Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review: No simple fairy tale

She’s a strong, independent woman, but life literally sucks for “Bo,” the heroine of Syfy’s newest scripted series, “Lost Girl."

Bo (portrayed by Anna Silk) is a 30-something brunette with dangerous appetites — a full-blooded succubus who feeds on the sexual energy of humans. She was hidden among humans as an infant and raised without knowledge of her lineage, only learning about her “Fae” powers when she drained her boyfriend’s life during her first intimate encounter.

Now, after years on the run and faced with the choice of joining either the light or dark factions of the fairy realm, she shuns both. She takes the middle path, aligning herself with humans, and making her the go-to outsider for Fae with problems. She takes their cases while searching for the truth behind her heritage.

Premiering two weeks ago (the third episode is Monday), “Lost Girl” is new to American TV, but it is soon to start its third 13-episode season in its native Canada.

The setting takes the Syfy channel deep into the dark urban fantasy territory of popular novel series like those of Patricia Briggs, Laurell Kaye Hamilton and Kim Harrison, which also focus on strong female protagonists. It’s the latest new TV series dealing with fairy tale creatures in the modern world, such as ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” and NBC’s “Grimm.”

The regular cast includes Kris Holden-Ried as “Dyson,” a wolf-like Fae working as a human police officer; Ksinia Solo as “Kenzi,” a human pickpocket and con artist who becomes Bo’s confidante and aide; Zoe Palmer as “Lauren,” a human doctor working for the Light Fae, who also crushes on Bo. A notable recurring guest star is Emmanuelle Vaugier as “The Morrigan,” the leader of the Dark Fae.

The first two episodes provided for review show the series getting off to a bumpy start. The pilot, “It’s a Fae, Fae, Fae World,” is sexy and violent (sometimes simultaneously), though the explanations of the show’s setting tend to slow the pace. Episode two, “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Fae” is just as goofy as it sounds, lapsing close to self-parody, which is odd territory for a show that (in the U.S., at least) hasn’t yet established itself.

In Canada, the series received positive reviews and developed enough of a following for the second season to be boosted to 22 episodes and an order placed for the third season. “Lost Girl” was developed and produced by Prodigy Pictures, in association with Shaw Media and Showcase.

(This review originally appeared in the News Herald prior to the season premiere of the show; I just recalled that it wasn't added here, so here it is now, slightly altered because of the passage of time.)

Catch “Lost Girl” at 9 p.m. CST Mondays, following the second season episodes of “Being Human,” Syfy’s Americanized adaptation of a hit BBC series, which airs at 8 p.m. “Being Human” follows the struggles of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who share an apartment in Boston.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Carmel Mikol: Creature of Habit

Carmel Mikol @ Central Square
SEASIDE — I met Carmel Mikol by happenstance. I had detoured into Seaside on the flimsiest of reasons, checking with Central Square Records about a Mountain Goats rumor, and then wandered into the recently renovated back room to look at posters and vinyl records.

A portable typewriter crouched low on the decoupage table by the old brown couch. There was paper in it, and words on the paper: “What Kind of Creature are You?”

I started to jot information from a sheet beside the typewriter; it told about the “Waywords” project singer/songwriter Carmel Mikols was conducting during her tours across North America this year. I looked up as a woman approached.

“Whattaya think?” she said.

“Pretty cool,” I said. Then I realized she was the same young woman pictured on the sheet beside the typewriter, and stated the obvious: “You’re the artist.”

Introductions exchanged, I gave her a business card and asked if she had time for an interview. I sat on the table beside the typewriter, and she settled on the couch.

“I spend a lot of time writing,” she said. “That’s really what I do; I’m a songwriter first. And I find that traveling around and touring and getting to play festivals like this in places I probably otherwise wouldn’t get to visit adds a lot to my writing portfolio.”

Originally from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, Mikol recently released her second album, “Creature,” and a related booklet of poetry, lyrics and stories, “Creature of Habit.” Her song, “Twenty Something Girl,” (from the new album) took first place in the Folk category of the 2011 John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

“I’m not in denial at all,” she said when asked her age (for the record, 29). “It’s a good thing my song ‘Twenty Something Girl’ did what it did this year. Otherwise I’d be a liar.”

