Owl Mask

The doorbell rang this morning, with the distinctive “Package drop-off” sound that delivery-men use. I went to the door and brought in the box.  It was medium-size, and quite light, and it came from my friend Kater Cheek: author, artist, and Clarion-mate.

Inside was this gorgeous thing.

Kater Cheek  - Owl Mask

With it was a note, folded into a little Japanese-paper envelope. It said in part, “I wasn’t sure why I was making this until it was done, and then I realized I must be making it for you.”

Kater knows I have a weakness for owls. This mask is utterly awesome.

Thank you, Kater. It’s beautiful!

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen’s Anti-love Letter

Warning: Spoilers!

Blue_Jasmine_posterI’d never been particularly drawn to Woody Allen movies. But then I saw To Rome with Love, followed soon after by Midnight in Paris. Both of them were delightful, a mixture of romantic travelogue, appealing characters, and a satisfying story arc. So last year, when he was spotted filming here in San Francisco, I hoped to see something in the same vein in America’s most romantic city.

Last week, I saw Blue Jasmine, and that story definitely wasn’t it.

If the first two movies were love-letters, this was the kind of snarky missive someone might write to an ex while still counting grievances. Woody Allen seemed to dislike all his characters, and San Francisco. It was a mystery to me why he even bothered, unless he’s a little in love with Cate Blanchett. You know the movie has problems when the only thing you can say is, “Cate Blanchett really acted well.”

In brief:

Jasmine, a beautiful self-centered housewife, has had a nervous breakdown when her marriage to wealthy Hal comes to a very sticky conclusion, with his imprisonment and suicide.  Penniless, adrift and mentally ill, she lands in San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger, who has a nice little apartment in the Mission despite working mainly as a grocery bagger. (Perhaps she lucked into something rent-controlled.)  Jasmine ditched college to marry Hal, and has only her looks and poise going for her.  Since she’s not stable, she can’t make it work. She breaks down, lies, and talks to herself. (Lots of people do, these days, but a cellphone or earbuds are a useful prop.)

I spent the whole movie waiting for something to actually happen. Nothing does. It raises false hopes that there’ll actually be a story arc, but they all collapse.

Jasmine can’t get it together because she’s having a nervous breakdown, and no one addresses that. (Presumably she lost her health coverage together with her previous wealthy-chick life.) Ginger, encouraged by Jasmine, has a brief fling but gets back together with the same guy she intended to marry when the movie started.  Nothing’s changed.

It might as well have ended with “It was all a dream.”

A disturbing thread of misogyny ran through the whole thing.  The choices it makes are unpleasant. Hal, the husband, is apparently modeled on Bernie Madoff; it would be interesting to explore the impact of the implosion of such a career on his immediate family.  But this movie focuses on Jasmine as a despicable character whose only redeeming feature is perhaps that she loves her step-son.

Ginger, the grocery-bagger sister, has an affair with an apparently successful man who seems to admire her. She’s punished by finding out that he’s married, and finds redemption by returning to the working-class fiance she started with.

Woody Allen definitely didn’t leave his heart in San Francisco either. Maybe his liver.  There were no glamor shots. Even the ones that were meant to be beautiful were just blah. Ginger’s neighborhood is rundown and grotty.  This is not the San Francisco visitors or even residents experience. This is a city with spectacular views, but you’ll probably find better ones on Youtube than in this movie. Instead, the movie celebrates the Hamptons. Charitably, you could say it’s interpreting it through Jasmine’s POV, where the Hamptons represent the luxurious and happy life she lost; and San Francisco the unpleasant present. Or you could blame Woody Allen.

This movie was the equivalent of those dreary literary efforts where Miserable Character Stays Miserable in a Dismal Setting.

Clearly, most people don’t agree with me. It has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess seeing a beautiful woman fall apart has a certain allure.

“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” – Karen Joy Fowler

we are all completely beside ourselves - Karen Joy FowlerWhen I finished reading this book, I felt I had to share something, somewhere. I wasn’t ready to write a review yet. I was still too rapt. So I went to Facebook, and posted:

Just finished reading Karen Joy Fowlers “We are all completely beside ourselves.” Coming up for air now. It’s a masterpiece. The voice is comic, sprightly, delightful. The story is dark and layered… so much so that midway, I thought it might be too much for me to deal with. I’m glad I continued.

