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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Are You Excited? Cause I'm Excited!

Normally, I find myself disappointed with screen adaptations of books. I think I can count on one hand adaptations that I've actually liked independently of the original written material (Holes, A Room With a View.) And in the reverse, the list of adaptations that I've hated, films that have killed the rich material that they are intending to bring to life, is significantly longer.

Occasionally though, something takes me by surprise and just works in a way that I wasn't expecting. It's been my pleasure to enjoy the Harry Potter movies in concert with the books over the last few years, but for me, only Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was entertaining in a way that a complete movie should, and was better even than the reading of the book itself.

Or perhaps it was simply my childlike awe and giddiness over the magical dueling that the filmmakers exploded off the page and onto the screen that has me desperate for more.

Whatever the reason for my admiration, let it be known that I can't wait for NOVEMBER!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Devil Wears Suede

I confess to watching very few reality TV shows. However, one of my favorites is the popular Project Runway on Bravo, which has recently begun its promising fifth season. I doubt you're very interested in hearing why I love the show, and since it hardly relates to this blog, I'll say simply that I enjoy all things artistic, and fashion design is some very crafty art.

What is of interest, however, is that blogger friend Nevin has recently launched his very own response to Project Runway, which he is calling Project Run(A)Way: A Hater's Perspective. With his usual snarky brand of humor, Nevin deconstructs every episode from start to finish in order to unravel what he considers to be one of the greatest TV mysteries: why do people like this show?

Project Run(A)Way is updated every Wednesday night after the West Coast airing of the show - so make sure you're up-to-date when you check it out.

Make it work, people!

It's a Water Glass JINX!

I make one little Los Angeles earthquake reference last week and it's almost like I made it happen. As I'm sure most of you know by now, at 11:42AM yesterday there was a 5.4 earthquake in Southern California. BEHOLD the power of language!

The quake is being described as moderate, but I think it can better be described as a good solid shake. For those few of you who have never experienced an earthquake before, I'll try to describe it with a bit more detail.

Sitting at my desk on the 18th floor of a 30 story building, I first heard the sound of rumbling and the windows creaking, immediately followed by a slight shake. Almost all earthquakes begin this way - mild sound and shake - at which point you have a split second to decide whether the quake will be big or small. Yesterday the decision was made when I went diving beneath my desk like it was hiding a secret portal to safety. Duck and cover, baby.

Now the fun part. The entire building started to shake; a 30 story steel and glass structure and it felt like the floor and the walls were giving way. It's similar to the sensation of a big rig truck passing too close to your home or a subway passing beneath the sidewalk just under your feet. Only much much more so. With your whole body you can feel the instability of the building around you, because it's not just the building, it's the ground beneath it. And equally unnerving is the loudness of the shaking. In Los Angeles, most of the buildings are designed to sway with an earthquake. Have you ever seen a tall palm tree bend back and forth in the wind? Yeah, it's like that. For 20 very long seconds. Nu, our accountant, was clinging to the floor beside the copier, screaming her head off in an endless cycle of "oh my god!"

Then finally it stopped.

I crawled out from underneath my desk, and thought maybe I had done it a bit too early, only to realize that the building wasn't shaking anymore, it was me. For a couple of nervous moments we all stood around discussing if we should evacuate the building, and joking about finding transistor radios even though the power was still on and the internet was still working perfectly. Then, as if by silent acknowledgment, it seemed clear that the building would remain standing and we all went back to work.

It's been at least a decade since Los Angeles has been reminded that we live on the razor's edge, or more accurately, the edge of the San Andreas Fault. For those of us that remember the 1994 6.7 Northridge Quake - a powerful shaking that had me clinging to my bedroom doorway for fear of literally being thrown free - the Chino Hills Quake pales in comparison. But it still forces us to face down our own mortality, to recognize that as wrapped up as we can be in our development deals, power lunches, and traffic jams, the earth beneath our feet may have very different plans for us. Because in Los Angeles, you're only as secure as the next big earthquake.

Unfortunately I could not find the source of the photo on the internet, so to the unnamed photographer, I thank you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Snuffing Out the Twilight

Well I'm sorry to say that my verdict is in on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and it is not positive. I didn't care for this book at all.