Mikol was quick to smile and laughed easily, emotions as true and earnest as her lyrics, which explore themes as big as social conscience and as universal as personal loss. She claims to be a “creature of habit” and wonders what sort of being other humans might claim to be.

To that end, she employs one of the manual typewriters that she said she collects “obsessively” and uses when writing.

“Along with my tour, I’ve been taking my typewriter to all the towns that I play in and leaving it in public spaces for people to respond and participate in this public art project,” she said. “I type ‘What Kind of Creature are You?’ on the top and invite people to give me some kind of response. I’m collecting all these pages for the next couple of months … and will be turning it into something else, which is still a mystery at this point.”

This was not her first visit to Seaside. Mikol stayed a month in 2011 as an artist-in-residence with the “Escape to Create” program (which she called “lovely and supportive”), working on short film scripts and poems that resulted in her book. During that stay, she spent a lot of time at Central Square Records.

“I would come and sit on this couch and write,” she said. “They always play amazing music. … It’s a really good hangout, and they also supply you with caffeine. It’s like, a record store that gives you coffee? How could that be better?”


(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 26.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Holding on to hope of better days coming

SEASIDE — We arrived at the square in the setting sun and lowering fog of a Sunday evening.

John Darnielle, singer/songwriter and founder of The Mountain Goats, walked past us into Sundog Books. I browsed there, too, while my wife and daughter sat outside, eating ice cream from the gelato shop and waiting for my son to meet us. Later, I would ask Mr. Darnielle what children’s books he had set aside for purchase later, but he couldn’t recall the titles.

Upstairs in Central Square Records, a crowd was beginning to gather. Darnielle browsed the stacks as I purchased two of his albums on vinyl (free digital downloads included). I picked up the new one, “All Eternals Deck,” which includes the songs “Damn These Vampires” and “Birth of Serpents,” which I had heard recently on public radio. My son got “Tallahassee,” which for us is the iconic Mountain Goats album.

I said, “Excuse me, Mr. Darnielle,” and introduced myself to the man. We shook hands. I told him I didn’t want to take up his time, but I felt compelled to tell him that I was introduced to his music through my son and his best friend, Marisa.

Nathan walked up then, and I introduced them. They shook hands, and I told Nathan what I had been saying.

“Mountain Goats was one of her favorite bands,” I said. “We lost her a few years ago, and your music became sort of fused together with that time in our hearts.”

The look on his face was touching. He was stunned and perhaps embarrassed a little, curious and I think maybe honored. He asked if it was all right to ask how she passed.

I told him it was. It happened in 2008. She was killed in a car accident. He said he was sorry for our loss and I’m not sure what he said after that. My emotions were clouding my senses.

“I just wanted you to know that your music was part of what got us through that,” someone said. And I don’t know as I write this if it was me speaking or Nathan. For a moment, I was outside myself.

“When we heard you were playing here, there was no way we would miss it,” I said. “We’re so honored to be here and hear you perform.”

He shook his head and smiled. “I hope no one’s disappointed. I’m only playing a few songs. This is just an in-store, not a full concert.”

“It will be remarkable,” I said.

He thanked us again and said he would like to browse some more before the show. We thanked him for his time and stepped away.

He played to a packed house and invited everyone to sit down on the floor if they wanted; no one did. People of all ages stood and swayed, tapped their feet, mouthed the lyrics along with him.

He told us stories between songs:

... Of how he had looked at a map when he lived in the Northwest and thought about how Florida was on the other side of the country; how it was somewhere people ran away to; how disappointed someone would be when the pavement ran out.

... And of his stepfather, whom he described as abusive to the whole family, and how he grieved bitterly when the man died, and he sat on a floor somewhere in France and wrote songs about how weird it was to grieve.

... He joked about his lyrics being about the squalor of people treating each other terribly, and that it seemed odd to be singing them in this place of beauty.

