Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Strap on your goggles and lace for the Steampunk exhibit at the new Santa Cruz Institute for Contemporary Arts  Gallery at the Tannery.

Long a gleam in arts entrepreneur Kirby Scudder's eye, the SCICA has been a floating world of artistic ideas, a cyclone of creative energy that finally has a permanent place to touch down, a brand new gallery in the Tannery studio complex. Kirby has partnered with Co-Director, artist and arts administrator Ann Hazels in the new SCICA venture, which also includes office space and a gift shop adjoining the spacious gallery.

The inaugural exhibit, Steampunk, launched earlier this month and runs through the end of December. It's a back-to-the-future, retro fantasy exhibition of sculpture, prints, painting, photography, and wearable art celebrating the merger of Victorian/Edwardian sensibilities (Machine Age clockwork, gears and cogs; top hats and corsets) with futuristic fantasy. (The shorthand definition of "steampunk" is Victorian sci-fi.)

The alcove at the gallery entrance gets you in the mood with these two displays of fantasy headgear from an artist calling himself killbuck. What I found especially cool about the piece on the left is that it contains no real metal (except, possibly, those eyepiece dials); it's constructed entirely out of found and recycled objects like plastic and foam.

The diverse pieces inside include fanciful photography and found-object sculpture from Robbie Schoen, and woodwork gear box wall pieces by Michael Zelver.

I loved metal sculptor Thomas Ramey's "Piston Bat," a wall piece made of recycled metal. In Ramey's elegant  3D sculpture, "Drilling," a globe of the world is suspended in a man-made cage; the piece is made out of recycled auto parts.

(Recycled materials is also a running theme throughout the show, from Jack Howe's found object-studded bedspring piece, "At the Gates of Redemption," to Geoffrey Nelson's life-sized "Steampunk Starfighter" outfit.)

Some pieces have only a tenuous connection to the theme. Diego Rios' graphic angel prints in muted colors are beautiful, but don't necessarily convey a steampunk ethic. Outside of a few corsets, neither do Nelson's "Storyville Series" of contemporary photos of women posed in the style of the notorious turn-of-the-century New Orleans red-light district.

Jenny Markowitz's painting on a recycled door, "The Visionary,"doesn't really mesh with the theme either.

But her companion painted door, "The Lovers," is spot-on with its image on an embracing couple in full regalia; it could easily be the Tarot card of that name in a steampunk deck!

The SCICA Gallery is located at #127 in The Tannery, the front corner space in the commercial studio building across from the live-work artists lofts.  The Steampunk show runs through December 30. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm.

And if you like what you see, consider signing up for an inaugural membership in the SCICA.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Boy and tiger share fantastic voyage in gorgeous 'Life of Pi'

It's a story too incredible to believe. But choosing what to believe—along with the sheer power of storytelling—is exactly the point of Life of Pi, Yann Martel's bestselling novel of faith, destiny, courage and survival, now made into a magnificent-looking film by director Ang Lee. Martel's 2002 novel of a teenage boy and a Bengal tiger shipwrecked together in a small lifeboat in the middle of the vast Pacific was long considered unfilmable (at least, as a live-action movie)—until Lee came on board.

A craftsman who never makes the same film twice, Lee is renowned for his sensitive handling of diverse, often daunting material, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to Brokeback Mountain. With careful attention to Martel's core theme—the search for God (in whatever guise) through astounding adversity—Lee turns the material into a visually rapturous and ecstatic spiritual journey that's also a breathtaking adventure saga. Kudos to cinematographer Claudio Miranda (TRON: Legacy; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) for providing such stunning visuals to go with Lee's delicate narrative of loss and redemption.

Life of Pi is rated PG, which basically means no sex or naughty words, but that doesn't mean it's a kids' movie. Besides brief scenes of animals attacking and/or eating other animals, a bigger problem for very young children is all the talking, which will bore them silly. The verbosity of the bracketing story gets a bit wearisome for adults, too. Pondering the quest for (or death of) spirituality may have resonated more on the printed page, but onscreen, all we care about is getting back out on the water and the delirious fever dream at the heart of Lee's hypnotic film. (Read more)

Friday, November 23, 2012


Wow, this is exciting!

My publisher, Emma Barnes, at Snowbooks, in the UK, just put up a blog about my upcoming novel, Alias Hook.

"Now, I don't like to brag. But. Next year we have a book coming out which is going to knock your socks off," she writes. "Alias Hook is really special."

Aw, shucks!

Then she  posts the opening chapter, or "Prelude," in its entirety, just to whet your whistle, inviting you to "have a read and tell me it's not the most compelling thing ever."

But wait. There's more! She's also launching a contest to give away a bound proof copy of the book—something so new, even I don't have one yet!

