Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happy Holidays!


I'm humming as I walk around the house these days because I do love Christmas. Lights now hang on my wall, and if it didn't make me nutty I'd hang jingle bells on the cats and officially become a crazy cat lady.

And soon I shall be spending Christmas the way it was meant to be spent - at the beach.

Call me crazy. Call me spoiled. But Bing Crosby was wrong. White Christmases are overrated. Try surfing warm turquoise waters or lounging on soft white sand in the shade of a coconut tree while tropical breezes blow. That's Christmas to me.

Yes, I've lived in snowy climes. Six years in Chicago, thank you very much. When it started snowing I was the first to shout "snowball fight!" and drag my dormmates outdoors for a battle. I remember feeling so cooped up one winter that I dashed out of my apartment around 1am and found myself at a deserted playground, where I made a snow angel and swung high on the swings. I love the crunch of snow under waterproof boots, the deserted lamplit quads at night the University of Chicago softened and blurred by flurries of snowflakes. The Vienna Woods were a gorgeous study in black and white in December.

But would I rather be lounging in a bathing suit under a hot yellow sun (covered in sunscreen) gazing out at blue-green ocean deepening to purple at the horizon?

Duh.

You know I'll be posting the required photo of Bellows, the best beach on earth. I'm so danged lucky.

Love and Happy Holidays to all. May you find the best beach on earth in your heart this holiday season!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tis the Season

...For a sweet short film called Tis the Season.

My good friend Sarah Baker produced it and was the assistant director. It's being shown on all Delta flights this holiday season. It's part of a contest, where the movie who gets the most votes wins, and the makers make a small stipend.

So go to this site, watch the movie, which is only six minutes long, and give this movie five stars so Sarah can win!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Facebook Madness

I just joined Facebook, and it effectively 'wasted' several hours of my time as I looked up everyone in my address book, reconnected with some old friends, and spied on a couple of guys to see if they were the same guys I dated oh so many years ago.

This thing is insidious!

Why join? Why waste time like this?

Well, there's this whole networking thing going on there, even among those over the age of 22. A lot of people at my workplace are on there, not to mention agents, producers, execs at other companies. Once you make one "friend" you can see their friends and possibly connect with them. Film and TV-land is small. My plan is to check in on fellow Warner Bros folks, reconnect with old friends, see if that cute guy from college remembers me, and eventually use it to network once my book is published.

Yes, it will be published, by gum. Gotta finish writing it first, though!

If you're on Facebook, look up Nina Berry and ask to be my friend. We can all use more friends!

Monday, December 03, 2007

November Word Count

Well, I didn't make my goal of 50,000 words in November. You may recall I entered NaNoWriMo with that stated goal.

However, I did write 28,435 words! Yee ha!

To put that in perspective, that's 98 pages, double spaced, in 12-point Times New Roman with page breaks between each of the eight chapters.

The reasons for not reaching 50k words are varied. The main one is that I'm not really motivated by competition or arbitrary goals. For example, I often work out by running around my neighborhood. I have no idea how far I run and have no interest in figuring that out. I just know that it feels right and helps keep me in shape. So when it comes to writing, I'm motivated because I love the project and love the process of writing it. So even though I failed to reach the 50k mark, I succeeded in instilling the writing habit in myself and wrote 98 damn pages of pretty good stuff.

I also couldn't resist doing some rewriting during that month. I know, I know. The idea was just to forge ahead, and be-damned to the quality. But as I wrote, I came up with good ideas for the earlier parts and felt the need to go back and stick them in before those good ideas vanished. I also got some great notes from my critique group and wanted to effect those before I lost the gist.

As a result I'm about 40% done with my novel. And I'm still high on it. I'll be writing more, every day. Early next year it'll be done, then watch out literary agents!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Titles

Finding a title for your book is tough. So many possibilities! I have time to come up with mine still because I'm maybe 40% into my first draft, but the issue continues to vex me.

Yes, I used the word "vex." I like it. Sue me.

One strategy I use is to find cool quotes that deal with themes or issues in the book. I'm considering using such quotes at the top of each chapter, or maybe just one quote at the beginning of the book. Regardless, sometimes the quote has a phrase in it that makes a nice title. Shakespeare and the Bible have been pillaged for book titles - Something Wicked This Way Comes springs to mind, but there are dozens more.

I recall a line from an Aeschylus play: "Still there drips in sleep against the mind/Grief of memory." I always liked "Grief of Memory" as a phrase but have yet to come up with an idea where it's an appropriate title. An obscure eighties song had some lyrics: "I met the devil at a party/we played power games./He out-sinistered me severely/I had to look away." Not great lyrics, but I love the pseudo word "out-sinistered." Not sure how that might be used in a title, but juicy words like Sinister and Nefarious often make good title fodder. But then I like turning odd nouns into verbs like that as well.

Thesauri are useful for titling. As is surfing Amazon.com and seeing what titles others in your genre (or other genres) have used. See what works for you and what doesn't. Come up with a huge list, then begin to whittle.

Say the titles out loud. This often weeds out the silly ones that might past muster if you only read them in your head. In fact, try reading all your fiction out loud to yourself. It's a great way to see what works and what doesn't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Late Night TV Fix

Missing your late night television these days because of the writers' strike? Well, I have a stopgap measure that will help you get through these dark days without John Stewart and David Letterman.

The writers from Letterman's "Late Night" show have started a blog. It's funny as hell. A must read, regardless of your take on the strike. Occasional political jokes speckle the posts there, just to give you a small political humor fix.

Then, Comedy Central has finally done John Stewart's "The Daily Show" justice by making a very accessible archive of all their bits available. This is truly a treasure trove of political humor. Go back in time and see Steven Colbert before he got his own show and Steve Carrel before Forty Year Old Virgin and The Office. Search by any term - "Dick Cheney" or "Rob Corddry" or "elephant," and you'll get something hilarious. Check out this priceless piece as Steward and Corddry discuss the Dick Cheney shooting incident in 2006:

A World Without Writers



I'm sick of arguing about the writers strike. (For the record, I sympathize mostly with the writers, although I am not in the WGA and I work for a studio. A prolonged strike might lead to me getting laid off.) People have actually YELLED at me about this, and have gone on yelling for minutes at a time. The whole topic now gives me a headache. I will say that if you a provider of creative content of any kind, you might want to pay attention.

BUT - this video is pretty funny, and can be appreciated no matter what you think of the strike.

Monday, November 12, 2007

13,000 words and counting...

So I've written about 13,000 words since November 1.

Well, I've actually written more than that, but I couldn't resist the urge to rewrite. I got some good feedback from my critique group and wanted to follow their suggestions while they were still fresh in my head, so I went back and renovated the first couple of scenes in my book.

So I'm still way behind in my ambition to write 50,000 words this month. Don't know exactly where I should be, but today is November 12, not that far from the halfway mark. By the 15th, I should've written 25,000 words, and there's no way I'll make up the difference and write 12,000 more words in three days. Truth is, worry about the writers strike/my job/other life issues has taken a bit of a toll. Nonetheless, I have written something every single day this month. I really hope to establish this as a life long habit, and so far so good.

So I am not downcast. I'm 13,000 words into my novel! And lots of it is actually good! At this rate I will be more than halfway done with it by the end of the month. And if I have a blast of energy and creativity, I may actually get close to done. Hee hee! Writing is fun! I've actually come up with a very viable idea for another novel series even as I bash away at this series. Creativity breeds further creativity. I feel quite happy in spite of possible job loss looming before me.

Productivity plus creativity equals happiness. At least for me.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Download Me! I'm in a Podcast

My friend Pilar Alessandra has a popular podcast about screenwriting, and this week she asked me to join her and share my so-called expertise on TV writing and development with her listeners. I was one of two guests, the other a great TV writer, and we discussed the current WGA strike, how being a writer's assistant leads to being a writer, and other aspects of writing for television. All this while sipping beers and having a few laughs! It's fun, it's free, and it's about 30 minutes long. You can click on the link below and then click on Ep. 10 to hear it. Or search on ITunes for "On the Page: Screenwriting" and you'll be able to download Ep. 10 for free there as well.

