29 August 2011


Currently Pushing: Recently I was over at Ivy Reads as part of her birthday extravaganza, guest posting about my twenty first birthday. It was a moment and I have the embarassing pictures to prove it.

Look out, I'm campaigning! Rachael Harrie organizes a Writers' Platform-Building Campaign and since I just found out about it, I've decided to hop on the wagon. I believe in years past people tried to interact with hundreds of other writers. As that probably got real crazy, this year Rachael's separated everything out into manageable groups. I'm doing a little Contemporary/Mainstream Fiction and YA (All Genres). Since I'm a Google services pusher, here are easy links to subscribe to all these blogs in one easy step: Contemp Group 2 and YA Group 6.

The whole goal of the campaign is to meet other writers and people who are into what you're into. There will be challenges, contests, and hopefully competitions to the pain. I mean, now that my MTV Challenge fantasy league is over, what else do I have to live for? Signing up for this campaign is totally like summer camp. I want a team name and a mascot. And maybe a team cheer. "Bangarang!" is taken already right?

And since I'm late on this stuff, a few weeks ago I received the almighty Liebster Blog award from Ani of Anime's Musings. It goes without saying that she's a fine arbiter of taste, not least because she's a huge fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Or "JGL" for those in the know. Slate's Dana Stevens called JGL a "stone cold fox" and you gotta admit that's pretty accurate. You don't just go from 3rd Rock to Cobra Commander on talent alone, you gotta look good too. Thanks Ani! And if I ever meet JGL, I'll have him send you a voicemail.

So what was the Liebster award for? Great question. "This award is intended to connect bloggers, specifically those with less than 200 followers." As part of accepting the award, I'm dropping my top five picks so I can pay it forward.

Okay wait, I'm gonna cheat. Since I just created my YA Blog Roll the other day, I'll link to that instead. I will tell you to go read/follow Ten Cent Notes and Teen Writers Bloc though, because they are not only original flavors but also extra crispy.

27 August 2011

Don't Be So Dramatic

I've been trying my hand at writing screenplays. In theory it plays to my strengths. Let's emphasize the "in theory." Supposedly my voice and dialogue are generally good. I'm not sold on that but I know I can write words down like how people speak. Or rather, how I speak. If anyone needs dialogue by a thirty something guy for a tweenish female, I'm your man.

Unfortunately, in this case I'm writing about full fledged adults. What keeps getting inserted into my dialogue are lots of curse words. I'm pretty sure there's nothing more "adult" about cussing but somehow it just sneaks in there. I must reach deep inside and find my authentic male voice. He's in there somewhere.

In college my friend and I would write little one or two page things to shoot. We never actually got around to making anything, unless they were skits for the in-between time of our cultural show acts. Spoofs of music videos, commercials, people prancing around in costumes. Some of them were even funny. Actually, we did write a whole cohesive thing for our senior year show. I think it ham fistedly tackled the state of the late 90s Asian American experience on a Midwestern campus. I'm pretty sure it was dramatic and important. Very important.

Regardless, this is my first attempt at writing a screenplay now that I've donned my role as an official writer. Compared to novels, I'm finding it exhilirating to speed through pages and pages, without having to slow down to describe anything. In fact, I've been told to write as little descriptive stuff as possible. No inner monologue, no thought bubbles, no feelings?! All of that is up to the interpretation of the actors and director. My first few attempts were way too consumed with trying to describe exactly what I envisioned on-screen. That's not how a screenplay works. They are sparse, with dialogue and action prompts. This is like learning how to drive a motorcycle after you've been cruising around in an Accord.

I found this site online, The Daily Script, which has a ton of movie and television screenplays. It was important for me to not only see professional stuff but also to make sure I was formatting everything correctly. I feel like my scenes are so much better if the formatting is exactly right. Just like with my books, I'm using Scrivener to do this screenplay. The program makes it tremendously easy to look impressive, even if the dialogue seems frustratingly banal. Writer tip: When in doubt, format things nice and feel like you're a genius.

