27 April 2012

Sarah Cross

So way back when, Exclusively Chloe debuted on the same day as Sarah Cross' Dull Boy. We were both 2009 Debs and I was delighted to forever share the same book birthday. Now Sarah's got a new book out on the shelves, Kill Me Softly. The cover is amazing as you can see, and the book is a fairy tale retelling. Which fairy tale? Well, all of them! Okay, not quite literally "all" but a whole lot of them and it's super fun to spot the influences and see the clever ways Sarah put her spin on these classic stories. Here's the synopsis for Kill Me Softly:
"Mirabelle's past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents' tragic deaths to her guardians' half-truths about why she can't return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday -- and discovers a world she never could have imagined.

In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems -- the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who's a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again.

But fairy tales aren't pretty things, and they don't always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy tale curses of their own...brothers who share a dark secret. And she'll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns."
Now, Sarah's first book was about a teen with super powers and since then she's penned a Wolverine story for Wolverine #1000. Yes, she got to write a Wolverine story! Even better, Sarah reveals to us that as a teen herself, she "wrote/drew a shoddy X-Men rip-off comic called The eXcuses, in which Professor Xavier enlists Jubilee to train a new teen group of superheroes." One of the members was En Passent, which I hope is based on the rare chess move, because that would just be the greatest. If The eXcuses was a comic today, I'd read that like asap.

Also, Sarah's main Tumblr consistently slams out fantastically geeky images and videos of stuff that leave no doubt about how she spent her childhood afternoons: devouring cartoons in front of the television. If your interests sweet spot is somewhere between princesses and superheroes, her Tumblr is the one for you. While you're subscribing and following along to that, be sure to congratulate my debut buddy on Kill Me Softly and then pick it up for your reading pleasure. Congrats Sarah!

17 April 2012

The Only Social Networking Strategy Guide You'll Ever Need

Today I'm here to answer the pressing question: What kind of social network farmer are you? Technically I know next to nothing about actual farming but I feel confident in using farming analogies to describe social networking because I've played a lot of Papaya Farm, Trade Nations, Oregon Trail: American Settler, and other freemium iPhone games. I can plant digital carrots with the best of them. Mistletoe FTW!

Presented without commentary or judgement, with limited commercial interruption, here are some time tested strategies you can use to build a following, avoid co-workers, annoy friends, and generally become a scary numbers monger.
Commercial Agriculture: The goal here is to achieve high "profits" using economies of scale, labour saving technologies, and minimizing effort while maximizing results. All that is just a fancy way of saying, "spam spam spam spam spam spam!" Sing along if you want. Follow anyone and everyone and assume a (low) percentage will follow you back out of reciprocity. A great way to pump up your numbers but significant downside exists as nobody will know who the hell you are. You'll look good on paper though.

Nomadic Herding: Moseying from here to there, you follow your targets over large territories, ceding control to their movement patterns. An idyllic way to tour the socialsphere, nomadic herding means you just sort of glom onto whoever/whatever interests you, letting your interactions arise naturally. This sounds like a dreamy way to live but it's also highly unpredictable. For example, it could take you some time to find a community or to unearth like-minded people. And there's a great chance you're just going to be hanging out by yourself for awhile.

Communal Farming: Gather up a few friends and power your way to social media success together. By pooling your networks and resources, it's likely you'll immediately feel important. Other people notice when you're constantly chattering, retweeting, and linking to the same (user)names. People's reflexive high school brains will recognize that there's a clique here and it will instinctively make them say, "I want to avoid them but I really just want in." Use that to your great advantage.

Also, if one of your buddies suddenly hits it big, the trickle down effect in social media actually works -- unlike in supply side economics. Trickle down success also historically works out well for rap groups, so feel free to name your crew something catchy/obscure/intimidating so you can graffiti/hashtag up those rough social networking streets.

Organic Farming: Being real! Or at least a close approximation of being real. Social networking organic farmers care about the impact they make on their environment and want to work sustainably with those around them. Each precious node in their network gets personal attention and is most importantly, someone they care about. "Yes, all 4,318 of these people are my friends." I know, total eye roll. (It's here that I remind myself not to be a hater. Some people are just that much more genuine and likeable than I am. I can sometimes/barely live with that.)

Intensive Farming: Disclaimer, most of the next sentence is stolen verbatim from somewhere else. Using high inputs of capital, labour, and heavy usage of technologies such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers relative to land area, intensive farming is the strategy of following everyone and then de-following them after they follow you back to pump up your ratio. Don't be that asshole. Actually, whatever, all's fair in love and social networking. Haha, suckers!

