All posts by Mary Robinette Kowal

About Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY (Tor 2010) & won the 2008 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She is also a professional puppeteer.

Thought experiment: How do you react when you witness bigotry?

ABC’s show “What Would You Do” staged an experiment. They had an actor dressed as a Muslim woman enter a convenience store and had the clerk, another actor, refuse to serve her. Then they talked to the customers in the store.

My hat is off to the gentleman close to the end.  While I’d like to think that I’d be among the people who would speak out, my fear is that I would be in the 22 who said nothing.

(Just a reminder that our friend Kate wields the Mallet of Loving Correction so please keep your comments respectful. If you have doubts, review Scalzi’s comment policy)

Edited to correct the name of the program

Kermit goes to the Smithsonian. Plus bacon.

Home! For nine whole days! While in the midst of catching up on things, I ran across this article about the original Kermit the Frog. The Henson family has just donated him and several of the other characters from “Sam and Friends” to the Smithsonian. I’ve seen video clips of the first Kermit but never seen the actual puppet. You may be certain that a pilgrimage to the Smithsonian will be finding its way onto my schedule for the next time I’m in D.C.

Here’s the original Kermit selling bacon…

Book tours are like time travel

I have decided that book tours are a lot like time travel. Let me explain.  I left Portland last week and the weather was cool and springlike. I arrived in NYC which was firmly in the grips of hot, sticky summer.

I am now in San Francisco which is autumnal. Oh sure, there are flowers blooming and the sky is blue, but that doesn’t fool me.  It’s chilly here. Scalzi says that “It’s August. August is always cold in SF because central california is so hot. Sucks in all the cold air right out the pacific.”

He swears that it’s true and not just him being snarky.

Well, that’s fine and all but it still feels like time travel. Add to the fact that my body no longer has any idea what time zone it’s in plus the fact that the length of daylight also changes based on what latitude I’m in and you can start to see why I have no freakin’ idea what time it is or even the day beyond, “I’m in SF so it must be Saturday.”

Book tour differs from puppetry tours, where one generally drives and thus has a chance to acclimate to the landscape and time changes. This is all about getting in a metal tube and magically being someplace else.

The next leg of the trip is by train to Eugene, OR, so that will at least be in the same time zone although climatically different.

My opinion thus far of SF, besides the fact that it is chilly, is that it’s a good pedestrian town. I don’t mind all the hills and there are loads of interesting shops and cafes to duck into. I spent part of yesterday happily holed up in the Borderlands Cafe, which is attached to the bookstore.

This evening I’ll be reading at the SF in SF series with Cecilia Holland. Then tomorrow I’ll head over to Sausalito to visit my cousin. During the days, I’ll probably wander around in SF and do some exploring. I’ve been here multiple times before but I think this is the first time that I’m totally solo.

So, would you like to make any suggestions for what to do with myself during the day? I figure as long as I’ve made the trip through time and space to get here I should take advantage of it.

Oh, peaches! Oh, woe!

Let me talk to you about peaches. See, I grew up in North Carolina and every summer we’d drive to TN to visit my grandmothers with occasional visits to Georgia.  In the summer, the peaches were cheap and splendid. You’d buy them by the side of the road where they’d just come off the tree and were still warm with the sun. The sweet juice just ran down your chin as the flesh of the peach dissolved in your mouth.

I thought peaches were like that everywhere.

For the past seventeen years, I’ve lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest with excursions to NYC and Iceland. None of these places has decent peaches. I’m reminded of this because I am suffering from the gravest disappointment of a Oregon peach. Grave. Disappointment.

It’s made graver by the fact that I spent last weekend in North Carolina at NASFIC and had real peaches again.  My God. The first one I ate made me sag with relief and sheer sybaritic pleasure.

Coming home, I was excited to see that our CSA package this week had peaches. Fool. FOOL! Oh, what a sorry excuse for fruit this was. Hard and tasteless with more than just a failure to ripen. This was a peach without the promise of rich succulence. The ignominy!

Do you understand the anguish? Have you loved a food only to discover that it was regionally specific? Did you take the morsel for granted?

