Thursday, February 25, 2010

Okay But Seriously My New Commute is Notorious

As many of you know, I'm moving out of my apartment this week and I couldn't be more thrilled!! I love the townhome, I love having a garage and more space, I love the neighborhood, I love the park outside, I love the mountain view and I love the bike trails.

The only drawback is that now I'll have a real commute.

And not just any commute.

"The worst freeway in the country" commute.

Okay, sure. Everyone thinks theirs is the worst.

But check this out. L.A. made the list four times, and guess which one is mine?

I work slightly off-peak hours (11-7) and won't experience the 405 at its most insane (HOPEFULLY), so that's cool. Once I get my new library card I'll pick up a bunch of books on CD and try to make the most of it. Wish me luck...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Area Code Angst

I'm moving this week (woo hoo) so as of March 1st I'll have a 661 home area code.

This is very strange.

In Los Angeles, as in many cities, your area code is part of your identity. Here's how it breaks down in SoCal:

323 = Miracle Mile, Hollywood, West Hollywood, some of Los Feliz and Silverlake (aka the middle of the city, a cool place to be, or maybe I just tell myself that because up until recently that was my area code)

310 = Beverly Hills, Westwood, Brentwood, UCLA, West L.A., the Beach (an interesting mixture of college students, moguls, famous people, and/or beachies)

818 = The Valley aka The Other Side of the Hill (Burbank, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, the urban sprawl, and Van Nuys, which is known for both the adult entertainment industry and, ironically, a place to raise a family)

213 = Downtown, slightly grittier, what 323 was before it was 323

But what the heck is 661? The suburbs? Time to face facts: my 20s are over. At least my cell phone remains 323.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nobody Does it Better

Hollywood Reporter had a little ditty about Roger Corman, "the B-movie king," and his crazy hybrid science fiction movies like the forthcoming Dinoshark and Sharktopus!

Oh TV and film industry, have you no shame? I thought.

But of course the book world is not immune to silly hybrids. Just look at the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the latest fare from Ben H. Winters: "Android Karenina."

These are hilarious, but I'm going to go into Old Woman Grumpus mode here for a second and hope that people are also reading the originals.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pros to the Apocalypse

I'm reading Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer and I feel like there are some upsides to the end of the world.

Little to no access to Internet and cable, everyone has to write letters, the family all works together on old-timey tasks like cooking and gathering wood and using oil lamps, they use an honor system at the library and books are considered precious, and the kids meet at the pond to go swimming, start tragic romances and get the latest gossip.

I don't really need to talk about the downsides, do I?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jury Duty, Part 5: The Jurying

I don't even know what that means. It just screamed out for a sequel title.

Well, it's taken me nearly two weeks to summarize three days, but in my defense I've been renovating a townhome (okay, my husband's doing most of it, but I give opinions), driving back and forth to Palm Springs to visit my parents, working a day job, working on novel revisions, and battling a stomach bug. So there. Wow, I sound defensive. I don't mean it, Internet. I'm just a teeny bit cranky from stress but I really had intended to write this update sooner.

So anyway, after the first witness (the Plaintiff himself) was called back to the stand on the morning of the third day, the lawyers made their closing arguments. Throughout the first day I kept thinking, "This is AMAZING," because being part of the jury felt like a cross between a kind of live theater in which the audience chooses the outcome, and some David E. Kelley show. And then I'd try to be less giddy because there were some important issues at stake.

In fact, that was one of the most heartening things about serving, and the jury process in general. EVERYONE CARED. No matter how much the jurors griped about being called in, or pumped their fists and hissed "Yessss!" when they thought they were being dismissed, once the trial began, we all took it very, very seriously. We wanted to do right by both parties, and I believe we did.

Just before deliberations, the Judge had to select an alternate from the 13 jurors. (Oddly, instead of picking one juror from a hat, he picked 12 jurors one by one, and then figured out who was left. I feel there was a missed opportunity for swiftness here.)

I was convinced I'd be the alternate, because why not, and then I wouldn't get a chance to affect the verdict (alternates must stay, but aren't allowed to voice any thoughts). This went on for about 11 hat pickings, and then I was called and some other guy was declared the alternate. He didn't seem that mad; I would have been disappointed -- and perhaps relieved that I wouldn't have to literally pass judgment on anyone, because that is a bit nerve-wracking.

