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!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

SHAKES @ 400

Pop those corks! William Shakespeare's 400th anniversary is almost upon us!

Okay, the quadricentennial of his birth was celebrated back in 1964. But next week, April 23, is the 400th anniversary of his death (which was also his 52nd birthday, back in 1616), and why wait another 48 years to throw a party?

And there is much to celebrate in a low-born scribe (his father was a glove-maker), with an unremarkable education, whose plays are still being performed with gusto four centuries later—and still strike an emotional chord in audiences worldwide.

As my character Jack Dance, actor-turned-pirate-turned actor, says, in one of my unpublished novels:

"There’s no censure in Shakespeare, and every facet of life is represented— bawds and kings and villains and fools. Everything you could ever think or feel or want, Shakespeare has already written about it. And everything that happens in your own life affects how you to respond to him, so his words always seem new and fresh, however often you play them."

John Gilbert, The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1849.
Not surprisingly, I totally agree! But Jack is only 28 when he says this, so from the vantage point of my own great age, I would add this: as we grow in years and experience, Shakespeare's words become ever more relevant, as we continually view them from our own ever-expanding perspective.

Shakespeare is timeless, in the same way that mythology, folklore, and fairy tales endure. And their timelessness inspires succeeding generations of bards and storytellers to reinvent the stories for their own devices—or eras.

I remember the first time I ever read a review of the Tom Stoppard play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I remember thinking,  What? Another writer can just appropriate a couple of Shakespeare's characters and make up his own story about them?

What a concept!

Recycled Shakespeare, like retold fairy tales, has become a genre unto itself, and one that I personally love! I've already flailed away on this blog about the fabulous Fool books of Christopher Moore  (which turn several Shakespearean tragedies into fodder for hilarity via King Lear's savvy Fool) and Alan Gordon's Fools Guild mysteries (reimagining Twelfth Night fool, Feste, as a Renaissance secret agent).

Ditto, Elizabeth Bear's gorgeous Ink and Steel duology, which takes Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as its central characters. And we all know West Side Story, the classic stage musical riff on Romeo and Juliet.

But here are five more clever reinterpretations, examples of just how adaptable Shakespeare continues to be:

CALIBAN'S HOUR  In Tad Williams' beguiling revision, the much abused "monster," Caliban from The Tempest makes his way back to Naples one fateful night to confront Miranda, daughter of his tormentor and enslaver, Prospero. Now a fading beauty approaching middle age, with a teenage daughter of her own, Miranda is compelled to hear Caliban's side of the story—and reconsider who he is (and what has been done to him).

QUEEN MAB  Kate Danley dares to imagine a secret life for Romeo's witty, charismatic pal, Mercutio—one of the most lamented murder victims in all of Shakespeare—as well as a delicious afterlife as lover to the Fairy Queen, Mab.

INDIGO From mythologist and fairy tale scholar Marina Warner comes this decidedly rich and strange riff on The Tempest. It's a dark, simmering exploration into conquest, colonialism, and slavery, and their aftermath, not only for those conquered, but for generations of European conquerors as well.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM  Okay, no points for originality in the title department, but otherwise, this splendid episode from Neil Gaiman's long-running Sandman graphic novel series is a completely fresh delight. It imagines a very special performance of the Dream by Will Shakespeare and his company of players on Midsummer Eve before the king and queen of the fairies and all their impish court.

THE LION KING Don't laugh! A murdered king (who later appears as a ghost), a treacherous uncle, a young prince trembling on the brink of maturity, uncertain how to test his power—sound familiar? True, there's not a lot of singing or dancing in Hamlet, but at least the folks at Disney steal from the best!

Celebrations will be global throughout the year. Happy Birthday, Will!




Sunday, April 10, 2016

MIDSUMMER DREAMS

Last summer, Santa Cruz Shakespeare gave its last performance under the redwood trees of the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen at UCSC, its home for over 30 years. It was a sad moment for Santa Cruz theatre lovers.

Especially since this year, 2016, is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, with hundreds of celebrations planned by the global theatre community. (The anniversary of Shakespeare's birth was back in 1964, but why wait another 48 years to throw a party?)

