishly over the "K!")

The crew has signed on, the parts have been cast, and rehearsals commence next week!

For those of you who came in late, the intrepid Sara Jo Czarnecki and Darwin Garrett, chief instigators at SCP&R Teen Theatre, read my book last year, and adapted the story as an original play for this summer's production.

James Hook, Stella Parrish, various pirates, fairies, and Lost Boys — and, of course, Pan — will be live onstage at Louden Nelson Centre, for three performances only, Friday, August 19, at 7 pm, and Saturday, August 20, at 2 pm and 7 pm. Tickets are $5 at the door.

No doubt the scurvy dogs at SCP&R Teen Theatre will be running up occasional signal flags as the process continues, so check out their Facebook page for updates!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

BETTER CALL SOL

Sol in his chariot; ancient Roman floor tile
Don't look now, but one of the most important events of the seasonal year is almost upon us: the Summer Solstice.

It's the pinnacle of the solar year, when the Greek god, Helios (and his Roman counterpart, Sol, as in "Solstice"), drives his chariot of the Sun higher in the sky than it will be again all year.

The date varies according to year and time zone, and while the Solstice often falls on June 21, this year, the sun reaches its high point at 3:34 pm, Santa Cruz time, Monday, June 20. It's the longest day of the year, followed by the shortest night.

Unless you're a vampire, that's  reason enough to celebrate, right there. And celebrate they did, once upon a time, when daily life revolved around the cycles of the seasons. But these days, if it doesn't involve BBQ, gifts, and a three-day weekend, it doesn't really count as a holiday.

But in the old pre-Christian pagan calendar, the seasons were more closely aligned with the cycles of Nature, and the transitions between them were a big deal. Spring began February 1, with the first thaws. Merry May 1 was the beginning of summer. Fall began on August 1 with the harvest season.  November 1 marked the start of winter.

On the quarter days between seasons, when the borders between our knowable world and the Otherworld were thought to be most fluid, fairies, witches, spirits of the dead, and other assorted mischief-makers were thought to slip through the cracks and run amok in the mortal world.

Pagan cultures celebrated the Feast of All Souls/Day of the Dead at the beginning of November, and it didn't take long for the Christian Church to muscle in on the festivities with All Saints (or All Hallows) Day, November 1. Which is how this particularly eerie quarter day became Hallow's Eve, better known as  Halloween. Its counterpart among pagan folk was the equally uncanny and raucous May Eve.

But the two biggest festivals in the pagan year fell between the quarter days. The Feast of Midwinter broke up the long, cold  slog between November and February with feasting and merriment, coinciding (more or less) with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year (and the longest night). Since all cultures were already celebrating this festival of light in the middle of darkness, the Church rebranded it as Christmas (the Feast of Christ).

Medieval Midsummer
The other uber-festival was the Summer Solstice, when the sun is up higher, and for longer, than at any other time. Our modern calendars call this the beginning of summer, but according to the pagan calendar — splitting the difference as it does between May and August — it was called Midsummer.

The Church tried to repurpose Midsummer, as well; they moved it away from the Solstice to June 24, the designated feast day for St. John the Baptist. June 23 became John's Eve, or Midsummer's Eve, another otherworldly time dominated by witchery and the fair folk.

But Midsummer had already been a major event in the folklore calendar for centuries, connected to the Solstice. The Druidic tribes of Britain built the massive, megalithic sundial that is Stonehenge to mark the annual rising of the Midsummer sun.

And Will Shakespeare had plenty to say on the subject in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where a lovers' spat between the King and Queen of the fairies sparks a ripple effect of romantic complications among various mortals in the moonlit forest.

Sadly, Midsummer isn't such a big deal these days. (Except in northern climes like Scandinavia, where they celebrate 20+ hours of sunlight with a vengeance, as an antidote to the 20+ hours of darkness they endure during the winter.)

It's a marvelous night for a moondance...
But you can still party like a pagan. Light a candle in solidarity with the sun, or a bonfire at the beach. Build a Midsummer "maypole," like they do in Sweden, festooned with all the greenery and blooms abundant right now.

Do whatever you can to make it last, because it's all downhill from here. As soon as the sun reaches this highest point in the year, the days inevitably start getting shorter.

