Monday, March 28, 2016


LA food critic crusades for diversity in lively 'City of Gold'

Whatever you may think you know about Los Angeles, you may find your assumptions challenged by City of Gold. And, no, it is not a movie about the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

It's a fascinating foodie doc by Laura Gabbert about Jonathan Gold, esteemed food critic for the LA Times, whose insightful writing about the culinary scene in LA has earned him a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism.

Gold has not won this accolade by choosing the most exquisite verbiage to describe plates of decadent delights. He's not that kind of food writer. What Gold does is hit the streets in his bottle-green pickup truck, cruising strip malls, ethnic neighborhoods, vendor carts and food trucks all across the sprawl that is LA in search of undiscovered eating experiences.

Jonathan Gold in action: man bites food.

And discover them he does, incredible treasures in the most unexpected places, mostly run by immigrant families who make up the vast cultural diversity of the city and its many, many 'burbs—from Mexican, Thai, and Szechuan, to fried grasshoppers and hot dogs. More of an explorer than a food critic, Gold writes insightful pieces about understanding cultures through the medium of food.

Many proprietors of the eateries he champions (often in hole-in-the-wall storefronts you wouldn't look at twice while driving by) credit him with saving their businesses. Says one observer, Gold brings "value to restaurants and experiences that other people weren't writing about."

At the end of the movie, Gold speaks about the liveliness of the local cultural scene, constantly reinventing itself, with new foods and ideas to share. "We are all strangers together," says Gold.

This is what community is. And when ignorant voices in society talk about closing borders, building walls, and homogenizing our cultural experience, this is what we lose.

(Read complete review)

Sunday, March 27, 2016


In other book news—

I'm thrilled to announce that my next novel, Beast: A Love Story, has been officially copyedited and proofread!

I've been editing this book since July, off and on—mostly on—but I think it's all been worthwhile. My beta reader (okay, it's Art Boy) did a read-through after me, and he says it's honed to within an inch of its life.

So, tomorrow, this minutely marked hard copy goes back to my editor, Kaylan Adair, at Candlewick. Assuming she can decipher my corrections and suggestions (which may be assuming a lot), we are now one big step closer to production!

Which means I can go back to work on my next next novel for Candlewick. I'm working up a proposal and the first three chapters as we speak!

Stay tuned...

Friday, March 25, 2016


And speaking of Alias Hook, here's another milestone: my first book trailer!

Big thanks to Flax Glor of Smoothio Films for putting together this very cool book trailer. I love the rousing, swashbuckling music and the distant clashing of swords!

PS: And one more milestone: my first embedded video!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Coming this summer: Alias Hook makes its stage debut!

I couldn't have been more delighted when Sara Jo Czarnecki contacted me last summer to on behalf of Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation Teen Theatre. Sara had just read my book, and wanted my permission to turn it into a stage production.

Great! My policy as an author is: never discourage anyone who loves your book from spreading the word!

Although, to be honest, I wasn't really sure how well my book could be adapted for a cast of kids and teens (I believe the program includes ages 12 to 17). Yes, my story takes place in the Neverland, and involves Captain Hook and Peter Pan. But it's not necessarily a book for children, or even Young Adults (as my critics over at the Republic of Goodreads constantly remind me).

Costume design for Stella!
What's more, the fantastical Neverland setting might be a stretch for the stage at Louden Nelson, where the show will be produced. (I'm reminded of the line in Finding Neverland, where the impresario complains to J. M. Barrie, "Mermaids! Pirates! Fairies! It's a play for puppets!")

However, Sara and her co-conspirator, Darwin Garrett, sent me an early draft of the script they've been hammering together, and I'm impressed by the choices they're making. Obviously, they've had to trim away a lot of subplots and backstory out of necessity.

But the essential story is there—the arrival of Stella, a forbidden grown woman, in the Neverland (and her alliance with James Hook), Pan's tyranny, and Hook's desperate gambit to escape. Meanwhile, there are plenty of parts for pirates, natives (Indians), fairies and Lost boys to be beefed up for the youthful cast.

