Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wednesday morning in Paris, Part II: coffee, churches, shin splints, Roman ruins and Rue Moufftard

Here is part II of my Wednesday morning in Paris series. You can find Part I here.

I had started writing that post on November 14th, but had not found time to finish it and was saved in my drafts box. I thought that once I published the post it would go to the top of my blog. Nope, it decided that the initial draft date is where it should be filed.

I also came up against a limit of picture space because it stopped uploading images, necessitating the posts to be serialized.

So here is Part II with no more further ado.

After leaving Saint Séverin, we walked to the outside of the Cluny and viewed the exterior to their famous Roman baths.

Next up was the church of Saint-Étienne du Mont where there is a reliquary that supposedly contains holy relics of Saint Genvieve, the patron saint of Paris. I say supposedly because the French revolution was not kind to anyone and holy relics were not immune to the frenzied actions of the mobs.

Here is the outside of that magnificent church.

Inside you can see the pointed Gothic arches,

the altar,

and the reliquary for Saint Genvieve.

During our walk we also passed by the Pantheon and the Sorbonne, but we did not stop in either. I wanted to see ruins.

One thing in particular that I wanted to see was any remnants from Philippe August's walls that surrounded Paris. Here you can see it on the right hand side wedged between two residential buildings.

Here is a side view, but you cannot get the true idea of its height. I believe 33 feet or so was the average height of the walls.

Here is the historical marker.

I will be using those walls in my story, even thought they are not historically accurate to the period. I have done a lot of mental wrestling with that aspect and came to the decision that my dramatic needs of the story have to be primary, and to only use the Roman walls would unnecessarily complicate my plot - therefore Philippe August's walls it shall be that protect Paris from the invading Saracen army.

From there we went to visit the ruins of the Roman arena. It had been buried for centuries and only recently when they were digging the area to build a parking lot was it uncovered. Needless to say, the parking lot lost out to an historical artifact.

You can see how the arena abuts modern residential buildings. It is amazing that it wasn't discovered before.

We took a few minutes out to just sit in the arena and watch children at play. I wonder how many of them realized that they were playing ball in an area where centuries before gladiators were engaged in blood sport.

It was at this point when we rested that I had to massage my legs. My shins, calves, and thighs ached. It was my third day of walking and I was afraid that I was developing shin splints. There was so much more that I needed to see and I simply could not afford to have my body give out on me. The momentary rest was definitely welcomed.

Here is where we sat.

Where the commoners would have sat during the Roman times. The nobles would have sat in the expensive seating which is shown here:

Yita told me that the acoustics are such that you can hear the conversations of people sitting in those boxes when you are in the "cheap seats." Today the arena is used in the summer time for theatrical productions and concerts. It is nice that Parisians can find some purpose to use such an historical landmark.

At this point we were nearing the end of our three hour walking tour and decided to walk to Rue Moufftard. Several of my friends had suggested we visit that famous street because of its atmosphere. I am glad we followed that advice.

While it is historic, Rue Moufftard has the feeling of a French village inside a large metropolitan city.

There was a farmers market that set up at lunch time and the weather was spectacular. The morning had been cool, but by noon it was warm and sunny. Gorgeous.

There is a mural on the side of one of the buildings that I felt was romantic. So yes, I can see why people fall in love with Paris.

At this point it was lunchtime and we were famished. The chocolat drenched pastry had evaporated and I needed more sustenance. As it turned out, Yita had a friend who owned a restaurant on Rue Moufftard and that is where we had lunch.

Oh, it was wonderful. We sat outside on the sidewalk with some shade from an umbrella, but otherwise there was sun to warm your soul. I had a salmon and leek quiche with salad and sparkling water. Scott had a similar lunch, but he chose to split a carafe of wine with Yita.

I did not dare drink wine at that time of the day for my normal propensity for taking an afternoon nap would become overwhelming and I could not take a nap that day. I had so much more to see.

Patricia, the owner of Salle de Manger, made sure that everything was perfect and she even bought the drinks for us since we were friends of Yita.

We had a lovely conversation over lunch and Yita said how much fun she had in planning our tour. She is multilingual, she speaks English, French, Dutch and Indonesian, so she has many different types of tour groups. Some simply want her to be a guide to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. While she does not mind taking people to see those monuments, she found it enjoyable to show off some of the more historical aspects of Paris that are not as sought out by tourists.

Here is a picture of our wonderful guide:

Then it was afternoon and we still had the Cluny and the Crypte Archaeologique to visit.

That will be another post for another day. I am exhausted just remembering how much walking we did that day.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gift ideas for the holidays

In the spirit of trying to help my colleagues sell some books during this gift giving season, I am giving recommendations for books that you can either buy at a bookstore or order online. If you would like to support your local independent bookstore, but need help finding one check out this website or you can follow links from the author's websites and blogs to online retailers.

To help give some visual appeal, I'm including images of their cover art.

My friend Erika Mailman's first major novel was published in September by Random House.

Here is the review I posted of this novel on Amazon.com:

Human nature can be strange. The mentality of a mob for example, shows how brutal people can become when surrounded by others who are filled with passionate anger.

Erika Mailman shows us through the eyes of an elderly woman what it would have been like to live in the Middle Ages when witchcraft was thought to be the cause of any misfortune.

The famine described in this small village of Tierkinddorf, Germany is haunting. It made me feel strange reading the novel while having my lunch. I began to feel guilty knowing that the characters were willing to accuse others of witchcraft just to get a bite to eat.

A scapegoat was needed to place all the blame of the village's misfortune. It was thought that then, all things would revert back to days of plenty. That the famine would end.

