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Those who've lost someone they love know all about the 1st's--first Christmas after your loved-one passed away, first anniversary, and, of course, first birthday.   Today is my sister's first birthday since she passed away and my love for her shines within a chasm.  Memories are acute with the raw ache of loss, lit by joyful flashbulb bursts from celebrations past.   I'm remembering my little sister with tears and many smiles as I gaze at photos and relive the times we shared.  A happy haunting--I can hear her infectious laughter, a cascade, quickly rising, slowly trailing-off, almost musical and just shy of a giggle.  I've decided to share the eulogy I gave at her memorial, hoping you'll share with me the fireworks of joy and make these memories part of your own, for as Clive Barker observed in Weaveworld, "That which is imagined can never be lost."  Happy Birthday, Sis!  I miss you and love you so much.

Tiffany’s Eulogy, February 1st, 2014
:

I want to thank all of you for coming to celebrate the life of my sister, and for all your love and support for Cheryl and my Mom.

I’ve struggled to find words to describe how I feel about my sister.  How do you sum up a lifetime in minutes, even one that ended far too quickly?  Happy memories light up the darkness like flashbulbs, and I want to share a couple with you.

I see my sister as a little girl, with her sun-gold hair, riding on my dad’s shoulders as we hike in the mountains, the shadows of oak leaves flirting on her cheeks.    She wears a puffy pink jacket; crisp autumn air.  We come to a bush at the fork in the trail, covered with dead leaves.  My mom pauses beside my dad as he stops and shushes us.  He tells us to go ahead and we approach the bush.   There’s something strange about the leaves--this, my dad’s big secret.  Little fingers slowly reach out to touch the bush, and with a whoosh and blur of wings the air is black and orange, as what we thought were dead leaves burst into the air--a cloud of monarch butterflies that swirl around our heads.  And laugher, my sister’s bright blue eyes go wide with wonder.  She kept this magic in her heart, the magic of nature.

Later, still little kids, we hunted in our garden, searching for chrysalises suspended from branches.  Sometime we’d catch caterpillars and feed them dill and milkweeds, my father teaching us which species ate what, until the fat caterpillars hung up and formed husks.  We’d watch in awe with mom and dad when they at last burst free, spreading wings as Monarchs and Tiger Swallowtails.  But even more than butterflies, she loved dragonflies, the buzzing, flying jewels filling her with joy.  I’ll never forget how, years later, she smiled with pride when she showed me her dragonfly tattoo.


Flash to a picnic with me, my sister and grandma on the beach, my grandma wearing a big straw hat and movie-star sun glasses, enjoying a meal of Funions and tuna sandwiches.  My sister and I, still little kids, go searching for sea shells, and bring them back like treasure to fill grandma’s big straw bag.  We find a couple sand-dollars, my sister one that’s perfect,  and grandma asks if we know about the little white doves inside them.

Grandma breaks a sand dollar, not my sister’s prize, and shows us the five white birds hiding in the center.  I find a live starfish bigger than my sister’s head with pretty purple rings on its slimy leather hide.  I hold it up and my sister touches its rows of sucker feet, which writhe orange beneath its arms--she laughs with delight.  More magic for my sister to keep in her heart.

Another flash.   My sister has a tea party for her dolls.   Somehow she got doll clothes onto one of our cats,  without the fluffy kittie, Sassy, scratching her to bits.   Our cat  isn’t happy;  my sister laughs and laughs.

Cut to me in PJ’s, I’m about ten years old,  walking down a dark hallway to use the bathroom.  When I’m done, half asleep,  I head back to my room,  unaware my little sister hides behind the door.  BOO!  She yells, jumping out.  My heart leaps from my chest.  She got me good, and giggles until her stomach hurts.  Our old ambush game--we’d always hide and scare--holding our breaths and jumping out when the other least expects.   We tried it once on our dad.   He wasn’t amused.   Some of you know my sister always called me Boo.  When I was in high school, I asked her why she always called me that.  With a sly smile, she asked if I’d read To Kill a Mocking Bird!   “Boo Radly!”  I groaned--“That is so screwed up!”   “I’m just messing with you,” she said, “remember our scaring game?”  I was delighted, and her nickname for me stuck.  Our scaring game, more magic--this time a bit black.

I’ve only two more flashbulb bursts that I’d like to share with you.  The first is a flash of her brilliant smile as she graduates from college.  She’s in her in cap and gown and we’re all so proud.  She beaten the odds, escaped from the pit that nearly destroyed her, and graduated cum laude with a Biology degree.  Her love of life and nature have never been stronger,  and she’s planning on becoming a vet.