Sure, it seems like a daunting project, but Sara and Darwin are nothing if not fearless: the show they produced last summer for SCP&RTT was Around the World in 80 Days!

Show dates for Alias Hook are Friday, August 19, at 7 pm, and Saturday, August 20, at 2pm and 7pm. for more info and updates between now and then visit the SCP&RTeen Theater Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Jewel Theatre Company offers vibrant 'Master Class' on art and life

You may not think you understand, or even like opera. Still, you might find yourself drawn into the lush world of Master Class, a sharply observed drama about opera and life that's the third offering from Jewel Theatre Company in its new home at the Colligan Theater at the Tannery.

Written in 1995 by Terrence McNally, the play imagines a voice class conducted by iconic diva, Maria Callas, during her tenure as guest lecturer at the Julliard School, New York City, in 1971-72.

Yes, a few snippets of operatic arias are sung during the course of the play, seeded in for maximum effect at crucial emotional moments, and delivered by a cast of excellent singers in the roles of Callas' Julliard students.

What's opera, Doc? Torres Koss and Gallagher.
But fear not; it doesn't matter if your Italian is a little rusty. Callas herself—beautifully played con brio by Patty Gallagher—is onstage throughout to talk us through the passion conveyed in the words. And the way these words reflect the deep passions of La Callas' life, gradually revealed in brief, moving monologues, drives the drama forward.

This production is impressively directed by Susan Myer Silton as a chamber piece for five: Callas, three of her nervous, starstruck voice students, and her piano accompanist (the ever-reliable Diana Torres Koss)—or six, if you count a couple of comic appearances by a surly stagehand (Lucas Brandt). The action takes place over real time, with Mark Hopkins' minimal set of wood-grain panels suggesting an academic lecture hall.

Into this low-key milieu strides Gallagher's imperious, larger-than-life Callas, exuding wry wit, banked fire, and disingenuous modesty. ("We are not here to talk about me," she reminds us constantly.) From her very first entrance, she takes the audience into her confidence, addressing us throughout the play as if we were all students in the lecture hall auditing her class. (Read more)

Monday, March 14, 2016


Cultures collide on the Amazon in haunting 'Embrace of the Serpent'

The journey is definitely the destination in Embrace of the Serpent, a haunting meditation on culture, colonialism, and loss which this year became the first Colombian film to be nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar. Shot in captivating black-and-white, on location in the remote jungles on the banks of the Amazon River, it's an absorbing piece of filmmaking with the power of myth in every frame.

The third film from Colombian director Ciro Guerra, Embrace Of The Serpent is inspired by the published journals of two real-life scientists who visited the Amazon at separate times: Theodor Koch-Grunberg came out from Germany at the turn of the 20th Century, followed by American Richard Evans Schultes some forty years later. Each man recorded what he found in words and drawings, which journals have become the only documented evidence we have left of several indigenous Amazonian cultures that have long since vanished.

Filmmaker Guerra combines these two stories by inventing a character both expeditions have in common: the shaman, Karamakate (the wonderful Nilbio Torres). A young man when Grunberg arrives in 1909, Karamakate is the last of his people, after Europeans destroyed his village in their insatiable lust to harvest rubber from the region. An older, crankier Karamakate is no more impressed with "the whites" when ethnobiologist Schultes appears during World War II, following the course described in Grunberg's book.

In both cases, the shaman reluctantly agrees to guide the travelers along the river. Through his eyes, we see the often devastating disruptions of tribal culture in his lifetime alone, before, during, and after exposure to the outsiders. And yet, Karamakate accompanies each explorer on his mission, hoping to persuade the white men to see, and to "listen," as the journey continues along the serpentine twists and turns of the Amazon into each man's private heart of darkness.

