Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Again with That Hugh Jackman Guy!

We're back home after a fantastic evening attending the Hollywood premier of X-men Origins: Wolverine at the famous Chinese Theatre. We got to take my son Michael and my niece Stephanie Valada-Viars with us.

The big party premier was actually last night in Tempe, Arizona, which won some sort of a competition to get it there. We weren't sure who'd be at tonight's event, but it was pretty much the entire cast (we didn't see Liev Schreiber) and, most importantly, the wonderful Hugh Jackman.

We had great seats--row 10 on the center aisle, right in front of producer Lauren Shuler Donner and right behind Kelsey Grammer. We saw Mel Gibson, Dominic Mognahan, Ryan Reynolds, Angelica Huston, among others, in the audience. Chris Claremont, who wrote the X-men book for 16 years after taking it over from Len (he had been Len's assistant) flew to L.A. on his own dime to attend the film. Chris has a lot of characters in the film and sees as little money as we do off of it. We talked to Chris before and after the film, but he had a seat way in the back in the unreserved section.

Then Hugh Jackman showed up, stopping along the way to talk to people. As Hugh came down the aisle, Len said hello. Hugh stopped to talk to us, so my niece and son got to meet him. Stephanie's not planning to wash her hand any time soon. He is definitely the sexiest man alive.

Then Hugh continued down to the front of the theatre where he acknowledged his cast and crew and then told everyone that he had someone that he needed to give special thanks to and asked Len to stand up and then explained that without Len there would be no Wolverine and he, Hugh, would have no career. Len got a loud round of applause from the audience, and then Gavin Hood, director of the film, came across the aisle to talk to him.

The film is fantastic. It is well acted and incredibly well directed. I wish we were going to see some money from it, because I think it is going to kill at the box office. As soon as it was over, Hugh ran across the aisle and scooted down to talk to Len and ask him what he thought--Hugh had been watching Len's reactions throughout the film. He was very happy that we loved it. As was Lauren Shuler Donner, who couldn't wait for our reaction.

This is the Wolverine that Len created: a mutant who fights the overwhelming urge to kill. We are absolutely thrilled with the great job the filmmakers did. It is no wonder that Rotten Tomatoes is giving the film a 100% approval rating so far.

Do stick around for the credits. There are two tags to catch.

I'll be going to see it again this weekend. See you at the movies.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Best Nebula Awards Ever--Or at Least a Tie

I'm exhausted, but I got through the Nebula Awards(R) Weekend with little more than the hitch of a Final Cut Pro file which took a Hollywood editor friend a few hours to translate into something we could actually show at the awards ceremony. Janis Ian (photo below) was a fantastic Toastmistress/Mistress of Ceremonies and Chuck Lorre gave the best testimonial ever to the Nebula Award brand during his keynote speech (punctuated by a guitar-tuning pitch pipd--hysterical.)

Len and I left for the hotel a little later than we had planned because our fire-damaged house had been broken into overnight. This followed by one day our discovery that vandals had ripped the side door off our locked garage and pawed through our stuff (after we spent a day putting the garage in order and putting new locks on it.) We checked into the hotel, checked on registration for our event, and went off to find ourselves some lunch. Then I remembered that I was supposed to get a package from Joss Whedon's assistant--a disk with Joss' speech accepting the Bradbury Award, since he's in Canada shooting a film.

"There's no package for you," says the girl behind the desk. O.K. I went to finish my lunch. After lunch, I decided I'd better check my e-mail. Sure enough, e-mail from Joss' assistant. "I called the hotel and they said the package came and you picked it up." Oh, good. A problem. A big problem.

Several hours later, after the front desk lied again at least twice and I had to call my hotel contact for our events, I got the package. I did not immediately try to play the disk because it was time for me to run off and start the cocktail party. We went on to what turned into a very late dinner because the kitchen took an hour to get food to the table after my husband and a friend of ours had appetizers.

Following that, I took the secretary of SFWA, techno-goddess and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal, back to the room to check out the video. Good thing. We couldn't open it. Our efforts included a late-night e-mail to Joss' assistant, who immediately called us back with suggestions. Mary took the file with her and put out an APB for someone who might be able to convert the file. I saw that early on Saturday morning and woke my friend Becky Lillienfeld, who is a film editor and whom I knew owned Final Cut Pro. Becky spent the day working on it and managed to get the file to us in working HD form (despite slow upload and download times.) Crisis averted. You can see Joss Whedon's acceptance speech here.

