LOST ANGELES

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I was reading a fellow blogger’s post recently about Heloise and Abelard, and I feel extremely lightweight talking about “La La Land”  compared to the fascinating mini-treatise focused on the 12th century’s version of star-crossed lovers who predate Romeo and Juliet by hundreds of years.

But what are you gonna do? “La La Land” exists. It got huge crowd reactions and was an Oscar darling. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.

Ryan Gossling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia are sorta star-crossed, too, in their own way, like Heloise and Abelard. Just minus the nobility. And the scholarly pursuits. And the nunnery. And probably nobody will be talking about them hundreds of years later.

SPOILER ALERT, by the way, in case you haven’t seen it yet. Do not read on!

And anyone interested in taking a more in-depth gander at the famous couple from the blog I mentioned can pop in here: https://tinyurl.com/yb9e4ede, and thank you to the author!

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When I was a kid, I was a HUGE fan of musicals, but somewhere along the line I outgrew them. I can’t pinpoint when this happened. I just know that one day I looked up and if I was watching a movie where people suddenly broke into song, I couldn’t change the channel fast enough. My patience, my tolerance for the lighthearted, at least in that fashion, had died a mysterious and flinty death. My tastes had switched from the likes of ‘The Sound of Music” to “Shaun of the Dead,” and so knowing this, I did try to keep an open mind while viewing the movie.

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Immediately from the opening scene, however, I knew the brutal demise of my love of musicals, of the inconceivable which bordered on sweetness and joy, instead of that of dark humor and sarcasm, was alive and with me still.

The word “magical” seemed to be key where this movie was concerned and there were some enchanting moments like the Griffith Park “dancing among the stars” scene and a sometimes sunny, sometimes soulful soundtrack that followed the characters around, lending a whimsicality to even the most banal of activities.

But I attributed these scenarios to the universality of shared experiences rather than anything to do specifically with L.A.; the intense dopamine-enhanced sensation of new love, the incandescent view of the city at night, the ultra-brightness of the sky when dreams are still possible.

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Mia’s giant Ingrid Bergman wall painting, the ghostly mural of old Hollywood stars on a building, a pool party taking place on a bright sunny day, and Mia’s job on the movie lot were nice touches, evoking the *feel* of Los Angeles in a visually pleasing yet predictable way.

I thought maybe “out of towners” really fell for this movie, seduced by the romantic images. Maybe merely being an Angeleno prevented me from absorbing the Los Angeles + wonder connection. I don’t know. To me, it really is a lost city, having little or no solid identity, little or no loyalty, even, to itself. At least one comment rang really true when Sebastian said, “They worship everything and value nothing.”

 

In order not to come off as an inflexible curmudgeon by listing everything that didn’t sit well with me in “La La Land,” including the fact that ethnic people, apart from Ryan Gossling’s jazz buddy and Emma Stone’s mulatto roommate, were eye-poppingly missing except for intermittent scenes where they were dancing or playing jazz (in the same vein as the New York of “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” 90% white enclaves buried in a city known for–even famous for–its tremendous diversity) I’ll describe what I did like about this movie.

I liked the ending. Not being sarcastic. I liked it when, years later, Sebastian remembers the night he met Mia, and instead of rudely shouldering past her as she tries to compliment his piano playing, he sweeps her up in a one-armed embrace, setting alternative events into play involving the love and success and life they should have had together.

It reminded me of the end of Diane Lane’s movie “Unfaithful” where, after everything that possibly could go wrong has gone wrong, she imagines the windy day when she first ran into Olivier Martinez’s character. But instead of getting together and having what would eventually become a disastrous affair, they help each other up, sort out their possessions, and, laughing, each goes their separate way.

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And in “La La Land’s” case, going their separate ways was probably inevitable, doomed from the start by self-doubt and precarious hope. Their desire to “make it” ended up being much larger than any feelings they had for each other, so Sebastian’s poignant “what if” imaginings seemed fitting and appropriate for a relationship not exactly shallow but definitely not penetrating deep enough, a perfect parallel for most L.A. life in general.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against dreams and hope and aspiration and dancing in the sky. But regret is something I can relate to, as can most people, whether they want to admit it or not, and so the core of the movie seemed to me like it was baked into the very end, and there it was the most romantic, the most possible, the most real.

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Balancing on the PC Tightrope: Stay Steady or BOUNCE THE LINE?

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I can’t imagine in this universe or the next not writing about politicized/non-PC topics due to either being an unknown indie author, an unknown traditionally published author or any other iterations involving a small or nonexistent following on social media and/or in the real world.