Tonight I flipped through the scripts for Pulp Fiction and 10 Things I Hate About You. Neither are like what I'm trying to write, but both are such wonderful movies that I couldn't stop reading through them. Next time we all hang out, I'd like to just choose one of these television scripts and act the whole thing out. That would be better than other forms of entertainment right?

22 August 2011

Confessions Part III

What a moral dilemma. I had sworn off any Chris Brown related music because of what he did to Rihanna. I mean, did you see her face? But then I saw Super Galactic Beat Manipulatorz dance to this song and hoped beyond rationality that it was Ne-Yo or Usher. After a quick Shazam, it came up "Chris Brown." Oh no. How could I support this song when clearly it was from an artist I've taken a stand against?

Well, um, after some additional Internet digging, "Chase Our Love" was off of Brown's 2009 Graffiti album, which was made before the whole hitting thing, even if just barely. I know it's a really pathetic justification, to allow something on my iPod because it came before an arbitrary cut-off date -- from a person who probably wasn't much different before -- but isn't that the justification we used for Michael? Man this song is good, and the dance is absolutely killer.

This is why I can't get with America's Best Dance Crew anymore. Any of these teams are better than 90% of what shows up on ABDC nowadays. And all these performers are still in college, juggling schoolwork, practice, and well, probably avoiding classes. This year's Fusion winner was Choreo Cookies, which is just a fun name to say. Here's an added bonus: a Dougie contest.

And because I don't have anywhere else to post this, it's Barack and Michelle dancing on Ellen, from a few years ago. Awkward and endearing? Yes, definitely so. How has the Barack dance never caught on?

17 August 2011

RSS for your OCD

Welcome to a special young adult edition of "What's In My Google Reader?" Fighting Reader bloat is one of the toughest things to do. Seriously, this would have been the eleventh labour of Hercules if the Internet was around back then. It's like combatting the damned hydra because when you delete one RSS, two more pop up to take its place.

I follow a lot of feeds and when that number starts to get unmanageable, I undertake a thorough cleaning. A year ago I re-organized and "trimmed" my feeds down to 587 by using Patrick Rhone's system. Exactly twelve months later I re-did it because I had somehow bloated back up to 800+. During this round of cleaning, I re-configured my feeds structure to better follow my young adult blogs.

Previously I tossed every YA related blog into my Reader but it got to be too much and I wasn't reading most of them. Now I've pared them down to the bare essentials and will be a lot more discerning about what makes it into the rotation. Rhone recently posted about an even simpler RSS system he's using and I'm going with the simple important/unimportant philosophy behind it.

Below are the folders I've laid out, with the accompanying number of blogs contained within.
Stars (15): My must-reads that include things everyone else reads and items from sources that I absolutely don't want to miss. Elizabeth Bird's Fuse #8, 100 Scope Notes, Kidlit, Diversity in YA, and Teen Writers Bloc, just to name a few.

Authors (15): Blogs of authors I either want to keep up with or they just have highly entertaining posts. This section got culled the most as I wanted to keep up with everyone but do you know how many YA authors are out there?!

Debs (40): All the individual blogs for my 2009 Debutantes group, including a few 2010-11 Debs that I've met or have been following. Having all the Debs in a separate folder makes it much easier to keep up with everyone.

Blogs (20): All the YA blogs that I've been following, many for a few years now. Story Siren, Chick Lit Teens, Pop Culture Junkie, Ten Cent Notes, YA Highway, Book Muncher, Presenting Lenore, etc.

Asian (15): Since I have a special interest in any Asian-American authors who pop up in the young adult world, I keep this folder to stalk them all. Right now there's only about a dozen authors in this folder. There has to be more of us! This also includes some blogs that are dedicated to highlighting POC books, like the Happy Nappy Bookseller.

Temporary (5): Everything new goes into this folder so I can check it out for awhile before figuring out whether to keep it or not.
So that's it. My young adult RSS feeds. I'm going to highlight some of my favorite blogs over the coming weeks and keep you updated on which new ones I'm following. Keeping up with people's blogs can be a huge time suck but there's no better way to get a feel for the community and discussion.

