Thursday, June 24, 2010

Recommended Viewing: "The People vs George Lucas"

I caught a documentary screening at the L.A. Film Festival last night called The People vs George Lucas. It was a brilliant examination of the Star Wars franchise, its most ardent fans, and the disappointment/rage the fans felt when Lucas tinkered with the original trilogy and released the prequels.

I was a fairly casual fan of the series. I was born the year Episode IV: A New Hope first hit theaters, I rented the original trilogy on VHS as a kid, and my friends and I watched the films regularly in college. Oh, and I had a lifesize Han Solo cardboard cutout in my first apartment. And at one point I collected the cards... (Okay, upon further reflection, I was a medium-sized fan.) So I well remember the anticipation and frustration provoked by Lucas' misadventures in the late 1990s and early 2000s that seemed to undermine the greatness of his creation.

The People vs George Lucas is an often-hilarious and touching celebration of film and fandom, and poses the question: Does Lucas alone control the rights to his masterpiece, or, once something becomes a part of the global cultural zeitgeist, do the people who made it a success/were most affected by it have some say? *

As the film progressed, I changed my mind quite a few times regarding this central theme -- and that, to me, is a good indication of a well-produced and thoughtful documentary.

*edited to add: especially when it comes to the altered re-releases, which, some argue, fundamentally changed the characters (*cough* Han)

Monday, June 21, 2010

How to Get Published in an Anthology, Part 2

My friend Amy Spalding was recently published in the anthology CLICK: When We Knew We Were Feminists, which has been called "diverse, touching, and entertaining" by Gloria Steinem.

CLICK here (get it? get it?) to read an excerpt from Amy's terrific essay, "My Number One Must-Have."

I was curious about her experience contributing to the book, and how it might have differed from my experience writing for a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology (see Friday's post for more on that).

Ready, set, Q&A!

Q: How did you find out about CLICK? Was there a call for submissions? Did someone send you a link to the guidelines?

A: One of the editors posted at the blog Feministing about it with a call for entries. The theme was the "click moment" one realized they were a feminist. At this point, there were some recognized names in modern feminist writing and activism signed on to the project already, but they wanted a wider range of experiences and stories, so they were putting out a wider call. I didn't have to submit a full essay at this point, just about 100 words about what I would write, in the style and voice I would use.

It was several months later when I received notification that I had been selected to write for the anthology, and at that time I was given a word-count guideline and a deadline to complete the first draft of my essay.

Q: Did you know immediately what you wanted to write about, or did it come to you gradually?

A: I knew immediately what I wanted to write about, as my personal growth through my relationship with music - most specifically Sleater-Kinney, but other bands as well - has informed so much for me, and really came to define parts of my life that can pretty easily be labeled "before" and "after". So few events in life are capable of giving you a new era of yourself, so when they occur they're not too hard to recognize as such... at least for me.

Q: Have you submitted to any other anthologies before? If so, was this process similar, or different? If not, why did you choose CLICK?

A: I hadn't. At the time I sent out my short proposal, I had never before tried to get any writing published or represented in any way. However, like I said, this part of my life seemed so big and important to me. I'd actually for some time wondered if there would ever be an opportunity to express it in a large way, so the announcement for CLICK just really aligned with that desire.

Q: Was it difficult to write something personal? 

A: The process of writing my essay, "My Number One Must-Have" (which is a take on a title of a song of Sleater-Kinney's that is among the most outward in stating a particular ideology) was ultimately far more difficult in many ways than I expected. First of all, I hadn't ever really written any sort of personal essay, outside of some assignments in college when I was seventeen. The only writing I did was all fiction, and all novel-length. So just the format itself was daunting to me. I wasn't sure how to structure it or how much ground to cover.

But the personal aspect of my essay absolutely became the most difficult part of the task for me. I was used to writing about fictional characters and their fictional troubles. Not only did it feel rather foreign to stick to the facts, I had been so focused on the good parts of my story (the "after") that I hadn't really considered that a big chunk of my essay would be devoted to the "before". I had moved on, but I still had to put myself back in my former mindspace, where life was difficult and my options seemed limited.

Q: Did you have any trouble conjuring up memories from that time in your life, or was it still pretty fresh?

A: It became easier as I wrote. At first, it was just such a strange experience writing a personal essay, period, that it felt like a lot of work. As I settled in to the piece, the details began to emerge more clearly, and it was easier hashing everything out on paper.

Q: How long did it take the editors [Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan] to send a response? Also, did they have notes, or accept the essay as-is?

A: My essay was accepted based off a proposal, so by the time I sent in the actual essay to the editors, I already knew it would be appearing in the book. Several weeks, maybe a couple months later I received feedback, and at that point I revised a bit, sent it back in, and received one more request for revisions.

