And the winner for Best Picture is…

I finally finished my annual goal of watching every movie nominated by the Oscars for Best Picture, save one. I always give myself the okay to miss one, either because I can’t find the time, or I simply don’t want to see it. (Sorry 127 Hours, but watching James Franco cutoff his own arm, even with his good looks, doesn’t interest me.) This year I missed Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Just couldn’t get it in.

So, with the ceremony only a few days away, I’ve been thinking about which film will win. Seems the odds are on The Artist,  which surprises me because I didn’t think it had the mass appeal necessary. Seemed too trendy. And, while Hollywood seems to like making movies about itself, it doesn’t seem to like awarding such movies.

But back to things I’m more qualified to discuss. Which one do I think will win? Not an easy question. My obvious choice would be Moneyball, given my obsessive love of the national pastime, but, while it was entertaining, it wasn’t ‘Best Picture’ material. It was too much fun, too inspiring, too straightforward. And it had a happy ending. Let’s be honest, Best Picture winners tend to be serious and challenging, and not all that happy. Not always, but often.

Another obvious choice: Midnight in Paris. It’s about writers for goodness sake. And not just any writers but Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Stein – all writer’s I looovve and admire. Hemingway in particular. But I think it’s my love of Hemingway that put me off this movie. Sure it was funny and quirky, but the portrayal of Hemingway was, to me, uninspired and flat. And the movie, as a whole, seemed too small to win the big prize.

I did love The Artist, but my objections to it are above. Hugo was cute, and a great way to learn film history, but it was… cute. War Horse was heartbreaking and inspiring in a tragic way, while The Descendants was the same in a darkly funny way. But neither really stood out to me. War Horse was too sentimental at times, while The Descendants seemed to meander and fail in its attempt to portray big themes.

So I guess that leaves The Help and – gasp – The Tree of Life. I really enjoyed The Help. The performances were great and the story had a good mix of heart and tears and laughs. It certainly challenged me to look at that time and place differently. And I think it has a decent chance of winning. And The Tree of Life, while ambitious and pretentious, beautiful and confusing, was not as terrible as I think people want to make it out to be. I’m still not sure what I was experiencing, and Malick might have aimed farther than he could reach with what he was trying to encapsulate on film, but I was certainly moved by it. And I do think it’s more than just a series of pretty pictures, as some are trying to dismiss it as. At the start, I was pulled out of the film by the cinematography. It was less of an aid to the storytelling and more the storytelling itself. But, eventually, the two came together, and I was able to let the amazing shots wash over me as I became immersed in the story. But I do think, while one of my favorites, it has little chance of winning.

With all that being said, I’m back to my original question: which one do I think will win? Honestly, I have no idea. I enjoyed them all to varying degrees. And disliked different aspects of them to varying degrees. But none – or even two or three – really stood out. So I guess I’ll just have to wait for Sunday.

A Wrinkle In Time in 90 Seconds

Had to quickly post this. Thanks to my pal Mike for showing it to me.

A Wrinkle In Time has been my favorite book since I first read it in middle school. It was so intricate and expansive that, even as a kid, I think I respected what Madeline L’Engle had done so successfully. That, and I loved how reading it over and over again led to understanding more of it. I felt like, and still do, I was putting together a puzzle with each read – and I am a sucker for all types of puzzles. Anyway, it’s definitely a book that needs to be read more than once.

That being said, I can also very much appreciate a little fun at the book’s expense, especially when I believe it’s s out of love. Let’s face it, A Wrinkle In Time is one out-there story with some crazy characters and heady plot lines, all of which, I believe, lend it easily to spoofing.

My favorite part of this video: when “Meg” asks what tessering is, and Mrs Whatsits (I’m assuming) starts to explain only to have Meg immediately say, “Okay, I get it.” That’s too funny. The whole thing, really, is too funny. Well done to all those who made it, particularly the kids – nice acting – and the writer. (Of course, I had to give a shout out to the writer.)

Austin SCBWI Conference Roundup

Austin SCBWI Conference Roundup

Had a great day out at the Austin SCBWI (short for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, although I prefer to say Sh-weeb-wi) Regional Conference. Heard from some really entertaining and inspiring writers and industry professionals. Lisa Yee and Anastasia Suen, I have no idea where you ladies find so much energy for the early morning sessions, but thanks for helping get the day started right and for sharing your writing/publishing experiences. Really enjoyed both presentations.

