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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Because There's Never a Bad Time for Good Grammar

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Textual Inspiration #13

Yet another reason to worship at the altar of the comma:

He had taken the job as an interpreter after his first son, at the age of seven, contracted typhoid - that was how he had first made the acquaintance of the doctor. At the time Mr. Kapasi had been teaching English in a grammar school, and he bartered his skills as an interpreter to pay the increasingly exorbitant medical bills. In the end the boy had died one evening in his mother's arms, his limbs burning with fever, but then there was the funeral to pay for, and the other children who were born soon enough, and the newer, bigger house, and the good schools and tutors, and the fine shoes and the television, and the countless other ways he tried to console his wife and to keep her from crying in her sleep, and so when the doctor offered to pay him twice as much as he earned at the grammar school, he accepted.

- From Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Like This Blog...

Because I like literary things, and I like pop culture, and I like things that make me laugh. Please to enjoy:

Sunday, September 06, 2009

In Light of My Absence...

... I thought I'd post something you might enjoy.

And sorry, for the megascreen all weekend.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Minor Miscommunication

When I told the client to post the notice I meant for him to display the notice. I did not mean for him to mail the notice. In another field, this would be funny. In the legal field, this is not funny.


Maybe a little funny.

I blame the British.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Welcome Change

I almost did a little happy dance in my chair. The Los Angeles Times redesigned their website. FINALLY!

It's cleaner, more accessible and though in some ways it's reminiscent of the New York Times website, it has the added benefit of loading a heck of a lot faster.

Any time there is a major design change, there are always people who love it and hate it. Judging by the comments on the New Look announcement, team 'love it' is a little more crowded than team 'hate it'.

My favorite design feature: the inkblot on top and bottom. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

John Hughes' Neverland

For the last couple days I've been trying to come up with some sort of explanation and analysis of the Google Settlement for you, but the complexity of the agreement has me completely locked up. I'll keep picking at it and see if I can put something together for you, but I hope you'll forgive me if a post on the issue never arrives.

In the meantime, I wanted to pass on a link to this lovely article by Molly Ringwald from the New York Times, The Neverland Club. It's a very thoughtful perspective on her relationship with John Hughes.
Eventually, though, I felt that I needed to work with other people as well. I wanted to grow up, something I felt (rightly or wrongly) I couldn’t do while working with John. Sometimes I wonder if that was what he found so unforgivable. We were like the Darling children when they made the decision to leave Neverland. And John was Peter Pan, warning us that if we left we could never come back.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Goodbye, John

Sloane: The city looks so peaceful from up here.

Anything is peaceful from one thousand, three hundred and fifty-three feet.

Cameron: I think I see my dad.
One of the pleasures of growing up with a film is that as you mature, your appreciation for it can also mature. You see new things, appreciate new moments, connect to it emotionally in a different way. For me, nothing encapsulates that experience more than Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I can distinctly remember a time when I found Ferris' synthesizer, the one that emits puking sounds, to be hilarious. A little later I found myself enthralled by the fantasy of Ferris' wild adventure during his day off from school.

But it wasn't until my adulthood that I realized that it wasn't only Ferris who really made me love the film. It was Cameron Frye.

If you have no idea who I'm talking about, you probably haven't seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (And shame on you! Dude, it's on TV all the time!) Cameron is Ferris' best friend, and as Ferris so eloquently describes him, he's a little uptight: "Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond."

The heart of Cameron's problem isn't particularly novel - his absent parents are cold and distant, and his father seems to care more about his car than he does about his son - but instead of the film exploiting his anxiety purely for chuckles, it fleshes him out and treats him with compassion. The film allows Cameron to flip out, break down, and eventually break out. And in the end, it's not Ferris who makes the hero's journey, it's Cameron.

This wasn't uncommon in the films of John Hughes, the writer and director who passed away yesterday at the age of 59. Hughes' films were littered with characters that were just a little bit more than their archetypes. A mom who just wanted to get home to her son (Home Alone), the Geek who will patiently listen to your problems and then still ask to borrow your panties (Sixteen Candles), the tomboy who so desperately wants to be seen as more than a best friend (Some Kind of Wonderful). I could go on. Sure, there were cardboard cut-outs too (Long Duk Dong comes to mind) but for the most part, there were fully-fleshed jump off the page characters, and John always gave them their moment.