If you're overwhelmed by all that's out there, may I suggest you start with my Stars list, located here in a handy dandy Google Reader bundle so you can subscribe with just one click. Cutting down on the number of feeds I'm following makes me feel better because now I can lavish my attention on the few, even though there are many hundreds of deserving blogs out there.

16 August 2011

Riding the eReader Bandwagon

A few weeks ago I walked into Best Buy and purchased a Kindle. This wasn't a rash decision, I had been weighing the pros and cons of having an eReader for at least a month now. For my consumer habits, that's like a lifetime. I mean, I've gotten tattoos with less thought than I put into eReader research.

Trying to figure out if I wanted a Kindle, Nook, Kobo or some other device wasn't actually that hard. After playing around with each of them for awhile, I didn't hesitate to go with the Kindle. Amazon has the bigger selection, it has market share, and it has the better eInk technology. The kicker was that a new Kindle was expected this fall or winter. Normally I'd wait it out but for my purposes, I just needed a simple eReader, devoid of touch screen, color, or anything else fancy. My eReader was going to be strictly for books!

I bought the Wifi version without ads, which disappointingly only came in one color. I prefer my electronics in white but this time around that just wasn't possible. Of course I got a case for my Kindle, and while it's not the most versatile one around, I've made a decision to treat my new toy less like a Faberge egg and more like a cheap piece of plastic that's easily replaceable. I mean, with my sanitary issues, I'd never touch the Kindle if I treated it like a computer. Are my hands clean? (More importantly, are your hands clean?!) Are the surfaces around me free of debris? If I put this down will there be threatening sticky things nearby? I could have taken the Kindle to the beach with me that first weekend, but my OCD had to draw the line somewhere. Sand and the bathroom, that's where I'm drawing the line.

What's the verdict? Will I ever buy books again? To be honest, and scarily enough, probably not. I mean, of course I'll buy used books that I see hanging around, or buy illustrated tomes of things, or purchase books to support my friends, but as for buying something just for me to read? I think I'd go Kindle all the way. As this Millions article points out, an eReader is just too convenient. I've already been struggling with lugging books around as I travel and that was the number one reason I got an eReader. Instead of carrying ten pounds of paper around with me -- a modest traveling selection of five books I limit myself to -- I will now just cart around my Kindle.

The thing that has dazzled me so far is sampling. I've only bought a handful of books but I've sampled at least two dozen. As a reader, it's amazing to be able to sit around and look at the first chapter or two of something before committing. Sure, I could do this at a bookstore or online, but the Kindle makes it easier. As a writer, it's reiterated how crazy important a book's sample suddenly is. I'd bet most people will sample a book before buying it. That sample better be really damn good then. Already I can feel my buying habits and wishlists change as I dive freely into unlimited sampling.

Right after I got the Kindle, I went to Lendle and a few other online services to borrow books. While you're only allowed to lend each of your books once, it's still a neat feature that almost simulates real life. Once I hook up with a public library, I can only imagine how many books I'll be able to rent. One issue: Since the Kindle doesn't read ePub format, it could be annoying to convert things back and forth. I haven't hit that roadblock yet so we'll see. The world sure would be nicer if all eBooks came in a standard file type, but that would just be too convenient wouldn't it?

First five eBooks I bought

14 August 2011

Glee 3D (2011)

When watching concert movies, it's best to be in a crowd that fully appreciates the music. At a real concert, you can bop your head, sing along, clear out some room for dancing, and not have anyone stare at you. Try doing that in a theater and get shushed right out.

My sister and some friends went to the Glee summer concert and kept gushing so I wanted that experience for myself, even if I had to do it alone in a movie theater. I was a little worried that Glee 3D would be too different from an actual concert but luckily it was great -- different, but great. If you're not a Glee fan though, I'd skip this one. You know who you are.