The revisions I made actually all had to do with digging deeper for more personal details, more emotion, etc. This was no small task as it's really not in my nature to dump what I carry around in my heart onto pieces of paper in this manner; while I love sharing thoughts online and maintaining a large social network, I'm not one who delves into the truly personal with strangers on any sort of a regular basis (unless therapy counts?). With each rewrite I think I conquered this a little, and I knew I'd completed the final version when it literally made me cry to write. And - yes - that was the version that was accepted officially for the book.

Q: How long after your essay was accepted did it take for the book to appear on shelves?

A: Actually not too long - about eight months.

Q: Would you submit to more anthologies after this?

A: I definitely would, if I connected with the overall subject matter and if I respected the editors and publisher. I'm not desperate just to get my writing out there any way I can, so I would never want to contribute just to contribute. That said, there are a lot of topics I'm interested in, and this was such a positive experience that I definitely hope it isn't the last.

Q: Were you ever nervous about the topic of feminism in general, since there are so many differing interpretations of and/or potential knee-jerk responses to it? 

A: I don't know; perhaps I should have been? But I really wasn't. I'm really active in educating myself on feminism, and through my readings and my life's experiences have definitely formed my own ideology that feels very solid and secure, and while I know the world doesn't necessarily agree with me, that doesn't really faze me. I also really hope that my story in CLICK can be a part of the book's overall inspiration for younger women, or women who haven't had their "click moment" yet. I also hope that my specific story, which has to do with music, might help dismantle some of society's stereotypes that feminism is for strident academic types who hate men and fun, when that stereotype rarely holds true - as most stereotypes don't, obviously. Out of those descriptors, only "academic" describes me, and I'm actually thrilled to let the world see that feminism doesn't have to only be about poring over Butler and hooks, etc., but can be about the joy of music and shared experience too.

I agree. Thanks, Ames!

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to Get Published in an Anthology, Part 1

A great way to build up your writing clips is to submit personal essays to anthologies. It looks awesome on a query, it's a relatively fast route to publication (usually within six months of acceptance), and it proves you have the ability to tailor your work to a specific market.

In 2006, my essay about martial arts as a stress-reliever got published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul: Healthy Living anthology. The Chicken Soup and a Cup of Comfort books are always looking for submissions, and have easy-to-follow guidelines on topics, word counts, and styles. I saw their call for submissions on Craigslist in 2005 and followed a link to their main site for specifics and upload info.

Once I hit send, I received an email stating that each essay would be evaluated by "a variety of readers, including professionals who are interested in that topic, editors, writers, and contributors to previous Chicken Soup books." They would score each essay based on "how it made them feel (its emotional or humor content), interesting development of character or plot, and values learned or lessons taught."

After they accepted my story, I had to get signed permission from the real figures depicted (such as my martial arts instructor) to publish the piece. It was a bit scary writing about my real life, but also exciting to think that someone might read and enjoy it. The book's been on my shelf for a few years and every once in a while I pick it up and smile. You won't get rich from anthology publication, but it's a fun way to stretch your writing muscles in-between querying or working on longer pieces.

Next week for Part 2, I'll be interviewing the lovely Amy Spalding on her recent experiences getting published in the fantastic feminist anthology, "Click."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mmmm, Apocalypse-y

Hey "Hunger Games" fans, the latest New Yorker analyzes the dystopian trend in YA novels. (Yes, it's the infamous "20 Under 40" issue that lists the most promising writers of a generation. Maybe the YA version of this list should be "40 Characters Under 20." That I'd want to see.)

By the way, is it still a trend if articles are being written about it? Does it mean the trend is on its way out, or just beginning? I hope it's the latter; I love dystopian books.

Either way, there's this AMAZING poster outside my office building. It looks like a relic that will be found one day in a dystopian future. Plus it is personally horrifying to me since it involves my commute. The guy in his car at the intersection when I snapped this image totally agreed that it's scary looking.

Click the pic to better observe the garbage, weeds, detritus of an election, danger sign, and chainlink fence, and shudder along with me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Recommended Reads: His 'n' Hers Rehab

I LOVE rehab books, ever since I read "Postcards From the Edge" by Carrie Fisher when I was in high school. Films like Girl, Interrupted and On the Edge also draw me in.

This past week I read two YA books set in rehab: "Cut" by Patricia McCormick and "Under the Wolf, Under the Dog" by Adam Rapp.

