Dan Lambert

A Lynchian Evening with Rebekah Del Rio

David Lynch fans know singer-songwriter Rebekah Del Rio as the singer who performs “Llorando” (the Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”) in the film Mulholland Drive.

Del Rio’s infectious affability is so far removed from the swooning singer in the film that fans will be surprised upon seeing her live. She is anything but a sad songstress with tears emblazoned upon her cheek. 

To promote her Baja Basement Records CD All My Life (Toda Mi Vida), Del Rio performed an acoustic set in Hollywood, California on Saturday, December 4, 2004. The venue was the two-story Virgin Megastore, a huge retail outlet on Sunset Boulevard. The store is, ironically, not far from the real Mulholland Drive.

Poured into a red dress with a Mexican pattern in front, and wearing a matching red flower in her hair, Del Rio captivated the audience with songs from her CD. Highlights of the show included her Spanish version of Al Green’s “Always and Forever,” and her paean to love gone wrong, “A Long Goodbye.”

Del Rio wrapped up the set at four in the afternoon, with the show-stopping “Llorando.” She prefaced the song three ways: by explaining how she came to appear in Mulholland Drive (Lynch heard her sing and fell in love); asking the audience for “silencio”; and thanking actor Gino Silva, who made a surprise appearance in the crowd halfway through the show. As the mysterious “Cookie,” Silva introduces Del Rio onstage in the film.

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Dan Lambert

Aliens Invade the Human Psyche in “Dreamcatcher”

TITLE: Dreamcatcher

DIRECTOR: Lawrence Kasdan

PRODUCERS: Lawrence Kasdan and Charles Okun

RATING: “R”

LENGTH: 2 hours, 16 minutes

YEAR: 2003

STUDIO: Castle Rock Entertainment

SCREENPLAY: William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan

Horror author Stephen King has described his writing as “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.” Director Lawrence (“The Big Chill”) Kasdan’s adaptation of King’s 2001 novel “Dreamcatcher” confirms the validity of this description. The film is like “E.T.” meets “The Deer Hunter,” depicting an extraterrestrial assault on four hunters sequestered in a remote cabin.

Casual fans of King’s work are routinely surprised to know that “Stand By Me” and “The Shawshank Redemption” germinated in the dark recesses of his brain, but serious fans know that King does one thing very well: Characters. From the physically- and emotionally-crippled novelist in “Misery” to the abused wife in “Rose Madder,” King is keenly aware of what makes his characters tick. One of King’s literary idols, H.P. Lovecraft, stated that “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.” King ropes his readers in because he knows what scares us.

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Dan Lambert

The Antichrist Made Him Do It: Dispatches From Michael York

Acclaimed British actor and author Michael York chatted with members of the Southwest Manuscripters about his life and profession on Friday, February 15, 2002. 

York’s resume is exhaustive, but he is perhaps best-known for the title performance in the 1970’s science-fiction film Logan’s Run. He is an alumnus of the National Youth Theatre and Oxford University, and serves as Chairman of the California Youth Theatre. He has authored two autobiographical books, Accidentally on Purpose and A Shakespearian Actor Prepares. He has also written one memoir in the form of a diary, Dispatches From Armageddon: Making the Movie ‘Megiddo.’  

York takes his hat off to writers, because he himself has written ever since he was taught Anglo-Saxon at Oxford by J.R.R. Tolkien’s son. He pursued acting because he did not want to go through life realizing he never dared to undertake the vocation he loved. He feels that working in theatre and movies is a literary pursuit, and he considers himself lucky to have worked in plays authored by greats such as Tom Stoppard.

A British publishing company once asked York to pen an autobiography, but he was reluctant, feeling that he was too young. When Simon and Schuster asked him to write Accidentally on Purpose, he decided to “follow the signs” and write the book. The title refers to the often-illogical but destiny-driven nature of an actor’s life. York finds biographical writing to be a progressively-simple task: “One memory gives way to another.”

