Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wild Kingdom Fashion 2014

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We hear this all the time. The fashion industry is no different. What hangs on the rack at every store is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. The interwebs are full of advice to us: "copy this!" "you are not cool this season unless you're wearing what I'm wearing!" "be like me!" God bless the trendsetters, right? Or we would all go to the mall in last year's jeans. So as I say good-bye to 2014, I say thank you also, to this year’s style leaders…the trendsetters.

The Italians? No. The Kardashians? Er...No.

Fashionista 2014 Grand Supreme Prize – Adult Female Flemish Giant

These beauties are responsible for inspiring the year’s most prolific trend, the neck scarf. Though ours lack the functionality of Mama Rabbit's—like providing fluffy warm beds for her offspring—it serves to obstruct our view of where we are walking and could potentially aid a lost soul in want of our purse. Bravo to the dewlap!

Honorable Mention – Brahman Cow
Just as beautiful, but also less functional than Mama Rabbit’s dewlap. These scarves mostly remain in the Midwest this year, as word travels slowly here.

Fashionista 2014 Grand Prize – Gorilla
The full-figured gorilla inspired the year’s second most prolific style trend, the stretchy or yoga pant. These pants can be spotted on nearly every female from thin to fat, short to tall, and have the added benefit of looking exactly the same on EVERYONE. Universally unflattering on humans, these pants could be improved by covering them with something. At least some hair. Almost never seen inside a yoga studio.

Honorable Mention – Brabant Draft Horse
Even when these proud and amazing equines are bone thin, they have hefty and powerful butts. One advantage the Brabant has over the thin human is that their butts do not, as a rule, devour their pants. If I ever believe that I'm thin enough to get away with wearing these, I should think again.

Fashionista 2014 Congeniality Prize – Tamarin Monkey
This category spotlights our funny friends who inspire us to do stylish and ridiculous things with our hair. For its ability to make people laugh, this year’s Congeniality Prize goes to the Tamarin monkey. Thank you for the dip-dye, Mr. Tamarin. Well played.

Honorable Mention – Golden Snub-Nose Monkey
These somewhat rare monkeys have a knack for staying out of view. Yet the humans they inspire are everywhere, freaking us out and accepting food right from our hands! It just goes to show that introverts can be trendsetters too.

High fashion inspired by our animal friends is a heart-warming trend which appears to be continuing into 2015. Already there is evidence of cheetah-inspired prints and the persistence of high-heeled booties. At a time when our relationship with animals is fragile, it's wonderful that copies of copies grow from the seed of such pure inspiration. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thankful (adjective): Glad that something has happened or not happened, that something or someone exists, etc.; Expressing thanks

Since it's that time of the year I feel an obligation to post some kind of  'Thanksgiving" sentiment on the blog.  Here it goes:

Of course, I'm thankful for my immediate family, my friends, my blog mates, shelter, food, yada yada, but let's go with the every day thankfulness...

--I'm thankful that no one is scheduled to come into my apartment in the next coming weeks so they can't see the piles of fabric, scraps, magazines, etc, that I have all over the floor trying to get things ready for the upcoming holidays.  Correction...frantically trying to complete sewing projects in order to get them in the mail before the upcoming holidays.  I'm not in the mood to clean up for guests.

--I'm thankful that I've made my last car payment three weeks ago and nothing tragic has happened to the car, now that is mine.. so far.  Usually something tragic happens when I have free and clear money burning a hole in my purse. (Knock on wood!)

--I'm thankful for coffee and any caffeine products. 'Nuff said.

--I'm thankful that I have not had to shovel snow in twenty years.  I see snow storms on the news and get the shivers because I know how that feels. With the northern California weather, all I have to say is "Suckers!"...until the next earthquake comes and rock our world.

--I'm thankful that I live alone now and never have to worry about whether the toilet seat is up or down. When you start aging, it's the little things...

--I'm thankful that I have a part-time job to go to 40 hours per pay period because if it wasn't for that I'll probably be in my jimmy-jammies 24/7 and only leave the house to buy groceries.  Since all my hobbies are passive ...writing, reading, quilting, needlepointing...there would be no need to even shower most days. Talk about a stink-a-roo...

--I'm thankful that I woke up this morning, and every morning after this blog post (cross fingers).

--I'm thankful for Amazon.  Now this may be an unusual thing to put on a blog but because of Amazon I'm able to get books, and other products that I can no longer find, to my house within a few days.  Without Amazon, I would have never been able to publish  my own books.  I would have never met my beta readers through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.  I would never have made improvements on my stories due of the betas' suggestions.  I would never have been able to say, "I'm a published author.  You can buy my work."

  If I die in my paid-off car tomorrow because there was a freak snow storm in my city and I wrecked my car because I didn't have a morning cup of coffee as I was dressed and showered, driving to my part-time job, I could still say on my death bed..."I'm a published author."

We have so many things to be grateful for in our lives, but if you can accomplished just one thing in your under-lying dreams, the smile on your face every day shows people what a thankful person you are.