It was sad to think that our own Shakespeare troupe would not be part of the festivities.

But, soft —do you hear that rustling sound? Forsooth, 'tis the phoenix-like wingbeats of SCS rising once again out of the ashes to reinvent itself—now with a midsummer dream of its own.

In the 7+ months since receiving their eviction notice from UCSC, the company has secured a new performance space in the middle of a pine and eucalyptus grove in upper Delaveaga Park—called (appropriately enough) "The Grove."

The Grove-to-be.
All they have to do now is build it.

Which is where we come in, Dear Patron. Members of the SCS community are invited to volunteer time, skills, and/or expertise to the actual building of the Grove. Groundbreaking commenced on April 2, and intensive construction goes on for the next 12 weeks.

General contractor Slatter Construction is in charge of the project, but volunteers can help out in everything from clearing brush, hammering boards, putting up drywall, painting, and site clean-up, to the plumbing and electrical departments.

Help build comfy NEW seating!
Unskilled as a laborer? How about providing a pic-a-nick basket of water and goodies for the hard-working crew?

Or become a donating member of the SCS family. The company has already raised more than 80% of the funds needed to complete the project, but a few extra sheckels would not go amiss.

Earn the coveted status of Founding Groundling with a donation of $50 or more. Or commemorate a loved one by naming a permanent seat in the Grove in his or her honor, complete with plaque, for a gift of $2,000.

Meanwhile, plans for the 2016 season are afoot as we speak. The plays have been chosen: A Midsummer Night's Dream —a fan favorite in every incarnation the company has produced. Hamlet—perhaps the poet's most eternal, enduring work. And Orlando, adapted from the gender-bent, time-traveling novel by Virginia Woolf.
J. Todd Adams, The Dream, 2009: fan favorite

(Remember the excellent movie of Orlando from 1992, starring Tilda Swinton at her most androgynous? It will be fun to see what SCS does with the story!)

The 2016 season plays July 12-August 28. Tickets go on sale May 16, although members can pre-order tickets as of May 2.

And fans are invited to the Season Launch Party at the Radius Gallery in the Tannery on First Friday, May 6, to meet and mingle with company members.

Visit the SCS website for more information, or get updates on the SCS Facebook page

Support your local Shakespeare company, and help SCS realize its midsummer dream. Make Will's 400th extra happy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

PIRATES of PODCAST


 This just in, folks: my first podcast!

Last month, it was my pleasure to be interviewed by the effervescent Phil Johnson—stand-up comic and pirate aficionado, proprietor of the salty website, "Under the Crossbones." And now, our podcast is live!

It's a swashbuckling half-hour or so, where we natter on about my pirate books, our favorite (and otherwise) pirate movies, and the allure of all things piratical. Music and comedy round out the broadcast, so hoist a pot of rum and check it out here!

(PS: My interview starts at about the12-minute mark.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

SEX, DRUGS, and ROCKABILLY

Hank Williams inspires flat biopic I Saw the Light


It's tough to get a movie biography right, to find a way to make the messy facts of someone's life as compelling as fiction Last year, the did it in  Steve Jobs, condensing the material into three key moments in its subject's career that charted his personal and professional evolution.

Then there's I Saw The Light, the biographical drama about legendary country singer-songwriter Hank Williams. Writer-director Marc Abraham doggedly trots out the facts of Williams' astonishingly short, and yet productive life (36 hit songs before his death at age 29).
Hiddleston in action.


But the material is presented without much insight, and the storytelling feels flat. It's like watching somebody else's home movies—interesting for awhile, but not personally involving.

Abraham never uncovers the person behind the image; he's content to stick with the persona of the raw talent living the self-destructive honky-tonk life.

Fortunately, the film stars the highly watchable Tom Hiddleston, the accomplished British thesp best known to movie audiences as Loki in the Thor franchise. He may not be the first person you'd think of to play Alabama-born, proto-rockabilly crooner Williams, but Hiddleston has presence to burn, and he looks great in a cowboy hat.

He even does his own singing. With a fresh, honest approach that doesn't try to imitate Williams, Hiddleston sells the music with his laid-back demeanor and killer grin. (Read more in this week's GT)