Hey, I'm just glad I don't sound like too much of an idiot... And I'm grabbing my five seconds of "fame" while I can!

http://feeds.feedburner.com/OnThePage

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Gah! Falling behind...

So I haven't been particularly good about writing these past few days. Last night I had a meeting with my critique group (great feedback, guys!), got home, gabbed on the phone for an hour, and then collapsed into bed. Work is surprisingly busy. Surprising because you'd think with the writer's strike there'd be tumbleweeds blowing through here.

Well, that's my excuse, anyway!

And now I really want to rewrite the first couple of scenes rather than forge ahead with new scenes! Ack! What to do!?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why We Invaded Iraq



This week's comic strip from Berkeley Breathed explains so much...
Click on it to make it larger and easier to read.

NaNo count - 3639

Mixed success on the writing front for NaNoWriMo - only about 3600 words so far, and we're five days in. I'm behind at least 1700 words.

BUT - I had a nice Sunday at my last screenwriting class, recorded a podcast for a friend, and had delicious stew at a close friends house and saw some folks I hadn't seen in ages.

As soon as the podcast is available on ITunes, I'll post about it. My friend Pilar has a popular free podcast about screenwriting, and she asked me to sit in as one of her guests to discuss the WGA strike and writing for television. It's quite fun, and informative. At least I hope so! I'll have to listen to myself and make sure I don't sound like a fool...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Day One Word Count

Success! As of 7:10pm tonight, I'd written 1829 words of my novel, more than the daily average of 1667 I was shooting for.

Now I can watch 30 Rock and The Office guilt free!

National Novel Writing Month - Day 1

NaNoWriMo begins today. The goal is to write 50,000 words of your novel in the month of November, which means a daily average of 1,667. As Homer Simpson would say - "A-bah!"

So I got up an hour early today to write.

Yes, really.

Those who know me, know that this is a big deal. I am not a morning person. Most days I sleep until 8am to be at work by 9:30am. (Ah, Hollywood!) But today my alarm went off at 7am, frightening the cats. I listened to the news on KCRW, trying to justify pressing the snooze button. But no dice. I got up, got ready for work, then sat down to write just a few minutes after 8am. I don't drink coffee. That may change if this keeps up...

I wrote 644 words in that hour. Not bad. But - I need two more hours like that today and I'll more than have the daily wordcount covered. That sounds easy, but it isn't, especially since I'm tired from getting up an hour early.

Then I have to do it all over again tomorrow. And then the day after that. And the day after that...

This whole writing thing is hard work. Dang!

The only good thing for me that might come out of a writers strike here in Hollywood is that work will slow down considerably and I may be able to write while at work. Heck, if I get laid off, I could end up writing 100,000 words!

Oy. Let's hope THAT doesn't happen.

I'll post an honest daily word count tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Writing the Parachute

On a lovely little blog called Sage Said So by poet Sage Cohen, I found a quote that describes a writer's process in a way I find profound and terribly relevant.

From poet William Stafford:

"I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."

And a heavy dose of profundity from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet:


And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.

And he said:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What will writers do come the strike?

From YouTube comes "Heroes of the Writers Strike," which imagines what highly paid Hollywood screenwriters might do if/when the strike happens...



Truth is, the possible WGA strike will affect thousands, if not millions of people, if it goes forward sometime after Halloween. Each TV show employs about 350 people. Not to mention the restaurants, gardeners, and other businesses that get income from those who will not be employed if a strike occurs. I'm hoping the writers and producers can come to an agreement both sides can live with... soon!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dwarf City


You never know where ideas can come from.

I trotted over to one of my favorite internet sites today - the latest news on archaeological finds from Archaeology Magazine. They had this tantilizing tidbit:

A Roman villa in Austria was rediscovered and excavated after archaeologists found references to it in an eighteenth-century manuscript. Back then, the villa’s low-ceilinged heating vaults had led to legends about a “dwarf city.”

First, there's a Roman villa in Austria. Dang, those Romans got around!

Second, doesn't your mind reel at the idea of a "dwarf city" in Roman Austria?

You can find the facts here. This villa was originally equipped with wall and floor heating. (Which reminds me of a fact I read about how Hadrien "air conditioned" his villa near Rome by having his guests sit in an pavilion with a ceiling and no walls. This pavilion was equipped with a water tank and system so that sheets of water could continually run from the eaves, cooling the air inside the pavilion. Amazing! And probably more environmentally friendly than our current system of air conditioning.)

As a writer, I'm always alert to what triggers my imagination. (Well, I try to always be alert. Those who are most alert get the most ideas. Those, like me, who are semi-alert, aren't huge idea-factories.) And a Roman dwarf city -- maybe it's the gamer/history geek/fantasy lover in me, but that's pretty fricking cool.

Then things get silly and I imagine the Roman dwarves skiing down the Alps in Austria, or joining Julie Andrews at a convent near Salzburg. You see how this imagination thing works?

Why the photo of a badger? Well, the Archaeology news also says:

A medieval cemetery in Pembrokeshire, England, has been cleared of badgers, but
infested with archaeologists.

Seems like they saved the old bones AND the badgers. Good deal!

Don't Inhale

Finally, the fires are coming under control here in Southern California.

I am luckily far from any of the hot zones, but nonetheless, the smoke and other particulates in the air is starting to get to me. My eyes are irritated, my allergies are far worse than they've ever been, and I feel vaguely naseous. I think about how I'm inhaling the ashy remains of some poor kid's stuffed animal collection, or some dude's porn, or some grandma's recipes.

Weird how it all comes back to how everything is connected in way or another. The very act of breathing connects me to the people who lost their possessions in the fire. Donations to help them can be given to the Red Cross.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Hot Gray Blanket...

...of smoke covers the San Fernando Valley. Normally bright blue skies are smudged. Hot wind blasts through the canyons. Wet skin dries in seconds.

My apartment and work are not currently near any of the many fires now blazing through Southern California, but I'm breathing in the bits of chaparral, houses, dead animals, and photo albums that people had to leave behind when they evacuated. It's a sad time. Sure, bad planning and overzealous development has lead us to build our homes in areas where fire is almost a certainty. But on the radio I heard an interview with a single dad who had to leave behind his wallet, cat, dog, and three goldfish in order to get his daughters out alive. He's now penniless and homeless. No one deserves such a fate. My heart goes out to him and all the other fire refugees.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Reward for Writing



Okay, so I haven't even been there yet, and I haven't done anything much to merit a reward, but I've found a great looking Portuguese bakery here in LA called Nata's Pastries at 13317 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks (between Woodman and Coldwater Canyon).

The plan is to reward myself for writing every 10,000 words or so with some fabulous treat. Because I grew up in Hawaii, which has a decent sized Portuguese population, I have a huge fondness for certain Portuguese pastries, particularly malasadas, a simple but delicious deep fried donut rolled in sugar. A well-traveled friend of mine has recommended the "custard tartlets" for tea. I have since found out that these tarts are called natas (photo above), and are the emblematic pastry of Portugal. I heard about this place thanks to a show here on local NPR station KCRW called Good Food.

Can't believe I didn't eat any natas when I went to Portugal! (I did eat malasadas there, thanks to my intrepid travel companion, Wendy, who found some delicious samples at a small town fair we attended in the rain...) Now's my chance. Take a look at the goodies this place has... Yum-hey!

Hmm. I did write four pages of my TV spec last night. Maybe I deserve something for that...?

Harry Potter vs. Star Wars

My friend the Tayster sent me this image - check it out and you'll see how all stories are, well, kinda the same.