Happy Thanksgiving, Readers!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Abundance of Monikers

I can’t help it. I’m fascinated by GamerGate, yet I wimped out of blogging about it a few weeks ago. I figured there’d be plenty of bloggers going to town (and there are). Plus, not being a gamer I figured I wasn’t really qualified to comment. But just imagine if GamerGate was called BullyGate or MaleSupremacyGate instead. See what I mean?
      Gamergate is such a cutesy name that even the people confronting the issue head-on have a hard time not trivializing it. The moniker was a huge roadblock in my attempts to write a serious blog on the topic. I'm beginning to think we need to stop assigning these ridiculous labels to everything. But in the world of Google keywords and Twitter character limitations, not to mention hashtags (don't get me started on hashtags), fat chance of that. Fat, fat chance. Like Biggest Loser Fat Chance.
     Anyway, when I was done with my unpublished GamerGate blog, I realized I’d basically advised all women to steer clear of the gaming industry because they’re better than that. Smarter, too. Who wants to make a ton of money playing silly games when they can toil away in legitimate businesses for half the pay? I mean actually getting paid well to propagate one’s passion would put us on par with, say, professional athletes. Before long, we’d be experiencing head trauma and committing crimes including but not limited to abusing our significant others. Okay, so we’d be millionaires, but is it worth the grief? It is not. That’s what I told women in my blog. Far better to stay on the sidelines and wait for the male riffraff to self-destruct. Eventually certain frontal brain areas will shrink away to nothing—and we’ll be there, brains intact, to take over the universe. Muhaahahaha. See, that’s my evil plot to take over the world. Wait till everyone else dies off. Cool, huh?
Am I the only one who sees the resemblance?
      Besides, we all know the gaming community is a bunch of seedy guys wanking off in dark basements, right? Alternating between their plastic joysticks and the flesh-toned one. No, no, that’s not fair! I thought. (First off, in actuality a lot of modern game controllers are shaped vaguely like the female reproductive system.) A-ah! How can I be writing this stuff? It’s like my hand has gone off on its own. Stop, hand! (Hey, maybe that’s how the gamers feel in their dark basements!)
      I stopped typing then, and made an earnest attempt to envision the subculture that might be behind GamerGate. (Pretty nice of me, seeing male gamers very rarely return the favor, according to this interview on Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.) This time my mind supplied the crooks from Point Break, the movie where Patrick Swayze spearheads a criminal band of surfers. I don’t know if
it’s because they wear the masks of ex-presidents while robbing banks, the Nixon mask cementing the Watergate connectionat least the -gate partor because the movie was directed by one of my film-making idols: Kathryn Bigelow, who happens to be a woman as well as a Kathryn (although I'm pretty sure she is not one of the Katherines in that John Green novel). Maybe it's because they were surfers, widely recognized as the notorious wave-riding slacker brothers to gamers. (Aw, fuck! I'm thinking skateboarders. Skateboarders are the land-dwelling parallels to surfers. And I had such high hopes for that allegory!) All I know is that the bad-guy group that Keanu Reeves infiltrates came up when I started scouring the ol' neuro-pathways in search of visuals for the cryptic GamerGate crowd.

     My subsequent lapse in typing gave me opportunity to reread my previous document—and thank God I did before I posted it. Through a furious blush, I sent the thing straight to virtual Timbuktu. WTF, Jen? I admonished myself. You can’t pigeonhole men like that. You certainly can’t tell the female youth of society NOT to game (Seriously, is that a verb?) if that’s what they live for. After all the time you’ve spent in advertising, you should know that gaming with the CDs and ACDs is the surest road to a quick promotion. It fills a need.
     I have a film background (which is why I’m always going off on movie tangents). When I was in school I had a prof whom I considered the personification of Evil. He was my Snape, in other words. But, here’s the thing, deep down—in my collegiate naivete—I figured he had to have some core of goodness, seeing that he had likewise chosen to study film. Had in fact devoted his life to it. Somewhere, locked within that stony heart of his, was a love of movies, enough of one to keep said stony heart beating.
     I’m not a gamer, but I imagine what draws people to that particular pastime (or *shudder* career) is a deep belief that good must conquer evil. Gamers like to see this perpetuated over and over again (which they do instead of getting honest work), right along with the stereotypes of women as slutpaper (slutty wallpaper, always in the background. How do you like them apples, all you professional moniker-makers?) Subject to mens' whims of either rescue or abuse.
      So, I appeal now to the gamers of the world, including the gang from the Patrick Swayze/Keanu Reeves surfer movie that if you dare to diss it, I’ll come after you with this little game controller I like to call a taser (Repeat after me: The movie is a classic and Kathryn Bigelow is a pioneer. *runs off to picket the opening of the remake*). Let’s all delve beneath our surfaces, straight into our nougat-ty centers, and remember why we love video games in the first place. They give us the chance to be heroes. Simple as that. United by that revelation, let’s not, finger muscles making nasty, anonymous threats to people. Let’s not tie up the resources of law enforcement (if you want to support real heroes, btw--not that you aren't real heroes in the darkness of your basement, I never meant to imply anything like that--you could always donate to your local police fund). Let's refrain from doxxing enemies (sounds way cooler than it is) and calling in false crimes. In short, let’s end GamerGate for good. Or for the love of all that is holy, give it a less cheesy name.
     And for young women: Follow your hearts, work where you choose, make better video games. Just remember, when all is said and done, the ultimate object of the game—male or female, hobbit or wizard, weird video game icon or other weird video game icon—is: Save Yourself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Erma Bombeck: Subversive Feminist

Nope, I’m not kidding.

Granted, hers isn’t the first name to jump to mind when you think of great feminist writers of the 60’s and 70’s. But for every one woman who plowed through The Feminine Mystique, hundreds LOL’d their way through her At Wit’s End columns. 

In case you don't know her, Erma Bombeck was a humor writer. She spent several years as a stay-at-home mother before beginning a small weekly humor column about housewifery. Her editor had his doubts about whether such a column would find an audience, but within a short time it was syndicated to over 900 newspapers. Erma became so successful, her husband quit his job to manage her career. In total, she wrote 15 books, most of which became bestsellers. If her humor feels a bit tired today, it’s only because subsequent humorists, including today’s crop of mommy bloggers, still work with updates of tropes Erma popularized.