I lucked out on the way I came to this book.


At  Wiscon, where Karen read from it, I’d hoped to get her to sign it for me. I didn’t know anything about it then, but Karen was one of my Clarion instructors and I love her writing. But the book wasn’t actually coming out until two days after Wiscon. Nor could I attend any of her Bay Area signings, where I’d undoubtedly have bought it.

I’d wait, I thought. This is San Francisco, she lives not too far from this city, and would undoubtedly be here for a reading some time. But before that happened, my author friend Kater Cheek wrote a review that made me feel I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I sometimes feel guilty,” Kater wrote, “about all my average “liked it” star ratings in a world of grade inflation, and have thought about re-scaling all my books so that they all have 4 or 5 stars. But then a book comes along like this, where it really was amazing, and I’m glad that I so rarely give out 5 stars, because then people can understand that 5 stars means that this book is really something special, and not merely good.

The rest of her review was general – as this piece will be, and for the same reason. There’s a surprise that hits you well into the book that makes everything you’ve read thus far fall into place. If you know what that surprise is (and I think many people do by now), it’s still a superb book, but it loses – that.

So anyway, after reading Kater’s review, the Kindle edition of the book was only a couple of clicks away.

And that’s where I got lucky. The paper version of  the book actually has the surprise on its dustjacket. (I still haven’t bought the paper version, though I intend to do so the next time Karen can sign it.) In fact, it’s even in the description on Amazon, which thankfully I did not read. So when I started in, the revelation burst upon me as the author intended, with just the right mixture of shock and comprehension and satisfaction of curiosity and revising of mental images.

And that’s why this isn’t really a review of the book, but more of a reaction to it.


I would have read the book for the voice alone. The protagonist, Rosemary, is a college student when we first encounter her. She’s just been arrested for getting involved in a cafeteria incident where the girl at the next table is breaking up with her boyfriend by breaking things. Her descriptions are smart and witty, the turns of phrase utterly wonderful.

But it gets even better. It’s not just the voice, it’s about reality. And perhaps the motto of this book should be ‘Nothing is as it seems.’ There’s a deeper meaning to everything, and even that keeps changing. The plot twists like a snake in a maze.

And it gets worse, especially if you take families, love, and animals seriously (and all these matter to me). Difficult political themes emerge, confronting us with the whole issue of the homo sapiens and its relation to other animals – including power, love and cruelty and confronting Rosemary with a confusing set of choices. The story inexorably darkens. As I wrote in my immediate reaction, at one point it was getting so depressing – despite the witty tone – I thought I might stop reading. But I didn’t.

And it gets better again, pulling all the disparate strands into a bitter-sweet ending that was a lot more satisfying than the fashionable grimdark things where life slides into an inevitable decline and a book’s beginning is the best part of it.

The technical virtuosity is breathtaking, leaving me-the-writer undecided whether I should tip my hat and bow profoundly, or dig a deep hole and pull the turf over me in despair. Also – she makes it looks easy.

It’s brilliant.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Cultural User Manuals

This evening, I attended a reading at our local San Francisco bookstore: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose new book Americanah has just come out. She read a few pages from it, enough to make me think I really needed to read it. (For those who aren’t familiar with the author or her work – she’s Nigerian, and divides her time between Lagos and the US.)

chimamanda ngozi adichie reading in San Francisco
But she really spent more time just talking about her experience.  Someone asked her what she noticed as the largest contrast between Lagos and the US.

“Fast internet!” she said. The internet in Lagos is slow, and when she returns to the US, one of the first things she does is go online. Having gotten accustomed to that, she becomes impatient with the poor speeds of the Nigerian connections.

(It seems so trivial – and yet it’s not. I feel the same way when I’m traveling. The internet is so integral to communications, research, writing, everything.)

“How about electricity?” someone else asked.  Nigeria, like many developing countries, has power shortages.

“I have a really good generator.” She paused. “When I’m in Lagos, I don’t have any expectation that I won’t have to deal with a generator and getting diesel for it. I just do it.”

