Saturday, December 28, 2019



1) WRITING SOUNDTRACK writing, music 
2) NOBEL PRIZE FOR ART art, nobelprize 
3) DANDELION WINE  Bradbury, writing, writers, summer 
5) ROBOWRITERS  AI, algorithms, writing 
7) GENRE WRITING writing, genres, literarygenres, fiction 
8) ANIMATION OSCAR NOMINATIONS 2019 animation, Oscars


1) THERE THERE by Tommy Orange (Audio book) A stunning, rip-your-guts-out writer whose raging, long-suffering characters are not quite as resigned to the tragedy in their daily life as they seem to be. A stark, dark debut novel written with poetry and brutal objectivity. Beautifully interpreted by talented narrators. The audio version of a book is the most ethereal of all literary experiences and if not done well can diminish, even ruin it; the wrong tone can change the meaning of a serious, scholarly work or make characters unbearable. Whereas a good narrator can give a book additional facets and layers of life.

2) TOUS LES HOMMES N’HABITENT PAS LE MONDE DE LA MEME FAÇON by Jean-Paul Dubois, a French Goncourt-winning writer whose style is quite American in its crispness and clarity with an underlying French soulfulness. After growing up in France, the protagonist, the son of a preacher and a cinema-owning mother, visits Denmark then settles in Canada where he spends some time in jail and reviews his life. Sounds boring, is not. Full of humor, poetic connections and marvelous characters.

3) AGENT RUNNING IN THE FIELD by John Le Carré. I loved this not-quite-return-to-the-classic-spy-novel but a sort of modern cross between The Tailor of Panama and The Looking Glass War. A tad far-fetched but very enjoyable. He can create a character in one sentence, a mood with a word. The master. 

4) L’ETRANGER by Albert Camus. (Audio book, read by wonderfully bi-lingual actor Michel Lonsdale.) Listening to this famous book first read in Paris, I rediscovered the feelings evoked by Camus that had remained with me all these years: the protagonist’s islolation, loneliness, alienation and the Algerian beach. That a writer can rekindle the same feelings decades later is why he won the Nobel Prize, no doubt. 

5) EDUCATED by Tara Westover. Here is a natural-born writer who wrested herself from a dangerous and destructive family to get a Cambridge education and a new life with the help of a Bill Gates scholarship. Clear, objective writing devoid of sentimentality makes for smooth, easy reading of a hard subject. Good book by an exceptional and inspiring woman.

6) L’HERBE DES NUITS and SOUVENIRS DORMANTS Audio books written by Nobel Prize winning Patrick Modiano. The male protagonist meets a mysterious young woman, goes for long walks with her in Montparnasse or Montmarte or other quartiers of Paris. She shoots someone but is never arrested. Basically all three of his books I read are variations on this story. He is known for writing the same book over and over, satifying to him, perhaps, not so much to the reader. I did love the walks through familiar streets and mentions of real Parisian addresses.

7) PURPLE HIBISCUS by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Warm, thoughtful female characters living passionate, uneasy lives in Nigeria. Making writing look so easy, takes great talent.

8) L’ETE DES QUATRE ROIS by Camille Pascal. (Grand Prix de l’Académie Française  2018) History vividly brought to life with Kings Charles X, Louis XIX, Henri V and Louis-Philippe and additional characters like Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas sweating through the long, hot summer that culminates in the July revolution of 1830. 

9) WAITING by Ha Jin (Pulitzer). I love how different Chinese literature is from Western literature. This author makes you wait then slowly brings the point of his story into focus, like a fish rising from the deep. Very satisfying. 

10) L’AMIE PRODIGIEUSE (Tome 1) by Elena Ferrante (Translated from the Italian by Elsa Damien) Wonderful writer who describes her endearing characters in actions and arouses your emotions with words written and unwritten. A very talented writer, whatever her name is.

10) CIRCE by Madeline Miller who skillfully brings gods and goddesses to life and has cleverly made a franchise of mythology. (Audio book)

11) LE CONTE DE MONTE-CRISTO (6 hefty tomes), Alexandre Dumas. I read this in English as a kid and loved it but enoyed it so much more now that I know the cities, streets and places, I’ve  seen Marseille and lived in Paris and even been to his famous address on the Champs-Elysées and who doesn’t love a satisfying tale of revenge and living well?

