Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Video games are protected speech

I'm not a gamer and I'm not a huge fan of comics, but I am a staunch supporter of the First Amendment, and I want the government to stay out of restricting what I can and cannot read/see/hear, etc. This editorial does a fine job of covering the issues as the Supreme Court ventures into ostensibly new territory for them.

What about the breakneck convergence of gaming with other expressive technologies? A fair number of popular games, for example, are based on bestselling graphic novels, which clearly are entitled to 1st Amendment protection as aesthetic speech. Could we sustain a distinction that protects a reader's ability to consume a work of literature as a series of images and text blocks on a page, but not to interact with the very same characters in the very same situations as moving pictures on a television or computer screen? If you've seen "Avatar," then it doesn't take much imagination to foresee the coming convergence between 3D CGI film technology and gaming's interactive dimension. Will those works of imagination be held to the standards we have now for films, or measured against one crafted for games?

I don't buy into the "protect the kids" argument, either. A free society is not Romper Room, and I think kids are far more astute and capable than their elders think they are, anyway. Free speech is free speech. See here for more about fighting censorship of pop culture.


Of Sondheim and A-flat: In the Wings with Elaine Stritch

The irrepressible Elaine Stritch has a few words to say about nearly everything, but mostly about Sondheim and singing.

"No Sondheim song comes easy to me. You depend on Rodgers and Hart for that. Those songs have easy brilliance. Stephen Sondheim gives you complicated brilliance. But once you get him, you got him. He makes you think a little bit. But those hours in a rehearsal room learning a song—those hours are rough. After that, it's a joy. It's like having a baby, it's like with anything that's worthwhile."

I hope I'm still that sharp when I'm her age.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Has a Poppet!

And I love it.

Poppet is sitting atop box that Poppet came in with lid hand-painted by Lisa Snellings, who created Poppet.

You can has Poppet too, if you simply go to Lisa Snellings' blog and find out more.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Fried Chicken Cookoff!

Eat your heart out, Colonel Sanders!

I remember when I started this blog I said we would have some posts about cooking. Ha! Well, you can at least see some of my cooking adventures at my SmugMug site. Anyway, this fascinating article at Slate documents how Jennifer Reese compared two fried chicken recipes -- Thomas Keller vs. The Pioneer Woman -- using her family as judges. I'll let you go see who won the contest. As for me, I know who makes the best fried chicken and mashed potatoes in the world: ME!!!


Pictured: MY fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Yum!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good Show, Sir!

"HOLY mother of HADES I have it! Ready? How about a big muscled LEOPARD MAN! Holding his rifle and roaaaaaaring off to one side….. YAWHAAT!?!? No I don’t want to see his leopard genitals! Put in him some futuristic combat armor, but no leggings.. his crotch is right there!!! God can only dream of how good this will be……"

OMG, this site is beautiful! Simply beautiful! Such dreadful covers! Why...someday I may finally get my own genre novel published only to see it given an atrocious cover like one of these! Maybe...*sigh!*...maybe even a cover originally created for another book! I love the description with this one, which I adore because I'm a furry and this one is done! I mean, what is that? It's got the head of a lynx and the body of...of a leopard in super-tight stretch pants?!?

Not since Animals With Lightsabers have I adored the Internet more. I dearly love thee, sweet Internet...


h/t Andrew Sullivan

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beware of Mary Sue

"You don't REALLY expect me to believe that, do you?"

A "Mary Sue" is a character too good to be true; someone who can do no wrong, fail no test, encounter no setbacks of any consequence. They're annoying, superficial, and if you're not careful, they can happen to you!

Whenever a character serves as an improved or idealized version of his or her author, as a vehicle for the author's fantasies of power, allure, virtue or accomplishment rather than as an integral part of the story, that character is a Mary Sue. He may resemble his creator in most respects, but he drives a hotter car, lives in a posher part of town and has a cooler job. She may be as moody and self-absorbed as the novelist who invented her, but instead of boring the people around her these traits only enhance her crazy-girl magnetism, making her the center of everybody else's world as well as her own.