A friend visiting from London arrived at night, and she met him at the airport. As they drove back, he commented on how dark it was. “Well, of course it’s dark,” she said. “It’s night.” That wasn’t, of course, what he meant. He meant there were no street lights.  She hadn’t noticed. “If I landed in Washington, and it looked like that, I’d freak out! But in Nigeria, it’s normal.”

“You’re different in Lagos,” a visiting friend told her. “You’re loud.” She laughed and said she needed to be, in Nigeria.

“When I get off the plane in Lagos, I become my Nigerian self,” she explained to the audience.


Everything she said resonated with me, from the power shortages, to the loudness, to the local resentment against people who return from a few years of living in the West and then find fault with Lagos because it isn’t London.

That’s exactly how I feel when I go to India. On a superficial level, it’s the slow internet, the need for a generator, the disorderly traffic, the plethora of little shops and colorful clothes and butterflies and untamed urban wildness.

But there’s a deeper sense of knowing and comfort with the world that I don’t get visiting other countries, even ones I’ve lived in, of being inside and outside the culture at the same time.  It’s code-switching, barely conscious. I expect different things of people, of the environment, of objects. It’s another world.

Someone offered me an interesting analogy:  Each country or culture comes with a different User Manual. That’s what you need to pull out, learn, update.  I have to say I feel privileged to  have access to multiple user manuals – even if it makes me a master of none.

Wiscon 37 Ends: May 27, 2013

Last day at Wiscon 37.

sunset msn-den flight

I made it to the panel on Tumblr, which was interesting because it’s a platform I haven’t used. What I gathered: The platform deliberately discourages discussion, but discussions happen anyway; it’s better to post pictures than links, because links get truncated; it’s dominated by teens, 14-18, and as a result has a lot of brashness; there’s a lot of cute animal pictures and porn. (As someone there said, it’s like “Corgi, corgi, hedgehog, porn.”) It’s apparently pretty compelling; one panelist described it as a huge time-suck. I wasn’t entirely clear why it’s better than Pinterest/ Facebook/ Twitter.

The hotel wasn’t giving late checkouts, so I needed to be out of my room by noon. I checked my email one last time before shutting down my computer – and found a message from United. My 7.30 p.m. flight to Chicago was going to be an hour late, which meant that I’d miss my connection. The hotel reception found me a phone number for United (I am embarrassed to admit my phone is Not Smart) and I called them on my plain-vanilla cellphone. It seemed they could give me an earlier flight… no, wait, that was an hour late too and would also be problematic. “It looks like Chicago is a problem,” said the agent, and she routed me via Denver on another 7.30 flight.

I didn’t go to the sign-out. The whole airline-wrangling thing broke the mood for me. Instead, after lunch I went to the Post Mortem, which gave me an even better appreciation for all the organization that goes into making Wiscon happen. It’s really tremendous. The only real complaint was that most parties ran out of beer by 11.30 p.m. on Sunday night, which really depends on the party-givers. (Last year, the problem was the opposite – there was a lot of alcohol left over that had to be removed during the move-out.)

I had dinner at the airport, an unexceptional sandwich… but the place had these signs on a side wall. They’d have been fun any time, but especially after Wiscon…



Signs at a beer n burger place at Madison airport

Caught my flight, slept on the plane, and woke to an announcement that we’d be landing about 20-25 minutes late. Ouch. My transit time at Denver was about 50 minutes, and I expected to miss the flight. But that flight was about an hour late, too, so it all worked out. Got home well after midnight, which was fine.


Wiscon 37: Sunday, May 26th 2013

Sunday’s bittersweet at Wiscon. It’s a day of awesome programming, but also the last full day before it’s over for another year.

I found I’d highlighted about 4 things for each time-slot, but decided against trying to get in more than one thing in each. I continued my exploration of class that I started at yesterday’s panel at “Class Markers: The Obvious and the Subtle.” This one focused more on patterns of speech, closeness to family (apparently working class folks tend to be closer to their families and see more of them) and such things as decorating styles. Working class people tend to talk in terms of stories and anecdotes and examples; middle class people in terms of abstractions and statistics. There was a passing mention of politics; one panelist thought that the Republican party knew how to relate to working-class speech patterns and therefore were easier to understand, while the Democrats tended to be boring and unrelatible.

