I finished reading Mark Geragos's analysis on the legal profession - and the very-heavy imbalance in favor of prosecutors - a few weeks ago. It's not a lengthy book and was very easy to read, so it should have only taken me a couple of days, but my reading time seems to become more and more constrained by other commitments every day. Mistrial was published in 2013, but I only heard about it a few months ago on one of the Adam Carolla podcasts1 (advertising for the release of the audio-version).
While there are a ton of celebrity names dropped in the book - Mark Geragos has represented a lot of the rich and famous - there are also heartbreaking cases that never made it anywhere near the front page. Will Lynch's case is one of these.
Pat: In late May 2010, our receptionist, Aja Matelyan, buzzed me in my office and said there was a phone call from a prospective client that I should take. His name was Will Lynch. It was unusual for Aja to ask me to speak to a potential client directly - usually our calls are screened by our young associates in order to weed out the cases that we are not going to take. But she was insistent I talk to this guy, and I knew she had good instincts, so I picked up the phone and asked Mr. Lynch how I could help him.
"The police are at my house and I am hiding in the back bedroom. What should I do?"
"Well, that depends. What exactly did you do?"
"I think I may have killed a priest!"
Two years later we were sitting in a courtroom in San jose, prepared to go to trial in the case of the People of California v. Will Lynch. Lynch was charged with beating up a Catholic priest living at a retirement home for Jesuit priests near San Jose. The priest had not died from the beating, as Will had originally thought, but he was injured enough that the Santa Clara County D.A. decided to charge Will with two felonies, one for assault and one for elder abuse (the jury would also be given the option to vote for lesser charges, i.e., they could choose to vote for either or both counts as a misdemeanor). As we prepared for trial, we knew that if the evidence just focused on the day of the assault, we would lose. Instead, we had to somehow bring up events that had occurred almost forty years before.
In 1976, seven-year-old Will and his five-year-old brother went with their parents on a camping trip with several other families, in a park in the mountains surrounding the Silicon Valley. The families had met through a loosely affiliated religious organization, and they had invited a priest to come along and say Mass on Sunday morning. The priest's name was Father Jerold Lindner.
WARNING: Click here to see the horrific details of Will's abuse. They are explicit and gut-wrenching - You have been warned
One night, Lindner lured Will into his tent, which was set well apart from the rest of the camp. Once Will was in the tent, Lindner proceeded to force his penis into Will's mouth while choking Will around the neck with both hands. Lindner then turned him around and began to anally rape him, at which point Will passed out. When Will woke up, Lindner cleaned him up and told Will that if he ever told anyone, he would kill his parents and peel the skin off his sister. Will left the tent too terrified to speak to anyone about what had happened.
The next night was even worse. Lindner had gotten Will's brother into his tent and made Will join them. He then forced the two young children to have oral intercourse with each other. While Will was performing oral sex on his brother, Lindner sodomized him again. The feeling of helplessness that Will had when his brother looked at him with terror in his eyes was something Will had nightmares about his entire life.
After that camping trip, Will's life changed dramatically. The happy, outgoing young boy became sullen and withdrawn. By the time he was twelve, he was experimenting with drugs and sex. He was rebelling against any authority figures, whether it was teachers, police officers, or his parents. Finally, when Will was twenty-seven years old, his brother told his parents, who were horrified and guilt-ridden, about what had happened. After an initial angry reaction at his brother, Will decided to face it and go after Lindner. He called all the local police and sheriff" s offices, as well as a number of district attorney's offices in Northern California, to tell them the story and see if they could arrest Lindner or at least investigate him to see if he was still harming children. His persistence was met with the same reaction from every agency: there was nothing they could do because the statute of limitations had run out on Lindner's rape of the two boys.
Will then hired a lawyer and sued Lindner and the Catholic Church. The Church, which knew much more about Lindner than they let on, settled quickly. But Will wanted more than just money. As part of the settlement he wanted the church to promise to take Lindner away from children (he was teaching at a high school); he wanted Lindner to acknowledge what he had done, ad wanted to know where Lindner was living at all times. None of these terms were met.
...[details of beating omitted - they were never denied and don't have any real bearing on the case]...
Several months later Will was arrested and he called us. From the very beginning, he said that he was not going to deny that he beat up the priest. He also said he was not going to plea bargain; he wanted to go to trial. He wanted to expose Lindner and the Jesuit center where he was living. We explained to him that the likely outcome of admitting his guilt on the witness stand in front of the jury was that he would go to jail. He said he understood that but was willing to risk it if it meant he could use the publicity surrounding the trial to make sure the community knew who Lindner was and what he had done.
The publicity part proved to be a huge success. At every court appearance, Will had twenty to thirty supporters, some of whom were victims of Lindner, stationed at the entrance to the courthouse. They carried large signs with Lindner's picture and name on them in huge letters, next to the words "rapist" and "child molester." The press had a field day with the supporters, repeatedly photographing and videotaping them and planting Lindner's name and face all over the news. By the time the trial started, Lindner was afraid to show his face in public.
