Category Archives: pop culture

Can Harvesting Human Body Fat Solve the Oil Crisis?

That’s the premise of GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT, a dark, daring, and hilarious new novel by author/filmmaker Pamela Corkey.  Read my interview with her below.

You'll DEVOUR this book.

You’ll DEVOUR this book.

If I had to place your novel in a genre it would be really difficult, so can you tell me, in general, how are people categorizing it? Science fiction? Drama? Fantasy? Dark comedy?  Literary fiction, or satire with literary fiction underpinnings. It’s not quite “laugh-out-loud funny” enough to be categorized as humor, but it is a comedic satire, not a stark social satire the way you would think of Aldous Huxley or Chuck Paliniuk. It’s lighter than those works but darker than Irma Bombeck. By a mile.

Were any of those writers on your mind? Aldous Huxley, in particular?  No. Actually, I hadn’t read Brave New World when I started working on GDP. I read it while I was writing the book just coincidentally. Now, after reading it, Brave New World had a huge impact on me and my thinking in general, but there’s no connection to Gross Domestic Product for me.

Something that everybody who’s read the book probably wonders: harvesting human fat to solve the oil crisis — where did that completely outlandish premise come from?  I think it was just the natural trajectory of a train of thought. You hear about people adapting their car engines to be able to run on the fat from deep fryers — they go collecting that stuff from fast food chains — and I thought, well, what’s the difference between the fat of a peanut, the fat of a chicken, and the fat of a person? Once that thought struck me, I considered the fact that we also have this often-commented upon obesity issue in our country — so it all just unraveled from there.

I think that’s one of the brilliant things about the book — it takes these two conundrums that we face in our modern world and they dovetail.  Right. I discovered as I was writing the book that it was really all about, “What if we solve all our problems. Then what?” Stories are based on conflicts, but I’ve often been tempted to push past conflict and see what is there to say once they have been resolved. What about society when it’s done addressing its shortcomings? What is the meaning of life if we don’t have struggles? What would we do with ourselves? I don’t know if I answered that question in the book, but it was constantly at the back of my mind while I was writing. What would happen to the human animal if it didn’t have to struggle and strive or exert any effort? What then?

That would bring me to the three main characters: Frannie, Derek, and Treyshawn. Why these specific people?  Early on, when I was just sort of playing around with what would happen if we really could use human fat as a fuel, I wondered who would get rich and what problems it might solve. And one of the first things I imagined was that poor communities that have a much higher rate of obesity and who struggle the most, those would instantly make out like bandits. Poverty would be eradicated. American poverty is not generally made up of a lot of emaciated people the way it often is in other countries. It’s a lot of big people. So I came up with a character who would recognize the opportunity that existed in his own poor community and have the smarts to exploit it.

And that’s Treyshawn.  Yes, that’s Treyshawn. Because he is naturally skinny, he himself can’t participate in the process, but he can see how to exploit it. I didn’t want him to be a villain, even though he’s taking advantage of the situation — I wanted him to be resourceful and caring. I came up with this character who, at the start of the story, is already taking care of everybody. He was born with his eyes wide open and darting around, looking for trouble and trying to preserve himself and those he loves from danger. And I wanted somebody who was immune to the desire to slack off, who didn’t have any impulse to slack off. Treyshawn is just a whirring little engine of industriousness and resolve.

Right. He’s an admirable character. Of the three, his story is the one that gives us something we traditionally expect from stories in that he follows an arc where he overcomes challenges and hurdles and become stronger and wiser. You chose him explicitly to be the one to grow and change rather than then the other two.  Well, none of them really change dramatically. They all come to an understanding with their world and themselves. I guess you’re right though – Treyshawn’s circumstances certainly change a great deal.

And he also gains a lot of self-confidence that he doesn’t have at the beginning.  Yes. Absolutely. That’s absolutely true.

