Category Archives: t.v.

The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: Flowers in the Attic

It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captive by green. But we were never to color even one of our paper blossoms yellow.

If you know me, you’ve heard me say that I read my childhood, rather than lived it. I started binge reading at 9. Books were brought to the dinner table, on family outings, and on car rides, where I read until I puked from the motion sickness. Benjamin Franklin is (falsely) credited with saying, “Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy,” but I say books are the real proof of a divine being.

My interests were varied. I loved stories about families living in “olden times” (Little House on the Prairie, The Witch of Blackbird Pond), graduated quickly to racier subject matter like Teens With Issues – I read Go Ask Alice before I was old enough to know that neither pot or acid cause drug overdoses. I was always especially drawn to both tragic characters (any female in a Bronte novel) and heroic ones (Pippi Longstocking, anything about Amelia Earhart). Reading was the perfect escape for a kid who was herself not the most adventurous.

My first encounter with Flowers in the Attic had me thinking it was going to be scary, as it was in the horror section. I had seen a classmate hiding it in a textbook, clearly unable to put it down. And that cover. Originally, you’d open the house cutout to reveal four creepy children, beautiful, with platinum hair and bright blue eyes rimmed with red, and a ghastly lady looming over them like a malevolent cloud. With a quick perusal of chapter titles like The Wrath of God, I was sold, even if I was kind of scared of that photo and possibly any kind of horror in general. My friends who had snuck the book off their moms’ bookshelves promised all kinds of messed up stuff going on in this book. Spoiler: there’s incest! I suspect I devoured it in one long sitting that included hiding it under the covers and losing a night’s sleep.

When Emilie told me about her Re-Reading Project, I immediately knew I had to pick it up again. It’s been decades since I first read it, but I read it over and over again throughout my adolescence and later teen years, so I always recalled it having all of the elements I love most in a good book: religious fanaticism, discovery of dark family secrets, forbidden love, starvation, general suffering, adolescent ennui, arsenic (any romantic poison), kick-ass female heroines (bonus that the main character was my age).

I dove right back in and lo and behold, I found myself unable put it down. And this is while on break from reading Dark Places, people! Here I had thought everything was so profound in this book only because I had been a teenager when I was so obsessed with it, but damned if I wasn’t again drawn in, crying in all the right places. After seeing the recent movie treatment on Lifetime (and recalling the horrible “tragedy” of a movie that came out years ago where Kristy Swanson, aka the original Buffy, played our heroine), I might have lost a little faith, but really, these movies fail to capture what is special about the book. Seems they can’t make up their mind whether to go full camp or full-on dramatic treatment. So, as a sidenote, I implore film and TV to just leave FITA alone. Unless you’re a genius.

I immediately recognized that so many phrases and images have stayed with me:

The Dresden Dolls (when the band came out, I wondered if they named themselves after the book and this is partially true).

-Singing to myself Dance Ballerina Dance while enduring many an endless ballet class.

-Whenever I see the colors red and purple, I think of Carrie because these are her favorite colors.

-The lines from when Grandmother comes in to discover Christopher staring at Cathy nekkid.

-I’ll always wish I could throw a Christmas party as grand as the Foxworths’.

-I’ll never look at powdered donuts without thinking they could mask the taste of arsenic pretty well.

-The image of that swan bed.

-Corey playing the banjo and writing depressing lyrics at the age of 7.

It certainly left a lasting impression on my developing mind (and made me appreciate my mom oh-so-much more!)

As a writer, I can’t help but notice the writing is pretty tight, the vocabulary is rich (surely it expanded my vocabulary), and VC Andrews uses adequate metaphors (not the most complex) and what may be obvious, but forgivable, foreshadowing.  There’s a trustworthy narrator who has enough distance from the subject matter. The author avoids sentimentality (barely, but just enough), quite a feat given the circumstances. Of course no one can deny her storytelling prowess.

As VC Andrews says herself, “I think I tell a whopping good story. And I don’t drift away from it a great deal into descriptive material. When I read, if a book doesn’t hold my interest about what’s going to happen next, I put it down and don’t finish it. So I’m not going to let anybody put one of my books down and not finish it. My stuff is a very fast read.”

Agreed.

I wondered, too, just who is the intended audience, keeping in mind, it was a best seller back in the day.  Bored housewives? (I swear, this is not the Fifty Shades of Grey of the 1980s. The writing is far superior.) Horror fans? Those seeking a modern day Wuthering Heights? All of the above?

My thoughts on character during this read primarily had to do with Corinne, the mother who locks her children in the attic of her ancestral home after she’s left a “penniless” widow. As a kid reading this, I just dismissed her as a bad person, and now that I’m closer to the mom’s age than the childrens’, I wanted to give her much more consideration. I wondered at first if she might be portrayed a bit two-dimensionally, a stock evil character? As a teenager, I was pretty disgusted with her weakness; the idea of a woman that wouldn’t just woman-up and go to work to support her family, but now I wondered if I might be more sympathetic to her “handicap” as a pampered housewife and mother, a grown woman of privilege. Not really.

She’s actually a master manipulator of the worst kind. “Oh but you are heartless and ungrateful children!” she laments after she comes back after long time away, during which, the kids had starved and the grandmother drugged/tarred Cathy. She’s a manipulator and even gets her Oedipal son to forgive her after that and agree that it’s she who is having a difficult time in life.