We were told to use our notes, our memories, and our knowledge of the law -- which the Judge explained to us and handed out, regarding tenants and evictions -- to reach a conclusion.  9 out of 12 jurors were required to agree on a point before it would pass. The Plaintiff had to prove every single point in order to win, but we found that he'd only proven about 70%. For example, we found that the tenant did in fact fail to pay rent when it was due per the rental agreement, but that his attempts to pay before the  "Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit" deadline (midnight on the third day) were unfairly refused, likely because the Plaintiff wanted to renovate the building and sell it. 

The Defendant was told at 5 pm that he was too late to pay, which under California law is not true; however, the Plaintiff's Three-Day Notice was also legal, in that it told the Defendant where and when and between what hours the rent should be paid. Tricky! 

The deliberations room had two bathrooms, a long table with chairs, and a bowl of Halloween (??) candy laid out. We reached our verdict in favor of Defendant one minute before the mandatory lunch period, had to leave for an hour and a half, came back, re-reached the verdict, and handed it over to the court assistant. It was a bittersweet victory, considering the only thing the Defendant won was the chance to keep living in a cockroach, chinches and mouse-filled apartment.

While the lawyers and both parties were called back in, we had some time to kill, and vented like crazy about certain witnesses, which was awesome after being forced to keep our thoughts to ourselves for so long.

Back in the courtroom, this is how cool the Judge was. He made a point of acknowledging the alternate juror by quoting John Milton's poem, "On His Blindness":

"They also serve, who only stand and wait."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jury Duty, Part 4 (interlude)

As I mentioned in my last post, jurors get free admission to MOCA, so several of us went during lunch on the second day of trial. There were some fabulous photo exhibits, as well as paintings by modern masters like Jason Pollock and Andy Warhol. It was one of the nicest lunches I've spent since moving here ten years ago!

One of the Warhol quotes on the wall stood out for me, so I copied it down. He's talking about his art of course, but he could be talking about writing; how when you're immersed in a piece you've entered an entirely different place, that's just as real as your own life.

At least, that's how I feel.

"Everybody has their own America, and then they have pieces of a fantasy America, that they think is out there but they can't see... But you can only live in one place at a time. You live your dream America that you've custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one, too." -- Andy Warhol

(I promise to provide the real jury conclusion next time. Sorry for the bait and switch; just ran outta time this morning.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jury Duty, Part 3

Wow, when will it end? Not for awhile, honestly. Blogging about jury duty takes longer than actual jury duty, I warn you now. So where were we?

Oh yes. 

The twists, there are several! I was pretty certain at the start of the case that I would end up siding with the plaintiff. I figured, if someone's given a Three-Day Notice to quit or pay, and they don't pay, they should probably quit. 

But what if the Three-Day notice is handed to a kid? And the mom doesn't see it for a day or two afterwards?

And what if an attempt to pay is made within the proper time-frame, but is refused? 

And what if a money-order is sent by mail to an incorrect name or address, but doesn't get sent back until 14 days later (complete with a lawsuit), before the family even knows the rent was never received? What if the envelope has three different types of handwriting on it, for unexplained reasons?

And what if the owner has supposedly been paying other tenants to leave, so that now only 4 out of 10 units are occupied in the building, because he'd rather evict everyone, renovate, and sell the place?

And what if the defendant/tenant has been paying the gas bill this whole time, when the owner's supposed to be paying it (this is particularly relevant in a rent-controlled building, where the allowed percentage of rent raised on an annual basis is contingent on payment of utilities)?


Also, keep in mind that several of the witnesses for the defense don't speak English, so we're treated to an interpreter's, er, interpretation of emotions displayed on the stand. The harried interpreter was pretty deadpan, which made for some strange disconnects.

One witness, who was sort of a drama king and apparently hadn't been asked by EITHER side to testify, decided to show up anyway and asserted that his apartment, located directly above the defendant's, was filled with "chinches." 

We soon learned through the translation that "chinches" means "bedbugs." (How freaking specialized of a translator do you have to be to know the term "bedbugs" in multiple languages??)

Also, all of the above critters made it to court in plastic bags/rat traps as exhibits for evidence. It was gross.

The second day of the trial was pretty cool because MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown L.A., lets jurors in for free. Most of wandered over there during our lunch hour-and-a-half, and the deli there was terrific, too.

