28 April 2009

Phoenix Rising

So I've been e-meeting a few fellow young adult authors via The Debs and other webby things recently. It's been a really great experience because even in my limited time interacting with other authors, I've learned so much about their experiences and processes. I don't know how I've gone through so much time without really meeting other writers but it's something I definitely crave and am thrilled about.

What I'm equally thrilled about is getting the heads up on authors who write awesome books. For example, meet Cindy Pon and her debut novel, "Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia." Fantasy tales set in China are ripe for the telling and I've always wondered why there weren't more around. There's so much unexplored magic and history to China that it shocks me publishers haven't jumped into that world yet in a big way. Well, Cindy's book is now poised to become a trailblazer and a new classic in that field and I'm so excited about it. It's got a strong heroine, beautiful writing, descriptions of sumptuous food, and an eye-catching cover. And it comes out today!

Here's the synopsis and book trailer (which is just epic in tone and style):
"No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved -- despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family -- to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger's subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.

But now, something is after her. Something terrifying -- a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn't only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined.

Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard...she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help.

It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help...and perhaps more."
As it turns out, Cindy is actually from San Diego by way of Taiwan, just like me! There's actually a whole bunch of Asian American authors out there -- and a lot in young adult fiction actually -- but I don't really know any except by reputation or online stalking. It's always great to meet someone who has something in common with you and in this case, it's like doubly great because Cindy is also a writer hailing from San Diego. And I haven't even ever actually met her because we just became e-friends recently. But you catch her at one of her events near you. Say hello for me please.

Silver Phoenix is available online or in local bookstores so definitely support Cindy and her book. There's also a sequel to Silver Phoenix and a picture book featuring her Chinese brush art paintings in the works. Cindy's been great at getting the word out about her debut and wonderful reviews (including blurbs from Meg Cabot and Alyson Noel!) and contests for an autographed copy of Silver Phoenix as well as an original framed brush painting are running now.

She's like just a little multi-talented, don't you think?

27 April 2009

Still the Champs

A few weeks ago, one of my friends informed me that he gave up following sports a year ago. Outside of paying attention to a few quarters of the last Super Bowl, he's been "clean." He had good reason. He's got a busy job, a beautiful wife, and a darling child. But it came as a semi-shock to me because he was a virtual sports encyclopedia. We'd flip to some obscure late night ESPN showing of archery or bowling or something and he'd be all like "Oh, this guy is good, watch his fill-in-the-blank move." I don't actually have a lot of friends (especially male) who are into my preferred sports. It's very strange. You would think sports equals guys but outside of the people I play fantasy sports with, I don't really get to talk sports with anyone. None of the guys I hang out with on a day to day basis are into sports. Like at all.

I've often wondered if following the ebb and flow of a sporting season is the same as celeb watching or following trashy reality TV shows. I mean, you really don't get that much out of it in the long run and once it's removed from your life, you could conceivably do just fine. To paraphrase Marx, "sports is the opiate of the masses." I mean, I love sports, but I've tried to cut my intake down of random stuff unless it has to do with my favorite teams. No more reading about sports I don't like just because it's around. No more following every link in every article. No more checking CNNSI and ESPN. I just stick with ESPN now. No more being suckered into looking at every Top Ten list after I realized it's only designed to suck away fifteen minutes of my life.

So now I just read a blog or two, hang onto Bill Simmons' every word, and skim the daily (or weekly) recaps for basketball and football. I'm on a sports diet and while I'm not sure if it makes me any more productive or happier, I can't say I've missed much of anything. Of course, I'm currently in binge mode.

It's the NBA playoffs! My team is the defending champions. I'm invested in their continued success. The problem is, the Celtics are struggling. To be honest, I'm sort of come to terms with the fact that they won't repeat. Not with Kevin Garnett out for the rest of the run. It makes watching them very painful. Especially when they're in the fight of their lives against the lowly Chicago Bulls. Of course, the games have been so good that it's hard not to watch. I have secret hope that the Celtics can still make it far, but I know Lebron will just crush them. I don't want to watch that. But I like watching Rajon Rondo average a triple double. I like watching Ray Allen rain threes. I like thinking about how Kobe and the Lakers will lose in the Finals yet again. I'm throwing my support behind Lebron even though it feels a bit traitorous. Still, any team that can do a hilarious spoof of the Heineken screaming commercial is worthy of some support.