12) MRS. DALLOWAY – Virginia Woolfe – formidable style, muscular prose, milquetoasty characters and practically no plot. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


I like writing to the sound of golf on TV.
The hushed commentary and quiet applause provide a presence without distracting. 

And there’s all that soothing green grass when you do look up.  

Tennis is good too; 
I like the soft “pocks” and the relatively gentle commentary 
in the background which let me think without feeling totally cut off from the world. 
Although tennis can be very distracting when Roger and Rafa play, not only for the 
excellence of their game but for the beauty of their extreme stretches and 
follow-through, too gorgeous for an artist to ignore.
Roger Federer In Action Against Tomas Berdych - Photo the Guardian

The BBC radio 4 on low volume is also a good accompanying drone.

Music is just too distracting; it always sweeps me up and makes me listen 

exclusively to it, drowning out the plot points and dialogue etc. I'm trying 
to focus on.

On the other hand, total silence freezes my brain. I just can't to write in 
the thundering quiet of the country. It's great to relax in and paint in,
but not to write in. Not for me, anyway. And a soundproof room makes me 
want to keep rushing out to see if the world is still there. I need to hear signs 
of life: children’s voicesducks quacking, dishwasher running, pots clattering, 
birds chirpingthe dull roar of city traffic with an occasional siren. 
Companionable, reassuring and soothing.
Inspiring, even.

First published July 20, 2009



Thursday, October 3, 2019


There's no Nobel prize for art but there should be.     
Its role in life is no less vital than chemistry, physics, economics, medicine, literature and peace. Would all those Nobel winners have won if they hadn't unwound and enriched themselves with visits to the Louvre, the Met, the Prado, the Uffizi, the Tate, the local Odeon, even the TV? If they hadn't filled their eyes and mind with Guernica, the Vitruvian Man, Buzz Lightyear, the Lascaux cave paintings, Bacon, the Night Watch, Arcimboldo's wonderful food portraits or the Simpsons? 

Great Minds (and not so great ones) get stale and fuzzy from too much concentration, we lose objectivity and confusion takes over. All minds need a rest now and then and that’s where art comes in to sweep out the cobwebs, mop up the worries, overwhelm with beauty, amuse, encourage and even inspire. All we need to do is look up from our our mental exertions to to be stimulated, soothed or bewitched by a color, shape or composition in the art which surrounds us at all times, in posters, ads and banners, in the  angles of a passing Lamborghini, the graceful lines of a park bench, under your hand right now with an Apple on it. Art is the silent partner of the Great Minds of the world. 
Many think music soothes and inspires more than art does. Perhaps, but just because art can't be heard its silent power shouldn't be underestimated. And with the plethora of visual media around, who knows what a passing glance can do? Art works quietly in the quotidian background of life, inspiring in glimpses, glances, peeps and stares. Art helps all of us through life, with a little beauty here, a cartoon there, an unexpected color or point of view to distract and please us and sometimes make us smile. 

Art can also heal. At Cedar-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles art is used throughout the facilty because a patient coming out of a coma once recognised a Pollock before recognising his wife. Cedars now has a magnificent collection of 4,000 paintings (including Miro, Picasso, Hockney), sculptures, drawings and prints making patients and medical staff feel better for more than 50 years.


How many Nobel Prize winners have been inspired by art? At least two: 
NIELS BOHR was inspired by cubism when working on the theory of complimentarity in quantum theory which says that something can be a particle and a wave at the same time; Nobel Prize in Physics 1922. (Thanks to Clare Dudman for this link.)
HARRY KROTO used his first love of graphic design to construct a three-dimensional image from two-dimensional data to discover buckninsterfullerene, the large carbon-60 molecule; Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1996.


So, even though you may not be aiming for a Nobel Prize, why not avail yourself of the many benefits of the art beaming at your from screens, pages and canvases? Art is not just an investment for future capital gains, it’s an investment in daily pleasure, beauty, inspiration and grace. 

Art is sustenance for the soul, a Nobel Prize for the eyes and 
nobody can get through COVID without it. 

Art credits: Arcimboldo, Bacon, Picasso, Pollock, Picasso, Kroto,  


Originally published October 11, 2009

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


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 we can educate ourselves 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.

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, go outside and sit on the grass to sip your wine and nibble your dandelion leaves while you sensually turn the pages and drink a little toast to Ray Bradbury and summertime.

