“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
Here’s the Prologue & Chapter 1 of Fata Morgana, my new novel with Ken Mitchroney coming out in June.
Reposting hugely appreciated!
Publisher’s Weekly just gave us our first “official” review, saying:
The prose is energetic, combining some of the gentler wit of Catch-22 with riffs on dystopian fiction clichés. Boyett and Mitchroney elevate the pulpy vibe with unusual and fully developed protagonists.
…which, um, okay.
Just a quick post to let you know that next week, sample chapters from Fata Morgana will be available for download in all major e-book reader formats and PDF.
Soon after that, Ken and I will be giving away Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of the novel. Stay tuned!
“Twenty-three years after the coming of Timoleon [338 BC] a rich man’s revolution suppressed the Syracusan democracy, and put the government into the hands of six hundred oligarchic families. These divided into factions, and were in turn overthrown by a radical revolution in which four thousand persons were killed and six thousand of the well to do were sent into banishment. Agathocles won dictatorship by promising a cancellation of debts and a redistribution of the land. So, periodically, the concentration of wealth becomes extreme, and gets righted by taxation or by revolution.”
—Will Durant, THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION:
The Life of Greece (1939)
Probably because he knows everyone and is interested in everything, Ken Mitchroney somehow arranged for us to have a photo session for our Fata Morgana author pic at March Field Air Museum on a B-17G bomber.
Jon Tucker, a hugely talented cinematographer who has worked with Ken, offered to take the shots. He showed up with an SUV full of gear and a cart, an assistant named Danny Sandoval — oh, yeah, and a camera.
The rain in LA had been unprecedented the previous few days, but the day of the shoot was gorgeous: Robins-egg-blue sky, massive clouds, and buckets o’ sunshine. Our luck was crazy.
Ken wanted to try to re-create this shot from the movie Air Force:
I thought it would look great, but it immediately became clear that we couldn’t do it, because the cockpit windows didn’t go back far enough. Either they were different in the earlier B-17, or they’d been rigged in Air Force. There was no way two of us could lean out of one window. Time to improvise!
Ken worked with Jon on angles while my friend Scott Kelley shot “B-roll” of the activities. We took advantage of the opportunity to crawl all over that aircraft.
I’d thought that a shot looking through the windshield at Ken and I at the controls might be great. But the parked bomber angled up steeply, and Jon would have to be 15 feet up to get the shot. “No problem,” said March Field’s Greg Kuster. “We’ll get a scissor lift.”
While they were bringing over the lift, Jon took shots of us in the cockpit. I thought this setup was ideal for an author shot, but we were completely backlit, and I scouldn’t imagine Jon would be able to get good lighting. Which maybe shows my limited understanding of exactly what a cinematographer can do, given the shots he ended up with.
When Jon got raised up in the scissor lift, it was immediately clear that the through-the-windshield shot was out: The windshield was dirty, wet from the rain, and glaring in the relentless SoCal sunshine. So we stuck ourselves out the pilot & copilot windows instead, and Jon just beamed and yelled Ohh, yeah. Ken and I couldn’t stop grinning like idiots.
For my part, I’d been living in a B-17 in my head for the better part of four years working on this book. I’d done ridiculous amounts of research, watched videos, walked through the 909 and the Aluminum Overcast when they barnstormed Concord and Livermore. But it’s a completely different deal to have full, unsupervised access to a WWII bomber, to have no one else on board, to have no sense that you should hurry up and give someone else a look, and to go into places nobody but nobody gets to go. The cockpit, ferchrissake.
When Ken and I looked at each other across the top of the bomber and started laughing our asses off, I think we knew that this was gonna be the shot. When we got the pix from Jon, there was no doubting it.
We went for black & white because of the feel of the novel. I dunno what Jon did, but he made the damn thing look as if it’d been taken in 1943. Needless to say, Ken and I are stoopidly happy with our Author Shot, and can’t wait to see it on the jacket of the hardcover when it’s published in June.
Massive thanks to Jon Tucker and Danny Sandoval; to Scott Kelley for tons of behind-the-scenes shots; and to Greg Kuster and Paul Hammond of the March Field Air Museum, for their amazing help and kindness, and for opening up the Starduster to us. I highly recommend a visit to the Museum in Riverside, CA (I haven’t even talked about their spectacular collection). Our day there was literally one for the books.
Two weeks ago Ken Mitchroney and I drove out to Deyan Audio in Tarzana to meet with MacLeod Andrews, who narrates the upcoming Fata Morgana audiobook. I’d been to Deyan previously, for the Ariel and Elegy Beach audiobooks, which I blogged about here. Suffice to say the staff and facility are made of pure awesome.
MacLeod is a hugely talented, ridiculously handsome, up-and-coming actor who has narrated a ton of books and won several awards. Ken and I picked him instantly after hearing his audition; his reading was perfect.
The audiobook’s producer, Bryan Barney, was great about working with us to solve some problems in translation from print to audio. (For example, Chapters 4, 5, & 6 end and resume in midsentence to indicate an abrupt transition from one place to another, which wouldn’t work for an audiobook because [a] the narrator announces the new chapter, which would ruin the effect, and [b] the mp3 version would contain separate chapter files that would stop and start midsentence, likely making a listener think something had screwed up. The solution: combining those chapters into one. Ta-da.)
I’m in the midst of sound-treating my office/studio with a view to record an audiobook of Mortality Bridge, so for me the recording rooms at Deyan are pure sound-engineer porn: Efficient, acoustically flat, with vocal booths bought from an audiologist and repurposed for recording (genius!). And Genelec monitors — ka-ching!
Ken and I joked around a lot, and sat in on the beginning of the session, but we cleared out soon afterward. We didn’t want to loom, and it was pretty obvious the production was in good hands.
Even luckier, I’m getting a shot at composing the audiobook’s theme music. Maybe it’ll sound like chickens in a blender, but it’s an opportunity I can’t pass up. I’ll blog about that & post the audio file when it’s done, probably in a couple of months.
Tune in next time for the truly awesome production that was our Author Shot in a B-17 bomber!
I turned in the proofread galleys for Fata Morgana to Blackstone this week. Other than reviewing the corrected proof and final cover jacket, there’s little production work left until June. Woo hoo!
Next week I’ll be in Los Angeles, which I’m excited about for three reasons:
1. March Field Air Museum has generously allowed Ken & I the use of their B-17G, Starduster, for our author shoot! How awesome is that? Big moby awesome. Definitely looking forward to this!
2. They’re recording the Fata Morgana audiobook at Deyan Audio in Tarzana. Deyan is where the Ariel and Elegy Beach audiobooks were recorded (I posted about My Day at Deyan Audio back then), and Bob and Deb Deyan became good friends. I was devastated when Bob died of ALS two years ago. He was an amazing, generous, and just plain fun guy, and my friendship with him was just getting off the ground when I moved from LA to the SF Bay area. He is hugely missed by a great many people.
Deb will be out of town while we’re there, dammit, but Ken & I will get to meet the narrator, actor MacLeod Andrews, along with the production team. The opportunity to do that is priceless.
3. I haven’t been to LA in nearly five years. That freaks me out a little. I lived there for 30 years, and loved the hell out of it, until I didn’t any more. I never would have imagined I’d go five years without a visit. I won’t have a lot of time to hit all my favorite spots, but I plan to try.
You spend years writing & revising a book. You go through all kinds of anxiety marketing it. You sell it, you work with the publisher on all kinds of aspects. Gradually the idea of it, the abstraction of words, becomes imagined as an object: The embodiment of words.
