Monday, January 31, 2011

It's the Luck of the Draw, Baby

About a year ago, I did a Q-tea in which I raved about Sara J. Henry's Learning to Swim. Then, because I'm not completely heartless, I recommended a book you could actually get in the store at the time. And at no point did I say "Needer, needer, I'm one of those people who gets books early. Let us all bask in my insiderness."

A year has passed, which shocks and confuses me. And on February 22, Sara's book will be released. Here are some things people have said already:

"Emotional, intense, and engrossing, LEARNING TO SWIM is a terrific debut. The talented Sara J. Henry introduces a thoroughly modern heroine with an independent spirit and a tender heart. Readers will be cheering for Troy Chance as she deftly navigates the treacherous waters of betrayal and loss, and they'll be looking forward to seeing her again when the book is closed." -Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of Fragile

... Fresh setting, well-realized characters, cleanly written, with a mysterious and suspenseful story - just what I was looking for." - Daniel Woodrell, award-winning author of The Death of Sweet Mister and Winter's Bone

Did you catch that? WINTER'S BONE! The man who wrote maybe one of the most interesting thrillers I've read in years thinks Sara's book is great. He's right.

And now, you get to be one of those people who reads a book before everyone else. For the first time, I'm having a book contest for someone else's book. I couldn't be starting off with better material.

Here's how it works. Leave a comment, something along the lines of "I believe my quality of life would improve by the addition of a taut little thriller." I will draw a number randomly from a hat, or possibly a cat. If I can figure out a way of doing this so that the cats or toast are involved, I'll film it and put up a link. Either way, the contest ends a week from today at 3pm PST.

Good luck.

UPDATE: Sara will autograph it for the winner!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's My Birthday, Too

Next week will be the sixth anniversary of starting the blog. I'm almost reflexively unsentimental, but I did look backwards this week and noted how in the earliest blogs I was less mesmerized by toast and didn't understand where to place periods with regards to quotation marks. I'd correct those but that seems disingenuous and you know I'm nothing but an ingenue.

The traditional presents for the sixth anniversary are candy and iron; no, really. I toyed with buying myself a flintlock draped in caramels, but I couldn't think of where to put it and I don't need the calories. Besides,the blog isn't my spouse so much as a child, a child who alternately exhausts and charms me. Like a child, it's grown and changed. Like a child, it's kept me up nights. Like a child, once or twice the blog has vomited all over the back of my car.

And now the blog-kid and I begin a brand-new adventure. The blog begat the book, which begat two whole bookstore-readings. Each time, reading my book to a small but appreciative audience (many of whom were there because they're kind of related to me), I'd think "I LOVE READING MY BOOK OUT LOUD!" Then I'd sigh inwardly and think, "Oh, if only I could read my book to people, but at their ease and convenience, ideally in a way where I didn't actually have to look at them," because I'm oddly shy.

A year passed.

And then, in a flash, it came to me. I would read a chapter of my book into this newfangled device they call a microphone and through a magical series of interactions probably involving countless hamsters on wheels and monkeys slaving away at typewriters, I could offer one chapter on iTunes and Amazon.

And so I did.

Let's get this out of the way; it's not free. It is .99 cents on Amazon and 1.99 on iTunes. The 1.99 on iTunes is because it's over ten minutes, which means iTunes has declared it too long to be worth less than a dollar. I don't pretend to understand what makes Steve Jobs happy besides black turtlenecks, so I can only say that at over thirteen minutes, it's fifteen cents a minute. If there's interest--if enough people besides me think my reading my book is a good idea-- I'll take whatever I make and plow it back into studio time for more chapters. If you're interested, look to your right and see where it says "Audio Books/Chapters"? That's where you would click.