Last flash, I’m at Tiffany and Cheryl’s first apartment.  Silly, big brother thinks that they’re both just roommates because my sister’s dated guys all her life.  I notice all their books are in the bookcase together.  I haven’t gotten the full tour, so I haven’t seen the bedroom.  In the bookcase I see a book about lesbian relationships.  My sister, who’s crept up behind me freezes with dread.  I open the book and say “there’s some nice pictures in here.”   The ice breaks and Tiffany hugs me so hard.   I tell her and Cheryl I’m so happy for them.  Several months later, my sister and I will have an argument about which of us has to “come out” to my parents first.  “No you do!”  “No you do!”   It was comic and absurd.   Twenty-years later Tiffany and Cheryl had built a life together, filled with adventures as they traveled together.

So I know this wasn’t a very traditional eulogy, but I hope you’ll keep these memories of my sister in your hearts, memories of her celebrating life, falling in love with nature, and falling in love with her partner, Cheryl.  If you’ll remember me talking about the chrysalis, and the butterflies taking to the air, I think that’s the best metaphor for my sister.  The last, hard years of Tiffany’s life were a chrysalis; now she’s burst free and taken to the air.  Now she’s with my dad in spirit, hiking in the mountains, at the beginning of their greatest adventure.  I love you, Sis.   Your life made this world brighter.

Tiffany Michelle Crowther
March 6th, 1970 - December 13th, 2013


Ray Bradbury Comic Con 2010

Ray Bradbury is one of my heroes, a flawed saint who plumbed the depths of the human condition and raised a lantern to light the path to our great potential.  He wasn’t just a writer of astonishing tales, he was the grandfather I always wished I had.  His writing with its poetic cadence mesmerizes me, and I’m convinced he will be remembered as the Poe of the 
twentieth century, a literary master who redefined science fiction, fantasy and horror.  He had the magical ability to bring the past into the present, and give the future a nostalgic familiarity.  Ray’s wry humor and love sparkled in his eyes, and continues to do so in his immortal stories, even when he takes us to dark and wondrous places.

I'll never forget, years ago, sitting at his feet, listening as he read from The Halloween Tree.  One of my greatest treasures is a copy of that book, in which he drew a big, grinning Jack-O-Lantern, when he signed it for me at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore.  That was way back in 1993, the first year the store opened in San Diego. At Comic Con in 2010, I was privileged to hear him give one of his last public interviews.  I've reconstructed a partial transcript of that interview, conducted by his biographer, Sam Weller, and I'm honored to share it with you:

Sam Weller:  “You’re a living legend. Do you ever look back and say, ‘My God I wrote that?  How does it feel to be a living legend?”

Ray Bradbury: “Hah-hah-hah.  It feels mighty damn good!”

SW:  “In your books, for instance, Fahrenheit 451, you predicted a lot of things that came true: ear buds, flat screen televisions, the rise of high school violence, the death of newspapers, the rise of graphic novels.  How did you predict so many things?”

RB:  “The secret of life is being in love, and by being in love you predict yourself.  Whatever you want is whatever you get.  You don’t predict things, you make them. You’ve got to be a Zen Buddhist like me.  Don’t think about things, just do them.  Don’t predict them, just make them.  I didn’t think about what was going to happen, I just wrote my stories about what I wanted, and I made them.”

SW:  “Is there any technology you’d like to see in the next few years?”

RB: “There are things I’d like to see disappear. I think the Internet is a great big goddamned stupid bore.”

Sam Weller asked Bradbury about how he responded when asked to have his books released as e-books:

RB: “I got a call from a man who wanted to publish my books on the Internet. I told him, prick up your ears and go to Hell.”

Weller explained that the man who made the request was the CEO of Yahoo.

SW:  “What is our most important goal for our future?”

RB:  “We should never have left the moon. We have to go back to the moon and build a base on the moon, so we can then go on to Mars. We have to become the Martians. I tell you to become the Martians. We have to build a whole civilization on Mars, and then move out three hundred years from now, and go out into the universe, and when we do that, we have the chance of living forever. That’s why I believe in space exploration. Our future is investing right now in space travel. Money should be given to NASA to build the rockets to go back to the moon.”

SW: You’ve been a big advocate for space exploration. Why is space exploration so important to you?

RB: Because we’re going to live forever. We need to go back to the moon and build a colony, and then get to Mars, and then go beyond that into the rest of the universe, and that is how we’ll live forever.”

SW: “You met all the Apollo astronauts in 1967.  What were your impressions of  these bold young astronauts.  Do you have any memories of that?”

RB: “My memories of them are that they were all great people.  But when I met them, I discovered  that all those astronauts had read The Martian Chronicles. When they were all young men, they read my books and decided they wanted to become astronauts.”

Weller asked Bradbury about his role in the creation of the Twilight Zone:

RB: “Rod Serling came to my house many years ago, but he didn’t know anything about writing science fiction and fantasy. So I took him down to my basement and gave him copies of books by Richard Matheson, copies of books by Henry Kuttner, copies of books by Roald Dahl and books by John Collier, and a couple of books by myself. And Rod Serling forgot he read all those books, and when he wrote the program, he copied one of my stories without telling me. So we got into a big argument, and finally I walked away from the Rod Serling show. He had a great show, but he forgot the basis of the show were all the books I gave him by all my friends.”