The movie too glides elegantly in and out of its dual time frames as the parallel stories unspool. Guerra's dreamlike pacing and sensuous imagery are often enthralling, and the grandeur of the natural world that Guerra captures so well make this a journey worth taking. (Read more in this week's Good Times)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Psychological dread amps up eerie 'The VVitch'

From January to Oscar night, the movies are in the doldrums. The last few Oscar contenders are trickling into neighborhood theaters, along with a few lumbering misfits that are not now, nor have they ever been worthy of any kind of awards push.

But it's a very fertile time for horror movies, the traditional antidote to feel-good holiday fare, and the gnarlier, the better.

So you don't expect too much from a movie called The Witch (or, to be true to the advertising campaign, The VVitch). Its early colonial America setting suggests the Salem witch trials, satanic rites, vintage Hammer horror films.

But this movie is nothing quite so cheesy, nor as gory, as you might expect; it's an often squirmingly intense psychological drama of hysteria and religious fanaticism.

It's still plenty scary (at least, very, very creepy), but it's fearful anticipation that propels the narrative, not in-your-face violence.

Like the best horror/suspense movies (think of the original The Haunting, from 1963), The VVitch plays mercilessly on our dread of what might be lurking in the shadows, rather than actually showing much onscreen—and is all the more effective because of it. Oh, yes, there's blood, but not so much of the usual fx gore-mongering.

Set in New England, ca. 1630—60 years before the famed Salem witch trials—The VVitch is rich in period detail, meticulously researched by rookie writer-director Robert Eggers. It concerns a family cast out of the community to make what living they can on a distant, isolated tract of land at the edge of a sinister wood.

At the center of the tale is eldest daughter, Thomasin (lovely Anya Taylor-Joy). A psychic firestorm seems to be brewing around her that gradually engulfs the entire family. The hysteria and paranoia levels rise to fever pitch, even as the movie's visual focus becomes smaller, more claustrophobic and intense. The action is staged in cramped quarters by flickering firelight, a shadowy barn, or deep in the dense, dark woods.

Subtitled A New England Folk Tale, the film conjures classic images from fairy tales and folklore. Whether or not The Devil is loose among this family, or they're preyed on by devils of their own making, Eggers leaves it up to the viewer to decide. (Read entire review in this week's Good Times.)

Btw: about that title. Filmmaker Eggers says that during his research, he ran across various pamphlets and tracts on witchcraft like this one (from 1643). In the early days of printing, when supplies were often short, if a printer ran out of the letter "W," he might substitute two "Vs" instead. "I thought it looked transportive and exotic," Eggers has said in interviews, "so I used it."

Sunday, March 6, 2016


In the movies, they say "Cut! Print!"

(Oh, wait, that was back in the days when they used to print images on actual film.)

Well, whatever they say nowadays, in the publishing world, there are  more arcane ways to mark the time it takes a book to trundle its way from final draft toward publication. And my book, Beast: A Love Story, just passed one of those milestones.

Last week, I got the second check from my publisher. According to the fine print, this is the portion of the advance to be paid "on acceptance of the finished manuscript." Which means Beast is officially finished! Yay!`

We are still on track for a Spring, 2017, publication date from mighty Candlewick Press. But my work is done. They employ professionals for the current copy-editing phase (a good thing, as anyone knows who's ever had to wade through the minefield of typos in one of my raw drafts).

And, of course, they employ professional artists for the cover design, and I can't wait to take a sneak peek at some of their ideas! Not that I'm likely to have a vote in the final design, but it'll be fun to see some of the concepts.

Until then, my Pinterest page for all things Beast-related is full of goodies.

Here's one I just recently discovered: illustrations by Gordon Laite (1925-1978) for The Blue Book Of Fairy Tales from Little Golden Books. (First edition: 1959.) This is certainly not my Beast, nor my Beauty, but I love the energy in this image, the expressionistic castle interior (and the exterior seen through the window), and, of course, that fabulous peacock-feather gown!

More Beast news as it happens. Stay tuned!