Author Melissa Eskue Ousley recently published an article on Book Daily on this topic, though, asking some penetrating questions:  http://www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1929116

It’s interesting to read people’s varying points of view on the matter. Some of Ms. Ousley’s writer friends said they wouldn’t have broached certain subjects in the past, but due to recent changing events (the Trump election) they’ve become more vocal. Other friends said they were bold before the election, so they weren’t afraid of losing social media followers.

Maybe coming from me this doesn’t mean much. I don’t know. It’s like that age-old question: If a tree falls in a forest but nobody’s there to see it or hear it, does it make a sound? I may say I’ve always been bold. I may say I would never keep my mouth shut for fear of “losing social media followers.” But, some might ask, would I be this way if I did have lots of followers? If I was making a nice living through my writing?

Even though I wrote a paranormal comedy that came out last summer, one of the topics I touched on was the very serious subject of racism. The protagonist is mixed race like I am and at one point, for example, she and her sister muse about the comments they used to get in school about their “mocha” colored skin, which usually came out as a “compliment” but still was, in the end, something everybody noticed and felt the need to comment on.

Conversely, later in life when the main protagonist is trying to make it in Hollywood, she isn’t, for some reason, “black enough.” And these are obviously fairly innocuous, bland examples; the tip of the iceberg,  in the duplicitous labyrinthine casuistry of bigotry and racism.

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I like to believe that, regardless of followings or book sales that may or may not ever increase in size in the future, that I will always be strong enough and courageous enough to share my thoughts and opinions on hot-button topics. Ms. Ousley concluded that she has become more and more vocal over time, probably turning off some readers and even getting angry messages from some. However, overall, responses were positive, and she’s even seen an increase in followers.

I do have a question, though. According to the article, the angry messages Ms. Ousley received followed her sharing photos and her views from the Women’s March. Now, without having seen her posts on this subject or knowing the content therein, I still have to ask: what could have been so offensive that people felt the need to write angry messages to her?

Going by the article from Book Daily, her tone seems gentle, very sensitive and sympathetic. I can’t imagine her blog concluding with something in all caps like, “MEN SUCK. WOMEN WILL RULE THE EARTH AGAIN,” or something equally inflammatory. So who knows where the anger comes from? You can’t please everybody, obviously.

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I actually don’t think an author can be separated from their views. We are our views and our opinions and these philosophies and leitmotifs are infused into our work. There’s a way to phrase our points of view, though, that doesn’t intentionally incite anger or come off aggressively as “the only possible truth.” I think there’s a way to be passionately vocal while at the same time keeping communication and the desire for catharsis in the forefront.

Admittedly, that’s hard to do sometimes, at least for me, like when it comes to Donald Trump. For instance, I posted a picture on Facebook either right before or after the election of Arkham Asylum and likened it to Trump’s administration.

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Yeah, some Trump supporters might have taken offense to that, and no, it’s not a benign call for a far-reaching catharsis. But in retrospect…it was also very prophetic, wasn’t it? Even Trump people, the reasonable ones, would have to give me a grudging nod at this point, eight months later…

And, no, saying “the reasonable ones” isn’t very “kumbayah” of me, either. But I’m referring to the Trump base here, like the ones involved in the Charlottesville mess. Not only the ones who were marching for…I don’t know what—against other people? Certain people? All people who weren’t them? I’m also referring to the ones who even said, after it was over, that they were “glad” that Heather Heyer was killed. Calling those with such a mindset “unreasonable”, I think, is the biggest understatement in not only this dimension but all parallel dimensions unto infinity.

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In summary to Melissa Eskue Ousley’s final question, “Do you think it’s okay for authors to share their political views, or is it advisable to stick to safe topics” for me it’s not advisable to stick to safe topics. Parts of my life, my family’s life, and our experiences haven’t been safe where racism is concerned, psychologically and even physically.

And racism itself isn’t really the problem. It’s simply an unlighted doorway leading to more questionable doorways; a pervasive mindset lacking empathy and inclusiveness, glutted with ignorance, frustration, and fear. Instead of addressing the fear, frustration, or lack of knowledge, it’s always easier to simply roll with the baser extremes. And when one is pulled down into baser extremes of existence, a tendency for intolerance of any kind—for sexuality, religion, what books to read—will be, in my opinion, an easier, shorter trip the longer one is immersed unquestioningly in that kind of limited consciousness.

In this fashion, my father, a dentist, was called a derogatory slur by police officers.

In this fashion, my mother answered the door of her gated-community home to a security guard who assumed she was a maid.

In this fashion, my brother was walking home from school one day and was stopped and frisked by the police.

In this fashion, after I went out with a particular guy a few times, his mother asked him, “Why are you dating that girl? You aren’t going to marry her.”

In this fashion, Trump was able to ask Barack Obama to present his birth certificate for the entire eight years he was president while almost no one brought up the fact that McCain was born in the PNZ while he was campaigning for the same position.