SW:  “Ray was actually here for the very first Comic-Con. Why did you come and why do you still attend Comic-Con?”

RB: “I remember coming, and there were about three hundred people then. It’s a little different now! I’d been collecting comic strips all my life. I saved Prince Valiant, and Gasoline Alley, from when I was a teenager. So my background in writing was falling in love with comic strips.  They are full of imagination.  I read the comic strips and I learned how to write.”

SW:  “How did comic strips affect your prose writing?”

RB: “It was full of imagination.  It flourished with it pictures.  It taught me how to write.  I’ve read comic strips all my life.  I have all of Prince Valiant put away. I have all of Buck Rogers put away. I put away those starting when I was 19 years old. So my background in becoming a writer was falling in love with comic strips.”

SW: “What’s your favorite comic strip now?”

RB: “My favorite that I read in the paper every day is called ‘Mutts.’”

SW: “You’ve been called the Patron Saint of Libraries. You’ve always been a big supporter of libraries. Why is that?”

RB:  “When I left high school, I had all my plans to go to college, but I had no money. I decided I will not worry about getting money to go to college, I will educate myself. I walked down the street and went into the library.  I went to the library three days a week for ten years, and educated myself. It’s all free, that’s the great thing about libraries. Most of you can get the money to go to college, but if you really want to educate yourself, go to the library.  When I was twenty-eight-years-old, I graduated from library.”

SW: You’re turning ninety in just a few weeks …”

RB: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

SW:  “Any reflections on that?”

RB: “It’s been ninety goddamn incredible years!  Every day I’ve loved it. Because I’ve remained a boy. The man you see here is a twelve-year-old boy, and the boy is still having fun. You remain invested in your inner child by exploding every day. You don’t worry about the future, you don’t worry about the past, you just explode. If you are dynamic, you don’t have to worry about what you are. I’ve remained a boy, because boys run everywhere.  They keep running, running, running, and never looking back. That’s me, the running boy.”

SW:  “You’ve said you consider yourself a Zen Buddhist.  Is that your spiritual leaning?  What are your beliefs?  What faith are you?”

RB: “I became a Zen Buddhist automatically because I remember being born.  From the moment of birth I remember every second of every hour of every day of my life.  When you have total recall, you are pure Zen.  You don’t have to think about things, you live in the middle of existance.  I live in the middle of my life; there are no perimeters. I expand to the universe.  All I have to do is be.”

SW: “If you could time travel back to any moment in your life, what would it be?”

RB: “Every single moment. Every single moment has been incredible. I’ve savored it, enjoyed it, because I’ve remained a boy. This man you see here is not an old man, it’s a twelve-year-old boy, and this boy is still having fun.”

SW: “Do you have any regrets?”

RB: “I regret I didn’t have more time with Bo Derek!”

SW: “Ok, now you need to tell everyone the story of you and Bo Derek.”

RB: “She came up to me in a train station in Paris thirty years ago and said ‘Mr. Bradbury?’, I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘I love you,’ I said ‘Who are you?’ She said. ‘My name is Bo Derek.” She said, “Mr. Bradbury will you travel on the train with me?’ I said, ‘Yup!”

[pause]

SW: “And I think the rest of the story is censored.”

RB: “Heh!”

SW: “What is your greatest love?”

RB: “I’m the world greatest lover. I love to write short stories; I write short stories. I love to write novels; I write novels. I love to write poetry; I write poetry. I love to paint; I paint paintings. I love to write screenplays; I wrote a screenplay. I’ve loved all these things, and I did them.”

SW: “Do you have any upcoming film projects?” [Weller pointed out that Chrysalis is coming to DVD shortly, and then asked about others.]

RB: “Well, Mel Gibson owns the rights to Fahrenheit 451. I’m sure you all saw Mel Gibson on television last week, yelling at his girlfriend. So you know right now he’s not doing anything with Fahrenheit 451.”

Weller added that The Martian Chronicles is currently in development with 20th Century Fox, and spoke about the TV series that appeared in past.

And then there were some questions from the audience.  Almost all were prefaced by expressions of love for Bradbury, several of them tearful and filled with anecdotes about how they first discovered Bradbury’s work:

Question: “You’ve been an influence on so many writers. Who were your influences?”

RB: “Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Edgar Allen Poe. I remember Edgar Allen Poe scared the hell out of me, and I loved it.”

Q: “Much of your prose is so beautiful, it’s like poetry. Are there any poets who influenced you?”

RB: “Shakespeare, and Alexander Pope.”

Q: “Given the longevity of your career, what keeps you motivated to keep writing?”

RB: “I have more work to do!”

Q: “How do you feel your writing has changed over the years?”

