Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Hope everyone's enjoying the holiday season. I finished reading my 100th book of the year on Monday night, realized I'd counted wrong and it was only the 99th, screamed, and grabbed another one for Tuesday. Figured it was time to post my "year in numbers" before 2009 ran out.


Books Read = 100 (I swear this time)

Specifically, 13 non-fiction, 4 graphic novels, and 73 fiction. I also read several friends' manuscripts, which are excellent novels-to-be, so you can add a few more to my fiction count if you're feeling generous :)

Scripts Read = 317

Freelance Articles
Written = 9

Hats Knitted = 3

This year I also celebrated 5 years of marriage, signed with a lit agent, revised a novel, adapted an old screenplay into a novel (failed experiment), and wrote the rough draft of a brand-new novel. Whew!

Goals for 2010 include fixing up the new novel, writing a NEW new novel, moving to Santa Clarita, and getting a bicycle and using it as my main method of transportation (keep in mind I live in L.A. so this goal is actually insane... but I think it's good to have at least one insane goal per year).

Happy champagne clinks, and see you next year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I (heart) Local Television

From 4:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Christmas Day, KCAL 9 and KTLA (channel five in SoCal) will air the yule log! Yes, they really still do this! For those who don't know, the yule log is literally an image of a log in a fireplace, crackling along all warm and inviting, with Christmas music or, for some unexplained reason, classic rock on in the background.

It warms my heart that this will be airing on television for 5 and a half hours on two fairly major stations!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Black List 2009

Each December in Hollywood, a list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year, as decided by studio executives and producers, gets passed around for a chance to shine.

In the past, many of the scripts were "small" concepts or "too weird/indie" to guarantee major box office, despite attaching name stars, so their inclusion on the list prompted interest in up-and-coming writers (like Diablo Cody at the time) and buzz about the power of the story on the page.

More recently, however, heavy-hitters like Aaron Sorkin are being highlighted. In my opinion, this kind of defeats the purpose of the Black List. I love Aaron Sorkin's work, but it's not like he's struggling to get produced. His script for "The Social Network" (about Facebook) may be technically unproduced as of this second, but it's being filmed (with Justin Timberlake) and will be released next year.

For more on the correlation between the Black List and eventual box office performance, check out this great article from the L.A. Times.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Today we feast all day at my office in an epic pot luck. So far I've had fruit salad, chips and homemade guac, some vegetables, pita and hummus. Each year we decide on a "base" food, like Italian, Chinese Take-Out or Indian food. This year it's Greek (with grape leave things, more hummus, and various lamb and vegetable skewers), plus everyone brings completely random salads, appetizers, drinks* and of course insane amounts of dessert** -- cookies, brownies, pie, cake, chocolates.

We try to pace ourselves by wandering into the main buffet room every half-hour or so from our desks, but it's basically a never ending circle of filling up, grabbing a new plate, going back for fourths, and gathering leftovers.

Lots of publishing offices close today until 2010. If you've ever wondered how many queries a literary agency receives in a year, how many fulls they request, and how many books they sell, etc., definitely check out Pub Rants' end-of-year stats.

I'll be back to post my own end-of-year stats (how many books I read, things like that) next week.

Have a great weekend!

*Okay, wow, edited to add: there apparently exists such a thing as Greek lasagna, and it is tasty. Also on tap right now: cornbread souffle, yellow rice, olive spread for bread, mashed potatoes and fried chicken(??)...

** Last edit, I promise. The desserts have been unveiled, and they include homemade Viennese and lemon/blueberry cheesecakes, a yuletide log cake, persimmons cake, hot apple cider (being ladled in the kitchen!), dark chocolate brownies, vanilla ice cream, cobbler, mini-cupcakes and, well, that's when I went into a food coma.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas in Beverly Hills

In Los Angeles, "good" neighborhoods are stacked right next to "bad" neighborhoods, sometimes even within the same block, which is how the likes of me ended up living 10 minutes from Beverly Hills. :)

No snow for Christmas of course, but on clear days after it rains, you can see snow-tops on mountains in the distance, and I've grown rather fond of the juxtaposition of holiday lights and palm trees.

Hope you enjoy my wee photos, taken last Saturday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Are We Really Doing This?

The latest fashion trends have me giggling a bit and I assume they aren't only being followed in L.A. Everywhere I go I see oversized belted sweaters with leggings or skinny jeans, tall but flat-heeled boots, and the occasional cape-like jacket or cardigan trailing along... where have I seen this before?

It's The '80s Meets Superhero style. I love it! The '80s need no introduction. The boots and tights, however, remind me of my Halloween costume senior year of high school (I went as Kitty Pryde, long before any of the X-men movies came out). I wore tights, long, flat rubber boots, and a leotard type thing, though I didn't wear a cape. Most people thought I was a Power Ranger.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go knit some leg-warmers. (I'm totally serious.)

These things are cyclical, right? Please let flannel come back in 2020 because '90s grunge was super comfy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Belated but Heartfelt

I'm probably the last one on the bus for this, but Friday was Agent Appreciation Day, and I want to chime in with props to my agent Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary.

She's awesome!! To specify, she's joyfully enthusiastic and determined, well-read and knowledgeable about all aspects of publishing, gives excellent notes that make you go, "That should have been there all along!", and is one of the most generous people you'll ever meet. I feel lucky to have signed with an agent who "gets" me and believes in me, and I'm very excited for our prospects in 2010.

Bonus: Tonight, Sara's husband is competing in NBC's new reality music show, The Sing-Off.

Check it out!

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Quotes (Less Sad)

So my husband and I are in the process of signing paperwork for a condo, and it's very exciting but also a bit stressful. Our eyes were glazing over last night looking at all the fine print when we came across a question that sent us into hysterics:

Has anything "stigmatized" the Subject Property such as...allegations that the Subject Property is "haunted"?

I can't believe this is a real thing they have to ask! And what if the seller had circled YES?

Also, I get why "haunted" is in quotes, but why is "stigmatized"?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Finished "The Plague" And It Was Worth It

As evidence, I include my three favorite passages now (BOOK REPORT!!), which reflect the new normalcy for the occupants of a quarantined town:

"In this respect they had adapted themselves to the very condition of the plague, all the more potent for its mediocrity... Naturally they retained the attitudes of sadness and suffering, but they had ceased to feel their sting. Indeed, to some, Dr. Rieux among them, that precisely was the most disheartening thing: that the habit of despair is worse than despair itself." (p. 181)

"So the only thing for us to do was to go on waiting, and since after a too long waiting one gives up waiting, the whole town lived as if it had no future." (p. 258)

" hard it must be to live only with what one knows and what one remembers, cut off from what one hopes for!"(p. 292)

In contrast I only recall one line from "The Stranger," but I still contend that "The Stranger" was an easier, at times more engaging, read. (Hmm probably because it was also 1/3 the size.) Here's the line I remember:

"It was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness."

Wow, I certainly picked downer quotes. I guess the sad ones stick with me more, or I find more value in them, kind of like how most people tend to remember sad moments more vividly than happy ones, since during happy moments we're busy being happy.

Anyway, I'm glad I powered through this one.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Recommended Read: "Conflict, Action & Suspense"

I'm the kind of person who reads Strunk & White and Write Right for fun. (Also because I'm paranoid that I break grammar laws all the time, and I want to make sure I'm breaking them, er, properly.)

