Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Pizzo, Koss, Drexler, as unsung heroines
According to an old Chinese proverb, "Women hold up half the sky." You couldn't dream up a better tagline for the lyrical play, Silent Sky, the new production from the Jewel Theatre Company, in which women at the turn of the last century defy traditional domestic female roles to join the team of astronomers at Harvard in the work of mapping the stars.

It's a tale of unsung heroines finally getting their props, beautifully told in this exhilarating production.

First produced in 2011, Silent Sky was written by prolific American playwright Lauren Gunderson.

She structures her play around real-life astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who had a knack for mathematics and a deep hunger to know the vastness of the world, and the place of humanity within it.

Gunderson charts Henrietta's personal course through sexism and ridicule in an extraordinary age that produced the theories of Einstein and the rise of the suffragist movement, touchpoints conveyed with wit and grace in the JTC production by director Susan Myer Silton.

Women's work: Harvard Observatory "harem" ca 1900
Henrietta (a vivid performance by Michelle Drexler) has just graduated from Radcliffe. (She first appears, goddess-like, floating in a vast sea of stars in the play's breathtaking opening moments.) She accepts an offer from Harvard to work as a "computer" (filing and recording data) at the school's famed observatory.

But her dream job comes with some caveats. The female computers working for observatory director Edward Pickering, called his "harem," are glorified secretaries, cataloging the photographic glass plate images from the telescope they are never allowed to touch.

Real-life Leavitt, Cannon, and Fleming
Working on their own research projects is forbidden, yet Henrietta loves the camaraderie of her colleagues, the at-first daunting, but fiercely supportive Annie Cannon (played with authority by Marcia Pizzo), and droll Scotswoman Williamina Fleming (Diana Torres Koss, in another entertaining turn).

And yet, Henrietta pioneers a theory of star luminosity as a way to measure its distance from Earth and find out how vast the universe really is. (Her work influenced Edwin Hubble, among others.)

All the women scientists in the play are historical personages, so it's a nice touch that the video playing in the lobby features photographs of the real Henrietta, Annie, and Williamina. Check it out while pondering this inspiring story of mapping out a life by charting the stars. (Read more)

(Photo, above, right: Henrietta Leavitt, 3rd from left, Williaming Fleming, standing, and Annie Cannon, far right.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Face time: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, The Shape of Water
I used to reveal my Top Ten movies of the year in December, when all the other year-end wrap-ups appear. But it's become increasingly ridiculous to stick to that pattern, since so many of the movies that might be contenders don't even get to Santa Cruz until January.

So now that the awards season is in full swing — the Oscar nominations were announced last week — it feels like the right moment to look back on the movie year (just) past, and pay homage to my personal candidates for Best Movies of 2017.
Catch them if you can!

THE SHAPE OF WATER Okay, I'm right in step with the Academy on this one, Guillermo del Toro's perverse fantasia on forbidden romance (inter-species) and the solidarity of the oppressed against the oppressor. For my money, it's the onscreen love story of the year.

French lesson: Pierre Niney Anna Beers, Frantz
FRANTZ French filmmaker Francois Ozon revisits the complex aftermath of WWI in this moody, engrossing tone-poem on love, loss, and absolution. With a disturbingly timely theme about the wages of nationalism, this haunting, immersive movie features the compelling Pierre Niney as a mysterious young Frenchman who shows up in a small German town grieving for its war dead.

THEIR FINEST Set in 1940 London, during the Blitz, Lone Scherfig's smart, entertaining, femme-centric movie follows a film crew trying to complete a morale-boosting epic to help the war effort. The mood is witty, urbane, and irreverent. Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy head a marvelous cast in a movie that consistently engages with its wit, skill, and heartfelt emotion.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS Dan Stevens is great as Charles Dickens, who, beset by financial worries, sets out to write and publish A Christmas Carol in only six weeks. Dry facts are transformed into delicious fiction by scriptwriter Susan Coyne, who combines Dickens' real life with the volatility of his imagination, as his impudent characters haunt him like ghosts. Hugely entertaining.

