Saturday, April 30, 2011

Charlaine Harris discusses "True Blood"/latest Sookie Stackhouse Novel

Charlaine Harris, author of the popular Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries.

For most fiction writers, the worlds they create exist only in their heads, on the pages of their works and within the imaginations of their readers.
Charlaine Harris, the New York Times bestselling author of the successful Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries (the basis for the equally successful HBO series “True Blood”), was able to literally walk into the world she created when she had a brief cameo in season two of the series, sitting at the bar of Merlott's (one of the key settings in her books).
Harris shares a scene with Sam Trammell (Sam Merlott) in a second season episode of "True Blood."
“I had seen the set while they were building it for first season, but it wasn't finished,” the 59 year-old author said. “Being on the completed set was surrealistic. Before we shot my scene, I ate lunch in one of the booths of Merlott's with Alan [Ball, “True Blood” producer and creator]. It was so strange and weird sitting in the booth eating lunch in a place that I created. Not too many people can say they have actually eaten there.
One of Bon Temps' favorite watering holes.

Surreal might also be a good word to describe her wildly successful novels that follow telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, whose unique gift of reading other people's thoughts has made her an attractive target to the supernatural community. Fairies, vampires, werewolves shape shifters, witches and other things that go bump in the night have all sought to exploit the plucky heroine's talents.
Dead Reckoning, the 11th book in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries, is out May 3. Things kick off with a bang when someone throws a Molotov cocktail through the window of Merlott's and Sookie must unravel the mystery of whether she, the bar's shape-shifting owner Sam, or someone else was the intended target.  
The book is already receiving high praise from some fans of the series. Round Lake Beach, Ill. native Liz Henderson is the co-creator of, one of the leading fansites for the HBO series that gets upwards of a million hits when the show airs and about half that during its hiatus. She got an early look at the book and said she likes the direction the new book is going. 
“The last couple of books in the series have gone to a really dark place, so I was glad that things lightened up a lot with Dead Reckoning,” Henderson said. “We get to see a lot of the old, snarky Sookie. She's not this Barbie-like barmaid from Merlott's. She is very strong now because of everything she has been through. This should please the fans a lot.”
Another book, The Sookie Stackhouse Companion streets Aug. 30. Not just an encyclopedia of all things supernatural and undead in both book and series, the Companion will feature a new short story featuring Sookie.
 “I was hoping it would come out before the next book as the novella takes place before Dead Reckoning,” explained Harris, who lives with her husband and three children in Magnolia, Ark. “It also features a timeline by my continuity person Victoria that is exhaustive. There's some recipes for food that has been mentioned in the books, a brief history of the an club, a map of the town of Bon Temps drawn by me and my best friend Paula, interviews with myself and Alan Ball and so much more, I can't remember.”
The world of Sookie Stackhouse has become so time-consuming that Harris intends to end the series after the 13th book.
“I am grateful for the success, but Sookie has taken over my life for the past dozen years,” she said.  
Though much of her focus has been on Sookie Stackhouse, that hasn't stopped Harris from keeping her other creations alive. Lily Bard, a cleaning lady-turned-slueth from Harris' five-book mysteries series set in the fictional town of Shakespeare, Ark., features into the plot of Dead Reckoning.
Still, Harris says the end is nigh for the Sookie series.
“I've known how it will end for a long time how it would end,” she said. “The very first scene I ever wrote in the series was the last one and it will be in the that last book. It will have taken me a long time and a few detours, but I'm working my way to there.”“I've known how it will end for a long time how it would end,” she said. “The very first scene I ever wrote in the series was the last one and it will be in the that last book. It will have taken me a long time and a few detours, but I'm working my way to there."
Fans should be able to feed their Sookie addiction with additional seasons of HBO's hit series, “True Blood,” though. That show returns with new episodes in June. The events of Dead to the World, the fourth book in the series, are expected to figure largely into the plot, but there are no guarantees.
Ball, the creator of “Six Feet Under” and now "True Blood", hasn't colored too far out of the lines in adapting the books for television.
"True Blood" creator Alan Ball (center) surrounded by the cast (from left to right)  Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette Reynolds), Anna Paquin (Sookie Stackhouse), Rutina Wesley (Tara Thornton), Sam Trammell (Sam Merlott) and Stephen Moyer (Bill Compton).

