Friday, November 20, 2009

What I've learned from NaNoWriMo (so far)

It can’t be this easy, I keep thinking as I type word after word after word. I watch my daily word counts fly by. Even on days I don’t write—and they are rare—I’m still catching up and making my word count on a regular basis.

I think back to my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), 7—or was it 8—years ago. Feverish, marathon typing sessions. A bundle of nerves and sore wrists.

What changed? Maturity? Medication (I’ve always been ADD, but have only been on medication for the past 5 years)? Mahalo? The writing at the people-powered search engine was a trial by fire—multiple daily deadlines, and pressure to produce at a prodigious rate. Nine months of daily word counts that were, come to think of it, pretty close to the 1,667 words a day average that NaNo demands.

I’m sure that all of those things have helped. But there are a few other strategies I’ve identified that have helped make this year’s NaNo so smooth.

1. Be Prepared.

I went with a novel idea that I’d come up with many years ago. In fact, it’s basically a reboot of my original NaNo concept from my first time through. A few of the main characters, personality traits, and plots remained the same, but I never went back to my original notes, only thoughts I had had about the story between then and now.

Also, remembering my plot struggles from before, I made sure to take several days in October—mostly during bus rides and in the shower—to think about plot and characters, where they might go, and what they might do. This made it a lot easier for me to write during November. And I continued to use little blocks of time, that were not long enough to get much writing done, to think about plot and what might happen next. As a result, I wasn’t running out of plot nearly as much as last time.

2. Have Fun!
I made sure to use a novel idea that was interesting and engaging for me, and made sure that, whether my writing was good or bad, I was having fun while writing. If that meant that a character did something silly, or I had a random aside describing the character’s dinner, or I inserted a graphic sex scene (pun intended), then I’d do it. Sure, a lot of this won’t survive any edits or rewrites, but a lot will. In fact, me having fun caused a major character to spontaneously appear out of nowhere—a character that helped solve a major plot problem in my novel.

Fun also meant that I could not be anxious about things. I couldn’t worry about my stock clich├ęs, spelling errors, or inconsistencies in the plot if I were focused on having fun. I can always fix problems if and when I edit it.

3.Find time to write, every day.
I made it a goal to write on a daily basis, and to change my lifestyle to make it easy to find opportunities to write. That included having a pen-and-paper in my purse at all times, writing on my lunch hour, and begging my husband to let me lug around his huge laptop on a recent vacation so I could write on the train and before bed. As a result, I found out which writing times worked best for me, and I only missed three, maybe four days of writing (so far).

4. When in doubt, summarize.
If there was a place in the novel where I got stuck, I simply summarized the basics of what I wanted to happen, then moved on. Like if I needed details on something I didn’t have, or I wasn’t sure how the heroes would get out of a tough scrape (though I knew they would). I know the basic points of what I want to happen, but the details are sketchy. For those scenes, I am doing either some basic narration, or I am just putting in a placeholder paragraph of summary. I may go back to clean those paragraphs up before the end of November, or, I may leave them until I revise.

5.Use shame and social networking.
I don’t use the NaNo forums much, but I do use the “Buddies” system there. I see how my nano friends are doing. Those who are ahead of me, or are close to my word count, it spurs my competitive edge. Those who are behind me, it makes me want to give them pep talks and help spur them on to greater things. And, to be honest, I get a bit of schadenfreude knowing that I’m doing better than them.

I also use sites like Facebook and Twitter (mostly Twitter) to keep friends who aren’t writers updated on my NaNo status. My tweeps will often reply back with short notes of encouragement, and just putting it out there makes me feel more productive.

Even with all these strategies, I’m not out of the woods yet. I’ve got 20,000 more words to go As an old English major (and an Old English major), I know that hubris is a dangerous thing. So I guess that strategy #6 and #7 are “stay humble,” and “keep writing.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me…

Calvin and Hypatia boarded the train bound for Chicago. He was wearing his new hair and face…

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pessimism, positive thinking, and horse poop

I was reminded recently how much I hate the following anecdote. It goes, more or less like this:

A little boy is given a pile of poop as a gift. Instead of being sad, he is gleeful and starts playing in the scat. When asked why, he says "With this much poop there's got to be a pony somewhere!"

