Current Mood: contemplative
Way back when on LiveJournal, when I started this column or journal or whatever it is, I called it my “Not A Blog,” because I could see that regular blogging was a lot of work, and I didn’t think I had the time to devote to it. I was late on a book even then, though I do not recall which one. I figured I would just make posts from time to time, when I had an important announcement, when the mood struck me, whatever.
Somehow, though, over the decades, the Not A Blog became a blog, and what I had intended as a occasional pleasure and a way to stay in touch with my readers has become a Blog (ironically, at the same time as everyone else was abandoning their blogs for Facebook and Twitter), complete with a sense of obligation. And when a lot of stuff happens very fast, I fall further and further behind.
I am hugely behind right now, and the prospect of trying to catch up is feeling increasingly oppressive.
My life has become one of extremes these past few months. Some days I do not know whether to laugh or cry, to shoot off fireworks and dance in the streets or crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head. The good stuff that has been happening to me has been very very very good, the kind of thing that will make a year, or a career. But the bad stuff that is happening has been very very very bad, and it is hard to cherish the good and feel the joy when the shadows are all around.
If any of you read the stories about me on the internet, you will know my good news. I have a new five-year deal with HBO, to create new GOT successor shows (and some non-related series, like ROADMARKS) for both HBO and HBO Max. It’s an incredible deal, an amazing deal, very exciting, and I want to tell you all about it… although it seems the press has already done it. There are stories in all the trades. You can read about it there. (These days I almost never get to break any news about myself, the Hollywood press is always ahead of me. Some of their stories are even accurate). I will blog about it, I expect, but not today.
On the other side of the coin… well, I am now fully vaccinated, hurrah hurray, that’s good. However, I have now lost six friends since November. (Only a couple to Covid. Alas, I am old, and so are many of my friends. Valar morghulis, I guess). And a seventh friend, a very old and dear friend who has been a huge part of my life for a long time, is in the hospital, very sick, recovering from surgery… at least we hope he is recovering.
Honestly, it is hard to dance in the streets even for the deal of a lifetime when another loved one dies every two/ three weeks, and that has been going on for me since November, when my longtime editor Kay McCauley passed away.
There’s lots more going on as well. Meow Wolf stuff. Railroad stuff. Beastly Books has reopened, but the JCC is still shuttered. The Jets traded Sam Darnold away. I am going to be leaving my cabin in a couple of months. I am close to delivering PAIRING UP, a brand new Wild Cards book.
I will tell you about some of this, I guess. But not today.
Current Mood: tired
My dear friend Sibel Kekilli — Shae, for all you fans of HBO’s GAME OF THRONES — emailed me recently to alert me to some distressing news out of Turkey. (Sibel is German, born and raised in Germany, but of Turkish descent). Turkey, under the Erdogan regime, has officially withdrawn from the Istanbul convention that combats violence against women.
Here are the details:
Sibel herself has first hand knowledge of what it means to experience violence, and she has long been an advocate fighting violence against women all around the world. She is not only an amazing actress (she gave Shae a depth the character never had in my books), but a very brave woman, and a true hero. I admire her immensely for all she has done, and continues to do.
And I would like to echo her message to the women and girls of Turkey: Selam Ve Sevgiler.
Current Mood: determined
I got the first shot of Covid vaccine last week, I am relieved to report. The Moderna vaccine. Second shot scheduled for the end of the month.
Parris has also gotten her first shot.
That’s the good news.
And it does seem that we are finally turning the corner on the pandemic. We are not out of the woods yet, but I am cautiously hopeful.
The bad news, of course, is that I have lost five friends since November. Not all to Covid, though that was a factor in some of the deaths. Death is part of life, I know, it waits for all of us, valar morghulis and all that. Even so, this is too much too soon, and it has been hitting me hard. I have friends who struggle with depression, but I have never been prone to such myself… at least not the kind of depression that requires medication… but it is hard to stay upbeat and focused when you are suffering so many losses so close together, blow after blow after blow.
Fuck you, Grim Reaper. Stick that scythe up your arse and leave my loved ones alone.
Meanwhile, I do my best to lose myself in work.
Current Mood: angry
The Grim Reaper just keeps on reaping, sad to say.
I have lost another friend. Last night I got a phone call from Michael Cassutt in LA to tell me that our mutual friend Dr. Michael Engelberg had died. He was a victim of Covid-19, one of the half million we have lost.