I mean, you're essentially watching high class karaoke here. But hey, I was just as thrilled to watch Heather Morris performing Britney as I was to actually watch Britney ten years ago. And the movie had just the right amount of the annoying characters -- a bit of Finn, none of Mr. Schuester -- and featured the strongest singers. The stars of the movie were Naya Rivera, Amber Riley, and Lea Michele, who all absolutely killed it. Morris and Harry Shum Jr. were constantly on-stage for their dancing talents too.

The Warblers were given an entire set of songs, which was one too many for me. And Artie's second solo should have gone to someone else, maybe Jenna Ushkowtiz? Dianna Agron was criminally underused, just like in the show. She's being absolutely wasted right now, please give Quinn something to do next season. Give her pink hair, something!

The movie featured a few uber Gleeks, who were a bit much for me but they lent a fan perspective to the film. Apparently Glee saves (social) lives, and while it all may have been a bit over the top, there's some truth to the idea that Glee has made things better for the outcasts and the nerds. I think I would have enjoyed the movie better if there were more backstage interviews -- especially if they were actually done out of character -- but that would have necessitated cutting out some performances.

Watching the high gloss production of the concert, I kept thinking about what other group of actors and actresses could pull this off. I mean, these kids are definitely the hardest working people in Hollywood right now. They film a weekly show in which they're singing, dancing, acting, and then immediately launch into a multi-city tour that must have taken tons of extra preparation. No doubt they're promoting all in-between too. I feel like they're gonna collapse soon, or at least demand a hefty pay raise. I really should have gotten photos with them when I had the chance.

It looks like the movie is flopping so that means next weekend, every Glee fan should be coming out in droves to reverse the trend. Otherwise they'll never make that behind the scenes documentary we're all looking forward to. Whoa, Rachel, Kurt, and Finn are going to be graduating?! Ugh, bad move guys, don't do it!

10 August 2011

Show Me Where It Hurts

Reading: Barbara Ehrenreich, "Nickel and Dimed, Ten Years Later."

I've been watching a string of movies featuring female protagonists in bleak situations lately. In Wendy and Lucy, Michelle Williams gets stranded in a small town when her car breaks down. She subsequently loses her dog, gets arrested, and can't find a way home. Actually she doesn't even have a home, so she's on the go and perpetually stuck in the same place. The movie is slow as molasses and not something I'd recommend for a Friday night laugh fest, but it was poignant and touching.

Then I watched Fish Tank, starring Katie Jarvis, who was discovered by a casting scout as she argued with her boyfriend at a train station. She's untrained but absolutely riveting throughout. It'll be interesting to see where her career goes from here. Fish Tank also featured a few of my favorite things: Cockney accents, Michael Fassbender, and a hip hop soundtrack. There's a final scene set to Nas' "Life's a Bitch" that I can assure you has never been done before. Jarvis' character is an aspiring dancer and she's got exquisite taste in rap. Her solo practices are set to Rakim and Gangstarr, among others. I almost wanted to do a full on dance movie review on Fish Tank, but it's not quite that kind of movie.

Finally, I saw Winter's Bone, nominated last year for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture. It's like Goodfellas set in the hard scrabble countryside, but from the perspective of Meadow Soprano. The genre is "country noir" apparently, and it was the most complete film of the lot. Jennifer Lawrence is going to make an amazing Katniss, if the script for Hunger Games gives her anything to work with. Lawrence has ridiculous intensity emanating from her eyes. I understand what the fuss is all about, she's amazing.

Themes that ran through all three: emotional desolation, forging ahead against all odds, surviving with little to no support, shitty parents, multi-layered main characters, quiet pacing, resourcefulness, strong female leads who don't talk much but radiate intelligence and determination. The following quote from The Feminist Spectator could also equally apply:
"Wendy and Lucy's script is never predictable and never sentimental. The film doesn't ask the spectator to pity the characters, but to see them instead as human beings struggling with whatever limited means they can muster, each in his or her own way. The world Wendy and Lucy paints isn't easy or kind -- it's lonely, hard, and sad, with little to remediate the economic blight and emotional benightedness the film depicts unremittingly."
All three films were directed by women and in the case of Wendy and Lucy and Winter's Bone, screenwritten by the director also. Kelly Reichardt, Andrea Arnold, and Debra Granik will be names I keep an eye on as they've created movies that are not only powerfully feminist but so much more nuanced in their portrayal of young women than anything you'd typically find. Unsurprisingly, none of these movies were in theaters for longer than two seconds. If you're looking for a female lead movie trifecta, these three aren't a bad way to go.