Cute story. But back in the day, when I was much, much (much) younger, this story always gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have always thought it a horrible motivator, because this logic makes no sense.

First off, what kind of pile of poop is so incredibly big that it can hide an entire horse? Either a ginormous pile, or a very small pony, and both are unlikely scenarios.

Second of all, just because there's poop doesn't mean a pony is nearby. It means a pony was nearby. But the pony could have just as well rode off. The little boy may be happy now, but soon enough, he'll be sorely disappointed. And that makes my inner child cry.

Now, the thing is, there are certainly ways to spin this story so that the little boy comes out on top of the heap, so to speak.

1. If the boy is a gardener, he's got a wonderful fertilizer for his fruits and vegetables.
2. If he's not a gardener, but he has entrepreneurial spirit, he can package and sell the horse poop to others who are.
3. If he's just fallen off of a horse, the horse poop, though uncomfortable, could cushion his fall.

And so on.

I just wish that motivational peoples would be a little more realistic when they tell this type of story. With a little bit of creative thinking, the story can be turned into something realistic and motivating. Because otherwise, if you're someone who is into critical thinking, or has a pessimistic/realistic worldview, this story's not gonna sway them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Brief thoughts on Michael Jackson

I can't not dance to Thriller.

Everytime I hear it, I wait with embarrassed anticipation through the 30 second, atmospheric laden opening, for those first synthesizer chords, hoping I can stop myself from popping my hip to the side and throwing my arms up in the air (maybe grabbing my crotch), but knowing I won't.

My first "real" album was Thriller on vinyl, had an ill-concieved perm in elementary school that made me look like him, won a local adio contest for impersonating him by singing "Beat It."

I never idolized him, never went to one of his concerts, and I didn't quite know how to reconcile his later image with his Thriller heyday. I felt guilty sometimes enjoying his music because of his alleged crimes, felt guilty about passing judgement on an uber-superstar who no one, least of all me, could really ever know as a human being.

As such, I can't really mourn him. We see "famous" people every day, they are saturated into our culture, but they aren't real to us, though they may seem so. They're like someone from a history book, or are like a piece of furniture in a room. Something part of the landscape but not really interacting with it.

I don't mean to minimize the pain his family is going through right now. Death is always tragic, and especially when it comes unexpectly and to one so young.

But the best I can do for him is to dance. Which is what I've been doing all along.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buffy Movie Fail

Reports surfaced today that the owners of the Buffy franchise are seriously considering a reboot/reimagining of the valley-girl slayer in big-budget movie form.

Nope, not Joss Whedon. Fran Rubel Kuzui, who bought the rights to make the first Buffy movie in 1992.

At last accounts, none of the cast from the movie or the TV series, nor Joss himself, would be involved with the project.

Now, I'll admit up front that I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan, and so I had a pretty negative emotional reaction when I first heard the news. However, I'm putting that aside for this post. After all, there have been some great franchize reboots recently that many people scoffed at but that came off well. I'm thinking Lord of the Rings here, and, of course, Star Trek.

However, allow me to take off my "Joss Whedon is my Master Now" T-shirt and analyze the numerous other reasons why this is a bad move.

1. Too early for a reboot. The Buffy series has only been off the air for seven years. Admittedly, things are getting rebooted earlier and earlier--Hulk had 5 years between its first and second movies, but Hulk had a few things going for it. One, the second movie was only partially a reboot. Sure, different characters, timeline, continuity, but the second movie did not retell the origin story. Also, the Hulk has a huge fanbase apart from any film adaptation.

