Saturday, August 30, 2014

OPEN the POD BAY DOOR

Hands up, everyone who used to have a radio like this!

Back in the day, you'd tune in a program you wanted to hear, and then it would be lost in the aether, disappearing back into the mist like Brigadoon.

But not any more. Now we have podcasts!

So it was a big thrill for me to do a live interview last week at the SciFi4Me Radio website. The subject was Alias Hook, on the program Live From the Bunker.

Big thanks to interviewer Kammie Settle and tech whiz Jason Hunt for making it all so enjoyable. Here's the link if you'd like to catch up with the podcast!

My first podcast—I feel like such a professional!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

MASS APPEAL

What happens in the confessional stays in the confessional. According to Catholic law, any priest who violates the confidentiality of the booth will find himself excommunicated.

So if a priest happens to hear something dire after Mass one Sunday—like a death threat, to be carried out in one week—he has no recourse but to spend the next seven days combing through the community, hoping to identify the malcontent and diffuse the situation, or possibly even arm himself in self-defense.

At least, those would be the choices in an ordinary action thriller. But neither the Irish drama, Calvary, nor its writer and director, John Michael McDonagh, can be classified as ordinary.

Although much of the action follows the outline above, the film transcends its action, branching out into a poignant, often scathing, and even occasionally blackly humorous meditation on the human condition.
GoT fans will recognize Littlefinger in  Gleeson's wayward flock

And it mostly succeeds in its grand aims, thanks to a marvelously skilled and subtle performance by the great Brendan Gleeson in one of his best roles. He stars as a caring village priest whose parishioners practice most of the popular Deadly Sins.   

The film's seven Stations of the Cross symbology plays into McDonagh's larger themes of sin, virtue, sacrifice and redemption. But nothing in the film feels like a sermon. A barely recovered alcoholic widower who came late to the priesthood, Gleeson's Father James strives to be of some practical use to his parishioners.

And not by offering up a bunch of empty platitudes about God's will or Heaven and Hell

It's because he doesn't presume to tell anybody what God wants that Gleeson's flawed Father James is so appealing. (Read more)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

FIRST THINGS LAST

A great beginning is everything.
Don't you just love it in movies about writers when the author sits down to actually write?

Author sucks at the end of a pen, or flexes his fingers over the the keyboard for about 3.2 seconds, then commences to churn out the first two or five or ten pages of his magnum opus—as perfect and divine as Athena springing full-born from the head of Zeus.

Ah, such a charming fantasy. But don't be fooled, kids. In real life, the beginning of a book is the hardest part.

Everyone knows the first couple of pages or paragraphs, or sentences are the most important of the book—especially in this ADD-afflicted era, when there is so much competition for our shrinking attention spans. But that doesn't mean those first deathless lines are going to be the very first thing you write.

In my case, those opening pages are the very last thing I write! Or at least the last thing I write well.

Nicole Kidman's Virginia Woolf, The Hours: real writers write over.
During the first draft of a novel, I'm basically telling myself the story. I know it's all going to change in the rewriting process anyway. For that first draft I'll start anywhere that seems to get me into the story, some conversation, or interior monologue, or action sequence that gets me going. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first word.

Once I've plunged in, I keep adding scenes as they occur to me (and usually not in chronological order) until I have some sense of a story arc heading for a conclusion. For me, knowing how the story ends is essential before I can go back and re-tackle that all-important opening.

There are times, however, when first instincts are serendipitous. For Alias Hook, the very first paragraph I committed to a Word doc remained the first paragraph of the book in print—at least in the UK edition:

Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile, which drags him down to a watery grave. Who could guess that below the water, the great beast would spew me out with a belch and a wink of its horned, livid eye? It was not yet my time to die, not then nor any other time. It's my fate to be trapped here forever in a nightmare of childhood fancy with that infernal, eternal boy. 

The Disney version ends where my story begins.
True inspiration struck belatedly (as usual), and I wrote an entirely new prologue for the US edition. However, that first paragraph remains intact as the first words James Hook "speaks" to the reader as his personal narrative begins—although the rest of the opening chapter surrounding it changed many, many times.