As I mentioned previously on this blog, I found Meyer's prose to be bland and simply serviceable. The choice to write in first person narrative seemed to be one of ease rather than driven by the story itself. Nothing was revealed or informed by the first person narrative. Instead it tortured me with the narrator's incessant glowing admiration of her love interest and pages and pages of rumination on her feelings.

In fact, I was inspired to create the Twilight drinking game: If you ever have the opportunity to attend a reading, bring the alcohol of your choice with you. Every time the narrator describes something as "beautiful" take a swig. I suggest you arrange a sober ride home. You'll need it.

I accept that this book is geared towards, and is clearly successful with, girls half my age. However, I don't accept that the prose or storytelling in YA books has to be mind-numbingly mundane. In fact, Meyer really shines when the plot is actually ticking forward. Unfortunately the ratio is approximately 100 pages of plot to 300 pages of feelings. And yet, the narrator's feelings rarely change. At all.

A friend told me recently that Meyer is planning on rewriting Twilight from the point of view of the love interest/vampire. No real shock to me. When I finally finished the book, it immediately occurred to me that his journey was infinitely more interesting than the narrator's.

I strongly believe that YA prose can be simple and clear for young readers, but still possess the nuance that makes stories compelling and memorable. My favorite example is The Rain Catchers by Jean Thesman, and in the supernatural category, I'm delighted to recommend anything from The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper.

Needless to say, I will not be reading any more books of this series.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

L.A. Times Earthquake: Shaking the Foundation of Literary Life in Los Angeles

For the last few years, the Los Angeles Times newspaper has been seeing a decline in circulation, a decline that is likely mimicked across the country amongst even the best of old school print media. The newspaper has been making its own news; a takeover, and then massive and highly controversial staff slashing.

The most recent in a growing list of casualties is the Sunday Book Review, a weekly stand alone section of the paper dedicated to literary features and reviews. The section has been a part of the Sunday paper for 33 years. According to Publishers Weekly, the Sunday Book Review is scheduled to see its last issue this Sunday.

I've had many discussions with friends about the changing nature of news reporting and media sources in the internet age, including some who have themselves been victims or refugees of newspaper downsizing. I don't have a magic solution to this problem. I myself am not a paper subscriber, just a paper leech, stealing the Sunday Book Review section from my office paper first thing on Monday morning. Also, I confess to being an avid N.Y. Times Online reader, where I can click just the stories that interest me.

However, it strikes me as odd that the current tactic to fight the declining circulation is to subtract value from the paper, instead of to add to it. Friend to this site Molly's recently posted an open letter to the Times that thoughtfully addressed how the paper can increase their revenue and better integrate their online presence.

I could wax on here about what Los Angeles loses with the end of the Sunday Book Review, but I think it is much more elegantly expressed in this letter to the editor written by four former editors of the Sunday Book Review:
Angelenos in growing numbers are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review, a philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of the city and the region, will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Discovered this fantastic piece via Antoine Wilson's blog and decided that I had to share it. From what I've discovered, it looks to be the work of an artist named Tom Gauld whose work, among others can be found here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Click for a larger, slightly more readable size.

Friday, July 18, 2008

10 Songs I Don't Want to Hear on the Radio

Over the past five years, Los Angeles radio has been in a state of flux. New stations have been added to the dial, and old standbys have been extensively reformatted. So, in an unusual foray into music, I thought I'd try to offer my assistance to the various radio stations as they try to find their footing.

10 songs I never want to hear on the radio ever again (in no particular order):

1. "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" by Lenny Kravitz - He is not, nor was he ever, the new Jimi Hendrix. The guitar riff repeats ad nauseam on that track, without an iota of the emotion and skill that Jimi had. Leave it in the vault.

2. Anything by the Steve Miller Band - Was there a time when people actually liked this band? These songs seem like they were written specifically for television commercials. Enough already.

3. The Counting Crows' cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" - It's a travesty.

4. "Moondance" by Van Morrison - No, it is not a marvelous night for a Moondance. Try scratching the surface of an album.

5. "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp - This is not the Midwest, people. This song does not inspire any nostalgia in us hardened urbanites.