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Dan Lambert

Icy Smith Takes Manuscripters on Historical Journey

(April 2005 Southwest Manuscripters Speaker Notes)

Author and publisher Icy Smith explains her memorable name like this: “My Chinese name is ‘Bing,’ which means ‘ice.’ My last name, ‘Smith,’ comes from my husband.”

Smith spoke to the Southwest Manuscripters on April 15, 2005. Her subject was the history of Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles over the past 150 years. This is also the subject of Smith’s book, The Lonely Queue: The Forgotten History of the Courageous Chinese Americans in Los Angeles. “The ‘queue’ is the traditional pony tail worn by Chinese men,” Smith says. “The United States forced Chinese prisoners to cut off their queue. Upon returning to China, men without their queue were sentenced to execution by the Manchu government.”

The Lonely Queue is available through Smith’s own publishing company, East West Discovery Press. Smith’s publishing house also offers Voices of Healing: Spirit and Unity After 9/11 in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community, a book on the effects of 9/11 on Asian-Americans that she edited. 

The history of Chinese immigration to the United States, as presented by Smith, is a history of discrimination and brutal mistreatment. Chinese-Americans completed the last ten miles of the Central Pacific Railroad. When Smith visited the Golden Spike Visitors Center in Utah, she found no photos commemorating the Chinese-Americans who labored to finish the railroad.

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Dan Lambert

The Miracle Worker Revisited

The film The Miracle Worker (United Artists, 1962) is based on the true story of Helen Keller, a woman who successfully overcame the two physical challenges of blindness and deafness. Helen is played by Patty Duke, who also played the role on Broadway prior to the film’s production.

The film takes place during Helen’s childhood, following her from the age of 19 months, when an illness leaves young Helen both blind and deaf. Helen’s parents, Captain Arthur H. Keller (Victor Jory) and Kate Adams Keller (Inga Swenson), react with horror to the news that their daughter is blind and deaf. Helen does not have the rights of other citizens, because her family chooses how to deal with her disabilities without her input. For example, later in the film, Annie describes the horrors she experienced in a lunatic asylum. The family was close to putting Helen in such a place before Annie's arrival. As an adult, Helen had the rights of other citizens, but the child portrayed in the film has limited rights at best.

Helen’s older brother, James (Andrew Prine) is incredulous that Helen will ever live like a “normal” child, and even refers to her as a “monkey.” Captain Keller and Helen’s Aunt Ey (Kathleen Comegys) feel that Helen should be placed in an institution, but Kate balks at the idea, and works with Helen to develop crude methods of non-verbal communication.

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Dan Lambert

Quiana Beco Inspires Fellow Writers with Her Poetry

January 6th, 2018 -- It was a beautiful, warm afternoon at the Peninsula Library. Ms. Quiana Beco, the author of the poetry collection Day to Day Dealings (available from Amazon.com) was there to share her poetry with the Southwest Manuscripters writers’ club. Quiana was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in the city of Inglewood, California. She graduated from Inglewood High School. Her poetry is based upon her own life as well as real-life stories from her friends and family members. Quiana writes about love, happiness, joy, jealousy, and the daily events (“day-to-day dealings”) that challenge and exhilarate us. The Palos Verdes Library’s upcoming poetry anthology, PV Voices, features her work.


“But We’re Sisters,” the first poem Quiana shared with us that evening, is a two-part piece about a sister who takes her younger sister’s true love away from her. The poem is based on a first-hand account of betrayal that Quiana heard at the shop where she gets her fingernails done. The poem’s protagonist (the younger sister) is a woman who is willing to forgive: “She loved her sister with all the blood in her heart…” “Shameless Love” is another poem based on real-life events, but Quiana wrote this piece about her own experiences. It is about “a woman who sees no way out.”


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Dan Lambert

Storyteller Carol Sperling Regales Manuscripters with Family Tales

  


How many literary families can you think of? The Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath, the Bucket family in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and even the corrupt Corleone family in The Godfather were characters who added vitality and realism to their authors’ fictional worlds. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, your family is a helpful resource. Whether your own family is traditional, avant-garde, or just plain dysfunctional, they are always there to provide ideas for your writing.  