He played “Cotton” and “Dance Music,” “See America Right” and “You Were Cool” ("We held on to hope of better days coming/and when we did we were right"), and he sang “Matthew 25:21,” which is when the tears welled up. He played more. He had no set list, just pulling songs out of his head as they felt right.

He did, near the end, ask if anyone had a request. I wanted to hear “Old College Try,” but didn’t shout the title because what I really wanted to hear was whatever he wanted to play.

After the set, he signed albums. Nathan’s he embellished with the boy’s name in Hebrew. Mine, he decorated with a star and the words “all love.”

And we all left in the dark and the fog, carrying something bright inside us.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Songwriters festival brought the good vibrations

Beach view at Watercolor Resort.
SANTA ROSA BEACH — The breeze was gentle, if a bit cold, coming off the Gulf of Mexico last Friday afternoon. The sun was low on the horizon. Except for a single woman in dark sweats climbing the stairs to the boardwalk, the beaches were empty for as far as the eye could see.

I stood on the water side of Fish Out of Water restaurant on Friday the 13th in South Walton County, waiting for a press conference to begin. Inside, headliners for the annual 30A Songwriters Festival were gathering to meet the press. Outside, the afternoon was perfect, and my luck was holding out.

I circled the area and strolled the resort, stopping in at the Blue Giraffe to meet the proprietor and one of the clerks. Traffic was picking up along 30A as I crossed back to the restaurant.

Gibson prize winners with artists.
The event organizers paraded eight people onto a stage to say a few words and pass the microphone. They laughed with each other like old friends, though most of them never had met. Later, they milled among the media representatives for brief one-on-ones.

The mood was light, friendly and fun, though I was still a little bit star-struck.

Jim Lauderdale talked about changing the debt ceiling before he “realized” he was at a different sort of press conference. Then he told a story about staying up all night Thursday penning songs with John Oates.

Oates joked he was, in fact, Darryl Hall. “I used to be tall and blonde, but ever since I started working with Jim Lauderdale, I shrunk,” he said before turning serious about how honored he was to be invited to participate in the festival.

Joan Osborne also claimed to be Hall and showed off her blond tresses as proof. Up close, her smile was as brilliant as her dimples were deep. She spoke of her new album project and the beauty of the beaches with equal enthusiasm.

“Everybody says, ‘Oh, the most beautiful beaches in the world,’ but I went out there yesterday with my daughter and it’s like powdered sugar,” Osborne said. “It’s incredible. You all know this, but I live in Brooklyn, so this is like a really nice break for me to have in January.”

Matthew Sweet stood in the back of the room and smiled and waved when he was called out by the folks on the stage. Arriving on the heels of a tour of Japan and the West Coast, he was jetlagged but grateful to be here. He also was excited to be playing the entirety of his landmark “Girlfriend” album live.

“People are very nostalgic about the album,” Sweet said. “It’s amazing that it’s been 20 years. This year it will turn 21 — so she can drink, I guess.”

Mullins and Simmons
After the interviews, Shawn Mullins paused and took a photo with a fan. Amy Ray delayed her exit long enough to hear how much my sister loves the Indigo Girls — and to agree with her good taste. She also posed for a photo with a car sticker.

Amy Ray
“I’m so psyched to be here,” Ray said. “The house I’m staying in is gorgeous. … It’s just a great area. I love being in the South.”

On the way home, I stopped by Central Square Records in Seaside to check out a rumor about the Mountain Goats and ran into another singer/songwriter visiting for the festival: Carmel Mikol was hanging out, watching people hunt and peck on the manual typewriter she had placed on a decoupage table by the couch.

But that’s a story for next week…

Matthew Sweet

(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 19.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book of Gabriel reviewed in The News Herald

My coworker, Jan Waddy, wrote a review of The Book of Gabriel that appeared in today's Panama City News Herald and online at It's only the third time the paper has written something about my books, (the other articles are not available online) and I'm very pleased with it. Here's the text:

Book of Gabriel: Be aware of dreams
By Jan Waddy /

PANAMA CITY — Have you ever had a dream and wondered if it was real, contemplated your existence as a human and spiritual being or been surprised by your own intentions?