But she wrote about being a housewife and mom. What's feminist about that?

1. Well, she said this: “Sharing responsibility is what the entire movement to free women is all about. If woman are ever to be appreciated, a husband should drive a car pool . . . just once.”

2.  She told the truth about cleaning. Advertisements and zen philosophy be damned, housework isn’t fulfilling work. It’s monotonous and boring and it's time away from more meaningful pursuits. “Housework,” Bombeck said, “is a treadmill from futility to oblivion with stop offs at tedium and counter productivity.”

She made it okay for women jump off that treadmill. Unfortunately, there’s been a pushback on this. With entire TV channels devoted to home improvement, it’s no longer enough to just keep your house within acceptable sanitation standards; it should be show home worthy.

3. She wrote honestly and humorously about aging as a female. The big kerfuffle about Renee Zellweger reveals how brutally women are still judged just for daring to have birthdays past 35.

4. And she wrote about just how hard it was (and is) for women to balance work and home life:

“Then one day in a leading magazine, I saw a story called, 'Today’s Woman on the Go.'”
At the top of the article was a picture of a well-stacked blonde at a construction site with a group of men around her while she read blueprints to them. I noted her shoes were coordinated with her Gucci yellow hard hat.
The second picture showed her in a pair of flowing pajamas standing over the stove stirring her filet-mignon helper (recipe on page 36) while her husband tossed the salad and her children lovingly set the table.
It made me want to spit up….
You have only to work once in your life to know that “Today’s Woman on the Go” is pure fiction. Maybe they got the captions under the pictures switched. Maybe she wore the long flowing pajamas at work and the hard hat at home. Heaven knows, home is a Hard Hat area.
Where were the pictures showing her racing around the kitchen in a pair of bedroom slippers, trying to quick-thaw a chop under each armpit….”

5. And she said this: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” Not I had a floor you could lick. Not I ironed my children’s jeans every day. But I used my talents. 

She helped a generation of mothers and housewives to know their personal dreams were legitimate and worth pursuing. That it was okay to want more than a husband and children and white picket fence.

Okay, okay, Erma was a feminist. But subversive? Really? Isn’t that a little… strong? We're talking housewife humor, here, not George Carlin.

Erma Bombeck let it all hang out, telling readers about her messy house, flawed children, body issues, imperfect marriage, and work/family balance struggles. She made readers laugh at her failures to meet societal expectations, using humor to reveal just how ridiculous the expectations were in the first place. “If you can’t change it, laugh at it,” Erma said. 

I'm willing to bet Sarah Silverman would agree: That’s a darned subversive idea.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dried Up Psycho Mommies

It begins when their children are infants, this period when women who were once perfectly (I mean, borderline) normal become candidates for Psycho-Mommy Hall of Fame. Maybe it comes from inhaling bleach (I mean, nail polish). During this transformative period, a writer (I mean, fellow Mommy) can capitalize on the opportunity to observe these Psycho-Mommy creatures in their natural habit. For every encounter with any kind of crazy is story fodder. And it doesn’t matter if that story is a novel, a post or a tweet.

Recently I attended an orientation night for my high school freshman. It was one of those near-pointless wastes of my fugging time but still I wouldn’t have minded it—except for one thing: the other parents. Educators can be annoying enough with their million dollar egos riding on fifty-cent ambition. And by no means do I include all parents: many are that perfectly normal I mentioned above. And I mean that literally: perfect and normal. Those are the parents who follow their student’s schedule when the bell rings by reading the hall signs and studying the maps. Maybe they even asked their student ahead of time (the school takes up an entire city block, after all, so finding a classroom can be more like a pilgrimage). They enter the classroom and quietly take a seat, acknowledging other parents they know. They listen politely to the 10-minute rehearsed speech. At the bell, they efficiently move to the next classroom.
Those are the parents to emulate, but not to write about. A good writer has to pick crazy. They don’t have to be bat-shit crazy either. If I see a parent with needle tracks, I keep looking. That’s too easy. I look for the ones who don’t actually know they’re Psycho-Mommies (or Daddies, but they’re more difficult to track). The Psycho-Mommy of a high school freshman who, after 14 years, still doesn’t realize how fuggin psycho they are…

