Thursday, December 29, 2016

BLOG REVIEW & BOOKS READ IN 2016

I usually do a “best blogs” post around this time but 2016 was such a bad year for almost everything, including blogging, that I’m combining BLOG POSTS and BOOKS READ this year.

2016 BLOG POSTS:

1. DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury is a sparkling delight from start to finish. Written with such tender fervor and such affection for his younger self that you can’t help feeling a similar affection for the author.

2. REDESIGNING EVERYTHING Apple has gloriously proved how much customers appreciate good design and are willing pay for it. And by good design I mean ease of use as well as physical beauty.

3. ANIMATION FOR ADULTS VS ADULT ANIMATION Exciting to see the animation medium finally expanding into new (for the US) genres, even if it is prurient, teenage CGI animation like SAUSAGE PARTY. It’s the medium of animation growing upand this is a good thing.

4. STILL ANIMATED Because of several extreme life events, ANIMATED had to be put aside for quite a while, but this week I opened the dusty file, rediscovered the squabbling characters and now my days are once again filled with brain-bruising-thought, much cursing and frantic use of the delete key.

5. ANIMATED NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON When I recently learned that another novel set in the animation field was being published before I could finish and publish mine, I freaked out…The only way to get ANIMATED in front of readers first was to publish it on Kindle. So, if you click on the cover image at the top of this page you'll be able to instantly read ANIMATED.

And that’s it for the 2016 blog posts.
                                                *

BOOKS READ IN 2016

 
These subjective impressions (↑↑↑ Mmm to
Ugh) should not be taken for proper reviews.

1. DANDELION WINE - Ray Bradbury ↑↑↑
This sensuous book is dappled with breathless excitement, summery smells and rituals and a grassy softness that you’ll carry with you long after you finish it and you may even get a paperback version like I did so you can highlight and savor it on the physical page.

2. H IS FOR HAWK - Helen Macdonald ↑↑
We instantly fall in love with the bird and the getting to know each other and the hawking paraphernalia but then it gets bogged down in depression and sort of fizzles out.

3. THE RISE & FALL OF GREAT POWERS -Tom Rachman
I loved Tom Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists, roiling with lovely Italian appetites. But this one, despite being set in multiple exotic places around the world and suspense that didn’t quite explode, just didn’t work for me. I didn’t like the mushy female protagonist who meekly followed a super-cool dude around the world and even the title is awkward.

4. FINE JUST THE WAY IT IS - Annie Proulx ↑↑↑
I’ve Always Liked This Place is one of the most devastating short stories you’ll ever read. Other stories have the glint of hard lives lived with fierce dignity.

5. SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM – Joan Didion
I’d heard so much about this book and found the writing brilliant but outdated and too controlled. I couldn’t finish it.

6. BARKSKINS – Annie Proulx ↑↑↑↑↑↑
↑↑↑↑↑↑
This gigantic book is Annie Proulx’s masterwork, an epic poem to Canada and the rape of the indigenous people and forests. Every time you check the progress bar on your Kindle you’re delighted to see it’s hardy moved. Many generations of characters, including several eccentrically strong female characters come into focus and attach themselves to you before being left in the dust as the implacable tale gallops on. It’s like riding bareback through Canadian history. You feel pleasantly exhausted by the end.

7. HEROES OF THE FRONTIER – Dave Eggers ↑↑↑
I love Dave Eggers. He writes deceptively simply and in this book, shows something wonderful without ever saying it. Interesting views of Alaskan life.

8. THE SYMPATHIZER - Viet Than Nguyen ↑↑↑
A rip-snorting story of the US/Viet Nam war era, full of allegories, hilarious similes and terrible violence told in a voice you’ve probably never heard before.

9. THE PIGEON TUNNEL – John Le Carré ↑↑↑
Memories and revelations of who inspired which of his characters, of celebrities who crossed his path, of his colorful father and enigmatic mother (what kind of angry hurt must be caused by a mother who abandons a very young son?) Does this book of fragments mean no more novels from the master?

10. MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON - Elizabeth Strout ↑↑
Reading this book was like reading a doily or a spider web. Thin threads weaving the delicate story of endurance, quiet strength and firm decisions.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Strout is a strong writer, but I could have used a bit more sweat and action.

11. BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY - Jay McInerney ↑↑↑
When I saw the second person narrative I thought, uh oh, smart-alecky writing, but the style quickly melted into the story and I loved his insights and turns of phrase. Most fast-paced, smart-alecky writing is cynical with a nasty edge but McInerney’s has an underlying sweetness and gentleness.

12. ORDINARY GRACE - William Kent Krueger
Started off with a bang, good characters, atmosphere, surroundings. Then it went down hill just after the middle & lost me  with the religious stuff. I did finish it though. It seemed to have been written by two different people.

13. BRIGHTNESS FALLS - Jay McInerney ↑↑
Same gentleness and charming turns of phrase as BRIGHT LIGHTS but without the driving energy: “They filled ashtrays and emptied glasses.”  
“..a field rhythmic with oil wells–a flock of prehistoric birds pecking the earth blindly.” 
                                                 
                                                 *

Friday, December 16, 2016

ANIMATED, The Turbulent Transition From Pencils to CGI - Now available on Amazon


When I recently learned that another novel set in the animation field was being published before I could finish and publish mine, I freaked out.

The one sure thing I had going for my book was the uniqueness of the animation setting, something I’d never seen in a novel before. But, although the story is quite different, the other book also deals with the passions and history of animation and if it’s read before mine ANIMATED could look derivative and copycat.

I’ve spent years writing this novel and, as modest an effort as it is, I don’t want it to appear déjà vu. What to do to avoid being scooped? I consulted an erudite published author who told me she’d found herself in the same situation and strongly advised me not to be number two or my book would suffer.

Even though the final draft of ANIMATED has not yet been submitted to, read or rejected by any traditional publishers or agents, there simply isn’t time enough to go through normal publishing channels. The only way to get ANIMATED in front of readers first was to publish it on Kindle.

So, if you click on the cover image at the top of this page you'll be able to instantly read ANIMATED. Don't worry about the different covers, it's the same book.
                                               
                                    
   What’s it about?
In 2006 when CGI threatens to take over the last hand-drawn animation studio in Hollywood, animator Max Koa does his best work ever, hoping it will somehow save the studio. Instead, it leads to sabotage, showdowns, even cream pie fights and Max finally resorts to dirty tricks to save his career.        
*
Apparently, a novel about animation is such an unusual idea on Amazon that it can’t be found with other NOVELS or even in FICTION so don’t be surprised if you find it surrounded by comics, bios of Walt Disney and how-to do-animation. Search for the full title: ANIMATED, The Turbulet Transition From Pencils to CGI and specify ANIMATION or Amazon's weird search software might not let you find it.

This rush is not about sales, it’s about your being able to read something fresh and new and learning to love animators and animation. So the book will be free to review for the next 5 days.

I'm told REVIEWS and RATINGS are the life-blood of ebooks, without them the book will languish on the e-shelf, unread and unloved forever. The best place to post reviews is on both GOODREADS and AMAZON (Amazon reviews don't appear on Goodreads and vice versa). If you don't have time to actually write anything, rate it with STARS.

Here's a lovely 5-star review posted on Amazon last Friday (it takes forever for Amazon to post it) from John Lechner, a respected East Coast author:

JMLechner reviewed *****ANIMATED, a novel: The Turbulent Transition From Pencils to CGI
December 9, 2016
Great characters, a fascinating look behind the scenes:
If you’ve ever been curious about the inner workings of the animation industry, or the lives of the artists who work there, this novel is a funny, quirky, and often dramatic look behind the scenes. Star animator Max is trying to save his career as well as the future of hand-drawn animation, while dealing with old rivalries, a new protégé, and an eccentric cast of co-workers. All taking place against the glamorous and gaudy backdrop of Hollywood. A fun read, and I learned a lot about animation. 