But here's another thing: this year, we also get a Midsummer full moon smack on the same day as the Summer Solstice. Overnight on Sunday-Monday, some 11 hours before the Sun does his thing, the moon will reach her maximum fullness for the month.

What does that mean to us neo-pagans? Well, the last time King Sol and Queen Luna danced their Midsummer tango was in 1967 (aka: the Summer of Love). So be prepared for anything!

Friday, June 10, 2016

GOOD FORM

Hey, there, art fans! There's still one week left to see a great show at the Pajaro Valley Arts gallery (recently rebranded from the former PVAC) in Watsonville.

Titled Sculpture IS, the show is devoted to — you guessed it — sculptural work, in all its many fabulous forms. It was curated by the mighty Susana Arias, who makes skillful use of every nook and cranny of the charming gallery space, a converted Victorian just off the main drag on Sudden Street.

Over 30 artists are featured in the show, working in a variety of materials, from clay, stone, wire, wood, and metal, to paper, fabric and assemblage.

I was especially taken by this Aborigine-inspired ceramic grouping, The Dreamtime, by Carla Powell. I love the stacked shapes, the earthy color palette, and the coordinating, but not identical patterns. Even the shadows thrown on the wall behind it are cool!

Not exactly figurative, nor functional, but I found it completely hypnotic.

I was also drawn to John Babcock's paper tapestry, Tyger Tyger. I love that the first two lines of William Blake's lovely poem are cut into the paper vertically, left and right, and how "the forest of the night" is represented by tree-like silhouettes posed against a flame-colored interior, "burning bright."

What else is new at PVA? The gallery has recently joined the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM), a confederation of over 800 museums, galleries, historical sites, and cultural exhibits, nationwide.

What this means for you, dear art lover, is that if you become a member of PVA, you gain access to any and all of the other NARM venues for FREE! This is a big deal, since participating NARM venues include the Asian Art Museum, the De Young, the Legion of Honor, and the Walt Disney Family Museum — and that's just in the Bay Area!

This actually works, as Art Boy and I found out on a recent visit to the Legion of Honor, to feast our eyes on Rapahael's "Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn." Admission to the venue and the entire permanent collection was absolutely free! Had we wanted to see the traveling Pierre Bonnard exhibit, we were told, there would have been a nominal charge ($10, I think it was), but the Raphael was part of the package. Such a deal!

The Sculpture IS show is up in the gallery until June 19. Meanwhile, a sister show, Sculpture IS In the Garden, has just gone up at Sierra Azul Nursery, one of the coolest sculpture venues in the county. Visit the PVA website to find out what's going on at the little gallery that could.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

WRITE ON

The intrepid Captain James Hook continues to win readers, out on the cyber seas!

Last month, I was contacted by the lovely Clare Moore of the online mag, Ampersand Literary.

 She had just read Alias Hook, and invited me to do a Q&A for her site, which publishes fiction, poetry, photography, and artwork, along with occasional interviews with the purveyors thereof.

I was thrilled to do it, and the post is up online as of today!

Clare generously invited me to blather on at great length about Alias Hook and my upcoming Beast novel. But she also quizzed me about the writing process itself, my completely chaotic publishing history, and any tips I might have for emerging writers.

It was a fun interview to do. And while you're there, surf around this diverse, eclectic site devoted to the creative process!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

BEASTLY NEWS

Very excited today to sign a contract with Audible for the audiobook rights to my next novel, Beast: A Love Story!

No idea who the narrator will be, yet — I don't think we're that far along in the process. (Hey, they just signed me, and I wrote it!)

Ralph Lister did a wonderful job reading the audiobook for Alias Hook (13 Hours! 11 CDs! Unabridged!). But, sadly, Beast requires a female narrator.

In other Beastly news, last week, the art department over at Candlewick sent me a very rough mock-up of the cover design for Beast in print. I like it a lot, but it's way too early to share it, yet.

For one thing, I'm told the title might change, which is sure to impact the cover design, somehow . . .

In the meantime, feast your eyes on this 1905 Beauty and the Beast illustration by Paul Woodroffe, one of many vintage B&B images collected on my Pinterest page.