In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Cameron stands in an art museum in front of a pointillist painting by George Seurat, and as he stares at the image of a little girl, the camera cuts back and forth, jumping closer and closer to each shot. As we get closer to his eyes, it seems as if Cameron is having an existential crisis. As if he is facing the realization that we are all just little dots.

In an industry where anything that seems superfluous ends up on the cutting room floor, it is to Hughes' credit that his film allows for the moment, one that continues to move me to this day. That is the gift of John Hughes.

"I gotta take a stand. I'm bullshit. I gotta take a stand against him. I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I'm going to take a stand. I'm going to defend it. Right or wrong, I'm going to defend it."

Who do you love? Who do you love? You love a car!"

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Finding the Story in the Every Day

Everyone's heard that old bit of writing wisdom 'write what you know.' And sometimes it seems like there are writers who have success doing just that very thing, whether it's Jack Kerouac writing about life On the Road, or the more recent success of Isabel Kaplan, a youngster writing about growing up in Los Angeles' Hancock Park. 'Write what you know' (let's call it WWYK for the purposes of this post) has been a successful writing guide for a very, very long time.

So you think to yourself, well hey, it worked for them, why not for me?

But then you sit down in front of your blank page and think... uh oh - my life is totally boring.

What do you do? How do you make WWYK work for you?

1. Don't Be A Strict Constructionist

If you try to take WWYK too literally, you'll most likely bump up against the 'my life is mundane and boring' problem - that is unless you're currently traversing the globe in a hot air balloon or crossing sub-Saharan Africa on foot. Instead, break apart your biography for potential elements of a story - the setting of your childhood, the characters of your family, the emotional tone of your youth - and mine them for starting points or center pieces of your story. Sometimes a story is more about how something felt than what happened.

2. Remember Your Anecdotes

Remember that time you went on that horrible first date? Or the day your older brother tried to teach you to drive? Or that time you ended up in the emergency room? Your life is full of stories, and if you think about it, you probably have quite a few of these on rotation for cocktail parties. Well they're not just for cocktail parties anymore. Ask yourself what makes this a story that you like to tell? What about it do you think people find interesting, humorous, compelling? Answer that and you may have somewhere to start.

3. Friends are Fun

Listen to people. Listen. Listen. Listen. You're not the only one with stories, buddy, and sometimes listening to other people's woes and triumphs can inspire your own work, and help you add a little bit more K to your WWYK. (That's "Know" for those of you having trouble following along at home.)

4. Jump Off Into the Sky

Jane Austen's novels were chock full of romance and happy endings, even if she never got a happy ending of her own. What she did know was about people, family, and social conventions. She used what she knew as a foundation to leap off into the world of dreams, fantasy and in particular romance. Don't be afraid to start with your feet on the ground (or page as it were) and then let yourself dream up the rest.

5. Find the Story in Your Every Day

It's really simple: the mundane to you may not be the mundane to everyone. Don't be blind to the stories in your every day life. Think about interesting moments, interesting things you see, interesting things you hear. Try thinking small, and working your way to big. Remember: it only takes a small seed from which a very big story can grow.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Sorry... What Was I Saying?

It's alright to admit that you've missed me. I've missed you too. A lot has changed in the world - my world, and the bigger one I've come to call home - since we last spoke. I'll try to pick up our conversation again, and get back to the business of blogging on a more regular basis.

With that in mind, there was a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday by David Carr about a moment that represented the dizzying heights to which the magazine publishing industry had once hyped itself up, and down from which it has come crashing.
"Most of us who covered media did not fully understand the implications of the new technology that could publish and distribute information at zero marginal cost. The Web was viewed as a niche, as a way to supplement and enhance the printed product, certainly not a threat that would make many of those publications obsolete."
Take a look at "10 Years Ago, An Omen No One Saw."