RB: “It’s gotten more brilliant!”

Hearing Bradbury say he is a twelve-year-old boy inside, running, running, running and never looking back, while in his wheel chair, hard of hearing, with his speech impaired by a debilitating stroke (none of which have quenched the fire of the immortal boy) brought me to tears. When Bradbury finished, the crowd gave him another standing ovation and sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Bradbury closed his eyes and held up his hand, feeling the love and adoration pour from his fans. He placed his hand on his chest, soaking it in, with joy and rapture lighting up his face, and with a beaming smile blew kisses to the audience.

Interview transcribed from personal notes, and reconstructed after cross-referencing multiple sources, including video recordings of the interview, blog from “Discover Magazine” writer, Eric Wolff, GeekDad on “Wired” and Parker Ward on UGO.com.



Dad,

Today marks three years since you passed away, and it also happens to be Mother’s Day.  The sadness of losing you casts a long shadow, but it doesn’t eclipse the joy of  giving thanks for mom, because it’s appropriate to celebrate your life on the same day when we honor the woman you loved more than life.

Last week Derek and I took Mom up to Julian and went hiking with her in Paso Picacho, following the trails that lead to Cuyamaca Peak.  I can’t ever hike there without feeling close to you, remembering all the times our family camped there, and the miracles of nature you revealed.  Together, we marveled at all creatures great and small, deer and Monarch butterflies, woodpeckers drilling bark, bobcats raising pointed ears and water skimming insects.  I think about when I was small and you carried me on your shoulders, trading off with Tiffany in her little pink jacket, so we could soar between the pines and oaks like eagles.  We placed our hands in the hollows of the Indian grinding stones and crawled through the ancient trunk of the Fairy Tree.  So much of the forest burned, reduced like you to ash, but everywhere life is straining, bursting from the earth, just as you have been reborn and stretch toward the sky.

Even now, I picture you hiking through the forest, stooping to take a drink from Azalea springs.  The oaks rustle with a flurry of Monarch butterflies, their black and orange stained-glass wings a window into heaven.

I love you, Dad.  Thank you for the life you gave us.

Robert J. Crowther Sr.
June 27, 1944-May 13, 2009


Celebrating Fringe

Posted on 2012.02.03 at 17:44
Tags: , , ,
Fibonacci Spiral inspired by FRINGE, copyright R.J. Crowther Jr., 2012

In celebration of FRINGE, the best SF/Horror television drama since the X Files, I've created several wallpapers of the Fibonacci Spiral in keeping with the aesthetics of the show's beautiful, surreal glyphs, which are codes for hidden messages in each episode.  The spiral graph that I used as a template for the wallpapers is a found image from Google, with not author cited.  Above you'll see the 16x9 wallpaper of the spiral, and here's a link to 4x3 and 16x9 wallpapers of the Complete Glyph Set, which I made from Blu Ray screencaps.  Note: not sure how long the the glyph set will stay up--it depends on if Fox appreciates that I hope to grow their audience for FRINGE.

I've fallen in love with the main character, Walter Bishop, played by the brilliant, Australian actor, John Noble, who channels Vincent Prince with such grace and pathos.   The paranoia-suffused, mutltidimensional plots, government conspiracies, and horrors born of mad science and the hidden agenda of a mega-corporation called Massive Dynamic,  honor the spirit of Philip K. Dick.  The broken, father-son dynamics sometimes move me to tears.  The writing is so good, it humbles me as a writer.

FRINGE airs on FOX on Friday nights. 

In celebration of Halloween, I pulled together 31 tracks from my rather formidible collection of horror soundtracks , which I've been collecting for more than twenty years, into a single, nightmarish compilation.  All of the tracks are the original versions, or if digitally remastered, are recorded from the original sources.  Only two tracks are VBR.  No Prague Phillharmonic or other dreadful, Symphony  X  "interpretations" here.  In some instances, such as with "The Shining" and "The Amityville Horror," the soundtracks were converted from original vinyl pressings, which are long out of print.   There are many other brilliant tracks I wanted to include, but 31 seemed like an appropriate cut-off number.

I'm sharing this list as a guide for those of you who are interested in compiling some of the best, eerie, and oftentimes beautifully orcestrated horror music extant, and below you will see the original composers, year of release, and original track lengths.  For copyright reasons, I have not added links to download the tracks listed below, but quite a few are avaible through iTunes or Amazon.  Before you purchase a download, though, be wary!  Many versions of these tracks, when available for download, are part of licensed, recently recorded, score compilations.  In a word, they are "covers" of the original tracks.   They are different, always inferior arrangements, not by the orignal symphonies, and the vocal/choral tracks are often played on synthesizers.  The worst examples I've heard are the awful rearrangements of The Amityville Horror, The Shining, and Poltergeist scores. If the time signatures don't match what I've listed below within a second or two, don't waste your time and dubloons.  If you're interested in where to find some of the rarer tracks, send me an email.  Apologies for the sloppy kerning--I couldn't figure out how to build a table in LJ.

