Monday, August 31, 2009

Mad Men 3.3 - Actually Not All That Depressing!

After one skipped review (I was out of town), I caught the latest Mad Men last night and was pleasantly surprised by the relatively downright happy subject matter. I rate it 1 razor blade out of 5 (tm).

There was fabulous dancing (Pete can cut a rug -- who knew?), smoking of a different kind at the office, and spectacular dialogue between Don and the guy he met* at Sterling's shindig.

Not to say everything was hunky dory for most characters. This is Mad Men after all. I was petrified that Don and Betty's daughter was going to frame Carla, the African American housekeeper, for stealing $5; Joan's dinner party, and her forced song performance, was distressing (her creepy fiancee makes every scene uncomfortable); and Sterling's much-younger wife clearly has issues. But all in all, this felt like a welcome change from the usual downbeat fare.

*edited to add: apparently this was a reference to Conrad Hilton. Yes, of "the" Hiltons.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recommended Read: "Columbine" by Dave Cullen

I was in college when the tragedy at Columbine High School took place. My housemates and I were watching General Hospital (I still remember the plot of the episode) when it got interrupted by breaking news. We flipped to CNN and watched, disturbed, for probably 8-10 hours straight. The footage became iconic.

Why were we so riveted? First of all, nothing like that had ever unfolded on our screens in real time. Most school shootings involved far fewer victims and were over by the time anyone heard about them. But these kids were reporting via cellphones from inside the school, and reporters were broadcasting their distress. Secondly, the perpetrators and victims were only a few years younger than us (and their yearbook photos made them look even younger). It was horrifying, and brought up all sorts of discussions about jocks vs. goths, outcasts vs. popular kids, bullying, gun control laws, and the sadness and rage of teenagers.

This week I picked up the book "Columbine" by Dave Cullen. And I was stunned to learn that nearly every single thing I knew about the tragedy was wrong. It took 9 years of interviews, research and digging for Cullen to figure out the definitive truth of the situation, and it's not at all what was reported in 1999. Police cover-ups, false assumptions that may have cost lives, countless self-perpetuating rumors -- everything's explained in this thoughtful, thorough book. None of the kids were accurately portrayed by the media.

"Columbine" tells the real story of the killers and their intentions, the victims, the town, the aftermath and the build-up to that day, and I can't recommend it enough. It's a tough read at times, but worth it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Meeting Heidi

I was so happy to meet the fabulous Heidi Aubrey last Friday in Seattle! She and I have been sharing our work online ever since we took the same novel-writing course at MediaBistro in 2005.

Once the class ended, Heidi formed an off-shoot critique group that swapped pages and comments every Sunday. Over the years it's evolved and changed shape, but the two of us have kept it going strong.

Not only is Heidi an excellent writer and copy editor, she's a true artist: taking art classes, attending conferences and seminars and always adding to her knowledge. Her notes are thoughtful and detailed, and she'll stay up all night working something through if need be.

I think it's good to find people who aren't necessarily friends to critique your writing. That way, no one will be afraid to lose the friendship by telling the truth (constructively, of course), and hopefully no feelings will be hurt because it's about writing, not maintaining a friendship.

But after four years of pen pal-ness, encouragement and support, I definitely consider Heidi a friend, and meeting her was terrific. I'm hoping we can hang out again next year. Here's to KeepTyping!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pics of The Seattle Public Library

Last week while visiting Puget Sound for a wedding, I got to spend a day sightseeing in Seattle. Luckily, Joe and I arrived at the Public Library just before it closed.

I am obsessed!

Observe the awesomeness.

*10 magnificent floors.
*Thousands of books.
*Hundreds of computers and work stations.

More pics soon because I can't resist.

Monday, August 24, 2009

PSP eReader To Showcase Comic Books

Variety reports that Marvel has partnered with PlayStation Portable to offer hundreds of new and classic comic books through PSP's new eReader, which is expected to launch in October.

Fans who don't have the resources to locate or purchase rare editions of famous issues (such as Incredible Hulk #180 -- Wolverine's first time in print) will presumably get a chance to read them now. And no pesky dust covers!

Coming later this week: HAWT Pics of Seattle Public Library.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Location as a Character In Your Novel

If I hadn't lived in Los Angeles for a decade, I don't think I would have felt comfortable writing about it. It takes a long time to know this city, if knowing it is even possible, and I researched a lot before starting my novel a few years ago.

I was already a big fan of Carrie Fisher's Postcards From the Edge and Janet Fitch's White Oleander. I also read everything from Mildred Pierce to Sue Grafton mysteries to Joan Didion's Play it As it Lays to L.A. Noir anthologies. I drove around my own neighborhood, and neighborhoods I wanted to depict, taking mental snapshots and jotting down notes.

