Thursday, April 17, 2014

BREATHLESS

Well, so much for the hurry-up-and-wait phase of my career as a Real Author. This week has been nothing if not action-packed! As the Red Queen tells Alice, it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. if you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast!

So what has me all breathless and excited this week? On Sunday morning, I heard from my editor at Thoms Dunne Books that the audiobook rights to Alias Hook had been sold to Blackstone Audio. Yippee!

That was great! But I also found in my inbox a note from the very high-profile and respected NYC literary agent Irene Goodman. She had just finished reading an ARC of Alias Hook, loved it, and said although she was sure I must be ably represented by now, if not, might I please keep her in mind?

Anyone who has had to suffer through my endless monologues on my attempts to interest literary agents in any of my various projects can imagine what a shock it was to have an agent of this caliber querying me!

And I thought I never got any interesting email on the weekends!

On Tuesday, the team at TDB forwarded me a very nice review of Alias Hook from Library Journal, which read, in part:

"Scintillating description and deep characterization make Jensen's Neverland a psychologically intriguing place to visit. Jensen offers a humanized take on Captain Hook that will be sure to entertain fans of the fairy tale-retelling genre."

On Wednesday, my editor sent me a fabulous jacket blurb written for Alias Hook by author Elizabeth Blackwell. Her new novel, While Beauty Slept, is a re-imagined retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. (See, I'm not the only one who comes up with these crack-brained ideas!)

Here's her blurb:

"A captivating blend of fantasy, adventure and historical fiction, Alias Hook is a fresh, utterly convincing reinterpretation of the Peter Pan story. Lisa Jensen takes a classic villain and transforms him into someone we care about and root for all the way to the emotionally stirring end. You will never look at Captain Hook the same way again!"

Thanks, Elizabeth!

And this morning, I awoke to find my mug shot grinning out at me from the cover of the SC Sentinel (okay, I was below the fold, but still...), teasing a story Wallace Baine wrote on me in his excellent new book-related column Read Or Die in The Guide.

All I would add is that my upcoming reading/signing at Bookshop Santa Cruz has been rescheduled to Wednesday, July 16. (My bad for giving Wallace outdated info.) Also, this photo of me, used in the story, was taken by the fabulous and talented Jana Marcus.

Oh, and did I mention that on Monday, the inestimable Irene Goodman called me up to offer me representation? Of course, I said "yes" in about 2.8 seconds. Sure, most authors find an agent first and THEN get a book deal, but, hey, I'm not complaining. And she's already reading my next book!

Calloo! Callay!

LENS CRAFTER

Secret photographer's talent exposed in 'Finding Vivian Maier'

Talk about a treasure hunt.

In 2007, John Maloof, a real estate agent in the Chicago area, bought some miscellaneous boxes at an estate auction across the street, hoping to find some material for a book about his neighborhood.

Disappointed not to find anything he could use for his project, Maloof had, instead, stumbled into one of the greatest discoveries in 20th Century photography—the previously unknown, but amazingly prolific work of amateur street photographer Vivian Maier.

Work that Maloof determines to expose to the light of day at last, along with the mystery shrouding the artist herself, in the fascinating doc, Finding Vivian Maier.

Intrigued at first by a stash of carefully preserved, undeveloped negatives in one of the boxes he'd bought, Maloof had only a name to go on. But when he Googled "Vivian Maier," nothing came up.

So he selected some 200 of her images to develop and posted them in a photo blog online. The response was huge.

Photography gallery owner Howard Greenberg and professional photographer Mary Ellen Mark appear in the film to testify to Maier's genius. But viewers don't need instructions to appreciate her work.

Whether her subjects are Highland Park socialites, teenagers in cars, kids at play, or winos and derelicts in inner city back alleys, Maier has a gift for gesture, expression, and composition, the telling moment, the fraught encounter. Her work with reflections—mirrors, shop windows, vending machines—is outstanding. She operated her box camera at hip level, engaging subjects with her eyes as she shot them.

But who was Vivian Maier? The portrait of Maier that emerges is compelling in its oddity.

Solitary, unmarried, without children or relations of her own, she spent the last 40 years of her life working for other families as a live-in nanny and/or housekeeper.

With food and shelter taken care of, without having to be cooped up all day in a conventional workplace, she could spend a lot more time roving the streets with her camera.

