31 January 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 1

  • Hyperion, Dan Simmons
  • Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi
  • Under the Never Sky, Veronica Rossi
  • Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith
  • Young Adult, Jason Reitman
  • The Descendents, Alexander Payne
  • Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher
  • No Strings Attached, Ivan Reitman
  • Friends With Benefits, Will Gluck
  • War Horse, Steven Spielberg
  • Haywire, Steven Soderbergh
Month one of the Fiftyfifty.me Challenge went well as I forced myself to start the year off right with seven movies and five books. We've got almost 300 sign ups and some people are powering through so many movies and books that I'm way intimidated. But in a good way. I think.

My fiftyfifty.me Pinterest is here and we've realized it's one of the easier ways to keep track of everything -- and by far the prettiest. I also use a Google Doc to track everything because I like saving more info for posterity and really, spreadsheets are the answer to any and all questions.

Let's talk about Hyperion, the book I started 2012 off with. Despite the stellar reviews, a high recommendation from a friend who knows his sci-fi, I struggled with it. What annoyed me the most was the structure, which is based on The Canterbury Tales, with each of six pilgrims telling their backstory as they travel to the planet Hyperion. While Simmons is rightfully lauded for his ability to write so many compelling voices -- and in varied styles -- I was bored bored bored. I felt like all I was being given was backstory, with no plot to move the book along.

After a few tries, I made the executive decision to quit the book halfway through -- returning later to finish it out of pure guilt. All I wanted to know was the fate of the characters and Wikipedia provided that in ten minutes. Good enough for me. I'm sure the rest of the Hyperion Cantos could be very good but I couldn't do it. The world was more interesting than the the story, and I didn't like being force fed all this stuff over hundreds of pages of frame story. My friend assured me that even non-scifi fans would like Hyperion but after reading (most) of it, I need to ask him why he made such a strong recommendation. Your taste are now suspect friend person!

For an example of world building that seamlessly worked into the story, turn to Under the Never Sky. I blew through Veronica Rossi's debut in one sitting and aside from her stellar writing, I was impressed with how smoothly she integrated backstory, an intriguing universe, and characters you cared about. Unlike with Hyperion, I wanted to return to Aria and Perry's world immediately. Can't wait for the sequel.

I already talked about how 2011 was a horrible year for movies. A late contender for best of the year, Young Adult is fantastic. Some people don't like protagonists that are unlikeable or mean but I love'em. The pairing of narcissistic glam queen Charlize Theron and dumpy Patton Oswalt is perfect.

The early months of each year are traditionally the dumping ground for crappy movies so for this upcoming month I'm gonna try to just stick to Netflix and indie stuff. Well except for Act of Valor. We've already got plans to watch this two hour commercial for the SEALs as soon as it hits theaters. Frag out! And oh yeah, in the head to head battle of No Strings Attached versus Friends With Benefits, the latter wins in a landslide. There can be no argument.

27 January 2012

Five and Dime

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) Diversity in YA Fiction website and tour just came to an end. So sad, so true, but here is Melinda and Cindy's wrap up post!

(2) Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots. 1,462 plots for you to use. I guess it's more varied than following Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey arc right?

(3) How Not to Blog: Beginning Blogging for Authors Part II. If I could find the proper motivation I'd like to do one of these posts as I have some strong feelings about author/writing blogs.

(4) Can a YA Writer "make it" as an indie? Katie Klein's been at it for a year and she's here to share her insights and numbers.

(5) Hating on Writing Exercises. I haven't taken a lot of writing classes but I coudn't agree with this more. I hate the fifteen minutes when you're given a prompt. Usually I just take the time to check email.

23 January 2012

End of the Beginning

It's a good thing for social media, otherwise I never would have realized that today was Chinese New Year. Last year for this special occasion I was tromping through New York's Chinatown, trying to lead some people in search of a good meal. Little did they know that my Chinese food ordering abilities suck. All noodles, dumplings, and vegetables. Piles of side dishes and no meat. I vowed to make it up to them but haven't had a chance to yet. Next year guys, my Mandarin will be up to the task!

Since the new year is traditionally for goal setting, I'll lay out a few for myself. The Year of the Dragon is the year I'd like to attend a writers conference, hit up a workshop or two, and get myself into the big bad world of ePublishing. Oh and I would like to sell another book or two. Or five.

Today also coincides with the announcement of quite a few children's and young adult book awards. At least that's what I think is happening according to my Twitter. The Caldecott, the Morris, the Newbery, the something something.

