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Archive for January, 2012


So, as all of my Facebook friends keep reminding, I have another birthday just around the corner.  Actually, I think FB announced it early.  Either that, or one of my relatives, knowing that she would be off-line during that time, wished me a happy birthday a few days earlier.

Now my other FB friends saw her post and thought that they missed my birthday.  As a result they have begun posting birthday greetings after hers, just in case.  It’s actually kind of funny.  I would never be so rude as to say “sorry my birthday hasn’t actually arrived yet, but thank you anyway”…unless of course you call a blogpost mocking them rude.  But still, I think I’ll wait until the oh so joyous event passes before thanking everyone.

The advent of my birthday is joyous, don’t get me wrong.  I love my birthday.  I love birthday greetings, birthday presents and I don’t even mind getting older.  I look at it this way…another year older is another year still alive.  So, I’ll take every birthday sent my way.

Celebrating my birthday, however, reminds me that there is another event looming just on the horizon that I dread.

OK, for clarity, let me explain something.  Me and my siblings have our birthdays immediately before or immediately after a holiday.  My brother has Christmas, my middle sister has St. Patrick’s day and my youngest sister has New Year’s.  They get cool and fun holidays.

Do I get to celebrate my birthday drinking green beer having everyone kiss me wishing they too were Irish? Do I get to have my birthday close to a beloved religious celebration, exchanging gifts…or even celebrating the end of the old year and ringing in the new?

Nope.  Not me.  I get to celebrate my high holy day with a small, furry,  burrowing rodent.  And no, I do not mean the cute, fuzzy, bunny delivering eggs and disgusting marshamallow chicks to anxious children everywhere.

I get the Groundhog.  And my family delights in reminding me of this. Every. Single. Year.

It started as a joke.  My brother, while highly intelligent, is not always the most aware person in the room.  He used to forget my birthday every year.  Only after he was reminded by a family member, did he call me the day AFTER my birthday and wish me a Happy Groundhog’s Day.  He wouldn’t even mention my birthday unless I did.  Then he feigned surprise that I had a birthday.

Yeah, I know…he’s funny.

Now, everyone in my family just simply wishes me a Happy Groundhog’s Day.  They all think it’s hilarious.  Sometimes I do not even get a “Happy.”  One of them simply emails me a picture of a groundhog on my birthday as if that will suffice.  Or I’ll get a Groundhog’s Day card in the mail.  Or…my favorite…I’ll go to one of their houses for cake and ice cream and be forced to watch the Bill Murray movie playing on what seems like an endless loop in the background. Over and over and over.

As an aside, I do think Groundhog’s Day is one of the biggest jokes ever perpetuated on the population.  Every year at the start of February, news cameras flock to Puxatawney, PA to await Phil’s fated words as school children everywhere (praying for one final snow day) anxiously wait to see if the groundhog will see his shadow and thus predict an early spring or another six weeks of winter.

Here’s the joke.  Spring’s official start date, also known as the vernal equinox, is March 20…or almost exactly six weeks from February 2 whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not.  Spring will never arrive any earlier than six weeks from February 2.  Ever.

This is the holiday I get.  A practical joke played on school children in an attempt to convince them that a small rodent can alter the space-time continuum to give them more time off from school in the form of additional snow days.

Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

So, thank you to everyone who has wished me an early happy birthday and thank you to everyone who will wish me a happy birthday tomorrow.  For the rest of you, better bundle up.  I think I just saw my shadow.

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I did a post the other day about my love of movies and books.

Well, tonight I will talk about a true guilty pleasure of mine.  Oscars!

The nominees are are in.  Designer gowns are being prepped.  Critics are critiquing.  Long-winded acceptances speeches are being written.

For the record, I do not believe that anyone jots down a hurried thank you on a napkin “just in case.”  They all have a prepared acceptance at the ready.  I mean, let’s face it.  They have all been practicing those speeches since the first time they donned their father’s old suit or mother’s dress to put on a home performance of some kind.  You cannot tell me that none of them stood in front of a mirror with a brush or high school trophy and uttered those oh-so-famous words.

I know I have and I have no aspirations to be an actor. (OK maybe that was an over-share.)