 *
          ANIMATED, The Turbulent Transition,  From Pencils to CGI, 
          ANIMATION,  TRADITIONAL ANIMATION, HOLLYWOOD  

Monday, November 14, 2016

STILL ANIMATED!

To all of you who’ve been asking about ANIMATED, the novel 
and when you can expect to read it, thanks for your continued 
interest. I'm pretty sure you'll be able to read it in a year or two. 
Stay tuned.

Because of several extreme life events, ANIMATED had to be put 

aside for quite a while, but this week I opened the dusty file, 
rediscovered the squabbling characters and now my days are 
once again filled with brain-bruising-thought, much cursing and 
frantic use of the delete key.

The only agent to read the opening chapters of ANIMATED said: “You are a strong writer but I am not sure that a novel focused on animation is enough to sustain tension.”       Actually, one of the reasons I wrote this novel was precisely to expose the dramatic tensions in the animation industry.       Especially at crunch time and more especially in 2006 when 

CGI crashed onto the scene, destroying jobs and careers in traditional animation. Also, too many people wrongly think that because animation is fun to watch, it’s also fun to produce in a laughing-joking-colored-crayons-childish-art-form sort of way.      
This may have to do with the fact that animation is a medium 
used for children’s films but is often mistaken for a childish 
and simplistic film genre.

While animators enjoy the challenge of producing technically 

and artistically demanding work to a deadline, the stress of 
doing so while juggling the complications of daily life with 
months of insanely long crunch time hours, cutthroat studio 
politics, deadlines, sabotage, theft, injury, harassment 
and cream pie fights, is very conducive to drama.

I’m quite confident that animation has all the tension and 

conflict necessary to sustain readers’ interest.

ANIMATED may inspire you to watch something animated, 

animate something yourself or, at the very least, not to think 
of animation as a medium  for children’s films only but as a 
fully-fledged means of cinematic expression in its own right.
If it doesn’t, I’ll eat my pencil.
 
                      
            See you soon in bookshops and the Kindle store.
                                                *
                  ANIMATION, CGI, DISNEY, DREAMWORKS, TEXAVERY,
                             LOTTEREINIGER, EMILECOHL, MAX FLEISCHER
     

Sunday, August 21, 2016

ANIMATION FOR ADULTS vs. ADULT ANIMATION


Exciting to see the animation medium finally expanding
into new (for the US) genres, even if it is prurient, 

teenage CGI animation like SAUSAGE PARTY.
Its predictable success will doubtless galvanize 

Hollywood lovers of sequels into quickly 
making SAUSAGE PARTY II & III.

This animation may not be for children and 

we get the porn reference, 
but it can hardly be called ADULT animation.
It’s more like ADOLESCENT animation,
the stepping-stone intermediary between 

animation for children and animation for adults.
It’s the medium of animation growing up

and this is a good thing.

By all means, let’s have more of this if it means 

educating audiences to the fact that animation 
can be used to tell all sorts of stories
and express all kinds of thoughts. 
There’s a place for all genres in the animation medium, 
even thoughtful, thought-provoking, funny and beautifully 
designed adult films like PERSEPOLIS and L’ILLUSIONISTE.

What is, unfortunately, not new are the claims of abuse during the 

production of SAUSAGE PARTY: animation workers allegedly not 
being paid overtime, half the animators not being credited for their
work as punishment for protesting, incredibly sleazy and medieval 
threats of “blacklisting”, all making for a hostile workplace.  
Good grief, didn’t blacklisting go out with McCarthyism??
Shameful and embarassing that animation on the screen is
cutting-edge and dazzling but behind the scenes it's the Dark Ages
of sexism and bullying.

Unscrupulous producers have always known there are more 

talented and highly-trained animation workers than there is work
and have for many years taken advantage of passionate people 
who will often go above and beyond their contract for love of their
art and to finish a film on time.