Happy, horrific listening, and unpleasent dreams!

Horror Show -  31 Prime Cuts of Horror Movie Music:
 
01. Psycho - Suite for Orchestra                                                        Bernard Herman                   1960       3:02
 
02. Young Frankenstein - Transylvanian Lullaby                           John Morris                            1974        4:08
 
03. The Exorcist - Tubular Bells [film excerpt]                                 Mike Oldfield                          1974       3:24
 
04. The Omen - Ave Satani                                                                 Jerry Goldsmith                     1976       2:39
 
05. Suspiria [Originale]                                                                        Goblin                                     1977       6:02
 
06. Halloween - Halloween Theme [main title]                              John Carpenter                     1979        2:55
 
07. Amityville Horror - Main Title                                                         Lalo Schifrin                          1979        1:46
 
08. Alien  - Main Title                                                                            Jerry Goldsmith                    1979        3:34
 
09. The Shining - Main Title                                               Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind          1980        3:30
 
10. The Fog - Matthew's Ghost Story [Intro]                                      John Carpenter                    1980        2:48
 
11. The Fog - Main Title                                                                       John Carpenter                     1980        5:09
 
12. Poltergeist – The  Calling/The Neighborhood                          Jerry Goldsmith                    1982        4:08
 
13. The Thing - Humanity, Pt. 2                                                          Ennio Morricone                   1982        7:15
 
14. Creepshow - Prologue: Welcome to Creepshow                    John Harrison                      1982        4:06
 
15. Something Wicked This Way Comes -                                      James Horner                      1983        2:04
      Main Title - A Rare Day for Boys
 
16. Children of the Corn - Main Title                                                   Jonathan Elias                     1984        1:30
 
17. A Nightmare on Elm Street - Main Title                                       Charles Bernstein               1984        3:30
 
18. Prince of Darkness - Opening Titles                                           John Carpenter                    1987        4:13
 
19. Hellraiser  [Main Title]                                                                     Christopher Young              1987        1:46
 
20. Hellraiser - Lament Configuration                                               Christopher Young               1987        3:31
 
21. Pet Sematary - Main Title                                                               Elliot Goldenthal                   1989        3:02
 
22. Bram Stoker's Dracula - The Beginning                                     Wojciech Kilar                       1992        6:41
 
23. Bram Stoker's Dracula - Vampire Hunters                                 Wojciech Kilar                       1992        3:06
 
24. Interview with the Vampire - Libera Me                                       Elliot Goldenthal                   1994         2:47
 
25. Lord of Illusions - Main Title                                                          Simon Boswell                     1995         3:44
 
26. Sleepy Hollow – Introduction                                                        Danny Elfman                        1999        4:16
 
27. House on Haunted Hill [1999] - Main Title                                 Don Davis                               1999        2:31
 
28. Saw - Hello, Zepp                                                                           Charlie Clouser                     2004        3:00
 
29. Trick 'r Treat - Main Title                                                                 Douglas Pipes                      2007         2:20
 
30. Drag Me to Hell - Main Title                                                           Christopher Young               2009         2:33
 
Bonus Track:
 
31. The Nightmare Before Christmas - This is Halloween           Danny Elfman                       1993         3:16


As an aside, when making this compilation, I realized what an amazing year 1982 was for horror and SF films, which saw the release of  John Carpenter's--The Thing, Bladerunner, Poltergeist, Creepshow, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, TRON, The Dark Crystal, and E.T.

R.J.'s Southern Pumpkin Bread

Posted on 2011.10.30 at 18:47
Tags: , ,
Here's a very different posting than my usual, infrequent fare, my recipe for Southern Pumpkin Bread.  Fantastic wth strong coffee or mulled cider on those crisp, autumn nights, and just in time for Halloween and the upcoming holidays.  If you make it, please leave a comment and let me know how it turned out.


R.J.'s Southern Pumpkin Bread

This is a rich, moist, spicy bread, which gets a special Southern flavor by adding a little molasses.  The trick to the perfect taste and fragrance, as with pumpkin pies, is grating your own nutmeg.  The bread is also wonderful with walnut pieces added.  Makes two 9x5 loaves.

Ingredients:
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups (16oz) canned pumpkin puree.
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2/3 cup water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9x5 loaf pans. Stir together sugar and oil. Beat in eggs, molasses and pumpkin. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients.  Alternately add dry ingredients and water to pumpkin mixture, stirring until smooth. Do not over-beat batter, as this will toughen the texture of the loaves.  Divide batter between two loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted into the center of each loaf comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edge of loaves to ease with removing, then gently remove loaves from pans and cool on wire rack.  Let cool at least an hour before slicing.

