31 December 2009

As we make our great escape

Listening to: DJ Earworm, "United State of Pop 2009 (Blame It on the Pop)." We celebrated New Year's Eve at U31, with alcohol, dancing, and ear busting party horns. Ameer received a Flip Mino for Xmas and George learned how to edit using her new Macbook Pro, which resulted in a fun little NYE video. George chose this song as the video's soundtrack and now it's stuck in my head. It's a mashup of every single hit from Billboard's year end Top 25 list. The full track listing is here.

I've been meaning to throw up some sort of post about the end of the year/decade but I've been waylaid by two weeks of everyone coming home and extensive hanging out. There's been a lot of family dinners, late night Mexican food runs, and a flurry of catching up with friends old and new. All that has torn me away from any useful computer time and my task list for the beginning of 2010 is running quite long. I need to do so many top ten lists but since the year is already over, I feel like I missed my chance. I guess the general consensus is that 2009 was sort of a down year and despite having some very exciting successes, I sort of feel like, "Thank goodness it's over and what's coming around the corner?"

At the beginning of last year I attempted to do some resolutions and was all gung-ho about it before everything collapsed and I finished with like four out of fifteen things checked off. This time around I'm tossing out the resolutions and just hoping to do things in an orderly fashion. I've got some important projects lined up and all it'll take is some discipline to knock them out, or so I tell myself.

One thing I did get a chance to do over the holidays was start a rough draft of an essay chronicling the last decade, which roughly coincided with my twenties and me (theoretically) becoming a full fledged adult. That last part is a perpetual work in progress of course but in trying to put together three hundred or so words about each year pair, I did find some nice areas of growth -- as well as highlighted multiple areas of stagnation. So the plan for the next year is to just use the time I have in January to tie up some loose ends, start things I said I would start, and to revisit any calcified habits or opinions I might have. It is, after all, a fresh new decade.

Oh and if there's one thing anyone should, and can, accomplish at the start of a year, it's to change your passwords. This is a public service announcement: Redo your password matrix/system and fix it now before you get stuff hacked or stolen. Safety first people. Safety first!

27 December 2009

Fill Me Up, Buttercup

Listening to: Pete Townshend, "Let My Love Open the Door (E.Cola Mix)." One of the all time greatest film soundtracks. They've had Grosse Pointe Blank on repeat lately and I've been rewatching it in spurts. Man, the songs are so fantastic and were probably my first introduction to most of these classic Eighties songs. I was late to the Eighties, it's true.

I like my movies in theaters. When I don't have a whole lot going on, I'll head to the theater and plop down twenty for a ticket, popcorn, and Icee. Some people like bars and going out, I like movie hopping. Can you call watching movies in theaters a hobby? Probably not. But it's a top hobby of mine. While I'd prefer to always watch a good movie, I'm not that discerning when I'm hopping since I'm pretty willing to wander into anything on down time.

Sometimes I'll go watch a movie just because I'm craving popcorn. I take the creation of extra salty and buttery popcorn very seriously. I nearly always get the largest size available, and then ask for a cardboard box and an empty water cup. Butter and salt the top, then pour that layer out into the box. Butter and salt the next layer, shake shake shake. Repeat until you've got everything to taste. Then fill the water cup with half an inch of butter and salt to pour on the bottom half of the popcorn later. I promise good times.

By my calculations, I've watched roughly forty movies in theaters this year, which comes out to about three and a half movies per month. Count in ticket prices and my addiction to the popcorn and we're looking at close to $600 spent at the movies in 2009 -- assuming I hopped about a quarter of those films. And what did I get for all this cash? Ten "A" rated movies, eighteen "B," six "C", and two "D's." Basically my ratings come out to be: (A) Thoroughly enjoyed it or worth watching for some reason or another (B) Decent but definitely flawed (C) Average all around (D) I kind of wanted to walk out. Luckily, I only watched two D-rated movies this year, "I Love You, Man" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I wouldn't have walked out of Benjamin Button but by no means did I enjoy the experience nor would I recommend it.

