31 May 2012

Dawn Is Breaking

To feel up to date on happenings in the publishing industry, you really need to follow it like Perez Hilton does celebrity gossip. Okay, maybe not quite as voraciously but you need to pay attention to a few things at least. The problem is, there are so many sites and blogs out there vying for your attention that following more than a handful isn't viable.

Personally I'm as finicky about sites as Goldilocks was about her porridge. The site can't post too frequently, it can't post too infrequently, it has to have longish articles, it has to have non-repurposed content, it has to blah blah blah. A guy's gotta have standards right? In my never ending quest to pare down my RSS feeds, I've had to de-follow anything that has to do with the following topics. Or at least stop taking the time to read articles about these subjects:
  • Is Amazon going to kill everyone, circle one: yes/no/maybe. Wouldn't you rather read about Amazon's warehouse working conditions?
  • The future of publishing. I've read too many of these. See above. Quick answer: nobody knows.
  • Going indie versus traditional. Especially the "I decided to do this and it's been so great" perspective. Hello can we say super biased? Of course you love the one you're doing!
  • How much more money you can gain by ePublishing. 70% royalties is more than 25% or whatever, we know, we know. Yes, as writers we suck at math but we're not that inept. Greater than, equal to, abacus schmabacus.
  • Are eBooks better/worse than real books. I'd prefer to debate this one in person at social gatherings with lots of acquaintances. "But I love the smell! But I love the convenience! Everyone just stop and look at this (inevitably not) hilarious YouTube video!"
  • How-to articles. I'm torn because I do want to know how to effectively build worlds, create compelling secondary characters, and end my chapters with suspense but really, I've gotten this far in life without knowing any of the above so why start learning things now.
Actually, here's the site that I've had to quit the most: The Passive Voice. I'm not gonna lie, the post titles used to always get me but I decided to stop following because most of the articles were excerpts and links to other articles. It was starting to get very HuffPo-y. (I don't even know what that means, I just wanted to say it.)

It's aggravating to just read the first fifty words of every article, which is what The Passive Voice tends to do. Give me the whole damn thing or give me death. I refuse to click through anymore. The jaunty "link to the rest at xxx" link placed at the bottom of each post insults me. It used to be a constant struggle to figure out if this teaser would be worth clicking through for. I've decided it never is and just stopped following the site entirely. Maybe you'd enjoy it though. Maybe.

There are a few sites that remain must-follows. I am talking about The Millions, Bark, NYT's The Book Bench, Nathan Bransford's blog, and Mike Shatzkin's Idea Log. I've tried quitting them all at one point or another but can't seem to ever do it. The Millions especially. I want to stop but I'm just too weak.

The thing I like best about these particular sites is that they are either focused on providing me with nice news aggregation or they have content that can't be found elsewhere. There's a word for this latter bit: original. Always a huge plus. Also, aside from Branford's blog, there's not a lot of "what do you think dear reader?" requests. I'm beginning to dislike those too.

I should really revamp my YA blog roll actually. There's been many changes. In the meantime, if you read a lot of longish articles, I can't recommend Instapaper enough. Nowadays I save everything using Instapaper bookmarklets and return to read them later. It's improved my RSS flow quite a bit. I even got the paid version of Instapaper for five bucks. Yes, me, paying for apps. It's a brand new day.

In unrelated but really important things, this new Les Misérables movie is totally unnecessary but if you're just going to throw Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway at me, I'll take it. Still, let's not kid ourselves here. With Avengers hype now over, the most anticipated movie of the year is Magic Mike. We all know Soderbergh deserves an Oscar for this. I'm already on my feet for the inevitable standing ovation.

23 May 2012

The Spirit of the Age

We all know how trends work. There's a ramp up, a peak, and then a fall. Similarly, you can be early, on time, or late for these things. That's the game I've been playing with myself recently, trying to figure out what kind of stuff I've been early or late on.

For example, I was relatively early on Ryan Gosling, right with the mainstream for TailSpin, and distressingly late on coconut water. You can be early/on time/late for just about anything -- assuming they came close to ubiquitousness. Being early on something that never blew up doesn't count. We're aiming for mainstream exposure here.

You'll know something is worthy of consideration if you can proudly exclaim, "I called ____ back in ____!" I don't know about you but the thrill of being ahead of the curve on something is a natural high. When I rule the world, awards will be handed out for this sort of thing. Here's a great example of a trendsetter in action from The Graduate. See how Mr. McGuire was trying to call that out? Plastics! (Okay I know that's not what that scene meant...)