Here is a (cellphone) picture of the museum at lunch, followed by the Disney Concert Hall, which was where jurors parked for the day. 

Next time: Closing statements, deliberations, and a verdict...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jury Duty, Part 2

After being called to panel, which is where they winnow a group of 30 down to 13 (12 jurors plus one alternate in case anyone calls in sick), we're assigned numbers and seated in the jury box and courtroom seats. We meet the Judge, the lawyers for the Plaintiff and the Defendant, and answer a series of questions about our livelihoods, whether or not we know any cops or lawyers, and whether serving would pose a serious financial hardship to us. My family is lousy with lawyers (UM IN A GOOD WAY) so I'm usually dismissed. Twice I've made it to panel only to have the case settle during a break and no longer require a trial.

Usually this portion of the day is kind of interesting, especially in L.A. My panel has a couple writers, a production assistant, a sound editor, an actress, a musician, and a grip. 60-65% of the people in the room speak with an accent and may or may not understand English very well, which, yeah, makes me a bit nervous.

Sometimes you find out things you don't feel right knowing, like how the guy who drives a paint truck lives paycheck to paycheck and won't be able to pay his rent if he's placed on a jury for even three days, or how the student who's on academic probation can't miss any more classes or she'll be kicked out of school. I felt uncomfortable listening to people being forced to explain their personal situations to a room full of strangers.

Anyway, after playing Getting to Know You, we hear a few tidbits about the case. Basically, the Plaintiff is trying to evict the Defendant for not paying rent. That's all they tell us for now, because now we've come to point where they have to find out if any of us are crazy.

Remember that episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon is called back to Chicago to serve on a jury, so she shows up in a Princess Leia uniform? 


Some people reeeeeeeallllly don't want to serve, so they pretend to be crazy. And some people actually are crazy. For example, at my panel, we were asked, "Do any of you just hate landlords?" and this one woman raised her hand and launched into a story about how her landlord broke into her apartment in the middle of the night, and how it's not fair for any of them to demand rent from people in this economic climate because "times is tough." Questioned gently by the Plaintiff's lawyer, she asserted that no one should ever be kicked out of their apartment for not paying rent, not even after 6-8 months. She might have said a year; I'm not sure, I was too busy trying to lift my jaw off the floor.

She was dismissed first.

Other people on my panel: a guy who looks like Finn from Glee, a girl who looks like a brunette Amy Smart, a guy who resembles the band director from The Simpsons, some white people, some black people, some Eastern European people, some Hispanic people, etc.

And suddenly there's only 13 of us left, and the trial starts. I cannot overstate how jarring this was. I've been coming to the courthouse nearly every year for 10 years, and it's always mind-numblingly slow moving, but then once you're selected, BAM!! All of a sudden everything moves fast-fast-fast. We're given notebooks and pens, the opening statements begin, and the first witness is called to the stand, all before we can catch our breath and actually comprehend that we are NOW SERVING ON A JURY where PEOPLE'S ACTUAL LIVES WILL BE AFFECTED, and I'm thinking, Is this really happening?

Next Time: Yes, it's really happening, and the case has at least three major twists I don't see coming.

Also: I learn the definition of "chinches."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jury Duty, Part 1

The trial's over so now I can talk about it (and "sell my story to People" --  the judge's  words). I served for three days and I'm dying to share. First of all, the judge was awesome. During panel (which is when the jury is selected from a pool of 30 or so random people), he quoted from To Kill a Mockingbird. I know, right? It was beyond cool. At the end he quoted from Milton, but I'll get to that later. He was kick ass.

For those who don't know, this is how the jury process works in California. It's probably similar in most states. I get summoned every year like clockwork. In the early 2000s this meant you had to go downtown to the Superior Courthouse on Hill Street, Temple Street or Grand for three days and basically sit in the jury assembly room until you were selected for a trial. It's slow and tedious and sometimes you look at the people around you, many of whom are coughing, snorting, mumbling, or SLEEPING, and you think, "God help me if I'm sued, if these are my peers." Other times you meet cool people and share a laugh. Some are dressed in business attire, some are in sweatpants. Sometimes they play a cheesy inspirational video with American flags waving and B-list actors extolling the virtues of civic duty. Sometimes there are catalogs to read, or a TV playing annoying talk shows in the back.

