Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Like Ebenezer Scrooge time-traveling back to the jolly Fezziwigs' ball, but unable to join in. Like Stella Dallas watching tearfully from outside the church window on her daughter's wedding day.

 Like Woody Allen in Stardust Memories, trapped on a train full of gloomy characters out of a Munch painting as a party train full of laughing, drinking revelers passes by on the next track.
Yeah, that's kind of how I feel today. My novel, Alias Hook, is about to launch in the UK (official pub date is May 1, just hours away), but I'm over here on the other side of the Pond—far on the other side, since I'm in California—watching it all from a distance.

The books are even now being shipped from various UK-based online bookselling portals. The AH ranking on The Book Depository site has soared from mid-six figures about a week ago to high five figures.

(And my hearty, not to say groveling thanks to each and every one of you who actually pre-ordered a copy; you folks are the best!) But my basking must be done in absentia.

Of course, this is sort of typical of my personal adventures in publishing. The very first edition of my first published novel—which became The Witch From the Sea—was published in German, a language I do not read, let alone write, under the title Die heimliche Piratin. (And, no, it doesn't mean The Pirates Who Save People From Choking; literal translation, more or less, is The Secret Female Pirate.)

It was such a gorgeous production, in hardcover, with original cover art and a sewn-in red silk bookmark (!), it didn't even bother me (so much) that I had no clue what was going on between the covers, translation-wise. My first published book, I thought, and I didn't even write it!

At least when Alias Hook arrives, I'll be able to read it! And so will you. And I will be happy to take full blame for whatever shortcomings and outrages are discovered inside, because this time I wrote every word.

In the meantime, if you and/or yours are in the continental UK as we speak, or planning to visit any time in the next few months, feel free to check out Alias Hook at fine booksellers everywhere. Not literally, unless you happen see it in a library; I mean take a gander at it sitting on the shelf in all its glory.

Send me a photo of it in situ, and I'll think of something really nice to do for you in return!
Die heimliche Piratin, snapped by a globe-trotting friend in all its gorgeousness, on a bookshop shelf in Austria.


Great performances fuel riverside coming-of-age tale 'Mud'

This is what rehab looks like. No, not from drugs and alcohol; this kind of rehab happens when an actor known for a certain level or genre of work has the moxie to reinvent himself onscreen through some smart role choices. The actor here is Matthew McConaughey, and in Jeff Nicholls edgy, hypnotic Mud, he breaks out of B-grade action movies and rom-com Purgatory in a big way.

The tall tale that is Mud simmers with danger, disillusion, humor, and heart, and McConaughey's performance, smack in the center, radiates all of the above.

Imagine the rite-of-passage lyricism of Huckleberry Finn, laced with the Southern Gothic menace of Night of the Hunter, and you'll have an idea of the general tone of Mud. The setting is contemporary, but it's a timeless story of two 14-year-old boys growing up on the banks of the Mississippi River in rural Arkansas.

 Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives on ramshackle houseboat with his taciturn fisherman dad (Ray McKinnon) and his restless mom (Sarah Paulson). His buddy, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), lives in a trailer nearby, under the sporadic supervision of his uncle, Galen (Michael Shannon).

One day, on an uninhabited island in the river, they discover a hungry, disheveled stranger called Mud (McConaughey) with a snake tattoo down one arm, a pistol stuck in the back of his jeans, and a line of down-home patter.

Like a character out of folklore, Mud is larger than life. He lights bonfires for good luck, wears a wolf's tooth sewn into his shirt for "protection," and spins highly improbable yarns. McConaughey maintains the tension between dangerous and fascinating, while also making the character convincingly lovelorn and vulnerable. It's a lovely piece of work. The two boy actors are astonishingly good, as well. (Read more)

Monday, April 29, 2013


Cristina Anselmo and Mike Ryan in The Lovers.
 JTC/SSC co-production an actors showcase

For the final offering of its 2012/2013 season, Jewel Theatre Company teams up with Shakespeare Santa Cruz to present an evening of two one-act plays by Harold Pinter. With popular performers Paul Whitworth, Mike Ryan and JTC Artistic Director Julie James onstage, and James and SSC Artistic Director Marco Barricelli handling directing duties, that's a lot of bang for the buck on the tiny Center Stage.

JTC continues to earn its reputation for presenting challenging, often unorthodox live theatre in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, and the Pinter plays are no exception.  First up, The Lovers, is more overtly "Pinteresque," a snapshot of marital gamesmanship with a wry, acerbic edge. Its companion piece, One For the Road, is something completely different, a cold-blooded portrait of a political torturer.