2. Alienating the audience. The majority of Buffy's success is inextricably linked with Joss Whedon. I know I said that I wasn't going to be a fangirl, but hear me out. He wrote the first movie (even though he wasn't involved with it much beyond that) and he pretty much created the universe of the television series. The things that people love about Buffy--the mix of humor and drama, the snappy one-liners, the character development, that's all Joss. Everything I've heard from the reboot is that they're going darker and bigger in scope. I believe that a large number of Buffy fans are, not necesarily Joss Whedon fans, but fans of the campy side. A Buffy apart from this is not going to appeal to the same fans that the other Buffy prodcuts have.

3. Tabula rasa. The success or failure of this new Buffy movie hinges on the quality of the people picked to create it. Yes, the premise of Buffy leaves a ton of room to do lots of different things. Each generation, a girl is born who has superpowers and fights vampires. Beyond that, it's a blank canvas. A huge canvas. My worry is that the canvas will be too big for all but the most talented individuals to wield successfully.

If you ask me? The Kuzuis should forget the whole "Buffy" thing and get behind Joss to produce his Goners movie. It's a similar premise--girl gets strong and fights the monsters--and it has the potential to be a lot darker than the Buffyverse, such as it is.

And there's not all the baggage of a movie, a 7-season series, a comic book, and a legion of pissed off fans.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Toothpick Moment

I was just listening to So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, by Douglas Adams, on my ipod. There is a key scene in the book where minor character "Wonko the Sane". talks about how he decided to withdraw from society and become a hermit after he saw that there were instructions on the side of a toothpick box.

See Wikipedia reference here.

A society that needs to be told how to use a toothpick, he reasoned, is not one he wanted to be a part of.

Well, I’ve had my own toothpick moment recently. It came when I was flipping through some vegetarian cookbooks that I picked up at the library to try to figure out what the heck to do with the veggies that keep coming in from my CSA.

A little background here. I’m the type of girl who uses recipes as guidelines. For better or worse, after I’ve made something for the first time, I’ll often go off the reservation, adding more of one thing, less of another, and doing the dish from memory. Most of the time, say, for meat marinades and soups, this works fine. Other times, for, say, chocolate mousse for example (and this is purely hypothetical, I assure you), substitution is a bad idea and blows up in your face.

Hence why I’m a fruit cobbler girl, not a fruit pie girl. Pie crusts are an exact science. Cobbler topping is not.

Anyway, I’m reading this cookbook (which shall remain nameless), and on the inside front cover, there’s this disclaimer:

The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The Publisher is not responsible for your specific health and allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The Publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

What. The. Fondue.

The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written.

Seriously? Gee, thanks Big Brother! I guess I’ll just turn myself in if I have butter beans but no kidney beans.

OK, I get it that pre-packaged products need to label allergens. I'm friendly with many people with life-threatening allergies, and they say it's a lifesaver, literally. But if you are allergic to nuts, and you make a recipe that calls for nuts, isn’t that more of a suicidal streak than a legal liability?

A society that needs to be told how to use a cookbook is not one that I want to be a part of. Excuse me while I go build The Outside of the Asylum now.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No Excuse. None.

Chris Brown got charged today with assault and making threats against his girlfriend Rihanna. I was helping Mahalo to cover the Grammys when I first heard about it. It was first reported as a car accident. Rihanna and Chris are fine, the publicist said, but they’ll not make the Grammy Awards. They’ve gotten back together since he beat the shit out of her before the Grammy’s on February 8.

Sure, I should say “allegedly” here, and sure, I should be euphemistic and say “domestic violence, and sure, since she’s of age and her live is hers to live, if she’s the forgiving sort, then I should keep my mouth shut and keep my opinions to myself. I am, after all, a sporadic blogger who has no stake in the situation and who could really care less about the music of either Chris Brown or Rihanna. The Internet certainly doesn’t need another blogger adding to the noise of this already huge story.

Okay then, fine. Let me tell you another story.

