Saturday, February 23, 2013

Marissa Meyer at the Library!

If you ever get a chance to see Marissa Meyer, author of Cinder, take advantage of it.  She is a dynamic and entertaining speaker. 

Her website said she would be speaking at the Bothell Library (in a small suburb of Seattle), and when I arrived, I wondered if the two rows of chairs set up would be enough.  While I was standing there, a woman brushed against me lightly as she went up the space between the rows.  It was Marissa Meyer herself, and I was startled that she’s taller than I am.  (Okay, she was wearing heels, but it still surprised me.) 

Marissa is very gracious and took the time to pose for pictures with anyone who wanted to.  The teenage girls were thrilled at this, since Cinder and its sequel Scarlet are young adult novels.  And yes, the library staff had to about double the amount of chairs they set out. 

Marissa Meyer is an accomplished public speaker:  She spent the first half hour talking about how she got her start in writing, reading an excerpt from Scarlet, and regaling us with the old, non-Disneyfied versions of fairy stories.  Then she spent the next half hour taking questions.  She was able to answer any question with charm and good humor.   

She could tell from my questions that I’m an aspiring author, so the last thing she said to me before tackling the line for her autographs was “Good luck.”  Cinder was the breakout young adult novel of last year, and go see Marissa Meyer if she’s speaking at any location near you, not for the sake of the book, but to hear a personable author. 

She’s mastered her writer’s smile.
I’ll have to work on mine.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Star Trek Bloopers

At last, a set of high-quality Star Trek bloopers. "Engage.  No, don't engage.  Energize."  
Previous ones looked like they were taken by someone’s video camera aimed at a TV, or they were mostly swearing.  At least in these clips, they bleep out the swearing.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cell Phones Save us from a Meteor

I assume you all heard about the meteor that exploded over Russia on St. Valentine’s Day, injuring over a thousand people. 

I’m going to put a different spin on this and say that digital cameras, dash cams, and iPods and similar devices helped prevent a greater catastrophe.  In the old days, when nuclear missiles in silos and submarines were constantly ready to be launched, and when long-range nuclear bombers could be scrambled at a moment’s notice, the possibility of a misunderstanding setting off a nuclear exchange was a real possibility.  In particular, the fear of an exploding meteor like the one just experienced was openly discussed. 

Consider that with a slightly different trajectory, the meteor could have exploded over Moscow.  Before so many people with handheld or dashboard digital cameras could make such clear, amateur recordings, the Russians might have suspected the worst.  If this happened over the former Soviet Union, missiles or bombers might have been launched in retaliation.  But nowadays these amateur videos with their clear recordings show the object does not look like a nuclear missile.  Scientists in any nation could glance at the recordings and identify the object as a meteor. 

You might reply that even during the height of cold war tensions, the major powers would try to communicate with each other before launching a retaliatory strike.  Fair point.  But this sort of thing could happen a few years from now, when rogue states like Iran or North Korea have credible nuclear missiles.  What would happen if a blast went off over one of those nations? 

To see the best-researched movie on how a nuclear exchange could have gone out of control, watch By Dawn’s Early Light, starring Powers Booth.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blog Angry, Get Fired

Do you really want to badmouth your boss on an anonymous blog? 

Here in Seattle, a barista badmouthed his boss and bragged about giving lousy customer service, all on an anonymous blog.  Until he got caught.  He revealed a personal detail about himself, and now he’s fired.  Read about it here

photo by Kuba Bozanowski

Frankly, that kind of irate rant is “miching mallecho”to quote Hamleteven if you think your blog (or Facebook account, or Twitter, etc.) will never get traced back to you.  And for those of you who use Google+, I know you can keep your circles private from the rest of us—until someone finds a way to hack the system.  If you’re an aspiring writer, artist, or musician, or just want to keep your job, that kind of stuff should be yelled at the walls and never be put on the internet. 