Can you talk about the other two central characters?  Of course. There’s Derek. Derek was actually the first character that coalesced. I wanted somebody who would be in the middle of the media-pop-cultural whirlwind of this initiative — the introduction to the American public of Project People Power, which is the name the government creates for the fat-to-fuel program. So it seemed fitting that he would start out as the fattest man in the world. In the book, Derek starts out completely bedridden, living in a trailer, and then he gets a very extreme and dramatic liposuction that sucks him down to the size of a normal person and he’s put in commercials to popularize the program. He’s not even remotely ready for it. I have a great tenderness for Derek and deep sympathy for his inept attempts at assuaging his pain and fear in this life.

Yeah, and what I would ask you then is, Derek and Franny — you put these poor guys through hell. They’re smart and funny people and they’re characters that a lot of your readers might identify with, even though they might have some problems that are extreme and pathetic. What would you say to someone who said, “Oh, I wish that Derek had more agency or some kind of way to get out of this horrible situation he’s been put in,” or maybe, “Why can’t Franny grow or be stronger-minded in the end?”  Because that isn’t who they are and it wasn’t what I wanted to explore. I tried to give those two characters a happy ending because I’m a sucker for that, but I didn’t want to be disloyal to them or completely manipulative and unrealistic about the psychological profiles I’d created. These three-dimensional characters came to life in my imagination — it’s just not what would happen to them. It would be completely out of character for them to grow in those ways. Franny does a lot of two steps forward, one step back, but in the end I try to reward her. I love her because she’s the idealist who can’t bear to live in this world.

And she struggles when everybody starts to give into this marketing campaign.  Yes, because it’s the antithesis of everything she holds dear, philosophically. Even though that philosophy is made up for a fantasy franchise. She’s trapped in a very mundane life, so she uses her imagination to try to create a simulation of a different world in pure denial of reality.

The place where Franny and Derek do get to have some fun is The Realm (their online game). It seems as if, when the story goes there, Franny and Derek get to escape from their lives, and we as readers can also have fun and fly a little bit, because it’s not so heavy like the rest of the chaos that surrounds them.  Which is exactly why fantasy worlds are so popular, why people are so drawn to games. A game is just a conflict with no real consequences. A simulated conflict with simulated danger and simulated triumph. It’s a lot more compelling than real-life triumphs like, “Oh, fantastic! I found a good parking spot,” or, “There are $212 extra dollars in my monthly paycheck so I’m going to be slightly less pinched.” The triumphs in our actual lives don’t often reach such heights as they do every single day in games like World of Warcraft or a video game like Grand Theft Auto. Most people want to live full lives and just don’t know how. Franny is a person who refuses not to live as full a life as she can, if only in her imagination. Most grown-ups give up on their imaginations. Look at the adults in our lives who are dorks who stay invested in childish dreams of adventure and we look at them with pity or mockery, but there’s something to be said for the life force of a person who refuses to give up on their make-believe world. It’s both sad and beautiful to me.

So have you or do you participate in online gaming?  I don’t. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t get into it enough to for the illusion to take hold. Writing is what I do instead.

There’s an aspect in your writing that I love, and that is the level of detail that creates a sense of these places and the characters that inhabit them and always makes me think, “She’s been there. She knows folks just like this.” Have you been to these places you describe? Do you know people like these.  Of course I do, yeah. In parts and pieces. I’m a big Star Trek fan and when I was younger I loved it enough to go to conventions, but I didn’t go to conventions like a normal dork. I remember one time I dressed up in an Original Trek sort of 60s mod alien outfit of my own invention and several people at the convention were like, “What episode is that from?”

You’d just made it up?  Yeah. It was inspired by those campy alien babes, but the conventioneers couldn’t wrap their heads around that — to them it was like I wasn’t doing it right…I do love alternate realities. I do love imaginary worlds.

So, back to the online gaming: do you think that the things you describe, like the cybersex stuff — does that actually happen?  Yes. That happens a lot. It’s not something that I have personal experience with but I do know of people who have. People have gotten divorced over virtual cheating, so having consensual text-based sex or jerking off to somebody else’s prompts — that’s real.

It’s just that combining it with the sci-fi/fantasy stuff seems really over the top, but I’m sure you’re right.It happens constantly. Thousands of people are doing it right now. As we speak, thousands of people doing it in the greater Houston area.