In both, the main character (male and female, respectively) doesn't want to talk, especially at group (that's "group therapy" for you rehab newbies), and isn't easily categorizable. Neither druggies nor a suicide risks, Callie and Steven fall somewhere in the middle and there's an element of secrecy surrounding how they ended up at their facilities. Coincidentally, both books feature a pivotal scene in a Dunkin' Donuts, which warmed my Midwest heart.

"Cut" is a lean, lovely 150 pages, and occasionally reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak," and "Wolf" clocks in at 310 pages, featuring a Holden Caulfield-esque narrator ("If you want to know the truth...") who has a series of breakdowns after his mother's death.

Both books were so well written that I'm already reading another book by McCormick, "Purple Heart," and I plan to read "33 Snowfish" by Rapp.

*Edited to add: Finished "Purple Heart," and it was so good I don't want to read any other fiction for a day or two because I don't want to move on from these characters yet.

Has anyone else read a book so good you hesitate to start a new one?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Something For Shel Silverstein Fans

Took this photo the other day and had to share.

"There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind..."

-Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Horror

I went to my new dentist this morning and he said he thinks I need braces for my overbite! GAH! Apparently my two dominant uppers are like grinding down my defenseless lowers. (Do you think I'm stressed?)

I managed to survive all of adolescence and my twenties without a retainer or braces so I have no intention of going down without a fight.

I've got a consult with an orthodontist next Wednesday. I've already refused a mouthguard at night because I've tried it before and it didn't end well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Backstory: How Much, How Little, When, and Where?

Lost (RIP) was a master of backstory.

Starting with the first scene of the pilot, the show followed the cardinal rule of screenwriting: open in the midst of a crisis, and introduce your characters by showing how they react to it.

Having crashed on an island, Jack opens his eyes, gathers what he can of his situation, and springs into action doing what he does best: saving other people.

And once the audience sees the plane wreckage and starts to meets the survivors, they want to know A) what happened on the plane? and B) who are these people?

Using parallel stories (one taking place on the island, and one taking place before the crash), the show jumped back and forth between two equally compelling plots each episode.

I struggle a lot with back story. I don't want to overload the beginning with information that's not relevant, but I also don't want to provide too little information and risk alienating the reader. If the audience doesn't understand why someone behaves a certain way, they might lose patience or stop caring about the character altogether.

How do you balance "present time" versus backstory? Do any novels or TV shows inspire you in this regard?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Best Part of Going to the Magic Castle

(Beside the magic, of course...) is seeing the reactions of people who've never been before.

My husband Joe performed all last week in the Close-Up Gallery, and I brought friends on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday. I'd planned to go even more, but with my commute and his late schedule (he performed 10 pm to 1:45 am) it was a little tricky. 

The Castle is a private club for magicians and there's no place like it in the world. Seeing it through the eyes of first-timers is a blast because I never know what's going to fascinate them most: the portraits whose eyes follow you? Saying the secret code to get past the entrance door?  The winding, hidden hallways and a floor plan that mysteriously never quite adds up? The Houdini Seance Room? The fact that there are five separate bars? 

Joe's week was great because not only does he have a killer new show, the rest of the magician acts were completely different in technique, style, and tone, so the variety of performances complemented each other well. I think it was one of those wonderful combinations that only comes around once in a while.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Questions to Ponder While Stuck in Traffic on the 405

1. How did the graffiti artist get up that high?
      a) Why is the word "Wucky" spray-painted on the side of that truck? Was the creator a Wookiee fan who can't spell? Or is it an homage to Russell Brand's "My Booky Wook"?

2. Will I be able to drive 6 miles in 40 minutes? *

3. Would walking be faster, at this point?

4. Why is the guy in front of me letting everyone into our lane????

5. Is the 101 interchange the root of all evil?

6. Who is "Dr. Gutter, Inc." and does he have a PhD?

7. What genius coined the term "rush" hour? The same person responsible for the phrase "short sale"?

8. And finally, How much does the bus cost, and where do I catch it?

* No, no I will not.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An Abundance of Jonahs

In the last month or so, I've read three YA books featuring a lead character named Jonah:
1. "Jellicoe Road" by Melina Marchetta
2. "How to Say Goodbye in Robot" by Natalie Standiford
3. "The Black Book Diaries" by Jonah Black  (a fictional narrator)

This isn't a trend for anyone but me. It's completely random that I happened to read these books in a cluster.

Still, I'm curious why the name was chosen. Although most famous for the Biblical figure who was swallowed by a whale,  Jonah also means "dove," according to

None of the characters in the above-mentioned books are particularly peaceful or dove like. In fact, the first two are pretty antisocial and give the main female character angst.

How do you pick your characters' names? Do you ever study the etymology first, or do you just go with what feels and sounds right?