Marifran O’Neil

When I was working at Jeopardy!, in 1999 we did our first road-trip to New York City, to tape a series of games at Madison Square Garden. At that time, I had been writing a number of letters of comment to various DC Comics titles, especially those overseen by the Batman Group Editor, Dennis O’Neil. A few years previously, I had written Denny about what he had written back in the early 1970s on Green Arrow. It was research for a paper I was writing on Robin Hood and Green Arrow. His helpfulness on that prompted me to write him in the DC offices and ask if he or any of the editors were interested in VIP tickets to the tapings. As it turned out, nobody else took up the offer. But Denny and his wife Marifran were fans of the show, and delighted to accept the offer of tickets.

That was when I first met Marifran. She was sweet and delightful – and it was obvious that Denny was over the moon for her.

When I visited NYC in 2008, I had a lovely dinner with them near my hotel, at an Indian restaurant. Watching the two of them together was a pleasure. They had a gentle teasing way between them.

In 2010, Denny was a guest of the San Diego Comic Con, and I of course saw the pair of them during the convention. I had stayed at the Marriott Marina Hotel that year (a splurging treat to myself), and had decided to stay over Sunday night. Monday morning I went down to the restaurant for breakfast, and who should I encounter there? Denny and Marifran. So I got to have breakfast with them, when there was very little schedule pressure on how quickly we got through our meal. I thoroughly enjoyed their company.

She will always live in my memories as a bright, sparkling personality, utterly charming. She delighted in the banter she and Denny engaged in.

So it made me very sad to learn that she had passed away yesterday. I am so glad that I got to know her, even in the little way we had.

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Keats and Ben Nevis

John KeatsAlong the way in my education, I gained an affection for the poetry of Keats. Something about how he handled the language spoke to me. When I was in graduate school, I took a course on the Romantic Poets of England, and purchased a volume of the complete works of Keats for the class. I had previously only dealt with selections from his work.

One of his more notable pieces is a sonnet Keats wrote about being at the top of Ben Nevis in Scotland. In 1818, in the month of June, Keats had been on a tour of Scotland (and Ireland and the Lake District) with a friend. Ben Nevis, as the highest peak in the British Isles, was even then a tourist destination.

The peak of Ben Nevis stands at 4,411 feet above sea level, in the Lochaber area of the Highlands, near the town of Fort William. Most of them use the Pony Track from Glen Nevis in order to reach the top.

Ben NevisI had encountered Keats’ sonnet about Ben Nevis when I was an undergraduate. So I wasn’t surprised to find it in the volume.

WRITTEN ON TOP OF THE BEN NEVIS

Read me a lesson, Muse, and speak it loud
Upon the top of Nevis, blind in mist!
I look into the chasms, and a shroud
Vapurous doth hide them – just so much I wist
Mankind do know of hell; I look o’erhead,
And there is sullen mist, – even so much
Mankind can tell of heaven; mist is spread
Before the earth, beneath me, – even such,
Even so vague is man’s sight of himself!
Here are the craggy stones beneath my feet, –
Thus much I know that, a poor witless elf,
I tread on them, – that all my eye doth meet
Is mist and crag, not only on this height,
But in the world of thought and mental might!

As I thumbed through the volume at the beginning of that graduate semester, I had paused and enjoyed the sonnet. I’d then moved on – for after all I did have an assignment to read for the class. However, my attention was snagged by another poem about Ben Nevis. And when I read it, I gained a new appreciation for Keats as a writer. The sonnet had of course been written about the majesty and beauty of the mountain. But this one displayed a complete tongue-in-cheek humor about tourism at the Scottish landmark.