“He is respecting the source material. That's what he likes and it is what he brought when he optioned the books. So, I'm not surprised he's using me as the general outline for the series,” Harris said. “He and the rest of the writers on the series are all terrific, though. And I'm glad they've been able to put their own spin on things. They never tell me what I should do next in the books, so I am fine with them doing there own thing." 
Henderson said changes to the book were inevitable.
“The books are written in first-person from Sookie's perspective,” she said. “Ball and the other writers have remained true to the spirit of the books while adding a bit more color to this world and letting us see what happens when Sookie isn't in the room.”
Harris even said she was a bit envious of one of the additions to the television series, young vampire Jessica, played by Deborah Ann Wohl.
Wohl, right, with Paquin on the set of "True Blood." 
“She is a wonderful idea and the perfect foil for Bill [a Civil War-era vampire played by Stephen Moher],” Harris said. “I with I had thought of her.”

Harris appears at the Rivoli Theater (5021 Highland Avenue, Downers Grove) at 7 p.m. on May 5. Tickets, $36 (includes a copy of Dead Reckoning, admission to the author program and a screening of an episode of “True Blood”). To purchase tickets, call Anderson's Bookshop at (630) 963-2665 or visit 
Catch Harris on the web at
You can read the first chapter of the new book here.
A version of this story originally appeared online April 28 and in print May 1 in the Chicago Sun-Times. You can read that version here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

My gift to Will and Kate: other favorite TV weddings

Everyone needs some pop culture to discuss on their wedding night, right? So, in honor of the future king and queen of England's recent nuptials, here are some of my favorite TV weddings of all time. You may kiss the bride. Or not.

Always a trend-setter, Carol opts for a yellow wedding dress instead of off-white.
Mike and Carol, "The Brady Bunch"
"Oh, Mike. Thank goodness you saved the cake!" The story of a lovely lady with three girls and a man with three boys of his own kicked things off with a comedically chaotic second wedding for the widow and widower on Sept. 26, 1969.

And they said it wouldn't last (and it didn't)
Rhoda and Joe, "Rhoda"
Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) may have been able to "turn the world on with a smile," but it wasn't enough to keep her from getting ditched at the altar. Her bestie Rhoda Morganstern beat Mary to the alter on Oct. 28, 1974. The nuptials were one of the highest-rated prime time television events in the 1970s, easily defeating the ratings king ABC's "Monday Night Football."

Can't wait to see the hate mail I get for posting this pic.

Kevin and Scotty, "Brothers & Sisters"
Contrary to public opinion, Kevin Walker and Scotty Wandell were not the first same sex couple to waltz down the prime time wedding aisle when they exchanged vows in the season two finale of the hit ABC show on May 11, 2008. American television's first gay wedding was actually on Oct. 20, 1991 on the critically-acclaimed, but little watched "Roc" when Roc's uncle married his partner. Still, Kevin and Scotty's big day brought big drama and ratings.
Sure, tragedy struck, but Blake saved a fortune on the open bar.
Amanda and Prince Michael, "Dynasty"
And speaking of drama...and royals....who could ever forget one of the greatest television cliff-hangers of all time, "The Moldavian Massacre" on "Dynasty?" The royal wedding of Blake and Alexis' daughter Amanda to Prince Michael of Moldavia occurred on May 15, 1985 and the over-the-top series topped itself when rebels crashed the wedding and opened fire on guests, caters, and the wedding party. The rebels turned out to be lousy shots, though. Despite all the bodies on the floor, only two minor characters were killed off when the series returned in the fall.

