Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Presidential Two-steps

Being leader of the free world (do we still use that phrase?) is fine, but the important issue is--can the candidate move with panache?

Here's a link to CNN's Jeanne Moos' two-and-a-half minute video on Obama & Guiliani's dance efforts. It's cute, but you have to endure a 15-second commercial first

It must be said, however, that prowess on the dance floor is hardly a determinant for presidential ability. George Washington danced well and was a sought-after partner, according to biographers. Abraham Lincoln, otoh, was a terrible dancer.

In the movie Young Mr. Lincoln, Mary Todd (played by Ruth Gordon) tells Abe, "You said you wanted to dance with me in the worst way, and I must say that you’ve kept your word!”

Monday, October 29, 2007

WGA: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

A friend sent me the latest deliniation of writer/directorial responsibilities in the event of a WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike, from Variety.

Here are a few gems, as I read it.

  • Writers who direct are screwed. If they change so much as a stage direction on a script, they can be disciplined by the WGA. If they don't change what must be changed, they can be sued for breach of contract by their producers.

  • Since the DGA (Directors) has a no-strike clause, they must cross picket lines. . . but they can and should ask their producers to indemnify them as they do so, in writing. (presumably, writing such a contract would not be breaching the writing strike)

  • About 1400 people belong to both unions--the WGA and DGA

I have a new appreciation of my lackluster freelance status. As far as I can tell, I cannot be sued by anyone for writing or not writing anything.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


"Not too long ago only the giants of the mainstream media world—the Tom Wolfes and the Joan Didions—were bona fide media personalities. It was a class you aspired to, and few reached. "

So says an article by Doree Shafrir, "Fame and Obscurity at the New York Times," published in the New York Observer. "That was before anyone with a blog and a Flickr account could burrow into a writerly niche and, if all went according to plan, come out burnished by the soft glow of Internet fame. "

Oh, sigh, for that soft glow! But enough about me; the article goes on. To summarize the last century of journalism: "First came work, then came the brand."

Now, however, we must all be branded--an idea Shafrir traces to the 1997 article "The Brand Called You" by Tom Peters. And that includes journalists and writers.

Until the 1970s, the NY Times used bylines for only a few, front-page story reporters. Today, young tyros are hired and positioned because of their names and the following they've built up through blogs and networking sites.

I've been hearing agents and editors talk about branding and platforms since I started going to writing conferences six years ago. I keep hoping such talk will become passe. It seems to have gone mainstream and become part of the conventional wisdom that all writers must now learn. . . surely that's the last step before obsolescence?

The article is thought-provoking and touches on many elements of our me-culture. This quote stuck out:

"Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway, who wrote in 2000 that personal branding is “distasteful for being blatantly ambitious, sneaky and superficial.” . . .

"Today, being “blatantly ambitious” has different overtones; we live in an era in which we’ve convinced ourselves that nearly any behavior is okay, as long as we’re up front about it. The only thing worse than blatant ambition, after all, is false modesty."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

American Heritage Re-Birth

American Heritage is coming back!

Of course, that doesn't mean that it'll be the same magazine. The old American Heritage, after all, was not making money. That's why it suspended publication, right? So it stands to reason that the new owner, Edwin S. Grosvenor, will make some changes.

According to a NY Post story, those changes include hiring John F. Ross, formerly of the Smithsonian Magazine, as editor.

The Forbes family will retain 25% ownership in the magazine, which will resume publication in December 2007/January 2008.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Words o' Wisdom

You just never know when a bit of brilliance will strike.

I've never heard of Carolyn Hax, advice columnist--not surprising, since I don't read advice columns. But my eye fell on this yesterday, while skimming the articles in the Los Angeles Times Calendar section:

This is how people work: They do what they want. Consciously or not. Don't be distracted by all the colorful stuff they do or say to rationalize it.
That must either be a Zen coen or an AA maxim.

And doesn't it explain a lot about friends/family that we tend to rationalize?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Strike? Doesn't that Imply Steady Employment to Begin With?

Funny op-ed piece by Rob Long in the Los Angeles Times, about what types of writing might actually be forbidden if there is, in fact, a writer's strike. Not being a screenwriter, I usually just skim both the daily updates in the Times Calendar section and the editorials, but this made me laugh during jury duty. (the lovely patio is at the 18th St. Coffee Shop in Santa Monica, which is mentioned in Long's essay.)

As a professional writer, I've always been pretty good at not writing. Not writing, in fact, is one of my chief skills. I can not write anywhere -- on a plane, in a coffee shop, in my office -- and I often feel that a day spent without not writing is a day wasted. I even keep a notebook by the side of the bed, in case I wake up with an idea at 3 in the morning and don't want to write it down in case I don't forget it.

That first paragraph sounds a lot like 17 different advice articles I read about writing in my subscription magazines last month. Advice articles generally suck (even mine).

So, obviously, the prospect of a writers strike puts me in a curious position. Among the many proclamations and communiques issued by the leadership of the Writers Guild of America, as it marches its membership to glorious and pointless suicide, is an alarming list of things we're not supposed to do if there's a strike. Mostly, these involve some form of writing, which is something I tend not to do anyway. . . .

Read the rest here.

