About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

On Being (& Becoming) Grand - Charlaine Harris

On the occasions of Charlaine Harris being named a 2021 Grand Master honoree by the Mystery Writers of America...

It was a Cub game.  The Mets and the Cubs at Shea Stadium in 1989, when you could bring a backpack into the ballpark, and my backpack would have a manuscript to read, when we still read those on paper.  That’s when I remember reading REAL MURDERS by Charlaine Harris, during a rain delay.

Charlaine was looking for an agent.  She had successfully placed two books on her own in the early 1980s, SWEET AND DEADLY and A SECRET RAGE, to the legendary Ruth Hapgood at Houghton Mifflin, and then taken a few years off to when she had her first two children.  A then-client of mine, Barbara Paul, recommended that Charlaine get in touch with me, and so it was that I found myself reading the first Aurora Teagarden mystery, and I was very much in love.

Not to knock the idea that it helps to write a good novel, which REAL MURDERS was and is, and do well by the people you work with, which Charlaine Harris has done for every moment of a long career, but there’s still a lot of fortune involved in the successful writing career, and for myself, Charlaine, and Aurora Teagarden, fortune came wearing the name of Janet Hutchings.  Janet is now, and has been for many years, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, but she was then the mystery editor for Walker & Company, a small-ish family owned publisher with a deeply creditable mystery list, and she was the only editor -- the only! -- to make an offer on REAL MURDERS.  $4,000.

I was crushed.  I had taken this wonderful novel out with much enthusiasm and great expectations, and all I had to show for it was a $4,000 offer.  But my boss at the time, Scott Meredith, sent me one of his famous scrawls on 3x5 note paper to tell me that it wasn’t easy bringing an author back into the market after a several year absence, and that I had done good.  And I reckon, with the passage of time, that this was a true statement.

Janet left Walker after buying the second Aurora Teagarden novel, and Charlaine and I didn’t cotton as much to Janet’s replacement.  We went looking for a new home for the third Aurora Teagarden.  And this time, fortune came wearing the name of Susanne Kirk.  Susanne edited a mystery list for Scribner, another family-owned publishing company with a rich and storied and even more deeply creditable mystery list. She wasn’t sure about picking up the Aurora Teagarden series, which had been with a smaller publisher with modest sales.  I can’t say that I persuaded her.  She told me later that it was Charlaine herself who did the trick, charming the room at a mystery convention, that told Susanne she should have some Charlaine of her own.  

And then Scribner was engulfed and devoured by Simon & Schuster.  Susanne hung on for several more years, but big publishers like Simon & Schuster don’t enjoy publishing (not then, in the mid 1990s, not now, not for a very very long time) the steady but modestly profitable books of the world, and the mystery list Susanne edited turned much more heavily toward the lottery ticket approach, squeezing out Charlaine and the Aurora Teagarden series.

This time around, fortune came wearing the name of Elizabeth Story, a young editor at St. Martin’s whom I’d met a few times during a monthly networking night at the Cedar Tavern on University Place.  Elizabeth ended up leaving publishing, and the Cedar ended up leaving the world entirely, but that connection helped in selling SHAKESPEARE’S LANDLORD, the first of the new and rather darker Lily Bard series of cozy mysteries by Charlaine, and after Elizabeth left St. Martin’s we ended up in the care of the (then very young) Kelley Ragland.  

I have always been a fan of the Aurora Teagarden books, dating back to that rain delay at Shea Stadium, and I spent a good chunk of this period of time trying to get Kelley to pick up some more books in the series.  This was not easy.  The Lily Bard books had their level of success, and it was not intuitive that the series that had already been dropped by two publishers deserved to have a third.  But, I persisted.  The Aurora Teagarden series moved to St. Martin’s, and ended up selling better than the Lily Bard novels.  Never bet against Aurora Teagarden.

It was also around this time that Charlaine made the decision to do something entirely new.  She felt she was mired in the midlist, and this wasn’t where she wanted to be.  And with some inspiration from Laurell K. Hamilton and Tanya Huff and Buffy guiding her muse, she wrote a novel called SOUTHERN FRIED VAMPIRES which introduced a very very different character named Sookie Stackhouse.  And boy, was it different.  I wasn’t even such a big fan, but this time it was Charlaine who persisted.  We agreed to send the book along to Dean James, then an important bookseller at Houston’s Murder by the Book and now very well known as Miranda James, and accept his verdict.  Dean liked SOUTHERN FRIED VAMPIRES, so I took it out to market.

These vampires didn’t want to sell themselves.  It wasn’t for lack of a good marketing letter.  In a remarkable bit of prescience, I said that the combination of Charlaine’s loyal base in the mystery field with the genre-crossing merriment that had made Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake into a force to be reckoned with would work its magic on book buyers.  But, nobody was buying it.  We had one offer from a very small publisher that I persuaded Charlaine to turn down; it was very one-sided for a book that would probably succeed more on the basis of Charlaine’s name on the front cover than the publisher’s name on the spine.  

Finally, I sent it off to John Morgan, a young editor at Ace (Laurell/Anita’s publisher), who was starting to acquire.  I could have sent it to Ace sooner, but the established editors sometimes had slow response times.  And it worked.  John liked SOUTHERN FRIED VAMPIRES.  He was able to get his boss, Ginjer Buchanan, on board.  And we got a two-book offer for less money per book than Charlaine was getting at St. Martin’s.  Not the most auspicious sale for a book Charlaine had hoped would take her out of the midlist.

