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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.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tennis, Anyone - 2012 Version

This wasn't the best year I've had at the US Open. As an example, in 2010 I enjoyed seeing:
Bernard Tomic, an Australian with a good run or two at the Australian Open who maybe isn't the next big thing but is still a solid and reckonable player
Ryan Harrison, a definitely up-and-coming American who's had too many bad draws, constantly facing top players in early rounds and not yet beating them, thus not as many ranking points as if he had a few easier early round opponents, but definitely going places
Jerzy Janowicz, a Polish player who had a really good Wimbledon this year
Ricardas Berankis, a Lithuanian who advanced to the final of the DC tournament this summer, helped since the field was weakened because of the Olympics, but still if you can get to the final of an ATP mens tournament that ain't chopped liver.

So this year I thought I was really lucky that Berankis had his breakthrough to late to get into the US Open automatic entry, so I could watch his coronation in the qualifying like I did with Andy Murray the year he was stuck qualifying for the final time. No such luck. I watched Berankis struggle in the first two rounds of the qualifying this year and then lose to a fairly unheralded American. Really entertaining match, but it was an awful week for a player who is still very young and should have done better.

It was that kind of year. I saw six matches on Tuesday for the first day of the first round, and some of the matches I'd forgotten by today. The highlight: Rhyne Williams, a 21-year-old American who was a good college player and had a good summer on the European minor league tennis circuit, upset Vasek Pospisil, a Canadian player who looked wonderful in 2011 and carries expectation and was the #7 seed in the qualifying. It wasn't even close, really. In fact, Williams went on to win his next two matches without breaking a sweat. If the home town crowds can help him along... I also caught my first glimpse of James Duckworth, a 20-year old Australian who may have promise.

Day 2 was maybe a little better. I caught a glimpse of Hiroki Moriya, a 21-year old from Japan who looked worth following. Hard to say what's up, his 2nd and 3rd round matches were both long drawn-out endless deuces and long rally affairs that suggest neither he nor his opponents could force a winning shot into the equation, but he did end up prevailing in both to qualify. I saw only a smidgen of Guido Andreozzi, a 21-year-old Argentine, but he showed me something in that little bit of viewing.

Day 3 was an odd kind of day, Brady McReynolds, the newest member of the JABberwocky team who is handling foreign rights, came out for the afternoon. So we left the tennis center for a little bit so I could give a walking tour of Flushing Meadows Park, we popped in to Armstrong and the Grandstand to eat while watching a smidgen of practice, he was doing the video recording thing with his phone of Andy Murray. But before Brady arrived, I saw James Duckworth and Bobby Reynolds play a hugely entertaining match on Court 17. Duckworth, 20 and solid and with an all court game, was probably the better player, but Bobby Reynolds had a huge and vocal rooting section even by the standards of the home-town crowd for an American, and I do think that made the difference when Duckworth was broken to lose this really tight 3-set match. Hugely entertaining.

On Day 4, I wanted to watch the #1 seed in the qualifying, Dutchman Igor Sijsling. Enh. He won, but not all that impressively. Ahead of that, I watched Jimmy Wang from Taiwan and Romanian Marius Copil in a long and tight three-setter on the same court. Like with Moriya's matches a little bit because the players couldn't always find winners. Wang won and qualified, but it wouldn't surprise me if Copil sticks around if he can find that little something extra in his game. The Sijsling match at least was boring and quick, so I was able to see the last half of the 2:30+ affair with Berankis and Tim Smyczek. With Berankis losing, maybe crowd helped a little but you could hear more vocal cheering from a few courts over for Bobby Reynolds than for US player Smyczek.

The weather was solid, just a little bit of rain that delayed play for an hour on Wednesday, and then a little hotter on Friday, the first day I really needed to visit the water fountains after each set. I stopped going to the Lemon Ice King of Corona, for some reason the ices just didn't seem as wonderful as in my recollection and I didn't feel I needed to add the (not much) time to go back the last couple of days. I did stop in on Thursday in Manhattan for the grand opening of the Whole Foods on 57th St. and 2nd Ave., which is the 133rd Whole Foods that I have visited. I was glad to add one on Opening Day but honestly it was too crowded to really enjoy. It's a very small store, maybe not much smaller than the first Manhattan store in Chelsea but that store was built without a cafe which this one has, which is nice that you can sit and eat but also means the actual selling space is really tightly designed. I finally went to Donovan's Pub for what some places rate as one of NYC's best burgers. It was OK. And tried a Thai restaurant in that section of Elmhurst that is filled with Asian ethnic eateries that really I should have eaten at more of.