Laura Miller at Salon gives advice on how to spot the Mary Sue and avoid it in your writing. Probably the first time I really encountered an annoying Mary Sue was in Bryce Courtenay's The Power of One, where the young boxing hero wins every match, can do no wrong, sees from the get-go the immorality of apartheid, etc. Once I realized the author had no intention of varying this theme, I gave up. Other famous Mary Sues include the heroes (yawn!) of Ayn Rand novels.

The best takedown of a Mary Sue that I've read (and one of the best skewerings of a bad book ever) comes from Jen McCreight at Blag Hag. This one is worth taking the time to read -- it's devastating, funny, and will make you keep a sharp eye on everything you write afterwards.

"Hello, Mary Sue...good-bye, art!"


P.S. Next, how to resist making absolutely horrible puns!

Pictured: Sierra, skeptical as ever unless you bring her food.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Denying Shakespeare

I've always thought that the Shakespeare authorship question was a load of hooey. For one thing, the advocates of another author having written the plays strike me as something not unlike the sort of folks who think they saw Elvis in a Burger King in Ypsilanti. What difference does it make, anyway? "The play's the thing," as the man said, and those plays are all we need to explore fascinating worlds and characters and confrontations. Sometimes it's nice to look at an author's works in light of his or her biography, but really, isn't it nicer to just savor what's on the page and treasure it (and analyze it) for that alone, and not for any armchair psychological analysis?

Terry Teachout reviews a new book about the Shakespeare authorship question, and with him I hope that just maybe we can finally lay this silly "controversy" to rest:

It doesn't surprise me that such lunacy has grown so popular in recent years. To deny that Shakespeare's plays could have been written by a man of relatively humble background is, after all, to deny the very possibility of genius itself—a sentiment increasingly attractive in a democratic culture where few harsh realities are so unpalatable as that of human inequality. The mere existence of a Shakespeare is a mortal blow to the pride of those who prefer to suppose that everybody is just as good as everybody else. But just as some people are prettier than others, so are some people smarter than others, and no matter who you are or how hard you try, I can absolutely guarantee that you're not as smart as Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was Shakespeare. That is all.


Reading Update

I have taken a break from reading J.G. Ballard's huge collection of short stories (excellently-written, character-driven genre fiction, precisely the sort of thing I want to write) and taken up Close Range, a collection of stories by Annie Proulx. These stories are fascinating -- I've been in Wyoming only once in my life, but I feel like I'm back there while I read these tales. Proulx writes phrases and sentences that flow and shock like the finest lines of an opera aria. And her characters! OMG, to be able to create characters like this, whose lives are something I would have never thought to find interesting, and yet in her hands their stories become riveting. "The Mud Below," a story about a man trying to make a go of it in rodeo, turned out to be one of the finest stories I have ever read. Proulx says that short stories are hard for her to write, but with the high bar she seems to have set for herself, I can see why. Nonetheless, the words flow like music from her pen. This is two writers in a row (along with Ballard) with whom I've fallen in love.

"Brokeback Mountain" is the last story in this volume. I'll let you know what I think about it when I finish.


UPDATE: I finished Close Range – what a terrific collection of stories! I read “Brokeback Mountain,” and I wish I had read it before seeing the movie since it’s hard to shake off what I saw in the film when I imagine the scenes. The movie was a very close adaptation of the story, but I’ve grown to enjoy the way Annie Proulx depicts her settings and characters so much that I would like to have encountered them in “Brokeback Mountain” from her first. I highly recommend this collection of stories if you want to read some great writing.

"Gryphonwind" is up!

Hot off the press, my short story (well, novelette, really) "Gryphonwind" is now up at The Piker Press. The editor, Sand Pilarski, created a lovely illustration to go with the tale, which you must go see for yourself. "Gryphonwind" will be presented in four parts. Props to anyone from Cedar Cove who figures out what this tale is really about!

The story is currently on the front page of The Piker Press, and here's a hard link to "Gryphonwind" if you're looking for it after this week. I'll post links to the subsequent parts as updates to this post, so bookmark this post for future reference. Or better yet, just bookmark The Piker Press!

Thanks to Sand for believing in one of my favorite tales!