This week, as I sprint toward the finish line of my current project (goal is to finish the rough draft by December 31st), I decided to flip through William Noble's "Conflict, Action & Suspense." Even so-called quiet novels can benefit from the examples Noble uses, and I love that he refers to both classic and modern books, as well as film masters like Hitchcock, to make his points in a simple manner.

Pacing, tension, atmosphere, dialogue and transitions are covered, but at the moment, the section on "Endings" is particularly relevant to me. Noble warns that once the conflict ends, the story is over, so you've gotta be careful not to keep writing just to tie up every single loose end; instead, try to trust that your reader will extrapolate the smaller points and feel satisfied when the main conflict is resolved.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I spent a good portion of yesterday actively avoiding reading "The Plague" by Albert Camus. I cleaned. I washed clothes. I went grocery shopping.

The version I have refers to it as "A Perfect Achievement" on the cover, courtesy of the New Republic, but it's taken me over a week to read 126 pages (barely half the book), which is so unlike me. 

Why do I do this to myself? I'll be at the library with a perfectly healthy stack of books in my arms, ready to check them out, when I feel a sudden burst of inadequacy and think, "I should've read more classics by now." It's not that I didn't read any classics in high school or college, but I get frustrated whenever I see a title that's part of literary canon but unfamiliar to me.

The Plague is a perfect candidate for NaNoGitMo. I loved The Stranger, so why am I struggling so much with this one?

The other problem is that it's gumming up the works; I wanted to read 100 books this year, but at the moment I'm stalled out at 91, and time is running out. PLAAAAAAGUE!!!!

P.S. I've made the image of the book cover extra large so that you, too, can feel the oppression.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shall We Play A Little Game? reports on a mini-earthquake in Newhall, Santa Clarita, which is pretty much the area I'm hoping to move to. Yikes! To be fair, there isn't anyplace that's truly disaster-free in California.

Let's see if you can match the region to its life-threatening scenario.

1. Mudslides
2. Earthquakes
3. Fires
4. Traffic-clogging Awards Ceremonies
5. Smog

A) Hollywood
B) Malibu
C) Northridge
D) The Valley
E) Malibu (yep, it "wins" twice)

Luckily we also have miles of beaches, bike trails, mountains, restaurants, awesome movie theaters and outdoor shopping centers to prevent us from reflecting too often on the darker possibilities. But I'm ready for the suburbs, baby.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's Better If You're Not! (A Wee Rant)

Ahh, direct mail marketing. I got this lovely missive in the mail a few months ago and it filled me with rage. And yet, ten minutes later, I was still reading, oddly mesmerized by the outrageous promises of effortless wealth.

Here's the line that finally broke me out of my stupor:

"You don't have to be a good writer to be successful... in fact, it's better if you're not!"

Yep. Anyone can make six figures writing letters. Especially if you're... bad at it (?) Wha--???

Corporate writing and sales letters can be a fantastic source of income, and I totally respect people who do that for a living, or as occasional freelance work. I worked for Indymac Bank for a few years, writing corporate articles for their intranet. It's just when people claim that it's easy, or that it requires no training, that cheeses my crackers (a phrase I HAVE NEVER BEFORE USED IN MY LIFE).

Writing is an art and a skill just like anything else, and it takes practice and time to do it well.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Two Oddities From Thanksgiving Weekend

1. Hunky Santa at the Bev Center on November 27th. Does any other city employ him, or is he one of those "only in L.A." phenomenons? I had foolishly scheduled a haircut on Black Friday at the mall, but luckily there was free parking and I was able to find a spot. I vaguely remember Hunky Santas of yesteryear sitting around exuding hotness from a central location by the bar/restaurant, but this year, he's like a Cirque du Soleil dancer, climbing up and down red and green silk ropes and hanging there for all to gape at, flanked by the Candy Cane girls, whatever they are. Who is his audience? Women? Gay men? WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? WHO WILL SPEAK FOR THEM?

2. Batter Blaster. The Ralph's grocery store near my apartment recently remodeled, and the sampler people were out in force on Saturday. I tried Greek yogurt, French bread with dipping sauce, Rome apples and a truly appalling product called Batter Blaster, which is basically a can of Redi-whip, except when you shake it up and press the nozzle, it squirts out PANCAKE BATTER. The sampler person had a hot stovetop at the ready, and insisted I make two and taste them.

Disturbingly, they were delicious.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gratitude Time

At dinner tonight, Amy and I got to thinking about how much has happened to us, writing-wise, since this time last year. Although we sometimes forget, it's been a pretty amazing past 12 months. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here's what I'm most thankful for in my writing life, 2009:

1. The support and encouragement of my husband, family, and friends, who believe in me even when I'm completely insane (Joe gets the brunt of my insomnia and paranoia)

2. Signing with an amazing lit agent

3. Meeting Amy this spring (seriously, how did I function before?! And why are we THE SAME?), and all the great people in the Skylight book club

4. My writing buddies Heidi (KEEP TYPING 4-EVAH!), Kirsty, Amy, and Kristen, who are all talented and so helpful with their generous, thorough and constructive feedback

5. and getting to chat books and see reviews from Jen and Laura and Mallory and Stepf, and swapping books with my Stitch 'n' Bitch pals

6. A day job that allows me time to write in the mornings

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This would normally be a "Mad Men" episode post...

...but who knows when the new season will start? It's only been a few weeks since the third season finale, and I'm already showing signs of withdrawal (plus Lost doesn't start until February 2nd).

As a public service for those who are similarly afflicted, I've compiled my favorite recent(ish) articles and websites about Mad Men:

Mad Men Footnotes (Oh yes, I see me wasting many hours here looking at vintage ads and newsreels)

Vanity Fair Sept. 2009 Feature (many pretty pics)

Daily Beast Interview with series creator Matthew Weiner (discusses the finale in depth)

Politics Daily (humorous wrap-up of the women of Mad Men, and where we left them at the end of this season)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twilight Moonies

I can't resist sharing Variety's headline for this weekend's box office: "Femmes 'Moon'-Struck."

I figured there'd be a pun about biting or werewolves: "Suck on This" or something. It never ceases to shock Hollywood that females attend movies. Producers around town seemed equally stunned by the success of Sex and the City last year, despite ridiculous amounts of pre-sale tickets. When it's women fueling the box office, it freaks everyone out ("WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? WE MUST ANALYZE") and somehow becomes news. You probably won't ever see a headline for Transformers mention men or boys, though.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dialogue Throwdown: "Clever" vs Realistic

Our gym TV automatically close captions whatever show you're watching. There's no remote control, and no way to turn this function off (the buttons on the TV consist of volume up/down, channel up/down, and power). It's fun to watch America's Next Top Model this way, and see how people really talk (I don't include "smizing," and "Ty-overs"), laid out for you on the screen.

People are repetitive, nonsensical, and prone to "um, like, totally" when they speak (I'm especially bad with "like"). If I transferred what people actually say into a book, it would be both annoying and boring, albeit with occasional sparks of brilliance. So then here is the dilemma: is it better to be realistic or clever with one's dialogue in a novel? Is it possible to be both?

"Cleverness" is subjective, of course, and can run the risk of pulling readers out of a story, if they're distracted by the thought "No one really talks like that." I love the dialogue in old Bogart movies, particularly "In a Lonely Place," and "Casablanca." But I also love when dialogue rings so true it hurts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stuck in the Middle With You

A few days ago, my agency mate Natalie had a great discussion on her blog about how the middle of a book is often the toughest part to write.