That so much of Maier's work was never even developed (much less shown) suggests it was the process, not the outcome, that was important to her. (Read more in this week's Good Times)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

GAME ON

What else is new in Game of Thrones?
Don't have enough drama in your daily life? Fear not: Game of Thrones, Season 4, begins tonight!

Why should we care? Because this show has everything—faux history, fabulous costumes, immense production values, sexy men and ballsy women (tough enough to make Katniss Everdeen look like Honey Boo-Boo), absorbing plots and counterplots, one of the coolest opening credit sequences ever devised for TV, and an irresistible component of dark magic.

Even the music is addictive; the opening theme has been the default setting in my brain for over a year.

Based on the ongoing epic fantasy book series by George R. R. Martin, the story unfolds in a Britain-like mythical realm called Westeros, with seven royal houses (and a few more upstarts) vying for the Iron Throne. There's a Hadrian-like wall in the frozen North, built to keep out the Wildling tribes (read: Picts and Scots) on the other side, and hordes of exotic chieftans, warlords and armies massing across the sea in the East.
From a traveling Game of Thrones costume exhibit
But don't think for a moment that this is a Lord of the Rings-type deal with nothing but one incomprehensible battle scene after another. There's plenty of violence in the GoT universe—most of it directed at what we thought were lead characters, in stunning reversals of what we believe to be the "rules" of series TV—but very little of it occurs on the battlefield. The body count rises thanks to treachery and betrayal, fomented by a world-class cast of schemers.
Who doesn't love Tyrion, that sly rogue?

Don't laugh when I say that GoT is character-driven. If we weren't so invested in the characters—and appalled, yet fascinated at their frequent inhumanity to each other—we wouldn't keep coming back. But from the execution of nominal hero and clan patriarch Ned Stark at the end of Season 1, faithful Thronees have come to realize that no character is safe, however beloved.

And yet, it's hard not to get attached. Take the sublime Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. A randy, frequently drunken dwarf, despised by his powerful father and underestimated by his enemies, his intelligence, acerbic one-liners, and innate moral compass (it's not his fault he was born into the reprehensible Lannister clan) make him the heart and soul (not to mention wit) of the show.

Plus, he's the only one to talk straight to the Devil-spawn boy king, Joffrey, his nephew (played to venal perfection by Jack Gleeson), reason enough to cheer Tyrion on.
Jon Snow has some 'splaining to do

Then there's the (rapidly dwindling) remainder of the Stark clan. Bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington), consecrated to the Night Watch, the monk-like brotherhood that guards the wall, always tries to do the right thing. But his betrayal of a Wildling woman who loved him last season will surely come back to haunt him—as well it should.

Budding little swordswoman, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) continues her Junior Woodchuck training in the forest with her reluctant protector, The Hound (Rory McCann), until such time as she can avenge her father's death. Meanwhile, her older sister, Sansa (Sophie Turner), under permanent house arrest with the Lannisters at the royal seat, King's Landing, has just been married off to Tyrion.

We can only hope the little goose comes to realize how lucky she is!

The story arc for Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is also undergoing reconstruction. At first, the despicable "Kingslayer, and, ahem, "uncle" to the boy king, whose mother is Jamie's devious sister, Cersei (Lena Headey), the golden boy of Clan Lannister may be be on the road to redemption.

Largely due to his odyssey last season with his former captor, noble-hearted Amazonian warrior woman Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), for whose safety and virtue Jamie ultimately risked his life and lost his hand.

The divine Diana Rigg is in here too, as somebody's elegant, sharp-tongued granny, cheerfully cracking wise and lacerating the pompous while trying to arrange a royal marriage at King's Landing.

And never count out Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), last surviving member of a deposed royal family.
Daenerys, the Dragon Whisperer

 Sure, she seems like a little blonde pushover, but she's one smart cookie. Not only did she have the sense to make a steadfast ally out of the "savage" Klingon warlord she was married off to, she's quietly amassing an army of devoted former slaves she has freed in the East while raising the three equally devoted—and growing—dragons that she has nurtured from infancy.

Of course, as in anything this epic, not every single plotline works. There's way too much torture, so much so that Thronees have a hard time remembering who's being racked by which faction. I'm sick of the witch who whips everyone into a religious frenzy. And what the heck happened to all the Direwolf pups each of the Stark offspring were given to raise in the first season? Especially Jon Snow's white wolf Ghost, who accompanied him to the wall, but now seems to have disappeared.