Animators in Hollywood have a union through IATSE Local 839, 

the Animation Guild, but in Canada, a country renowned for its 
fairness in so many other areas and home of the world-famous, 
Oscar-winning National Film Board of Canada, animation workers
do not yet have a union. 

Recently, however, IATSE extended an invitation to NITROGEN 
STUDIOS employees who worked on SAUSAGE PARTY to meet 
with them and with legal counsel in Vancouver.

Read what SAUSAGE PARTY workers think of director Greg Tiernan’s Vancouver-based NITROGEN Studios.                                                  
                                         *
ANIMATION, SAUSAGE PARTY, ADULT ANIMATION, ANIMATOR ABUSE

Friday, May 27, 2016

REDESIGNING EVERYTHING


  

Do you ever find yourself unconsciously redesigning the stuff around you? Kitchen appliances, cars, logos, street lamps, book covers, other people’s homes? I do. Whenever I walk into someone’s house for the first time, I’m usually rearranging the furniture and changing the paint color as I say hello. Not that my friends have bad taste, I just go into that mode by force of professional habit.

Most manufacturers make little effort to make their products as beautiful as use will allow even though Apple has gloriously proved how much customers appreciate good design and are willing pay for it. And by good design I mean ease of use as well as physical beauty.

For example, some TEA BAGS are packed sideways and with the label backwards in the box. And why are they so hard to open without tearing the teabag and getting tea-dust floating in your cup? There’s another tea-bag design that elegantly incorporates the paper tag into the outer packet so you just rip the tag out and the package is open without tearing and spilling. Nice design but unfortunately the tea sucks.


The excessive and loud beeping on MICROWAVE OVENS is beyond comprehension. There's no need for any beeps at all, let alone the FIVE shrill ones on mine. And, more illogical still, a recently bought EGG TIMER, something that really does need a loud alarm, has a barely audible buzz that goes on for twenty seconds. But it’s a handsome object, round and easy to use.

And FURNITURE! Have you noticed how hideous most affordable furniture is? Couches, armchairs and beds are huge, thick, over-stuffed and infested with too many cushions. MATRESSES have become so enormously thick (to accommodate the results of excessive potato chip consumption) that fitted sheets for thinner mattresses are too big and leave us with rumple-marks.
                                 
We must demand better design.
  Like this, for example:
                                                 *
                                 DESIGN, ART, FUNCTION, FORM, BEAUTY

Saturday, April 9, 2016

DANDELION WINE

I recently read, with great delight, Ray Bradbury’s  autobiographical celebration of summer 1928: DANDELION WINE.  
It’s written with such tender fervor and such affection for his younger self that you can’t help feeling a similar affection for the author.

Is it because he didn’t go to college or do any writing courses that his language is so fresh and strong? He has said:

“I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries ... When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years....At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories and graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money.”

He writes in the introduction to DANDELION WINE:

“I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiment and was startled when truths leaped out ... I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see.”


I’m sure you can educate yourself quite well on the internet today but the key phrase may be “I had read every book”. With all that literature churning around in your head, blundering into writing through experiment may be a good, if lengthy, way to learn to write. That and living energetically 

Anyway, in celebration of Ray Bradbury’s lush, dappled book and because it’s spring and this is the time to do it, here’s a recipe (untested by me) for DANDELION WINE:

2 quarts dandelion flower petals only
4 quarts water
½  cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Fresh chopped ginger (1”)
3 tablespoons chopped orange zest
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped lemon zest
3 cups  sugar
1 package dried brewing yeast
1/4 cup warm water

1) Wash flowers, remove petals.
2) Place in water with OJ & lime juices, ginger, zests  & sugar.
3) Boil for 1 hour.
4) Strain through coffee filter.
5) When cooled & still warm add yeast.
6) Cover with cheesecloth & let sit over night.
7) Bottle. Make holes in balloons and place over bottle tops to seal & allow gas to escape. This keeps out unwanted yeasts.
8) Store in cool, dark place for 3 weeks to ferment.
9) Cork and store in a cool dark place for 6 mos - 1 year.
10) Drink.