And that's just the way it is. Only after plowing through the entire narrative, with all its drama, humor, and heartbreak, can you possibly understand where your story really begins.

(Above: Russell Brand as Captain Hook, photographed by Annie Liebovitz.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

FRENCH and INDIAN WARS

Epic veggie fail, but Mirren is as tasty as ever
No surprises, but lots to savor in fun foodie film feast Hundred-Foot Journey

If you've seen the preview trailer for The Hundred-Foot Journey, you've seen the movie. If you've seen any foodie film in recent history in which cross-cultural food becomes a metaphor for spicing up life and/or romance—Chef, Chocolat, Babette's Feast, Like Water For Chocolate—you've seen this movie.

Basically, nothing happens here that's not telegraphed in the first fifteen minutes, or so, besides which every major plot twist and punchline has already been revealed in that trailer.

And yet, having said all that, The Hundred-Foot Journey has its easygoing charms. Thoroughly engaging performances are provided by a mixed cast of veterans and newcomers, led by the always sublime Helen Mirren and Indian national treasure Om Puri.

The location is irresistible, a sun-drenched corner of the South of France where an upstart family-run Indian eatery sets up shop across the street from a venerable French restaurant.

And there's plenty of good-looking food (of course), from haute cuisine to vivid massala-spiced Indian dishes to simple French country cooking, presented with enough relish to make it all go down smoothly.

Scripted by Steven Knight from the novel by Richard C. Morais, the film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom.

Fleeing political prising in India, the large and boisterous Kadam family is searching for a new place to put down roots when their decrepit vehicle breaks down in a charming French village. Widower Papa (Puri) buys a large stone farmhouse for the family's next culinary enterprise, with grown son, Hassan (Manish Dayal) in the kitchen.
Charlotte le Bon and Manish Dayal

The only catch? It's right across the road from the elegant one-star Michelin restaurant of Madame Mallory (Mirren). Papa insists the town is big enough for both classical French and traditional Indian food, but a cold war quickly escalates between the two establishments.

Meanwhile, Hassan sparks with Mme. Mallory's young sous chef, Marguerite (the lovely and spirited Charlotte Le Bon), who recognizes in him the soul of a fellow food artist. (Read more in this week's Good Times.)
Are we hungry yet?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

DUELING HOOKS

Hugh Jackman, rehearsing for Pan
If only this was Hugh Jackman  in swordfighting rehearsals for Alias Hook! But sadly not. If you read my post on Crossbones, you'll recall that Jackman is playing arch-villain Blackbeard in a new live-action Peter Pan movie, Pan, in production as we speak, to come out from Warner Bros. next summer.

People are finally starting to realize that Captain Hook is everybody's favorite character in the Peter Pan universe. Seriously, who else besides J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, could ever think of that bratty, heartless eternal boy as the hero? These days, we know better.

(Over on Disney's Once Upon A Time, Hook is practically the star of the whole show thanks in no small part to sexy Colin O' Donoghue in the role. But then, Disney is notorious for graverobbing its own past successes in the fairy tale realm to accommodate changing tastes. Just look at Maleficent.)
Colin O'Donoghue, Once Upon At Time

But in the upcoming Pan, it looks like the only way they can think to make a good guy out of Hook is to team him up with Pan against an even more dastardly villain—Blackbeard.

This is not an entirely unprecedented idea. Barrie tells us that James Hook was once "Blackbeard's bosun." So it's not too much of a stretch to imagine the two of them running amok in the Neverland together.

In the Pan version, the boy Peter (to be played by newcomer Levi Miller) is an orphan whisked off to Neverland. He meets James Hook as a young man in Blackbeard's crew, and they become shipmates and allies.

Garrett Hedlund is cast as Hook, most recently seen as Dean Moriarty (the Neal Cassady figure) in On The Road, and John Goodman's mysterious driver in Inside Llewyn Davies. It'll be interesting to see if he can ditch that modern hipster vibe to play Hook.

