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*Article originally published in slightly different form as HBO Debuts New Webisode of True Blood Online on Blogcritics.org.

One of the joys of getting HBO is watching True Blood in the summer.  One of the pains of watching True Blood is the lag time between seasons.  True Blood fans have to wait a year before getting invited back to Bon Temps and whether one is Team Bill, Team Eric or Team Who Cares As Long As I Get My Weekly Fix— waiting sucks. 

HBO has been feeling our pain and released some collectible downloadable posters to feed our addiction.  We’ve also been getting some quick glimpses of next season playing after last season’s reruns on Sundays.    These tidbits have all been gobbled up by True Blood fans, as they count down the days until season three starts on June 13.  In a savvy marketing move, Alan Ball and HBO decided to make that wait a little easier by releasing six webisodes to give us our True Blood fix.

The six webisodes are billed as minisodes and are intended to keep returning fans’ appetites whetted, while luring new fans into the world of Bon Temps and Fangtasia, where vampires and humans eye each other hungrily and shapeshifters and werewolves rub shoulders with the locals. The production value is therefore high.  Alan Ball wrote the scripts, which will feature Sookie, Bill, Eric, Tara, Sam, Jason, Lafayette, and Pam. The scenes will offer original content that draws on past and future storylines, but will not be seen in the season itself. “The minisodes provide a wonderful and rare opportunity to take a deeper look into Bon Temps and the characters that live in this colorful town,” said Alan Ball in the press release for the first webisode, featuring sexy Fangtasia owner Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) and his sidekick, the fierce and funny Pam (Kristin Bauer) who was recently promoted to series regular.

The webisode was released on April 27 online at Yahoo TV, along with this gorgeous season three poster. If you haven’t seen either, run over to Yahoo or HBO immediately to see the laugh out loud clip of Eric and Pam auditioning new dancers for the club.  Skarsgardnews also has a downloadable copy of the original poster and a delectable one zoomed in on Eric. 

Season Three True Blood poster

poster source:  Skarsgardnews.com

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/hbo-debuts-new-webisode-of-true/#ixzz0maj5c3u6

Author John Edgar Wideman, a powerful voice in African American literature, two time winner of the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction and recipient of the REA Award For The Short Story, had a lulu of an idea for publishing his latest work, Briefs: Stories For The Palm Of The Mind, a collection of what the author calls microstories. Wideman chose to break with traditional publishing and instead released his book on Lulu, an internet open publishing provider. Wideman is now working with Lulu to offer The John Edgar Wideman Microstory Contest.

Wideman’s interest in Lulu stems from a desire for more control over his own work and more direct contact with his readers. Lulu is named after the old fashioned expression for a great idea and Wideman is clearly attracted to the possibilities Lulu offers to writers. His new contest invites aspiring writers to write a microstory in the style of Briefs for possible inclusion in a special edition of the book.

The contest is open to anyone and closes on May 1st, 2010. The entries must be no more than 600 words and can be submitted at  pr@lulu.com.  To get an idea of how Wideman defines a microstory, a free preview of Briefs is available on Lulu, and Wideman also discusses his storytelling style on Lulu’s Guest Author Blog. According to the author, “Small stories can offer quick exit and re-entry into the immensity surrounding them. Represent in miniature the complex negotiations, the meticulous elaborations of the best work on any scale. Holes, spaces, reminders, mirrors, the unheard pattern of silences that organizes a composition’s meaning and moves its audience.” Wideman’s style has also been rather deliciously described as “hip-hop Zen,” which captures the flavor of his collage of stories.

Wideman will choose his favorite entry, which will be announced on Lulu’s blog on May 14th. The microstory will be included in a special edition of Briefs and the author will also give a complimentary signed copy of the book to the winner.

This contest is an interesting example of the impact digital publishing platforms can have, especially at a time when access to traditional publishing methods has never been so difficult. The chance to be included in an established author’s book is a wonderful carrot to get involved in Wideman’s Lulu experiment. Any writers with a yen to write hip-hop Zen should take note.

For those of us following Viggo Mortensen’s film career with interest, his apparent retirement announcement last September fell upon sad ears.  His latest film, the post-apocalyptic The Road, based upon Cormac McCarthy’s tale of a father and son travelling through a destroyed landscape, opened to mixed reviews and a disappointing limited release, and whatever one’s opinion of this polarizing film, its reception made it a poor choice as a swan song for this consistently intriguing and honest actor.  Fortunately, the rumours of his retirement were exaggerated, and far from withdrawing from the profession, we now have reports of two more upcoming Mortensen roles.  As if this news was not enough cause for celebration, both of the roles will be with the equally intriguing director David Cronenberg.   As the final icing on the cake, the second movie will be a sequel to Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, for which Mortensen scored a best actor Oscar nomination in 2007.

