PONDERING PUBLISHING AND THE WORLD GONE BY

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

We met at Doubleday!

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than any of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I think I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are thoroughly conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products — and not an important product, either.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs — and for literature as an art. In those days, reading was major entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends … and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.

Other entertainment? Of course there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Can anyone imagine how Faulkner, Hemingway and Thomas Wolf would do trying to “work the marketplace”? No doubt there were writers who were able to do the balancing of writing and marketing, but many authors are not particularly sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig.

And … ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

I miss books. I miss authors. I miss publishers. I miss carefully edited manuscripts and beautifully published books where you could smell the ink and paper as you cracked the cover open. It was a heady perfume.

SINGING AND DANCING AT THE GREAT BIG BIRTHDAY PARTY

Yankee Doodle Dandy

We watched “Yankee Doodle Dandy” tonight. Again. This is a movie that I have watched several hundred times. They used to play it on “Million Dollar Movie” on channel 9 in New York, where I grew up.

“Million Dollar Movie” played one movie a week. It played the same movie all day every day for seven days — often horribly mutilated to make room for the advertisements –and if I happened to be home sick from school, I watched that movie all the time. They played “Yankee Doodle Dandy” often and it seemed to coincide with incidences of tonsillitis, one of my primary reasons for being out of school. I learned the songs. The dances. I know all the words not only from the songs, but from the entire script.

I love it. I still love it. Garry loves it. This despite the fact that we cannot figure out why it wasn’t made in color since it is so obviously a movie that ought to be in color — but I digress. At the end of the movie tonight, Garry commented that “All young movie makers should be required to watch this movie.”

In many ways, it is perfect. If this can’t get a little American fervor running through your veins, nothing will. This despite the current pathetic condition of America’s politics and elected officials. It still makes me sit up, smile, and sing along. I love the piccolo solos and the singing and the flag waving. It reminds me that I really am American. Born here, raised here. Went away, but came back because this is my home and I belong here. However awful it is these days, it simply has to get better. I demand it get better! I am horrified by this version of America and I want it to go away.

It’s the 6th of July again and the fireworks are over. Boom, bang, and back to reality.

When we lived in Boston, we got to see the fireworks live and hear the concert from our balcony where we lived. I know all the dog owners are dyspeptic about the fireworks and I understand, but I can’t help it. I like fireworks. Shoot me down, but I love the bang and the flash and the giant flowers in the sky. I always have. Back in New York, it was a mile walk to the park and we walked it. And back because the roads were a parking lot and there was nowhere to park even if you did manage to get there.

We would lie flat on the ground and watch the sky light up.

BostonFireworks2013

We watched Boston’s show last night on Bloomberg. David Mugar is no long sponsoring the fireworks and none of the TV stations had the money to cover the show. Bloomberg stepped in and took over sponsorship. I’ve never bothered to watch Bloomberg before. It was strange not to be watching it on NBC or CBS, but it was the same great show. Now only does the Boston Pops play one rousing version of the 1812 Overture, but the guys from the Army drop by and shoot off the artillery. It has got to be the loudest concert in history.

Now today was movie time.

We watched again as James Cagney dances down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it. In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. Happy Birthday to US!

This is the beginning of American autonomy, when we stepped off the sidelines and entered the mainstream of the world’s history and politics. Let’s hope we remember that what we do matters, not only to us, but to the entire world. We aren’t a little colony anymore. We’ve moved up to “the Bigs.” We need to really make America great.

Really great. Again.

HEAR NOW – A FESTIVAL FOR AUDIO LOVERS

HEAR Now – A Festival for AUDIO Lovers


Visit: http://www.hearnowfestival.org for additional information

HEAR Now: Audio Fiction & Arts Festival returns to Kansas City June 8-11, 2017, for its 5th annual 4-day weekend.

Like a good film festival, HEAR Now features panels of producers and artists showcasing their work, an annual “Audio Forum” blending audio fiction and storytelling with other disciplines in an immersion experience of audio arts. You won’t believe your ears!