The paranoia, the suspicion, the opportunity to point the finger of blame at someone whom you bear a grudge.

An accusation of milk spoiling was enough to damn someone to being burned to death, and you didn't even have to bring forth the spoiled milk as evidence. Your word was enough, if coupled with other such scurrilous complaints, to condemn someone to death.

Given today's sensibilities the thought of public execution is abhorrent. However, it is a gruesome part of our history that drawing and quarterings, beheadings, hangings, and burning at the stake were all done in the village square to serve as a lesson to all.

Beware or it may happen to you.

The Witch's Trinity is a potent tale whose ending surprised me.

I highly recommend it.

Erika's website is here and her blog can be found here.


Jordan Rosenfeld has a book that has just been published by Writers Digest and she will be a return guest speaker at my writers club next weekend. At that time I shall buy a signed copy of the book and be able to provide an informed review. Until that time, know that I have respect for Jordan's professionalism and have every confidence that her book will be filled with wonderful insight into the creative process. Here are links to her website and blog.


Lee Lofland's first book was also a Writers Digest book that was published in August.

Here is my review that I just submitted for Amazon:

This is a great reference book for writers who wish to understand police procedures. It is more than that though.

Lee explains how the hierarchy of law enforcement is structured between local police departments, sheriffs departments, the state police, the FBI, the ATF, the U.S. Marshals and more.

He also gives examples of terminology we all have heard and thought we understood. Such as the difference between a crime scene and the scene of a crime. They are different.

Or the difference between homicide, murder, and manslaughter. No they are not synonyms.

Yes, this book would make a fabulous gift for writers in your life that even want to barely touch on crime as an aspect in their work to help avoid making cringe-worthy mistakes, but it would also make a great gift for anyone who is interested in going into law enforcement.

It would be an excellent reference book for someone trying to understand all the new lingo and terminology involved in that profession. I have to think it would be better written than a lot of dry as sawdust textbooks on the subject.

Lee has a great sense of humor and it comes through on the page.

This is a great book even if you aren't interested in writing about crime or going into law enforcement, for it will help you to understand the occupational complexities of those who are sworn to protect and defend us.

Lee's website can be found here. He has several articles posted on his website, but unfortunately Lee does not maintain a blog. Occasionally he will do a guest spot on a blog, but he has not started to do it on his own yet.


Jeff Sypeck's wonderful book Becoming Charlemagne will be coming out in paperback just before the Christmas holiday. I would recommend either buying the hardcover version or pre-ordering the paperback with the hopes it will arrive in time to your intended recipient.

Here is my review from Amazon:

I've read many books on the Medieval period and Charlemagne in the last two years. This is now one of my favorites.

Jeff Sypeck put the events of the period in a context which allows the reader to understand the various political forces competing against one another during that era, and the skill used by King Charles which ultimately led to him being referred to as King Charles the Great or Charlemagne.

I had read mentions of Empress Irene of the Byzantine Empire before, but her villainy and treachery never really impressed me until reading Sypeck's version. This time it took on the magnitude worthy of Shakespearean tragedies.

The lives of Jews during the time of Charlemagne is a topic I had not seen mentioned at any length in the other various books I read, and Sypeck devoted a chapter to discussing how their treatment which by and large are hidden in the historical record. Charlemagne did not persecute Jews as he did those in his realm who worshiped pagan idols. Many Jews were educated, well-traveled, merchants, and officials in the royal courts.

One Jew was sent by Charlemagne as an ambassador to Baghdad to speak with the leader of the Muslim empire, Harun al-Rashid.

It is the various acts of political gifts from one leader to another (Harun to Charlemagne) which were then perceived as a political slight by other leaders (Empress Irene) that I found most fascinating.

And then there is the dramatic saga of Pope Leo III and his attempted assassination that underscores the dramatic story of Charlemagne's coronation as Emperor.

This isn't dry history with a simple recitation of facts, it is a story of intrigue brought to life.

You know that Shakespeare had to base his stories on something.

Jeff's website is here and his blog can be found here. He was fortunate enough to have a booksigning recorded and broadcast on C-SPAN 2's Book TV. You can watch that online here.


Ari Siletz's collection of short stories is now back in print. With all the saber rattling and demonization by members of the Bush administration against Iran, I think it is more important than ever that people read his book. Through gentle humor, Siletz shows the differences and similarities between Iranian and American culture.

Here is my review on Amazon:

Siletz has a graceful manner in telling stories that leads the reader into territory that feels unfamiliar at the outset, but brings understanding of the commonality of the human condition by the end.

His stories have an autobiographical feel to them, but they are fiction. They are based on his childhood experiences in Iran and are written with an eye towards enlightening American audiences about life in Iran.

One of my favorite stories was "The Dog" for it showed the cultural differences in how dogs are perceived between Iranians and Americans. The funniest aspect was showing how his Iranian family was surprised to hear that anyone could make money selling dog food, dog toys and dog soaps. Because dogs, while not forbidden are considered to be unclean.

A favorite line of mine was "Give a parched Iranian the choice between a glass of water sniffed by a dog and a glass of radioactive waste, and he will have to think about it."

Ari's website and blog can be found here.


For those Harry Potter fans who simply cannot get enough of the series and would like to contemplate deeper meanings to the story, I recommend John Granger's latest book:

Here is a slighted edited version of my review from Amazon:

John Granger has been one of the foremost champions of recognizing the importance of literary alchemy in the Harry Potter series. This is his fourth book examining and analyzing evidence from the wildly popular series.