I waited a year to do this in part because I'm dithery like that and in part because bringing a mercenary element to a blog is always socially awkward. So, let me assure you that this is a side-activity for me; I won't scorn you if you don't have to buy the chapter. But I will say this; I think it came out pretty well.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have some flintlock-caramels to eat.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie World

As I’ve mentioned before, I love the Planet Money podcast. For those people who haven’t listened (i.e. the uncounted masses cooler than I am), this is a podcast dedicated to breaking down ungainly economic problems and theories into bits even my brain can contemplate. Whether it’s doll-houses standing in for Collateralized Debt Obligations or using one man’s battle to store mangos to explain how nearly impossible it will be for the economy of Haiti to change, I spend twenty minutes listening to one of their podcasts and something opaque becomes lucid. I am, in a word, wiser. Today, I’m going to use the Planet Money model to try to explain why so many stars go to awards shows in terrible dresses. Because it’s me, you won’t be wiser. Then again, it’s fashion; it would be weird to be wise about fashion. And then I will make a prediction, because after writing about something twice in a row, I am led to understand that I'm now An Expert, and Experts make Predictions.

Let’s say you have to go someplace formal; a relative’s wedding. You don’t have a formal dress. You need a formal dress.

(This is all going to assume you’re female or have very understanding relatives.)

Your priorities are probably something like “I want this to flatter me, be appropriate, fit well enough so I don’t appear to be smuggling yams and cost less than adding a new bathroom to the house.”You go to the store. You might even go to a few stores. Let’s be honest, you go to a ton of stores. But in the end, we’re assuming you found a dress meeting nearly all the specs. You looked attractive and appropriate. So when the awards shows roar into life every January, you look in confusion at the television and think, “These women have access to every dress in the world and they’re shaped like JV cheerleaders. Why do they look so godawful?”

Go back to the formal wedding. Perhaps your sister told you her daughter’s wedding was going heavy on pink and green so you might want to pick those colors to look nice in the family pictures. So as you’re drifting around the store, you’re automatically thinking about the previous priorities, but in Palm Beach colors. Now, you’re a starlet getting ready for the People’s Winner Shining Lifetime Achievement Style Awards. First, there are your priorities:

  1. I want to be beautiful so everyone at the show looks at me and gives me jobs. Many jobs. Being beautiful is paying me a fair amount but staying beautiful is costing me twice as much. Many, many jobs.

  2. I want the dress to be so striking that many photographs of me end up in magazines all over the world, causing people to demand to see me in many movies. I want people in Bangalore and Tunisia to know me and want to see me as The Girlfriend in a Michael Bay movie.

  3. I want to be sexy but ladylike. Kind of Audrey Hepburn and Bridget Bardot combined, and I don’t care if that’s impossible.

Also in the dressing room is her stylist, the person being paid a great deal of money by the starlet to get her into the perfect dress. Here is the stylist’s priorities:

  1. I want her to be beautiful, but striking. Really unusual. Have you been to Los Angeles? Everyone is beautiful; my barista this morning could have launched a thousand ships. Starlet here has to have something different going on, otherwise the photographers will just assume she’s the call-girl the producer hired for the evening.

  2. I want her look to scream “I WAS DRESSED BY THIS PARTICULAR STYLIST!!!” because I just bought the most incredible mid-century house in Bel-Air with the tiniest touch of systemic wood-rot and I need all the other starlets to notice all the attention she’s getting and use their seven brain cells to decide that what got her the attention was how I dressed her. So what if my girls are known for five-inch wedges this spring and Princess here can’t walk in wedges? She can lean on that boyfriend of hers, the one pouting in the corner because Armani won’t design him a special tuxedo.

  3. Bridget Bardot means she wants cleavage and Audrey Hepburn means she wants eyeliner. Done and done. I’ll listen to everything she says and then suggest the same five designers with whom I have the best relationship and, possibly, a fairly profitable kick-back system. I mentioned the wood-rot is systemic, right?