Leading up to trial, the D.A., the judge, and even the press were trying to get us to reveal what our defense was, but we refused to reveal it. The reason we refused to reveal it was simple: we had no defense. We were going to go to trial, admit Will committed the crime, and then hope for jury nullification. A jury nullifies a case when the jurors choose to ignore the law and the court's instructions and decide to vote not guilty based on their own sense of justice. The problem with jury nullification is that under the law, its existence is not to be acknowledged. The lawyers are not allowed to argue it, and the court cannot tell the jury it has the right to do it. If the jurors ask about it, the court is to tell them that it goes against their oath as jurors. In short, we were going to trial with a client who was going to admit to the crime, and the only defense we had was one we could not mention.
Then it got worse. Two weeks before the trial started, the judge ruled that we would be limited in how much of Will's story we could tell. The judge ruled that Will could testify that Lindner molested him, but he could not discuss any details about what happened during the camping trip; nor would Will be allowed to talk about what had happened in his life since that trip. The jury was not going to get to hear the story that was our only chance at jury nullification. Our best hope now was to convince the jury that the priest's injuries were minor and thus they should vote for a misdemeanor assault instead of a felony assault charge. That would lessen the amount of time Will would have to spend in jail.
But just when it seemed that the case had gone from difficult to impossible, we were rescued - by the prosecuting attorney. All attorneys make mistakes during trials, but rarely do they make enormous strategic blunders. The Santa Clara County D.A.'s Office didn't make just one incredible blunder, it made two, both of them in the opening statement. The D.A. began by telling the jury that the victim in the case, Father Lindner, was going to lie. He was going to commit, perjury by denying that he had ever sexually molested Lynch. The prosecutor then went on to say that she believed Will had been molested and in a particularly horrific manner. Apparently she believed that telling the jury this was a clever way to get out in front of the issue and attempt to soften the blow. Instead, it solved one of our biggest problems. Since the judge had limited Will's testimony so drastically, to the point where he could say only that he was molested, we felt there was a real chance some of the jurors might believe that this was a minor incident, perhaps even a misunderstanding, since Lindner was never arrested. The prosecution's verifying that it was a horrible assault solved that problem for us. It also allowed us to repeatedly jump on the prosecution for putting on a case where they they were going to allow their star witness to-commit perjury. On one hand, they were saying they had to prosecute Will because the rule of law must be followed no matter what, but on the other they were going to allow their witness to break the law by committing perjury and that was okay. It made them look silly.
That was only the warm-up act. At the end of the opening statement, the prosecutor showed a ten-minute video interview of Will that had been done the week before by a local media outlet; The video showed an emotional Will going into detail about the rape as well as its aftermath and how it had changed his life. The video was gut-wrenching (at least one juror was spotted wiping away tears), but showing it did something important for our defense--it opened the door for us to go into all of Will's past, including his efforts to have Lindner arrested. After the video was shown, we immediately went into chambers with the judge and pointed this out to him. The prosecutor looked stunned, as if she had never even considered this possibility. The judge admitted he was mystified as to why the prosecution would do this, and then he ruled that we could now tell the full story.
A trial that was bizarre to begin with took another unexpected turn on the second day of testimony. On the first day, the prosecution called Lindner to the stand, where he testified for forty-five minutes on how badly he had been beaten. Then, as the court was about to finish for the day, the prosecution asked Lindner a final question:
"Did you molest Will Lynch?"
As the prosecutor had predicted, Lindner had now lied under oath, and done it in front of the Santa Clara County D.A.'s Office.
The next morning, before Lindner got back on the stand, an attorney showed up and told the court that he represented Lindner and that Lindner was not going forward with his testimony. The attorney told the court that he felt that his client was being set up for perjury charges and that he was going to take the Fifth Amendment the rest of the way. All hell broke loose, with the judge eventually deciding that Lindner could take the Fifth, but that the judge would tell the jury that all his previous testimony would be stricken (i.e., they would be told to ignore it as if it did not happen). They would also not be told why Lindner had suddenly disappeared. We were livid, screaming that Lindner had gotten to testify to what the prosecution wanted out, and now we would not get to cross-examine him. We asked for a mistrial, which the judge denied.
Pat: Eventually the case got to the closing arguments. Since I could not mention jury nullification, I had to come up with creative ways to suggest to the jury that they could do whatever they wanted to do, and there was nothing the prosecution or the court could do about it. On numerous occasions I got close to the edge and the prosecutor objected and the judge admonished me. But I was sure that after everything they had heard, this jury wanted to nullify - I just wasn't sure they knew that they could.
