August 30, 2013

Writing Tip: Connect With Other Authors, Like: Amy Sue Nathan

Amy Sue Nathan is the most generous of author friends. If you remember, we did our first (and thankfully last) video interview on Amy's blog last year when my book was published. Amy was a big promoter of my debut novel; writing reviews, linking to it on her blog, telling her friends about it...and we barely knew each other at the time. We connected because we share the same editor (the amazing Brenda Copeland) at the same publisher (St. Martin's Press).
Since then, through Amy, I've connected with other authors in the Chicago writing community and elsewhere. It's a she-tells-two-friends kind of thing, and I've found the author community to be amazingly supportive. And Amy's one of the best. She's a tireless supporter of authors everywhere.
Amy's book The Glass Wives debuted in May and you need to read it!
Meanwhile, get to know Amy. Here's an interview we did together:

SH: How did you come to write The Glass Wives?  
AN: I started writing The Glass Wives to see if I could write fiction, something I'd not done since I was a child. Once I was into the story I had to finish and shoot for publication. Probably because I'm stubborn and once I start something I have to finish and see it through. 

SH: Who is your favorite and why?
AN: I enjoyed writing all the characters, but my favorite characters to write were the men, Scott and Sandy. I am well-acquainted with the thoughts and ways of all different kinds of women and translating that to fiction wasn't easy, but it was natural. Making sure the men were believable was a challenge for me and a lot of fun. I liked writing the characters who were a bit selfish or nasty, like some of the Lakewood moms who showed up at soccer games and the grocery store, but if I met them in real life I wouldn't like them at all. 

SH: How do you create your characters? Are any of them based on real people?
AN: I don't base characters on real people but I do use real people and situations to help me create characters. A hair style, walk, laugh, tone of voice. All of those things and more can come from real life. Or not. I love totally making up characters too. And the best part is when someone thinks they're real.

SH: As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
AN: I always wanted to be a teacher which is one of the reasons I wrote that profession for Evie Glass. And now I'm teaching some writing workshops! But even with wanting to be a teacher I was a writer always. 

SH:  What was the hardest part of writing The Glass Wives?
AN: Definitely letting go of it and realizing I couldn't and shouldn't explain it (or even defend it) to every reader. 

SH: What do you do when you’re having a hard time moving the story forward?
AN: I usually procrastinate and do something else. I'm not a muse person, I don't have writing tricks or gimmicks I use to jumpstart my words. I just wait.

SH: Do you have any writing quirks?
AN: I need to write in the quiet. I can't write in a cafe or coffee shop or even the library. No music at all. I can get to the point where even the dogs walking around the house bugs me and I have to cover my ears, which makes it hard to type. 

August 15, 2013

Writing Tip: Promoting Your Work: First Radio...Now TV!

First I got my book published by St. Martin's Press, then I did a radio interview with Bill Moller on WGN Radio (listen here), then I did a radio podcast (listen here) and now I'm on TV! Holy crap, what could be next? I can only think it'll be my Broadway debut.
Until then (I'll make sure you get free tickets), check out this great interview about the Chicago Writers Conference, with creator Mare Swallowsocial media guru Ines Bellina and yours truly.

And be sure to register for the conference. It's going to be fantastic. Incidentally, I'm curating an evening of reading so if you want to share your work with an audience you're welcome to send your submission.

August 12, 2013

Movie Review: We're the Millers NO STARS

OH. MY. GOD. I'm not going to waste my time writing a review of We're the Millers.
Take a pass - that's my review.
I love Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Anniston. What the hell were they thinking?
Stupid plot, lousy writing, jokes that make you groan. Sudeikis does his best with the part but Anniston is just sleep-walking. 
Appallingly stupid film. Complete waste of time.
I left about an hour and a half in, and that was generous.
No stars for We're the Millers.
The end.

August 11, 2013

Movie Review: Blue Jasmine ***1/2

If I didn't know Blue Jasmine was a Woody Allen movie I don't think I'd know it was a Woody Allen movie. Blue Jasmine is unlike many of his other films. It doesn't have the humor (I prefer his subtle humor), which I missed. It doesn't have the obligatory Woody Allen-type-nebish character, which I didn't miss so much. Curiously, it's filmed in San Francisco instead of New York, and doesn't matter to the story.
It's an interesting tale of a woman spiraling into madness. Cate Blanchett is mesmerizing as Jasmine, a woman who was once wealthy and privileged, but is now penniless due to her husband's financial scandal and subsequent suicide. Now she finds herself dependent on her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and on the kindness of strangers (Peter Sarsgaard as the new man). Ginger lives a working class life with her blue collar boyfriend (Bobby Cannivale, one of my favorites), of whom Jasmine disapproves. In fact she disapproves of her sister's entire life, and here she is in the middle of it.
Think A Streetcar Named Desire. Blue Jasmine definitely pays homage to that work.
Jasmine talks to herself. She lies. She's ungrateful. She wears a beautiful Chanel jacket over and over and over. She'll do anything to get her old life back. It's fascinating to watch her descent.
But something's missing. I didn't care all that much in the end.
The performances are all wonderful. As an odd bit of casting Andrew Dice Clay is surprisingly good as Ginger's former husband.
There is, in fact, much to recommend about Blue Jasmine but all in all it's not my favorite Woody Allen film. I liked it. Didn't love it.
Three and a half stars for Blue Jasmine.

