Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: My Year in Review

2008 was a landmark year in my life. It was a year of transition: ends, beginnings, redefinitions, and, most of all, getting back to the core of who I am and what I want out of life. Looking back over my tangible accomplishments, it's also been a fairly productive year.
  1. I wrote or rewrote five screenplays totaling 489 pages and 93,500 words.
  2. I wrote five pieces of short fiction and one free-verse poem, totaling 10,300 words.
  3. In the last two months of the year, I wrote the first 90,000 words of a novel.
  4. I wrote some nonfiction essays and brainstormed/planned a number of others.
  5. I wrote 88 blog posts (make that 89, I guess, including this one).
  6. I started jogging, kept coaching little kid soccer, and took fencing lessons.
  7. I participated in and won ScriptFrenzy for the first time and also served as the municipal liaison for the Kansas City area.
  8. I participated in and won NaNoWriMo for the fourth time.
  9. I reached my goal of reading 24 books a year for the second year in a row.
  10. I watched 151 movies and learned a lot about the art of cinema.
Beyond the accomplishments, the year sneaked in a number of valuable lessons as well. Here are my Top 3.
  1. Appreciate the present, and do not cling to what is not so. I've learned to better appreciate the ebb and flow of life. Things come and go, and we cannot control it all. There is beauty in every phase of life, even in the moments of melancholy.
  2. Do something every day that moves me one step closer to my goals. Even if it's something minuscule, I try to do at least something. No day should be wasted.
  3. Most importantly, I made the decision to be authentically and unapologetically me. After many years of trying to fit the mold of what I thought I should be, I realized that what I should be is, simply, me. It has been the most freeing decision of my life to date.
So, with 2008 behind me, I've set up some goals for the coming year. I like to call them New Year's Initiatives rather than resolutions. Eleven worked well for 2008, so I'm going with that for this year, too.
  1. Finish the first draft of Fairytale Redux.
  2. Adapt a novel for the screen.
  3. Edit/re-write SoS.
  4. Rewrite M. Valentine.
  5. Write a stage play or a comic book script for ScriptFrenzy 2009.
  6. NaNoWriMo 2009.
  7. Visit a place I've never been before.
  8. Read another 24 books.
  9. Finish a themed short story collection.
  10. Write another spec screenplay.
  11. Film a short.
So, cheers to 2008 being over, and here's to 2009 being the best year yet. Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: The Year in Movies

I saw a total of 151 movies this year, which, if you're counting, comes out to about one every two and a half days. Out of those, 46 were new releases. Below are my ratings of those new releases, along with an explanation of what I tend to mean by those ratings.


5 stars
(Must See)

4 stars
(Should See)
Definitely, Maybe
Bigga Than Ben
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist


3 1/2 stars
(Worth Seeing, But Not Groundbreaking)
Iron Man
Hellboy 2
What Happens in Vegas
X-Files 2: I Want to Believe
Bottle Shock
Tropic Thunder
Burn After Reading
The Duchess
High School Musical 3
Mamma Mia!

3 stars
(Take it or Leave it)
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Baby Mama
Made of Honor
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Kung Fu Panda
Get Smart
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Hamlet 2
Ghost Town
Yes Man
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Seven Pounds

2 1/2 stars
(Only See if You're Interested in the Genre/Actor/Some Other Factor)
There Will Be Blood
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Tale of Despereaux

1 star
Prom Night

Additionally, I thought I'd list the 4- and 5-star rentals/purchases. If you haven't seen these, they're worth adding to your Netflix queue.

5 stars
Ordinary People (1980)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Once (2007)
Harvey (1950)

4 stars
(or a strong 3 1/2 stars)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Rear Window (1954)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Tootsie (1982)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
The Lion King (1994)
The Full Monty (1997)
Wilde (1997)
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Almost Famous (2000)
Hedwig & the Angry Inch (2001)
Amélie (2001)
Conversations with Other Women (2005)
Shopgirl (2005)
Angel-A (2005)
Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut) (2005)
Joyeux Noël (2005)
Children of Men (2006)
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Eastern Promises (2007)
Meet Bill (2007)
Ratatouille (2007)
The Orphanage (2007)
Stardust (2007)
The History Boys (2006)
Return to Me (2000)
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Son of Rambow (2007)
Then She Found Me (2007)
The Visitor (2007)
All the President's Men (1976)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Recap: 28 December 2008

I love being on break from work. Probably too much. I've been off for five days. I've got to head back in tomorrow for two, and then I'm off for another five. When I'm off from work, I get to spend my days doing the things I love most: writing, reading, watching movies, and hanging out with friends & family. It's really a shame I have to pay bills and whatnot...

What I Watched

  • Joyeux Noël (4 stars): A film about German, French and Scottish troops who call a cease-fire over Christmas during World War II. Sad, funny, moving and optimistic. Great movie for the holidays, or really anytime.
  • The Tale of Despereaux (2½ stars): This one was really quite a disappointment. The animation was cute, but the sound mixing was awful with some characters barely audible and others booming for no apparent reason. The narration was odd, at best. More importantly, the different threads of the story never seemed to tie together. I haven't read the book, but the translation to screen seems to have been less than successful.
  • All the President's Men (4 stars): Watched this in preparation for seeing Frost/Nixon. I hadn't watched it since high school, and it stirred the journalistic strings of my heart once more. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as "Woodstein" are, of course, fabulous.
  • Slumdog Millionaire (4 stars): If this doesn't win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, I will be astounded. Simon Beaufoy ties everything together beautifully in what was obviously a challenging narrative. I wasn't blown away by this movie, probably due to all the hype, but it was definitely a strong and solid film. Grabs you at the beginning and doesn't let go until the Bollywood send-off at the end.
  • Seven Pounds (3 stars): I appreciated what this film was trying to do, but I don't think it went far enough. I can't say too much without giving things away, but I wasn't as emotionally impacted as I'd hoped to be. The closing scene didn't help matters. Will Smith and Rosario Dawson both gave excellent performances, but I just left feeling kind of empty.
  • Frost/Nixon (5 stars): Best movie I've seen this year. Michael Sheen is spectacular. Nixon was long out of the limelight by the time I was old enough to remember, but Langella creates a character that is both despicable and heartbreaking. Supporting cast? Stellar. The story itself, though of course dramatized from the truth, is riveting. Excellent, excellent film.

