Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Eight Very Interesting Facts About Chuck Norris

(An explanation: My sister and I have long been fascinated by Chuck Norris and his show "Walker, Texas Ranger," even though neither of us have ever seen a complete episode. I think it stems from (1) all the drama you can put into saying "Walker, Texas Ranger," thanks to that excellent little comma; (2) being forced to visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas, while visiting Baylor University my sophomore year of high school [Baylor was large, flat, Baptist, and hot. I went to Carleton, which was small, hilly, irreligious, and cold.]; and (3) the fact that Chuck Norris is a badass -- there is no other word for it -- and yet he is named Chuck. The contradiction! The fascination! So Lissa sent me these facts from the, and I share them with you in lieu of a real blog post, like those I will hopefully start writing again once this weekend's conference is past. Learn and enjoy.)

  • Chuck Norris's tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.
  • Chuck Norris once roundhouse-kicked someone so hard that his foot broke the speed of light, went back in time, and killed Amelia Earhart while she was flying over the Pacific Ocean.
  • Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil for his rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Chuck roundhouse-kicked the devil in the face and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn't stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.
  • Chuck Norris recently had the idea to sell his urine as a canned beverage. We know this beverage as Red Bull.
  • The original theme song to the Transformers was actually "Chuck Norris--more than meets the eye, Chuck Norris--robot in disguise," and starred Chuck Norris as a Texas Ranger who defended the earth from drug-dealing Decepticons and could turn into a pick-up. This was far too much awesome for a single show, however, so it was divided.
  • Chuck Norris is currently suing NBC, claiming Law and Order are trademarked names for his left and right legs.
  • If you can see Chuck Norris, he can see you. If you can't see Chuck Norris, you may be only seconds away from death.
  • Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hiss Hiss Bang Bang

Also, if you are not yet acquainted with "Snakes on a Plane," you can get introduced to the concept here (link courtesy of Jeremiah), and witness some of the madness here, here and here (which includes a v. funny image of Snape on a plane).

Snakes on a plane + Samuel L. Jackson. The funk (and the funny) cannot be stopped. Hee.

Randomly Chosen Quotes of the Day

Happily working away on my talk for the Poconos SCBWI conference next week ("Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through: Journeys for Children and Writers"), so my post for today will be ten quotations from my fifty-two-page quotation file, chosen by putting my cursor at the top of the file, pressing the "down" button, closing my eyes, and counting to ten. Here goes:

  • "Genius is mainly an affair of energy." -- Matthew Arnold
  • "Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better." -- John Updike
  • "The great pleasure in reading literary criticism is having someone else telling you exactly what it is you like." -- Jameela Lares
  • "Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?" -- Alice Walker (I am not sure I agree with this. -- CK)
  • "You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • "I write from obsession, habit, and because I have a thorn in my foot, head and heart and it hurts and I can't walk or think or feel until I remove it." – Janet Frame
  • "The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct." -- Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." -- Jack London
  • "People's lives, in [my hometown] as elsewhere, were dull, simple, amazing, unfathomable -- deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum. It did not occur to me [as a child] that one day I would be so greedy for [my hometown] ... to want every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together -- radiant, everlasting." -- Alice Munro

And two more lovely Munro quotes just because I like her so much:

  • "I am at home with the brick houses, the falling-down barns, the occasional farms that have swimming pools and airplanes, the trailer parks, burdensome old churches, Wal-Mart, and Canadian Tire. I speak the language."
  • "Georgia once took a creative-writing course, and what the instructor told her was: Too many things. Too many things going on at the same time; also too many people.... Eventually [Georgia] wrote a story that was about her grandfather killing chickens, and the instructor seemed to be pleased with it. Georgia herself thought that it was a fake. She made a long list of all the things that had been left out and handed it in as an appendix to the story. The instructor said that...she was wearing him out." – from the story "Differently"

Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Illness Update

(Ah, there's an attractive subject line.)

Thanks, everyone, for your good wishes and advice yesterday. After braffing* it all morning, I went in to the city to see my doctor in Soho, who took one look in my mouth and said "Strep." While I was waiting for the text to prove him right, I could hear a woman and a man talking in one of the examination rooms behind mine, and she was saying quite earnestly, "He's got a three-picture deal from Warner Bros. but he doesn't know if he should take it because, you know, he doesn't want to be tied to only one studio . . ."