But we got a new title you might all be familiar with.  DEAD UNTIL DARK.  We got a great cover.  And lo and behold, and exactly as I had promised in my marketing letter, we got buy-in to the book both from Charlaine’e established mystery readership and from the Laurell K. Hamilton fans, and DEAD UNTIL DARK sold, and sold, and sold, and hasn’t stopped selling for twenty years.  So well and so quickly that Charlaine was almost immediately offered a contract for the third and fourth Sookie Stackhouse novels, and then when the second book was published for the fifth, sixth and seventh Sookie novels -- the first time in over twenty years that Charlaine had a big enough advance that she could feel truly comfortable as a writer.

The rest of the story, you probably know.  Or a pretty good chunk of it.

What you might not know:  TRUE BLOOD came out when Alan Ball was early for a dentist appointment, and came across DEAD UNTIL DARK while browsing the shelves of a nearby Barnes & Noble.

Charlaine’s one of the very few authors to have not one, or not two, but three different series make it to television. (So far…)  I sometimes feel like a bystander to her success, but not when it comes to the Aurora Teagarden series on Hallmark.  Just like at St. Martin’s, I advocated for the series that had been around a time or two (the creator of Simon & Simon was going to write a pilot for CBS in the 1990s, before a management shuffle left the project orphaned even before the contract was finalized), and the book-to-film agents at APA, Debbie Deuble Hill and Steve Fisher, took my words to heart, and found producer Jim Head, who packaged things for Hallmark.  The 15th Hallmark movie is wrapping up production right about now.

There are so many instances where fortune has played a major role in Charlaine’s success, but it’s of no small import that she’s forever displayed great courage in directing her career.  She put Aurora Teagarden aside to launch the Lily Bard books.  She killed off Aurora’s husband.  She stopped writing Lilly Bard novels when she felt she’d ran out of things to say.  She put an end to the Sookie Stackhouse series, and went on to start two more, the Midnight Texas and Gunnie Rose novels.  She took a big gamble on starting the Sookie books.  

It’s only with the passage of time that I’ve come to truly appreciate how fortunate I’ve been to work with Charlaine.  My agency has in many ways grown along with her, with some high stakes discussions that were nerve-wracking at the time because I’d never done them before, but as I’ve done them more and more have realized that they could have been even more fraught.  

You don’t get to be a Grand Master without winning the respect of your peers. When you’ve been told a thousand times, as Charlaine has, that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person, it can seem a little artificial, but this award is the moment when you realize it’s entirely true.

Charlaine’s been loyal. For all her success, you can still go to a convention and see her hanging out with a lot of the same people today as she did thirty years ago, only the surrounding crowd has gotten so much larger.  I’ve been blessed to get to work with other authors like Toni L P Kelner and Elaine Viets in no small part because of Charlaine’s good word.

Charlaine’s been there for her family, and they’ve been there for her. 

And all along the way, I’ve simply known how lucky I’ve been to be in the Charlaine Harris business.  In the mid and late 1990s, I wasn’t prosperous, not by a long shot, but finding the money to be in DC for Malice Domestic weekend was always important to me.  I wanted to be there for Charlaine.  I’ve always known.

I consider the Grand Master honors to be the most significant a genre author has a decent chance of receiving.  The Nobel and Pulitzer don’t often get awarded to cozy mysteries or fantasies.  You can leave any given Bouchercon with any of three different awards, or collect a Hugo and Nebula and World Fantasy withiin the space of a few months.  I don’t know in my career if I’ll get to have another Grand Master.  There are but a handful from the major writer’s organizations in a year.

I’m so grateful to the Mystery Writers of America for awarding Charlaine Harris a 2021 Grand Master honor, and for recognizing not just what she’s done, but who she is is.  And even more to the point, I’m honored that I’ve gotten to hang out with Charlaine for thirty one years and counting -- to go to the Real Murders club with Aurora Teagarden, working out at Body Time with Lily Bard, getting creeped out by Manfred, checking into the hotel at Midnight Crossroads, wandering across the dangerous landscape of Texoma. Being there as Sookie helps Hunter to make his way into the world, and as Anne DeWitt comes to the aid of her charges.  And always, Bobo Winthrop.  And always, always, Grand.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

On Doing Better...

 One of the great joys of Fantasy novels is the opportunity to experience the way characters evolve and grow, and to see that process demonstrated through the choices they make. The characters we love best are those whose sense of personal responsibility expands ever outward as they recognize their own power to effect change in the world – to aid someone in distress, to right wrongs. 

We love this journey, in part, because it reflects our best hopes for ourselves. Most of us know that too often we narrow our own sense of responsibility, rationalizing that we are limited in what we can or even should do in our lives to help others when they need us. We call it being realistic or practical. Usually, it is an excuse for cowardice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the limits of my own sense of responsibility in the context of my reflections on a moment where I failed to act when I should have.

As some of you reading this already know, in 2009 I hosted a JABberwocky dinner at a World Fantasy Convention in San Jose. At that dinner, a friend and valued colleague, Janci Patterson, was subjected to unwanted and unacceptable behavior by another guest at that dinner, which made her deeply uncomfortable. 

I did nothing but watch as one of my authors made comments that made her feel awful at an event that I put on.

I wish I could precisely reconstruct my thinking on that night. Why didn’t I intervene? It wasn’t that I couldn’t empathize. From early in life I had plenty of personal experience -- the harshness of middle school or the awkward high school parties -- with the pain and discomfort that can be caused by other people’s bad behavior. 