The Write Stuff: Claflin, Arterton, Their Finest
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI Frances McDormand is superb as a middle-aged mother with a spectacularly vulgar mouth, a fearless take-no-prisoners attitude, and a relentless drive to see justice done after the unsolved murder of her teenage daughter. Filmmaker Martin McDonagh mixes raucously funny dialogue and irreverent observation of human nature with an uncompromising sense of morality.

CITIZEN JANE Matt Tyrnauer's excellent documentary shows how engagement, activism, and a keen sense of moral outrage can foil the best-laid plans of rats and politicians. In 1950s New York City, the Utopian, post-war urban planning of neighborhood-killing high-rises is opposed by Jane Jacobs, journalist and architectural critic, who believes life lived out on the streets and the stoops of old buildings creates community. Their showdown becomes a fascinating "battle for the soul of the city."

WIND RIVER The consequences of violence — on victims, families and friends — is rarely portrayed with this much somber eloquence. Thoughtful, infuriating, and heartbreaking, this searing, expertly-told tale of crime and punishment on a Wyoming Indian reservation leaves you breathless. In his second feature, director Taylor Sheridan combines swift and cogent storytelling with an impressive sense of visual composition.

Consequence: Jeremy Renner, Gil Birmingham, Wind River
LADY BIRD Writer-director Greta Gerwig delivers a wry, warm-hearted portrait of family, home, and dreams in modern America. The family is not dysfunctional in any clichéd movie comedy way, but Gerwig captures the gulf of potential calamity in the fractious relationship between a Sacramento high-school senior (Saoirse Ronan) and her loving, but harried mom (Laurie Metcalf).

BATTLE OF THE SEXES Emma Stone is terrific as Billie Jean King, and Steve Carell plays Bobby Riggs with gleeful gusto. The media frenzy around their 1973 match becomes this thoughtful, entertaining movie about gender, identity, politics, and celebrity, at a pivotal cultural moment in American history. Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine).

LADY MACBETH As a woman so completely warped by a monstrous society that she becomes a monster herself, Florence Pugh delivers a chilling gemstone of a performance in this Victorian-era tale of female suppression, sexual awakening, and revenge. Not a movie to love, but a grueling and profound psychological thriller.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Stop the presses!

Beyond delighted this week to receive this Beast endorsement from the great Laurie R. King:

When is beauty shaped by ugliness? When does a simple fairy tale give way to the dark textures beneath its surface? When Lisa Jensen takes it on, that’s when.  Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge is a love story, and so much more.

— Laurie R. King, New York Times bestselling author of The Beekeeper's Apprentice

My editor at Candlewick is so excited, they're going to redesign the dust jacket to fit the quote in.

Thanks, Laurie!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Not exactly a "woman's picture"
Hands up, everybody who remembers when the Academy Awards declared 1992 the "Year of the Woman." Hah! I thought not.

(No wonder. Clint Eastwood's guy-friendly western Unforgiven won four Oscars that year, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Revival Of A Macho Genre Previously Considered Stone Dead.

The most talked-about female role of the year was actually played by a man—Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game.)

It's taken 26 years for Hollywood to catch up — even though it's had to be dragged kicking and screaming toward enlightenment by a sisterhood of industry professionals who have launched the #MeToo and Time's Up movements.

What might this unexpected and organic movement portend for this year's Oscars? Let's take a look at what's been going on in the awards season so far.

Black Power: Hollywood celebs and their social justice activist dates at the Globes

The flow tide of black gowns and black-on-black tuxes on the red carpet at this year's Golden Globes were worn in solidarity with the above mentioned movements.

(Although I wonder if black was  the best color choice to associate with the group announcing the end of the culture of sexual harassment and gender inequality. If Time's Up (at last!) for the old boys club that perpetrated it for generations, why should people dress in mourning?)

McDormand: Year of the Rampaging Woman
(Still, everybody was rocking the look, and many of the black gowns and tuxes will be auctioned off on eBay this month to raise money for the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund.)

Meanwhile, it was a bad night for movies about men. Odds-on favorite, The Post (directed by Steven Spielberg, with Meryl Streep's Katharine Graham playing den mother to a bunch of male reporters) got shut out, along with Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, and the boy-meets-boy coming of age love story, Call Me By Your Name.