My doctor came back in the room then, so I didn't get to hear any more and suss out identifying details, but I was apparently in the presence of a sick celebrity wife/girlfriend or something -- ah, glamour. It was strep, so I picked up my antibiotics and got back on the train. A small, wiry black man wearing deelybobbers and a large golden butterfly on his forehead and carrying a saxophone also boarded the train, which was going express, and as soon as the doors shut, he announced, "I am Zargon from Galaxy 17! My spaceship crashed here on Earth, and now I am taking control of this train! Ha ha ha ha ha!" He then played the saxophone for a while -- not badly, but not any tune I could recognize -- stopping only to laugh every time the train skipped a station: "You can't get off the train! Ha ha ha ha ha!" As we pulled into Delancey Street, he walked through the train collecting money, but he didn't change cars; rather, when the doors closed again, he said "I am Zargon, and I have been sent here from Galaxy 17 to take George W. Bush back to my home planet and end his reign here on earth!" At which point a lot more people gave him money -- the man knew his audience. He repeated the saxophone/laughing performance into Jay Street-Borough Hall, then said "I control this train! Doors -- open sesame!" The doors opened, and he got off. A nice little New York Nutcase moment.

And then I came home, took my pills, and was sufficiently exhausted to sleep the rest of the afternoon and evening. My sister is here taking care of me, and I'm feeling much better this morning (drugs -- yay!), but still staying home to rest up. Thanks again for all your good thoughts.
* braff verb, intransitive to lie in bed staring into space and listening to music, preferably of the hipster or emo variety; after Zach Braff, star of the quality film Garden State, where he performs just this action in one memorable shot.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I'm Sick *Again*, Dammit

At home in bed, with a low-grade fever and neck glands that feel like bicycle tires. Can't swallow, can't sleep, too tired to use subjects in my sentences, apparently. And my mom and sister are on a plane to New York at this very moment, for shopping and fun I can't join in, and there is so much work to do. . . .

I will take this as an opportunity to be Zen. Lie in bed. Breathe in, breathe out. Rest.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Blue Pencil in Hand

I've spent all this afternoon at work going over the copyediting for one of our novels. They have the main lights off on the floor to save energy over the weekend, so I'm working by the light of my little desk lamp, a bright circle on the page in the quiet. My computer gleams to the side with the full digital text of the manuscript (essential for finding multiple occurrences of a troublesome word or phrase) and Merriam-Webster's Eleventh New Collegiate Dictionary and Google (for use in checking mysterious nouns), and, I admit, a game of Internet Scrabble, because it is putatively my day off. . . .

Still, when we're not under deadline pressure, this is one of my favorite parts of editing: the tiny word-by-word, comma-by-comma, dash-vs.-ellipsis-vs.-period decisions on how to make meaning and communicate that to the reader. The author provides the text; the copyeditor's work offers an interpretation of that text, trying to make everything as clear, correct, and consistent as it can possibly be; and I adjudicate between the two, sometimes siding with the copyeditor for clarity or consistency, sometimes with the author for emotion. (This all gets approved by the author in the end, of course.)

Consistency is the big thing in copyediting: If you have the character's thoughts in italics once, then they should always be in italics; if you have them in quotation marks, they should always be in quotation marks. Authors are generally not good about consistency -- nor is it their job to be. And then there are all the rules about how numbers are treated (one vs. 1), or whether the period should go inside or outside the parenthesis, and whether you use a three-period ellipsis or a four-period ellipsis (the latter for complete sentences). . . . Whatever the Chicago Manual of Style decrees about the situation is usually what we do. My background is in copyediting, so I love this sort of stuff. But trying to be totally consistent throughout a long manuscript (this one's 391 pages) is a bear.

And then sometimes you break consistency for emotional effect. Sometimes you need that comma after "like" for a significant pause, or the character should misspell that word because that's part of his character, to spell words wrong, and the copyeditor corrected it because that's what her job is; then it's my job to put the misspelling back. There are no hard and fast unbreakable rules, same as anything else involving writing and editing.