On that night in San Jose I should have known how wrong this thing I was witnessing was. And yet I did nothing to stop it. 

I have no clear answer for why I made that bad choice except to say that somehow I determined it was not my responsibility. 

And, in doing so, I failed a crucial test. 

I have apologized to Janci for my failure. But no apology is sufficient unless it is coupled with an honest effort to change.

So that is what I am committing to in writing this. I have made a promise to myself and to any who read this that I will expand my sense of responsibility, as I hope we have all learned to do over the past year or two. 

I don’t expect that doing so will be easy. But that is what taking responsibility means and that is what I pledge myself to do. It is part of what I believe I owe to Janci and, as importantly, to myself in my own efforts to be the kind of person I wish to be. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Corpus Christi

One of the Oscar nominees for International Film, and quite wonderful.  Like, even if I hadn't known Parasite was going to win the actual Best Picture prize, I'd have been rooting for Corpus Christi three weeks ago had I caught up with it before the Oscar ceremony.

If you're going to do a melodrama, why not go all in!

Start with a lead character who's getting parole from a violet juvie prison to work at a saw mill out in the countryside. Only, the parole thing -- they haven't made any arrangements for room & board, so have the lead character to to a church to hang out after work.

Having left the prison swearing to arrive sober at the saw mill, have him go a wild night before bender and take a priest's collared shirt from one of the other partiers. Have him joke with an attractive teenage girl at the church, end up taking out the shirt to back up his joking boast about being a priest, and then Dear Evan Hansen style the deception just keeps going and going.

Not only is there no arrangement for room & board, there's no attendance check that he's actually at the saw mill.

Oh, also, a local priest who needs to head out of town on the down low for some medical tests/treatment and doesn't want any of his loyal parishioners to know.

The town bulletin board has tacked onto it the faces of six local kids who died in a car accident several months ago. All in one car, and crashed into (or did they crash into) by the car of a man whose wife is on the outskirts of town in more ways than one.

You've got love, religion, power struggles, town secrets -- all sorts of stuff, and I'm kind of making fun of it because the movie piles it on, piles it on some more, and then manages to pile even more on when you think the movie should already be falling over from the weight of all that melodrama.

But the movie plays all of this for real pathos, asks real questions about mercy, power, justice, the day-to-day uncertainties of human existence, about compassion and rehabilitation and faith. Or is it the other way around? Is the film ultimately mocking all of the important stuff by surrounding it with volcanic preposterousness?

In the lead role, Bartosz Bielenia is absolutely brilliant, and very much a name and face to watch. And what a face. I don't know what his English is like, but on looks and charisma and expressiveness Bielenia's ready to step into stardom. He manages to pull this off, up until an ending that would have worked just as well in a slightly more Grand Guignol version of First Reformed, and an epilogue that takes the movie -- well, I've absolutely no idea where the lead character's gong at the end, and strangely, I don't care.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Oscars 2020

The Morning After...

If you’ve watched Tootsie, the very long acceptance speech from Renée Zellweger ultimately started to remind me of Michael Dorsey’s when he wants to reveal the truth about his identity and knows where he’s going but is very lost in getting there.  As Renée is the co-star of Jerry Maguire, which is one of my all-time favorite movies, and gave a performance in Judy that shows her in utter command at very moment of a character who is clearly Judy in every moment and maybe Judy Garland in very few of them, and as she has had a career with quite a few bounces to it, some of them off the table and rolling around on the floor for a few years, I am deeply happy for her win.  And as someone who was raving up every acting award, I sure do wish her speech had been less improvisational than Michael Dorsey’s.

Joaquin Phoenix’s speech also rambled.  I’m not entirely sure what he was saying though I heard every word of it, and am intrigued the morning after to discover that it is a paean to veganism.  I might have interpreted it differently.  I was most interested to see if or how he would deal with the tragedy of his brother, another deeply gifted actor, and the quote from River Phoenix’s poem was a moment of few words and few details that said quite a bit.

Whether or not they wish to admit it, many of the people who write about Hollywood and the Oscars were strangely blind to the inevitability of the Parasite win for Best Picture.  Many other times, we’re told how important the actor’s branch is, how it’s the largest in the Academy, how hard it is to win for Best Picture without having nominations for the actors, or for movies that are all about CGI and robots and spaceships to win.  And yet, I saw very few columns looking at the tea leaves of the standing ovation that the cast of Parasite received at the SAG Awards.  To be sure, that standing “O” had to battle the fact that there were no acting nominations for Parasite, but let’s give a think to something.  How easy is is to judge acting by people speaking in another language?  In a movie with a fairly large cast with good-size roles for half a dozen people and substantial above-the-title roles for none of them?  And none of them people you’ve heard of.  And no lack of really good roles for people we have heard of them.  I do think it’s legitimate to ask which of the people who were nominated should have been kicked off the ballot in favor of the other thing you wish were nominated instead.  All of this in mind, that standing ovation at SAG said a clear something about an enthusiasm for the movie which might not have easily manifested in individual nods.

And let’s call that a wrap,.

11:56 PM I am going to do a final wrap in the morning; have to start back to NYC bright and early and need my beauty sleep.  But lots to talk about and more TK.

11:22 PM The Best Actor/Actress wins as expected, but those speeches.  Well, more to come.  Best Picture is at hand.

