FATA MORGANA – New Novel Sold

flying_fortressI’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.

Woo hoo!

Fan Trailer for ARIEL

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.



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.)

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.

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.


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.

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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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.

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.