Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blog Hop - My Writing Process

I was asked to participate in a "My Writing Process" Blog Tour by a fellow Spalding alum, Dania Rajendra whose work I greatly admire. 

Process can be a very slippery thing and not the easiest thing to put into words. But a worthy challenge.

So, the questions: 

1. What am I working on?
After spending four years on a very personal memoir, I have switched gears into playwriting territory. It’s not foreign territory (I earned my bachelors in theater back in the day and spent some time as a literary apprentice at a regional theater in upstate New York), but I’ve been a solid CNF gal for quite a few years, earning my MFA in 2008.
In 2012, I attended AWP in Chicago. While there, I took a tour of an old hotel-turned-college. We passed a blackbox where students were in a tech rehearsal for Streetcar Named Desire. I abandoned the tour and hid in the shadows, watching a pair of 20-year-olds desperately trying to get an on-state toilet to work for no apparent practical reason. I fell in love again. So I spent two years working on a full-length play that I plan to workshop with actors this summer.
In the meantime, I've felt compelled to submit the memoir (about losing my bother in 2007), or chapters from it, to contests and other publication considerations this summer.
2. How does my work differ from other of its genre? 
I don’t know if it’s totally different from others except that it (ideally) reflects my authentic voice. Generally, I like to try to keep a sort of balance – using humor to explore serious topics, etc. 
3. Why do I write about what I do? 
Like most writers, I process the things that happen in my life by writing about them. Unlike a lot of writers, I was never a big reader growing up. Instead, I consistently consumed a broad array of pop culture – music, magazines, joke books, and movies. When I’m writing CNF, I write about my family a lot, and the things of daily life that amuse me. Connections between people - whether they be strong, strained, causal or instant - fascinate me.
In creating this play, I am excited about the notion of creating well-drawn female characters for talented actresses to inhabit. (I create male characters as well, but those actors don’t need my help as much…)
4. How does my writing process work? 
An idea usually begins as a fragment of an amusement or preoccupation that I jot down in my journal and then forget about. Once I realize that I’ve jotted the same idea a half dozen times, I just start in. If it’s a larger work, I’ll free-write for a while to get a sense of the piece, then I’ll stop to outline ahead, a few chapters (or scenes) at a time.
I am lucky to have two awesome writing groups. One is local and I’ve belonged for about ten years. The genres of the other writers vary widely, but they are all super smart and we’re all on the same level experience-wise. The other group is made up of grad school friends. We live all over the country but keep in touch once a week and get together a couple times of year to catch up and workshop. I also have close friends who read my work often and who are amazing at separating (or informing) the "real" story and the one being told.
Part Two (words of wisdom from more awesome writers) to come...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Packing It Up

I just got home from Chicago, where I spent the past four days among 10,000 other writers at the AWP conference. It was a saturating and rejuvenating experience (as well as a great time spent with my tight circle of friends from grad school...)

Now that I'm home, my plan is to finish up incomplete projects and engage in new ones.

And so the time has come, once again, to close up shop on the blog. It's starting to feel like the holiday decorations at my mother's, something to be brought out and enjoyed for a season, and then properly packed away until next year.

I appreciate everyone who has taken an interest.

Now go see some movies...

Monday, February 27, 2012

She Did it!!! And Other Oscar News

Is this not the coolest Oscar picture you've ever seen?

The 1983 telecast (for 82's films) was the first I can remember really paying attention to and preparing for ahead of time. It was, coincidentally, the last time Streep won Best Actress.

Needless to say, her win last night was the highlight of my evening.

Despite it's criticisms for being one of the worst Oscar show ever (people have short memories...), I actually found there was a lot the producers had managed to "iron out" in terms of pacing. Whoever thought of giving each presenter at least two awards to give out deserves their own award. Cut heaps of time and allowed the winners a bit more time (nothing is more disheartening is to see two people given an award for, say, sound design and after the first person speaks, the orchestra sounds and the mike is cut off.)

Secondly, they cut out lots of fat. The Irving Thalberg Award is long gone (no offense to the recipients, but it always came near the end of the night with a full-on tribute and long acceptance speech). Even the achievement award Oprah received was kept to a nice recap. Very classy.

The cliched "movie quote" montage added nothing, although the interviews with the stars talking about their experiences was occasionally amusing and sweet (and well produced). But honestly, we get it already, everyone in the movie industry as well very everyone watching from home loves the movies! From way back when they were kids!

