Wednesday, May 6, 2020

PLEASED TO BE THE FIRST AUTHOR INTERVIEWED ON THE NEW BOOK TALK SHOW








I was pleased to be the first author interviewed on the new Pomona Public Library Foundations BOOK TALK internet show. Conducted via Zoom, of course, PPLF board member and past president, John Clifford and I talk about my latest novel, JOURNEY TO WHERE, a few of my other novels, and a bit about my past as a film producer working with Chuck Jones, Brad Bird, and Gary Kurtz, not to mention Bugs Bunny and Betty Boop.


I was doubly pleased in this venture because, as my Azusa High School cohorts will know, John and I were inseparable buddies during our high school & college years, and while we worked on The Cinemaphile, a film newspaper John had founded. Then life moved us in different directions. But many roads lead back home, and our mutual love of books has often found us enjoying each other’s company again.

For more information on Journey to Where and all my books go to the MY BOOKS page on this blog.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A CONNECTION WITH RAY BRADBURY I NEVER KNEW I HAD









Most of my friends and some of my readers know that the writings of Ray Bradbury were an early influence on me as a writer; that the man Ray Bradbury became a colleague in the film industry; that the author Ray Bradbury was wonderfully generous toward me—and a plethora of other writers—and that during his 90th year I was able to arrange a week-long series of events in Los Angeles to honor him during his birthday week.



All of which I, of course, hold dear. But now, in Ray’s 100th year, I have discovered a connection with Ray that I was never aware of, and couldn’t even have imagined.

That discovery is due to the scholarship of Jonathan R. Eller, Chancellor's Professor of English and Director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts. 

Jon is also the author of the best biography of Ray that I know of. In three volumes—Becoming Ray Bradbury, Ray Bradbury Unbound, and to be released later this year, Bradbury Beyond Apollo—Jon has written, as he calls it, “a biography of the mind.” It is certainly not a misnomer. Jon gets to the essence of Ray as a creative mind producing unique prose fiction of a high order. If you want to understand Bradbury the author you must read these books.
















But let us get to the discovery. Recently, in preparing to be on the SOMETHING WONDERFUL THIS WAY CAME: 100 YEARS OF RAY BRADBURY panel at the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena I contacted Jon for some information on Ray’s feeling about the “science fiction writer” label he lived with, not always happily so. Jon got back to me and told me a story that will be in Bradbury Beyond Apollo about a short poem Ray wrote in 1971 that gave some indication of what writer designation Ray preferred. At least at that moment. 

I won’t tell you that whole story, as I encourage you all to read it when Bradbury Beyond Apollo is published. But I do want to mention the details that were pertinent to my discovery. 

In 1971 Ray had a speaking engagement at Citrus College in Glendora, California. Although at the time it was considered to be in Azusa-Glendora as it sat between those two cities.

The night before the engagement Ray wrote the short poem mentioned above, which I think we can assume he read to the audience during his speech as it was later published in the June 4, 1971 issue of the Citrus College Clarion

Those are the bare facts. But what’s the connection to me?

I grew up in Azusa. I attended Citrus College, graduating in early 1970.

I wrote a weekly column for the Citrus College Clarion.

The place that I’m pretty sure Ray would have spoken at on campus was the recently built performing arts center, now known as the Haugh Performing Arts Center.




I was at the groundbreaking for that performing arts center a few years before.

While I was at the groundbreaking for the performing arts center a mob of students was at the firepit in front of the student center putting to the flame stacks of that day’s issue of the Citrus College Clarion.

The mob of students was burning stacks of that day’s issue of the Citrus College Clarion because of a column I wrote.

It was a column of satire purporting to be the verbatim account of a meeting of the White Backlashers Union in which the members discussed ways to take care of the “blacks” problem in America. What they came up with were not, shall we say, nice ways. I was, of course, mocking crude, ignorant, hateful racism.

It was not the first time irony had been misunderstood (right, Dean Swift?). 

The students, especially those in the Black Students Union, several of whom were my friends, took the piece a bit too literally, assuming I was putting out serious solutions to something I did not see as a problem at all.
Part of the misunderstanding may have come not so much from my writing as from the headline to the column which was, I believe, THE WBU, THE BSU, YOU AND I. I did not write the headline, as no journalist does. And I did not mention the Black Students Union (BSU) in the piece.

Nevertheless, despite offense not intended; offense was taken, mob psychology took over, and my words on paper suffered the fate of being exposed to 451 degrees Fahrenheit.




I was gobsmacked (lovely word, that) when I learned all this just a week or so ago.

I now feel a wholly different kind of connection with Ray. A connection I’m not sure I can put into words. Which is ironic on several levels.

But I can feel it. 

And feel it I do. Deeply.