Yet however many times you go through that process, nothing prepares you for the moment you hold the thing itself. Some superstitious monkey part of your brain thinks, I have thought a thought inside my head and now it is a thing out in the world.
In my case, that thing — the Advance Readers Copy — had been delayed by snow for days, and when UPS rang the doorbell this morning I ran down the stairs like a kid tearing for the Christmas tree. (Which also explains why I look as if I just got up. I don’t know how to explain how I look the rest of the time.)
And as much as Ken and I have worked to make this book real, and as much input and collaboration as we have had with our publisher, Blackstone, to realize this idea, I still think it looks unbelievably better than how I thought it would look. And I thought it was gonna look pretty good!
Fata Morgana is Ken’s first novel — he’s over the moon right now!
And the hardcover pre-order is being discounted at $19.56 at Amazon. Get thee hence, I say!
Fata Morgana, my collaborative novel with Ken Mitchroney, will be out from Blackstone next June 13 in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. Ken and I worked closely with Kathryn English, Blackstone’s lead designer, on the book’s cover, and we’re really happy with it. Click the pic for full-sized awesomeness.
Fata Morgana is part WWII adventure, part science fiction, and part love story. Pub date is June 13, 2017, but you can pre-order it here. Bound galleys have gone out for blurbs, and we’re already getting back some terrific responses.
We’ll post the opening chapter in a few weeks, and we’ll be giving away signed Advance Reader Copies after that, so stay tuned!
I’m happy to announce that Fata Morgana, the novel I’ve worked on with Ken Mitchroney for about the last three years, sold to Blackstone last week. It’ll be available in hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, and audiobook formats. No pub date yet, but I’ll certainly be posting as we move forward.
This novel involved a huge amount of research — at one point I was pretty sure I could load & operate a B-17F ball gunner turret — but I think it was worth it.
Here’s the draft marketing copy to give you some idea what Fata Morgana is about.
At the height of WWII a Flying Fortress vanishes from a deadly bombing mission over flak-filled German skies—and leaves ten crewmen stranded with the final outcasts of a desolated world.
Caught between bitter enemies competing for their bomber, the vast power that has brought them here for its own purposes, and a terrifying living weapon obsessed with their destruction, Capt. Joe Farley encounters wonder and terror—and a love decreed by fate—as he fights to recover his stolen Flying Fortress and get his men back home.
Fata Morgana—the epic novel of love and duty at war across the reach of time.
This was a pleasant surprise to discover today. I think it’s wonderfully done, and captures the book quite well. Thanks, Shawndel Mann! I’m enormously flattered.
I’ve worked on many projects with Ken Mitchroney in the nearly 30 years we’ve been friends. When I wrote a draft of Toy Story 2 at Pixar, he was Head of Story for the project. I wrote an issue of his Space Ark comic book, and for a year I worked for Marvel writing Ren & Stimpy comics, most of which Ken drew. We once worked on, I swear to god, a set of Looney Tunes baseball cards for Chuck Jones.
Ken & I have written two feature-length screenplays together. We’ve pitched a lot of movies to a lot of nodding heads. (They listen, and then at the end they lean forward and say things like, “Well — Jeffrey doesn’t like cats.”) We have one of those finish-each-other’s-sentences creative brainshares that makes collaborating a lot more fun than sitting in a room by myself making stuff up. Ken & I have very different sensibilities, but somehow they dovetail almost seamlessly.
For years we’ve had a project we’ve wanted to do, called Fata Morgana. We thought it was a pretty commercial idea, and I figured I would enjoy writing a book that was just … well, fun. A big summer blockbuster adventure. Something to make my agent smile and say, “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”
Then Ken finished a great gig directing a season of the popular Annoying Orange TV show and found himself with a stretch of time before he’d likely be back in L.A. on some new project. So he said, Hey, let’s do Fata Morgana. I said Hellyeahs.
Two years later the novel is nearly finished. In terms of research and plotting, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So much for cranking out a summer blockbuster.
This may help explain my >year absence from posting (I had to hire someone to sift through the barrage of emails that arrived because I stopped blogging. Oh,. no, wait — that was a dream I had.)
The Terminator: Genisys trailer interests me because it seems a major indication of Hollywood embracing remix culture. The movie seems to be a clever take on the standard reboot: Rather than simply reapproach or update the canonical material, T:Gsys considers the audience’s familiarity with the source material (particularly the first two movies) to be a given, and recontextualizes their tropes and iconography to subvert and surprise. It uses their original source material to tell a different story.
If that ain’t a remix, I dunno what is.
A good remix stands on its own while paying hommage to its source. You want to think that you can appreciate a remix on its own merits, but any familiarity with the source material renders such judgments difficult. In the same vein, it’s difficult to consider T:Gsys apart from Terminator and T2: Judgement Day, but I think that’s precisely the point — you aren’t supposed to. Rather, the first two movies inform this telling. In this version we have events already familiar to us from earlier versions, often inverted here, whose express objective is to prevent the occurrence of those very events.
In the Terminator series, the device that makes this recontextualization more than a simple act of arrogance or exploitation is the theory of alternate timelines. It’s a terrific justification. Rather than reshuffling and redesigning the deck of already-known moments because of hubris or greed (It wasn’t broke, but we’re fixing it!), the assumption here is that the timeline itself is broken, and this movie is fixing it. Doing that requires different approaches to familiar events.
None of this necessarily means that T:Gsys will be any good. But the approach itself is fascinating, and the fact that considerable effort and expense have gone into it is, I think, significant. Offhand I can’t think of another cinematic remix at the studio level.
I’ve long held that the remix is the metaphor for art and digital technology of the early 21st Century, and I think T:Gsys has the potential to be a watershed moment in the re-envisioning of approaches to earlier films. As with Fred Astaire dancing with vacuum cleaners or Audrey Hepburn shilling chocolate from beyond the grave, undoubtedly there will be lots of debate about whether or not this approach is a good thing. But as with any creative endeavor, the answer to that will lie not in any inherent goodness or badness of the approach, but in whether or not the work itself was done well.
This year’s LitCrawl was big moby fun, and attendance at the incomparable Borderlands Bookshop was standing room only despite a BART strike that created havoc with travel into San Francisco and jammed up the available city public transportation.
The crowd for this event always amazes me — unfailingly polite, attentive, and responsive. You couldn’t ask for a better audience. Ellen Klages read from a story currently available at tor.com. She has a great ear for dialog and a real talent for voices, and I thoroughly enjoyed her reading. Allison Moon did a (ahem) bang-up job reading a lesbian werewolf sex scene that managed to be more tasteful than pornographic, though I couldn’t help referring to it as Fifty Shades of Gray Wolf.
I usually record my performances, but I didn’t this time because the piece, “I’m Sorry to Have to Tell You This,” is already available on my Media page. Normally I’d do something new for LitCrawl, but I’ve been traveling and just haven’t had time to learn a new piece.
This year’s LitQuake after party was held in a much smaller (albeit nicer) venue than last year’s party. It was DJ’d by Gavin Hardkiss, whose work I’ve heard for quite some time now. I got a kick out of that because I was the DJ for last year’s after party. It was fun to be on the other side of the decks for a change, though I admit to being jealous because the venue’s setup was much nicer than what was available to me last year. Wahh.
I stumbled back to my apartment at about 5 a.m., so I think I can safely say that a Good Time Was Had by All.