Let Tony Simmons guide you into another realm with his latest novel, “The Book of Gabriel: An Endtimes Fable.”

“This project started as a serial for a friend’s website, part of a year-long daily fiction writing challenge I gave myself in 2008-09,” Simmons said. “My family had suffered the loss of two dear loved ones that year, which made it very difficult for me to express myself creatively. This was a way of forcing myself to exercise that part of my brain, and it allowed me to work out through fiction some of the emotions, fears and memories I was dealing with.”

Other work from that period is featured in “The Best of Days,” a collection of short stories, poems and experimental writing Simmons published in 2010.

“The Book of Gabriel” opens with Gabriel, known by many names, sitting alone under the stars on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, waiting to die from an overdose of alcohol and prescription pills. When a beautiful woman rises up out of the sea, he thinks she’s a hallucination. She drafts him into a mission that pits them against angels and demons alike in a desperate attempt to reunite the shattered aspects of God and stop the coming apocalypse.

“It starts out weird and gets stranger as you go,” Simmons said.

Even if you can’t fully relate to Gabriel’s circumstances, his experiences will leave you pondering questions about your own destiny — setting the book down to think and then picking it back up to see where it leads.

“The Book of Gabriel” does what all great books do; it opens your mind. The story includes regional locations, some stuff Simmons “just made up” and actual Biblical references. If you find yourself unsure of what is based on fact or fiction, you just might want to follow up by reading the Bible.

From Shekinah to Lucifer, the characters in Simmons’ book are so well developed that setting the book down is akin to pushing pause on the mind’s video. And if you have read Simmons’ weekly Undercurrents column since it first appeared in The News Herald, a familiar face will come to mind when you read about the secret power of Joy.

Along the way, Shekinah and Gabriel meet Cain (the first murderer) and his daughter Death, the archangel Michael and the mysterious Watchers that live among the stars. The quest becomes a dangerous road trip through parallel realities, dream worlds, time/space paradoxes, myth and legend — with side-trips into chapters from “The Book of Cain,” lessons in forgiveness and Joy.

“It’s pretty experimental in some places,” Simmons said.

The experiments will be refreshments for those who wander in random thoughts.

Meanwhile, Lucifer has his own plan to subvert the power of Shekinah, the female aspect of God — and Gabriel’s weakness is key to the devil’s plan.

“Every chapter ends with kind of a cliff hanger,” Simmons said. “I wanted to give myself a reason to go back and follow it up.”

The author is a writer and editor for and The News Herald. Originally from Century, Fla., he has lived in Panama City for more than 18 years with his family.

His other books include the literary novel “Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century” and the collection of his newspaper columns “Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents.” Simmons also compiled and edited the two volumes of “City Limits,” the official literary anthology of the Panama City Centennial, in 2008 and 2009. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including the recently published “Between There” from Pulpwood Press.

You can follow his reporting at or, and his personal blog at Find him on Twitter @midnightonmars and @PCTonyS, and

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't feed the animals at the Spring Break zoo

Maybe you haven’t heard of the primitive Jarawa tribe or the controversy involving them.

The last 403 Jarawa inhabit the tropical forests of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India. They are protected by law from outside influences, as they are susceptible to diseases carried by more “modern” people and their culture is dying out. It is illegal to photograph them or otherwise come into contact with them.

However, several unscrupulous tourist companies, working with a local police officer, have ferried visitors to the island so they can photograph the tribeswomen dancing and singing — most of them topless — in exchange for food. Video of one encounter is posted at the Guardian UK newspaper website; you can see and hear the women and children asking for food while an off-camera voice tells them they already got their food and should share it.

(A police officer responded that locals had not taken advantage of the tribe; it obviously was a British journalist who had broken the law by videotaping the Jarawa.)

You ask, “What has this got to do with Panama City?”

And I respond, “Have you ever been here during Spring Break?”

Just last night, as I write this, I saw a TV show called “40 Greatest Fails” (or something like that) which consisted of videos gathered from YouTube. One of the video clips was of a bikini contest in Panama City Beach during Spring Break that showed a young woman slip and face-plant while strutting across a plastic stage over a swimming pool.

