Sunday, February 28, 2010

The writing advice industry

Sierra thinks I should knock off this writing nonsense and go get her something to eat.

Here's a more cynical take on last week's Guardian round-up of advice to writers on writing, from Russell Smith at The Globe and Mail:

Their repeated compilation does point, however, to a paradox often noted in literary circles. The market for fiction shrinks every year, the attention paid to novels by the media diminishes monthly, booksellers demand ever-lower prices, everybody in the industry says it’s the worst it’s ever been. And yet more academic or private creative-writing programs are created every year, and the demand for advice on becoming a novelist remains furiously high. Indeed, the selling of advice on writing has become a self-supporting industry: I know young writers who are doing masters of fine arts in creative writing so that they can in turn become creative-writing teachers in similar programs.

I get the feeling that the best advice is just to shut up and write. And don't quit your day job just yet, damn it.


Wild About Where the Wild Things Are

Picture by Shawn Records from the set of Where the Wild Things Are.

How much do I love Where the Wild Things Are?


Follow this link to read the full story (with pictures!) of how I came to own possibly THE most awesome bit of WTWTA memorabilia evah!


Spike Jonze and Where the Wild Things Are

It's almost here! Where the Wild Things Are comes out on home video this week! Spike Jonze's documentary about Maurice Sendak, Tell Them Anything You Want (made along with Lance Bangs) also hits the stores this week. Here's a profile of Spike from the LA Times.

The most vivid scenes in "Wild Things" are also the most physical: the rough-and-tumble brawls and dirt fights. In keeping with his skate-kid roots, Jonze is usually at his best when communicating his sheer love of movement. Think of the lead character's Dance of Despair and Disillusionment from "Being John Malkovich" or the ecstatic choreography in the videos for Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" and Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" and "Praise You."

WTWTA blew my mind on many levels. I'm sure I'll have even more to say about it now that I can watch it over and over.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

How NOT to Title Something

Boring your reader can be dangerous!

Here's an interesting article about how to title your writing. A good title can really drive a story, and coming up with one often helps me see deeper into the story and characters. Anyway, I like some of the tips here. Study and enjoy!


Killer Whales Are Gay?

And I thought it was just penguins!

A whole gallery of gay animals at Esquire!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Cover of the Russian-language edition of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things, which I just read for the second time (in English, of course). Many good stories in this, and I particularly love the final story in it, "The Monarch of the Glen."

Via Neil Gaiman's blog comes not one but two columns of advice from writers for writers, just published in the Guardian. Agree with some, disagree with others, laugh at a few, nod in agreement with more; but definitely peruse this advice from writers like Margaret Atwood, PD James, Joyce Carol Oates, and Mr. Gaiman himself. The best advice might be that of Philip Pullman. Oddly enough, the kickoff for these columns was the list of ten rules for writing from the article by Elmore Leonard that I posted here recently, which Mr. Leonard is turning into a book.

Part One is here.
Part Two is here.


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Absolutely my favorite movie of all time. I watched this again last night and it still moves me to tears at many places. It's an unbelievably strong story of human relationships and character. The first time I saw this I knew nothing about the novels by Patrick O'Brian, so naturally I found the experience of Dr. Maturin's interest in science and the music he plays with Captain Aubrey to be total intellectual catnip. Combined with exciting action sequences and you have, in my opinion, an almost perfect movie.

I have since read all but the last two of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, which are amazingly well-written and meticulously researched. O'Brian achieved something I strive for in my writing: a type of genre story (the nautical adventure tale) told with remarkable characters and excellent, literary-quality writing.

See this if you haven't -- it's stunning.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Goliath," by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman and friend.

I'm currently re-reading Neil Gaiman's story collection Fragile Things, which contains this terrific story set in the universe of The Matrix. Gaiman was asked by Warner Bros. to write a story set in the world of The Matrix (they sent him a copy of the script), and the result, "Goliath," was posted at the film's website about a week before the movie opened. This is such a fine example of how a great story works, and it is so quintessentially Gaiman. Enjoy!

"Goliath," by Neil Gaiman


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Speaking of ‘Wild Things,’ love lost — and Mozart

One of the things that most intrigues me about writers and writing is influence -- what works on writers to make them create what they do? What fascinates them, encourages them, depresses them? Lots of people want to know from where writers get their ideas. Sometimes that is so hard to explain, but if you can find out what a writer loves, and hates, and fears, and finds joy in, then you will come closer to understanding what makes their imaginations tick.