All of which means that Beast is one more paw-print (make that hoof-print) closer to publication!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

WHY WE WRITE

Primitive desktop . . .
Ampersand Literary, an online magazine for aspiring writers recently asked to interview me. The number one question on their list: When did you first become interested in writing?

Hmmm . . .  I don't remember the process of becoming interested. It's not like I had a plan. It's just something I've always done.

As an avid young reader, when I got really swept up in a book—like the Anne of Green Gables series so beloved by my mom—I'd amuse myself stealing, er, adapting my favorite moments from the book for characters I made up. That should have given me a clue.

When I read I Capture the Castle at about age 11, I was all afire to start a journal. At 12, I was corresponding with two European pen pals because I loved to write letters. At 15, I somehow qualified for a Press pass from Teen Set Magazine as a "campus reporter."

(Although nothing I submitted seems to have been accepted for publication —excellent training for my first couple of decades trying to get a book into print!)

But I had another passionate interest, as a child. I loved to draw.

Alias Hook, graphic novel-style.
For years, I kept an oversize, hardcover picture book, The Giant Book of Dogs, Cats, and Horses, under the sofa, with a bunch of blank sheets of typing paper and a pencil tucked inside. Whenever I was sitting there in front of the TV, I'd pull out the book and paper, and, using the book as a desktop, happily sketch away.

If I had any plan it all, it was probably to "be" an artist. Illustrated books were my favorites —the Alice in Wonderland books, the Oz books, Mary Poppins. But I never wanted to illustrate somebody else's stories; I always imagined writing and drawing my own.

I still have to draw all my characters—endlessly—before I can even begin to write about them. If graphic novels had been invented back in my misspent youth, maybe I would have started there.

Once in awhile, I diagram a scene from one of my books in comic book-style panels, so I can see it all laid out. It's fun for a couple of panels, but trying to construct an entire narrative in pictures would take way too much time away from writing the story.

For me, pictures are for illustrating the story. Actually telling the story takes words—glorious, aggravating, addictive words. And that's the part I still love most.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

BABES, DITZES, and MOMS

What I tried not to learn from '60s TV

A few years ago, my friend and colleague Wallace Baine wrote a column in the Santa Cruz Sentinel called, "Jed Clampett, Molder Of Men," his ode to the male role models provided to impressionable youth on 1960s TV shows.

It's a funny piece. (I was especially delighted at his shout-out to Gomez Addams, the sexiest, most impassioned husband on TV. Even after two children, his ardor for wife, Morticia, was undimmed.

She had only to murmur "c'est la vie"—or even "hors d'oeuvres"— and Gomez came unglued. "Tish—that's French!" he'd cry, throw away his pipe, grasp her hand and commence rubber-stamping her arm with his kisses.)

"Tish—that's French!"
But even as my inner editor was smacking me upside the head, demanding "Why didn't YOU think of that for a column?," I knew the answer.

Female role models on '60s TV? There weren't any. Little boys like Wallace could aspire to the panache of Gomez Addams, the witty irreverence of Hawkeye Pierce, or the smart, rationalistic cool of Mr. Spock.

Little girls were taught something entirely different by TV heroines like Jeannie, in her flesh-baring harem costume, whose only desire was to please her "master," the compliant, tabula rasa robot that was My Living Doll, and the backwoods sisters on Petticoat Junction, in their skimpy Daisy Mae outfits.

Men on TV were doctors, lawyers, business execs, detectives, compassionate family men. Women were babes, ditzes, or moms. They had Father Knows Best. We had My Mother The Car.

Mona McCluskey: ego massage.

When I was little, all women on TV were housewives: Lucy, Harriet, Donna Reed, June Cleaver, in their a shirtwaist dresses and pearls, sorting out the problems of their husbands and kids. This was the norm well into the '60s; even Morticia Addams and Lily Munster were stay-at-home moms.

Samantha Stevens of Bewitched, wore the Barbie-style sheath dresses, but one wrinkle of her pert little nose could unleash magical powers undreamed of by mortal man. Which freaked her disapproving husband, Darrin.

Instead of harnessing her powers to oppose evil, ease the hardships of loved ones, or even enjoy a little private hedonism now and then, Darrin, the old killjoy, demanded that Sam keep her extraordinary gifts under wraps.