What these tense, compact pieces have in common are the dishy roles they provide for the talent onstage.

Mike Ryan and Cristina Anselmo are both terrific in The Lovers. Button-down, bowler-hatted Richard leaves for his financial job in the City (ie: London) every morning after exchanging a few caustic remarks with stay-at-home wife, Sarah, about the "lover" she will be entertaining in his absence and the "whore" he will visit on his way home.
Paul Whitworth and Mike Ryan in One For the Road.

Their comments are so arch, the audience thinks it's all just talk—until we drop in on each of them later in the day and see what sort of shenanigans each is getting up to. Julie James directs the piece as a brisk fugue on marriage, sex, and identity, with a couple of nifty surprises, played out with wit and brio by Anselmo and Ryan.

A bit less user-friendly is One For The Road, directed by Marco Barricelli. It's set in an interrogation chamber in an unnamed place or time, where victims of severe political torture are ushered in to meet with the man running the show, Nicolas (Paul Whitworth). There's not much of a story (beyond man's capacity for inhumanity), and the piece is less a drama with a resolution than a character study.

But it's a great role for Whitworth, who excels at this kind of prowling menace thinly veiled as unctuous bonhomie. Ryan and James appear briefly as two of his victims, along with talented young Diego Hammana, a student at Mar Vista Elementary making his professional theater debut.

Also making her JTC debut is veteran SSC costume designer B. Modern. (I especially liked the navy blue dress with faux bolero top Sarah zips herself into for her tryst in The Lovers.) And as always, Ron Gasparinetti's thoughtful sets make maximum use of that most intimate Center Stage space.

This production runs through May 19. Click here for tickets and info!

Thursday, April 25, 2013



Just found out today that my novel, Alias Hook, has started shipping from its various online portals. The books (or the Hooks) are in the mail!

This is me doing the happy dance! (Okay, it's really Isadora Duncan, but you get the general idea...)

This first edition is coming out via my intrepid British publisher, Snowbooks, in the UK only. But it's available online as we speak over at The Book Depository for $US. Sadly, since the book started shipping today, it can no longer be offered at the insanely great pre-order price of $9.01. The current discounted price is $11.23, but that still includes FREE shipping worldwide!

If you're wondering what it's all about, Alfie, head over to my Alias Hook Facebook page for snippets, links, and cool illustrations!


Hollywood's love affair with the post-apocalyptic future of Earth continues in Oblivion. Co-written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, adapted from his own graphic novel, the story gives us a devastated landscape that used to be New York City, a human worker bee who survived the holocaust, and has begun to question his mission, and a lot of really cool high-tech CGI machines that pivot around in mid-air and shoot from all directions. (No surprise that Kosinski's last film was the video-centric TRON: Legacy.)

If you know your dystopian sci-fi stories, Oblivion doesn't have a lot of surprises, plot-wise. And while Kosinski's visual canvas is large, and his themes epic, there are more than a few times when the storytelling plods onscreen, where narrative urgency gets lost amid all the gadgetry and prolonged shootouts. Still, the ideas are always interesting, the movie looks great, and Kosinski spins an eerie sense of contemplative yearning that keeps the viewer involved.

It's 2077, fifty years after a nuclear war with alien invaders turned most of the Earth into a desert of windswept rubble. "We won the war but lost the planet," says maintenance technician Jack Harper (a plausible enough Tom Cruise); he lives in a tower high above the surface servicing the drone machines extracting the last of Earth's usable resources for the remaining humans who have relocated to a moon of Jupiter. (Read more)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


5 Favorite Bard-Worthy Shakespeare Adulterations

Was ever an artist more open to radical interpretations of his work—and in so many media—as William Shakespeare?

All of life is encompassed in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, which continue to inspire and influence creative artists 400+ years later. I'm a day late for his official birthday, but there's still time to share some of my favorite interpretations of Shakespeare's life and times, as well as adaptations of his work.

Romeo and Juliet (film, 1968)

From the heyday of the hippie era, Franco Zeffirelli's luscious teenage romance (starring luscious teenagers Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey) could not have been more contemporary—although set in an utterly ravishing Renaissance Verona.

It helps—hell, it's almost essential—to have seen this as an impressionable 16-year-old girl, as I was. I wrote a lot of awful love poetry for a few weeks afterward, and produced this brooding watercolor and India ink composition. (Long on atmosphere, although sort of an architectural disaster...) But this is the thing abut Shakespeare—you get so caught up in the drama you can't help chiming in!

Shakespeare In Love (film, 1999)

Don't mistake this for a history lesson, kids. But do enjoy it as a rollicking romantic comedy that imagines two weeks in the life of young Will Shakespeare whilst writing his first great play.