After a foray into the Dealers’ Room, I went up to the Strange Horizons tea party. I found a lot of people I knew, including one of my Clarion classmates I didn’t at first recognize because he’s a man now. It was good to catch up. I also finally met one of my online critique group, whose work I’ve enjoyed without actually knowing who she was. Wiscon’s a wonderful place for meetings.

I went with Julie to “Cousin of Return of Sibling of Revenge of Not Another F’ing Race Panel.” All the panelists were people of color, but it was *not* about race. This was set up as a game show, with a huge yellow dice and questions from the audience for the panel to respond to. I bailed fairly soon, though it was raucous good fun. I don’t watch TV and see few movies, so I didn’t get most of the references and kept going Huh? Who?

We met Karen Joy Fowler for an hour or so, up in the Governor’s Club, where Karen, Kater and Julie are staying, (but I am not). It’s a limited-access “executive floor.” We talked about what we’ve been doing and caught up since we met last.

capitol building madisonDzombie on the back of her headinner was at a burger place on the far side of the Capitol Building. It was crowded; we sat at the bar so we could eat quickly and return for the Guest of Honor speeches. Just before we left, someone told Kater he’d really enjoyed her first book (“Seeing Things” – the first book in the Kit Melbourne series) and so had bought all the others in the series. (She has them available both as e-books and as paperbacks.)

We walked back past the Capitol building. A statue on the steps appeared to have a zombie face on the back of her head. But on closer inspection, it was just a chignon.

joan slonczewski GOH speechAfter the Guest of Honor speeches, the Tiptree Award speech and celebration, and the announcing of next year’s Guests of Honor (Hiromi Goto and N.K. Jemisin!) it was time for the parties.

[Read Jo Walton’s speech here: Characters, Complicity and Caring: My Wiscon Speech ]

jo walton GOH speech

But rather than party-hopping, Kater and I settled in on the couch at the quiet but energized Clarion West party, and talked all evening. We hadn’t had a chance to catch up properly since the last Wiscon, and a lot’s happened since then.

I ran into Ellen Kushner, who was sporting a fine mustache. She said the Genderfloomp party was still on, and I should swing by because the costumes were amazing. So I did, and they were. The music was so loud that my tolerance for the room itself was about 5 minutes, but the hallway outside was full of people I knew, and I stayed and chatted for a bit before calling it a day.

Now it’s time to write this and pack and plan for tomorrow’s activities and departure.

Wiscon 37: Saturday, May 25th 2013

Tired, happy and in dire need of a Time-Turner…

pix 21 007

I’d vaguely hoped to get to a 10.30 a.m. panel, but that didn’t happen. Instead, after lunch I ended up dividing my time between a reading by some of my favorite authors (Madeleine Robins, Nisi Shawl, Pat Murphy, Annalee Newitz, and Karen Joy Fowler) who called themselves “A Confederacy of Troublemakers” and a panel about the “Attack of the Fake Geek Girls.”

The reading was – as you might expect – superb. The room was crowded, and though I was only minutes late, there were no chairs left. Madeleine Robins has a new book out, “Sold for Endless Rue“, as does Karen Joy Fowler, “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” Nisi Shawl has recently edited a collection of stories, “Bloodchildren“, and Annalee Newitz has a non-fiction book called “Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive Mass Extinction.”

The Fake Geek Girl panel discussed the question of being geek and female – or even more, being black and geek and female. The gaming community in particular has developed a reputation for misogyny and putdowns of women, as though they can’t actually be real gamers.  One woman said she’d been playing Dungeons and Dragons since it first came out, and she didn’t want her credentials questioned. She didn’t want to be the black gamer, or the female gamer, she just want to be – a gamer who might be black or female, but why was it relevant? I came in at the end of the discussion, but I’m glad I made it especially because of the comments from the audience.

Then I went to a panel on Class in SF and Fantasy (Ian Hagemann, Alisa Alering, Eileen Gunn, Madeleine Robins). This is something I haven’t really heard discussed much, not nearly as much as race and gender.  Eileen Gunn suggested that sci-fi has working class origins; someone else said that they probably was true of earlier science fiction, but in this generation it’s more middle-class. I have to say most sci-fi comes across as “middle-class” to me. There was discussion of “middle-class” as the unmarked state – people who are middle class are unaware of class issues, while working class people are clear about the distinctions. The talk turned to class markers – accents, whether the kitchen trash is under the sink or elsewhere in the kitchen, clothing, Myspace vs Facebook, and then circled back to accents.  Markers are socially defined, and if you’re writing of a future society, the actual markers are not so important – what’s important is how other characters react to them.