So even though it pains me to watch and be reminded of how weak the Celts are this year, I have to enjoy the wonderfullness that is Boston versus Chicago. Game 1: Overtime loss. Game 2: Game winning three pointer at the buzzer. Game 3: Blowout. Game 4: Double overtime loss. What happens tomorrow for Game 5? I don't know but you can bet I'll be chained to a television and doing whatever it takes to will my team to victory.

Update: See, another classic! Paul Pierce hits his last five shots for the overtime win.

25 April 2009

Turn down the treble, pump up the bass

So my good friend Brian has a short write up about him on Disgrasian. It's under the Babewatch category. Allow me to go on record and say that Brian's mix of good looks, intelligence, and "his deep, velvety voice," have always made the ladies swoon. I mean, it was fun standing in his shadow -- often literally, since he's like a muscle bound rock that shades me -- as girls flirted with him and he obliviously ignored them and told (off-color) joke after joke to entertain us. I'd be like "Um, that girl really wants to talk to you," and he'd go "Nono..."

Well Brian's been a stand-up comedian for awhile now and it's part of his job to be stared at. I last saw him perform in 2007 and am always ready to watch him take the stage. Come and join the fan club. Brian's deep deep voice has to be heard to be believed. Seriously, if you remember Theo from The Beat 92.3 like a decade ago, Brian would give that voice a run for its money.

Brian also writes for 8asians.com and here's an interview with him about doing stand-up.

Update: Apparently he's the 8asians.com heartthrob too.

23 April 2009

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

I gotta say, for such a great synopses, trailer, buzz, and reviews, I was sorely disappointed. For a film that has been described as a love letter to San Francisco, an exploration of what it means to be black and indie, and (yet another) boy-meets-girl Before Sunrise, I was ready to have my socks knocked off. Instead I found my attention span waning and my annoyance growing.

Here's a few lines from a review: "Micah and Jo are struggling with gentrification of a more personal sort, their identities, relationships, professions and politics all grappling with upward mobility. They soon find themselves on opposite sides of a very personal racial divide... Ideologically they pull and push against each other as they walk, bike and taxi around the city, and this is where much of the movie exists, on street level."

If you got all that from watching Micah and Jo wander around not talking to each other, having too-long music montages of all the important moments where they are connecting, and didn't balk at the lack of motivation or communication involved, then more power to you. I needed more. Close ups of the two of them looking at each other (or away from each other) didn't do it for me.

The only thing working for me was Wyatt Cenac's semi-charisma and Tracey Heggins' really beautiful face. The two leads didn't seem to have enough chemistry together. I didn't feel the heat, you know? Overall I think the movie is more interesting to talk about than to watch, which is kind of a failure, no?

I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more without such high expectations. But then, without high expectations I wouldn't have been driven to catch it the last night it was playing out here.

20 April 2009

Serenity Now

Oh happiness, how difficult a target you present. It's a toss up who has the worse aim, Cupid or whichever cherub is in charge of ensuring joy for all (Mickey Mouse?). Well, there's some human help out there. Tina is the Chief Happiness Officer (CHO) of Think Simple Now and her goal is to bring fulfillment and happiness into your life. Exciting hunh? I tend to roll my eyes at anything that remotely resembles self-help but I'm addicted to Tina's blog. She mixes in personal stories, success methods, and an inquisitive and conversational tone that just draws me in.

Tina tackles and examines lots of fun topics like "How to Find True Love," "The Popularity Factor," and "15 Questions to Discover Your Personal Mission." Her archives are full of interesting things to talk about on a lazy Sunday, before coming to the conclusion that (a) your life is great (b) your life sucks or (c) another mimosa?

Below is an excerpt from her journal about insecurities in relationships, something I'm sure we all contend with. I mean, you do, don't you?
"Through much realization about myself in the past few days, I discovered that I used to have a psychological dependency on men, or the idea of having a man there for me.

In the most extreme sense, it was as if my entire self worth relied on this dependency, on this idea of support. Once that dependency is challenged and uncertainty is added into the equation, I become this insecure little girl, unable to continue. I scramble, I panic, I look for plan B, I start to seek out alternatives, replacements... pads to protect my body from shattering into little pieces should I fall from that balcony of visions that I’ve created.

