Summer, part 3 (August 2008: Inbrief)

Quote of the Month:

 “What you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” Twyla Thorpe in The Creative Habit



 1) Family Reunion: The Eureka-Slo family traveled twelve hours across the country – far away from our computers – to spend three days in a tiny southern Illinois farm town to visit with almost every cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandparent on my dad’s side, and then traveled twelve hours back home. We were rather unsure about this plan, but ended up having a fantabulous time. 


2) Met two members of my online group—live and in person—at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant. Yum! Fun to meet Kurtis, his wife, and Jonathan’s wife all in real life.


Fiction Books Finished:

 *** ½ The Sweet Far Thing, by Libba Bray- review coming soon


*** Size Twelve is Not Fat, by Meg Cabot- a twenty-eight-year-old ex-teen popstar tries to rebuild her tattered life while working as student supervisor in a college dorm. Then girls start mysteriously falling down the dorm elevator shaft. The police rule the cases accidents, but Heather Wells suspects murder. Fun chick-lit murder mystery and a fast read.


Non-Fiction Books Finished:

 *** ½ The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

*** Great American Hypocrites, by Glenn Greenwald



 *** SherryBabyMaggie Gynllenhaal gives a terrific nuanced performance as troubled Sherry, a recovering drug addict trying to put her life together and reconnect with her five-year-old daughter after being released from jail. 


TV Enjoyed:

 **** The Big Bang Theory– At face value this show–about two physicists who live across the hall from a pretty girl– should be dumb and clichéd, yet I laugh a lot every time I watch because of the excellent writing and acting.


**** Mad Men, current season

*** The Daily Show, current season


*** The Dresden Files, season 1- a short-lived wizard-detective show. I liked it well enough, but didn’t love it.


*** Psych, season 1– a lighthearted show about a slacker with excellent observational skills who passes himself off as a psychic consultant to the local police force. Another show I liked but didn’t love. 

I Know What I Did This Summer, part 2 (aka: July 2008: Inbrief)

Quote of the Month:

 “…it isn’t always easy knowing who you are and what you want, because then you have no excuse for not trying to get it.” Paul, from Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan



SCBWI Conference in Westminster, Maryland- Two days of stuff I love: information on writing, inspiring speeches, chats about children’s books, and lunch with fun friends who watch a lot of the same TV and read a lot of the same books as me.  


Fiction Books Finished:

None (I read the same 800-page book from late June to mid-August—gripping, but long.)


Non-Fiction Books Finished:

 **** Time Management from the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern- excellent book on how to live your goals.



**** Onceappealing indie film about two musicians in Dublin who help each other deal with their personal problems by making a debut album together. I enjoyed the soundtrack too.


TV Enjoyed:

 **** Dr. Horrible– Joss Whedon’s adorably tragic online mini-musical about shy Dr. Horrible’s conflicting quests to be accepted into the Evil League of Evil and to date the girl of his dreams, Penny, who he met at the Laundromat.


**** Mad Men, season 1- evocative, addictive show about advertising writers in the early 1960’s.


*** ½ Flight of the Conchords, season 1- the first show I’ve seen where each guy in the duo is the straight man. You can also check out their videos on You Tube.


*** Supernatural, season 3- I wrote a 700-word love-letter to this show here. 😉


*** How I Met Your Mother, season 3.


I Know What You Did This Summer, Part 1 (aka: June 2008 Inbrief)

Quote of the Month:
“If this is my last day on earth, I don’t want it to be socially awkward.” Dean Winchester on Supernatural


1)      “Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…”
I decided the road to health is paved with needles, stumbled over to the allergist to let them inject stuff I’m allergic to under my skin, then watched my arm puff up red.
Results? I’m extremely allergic to dust and grass pollen, and regularly allergic to tree pollen, cats, mold, and cockroaches. Really? Cockroaches?
The day after testing, I anchored myself to the couch, way too dizzy from the flood of mucus my head was using to fight those dusty grass-eating cockroaches under my skin. Stupid immune system.
 I jumped through allergy clinic hoops the rest of the month, taking ineffective medicines that left me so wired I couldn’t even read. Aye! Life without reading is NOT a life. Happily, I was approved for allergy shots, given more effective medicine, and finally left my fake drugged-out life.
2) Had three wonderfully relaxing days—mid fake-drug jag – camping at the beach. Who knew taking six teens camping could be so relaxing? The salt air cleared my head and the teens washed my dishes. Bliss.
Fiction Books Finished:
None! Allergies are evil.
Non-Fiction Books Finished:
*** The Good Teen, by Richard M. Lerner, Ph.D. -An optimistic book detailing how families can help their teens make the transition from kid to adult using a model called, “The Five C’s”. (Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.) While the five C’s model is more big-picture oriented than detailed concrete advice, I found it a positive framework to use when thinking about my own teens. (I’d read most of this in May, just finished in June.)
*** Get SmartSilly good fun with lots of exploding action sequences and a little heart— just don’t expect too much.
Sub Jobs:
My one end-of-the-year job got cancelled by a “snow day” after heavy thunderstorms.
TV Enjoyed:
**** Supernatural (finished rewatching season 2)
*** ½ Flight of the Conchords (first part of season 1) – two adorably funny novelty musicians from New Zealand try to make it in New York.
*** Battlestar Galactica Finale- What?! I wasn’t expecting that.
*** Supernatural (started rewatching season 3)