My top ten of 2009 looks like: Coraline, The Hurt Locker, 500 Days of Summer, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Inglourious Basterds, The Time Traveler's Wife, An Education, Precious, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Avatar. I don't think any of them were classics actually, with the possible exception of Inglourious Basterds (but only upon re-viewing did I think this). Of the entire set, I'd recommend watching An Education on its own merits and Avatar and Precious because everyone will be talking about it. Everything else is Netflix-able.

It strikes me that paying $600 to watch ten good movies is probably not a wise investment of my money. Netflix delivers a much better good movie ratio at about a fifth of the price. Oh but I love the theater popcorn!

My very favorite movie I watched in 2009 was a recommendation from a friend with whom I rarely share any common movie-likes. He told me to watch "Dedication" (2007) because it's about a writer and it's dark and snarky yet romantic and hopeful. I watched it and loved it, placing it immediately into one of my all time favorites lists. How high I haven't determined yet but Dedication has everything I look for in a movie: Great dialogue, good acting (including Mandy Moore of all people), an interesting premise, a touch of quirkiness, and lots of verbal sniping. It's seriously fantastic and I need to buy the DVD immediately.
"Henry Roth, a misanthropic, emotionally complex New York author of a hit children's book series, is forced to team with a beautiful illustrator after his best friend and creative collaborator passes away."
-Dedication movie trailer-
So what next year? Cut back on movies in theaters? Invest in a popcorn machine at home? These are the questions that face me heading into 2010 and it's not a trivial matter at all. Even though it sounds like it.

22 December 2009

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Listening to: Tegan and Sara, "I Was Married." A month or two ago, music fiend Ameer made me a mystery CD featuring Tegan and Sara and successfully won me over ("It's a compilation of live and recorded Tegan and Sara songs that I personally hand-picked based solely on what I know of your music tastes. With no track titles."). I've done my homework on them since then and can correctly identify which songs are Tegan songs and which are Sara songs. They are identical twin singer songwriters from Canada who are much admired for their music, their DIY and unique promotional efforts, their fashion styles, and their great hair, among many other things. "I Was Married" was the first track of theirs I fell in love with, but I doubt it'll be the last.

Cruising down the 405 yesterday, heading back to San Diego after a long weekend in LA, we played an easy and spectacular road game. The rules are simple: Everyone pulls out their iPods (or iPhones) and then shuffle plays ten tracks from each. Everyone except the owner of a particular iPod rates each track. The points system is variable and if you don't want to write down the scores, just give each song a 0, 5 or 10. The goal is to get a combined score out of 100, and then a letter grade. In real testing though, a pretty decent score is generally 60-65 points. You can basically make up rules as you wish, and the underlying idea is just to see what songs randomly come up when you shuffle through your friends' MP3 collection.

You also get a chance to learn a few things, like when George surprised us with three straight hip hop tracks, a Chicago semi-classic, and then a Mariah Carey song about Jesus. Ameer's iPhone had a lot of cover songs, two sub-par Mirah selections, and not as much techno as we would of thought. He did hit upon this ridiculous Frankie Vallie remix. It was an obvious ten all around. My random songs were mostly slow and brought the mood down and then pushed George over the edge into sleep. Whoops.

While I'm here, I'll share two other crowd pleasing music games. The first one is super easy and requires no technology whatsoever. You just need a (preferably large) group people willing to sing. Divide into two teams, pick a word, and then take turns singing songs containing that word back and forth. If the word was "star" for example, Team 1 might being with "Star Spangled Banner" while Team 2 follows up with "Ghetto Superstar." The key for maximum fun is to sing the songs out loud. Don't just say "Ghetto Superstar, your turn." That's lame. Sing that shit. And if you personally don't know the lyrics or a line, just background hum or something. A team loses the round when they can no longer come up with any songs with that particular word. Note: The word doesn't have to be in the song title; being in lyrics is perfectly acceptable. For example, you could do "I Swear" because it contains "...by the moon and the stars in the sky."

This is my absolute favorite group game but it can get pretty loud and obnoxious pretty fast. But it's really fun if you're waiting in a long line. We've had strangers jump in to offer songs while we played. If done correctly and with maximum competitiveness, the game can get intense. The picture inserted up above is from one of our games. Notice people are practically praying for a song with the correct word to come into their head. That's how seriously the game should be taken.