Apparently, Peter and Hook will be friends at the start of the story. But the badder Blackbeard gets (one assumes), the closer they come to an epic rift as each one has to choose what side he's on. 
Garrett Hedlund: hipster Hook?

I'm not sure if making James Hook the buddy—or even mentor—of little Peter is the best use of such a witty, sardonic, and complex character. And as to the whole idea of Hook as one of Blackbeard's crew? Well, the James Hook in my novel laughs at the crack-brained notion that, rumors aside, he would ever actually sail with Blackbeard —who was a well-known lunatic! Just sayin'...

So, not the way I would (or did) tell the story, but it's good to know Captain Hook and Peter Pan are still going strong in pop culture!

(Notice I'm not even going to mention the upcoming Peter Pan Live TV project, due in December. That's another post...)

Hey, maybe Hugh is playing Blackbeard (instead of Hook) because he's saving himself for the lead in Alias Hook! Well, a girl can dream, can't she...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BUZZY

Alias Hook is now officially "buzzy," according to the current edition of Us Weekly!


 For any two-fisted readers out there who are interested in a twofer, Amazon is now bundling Alias Hook and The Queen of the Tearling at one discounted price. Experience the buzz!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

MIRACLE GROW

Actors age in real time in audacious, mesmerizing 'Boyhood'

Remember the 1964 film 7 Up? It was the first in a series of extraordinary documentaries that profiled a classroom of seven-year-old British kids, who were then revisited and filmed by director Michael Apted at seven-year intervals to see how their lives were turning out. (They were 56 in 2012, when Apted last checked in.)

The evolution of lives and stories in real time is not something the movies often do. In fiction films, especially, stories are telescoped into dramatic highlights with actors of various ages playing the same part at different stages of life.

Which is why Richard Linklater's Boyhood is so refreshingly audacious. Linklater had the simple, yet brilliant idea to shoot a scripted film over a period of 12 years, allowing his cast—including his child protagonists—to age naturally onscreen.

Ellar Coltrane (in the central role of Mason) was seven years old when the film started shooting in 2002, and 18 when it wrapped last year. One minute, little Mason is sniggering over a lingerie catalogue with his schoolyard buddies, then he's encountering bullies, experiencing his first fast-food job and the first stirrings of romance, and waxing philosophical about robotic mind control and the meaning of life. Nothing much remarkable occurs as the narrative evolves, but it all feels so achingly true.

Ellar Coltrane grows up before our eyes
 Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are both excellent as Mason's divorced parents. It sounds like a stunt, but watching these characters grow up before our eyes (including the adults ), makes for a bold, moving, and utterly mesmerizing moviegoing experience. (Read more)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

FINDING (MY) NEVERLAND

Want to see what the Neverland looks like? Take a look at my new Pinterest board for Alias Hook!

True, it's a work of fiction. Fantasy, even. But that doesn't mean the Neverland can't be visualized—rife as it is with magical creatures, ecosystems, micro-climates and historical flashbacks.

You can find anything in cyberspace, and I've assembled a pictorial tour of the world of Alias Hook, from the Indian villages, Fairy Dell and mermaid grotto of the Neverland to the Restoration-era origins of James Hook himself.

Although I don't subscribe to the Disney version of the story, I love the flying ship in this marvelous concept sketch for Peter Pan by the gifted artist Mary Blair.

Want to see the 17th Century French harpsichord James Hook plays in his lonely cabin on board his ship, the Jolie Rouge? It's here. Interested in Hook's ornate scarlet coat, or the antique chemise my heroine, Stella, wears in the Neverland? They're on the board.

The Indians—I call them the First Tribes—are a presence throughout my story. The poised young chief, Eagle Heart, can be seen on the board.

So can the interior of the Medicine Lodge where James and Stella spend their last night in the Neverland.

I've been fortunate to discover the work of some excellent artists online who specialize in Native American scenes. This is an image by contemporary artist Howard Terpning, called "White Woman" (the name of the creek in the picture).

But I see it as members of the First Tribes by the Inland Waterway in the forest of Neverland, where the boys and the fairies live.

