Lights, camera…

The great thing about cinema in Paris? Loads of movies in English. All the recent big hits, including things you can’t see in America yet—at least for a few more days—like Captain America: Civil War (go see it when it comes out in the States; it’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s fun).

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Yeah, it opened April 27 in France. Go to Marvel.com for all your Captain America needs.

We even saw the recent Star Wars before it opened in the U.S. I was on my way to the market in the afternoon on opening day, noticed that the theater around the corner from our apartment was showing The Force Awakens in English, jumped in line behind just one person, snapped up some tickets, went shopping, got home, and told the kids to bang out their homework ’cause we had plans!

And that’s not all. A few months ago I took in Blade Runner—a pristine digital showing in a packed theater—and before that, Soylent Green (it was a bad print, probably from the original showing in 1973, full of scratches, skips, and moments when the sound dropped out, but hey, it was Chuck Heston on the big screen, and I’d never seen it before).

Plenty of revivals are on tap every week in Paris. Years ago I saw Vertigo on one of my visits. This week you can see An Affair to Remember, Chinatown, Forrest Gump, Full Metal Jacket, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Exorcist, and a few dozen more, including Purple Rain. At last count, in addition to the current crop of Hollywood fare, 46 different movies in English made before 2015 were showing in Paris!

Surprisingly, in this expensive city, cinema is generally a good value. Adult tickets are about the same price as back home, and they offer both student and children’s discounts, so we end up doing better than in Seattle. We’ve even been able to use discount promotions on major blockbusters during opening week; seems like in the States, passes or discounts are never valid for any movie you actually want to see.

The bummer of cinema in Paris? Continue reading

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The Death [of a] Star

Writing means learning, because “write what you know” only gets you so far. And so that means research.

Do you know how a supernova works? It’s one possible way a star’s life can come to an end—a violent, catastrophic, glorious end. That much I know. But beyond that…

So over the last few days, doing research has meant all sorts of fun exploring astronomical phenomena having to do with novae and supernovae, including gamma bursts, accretion disks, star clusters, pulsars, binary systems, even the “Chandrasekhar mass limit”—a term I will not be using in my prose. After all, I’m a novelist, not a physicist!

Getting back down to earth, it’s also meant learning about various forms of energy production, as well as flight technology (or the lack thereof in an otherwise modern society—which is turning out to be a bit of a trick to make plausible). And very much back down to earth, I’ve been reading up on epidural hematomas (a kind of traumatic brain injury), since I have a character who—well, that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it.

A word to the wise: it’s not enough to rely on google and wikipedia, as helpful as they are, especially when it comes to highly technical matters like medicine or astrophysics (which kind of is rocket science). So that means calling in the experts. And that’s where it really gets fun: talking (or at least emailing) with friends who know all sorts of things that I sure don’t about such topics.

And no doubt about it: it’s worth it.

  • I’ve learned more about how cultures develop energy sources from a single paragraph in an email from a friend than I ever did in twenty-two years of formal education. (Granted, I studied music and theology, although I’m pretty sure I got an A in “Rocks for Jocks”—I mean, Geology 101—back in my college days… not that it helped me understand mining or the importance of hydrocarbons in starting an industrial revolution…)
  • I’m getting closer to nailing down the workings of a significant stellar event that occurred prior to the start of the story. This part is taking some doing; just like writing the darn thing means multiple drafts, so I’ve gone through multiple versions of what exactly happened in the past and how it’s all playing out during the time of the story.
  • That business with the epidural hematoma? Thanks to a tip from a friend in the medical world, figuring out how that works means I should be able to sidestep the tired trope of the character who is mortally wounded but manages to talk and talk and talk, conveniently offering up their significant story revelations before expiring (like the coloratura soprano who sings beautifully and delicately—and for a seeming eternity—as she lies dying on the stage).

All this means I’ve been doing more reading and studying and pontificating than actual writing lately. But the research is worth it, right? And yet we can all point to huge scientific errors and implausibilities and plot holes and general sloppiness in books and movies and TV shows that we love—in spite of the fact that TIE Fighters wouldn’t really make that awesome sound as they zoomed by… So is it really worth it? Or should I just pretend there’s sound in space, make that supernova behave however I want it to, and let my dying character hang on as long as the plot requires?

Well, if nothing else, I appreciated reading this from my personal physics answer-man:

“As for your questions, congrats… you’ve already performed more due diligence than JJ Abrams did for either Star Wars or the Trek reboot. Watching the astrophysics in those just makes my teeth hurt…”

So yeah, it’s worth it.