Our next game requires a little more technology, Midomi in particular (on the iPhone or otherwise). If you're not familiar with Midomi, it's this software that allows you to sing into your device and depending on how well you sang, it will successfully or unsuccessfully find the song. The app is supposed to be used to find a track that you don't know the title of but it doubles nicely as a game.

For starters, the Midomi game is very similar to the song game since it involves singing out loud and dividing into teams. This time however, you need a moderator. Each team will fire up Midomi on separate devices and have it ready to be sung into. The moderator then calls out an artist ("Ne-Yo!") and the first team that can successfully get Midomi to identify a song by that artist wins the round. We generally allow any results in the top three to count. So if the artist is Ne-Yo, one team might sing "So Sick" while the other one does "Miss Independent." Part of the strategy is figuring out how to get Midomi to perform faster and more accurately than the other team.

Again, with the Midomi game, just change the rules or make up variations as you see fit. Last time we played, we took turns singing Michael Jackson songs individually to get to a last man/woman standing. Songs could only be sung once. This variation only works for certain artists that have enough repertoire to last at least half a dozen tracks.

Trust me, both of these singing game are fantastic and super fun for all. Well, unless your friends hate music (and singing), in which case you should probably reevaluate things with them anyway.

21 December 2009

Avatar (2009)

For the record, there are two kinds of IMAX screens. There was a bit of controversy over this earlier in the year and the basic issue was that IMAX screens come in smaller sizes than the gigantic ones we normally associate with the term -- 70+ feet versus only about 30 feet high -- yet the small sizes aren't marketed with any differentiation. There aren't a lot of real IMAX screens so buyer beware. I had really wanted to see Avatar 3D on a huge IMAX screen but alas, that was not to be.

Still, we did catch it on a mini-IMAX and in 3D and the movie was just incredibly awesome. There's no review necessary because it's a must see for nearly everyone. Even if you hate adventure movies, even if you hate sci-fi and big budget schlock, this is a must see (especially in theaters) because the experience is so unique. James Cameron uses CGI and 3Dtechnology so well and the visuals in this film are just wonderful.

This won't rank anywhere near my favorite movies of all time, nor can I say it's incredible from a plot or story standpoint, but added up, this is the type of movie you go to because it'll be the talk of the town and it's worth it. People will nitpick, people will complain, but if you like having your breath taken away and being transported to a gorgeous world, it's worth the fifteen bucks. Watch it in 3D, watch it in IMAX, and heck, watch it again. I probably will.

Of course, all that is being said about how Avatar patronizes women, fetishizes native cultures, and is just like Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai (or Pocahontas or etc.) is all true. It's hard not to overlook that aspect of the film but behind my 3D glasses, I'll suspend that part of my brain for a few hours because the movie is super awesome to look at. Do I wish the interaction between the humans and the aliens could have been more nuanced, less cliche, and imbued with greater depth (maybe a movie version of Speaker for the Dead)? Sure, but I understand that Cameron was here to create a visual spectacle and give us wow's. So yeah, I was wow-ed.

18 December 2009

Such Great Heights

I've been following Realm Lovejoy for a little while now. Aside from having an awesome name worthy of a mega-celebrity or beloved fictional character (and yes it's her real name), Realm's got excellent taste in music, is a video game artist, and has a book about clones that's not only written by her but completely self-illustrated as well. How cool and multi-talented does she sound? Since Realm is super awesome, she does Q&A's with authors and then does a drawing of their main characters. Very nice of her right? She was kind enough to do one for me so go check that out now! Thank you so much Realm!

One of the things about the Exclusively Chloe cover is that Chloe-Grace is mysteriously turned away so readers don't really know what she looks like. I mean, technically, I don't know either. And since I can't draw I guess nobody will ever fully know. So this may be as close as it gets!

I'm delighted Realm chose to draw the undercover persona, which is Chloe-Grace post make-under, with her hair chopped off, trying to be all unnoticed and incognito. Notice the suspicious look in Chloe's eye, which I like because it shows that she's wary, and aware of the dangers that lurk in the "normal" world. Chloe-Grace is trying to blend in and hide her absolute fabulousity, if that's a word.

Actually it just occurred to me that I sent Realm a photo of me and George as reference for Chloe-Grace. So maybe that's why the illustration of Chloe has a suspicious gleam in her eye...