Sssh! This is a secret most writers know and readers do not. Look away from the similarities! Succumb to our wiles in retelling the same story over and over!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Outlining and Mind-mapping

In perusing the NaNoWriMo forums, I came across a term about outlining a book I hadn't heard before - the Snowflake method. One Google search later, I found the method here.

As luck would have it, it closely approximates what I've done so far with my novel. I've got a fifteen page outline, which I got using a combo of character sheets from First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Weisner, a six-act screenplay structure I got through my online class at Write Tight Now, while incorporating elements of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. I'm supposed to move on and do an extensive outline now, that approximates a first draft. But I may just start that first draft for NaNo. Anyway, the Snowflake method looks cool, so check it out if you're inclined to outline but don't know how.

Also found free mindmapping software called Freemind that looks like fun to use. I downloaded it and without any instruction just started making a mindmap for a different book idea I've had for awhile. I'm not sure if this will be useful for outlining so much as a way to generate ideas and get the creative juices flowing. It's probably also useful for less creative types who need to brainstorm for their business or research or something. No idea what mind mapping is? Check out Wikipedia's definition here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Feminism and Romance Go Hand in Hand

A brief break from blogging about writing to announce something we feminists always knew -- according to Science Daily --

Contrary to popular opinion, feminism and romance are not incompatible and feminism may actually improve the quality of heterosexual relationships, according to Laurie Rudman and Julie Phelan, from Rutgers University in the US. Their study* also shows that unflattering feminist stereotypes, that tend to stigmatize feminists as unattractive and sexually unappealing, are unsupported.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. But at last science can back up the claim that feminism pretty much benefits everyone in their personal relationships. Funny how mutual respect between the sexes does that!

Friday, October 12, 2007

NaNoWriMo - I'm in!

After perusing many online forums and asking other writers how they manage to write 50,000 words in a month when they have real jobs, I've decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo, the November write-a-thon where novelists and would-bes like me try to scratch out 50k words in order to "win."

Thanks, A, for the support! Your idea of giving myself some sort of food reward every 10,000 words is great. I think I've found a Portuguese bakery here in LA that makes malasadas. Mmm. Now that's something worth writing for.

There's no prize, except the personal glory of meeting a creative goal. The NaNoWriMo website is full of forums, parties to launch you off, potential writing groups, ways to procrastinate, and so on. It's great! If you've ever wanted to write a novel, sign up!

If you haven't ever wanted to write a novel, thank your lucky stars and go on your merry way. Your life will be all the easier for it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo - that is the question.

Every November, a movement called NaNoWriMo grips the world of would-be novelists. This a kamikaze attempt to write 50,000 words of a brand new novel in 30 days, starting November 1 at midnight, and ending at 11:59pm on November 30. Looking for motivation and inspiration to write? Check out the website here.

The idea is to kill the evil editor in your brain who tells you that your writing is crap and just get 50,000 words on the page (that's less than 1700 words a day, every day of the month), regardless of quality. That's a short, 175 page novel. There are forums on the site, where you can share tales of your carpal tunnel. At the end of the month you send them your 50,000 words, where their computers count the words, then declare you a winner and send you a certificate. No one actually reads your novel, but you can post excerpts for your fellow writers if you like. It's a great motivational tool. Published novels have come out of the event.

Should I do it? I do have a job, for crying out loud. But I do have the outline of a novel that's screaming to be written. 50k words is about the right lenghth for a YA novel like mine...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Home again home again

...jiggity jig.

I'm back from my trip to England, a bit spacey from a cold and jet lag, but happy to be home after a great trip. I'll be posting photos somewhere on the web soon, once I get my shit together.

A brief precis of events: Wendy's flight cancelled, I spend a day alone in London and visit the Tate Modern. Rain. Dali and Di Chirico make me feel like I've landed on an alien planet.



Sleep in our five-star hotel and eat the free chocolates. Wendy arrives next day, I venture to British Museum and spend far too much money on a bronze Egyptian cat.




We eat well, though London is expensive and the dollar pathetically low versus, well, every currency, let alone the mighty pound. British papers trumpet that "Brit" Spears loses custory of her kids. Off to the Tower the next day for bloody tales of beheadings, the rack, garish gold plate dishes, suits of armor, pikes, swords, and the block.



Malteasers (British malted milk balls) a plenty.





The chocolate in England is just... better.


Off to York via (a very expensive) train. Rolling fields, smokestacks. Four days there to explore Roman ruins, huge cathedral (called the Minster), walk the city walls, drink lots of tea and eat scones. Sunny and "warm," around 60 F.

Scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Yum!


Back to London, where I start to catch my cold but nonetheless see two musicals with Wendy - Avenue Q and Spamalot. Peter Davison, the 6th Doctor Who, stars as King Arthur. Tons of fun!


Friday, September 21, 2007

Yorkshire






I'm off to England on Thursday. These are photos of some of the areas I'm visiting, just to whet your (well, mostly my) appetite. The first one is from the North York Moors. The next threee are of the Yorkshire Dales. No, these aren't my photos. I found them in an online gallery. Check it out here.


Outlines, outlines

I'm a firm believer in outlining your story. There are a few successful writers out there who don't outline - Stephen King for example. Aaron Sorkin in TV (although Studio 60 could've benefited from some outlining, in my humble opinion.) And many writers resist outlining with all their might. "It messes with my creative process." "I get inspired as I write!" And on and on. Either these folks have a natural feeling for structure and what works in a story. Or their stuff meanders, wanders, offers up dry patches, and gets repetitive. They don't realize that outlining stirs your creativity - it helps you find out exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. It's the opposite of confining - it points the way, but also offers endless possibilities.

I don't think JK Rowling outlines. She's brilliant in her own way, don't get me wrong. But Book VII of Harry Potter got seriously dull there in the middle when the kids were camping the woods for months on end. A good outline will prevent that sort of thing by identifying it early in the process, giving you the chance to fix it before you spend all that time writing it. Once you spend days/weeks/months writing several chapters, it's a lot harder to just chuck them or even to give them a big overhaul. So outline!

I just finished a preliminary 15-page outline for the first novel in my proposed teen series, and a two-page 8-sequence outline for my TV spec. Victory!

The 8-sequence idea comes from Pilar's screenwriting class at On The Page, and I don't want to steal her stuff, so I won't detail it here. I ended up using it on my novel too. I'd already done the 15 page outline, but I went back and did a smaller, 8-sequence "beat sheet" (as they call it in the film/TV biz) in two pages, just to make sure that the structure of the outline worked. After all, you can do outlines until you're blue, but what good are they if you don't assess them and revise them in order to see what works? The good news - my outline works. I think. But the smaller 8-sequence beat sheet made me realize that I had a major turning point for my character lurking in there that I hadn't really zeroed in on. I've seen this in other people's writing too. A big, life-changing event occurs to the protagonist, and the writer just slides right past it, barely taking note. Beat sheets, outlines, structure - they all help you identify these moments.

The basic idea is that your character has a goal. (I need to buy milk to put on my cereal.) The character does something about that goal. (I walk to the store.) Complications ensue. (At the store, I drop the carton of milk, and the cute grocery clerk helps me clean it up, and it's love at first sight.)

From those complications, a new goal emerges (I want this guy to ask me out), the character takes action, (I return to the store the next day with my best friend to scope him out and flirt) , and another complication ensues (we meet him, we flirt, but he asks my best friend out instead of me). And so on. Now add on top of that, a structure - like the Hero's Journey, or Syd Field's 3-Act template, or Pilar's Eight-Beat template, and you've got a story.

The Hero's Journey is famous, but the basic idea is that a certain structure underlies the myths that last through the ages. This structure is useful in shaping a modern day story that will really work well for a modern day audience - and for future audiences. That structure is basically:

1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline.
2. A road of trials, in which the hero succeeds or fails.
3. Achieving the goal or "boon," which often results in important self-knowledge.
4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail.
5. Application of the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world.