On the second day of jury deliberations we found out exactly what they knew about nullification. The jury sent a note to the judge asking, "What are the rules of law of jury nullification and what exactly is it?" This jury question set oi? another round of heated arguments. We kept arguing with the judge that he had to tell them that although they might not have the right to nullify, they had the power to, which is exactly the phrase used in a Supreme Court decision. The judge disagreed and eventually sent back an answer to the jury that was almost word for word what the prosecution had proposed. In essence, the judge's response told the jury that they could not nullify and it would be against their juror oath to do so, suggesting they could get in legal trouble if they did.
We were devastated. It felt like we had won the case only to have it taken away from us by what we believed was an incorrect ruling by the judge. A few hours later the jury announced that they had reached a verdict. It was obvious to us that the judge's answer had pushed the jurors to convict Will of something. Apparently the D.A.'s office felt the same way: a lineup of twelve to fourteen district attorneys strode through the courtroom single file and took seats right next to the jury box, from which to hear the verdict and take a victory lap.
They left disappointed. The jury found Will not guilty on both felony counts and on the misdemeanor elder abuse case. On the misdemeanor simple assault, which is what we had admitted he was guilty of, the jury had hung 8-4 in favor of guilt. Despite the judge's warning, four jurors had voted to nullify anyway. In post-trial conversations, a number of the jurors admitted they wanted to nullify but were scared by the judge's order.
Will was stunned and ecstatic. He had made preparations to be taken to jail after the verdict and was now adjusting to the fact that he was not going to be a convicted felon. In the midst of the post-trial celebration, we were talking with Will's mother when she said, "This is the first time since he was a seven-year-old boy that I have seen him smile like this. This has given him his life back."
Mark Peterson is one of the more notoriously hated people Mark Geragos has defended in court. And Mark's inside knowledge of the facts of the case paint a much different picture of the case than what was shown in the media.
Every day in America, approximately forty-five people are murdered. Elderly women, middle-aged businessmen, teenage girls, even small children are killed by both accident and sometimes in brutally horrific manners. We mourn for the victims and seek justice for the killers, most of whom are captured and ultimately convicted. Other than from the direct participants in each case, very few cases attract attention or are even noticed by outside observers. So how do you explain that a nice-looking, likable salesman from Modesto, California, would end up becoming the most hated man in America after being accused of murdering his wife? What made this case so different from the thousands of other murders every year in the United States? How is it possible that this unknown middle-class kid with no prior criminal history would become a national obsession? Why would a person consider the day of this man's being sentenced to death to be a happier one than the day she gave birth to her child?
For years we have struggled with those questions, and we have yet to come up with a definitive answer. In retrospect, it seems that it was a number of factors that converged to create the storm that was the Scott Peterson saga. One of those factors was certainly the charisma and appeal of the victim, Scott's wife, Laci. By all accounts, Laci was a firecracker, a beautiful young woman with a radiant smile and a fiery personality to match. Her charisma shone through in the numerous pictures of her, many of which also showed a cute, rounded pregnant belly. It was unfathomable looking at those pictures to think that anyone would want to hurt her.
But there was more to the equation than just Laci's beautiful persona. As we came to learn during our representation of Scott, he had become a symbol for a lot of women who had been cheated on or lied to by a husband or boyfriend. We began to notice that the people who would argue most vociferously for Scott's guilt were women between the ages of eighteen and fifty. They could quote every rumor and false story circulated in the media, no matter how far-fetched, and would insist that these stories proved he was obviously guilty. When we would explain how these stories were wrong and that the facts were actually much different, the response was strikingly familiar: "Oh well, I hate him anyway. He reminds me of my ex-boyfriend."
This was clearly part of the equation. Scott became a symbol for every wronged woman who wanted to see her ex rot in hell.
There are a lot more Scott Peterson case details in the book and a lot more analysis on the media's role in pre-convicting - and removing any chance for many to receive a fair trial - based on innuendo and groundless speculation.
Mark Geragos is a pragmatic guy - he's not emotions-driven or religiously/politically dogmatic. He does lean left, but not so far that it makes a clear thinking person's skin crawl. But if you're interested in a non-fictional commentary on the inner-workings of the legal profession, I'd say this book is well worth your time. Even if you're just a rubbernecker who just wants to read about Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, or the OJ Simpson trial, there will be something for you here.
Doctor Who, City of Death by James Goss, Douglas Adams & David Fisher2
Douglas Adams was unique. His writing is a perfect blend of humor and introspection, without compromising the sanctity of the forms of language. Most of his output may have been goofball fiction, but he scrutinized every word and the grammatical form of every sentence before allowing them onto the printed page - which is one of the reasons his output was so meager during his time as a published author.
So whenever I see a book with his name alongside another author's name, I assume the publisher is using the Legend of Douglas Adams to pass off another author's shoddy writing. Thus, I have avoided most of the books utilizing these crass marketing attempts. I didn't avoid the not-great And Another Thing..., which extended the Hitchhiker's timeline just a little bit further. How could I not? I'd read another sequel if one appeared solely based on my love for the characters and the original material.