On 30 Rock, Tracy Morgan's character wears an "EGOT" necklace, which stands for "Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony." What's the writerly equivalent of that? Pulitzer, Nobel, Man Booker, National Book Award, Hugo, PEN/Faulkner, MacArthur? We're gonna need some vowels in there. Too bad Oprah's Book Club is essentially defunct. If we toss in the Astrid Lindgren award, maybe we could come up with an acronym like NOPALM (Nobel, Oprah, Pulitzer, Astrid Lindgren, MacArthur) for aspirational writing achievements?

Did you know that Whoopi Goldberg is one of the handful of people to have actually accomplished EGOT? Astonishing no? She won a Grammy and Tony as a producer for Thoroughly Modern Millie, an Oscar for Ghost, and a few Emmys for TV stuff like being a co-host on The View. She was also inducted in 1990 as an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters. Whoopi: living legend, baller.
"With the Canadian media's coverage of books becoming increasingly sporadic, fewer titles each season are able to distinguish themselves from the pack, and awards are being forced to shoulder more and more of the cultural conversation. As a result, the shortlist has emerged as one of the few remaining tools for keeping multiple books on the nation's radar at one time....Since then, Coady says award culture has only gotten larger, 'whereas book culture in general has shrunk.'"
-More Than An Honour-

21 January 2012

Veera Hiranandani

I love book titles that make you shake your head in wonder because they are so poetic and fitting. Like The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Like The Whole Story of Half a Girl.

When I saw the book's title floating around on blogs months ago, I knew I had to read it. Even more so when I found out the protagonist was a half Indian, half Jewish-American girl.
"After her father loses his job, Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, finds herself yanked out of private school and thrown into the unfamiliar world of public education. For the first time, Sonia's mixed heritage makes her classmates ask questions -- questions Sonia doesn't always know how to answer -- as she navigates between a group of popular girls who want her to try out for the cheerleading squad and other students who aren't part of the 'in' crowd.

At the same time that Sonia is trying to make new friends, she's dealing with what it means to have an out-of-work parent -- it's hard for her family to adjust to their changed circumstances. And then, one day, Sonia's father goes missing. Now Sonia wonders if she ever really knew him. As she begins to look for answers, she must decide what really matters and who her true friends are -- and whether her two halves, no matter how different, can make her a whole."
Veera's bio reveals that she's been in the writing and teaching fields for some time and while this is her first middle grade book, she's done of lot of picture books, especially quite a bit of work with Dora the Explorer! The Whole Story of Half a Girl just released about a week ago so go congratulate Veera and read her unique and amazing book.

16 January 2012

Feature Five

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) Ten Cent Notes' Favorite YA-ish Blogs of 2011. When in doubt, I trust Jordyn.

(2) s.e. smith's book review of Lauren Myracle's Shine. Actually anything s.e. smith writes. Her blog at meloukhia.net is amazing.

(3) The Truth About Book Publicity. Basically it's all hit or miss. The best quote from a commenter: "My writing quality is insanely hit and miss..."

(4) Gwalingo. "Gwarlingo highlights some of the most inventive work being made today in music, writing, film, performance, and the visual arts." Plus, Michelle likes Slinkachu so she's cool by me.

(5) Noah Berlatsky's post, "Cinderella, Feminist." You may remember Berlatsky as the writer of that much passed around Atlantic article about Bella.

10 January 2012

Put 'em up, put 'em up

You go away for the weekend and a whole internet kerfuffle happens. Round who-can-really-keep-count of the battle between (some) authors and reviewers popped up a few days ago.

Really the most exciting part when this happens is tracing the backstory of who said what and in response to whom. It's like following a less dramatic, literary version of Contagion. "Who was Offender Zero?! What was the basic reproduction number? How many days do we have till annihilation? How do we contain it? Lock down, lock down, aaaah!"

Sometimes if you catch it early enough, you can follow it spreading, or if you catch on too late, someone will have summarized everything nicely for you. It's interesting either way.

I think the reason negative reviews hurt more when you're an author is that most of the time, you're 80-100% responsible for the things that happen in your book. With a movie that you hated, maybe it was the cast, maybe it was the sound designer, maybe the people next to you in the theater were just annoying. With a book though, it's usually just one person's ideas and words, and if you blast the book, the writer can feel the full weight of the jab.

Yes, if someone is gonna put their work out for people to enjoy and say nice things about, chances are it won't resonate with at least a few of them. What authors get legitimately upset about though, is when the attacks turn personal. I've heard of some really crappy things that get said in reviews or messages. Who are the people who write this kind of stuff? Would you say what you just said to the author's face?

I, for one, have no problem with people reviewing things in a negative manner because I'd like the leeway to do that too. I mean, really, Hugo was the worst wasn't it? Scorsese's a hack!
I don't know if you read Dean Wesley Smith's blog, but if you're interested in a writing as a vocation, you probably should. He's got this series called "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" and they're all pretty great. For example, this one debunks the myth that you've made it when *blank* happens. That blank can be getting an agent, a first sale, making the best sellers list, winning prestigious awards, what have you. Basically the gist of the piece is that you never have it made. Even when you're super huge, you have to keep pushing, expanding, looking for opportunities and refining your skills.