As Campbell said in his book, Hero with a Thousand Faces:

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Your story doesn't have to involve supernatural forces for this structure to work. Almost every successful story you can think of, whether it's The Wizard of Oz, Chinatown, or The Great Gatsby, fits.

So now I'm off to write my huge, formatted outline for my novel. It'll be anywhere from 50 - 100 pages and really be a sort of first draft. And I'm also off to work out the scenes of my TV spec and get a more detailed outline for that. When I sit down to write these pieces, I'll know what I'm doing. New ideas will occur to me, and revision to the outline will occur. But I've got a map. Now I can figure out which path between point A and point Z I want to take. I usually favor the scenic route.

I'm off to England next Thursday. Yep. England. Two days in London, then a farm in Nottinhamshire, then York. I'm a lucky so-and-so, aren't I? But I'll be writing during the down times, taking that big fat notebook so I can keep moving forward. And perhaps do research for the next book!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting notes...

If you've ever wondered what it's like to get notes from an agent, or a development or network exec. Click here.

Write that TV Spec!

So I've chosen to write a spec TV pilot for my screenwriting class at On the Page. I was leaning toward making it a feature, but Pilar said that she thought the idea was fresher as a pilot, since she'd never seen anything like it on TV, but had seen features like it.

Here's the thing about writing a spec TV pilot - it's really really hard. You have to introduce an entire cast of characters that people will want to see for an hour every week, show the "franchise" - which is what viewers will see every week, tell an outstanding story, all in 50 pages. Crazy. You need five act breaks that will keep viewers interested through a commercial break. You need a strong protagonist with a complex background you only hint at. You need to keep it affordable. It needs to familiar enough that it doesn't alienate readers, but it needs to something new and fresh.

It's ridiculous! But that's part of the fun.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On the Page Rave

My friend Pilar has been teaching screenwriting and getting paid to be a screenplay consultant for nearly a decade. I've been tempted in the past to take one of her classes, and recently Pilar made me an offer I couldn't refuse - help her out as an assistant (which mostly involves folding up tables after class) and I can take the class for free. Her company is called On The Page. And Pilar rocks. Fair disclosure - I helped write her publicity materials when she was first starting up. Doesn't mean I don't speak truth! I do, I do. I know that now for sure because I had my first class with Pilar this past Saturday.

This is the From Premise to Pages class, which pretty much guides you through exactly that. The first class was three hours, and it was jam-packed with brainstorming techniques, logline pointers, structural ideas, and so on. It is a workshop, so we all got to throw out our loglines and get feedback. We volunteered to hear comments on our ideas and so on. Very helpful. Whether you're starting out with a theme, a character, or an event, Pilar's class can help you flesh out your screenplay from there.

I'm really looking forward to the next class. Pilar is not only smart, you can tell she's having fun when she teaches. She used to do stand up and act, so she's comfortable speaking in front of groups, is very funny, and can handle anything you throw at her. I feel very motivated and supported. This is what a class should do.

Now I have to decide which idea to move forward with. I've got an idea that could be either a feature or the (expensive) pilot for a TV series. And then there's my book series idea. Pilar's techniques could be quite useful for that too! Oy. Must decide before next Saturday. Any way I go, should be fun.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What is a Book Series?

I've gotten some questions on just what a book series is, exactly. At the workshop I attended, the official definition (by editors of varous YA book series) was:

A series is 2 or more books linked by characters or themes.

Very dry, I know. Examples would include Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, The A-List, Gossip Girl. Those are all teen books. In adult land, series books are often genre - mysteries, sci fi, or fantasy. Robert Parker's Spenser books, the Kinsey Milhone A is for Alibi books, Agathe Christie's Hercule Poirot books - these are all mystery series. Lord of the Rings, however, is not a series - it's a trilogy with an end point. Few "literary" novels become series.

Series books are beloved in children's lit because kids get addicted to them, which gets kids reading. Librarians and teachers are big proponents of series because kids who don't read stand alone books will gobble up series books.

From a fellow writer's notes at the workshop we both attended:

In coming up with a series, you need to:
Do research and see what's out there
Pick your age group
Pick your genre
Pick your main character and friends
Find your hook, come up with something different.

The hook is all important in book series. Given my Hollywood training, hooks and high concept are old hat to me.

Hook = the high concept or gimmick that frames the theme of the story.

Examples:
1. Three friends who have to spend the summer apart.
Hook: connected by their dreams at night.
2. A child's parents divorce and she moves across country with her mom.
Hook: She turns into different people to cope
3. A child needs to improve his grades or get kicked off his sports team.
Hook: Brings baseball cards back to life to tutor him.

So you take something familiar and make it unique with an unusual twist. It's a coming of age story - on Pluto! You get the idea.

The familiar part of it means 1) your reader will identify with it - mystery readers who like male detectives will like Spenser novels; 2) your editor will recognize the genre; 3) the publisher will know how to market your work.

Yes, you must keep the market in mind when coming up with a book series. These things are money making machines. Study what has sold in the past, then put your own unique twist on it.

The twist makes your work stand out. Folks who read and liked Nancy Drew might try The Hardy Boys, which is basically the familiar Nancy Drew idea with the twist that the detectives are now brothers.

In our next post - how to write a series proposal.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Hot Writing

Ever tried to write when the temperature is in the triple digits? Ever tried structuring your story while you sweat and your cats come out from the bedroom and eye you blearily, meowing in anger because it's so damned hot?

Have I mentioned that it's hot? Well, it's hot. It's over 100 and the humidity is high, and my a/c is struggling mightily to keep my living room a reasonable temperature, with mixed results.

My lovely little MacBook gets so dang warm as I type on it. Surely it would be better for it if I let it rest during this ridiculous heat wave? I can't ask my brain to function in this sort of weather, can I? Heck, I have to go look in on a friend's cats later today in the Valley (the VALLEY, people, where it's even hotter...) so I need to move as little as possible and remain cool in the hours leading up to that event, right? Wouldn't want my brain to explode from the heat. Last night it was still 80 degrees at 10pm. I mean, come on here, folks, this sort of extreme is just stupid!

Oh heck. I'm procrastinating, and procrastination makes no sense. Still, I don't know how tropical authors manage. Perhaps they rely on trade winds, when all we have here in Hollywood is everlasting sun sun sun and a blast furnace of warm air zooming up out of Mexico. I'm praying hard right now the God of the Canadian Low that weathermen tell us is ambling in from the northern Pacific as we speak. Blow, Low, blow! Bring us back down to something reasonable and I promise never to mock Canada again. For at least a day or two.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Plotting

Here's the deal with plotting a book series - there's a TON of it.

1. I have to plot out the overall arc of the series. That is, what big 'ol story will my main character go through over six or seven books?

2. I have to plot the first book, which has many suspense elements and is thus, to use a technical term - "plotty".

3. For the series proposal I have to give synopses of at least two more books, possibly more. So, even though I don't have to plot them out completely, I need a strong idea of their plots.

S'all making me plotz.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book Series

One spot to make real money in kids books is in book series. You've probably heard of the Goosebumps books, although you probably haven't read them. These days big sales come from Young Adult series focused on upper crust girls and their sex lives -- series like The A-List and Gossip Girl. Also big - vampires and werewolves with a twist in books like Twilight, and faeries in books by Holly Black. Chapter book series kick ass too - the Katie Kazoo series has nearly 5 million books in print.

I'd like write something good, don't get me wrong. But I'd also like to make money writing.

So I'm thinking about a book series. I think I have a kick ass idea (not to be shared on the interent, thanks anyway!) and am forging ahead.

The other good thing about books series? You don't have to write the whole first book to get it bought - just a fabulous proposal and the first three chapter. I'm gonna churn that out in a couple of months, if my insane schedule permits. Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Kaena Point


Have I mentioned lately that my home state of Hawaii is beautiful? On my last trip there I went to a beach I've never visited before - Kaena Point, at the far Western tip of Oahu.

