Happy Halloween or…something, whatever

I already talked about how I don’t like Halloween, and I don’t, but there’s no reason why other people shouldn’t like Halloween, so Happy Halloween everybody out there in blog land!

I celebrated Halloween yesterday, kinda, by going with some of my awesome coworkers to Roosevelt Island, where my friend Erin lives in this super cool apartment building that has its own rumpus room or whatever. For those of you not familiar with New York geography, Roosevelt Island is this skinny little island in the East River, between Manhattan and Queens along the Upper East Side and Midtown East. There are only two ways to get there–subway (the F has a station on the island) or tram. Yes, TRAM. Like the ones in Disneyland. That’s how we got to the island, although I’m not quite sure why we did that rather than take the subway, but whatever. It was fun, and the view was amazing, but also terrifying. I’m not acrophobic, but being suspended above the earth makes me nervous, which is the reason I don’t like riding in elevators very much, and I usually spend most of my energy in that sort of situation feverishly imagining plunging to my death. Nevertheless, it was really cool to get a different look at Manhattan. Oftentimes, when you live here or stay here for a while, you start having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees, and what should really amaze you just doesn’t anymore. It becomes too familiar, too everyday, for you to truly appreciate it for what it is. So standing on Roosevelt Island, with the Queensboro Bridge looming to my left and all of Manhattan stretched out and sparkling in front of me, was very striking, because it was different, but no less beautiful. Now I understand why Erin calls Roosevelt Island “my island”, because it really does seem like a tiny, private paradise in the midst of all the hubbub of the city.

Anyway, enough schmoopy stuff. For the pre-Halloween festivities we brought three brands of pumpkin ale (Post Road, Smutty Nose, and Shipyard, for conoisseurs), a bunch of pumpkins, and ordered pizza. The security guard in the building was this older woman who was really afraid we were going to throw a frat party or something, that she was going to come in at 11:00 and find somebody crawling up the curtains. We were like, “Yeah, we have to work tomorrow, so…”

We ate the pizza and chatted while The Rocky Horror Picture Show played in the background, then we got down to the business of carving pumpkins. Now, I did not carve my own pumpkin, because I am lazy and didn’t want to carry it all the way back to Morningside Heights, so instead I just “consulted” on Erin’s pumpkin. Really, I just helped everybody scoop out the insides of their pumpkins, which is my favorite part of the whole process. Alex’s pumpkin was an amazing likeness of Jack Skellington, from Tim Burton’s claymation masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas (the one aspect of Halloween I can TOTALLY GET BEHIND–I might actually go pick it up at Best Buy on my way home). Mary’s was a cat, complete with ears. Sunil’s and Erin’s were traditional jack-o-lanterns, and Nicole and Vicky’s were cute, small pumpkins; Nicole’s looked like a mischievous little boy, and Vicky’s looked like a light socket, in a really awesome way.

This morning, Erin came in with a batch of still-warm, incredibly delicious baked pumpkin seeds (okay, another part of Halloween I can totally get behind), Marisa brought in candy corn (fine, a third thing), we listened to the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, and I realized how incredibly lucky I am to have coworkers I love to spend time with, at work and outside of work. They really are the best.

Okay, FINE

I joined NaNo. I don’t know why, because I probably will not win, and knowing this I reserve the right to quit at any time. I’m doing this because I work best when I have way too much going on–for some reason, the busier I am, the more productive I am, so if I’m editing MB and AUT and writing either one of the two books I might never publish that I haven’t decided between yet, I’ll probably get more done on all of those things than if I was just doing one of them. At least, that’s the fuzzy math I’m using to justify doing NaNo, when really I just want to do it because it seems fun and other people are doing it and I want to be part of the in-crowd. Psyche, I don’t care about being in the in-crowd. But it does look fun. If you’re doing it, too, want to be my writer buddy?

Tangentially related: Is it me, or does the NaNo search function just blatantly not work?

NaFiRoBIMSCOn FTW

Not that there are very many people who read this blog who don’t also watch the seriously made of awesome videos superbrothers Hank and John Green post weekly at their YouTube Channel, but Shannel reads this, so there’s at least one and thus I will explain a couple of things.