Many people simply scratch their heads and say, "Alchemy? That weird pseudo-science that predated chemistry? The one where nuts tried to turn lead into gold?"

Yup, that's the one. Except John Granger goes on to explain exactly what alchemy was and wasn't, and why our perceptions of the secretive practice are skewed. He also convincingly argues that literary alchemy is a long-term practice by notable authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce.

Then he gives example after example of the evidence of alchemy in the Harry Potter books. Examples which cannot be simply coincidence.

There is a quote from an interview in 1998 that was recently "discovered" that confirms Jo Rowling's preoccupation with alchemy was found. Simpson, Anne. "Face to Face with J K Rowling: Casting a spell over young minds," The Herald, 7 December 1998

The money words are these:

"I've never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that's a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I've learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I'll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories' internal logic." - J.K. Rowling

Bingo. In one fell swoop, John has been proven correct in his analysis that Jo Rowling uses literary alchemy in structuring her series.

Other ways to tell alchemy plays a large role in the Harry Potter books is by looking at the illustration he chose for the cover of this book. Do you see the Golden Snitch?

Buy his books, read them over, and then read the Harry Potter books again. You will then recognize that there are layers of meaning and structure beneath the text.

John's blog is here and the website for Zossima Press is here.


Teresa LeYung Ryan wrote a beautiful novel that is still available.

Here is another slightly edited version of my Amazon review:
Love Made of Heart is a wonderful book filled with emotion and drama from page 1.

I want to vicariously experience the lives of the characters while turning the pages. I want to laugh, to cry, to feel fully human and alive.

I want dramatic conflict. I want to read things that I would find terribly uncomfortable in real life. Conflict is drama.

This book has all of that, and it is done with grace and a deft touch. Anyone who has a mother should be able to recognize the various guilt trips that Ruby Lin's mother tries to repeatedly foist off on her. It rings true.

I look forward to reading LeYung Ryan's next book.

Teresa's website can be found here.


My father wrote his autobiography several years ago and it is an insightful book regarding dyslexia.

He is an amazing teacher. I have seen him sit down and work his magic with people who had given up on themselves and thought that they could never learn to read. It is simply amazing and if you would like to see him in action you can that here. Within a few minutes, he is able to get a student who thinks he cannot read into correctly reading the word "malicious."

Here is my review on Amazon:

Don McCabe writes a compelling autobiography to illustrate what it is like to grow up dyslexic. He was born in 1932 and this was well before "dyslexia" was a term, let alone a diagnosis. He was just treated as a boy who couldn't sit still. He credits his older sister and wonderful teachers who worked intensively with him to help him learn to read and eventually to become a respected scholar. McCabe has dedicated the last thirty years to working on literacy. This book is a quick, fun read that shows a good dose of humor helps in discussing serious topics such as dyslexia. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed as dyslexic, don't wring your hands in despair - buy this book and learn from someone who knows first hand about what it means to be a dyslexic.

My father's website which contains a wealth of information on literacy can be found here.


If you would like lighter fare, how about a joke book or two? My friend Rob Loughran has collected and perfected jokes over the last thirty odd years as a waiter. You can get them in small themed books or in one huge compendium.

It is filled with jokes guaranteed to offend and to make you laugh. Almost 700 pages worth of jokes. My father loved the copy I sent him a few years ago for Father's Day and he keeps it in his personal reading library (also known as the bathroom.)

You can buy Rob's joke books here.


Lastly, there is the latest anthology my writers club has released. It includes submissions by twenty-six members of the Redwood Writers branch of the California Writers Club including Rob Loughran and myself. I am partial and think it is a lovely book.

You can buy that here.

Here's hoping that my recommendations will help people in their quest to find a great gift for a friend or loved one or to supplement one's own bookshelf.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

My take on the Beowulf movie

I wanted to put forth my thoughts on the movie while others in the blogosphere are still interested. For those who haven't seen it yet and would like to remain unspoiled, please just go to my last post and avoid reading any further. Otherwise, if you are interested in someone's reaction to the movie to decide whether or not it is worth your time and money...stick around. I will offer a different type of analysis of the movie than other reviews I have read.

I do not disagree with any of their assessments, but I wish to analyze through a lens focusing on drama.

First off, I will admit that I have not read the classic epic poem of Beowulf. I bought the Seamus Heaney translation and it is on my bookshelf in the "to be read" pile, but as of yet its spine is still pristine.

So I went into the movie without the expectations that fans of the epic poem had. I simply wanted to be entertained. I shall read it in the near future and see how they deviated from the classic tale.

I love engaging in that kind of analysis. I have read and dissected screenplays as well as take copious notes of movies scene by scene. There are choices to be made by screenwriters in translating source material to a different medium that deal with timing and narrative flow. Sometimes I agree with their choices and other times I disagree.

I have been delighted when certain aspects of books that I thought were particularly boring were cut or streamlined. I have also been disappointed when vital plot points or complexities in a story are cut in order to maximize action/adventure sequences. I feel that kind of treatment diminishes the overall dramatic potential of the material and confuses the audience.

I prefer deeply moving emotional scenes between characters over ones where I'm gripping the seat watching someone hang by their fingernails from a ledge or dodging the teeth from a monster for the umpteenth time. After a short while, I find myself annoyed with action/adventure sequences that seem to go on ad infinitum.

I feel the same way with car chases, fight scenes, etc. Very few do I think warrant the amount of screen time that they now receive.

Beowulf's action sequences fit that description. They went on too long for my liking, but that is not what bothers me the most about the movie. It is the lack of a sympathetic main character.

Beowulf was a jerk.

Not a hero. He was an ass.