Makaha used to be the last beach park to hang out at that end of the island. But they've added a lifeguard stand, parking lot, and bathrooms to the crystal clear waters and white, sinking sand at Kaena. A soft wind blew as white clouds scudded by, and the turquoise water deepened to purple where the reef began.

On a Saturday afternoon in July Mom and I were two out of maybe ten people there. Ssh! Don't tell. Just visit and keep the sacred beauty of it as pristine as you can.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Found a great quote on writing from George Orwell. The last couple of sentences strike me as, well, amazing.

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.

One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

SCBWI Conference Mania



So I just spent four days at the big ol' Los Angeles conference for the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Four fat days of lectures, workshops, parties, networking, lunching, schmoozing, clapping, laughing, fighting off drowsiness, excitement, nervousness, and hard work. On the fourth night I went out for pie with my best friend and was totally hyper. I giggled and made faces and in general just acted very silly. After all the focus demanded by the conference, I guess I let my inner doof loose.

Highlights for me included:

The Keynote by Walter Dean Meyers, in which he talked about how it's a passion for detail that lead him to become a writer. He really made me think about why I write and what makes writing good versus bad. And he's right - finding the RIGHT details to include about your character and what she's doing and how she does it - that's key.

Emma Dryden's passionate Keynote about the adventure of writing.

Agents Kate Schafer and Tracey Adams talking about their different styles of agenting. Later I attended Kate's "Advice from an Agent" workshop and was blown away when she mentioned an obscure book as one of her favorites - Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. "Any John Marsden fans out there?" she asked. "Yes!" I said, though I don't think she heard me.

These are fabulous teen novels about a group of young people in Australia who go camping without their parents. While they are off in the bush, the rest of their country gets taken over by a foreign power, and they must first struggle to survive before they begin an underground resistance movement.

I loved this series so much that I pitched it to a producer I was working with at the time. She loved them too and went into a bidding war with another producer for the TV rights. Alas, she lost. But I immediately loved Kate for loving that book. Amazing - the power of a great novel.

Tamora Pierce, who wrote some of my favorite fantasy novels, talked about all the many sources she uses for inspiration. Her quote from another writer: "The immature artist imitates. The mature artist steals."

And my favorite - the Writing the Series Workshop with Bonnie Bader and Judy Goldschmidt from Grosset and Dunlap and Price Sterns Sloan. This was two mornings spent learning how to put together a proposal for a book series. After the first day we had homework, and I worked late into Sunday night, determined to make my proposal kick ass. I figured that it ain't often you get to pitch directly to an editor and get feedback. So what the hell. In the second session, as it came near my turn to read my series concept, I could feel my heart start to beat very loudly and very fast. I'd written it in the voice of the protagonist. Would that work? I thought it was pretty damn good. Was I wrong?

Turns out, I was right. Bonnie and Judy said that my proposal was a good example for the others to follow. They liked it! They really did! I just need to really hone the voice. I was shaking by the time I was done. I couldn't really hold my pen to take notes on what they said, so thank goodness most of what they said was positive. After they moved on to other people, I finally calmed down. Whew! So now here I go - I'm gonna rewrite this proposal, come up with three slick, fabulous chapters to submit, and go from there. Very exciting.

I also really enjoyed the Golden Kite Awards luncheon, which included a singing contest and great speeches from Sarah Pennypacker, Larry Day, Walter Dean Meyers again, and Tony Abbott. I'm forgetting someone else very cool, but they all rocked, and our table bonded over the shared fear of singing, and over the ridiculous and fabulous singers from other tables.

Overall grade for the conference: A.

But I'm exhausted and exhilarated. You've got to work, baby, work! And even in college I didn't sit listening to speakers for eight hours at a stretch. Work is less intense, and my job is pretty damned demanding.

I'll be there next year. Wish I could afford the upcoming NYC conference!


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Crazy Life, Peaceful Life

I got back from spending a peaceful July 4 in Hawaii to madness! The fun sort of madness that is my life.

Before I Hawaii I had a karaoke birthday party (for me) and much drunken singing, presents and cards and good wishes from friends took over a weekend. I actually got up and sang - twice. The first time, seriously, I must've sucked. I couldn't hear myself at all, so we all know what that means. The great thing about karaoke is that you're pretty much guaranteed that someone out there is worse than you are.

Then off to stay with my parents (a few nights with Mom, a few with Dad) in Hawaii. Have I mentioned lately how wonderful Hawaii is? Too bad it's so dang hard to make a living there. And my busy, social, fun life in LA reminds me that I'm lucky to live there. But still - even with the beach covered with stinging portuguese men-of war (blue bubbles of death! Well, not death literally, but it hurts like hell if they sting you) at Bellows (best beach ever!) it was paradise.

My Dad snoozed under the ironwood trees, hat over his face. A sunburned haole guy talked to a tow-truck driver as they dug his SUV out of the powdery white sand. A woman in a flowered one-piece threw sticks for her black lab to chase while her two little girls ran around digging men-o-war out of the sand and throwing them in a bright red plastic bucket. The sun beat down, but a soft breeze ruffled the waves. A continuous roar/hiss of the turqoise ocean pulsated pleasantly. Peace. Bliss.

The next day - malasadas! (Slightly crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside Portuguese donuts deep fried and rolled in sugar. Seriously ono. That's Hawaiian for delicious.)

After a few days of this - back to LA. A quick clean up of my apartment, large hellos to the cats, and then a delightful visitor (one of my oldest and best friends). Then - another crazy weekend! Wine on a good friend's patio in the candlelight on a warm summer night, trading jokes and confidences with a group of close buddies. Brunch with more friends the next day, a movie with another huge group of friends (the new Harry Potter, which was pretty good). Then work the next day.

Whew!

What is it about summer that brings out the need to convene and confide? The heat brings out sweat and the urge to reveal oneself, to hang with your community, to sip wine, listen to the crickets chirp, and ponder the meaning of life. And then to crack a rude joke and laugh like a hyena.

Crazy life, rich life!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ay, Mami!

The New York Post has a great article online about catcalls to women from construction workers and the like.

As someone who has been honked at, woo-hooed, and even followed when I run around my neighborhood, I find real joy in the stories where the woman turns around and calls the dude (or dudes) on their silly behavior. Truth is, most of the time this stuff is harmless. But in a world where women must constantly be on the lookout against assault, it's also kind of insensitive. So what else is new? At least we can laugh at it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Screenwriting vs. Novel Writing

So now that I'm scribbling away at my novel, I realize just how different it is from screenwriting. I knew intellectually how different the two endeavors were, but am now getting it at a visceral level.

There are, of course, similarities. The three-act structure works well, generally, in both. But it's not required in a novel. Good dialogue is a must in both, etc.

But thereafter - geez. Things diverge. Screenplays are essentially a blueprint. After it's written, other folks come along and interpret it - the director, actors, producers, editors, etc. Movies and TV are the product of many different people. Because of this, the screenwriter must trust that people read a bit between the lines. You write prose to describe the actions taking place on screen, and then dialogue. That's it! There's very little description. You can nudge the dialogue into an emotional direction with an occasional parenthetical, but after that, it's all up to how the director and editor deal with the actor's performance. The only way to really get into a character's head is with a telling close up or voiceover, which I often find annoying.

In a novel, if you just leave the bare dialogue hanging out there with the equivelent of an occasional parenthetical, readers get confused. There's no actor interpreting things for them. They can't see facial expressions. They get no reaction shots. So you have to give the reader more. A lot more. I'm writing in the first person, and at first I resisted giving too many of my character's thought to the reader. Having been trained in screenwriting, I figure folks will read into the dialogue and get the subtext.

But it doesn't work that way in a novel. As I've added more inner thoughts from my protagonist and shown his inner turmoil, the meaning behind the dialogue becomes clearer for my readers. They like the hero more. They hate the antogonist more. They are far more invested.