(To see a fuller account of this argument, go here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/01/07/there-was-a-very-real-birther-debate-about-john-mccain/?utm_term=.77508c34f43b)

And in this fashion, reality TV celebrity/real estate mogul Trump was elected president after running with a litany of fanatical, xenophobic, dogmatic, one-sided, fractious, sectarian, racist, and ultraist campaign promises that would have made Darth Vader feel unambitious and forgettable.

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So, in this fashion, regardless of any potential readership, any blossoming followers, any future ultimate successes, in the memory of past injustices, large and small, in the midst of all present injustices in full swing today, and steeling myself for all probable future injustices, angers, hatreds, ignorances, fears, pain, and suffering in the future, I hope I never stick to “what’s safe.”

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Beautiful Fantasy: Spartan Justice for All

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Where do I begin? Did I love the movie “300”? Yes. Was it based in reality? Somewhat. Here and there. Just put a little Wite-out on the ugly parts and blow up the good parts by 1,000.

Well, it’s kinda like how, over time, certain people and/or events become…let’s say…changed from what actually happened or who they actually were, and all of this becomes viewed, in time, through a distorted lens that’s only telling part of the story. Yeah, yeah, history is written by the victors. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Examples? No problem. Two that stand out in my mind are the Rhodes Scholarship and Margaret Sanger. When one thinks of a Rhodes Scholar and the associated scholarship, one generally conjures up benign brainiacs, geeks and nerds of Mensa or Jeopardy! qualifications, whose brains are bigger, synapses fire faster, or maybe are simply gifted in the retention of trivia and facts.

The scholarship, however, is named after British mining magnate and South African politician Cecil John Rhodes, the founder of the De Beers diamond firm, a corporation which enjoyed a global  monopoly for many generations of exploiting/raping natural South African resources while treating its workers as much, much, much less than human. As the creator of the 1913 Natives Land Act, Rhodes’ brainchild would limit the areas of the country that black Africans were allowed (less than 10%) and this, along with altering voting laws, helped pave the road for apartheid.

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In the meantime, Planned Parenthood is still going strong today. I don’t think the average person even knows about Margaret Sanger when they think of Planned Parenthood. I know I didn’t. But when you hear about the “founder” of Planned Parenthood, you’re probably inclined to think, “Oh, what a forward-thinking lady. What a maverick!” since she was engaging in the struggle for women’s rights back in the ‘20s.

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A couple of years ago, Ms. Sanger was named one of Time magazine’s “20 Most Influential Americans of All Time.” But considering what the founder of Planned Parenthood contributed to the eugenics movement, it gives one pause, does it not?  Eugenics?! you say.

Yes. Eugenics!

In 1939 Sanger wrote in a letter to Clarence Gable: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”Woman, Morality, and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922. Page 12.

It was nice of her to lend a caveat to her ultimate goal which was, most likely, not to exterminate blacks, but to definitely keep them from having more than an acceptable amount of babies, whatever that number may have been, as was evidenced in a video recently unearthed from 1947 of the intrepid defender of all womankind—ahem—I mean defender of most of—some of—the appropriate women—of Ms. Sanger demanding no more babies for 10 years in developing countries.

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So back to “300.”  Back to Sparta.

No one more than I loves the expression on Gerard Butler’s face as he’s proclaiming, “This is Sparta!”

But what’s the low-down on Sparta behind the cinematic majesty?

Well, it’s common knowledge these days that the Spartans were slave-owners, dominating who were probably the original inhabitants of Laconia (the area surrounding the Spartan capital). Although this population, called helots, greatly outnumbered the Spartans, an iron heel was kept firmly ground on their collective neck to keep them down.

Spartans, during their early training, did not have to go out into the snow and kill giant wolves as much as they were required to perform the equivalent of today’s gang drive-by in order to gain warrior status within the ranks. So instead of the lyrical representation of the half-naked boy facing down a wild animal, a more realistic scene in “300” would have been a testosterone-crazed 13-year-old shadowing an unarmed helot on his or her way to market in a rite known as the Crypteia, jumping said clueless person, and probably slitting their throat on the spot.

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Portrayed as a freedom-loving culture in the movie and in popular media today, what they actually only valued was their own freedom. Certainly not that of the helots.

And let’s take a look at Ephialtes, who betrays the Greeks by disclosing the location of a secret goat path to the Persians. Ephialtes is changed from a local Malian of sound body into a Spartan outcast, outrageously disfigured and later outrageously vengeful toward Leonidas and the warriors. Aside from the fact that Ephialtes was the leader of radical democrats in Athens and whose reforms prepared the way for the final development of Athenian democracy, his character is demoted to monster-like proportions in both body and mind, along with the general representation of the Persians as twisted creatures, malformed and debauched, offering up an endless supply of gigantic stampeding beasts and horrific ogres to do their fighting for them.