Sadly, it appears I never offered a post-reading opinion of And Another Thing...3, so I don't have a detailed list of reasons why I was so unimpressed with Eoin Colfer's attempt to prolong the HHGTTG series. My vague recollections just lead me to believe that it lacked the heart of DNA's treatment of the material, but there could have been more than that. I'll have to read it again to find out (I re-read the previous four 4 HHGTTG books before reading And Another Thing...)and then neglected to praise them here.
So, as I was saying before I went off on that last tangent, City of Death was written by an author other than Douglas Adams and was based on a Doctor Who script written by DNA (that actually did air on the BBC many times). So the novel-form of the book is definitely not Douglas's (a script is a much different beast than a novel, so that leaves a lot of room for a second author to really screw up the prose). Surprisingly, as I read through the first few chapters of the book, it read a lot like something Douglas Adams would have written. Not just the characters, but even the clever turns of phrase that Douglas was so good with. It sounds as if, based on the commentary in the Afterword, that the script may have been very-verbosely Douglas Adams amazingness. I can't really say, not having read the script myself. But if you're a fan of Douglas Adams and leery of reading yet another attributed work by the non-author, lay those fears to rest with City of Death. It's a keeper.
There are other aspects of City of Death that I also appreciated (beyond the cleverness of the writing/story). Mainly, the vivid descriptions of a France that probably no longer exists or will ever again exist in this world of extreme-immigration. This book takes place in a Paris that feels almost other-worldly quaint. A Paris that I would love to pay a prolonged visit to. But I suspect the reality of present-day France will never live up to this vision of France, so I'll content myself to visiting Paris on the written page.
Each car was a little tin sculpture, eschewing efficiency for sweeping lines, fussy details and cheery colours. Every road was blocked as though the cars had poured onto them in a tearing hurry to go somewhere and then decided 'but where, where is better than here?' before settling happily in for the long haul.
The leafy pavements were a delightful muddle of trees, dogs, cobbles and footworn steps that wound up to other streets, to cathedrals, or simply to a door with a cat cleaning itself slowly in the sun. The Doctor told Romana that they'd arrived at that blissful point between the invention of drains and wheelie luggage, so the streets of Paris would be at their best, and for once, he wasn't even fibbing slightly.
All in all, she was enjoying their holiday enormously. They dashed down the Champs-Elysees, for once running somewhere without deadly robots in pursuit. They considered taking in an exhibition ('Three million years of human history' said the over-dramatic poster. 'Poppycock,' said the Doctor). They stopped off at a bookshop, looking for Ernest Hemingway (the Doctor was evasive whether it was a book by him or the actual author). There was a poetry reading going on outside. Seemingly recognised by the owner, the Doctor couldn't resist a pressing invitation to give a performance of a Betelgeuse love song to rather polite applause. 'Don't drink the wine,' hissed the Doctor as drinks were passed around in unusual metal goblets which turned out to be tuna tins.
Finally they found themselves climbing the steps to Montmartre. The domes of the Sacre-Coeur smiled down on an impossibly quaint square filled with impossibly quaint cafes. Somehow they picked one and Romana found herself, for the first time in her life, forming the thought 'Quick bite to eat and then a spot of shopping later?'
The Doctor was in a similarly joyous mood.
'It's taken years off you,' Romana confided. 'You barely look 750.'
He'd settled down in a quiet corner of the cafe, banging his legs up onto a chair and leaning far far back in his own. As a waiter wandered past, the Doctor murmured something which the waiter could not possibly have heard, and yet he came back automatically with a carafe of red wine, two glasses and some bread. Ignoring the wine, the Doctor pulled the book he'd just bought from his pocket, cut the leaves with a butter knife and flicked idly through it.
'Any good?' asked Romana, doing the French crossword.
'Not bad, bit boring in the middle.' The Doctor put the book back into his pocket and peered vaguely at Romana's crossword. He suggested a couple of answers, and, when they turned out to be wrong, helped himself to bread, and made a loud harrumph. The Doctor often made this noise. Usually it was the prelude to a pronouncement of doom, or to a confession about a small rewiring disaster. But, just this once, it was the terribly happy harrumph of a truly contented man.
The Doctor had the look of a man contemplating a nap. The cafe itself, like much of Paris, felt like an old friend who hadn't bothered tidying up when you'd popped round. Warm, welcoming and a slight smell of wet dog in the air.
The Doctor waved away the returning waiter, unfolded a hat and placed it over his face. Seeing him like this, Romana could barely believe that, when they'd first met, she'd found him a little intimidating. Also, worrying. It was still a bit frightening to realise that the fate of the universe was quite often in the hands of a man with no formal qualifications. Well, none worth counting. The Doctor tried out a gentle snore, seemed satisfied with the results, and produced another one.
