Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Favorite Banned Books: Fade

This week, September 27-October 3, is Banned Books Week, a time to honor those authors and their books that have created waves of controversy among the selfish and simple-minded.

Who has the right to tell you what to read? No one. Except me. Put "Fade" on your TBR list if you haven't already. And spread the word.

"Fade" by Robert Cormier has been banned and probably burned in many places. Why? Well, why not? It's got murder and rape and incest and a kid spying on other people because he can make himself invisible. I didn't read this book until I was in my early 20s but it still had a big impact on me as a reader and continues to do so as a writer. You would think that a tale of someone who can be invisible would be heroic - superheroic - with lots of derring-do and discovery but this is very, very dark.

What if you had an ability that caused you more pain because of what you could do with it? The temptations that you would face to use it unwisely, perhaps immorally, would be a constant challenge, to say the least.

The story is told across 3 decades by and about 3 different characters. There is teenage Paul who tells the story of how he first learned of his ability to fade, an ability that affects one member of each generation of his family. Fading seems like it would be cool for young Paul but he soon sees things that he doesn't want to. As an adult, Paul learns that his nephew is the next fader in the family but poor Oscar has been abused and uses it for revenge. And finally, the third story is told by Susan, Paul's cousin who is a writer, who finds his memoir and has to figure out if it was true or not.

Cormier's books are frequently challenged by parents and library patrons. People seem to want him to write neat and tidy stories of teens for teens when, in fact, he writes about real life. Can a person really fade to invisibility? Well, no but you certainly can feel like it. You can feel what it's like to be persona non grata, to be an outsider whom no one pays attention to. And yes, all of those nasty things do happen in our world. I love Cormier's books, including "The Chocolate War" (brilliant!!) and "I Am the Cheese."

Tomorrow...The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Favorite Banned Books: A Wrinkle in Time

This week, September 27-October 3, is Banned Books Week, a time to honor those authors and their books that have created waves of controversy among the selfish and simple-minded.

Who has the right to tell you what to read? No one. Except me. Put "A Wrinkle in Time" on your TBR list if you haven't already. And spread the word.

"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle was one of my favorites as a pre-teen and I recently re-read it and loved it just as much. It has been challenged and banned by people who believe it's anti-religious (anti-Christian, that is, not Muslim or Buddhist or any other type of religion) and for its references to witches and crystal balls (kind of like the banning of "Harry Potter").

The focus of the book is young Meg Murry whose parents are both scientists and whose father has disappeared. Meg's mother believes he will be back but others are not so sure. They think he has left the family. Meg's younger brother Charles Wallace is a genius but odd, as many young geniuses are. But it is his strange ability that draws three witches to their home: Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, all of whom can travel through time and space by folding it (tessering - btw, this was my first introduction to space-time theories - it's very easily explained in the book!).

The witches tell Meg and Charles Wallace that they can help them find their father who is stuck on another planet. Meg is wary but Charles Wallace is eager to go. They bring along Calvin, a lanky teen who goes to school with Meg. I always pictured Calvin as sort of a taller, cuter Ron Howard from his "Happy Days" role of Richie Cunningham.

They travel to all different planets and each one is more interesting than the next. My favorite part of the book is when Charles Wallace is being controlled by the evil IT. The young boy is cold and emotionless. In order to save him, Meg must show him love. It sounds a little lame but it works in the book - it's kind of sad too.

Several more books followed in the series but I only read the first one. The rest are on my TBR list.

Tomorrow...Fade by Robert Cormier.

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Favorite Banned Books: 1984

This week, September 27-October 3, is Banned Books Week, a time to honor those authors whose books have created waves of controversy among the selfish and simple-minded.

I truly believe the people who seek to ban books from libraries and schools are indeed self-centered, egotistical individuals. How else to explain why someone wants to prevent others from reading something - forever! - simply because he or she doesn't approve of it?

Isn't it enough to exert influence over your friends and children with your opinion? When I don't like a television show or a song, and the subject of said show or song arises during conversation, I will offer my opinion to the person I'm talking to. But I would never tell that person to not watch or listen - ever! Who am I to tell you what to do?

Well, now I am going to tell you what to do. Put "1984" on your TBR list if you haven't already. And spread the word.