I again felt that familiar thrill when Cathy repeatedly stands up to her and in the end, demands that she take dying Corey to the hospital. I never underestimate the allowance for a strong female character. Corinne still pissed me off as a less righteous modern day feminist. Check.

I also found myself thinking, would kids these days possibly not mind being locked up with access to wifi and games (because surely Corinne would have supplied them with all of these modern necessities)? I think when I read it for the first time, I might have thought it wasn’t so bad—they had all these books and toys and treasures and Cathy could dance in the attic. On their first Christmas, Corinne had brought them a TV (impressive that the young teens were hyper aware they needed to not let the twins become idiot box addicts). I was similarly impressed when Chris tells Cathy they must go about life pursuing their dreams (becoming a doctor, dancing); force twins to learn how to read and discover their own talents.

I’m not going to dwell so much on incest here (shocking, I know), other than to say that it comes about organically and similar to how I felt reading it when I was younger, I empathized with the kids and felt they were forced into a completely perverted situation as adolescents. I don’t find it titillating, nor disgusting. I think more people concentrate on that being the biggest deal in the book, completely overlooking the fact that you can’t get more disgusting and depraved than locking away four healthy children in a room for 3 years and 4 months and then slowly killing them off. We’ve got a close first person POV, so that makes it even more profoundly disturbing. Incest, big whoop, a bigger deal when I read it the first time. VC Andrews is hardly the first novelist to write about incest, of course. There’s been incest galore ever since the Bible.

Throughout this read and after finishing, I still find myself haunted by the idea of leaving any creature that is dependent on you, no less children, alone to survive locked up, imprisoned with a caretaker that you know is a monster. To slowly die a horrible death. The sheer horror of that. What is almost inconceivable is given an unflinching treatment with adequate restraint (that is, not sensationalist, nor salacious).

The problem is, despite my love for it, the fact that this novel develops into a series (that I similarly devoured, but now have no desire to do so) does kind of cheapen everything as it devolves into more sensationalist subject matter. Not to mention all of the books that her ghostwriters put out. All of them are formulaic. All of them involve incestuous families with big secrets. The families are either extremely wealthy or extremely poor and there’s aspiration to attain riches (which happens thanks to the cliché long-lost rich relative).

One final observation: Flowers in the Attic is described on the cover of new editions simply as a “tale of forbidden romance.” Forbidden, is putting it mildly and this book is definitely not a romance novel! More like, a tale of tragic neglect and its resulting perverted consequences. To be honest, who needs any kind of statement like that on the cover of a best-selling novel (that was published decades ago)?

I almost feel at this point I could write a thesis as to the literary merit of this book, but for the sake of this fun project, I’ll end here. It would be too easy to dismiss Flowers in the Attic as a melodramatic read suitable for those seeking out scandalous entertainment. Did people similarly dismiss classic gothic novels like Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights (surely this one gave VC some inspiration)? I’m glad I gave it a “second” (or rather, tenth) chance.

Joi and FITA

Joi Brozek lives, reads and writes in New Orleans. With this re-reading of Flowers in the Attic, she’s made the stunning discovery that she’s been chasing a VC Andrews novel her entire writing life. With this in mind, she returns to the beast of a book she’s been unsuccessfully trying to finish for the past decade.

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The Re-Reading Project: Fahrenheit 451

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

I read Fahrenheit 451 right after I read Lord of the Flies, in 1996 (and I read Animal Farm within the next year). I’m ashamed to say that I remembered little to none of the actual plot, though I remembered liking it best of the three books. I didn’t even remember the cover of the copy I first read, until I did an image search for the various covers and recognized this one:

Fahrenheit 451 cover 1996

Recognizing this, admitting this, seems to go to the very heart of Fahrenheit 451 and this project. Originally, seeing that I read these three classics within a year was part of my impetus for the Re-Reading Project. I remembered having passionate reactions to reading these three books in class, hating Lord of the Flies and loving Fahrenheit 451. But in the intervening years (and decades), the details eroded away and left behind just a residue of the strong feelings, an emotion, for the books.

My memory is a funny thing. It’s not as sharp as it once was, certainly, but there are some instances and moments that I can remember with almost mythic clarity, as if watching a film. I say that I have a visual memory – working at bookstores, I often forget the authors and titles of books, but I can take you straight to the last place on the shelf that I saw it. This kind of memory makes it difficult for me to quote books, t.v. shows and movies, even if I enjoy them. But it helps me to remember faces, textures, gestures.

So for all of these years, whenever someone would mention Fahrenheit 451, I wouldn’t remember the main character (Guy Montag) or the plot (fireman charged with destroying books and the people who hold onto them is awakened to the power of books and literally becomes a book himself). What I would remember is a synesthetic mash of emotion and feeling that couldn’t be separated from who I was in 1996 when I read it and who I had become since. In a way, all of my quarterly “reviews” reflect this inability to write truly objective reviews. I am too aware of my own experience, location and personality as filters for the media that I’m consuming.