11:22 PM Wow, a half hour since my last post.  Caught up in the magic as it all heads into the home stretch.

10:50 PM Contrast — from a new voice in scoring for Hollywood and only third female to win in a category to Elton John and Bernie Taupin winning after what Elton tells me in his acceptance speech is 53 years of banging the keys around together.  Based on the performances tonight I’d give this one to the song from Harriet, but based on the work of a lifetime this one’s up there with Brad Pitt getting his first Oscar for acting a few decades into an acting career.

10:47 PM I’d also like to get on my soapbox about Marvel movies.  On the whole, DC movies have better scores from better composers, and I simply don’t believe Marvel cares on the whole very much about the quality of the music in their movies.  The score for Joker was good, very good.  How many Marvel movies other than Black Panther, where Ryan Coogler was able to push thru a lot of stuff that Marvel movies aren’t known for, have anything better than ninety minutes of bombast.  So, another happy-making moment for me as Hildur Gudnadottir takes home a prize.

10:45 PM & Joker joins the list of movies to have won at least one Oscar this evening.

10:43 PM Hildur Guðnadóttir is only the third woman to win in the Best Score category

10:42 PM And it was a great intro with Brie Larson, Gal Gadot and Sigourney Weaver on stage.  And Joker soundtrack from a female composer, as they are slowly starting to make inroads into what has been a guy’s world of movie music composition.

10:41 PM More musical moments.  I’d very much like for John Williams to win one more Academy Award.  There might not be many more chances.  But I also very much like the music for Marriage Story.

10:36 PM The music of the moment.  A good performance by Elton John.  A good night for Tiny Dancer, which appears in the musical moments montage and then in the very effective ABC promo for American Idol.

10:20 PM So much harder than twenty years ago to have a grand sweep of the Oscars.  The award for Bombshell to go along with wins for Once Upon a Time..., Ford vs Ferrari — the people who vote take it seriously.  There are the consultation prize wins for Screenplay or a supporting role sometimes, but it’s a good job of looking film-by-film at where the best in the business are dong their best.

10:15 PM I would not complain if every Oscar song performance were as good as the number from Harriet.

10:00 PM “I am Spartacus.”  Tom Hanks did a great job with the promo for the Academy museum, and I loved the roast at Colin Jost getting snuck into it.  The pictures I’ve seen of the 1000 seat movie theatre in the past week as they did a press tour — another of the occasional reasons to which I lived in LA.  As a movie lover, being there with that theatre, being able to see movies at The Dome, at The Village, the one thing LA still has which we don’t have in New York is great single screen theatres, and the Academy museum is going to have a theatre that vastly out-punches the Moving Image or the Walter Reade or the Metrograph.

9:57 PM Amaaaaaazing.  Ford vs Ferrari wins for Film Editing.  It is so difficult to get me to sit in a movie theatre for two-and-a-half hours without once looking at my watch.  The importance of film editing to that accomplishment cannot be understated.  I am so happy to see that recognized with a gold statuette.  I may have to look for a theatre that’s still screening this one, and give it a second viewing.

9:53 PM I’d have preferred the Cinematography award go to Once Upon a Time, but while I don’t much like 1917 I can’t complain to have Roger Deakins taking the award.  I did like the presenter patter before this award.  This is one of the categories where I didn’t see all the nominees, because, The Lighthouse.  The Lighthouse won some awards yesterday at the Spirit Awards.

9:42 PM Was the segue planned?  From the explosion of music and sound with Eminem to the sound awards?  I’d love if both 1917 and Ford vs Ferrari are getting token awards here - 1917 because it winning just a token award would be just great, and Ford vs. Ferrari because it’s a great piece of audience pleasing filmmaking, and as Donald Sylvester said, James Mangold is worthy of being nominated for Best Director.  Ford vs. Ferrari is a master class in directing.  The editing - two-and-a-half hours and I never looked at my watch.  The sound,  The photography.  The acting, none of which was recognized.  So darn tootin’ happy that the movie can forever announce itself as an Oscar winner.

9:37 PM The montage of great musical moments was just great.  Those are classic moments all, and also frightening ones to see Kevin Costner looking so much younger, Kevin Bacon looking so much younger, Leonardo DiCaprio looking so much younger.  I know Titanic is twenty years ago, but I guess, yeah, once upon a time he looked that young, even younger in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  And then Eminem just knocked it out of the park.  After a batch of cringeworthy musical moments in this evening’s Oscars, the show hit it out of the park here.  Just amazing.

9:36 PM Applause Worthy!  Standing O from my hotel room.

9:24 PM But just to say you could have filled the entire list of acting winners with people from Marriage Story, with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson to go along with Laura.  So many good supporting men that I’m not sure Ray Liotta or Alan Alda quite fit into the conversation but they’re darn good in Marriage Story.  Wallace Shawn is better with a few minutes on screen in Marriage Story than a lot of other acting highlight reels.  It’s an amazing cast top to bottom, given great lines to speak, sensitively directed, backed up with a wonderful under score from Randy Newman.  It’s a great movie.  So glad to see Laura Dern.  And Noah Baumbach has done this twice.  Fifteen years ago with The Squid and the Whale, which is also a bitterly brilliantly scripted movie with a cast that excels in every role.

9:22 PM My choice for Best Picture is Marriage Story, so I’m happy that Laura Dern got the Oscar she was expected to win for Best Supporting Actress, and she gave a helluva acceptance speech.  For me the nicest moment of the evening so far, and she seemed to touch a lot of people in the room.