What I'm Reading

Confession time. I'm reading Twilight. There, I said it. Next confession: I totally don't get all the excitement surrounding this book. Do the sequels get better? Can someone please explain the appeal? I don't think I've gotten too old to not appreciate teen angst, but if I have to read about how Edward's touch left Bella breathless one more time... I'm determined to finish and to read at least the second book, but seriously, if there's anyone out there who can help me understand this phenomenon, I'd honestly appreciate it.

I've also managed to get myself into a situation where I'm reading three (technically four) books at once again. Hoping to get Twilight knocked off the list, then I'll finish up A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Vile Village (Book 7). I'm also reading Good in a Room. The technical fourth is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which has been put on hold until the new year when I can devote a little more time to such a huge tome.

What I'm Writing

This hasn't been the most productive month for me, but after the marathon that is NaNoWriMo, I think that's OK. I'm still working on finishing up Redux, and then I've got to decide what to tackle next. M. Valentine needs a rewrite, SoS needs an edit and at least 20 pages added to it, and Tea still needs a better third act. Beyond that, I've got several other new projects in the queue. So, I've got choices, but I think perhaps I have too many choices. I'm still anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 words out from being done with Redux, so I guess I've got time to figure it out.

Hope you all had or are having a lovely holiday. Stay tuned this week for my Year-End Wrap-Up!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recap: 22 December 2008

This month has been crazier than expected. I've not gotten nearly as much writing done as I'd hoped. In fact, this has been my most slackerish month of the year, which, after churning out as much as I did in November, I suppose is OK. I have at least managed to catch a few movies recently.

What I Watched
  • An American in Paris (3 stars): Hard to go wrong with a classic Gene Kelly musical. The end sequence is a lot more interesting if you know that they're paying tribute to five different French impressionist painters (including Manet, who's my favorite painter).
  • I Really Hate My Job (2½ stars): Helmed by Oliver Parker, who's done a number of Oscar Wilde adaptations (including 2009's Dorian Gray), this film would have fared better with a more sparkling and perhaps Wildean script. The similarly-themed Caffeine did a better job of embracing its character-driven quirkiness.
  • Little Voice (2½ stars): I had high hopes for this movie, so I was really disappointed to find an almost total lack of character development. It seemed to be trying for a Benny & Joon-type vibe at times, and other times I wasn't sure what it was going for. The character motivations were unclear, which made the characters' arcs seem very uneven most of the time. Perhaps it plays better on the stage, but it seemed like a potentially very moving story was really mishandled in the transition to screen.
  • Yes Man (3 stars): I was pleasantly surprised by this fairly standard romantic comedy. It really wasn't anything like Liar Liar, despite what the previews suggested. It was nice to see Jim Carrey play the straight man to zanier performances throughout a portion of the movie.
  • Pillow Talk (3 stars): A fun, classic Rock Hudson-Doris Day flick. Funny, charming, and all that jazz.

That's all for now. Hoping to have another update later this week.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Recap: 8 December 2008

It was an exciting weekend for me, at least in the area of media consumption, as I got to use my new HDTV and Blu-ray player for the first time. I'd been using a nice-enough big-screen tube TV, but the difference between it and the new DLP I'm rocking now is pretty amazing.

So, after massive amounts of help from my mom, sisters and sister's boyfriend, I settled down to watch my first Blu-ray movie, Prince Caspian. I was a bit disappointed to find out most of the special features in which I was most interested are not available on the US-region discs. In fact, the only region that gets Bonus Disc 1 (which includes the LOTR-appendices-type making-of features) is apparently Japan, according to NarniaWeb. That being said, watching one of my favorite movies of the year in high-def Blu-ray was quite fabulous.

What I Watched
  • Trainspotting (3½ stars): A funny but harsh (and honest) look at how heroin addiction affects the lives of a group of Scottish 20-somethings.
  • Ballet Shoes (3 stars): My sister and I watched this because we were interested to see Emma Watson in something outside of the Harry Potter movies, and, while it wasn't great, it was cute (and there was admittedly one part where I teared up). Apparently this is a rather beloved children's novel. I hadn't heard of it, but it does seem like it would make a rather charming little book.
  • The Visitor (3½ stars): This is the story of an emotionally-stilted widower who returns to his rarely-visited New York apartment to find an illegal immigrant couple living there. What follows is a sweet and often heart-breaking story about the widower's reawakening, so to speak, against the backdrop of the plight illegal immigrants face post 9/11. It's a pretty eye-opening tale, and, though it gets a bit slow at times, it's definitely worth seeing.

And just in case you're interested, this weekend's box office was filled with hold-overs. Where are all the quality, Oscar-bait films, I wonder?

This Week's Top 10
  1. Four Christmases ($18.2 million)
  2. Twilight ($13.2 million)
  3. Bolt ($9.7 million)
  4. Australia ($7 million)
  5. Quantum of Solace ($6.6 million)
  6. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ($5.1 million)
  7. Transporter 3 ($4.5 million)
  8. Punisher: War Zone ($4 million)
  9. Cadillac Records ($3.5 million)
  10. Role Models ($2.6 million)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Memes: What to Give & What to Get

Penguin asked a bunch of their authors what books they're giving and what books they'd like to get this holiday season, and I thought, "Hey, that's a good idea for a meme." So, if you'd like to join in, here are the rules.