Of course this story can only have one ending. An ending that brings us to the present, and the new world of blogs, print-on-demand, ebooks, and digital media. As for the future of publishing? Its fate is in our hands.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Textual Inspiration #12

Dawn, as described by Mark Twain through the voice of Huckleberry Finn:

Here is the way we put in the time. It was a monstrous big river down there - sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and laid up and hid day-times; soon as night was most gone, we stopped navigating and tied up - nearly always in the dead water under a tow-head; and then cut young cotton-woods and willows and hid the raft with them. Then we set out the lines. Next we slid into the river and had a swim, so as to freshen up and cool off; then we set down on the sandy bottom where the water was about knee deep, and watched the daylight come. Not a sound, anywheres - perfectly still - just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bull-frogs a-cluttering, maybe. The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line - that was the woods on t'other side - you couldn't make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness, spreading around; then the river softened up, away off, and warn't black any more, but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting along, ever so far away - trading scows, and such things; and long black streaks - rafts; sometimes you could hear a sweep screaking; or jumbled up voices, it was so still, and sounds come so far; and by-and-by you could see a streak on the water which you know by the look of the streak that there's a snag there in a swift current which breaks on it and makes that streak look that way; and you see the mist curl up off of the water, and the east reddens up, and the river, and you make out a log cabin in the edge of the woods, away on the bank on t'other side of the river, being a wood-yard, likely, and piled by them cheats so you can throw a dog through it anywheres; then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning you from over there, so cool and fresh, and sweet to smell, on account of the woods and the flowers; but sometimes not that way, because they've left dead fish laying around, gars, and such, and they do get pretty rank; and next you've got the full day, and everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it!

- From Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hot Off the Presses

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced today and of interest to this blog was the award for fiction which went to Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. The Publisher's Weekly review of the book described it as:
Thirteen linked tales from Strout (Abide with Me, etc.) present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection.
As someone who enjoys the short fiction form as both a writer and a reader, it's exciting to see a collection like this gain some recognition. I'm looking forward to adding this to my 'to read' pile.

You can see the full list of winners on the Pulitzer website here, and read more about the winners (with links to their earlier reviews) at the New York Times here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Note to Self

No more reading harrowing true stories of death and survival.

I'm just too sensitive.

Follow-Up: Amazonian Intrigue

As far as I can tell there won't be much more information coming regarding the Amazon "glitch" that lit Twitter on fire and sent the company stumbling through controversy this past weekend. In addition to the company's claims of "cataloging error," a hacker has also claimed responsibility for the problem on his blog.

I remain skeptical of both explanations, and in the end we may never know what really happened. Here's hoping the situation is rectified in a hurry, no matter the cause.

Read a thorough summary of the story in the New York Times today here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon A-Twitter

There is a rapidly unfolding story in the world of book sales that caused an absolute Twitter frenzy over the weekend. According to reports, Amazon has recently stripped certain book titles of their sales rankings. From what I can gather, in addition to the bestseller lists, Amazon sales rankings also factor into their search results, an important tool in online book sales.

What books are being stripped? Authors and users are initially reporting that the connective thread between the targeted book titles is erotic content and gay and lesbian content.

Amazon officials are currently calling it a glitch, but Twitterers, responding to a tweet from book critic Bethanne Patrick who initially sparked the frenzy, have seized on the topic and remain skeptical, many calling for a boycott under the hashtag #amazonfail.

Seattle Pi is currently quoting Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener as saying, "This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection."

This story is unfolding so rapidly, I'm certain I won't be able to keep up with it on this blog. You can follow it with more reliability (no rumor or unsourced quotes) over at the LA Times' Literary Blog (which is pretty fantastic by the way) called Jacket Copy.

Whether this turns out to be a rapidly corrected glitch as Amazon seems to be claiming, or a signal of future policy, I think Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy really summed it up perfectly:
But as troubling as the unevenness of the policy of un-ranking and de-searching certain titles might be, it's a bit beside the point. It's the action itself that is troubling: making books harder to find, or keeping them off bestseller lists on the basis of their content can't be a good idea.

Friday, April 10, 2009

City of Dust: John Fante and the City of Los Angeles

It wasn't intentional, but apparently I finished reading Ask the Dust by John Fante just in time to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday.

I initially added Ask the Dust to my 'to read' list a few years ago when my short fiction writing professor, Stephen Cooper, glowed about Fante. At the time, he had just finished writing Fante's biography,
Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante, so I took his endorsement with a grain of salt.

No grain of salt was needed.

Ask the Dust is passionate, intense, and brutal. And it offers some of the most stirring descriptions of Los Angeles that I can ever remember reading. In some ways Fante's Los Angeles of the 1930s is not the same as my current one of the oughts. But the sensation of Los Angeles is still the same: the palm trees, warm winds, racial tensions, long highways to dusty deserts, startling earthquakes, and transplanted dreamers.