1. November has been arbitrarily designated National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, wherein writers, published and unpublished, attempt to finish a novel (or at least 50,000 words of one) in a month. I foolishly tried to write MB during NaNo last year, but I think I got about 3,000 words in before I got a full request for AUT from an agent (not Joanna) and decided I needed to concentrate on that one…or something, I don’t know what the excuse was, but in any case NaNo was abandoned and MB didn’t get written until this past summer.

2. John’s book Paper Towns just hit the New York Times Bestseller List for Children’s Chapter Books and to thank all the Nerdfighters for making that happen, he took requests. One of the requests was more of a query, which was whether or not John was participating in NaNo, to which he responded that he was not, that he couldn’t write a book in a month, and that instead he was going to propose NaFiRoBIMSCOn–National Finish a Revision of Your Book I Mean Seriously Come On month.

3. I MEAN SERIOUSLY COME ON. Agreesies. People have been asking me if I’m doing NaNo, and I briefly considered it, what with the very supportive emails that have been coming to my inbox lately telling me that “I can do it!” and “I’m a winner!” and other niceties, but the truth is that I’m not at a stage with either GR or (gulp) SM to write either of them, because I’m not done with all of the pre-writing, etc., etc. BUT! I do have two novels to revise, or at least I will once my editor gets back to me with a revision letter on AUT, and really I do need to start revising MB. I have to do it somewhere other than my cramped bedroom, so maybe I’ll move all my crap into the kitchen on Halloween and take advantage of the peace and quiet that is all my friends going out without me* and sit down and actually do the damn thing. I wish I could do NaNo this year, though, for some reason, I have no idea why, so maybe I will make a non-serious attempt just to amuse myself when I’m blocked on revisions or something. I have two projects I’m thinking about working on, neither of which I’m sure I want to publish. I’ll let you know what I decide.

4. The good news about MB is that opinions are starting to trickle in from people who have read it or are reading it and the consensus is that it’s pretty hilarious. I actually got a text from my friend Katie last night, past midnight, just to tell me that she had finished a certain chapter and “was literally LOL-ing”. And, like, I can’t take a lick of credit for that since I have the funniest friends on the planet and truthfully I just write down all the funny things they say and then steal them, but I guess that’s what being a writer entails, and also at least I know that they’re funny and will be funny to others. Although, I’m not sure how much of the book is funny in its own right and how much of it is funny to the people I know who have read it because it’s full of Easter eggs and inside jokes. Whatever! I still think y’all will like it when it comes out in 2011.

*For the record, I’m not being left out, I’m doing a temporary Halloween exile because I hate Halloween. I don’t like dressing up, I don’t like crowds, and it turns out that I don’t even really like candy anymore (except for Reese’s peanut butter cups, which I will love forever and for always), which is sort of weird but I’m going with it.

Not that you cared, but…

Today I got a card in the mail at work. I never get mail at work now that I switched Netflix delivery back to my apartment, so it was sort of a surprise. My friend M1 walked all the way over from her side of the room (I work in a bullpen type area; none of my coworkers has their own office, or cubicle, so it’s one big sleepover every day except without much sleeping) to hand it to me. Inside it read:

Anna Banana,

I hope this letter finds you well. How is your family? Things are pretty good over on this side of the room. Lots of good stuff on Jezebel, etc. Nice weather today, too.

See you around the g-chat!

xoxoxo

M1

10.24.08

Dear Anna,

You were complaining about never getting any presents in the mail, so…YAY PRESENTS!

Anyway, you’ll probably get this while I’m still away. So you’ll have to let me know later how a.) happy, b.) weirded out, or c.) annoyed you were to receive this!

Lots of love,

M2

P.S. I’m not really sure where this card came from. It’s been sitting on my desk for the last month. I wonder if it’s one of those charity donation things for the artists who paint landscapes or still-lifes [lives?] with their feet.

This is the photograph on the front of the card. It’s called “Tulip Celebration.” I know this was a joke, but actually I love pink tulips, they’re my favorite flower, and lilacs too, and I only wish that they were more the focus of the photo instead of just the background, but oh well. It was a free card.