Carol Sperling wore three proverbial hats at the Saturday, July 8 meeting of the Southwest Manuscripters writers' club. She is our club President, but she also served as our three-minute reader as well as our guest speaker. For her three-minute piece, Carol told us about recent travails and incidents in her life and her family’s life. For her guest speaker presentation, Carol shared family stories from the days of the Wild West up to the 21st century. She enhanced her presentation with slides, vintage photos, and artifacts that made us feel like we were stepping back in time.

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Dan Lambert

Adventures Through Time and Space with Mel Gilden

On Saturday, November 12, 2016, author Mel Gilden regaled the Southwest Manuscripters with tales from his writing career. Mel is the author of more than forty novels. Among his most recent books are The Jabberwock Came Whiffling, Dangerous Hardboiled Magicians, and The Accidental Time Cadet (each available from Wildside Press). Mel has also written a fantasy mystery trilogy (Surfing Samurai Robots, Hawaiian UFO Aliens, and Tubular Android Superheroes) featuring a hard-boiled alien detective.

Mel began his presentation by recalling the first time he attended a meeting of the Blustering Gales from the South-West (the Sherlock Holmes club that our President, Carol Sperling, helms as our “Diaboli”). Mel was invited to a Gales meeting by Mike Hodel (his co-host of the science fiction radio show Hour 25). The guest speaker at that meeting was Frankie Thomas, the actor who starred in the television show Tom Corbett: Space Cadet. Hodel had promised to buy Mel’s dinner that night, should he not enjoy the Gales meeting. Fortunately, Mel loved every minute of it.

Mel was inspired by Carol’s story of driving in the fog to tell his own “fog story.” One night, after a meeting of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, Mel volunteered to drive a young lady home from the LASFS clubhouse. When they reached the 20th Century Fox studios, Mel realized that (because of the fog) he had driven in the opposite direction from the lady’s home and became thoroughly lost. He was eventually able to take her home safely. Mel commented on Manuscripter Robert Reed’s story (which had won an award in our short fiction contest before Mel’s presentation) about an eagle who volunteers to protect defenseless chickens from other eagles. The story reminded Mel of the classic Walt Disney short film Lambert the Sheepish Lion, about a lion who is raised by sheep and saves his flock from wolves. “It must be a very old story,” Mel said.

I asked Mel the same question I asked him back in 1988, when I was enrolled in a Literature of Science Fiction class at El Camino College, taught by author and English Professor Sheila Finch: “How has Daniel M. Pinkwater influenced your writing?” Mel discovered Pinkwater’s work when he was working for the Los Angeles Times. An Hour 25 listener sent Mel a copy of Pinkwater’s humorous young adult adventure novel The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. Mel loved his books and even had the chance to interview Pinkwater on the radio. Mel’s young adult novel The Return of Captain Conquer is (in part) inspired by Pinkwater’s work. Mel learned that “writing funny is really hard.” Mel suggests that beginning writers retype passages from their favorite author to get a sense of how the author uses words and punctuation. Mel tried this technique with one of his favorite books: Lonesome Dove by western author Larry McMurtry.

Mel had a wonderful childhood, and worried that this would not engender enough inspiration for good stories. Mel asked science fiction author Harlan Ellison what he should do, and Ellison told Mel to “write what you know.” As a result, Mel wrote the horror story “The Bridge is Out. You’ll Have to Spend the Night,” which is based on Mel’s relationship with his little brother. Mel followed up this story with a story inspired by The Twilight Zone that he sent to a potential publisher. Then he waited for a reply. “There is a lot of waiting involved if you are a freelance author,” Mel says. Finally, Mel received a letter announcing the magazine he sent the story to had gone out of business. Mel’s reaction was “oh my gosh, I murdered a magazine!” Mel’s first professional sale was the short story “What About Us Grils?” (which he wrote at the Clarion Science Fiction Writers workshop in Pennsylvania). The story is about an alien species with four genders. Mel has had interesting encounters with his fellow science fiction writers. One day, Mel visited the Santa Monica Public Library and saw a man wearing shorts and sitting on a wall. The man was legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury. Ellison and Kate Wilhelm were two of Mel’s instructors at the Clarion workshop. Ellison is “not the easiest guy to get along with,” but Mel has a good relationship with him: “There are a lot of things you can get away with if he likes you and trusts you.” Mel once visited the home of Bob Burns, a collector of science fiction film memorabilia. Burns invited Mel to sit in the time machine prop from the film The Time Machine (based on H. G. Wells’ novel). A photo of Mel in the time machine appears on his website (www.melgilden.com) and on the dust jacket for Mel’s novel The Pumpkins of Time.