Janis Ian wrote a new set of lyrics to "At Seventeen" to honor as many writers and stories as she could. It was funny and touching, leaving many people with tears in their eyes. Janis might record the number and make it available on her website, which would be wonderful.

Chuck Lorre was my keynote speaker and he did not disappoint. He used a guitar tuning pipe to punctuate his story about "Cross-eyed Larry" who gave him a dog-eared copy of the Martian Chronicles when Chuck was 12. It was just perfect. I hope the editor of this year's volume of the Nebula Awards anthology decides to publish the speech.
My niece Stephanie Valada-Viars (in the photograph above with my son Michael) made a lovely awards girl. One table passed a motion that she do these duties at all further Nebula Awards Ceremonies.

Bruin TV covered the event and here's the video report

It's been seven years since I chaired my first Nebula Awards Ceremony. I'd like to do it again, but I hope I don't have to wait 7 years to do it again.

Oh, I got a thank you gift from SFWA for doing it this time: five sterling silver horses--three pendants and two pins--a nice start on rebuilding my collection.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The New House

We got moved in on Friday, with a bunch of friends gathering at Gillian Horvath's to collect the stuff we brought there to the new house. The downside is that the new house smells of smoke from the old stuff, but we've got to have the old stuff with us (taxes must be finished, you know.)

I think there must be some kind of a racket going on with the rental furniture. When the stuff arrived, it had no relationship to what the woman and I discussed on the phone. Where I asked for light woods, I got dark wood--virtually black. Where I asked for a king sized bed and a full sized bed, I got two queens. Where I asked for a desk, intending it for computers, I got "writing desks" which really aren't appropriate. She told me there wasn't a catalog. She lied. The place our furniture is coming from has an on-line catalog. I would have chosen different, and cheaper, pieces than she sent me. I'm used to a 26 cubic foot refrigerator with an ice maker and a water dispenser. They sent a 19 cubic foot refrigerator with almost no freezer space--totally inadequate. It's only for a limited time and I can live with almost anything for a limited time. We did get the mattresses replaced and now I can't wait to buy our own again since the rentals are not comfortable.

I made the right decision to not rent household necessities. They charge outrageous amounts to rent dishes, linens, and those sorts of things. We're paying less to buy them than the amount that would have been wasted in rent and we need to buy them anyway. A friend has offered to throw us a "restocking shower" and I'm looking forward to that for the rest of the linens and things we need.

We still have no phone. Time Warner Cable has yet to relinquish Len's number of 22 years back to AT&T. So people calling the house are getting the usless message to try again. If I could have convinced Len to cancel our cable and Internet service with TW, I would have done so gladly. He wasn't happy about switching out the phone service, but he'll thank me someday. TW said we couldn't move our number 3 blocks south of our damaged house. AT&T had no problem and it's sending a check to thank us for "coming home to AT&T." A monopoly is a good to have for some things. Why AT&T was forced to break up is foolish in retrospect.

If I owe you a phone call or e-mail, this is why you haven't heard from me.

We got our hero dog Dexter back from my friend Suzanne on Friday evening, and he now has a house where he can look out the windows onto the world. He loves it. Michael likes having a real bed again, instead of the loft mattress, and likes the fact that Dex can join him on the bed.

I love have a window over the kitchen sink, so I can look out at the pretty flowers around the landscaped front yard while scrubbing soot off my Stangl dishes (Country Garden, which looks quite cute in the new space.)

Suzanne found the Nambe cheese and crackers server I fell in love with when I was in Santa Fe in November and brought one back to me from her quick trip there last week. I've asked for the rest of my Nambe back from the packers and I'll display it as well. I'd like to get some art up on the walls and at least one Wolverine and one Swamp Thing statue on the mantle. Then it will look like home.

We've found flatscreen HD televisions for Len's desk and our bedroom and want to get a large TV for the living room. We've seen one we like, but we've got to find someone with a truck to get it home from Costco. It's too tall for the back of my SUV. Cable and Internet arrive tomorrow.

Now, I've got to find a dress and shoes for the Nebula Awards ceremony on Saturday night. The truly impossible mission.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fire Damage

To look at the front of the house, you really wouldn't know anything was wrong. Except for the smoke-enhanced cobwebs and the growing pile of trash, it looks like a complete house. Inside, it's a different story.

There are boxes holding things we might be able to save and other boxes marked "total loss." The smoke engulfed the house, so even things which were not scorched may be lost forever. The master bedroom and its bath are totally charred and empty. What was in them was thrown out into the back and side yards and we've been digging through the piles ever since, trying to assess the loss.