Nobody knows what will happen next (except those spoilsports who have already read the books).  After the infamous Red Wedding from Season 3, all we know for sure is the plot will thicken, more heads will undoubtedly roll—and those dragons are getting bigger!

Friday, April 4, 2014

SUBMERGENT

Bible meets sci-fi in Aronofsky's eco-parable 'Noah'

Nobody named "God" ever appears in Noah. Darren Aronofsky's massive drama is obviously inspired by the Bible story, but he handles it as sort of a non-denominational, philosophical disaster movie.

Noah and his family retain their familiar names, and there are passing references to Eden, but no specific geography or time frame is ever suggested, while the mostly ravaged and desolate landscape could be either pre- or post-industrial, the ancient past or the distant future.

This is the Bible as dystopian sci-fi epic.

And most of the time it works pretty well on those terms, especially in the first hour or so, as Aronofsky sets up his eco-parable about human folly and violence vs. the wonders of nature. It isn't until much later that the narrative drive springs a leak and the movie starts to flounder.

Russell Crowe delivers his usual, reliable mix of dynamic screen presence and robust physicality as Noah. He and his family are reclusive stewards of the last green area in a world beset by warrior tribes who rape, murder, slaughter animals for food, and despoil the landscape mining for precious metals.

When his grandfather, Methuselah (a twinkly Anthony Hopkins, having a hell of a good time), gives him a seed preserved from Eden, Noah plants it in barren ground, and up springs a forest, from which he understands he's supposed to build an ark to preserve a breeding pair of each species of animal during the coming flood.

There are many exhilarating scenes of clouds of birds, rivers of snakes, and herds of animals coming to the ark. All of the fauna are CGI, and look just a bit off-kilter (like the armadillo-plated goat in an early scene), suggesting prehistoric or otherworldly creatures.

Also very cool in a sci-fi way are gigantic, but soulful rock creatures called Watchers, who turn out to be fallen angels punished for meddling in human affairs. ("Marooned on Earth in these stony shells," one says mournfully.)

But, sadly, Noah loses its shape and its grip on our imagination in its final third. (Read more)
Noah's Ark: not quite watertight

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

STOP THE PRESSES!


The Santa Cruz alternative newspaper scene just got a lot weirder. Not necessarily better. Not necessarily worse. Just weirder.

Remember those old newspaper movies of the 1940s? Whenever a big story broke, some fast-talking editor like Cary Grant or Kirk Douglas would grab the phone and yell, "Stop the presses!" This is a moment like that for local media.

Yesterday, the news broke that Metro Newspapers, the corporate entity that operates the Santa Cruz Weekly (formerly Metro Santa Cruz), along with several other publications over the hill, has purchased its crosstown rival, Good Times, from its most recent owner, Mainstreet Media. And, no, it wasn't an April Fool's joke.

It was more like an item in "Believe It or Not."  Hit hard by the economic downturn and the decline in print media in general, The Weekly was becoming the incredible shrinking paper, while GT—despite cutbacks, downsizing, and one or two painful layoffs—still managed to operate at a healthy percentage of its old capacity. If a merger was even suspected, most observers would assume it would go in the other direction. 


So, what's the deal?

GT owners have come and gone over the years. I always refer to them as the Pros from Dover because I have no earthly clue who they are from one regime to the next. Normally it doesn't impact us much, the editorial and art departments, freelancers, and staff who go about the business of getting the paper out every week. 

Most of the incoming owners don't really want to fool around too much with the team in the trenches responsible for making the paper a successful enterprise worth buying in the first place.

Not so, this time.  In one afternoon—and a Monday at that, deadline-eve, when things are hectic enough in the office—publisher Ron Slack, editor Greg Archer, Entertainment Editor Jenna Brogan, and staff writer Joel Hersch were out the door. That's a huge chunk of the team responsible for making GT a success.

Dan Pulcrano, owner of Metro Newspapers, has a long history with the local alt-journalism scene. For the (ulp) 39 years I've been at GT (beginning when I was an infant prodigy, of course), there has basically never been a moment when our paper was not the target of some other feisty little publication—the Independent, the Phoenix, the Express, the Sun, Taste, Santa Cruz Magazine, Metro Santa Cruz. Dan Pulcrano was involved in a lot of those papers, along with Buz Bezore, Christina Waters, Geoff Dunne, Stephen Kessler, Michael Gant, Tim Eagan, Bruce Bratton, and many other luminaries on the local media scene.