Another way of looking at it is as described in Scott Westerfeld's So Yesterday where the "cool pyramid" is defined as (from top to bottom): Innovators, Trendsetters, Early Adopters, Consumers. For the purposes of this exercise, we're looking to see if you were an early adopter, an on time consumer, or a late consumer. If you were an innovator or trendsetter, you're already way too cool for this game. If you invented the Internet or something, get the hell out of here, nobody likes a braggart.
  • For each item, there has to be an identifiable peak, or period/moment when they were huge.
  • You're not late to the party if you weren't alive during the time of their prominence.
This last one is important. Take shell toes for example, the Adidas Superstar. They were obviously huge in the 70s and early 80s but then had a resurgence in the late 90s and early 2000s. Well I wasn't around for the first go around but jumped on the bandwagon for Round Two. Right on time I'd say. Using the same criteria, I can't be early or late for Michael Jackson.

Here's a sampling of my list so far:
Early (Bellwether): Febreze, Ryan Gosling (The Believer), Twilight (2007), downloading music, Mad Men, real-time strategy games (Herzog Zwei), Tamagotchi, Palladia Music Channel, man purses (2000), Azealia Banks, Scarlett Johannson (Ghost World), blogging (2000), ramen, Malcolm Gladwell (pre-Tipping Point), Sidekick aka Danger Hiptop, big ill-fitting glasses (every FOB is ahead on this), TED Talks, argyle socks, Really Simple Syndication, Kirby, PDAs (Handspring), iPods, The Office (British version), fantasy sports (middle school)

On Time (Lemming): NKOTB, Survivor, Twitter, Emma Stone, Martika, "Kocomo," Jersey Shore, Kat Von D, boba, Frank Gehry, shell toes, Glee, Top Gun, Razor scooters, TGIF on ABC, raving, The Dougie, snowboarding, 4-color pens, Deion Sanders, Beanie Babies, ICQ, wallet chains, parachute pants, eReaders, Game Boy, stickers

Late (Sloth): Woody Allen, JNCOs, Kanye West, MySpace, Johnny Cash resurgence, sushi, Felicity, The Biebs, "Crush On You," boxer briefs, Consumer Electronics Show, John Hughes movies, most hip hop dance crazes, coconut water, portable CD player, Battlestar Galactica, in the know slang words

Missed, some happily, some not on purpose (Dodo): Simpsons, The Wire, Meryl Streep, peg leg jeans, The Running Man, Lost, kombucha, overalls, beets, Adult Swim
As you can see, personal trends emerge. My profile is early on things available electronically; right with most of my generation camped out in front of the television; but generally clueless throughout most of the Eighties. Oh well, all fads aren't created equal, missing a few is probably a great thing.

An extra fun part of this game is to track where I got my early stuff from. For example, my friend Victor put me onto Mad Men right before the hype. And my friend Michael pushed me ahead on Mayer Hawthorne because he couldn't stop talking about him ("This guy went to my high school!").

Different people are consistently ahead on various things. One person may always be late on Internet memes but way ahead on the next must-try food item. People are attuned to different stations and nobody can be up on everything (Actually I know some people who seemingly are up on everything, and I'm confused about how they do it.) It's useful to know which friends are which in each category so you know whether to take what they're saying with a grain of salt or not.

That's not to say that being late the party is a bad thing. No judgement calls here. I mean, it's important to know when something has hit the mainstream right? What else will you talk about at dinner parties? A good rule of thumb: If it hits the cover of Time, your local newspaper, the back section of US World & News Report, or heavens, the New York Times for a trend piece, it's about to nosedive and you're late.

Another good use for non-early friends is to know when something has really hit its peak. "Wow, it even reached him/her? It's officially everywhere now!" Don't be embarrassed if you're that person. No big deal. Just be that change, you know?

17 May 2012

Throwback Thursday: The Tripods

For this throwback series, I've reworked some classics for contemporary times. Well here's one that will require no work at all because it's pretty much exactly the direction YA is going anyway. Someone whip up some new covers and re-release already! Most of these throwback ideas practically write themselves but with this one, I think it literally already did. I mean, seriously, read the synopsis for The White Mountains:
"Long ago, the Tripods -- huge, three-legged machines -- descended upon Earth and took control. Now people unquestioningly accept the Tripods' power. They have no control over their thoughts or their lives. But for a brief time in each person's life -- in childhood -- he is not a slave.