The Vainglorious – This is the mommy who hung back (blocking the aisle) to loudly announce to the teacher, “Hi, I’m so-vain, so-gonna-be-embarrassed-tomorrow’s mother.” Now just to put some perspective on this… There are 1,344 students in this high school. There are roughly 25 students in the class just during that hour and 7 hours in a day. We all had exactly 3 minutes to get to the next classroom. I’m probably not the only one in the room who thought, “Who the fug cares who you are? Get your fat ass out of the aisle.” The look on the teacher’s face neared confusion. It clearly said, “I have no idea who so-gonna-be-embarrassed-tomorrow is.” She smiled and shook Ms. So-vain’s hand anyway. Hey, Ms. So-vain! You’re oversizing your own importance just a tad. And I know your daughter. She’s a slut with unlimited disposable income. She’s the one who beams when the orchestra conductor praises a performance. She’s the one who believes he’s talking only to her, not the other 74 musicians. Then she laughs too loudly. She’s the one who the conductor was talking about during parent-teacher conferences last year when he said he gets annoyed by a few brown-nosers in the group. But you go right on a-thinking that the whole fuggin world revolves around you and your precious daughter. Maybe it does.
The Scourge of Stupid Questions – This scourge is really more like a plague here in suburbia. Again, maybe it’s the bleach (okay, nail polish). Maybe it’s that you Psycho-Mommy only went to college to get your Mrs. Degree and no longer uses that thing that’s 3 feet above your ass. Just stop with the fuggin dumb questions already. Read the fuggin paper that’s on the desk in front of you, or the sentence written on the board up front or use the common sense God gave you for shit’s sake. How come your husband isn’t asking if the cafeteria pasta is whole wheat? Because it’s a stupid fuggin question, that’s why.
The Viper – I actually love these Psycho-Mommies. Not because they’re cool, or funny (at least they don’t mean to be funny). I sat in one classroom where a frosted-tips, plunging-neckline, dried-up-piece-of-toast Mommy was being oh-so-friendly to Ms. So-clueless. Two rooms later? Dried-up Mommy was dissing not only so-clueless to another dip-dyed Mommy, but dissing the daughter as well. See, I love her because she makes everyone else look good. Despite the fact that she just spent an hour on her hair to come to a lame school event and looks around the room with imagined superiority. She’s looking for something to gossip about at gymnastics tomorrow. And she has no fugging clue that she’s the worst sort of person. You’re so lame, Viper, that you can’t even stand yourself.
The Dueling Divorced – I debated whether or not to use this as a category. I decided to because it is definitely a treasure trove of good writing material. When both parents of another poor gonna-be-so-embarrassed-tomorrow teen showed up in one classroom, the way they competed with each other was comical. No one else even tried to raise their hands during the 2 minutes of questions at the end—the divorcees started raising theirs before the teacher even got halfway through the 8-minute presentation. Really, if you want to prove to everyone in the room that you’re an attentive parent, then stay the hell married. Don’t try to one-up your ex by asking repetitive questions regarding logistics of your fugged up 2 family schedules. Because people like me sit in the back and watch you with amusement and think: “So…you would take a bullet for your daughter, but you refused to keep your family together for her sake.” Nice. You’ll be in my next book, hypocrite.

So don’t get me wrong, I happen to love Psycho-Mommies. I don’t want to hang around them or be their friend, but they are ripe entertainment for when I’m sitting in a gym, rink, field, etc. Try it next time you’re bored to tears at an event. Even if you’re not a writer. Pick someone out of a crowd, imagine what is going through their head right then. What did they do to get here tonight? What will they say to their children when they walk out of earshot or to their spouse when he gets home? What aspirations did they (or their own parents) once have before they became Psycho-Mommy?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Oh the book funk blues

So typically I'm a crafty lady, but today I want to talk about a book.  As any book lover is aware of every now and then you hit what some refer to as a book slump. For some reason, no matter what book you pick up you can't seem to get into it. You keep finding yourself reading a page and then putting the book down.
As you relax in the tub, candles lit, glass of wine on the tub lip, pickles in a bowl (yes I eat and drink in the tub, don't judge), your kindle wrapped in its special water proof case, bubbles up to your chin you feel ready. The setting is perfect to dive back into your book.

Even among this perfect setting you find yourself putting the book down. Never mind that this is the fourth book you've attempted to get into and still nothing. No stirring in your chest, no sweaty palms as you wait to turn a page to find out what happens next. Nothing.

Of course, you pop the drain, toss out the wine and put the pickles back in the fridge because what's the point of a relaxing in a bath if you don't have something to read. Okay, maybe it's just me but I only take baths so that I can have me time, and my me time always involves reading. And baths are the only way to get the kids to leave me alone.

Well, that was me in a serious book slump for the last few weeks. I tried over 20 books on my TBR and none of them could shake the book funk I was in. And I was trying books by may favorite authors, George RR Martin, Dan Brown, Colleen Hoover to name a few, and nothing. No sweaty palms, no tension in my chest just a deep seated sadness that I may never read again. I was starting to lose hope, thinking it was the end, that my life was over (yes I am that dramatic so sue me) and then one of my author besties recommended a book to me.

Of course, I was skeptical.
But sure why not, I'd tried everything else what was the worst that could happen?

So I picked up
And OMG, it was the book!!! Archer's Voice by Mia Sheridan was amazing. I missed an entire night of sleep so I could finish it. Not only did it throw me out of my book funk, but it moved to my top ten favorites. This was absolutely the most beautiful love story I've read in a long time. I cry reading books a lot. And this book made me cry first very sad tears because your heart will get ripped out trust me, but then at the end I was crying happy tears and a book has NEVER done that for me. As a matter of fact I read it twice, back to back, because it was that good. So after the good cry fest I reached out to Mia and gushed like a little fangirl to tell her how much her book touched me. Now over a month later and I'm still like this 

thinking about Archer's Voice. So if your looking for something that will give you all the feels then this is your book. I warn you though bring kleenex. And be prepared to fangirl, just saying. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Where are the Urban Fantasy movies?

I've heard it said that right now is a golden age for fantasy movies and television shows. And it's true, there is more fantasy content out there than there has ever been. The success of The Lord of the Rings films (which I consider one of the best book to movie translations) definitely opened the door for fantasy. Now we've got the Hobbit films coming out once a year (coincidently I think they are rather poor as far as adaptations go) Game of Thrones and Once Upon A Time on TV. The Harry Potter movies dominated the box office as much as the books dominated the best seller lists. There's the Into The Woods movie coming soon. Maleficent was a big hit and Thor the Dark World felt a lot more like high fantasy than the traditional super hero fare. It really is a good time to be a fantasy fan.