Still and all, even on an off year, the 4 days of qualifying are among the more satisfying of the 365 I get during a year.

Looking ahead...

Igor Sijsling might not be all that good, but the draw is on his side. His first round opponent is Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who is currently ranked #102 for singles, i.e., lower than a player like Berankis who had his good week too late to count for the US Open. That's a very winnable match. If he wins, no matter what happens in the 2nd round Sijsling is assured of a nice check and at least 70 ranking points for the qualifying (25) and making the 2nd round (45). And against either Kevin Anderson of South Africa or top 10 player David Ferrer, Sijsling doesn't get to round #3.

Rhyne Williams does not have the luck of the draw. He gets to play Andy Roddick in the first round. Roddick is having a bad year, who knows if he has another good year in him. The good news for Rhyne Williams is that he probably gets to play a night match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, this seems like the kind of perfect early round match-up for Arthur Ashe. But as surprised as I was to see Rhyne Williams beat Vasek Pospisil in round 1 of the qualifying would be way more to see him beating Roddick at the US Open.

Marcos Baghdatis has had some career highlights since I first saw him in the Open qualifying something like 8 years ago but has faded a lot. This seems a more likely opportunity for a German qualifier Matthias Bachinger. Upset, yes, shocking if it happens no.

Hiroki Moriya against Ivan Dodig? Winnable for the qualifier. Jimmy Wang against hard-serving Ivo Karlovic isn't winnable.

Bobby Reynolds and Tim Smyczek may get to play on the Grandstand, but they get to play one another. The PTB at the US Open are (a) glad that one of them is guaranteed of being in the 2nd round (b) not glad to have two vaguely marquees players facing off in the first round. On the other hand, they will get either the Argentine qualifier Andreozzi or Japan's #17 Kei Nishikori in the 2nd round, even if they get the #17 player in the world, playing at the US Open with a home town crowd pulling big time, I would give one of those Americans a fighting chance for the 3rd round, and could even see a winnable 3rd round match looking further down the draw.

The good news on having WorldCon on the traditional Labor Day weekend instead of August is that it means I can go to the qualifying, the bad news is I can't watch much of the Open during WorldCon, and this year I have other travel both sides of WorldCon. But it's always fun to see how it plays out.

And just to say, if you like tennis, the qualifying is free and open to the public, and you can do worse than schedule a trip to NYC to watch some good free tennis !!

Josepha Sherman

I'm saddened to hear that Josepha Sherman, a long-time writer and editor and one of the first people I met in the sf genre, passed away on Thursday. She was 65.

Those of us who are experienced at reading and evaluating manuscripts, it's sad but true that we can often tell in a matter of sentences whether there's any "there" there in a manuscript. Jo might have the best raw evaluator I'd ever come across, she could tell more in ten pages than anyone I've ever come across, and when I started out doing freelance work for Baen almost 30 years ago, Jo was someone I'd look up to in awe and amazement. She was always willing to put in that little something extra in giving feedback to an author who had earned it.

My respect for Jo was such that she was one of the first people other than myself to do work for JABberwocky. When it was getting to the point that I had a hard time just doing triage on the requested partials out of the query pile, I asked Jo to help out. We'd usually meet up at the Starbucks at 60th St. and 1st Ave., I'd hand off the pile of partials and a week later I'd know which ones could head off, which I needed to spend more time with, which ones needed encouragement, and she knew my tastes and interests about as well as I knew them myself.

She was a writer in her own write, author or co-writer of close to twenty novels. She was a folklorist who compiled many well-regarded anthologies and used her knowledge well in her own fiction.

She was a raconteur. If you found yourself late at night with Jo and a few friends in a con suite, you were likely to be there until early morning, much entertained and much the wiser for the experience.

She moved from New York around ten years ago and kind of fell off the face of the Earth even though she wasn't all that far away. The Jo Sherman that many of us knew left before she herself did this past Thursday.