I own a copy of Ray Bradbury‘s collected short stories, a massive book since rumor is that he would write a story each and every day. I once made a goal of reading one story per day to honor this spirit and commitment of his and perhaps managed four in a row before I got overwhelmed and distracted. I’ve come to know him more for his risky, bold, playful and strange stories and I use the idea of him writing a story every day to inspire myself and other writers. Imagine the permission he must’ve felt as a writer because every day was a blank slate for a new story. He could write anything and perhaps, this was the reason he wrote so many fabulous stories (more than 600). With that level of production, he couldn’t help it.

So this is what I took into my 2014 re-reading of Fahrenheit 451: foggy, synesthetic ideas from 1996 and Bradbury’s stories and rumored intense diligence as a writer. I was shocked by what I found because my emotional, nostalgic feeling for the book was absolutely correct, but the concrete reality of it, now that I have more of an understanding for the world in which it was created, the world which it was protesting, is stunning.

Since I no longer had a copy of the book, I bought a used copy of the 60th anniversary edition published the year after Bradbury died, with an introduction from Neil Gaiman. The introduction was the perfect way to re-enter this world and I could (and probably will) re-read it several times. This edition also contains supporting materials to provide context for the story.

Fahrenheit 451

And while Fahrenheit 451 is such a 1950s tale, it is both amazing and terrifying that it still serves to caution us about our relationship with technology, each other, independent thought and creativity. The “parlors” with wall-sized tvs and participatory entertainments in the book are basically a reality in our current age. It’s an uncomfortable irony that I finished Fahrenheit 451 on a day when I spent time with my parents, glutting ourselves on t.v. I don’t have a t.v. at home and as I love the medium, I often catch up with shows when I visit them. On commercials, I would reach for Fahrenheit 451 to read about Guy Montag’s increasing frustration with his wife Millie’s inability to tear herself away from the “family” in the parlor.

But Bradbury wrote for t.v. and film, so maybe I can be exonerated. Anyway, the wall-sized t.v.s and “families” in the “parlors” are not the inherent evil in this story. It’s the lack of free and individual thought, which media consumption can certainly contribute to, that is the real problem. As Montag learns in the the book, people gave up reading and books and individual thought long before it was taken away from them officially. That is always the danger.

I appreciate the opportunity to re-learn the lesson from this re-reading and I imagine I’ll need refreshers from Fahrenheit 451 and many amazing books, throughout my life. And then there are always these lessons from Bradbury (the first one of which I flunked and which at least one of my friends is taking well to heart). I suppose it’s never too late and I’ll be applying these lessons to the best of my ability during my upcoming residency month.

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: The Stand

 “Sally.”
A mutter.
“Wake up now, Sally.”
A louder mutter: lemme lone.
He shook her harder.
“Wake up. You got to wake up!”
Charlie’s voice calling her. But for how long?
Sally swam up out of her sleep.
First she glances at the clock on the night table and saw it was quarter past two in the morning. Charlie shouldn’t even be here; he should be on shift. Then she got her first good look at him and something leaped up inside her, some deadly intuition.
Her husband was deathly pale. His eyes stared and bulged from their sockets. The car keys were in one hand. He was still using the other to shake her, although her eyes were open. It was as if he hadn’t been able to register the fact that she was awake.
“Charlie, what is it? What’s wrong?”

My dad introduced me to the horror and thriller genres. He was always braver than I, but we would watch The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and Tales from The Dark Side. We also loved when Stephen King’s books were made into mini-series. I hadn’t yet read any of his books  at that time, but I LOVED being scared out of my wits by It and The Tommy-Knockers on t.v. We never missed the chance to watch The Running Man if it came on TNT or even Silver Bullet with Gary Busey in his pre-scary-mugshot days.

In spring of 1994, The Stand premiered as the newest sweeps week miniseries. I absolutely ADORED the miniseries (I had a crush on Gary Sinise), and my dad and I agreed that we should probably read the novel now. He picked up a copy so that I would have something to read on my Library Club field trip to Washington, DC.

Great jumping cats! What a doorstop of a book!

But as the buses pulled out of the parking lot of Mansura Middle School, I propped myself up with a pillow and put my Walkman headphones on (Jurassic Park film soundtrack blaring). I followed the Campions–Charlie and Sally and baby LaVon–out of Nevada, running from the superflu that accidentally managed to escape its test tube and kill every single person on the base. But the Campions–they were infected, too.

When I read the book 20 years ago, I found myself more interested in the first “act” of the book–the spreading of the illness, meeting characters like Stu from Texas, Frannie from Maine, and Larry “Baby Can You Dig Your Man” Underwood from NYC. I cannot leave out the two characters who represent absolute “Good” and “Evil”: Mother Abagail and Randal Flagg. (King often likes to have absolutes in his stories, almost like the old westerns with the White-hat-hero and the Black-hat-villain).

My 14 year-old-self was almost bored by the time the “good” survivors had established the Free Zone of Boulder and the “evil” survivors had moved in Vegas to do the bidding of Randall Flagg. Though many people didn’t, I loved the Deus Ex Machina ending, perhaps because I remember my childhood being filled with stories like that–Death Stars exploding and DeLoreans making it up to 88 mph and four nerdy guys crossing the streams and killing the giant-marshmallow-deamon.