He was brave and strong, but also vain and arrogant. He craved glory, but lacked honor.

He showed no attempt at trying to live up to the ideals of the Chivalric Code. He was a powerful warrior and king, but not a hero.

It is fine for secondary characters to have those qualities, but it should not be the main character in a story.

That I think is the fatal flaw in the movie. The audience is never allowed to care what happens to the lead character.

There is one scene in particular that illustrates to the audience how vainglorious our "hero" is. It could have been done much differently and achieved a different effect.

Beowulf decided that he needed to match Grendel in regards to arms and armor. That meant he chose to put them all aside. That is an honorable act. Similar to setting aside your pistol if you find your dueling opponent is wielding a knife.

However, Beowulf announced his plan to the queen as he began undressing while standing directly in front of her.

I found that scene to be an attempt to intimidate the queen. A woman he had been making eyes at all evening long.

Beowulf could have said gracious remarks about her singing and suggest that she turn in for the night as the fight would start shortly and he needed to ready himself. At that point he could have mentioned his need to divest himself of arms, armor, and clothes. She would then have had the chance to blush, leave and possibly sneak a peak at him after she left the room if she was so bold.

Instead he stripped in front of her as if daring her to not look down and assess his manly prowess.

Arrogance. Not a particularly attractive attribute in heroes.

Could that movie have saved with a different script? Maybe.

I tend to think it might have been a better movie if a better actor had been cast for the role.

The only way would have been in they had not cast merely a good actor, but a brilliant actor to play the title role. So that even if the main character was vain and arrogant, the audience would still like him.

It would be tough, but still possible.

I recall what I learned from the late great Michael Shurtleff. In his book Audition: Everything an actor needs to know to get the part he gave examples from his time as a casting director on Broadway. One was during the casting of Jesus Christ Superstar and the field was narrowed down to two actors to play the role of Judas Iscariot.

There were two camps of supporters for the different actors. The votes were evenly split with the musical director as the one to cast the deciding vote. Michael was asked by him why he supported Ben Vereen for the part.

Michael said that his reasoning was that even though both actors were very talented, Candidate A was "remote and disdainful" and Vereen was "lovable."

Here is his explanation about that subject of likability in performers:

"You're always ahead if you cast a performer who is likable. Unlikable performers can sometimes have long, even important, careers, if they have talent, fascination, sexuality, and uniqueness, but some odd chemistry always happens in their relationship to an audience. Frequently the audience does not know they don't like a performer, but they are disturbed by him (or her), and the elements work in a strange, frequently unpredictable way. I have seen too many productions in which the actor comes off with great notices and the project fails -- because the actor is arrogant." page 170 in the trade paperback edition.

I have reflected on his pearls of wisdom for years now and I recognize that as being the difference between good actors and brilliant actors.

Think of the television series M*A*S*H. I prefer the episodes with Charles Emerson Winchester III as the third man in The Swamp over the ones with Frank Burns because while Winchester was a pompous bore, you realized that he really did not want to be there either. His character was sympathetic. Burns was just an ass. There is nothing sympathetic about him. I cheered as Ferret Face bore the brunt of practical jokes and did not miss him when he left the series.

I feel that David Ogden Stiers is a far better actor than Larry Linville.

Getting back to Beowulf, I feel that Ray Winstone did not deliver on what was needed for the role.

The success of the movie hinged on the main character being someone audiences liked.

Another example I would like to mention is a movie where the pivotal role was cast appropriately: Thank You for Smoking.

Aaron Eckhart played Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for big tobacco, whose character said outrageous things, and yet, I laughed as he said them. Why?

Because he was charming.

The movie would not have worked with someone less talented.

It was imperative that Nick Naylor be played by someone who could smile with a wicked glint in his eyes while delivering logic that defied rational thought. It was wicked satire and it walked a fine tightrope, but it worked.

Robert Zemekis's Beowulf did not work.

And it was not because of the artistic choice of using motion-captured animation rather than live action, it was because the main character was unsympathetic.

It is imperative that audiences feel comfortable with the main character. If they do not care what happens to them or feel that the character deserves a tragic Karmic Fate - it does not bode well for overall audience satisfaction.

I cannot say that I would recommend the movie. Nor would I say that I am all that interested in watching it a second time. I would probably rent it on Netflix simply to see the extras, to see deleted scenes, audio commentary, etc. because I am adore that kind of information.

I would much rather watch Pan's Labyrinth again than Beowulf.


Friday, November 16, 2007

The show *must* go on or there are no "do overs" in live theatre

My son is in his first play and he's nervous.

It's an elementary school Thanksgiving pageant, so we're not talking Broadway or even with a local theatre troup.

It's also about fifteen minutes in length, so it's not a big production. However, it will be his first time in front of an audience. He also has one of the leading roles.

Today is his dress rehearsal and I am at work. I cannot be there with him to help settle his jitters prior to his first performance.

Last night as I was trying to get him to focus on finishing his homework, he had a minor meltdown. After a little questioning, he told me about his nerves about the play.

I was expecting that it was due to mere procrastination and dislike of homework, but once he admitted his fears I was able to give him a pep talk explaining my own tales from the stage.

Back when I was in high school I had been in a few plays and enjoyed those experiences thoroughly. I told my son about the magical nature between actors onstage and the audiences. That actors cannot know exactly how audiences will react to their production until their first performance.

One scene I remember vividly was where the character who played the patriarch of a family appeared to be dead. He sat in a chair motionless. Two characters approached him with apprehension and quietly suggested a morbid possibility.

His wife then came onstage and quickly assessed the situation realizing the others' fears.

