Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weird Al Rocks My World

I spent this last weekend in Phoenix, acting as a bridesmaid for one of my close friends. I have to say, the entire weekend was fantastic, from the pool lounging to the completely not-horrible bridesmaid's dress (yes, they do exist) to the flawless ceremony and the marathon dance party afterward. But one of the highlights was definitely the bachelorette party where I, for the first time, saw Weird Al Yankovic in concert.

I'd been a sort of casual admirer of his songs for some time, but since I don't listen to a lot of popular music, the finer points of his parodies are usually lost on me. But Friday night I found a reason to fall in love with him.

The man is a dynamo. When he hits that stage he EXPLODES. The energy radiates off him in waves. And he loves his fans. That's evident not only from the way he sings and goofballs his heart out, but from the way he interacts with them. During one song, he gave up his mic to a girl wearing a chicken hat - clearly, he's more concerned with everybody having an awesome time than with making his own voice heard every minute.

Not to mention that he has fabulous hair.

The act of performance fascinates me. I hope to use my written words to entertain people, but Weird Al uses his whole body. Unlike a book, that you can access as long as the pages stick to the spine, a performance is an ephemeral thing (and no, recording it does not count. No video is the same as a live performance, which is why we still buy concert tickets), good for one night only. The actor or the singer puts her whole self into creating something that will be gone almost as soon as its born. And yet, live performance is an incredibly powerful thing.

Well, that's it. I feel like I should have some profound conclusion, but I don't. I'm just fascinated.

Cheers, all!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pygmalion at the Alley

Tonight I got to attend the Alley Theatre's production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I'd read the play before, once in high school and once when studying for my comps, and I have practically memorized the film version of My Fair Lady, but I'd never before seen the play performed. I was little nervous since I am such a big fan of the film that I wouldn't be able to avoid constant comparisons between my memories of it and what I was watching on the stage. I also am not the biggest fan of the Alley troupe's usual leading lady Elizabeth Bunch - I've previously seen her in The Thirty-Nine Steps where she was hilarious, and in Peter Pan where her Wendy left something to be desired (in her defense, it's not easy to be a woman playing a  little girl pretending to be a woman, and Barrie wrote a lot of strange lines).

But overall, I have to say that tonight's performance was delightful. The first scene took a bit to get warmed up - the British accents were a little shaky, and I was haunted by shades of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. But by scene two the actors hit their stride, and the brilliant hilarity of Shaw's wonderful exploration of language and the battle of the sexes took over. I surprised myself by enjoying Bunch's loud-mouthed Eliza, particularly during her infamous tale of the aunt who was "done in" and also during her final, furious battle with Higgins. This is the scene that receives shortest shrift in the movie, probably because it doesn't play to the film's understated but decidedly happy ending where Eliza returns to Wimpole street (which she does not do in Shaw's original: the ending is left ambiguous, although Shaw hoped audiences would reach a different conclusion than the one almost everybody does). But it is the heart of Shaw's play, where his belief about the right of every person, regardless of class or gender, to own their own soul really comes to the forefront, and Bunch and leading man Todd Waite played it fully in all its bitter battle glory.

The real star of the production in my opinion, though, was Elizabeth Shepherd as Henry Higgins's long-suffering mother. She was the perfect late Victorian mother, who both loves and can't abide her ingenious and terribly improper son. Her lines were delivered with just the right amount of dry wit and no nonsense-attitude that, I think, make her one of Shaw's most Wildean and lovable characters.

Finally, anyone encountering Pygmalion for the first time should follow up the production with a visit to Shaw's text where they'll find what you don't see in the Hepburn/Harrison film or on the stage - a multiple page author note where Shaw passionately explains why Eliza and Higgins will NOT end up together, why it would be appalling if they did so, and why society in general is completely wrong about women (this from a man whose own relationships with women were often troubled). It's fascinating example of an author utterly exasperated with his public for reaching the wrong conclusion - an authorial attempt to reclaim a text that's been released for public consumption. But the truth is, an author can't control the way readers will interpret (in this case) his work, particular when the ending is left ambiguous. Once the play is performed, it is no longer up to Shaw whether or not Eliza and Higgins will get together. It's up to the audience.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Vive le summer!

Okay, it's been a while since my last French class, so my vocabulary is a little embarrassing. And this is the first time I've blogged since February, which is more than a little embarrassing.