In 2009, a comic book version of the tale landed on shelves and as this was around the time that I had taken an interest in comics, I picked these up, too. While I found them enjoyable, I think they take something away from what I like most about reading a Stephen King novel–using the power of my own imagination to imagine the horrors that he describes.

Now, 20 years after hefting open the giant tome on a charter bus ride to DC, I purchased the Kindle version for my re-read. I enjoy the feel of turning pages, but my decade-long job in a coffee shop has done a number on my wrists. I chose this time to let the weight of the story itself supersede the weight of the ACTUAL book.

I’ve probably read about 15 Stephen King books and short stories since The Stand, but the narrative-style in this novel still grabs me. Chapter 8, in particular is quite astounding. The way King describes the ever-so-easy spread of Captain Tripps (the name of the super-flu), in the course of a 6-page chapter is absolutely one of the neatest things that I have ever read.

There are so many movies, novels, comics, and video games these days that focus on post-apocalyptic dystopias. The zombie and pandemic genres have really taken off in the past decade or so and it’s an interesting reflection on what we as audience members crave to ingest. A friend of mine once said that a good zombie story isn’t about the zombies at all, but rather how the humans react, respond, and survive.

During this reading, I found myself still interested in the same characters as before, but some that I initially ignored now spoke to me more clearly. For example, Glen Bateman, a community college sociology teacher and amateur philosopher sums my friend’s zombie-story-philosophy idea rather well and always says interesting thing.

As I’ve grown older I find myself drawn more to nostalgia, and while 20 years ago I was more interested in Fran’s journal full of her crush on Stu, I now love that she also ended each entry with a list of “things to remember,” like bands that were popular and ads that were predominant and slang terms that kids would use to describe things that were cool. I suppose now, with the digital archiving of Twitter,  as long as the servers hold, we will have access to our own “things to remember.” But what if the archives don’t hold? Fran’s journal seems that more important.

Speaking of Twitter, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how different things are now than when The Stand was published. While things weren’t exactly stone-age in 1978 (Star Wars and Ataris, man!), social media, smart phones and the Internet were quite a few years away. Most homes now don’t even have landlines and we use wireless Internet, and our televisions are tuned into satellites.

What happens if all of that were to just go away?

Other forms of media have addressed this possibility.  One of my OTHER favorite novels these days is World War Z by Max Brooks, and I think it makes a fine companion read to The Stand. I think that King addresses the issue just as coherently though, and years before our “softening through social media” (as a character like Ralph might suggest).

King has said that The Lord of the Rings books inspired his writing of The Stand, and even goes so far as to quote from the books when Larry and Rita, his first companion traveler, leave New York City.

“The way leads ever on…”

I see this more now. There are characters that are somewhere in the gray areas and some that start off not-so-great who end up being pretty swell–Larry Underwood for example. However, Good vs. Evil and an epic battle between the two can still be considered the underlying theme.

20 years since I picked up this book. So much has happened. The Twin Towers. Saddam and Bin Laden are dead, but we still have Drones. No world peace, yet, it would seem.

20 years of my own life passed. High School and College. My dad passing away. Marriage.

20 years of technological achievement in filmmaking to create new stories or make old ones come to life anew–The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. LOST (the latter FREQUENTLY drew from The Stand by the way).

E-books. Heck, between digital publishing and Project Gutenberg, more people have access to THOUSANDS of published works with a few clicks or typed search-parameters.

20 years and perspective and experience.

I think more now on Bateman and Ralph, and what lessons we learn from them. I think of Stu and Frannie still, but not in a giggly-romance sort of way. I think of them as the helpmates they became to each other.

I was initially going to write about Harold Lauder and how his ledger of those who wronged him reminded me so much of that man in California who killed all of those people, but I will just touch on it by saying that we should all recognize rising above that. No one owes us anything, but we owe to ourselves to be the best individuals that we can be.

These are the things that I have taken away from this reading of The Stand.

My original copy was a paperback and it has long since been demolished by re-reading and lending. I am glad that I have an e-copy in my Kindle Library, right along with The Shining and It. On my bookshelf however, I have a wonderful hardcover reprinting, with added notes and forwards and the additional text that was added after the 1978 first-printing. It sits next to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Jurassic Park.

Noel’s Things to Remember:
— The internet was once REALLY slow, and if someone picked up the phone you were going to have fightin-words.
— There were things called “memes” and things called “.gifs” and places called Reddit and 4chan and Tumblr where we filled our time when we should be writing blogs about novels we once read.
–Good narrative is important, and a good story along WITH it makes for a tale that can be revisited.
–Happiness is there or it is not, but Security, and Trust, and Contentment, even during adversity–those are what we NEED.

Amen. May I be here to take The Trip(p) again, in another 20 years, with even MORE perspective.

Noel's photo

***

Noel Smith needs to read, write, and go out more. She enjoys Pop Culture, Disney Theme Park and Company History, and watching Criterion movies with her husband. She’s slightly clumsy, so she chose to improve her posture with the hardback of The Stand while she re-read it using an e-reader. She thanks Em for this chance to write again, and misses their days watching Curling matches and quality films such as Breakin’. The rest is for Jim.

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Emilie’s 2011 Best List

Each year, one or two categories are really easy while others are really difficult. Books will be fairly easy, movies much more difficult. Here we go…

Books:

Because I did my Quarterly Reading Reports, it’s a bit easier for me to pinpoint which books stuck with me all year long. The surprise for me, considering how slow I am when reading nonfiction, is that almost half of my best books of 2011 list are nonfiction titles.