Mortensen’s retirement rumours came on the heels of an exhausting run of promoting five movies almost back to back, two of them, Good and Appaloosa, in the same year.  In an interview with Men’s Journal, the actor said, “I have no plans to do another movie.  I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m open to seeing how I feel in a while, but right now I’m not saying yes to anything.”  Despite the interviewer noting he wasn’t sure how seriously the actor meant his words to be taken, and even taken seriously the statements point more to a break than a complete retirement, rumours immediately spread that the acting world was losing one of its most  interesting artists.  And indeed, Mortensen did not appear to be accepting any jobs for some time.

That changed this spring when friend and two time collaborator David Cronenberg lost one of his lead actors in his upcoming film, The Talking Cure.  The movie is based on Christopher Hampton’s 2002 play of the same name and examines the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, especially when Jung becomes involved with his first patient, a young Russian woman named Sabina.  With Cronenberg’s ongoing fascination with the construction of identity and a cast including Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as Freud, Michael Fassbender as Jung and Keira Knightley as Sabina, the project looked like a winner.  It almost capsized, however, when Waltz left to do Water For Elephants in March, leaving The Talking Cure, due to start production in May, without its Freud.  Cronenberg went to his friend Mortensen, a choice that satisfied any naysayers on the project’s viability without Waltz.  In fact, it may well be Waltz who looks back and shakes his head at his choice to leave.   The combination of Cronenberg and Mortensen has always been a potent one.

The two first teamed up in 2006 for the critically acclaimed A History of Violence, nominated for the Golden Palm award at Cannes and for best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor at the Academy Awards.  In 2007, their collaboration in Eastern Promises sparked talk of the kind of muse relationship seen with Burton/Depp and Scorsese/diCaprio.  Many critics saw the two movies as complementary examinations of identity and what lies beneath.  GreenCine’s Michael Guillén wrote,

With calm exactitude and a stern eye, [Cronenberg] suggests that the propensity for violence within each individual is the truest source of transgression, albeit hidden and disguised beneath the skin, if not within the constructions of biography. With A History of Violence he stunned audiences with how thin the veneer of civilization truly is and how the past will hunt and reveal you. In his most recent effort - Eastern Promises - he collaborates once again with A History of Violence leading man Viggo Mortensen to notate inherent violence (the marketing slogan says "sin") as marked on the skin through a criminalized system of initiatory tattoos.


Those tattoos were an integral part of Eastern Promises’ thematic exploration of layers of identity and they are equally helpful in illuminating what makes Mortensen’s and Cronenberg’s partnership tick.  It was Viggo who actually came up with the idea for the tattoos during his meticulous research for his role and Cronenberg who delightedly accepted the idea, realizing how well it fit with his theme of the authentication of identity.  Besides this willingness to collaborate, the two share an approach to film making.  According to Mortensen, he begins his process by analyzing and almost obsessively researching his characters, but he then lets go of the research at a conscious level on the set so he can be fully in the moment.  He says of Cronenberg, “I see him as working in exactly that way. And that's, I think, why we have such a good shorthand."

 The level of trust between the two led to the scene Eastern Promises is most remembered for:  Mortensen’s naked knife fight in a bathhouse with two rival gang members.  As David Cronenberg discusses on WNYC Radio, it was actually the actor’s decision to do the scene naked.  

Eastern Promises
, though a critical success with many award nominations, was not a box office success, gathering a worldwide theatrical take of $56,105,902.  However, there has been talk of a sequel for years, with rumours finally coming to a head this March on Deadline.com that Focus Features has green lit the as yet untitled sequel, with Cronenberg, Mortensen and original screenwriter Steven Knight all on board, production hopefully to start  this winter after The Talking Cure wraps.  No word yet on whether Vincent Cassel will be back for the film, though he is rumoured to be in The Talking Cure. 

I hope Cassel will be included in the sequel, as his storyline is the one that raised the most questions at the end of the original film.  The first question with any sequel is whether there is any reason to continue the story.  For so many films, the answer is no, and Cronenberg has avoided doing any sequels to his films to date.  However, with Eastern Promises, he said, “In this case, I thought we had unfinished business with those characters.” That unfinished business centres on whether Mortensen’s Nikolai accomplishes his goal of running the Russian crime syndicate in London and what it may cost him.  Not only is he risking his freedom as he goes so deep undercover, his government handler may cut him loose, he also risks violating his own code of ethics so completely, he no longer knows who he is.  The person around whom this internal struggle would most likely play out is Cassel’s Kirill, the heir apparent who loves his rival.