Dr. Michael was a physician himself, an oncologist at Cedar-Sinai in Los Angeles, and one of the leaders in his field, though he retired from active practice a few years ago. Thankfully (knock wood) neither I nor anyone in my immediate circle ever needed to call upon his expertise in the treatment of cancer… but having a good friend who was also a doctor at one of the leading hospitals in the country was definitely something to be thankful for. He was always the first person I turned to for a second opinion whenever Parris or I had a medical issue of any sort. There was no one better. Twenty years ago, asking him for that second opinion saved Parris from having an entirely unnecessary heart procedure, for which we will be eternally grateful.
Dr. Michael lived a double life, however. By day he was a physician, one of the country’s leading oncologists. But he was also a hardcore science fiction and fantasy fan, and a film producer… and it was in that capacity that I first met him, back in the early 90s. I was doing a lot of screenwriting in those days, and Engelberg was looking for writers to script some of the projects he had in development at Disney, so my agent set up a breakfast for us… at Hugo’s, I believe. (That was a big industry breakfast-and-lunch place in those days. The food was great…. and, of course, with a name like that, there was no place better for two old fanboys to get together and talk SF). We hit it off at once, and two decades of friendship ensued.
We also worked together. Michael was a decade older than me and had been reading SF all his life. He had an amazing collection, especially of Golden Age material. He loved Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Simak, and his dream was to bring some of their classic works to the silver screen.
His favorite was Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom novels. Michael was the producer who first brought A PRINCESS OF MARS to Disney, and got it optioned by Hollywood Pictures, a Disney subsidiary. For more than a decade he fought to get it filmed. Writer after writer took a crack at it, and at least once the project got a greenlight with a director attached… but then the director demanded another rewrite, and the studio did not like it much, and the green light turned to red. The director left, and more writers came and went… the last team being me and Melinda Snodgrass. We did a couple of passes ourselves, and for a while it seemed we were going to get a green light for our version… but then the Mouse changed his mind, decided PRINCESS needed to be animated instead of live action, and took it away from us and Hollywood Pictures and assigned it to Disney proper. Where nothing happened. In later years the Disney option expired, and the Burroughs estate sold the rights to Paramount. Nothing happened there either, alas. So Disney came back into the picture and bought back the rights to Barsoom, but the Hollywood Pictures division was defunct by then, so a whole new group of people took charge of the project. I don’t think they ever even looked at the old scripts. Instead they made JOHN CARTER. Dr. Michael was not connected with that, and I think it broke his heart a little… but that’s development for you.
A PRINCESS OF MARS was his passion project, but by no means the only one he worked on. There was a time back in the 90s when I had four — yes, count ’em, four — films in active development at Hollywood Pictures, and Dr. Michael Engelberg was the executive producer and guiding hand on all of them. Besides PRINCESS, Melinda and I were also developing WILD CARDS as a feature film, collaborating on a screenplay built around our own most iconic characters, Dr. Tachyon and the Great and Powerful Turtle. Michael also picked up the rights to FADEOUT, an original SF screenplay I had written for a small independent that had gone bust. For a time there was talk of attaching Sharon Stone to that one, but when that fell through, so did the project. And Hollywood also optioned my historical horror novel, FEVRE DREAM. I was so busy with other work — the aforementioned PRINCESS, WILD CARDS, FADEOUT, as well as three television pilots, the Wild Cards books, and this fantasy novel I had started in 1991 — that I did not get around to writing the screenplay for FEVRE DREAM for a while, alas. Big mistake. By the time I turned in the script, Hollywood Pictures was on its last legs and had lost all interest in steamboats and vampires. They put the script in turnaround the day after I turned it in.
None of that was Dr. Michael’s fault. He was as frustrated as any of us by the vagaries of development hell. Maybe more so. I loved working with him, maybe because he had a trufan’s reverence for the original material. Whether dealing with ERB, RAH, or GRRM, he always argued for staying with the book and doing faithful adaptations.
In the end, Dr. Michael only got one of his numerous projects filmed: the 1994 adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s THE PUPPET MASTERS. That was another book he brought to Disney, and it gave him great joy when the cameras finally began to roll… although I know he would rather that one had stayed a bit closer to RAH’s novel as well. If Hollywood had more sense, PUPPET MASTERS would have been the first of many Michael Engelberg productions. Instead it proved to be the first and last.
My friendship with Michael lasted much longer than our working relationship. Whenever I visited LA, I would make sure I made time to visit him, so we could catch up and talk about the books we’d loved and the movies we wanted to make. Our favorite haunt was Hop Li, a Chinese restaurant in LA’s Chinatown, where we would gather around a big round table and share a feast with other writers, fans, and movie people. Melinda Snodgrass, Michael Cassutt, Alan Brennert, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, David Goyer, Len Wein, Chris Valada were all regulars at our Hop Li gatherings. And you never knew who else might turn up. One time it was Deke Slayton, which was pretty damn exciting.