1. House of Prayer No. 2, Mark Richard

2. Across the Universe, Beth Revis

3. Whip It, Shauna Cross

4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

5. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

6. The Southern Cross, Skip Horack

7. The Devil She Knows, Bill Loehfelm

8. Matched and Crossed, Ally Condie

9. The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

10. Knowing Your Value, Mika Brzezinski

Notables include Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, Jenny Han’s Summer trilogy, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

Movies:

This list is a little longer and includes movies I saw in the theater and watched on DVD (or streaming).

1. Country Strong

2. Daydream Nation

3. The Adjustment Bureau

4. Wild Target

5. Bridesmaids

6. Elvis & Anabelle

7. Winter’s Bone

8. Super 8

9. Hanna

10. HappyThankYouMorePlease

11. Hugo

12. Our Idiot Brother

13. Stupid, Crazy Love

14. Circo

15. War Horse

My list includes one documentary and two others that I really enjoyed were Exporting Raymond and Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. A few films that were far better than I anticipated, rising above their genres should also be noted: X-Men First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Cowboys & Aliens.

TV

1. How I Met Your Mother

2. 2 Broke Girls

3. Raising Hope

4. The New Girl

5. Castle

6. Falling Skies

7. Downton Abbey

8. So You Think You Can Dance

9. Dancing with the Stars

10. Survivor

Notables include Bones, In Plain Sight and Psych of course, Storage Wars, Terra Nova, Suburgatory and Community (which I got into late this year), as well as wonderful cancelled shows I streamed on Netflix: Party Down, The Unusuals and The Good Guys.

Music:

Albums –

1. Adele’s 21

2. CAKE’s Showroom of Compassion

3. Christina Perri’s Lovestrong

4. Jenny Owen Youngs’ Batten the Hatches

5. Lissie’s Covered Up With Flowers

Singles (not from any of the above) –

1. The Generationals “Ten-Twenty-Ten”

2. Kid Cudi “Pursuit of Happiness”

3. Lil Wayne “How to Love”

4. Michael Franti & Spearhead “Say Hey (I Love You)”

5. Timothy Bloom & V. Bozeman “Till the End of Time”

On any other day, I might give different answers, but as of this moment, this is my 2011 Best List.

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You Are Lucy and I Am Charlie Brown

“This time, you can trust me,” Lucy says to Charlie Brown, enticing him into their eternal battle of wills – kick the football and I won’t pull it away this time, I promise.

I love t.v. I love narrative in general and I get hooked into the story structures of t.v. shows over and over and over again. Even a “reality” show like Survivor has all the classic story elements that I crave and enjoy.

But I have been frustrated more and more the last few years. Here’s why:

– I have a busy schedule and like most people my age, I can’t be locked into watching a t.v. show at the same set time every week. Luckily, most shows are available online within 6-12 hours (sometimes a full day or week) later and I catch up with my “stories” when I have the time, which is often just a few hours or maybe a day or two after the original airing.

– The online viewing model seems to me an excellent one. I am still viewing advertisements, which should still be paying for the shows. In fact, I feel that I’m a more captive audience for online ads than the ones on my t.v. because I tend to walk away from the t.v. during commercials. I am watching the show at my convenience. Excellent, all around. But I’m not sure the Nielsen rating system is still in any way an accurate schematic (I don’t know how it could be) and to my knowledge, nothing else has replaced it. So how do networks know what shows I’m giving my loyalty and attention to? Theoretically, they should be able to track the downloads and online viewings, right?

– Yet, some of my favorite new shows are consistently getting canceled, sometimes mid-season or after only one season. This breeds a vicious cycle that makes me and other viewers wary of investing in new shows. Why care about characters that might suddenly disappear, give our attention to stories that will remain unfinished? But what are a studio’s “obligations” to the viewers of its shows? I feel like a full season should be a standard network-viewer “contract.” Promising shows should really get two seasons to build their audience. Yes, it’s expensive. However, as far as I’m concerned, so is my time and my attention.

You might ask what has brought about this rant. Monday, the list of canceled t.v. shows was disseminated. First, it includes 32 shows across the networks, which is quite a lot. Also, it features some great new shows that I feel weren’t given a solid chance. Last, there are many shows on this list that I thought were already canceled several months ago because of reports I’ve read in the past.

I’ll break down the list for you.

Canceled shows I didn’t invest in because I figured they’d be canceled:

Better with You, Mr. Sunshine, Off the Map (ABC); Perfect Couples (NBC)

Shows I might’ve watched, but thought were already canceled or off the air ages ago because of reports I read, so clearly their networks were not doing a whole lot to support them:

My Generation, Detroit 1-8-7, No Ordinary Family, V (ABC); The Event and Outsourced (NBC); Lone Star and Running Wilde (FOX); Life Unexpected (CW)

Canceled shows that had a really solid chance to build their audience (regardless of how you feel about the quality of the shows and their demise):

Brothers and Sisters (ABC); Friday Night Lights (NBC); Human Target and Lie to Me (FOX); $#*! My Dad Says (CBS); Smallville (CW)

Canceled shows I’d watch if they were given a second chance:

Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC); The Event (NBC)

Canceled shows I’m really pissed about because I’d invested in them:

Breaking In and Traffic Light (FOX)

FOX has long been guilty of creating pretty good shows and then scrapping them before they’ve had a solid chance, in my opinion. Keep in mind, FOX also airs two of the shows I talk about most, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, but those are reality competitions and I don’t know that FOX has worked out their dynamic for scripted dramas and sitcoms. Out of all the networks on the list, FOX is canceling the most good shows, I think. Many on the FOX list had a good chance to sink or swim, but I think Breaking In and Traffic Light should be given more time. They are both hysterical half hour ensemble sitcoms, which I think we need more of on t.v. Good ones, that is.