And consider Mona McClusky, that rare TV woman who actually had a job. She was a famous movie star who earned a ton of moolah in her own right. So, of course, the premise of the series was that she married a blue-collar guy whose tender ego could only be massaged if she agreed to move into his crummy, walk-up flat with the busted appliances and live on his salary. And she did, because, according to the Tao of '60s TV, it was the first duty of every woman to make her man more secure. (Just ask Samantha.) They never said in the show what Mona did with her own money, but I hope she spent it on assertiveness training.

Lt. Uhura: respect.

Laura Petrie, of The Dick Van Dyke Show, had once been a dancer on Broadway, but she gave it up for marriage and motherhood. That Girl Ann Marie was an aspiring actress who was allowed to go out for auditions because she wasn't yet married to her ever-present boyfriend.

And while Julia was justifiably hailed as the first sitcom to star a black woman, the reason she was allowed to work for a living (as a nurse) was that she was a widow—not divorced or single—with a child to support.

These women provided scant encouragement for little girls whose dreams stretched beyond the kitchen or maternity ward. Still, there were a few refreshing exceptions. Lt. Uhura was the only female officer stationed on the bridge in the original voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Even if her duties as Communications Officer amounted to little more than a glorified secretary, transferring incoming calls to the boss, hey, at least she wasn't the ship's cook. Plus, she got to wear that sexy outfit on the job without losing the respect of her co-workers.

Steed and Mrs. Peel: debonair.
And speaking of dressing for success, what about Emma Peel of The Avengers? Here was a woman to be reckoned with, in her skin-tight, cut-out catsuits, a secret agent who could karate-kick a miscreant into submission without mussing a hair of her perfect Mod flip, or losing an atom of her cool.

And she was always ready to pop a bottle of bubbles with her debonair partner, John Steed.

He always called her "Mrs. Peel," out of deference to a mysteriously vanished husband, but the very discretion with which they bantered onscreen while protecting the world from evil suggested intoxicating possibilities in their private encounters.

But my personal Numero Uno TV role model was Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show. She may not have been as glamorous as Mrs. Peel or Uhura, she may have been a little too desperately obsessed with finding a husband, but she was a self-sufficient working woman with what sounded to me like a dream job: comedy writer on a weekly TV show.

Laura had to give up her career to keep the home fires burning, but Sally was right there in the office all day, trading wisecracks with the guys. If not for Sally's sterling example, I'd never have realized a woman can get paid to write.

Who knew?
Sally Rogers: one of the guys.

Monday, May 2, 2016

CHAOS THEORY

A funny thing happens when you become a published author. People start asking you for writing advice.

Personally, I don't presume to offer advice; if I was so smart, it wouldn't have taken me so long to get published!

But one useful thing that writers can do for each other is share experiences and strategies. One writer's process may not work for anybody else, but the act of sharing them lets us know that we're all facing the same challenges, and not just toiling away in wretched isolation. At the very least, it may be encouraging to know that someone else's methods are even more haphazard than your own!

Recently, I was asked two common questions:

1) Do you outline?

I never used to, which is probably why it took me 8 years to produce a book! But these last couple of years, I've been lucky enough to work with editors who ask for fiction proposals (that is: a lengthy synopsis of the plot as a means of getting an idea approved — as opposed to having to write the whole dang book first!) And having now written 3 of them, it makes SO much more sense to actually know where the story is going BEFORE you start writing it!

Still, my process is chaotic. I start with a doc of Notes, where I put random details that occur to me about storyline, characters, setting, backstory, whatever. Pretty soon, I start another doc called Outline, where I pick out the most important notes and file them in some sort of chronology, to give myself some idea of the shape of the plot.

In Outline, I also try to see where the gaps are that I need to fill to hold the plot together, and figure out what kinds of scenes need to be added. And then, when the Outline gets too wordy, I start a Proposal doc, where I extract the best stuff from the Outline, and put it in an order I hope will be coherent enough to show the editor.

Of course, I'm always working on all 3 docs at once, because I'm not yet organized enough to make a stately progress from one to the next! But the good thing is, once I've streamlined my ideas down this way, I have a pretty good idea of what my story's beginning, middle, and end will look like.