But it's summer. And I finally have enough energy to send my novel rewrite zipping along as it should be. I don't mean that words are magically flowing from the ends of my fingers. I mean that I've finally recovered the energy and focus to sit down for 3-4 hours a night, every night, and FORCE them out. It's exhilarating. It's exhausting. I'm so happy.

Hopefully this new surge of productivity will include a few blog posts, but I'm done scheduling myself or planning what to write in advance. I finally realized that I'd been trying to do with blogging exactly what I don't do with my writing--outline. I start with a scene or a character and let that little piece lead me down a path and tell me what it will be. I figure my blog should probably be the same way. I put in the time, and the blog decides what it will be :)

If you are a fiction writer and you aren't reading Patricia C. Wrede's blog, you should be. Her posts are so chock-full of good common sense about the writerly life, that I suspect she's actually her own character, the witch Morwen (whose front gate sports a sign reading "None of this nonsense, please") in disguise. As proof, I offer up her last two posts, which have been about, yes, budgeting. What could be more down to earth than that?

Check out Pat's blog here: http://pcwrede.com/blog/.

Cheers, ya'll! Enjoy your summers. Wear sunscreen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rant: Used Book Dealers

I have a cold. Ergo, I am crabby. Ergo, I want to complain about something. I am convinced that all great reformers had perpetual head colds.

Where do used book dealers get off? I mean SERIOUSLY! Used car dealers don't key their name on the doors of their merchandise! Thrift shop owners don't write the price in black magic marker on the front of every piece of clothing. And yet used book dealers seem to think nothing of defacing the covers of their stock!

Here are some of my biggest pet peeves:

1. Stickers that don't peel off easily and leave fuzzy remains and sticky adhesive patches on the covers.

Exhibit A: Does it really cost that much to get stickers that peel off?

2. Using a fat black marker on the cover

Exhibit B: They've already got a huge sticker - couldn't they have used it to cover the barcode and forgone the marker?

3. Making a HOLE in the cover.

Exhibit C: What's the matter, guys, couldn't get your big, nasty sticker to stretch far enough? Or was it just a love affair with a hole punch?

4. Stickers whose adhesive is so powerful IT TEARS THE BEAUTIFUL FRONT COVER with any attempt to remove it.

Exhibit D: Weep with me. Just Weep.

It's not that I don't appreciate used bookstores and sellers. Believe me, on a graduate student stipend I give them a LOT of business. But does having used merchandise mean it's ok to vandalize it?

(I should qualify that not all used book dealers are offenders. Half Price Books, for example, does a pretty good job of using small, easily peel-offable stickers.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: A Bear Called Paddington

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond, first published 1958, 128 pages

Tonight, I'm delighted to point the spotlight at one of my very favorite children's books. A Bear Called Paddington and its sequels are stories that have transitioned well for me: I loved them when I was a kid, and I appreciate them just as much (perhaps even more) as an adult.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown (your typical middle class British couple), first meet Paddington on a railway platform. When they learn that he has just emigrated from Darkest Peru and has nowhere to go, they promptly adopt him into their family, renaming him Paddington after the station where they found him. Hilarious misadventures ensue, from Paddington's nearly drowning in the bathtub, to his dabbling in high art, to his sailing across the Atlantic in a bucket. But no matter how bad things may look, they are sure to come right in the end. As Mrs. Bird, the Brown's crusty but gold-hearted housekeeper remarks, "Bears have a way of landing on their feet."

Although Paddington may look like a typical, cutesy animal hero, his character is surprisingly complex. Michael Bond describes him in this way:

"The great advantage of having a bear as a central character is that he can combine the innocence of a child with the sophistication of an adult. Paddington is not the sort of bear that would ever go to the moon - he has his paws too firmly on the ground for that. He gets involved in everyday situations. He has a strong sense of right and wrong and doesn't take kindly to the red tape bureaucracy of the sillier rules and regulations with which we humans surround ourselves. As a bear he gets away with things. Paddington is humanised, but he couldn't possibly be 'human'. It just wouldn't work."

I think this surprising sophistication is a large part of why I still enjoy the books. Interwoven with each of Paddington's child friendly adventures is an adult joke that pokes fun at the often silly ways we choose to run our society.

