Archive | October, 2011

OBSESSION: Denis O’Hare

28 Oct

Honesty time: I’ve only sampled a small portion of O’Hare’s work. Apparently, he’s been in a few movies that I’ve seen but don’t recall him being in (Derailed, The Proposal) but I swear that doesn’t matter AT ALL to the praise I’m about to give him.

(Photo Credit)

O’Hare’s turn as True Blood‘s season three baddie Russell Edgington is amazing. Despite being the most powerful, most threatening, most crazy villain of the show (in my opinion) he is also hilarious, charming and–dare I say it?–likable. This has less to do with True Blood’s, albeit wonderful, writing and more to do with O’Hare’s acting chops.

More recently, he’s been appearing in FX’s weird yet compelling American Horror Story (by the guys behind Nip/Tuck and Glee!), as one of the many creeps and weirdos hanging around the Harmon family.

      

(As Larry Harvey, left. Photo Credit)

Besides these MUST-SEE performances, O’Hare is crazy talented, and has been nominated and won many awards, including a Tony! So, do yourself a favor check out Mr. O’Hare in the two shows I can attest to, and if you’re like me, you won’t be able to get enough of his genius.

Check out this mildly spoilerish video of O’Hare at his Russell Edgington best here.

(As Russel Edgington, above, right. Photo Credit)

 

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cliff’s notes…video?

22 Oct

Even if you are a lit nerd, or you just plain like to read, or you though it was your duty to actually read every novel possible for your AP test, I’m sure that at some point or another in high school (or even college), you’ve turned to your trusty pal Cliff and his notes. Though I was a good and mostly honest student, it can be hard to finish those six chapters you’ve been putting off when you’ve got homework for other classes, friends, practices, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and chores. (And sometimes, I was just lazy.)

So, more than once,  I went clicking to Cliff’s Notes online, where I could be quickly brought up to speed (CoughJane EyreCough). Maybe I’m a little late, but today, I made the discovery of Cliff’s Notes videos! So far, the videos just cover some of Shakespeare’s classics, which is probably a big relief for a lot of students out there.  As I watched though, the pros and cons of the Cliff’s videos concept made themselves obvious.

There’s plenty good about the videos, which are animated, very easy to follow and funny. They actually do encompass all of the material, and even do manage to sneak in some of the more important original quotes. They even highlight themes, motifs and characters.

There are some bad elements too, like the advertising. Since the video’s are free, of course there has to be someone way to pay for them, and for anyone who enjoys free online services, ads have just become part of the norm. However, while watching the Othello video, there was an animated guy who popped in, and took a moment to advertise for the upcoming movie about Shakespeare, Anonymous. While these was integrated into the video, it was still distracting and took me out of the story they’d spent a few minutes crafting.

But my biggest issue is with the actual concept. Is this even lazier than reading Cliff’s Notes? Now we’re not even asking students to read a brief webpage–instead, they get to watch an animated short, and be in the know about the play?

When reading Cliff’s Notes, there’s already no magic left in the play. You’re just getting the basics so you can pass your quiz (or, given Shakespeare, just comprehend what’s going on). But at least the Cliff’s Notes can really highlight all of the magical quotes, the grand monologues, and all of the words and phrases the world never knew before this guy wrote his plays. There are moments in his plays that a little cartoon can’t capture.

 

Basically, though I have some reservations about these videos, they’re not really any worse that the regular Cliff’s Notes. They’re cool, witty and short. I’d say, use them like you would the regular Cliff’s Notes: They’ll get you an understanding, but they won’t get you an A.

 

What do you think? Cool, or lazy or both? Leave comment so we can discuss!

national day on writing

20 Oct

It’s the United States National Day on Writing and Twitter is abuzz with writers answering the question “Why I write?” The responses have been both hilarious and heart-warming, from writers  being tired of their old jobs, to the sheer satisfaction of finishing a book or the need to write the novel they haven’t read.

I’ll share why I write. I can. I believe that every person is born with the gift to do something well. Some great talent, or passion. Maybe it’s music, art, an understanding for math, a love of animals, the gift of gab whatever. They get excited about something.

I believe my gift is the ability to write. I love it. There is magic in crafting sentences, in finding the correct words. In creating characters. It’s therapy. It’s craft. It’s in my blood. It’s natural. It’s true love.

That’s why I write.

