Mary Poppins Returns

August 22, 2019

I love both Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, but they couldn’t save it.

This movie tries so hard. So very hard. Like, the musical numbers all line up to musical numbers in the first one:  Here’s the uplifting song about household chores! Here’s the one where we fall into the animated world and dance with penguins! Here are the cheerful working class dudes singing about how much they love their dangerous and debilitating jobs! I generally like musicals and singing and dancing but I got to a point where I wished they hadn’t tried so hard.

And the dead mother thing comes back. The family is in trouble because the mother has died and everything is now falling apart. This trope keep happening because it’s an easy, lazy way to begin a story with angst and drama. And as pointed out in a FB comment, it’s always the mother who dies because, conventionally, the mother is the one holding everything together, caretaker for both the children and the father. If the father died, the family would continue to function. The mother dies? Chaos. We saw this in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Beauty and the Beast, and so on. This is lazy, cliche storytelling dependent on a lot of unexamined stereotypes.

There’s another angle, I think:  Mary Poppins Returns needed to have adult Jane as part of the story. Writers often don’t seem to know how to make two adult women part of a story like this. (Mary Poppins isn’t really a woman, is she? She’s an Elemental. A Wizard.) If we had Jane and the mother (do we ever hear the Banks children’s mother’s name in this?  Like, at all?  See, mothers aren’t actually characters, they’re props.) would the story have enough to do for both of them?  The same thing happened in Maleficent:  Maleficent becomes Aurora’s mother figure, and then her bio-mother dies tragically halfway through the film, which was not part of the original Sleeping Beauty story. I think because the movie didn’t know what to do with two mother figures.

You know what would be interesting? Figuring out how to write two mother figures because it isn’t conventional and doesn’t rely on cliches.

And another thing… The original Mary Poppins a) Didn’t need to kill off the mother at the start and b) Had a clear message:  family is important and maybe you ought to pay attention to your kids once in a while.

What’s the message here?

Michael (the boy from the first movie, now a widower with three precocious children) is freaking useless. He screws up several times, in pretty big ways — mortgaging the house, falling behind on payments, and then sort of forgetting that he has this big inheritance and then losing the paper that proves he has this big inheritance. Sure, I guess the evil banker is evil for hiding evidence of the inheritance. But Michael I think is supposed to work in finance, and he doesn’t know how to handle these things? He’s just useless. And then, he is rewarded for screwing up.  No matter what happens, the cosmos will conspire fix it all because this is a movie designed to reassure the middle class that everything is a-okay!

Like, the city’s downtrodden working class, represented by the lamp lighters, will come together and risk their lives to ensure that he gets his massive inheritance so that he can pay off his mortgage?

Like, that actually happened? I dunno. It was all so weird.

The very best part of the movie was at the end, with a sudden appearance by Angela Lansbury and her distinctive voice. It was so wonderful to see her. They were all in the park with balloons instead of kites. But still.



First off, this is an old, old emergency room story, almost 30 years old at this point.  I was reminded of it recently and wanted to tell it.  So, do not worry for me.  I am fine.  My loved ones are fine.  Nothing to see here, move along…

When I was sixteen, I fell off the horse I was riding.  Landed on my shoulder.  And something went crack.  So there I was, an hour later, in the Air Force Academy Hospital emergency room.  Observation #1:  In my experience, military emergency rooms are extremely efficient.  Very capable folks there.  Observation #2:  In this particular emergency room, on a weekday afternoon, it was a very slow day.  I was the only patient.

I got x-rays, came back to the emergency room so the doctor could look at them.  I was sitting on an exam bed looking bedraggled and forlorn.  Across the room, the doctor took the x-rays into a little dark side room so he could look at them on the light box. (Ah, the days before digital…) He looked at them.  Then he looked over at me.  Then he looked at the x-rays.  Then he looked at me.  Pretty soon, every other doctor in the place crammed into the room to look at the x-rays.  Did I mention it was a slow day?  Then, all the nurses crammed into the room.  Then, all the orderlies.  So at this point there were like 8-10 people crowded around looking at this x-ray.  And glancing out at me.  And shaking their heads.  Finally, this young orderly in the back pipes up, “Wow, even I can see that one.”

We had to ask to see the x-ray ourselves. The collarbone was snapped in half a like a pencil. It was hideous. A month later the orthopedist was impressed at how well it had healed, but to this day the bone isn’t quite straight and has a big calcified lump on it. I’m very proud of it. It’s my best scar.

Observation #3:  Military emergency rooms are efficient but the bedside manner with dependent children isn’t always ideal. At least it wasn’t 30 years ago…


self-imposed deadlines

August 15, 2019

Taking a really big trip is a good way to set deadlines for myself. This is a good way to get things done. But it can backfire, like last week, when I decided I need to finish, like, everything.  I have a couple of actual, contractual deadlines on September 1. But seeing has how that’s just a week after I get back from the Ireland trip?  No sir, let’s do everything before so I don’t have to worry about it! That’s great!

In the last two weeks I’ve finished revisions on two novellas and three short stories, started revisions on a third novella, compiled notes for a novel revision and started a new novel outline. I always seem to do this to myself. I spend six months writing up a storm and at the end of it am left with this giant stack of revising that cannot be avoided, and I can’t really start anything new until I clear my brain.

I need a vacation.

Hey, guess what?!


P.S.:  The three novellas and three short stories will all be released at some point in the next year, along with two other novellas that are totally done, including The Immortal Conquistador. The only thing harder than revisions is waiting for all this work to make its way to the public…


Lily’s big adventure

August 12, 2019

I think I’ve mentioned that my dog Lily has become very elderly. She’s 16 this summer. We have learned that dogs do get old-aged dementia. This has had some interesting side-effects. When she was young, Lily, like most American Eskimos, was really high strung and nervous. I couldn’t take her anywhere because she just had too much anxiety, barked at everything and snapped at people.