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You can check out and purchase Jon Ellers’s books on Ray Bradbury on Amazon.

You might also want to check out the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and the wonderful being done there under Jon’s leadership.

You can take a gander at my novels on the MY BOOKS page on this blog or on my Author’s Page on Amazon where you can also, of course, purchase.

And may I also recommend my short book of essays, Searching for Ray Bradbury: Writings about the Writer and the Man.




Saturday, October 5, 2019

JOURNEY TO WHERE reviewed by AMAZING STORIES MAGAZING




THE FULL TEXT

The novel Journey to Where by Steven Paul Leiva from Third Street Press is a fresh adventure of discovery that reads like a number of familiar SF classics, but with a hint of modern elements taken from today’s headlines.
A select group of scientists gathers in the desert to conduct a ground-breaking experiment using an enormous particle accelerator. The unexpected result hurtles the team to an alternate world where humans do not exist and the dominant species view them as animals. Mixed in with the challenge of trying to communicate with the intelligent life and survive the strangeness, the desire to somehow recreate the experiment in a stone-aged world with hopes of returning to their original universe is paramount.
In the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1918 classic The Land that Time Forgot (an author also referenced by the narrator with intentional comparisons to help convince the reader of the story’s fantastic plausibility), our heroes are thrust into an unfamiliar world of prehistoric wonder.
The process of teleportation has been addressed in a variety of ways throughout literature, but many leave a lot to the imagination or simply avoided the issue. John Norman’s Gor series, Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and even Burroughs’ John Carter stories danced around the science to simply jump right into the crux of the story. But Journey to Where takes a fresh approach by giving a nod to current events, feeding off of the growing public concern regarding the unknown potentials of particle accelerators. Though this story might add fuel to some of those fears, the inclusion of such a topical technological element is sure to bring pure joy to the hard-core fans.
The character development of the cast in Journey to Where is quick and effective, allowing the reader to immediately accept the internal conflict within the group and follow the drama within the adventure with anticipation. Though the sarcastic and sometimes humorous banter often traded between characters helps lesson some of the obvious tension, the dialog does get lost at times when trying to determine exactly who is speaking.
The author’s true strength is in storytelling. The attention to detail is spot on, providing just enough visual imagery to fill the reader’s perception without diluting the setting with unnecessary clutter. Throw this in with a strong cast and a nicely paced plot, and Journey to Where by Steven Paul Leiva is a fun read sure to entertain fans of the classics.
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You can purchase Journey to Where as an ebook or as a trade paperback at these fine digital establishments.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

JEAN RABE — WRAPPING UP THE READER



Death made nature’s lights less bright.
from The Dead of Summer



One of the great strengths of Jean Rabe’s writing, among many, is her ability to immerse a reader in a scene or moment. It could be a loud and action-filled moment, or a quite and contemplative one, it doesn’t matter. Rabe’s art here is to wrap you in the sights and sounds surrounding, and the feelings and perceptions surging through, the character whose point-of-view is dominating the moment.
This strength is beautifully on display in the first chapter of Rabe’s recently published third Piper Blackwell mystery, The Dead of Summer.
Piper, the very young Sherriff of Spencer County, Indiana, is taking the day off and enjoying the county fair with her boyfriend when disaster strikes in the first sentence. Suddenly the air is filled with sounds of metal torturing metal, fairgoers screaming out in horror or calling out for help. Piper’s body moves fast toward the trouble as her mind races to try to comprehend what has happened. The sights, sounds, and smells of a county fair take on a surreal quality, but a darkly serious one, and the reader feels this deeply, becoming not just an observer but a participant. 
One is tempted to call Rabe’s writing here cinematic, but it is far deeper and more textured than that. After all, inscribed fiction, whether poetry or prose, was the first virtual reality. The reading of a good translation of Homer’s The Illiad will convince you of that.

In The Dead of Summer, Rabe has fully matured into an author of mysteries. In the past Rabe concentrated on writing science fiction and fantasy, but, being a lover of mysteries, she always wanted to try her hand at this more “realistic” genre. So Rabe studied the genre to see what made good mystery novels work. She was an astute student. But what is best about her three Piper Blackwell mysteries is not the situations, the plot, the characters, or the puzzlesalthough all are contendersbut the exceptional artistry of her prose. It’s her intelligent, possibly instinctual, shaping of this virtual reality through the manipulating of words on a page, making the etherial tactile and the psychological palpable, that I celebrate.
But to what end?  To characters who become flesh and blood; to situations that become immediate; to doubts, resentments, passions, anger, puzzlements, anxieties, pride, that become the reader’s in the trick of empathy that the best of fictions can conjure. 
You don’t need to read the first two Piper Blackwell mysteries to read The Dead of Summer. But why would you deny yourself that pleasure? 





