Monday, August 31, 2009

Ellen Hopkins on Writing the Edge

In her latest blog post, YA writer Ellen Hopkins tells it like it is to those who would censor YA/teen books, or who think that there are some topics teen books shouldn't discuss.

Specifically, she's talking about her new book, TRICKS, which deals with teen prostitution. Reviewers objected to the inclusion of unhappy sex scenes and the use of the word fuck. (Only they call it the "f-bomb." As Ellen Hopkins says - just say the word already. It's in use all over high schools, and often in middle schools.)

So how exactly should a writer deal with a book about teen prostitution aimed at teens? Gloss over it, use euphemisms, pretend it's not there? The truth is that there are teens who struggle with this issue, and a book like this can really have a positive effect on their lives, as long as it is honest and real to them. How could it possibly be real without sex scenes and swear words? Hopkins details two girls in particular who found strength and hope through the book. I think that trumps anything a reviewer might have to say.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Seven Questions: Cheri Waterhouse

Cheri Waterhouse is an actor, a writer, and a film producer. Her hilarious, insightful independent film Young, Single, and Angry is out on pay-per-view and On Demand, and is available on ITunes and Amazon. A recent emigree to Las Vegas, she blogs at What Happens in Vegas Goes in My Blog and has a column called Cheri’s Sin City with MyVegasScene. You can find her on Twitter here and on Facebook (She’s that one with the big smile on her face…yeah, that’s her).

1. Congrats on making Young, Single, and Angry and getting it onto Video on Demand and Amazon and ITunes! Please tell aspiring filmmakers how you managed to turn your screenplay into a finished film.

Wheewww, it was a long process, Nina. I had never written a screenplay before and started to take screenwriting classes with Pilar Alessandra at On The Page after I wrote the first draft (where I learned that everything I was doing was, well, backward and much harder). I was lucky enough to have amazing actors as friends and did many readings of the script. I found this very helpful, because you can actually hear things that are clunky, pieces that are missing and parts that just don't work.

I tried to sell the script for about one year (without any luck) then decided that if I was going to be successful at anything, I had to make it happen myself. I asked my close friend, Cathleen Alexander, who had produced an independent feature and my older brother Richard Waterhouse, who is an acting teacher and a very good theatre director, to help me bring it to fruition.

We begged and borrowed funds, used friends’ houses as locations, used the actors' wardrobes as costumes and really relied on all (I mean all) our friends to help out. We shot for approximately seven months (on nights and weekends). Everyone had day jobs and other paying acting gigs, so we had to accommodate everyone’s schedule.

After the film was finished, we hired the amazing Peter Belsito and Sydney Levine from Film Finders to help us find a sales agent to get the film distributed. We attended AFM (American Film Market) and the Berlin Film Market. At Berlin, we were lucky enough to catch the eye of Imagination Worldwide, who took us under their wing and found us international and domestic distribution. Film Finders and Imagination have been so good to us. They believed in our film, and really worked hard to make this all work.

We also worked our asses off. This was truly a labor of love and we literally downed hundreds of cases of wine to keep from feeling those pesky “labor pains.” This has been a five year process, and we are excited to move on to the next project.

(Photo: Cheri Waterhouse [right] and her fellow producer, Cathleen Alexander)

2. What advice would you give aspiring screenwriters and independent film producers?

Writers, just write. You can fix it later. Sometimes you’ll write a load of crap, then you’ll pull a gem out of your bum. Just write.

Also write down all your ideas. I put mine on an Excel sheet. You may not want to write about them now, but later, they may really strike you as your next exciting project.

Producers, know your vision. I made so many mistakes. I mean soooo many.

Click with your director, DP [director of photography], editor, get to know them. Know in your heart that they are on the same page with you or else the film won’t work.

If they don’t understand (“get”) the script or have their own vision that is different from you, it will cause a big conflict in the process…. It’s a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario.

I was really fortunate in some instances. And in others…not so much.

Then when you know they’re right for the project, take a deep breath and surrender a little bit. Micromanaging is not good, for anybody.

P.S. this is from watching other people’s low budgets in process: be nice to your crew. You’re paying them practically nothing. Feed them well, respect them and be kind. They are there for you. But they won’t be if you abuse them. I loved my crew. They were the best.

(Here's the trailer for the movie)

3. What would you say are the best and worst things about trying to lead a creative life?

The best thing about leading a creative life is that it’s fun. I look forward to it. I surprise myself, crack myself up and I am constantly amazed how dark I get sometimes. It’s really like therapy. I’m grateful that I get to reach the highest highs and the lowest lows and then I turn off my computer and it was all in my imagination. Exploration is exhilarating. Figuring out that missing piece of the puzzle is also a big high for me.

The worst: finances. Being independently wealthy would really help my situation. Oh well. Finding day jobs, juggling paying work and writing. I feel guilty if I don’t spend equal time on either (that darn Midwestern work ethic. Phooey).