A black woman with a couple of kids is staying on a friend’s couch. To say she is down on her luck is an understatement. Early in the morning, she is woken up out of a dead sleep, by her boyfriend pulling on her hair. He also slammed her head against the wall.

She was so freaked out, and disoriented, that she ran, half-clothed, out of the apartment in the middle of winter, just to get away from him.

The police were called, but she declined to press charges. No photographs, no news reports. Maybe she left him, maybe not. Maybe she’ll end up dead. That is the reality of most domestic violence.

And it’s a true story, too. I was the one who called the police. She was running, half-naked, down the street, screaming for help.

I do not fault either woman for their decisions or their situations. I feel so sorry for them that they feel like they have to stay with people who hurt them, or are too scared to do anything to prosecute those who have hurt them.

But Rihanna is lucky. Very, very lucky. Her gut instinct told her to do the right thing, even though she was not willing or able to follow through. She called the police and made sure they were waiting when she and Brown got to their destination. They were then able to record evidence, take statements and get a clear picture of what happened. Her blood in Brown’s car. Phone calls. Police reports and photos.

You see, in criminal cases, the victim does not have to want to press charges for charges to be pressed. If there’s enough evidence during the altercation, they can press charges anyway. Which is what the police did today.

Brown is lucky, too. He’s lucky that he “only” beat and bit and bruised her (according to reports). And he’s lucky Rihanna was wearing her seatbelt. Brown reportedly tried to push her out of a moving car. If she’d forgotten to buckle up, he could have succeeded. His actions could have broken her legs, her arms, her spine, her neck, could have killed her. He’s lucky he gets to apologize to a live person. Even so, Brown should be punished for his actions, and the law agrees. Whether Rihanna agrees is irrelevant.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7223

Chris Brown and Rihanna latest news

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Dollhouse" Debriefing

I'm writing this less than two hours after I've seen the pilot episode of Joss Whedon's new show Dollhouse. I'm probably one of the first people to see it, a little over a week before it airs.

I saw it in a furniture store with about a dozen others, surrounded by love seats, sofas and a plethora of salespeople circling around.

I'll be getting into some spoilery territory here about the structure of the show and some of the basics of the plot, as well as what I believe to be the strengths and flaws of the show. I'll try not to give away any specific plot points. You have been warned.

The show starts out with a lot of eye candy--Fast cars, fast women, sexy outfits, co-ed naked showering--but not a lot of dialogue. With all of this visual stimulation, it's a little hard to follow what's going on. After the first act, though, you figure out the basic rules of the Dollhouse, and how the main character, Echo (played by Eliza Dushku), fits in.

Briefly: The Dollhouse is dormitory for young men and women who have agreed to give up their identities in exchange for a clean slate. In this case, literally, for the memories of their past lives are wiped. They are given new memories and identities as needed, and are sent out to do assignments. When they return, they are wiped again. A little Bourne Identity, a little Alias, as some who watched the pilot with me remarked.

Though the Dollhouse is seen, it remains terribly mysterious after this first episode. Is the Dollhouse a government organization? A bunch of mad scientists playing god? A precursor to Firefly's Academy? We don't know. We do learn that the Dollhouse contracts its services out to a wide variety of clients and is run by an icy British woman. We also learn that somebody at the FBI knows something about the Dollhouse and has assigned the hunky Heilo from Battlestar Galactica, Tahmoh Penikett, to find out more.

We see Echo on assignment, which takes up the majority of the episode. For me, this was the most engaging part of the story, because we actually got to see Echo in character, see her handle an assignment, and watch a story arc that is easy to relate to.

During the pilot, we also meet a couple of the workers and residents of the Dollhouse, including Echo's handler, played by Harry Lennix (dude from the Matrix who was Morpheus' rival for Jada Pinkett's affections).

Although there are a few humorous parts, the pilot episode of Dollhouse seems to indicate that this is a dyed-in-the wool drama, with lots of sexy eye candy thrown in for good measure. Joss does not make with the funny so much here but the bodies are toned and oiled and beautiful and many scenes are visually stunning.