"1984" by George Orwell is one of my very favorite novels of all time. It's been banned in the past because of perceived pro-Communist views and sexually explicit material. The book tells the story of Winston Smith, a disillusioned worker drone in the Ministry of Truth. His country, Oceania, is at war with either Eastasia or Eurasia and depending on what is happening, history is constantly rewritten to accommodate the changes. For instance, if Oceania and Eurasia are allies now, history will be rewritten to show that they have always been allies.

Wherever Winston is, Big Brother is watching. The government knows if he is doing his morning exercises or not, if he's sneaking out to be with someone, if he isn't doing his job. Repercussions are severe.

When Winston meets a young woman, Julia, he is suddenly lifted out of his crappy existence. She helps him find a place for them to meet and have sex (they live in a sexually repressed society) away from the watchful eyes of BB.

But of course, life cannot become pleasant for Winston, can it? Very quickly, he is betrayed and brought to the dreaded Room 101 for torture. Torture here is based on your own fears (in Winston's case, it's rats). He is forced to give up Julia - but was it she who turned him in? Or someone else? Can anyone ever really trust anyone else?

Tomorrow...A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The LAYAs at WeHo! Free books! Free candy!

Meet the authors of some of your favorite books!

On Sunday, October 4th, 10 amazing writers from the LA area - members of a great group called Los Angeles Young Adult Authors (LAYA) - will be at the West Hollywood Book Fair with a terrific group of teens who will be reading from their books on stage, readers theater style.

There will be 2 sessions on the Teen Stage. The first, from 1-1:45PM, will feature the following writers:

Jonathan Bernstein – “Hottie”
Susan Casey - “Kids Inventing”
Cherry Cheva – “Duplikate”
Amy Goldman Koss – “Side Effects”
C. Leigh Purtill – “All About Vee”

And from 2:30-3:15PM, there will be these authors:

Ben Esch – “Sophomore Undercover”
Sally Nemeth – “The Heights, the Depths and Everything in Between”
Michael Reisman – “Simon Bloom”
Carol Snow – “Snap”
Mark L. Williams – “Danger Boy”

The authors will be signing books at the nearby Barnes & Noble booth, plus they will be promoting their books - and hanging out looking to make friends! - at the LAYA booth (#B15 in the center of the park).

We will also have a raffle for 2 baskets of books - one basket featuring books from the first session's writers and the other for the second session. You gotta come by the booth to enter!! And say hi to your favorite writers - they're mostly shut-ins so they need to see happy faces smiling back at them.

The fair runs from 10AM - 6PM and will be held at West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood, CA.

Come see us!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Applying ballet lessons to writing and to life

As some people know, I not only write but I also teach ballet to teens and adults, from absolute beginners to advanced dancers. I love ballet and I truly enjoy teaching others. It's something I hope to be able to do for the rest of my life.

Not long ago, one of my students expressed surprise that I still take classes myself. My fragile ego assumed she meant I was too old to dance but then I realized she thought I didn't need to take class anymore, that I had learned everything. After all, I teach, don't I? Doesn't that mean I know it all?

No way! When you become a student of ballet - whether your goal is to perform or simply to exercise - you are a student forever. Now, as both a teacher and a student, I have come to understand that many of the lessons we learn can be equally applied to a career as a writer and to life in general.

1. Break it down. A dancer who can perform a double pirouette needs to look at the step itself and then slice it into its various parts.

Sometimes, when we look at something we want to accomplish - writing a book, for instance - it seems like a huge task. It's so overwhelming that it's hard to know where to begin. Well, break it down into steps and take it one at a time. Multiple pirouettes are daunting if you're just starting. Why would you expect your body to be able to do it all of a sudden? The final product may be complex but when you take it a step at a time, you'll find it's quite manageable.

2. Little changes can have a big impact. A dancer working on her pirouettes knows she can't whip her arms around her wildly and expect to turn gracefully or efficiently. She knows that she must change small things about her body in order to affect her turns. She'll increase the snap of her head, change her spot, lift or lower a hip, and so on. She will continue to try different things - one at a time - to see how they affect her pirouette.