All this takes forever, I must say, because it's the Oscar-Wilde-comma moment again and again and again: I've been working on the manuscript for about seven hours between yesterday and today (and allowing for Scrabble and e-mail and now blogging breaks), and I'm only on p. 293. My goal is to get the queries off to the author before I leave tonight, which means I should probably post this now and go back to the book. But for those of you who are interested in the editorial process: It's this, every day, one letter at a time.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Goofy Little Post

Because Blogger is acting up and I want to see if this clears it out . . . Today was not nearly as productive as yesterday, but I did write an editorial letter on a picture book and finish typing up the handwritten parts of my plot talk, so some things have been accomplished. Plus I went for a run today, the first time in nearly a month, and it felt terrific. And I am listening to the Killers' "Mr. Brightside" and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone"; I know the rest of the world discovered these songs last year, but I just heard them in the last month, and yeah. A lot of headbanging going on in the Brooklyn Arden offices these days.

"Mechanicals" are typeset and designed pages for a book, by the way. So when I referred to "picture book mechanicals" below, those would be the rough-draft layouts for the pages of a picture book, with the art scanned in and text positioned on the page. The production staff checks the mechs to see that the text, art, and all necessary factual information (price, ISBN, Library of Congress information) are present and correct, and then I review the pages for less tangible considerations -- "Is this font in tune with the style of the art?" or "What if we put this line of text up here in the tree branches rather than down on the ground?" and even, since we're finally seeing the full-color art together with the text: "Oh, we ought to cut that line describing the green coat since Grandpa's obviously wearing a green coat. I'll write the author and ask." Etc. We usually go through three passes of mechanicals as we incorporate text corrections, tweak the design, and generally refine the books into the beautiful objects readers hold in their hands in the end.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cheap Hume-or

That much productivity demands a little levity. This is the very august and important Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, in Edinburgh on New Year's Day:

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Productive Day

Goodness, this was a productive day. I:

  • bought my airline ticket for the Missouri Writers Guild conference in Kansas City at the end of April
  • discussed the conference with the lovely Christine Taylor-Butler and worked out what I'll be talking about when
  • went over the mechanicals for a spring 2007 picture book
  • finalized the flap copy for the same book
  • reran the financial and production figures on a foreign book we're hoping to acquire
  • read 150 pages of a manuscript in the office (a miracle!)
  • sent e-mail responses to a bunch of foreign publishers regarding some books we'd been considering
  • finished my annual pre-Bologna Children's Book Fair report to Arthur about all the foreign books we've seen since the previous year's Bologna
  • completed and filed both my state and federal taxes, courtesy of (I am not ashamed to admit I chose this company because it had the word "Slayer" in its name. If it's good enough for Buffy, it's good enough for me.)
  • worked on the revisions to my Asilomar plot talk, in hopes of having it up on the website before I go to my next SCBWI conference at the end of the month
  • drafted the informational postcard for the New York Carleton Club community-service project at the end of April (we'll be participating in Hands On New York Day on the 22nd if you'd like to join us)
  • And now, wrote a blog post celebrating all this good and virtuous work.
Incidentally, while I was reviewing the picture-book mechs, I spent three minutes struggling with one copyediting query: Was the phrase more effective as "half a world away" (as the copyeditor suggested) or "half the world away" (as the manuscript said)? Half "a" world is less definite, more poetic, implying multiple worlds and endless possibilities, while half "the" world is earthbound, mundane, with only one world, whose circumference you know. . . . The author lives in Australia, so she wasn't available for immediate consultation, and the mechs needed to go back to the designer by the end of the day, so I had to make a decision.

In the end I left it "half the world," because the phrase is spoken by the main character's father, and he's meant to be pragmatic and unimaginative. But it was very much an Oscar-Wilde-comma moment: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Rage, Goddess, Sing, & Recommended Reading

Our joint read of The Brothers Karamazov having passed quite pleasantly, Ted and I now are reading The Iliad, in the Robert Fagles translation. And it is magnificent:

And out he marched, leading the way from council.
The rest sprang to their feet, the sceptered kings
obeyed the great field marshal. Rank and file
streamed behind and rushed like swarms of bees
pouring out of a rocky hollow, burst on endless burst,
bunched in clusters seething over the first spring blooms,
dark hordes swirling into the air, this way, that way --
so the many armed platoons from the ships and tents
came marching on, close-file, along the deep wide beach
to crowd the meeting grounds, and Rumor, Zeus's crier,
like wildfire blazing among them, whipped them on.
The troops assembled. The meeting grounds shook.
The earth groaned and rumbled under the huge weight
as soldiers took positions -- the whole place in uproar.
Nine heralds shouted out, trying to keep some order.
"Quiet, battalions, silence! Hear your royal kings!"
The men were forced to their seats, marshaled into ranks,
the shouting died away . . . silence. (Book 2, lines 100-118)

Goodness, this is glorious writing. Straightforward but just-right words; big, strong, muscular verbs; vivid, appropriate imagery (the soldiers pouring out of their ships like "swarms of bees"). I love how Homer and Fagles establish sentence rhythms suited to the content of the sentence: See how that sentence about the bees rolls on and on and on, just as the soldiers do, so the very structure of the sentence conveys the action it's describing; but once they're all gathered and need to get down to business, the sentences are short and sharp: "The troops assembled. The meeting grounds shook. . . . 'Hear your royal kings!" The passive voice is used only once, and that when "the men were forced to their seats" -- in other words, forced to passively obey. Just this one short passage fills me with awe and delight: I want to read this entire book aloud.

It also makes me think about the uses of good writing. Writers at conferences sometimes tell me eagerly "Oh, I never read anything but children's and YA books," or confidingly "Children's books are so much better than all those adult books," and seem to expect me to praise or agree. Quite often these writers are new to the field and just discovering the delights of modern children's and YA literature, and in that case it certainly is important to get a sense of what's out there and what's good. (In fact, I recently added a recommended reading list over at Talking Books with some novels a beginning children's book editor is expected to know; said list might prove useful for new writers as well.)

But the best thing a writer can read is good writing, especially writing that expands the reader's sense of writerly possibilities: the subjects that can be addressed, the forms a story can take, the perspectives from which it can be told, the way various effects can be achieved, above all good language and how it can and should be used -- all things to get that writing brain and muscles energized and exercised. And -- to state the obvious -- children's books do not have a monopoly on good writing. In fact it would be a fascinating exercise to take the narrative structure or technique of a modern or postmodern adult novel and recast it for a children's book, with a child protagonist: the poem-plus-analysis-gone-insane setup of Pale Fire, for example, or the jumps in time that make Atonement so excellent and devastating, or the unique non-fantasy languages of Everything Is Illuminated or Riddley Walker or A Clockwork Orange, or stream of consciousness like Mrs. Dalloway or magical realism like One Hundred Years of Solitude . . .

I am setting the cart before the horse here, thinking about how technique could shape a story when the story and its function should drive the form; but my point is that knowing all those forms and techniques adds new tools to the writer's toolbox and widens one's field of vision, the things that can be said and the way that one can say them. And of course they offer so much pleasure, these writers, their mastery and their intelligence and humanity, their gift for capturing a moment or image (the soldiers like swarms of bees! -- I'm still marveling at the rightness of that). They challenge you, but they're never work.

So I hope you are all reading children's books. But I hope you're reading Homer (and Austen and McEwan and Munro and The New Yorker and McCullough and Dostoevsky and Sedaris and Mankell and Susanna Clarke) too.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Rant on Religious Freedom, and then Shooting Things

The legislature of my dear home state of Missouri is preparing to consider a bill that specifies "that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America" (full text here, link courtesy of maudnewton).

This makes me want to head out to Jefferson City and stage a sit-in on the Capitol floor. Partly because it's yet another example of Christians acting like self-pitying, self-centered, self-righteous martyrs rather than the giving, serving, thoughtful human beings we are called to be. Partly because this legislator's history is wrong: Most of "our forefathers" were Deists at best, not Christians as this bill implies (Thomas Jefferson, for instance, created his own "Life and Sayings of Jesus of Nazareth" that omitted any references to Jesus's divinity or miracles). Partly because Missouri seems determined to make itself look just as dumb as our neighbor to the west, a fate we had thus far avoided.