For Will, his time of freedom is about to end -- unless he can escape to the White Mountains, where the possibility of freedom still exists. The Tripods trilogy follows the adventures of Will and his cohorts, as they try to evade the Tripods and maintain their freedom and ultimately do battle against them."
The story goes on to detail how Will and his friends go around usurping the powers that be and save the world or something. I dunno, who can remember what happens; I read this so long ago. My point is, there's not much you'd have to do with these books to bring them back into prominence. I can smell a movie deal already. And an accompanying video game. I mean, check out this screencap of a Colossus from Starcraft 2. Tell me that's not a Tripod -- with Extended Thermal Lance no less. Devastating stuff, I assure you.

Sure, we could tweak things a little, if we wanted to, seeing as it isn't 1967 anymore. For example, I don't recall if there was a prominent love story but we'll go ahead and inject one. Maybe Will can fall in love with an alien. Or better yet, his "cousin" Henry will secretly be an alien -- but not realize it until later of course. Big twist, pre-spoiler spoiler alert!

And their friend, Jean-Paul, who is currently just plain jane French -- Will and Henry are Brits -- doesn't really qualify as diverse these days. So we'll just go ahead and rename him "Samad" and make him Bangladeshi. I know, that saddens me too, but we must make a hat tip to contrasting colors in these modern times. (Useless fact: When I took French in middle school, I picked "Jean-Paul" as my nickname specifically because of these books. Oh, the whims of the young.)

If we wanted to get real fancy, we could give the trio some super powers or something. But that might be taking it too far afield. I think we should keep it pretty old school and not remix too much. Overall, what do you think? Would you read a post-apocalyptic adventure story featuring mysterious tentacle-y overlords, anachronistic artifacts, and the enslavement of the human race?

Oh wait, you've read four of those in the past year already? Well then...

15 May 2012

Five Stars

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) The Return of the Novella, the Original #Longread. Everyone loves a comeback story. Also, I'm all for lower word counts.

(2) Ashley went to the San Diego stop for the YA or Bust Tour. And it was the best night ever! (Sadly I couldn't attend so I'm living vicariously.)

(3) Why I'm Nervous About a Film Adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars. From the always thought provoking s.e. smith.

(4) No Sympathy for the Creative Class. Wait, there's a pampered class of artists in the US? Where are these people? How do I get in?

(5) End of Gender: Not Your Mother's Storybooks. A look at children's books for kids who don't conform to their gender. And also, Lee Wind's blog I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? is top quality.

09 May 2012

You Can Fly, You Can Fly

A few weeks ago I went to go watch a family friend in San Diego Junior Theater's Peter Pan. She's still in high school but does "professional music theater," which means she's balancing academics, practices and performances, along with the usual growing up stuff like hanging out with friends and having fun. I asked her what her daily schedule was like and then I promptly fainted from exhaustion just hearing about it.

Disney is producing this pilot production of Peter Pan and when it's finished, they'll be selling it to other theaters and schools around the country to use. I had no idea that this was as thing, as I figured that high school musicals just, well, happened. I'd love to know what they charge for this kind of thing. No wonder everyone does the same few plays over and over.

San Diego's Junior Theater is like an all star cast of under-eighteen talent. Even though I was expecting some good performances -- my friend herself is an amazing singer -- I didn't realize that this production would be so professional. I mean, the sets and costumes were so serious. When they pulled out Captain Hook's boat, the crowd practically gave it a standing ovation because it was so impressive looking.

The script was really clever too. They did a nice job of having lots of "wink wink" moments for the audience; sidestepping the possibly racist portrayal of the Native American characters; and turned Peter Pan into more of a naughty nuisance -- who was slightly chauvinistic -- which gave Wendy and Tinkerbell room to shine. The script even had some hilarious throwaway references to Shakespeare and Sondheim.

I couldn't get over the fact that some of these kids were like eight years old. How do they get them to dance together? How are they all hitting their marks? I've seen/suffered through some performances from kids and it pretty much amounts to little blobs of energy bouncing around on a stage while everyone oohs and awws. This was no such thing. These "kids" were extremely talented and the show was so excellent. Next month I'm returning for their production of Footloose!