Mystery writer Lawrence Block said “Not just any clown can write a novel. It takes the right kind of clown.” Mel believes there is some truth in those words. At a party sponsored by the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, Mel met a fellow writer who complained about starting several novels, but not finishing them. “I didn’t want to be that guy,” Mel says. “The next time I started writing a novel, I finished it.” After visiting the Jack London room in the Oakland Public Library and finding a glass case filled with hundreds of rejection letters sent to London by potential publishers, Mel realized that the professional writer must accept rejection. After writing several additional novels, Mel began to search for a literary agent. How does a writer get the attention of an agent? “Wave twenty-dollar bills at them,” Mel says. After writing The Return of Captain Conquer and selling it to publisher Houghton Mifflin, Mel’s longtime agent agreed to take him on as a client.

Mel uses his childhood memories to inspire his stories. Mel comes from a Jewish background, and sold a story based on Jewish folklore to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. His novel Harry Newberry and the Raiders of the Red Drink is based on the fruity red drink that his mother served his family at dinner. When the drink was nearly depleted, his mother would replenish the pitcher with more red drink. Mel’s novel is based on the idea that the mysterious red drink has the power to grant super powers. Mel could always trust his mother to render an honest opinion about his writing: “She would let me know what she liked or didn’t like about my work.” Thank you to Mel Gilden for letting the Southwest Manuscripters come along on your writing journey through time and space. Live Long and Prosper!  


Dan Lambert

Six Degrees of Madame Medusa: Sherlock Holmes and Disney’s The Rescuers

When Sherlock Holmes fans think about Walt Disney animated films based on the Holmes canon, they naturally think of The Great Mouse Detective, the 1986 film based on Eve Titus’s novel Basil of Baker Street. According to a Los Angeles Times article, several Disney employees were dismayed when the company decided to change the title of this film from Basil of Baker Street to The Great Mouse Detective, based on the fear that audience members would not associate the names Basil or Baker Street with detective fiction or Sherlock Holmes. The article lists a number of alternative titles for Disney films invented by employees as a way of lampooning their bosses’ decision. One example is the 1977 animated film The Rescuers. The title listed in the article is Two Mice Save a Girl. Fortunately, The Rescuers did not suffer the kind of title change that The Great Mouse Detective suffered.

The Rescuers, which is also based on a series of children’s’ books, was one of two 1977 films that captured my interest. The other film, Star Wars, is also about the rescue of a damsel in distress. Basil was also the first in a series of novels: Titus wrote five other books featuring Basil. The Rescuers is based on a series of books written by a British author, Margery Sharp, between 1959 and 1978. The first novel, The Rescuers, is (not unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories) intended for an adult audience. In Sharp’s case, her book became much more popular with children. A list of Sharp’s books featuring the mice Miss Bianca and Bernard reads almost like a list of Sherlock Holmes pastiches: The Rescuers, Miss Bianca, The Turret, Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines, Miss Bianca in the Orient, Miss Bianca in the Antarctic, Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid, Bernard the Brave, and Bernard into Battle. Like Basil and his Watsonian companion, Dawson, Miss Bianca and Bernard are mice with a mission. In the books, they are agents of the Prisoner’s Aid Society. In the movie (and its sequel, The Rescuers Down Under), they are agents of the Rescue Aid Society.

           Six Degrees of Separation refers to a theory espoused in the 1920s by Frigyes Karinthy, claiming that everyone and everything in the world is six or fewer steps away. Seventy years later, a parlor game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was invented. The game is based on the belief that anyone in the Hollywood film industry can be linked through their film roles to the actor Kevin Bacon within six steps. In the spirit of Six Degrees of Separation and Six Degress of Kevin Bacon, I offer these thoughts on the similarities between two of my loves: The Rescuers and Sherlock Holmes.   