Nikolai’s relationship with the Russian crime boss’s son, Kirill, is the most intriguing in the original film.  Nikolai takes care of the younger feckless man and he is well aware that Kirill not only relies upon him, he is attracted to him, although homosexuality is not tolerated in this subculture.  Cronenberg noted that Nikolai ruthlessly exploited his charge’s attraction to him throughout the film, and their final scene together in which Nikolai comforts Kirill is very ambiguous.  To the director, “the Nikolai character is ultimately so mysterious that you don’t know if it’s pure manipulation or if there’s real compassion there.”  And that seems an excellent reason to make a sequel. 

I’ll be in line for both films, assuming nothing happens to derail either.  I’m a fan of both Mortensen and Cronenberg individually.  Together, they are on track to creating an enduring film legacy which raises the bar on authenticity and originality. 

On Sunday, January 17th, FOX launched Human Target, an action adventure series starring Mark Valley (Fringe, Boston Legal), Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies) and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen).  The show is loosely based on a DC comic and features Chance (Valley) as an amazingly skilled bodyguard who protects clients in serious danger by integrating into their lives.  Human Target is fast paced and funny, with impressive action sequences that continue to blur the line between the movies and television.   Executive producer Jonathan Steinberg and star Jackie Earle Haley spoke to the media about what to expect from the mid-season series.

Steinberg was pitched the idea for the series and decided “it was too good an opportunity to be able to do an action show like that, with that kind of an opportunity to be anywhere in the world for any given story.”  The big action sequences so far have been very impressive, and Steinberg acknowledged the production team faces large challenges every week.  He said, “We’re learning how to do more with what we have and to do more with less.  There’s no story reason why you can’t tell this kind of story on TV; it’s just about trying to figure out how to make it work.”

Asked how he got involved with the show, Jackie Earle Haley responded, “John came to me and I read the script and I just thought it was real kick ass.  I thought it was a lot of fun.  I liked how it was comic related, that it was light in tone.  [It] seemed to be this really cool action hero character and the character of Guerrero supporting that character.   I just thought , ‘What a well written character.’“

Haley is a former child star who made a comeback as an actor six years ago and has been stealing scenes in movies ever since.  Last year, he made a splash as Rorschach in Watchmen and will soon be seen in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island with Leonardo De Caprio.   With his movie career tracking so well, he said the thought of committing to a television show gave him pause for thought, but he realised that the lines between movies and television have blurred since he was acting in the 80s.  He explained, “[Human Target] seems like a cool opportunity.  Everything’s probably a risk no matter how you look at it, every choice that you make.  But it just seemed like such a fun show.  It was comic-based and I loved that.  I had such a great time on Watchman, and it just really seemed like a neat character and a wonderful opportunity . . . It would be a great show to work on episode after episode, to see what it’s like to work as an actor on such a demanding ongoing basis and also to get to develop Guerrero and see that character become an even more integral part of what’s going on in Chance’s back story and his curve.

Speaking of Chance, Haley is a big fan of Mark Valley.  Besides being a lot of fun to hang with, the actor noted, “He’s just a wonderful actor and I specifically love what he’s doing with Chance.  The tone of this thing is so wonderfully steeped in that 80s tone like Die Hard or A Team and Mark just seems like he’s nailing it.  I particularly loved the way they wrote and the way he performed in the show . . . “Embassy Row.”  It rocks.”

Human Target airs on Wednesdays at 8:00 PM (ET).


The Writer’s Notebook is a collection of essays on writing from the book publishing branch of Tin House, which also puts out a well regarded literary journal featuring many of today’s promising contemporary writers.   And every summer since 2003, Tin House has put together a writer’s workshop at Reed College in Portland, Oregon featuring many of those writers.  This collection of essays mostly comes from those workshops, though a few were written explicitly for the book or taken from lectures delivered elsewhere.  Whatever their origin, the essays are a fascinating look at the writing process by an eclectic group of writers, with topics ranging from narrative theory to how to write sex scenes.  If you are looking for an explicit “how to” manual which explains where you need to be in the plot by page five, this is not the book for you.  But if you would find it exciting to dip into the thoughts of writers grappling with the questions that arise from trying to bring a narrative to life, you will love this collection.

Lee Montgomery in the forward to the book lays out the premise:  “The only real way to learn how to [write] is to read the work of authors who write well and to, well, write—a lot.  Along the way, of course, it is always helpful—and interesting—to talk or listen to writers discuss their process and the work of other writers.”  The Writer’s Notebook is meant to help with the discussion aspect for those not lucky enough to attend a workshop like Tin House’s summer Oregon retreat.  The line up of authors is wonderful, with seventeen different essays covering enough ground to offer something of interest to anyone fascinated by the process of writing. 