To get in on the Why I Write action, tweet with the hashtag #whyIwrite, to see what others are saying. For more information on National Day on Writing, click here.

 

 

WATCHING: Pretty Little Liars

20 Oct

Watching: Pretty Little Liars

Why you should watch it: (there’s a million reasons, but lets go with) Suspense

(Photo Credit)

Okay, let’s just talk about Pretty Little Liars for a minute. If you don’t watch the show, you might be thinking “Wait, isn’t that just another teen drama about some rich girls with problems?” And you’d be sort of right. However, it is so much more than that. And these writers know something about stringing a viewer along and really amping up the suspense, keeping the viewers tuned into ABC Family week after week after week. The show has got all kinds of people with all sorts of interests talking. For a really interesting take, check out CollegeFashion.net‘s take on the fashion of the Pretty Little Liars crew. That enough should get you interested, but if not:

First off, the show is based off a series of books by Sara Shepard and the lovely people at Alloy Entertainment (you guys can call me with your job offer anytime. Seriously.) It follows the escapades of four girls named Hanna, Spencer, Emily and Aria. They were part of a pretty mean clique of girls spearheaded by the meanest of all, Alison.

A year prior to the start of the show, Alison went missing. It gets better. Before Alison went missing, the girls accidentally blinded another girl in the incident referred to as “The Jenna Thing.” In the series premiere, the girls receive text messages and emails from a mysterious person simply named “A,” leading them to believe that Alison is still alive, because “A” knows things about them that only Alison would know.

Then, Alison’s remains are found, and yet the messages from “A” keep coming. Things only get more crazy and awesome from there. “A” forces the girls to do things they wouldn’t typically do, and in order to protect themselves, the girls struggle to find out who both Alison’s killer and “A” are, and if they’re the same person.

Most importantly, as a writer, what I take away from PL2 (oh yes, I just went there) is how to truly craft suspense. In the past, I’ve never been much for suspense, and some great writers are able to draw you into a story based on other things instead of that feeling of needing to know what happens next. But if you follow any particularly suspenseful television show, or series of books, doesn’t drive you crazy when you realize its 9:58 or you’re on page 345 of 346?

On Pretty Little Liars, they use several tried and true methods to build the suspense:

THE MISUNDERSTANDING

A cornerstone of Shakespearean work (Romeo and Juliet anyone?), the misunderstanding leads the characters and the audience into believing that someone or something is not as it seems. In Pretty Little Liars, one character might over hear another saying something that incriminates them, or at least makes them look guilty. Though the misunderstanding has been done so much (every romantic comedy since…ever), it seems lazy, when done well it can be such a satisfying twist. There is a reason it has been used so often—because it can be such a great way to make the audience motivated to find out what happens next.

DRAMATIC IRONY

On Pretty Little Liars, the audience gets to see conversations between characters that the main characters aren’t privy to. By clueing the audience in, the suspense is ramped up—and fast. We know when the main character so shouldn’t get in the car with someone else, or who they shouldn’t be telling a certain piece of information. As a viewer, it drives me crazy! As a writer, I take notes.

THE CLIFFHANGER

I’ll be brief. But THIS WORKS. This may be more done to death than the misunderstanding. However, some shows take the cliffhanger to a new level. The Sopranos is famous for ending their episodes mid-sentence. On True Blood, the character is often seen reacting, but no reveal as to what’s causing the reaction. On Pretty Little Liars, the cliffhanger often works in conjunction with both dramatic irony and the misunderstanding. MADDENING.

All of the devices, have been used and used and used again. All because they actually do work. My piece of advice is not treating the audience like fools. When done poorly, its as if the writer expects me to believe that a character is dead from falling off their porch onto a trampoline, or something equally ridiculous. In the future, I’ll be trying to remember how I feel as a member of the audience when trying to build suspense. I know how long I can be strung along before it begins to feel silly and impossible. And I also know what drives me absolutely batty!

As far as Pretty Little Liars goes, the devices and so many more are employed so well, its certainly worth tuning in just to see what is going on. Its not my fault that you’ll get hooked along the way! The second half of Season Two doesn’t air until January 2012, which gives you plenty of time to catch up! The Halloween special aired last night, was a beautiful tease, and has driven me into an even bigger Pretty Little Liars frenzy! I know I’m not the only one, so if you need someone else to theorize with, drop me a comment below, or send me an email. I’m not even kidding.