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Oh, well. It made for good drama in the movie.

At the end, in history, the Spartans knew they were gonna die. And they stayed. Graciously, they volunteered their own slaves. I can just see the Spartan warrior going, “Yes, and Thesius will remain behind also,” while Thesius does a double-take and drops the cape he was trying to mend in the dull light of a bloody sunset.

In the end, Spartan bravery isn’t in question. It looks like they had that in spades. But the circumstances that allow such a society to live and thrive, on one level at least, contaminate everything else that happens afterwards, don’t they?

Like the questionable “honor” of being dubbed a Rhodes Scholar.

Like the much, much less than egalitarian principles of an overly esteemed Margaret Sanger.

Like the founding of the United States with a constitution stating that “all men are created equal” except…it was really only men. And really only a certain type of man. And look where we are today due to that ignoble beginning…

It’s nicer to stick with fantasy sometimes. So for now I’ll sink back into the glory of “300” with its chiseled stomachs and call for honor, swirling with empathy and altruism for all the innocents and worthy of the world. Truly a beautiful idea. Really a wonderful, captivating fantasy.

 

 

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Hidden Gem: “Positively No Dancing” by James Mason

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“Positively No Dancing”, a slim volume of stories by James Mason (no relation to the actor) lures us unceremoniously through the back doors and dark bars and understated prosaic beauty of everyday New York.

Those of you who are familiar with such writers as Denis Johnson, Charles Bukowski, and Jayne Anne Phillips are probably no strangers to a style of writing attributed to them called “Dirty Realism.”

Per Wikipedia: Dirty realism is a term coined by Bill Buford of Granta magazine to define a North American literary movement. Writers in this sub-category of realism are said to depict the seamier or more mundane aspects of ordinary life in spare, unadorned language.

Sometimes considered a variety of literary minimalism, dirty realism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description.

The first story, simply titled “John Flowers” starts out: “I was sitting across from my teaching gig on 13th street, waiting for my friend Stacey.”

To state that that paragraph was built with an economy of words would be an amusing understatement. And yet the reader is immediately pulled in. Yeah, John Flowers is just sitting there, waiting for his friend, but why?

One discovers he has an usual job working in an adult rehab center for the mentally disabled, a job he enjoys and feels he’s good at. A job where a woman gets on the center’s bus every morning and tells him that she saw him in her cereal, something he describes as a refreshing way to start the day.

Bars figure into most of the stories here, along with some pill popping and definitely some intended/unintended soul-searching. As the author states in the story “Dead Little Boy”…

The guys in the bar looked like the old guys in every bar, peering into their glasses, trying to locate their lives.

The sad, Sisyphean self-scrutiny continues with observations like these:

..in Ireland most of them (bars) are round so people are all kind of looking at each other and conversations start more naturally. As opposed to American bars where you sit shoulder to shoulder and spend the night staring at the reflection of the person you came to get away from in the first place.

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Originally from Ohio, Mason lived in New York for over 25 years, well qualifying him to become a spokesman for the city and his Brooklyn neighborhood (Red Hook specifically), topics ranging from the gentrification of mom and pop bars to taxi driver banter.

An interview in “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York” highlights Mason’s colorful response to gentrification:

Well, you know what? Fuck you. The slaughterhouses were here before you were. The factories were here before you, and they employ hundreds of neighborhood people … Why the fuck did you buy a condo next to a chicken slaughterhouse in the first place? When I moved to Williamsburg in ’87, I didn’t look around and try to see how I could change it. I was in Rome. I tried to figure out how the Romans do.

Layered within the darkness of emotional paralysis and self-destructive behaviors, an unselfconscious humor nevertheless lightens much of the ambiance, like how we are when we first meet, as demonstrated in the third-person story entitled: “Pretty.”

This is the part you’re not crazy about, the small talk.

“You have pretty hair,” you say.

“Thanks,” she says.

“What do you call that color?”

“Black.”

“Nice.”

In another story, “Ashes,” the protagonist’s tendency toward short-lived, somewhat doomed relationships starts out like anybody else’s with a girl he’d met showing up in a bar again:

She had on a deep blue eyeliner and some kind of white feather boa. She looked like she was playing dress-up.

Here we go, I thought.

We can relate to this character, because we’ve been there before. Maybe not with a girl or a white boa, but in a blossoming situation in which, although new, we recognize familiar colors and patterns. The indicators of what’s to come.

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A while later, waist or chest or neck-deep in the relationship, the fun is gone and the fighting has begun, the catalyst John arriving late from the bar again:

I…took a bottle of bourbon…Touching it made things louder…I reached for her. The sound was hard, like something heavy dropping.