And there’s the publicist, and her priorities:

  1. Pictures of the starlet in magazines.

  2. Pictures of the starlet in magazines.

  3. Pictures of the starlet in magazines wearing the designer she also happens to represent.

And, of course, the designer:

  1. Pretty dresses are nice and incredibly boring. I yawn to tears at the thought of something fitted at the natural waist, in a flattering color, with a side slit. Those dresses sell themselves and even the moronic editors at the weekly rags know they’re boring. Unless my girl dies directly after the show, no one will ever run a picture of the pretty dress. And if my name isn’t getting into the rags, those lovely people in all those states I’ve never actually entered won’t know to buy my perfume and handbags. The profit on perfume and handbags holds up my empire and allow me to continue to renovate my chateau in the South of France which has forty bedrooms, one bathroom and a touch of systemic stone-rot.

  2. I love a dress which allows me to yammer. Pretty dresses speak for themselves. A dress which was influenced by my winter in Marrakesh and my subsequent stay at Betty Ford, with a bustle which alludes to my brief stint as a Folies Bergere dancer? There’s no end to the publicity there.

The boyfriend can be pretty much ignored. He’ll continue to pout about his tuxedo but people who’ve been in that room assure me that just when you think you’ve nearly got the Starlet settled on the right dress, he’ll pipe up that it makes her calves look thick, and everyone shakes the fashion Etch-a-Sketch and starts all over again.

So, you see now. The only thing everyone agrees upon is that the Starlet must get noticed. She must be noticed because she’s wearing the color of the year (Greige? Hi! So good to see you!), or because the dress causes even the most jaded eye to stop and gape in wonder. And then everyone in the room screams “Beautiful!” only they aren’t using it the way you usually do.

And now, my prediction. Somewhere on the west side of Los Angeles, a young and somewhat gullible actress is being assured by a dressing-roomful of people that this (GRIEGE) dress is the perfect one for the Oscars.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dark Globe

Fun fact about my family; we have only one television. Usually, this doesn't matter, because one person can DVD on a computer and one person can watch something about dinosaurs on the TV and I can hide in the bathroom and do a crossword puzzle. But sometimes we come to cross purposes.

Tonight is such a night.

The kid spent the better part of today doing homework. She did it with something approaching grace (which can also look like the whining was kept to a minimum and away from my ears). As a reward, she got to watch TV on a Sunday night, something which doesn't always happen. She chose "Chased By Dinosaurs." Again. Because it's on Roku, she gets the TV. Because I'm sufficiently caught up on CGI's ability to recreate the Devonian era, I'm hiding in the office. But some part of me wants to do something I haven't done in years. Tonight, I long to see the Golden Globes.

I have no idea why. One of the smaller pleasures of giving up the entertainment industry was never having to give a @#!*% about the awards season again. And if you, as I have, decide that thinking spiteful, negative things about strangers probably isn't good for your soul, the awards season is best given a total pass. Years pass and the only reason I know the awards season has come and gone is that at least three times each spring I'm trying to get across Los Angeles and I notice there's a high percentage of limousines and they're ALL IN FRONT OF ME and then I remember there's an awards show that night. I keep my award-season blinders on and I like it that way.

And yet there's a remarkably credible primordial shark-thing swimming across my television screen which reminds me of certain actresses I've know. So I've gone online and I'm going to cherry-pick a few images I've seen of women dressed for the Golden Globes and comment upon them. I will begin this by saying that were I forced to dress myself for a highly-photographed event right now, not only would I be on the worst-dressed list, they'd create a new category for me. So I have no reason to judge. Which is why I shall now judge. But I'll always begin with the positive.

This is Julie Bowen, who is hysterical on a show called "Modern Family." In real life, Julie is the mother of three small children, including a set of twins, and yet has a lean, athletic figure. She's funny, successful and has the same fat content of a tofu burger. Now that we've established that, can we please discuss this color? This color is called "Greige." See? 'Cause it's grey and beige. Greige. It's been a hot color in nail polish among the in-the-know this fall. People who are in-the-know view wanting to be attractive as suburban and trite, choosing instead to be edgy and bedecked in a color last seen adorning the walls of an Army PX. I tried on three versions of greige polish; each time, I resembled someone dredged from the river after a few days. Some visionaries in the fashion industry decided the only thing better than bits of greige on the tips of our fingers would be an intermittently ruffly field of greige. History will prove them wrong.