Well, at least the marriage has already been consummated.
Luke and Laura, "General Hospital"
Only on a soap opera would a rape survivor actually marry her rapist and have Elizabeth Taylor crash their nuptials. "LnL" (as soap opera chatroom folks refer to the couple) tied the knot on Nov. 16-17, 1981. 30 million viewers (the highest-ratings for a daytime soap every) didn't seem to mind that Laura wore white for her second wedding.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Book of Mormon" seeking to convert Hollywood

Packed and heading to Hollywood?
One of this Broadway season's breakout hits, "The Book of Mormon" may just be heading to to the big screen if the show's book writers Matt Stone and Trey Parker have their way.
Though the plot of the show is hardly traditional movie musical fare (or Broadway for that matter; it's about naive Mormon missionaries sent to convert an Ugandan village where poverty, AIDS and violence are rampant), Trey and Stone, who also have a little hit called "South Park" on Comedy Central, told that if they show continues to do boffo Broadway box office, a movie adaptation is almost a given.
"We've learned in our careers that as long as something is successful, they will give you money for it," Parker told "They just want to make money in Hollywood, they don't really care. As long as the musical continues to do well, I don't think it's going to be hard at all."
I caught the show in previews and thought despite the occasional raunchy bits, felt the overall experience was sweet and uplifting. With tickets to the musical on Broadway hard to come by, a movie musical just might gain a few more converts to this brilliant and touching show about the power of faith.
You can order tickets to the Broadway show at the show's website here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Remembering the prehistoric ha ha: "Dinosaurs" turns 20

You know you're getting old when something that still seems fresh in your pop culture noggin is actually turning 20!

ABC's sitcom "Dinosaurs" made its debut 20 years ago today. My evil twin was a huge fan of the show and I post the following clip in his honor. Please to enjoy it, Bryan:

"Portal 2" Review: Still Alive

Three and a 1/2 stars (out of four)
From: Valve
Reviewed for: 360 (also available for PC and PS3)
Price: $59.99 ($49.99  for the PC)
Rated: E10+ for fantasy violence and mild langauge

Once more, down the portal hole. "Portal 2" is the sequel to 2007's critically-acclaimed, first-person puzzle/platform game "Portal." As anyone who watched the end credits to the first game knows, the maniacal computer known as GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, voiced by opera singer Ellen McLain) was not destroyed, but rather lives on to torture the series' silent, human protagonist, Chell.
Chell is awakened out of stasis and, while attempted to flee in an escape pod from the Aperture Science labs, inadvertently restarts GLaDOS.
Another computer program named Wheatly (hilariously voiced by Stephen Merchant, the co-creator of the original British version of "The Office") is attempting a cyber-coup and Chell and GLaDOS are transported deep within the bowels of the spaceship containing that contains the lab. Once enemies, the pair must now work together to restore order to the ship. Well, sort of. GLaDOS is still kind of snarky, but she wouldn't be GLaDOS if she wasn't occasionally tossing verbal barbs at Chell.
Never ever get between two computers as they struggle for supremacy.
As the pair slowly climb their way back up the ship, more of the game's backstory unfolds courtesy of recordings made by Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson (voiced by "Law and Order" actor J.J. Simmons). It's here that the game provides a biting commentary on modern society, namely just how unwise it is for CEOs of corporations to have unlimited power and money.  It's thought provoking when bearing in mind the current pay discrepancies between CEOs and the rest of us, but I digress.

The gameplay is immediately reminiscent of the previous game. You're handed a gun that makes portals at a press of the button and you use these portals to move in rather unconventional ways through the game's many rooms that grow in difficulty as you progress through the game.
Overall, you're looking at seven to nine hours of gameplay in the single-player campaign. The co-operative two player mode features its own story and will extend gameplay another two or three hours. While that might be considered short by some, each of those hours are entertaining and feature clever writing and dialogue. The game's core gameplay really force you to think out of the box, er, I mean the room.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Adele meets the Angry Birds

You know you've arrived as a pop star when someone makes a parody of one of your songs. It's no "Pac-Man Fever," but please to enjoy Barely Political's Key of Awesome #38:

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Stonewall Uprising" documentary airs 9 p.m. tonight on PBS

"Stonewall Uprising," the terrific documentary from Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, airs on WTTW channel 11 (Chicago's PBS station) at 9 p.m. tonight.
My review of the documentary is bellow. The review originally ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on Aug. 6, 2010. 