An L.A. Times article by David Ulin summarizes the collection this way:

John goes to a funeral; he talks to a little girl and her sister on the Brooklyn Promenade about the proximity of the World Trade Center to Heaven.

“Maybe angels shed feathers from their wings,” the girl suggests, “… [a]nd then the birds come and fly up and take the feathers and makes nests with it.” That’s a perfect metaphor for Mason’s book, which gathers the detritus of city life and spins it into something spare and beautiful.

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I would agree. In fact, the spare and beautiful part actually reminds me of the end of the short story “Brokeback Mountain”:

There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.

In the conclusion of Mason’s “Nicotine Angel” John Flowers, remembering the small bit of compassion a nurse had shown him while he’d been detoxing in a hospital, returns there in search of something that remains, obviously, elusive in his life:

I stopped and lit a cigarette…I could just sneak back in and lie down. She’d have a bed waiting for me. I figured I’d smoke this one, then one final one, seeing as there wouldn’t be any more for a while.

That’s kind of how I feel about this collection and this author, considering nothing more, at least in book form, has been forthcoming from him. It’s almost like he dropped off the edge of the world.

I feel like I need to savor this little book, roll it around on the tongue, make it last, seeing as there hasn’t been, and probably won’t be, any more for a while.

A PDF of the collection can be downloaded here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/james-mason/positively-no-dancing/ebook/product-17550456.html?ppn=1

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Book Review: ‘Day for Night’ by Stacey E. Bryan

I normally don’t post reviews, but I kinda had to reblog this one, not only for its content, but especially for the hilarious drawing, which no one has done before: a provocative representation of the main protagonist of Day for Night and…a mystery being who’s only trying to help!

Thanks, Henry!

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Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Damien Hirst, the bad boy of art famous for displaying sharks in art galleries, once asked his 6-year-old son which he would prefer in his bed, a girl or a zombie. The boy instantly replied, “Zombie!” That is a crude and random example, I know. But perhaps it makes a bigger point about our collective fascination with the macabre, the unknown…and sometimes that is made most clear from a child’s point of view. That brings me to “Day For Night,” a new novel by Stacey E. Bryan. It has zombies of a sort. And it even has a shark! Like my example, there’s a fine-tuned crude and random vibe to this book.

This is very much a Los Angeles tale. Bryan indicates any pause as a “beat,” reminding us we’re in Tinseltown, full of daily theatrics and scripts coming out of everyone’s ears. We also get…

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Michael Faber tunnels “Under the Skin”

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“Even in the nacreous hush of a winter dawn, when the mists were still dossed down in the fields on either side, the A9 could not be trusted to stay empty for long.”

And the journey begins.

Pulled in by the lilting, almost soothing language, one might expect a benign story concerning suburban life: the good daughter’s dating a biker, or the grandfather’s hiding a secret from his long ago boyhood.

But Michael Faber’s 2000 novel “Under the Skin” leads us down a dark and disturbing road which, while weaving in and out of the lives of ordinary people, ultimately reveals the last thing on anybody’s mind: an unthinkable and malevolent and alien agenda.

“Isserley always drove straight past a hitchhiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs.”

Okay, so now we’re thinking along the lines of “Looking For Mr. Goodbar,” right? This Isserley has done this before, and she’ll probably do it again. She wants men. Maybe she’s a sex addict. Obviously she wants a good time…right?

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Yes, she does. If a good time involves randomly offering men a ride, casually asking seemingly innocent questions about their lives and then, once she’s determined no one will be looking for them anytime soon,  injecting them with a drug and delivering their unconscious body to the secret slaughterhouse that’s hidden below a farm.

Because she’s an alien, physically altered to look more or less human, and human beings are a delicious delicacy and in great demand on her home planet.

In the movie based on the novel, one of the most bizarre and riveting and sinister and ghoulish moments came when Scarlett Johansson, who plays Isserley, is walking through a strangely lightless space over a mirror-like surface while she peels off her clothing, luring an entranced male who follows, fugue-like, after her, pulling his clothes off, too, until he is nude.

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But while Isserley stands, still clad in her bra and jeans, firmly atop the mirror-shiny surface, still clad in her bra and jeans, the man slowly begins to sink down into it as he walks, and yet he keeps walking forward, determined to reach Isserley who remains above, out of reach, watching. And he continues moving forward, calmly, still silently staring at Isserley, as if what’s happening to him isn’t even registering, until he disappears beneath the black surface.

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I won’t describe what happens to this and other fellows in a later scene; you’ll have to see it for yourselves. But suffice it to say that I don’t have the adjectives available to relate the utter horror of what transpires.