Sure it all sounds sort of depressing but it's actually kind of inspirational. I mean, maybe you don't have it made but the good news is nobody else does either! There's always more rungs of the ladder to climb but that also means there's people trying to get to where you are too. Wait, that's not inspiring... that's just scary.

03 January 2012

Under Your Spell

Pretty much any time I'm faced with nothing to do, I want to go movie hopping. With prices as they are, watching just one movie seems like a waste. Taking friends movie hopping is the best too, as newbies still have to shed that high school fear of getting caught. What's the worst that could happen now? They call your parents?

Although this was the year I actually left a theater because I was pretty certain the attendants noticed and would be forced to throw me out. Being two of only three people I saw inside the whole afternoon made me overly cautious. This was also the first time I "hopped" by going to two theaters. My friend and I watched one movie and then walked a few blocks over to catch another one immediately afterward. Not quite as economical as real movie hopping, but good for flexible showtimes.

Some basic tips for successful movie hopping:
  • Go to the largest theater possible. Choose theaters that don't partition off sides or levels, otherwise you'll get stuck in the wrong area.
  • Wear a bright colored jacket in and take it off when wandering around the theater. Take a stroll around to see where all the movies are showing before you go into your first selection.
  • Time your exit from a theater so that you leave with a big group. Always go to the restroom in-between showings, or buy something after your first movie since a fresh popcorn looks like you're heading somewhere you belong.
  • Try not to make eye contact with the staff and play around with your phone as you walk. If questioned, the easiest thing to say is that you're looking for a friend in another theater.
  • Be flexible on sitting in a movie for twenty minutes during down time and then leaving to catch the movie you actually want to see. If you wanna be pro, bring your own 3D glasses and save big bucks.
My track record speaks for itself. I've only been caught once -- due to a friend's amateur moves and insistent bladder -- and have watched five and a half movies in one shot before. I haven't accomplished much in life but a twelve hour shift in a movie theater? Yes!

In 2011 I watched thirty four movies in theaters, slightly down from last year. I attribute that mainly to the difficulty of movie hopping in New York. Even for a film that I thought was unpopular, lines formed fast and ticket checkers lurked everywhere in Manhattan theaters. I'd also never encountered so many sold out shows. There was a four month span early on where I only got out to the movies five times. When I returned to suburbia in the fall, I hit the theaters hard to make up for time lost.

Sadly, it's been a real down year for new movies. I mean, my numbers ended up being 7 A's, 15 B's, 12 C's, and 2 D's. And of those seven A's, one I actually didn't even see in theaters, as I Redboxed it (semi-cheating). The A-list is: X-Men: First Class; Harry Potter 7b; Beats, Rhymes, and Life; Drive; Never Say Never; Ides of March; and The Skin I Live In. Plus most of the movies I gave A-ratings to I was already super biased towards. I mean, X-Men, Harry Potter, Almodóvar, Gosling...

I know I missed out on a grip of potentially good 2011 releases but I couldn't have missed out on that much, right? At least the mainstream ones. I'm hoping to catch up on Fincher's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Shame, Tree of Life, Certified Copy, and The Future, but I doubt any of those will jump to the top of the 2011 list, even retroactively.

In picking my favorite movie of the year, I think I have to go with Drive. I was just in love with the entire package of visuals, music, tension, and actors/actresses. A lot of people -- and friends I recommended it to -- didn't love it but I watched Drive twice and confirmed my enthusiasm.

The other movies I pushed all year long was the Justin Bieber documentary and the Tribe Called Quest one. If you don't become a Belieber after watching Never Say Never, you don't have a heart. And you don't have to be a fan of ATCQ to like Beats, Rhymes, and Life, even though for hip hop fans it's perfection.

Stuff that disappointed me to no end: Hanna, Weekend, Midnight in Paris, Hugo. I've been seeing Hugo on a lot of "best of" lists. I was so bored I would have left the theater if I had anything better to do at one in the morning. And while I loved the premise of Midnight in Paris, the execution left me empty -- except for Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali.

Nicest surprise of the year: The remake of Footloose. I shared my thoughts on it extensively here so I'll spare you but it's worth a watch even if you think remaking Footloose is sacrilege. As for all the movies I watched but not in theaters, I think my favorite was Beginners (2010), which I saw a few days before the new year. It's everything I wanted Garden State and Greenberg to be. Quirky, funny, clever, lonely, heart wrenching, and featuring Mélanie Laurent as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who isn't quite. Beginners wasn't perfect but I suspect after another viewing it might be.