LitCrawl is the capper to the week-long LitQuake festival, which features readings, panels, and other literary events throughout San Francisco. LitCrawl is the book-lover’s equivalent of a massive pub crawl, in which 10 or 15 thousand people scurry from one event to the next on a Saturday night in the Mission district.
Last year I did my thing on opening day of LitQuake and then DJ’d the closing party (the mix, “Lit Up,” is here if you want to stream, here if you want to download it). This year I’m performing at 8:30 PM at Borderlands Books Cafe (866 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 [map]). The hour is titled “Fantastic Creatures and Extinction Events” (official page here). Also reading are Ellen Klages, Allison Moon, and Diana Orgain. (Apparently Annalee Newitz had to cancel).
Naturally BART went on strike at midnight last night, making the event enormously problematic for me and thousands of others. Parking in the Mission is nearly impossible during LitCrawl. Adding thousands more vehicles to San Francisco on a Saturday makes it a full-on nightmare. I have to say that, after seeing what subway drivers in Manhattan routinely endure a few weeks ago, I have very little sympathy for BART operators and their current demands.
NOTE: This entry was originally posted in January 2010. I’m reposting it today in honor of the 50-year anniversary of King’s historic speech in Washington.
Some years ago while auditioning samples for compositions, I was listening to pieces of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech and was astonished to realize that that the speech is — from start to finish and without variation — 125 beats per minute for over 15 minutes.
I have always thought that the “Dream” speech is about the most passionate, important, lyric, and beautifully constructed stretch of oratory imaginable. The realization that it’s also right on tempo caused me to start listening to it as a musical construction. It has a nearly symphonic structure, with distinct movements. And of course there’s that astonishing finish.
I wanted to compose something that would underscore the speech’s musicality — a simple piece that wouldn’t call attention to itself or stand independently of the speech, but act as a bed to illustrate the structure and lyric beauty of King’s amazing words.
I did absolutely no editing to the speech beyond toning down some of the applause and EQing it a bit for clarity. It runs in “MLK” exactly as it was recorded, from start to finish, and the music is composed around it. All stops, breaks, returns, emphases are exactly as Rev. King delivered them.
After many listenings my appreciation for Rev. King’s words (and passion, and hope) has only deepened, and the demonstration of their musicality fills me with a childlike wonder. I hope that you are as moved and astonished by the beauty and depth of this speech as I continue to be.
Download: Steve Boyett – “MLK”
Seriously, just don’t.
Ondar was a master of the art of what Westerners call Tuvan throat-singing. He attained global prominence by a very odd route: When physicist Richard Feynman passed himself off as a Tuvan singer in an attempt to travel to Tuva (technically a Russian republic). Most Americans’ first exposure to Tuvan throat-singing was a recording played briefly during the Nova episode Richard Feynman: The Last Journey of a Genius. There was a bit of a sensation for it, resulting in several Tuvan artists (most notably Ondar and the band Huun Huur Tu) attaining international prominence.
There was a period in my life when activities oddly related to regulated breathing were very important: Throat singing, didgeridoo, and yoga. During this time I started a Yahoo Throat-Singing Group (when Yahoo was the most prominent of such online groups), and that led to many unexpected adventures, some of which I discussed here.
I met Ondar twice. The first time was at a performance at the L.A. Public Library downtown, where I was extremely fortunate to see him perform with Paul Pena, a blind blues artist whose adventures traveling to Tuva are detailed in the wonderful documentary Genghis Blues. The second time was after a screening of Genghis Blues in Pasadena. Both times he was gracious, and had astonishing charisma. I never saw him — live, on television, or recorded — when he didn’t radiate joy.
Ondar performed on David Letterman, and with a truly eclectic number of musicians, including Paul Pena, Frank Zappa and The Chieftains (!), Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and more. In 1993 he rode and performed in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena.
In his own country Ondar was a national treasure. He was a much-loved ambassador for his country and its unique traditional music. I am very saddened by his early death, but it makes me happy that his music lives on. It’s an example of the astonishing variety and ability of our species.
Last March I cut off all my hair, kind of on a whim. It’s all grown back now.
I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.
I suspected my head would look a bit like a badly peeled potato, but I hadn’t realized just how much my head had got the living shit knocked out of it over the years. Including a divot scooped in the back that you’d think would have rained on my autonomic parade. I blame my sister’s headboard. Though, in all fairness, I did used to break bricks & boards with the poor sad abused brainbucket, and that couldn’t have helped the whole pleasing-aesthetic-shape thing much.
The thing that bothered me most about it wasn’t getting sunburned, or being cold (though wind on it felt weird). It was that it’s all stubbly within a day, and when you put on a T-shirt it catches on it like velcro. I hated that feeling.
I received your communication indicating your concerns about the two National Security Agency programs that have been in the news recently. I appreciate that you took the time to write on this important issue and welcome the opportunity to respond.
First, I understand your concerns and want to point out that by law, the government cannot listen to an American’s telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause. As is described in the attachment to this letter provided by the Executive Branch, the programs that were recently disclosed have to do with information about phone calls – the kind of information that you might find on a telephone bill – in one case, and the internet communications (such as email) of non-Americans outside the United States in the other case. Both programs are subject to checks and balances, and oversight by the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary.
As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that I believe the oversight we have conducted is strong and effective and I am doing my level best to get more information declassified. Please know that it is equally frustrating to me, as it is to you, that I cannot provide more detail on the value these programs provide and the strict limitations placed on how this information is used. I take serious my responsibility to make sure intelligence programs are effective, but I work equally hard to ensure that intelligence activities strictly comply with the Constitution and our laws and protect Americans’ privacy rights.
These surveillance programs have proven to be very effective in identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with terrorist plots, and in allowing the Intelligence Community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to prevent numerous terrorist attacks. More information on this should be forthcoming.
- On June 18, 2003, the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) testified to the House Intelligence Committee that there have been “over 50 potential terrorist events” that these programs helped prevent.
- While the specific uses of these surveillance programs remain largely classified, I have reviewed the classified testimony and reports from the Executive Branch that describe in detail how this surveillance has stopped attacks.
- Two examples where these surveillance programs were used to prevent terrorist attacks were: (1) the attempted bombing of the New York City subway system in September 2009 by Najibullah Zazi and his co-conspirators; and (2) the attempted attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in October 2009 by U.S. citizen David Headley and his associates.
- Regarding the planned bombing of the New York City subway system, the NSA has determined that in early September of 2009, while monitoring the activities of Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, NSA noted contact from an individual in the U.S. that the FBI subsequently identified as Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi. The U.S. Intelligence Community, including the FBI and NSA, worked in concert to determine his relationship with Al Qaeda, as well as identify any foreign or domestic terrorist links. The FBI tracked Zazi as he traveled to New York to meet with co-conspirators, where they were planning to conduct a terrorist attack using hydrogen peroxide bombs placed in backpacks. Zazi and his co-conspirators were subsequently arrested. Zazi eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb the NYC subway system.
- Regarding terrorist David Headley, he was also involved in the planning and reconnaissance of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that killed 166 people, including six Americans. According to NSA, in October 2009, Headley, a Chicago businessman and dual U.S. and Pakistani citizen, was arrested by the FBI as he tried to depart from Chicago O’Hare airport on a trip to Europe. Headley was charged with material support to terrorism based on his involvement in the planning and reconnaissance of the hotel attack in Mumbai 2008. At the time of his arrest, Headley and his colleagues were plotting to attack the Danish newspaper that published the unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, at the behest of Al Qaeda.