So an alien race has come to Earth and is secretly kidnapping, fattening up, then slaughtering men whom, presumably, no one will notice are missing. There’s a lot more to this story, though. We discover that the population on Isserley’s home world is as stratified and unevenly divided when it comes to resources and who receives them as is Earth’s.

In fact, Isserley was forced into this job on our far away world because she couldn’t do any better on her home planet, and she resents the constant physical pain the surgery left her in and is constantly revisiting and bemoaning her social status in general. She sounds like someone who wants to “move on up” just like anyone else.

But as time goes on and several incidents occur, Isserley finds herself transforming again—this time emotionally—as she slowly develops empathy for the humans she heretofore had simply thought of as meat.

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There’s an interesting parallel, of course, with our own “meat” industry, how we view animals, how we round them up for our consumption. The author has stated that he does question our methods and entire perspective on the slaughter of animals, but the book was not written as a treatise on that or any one subject. And he also is not a vegetarian.

The endings of the book and the movie differ greatly, but I thought both of them worked in their own mediums. The movie’s conclusion was more karma-heavy due to the fact that the very thing that Isserley had been hunting the entire time was now stalking her in some deep, dark woods.

But this was a rare occasion where, in my opinion, the movie was as effective as the book, and both are worth pursuing. An interesting take on “alien life” in the universe that’s a far cry from E.T., “Starman,” or even Superman. It’s a nightmarish scenario, like if Superman went bad, having a powerful, single-minded alien presence inhabiting our world with no positive intentions toward us.

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Imagine standing in “the prehistoric stillness” of an early morning. With the “mists still dossed down in the fields.” You are alone. Everything calm and quiet. Ordinary. Maybe almost beautiful. Then you see that one car.

Coming down the road toward you…

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Black Lives Matter: A Study in Loss

Laughter Over Tears

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My mouth was agape as I read an article from Paste Magazine talking about the new TV time travel show “Timeless” :

 “In one of the episode’s best lines, he tells the guard that he hopes he lives a long life so he can see Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson (“or just anybody named Michael”) and other notable African American figures because, ‘Time is not on your side.’”

Yeah, it’s a light article talking about a sci-fi TV show. We can’t expect an in-depth thesis about anything of real substance because in the end, it’s just…entertainment, right?

The black male character has traveled back in time and a racist guard in a jail cell is spewing the usual disrespectful and derogatory rhetoric at him.

But it’s the comeback that irks me.

And it’s the perspective of the article’s author that amazes me, that this person actually considered this one…

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A Maggot by John Fowles: Unidentified Flying Myths?

They’re out there. You just don’t wanna believe it!

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John Fowles’ “A  Maggot,” circa 1985, a truly bizarre and fascinating tale revolving around one of the most unlikely subjects possible for the historical setting of the 1700s,  slowly pushes open an eerily creaking door on the controversial world of UFOs.

Though Fowles denies that “A Maggot” is historical, it does nevertheless take place during a precise historical timeframe of May 1736 to February 1737.

An article in www.nytimes.com stated:

A maggot in this sense is a whim, or a work based on a whim, and Mr. Fowles’ whim is often to tease…In ”A Maggot” the hypothesis seems to be that readers will tolerate more teasing, and more indeterminacy as to plot and character, than is usually expected of them.

Who except John Fowles of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” would combine a story taking place in the 18th century with the much-maligned and ridiculed subject of UFOs? It was fascinating to see the counterbalance between what at first appeared to be normal travelers plodding along and then the subtly unraveling mystery they all carried with them; the shared, unspoken secret, the verboten knowledge. In the opening pages, Mr. Fowles’ lyrical language floats us, dream-like, into the story:

The woman raises her hands and pushes back the hood of her cloak, then loosens the white linen band she has swathed round the lower part of her face. She is young, hardly more than a girl, pale-faced, with dark hair bound severely back beneath a flat-crowned chip, or willow-shaving, hat…She is evidently a servant, a maid.

Unfastening the top of her cloak, and likewise undoing the kissing-ribbons, she goes beside the track a little ahead and stoops where some sweet-violets are still in flower on a bank. Her companion stares at her crouched back, the small movements of her hands, the left one picking, ruffling the heart-shaped green leaves to reveal the hidden flowers, the right one holding the small sprig of deep mauve heads she has found. He stares as if he does not comprehend why she should do this.

Beginning at the actual end of their travels, the final afternoon concluding a mysterious four-day journey, the novel then progresses with more twists and turns: a few days later, one character is found hanged in the woods, another goes missing, and the hirelings have vanished. Later, testimony from witnesses under the scrutiny of an investigator slowly begin to unravel the labyrinthine tale, ultimately unveiling truths, half-truths, or outright distortions of the truth that are almost beyond comprehension and definitely bigger than the 18th century world of historical England.

