Category Archives: movies

We Are All The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

Watch me, now.

Watch me, now.

Yesterday, I started the 7-minute workout, the latest fitness craze made popular by an article in the NY Times. According to the article, “exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10.” So, when I told my husband I’d done it, he asked if I’d remembered to work at 80% of my maximum effort. To which I responded: “Doesn’t everyone?”

My argument being that most people rarely function at 100% of their capacity unless they’re under special circumstances, like competing in the Olympics or being chased by killer bees.

It’s like when you go out for a run and finally settle into a rhythm, then a car drives by, or another jogger comes along and you speed up your pace. Turns out, you did have more to give, only you didn’t want to use it unless you absolutely had to, which, thanks to a hearty dose of shame, you did, as soon as that cute guy in the short-shorts whizzed by you.

I was thinking about the idea of pushing ourselves to the max and how it relates to being a screenwriter/novelist. There’s a lot you can say about showbiz folks, but the one thing you can’t accuse them of is not giving it their all. Be it the grueling dance rehearsals and tour schedule of a highly paid pop music diva or the hours a writer like me spends toiling away in solitude—the competitive nature of this business require that when we perform, we do it at no less than 100%.

I guess, in a way, being in showbiz is it’s own kind of interval training—sprint and rest, sprint and rest.  And we need those calm periods in between film shoots and manuscripts in order to slow down and reconnect with ourselves, to get more than five hours of sleep a night, and refill our creative wells. But the second we’re called to action, we’re off and running again. Because no one ever gave that break-out movie performance or landed a life-changing script deal by giving anything less than 100%.  

At least that’s what we tell ourselves each time our screenplays fail to sell, or when we don’t get that directing job or land that plum role. We rally, regroup, then push ourselves to do better next time. We double down. Then, we double down again.

Yet, in the rest of our lives, I think most of us operate at around 80%, at best.  Just last night I was talking about this with another mom (as we watched about 20% of our sons’ baseball game) bemoaning the fact that no matter what we do, we’ll never be better than be B+ parents.  I know this because during the first three years of my son’s life, I tried parenting 100%—hauling my floppy-necked infant to mommy-baby drum circles, my valuable hours spent filling ice cube trays with homemade organic baby food.  Turns out, 100% mommying is about 20% too much mommying for me.  At least it is if I want to leave space for any of the other important things in my life, like my writing, my husband, and my friends.

In general, I believe there’s nothing wrong with living life at 80%. It’s steady. It’s not totally exhausting. If life is a marathon, 80% is what we need if we want to cross the finish line. 

But what I’ve had to come to terms with over the years is that creative types like me don’t like to run at a steady pace.  We prefer pushing ourselves to our limits, even if we have to put ourselves in extraordinary circumstances and under extraordinary pressure in order to find out exactly what those limits are. Which is why we are all the hardest-working men in show business. (No offense to James Brown.) And even though it can feel utterly depleting at times, dancing as fast as we can without any guarantee  we’ll win the dance contest, I believe there’s great value in challenging ourselves. Like mothers who suddenly find themselves able to lift a Volkswagen off their child, unless we’re pushed to our limits, we may never find out how strong we truly are. 

 

 

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Win Tons of Books & Stuff at TeamTEEN Author’s Dare Day Challenge

Guess what, teamTEEN author fans?  It’s Dare Day again!  I know I said that last week, but apparently I jumped the gun a bit.  Whoops.  But the good news is, this week, you can enter to win books & stuff!

To check out all of the fabulous PRIZES, just go to the TeamTEEN Author Dare Day Contest, read the rules, enter the contest, & you may just get lucky.

Dares for this week were concocted by the evil, young minds over at The Perfect 10.  Our choices were:

1) Covering your face with peanut butter & takign a picture (yum!)

2) Writing about your most embarrassing teen moment Shakespearean sonnet-style

3)  Revealing your biggest teen crush, complete with photos (see below)

And if you like seeing authors make fools of themselves, check out these Dare Day posts from other TeamTEEN Authors.

Julie Cross

Janci Patterson

Laura Ellen

Elizabeth Amisu

Eugene Meyers

Kim Sabatini

And now, I present to you, my biggest teen celebrity crush.

My Celebrity Crush Likes Richard Nixon!

I guess I’m a bit of a pragmatist when it comes to love.  Sure, I had my share of teen crushes, but always on boys I actually knew, boys who were, at least theoretically, within my grasp.  Unlike my pre-teen friends, I never understood the thrill in pressing my lips to the pages of Tiger Beat Magazine.  Probably because I had the good sense to realize that there was no way in hell Leif Garret or Shaun Cassidy would choose a nine-year-old as their girlfriend.  And except for one naughty dream about Van Halen front-man David Lee Roth (which I blame entirely on my subconscious) the boys of my fantasies were always just regular ol’ dudes.

And then I saw Michael J. Fox.

For the record, I also had a girl-crush on Justine Bateman.

Never mind that he was 5’2” and, in all likelihood, weighed less than me. Or that his character on FAMILY TIES was a rabid Republican.

Why, Alex, why???

Then BACK TO THE FUTURE came out, and my infatuation swelled to proportions not even a flux capacitor could measure.

Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?

By the time I went to Japan for the summer as an exchange student, I’d created a well-worn collection of romantic MJF fantasies to keep me company whenever I felt lonely. Which was a lot.  These often played to the soundtrack of Paul Simon’s Graceland—one of the few cassette tapes I’d brought with me on my trip.

Thinking about that time in my life brings up fond memories. And as a tribute to my former crush, I’m going to go donate to his charity for Parkinson’s Disease right now.

https://www.michaeljfox.org

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Dare Day: In Which I Reveal My Biggest Celebrity Crush

Guess what, teamTEEN author fans?  it’s Dare Day again!  Oh yes, I already completed my qualifying dare last March (see below).

But I’ve never been one to turn down a chance to humiliate myself on the interwebs.  And so, I present to you, my biggest celebrity crush.

My Celebrity Crush Likes Richard Nixon!

I guess I’m a bit of a pragmatist when it comes to love.  Sure, I had my share of teen crushes, but always on boys I actually knew, boys who were, at least theoretically, within my grasp.  Unlike my pre-teen friends, I never understood the thrill in pressing my lips to the pages of Tiger Beat Magazine.  Probably because I had the good sense to realize that there was no way in hell Leif Garret or Shaun Cassidy would choose a nine-year-old as their girlfriend.  And except for one naughty dream about Van Halen front-man David Lee Roth (which I blame entirely on my subconscious) the boys of my fantasies were always just regular ol’ dudes.

And then I saw Michael J. Fox.

For the record, I also had a girl-crush on Justine Bateman.

Never mind that he was 5’2” and, in all likelihood, weighed less than me. Or that his character on FAMILY TIES was a rabid Republican.

Why, Alex, why???

Then BACK TO THE FUTURE came out, and my infatuation swelled to proportions not even a flux capacitor could measure.

Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?

By the time I went to Japan for the summer as an exchange student, I’d created a well-worn collection of romantic MJF fantasies to keep me company whenever I felt lonely. Which was a lot.  These often played to the soundtrack of Paul Simon’s Graceland—one of the few cassette tapes I’d brought with me on my trip.

Thinking about that time in my life brings up fond memories. And as a tribute to my former crush, I’m going to go donate to his charity for Parkinson’s Disease right now.

https://www.michaeljfox.org

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Household Hints from Hilary

If you’re a slob like me, it’s hard to find the time to clean house after a long day’s work.  Or ever.  And even with a semi-regular housekeeper on the payroll, the mess can pile up quickly (ususally from fifteen minutes after said housekeeper leaves up until the next time she comes).

Except for that one special day each month when I’m driven to scrubbing my faucet fixtures with a toothbrush, I don’t clean very well or very often.  I can’t be bothered to wipe that blob of hair gel off the bathroom mirror, even though I know I caused it.  I don’t sweep or dust regularly, and the noise of the vacuum frightens me, like a house cat.  Even when I come home with a pristine new piece of technology, promising myself that this time, I will honor the sleek and unblemished beauty of my new iPod, or Apple keyboard, one month later, its formerly infinitesimal crevices are bursting with stray hairs and food crumbs.  (Sorry, SJ.  RIP.)

So, how can a Messy Marvin like me give household advice to a bunch of neatniks?   (And by neatniks, I’m mean those of you who clean your fridge more frequently than on presidential election years.)  Well, as they say, out of chaos comes order.

Take, for example, my innovative approach to Car Fresheners.  Unlike store-bought fresheners, my innovative Tangerine-Scented Car Potpourri is up-cycled, organic, and fully compostable.  Just eat a tangerine while driving, throw the carcass on the floor, and voila–citrusy freshness that will last for days! (or until it starts to mold over).

Mmmm, tangerine-y.

Or what about Sock Mopping?  (Patent pending.) Who hasn’t wished there was a way to clean up those trouble spots on the kitchen floor without the hassle of dragging out the mop and  bucket?  Now there is!  Simply step in the water you’ve just spilled (and if you’re like me, you’re pretty much always spilling water) then use the toe of your sock to rub away the sticky spots.  Sure, your sock will be a little damp and dirty afterwards, but suck it up, wuss.  You want to see damp and dirty?  Try hanging out in an underwater Vietnamese prison, like these guys.

Waah, your sock is damp.

My third helpful hint is called Godfathering, inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film.  Having a problem with household pests?  Why waste all the effort it takes to walk all the way to your bathroom to flush a squished fly down the toilet, when you could just leave him there and send  a message to his friends?  I don’t think the other flies will be too keen on buzzing around your desk lamp when they take a gander at their pal’s corpse in the windowsill.

This fly's decaying corpse is also a "teachable moment" for the children.

The last cleaning innovation isn’t mine, but if it were real, I would definitely buy it.  The one and only  Swiffer Sleepers, by the geniuses at SNL.  Seriously, someone should sell these.

"Not recommended for children with allergies."

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Fiction and Movies and Blogs, Oh My!

Just got back from a whirlwind trip to NYC for Teen Book Fest, (where my speaking engagement didn’t exactly go as planned) then Portland, Maine for the Chidlren’s Film Festival (where my speaking engagement went better than planned).  But both trips were full of unexpected book & movie-related delights along the way.