17 December 2009

The Killers

Listening to: Camera Obscura, "French Navy."

I have a friend who loves heist movies. She likes the recruiting, the planning, and then the execution. Ocean's Eleven is obviously a prime example of such a film. Ever since hearing about her favorite sub-genre, I've always wanted one of my very own to love. I waited a long time and then like all great loves, it found me. It dawned on me the other day that I like movies featuring assassins. I know, totally unoriginal, but after watching the Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas movie, "Assassins," twice in the last week, I've decided that I'm a total sucker for this stuff. But it's not enough to pick a genre, especially such a broad one, you have to get more detailed.

Assassin movies I like generally feature heartless efficient killers who do their job but aren't sociopaths or insane. I like my assassins with good reasoning skills, some rules and boundaries ("No women, no kids"), and eventually a heart of gold. But they can't crippled with an abundance of guilt. Nobody likes watching a killer who likes to cry on the inside. Just do the damn job buddy. Of course, this could go against what I previously said about no sociopaths but it's admittedly a very fine line. If the assassin has a trusted assistant -- and not just a contact -- I like that a lot too. Also, I generally prefer guns over other weapons which is strange since I usually hate shoot'em ups.

My favorite hit men movies have to show either the background training of an assassin or give us some insight into what tricks an assassin might use in their daily work -- the most basic of these being sleeping on the ground or in a corner, with a gun in hand. This qualification is very important. For example, in Assassins, Antonio Banderas is constantly doing things like putting his hand on a car's hood to see if his target recently arrived (checking heat), or taking a whiff of perfume to remember the scent for tracking purposes (I will begin doing this immediately). Those are the types of details I like.

This is why the Bourne series didn't really excite me. Jason Bourne was just too well trained and I never got to see why. He'd just show up out of nowhere, kick some ass, and then disappear. I even enjoyed schlock like Wanted more just because of the training scenes.

I will spend this Christmas break catching up on some assassin classics and then begin a mission to compile a top ten list. So far my list features The Professional, Gross Pointe Blank, Ghost Dog, and I guess the Kill Bills. One assassin that's way overrated is Javier Bardem's menacing character in No Country for Old Men. Too mysterious, too hilarious with that hair cut. Anyway, already coming via Netflix are Enemy at the Gates, The Jackal, and La Femme Nikita. It's going to be an exciting holiday season.

Did you know that "Assassins" was the Wachowski brother's first sale in Hollywood? Joel Silver also bought the rights to The Matrix around the same time. Director Richard Donner said that if he had to make the movie again, he would have swapped the leads, which would have been really interesting. I think I'm going to cue the movie up again now that I've saved it on DVR.

15 December 2009

Fly High

When we had our book signing at Borders last weekend, Daisy Whitney, a 2010 Deb, came by to support us and to say hello. Her book, The Mockingbirds, is coming out next November and is about "an underground, student-run secret society at the prestigious boarding school and their job is to serve as the judge, jury and prosecution of the students, for the students and by the students." Sounds pretty awesome right? The book's title immediately made me think of Mockingbird, a Marvel comics superheroine who just happens to be from San Diego. The real inspiration for the title was, of course, "To Kill a Mockingbird," which just goes to show what I know and how my lens of life works.

Daisy's energy and enthusiasm was incredible and after meeting her I understood completely how she manages to do more in a day than I get accomplished in a month. Read her bio and visit her various sites and see just how many hats she wears and how many projects she's involved in (and how famous she is). I kind of need to learn how to be this productive, in anything.

She's doing giveaways of the signed books she got from us at the signing and they're all here on her blog. Exclusively Chloe is up next and it's easy and fun to enter. To win the book, just share five words about what it means to be a normal kid. Go, go! The contest ends tomorrow! Thanks so much for doing this Daisy, and congrats on The Mockingbirds!

Update: The contest is over and the winner is announced.

Here's an interview with Daisy:
"I think the BEST books being written today are for teens and what I love most is you can write virtually anything -- there are no formulas, rules or structures you should follow. You can write romance, fantasy, suspense, humor, quests, high-concept, fantastical, paranormal, edgy, dark, light, weird, and so on. And you can mix and match many of those in one story. Teen readers crave and demand inventiveness and new ways of storytelling, so it’s a treat and a pleasure to write for them."
-Interview with Courtney Summers-

11 December 2009

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Watching: Since I make a dance show reference below, here's a clip from the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) on SYTYCD. The three guys flipping at the 1:25 minute mark are ridiculously together. Like stunning. If you haven't seen the LXD trailer, watch it now. This show is going to be amazing.