Not only has Congress been briefed on these programs, but laws passed and enacted since 9/11 specifically authorize them. The surveillance programs are authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which itself was enacted by Congress in 1978 to establish the legal structure to carry out these programs, but also to prevent government abuses, such as surveillance of Americans without approval from the federal courts. The Act authorizes the government to gather communications and other information for foreign intelligence purposes. It also establishes privacy protections, oversight mechanisms (including court review), and other restrictions to protect privacy rights of Americans.
The laws that have established and reauthorized these programs since 9/11 have passed by mostly overwhelming margins. For example, the phone call business record program was reauthorized most recently on May 26, 2011 by a vote of 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House. The internet communications program was reauthorized most recently on December 30, 2012 by a vote of 73-22 in the Senate and 301-118 in the House.
Attached to this letter is a brief summary of the two intelligence surveillance programs that were recently disclosed in media articles. While I very much regret the disclosure of classified information in a way that will damage our ability to identify and stop terrorist activity, I believe it is important to ensure that the public record now available on these programs is accurate and provided with the proper context.
Again, thank you for contacting me with your concerns and comments. I appreciate knowing your views and hope you continue to inform me of issues that matter to you. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841.
United States Senator
From: Steven R. Boyett
Sent: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:27 PM
Subject: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein responding to your message
I feel that you are acting against the very principles you have been elected to uphold. Restricting liberty to establish security is a devil’s bargain, sanctioned by corporations motivated by shareholder profit, enabled by sustained government contracts, and perpetuated by massive financial influence over elected officials.
Your justifications enumerated below are simply that: justifications. Your claim that warrantless surveillance will not be conducted because it is illegal has not only been demonstrated to be patently false on a wholesale level inconceivable even a decade ago, it is an alarmingly naive position for the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to take. Edward Snowden’s revelations have made it painfully clear that there is a vast difference between what the law permits and what security operatives routinely do. For you to abet this function is wholly shameful.
I have voted for you in the past. I will not do so again.
The current crop of enhanced e-books falls sadly short of the medium’s spectacular capabilities. Mostly they provide extras: Interviews, author readings, the audiobook, maybe a game. Like bonus material on a DVD, but without deleted scenes, boooo! Some of it is useful: Timelines, maps, etc. But there’s very little that enhances a reader’s enjoyment and understanding of the text itself. More importantly, there’s no model, modular approach to bringing such enhancements to the text.
Certainly some books have taken creative advantage of the medium. Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality springs to mind. But most efforts have been primitive, gimmicky, or misdirected. One “cutting-edge” approach is indistinguishable from the “choose-your-own-adventure” books of the 70s & 80s, apart from the reader not having to turn actual pages to get to the chosen part. Readers made it plain then that they want the writer to choose the adventure. If I can choose it myself, then the events that lead up to the end are, by definition, arbitrary. I certainly don’t feel I’ve paid to be in the hands of a good storyteller.
Other approaches are faring similarly. Most readers don’t care how many other readers have highlighted a particular passage. Most don’t want to interrupt their literary immersion to chat about a scene they’re in the middle of. Most are quickly bored with watching a graphic move.
The resounding verdict is that what readers like to do is read, and distracting and superfluous add-ons are mostly unwelcome. (I except the value of such enhancements in children’s books.) Book enhancements need to be inimical. They need to bring something to the text beyond the appearance of a desperate need to keep a reader’s attention. This won’t surprise enthusiastic readers, and it’s a shame that it is surprising publishers.
I would like the option to release (and read) novels as wikis. I’m interested in the opportunity to create what are essentially linked, flexible, self-updating, multimedia versions of annotated books. I’d like a layered approach of well-integrated functions that can show me the real-world settings of fictional events; explain technical or historical references; provide definitions; discuss allusions in, or influences on, the text; give biographical information that provides insight into an author’s choices and themes; play a referenced song. I would like a platform that can provide this for any book I read (so long as there are readers willing to contribute material). And I’d like it even better if this platform was open source.
These abilities would let a book live and breathe beyond its pages, without interfering with the immersive, methodical, linear, and private process that is reading.
The first time through I might not use any of these options. But on re-reading, the chance to have more than my prior exposure informing the novel is very exciting to me. There are many authors whose density, allusion, humor, historical immersion, complexity, and even obscurity would be made more accessible through the application of such layers, without affecting a comma’s worth of their prose, or my enjoyment of it. I think of how much more juice might be squeezed out of Homer, Dante, Faulkner, Joyce, Hemingway, Samuel R. Delany, Cormac McCarthy, Umberto Eco, David Foster Wallace. Doubtless you have your own list.
I have every confidence that this is where e-books will head. Until then, third-party approaches seem to be a good stopgap. I’m talking about websites that act as “read-alongs,” book-specific wikis with user-provided explanations, definitions, associations, maps, media, etc. I am surprised that I have found so few.
Book Drum is a good one, I think. They have a nice selection of user-provided book “profiles,” from Milan Kundera to Homer to (ahem) V.C. Andrews. To create or edit a profile you have to sign up, but the book profiles themselves are accessible to anyone. The quality of the entries is uneven, but that’s the nature of the beast. I found the profile of Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing to be startlingly well-researched and illuminating, and I was quite grateful for the work that contributor Gordon Knox put into it. I’ve read that novel five or six times, yet here was a trove of insight and information for me.
I like to think that someone will get form & function right enough that one such site will become the go-to location for — oh, let’s call it metabooking. Heck, if such a site were successful enough — the Facebook of metabooking — maybe it could be ported as a free addon to your ebook purchase. Maybe your Kindle would give you the option of implementing it.
I spent most of a recent Friday crawling around the Nine Oh Nine, a B-17 Flying Fortress, with Ken Mitchroney, my writing partner on Fata Morgana. Besides being a ton o’ fun, it was invaluable for the novel, and educational in some unexpected ways.
I’ve often mentioned that I’m a fiend for research, I think because I usually write about impossible things. The advantage is that it lends credence to what’s essentially an unbelievable idea. The disadvantage is that gritty realism also shines a harsher light on the impossible elements, forcing you to work harder to make them believable and dovetail them into your depictions of the familiar.
Ironically, often the more specific you are, the more you open yourself up to argument. It’s not difficult to believe the line, “He rode the horse across the desert.” But if I write in detail about riding a horse across a desert, and get one of those specifics wrong, the whole thing falls apart. (I wonder if that’s why fantasy fiction has traditionally been so flowery and general: it’s trying to lull you into acceptance, to make you focus on the ornate icing because in truth there’s not much cake. Hmm.) I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, because when it works, you don’t just accept that someone rode a horse across the desert, you rode it yourself.
In my case, I have be careful not to over- compensate. It’s easy to belabor the concrete details as courtroom evidence that these impossible events did in fact take place. It’s something I look for when I revise.
By now I’ve read a ton of books and watched a ton of video related to B-17s. the Eight Air Force, and the European Theater in 1943. Yet no amount of research is a substitute for experience. To crawl around inside that bomber, smell the grease and 108 octane, feel first-hand how crammed together those young men were, is to come away with a handful of One True Things that we wouldn’t have found without being there. Things that give the authenticity we’re looking for.
Still — I’ve promised Ken there won’t be a pilot’s manual in the novel. I think I’ve learned the difference between making a reader believe someone can fly a bomber, and teaching the reader to fly the damn thing himself.
Fata Morgana is about halfway done, and we’re hugely happy with it. Even better, our agent is hugely happy with it.
