It's out. It's good. And if you read it and disagree, feel free to let me know.
It's not a paranormal romance, although the characters are haunted. It's not a thriller, although there is a mystery to solve. And don't ask me what other author I am "like;" I've only ever been taught that I must write in my own original voice.
Headline: Soul and funk legend, Sly Stone, homeless and living out of a van
The man was a musical genius. Made history as the leader of one of the first "integrated, multi-gender" bands. Made incredible, progressive strides in funk, soul, rhythm and blues and psychedelia. Influenced the next generation of rock, pop, rap and hip-hop stars. "Family Affair" is three minutes of heart-breaking, awe-inspiring music.
Intervention... redemption... This man deserves a second or third act...
You can't leave, 'cause your heart is there
But you can't stay, 'cause you been somewhere else!
You can't cry, 'cause you'll look broke down
But you're cryin' anyway 'cause you're all broke down!
It's a family affair
It's a family affair
A few days ago, the Remainders 4-Ever bookstore hosted a celebrity authors panel, bringing together 5 diverse women to discuss their recently published works and the mysteries of the writing process. The following is a transcript of the lively conversation.
Moderator: Welcome, ladies. First of all, the hot burning question on everyone's mind: you have all achieved a level of fame and/or notoriety in our popular culture to the degree that you belong to the pantheon of stars known by a single name. So why go into writing, a traditionally solitary pursuit conducted outside of the spotlight?
Tyra: It's all about the brand.
Moderator: The brand?
Tyra: Yes, the Brand. My brand. Expanding the brand into new markets. Look, I'm a model, a reality-TV show star, a successful entrepreneur. But that leaves a lot of world still to be conquered. The YA market is booming. I figured it was the perfect opportunity to expand my empire. Model Land, my YA novel, is the result.
Hilary: (after consulting with a pale woman sitting behind her) I am so down with that.
Moderator: May I ask, Hilary, who is that person sitting behind you?
Hilary: What person?
Moderator: The woman sitting behind you.
Hilary: There's a person sitting behind me? (looks furtively) Oh, that person. That's just Elise.
Hilary: All right, I confess. She's my ghost speaker.
Moderator: Don't you mean 'ghostwriter?'
Hilary: Well, that, too.
Moderator: So you are willing to admit that you didn't write your young adult novel, Elixir?
Hilary: (whispering with Elise) Well, I'm a horrible speller. I can't spell a lick. When we were working on the title, I was sure it was spelled 'h-e-l-i-c-k-s-h-e-r.'
Moderator: Have you ever heard of the spellcheck feature in your word processing program?
Hilary: (whispering with Elise) Well, sure, that's a tremendous help. But I'm a little weak on the keyboarding as well. (giggles) But I can text. I'm all thumbs! (whispers with Elise) Look, I had an idea and she fleshed it out. Like, totally. She's an awesome writer.
Moderator: But that's your name on the cover.
Hilary: Well, like Tyra said, I've got the brand. Actress, singer, perfume designer, I mean, people know my name. Teens and tweens know my name. I sell.
Moderator: So, in other words, if the novel had been published under Elise's name, it wouldn't have sold? On its own merits?
Hilary: (whispering to Elise, who begins to weep silently) Whatever...
Moderator: Snooki, let me ask you, was your brand on your mind when you wrote A Shore Thing?
Moderator: Your brand? Was it on your mind?
Snooki: No, I was thinking about a nice juiced hot tanned guido.
Moderator: So A Shore Thing, which you must admit, did not sell very well considering all the publicity surrounding it's publication, so it was a roman a clef?
Snooki: Huh? What the #$%!&*$% are you sayin'?
Moderator: Roman a clef. It's a literary... thing.
Snooki: Yo, I don't read books. I don't write books. But I can sign my name on the back of a check. And that's what school's done for me. Cursive writing in the 3rd grade got me where I am today.
Tyra: Now see, this is what I'm talking about. You think I was gonna hold back from expanding my brand when an empty-headed, fake-ass tanorexic like that is getting a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster? I am absolutely more fabulous-than-thou, fierce as they come, and my tan is real. I have a bod for sin and a brain for business.