If Covid ever ends and I get to return to LA again, I hope those of us who are left can gather at Hop Li once more and raise a toast to Dr. Michael Engelberg over some tangerine beef, peking duck, and walnut shrimp. He was one of the good ones.
Current Mood: depressed
Wanda June Alexander died on Sunday morning, at her daughter’s house in Santa Fe, up the street from my own places.
Her health had been failing for some time, going back a couple of years at least, so all of us who loved her knew that we were going to lose her soon. We thought she had another three or four months, though, maybe longer… and of course one cannot help but hope, even when the docs tell you there is no hope. Wanda faced and fought lung cancer a few years ago, and though she beat it with chemo, in the aftermath she was left with Idiopathic Pulmony Fibrosis, which was slowly destroying her ability to breathe. She went on as best she could for as long as she could, enjoying every day to the best of her ability, but at the end she was bedridden and hooked up to oxygen 24/7. It was only going to get worse, we were told. The end, when it came, seemed to be as peaceful as it was sudden; she went to sleep, and died sometime in the night. She was gone come morning. Right up to the last she was as sharp, funny, and loving a woman she had always been. A lot of friends came to visit her and spend time with her over the holidays and afterward, and she enjoyed their company as much as she enjoyed theirs. Wanda June was always a delight.
Wanda June was a dear dear friend… but more than that, really. She and Raya have been part of our family, in one sense or another, for decades. I do not actually recall when and where I first met Wanda. It was at a con, no doubt, probably in the late 70s or early 80s. I knew OF Wanda before I actually knew Wanda, however. She was an East Coast fan when I first began hearing tales of her, from mutual friends. Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann, David Axler, Dave Kogelmen, Joe and Gay Haldeman… all of them were friends of mine, and friends of the legendary Wanda June. She was one of Parris’s oldest, dearest friends, from the 70s on to this very day. Parris, as many of you know, ran off and joined the circus in the late 70s, travelling with Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey for a year, selling sno-cones to the kids. She fell in love with the elephants (and loves elephants still). But it was Wanda June who inspired her… Wanda ran off and joined the circus first. Instead of elephants, Wanda fell in love with a clown. The relationship did not endure, but from that union came the great joy of Wanda June’s life, her amazing daughter Raya. (Seen above when she was little).
The circus was only the start of Wanda June’s adventures. After Ringling she returned to New York City, where she became an editor for Tor Books… and Raya got her start in publishing toddling around the corridors of the Flatiron Building, bringing Tom Doherty his mail. Ultimately she left Tor to go back to school, though, heading off to Montana to get her Master’s degree in English. As much as she loved editing, she loved teaching more… and her students loved her. She was one of those teachers who changes lives, and she shared her loved of books and reading (and SF and fantasy) with all the kids she taught.
She began her teaching career after Montana, and it took her to some pretty colorful places, including a small island off the coast of Alaska, and a place called Dead Monkey Ridge in New Mexico, where she taught on the Navajo Reservation for some years. Then came Grants, New Mexico, and the public schools there… and finally retirement. Education was the poorer when Wanda June put down her chalk and her eraser. Once retired, she moved to Santa Fe to be close to Raya, and we had the pleasure of her company frequently. She and Parris and Raya… and sometimes me… shared some great memories of these past few years. Trips to Ireland, the Yucatan, the Bahamas, London. Thanksgiving feasts at Melinda’s house. Christmas morning, opening gifts.
And cons. She was an educator, an editor, an agent, a mother, and a circus roadie… but through it all, Wanda June Alexander was always a FAN. She loved science fiction and fantasy, loved books, movies, and television, loved fandom… and above all, loved the friends she made there. Wanda had sisters and other blood relatives, a largish family, but fandom was her family too. If I believed in such things, it would please me to think she was off with Gardner and Kay and Roger right now, drinking and laughing and telling jokes at the Secret Pro Party in the sky.
She was one of a kind, Wanda June. We are all going to miss her so very, very much.
((Raya tells me that, in lieu of flowers or other memorials, Wanda would have wanted those who mourn her to donate to a local teen or family shelter near where you live. Wanda always loved the kids: her own students, and those she never had the chance to teach, and please be sure they are LGBTQ friendly and an inclusive organization in general)).
Current Mood: sad
January has gone past in the blink of an eye.