08 August 2011

Rise of the Use of the Pathetic Password

Since I do a lot of light tech support for friends, I'm privy to many of their passwords. As a general rule, their choices are terrible. Like really really terrible. These are smart people who should be aware of the consequences of weak cyber security but they invariably have stuff like "password444" or "lastnameBIRTHYEAR." If I can guess your password within ten tries, it's pathetic. Please don't use the site name in the password either. "gmail1234" is never a good idea.

Sometimes people think capitalizing things will make a difference. Um, not really. You'll just confuse yourself. Spelling stuff backwards is no good either. A handy skill for that one category in Cranium but bad for passwords. The number one whine I hear when I call out people's crappy passwords? "I have to make it easy because otherwise I can't remember them."

I could rant for a long time about this but I'll let it go. Basically, if your best reason for having a six year old's password is that you can't remember them, you have a brain problem. "I named my child Nine because it was just easier. I can't remember which one she is otherwise." If you can remember all the first and last names of every 1990's sitcom character, you can remember your passwords. Don't undersell your human intelligence.

Passwords are the key to the most important portal of your life: the Internet. If things get lost or misremembered, you're screwed. In order to avoid this catastrophe, what you need is a password system, or matrix, that allows you to recreate your passwords without draining your memory reserves. Let me help you by suggesting one. First, you need three passwords. Actually, screw that, you need five. The modern man needs at least five passwords.
  1. Throwaway (for sign ups to random things, spam email accounts)
  2. Generic (social networks, Dropbox, frequent flier accounts, Wifi router)
  3. Sites that require credit cards (Netflix, Paypal, Amazon, eBay)
  4. Personal (personal email, FTP, blogs)
  5. Top Level (secret journals, bank accounts, emails to your other lover)
The throwaway password, you can make that whatever you want. Hang onto the password you've used since 1999, for old time's sake if you want, I don't care. The other four, you need to pick things that are related to one another. One of my friend's picks movie quotes to create an acronym. I support that. It makes for long text strings that make no sense but are still easy to remember. You have to add some numbers to your password too. Use a sequence that can flow nicely into the next password. Multiples of something, prime numbers, digits of pi, whatever.
Example: "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." would become "mniimykmfptd314159." The next password on the chain would be "ybmdad2653589" "You've been mostly dead all day" plus more pi digits. Or just use part of a long quote for each password, and continue the sentences on through.
The actual passwords don't matter, as long as you can quickly recreate the matrix when needed. Famous phrases, song verses, things people say about you behind your back, anything like that works. Maybe you don't remember the password to your Tumblr but a quick Google search for Princess Bride quotes and the sequence of prime numbers and voila, all your passwords recreated, ready for use. Then you crumple up the note and stuff it down your throat, because you don't want anyone else to see it.

While I can't guarantee that you won't be hacked or have your accounts stolen with this method, I can guarantee that you won't have dumb passwords that you forget in moments of crisis. My take home points are these: (1) Have more than one password and re-use them on similarly themed sites. (2) Create passwords that are loosely connected and easily re-creatable once the decoder ring is applied. (3) Hand me your computer so I can hack my way through it and find out if your passwords are lame. It's a service, not a violation.

In addition, I nominate October 10th as national (change your) password day. Everyone gets the day off from work in order to change their passwords. The 10/10 will be a nice reference to binary code and remind us that cyber security is just as important as Memorial Day or Labor Day or Presidents' Day. More important actually, Encryption Day should be two days, 1010 through 1011. Clear your calendars.