My dream is to be able to finance my own films, so I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone. Or find a lovely benefactor who believed in me to finance me so I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone. If you’re interested, talk to Nina and she’ll give you my info. Hee, Hee.

4. How do you jolt yourself out of it when you're stuck, creatively? Or maybe you never get stuck! In which case, please allow me to poke you viciously.

This is going to sound a little twisted, but it really works for me. I expect it to be bad. I lower the bar so far that I assume anything that goes on the page will be crap. No expectations, no blocks.

Or if I get to a part where I can’t figure out “how” it will happen, I skip it and keep writing. Figure it out later. It will come to you eventually. I usually write “Then he/she magically gets to this place” or I write something that is boring or lame so I can just keep on plowing through. You will figure out something brilliant later on down the line.

5. What books, movies or other media inspire you?

I love movies (even the ones I don’t care for took an amazing amount of work, so I appreciate them). Hedwig and the Angry Inch was SOOO exciting to me, Sweet Hereafter, Old School (cracked me up), Princess Bride. Starting to like zombie movies (being nudged to the dark side by a friend). Plays by John Guare, books by Anne LaMott.

Music: Love Rufus Wainwright and Bonnie Raitt (and Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age).

Most of my television watching is fueled by my twisted sense of humor or my libido(sorry, over share): True Blood, Hung, Burn Notice, Nurse Jackie, Weeds, Rome, Deadwood, Dexter, The Mentalist, What Not To Wear, The Daily Show…You can decide what shows belong in which category.

6. What creative project are you working on now?

I’m writing a web series with my brother called “FU Public Relations.” I also have a script about a transvestite called “RocknRoll Hootchiecoo. ‘ I write show and restaurant reviews for I have a blog What Happens In Vegas Goes In My Blog. I’m discussing peri-menopause right now, which I’m sure is so exciting for all your readers. Then my first drama, that I am scared to talk about (I’m expecting it to be bad. See, it works).

7. Obligatory silly question: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Ok, I would really need two (sorry to be so demanding…but I will anyway).

1. Reading people’s minds (Now that’s power).

2. Transporting from one place to the next instantly (Pub tour in Europe, no problem. Photographic Safari in Namibia…sure! Lunch with Anthony Bourdain in Thailand. Poof, I’m there.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Cheri! Readers, please check out Young, Single, and Angry on Video on Demand or on ITunes and Amazon.

Interview, Coming Up!

I'm arranging chats with various creative types so I can share their stories of success and frustration here on The Tulgey Wood. So stay tuned. I hope to have my interview with writer/filmmaker Cheri Waterhouse up later today or early tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Best. Cartoon. Ever.

Saw this again today and had to post it. Probably my favorite cartoon ever, although a couple other Warner cartoons come close. Without further ado: Feed the Kitty!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Big Fat Fantasy

I'm currently reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. So far it's an excellent fantasy novel, set in a rich world with an intriguing anti-hero and a rich use of language.

It's been awhile since I read a fantasy novel like this - one aimed squarely at adults and male readers rather than at women and teens. The main difference so far is the pace. YA usually reads like a bat out of hell. Even the more adult but female-oriented fantasy books like the excellent Mercy Thompson novels by Patricia Briggs tend to move more quickly than the tomes put out by male authors of the genre like Robert Jordan (not my cup of tea), George R.R. Martin (Song of Ice and Fire novels are MUST READS for fantasy fans), and Neal Stephenson (haven't had the guts to open up one of his gigando books yet).

Yes, yes, I know there are fast paced male fantasy writers - Terry Pratchett, some Greg Keyes, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, etc. And JK Rowling could go on a bit long at times in the Harry Potter books (love them!), not to mention the rather lengthy Mists of Avalon, which I could never finish. But if you pick up a big fantasy novel that throws out your back and has a few sequels that are even longer, odds are it was written by a man.

I'm not objecting. I'm just remarking on the difference. In the case of books like Martin's, I never want them to end. I'm grateful for their full-blooded appeal. And so far The Name of the Wind has been delightful, even though I'm a hundred pages in and the real story hasn't started yet. I can't help thinking: that would never fly in YA, dude.

But there's room for all kinds. I just wonder why it's the men who do go on...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Self Marketing for Writers

Am linking to this as much for my own benefit as for any readers out there! Great post on the very hand blog Market My Words (bookmark it for further use, since they have a ton of great marketing advice for writers!) by editor Molly ONeill, assistant editor of Katherine Tegen books.

I won't repeat all she says here, but her advice is extensive and excellent. Get a web presence, understand what each type of media does for you, make a marketing plan of your own, and so on. Writers, take note!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Two Links for Writers Today

Check out writer/illustrator Peggy Abraham's post on her blog On Beyond Words & Pictures, where she interviews two 13-year-old readers about what they like to read. Interesting to hear how much the cover of the book affects them. Note to self - don't let my future published books have shiny covers!