Romana smiled and poured herself a glass of wine. She'd heard so much about wine. She wondered what it would be like.
Interestingly, I only really became a fan of the Doctor Who TV series after seeing David Tenant as the doctor on BBC America. The doctor and companion of City of Death are completely unfamiliar to me (though the character of the doctor himself has remained oddly familiar even as the mantle has passed from one actor to the next over the years). I ddidn't even know if Romana was an actual companion (which I later did a few minutes' research to confirm she was). It's such an odd show that it's hard to explain why I find it enjoyable. Some of the doctor's companions have definitely been instrumental in keeping my interest piqued - especially Jenna Colman and Karen Gillan. The current companion is meh. Less than meh, actually. Oh, and the Countess (as described in the book) didn't match the actress cast as the countess in the TV episode at all in my mind - I pictured more of an Alison Doody type (from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Someone impossibly gorgeous and nordic-looking.
Back to the book, here's the aforementioned Afterword, in which many things are explained about how this book came to be and Douglas Adams's involvement.
ON THE SEMIOTIC THICKNESS
OF A PERFORMED TEXT
WHILE SHAKESPEARE PLAYS
CROQUET, ROMANA SAYS JUMP
City of Death is possibly the most authored and least authoritative story in the history of Doctor Who. Just as this book was never meant to be written by me, the original script was certainly never meant to be written by Douglas Adams.
Originally commissioned from David Fisher, A Gamble with Time told a rip-roaring story about a suave Count and Countess who were rigging the tables at a casino in order to fund their time-travel experiments. Taking place in the 1920s and the 1970s, the story featured a very, very limited use of location filming in Paris.
Despite the perilous state of England's and Doctor Who's finances in the late 1970s, Producer Graham Williams and Production Unit Manager John Nathan-Turner managed to wrangle the budget in such a way as to give them rather more time on location than Fisher's script allowed for. Which meant asking for a new draft from him in a hurry. As David Fisher was in the middle of an interesting divorce at the time, he wasn't really in any position to oblige.
So suddenly and famously, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who's script editor at the time, dragged himself round to Graham Williams's house on a Thursday, sat in front of a typewriter and the two talked incessantly while Douglas typed. Sometimes the director Michael Hayes popped by to make coffee, read what had been written and satisfy himself that by Monday there would be a script for him to start work on.
There was, and what a script. There are about three people in the world who don't like City of Death, and they're steadily being hunted down. Thanks to ITV going on strike during its broadcast, City of Death remains pretty much the most-watched Doctor Who story of all time. Thanks to repeats, there was almost nothing else on during 1979, so it's a blessing that it's one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. I was four at the time, and even I can remember it. I had no idea what I was watching, but it kept me fascinated between Basil Brush and The Generation Game.
The thing is, what everyone was watching (over and over again) was the final, finished programme. This book is mainly based on the rehearsal scripts. The rehearsal scripts were written by Douglas Adams with ideas by Graham Williams from an idea by David Fisher. What was transmitted was slightly different. Some scenes were left out entirely in the edit, or emphases shifted around. Actors Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Julian Glover especially took a delight in working on their lines, honing each one to a fine point. The resulting differences are surprising.
For example, whole academic papers have been written on the Doctor's approach to sexuality based on the line 'You're a beautiful woman, probably.' The original line as written was 'You're a beautiful woman. He was probably trying to summon up the courage to invite you out to dinner.'
Another famous example is that instead of the script's 'Shall we take the lift or jump?' from the Eiffel Tower, on television Romana suggests 'Shall we take the lift or fly?', a rather more poetic notion that is, curiously more fully explored in Douglas Adams's Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.
There are many other examples of this glorious refining (originally, the Doctor and Romana go looking for macaroni cheese). Many have been retained, and in other places, I've kept to the original, just because it's interesting. After all, the idea of Shakespeare playing croquet is marvellous.
The transmitted version of City of Death makes a lot of Paris, especially in Part Four. As Adams himself admitted, by that point in the long weekend, he was feeling quite tired. The script for Part Four is a lot shorter and the stage directions frequently suggest that a lot of running around would be quite helpful.
So, this script is heavily based on those rehearsal scripts, with borrowings from the final televised production where it helps. You'll be saddened to hear that the scripts don't contain an excised subplot. They do contain several deleted, or heavily edited scenes. Of course, I've included all of them. Douglas Adams's marvellously funny stage directions have been retained wherever possible. ('Romana picks up a vase and breaks it over the Countess's head. She goes down like a sack of turnips.' 'It should be perfectly clear that Tancredi is something out of a cuckoo clock.' 'Le Patron shrugs unconcernedly. He picks up the broken bottle neck from the table, looks at it for a moment and then slings it in the bin.') The original scripts also include a pleasing amount more fighting, with swords, fists, feet and lots of guns. That's obviously all back in. I've given the Countess a slightly bigger gun at one point, but that's about the only change. Unless I'm lying.