And what fun would the Neverland be without mermaids? James Hook is initially terrified of the mermaids—he calls them the loreleis—and considers their Mermaid Lagoon the most treacherous place in the Neverland.

Here's an image that communicates the eerie mystery of the Lagoon. I think this is from a turn-of-the-century painted tile, and I just love it! Look at the provocative, Theda Bara expression on the mermaid's face, as she placidly wrings out her hair.

Seductive and sinister—that's the Mermaid Lagoon.

Then, of course, there are the fairies. A great deal of the plot in Alias Hook revolves around fairies getting up to mischief. And speaking of fairies, forget about Tinker Bell.

These fairies work hard, as the keepers of magic in the Neverland, and protectors of the boys. And they play hard at their moonlit Revels in the Fairy Dell.

The Victorians were feverish fairy-painters! Here's a detail from the painting "The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania" by Joseph Noel Paton, completed in 1849.

I love how diverse the fairy population looks in this image—and how much frenzied frivolity is going on.

This is exactly how I picture the Fairy Revels in Alias Hook.

New pins will be going up as time permits (she says hopefully). So please do check it out, and keep checking back.

Enter the mystic portal. Live the dream!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

AFTER THE BALL...

Huge and grateful thanks to the wonderful folks at Bookshop Santa Cruz for hosting my reading/signing for Alias Hook last week. It was a blast!

For starters: look at this cool chalkboard sign they posted out front, in the corner between the Chocolate cafe and the front door to BSC. "Santa Cruz's own"—I'm so touched!

Next: scroll down to take a look at some of the fine folk who showed up for this event. That would be YOU, the reading public! Hearty thanks to everyone who came down to cheer me on. Your presence was most appreciated!

Now that I've come back down to terra firma, it's time for practical matters. If you missed the signing, but your interest in Alias Hook has been piqued by the various ramblings and mutterings in this blog, I have glad tidings.

My Blog Tour continues all over the Internets, and there's still time to enter one of several giveaways for a *FREE* copy of the book (in hardcover, yet)!

Visit one (or all) of these sites and try your luck:

Reading Frenzy Giveaway closes July 25.

Cheryl's Book Nook Closes July 27.

A Bookish Affair Closes July 28.

Cocktails and Books Closes July 29.

Let Them Read Books  Closes July 30.

Thanks to these and all of the intrepid book bloggers out there who are helping to spread the word about Alias Hook. Writing a book is a solitary pursuit, but it takes a village to get it into the hands of readers!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

LAUNCHED!

The local media blitz for Alias Hook continues!

Even though my book was officially unleashed last Tuesday, the festivities keep on coming.

My interview with Santa Cruz entertainment guru Wallace Baine appeared in The Guide section of the Sentinel on Thursday. (With photos by the great Shmuel Thaler, yet!)

And imagine my delight to see artwork from my little book on The Guide's cover.

This week, I'll take to the airwaves to chat with two of my favorite radio hosts. Tuesday night, July 15, 7 pm, it will be my very great pleasure to be a guest on Bruce Bratton's Universal Grapevine program on KZSC.

The next day, at 8:30 in the morning, I'll be on the air again with the ebullient and charming Rosemary Chalmers on her morning show at KSCO.

Later that same day—actually, the evening of Wednesday, July 16, at 7:30 pm—I'll be reading a couple of (brief) passages from Alias Hook,  attempting to make up plausible answers to your questions, and signing copies of the book at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

(Btw, I went downtown to Bookshop last Tuesday, my publication day, to see if my book was actually on the shelves yet. Was absolutely gobsmacked to find this giant display right by the front door! Of course, I'm such a nerd, I had to capture the moment. For an author, there is nothing like seeing your books in situ, out in the world!)

So if you're out in the world Wednesday night, please do come by the Bookshop and say 'hello.' If you can't make it to the BSC event you can still reserve a signed copy via their website.

And that's just about all I can do to help launch Alias Hook on its way. The rest of Captain James Hook's voyage of conquest is up to him!