The same is true in our lives. We have our goal. And it's hard to get there. And sometimes we think we need to make massive changes all at once when things don't seem to be working. Quit the job! Enroll in every writing course under the sun! Move across country! Sell the house! But what if you try one small thing first? Adjust your schedule so you have more time to write. Try one writing course one night a week. And so on. Just like the dancer, you may eventually find the thing that makes it all work for you.

3. What works for someone may not work for you. If I cross my arms over my chest and hope to turn ten times like a dancer who is studying Balanchine technique, I may be out of luck. It might work for me but more likely it won't because I'm not studying the rest of Balanchine technique.

Sometimes we look at another person who has what we want and we think, If only we follow THAT person's path, we'll get where we need to be. And then we try - and it doesn't work! Why not? Because we're not living that person's life - we're not studying his technique. And that's perfectly all right. I can learn from this person and be inspired by his success but to recreate it exactly would mean being that person. And I can only be myself and live my own life.

4. A new set of eyes can see different flaws. When I take class with a new teacher, she may see something in my technique that isn't working and give me a correction to make it work. Aha! I just need to lift my chin to make that spot better. Why didn't my other teachers tell me that? Were they not as qualified? Sometimes fresh eyes see things from a new perspective and every teacher comes with her own focus. The important thing is to continue to be open to new teachers. One of us might just give you the correction you need to make your pirouettes better.

Similarly with that book you're writing or the big change you're trying to make in your life. Being open to new possibilities - new people who can teach you different ways of doing and seeing things - means allowing yourself to see flaws and correct them. If you only do things one way all the time, you may get stuck in a rut and never get out.

5. Never stop learning. My path as a dancer is changing as I get older and I recognize that. I can't do things I used to be able to do but I can do other things better now. I am in class to learn: I am inspired by both older and younger dancers, by my teacher, by the accompanist, by myself. I look at each class as a chance to learn one more thing that will help me as a teacher or student. So what if today I can't do a double pirouette on my left? Tomorrow I might. Instead I might focus on my extension or my petit allegro. There is always something to learn.

My path - your path - as a writer, as a person changes all the time. And that's okay. What worked yesterday may not work today. What I enjoyed yesterday I may not enjoy today. But if I continue to read, continue to adjust, continue to make corrections, my path will endure.

6. The path is not a straight line. It curves and swirls and doubles back on itself much like a dancer on stage. You can't change that - nor should you want to. A good choreographer knows never to stifle the creative process. You are the choreographer. Enjoy the process.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Things I Kept When I Cleaned

1. One of the last letters from my late maternal grandmother.

2. Cards from friends congratulating me on the publication of my first book.

3. A perfume sample from a store in Florence, Italy.

4. A collection of Phi Beta Kappa keys from my late paternal grandmother.

5. A Simpsons watch from Burger King that chimes with Bart's and Lisa's voices, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" when you press the button.

6. A conch shell bracelet my brother and his family brought me from the Caribbean.

7. A photograph of Oscar the Grouch from a shoot I did back in NYC when I was a script supervisor.
8. A pin that says "Shut up and dance."

9. The sign that says "Leigh Purtill" from outside my old cubicle at the CW Television Network.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I don't hate Dan Brown

Darn it, this Parade magazine article humanized him! When I read "The Da Vinci Code" years ago (at the behest of my brother who insisted it was pure awesome), I did what any normal writer would do with it: I trashed the writing while praising the plot. It was the very definition of a page-turner, even more so than "Twilight." No matter how wooden the dialogue or trite the prose, I couldn't stop reading.

I learned a lot from Brown's book: keep chapters short, end chapters on mini-cliffhangers, go for the biggest, boldest plot ever. But this is not to say I liked it. I especially hated that such a poorly-written novel could become such a massive international bestseller. It didn't seem fair that Brown's book could catapult him into the stratosphere with such writing stars as Stephen King and Dean Koontz, both commercial writers who actually do know how to write. I didn't even want him to do well.

Now I do. I read that article and Dan Brown. I respect that he works very hard. I appreciate that he is humble about his success. I love his skepticism, his female-centric spirituality, and that he does not, in fact, picture Tom Hanks when he writes about his character, Robert Langdon.