What cracks me up about this is that two of my coworkers, M1 and M2, took the time to write messages to me, put the card in the mail with a stamp on it, and then when it came in the mail M1 actually walked it over to me herself. What a convoluted plan! That’s love, folks. I am loved.

Apropos of nothing, I told M1 that I got a Facebook friend request from a guy ostensibly named David George today. We had no friends in common, and if I had decided to accept it I would’ve been his second friend entirely. His message read as follows:


Hi, nice pix, just wanted to say hi and maybe get to know you.

Now. I got this request on the Facebook profile linked in the About section of this blog, where I only have one picture, and it is not that nice, frankly, and also, I’m a writer, don’t say “pix” to me, it’s not even a word. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, how sketchy is this? Facebook is not MySpace–it is a legitimate social networking site, and I have no interest in using it as a free match.com, although I’m sure some people do. I was confused by this guy because his profile said he worked for the World Health Organization, which, what a random thing to be a lie, right? But otherwise the profile was mostly empty.

Anyway, M1 just came over to tell me that she also got a random Facebook friend request from someone with whom she had no friends in common, who only had eight friends entirely, and said something generic and dumb as well. Is this some kind of insidious viral marketing campaign I’m not aware of? Or are these people legitimately just trying to gain our confidence and then bilk us out of our nonexistent millions through some pyramid scheme? Questions to ponder, surely.

And in case you were wondering, yes I am posting about random things my coworkers send me via mail and Facebook mysteries because I haven’t yet found the strength to tackle MB revisions. Thanks for asking that awkward question. I’m getting to it.

The boys are back

One of my favorite things about pop culture is that there are certain movies, television shows, songs, books, websites, you name it that are so absurd they’re amazing, and for me High School Musical is one of those things. Yes, the movies are fairly ridiculous; the first HSM is the only one of them that has even a semblance of a believable plot, and even that is suspect, because they very idea that these kids would write, arrange, choreograph and score their own rock opera is beyond ridiculous–you KNOW Sharpay would be all about staging Phantom or something, since she basically considers herself the Christine Daaé of East High. But whatever. I understand why that’s not the case. Whatever.

Despite the fact that we’re in our twenties, my friend Mary was very excited to see this third installment in the theater, and when she asked if I was going I told her that while I enjoy HSM in all its cheesy glory, I was against having to pay $12 to see a movie I would normally just be able to watch on television. Still, Sunday eventually rolled around and there was a great need for some hangover theater, so Nikki, Cambria and I trouped to the Union Square theater and sat our butts down to watch Zac Efron be hot on screen.

Seriously. We are not even pretending that there are other characters in this series anymore, which is FINE BY ME. There are clearly only three talented performers in the HSM movies, but the fact that Sharpay is evil-but-redeemed in every installment so far kind of takes the bite out of her formerly awesome villainess, and poor Lucas Grabeel has never been front and center despite deserving to be (he’s so like Ryan in that way!), so Zac Efron it is, then. I really wish they would stop shoving the Troy/Gabriella relationship down our throats. Not only do I not buy the movie’s (and Troy’s) pronouncements about how Gabriella changed everybody’s lives, but I also am so sick of her dumping him for no reason. There is so much about a high school romance that is angsty, there’s no reason for them to manufacture drama like that. It’s just lazy. Although it did get rid of Gabriella for a chunk of the movie, which I appreciate, considering that she is THE MOST BORING PERSON ON THE PLANET and while a certain amount of blame falls on the writers for making her such an insufferable, brainy (unbelievably so, I think; nothing about Vanessa Hudgens screams “intellectual!” to me), do-goody-two-shoes, I also blame Hudgens, who is bland and talentless and would be completely ignorable if it weren’t for her Totally! Cute! Outfits!