In this book, you’re pretty fearless about tackling topics that other people would consider unmentionable. Anything from farting to deeper social taboos we’ve been socialized to stay away from. Why is it that you decide to go there?  Because I’m a 12-year-old boy. I find those things funny. I think farting is funny. I also find that the most interesting thing is the stuff that nobody wants to talk about. That just seems so obvious to me. If I were in a situation, in a business meeting, say, and somebody had a booger hanging out, the first thing I would say to the person to my left, if I knew them well enough, would be to point out the booger. I find it endlessly interesting to poke at the invisible boundaries that society puts around us. Because they’re so flimsy! They’re so easy to breach. Another reason is I’m concerned that perhaps other people aren’t noticing these things and some of them are really important. Pretending they’re not there is keeping us apart. Because if you say that Bradley has a booger, so what? It humanizes him. If you tell Bradley he has a booger and he laughs and asks how long it’s been hanging there, then you become closer to each other as human beings. But if Bradley gets really uptight and gets upset, then you know that his sense of self-worth is very fragile and you know that you’ve humiliated him and then you’re not friends with Bradley anymore or maybe you treat him more gently.

Yeah, but when you’re writing a book, nobody’s going to get hurt.  Well… that’s not true, but it’s tru-ish. I think that I want to say to Bradley, “Hey, man, don’t be so upset about the booger thing. It was hilarious — there was something to pay attention to while we were going through all those dry, boring numbers.” I want Bradley to know that I see his booger and I like him anyway. How can we be really be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts? Or our humanity, our frailty, the little weaknesses that plague all of us from the moment we’re born.

I want to take the quote, “How can we be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts,” and crochet that onto something.  Be my guest. I do have a copyright on that, but I hereby grant you permission. You have to send me a picture of it though.

What’s next for Treyshawn and for the world? And what about you, personally? Are you planning to start a new novel?  What’s next for Treyshawn is I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I envision him coming back with an incredibly brilliant scheme to rescue the planet from itself. But I have no idea. See, that doesn’t need to be a book. There’s no story there. There’s just Treyshawn being awesome. What’s next for Treyshawn is greatness.

Do Franny and Derek have a baby? Yes.

And what’s next for you? I’m working on a web series right now, but I plan to write another book. I have three different story ideas that I am developing and have notes on and I can’t decide which one to devote the next several years to. I think it’ll be the one that seems like it would be the most fun world to spend all that time in.

Thank you for writing this delightful novel. You’re welcome. And thank you for your time and the thought you put into this.

Click Here to purchase GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT on Kindle for only $3.99.  

on the train

Author Pamela Corkey, jammin’ to some tunes.

Pamela Corkey is a film professor at Hofstra University, a director, and the author of numerous screenplays. Her debut novel, Gross Domestic Product, which was recently released on amazon.com and will soon be available in print as well, revolves around the premise that the United States has solved the oil crisis by harvesting human fat, and explores how this development affects the lives of her characters and the social fabric of the country. 

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Hollywood Trend Alert! Is Quiet the New Noisy?

white_noise_tvNoisy is the new buzzword in television, and as several TV execs told me recently, the noisier the series, the better. In the old days, a few unsolved murders and a little sexual tension was enough to titillate the masses. But in today’s world of 10 billion channels, it’s no longer just about a cool, high-concept idea. For a show to succeed, it needs to make a frigging cacophony.

So, if your show’s main character is a time-travelling, gay, bi-polar cannibal who teaches Sunday school by day and by night, battles zombie prostitutes… congratulations! You might just be on to something. The equation for success in the TV biz being: More + More = More!

The word noisy so well-encapsulates the ideal of the modern television that it has officially dethroned Hollywood’s former favorite catchphrase, “fresh and edgy.” (A note to aspiring screenwriters still using the term “fresh and edgy,” you might as well describe your series as  “groovy” and see how well that goes over.)