In the next slot, I again divided my time between two panels: “Steal Like an Artist” and one on self-publishing.

Steal Like an Artist discussed the ethical and artistic boundaries between “stealing” and creating something using and based on others’ work. It also touched lightly on cultural appropriation.

I went late to the Self-publishing/ Traditional publishing panel, again just in time to catch some of the audience questions and the panelists’ summation. They differed on the value of Kindle Direct, Twitter, Pinterest, and various other specific platforms; but they all agreed that authors should expect to do a lot of heavy lifting in promoting themselves (even if they have a traditional publisher). They should have websites; and possibly their books also should have websites. Everyone agreed social media are important, even if they didn’t agree on which specific ones.

I joined a  group of 10 Wisconians (Wisconites? Wisconners?) for dinner at the Fountain, opposite the hotel, with Tempest leading the charge. Some of them I’d met before, others I hadn’t. They were all interesting and a pleasure to hang out with. I had to rush off, unfortunately, so as not to miss the Big Event.

ellen klages auctionThe big event of the day was the Tiptree auction, with Ellen Klages as the auctioneer. It’s always an amazing performance by Ellen channeling her interior comedian. She did sell the t-shirt off her back (BAD GIRLS READ).

cake drowning girlThis year, a kid in the audience kept piping up… maybe Ellen has an apprentice! The most interesting item to me was a hip flask with a Space Babe design. (The picture is up at the top, standing in for a Time-Turner.)  The bidding quickly went far beyond my budget. There were also two cakes representing books by the Tiptree award winners, which were bought by the house as a whole (and enthusiastically consumed in the ConSuite later).cake ancient ancient

Afterward, I drifted through some parties, said Hi to a lot of people, sat and chatted with Kater for a while, and met Nisi Shawl’s mother – a charming lady who’s been to 3 Wiscons. I also met someone for whom this was her first Con ever. She’s a writer, a mom, and very socially aware – she was loving Wiscon’s openness and diversity. And everyone was so friendly…

I reluctantly gave up hanging out at the parties and ConSuite when I realized my energy levels were tending to zero. In my room now, writing this post.

Wiscon 37: Friday May 24, 2013

silver pin by Barb MoermondI got up late, went lunch-hunting and after wandering around State St for a while, came back and ate at the hotel. Then on to The Gathering. This event is one of the things I love about Wiscon, and a lovely place to hang out and talk. I met Delia Sherman, who was surrounded by students from various Clarions she’d taught at, and she talked a bit about her new projects (which sound great!)  Also met quite a few other people, waved at Kater who was busy giving Tarot readings, dropped off clothes for the Clothing Exchange, picked up too many books at the Galley Ho table, and bought a lovely little silver pin at the Auction preview table. (It’s by Barb Moermond, who will also have things in the Art Show.[Edited to Add: Maybe? No, in the Dealers Room])  Then I swung by the Dealer Room, just to get a little taste of what they have there. It’s neat – books and jewelry and wooden jigsaw puzzles… I will spend more time (and I guess, money!) there tomorrow.

The first panel I attended was “Stop Killing All the Minority Characters!” (Na’amun Tilahun, Lisa Bradley, Lauren K. Moody, Nisi Shawl) It was held in a relatively small room – and we soon ran out of chairs, standing room, and aisle space. The problem is that minority characters are too often killed off  – either dying heroically as “redshirts” or tragically to traumatize the main character. The discussion focused a lot on TV, which I don’t watch; but the same problems exist in movies and in books. We debated whether it was because the minority characters are usually also secondary characters, not the protags; or whether it was because they are sometimes inherently tragic figures. We also discussed characters with disability, and how they’re often miraculously cured before the action starts, as though they can’t be useful without such a cure. People also mentioned some series that do it well; again, it was mostly TV and I hope someone got good notes! What I recall is one panelist saying that Seanan McGuire’s books get better and better in this regard. The early books are a little problematic, but the later ones are awesome. Great panel, and I think I learned a lot.