Country singer songwriter Kasey Lansdale (daughter of author Joe R. Lansdale) will be available to discuss Wondery’s podcast, featuring her new horror tale – Blind Love. Simon Jones will perform a brand new Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

“It’s the only festival of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to the art of recorded and live audio storytelling in all its many genres and forms,” says HEAR Now Festival Director Cynthia Allen. “This is a chance to educate your ears and your imagination.”

INNOVATIONS opens the Festival at the Kansas City Public Library’s Truman Auditorium on Thursday, June 8th from 7:00pm – 8:30pm.

HEAR Now also offers hands-on training in production and story-telling. Dramatic Podcast Workshop 101, led by former NPR anchor Frank Stasio and playwright Howard Craft, focuses on creating new original short fiction.

The NATF Playhouse showcases productions in a high-quality listening environment. The show runs through Friday, June 9th.

It closes with a retrospective of Simon Jones’ more than 40-year career as a voice artist, beginning with Arthur Dent in the first-ever Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and ending with special new audio treats.

For more information visit http://www.hearnowfestival.org. Questions? Email hearnowfestival@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter at @HEARNow!

“DEADLIEST CATCH” SUPER FANS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I are huge fans of a reality show called “Deadliest Catch”. We’ve watched it religiously for 13 years. The show follows six or seven crab boats, based in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, as they fish for crab each year in the Bering Sea.

Crab fishing used to be known as the most dangerous profession in the United States because of the high rates of injuries and deaths on crab boats each season. It’s less deadly these days, but still treacherous. An intrepid production crews live on the boats with the fishermen while they fish. They film conversations with and between the captain and the crew as well as following the ups and downs of the hunt for large quantities of the lucrative crab.

Why do we avidly watch people fishing day after day? Well, the viewers also get to know the captain and crew very well. There’s always tension between crew members and/or between crew members and the captain. On several boats, the captains bring along family members as part of the crew – brothers, sons, nephews, even a daughter once. So there’s plenty of family drama as well.

We’ve followed medical crises, including heart attacks, injuries, addiction, and even the death of a beloved captain. We’ve watched fights and feuds as well as bonding and friendship both on the boats and between the boats. You get to really like some captains and hate others because of their style of leadership, bad judgment, arrogance or quick tempers.

It’s fascinating to watch these men live in close quarters for weeks at a time under stressful work conditions in the middle of nowhere. This definitely creates an unusual dynamic. I used to think that the personal relationships and the personalities of the captains were the main elements that kept us watching week after week, year after year.

But I realized that I would not watch this show, with the same people, if they were on fire trucks instead of crab boats. It’s not just the characters or their dangerous jobs that keep us watching. The sea and its unpredictability is a major character in the drama. That’s what makes the show riveting. There are frequent, treacherous storms throughout the season. Winds can get to more than 60 miles an hour and the seas and waves can grow to be more than 30 feet high. Yet the men fish through all but the worst storms!

It’s mind boggling to watch these boats take on giant waves, smashing through them or being catapulted from side to side like children’s toys.

The sea is also isolating. Each boat fishes over 100 miles from their home port. They are often far, far away from any land. The boats are often far away from each other as well. So when something breaks on a boat, which happens frequently, the crew is totally on their own. They have to figure out how to fix it without a trip to the store or any outside advice. They at least have to be able to patch things up enough to be able to limp back to shore for repairs.

There is something mesmerizing about these men, alone in a giant and tempestuous sea, trying to find crabs and stay afloat and alive. This is one of the few shows we actually watch on the night it airs. We can’t wait to see the next episode.

We’re not alone. The show airs in over 200 countries and has lasted for 13 seasons!

Who’d have thought anyone would be at the edge of their seats, waiting to see if a crab pot coming over the edge of a boat is full of crabs or empty? Who’d have thought the same story every week would keep us coming back for more than a decade?

And there’s no sex and almost no violence. Go figure!

DEVIL IN MISS JONES

Halloween was always a special holiday for my group of friends. From the early 1970s, we held an annual Halloween party. Each year, we descended on a friend’s parent’s summer house in the Berkshires. The house was not huge, but we were young and found places to sleep, even if it was on the floor or a hammock on the porch.