My friend Adrian Smith is a wreck diver and videographer who has started a Kickstarter campaign to fund an expedition to Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in order to document the warships sunk by a U.S. atomic blast in 1946. These WW2-era ships are the only ones ever to be exposed to close-range atomic blast (click the pic for a mind-blowing sense of how close).
To give you an idea of what these ships were exposed to, take a look at the water column of the mushroom cloud in this picture (or, even better, in this one). See the dark blotch on its lower right? That’s an aircraft carrier, lifted by the blast and standing on end.
Let me say that again. That’s an aircraft carrier. Lifted by the blast. And standing on end.
Among the sunken wrecks are the carrier Saratoga, the battleship Yamamoto (the flagship from which the Pearl Harbor attack was launched), the German battleship Prinz Eugen (which assisted the Bismark in sinking the USS Hood), and the U.S. submarine Apogon.
No comprehensive documentary exists of these historic vessels, and in recent years their erosion has accelerated. I think it’s very cool that Adrian is trying to get this documentary made. Here’s the Atomic Armada website. Fingers crossed for the expedition!
My favorite drink these days is a variation on a pre-Prohibition-era drink called a Whiskey Cocktail. It’s based on Jennifer Colliau’s recipe from Small Hand Foods.
The cocktail’s supposed to be made with bourbon (Buffalo Trace is recommended), but I use Bulleit small-batch rye. The Buffalo Trace has a lot of body, the Bulleit has a lot of character. It’s a preference thang.
Here’s the recipe, if you’re curious. Ingredients are listed in their pictured order, left to right.
- 1/4 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar-to-water ratio)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- 2 oz. Bulleit rye (green label) or Buffalo Trace bourbon
- 1 lemon peel
- Add simple syrup and bitters to an old-fashioned glass.
- Add lemon peel and muddle moderately to release the oils.
- Add rye (or bourbon).
- Add large ice cubes (I use either the Tovolo King cube mold or the amazingly cool Tovolo sphere ice balls).
- Stir for 15-20 seconds.
It’s a tasty, sipping drink. They do sneak up on you, though.
How do we know that Steve’s working on a novel?
Because his red pens are running out of ink.
I knew when I said, “Hey, Ken, let’s write a book together!” that I should have had the foresight to say, “Hey, Ken, let’s write and edit a book together!”
The sad, perverted truth, though, is that I like this part.
(And yah, it’s clickable if you’re morbidly curious about my editorial self-evisceration. Good luck reading my handwriting, though — I could write prescriptions, I tell ya.)
My music podcasts, Podrunner and Groovelectric, turn seven in a week. No way I would have believed I’d keep doing them this long, much less that they would have remained so popular.
Groovelectric remains my favorite simply because, being a straight-up music mix series, it represents what I do, and love, and attempt, as an electronic music DJ. Since it debuted in February 2006, it’s usually been in iTunes’ Top 100 music podcasts.
Podrunner has been hugely popular. The workout-music series has been a top iTunes podcast for seven years in a row, and a pacemaker literally and figuratively. There was nothing like it out there when it debuted, and I am enormously proud of its popularity and positive influence.
I had to change the theme music for Podrunner, so I took the opportunity to dig out my old MIDI keyboard and brush up on my music production software before getting to work on new theme music. I’m pretty sure it’s the first thing I’ve composed in a decade.
Even with guitar-rig sampler kits, I couldn’t get a lead guitar sound I wanted for the opening notes. So I dug out my Univox imitation Les Paul guitar and played it myself. It’s the first time I’ve recorded guitar in at least 20 years. I had an absolute blast doing it.
The new Podrunner theme is below if you want to give it a listen or download it.
[UPDATE] I tweaked the track a bit, making it shorter & chunkier, and I EQ’d & mastered it to make it sound better overall. That’s now the file below.
I’ve set aside Avalon Burning for a while to work on a novel with my friend Ken Mitchroney.
I’ve known Ken for nearly 30 years (ulp!), and we’ve worked on a ton of projects together — from comic books, to screenplays, to Toy Story 2 and much more — but this is the first time we’ve set out on a novel together.
I don’t want to give too many details, though I will say that I now know more about the care and feeding of B-17 bombers than I ever imagined I would.
The novel’s called Fata Morgana, and so far it is going pretty quickly. I am having an absolute blast.
Subterranean Magazine editor Bill Schafer has made the Winter 2013 issue available as a free download in ePUB and Mobi format (that covers Nook, Kindle, & most other e-book readers). You can also download the Fall 2012 issue here. This is a bodaciously cool thing for Bill to do!
Even more bodacious (and more cool), the Winter 2013 issue contains my dark fantasy/western novella “Hard Silver,” so I’m even more stoked.
Go thou and do likewise.
A supercut is a video remix that compiles similar scenes from several films. For instance, here is a supercut of scenes of Claire Danes crying:
Supercuts can also reference a single movie, as with this supercut of every utterance the word “dude” in The Big Lebowski:
One of the things I like about supercuts is that they can point out cliches that are everywhere in films (endess instances of “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” “I’m too old for this shit,” etc.), weird quirks or consistencies of actors or directors (every Schwarzenegger scream, Bruce Willis looking confused, Michael Bay’s circling cameras), or crass stupidities (too many to note here).
There are several supercuts I’d love to see someone put together. (I know I could do it myself, but I’m too damn
lazy busy to acquire all the scenes for supercuts I’d like to see, much less learn whatever video software I’d need to edit them together).
First up is Supercuts of Scenes of Women Treating Injured Men (Especially When Followed by Kissing). One such scene in the utterly predictable Christian Bale/Mark Wahlberg vehicle The Fighter made me think this supercut needs to be done. I don’t think it takes a lot of effort for most of us to come up with an embarrassing number of such scenes. One of the more famous (and one of the best) is from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’d suggest more, but thinking of them is half the fun.
Feel free to offer up supercuts you’d like to see, or links to existing supercuts you like.
I saw one of these parked on the side of the road today. At first I couldn’t account for it, at least not in any rational way.
But then I realized that the latest monster SUVs — maybe the Ford Excretion, or the Cadillac Escalate — are now equipped with escape pods.
Think of it! In the event of accident or catastrophic failure, the sophisticated computer brain of the SUV seals the driver super-snug in this little emergency capsule, and then huffs him out of its injured behemoth body like last night’s burrito.
Imagine the relief of the driver! Having escaped some vehicular calamity, he may now cautiously navigate amid traffic in relative safety, until help or an actual vehicle can be summoned.
There must be a built-in GPS transponder for search & rescue. Maybe even a remote control in case the driver is incapacitated. Flares and MRE packets and even a signal mirror.
A disposable vehicle! Truly we live in an age of marvels.
So how’s your 2013 so far?
HEREWITH, the following Words and Phrases are ordered Banish’d from the common speech as Damning Evidence of groupthink, known to be detrimental to the Rever’d Gift of Free Will:
- Drill down
- Double down
- Low-hanging fruit
- I’m just saying (a perennial Banishment entry, alas)
- Awesome sauce (or anything-sauce)
- Douche (in an Adjectival state)
- I think I threw up in my mouth a little (this Devil has resisted many previous Proclamations)
- Threw him under the bus
- Sustainable (most especially in reference to the marketing of Productes)
- Man cave
- Epic fail
- Not so much
- Skin in the game
Special consideration is being given to explanatory sentences beginning with the word “So,” as there seems to be a highly infectious plague of them among talk-show guests.