Another big success for me was listening to Jill Corcoran, an agent from Herman Agency. Her general assembly presentation on the role of an agent was informative, as was her session on writing a query letter and synopsis. That’s the stage I’m approaching soon, and it is an area, frankly, I know very little about. She broke it down piece by piece and made it sound easy, although I still bet it won’t be that easy for a first timer. Either way, I don’t feel as clueless as I did before about writing them.

The other sessions were great, too, and everyone was so nice. That’s something I always love seeing at events catered to the writing community. Camaraderie over competition. It’s inspiring.

And I definitely left inspired. Although, if I’m honest, part of me also leaves conferences a little intimidated when I see just how many people (keeping in mind this was only a local conference) have the same dream I do. It always makes me think, Man, I hope I can write well enough to do this so my voice will be heard. But as we learned in the final session of the day, all a writer needs to do is relax and kick the self-loathing in the you-know-where. Worrying does no good. Writing, however, does.

Five break-ups!

Five break-ups!

Last night I had a great time out at Cheer Up Charlies for the latest edition of Five Things. For those who aren’t familiar with Five Things, it’s a reading/performance series here in Austin that asks five artists to present five minute pieces interpreting a topic. This time, five talented, local (mostly and closely) writers read pieces related to the topic of “Break-Ups.”

Most of the readings were funny (‘cause frankly you just gotta laugh at tough things), some were serious (‘cause sometimes laughing at tough things is immature and a sign you’re in denial), and all were smart and entertaining.

Special handclap to Travis Klunick, a reader and a member of a little group of writer’s I’m in, mostly as a plan to sit and absorb all their amazing talent for myself. Yours was, in my humble abd non-biased opinion, the funniest yet most poignant piece.

Job well done by all and look out for the next event coming in April (I think that’s what I heard last night, but I could be wrong. It was late.)! Check their website to be sure, http://fivethingsaustin.com/

Hero, a short story

The other day I was playing around with writing flash fiction and wrote this silly little short story instead. It’s quick and goofy, so I thought I’d share it. It is about 1,000 words, though, so be warned it might take more than 30 seconds to read.

 

It was the first butt Bobby had seen glued to a locker.

It happened during recess of fifth grade lunch. He’d been waiting in the tetherball line when he’d heard about it, then rushed to see with everyone else, shoving his way through the school doors into a crowd of kids gathered in the hallway. Two teachers were there, too, holding up towels to block the view while the janitor worked to rip the kid free. Rip. Bobby shuddered at the thought.

It took him a while to fight through everyone to see who was stuck, but eventually he got a good look at… Laurence Borduck.

The poor kid, pants at his ankles and butt firmly affixed to locker, was trying to pull away but getting nowhere, like when Tom has Jerry by the tail. He was crying, but, despite the fussing kids and scolding teachers, he still looked determined.

Of all the kids, of course it would be Laurence, Bobby thought. To call him a nerd was unfair to the other fifth grade nerds, the ones like Bobby who did their best to go unnoticed, the nerds who preferred to pass their classes quietly in the back of the room. Not Laurence. He was the kind of kid who knew he was smarter than everyone else and reveled in it. He’d happily shout out right answers after kids got them wrong without waiting for teachers to call on him first. When adults asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he’d say astrophysicist, while most 11-year-olds just shrugged as they struggled to replace superhero or princess with more grownup answers. Heck, he was the kind of kid that insisted on being called Laurence instead of Larry or LB or anything less dorky.

Still, with all his annoying quirks, Bobby didn’t think he deserved to be embarrassed like this. No kid did.

With only minutes left in lunch, Bobby heard a slow, stuttering sucking sound, like a sticker being yanked off a window. Laurence was free. As the teachers led the sobbing boy away, one slow step at a time, Bobby heard a chuckle behind him. Not a laugh of innocent immaturity, but one of mean accomplishment. Bobby turned to see Mark “The Knife” Hawthorne, with a too-big smile on his face, watching Laurence leave.

Unlike Laurence, there was nothing unique about The Knife. He was a bully, plain and simple, cut and dry. He pushed third graders down for walking too close to him. He took fourth graders’ desert and ate it in front of them while they whimpered. And he forced any fifth graders who sat near him in class to let him copy their work.

Including Bobby.

Watching The Knife sneer, Bobby decided two things: he’d had enough of the The Knife; and, he hadn’t yet given up on being a superhero.