Moderator: Isn't that a line from some movie?
Tyra: Do I look like I care, honey? Do you think that these tweens and teens really care? I mean, they ate up that crap that Stephenie Meyer was serving. I mean, that crap was like Uncle Ben's Instant is to real Rice. That's a joke, get it? See I know my literary stuff, too. Anne Rice? Interview with the frickin' Vampire?
Moderator: Yes, well, moving on to you, Nicole. In your memoir - er - novel, The Thing About Diamonds, the plot centers around Chloe, a beautiful girl adopted by a famous singer who grows up in the hard-partying world of Hollywood night clubs. So, where did you get your ideas?
Nicole: (giggling) You know what they say, write about what you know.
Moderator: Paris, in your book Confessions of an Heiress, did you follow that advice as well?
Paris: I don't listen to a word Miss Thing says anymore.
Moderator: Well, it's not Nicole's advice. It's advice given to writers just...
Lauren: Look, you know, it's all about the fame.
Moderator: Hmmm, isn't that one of Lady Gaga's--
Lauren: Oh, please, who's original anymore? I've been on two, that's right, Snooki, two reality-TV shows. And it's the name that counts. Didn't you see that video of the two guidettes who actually bought Spray-tan's book? They told the reporter they weren't even planning to read the thing. They just wanted it cuz of the name attached.
Tyra: Fame is the name of the game.
Moderator: (audible sigh) More plagiarism. Don't you ladies have any original thoughts in your brains?
Hilary: (as Elise whispers in her ear) All my thoughts are original.
Tyra: Honey, originality is highly over-rated. Why do you think every other book in the store is a flippin' paranormal romance right now? They want more where that came from. They want to know who else you're like ...not if you have an original voice.
Snooki: (being restrained from commiting a violent act by a security guard) Well, ain't no one like me! I am the original guidette!
Moderator: (wiping brow) Thank god for small favors.
Tyra: Don't believe it. She's a dime a dozen. That's the problem. Too many bubble-heads with brands.
Snooki: (being hauled away by security guard) Look b*%$^!h, I'm gonna use my brand for good. After I run for president, I would get $h!t done in this country. The economy would rise, everyone would be tan, and all the radios would play house music.
Moderator: That's really all the discussion that we have time for... time to sell and sign!
A few days ago we looked at a few examples of good children's books that are horribly served by their movie versions, also known as the GBBM juvenile virus. Today we put the adult strain under the microscope.
Oh Hollywood, what wreckage have you wrought? Let me count the titles. The question is... how to begin. Should I start with the worst? But then again, we are in one of those "highly subjective" areas. You might actually like the movie version of such-and-such, while it happens to provoke my gag reflex.
But an attempt must be made... So, in the category of Most Egregious Change of Endings, the winner is... Roland Joffe's revisionist take on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, starring Demi Moore, with its new, improved happy ending that features Hester, Pearl and Dimmesdale horse-and-buggying out of town to start a new life together. The moral of this story: beware of any movie which uses the phrase "freely adapted from" in the credits!
Loved the retro look
The "Muddled Lukewarm Mess" award goes to the film version of The Bonfire of the Vanities, a big, luscious, hot casserole of a novel by Tom Wolfe, which, as much as he stirred into the mix, was still a crystal-clear examination of morals and mores of our culture in the 1980's. The novel held up a mirror to the racism, greed, ambition, politics and social class that festered under the sunny glow of Reaganism.
Loved the poster... the movie, not so much
But despite a stellar cast which included Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffiths and Bruce Willis, the film never gelled and failed to capture the essence of the Greed Decade. Perhaps Hanks wasn't right for the role of bond trader WASP Sherman McCoy. Or maybe the screenwriting just couldn't live up to Wolfe's elegant
prose (yes, I admit I have a "writer's crush" on him). Whatever the reason, the movie just gummed where it should have bit.
Pretty mysterious and exciting
Speaking of miscasting, in the category of "Most Miscast Milquetoast Movie," the winner would have to be Water for Elephants, the adaptation of Sara Gruen's delightful novel, which told a familiar story (love triangle variety) in an entirely fresh, unexplored setting: the traveling circus milieu of the Depression era. I love Reese Witherspoon. She's a fabulous comedienne who showed her serious side in Walk the Line; she's just not Marlena.