SUMMER IS ALMOST OVERFOR PETE'S SAKE HURRY UP!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

THE BARE-CHESTED PHYSICIST AND THE DEEP-CLEAVAGED MICROBIOLOGIST




INTRODUCING MY LATEST NOVEL 
A CONTEMPORARY SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE






My latest novel, Journey to Where, is now available from Third Street Press at all your favorite online bookstores in both ebook and print editions. And while I am thrilled about that—and would be thrilled if you were thrilled—it seems I need to apologize like an ill-spoken politician for having confused people by labeling the novel as a Contemporary Scientific Romance.



No, folks, the cover of my book does not feature a handsome and hunky bare-chested physicist with his strong arms wrapped around a deep-cleavaged and wasp-waisted gorgeous microbiologist. As you can plainly see above.


Nor is it the story of two PhDs in science making quantum leaps while cavorting in the groves of academe leading to passionate-down-to-their-particles coitus under peer review. A story featuring such dialog as, “Why, Dr. Johnson...you’re beautiful when you put your glasses on!” Or, “You make me so uncertain, Dr. Heisenberg. I can either accept the position of your love, or it’s velocity, but I can’t do both!”


So what the hell do I mean by a contemporary scientific romance? Well, I would hope most fans of science fiction would know that scientific romance is a term that was (and is) applied to early versions of science fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You know, the grand visions of the likes of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Professor Challenger stories, and even Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Mars and Pellucidar novels. Those stories that often took scientists and/or adventurers to strange other worlds far into the future, or deep into the unfathomable oceans or unknown interiors of the Earth, or to lost worlds and civilizations that skipped History, or to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.



















































Now the scientific part of the term is understandable, although many of these works feature more fanciful scientific speculation than hard science, especially from today’s perspective. But what about the romance part? Like many words, romance has several definitions. The pertinent one here is A fictitious tale of wonderful and extraordinary events, characterized by a nonrealistic and idealizing use of the imagination. 





But whatever the derivation of the term is, what really matters to my novel, is that the term harkens back to those grand amazing and fantastic stories written in the decades around the turn from the 19th to the 20th century that had an impact on a certain young boy in the 1950s and 60s either in their original prose form



or in their exciting film adaptations




















that made him all wide-eyed and dreaming of realms—not beyond the imagination, because, obviously, somebody imagined them—but certainly beyond the not-fantastic-at-all and too-easily-imagined Southern California suburb he grew up in.




And so, in Journey to Where, I wanted to harken back to those works of scientific romance. But I did not want to write a pastiche. That is, a near copy of a Victorian/Edwardian scientific romance written in Victorian/Edwardian prose taking place in Victorian/Edwardian times. This is where the contemporary part of my label comes in. 


Here’s the Third Street Press summary of Journey to Where.


When a radical experiment into the nature of time is sabotaged, the scientific team finds themselves in an alternate universe, where humans never became the dominant life force. Instead, dinosaurs evolved into intelligent bipeds, developing language and societal structures. 


The scientists have to learn to communicate with this alien species, who view them as unusual pets, and figure out how to recreate the original experiment in a non-industrialized world, so they can go back home—assuming there’s a home, or even a universe, to return to. 


But the scientist who sabotaged them is trapped in this new world with them. And he’s looking to rise to power, even if his quest means the death of his traveling companions.


The story starts in the near future, maybe twenty or thirty years from now. As to Where it exactly goes from there? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find that out. 


Where it goes thematically from there is another matter. Of all the writers of scientific romances, I most related to H.G. Wells. I mean, I would have been a Fabian if I hadn't preferred Frankie Avalon.

(If you get that joke you are either well-versed in 20th Century social and pop-culture history—or you're just old)


Wells was a scientist who definitely tried to predict the impact of technology on human society. But his main interest was not the technology but our society. Although I have a deep respect for scientists, I am not one. When I work in this genre now loosely called science fiction, do not expect any hard scientific speculation from me. As with my novel, Traveling in Space, it is more the—to borrow a term from film studies—Mise-en-scène of science fictions I adopt than any hard scientific concepts. And I always have an ulterior motive in doing so, namely to portray some possible truths about us, we two-leggers, we humans of both creative and destructive intelligence. In Journey to Where I take the reader on a fantastic journey far from home to speak about something far too close to home. How close? Well, let’s just say that although this story was conceived and first written as a screenplay years ago, it is now contemporary in its relevance to the world’s current dark political clouds. 


But that's not to say that it's not also a fun read!

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If you would like to take the Journey to Where you can find it on Amazon HERE, and other online bookstores.

And you can check out my other books, and what a few kind people have said about them, HERE

For more information on scientific romances, you can turn to the ever-popular Wikipedia HERE.