The Jo Sherman that many of us knew was one of the unsung heroes of the genre, somebody who quietly helped many to achieve their own dreams of writing fantasy and science fiction.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

True Romancing the Danger Zone

What do you say about Tony Scott?

Well, I don't think you'll be hearing this too many times in the obituaries and reminiscences that are going to be out and about in the wake of his tragic suicide, but I think I'd compare him most to Martin Scorcese. Yes, Martin Scorcese.

Because I think the experience of going to the movies isn't just about if a movie is good or bad but about the memories it creates. There are directors who don't create memories at all, I can't rouse myself to like or dislike a Betty Thomas film, let's say, Beverly Hillbillies wasn't good but I don't dwell on it. But at both his best and at his worst, Tony Scott created great memories.

There's Top Gun, which I'm now watching on Blu Ray. It was made 20 years before Blu Ray and yet if you're wondering if it's worth upgrading from a regular DVD, Top Gun could be the test reel. It wasn't the first movie I saw at the Loews Astor Plaza, but it was the first I saw after I started working in New York City, a few months before I moved to NYC, the first movie when the Astor Plaza was my hometown theatre. Like the best Tony Scott, it's got great special effects and lively music and an OD of testosterone. Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Christian Slater, Will Smith -- Tony Scott always loved his leading men. Many of the actors he worked with including Cruise, Denzel and Hackman, found the Tony Scott experience one worth repeating.

And there's the needless remake ot The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 which was memorably bad.

Scorcese has Goodfellas and The Age of Innocence, Tony Scott had Top Gun and The Taking of Pelham, and I'll give Tony Scott an advantage here because the bad Tony Scott films were never as excruciatingly dull and miserable to sit through as The Age of Innocence or The Last Temptation of Christ.

When I was in college, I saw a Scorcese movie I really really liked called After Hours, which I've never seen again.

That too has an almost analog in True Romance, which I saw in 1993 and didn't revisit for 18 years. It held up. I don't think I can call it a masterpiece, but it's full of charm and romance and spunk, it's fun. When I went to see Oliver Stone's Savages several weeks ago, with more recent memories of True Romance fresh in my mind, I sat through the movie thinking "wow, this is probably the best and funnest violent drug movie since True Romance." And the interesting thing was that the person I was seeing the movie with was thinking that exact same thing.

And then Tony Scott could come up with Man on Fire, a thoroughly entertaining and entirely reprehensible movie which tells us that all that is wrong in the world can be taken care of with a little bit of maiming and torture. Well, I did loathe and detest Man on Fire on multiple levels, but I'm never going to forget it.

There's the quintessential Tony Scott, movies like Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State that maybe aren't particularly memorable or particularly worth a repeat viewing but which were well done examples of everything Tony Scott could do well.

And when you have things that you can do well, you can sometimes make a movie that surpasses simply by being the best of all of your best qualities. I'd put Unstoppable in that category. It's just so unstoppably good at all of the good things it is. There's Denzel, again, no longer the young guy with a gleam in his eye but being oh so Denzel and sharing the stage with Chris Pine, who is everything the Tony Scott leading man could be. You can't help but think if Tony Scott were with us, probably someday he'd be back working with Chris Pine again. The special effects were quietly good, Tony Scott wasn't a Peter Jackson who can get lost in the joys of fake special effects. This is a train going down train tracks looking to make a real tight curve in a real midwest city. You can feel it rumbling down the tracks way more than you can feel anything that was going on in King Kong. Like a train slowly gaining speed, Unstoppable just chugs along and chugs along and then comes up with about as good a last 40 minutes as you can find in film, 40 minutes that won't have you looking at your watch or squirming in your seat or doing anything other than looking rapt at the screen until the final moment of release.

So ultimately, what I can say about Tony Scott is, that it would sure have been nice to have seen another Tony Scott film come along. I don't know if it would have been Top Gun or Man on Fire, but there's a darned good chance it would have created some kind of cinematic memory for me.

I mean, every time that Top Gun theme starts playing, Howard Faltermeyer's bah-da-da-da-dum da-da-dum da-da-dum, I've got to look up at the TV and see what it's underscoring, and there's Tom Cruise beautifully lit and radiating the same kind of charisma that we'd get every single time from every single leading man in every single Tony Scott film being what movies and movie stars are all about.

As one Marvin Hamlisch song says "nobody does it better."