Visions and fixation, of hope, of ideals, of situations, of longing... all of which I have projected onto this man who is the current holder of my self-worth and whom I’ve depended on such that I cannot function normally without. He helps me to feel together, to feel complete. But he also hinders me from achieving my ultimate goals.

In a deeply unconscious state, without knowing it, I’ve asked him to put an invisible leash on my self-worth and my security. As a result, he’s got all of my time, my attention, my heart, and my love and a momentary pause has been placed on my true passions."
-My Insecurities: A Slice From My Diary-

17 April 2009

Zap! Pow! Bam!

A friend told me about this new graphic novel, "Secret Identities," that combines Asian Americans and superheroes. This is obviously right up my alley so I rushed out to buy it. The editors of the book put together an All Star roster of Asian American writers and artists to explore "the hopes, dreams, fears, and realities of being Asian American." The book is worthy of support from every corner and I'm about halfway through and love it already. While on their current college tour, the editors have noticed that some major book stores haven't stocked the book. One reason given them is that "stores are confused whether the book fits under Asian American Studies or Graphic Novels. That's a terrible reason not to carry this fantastic work and I say file it under both if necessary. I found my copy turned outward on the shelves under Graphic Novels at Books Inc. in the Marina. If your local bookstore doesn't carry it, request that they do or just order a copy online!

I have secret ambitions to be a comic book creator (not that I can draw or write or um, do anything comic related) and one day I hope to be in Secret Identities: Volume XI or something. In related superhero news, here's a Wolverine parody version of Jewel's "Hands" that I've had on MP3 for years; the lyrics amuse me to no end.
"My mutant chromosomes
And the strong metal in my bones
Help me fight Sentinel robot drones
And I heal very quickly"

11 April 2009

Adventureland (2009)

There's a lot of things to like about this movie. For one, the actors are all appealing. Jesse Eisenberg (Squid and the Whale) is a less dorky -- and better -- Michael Cera. Kristen Stewart is, well, Kristen Stewart. And I'm ecstatic for any ex-Freaks and Geeks-ers who get a big role, in this case Martin Starr. And I feel like Margarita Levieva will have more to offer than just a dumb blonde role in the future. Ryan Reynolds was predictably terrible but whatever. There were some really good lines sprinkled in the script too. Compared to Nick & Norah's, I thought this was way better all around.

However, I felt dissatisfied with a lot of Adventureland. I wanted more real moments, less slapstick. I wanted a better ending. I thought the rhythm of cuts for scenes were really weird. Everything kept ending too quickly and it took me awhile to get adjusted to it. I guess my problem with the recent generation of girl meets boy stories for the younger set is that they all feel slightly contrived and forced. Nothing feels natural. There's a lack of emotion even if all the set pieces are in place and the marks are hit.

Adventureland was by no means bad, but it wasn't great either. I wanted it to be great. As a side note, there was no reason to set this film in the Eighties, or to make it post-college. It actually seemed like it was about high schoolers, and I had to constantly remind myself that the characters were twenty one and over.

In the ongoing search for the next great girl meets boy movie, let us prepare ourselves for "(500) Days of Summer" starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- aka Cobra Commander. The trailer looks promising doesn't it?

10 April 2009

Put 'em up, put 'em up!

I say this all the time so my love for anything/everything Oz-related is obvious. It might be my number one obsession. So when a big screen version of the film was showing down the street from me at the Roxie, I jumped at the chance, bought my tickets, and headed off to watch it. I've never seen it on a movie screen and I feel like most people haven't either. Needless to say, it was fantastic. I walked home through the mean streets of the Mission whistling "If I Only Had A Brain." Quietly of course, very quietly. And with a defensive swagger.

Evan Schwartz, the author of this amazing new book on L.Frank Baum was there to open the film. The synopsis for the book is below, his blog is here, and there's a fun Oz questionnaire (which I had to retake multiple times to get correct) on his website.
"Finding Oz tells the remarkable tale behind one of the world's most enduring and best-loved stories. Offering profound new insights into the true origins and meaning behind L. Frank Baum's 1900 masterwork, it delves into the personal turmoil and spiritual transformation that fueled Baum's fantastical parable of the American Dream.