So what are the networks gonna do next season? Give us 50 new shows, two thirds of which they’re prepared to sacrifice if we don’t invest quickly enough? Break our hearts again? Yank the football once more before we can kick a good, solid field goal? FOX, as well as all the networks, needs to create good shows and then stand by them. Have some faith in what you create, Networks.

Now, on to the slightly related topic of the Castle finale, appropriately titled “Knockout.” How is this related to my giant rant above? Well, first of all, it’s still about t.v. Second of all, one of Castle’s stars, Nathan Fillion was in not one but two shows that fell victim to FOX’s wishy-washiness (Drive and, ahem, Firefly, anyone?). Third, the finale happened to air on the same day the canceled show list was disseminated.

Castle is a fun, gripping show, a worthy vehicle for Nathan, finally, at long last, hallelujah, on a network that will support the show and create interest with tie-ins (novels, graphic novels, etc). It’s one of my favorite shows, especially because it has such a great cast and also all the qualities I loved about Bones in the earlier seasons. I’m still watching Bones because I love the characters, but it’s lost some of its sheen.

One of the elements I like best about Castle is that it is unafraid to be cheesy and emotional and sometimes feels like a sitcom wrapped up in a drama. This feels like old-fashioned, classic t.v., even while it is cutting edge. So it shouldn’t surprise me that every part of Castle‘s Season 3 finale felt inevitable in that way that good storytelling always feels. While the storyteller in me can appreciate the Castle finale’s unflinching and yes, even cruel twists, the viewer in me feels absolutely shellshocked, almost betrayed. And pissed. Pissed that they punched me the guts like three times in an hour and then walked away for several months, leaving me nursing my wounds and dying for more.

But you know what? You better bet I’ll be tuning in next season. And for that, I must congratulate them.

For a moment at the end of “Knockout,” in light of the canceled show list, I was very afraid that this was the end, that Castle was one of the unlisted “bubble” shows and it might not be back. I had to remind myself that it’s a popular show and that ABC has just as much invested in it as I have invested (some would say more). But that fear, that paranoia, is the best example that I can give you of what the networks have done to us with their “yanking back the football” behavior.

Should I, like Charlie Brown, continue to trust all the Lucys promising me big and then yanking it all away? Despite all the times that I have been burned and lost “stories” that I loved, should I trust the networks? Like Charlie Brown, I hate looking stupid by falling for it again and again, but just like him, there’s no other choice for me. I love stories too much not to take the kick of faith every time.

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LJ Smith: Strange Fate

A little while ago, Borders sent me an e-mail and said I might like to pre-order Strange Fate, the tenth and final (?) book in the Night World series by L.J. Smith. I couldn’t help but laugh as I scrolled through the comments from readers that all generally said the same thing, “I love this series, but I’ve been waiting for it FOREVER.” The comments are generally the same over at B&N and Amazon, where there’s even a forum called “When is this REALLY coming out?”

I’m not laughing to be cruel, it’s just that I’d be willing to bet money I don’t have that most of these readers/commenters, a lot of them anyway, have not been waiting over a decade to read this book, as I have. Most of them don’t even know that Lisa Jane Smith’s books were originally published when I was a teenager, before they were born in some cases. Strange Fate‘s original publication date was shortly before the new millennium and accordingly, the plot of the earlier books reflects that.

When the Night World books were published, 1996-1998, I was 14-16 years old and L.J. Smith was my favorite writer. Her books meant the world to me and I was bewildered by the inscrutable, almost entirely unexplained delay in the publication of the last Night World book. I went to college and still periodically checked in on a giant fan site for updates. L.J. was sick, we heard, but was back to writing and the book would be published soon.

Years passed and I started to believe that the book would never be published. Then, just a few years ago, all of her books were re-issued in new editions that would appeal to rabid fans of Twilight. The Vampire Diaries series was adapted into a t.v. show, which I watched for a while. I had to stop, though, because the t.v. show didn’t reflect either the books or my experience of them as a teenager, or both. But then, I knew they wouldn’t. To be successful in this millennium, they couldn’t. The Secret Circle series is being adapted now and I’ll probably watch a few episodes out of curiosity and because I like Britt Robertson from Life Unexpected. I think she’ll be a great Cassie.

I’m a little annoyed that when (if?) Strange Fate is released, it won’t match my series (though, yes, I have bought all of the reissues). On the left is what MY Strange Fate should have looked like a decade + ago and on the right, what Strange Fate will (maybe) look like when (if?) it’s ever published. And that’s something Lisa Jane’s newest fans may be learning, which her most senior fans have long known – I’m not going to invest my money (and hope) till I hold the book in my hand.