With crisp comic direction by John Madden, a sparkling script co-written by Tom Stoppard, a delightful supporting cast (Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Rupert Everett) and all the raucous pageantry of the Elizabethan Age, it's a frisky comedy and a wry meditation on art, life and the creative impulse.


Ink & Steel (novel, Elizabeth Bear, 2008)

This first book in "The Stratford Man Duology" (coupled with the equally exquisite Hell & Earth), by sci-fi/fantasy writer Elizabeth Bear, envisions an extra-teeming Elizabethan England in league with the underground world of Faery to suppress the forces of Dark Magic.

Will Shakespeare is pressed into service to work protective magic into his verse as a reluctant, but brilliant replacement for verse-master Christopher Marlowe, recently deceased—but newly resurrected in Faery. A triumph of poetry, audacious eroticism, tenderness, and unfettered imagination.

 The Tempest (San Francisco Ballet, 1981)

The jewel in the crown from Michael Smuin's tenure as Artistic Director of SFB, this lavish full-length ballet based on Shakespeare's last play has it all—Smuin choreography, a lovely original musical score by Paul Chihara, sprightly humor, wistful melancholy, and enough pageantry and spectacle to make Shakespeare himself weep with delight.

Best of all it has the incredible David McNaughton as the least earthbound Ariel you will ever see without special effects!

I'm sure this must be available on DVD (it was televised on Dance in America on PBS in the '80s), and it's well worth tracking down. I was lucky enough to see it live on stage at least two or three times, and it was magical every single time.


 The Shakespeare Oracle (Tarot deck, 2003)

Hey, remember what I said about diverse media! Okay, I'm a big fan of Tarot decks, and this is one of my favorites. I especially love the artwork by Cynthia von Buhler—simple, yet effective. And I like the way author A. Bronwyn Llewellyn matches up Shakespearean characters with the Major Arcana.

Sure, Shakespeare himself as The Magician, Feste as the Fool, and Romeo and Juliet as The Lovers are no-brainers. But Katharina and Petruchio, from Taming of the Shrew—together—as the Strength card, and Puck as The Devil are unexpectedly clever!

But wait! I didn't even mention Christopher Moore' comic novel, Fool, a hilarious, lewd, yet strangely poignant riff on King Lear. Or Neil Gaiman's outstanding  A Midsummer Night's Dream, a graphic novel from his landmark Sandman series (collected in Sandman Volume Three; Dream Country), in which Shakespeare's acting company performs The Dream outdoors on a moonlit night for an audience of genuine fairy royalty and their court.

Well, I could go on and on, and I'm sure you could too. the point is, Shakespeare leaves us an inexhaustibly rich legacy that continues to morph, mutate, and reinvent itself from one age, generation, and medium to the next. A legacy well worth celebrating—even one day late.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Luscious Renoir is a painting come to life

For everyone who's ever wished they could stroll right into the middle of a lush, sun-drenched Impressionist painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the French film Renoir is the next best thing.

Filmed on location in the south of France, where Renoir lived and painted in the last twenty years of his life, Gilles Bourdos' visually intoxicating film is alive with the extraordinary light and vibrant colors of both the natural world and the robust female forms that distinguish the painter's most beloved work.

True, the storyline rarely rises above Art Bio 101, but it doesn't have to, when every frame of film is such a living, breathing homage to the maestro's work.

 In 1915, the elderly Renoir (Michel Bouquet) has retired to a farmhouse in the verdant countryside above the French Riviera.

So arthritic, he needs gauze tied around his gnarled hands to support the paint brush, and assistants to mix the colors, he is attended by half a dozen competent women—maids who began as models, and vice-versa—who do all the heavy lifting. Literally, they carry the painter in his wheelchair from the farmhouse up the hill to his painting atelier every day; they also do all the cooking and housekeeping for "the Boss."

Along comes Andree (Christa Theret), a pert young redhead with a pearlescent complexion and a modern attitude, to pose for the Boss. Soon, the painter's son, Jean (Vincent Rottiers)—beloved by all the household women—comes home from World War I to convalesce after being wounded at the Front. As blasé as Jean usually is about his father's nude models, the provocative Andree gradually lights a fire under Renoir fils as well.

Father-son dynamics, the suppressed rivalries, resentments, and regrets of family life, erotic young love, and the eternal conflict between the beauty of life and the ugly insanity of warfare are all tossed into the simmering cassoulet of the plot.