But mostly because the American idea in its purest form is like the scientific method: a doctrine that stands outside all doctrine; the preservation of a shared ideal above any possible influence. In science this ideal is observed truth; in the United States it is freedom, both of and from anything you can name, with respect always for the freedoms and rights of others. This bill, with its smug references to "we the majority," poisons true religious freedom twice over: first by implying Christianity has always been the nation's real religion anyway, then by allowing specifically Christian religious displays to honor that "positive role." It is a direct violation of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," and completely redundant with the second half of that clause: "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It is unnecessary, it is offensive, and frankly it is stupid.

The founding fathers perhaps never imagined a United States in which Hinduism and Islam and Judaism and Druidism and Bahai'ism and Scientology and atheism and goodness knows what else would flourish alongside the multiple branches and shades of Christianity, but they built a system that protects the rights of all Americans who practice those religions, or no religion at all. This bill purports to be acting in their name, but it dishonors them, and dishonors America as well.


After that, this made me feel better: Dick Cheney's Quail Hunting School (sound, but otherwise SFW; thanks, Uncle John, for the link).

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Liveblog, Part VI: The Morning Afterparty

I am staying home from work today with my fever, my chills, my fatigue, my aspirin, and my extreme grouchiness at being sick. I hate being sick -- beyond all the physical stuff, it's really boring, especially when there's a beautiful day outside and a great deal of work to be done, and I feel like maybe if I just got moving everything would be okay . . . but no. Bah.

  • Jill: Jessica Alba. Hiro: Ken Watanabe (though I'm afraid I can't think of any other Japanese actors). Carrie: Michelle Williams, in sparky rather than beaten-down mode. And I'm recasting Ted with Orlando Bloom, again with the long hair.
  • Thinking more about "Crash" -- I did have a strong emotional reaction to it, which tends to be my first criteria in judging a work of art, did it move me. But all my emotional reaction came from shock at the horribleness and bluntness of these people rather than from any genuine emotional connection with the characters. And they were consistently cheap shocks the filmmakers knowingly provoked under the guise of making a serious, "important" film about race. It was well-acted, well-constructed, all that, and I appreciated the "we are all connected" theme, but the more I think about the film, the less I like it.
  • If Lisa Yee is going to be played by Michelle Yeoh, she really needs a good action sequence. I'm envisioning her delivering the manuscript for her next novel to FedEx when suddenly four armed bandits hold up the store, looking for a trunk of nuclear submachine guns that's mistakenly been directed to South Pasadena. But the clerk refuses to give it to them because it means they lied on the form about shipping dangerous materials. While they're arguing, Lisa spins into action, disarming one with a Tae Kwan Do move she learned from her daughter, taking out another with the help of her attack dog Maggie, engaging the third in a long round of hand-to-hand combat that concludes when she stuffs the Moon Pie of Death in his face, and, the piece de resistance, whapping the last over the head with the manuscript of EMILY EBERS. Boo-ya!
  • Are there any such things as nuclear submachine guns? I don't know.

I'm going to get out of bed and take a shower now, and maybe try to read a manuscript or clean up a little. But I will probably be around again later. Consider yourselves forewarned.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscar Liveblog, Part V: The Grand Finale

  • Oh, we have to do the screenplays and director and then we have Best Picture. Still, we’re cruising.
  • I’d like to hear the speech Tony Kushner would give if he won, but I hope Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana win for “Brokeback Mountain.”
  • And they do. Very fine. It’s an incredibly faithful adaptation very much in the spirit of the original, which is what makes a satisfying adaptation if you love the original. (Do you hear that, Deborah Whatsyourface?)
  • (Moggach.)
  • And thank you, Mr. McMurtry, for your tribute to the culture of the book.
  • Huh—I mention Aishwarya Rai, who I haven’t thought of much since “Bride and Prejudice” (speaking of promising but ultimately unfortunate Austen adaptations), and there she is in a L’Oreal ad.
  • I don’t want to watch this “Sons and Daughters,” and I wish ABC would stop showing me ads for it.
  • I’m glad to see Tom Hanks has cut his hair.
  • Yes! Ang Lee! I love him. “Sense and Sensibility” is my favorite film ever, and a lot of his films seem to be about love repressed or denied—a theme that perhaps reaches its apogee in “Brokeback Mountain.” (Indeed, S&S is one of his very few with a happy ending.) I’m so pleased for him.
  • The drumroll moment, and – “Crash.”
  • I don’t really care, though.
  • Jeremiah and 2.0: Again, I'm stumped. Eric Hillemann: Kenneth Branagh. David Perry: Samuel L. Jackson.
  • The camera just cut to George Clooney, who seemed to be smiling at some secret amusement, and I think that’s much of his allure: You want to be the woman who’s in on the joke, or better still the one who puts that smile on his face.
  • Or heck, it could just be he’s the sexiest man alive.
  • And we’re through, at 11:26. Good work, Jon Stewart. Thanks for reading all this, those of you who did. Feel free to register your choice of actor for yourself in the comments.
  • Good night, and good luck.