Recalling a landmark for gay rights; 'Stonewall Uprising' shows how progress was made
Rating 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
First Run presents a documentary directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner. Running time: 82 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening today at the Music Box.
In a time when the issue of gay marriage remains controversial, it's ironic to hear Mike Wallace state, as he does in a clip from a 1966 CBS news report, that "the average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage."
The rearview mirror of history is, without a doubt, unflattering. Wallace's statement is just one of many cringe-worthy and jarring moments in the moving documentary "Stonewall Uprising" that shows just how far the gay rights movement has come.
Lovingly described by several participants in the documentary as "a dump," the Stonewall Inn was probably the last place you'd expect a civil rights movement to take hold. On June 28, 1969, 10 police officers entered the seedy, Mafia-owned Greenwich Village gay bar for what was a routine election-year bust.
"Who was going to complain against a crackdown on gays? No one. Not even us," Jerry Hoose says bluntly in one of the many interviews with participants and eyewitnesses to the events.
"The first police officer that came in with our group said, 'The place is under arrest; when you exit, have some identification, and it will be over in a short time,'" recalls Seymour Pine, a retired deputy inspector from the morals division of the New York Police Department. "This time they said, 'We're not going. That's it. We're not going.'"
Co-directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner do a great job of not only covering the riots but also the cultural, social and political climate that led up to the "uprising." Nearly two-thirds of the film is spent on the backstory of what life was like for gays and lesbians. Even those well-versed in gay/lesbian history will find new details here.
At the time of the riots, homosexual acts were illegal in every state except Illinois. Many Americans viewed homosexuality as a mental illness, and some gays and lesbians were subjected to castration, sterilization, lobotomy, shock treatment and a drug-induced form of waterboarding, all in efforts to "cure" them.
After watching nearly an hour of this film, you aren't surprised the riots took place but rather how it could have taken so long for things finally to boil over.
Change never happens overnight, though. The first gay pride parades in New York and Chicago held one year later to mark the Stonewall events were hardly the good-natured, straight-inclusive spectacles they have become; participants feared being fired from their jobs or, at worst, even being assassinated for participating in the parade.
One of the most poignant moments comes from Pine, who empathizes with the rioters: "You knew they broke the law. But what kind of law was that?"

Bad news for fans of Charlaine Harris' Harper Connelly Mysteries

Fans shouldn't hold their breath for a small screen adaptation.
Last fall, CBS was eager to sink their teeth in another franchise by Charlaine Harris, the author of the series of books on which HBO's hit series "True Blood" is based. They optioned the rights to Harris' Harper Connelly Mysteries and even hired a scriptwriter to bring the books, about a woman who is struck by lightning and develops the ability to find deceased missing people and see first-hand how they died, to life. Plans to move forward with either a pilot or a series are dead now, though.
"They didn't shoot the pilot," Harris told me by phone recently from her home in Magnolia, Ark. "I felt sorry for the writer, Kim Miller. She worked on it so hard, but it's one of those things that just didn't happen."
CBS still retains the option to produce a series and could still farm it out to another network, but there are no plans for it on CBS' fall schedule.
"True Blood," meanwhile, returns to HBO in June.

My interview with  Harris should run Sunday in the Chicago Sun-Times.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

News to go Gaga over

Sorry, Ms. G. We have one more Gaga/Madonna comparison.
Far too many people are comparing Lady Gaga to Madonna these days. One area where the comparison is warranted is in her ability to keep herself in the news cycles.

First up is "Perform This Way,"  the off again now on again parody of "Born This Way" by Weird Al Yankovic. Yankovic had original approached Gaga's people with the idea of doing a parody, played it for them and was promptly told essentially "thanks, but no thanks."

Whose music can't be improved with the addition of an accordion, we ask?
Yankovic had planned to release the track and video as a benefit for the Human Rights Campaign and once he got turned down, he posted the song on YouTube with a request that people donate to the gay rights group anyway (way to take the high road, Al!).