Then why is one of my favorite subgenres pretty much nonexistent from screens big and small? I'm talking about urban fantasy. UF is a huge market when you're talking about books. Type the phrase into Amazon's search box and hundred of thousands of results pop up. For the uninitiated, urban fantasy simply means that the story features traditional fantasy elements in a (usually) modern urban setting. Fairies walking the streets of Minneapolis. A whole other city with it's own laws and relationship to magic lying below the below the streets of London. A seen-it-all wizard negotiating treaties between warring factions of mythical treaties in a pub in Chicago. That is urban fantasy. Though of course there are infinite variations.

The truth is that urban fantasy is all over popular entertainment right now, but it's hidden in plain sight. Nearly all super hero movies take place in big cities. And most recent paranormal movies and shows have been about the vampire or werewolf or what-have-you trying to blend into the modern world. They take the element that most defines a fantasy, magic, and call it super powers or a monstrous curse or a genetic mutation. The Syfy channel's Lost Girl is the only show I can think of at the moment not hiding what it is.

Two of my favorite urban fantasies, the Dresden Files and Neverwhere have already been television series. However both were severely limited by budget constraints. The Dresden Files show became little more than a police procedural with a minor magical element per case. While Harry Dresden does sometimes work with the Chicago PD in the books, the scope of the stories is much broader and often sees Harry and his crew traveling across dimensions and battling monsters that would need a Guardians of the Galaxy level effects budget to realize. Neverwhere was actually a BBC miniseries before it was a book. Neil Gaiman, who'd written the screenplay, was disappointed that what wound up on screen didn't match what he'd imagined (the original Neverwhere show while not without it's charms, makes the Dresden Files show look positively bug budget). He adapted it into a novel so his vision of the story could get out there. It's been at least a decade since either was brought to the screen. The time is ripe for adaptations that will truly to bring the books to life.

But those are just the tip of the urban fantasy iceberg. Hollywood has literally thousands of books to choose from. Someone just has to have the guts to be the first to take the plunge, like Peter Jackson was for high fantasy. Once the floodgates open, who knows what tricksters, ogres, and gryphons will fly out?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tone (noun): a quality, feeling, or attitude expressed by the words that someone uses in speaking or writing.

Over the last few months I've noticed that people have responded negatively to emails I've sent.  I've heard people say things like, "Did you read Sylvia's email?  She was mad.  Don't mess with her." OR someone will respond, "You tell 'em, Sylvia!"  Well, I'm beginning to think that maybe it's the 'tone' of my emails that they are mistakenly taken as being mad, angry....bitchy.  Even when I have a conversation with a co-worker, it is often repeated, to someone else, like I was speaking in an angry tone,  "...and you could just see her wagging her finger as she was talking!"  I find that I'm misunderstood and need to find a way to correct this problem.

Case in point: I am a part-time worker and only work forty hours every two weeks.  I have an assigned cubicle.  Some of my co-workers are what we call "mobile workers," meaning they have no desk in the office, they work from home, and come to the office occasionally for interviews, meetings.  Although there are places set up for them, in various locations in the office, to plug in their laptops, they seem to like using my cubicle when I'm not there because it's well-stocked, quiet, and so forth.  Every time I come back, there is always something I have to correct or straighten out.  I've complained in the past, but...well, grown folks sometimes just don't care.  This last time I sent out a 'polite' email saying that, from that day on, if I find things left on my desk, they were going in the trash...staplers, three-hole punches, pictures of their kids, CDs, a realm of paper, ink cartridges (new)...everything, and anything, was gonna be tossed.  I didn't think it was a nasty email.  I thought it was very factual.  "You leave it. It's gone. Don't bother asking me what happened to it."  I get the feeling it was the 'tone' of the email that made them upset.  Not sure....

I have the same problems expressing my characters' thoughts when I'm writing.  I remember in my last book critique, one of my fellow Crazies pointed out that my characters were always shouting, shown by the large number of exclamation points I had after their dialogue. My characters are excitable people!  They shout! They yell!  Yet, I get the sense that I need to learn how to 'tone' down my characters' voices and teach them to express their feelings some other way.

Maybe have them hit each other with floppy bats as they talk.  That may lighten the tone.  Right?!!!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Six Degrees of Tawni

All right, I promised on my other blog to post about the surreal photo shoot Tawni O’Dell (my new idol) was subjected to back when she published her debut book, Back Roads. But I thought I'd include a Labor Day tie-in, since I was supposed to have this post done yesterday and it was Labor Day. Hmm, let’s see. Tawni O’Dell writes about coal miners. Coal miners have unions. Labor Day commemorates the economic and social contributions of workers over the years. Poetic. (Or merely an illustration that you can contrive a connection in anything…especially while blogging.)
     Anyhoo. If you’re unfamiliar with Tawni O’Dell’s books, I can’t recommend them enough. She has been complimented with phrases like pitch-perfect prose and authenticity of place, both of which are well-deserved. Her writing is elegant but never pretentious; it cuts to the bone. I think it’s amazing how she captures a male voice (in first-person narration, no less) in both Back Roads and Coal Run. As a matter of fact, that’s what got her into trouble. With Back Roads, her publisher figured she sounded so much like a male writer, she should opt for an androgynous pen name that might make people think she was one. Tawni wasn’t quite what they had in mind, since it brought to mind “biker chick” over accomplished woman with a degree from Northwestern. Her literary agency supported her in fighting for the right to use her own name and everything seemed fine…until the publisher hired a photographer to snap some publicity shots. Hailing from New York, the guy they hired had, how do I put this?—let’s just say he had a different vision of O’Dell’s artistic identity. Comical hijinks ensued. Or they might’ve been comical if they didn’t basically obliterate the strides women have made gaining respect in publishing (at least, I thought women had made strides) over the past ten years or so. Portal yourself straight to the whole story by clicking here: Stung By Gender Bias, Author Tawni O’Dell Stings Back (Alternately titled: How to Become a Wood Nymph.) 
     Tawni O'Dell has also been lauded for her portrayal of coal miners—and not just by the literati. She's received letters from coal workers and their families expressing appreciation for the pains she's taken to get all the details right. Within the framework of her stories she manages to call attention to the plight of men who perform a dangerous job with pride. She captures the quiet dignity of the miners as they face off with their own demons as well as callous corporate Goliaths, i.e., owners who at any moment might resort to cutting corners to increase profits.
Just released August 19!
As I embark on writing a mystery series set in Detroit, I see some parallels between O’Dell’s Pennsylvania coal country backdrop and the demolished urban landscape of my own city. They are structurally and cosmically, if not cosmetically, the same. And on this Labor Day, I wonder whether I’ll be able to grant the UAW workers who must populate any book set in The Motor City the same nobility and mystique of Tawni O’Dell's coal miners. Does anyone offer a workshop for that? Probably not. But--on the bright side--Tawni O'Dell has a new book out!

