Friday, January 30, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

5 Notes on my VC Andrews Challenge progress*

* contains spoilers!

Book number 2 of the Dollanganger series, Petals on the Wind, in which Cathy grows up and seeks revenge on the mother who imprisoned her and her 2 brothers and sister in the attic of her grandmother's humongous mansion.

1. Cathy's full name is Catherine Leigh Foxworth Sheffield Marquet Sheffield Sheffield. That's Foxworth for her parents (who were related by blood), Sheffield for the doctor who adopted her, Marquet for the dancer she married, Sheffield for the doctor she married (the same man who adopted her), and Sheffield for the second doctor she married (who was also her brother, the first man she ever slept with).

With all of that fantastic backstory, my only comment is..."Catherine Leigh..." Really? That's MY name!

2. Cathy's dream was to become a rich and famous prima ballerina, neglecting the reality that there is no such thing as a rich ballerina - until they leave the business and marry well. No Nike endorsements, no commercial investments, no rise to the top power trip, not even if they parlayed their skills into owning a company of their own - which is even less lucrative than being a dancer. Still, the author will have us believe that such a thing is possible.

And with all of that fantastic backstory, my only comment is..."Catherine Leigh" who studies ballet... Really? That's MY name and MY career (except for the prima, rich, and famous parts)!

3. The ending of this book was pure spectacle - so over-the-top, so soap operaish, I could barely stop myself from devouring the pages. Four men in her life die? Father, first husband, lover (who was her mother's husband and father to her baby), and second husband (and technically her stepfather).

But no, it doesn't end there. She and her new and improved third husband - her brother! - raise her two children as their own. Augh, I think I'm blind from reading this!

And...and...wait for it...she has the attic prepped for the inevitable moment in her life when she must step into her mother's high-heeled boots and shove her kids away when they (or others) begin to ask too many questions.

4. More, more, more! I can't wait for the next book.

5. I wonder if I could ever write something like this without breaking out into hives or being committed to a mental institution.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

4 Crazy things that are actually true!

1. You can gain weight from a cold. Recent research has shown that the adenovirus-36, which causes the common cold, can increase fat cells and thus cause you to gain weight while you're sick. Like, srsly? This is so unfair! Check it here at Nursing Degree Guide.

2. Stanley Kubrick had a horrible fear of flying. The famous director, whose seminal work, "2oo1: A Space Odyssey" is always on critics' lists for its influence on special effects and depictions of space travel, had such a fear of flying that he recreated New York City on a London soundstage in the film, "Eyes Wide Shut." He also didn't drive a car.

3. There is a basketball court at the top of the Matterhorn ride in Disneyland. No, Shaq and Kobe don't play there - that would be truly a Disney world, wouldn't? At the very top is a small area where workers can rest and someone put up a basketball hoop so they could hang out and play on their breaks.
4. "Star Trek" (the Original Series) had lyrics for its iconic theme song. Yes, it's true! Apparently Gene Roddenberry wrote them, unbeknownst to its composer Alexander Courage, because he wanted to be certain he would make some money from the show. Check it out here, along with the terrible lyrics that were thankfully never recorded. I can't believe I never knew this (and I'm a total Trekker!).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Celebrity Sighting AND High Culture!

An honest-to-goodness two-fer! Great art and a celebrity sighting. In this case, it was a new German art exhibit at LACMA and an up-close-and-personal view of Mindy Kaling, who plays Kelly on "The Office," one of our very favorite shows.

Mindy was accompanied by a female friend and wearing a fabulous green and navy coat, entering as we were leaving. True to her character's nature, she was chatting, chatting, chatting, the whole while. HH's mouth dropped open just as we passed (you gotta keep it together when you walk by and pretend you don't notice celebrities so they don't get skittish and run away) and he said..."That was Kelly! That was Kelly!"

God, he's so uncool.

Anyway, the exhibit is fantastic, for anyone who lives in the LA area and wants to get cultured. It's called "Art of Two Germanys" and it's German artwork from the 1940s through the 80s. It opens today but because HH and I are patrons (my one contribution to the art world that I suck every bit of life out of), we saw it on a members-only preview day.

Yay! I love art.

And of course, famous people.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

5 Great Things That Happened This Week

1. Barack Obama was sworn in as President. And the country leapt forward into the 21st Century. Finally.

2. American Idol and LOST are back. My two very favorite mid-season shows - the former is a guilty pleasure, the second is genius storytelling.