(Originally published 4/9/16, 11:04 AM)



Saturday, July 13, 2019

How to Celebrate BASTILLE DAY

Not a people to tolerate high taxes and social inequality, the French are expert 
in demanding their rights. Today's the day they stormed La Bastille prison
in 1789, ended the monarchy (for a while) and became a republic 
(eventually, after a few hiccups) 
Here's how to celebrate the joie de vivre
the savoir faire and the je ne sais quoi 
of the inimitable and irrepressable 
French people: 

Admire this magnificent photograph by Anthony Gelot of the flyover of the Arc de Triomphe

Have a nice lunch 
 with a nice bottle or two of wine

stroll along the car-less banks of the Seine (Merci, Anne Hidalgo) and enjoy Paris Plages 

visit burned but still beautiful Notre Dame (Tarum non Destruatur) 

Have a light dinner at Le Café de Flore or the Petit Saint Benoit


end the day with a hot friend, a warm cognac and a fiery debate about why there was
an emperor, four Bourbon kings (Louis XIII, Charles X, Louis XVIX, Henri V) 
and another revolution in 1830 after the big revolution of 1789
which we celebrate today.

and just before you fall asleep, 
don’t forget to whisper, 
Vive la France.

France, Bastille Day, 14juillet, Revolution   

Thursday, May 23, 2019


Why sweat over hand-made, brain-wrought blog posts when there is software featuring algorithms and artificial intelligence that can do it faster and easier? Several different kinds of software actually: Yseop Inc. (this one is European, polyglot and claims to be able to do a sales pitch), Narrative Science, Narrative Analytics, Arria NLG and Linguastat among others. They produce, not the clumsy Google-Translate type of thing, but flowing prose used in actual newspapers as legitimate journalism.

An artificial intelligence engine called QUILL, partly funded by the CIA (!), can generate news articles and business reports in English only. In March 2014 the company Narrative Science launched Quill Engage, a free Google Analytics application that delivers narrative style reports for website owners. I availed myself of this offer and here is the abridged robo-written report generated by the Google Analytics stats for my blog:

All Web Site Data Report for the Week of Oct. 06 - Oct. 12
Sessions + 83% -- Pageviews + 105% -- Avg Time On Site + 82%
Sessions Up, Higher Than Annual Weekly Average. Overall sessions
increased by 83% week-over-week. That's more than triple your annual 
weekly average. The rise in traffic was driven by direct sessions, growing 194%.

I must say, I find this report a hell of a lot more interesting and understandable than graphs, charts and figures. Well, maybe not graphs.

At UCLA I recently bumped into someone who was studying internet linguistics, the study of language used by phones and machines which is a related field imitating human speech and part of the trend of replacing human-to-human interaction with human-to-machine interaction.

So, is it just a matter of time until they can produce an artificially intelligent novel?  Maybe it's already being done. Maybe some of all those millions of books out there are robo-books. Will we be able to tell the difference between a robo-novel and a novel written by a real live human?

UPDATE April 16, 2015: 
Philip M. Parker has created a system that can write a book in twenty minutes and it has generated hundreds of thousands of books, many on Amazon.
World Clock by Nick Montfort is a novel generated with 165 line of Python code in about four hours in November 2013 and published in December 2013.

- Published October 17, 2014
                                                                   Artwork above: Matt Groening


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

DISNEY'S NEW LION KING - Live-action or animation?

Disney’s new digital version of LION KING, often shot-for-shot the same as the beloved original, is generating quite a bit of discussion, always a good thing to promote a new movie: 

Is it real or is it CGI? 
If it’s live-action how did the director make the lions talk?
Did the lions have trailers or did they just hang out on Disney’s back lot?
What about the trees, rocks and savanna, are they real?
Why did Disney CEO Bob Iger himself refer to it in a 2018 shareholders meeting as “our upcoming live-action Lion King”?

The lions do look realistic, if a little moth-eaten and arthritic, as do the other animals and the savanna looks quite authentic. But, real live animals lip-synching dialogue, showing emotions and singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”?
Come on folks, not even Disney can do that.

Of course, there’s no debate as to whether LION KING is live-action or animated.
It's VFX animated.
In photorealistic CGI.
Not one atom of the landscape or fauna is real.
Everything is computer generated. 
Every last whisker and blade of grass is made of zeroes and ones, 
not one drop of flesh or blood or sap.
This article on London’s MPC studios, one of the VFX companies which worked on creating the new LION KING will prove it.