UPDATE: Now that "Gryphonwind" has been moved off the front page at The Piker Press, I changed the link above, and here are links to the separate parts of the story. Sand's illustration graces Parts 2, 3, & 4 of the story. Enjoy!

Gryphonwind Part 1
Gryphonwind Part 2
Gryphonwind Part 3
Gryphonwind Part 4

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gelb from the Met

So I need an excuse to post a picture of Renée Fleming?

Catnip for us opera fans, Vanity Fair's profile of the Metropolitan Opera with general manager Peter Gelb at the helm is fascinating, fun, and a bit worrisome, financially speaking. I mean, c'mon; you young'uns who love great big emotional drama like football and The Lord of the Rings oughta eat this opera stuff up like crazy!

Inside the opera house, 13 cameras captured every detail in high definition; the feeds were relayed to us in the truck. We could see the Ukrainian soprano Maria Guleghina backstage, getting ready to play the sadistic Chinese princess—the title role. Up front, the ushers handed out programs and guided people to their seats. “Guys,” the video director said, speaking through a headset to his cameramen, “I need audience shots. Young people. Is there anyone under 40? Find young people!”

Generally I like what Gelb has done while at the Met, and I say that as someone who admires Joe Volpe for his very different helmsmanship of the company during his tenure. (So things went south after 9/11 -- how is that Joe Volpe's fault?) I especially like Gelb's unified marketing message, using a single theme to bring together a season's programs with one, recognizable image. (Since I don't live in NYC, I don't know how that's playing out right now, but the concept and previous execution are good, FWIW.) Perhaps Gelb has been too quick to abandon old, staple productions in favor of disasters like Luc Bondy's Tosca production earlier this season (though innovation is good in opera, maybe the Met isn't the house to take those chances), but I remain very interested by the future plans Gelb has in store. If nothing else, I'll be listening on Sirius Radio tomorrow night to the premiere of Rossini's Armida, and hoping it all goes well, especially for my darling Renée!

Fascinating article. Slip a Renée Fleming CD onto the stereo and enjoy!


Saturday, April 10, 2010


Logorama from Marc Altshuler - Human Music on Vimeo.

Finally! The way, WAY cool winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Click and be amazed!


Monday, April 5, 2010

Fasten Your Seat Belts!

Currently I'm working on my story (mentioned before) that was inspired by Daisy Mora and her unique way of getting to school (I'm ratcheting up the danger quotient quite a bit, though -- it is a story, after all). I'm trying to dig up as much information about this as I can, to better fill in the world I've created in my story. And guess what I found today? Video, my friends, of Daisy Mora and her siblings going to school.


In this video they describe exactly what the equipment that the kids use is like. It's cruder than I thought. But it's amazing the resourcefulness and simple courage people have when faced with situations like the one facing these people and where they live.

Hang on to something before you start this video, and enjoy! If you dare...


Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit

Via Neil Gaiman's Facebook post, here's an interesting article from the New York Times about the "problem parent" in YA novels. When I was a kid, I didn't like the genre of "problem novel" very much -- I had plenty of my own problems which I found every day when I rolled out of bed, thank you very much, and I sure didn't want to waste good reading time on reading about other kids and their too-close-to-home problems. If you're going to do that sort of thing, at least be creative about it, which is exactly what Neil Gaiman does in Coraline.

You have to wonder how the distracted, failing parent became such a ubiquitous image in pop culture. In Neil Gaiman’s novel “Coraline,” from 2002, the lonely title character wanders into danger in a creepy new house because the parents are busy and preoccupied. “Go away,” the father says cheerfully the minute she appears. This theme was made more explicit in the 2009 movie version, in which both parents seem to be transfixed by their computers. “Hey Mom, where does this door go?” Coraline asks, and her mother replies without looking away from the monitor: “I’m really, really busy.” Near-fatal adventures ensue with terrifying “other parents” in the alternate world behind the door — who begin by offering Coraline delicious meals and toys, but actually want to turn her into a kind of soulless rag doll with button eyes — because the real parents are on deadline writing a gardening catalog.

The author of the article makes this sound like such a bad thing...