Julianne Moore is a deservedly critically-acclaimed actress who doesn't, as far as I can see, inject her face with Botulism. She does, however, travel back in time and attend evening weddings in 1983.

Michelle Williams chooses to make wonderful independent movies, giving pitch-perfect performances. She has handled her private life with elegance and real grace. This evening, she has chosen to wear a tablecloth from a bridal shower. And look! Greige! Draining the color from another hapless victim!

And speaking of tablecloth, wasn't it nice of the Golden Globe people to give us a picture of how they're folding the napkins at each place setting... oh, sorry, Jennifer. You just really, really look like a giant folded napkin with a napkin ring around your waist. But may I note that you're a television perennial who could probably buy and sell me and were, we're told, the muse for the song "Your Body is a Wonderland"?

Leighton Meester, you are very popular and on a show everyone was very excited about for a while. You are now in a movie and people indicate you can both act and sing. If you can dance-and I have no reason to believe you cannot-that will make you a triple threat, like Liza Minnelli, Rita Moreno or Tommy Tune. Your dress, however, is from the "Big Love" collection. And I would be remiss if I didn't note it was greige. You have entirely different coloring from the last two victims and yet you also appear somewhat unwell.

Elisabeth Moss is wonderful on my favorite tv show, "Mad Men." She...actually, I don't know that much about her. Let's assume I can also commend her on never committing art fraud. However, she chose to wear a bias-cut dress which has turned her into a marsupial. I understand bias-cut dresses can't be fitted, but was there no other dress in all of Christendom? Did she owe the designer a favor? Should I be commending her on her loyalty to a friend? Also, she probably never committed art fraud.

Eh. At least it's not greige.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Stage is a World of Entertainment

You know you’ve waited too long to write when your mother calls and says, “Are you okay?” Yeah, it’s 2011, I’m a grown woman (grown enough so that the AARP keeps sending me some version of Save the Date cards) and my mother is reminding me to write to my friends on the intertubes.

Lots of stuff going on around here, but nothing to talk about. And stuff I can talk about is about the kid and I won’t talk about her. So I decided you all are getting...


Because people always like previews, right?

Oh, fine. Then just eat your overpriced candy and your Jacuzzi o’soda and try to remember if you locked the back door before you left the house.


Black screen.

VOICE-OVER MAN: ...In a world where honor is lost and people are wearing acid-washed jeans again, one woman stands alone, daring to ask the question-

CUT to QUINN, in her hallway, looked puzzled.

QUINN: Has no one seen my keys?

VOICE-OVER MAN: ...Action...

(Quick cuts of QUINN driving DAUGHTER places, CONSORT sitting under the computer table with a handful of cords, the CAT quietly vomiting on to a washcloth)

VOICE-OVER MAN: ...Adventure...

(Cut to QUINN driving, while rummaging through her purse. She finds something, throws it to DAUGHTER in the back seat)

QUINN: Here! Breath mints! There’s your snack!

(Cut to CONSORT dragging Christmas tree out the front door.)

CONSORT: Evil little (soundtrack covers word for preview), you fit through this door three weeks ago. Ah, (soundtrack covers word), stupid (more soundtrack) (still more soundtrack) tree poked me in the (soundtrack) eye! Mother-(perhaps we use opera, for the length and volume of the notes).

(Cut to CATS, doing something ill-advised with tinsel.)

VOICE-OVER MAN: ...Romance...

(Cut to dog, letting an unwitting guest know he finds her terribly compelling.)

VOICE-OVER MAN: ...From the people who brought you QUINN 2010...QUINN 2011.

(Cut to Quinn, in the car, driving, and child in back seat. The dog is in the passenger seat. The car is blaring someone slowly and carefully saying “You are a businessman. You are a businessman,” then saying the same in Chinese. )

QUINN: I’m getting too old for this...ooh, look! Burrito food-truck!

(The car abruptly veers to the right and the screen goes black.)

On the screen is written, Coming to a house and a mom-car near you.