3. Meryl Streep was nominated for an Oscar for "Doubt" (as were Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams - all brilliant). While I'm sure Meryl gave a fantastic performance in "Mamma Mia," her role in "Doubt" was superb and mesmerizing.

4. I received my first reader feedback for a new manuscript - yay! She loved it. Never used a teen beta reader before but this book is a departure for me and I wanted to make sure I got it right.

5. Barack Obama was sworn in as President. Oh, did I mention that already?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day Fun

Ah, the where were you when question.

Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Princess Diana was killed? The planes crashed into the Twin Towers? And for a slightly older group, when Elvis died?

These are all such negative events yet they had such a huge impact on our lives that each of us can probably remember very specifically what we were doing and where we were, possibly the clothes we had on and who we were with.

I'd like to think we finally have a *positive* event with which to mark our lives: where were you when President Obama was sworn in?

I was at the dentist. It was the best visit ever, except for last summer when we were watching Michael Phelps sweep the gold in China. My dentist joked that I only come in on momentous occasions. God, how I wish that were possible.

Anyway, the whole day felt surreal and not simply because my mouth was in tremendous pain. From start to finish, watching the VIPs arrive, hearing Aretha Franklin sing (and wearing that fantastic hat that only Miss Franklin could get away with), witnessing the very first African American President being sworn in on Lincoln's bible - it was all just a magical day and it certainly felt that way wherever I went.

My very favorite image of the day, though, was the first time the President and his wife stepped outside the limo and walked down the street, surrounded by Secret Service, waving to the crowds. Michelle looked amazing in her golden coat swinging behind her and the new President - well, gosh, he just looked so completely comfortable in his new role. They both did. More than anything, I will have that picture of the two of them in my head when I think of this day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Top 4 Things I'm Excited About For the Inauguration of Barack Obama

1. A rescue dog in the White House. No puppy mill pooch for the Obama girls; they'll be getting a dog who needs saving, one who might have been neglected or abused. Firsthand, they will be learning about the importance of "other," just as their father has.

2. A Clinton in the Cabinet. While I always supported Hillary in her bid for the presidency and I thought I would have loved an Obama-Clinton White House, I see now that the next best thing for her is not Vice President but Secretary of State. She'll be fantastic.

3. A strong woman by the President's side. No offense to Laura Bush, who was a lovely first lady, but she did nothing to further women's rights or to represent any interests other than her own and her family's. We haven't had a strong first lady since Hillary and now we will have Michelle - smart, charming, and tough.

4. A man who truly represents our country in the number one hot seat in the world. We are a diverse and complex nation; we require a diverse and complex president. Barack Obama cannot possibly be all things to all people and he will certainly suffer in comparison to all the idealistic images many of us have of him - but he is the first step forward for our country in a long, long time. For the past eight years, we have been moving backward: culturally, socially, internationally. Electing Barack Obama is the first smart thing we have done as a nation and we have to keep pushing forward behind him.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

4 Comments about my VC Andrews Challenge Progress*

* contains spoilers!

Book one HAD to be "Flowers in the Attic," the book that started it all. Four kids, an attic, a nasty grandmother,, this one has everything you could want.

I can't possibly do as thorough an analysis as the fabulous Taren over at Chick Manifesto, so I'll just have to give you my own random thoughts.

1. Andrews rivals Stephenie Meyer in the number of times she calls a man good-looking, in this case, the kids' deceased father who died much too young and was much too good. I understand these are teen girl voices we're talking about but seriously, not all teens see the world in terms of black and white. They see lots of shades of grey.

2. I would love to see a layout of the Foxworth estate. I cannot imagine the immense size of the place that children running around (or a young girl screaming!) would not be heard.

3. The mother is an absolute beast! My god, stowing your kids in an attic, running off with a new husband, poisoning the children with the help of your own mother! Despicable. Yet so very good for dramatic tension.

4. The relationship between Chris and Cathy (and between Cathy and her father!) was weird from day freakin' one. Sorry but it's true. There were some weird vibes going on before they were even out of their house. Plus Cathy seemed to take an inordinate interest in her parents' relationship - she was as jealous as a lover! And Pops treated her like a little girlfriend not a daughter. Man, the stage was set for weirdness from the beginning.

I am waiting for the next installment -"Petals on the Wind"- to arrive from the library. According to Taren, this should be the book where Cathy grows up and possibly confronts her mother (god, I hope so!). The tension is killing me!