My fascination with the story lies with Mr. Fowles’ treatment of perception: how, exactly, someone from those long ago times would perceive something like a UFO, any beings associated with it, and how would they then be able to translate the experience and explain it to anyone else, if it came to that? The mind would have no context, no experience, with such a situation, and it would be next to impossible to define in any exact terms what had actually transpired.

It’s so interesting to think about things like this: do other beings exist? And if so, why do they hang around us? Would they really have any good reason to do so, being so far advanced? Surely it couldn’t be simply for altruistic reasons; isn’t that a lot of effort put into something and basically getting nothing back? So I tend to think, if they are out there, that they come around for a specific purpose. I don’t know what, but I feel like it maybe probably isn’t that great for us. But what do I know? What does John Fowles know? It’s all just really speculation at this point…..right?

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Alice In New York: A graphic novel by Henry Chamberlain

Drawings courtesy of the graphic novel: Alice In New York

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1989. The Big Apple. For a lot of people, those four words would mean little or nothing. But for me personally, it means a lot, because I was living there in 1989. The Twin Towers were still intact. Our country hadn’t turned that strange corner yet and started accelerating down a slippery slope into the 24-7 fear-mongering which has left us in the mess we’re in today.

When you’re in a mess, there’s no room for magic. But in 1989, in New York City, the old gods, the old ways, were still intact, and this is the year and the setting where Henry Chamberlain captured that feeling tenderly and bravely with his graphic novel “Alice in New York.”

If magic was a color, if magic was, say, yellow, this charming tale of new adult angst and self-discovery would be coated in great swaths of gold as the reader follows Henry on his first-time visit to New York, or through the looking glass, as it were.

Being in New York is like stepping through the looking glass—or it used to be, at least. Equally mind-blowing and exasperating at the same time,  it vibrates with visible and invisible energy, punctuated by violence and madness.  I mean, except for traveling out of the United States to countries that are densely populated, where can you run into a scene like this in everyday life?

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Yet this is what I encountered, every single day, when I journeyed from Brooklyn to Manhattan, where I worked, and Mr. Chamberlain captured the frantic, crushing crowds perfectly. The reader is pulled into the tale by the artist’s sometimes simple and straightforward, sometimes subtly evocative drawings, as revealed in this lyrical likeness of a hand during a conversation, for example:

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As Henry goes deeper and deeper into the looking glass, he mentally dismantles the Natural Museum of History, savors and inhales the Met, and deconstructs a statue of Teddy Roosevelt down to its outdated symbolism, although his guide manages to pare his derision down into a harmless little ball utilizing the wisdom of time and hindsight:

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With little “Easter eggs” of thought and philosophy like “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,” and “Innocence is something you peel away…as you replace it with wisdom” slipping smoothly in and out of the dialogue, the reader is invited on a carpet ride along with Henry into a simultaneously physical and mental adventure.

At one point, a character intones that someone else has been murdered in a young woman’s apartment building, to which her succinct reply is, “What, again, so soon?”

I smiled wryly at that because, yeah, that’s how it is there. My first week in NYC, I saw someone getting brained with a wooden plank right outside my hotel window, and I witnessed a suicide victim drowning in the Hudson River (right before my boyfriend jumped in and tried to save them.) It’s definitely a city that would provoke thought and demand answers, such as it does with Henry.

It’s not just me, though, who can relate to “Alice in New York”, due to my having known the City so well. The underlying message and offering is universal, a silver platter of delicious hors d’oeuvres free for the taking: Who are we? Why are we alive? What are we supposed to be doing? Henry’s visit to NYC only accelerated and underlined the questions that we all have, or have had, in our minds at one time or another, since we all shoulder that immense joy and burden that we call sentience.

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What better way to recognize those thoughts and address the state of being alive than by diving head-first into the frenetic mosh pit that is New York? Back in time, not even too far back, we still retained a little bit of innocence, enough to perhaps keep us open-minded to the concept of the little gods and angels that watch over us, the Alices that operate behind the curtain, move within us, inspire us, help us get through.

And I’m not saying it’s completely gone now, the innocence, but I think it’s much harder to reach, much harder to access these days, and “Alice in New York” is a sweetly pleasant, kinetic reminder of how to ponder, how to care, how to seek, and how to possibly journey through this world: with hope, love, and ultimately understanding.

And a few large white rabbits thrown into the mix!

The full graphic novel is available for your enjoyment here:  Alice in New York Henry Chamberlain.

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After the Writing’s Done

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So we thought writing a book was the hard part? Wait until it gets out there and the reviews start coming in. Or, actually, good luck getting it “out there” if you’re new to the game. Like me. Building a readership and getting reviews, as it turns out, especially for debut authors, is the next part of the job, and in many ways, is much harder than actually writing the book.