Climbing up Ben NevisSo…. Here for your amusement —

BEN NEVIS : A DIALOGUE

A poem by John Keats

There was one Mrs. Cameron of 50 years of age and the fattest woman in all Inverness-shire who got up this Mountain some few years ago, true she had her servants, but then she had her self. She ought to have hired Sisyphus, “Up the high hill he heaves a huge round, Mrs. Cameron.” ‘Tis said a little conversation took place between the mountain and the Lady. After taking a glass of Whiskey as she was tolerably seated at ease she thus began,

Mrs. C.
Upon my Life Sir Nevis I am pique’d
That I have so far panted tugg’d and reek’d
To do an honour to your old bald pate
And now am sitting on you just to bate,
Without your paying me one compliment.
Alas ’tis so with all, when our intent
Is plain, and in the eye of all Mankind
We fair ones show a preference, too blind!
You Gentle man immediately turn tail,
O let me then my hapless fate bewail!
Ungrateful Baldpate have I not disdain’d
The pleasant Valleys, have I not madbrain’d
Deserted all my Pickles and preserves
My China closet too, with wretched Nerves
To boot, say wretched ingrate have I not
Left my soft cushion chair and caudle pot.
‘Tis true I had no corns, no! thank the fates
My Shoemaker was always Mr. Bates.
And if not Mr. Bates why I’m not old!
Still dumb ungrateful Nevis, still so cold!

Here the Lady took some more whiskey and was putting even more to her lips when she dashed it to the Ground for the Mountain began to grumble, which continued for a few minutes before he thus began,

Ben Nevis.
What whining bit of tongue and Mouth thus dares
Disturb my slumber of a thousand years?
Even so long my sleep has been secure,
And to be so awakened I’ll not endure.
Oh pain, for since the Eagle’s earliest scream
I’ve had a damn’d confounded ugly dream,
A Nightmare sure. What Madam was it you?
It cannot be! My old eyes are not true!
Red-Crag, my Spectacles! Now let me see!
Good Heavens Lady how the gemini
Did you get here? O I shall split my sides!
I shall earthquake,

Mrs. C.
Sweet Nevis do not quake, for though I love
Your honest Countenance all things above
Truly I should not like to be convey’d
So far into your Bosom, gentle Maid
Loves not too rough a treatment gentle Sir,
Pray thee be calm and do not quake nor stir
No not a Stone or I shall go in fits
Ben Nevis.
I must, I shall, I meet not such tid bits,
I meet not such sweet creatures every day,
By my old night cap night cap night and day
I must have one sweet Buss, I must and shall:
Red Crag!, What Madam can you then repent
Of all the toil and vigour you have spent
To see Ben Nevis and to touch his nose?
Red Crag I say! O I must have them close!
Red Crag, there lies beneath my farthest toe
A vein of Sulphur, go dear Red Crag, go
And rub your flinty back against it, budge!
Dear Madam I must kiss you, faith I must!
I must Embrace you with my dearest gust!
Block-head, d’ye hear, Block-head I’ll make her feel
There lies beneath my east leg’s northern heel
A cave of young earth dragons, well my boy
Go thither quick and so complete my joy
Take you a bundle of the largest pines
And when the sun on fiercest Phosphor shines
Fire them and ram them in the Dragon’s nest,
Then will the dragons fry and fizz their best
Until ten thousand now no bigger than
Poor Alligators, poor things of one span,
Will each one swell to twice ten times the size
Of northern whale, then for the tender prize,
The moment then, for then will Red Crag rub
His flinty back, and I shall kiss and snub
And press my dainty morsel to my breast.
Block-head make haste!
O Muses weep the rest,
The Lady fainted and he thought her dead
So pulled the clouds again about his head
And went to sleep again, soon she was rous’d
By her affrighted servants, next day hous’d
Safe on the lowly ground she bless’d her fate
That fainting fit was not delayed too late.

But what surprises me above all is how this Lady got down again.

View from Ben NevisI was utterly charmed by the comedy of the fleeting romance between the mountain and the matron. How many tourists indulge in ecstasies over landscapes? And how would they react if the landscapes responded to such extravagant raptures? There is simply inherent comedy in the idea of a mountain wanting to hug a visitor.

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Libraries: Treasure Boxes – Part Two

Libraries: Treasure Boxes – Part One

Texas Libraries

Houston Public Library

When my family moved to Houston when I was sixteen, it meant becoming familiar with a new library system. The Houston Public Library has a number of branch libraries, of course. In our neighborhood, I often visited the Meyer Neighborhood Branch. But downtown, the Ideson Building housed the main library.