Debs West Coast visited two high schools the other day, Casa Grande and Petaluma, as part of Holidaze of the Debs. The first event involved arriving at eight fifteen in the morning. The last time I was up doing something at eight in the morning? Maybe 2008? I tend to not sleep until the sun rises and I knew getting up and driving an hour north was going to be rough. I tried to pass out early, I really did, but only succeeded in lying around fitfully until five, when I finally dozed off. I guess you can't change a night owl's habits in one day can you? An hour and a half later, my alarm rang and I bolted out of bed, fueled by panic and the adrenaline of needing to be somewhere. This had to be the first time I was up before George, who is usually groggily rising for work just as I'm about to sleep. With music blasting (I played the Full House theme song as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge of course) I jammed up the 101 and arrived just on time. My day was already a success!

Casa Grande book club members were assembling in their beautiful library -- decorated with various student-created graffiti paintings that said "read" -- and waiting for us were homemade scones prepared by their cooking class. Oh and a banner that said "Welcome Fantabulous Debutantes!" A banner, made for us! Ms. Koval, their teacher/librarian was amazingly nice and enthusiastic and actually, if I had an educator like her I think life could have been so different. The CGHS book club site, "Big House Book Club," is all up on technology and from the looks of it, they do all sorts of fun activities. The whole thing just looks super fun to be a part of. My high school lunch days of finding a corner to read (ahem, alone) could have been done en masse. I don't recall school libraries or librarians being this cool back in the day, do you? There was this article from the Times a few years ago about how a stereotypically nerdy profession was becoming very cool and I'm gonna have to agree. Were there even school book clubs, much less cool ones, back in the day? I don't recall any.

I don't know if you know this but high schoolers can be intimidating. A bunch of high schoolers gathered in a single room staring at you is straight up frightening. I think it's because they're looking at you, oftentimes with this penetrating expressionless face, and you have no idea what they're actually thinking. It's a skill perfected as you advance through school (and a valuable skill indeed), and high schoolers are definitely peaking in those powers. As we got up to talk about our books, do a short reading, share our paths to publication, and answer some questions, I was reminded of how eloquent my fellow Debs are. They know what they're going to say, they say it clearly and with practiced gusto, and they're great at syncing their minds with their words. My introductions usually start with, "Um, this is Exclusively Chloe. The cover is pink and it has glitter...um..." Probably need to work on that a bit.

Also, where do you look when you're facing a crowd? I chose to look down, at people's feet. I can give you exact descriptions of every person's shoes in the front row, no lie. Semi-Ugg boots, black Chucks with purple laces, diamond Chucks with white laces on one foot and black laces on the other, etc.

This being my first high school visit, I wasn't sure what to expect afterward. Dead ringing silence? High fives all around? Detention? What I found out is that after being all intimidating and scary, high schoolers then turn all super nice and friendly and ask you to sign things. After chatting it up with some of them and learning about stuff like whether or not the title of book club president is an elected or volunteer position, we all took pictures, said thank you's and good bye's, gathered our stuff, and headed off to the next stop. Lunch.

Post-food stop, we went crosstown to Casa Grande's rivals, Petaluma High. It's the Gauchos versus the Trojans. Green versus purple. East versus west. Brother against brother. Actually I have no idea if those last two are true, I just like rivalries. The student reporter from Casa Grande told us how their newspapers face off every year for awards and r.e.s.p.e.c.t. I'd like to imagine that it's epic like ACDC versus Miley and Mandy. I think one downside of attending a small private school was that we didn't even have a journalism class. (Or did we?) I think my next book features the editor in chief of a school newspaper so I grabbed copies of both the Gaucho Gazette and the Trojan Tribune for research.