The gentle quality of Mercy suggests that users of such Banish’d Words and Phrases be treated not with Scorn or Derision but with heartfelt Pity, and generally Punish’d subsequent to their thoughtless usage by a downward Gaze and a small shake of the Head.
Subterranean has released my new novelette “Hard Silver” on their most excellent online magazine. It’s an idea I’ve been wanting to do for many years, and I’m so glad I finally got around to writing it, because it was a big honkin’ bag o’ fun to do.
“Hard Silver” is a fantasy Western, and my take on two genre tropes that were destined to cross paths, but astonishingly never have till now (as far as I’m aware, anyhow).
Even better, it’s free free FREE! So don’t be shy — read! Repost! Link! Let all the Intertubes behold its mighty presence! Bookmark it to jog your memory come awards time. Moo hoo, hah hah. (Did I mention that it’s free?)
This one is called Speakeasy (more for the literalness of the name than from any association with Prohibition-era juice joints). I’m a featured reader along with mystery writer David Corbett and Benicia’s Poet Laureate, Lois Requist.
There’s also an open mic segment, which should be fun. The last reading at the Rellik was terrific (video here), and this one is shaping up to be even better.
The Rellik Tavern
Saturday, Nov. 17, 3:00 – 5:00 PM
726 First Street
Benicia, CA 94510 (map)
The Litquake reading went very well, but the video did not. It turns out that when the little red light is lit, it means the camera is recording, and when it isn’t lit, it isn’t. Like I should know that?
The reading at Bookshop Benicia went well, considering that I was a bit off my game. I’ve had a cold all week, and was also still having an unpleasant conversation with the food poisoning I’d had since eight that morning. (So much for “Never complain, never explain.”)
The culprit was a 7-Eleven burrito; I have only myself to blame. I seem to be very susceptible to the nasty little bugs that caper and cavort in late-night junk food, since I’ve had the pleasure of their company at least a couple dozen times.
Video of the reading will be posted soon. I broke a fever during it — that ought to be fun to watch, huh?
Tonight is my DJ gig at the San Francisco Litquake closing party (see the sidebar). I don’t plan to be feverish, coughing, or turning myself inside-out at any point during it. That will be a refreshing change of pace.
Today San Francisco is hosting the America’s Cup, a Columbus Day parade, a bluegrass festival, Fleet Week, a Giants game, and a Blue Angels aerial show. Estimates are that a million extra people will be in San Francisco today.
At the same time, I’m reading at Litquake (see sidebar info). Coincidence? I think not. Still, calling out a Blue Angels flyover just for my reading seems a bit much. Even though I’m very flattered. Really.
Last year I performed at Litcrawl, the city-wide event that closes San Francisco’s massive, week-long Litquake festival of readings, panels, and book-related events. It was one of the best readings I’ve ever given, in front of one of the best crowds I’ve ever had.
Naturally I’m stoked that this year Ive been asked to do my little tap dance during Litquake’s opening weekend. I’ll be performing as part of The Fantastic Surrounds Us, a fantasy & science fiction-oriented segment of the “Off the Richter Scale” series that opens Litquake.
Litquake/Off the Richter Scale
Sunday, Oct. 7 – 2:00 – 3:00 PM
Variety Children’s Hospital Preview Room Theater
582 Market Street, San Francisco (map)
On Thursday, October 10, I’ll be reading in the East San Francisco Bay city of Benicia as part of Straitquake, a Litquake-affiliated event. This will be a longer performance than at Litquake.
And finally, I am totally stoked to announce that I”m DJing the Litquake closing party after Litcrawl on Saturday, October 13. The party is private from 10 to midnight, but wide open after that. Much funk will be served.
I will probably record all the performances. Video of the readings will be posted here, and audio of the DJ gig might end up on Groovelectric, depending on how much new material I use (and whether or not I suck).
I’m getting a ton of email about the new tv show Revolution, asking if it is based on my 1983 novel Ariel, and if I had any involvement with the show. I haven’t watched the show and I’m not likely to.
The answer to the latter question is, no, I had nothing to do with the show. The answer to the former question is that I think it is a ripoff of a different novel that seems to be largely a ripoff of Ariel. I’ll leave the issue of whether you can ripoff by proxy for others to debate.
Further details would require a very lengthy post that I would probably regret writing, so this is all I’m gonna say about this for now.
Thanks in part to the influence of Cory Doctorow’s reach on BoingBoing, and to the responsiveness of the good folks at e-Reads, the price of the trade paperback (large-format softcover, if you will) of Mortality Bridge is now $19.95.
As someone who winced whenever he saw the original $23.95 price, I can tell you that I am relieved and happy about this. Sure, I make less money per sale. But given this more reasonable price, I will probably sell more copies.
Would I rather sell more books for less money? You bet. If I had great business acumen, I doubt I’d have picked writing as a profession. The truth is, writers want to be read, sometimes unpragmatically so. Otherwise I’d just have one copy available and I’d price it at $100,000, and then wait and hope I score that sale. Sure, the odds aren’t good — but I just need one!
Fortunately for both of us, that ain’t the case, and you can get the very handsome trade paperback here for the New! Low! Price! of $19.95! operators are standing by call by midnight tonight get your free ginsu knives never needs winding lasts all month on a single charge minty fresh ZOMG whAt r U wtNg 4!
Nothing makes me feel like one of those reality-show rat-warren hoarders more than confronting the things I’ve hauled from garage to garage for years with some notion that Someday I Will Need These. I’ve been moving the same set of paper-marbling combs for 15 years, ferchrissake, entirely because they’re such a pain in the ass to make.
Among the things that have been taking a Garage Tour of America are manuscript drafts. I tend to keep the significant drafts & marked revisions of novel manuscripts. I tell myself they’re an important map of My Process. But now that I’m playing Apartment Tetris with all this stuff, I’m thinking, you know, I don’t really see any universities begging for my papers so that PhD theses can be mined for posterity.
Mortality Bridge, for example. I probably revised it 40 or 50 times. I kept the major revisions, and I had at least 12 incarnations of the thing here. We’re talking 6600 sheets of paper. Carry enough of those up and down stairs and you’ll get to where you don’t care if it’s a signed first edition of the Old Testament — it’s outta here. And I’m not exactly First Folio Shakespeare; no one’s gonna bid on V3.1 of The Gnole on eBay.
So I decided to throw out my intermediate-draft manuscripts and keep only firsts and finals. Early versions of the continuation of The Architect of Sleep? Gone. The second draft of Ariel? History.
I looked at those about-to-be-tossed drafts on my couch (there were even more than in the picture) and thought about the time and effort they embodied. Four of those novels were never published.
I also thought about how many reviews I’d read, how many emails I’d gotten, that mentioned how I don’t write very much, or had stopped entirely for 25 years, or whatever bullshit makes the rounds until it becomes irrevertible. It’s enough to make you eat a bottle of tequila.
At the end of the day, though, what really matters is where those drafts led to. All the blind alleys, deleted scenes, rephrasings, tightening, clarity, rhythm, proofreading — they’re the dirt left behind as you dig your way to that final draft. Understanding that made it easier to throw it all away.
And now it truly may be said that Boyett recycles his stories.
Last night I went to hear Cory Doctorow lecture on “The Coming Civil War Over General-Purpose Computing,” for Stewart Brand’s The Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. I met Cory in 2010 at World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, and I just wanted to box him up and take him home. We were on a panel together, and I found Cory intimidatingly knowledgeable and articulate.