And Robert Pattinson? Great as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter series. I avoided him in the Twilight movies because, well, I avoided the books, too. I guess I have something against poorly written vampire novels -- or, I confess, poorly written novels in general, whatever the plot, characters and setting. As for the undead, I have been there, done that with the superior writing of Anne Rice. Back to Pattinson... he just couldn't connect as Jacob. Maybe he's just entirely too pretty or... wooden. When actors can't connect with each other, they are hardly able to connect with the audience. Something about chemistry...
Other failures to translate from page to screen include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a comic book series and graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (how could the screenwriters miss? They already had a !#$%^*! storyboard), The Lovely Bones by Alice Seybold, and My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.
Then there is the special case of The Great Gatsby. My goodness, the novel is bursting with juicy scenes and all the glamour and grit one might desire and expect from an examination of the American experience during the Roaring Twenties.
The movie version has the potential of eye candy and acting chops with Robert Redford as Jay, Mia Farrow as Daisy and Bruce Dern as Tom, and Karen Black as Mrytle. However, again, the parts didn't add up to a great sum. The chemistry just didn't... combust. Maybe it was Farrow... too fragile, not enough allure to pine for over time? Maybe it was Redford... not enough fire in the belly? It was all entirely too beautiful, but strangely lifeless, like a butterfly pinned to a specimen board.
I promise to keep an open mind on the latest version being filmed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and
No, it's not a new contagious disease looming on our health horizon. It's a problem that has been around for awhile -- at least since the invention of the motion picture camera. It's why librarians coined the phrase "don't judge a book by its movie." It's the Good Book/Bad Movie Syndrome!!!
You know what I am talking about... when a scintillating, crystalline passage from a well-loved novel turns up as clean and clear as pond scum on the big screen... when fresh, flavorful characters that jump out from the written page slog along through dull scenes like the zombies from "The Night of the Living Dead" (although I'm quite sure that the screenwriter did not purposefully intend that effect.)
Oh, where to start???? Children's and young adult books? Adult-oriented novels? The problem, of course, is narrowing the selection to a manageable number. So many stinkers... so little time to blog....
Zombies flee from bad movie adaptations
And it's impossible, for me anyway, to compile a top 10 list (or would that be "worst 10 list"?), because they each have their own merits, or, in this case, demerits. Let us, for now, consider only children's literature. Oh, let us sing a lament for all the lyrical novels and picture books which have been reduced to trash by Hollywood.
My personal hero, Dr. Seuss, has been a victim of vile, heinous crimes with the film adaptations of The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In a word, execrable. In two words, loud and obnoxious. In three, unwatchable, joyless, and -- did I mention -- unwatchable. Jim Carrey, you are no Boris Karlov (who narrated the original, cartoon adaptation, which is entirely watchable). Mike Myers, if you want to wear a costume with strange teeth, stick to Austin Powers. As for all that fur, you looked better head-banging to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the mullet wig as Wayne Campbell.
Other wonderful children' books that have been slaughtered include The City of Ember by Jean DuPrau (magical book, muddy movie) Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (maybe stick figures should remain stick figures), Alice in Wonderland (ruined at least four times!) and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (overwhelmed by special effects and the unnecessary advancement of the characters from middle school to high school age).
Then there is the strange case of Maurice Sendak's classic, Where the Wild Things Are, one of my all-time favorite picture books. It so beautifully captures the experience of being a child -- in barely 15 words per page. It's a wisp of a story: a rambunctious boy is sent to his bedroom without supper for misbehavior, where he conjures up a great adventure among fantastic beasts in an imaginary, far-off land, only to grow tired of their antics and lonely. He returns home to find his supper waiting for him and -- in the ultimate sign of forgiveness -- it's still hot.
Yet, this picture book of 32 pages and less than 350 words was extrapolated into a 104 minute movie. An interesting movie, perhaps. A movie that provoked questions and evoked a certain air of melancholy. However, it was a movie that retained just bare shreds of the spirit and joy of the source material and that failed to entertain both children and adults. One of those movies out in the "no man's land."