And now that you know about Cathy and Chris, how incredibly creepy is this new cover design? Eww...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Guest blog: Chandra Rooney


I'm so excited to introduce my friend, author Chandra Rooney, whose debut novel "The Tarot Cafe Novel: The Wild Hunt" (TokyoPop) is available now - yes, right now! If you can't find it in your local store, definitely check out Amazon or Barnes & Noble on-line.

Chandra's book was a work-for-hire, which is something I'm not familiar with. When I asked her about writing a guest blog, this seemed like a natural jumping off point. So here is Chandra's insightful guidance on the differences between writing a book for an existing property and writing an original manuscript.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Chandra! Happy Release Day!

When Leigh and I were discussing a possible guestblog, she mentioned wanting to know more about how the work-for-hire process compares to standard publishing. Confession: My only editorial experience so far with standard publishing has been a short story in On Spec magazine and agent revisions. Let’s just be upfront that my comparison is based on what Leigh and other authors have told me of their experiences.

To illustrate the difference between work-for-hire and standard publishing, let me use the analogy of fine art and graphic design. What most people will tell you the difference between the two is one is “artistic” and one is “commercial.”

The fundamental difference is, however, is that fine art is largely about its creator—an expression of a personal opinion and Self. Graphic design is about the client who hires the designer—an expression of an opinion and Self outside of the creator. The artist is a messenger.

Messengers are important, because without them you wouldn’t get the message, but if you haven’t heard the old saying "don’t shoot the messenger," then you should ask Leigh to explain it. ;)

Seriously, though, the editorial process for both a standard novel and a work-for-hire project are largely the same. Submission of draft, revision, line edits, galleys, final revision pass, etc.

A difference between my experience and Leigh’s experience is that I didn’t have a copy-editor. The copy-editing was done by myself and my editor, but that’s not necessarily a work-for-hire difference so much as it is a reflection of small press versus mainstream publishing.

What is different is when the manuscript is written. With standard publishing, there is usually a completed manuscript before the editorial process happens. Even with series work, the first novel (and possibly the second) is finished before the author ever has an editor.

When you do a work-for-hire, there is no existing manuscript. It’s written after you sign the contract. Also, the editor has a lot more creative control over what goes into the novel.

The reason for this is the second difference: ownership. With a work-for-hire novel, the end product doesn’t belong to the author. It belongs to the people who hired her. For example, with The Wild Hunt, it’s Sang Sun Park and TOKYOPOP who own the copyright. This is because the novel uses characters and a world already created by Park through her comic series.

Why does it matter who owns the novel? Without getting into a discussion on intellectual property and copyrights, the easiest answer is that whoever owns the novel is going to make the money off it. Cold hard cash is something we can all understand, right?

With a standard novel, a writer is paid an advance towards the royalties that the sales department believes the book will earn. It’s like a loan that pays itself out. (Hopefully!) In work-for-hire, there aren’t usually royalties. Instead, the author is paid a writer’s fee. The positive side of this is that so long as the author meets her contract requirements, she will get that money regardless of how well the book sells. The downside is that she won’t receive any additional money if the book becomes a best-seller.

All of this is really just the business of publishing. It’s the background work that a reader never sees or probably even wonders about, because a book on the shelf is a book on the shelf—especially when it has your name on the spine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Books, what your body craves

Right now I'm reading two novels simultaneously: VC Andrews' "Flowers in the Attic" and Richard Yates' "Revolutionary Road."

No two books could be more different in tone, prose, characterization, plotting, etc. Where Yates was lyrical yet concise, every word chosen for a very specific reason, Andrews' wrote in what is known as "breathless prose," long strings of adjectives to describe every item in a room. Yates' dialogue is distinct for each character: subtle and spare. Characters don't telegraph what they mean - they hint. They don't tell everyone in the room their backstory. Andrews' characters speak not only in full sentences but complete chapters, unless they are younger than 5, in which case fragments are all right - but they will be corrected by an older character. And they tell us everything that is on their minds, leaving no room for (mis) interpretation.

I'm not trying to denigrate Andrews' books - or any books written like hers. Neither do I think Yates is necessarily better or better for you than Andrews. I love them both. I will devour them both - why I'm not reading them this very second is a puzzler. But I think it's important to recognize that books are written for all people. I find it strange and pretentious when book reviewers -be they pros or amateurs, traditional media or bloggers - assume that people should only be reading one type of book. I think it's dismissive of them when they refuse to review certain "types" of books because they believe they are lesser, that they don't deserve a place on a person's shelf or in a library.