Art throughout the rest of the house is also damaged to a greater or lesser extent: we pulled some boxes out of Michael's room and discovered that the container sides which were against the wall of our bedroom were scorched. The were all covered with soot and eveything smells of smoke. Paper just soaks up that smell.

While framed work generally fared better than unframed work, my signed and numbered print (#2, actually) of the Michael Whelan painting The Eagles Are Coming from a 1980s Tolkien calendar melted in its frame. Fortunately, the pencil sketch on tracing paper of Sam and Frodo done for the full-sized painting, survived although it will have to be reframed. A painted color study of Yoda which Michael did for the cover of My Jedi Journal has smoke damage but should be o.k. Ditto two Frank Frazetta drawings. Most of the framed movie posters that were in the hall, including all three of the X-men films, the two new Batman films, and the two Swamp Thing films are pretty much ruined. My poster of the first of the new Zorro films, autographed by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, may be o.k. once it is reframed. The lobby cards for Swamp Thing are pretty much ruined. There was a 16 x 20 pencil drawing of Captain America that Jack Kirby did for Len as a get well card more than 40 years ago, which is in pretty bad shape.

In my office, the framed celebrity photographs I took when I used to freelance for the Washington Post are not visible because the soot is that bad. I hope they can be cleaned or reframed, because I don't have those negatives. The half-dozen framed prints from the science fiction portrait project, which were in "floater" frames are probably not salvageable, but I do own those negatives. My Epson 2400 printer has been declared a total loss, like all of the electronics in the house, wherever they were.

The few items hanging in the living room, like the diptych Michael Whelan did of the cover of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Bloody Sun, may need reframing, but will be o.k. I'll learn to live with any smoke smell from that, thank you. The statuary and awards that were on the mantle may be too damaged to salvage.

Len's office, which had an entire wall covered with awards and sketches, is in very bad shape. His Shazam Awards, which had been sealed on wood mounts are charred, melted, and not replaceable. He had a number of portraits of himself done by people like Sergio Aragones and Frank Kelly Freas which may be ruined beyond repair. Sergio's still alive, but Kelly died a number of years ago. I'm not sure how many of Len's original scripts, which a university recently requested for their collection, will survive. We haven't had a chance to get that far into things.

On Saturday, we did a repacking of our garage in case that all has to be moved out as well. Among the papers were found were a hand-written note from Alan Moore to Len which accompanied the delivery of the first issue of Watchmen. And that's why I keep referring to things as our archeological dig.

I will eventually post a few pictures, but I've got to replace some of my computer equipment before I start downloading images.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Love Drunk

In all of the trauma of the past week, I've not had an opportunity to post about "Love Drunk," the play in which my niece stars at the Abington Theatre until April 19. I just found this clip on line, which is a discussion among my niece, Kristina Valada-Viars, her co-star Austin Pendleton, and the playwrite, Romulus Linney.

She's getting fine reviews, including one I just saw calling her a relative newcomer with a long and varied career ahead of her. We are so proud. If you are in the New York area, do drop by.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lessons from the Fire, continued.

Eight, newspapers do a poor job of reporting and don't even bother with the who, what, when, where, how, and why these days. Here's a report about the fire and a picture in the Daily News. Here's a bigger version of the photograph. Wouldn't it have made a better story if the headline had read "Wolverine Creator Safe, Original Wolverine Art Destroyed in Early Morning Fire." I do appreciate them noticing the dog's loss, though. And here's a video report from the LAPD, which has a video which is not actually our house.

Nine, have a great relationship with your insurance agent. Ours was immediately responsive, came to the house as soon as he could, and got good people there, protecting us from the vultures who respond to the fire department calls in order to snag 10% of your insurance coverage as "independent appraisers." We are not anywhere near being at war with our insurance company, who did a good job after the 1994 earthquake.

Ten, realize that when a fire engulfs your bathroom and bedroom, you're going to go shopping. If you like shopping, it's a real plus. If you are indifferent, its not so great. I am particularly sorry to loose the brand new paddock boots and lacers that were in the closet in reserve. And my rarely worn cowboy boots. And my worn once black dress boots. And the clothes I thought I would wear to the Nebula Awards banquet. The only clothes I had left were the ones I was wearing to work that morning.

Things I've Learned from the Fire, Part 1

On Monday, about half an hour after I got to work, I got a scary call. "There's been a small fire at your house."

"Small, what do you mean small."

"You'll have to come home to see and judge for yourself. Your husband and son are safe."