Copyright, R.J. Crowther Jr. 09/24/11

On Borders

Posted on 2011.02.19 at 13:39
Tags: , , ,

(Much of this content is a cross-post from Coppervale's blog and gives my response to his original post: 

James Owen, a friend and author of the amazing Imaginarum Geographica series of novels,had this to say about the Borders Books bankruptcy:

"So, Borders Bookstores have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and are closing 30% of their stores.

This is sad for many, many reasons - and I remain hopeful that the book business in general - which remains strong, and steady, based on yearly sales, despite lots of rumors to the contrary - will weather this.

Borders has been a staple in my life as both a reader and as an author. And some - specifically the one in Mission Valley, near San Diego - have been rocks of support for my books. But this has been a long time coming, and the current position of Borders - and possibly forthcoming complete collapse - is not due to vagaries of the book market, or the rise of e-books, or anything the employees - most of whom are good, hardworking people who LOVE BOOKS - could have done. It's a failure of leadership. A failure of management. A failure of understanding the core business.

Hiring CEO's from other fields isn't a bad idea - it's a terrible one. And whatever other complaints you might make about the big rival Barnes & Noble, at least the people running the show are BOOK people."

My response:

I met James at the Borders Mission Valley store in San Diego, where I've been a bookseller and supervisor for nine years. From the first time I met him, I knew he was an extraordinary artist, and now I have the joy and honor of calling him a friend. There's never been a time since I read "Here There be Dragons," that I haven't featured his  "Imaginarium Geographica" books in section, on endcaps, and special displays in my store, because readers deserve to experience his world and words.

James, your observations about what happened at the top are spot on. You can't run a bookstore business like a grocery or clothing chain. It's a different animal, with a different business model, which survives because of the quality/knowledge of the booksellers, the co-op system, which involves a great deal of trust and traded risk, and a knowledge/near precognition of the book market. The biggest problems I see are massive over-expansion using leveraged debt in an attempt to catch up with B&N's number of stores, which happened just before the real estate bubble and economy ruptured, coupled with the disasterous decision to let Amazon run our online website for several years, instead of investing in making it a great site with real content.

Sadly, four of the seven stores in San Diego have been shuttered--thank God my store was spared the axe, at least in the short term--and across the country more than six thousand booksellers will lose their jobs, most with a great love for books and knowledge about them. No one works as a bookseller for the money, that's for sure. And now all those people will be looking for jobs, and will be hard pressed to find one where they are surrounded daily by the treasures they love--thousands of tomes celebrating the written word.

My store may be a brick-and-mortar, but those of us who work there have become a family, loving each other through good times and bad, with our own occasional shares of dysfunction, and quite a few marriages and families have been forged among my friends and coworkers. I hope and pray that we'll survive and emerge from these dark days. Borders' problems are hurting publishers and narrowing the gates for most writers. It's going to be harder now than ever for new and aspiring writers like me to get their dreams in print.




Last week, I turned in the latest version of CRUCIFER to my agent, which makes the fifth full draft, not including partials.   I think I've finally carved away enough of the rough stone that the statue trapped within can finally break free. Now, it’s more than just the story I wanted to tell--it’s the story told the way it ought to be told, with more action, better world-building, deeper relationships, and a far more intimate look into the minds of the characters.  The homicide detective, Lieutenant Regent, went from being a minor character to a major one, and now she takes center stage in a third of the scenes.  Peter Romito, the junky prostitute would-be-messiah, finally grew some balls and earned his hero badge.  The catalyst for all the changes was a brilliant collaboration between my wonderful former agent, Colleen Lindsay, and my new agent at Fine Print Literary Management. The latter (who shall not yet be named) has a profound understanding of what makes a story work, and for explicating the inner lives of characters.

Early into the rewrite based on Colleen's first set of notes, she called me to let me know the good news (she had a wonderful new agent who wanted to represent Crucifer (?!!!).  The bad news, which punched a fist-sized hole in my soul, was that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, and had decided to stop being an agent.  She said she had accepted a terrific job offer from a publisher, which offered her the health coverage she desperately needed, and gave her the chance to use her incredible publicity skills.  For many years, Colleen was the publicist for Ballantine/Del Rey., and her new employer is blessed to have her. For those of you that don't know, agenting is a risky, perilous struggle for survival, with very few short term results and dubious long-term prospects of success (read, survival).

But Colleen will do more than survive, she will overcome and triumph. Her faith and earthy humor are her weapons of war. She’s one of those people who really make the world a better place, through love, self-sacrifice, and helping those who suffer, from volunteering in soup kitchens to helping animals. Through her actions, she builds the foundation of human dignity,  listens without judgment and offers her shoulder. When my father was dying of inoperable brain cancer, and in the awful weeks following his death, she was a constant source of strength, never offered pity, but instead helped me focus on what I could accomplish, and handed me the spear of laughter to fend off misery. Circumstances have knocked her on he ass so many times, but with a grunt, sometimes tears, and a laugh at life’s absurdity, she shakes off the dust (and cat-hair bunnies), pushes up her sleeves, and rises to face the next challenge with courage and curiosity.

