Write Now steven r. boyett's blog




Ken smiles politely as he reads the opening to FATA MORGANA

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.)

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Terminator: The Remix

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.

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LitCrawl Hella Fun

Ellen Klages, me, Allison Moon, apparently singing backup for someone

Ellen Klages, me, & Allison Moon, apparently singing backup for someone

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.


It's especially fun to perform a series of increasingly dire commercial-pilot announcements to an audience configured for passenger-jet travel.


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Reading @ LitCrawl SF

litcrawl02Back from two weeks in Ibiza (Space closing party, hellyeh) and a week in Florida (um, yuck), and I'm rushing to catch up and to prepare for my performance at this year's epic LitCrawl event.

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.

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MLK – repost

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"

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Don’t be this guy


Cheapest office rental ever

Seriously, just don't.


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Kongar-ool Ondar 1962-2013

ondarA few days ago I learned of the death of Kongar-ool Ondar on July 29 during emergency surgery following a massive brain hemorrhage in Kyzyl, Tuva.

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.

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Bald on Night Mountain


I'm the one who knocks.

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.

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feinsteinDear Steven:

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.

 Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator


From: Steven R. Boyett
Sent: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:27 PM
To: 'senator@feinstein.senate.gov'
Subject: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein responding to your message

Ms. Feinstein:

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.

--steven boyett

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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.

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