Saturday, August 30, 2014


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

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

But not any more. Now we have podcasts!

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

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

My first podcast—I feel like such a professional!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


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

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