These were the folks who never thought GT was alternative enough. And I have to say there have been times in this paper's checkered history when I agreed with them, when I would have gladly jumped ship and gone to play for the scrappy rival team. But not lately.

Yes, once upon a time, GT was "Lighter Than Air"—a tagline that apparently we will never, ever live down. Get over it. It's been decades since those words appeared in the masthead, or were reflected in the editorial content of the paper itself. When Ron Slack was installed in the publisher's office 13 years ago, he not only relocated to Santa Cruz and got involved in the community, he dedicated a hefty chunk of GT column inches, staff, and resorces to reporting on local news and issues, alongside the arts and entertainment coverage that had sustained the paper over the years. 

Good Times blossomed under the stewardship of Ron Slack, the tireless efforts of our fearless leader, editor Greg Archer, and the contributions of dozens of writers, artists, columnists, critics and dreamers too numerous to mention. I am extremely proud and excessively lucky to have worked with all these people. It won't be the same around the ol' newsroom without them.

No one knows at this point how this transition will play out. Incoming editor Steve Palopoli is a good guy; we used to work together at GT. I suspect that the success of this venture will depend—as always—on the heart, integrity, and sheer stamina of the folks in the trenches, the creative staff tasked with the insane, impossible, wildly exhilarating business of getting out a weekly newspaper.

For the story so far, catch up with Wallace Baine's excellent piece in the Sentinel, and this interesting news item on the purchase in the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

To relive those thrilling early days of alt-journalism in Santa Cruz, check out this vintage piece from the old Metro.







Thursday, March 27, 2014

LIFE in the SADDLE

Oh no: writing the book is JUST the beginning!
The good news is that beyond-fabulous review Alias Hook got Monday morning in Publisher's Weekly, the official, non-denominational Bible of the publishing industry.

(What, you missed it? Scroll down—you're not getting off that easily! This is a big deal.)

The bad news? I've hardly been out of the cockpit of my computer command module since.

Besides posting the review to every virtual cork board I could think of, and fielding congratulations and good wishes from my generous friends, readers, and supporters, I've started getting phishing-type emails from businesses wanting to sign me up for their services.

Like the email with the tantalizing subject: "Film/TV rights" (what, Spielberg is calling already?) which turns out to be an invitation to list any available rights to my book on their website. Or the form letter from a NYC publicity firm hoping to enroll me as a client.
Also, handing out ARCs, one book at a time!

Meanwhile, my real-life PR team at Thomas Dunne Books (who are doing a bang-up job, btw; how do you think I got the PW review?) are making all sorts of interesting suggestions—like a 1000-word essay to be pitched to the Author's Note page in the (ulp!) New York Times Book Review. Daunting? You bet. But I've hammered out two-thirds of it so far, and it may not be entirely moronic. Not sure yet. We'll see...

Still, all of this comes not two weeks after I had just start noodling around with an idea for a brand new fiction project. Which brings the grand total of current works in progress (WIPs) up to three. In various stages of completion, from fledgling, wraith-like idea, to half-a-novel-in-search-of-a-plot, to within spitting (maybe gasping) distance of the finish line.

Not to mention two more complete manuscripts ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public—as soon as I can find an agent who loves them as much as I do.

But, hey: One book at a time. That's our mantra here at the Fiction Addiction Help Center.


(PS: Like Alias Hook of Facebook and I'll be your BFF!)

Monday, March 24, 2014

BIG WHOOP!

Color me stoked to get this great review of Alias Hook in Publisher's Weekly this morning!

"Jensen’s second novel, a twist on the Peter Pan story which reconceives of Captain Hook as a tragic hero, shows how she’s matured as a writer since her excellent debut, A Witch from the Sea.

During the Restoration, James Benjamin Hookbridge becomes a privateer captain trapped in Neverland, where Peter Pan and his Lost Boys torment Hook and his crew over the centuries, cutting them down in battle again and again. Hook, however, can never die, while his crew is regularly replenished with former, now-grown Lost Boys, prompted to return to Neverland by their dreams.

There is also a succession of Wendys, but one of Peter’s rules is that no grown women are allowed back.

Yet Stella Parrish materializes in Neverland after coming from 1950s England, believing she was “called.” Peter is determined to use her to destroy Hook once and for all, while Hook sees Stella’s unique ability to understand the language spoken by Neverland’s magical inhabitants, including mermaids and fairies, as his chance to escape the island for good.