9:16 PM reviews of the documentary shorts from Peter Debruge ‘2020 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Documentary’ Review – Variety
https://variety.com/2020/film/reviews/2020-oscar-nominated-short-films-documentary-review-1203497465/maz/

9:13 PM Netflix may not have a Best Picture this year, but has now proven it can get a win in the Best Feature Documentary category.

9:01 PM I’d have loved seeing the Costume Design award go to Once Upon a Time, too, but I think it was inevitable that Little Women wears going to win something, and this might be the best award it’s nominated for to accomplish that necessary.

9:00 PM But an hour in and already two bathroom break moments.  I’m enjoying these presenter comments a lot more than the people blogging at The NY Times are.

8:57 PM Once they finally got round to presenting the Production Design award... there were a lot of good choices here, but Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood is the best.  At least on the first time through the movie I lapped up every moment of the loving recreation of the past, from Hollywood Blvd. to the Bruin and Village in Westwood to the menace of the Spahn Ranch.  That by itself not enough to make the movie hold up as well as I’d have liked on a second viewing, but it’s a brilliant job of finding the past in our present.  Congratulations!

8:55PM Is there an award for Worst Patter by Presenters in an Oscar Ceremony?

8:46 PM Jo Jo Rabbit:  The rare movie that I can’t say if I liked it or not.  It was weird and different and tonally all over the place, and I loved all of that and I’m not sure it added up to anything more than confusion, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t.

8:42 PM I’d like to thank Bakeshop for supplying my Oscar desserts this year.  But if the red velvet cupcake isn’t as good as R R Virdi told me his was...

8:41 PM The original screenplay category was not certain in a lot of the preview pieces.  The question is whether Parasite’s victory is a consolation prize or an augur of things to come.

8:39 PM Keanu looks amazing.

8:33 PM Any chance next year that @johnpicacio could produce the Oscars?

8:31 PM I wish I needed to go the bathroom, because the Oscars have put in a bathroom break just thirty minutes into the festivities.

8:30 PM Now we are having a musical performance with no discernible reason for existing.

8:27 PM In a victory for writers everywhere who are deep into a series, Toy Story 4 just won an Academy Award.  This movie was the little side story that becomes the novella that’s published as Book 7B of your long-running series.  But in sf/fantasy we don’t generally give those things awards.

8:20 PM:  The M&Ms commercial was to M&M commercials what the Holiday Mint M&Ms is to M&Ms.  Sublime.  The opening number and the “monologue” are like bringing rice cakes to your seat from the concession stand.

8:16 PM:  Yay, Brad Pitt!  Watch the Spahn Ranch sequence in Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood.  It’s a master class in 5,329 things in making movies, and Brad Pitt is top among them.

8:14 PM A better idea is having a medley of clips for the acting nominees, rather than a clip accompanying the reading of each nominee’s name.

8:13 PM. In theory the pairing of Chris Rock and Steve Martin is a great idea.  In practice I’m with Dave Itzkoff on The NY Times blog:  That was an excellent argument to never have hosts again.

8:05 PM This mighty have been one of those numbers that plays better in the room than on the TV, but it’s done nothing for me on my TV.

8:03 PM Is it too early to say I’d rather be watching the cast of Cats performing a number?

7:53 PM American Factory was produced by the Obamas.  If a Democrat wins in November, both President and Senate, I hope the new administration will pass legislation that was talked about twelve years ago which Obama decided against pushing.  It’s called card check.  You get 50% of the employees to sign a card asking for a union, you get a union without an election.  Imagine if employers have to live in deathly fear at all times that a majority of employees will sign a card.  Imagine it!  Instead, we have a system where the cards have to be followed by an election, giving the employers more time to fire the union organizers, to hold mandatory meetings, to spend two months being nice and giving raises while making threat after threat after threat.  A lot of what goes on in those two months is technically illegal, but it’s a lot cheaper to rehire an illegally fired employee with back pay two years later than to  lose a union vote.  With card check, you have to do better by your employees all day every day.  I consider the failure of the Obama administration to push card check to be one of its biggest failings.  You want to know the legislation to push for when you’re new —- the legislation that the opposition is spending the most time telling you is too divisive or too something something something.

7:42 PM I thought the year in movies was just fine.  But whereas many years recently have had an abundance of good documentaries, this year was lacking.  I didn’t see three of the nominated movies, and I didn’t like the two that I did see.  Honeyland has beautiful photography, but held me at a distance for reasons I can’t 100% understand.  Part of it, I believe, is that the documentarians were so lucky to hit on just the right year to make this movie for interesting happenings, and I might have liked more the version of the movie that was just about the main character of it without the miraculous conflict that animates the actual version.  American Factory is a sad and depressing story about the state of unionization in America with fired employees and lying employers, and it doesn’t require or much benefit from or would be much different without the extra bonus that the employer in this instance is a Chinese-owned company.  Why not have the same movie about a unionization drive with a US owned company, so many of which do all of the same things pulled from the tool kit of the same law firms that specializing in helping employers to squelch unionization drives.

7:39 PM As is often the case, I am not in thrall of the movies that are most buzzed about for Best Picture.  Parasite was, like, fine.  But it’s so far short of what the critical establishment says it is, and I’m so not into it.  But I’d rather Parasite win than 1917, which takes a gimmick that isn’t terribly new to make a been-there-done-that movie.  My own Top Ten list can be found here, and includes only four of the movies on the slate of nine Oscar nominees.