As far a Billy Crystal, he did a good job although the obvious plastic surgery and shoe polish hair really did break my heart. And the stuff he's good at was fun, but also kinda sad because what was once fresh felt very outdated. It's like the producers swing back and forth each year trying to be "hip" or "old-school classy". All I've come to realize from all of this is that the hosting gig really must be harder than it looks. But someone will come along and figure it out and we'll be on another streak.

My own personal highlights of the night
  • Crystal's shout-out to Carl, a charming gentlemen in a powder blue tux who's been a seat filler for like 50 years.
  • Once again, the "unkowns" gave the best speeches (I think my favorite was the man who introduced his daughter as the film's producer and said, "Now I don't have to wait for a wedding to tell everyone how proud I am.")
  • Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter won for Best Editing for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Unlike favored winners who get up on stage and say, "I didn't think I would get this," which incites eye rolling, this win seemed very unlikely because Fincher's movie (which was awesome, by the way) wasn't nominated for much else besides this category. Their inability to put their minds around the win was genuine and charming (plus, I have an enormous crush on Wall from the Social Network DVD extras...)
  • Will Ferrell and Zack Galifanakis in white tuxes, playing cymbals and climbing out of the pit and playing the comedy very straight. Hilarious.
  • Emma Stone was terrific in her pairing with Ben Stiller. There were a 100 ways for that banter to have fallen flat and she nailed it.
  • Of course no 2012 Oscar telecast recap would be complete without commenting on Angelina Jolie's "strike a pose" moment. It was as though the woman had never worn a dress with a slit before. At first I kinda felt bad because the argument could be made that she made a bad spur of the moment choice. But then I kept seeing pictures of her in the same extreme pose on the red carpet. It was inevitable she'd return to her alien behavior. She wasn't going to be able to pull of the suburban mom routine forever (not when you've already been on the red carpet wearing a vial of your husband's blood around your neck one year and nearly making out with your brother another.)
  • As for the Best/Worst Dressed, I don't think there was anyone who stuck out as nightmareish. The dresses were very muted this year, lots of pinks and whites and cremes. I think Stacy Keebler had the best dress. Michelle Williams was adorable. There was a lot of good hair too - Glenn Close, Kristen Wiig, Melissa Leo. And more than a few short hair bobs. Must be the new hairstyle coming our way in three or four years. Cameron Diaz really looked great with it (of course she can manage to pull of anything...) The men looked especially handsome as well (Clooney of course, but Tom Hanks looked really good. Poor Nick Nolte, who's looked bad for years, now officially resembles Santa Claus...

So I think that about covers it. Thanks for everyone who indulged my obsession for yet another year. Let's hope the producers just keep at it, keep trying to make it better...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Big Night...

In less than an hour I will be at my parents, sitting on a love-seat, eating Domnio's pizza and awaiting the start of the 84th Academy Awards.

As I have mentioned in past posts, it's not a terribly exciting year for films. It happens. I didn't manage to get out to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or War Horse. I kept dragging my feet and when I tried to fit them in yesterday and today found they were playing at inconvenient times.

Here are my thoughts on the other nominees:

Moneyball - I liked this one, although I will admit I was a little thrown by the unconventional structure (despite my constant criticism of the cliched formula). It's one I need to rent and watch again. The idea is a great one - a unlikely hero follows his instincts, employs an unlikelier sidekick and changes the way the baseball business is conducted. Future filmmakers could do well to pay attention.

The Descendants - Saw this on Thanksgiving night. After the credits rolled, I wasn't sure what I felt about the show, but found I could not shake it the whole week. Clooney is so very good in this. Despite his otherwise intimidating handsomeness, he manages to pull off the "regular guy with a conscious". Beau Bridges, in a tiny part as Clooney's aging hippie cousin, adds a nice complexity. I would actually love to see this one take home the big prize.

That being said, I will have to say the Midnight in Paris was probably my favorite, pure movie-going experience. I feel about this film I think the way others feel about the Artist (which I did care for at all, see yesterday's post...) Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen's best since Annie Hall. Owen Wilson manages to pull off the Allen "character" in a charming way, a major feat as far as I'm concerned. Adrian Brody's ten minutes as Salvador Dali alone is worth the price of admission (and this acting among a crowd of equally fine actors playing Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein). I just found the whole thing to be a delight. If it had even half a chance I'd root for it, but it will remain in my heart.

But, as has been proved in the past few years of media saturated coverage, the bald guy is likely to go to the favorite - this year being the Artist.

But I'm not above some hope....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Artist...

So I've been dragging my feet a bit in commenting on the Artist.