For me the problem is that I know what's going to happen (um, presumably), and I sometimes forget that the reader doesn't. So while the late-middle may feel to me like I'm dragging things out along the only possible path, I have to make sure that path isn't obvious to anyone else; for the reader, it should feel like the story could go in any direction.

Even if you're not writing a mystery, you're still working backwards from a set conclusion, opening doorways for characters to peek through en route to their predestination. It's my job to make sure the ending is both surprising and inevitable.

But when I'm in the middle, argh, that seems like a daunting challenge indeed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I wish I could say I'd knitted these, but...

...that would be a dirty lie. They're just an example of the latest in Tendonitis Chic.

In my defense, I did knit myself some fingerless wrist and hand warmers a few years ago, off a pattern I created myself (I did measurements and everything! Which I never do!), but they're kind of falling apart, and I needed something to wear at work when my limbs get cold. Keeping my hands warm for typing and mouse movements goes a long way toward preventing the symptoms of tendonitis. Wrist braces at night help, too.

But anyway, a co-worker recommended these beauties from Urban Outfitters and they work like a charm. Mine are in dark green and keep me toasty all day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Your Derby Name?

On Saturday I finally got to do something I've been meaning to do for years: attend a live roller derby bout at The Doll Factory. If you've seen Whip It (starring Ellen Page and directed by Drew Barrymore) you know what I'm talkin' about. Roller Derby is an all-women sport using old-fashioned (four-wheel, '70s style) skates and a banked track, and these chicks are fast and furious. It was so much fun seeing the sold-out crowd cheer on the Tough Cookies (one of L.A.'s teams) vs. The Swarm, who came up from San Diego with a fierce cadre of fans (I know because my friend and I inadvertently sat in their section. They were LOUD AND PROUD).

The announcers were hilarious, the refs were cute, the DJs were great and there was even a live band during half-time. Tough Cookies were last year's champs, and The Swarm were undefeated this year, so the bout was really close and I got hoarse screaming for my team. Best of all -- well, second best to the athletes -- were the names they'd chosen for themselves, names like "Slamurai," "Gori Spelling" (with jersey number 90210, natch), "Trish the Dish," "Laguna Beyatch," "Sarkastika," "Iron Maiven," "Bo Toxic," "Krissy Krash" etc.

We spent a lot of time coming up with new names. Here are some of our favorites:

Olivia Nuke 'Em John
Tawdry Hepburn (good one, Nick)
Kelly KaPOWski
Ann E. Maul (courtesy of the awesome Rochelle)

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Darlings, They Must Be Killed -- Or Must They?

It's often said about revisions that you should "kill your darlings," i.e., get rid of the scenes that you love but that don't actually help your narrative move along. Love is blind, after all, and sometimes the lines, descriptions or dialogue you most adore don't belong.

But what about when you're in the midst of writing a first draft? If I've written a sentence that I really like, I check to see if it's out of place, and if so, in what way (tone, style). If it's truly better than the material surrounding it, that's a problem. But instead of freaking out because I like something, and viewing it with suspicion for being "a darling," I'm going to try to lift the rest of the prose up to its level. That's the challenge I've set myself while heading into the third act of my current project.

And when it comes time to edit the sucker, I'll see if I was on the right track, or completely insane.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Novels vs Screenplays

Having originally moved to L.A. to pursue screenwriting (you're shocked, I know), my shift into magazine articles and novels was gradual but probably inevitable because (whispers) I love the written word.

It's not that I don't also love film and TV, but screenplays are a mere component of their creation. Screenplays are meant to be a blueprint, a jumping-off point for directors, producers, soundtrack teams, cinematographers, actors, and possibly entire teams of other writers to interpret and add to. Sometimes the results are brilliant; other times the original intent can get lost in translation.

With a novel, the writing is the final production, all rolled into one. You're created an entire world with all its components in place, all the marvelous, wide-open possibilities, special effects included, and handed them in tact to readers, from your brain to theirs, as if by magic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mad Men 3.13: Wow, the Draper Kids Are Going to Be Messed Up

You know it's bad when you kind of hope some domestic violence is gonna go down.

Betty forged ahead with her abrupt "I don't love you anymore" divorce plans, and while I think her anger would have been justified a year ago, or if she'd stumbled upon Don and Teacher sittin' in a tree, the timing for her to abandon ship now is just odd. Unless it's more to do with finding out that Don was a Poor.

The demise of the Draper marriage earns the finale 2.5 razor blades out of 5 on the Depressing Scale. If this seems low, let me explain. At first I was really bummed out by this plot, especially for the kids, who are literally stuck watching TV with their housekeeper over Christmas while their mom flies to Nevada for several weeks with her non-lover on a cockamamie scheme to establish residency there, but now I'm actually looking forward to Don being single -- and/or with someone who can challenge him intellectually, a la mistresses past. Does this make me evil?

The rest of the episode was pure, unfiltered awesome. Don, Roger Sterling (good to see them interacting again), Cooper, and Pryce (the British guy) full-on snuck out of the building over the weekend with all their supplies and clients to start their own firm!! And they brought Peggy, Pete, Harry and Joan with them!! Overload of extreme happiness!! It was a fantastic way to throw momentum into the fourth season, starting in approximately 17,000 years.

In the meantime, what other show(s) should I comment on? "Lost" starts in January, but how will I rate the episodes? 1-5 time machines? 1-5 flashbacks with characters who are dead? 1-5 imagined incomprehensibility for new viewers?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Double Link Day

My father-in-law just sent me a cool Washington Post article in which authors such as Anne Rice, Margaret Atwood, Junot Diaz and Kazuo Ishiguro ("Remains of the Day") discuss their writing methods.

I tend to view my pages at 120% size, so I especially liked reading that Anne Rice works in 14-point type and enlarges her documents so the words are everywhere, filling the screen.

Also, Mr. Ishiguro relates this hilarious / awful tale: "I showed my wife a segment that I had honed down and she said, 'This is awful. You have to figure out how they speak to each other. They're speaking in a moron language.'"

Amazon vs. Wal-Mart

The New Yorker has an informative, fascinating and slightly disturbing article on the price war between Amazon, which is selling certain bestseller books for $8.99, and Wal-Mart, which is selling the same titles for... wait for it... $8.98.

Why the penny difference? It's all about market share, and attempting to lure consumers into buying other products once they're at the store or website. But financial expert James Surowiecki explains it much better than I can. Enjoy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Good News for Heathcliff Fans

Meaning Heathcliff the plump orange tabby who was always in Garfield's shadow, of course. Is there another Heathcliff? ;) Variety reports that he's getting his own live action film! I still remember the lyrics to his theme song.

However, I personally loved Riff-Raff (above) and Cleo the most, so this news is bittersweet. They were the other cats on Heathcliff's half-hour cartoon show, the ones who would only show up at the very end and didn't actually exist in the comics.

For some reason they lived in a junkyard -- and yet Riff-Raff wore a beret and a scarf. Although looking at images of him now, I realize it was a baseball cap. Why did I think it was a beret? Why did I even know the word beret when I was in 3rd grade?

Also: how did Riff-Raff ever in a million years get slinky Cleo for a And why were they all ORANGE?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Recommended Read: "Freakonomics" by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

Bought this book for my dad a few years ago, but never got around to reading it myself. Now it's in paperback, so my husband picked it up at the airport. We've been trading it back and forth and reading the most surprising portions to each other out loud (we also did this with the last "Harry Potter," by the way. We are cheesy).