As I live and write the story that lies before me, may I never forget the lessons she is teaching me. 



 


Anne Rice quits Christianity

Posted on 2010.07.30 at 14:38


On July 28th-29th,  Anne Rice wrote on her facebook page about quitting Christianity, but not quitting Christ.  Lestat may be her Beatrice, but there’s no place for vampires in heaven:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always, but not to being “Christian,” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider.  My conscience will allow nothing else."


"As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth-control, I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular-humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”


Rice’s problem is not with Christ, but his followers. She wrote:

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.

“Ghandi
famously said:  ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ When does a word (Christian) become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?”

In a telephone interview Thursday with “The Christian Science Monitor,” Rice said she had been having doubts for the past two to three years. She was troubled by the child abuse scandals in the church, and the church’s defensive reaction, and by the ex-communication of Sister Margaret McBride, a nun and hospital administrator who had approved an abortion for a woman whose life was in danger.

“I believed for a long time that the differences, the quarrels among Christians didn’t matter a lot for the individual, that you live your life and stay out of it. But then I began to realize that it wasn't an easy thing to do,” said Rice, speaking from her home near
Palm Springs, California. “I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t make this declaration, I was going to lose my mind.”

Rice said she is a Democrat who supports the historic health care legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama and believes gay marriage inevitably will be permitted throughout the country. Although no longer part of any denomination, she remains a believer and continues to read theology and post Biblical passages on her Facebook page. She has no immediate plans to write about leaving the church and will continue with her metaphysical fiction series, “Songs of the Seraphim.”

Rice said she will not be writing about vampires again, but she said she is a big fan of the HBO series, “True Blood,” and is interested in seeing her most famous character, the Vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, return to the screen.

Sources: Anne Rice Facebook - www.facebook.com/annericefanpage (
July 28, 2010, July 29, 2010), Christian Science Monitor (Hillel Italie, July 30, 2010), Post Chronicle (Mitch Marconi, July 30, 2010).



Zombies crash on I-84

Posted on 2010.07.12 at 14:19
This made me laugh so hard, I sprayed coffee on my screen.  I know people were hurt, but...

Zombies crash on I-84 near Lloyd exit:
July 12, 2010 
by Justin Burton, KGW news staff
KGW-TV

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A car full of people dressed as zombies crashed on Interstate 84 near downtown Portland on Friday, causing initial confusion by people who witnessed the crash.

Portland Police said the car was swerving in the eastbound lanes of the freeway just east of the Lloyd District just after 9:30 p.m. when it rolled over and crashed onto its top.

Emergency crews took five victims from the crash to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries.

Police said that in their investigation they learned that the people inside the car were dressed as zombie costumes and they were headed to a party at the time of the crash.

Sgt. Greg Stewart said people who witnessed the crash initially thought the victims' injuries were much more serious, because of the zombie costumes.

"We're glad that everyone is alive, despite being undead," Sgt. Stewart said.

While everyone in the car was taken to the hospital, Stewart said crews are investigating the possibility that more people were in the car at the time of the crash but fled the scene on foot.

The crash halted traffic in the eastbound lanes for about an hour, reducing travel to just one lane. All eastbound lanes were opened at around 11 p.m.

"Braaains!"


 
China Mieville's Kraken is absolutely brilliant, his greatest imaginative opus since Perdido Street Station.  It's a Noir-Weird thriller drowning in murky atmosphere, where arcane and techno-magic fly fast and furious, and dark, dead-end streets lead to doors of dreams and terror.  The mystery uncoils around the corpse of a giant squid.  Relic to some, god to others, the Kraken is destined to blot out the world in a cloud of inky chaos.  The double-London Mieville creates, like most of his cities, is a front-and-center character as much as the cast. His word/magic/world-building thrilled me to no end.

Charged with finding the missing Kraken and preventing the apocalypse, are squid-embalmer and museum curator, Billy Harrow, and the knack-detective, Kath Collingswood.  Kath, with her cool distain and bag of urban magic tricks, is Mieville's best female character yet.  What impressed me most is the way he combines her snarky remarks, with vivid body language that speaks volumes on its own.  If only Betty Davis was alive and in her prime to play her!  Along the way, Billy hooks up with squid-enforcer, Dane, who sees Billy as a prophet for his tentacled god.

With its terrible beauty, beautiful terror, and bizarre cast of characters, Kraken brings to mind Clive Barker's epic, urban fantasies, but it's not only Mieville's scariest book, it's his funniest, the humor ranging from lampblack to laugh-out-loud absurd.  Goss and Subby, two of the villains, are carved from the same rotten meat; killers-for-hire and horrifying, sociopathic clowns.  Goss' dialogue, with its dissociative, cockney-thick wordplay, gave me the feeling I was trapped in an echo chamber with a madman.  The clowns are hired by The Tattoo, a living snarl of ink, trapped on the skin of a punk-boy slave who can't escape his skin.  The Tattoo celebrates that wonderful, subversive body-horror that you find in the older films of David Cronenberg.