She went up to her husband, gave him a hard shake and said, "Sander wake up!"

He shook his head, gave a grunt of "what?"

She followed with, "The children thought you were dead!"

The audience howled with laughter. They had been led to believe that the play was now going to be dealing with a death, and instead it was a false alarm. Their nervousness was replaced with laughter.

The first night that happened, I was surprised because for some reason I had not understand that scene at all. Its significance was not clear to me until we had an audience and heard their reaction.

I was not the only actor who was surprised by the audience's laughter. Only then did we truly understand the material we were working with and knew what to expect from audiences.

I told my son that he would have this same kind of magical experience the first time his class performed in front of an audience. Only then will they know when to expect laughter or gasps, etc.

A week earlier my son asked me, "What if I mess up my lines?"

I told him the old adage, "The show must go on."

Then I told him the story from that same play that had been a production of Flint Community Players entitled Time Steps by Gus Kaikkonen.

The second act of that play used several scenes using different parts of the stage. It was the start a scene - freeze - have other characters speak - freeze - continue until the act is finished style.

The first scene showed four characters playing a board game. I was in later scenes in that act where my character (I was seventeen and playing a fifteen year old girl) was with a twenty-something young man. One of those scenes included a stage kiss.

On closing night, the actor who played my grandfather made a mistake. His mind jumped ahead to the lines which opened the ending scene of the second act rather than the opening scene. So he said something like, "That's enough for tonight, I'm going to bed."

Everything could have been saved at that point if the next actor realized the problem and said, "No, come on, Dad, let's play just a little longer." Instead, he followed his cue and started to pack up the board.

I stood offstage with my partner in horror. There was the entire second act that now needed to be salvaged. We had to wait until there was a pause in the action for us to make our entrance.

The four actors did their best trying to insert lines of dialogue in a frantic manner to cover all the important plot points. Finally the actors quit talking so it was a "freeze" for me and "Benny" to enter the stage. We started our scene, but as soon as we kissed - the other actors started talking again!


That meant we had to keep our kiss frozen until they shut up, so we could finish our scene.

I remember thinking, "I'm going to kill someone over this."

I felt bad for my fellow actor since it probably was worse for him than myself to have a prolonged stage kiss. He had to have developed a krick in his neck having to keep it lowered to accomodate my short stature, because I'm sure I had not leaned upward to kiss him. If I had, I would have probably lost my balance holding that position for so long.

Later when the other actors stopped talking we finished our scene. At the end of the act, we left the stage.

I remember that the actor who played my father apologized to me backstage. He felt awful.

The man responsible for the debacle did not make eye contact with anyone. He slunk into the men's dressing room to change for the third act.

The thing was: the audience never knew we messed up.

They didn't know there were any problems whatsoever.

The most surprising thing to me was when I realized that the crew did not recognize the problem either. The backstage crew who had watched our rehearsals for over a month, and our performances for two weeks, did not realize that the second act had not gone according to the script.

The woman who was in charge of the props looked at me and asked why I was upset. I whispered, "Didn't you see what happened out there?"

She had no idea.

Because we covered all the bases so well.

I realized then how good of a theatrical team we had become. We had pulled together and avoided a potential disaster. The audience left without knowing how much different that performance was from all the previous performances.

I also had some extended family members in the audience and I asked them if they noticed anything amiss. They didn't.


Lo these many years later, I still remember the nervousness and anxiety I felt that night when things did not go according to plan and feeling relieved when our teamwork had worked and the play continued.

We did not break the scene and ask that we start anew. We did not laugh with "bloopers" or "out-takes." Nope. We simply continued and made it work.

Being in live theatre means that you are performing without a safety net and the show *must* go on. No matter what happens onstage. You must keep going.

Now, my son will not have any stage kisses in this production, but he at least knows that his mother has survived theatrical mishaps and did not die of embarrassment.

He also knows about the phrase "break a leg."

Go get 'em tiger!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wednesday morning in Paris, Part I: coffee, churches, shin splints, Roman ruins and Rue Moufftard

Wednesday morning came and we needed coffee in a big way. We had a lot of ground to cover and we needed caffeine.

Scott did not want to drink espresso for his morning cup of coffee because he would rather slowly infuse himself to achieve his therapeutic range of caffeine rather than have it concentrated in a few swallows.

During our previous reconnaissance missions we spied a Starbucks a few blocks away north of Hôtel de Ville. I was feeling a little more confident in my French ordering skills and was able to not only get the sized coffee I wanted, but an incredibly rich breakfast item.

It looked like a piece of French toast, but I cannot remember its name.

The server asked me if I would like something on it. I forget all of the various options she mentioned, except for the one I chose: chocolat.

As I said chocalat in my best French accent we smiled at each other and any cultural differences between us disappeared. We were two women that shared a common love for chocolate.

Mmmm, it was rich. That pastry was warm and drenched in chocolate sauce.

Scott shook his head when he looked at my choice, and he stuck with a simple croissant. He missed out.

I knew that no matter how many calories or grams of fat in my breakfast that it would be worn off by the end of the morning. That's because we were going on a walking tour of Paris.

My friend Erika Mailman visited France last year and blogged about it as well. She recommended Paris Walks to me and said it was one of the best things that she did for herself while in Paris. I wanted to follow her suggestion, but I knew that scheduling might pose a problem.

Their Medieval themed walks only take place on Mondays, when we were enveloped in a sea of humanity known as Charles De Gaulle International Airport. It would have been impossible for me to even fantasize that we could make it to Paris in time to be a part of that tour group. Knowing that reality, I had to either find another similar group tour or hire a private guide.