I like to think of books as food: while you can't have a steady diet of candy (Andrews), neither should you restrict yourself to meat (Yates). There's good-for-you veggies (like nonfiction books) and comforting potatoes (your favorite go-to author you can count on like Stephen King or Elizabeth Berg) and the exotic appetizer (brand new lit or a novel in verse).

When you're younger, you need a glass of milk (Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary) but when you're older you're entitled to a soda (Stephenie Meyer) or a glass of wine (Doris Lessing). And for dessert, well, there's everything from a fruit-and-cheese platter (Joyce Carol Oates) to a slice of sugary cake (Meg Cabot).

And don't forget snacks!

The thing is that you and I don't have to agree on what's "great" literature, the stuff that'll last centuries and be taught in colleges. (Did you know that the films of Keanu Reeves are taught at a school in California? So, yeah, don't talk to me about what is or is not appropriate for our education system.) No one of us supports censorship -to ban a book is an abhorrent and cowardly act - and yet, many of us are disdainful of what others read - or write.

I may not write what everyone wants to read - or what everyone should read. I only want the chance for readers to discover my work.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Special Weekend Celebrity Sighting

Saturday afternoon. West Hollywood. Right around the corner from Quixote Studios.

It's a biggie...hold onto your gold motorcycle helmet...

Brad Pitt!


Yes, I'm totally serious. HH and I had a Brad Pitt sighting of our very own. We were walking back from TJ's when we saw a swarm of paparazzi around the fences of Quixote Studios where they do a lot of photo shoots and hold parties. The super-jaded photogs wouldn't answer when we asked who they were waiting for; one responded with a terse, "A lot of people." But then we know they're tired and chasing after celebs is not necessarily easy or rewarding work.

A couple of blocks away, as HH and I were talking about a book I recently finished writing (coincidentally about paparazzi!), my words were drowned out by a loud motorcycle engine. We turned to see who was polluting the environment with such noise when HH said, "That's Brad Pitt."

Gold motorcycle helmet, gold trim on the chopper, black pants (which he adjusted AS WE WATCHED) and not a soul around him. No bodyguards in SUV's following him, no cameramen chasing him. No Angelina or any of his six kids. Just Brad. On his bike. Roaring away.

Wow. Very cool. A young kid on his bike pedaled past and we all three smiled and HH asked the kid, "That was Brad Pitt, wasn't it?" And the kid grinned big and wide and nodded. Then he tore off after him.

Brad is probably in town for the Golden Globes tomorrow night where he will likely win for "Benjamin Button." What he was doing at QS, we have no idea. The paps got shots; we didn't. But here's a pic of him with his golden helmet.

Now, as mentioned in the article and others, his bike broke down recently so the bike we saw him on was a new one.

In my book, LOVE, MEG, my main character has a pen pal relationship with Jennifer Aniston; an early draft was written just before she and Brad Pitt broke up so I had to make some changes to the story when it was bought. Even though I don't know Jennifer Aniston personally, I felt like I had to be loyal to her because of my character's friendship with her - so I couldn't let myself enjoy Brad's movies! (As if my liking him or not makes any sort of difference to the universe!) But recently, he spoke up about his relationship with her and with Angelina and I respect that. So now I can like his movies again...and go ga-ga when I see him in person.

For more of my celebrity sightings, check out this page on my website.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

6 Realistic Resolutions

Oh, every year starts out with the best of intentions, n'est-ce pas? We resolve to lose 10 pounds, to exercise every day, to save more money, to use our high school French...and by February, according to most experts*, 60% of us fail.

My question: why torture yourself needlessly?

My solution: choose very easy resolutions. That way, you're guaranteed to succeed!

Here are some of mine for 2009:

1. I resolve to shake out the laundry before putting it in the dryer. This is a corollary to last year's resolution to separate lights from darks but I failed miserably on that one. This should be a lot easier. Should be.

2. I resolve to have one less cup of coffee in the morning - and one more in the late afternoon. Rather than cutting out caffeine altogether, which is both painful and unneccesary, I'm going to shift it around a little so I'm a little less manic in the morning and a little more peppy in the afternoon.

3. I resolve to use the gift certificates people gave me last year. I have an envelope filled with these things - movie passes, a massage, 10 bucks off a Fruit-of-the-month club - and I still haven't used them. That's like passing up free money! I'd be stupid not to use them.