After that, I went for the People of Color dinner, which was great company, as always.  Then on to the Opening Ceremony, where I hung out with Julie Andrews. Later, I swung by the parties but gave up because they were so well-attended I couldn’t hear anyone speak – it was just too loud. Happy loud, but loud.

I went for the “I’m not Your Metaphor” panel (Ian Hagemann, Jesse the K, Josh Lukin,  Kate Nepveu) – about whether or not it’s okay to use other oppressed groups as metaphors. The one we see most today is about Gay Marriage and whether it’s analogous to “miscegenation.”  Compared with the passion of the “Stop Killing…” panel, this was very intellectual. We discussed why such metaphors are used, and why some people might consider them appropriation. I’m not sure we reached a conclusion exactly, except that it might well make sense to use such metaphors to convey an unfamiliar concept to mainstream audiences. It does get the message across.

Met Kater Cheek’s daughter, who was looking for other teens – but the Teen Programming room was closed and nothing seemed to be happening there. She decided to go elsewhere. Kater stopped by later, but we gave up on hanging out at a party because of the noise. I did get to talk to Eileen Gunn, who’s working on a novel about Mark Twain, and to Catherine Schaff-Stump, who’s recently written a short story about him…

I hadn’t planned to go to any more panels, but Julie Andrews and I landed up at “The Female Soldier in SF and Fantasy.” It was really good. Since it started at  midnight, it was not overcrowded, and there was more audience involvement. We talked about soldiers vs warriors, about female soldiers in fantasy (not much) and in science fiction (a lot more), about a fully integrated army, which was a sci-fi concept. We considered differences – strength, sexuality, and contraception – as issues for female soldiers. Various books were mentioned; I lost track because I wasn’t taking notes.

I went back to the ConSuite for a while, then called it a day.

(I don’t have pics because Wiscon’s policy is to always ask permission – good policy, but I end up not taking pictures.)

Wiscon 2013: Guest-of-Honor Readings at ”A Room of One’s Own Bookstore”

I’m back at Wiscon! This is Wiscon 37, and kudos to the team that’s delivered it all these years. It’s only after my involvement with FOGcon that I’m beginning to comprehend the huge amount of work that a Con entails.


The traditional kick-off is a reading by the Guests of Honor, hosted by “A Room of One’s Own.” Though I’d been there before (twice) I thought to check that I remembered the route. Just as well, because it’s moved, a block down. The new premises are lovely, with a traditional frontage and interior arches.

A room of one's own Bookstore

I went in to find quite a few people already gathered. The reading space felt smaller than the backroom they used to have, and most of the chairs were taken. Still, I found a place to sit, then left my coat there while I mingled. I found Laurie Toby Edison at the snack table, and she described her new “Discworld” sculpture: the turtle and elephants and the Discworld (which is a boulder opal). Also a silver Fantasy map she’s working on. It all sounds quite magical. She may have some photographs. I’m also looking forward to seeing her other work; she listed them on her LiveJournal and they sound gorgeous (she didn’t have pictures of those).

Also said Hi to quite a few other people. It had this lovely “First day of school after summer” feel to it.


Piglet introduced Jo Walton with a humorous verse. Jo’s reading, from her current novel,  was hilarious. Apollo’s confused because Daphne becomes a tree rather than mate with him, so he asks his sister Artemis to explain. She directs him to Athene, who says something about “volition” and gets him involved in her own project: Recreating Plato’s Republic before it was even written. [Here’s a link to her blog, Bluejo’s Journal]

jo walton reading at a room of ones own bookstore in madison

Joan Slonczewski reading at A Room of One's Own BookstoreJesse the K introduced Joan Slonczewski, and even though she had apparently rehearsed it, she stumbled over the name. Joan took it in her stride. “My students call me Dr Zeus,” she said, and explained the background of her science as well as her fiction: Western diets have disrupted our bacterial ecosystems, which must be corrected with inputs from the uncorrupted intestinal flora of people in places like Africa. Someone near me mentioned fecal transplants, which are ingested. Then she read an excerpt in which the heroine, who has been attacked for hosting sentient bacteria, is moving to a new house – which is also sentient, and is decorating itself.  [Joan’s blog, Ultraphyte, is linked here.]