Anyway, here's a fascinating article about Maurice Sendak and his loves and sorrows, called Speaking of ‘Wild Things,’ love lost — and Mozart. One of Sendak's great joys, as is mine, is the music of Mozart. There is much that is fascinating in this article, but I think I most love the conclusion:

But just a week before the interview, Sendak says, he began to come out of his depression. It started by picking up “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, followed by listening to Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

“I’m coming back to life — and the movie of ‘Wild Things’ and everything is life-enhancing,” says the author. “One looks for signs and symptoms of what is good and what is bad, what is pulling you down and what is holding it up. It’s Mozart, but I haven’t listened to him carefully for a long time. Now he’s back in my life with a vengeance. ... And there’s Charles Dickens.”

Max, of “Wild Things,” would be around 50 now.

“If I had a preference, he would be an artist,” says Sendak. “He would be an artist and it could be in any profession — in painting, in illustrating, in writing, in music. Oh, God, if he were a great pianist, I would be so happy!”

That tells me more about Maurice Sendak than anything I've ever read about him. I'm anxious to see the HBO documentary about Sendak, Tell Them Anything You Want, made by Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs, which is due out the same day as the DVD of WTWTA, March 2.

Don Giovanni is my favorite opera, BTW.


Monday, February 15, 2010


Via Drawn!, here's Vegeterrible, a cute short animated film about one bad avocado! The short was made by Danish animators Henril Sonniksen and Benjamin Neilsen. The description of the film from Vimeo:

A swinging Mexican fiesta goes bad when a very hungry rotten avocado crashes the party and starts devouring the guests... Vegeterrible is a film about the last tomato's fight for survival.

Vegeterrible from Henrik Sønniksen on Vimeo.



Never Let Me Go


Click on the link above and you'll see why I decided to read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go after looking it over in Borders a couple of times. It's so low key that the whole thing creeps up on you like a faint awareness of cold fingering its way into your body, and the horror comes more from what is NOT said than what IS said. In other words, it's not Stephen King, wet-your-pants frights, it's a sort of sickly, "OMG what sort of world IS this?" fear. It's been a long time since a novel has given me such a gut punch as this one has. Yikes! I can't wait to see the movie.

GET THIS BOOK and read it. The best way to improve one's writing is to read great writing, especially great fiction. Damn, I'm glad I got this book.


The Wild Things

As you might expect, I read this and enjoyed it quite a bit. I had never read Dave Eggers before, but right after reading The Wild Things, I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It was, of course, staggering.

The Wild Things was lots of fun! I love the way Eggers gets completely into Max's head without irony or affectation, and some of the expanded glimpses of the characters were fascinating. There's a lot of psychological depth going on inside the wild things, as well as inside Max. And as a fine example of unpretentious but brilliant writing, this little passage near the beginning of The Wild Things is where I fell in love with Dave Eggers:

One might think that a boy who was out in the snow for so long would get cold, but Max was not. He was warm, partly because he had on many layers, and partly because boys who are part wolf and part wind do not get cold.



Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eugene Onegin

Is there any opera more devastating than Eugene Onegin? Any opera climax that leaves so much blood on the stage without a single visible wound? Even Don Giovanni passes into the mythological before its monumental ending, keeping us at one remove from empathy with the doomed title character. In Eugene Onegin, we end with two people's lives torn asunder by their mistaken ideas about each other -- the monumental emotions of the heart. You reach out your hands and hold on, and fall into the emotional abyss with Eugene and Tatiana. Wow.


P.S. Gratuitous Dmitri Hvorostovsky picture. He's called "The Siberian Tiger" since he's from (and currently lives in) Siberia. WANT.

Oh, this is what I watched tonight. Fabulous on so many levels!

My Fuzzy Valentine!

I noticed that I took this picture of Sierra one year ago today. Isn't she gorgeous?


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Random Tiger Pic: Sierra

"I will chuff at you nicely. Then you have five seconds to pet me. If you are still touching me in six seconds, I will growl at you."

That's my sweetheart!


Happy Birthday, Renée!

Because, on February 14, 1959, the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast was Mozart's Don Giovanni, conducted by Karl Böhm.

Nice performance, BTW.

Because Don Giovanni is possibly the most devastating opera ever written. Don Juan ripped apart and given his comeuppance, even though we still, somehow, want him to kick the crap out of that stony ghost and keep on going.

Because, on that Saturday in 1959 -- February 14, for those keeping score -- a little girl was born in the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania.

And she was named Renée Fleming.

Because I just watched this tonight:

And it has been a long time since anything has wiped me out the way this did tonight.

When Renée sings "Non mi dir," I swear the heavens rip apart, and angels swarm around Donna Anna. While I turn into a puddle on the floor.