The front page of the Trojan Tribune said that their econ teacher was coming out with a book, his memoir, "Game, Set, Life: My Match with Crohn's and Cancer." I got to briefly meet Mr. Street at our event and since we had only a very short time with the Petaluma students, just half an hour, when they wanted to stick around for more, he gave them permission to miss some of their next class. Keep in mind this was the week before finals for both schools. If I was about to be in finals I'd be like, "Peace, I'm off to class!" so it was cool of everyone to stick around. Talking to us was better than studying for finals, yes!

After our long but exciting day, I've decided that high school visits are fantastic. There are so many aspiring writers, book clubs are now cool and awesome, teens have some really great questions about writing and getting published, and yes it's true, like Whitney said, "Teach them well and let them lead the way." Or just make them late for their next class. Either works.

So thanks to both schools, Copperfield's Books for setting it all up and then inviting us to check out their wonderful store, and of course to my fellow Debs because group events are great together. Lauren Bjorkman (My Invented Life), Cheryl Renee Herbsman (Breathing), Malinda Lo (Ash), Sarah Quigley (TMI), and C. Lee McKenzie (Sliding on the Edge) who was there in spirit.

Recaps of the week's various events so far from Cheryl, Lee, and Malinda. We got one more event this Saturday at Barnes & Noble in San Bruno. This one's at two so I'll definitely be fully awake, I guarantee it.

Photos from the events are located here.

09 December 2009

Sound Off

Stand back, griping ahead. I've discovered a very important point as you progress in adult life. "Free" is no longer the only reason to attend something. Back in college, anything advertising "free food" was a must go. Time was abundant and you just needed to fill your days doing something. Fast forward a decade later and "free" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing anymore. Spending your time doing one thing means you aren't doing something else. There's an economics term for that. I want to say that it's "opportunity cost" but somehow I doubt it. If I had paid more attention in my economics classes I would be able to tell you exactly what that term should be. But I didn't since I was deeply engaged in free napping. Actually, if I had paid more attention in my economics classes I would probably be doing something entirely different now. Like um, manning a cubicle in a gleaming glass building downtown, dressed in a snazzy suit and tie.

Still, when you have a chance to go to a Yelp Elite party, a free one, you have to go. George and Co. went last year and they had a grand time at the Exploratorium. They received free drinks and spent their time playing with all the hands-on exhibits. Since I am no Elite Yelper, my friends got me in and I should be grateful, which I am. But I'm gonna go ahead and say it, "The party sucked."

I've realized that the "elite" label Yelp uses is pretty spurious. What makes an elite Yelper? A minimum number of reviews? Well written reviews? Accurate reviews? Lots of fans? Some other random qualifications? I don't know. But from the looks of the line yesterday, I'm pretty sure they give you "elite" status for just about anything. Which explains why we waited in the freezing cold for an hour, wrapped three blocks away from the entrance, along with hundreds of other elites.

Things I don't do anymore: lines, crowds, cold. The Yelp party had all three, which would have been acceptable because it was a special event, but the organization was just horrific. A bajillion staffers working the lines but nobody getting in. If I wanted to stand around for arbitrary reasons, I would have gone to a club. And I don't do that anymore for just that reason. And once you got inside, it's not like there was anything particularly exciting going on. It was just more lines for a few morsels of food. Plus a few artists painting, underwhelming breakdancers, and strangely, some Taiko drummers. They even ran out of Yelp fanny packs, which I was really looking forward to. We did say hello to a co-founder of Pandora, which was cool, but nothing else made the wait in the cold worth it.

I gotta hand it to Yelp. They are geniuses for handing out the elite status to so many people. Everyone likes to be special and what spurs more reviews and use of your site than to give out a title? So with that in mind, everyone commenting here will now be an "elite" fan. That's right. You are all elite! Welcome to the club!

For the record, I've been on the Yelp bandwagon since the beginning but have decided to nose dive off because the reviews are largely useless nowadays. Most restaurants average 3.5 stars and you have no idea if people are actually qualified to review the food in question. One man's amazing fried chicken is my "I wish I had just gone to KFC." Plus people treat their Yelp reviews like journals and ramble on and on about their lives. Hello, that's what blogs are for? Yelp is for reviews.

Needless to say, if Yelp extended me elite status, I'd accept in a nanosecond. I like to feel faux-special too. And really, I think I had fun because even bad experiences can bond people. Plus my Reviewer of the Day friend apparently practices the moves to Beat It for use on the dance floor at just such an occasion.