Along with all that come any extra amounts of detail the script offers. For example, Douglas Adams retains the Countess's first name as Heidi, from A Gamble with Time. This is, of course, a goldmine.
The afterword continues for many more pages, but you get the gist. Highlighted Douglas Adams references have been added by me...because I want you to read those sections, if nothing else.
There are also DaVinci Code references in the story. I don't know if Douglas Adams was lying the ground work for Dan Brown, if the whole "Clues hidden in Art" trope was already common by 1979, or if the novelization's author just inserted them in Douglas's voice. Either way, good fun.
The Wonderfully Crowded World of Disney
We went to Disneyland again in November - a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving - and also during the first week of December. Both times, we went on a non-Friday weekday. November was uncomfortably crowded, but the December trip was very nearly as bad as the disastrous Christmas day trip we took a couple of years ago. The wife and I managed to go on one ride (we could have done more, but the super-long lines didn't make it seem worth the trouble): the Haunted Mansion4. I really wanted to go on Pirates, but the line was completely insane. The daughter was there with a friend in a wheelchair (recovering from leg surgery), so she was ushered to the front of every line and went on just about every ride she wanted to - some of them multiple times.
We're going to test another rumored no-crowd holiday theory next month. I'll report on that soon.
Here are a few Christmassy photos of the land of Disney from the November and December trips.
I'm not a big TMZ/pop culture guy, so I wasn't real familiar Mark Geragos before he briefly represented my uncle during his government-railroading trial way back in 2006 (that's a whole 'nother story of the U.S. government's rampant abuse of power). Mark Geragos also does a podcast with Adam Carolla that comes out weekly called Reasonable Doubt that is mostly just Mark and Adam blathering on about non-legal topics, but does occasionally provide some insights into the legal profession and horribleness of lawyers as well as the colorblind atrocities perpetrated by too many cops.
This confusing author-attribution is explained pretty well in the excerpt of the afterword that I share.
I'm trying to do better. I've missed a few recent books and the details or impressions from many of the books I really want to talk about have faded from my ever-weakening mind, but I'm getting to the two most recent books I've read, so that's a start.
I'm over the Nightmare Before Christmas themed stuff that takes over the Haunted Mansion in October through December. There are a couple of worthy additions - tiny-footed Sally is one - to the ride, but most of them detract heavily from the classic Haunted Mansion fun.
Since I mentioned little Gracie V in the last post, here's more Grace-goodness for you...
I finally picked up Grace Vanderwaal's new CD, Just the Beginning, this weekend (about a week after it was available). Opening up the CD and dismantling the contents to put them in my CD binder, I was reminded of the joy I used to receive from the CDs and, yes, cassettes I purchased in my youth. It contained not only a full album of very enjoyable music and a picture-imprinted CD, it also came with CD liner notes full of pictures, credits, and fun art that people sent to Grace (the only thing missing was the lyrics). Amazing. Believe it or not, even cassette cases contained liner notes for a while way back in the old days. Unless you got them from Columbia House - and then all bets were off. But enough of my old man reminiscing...
To be honest, I preferred the songs on the Grace Vanderwaal EP that preceded this album - most of them were more raw and not so over-produced (which is to be expected, since the music was all written by Grace herself). This album continues to move a little further down the over-production road. After listening to the album on endless-repeat while I finished working on a project for an Android development class I'm taking (almost endless - I did stop eventually), I think I've decided that my favorite song is Talk Good. I can't listen to it without laughing a little. And smiling throughout. It sounds more like the songs on Perfectly Imperfect (through the music part of this song is, admittedly, almost as equally-overproduced).
Give it a listen (it's not on Youtube yet, but will surely be soon).
I've also read a bunch of mean comments about Grace, saying she's trying to act too much like an adult, that she's being forced to give up her childhood, etc. And while the childhood comments may have some merit (touring at thirteen has got to be really weird for a kid), she's definitely still just a goofy kid.
Exhibit #1 for the defense, Grace Wants Strawberries
Just a Crush is a perfect example of a song Grace obviously didn't write and that - to me - sounds weird coming from a 13 year-old girl.
You're looking at me
I'm looking at you
This is never gonna sort itself out
I don't know what will do
'Cause you're talking 'bout a marriage
And a life together
But oh honey I'm not looking for anything like
What you're searching for, oh
You're, you're just a crush
I hope you understand
What I'm trying to tell you
I don't wanna be confusing
Consider me one of the dudes
And yes it would be nice
To hold hands once in a while
But you're over here
Planning like wild
Yes, you're talking 'bout a marriage
And a life together
Honey I'm not looking for anything like
What you're searching for, oh
Or maybe these are the sort of conversations going on amongst 8th grade kids these days. What do I know? I'm old. Either way, you should buy this album today. You can thank me later.