I was familiar with Cory’s work on issues of intellectual property, privacy, and individual rights in the 21st Century. I’d been thinking along similar lines for a few years, and when I ran across Cory and Lawrence Lessig I saw that here were people who had not only cogently articulated ideas I’d been messing with, they had become movers & shakers in those areas.
I hadn’t read any of Cory’s fiction, and after meeting him I read a bunch. I’ve found it as engaging as Cory himself. His wonderfully subversive YA novel Little Brother is an Anarchist Cookbook for young teens.
The big surprise for me was Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. It’s a flat-out, unapologetic magical-realist techno-activist science-fiction fantasy. (Whew.) It’s dark, and it’s loaded with exactly the kind of urban grit detail a book like this needs to stay grounded. It’s also the most lyrically written thing I’ve read by Cory, with a sustained mood and poetic tone that make it one of my favorite novels I’ve read in the last few years.
I’m pretty sure it’s also Cory’s least commercially successful novel. It doesn’t explain itself, it demands that you accept some baldly stated impossibilities, and it can’t possibly be catering to the nuts & bolts technophile audience who usually gobble Cory’s work like crack-filled bonbons. But for me it has the urgent immediacy of a book its author simply had to write, a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” insistence.
I tend to like artists’ “B” sides. Chances they take, things they knock out with no notion where they’re going or if they’ll even sell, much less make money. You can just feel the artist not playing it safe. (Gene Wolfe’s Latro books are like that for me — I’d bet they are among his least-selling novels, but they’re by far is most evocative and interesting. For me, anyhow.)
I was surprised to learn that last year was Cory’s first time at Burning Man. I was not surprised to learn that he is going again this year. And I’m delighted to learn that by doing so, he will be blowing off WorldCon for the first time in 18 years. The Playa will do that to you. And while I think Cory has a lot to offer WorldCon, I think Burning Man has a lot to offer Cory.
I would never say this to Cory directly, for fear of looking like a squeeing fanboy, but he is one of my heroes. His stances on the sham that is current intellectual property law, the fundamental humanism that makes him a revolutionary at heart, and his unwavering dedication to telling the world when the emperor has no digital clothes — they’re all traits of someone fighting the Good Fight.
Yesterday marked the 43rd anniversary of the first human step upon another world. I remember it vividly. It’s hard to convey now the extent to which much of the world was caught up in the Apollo program at the time. (And it would be hard to go back to that time and make people believe how little has been accomplished in manned space exploration since.)
Though the Apollo program was conceived as an American propaganda machine, the vision gradually became reshaped in the public consciousness, so that Apollo 11’s historic firsts were celebrated as a unique and inspiring human accomplishment.
Some years back I made up this image in an attempt to express the breadth of that accomplishment. The left side is a picture of the earliest known hominid footprint, from Laetoli in Tanzania. (At least, it was the oldest known at the time I made the image. It may have been superseded since.) It’s 3.7 million years old.
On the right, of course, is Neil Armstrong’s iconic footprint on the moon from July 1969 — a footprint that’s still there, and that might still be there 3.7 million years from now.
Taken together, they represent a stride that encompasses all of human development. (I know it can be argued that the Laetoli footprint is from a line that died out, but we’re talking symbols here, okay?)
These days it’s pretty easy to look at news headlines and despair. For all of our ability, we can be a pretty wretched species sometimes. But I like to look at this image and realize what we can accomplish when we put our (so far) unique minds to it, and take pride in our achievements while being grateful for our unbelievable luck. (One example of our great good fortune, out of thousands: We’ve had time to evolve and develop a civilization between major catastrophic collision events. Better luck is if we have time for that civilization to get to a point where it can get us off the planet, avert such a catastrophe, or both. Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get too smart for its own good and wipe itself out in any number of ingenious ways.)
The Benicia Literary Arts Organization very kindly asked if I would read at their second public reading at The Rellik Tavern in Benicia. They’ve only done poetry so far and wanted to see how it would work if they incorporated fiction into the program.
It’s weird, but I was nervous because it was a home-town crowd. For some reason I can go into San Francisco, or to a convention, and do my dog & pony show in front of a bunch of strangers just fine. (Well, not completely fine — I always get a kind of racehorse-at-the-gate nervousness before any performance.) But where I live? Whole nother ball game, for some reason.
Luckily, I’ve bombed at The Rellik before, as a DJ, so if I sucked, I wouldn’t be on unfamiliar ground.
I read two short pieces. I videotaped (I always pause before I type that — there’s no tape anymore, but what else do you call it?) both, but there was so much background noise on the first that I don’t want to put it up.
I’m really happy with how the second one, “I’m Sorry to Have to Tell You This,” turned out. There’s audio of it on my media page, but I much prefer the video. It was the best performance of the story I’ve done, and the audience was great.
Big thanks to the BLA, and to Lois Requist, Benicia’s new Poet Laureat, for asking me to read.
(Continuing my look at the half-dozen or so tv shows I watch, and why I watch them.)
Like Breaking Bad, I’d heard about Mad Men for a while before I watched it. It’s a great show about a Madison Avenue advertising company, people said.
I worked in advertising for about six years, as a temp and then full-time, mostly at a boutique agency in Pasadena. I was a proofreader and a copywriter. I grew to hate that job possibly more than any job I ever had, which is why I avoided Mad Men at first. The very thought made my stomach grumble.
But like any work of art of any depth, Mad Men isn’t really about its subject matter. It’s about advertising, all right, and the writers & researchers have definitely done their homework. I clearly remember some of the campaigns they reference (Heinz baked beans, Volkswagen, Right Guard, the Kodak Carousel). And the maneuvering to get and keep accounts (adjusted for dramatic inflation) feels pretty authentic.
The show’s production values also are terrific. Set dressing is practically a character all by itself. Again, the research here seems thorough, accurate, and authentic. The show conjures 1960 through the mid-60s almost eerily. I’ve gotten uncomfortable watching sometimes because the show’s often awkward and tense office parties so closely match my memories of my parents’ similar parties (my father was a VP at Eastern Air Lines & my mom was an executive secretary at EAL).
Period dramas often get the accessories right but the fundamentals wrong. Actors wear authentic clothes but just don’t act or talk the way people did; they’re still contemporary. Mad Men gets it right across the board.
And this gets me to what Mad Men is really about. I think it wants to show us how different the world was 50 years ago. How people treated themselves, women’s near-subjugation, men’s role-confinement, the way they looked at the future — these aren’t subtle differences, they’re profound. It’s a depiction of a generation. I’m looking at my parents here, but I’m not seeing them from outside. They aren’t old people with dated notions and unrelatable values. With Mad Men I’ve been moving along with them, feeling what they feel in all its glorious unexamined contradiction. In Mad Men, I am my parents. I’m shown who they were as people, in the context of their time, as a part of the expanding and ultimately diminishing wave front that is a generation. I’m seeing how the world got away from them, how my generation usurped them, how the next will usurp me.
I think that’s a brilliant accomplishment.
Mad Men accomplishes this through some amazing character development. The writing is great, but what makes it stand out is that it’s often opaque. Sometimes you aren’t sure why a character has done something. You get the feeling the character doesn’t know, either. Yet it fits. In a show about people who create images intended to manipulate, meaningful symbols abound. Yet, like advertising, they often exist iconically, without explanation and sometimes without context, yet never without meaning — even if the meaning isn’t readily apparent. I think that takes courage, and confidence, and trust.
I used to be one of those people who took obnoxious snobby pride in the fact that he didn’t watch television. For the longest time I didn’t even own one.