Yankovic blogged last night that Gaga had actually never even heard the song and the decision to say no had been made by a manager. We'll never know if that story is the truth or if Gaga reversed course after realizing the decision was generating some bad PR (you can guess which camp I'm in).  She has subsequently given her blessing and Yankovic will include the track on his soon-to-be-released CD.

You can listen to the track here:

Exactly where in Lima, Ohio does a gay kid find lobster heels? We digress...
And in other Gaga news, the "Glee" cast recording of "Born This Way" (to be seen and heard on the April 26 episode) has been "leaked." Here's the link:

Born This Way (Glee Cast Version) by Lady GaGa Brasil

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trigger Critic under attack by a flock of Angry Birds

Today's post has been delayed due to technical difficulties.

OK, I'm lying. I'm playing the Easter Eggs edition of "Angry Birds Seasons."

Here's the trailer for the free Android download:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Portal 2:" Cake and Grief Counseling Will Be Provided

My review copy of "Portal 2" still hasn't arrived. To console myself as I await the arrival of Valve's follow up to their smash 2007 single-player, puzzle-platformer, I've been watching various clips of one of the greatest pop songs ever written for a video game, Jonathan Coultan's "Still Alive."

For the uninitiated, the song appears at the end credits of the game. It is sung somewhat sarcastically by the game's main antagonist, the artificial intelligence computer called Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, or GLaDOS for short.

Here's the original end credits to the game:

And here's the song performed by its composer:

And still another by the University of Maryland's Gamer Symphony Orchestra (Who knew, right?):

And for sheer irony's sake, here's my favorite of the covers, the Gifford Children's Choir of Racine, Wis. There is something about a children's choir singing the part of a maniacal computer that just cracks me up:

"Portal 2" is in stores today for 360, Mac, PC and PS3.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tales of the City's Barbary Lane Now More Musical

San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater nabbed the rights to the world premiere of "Tales of the City: The Musical," the musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin's classic book. It plays May 18-July 10th in what is expected to be a pre-Broadway run.

The book for the musical is by Jeff Whittey, who won a Best Book of a Musical Tony award for "Avenue Q." The score and lyrics are from the Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears and John "JJ" Garden, who, while not a full-fledged member of Scissor Sisters, has toured as keyboardist for the band. Direction is by Jason Moore, who was Tony-nominated for his direction on "Avenue Q."

The musical is expected to closely follow the events of the first book in the series. The music has thus far been kept under wraps. The creative team have begun to talk about the project, though:

Though it would be hard for anyone to step into a role made most famous by Academy Award-nominated actress Laura Linney, who first came to prominence as main protagonist Mary Ann Singleton in the 1993 public television miniseries "Tales of the City."

I'm a huge fan of the books (with the exception of Michael Tolliver Lives), Linney absolutely nailed the characters naivety and boundless optimism at the start of the series.

Betsy Wolfe will be playing the lead in the San Francisco try-out.

Wolfe doesn't have a ton of Broadway credits to her name. I missed her as Katheryn Brawner in the 2007 revival of "110 in the Shade" and in one of the musicals from last season, "Everyday Rapture." Is it me or does Wolfe bare a resemblance to Linney?

Far more recognizable is Tony award-winning actress Judy Kaye ("The Phantom of the Opera" and "Ragtime") in the role of Barbary Lane matriarch Anna Madrigal.

Rounding out the trio of main characters is Wesley Taylor as Michael "Mouse" Tolliver.

Taylor was last seen in Chicago (and on Broadway) as Wednesday Addams' love interest Lucas Beinke in the musical "The Addams Family."

So, is Maupin's book in good hands? I'm nervous. The Scissor Sisters are currently on tour with Lady Gaga through at least May 6. That doesn't give Shears a lot of time to devote to tweaking music and lyrics. It's the same problem that Julie Taymor and the producers of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" learned the hard way when U2's touring schedule prevented Bono and the Edge from devoting themselves completely to the score and lyrics for that troubled show.