So what do you think? Do you watch PLL? If not, do you want to now? Did you watch the Halloween special? Are you dying with…suspense? Let me know!

READING: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

18 Oct

Reading: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares.

Why you should read it: Emotion

(Photo Credit)

First published in 2001, you’ve probably heard of and maybe even read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. If not, you may have seen or heard of the movie of the same name. Forget what you’ve heard, whether you’ve heard its “just chick lit” or just for young adults, or schmaltzy or whatever. You should read it regardless of what you’ve heard.

Just to get you excited about it, I’ll tantalize you with the plot of this first book in a four (five-ish, but more on that later) book series. The book follows four best friends—Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget—who discover a magical pair of pants that fit all of the girls despite varying heights and weights and body types. Best friends and virtually inseparable, the circumstances of the summer split them up. In order to maintain their friendship they mail the pants to each other. The pants interweave their separate stories into one cohesive unit. By the time its over, the story is a complex and wonderful show of the trials of friendship and growing up.

However, besides being just plain satisfying, writers should read this book because Ann Brashares really knows something about explaining emotions. Sometimes her characters (being adolescent girls, with all of the ricocheting emotions and crazy impulses that go along with that) do irrational, even stupid things, but Brashares always makes the emotional journey clear: what happened that cause them to do that thing, and exactly how they feel about it. Check this tiny section:

“It was her last breakfast with Bapi, her last morning in Greece. In her frenetic bliss that kept her up till dawn, she’d scripted a whole conversation in Greek for her and Bapi to have as their grand finale of the summer. Now she looked at him contentedly munching on his Rice Krispies, waiting for the right juncture for launchtime.

He looked up at her briefly and smiled, and she realized something important. This was how they both liked it. Though most people felt bonded by conversation, Lena and Bapi were two of a kind who didn’t. They bonded by the routine of just eating cereal together.

She promptly forgot her script and went back to her cereal.

At one point, when she was down to just milk, Bapi reached over and put his hand on hers. ‘You’re my girl,’ he said.

And Lena knew she was.”

It’s not that there’s anything especially beautiful or amazing about this passage, but Brashares perfectly captures that moment, that feeling. Haven’t you ever had a moment, where you had something planned, but then realized there was something better out there?

I honestly feel that Brashares’ writing captures the unexplainable emotions. And you all know what they are. The feelings that you feel alone in your room with your favorite song on, or on the drive home from a party, or something. Brashares doesn’t attempt to explain these emotions or name them. But she can certainly make you feel them. And all writers could use a little of that.

READ IT. And honestly, you could stop there, because that one book alone is moving enough. BUT, you should read the other three too! Excitingly, this past summer, Brashares released Sisterhood Everlasting which takes place with the girls of the novels in full-on adulthood, and the challenges that brings. I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t read it—yet. I have read the excerpt online, and I’ve been checking out her other adult novels.

I might be biased because I’m a huge Brashares fan, but you should be too.

INSPIRATION: October Playlist (Florence + the Machine and more!)

18 Oct

Track listing:

These are the songs I’ve had on crazy replay pretty much all month. I tried to build to the crazy life-altering amazingness that is Florence + the Machine’s “Cosmic Love.” And as AMAZING as those other fourteen songs are, click here to just revel in the “Cosmic Love” beauty.

Listen to the playlist in its entirety HERE.

*and for the record, the song titled on the playlist as “For  Givin’ Love” is actually called  “Meaning.”

OBSESSION: Out of Print Clothing

16 Oct

I’m sure you’ve seen them. But in case you haven’t you MUST check out Out of Print Clothing. They have gorgeous tee shirts, fleeces, tote bags, e-Reader jackets, and phone cases all featuring book covers from some famous literary classics like Moby Dick, The Bell Jar, Animal Farm, Slaughterhouse-Five and The Great Gatsby (drooling). They are a must for any lit geek, or anyone who loves any one of these books. Just go. Look. Pant a little with wanting. Order seven. Order one for me. Whatevs.

Check them out!!:

nanowrimo

14 Oct

NANOWRIMO.

National Novel Writing Month.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard about it. The challenge: write a novel of 50,000 words in one month, November. It’s lead many writers to a month of little sleep, aching fingertips and excessive coffee consumption.

But it has motivated thousands of writers to get started and complete either at 50,000 word novel, or the first 50,000 words of a novel. I know what you’re thinking—50,000 words, kind of low right? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a fantastic novel and personal favorite of mine, is roughly about 50,000 words, so, you know, your NaNoWriMo novel could be the next Gatsby.