Though Joss is known for his strong characters, the character development was weak for most of the cast, including Echo. The most fleshed out character was Echo's handler, who came across as a very protective, father-figure type.

He was in stark contrast to the rest of the workers at the Dollhouse, who were extremely businesslike. The entire feeling was cold and impersonal, which may have been intentional, but it made it hard to relate to many of the characters.

At the end of the episode, I wanted to know more-much, much more-about the Dollhouse. It felt like there was too much to get across in a one-hour episode, and certain things were barely hinted at.

The people I saw it with had mixed reactions. Some felt that Eliza did not have the gravitas to pull off the role since she needs to play many different characters. Some were even more confused than I was as to what was going on. Everybody enjoyed it to a certain extent, and some of the salespeople who were hovering about sat down and had a look. That's a good sign I think.

I have a lot of confidence that the show will get better with age. For one, Joss likes to write stories with a ton of characters in them, so not everybody gets to shine right off the bat. I am certain that the characters will grow and develop and get really cool as the show goes on.

Also, the person who was running the screening, a local entertainment writer, told us that she had seen the first few episodes, and that the show did start to get tighter. There was a groove and a more consistent tone that emerged.

I also have confidence that the show will have a chance to ripen. According to our emcee at the screening, The new exec at FOX, a guy named Kevin Riley, is known for letting shows develop over time. He was apparently the guy that greenlit The Office at NBC and let it find its audience over a season or so.

Dollhouse is a bit confusing, but it has the potential to be a lot more accessible than some of Joss's other shows. No vampires, no Cowboys in Space.

Dollhouse was good, but not great. There's been only one great.

Dollhouse is premiering on Friday the 13th at 9PM, right after Terminator: The Summer Glau, er, Sarah Connor Chronicles. Take that as an omen, for good or for ill, as you wish.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Superbowl Commercials, post-game

Well, now, this is interesting.

Before the game, when everyone else was excited about the hype, my expectations for this year's Super Bowl commercials were pretty low.

But then, as the game, and the commercials, progressed, while others began to be underwhelmed, I found that there were some pretty good ones this year.

The Clydesdales I've mentioned already, but I also liked Hulu's commercial. Alec Baldwin as a space alien trying to rot your brain was wonderfully funny and refreshing.

I was surprised that the GI Joe movie actually looked like fun, too. Part of this is because The Doctor, er, Christopher Eccleston, is going to be in the movie (you never forget your first Doctor, they say).

Yes, of course there were some busts. I despise talking baby commercials. They give me the creeps and I don't think they're funny. The GoDaddy commercials were all tease and no substance. And most commercials featuring animals were not very funny.

It also seemed to be that the best commercials, IMHO, were at the start of the game, and the commercials were not quite as good as the game progressed.

But overall, much happier with the 2009 commercials compared with the commercials from last year. Were they all that better? I don't really know. But I do know that the lower I keep my expectations and the less hype I buy into, the more I will enjoy the process.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

First Half Update: Looking good

Superbowl Sunday so far: Not only is the game competitive, the ads have been pretty good so far.

I am particularly partial to the Budweiser Clydesdale Super Bowl Ads. They are so cute and well-done. The big Clydesdale horse has so much personality, it practically jumps off the screen.

Doesn't really make me want to drink but anymore, but it's a great set of commercials which deserves to get some recognition.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Commercial Curmudgeon

Forgive me, but I’m a commercial curmudgeon. I see great commercials like this one for Skoda motors in England, and in my own country, it’s all fart jokes and shock value.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Superbowl.commercials. And if you're like me, and want to see the commercials, not the game, Mahalo is the best place for Superbowl commercials live coverage. You can find out what is airing when, and see the commercials online mere minutes after they have aired.

But when every company puts out a press release or a teaser to let you, the coveted viewer, know that you can see their product shilled on February 1, you expect more than what is generally given.