Tim Powers Signing at Mysterious Galaxy for Down and Out in Purgatory
I hadn't been to a book signing for a few years before the recent Bruce Campbell signing - not counting the Neil Gaiman non-signing appearance I had to pay to attend in April - and now I've been to two within the past couple of weeks. Both were at the Mysterious Galaxy book store and, though very different (one for an author loosely associated with the film industry and the other an actor who has written a couple of autobiographical books), they were both great and very much worth my time.
Most people would recognize the name "Tim Powers" (if at all) as the the author of the book that the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides, was very loosely based upon. Tim has been a published author for about forty years, but has accumulated a surprisingly small number of novels and short stories - only eighteen full-length novels and twenty short stories/novellas. And I've only read a handful of them, but have enjoyed them all (especially the aforementioned On Stranger Tides - which is a million times better than, and much different from, the version Disney shoe-horned into the Jack Sparrow pirate universe). The signing tour is for the release of the collection of all his short stories, confusingly given the same name as a novella he published about a year ago that I happened to pick up from Amazon when I saw it, Down and Out in Purgatory - which is also one of the stories in the collection.
Sadly, there were only around 10 or 12 people at the signing. Unlike Bruce Campbell's signing, there were no lines out the door or standing room only for attendees. I say "sadly" because Tim Powers deserves all the adulation that a celebrity like Bruce Campbell gets - even though I was grateful there weren't a few hundred other people there crowding me and forcing Tim to rush each attendee out the door as quickly as possible. In fact, this signing was anything but rushed, but more about that in a second...
I arrived at the bookstore around thirty minutes before the signing because I didn't have a copy of the book for the signing yet (I did bring my hardcover of the novella of the same name). In fact, the book wasn't even available for sale outside of signings until November 7, so I got a copy of the book a few days before it was for sale publicly. As I entered the store and waited for my turn at the cash register (the stack of books was at the register), I noticed Tim Powers walking around the store, looking at books, and talking to other customers. I didn't try to chat him up because I become a rambling, incoherent boob around...well, pretty much any author/actor I've been around. See my Lev Grossman encounter for a perfect example of the extent of my disability. Before he left the store, after the signing, Tim had acquired a stack of books to purchase.
The signing started out with Tim just talking. Talking about the new collection, talking about the publishing industry, talking about the supernatural, talking about people asking him when he was finally going to write a "real" book, and pretty much just talking about anything he thought people might be interested in. Then he took questions from the attendees. Amongst the questions were questions about his elbow-rubbing with other authors, why he sets a lot of his books in the vicinity of L.A./Southern California, the effect of the On Stranger Tides adaptation on the sale of the novel, the way Hollywood/book optioning works, his writing process,and details of the Disney adaptation process. Throughout the Q&A session, Tim kept us chuckling. He's a great storyteller in person and in his books.
Here are a few of the answers (or just things I overheard Tim telling other attendees while I waited in line) that stood out enough for me to remember them in any kind of detail (not to say that anything Tim shared was uninteresting, but there was so much that it overwhelmed my faulty memory).
Tim revealed that On Stranger Tides was actually optioned as the fourth film in the series by Disney before the first Pirates of the Caribbean was even filmed. At the time, there was no guarantee that the series would become a successful franchise and even make it to four films, so Tim and his wife kept a close eye on the success of each of the Pirates movies. He recalled a fake story about Johnny Depp being killed in a car accident before the third movie was filmed. And his elation when it turned out to be a fake story. He was forbidden by Disney from telling anyone about the option deal in place - as he was signing my books, I remarked on what he'd written on my copy of On Stranger Tides at a signing years earlier and he responded that he was lucky Disney hadn't found out about it and sued him. One other thing Tim mentioned was his complete non-involvement with the script writing for the film and being on set for a day and briefly meeting Johnny Depp.
Tim knew Philip K Dick (the guy who wrote the story Blade Runner was based on and also the story that the Amazon series The Man in High Castle came from) for last 12 year of his life and is actually a character named David in the semi-autobiographical story Valis. Actual conversations and events from Tim's life are in the book verbatim (Tim told us he was a little distraught at some of the imagined dialog that was put in his character's mouth that would never be uttered by him the the real world).
Tim spoke about having to acquire and use piles of books to see photos and get background on the locales he used in his books before the Internet and Google Earth made it possible to be there and see a location by dropping the little orange man anywhere and looking at everything in 360 degree views. He also mentioned how easy it is to just go look at an actual location with the books set in L.A. and how there was one place he would never visit in person, despite it being relatively nearby: Amboy.