1. Post a link to the original list from the Penguin Group.
2. Tell us what books you're planning (or would like to) give this holiday season.
3. Tell us what books you'd like to receive this holiday season.
4. Tag others, if you so choose.

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman's newest novel is pretty much everything you want in a book: funny, sweet (but not cloying), honest, poignant, scary, adventurous, great for all readers, etc., etc., etc.

This was my first Neil Gaiman novel, and I think it's still my favorite. It's quite different from the movie in tone (but fairly similar in content). Often billed as a "fairy tale for grown-ups," it's a story about love, longing, evil and, of course, magic.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
I think I've already made my love for this story and for Oscar Wilde in general quite clear. With a movie adaptation coming out next year, this seems like the perfect time to introduce or reacquaint people with this excellent novel. Also, because of Wilde's way with words, it's a great starting point for people looking to get into the "classics" without being overwhelmed by the language.

A great way to introduce someone to the graphic novel medium. Beautiful art and an intense story. And again, with an adaptation coming out next year, it's a good time to do it.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
Hey look! Another book being adapted for film next year! Julie & Julia is the memoir of a woman who decides to cook through every single one of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And she has no training, and she lives in a tiny New York apartment, and she's going through a quarter-life crisis after turning 30. It's a fun story, obviously good enough to grab Amy Adams and Meryl Streep for the movie version.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I've heard nothing but good things about this book, and a bunch of the Penguin authors agree. So, apparently it's going on my "to read" list next year.

Sandman / American Gods / Coraline
In the pursuit of continuning my Neil Gaiman education, of course.

His Dark Materials Trilogy
Controversial books always pique my interest. After seeing the film adaptation of the first in the triology last year, I'm intrigued enough to read them. Also, epic fantasy is a guilty pleasure.

Biographies by Antonia FraserI've found Antonia Fraser to be an extremely skilled biographer. Historical nonfiction has the tendency to err on the side of boring, but that's something from which Fraser manages to steer quite clear. I've read Marie Antoinette: The Journey and The Wives of Henry VIII, and I'm looking forward to reading another one next year.

PersuasionAfter being delighted by Pride and Prejudice and then not being able to force myself through Emma, I've decided it's time to give Jane Austen another shot.

Now that that's finally done, I'm tagging Brittany, Matt and Jen. Have fun!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I'm still alive!

I'm coming back up for air now that NaNoWriMo 2008 is done. I managed to make my personal goal plus a couple of extra thousand for good measure, with a final NaNo-site-official word count of 77,090 words for the month of November. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

What's up next? Finishing the story, of course. I'm guessing I've got at least another 25,000 words left before the story is complete. I've also got a backlog of short stories wanting to be written. So, during the month of December, I'll be keeping with the prose and shooting for 35,000 words combined between the novel and the short fiction. That'll keep me at a still-productive pace while hopefully not driving me insane in the midst of holiday shopping and celebrating. Plus I've still got to fit in a couple more books to make my 24-books-per-year quota.

I'm also looking forward to being able to fit in a few more movies. And on that note, here's What I Watched for the past two weeks.
  • Twilight (3 stars): Having not read the books yet, I was able to go into the movie without preconceived notions. That being said, I was going in with fairly low expectations to be honest. My sister wanted my company at the midnight showing, and since I rarely say no to a movie invitation in general and since I enjoy the unique atmosphere of midnight openings, I said yes. The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson was undeniable. The trailers make this out to be kind of an actiony pic, but it's actually very character-driven, which was a welcome surprise for me. Not a spectacular film by any means, but it's entertaining, and sometimes that's good enough.
  • Bolt (3½ stars): Cute animated film about a dog who, having grown up on a TV show set, believes he is, in fact, a superdog. Gets off to a slow start, but the supporting characters (the cat and the hamster) really make the movie. Especially touching if you're a pet-lover, I think.
  • He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (3 stars): This is an interesting little French dark thriller/dramedy. I don't want to give too much away, but the story is told from two vantage points, one following the other. If you're a fan of the genre or of Audrey Tatou, definitely worth a rental.
  • Australia (3½ stars): Baz Luhrmann's first movie since Moulin Rouge is basically two movies in one, and with a running time to show it. There are two complete story arcs here, and each is enjoyable, but they really could have been released as two separate films. That being said, it's as pretty as you would expect from Lurhmann (though not as lush as Moulin Rouge), and despite some cheesy moments, it's a welcome return.
  • Beowulf [Director's Cut)] (3 stars): If you go into this movie expecting a direct interpretation of the epic poem, you'll more than likely be disappointed. However, if you approach it as an action-adventure, slightly tongue-in-cheek epic variation on that theme, then there's a good chance you'll enjoy it. At least I did. Though, I couldn't help feeling that it would have been so much more impressive as live action rather than motion-capture CGI. The technology has yet to capture the life of the human eye.
  • Conversations with Other Women (3½ stars): Helena Bonham-Carter and Aaron Eckhart give excellent performances in this quasi-experimental drama. It's shown entirely in split-screen, and, while it took me a few minutes to acclimate, it actually worked really well for the story. The dialog was some of the best I've heard in smaller films like this.
That's all for now, folks. I've got approximately four hours 'til I'm supposed to be up, so I'm going to give this whole sleep thing another shot. Oh, and congrats to everyone who either won or attempted NaNoWriMo this year. Enjoy your accomplishment, whatever it may be. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NaNoWriMo: Week 3 Update

I managed to cross that magical 50,000-word mark last night at my solitary write-in. This is the second year in a row I've hit 50k while writing solo in a coffee shop surrounded by strangers. It's an odd feeling: accomplishment mingled with melancholy.