Houston Public Library's Ideson Building

The Ideson Building

I did visit the Ideson Library a few times during high school. But the Meyer Branch served most of my purposes. I recall that during my senior year, I borrowed Nabokov’s Lolita from the branch. Even at the time I supposed that it might have raised some eyebrows that I’d read the book. As I recall, I wasn’t very impressed, given that the characters were so unpleasant. But since I’d seen it written of as being a work of literary significance, I felt I needed to check it out.

By the time I was in college, the city was set on building a new main library.

Houston Public Library Jones Building

Houston Public Library Jones Building

The Jesse H. Jones Building was built while I was attending the University of Houston. It was amusing that a few years later, one of my friends from Austin got a position as a librarian at the Jones Building.

The University of Houston

I attended the University of Houston while working on my Bachelor’s degree. I spent a lot of time in the Anderson Library there. (They didn’t begin the remodeling until my senior year, a remodel that moved the main entrance to its current location.) It was at the Anderson Library that I made the acquaintance of the Library of Congress cataloguing system. Up until college, all I have known of book cataloguing was (like most people) the Dewey Decimal System. But by the time I entered college, the UH library had finished converting their holdings from Dewey to LC cataloguing. I was enchanted by it, as it felt much easier to grasp that Dewey.

University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library

University of Houston’s M.D. Anderson Library

My senior year at UH, I was on campus every day, and late on Fridays. I had decided to do a Senior Honors Thesis, and so the extra hours were supposed to be to work on it. But it turned out that by late Fridays my brain was getting fried (I had a heavy course load that year). However, I signed up for a study carrel in the library. There were lovely booth carrels, but I think they were assigned to faculty and graduate students. The undergraduate carrels were in the open in a reading room, arranged around the walls. The desks had a two shelf hutch with a glass front that locked, as well as a single drawer that locked. Most of us would tape pictures on the inside of the glass, to keep the contents of our shelves private when we were away from our carrels.

The UH campus was very clean, and I had a thing about going barefoot when I could. So I tended to wear shoes to the campus, take off my shoes and lock them in the carrel, and go barefoot on the campus. I did a lot of research on my own in the Anderson Library.

My undergraduate studies were all designed to train myself as a writer. And I did a lot of private research during those years. It was at this time that I made the acquaintance of the works of C.S. Lewis, starting with his A Preface to Paradise Lost, recommended by the instructor I had for the first half of the English Literature course. Reading Lewis led to reading the works of Charles Williams and Dorothy L. Sayers. I became insatiable about Inklings material (there was not much written about the group at that time), so I sought organizations that dealt with such. That was how I found the Mythopoeic Society – a connection I maintain to this day.

It was in the Anderson Library where I learned many of the practices of research. The hours spent there will always be precious to me.

The University of Texas

From the University of Houston, I moved on to the University of Texas at Austin, where I pursued a Masters degree in English. My first year there, I lived in one of the on-campus dorms. And the main library was housed in the famous Tower in the center of the campus. Generally, one would request a book by call number (and name), and a staff assistant would go up and get the book and bring it down to the main reference desk for the patron. However, graduate students were given access to the stacks in the Tower. Of course, that meant enduring the stacks elevator: it was rather tiny in depth and width, but very tall.

Univeristy of Texas at Austin tower

University of Texas Tower

The thing about the stacks in the Tower were that the floors had very low ceilings, so they tended to be a bit claustrophobic.

Not long after that, the new main library, the Perry-Casteñada Library opened. Very open and spacious, I would soon come to know it well.

The plaza in front of the Perry-Castaneda Library

University of Texas Perry-Castaneda Library

The shape of the building is unusual, even awkward, if you consider the need for rows and rows of stacks of books. But there it is, dramatic and angular.

Wikipedia includes the following paragraph about the building:

It has long been claimed that the Perry-Castaneda Library was designed to appear, when seen from above, in the shape of Texas. This is officially denied by the University, which has stated: “If you look at a campus map the right way and use your imagination, it’s possible to think of the outline of the library as similar to the shape of Texas. But this wasn’t intentional. Officially it’s called a “rhomboid shape,” and it complements the similarly designed Graduate School of Business building across the street, which was completed the same year.