(Let's face it, if you want today's news on the writer-corporate studio negotiations, you must turn on the TV or computer. The paper will only tell you what sticking point were they haggling over yesterday.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

First Edition Hobbit

Here is a literary anniversary I missed last month.

On September 21, 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: There and Back Again was published in London in a limited edition of 1500 copies, with illustrations by the author. The publication was announced in the New York Times.

One of the 1500 copies is for sale at, for 8,500 pounds, or $17,288. That's where I got this picture.

Wonder if it comes with pipeweed?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Congress Acts . . . on a 1915 issue

The only issue on which Congress--or at least the House--is showing consensus and dynamism is the resolution that declares Turkey's actions against Armenia a genocide.

That's true; it is. Was. in 1915, when it happened.

It's fine that Congress wants to make a grand, ethical statement.

Do they have to dig back 92 years to find something they can all agree on?

Do they have nothing else to posture over, besides deaths that occurred 92 years ago?

Will we have to wait till 2099 to see action on global warming or the defense budget?

Congress' lack of attention to the many pressing matters that threaten this country is an embarrassment. Do our representatives think we won't notice if they point a finger at the Ottoman Empire?

Should I be glad that they're not picking on gays, for once, or trying to keep women barefoot and pregnant?

Please tell me there's something better I can do with my voting rights than to support these bozos.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ann Coulter: Give her enough rope . . .


Here is what she said on CNBC, with Donny Deutsch. I'm taking this from the Editor and Publisher website, which has the transcript of the interview.

columnist/author Ann Coulter suggested that the U.S. would be a better place if there weren't any Jewish people and that they had "perfected" themselves into -- Christians."
Asked by Deutsch regarding whether she wanted to be like "the head of Iran" and "wipe Israel off the Earth," Coulter stated: "No, we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say. ... That's what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament."

If Ann Coulter represents Christians, I'll take the fires of Gehenna any day.

Literature Awards and Nominees

Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature!
At last, someone whose work I've read! Someone I like! (especially her sci-fi)

And National Book Award Finalists include Christopher Hitchens (betcha he won't thank Jesus in his speech!) (yeah, I know, everyone else made that joke too), Sheman Alexie, and the author of a biography on Ralph Ellison, Arnold Rampersad.

Other finalists are in the AP Release. I'm gonna try to make Amazon links now.

My favorite Doris Lessing:Shikasta: Re, Colonised Planet 5 (George Sherban Emissary)
But there's also:The Golden Notebook: Perennial Classics edition (Perennial Classics)
Christopher Hitchens: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Arnold Rampersad: Ralph Ellison: A Biography

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

50 Best Breasts in Movie History

It's to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's . . . noble!

Another motivation might be to see how many pseudonyms and catchphrases the writers could find for "Bodacious Tatas."

Don't give up before the end; the last pair's the best!


Monday, October 08, 2007

Nobel Prizes

Men whose names I can't pronounce have won Nobel Prizes for manipulating mouse genes in ways I cannot fathom. Why would I blog about that?

Sucker for sentimentality. Here's what Yahoo says about one of the winners, Mario Capecchi:
The Nobel is a particularly striking achievement for Capecchi, (pronounced kuh-PEK'-ee). A native of Italy, he was separated from his mother at age 4 when she was taken to the Dachau concentration camp as a political prisoner during World War II.
For four years, Capecchi lived on the street or in orphanages, "and most of the time hungry," he recalled in a University of Utah publication in 1997. Malnutrition sent him to a hospital where his mother found him on his ninth birthday. Within two weeks they left for the United States, where he went to school for the first time, starting in third grade despite not knowing English.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Queries, Emailed

Many magazines accept emailed queries nowadays--which means, they're often getting swamped with them.

I have heard that some editors, in an effort to sift the chaff, delete those queries that use free email addresses, like yahoo, gmail, sbcglobal, earthlink, verizon, and especially aol.

I can't verify this. (hey, if I could call up editors to chat and ask if this is true, why would I need to send queries out?) But it's definitely something to think about, and another good reason to get that website you've been promising yourself.

If there's any way to improve the odds of getting your queries read, do it!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Who is John Galt?

If Wikipedia and the Los Angeles Times can be believed (especially as they agree), October 12 is the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

The first time I read it, a well-meaning friend told me to "skip the philosophical parts--they go on for pages and pages." I never heard worse advice in my life! One can criticize or argue the book on many levels (bearing in mind, I hope, how groundbreaking and unprecedented it was in 1957) but don't skip a word. It is brilliant.

Everyone should read it, if only to get over it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Radio Fatheads

O'Reilly makes racist remarks & refuses to apologize!

Limbaugh insults U.S. soldiers!

On and on . . . these blowhards live to upset you . There's only one way to shut them up--don't listen. Turn them off. Period

Monday, October 01, 2007

Wired: "Cue the Scream"

I love Wired Magazine. 95% of it goes over my head, and 3% is gorp, but that 2% that's left . . . . priceless.

A timeline in the current issue tells of all the times that a particular scream, originally dubbed into the 1951 movie Distant Drums, has been reused in films. The audio gag is called the wilhelm scream, and you can hear it here. You can also follow the timeline, as the Wilhelm scream made it into Them, the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lethal Weapon movies, Lord of the Rings, and Toy Story.

There's a compilation video at the site. Apparently over 130 movies have used it!