Oscar Liveblog, Part IV: The Surprisingly Fast Third Hour

  • Robert Altman is from Kansas City -- my hometown man.
  • Nadia: Aishwarya Rai. Will: the love child of Russell Crowe and Ben Stiller. Jill: . . . This is hard. Jill has this heart-shaped face and really amazing curly hair. I shall think on it.
  • Yes! It’s time for the pimp song!
  • They’ve changed the word “bitches” in the song to “wenches.” Hee. They're pirate pimps!!!
  • Lisa Yee: Michelle Yeoh. Lisa’s in Missouri at my grandfather’s Children’s Literature Festival right now, actually, and my mom met her today and told me she was (I quote) “a nice young lady.”
  • Woo-hoo! The pimp song won! That’s awesome.
  • Jennifer Garner looks good for a woman who had a baby two months ago. “Alias” is back on April 19, btw, with Lena Olin, Michael Vartan and Greg Grunberg in the episode where Syd gives birth, and dear Bradley Cooper will be on the week after that, leading up to the series finale on May 24.
  • The memorial montage. A moment of silence, please.
  • And commercial.
  • I want to see “Paradise Now.” Also “Sophie Scholl.” That would be an interesting double feature about morality and taking action.
  • Two or three people now have read out what must be the instructions on the TelePrompTer about their time limit. They get 45 seconds, apparently.
  • Poor Hilary Swank—she and her husband are separated. But oh, the celebrity I really feel sorry for right now is Sheryl Crow: split from Lance Armstrong and breast cancer.
  • Such good performances in the Best Actor category this year. I haven’t seen “Capote,” but David Straithairn was so lean and restrained, and Heath Ledger eaten up from the inside . . .
  • Wait, we’re on Best Actress already? Three hours, and we’re almost done? Incredible.
  • I think it’s significant that the scene they chose for Keira Knightley was one that actually used Jane Austen’s language as opposed to Deborah Whatserface's dreck.
  • Ah, I had Reese Witherspoon down and then I changed it at the last moment too. I liked her performance, but I don’t know, she always seemed so perky . . . Maybe the nature of the role, that June Carter didn’t seem to have darkness, but I felt there were acting depths either not present in the writing or not plumbed by her performance. Hmm.