In spite of this denial, I still feel the original intent in the design was to reference the shape of the state.

The shape of UTexas' Perry Castaneda LibraryWhen you look at the shape of the building on a campus map that is oriented with North at the top of the page, the shape of the building does indeed resemble that of the state. The problem in recognizing this connection is that the main entrance to the building is in the side that faces north. So, in effect, as you enter the building, you are looking at the shape upside down. And then inside, the floor layouts are hung on a wall, showing where various sections are located on each floor, the visitor looks at the shape of the building on its side: the visitor faces east to look at the layouts, and so the east side of the building is placed at the top since that’s the direction the visitor is looking.

These little bits always seemed to me to be why the whole “no the building is not shaped like the state” denial happens. One does not experience the building with a northern orientation.

I spent many hours in the PCL (which I often called “the Pickle” to amuse myself), first while I conducted my studies. But after I finished my coursework in two years, I needed to get a job as I’d run out of money. I ended up doing clerical work at the PCL. I finished doing my research on my thesis while working at the library. And then I continued on staff for a few more years before I finally left Austin for Los Angeles.

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Memorial for the Rev. Dr. Doug Millham

Rev. Doug Millham

Doug Millham

This last week, there came the unexpected news that a friend and former pastor of mine, Doug Millham, had passed away. A massive heart attack, and then a stroke, incapacitated him suddenly, and a few short days later he was gone.

I was only one of many people who had known him and cared about him. After he left service at Hollywood Presbyterian, I didn’t see him very often. But he and his wife, Jackie, were on my Christmas card list (when I was still able to afford that celebration). When I did see him, such as at Hollywood Pres’s Thanksgiving morning service or a late Christmas Eve one, there would always be a warm hug of greeting and a few moments of chat.

He had served at Hollywood Pres as an executive and an associate pastor for several years. This brought him into contact with a lot of believers who worked in the entertainment business. It was not his usual arena of ministry, but he engaged with an open enthusiasm and a desire to help the believers who were facing the challenges to faith in a business that is by turns indifferent and hostile toward Christians. He took the issues that writers and actors faced seriously, and he never trivialized the “entertainment business.”

This morning, a memorial service was held for him and his family, and a very sizable body of people attended. These were people who had known in from the many stages of his life.  There were those who had attended Hollywood Presbyterian during his years at the church. There were those who had worked with him in the ministries that reached out to the needy around the world. He had spent a short time as a police officer long ago, before answering the call to go into ministry. In recent years, that law enforcement connection had returned when he served a chaplain to police officers, and then to the LA County District Attorney’s Department of Investigations.

He was one of the tallest men I knew, and he inevitably had “presence.” But that presence came not just because he was so physically imposing. It came from a warmth that radiated from him, an approachability that made proximity to him a “safe space” while one spoke with him.

For me, one of the things I appreciated about him, was his willingness to provide advice and counsel. There were a couple of times when I had emailed him about circumstances I was wrestling with, where I wanted a more objective perspective to the events I was dealing with. He would never make a final judgement of things – he wisely left that choice up to me. That was a quality I definitely appreciated, as I know the final decision about what I was to do had to come from myself. But, his insights and recommendations were always wise and worth listening to. I shall miss that contact, even though I only infrequently needed it.

A couple of weeks ago, he crossed my mind. Not because of anything drastic going on. Just an incidental thought, that popped in my head while driving across town. Years ago, he had acquired a black Corvette (from another friend, in fact), and I had passed a Corvette on the road. The thought of him in the car made me smile. But it went no further than that. I should have taken note of the moment – since I hadn’t seen or communicated with him in a while. I should have sent a short email greeting. But I didn’t.

For those of us who are Christians, our belief in the immortality of our souls and the protective salvation of Jesus Christ gives us an assurance that those who reach the mortal  end of their physical bodies as believers will be found in the company of Christ when our own turn at that transition comes. So… though I shall miss Doug’s presence here among us, I know where he has gone.