4. I resolve to put away the Christmas lights before the end of January. Or at least to bug HH until he takes them dowh.

5. I resolve to use lists more often and to number all the things I need to do, since clearly I function better when things are in a numerical sequence.

6. I resolve to keep my cell phone and iPod charged. (Yeah, good luck with that one, Leigh.)

There. That ought to do it. Anyone want to add to this list?

*okay, according to just one article I read on Yahoo news...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Children's Book Council Awards

From Harmony at Harmony Book Reviews, I learned about the Best Books of 2008 list being put together by the Children's Book Council with Teens vote for their favorite books of last year by the end of January and winners will be announced in May. Books need to have been first released in 2008.

[ahem: I have never been nominated for an award for anything - ever - I know it's shocking, yes? So if perchance someone liked VEE an awful lot and wanted to nominate it, well, I'd certainly be thrilled to pieces...ya know, if...]

And an addendum to Monday's post: here is the next segment in Taren's fine analysis of VC Andrews - the female characters. Go, Taren!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The VC Andrews Challenge

Thanks to Taren and Steph for coming up with this plan for pure awesomeness. For those of you who have never read VC Andrews, here is a primer from Taren herself (only part 1 which means another is coming - yay!) who is promoting the challenge on her blog and who inexplicably has become an expert on all things VCA-related.

There is a special place in Heaven for Taren for all of her hard work and Andrews Analysis.

I don't normally do these challenge thingies because a) I can't commit to reading a certain list of books and b) 100 books is a lot of flippin' books. But in this instance, I experienced a moment of serendipity during my morning blog reading because I read Kimberly Derting's post about the challenge she's participating in (and felt wholly inadequate as both reader and writer) and then ran smack dab into Taren's post about the Andrews books and if there's ever a series I want to re-read, it's "Flowers in the Attic."

Bring it.

Not to mention Taren's challenge is only 11 books in 1 year and I'm pretty sure I can handle that, especially with the brain candy that is VC Andrews.

Anyone else interested in reading?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

6 Movies I Watched This Week

1. Valkyrie - Tom Cruise as a Nazi who leads an (obviously unsuccessful) coup against der Fuhrer. I wasn't as turned off as I thought I'd be by the non-accent of T. Cruise and I have to say, his hair was amazing! Kudos to his stylist. Supporting cast of Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, etc. were fantastic.

2. 7 Pounds - okay, you know I dig Will Smith more than just about any human on this planet besides HH so of course I was going to love him in this. Sappy? Sure. Manipulative? You bet. Requiring a massive suspension of disbelief? Right on. The people I saw it with did not share my love of Will nor did they suspend their disbelief as I did so they didn't like it as much and the ending is the hugest downer of the year. I cried, cried, cried. And I don't care who knows. Cuz now you do.

3. The Sound of Music - Nazis! Singing Austrian children! Julie Andrews! What's not to love in this? Honestly, I coudn't remember the last time I had seen this in its entirety and I guess I had completely forgotten the beginning and I sort of got confused at the end because I recall in real life they came to the US and I thought that was part of the movie but it wasn't. It just ends with the nuns rescuing them. So it was good to see this again. My upstairs neighbor totally lurvs this.

4. Doubt - Meryl, omg, I heart Meryl so effin' much. She is freaking amazing in just about everything she does. And Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Amy Adams are splendid with a capital awesome. This is another serious movie for Oscar contention and they all deserve it, especially the writer/director John Patrick Shanley who adapted his own Pulitzer-winning play (which goes right on the TBR list - I can't wait to see what he might not have included and if the ending is as ambiguous as the movie).

5. The Dancer - a kind of documentary about a young Swedish dancer as she joins the Royal Swedish Ballet, Katja Bjorner. I say "kind of" because it's not a documentary in the traditional sense; there is no obvious narrative and not much explanation about who we meet in the film and what they do and their relationship to Katja. Still, for those of us who love ballet, it's a fascinating study of a very passionate teen as she prepares to dance. And a nice introduction to how pointe shoes are made.

6. Shut Up And Sing - another great documentary, this time about the Dixie Chicks and the hassle they went through after lead singer Natalie Maines told people she was ashamed the president was from Texas- this shortly after troops were sent to Iraq, which made her very unpopular among the mostly-conservative fan base across the country. How the protests against the Chicks affected them and the music they wrote makes for a fascinating look into the politics of entertainment. We went right out to the store and bought their album.