7:27 PM Settling in for a half hour of pre-Oscar chit-chat!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Boskone 57 - Boskone 2020 - This Year's Boskone

I've said this a lot, but it bears repeating:

When I was a teenager, the whole chain of events that ultimately led to me becoming JABbermaster started out when I was staying at the Boskone hotel, by chance and serendipity and coincidence.  So I'm happy that I've been able to go to Boskone for near on each of the past fifteen years now, participate on the program, and pay it forward.  And even happier that I have several clients as a direct result of my attendance at Boskone.

And a quick thank you to the people on the Program Committee for Boskone.  The final schedule email they sent is 100% ready just to paste as is.  It doesn't have people's email addresses hiding in it or other things needing to be edited out.  So that's pasted below, exactly as I got it.  

I hope I'll get to see some of you, and the Kaffeeklatsch I have is always a great opportunity for one-on-one in an intimate setting.  As always, I have a great bunch of co-panelists.  One of my panels I even get to share with two of my clients.  This is a good convention for people who love reading sf/f, with a lot of people who come back year after year.  Join the jamboree, and I'll hope to see you there.

JOSHUA


BOSKONE 57, the 2020 BOSKONE -- Scheduling the JABbermaster

Editing from Agent, to Editor, to Publisher

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 14:00 - 14:50, Marina 2 (Westin)

Writing is only half the work when crafting a story, novel, or article. Once the words are on the page, what happens next? Our panel discusses the review, revision, rewriting, and more needed at each stage of the process before the finished piece lands in the hands of a reader.

Melanie Meadors (M), Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency), Beth Meacham, John Kessel (North Carolina State University), James D. Macdonald


Troubleshooting Troublesome Manuscripts

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 15:00 - 15:50, Marina 2 (Westin)

Our intrepid authors come together to share tips and tricks for tackling the most notorious issues that arise when writing and editing their work. Find out how to fix hidden plot holes, dangling loose ends, and the endings that just won't end!

Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency) (M), Matthew Warner (Deena Warner Design LLC), Steve Miller (Liaden Universe), Sharon Lee (Liaden Universe), Tabitha Lord (Association of RI Authors)


Kaffeeklatsch: Joshua Bilmes

Format: Kaffeeklatsch
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 18:00 - 18:50, Galleria - Kaffeeklatsch 2 (Westin)

Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency)


Game to Fiction/Fiction to Game

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 20:00 - 20:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Game designers have to come up with an interesting world and compelling story in much the same way as authors who write fiction. So, what does it take to adapt a game to fiction or fiction to game? What new opportunities does the process create? What obstacles need to be overcome?

Gregory Wilson, Dan Moren (M), Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency), Auston Habershaw, Mur Lafferty


Killing Characters

Format: Panel
16 Feb 2020, Sunday 10:00 - 10:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Why would you create wonderful characters and then ruthlessly kill them? Perhaps it inspires a hero to action, or it makes the narrative more poignant. It might be that you’re tired of these characters or their story arcs have reached their ends. At any rate, what are some of the more creative ways (Reichenbach Falls?) of killing characters? What are the problems relating to creating an interesting death? Major and/or minor characters? Are there rules? Is it moral? Fair? Does the writer have a responsibility to the readership? (And what are the repercussions of this?) Should you plan for a possible (or surprise) comeback?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (Tor Books), Cadwell Turnbull, Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency), John Chu (M), KT Bryski


Play Mistborn!

Format: Gaming
16 Feb 2020, Sunday 11:00 - 12:50, Harbor III - Gaming (Westin)

Game on! A semi-cooperative resource-management game, Mistborn: House War is set during the events of Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first novel in the bestselling fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson. Join Brandon's agent Joshua Bilmes for a special demo of this fun new board game!

Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency)

Struggles!

Here's a letter I sent to several reporters at the Washington Post about the, um, "struggles" of the Trump administration to tell the truth.  Curious when or if anyone will respond...

Dear Messrs. Rucker, Hudson, Harris and Dawsey:

I am writing about a line from an article of yours from last Tuesday’s paper which i find deeply troubling, which is  "The result is a credibility crisis for an administration that has long struggled to communicate factual information to the public.”

Your colleague Margaret Sullivan, whom I am cc’ing, writes frequently about the media’s need to do a better job covering the Trump administration, and this sentence is a poster child for falling short of the mark.

I understand the constraints journalists operate under.  I know, as an example, that there are strong legal reasons to use the words “alleged killer” prior to the plea or guilty verdict.  Even when it’s obvious.

But I do not believe that the circumlocution you used in last Tuesday’s article fits under any of those constraints.  You’ve all spent three years documenting the constant lies put out by the Trump administration.  The Post’s fact checker has documented over 15,000 lies.  It stated on the first day of the administration with the press conference about the crowd size, and continues day in and day out.

If your sports department is struggling to get a late-ending game score into the first edition, it means The Post is covering the game and writing an article on a tight deadline.  If any of you are said on a given day to be struggling to get to a meeting on a bad day for the Red Line, it means you’re on the way to the meeting and not sitting at home.  One could say that Margaret Sullivan is struggling to get the media to cover the Trump administration more firmly; see today’s column.  I need to first submit a book by a client in order for it to be said that I am struggling to sell it.  One can simply not say in any factual way within the customary meaning of English idiom that the Trump administration struggles to put out factual information.  I believe  “not consistently communicated factual information to the public” might have been consistent with the actual facts and still have struck me as being mild, but the phraseology you chose is inaccurate and wrong.