Many of the teenagers reading Lisa Jane Smith (or L.J., as I’ll always think of her) don’t realize these are not new books, as evidenced by one of the comments I read that said Lisa Jane should stop writing multiple series of books at the same time and just finish Strange Fate. 🙂 I feel sad and nostalgic when I think about these books now, especially Strange Fate. Now that I’m almost thirty, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience it the way I would have when I was 16 years old, moving to Louisiana and completely adrift.

But just like a teenager, I’m waiting… and waiting… and waiting… to find out.

P.S. While researching online for this blog, I found the following paragraph on the Wikipedia page for The Vampire Series page. This horrifies me as both a fan and a writer:

Unfortunately, Smith stated in her blog on the 9th of February, 2011 that she was fired by Alloy Entertainment and that ‘Midnight’ is her last book. Alloy Entertainment will be hiring a ghostwriter to continue the series. She will still be mentioned as the creator of the series on the covers of the new books but she will have nothing to do with them. Smith has asked her fans not to boycott Harper. L.J Smith has also already given Alloy Entertainment her manuscript for ‘The Hunters: Phantom’, although there are no guarantees that it will be released, let alone with any of her input.

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Emilie’s 2010 Best List

I’ve been thinking about this post in the back of my head for the last few weeks. And now it’s come time to look back at my favorites of the year…

Books are pretty easy because I read fewer books this year than…ever. At least, any year since I’ve been keeping track and that’s a decade’s worth of reading. The last time I read fewer than 100 books in a year was my second year of grad school and I read considerably fewer than 100 books this year. So my quantity was down, but not the quality – a read quite a few books this year that I’d had on my to-read list a while.

1. Kai Meyer‘s The Dark Reflections Trilogy and most of The Wave Walkers Trilogy
2. Rebecca Cantrell‘s A Trace of Smoke
3. Audrey Niffennegger‘s The Time Traveler’s Wife
4. John Kennedy Toole‘s A Confederacy of Dunces
5. Alice Sebold‘s The Lovely Bones
6. David Madden‘s Abducted by Circumstance
7. Mary McMyne‘s Wait. (manuscript)
8. Suzanne Collins‘s last Hunger Games book Mockingjay
9. M.O. Walsh‘s The Prospect of Magic
10. Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium Trilogy (still working on the last, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest)

In the interests of full disclosure, I have some reservations about labeling some of these “best,” as I had some issues with a few of these books – notably Stieg Larsson’s books and The Lovely Bones – but they are unconditionally the ones that I invested the most time in, spent time thinking about. And there are some absolutely stellar BEST books on this list. And, of course, I read dozens of short stories through my work with Narrative, several of which I’d love to put on a best list, but can’t disclose. Interestingly, there’s no non-fiction on my list this year.

I actually saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, or maybe they stand out because I quite liked so many that I saw there. Rentals were often disappointing – slightly better than I’d expected or boring or not as good as I’d heard. So this is tough, but the movies I enjoyed the most this year:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (I have to do it, it was so good…)
2. Inception (I saw it 3.5 times in the theater)
3. Toy Story 3 (Pixar has always been really smart with these sequels)
4. Easy A (it was as funny and good as my favorite 80s comedies)
5. Red (it was like Sneakers jacked up, so of course I loved it)
6. Exit Through the Gift Shop (of course, it’s about Banksy)
7. Going the Distance, Get Him to the Greek (a tie)
8. Twilight: Eclipse and How to Train Your Dragon (a tie)
9. Nine (I love musicals)
10. The Kids are Alright

Honorable mentions: Last Station, Hereafter, Black Swan, True Grit, Despicable Me, The Ramen Girl, St. Trinian’s, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, The Young Victoria and Coco Before Chanel.

TV had to take a serious back burner this year because I never knew when I’d get home from work and had so much going on. This list is basically comprised of the shows that I kept up with in the chaos. Also, it should be said that I watched every episode of Law & Order SVU through Season 10 this year.

1. So You Think You Can Dance
2. Survivor
3. Castle
4. Glee
5. Raising Hope
6. Dancing with the Stars
7. United States of Tara
8. How I Met Your Mother
9. Bones
10. Fringe

My super notables:  The Tudors, In Plain Sight and 30 Rock.

I might go so far as to say that music was one of my biggest influences this year. I probably went to more concerts this year than I have every other year combined. Because my favorite songs are generally still my favorite songs from last year and the year before (with a few new exceptions), I’d much rather outline the best concerts of the year and the cds that I’ve been listening to obsessively.

CDs:

1. Lissie‘s Catching a Tiger, as well as her EP Why You Runnin’
2. Roisin Murphy‘s Ruby Blue
3. Mark Growden‘s Saint Judas
4. The Dresden Dolls‘s Yes, Virginia…
5. Black Gold‘s Rush

Shows:

1. Dresden Dolls at Tipitina’s in New Orleans
2. Black Gold at Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans
3. Citizen Cope at Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans
4. Simon Lott at Hi Ho Lounge in New Orleans
5. Mark Growden at Circle Bar in New Orleans

I think that just about covers the highlights of 2010, so all that’s left to say is Happy 2011!