But I love the Oscars.  My only regret this year is that I have not been able to see all of the movies on the nominee list.

I did see The Help and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but not before reading the books, (and in the case of the latter, seeing the Swedish movies as well), but that is hardly enough to make a valid judgement.

When it gets closer to Oscar night, I want to make my best guess at the winners.  I have done that before.  I used to write a movie review column for my company’s newsletter.  One year, I made Oscar predictions and I was right about all of the main categories.  Of course, this year will be a little more difficult since Lord of the Rings is not in the running, but I think if I see some of the movies which have nominations, I might do OK.

So, let’s see how it goes.  Share your winning guesses and let’s see how we do on Oscar night February 26, 2012!

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So, yes…more public pressure and possible public humiliation if I sit on my butt and do nothing…

A few months ago I attempted to start a youth novel about Gwendolyn and the dragon of New Castle (during my failed attempt at nanowrimo…note to self…do not try month long crazy writing project during audit at work).  I had a big burst of writing energy; chapters, outlines, character sketches, etc written.  I made quite a bit of progress.

Then holidays happened.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years and my focus on writing was rerouted.  I have continued working on the story, but progress is slow.  If I am going to finish this little project of mine, I must refocus.

I have changed some of story from its initial spawning.  This is a good thing.  I had a friend of mine read the outline and I explained a lot of the plot and he pointed out a few plot holes.  So, we brain stormed for a bit and came up with a couple of new ideas that should make it a little more interesting.

I am also not writing in sequential order.  I wrote some of the action scenes out that take place later in the book shortly after I wrote the first chapter.  Now that the outline is fleshed out a little more, I went back and wrote chapters 2 and 3 and today I am moving onto chapter 4.

I am having fun writing the story.  It is not too terribly serious.  It involves a lot of imagination, a little bit of magic, an evil witch, and of course a dragon.

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I begin each day with lofty writing goals. 

“Today, I will find the time to write that chapter…jot down notes on that scene that’s been gnawing in the corner of my mind…one page at least!”

“I will get up early…write late into the night…sneak a moment during my lunch…all day saturday…I promise!”

Nonetheless, each day, I have a hundred things that prevents my writing.

I overslept…skipped lunch…stuck at work late…happy hour…emergency weekend lunches/dinners with friends to complain about how absolutely busy I am…dishes…laundry…how did Inot notice how dusty those blinds were…just look at those dust bunnies under my bed…where does the time go?

The reality is, all writers are busy.  Yet, there are the special few who somehow manage to write and publish their work.  So, what is the difference between them and the rest of us too busy organizing our perfume samples to write?

 Focus.  Determination.  Discipline. 

Call it what you will, but it is possible to stay on target and write.  Maybe not write the great American novel, but at least complete something.

The most successful writers generally set a daily writing goal for themselves.  Some use a block of time, others a word limit. 

I use public humiliation.  I publicly state my goals, on this blog for instance.  Also, I stated them at my writer’s group. 

So far this year, I’m on target.  I have been working on my novel.  I’ve already written another chapter since the beginning of the year.  I promised two blog posts a week.  So far not bad.  And I promised to write and upload short stories to my writers group.  Well, I have not written another short story, but I did upload a new one from the end of last year to the meetup site.

I feel pretty good about my goals so far, but January’s not over yet.  Ask me again in April.

How do you stay focused?

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Did that make you cringe?  Yeah, me too.

With Emmy-Oscar season upon us, I have been thinking a great deal about my love of movies, which often leads to thinking about my love of books.

I love to read.  I’m not a fast reader, nor would I qualify myself as a voracious reader.  But I feel comfortable saying that I probably read more than the average bear.

I also love the movies.  I do not limit myself there either.  I love the sappy rom-com as much I love heady, intellectual documentary or biopic.  I crowd into theaters with the masses to watch the big summer block-busters as quickly as I do to see the latest Oscar contender.

For me, reading books and watching movies are not necessarily mutually exclusive activities.  As any Twi-hard Potter-maniac will tell you, seeing the movie is simply the natural extension of reading the book.  I love having  stories and characters from books brought to life through movies.  Yes, there are always disappointments, the second Bridget Jones movie for example. But then movies such as Lord of the Rings are a wonder to behold.