I thought the price for Paris Walks' private tours to be ghastly expensive at 160 Euros for two hours and 210 Euros for three hours.

We also missed by about two weeks being able to get in on one of Leonard Pitt's walking tour. He wrote the fabulous book Walks through Lost Paris.

I spent several days Googling the subject and trying to weigh my options. The best I found was Paris Walkabout whose price for a three hour guided tour was 135 Euros.

I worked with Tom Hillyard to devise a tour based on my own particular needs.

Yita Hillyard was our guide and she did a wonderful job.

She met us at 9 a.m. outside the main entrance of Hôtel Dieu and we began our walk starting with the ancient streets on the Isle de la Cité. We were shown artifacts of Medieval Paris that had not been destroyed by Baron Haussman's wrecking balls.

We saw the narrow streets where the houses were not kept in straight parallel lines to one another. In fact some of them became quite narrow, making it difficult in today's world for any motorized vehicles to travel down them.

She also showed us courtyards which centuries ago had doorways for horses. They now appear to be garages, but many years ago the horse power contained was of the distinct equine variety.

Here are two examples and you can see that the doorways to the houses themselves have undergone different treatment as well. One is bricked up while the other still appears to be in use.

We then walked to the Left Bank and entered one of the oldest churches in Paris: Saint Julien-Le-Pauvre. Here is a nice online source of the history of the church which was first recorded by Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks dating back to the sixth century. The current building only dates back to the twelfth century and has undergone many renovations and is now a Greek Orthodox church.

With the sudden immersion in all things French, my husband had a momentary lapse which I thought comical. He wanted to know why a saint would be named after pepper. I knew that pauvre meant poor, but I then drew a mental blank for the French word for pepper.

Yita helped us out and said, "poivre." Thank goodness she was not offended.

I do think that Saint Julien of the poor is a much better name than Saint Julien of the pepper.

On the inside you can see the pointed Gothic arches and Greek influence.

On the outside you can see remnants of past architectural designs, particularly in the partial blocking of a portion of a window.

I learned to look for that in the many churches we visited during our trip to France. There are also vestiges of a wall and columns on the second story that were not completely removed.

We then went to nearby Saint Severin which was built at a later period and has the flamboyant
Gothic look. The church was one of the few churches we came across that was closed to visitors and so we did not go inside.

It also had gargoyles gracing its side.

We also came across a really narrow alleyway. I get claustrophobia just looking at it.

I can see how fires from one building would easily spread to another when only a skinny cat could walk down that alley without difficulty.

There is so much more to share about the walking tour, but I think I may have come up against Blogger's maximum allowable pictures per post, so I shall have to make this Part I and continue this later.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November 12th, Saint Namphaise Day

According to some online Catholic directories, today is the Feast Day in honor of Saint Namphaise.

Of course, with the sheer number of Catholic saints who were canonized over the years, he is not the only saint honored on November 12th. I doubt that there will soon be a movement for cities to hold parades like they do for good old Saint Patrick. Regardless, I shall raise a glass of wine tonight in tribute to my favorite hermit saint. I shall also remember the day that I scrambled around the ruins near the Gouffre de Lantouy that according to legend were once associated with Saint Namphaise.

I have been out of town, but now that I am back I hope to be able to finish my blogging on Paris. There still is so much more that I need to chronicle about my travels while my memory is fresh.

À bientôt!


Thursday, November 8, 2007

links to help navigate my site

The website of French Entree has published a second article based on my posts about my trip to France. For those who would like to read more of my travels, you will find them here.

For those interested in my posts on writing you can find them here.

And anyone wanting to read about my nitpicky thoughts on the Harry Potter series can read them here.

I want to include the name of a restaurant we ate at on Rue Moufftard and am waiting for confirmation by the woman who gave us a walking tour so I can make the post as complete as possible. Once I get that, I shall continue my series on my travels in France.

Au revoir,


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It is time for Champagne

I shall be celebrating this weekend properly with a bottle of champagne.

It is not my own good news, but that of a friend.

The late great Molly Ivins said during a commencement address:

"(M)y second piece of advice....you must have fun. You must work at having fun. Let me tell you, you can't put it off. You've gotta have fun while you're fighting to fix the world, because first of all, we don't always win, so it might get to be all the fun you'll ever have, and second of all, it's a better way to live. If you don't have fun while you're fighting to make a better world, what's gonna happen is you're gonna get tired and bitter and cynical and burnt out and just wind up a complete waste to everybody. So just put fun on your list."

I did not attend that particular commencement, but I had the good fortune to see Molly Ivins speak in person on more than one occasion. She mentioned that advice often because she felt it was important.

I agree.

We all need to make it a point to celebrate positive events in our lives.

I will also use positive events in my friends' lives as an excuse to celebrate as well.

Why not?

Life is filled with disappointments, we should revel when things go right.

A dear friend of mine, who I have known for nearly fifteen years, had told me that she wanted to write her memoirs. I know enough about the genre to know that it has its own particular rules and that I did not know enough to be of much help in the writing of the book.

I gave her links and suggestions regarding the genre and thought that she would benefit from a ghost writer.

I helped match her with a fabulous and experienced ghost writer who had worked on many high profile biographies. Unfortunately, the timing did not work out for their partnership.

The ghost writer is a new mother and she tried to step back into the writing life too early, and the demands of motherhood overwhelmed her.

So my friend decided that rather than try to find another ghost writer that she would write her life story herself.

And what a powerful story it is. I helped her with the book proposal, mostly by changing formatting. I also suggested shuffling a few things around, condensing, and some minor editing.