Friday, August 22, 2014

What We Love About Game of Thrones That We Shouldn't

We here at Crazy are writers and as such, have this um…problem. It’s like when my friend got a headache then learned on the internet that she was dying of dengue fever, unless the lymphoma got to her first. We writers go to the internet for advice about, you know…writing. The sheer number of “rules” makes us want to stop writing, because we’ll never get it “right.” Yet on every bestseller list sit stories which defy the rule creators.
The series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire (beginning with the fabulous Game of Thrones), sits on a few of those lists. And the New York Times (July 14, 2011) goes so far as to suggest that "it's high time we drove a stake through the heart of J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings." {GASP!} Did GRRM earn that praise by following the rules? Well, some of them certainly. But no matter how hard I try, I can't imagine him surfing for writing advice.
I can imagine some random brave soul—even in the 1970s when he began writing for real—offering up some writing gospel (“Hey, you know what would be better? If you…”).

I can imagine GRRM applying the blank stare.

We read and nearly weep at the pure genius of the 3 interweaving stories. We marvel at the simple magic of the red comet—how the characters each feel a personal connection to it. We’re jealous that we didn’t think of it first. So what do we love about the series that we would think twice about before writing? Which of these “rules” are given the finger by GRRM?

 1.       Don’t kill the main character. Valar Morghulis. Every man must die. And every character can too (and uh, probably will). Even the main one, the best one, the brightest one. This is risky if the rest of your book does not scream to be read. Readers who are plunged into the cycle of grief are likely to plunge your book off a moving bus (sorry, but hitting the [delete] key on an e-book does not provide the same level of satisfaction). Yet, they tolerate it over and over again in this series. At some point, it becomes a game of morbid curiosity: “I hate this. I’m not reading it anymore. Who is going to bite it next?”

2.       Every sentence should work hard. Not every sentence contributes to the plot. Or does it? How do I know until I get to the end then read it again? Answer: I don’t. Say for instance that I get to the end and realize there were whole sections that were disconnected to the outcome. Writing advice says to cut those. Yet, now that I’ve finished, do I even care that those parts didn’t contribute? Maybe I spend an afternoon at the pool pondering the odds that I’ve been tricked. “They MUST have been part of the plot. I’m just not seeing it! What am I missing?” GRRM has won, because I read the book(s), I enjoyed the story and I’m at the pool still thinking about it.

3.       Write satisfying, realistic characters. Non-conformance to gender roles or other stereotypes runs rampant here! See? Even in a period piece, good guys don’t have to be handsome or strong. Girls don’t have to have girly moments. Other stories develop characters that might seem unique and non-conforming, but somewhere in the text, somehow, they eventually meet reader requirements. For instance, an ugly hero is eventually found beautiful by someone. A tomboy girl eventually brushes out her hair and feels feminine. Nope. Doesn’t have to happen, according to GRRM. And we readers like that. Little girls can kill men. And that’s okay.

4.       Don’t make the reader wait too long. If your story is good enough, you can create a cult following who will a) buy anything, and/or b) wait for a very long time for it.

5.       Start with a theme and keep it in mind. One of the more common themes out there is good vs. evil. Try to pick just one in A Song of Ice and Fire. I dare you. Power? Betrayal? Family? Justice and Judgment? Maybe this is like the red comet: for each of us, we “see” the theme we prefer.

I do not stand on the side of anyone who desires to drive a stake through the heart of J. R. R. Tolkien. Nor do I need to scour the internet for the unbreakable rules of writing. I will deal with my problem in my own way: by giving the finger to these rule creators and getting vaccinated for dengue fever. Then I will read more novels that I shouldn’t.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wishbone for Grownups or Three Things about Me

Hi there. I'm Marianne and a member of this blogging team. Here's a little about me.