John Fante's children have recently donated his archive of manuscripts, letters, and documents to the public which will be available for viewing at the Department of Special Collections in the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA. In honor of this donation, and his 100th birthday, Cooper has written an essay in the LA Times, which you can find here.

One of the most oft-repeated stories about Ask the Dust tells how the book went out of print after its 1954 Bantam run, and stayed that way until 1980, when Charles Bukowski rescued it from literary oblivion. Since then, its admirers have grown, and continue to do so still.

In one of my favorite passages, Camilla Lopez, the mysterious heroine of the book, cruises down Wilshire Boulevard in an open topped car, one leg dangling over the side, unapologetic about letting the cool breeze blow up her skirt. As she attracts the attention of nearby drivers and the embarrassment of her passenger, her only response is to simply press down on the gas and tilt her head back and laugh.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Potential Smash or Crash?

I admit it. I saw this, and I actually became hopeful for something creative, refreshing, and beautiful. What do you think? Is it going to be a travesty? Or is it going to be the classic we can't wait to watch with our kids?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Textual Inspiration #11

In honor of my writer's block and someone who appreciates the comma as much as I do:

The lean days of determination. That was the word for it, determination: Arturo Bandini in front of his typewriter two full days in succession, determined to succeed; but it didn't work, the longest siege of hard and fast determination in his life, and not one line done, only two words written over and over across the page, up and down, the same words: palm tree, palm tree, palm tree, a battle to the death between the palm tree and me, and the palm tree won: see it out there swaying in the blue air, creaking sweetly in the blue air. The palm tree won after two fighting days, and I crawled out of the window and sat at the foot of the tree. Time passed, a moment or two, and I slept, little brown ants carousing in the hair on my legs.

- From Ask the Dust by John Fante

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Little Help With Ye Olde Pronouns

I'm no grammar maven. That might be obvious to you if you are, in fact, a grammar expert, and also a regular reader of this blog. I'm overly fond of the comma, fearful of the semicolon, and I have never met a run-on sentence that I didn't like. But I'm also never one to turn away an opportunity to learn something new and to correct myself (before I can be corrected by snooty others).

So needless to say, I enjoy a good piece of writing about grammar, and this week the New York Times was happy to comply: "The I's Have It" by Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman is an article explaining the proper usage of "I" and "Me," a distinction I confess to never quite having gotten right, except in the most obvious of circumstances.

In particular the article focuses on the common error "you and I" as opposed to the correct "you and me."

But if your grammar is anything like mine, O'Conner and Kellerman assure you not to fret. According to them:
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that language mavens began kvetching about “I” and “me.” The first kvetch cited in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage came from a commencement address in 1846. In 1869, Richard Meade Bache included it in his book “Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech.”
Vulgarisms? Hrmph. Well go ahead and lump me in with the other vulgar writers like Shakespeare and Byron. Because, well, between you and I, I'm perfectly content in that company.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spotlight on...

Ever so often I read a post from a friend or fellow blogger that really just stands out and knocks me sideways. "Am I Asleep?" by my friend Sven over at To Make a Long Story Short was just such a post.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Hope... That This Doesn't Become a Lawsuit

The first shots have been fired in the Hope War.

Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous image of President Barack Obama has become the subject of a copyright dispute. The Associated Press claims that it holds the copyright of the photograph upon which the image was created, and thus are entitled to a share of all monies earned. However, Fairey and his attorneys have filed a best-defense-is-a-good-offense lawsuit claiming that Fairey's work is protected under fair-use exceptions to copyright law.

The fair-use doctrine of U.S. copyright law developed from a series of court decisions over the years, and was eventually codified here. The exception lists guidelines that may be taken into consideration for certain exceptions to copyright law when a copyrighted work is used without permission. The one I think is potentially pertinent here is: (3) amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

Meanwhile, Mannie Ramirez, the photographer credited with taking the original photo, which is believed to be from a National Press Club event in April 2006, claims that he still holds the copyright to the photo. Moreover, his position seems to place the value of Fairey's contribution to art and culture first, saying as quoted in the New York Times article:

“I don’t condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet,” Mr. Garcia said. “But in this case I think it’s a very unique situation.”