Stephanie Edwards with Doug Millham

Stephanie Edwards with Doug Millham

 

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Saturday at San Diego Comic Con 2017

Once again, my budget limited my ability to attend the San Diego Comic Con. Since I couldn’t afford lodgings in San Diego, it was going to have to be a single day trip. That meant rising early and making the 2 plus hour drive down the I-5. I hit the road at quarter to 6, and stopped in San Clemente to add some gas. I also took a 10 minute cat nap there, since I hadn’t gotten a full night of sleep. I got to the Qualcomm Stadium parking at quarter to 9, took the trolley into town and walked into the Convention Center at quarter to 10. It meant that for the first time in a while, I wasn’t going to miss the first programming item I wanted to attend.

The San Diego Convention Center for 2017 Comic Con.

Continue reading

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The Adventure of the Ice Cream Filled Doughnut

Yesterday, on Facebook, someone posted a link to an article about a dessert confection – ice cream filled doughnuts. When I followed up on the article, I learned that the emporium that provided the delectations was actually located in west Los Angeles. So I made the decision to give myself a treat to see what they were like.

B Sweet is a desserts shop. When I got to the address, I actually missed it the first time through, as the area has been recently gentrified — new apartments have been planted in an area that used to be small industrial businesses (I think). The small shops along the street have been converted over to boutique eateries and stores. Parking is at a premium, metered, and not very bountiful. But second time around, I found the shop (I was looking on the wrong side of the street, the first time round).

When I went into the place, I found the décor to be practical, open, and charming. The staff were very friendly.

A bit of the B Sweet shop décor.

I think I beat the afternoon rush, as there were no other customers when I went in. But as I enjoyed my Halo (the shop’s name for the ice cream filled doughnut), several other customers came in. Hardly surprising, given today was one of the hottest days in a while in Los Angeles.

The doughnut they use is a yeast-raised doughnut with no hole. Then they give you the options of choosing the type of ice cream you prefer.  I watched as they prepared my order, and it seems simple enough.

The doughnut is sliced in half like a bun. A single scoop of ice cream is placed on the lower half, and then the upper half it set on it. Then the concoction is placed on a press-grill  – to compact the sandwich and to give the doughnut a bit of warmth. It’s only in the grill for a few seconds.

The Halo – the ice cream filled doughnut.

The result is similar to an ice cream sandwich – but with a doughnut instead of a sugar wafer or cookie. Because of the pressing, the ice cream has been softened and gets drippy. So you don’t want to linger over it. But other than that — it’s a very nice treat.

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Stepping Out on Patreon

The internet has given rise to several different methods for creative people to crowdfund their projects. Kickstarter, for instance, lets a person or team fund a specific project, giving supporters special benefits as the specific financial goals are met. But a number of my artist and writer friends have also turned to the Patreon website to build support in a more general fashion.

Patreon is a website where a creator garners the support and patronage of interested folks. Basically, patrons can give subscription support to a creator — either on a monthly basis or for specific projects (the creator’s choice on how the support is given). The idea of subscription patronage is actually not all that new. In the past, many poets in Britain used a subscription patronage system to fund the publication of their works — Robert Burns in particular used this method.

Patreon brings this opportunity to bring supporters into more regular contact with the creative artists.

For me, one of the strongest appeals of using Patreon in my audience building is the creative accountability that comes with it. If there are people out there who are generously giving me some support on a regular basis in exchange for “being in on” my creative process and the growth of a work-in-progress, I am more inclined to really apply myself to getting work done. I’ve always responded better to external deadlines than my self-set ones.

With that in mind, I’ve launched my Patreon page — and I hope friends, readers, and passers-by will consider joining my little community. The first work-in-progress that I am sharing with my Patrons is my novel Godiva – about the legend and the people that inspired it. A little bit of romance mixed with medieval politics, as it were.

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Cosplay at Phoenix Comicon 2017

I’m not great at remembering to take pictures of the cosplayers at conventions. But I did remember to catch a few while in Phoenix.