Those were the days before DVDs or even videotape — long before big screen televisions — so we rented a projector, screen and a movie. The occasion called for a horror movie. We tended to the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman (poor Larry Talbot) … but lacking one of these, any horror movie would do.

It was the centerpiece of our weekend’s entertainment — in addition to the pleasure of getting together to see each other.

The last year we had the party in the mountains, just before most of us got married and settled down, the guys in charge of movie rental were late getting to it. All the familiar films were gone. So, in the spirit of trying something new, they rented “The Devil in Miss Jones.”

It sounded like a horror movie to them. The Devil? Halloween? Right?

Given the audience and our condition — drugs and alcohol flowed freely in those halcyon days of yore — the movie had predictable but hilarious (depending on what you find funny) results. I won’t go into lurid detail, but I think it was our absolutely best ever Halloween party. Subsequent parties became more elaborate. Bigger, almost like virtual reality rides at a theme park.

But the year we watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” brought us closer in ways we would not soon forget. I certainly haven’t, especially since that party was when Garry and I grew really close. Now we are fused at the hip and share those special memories. Do you youngsters ever wonder what grandma and grandpa are giggling about over there on the recliner?

So you see? Things can turn out fine, even when they apparently go awry. Thank you Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems. It was your finest effort!

MY HARD TO DESCRIBE HOBBY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m frustrated. I have a hobby that people don’t understand. I try to explain it to them in different ways until I see the glimmer of recognition in their eyes.

I’m part of an audio theater company. We call ourselves “Voicescapes Audio Theater”. We write and produce short audio plays, both comedy and drama. We post them online and also perform 60-90 minute live shows, whenever we can.

Audio theater is theater that is primarily, audio. Like old time radio dramas, but updated.  We try not to use the phrase ‘radio drama’ because it conjures images of old-fashioned melodrama, kitsch, overacting, and schmaltz. We write modern, sophisticated material attuned to today’s sensibilities and styles. Nothing like the old days.

For generations, radio was a primary form of entertainment around the world. Radio had all the shows TV now does – dramas, mysteries, serial or standalone, sit-coms and other kinds of comedy. Talk shows, game shows, news, documentaries, and of course, music.

In the ‘50’s, television became the entertainment of choice. But in England, radio, in all its original forms, retained its place in the lives of Brits along with television. England continues to have a thriving radio culture. It’s professional, well-financed and popular. The quality is on par with what is available on TV and in movies.

In America, television completely eclipsed radio, and radio almost died out as an art form. On a professional level, radio continues to play music. There are many talk shows and of course, news, but not much else. The other forms of original ‘radio drama’ have been pretty much relegated to the amateur world. The quality is generally not on the same level as its professional, paid counterparts on TV. It also has a fraction of the audience it had in it’s heyday.

So we’re left searching for the right analogy to get across to people what we do. We use the phrase ‘enhanced play reading’. The problem is, “play reading” sounds dry and not ready for prime time. Our pieces are polished productions, complete with sound effects, live and recorded, as well as music. We provide a fully-realized theatrical experience for your ears.

People love our performances. Not to brag, but we’ve been told our writing is clever, brilliant, and thought-provoking. Our actors are experienced, talented professionals. One member of our company, Barbara Rosenblat, is an Audie-award winning audio book narrator, with over 500 audio books to her credit. She has appeared on Broadway and off-Broadway, as well as on television, including on the Netflix series, ‘Orange Is The New Black’. Another member of our company, Robin Miles, has also won Audies and other awards for her audio book narration.

Our one honest-to-God review said that our performance was “A night to remember. Excellent writing and performances. A unique type of humor that audiences will carry with them when they leave.” (Cynthia Allen, Outer Critics Circle and Modern Theater Online).

So, we’re excited about what we do. Everyone who sees or hears us is excited about our product. Once you experience our unique form of entertainment, you ‘get it’ and you’re hooked. The problem is explaining what we do to get people interested in checking us out online or in person.

You can help by going to our website, listening to some or our pieces and spreading the word to your friends. I know that geographically, you can’t all come to our live shows in New York and Connecticut. But we have a whole other life online. We post all our material so anyone and everyone can listen for free.