Then I read in the next day’s paper that the TDC is planning to challenge a Guinness world record for the largest bikini parade during the upcoming Spring Break season. You can be sure the video cameras will be in abundance that day, and the footage will be online. Let’s just hope they wear sensible footwear on slippery surfaces.

Obviously, the Jarawa and the ’breakers are very different from one another, but the two situations set the old brain to thinking.

The big difference between what happens in the Andaman Islands and what happens along Panama City Beach is that the perspectives are reversed. That is, rather than the locals dancing half-naked for tourists to photograph in exchange for solid food, the locals here generally try to steer clear of where the tourists are dancing half-naked for each other to photograph while imbibing liquids.

PCB during Spring Break is less of a “human zoo” and more of a free range you might drive through very slowly with your windows rolled up.


(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 12, 2012.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A new way of seeing through music

PANAMA CITY — Paul McAuliffe is one cool cat, as he recently demonstrated while serenading a Florida panther, Takoda, at the Bear Creek Feline Center outside Panama City.
“People with autism spectrum disorder have a real affinity for animals,” Paul said.

Known across the Southeast as a talented flute player and flute maker, Paul is also an autism advocate and social services worker. Three years ago, at age 54, Paul discovered that he had Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism spectrum disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction.

“We have a real hard time reading social cues (or) looking people in the eye,” he said. However, he said the deficit can be compensated for: “It’s like learning to play the flute: the more you practice, the better you get at it.”

Paul has presented his “Flutes, Autism & A Different Way of Seeing” program across a seven-state area. He recently gave presentations in Greenville, S.C., and Valdosta, Ga. He’ll next present at Hattiesburg, Miss., and on Feb. 17 he’ll present to the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

Click for a link to download Paul McAuliffe's new CD

“Not too shabby for an old flute boy,” he said. “It’s a unique program that I seemed to have stumbled upon. I discuss my own journey of self-discovery mixed with information about Asperger’s and autism in general, interspersed with flutes (from various different regions across the globe).”

During the summer of 2011, the NPR affiliate in Tampa did an online article and interview about Paul’s musical autism advocacy program that went viral. It was picked up by the blog of Autism Speaks, among other organizations. CNN featured Paul on a “Health Minute” segment Dec. 1, after one of the cable news channel’s editors saw his presentation in Atlanta. The segment was shot in Maryville, Tenn., and was shown on CNN and local news channels all over the country.

“I’ve received reports of people seeing it as far away as NYC, Columbus, Ohio, and Little Rock, Ark.,” he said. “I’ve been joking with friends: ‘I can’t get arrested in Panama City — but they love (me) in Atlanta.’ ”

As Paul pointed out, Bay County gets into the national consciousness for many reasons — many of them not so nice — so it’s a good thing for a local to get positive national publicity. (Check out The News Herald’s list of Top 10 stories of the year for examples, including the BK Brawler and the School Board shooting, among others.)

“Behavioral scientists say 50 to 80 percent of all human communication is non-verbal,” Paul said. “The good news is we can learn these things. … Now that I have more of an idea what’s going on out there, it has made it easier to communicate.”

His new CD, “Young Cat Dreams: Quiet Time Music for Kids of all Ages,” is more than an hour of original, soothing solo ethnic flute music. Paul plays 11 different wooden and bamboo flutes on the album, three of which he crafted himself. It’s available for sale at the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida in Panama City, and Coastal Market at Pier Park in Panama City Beach; it also available as a digital download at

“I’m very excited about it,” he said. “We live in such a high-stress, high-stimulus society, and 21st century kids have so much stimulus coming at them all the time. I like to do anything I can to help people slow down and relax.”

Paul’s music reflects his peaceful attitude. He describes it as music for lullabies, general quiet time, meditation or “just to help relieve the stress of the day.” He has been told many times that when children or grandchildren are having difficulty sleeping, his flutes are the only thing that will help them “relax enough to drift off to Dreamland.”

“They said, ‘You should bottle and sell that,’ ” he said.


(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 4, 2012.)