The first one was the one that really reminded me to get out the camera. I’d sat down in the food court to eat the bit of lunch I’d gotten. This one guy stopped to ask me if I happened to have any tape with me, but I had to say I didn’t. Then I realized why. One of the ladies he was with was having a bit of a problem that part of her costume was a bit loose. Even so, it was still pretty good.

Don't blink! Weeping Angels on the loose.

Don’t blink! Weeping Angels are around!

One fellow was maneuvering the crowds with quite a reach.

Spider-Man's Doc Ock appeared.

Spider-Man’s Doc Ock made an appearance.

Then there was the following team, who really worked well together.

Toy Soldiers at Phoenix Comicon.

Toy Soldiers at Phoenix Comicon.

When in motion, this trio had their platforms tucked under an arm while trotting in time together, all going ‘Hut, hut, hut, hut.” They were quite prompt when asked for pictures, both by me after the presentation we’d attended, but also out in the corridors when asked by others. (And they “stuck to their guns” as it were with their cosplay, in spite of the ban on props after the Thursday incident.) Great fun.

I’m going to try to do better to catch pictures of cosplayers at conventions.

In the meantime, I also observed the following cosplayers —

Black Canary
The Kool Aid Pitcher Guy
The Hamburger Helper Hand
A gender-bending Slave Leia
Merida from Brave
A hobbit
Mary Poppins (2 of them – this was on Saturday, when Dick Van Dyke was appearing)
Super Mario
Various Jokers & Harley Quinns.
A gender-bent couple of Joker and Harley Quinn.
A couple of Agent Peggy Carters
Ghostbusters – both a female one and a Spengler
Doctor Strange
“Kid” Flash (a 4 year old)
A Yandru
Aquaman & Mera (and a second Aquaman who was going shirtless)

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Adventures at Phoenix Comicon 2017

Lemon the cat at the window

Lemon the cat at the window

The last weekend of May this year, I made a trip over to Phoenix, thanks to the generosity of a couple of friends there. They had offered to put me up for the duration of the Phoenix Comicon, and paid for my 4-day pass as well. It was good to get away from my usual routine and concerns. I hadn’t made that long a drive since my time in Oregon, and of course, I was driving into the Valley of the Sun, so it was much, much warmer than the Oregon trip.

Meeting With Friends

One of my hostesses was my friend Becca Hokans. She and I had become friends online on the Television Without Pity message boards, in the CSI forum. When Becca and her husband Tom got married in Las Vegas, a number of our little group from the forum made the trip to Vegas. It had been a while since I’d seen Becca and Tom (and their son Chris). I’d last visited them in 2010, near the end of my epic road trip that summer.

While with them, I got to know one of their cats, Lemon. She’s rather sociable, or at least she checks out all visitors into her territory. Their second cat, Shadow, is nowhere near as sociable – he remained out of sight during most of my visit.

It was good to talk about writing and other general topics with Becca. Not so much catching up, as we also maintain contact on Facebook, as just conversing.

Thursday at Phoenix Comicon

I had made the L.A. to Phoenix drive on Wednesday, so I was ready for the first day of the convention. However, I dawdled over conversation with Becca before driving to the Park-and-Ride location. It meant that by the time I had taken the light-rail train to the Convention Center, I was a bit late for the early programming. Which was unfortunate, as it meant that by the time I got through registration (picking up my badge), I’d missed the Spotlight panel on my friend James A. Owen.

I was able to catch up with James a bit later, however, as he did a presentation on doing a Kickstarter drive. I’ve heard others on the process of running a Kickstarter campaign, but it was good to hear him talk about where he felt he had mis-stepped. in particular, he mentioned how he’d found Heidi Berthiaume’s Kickstarter Companion very useful in organizing a crowdfunding drive. And afterward, we were able to have a few minutes of chit-chat. It had been quite some time since I’d last seen him in person.