There are more ways the types of writing differ, but I need to go off and do some more of that writing. So perhaps more later.

Writing is a constant learning experience. That's one more reason why I like it!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Top Ten Horror Films


I wrote a post for Wyrdstuff about my top ten horror films, which you can read here.

It's gotten a bit of response, I think, because everyone has an opinion about the top ten of anything. Horror fans tend to like the gore, which is not my thing. I like films that are, well, good, first and foremost.

One dude posted, "This is the weakest top ten horror film list I've ever seen." So I checked out his posts. Heavily featured on his blog was a drinking game he'd invented to play while watching Revenge of the Nerds III. I didn't respond, but was tempted to comment: "Dude, does your Mom let you play that in her basement?"

Critiquenic


That's a combo of Critique and picnic - which I just attended last weekend thanks to the SCBWI, which is the international Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Dozens of writers and illustrators met at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills to hang out in big patches of shade, dodging balls thrown by families, watching handsome, sweaty young men on the basketball court -- and to critique and encourage each other in our writing.

And... there were cupcakes!
They divided us up according to type of book we are writing, set each group up with a moderator who had been published, and then off we went, reading and commenting on each other's work. A fellow redhead named Meena and I bonded a bit over working in film and TV, and we launched with Meena's piece, which was hilarious and delightfully written. Then came my piece. It's amazing what you can learn about your writing by having someone else (not just yourself) read it out loud. Places that trip them up as they read are an indication of hotspots to consider revising. It takes you outside the version you have in your head and makes it REAL. All good.
Lots of helpful and encouraging comments followed. As writers, we slave away alone for days and weeks, so it's great to see other people laugh and respond to your work. Everyone wanted to know what happened after my first five pages, which is a good sign. When nearly everyone else agreed that I need to add more of something, I realized they were right.
(As someone who's written tv and movie scripts, I find I tend to write other things a bit too sparingly. In script writing, you keep the prose to a minimum and try to convey as much as you can through action and dialogue, relying on your director and actors to fill in subtext and emotion. Novels are a whole other thingummy. You want to respect your reader and not spell out everything, but you've got to be clear, for crying out loud. And sometimes what's in you head doesn't quite make it to the page.)
It was great to hear other people's work as well as get comments on my own. You can learn a lot from the questions that form over their pages.
Joining the SCBWI has so far been well worth the small dues. In August comes the big ol' conference - four days of networking, seminars, and support. In the meantime, I've started up a second class to get me going on a full outline of my book, fashion query letters, set up a writing routine, and so on. In the midst of it I'll be going to Hawaii to see my parents (hurray!) so I may even have to bring my laptop with me.
Just like a real writer. That's what I am. Finally really starting to believe it!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

On a Roll...

Yes, I'm on a roll, writing my little brains out. I'm on a self-imposed deadling to get 15 decent pages of my latest project in a good enough state to mail out for a critique session I'm paying for in August. I'm attending a major writers conference here in LA, and one thing they offer is a professional in the field giving you a critique. I've been told it's a great experience. So here I go!

Thing is - critiques help. You've got to be open minded. You've got take it with a grain of salt. You've got to still the fast-beating of your heart, breathe, and let go of your baby so that someone else can criticize it.

I know this from previous experience and because I've joined a critique group (just this week!) of writers with similar ambitions. I was a tad nervous. Fortunately, everyone said something complimentary as well as something, er, constructive. The critique group at least is free. Well, except that we meet at a Border's bookstore that requires a $5 purchase to validate parking if you stay more than an hour. But $5 is more than worth it to get five pairs of eyes assessing your work and give you a reality check. Sometimes people give contradictory advice. Sometimes it clashes with your own instincts. But sometimes they give a note that makes your baby even better than it was before.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hostility

I just posted over at Wyrdstuff about how horror movies degrade women in their marketing.

Yes, more feminist, inflammatory stuff that the hordes of young men who go see these movies won't give a hoot about. Ah well. Gotta rant sometimes, ey?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"What is Wrong with Women?"


That's the angry question that writer/director/all around genius Joss Whedon asks in his brilliant rant about the stoning of a young woman in Iraq.


I posted about it on Wyrdstuff, so go there to read my full post. You can link to Joss's website, Whedonesque, from there.


Whedon mulls how this stoning reflects not only on attitudes in Iraq, but how women are seen in general in all societies. He's pessimistic, but determined to try and make a difference. You can go here, if you feel the same kind of determination.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Best. News. Ever.


A very dear friend of mine just left a message on my voicemail that has me over the moon...

As of today she has hit the five-years free of cancer mark!

She got the full body scan, yada yada. And not a spot of cancer. Not a spot for five years, which means she can stop with the scanning and the worrying. The odds of her getting cancer again at this point are so small, she's now once again just like the rest of us.

HURRAY!

It's difficult to describe the swell of relief and happiness this news brings. I'm not only delighted for her, I'm thrilled for those of us who are her family -- thrilled that we're gonna have her around for a good long time.

By the way - the photo above is of the sunset at the north pole. A suitably beautiful, moving image to celebrate with.

"Once"

Saw a terrific little movie this weekend called Once. It's a low budget musical of sorts, shot in Dublin. It stars two wonderful actors you've never heard of, and is romantic in a way you don't often see in more Hollywood films.

Our hero, an unnamed Irishman in his thirties, works by day in his father's "Hoover Repair" shop. But whenever he's able, he plays for the crowds in the center of Dublin on the streets, singing passionately personal songs on his guitar. One day, a cute immigrant from the Czech Republic stops by and asks some perceptive questions about his songs. Soon they are harmonizing like old friends on his songs. Both are in difficult places in their romantic life, and they struggle with their feelings for each other in heartfelt song and amusing, sweet exchanges.

This is the sort of musical where the music doesn't feel imposed or unreal at any moment. Both actors are relatively untrained and unknown, but they have a lovely instinctive style that works beautifully. The movie doesn't go quite where you'd expect, but once you get there, it feels completely right. I'm not much of a sucker for romantic films - most Hollywood stuff is too sappy for me. But this little gem works on every level. It's out only in selected cities, but keep your eyes peeled...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

TV this Fall - Geek Heaven


My latest post on Wyrdstuff gives a lengthy list of cool sounding new shows that geeks like me will like. You know the stuff - full of sci fi and fantasy elements.


You can read the full post here.


The only one I know will stink is Moonlight, formerly known as Twilight, which I read before it shot. The script was marginal (a handsome good vampire becomes a private eye - Angel and Blood Ties anyone?) and I've since heard it's getting revamped (so to speak) and nobody knows what to do with it. So nevermind on that one.


But do keep Pushing Daisies in mind when you watch TV this fall. The script was brilliant, and I've heard the show itself is fabulous.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pick Up Time

It's time to pick up pilots in TV Land. The networks are announcing their slates for fall, dropping some old series and picking up some new ones.

I posted on Wyrdstuff about the best pilot script I read this season, Pushing Daisies, written by Bryan Fuller, creator of Dead Like Me, and co-executive producer of Heroes. The actual post is here.

Most folks in the biz are in New York this week, partying and gaping at the stars of the shows as the networks blast the airwaves with publicity about how this fall will be their best season ever. One famous TV series creator was observed by dozens at the Peninsula hotel, yelling at his actress/singer (former?) girlfriend. It's a madhouse of ego, hype, and hysteria. Good times!

Monday, May 07, 2007

What is Your Daemon?



If you loved the book The Golden Compass, you'll enjoy their website at www.goldencompassmovie.com. There you can take a short quiz (click on the image above) to find out what your daemon is - that's the animal representation of your spirit that manifests into one shape after puberty. Daemons talk and are linked via an invisible thread to their human counterpart. They're one of author Philip Pullman's most amazing concepts in his award winning trilogy called His Dark Materials.

My daemon turned out to be Aesop, the ocelot. I'm gonna keep him!