Cash Crop: You pretty much aim straight for the A-List and try to get their attention. You'll skip the riff raff and try to vault the velvet rope. Just one retweet/repost from someone important will make all the difference and you're hoping that will then bring followers, acclaim, and unlimited candy spilling your way. It's a high risk game but I've seen this one play out spectacularly. Watching this strategy unfold from afar is exciting too as you anticipate when/if the big RT happens. It's also enjoyable to see how long the "celebrity" will keep someone dangling.

Industrial Farming: Leveraging all the tools and technology made by modern man, you have evolved into a social networking cyborg. You play TweetDeck like a young Mozart, your Hootsuite solos are Charlie Parker-esque, you guest star/post on everything like Charice. Plus you actually Instapaper Facebook Pages updates to be read later. You send holiday cards with your Klout score displayed prominently. In short, you are RoboNetworker. People are both afraid and in awe of you.

The opposite of this is hoe-farming, which means you like use a digging stick -- a what? -- and do farmy things manually. Without even the help of beasts of burden to befriend/enslave and to lighten your load. Basically you actually log in to the actual Twitter, Facebook, etc. sites to update them. Amateur.

Extensive Farming: "Owing to the extreme age and poverty of the soils, yields per hectare are very low, but the flat terrain and very large farm sizes mean yields per unit of labour are high." I don't even know what that means. I suck at math.

Slash-and-burn: My favorite immortal technique! While I have only a loose grasp of what slash-and-burn agriculture actually involves, I absolutely love everything implied by the name. My version of slash-and-burn social networking involves picking fights with people, preferably people more important than you (for now). By stirring the pot and flinging yourself into flame wars, you piss off the crowd but gain notoriety and infamy. Your goal is to destroy everything in sight and then move on to the next community, gaining fawning acolytes along the way. When in doubt, slash and burn baby. Slash and burn!

Subsistence Agriculture: You are only social networking to clothe your children, feed your family, and to try and maintain a current standard of "not too wired" living. Basically you've taken the "networking" out of the social networking equation. I applaud your nonchalance. No, we applaud your nonchalance. All three of us following you.

Artisan Fishing: I didn't want to leave something so wonderful sounding off the list. Using nets, arrows, harpoons, and massive patience, you glide lightly over the socialsphere, looking only to find the best and brightest. You are a curator of great social media people. You are the artisan fisher. Also, artisan fishing is apparently a World of Warcraft spell. Obviously it is the best spell WoW has to offer.
That's it, I've taken you through a few thousand years of farming history and a decade of Internet life. It was hard but somebody had to do it. Thank you Wikipedia. And in case you're wondering how your number of followers stack up, here's my categorization of your Twitter self-worth using birds. Coming up next time, how Poor Richard's Almanac can help you dominate the interwebs! Quick preview: It can't.

12 April 2012

Five On It

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) Getting By on a Writer’s Income. Written in 1981 but still very relevant. I mean, except sardines probably aren't 15¢ a can anymore.

(2) Allison Winn Scotch's entire blog. My favorite author blog out there! Allison's fourth book, The Song Remains the Same, drops this Thursday. Everything else is great every day.

(3) How Game of Thrones Masters the Art of Adapting Novels for TV. I haven't read the books, and can't commit to the TV series, but this was interesting anyway.

(4) DRM is crushing indie booksellers online. Ruth Curry of Emily Books adds to the anti-DRM debate. I'm with it.

(5) Five Web Comics Writers Should Read. SM Robertson had me at "squid."

09 April 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 3

  • Angelus, Mary C. Moore
  • Making Movies, Sidney Lumet
  • Cinder, Marissa Meyer
  • The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
  • Wanderlove, Kirsten Hubbard
  • The Notebook, Nick Cassavetes
  • John Carter, Andrew Stanton
  • Friends With Kids, Jennifer Westfeldt
  • Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, Paul Johansson
  • Page One: Inside the New York Times, Andrew Rossi
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi, David Gelb
  • The Hunger Games, Gary Ross
  • Wrath of the Titans, Jonathan Liebesman
  • Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal

A quarter of the way through the year and I'm still on a good pace for our fiftyfifty.me challenge: fourteen books and twenty two movies. This month I'm here to sing the praises of Sidney Lumet's Making Movies. You may recognize Lumet as the director behind 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, or perhaps his most recent film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Or um, maybe The Wiz. Sadly, Lumet passed away in 2011 but his book got a lot of press posthumously and that's when I first heard about it.