  1. I like lists. I start nearly every day with a to-do list, which is not to say I end the day with all (or any) of the items checked off. But I keep making them anyway. I just like the idea that I actually have control over my days. Mostly I don't, but pretend is good, therefore, let there be lists. (Note: the following is not today's to-do list. I just wish it were.) 
  2. Along with the rest of this gang, I like books. Like really, really, really a lot. When I'm happy, I read. When I'm sad, I read. When I'm standing in line, I read. And while driving or cleaning, I read through my ears. And so, let there be book talk. In list form. 
  3. I miss Wishbone. I loved that show. It's one of the few kid shows I'd actually watch with my little ones and not use as a way to sneak in more reading time. Wouldn't it be great to have a Wishbone in real life? At a crossroads? Facing a dilemma? Moral crisis? Never fear! Wishbone is here to provide life advice through the mediums of literature and dogs in drag. And so, let there be Wishbone. And book talk. In list form. 
    See you soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Without further introduction ...

Let me start off by saying hi. Hi.

I'm Krissy and I make up 1/6 of the crazy here. I'm a mom by day and a gunslinging, mean-drink-making, dill-pickle-eating, crazy-painting, crime-fighting-ninja from space (who can fly) by night. When I'm not trying, to get two boys under the age of 12 to where they're supposed to be going, I can be found either reading, writing, sewing, painting, crafting or doing laundry. I have a theory that laundry actually doubles at night. You know all those missing socks? I think they're actually recruiters and they go out and find dirty laundry and send it back home. My theory also applies to dishes, dust and muddy boot prints.

What I will contribute to the Crazy, is crafts. Lots of crafts, mostly. There may also be a book rant/review in there too. Those crafts for the most part will be book themed, but they may also be something crazy, like how to make a pocket snake using lint (don't ask). I assure you these crafts will also involve lots and lots of glitter. 

Are you wondering what that picture is of? Did I mention I'm the worse picture taker ever? It's a Star Wars lightsaber pen I crafted from polymer clay. And yes if you follow this blog you will learn how to make one for yourself, along with a multitude of other cool things, including a Potter wand. 

So hello and welcome to the Crazy ...

Friday, August 1, 2014

Highly Adaptable

Hello, I'm Susan. I'll be covering adaptations. While the blog's focus is novels (because we're all authors and we're obsessed) I will not just be talking about works based on novels, but also plays (because you can't talk about adaptations without talking about Shakespeare) and comic books (because they are some of my favorite stories in the universe).

In thinking about how to introduce myself, while also sticking to my chosen subject, I decided the best thing to do would be to let you in on my fantasies. So here is a list of the best literary adaptations that only exist in my mind—so far.

1) The Ocean At The End Of Lane by Neil Gaiman as adapted by Studio Ghibli

It's no secret that I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan. There have been some excellent adaptations of his previous works and some that never got off the ground. I've liked pretty much all of them, but none, except the Neverwhere BBC Radio play starring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, and Benedict Cumberbatch, completely lived up to the books they were based on.

His most recent novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, has already been optioned and is set to be directed by Joe Wright. I like Wright, but when I read it there was only one person I could see as the director Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is the director behind anime classics like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. The book is told from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy (though it isn't a kid's book and shouldn't become a kid's movie). The nameless narrator, based on Gaiman as a child, inadvertently releases a malevolent being that wrecks havoc on his family. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, the animation studio he founded, specializes in original plots that feel both totally fresh and like ancient legend. And usually feature a child at the center. I couldn't help visualizing everything, from the enormous creature made of saggy, billowing canvas, to the reality devouring birds of prey, to the trio of archetypical witches, as drawn by Miyazaki.

2) Goblin Secrets by William Alexander as adapted by the Jim Henson Company.

Goblin Secrets is the story of a city where acting and plays are forbidden. And of a boy who falls in with a renegade band of traveling players, who happen to be goblins.

I have loved the Jim Henson company for as long as I can remember. While the Muppets have had a recent resurgence under the Disney umbrella, the Henson company has been flying under the radar. They've been focusing on educational programming. Which is great and in line with their history. But there's an aspect of the company's legacy that has fallen by the wayside, the creation of completely realized fantasy worlds, such as the Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and the Storyteller series. It's been a decade since their amazing scifi series Farscape went off the air. It's time  they waded into that pool again.

There is a lot in Goblin Secrets for Henson to sink their teeth into. A crone with mechanical chicken legs, masks that come to life, and the goblins themselves. Maybe if I wish hard enough it'll happen.

3) Anything by Daniel Pinkwater as adapted by Spike Jonze.

Daniel Pinkwater is a bit hard for me to describe. He's a children's author from Chicago (my home town). Reading Pinkwater has always felt like stepping into the mind of someone not from this reality, but from somewhere sort of similar. His settings are very grounded and real, but the characters and the plots are delightfully absurd.

If I had to choose one of his stories to adapt, I'll go with the one that introduced me to him, Lizard Music. In which a kid watching tv late at night stumbles upon a rock band made entirely of lizards. The book follows him trying to find out what they are and where they came from.

Spike Jonze was behind one of my favorite movies ever in Being John Malkovich, as well as a brilliant adaptation of a classic children's book in Where The Wild Things Are. He's the only person I can think of who could capture Pinkwater's skewed worldview. He knows how to create worlds that look like our own, but follow completely alien rules.

Side note: Fat Men From Outer Space would make a fantastic Pixar short.

4) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell as adapted by Jane Espenson

I read Fangirl earlier this year, and nothing I've read since has stuck with me as much. It's the story of Cath, a college freshman with high social anxiety. She also happens to be a wildly popular fanfic author. She's spent most of her adolescence writing a novel length  slash fic based on the Harry Potter-esque Simon Snow series.

I first became aware of Jane Espenson as a writer on one of my all time favorite tv shows, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Since then she's written for such varied series as Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, and Game Of Thrones. I know she'd be equally good at capturing Cath's awkwardness and insecurities, as she would be at bringing the snippets of Simon Snow's fantasy world sprinkled throughout the book to life. I don't know if she's interested in  directing, but she's more than qualified to write the screenplay.