Are we having fun yet? I don't think so.
This Hollywood fiasco was definitely a case of Spike Jonze and Dave Eggars thinking way too much!
There's plenty more where that came from. What's your favorite, delicious children's book that's been put through the Hollywood meat grinder and come out as indigestible gunk? What is it about the film process that so often can't deliver a movie that measures up to its source? Are some books simply unfilmable? In the case of Where the Wild Things Are, I would argue that is the dilemma. But there are also many books that would, in the right hands and with the appropriate sensitivity and fresh vision, translate well to the new medium. One only needs to view the Harry Potter adaptations to see that ethic at work and play. In fact, this is a rare instance in which I actually prefer the films. They cut to the essence of the story and eliminate all those tedious "Harry, Ron and Hermione" phrases, which seem to add about 50 to 75 pages to each book. I sometimes wonder if J.K. Rowling ever learned about the pronoun "they." And where was her editor?? But that's another blog....
Tomorrow, we'll tackle GBBM Syndrome - the adult strain...
On this year's list of Illinois Bluestem Award nominated books (a children's choice award for students in grades 3 through 5), we have 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy. I challenge anyone to finish reading this book and remain dry-eyed.
In 2002, a ceremony takes place in an obscure village in Kenya. A Maasai tribe surrounds an American diplomat. He is there to accept a gift for the American people. Just nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and emotions are still raw. Tears flow as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people in a distant land. Many who hear of this gift are moved by its eloquence, but for Americans, the gesture has even deeper meaning. For a grief-stricken nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the dust and darkness as a beacon of friendship, compassion and hope.
A decade after the tragedies of September 11th, we're still waiting for the novel that truly holds the mirror to that moment and its aftermath and opens a window to how our society has been transformed. It's not for lack of trying on the part of writers as varied as John Updike (Terrorist), Don DeLillo (Falling Man), Claire Messud (The Emperor's Children), Jay McInerney (The Good Life) and Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). However, as engaging and insightful as some of these novels are, they seem to just miss the mark. As an editor for the Time Book Review noted a couple of years ago, we are still searching for "the bracing, wide-screen, many-angled novel that will leave a larger, more definitive intellectual and moral footprint on the new age of terror.” Where is Tom Wolfe when you need him?!?!?!? Given that Wolfe has stated that his goal in writing fiction is to document contemporary society in the tradition of John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens and Emile Zola, I would say that he's our best chance for the definitive 9/11 novel. Tom, if you are out there, (although I know you don't approve of blogs), please answer the call!
On the other hand, we are blessed with many exceptional nonfiction efforts that capture our struggles to understand the reality of the world that came crashing down on us that September morning. The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, examines the origins of Al-Qaeda, the background of earlier terrorist attacks outside and inside the U.S. and subsequent investigations, and the events leading up to 9/11. Wright focuses on the people: what they were like, why they did what they did, and how they interacted. The writing is gripping; the narrative sweeping. The Pulitzer Prize was well-deserved. The Forever War, by New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins, tackles the chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s, continued through the terrorists acts leading up to 9/11, and culminated in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Filkins's narrative is intense, vivid and gut-wrenching. And then, of course, there is The 9/11 Commission Report. From its first sentence recalling that beautiful, cloudless morning, it grabs the reader by the throat and never lets go.
No, I'm not talking shirts... It's that time of year when the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED) reveals the list of words that will be added to its latest edition. Given that this year COED celebrates its 100th anniversary, inquiring readers and writers may find this event especially noteworthy... or maybe not... maybe one needs to be in love with the English language to begin with.
Okay, so Angus Stevenson, the editor of COED, blogged in mid-August that the 12th edition of the dictionary would include 400 new entries, many of which have their origins in our tech-centered, social media-networked society. A sample of these include:
textspeak: language regarded as characteristic of text messages, consisting of abbreviations, acronyms, initials, emoticons, etc.
retweet: to repost or forward a Twitter message
sexting: sending sexually explicit photos or messages via mobile phone (ex. something often done by congressmen from New York)
cyberbullying: use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically be sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature
The meanings of 'follower' and 'friend' have also been amended to reflect their use in the social media milieu. "Not words" (how else to describe these textspeak acronyms?) also making the cut include: LOL, FYI, OMG, LMAO and POS (which, according to COED, means 'point of sale,' not 'parent over shoulder.')