"Freakonomics" analyzes "the hidden side of everything," by challenging conventional wisdom and asking questions like "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" and "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?"

I'd like to pose a question of my own: What do magicians and writers have in common?

1. Use of misdirection, suspense, and metaphor
2. Incredulous looks at parties when you tell people what you do (just kidding; writers never go to parties)
3. Liver failure / cold pizza and coffee for breakfast

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Writing Schedule

One thing I, and most writers I know, never get tired of discussing is our writing schedule (or, in Variety speak, "Scribe Sked").*

I used to be a night writer, but for the past several years I've stuck mainly to mornings for creative output. The day's just begun and hasn't collected any baggage, my mind is fresh (or at least freshly caffeinated), and I have the computer all to myself from about 8:00 am to 10:00 am. As long as I don't connect to the evil, time-sucking internet, I can get about 500-1,000 words down -- although I'm likely to make small revisions to them the next day before starting anything new.

After a full day at work (11 am - 7 pm), the last thing I feel like doing is going back on the computer at home, but if I have an assignment due I will. I take Saturdays off completely to give my hands a rest, and do a bit of light revising and writing on Sundays. Rinse, repeat.

* When I first moved to L.A. and got a job in TV production, I spent several weeks learning the Variety lingo. Ahem. I still don't think I've grasped all the code words, but here are my favorite examples:

Mouse House = Disney
The Eye = CBS Network
The Lion = MGM Studios
Preem = Premiere
Helmer = Director
Boffo = Fantastic
B.O. = Box Office
Legit Theater = Broadway
Blighty = Britain (yes, they still use this! I saw it the other day!!)
Gotham = New York City (Holy hilarity, Batman)
Ten-Percenter = Agency
Kudocast = Awards Show

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mad Men 3.12: You Knew This Day Would Come

It was only a matter of time before the Kennedy Assassination would make an appearance, so it's probably no surprise that I found this to be the most depressing episode of Season Three. That's right, we've actually reached a rating of 5 out of 5 razor blades for the first time. I'm posting this from beyond the grave. (The finale is next week, but I'm confident it won't beat this one out. If it does, I'll... eat the stale ghost Peeps left over from Halloween.)

So. Yeah. The Kennedy Assassination. I wasn't alive in 1963, but it's such an iconic part of modern American history that watching the black and white news reels was enough to get me teary eyed. Add the Sterling Cooper gang's reactions, and Betty Draper's speech to Don that she no longer loves him (BUT WHAT ABOUT ITALY???), and there's really no way to finish this episode without feeling somehow small and demoralized. As troubled and lie-filled and screwed up the Drapers' marriage is, I don't want it to end. That would be wrong.

To contrast the tragedies, we got a few -- um, very few -- moments of levity. Pete was pouting over his hot chocolate and lamenting his perceived "firing," Roger Sterling's daughter went ahead with her wedding the day after Kennedy's death, and I was secretly pleased to see Sterling flirting with Joan on the phone while his too-young wife lay passed out next to him. He and Joanie were good together.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Scary Movies

In today's issue of CS Weekly, we recommend several terrifying films to rent for Halloween. I chose "The Ring."

For this article and more, subscribe to CS Weekly, the Friday eZine of Creative Screenwriting Magazine -- it's free!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Spookiness

Last night I barely slept because of the car-rattling, howling winds outside my window.

I do not exaggerate.*

Even though many people who live in Los Angeles are transplants, and presumably knew at one point how to drive in bad weather, for some reason when the weather drops below 60 degrees and rain or wind sets in, everyone here seems to lose their minds. However, last night the fear made sense; during my commute, cars and traffic lights were swaying back and forth like crazy.

At home I baked and ate about a pound of pumpkin seeds (here's the simple recipe I used) and read "A Great and Terrible Beauty" by Libba Bray, which has plenty of ghostly scares.

Last but not least, I had to contend with a monster red spider** that was lurking in my bathroom. While brushing my teeth, at my most vulnerable, I saw it lowering itself quickly toward my face! I backed away, and could only watch in horror as it zipped up its web to the ceiling again. My husband's out of town, and I have an irrational fear of spiders landing on my face and eating my eyes, so obviously I had to kill it.

This task required a chair, paper towels, a can of Raid, and lots of whimpering. I was also concerned I might have nightmares about its revenge, but since I didn't sleep much, that wasn't an issue.

Clearly the best course now is to eat lots of Halloween candy to stay awake.

* At least, not yet.

** I'm willing to concede it was a normal-sized spider.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


November's coming up, which means NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is about to start. The challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Here's everything you need to know about joining in. It's a great way to leap into a new project.

Wouldn't it be cool if every month had a literary theme?

You've heard of music used as torture -- how about a month where people give a second chance to the books that tortured them in high school? I already have an atrocious name picked out for this imaginary phenomenon: NaNoGitMo.

For me, the perfect example of a NaNoGitMo book is "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. I didn't particularly enjoy it when I had to read it for Freshman English in high school, but last year I re-read it and absolutely LOVED it. Now I consider it to be one of my all-time faves, which made me wonder why it bugged me when I was a teenager. The fact that we had to analyze sentence structure and use color-coded highlighters to, well, highlight certain themes probably had something to do with it, although oddly, I genuinely liked Faulkner when I was sixteen. Maybe I was just weird.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mad Men 3.11

Gaaaaaaaaaaah, 4.5! We've reached 4.5 out of 5 razor blades!!

Tonight's show annihilated me. The tables were swiftly turned from the previous episode; I felt much worse for Don than for Betty, who was rather cold (albeit understandably) during Don's tearful revelations. Jon Hamm knocked it out of the park. The mystery of Don's Creepy Drawer was also answered; as Betty asserted, part of him wanted her to know.

I don't recommend double Mad Men episodes, particularly when Monday morning is imminent. It's a bit too intense if you don't spread them out, although both episodes I watched tonight were excellently written.

On the non-depressing side, I loved seeing Roger Sterling flirt up a storm with Annabelle, a woman (gasp) his own age, and it was nice seeing and hearing him banter with Joan again. Also, Joan smashed a vase over her husband's head, which was all manner of awesome.

I find Don and The Teacher to be super annoying, so I'm hoping their break-up isn't temporary. For some reason his other affairs didn't bother me in the same way, or even at all in a few cases, but this one definitely bugs. Maybe because I feel we're treading on ground that's been covered before.

Only two more episodes left this season. Hold onto your horsemeat.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mad Men 3.10: A "Ballad of Disatisfaction"

Wow, okay, last Sunday's Mad Men gets 4 razor blades (out of 5) on the Depressing Scale from me. I nearly cried. Incidentally, it was written by Kater Gordon and Matthew Weiner, who recently took home the Emmy for Best Writing. So yeah. The writing was good, and it was depressing, and I'm left with two questions:

1. Why does Don have a creepy drawer AT HOME filled with cash/his secret dual identity?? Hasn't he heard of safe deposit boxes? (And considering that Pete and Cooper already know his secret, even the office would be a safer location.) Needless to say, Betty is incapable of dealing with the knowledge of his "divorce," and my heart completely broke for her and the endless betrayals Don subjects her to. Also depressing: The flickers of guilt Don does so well.