Factor in some lovely life-sized women, exquisite fabrics, and voluptuous food, and you have a recipe for one tantalizing visual feast. (Read more in this week's Good Times)

Friday, April 19, 2013


File this one under Way Cool!

My wonderful book designer over at Snowbooks, Anna Torborg, just sent me this e-file of the wraparound front and back cover of my new novel, Alias Hook.

In the publishing biz, they call this a "full flat." And, as Anna reminds me, on the finished book (at the printer's, as we speak), the yellow bits will be shiny gold foil and the white script letters will be embossed.

I've already rhapsodized over the front cover design. But this is my first look at the back cover—complete with jacket quotes, for which I bow down in extreme gratitude to my intrepid blurbists, Laurie King, Broos Campbell, and C. C. Humphreys. (Ed. note: you folks rock!)

Pub date is May 1 in the UK. But you can pre-order a copy for $US online at The Book Depository (with free shipping worldwide).

Color me stoked!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


You could never accuse filmmaker and master craftsman Terrence Malick of oversaturating the marketplace. There's never been any less than a five-year interval between the six films he's made in the last 40 years (and usually much longer)—until now. Hot on the sprockets of The Tree of Life, from 2011, comes Malick's latest, To The Wonder. And now we know once and for all why he should never, ever be rushed.

To the Wonder plays like a series of outtakes from the previous film. Once again, there is a young woman with lots of hair (Olga Kurylenko) given to twirling round and round bathed in sunlight, often with lengths of windblown sheer chiffon billowing across her face.

Once again, she is partnered by a stoic male presence (Ben Affleck), who, although less dangerous than Brad Pitt's father/husband in Tree of Life, gives every appearance of being quite the killjoy. Yet again, they are stranded together somewhere out on the lone prair-ee (in this case, suburban Oklahoma), trying and mostly failing to sync up with each other.

It's as if Malick didn't have time to invent new characters, so decided instead to recycle the same elemental female vs. uptight male dynamics from the last film. It's meant to be an impressionistic tone poem about the ebb and flow of love, I get it, but these cardboard figures in a landscape we know or care nothing about seem incapable of so strong an emotion.

(It's up to the stirring music of Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Part to provide any emotional context.) (Read more)

I still say Malick's 2005 film, The New World, was the best movie of its decade. But in that tale of English Puritan settlers and Native American tribal societies encountering each other for the first time in the first European colony in Virginia, the chaotic impressionism and interior monologue devices worked brilliantly. With two cultures unable to communicate with each other verbally, the viewer was plunged into the eerie strangeness of first contact, exactly as the people involved must have experienced it—sensory, frightening, rapturous and exalted.

In a modern context, like To the Wonder, when characters stubbornly refuse to talk to each other? Not so much. Such a disappointment.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Once, I heard a very wise author dispense some sound advice about writing historical fiction: "Write the story first, and do the research later."

No, she wasn't advocating blissful ignorance. Of course, you don't want to set a story in a time and place you know absolutely nothing about, but if you didn't have at least a nodding acquaintance with your era, you wouldn't be inspired to write about it in the first place.

The gist of her argument was that you need to get your story down in a headlong rush—dramatic highlights, pivotal encounters, the shape and scope of the plot—before distracting yourself with the details. It won't be perfect; the first draft never is, but you can seed in the facts later. First you have to tell yourself the story.

But start out with the research, and chances are you'll be overwhelmed. Maybe diving into the history is so much fun, it eclipses everything else. Maybe events in the historical record don't play out quite the way you imagined, or contradict your ideas. Maybe the sheer enormity of research material starts to make your puny story seem insignificant by comparison, or the massive accumulation of detail starts to knead your tidy little idea into a gigantic, amorphous, Blob-like thing as you try to fit them all in.

In any case, your story as originally envisioned might get completely lost. Or you may become too paralyzed to write it at all.

My current WIP is the third installment of a trilogy, so I'm already familiar with the period, in a general way. And my characters are eager to jump on the page and start interacting. The writing goes pretty fast until I get bogged down in details about, say, the textile trade in Leeds, or the patent theatre system in Georgian London, things I don't seem to know off the top of my head. Things that may only be important for a scene or even a sentence or two.

So now, in the interest of progress, I leave a parenthetical note to myself in the text, along with a companion note in a separate doc of Stuff to Look Up. I write in the mornings, so if I have time in the afternoon, I might devote an hour to poring through info on these very particular subjects.

But if not, I'll get to them all later, after the first draft is done. The main thing now is to find out where the story is going; once that's done, making adjustments to accommodate the details will be far less daunting.

So when that first, elusive phantom of a story wavers into your brain, type first and ask questions later.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


This was the Santa Cruz Beach Bandstand, July, 1987.