Until now, I was completely bewildered by the presence of the “Tiara Gold” character. Why is she British? Why is she even in the movie? It didn’t make any sense. What made her think she could just saunter on stage and usurp Sharpay’s roll AS HERSELF without anybody batting an eyelash or, you know, holding her accountable for such ridiculous subterfuge? Now I realize that they’re planning on continuing the series with a new cast, and they need a villain, but Tiara, dear, you are no Sharpay Evans by a long shot. One of the best things about the movies was that, obvs, Sharpay was 100 frillion times more interesting, fun, talented, cool, and inspirational than soapy Gabriella, but this Tiara girl? She’s frankly just worthless. And who’s the new Gabriella? And who’s the new Troy? I mean, I just am very confused by the lameness of the next generation of HSMers.

Highlights of the show: Zac Efron wearing a tux with black Converse. (Note to my future husband: that’s what you’ll be wearing at our wedding.) Zac Efron’s dramatic solo “suicidal” dance-off in the halls of East High complete with falling CGI symbolic anchors (I MEAN BASKETBALLS), thunder and lightning, and a Zac Efron’s naked back!!!1!1 Sharpay’s super cute navy blue polka dot outfit. Ryan and Kelsey teaming up to take over the world at Julliard (erm, spoiler!). The completely inexplicable, thus completely awesome, “The Boys Are Back” song and dance sequence. Did I mention Zac Efron’s naked back?

Cambria actually brought up a really great point last night when she said that she was surprised adults haven’t totally co-opted the original movie and turned it into a sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show type sing-along, which is such a great idea, get on it people! I would totally go.

Work in progress

You know what I was thinking? Every time I talk about plotting recently I talk about how I plotted MB beforehand and it was much easier to write, and I lament that I didn’t plot out AUT and it was such a nightmare to write. But you know what? I’m starting to suspect that if I’d plotted AUT out entirely before I started it, I would never have started it. It would’ve been too daunting. It’s a complex book, and I’m just now beginning to understand exactly how complex. If I knew from the beginning, I would’ve been too paralyzed by my perceived inability to do any of the stuff I ended up doing in AUT to begin.

I realized this because that is exactly how I feel about GR, the new book I’ve been “working on” since I finished MB in August. And by “working on” I mean “staring at a blank page and willing the plot to come to me.” There’s a lot I want to accomplish in GR, and I don’t seem to have a clue how to do it. It has so many characters, and it’s the first book I’m writing in shifting third person close POV, and I intend to give it a really huge plot (“intend” meaning I haven’t actually figured out all the particulars of said plot yet). It just seems like I bit off more than I can chew with this one.

What I normally try to do when I’m stuck somewhere is try something different. Working on my synopsis in a Word document was getting me nowhere, so I went to my trusty GR notebook and began working by hand. I added another page to May’s character manifesto, and then I went to a blank page and wrote STRUCTURE in big bold letters.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this after reading (and re-reading) Diana Peterfreund’s essay about the four-act structure. I decided that GR is going to have three parts: a short Part I (Act I), a long Part II (Acts II & III), and a short Part III (Act IV). So technically it’s going to have a three-act structure, but actually in my head it will be four acts because I need that dividing line between the crisis and when the consequences of the crisis (as Diana puts it) come into effect. So in my plotting I am thinking of it in four Acts, and then I’ll just lump the two middle ones together into one Part.

When I was writing in my notebook, I told myself that I didn’t have to know how everything was going to happen in each Part, I just had to create a wishlist of things I wanted to happen, that I would figure out the details later. Thus, I got a lot farther in the plotting than I was getting on the computer, when I tried to have the hows and the whys and the whats altogether. For Part I, I wrote out a list of all the supporting characters I needed to introduce in the first few pages. There are 10, not counting the main character. Blurgh. That’s a lot of peeps.

There’s sort of a fine line you have to walk here. I mean, on the one hand you don’t want to just throw a bunch of names at people and expect them to retain that information, because they won’t and then they’ll be annoyed that they have to flip back fifty pages or whatever to figure out who is who. I was reading a YA book recently where I felt like this was the case–lots of supporting characters, none of whom I could really distinguish from the others. On the other hand, you don’t want to give too much information and overwhelm the reader–I mean, even if all the characters get their own page, that still 10 pages of character information in this case, and 10 pages is a large chunk of text to not have any plot movement. And I’m all about plot movement.