Not that I don't agree with the cynical outlook -- believe me, I haven't forgotten the way kids think about their parents, and quite often, it ain't good in the best of times. Getting the parent(s) out of the way so the kid can begin to live and/or have an adventure is a problem all writers face (if this is the sort of writing you do). Anyway, an good article if you're interested in YA books, or if, like me, you want to portray kids and their lives accurately.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

[Kitty] Litter and Be Gaaaaaaay...

Can Animals Be Gay?

Well? Can they?

The jury is still out, I suppose. It would help if we didn't have to deal with biologists like this:

Courtship behaviors between two animals of the same sex were persistently described in the literature as “mock” or “pseudo” courtship — or just “practice.” Homosexual sex between ostriches was interpreted by one scientist as “a nuisance” that “goes on and on.” One man, studying Mazarine Blue butterflies in Morocco in 1987, regretted having to report “the lurid details of declining moral standards and of horrific sexual offenses” which are “all too often packed” into national newspapers. And a bighorn-sheep biologist confessed in his memoir, “I still cringe at the memory of seeing old D-ram mount S-ram repeatedly.” To think, he wrote, “of those magnificent beasts as ‘queers’ — Oh, God!”

Interesting stuff that is sure to make a few bigoted heads explode. I mean, gay animals? On Easter Sunday? Illustrated with GAY BABY CHICKS AND BUNNIES?!? What's next, a Gay Penguin Pride March?



Braver Than I Thought...

Remember this girl?

And the post I did about her?

As I said earlier, I was inspired by this awesome kid to develop a story about a similarly brave girl. I've been doing research and looking into background and inventing many multi-syllabic and well-nigh-unto-unpronounceable names and words (Bruce Memblatt may never read another story of mine again after this one!), and today I found more pictures of little Daisy Mora at the website of Christoph Otto, the German photographer who took the pictures we saw before. Go to his site, click on "Photostories" and then click on "Columbian Cable Runners" to find more pix of Daisy.

Why? Well, for one thing, she's cute:

Daisy and her little brother.

And her life is exciting:

"You call that goin' t' school? Why, missy, at your age we used ziplines to get to school and they was all goin' UPHILL!!! In ten feet of SNOW!!!"

But what really got me was this:

That's a close-up of the equipment Daisy uses to get to school.

It's just a couple of pulleys, and some ropes looped together to form a sort of breeches harness that takes her and her brother out over a gorge that is a full quarter-mile above the raging river below.

(For some perspective, that's how tall the World Trade Center towers were.)

Jeemany freakin' Christmas! If you picked a hundred tough American men and set them next to this crazy-ass contraption and told them they were going to get in it and get flung out over that gorge, I'm sure three-fourths of these tough guys would crap their freakin' britches.

And the remaining guys would suddenly remember that they had to go get their taxes done or something.

I will bet you a dollar to a donut that Daisy doesn't consider this brave at all. Recall what I said before about the article commenters who think this is dangerous:

Do these pampered first-worlders understand how people who live in places like this risk their lives all of the time just to live?

I bet that, to Daisy Mora, going to school via zipline (the Aussies charmingly call ziplines "flying foxes") is just a part of how she and her family live. School is across the gorge; they have to go to school; ipso facto, the kids are going to take the only way to get to school that they can.

I've created what I hope will be a wonderful story to honor this kid, and I've added all sorts of stuff to make it more interesting than plain facts often seem on the surface. But, dang! Look at that thing! You couldn't get me into it, and this kid uses it every day!

Daisy Mora is my new hero. And sometimes, just going to school is all it takes to be one.


(All pictures by Christoph Otto.)

Sondheim = Shakespeare?

I buy it. The intelligent writing, the surprising rhythms, the music inherent in both writers, the astounding characters and challenging stories and often despairing outcomes. The actor Michael Ball takes a look at Stephen Sondheim and ponders his greatness.

Sondheim has never written typical musicals – the kind made famous in the US in the 1940s and 1950s – he writes about the human condition, with layer upon layer of depth. His is musical theatre – like plays with music – not musical comedy, and there's a big difference. It's also why his legacy is so important: Stephen Sondheim changed the face of the medium.

Will we be performing Sondheim in 500 years? Like Shakespeare, like Mozart, like Bach, I hate to think of a world where we weren't doing so.