This year, I was actually planning on having at least one writing friend with me, but dear Lee Horne somehow managed to smack her head against one of the flat-panel televisions bolted to the walls in the cafeteria where we work yesterday afternoon. Thus, her head injury precluded her from making it to the write-in. I'm still waiting for her explanation as to how exactly she managed to accomplish this feat, which left her with a sizeable lump, when the televisions are in decidedly hard-to-run-into locations. Alas, she has been rather vague on the details.

Nonetheless, I'm choosing to focus on the feelings of "Hey, I just wrote 50,000 words in 18 days!" instead of the wimpy, bemoaning, annoying thoughts of "Woe is me; being a writer is so lonely." After all, I've still got 30 percent of my novel to write after tonight to hit my personal goal of 75,000 words.

Anyway, just wanted to give a quick Week 3 update and to say to my friends who are still striving for that 50,000-mark (or even for the 25,000-mark), DO NOT LOSE HEART. Do not be afraid that you are writing drivel. You undoubtedly have indeed written some. That's OK. Because you've also written things that have much potential. The key here, especially during the month of November, is simply to write. The goal is not to change the world, or to write the next Great American Novel, or to land an agent or a book deal, or even to write a completely coherent story. The idea, once again, is to write.

If you are doing that, no matter what your word count is on Nov. 30, you win. You have thousands of words more than you did at the beginning of the month, and you can add thousands more if you simply allow yourself the freedom to write without boundaries or rules or expectations. Just write. One word after the other (even if the perfect word is elusive, just pick one--or several--that are close enough; perfection can come later). That's all it takes. Words, strung together, possibly with some punctuation thrown in (though I can think of a couple of authors who have had much success without even that). Just keep going. Be proud of what you've accomplished so far, and let it give you hope for what you still have left in you.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Recap: 16 November 2008

So, during NaNoWriMo, I'll often get to a point in my writing where I'm struggling a bit but I'm still slogging onward, writing mostly crap, but at least still writing. And then, on occasion, it's as if one of my characters finds a way to say something to another character when in reality they're talking to me. Such a thing happened today.

I was writing a scene between one of the main characters, Emmaline, and her best friend, Vanessa. Vanessa's trying to figure out what the hell's going on, and Emmaline is hedging. After going back and forth for several minutes, Emmaline says to Vanessa, "You don't understand." To which Vanessa responds: “Then enlighten me! For fuck’s sake, Emmaline. You’re talking in circles.” To which I responded, "Oh. Right. Sorry about that."

And then I decided perhaps I should step away from the computer and let my brain rest for a while. Which I did. It's a little disheartening when your characters start ribbing you about your writing, but since I've written more than 43,000 words in the past 15 days, I suppose I should cut myself a little slack. As soon as I finish this blog post, I'm going to get to the writing again, and hopefully my crap:salvageable ratio will improve slightly.

In the meantime, here's What I Watched:
  • Manhattan (2½ stars): I have trouble enjoying movies when there are no likable characters and/or there are no true character arcs. When every character starts and ends in the same place, I feel as if I've wasted two hours. Such was the case with this movie. The acting was fine, and the dialog was amusing. The whole thing was very Seinfeld-esque, really, but it was more like the series finale than, say, The Puffy Shirt or The Soup Nazi. This is apparently Woody Allen's least favorite (but most commercially successful) of his films, so I'm hoping I'll enjoy his other works more.
  • The Red Balloon (3 stars): This is the only short film ever to have won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It's a sweet film about a boy who strikes up a friendship with a red balloon, who follows him around Paris. I wasn't blown away, but there are certainly worse ways to spend 35 minutes of your time.
  • Bridget Jones's Diary (3½ stars): I imagine it'd be rather hard to go wrong with both Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, and luckily Bridget Jones's Diary doesn't prove that theory wrong. This is standard-issue rom-com fair, but it's better than average thanks to the cast.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (3½ stars): A fairly faithful if superficial adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel. It glosses over the darker themes and avoids perhaps the most disturbing ones altogether, but that's not surprising for a film made in 1945. While I enjoyed this version, it mostly just made me excited for the potential of the version coming out next year, as it looks to be tackling the glossed-over issues head on judging by the newly released promo posters.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008: Week Two

Well, I've survived to the middle of Week Two. Monday was little sketchy as my normally bionic immune system threatened to fail me, but it seems to have repaired itself (as bionic things are prone to do) for the time being. I very rarely get sick, but about once every four to five years, all the bugs I've managed to avoid band together and launch a full-scale attack, plunging me into a pit of sickly despair. I'm about due for another pants-kicking, but I'm just hoping my system can wait for the reboot until at least December.

That being said, once I broke through Sunday's bout of writer's apathy, the writing began to go fairly well. And by well, I don't mean I'm writing especially great material here, but the staring contests between myself and the blank page have become relatively short. I'm to the scenes which were the jumping off point for this entire story, so I've been riding the wave of joy at being able to write these bits that have been playing around in my brain for about a year now. If all goes well, I might just be able to break 50k by the end of the weekend, which would be a speed record for me. Of course, I'll still have another 25k to pound out after that landmark, but it's always nice crossing that 50k hurdle.

I will now break from this NaNoWriMo update to tell you a short parable.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who lived with her two little dogs in a typical suburban neighborhood house. After spending the evening hours writing at a coffee shop, she came home parked her car in the garage, lugged her computer, her purse, two bags of write-in materials and her coat into the house.