So I told myself, each character gets a paragraph, which is a good exercise, I think. It makes it necessary for the writer to isolate the few characteristics, images, and behaviors that make a person unique and interesting, so that the description has punch and the character lives. You don’t have to know every character’s favorite flavor of ice cream (this is why I prefer character manifestos to character interviews or surveys, incidentally, because knowing a bunch of random information about your character is not the same thing as talking to them about who they are and what they care about and what they want, etc.), you need to know A. what makes them different from everybody else and B. what connects them to everybody else (when you’re introducing a bunch of people at once like this).

So last night I churned out 8 or so pages of introductions. This is the most I’ve written in GR for months, and it proved to me that it is possible to write this book. GR is stumping me at every turn, but I can see now that there is a way around or through every problem. In this case, I needed to establish my characters, because for a long time I’ve only had names and one-sentence descriptions for them. Now five of them are real people. That’s pretty awesome. I’ve been so afraid of the scope of the project that I kept forgetting how books are written–one word, one sentence, one page at a time.

Have no fear when the waters rise, we can conquer this great divide

I went to the Hanson concert last night and when I got home I was WIPED. And it wasn’t even an “OMG I’m so old I have to go to bed at nine thirty” kind of wiped, it was an “I have a terrible head cold and/or sinus infection and I want to lop off my skull to relieve some of this pressure” wiped. There were so many moments yesterday evening when I considered just forgetting about the $50 I paid for the ticket and going home, that’s how terrible I felt. If it was any other artist or band, I think I would have just gone home, but this is Hanson. I’ve loved them forever and never seen them live, and even though I’m not super into live music, I still didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity, because who knows when they’ll be back in New York?

The show was at the Nokia Theater in Times Square, and let me tell you, these are plush accommodations. One of the reasons I opted to stay was because there was theater-style seating in the back, but not so far from the stage that the guys were tiny specks. I could read during the sets and I didn’t have to stand around (I inevitably wear the wrong kind of shoes to concerts), and I could rest my head in my hands if I needed to, which is what I did.

There were two opening bands, which annoyed me, but they were both good, so that was nice. The first band, Everybody Else, was this fun pseudo-hipstery pop band from LA (I really liked “Meat Market” and “Makeup”), and the second act was this guy Dave Barnes (check out “Until You,” “Everybody But You,” and my personal favorite, “Nothing Fancy”), who was great as well. He was also HOT and self-deprecatingly funny, which made him all the more enjoyable. Thankfully, neither of those sets were overly long, and Hanson came on around 10:30 PM.

They played a pretty good mix of old and new stuff, although several of my favorite songs from their most recent album, The Walk–“Georgia,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “Watch Over Me”, for instance–went unplayed. Still, they performed “Great Divide,” which, I decided while they were playing it, is my all-time favorite Hanson song. They also played “Been There Before,” “Blue Sky” and “Go,” and it was sort of hilarious because if you listen to the last two albums, even though Taylor is always positioned as the lead singer, they pretty much divide the lead singing evenly throughout the songs. Still, most of the songs they played at the show were Taylor songs, because I guess that’s what everybody expects. But “Go” is a very, very Zac song, and when they were gearing up to play it you could tell that the audience knew he was going to sing lead and everybody got so excited, it was adorable. I never really appreciated “Go” much before tonight, but it really is a beautiful song, so plaintive and sad, and I think I’ll listen to it more from now on.

Hm, what else did they play? They played a few new songs, including this one called “Lay Me Down” which was inspired, they said, by their trips to Africa to benefit AIDS research, when they would see all these little graves and decided to write a song about a parent losing a child. You could tell how important that song was to them, since they’re all fathers now. It was really heartbreaking and beautiful. This is what I love about Hanson–they’re so incredibly sincere with everything they do, and you can see that. There’s no artifice to them.