I loved Mieville's Lovecraftian themes, the descriptions of the Krakenists and their tentacular temple, his nods to Michael Moorcock, and hilarious Star Trek geekdom, which, who knew, could serve as a major plot device?  Mieville has such a gift for finding the perfect blend of the absurd, grotesque, and the beautiful.  I plunged in and wallowed like a squid in a pool of chum.

Aside from the sinister humor and baroque phantasmagoria, the book has surprising compassion for faith in diversity, and at the same time is a dark mirror to the horror and pettiness perpetrated in the name of  God(s).  Best of all, the inkblot climax elevated the book with Mieville's deep philosophy: Art and the Word can build the world, burn it down, and resurrect it.  History is a scab on the skin of ideology, and imagination the philosopher's stone of reality.


My agent recently started a firestorm of debate, both on Twitter and in the blogosphere, by starting a discussion about agent fees and no-advance publishing contracts.   She asked, without endorsing the ideas, "How would the publishing industry change if agents switched from commission-based payment to billable hours?" and "How would the publishing industry change if ALL publishers went to a no-advance model?”  You can follow the debate here: Colleen Lindsay--The Swivet

As far as agent fees goes, I think a step up from the current agent commission of 15% to 20% is perfectly reasonable, considering the amount of responsibility shifted onto agents by publishing houses (which are increasing workloads while laying off editors at a horrendous rate).  An hourly, billable rate would be a disaster, not only because the accounting/paperwork/legalities for all parties involved would be a nightmare, but also because there's no way for a client to verify productive hours spent, and no way to quantify what productive hours are.  And no writer could ever afford the hours invested by a good agent in preparing a manuscript.

Case in point:  my agent has already done an exhaustive reading of my ms, spending a multitude of unpaid hours scrutinizing the text.   She meticulously analyzed the plot, character development, narrative strength, voice, flow, motivations, story arc, continuity, effectiveness of the climax--the list goes on and on.  After giving me reams of feedback in email and phone conferences, I spent months rewriting the ms.  Now she will have to suffer through another grueling read, compare the drafts, find new errors (including overwriting and infodumps), and suggest further refinements.  After I get this feedback, it will go through yet another polish/reading and one-on-one discussion before the ms. is sent out to a single editor.  And all these hours, all this scrutiny, comes with no guarantee of a financial return, from a writer (me) with no track record.  Then comes networking and pitching the ms. based on my agent’s knowledge of what editors have bought, are interested in acquiring, and their personal tastes and prejudices, followed by contract negotiations, publicity, and career strategy.

I think few writers realize that when an agent is part of an agency (similar to a real estate agent working for a broker), a fat percentage of their percentage goes to the house, to pay for the office space, resources and a legal team, which makes sure any contracts I enter are in my best interest, and provides guidance for copyright and foreign rights legalities.  In the end, it's astonishing most agents aren't starving.

And yes, there are bad agents, who fail to meet obligations (as sadly, in the past, I learned from experience), but if you're not satisfied with the job your agent is doing (or, God forbid, she’s not satisfied with you), there's a severance clause in your contract.   It's your obligation as a writer to take responsibility for your career.  A good agent loves books (very few get rich) and the sum of  you is greater than the parts.

As far as what I think needs to happen in the proto-e-book age, competitive pricing of the finished book is a crucial factor.  The price for adult cloth novels now runs anywhere from $25-$28.  Unless you're a best-selling author, and your book is discounted 30-40% (these discounts, btw, are what has inflated the price point), physical sales at full price will continue to shrink, hurting new writers most, and continuing the trend of the shrinking mid-list .  If publishers reduced initial net and list prices, I think it would go a long way in generating sales, for the many book buyers who still love physical, tangible books.  All of us have seen books from major publishing houses, that are sold at a lower retail price-point to introduce new writers, usually at $19.99 to $21.99, and these books still are generating profit.  This strategy has worked very well for the music industry, and generates a fan base for newer artists.   The lower price could be offset by smaller initial print runs, with successive reprints based on trending sales (in the digital age this is much less cost-prohibitive, and would allow tighter control of taxable inventory), caps on mega-advances by publishers (which in most cases, can't possibly ever earn out), by implementing two-tier prices to Amazon and brick-and-mortars based on whether or not the book is returnable, and by giving better discounts/co-ops for non-returnable titles.  Several publishers already are experimenting with this.  Selling at a loss (loss-leaders) to drive sales (Amazon, anyone?) must be aggressively fought on a united front by all publishing houses.

Just my two cents.  Feel free to join the discussion.


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