She then poured herself a small glass of red wine and settled onto the couch to unwind by watching House, after which she put the dogs in their kennels and went to sleep. At 11 p.m., this was a bit late for her, since she would have to be up by 5 a.m., but such is life. The caffeine in her system made getting to sleep a bit difficult, but by the time the calendar flipped the page, she'd slipped into a light sleep.

Half an hour later, she was abruptly awoken by the barks of her two chihuahuas downstairs. Vaguely annoyed, she waited for them to stop, figuring they'd heard a noise outside and would quickly quiet down. But instead their barks grew louder and more ferocious. She started to grow concerned. She saw a flash of light through her blinds. Lightning? Was it storming? She peeked through the side of the blinds. She felt the rush of dread accompanied by adrenaline. There were two dark figures in her backyard. One was coming down the deck. They had high-powered flashlights.

The woman scrambled out of bed to her cell phone, which was on the floor a few paces away. Crouched in the middle of the room, she could see lights flashing under the door. Were they in the house? What if they'd seen the light from her phone from underneath the door? She couldn't hear them in the house, but what if they were and what if they heard her if she called the police? The stream of thoughts jetting through her brain was stopped by a loud rapping on the front door. Shaking, she pulled on a T-shirt over her tank top and walked down the hall, down the stairs and to the front door.

Through the window, she could see a police officer standing on the front stoop. She pulled open the door, stumbling a bit as it stuck and then released.

"Hi," she said, her voice unsteady.

"Hi, ma'am. Your garage door is open, and we just wanted to make sure everything was all right."


"Are you all right?" the officer asked, obviously not realizing the trauma he'd just put the woman through.

"Yeah, I'm OK. Just a little freaked out. My dogs were going nuts and the lights..."

"Oh, sorry about that. We didn't mean to scare you."

"No, it's OK. I appreciate it. I didn't know the garage door was open. Thank you."

"No problem, ma'am. Sorry to wake you."

"It's OK. Thank you."

The two officers left the stoop and walked to their car. The woman closed the door behind them and then walked, almost zombie-like, and opened the door into her garage. Sure enough, it had been open. She pressed the button and watched it close. "Holy shit," she muttered to herself, shaking her hands in an effort to get rid of the jitters. She spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, the combination of the adrenaline and remnants of caffeine combining forces to ward off sleep.

While I was obviously rather traumatized, I was pretty impressed by my two pint-sized dogs who rose to the occasion rather magnificently. Obviously, when you hear "long-haired chihuahua," you don't think "guard dog." But they did a great job of alerting me at least. And, while the officers' approach might have been a little gung-ho (they circled my house, checked all the doors, including the one on my rickety deck, and were about to try to find out how to phone the owner), I do appreciate their dedication to attempting to keep me safe. Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'll be checking at least twice to make sure my garage door actually get shut from now on. Oi.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Writer's Block Recipes: Vegan Pumpkin Cookies

So, after tapping out more than 25,000 words in the past 9 days, I found myself hit with a severe case of writer's apathy this afternoon. Instead of staring daggers at a blinking cursor, I gave myself a short break and decided to create something else from scratch: Vegan Pumpkin Cookies.

I'm pleased to report that the cookies were a success. They're more like mini-cakes, actually, but I certainly don't think that's a bad thing. Anyway, if you're suffering from writer's apathy/block but would like to feel productive by way of baking, here's the recipe (adapted from here).

1 cup brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend)
1 cup white sugar (mine happened to be organic)
2 t. vanilla
2 cups canned pumpkin
2 t. baking soda
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. ginger
1 cup currants (optional)
4 cup all-purpose flour (this also happened to be organic)

  1. Beat together pumpkin, sugars, oil and vanilla.
  2. Sift together remaining ingredients except for currants. Add to wet ingredients about a half a cup at a time until well-mixed.
  3. Fold in currants.
  4. Drop by heaping spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. These don't expand outward too much (at least mine didn't), so you can put them pretty close together. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 minutes until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
  5. Transfer to a cooling rack and (duh) let cool. Then enjoy! These would also be fabulous with a bit of cream cheese frosting.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Box Office Predictions: 07 November 2008

New wide releases this week include animated sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa; Soul Men, a comedy starring the late Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson; and Role Models, another comedy starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott.

Kind of a boring weekend. America wants silly escapism, though, so Madagascar's expecting a pretty big opening. Admittedly, I found the first one to be surprisingly fun. The voice cast is returning, which bodes well.

Official Predictions
1. Madagascar
2. Soul Men
3. High School Musical 3

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008: In the Midst of Week One

So, Neil Gaiman has a knack for lifting my writing spirits. In his post today, he linked to this old post, which had the following question and answer.


I'm trying to find my place in writing, and I am leaning towards the Screenplay format. Since you write in almost every format, Which is easier?

1. writing a comic

2. wirting a movie

3. writing a novel

Signed,Bob Castle.

I think it depends on which one I'm not doing at the time. When you aren't doing it, the other ones are always easier, and the kind of thing that you're writing is much too hard.


Ah. That's my problem. It's funny how my brain seems to have forgotten the utter despair I felt sitting in my hotel room at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville a mere two weeks ago as tried to figure out a way to rewrite the last 30 pages of my screenplay.

So, with this realization (the epiphany being that I always go through pits of self- and story-loathing at varying locations during a project), I feel much better as the write-in approaches tonight. I imagine it also helps that I'm well-rested and highly caffeinated. With a little luck and a lot of effort, I'm hoping to hit 15,000 words tonight, which will put me at 20 percent of my total goal.

