Sunday, June 26, 2016


Fabled editor vs. star author in fascinating Genius

Maybe it's because my high school mounted a stage production of Look Homeward Angel when I was a senior, and I had a big crush on the guy who played the lead. But I've always had a soft spot for Thomas Wolfe's coming-of-age novel, and the mystique of its author.

Both figure prominently in Michael Grandage's literary biopic Genius, which delves into the relationship between Wolfe and his editor at Charles Scribner's Sons, the legendary Maxwell Perkins.

By the time he met Wolfe, Perkins was already famed as the editor who shepherded both and Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald to publication in the 1920s.

Based on a biography of Perkins, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg, the movie depicts Wolfe as a larger-than-life persona, eager to swallow life whole, and blast it out again in torrents of gorgeous prose.

Firth as Max: choosing words with care
Of course, I'll concede it's a view of the author that perhaps you can only appreciate if you fell in love with Wolfe's great, sprawling verbiage at age seventeen.

Jude Law is way over the top in the role, with his frenzied eyes and Southern-fried drawl, but his performance conveys the essence of a man utterly, passionately besotted by words.

In contrast, the movie gives us stoic, thoughtful, dependable Colin Firth as editor Perkins.

When the movie begins, in 1929, Perkins is a happily married father of five daughters, who takes the commuter train into New York City, usually with a manuscript he's reading in hand.

The real Max Perkins at work.
 Having wrangled with the likes of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, he chooses his words with great care, for maximum impact. Firth plays Max as a man so button-down, he never takes off his fedora, even listening to the radio at night by his own fireside.

Genius is a lit geek's delight, and its backstage look at the business of publishing, as Max and Tom tussle over every line and page, is as fascinating as it is mind-boggling.

Granted, Wolfe was an extreme case; in the movie, he delivers the manuscript for his second novel, Of Time And the River, in multiple crates, totaling five-thousand hand-written pages. (And he keeps adding more.)
The real Tom Wolfe: crates of verbiage.

It takes a fleet of Scribner's typists months to pound it into typed pages before the editing can even begin.

The movie is as in love with words and their power as Tom is. The filmmakers acknowledge Max's point, that a book's primary function is to tell a story, and if excessive verbiage — no matter how gloriously written — gets in the way, out it goes.

But it also sympathizes with Tom's lust for words for their own sake. When Max explains to Tom why one achingly beautiful passage has to go, first he gets to read it out loud, so we can all enjoy it.

Some may argue that editing books isn't a spectator sport, and watching the process is not exactly thrilling (unless you're Tom, fighting for every word, or Max, desperate to streamline the work into something publishable, yet still true to the author's vision).

Okay, I get that. But as a writer who has agonized over ever cut phrase in my own novels, and an editor who has done plenty of cutting on other writers' work, I feel the pain of both of them!
(Read more)

Firth and Law: editing as a spectator sport.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


James Hook and crew are one step closer to their stage debut!

This poster was released today for the Santa Cruz Parks & Rec Teen Theatre production of Alias Hook! Pretty cool, huh?

(I especially love the little hook, tossed rakishly over the "K!")

The crew has signed on, the parts have been cast, and rehearsals commence next week!

For those of you who came in late, the intrepid Sara Jo Czarnecki and Darwin Garrett, chief instigators at SCP&R Teen Theatre, read my book last year, and adapted the story as an original play for this summer's production.

James Hook, Stella Parrish, various pirates, fairies, and Lost Boys — and, of course, Pan — will be live onstage at Louden Nelson Centre, for three performances only, Friday, August 19, at 7 pm, and Saturday, August 20, at 2 pm and 7 pm. Tickets are $5 at the door.

No doubt the scurvy dogs at SCP&R Teen Theatre will be running up occasional signal flags as the process continues, so check out their Facebook page for updates!

Sunday, June 19, 2016


Sol in his chariot; ancient Roman floor tile
Don't look now, but one of the most important events of the seasonal year is almost upon us: the Summer Solstice.

It's the pinnacle of the solar year, when the Greek god, Helios (and his Roman counterpart, Sol, as in "Solstice"), drives his chariot of the Sun higher in the sky than it will be again all year.

The date varies according to year and time zone, and while the Solstice often falls on June 21, this year, the sun reaches its high point at 3:34 pm, Santa Cruz time, Monday, June 20. It's the longest day of the year, followed by the shortest night.

Unless you're a vampire, that's  reason enough to celebrate, right there. And celebrate they did, once upon a time, when daily life revolved around the cycles of the seasons. But these days, if it doesn't involve BBQ, gifts, and a three-day weekend, it doesn't really count as a holiday.

But in the old pre-Christian pagan calendar, the seasons were more closely aligned with the cycles of Nature, and the transitions between them were a big deal. Spring began February 1, with the first thaws. Merry May 1 was the beginning of summer. Fall began on August 1 with the harvest season.  November 1 marked the start of winter.

On the quarter days between seasons, when the borders between our knowable world and the Otherworld were thought to be most fluid, fairies, witches, spirits of the dead, and other assorted mischief-makers were thought to slip through the cracks and run amok in the mortal world.