And it doesn't matter if it's not all there yet (the midsections in my proposals are notoriously weak). Because, here's the thing: it's all going to change during the writing process anyway, and everybody understands this. So what you're doing is writing a blueprint for a story you want to tell, and giving yourself a general road map to get there.

2) Do you follow any of the plot structure methods that exist out there?

The ones I've encountered seem like arcane voodoo rituals to me. I tried the 9-box plot thingy recommended by a couple of friends, but the only time I found it useful was to diagram a book I'd already written, to see how well it followed the structure. Attempting to apply it to an idea for a book, hoping to somehow manifest plot, just didn't work for me. 

But it might work for you; like I said, my approach is chaotic, and I don't recommend it. If a box, or a graph, or a diagram, or whispering the lyrics to "Paperback Writer" over a smoldering cauldron of chicken bones unleashes your creative juices, then go for it!

There isn't any right or wrong approach. All that matters is getting those words on the page — how they get there is up to you!

Monday, April 25, 2016

WONDER WOMAN

Here's lookin' at you, Nancy Raney!
She never actually made a film, but Nancy Raney was the undisputed godmother of the Santa Cruz movie community. When she took her final bow last week, surrounded by her loved ones, it was truly the end of an era

As co-owner of The Nickelodeon with her husband, Bill Raney, who opened it in 1969, Nancy was the the theater's one-woman publicity department.

As soon as a movie was booked, Nancy was on the phone to get the word out, not only to us ink-stained wretches of the press, but to anyone else in town she could think of who might be remotely interested in the film, or its subject — schools, service groups, foreign language societies, politicians, surfers, artists, musicians, you name it.

She was also a tireless cheerleader for arts and culture in Santa Cruz. She attended, promoted, or otherwise supported such local institutions as Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Symphony, Pacific Rim Film Festival, and Santa Cruz Public Libraries, among others. An avid reader, she loved to organize cross-promotions with Bookshop Santa Cruz, or Capitola Book Cafe, any time a movie came out with a literary pedigree.

Nancy and Bill: too much fun.
But perhaps Nancy's most indelible influence on our arts scene—besides her buoyant personality—were the advance press screenings she organized at the Nick, so local scribes could get our reviews in print the same week a movie opened. I was only a lowly stringer at Good Times in 1976, when Nancy first invited me to a screening.

She greeted us in the lobby and ushered us into the auditorium, exuding her usual warmth and good humor. She had my life story out of me in no time (granted, at age 22, my story was pretty short). It's not that she pried, exactly, but she was always so interested in other people, and we found her interest irresistible.

As I inherited the job of full-time film critic, Nick screenings became a weekly event in my life. At first, I remember being worried about a potential conflict of interest: heaven forbid I should let myself get too chummy with the proprietors of a local movie house. Hah! I found I couldn't maintain a sense of aloof, professional decorum for very long, with Nancy. She was way too much fun!

It was never held against me when I wrote a bad review—and I wrote plenty. Nobody laughed about the stinkers more uproariously than Nancy. When I once revealed to her that I kept a mini-bag of M&Ms in my purse to keep me awake if a movie dragged, she gave me a family-sized jar of M&Ms for Christmas.

We both loved British history, Charles Dickens, and period books and movies of every stripe. And Nancy was fascinated by nuns, as only a Midwestern girl with a good Nordic Protestant upbringing can be. (And the naughtier the nuns, the better!) She had migrated out west in the first place to attend Stanford, which she also loved, and she kept in touch with a close-knit sisterhood of fellow Stanfordians for the rest of her life.

Oscar party, 1988: Buz Bezore, Nancy, me, and Art Boy

 When I married Art Boy (yes, Nancy was one of the few people in town I knew even longer than I've known him), he and I started hanging out with Nancy and Bill regularly at the Raney's mountaintop retreat above Happy Valley, enjoying Nancy's great dinners, telling stories, and always laughing like crazy. Our friendship continued on after they sold the Nick to Jim Schwenterley.