August 8, 2013

Movie Reviews: 20 Feet From Stardom, Fruitvale Station, Still Mine

It's not that I've seen all these movies this week, it's that I've seen them in the past month but haven't had time to review them. So why bother? you ask. I have no answer for that except that I love writing and I love movies...and there are one or two people who like to read my reviews. we go, let's play catch up.

20 Feet From Stardom ***** is a fabulous documentary about the unsung  heroes of music (such an obvious pun but I couldn't resist) - backup singers. In the 50s backup singers were white with a wholesome, plucky, Perry Como sound. In the 60s white bands started using black singers, often preachers' kids, for an edgier, soulful sound, and they transformed music. Some of those singers are spectacularly talented and deserve their own solo career, and once in a while that happens, but many of them go unnoticed through their whole career. Like any other creative endeavor it's not simply about talent - it's about luck and ambition and who you know.
Darlene Love is probably the most well-known backup singer and she was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 2011). Are there others who should be there with her? Undoubtedly. But as a backup singer, that's what you are: backup. This is a fascinating film about those talented artists.

Fruitvale Station ***1/2
If it wasn't for the spectacular coincidence of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial being in the news at the same time as the release of this film I doubt it would have gotten as much attention. Not that it isn't a good film. It is. It's just not a great film, but it's being treated as one.
Fruitvale Station is based on a true story about Oscar Grant III, a young black man who was needlessly killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a heart-wrenching story and even though I knew what was going to happen I kept hoping it wouldn't.
This film introduces us to Grant in the day before he was killed and we learn what kind of person he was. I felt that the filmmaker went overboard in showing us what a good guy he was. It wasn't necessary to be so heavy-handed. Did he love his daughter? Sure. Did he cheat on his girlfriend? Yes. He was a normal guy. Was he a saint? No. Did he deserve to die? No. Was it racial profiling? Pretty much.
It's a sad story. A story we hear about way too often in Chicago, about innocent people dying.

Still Mine ***1/2
I love James Cromwell so even if this were an awful movie I'd have to give it at least three stars just for having cast him in it. It's not an awful move; it's entertaining, it's sad, it's sweet, heart-warming and sentimental.
This is based on a true story of a couple in their late 80s (Genevieve Bujold plays the wife, although she's only 71 in real life) and it's the final chapter of their lives. She's falling into dementia, he's trying his best to take care of her by himself, and doesn't want any interference from their children or anyone else. He's still strong and capable, so he decides to build a smaller house, with his own two hands, which will make their lives easier.
Unfortunately, he has no knowledge or concern about building permits and plans and regulations so he blithely begins his project and then is indignant when told he must follow some rules. I wasn't able to work up any sympathy for him. I felt bad that he couldn't do it the way he wanted to but just because he's old doesn't mean he's exempt. Yes, I think bureaucracy can be debilitating but there are also safety issues, and just because someone says they know what they're doing doesn't mean they do.
Cromwell never disappoints me and his performance was wonderful. Bujold was fine but nothing more than that.
And even though I wanted him to just shut up and get the proper permits and file his damn paperwork, of course that would have been a boring movie. And I was happy in the end when he finally gets his house built his way because a judge takes pity on this old man. You know, that little-guy-fights-the-system-and-wins routine. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Rudi. Philadelphia. You get the idea. Yay! We love those kind of movies.
I just hope the house doesn't come crashing down around him and his demented wife.

August 3, 2013

Writing Tip: In the Company of Writers

St. Simon's Island
If you're a writer or an editor or a book publisher, or if you're a reader who wants to be a writer, you need to get yourself to a writing conference. There's no group that could be more supportive and encouraging. Even the bad conferences (I won't name them here) are good - you always learn something, and you always meet at least one interesting person (most likely you'll meet many more than one). I love being in the company of other writers, and so will you.
I go to at least one conference every year in some wonderful location, and sometimes I'm able to do more than one. I would do one every month if I could.
Epworth by the Sea
This year I went to the Southeastern Writers Conference at Epworth by the Sea on beautiful St. Simon's Island, Georgia, and the reason I went to that one is because I had gone to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop the year before which I went to because someone I met at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference told me I should. Are you keeping up here?
The Erma Bombeck conference was wonderful (in scenic Dayton, Ohio) and that's where I met two lovely ladies from Georgia - Debbie Brown and Jan Kelleher - and we stayed in touch on Facebook and they told me I should go to the Southeastern Writers Conference. So I did, and it was amazing. It was fabulous reconnecting with Debbie and Jan, and making new friends, and learning so much at the terrific workshops and enjoying the beautiful scenery. I mean, really...what more could I wish for? (That was a shameless plug...did you get that?)
Epworth by the Sea
So get yourself to a writers conference and I guarantee you will love it. You'll love being in the company of writers.
And...I have the perfect one for you to go to - it's coming up on September 27-29, 2013 right here in my beautiful city - Chicago, the Chicago Writers Conference.
Harold Washington, site of the Chicago Writers Conference
I just happen to be on the programming committee with the dynamic conference creator Mare Swallow, so I can tell you the panels and speakers are going to be remarkable - (lots of) something for everyone. And there will be plenty of time to socialize with authors, publishers, agents...
So, register now!
Oh, and if you'd like to participate in an evening of reading fun send your submission and you'll be considered for a special event on Saturday evening.