After the readings, I made contact with Kater Cheek (and daughter) and J (who has a book out: The Flaming Geeks Book of Geeky Trivia) and picked up my Program Guide. I started marking off all the things I wanted to attend. As usual, there were between 2 and 4 “Can’t miss” events in each time-slot. You may see me darting in and out of rooms a lot.

Fantasy Art, Serendipity, and Daniel Merriam

Today was a bright day by the Bay, after a series of rainstorms, and we decided to celebrate by driving over to Sausalito. We thought we might see Bill Dan, the rock-balancing performance artist, who’s often there on weekends. (He was, but more of that another time.)

We had the perfect Sausalito afternoon – we stopped to watch the rock-balancing, strolled over to Spinnaker for coffee and a snack, we wandered back looking at the bay. A sea-lion arfed on a jetty, and a harbor seal and a few Western Grebes swam near the shore. A flock of pelicans landed in perfect formation.

We were heading back toward the car when I saw a large sign that hadn’t been there the last time I visited Sausalito. Daniel Merriam, it said. Bubble Street.

“Daniel Merriam!” I said, and went in. It was like magic.


Last September, someone had posted this picture on a Facebook page, with no background or explanation. It grabbed me so much that I downloaded it onto my hard drive. Who, I wondered, was the artist? For some reason, I expected it to be someone in Russia or Eastern Europe.

Daniel Merriam painting

But it wasn’t. With some help from Google, I discovered Daniel Merriam and his website. (I also discovered that searching Google Images for “Daniel Merriam” yielded a page of gorgeous thumbnails. A few were available for sale, but they weren’t cheap.  I spent an hour or two or three browsing through them.)


Bubble Street is his new gallery. As I wandered around, admiring the art,  the manager told us that the artist was there, right outside.

“Does he live around here?” I asked.

“Upstairs,” she said with a smile.

They had a calendar and a couple of books for sale, together with the prints. We bought the calendar and a book, and she asked if we’d like him to sign them. Of course we would, but should we disturb him? She gave him a call, and he came right down I was impressed, especially considering he’s a new dad. His twins came home from hospital – yesterday.

He wrote a couple of thoughtful personalized inscriptions. I was delighted.


Time to Activate this Thing!

I’ve been toying with this WordPress site for a while, planning to consolidate my website (which is hosted by Goddaddy) and my blog (on LiveJournal) into this place. There’s an installed base issue. I’ve been blogging on LiveJournal since 2007, and generated about one novel’s worth of words. Ideally, I’d like to copy them over here.

Instead of procrastinating further, I’m going to activate this site. Gradually, I plan to make this my primary site and blog, though I’ll copy new posts over to LiveJournal as long as people are hanging out there.

Shakespeare’s Thumbnails – Artistic Experimentation

Some months ago, a Facebook link led me to this site, which had extremely elegant minimalist posters for childrens’ stories. To give you an examples, I’m going to steal one off their site to show here (it’s at the end of this post); but do go and check them all out. They’re clever and amazing.

So, inspired by these, I thought I’d try to do some thumbnails for Shakespearean plays. I’m no artist, but I like to fool around with Paint. So I decided to see what I could come up with using these parameters:A simple dramatic image…
… that is instantly comprehensible by someone who knows the story…
… but doesn’t try to tell the whole story…
…using only Paint and Microsoft Office Picture Manager…
…in a rough square of 400 pixels.So I started with Macbeth and Merchant of Venice and Hamlet.

What I discovered:
(1) I’m not nearly as creative or daring as SquareInchDesign
(2) A new time-sink
(3) It’s fun!

And here’s Hamlet:

Like this one below from SquareInchDesign! (I particularly love this one.)

Maybe I’ll post more someday!


Prospera’s Tempest

Julie Taymor’s Tempest isn’t showing anywhere in San Francisco at the moment. but I’ve been keen to see it since I heard about it. I’m a sucker for Shakespeare, The Tempest, and Helen Mirren. So off I went to the only theater I could find, the not-for-profit Rafael in San Rafael. For those who haven’t been keeping tabs on this particular film, it’s the Tempest with very few alterations… except that Prospero is played by Helen Mirren as Prospera, a sorceress instead of a sorceror.