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Brag, baby, brag

Bragging on my friends and colleagues is my favorite thing to do! The awesome people in my life give me no shortage of opportunity to brag on them, either. Check it out!

I was so excited to hear that my friend (and former professor) Mari Kornhauser was tapped by Treme – the first female writer hired for the show. As good as the show is, man do they need her! My favorite quote from the article linked to above is this, which just exemplifies Mari:

“At the end of the meal, Overmyer asked Kornhauser, who has professional experience in feature filmmaking, what she thought about writing for television.

“I asked him, ‘Do you mean for your show?'” Kornhauser said. “When he said yes, I responded ‘Hell yeah. Who wouldn’t?'”

What she will add to the show goes far above and beyond the previously missing feminine touch. She’s a phenomenal writer and teacher and Treme is lucky and smart to have her on their team. I was already excited for the second season of Treme since it was an amazing experience to watch season one with friends at local bars and because Dave does some work for them. But now, I’m doubly – no, triply – invested in the show.

My friend Susan Broussard wrote a piece for the September/October issue of Belle Armoire about a purse that she and a friend made. Susan calls the purse a “sister” to one she made me. It looks almost identical, except for the beading. Check out these pictures I took of the article inside the magazine.

Maurice is going to be in a play on Sunday! He’s been rehearsing for it and I just got the invitation. Here are the deets:

You are invited to a reading of a new play by Robert Landy at Audubon Zoo’s Dominion Learning Center Auditorium  Sunday, October 17 at 2 p.m.
“Letters from Sing Sing” is about an extraordinary relationship between Michael, an incarcerated felon, an African-American man from the Jim Crow south of the 1950’s and Julia, a Caucasian woman, 30 years his elder, a volunteer teacher at Sing Sing, a philanthropist and prison re form advocate. Inspired by actual letters exchanged over a seven year period, the play delves deeply into the realities of crime and punishment and the redemptive qualities of relationship and love. Robert J. Landy, playwright, is a Professor of Educational Theatre and Applied Psychology, as well as the director of the Drama Therapy Program, at New York University. “Letters from Sing Sing” originated in his work in the prisons. Co-directed by Linda Cook, local arts educator/actress/drama therapist in CT and RI prisons, and Dr. Donald Brady, award-winning playwright/actor/director/social activist and Professor Emeritus from Loyola University, the play features Linda Cook as Julia and Maurice Ruffin, an award-winning writer and local attorney active in social justice causes, as Michael. This is a work-in-progress and constructive, critical feedback is invited. Following the reading, there will be an audience discussion with the playwright and a reception. Admission is free.

Speaking of Maurice, this is a two-fer on the brag front because I just got word that his story The Pie Man was the first runner up in the Faulkner-Wisdom short story category. The news hasn’t been added to the winners/finalists page yet, but will likely be updated soon. Congratulations, Maurice and everyone who was recognized in the course of the contest.

And in Nick Fox news, he has finally taken advantage of the newest technology in news/information/opinion dissemination and started a blog. So all of you stalkers-of-the-Fox can bookmark this link for your fix. I’m sure I’ll still brag on him on occasion. 🙂

My newest 225 piece is up on the website, a review of the book Treasures of LSU, which catalogues a grand multi-location celebration of LSU’s 150 anniversary by highlighting its treasures and history. This one made me really nostalgic for my time at LSU and I made a lot of incredible discoveries. One thing I realized was that I’d never actually seen the inside of the Old State Capitol Building and, as a result, I checked it out yesterday with some friends while I was in Baton Rouge. It’s a great book, so check it out.

I think that’s it, for the moment. But, knowing the incredible people in my life, it won’t be long till there’s more to brag on, so never fear. 🙂

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Subversive meet subversive: Banksy and the Simpsons

Whoa, suddenly I see why the traffic on my site has skyrocketed in the last two days. Banksy directed the opening of The Simpsons recently and now the universe/internet is atwitter about his incredibly dark and subversive take that  pokes fun at the machine behind and beneath the now mainstream mundanity of The Simpsons, which as been around long enough to raise up a generation of twisted, hyper self-conscious youth (including myself). Kudos to The Simpsons and Matt Groening for inviting Banksy into their world and then running with what he gave them. The Simpsons is such an indelible part of pop culture at this point that they probably needed Banksy to shake them up a bit and it just goes to show that he’s not going anywhere. His forums just keep getting bigger and louder and more permanent.

Check it out, but be warned, it is a tad gruesome. Too bad it wasn’t the Halloween Treehouse episode. 🙂

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An anniversary for Dunces

My latest 225 piece, about the 30th anniversary of A Confederacy of Dunces, up on the website. I enjoyed this piece, especially, because it gave me the “excuse” to read Confederacy that I’ve been waiting for for years! I absolutely loved this book. Guffaws and snorts abounded while I was reading. Hope you enjoy the piece!

I just posted an interview I did with Eric Ronick, the lead singer of Black Gold, last night. I was representing PureSYTYCD and I had a lot of fun. It was easy to be kind of silly with Eric, as demonstrated by my endless giggles during this interview. Check it out.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I have been up to. Plus, work on the movie(s) still. Wrap parties. Oh! and my 10 year high school reunion. Hi, Courtney!

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