07 December 2009

Wyld Stallyons

Listening to: The Swell Season, "Falling Slowly." A couple of years ago, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova starred together in "Once," a semi-musical and a great movie. I didn't realize this but they partnered up and perform as The Swell Season. Maybe you knew this already? Sadly, their romantic partnership is no more but their new album is out. Which proves you don't need to be in love to make beautiful music. Or in love with each other anyway.

I'm in San Francisco for about a week and a half, to do some book events as part of Holidaze for the Debs. I'm not exactly sure where I live at the moment since it seems to change every few weeks, but the Bay definitely has lots of things going on, which is a major plus. Just today I jauntied over to the SF Public Library for a panel about community and academic writing programs, hosted by Barbara Jane Reyes. I totally forgot about the parking situation in San Francisco so arrived late and missed Claire Light's intro bit, which was half the reason I got up at the crack of one-ish to attend. Life lesson: Show up to time sensitive events on time. I'm one of those people who are perpetually twenty minutes late and that's just not going to cut it in the real world is it?

The panelists were evenly split between writers and poets who had MFAs and those who didn't. I know a lot of writers struggle with the question of whether or not getting a MFA is necessary or something to work towards, and I'm definitely not knowledgeable about the topic so go read Claire and Barbara's opinions on the matter, which were sparked by, I believe, an article in the New Yorker that asked if creative writing should be taught.

I hope someone recaps some of the wonderful things the panel covered but basically they shared personal experiences about how they've built their writing careers, the positive and negative things they've encountered in both grad school and community writing programs, and what avenues they've explored for mentoring and growth.

One audience member asked "What's a MFA?" Which seems like a silly/stupid question until you realize, wait, yeah, what is a MFA?" Master of Fine Arts is the short direct answer. Oscar Bermeo gave a much better and more eloquent response actually, and I wish I could summarize it here but I'd be doing him a disservice if I tried to paraphrase it. Oh it looks like he has a recap of his talk here on his blog (and PAWA has a links page from the panel).

The West Coast Holidaze kick-off event was my first bookstore signing and it was definitely interesting. I'll write about all the book events later but let me just say that I have much respect for all authors who are sitting at a table piled with their books. If you ever see some nice authors sitting behind a table at your bookstore, go over and talk to them. Don't run away! Especially if there's candy for the taking.

We were slated to be there for only about an hour but stayed for two and I met some excellent people and had a really good time so it was definitely a nice start to the week. Plus my support staff of friends and George came with me so that was kind of awesome. I also bought (ahem, pink and glittery) Gelly Roll pens to sign with. Which caused people to come out of the woodwork declaring their love and allegiance for Gelly Roll pens. Since I didn't know what they were beforehand I guess I didn't even have the cool pens in middle school, which helps explain so much. Grown up me would go back in time and give less grown up me a collection of Gelly Roll pens. My social status would have been top of the charts then, obviously.

The rest of my first weekend here was spent upgrading George to a new television. Her old one was ridiculous and well, old. Her new one allows us to make comments like, "This picture is so clear! We can see his pimples!" Between this and the cold weather, we were highly unmotivated to leave the house.

We did drag ourselves out to SOM Bar on Saturday, and decided to take impromptu awkward prom pictures. Well, we decided to take prom pictures, the awkward part just happened. It's amazing how you get into the prom picture position and weird smiles, terrible facial expressions, and ridiculous body positioning just happens.

For the record, I have a horrific prom picture. I never went to any dances until a blind date prom my senior year. I thought I had pulled off the picture fine until the pictures arrived and my friend pointed out that I was hunched over and my butt and hips were positioned like three feet away from my date. Real winner. Maybe grown up me needs to go back and fix quite a few things.

03 December 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The eponymous Mr. Fox does this little whistle and mouth click thing whenever he does something particularly clever. He calls it his trademark. Used sparingly, it's catchy and super fun. I might be adopting his trademark until I can find my own.

I'm not sure if this has been marketed primarily as a kids movie but it's anything but. The humor is sly, the dialogue is witty, and the stop motion animation is very pleasing. Making the foxes slim and slender was really weird at first but then I understood as that skinniness made them seem more lithe and graceful on-screen. And it's hard not to be amused by badgers, moles, and opossums stuffed in business suits and other human outfits. As always, anthropomorphism is awesome!