And that's me interviewing the late Annette Funicello, along with Frankie Avalon, who were in town to promote their retro-beach party movie, Back To the Beach. They were both charming and professional, answering questions that they must have already answered a dozen times that day as if they'd never heard them before.

Annette was particularly kind when this young reporter's lips got stuck to her teeth in mid-sentence in the fierce, drying winds up on the Bandstand! (It may be sunny, but notice Annette's fur wrap, brrr…) She was a very gracious class act.

...And still more from the annals of Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter…

The great Les Blank was the subject of one of my very first (and almost last) interviews. He did not exactly regale a reporter with stories; serious and self-possessed, his answers tended to be one syllable or less and to-the-point. I was completely intimidated.

But that was his approach. He didn't tell you what to think or feel about his films, they just had to be experienced…and what an experience they were!

Burden of Dreams about Werner Herzog's obsessive quest to film Fitzcarraldo in the wilds of Peru may have been his highest-profile doc. But my favorite is probably Always For Pleasure in which the various crews from rival wards in New Orleans vie with each other to create the most extravagant Mardi Gras floats and costumes. It was shown around town at venues like the old Sash Mill Cinema & Cafe or The Good Fruit Company, where there was always a pot of red beans and rice simmering away in the kitchen, to get the audience in the proper mood.

Unlike his friend and cohort, Herzog, Les Blank never inserted himself into his docs; he let his subjects tell their own stories. He leaves a legacy of distinctive films that celebrate the intersection of food, music, and culture along the most fascinating back roads of Life.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Love vs. gravity in charming, but implausible sci-fi romance 'Upside Down'

If Upside Down were in print, it would be an outline, not a complete novel. The grand sweep of the story is there, the big, climactic scenes are all plotted out exactly where they should be, and marvelous, fanciful, poetic images decorate key passages.

What's missing from Juan Solanas' ambitious, interplanetary sci-fi romance are the details—the solid conceptual underpinning that would make it all plausible, and a final polish on the dialogue that would bring the characters and their unique story to life.

In an alternative solar system, two unnamed planets are locked in an eternal pas de deux. They are so close together, the landscape of each planet is visible hovering in the sky above the other, but the opposing gravitational forces keep the inhabitants of each planet firmly rooted to their home world. Although at certain high altitudes, the twin worlds almost touch, intermingling between those "Up top" and those "Below" is strictly verboten by law and custom.

A rigorous caste system has developed between the sophisticated, high-tech Up Worlders and their counterparts Below—which is basically a windswept slum.
But  Down World boy, Adam (Jim Sturgess), and Up World girl, Eden (Kirsten Dunst), are teenagers in love. They've figured out a system of ropes and weights allowing them to defy law and gravity to spend stolen time together.

(In one of many charming visual moments, Eden attaches herself to the underside of a jutting crag, like a bat, obeying the gravity of her own planet, to stay put long enough for Adam to kiss her.) (Read more)

I so wanted to give this movie an extra star for sheer audacity, but I just couldn't do it. It has so many lovely images and ideas, but the science is iffy, a best, and so much of the dialogue sounds made-up on the spot (and not in a good way). Still, sci-fi fans may want to check it out just for the cool visuals.

(Oh, and btw, if they every make a movie of Paul McCartney's life story, Jim Sturgess is ready for his close-up.)

Monday, April 1, 2013


Hey, kids, today begins the countdown to the publication of my new novel, Alias Hook, in the UK! One month from today, May 1st, my novel will be available from the intrepid small press, Snowbooks, at bookstores across the UK and online.

(Over at The Book Depository, you can pre-order it for $US, with free shipping worldwide.)

Alias Hook presents an alternative view of Peter Pan and the Neverland from the caustic perspective of Captain James Hook, it's prisoner. When a grown woman from a very different era dreams herself to the Neverland in defiance of the boy's rules, the stage is set for a time-traveling love story about male and female, love and war, and the delicate art of growing up.

Laurie King calls Alias Hook a "rich and darkly humorous tale of a man trapped in a child's nightmare. Jensen ably explores the power of storytelling, the cruelty of imagination, and the redemptive possibilities of love. A delicious and thought-provoking read."

Thanks, Laurie!

For the story so far, read about my inspiration for writing the novel, get a sneak preview of my map of Neverland, and catch up with my illustrated History of Captain Hook on stage, screen, and on the page.

I'm so excited about this book, I've even created an Alias Hook Facebook page. (Not easy for a card-carrying Luddite like moi.) For more info, cool illustrations, and updates, check it out!