6. "You Spin Me Round" by Dead or Alive - No. Just no.

7. "Informer" by Snow - This song is not even cool in an ironic way. Let's pretend like we never played this in Los Angeles.

8. "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds - We've never been given the opportunity to try to forget this song it plays so often. All together now, let's move out of the 80s.

9. "Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones - I don't care if you think this is the most amazing song ever written, The Rolling Stones have been writing music for almost five decades. Can we please, please, please play another of their songs?

10. "Come Sail Away" by Styx - This definitely takes the cake for being the longest most annoying song ever written.

Honorable mentions: "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion and "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston - Thankfully, I don't often listen to the stations that play those songs, so I'm spared, but I'm sure there are romantic radio listeners out there who would be thrilled if both those pledges to eternity would come to an abrupt end.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Past, Present, Future

No, I'm not going to write about tenses. Not yet, anyhow. Instead, I'm just going to tell you about my recent book selections.

I just finished reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, which you might have guessed as I recently quoted a selection from it for a Textual Inspiration.

I really enjoyed this book. I love Chabon's use of language. At times when he's describing something, it seems like he's trying to make me feel something instead of see something. That's not ground breaking, of course, but it was novel to me and has me thinking about descriptions in a different way.

The book I'm reading now is Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I'm about 200 pages in and a little underwhelmed to be perfectly honest. Sure it moves fast, but the language is completely serviceable, and the main character spends quite a lot of time talking and brooding about her feelings. I suppose books are the medium of feelings, and in particular a first person narrative, but considering the popularity of this book, I was expecting more. So far it feels very uninspired - not any better than The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause, or In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. I'll continue to push through, and hopefully will have a change in opinion as I continue and the plot thickens.

After Twilight my options are aplenty as usual. I have piles of unread books in my apartment. A selection that I can think of off the top of my head follows below, and if you have any recommendations from it, I'm all ears:

- Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
- Underworld by Don Delillo
- Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Any thoughts?

Monday, July 14, 2008

F-Bombs Away!

I was recently reading an article about the Emmy nominations this year that briefly and superficially explored the divide between the network shows and the premium cable shows. It posed the question of whether or not the premium cable networks, which are unhampered by FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulations on obscenity broadcast standards, have an advantage over the networks.

I think the most obvious distinction between network shows and premium cable shows, and the one that impacts me the most as a writer, is that premium cable shows are allowed to curse.

'What about tits and ass?', you might ask. Sure, it's nice that a director has the freedom to do a full frontal on their premium cable television series, but sex and physical intimacy, as with violence, can often be more effective in the implication. Not so with cursing. And if you need an example, I need only refer you to the most recent installment of the Die Hard film series, Live Free or Die Hard, in which the most famous line (among other butchered dialogue) was edited to fade out: Yippee-ki-yay, mother---

David Shore, creator and producer of the Fox Television show House said about cursing, "If I could have one change, it would be to have 'fuck' be one of them. But we manage to do all right anyway." (I think it's interesting to note that the publication that originally printed that quote edited the word "fuck" to "f---." I've changed it back.)

It's happened often that I've been preparing to submit my short fiction to a publication only to discover that they have an obscenity restriction on curse words and my story does not. That leaves me with a quandary: do I change my story to fit the publication or do I maintain the integrity of the story and submit elsewhere?

Being challenged not to curse in a story can lead you to greater creativity. In Joss Whedon's Sci-Fi television series Firefly the characters often curse in what seems to be a future amalgamation language heavily influenced by Chinese, and often use the word "gorram" as what seems to be a bastardization of "God damn." (Unless there are some Whedonites out there who can correct me.)

No matter what the rules of your intended forum of publication, you may find yourself asking the question as you write - how much cursing is too much cursing, and what is appropriate? Ultimately, this really is a personal choice, but you should consider some factors:

1. How big of an impact do you want your curse words to have? There's a reason why on television and radio "fuck" is known as "the F-bomb." It's because it slips past censors so rarely that when it does come through it explodes like a bomb. The less you use the curse words, the greater impact they'll have.