           The Rescuers begins with a little girl named Penny writing a note, putting it in a bottle, and dropping it off the balcony of a riverboat. Notice that in the Victorian Era, lurid novels were often called Penny Dreadfuls. Also, the abandoned riverboat on which Penny is held captive represents the steam-powered technology that characterized the Victorian Era. The bottle takes a long journey and winds up on a beach, where it is found by mice. The mice take it to the headquarters of a secret society called the Rescue Aid Society. Remember that Basil and Dawson live in the nooks and crannies of human society. In fact, the two mice are based at 221B Baker Street, the famous address of Sherlock Holmes. In a similar vein, the Rescue Aid Society meets in an old suitcase in the basement of the United Nations building in New York City. Although the first film takes place in 1897 and the second film is possibly set in the 1970s, it can be postulated that both films take place in the same fictional world. The mice of the Rescue Aid Society could even have been inspired by the exploits of Basil and Dawson.

           In Sharp’s original novel, Miss Bianca is a British aristocrat. In fact, she lives apart from the other mice in a porcelain pagoda, and wears an expensive silver chain around her neck. In the film, Bianca is the Hungarian delegate to the RAS, which makes sense, because Eva Gabor voices the character. Still, the filmic Bianca sports a pillbox hat, which reminds us of Jaqueline Onassis and suggests this is a high-born mouse. In both the novels and the film, Bernard is a humble everymouse. In Disney’s version, he is not even a field agent; he’s a janitor. His job is to keep the RAS meeting hall (the suitcase) clean and tidy. Bianca investigates the note in the bottle and discerns that it was written by a little girl. The Chairmouse (who has a haughty, Nigel Bruce-like, British accent) asks Bianca to choose a co-agent. Every red-blooded, male RAS agent has fallen for Bianca, just as I did when I first saw the movie. Therefore, everyone raises their hand. Bianca shocks the crowd by choosing Bernard to be her co-agent.

           If we substitute Bianca for Holmes and Bernard for Watson, we can see the Sherlockian connection to The Rescuers even more clearly. Sharp describes Bernard as a “humble pantry mouse.” Like Watson, Bernard is competent, but no match for Bianca and her superior skills of observation and detection. In addition, Bernard is triskaidekaphobic; that is, he is afraid of the number 13. Bernard encounters the dreaded number three times in the movie: first, the ladder he uses to retrieve Penny’s note from the bottle has 13 steps (or 13 teeth, because the ladder is actually a comb). Second, when climbing the ramp to board Orville the Albatross, Bernard notices the ramp has 13 steps. Third, at the end of the movie, after Penny has been rescued, Bernard and Bianca are required to embark on a second mission. The only trouble is the mission starts on the 13th of the month. What does Bianca think of Bernard’s superstition? She dismisses it, but cares enough for her co-agent to help him work through his phobia. When they climb the boarding ramp, she suggests that Bernard jump the 13th step. This reminds me of Holmes’s skepticism toward the occult. While Watson is not necessarily phobic, he is more gullible than Holmes in the face of so-called supernatural phenomenon, such as the Hound of the Baskervilles. Remember Holmes’ famous comment about supernatural solutions to mysteries: “No ghost need apply.”

After the two mice analyze Penny’s note, they set off to solve the mystery and save the girl. Their first stop is the orphanage that Penny was kidnapped from, where they interview Penny’s best friend, a cat named Rufus. Their next stop is Madame Medusa’s Pawn Shop Boutique, an establishment run by the kidnapper and her accomplice, Mr. Snoops. The name Snoops is interesting because this is what detectives do: they snoop.

Bernard and Bianca overhear Medusa’s telephone conversation with Snoops. After trying and failing to hitch a ride on Medusa’s car, the mice decide to travel by air. They book a flight with Albatross Airlines, and their pilot, Orville the Albatross, becomes their captain and conveyance to Devil’s Bayou, where Penny is being held captive aboard the riverboat. Orville’s name is, of course, a reference to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Like the riverboat, Orville’s name is an homage to Victorian (and post-Victorian) technology and innovation.