Dorothy Allison writes about the definition of place, Steve Almond gives advice on writing sex scenes, Margot Livesey explains what Shakespeare teaches writers, Jim Shepherd talks about writing fiction from history, and the list goes on.  The tone of the essays ranges from conversational to somewhat academic, but all are beautifully written and they all give an insight into the current methods of teaching writing in workshops.

For example, Lucy Corin in “Material,” argues that “When form works, it is indistinguishable from content.  Your material is your material.”   She gives as an example Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which she contrasts with J.M. Coatzee’s Waiting For The Barbarians.  Corin notes that McCarthy’s paragraphs are similar in shape to Coatzee’s, “but the size and the texture of the sentences and the words are less varied than they are in Coatzee’s work, and that makes the atmosphere much more stark, the rhythms more overt, more about repetition, the sense of day in, day out, in the skeletal landscape in which this novel is set.”  From this very theoretical look at writing patterns, the author then gives some practical advice on how to examine the structure of your own pieces, and this combination is typical of the essays, which I found a really useful approach. 

In addition to the essays, the book also includes an audio CD with two discussions by writers on specific aspects of writing.  The first panel is titled “Using Real Life in Fiction and Vice Versa,” with Sally Tisdale, Anthony Swofford, Chris Offutt, Charles D’Ambrosio and Scott Anderson.  The second, “Crafting Character,”  features Denis Johnson, Ron Carlson and Dorothy Allison.  Both discussions are freewheeling exchanges of ideas and craft, without reaching any definitive conclusions.  In the book and the CD, the discussion is the point.  I found the discussions both illuminating and inspiring and I recommend the book to anyone interested in writing.

Ack! More Snow

Every year it's the same:  March dangles sunshine and spring shoots peeking up above the fast disappearing snow and we pack away the winter gear with whoops and break out the shorts--or at least lighter jackets.  And then our hopes are dashed as March sniggers and unleashes one last shudder of freezing rain turning to snow as the mercury drops and we shiver our way into hastily unpacked winter coats.  This year I was particularly hit broadside by March's nasty side as I just returned from a week in Mexico's wonderful sunshine.  I'm stubbornly refusing to don winter boots and instead have opted for heavy socks in clogs--not a fashion forward look, of course, but somehow springlike in my no doubt delusional mind. 

Valentine's Day

Real holiday or Hallmark money maker?  I think it's a bit of both and we don't go overboard on the celebrations in this house.  No bling, no expensive dates, just a card and this year, home made socks!  And they're dang comfy, let me tell you. 

I love holidays, but they are a double edged sword.  For everyone making wonderful memories as he or she celebrates with their special people, there's another for whom the holiday just serves to underscore the lack of a special someone.  Birthdays and Christmas already underscore loneliness for lonely people, do we really need a special day just for that?  And sending valentines has to be one of the most humiliating traditions in school, whether you get one or not.  So, we take it low key--acknowledged but not given the ability to define our relationship.  That, we do every day of the year.

True Blood

Alan Ball seems to have been on a hiring spree this year and I'm just a little nervous about what that means for season three.  I know Ball said he wouldn't do a season long arc like the maenad again, because of fan feedback and instead have some shorter arcs.  But there are some new characters that seem like they have to be regulars--Lafayette's new boyfriend, as well as Alcide, for starters.  And The Vampire King of Mississippi must have a big role.  That means the story time has to be divided among so many characters, I fear none of the strands will get enough love.  I have little interest in Jason's or Tara's predicament, I have to say, so I don't mind if they get short shrift, but Ball seems to really like both characters, so I'm afraid it's Eric and Lafayette who may get shafted.  I'm sure it won't be Bill and Sookie, sigh.  I'm looking forward to the Sam family tree drama, so hopefully that's a big focus, too.  But after waiting a year between season, I want to see my favourite characters front and centre, not struggling to grab some screentime. 

Also, what is it about Alexander Skarsgard that brings the crazy fans out?  He seems a sweetie.  Hopefully, he never reads any blogs.  Ever.  

Writer's Block: Sweet and solo

Have you ever made up an excuse to avoid a social obligation so you could spend the evening by yourself? Do your friends and/or family understand when you need some quality time alone?

Yup, must confess.  I do need time by myself to recharge.  It's that introversion gene.  Mostly my family and friends do understand, although you never know when a need for alone time corresponds with a social obligation that someone really wants you to go to. 

A Time To Write

Interesting time, writingwise.  Not much to do in terms of blogging at the moment--Lie To Me not coming back until spring, House on at the same time as my workshop, sigh, and True Blood not back until summer, for heaven's sake.  I guess it's time to actually try out a short story in time to workshop it.  Time to search for that hopefully less elusive idea. 

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