Archive for June, 2012

May came, and for all the people it took with it, it couldn’t have left too soon. I was beginning to wonder if these people knew something the rest of us hadn’t figured out yet, perhaps getting an early start on the Mayan 2012 rush. Then Ray Bradbury left us and I had a strange feeling like there really was a connection.

The Transit of Venus.

It visits twice, eight years apart, with a century-plus in between pairings. Charging across the sun, I imagined the Greeks seeing the goddess flying across the sky, making a brief visit to check in and then departing on her journey across the universe. The hop-skip-jump of imagery made it all seem so logical: Venus was a tour bus dropping off its last group of passengers back in 2004, refueling, then picking up the next tour group this year. The announcements went out in May and those with tickets climbed aboard.

the transit of venus

dashing across the sun
first to off-board

returning eight years later
to pick up new travelers

a final boarding call
was sent out in may

collecting visionaries
for a galactic tour

writers and artists
musicians, teachers, dreamers

traveling time’s distorted rails
will return home refreshed

their brief two weeks
a mere century on earth

their visions rekindled
to guide us further

beyond the sun
beyond our imaginations

At the same time I realized all this Laura Purdie Salas offered up a nebula-sized bit of inspiration for her weekly 15-words-or-less challenge. I went with an acrostic I thought appropriate.

(22 august 1920 – 5 june 2012)


and spaceships

daring visionaries
birth entire
universes that become our


Godspeed, galactic travelers.

Bonus time! Found this awesome NASA video of Venus zipping past the sun. Stunning.

In a smaller universe called the Internet, it’s Poetry Friday. Head on over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup for more.

Read Full Post »

Our national cinema, when we need to show that something is important, that will rock us deep to the core, we always go for the presidential seal. Once things get all the way up the chain to the Commander-in-Chief you know that’s where the buck is going to stop. But what does it mean to have the highest office in the land (well, here in the ol’ US of A that is) used so freely in our national storytelling?

Recently while watching the movie Air Force One I couldn’t stop wondering what the founding fathers would have made of Harrison Ford’s portrayal as president James Marshall. Would a bunch of dudes who were so eager to create a new form of government where no one branch would be more in control than another have appreciated this portrayal of the head of state as a man of action, able to single-handedly defeats terrorists on board, fly the plane itself for a bit, and then perform a dramatic escape in air via zip line to another plane? The events themselves are patently absurd – if we had a presidential candidate that buff I’m guessing the election would have been decided in an epic arm wrestling match. But leaving aside those improbabilities, why was it important to make fictional American president the hero?

When you look at the history of actors who have played fictional presidents it seems like there was a hands-off policy at either portraying or making fun of the office until after Nixon. There are a couple portrayals in the 30s (including the most bizarre Gabriel Over the White House in which divine intervention converts a fat cat into a benevolent fascist with a little help from god) and a few more in the 60s (Dr Strangelove) but seriously, after Nixon, the gloves are off and the president transitions from wimpy buffoon (Being There, Escape From New York) to in-your-face catchphrase-spouting dudes (Air Force One, Independence Day) to everything in between (Dave, Americathon).

Is the United States the only nation that does this, that creates fictional versions of its top official for entertainment purposes? Occasionally, yes, an international spy thriller will need various heads of state to give the nod or order the plot further into motion, but are their European movies whose leaders are taking names and busting heads of CIA task forces who dare threaten them?

And at the very least, what could the rest of the world make of so much Hollywood product dedicated to projecting our elected officials as heroic stoics or power-mad? Once you compare these cardboard toughs with the actual candidates running for office in any election year the disconnect is so great that it wouldn’t be hard for outsiders to assume American citizens are clueless to their own delusions. We want Arnold Schwartzenegger, or at the very least Morgan Freeman, but in the end would settle for Tom Hanks.

In the end I don’t think it does us any good to focus so much time and energy on this idea of a president being as integral to our entertainment as they are to running the country. In fact, I would rather our politicians quit trying to manage their images in appearing “presidential” and instead focus a little more on the real heroics of making things work.

I don’t imagine Hollywood would make a movie of that. Not enough ass-kicking going on.

Read Full Post »

It’s a very simple equation, one I’m sure others have come across elsewhere, but it struck me with an arrow of truth last week. If there is a problem with the publishing industry as it stands it comes down to the disconnect between the motivations of the writer and the publisher.

I came about this a roundabout way. I happened onto a marketer’s blog post discussing what made Steve Jobs, and by extension Apple, so successful. The crux came from a quote from Jobs at the end of his recent biography:

“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation.”

Many companies have this upside down, or if they start as innovators they quickly switch over to a profit-first mentality to maintain their position. The idea is that if you innovate, people will come, and profits will grow, allowing you to innovate further. This lead me reconsider what I felt about Steve Jobs last year when he died, how I had come to think of him as the Edison of this century. But that’s not exactly a good analogy, because where Edison may have refined existing patents he is credited with creating the technology that is still with us. Jobs did not invent nor is he credited with inventing the computer, the phone, the television, or the music playback device. He didn’t even invent the MP3 file technology that the iPod uses to store and playback music. What he did was take what was familiar and ask the question: How can I make this consumer product more friendly, inviting, fun, and turn it into a brand people can trust?

Essentially, Jobs is the Disney of our age, not the Edison.

Walt Disney did not invent movies, animation, or the amusement park. Hell, he didn’t even create new characters or stories to tell in his animation once he started making feature films. What he did was insist on instilling passion into great products that people would enjoy. He may have been a tyrant to his employees, as has been reported, but he was no petty dictator. He pushed his people to innovate and his legacy of creation continues nearly fifty years after his death. People don’t often remember (or know these days) that he mortgaged his personal property and his entire company to create Disneyland. Had that gamble failed it’s difficult to imagine what would have happened, but Disney was passionate and he was certain that if his people were motivated to make something great, then success was assured.

In reading about the history of publishing in America over the years I have come to believe there may have been a time when publishers were more in line with Jobs and Disney than the corporate entities they have become. There was a time when author and editor were both striving for something great, that profit was not the determining factor. Editors built stables of authors and nurtured talent because they believed in them, and in return that quality generated profits. Today, the profit-first model prevails, and a movie-tie-in complete with residual merchandising trumps the notion that quality is a motivating factor.

Are writers similarly motivated by profit in creating a work, or are they more interested in the quality of storytelling first? This gets tricky, as writers are now expected to market their works and to nail that sales pitch before anyone will bother to look at it. In many craft books there are instructions for plotting a narrative arc only after the summary has been honed as a guide stone. Lord help the writer who can’t rattle off their elevator speech at a convention even before they’ve finished their first draft!

It’s reductionist to insist that all writers, publishers, and editors behave as a unified front, but its hard not to wonder if all parties have lost their way.

“Traditional” publishing (or “Legacy” publishers, if you buy into Amazon’s propaganda machine) will most likely need to revert back to their old ways in order to survive. Editors will need to operate free from the chains of corporate acquisitions and, more importantly, spend more time personally guiding talented people toward great ideas. The motivation to publish books will then fall back in line with the writer’s motivation.

Great books will be written and published when both parties can’t imagine doing anything less; the profits will sort themselves by-the-by.

Read Full Post »