2. Who called the Drapers? Hot For Teacher and Mr. Politician both denied all knowledge, but it had to have been one of them -- right?

(I want a spin-off called Carla: The Long-Suffering Housekeeper/Nanny, in which we learn what her job description is, exactly, and possibly see her at church.

Sally: Why don't we go to church? Carla goes every week.
Betty: We don't need to go every week.)

Those of you who watched this episode in real time get some relief and time to recover. I, however, must continue immediately to the next episode. Please don't let it be as depressing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

10/23: Happy Anniversary to Me & Joe and Henry & Clare

Henry and Clare, you ask? Who are Henry and Clare? Why, they're the couple in "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. I read the book two weeks ago, on the recommendation of my friends Kirsty and Mallory. Still can't decide if it was romantic or tragic, but it kept me riveted for days. It also kinda freaked me out because their fateful wedding (in which Henry time travels, as he is wont to do) is the same date as my wedding to Joe five years ago. Plus I'm from Chicago, which is where Time Traveler's Wife takes place. Freaky.

Joe and I celebrated on Wednesday by having dinner at Mozza in Los Angeles. Extreme yumminess was had. This weekend we'll probably stay in and watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Netflix. Another time-bendy story! What does this mean?

P.S. I haven't forgotten about Mad Men. I need to catch up on last week's episode, so I'll have a double-header up next week :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Because Otherwise It Wouldn't Be a Bestseller?

Sarah Palin to discuss her book on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

It's not a book club pick, but this news did prompt me to check out Oprah's past selections, and I think she's kind of a genius when it comes to variety. I didn't realize she'd included "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, not to mention three Faulkners, two Toni Morrisons, a Barbara Kingsolver and a Joyce Carol Oates.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Romance Novels... With Babies!

Yesterday I go to the laundry room to put my clothes in the dryer and to my complete delight I see that someone from my building has left a bunch of books on the table, for anyone to take and enjoy.

They are romance novels featuring extremely wealthy babies!! The covers remind me of the ubiquitous Hot Guy With Baby posters in college. I had no idea this was a genre. I think I love it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Conversation I had with my husband recently

Me: (dancing in front of fridge) Do you dare me to chug a Guinness for breakfast?*

Joe: Um, no, I dare you not to.

Living with a writer can be tiring. Luckily there is a guide for this type of thing. McSweeney's archives has an "excerpt" from The Complete Guide to the Care and Training of the Writer in Your Life by David Zeltser.

My favorite part: "Designate a warm, cozy area of your home as a 'studio.' Your writer will appreciate a couch and blankets or other soft bedding material. Keep in mind that your writer may not write right away. Never shout at your writer. If your writer is frightened, he or she may run."

*Mom and Dad, if you're reading: I was totally kidding.
Everyone else: No, I wasn't.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halloween Magic

My husband, L.A. magician Joe Skilton, is performing tomorrow night at the Magic Castle for the Magic of Jazz event. The evening begins at 8 with the musical stylings of the Janis Mann Quintet, followed by Joe's show at 9:30 down in the WC Fields Bar.

October is fantastic time to visit the Magic Castle. Besides the insane amount of decorations (every inch of the mansion is covered in cobwebs, skulls, and other spookiness), Halloween weekend is packed with parties, awards for best costumes (including Scariest, Most Magical, and What The Hell Is It?), and a Cabaret Macabre. Also, from October 26 - November 1st, you can see the awesome Rob Zabrecky in Early Close-Up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mad Men 3.9: I Totally Pegged the Teacher

The show's not fooling around anymore; I give Sunday's Mad Men 4 razor blades out of 5. Yep, it was that depressing.

Sal got fired for being gay, basically. And Don referred to him as "you people." Ouch!

Don's new father figure/most demanding client, Conrad Hilton, drunkenly admitted that Don was like a son to him -- only better, because Don also came from nothing. That part was rather sweet. The depressing part (you knew there'd be one) occurred shortly after at a business meeting, in which Mr. Hilton appeared to have no memory of this bonding event and completely rejected Don and his hard work.

Betty sort of started an almost-affair and had to throw a fake fundraiser to cover up the non-event. Got it?

Don started an actual affair with Sally's ex-teacher, just like I predicted five episodes ago. It's official: he has a type, and it's not blonde. Which sucks if you're Betty.

In the midst of historical events, Betty told her African American housekeeper, Carla, that perhaps the country wasn't ready for civil rights.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Like Father, Like Son

Variety reports that Stephen King's son, Joe Hill, has sold the film rights to his upcoming novel, "Horns."

The book comes out February 9, 2010, and centers on a "26-year-old man who wakes up from a hangover and finds horns sprouting out of his head." The horns may be related to the unsolved murder of the man's girlfriend.

I wonder if Joe was born with talent, or if he studied "On Writing" like the rest of us? ;)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Election Nostalgia

This time last year I was an emotional wreck regarding the Presidential election.

Every day I checked HuffPo, Politico, Drudge, Defamer and for news, laughs, horror, and electoral vote predictions. I'd also drop in on and Washington Post, and after work I'd watch MSNBC, CNN and PBS, followed by The Daily Show and Colbert Report. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. On the weekends I phonebanked, either down the street, or, as the election drew closer, at the Sony Studios Lot in Culver City (they had acres of Krispy Kreme and pizza).

Also around this time last year, our Honda Civic was stolen. It was parked in tandem with our '96 Toyota, which the thieves moved out of the way and put back after taking the car they wanted. (What, the Toyota wasn't good enough to steal?! Its stereo was, though.) The car was recovered at a motel parking lot with a fake shotgun in the back seat; we believe our poor Civic was an unwitting accomplice in a series of robberies. We had to get all the keys replaced, but at least we got the car back.

Is it weird to be nostalgic for a time of sleeplessness, rage, and stomach-clenching anxiety?

Maybe what I miss about the election is the feeling of being involved, tuned in and focused on so many political issues. It's impossible to maintain the heightened, intense level of interest I had going last year and stay sane, but I realize now it was an exciting time that I look back on fondly.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mad Men 3.8: "You Don't Kiss Boys; Boys Kiss You"

Aaaaaaaaand we're back with a vengeance to 3 razor blades out of 5 for this Sunday's "Mad Men" episode. In previous weeks we'd dropped to an inconceivable 1 razor blade, but those days are over. THEY ARE OVER.

I need to take a moment to do something I don't normally do in these reviews, which is to point out something other than how depressing the show is: the direction and scene cuts were jarring and a bit off (which doesn't take into account the truly odd-and-getting-odder ad break placement). I literally don't know what happened in the creepy Pete subplot. He took advantage of a poor French Au Pair, but how much advantage he took is difficult for me to say. Of course Pete can't just be nice to anyone -- although for a flicker of a second I saw him in a new light, foolish me -- which was a large factor in this episode's rating.

Anyway, Betty has probably warped Sally's little mind regarding male/female dynamics for the millionth time by telling her she must be passive with boys, and also that the first kiss in any relationship is the only exciting one; all subsequent ones are a mere shadow of it (!!)

Despite her bizarre claim about kissing, Betty's trip to Italy with Don was pretty hot. They were acting like a couple of newlyweds, which was refreshing to see. Upon their return, however, Betty declared that she hates their life, their house, their friends, etc. So, you know, they were happy together for approximately 40 hours, minus the flight and time change.