Pagan cultures celebrated the Feast of All Souls/Day of the Dead at the beginning of November, and it didn't take long for the Christian Church to muscle in on the festivities with All Saints (or All Hallows) Day, November 1. Which is how this particularly eerie quarter day became Hallow's Eve, better known as  Halloween. Its counterpart among pagan folk was the equally uncanny and raucous May Eve.

But the two biggest festivals in the pagan year fell between the quarter days. The Feast of Midwinter broke up the long, cold  slog between November and February with feasting and merriment, coinciding (more or less) with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year (and the longest night). Since all cultures were already celebrating this festival of light in the middle of darkness, the Church rebranded it as Christmas (the Feast of Christ).

Medieval Midsummer
The other uber-festival was the Summer Solstice, when the sun is up higher, and for longer, than at any other time. Our modern calendars call this the beginning of summer, but according to the pagan calendar — splitting the difference as it does between May and August — it was called Midsummer.

The Church tried to repurpose Midsummer, as well; they moved it away from the Solstice to June 24, the designated feast day for St. John the Baptist. June 23 became John's Eve, or Midsummer's Eve, another otherworldly time dominated by witchery and the fair folk.

But Midsummer had already been a major event in the folklore calendar for centuries, connected to the Solstice. The Druidic tribes of Britain built the massive, megalithic sundial that is Stonehenge to mark the annual rising of the Midsummer sun.

And Will Shakespeare had plenty to say on the subject in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where a lovers' spat between the King and Queen of the fairies sparks a ripple effect of romantic complications among various mortals in the moonlit forest.

Sadly, Midsummer isn't such a big deal these days. (Except in northern climes like Scandinavia, where they celebrate 20+ hours of sunlight with a vengeance, as an antidote to the 20+ hours of darkness they endure during the winter.)

It's a marvelous night for a moondance...
But you can still party like a pagan. Light a candle in solidarity with the sun, or a bonfire at the beach. Build a Midsummer "maypole," like they do in Sweden, festooned with all the greenery and blooms abundant right now.

Do whatever you can to make it last, because it's all downhill from here. As soon as the sun reaches this highest point in the year, the days inevitably start getting shorter.

But here's another thing: this year, we also get a Midsummer full moon smack on the same day as the Summer Solstice. Overnight on Sunday-Monday, some 11 hours before the Sun does his thing, the moon will reach her maximum fullness for the month.

What does that mean to us neo-pagans? Well, the last time King Sol and Queen Luna danced their Midsummer tango was in 1967 (aka: the Summer of Love). So be prepared for anything!

Friday, June 10, 2016


Hey, there, art fans! There's still one week left to see a great show at the Pajaro Valley Arts gallery (recently rebranded from the former PVAC) in Watsonville.

Titled Sculpture IS, the show is devoted to — you guessed it — sculptural work, in all its many fabulous forms. It was curated by the mighty Susana Arias, who makes skillful use of every nook and cranny of the charming gallery space, a converted Victorian just off the main drag on Sudden Street.

Over 30 artists are featured in the show, working in a variety of materials, from clay, stone, wire, wood, and metal, to paper, fabric and assemblage.

I was especially taken by this Aborigine-inspired ceramic grouping, The Dreamtime, by Carla Powell. I love the stacked shapes, the earthy color palette, and the coordinating, but not identical patterns. Even the shadows thrown on the wall behind it are cool!

Not exactly figurative, nor functional, but I found it completely hypnotic.

I was also drawn to John Babcock's paper tapestry, Tyger Tyger. I love that the first two lines of William Blake's lovely poem are cut into the paper vertically, left and right, and how "the forest of the night" is represented by tree-like silhouettes posed against a flame-colored interior, "burning bright."

What else is new at PVA? The gallery has recently joined the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM), a confederation of over 800 museums, galleries, historical sites, and cultural exhibits, nationwide.

What this means for you, dear art lover, is that if you become a member of PVA, you gain access to any and all of the other NARM venues for FREE! This is a big deal, since participating NARM venues include the Asian Art Museum, the De Young, the Legion of Honor, and the Walt Disney Family Museum — and that's just in the Bay Area!

This actually works, as Art Boy and I found out on a recent visit to the Legion of Honor, to feast our eyes on Rapahael's "Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn." Admission to the venue and the entire permanent collection was absolutely free! Had we wanted to see the traveling Pierre Bonnard exhibit, we were told, there would have been a nominal charge ($10, I think it was), but the Raphael was part of the package. Such a deal!

The Sculpture IS show is up in the gallery until June 19. Meanwhile, a sister show, Sculpture IS In the Garden, has just gone up at Sierra Azul Nursery, one of the coolest sculpture venues in the county. Visit the PVA website to find out what's going on at the little gallery that could.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


The intrepid Captain James Hook continues to win readers, out on the cyber seas!

Last month, I was contacted by the lovely Clare Moore of the online mag, Ampersand Literary.

 She had just read Alias Hook, and invited me to do a Q&A for her site, which publishes fiction, poetry, photography, and artwork, along with occasional interviews with the purveyors thereof.

I was thrilled to do it, and the post is up online as of today!

Clare generously invited me to blather on at great length about Alias Hook and my upcoming Beast novel. But she also quizzed me about the writing process itself, my completely chaotic publishing history, and any tips I might have for emerging writers.

It was a fun interview to do. And while you're there, surf around this diverse, eclectic site devoted to the creative process!