Take the quiz! Better yet, read the book. It's usually in Young Adult or Teen sections of bookstores, but it's got a lot of very grown up things on its mind.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

LA Festival of Books

Dude! Life is busy right now. I have had scarcely a moment to vacuum and do laundry, let along post stuff here.

However, I'm not too busy to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which will be on the UCLA campus this Saturday and Sunday. It's a madhouse of books, art, talks, panels, fresh food, and lots of people, all on the lovely UCLA campus in Westwood. This year they've got everyone from Kareen Abdul Jabar to Julie Andrews to Jim Lehrer.... to Joseph Wambaugh, James Ellroy, Ray Bradbury, Lee Iacocca, and Frank McCourt.

The Fest is free, but parking is not, so figure on $8 to park. Last year I ended up spending a lot more when I got a lithograph of an illustration by Garth Williams (one of my childhood faves) from "Cricket in Tims Square.

So LA denizens - go! I'll try to report back. More info here:

http://www.latimes.com/extras/festivalofbooks/

And here:

http://www.calendarlive.com/books/la-wk-festival26apr26,0,267803.story?coll=cl-books-features

Happy reading!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Santa Anita Derby


Ventured off to Santa Anita to watch the ponies run. For $5 general admission, it's hard to beat the spectacle of beautiful horses ripping down a track at 40 mph. As you can see from my fabulous (if I do say so myself) photo above, King of the Roxy was in the lead in the Derby as they neared the finish line. But longshot Tiago came roaring up behind him to win the day.


Santa Anita is a beautiful track. Because it was Derby day, it was packed with all sorts of people, from hardened old-timers to families with babies. My only complaint was that the food was terrible and difficult to find. Long lines just to get a Diet Coke led to thirst problems and interfered with betting.


Had trouble fitting everyone in to this photo because I brought my wonderful telephoto lens (thanks, Randy!) so I could capture the faraway action on the track. Valerie peeks in on the left, then Mike, Kim, and Maria at the top right.

Maria did a better job of getting us all in the frame. Me, Val, Mike, and Kim. Valerie had a great run of picking winners, and this was her first time at the track. Beginner's luck, gosh darn it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes


Farewell to a terrific writer and an even better human being. Kurt Vonnegut died last night of injuries from a fall at the age of 84.
His own words serve as a better epitaph than I could conjur. As the New York Times said, his philosophy may best be summed up by these words from his 1965 novel, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”
As a writer, I find the advice below, which he wrote about how to write short stories, of great value:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More Dating Tips

Yes, more delicious, juicy dating tips! Single? Take note! Married? Smugly remind yourself how great it is NOT to be dating.

The same caveat applies as to my previous dating tips post - I'm a woman who dates men, so this advice is slanted in that direction. But with a little imagination, you can apply some of these tips to women.

1. Don't lovingly describe another woman's breasts and nipples during a first date. In fact, it's best to avoid the word "nipples" entirely. No, you are not showing me how sensual you are. You're being an insensitive bonehead. How would you like it if I babbled on and on about another man's fabulous penis?

Yes, this happened to me. If it hadn't, giving this advice would never have occurred to me.

2. If you're interested in someone at work, do not secretly hover behind them as they read their email. You'll be caught, and you'll seem creepy. If caught, do not then say "I didn't mean to read your email over your shoulder." I know that what you really didn't mean to do was get caught doing it. In addition, do not then use the information thus gleaned to start a conversation with the object of your interest. As in, "I didn't mean to snoop, but I couldn't help seeing you were reading an email from the University of Chicago alumni association. I grew up in Chicago!"

3. Men, open the door for your female date. Yes, feminists like this. It's considerate. Take any opportunity to show thoughtfulness.

4. Men, walk your date to her car at the end of the date.

5. Men, if you're lucky enough to have spent some intimate time with a woman in your apartment and she decides to leave after the festivities are over, haul your ass into some pants and walk her out to her car. Do not blink at her sleepily from your door, wave at her vaguely, then slam it shut and double lock it, leaving her in the dark to find her way past vagrants through puddles and rain, to a cold car. If you wish to have a follow up date with her, try to be as considerate and thoughtful as possible.

6. In that vein, as you wish her goodbye from her car, ask her to call you when she gets home "To be sure you get home safely." This is not required, but I highly recommend it. She'll call you when she gets home, you'll have another few minutes of sweet conversation, and you'll have endeared yourself to her for all eternity.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Don't Play With Fire, Knuckleheads!

Apparently a bunch of teenagers playing with fireworks are the idiotic arsonists who set the Hollywood Hills ablaze today, not far from where I work. This photo was taken using my phone camera from my boss's office window. That's the Warner Bros. water tower hovering above the rest of the studio lot, soundstages, offices, and smoke.

Fortunately, our heroic firefighters have the thing under control, but as I speak, my office's normally antiseptic air smells like smoke. Ash falls from the sky. Traffic snarls. Asthmatics wheeze. Small animals die in the brush thanks to some clueless kids.

Just the usual apocalyptic fun here in Los Angeles.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wyrdstuff Wobbles to Its Feet


A new production company has launched - Wyrd Productions, and they've got a blog that covers everything in the world of sci fi, fantasy, horror, comics, and games. Http://wyrdstuff.com. They're still working out the technical kinks, but it's looking pretty good already.

Full disclosure: I post for them under the mysterious name "Nina." And the company was started up by a group of my friends, all talented filmmakers. With many updates every day, it's chock full of interesting info on all things Wyrd.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New (Creative) Job

I can't blog too much about my work, but I did want to post that I started a new job yesterday. I'm now working in development at Horizon Scripted Television, which develops and runs shows for second tier cable. (For you non-TV types, that means networks like FX, TNT, Lifetime, Sci-Fi)

Can't discuss details. Wouldn't want to endanger my fabulous new gig by giving away secrets! But it's exciting to be back in the midst of a creative swirl of energy. I felt this way when I worked with the writers on "Married... With Children." Scripts everywhere, writers and directors coming in for meetings, agents schmoozing...

Ah Hollywood. So fabulous. So annoying. So creative. So insane.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dating Tips

I've been out on a few dates lately, and I have some tips for success.

I'm going to try not to make this gender specific, so I didn't title this post Dating Tips for Men. Much of this will apply to both sexes. But, because I'm a woman and have dated a few very nice men recently who seem clueless about a few dating basics, this may have a bit of a slant. C'est la vie.

1. Don't talk about your ex. In particular, don't talk about her for 45 minutes, mentioning frequently how "passionate" your relationship was, how you wanted to marry her and blend your families, and how you only broke up a month ago. After all that don't tell me you're over her and ready to move on. I know better, and I've already moved on.

2. Don't ask your date "Why are you still single?" in an accusatory tone. This makes your date defensive and prone to say things like "Well, you're single too." In particular, don't follow up with a tale about how everyone who is single at your age has must have major issues or they wouldn't still be single. Would rather go on a date with a married woman?

3. Don't practically force your date to valet park when she'd rather find free street parking. In particular, don't tell her that you'll pay for valet parking and then not pay for it. Also, don't "get a ride" to your car from the valet in your date's car just so you can get her in the car alone and make a move on her, especially after you haven't paid for the valet. Your date saw through your ploy from the beginning and caved because you were just so transparent. Also, if you are a man and get in a woman's car at the end of the first date, she is going to pretend to be nice until you get out and shut the door, no matter what she thinks of you, just in case you turn psycho.

4. A date should be fun. Don't spend fifteen minutes bitching about how crowded and horrible a location is. Don't get morose about the horrific state of the world. Repeat this to yourself - dating should be fun! Your attitude has everything to do with it.

5. Don't call your date early the next morning, telling her how amazing the date was after she dodged your kiss and ran off at high speed the night before. Wait at least until the afternoon or evening to call. That way you seem only hapless rather than desperate.