Also, if you want more updates on the SCBWI conference in LA, check out Eva's Book Addiction for detailed reports. Thanks to the internet, it's almost like being there!

Monday, August 10, 2009

SCBWI Conference Time!

I couldn't make it to this year's big SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference here in LA this year. Today's the last day. I went the previous two years and learned a ton each time while making new friends. But financial considerations made me decide to forgo the experience this year.

However, I'm thrilled to report that this year there's a vicarious way to experience the conferece - on a blog. Check out the Official SCBWI Conference Blog here.

If you're on Twitter, you can get great little tidbits by following Alice Pope here. Even if you don't want to join Twitter, you can see her tweets by clicking on that link. You learn everything from how cool Holly Black's shoes are to what editors are looking for. Invaluable stuff.

Here's a taste of what you'll find on the blog - a few minutes of the Master Class with Richard Peck:

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Miss you, Natalie.

About four and a half years ago, my good friend Natalie deliberately drank herself to death. It's harsh and horrible to even type those lines and I'm sorry to inflict them on you, my few, my lovely readers. But I miss her tonight. Ironically, she of all people is the person I could talk to about what I'm feeling about her death, and she would understand. And missing her is all mixed up with the awful circumstances of her death. Don't worry, I won't go into them here.

It's just that I saw an episode of a British TV series tonight called "Being Human." That in itself isn't remarkable, although the show is good fun for fans of the supernatural and I'd recommend it if you have BBC America. But there was this bit in it tonight where a ghost realizes that he finally resolved what he needed in order to "move on." He fell in love, even though he claimed not believe in love when he was alive. And so he gets to take the next step - whatever that means. He opens a door that wasn't there before and he goes through it, into a blue-ish light, and voila.

I kept thinking, throughout this - has Natalie moved on? Did she walk into a light? Is she at peace? Given the turbulence of her last year, she must be more at peace than when she was alive. And mostly I think that death brings an end to things, one way or the other.

And as I cried a bit and missed her and thought about all that I did and didn't do while she was still here, I realized how much her death affected me and my writing. Bits of her inform every page of the YA novel I wrote recently. And after she died I really got cracking on my writing. Nothing like having someone cut their life short to make you realize that you never know what's going to happen, so you better get on the stick NOW before you take your leave too. And I wanted to do the opposite of take my life. I wanted to live live live and do the things I'd dreamed of and make something of myself, rather than make nothing, which is what suicide does.

But it's hard. And even as I know I've made a lot of progress, a small thing like a scene in an English TV show can remind me of all that's gone and never will be. So even as I remember who and what I am and celebrate that and move forward, I miss Natalie. It took me awhile to miss her. That last year with her was tough. But tonight I wish I could call her up and tell her I love her and listen to her wild laugh.

And some small part of my writer's brain is thinking - use this. It'll make a good story some day. How horrible and awful is that? Natalie would appreciate it.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Favorite Old YA Books I

Got a bit burned out from meeting various deadlines and took a blogging break. Back now!

I thought I'd post every now and then on a YA book I love, to say what's so awesome about it or how it influenced me. Today's post is on Elizabeth Marie Pope's novel The Perilous Gard.

During the last days of Mary Tudor's reign in England, outspoken lady-in-waiting Kate Sutton is exiled to a remote castle (the Gard in the title), where she discovers the old ways of sacrificing a young man to the fairy folk still thrive. Kate musters all her intelligence and will to save the young man, falling in love and finding herself in the process.

This vibrant, exciting, beautifully written book combines my love for history, fantasy, romance, and strong female heroines. I love history, and Pope's story gives us a glimpse into life in Tudor England (we even get to meet Princess Elizabeth Tudor, a hero of mine) before showing us an England even older and far more dangerous.

And then there's Kate Sutton, who may be clumsy and have difficulty holding her tongue, but it's exactly those qualities that end up saving her and the young man she loves. She's brainy, stubborn, insecure about her looks, and has a will that cannot be bowed. You guessed it - I identified with her in a big way, and she's a role model for some of the female characters I write. The romance that develops is sweet without being cloying because both parties are pig-headed and smart. Another lesson learned from this book - keep the villains multi-layered. The faery folk are sympathetic yet terrifying. You get a poignant glimpse of what it might mean to be one of the them in a land that no longer believes in you.

This one of those books shelved in the teen section that could just as easily be read by adults

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Teach Creativity

A brilliant talk here by education expert Sir Ken Robinson. He contends that creativity has the same importance in education as literacy.

The whole talk will resonate with anyone who ever felt that public education lead them away from their passion. Or anyone who was ever educated at all, really. It's 19 minutes long, but edifying and occasionally hilarious. "Can you imagine William Shakespeare being seven? He was in someone's English class, wasn't he? How annoying would that be?"