Oscar Liveblog, Part III: The Hour of a Thousand Montages

  • The political-ad parodies were hilarious. This is the funniest telecast I can remember in a long time (even if all the best pieces are pre-taped).
  • Terrence Howard has a curious voice – one high note always over that scratchy lower register. What makes it so memorable, I suppose: That high note cuts through and commands attention, and the lower register gives him gravity and commands respect.
  • Charlize Theron seems to be wearing a large black-satin sack with a pillow on her left shoulder.
  • Those crazy Frenchmen with their penguins!
  • Olive green is not Jennifer Lopez’s best color.
  • These “Crash” silhouettes of people writhing before burning cars do not seem to be in the best taste. I was impressed with the movie when I saw it, but it shocked me more than it moved me, largely I think because it was so damn overdetermined: Everything is about race, always, and we crash into each other to make connections, and every character and plot point is going to connect to every other character and plot point and we’re all going to be shown how wrong our stereotypes are. (The good gentlemen of Reverse Shot are particularly cutting about it.) Life is messier than that, unless you’re actually racist, in which case you’re in denial about how messy life is and you’re futilely and reprehensibly trying to simplify it.
  • This is a nice song, though.
  • That Hummer 3 commercial is the most disturbing thing I’ve seen all night. Even more so than Helena Bonham Carter’s hair.
  • Is anyone actually going to read all this?
  • Thank God for technical and design awards, which allow us to see that there are humans and not just movie stars in Hollywood.
  • Ooh, wait. I’m recasting the role of “Ben” with Adrien Brody.
  • My cousin Diana: Scarlett Johansson. My cousin Holly: Embeth Davidtz. My cousin Hans: Josh Hartnett? He's smarter than that. My cousin Bruce: Seth Green.
  • This is Aaron Copland playing behind the political/issue-movie montage, the “Lincoln Portrait,” I think. A lovely piece of music.
  • “State-of-the-art technology will change, but state-of-the-heart storytelling will always be compelling.”—Sid Dennis, president of the Academy
  • Interesting that the Academy seems to be taking a brazen-it-through approach to the political nature of the Best Picture nominees this year—a “Say it loud, we’re political and proud” feel.
  • Love Salma Hayek’s dress. Classy, complex, and a gorgeous shade of blue.
  • I did like the score of “Pride and Prejudice.” It was just the movie that went with it that annoyed the hell out of me.
  • I took an ice-cream break during the epic montage, but they played the theme from “E.T.”—maybe my favorite movie score ever. Also, while the Academy might get credit for not being ashamed of its left-wing politics, it’s also selling the “come be part of the magic of the movies” thing pretty hard. I guess they assume we'll all automatically buy the DVDs, so we need to be reminded about the theatre part.
  • Love Meryl Streep too.

Oscar Liveblog, Part II: The Hour with Energy

  • Jon Stewart looks a little nervous here, but he’s warming up.
  • Okay, he needs to lose the self-consciousness.
  • Matt Dillon + a certain smile he has = Jim Carrey’s long-lost brother
  • George Clooney—oh, I had that, then I changed it. “I’m proud to be out of touch with mainstream America.” What a doll.
  • I would pick Reese Witherspoon to play me in the film of my biography because she seems like the only blonde in Hollywood type-A enough to understand the character.
  • Woo, “Wallace and Gromit”! I must have some cheese.
  • Now I feel compelled to cast the rest of my biographical film. Katy: Selma Blair? No, Selma Blair is always the bitchy brunette friend, and Katy deserves better than that. I will have to think about this one. Rachel: Naomi Watts. Ben: Joaquin Phoenix, or maybe Luke Wilson or Ralph Fiennes. My mother: Frances McDormand. My father: Dennis Quaid, just to please my mother. My sister: Kirsten Dunst. Melissa Anelli: Kate Winslet. Ted: Owen Wilson (the smart side of him, and with longer hair). Jimmy: Tony Leung. My grandmother: Judi Dench. My grandfather: Jack Nicholson. (Y’all can feel free to chime in and suggest your own.)
  • How old is Dolly Parton? Goodness, 60. And still fabulous, though that pantsuit isn’t.
  • They are clicking right through this show—on “Best Costume Design” already.
  • Katy: Drew Barrymore, with dark hair and more brains. There we go.
  • The makeup design winner just cited “Where the Wild Things Are” as a formative influence. Good man.
  • Ooh, Rachel Weisz could play Katy. This is just going to dominate my thinking for the rest of the night.
  • “The Constant Gardener” was a fantastic film. It deserved more recognition tonight than it’s getting.

Oscar Liveblog, Part I: The Pre-Show

Melissa was supposed to come over tonight to eat dinner, drink wine, and snark the Oscars. But then I came down with chills, a fever, and probably the beginnings of flu, so I am left alone to liveblog.