But even more than that, I love the sense of well being that pervades these stories. Although Paddington tumbles into a lot of tight spots, he gets back out of them with the help of his own self confidence and the assistance of his staunchly loyal friends. For Paddington, good will makes a good world, and although I wouldn't want to read myself into it all the time, it's nice to visit every so often and revel in the comfort that a good cup of cocoa and a chat with an understanding friend can bring.

Official Paddington Bear Web Site

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Carrot, carrot, carrot, and absolutely no stick

I'm trying a new strategy to help me meet word count goals. In the first place, I'm making my goals small and not quite immediate.

In the past, I've chosen large, far away goals:

Me: Brain, produce 15,000 words by the end of this month.
Brain: I'll do it tomorrow ... tomorrow ... tomorrow ... There are only two days left in the month! I can't 15,000 words! I'm a failure! Feed me chocolate to soothe my lousy self image!

Or daily goals:

Me: Brain, write 500 words every day this week!
Brain: I'm too tired tonight, I'll catch up tomorrow ... I can't catch up! I'm a failure! Feed me chocolate to replace my shattered sense of self worth!

So instead of either of these, on Monday I'll set a goal of something like 3,000 words by Saturday.This eliminates room for procrastination and is much less overwhelming, but gives me more wiggle room than a daily goal.

More importantly, I'm trying out a new reward system. I've tried rewards in the past with limited to no success. But I think it's because I chose the wrong kind of reward. It would go something like this:

Me: Brain! Produce 1,000 words before we go to bed, and we will eat a piece of that chocolate that's in the refrigerator!
Brain: If we ate a piece of chocolate now, it would inspire me!
6 pieces of chocolate later ...
Brain: I give up! I'm going to bed! I'm a lousy slacker AND I'm fat!

So my new rewards must meet the following criteria:

1. NOT something I already have (chocolate already in the fridge is not a good reward)
2. NOT something I normally buy or do (take a nap is not a good reward)
3. NOT something I actually need (new gym socks are not good rewards)
4. NOT guilt producing (too expensive or too unhealthy are not good rewards)
5. IS something that feels indulgent or luxurious

I started off with bang, awarding myself for meeting my Valentines' Day word goal with this book of culinary awesomeness:

Admittedly, if I hadn't had the help of a huge Borders coupon and a little Valentines money from the parents, I wouldn't have been able to get it without violating condition #4.

But the point is, that my coupon expired on February 14, and even though I felt tired and lackadaisical and did NOT want to push myself through that last 600 words, I really, really wanted this book, so I made myself do it. And it felt great.

(I won't say anymore about the book right now, since it will probably be the subject of a future review. But I do have to announce that it includes punch-out meat magnets. MEAT MAGNETS!!!! How bizarre and wonderful is that? I suppose vegetarianism would dampen the thrill ...)

At any rate, I will keep you all posted on how the new strategy works out. And now for some minor counting:

Fantasy WIP: 37,780
Pounds left to lose before I enter the heart healthy zone: 3.4 (Eep of happiness!)

A final note:

If you haven't indulged in any Beatrix Potter lately, get thee to Project Gutenberg! I recommend The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, which is slightly gruesome, tongue-in-cheek, and, like all of Potter's work, utterly charming.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Here it is, the shiny cover of the first book in Tera Lynn Childs' new Medusa Girls trilogy:

I love the subtle reference to the original myth in the twisting end of the braid - it looks as though it's writhing, about to hiss, but only if you already know the story of Medusa. It gives me a delicious sense of being in the know, and if a cover can do that, I think it's well on its way to being a success!

The Medusa girls are three descendants of the misunderstood (according to Childs) gorgon Medusa. Once ordinary teens, they now find themselves in charge of guarding the portal between the world we know and love, and the realm of monsters.

Sweet Venom will be released October 2011. If you'd like to find out more about the book, check out one of these links:

Sweet Venom Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/sweetvenombooks
Synopsis on TLC's blog: http://teralynnchilds.com/books/sv.htm
Character collages: http://yawriters.blogspot.com/2010/05/title-help-time.html
Sweet Venom Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7670741-sweet-venom

Thanks for stopping by! Spread the word!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Update and promo for sneak peek

I can't believe I forgot to write my review yesterday! I'd been thinking all week about what book I wanted to do, and then on the day of, it completely slipped my mind. I think I was too busy luxuriating in being warm for the first time in what seems like forever.