Last but not least, Joan has been reduced to working in the women's dress department of some fancy Manhattan store (we know it's fancy because the brand Hermes can be seen in many of the shots). This is utterly humiliating for her, especially when Pete struts in, but I was also struck by the fact that Joan is always the best person ever at whatever job she's doing. She was an uber secretary and soap opera reader (remember that one episode last year?) and has already risen to the position of manager at this new place. Both at Sterling Cooper and the department store, she anticipates and fixes every problem expertly.

She should probably be ruling the world.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finding a New Voice

I'm writing my current novel from the POV of a 16-year-old girl. Establishing her voice has been fun but challenging. Although I'm at 30,000 words so far, and definitely in the groove, I still find myself asking, is this the language my narrator would use? What is/should her vocabulary be? If her grammar is deliberately incorrect from time-to-time, will that be distracting for readers, insulting to teens, or feel real? I sent the first chapter to my 17-year-old cousin to find out if she thinks it's authentic. I don't think I've ever been so nervous about getting notes!

In the meantime, I'm really enjoying the Pardon My Youth YA book club at Skylight Books. So far, we've read:

  • The Messenger by Markus Zusak
  • What I Saw and How I Lied* by Judy Blundell
  • Rats Saw God* by Rob Thomas
  • Tyrell by Coe Booth
  • Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going
  • For October: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

I also try to pick up at least two YA books whenever I'm at the library. This weekend I read Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart (hilarious and wonderful) and Looking For Normal by Betty Monthei (more middle-grade than YA, and a gutwrencher).

*I read these two prior to joining the club, proving that YA's scope and appeal goes far beyond the shelf it happens to be categorized on.

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Whip It" Review

The roller derby flick "Whip It" (starring Ellen Page, directed by Drew Barrymore and written by Shauna Cross) hits theaters today, as does my screenplay review of the film.

Subscribe to CS Weekly, the Friday eZine of Creative Screenwriting Magazine.

Quick Pic of Santa Monica

I went to the beach a few weekends ago for the first time in ages. When you move to L.A., you think you'll go every Saturday, and for awhile, you do, and you can't believe how great the skating and bike path is, stretching smooth and wide for miles along the ocean, from Malibu to Manhattan Beach. But then your brake pads wear down and you don't replace them and life kind of gets in the way and you realize it's been months since you've looked at the water, and that you only see the Santa Monica pier on television shows, even though it's only 35 minutes away.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cooking & Knitting Therapy

It's been kind of a crummy week (who even uses that word? And should it be spelled crumb-y, or is that too Joss Whedon?) so last night I put my energies toward two comforting tasks: cooking and knitting. Both are calming because as long as you follow the instructions, everything will be okay. I like that sense of order and accomplishment.

First I made tiramisu, and I don't have a mixer, so I had to use a whisk by hand for the cream, which was a good way to get rid of frustration, and then I started knitting a new hat for my stitch 'n' bitch group tonight. Half the time -- okay, more than half -- we don't really knit at our meetings, and once a month we toy with changing the group's name to "We Drink on Wednesdays," but this time I'm armed and dangerous.

Anyway, the tiramisu recipe I chose is from Michael Chu's terrific Cooking For Engineers site, and it doesn't use eggs (it does, however, use rum). It's wonderfully simple and yummy-looking. I hope my friends enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mad Men 3.7: What's the Point, Really?

I have to say the show is slipping.

This Sunday's episode ranks a piddling 1.5 razor blades out of 5. That's not really even enough to kill yourself with. Sure, Don was drugged, beaten up, robbed, and left in a scary motel room face down on the floor, but that's barely a blip on the "Mad Men" chart of Bad Things That Happened to People in the '60s. I mean, the two stoners didn't even steal his car. In other subplots, Betty went furniture shopping, Peggy slept with Duck (!), and Don's kooky boss Cooper revealed that he knows all about Don's secret identity, BOO YA (emphasis mine). That scene RULED!

To sum up: Great episode, not depressing enough.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Red Alert: Do Not Read the Inside Flap Jacket of "The Magicians"


I really enjoyed reading "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman this weekend. It was extremely thought-provoking and emotional. But I bet I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't read the inside flap, which tells you OH I DON'T KNOW the entire plot.

My husband, a wise man indeed, never reads inside flaps, so his experience of "The Magicians" was entirely different than mine. I'm deliriously jealous.

Take my advice: Buy the book. Read the book. FOR THE LOVE OF GRYFFINDOR, DO NOT READ THE INSIDE FLAP. Learn from my mistaaaaaaaaaaake.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

CS Weekly Writing Clips

This weekend I moved some of my Creative Screenwriting clips from my old website to this blog. I've been writing reviews and conducting the occasional interview for the magazine's weekly e-zine since 2007. The print edition is a bi-monthly publication, but the e-zine, edited by the awesome David Wharton, provides updates by email each Friday afternoon, focusing on films and DVDs being released that day.

What's sometimes tricky about this gig is reviewing only the scripts. We're not supposed to comment on the acting, directing, music, or cinematography. (Okay, sometimes we do, but the main focus is always the writing.) Sometimes I'll love the movie overall, or a particular performance, but have problems with the script, so my reviews have to reflect that.

To read the review that garnered me my first piece of hate mail (every critic's...dream?), click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bizarre Thing I Am Doing Tonight That Is Also Somehow Completely Appropriate:

A Chocolate Tasting at Compartes Chocolatier in Santa Monica.

Because this is L.A., they've apparently just finished filming something for the Food Network.

Compartes lists a variety of exotic truffle flavors on their website. I'm hoping to taste rose water and carmelized pineapple, as well as something minty. I wonder if they offer palate cleansers between bites? (I take my chocolate tasting seriously, yo. Or I like to imagine I would, if I'd ever done this before. Scarfing up free samples at Sees probably doesn't count.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Angels & Demons" Review

To celebrate the recent release of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, I'm posting my May 15th screenplay review of Angels & Demons, the film based on Brown's first book in the Langdon series.

Republished with permission from Creative Screenwriting:

Langdon vs. God
Sarah Skilton

Angels & Demons

David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman
Based upon
the novel by Dan Brown

Returning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman joins David Koepp for more Vatican-baiting adventures, and their script easily surpasses 2006's
The Da Vinci Code. Despite some unintended yuks, so-so dialogue, and a few moments that insult the audience's intelligence, the story is brisk, exciting, and surprising.

Although Dan Brown's novel for
Angels & Demons came first, the film adaptation of the book is treated like a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, with Tom Hanks reprising his role of Professor Robert Langdon, symbols expert. When a scientific cult called the Illuminati ("Enlightened Ones") kidnaps four Cardinals and threatens to blow up the Vatican using anti-matter they've stolen from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, Langdon is summoned from Harvard to help the Swiss Guard and Vatican Police follow "The Path of Illumination" to locate the bomb. At first, church officials give Langdon the stink-eye, as they've not forgotten his sacrilegious theories from the previous film. But since he understands more about their own history than they do, they're prepared to cede the floor. Langdon also partners with a comely, mostly believable physicist named Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer, generating better chemistry with Hanks than Audrey Tautou did in Code).