Anyhoo. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Renée Fleming. We have a date at the Folly Theatre in Kansas City in October. I will be there!


Elmore Leonard: Easy on the Hooptedoodle

Elmore Leonard (pictured) wrote a great little article called "Easy on the Hooptedoodle" back in 2001 for The New York Times. It's a quick summation of his advice on how to "remain invisible" when writing a book -- "to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story." There are some great tips here, and I try to follow them as much as possible. Of course, like all writing rules, sometimes you have to break them when you deem it necessary. But then, we'd never have anything to talk about, right?

Oh, if you haven't read Leonard's Freaky Deaky, you're missing a superb novel!

Read this article!!! Oops, there I go with the exclamation points again...


The Quotable Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. He conveys his terrific ideas in ways that manage to constantly surprise us. American Gods was one of the most amazing books I've read, Neverwhere is riveting for so many reasons, and The Graveyard Book is an absolute little gem of a novel. And the movie MirrorMask is simply terrific. Anyway, if you want to learn more about Neil's writing and the craft of writing in general, explore his blog, The Quotable Neil Gaiman, which he says he is going to start adding to soon (it appears there haven't been any updates for a while, until yesterday). And read one of Neil's books soon. Sounds like a good way to spend a long weekend!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Conformity Follies

And his hair isn't even that long! This stupid teacher should have seen me in high school!

This story will make you angry. A teacher in an Ohio school took it upon herself to tease a boy about his long hair in front of other students, with intimations of effeminacy and being gay. Good article here, another one with a TV news report here.

It's bad enough when the kids bully each other, but when the teachers get involved in the harassment, something's gone very wrong. Especially as this hits on some of my bugbears -- growing up gay; gender identity and gender roles; long hair; forced social conformity. Why do some people feel they have the responsibility and the RIGHT to run other peoples' lives? I hope the mother wins her lawsuit and the so-called "teacher" finds herself another career fast, one where she'll be unable to mess up the lives and minds of children.


Rolling Stone Loves WTWTA!

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave WTWTA four stars! His review is terrific, and here's a great quote:

Jonze never belabors points about violence or the Freudian nature of identity and rebellion. Whether Max's cheeks flush with euphoria or rage, our identification with him is complete. Jonze brings all the senses into play. You can practically feel the animal heat when homesick Max falls asleep in a "real pile" of snoozing wild things. But the creatures don't coddle Max, and the film follows suit. By staring without blinking into the yellow eyes of these wild things, Max begins to recognize something of himself.

DVD & Blu-Ray come out March 2!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Awesome Flight 1549 3D Animation

We all remember how the supercool Capt. Sully skillfully ditched that plane in the Hudson River after the double bird strike that destroyed both engines on his aircraft. Everyone survived; not even a broken limb! Capt. Sully was last off the plane, walking through the aircraft twice to make sure everyone had gotten off safely. Now this totally awesome video recreates the event in 3D animation (best viewed full screen). You're all but on this aircraft, from takeoff to ditching. Cockpit-to-ground transmissions are included. Fantastic stuff! See more at the website of the people who made the video, ExoSphere 3D. And here's to all of your future flights being piloted by a Capt. Sully!


h/t: James Fallows of The Atlantic

P.S. If you have trouble with the embed above, watch it at YouTube.

Brand New WTWTA Review!

Here's a terrific little review of WTWTA, with this great note about Max:

Special mention has to be given to the performance of Max Records in his role as Max. This talented young actor is someone to keep an eye on in the future. If you consider that he has very little previous experience and that most of the filming was done with puppets and little human interaction, then his performance really is phenomenal. He's able to portray such a wide range of emotions from happiness, joy, and craziness to loneliness, anger, and sadness. He definitely does crazy well and could possibly follow in the footsteps of Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr. in the future by taking less mainstream roles.

"He definitely does crazy well..." :o) I love it! The next Johnny Depp? Who knows?


Monday, February 8, 2010

Alma, a Short Film by Rodrigo Blaas

Alma is an award-winning short animated film made by Rodrigo Blaas, an animator for Pixar who made this film on his own. The short is beautiful, charming, spooky, and has an ending right out of The Twilight Zone. It's only five minutes long, so go check it out!


Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory and Education Center

This is Sierra, a thirteen-year-old female Siberian tiger, and she's my sweetie. What an absolutely gorgeous animal!