2. How do your characters actually speak? This is something that you should really take time to think about, because though cursing maybe more intense and common in certain cultural subsets, it still may not be as prevalent as film and television shows would have you believe. If you can, watch some documentaries, go to the neighborhoods, LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN.

3. How will it affect your audience? When the HBO series Deadwood first aired, it garnered a lot of attention for the amount of cursing in the program, and there's no question it turned off some potential viewers. What do you want your readers to talk about - the creative cursing, or the great story and characters?

4. Can you say it another way? When I want to soften the impact of a character's curse, I often omit the direct quote and instead refer to it in narrative summary: Lillian threw her hands up in the air and shouted an oath towards the sky.

The most important thing to remember is that cursing should not be an abused element in your story. It should be organic and should not draw attention to itself (unless you intend it) and should be used as any other writing tool in your kit - with thoughtfulness and precision.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Misdirection: The Busy Blogger's Best Friend

I have been working on some very complex and interesting posts for you all (I swear!), but unfortunately my home internet has been out of commission since Tuesday, and now suddenly an entire week has gone by and I haven't posted anything new!

So I'm taking this opportunity to draw your attention to a couple of the blogs on my sidebar which have been silently added within the last few months that I think you might enjoy:

I have to open with The Nevin Barich Blog Experience. I often find myself trying to repeat pieces of Nevin's blog to friends over dinner, and it just doesn't go over nearly as well as Nevin pulls it off himself. He makes me laugh every single time.

Next up, we've got And to Make a Long Story Short. Primarily a movie review blog, posts tend to cover films currently out in theaters and with a sense of humor to boot. Not to mention, cough I'm sometimes with blogger Sven when he sees the movie cough.

Happy surfing! Be back soon!

Monday, July 07, 2008

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt - That's My Name Too!

Today I received the excellent news that there is a new addition to my big extended family, as one of my cousins has had a baby girl! As the baby's chosen name spread like wildfire along the family communications lines, it had me thinking about what a name can provide for the developing character of a child, and what it can mean for a character that you as a writer are creating.

I could easily have titled this post with the famous Shakespeare quote, "What's in a name?" After all, your character is your character regardless of the name you choose to pair it with. However, there's no denying that some names carry a certain feeling with them, and unless you're going for irony in a Johnny Cash "A Boy Named Sue" sort of way, it simply might not work:
Harry Burns: With whom did you have this great sex?
Sally Albright: I'm not going to tell you that.
Harry Burns: Fine, don't tell me.
Sally Albright: Shel Gordon.
Harry Burns: Shel? Sheldon? No, no, you did not have great sex with Sheldon.
Sally Albright: I did too.
Harry Burns: No you didn't. A Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man... but humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Sheldon, you're an animal Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.' Doesn't work.

- When Harry Met Sally by Nora Ephron (1989)
I know a lot of people favor character names with special meaning. They spend a lot of time on baby name websites looking up what a name means or its various historical and literary references. That's all good and well, and may get you points in some circles, but for me, I realized that Enola was "alone" backwards ages ago, and it was only cool for about five minutes.

The most important aspect of selecting a name for your character is making sure that the name is appropriate for the time and place about which you are writing. If you're writing about a character in Revolutionary era Boston, "Tony" probably doesn't have the right connotations, but 1970s New York City, and "Tony" will fit in perfectly.

So how do you go about finding historically accurate names for your characters? The answer is simple: Research. You should already be doing significant research about the time period for your writing. As you go along, just make note of historical names that spark your interest, and keep a list. Remember, you don't just need names for your main characters, you need names for all of the people who populate their world.

Don't let names get you stuck. If you can't find the right name for a character as you're plugging along with good momentum in your writing there are two references I never get tired of using:

1. The Bible - There are way more names in there than just the typical Judeo-Christian set if you just take the time to page through; and

2. A baby name book.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

To MFA or Not to MFA? That is the Question

I purchased The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students by Tom Kealey today. Had to buy it online because I can't find it at any of the bookstores in my area so I'll be waiting a little while before I can actually page through it.

I don't know what this means for my future. I don't know if this means that I'm preparing to apply again (it probably does) or if I get accepted somewhere I will actually go.

But I bought the book. So that's the first step I guess.