26 August 2008

It's a Wrap

You know you don't get to choose your covers right? Writing a book is like birthing a baby and then having someone else dress them. All this work and you don't get to pick what they wear? How is that fair? Well, it's not about being fair, it's about expertise. Just because you can write doesn't you know a thing about what looks good on a book shelf. The point of the book cover is to move units. Sure, some are artistic and truly works of art, but the book still needs to put its best foot forward to sell and a great cover can do that for you.

For my first book, since it was part of a series, the options seemed limited. We got to suggest a few ideas of what might make a good cover but basically the publisher showed me some samples, asked for some feedback, and then created a cover that was totally new to my eyes. At first, I was like "an Eskimo in the snow with a laptop? I don't get it." But then as I came to terms with the surprise, I realized that it really was an eye catching cover and so much better than having some sort of computer screen themed cover.

An Eskimo sitting around with a laptop never looked so good -- and no, it's not me on the cover.

Just for kicks, here's a few (early) mocks of cover ideas. The one that scared me the most was the one with hunks in Speedos standing around bullhorns but those were quickly jettisoned, thank god. I mean, a cover with copious amounts of pink would be fine, but Speedos and bullhorns? I'd never live it down. Check the link to some of those original cover ideas and as you'll see, they're all pretty much themed around the idea of a blog being used as a way to broadcast your ideas. Take a gander.

This time around, with the fiction book, my publisher pretty much just chose a cover and I didn't see any mock ups. I did get a chance to talk about my preferences of course. I told them I loved matte finish, I liked illustrated covers, I liked minimalistic designs. They listened politely and then came at me with a cover that is none of these things. But it is distinctive and will jump off the shelf. With book covers, just trust the people who are kind enough to let you write the insides, and let them do their design marketing things.

Someone told me a horror story about this author who didn't want his cover touched before publication. This was a cover he designed himself. It was garish, with no style, four different fonts, and just an ugly ugly mess. Yet he had the gall to insist that his cover was the best one for his work. Trust the professionals until proven wrong man.

20 August 2008

Hitting the Highs

I'd never heard of this Broadway show before this week but it seemed like something that might be worth watching. Plans for finally watching Wicked on Broadway never coalesced and Spring Awakening wasn't age appropriate, plus it's playing in San Diego. In the Heights won the Tony's in 2008 and the few people I knew who'd seen it raved.

Basically, In the Heights is a hip hop version of Rent starring Latinos set in the Bronx. Also similarly to Rent, there's a multi-talented entertainer behind In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda conceived the show, wrote the music and lyrics, and stars as Usnavi. While he can hardly sing a lick, his energy, enthusiasm, and rapping carries everything. He wrote the initial treatment of the show while attending Wesleyan. Yeah, what were you doing in college?

We had really great seats, just a few rows back from the stage, and that made the whole experience amazing. Staying up until 9 am the night before a matinee show? Difficult to say the least. The dancers especially were quite excellent and the choreography fit the music and style perfectly. While the story was hardly anything spectacular, or the songs extremely memorable after the fact, it's a good show. The marriage of musical and hip hop had to happen sometime and this is a fair representation of what could be possible. Unless you consider R.Kelly or Beyonce's work on MTV forerunners of the genre. Ew.

Does anyone remember this old school show at Sea World called City Streets? It was my favorite show there and it featured young people dancing and singing on a recreation of a city block. No idea why it was at Sea World in the first place because it contained no animals or water, but it was really amazing. The Wings of the World show took over that space but I miss it still. In the Heights reminded me of that, in a good way.

18 August 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

As the movie begins, an annoying voiceover sets the stage. Vicky and Cristina are off to Barcelona for the summer. Thus the title of the movie. Imaginative eh? Woody Allen loves to talk about relationships and this one's no different. Love triangles, open relationships, failed relationships, unrequited relationships, and unfulfilling relationships, this movie's got them all.

First off, Javier Bardem is amazing. His character here obliterates any previous association you had of him as a merciless killer or a bed-bound quadriplegic. Bardem oozes charm, charisma, and masculinity. Paired with Penelope Cruz, the two of them carry the movie. Mixed reviews about Scarlett Johannson and Rebecca Hall though. Without the benefit of interesting lines or three dimensional characters, Johannson and Hall are forced to play second fiddle even if they are the titular main characters.

Overall, the movie was really great. Whatever emotion it evokes, whatever discussions you have afterwards, however you feel about how it depicts the transitory (and deceptive) nature of romantic relationships, you'll have food for thought and a number of great laughs to boot.

14 August 2008

Elegy (2008)

Not that I knew this, of course, but an elegy is "a mournful, melancholy, or plaintive poem, esp. a funeral song or a lament for the dead." That'll go a long way toward explaining the movie, which is about the fear of death (growing old more specifically), conscious selfishness, emotional unavailability, and a May-December romance between Sir Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Both are wonderful in their roles and they carry off the chemistry beautifully.

In sum, what I got out of this film experience was that men are bastards and it's frightening, as a guy, to see the lies -- big and small, to yourself and others -- that you can be capable of in certain situations. It all feels sickeningly familiar when thrown up on screen and highlighted, and you start to distrust yourself and hope that this isn't really something you can really relate to. But I could, and that was scary.