By the way, you can also make a fabulous salad from the green leaves: pissenlit au lard. So, make the wine now, read the book on Kindle then in a year when the wine is ready, get a paper version of the book so you can properly celebrate it with touch and smell and highlighters. Sit on the fragrant grass sipping your wine and nibbling your dandelion leaves while you sensually turn the pages

Mmm, summer.
                                                    *

RAY BRADBURY,  WRITERS, DANDELION WINE,  EDUCATION

Sunday, January 17, 2016

ANIMATION OSCAR NOMINATIONS 2016

5 SHORTS:

1) BEAR STORY (CGI) Chile - Directed by Gabriel Osorio. A lonely bear remembering his formerly happy life is an allegory for Chile’s brutal political past. Oscar winner

2) PROLOGUE (2D) UK – from the master, Richard Williams, is a showcase for his formidable talents to raise money for the feature. It will be, he says,  “graphic realism, these things are obviously drawings, but it will go into adult territory and will combine different styles. I want something that will be grim, but also funny and salacious and sexy.”
At last, more animation for adults and who better to do it than Dick Williams.

3) SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM CGI) US – Directed by Pixar animator Sanjay Patel. Dialogue-free (i.e. international) episodes of family life and culture clashes. The design leaves a lot to be desired.

4) WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS (2D) Russia. Written, directed and animated by Konstantin Bronzit. Two friends training to be cosmonauts. Very charming and sweet. My eyes did a little dance of delight at the sight of line animation.

5) WORLD OF TOMORROW (CGI) US - Written, animated and directed by Don Hertzfeldt. A little girl stick figure visits her future with many, many special effects, including a clone of herself. Science-fictiony and quite dark. 
But animated stick figures? Really? Animation is so much work, why not design proper characters while you're at it?

5 FEATURES:

1) ANOMALISA (stop-motion) US, Paramount - Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, animated by Duke Johnson. More and more I’m thinking stop-motion should have its own category. It’s a very different form of animation. This particular example has chosen to use ultra realism (faces of real people) and the result is ultra-creepy. This, combined with the jerky, stylised movements makes it painful to watch and distracts enormously from the dialogue and story. I applaud the use of animation as a medium to tell an adult story, though.

2) BOY AND THE WORLD (mixed-media: crayon, cutouts, Photoshop) Brazil, GKIDS – Written and directed by Alê Abreu. A country boy goes to find his father in the big city with wordless social commentary. Fabulous music.

3) INSIDE OUT (CGI) from Pixar, US. Co-written and directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen. A young girl’s personified emotions help her adjust to adolescence and social upheaval. Brilliant character animation. Hilarious dialogue and editing.       Could this possibly not win?  Oscar winner.

4) SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (stop-motion) Aardman Animations, UK - Written and directed by Mark Barton and Richard Starzak. Shaun and his flock’s wordless adventures in the big city. Aardman’s characters have a uniquely goofy look and nobody does stop-motion dialogue like they do. Even when there isn't any.

5) WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (2D) Japan, Studio Ghibli - Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and based on the novel by Joan Robinson. Anna, a 12-year-old Japanese girl’s adventures in the country with blonde, blue-eyed Marnie. Beautiful camera angles and animation but the formulaic eyes and mouths are distracting.
                                                      *
                       ANIMATION, 2D, 3D, CGI, STOP-MOTION, MIXED MEDIA

Friday, January 1, 2016

BOOKS READ IN 2015

These subjective impressions (↑ Mmm to ↓ Ugh)
should not be taken for proper reviews.   