Since my main character is a recent transplant, however, I also had to keep in mind that she wouldn't know the city as well as a local would. I wanted her outsider-reactions to the quirks and oddities of L.A. to feel authentic, too.

At the moment, I'm reading Jamie Ford's terrific historical fiction novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet -- which takes place in Seattle -- while on a trip to Seattle. It wasn't planned, but I love when that happens; when the feel and essence of a story seeps into your surroundings.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Richard Turner, Expert Card Mechanic

At the Magic Castle last week, I had the good fortune of assisting expert card mechanic Richard Turner in the Close-up Gallery. My husband Joe had told me the guy was amaaaaaaazing, and when one magician says that about another magician, you tend to pay attention.

The Close-up room is the smallest of the Castle's performance venues for scheduled acts, with usually two assistants called up from the audience to sit on either side of the magician's table. Richard Turner is not someone you want to plays cards with -- his maneuvers were incredible, and he can even deal cards from the center of the deck. No matter who shuffled the cards, or how many times, he was able to select the cards he wanted from within the deck. I was completely blown away.

Now add to this the fact that Richard has become blind, and you take his skill level to unimaginable heights. He's also a 5th Degree Black Belt, an author, an instructor, and a favorite of the late great Dai Vernon, master card magician.


How'd you spend your morning?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Screenwriting Tips to Influence the Way Your Characters Are Cast

Attention, Screenwriters:

This Saturday, at CBS Radford Studios, Scriptwriters Network is holding a seminar called Influencing the Casting of Your Script.

Two Breakdown staff writers, who read TV and film scripts and create character descriptions for talent reps to view when submitting clients for roles, will be on hand to discuss how best to write your screenplay characters to accurately convey what you're looking for. The president of Breakdown Services will also be providing an insider's look into the casting process.

For more info or to RSVP, head to Scriptwriters Network.

Monday, August 17, 2009

How Depressing Was Last Night's "Mad Men" 3rd Season Premiere? (*Spoilers)

A loved one sent me ahead as a scout to report back on the new episode of Mad Men, but don't read if you're unspoiled for last night's premiere and wish to remain that way.

Okay. On a scale of 1 to 5 razor blades (tm), I'd give it a solid 3. Less depressing than "Betty visits her family," and "Peggy tells Pete the truth" (2nd season) but more depressing than "Don misses the family by minutes" (1st season finale), this episode contained:

1. A dead baby
2. The firing of a guy whose wife is dying
3. Don cheating or at least almost-cheating on Betty (what was the point of Season 2 then??)
4. New office artwork of Japanese tentacle monster/woman entangled -- GAH
5. Cosgrove vs. Campbell (although this is actually sort of funny. Although not for Pete).

So in other words, the show's back with a vengeance.

Also: it appears that only 7-8 months have passed since the season 2 finale as Betty is still pregnant.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Live Q&A Chat with Agent Sara Megibow

My agent Sara Megibow is being interviewed today at AQ (Agent Query) Connect in a live chat at 6pm Pacific / 9pm Eastern.

I'm sure she'll have some great advice for writers!

To join the discussion and get a chance to ask Sara questions, click here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Slayer Lives (And Not Just in Our Hearts)

Everyone I know (guys and gals alike) adds superfluous "y"s to their words, some of them not even knowing why they do this, and I'm convinced that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has influenced the style and tone of a generation of novelists.

I can think of 8 or 9 authors that make it a point for their characters to talk fondly, nostalgically, and specifically about Buffy. ("Naomi & Ely's No-Kiss List" by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn even has a mix-tape section that covers your average super-fan's disillusionment during the 6th Season; and "If I Stay" by Gayle Forman does a great job of evoking both the elation and despair of watching the show in general.)

Which came first? Were already-established writers attracted to BtVS because it shared their sense of humor and a specific type of emotional resonance, or did the show itself provide them with the desire to write, and the inspiration and confidence to pursue a career in it? Were the characters and stories of the Buffyverse so beloved and so ingrained in their DVD-box-set-owning hearts that they thought, "I can do this, too"? Because they could. And they did. And they're awesome.

Here is my geek cred: I wrote a good ol' fashioned snail mail letter to Buffy and Battlestar writer/executive producer Jane Espenson about nine years ago, asking for writing and career advice. Not only did she write back, but I still have her letter inside a plastic cover. And now I have a couple novels written and a superheroine lit agent. So thanks, Jane!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Business of Magic

Over at Pub Rants, Kristin Nelson has been posting about writing as a business, and the importance of investing, keeping track of finances and creating a budget, especially before you quit your day job.