If you’re thinking of particpating, here’s a few things you should do/know:

  • go to the NaNoWriMo website, and sign up! The sign up is free and is used to verify your novel’s length at the end of the month. That is, by 11:59:59 on November 30th. Starting in 2008, the self-publishing company CreateSpace began working with NaNoWriMo to offer those who do complete the challenge one FREE paperback copy of their novel. ALL BOUND AND EVERYTHING.
  • While on the site, check to see if there’s a group of people particpating in NaNoWriMo in your area. Chance are, there is and if you’re a college student, your school may even have a group of people dedicated to the NaNoWriMo challenge. They’re probably meeting right about now, so find out soon!
  • When you do verify your novel, NaNoWriMo doesn’t keep any record of your book—i.e., it still belongs completely to you!
  • Don’t cheat! Don’t start writing before the month begins: you’re only cheating yourself.
  • However, before the month begins, you can do detailed and extensive note-taking, plotting, character development, etc, etc.
  • NaNoWriMo offers a Laptop Loaner program for people who don’t have regular access to a computer. While there is a $300 deposit fee attached, along with having to pay for shipping, but hey, it is cheaper than buying a computer!

So what do you think? Think you might like to try it? Have you tried in the past? Whether you completed the challenge or not, how was the experience? If you are getting started, and think you might have some work to do beforehand, I suggest you start now. READY…SET…WRITE! (ready…set…unoriginal joke.)

WATCHING: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

13 Oct

Watching: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Why you should watch it: Culture, Character

Breakfast At Tiffany's Cover(Photo Credit)

For my first Watching post, I thought I’d cover a classic.

Everyone should see this movie. Seriously, this 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn as the iconic Holly Golightly and George Peppard as Paul Varjak, is a must see for women, men, people who love fashion (the black dress, the pearls, the tiara. You know.), just everyone.

Based loosely on Truman Capote’s novella of the same name, this movie is funny, classy and inventive. It chronicles the adventures of a group of rich or wanna-be rich bohemians. Most important is Hepburn’s eccentric, outgoing and essentially lost, Holly Golightly, who doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants out of life, flitting from party to party. Then, Paul Varjak, writer and…escort, moves into her apartment building.

To learn what happens next, you’ll have to see the movie (available on Netflix streaming!!!) and believe me there’s something in it for everyone, and everyone should see it. More specifically, all writers should see this movie for a couple of reasons.

First, this movie really knows something about cultivating a culture. Inspired by the cafe society, Breakfast at Tiffany’s does a great job of establishing the culture surrounding the characters. When not partying the characters do what they like—sleep, shop, take long walks, go to bars. Then, they party. The suggestion that everyone knows everyone from some party, or through some other friend, or by reputation really suggests this network of the rich and pretty who just like to get together and party, damn everything else.

There’s a FANTASTIC sequence of a party in Holly’s apartment. The place is packed. Everyone is dressed both beautifully and extravagantly. Alcohol flows freely and everyone is gossiping about everyone else. As the party progresses things only get crazier—and more hilarious. People pass out, talk to themselves, sit on each other, but it doesn’t seem to matter, as long as everyone has a good time.

All writers could take a cue from this movie, and cultivate a culture around their characters and understand how their worlds shape their characters.

The second reason I say all writers should see this movie is the character development. In truth, it could be really easy to hate Holly Golightly. She’s flighty, indecisive, delusional and a bit of heartbreaker, when it comes right down to it. But she’s also clever, honest, witty and spontaneous. While I refuse to give away any more of the plot than I already have, as with any good writing, Holly is also shown to be devastatingly human and capable of experiencing the roller coaster of emotions other humans go through. I can’t promise you’ll fall in love with Holly, even though TONS of people have so, you know, they can’t all be wrong. But even if you don’t love her, the great characterization promises you’ll at least understand her.

WATCH THIS MOVIE. There’s a reason that fifty years later, people still love this movie, that Holly is considered a fashion icon, and that people still listen to this Oscar-winning rendition of “Moon River.”

Plus, Uncle Jed is it. How can you lose?

INSPIRATION: From another World by Björn Folkstedt

13 Oct

Tell me that this gorgeous photo by Björn Folkstedt doesn’t just make you want to finish her story.