Friday, March 20, 2009

Dog Coaches Man to Write Funny Books

(Santa Monica, CA - March 21, 2009) In an unexpected confession today that stunned the publishing world, comic novelist Gerald Everett Jones admitted that he is not the author of the books that bear his name.

When confronted by an investigative reporter for the Daily Bloodhound who'd picked up a whiff of scandal, Jones claimed that he has established an exceptional and highly collaborative telepathic bond with Zucchero (aka Zookie), a ten-pound broken-coat Jack Russell terrier.

(Photo by Georja Umano)

"A lot of dog guardians are sure their pet understands everything they say, even knows what they're thinking," he said. "With us, the literary conversation is obviously in the other direction."

"She tells me what to write," he revealed. "It's just that simple. You could think of me as a stenographer or a personal secretary. For years I wrote nonfiction books and technical articles. Does anyone really believe I could suddenly be all that funny?"

Jones has difficulty, however, explaining the breadth and depth of the sophisticated world view and literary allusions in My Inflatable Friend and Rubber Babes, the first two books in his Rollo Hemphill series. (Jones maintains that his boychik lit is "hipper fratire.") "Yes," he said, "there's no doubt Zookie must be very well educated, besides having an uncanny sense of the comedic. But I've never seen her crack a book. She does watch some television, mostly Animal Planet and those six-dollar burger ads." Asked how the little dog came by all that knowledge, Jones surmised, "She was a rescue. So there's an unexplained time gap. I'm guessing she studied at NYU, maybe U of Iowa."

They are currently hard at work on the third installment, Farnsworth's Revenge: Rollo's End. "We work well together, and she pretty much gets her way. But she can be bossy. Sometimes I have to remind her there's no need to bark."

LA Literature Examiner: A Profile: Gerald Jones

LA Literature Examiner: A Profile: Gerald Jones

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Reviews: 'The Tourist' Plays 'The Spanish Game'

[cross-posted on]

I'm disappointed. But if all you expect in a spy thriller is a convoluted plot with suspense and surprises, you'll probably be satisfied.

My suspicion that Olen Steinhauer's The Tourist might be too similar to Charles Cumming's The Spanish Game proved correct, I'm sorry to say. No, the plots aren't the same, just equally complex. However, the characterizations in both books are rather shallow. It's all about action here, possibly so the movie plot "falls out" of the read for the jaded and not too bookish Hollywood buyer.

More significantly, the two main characters could well be the same person, although Milo Weaver (literally, the "straw man" from his name), the operative known as "the Tourist," is a dozen years older than Alec Milius in the Cumming book. Weaver is a Yank working for the Company and Milius is a Brit ex-agent, but both have the same M.O. They change identities like clothes, move effortlessly through the capitals of Europe, and in general act like work-obsessed commercial travelers (a deliberate ploy) who are tired of their jobs. When the cell phone rings and the proper code words are given, they go kill someone. They are not supposed to ask why, except when they can't help it and trigger yet another quest for truth. Yawn.

Both books are written in USA Today seventh-grade plain-vanilla style, which is to say, with as little distinctive literary style as possible. What those publishers want, apparently, is a quick page-turner with no aftertaste, a not-too-challenging pastime for that airline flight or a couple of diverting sessions on the beach during the obligatory family vacation.

To compare either of these writers to John Le Carre (as their jacket blurbs shamelessly do) is to ignore the master's mastery of character. At times, Weaver and Milius express regrets for things they've done. However, I know them so little, and care even less, that I simply don't buy their remorse. I had the same feeling when the movie version of Otto Schindler complained he could have saved one more. To that character, life decisions were equations, and in his case it just happened that the calculus worked in favor of morality.

As to plotting, if you remember The Maltese Falcon, it will come as no surprise that in these noirish worlds, your best friend (or lover or kindly boss) will be your betrayer, maybe even your executioner. Wouldn't it be a surprise if your worst enemy turned out to be your secret savior? I'm sure that, too, has been done, but not here. Expect four or five "surprise" connections, duplicities, and turnarounds from characters you've already met. Certainly, Weaver and Milius are sufficiently paranoid to always be on the lookout for them.

Once you're wise to their game, you'll be as tired of their jobs as they are.

Oh, and did I mention that the Americans are the bad guys? And their secret agenda is -- wait for this -- oil and world domination?

I include the links if despite my grousing you're a fan of the genre or you just want to say you read the book before the movie came out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Does the Peter Rice Promotion Leverage Off Slumdog?

I've said for a long time if the studios would do one or two less $100M blockbusters a year and start 20 indies instead, their ROI would go up, although you can't predict which titles will be hits. (Like the book biz or music now.) You can bundle the investment offerings, as Disney often does, to package three movies, say, as a single offering. But investors in the movie business are greedy wildcatters. They don't want to spread the risk. They want a 10 multiple sure-thing. Hence the blockbuster mentality.

I'm sure Murdoch is doing the math. Movement toward the Web as distribution medium will also fracture the audience size even more. Like magazines now. And the recent writers and actors strikes/threats have had union-busting consequences. If it's an original for the Web, it's possible to do a lot nonunion and get around the rules. Or, at the very least, deferred pay, which permits you to start all kinds of losers without upfront opportunity cost.

I don't know much about Peter Rice but Fox Searchlight has hung in there when other boutique-spinoffs got closed. Warners closed their boutique distribution right in the middle of producing Slumdog Millionaire and that is why they did the split distribution deal with Searchlight. (And I don't think Disney has been as enthusiastic about Miramax since the Weinsteins left.)

Slumdog's success might change some thinking, maybe even was a factor in the decision to promote Rice.

Expect lots of Hollywood outsourcing to Bollywood, just like the software industry. They speak English and they're cheap and now they proved their global reach.

Monday, March 9, 2009

G&G Review Kirk Douglas at the Kirk Douglas

Amazing how far a guy can go with a dimple on his chin and a wickedly playful sparkle in his eye.

Georja and I took in his one-man show Before I Forget.

And speaking of sexual politics, 92-year-old Douglas has been married to his beloved Anne for more than a half-century now. He'd been married once before, and first wife Diana (mother to Michael and Joel) left him when she found out he'd strayed. Later, Anne was his assistant and language coach on a movie shoot in Paris. For his birthday, she threw him a surprise party - attended by most of the women he'd dated there, "including the one I'd been with last night."

He goes on to marvel, "How do they always know what we're doing?"

Great question, Kirk. Post a comment if you think you know the answer.

Which leads me to wonder, why isn't the head of Homeland Security a woman?

You can read our review for here.