Initial publication, now slated for May, 2013, will be UK only (unless a deal is brokered with a US publisher between now an then, she says, hopefully). But this contest is open to anyone with an email account, anywhere in the world.

Surf on over to Snowbooks and see what you think!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Day-Lewis' extraordinary performance powers Spielberg's Lincoln

It's probably counter-productive to try to shoehorn Steven Spielberg's massive historical epic, Lincoln, into the realm of allegory. Yes, this tale of political maneuvering at the close of the American Civil War portrays a House literally divided against itself, one party trying to reconcile the conservative and "radical" elements within itself, two parties so ideologically diverse they can't engage in debate on the floor without hurling invective at each other, and a recently re-elected president struggling to balance his personal principles with his need to heal the nation.

But the beauty, and genius, of Spielberg's film is the way it defies analogy to any specific statesman, party, or era. Instead, it provides a cogent glimpse into the American political process itself, the very democracy that Americans of all persuasions believe they support, although few of us understand exactly how it works. In this respect, Spielberg's view of the contentious state of American politics, then as now, is as timeless as it is fascinating.

But what gives this film its touch of greatness is very specific, indeed. Abraham Lincoln, was no ordinary statesman, but a moral visionary who risked everything to end the institution of slavery. Extraordinary, too, is the performance of  Daniel Day-Lewis in the role. From his unruly, tufted hair and scruffy beard, to the hint of windswept prairie in his light-pitched voice, from his gentle, self-deprecating laughter, to the careworn curve of his shoulders, to the deliberate way he folds or unfolds his long limbs in sitting or standing, Day-Lewis inhabits the role with every fiber of his being.

This is a Lincoln savvy enough to wield great power, but who never loses the common touch, and Spielberg and company impress us with what a rare and laudable gift that is. When Day-Lewis collects his third Best Actor Oscar next February, he will SO have earned it. (Read more)

Monday, November 19, 2012


Today, it's my very great pleasure to join a Blog Chain called My Next Big Thing, in which we writers answer interview questions about a current or future project.

 But first, many thanks to Vinnie Hansen for inviting me to join this thread. Vinnie is the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series, in which an intrepid pastry chef-turned-sleuth heroine solves murders—with recipes!—in and around Santa Cruz County. Her latest, Art, Wine & Bullets, is in stores now. Thanks, Vinnie!

Okay, here goes:

What is the working title of your book?

Alias Hook

Where did the idea come from for this book?

We don't like to say it in mixed company, but most writers hear voices in their heads. I was writing a review of a live-action Peter Pan movie in January, 2004; of the actor playing Captain Hook, I wrote that he captured "the tragedy of a grown-up Hook trapped forever in Peter's eternal childhood." Instantly, a caustic voice popped into my head observing the Neverland from Hook's point of view. I hit 'Save,' clicked open a new doc and hastily typed in what is now the opening paragraph of the book. I was off and running!

What genre does your book fall under?

I call it historical fantasy. Yes, it takes place in the Neverland (that's the fantasy part), but in the flashbacks, I've tried to give James Hook a solid historical grounding as an early 18th Century English privateer/pirate.

Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, contemporary of James Hook

How long did it take to write the first draft?

About one year.

What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?

Well, Hugh Jackman has the height advantage, and the musicality. (My Hook is an accomplished musician, so losing his hand is extra horrific). But Gerard Butler has the blue eyes!  I like Rachel Weisz for Stella Parrish, the grown woman who dreams herself to the Neverland in defiance of all the boy's rules, who may be the key to Hook's redemption.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

The flip-side of Peter Pan, Alias Hook is a time-traveling love story about male and female, love and war, and the delicate art of growing up.

Will it be self published or represented by an agency?

I didn't have an agent for this one; I sold it to Snowbooks, a small, but intrepid independent publisher in the UK, who will bring it out in May, 2013.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I've always liked Captain Hook better than Peter Pan; for one thing, he has much funnier lines! (See my History of Hook on stage, page, and screen.) Here's a guy stuck playing villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends.

Also, Peter and Wendy, James M. Barrie's 1911 novelization of his famous play, is much darker and more subversive than the play. But it seemed to me that Barrie hardly even scratched the surface of the Neverland he created, with all its complex enchantments, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The reimagined Oz books, especially Wicked, by Gregory Maguire.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Alias Hook goes where Barrie feared to tread—delving deep into the Sisterhood of the guardian fairies and their erotic Revels, the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, and the society of the merfolk in their mysterious temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon.
The secret entrance to the Mermaid Lagoon
Here are some other writers with cool new projects you might be interested in:

Broos Campbell, author of the Matty Graves series, writes ripping nautical fiction that's funny, irreverent, heartfelt and action-packed. 

Heather McDougal, longtime proprietess of the popular Cabinet of Wonders blog, has just launched her first steampunk/clockpunk fantasy novel, Songs for a Machine Age.