At NASFIC

I was heading out for NASFIC last night  – and by last night I mean 12:50 am today — and discovered Harriet plotting her escape.

Her camouflage does not work as well in this context as she apparently thinks it does.

Meanwhile, allow me to supply you with the other Whatever tradition, which I’m sure you have been missing. The requisite view from the hotel room window.

I grew up in Raleigh and down town has changed radically and yet hasn’t changed at all.  This view, looks completely familiar, but if I turn my head…

The hideous white and glass building was there when I was growing up here. The thing that WASN’T here, which I find astonishing, is the farmer’s market with live music.  So awesome.  I do not recall Raleigh being this hip when I lived here. Of course, I was also a teen so I had high standards for hip or cool or whatever your term of choice for general trendy fashion is.

Anyone else going to be at NASFIC this weekend?

Shadowlight Productions with some kick-ass puppetry

Yesterday I mentioned Shadowlight puppet theater out of San Fransisco.   Well, here’s one of their behind-the-scenes videos which shows just some of the amazing things that they can make happen with shadow and light

What’s particularly cool is the way they use three light sources, which allows for instant scene changes as well as some other pretty nifty tricks. The lights are super-crisp and that allows them to away from the screen. Watch how they use scale to create a sense of perspective in a medium that is inherently two dimensional.

They’ve got other videos on their YouTube channel that are well worth checking out. And if you are in the Bay area when they are mounting a show, do not hesitate. Go see it.

Admitting one’s problem is the first step…

Let me go ahead and acknowledge something. My debut novel comes out tomorrow and my head is just a tiny bit preoccupied with that.  Juuuuuuust a little. Slightly distracted.

Which you may translate to mean: Completely overwhelmed.

Despite the fact that I plan to talk about other things, like puppets, food, science fiction, or other random things that interest me, you’re going to get the occasional post about what it’s like to have one’s first book come out.  Scalzi and I talked about this before he left and he had the impression that debut-novelist jitters might be amusing to watch.

I can’t remember if he laughed after that, but it seems likely.

So rather than pretend, I’m just going to show you the thing that I’m totally obsessing over today, which is the book trailer.  First I’ll let  you know that this is a total DIY then I’ll explain a little bit about how we did it.

Okay. This is a style of puppetry called shadow mask. The style itself was invented by a fellow named Larry Reed at Shadowlight in San Fransisco. If you get a chance to see them perform go because they do some serious kick-ass stuff with it.

This is what one of the shadow masks looks like backstage. Basically, it’s two silhouettes, each at a forty-five degree angle to the performer’s head. What this allows the performer to do is to watch the screen while keeping the shadow face parallel to the screen.

The thing about shadow puppetry is that the actual puppet is the image on the screen. The object in your hand is what you use to manipulate the image on the screen.  So in this case, the performer’s body was part of the puppet’s control. If that makes sense.

You can see what’s happening in this picture of Jason Stanley as the Gentleman. One of the unexpected things that happened with him is that his head is significantly larger than mine. I’d sized the heads to fit me and his chin, as you can see, came below the chin of the mask.  Initially to hide that, I cut a piece of paper and taped it to him as a high Regency style color. He tied a sock around his neck as a cravat. Fortunately when we actually started shooting though, we realized that his coat collar would hide his chin.

The scenery was made of cut paper on an overhead projector.  The projector provided our light source as well, because it’s nice and crsiply focused. When doing direct shadow puppetry — where the puppet touches the screen — you don’t need a focused light. With indirect, like these, you need a really crisp light or else the farther away from the screen the puppet is, the fuzzier the image becomes.  Even with a focused light, the performers still needed to hug the screen as much as possible which you can see Sarah Frechette doing in this photo.

The screen itself is a roll of photographer’s backdrop paper.

I could actually blather about the puppetry in this for days. So if you have questions about how anything worked, let me know.

Meanwhile I will now return to the bout of nervous cleaning that is on my afternoon schedule. Hm… I wonder if Harriet needs to be vacuumed.