There are a million roll calls and instructions on how to fill out your summons (which actually you're supposed to have done long before you arrive, and it's not difficult to do, but somehow this takes an hour). There are more roll calls. People who've scurried off to the bathroom return to a room of anger. People who are too quiet have to repeat "Here" several times, until the people around them take up the cause and scream it. There are 15 minute breaks every hour and a half, and then an actual hour and a half for lunch, from noon to 1:30. The day is over at 4:30 or 5.

Eventually your name is called or it's not. If it's not, you go home for the day and report back tomorrow. Repeat, repeat. If your name is never called, and the three days are up, you have served and you get a slip stating this so you can give it to your employer and prove you were weren't at the movies all day.

Luckily, they've changed that system to a call-in version, so now you're on call for a week. You ring up the Serve Jury line every evening from Sunday to Thursday to find out if you need to report the next morning. Get this: I was not needed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. On the last day I call in, expecting it to be over, and suddenly things are moving -- and I've been assigned to a different courthouse! I was supposed to be summoned to Hollywood, but now they need me in downtown L.A. on Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. The automated phone message rapidly spits out the new address, how to get there, where to park, what to bring, etc, and my mind is reeling from the fact that I actually have to go in. I frantically jot everything down, cursing the fact that I was SO CLOSE to getting out of it for another year.

Friday morning I get up at 6 (which is the equivalent of 3 a.m. to me), out the door by 6:30, and it's raining but I've left my umbrella in the car, and I get there on time but the doors are locked, and we go through security and sit down in the assembly room. Same old, same old, except this time the woman in charge has a sense of humor and we're all sort of punch drunk laughing with her and her dry wit. 

A 30-day trial is announced. Gasps of horror. We are reminded that "I don't want to" is not a valid reason to be excused. I'm not called.

A 16-day trial is announced. Gasps of horror, but not as many, as the room is now half full. I'm not called.

A 3-day trial is announced. A few grumbles, although I don't know why; it's better than the alternatives. I'm called.

I am Juror Number Six.


Tomorrow: Panel, and the crazy woman who doesn't think tenants should be penalized if they haven't paid rent in 6-8 months.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

1, 2, 3 Great Links

I'm amazed by the amount of information available online for authors and aspiring authors. This fact really hit home for me this week, so I'd like to share three of my favorite writing-related blog posts from the past few days:

1. Kristin Nelson at Pub Rants (my agency) shares concrete reasons why prologues don't usually work

2. Megan Rebekah posts very detailed and helpful insider info from the recent SCBWI conference she attended in New York

3. Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC reveals why the real mark of a professional writer can be found in her ability to revise

P.S. I've got jury duty at (gasp) 7:30 a.m. tomorrow, so if you don't hear from me for a week, that means I got a juicy case. Or a prolonged traffic violation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Trouble With Vintage Magic Posters

My husband and I would really like to decorate part of our new place with vintage magic posters, sort of like the ones seen in the gorgeous Taschen coffee table book, "Magic 1400s to 1950s."

The problem is, many of the promo sheets from a hundred or two hundred years ago feature demons or devils whispering in the magician's ear. Ideally we'd like a wall-spanning image of Carter or Thurston. Nothing says, "Welcome to our home!" like a 9 foot tall demon with gleaming eyes.

(I guess the search continues...)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In the Meantime Inbetween Time

I'm in limbo at the moment. Just finished some revisions on a previous novel, but I'm not quite ready to look at my newest novel (I like to take 6-8 weeks off after completing a first draft before diving in again, so I can hopefully see it more objectively).

My husband and I bought a townhome, but we can't move until we re-carpet, re-paint and pack up.

I just got a major hair cut (perhaps a teeeeensy bit too short) so I'm waiting for it to grow out a bit. (Yes, it's actually shorter than the photo above and to the right. I had it braid-able length for a while, and just chopped it off again.)

Can't believe it's already February. I'm between actions, poised and ready, with nowhere to go just yet.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Yet Another Pic of My Soon-to-be-ex-neighborhood

It took me a while (an embarrassingly long time, actually) to figure out these lamps were an art installation and not a drop-off holding location for the city's non-existent street lamps prior to distribution. I loved them then, and I love them now. They're especially lovely at night; glowing orbs in the distance.


(click to enlarge)
Copyright Joe Skilton