6. Listen. Interrupt the monologue on your amazing accomplishments with occasional questions for your date. Actually pay attention to what she is saying. Share information rather than lecturing.

7. Don't email headless, shirtless photos of yourself to your date before you've met her. Or even right after you've met her. Save that for later. If there is a later.

8. Don't text your date every five seconds as you are on your way to the date. Don't text other dates during your date. Don't answer your phone. In fact, turn off the phone. If you can't because you are expecting a call, explain this to your date so she is prepared. If you must take a call, keep it quick, apologize the way you wish politicians would when they're caught, and don't do it again.

9. Relax. There are a lot of fish in the sea.

What Book Are You?

So I took a test online that determines what book you are. Apparently, I'm Huckleberry Finn. But my straw hat is shaped like a cowboy hat, gosh darn it.





You're Adventures of Huckleberry Finn!

by Mark Twain

With an affinity for floating down the river, you see things in black
and white. The world is strange and new to you and the more you learn about it, the less
it makes sense. You probably speak with an accent and others have a hard time
understanding you and an even harder time taking you seriously. Nevertheless, your
adventurous spirit is admirable. You really like straw hats.


Try it!
Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stacy Zink - Artist in the News


Fiber artist, weaver extraodinaire, and smart cookie - that's Stacy Zink, who, as I mentioned a few posts ago, is currently in Baltimore at the "grandaddy" of crafts shows to show her gorgeous, handmade designs to wholesalers and retailers alike.

The local Baltimore news station featured Stacy heavily in a recent broadcast of the show. You can catch a glimpse of her poise and her sense a humor, as well as learn how she makes her scarves, shawls, and ponchos so exquisite. Check out this clip.

Stacy's one who is truly living the creative life here in Los Angeles. But make no mistake, she works twice as hard as most people I know. The odds are against you in this town, but Stacy's proof that it's possible.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wearable Art


My friend and fashion maven Stacy Zink has new photos of her weaving artistry up on her site.

Click here.

The stuff is gorgeous. She's off now to the big, prestigious Baltimore Crafts Show to hopefully sell out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fresh Yarn from Valerie


Okay, it's another Christmas story, but my friend Valerie had her memoir/story "The Christmas Secrets" published online in December in a magazine called Fresh Yarn. It's intimate, candid, horrifying, and funny. But that's Valerie.

Click here.

Great Short Short Story

"Christmas" by Tao Lin. Check it out at Monkey Bicycle:

http://www.monkeybicycle.net/archive/Lin/christmas.html

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Whale of a Valentine



This year the Japanese government aims to hunt more than 1,000 whales in the Southern Ocean whales sanctuary. And once again, Greenpeace will be there to defend the whales. Last year Greenpeace saved 82 whales by confronting the whale hunters on the sea. Eight hundred whales still lost their lives. Ninety percent of the female whales killed in the Southern Ocean last year were either pregnant or nursing.

This Valentine's Day, make your love count. Save a whale. You may not be able to be on the boat that gets between the whales and the Japanese harpoons, but you can help. Greenpeace makes it easy with online actions that involve just a few minutes of your time and involve typing a few words and clicking "send." Go to http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/.


(And check out the kindergarten skills I used to combine an icon of myself with Greenpeace's latest poster/message to Japan, above. Pretty rickety, ey?)

My valentine this year is to the whales, and to the Japanese who oppose whaling. Greenpeace is reaching out to them, and you can too. Kiss someone you love, then go forth and make a difference. Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Night Hiking



I'm finally feeling better after nearly three weeks of flu. I haven't shivered like that since I was a child. But, back to nearly as good as new and grateful for it, last night I went on a night hike in Griffith Park with my friend Valerie.

We'd done it once before, thanks to the Sierra Club, which attracts dozens of people three times a week to various level hikes through the scrubby hills of the park. It is eerie and delightful to wander through the black and gray world of the wild, right next to the 5 freeway. On overcast nights, the lights of the city bounce off the overhanging clouds with an alien orange glow, providing more than enough light to wander up and down the dirt roads and trails. Clear, moonless nights are dark and require both a level of focus and a trust in your group to find the pitfalls and scare off the predators for you. Is that a rock or a rattlesnake? Well, that elderly lady with the walking stick stepped on it and it didn't bite her. Must be safe.

Strange rustles in the fallen leaves hit your ears just that much sharper when you can't see very far. Once, hiking above a picnic area, we looked down and saw two coyotes playing tag amongst the wooden tables and garbage cans. They romped through our territory while we pushed further into theirs.

Last night we tried a level three hike, which is moderately difficult and lead up a trail apparently called AnkleBreaker. Hmm. The guide, a hearty man in his sixties who left us in the dust, explained that it was much tougher going down AnkleBreaker than going up. But we were treated to a spectacular view of Los Angeles, a conversation with fellow hikers that revealed a new place in Silver Lake to go wine tasting, and yet another coyote, this one making quite a racket near the parking lot. Not the sort of stealth you'd expect from these supposedly crafty canines.

It's exhilarating to wander through the center of a town and feel close to the wild. If you're in LA, you can check out this hike and other fabulous Sierra Club outings, most of them free, at: http://angeleschapter.org/.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Flu

Someone has sketched a dying animal into the outline of my limbs.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Focus on Female Directors



Spent an enjoyable evening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood watching a bunch of short films directed by women. It was the American Cinematheque's Second Annual Focus on Female Directors night, a celebration begun and continued by my industrious friend Kim Adelman, who covers short film for the website www.Indiewire.com and has written a fabulous book called The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films: Making It Big in Shorts.

First, I always enjoy a night at Grauman's Egyptian, which since it's remodel has become the most attractive theater in Los Angeles. I am an Egyptophile, so I may be a tad biased, but how many theaters you know have a courtyard containing palm trees, let alone palm trees carefully lit against the sky at night? This theater houses the organization, the American Cinematheque, which does events like last night's Focus on Female Directors, brings back camp classics like Walk on the Wild Side, and promotes the heck out of all sorts of film and filmmakers.

The short films we saw last night were supposedly the creme de la creme of shorts made by women. Zoe Cassavetes directed a 20-minute comedy that evoked her father's realistic style and respect for actors called "Men Make Women Crazy Theory." It was so realistic in its depiction of a neurotic young woman hanging onto a man who treats her poorly that I wanted to shake the character and tell her to get some self respect.

Sanaa Hamri got her start lensing music videos, and we saw an example of this with Prince's video for "Musicology." Very nicely shot. That was followed by the concise, energetic "Viernes Girl," directed by Aurora Guerrero, where an annoyed sister has to listen to her brother seduce a different girl every day, until the Friday girl (Viernes) provides an interesting twist. Ms. Guerrero spoke passionately after the screening about her desire to depict a life more like her own, and how her movie had been shot by a crew that was almost exclusively female, Latina, and queer-identified. At only six minutes long, this film was probably the most inventively directed of the group, using split screen, sometimes even dividing the image in three screens, to address the issue of boundaries -- what keeps people apart and how they come together.

Sian Heder directed "Mother" for the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and got amazing performances out her actors, including twin one-year old girls. One of the few movies that didn't directly deal with romantic love, "Mother" was surprisingly effective and moving.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Mary Wigmore co-directed the most commercial of the films, "Dealbreaker," which had a laugh out loud moment and a predictable ending appropriate for a romantic comedy. While the two-minute "Girl Meets Boy," directed by Grace Lee, utterly confounded the usual romantic comedy stereotypes very effectively. ("Dealbreaker" is available for free download at ITunes. It's 13 minutes long.)

"The Danish Poet," directed by Torill Kove was probably the most popular film of the evening, using animation and the warm voice of Liv Ullmann to tell a whimsical fable about love and destiny. Here the tone of the script meshed beautifully with the more quirky animation, fusing into a story that felt timeless. Short film maven Kim Adelman predicted that it would be nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Film, so keep your eyes peeled, and see it if you can.