It’s like that AT&T commercial where the guy asks the roundtable of kids, “What’s better—doing two things at once, or just one?” and the kids all shout “Two!” But when did we decide it was a good idea to listen to six-year-olds? These are people who actually laugh at The Chipmunks movies, people who prefer One Direction over Radiohead, people who’d eat an entire bag of marshmallows for dinner if we let them. Of course children (and their teenage counterparts) want noisy television. They are noisy. Which is why, whenever I find myself in a room full of kids, it takes everything in my power not to start shouting at them to zip their lips and calm the f*ck down.

My point is:  isn’t our world loud enough? Especially when it comes to TV. From the splashy lower-third promos constantly assaulting us, to the fact that roughly half of us now watch while simultaneously Tweeting, we have forgotten everything we once enjoyed about television—namely, the ability to lay down on our couches, get lost in a story, and forget all about our crazy lives.

And let’s not forget the shrill onslaught of commercials that come booming into our living rooms at alarmingly high decibels these days. After years of advertisers turning it up to eleven, the FCC has finally managed to avert their lecherous gaze away from celebrity nipple-slips in order to do their actual job. And for the past few weeks, they’ve been banging their brooms on the ceiling like the angry grandpas they truly are, shouting for advertisers “Turn that racket down!” The only problem: the damn commercials are so loud no one can hear them.

Of course, there are some cable networks that are making an impact with quieter, slower shows, like Sundance Channel’s great new series, RECTIFY. As many people have already commented, RECTIFY’s two-hour premiere episode was extraordinarily slow-paced—refreshingly, even shockingly so. But maybe that’s what it takes to truly stand out in today’s noisy world. Could it be that successful television isn’t just about who can create the biggest racket? Maybe being quiet actually makes the biggest noise of all.

Author’s note:  In the interest of full disclosure, I might be turning into an old crank, like my mother, back in the 80’s, who was baffled by my love of “quick-cut” music videos on MTV. “You’re going to get epilepsy,” she would warn as I lay, transfixed on the floor of our shag-carpeted family room. I recently went onto YouTube and re-watched some of these quote-unquote fast-paced music videos with my son, and we both agreed that by today’s standards, they seemed almost laughably slow.

 

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The Art of Asking (Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk)

AFP-TED-300x200

Amanda Palmer says don’t make people pay for music. let them ask. Could the same wisdom apply to the world of books, film, & TV?  Hmmm…

 

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Battle of the Boy Bands (with prizes!)

Are you a die-hard 1D fan?

One Direction

 Or is The Wanted the one that you want?

Maybe you’re kicking’ it old-school, locked in a decades-long feud with your BFF over the various merits of the Backstreet Boys versus NKOTB.

Either way, it’s time to let your opinion be heard!  And if you’re lucky, you may even walk away with some prizes!

Just type the name of your favorite boy band in the comments section of this post and you’ll be automatically entered to win a $10 iTunes gift card plus a copy of the ultimate fan-girl novel, REUNITED.

Big TIme Rush

Level3

Jonas Brothers

NKOTB (the band formerly known as New Kids on the Block). Just like when Kentucky Fried Chicken started calling itself KFC.

Contest ends Friday July 6th.  Open to U.S. residents only.  And enter the poll, too!  But you must leave a comment if you want to win the prizes!

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Filed under books, movies, YA, writing, music, pop culture, pop music, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham

Can’t a 40-Something Woman Read “Seventeen Magazine” in Peace?

My husband frequently tools on me for reading SEVENTEEN and TEEN VOGUE, even though he knows I do it for work.  As a young adult novelist and screenwriter who writes a lot of teen movies, it’s important to stay up to date with the teen culture and lingo.  Which, as I often remind my husband, makes my subscriptions tax deductable.

But the thing is, I’m secretly glad I have an excuse to read these magazines.  And not just because I like to keep up with the fashion trends for Prom season.  These magazines aren’t intended for me, but like unearthing a repressed traumatic memory, I believe they are healing the teen girl inside of me, the young me who flipped through their pages filled with self-loathing because she didn’t look like the models, no matter how much Clearisil and Noxema she slathered on, the girl who felt like a reject because didn’t have a boyfriend about which to fill out the ubiquitous Love Quiz at the end.  Or, at least a boyfriend who wasn’t gay.