Well. Saturday, I took her to an outdoor SCA event. And she had a GREAT time. Apparently, she’s no longer aware enough to be nervous about anything. We went on a hike. She let people come up and cuddle her. She didn’t bark at all. She was so sweet. On the one hand this is absolutely bizarre, given what used to be normal for her. On the other, we had such a nice day together I’m just going to be grateful about it.

I absolutely loved walking around and having just about everyone look at her and say “Floof!”

She is still very floofy.

Adjusting my mindset about Lily and what she can do (like, the reason I brought her to the event is that she is no longer reliably house trained, alas) has been really hard. But I’m hoping we can get out more and have some fun while we can.


Worldcon: Dublin

August 8, 2019

This time next week I’ll be in Dublin for Worldcon. I’ve got a whole list of things I want to do and see during and after the convention, but I have to clean the house first and finish up some work and make sure I have my passport in hand and. . . so yeah, I’m a little stressed right now. Soon, though, I’ll be away and enjoying myself.

Long time readers of the blog will remember the last time I was in Ireland, in 2014 for Eurocon, when Newgrange completely blew my mind and I started obsessing endlessly about what must have been going on there 5000 years ago, the civilization that would have been required to build the thousands of tombs and forts and circles that date to that period, of which very little evidence remains. I wrote a story inspired by that trip:  “Sun, Stone, Spear.”  I also decided that I really wanted to go back to Ireland and see as many of megalithic structures and regions as I could.

After the convention, I’ll be doing just that. I’m excited and daunted and we’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, the programming schedule for Worldcon is available.  I’ll be on a handful of panels, I have a reading and autograph session, and I’ll be doing a kaffeeklatch. Maybe I’ll see you there!


Tarantino is getting soft.

I mean that in the best possible way. This movie has so much heart. It’s about second chances, a love of Hollywood, and a love of actors and who they are and what they do.

After making two westerns, Tarantino tells a story about a couple of guys who make westerns, who gave their youths to Hollywood and didn’t get a whole lot in return. Oh, and one of them lives next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in 1969.

**Obligatory spoiler warning. I don’t say what happens but I imply it, and it’s really hard to tell what’s giving away too much on this one.**

I have a friend speculating about whether anyone under thirty will get the references, will know what this is about and what’s going to happen. In my group of three who went to see this, we all pinged to appearance of the Manson Family at different times. For me, as soon as the crowd of willowy hippie girls appeared, dumpster diving and singing sweetly, I knew.  I spent the next three hours in a state of growing dread.

That thing Tarantino does in his movies? That leisurely, excruciating pacing where people are talking and nothing is happening and it’s taking so long but you know, you just know something terrible is about to happen? Probably the best example is early in Inglourious Basterds, when the Nazi officer just keeps talking and the whole time you’re wondering if he knows about the Jewish family hiding under the floor or not.  Tarantino does this to some extent, scene by scene, in all his movies.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — he extends this technique to the entire movie. The whole thing is a leisurely portrait of almost-washed-up actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman turned personal assistant Cliff Booth. About halfway through, Cliff has a run-in with the Manson Family at the ranch. It’s filmed like a western, and it’s creepy and sinister and awful. And Cliff knows this gang is seriously bad news and gets the hell out. Then, months later…

The film flips the goddamn table. My god. I spent three hours sure I knew what was going to happen, and then… I can tell you the instant I realized I didn’t know what was going to happen anymore. It’s gorgeous.

This is all on purpose, by design. Sure, you could cut out a lot of the dialog, the long drives out of the Valley, the self-indulgent interludes. But then it wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie, and the massive catharsis when that tension breaks and the blood starts flying and the flame throwers come out wouldn’t be the same.

I think my favorite thing this movie does, though, is humanize Sharon Tate. For fifty years she’s been the victim of this lurid awful crime and nothing else. Here, she gets this big long sequence where she can’t resist grinning up at the theater marque with her name on it. She talks her way in to see the film, and delights in the reactions of the audience to her performance.  This is a woman who loves movies, loves being in them. She’s super relatable and it’s great spending time with her. Margot Robbie’s big grin through this is wonderful and heartbreaking, because you know…you think you know…what’s going to happen to her.

But like I said, this is a movie about second chances.

Now, I want the annotated version.


The Immortal Conquistador

August 1, 2019

Sorry about the silence and the spotty posting. I had family visiting this weekend and so was off on adventures like hiking Garden of the Gods and taking my 7 year old niece to Casa Bonita. She’s the perfect age for it because Black Bart’s Cave was too scary.

And now I’m back, and getting ready for Worldcon in Dublin. I’m on a bunch of programming and hope to have some good adventures.

Meanwhile, I have a cover reveal.

(Art by Rebecca Harp.)

The Immortal Conquistador is all stories about Rick the vampire, who has become one of my favorite characters to write about.  Half of this is reprints — “El Conquistador de la Noche,” “El Hidalgo de la Noche,” and “Dead Men in Central City.”  Taken together these stories have a great western frontier flare that are a big reason why I keep writing stories about Rick. I love that milieu, and he’s got 500 years worth of stories to tell.

The other half of the book is a brand-new novella that jumps back and forth in time. It tells what happened to Rick immediately after the events of Kitty Rocks the House, and back to 1848 and that one time Rick ended up in Santa Fe…

But I say too much. You’ll have to read about it. It’s due out in February from Tachyon Publications.

Barnes and Noble did a write-up on the whole thing here.

Stay tuned. More announcements are on the way. I don’t have a novel coming out this year, but I do have 5 novellas coming out over the next year. Apparently I’ve been busier than I thought…