I shall leave you, faithful readers, with a picture of Mr. Gaiman himself, that stirs the writing fibers of my heart.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Recap: 3 November 2008

As predicted, HSM3, Zack & Miri, and Saw V took the Top 3 spots. Here's your Top 10.
  1. High School Musical 3: Senior Year ($15 million)
  2. Zack and Miri Make a Porno ($10.7 million)
  3. Saw V ($10.1 million)
  4. Changeling ($9.4 million)
  5. The Haunting of Molly Harvey ($6 million)
  6. Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($4.7 million)
  7. The Secret Life of Bees ($4 million)
  8. Max Payne ($3.7 million)
  9. Eagle Eye ($3.4 million)
  10. Pride and Glory ($3.3 million)
Everything Else

My movie-watching this past week was pretty dismal. The first half of my week was spent in a mad race to finish my script before sending it off to the BFSC. I managed to watch about half of Creepshow on Thursday before I got caught up in Thursday night television.

Friday I met up with a good friend to discuss The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I'd roped her into reading for the selfish reason of having someone with whom to discuss it. We had a good time being book nerds before she went off to a Halloween party and I went home to hand out candy to a whopping 12 trick-or-treaters. I spent most of the night prepping for the NaNoWriMo kick-off party/write-in on Saturday. (By the way, Sam, if you read this, the cupcake was marvelous.) At midnight, I kicked off the month by writing about 1100 words and went to bed.

Sunday was a pretty crazy day, and thank God for the extra hour of sleep. I got up and pushed to the 10 percent completion mark on the novel, and then I went to coach our last little kids' soccer game of the season. After that, I went straight to the Sunday write-in at which I ended up being the ONLY attendee. So, here's my plea: If you ask me to specifically schedule a write-in at a time and place you specifically request, PLEASE show up. I've got plenty of NaNo spirit, believe me. But I don't generally drag all my write-in crap, including a huge poster board declaring the writing goals and progress of my fellow WriMos, if I'm just going to be writing alone.

The upside is that I did manage to break 10,000 words at my solitary write-in. So, I went home and worked out (because an overworked brain sadly does not burn many calories), and then as a reward I settled down with some dinner, some leftover Halloween candy, and a nice big glass of wine to watch Love Actually. Which by the way has officially become my second-favorite Christmas movie after the untouchable The Muppet Christmas Carol.

This morning I'm feeling a little melancholy for the following reasons:
  • I miss screenwriting. I've fallen in love with the medium over the past year, and I'm bummed that I won't get back to it until December at the earliest.
  • I don't have a large chunk of hours I can allot to writing today because I've got my day job and then freelance editing job this afternoon/evening.
  • My spine feels like it's melting into my back, which is not pleasant. I've also been fighting a nasty headache-causing knot in my neck/shoulder for several days.
So, if anyone would like to contribute a little metta, prayers, or back/shoulder rubs to my cause, I'd much appreciate it. I think I just need to get into a groove, and then I'll probably be OK. And if not, Dec. 1 is only 27 days away!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Box Office Predictions: 31 October 2008

This week we've got a several new or expanded releases: Clint Eastwood's drama Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie; obligatory horror movie The Haunting of Molly Hartley; Guy Ritchie's latest, action/heist/comedy/I'm-not-really-sure-what-genre-based-on-descriptions RocknRolla; and sex comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks.

The two big rollovers from last week are, of course, High School Musical 3 and Saw V, and it's likely these will both do well again.

It's likely Jigsaw's latest escapade will do well on Friday, it being Halloween and all, but HSM3's got a larger target audience and multiple-viewings power. The dark horse here is Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which has gotten plenty of publicity based on the name alone.

Bit of a tough week, but here goes:

Official Predictions
1. High School Musical 3
2. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
3. Saw V

And now, for your Halloween pleasure, I present to you, BumbleSchmo!
And now, LiloBurrito!
(Dressed as a Chipotle burrito. Barbacoa specifically.)
(Yes, I'm one of those dog owners. No, Lilo does not like being dressed up. Happily for her, she'll be spared the horror this year.)
Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seven Facts Meme

I'd managed to escape this meme for quite some time, but it finally caught up with me. Thanks, Danielle.

The idea is to share seven facts about yourself and then to tag five people.

Seven Facts about Elizabeth Ditty
  1. During parent-teacher conferences in the fifth grade, my teacher told my parents that I was "eccentric" and "dared to be different." I've never lived it down, though I have learned to embrace it.
  2. One of my favorite movies as a child was The Last Unicorn, which, if you've ever seen it, explains a lot about me, I think.
  3. Between college and my current job, I spent five hellish weeks working in the Tire & Lube Express department at Wal-Mart . I was placed there despite knowing next to nothing about cars. But the upside is I can now help you pick out tires and I can take an educated guess at what kind of oil your car uses.
  4. I've played just about every major sport (major as defined in the States). Soccer, softball and basketball were the biggies, but I've also taken tennis lessons, and I participated in swim team for a number of years in my youth (breaststroke and fly were my specialties). I was a tetherball champion in elementary school. I've never played on a volleyball team, but I know the basics. I even did a year of cross country in seventh grade. I also took an introductory epée fencing class in August, and I hope to continue fencing after NaNoWriMo. I've never really played football, but I think I get a pass on that, being a girl and all.
  5. A few months ago, I started speaking to my dogs in French. This is mostly an effort to keep my level of French somewhere between elementary and conversational. I think it also makes me a little weird (see No. 1).
  6. I love to cook and bake. I love trying out new recipes, and I love feeding people. But I hate cleaning, so I rarely partake in this hobby these days.
  7. I really enjoy having intellectual conversations with people, be it about books, movies, religion/spirituality, politics, philosophy, whatever. I tend to be fairly quiet in group settings, but if you get me one on one or in a very small group, I'm much more talkative. I love to debate for the sake of learning about people and hearing new perspectives, and my goal is often just to get people to think rather than to convince someone that my stance on any given issue is correct.
Phew, that was harder than I expected. Now to unleash it on other unsuspecting bloggers...
  1. Lee Horne
  2. Matt
  3. Joselyn Martin
  4. JenWriter
  5. SarahCentric

Have fun!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Recap: 26 October 2008

I was on a business trip/quasi-vacation last week, which explains the lack of posts. Sorry about that. With NaNoWriMo starting Saturday, a couple of things could happen. I'll either be posting more since blogging is at least a semi-productive form of procrastination. Or I'll be posting less because I'm shooting for 75,000 words this year and will be bleeding from my fingertips due to my output. Anyway, back to business for now.