Lynna Banning is a veteran author of historical romance who's been writing Western and Medieval fiction since 1996.

Visit their sites, and check their blog posts next week to see what they're working on!

(Above, right, Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1920.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Craig's 007 shaken, yet stirring, in Skyfall

What does Skyfall, the title of the new 007 movie, actually mean? Suffice it to say that "Skyfall" is James Bond's "Rosebud," an element from his deeply shrouded past revealed here for the first time—one of many "firsts" that make this 23rd outing for the legendary uber-op so interesting.

For once, we see a more vulnerable Bond, a man who has himself been shaken and stirred a few too many times and is no longer in peak condition, a man who's begun to question if its all worthwhile. This Bond even spends several scenes in rumpled clothes and a beard. Most heretical of all, this is a Bond on the verge of becoming "irrelevant."

All these factors, a dynamic performance from Daniel Craig, and sterling work from incoming director Sam Mendes (a filmmaker not generally known for action movies) conspire to make Skyfall one of the best Bond films ever. In this 50th year of the franchise that has itself often been deemed irrelevant (remember the punning innuendo and bloated fx of the Roger Moore era?), Craig's and Mendes' reinvented, revitalized Bond puts the series right back in the game.

It's great to see Dame Judi Dench's formidable spymaster, M, as the principle "Bond girl," in the thick of the action from the very start. The ever-watchable Ben Whishaw (last seen in Cloud Atlas) is terrific as the new Q, a ridiculously young techno-geek whose droll manner and skill earn Bond's grudging respect.

Factor in a mesmerizing performance of grinning dementia from the great Javier Bardem as the chief villain, and you've got a ripping E-Ticket of a movie that pretty much never lets up. (Read more)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Here's a cool thing!

My editor at Snowbooks just sent me the typeset ms of my upcoming novel, Alias Hook, for the final proofreading. It's starting to look like a real book!

Meanwhile, it looks like the map of the Neverland that I sketched once upon a time will now be included in the published book! Well, not exactly my map, but my talented book designer's interpretation of it.

It's probably some dire infringement of copyright to publish the official map before the book comes out. But here's the original that I drew for myself, as a means of keeping track of where everything is in the Neverland. Yes, it's an enchanted place, full of diverse micro-climates and eco-systems that would not coexist in so-called "real" life. But the island of Neverland is still on Planet Earth in my story, so I had to know in which direction the sun and moon rise and set, for instance, from one scene to the next.

Anyway, here's a sneak preview of my original map. The one that will appear in the book is much like this one, but with sexier fonts, and it's much easier to read!

And just for fun, I dug this photo out of the archive: here I am in August of 2004, under the shade of our beloved green fig tree, actually drawing my first version of this map. I'd been working on the story for almost a year, but on my birthday,  I decided to take the day off from writing and make the map I'd promised myself.

Interesting historical footnote: within about three years, the fig tree went kaput; termites got into the wood and it stopped producing fruit. We were devastated, but Art Boy and our friend, Isaiah, a woodworker, chopped it down to the ground and carted it away, leaving only an underground root too massive to dig out.

And guess what: the tree came back! First it was just a couple of leaves, than a nubby branch, but this summer we have three sturdy new limbs as tall as me; we've also had two tiny but delicious crops of figs!

All of which I consider a good omen, since Alias Hook is all about redemption, rebirth, and second chances!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Big fun was had yesterday at the opening reception for the new Wit & Whimsy art show at the Scotts Valley Library. It may seem like an odd venue for art, but there's a lot of wall space in the vast and bustling SV Library, and coordinator Valri Peyser is committed to filling it with the work of local artists in rotating 2-month shows.

The Wit & Whimsy show features 14 local artists in various media, including John McKinley, the beloved Aptos illustrator whose insouciant animal portraits have earned him legions of fans. (These are his arty cats.) Victoria Kerr crafts fanciful sci-fi critters out of recycled materials sculpted over with air-drying clay, and painted in rainbow colors. Brian Iles also uses found and repurposed objects to build his small, imaginative birdhouses.

Graphic artist Mott Jordan contributes witty print collages. Stephanie Schriver shows an assortment of her ceramic animal sculptures. In her "Forest of Fabled Creatures" series, Elspeth Inglett writes and illustrates original fables and mounts them on planks of recycled wood.
"I'd Rather Be Sailing," James Aschbacher

Myra Eastman presents a series of droll rat paintings, and Chris Miroyan offers fun paintings of imaginary cakes, as well as a series of masked heads that look like refugees from a Morgani costume. And James Aschbacher ("whimsical" is his middle name) shows a selection of new and vintage mixed-media paintings celebrating life in the Aschbacher universe.

The Wit & Whimsy show is up through January 19. Visit the SV Library website for directions, and a complete list of participating artists.