And the fact that we have heard so little of the "Tales" score makes me even more nervous.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Ingalls family reunion: Author Wendy McClure talks The Wilder Life

Party like an Ingalls! The real Ingalls family:  Standing in the back from the left are Carrie, Laura and  Grace. Seated from the left are Caroline (Ma), Charles (Pa) and Mary.
I was never a huge fan of Little House on the Prairie, be it in book or television franchise form. Growing up in a large, single parent family, the struggles of the Ingalls family may have hit a bit closer to home to me as a child. We never had to churn our own butter, but there was a season or two where we dealt with powdered milk, powdered eggs and government cheese. And as a child of the first divorced family in our Catholic parish, I could absolutely identify with the Ingalls girls with their experiences entering the one-room schoolhouse for the first time. Though my parents' divorce happened several years after Vatican II, I took my share of cruel taunts from the Nellie Olesons at St. Mary's Elementary. Some of the Nellie's were even nuns. 
The books and television show have taken root in our shared sense of pop culture. I've previously interviewed actress Alison Arngrim (who played antagonist Nellie Oleson on the popular TV series). You can read that interview here.
Today, I chat with local author Wendy McClure who wrote The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie. This ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 17, 2011.

Chicago author Wendy McClure went on a quest to find the real Laura Ingalls Wilder, and in the midst of her search for the truth behind the popular fictionalized “Little House on the Prairie” books, she actually found something extraordinary: herself.
McClure, who documented her odyssey in The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie , never intended for her exploration to become a form of therapy.
“As a fan of the books, I had never really let myself go down the Laura Ingalls rabbit hole, so to speak,” said McClure, a resident of Chicago’s Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. “People think there was something wrong in my life and this was the prescription, but in actuality it just seemed like a good idea for a book. It was only after I had embarked on it that I realized that it was bringing me to the point where I was ready to look back at my own childhood.”
A senior children’s book editor, McClure, 40, rediscovered a copy of the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods, while going through a box of childhood memories during a garage sale at her parents’ home in the summer of 2006.
A book from childhood saved from a garage sale began McClure's Little House journey
“Finding the book in a box of my things was a bit of a surprise,” she said. “I remember checking the books out of the library and don’t remember ever owning a copy of any of the books. Another girl’s name is even written on the inside cover, so I’m not sure how it came to be in my possession.”
McClure is a Little House purist. Her exposure to the Ingalls’ frontier world came from the books themselves and not the more popular 1970s TV show that ventured greatly from them.
“I actually didn’t watch the show until I started working on this book,” she said. “The vision of the late 19th century in the TV show is hilarious. It’s really a show about the ’70s and ’80s with the prairie as a backdrop. Look at the show’s little house itself. It’s a split level with the fireplace in the family room.”
In 2008, a year after her mother died of ovarian cancer, McClure took the well-worn and yellowed copy of Little House in the Big Woods down from the shelf in her apartment and re-read it. Her fiance, Chris Sienko, then surprised her with a complete box set of the books in near-mint condition that he picked up in a resale shop.
“I remember being happy and remember thinking that I would get to them sometime,” she said. “I always have so much stuff to read. I didn’t expect to keep reading the series. I pulled the second book, Little House on the Prairie, and immediately got sucked in.”
She didn’t stop at the official eight books in the series, though. From there, she devoured everything from Prairie websites in Japanese to biographies. She even tried her hand at prairie cuisine thanks to The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook and The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories.
“I spent an entire afternoon cooking a complete dinner of salt pork with gravy, apples and onions and buttermilk biscuits,” she said. “I do a fair amount of cooking. Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t bother me, but this killed me. And if cooking it was hard, eating it was even harder. A little salt pork goes along way. It’s so dense and chewy. It was such a heavy meal that is completely unsuitable for a modern lifestyle.”
The Prairie staple Apples and Onions.
From there, it was only a matter of time before she embarked on a road trip to visit the physical locations where the Ingalls family lived.
“As a kid, I didn’t know the Ingalls family had actually existed and you could go to these places where they lived,” she said. You can go to the Plum Creek of On the Banks of Plum Creek and put your feet in it? It was like being told you could go to Narnia.”
The Plum Creek of Little House book fame looks pretty much as you would expect it, says McClure.
Over a series of months, she traveled with her fiance or friends to the sites of many of the books, including Walnut Grove and the upstate New York boyhood home of Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder.
The Little House in the Big Woods, recreated for tourists.
The trip gave McClure new insight into the books.
“The one thing constant in all of them is that the world around Laura is constantly changing. Her life at the end of the books is very different than her life at the beginning.”
For McClure, a big change is just around the corner. In September, she and Sienko will tie the knot.
“A part of me is a little sad we aren’t doing a Little House-themed wedding,” she says with a laugh. “After the books and all the road trips, it was the least I could do for him.”
You can purchase The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie at Amazon. A link is here.
Misha Davenport is a local free-lance writer and blogger at