This Week's Top 10
  1. High School Musical 3 ($42 million)
  2. Saw V ($30.5 million)
  3. Max Payne ($7.6 million)
  4. Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($6.9 million)
  5. Pride and Glory ($6.3 million)
  6. The Secret Life of Bees ($5.9 million)
  7. W. ($5.3 million)
  8. Eagle Eye ($5.1 million)
  9. Body of Lies ($4.1 million)
  10. Quarantine ($2.6 million)
What I Watched
  • The Duchess (4 stars): I'd expected this movie to be a bit drab, to be honest, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Period pieces are a guilty pleasure of mine, so I would have enjoyed it anyway, but it moved along quite nicely. Keira Knightley lives up to the hype and gives her best performance to date.
  • High School Musical 3 (3½ stars): I dragged my sisters to the midnight showing, which is really rather embarrassing considering I'm 25 and they're 19 and 17 respectively. Once we survived the hormone-drenched mob getting into the theatre, I had a really fun time. The story's cheesy and predictable and admittedly a rehash of the same themes from the first two outings, but the music is solid and the choreography is wonderful.
  • Sunset Boulevard (4 stars): See full review here.
  • Starter for Ten (3 stars): Starring James McAvoy, this is a British romantic comedy/dramedy set in 1985 (and released in 2006). It's not spectacular, but it has some fun moments. If you're a fan of the genre or James McAvoy, it's worth adding to your Netflix queue.
  • Lost in Translation (3½ stars): See full review here.
What I Read
I finished Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors while at the airport before the first flight of my trip. Luckily, it was good enough that I didn't mind having to lug an extra book with me through four flights, a trek on foot through Nashville, a one-way Greyhound bus ride (which inspired a bit of short "fiction"), and an odyssey through the monstrosity that is the Gaylord Opryland hotel. It's the first collection of short stories I remember reading, and it's a good way to get into the genre for anyone looking to do so.

I also devoured Neil Gaiman's newest novel, The Graveyard Book. It was tense and delightful and touching, and it made me cry, which is a fairly rare occurrence for a book. I don't imagine it'll be too long before someone snatches up the film rights for this one.

I picked up a new book, Eat, Pray, Love, before starting the flights home. I'd been wanting to read this one for a while, and it showed, as I worked through the first 150 pages the first night (which is extremely rare for me). Hoping to finish that before the end of the week.

What I'm Writing
I'm working feverishly to finish MUTE before the end of the week for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there's a contest I'm planning to enter, and the deadline is in mid-November, but I have to ship a hard copy overseas. Secondly, Saturday is, of course, Nov. 1, which means I'll be starting my NaNoWriMo novel as soon as the clock strikes midnight.

I've been looking forward to starting this novel for what seems like months, which is always a dangerous feeling for NaNo, which has a tendency to produce feelings of despair and self-loathing in even the most steel-hearted writers. Luckily, I'll have thousands of other WriMos with whom to wallow.

I've also been writing a bit of short fiction here and there, most of which I've posted on this blog. I spent most of one of the conference days working on a short story that's a long way from being complete, but I might find a few spare moments to work through it even in the midst of the avalanche of words I'll be writing in November. The genre kind of fascinates me at the moment, so hopefully I'll be able to keep churning these little story flashes out on a regular basis.

Sorry for the lengthy post. Guess that's what happens when I'm away for two weeks.

Netflix Project: Lost in Translation (2003)

Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation is about an encounter between a washed-up actor going through a mid-life crisis and a 20-something woman struggling to find fulfillment in her life and marriage.

While I enjoyed this movie well enough, it's certainly not for your average moviegoer. It is essentially a character study and not much more. Nothing really happens; lives are not radically changed. And yet, it's those very things that make this film feel very real.

One gets the feeling while watching that Lost in Translation would have been a complete and utter failure without the casting of Bill Murray as actor Bob Harris. His dry delivery and nuanced expression are key in a film with such little dialog. The subtle humor he manages to bring to an otherwise bleak film without overwhelming it is its saving grace.

I would have enjoyed more interaction between Scarlett Johansson's bordering-on-brooding Charlotte and Anna Faris' bubbleheaded actress, Kelly. Throw Bob into the mix, and I think there was some missed potential there.

Overall, I'm a little surprised this movie won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Then again, looking at the competition for 2003, nothing else jumps out at me as something that should have beat it. Either way, it's a good study in how to put together a story about nothing more than two people struggling in life without making it boring.

Favorite line: During a phone call between Bob and his wife, Lydia, that dissolves into a marital spat.
Lydia: Do I need to worry about you, Bob?
Bob: Only if you want to.

Netflix Project: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Sunset Boulevard is the story struggling screenwriter who is hired to edit a screenplay by a silent film star trying to make her grand return to film after years of obscurity.

Penned by D.M. Marshman Jr., Charles Brackett (who produced), and Billy Wilder (who directed), Sunset Boulevard is a deservedly classic film noir that paints a brutally honest picture of the film industry's transition from silent to talkies.