And don't forget, the SV Library is also the permanent home to a dozen life-sized endangered wild animals sculpted in papier maché by the gifted Beth Allison Gripenstraw. So don't forget to look up on top of the bookshelves at the cheetahs, tiger, lynx, crocodile, and other friendly fauna gazing down on the scene.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


It's been three years since Santa Cruz lost one of its literary treasures—poet, raconteur, and bon vivant, Morton Marcus. But his memory lives on, not only in the hearts of those of us who knew him, but more tangibly in the Morton Marcus Memorial Poetry Reading, the third installment of which is coming up this Saturday, November 10, at Cabrillo College.

In this annual event, a world-class poet from out of town (previous guests have been Robert Hass and the delightful Kay Ryan) shares the stage with local poets in a program presented free to the public.

This year's distinguished guest poet is Arthur Sze, chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and winner of the American Book Award.

This year's event also includes a reading by the winner of the Morton Marcus Poetry Contest, sponsored earlier this year by the Santa Cruz Writes collective and phren-Z, the group's online literary magazine. David Sullivan will read an excerpt from  his contest-winning poem, "Take Wing."

As in years past, Gary Young, Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate (2010-11), will serve as master of ceremonies. You can be sure Mort's spirit of bonhommie will be there as well!

Also, in keeping with the tradition of alternating venues between co-sponsors UCSC and Cabrillo, this year's event will be held at the Samper Recital Hall in the new Cabrillo Collage Arts Complex. Other event co-sponsors are Poetry Santa Cruz, Ow Family Properties, and Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Admission is free, but seating is limited, so be sure you get there early. The program begins at 7 pm. Visit Morton for more details.

Monday, November 5, 2012


JTC's Gunmetal Blues a sharp, funny musical homage to film noir

Say, pal, you got a yen for film noir? (And I mean everything from The Maltese Falcon to Detour, to Chinatown.) Then you should beat it over to Gunmetal Blues, the Jewel Theatre Company's fast, frisky, and funny musical homage to the genre, playing for two more weeks at the Center Stage in downtown Santa Cruz.

It's a simple story about a world-weary gumshoe, a mysterious dame, and, um, a guy in a tux playing piano throughout, a one-man Greek chorus commenting on the action. The private eye investigates a murder case involving a veritable sea of blondes, in a milieu bursting with deliciously crisp tough-guy dialogue and dynamic songs—jazzy, blues, anthems—that keep the story percolating along.

It's a three-person show, and the performers are terrific. Christopher Reber anchors the story as detective Sam Galahad, a rumpled knight in a trenchcoat with a pesky addiction to ferreting out the truth. Reber's Sam is a soulful Everyman who  can sell a song as persuasively as he bites off a line like, "Suddenly the room smelled of stale perfume and shattered dreams."

Lee Ann Payne is excellent as the story's four blondes—an ingenue, a classy femme fatale, a nightclub floozy in a spangled red dress, and a bag lady. With her powerhouse singing voice, Payne makes the most of each incarnation, from the chanteuse's wry and clever "The Blonde Song," to the bag lady's poignant ballad.

But Brent Schindele is the real scene-stealer. As piano-playing lounge act, Buddy Toupee, not only does he provide onstage accompaniment for the show's entire song cycle, along with various incidental music cues throughout, he also springs off the piano bench to double for whatever other male characters the story requires—a half-bright doorman, an Irish cop, a gangster, a chauffeur—all with appropriate accents.

Did I mention that he also sings? Schindele has a big, confident voice, whether jauntily hawking his "Buddy Toupee—Live!" CD between acts, or harmonizing with the others in various intricate duets. The two big numbers where all three players sing together, "Don't Know What I Expected," and especially  "Childhood Days," are show-stoppers.

Gunmetal Blues was written by Scott Wentworth (acclaimed for his recent work with Shakespeare Santa Cruz), with music by Craig Bohmler, and lyrics by Marion Adler; they put the project together back when all three were working with Stratford Shakespeare Company in Ontario, Canada, as a vehicle for themselves. It must be as much fun to perform as it is to watch. My favorite lines of hard-boiled dialogue (scribbled in the dark) are, "(She had) a mouth that would have sent Shakespeare thumbing through a Thesaurus," and the instant classic, "I checked into a hotel where the desk clerk is blind and you sign your name in invisible ink."

The JTC production, crisply paced by director Tom Gough, makes fluid use of Ron Gasparinetti's spare set—a grand piano in one corner, defining the Red Eye Lounge, and a table and a couple of chairs opposite, for Sam's office and every other interior space. And kudos to Mark Hopkins' lighting design, especially the kaleidoscope of pulsating colors when Sam gets sapped from behind, or someone slips him a mickey.

Gunmetal Blues only plays eight more performances, Thursdays—Sundays through November 18, so don't miss out! Click here for tickets and info.