In the category of fashion, some new additions include mankini ( a brief one-piece swimsuit for men with a T-back) and jeggings (tight-fitting stretch pants for women styled to resemble a pair of denim jeans). Of course, let us hope that their inclusion in the COED heralds their swift demise on the fashion scene, since neither are flattering to humans, regardless of size, age or gender.
If you are thinking that the bulk of these new entries have been spawned by the fervid minds of the youth culture ---(What generation are we on now? Gen Y? the Millenials? Generation Next? Net Generation? Echo Boomers? The myriad expressions used to describe this demographic could fill its own lexicon...) --- anyway, you'd be right!
But that's always been the case. Youth drives the lingo, even with the COED. Its first edition in 1911 included such cutting-edge buxx words as motorist, radioactive, rag-time and flapper. COED has always been the upstart, younger cousin of the dignified, venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED). OED encompasses the history and the grandeur of our language. COED seeks to capture the verbiage spilling trippingly off the tongues of the times. Its first editors, the Fowler brothers, sought to document the language of the Edwardians and scoured society to include "collequial, facetious, slang and vulgar expressions with freedom, merely attaching a cautionary label." As the decades pass, COED continues to seek words that express the tenor of the times.
The 1930s ushered in 'gamma ray' and 'brassiere.' The 1960s saw the addition of 'beatnik' and 'astronaut.' The decade of the '70s launched 'switched-on' and, one of my favorites, 'urban guerilla.' The 8th edition of COED added '80s jargon such as 'glastnost' and 'global warming.' (We've been talking about it that long and we still haven't really done anything about it?!?!?!?) Since the turn of the century, the COED has added these staples of our everyday conversations: 'Botox,' 'civil partnership,' 'E-reader,' 'subprime' and 'auto-tune' (a synonym for Britney Spears and T-Pain).
However, there exists another dictionary out there in the etherland which trumps the COED for what we librarians and teachers of information literacy refer to as RADCAB: relevancy, appropriateness, detail, currency, authority and bias. And that's the UD: the Urban Dictionary. My daughters turned me on to this website several years ago and it's now my go-t0 guide for the current state of the English language. It is truly a testament to the ever-evolving nature of language and to the astonishing wit and descriptive capacity of human beings. With over 6 million entries and 10 million definitions, it is, as Google notes, a "veritable cornucopia of streetwise lingo, posted and defined by its readers."(Love that phrase, wish I'd coined it!)
Where else can you find such fabulous additions to the lexicon as:
eater's remorse: The deep feeling of regret one feels after eating a large some of food, eating something unhealthy, or just eating in general.
crosswalk creeping: The act of slowing pulling one's car forward into the pedestrian crosswalk while parked at a red light, for the purpose of preempting a green light.
caffeine window: The daily time slot in which you must have some form of caffeine otherwise you will get a headache. No amount of caffeine after this window will cure the headache. A common ailment of coffee addicts who need their morning fix before they can function properly.
fauxpology: When a person makes it sound like they are apologizing when, in fact, they are just shifting the blame or using twisted logic to argue their way out of
responsibility for their actions.
I guess that my point is that by the time words are added to the COED, they are already mainstream. Some may already be past their sell-by date. Domestic goddess? That's so '90s, so Roseanne when she was a sit-com star, not a reality TV celebrity. The Urban Dictionary records language as it is being born, culture as it is being lived. Language should live, breathe, change. Yes, it is often a generational 'thing.' Yesterday's 'far-out' is today's 'awesome,' and both were/are horribly overused. And when parents start using 'word up,' it's definitely time for the kids to mint another phrase. Whether these utterances will be adopted by the many does not matter. Whether they indicate the decline and fall of civilization, I will leave others to decide. I will just revel in the joy of words... a linguistic form that can be meaningfully spoken in isolation, but grows only when shared with others.
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