I can’t tell you how many people make fun of me for still listening and supporting Hanson, and it’s gotten to the point where I just smile and shrug and say, “Whatever, they’re great.” Because they ARE great. They’ve written and performed their own music since they first started, and all of their songs, including “Mmmbop,” display a level of intelligence and feeling that is so advanced for the ages at which they were writing these songs. I mean, most people don’t even know the real lyrics to “Mmmbop,” or what it’s about, which is not entirely anyone’s fault–Taylor is a really garbled singer. A little snippet: “You have so many relationships in this life / But only one or two will last / You go through all the pain and strife / You turn your back and they’re gone so fast…In an ‘mmmbop’ they’re gone.” I read once that before the music industry got their hands on it, “Mmmbop” was a slower, more contemplative song about trusting people and connecting with them and then losing them, and the uncertainty of relationships you so badly want to count on. It’s still about that, but of course more upbeat and frenetic, which is fun, too. You can get the original on iTunes–it’s on their 3 Car Garage indie album. And they did play it. And it was AWESOME.

On the same vein, can I just take a tangent for a minute and discuss how much I admire them for extracting themselves from a bad situation by breaking with their label and starting their own when Island Def Jam didn’t promote their second major studio album (This Time Around), pulled funding for their tour (which they did anyway, on their own dime), and restricted their creative freedom such that they refused 80 plus songs from them because “they felt new material lacked marketability,” according to my trusty friend Wikipedia. Which, as a writer, really grosses me out. The fact that they, at such young ages, realized that they were being treated by their label as a commodity, not as serious musicians, said, “Okay, well if that’s how it’s going to be then we’re going to go do our own thing,” and did just that is pretty amazing to me. There is a documentary about their break with Island Def Jam Records, Strong Enough to Break, available for free on iTunes. It’s named after a song off the Underneath album (their first independent release) about the process of leaving the label.

Anyway, back to the concert. They also played some really great songs from back in the day, like “Where’s the Love”and “A Minute Without You” (before “Great Divide” my favorite Hanson song) from Middle of Nowhere (the album that “Mmmbop” helped climb the charts), and “This Time Around,” “If Only,” and “Can’t Stop” from This Time Around, and “Strong Enough to Break,” “Penny and Me,” and “Hey” from Underneath. They actually ended the show with “Hey,” which was weird, but I guess it’s a high energy song with possibility for audience participation

As to appearance, Taylor is still the hottest one. Isaac has been wearing his hair in a buzz cut, and he kind of looks like John Corbet, but in a good way! And Zac…well, Zac is good-looking, they all are, but his hair needs a cut (didn’t it always though?) and he’s got some mad ugly fauxial hair going on in the chin region. He’s definitely my favorite, though, and probably always will be. They’re all really thin, though. Eat a sandwich, Hanson boys!

Just for funsies, I thought I’d post my ideal Hanson playlist. You can download all these fantastic tunes on iTunes or, well, basically anywhere else I’d guess.

1. “Great Divide” – The Walk
2. “Save Me” – This Time Around
3. “A Minute Without You” – Middle of Nowhere
4. “Lost Without Each Other” – Underneath
5. “Georgia” – The Walk
6. “Strong Enough to Break” – Underneath
7. “If Only” – This Time Around
8. “With You In Your Dreams” – Middle of Nowhere
9. “Penny and Me” – Underneath
10. “Fire on the Mountain” – The Walk
11. “This Time Around” – This Time Around
12. “Madeline” – Middle of Nowhere
13. “Get Up and Go” – Underneath
14. “Watch Over Me” – The Walk
15. “Mmmbop” – Middle of Nowhere
16. “Been There Before” – The Walk
17. “Where’s the Love” – Middle of Nowhere
18. “Love Song” – This Time Around
19. “Yearbook” – Middle of Nowhere*
20. “Go” – The Walk
21. “Optimistic” – The Best of Hanson, Live and Electric

This is getting long, so I’m not going to gush about all the philanthropy and donating and activism they do, but do check out their website if you want to know about that and how you can help.

*Do me a favor: go to the website and listen to this on the 10th anniversary acoustic re-recording of Middle of Nowhere they did last year and I DARE YOU to tell me it doesn’t give you chills. This song reminds me so much of All Unquiet Things; I listened to it over and over and over again while I was writing the manuscript last year. Just replace “Johnny” with “Carly” and it’s almost a perfect match.