Actress and activist Alison Arngrim 

Former child star and current political activist Alison Arngrim spent seven years playing the manipulative, selfish brat Nellie Oleson on the beloved family TV series "Little House on the Prairie."
And while her convincing performance yielded hate mail (even to this day), the 48-year-old says it was through playing one of television's greatest antagonists that she found both strength and confidence to live beyond the prairie.
Arngrim released a memoir last year, "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch"  (published by !T, $25.99 buy it from here).
I spoke with the actress and author by phone from Provincetown, Mass.
Q. How much of Nellie was in the script and how much did you bring to her?
Alison Arngrim. She was definitely worse in the script than she was in the books. How can you play a character like Nellie and not go all out, though? The Olesons had three sets of dishes: one for everyday, one for Sunday and a final set for when someone special comes to visit. Even today that strikes me as hysterically funny. This wealthy family thinks they will eventually have some VIP dinner that they need these set of dishes for. They live in freaking Walnut Grove, Minn. They don't know anybody, and nobody is going to visit them there. I think I got the job because I was the only 11-year-old who got the joke.
Q. Are you surprised by how much people love to hate your character, Nellie Oleson?
AA. In general, there is something about the character of "the bitch" that tends to be more popular. Without Nellie Oleson, I'm not sure if you would have had a character like Sue Sylvester on "Glee." The bitchy character is more popular than it has ever been.

"Glee's" Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is just a sun bonnet and ringlet curls away from being  Nellie Oleson.
Q. In the book, you present a compelling case that the real bitch on the set was Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls). What'd you think of her book?
AA. She's still stuck up [laughs]. Have you read that thing? In the 300 pages of her book, she never mentions what her parents' names are. How do you do that? Her dad serves her a burger on Page 8 and then shows up at the end of the book to walk her down the aisle, and you have no idea what happened to the guy in between.
I think she's had a much more interesting life than she is letting on. She mentions she dated Frank Sinatra Jr. as if she went to dinner once. I'm sorry, I was there. They were in love. I was kind of hoping she would talk more about that. This wasn't just a date. They were talking about marriage! They spent a great deal of time together and he was very nice to her. If I was Frank Jr., I'd be miffed that she wrote it off like they just went on a couple of picnics.

Not the juicy tell-all you would expect, says Arngrim.

Q. With so many TV shows getting big-screen remakes, who could you see doing justice to the role of Nellie?
AA. I'm thinking Dakota Fanning, but she might be a bit too long in the tooth. Maybe her younger sister Elle Fanning? Or Sally Draper [Kiernan Shipka] from "Mad Men," but only if they were making a movie about my book. She's probably seen it all on that set.

Chicago native Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper on "Mad Men") would make a fine Nellie says Arngrim

This article originally ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on September 8, 2010

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sookie is in the house

In preparation for my interview next week with author Charlaine Harris, Ace was kind enough to send me:

Yeah!  It's the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel (the franchise is the basis of HBO's "True Blood" series). I'll be reading this over the weekend.

She-Ra still 'fighting the good fight,' 25 years later

For the honor of Grayskull! Her Royal Highness Princess Adora of Eternia (aka She-Ra, Princess of Power -- or the voice actress Melendy Britt) graced the commoners and sat down for an interview in honor of the 25th anniversary of her battles with the Horde.