Frances McDormand as a rampaging working-class mom demanding justice for her raped and murdered daughter won the Best (Dramatic) Actress award, as expected, but it was a surprise that the movie devoted to her character, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, also won for Best Picture/Drama.

Gerwig (with Ronan) directs herself to a DGA nomination
The other big winner was Lady Bird, about a loving, if volatile, mother-daughter relationship, which scored a Best Actress /Comedy nod for star Saoirse Ronan, and Best Picture in the Musical-or-Comedy category — ensuring a trip to the podium for producer Greta Gerwig, who also wrote and directed.

Not that this is quite yet a juggernaut, but it is interesting that the recently announced Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards include first-timer Gerwig on its hallowed list of nominees. It's rare enough for a woman to get nominated, and a coup in itself — suggesting how many folks in the industry have taken the small, wry, femme-o-centric Lady Bird to their hearts.

But she shouldn't start clearing a place on her mantel just yet. She'll still have to go up against Guillermo del Toro for the DGA prize, who's already won both the Globe and Critic's Choice awards for his masterful The Shape of Water.

(The Oscars nominations will be announced January 23. The ceremony will be later than usual this year, broadcast March 4)

Monday, January 15, 2018


Okay, I know authors are expected to give their own books 5-star ratings over at the Republic of GoodReads, to bump up the average. But, I just can't make myself do it! What do you think of this strategy instead?

Also, interested to see the star-ratings piling up for Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge — even though I know for a fact that only five of the raters have actually read the book, including me and Art Boy.

Three other legitimate reviewers received ARCs from the publisher, Candlewick, but the rest of the raters are no doubt responding to the peculiar GR algorithms that confer traction within the community depending on number of books a person rates — whether or not the raters have read them.

I dealt with this topic awhile ago, here on the blog. What do you think?

On the other hand, I'm delighted that over 4900 members have put Beast on their shelves, so thank you, GoodReaders!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Hey, folks!

Exactly seven months from today — July 10, 2018 — my next novel, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, is (finally) coming to a bookstore near you!

Let's celebrate by reviving my Beast of the Month countdown. Once a month, I'll share some of my favorite Beast images — from book illustrations to movies and stage design. Most will be riffs on the Beauty and the Beast story, but I'll throw in a few surprises too!

Let's start with a classic — this wonderful, vintage poster from Jean Cocteau's hypnotic 1946 film La Belle et la Bete.

This remains the best B&B movie. Ever! And this poster perfectly captures its mood — spooky, lush, and romantic.

It's said that when the movie ended, and this magnificent Beast had morphed back into the handsome prince, Greta Garbo cried from the audience, "Give me back my Beast!"

Who could blame her?


The real Tonya Harding
Harding scandal revisited in wry, raucous I, Tonya 

She was famous for all the wrong reasons.

Figure skater Tonya Harding, a working-class girl from Oregon, had been a child prodigy on the ice who battled her way up the competition circuit to spots on the 1992 and 1994 American Olympic teams.

But it all came crashing down after a bizarre knee-bashing attack on her rival teammate, Nancy Kerrigan, in which Harding's husband and bodyguard were implicated. As Tonya (skillfully played by Margot Robbie) tells us in the faux-documentary, I Tonya, "I was loved. Then I was hated. Then I was a punchline."

Written by Steve Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie, I, Tonya is an often raucously entertaining fact-based fiction film that purports to be a documentary detailing the tragi-comic incidents of Harding's early life and public career, punctuated by interviews with the key players after the fact.

The reel Tonya: Margot Robbie
This enables the filmmakers to tell the story from a variety of perspectives as the plucky competitor who was the first American woman ever to stick a triple axel in competition evolves into the most reviled woman in the world. Along the way, they generate a surprising amount of sympathy for the human being at the center of all that notoriety.

Robbie is terrific. So is Allison Janney, unrecognizable in a performance of icy waspishness as Tonya's mother, an embittered, hard-drinking, chain-smoking diner waitress with a violent temper and a vulgar mouth.