5) Anything by Jonathan Carroll as adapted by Guillermo Del Toro

In some ways, I think of Jonathan Carroll as the adult version of Daniel Pinkwater. They both trade in the surreal hidden in plain sight. And the both should be better known than they are. The big difference is that where Pinkwater's brand of bizarre is hilarious, Carroll's is creepy as Hell!

Guillermo Del Toro has spent the couple of last decade creating beautiful nightmare's. Sleeping In Flame, Carroll's haunting take on Rumpelstiltskin would make an excellent film. Honestly, it's a crime that none of his books have made it to the screen yet.

So there you go, my fantasies lean toward the dark and strange. Good to meet you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Introduce (verb) - Make someone known by name to another person, especially formally

Hi, I'm Sylvia.  That's normally how I introduce myself, and since each member's first post is to do just that, I'm starting out traditionally. Sometimes when I'm introducing myself, in an informal setting, I'll just say "hey", but today, on my first posting, it's "hi".  I am from the south and when I'm visiting there the drawl comes out and it's, "How ya'll doing?"

So, my fellow co-blogger, Jennifer, introduced her comments style as taking on the female roles.  My postings will begin with a word that will describe my comments and go on from there. By way of introduction, I want you to know that I'm a self-published author of romantic mystery novels and/or mystery romance novels.  Here's what happened...for years I thought my first book, The Agreement, was a rip-roaring mystery novel with a romance subplot, then I met my co-bloggers who sorta kinda made me see the light. Granted, other readers told me that my story had a lot of romance in it and that the last one hundred pages reflected the mystery but I thought...yeah...right. It took a while but now I know that, at least the first book, has more romance in it.  "Hi.  My name is Sylvia, and a brick has to land on my head sometimes for me to see the light."

I look at it the same way I see trying to introduce main characters in a new work of fiction. Sometimes you swoop the reader up from the get-go and bombard them with all the characters names. Other times you set the mood and then sneak a character in the story one at a an Easter egg hunt.  Make the reader search the main characters out.  Me. I'm a swooper. I like to get my characters out there and BAM your face! Not what a lot of people like but it's my way. Every writer has their own way.

Introductions are key... whether it's the face to face kind or it's introducing a character in a story.  My point is find your own style and if it works for you, stick to it and own it.

Hi, I'm Sylvia.  Welcome to our blog.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Now I Get Why Harry Potter is a Boy

     First off, let me introduce myself: I’m the long-winded one.
     This is the first post of a group blog, so I figured I’d jump right in and get to the topic I’ll mostly be posting about. Gender roles. Before you drift off to sleep, let me tie it in to the whimsical fake gossip column tearing up the Internet. Officially over my HP obsession, I can now be objective and voice the opinion I’ve always held: Harry should’ve been a Harriet. That’s why I started my own middle-grade fantasy starring a girl. Seven years later, I just finished this story and I understand why JK Rowling chose to write about a boy. It’s way easier.
     Let me be clear. I write for girls. I could care less if a boy ever picks up a single book of mine. I mean, they might be too busy conquering the world, and I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that. Yet, if they ever have the urge…I’ve gotta say, Donovan Hunt is a pretty good male character.
You're in a movie and see this coming. Run!
     To put this all into context, let me cite a movie I saw years ago when I fancied myself a connoisseur of film. The Comfort of Strangers is a thriller (sort of, I guess) about a truly British couple entrapped by social etiquette into a relationship with another couple who, at first, appear merely eccentric. Trust me, if the main characters in this film had been American, there would be no movie, because they’d’ve have run for the hills the moment Christopher Walken approached (a good practice for whenever Christopher Walken approaches in a film, mind you.) 
     Instead, the couple sits meekly by sipping tea and nodding politely, as the psycho couple tells them about all the deviant things they do. This leads to nothing good. It’s not a film for children, but there is one scene that applies directly to my children’s book. The Natasha Richardson character is telling the Helen Mirren character about a women’s theatre troupe she once belonged to (before it dissipated as a result of some of the women wanting to include men.) Helen Mirren says something along the lines of: “How can you do a play with only women? I mean, what could happen?”  then—later in the convo—adds: “They’d probably be waiting for a man. And then he’d come and something would happen.”
True....but there's more to it.
     At nineteen, my response to this was WTF? Having now written my book, my response is: You’ve hit the nail right on the head, sister!
     A girl character can’t fuel a story by her lonesome, and not because she’s weak. It’s because female readers look for different things than male readers in a story—better things. It’s a strength of our gender, this curiosity about The Other. Plus, I think girls recognize reading as a forbidden fruit, the privilege having been so hard won. So if you write about a girl, be prepared to write about a boy with equal fervor. (Don’t tell me that Hermione is as developed as Harry. She’s not!) And get ready to tackle issues of gender, which is hard to do with entertainment as the goal. (Note: The Comfort of Strangers is one of the least entertaining movies I’ve ever seen. Click at your own discretion, and I'll take you to a HP fan art pic that makes you feel the same sort of ickiness.)
     In Thief’s Cipher, I’ve tried my best with a race bred to be domestic servants (a la The Stepford Wives); a coven of witches that parallels a corporation; a male character who takes on the demons of childhood abuse and a hero role in which he’s been unwillingly cast; not to mention, a lingering prophecy that amounts to an arranged marriage between the two main characters.
     Oh yeah, and by poking fun of gender roles at every opportunity. Sorry, gender roles. You’re toast.
     (Told you I was long-winded.)