After reading through Making Movies, written in 1996, I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in how films are made. Written with a lot of personality, Lumet breaks down what a director does, what goes into script writing, how to deal with actors, how a movie shoot is organized, different approaches to camera work, and most interestingly to me, a very detailed chapter about editing.

Now, there are lots of resources about the technical aspects of all of these things of course, but Making Movies isn't a how-to manual, and infused with Lumet's commentary, it's a readable gem for laypeople and filmmakers alike. I'm already looking forward to re-reading it whenever I need some inspiration.

This was also the month I rediscovered Netflix, at one point ripping through three movies in one morning/afternoon. Say what you want about the Atlas Shrugged movie, but I need a Part 2. For awhile it was rumored that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were interested to star as Dagny Taggart and John Galt but I had no problems with Taylor Schilling stepping in. She's got enough of the icy look and demeanor to make an ideal Dagny and Jolie would have probably ruined it just with her notoriety. Note I use "ruined it" very loosely as the movie has been widely panned.

This is totally irrelevant but I really enjoyed seeing Edi Gathegi as Eddie Willers. That's right, Gathegi was Laurent in Twilight and Darwin in X-Men: First Class. And when the Black Eyed Peas biopic comes out, he'll be the man standing in for Will.I.Am. Hollywood will totally whitewash Apl.de.ap and Taboo though. Brace for the outrage.

And one last thing. Go watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It's a documentary about 85 year old Jiro Ono and his perfectionist sushi making. Aside from just food porn, you'll marvel over the insanity/amazingness of one man dedicating his life to crafting the same pieces of sushi over and over again. Eating at Jiro's costs $400 so it's unlikely most of us will ever get to try it out but that doesn't matter because watching the movie will only cost a fraction of that. Sure, it's not the all encompassing documentary I'd have liked to see -- I wanted more technique and explanation of why Jiro's sushi was the best -- but overall the movie is a must see.

05 April 2012

Mary C. Moore

A couple of years ago I joined a book club up in San Francisco and even though I no longer live there, I still think of it as "my book club." Whenever I'm up in the Bay, I try to attend a meeting because the group is super fun and the people are stellar. Mary is one of the co-founders of this book club and she recently wrapped up her MFA program. As I'm always excited to read anything Mary writes, I'm here to share with you Mary's just released first novel, Angelus:
"Most anthropologists believe that eons ago there were over fourteen species of human. They also believe that only one of those species endured beyond the ice age. They are wrong. Three species of human survived to live in our modern world. Homo angelus have wings. Homo daemonis have horns and tail. Homo sapiens have no idea the other two exist. Sarah Connelly’s job is to ensure it stays that way."
I ripped through the book in one sitting, fending off morning to finish it (I usually go to bed when the sun rises), and it was a fantastic read that not only had an intriguing premise but such wonderfully smooth writing. If I could write so cleanly, well, I could write like Mary. Can you tell I'm jealous of her skills to the max? Angelus also has some very tempting supporting characters and Sarah Connelly is a heroine we're going to love following along with for many more adventures.

In addition to having impeccable taste in all matters fantasy -- she introduced me to Patricia Wrede's The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, for which I'll be forever grateful -- Mary is also a zookeeper. Yes, the actual person who gets to wear khaki and green and do all the stuff you'd love to do but maybe aren't brave enough to. I mean, she's even written stories about some of her experiences. If you don't know what a reticulated giraffe is, or a kune kune pig, better let Mary explain them to you in A Day at the Zoo.

In short: angels, animals, awesomeness, Mary's got it all. Go get Angelus now!

02 April 2012

Ready, Aim, Yawn

Unpopular opinion alert: I kind of hated Hunger Games the movie. Yes, I know, it's almost sacrilegious to say amidst all the wonderful reviews and the excitement about it breaking records and pushing the franchise to new heights. But the thing is, the film kind of bored me. After waiting a whole week to get my Hunger Games on, I was shocked when about an hour and a half into it, I looked over at my sister and we both gave each other the "what is going on here" alarmed look. Even when the action finally picked up as Katniss fought for survival, I found myself wishing for so much more. It wasn't even about the typical book to movie translation stuff, this was just a bad movie, period.