Oh if only I could act, sing, or dance, my life could have been so different. The height of my theater experience was playing Woodstock in a Christian Youth Theater production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." I had basically just moved to America. It was a non-speaking part. The next season I got two minor roles in Pinocchio -- street sweeper and donkey boy -- with again, no speaking roles. But oh how proud I was of having two parts. Near the end of the play I'd have to rush backstage to get into the street sweeper costume, so George and I could match for the rousing finale.

What I enjoyed most about the experience was the after parties of the cast. Ice cream, energy, everyone happy from having accomplished something together. Oh teamwork, it gets me every time!

And if you're looking for some YA books about performers and theaters, may I recommend Lisa Mantchev's Theatre Illuminata series (Eyes Like Stars, Perchance to Dream, the soon to be released So Silver Bright) and Lauren Bjorkman's super hilarious My Invented Life? You'll love'em, promise.

08 May 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 4

  • I Hunt Killers, Barry Lyga
  • The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  • The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy
  • Old Man's War, John Scalzi
  • The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Aimee Bender
  • Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman
  • Lockout, Stephen St. Leger
  • Love in the Buff, Ho-Cheung Pang
  • Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  • The Raven, James McTeigue

A banner month as April contained virtually no missteps on the movie or book front! That's pretty rare right? Well, unless you count Lockout, which was only a filler film because I was movie hopping. I need more Guy Pearce as sarcastic anti-hero but the rest of the movie was horrible. Let's start with Love in the Buff, which was the reason I sat through three movies that day anyway.

I've seen my share of Chinese movies but they tend to be of the John Woo action variety or the Wong Kar-Wai stuff. Love in the Buff is a romantic comedy set in Hong Kong and Beijing and because it's not American, the beats are different. American romcoms haven't changed much in the past decade, so to get my fix, I may now have to turn to Asia.

Seeing as it's Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, let me just say that watching a movie with young-ish urban Chinese folk, wearing their bold rimmed glasses and drawing their fashion cues not from Williamsburg but from their own influences, was an eye-opening experience. The looks ultimately aren't that different but seeing a city full of young urban Asian people without knowing immediately what their fashion stereotype is was refreshing.

The last time I set foot in Asia was ten years ago, and I have no idea what the modern young population does there. After watching Love in the Buff, I kind of want to visit and find out. Note: This is a sequel to Love in the Puff, which has the two main characters meeting at an outdoor smoking area and falling in love. What's not to like?

On the books front, I finally got the chance to toss down The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, which I'd been saving for a rainy day. I'm a little tired of the multi-generational, interlinking stories type of book but Junot Diaz's novel is a must read. Big bonus for all his geeky comic book references. I mean, literature that incorporates Uatu the Watcher? I'm in.

At the end of the day, I thought Brief Wonderous Life was our generation's One Hundred Years of Solitude and I'll likely return to it at some point. Although I think I'd recommend his short story debut, Drown, first. Also, if you're looking to get a sense of Diaz's style, his short, "Miss Lora", was recently in this month's New Yorker.

And speaking of highly recommended shorts, Aimee Bender's The Girl in the Flammable Skirt -- which is not about Katniss -- was so great. I loved Bender's clean writing and the impactful nuance of her stories. It's been years since I've fallen so in love with a short story collection. This rejuvenated me. I had picked up The Girl in the Flammable Skirt thinking of another "Aimee" author, but I'm glad the mistake happened. Now I'm gonna get into Bender's latest, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which is just one of those long evocative titles I love.

Last up, Damsels in Distress
starring Greta Gerwig. I think you have to officially put "indie darling" when you talk about Gerwig but it's fully deserved. Anything Gerwig is in I'll watch, even the (mostly) disappointing Greenberg. If you didn't know, Gerwig starred in mumblecore-y movies like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends and is now slowly making her way through still quirky yet more mainstream projects.

I was very impressed with writer/director Whit Stillman's script and can't believe I'd never heard about him. Movies with sour dialogue and dour worldviews are right up my alley and Damsels in Distress was a near perfect example of the form -- although I can see a lot of people not enjoying it. If you watch one of Stillman's films and love it, please befriend me so I can be less alone. Bonus: Analeigh Tipton, another high riser in my "who to watch" ranking, co-stars in Damsels.

May is the start of summer blockbuster season so my indie diet may have to take a back seat to special effects and superheroes. Fire up the popcorn please!