1)  SAY GOODNIGHT TO INSOMNIA by Dr. Gregg. D Jacobs for writing style, ↑↑↑ for usefulness – This programme is not easy to do but it actually works. In 6 – 12 weeks you will be falling asleep easily and staying asleep for 7 to 8 hours a night without drugs. The quality of your sleep will vastly improve and you’ll feel rested and alert. The book itself is repetitive and crammed with un-useful anecdotes so edit it down to its essentials, draw up a diary/sleep chart to keep track of your progress and sweet dreams.

2) THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME by Mark Haddon ↑↑ – This is one of those critically acclaimed, very cleverly written books that one reads and admires but I, at least, skipped many, many pages because the narrator/protagonist is extremely irritating by virtue of his having “behavioral difficulties” which are very realistically described but un-named in the book. Autism, OCD & Asperger's are mentioned by reviewers.

Maybe this would be a case for less showing and more telling?

3) THAT OLD ACE IN THE HOLE by Annie Proulx ↑↑↑↑↑↑ (Did I ever mention I like Annie Proulx?) - The characters’ names are marvelous, starting with protagonist Bob Dollar and all the subsequent put-down versions of his name. These homespun but wily Texans are as lively and full of surprises as only Annie Proulx can make them. She plays with the reader too, by using ominous writing tricks (storm clouds approaching, an armed murderer on the loose, a fearful protagonist) to build to a climax that never comes. Nevertheless, she gives us a very satisfying ending. Not always the case with Ms. Proulx.

4) THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins ↑↑ - Well-constructed plot and nicely observed characters. Gets a bit strained toward the end but she creates powerful images from and on the train that remain with you.

5) GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson – Another very cleverly-written book that required too much from me. I just didn’t want to work that hard for something I didn’t really care about. Didn’t finish. Actually barely started it before I was severely turned off.

6) THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST by Anne Tyler ↑↑↑ - I’ve been meaning to read this for years. Absolutely charming. Beautifully crafted characters (male and female), believable situations, deeds, desires and choices. Warm and pulsating.

7) ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood ↑↑↑ - Starts off a little slowly in order to create a traumatized character and suggest ghastly events but soon becomes all too horribly real and urgent and blood-thirsty. Skillfully wrought scientific consequences of our irresponsible inventions and lifestyle. Clever but warmly human enough not to be alienating.

8) SWAMPLANDIA by Karen Russell ↑↑ -  These characters and their strange actions stay with you long after you finish the book. The plot is pretty far-fetched and the descriptions a teeny bit florid but it’s unusual and human and you can't help feeling for these bizarre people.

9) HOW TO BE BOTH by Ali Smith ↑↑ - Yet another book trying so hard to be clever that the characters become mere scaffolding. Also, there may have been a serious misprint in the Kindle edition and the story, already told twice from different times, points of view and genders, was actually printed four times. Absolutely wonderful descriptions of the act of drawing and creating art, mixing colours and composing the elements of a picture, though. Good portrait of an artist too.

10) THEATRE by Somerset Maugham As wonderful a writer as Maugham is, his female protagonist, Julia Lambert, is pretty masculine in thought and deed. Some twists that a woman would have seen coming a mile away. It’s a rare male author who can create a believable woman. 


11) CITY ON FIRE by Garth Risk Hallberg  ↑↑ - Mitsuko Kakutani loved the frantic pace of this huge book. Not me. While I greatly admire the construction and the interweaving of the real and fictional characters and events, I can't seem to get attached to the protagonists. I think this will make a good movie or HBO series.

12) ACTING MY FACE by Anthony James – An actor whose face is his fortune. At first glance he looks like a psychopath and that’s exactly how he was always cast for decades in Hollywood. But look again: his features are straight and regular, perfectly symmetrical with a strong jaw, dimpled chin and thoughtful eyes. Its only flaw the acne scars that Hollywood casting directors would not allow him to remove as they too are the sure sign of a baddie. Contrary to his looks, Jim seems to be a gentle, creative man, also an artist and writer. 


*
BOOKS, WRITERS, PROULX, MAUGHAM, HALLBERG, TYLER, ATWOOD