Tim told a story about a friend who was stationed at TwentyOne Palms (which is about 60 miles away from Amboy) being warned, when he was first stationed at TwentyOne Palms, against ever even driving through Amboy (even though it was a faster route from base to parts east). But being a big, brave military guy in possession of a handgun with a fifteen-round magazine, he decided to ignore the warnings and take the shorter Route 66 drive through Amboy.
As he drove into town (what little there was of a "town" - a motel/restaurant, a few ramshackle homes, and a gas station) he saw a car stopped diagonally across the highway ahead of him and two bodies lying on the pavement motionless. He slowed for a moment, and then remembered all the stories he'd been told about human sacrifices, death cults and disappearances in Amboy, and instead of stopping to help, he sped back up and drove around the car on the shoulder, speeding away. In his rear-view mirror, he saw the two "bodies" on the road stand up and twenty or more people who had been hiding by the side of the road come out of hiding. He never chanced driving through Amboy again after that day.
I don't know if there's any truth to this story (I found a very similar version online). But I suppose it's possible that the author of the story I found is the same person Tim Powers knows. Or maybe somebody who heard the story from Tim - which would make it no less true.
Before signing my books, Tim asked me my name. When I told him, he remarked that I share a name with a character in the book he's currently working on. But then he apologized that his character is a bad guy in the story.
Tim told a story about an early encounter with Kurt Vonnegut Jr. at a signing just after Tim published his first book. Tim brought a signed copy with him and proudly gave it to Vonnegut, only to find it, after the signing, in a planter outside the venue. Tim lamented that Kurt Vonnegut couldn't even take the time to throw it in a trash receptacle with a lid to spare him the shame. He then commented on Vonnegut's mental absence from the event, saying that if each of us is born with a limited amount of attention we give to other people, Vonnegut had long since used all of his up.
Tim talked in depth about his writing process, his tendency to procrastinate, and talked about how his writing process had evolved with the introduction of computers.
He also talked about the dearth of editors for many publishing houses, how publishers now tell writers to get their own editors, and the important role editors play in making a novel really shine.
Tim's wife was also at the signing. Tim mentioned her several times during his remarks, and in the responses to the questions. One thing he said specifically about his wife is that she is the first reader of all his drafts. She's well-read, intelligent, and most importantly - not an author - so her analysis is helpful and appreciated. Tim commented on other authors being the worst audience for commentary on an author's work. Even his own commentary would be all about how to make the draft he was reading into a Tim Powers book, not a better version of the author's book.
I was surprised to hear that Tim teaches a writing class in an L.A. area High School. That would have been my favorite class ever (I did have a few memorable English teachers - I'm looking at you Ms Clack - though none who wrote an epic pirate novel). Tim told a story about commenting to another teacher about how exceptional High School students are these days - one of his students was reading Voltaire for fun - and the teacher told him that he's seeing a tiny exceptional microcosm of the students. When Tim looked outisde those in his class, he saw the sad truth.
I asked, in the Q&A session, if Tim would ever consider returning to the Age of Piracy for a future novel and Tim replied that there is a huge swath of history to be mined during the age of piracy, so it was definitely a possibility - which was music to my ears!
Tim mentioned a few times how collections of short stories weren't something a publisher willingly spends the money to publish because they don't make nearly as much money as full-length novels. He suspects the only reason they allowed him to publish this collection of short stories is because he just changed publishers and the new publisher is trying to score points with their new author.
I had intended to take a few photos, but I was so entranced by all the great stories I was hearing that I never touched my phone. And as I mentioned, I was at the end of a short signing line (or almost, I was actually second to last) so I was close enough to hear most of the stories Tim shared with the people ahead of me. He shared something different with everyone. This is the kind of signing Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Lev Grossman used to have at Mysterious Galaxy. Maybe a little bit (or a lot, actually) smaller, but much more personal. So cool.
I haven't read Down and Out in Purgatory (the short story collection) yet - though I have read the novella by the same name - so I can't say anything specific about the collection. I'm still reading Mark Geragos's Mistrial and an eBook that I'm really not enjoying much, so I won't be reading anything new for a little while.
As I was driving into work (and heard an Imagine Dragons song being played as background for a Ford ad), I was reminded of something I saw a week or two ago (whenever I last saw a movie in the theater). As we walked to our seats, I heard the Grace Vanderwaal song Beautiful Thing playing - which I thought was a nice surprise - as a video montage played on the screen. I thought the music was just being piped into the theater (the lights were still on) and the video montage was independent of the song. But as we sat and watched as we listened, I realized the song and the scenes of the video were synced. And then the video ended and I realized it was an advertisement for Windex and the song was, in fact, part of the ad. Good for Grace. And Imagine Dragons.
Here's the Windex Ad. It's pretty awesome.
I did just buy the new Grace Vanderwaal CD, so I might talk about that one of these days. And I also saw Thor Ragnarok today, so it might warrant a response, too. It was well worth all the dough it cost to get the whole family into the theater.