That hasn’t been true for a while now. And not only will I not offer up my former excuse (“The worst book is better than the best television show”), I’ll flatly contradict it. There’s stuff on tv now that is friggin amazing. The last few years have seen some of the best tv shows ever.
I’m not going to make a case for living on your ass and devouring shows. I like to think that no one on his deathbed looks back on his life as the lights are dimming and thinks, “I sure watched me some great tee vee!” But, y’know, I talk about books & writing a lot here, and sometimes about movies, and it’s just stupid to disregard a medium in which really good things are happening. Being a DJ has taught me that no medium is by its nature good or bad, and being a DJ and being published in science fiction & fantasy have taught me that there are no bad genres, just bad practitioners.
So I’m gonna spend a couple of entries not admitting to which shows I watch, but boasting about them. So nyah nyah.
I heard about how good this show was for years, but I had no desire to watch it. A chemistry teacher who becomes a meth cooker — oh, look, Weeds on speed! No, no, people said: The writing is great, the show is really dark & gritty & interesting, and everyone’s a bad guy. Oh, look, I said, The Sopranos on speed! (I was funny about The Sopranos. Beautifully produced, written, & acted, and I didn’t care, because I wanted everyone on the show dead. I only watched a few of them.)
Then Netflix streamed all the Breaking Bad episodes and I watched the first one. I was hooked in five minutes. (That’s right, kid, the first one’s free.) The opening was one of the strongest hooks I’ve ever seen on TV. And it’s not about bad guys doing bad things. It’s about how you become a bad guy. About losing your perspective. About the incremental path to evil.
And what makes it devastatingly effective is that it isn’t moustache-twirling, vein-popping, sociopathic TV Loon evil. It’s suburban two-car-garage evil, evil across the street from you, evil that belongs to your rideshare program and cheers the little league team. Not pure evil, because that’s a fiction concocted by lazy storytellers and simplistic moralists. This is evil alloyed with good, evil where the worst traits are actually caricatures of your own ambitions and desires, commingling with your best intentions. Fuck Sauron, folks. I’m never gonna meet him and neither are you. But I’ve met Walter White a hundred times, at least — and that’s scary.
To follow Walter White’s arc is to become acquainted with a perfectly understandable evil. You’re taken along so effectively that I imagine it’s startling to watch the first episodes again to see how naive Walter seems, how relatable, compared to the alpha-male Machiavellian bastard he is now.
The writing is spot-on, the characters are laminated and contradictory and their evolution is (mostly) believable (I have some issues with the rapid ballistics of Walter’s wife, Skyler). Its worldview is sparse, Spartan, bleak, dark darker darkest.
I can’t wait for the season premiere Sunday night.
So I rented Safe House the other day. Absolutely generic film done in shaky-cam (which I loathe). It had surprisingly good hand-to-hand fight scenes, and it looked as if the DVD’s bonus material had a featurette on their choreography. Cool!
So I go to the bonus section and play the featurette, and I get this screen:
WTF? To watch this movie, I endured six movie previews, two tv show previews, an ad for a video game, a self-congratulatory ad for all of Universal’s Blu-Ray collection, and an ad for a theme park ride. And then they tell me that the version they’ve sold to Redbox is crippled in an effort to upsell me. Seriously?
This, after blocking video controls that would allow the owners of DVD players to skip advertisements; legislating that you are not allowed to duplicate an item you bought; locking it with Digital Rights Management encoding; seeing their former executives appointed to Cabinet posts related to intellectual property; furiously lobbying Congress to pass Draconian legislation; being caught red-handed gaming takedown-notice systems to eliminate competition and create de facto exclusives on artists they represent or are considering representing; having no fear of reprisal for malicious or incorrect accusations — the list goes on for miles.
Can these people still wonder why the world at large not only refuses to conform to their antiquated business model and archaic and increasingly irrelevant notions of copyright? Do they have any idea that people are refusing to adhere to their paranoid litigation and legislative efforts not because people are cheap, industry-destroying scofflaws, but because there is such joy to be taken in making the bully lose? Do they have any idea what’s in store for them now that they have gotten ISPs to collude with them on narcing on their customers?
The funny thing is, in the long run I don’t think we really have to do all that much to stop Big Media. They shoot themselves in the foot with astonishing regularity and precision. The ill will created by these drawbridge-raising, self-protective, out-of-touch, screw-you-jack-just-give-us-your-money measures is them bringing their own rope to their slow-motion hanging.
I really like bluejays. They’re smart (being in the crow family), brash, demanding little buggers who aren’t shy about letting you know they want something.
One of the little joys I take in my small apartment is that I’ve befriended two families of bluejays. It’s easy to do when you have peanuts. I got them used to picking them up from the rail outside my front door. Pretty soon they started landing and demanding peanuts.
One of the jays is an alpha male who just yells till he gets his peanut. The other is a smaller, scruffy-looking female who does a cutesy chirpy songbird schtick till I notice and bring her a peanut. It was cute till they started doing it at 7 a.m.
Because they’re smart, they learned pretty quickly that no amount of yelling or coaxing was gonna get them a peanut at that time of day, as I generally stay up late and get up at the crack of 11 or so. They adjusted their begging schedules accordingly.
Pretty soon it got to where they’d take peanuts from my hand, or land beside me when I was reading in the courtyard. I got worried because I don’t want them dependent on me and I don’t want them to be too trusting of people. One day one of them landed on the rail behind a UPS guy when he was making a delivery.
Then one of the jays figured out that the guy he saw through the small kitchen window of my apartment is the same guy who leaves peanuts out front, and he started landing on my air conditioner and banging on my window. I think he was trying to get an exclusive on the peanuts. He’d start at sunrise and go at it 10 or 20 times over the course of the day. We’re not talking tap-tap-tap here. We’re talking BAM BAM BAM, Open up in the name of the law.
At first I tried opening the blinds so he could watch me go to the front door, which could be seen from the kitchen window. I’d hold up a peanut and open the door and try to get the jay to realize that there was now a peanut out front, so stop banging on my damn window. No go. He wanted his peanut, he wanted it directly from the kitchen window (it doesn’t open because of the air conditioner), and he wanted it now.
That was when I realized that the jays had trained me.
So now I’ve set out on a campaign to unspoil my slowly domesticating bluejays before the little bastards have me renting DVDs from Redbox for them, and before I become the avian equivalent of a crazy cat lady. I’ve got them to stop with the window-banging, but seeing as how both of them showed up for peanuts while I was writing this, I clearly have a ways to go.
Of course, it’s me who needs retraining. But everybody knows that.
On Saturday, April 21, I performed a section from Avalon Burning, my novel-in-progress, at SF in SF. This monthly series of “Science Fiction in San Francisco” readings is held in the absolutely terrific venue of the screening room of the Variety Children’s Hospital, and proceeds from the evening benefit the Variety Children’s Charity.
Bruce McCallister read as well, and his hardboiled and funny “divine comedy” of a supernatural hit man caught up in a god vs. the devil shell game was a perfect complement to my dark & gritty post-apocalyptic fantasia.
The evening was well-attended, and the Q & A following centered (unsurprisingly) on definitions of “urban fantasy” and resistance thereto.
Many thanks to all who came out, to Terri Bisson for his congenial hosting and erudite moderation, and to Rina Weisman for her continual efforts in coordinating a true asset to the city of San Francisco and the local SF community.
Here’s video of the performance. I wasn’t able to place a camera face-on, so apologies for the side-angle view.