  • Man, I loathe Billy Bush. Just as fatuous and smirking as his presidential cousin, but at least he wields no global power whatsoever.
  • Or does he???
  • P&P is “the story of a woman who refuses to give up on her search for true love.” Actually, that is a good description of the movie, but nonetheless, gag gag gag.
  • Isn’t Orville Redenbacher dead? (Yes, of drowning.)
  • “Is that a vintage dress? I just learned that word.” – the genius that is Billy Bush to Naomi Watts
  • I love Paul Giamatti. A smart, funny teddy bear—one of my very favorite kinds of men.
  • I also love people condescending to Billy Bush. All of the stars just look overwhelmed by the stupidity of the interviewers’ questions (not just Billy Bush’s).
  • Oh, George Clooney. There is no more delicious man on this earth. Handsome and funny and tall and honest and so intelligent—he’s one of those men you don’t want to be married to, because he would never be faithful, but glory, it would be lovely to pretend for a day.
  • The moment I’m most looking forward to this telecast: the performance of “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp.” I hope it wins, too—I can still sing the chorus seven months after seeing the movie, and that’s the sign of a good movie song.
  • Jennifer Aniston just said “Good gosh.” Hee.
  • Ah, Garth Brooks’s “The Dance.” The seminal song of my high school prom. But that’s a story for another time.
  • They haven’t had Billy Bush on for about twenty minutes, and the collective I.Q. of the show has risen by 40 points.
  • Wait, he’s back, asking David Straithairn if he considers himself a star. We’re back below 100.
  • Ooh, they’re having a “Write your own Mastercard ad” on The opportunities to be evil are just endless. (Priceless, even.)
  • Last-minute picks: Paul Giamatti; Michelle Williams; Felicity Huffman; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Ang Lee; “Crash.”
  • Great filmed opening with Jon Stewart. Off we go!

How We Live Now

I'm lying in bed right now, enjoying the leisure of a sunny Sunday morning before church --reading the Times online (now there's modern life for you, relaxing with my laptop rather than the actual newspaper) and occasionally trying to call Katy in England for our weekly catchup and chat. But a few minutes ago, I tried to reach her on her cell phone, and a recorded voice came on and said, "We're sorry, but your call cannot be completed in the country that you have dialed. Please try your call again later."

And I thought, "Oh no, maybe there's been a terrorist attack."

Now this, of course, was a totally irrational and over-the-top reaction. There are all kinds of reasons why a cell call wouldn't go through, and the cell towers being taken out by some explosion caused by terrorists is at the very very far end of the likeliness scale. And yet that was my immediate thought; and the reason I went to the Times website in the first place was to check the headlines and see if anything had happened in London -- a little throb of fear, cold as ice, in the warmth and contentment of my Sunday.

This is something that would not have happened five years ago at this time, in March 2001. Now it's just the way things are, waiting for the next attack -- not even "the other shoe to drop," because it won't be the last shoe -- and trying to live rightly in the meantime. We are so incredibly lucky here, that we live in fear of occasional cataclysm rather than constant raiding, shortages, starvation, bombing, lack of power (both electric and political), fear, oppression, discontent . . . all the hideous circumstances of Darfur and Afghanistan and Iraq and Nigeria. Three thousand-odd Americans died on 9/11; over 50,000 are estimated to have died in Darfur since 2003, at least 28,000 in Iraq since the beginning of the war. None of those people's lives were worth any more than mine; and yet I have the beautiful apartment and the warm bed and the cupboards stocked full of food . . .

I am writing and thinking in curlicues here, not along any lines that would lead anywhere, and I need to get up and get ready for church. Katy is all right. The war on terror has not made us safer. And fear is always such a shock to me because I'm not used to it, and that's something to be grateful for.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Crusie-ing . . . on a Saturday Mornin' . . .

It looks like I won't be posting my plot talk for another week or so because my non-work, non-friends free time is being eaten up by . . . more work. Sigh. It's that time of year, when we're getting Arthur off to Bologna, dealing with the Fall 2006 production passes and readying the Spring 2007s; and if I want to actually read a manuscript, I have to do it in the evenings or on weekends. So there goes my Saturday (though I did get to sleep late).

But in the meantime, if you want to be thinking about writing craft, Jennifer Crusie-who-I-still-adore-even-if-she-needs-to-drop-the-military-guy has posted wonderful little essays on voice, description, and real time on her blog with the military guy. And I also commend these two pieces on her website:

As with romance novels, so with children's books. Okay, not 100%. But it *is* all about the characters and relationships . . .

Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Let There Be Sight

And it was good.

(Any guys who make passes? I'm right over here . . .)

And my lost bag came back to me this morning, so my life -- the part of it tied to my possessions, anyway -- is again complete.