Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Despite what you may have read (probably online), the printed book is not dead. To prove it, booksellers across the state—those intrepid folks in the trenches, hand-selling books directly to you, the reading public—will throw open their doors this Saturday, May 3, for the first ever California Bookstore Day.

Event organizers have come up with lots of exclusive goodies to entice folks through the mystic portals of our favorite bookselling emporiums. For one day only, bookstores statewide are offering such limited edition items as an illustrated Neil Gaiman short story, The Sleeper and the Spindle, a signed lithograph of an illustration from Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which inspired the film Hugo), a Literary Map of California, and a signed and numbered collection of cartoonist Lisa Brown's Depressed. Repressed. Obsessed., a collection of her delicious 3-Panel Book Reviews.

(Here's Brown's take on the Twilight series. If her work looks familiar, her 3-Panel zingers appear periodically in the SF Chronicle Sunday Book Review section.)

All of these goodies and more will be available all day Saturday at Bookshop Santa Cruz—or at least until supplies run out.  Festivities begin at 9 am. with free coffee from Verve for all browsers and book lovers.

In addition, BSC will offer an exclusive, hand-printed broadside featuring a previously unpublished passage about Santa Cruz written, numbered and signed by Jonathan Franzen. A very limited number of these broadsides will be given out to anyone who buys a California Bookstore Day item, or any BSC Reader's Club member making a book purchase of $20 or more.

From 1-3 pm, there will; be face-painting, balloons and storytelling for young readers. And get ready for Literary Trivia Night, beginning at 7 pm—especially if you know the only NFL team named for a character in a poem, or can name the Patronus of every wizard in the Harry Potter series. Teams can compete for cool book prizes, with refreshments provided by Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.

Visit the BSC website for more details.
Me, I have fond memories of working at BSC back in the '70s as an infant, straight out of UCSC. (And wondering what the heck I was gong to do with a BA in Aesthetic Studies. Answer: Nothing. I ended up going to the movies for a living instead.)

I worked in the airless, frigid textbook department in the basement, where daylight never penetrated. (Note the quaint florescent bulbs.) Sure, it was kind of like working in a mine shaft, but the precious ore we were excavating was books and ideas, in all their messy, infinite variety.

In this digital age, those of us who still love ink-and-paper books are labelled fetishists—a name I wear proudly! How can you wander among the deep stacks of shelves in a bookstore or library and not feel that primordial rustling, the heart and soul of civilization waiting to be reawakened in the pages of a book?

Monday, April 28, 2014


Here's one for the ladies (and gentlemen of an enlightened nature).

Three words:




There I was, trolling around the Internets the other day, when I found this tasty tidbit on Benedict Cumberbatch  (beloved as Sherlock on PBS) and Tom Hiddleston (the delicious and sardonic Loki from the Thor films) in a video mash-up in which each busts some serious dance moves on chat shows, dance floors, sound stages, and a few other impromptu venues.

It's not like they're actually having a competition, you understand. Just a couple of guys letting off steam the way any of us might—by totally rocking out!

Here's the link.

Who wins?

Who loses?

Who cares?

Or, I should say, everyone's a winner with access to this irresistible video dance-off. Take 3 minutes out of your life and check it out. I guarantee, you'll be grinning like the Cheshire cat!

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Art loses out in irresistible doc on unmade sci-fi epic 'Jodorowsky's Dune'

They call it "the greatest science fiction movie never made." The source material is one of the most iconic, influential, and beloved of modern sci-fi novels.

The production would have teamed up an extraordinary brain trust of creative young geniuses—designers, graphic artists, and special effects wizards destined to become cinema A-listers in subsequent projects like Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner—along with a couple of maverick old-school geniuses. And it would have cemented the reputation of one of the most engaging nutball visionaries ever to emerge in the annals of cinema.

If only Alejandro Jodorowsky's dazzling adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune had been made.
H. R. Giger with concept sketches.

But now we get the next best thing in Jodorowksky's Dune, an irresistible documentary by Frank Pavich that celebrates the movie that might have been. Pavich structures his film around a series of interviews with Jodorowsky himself, the Chilean-born iconoclast with roots in avant garde theater in Mexico City and Paris, whose trippy 1970 experimental film, El Topo, became the godfather of the midnight movie.

Now a dapper 84, the cosmopolitan Jodorowsky ("Jodo" to his friends) recounts his vision for Dune with exuberant relish, and a passion undimmed by time.

As charming as Jodo is, however, Pavich's film is more than talking heads. During two years of pre-production on Dune, the director amassed a vast archive of images—paintings, sketches, costume designs, storyboards—eventually bound into an enormous volume the size of several metropolitan phone books.

This treasure trove of visual material (featuring amazing work by comic book artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud, H. R. Giger, and Chris Foss, among others), its images occasionally animated onscreen, is the centerpiece of Pavich's doc.
Character and costume sketches by Moebius.
Ultimately, the projected budget of $15 million was enough to scare off potential backers in 1975. Maybe Jodo could never have translated his passion for Dune to the screen intact, given the primitive tools of the day. In which case, Pavich's film may be the greatest version of Jodorowsky's Dune that could ever possibly be. (Read more)

Thursday, April 17, 2014


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!


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)

Sunday, April 6, 2014


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


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


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.