While I have a long history of lengthy rants on movies (which date back to circa 1983, before I understood that just because you loved a movie - Grease - didn't mean that the next movie its stars made together - Two of a Kind - would equal the adoration of the first). I still offer an apology to whatever friend had to endure my wrath at that initial shedding of my movie-going naivete.

Which is not to say that I've cooled or altered my opinions. It's just that I've come to discover that putting attention towards the things I don't like takes away energy from moving on to those I do. It is a slippery slope to being one of those angry bloggers who can't let anything go and then transmit that angst from their parents' basements.

Needless to say, I did not enjoy the Artist... And I'm honestly surprised by all the attention it's getting. There are certainly instances where timing can play a role in my reaction to a film - is I am in a particular mood, or am expecting something entirely different and can't quite see the work for what it is. But I don't think that's the case here.

What didn't I like? Perhaps this is best exemplified by the notes I took during the movie (see, the fact that I am inclined to jot notes, which easily puts me on that slippery slope...)

Black and white is difficult to shoot. It requires a lot of light to make it look good. This looks like someone shot it on a camcorder using the "black and white" mode.
Main character acts with his eyebrows
Another vague "Hollywood cautionary tale"
The older man do-over fantasy
Real missed opportunity to do something interesting
Cliched montages
Watch the main character drink and brood. Smoke and brood. Sit and brood and brood...
The music is making me crazy.

Sample "dialogue" (on placards, the film is silent)
"You and I belong to a new era now."
"The public is never wrong."
"We have to talk. Why do you refuse to talk." (From the wife of the aging silent star. Get it?)
"Out with the old, in with the new."

I will have to say that both my parents, as well as our family friend who joined us, really enjoyed it. As have, clearly, a good amount of the public (as well as the voting academy). I'm not sure if there is something major I am missing or if it's just not a particularly strong year for film...

We'll see Sunday...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Help - Empowering or Oppressive?

Last night I went over to a friends to watch The Help, which has already been released on DVD. I have been aware of the controversy surrounding the film, but had deliberately kept myself from reading any. When I do, I inevitably ruin the movie-going experience for myself.

I had thought my problem would be in regards to the filmmaking itself. What I was allowing to eek through my barrier threatened to be an overly sentimental display of white people helping disadvantaged blacks overcome the prejudice of their fellow white people (think the Blind Side...)

And it's not not that. The story's protagonist, after all, is indeed a privileged and educated white girl who ultimately gives a voice to a collective of black maids.

However, what surprised me was the high level of craft on display. This, ultimately, is why The Help has been nominated for Best Picture. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer could have only been nominated for acting honors, which wouldn't have necessarily meant the show itself was worthy. While the story as a whole is not particularly complex (especially given its subject matter), there is a collective cohesion of cinematography, editing, script and direction that is difficult to ignore.

I can understand the nerve that's been struck in the African American community over the film. This didn't bother me, but then again, I'm not black. I do, however, frequently get myself riled up over the general portrayal of women in cinema (I will refrain from pulling out my movie encyclopedia to reference just how many actresses have been nominated for playing hookers...) This used to baffle and frustrate my brother, who didn't understand why I couldn't just enjoy certain shows for what they were and not what they weren't. Then again, he was a white middle class male.

I have found myself reveling in the interviews with Davis and Spencer, who are sensitive to the criticism, but are nonetheless convincing when they speak about having found their own voices are African American women.

Maybe it's because we look to art to reflect how we live. When we feel that something that had the promise to shine some light on how we live misses that mark, it is hard to let that go easily.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the Help. If Meryl Streep doesn't win this year, it will be to Davis who is astonishing. She was a sight to behold in 2008's Doubt, for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. I might be okay if she took home the bald guy...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hugo - For the Love of Melies

On Sunday I went to see Hugo with my parents. It lived up to its considerable hype and opened a door (as I'm sure it has to many a film fan) into the previously unknown world of legendary filmmaker Georges Melies. It's too bad that my only previous exposure had been via a Smashing Pumpkins video (no offense to the Pumpkins, it's a brilliant homage).

From all of the interviews and articles, Scorsese is known for screening and recommending older (and mostly unknown) movies to those involved in his current productions. Like most great directors, he possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema. In Hugo, he presents the historical context of Melies (who is a character) as a comprehensive overview. Usually I am resistant to such overt calls to influence (such as rushing out to pick up the work of a recently deceased celebrity), but I surrendered easily to this one...

By the time the fictional character Hugo encounters him, Melies is a brokenhearted man working in a toy shop in a Paris train station where most of the action in the film takes place. It's a very sweet and impressive piece of film making that deserves any of the awards its sure to rack up on Oscar night.