I knew that ultimately, even if it was not rock solid, letter-perfect that it would be the strength of her platform that would make agents (and I am sure publishers in the very near future) work quickly to sign her.

In fact, she had five agents vying to sign her as a client.

Then again, she has been the recipient of the Humanitarian Award from the United Nations Human Rights Commission for her leadership on an issue of global significance.

That leadership is what had also led her to befriend Alice Walker, be a guest on Oprah Winfrey's show, and the distinction of writing and performing her own piece in the Vagina Monologues.

Soraya Miré is a survivor of Pharaonic circumcision, the most severe form of female genital mutilation and she has dedicated her life to opposing the practice.

She made the critically acclaimed documentary film Fire Eyes that was featured at the Sundance Film Festival, the International Women's Conference in Beijing and given the award for Best Documentary at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

Like I said, Soraya has a platform that would make just about any agent jump.

She interviewed five agents over the phone, and chose the one she felt most comfortable.

I wish her all the best in the world.

I know in my bones that her book The Girl with Three Legs is destined for the best sellers list.

Once she signs with a publisher, I shall celebrate with champagne again.

In case anyone wondered, I try to always have a couple bottles on hand for when Life is Good.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Vander Ark/Rowling Brouhaha

I feel as if I need to comment regarding the lawsuit filed by J.K. Rowling against Steve Vander Ark and RDR Books.

I feel obligated if for no other reason than I publicly lauded Mr. Vander Ark previously on this blog when I castigated the interview of Jo Rowling conducted in 2005 by Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz and suggested that Vander Ark would have been a better choice.

I think at this point I need to make a disclosure about my previous interactions with Steve.

I consider him to be an acquaintance, not a fandom friend. I doubt that he would disagree with that assessment.

I have fandom friends. Some I have met in person, others only via the warmth of email correspondence.

A few fandom friends I have met in person. I also have fandom acquaintances that I have met, but have not developed any sustained correspondences.

In all likelihood, Steve probably does not really know or care who I am.

My fandom credentials were based primarily in the shipping realm and that is a topic he did not care much about.

I've corresponded with him a few times over the past six years. It would have been intermittant and also not at any real length. I have also met him twice.

Once was at Nimbus when he gave a presentation with my friend Penny Linsenmayer on the Geography of Harry Potter and I introduced myself to him after the talk. The second was at Sonorus this past June when I introduced myself to him before the talk.

Our talks were brief and well, perfunctory. I did not reference our intermittant email exchanges, nor try to engage him in speculations.

He may or may not have even recognized my name since I am sure he has corresponded with thousands of fandomers, whilst I could probably claim a tenth or less of that number.

Okay? I know him, but not well.

He came across as being the consummate fan. He was devoted to the Potterverse and spent countless hours obsessing over the minutest detail.

In fact it is due to his wildly popular website that I first realized some of the discrepancies in the books. Small, seemingly insignificant details such as dates of events not meshing with calendars. Or even the whole Marcus Flint being a burly 6th Year Slytherin in the first book, and that Flint should not still have been at Hogwarts during the third book.

Hence the term "Flint" to describe canon mistakes or "inconsistencies."

Steve is a powerful public speaker and his slide show presentation at Sonorus was fabulous.

I was not surprised to learn that he wanted to write a book chronicling all the work he did analyzing the series. I think there is a market for his book.

I was surprised to learn that Jo Rowling sought to stop the publication of his book.

First of all, I do not believe that it will compete at all with any future definitive encyclopedic book on the Harry Potter series that she will write.

It cannot.

She said that she would provide backstory for characters that due to space and other plot considerations did not appear in the books.

I for one would love to know more, much more about Sirius Black. Forget Dumbledore's sexuality, I want to know about Sirius's sex life. I want to know if he was straight, gay, bi-, tri- or a monk. If she does that, I will certainly buy one more of her books.

I expect that she will include things in her tome that have been cut from the books due to editorial decisions. She had an "Easter Egg" on her website of a song she wrote for Nearly-Headless Nick that was cut from the book. She also included sketches she made of characters. Those are cool extras. Things that Steve Vander Ark in a million years could not create, because he is not the author of the Harry Potter series.

He is merely someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time analyzing the series and categorizing it.

The two are not the same.

Anyone who is a fan of the series that is willing to plunk down $30 for Steve's book will certainly be willing to purchase Jo's book once it is available.

That said, I have read the lawsuit that was filed and am a bit dismayed at the response by RDR books.

It appears by the various press coverage that they have not provided Rowling or her legal representatives with a manuscript of the forthcoming book.

I do not understand why they were unwilling to do so.

If they were as careful to not infringe on her intellectual property rights as they claim, then they should have nothing to hide.

I do not know if they consulted with intellectual property attornies during the pre-production of the book or not, but they should have.

Just because J.K. Rowling's publishers have not sued the publishers of other Harry Potter companion books in the past is no guarantee that they would not in the future. If you were to have great chunks of text in the book, I would expect that she would want to be compensated.

They should have had an eye towards that possibility.

If they did not, then they were ill advised on the project.

According to The Leaky Cauldron's coverage, the initial correspondence by the lawyers representing Warner Brothers issuing cease and desist letters to RDR Books constituted:
"an attempt to open a dialogue. "

There is also this summation of the position from RDR:

RDR claims not to have given JKR’s people a copy of the book because “we don’t have a copy to give them…because the book hasn’t been published yet.” Asked why they didn’t hand over a manuscript, Mr. Harris said, “how would it benefit us in any way? This is the result of a barrage of letters from their lawyers in the last two months. Late i the game they came forward and wanted to see the manuscript, after they’ve been threatening to sue us and everything. How is it going to help us in any way to show them the manuscript except to provide them with more information. At this stage are they going to say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry?’ and go away? I don’t think so.”