Photorealistic CGI has been used in quite a few films including Disney’s “THE JUNGLE BOOK. The process uses Maya, Motion-capture and Performance-capture (did they put sensors on animals?), roto-capture, roto-animation, volumetric capture, plate-based image tracking, laser-pulsing lidars, photogrammertry, matchmove software, a silver ball that reflects the entire set in its shiny surface to record the position of the lights and a chrome ball to record the intensity of the lights, new real-time rendering and much, much more.

Obviously, a big question in this artificial debate is: are these realistic lions going to break into “Hakuna Matata,” “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” or “Circle of Life”?

And, for heaven’s sake, why keep recycling old animated movies for the built-in nostalgic audience factor? Disney is huge and rich enough to take a chance on something new. Something innovative. Something even as mildly innovative as 

Frankly, judging from the trailers, this technique has a certain “Uncanny Valley” look to it and is quite scary in its implications. How long till someone uses it to bring a dead actor back to “life”? Is all this “live-action” talk just promo or is Disney preparing us for a brand new “live-action” version of SNOW WHITE starring Carrie Fisher and James Dean?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


I don’t know about you but I'd rather not have to label my writing. If literary labeling needs to be done at all, (and, apart from broad categories like FICTION and NON-FICTION, I don't think it does) isn't it something for others to do? Like agents, publishers, reviewers, booksellers, readers?

Agents are now classified by genre and books are “genrified” by their covers, blurbs and promotion. Even some publishers are classified by genre. So, by simply choosing an agent, I’m labeling my work. And, by labeling my work I'm making an unwanted mission-statement and writing for a limited audience.

Labels are limiting and they often dumb-down for age and gender. Gender genres like “women’s fiction”, “romance” and “thriller”, can prevent readers from branching out and reading more eclectically. (By the way, there is a glaring omission in the list of genres
“Men’s Fiction”)  

Literary labels are supposedly a guide for readers but aren’t they more of a marketing tool for publishers? Here’s a chat by Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro on the subject. 

Everything today seems to need a label, a mission statement or a sub-title. The better to sell it. People even subtitle life itself these days by muttering "awkward" during a pause in conversation. I think this comes from TV and movies which is another "genre". Many writers write with a movie deal in mind.

Writing for a "genre" must surely discourage unique voices. We’re told “voice is everything” but if your “voice” doesn’t fit a genre will anybody hear it?

Is literature considered a genre? Is any book with big words and deep thoughts literature? Or does the sheer length of a book make it literature, like THE GOLDFINCH, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, INFINITE JEST, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX?

Would these classics now have the Young Adult label:
CATCHER IN THE RYE, ROMEO AND JULIET, GREAT EXPECTATIONS? Would MADAME BOVARY be considered “romance”? Would MOBY DICK be a “suspense thriller”? GONE WITH THE WIND: “chick lit”? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: “crime”?

And how long would we tolerate the concept of GENRE if the English word TYPE/KIND/SORT were used instead? Would we want to be called TYPE WRITERS?

Friday, July 17, 2015 

Friday, January 25, 2019


This year I’ve included (where possible) the very interesting Making-of videos for the animation nominations for 2019:


1) ANIMAL BEHAVIOR (NFB, Canada - Written and Directed by Alison Snowden and David Fine) – Hand drawn
2) BAO (Pixar, USA - Directed by Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb) - CGI - WINNER
3) LATE AFTERNOON (Cartoon Saloon, Ireland – Written and directed by Louise Bagnall) Hand drawn
4) ONE SMALL STEP (Taiko Studios, USA/China - Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas) - CGI
5) WEEKENDS (Pixar-aided - Written and directed by Trevor Jimenez)  - Hand drawn

1) INCREDIBLES II (Pixar, USA) – Written and directed by Brad Bird) CGI
2) ISLE OF DOGS (Studio Babelsberg, Indian Paintbrush/American Empirical Pictures – Written & directed by Wes Anderson) – STOP MOTION
3) MIRAI No trailer/making of available (Studio Chizu, Japan - Directed by Mamoru Hosoda) - Anime
4) RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET - Disney, USA – Directed by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore - CGI
5) SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (Sony Animation - Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman. Written by Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord – CGI/hand-drawn/painted.  WINNER! We are ready for innovation in animation.