Of all the ways they could get to Devil’s Bayou (which I assume is in the Florida Everglades), the two mice choose an Albatross. Could this be another nod to the British Isles, the place that birthed Sherlock Holmes? “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the longest poem written by British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poem, published in 1798, is about a crew whose ship is stuck in an ice jam. An albatross appears and leads them out of the ice jam. The title character later shoots the albatross with a crossbow, and the other sailors punish him by forcing him to wear the bird around his neck. In The Rescuers, Medusa shoots fireworks at Orville, and is punished when her kidnapping plan is foiled.

After Bernard and Bianca take to the air, their romance begins to emerge against the backdrop of Carol Connors’s song “Tomorrow is Another Day.” Let’s not forget that “Tomorrow is another day” is the catch phrase of another Victorian-era character: Scarlett O’Hara. Another Connors song from The Rescuers, “Someone’s Waiting for You,” was nominated for an Academy Award in 1977. The name Carol Connors also reminds us that the Diaboli of the Blustering Gales from the South-West is named Carol Sperling. Coincidence? I think not. 

My Sherlock Holmes allegory needs a Professor James Moriarty, and I believe Madame Medusa is a perfect fit. Like Moriarty, she maintains her criminal activities while holding down a legitimate – or at least legal – profession in her nation’s urban hub. Moriarty is a college professor in London, and Medusa is a pawn shop owner in New York. Medusa is also a possible sociopath: she functions in legitimate society, but her greed causes her to kidnap a little girl. Why does Medusa need Penny? It turns out that Devil’s Bayou is the location of a priceless diamond called the Devil’s Eye. Unfortunately, the Devil’s Eye is located in a cave called the Black Hole, the entrance to which is too small to admit an adult. So, Medusa sends Penny into the Hole to find the diamond. Medusa gets Penny to enter the Hole by threatening to permanently separate her from her beloved Teddy Bear, whose name happens to be Teddy. Remember that Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States from 1901 to 1909, and that Holmes meets Roosevelt in at least one pastiche.

The name Devil’s Bayou reminds me of the restaurant at Disneyland called Blue Bayou, but it also sets the stage for Medusa’s evil. So does the name the Devil’s Eye. In fact, the names of the bayou and the diamond remind us of the Holmes story “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot.” The name the Black Hole also reminds me of the bad 1979 Star Wars rip-off, titled The Black Hole. Now that Disney owns the rights to Star Wars, they no longer have to rip it off with stinkers such as this. They can now make official Star Wars stinkers.

When Bernard and Bianca arrive at Devil’s Bayou, they enlist the help of several so-called swamp critters, including a dragonfly named Evinrude. Evinrude serves as a kind of living outboard motor. Not coincidentally, Evinrude is the name of a company that produces outboard motors. This is the only instance I can recall of a character who is named after a product, and not the other way around. At one point, Evinrude is almost eaten by bats on his way to deliver a message from the mice to their swamp critter allies. Let’s not forget that in The Great Mouse Detective, the toymaker Hiram is adducted by a peg-legged bat who works for Ratigan (the film’s stand-in for Moriarty). The other swamp critters include a rodent couple, Luke and Ellie Mae, who are like distant Southern cousins to Bernard and Bianca. Luke has a taste for moonshine, which prompted one viewer to complain to the Los Angeles Times that watching The Rescuers may cause her young girl to take a shine (no pun intended) to alcohol. Another swamp critter is a turtle named Gramps. Gramps wears a gray kepi (a regimental cap worn by Confederate soldiers). Could Gramps be a Civil War veteran, and perhaps someone who remembers the era of Sherlock Holmes and Basil of Baker Street? Remember that Great Britain was sympathetic to the Confederate cause, and this fact inspired the Sherlockian pastiche Enter the Lion, written by Mike Hodel and Sean Wright.