The script is marred by unintentional humor, often arising from overly expository dialogue. Early subtitles in a lab scene gone wrong suggest cartoon villains at work ("The reactor was not supposed to generate anti-matter!"), and Langdon and his team spend a large portion of their introductions telling each other things they already know. Even though nearly everyone in Rome speaks (accented) English, the script doesn't trust the audience to understand much, because Landgon ends up interpreting English into…more obvious English. For example, the Illuminati leave their seekers a message warning that neither priests nor professors are safe. "They know I'm here," Professor Langdon blurts out. Cutting to his silent, fearful reaction and letting the mention of "professors" speak for itself would have carried more weight. Even the ancient Latin and Roman texts from the super-secret Vatican archives have clues written in English in the margins. How thoughtful! To be fair, moments of intentional humor work well, too, such as the back-and-forth between Langdon and Vittoria when they're pretending to be married tourists, or a scene where reporters from different countries announce that the Cardinal from their respective region is surely the frontrunner to become Pope.

Characterization is hit-or-miss. Professor Langdon's methods of deduction remain unexplained; it's easier to just take his word for it. Mostly he mutters to himself, gestures with a marker across a map, or races around until he stumbles upon a centuries-old clue or statue that confirms his guess or refutes it. At least twice he looks down at a critical interval only to realize that he's standing on top of the clue he needs. Other times he becomes Action Symbologist!, fleeing from bullets and crawling over skulls. On the plus side, the character of Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), is compelling. A complicated and passionate young Priest temporarily in charge of Vatican City until a new Pope is named, he tries to evacuate the crowds outside St. Peter's. When his efforts are met with resistance, he tries personally, and at great risk to himself, to save them from potential doom.

Despite its flaws, the film is exciting and often downright fun: murder, vengeance, cover-ups, a race against madmen, and an impending Vatican explosion keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Da Vinci Codefeatured a homicidal, self-flagellating religious nut, so it's only fair that Angels & Demons features a homicidal, self-satisfied science nut. Or does it? The twists pile on toward the last third of the film, and people who are telegraphed early and often as power-hungry creeps (such as Armin Mueller-Stahl's Cardinal Strauss) get a satisfying chance to redeem themselves. As an action-packed popcorn flick, Angels & Demons gets your heart racing, but as a semi-ridiculous, pseudo-history lesson, it also gets your eyes rolling.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Things I Learned From Mad Men 3.6

1. Even the "Previously On"s for Mad Men are super depressing. ("No one thinks you're happy. They think you're foolish.")

2. If your boss ever says he's about to give you "a reward and a challenge," RUN. It means you're being transferred to Bombay.

3. Pete will remain (co-)Head of Accounts for the present. This is deeply unsettling for Pete.

4. Lose a foot? Lose a job. (After all, you can't golf.)

5. Betty Draper's Guide to Parenting: Your little boy says, "I'm bored." How do you respond?
A) "Go bang your head against the wall."
B) "Only boring people are bored."
C) Both *

6. No 4th of July Holiday for the employees of Sterling Cooper!

Despite the lost limb, Joan's realization that she cannot, in fact, quit her job, and poor Sally's fear that her grandfather is haunting her, this episode was a relative laugh riot!! I give it a mere 2 razor blades out of 5 on the Depressing Scale.

Also, the Conrad Hilton subplot returned. Very curious to see where that will go.

*The answer is of course C.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mad Women

Haven't seen Sunday's new episode of Mad Men yet -- I was too busy watching the show win Best Drama at the Emmys. (FROM MY COUCH. Don't get excited. Although I did randomly attend the Daytime Emmys about ten years ago, ha ha!) The show also won Best Writing, and I was pleased to see that the non-Matthew Weiner of the writing duo was a young woman. Yay for Kater Gordon! Mad Men's writing staff is packed with women, actually -- 7 out of 9, which is still pretty rare in TV, and of course ironic given the show's, well, entire subject matter.

My only disappointment was that Elisabeth Moss didn't take home a Best Actress Emmy. But she was up against Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Sally Field and Kyra Sedgwick. That is insane!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pop Art

Instead of trying to figure out why the NCIS: Los Angeles billboards appear to provide a disturbing glimpse into what you might see upon being murdered (and possibly moved to a prettier, palm trees-framed location), feast your eyes on the The Hollywood Reporter's cool article about the TV billboards they liked best this fall.

Also: Happy Emmy Awards Weekend!

How Did This Happen?

Right now I have 7 books from the library, 1 book waiting for me at the library, 2 books I just bought at Borders, 1 book I bought with a friend, and another book that's being loaned to me this weekend.

Let's see (math was never a strong point) -- 12 books -- with the library ones seemingly getting first priority since they'll be due soon, and the loaner getting second priority (it's a signed copy, too) -- but the Borders ones screaming for attention because I'm already half-way through one of them and my husband wants my opinion on the other one.

Just got an alert for 3 more "request pending"s from the library. And I need to find a copy of the book for my book club meeting next month.

*head explodes*

I believe there's an opportunity here for a "Hoarders"-type spin-off show. It could be for bookworms who overextend by creating impossible reading lists for impossible time frames. I need someone to save me from myself, and from the paralyzing realization that there are millions of books I want to read and never enough time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Project Interrupted

When I got The Call from Sara Megibow, I was in the middle of working on a new project. (Literally. I was at the computer, typing away.) I was absolutely thrilled to hear from her and displayed my delight by babbling incoherently. (She was very patient and kind.) I of course put aside the new project to shift my focus back to the one she signed me for.

But now she's doing her agent thing (and doing it very well) and I'm supposed to be doing my writer thing again, so it's back to Project Interrupted. And you know what? I'm excited every single morning -- well, after my coffee -- to work on it and spend time with the new characters. I thought for sure I would take a break from writing for a few weeks and...

A) sleep in
B) watch more TV (speaking of, did last night's AMNTM really happen? Did Tyra really dress up as a heroine name Super Smize? (at least, that's how the Closed Captioning at my apartment gym spelled it))
C) finish reading all the books that are due at the library

...but after a weekend off, I felt antsy. So I booted up the computer. I guess I'm addicted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Comedy Magic Done Well

On Sunday at the Castle, I had the pleasure of seeing Dana Daniels in the Palace of Mystery. Usually the Palace shows are divided into three acts with at least three different magicians, plus an MC who binds the show together and also performs shorter bits of his own magic. But Dana got the entire 45-minute slot to himself.

There's a reason: his show is brilliantly scripted and serves the same function as the more standard Palace structure. He plays a non-magician who's forced to perform when none of the (three) scheduled acts show up. It's tough to blend comedy and magic -- most magicians are better at one than the other -- but Dana's show is hysterically funny and magical, and his various magician characters all stand out.

(For a glimpse at what happens when a comedy-magician gets angry, PLEASE check out Patton Oswalt's "My Weakness is Strong" special on Comedy Central. You won't regret it.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Does it Bother Anyone Else...

...that the one-sheet ads for NCIS: Los Angeles that I see everywhere are presented from the POV of a corpse?! Seriously, they are looking down at your body on the ground and sort of smirking at it. Unless they're looking at a perp they've tripped or something, but I don't think so.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mad Men 3.5 - A Feast of Awkwardness

I'm giving last night's episode of Mad Men 3 razor blades out of 5. It was more awkward / enraging than it was depressing, although of course it was also depressing. It was beautifully shot, from the opening scene at the elementary school to Betty's Demerol-induced twilight sleep visions, and the dialogue was killer. Let's face it -- the show is almost always terrific. It's also terrific at making me thank my lucky stars I'm not any of the characters.

But anyway, first off, we had Lisa Simpson as a nurse at the hospital where Betty was giving birth. She was totally fine and all, but it was a bit odd!

