Thursday, March 27, 2014


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


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


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 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


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


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.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Complex family mysteries saturate JTC's 'Three Days of Rain'

Evidently we have the Jewel Theatre Company to thank for the much-needed downpour last week. There must have been some sympathetic juju involved in JTC opening a play called Three Days of Rain just when Santa Cruz needed it most!

 The phrase in the title, besides being at the top of everyone's weather wish-list for the past two months, turns out to have special significance within the context of the play itself, a generational drama about family, secrets, and destiny.

As the action plays out in two different time periods, the simple phrase "Three days of rain" becomes emblematic of the way the generations are fated to misinterpret and misunderstand each other. The phrase that one character dismisses as "a weather report," turns out to have much deeper, even life-changing significance for another.

Written by contemporary playwright Richard Greenberg and first produced in 1997, the Pulitzer-nominated Three Days of Rain grapples with the impact of parents on their offspring, intentional or otherwise, and the many ways that future plans for one's children can go awry. What's interesting is that the play begins in the present day, with adult children coping, literally and metaphorically, with the legacy of the past.

It's not until Act Two, when the action shifts backwards in time 30 years, that we begin to piece together the real story that the children will never completely understand.

Along the way, Greenberg spins his yarn with plenty of tart observations and wisecracks, handled with typical aplomb by JTC's excellent three-person cast—Stephen Muterspaugh, Julie James, and Aaron Walker—and briskly staged by director Bill Peters. (Read more)