For those of you who have not seen The Rescuers, I will not give away the ending here. Rest assured the film has a happy ending, and nobody’s mother is killed by a hunter. I will leave you one more piece of data to digest. In one scene, after Bernard and Bianca have suffered a defeat at the hands of the broom- and shotgun-toting Medusa, Bianca says: “If I were a ten-foot mouse, I would show her a thing or two.” Bianca’s fantasy may remind us of the giant rodents in Stephen King’s short story “Graveyard Shift,” but it should also remind us of Sherlock Holmes’s lost case: “The Giant Rat of Sumatra.” Once you see The Rescuers, you may find more comparisons with the Holmes canon. This essay is only the beginning. After all, tomorrow is another day.






Dan Lambert

Orccon Revisited: Into the Magical Citadel

             It was the twelfth of February, in the year 2016, when three intrepid adventurers stepped over the threshold of a magical citadel in the land of Los Angeles. This citadel is very close to a way station where visitors from other lands arrive in Los Angeles via flying carriages. The citadel is known as the Hilton Los Angeles Airport. The adventurers I speak of are myself (Dean of Lizardo), my wife (Aileen of Baldric) and my best friend (Tony of Lee). Each of us is skilled in the art of chronicling our adventures for the benefit of future generations. Tony and I had taken this journey many times before. As for my wife, this was Aileen’s first such foray.

           We were at the Hilton to enjoy the company of others in playing and discussing adventure games: that is, role-playing games, war games, card games, computer games, and board games. When I was but a young lad, I told a Chess player that I preferred war games to Chess. He retorted with the assertion that “Chess was one of the first war games.” This is true, but games such as GURPS, Car Wars, and Squad Leader transport the player to other places and times. Players get to step into the role of a larger-than-life persona (a paranormal researcher in Call of Cthulhu, a military unit in The Russian Campaign, or even a globe-spanning cabal in Illuminati). If you are unfamiliar with these games, go ahead and conjure the magical entity called Google; I will wait. What you will find reminds me of the great scribe Walt Whitman’s response when he was accused of contradicting himself: “I am large. I contain multitudes.” These games plumb depths of the imagination only skimmed by Chess. They transport players to specific and lovingly-defined worlds, and those worlds truly contain multitudes: multiple opportunities to change history with heat-of-the-moment, heart-in-the-throat decisions, and multiple opportunities to shape the destinies of “fictional” heroes; when a player makes a decision in a war game or a role-playing game, his or her character (or army, or cabal) often gets famous or gets dead. The games’ stakes mirror the real-life stakes we all risk when we don our armor each morning. The word “stake” reminds me of a joke about the high stakes of vampire hunting, but I digress.    
 

The Orccon event was organized by a fine and upstanding guild that is well-known to any gamer who travels the byways of the Kingdom of California. The guild is known as Strategicon, and a representative of the guild, Lady Mei Dean Francis, graciously invited us to the February event, which is called Orccon. Lady Mei invited us because of our skills as scribes, and I am indebted to Aileen and Tony for helping me commit these words to parchment. The tardiness of this scroll is solely my fault (too much time in the alehouses and not enough time with quill and ink).

The name “Orccon” is indeed apropos, because it contains the suffix “con,” and what we experienced was indeed a game convention (as explained on the cover of the “program” tomes we were issued upon arrival). As for the prefix “orc,” our party was fortunate, because we lingered at the Hilton from the twelfth day of February to the fifteenth, and caught nary a whiff of an orc. If you are yourself an orc, please do not take offense: I believe I can detect an orc from their smell, but I suspect orcs would say the same thing about me. Anyway, we did not spot any orcs, but we did encounter other travelers: many of these journeymen (and women) call themselves gamers, and are at the Hilton to play games. Others, who gather in the jeweled halls called the Dealers’ Room and Flea Market, devise new and enticing engines of gaming, and sell their wares for fair prices; that is, one does not need to burden a donkey’s back with gold before venturing therein to purchase games. 