This made me think about all the different skills you need for a successful creative career. When my husband Joe became a full-time magician, his background in sales and advertising proved to be invaluable. A lot of magicians and other performers worry only about perfecting their craft and artistry, believing that clients will just -- wait for it -- magically appear (I apologize for that. It'll never happen again. Probably).

This couldn't be further from the truth. Without a website, marketing strategy, firm goals and deadlines, newsletters, brochures and business cards, it wouldn't matter if Joe were the greatest sleight-of-hand artist in the world, because no clients would know about him.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Worst Nightmare, Bookworm Edition

As of 08/08/09 item/s listed below are overdue and should be returned to any agency of the Los Angeles Public Library as soon as possible. Fines will be assessed at the time item/s are returned. If an overdue item is not returned, it will be considered LOST and you will be responsible for the cost of the lost item as well as a $10.00 non-refundable service fee per item, in place of fines.
In addition, you will be blocked from borrowing further material.


The terrifying message above greeted me in my inbox this morning. And I knew immediately which book it was; however, I for some reason reason was convinced I'd already returned it on two separate occasions, and I even got into a (polite) argument with a librarian over it. I am evil. But today I will right all wrongs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Spoiler Alert! Except Not Really Because It Aired on Sunday! CONNIE WINS!

I have no idea when this originally aired in England*, but last night I caught up with the finale episode of the greatest reality show of all time, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? on BBC America.

I'm thrilled to report that my favorite contestant, Connie, won the role and will be/is already/has been portraying Maria Von Trapp in the new West End London production of "Sound of Music" (which is, if it weren't already obvious, my favorite movie of all time. So I'm willing to concede that my obsession with this program was probably a one-off. HOWEVER, I'd also like to point out that Family Guy, which is often mean-spirited to the point of me needing to leave the apartment when it's on, is also obsessed with "Sound of Music," as evidenced by their frequent homages that do not mock but merely replicate certain scenes. So I'm clearly not alone with my love for this particular film).

Question: On the finale of How Do You Solve..., why did they keep making the past participants/losers come back for show numbers?? I was startled to see everyone pop up at the beginning and it seemed rather mean! Also, I felt extremely helpless never being able to cast a vote throughout the program. Is this how my mother felt in the U.S. before becoming a citizen?

HOORAY FOR CONNIE!! And thank you, British Public, for voting her in however many months ago!!*

*Um, or years?! A quick Googling reveals that this thing aired in 2006 in England. I am appalled.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Editing

I used to be obsessed with Holly Lisle's One-Pass Manuscript Revision (which is... probably a sentence you don't see every day) and I still think her advice is extremely helpful, but I've come to realize that her process is an ideal for me, not a reality. I'll always aspire to revise a manuscript in one-pass, and I'll never be able to do it. But that's okay, because sometimes what I need most is time to walk away and come back with fresh eyes.

In Stephen King's memoir/advice book On Writing, he recommends allowing yourself a fast and furious first draft without worrying about being perfect (which might scare you into stopping). He also recommends putting the story away for at least eight weeks when you're done. This gives you more objectivity when you pick up the manuscript again, and helps lessen your attachment to things that don't really belong.

After the time off (preferably working on something brand new), you won't feel the pain of editing things down, you'll only see the better shape of what it can become. I've nixed "clever" lines, superfluous scenes and other fillers for the sake of narrative clarity and streamlining. It's taken longer than one pass, but I'm really happy with the results.

Random Squee: Lots of episodics at work today, which is fun. Most shows are well into filming the new season.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I'll Conference You In

I've been to the big Screenwriting Expo in downtown Los Angeles a few times, but never to a "regular" writing conference. I'm thinking of finding one for next year, both as an excuse to hang out with my agent, a chance to travel and network, and also because my friends' recent experiences at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Seattle were terrific; one of them pitched an agent and got a request for a full, and the other won first place in a writing competition!!

Congrats, ladies.

Check out the August issue of The Writer magazine for a handy article by Erika Dreifus called "How to Choose a Writing Conference."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Weekend Reading Round-Up

Read this week:

Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley (A light, entertaining piece of political satire about a very pretty, spitfire, gun-totin' cable TV show lady-judge who gets nominated to the Supreme Court -- but honestly, nothing will ever, ever in a million years, compare to the 2008 Presidential election so it almost seems mean to read anything that tries. In Buckley's defense, even though it was published last fall, he obviously wrote it before 2008 and had no idea how completely insane actual reality would get; how could he?)

Currently Reading:

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins (see yesterday's post)

To Read:

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender (short story collection by author I met on Thursday at Skylight! Really looking forward to it, as I've heard fabulous things. Plus it's always nice to have a signed copy.)