When we started hosting Oscar Night parties for local film folk, Nancy and Bill were at the top of the A-list. (She, always in a fetching negligee, since our guests were given the option of dressing up or wearing jammies.) And pretty soon, Nancy and I were taking field trips together that had nothing to do with movies — the Stanford Shopping Center; the Barbie Musum in Palo Alto (she knew about my weird fetish for dressing up my vintage childhood Barbies as the Best Actress nominees for those Oscar parties).

A trip we once took to the city (the reason for which escapes me, now), turned into Nancy's Swanky Public Restroom Tour of San Francisco. Upscale department stores, uber-plush restaurants and hotels, she knew 'em all! Then there was the time that Nancy, the instigator, in cahoots with Stacey Vreeken, one of my favorite ex-Good Times editors, sprung a surprise 50th birthday party on me, featuring just about everybody I knew in town.
Birthday Girl + instigators: Nancy and Stacey Vreeken.

When I took my first halting steps into fiction-writing, Nancy was there to cheer me on. She read all my unpublished novels in manuscript form (talk about a trouper!), and when I finally got one into print, she made sure her book club read it.

Nancy was no mean hand at writing, herself. A veteran traveler, she and Bill favored remote destinations—Yellowknife, in Canada's Northwest Territories; Papua, New Guinea; African safaris—and she wrote some fine travel pieces for the alternate alt-weekly. (In a photo in the Raneys' hallway from one of her last trips, Nancy is beaming down from the back of a camel.)

To my undying admiration, she once journeyed along the Trans-Siberian Railway (by herself!) To St. Petersberg to visit the Hermitage. For years, I was helping her edit her memoir of this astonishing event, but her life was always so full, I don't know if she ever had time to finish it.

It's hard to imagine Santa Cruz without Nancy Raney. I loved her pretty much from the minute I met her in the lobby of the Nick, and that never changed. We were as close as family—closer than most—but, now, it helps to imagine her perched on that camel, off on her next adventure.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

DOES DEAD MEAN DEAD?

SPOILER ALERT: If you're late to the party, and haven't yet caught all the way up to the end of last season on Game of Thrones (Season 5)—especially if you've been living under a rock somewhere, far away from any media access—STOP READING!

I mean it! I see your eyes trying to scan down the screen, like you think I won't notice. STOP IT RIGHT NOW! Go check your mail, or something. Or else I won't be responsible for the consequences.

Okay. For the rest of you who might have come in late, a quick primer on the GoT universe can be found here and here.

As we all know, GoT, Season 6, starts tonight, and the Interwebs have been all ablaze with speculation over whether you-know-who is really dead. Just because we saw him stabbed 85 times in the last shot of that last episode last season, does that mean a fan can't hold out some hope?

Everyone connected with the show (which had its season premiere for the press last week), insists, in no uncertain terms, that Jon Snow is dead. Deader than dead. Dead as the proverbial doornail. Dead as Monty Python's dead parrot.

The showrunners and cast are all pretty adamant about this point, even though the  first poster for Season 6 featured—wait for it—Jon Snow. And yet, I fear they dost protest too much.

Here's the thing. Even if he's dead, that doesn't necessarily mean he's out of the show. This is fantasy, complete with flying dragons and armies of the undead on the march. What if that nutball, religious-fanatic witch resurrects him? What if he starts popping up in the wolf-dreams of Bran Stark?

(For that matter, he could come back as one of the undead zombie White Walkers, but only if the producers really want to alienate the hell out of their audience.)

Granted none of the (many, many) other killed-off GoT characters have ever come back—not Ned Stark, nor Daenerys' Klingon husband, nor the victims of the infamous Red Wedding, nor Jon Snow's Wilding lover.

But my guess is, the producers will find some way to keep him a presence in the show. HBO is playing it cagey, with a teaser poster featuring Jon Snow's visage in the Hall of Faces shrine to the dead—but along with the faces of some other cast members whose characters are still among the living — so far.

The Hall of Faces has not previously been like the deceased Headmaster portraits at Hogwarts, who converse with anyone who strolls by. But there's no reason they can't begin to interact, somehow. It's fantasy—anything is possible!

Anyway, we'll find out (or at least get a hint or two) tonight. In the meantime, get in the mood with this compilation of Season 6 teaser trailers!