Down in Louisburg, Kansas, you'll find the Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory and Education Center. Back in 2006, I was researching tigers for a novel I was writing and I discovered this place, only thirty minutes from my home, that had real tigers! I went down to visit. And I visited again. And again! Finally a wonderful woman named Shelly Tooley pointed at me and said, "Sign him up!" And thus began my three-year adventure helping take care of the cats and other animals at Cedar Cove. The park was found by Billy Pottorff, who first saw tigers for real while serving in Vietnam. Shelly helped him build the park, and for a long time they were the only two people who ran it, until B.J. Auch and Steve Klein became the first outsiders to volunteer there. Shelly passed away very unexpectedly in November of 2008, and we all miss her a lot.

I was active at the park for three years, doing hard work and bonding with the cats, including tigers, leopards, cougars, and bobcats. I stopped going out there regularly simply because I realized I needed to concentrate more on my writing, and I miss the park very much. But if you're in the area and have a chance to visit, don't miss it! There are also three wolves at the park, and soon they'll be making a big announcement about a new addition to the park (my Facebook friends already know what that it).

The park is entirely run by volunteers, and no one draws a salary from the place -- your entry donation goes straight to the care and upkeep of the cats and the park. The work can be unbelievably hard and risky -- imagine shoveling heavy snow while keeping one eye on a tiger that's just waiting for you to give him a chance at you! But there are many rewards, as any of the volunteers will tell you. It takes a certain kind of commitment, patience, perseverance, and love to do what these people do, and they are truly wonderful folks for all of the work and time they give to Cedar Cove.

My personal picture page is here, which has literally thousands of pictures of Cedar Cove's cats. Another one of our regular visitors has his own picture gallery here. Enjoy! And remember, it's Sierra's world -- we just feed her in it.


The New Republic on WTWTA

Chris Orr of The New Republic really liked Where the Wild Things Are, and I really liked his review, especially this bit:

Where the Wild Things Are may not be a great film for children (or, at least, most children). But it is something rarer still: a great, and unsparing, film about childhood. I’ll eat you up, I love you so.

Check it out. The DVD and Blu-Ray come out on March 2!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Claudia and the Cats

Claudia White has been my friend for about a bazillion years. She's put up with more scheiss from me than you can expect, and has never once said, "You're totally crazy!" Well, not more than two or three times. Anyway, Claudia is a musician and plays with an ensemble in Minnesota called Music Saint Croix. I haven't had the pleasure of hearing these folks myself, but if Claudia is involved, they must be good. So if you're up in that neck of the woods and want to hear some excellent music, check them out.

Claudia loves cats. If she adopts one more, we're having an intervention.


Renée Fleming

Pretty much, one runs out of superlatives to use to describe the voice and artistry of Renée Fleming. Every time I hear her sing, I fall in love with her all over again. I was fortunate enough to see her in recital here in Kansas City back in 2004. It was the single most amazing concert I have ever attended. The rich caramel tone of Renée's voice wrapped around the audience and totally enraptured every one of us. She did four encores! I think that she felt something wonderful that night as well, because Renée recently set aside ten dates for recitals throughout North America. Then her management people contacted the Harriman-Jewell Fine Arts Series (which sponsored her 2004 recital) and told them they had first choice of a date. It's in October. I will be there!

Renée's new CD Verismo is stunning -- I have it on right now. Beautiful. And can that woman wear a gown or what?!?



Bruce Memblatt has been a good friend and fan of mine for over a decade now. He's been the primary reader of my stories and novels, and I look to him to tell me what things work and what things don't work in my fiction. He's put up with mayhem-crazy werewolves, two-fisted detectives, spunky young girls, dreamy young boys, wicked wizards, gryphons and dragons and lots and lots of tigers, and my ever-creative, jaw-crunching, multi-syllabic and totally vowel-less character names. Recently Bruce has taken to penning a few stories of his own, usually in the horror genre. He has a fine knack for inking out a good chill for a dark night, and I hope my comments on his stories help return the favors he has done for my writing over the years. Anyway, I present to you the official blog of Bruce Memblatt, Writer. Enjoy!


Bringing ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ to the Screen

Well, let's get started. Movie obsessions? Check! My favorite movie of 2009 is Where the Wild Things Are, which turned out to be excellent on many levels and in unexpected ways. I've been terrorizing my Facebook followers with hordes of articles and reviews about the movie, and here's one of the best -- a detailed article about the making of the film from The New York Times. Enjoy!

Bringing ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ to the Screen


Saturday, February 6, 2010


Hello, and welcome to Gryphon Wings & Tiger Tails, the official blog of The Gryphon & Tiger Story Co. This blog will be about anything and everything I'm interested in, including my writing, books I'm reading, movies I'm obsessed with, opera singers I adore, and cooking. Plus a dose of politics, social commentary, occasional ranting, and tiger pictures. I'm still trying to get the hang of this here blogging thing, so please keep checking in for new stuff. Thanks!