My companions and I have other skills that I will tell you of now: I and my lovely bride are members of the Educators’ Guild (although Aileen teaches younglings, which I believe requires more skill, patience and constitution than teaching one’s fellow adults). As for my trusty shield-man Tony, he is a member of the Game Designers’ Guild. As such, Tony is particularly well-met when skulking through the august halls of a Strategicon event. As a case in point, I give you this: having passed through the gates of the Hilton citadel merely a cock’s crow earlier, my stalwart companion was hailed from across the room with a hearty “Ho! Art thou truly Tony of Lee? I hath not cast my eyes upon your visage in a dragon’s age!” Embracing him, Tony’s friend Marcello exclaimed to his companions, “Dost thou know who this is? I say truly, he is the co-designer of the WWE Know Your Role professional wrestling role-playing game!” Tony blushingly admitted his fame. My friend later told me the adventurer who recognized him is a member of the Game Distributors’ Guild. Tony agreed to meet Marcello that evening to cross flagons in the Hilton’s ground-floor alehouse. Afterwards, Aileen and I joined Tony in a short trek outside the Hilton and across the Road of Century to sup on food from the faraway realm of Thailand.

           If you think my wife immune to such recognitions from fellow Orccon travelers, you would be mistaken. The very next day, our party reassembled to explore the Dealers’ Room. Our eyes met the glittering goodies at the Dapper Devil booth. This company makes game accessories such as laser-engraved plastic and metal markers and tokens. The proprietors of this company are Lord and Lady Godbey. Lady Rebecca Godbey recognized Aileen because both are educators in the fair Realm of El Segundo (also in the Kingdom of California). Tony and I were enthralled by the Godbeys’ products. Being an avid fan of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, I was drawn to the fear markers. For those readers who don’t know, a character in Call of Cthulhu must protect against losing one’s sanity when encountering the monstrosities forged in H.P. Lovecraft’s mind. Perhaps another way to explain it is this: how would you or your character be affected by attending a show performed by the bard called Justin Bieber? ‘Tis the same thing. 

           Our adventures in the Dealers’ Room did not end there. The learned scribe and artist David Jones taught me how to play Capere, which looks like Checkers but allows players to eliminate each other’s men-of-war in more devious ways. Paul Ali, the designer of Capere, was also on hand to teach us how to play his game. The stalwart magicians from Gate Keeper Games demonstrated how to play The King’s Armory, a game with adventures to be had and castle keeps to be looted. Knowing my proclivity for all things shambling and gibbering, Tony traded some of his gold to buy me a copy of Cards of Cthulhu, a game created by Dan Verssen and published by Dan Verssen Games. Thank you, my trusted man-at-arms!  

           As the weekend concluded, we met and talked with artist Eric Kelly. Eric is one of those wonderful heroes one looks forward to meeting at a Strategicon event: one who shares their talent and intelligence with others. Eric makes one-of-a-kind treasures such as wall hangings, drink coasters, and medallions from Peeler colored plastic beads. Eric’s company is called Quad Nine Art. Please sample his creations using the magic of the Internet. You will be enthralled.

I had journeyed to this fair event called Orccon back in the lauded age of heroes many call the 1980s (this previous adventure having been chronicled under the title “The Games People Play)”, and Lady Francis asked me how the 2016 event compared to the earlier foray. The main difference I noticed was the proliferation of new, up-and-coming game designers and companies. Thanks to the world-spanning enchantments of the Internet (and one particular wizarding guild known as Kickstarter), these designers are able to raise enough gold pieces to bring new and exciting game ideas to the hordes of gamers who are ready to play them. The ancient guilds of sorcery, with oft-whispered names like TSR, Avalon Hill, and Games Workshop appear to have stepped aside to allow the young practitioners to use their staffs and wands. Methinks this is a positive development: back in the village of Inglewood where I was raised, my parents told me the story of the giant boulder that rolled downhill. Such a boulder “gathers no moss,” they would say, meaning as long as the rock keeps moving, shrubbery would not stick to it. I believe the magic of gaming lurks in the truism that gamers keep rolling toward their destinies: they use tried and true methods, aye; but they also squeeze new wine into the oilskins of their hobby. I say “Huzzah! This is a good thing!”