From James’ presentation, I went on to one entitled “Fantasy Mapmaking.” Priscilla Spencer has made maps for a number of authors, like Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne. She had gotten into the “business” of creating maps for fantasy authors by accident. But she had applied her lifelong love of maps to the activity. She described how she tries to match the style of map she creates to the nature of the stories they are for. I found the presentation very interesting, as I have a similar affection for maps. She gave me plenty to think about in relation to maps for fiction.

After that I went to a panel titled “Kick-ass Women of Mythology,” moderated by Scott Price, with Andy Adams, Joan Conrad, and Wendy Parks. I was curious about where the discussion would range. In the event, the talk mostly circled around figures from Greek, Roman, and Norse mythologies – with an occasional dash of Celtic thrown in. It was very lively give-and-take between the panelists and the audience.

I made a brief venture down to the Exhibit Hall, even though by this time my knees and feet were a bit tired of all the walking I’d been doing. I got as far as saying hello to my friend Travis Hanson at his booth.

But I was really tired, so I decided to head back – to the car and to Becca’s. That was when I learned that there had been an “incident” earlier in the day. A lone person had made an attempt to get into the convention with some real weapons, with the intent to attack police and an actor who was attending the convention. He’d been carrying three handguns, a shotgun, and a knife. The incident had consequences for the rest of the convention.

Friday at Phoenix Comicon

I tried to get rolling earlier on Friday than I had on Thursday, but I didn’t succeed. And when I got to the Convention Center, I discovered the consequences of the Thursday incident. One of the first things those running the convention did was put out a ban on all props for the cosplayers. They also tightened the security at the entrance to the convention, checking all bags. There was a lot of confusion and long lines, as this was a quickly-put-together solution to the security needs.

Friday morning lines at Phoenix Comicon

The long lines at the entrance of the Phoenix Comicon on Friday May 26, 2017

For me, with my stiff knees, hobbling along and finding incredibly long lines, none of which were clearly defined, it presented a great problem. I’ve been using a cane when doing a lot of walking lately, but the prospect of waiting and standing for what looked to be at least an hour was incredibly daunting. However, people were very kind to me and let me move ahead through the lines until I could find someone in authority. My shoulder bag was checked and I was let in. By this time it was 11:30.

Since I’d not really had much of a breakfast, I took the time to get something to eat. And then I went to a panel titled “Option My Book.”

"Option My Book" panel

The “Option My Book” panel at the Phoenix Comicon 2017

The panelists were Pierce Brown, Wesley Chu, V.E. Schwab, Terry Brooks, Weston Ochse, Michael McLean. They told the interested audience about their experiences with options on their own works. They also explained what “option” actually means in Hollywood: that the author will get some money out of it, but that the film or television project might never go in front of cameras. I expect that some of the details were a revelation to some aspiring writers in the audience. All in all, informative with dashes of humor.

From there I went on to a panel “Mythology and Gods in Fiction” with Brian McClellan, Bradley P. Beaulieu, V.E. Schwab, Katie Salidas, and Brent Weeks. The authors discussed their own uses of established mythologies and also the creation of their own mythologies. They then invited questions from audience. I was interested in what the aspiring writers in the audience had to ask, because after all, mythic motifs in writing is my thing. One in particular caught my attention: the questioner asked about gender swapping for things like divinities of the sun and moon (the sun is usually male, the moon female). This is actually something I address in The Scribbler’s Guide to the Land of Myth. The panelists sort of mumbled their way to saying “Try it!”

Thee wasn’t much else in programming for Friday that I wanted to attend, so I decided to visit the Exhibit Hall again. My first stop was at the booth for Offworld Designs. I’ve encountered them at other conventions and actually have some dragon t-shirts I got from them … ahem, at least a dozen years ago. I do need some new t-shirts, so I bought one (the limit of my spending money).  Since I’ve recently done some academic editing, this design appealed to me.

Dragon t-shirt from Offowrld Designs.

Then I stopped by to talk with Travis again. Travis is really one of the good people of the world. He had done the artwork for this year’s convention. After chatting with him, I went on to see Ethan Nicolle. I’d edited a manuscript for him last year, and asked how it was progressing. He said based on some feedback from a group of beta readers (that is, kids who are part of the target audience), he was doing some rewriting on it. When it finally hits print, it’s definitely going to be a fun read. I think went on to James Owen’s spot — but he wasn’t there. I’d forgotten that he’d posted earlier that he had to head back up to Taylor for his daughter Sophie’s graduation from high school. Good thing I’d already seen him.