Anyway, I will save the VSB (very special book) for next Sunday, but I wanted to pop on and announce that tomorrow will be a very special day on this blog. I'll be participating in a COVER REVEAL for the upcoming YA novel Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs. The book is the first in a trilogy about teenage descendants of Medusa (how great is that?)

Tera herself is a wonderfully sweet and encouraging person (I've been able to chat with her a couple of times), and I'm delighted to be able to help her out. Her books are perfect beach reading (and believe me, the wrong book ruins your day at the beach) if you're a sucker for lighthearted teen romance - adorable, funny, and definitely happy ending-y.

So tune back in tomorrow for a sneak peek at lovely new cover of Sweet Venom!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: Son of Interflux

The Superbowl threw off my blogging schedule, but I'm back on track!

Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman, first published 1986, 288 pages

Possibly my most favorite funny book ever. I fell in laugh-out-loud love with Korman's work when I was in middle school, and I've been reading and rereading his classic stuff ever since.

Simon Irving's dad is the vice president of Interflux - the world's largest manufacturer of useless things (useless by themselves, that is. For example: there was the seat, and there was the toilet - Interflux invented the device that connected the two). Mr. Irving sees a brilliant corporate career for his only son, but all Simon wants is to pursue his talent for painting at the exclusive Nassau School for the Arts. And when he finds a way to screw Interflux by buying a crucial piece of development land with the school's party money, he suddenly finds himself leading the highly talented and wildly eccentric student body in a crusade against the powerful corporation - and his own father.

I can't decide whether what I love most are Korman's crazy characters, his sense of comedic timing, or his eye for the ridiculous. Take heart breaker Sam, who could have any girl in school and gets himself kicked out of art class because he can't stop painting camels. Or Mrs. Irving, who tries one diet after another and drives her family to the haven of Burger King. And then there's Simon himself, a lovably average guy who screws up his second, third, fourth, and fifth chances with the girl of his dreams. Put them all together and I laugh until I cry. Ultimately, Son of Interflux is a celebration of creativity, friendship, and the utter unpredictability of life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In which I persevere, despite not having much to count

I was, in fact, tempted to skip this week's counting session, since the numbers are rather depressing, but avoiding a cold, hard fact never did anyone any good. And besides, if I skipped it, I wouldn't get to post this lovely picture of my role model!

Pounds to lose to next reward sticker: .4 (Argh!)

Fantasy novel word count: 33, 063 (could be worse)

Dickens project word count: 1,785 (groan)

There, that's over with! And hopefully, next week's counting will be more prosperous. Until then, may your checkbooks balance the first time, every time.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: The Convenient Marriage

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer, 1934, 307 p.

Thanks to my membership in Paperback Swap, I finally scored this beautiful edition of one of my all time favorite Regency romance novels, by the incomparable Georgette Heyer.

When Horatia's beautiful older sister is to be sacrificed on the altar of Family Duty, giving up her true love in order to marry the wealthy Earl of Rule (and pull her family out of their financial difficulties), Horry offers herself to the Earl as a replacement bride. To everyone's shock, he accepts, and his new wife takes the fashionable world by storm. But even as Horry's independent spirit beguiles her new husband, the frustrated earl finds that the one woman in the fashionable ton who will not fall at his feet is his own wife.

Heyer's plot is cleverly contrived, and the level of historical detail woven into the text is absolutely superb. In its familiar treatments of everything from men's fashions to interior decorating to illegal gaming, the book makes the period spring to sparkling life.

But much as I enjoy the historical trivia smorgasbord, what has always delighted me about Heyer is her talent for hilarious dialogue.