Some of silent film's most popular stars make cameos in the movie, including Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nillson, and H.B. Warner. Gloria Swanson herself, who plays the deluded Norma Desmond, hadn't had a feature film release in nine years when Sunset Boulevard was released. Erich von Stroheim, who plays the butler, Max, who had discovered Norma, directed many of her films and had been her first husband, had directed Swanson in real life in one of her last silent film flops, Queen Kelly (which happens to be the film screened in Norma's private movie theatre in the film).

I particularly enjoyed the parallels between Norma's derailment and the story of Salomé, which was the film she was hoping to make with Cecil B. deMille, who also cameos in the movie as himself. While Norma is in many ways the antagonist of the film, she's also its most tragic character. Put on a pedestal as a young woman and then having that pedestal yanked from beneath her once silent film gave way to talkies, it's hard not to feel for this forgotten star.

At the same time, you can't help but feel she's being a bit melodramatic about the whole thing. As Joe tells Norma toward the end, "There's nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you're trying to be twenty-five." But with the knowledge that her butler Max has been feeding her delusions, convincing her that the audience still thirsts for her by writing fake fan mail, hiding the industry's lack of interest from her, you come to the conclusion that Norma stood little chance in a place as brutal and crazy as Hollywood.

And yet, Sunset Boulevard, while indicting some of the tactics, also shines light on the heart of Hollywood in the form of young Betty Schaefer, played by Nancy Olson, as an aspiring screenwriter who reminds Joe what it's like to work on something that's about more than just a paycheck.

There are a number of good bits of dialog in this movie, but I'm going to have to go with perhaps the most famous as my favorite.

Favorite Line: "You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark! All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Short Fiction: Greyhound

Customer service was not a priority for the overweight, dreadlocked woman behind the counter.

I caught sight of a tattoo on her wrist. 'Mary,' was it? I glanced at her nametag: 'Dominique Q.' I immediately imagined a tragic backstory that was obviously the reason for her apathy bordering on disdain. A sister, a mother--maybe even a lover!--ripped from her all too soon by a demon called Cancer, Car Accident or Gang Violence. My heart swelled with empathy.

I smiled sadly, sincerely, as she handed me my bus ticket, but she didn't meet my eyes. It's OK, I told her telepathically. I understand. I looked at the tattoo one last time. I now realized it was not 'Mary' this woman desired so fervently that she would emblazon it on her wrist. It was 'Money.' My heart deflated.

She looked at me with dead eyes and an expression that clearly said, 'Move along now.' I dragged my bag away, feeling a little sting when she bellowed the word, "Next."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Recap: 12 October 2008

Sorry for the lack of predictions Friday. I would have lost miserably anyway.

This Week's Top 10
  1. Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($17.5 million)
  2. Quarantine ($14.2 million)
  3. Body of Lies ($13.1 million)
  4. Eagle Eye ($11 million)
  5. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist ($6.5 million)
  6. The Express ($4.7 million)
  7. Nights in Rodanthe ($4.6 million)
  8. Appaloosa ($3.34 million)
  9. The Duchess ($3.32 million)
  10. City of Ember ($3.2 million)

What I Watched
  • Dead Poets Society (5 stars): See full review here.
  • Caffeine (3 stars): This relationship comedy set in a London coffee shop almost plays as an amalgam of short films instead of a cohesive feature-length movie. In a good way. Most of the time. Once I got over the less-than-stellar British accents the Americans were trying to put on, I was decently amused.
  • Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (4 stars): People proclaiming this is a Juno wannabe are sorely mistaken. They're two completely different films, and if Juno is known for snappy, snarky dialog, Nick & Norah's dialog at times feels almost too natural and too awkward for it to be a movie. This movie left me feeling pretty restless with my own life. And any movie that can affect me for hours afterwards has done something right.
  • The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (3½ stars): See full review here.
  • Igby Goes Down (3½ stars): I hesitate to call this a dark comedy because it's not particularly comedic in the traditional sense. Then again, it's not overly dramatic either. And yet it doesn't really fit the mold for what I would normally call a dramedy. So... let's just call it a dark, sometimes comedic film with stellar performances from a cast including Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum.

Netflix Project: Dead Poets Society (1989)

Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Tom Schulman's screenplay for Dead Poets Society won the 1989 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Starring Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke, among others, Dead Poets Society tells the story of a group of students at a staunch prep school and the effect a non-traditional teacher has on their approach to life.

I first saw this movie the summer before my junior year of high school, and I was completely affected by it. This was the first time I'd seen it since that summer, and I was just as captivated and moved by it, if not more so, the second time around.

Robin Williams as Professor John Keating is spot on, and it's movies like this that remind me what a treasure he actually is when he chooses quality projects. Robert Sean Leonard looks practically the same as he does now as Dr. Wilson on House, minus about twenty-five pounds of muscle. He is funny, charming and heartbreaking, much like he is in his current role, come to think of it.

One thing that struck me this time around was the cinematography. There are some simply beautiful shots in this film. The dialog is so entrancing and the characters so deftly developed that it's easy to forget to pay attention to the visually artistic elements of the film, but they're there to observe if you can remember. Perhaps it speaks to the artistry that the cinematography doesn't distract but adds another layer to an already brilliant film.

Honestly, I could gush about this film for hours. Many of the lines are entrenched in my brain, and the themes of the movie have goaded me to escape my comfort zone on more than one occasion. In fact, the movie was the catalyst for one of the most defining moments in my life. So, it's possible I'm a little bit biased simply because I attach so much in my life to this film. But the fact that I can do that means something, I think.

I'd just copy and paste the entire screenplay for my favorite line if I could, but instead I'll leave you with the one I come back to again and again.

Favorite Line: "Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."

Courtesy of Wordle