Here is our website, VOICESCAPES AUDIO THEATER. There is also a link on the sidebar, so you can click any time and see what we do. Enjoy a comedy about driving through the countryside of France with two warring GPS machines. Or a comedy describing the joys of trying to cancel a cable account with customer service. Try one in which a husband and wife argue about whether farts are really funny. There is also a Twilight Zone style drama about the year 2014, when one woman wakes up to a very different and puzzling world. There is even one children’s piece if you have young children or grandchildren.

There should be something for everyone. Please give us a try and let me know what you think!

FILM REVIEW: LA CARA OCULTA (2011) – THE HIDDEN FACE

hidden-face-posterThe Hidden Face (La Cara Oculta) is a supremely dark movie, literally and figuratively. The subject is dark and most of the movie takes place in dim light or actual darkness.

At first glance, I thought it was going to be a whodunnit and I was good with that. But early on, the plot became obvious, so what remained was a race against time. The overall story is standard thriller cum police drama “missing person” stuff.  As the movie opens, we watch a “dear john” video from a young woman leaving her boyfriend with minimal explanation (but a lot of subtext). Her boyfriend (who we will soon learn is a renowned orchestral conductor) watches the video. Apparently baffled, miserable, in despair. It’s a flashback, because the film immediately moves forward to “now” as he meets someone new and begins a relationship. The story flashes back again. Despite how it sounds, the flashing back and forth is not confusing,  just tricky to write about.

Into precisely what genre The Hidden Face fits is murky.

It’s creepy, but not a horror movie. It’s a mystery, but so briefly no detective work is required. I was surprised at how soon in the film lays the whole story out. It eliminated any element of surprise or mystery, leaving creepiness without suspense. Does that make it sort-of horror? A ghost story without a ghost? Secrets don’t stay secrets long. The film put everything out there, up front.

The film would benefit from a tighter edit. Too many beauty shots  of the stars walking on the beach, ambling along by the river, looking sad, staring into mirrors (many mirrors, lots of staring), suffering, pondering, despairing. You could trim a lot of it without compromising the story. Fewer shots of Fab walking, thinking, pondering, Adri conducting, flirting, suffering, yada yada. That much B-roll is directorial self-indulgence and it gets old quickly.

After the who-done-what is revealed, the movie becomes a race against the clock. The only remaining question is who will win the race. That’s when I started to lose interest. The situation was indeed creepy, even horrible. But very little was happening and although nothing much is happening, it takes a rather long time to not happen. Back to the editing room!

Have I seen anything like this before? Yes.

Even before they show you everything, there are plenty of tells for anyone familiar with mystery or horror stories. Moreover, the plot is classic and everyone will recognize it. Think fairy tale crossed with Edgar Allen Poe. I believe the movie’s writers assume the situation, the premise itself, will generate sufficient tension without action. No need for story. It doesn’t work for me.  I need a story. So this movie wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m a coffee drinker. If you like tea, you might love it.

hidden-face-stillThe cinematography is moody and broody. I appreciate the artistry. The “sexy scenes” were just that. Nothing pornographic about them. Had the overall tone of the film not been so edgy, it might have been romantic, even titillating. The sense of “something wrong” overshadows all else and the foreboding short-circuits potential erotica.

My aging eyes I would have preferred more light (as in wattage). The poor quality print may have contributed to the problem because it was difficult to focus on the picture, but most of the film takes place at night or in shadow so it wasn’t brightly lit to start with. After repeated copying of the original print, there was considerable squinting involved for me. Not a movie for the weak of vision.

Did I enjoy it? I liked the beginning a lot. I like the middle, mostly. By the end, I was eager for it to be over. Would I recommend it? It depends on who’s asking. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get into it or wrap my head around it. If the tale had unfolded in a normal timeline rather than flashing back and forth, that might have helped. Maybe. I wish they had saved some surprises for the second half.

The situation was eerie, but for a movie to work for me, I need more. I need a story. Characters to whom I can in some way relate. Interesting dialogue. In this case any dialogue would have helped. Maybe I’m just not artistic enough to appreciate the nuances, but from where I sit, the problem was not too much nuance. It was too little.