One of our dogs was not. Our beloved Sheba, scared and confused, got away from Len and ran back into the house. She died of smoke inhalation in her "safe space." We are heartbroken. All the rest is just stuff. Unfortunately, some of it was very valuable stuff. That's the downside of being collectors where value appreciates but insurance rates for those things are astronomical.

The first thing I've learned from the fire is never ignore a dog when he's trying to tell you something. Len thought the smell of smoke was outside, not inside. Dexter was wimpering, and trying to get Len to leave the house. Eventually, Len left his office and realized the problem was in our bedroom, got Michael out of bed, grabbed the dogs and called the fire department when they got outside.

Second, store store valuables in a Lane Chest. The outside is charred, the inside pristine. If the art had been in that, it would still be with us, because what wasn't charred, was water damaged.

Third, it takes a very long time for wood to actually burn. It can char, but to totally eat away at it would have taken much, much longer. My beloved six-month-old table in the living room is fine, but of the six 18" leaves in my hall closet, three are kind of charred, and there may be some water damage and scratching from the firemen throwing the out into a pile of rubbish including most of the roof of our bedroom, but I think they'll be restorable. If not, I'll be getting a new table when we move back home--someday. So if you don't have a Lane Chest, use really good wood dressers and cabinets, and keep the doors closed.

Four, if you live in an older house, with electric wall heaters you have never used in the 22 years you've owned a home, get them removed. The firemen think that some sort of a power surge went through our lines, heating the unit which we have never, ever turned on, and setting fire (I'll bet to dust first) to my laundry hamper and from there it went up. I would not have kept things close to a unit we actually used, and I think some of the news reports have given a mistaken impression of what happened.

Five, and I knew this before, good friends are worth more than all of the gold stored in New York City. On Tuesday, we had 10 friends doing an archeological dig in the debris that had been thrown our of our now stripped bedroom and bath, looking for any of our jewelery that might be intact. We've been surprised by what we have found and what hasn't shown up, when things were originally next to each other or in the same container.

Six, store all jewelery in boxes (preferably a closed jewelery box) and not on any plexiglass display--they melt. They will probably make excellent works of modern art someday, somewhere, but I've lost countless necklaces and earings. My engagement ring, an opal ring my ex-husband gave me, and a black pearl ring were all in a small cardboard ring box in my top dresser drawer. My underwear melted, but I've got my rings unharmed. We have yet to find anything we can identify as our 22" television set except a twisted, stretched piece of plastic which might have covered the screen. My horse jewelery was in display boxes on top of it. We've only found some of the pieces, in varying conditions. We are thrilled that we found the beautiful horse and malachite necklace and earing set Len had made for me last Christmas, especially that my friends found all three pieces. I know that they were in a box that must have been damaged, because we haven't found it or other pieces that were in the same cardboard box.

Seven, silver melts. But not all the time. I think I have found a heavy lump of silver which may have been my Rohirrim-inspired horse head pin from the Noble Collection of Lord of the Rings collectibles. Both pendants Len bought me in December and the one I bought in February are missing, but may be some of the smaller puddles of silver we've found. We need to borrow a metal detector. Pot metals and gold seemed to fare better, but not always. An 18 karat Italian gold ring I bought in Florence will need to be reshaped, because it bent, but it cleaned up with no effort. I have no idea where my box of cultured pearls that I've collected over the years at the county fair have wound up. Some of my pearl jewelery is just fine, so I don't know how fire affects pearls. I do recall from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that they can dissolve in wine, so if an acid formed in the room, that may be where they went.

We did have insurance. We are greatly inconvenienced, but not destitute. And we still have a sense of humor about this.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Shooting in Binghamton

I happened to catch a headline on Yahoo about half an hour ago about a shooting and hostage taking in Binghamton, New York. The American Civic Association, a part of United Way which is involved with assisting immigrants, is the target.

My uncle was the urban renewal director in Binghamton in the 1960s. It's where my father grew up and his sisters and brothers lived. All of my first cousins on that side of the family grew up there and I'm pretty sure some of them are still in the area. I just hope no one is near where this is going on.

The events are taking place at 131 Front Street, about half a block from what I remember was the biggest department store in Binghamton, where my aunt ran the "foundations" department. The 60 mile drive each way from where I lived is something we did several times a month, often on Thursdays which was the night shops were open late in Binghamton.

The world is not so large a place that things in a city 3000 miles away can't affect us. When the shooting happened at Virginia Tech, one of the professors killed was the son of a science fiction writer I've photographed. I worry that in a place where I have so many contacts, things could hit closer to home.