Saturday at Phoenix Comicon

I packed up and said goodbye to Becca, Tom and Chris as I would be staying with Priti Sankhla for Saturday night. That put me a bit behind on my schedule for the day. I got to the Park-and-Ride lot, and the day was already rather hot. As I was approaching the light-rail platform, I observed someone’s discarded vinyl on the gravel by the entrance to the lot. It was definitely hot.

A melted album in Phoenix.

A melted Paul Anka album by a Phoenix Park-and-Ride lot.

The first panel I attended on Saturday, was one titled “All Things Steampunk.” The panel consisted of Kevin J. Anderson, Quincy J. Allen, Elizabeth Bear, Beth Cato, Jim Butcher, and Alan Smale.

Steampunk panle at Phoemix Comicon.

The “All Things Steampunk” panel at Phoenix Comicon.

Since I haven’t really been into Steampunk as a literary genre (more because I just haven’t been reading as much fiction in recent years), I was very interested in the discussion. In the end, the general consensus seemed to be that steam itself wasn’t quite as crucial as the sense of wheels and gears and a Victorian-like atmosphere. Also, that steampunk science fiction was more “science fiction as it used to be” – like that written by Jules Vern or H.G. Wells, how they would have seen the future. All in all, it gave me food for thought.

The second panel I attended on Saturday was one titled “Copyright and Fan Art/Fiction.” Over recent years, I’ve learned a fair amount about copyright, thanks to Colleen Doran and my own entertainment attorney, Paul S. Levine. The speaker, Ruth Carter, spoke about how her interest in law had grown out of her interest in fan fiction and art. The key issue for fans, she observed, was that authors as holders of copyright, do have the right to approve or not fan fiction, because copyright covers the creation of “derivative works” spun from their works.

It had been quite a while since I’d done more than two days at a convention, so by the late afternoon, I was ready to wrap it up. I got back to my car and then drove across town to Priti’s.

This was actually our first in-person meeting. We’d become friends online through Becca. So we had a pleasant time learning more about each other. I appreciated her hospitality.

Sunday, there wasn’t any programming that really called for my attention, so I decided to forego a return to the convention. On Priti’s suggestion, I decided to make the drive back to L.A. on Sunday, as there were going to be so many people out on the road on Monday, heading home from their holidays. So I did set off on the long, hot drive. But I got back home about 8 p.m., after having made a few rest stops along the way. All it all, I really enjoyed the trip.

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The Sugar Documentary

During the early part of 2016, I worked on a script for a company documentary in India. A client hired me to create a script for Dwarikesh Sugar in Uttar Pradesh in northern India.

The project interested me beyond “just a job” because when my great-aunt had served as a missionary in India in the first half of the twentieth century, most of her assignments were in Uttar Pradesh. Her service gave me a general interest in India. Learning of the benefits that Dwarikesh Sugar had brought to the region of U.P. intrigued me, and made the project a special one for me.

Dwarikesh Sugar Company

My script was more a guideline for the shape of the final documentary. My co-writer, Dipendra Sharma, had to adapt it to the Hindi language as well as fit the interviews and general footage the film crew shot to the script I had pulled together for them.

Workers in sugar cane field.It was also interesting to learn that the company works to be green and sustainable. By-products of the sugar processing are further directed toward power generation, to the point that the company’s mills sell power back to the state’s energy grid, rather than draw from it.

In any case, it is satisfying to be able to point to this finished project.

Dwarikesh Sugar Cororate Video

from Narative Pictures

Directed by Satyaprakash Upadhyay
Director of Photography: Shanawaz Ali
Editor: Ujjawad Chandra
Music Director: Ankit Shah
Writer: Dipendra Sharma, Sarah Lucy Beach
Executive Producer Sapana Sharma

The video is available on YouTube.

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