I'm fine with knowing what commercials will be aired before they air. It builds buzz, excitement and anticipation. But, frankly, the commercials for the past few years have not been up to par. This is the best that creative marketing minds can come up with? Admittedly, I like that Doritos uses audience participation in creating and choosing the ads, but the ads themselves are hit and miss.

Give me some real creativity, something innovative and exciting, and, oh, I don’t know, risky? Remember those Intel commercials from the 1990's with the dancing astronauts in the psychedelic lame spacesuits? Whether it's a good commercial is debatable, but it sure was memorable. And it was certainly something out of the ordinary.

The big fad this year is purported to be 3-D ads. Dreamworks and Sobe are both going to run ads in 3-D. Seems creative, but it seems more like ploy to get you out to check out the products and locales that offer the 3-D glasses. A bad commercial in 3-D is still a bad commercial.

Even so, If you are interested in getting those 3-D glasses, or making your own, check this out.

I’m watching the commercials at a friend’s house this year, a friend who has TiVo, so we can pause, replay and capture some of the better commercials this year. I just hope they’re worth it. But, I’m an optimist, and I an hopeful that we’ll get more than a few good commercials this year. Besides, any excuse to hang with friends, eat and drink is worth it.

If you'd like to skip Superbowl 43 and don't have Tivo, Mahalo is the place to go. They are super-exhaustive about this sort of thing. Here's a list of the commercials that will air on Superbowl Sunday.

Amy Borkowsky
Angels and Demons Super Bowl Ad
Budweiser Clydesdale Super Bowl Ad
Carreer Builder Super Bowl Ad Super Bowl Ad
Cheetos Super Bowl Ad
Chuck Super Bowl Ad
Denny's Super Bowl Ad
Doritos "Free Doritos" Super Bowl Ad
Doritos New Flavor Pitch Super Bowl Ad
Doritos Power of the Crunch Super Bowl Ad
Doritos Super Bowl Ad
Doritos The Chase Super Bowl Ad
Doritos Too Delicious Super Bowl Ad
Fast and the Furious Super Bowl Ad
Frosted Flakes Super Bowl Ad
GI Joe Super Bowl Ad
Go Daddy Danica Patrick Super Bowl Ad
Go Daddy Super Bowl Ad
H and R Block Super Bowl Ad
Heineken Super Bowl Ad
Heroes Super Bowl Ad
Hyundai Genesis Super Bowl Ad
Hyundai Super Bowl Ad
Jay Leno Super Bowl Ad
Kings Super Bowl Ad
LMAO NBC Super Bowl Ad
Land of the Lost Super Bowl Ad
Medium Super Bowl Ad
Miller One Second Super Bowl Ad
Monsters vs. Aliens Super Bowl Ad
NFL Network Super Bowl Ad
Pedigree Super Bowl Ad
Pepsi Super Bowl Ad
Sobe Lizard Lake Super Bowl Ad
Sobe Super Bowl Ad
Star Trek Super Bowl Ad
Super Bowl Ads 2009
Super Bowl Commercials 2009
Super Bowl Commercials Live Coverage
Teleflora Super Bowl Ad
Transformers Super Bowl Ad

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Time

Cross-posted at my other blog, Garlic is Love.

Oscar nominees were just announced today.

I'm a huge Oscar fan. Not so much for the movies but for the social aspect.

I usually do an Oscar party with my good friend B. Last year I skipped it. I hope to get back into the tradition this year. I like to realy glam up the food I serve, but this year, I am just about partied out. Not to mention that I should be more budget-consious than I have been due to the current economic doldrums.

However, I've got a turkey in the freezer and half a lamb's worth of meat. And I've got a steady supply of root and leaf vegetables coming in weekly from my CSA. So I think I'll be able to put together a nice spread for my guests that won't break my budget.

Hm. Maybe I'll even ask them to bring some canned goods to donate to charity, make it something more than appletinis and red carpets.