Shhhhh, don't tell anyone! She-Ra sometimes answers to the name of voice actress Melendy Britt.
Thanks to the Sorceress hooking us up with an inter-dimensional line, we were able to speak with the 1980s animation icon from her current home in Etheria about being a role model to Gen-X girls, her athletic and combat prowess, and other things.

The Sorceress after realizing we reversed the charges on our  inter-dimensional call.
Here's what She-Ra had to say:
Q: Should we call you royal highness, Adora, She-Ra or what? We never got a memo regarding official Eternia protocol. Or should we follow protocol for the Ministry of Etheria, where you currently reside? 
She-Ra: She-Ra is not big on ceremony. If you're a friend, you may call me by my name. Princess of Power is largely a symbolic title and I only expect it to be used if you are a member of the Horde. Otherwise, She-Ra would be just fine.

Q. Why do you think there are so few female role models?
S-R: A profound question! There are female role models all around you. Yes, in everyday life, there are women doing things that take superhuman courage in the face of many obstacles. If there is a woman providing unconditional love around you, She-Ra would say that that woman is a role model for you to admire.

Q. It's been 25 years. Did you finally defeat the Horde or is the rebellion an on going thing?
S-R: Unfortunately, not yet. Peace still does not rule across Etheria and we battle with the Horde to this day.

Members of the Horde. After 25 years, they still haven't grown tired of She-Ra stopping them at every turn.

Q. You're the most powerful woman in the universe, yet your twin brother, He-Man, remains more popular. How do you cope with that?
No sibling rivalry here. None whatsoever.
S-R: Who says my brother is more popular? People always seem to favor brute strength more than the forces of nature. The power of nature is all around you; it doesn't need popularity.

Q. Do you ever get tired of having to save fellow rebel Bow?
Bow: a man too busy working on his abs and combing his mustache to stay out of trouble.
S-R: No. She-Ra accepts people as they are and hopes they become more of who they have the potential of being. I believe the phrase in your world is "You gotta pick a brother up." So, while I would hope he eventually is able to save himself, for now, She-Ra is there.

Q. Your steed Spirit (aka Swift Wind) has to be getting up there in horse years. Is he still with you or have you retired him to greener pastures?
S-R: She-Ra never ages and neither does her beloved steed. He is still by me, fighting the good fight.
Whether it's mystical water, magical oats or Botox, Swift Wind doesn't look a day older than five.
Q. Between you and your twin brother, who was born first? And thus, the rightful heir to the throne of Eternia?
S-R: No one ever told us who was born first and we don't really care about titles. We care about justice! If I had to choose, I would let him be first, because you know how guys are.

Q. Democracy or constitutional monarchy?
S-R: She-Ra has to think about this. [Pause] I would think it would have to be a democracy. In a constitutional monarchy, power has to be passed down from a ruler to that ruler's children and neither my brother nor I have children.

Q. You and your brother, Adam, live in different dimensions. How do you manage to stay in touch? Does Skype work through the wormholes between Eternia and Etheria?
S-R: We stay in touch by mental magic. I think he's in the place you call "oh-high-oh" right now. Yes, he just checked in with me. He's in your "oh-high-oh" at the moment. I don't know why he is there. He disconnected before I could ask.
Prince Adam of Eternia: Pastel fashion plate and lover of the Buckeye State.
Q. We've noticed that your skirt never moves (even when you do a somersault). Just what are you starching that thing with?
S-R: It was a precursor to one of your Lady Gaga's outfits. It's magical. And yet, it still works and flows.

Q. Final question: Where's Loo-Kee hiding today?
If you play hide-and-seek with this guy, know this: you are being hustled.
S-R: He's in a crevice of Manhattan, fighting battles there. Yes, we've outsourced him to your planet.

"She-Ra: The Complete Series" (Classic Media, $99.99) is in stores now. Buy it from Amazon here.

This article originally ran in the Chicago Sun-Times Oct. 1, 2010