I always assumed I would read his new novel, "The Lost Symbol," but now, gosh darn it, as with other writers I like personally, I want Dan Brown to do well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

Of Monkeys and Metallica

Every morning, I wake up to classical music on KUSC. Great station, not pretentious at all. And terrific hosts who know a lot about music and composers but don't make you self-conscious about your inability to remember the difference between 2/4 and 6/8 time.

I know, I know...I should know that, since I do teach with classical music every day but I just can't make it stick in my brain.

Anyway, during the news portion, as I lay in my bed thinking about my day ahead of me, I heard this story about monkeys and music. A study published in a British journal showed that when monkeys were played music by Nine Inch Nails, Metallica and Barber's Adagio For Strings, they were most calmed by Metallica. Otherwise, they had no interest in human music. The only other way monkeys appreciated music was when it was based on their own sounds. Songs based on monkey vocalizations that meant fear produced fear in the monkeys who were listening while others based on sounds that meant happiness produced happiness in them.

Here is a little more info about the study.

Fascinating. It also goes to show you that what we think of as a universal concept - that classical music is soothing to all species - is completely false so stop playing it at zoos for the animals! They don't like it! Another example of human narcissism.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God will probably strike me down for this

I grew up surrounded by Catholic guilt and Irish pessimism. The Catholic in me was always wary of doing or saying something that might require me to confess to God (wouldn't He know when it happened?) while the Irish in me was concerned the mere mention of something going my way would incur God's wrath.

Who are you, mere mortal, to think positively? Don't you dare get too big for your britches or I will smite thee...

Or however God talks. Is it Olde English? Seriously?

It's amazing that we humans worry about saying the wrong things. Somehow, our words - the utterances of a mere mortal - will influence the forces of the Universe. That's incredibly self-centered! If I tell a friend something I hope will happen, one of my fondest desires perhaps, why would its mention cause the Universe to provide the opposite? Is the Universe so vindictive? So immature?

And if that's the case, that the Universe could be manipulated simply by saying one thing out loud, doesn't it stand to reason that we could use reverse psychology and speak aloud those things we don't want to happen?

Hmmm...our Universe is pretty simple-minded, huh?

I was reminded of this recently when I was having coffee with a friend and fellow writer. We are both very similar in temperament and share the belief in "careful now, don't say that out loud if you really want it to happen." Yet, where has it gotten us? By not saying what we want to the Universe, have we gotten it? No. And if we say the opposite, does that net us our goal? Uh, nope. So then what is the lesson we have learned? Generally speaking, that giving voice to our hopes and desires has no effect on whether we achieve them or not.

So then...why not be positive? Why not tell people what we'd like to achieve? Why not share with them bits of news that might develop into something big and cool - or might not. So what if it doesn't happen? Does it take anything away from us personally? Would a friend think about us, "Oh, I can't believe Leigh told me about that possible movie deal when it didn't eventually happen. Who does she think she is?" Unlikely. The friend would probably commiserate and say, "Hey, it was cool that you were even considered."

It's 9/9/09. Does the Universe know this?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

A jumbled mess of Friday

1. Soda Fail - yes, I took this one at the cracked me up!! If you can't read the sign, it says "Coke Machine Now Working" - right on top of the big Pepsi logo!

2. Tuesday, September 1st was an anniversary for me: celebrating 8 years of not smoking! Quitting was - hands down - the best thing I have ever done in my life. Yeah, yeah, I shouldn't have started in the first place (kids, don't try this at home!) but I was a cool kid - or at least I wanted to be, plus I danced, plus, plus, plus...well, you know, there are a lot of excuses for smoking. But pretty much, every day I thank god I was able to quit.

3. Discovery Channel reality shows rule! This summer HH and I discovered (hahaha) "MythBusters," "The Deadliest Catch," "Survivorman," "Everest Beyond the Limit," and "No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain" (Travel Channel). Great shows, perfect for the summer.

4. Oh No They Didn't logged over 1300 comments on its post about teen books with plus-size protagonists, the list created by Leanne Italie (by contrast, average posts there generated 100 comments or less). Sure, not all of them were cogent or nice but among the huge number were some very heartfelt comments from people about being heavy, about not having role models in books, about being teased. Just goes to show you what a very important this issue is to people: everyone has an opinion.