For one thing, the writing of the book comes to an end at some point. You’re done. It’s done. There’s no more.

Pimping the book comes afterward. The hustling, the carnival barking, the game show hosting. And it never, ever, ever ends.

I’ve described myself before as a book whore. But I don’t know if that’s quite accurate. The actual position is really this: Writing/Building a Following/Connecting with Readers/Stalking Bloggers for Reviews Whore. Is slut less offensive? I’ll dial it down. Mouthpiece. Spokeswoman.

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I know one thing for sure: I can’t be called a “pro.” I applied for the job and was really only qualified for the first part. The writing part.

‘Cause after I had finished writing, while I was filling out applications for the job of potential author and was asked about myself and my “social media following”, I answered enthusiastically about my writing, my influences, my love/hate relationship with Los Angeles which was expounded on liberally in Day for Night, and then sort of slipped vaguely into [cough cough] for websites and [ahem—hack] for Twitter and sort of [mumble, mumble, ahem—I think I hear the doorbell; excuse me] for Facebook.

In the end, not everyone in the universe demands that one must be Steve Wozniak or Gia Milinovich before accepting a book for publication (although I’m sure they privately wish everyone was Steve Wozniak or Gia Milinovich, and I don’t blame them), and I count myself very lucky there.

The funny thing is, having finally jumped into all things electronically-oriented and feeling like I hadn’t gotten very far, I eventually experienced the same situation as almost everyone else, seasoned and unseasoned alike: the negative review!

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There was an article in Book Daily by David T. Wolf about this matter. It was actually titled, “Should You Update Your Book in Response to Negative Reviews”?

Mr. Wolf’s situation was slightly different in that his novel Mindclone received many 4 and 5-star reviews, so the criticism revolved around that: “But what troubled me the most was this reviewer’s accusation that I had somehow cheated, gaming the system for those glowing reviews.”

Knowing this not to be the case, Mr. Wolf decided that he had to respond.

But first he made sure to check out this reader’s other reviews to ensure that he wasn’t simply a troll who was out to make people’s lives miserable.

That was smart and good advice for the rest of us. I’d like to think that I’d check if someone was a troll first, but maybe I wouldn’t have.

Turns out the reader wasn’t a troll, so Wolf crafted a careful response that involved thanking the reader for buying the book, for his comments, assuring him that he took all criticism seriously, and then explaining through math and logic the impossibility of his having “cheated”, garnering the reader’s apology and even resulting in his changing the review, on that issue at least.

As for other criticisms Mr. Wolf has received from readers in his sci-fi book group, he stated that he: “…took my notes, went home and revised the book to correct the flaws I felt needed correcting.”

In reading the responses to this article, it seemed that everyone pretty much agreed that they would do the same: a fault in facts or logic would cause them to update their work. And a lot of people needed to re-edit due to somewhat dire punctuation issues. One author said, yeah, a reader was annoyed that a donkey in one chapter had become a horse in the next, so the author immediately fixed it.

And I agree. I would do the same for black and white issues like that.

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But as for my blogger’s concerns, a blogger whom I had sought out and requested a review from, steadfastly performing one of my duties as a struggling “Pro In Training”, I don’t think I would update the book.

My reason is this: their main concern addressed a fictional event which fictional characters were performing in an urban paranormal comedy rife with aliens and vampires: yes, it may have been in bad taste, the thing that happened, but I obviously was in no way suggesting to the world at large that this is the way that one must behave in real life and/or the necessary and appropriate actions one must take in this particular situation.

Therefore, the scene stays as-is, in all its rotting glory, and damn the torpedoes! I won’t go into specifics, because that’s probably tacky, so if anyone’s curious about it, they’ll have to go on Amazon and see it for themselves!

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And kudos to Mr. Wolf, by the way, in his endeavors to give others feedback on their work, receive feedback on his, and generally do whatever it takes to be the best author he can be, considering the fact that he drives 50 miles one way, 100 round trip, to join the sci-fi group that he’s a member of!

It makes me feel a little bad complaining about having to become a Book Review-Seeking–let’s say plenipotentiary and class it up (I just found that word today)– relentlessly and shamelessly surfing the web within the comfort of my own home, wine or whisky close by (preferably whisky) nobody honking at me, no running low on gas right when the gas stations start to disappear.

And then after intellectualizing and brainstorming for several hours, Mr. Wolf motors 50 miles back, probably in the dead of night, with the wolves and the monsters and the minions crawling and howling on the horizon…

Yo, Wolf, way to represent. That’s dedication!

For the full article, go here:   http://www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1902246

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