Excuse me, but if you have garnered the interest of WB's lawyers they will want to make sure that their legal rights have not been infringed. Prior or post publication if they do not like your book, they will probably sue.

Warner Brothers is a huge company, RDR Books is a small publisher. I would bet that WB is can afford to incure massive legal bills more than RDR Books.

Even if the judgment goes RDR's way and they are allowed to publish the book as is and without giving any monetary compensation to WB, there is no guarantee that any judge will obligate WB to pay RDR's legal bills.

I think RDR should have shown their manuscript to Warner Brothers' legal counsel and then made any modifications if that would have resolved the issue.

None of the approximately 30 companion books on the market received any permission from Jo Rowling, Scholastic, Bloomsbury, Raincoast, or Warner Brothers as far as I am aware. This is the first time that I believe she has sued to stop a companion book.

One other interesting thing to note is that there is another Harry Potter themed book that might be released on the same date of November 28th, 2007 that Steve Vander Ark's book is due out. This book actually has the word "encyclopedic" in its title:

Mugglenet.com's Unofficial Harry Potter Companion: The Encyclopedic Guide to the Books, Movies and More by Emerson Spartz and Ben Schoen.

However, then again that book might have been killed.

It is listed on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk. There are no cover images, but that is not an unusual thing for Amazon.com . I have seen forthcoming books that are due out in paperback that would have the same cover as the hardcover version not having an image shown on Amazon.

The Canadian site has a different availability date than the American or British websites. It says:
Availability: Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock.

More ominous is that the book is not mentioned anywhere on the publisher's website. One would think that since their best selling title was the previous Mugglenet.com's book that they would proudly be mentioning a follow up book by the same authors.

They aren't.

The only mention of an upcoming title for their teen category is Secret Book of Dragons due out in January 2008.

So it may be that Ulysses Press was contacted by JKR's lawyers and the project was scuttled.

If so, I'd like that to be part of the press coverage.

If on the other hand, the Mugglenet.com book comes out later this month and Ulysses Press worked with her lawyers to alleviate any concerns regarding her intellectual rights, then I think that should be discussed in the press coverage as well.

Moving on to a related topic:

The disputed timeline.

I remember after the DVD of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets came out that there was a bit of elation in the fandom. Because we thought it settled the question of Hermione's age.

People were wondering (and debating) whether or not she was born in 1980 or 1981. Was she eleven years old when she started at Hogwarts on September 1st, 1991 or only ten?

There were a few canon clues, but none definitively answered that question.

Steve Vander Ark took the position that canon suggested 1981, but that 1980 could not be ruled out.

He put 1981 on his timeline on the Harry Potter Lexicon.

On the DVD extras, they had a timeline of the Wizarding world. It also said 1981.

Then again, according to Steve it was his timeline verbatim.

Supposedly, JKR signed off on the timeline and the fandom started to think that the question of Hermione's age was resolved.

Of course we now know that she was born in 1980. Otherwise Hermione would still have been an "underage witch" at the beginning of Deathly Hallows and that would have seriously impacted the plot.

Steve Vander Ark has sued Warner Brothers for taking his timeline for their DVDs without his permission. He is seeking compensation.

I do not know the dollar amount he is seeking.

Warner Brothers disputes his claim.

Frankly, without having access to all the primary documents, I believe that the likely scenario is someone at Warner Brothers was assigned to come up with some elements for CD-Rom for the DVD extras. These are things that would insure that fans actually purchase the official studio DVDs and not just buy pirated copies of the feature length films.

I can envision a twenty-something assigned the task who found Steve's website and decided it was cool and snagged it. Without even sending him a notice or asking for permission or even offering some money to him.

They could have offered him a few hundred bucks for the privilege, which would have probably been less than Warner Brothers' snack budget for a single day of filming. More importantly, I think Vander Ark would have been elated to have his name and website URL appear on a Warner Brothers DVD.

Instead, I believe this proverbial twenty-something just put that timeline in the in-box of their boss and the executives at Warner Brothers never knew its origins.

I do not believe that Warner Brothers knowingly violated his copyright. However, if one of their employees did the deed, I believe they are still legally responsible.

(Note: I am not a lawyer. This is simply my personal opinion and how I would come down if I were a juror and if the facts of the case were as I hypothesized.)

I look at the cover of Steve's book and I concur with the lawyers from Warner Brothers. There is not a prominent disclaimer on the front cover stating that this book is not endorsed by J.K. Rowling like the one by George Beahm. It could be considered as misleading by consumers. Then again, other companion books have not included such disclaimers on their front covers and she has not sued them.

Oooooh, I discovered another ominous sign. Steve's book is no longer listed on Amazon.com. I was going to reference his cover from there and could not find it. Not under his name, nor under the title.

It is still listed on Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk - both have the publication date as November 5th. I wonder if it will actually ship or if the lawsuit will halt its distribution in other countries.

If anyone in Canada or in the U.K. has ordered the book and gets it, please let me know. I am curious as to whether or not it will be blocked.

Overall, I find this whole affair to be dismaying.

I think the marketplace is large enough to accomodate a hard copy version of the online Harry Potter Lexicon that J.K. Rowling praised and an encyclopedic book by the author herself.

I also wish that the publisher for Steve Vander Ark had shown more professionalism in this matter.

Time will tell what happens in court, but it is not a happy day for the Harry Potter fandom-at-large or the publishing world.