Writing Lessons I Learned While Watching Supernatural

The fourth season premiere of Supernatural is on tonight. Whoo-hoo! While I was sick, I rewatched Supernatural seasons one, two, and three to cope when I was feeling my worst. I also learned a few things about writing:
Season 1 & 2 lessons
Writing doesn’t have to be serious to be good. Supernatural season 1 & 2 episodes are fun, well-written escapism. (Also, the leads can act and the episodes are skillfully shot). There’s a new monster/mystery each week and fun elements like the brothers impersonating: cops, FBI agents, Homeland Security, reporters, and even priests. They stay at rundown highway motels, use credit card fraud to pay the bills, eat gas-mart junk food, and drive across the country in their 1967 Chevy Impala entertaining themselves with fun banter.
Each week they solve some mysterious happening by questioning citizens and doing research. Then they fight the scary spirits and demons and save nice people in horrible trouble. In addition, there’s a season long arc, so the monster of the week plots are: 1) stories on their own, and 2) clues that add up to a long story arc as well. Fun elements and good plotting make this escapism worth watching.
Good writing has likable characters.  Older brother, Dean, is basically a badass with a heart-of-gold. He’s skilled at hunting demons, playing poker, picking locks, escaping the law, and making funny quips. While he loves his 1967 Chevy Impala and listening to his collection of mullet rock, his job is his life. He’s a lot more insecure and dysfunctional than his smartass comments let on and he needs his brother to keep him going. 
Younger brother, Sam, is the “sensitive smart one”. He gave up a “full ride” at Stanford law school to help his brother find their missing dad. He’s the one strangers open up to, the one who researches demon lore, and the one who keeps Dean going. The whole show works because you care about these two brothers and their relationship.
Good writing balances humor, angst, and tension. There’s a personal story line for each brother per season to provide the angst and drama. The monsters, demons, and spirits provide plenty of scary tense happenings. Balanced between the angst and tension, there’s a lot of humor and fun. It’s that balance that makes this show work.
Season 3 lessons
While rewatching the entire show, I noticed how uneven season 3 was – maybe it was the writers’ strike or maybe it was Dean’s tricky situation. Some of the episodes are great, but some, well, they’re disappointing. Here’s what season 3 taught me about writing:
Show, Don’t Tell: If want your audience to be afraid of the terrible times ahead, show it. The Groundhog Day episode did that nicely. Why is Dean’s situation so painful for Sam? We see why – over and over. It’s heartbreaking (and pretty funny, at times, too.) 
How do you bore your audience? Have demons preach sanctimonious sermons warning of horrible happenings- again, and again, and again. Oy!
Keep the crucial fun-to-angst balance: Like concentrated dish detergent, a little angsty monologing goes a long way – too much, and there are soapsuds oozing all over my perfectly fun horror-detective show. 
Make sure your characters maintain their internal consistency: I like Sam but Dean drives this show. So when Dean’s situation starts changing him, it’s tricky stuff. The thing I like about Dean is that even though he’s a smart-ass, deep down he cares about people and doing the right thing. He likes sex, but he’s always seemed fairly respectful of women. Sure he’s afraid of getting close; we saw in season one that getting close leads to nothing but rejection for Dean. Suddenly, in season three though, Dean’s a big jerk calling women bitches left and right. True, they’re demons and thieves, but it’s a bad look on Dean. There’s a big difference between badass and asshole.
Dean also suffers from the Joey TribbianiSam Malone syndrome – where the writers can’t decide exactly how smart or stupid he is. One minute he’s perfectly smart and then the next – just to get the easy joke – he’s dumber than the beef jerky he loves. With good writing, even in trying times, characters have an internal consistency.
I can’t wait to see how things turn out in season four. Here’s wishing the new season gets back to the stellar writing I’m use to!

I’m Back

Finally! Allergies and summer activities distracted me from writing this summer. Now that I’ve tamed my allergies, (more on that in future posts) I’m challenging myself to post something every Tuesday and Friday. 
Upcoming Posts:
Thursday, Sept. 18– Writing Lessons I Learned Watching Supernatural. (I chose Thursday instead of Friday this week to coincide with the premiere of season 4.)
Tuesday, Sept. 22– I Know What I Did This Summer, Part 1- AKA, June 2008: Inbrief.
Friday, Sept.26– I Know What I Did This Summer, Part 2- AKA, July 2008: Inbrief.
Tuesday, Sept. 30– I Know What I Did This Summer, Part 3- AKA, August 2008: Inbrief.