So, imagine my horror when a friend said to me, “There’s no point in reading Lord of the Rings, there’s a movie now.  Besides, the books are too long anyway.”

My answer:  Read the book(s).  The book is always better than the movie.  I have never come across an instance where the movie was better than the book.  Never once.  Furthermore, reading  opens the creative center of the brain, forcing you to imagine the scenes and people in the stories.  Movies are fun, yes, but watching a movie lacks the interaction the reader has with the story and the author.

I also find that many movies based on books are not true to the book.  Plots are sometimes changed, characters changed or several characters are merged.

The problem with making a book into a movie is often time.  Movies cannot plod along plot points, description and dialogue, certainly not in a 90 minute period.  Fortunately, movies have many more devices to tell a story available to them that books do not.  Movies can use music and imagery to tell a story in a way text cannot convey.  I can forgive losing a character or a plot point if the story is told creatively or told in an interesting manner.

Let me give you two examples from two movies that I love.

Lord of the Rings:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy I think was brilliantly portrayed in the movie as written and directed by Peter Jackson.  Yes, some of the story was changed, but I thought he did a great job of distilling the main point of the movie down into an enjoyable movie experience.

One of the things I most enjoyed was how he used imagery to tell the story.  In the second movie, LOTR The Two Towers, the story begins with Gandalf falling in Khazad Dum to what is assumed his death.  There we find out that he fell, but did not die.  He fought the Belroq monster until he hits the water.  At which point, Frodo awakens from a dream.  Later in the movie, Strider, Legolas and Gimli meet Gandalf in the forest and then we learn the rest of the story, told partly through dialogue and partly through imagery.

In the book, the reader does not have any inclination that Gandolf will return until about almost the halfway point when Strider, Legolas and Gimli meet him in the forest.  He then explains in great detail what happened to him in Khazad Dum and beyond.

Here’s the problem…who has time for a 15-20 minute monologue in a movie?  The Lord of the Rings movies are already 2 1/2 to 3 hours long.

I love how Jackson handled that.  His use of imagery and dialogue did three things for me in this instance.

  • He dropped a hint that Gandalf was returning to the story.
  • His use of imagery – dream sequence at the begining of the movie connected it to the first movie reminding everyone about where we left off.
  • He condensed the monologue from the book into a 1 minute conversation that told Gandalf’s tale quickly to move the story along.

The Age of Innocence

I’ll start with this movie by stating the obvious, Martin Scorsese is a genius.  Of course, one expects someone to say that when refering to some of his other heavy hitting movies such as Goodfellas or Raging Bull or Taxi Driver.  All excellent movies without question.  The Age of Innocence, however, is one of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations.

First off, the adaptation from book-to-movie is the best I have ever seen.  To my recollection, Scorsese left out one character and kind of merged her with another character.  Then he glossed over the wedding and wedding breakfast scenes from the book.  Not crucial scenes in my opinion.

His use of imagery and voice over were just genius.  He brought to life the early 20th century with his use of color, scenery and costume.   His use of voice over captured the conservative sense of conformity and rigidity in the higher archical society that was turn of the century New York City.

He did what many film makers have tried to do for decades.  He took a piece of literature and successfully translated it from book to screen.

So, why read the book?  You tell me.

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Every year my writer’s group begins the year by reviewing the writing goals each member set out for themselves the year before.  Then we each state new writing goals for this year.

Last year, my goals were to write more, submit more work to the group for review and enter more contests.  All of which I did.  And before you ask, no I did not win any of the contests I entered.

This year, my goals are slightly more specific.  One of my goals this year  is to blog at least twice a week.  Here it is, Saturday and I am already behind.  Not a great start I’ll admit, but the week’s not over yet.  My other goals are:

  • Finish the first draft of the middle-grade novel I’m writing.
  • Write more short stories.
  • Enter more contests.

I already have a short story done and ready to go.  Now, if I could only remember to upload it to my writer’s group website for review so that I could use it for a contest, I would be well on my way to starting some of my other goals!

I have a year of hard work ahead of me.  Wish me luck!

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