Here’s hoping that your response isn’t to disclaim responsibility by each of you saying you hardly knew the other guys in the by-line, the fact that you just shared a by-line and work at the same paper and probably have been photographed together on multiple occasions to the contrary.

Sincerely,

Joshua Bilmes,

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Oscars 2019

12:05 AM - And we'll call this a wrap for the Live Blog.  I may have more to say about some of my favorite movies of 2018, but for the Oscars, it's a night.  I know I've done better jobs on the live blog than this year, but since they eliminated around a half hour of Stuff, they eliminated a lot of the down time when I could pay less attention to what was on the screen, and more to my typing.  I'll take that trade-off any day.

12:03 AM -- Best Actress.  Prior to going for a repeat viewing of The Wife a couple of weeks ago, I don't believe I've ever gone back twice to a movie just to see a brilliant performance by an actress.  I am deeply disappointed for Glenn Close.  I might have a hard time separating out Olivia Colman's performance from my overall dislike for the movie she was in.  But even allowing for that, I can't see Colman's performance as better than the third or fourth best in the category, because Melissa McCarthy is a knockout in Can You Ever Forgive Me, and as up and down as A Star Is Born is, it would almost certainly be down-er with anyone else in the lead role.

11:58 PM - Talking more about the Adapted Screenplay category.  I didn't see Beale Street, but there are arguments to be made for all four of the nominees that I did see, while the Original category is full of weak links in stronger movies.  Can You Ever Forgive Me takes an assortment of unlikeable characters -- even Jane Curtin as the literary agent isn't the most likable literary agent, which is scandalous, and makes us love their faults and imperfections.  A Star is Born gets progressively weaker as it goes along, but at its best it takes a story that's decades old and makes it feel utterly contemporary, and it tackles issues of class differences that aren't required from the original movies. But the Screenplay category, both for awards and nominations, is often where the consolation prize is given, and it's a great place to give Spike Lee his first competitive Oscar.  I'd put Spike Lee's career against that of Martin Scorsese.  Neither has many Oscar statuettes.  Both have done films that are highly variable in quality.  I'm glad to see him with an Oscar to put on his shelf.

11:45 PM - I'm more upset with Green Book winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay than I am about its winning Best Picture.  The Oscars will be the Oscars, and if anything they've gotten better and less Oscar-y over the course of my lifetime.  Last night I saw Goodfellas at the Loews Jersey, with around 300 people in attendance to see a film that's some thirty years old.  It lost Best Picture to Dances With Wolves.  I doubt the Loews Jersey would program Dances With Wolves.  If it did, I doubt 300 people would show up to see it.  But the most notable thing about that year's Oscars isn't that Dances With Wolves beat Goodfellas for Best Picture.  The more enduring film loses often, and if you take a look at the Amazon rankings, it ain't like there aren't people still interested to buy a copy of the movie.  What's noticeable is how Dances With Wolves swept so many of the smaller award, and once upon a time the Best Picture always racked up Oscar after Oscar.  Now, it's much more common to see the spreading around of the statuettes as we saw this year with Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book and Black Panther all taking home multiples.  But for Screenplay?  The remake of Driving Miss Daisy wins for Screenplay?  And yet, even there, my disappointment is tempered.  This year's Adopted Screenplay category was full of contenders.  The Original Screenplay category?  Well, The Favourite wasn't winning.  Vice?  First Reformed and Roma are both better movies than they are screenplays.  Roma's strengths weren't in its underwritten screenplay; I don't know that even the movie's fans would say the screenplay was its strength.  And First Reformed is similarly flawed to Roma.  There's just too much in both screenplays that we don't see on the screen.  Without Ethan Hawke and the passion that the screenwriter also brought to his direction, First Reformed is a clumsy mess that flips its lid as it goes over the top in the ending, and Roma is full of contrivances and the under-explained in its screenplay.  But. Still.  Green Book, for Screenplay?

11:32 PM - Returning to earlier items...  So I joked about Ludwig Goransson's ago, but quite well-meaningly.  He's 34 years old.  And winning an Oscar for Best Score at the age of 34 -- well, that takes some work.  You don't get to score very many motion pictures fresh out of college.  You've got to become known, apprentice, gain trust, have reputation enough that the music branch of the Academy will think of you as a possible Oscar winner.  If we looked back over 90 years of Academy Awards, how many winners will we find who were younger?  It's also a tribute to Ryan Coogler, to spot the talent in someone he meets at college, and have the confidence to give that person work.  It's easy enough in to do in his debut movie Fruitvale Station, but then you have to be willing to stick with your man when the studio starts to say "Superhero movie, we need to have the score by the guy who does the loud obnoxious Superhero Movie music."  Also worth noticing is the delicacy with which Goransson's scored the quite different Creed and Creed II, where the score requires a different touch, including playing the obligatory homage to Bill Conti's original and enduring themes from the first Rocky movie, which Goransson always does with skill and grace.  Now, if Goransson would be willing to study just a little bit more at the knee of a John Williams and get even better, because Williams is getting on, Michael Giacchino isn't doing as much as he could be doing to assume the mantle, and we need people for that role.

11:15 PM - Green Book. Well!

11:03: We don’t always get what we want in life. Green Book won an Oscar for its screenplay, and Glenn Close did not win for The Wife.  I shall have more to say on these things.

