Thursday, June 30, 2011

How I Spent Tuesday Night

It is great to be a grownup.  Really.  I wouldn't want to be fourteen again unless I could have a good look at what my future would be, because fourteen was just the worst year ever. But it got better. And sometimes I do wish I could let that geeky fourteen year old know just how much better it would get to be. A while ago, I either tweeted or posted to Facebook that if my fifteen-year-old self could know what my present day life was like, she'd say "way cool" (and, probably, "worth the wait.") The first person who expressed agreement with what I was saying, because he felt the same way about his own life, was my friend Neil Gaiman.

I first met and photographed Neil before he was the super-star author he has become. It was at the 1990 World Fantasy Convention in Chicago. I was in law school, but I was still actively adding photographs to the growing exhibit of professionals in the field of science fiction, fantasy and horror that's traveled farther than I have.  So I took the weekend to fly to Chicago to have some time with Len Wein and to add to the photographic collection.

Len introduced me to Neil, who was building a nice career with the Sandman comic books he was writing for DC Comics.  Len had been midwife to the influx of British writers at DC, starting with bringing Alan Moore in to write Swamp Thing and following that as Alan's editor on Watchmen.  Neil came along a few years after, a fan of Len's from reading his run on Phantom Stranger, and one of the first stars of DC's Vertigo imprint.

In the first portrait of I made of Neil (below, in 1990), he reminded me of a young John Lennon.  

Maybe it was just the accent. Love that accent.

The following year, Neil won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story with the Sandman story "A Midsummer's Night Dream." The rules for the Awards were immediately changed so that a comic book could never win again.

Over the years, we'd meet up at various conventions or signings, and keep in touch by e-mail or social media.  Neil morphed into a rock god, requiring body guards and the use of aliases to stay at hotels. Around 1999, I got him to agree to be my master of ceremonies at the 2001 Nebula Awards I produced in Los Angeles, which, by coincidence, was the first one at which he was nominated for a Nebula Award. A year or two later, he won the Nebula Award for best novel for American Gods.

Which brings me to Tuesday night.  Neil was in town for an appearance on the 10th Anniversary Tour for American Gods. I ordered four tickets as soon as I heard about it, which got us second row seats.  I invited one of the girls from the barn, who had recently gushed about Neil's episode of Dr. Who, "The Doctor's Wife," and who had asked me to pass on to Neil how much she liked it ("best episode of Dr. Who ever!") I figured it would give me the same kind of kick I got from introducing my girlfriend's granddaughter to Stan Lee last year at Comic-con to introduce Jenni to Neil. (It did.)

For reasons unknown, the local organizers of the appearance chose to make all tickets will-call (though, thankfully, they did assign seats so it wasn't festival seating.) This is not the best arrangement when there are some 1800 seats in the theatre, and, as you can see from the photo below, most of them were filled.  Ticket distribution started at 5:30, there were people buying tickets at the door, and the show started an hour late.
Besides Len, my son Michael, and Jenni, we picked up Susan Ellison, wife of Harlan, to take to the show.  She and I stood in line while the others went off to get some dinner, which turned out to be a good arrangement. I saw Neil's limo pull into the parking lot just as Susan got her tickets, so we walked around the theatre and found him.  He looked at us and asked "did you get your back-stage passes?" Uh, no. "They were supposed to be with your tickets." Oh. Fortunately, Neil's assistant for the evening got them for us while we stood around talking to Neil and waiting for Len, Michael, and Jenni to get back.  We had a nice chat with Neil, actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, and Zelda Williams (Robin's daughter) back stage and then headed in to our seats for the show.

And we waited. And waited.  Susan, who bought her ticket separately from ours, was way in the back of the orchestra.  Eventually, Len went back and brought her up to our row where there were a number of empty seats.
 And we waited some more.  The 8 P.M. start time kicked off at about 9 P.M. The audience was grateful.
 Neil and Patton chatted for a while. Neil talked about the inspiration for American Gods and alluded to things that might be in American Gods 2.
 Then Zelda Williams came out.
 The three of them did a dramatic reading of an early passage of the book.  It was unforgettable.
 Patton Oswalt and Zelda Williams reading from American Gods.
After the show, we all went back stage again.  I wanted to make sure I got a photograph of Jenni with Neil (below.) Jenni told me that it was the best night of her life and that Ace would be the most spoiled horse ever because of it. Gratitude is lovely.
Wil Wheaton showed up back stage with his wife, whom I had not met previously. Wil looked at us and exclaimed "I should have known you'd be here!" He's not at all like the "Evil Wil Wheaton" from The Big Bang Theory, which is why that character is such a hoot. Wil had also been back stage at the Craig Ferguson show that Neil had taped before heading over to the Saban Theatre. I didn't think it was possible to do both shows, but that was before the time between them increased by an hour!