So, after school, Bobby walked over to Laurence’s. As he approached the front door, he picked up a blade of grass and rolled it in his fingers before sticking it between his teeth. Then he paused and flicked his nose with his thumb. Maybe his mom was right. Maybe he read too many comic books. But there was something in those pictures that seemed clear to Bobby, whether he had superpowers or not: if you could help someone in need, you had a responsibility to do so.

            “Hi, Mrs. Borduck. Laurence here?”

            “Hi, Bobby. He is, but, you know, I don’t think he’s up for visitors.”

            “Well, could you tell him I’m here and that I’d really like to talk to him.”

            “Sure. Just wait here.”

            After a few minutes, Laurence shuffled to the door.

            “Whaddaya want? To laugh at me?” he asked as he rubbed his back.

            “No. I wanna help you get back at The Knife.”

            “Oh really? And how ya gonna do that?”

            “The same way all superheroes beat their villains, by taking away their power. I’m gonna make it so kids aren’t afraid of him anymore.”

            “Superheroes? Villains? What are you talking about? Little you is gonna beat up The Knife with your super strength?” Laurence asked, laughing.

            “Look, do ya wanna get back at him or not?” Bobby asked, unfazed.

            “Of course I do. I hate that guy, always grabbing my books and throwing them.”

            “Well, I know a way you can. You know that presentation we have to make in Ms. Willsey’s class tomorrow?” Laurence nodded. “Do it on milk.”

            “What? Milk?! Now I know you’re crazy.”

            “He’s afraid of it.”

            “Of milk? The Knife’s afraid of milk? How do you know?”

            “Watch him go through the lunch line at school. You’ll see. He almost vomits on the lunch lady when she offers him milk.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “It’ll get him good. I promise.”

Bobby spent all night planning, with his posters of Spiderman and Batman looking on. If I pull this off, Bobby thought, all the school’s bullies will be on notice.

The next day in class, Laurence volunteered to go first. Dressed as a milk carton, he got up and gave an excruciatingly detailed presentation on milk, complete with papier-mâché cow.

And samples. Those had really sent The Knife over the edge. From the moment Laurence stood up, Bobby watched The Knife squirm in his seat and slowly turn green. He even gagged when Laurence demonstrated milking. And when the samples came out, sweat formed on his forehead.

            “Ms. Willsey,” The Knife said as Laurence poured. “I don’t feel good. Can I go to the nurse?”

            “My, Mark, you don’t look good. Yes you may. Just hand in your report first.”

As Laurence handed out cups of milk, The Knife searched his backpack furiously. When Laurence was only two desks away, The Knife turned it over and spilled its contents into his lap. “I can’t find it. But I did it this time, Ms. Willsey. Honest. Maybe it’s in my locker. Can I go look?”

            “Be quick.”

He jumped from his desk and ran just as Laurence offered him a cup. “I’ll be right back.”

He wasn’t.

For, when he got to his locker and ripped it open, he was greeted by a bucket of milk falling and spilling all over his head. Two girls walking in the hallway said they heard him scream, “It burns! My nose! It’s burning my nose!” before he stripped off his shirt and pants and ran down the hall and out the doors.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, Bobby shoved a report entitled ‘Scorpions by Mark Hawthorne’ deeper into his backpack.

Book or nook?

Ok, I know I just highlighted a video in my last post, and trust me when I say I don’t want to become just another outlet for YouTube, but I saw this video and thought it was really clever.
Having recently become a nook user, and having experienced the frustration of sitting down to read and finding my battery dead and having to wait 15 minutes for it to charge enough so I could read, I can identify with the message. When it happened, my first thought was instantly, ‘Well, this never would have happened with an actual book.’
The first minute or so of the video is parody and is the best. The pacing’s a bit slow but that’s probably just the film nerd in me coming out. The second half, while it posts some interesting questions, is a little preachy. And, to be honest, I really don’t mind the world becoming more digital. The tree-hugger in me thinks it’s not so bad if we don’t use as much paper. But I would also be quite sad to see books disappear completely. A machine can never beat their feel or smell.
Anyway, agree or disagree, it’s very clever.

The Wonderful World of Books on Film

Saw this great short film the other day. It worked for me on a few levels. First, I love the quick tributes to silent film. There’s a little Harold Lloyd moment and of course some Charlie Chaplin.

But mainly I love the message of it. The idea of books being able to lift us up and take us anywhere we want to go. And that they truly come alive when we read them. I wish everyone felt this way about books.

It’s a little long, for a web video, about 15 minutes. But it’s worth watching. The full-circle ending is inspiring and will probably make you smile.