Next was the fact that the men weren't expected / allowed (??) to be anywhere NEAR their screaming-in-agony, labor-having wives. They spent the entire day in the waiting room watching TV, smoking, and drinking nearly an entire bottle of booze. Enraging!

Guy in Waiting Room, to Don: You done this before?
Don: Three times.
Me: YOU haven't done anything.

Pete and the African American doorman participated in the most awkward elevator ride in the history of ever.

Betty's late father told her, "You're a housecat. You're very important but you don't have anything to do," (or something like that) and when Betty's shoulders lifted in the tiniest of sighs as she went to calm the baby her first night home, my heart broke for her.

Lastly, Don and Sally's teacher are totally going to hook up. Why else would he have lied to Betty about who had called? I'm only surprised they didn't make out at the school when Betty left to use the ladies' room. Whenever Don is alone in a room with any woman, I pretty much assume they'll start having an affair.

Oh wait! Not lastly! I completely forgot Peggy's plea for equal pay, and its dismissal. GAH. Possibly the most depressing subplot of the evening. I must have blocked it out. Peggy's sparks of rebellion and realization and awakening are always...defeated. I'm officially rooting for her Emmy win.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More Book-to-TV News

A few weeks ago I blogged about Harlan Coben's foray into television. Now it's Augusten Burroughs' turn. Variety reports that Burroughs' novel "Sellevision" is being adapting for a TV series by Bryan Singer. The novel -- a departure from Burroughs' memoirs -- takes place at a "retail broadcasting network" (aka home shopping channel) and depicts the scandal-ridden lives of the program hosts.

Singer is best known for his film directing work (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman, Valkrie) but he's also a powerful TV player, as an executive producer for Fox's "House" and the short-lived "Dirty Sexy Money."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Konnichiwa, Or Something

Happy News: Just found out that "To Japan With Love," the Japanese travel anthology edited by the amazing Celeste Heiter, comes out October 24th from ThingsAsian Press. I contributed a restaurant review to the book. Woo hoo! Isn't it pretty?

The ThingsAsian collection has covered Thailand, Vietnam, Shanghai, Nepal, North India, Cambodia and Myanmar so far -- and now they can add Japan to the list.

My husband and I honeymooned in Tokyo and Kyoto back in 2004, and we had a blast in the Pachinko parlour photo booths, though we didn't hold a candle to the mad skillz of the Japanese kids who were like creating works of art.

I remain obsessed with green tea ice cream, Pocky, sushi, and sake.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A New Season of Guilty Pleasures

Tonight marks the start of the Fall TV season for me. Although I don't watch nearly the amount of TV that I used to (that's what happens when you read scripts for a living), I can't resist certain guilty pleasures. Over the summer it was "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" and DVDs of "True Blood." So naturally I'll be tuning into "Vampire Diaries" on Thursday. Be warned, though: if the vampire doesn't use a ridiculous quill pen for his journaling, I'm out.

As for tonight, I fully intend to indulge in the 2-hour season premiere of "America's Next Top Model," as well as the first episode of "Glee."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Best Nights For Magic

Whenever I have guests visiting from out of town, I like to take them to the Magic Castle. But weekend nights are actually not the best. On Fridays and Saturdays, the place can be overcrowded and rowdy, which makes it difficult to see all the shows you want to see. Sometimes the crowds, people watching, and costume gazing is a fun atmosphere, of course, but only if you've had the chance to explore the Castle before. For first-timers, weeknights are definitely better.

Mondays signify the first night of the scheduled magicians' one-week runs. The mansion is usually uncrowded, which is fantastic for seeing all the showrooms, the piano bar with Irma the invisible ghost, the parlours, hidden hallways and magic acts. However, some magicians are a bit nervous that night and still finding their stride, especially if they're from another country or have never worked the Castle before.

Wednesdays are Magician Member nights (special deals on restaurant fare for magicians), which means the Castle will be filled with more magicians per square foot than most other nights. If you've ever wanted to see a bunch of magicians scrutinize a bunch of other magicians, Wednesdays are the perfect opportunity. Also you'll get some bonus magic from impromptu shows pretty much wherever you are. Fun!!

Thursdays are great because the place is a bit more crowded but not as crowded as Friday or Saturday. You'll be able to see any show you want, usually with supportive audiences.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mad Men 3.4 - A Depression Fest!

You know it's a bad sign when an episode of Dexter provides the yuks of the evening.

As for Sunday's Mad Men, I'm rating it 3.5 razor blades out of 5.

Is it because of a death in the family? The disintegration of Sal's marriage? Don's elementary school-aged daughter driving a car and having a (understandable) meltdown? Perhaps it's because of Betty's deplorable parenting skills? Or the client lamenting his grown son's existence ("We didn't know what kind of person we were making")? Or wait, maybe it's because Peggy's mom told her with contempt, "You belong in the city (where people are assaulted)"? Either way, the episode was heavy.

It's entirely possible it deserved a 4 on the Depressing Scale, but I was happy to see my friend Danny, who had a co-starring role in the Ann Margaret-type ad scene. Hooray for Danny. Also the prank call to Peggy was pretty funny (or, viewed in another light, also depressing, actually).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Linkie Loos

I recommend the October issue of Writer magazine, which includes a helpful article by theater critic Todd Wallinger. He explains how he got his first reviewing gig and how you can, too.

Speaking of reviews... For the last few weeks I've been rating Mad Men episodes on a scale of one to five razor blades. (Um, as you may have guessed, I'm rating them not on quality, which tends to be uniformly high, but on how depressing they are.) However, my ratings are at least partially informed by the fact that the show airs on Sunday nights at 10 pm, which is an inherently depressing time slot, probably somehow related to residual guilt/fear/dread about Monday mornings and unfinished homework. Or maybe that's just me. But anyway, since it's a holiday weekend and I don't have to be at work tomorrow, I've decided to watch the show Monday night in an attempt to keep alive the irrational, soul-crushing fear in which I normally view the program. That way I won't skew the results.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

To Buy or Not To Buy?

My bookshelves are overflowing and I'll be moving soon -- hopefully -- so I don't want to add to my collection too much right now. I'm also a library addict, so every once in a while I suffer from Bad Reader guilt for not buying more books.

That's why the upcoming holiday season is the perfect fix. I can buy up a bunch of books I love, or that I think my friends and family will love, and give them as gifts. No clutter, no guilt.

This month is crazy. A ton of big name authors are coming out with fresh material: Margaret Atwood, Alexander McCall Smith, Dan Brown, Nicholas Sparks, Anita Shreve, Nick Hornby and Mitch Albom all have new books being released. (Thanks to for the scoop.)

For the holiday weekend, I'm curling up with Admission by Jean Hanff Koreltiz and Kim by Rudyard Kipling, as well as a friend's manuscript.

Happy reading!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Don't Think This Happens in Other Cities

I came home the other night and these were taped to both entrances of my apartment building:

In case you can't read the description, here's the gist: from 12am to 7am over the next few days, my street will basically turn into Armageddon.

I may see people throwing grenades into and out of FBI cars, see cars on fire, or hear "full load gunfire activity" and witness an explosion. But! I shouldn't be alarmed. Because what would possibly be alarming about that?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obsessions Merge: Books and TV Together at Last

The Hollywood Reporter, er, reports that CBS just bought a pilot for an ensemble comedy show set in the publishing world.

It's called "Open Books," (at least, as a working title), and depicts the life and times of a book editor and her friends.