So, what did I think?

The gender-change does wonderful things to the film. It felt so right that — and I found this weird — it’s the Shakespeare version that felt contrived.

But it also changes the story in unexpected ways. Instead of being a story essentially about revenge and forgiveness, it’s about a dying, powerful, mother making provisions for her sweet but rather dim daughter. Oh, sure, Prospera gets in her revenge, but it’s a very modified one. Why? Well, these are people who her daughter will be allied with after her time. She doesn’t have the luxury of chopping them into small pieces of begging near-corpses. It may be the goodness of her heart, but she’s proven capable of being pretty tough not just with Caliban, a reluctant slave, but Ariel, whom she loves. But they’re her network, the only people of power she still knows. And she has her darling dim child to take care of. (It reminded me a bit of Mama Mia, the movie. Same dynamic between a Mom who’s competent and a star, and a daughter who’s young, cute, and in love.)

Why do I feel Miranda’s not very bright?  Well, she shows no signs of having any power herself. In the original, that was easily explained — she’s female, she doesn’t get to learn all this arcane stuff. But in this version? Her mother is in no position to leave her her ducal heritage; but she can give her a wizardly one. She’s got the books. She has the staff. It’s what she does, and what she could teach her daughter to do. Any smart kid would *want* to learn all that — but this one doesn’t. Instead, she bounds around the island doing, apparently, nothing much. (Unless the sandcastle in hand in the opening credits was some evidence of magical ability — but if so, the point wasn’t pursued any further.)

Miranda has no future here, and Prospera’s dying. So, working with the material at hand, Prospera grabs an opportunity and betroths Miranda to Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples. The very King who conspired with her brother to exile her and 3-year-old Miranda, but she confronts him just enough to create a feeling of regret and obligation, not of revenge. She’ takes back her dukedom from her rascally brother, but not for herself — her every 3rd thought is of the grave, which sounds like she’s knows she has something that will kill her in a few months or years.  What that does is makes Miranda into a princess again, a sole heir to Milan. It gives her clout with her new in-laws, cementing the alliance. This is pretty important because once they get back to the mainland, the King of Naples will be the bigger shot. Milan’s been paying him tribute, after all.  I’m pretty sure dear brother has a very short life-span. Shorter than his sister’s. He may, regrettably, never make it back to Milan, poor chap.

Theoretically, Prospera could just have taken Miranda back to Milan with her. But the kid hasn’t been trained as a lady of the court. She hasn’t been trained as a magician. She’s pretty much been running wild on the island. The only way Prospera can secure her future is a good marriage, and there’s no time like the present to achieve it.


As for the movie itself: Helen Mirren was pitch perfect as Prospera. She owned the role. I thought Djimon Hounsou did a great job with a difficult part; his Caliban was more than a nasty stupid monster. Everyone else was okay. Ariel looked rather too manly for the role; when Prospera calls him “my delicate Ariel” it’s a hard sell. So also the sleeping in  cowslips.

The costumes were brilliant, all black leather and zips for the formal court costumes, and rustic cottons and linens for what they wear on the island. Caliban’s “costume” — make-up, actually — was also superb. The setting was beautifully done, too; and I think Prospera’s cave was marvelous with long floating staircases cantilevered from the wall. But the pine (in which Ariel is supposed to be trapped by Sycorax) was actually a banyan tree (ficus bengalensis). Which I wouldn’t have minded if she hadn’t clearly referred to a pine and then threatened to shut him into an oak.

The special effects… not so much. Ariel had this sort of Tinkerbell glow going on, which made him difficult to take seriously. He’s naked (or in a body suit, I don’t know) and in the first few scenes adopts these very contorted positions so we don’t get full frontal nudity. (I read somewhere they digitally removed anything that showed, so I don’t know the contortions were necessary. They reminded me uncomfortably of early girlie magazines in which models adopted strange poses to convey nudity without actually showing anything the censors would block.)  It made me wonder if they auditioned for the ability to twist one’s body into pretzels.

The sky scene — where Prospera makes amazing images in the sky to entertain the two youngsters — just wasn’t amazing. It didn’t have much impact, a missed opportunity to do something mind-blowing.

All in all, though, Prospera more than carries the film. It’s worth seeing.