We got home in time to tape the segment--too late for us to actually watch that night--but here it is for you to enjoy. Ferguson is quick and amazingly well versed in things literary. He must be one of us because he knew what Cthulu was and who wrote it. The awkward pause at the end of the set is priceless.
 I realize that Neil has helped build his audience by careful use of blogging and Twitter, but the evening made me think that this must have been like it was for Americans to attend an evening with Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde. It was really quite thrilling to realize that writers still can still have an avid following and Neil has really earned it.
[American Gods is about to start production as a television series for HBO from Tom Hank's Play-tone production company. Neil's books Stardust and Coraline have already appeared on the big screen, but they make excellent reading. His Graveyard Book has won many awards and is a lovely read. Maybe, someday, the script that Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio wrote for Sandman will make it to the big screen,]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the high point of my niece Kristina's recent visit was a series of riding lessons at Total Equestrian Experience. As you can see from this photograph, she's got the kind of body we'd all like to have for riding. This was the only day she spent in the western saddle--other lessons were in a proper dressage saddle--but it got her quickly to the sitting trot and to the experience of a horse who decides that it is time to take off in a canter.  I was busy helping someone with a camera, so I missed that little event, but she rode right through it.  The horse is named Wizard and he's a nice quarterhorse.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Buck the Movie

I finished reading The Faraway Horses a few weeks ago and was deeply moved by Buck Brannaman's life story. He overcame an abusive father to become one of the premier practitioners of natural horsemanship, learning from the Dorrance brothers and Ray Hunt.

Buck did clinics at Pierce College before I started learning to ride here, and, unfortunately, has not been back since I bought my boy (there haven't been any clinics here at the sinfully underutilized, taxpayer-built facility for about five years--ever since the school kicked out the boarders.) 

I feel fortunate that I was able to attend or watch a number of clinics here with the amazing Harry Whitney, but I would like to attend a clinic with Buck.

The next best thing is to see the wonderful documentary Buck, which opens in Los Angeles and New York tomorrow, and opens wider next week.  The film won the viewers' choice award at Sundance and when you watch it, you will understand just why.  It's not just about a relationship with horses, it is about all kinds of relationships.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the film on Tuesday night which had a Q & A with Buck after the film was over.  I was very surprised that I did not recognize a single face in the audience, but it was a benefit for Homeboy Industries, so the tickets cost a bit more than your typical night at the cinema--but not all that much more for a date these days.  My friend (and superior horsewoman) Melinda Snodgrass had come into town that afternoon and my newly horse-addicted niece Kristina was staying with us, so they got to come along with me.

I arranged to have Kristina take riding lessons while she was visiting.  She went to Ireland a few years ago and took a few there, and I got her to the barn last year when she came to see me compete on Jeopardy!.  This year, she was in California for three weeks and managed to get a lesson most of the days she was here.  Being tall (around 5'8"), weighing slightly more than the average feather (perfect for the working actress she is), and, as described in a recent review, "leggy", she has a much more perfect body for riding than her doting aunt (who thinks it is a good skill for Kristina to add to her acting resume.) 

Kristina immediately applied concepts from the film to her new skill.  She was able to describe how the two horses she was riding in lessons mirrored or responded to what she was doing in the saddle and on the ground with them.  I was very pleased.  I'm sorry she probably won't be able to take any more lessons until the next time she comes out to visit, but now she knows she can mount from the ground (oh those legs), post and sit a trot, and control a horse who decides it is time to take off (even though she hasn't actually learned the canter yet.)  She'd look spectacular in a dressage arena, but the one lesson in a western horse had her declare "I could sit this trot all day long."  That's how I feel about Ace's trot.

Melinda decided that her Lusitano stallion Vento would really enjoy the cow work that Buck does in his clinics with more advanced riders.  I'd love to watch that clinic.  If I were an advanced rider, I'd put Ace into one.  He has no fear, and an appropriate amount of curiosity, about cows, both from his early days in New Mexico with Melinda (who bred him) and when he was boarded at the college (which does still have an agriculture program, though most days it looks like it is being dismantled.)

In response to the Q&A, Buck said he's doing a clinic out here next year.  I'm staying alert to find out when that will be, because I'd love to attend it.

If you happen to live in Los Angeles, Buck Brannaman will be in attendance at the 7: 30 P.M. showing of the film on Friday, June 17, at the Landmark Theatre in the Westside Pavillion on Pico Boulevard and at both the 7:00 P.M. and 9:30 P.M. shows on Saturday, June 18 at the Arclight Theatre in Hollywood (which has reserved seating.)

If you don't live in L.A., you can check out this link for other places the film is playing.  Do not miss it.