I think there’s something very valuable in grown women  (and men!)  looking back on that time in our past when were first stepping (and mis-stepping) into our adult selves. As someone who writes about and for teenagers, I’m glad I’m able to use my own experiences to offer some wisdom to teenagers today.

And apparently, I’m not alone.

Below are some fun and entertaining resources for that rich and fascinating intersection of the adult and teenage worlds.   Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

1. THE JV CLUB PODCAST

Presented by Nerdist.com and produced by the wonderful Janet Varney, this weekly, hour-long podcast features Janet interviewing popular actresses and comedians about their teen years.  Hilarious, wise, and absolutely addictive!

2.  DEAR TEEN ME

Dear Teen Me is a blog of letters, written by YA authors, to their teenage selves.  And now, it’s a book, too!  Read my Dear Teen Me post here, and peruse hundreds of others.  So heartening.  So 80’s.

3. YOUNG ADULT

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s worth checking out.  Definitely the dark side of that strange phenomenon known as Grown-Ups Who Are Stuck in High School.

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Filed under books, movies, YA, writing, pop culture, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, teenage girls, writing, young adult

Shave It for Later

I was only twelve years old when I begged my mother to let me start shaving my legs.  She said I was too young, I whined and pleaded, and ultimately, she sat me on a folding chair in the backyard and slathered my legs with Nair.

Part rite-of-passage, part torture session, my introduction to the world of hairless legs was followed up by mom’s pit-shaving tutorial, along with a package of knee-skinning disposable razors.  (Anyone ever note how Bic rhymes with nick?) But after one particularly bloody slip-up on my ankle (no one ever believed me, but I swear I saw bone), I decided to take matters into my own hands and biked down to the local pharmacy to buy myself a sturdy, grown-up and sophisticated Personal Touch.  The package came with three free replacement blades and I remember thinking its fake tortoise shell appearance was “classy.”

Goodbye, old friend. I know you'll be shaving armpits in heaven.

Ten years later, when I lost my razor, I was disappointed to learn that Personal Touch had replaced the yellow-flecked brown of the faux tortoise shell with a more uniformly-colored plain brown plastic.  But what that second razor lacked in style, it made up for in reliability, lasting me all the way from my early 20’s up until this morning.  And it still works just fine.

The sad thing is, I can’t find blades for it because they stopped making Personal Touch razors about five or six years ago.  Much like that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine stockpiles boxes of the discontinued Today Sponge, I hoarded my finite supply of Personal Touch razor blades for years.  Then, when my stash ran out, I bought them on eBay.  And then that just got crazy.  Or, I guess, crazier.

Elaine contemplates her date's spongeworthiness.

So last week, I finally caved in and bought a slick, overly packaged mega-blade monstrosity, but only because it promised to give me creamy-smooth legs like J-Lo.  Which means I’m officially saying goodbye to my Personal Touch razor blade.   Goodbye, old friend.  I know you’ll be shaving armpits in heaven.

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Filed under parenting, pop culture, teenage girls

Cheez-Its, Democracy, and Me

My husband is a Cheez-Its fan, and since he brings his lunch to work every day, we often have a box in the house.  Which is how I became aware of the Cheez-Its “Vote for the Top Cheese” campaign currently on the back of the box, where snackers are urged to log on to Facebook to vote for one of the eight candidates, each personifying a different flavor of cheese.

There’s Colby, the bowtie-wearing “people’s cheese,” and Cheddar Jack, adorned in a bowler tie and cowboy hat (not to be confused with Pepper Jack who wears a top hat and monocle, because the guy apparently thinks he’s Brie).   The whole thing is completely cheesy.  Maybe it’s supposed to be.   So why am I so upset that only one of the candidates for Top Cheese is a woman?

Poor Mozzarella, batting her long eyelashes demurely in her matching pearl earrings and necklace.  She looks more like Baby Swiss’s mother than the next Commander in Cheese, even as she promises to be a “cheese for change.”  Surely such a bland cheese will never win the office of Top Cheese.  But I know that someday there’ll be a female Cheez-It worthy of that role.

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