Jensen’s wonderful imagination and devotion to history and myth allow the reader to fly with her through this outstanding adventure—no fairy dust required."

I love it that this reviewer even mentioned my "excellent debut, The Witch From the Sea." Seriously, how cool is that?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to do the Happy Dance!

(Above right: Snoopy Dance, by Charles Schulz, of course!)

Friday, March 14, 2014

'GIRLS' ON TOP

Femme jazz musicians get their due in cheer-worthy 'Girls in the Band'

We're in a very fertile period for music documentaries at the moment, non-fiction films that explore hidden corners of our cultural musical heritage that too many of us never even knew existed.

The latest case in point is Judy Chaikin's smart, informative, and rewarding The Girls In the Band. Her subject is the pioneering female musicians who have battled racism, sexism, and every other kind of obstacle to play jazz onstage, from the big band era of the 1930s and '40s, and on into the present day.

Female musicians in big bands? Bet you can't think of a single one. That's a problem Chaikin sets out to redress, introducing us to singular women like Clara Bryant, self-described "trumpetiste," sax-player Peggy Hilbert, alto sex virtuoso Roz Cron, trumpet-player Billie Rogers, and pianist Marian McPartland.

And these are just some of the women who are still around to tell their stories to Chaikin on-camera. Through deft use of archival photos, and some truly amazing film, video, and kinescope footage, Chaikin reveals the depth and diversity of talent involved in this forgotten chapter of American musical history.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Of course, "girl singers" were standard issue in the popular big bands and swing orchestras of the '30s and '40s. The occasional female pianist was tolerated too; at least she could sit demurely in a gown. But women horn-players found it almost impossible to get a job in a male band.

For one thing, horns were considered too masculine an instrument. Women onstage were supposed to smile, recalls Hilbert, "but how can you smile with a horn in your mouth?" Male band members also resisted women musicians, as one woman recalls, on the grounds that "We can't talk the way we want to, and besides, they can't play very well."
   
So "girl bands" started to crop up with names like The Ingénues and The Fayettes where women could play. (One recalls being mortified over the ruffled pink dresses they were expected to wear onstage.) Best known were the Ina Rae Hutton Band (we hear a male broadcast announcer call Hutton "that pretty little spitfire of syncopation"), and The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. (Read more)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

BUZ WORTHY

Buz marking his Oscar ballot, 1987
The Santa Cruz journalism scene would not have been as contentious, creative, or subversive in the 1970s and '80s without Buz Bezore. And it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun.

 When Buz sauntered off to the newsroom in the Great Beyond last week, Santa Cruz lost a little piece of itself.

I met Buz years before either of us landed a job in the newspaper biz, when we were both students at UCSC. We had a two-quarter, multi-media class together at College V (now Porter) called The '20s and '30s in America; we read Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos and Gertrude Stein, and we watched a lot of movies in class—Busby Berkeley musicals, crime melodramas, screwball comedies.

I didn't know Buz really well, but I remember at the end of the class (back in the touchy-feely days when students could make up their own finals), he and I were the only ones who chose to write papers on the movies.
Early Buz: GT columns

 My topic was comparing the top box-office stars between the two decades as some sort of cultural barometer. (I was 20; what did I know?). His topic was gangster movies.

Years later, as I recall, he bought an old, vintage pinstripe suit at the Goodwill for some formal event, and was delighted to find a small bullet hole in the back of the jacket.

When I first went to work for Good Times at the end of 1975, Buz was already on the payroll as a freelancer, writing the live music column, but as freelancers, our paths rarely crossed. In those bygone days, Santa Cruz alternative journalism was in its infancy. The daily Santa Cruz Sentinel was considered too conservative, and Buz quickly decided that the entertainment-oriented GT (whose motto at the time was "lighter than air") was not alternative enough for him.
Buz, Christina, and the infamous Mad Magazine

Largely under Buz's instigation, the first in a series of alternative alternative weeklies began to take shape, starting with the original paper known as the Santa Cruz Weekly. (A spiritual heir of the old Sundaz rag that I used to read with such relish as a student up on the hill.) It wasn't until Buz started popping up at Nickelodeon press screenings in connection with the Weekly that he and I became friends.