The pace of the movie is quick, the voice acting is superb, and Wes Anderson was clearly the perfect director to do this movie. The only thing missing for me was my desire to see more detail about some of Mr. Fox's capers. But that might have just been my expectation creep. I'd read somewhere that this was like a heist movie but it's really not. Overall, the Fantastic Mr. Fox was very enjoyable and well worth watching, especially for Wes Anderson fans. Now to find my trademark...

Throughout the movie, a few of the characters and lines of dialogue reminded me of "The Squid and the Whale" and it all made sense after I saw that Noah Baumbach was a co-writer. I didn't realize Baumbach also co-wrote The Life Aquatic (which I loved) and now I'll know to just look for his writing credit and line up to watch the movie.

For a large portion of making Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson was in Paris while his crew was in London. Which is kind of crazy if you think about it. For a film that needs to have every little detail created and fussed over, to not even be in the same country seems extremely difficult. Anderson did send videos of himself acting out many of the scenes, which you can get a glimpse of here. Also, a short behind the scenes featurette hosted by Jason Schwartzman is neat.

01 December 2009

So Sick of Love Songs

I've been meaning to highlight a few things from around the web that are related to Exclusively Chloe or me but I kept putting it off. So now I guess I'll just throw them all together into one post with lots of links. Bear with me as I wax unpoetically about myself.

Jordyn of Ten Cent Notes recently did a Debs '09 Playlist giveaway. When she asked me for a song to represent Exclusively Chloe, I immediately thought of "Glamorous" by Fergie. I know, I know, the book is about getting away from all that glamour and celebrity life. But when Fergie Ferg starts showing off her spelling skills ("G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S...") you can't help but get excited and dance along. I have a list of "songs that are inherently girl songs but are impossible to resist dancing to as a guy." Glamorous is a top three track on this list. Sandwiching it at number one and three is Britney's "I'm A Slave 4 U" and the Pussycat Dolls "Don't Cha." I mean, seriously, these songs have such great beats but as a guy what are you supposed to do with your hips when you're trying to dance along? And singing along seems wrong too -- even though you have to. The songs on this list force you to the dance floor and then it's just fantastic awkwardness.

Check out the rest of the Debs '09 Playlist track list for everyone's selections and thanks to Jordyn for putting such an awesome project together!

After a rankings reset and some obvious mathematics error, my profile somehow popped up in the top ten over at Rice Bowl Journals. During the course of the next week, I rose all the way up to number one and stayed there. Well, until this week, when I crashed and burned. So yes, all is well with the universe again. Your conception of good and evil can remain unchanged. Things are back to normal. But it was a thrilling few days as I've been around Rice Bowl Journals for awhile, back in the days when my favorite blog ever, Technicolor.org, was regularly top of the charts. To have stood where she stood, computational error and all, made me giddy with delight.

And just as exciting was realizing that Cindy Pon (Silver Phoenix), a fellow author and Deb, was the very first Rice Bowl Journalist, as you can see by her cool ID number. Being number one at anything is never bad is it?

And while we're here, a scan of another Chinese interview I did, this time with We Chinese magazine. I sat down with publisher and editor Ping Ma back in July and hopefully said some cogent things in my lackluster Chinglish. Much like my earlier interview with a Chinese newspaper, I have no idea what the text says. Oh those many years of Chinese school, all for naught apparently. Sorry Mom!

Also in a nice surprise, I got a review of The Rough Guide to Blogging from Down Under Views. Maybe this means the book has now made its way to Australia! Either way, thanks a lot Jamie for nice quotes like these, "Yang introduces you to the world of blogging in a way that won't overwhelm the beginner but also won't bore the experienced blogger. Blogging jargon is explained in a way that doesn't make the reader feel dumb or talked down to."

If you've made it all the way to the bottom of this post, maybe you should consider following my blog. I mean, for a limited time I've placed the box so conveniently on the top of the sidebar for you. Here, I'll even show you how. I have a dozen fans now but it would make me feel better to have more. Having more is always good. Having more of being number one is doubly good. And who doesn't like to feel good?

Thanks for visiting. Do come again.