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.