Over the years, The Weekly begat the Santa Cruz Express, begat The Independent, begat Taste, begat the Santa Cruz Metro. Buz was the editor through most of these incarnations, each of which was dedicated (tacitly or otherwise) to knocking GT off the map. And as volatile an editor as he was to work for (and those stories are legion), he and I were always friends—even though I continued to work for "the enemy" throughout our parallel journalistic careers.

One year, the Express (I think it was) published an April Fool's issue lampooning GT and everyone in it. (It was called Goon Times.) I opened it with trepidation, fearing the worst, only to find out there wasn't a mean word about me in the whole issue. In retrospect, I might have felt a bit left-out, but as a thin-skinned baby journalist at the time, I was enormously grateful!
Samurai Editor: jammies were in at our Oscar parties

In the '80s and '90s, Art Boy and I used to host Oscar night parties for local media folks and other celebrants, and Buz and his then-and longtime-partner, Christina Waters, were always at the top of the A-List. We ordered pizzas, kept the champagne flowing, and staked serious cash money in our annual Oscar pool.

 Buz was famous for coming in with the fewest correct predictions—usually in direct proportion to how loudly he proclaimed that, this year, he was going to win!

Most of the time, he went home with the consolation prize, an old Oscar issue of Mad Magazine that was passed around among the low-scorers year after year (above, left). But it never interfered with his bonhommie as the evening played out.
Buz's birthday, 1987. With Christina + fans

Even years after we stopped hosting those bacchanals, and after Buz had severed the last of his ties to the local journalism scene, if we happened to run into each other at the Live Oak Farm Market, or a movie, we'd still spend an hour yakking, catching up. As if it had only been a couple of days, not years, since we'd seen each other last.

Maybe it was because I never worked for Buz full-time that we stayed friends for so long. (Okay, full disclosure: I did occasionally write for his various papers under a nom de plume.)

He pushed buttons to get results, but he was also an editor who knew how to inspire and/or bully his writers to do their best work. And everything I pretend to know about writing catchy headlines and slugs, I stole, oops, I mean learned from Buz.

Alternative journalism in this town has lost one of its major spark plugs, instigators, and agents provocateur. It would have been a much poorer scene without him.  Thanks for everything, Buz!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

COASTING ON FUMES

The wheels of publishing turn slowly.
Whoever coined the phrase "hurry up and wait" must have been thinking of the publishing industry. Not that I'm not thrilled with my adventures in publishing so far, but if instant gratification is your goal, better get yourself another gig.

The lead time between making your initial First Contact—assuming you're fortunate enough to snag the interest of an agent or editor after weeks (or months, or years) of seemingly fruitless queries—and the time that something actually begins to happen on the agenting or editing front can be eternal.

First comes the high of an Industry Professional liking your book, which is pretty much unparalleled in the annals of human delight. Soak it in while you can! Because over the next several months, you'll be coasting on fumes.

 In 2007, I started querying agents with an early draft of Alias Hook. (Well, I thought it was a final draft at the time.) Three agents were interested enough to read it, two of whom worked with me extensively on subsequent revisions, but by the end of 2011, I still had no agent, or prospects.

In January of 2012, while sending out a batch of new, freshly rewritten agent queries, I sent the AH ms in toto to Snowbooks in the UK, an indie publisher famed not only for genre niche-marketing (fantasy, horror, steampunk), but for not requiring authors to submit to them through an agent. And then I went back to my life, figuring that, like all the agents I'd been querying lately, I would simply never hear back from them again.

Which I didn't for seven month—until the end of July, when I received the email authors dream of: Snowbooks was "in love with" Alias Hook and wanted to publish it!

Because SB is a small press, things happened pretty quickly after that, by publishing standards. I was sending out blurb requests in September, and my book had a gorgeous cover (gold foil, yet!) by the end of the month. By November, I was formatting my final edit. Still, it was May before the finished book arrived on shelves in the UK.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's about nine months from acceptance of the ms to finished book—and that's under the speediest possible circumstances. As a point of reference, Art Boy can complete a painting in 2-3 weeks and move on to the next project. I feel like such a slacker!

Meanwhile, in January of 2013, I had a phone call from Pete Wolverton, Associate Editor at Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin's Press in the States. We spoke for 20 minutes, at the end of which time, he told me he would be making an offer for the rights to publish a US edition of Alias Hook.

Callou! Callay! Based on his sound advice, I blithely wrote a spanking new one-page prologue to set up my story; I figured we'd be starting the revision any minute! I spent two days filling out an official Author's Questionnaire from TDB, and I was checking my email constantly for news of those revision notes Pete was going to send me, or the contract with SB. And checking, and checking...