As wacky as the movie's tone often is, it delivers a scathing look at gender and class politics, and the hypocritical fantasyland of professional sports.

(Read more in this week's Good Times)

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Surfing the Interwebs the other night, I was delighted to find this review of Alias Hook by modernlaureate on Instagram, from November, 2016.

In part:

"Dark and dangerous faeries, magnificent but terrifying mermaids, and fresh characterization of Pan and Hook all make this an outstanding Peter Pan retelling. Jensen deftly weaves faerie with fairy tale, mortality with hope, children’s games and bitter reality, all the while moving elegantly between the present events of Neverland and Hook’s past. An interesting and thought-provoking novel from start to finish."


James Hooks voyage of world domination continues!

Thursday, January 4, 2018


Looky what arrived on my virtual desktop this week!

In the publishing biz, they call this a cover flat — the dust jacket of a hardcover book spread out flat. Pretty cool, huh?

My intrepid editor, Kaylan Adair, at Candlewick Pres, sent this out to me ASAP, the cover flat for Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, to get my Happy New Year off to a boffo start. It worked!

I'm very jazzed about the Gothic elegance of this artwork — dark and lovely — and how it suits the mood of my story. And I could NOT be more thrilled about how the gorgeousness of this concept extends beyond the front cover all the way to the spine and the flaps!

Pub date is July 10. Stay tuned!

(PS: And yes, the one typo I found in the jacket text will be corrected in the printed version. Can you spot it?)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


There's a funny moment in the sci-fi movie, Mimic, an early work by Guillermo del Toro: some creepy guy is trying to put the moves on the character played by Mira Sorvino, who is so not interested.

"I like to stick to my own species," she cracks.

Evidently, Del Toro has altered his own position on this point since then, judging from the rapturous love story at the heart of his beguiling new movie, The Shape of Water.

In this romantic pairing, the heroine is a mousy, spinsterish woman scrubbing floors at a secret government facility, and the hero is a man-sized amphibian, complete with gills, fish scales, and webbed digits.

Okay, what couple doesn't have their issues? But in the name of diversity, tolerance, and the right to fall in love with whoever you choose, their relationship blossoms into one the year's most poignant love stories.

Which got me thinking about the age-old Beauty and the Beast trope and how it continues to be updated through the generations.

Thoughts already much on my mind during the writing of my own B&B-inspired novel, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge. (Coming in July to a bookstore near you!)

After a few centuries on the old wives tale circuit, the story was first set down in print in the 18th Century, as an instructive tale for young ladies about to be married off by their families to scary older men. The point was to train timorous young brides to see beyond the ferocious-seeming exterior to the humanity within.

But the tale is always ripe for alternative interpretations and debate, around a few central questions: What constitutes beauty and beastliness? Does physical beauty make one beautiful? Does a a beastly face make one a monster, even if one has a human heart?

Does one have to be considered beautiful to be worthy of love?

Del Toro's heroine is not considered a beauty, and she's further marginalized by her inability to speak. Despite his monstrous appearance, the beast character here demonstrates empathy, intelligence, and compassion. The only real monsters in the story are human.

Julia Adams meets The Creature: blood-curdling
Linda Hamilton, Ron Perlman: Romantic

In pop fiction (the fairy tales of today), we've come a long way since the monstrous "Gill-Man" in The Creature From the Black Lagoon (to whom Del Toro pays such loving homage). Back then, the ferociousness of this "monster" elicited from co-star Julia Adams one of the juiciest, most blood-curdling screams in the history of movies.

We've seen the lion-faced Vincent as romantic hero in the old Beauty and the Beast TV series. We've seen a generation of sexy vampires and werewolves, to whom their human prey all too eagerly succumb. Del Toro intuits the time may be right for an unapologetic sort of "beast" who doesn't have to be revealed as a (yawn) handsome prince to earn his happy ending.

And here's the best part (SPOILER ALERT) — in Del Toro's movie, they find a way to be together. A lovely, poetic way.

Because, really, who doesn't root for the Beast to end up with the woman he's wooed and won?