While the movie as a whole dragged a little bit at the end and I'd hoped for a better resolution, there are some wonderful lines in the movie and some real (ugly) truths to be discovered. Dennis Hopper steals every scene he's in, but that could partly be due to the fact that he has the lion's share of the funny/poignant lines. (Paraphrased) "Beautiful women are invisible because nobody ever really sees them."

08 August 2008

Stuff I've Been Reading 8

  • Red Prophet - Orson Scott Card
  • After the Quake - Haruki Murakami
  • Skellig - David Almond
  • Charmed Thirds - Megan McCafferty
  • Teen Girlfriends - Julia DeVillers
  • Wonder Boys - Michael Chabon
  • Mary Jane - Judith O'Brien
It's so hard to recommend books to people. Even when I personally love a book, I'm at best sixty percent positive someone else will like it. Usually it's a toss up. That differs from movies quite a bit doesn't it? A good movie is a good movie, regardless of whether it's your particular genre or not. If you ask me if a movie is good or if it's worth watching, I'll can say with some confidence whether or not you'll like it just based on the quality of the film. A movie that works is rarely a waste of time but a book recommendation, that's a four to ten hour thing you're handing out. Plus, a book can work perfectly well but personal preferences can still torpedo the enjoyment of it.

Out of this month's books, many of them were friend recommendations of one sort or another. I started Card's Alvin Maker series last month and I even have all seven books on hand but I just can't get into it. I love the Ender's series (actually, I mailed a copy to Shelley and she liked it so I felt great) so by extension I like Card. I received solid recommendations for Alvin Maker from both Jennifer and Janice and even with all that, the first two books just didn't work for me. Like I probably enjoyed twenty percent of what I was reading. I slogged through five hundred pages like it was a chore. And I did it for friendship! I decided to let that go and come back around to it in a few years or something. Friendship is worth one book apiece, not seven total.

"Murakami" has been the word of the month. Jennifer gave James and Bassemah different Murakami's to read (Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore, respectively). They were both well received and much appreciated. I happened to start the Murakami short story collection one day at her house and ended up reading most of it. I feel like having "Murakami" flow effortlessly off your tongue can only do good things for your literary game. Japanese names just sound so authentically smart. Then again, if you confuse designer Takashi Murakami with author Haruki Murakami, you'll just look uncultured. Or racist. Or both.

Nick Hornby, best selling author and not a personal friend of mine by any stretch of the imagination, recommended Skellig in one of his columns. He gave it a hearty two thumbs up and the subject matter and potential audience (YA) seemed pertinent to my life right now. Instead I found the story a bit weak and boring. I don't know if I can trust Nick anymore. Just one small disagreement with a gushy review of his and I'm already questioning our imaginary book friendship. It's so hard you know?

One of my favorite book recommenders, Christina, really likes Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts and the Jessica Darling books that followed. Of course, the library didn't carry anything except the third one and I pretty much just shot her recommendation through the foot by diving into the series backwards, from worst to best. Also, I took out Don DeLillo's White Noise for the second time but didn't even start it. Everyone tells me I'll love Don but I just can't seem to motivate to give him a fair shake.

If someone told me that a best friend could be made by just stepping outside for a quick coffee date, I would go right? So why can't I just start the DeLillo? Am I afraid it'll ruin the credibility of book recommenders I care about if I hate it? Maybe... I'm just afraid of disappointment alright? What does it say that everyone absolutely agrees I'll like DeLillo and then I don't like him? Do my friends know me less than I think they do or am I just too dumb to recognize quality work? See the potential problems here? "It's complicated" isn't just a relationship status, it applies to absolutely everything.

I think if I'm going to recommend something, I have to get over the idea that if they hate it, it'll reflect poorly on me. Reading is such a personal experience that you can't really judge exactly what a person will like versus what they'll hate. Even if the writing style, the genre, the everything matches up, you can still end up with a busted book blind date. So the way to keep plugging along pushing books on other people is to just blame them when they don't like something. It takes all the guilt out of the process I think. Once again, self-delusionment and non-responsibility seems to be the answer. I'm sensing a theme here.

05 August 2008

Wall-E (2008)

As the obvious direct descendent of Johnny 5, Wall-E is definitely pretty charming. I mean, I was worried that this movie would completely suck since Pixar is definitely in need of some hits (although maybe not since critics and awards loved their last few films, but I generally yawned through Cars and Ratatouille). People were telling me Wall-E was a must see. Well, I must saw it and I was a tad underwhelmed.

Technologically, Pixar is amazing as usual. The idea of using robots is genius because everyone loves robots, everyone -- except those people on Battlestar Galactica I guess. Plus the storyline involves overbearing morals about greed, gluttony, and garbage. Instant winner.

So the first half of the movie with no dialogue was dope as hell. Where it all bogged down for me was the second half when the focus turned bit too far away from Wall-E and it becames a tad too action adventure orientated. The pacing switch was too much and I kind of lost interest. It's definitely a "just go see it."

I feel like I need to shout out *batteries not included. Just because.