In the past, I have often written a year’s end round-up of sorts on my Not A Blog just before or after New Year’s. This year, though… 2020 was probably the worst year I have ever lived through, for the country and the world if not for me personally, and I say that from the perspective of someone who lived through, and remembers, 1968. So much happened, and so much of it was dire, but all the rest dwindles in importance in the shadow of hundreds of thousands of Covid deaths.
The worst of the pandemic may be yet to come, alas, but at least we see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Like millions of others, I am waiting for my turn to get the vaccine. I am on the list. Soon, I hope… meanwhile, I continue to go masked and quarantine myself as much as possible.
At least we dumped Trump. That was far and away the best thing to come out of 2020. We went out ugly, of course. The same way he came in. The same way he governed. What a vile vile man.
Personally… well, I lost a number of friends, some very near and dear to me. I have several other friends who are in failing health, so I fear that there may be more losses to come. Parris and I are as well as might be expected, but… this growing old is no fun. Was it Yeats who wrote, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be?” How old was he when he wrote that, I wonder? Twenty-two? He fibbed. Growing old sucks. (Yes, right now I hear someone saying “it beats the alternative,” which is what the unimaginative ALWAYS say… but being an SF writer, I can imagine many better alternatives. Eternal youth. Robot/ android bodies. Cold sleep. Upload to the internet. C’mon science guys, get cracking. Death sucks even worse than getting old).
What was good about 2020? Besides the election?
Well… for me… there was work.
I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of THE WINDS OF WINTER in 2020. The best year I’ve had on WOW since I began it. Why? I don’t know. Maybe the isolation. Or maybe I just got on a roll. Sometimes I do get on a roll.
I need to keep rolling, though. I still have hundreds of more pages to write to bring the novel to a satisfactory conclusion.
That’s what 2021 is for, I hope.
I will make no predictions on when I will finish. Every time I do, assholes on the internet take that as a “promise,” and then wait eagerly to crucify me when I miss the deadline. All I will say is that I am hopeful.
I have a zillion other things to do as well, though. My plate is full to overflowing. Every time I wrap up one thing, three more things land on me. Monkeys on my back, aye, aye, I’ve sung that song before. So many monkeys. And Kong.
I will talk about all that in a different blog post.
Meanwhile, guys and gals, please keep yourselves safe and healthy. I will try to do the same.
Current Mood: tired
My old friend Phyllis Eisenstein died on December 7, in Chicago. The cause of death, I am told, was Covid-19, but Phyllis had been hospitalized for most of the year, following a cerebral hemorrhage last January.
I have been trying to write a memorial to her since her passing… trying, and struggling with it. The holidays interfered, as they will, and of course I have so much on my plate… but mainly it was just hard. There was so much to say, and it seemed that only days had passed since I wrote about the deaths of Kay McCauley and then Ben Bova. Each one of those was a blow, and coming so soon one after the other… I confess, it left me in a dark place. The closer you are to someone, the harder it is to do justice to their memory. And Phyllis and I were close.
My old friend, I said… and damn, but that is true. I had known Phyl for half a century, I’ve realized, looking back. We first met in Boston in 1971, at Noreascon I, the first worldcon I ever attended. She was working the SFWA table at the con, greeting members and telling them about SFWA… a volunteer, giving of her time and effort to help out. Phyllis did a lot of that; she had a generous soul. I had only sold two stories when I turned up at Noreason and I was not yet qualified to join SFWA. I had only attended one previous sf con, so I knew almost no one at worldcon… but Phyllis was warm and friendly, and I spent a lot of the con hanging around her at the table, and she introduced me to other writers, editors, artists, all sorts of people. Phyllis, and her husband Alex, had been a part of fandom for a long time, and she seemed to know everyone.
I mean to write about all that, and more, but I also wanted to say something about her work, for Phyllis Eisenstein was a gifted and accomplished writer, one who never got the attention that I think that she deserved. There’s a lot to say about that as well. And I will.
The days have been flying by, though, and the demands on me have been building, and finally I concluded it was better to post this short notice than say nothing at all. I will return to Phyllis and write her a much longer memorial, I promise… when I can. Soon, I hope.
There has been too much death. Phyl is the third friend I lost in the last two months of 2020, that most dismal of years. And three other friends, people very near and dear to me, are struggling with very grave health issues even now. It seems there is darkness everywhere. The COVID death count keeps rising, there are fascists in the streets; the best lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and Kay and Ben and Phyl are all gone.
Be well, my friends.
Current Mood: sad