For one, I hated the camera work. While initially the tight shots and languishing but controlled pacing drew me in, when there proved to be nothing else in director Gary Ross' bag of tricks, I mainly just got angry at him for going semi-artsy fartsy with the whole thing. I don't need fifty shots of Jennifer Lawrence staring intently. (Coming from a big Jennifer Lawrence fan, that's saying something.) Yes, Katniss is supposed to be stoic and unreadable but this was taking it a bit too far.

What I realized while watching
Hunger Games is that most of the compelling conflicts exist inside Katniss' head, and movies have an admittedly hard time conveying that. Cool, I'll let that slide. But maybe move the scene along and use the side characters more. You know, those wonderful ancillary characters who did such a great job pulling Katniss out of her shell in the novel but were each severely underutilized in the movie. Haymitch had an amusing moment or two before being ushered off, Cinna wasn't even in the movie, and after hearing about how Elizabeth Banks stole every scene as Effie, I think it's accurate if faint praise. Effie Trinket was the only character allowed to have a spark of life on-screen, so of course she stood out. Related note: Stanley Tucci, I can't handle you anymore. Let Hunger Games serve as our official two and a half hour breakup letter.

Issue number two: If you haven't read The Hunger Games, do you have any idea what's going on? I mean, besides the basics of "children are thrown into a fight to the death for entertainment," do you get any of the characters' motivations, connections, or actions? Without knowledge of the book, I would think the entire interaction between the characters (and Panem in general) was entirely lost. Why is Peeta so willing to sacrifice everything? What is Katniss' relationship to Gale? What are all these people rebelling against? Where/who are these handy first aid parachutes coming from?

Any broader commentary -- or satire -- Hunger Games might have had on society at large was also completely wiped away. It's possible to flesh some of these deeper issues out using the language of film, it really is. Even in blockbusters, I've seen it happen. Having said that, my friends who didn't read the book seemed to have enjoyed the movie much more than I did. So maybe not knowing what they missed out on was better.

Let's talk about the action. Oh wait, there was none. For a movie whose main appeal is the actual Hunger Games, there weren't many thrilling bits. Even the training was disappointing. What's the best part of Rocky? The training montage and the boxing matches. I didn't need "Eye of the Tiger" and Katniss running up some stairs exactly but give me a cool scene that actually took my breath away or showed me that Katniss was a force to be reckoned with. Is that too much to ask?

As it stands, the most exciting part of Katniss kicking ass was her (mis-)firing a few arrows. In lieu of direct action, it would have been acceptable to highlight how clever and savvy Katniss was. We didn't get much of that either. Also, Ross kills me again with his camera work. I concede that they couldn't show kids slaughtering each other in order to preserve a PG-13 rating but Ross' jumpy action shots were nauseating.

Mostly what we got was a whole lot of speeches and Q&A sessions. "Haymitch, how do we survive? Please just tell us, don't bother showing us via any training scenes. I'd much prefer a thrilling conversation over breakfast. Aaaah, eggs!" "Tell me Katniss, how did you feel? No, really, tell me how you felt." "And President Snow, could you proclaim something else? We need you to provide exposition. Oh alright, you do it Seneca." Half the movie was a boring political rally slash beauty pageant. With some bad costuming no less.

Okay I could go on but I'll spare you. I think Hunger Games missed the mark by way too much, even though I was grading on a heavy curve. Maybe the movie I was hoping to see was just too different. I wanted something with a bit of fun, even though the setting and subject matter was a dystopian society where children are forced to kill one other.

I realized as the credits rolled that this version of The Hunger Games was really a B-movie with high production values. That's it. The emotional depth was lacking to make it a movie you cared about, the action was lacking to make it an enjoyable romp, the everything was missing from a torpid adaptation that looked the part but failed to entertain me in just about every way.

Will I be back for Catching Fire? Of course! But when we had to immediately movie hop Wrath of the Titans just to wash the disappointed stench of Hunger Games off our minds, that really says something. Wrath of the Titans as cinematic highlight and panacea -- a new life low.

Something I did enjoy: Wes Bentley, with extra points for his curlicue beard. It doesn't seem like he's aged much since American Beauty and I'm ready for more Wes in my life. We already know his character is gone in the next movie so he can't be too busy. Somebody hire him immediately. Those icy blue eyes would make a fine (and ultimately likeable) serial killer or dark superhero or something.

Also, although I objected to Josh Hutcherson as Peeta because he seemed so lame in photos next to Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, I actually liked him much more in the actual movie. Lesson learned: Don't judge a competing love interest by his height. I should have trusted Hutcherson's past work; shout out to Bridge to Terabithia. Still Team Gale for me though.