In the following excerpt, Horatia has just escaped from her husband's arch enemy (Lethbridge), and run into her intoxicated brother (the Viscount) and his equally inebriated buddy (Sir Roland):

"I've ... k-killed Lord Lethbridge," shuddered Horatia.
"Nonsense!" said the Viscount.
"It isn't nonsense! I hit him with a p-poker as hard as I could, and he f-fell and lay quite still."
"Where did you hit him?" demanded the Viscount.
"Oh the head," said Horatia.
The Viscount looked at Sir Roland. "D'you suppose she killed him, Pom?"
"Might have," said Sir Roland judicially.
"Lay you five to one she didn't," offered the Viscount.
"Done!" said Sir Roland.
"Tell you what," said the Viscount suddenly. "I'm going to see."
Horatia caught him by the skirts of his coat. "No, you sh-shan't! You've go to take me home."
"Oh, very well," replied the Viscount, relinquishing his purpose. "But you've no business to go killing people with a poker at two in the morning. It ain't genteel."
Sir Roland came unexpectedly to Horatia's support. "Don't see that," he said. "Why shouldn't she hit Lethbridge with a poker? You don't like him. I don't like him."
"No," said the Viscount, acknowledging the truth of this statement. "But I wouldn't hit him with a poker. Never heard of such a thing."
"No more have I," admitted Sir Roland. "But I tell you what I think, Pel: it's a good thing."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vun! Vun veek of bloggink!

Check it out! My third post, and I'm still on schedule.

I'll be adding another category to the things I'm counting: Dickens Project Word Count. I'm enrolled in a special seminar on the late works of Charles Dickens this year, and I have to produce "a substantial piece of written work." Holding my breath, with fingers crossed, half aghast at my own temerity, I asked my professor whether, instead of researching an article, I could write a Dickens themed middle grade novel. And he said yes! I probably won't finish the whole thing this semester, but I'm hoping for a minimum of 25,000 words, or three out of my seven planned sections.

Enough chatting! On with the counting!

Pounds to lose to next reward sticker: 1
Fantasy novel word count: 30,115
Dickens project word count: 1,785

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: The Winter Prince

The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein. 1993. 202 pages.

Sometimes a book gets inside of you. It curls up in your mind and refuses to go away. It changes the way you think about reading and about what books can do. It becomes a permanent part of your mental landscape of literature, and you start measuring other books by it, like it's a yardstick.

The Winter Prince is one of my yardstick books, which I discovered just last fall. The story immediately attracted me - it's a retelling of Arthurian legend from the perspective of Mordred (renamed Medraut). The story revolves around the relationship between Medraut and his legitimate half brother, Lleu, whom Medraut both hates and loves. It's a dark story, which is a given if you know anything about Mordred's parentage, but also one that's full of courage and ultimately, hope. I always thought that Mordred got a raw deal and wished he could have a second chance. Here, finally, he gets one.

What I find almost as fascinating as the book itself is what Wein says about what it was like to write: "The creating of The Winter Prince and the writing of it were two very different things. The creating of it took more than ten years .... But once that was over, the writing itself took place over a brief year and a half. It began with the sudden realization that Medraut was the narrator .... Once I knew that, I almost felt that I was no longer writing the book myself. Medraut was leaning over my shoulder with his hand guiding my pen .... I did not own or use a computer until I was three-quarters of the way through the book. I swore I could compose the whole thing in my head. A month after I finished the first draft, my cousin opened the manuscript to a random page, and challenged, 'Let's see how well you know your own book.' He prompted me with a sentence. I answered him by quoting the rest of the page. I had been living dreaming, and breathing this book for a dozen years."

I can only imagine creating with such passionate intensity. Sometimes, I can't even remember what I wrote yesterday, much less quote it :) But, for an aspiring author, it's something to dream about.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A new year, a new blog post!

Still in search of a blogging style that suits me! After having not posted for a couple of months, I think it's become clear to all of us that the daily blog thing isn't going to work for me :)

So, new strategy which will have two components.

1. My new year seems to be involving a lot of counting. And what better place to keep track of all the things I'm counting than right here? Wednesdays will be count update day.

2. Book reviews - I feel like these should be fun and, more importantly, that they will, like multivitamins, be good for me. Sundays will be book review day.

That's it, nice and simple. So without further ado, things I am counting! (And yes, I am hoping to turn into a muppet vampire by the end of the semester.)

I'm going to start out with two categories of counting and gradually work up to more. I don't want to strain my not-so-hot mathematical abilities right at the start.

Part of my New Year's program is membership in Weight Watchers. Therefore, I present category number one!

Pounds left to lose before next Weight Watchers reward sticker (got my very first one today!): 1.2

And category number two!

Fantasy novel rewrite word count: 25, 195

Notice how I have one count down and one count up? Yeah, I did that on purpose. Feel the genius.