He added, “If you put all the legal stuff away, I’m so proud of the photograph and that Fairey did what he did artistically with it, and the effect it’s had.”
So what do you think? Is Fairey protected by fair-use doctrine? Or does he have to cough up some change to the AP (or to Ramirez)?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Visual Inspiration #2

Question: Where have I been?

Answer: Somewhere unfortunately unaware of the artist Maira Kalman, who has recently returned to her blog, "And the Pursuit of Happiness," at the NYTimes.

I found her recent post, "The Inauguration. At Last." moving, inspiring, and uplifting. Below is a sampling, but PLEASE check out the full piece, as my little sampling seems forlorn and out of place on its own. In case you didn't catch my earlier link, you can find it here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

It's Like a Decoder Ring for Chick Speak

I confess. I'm one of those women. I love Pride and Prejudice. I first read the book at the age of fourteen, a literary experience I can still vividly recall. Then, of course, the screen adaptations followed. I own the A&E version on DVD, with the dreamy and brooding Colin Firth, and I saw the Keira Knightley adaptation in theaters three times. It's a little bit sad, I know.

I've always imagined that I had a special connection to Jane Austen, since we share a birthday, though I feel no such affinity towards Beethoven who also shares the day. More to the point though, I think I've always fancied myself a little bit of an Elizabeth Bennet. And what P&P loving woman hasn't?

So it was to my great pleasure that I came across this article by Kyle Olson, "The Guys' Guide to Pride and Prejudice." In the article, Olson (henceforth known as Darcy-In-Training), takes on the challenge of actually reading the book to discover what secrets it seems to hold about women. P&P loving women.
My survey, statistically flawed as it is, came to the conclusion that if a gal enjoys reading, that gal loves Pride and Prejudice. This book could be some sort of lady-kryptonite, weakening the knees of the heterosexual XX crowd (and therefore must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands). It's like the Rosetta Stone for females: the resource that, once cracked, gives us the insight to achieve understanding far beyond what we had previously held. So, gentlemen, if we can only harness the secrets of this novel, our luck in love could drastically change.
Darcy-In-Training's article is funny and flattering, and I'm fairly certain that you'll enjoy it as much as I did, no matter what chromosomes you've got. And if you're a little bit of an Elizabeth Bennet, you'll probably wind up with a crush. Cheers, Mr. Kyle Olson.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rabbit at Rest

One of my greatest literary influences has always been my father. I can imagine that I once believed he arrived in this world fully formed as 'my father the lawyer', a man who made my sack lunches for school in jeans every morning and arrived home in a suit with his briefcase every evening. But of course my father had been living his life long before my sister and I made our entrance, and in that life my father was passionate about writing.

I became aware of myself as a writer long before I knew that he was a writer. I can recall one afternoon, though I don't remember the impetus, during which my father brought out his writing to show me. Thin pages, more than a decade old, punched with the dark ink from a typewriter. That day I finally knew. My dad is a poet.

As far as I know, my father no longer writes, but his literary passions remain, passions we often share and discuss. He has long admired the great American writers, namely Ernest Hemingway, but often he has encouraged me to read John Updike, calling me into a room with him just so he could read a passage aloud, sharing some small snippet of the tales of Updike's most famous character, Rabbit.

So it is through my father that I feel the loss of John Updike who passed today at the age of 76. He was one of America's great writers, and though he was prolific over his lifetime, it still feels too young too soon to lose so great a talent.

You may think to yourself that you've never heard of him, or simply never encountered his writing, but that is likely not so. Updike was near omnipresent in literary circles, a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. The New York Times obituary provides an extensive review of his life and work.

I regret that I haven't read one of John Updike's novels during his lifetime, but I know I will enjoy one during mine, and certainly during my father's.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Birthday Book Haul

Not too long ago... okay, a while ago... it was my birthday. My friends seem to know me rather well as I cleaned up in the book department.

I've already devoured three of the six books and am midway through the fourth (Weaveworld by Clive Barker). There are some pretty special books in there, from some pretty special friends.

So a special thank you to all of my friends for continuing to support my addiction to books!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

- President Barack H. Obama

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Beginnings

Now here is some good news to get this blog started in the new year:

According to a new National Endowment for the Arts study, reading among American adults is up for the first time since 1982.


This is fantastic news for writers and lovers of literature.

And check this out:

Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18-24 year olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20 percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.

You can read more about the study here.

I am thrilled, and I hope you are too. Here's to a great, positive new year!