Oh, and the barista who got fired?  Don’t worry about him.  He’s a philosophy major, and he wants to become a hip hop artist.  I’m sure that combination just guarantees a solid income.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Importance of Titles

How important is a good title to selling a book?  Well, let’s look at some of the foibles of the movie business when it comes to finding a good name. 

public domain

Possibly the worst original name for a movie was $3,000.  That was the original title for Pretty Woman—the original referred to how much the guy paid for Julia Roberts’ character. 

photo by Towpilot
Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night

Who in the world came up with that title?  Obviously Saturday Night Fever was much better.  I don’t want to see any movie with John Travolta involving tribal rites. 

photo by Gage Skidmore
The Body

A non-ridiculous title change involved Stephen King’s novella The Body.  This was made into a classic coming-of-age movie, and they wisely chose the title Stand By Me. The original title was not bad, but the new one reached out to a wider audience.  (Although one can just imagine what a movie nowadays would be like called The Body and featuring Wil Wheaton.  Would it go straight to Saturday night on the SyFy channel?) 

photo by Alan Light 
Tonight He Comes  

Is shorter better?  This superhero movie was originally Tonight He Comes, which doesn’t really sound superhero to me.  Then it was changed to John Hancock, then just Hancock.  I don’t know if Will Smith ever commented. 

Star Beast 

Sometimes good titles are simply taken.  The original title for Alien was Star Beast.  Perhaps they realized that title was the same as a well-known book by Robert Heinlein. 


And some changes are just dumb, in my opinion.  The word is that Disney feared that boys wouldn’t want to see a movie about Rapunzel, so the title was changed to Tangled.  Huh?  Why give up such a well-known title? 

So, what lessons do we learn for books?  Well, titles matter.  Was there something wrong with calling a movie $3,000?  You betcha.  But don’t say that only crass Hollywood people would do that.  Think of the people you know who would name their stories something similar to Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.  If other writers can be ridiculous, perhaps you can be too in unguarded moments.   

Sometimes shorter is better, as with Hancock.  Or, the title simply has to be changed to reach the target audience, as in Stand By Me.  No firm rules here.  But you can put in a good deal of effort, only to find a good working title is taken.  Titles are not subject to copyright, but a publisher will be leery of looking like they are ripping off someone else’s fame. 

And of course, the marketing department may just insist their idea is better, and no matter how much you scream, you will not get your way.   

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review of Warm Bodies

A guy is frightening.  A gal is forced to stay with him.  He must somehow transform so they can be together.  Is this Beauty and the Beast?  No, it’s Warm Bodies

(Once you watch the trailer, there are no real spoilers below.) 

R (Nicholas Houl) is a zombie who can’t even remember his name.  But unlike zombies in other movies, he’s self-aware, and we can hear his thoughts as he wanders around the abandoned airport several zombies inhabit.  He would like to remember his pre-zombie life, but he can’t.  He would like to communicate with his fellow zombies, but he can only grunt.  So he’s stuck in this dead existence. 

Julie (Teresa Palmer) is part of a group of people overrun by zombies.  She does her best, but when she’s out of shotgun shells, she can only wait for R to kill her.  Instead, he does the most unexpected thing:  He smears some blood and gore on her face to make her smell like a zombie, he shushes her in a calming way, then takes her to an airplane he’s made into a makeshift home.  From there, he gradually begins speaking in a halting sort of way and tries to persuade her to stay.  Why?  His heart has started to beat a little around her, and he’s actually falling in love with her. 

Although Julie is intrigued about the change R is undergoing, she is still well aware he’s a zombie and tries to escape more than once.  When she does get back to her father, who is in charge of what’s left of the human race, she tries to explain that R is changing, becoming human again.  Will she be able to persuade him, and will R pursue this woman he now loves? 

The theme in the trailer is “Love makes us human,” and this is a funny, engaging, and dare I say, sweet zombie movie.  The wry tone that Nicholas Houl maintains in the narration, along with his awkward motions and facial expressions keep the movie constantly amusing.  Teresa Palmer (who has dropped her Australian accent from I Am Number Four) delivers a believable performance as the girl who is gradually coming to trust this thing she has been trained to always avoid.  Her character becomes grating when she’s too rebellious towards her father, but I suppose that’s some effort to make her a strong woman, or something like that.  The awkward chemistry between R and Julie is like that of so many rootless, listless people who are drawn together for no particularly good reason.   

And like any good version of Beauty and the Beast, R has to go through a kind of death experience for this to work . . . but that would be telling.  I described this movie to a friend, noting that the zombies are not gross-looking (except for the bonies—guess what they look like), and she concluded it is an entry-level zombie movie.  So whether or not you’ve enjoyed this genre in the past, I highly recommend Warm Bodies

This all reminds me of the time I took pictures of Seattle’s annual zombie walk

For a Christian spin on this movie, read more. 


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