10:50 PM - Rami!  I believe Bohemian Rhapsody is currently in the lead with four Oscars.  Very good Nike ad.  Roma is the only movie with a shot at overtaking Rhapsody.

10:45 PM - Already at Best Actor?!?!?

10:36 PM - after a few minutes of music from E.T., the bulk came from Superman: The Movie, the music over the funeral of Jonathan Kent, which brings tears to my eyes as an adult when I am lucky enough to see the film on the big screen. Fitting selection in a year when Margot Kidder is amongst thise whose lives were commemorated.

10:25 PM - Ludwig Goransson said “twelve years ago” in his acceptance speech. He doesn’t look old enough! Since I didn’t like any of the score nominees, I opted to root for Black Panther in this category, and am glad to have another win for the movie.

10:20: The Good. The Bad. And The Ugly. And having Green Book win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is definitely in the Bad column.

10:09 PM - I quite liked how they non-introduced Shallow, just had Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper come on up and sing. Would have been better if theybalso used the occasion to reenact that famous piano number from The Fabulous Baker Boys, but, OK. And how have so many people been doing the “Star Was Robbed” thing. It’s a great first third of a movie that gets worse with each trimester.  Really!  It isn’t a great whole movie.

10:05 PM - quoting @kylebuchanan “Only 3 black women have won Oscars for anything other than acting. 2 of them just happened tonight.”

9:57 PM - First Man. Won an Oscar.

9:53 PM - American Idol ad is the first standout in a while. The cell service providers are dragging the whole thing down.

9:50 PM - Whatever happens with Roma as Best Picture, Netflix has three Oscars in hand tonight.

9:48 PM -  “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.”

9:47PM -first time presenters have done two awards?

9:38 PM - Not so happy about Supporting Actor category.  The winning performance could have been in the Best Actor category, and I just have a lot harder a time seeing Richard Grant or Adam Driver being swapped out for actors as good or better, while with Mahershala Ali, I can easily plug in three or five. Richard E. Grant first came to attention in the late 1980s with Withnail and I, which I didn’t see, and How To Get Ahead in Advertising, which sadly I did, an overpraised art film but Grant made an impression.  He resonated more positively in Steve Martin’s LA Story, and over the past thirty years he’s been in everything and anything, genre-wise, that you could be in, a lesser known actor from the Mchael Caine school choice philosophy. But there’s nothing in that thirty years to hint at the offbeat power and brilliance of his performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me,, which is a tone perfect tone poem about a deeply imperfect man playing off an ewually imperfect character played by Melissa McCarthy. I reckon being nominated and getting to play the award circuit is for a Richard E. Grant somewhat its own reward, but an Oscar would be a bigger one. And Adam Driver is an actor of deep subtlety as seen also in movies like Paterson.  So, here, two performances I much preferred to the one that won.

9:26 PM - from David Itzkoff in the New York Times — Trevor Noah reflects on his own life as “a young boy growing up in Wakanda,” and recounts the many people in his life who approach him by saying “Wakanda Forever.” “Even backstage, Mel Gibson came up to me like, ‘Wakanda forever.’ He said another word after that but the Wakanda part was nice.”

9:16 PM - I could’ve filled out half of a Ten Best list just with documentaries. Bathtubs Over Broadway, Three Identical Strangers. Science Fair. Filmworker. In addition to the the two I placed on.

9:12 PM - When Justin Chang says it for you, quote Justin:  Foreign-language film winner Alfonso Cuarón, making the second of likely three appearances on stage tonight, has a lot of cinephilia to go around: This time he tips his hat to CITIZEN KANE, JAWS, THE GODFATHER and BREATHLESS and quotes Claude Chabrol. 

9:09 PM - Black Panther didn’t make my Ten Best, but I find myself pulling for it because the films I liked more  are often not contending. And it is the work of an actual filmmaker in Ryan Coogler who tried jard to bend the superhero movie to his vision, and crafted a film that wears the influence of other great films on jts sleeve, rather than other superhero movies.  I am pretty much dead to the world of superhero movies at this point in time, but this has more staying power with me.

9:05 PM - Geek note, Ruth Carter was the Costume Designer for Joss Whedon’s Serenity.

8:53. Serena!

8:44 PM - Moving along so briskly, not a lot of dead time for blogging!

8:37 PM - Walmart ain’t my favorite place. McDonalds neither. But they step up to the plate with their Oscar ads.

8:27 PM - the guys are killing it with the tuxes this year😀👍😊😁👍😊

8:26 PM - Vice is not a good movie.

8:25 PM - and a great Rolex ad.  Google did someg soecialir the Oscars, but seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey abused that way.  Yikes!  Ugggh!!

8:21 PM. That was a great Cadillac ad, and then gets followed by a very prosaic Verizon ad.

8:18 PM - But Free Solo also made my Top Ten, and I wish I had gotten back to see it in IMAX.  Missing from the category is Three Identical Strangers.

8:16PM - What a great category. Minding The Gap, Free Solo, RBG all good.  Me go for Minding the Gap.

8:10 PM - Regina King is favored to win, and Beale Street is the one film all over the awards season that I took a pass on. No dog in this hunt.  I couldn’t have done worse seeing Beale Street over The Favourite, which I loathed.

8:08 PM Sparkly! Love the tux Chadwick Boseman is wearing.

8:04 PM An Oscar buffet fit fir a Queen

7:48PM - Getting ready!  Post from when nominations were announced here and my Top Ten for last year.