The contract between the UK and US publishing houses was not officially signed, sealed, and delivered until September. Yup, another nine months later. Pete's notes finally began arriving in my inbox in October. Happily for me, 85-90% of his suggestions were right on, and the rest were negotiable. The entire editing process only took us about two weeks—once we finally got to it.

Adavance Reading Copies (ARCs) of Alias Hook are going out to meet the press as we speak. But, the US edition originally planned for a Spring 2014 release, has now been repositioned to July. (The better to bring it out with a bang, my new publicist at TDB tells me.) Still, it hasn't exactly been a sprint to the finish line. That heavy breathing you hear is me trying to coax a little more mileage out of those fumes!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

OPTICAL INFUSION

Art, technology meet in audacious 'Tim's Vermeer'

It's not the sort of declaration you hear every day. "I want to paint a Vermeer," announces self-described technology geek Tim Jenison. "And I'm not a painter." Why would a seemingly ordinary person who is not an artist even conceive of such a crazy goal, much less pursue it? You might find the answer surprising—or possibly infuriating—but absolutely fascinating in Tim's Vermeer, the new documentary by magicians and Renaissance men Penn and Teller. It's an eye-opening meditation on art, science, and the nature of the creative process.

Directed by Teller, the film is narrated by Penn Jilette, who also appears onscreen, conducting interviews and making observations. Penn introduces his longtime friend, Tim, an engineer and inventor of cutting edge video technology from San Antonio, Texas, who is obsessed with Johannes Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch artist famed for his luminous portraits and gorgeously detailed interiors of daily life. Tim isn't simply an art lover, he has a theory to prove: maybe Vermeer was, like Tim himself, "a geek who used technology."

Where would Tim get such an idea? For one thing, from British artist David Hockney's book, "Secret Knowledge," which posits that medieval artists might have used optical machines, like camera obscura, to help them replicate realistic images.

Tim is also influenced by architect Philip Steadman's book, "Vermeer's Camera," which studies six Vermeer paintings in terms of light and optics. Noting that when a Vermeer painting is X-rayed, there are no sketch lines underneath—as if he composed directly onto the surface—Tim sets out to build a mechanical device involving mirrors and optic lenses, by which he means to prove his theory by painting his own version of Vermeer's "The Music Lesson."

The Dutch master painted with light, says Tim, who compares Vermeer's paintings to video images, or color slides. Tim recreates the artist's north-facing studio with the exact same light, in a San Antonio warehouse, then stages the objects and figures from the painting inside. A hands-on kind of guy, Tim not only mixes his own paint pigments and grinds his own lenses, he reconstructs the tiles, moldings, and furniture from the painting (turning the legs of the Virginals, a period keyboard instrument, on his own lathe). He orders a 17th Century Viola de Gamba built in Italy, obtains a woven tapestry, even recreates the leaded glass windows from Vermeer's studio, and constructs a wooden mock-up of the scenery and skyline outside of it. Then he sets to work.

Somehow, it's all done with mirrors, or at least a series of mirror images reflected in various lenses and projected through a small lens about the size of a monocle clamped fast at a certain angle above the canvas. What's involved is upwards of 120 days of painstaking, often monotonous application of tiny smudges of color in exactly the right place by a man who has never used a paint brush before.

The results are startling, debunking "the modern idea that art and technology must never meet." Or, as Penn asks, "Is Tim an artist or an inventor? The problem is, we have to make a distinction between the two."

Even though director Teller scrupulously shows us the view through the mirrored lens, where the painter need only match and apply exactly the right color at the edge of the lens to the canvas below to achieve his effects, it's hard to conceive how it works—even when it's happening right onscreen in front of us. It seems like a natural artist would be constantly fighting the urge to shape the line as he sees fit, impose his own compositional will on the image.

Does this suggest that only a non-instinctual artist—but a brilliant technician—could achieve the incredible effects realized by Vermeer, and Tim? And just because Tim manages to replicate a Vermeer so exactly, is it absolute proof that Vermeer himself used the same technique? What's more, are the stunning photo-realistic images of Vermeer any more or less "artistic" than the more impressionistic, interpretive work of others? These are just some of the questions that filter into our brains like sunlight through those ornately glazed windows in this engrossing, audacious film.