November 25, 2013

Movie Review: Nebraska ***1/2

Nebraska is a really interesting-looking movie; it's filmed in black and white in a very ordinary and bleak part
of the country, and has an entire cast of unattractive people. ENTIRE CAST. The only cute person in the whole movie is Will Forte, and he's just ordinary-cute, not movie star cute.
No one else looks like a professional actor, at least not the professional actors we're used to. It's a cast of people you might see at the mall or the local diner or at a hockey game. It was striking to me, and fascinating.
Will Forte is likely to get a best supporting actor nod just because this part is such a departure from how we know him. If he does, he won't deserve it for this role - he's very good, but not great - but will probably deserve it later, after he's had more experience.
Bruce Dern is amazing as the crazy, single-minded dad and June Squibb is frighteningly real as his bitchy, no-nonsense, tough-talking, name-calling wife. Whew...she's scary.
I wanted Nebraska to be better than it was. I wanted this to be a five star review. I love Alexander Payne's sensibilities. But it missed for me. It doesn't have the depth of characters that we had in Sideways and The Descendants, it doesn't have the same kind of heart, and there are characters that seem created just to add humor (the big dufus cousins, for two).
But even though it doesn't live up to Payne standards for me, it's worth seeing.
Three and a half stars out of five for Nebraska.

November 17, 2013

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

I can't rate 12 Years a Slave, I cannot be objective about it technically. It was so disturbing to watch that I considered leaving many times, after each unspeakable act of violence and man's inhumanity to man, and that was most of the film.
The story opens with Solomon's life as a free man in New York - his idyllic home and family (which didn't seem historically correct to me, but maybe was intended, to contrast with what happens next) and then the excruciating horror begins when Solomon is kidnapped and wakes up in chains. The cruelty and violence never let up. Not for a second.
The film runs two hours and fifteen minutes, and two hours of it made me cringe, look away, brought tears to my eyes. It's unbearably sad. This period in our history is beyond comprehension.
Do I recommend that you see it? Yes, but be warned: It's not easy. Like the holocaust it's part of our history that can't be ignored. Pretending it didn't happen won't make it go away.

November 15, 2013

What More Could You Wish For Goes to Germany

How cool is this? My book What More Could You Wish For has been translated into German. The new title, Herzensdinge, means Matters of the Heart. Nice.

The book will be published next week, on November 22nd, and take a look at this fantastic cover - don't you love it? It made me laugh out loud with delight. I wrote to the publisher, Friederike Achilles, and she said, "I’m so glad you like our cover – I think it’s great, too! It perfectly illustrates your wonderful story, which I really, really loved very much. It is so funny and yet so sad from time to time. Congratulations for this fantastic novel!"

I wish it were the American cover as well.

If you read German you can get a Kindle version on Amazon. There's a print version as well but right now it's only on German Amazon. I'm so excited to hold it in my hands. Now I have to learn German.

November 3, 2013

One Person's Take on the Chicago Writers Conference

I met Shala Howell at The Chicago Writers Conference in September. Well, I'm not sure I actually met her in person (sorry, if I did,'s been a while now and my memory isn't what it used to be). I think we may have met on social media while Tweeting and Blogging about what was going on, and I love that - how many people in the writing world I've met through social media.
Anyway, Shala embraced that conference and everything she learned from the panels and presentations; social media, self-publishing, what agents and publishers are looking for, and she's making it work for her. She's new to Twitter but is doing a fantastic job, and we all know we need an online presence if we want to connect with readers. And she's writing smart, useful copy on her blog. Take a look (by the way, I'm not just posting this because she mentions me, but it didn't hurt):

“My book’s done. What’s next?” 
Notes from the Chicago Writer’s Conference, Part 2
by Shala Howell

If you’re just joining us, I’m in the process of working through my notes from the Chicago Writer’s Conference and turning them into digestible, topical tidbits on the publishing process. Last week I talked to you about how writers can tell when their book is ready to send out. This week, I want to talk about what comes next: choosing whether to pursue traditional publication or publishing your work yourself. 
I’m going to start this post off by saying that as I haven’t even made this decision for myself, I can’t possibly presume to make it for you. All I am going to do today is summarize what was said at the conference about the choice between traditional and self-publishing, and point you to a few reliable sources where you can learn more about both options.
 What traditional publishers had to say about self-publishing 
At the Meet the Publishers session, Jonathan Messinger of featherproof books frankly admitted that the stigma long associated with self-publishing is gone. In fact, demonstrated success through self-publishing can be very attractive to a prospective publisher. 
“Simon and Schuster may hate you,” Messinger said. “A small press will not.” 

Of course, there’s a caveat: If you were very successful marketing your previous book(s), your traditional publisher will probably want a new book from you. They are less likely to pick up any books you already have on the market on the theory that those books may have already saturated the market.
You can connect with Shala on Twitter: @shalahowell