Before becoming an impresario of children's adventure tales -- the JK Rowling of his age -- Baum failed at a series of careers and nearly lost his soul before setting off on a journey of discovery that would lead to the Land of Oz. Drawing on original research, Evan I. Schwartz debunks once and for all popular misconceptions and reveals how the people, places and events in Baum's life gave birth to the unforgettable images and characters, from the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City to the dual view of witches -- as both good and wicked -- that reflected the life of Baum's mother-in-law, the radical women's rights leader Matilda Joslyn Gage.

A narrative that sweeps across late 19th century America, Finding OZ ultimately reveals how failure and heartbreak can sometimes lead to redemption and bliss, and how one individual can ignite the imagination of the entire world."
-Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story-
I learned a ton of tidbits and facts just from the twenty or so minutes that Evan spoke, so I can safely assume that the book will be chock full of amazing stories. He provided a questionnaire that included stuff such as "Where did Toto get his name?", "Why is Professor Marvel in the movie?", and "Why does the Wicked Witch melt away when Dorothy throws water on her?"

Every question from the list and from the audience was met with a detailed and informative answer from Mr. Schwartz. I was really impressed and astounded. In one answer, he talked about how the Wicked Witch represents our inner fears and that by having her defeated by something as innocuous as water, it highlights how our goals can be achieved just by washing those fears away. (Highly paraphrased btw)

I was dumb and didn't stick around to buy and get a copy signed. But I'll definitely be reading this book as soon as possible.

Also, my screenwriter friend told me that he uses The Wizard of Oz to teach movie structure. Apparently it's got a solid and perfect structure. Seventeen minutes in, the tornado hits. Thirty minutes in, the yellow brick road. The act one to act two transition when they first visit the Emerald City is exactly in the middle of the movie. The low point is at ninety minutes when the balloon flies away, etc. I had never paid attention to that timely pacing and it was great to have it pointed out to me.

04 April 2009

Got Black to Asian and Caucasian sayin'...

"As a teenager, I lived in two worlds: the traditional Bengali heritage inside our home and the contemporary California of my suburban peers.

Sometimes the gap between those two worlds seemed huge. Apple pie? Didn’t taste it till I got to college. Our kitchen smelled of mustard-seed oil, turmeric, and cardamom. Bikinis? No way. A one-piece bathing suit felt too revealing (and still does). My mother never showed her legs in public, even when she eventually shelved her sarees in favor of jeans and long skirts. Dating? Fuhgeddaboudit. My parents’ marriage was arranged, and the clan expected the same for me.

I trudged back and forth between cultures, relying heavily on stories for insight into the secrets and nuances of North American life. But exactly what did those stories communicate about my place as a brown-skinned foreigner? And, in that mostly white suburb where I went to school, why can’t I remember any educators who were bold enough to raise the issue?"
-Mitali Perkins, Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids' Books-

03 April 2009

Pin Me, I'm a Deb

I was invited to a cotillion once. There was a party, there was an organized formal dance, there was cake, and there was a young lady being presented to the world by her family. Well, this year, my Chloe-Grace will be getting a debut party of her very own. I beam like the proud parent I am. I better enjoy it too because chances are, a book daughter might be the closest thing I get to having children for quite a while. And humanity sighs (in relief).

Anyhow, there's this spectacular site for debuting young adult writers called A Feast of Awesome: 2009 Debutantes. It's a community of more than fifty debuting new authors who share their stories, celebrations, and occasionally, concerns. I was lucky enough to sneak in right as they closed off admission for the year. So I'm new, probably like the littlest girl, Gretl, in the Sound of Music. But much less cute. As an aside, check out this video of "So Long, Farewell," which is intercut with all the children as they look now.

I've just been getting into the whole blog world of YA authors, readers, editors, publishers, fans, and it's a fascinating place. I'm delighted to be debuting with the rest of the Class of 2009. Don't worry, there will be cake at my party. Lots of cake.

Jackson Pearce is the super nice admin and creator of Feast of Awesome and the title for her debut book is "As You Wish," which just has to be a reference to The Princess Bride I'm sure. Even if it's not, it's kind of a great title. Jackson's website has got all sorts of interesting things going on, including videos and synopses and excerpts of her future work! Thanks for letting me be a Deb!