Delight #1 – A visit with my publisher.  Once again, my lovely editor, Alexandra Cooper, gave me the official Simon & Schuster tour, where I got to meet all of the people in Sales, Marketing, and Publicity who are working hard to make REUNITED a success (presumably, they’re publishing other titles, too).

When I got off the elevator at Simon & Schuster, there was this. Not bad company, eh? Though I hear they gave Whaley champagne. ;)

Delight #2 - Authors & BBQ - Though our Teen Author Fest event didn’t exactly go as planned (insert loud throat-clearing here) I did get to enjoy a wonderful lunch with a gang of great authors including:   Leanna Renee Hieber (author of DARKER STILL), Lauren McLaughlin (author of SCORED and the CYCLER series), Kody Keplinger (author of THE DUFF and SHUT OUT), PG Kain, (author of the COMMERCIAL BREAKS series) and Gwendolyn Heasley (author of WHERE I BELONG and the forthcoming A LONG WAY FROM YOU).  A definite highlight of my trip!

Leanna Renee Hieber, Lauren McLaughlin, and I visit the lovely teen room at the Hamilton Grange Branch of the NY Public Library.

Delight #3 - While in the East Village with my friend Chuck, we walked by the inspiring & hilarious Janeane Garofalo, who was rocking red leggings and combat boots, like a total bad-ass.  No photo, but you get the picture.

Delight #4 - In Portland, ME we always stay with my sister & her family.  Recently, my eight-year-old niece created her own in-house library, complete with official library cards, a reference section, and a wide selection of books and videos available for loan.  A family library card cost 35 cents.  Also, there’s a tip jar.

My niece's library, where we took out a Muppets Movie and a Calvin & Hobbes book.

Delight #5 - This is me, leading a filmmaking workshop at the Children’s Film Fest in Portland, ME.  Great kids, well-attended, and I was sooooo happy to see so many girls interested in making movies!

Raise your hand if you want to overthrow the patriarchy.

Delight #6 - Kirsten Cappy of Curious City is also based out of Portland, ME and we spent the afternoon eating sushi & scheming with the uber-cool librarian and all-around Renaissance man Michael Whitaker.  You can see some of our plans for REUNITED here:  http://curiouscitydpw.com/2012/03/28/fictional-band-at-your-library/

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Ever wonder what to do with all those old VHS tapes?

Ever wonder what to do with all those old VHS tapes?  My 7-year-old son has the solution!  Just grab a hammer and start smashing, and soon you will unravel a world of hidden treasure.

Did you know that it takes 3 minutes and 24 seconds to unravel one 30-minute VHS tape end to end?

Turns out that smashing old videotapes is way more fun than actually watching them.

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Cool Animation by Moss Moon

My friend Bill Long is a talented artist & animator & I’m proud to share the latest installment of his web series here.  Those of you who know me may recognize the voice of Zara, the hottie on bass.  Too bad the non-animated version of me doesn’t look that good in a purple micro-mini. ;)

Oh, and you may want to watch Part 1 first.

To check out more of Moss Moon Studio’s animation, including the gorgeous work of his partner, Kaori Hamura, Check out their YouTube Channel and their Website.

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Come to the Dark Side: Ten (Moody) Must-See Films for Teenagers

Ever since Meghan Cox Gurdon accused young adult literature of being “too dark” in a Wall Street Journal editorial last June, authors, readers, and other people whose coming of age did not take place inside of a magical bubble of rainbows and unicorns, fired back, citing the innumerable reasons why teens enjoy dark fiction and why this is okay.  So I feel no need to add this dialogue.

But, I will admit that I often gravitated toward the dark side when it comes to my choice of entertainment, and never so much as during my teen years.  Back then I wore lots of black.  I listened to The Smiths and The Cure.  I read the Flowers in the Attic series in fifth and sixth grade and as a junior and senior I poured through Jerzy Kosinski’s novels.  So when it came to movies, for every viewing of Dirty Dancing and Breakfast Club—which, as you may remember, are not without their bleak moments—there was also a Heavenly Creatures or a Harold and Maude.

And so, my dear teens, if you dare to step outside your normal world (which, no doubt is problem-free and smells like daydreams and bubblegum) I offer this list.  Some of these films are old enough that I watched them back when I was a teenager.  Others are more recent.   And lest you think I’m forgetting about such dark and twisted cinematic greats as A Clockwork Orange or Brazil or Blue Velvet, keep in mind that this list is specific to teens and the teenage experience.  Enjoy!

Ten (Moody) Must-See Films for Teenagers

 (All synopses stolen from www.imdb.com )

1. THE VIRGIN SUICIDES – A group of male friends become obsessed with a group of mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents after one of them commits suicide.

Here’s the trailer.  The soundtrack by Air says it all.

2. HEATHERS – A girl who half-heartedly tries to be part of the “in crowd” of her school meets a rebel who teaches her a more devious way to play social politics.

Six words:  I love my dead gay son.

3. HEAVENLY CREATURES – Two girls have an intense fantasy life; their parents, concerned the fantasy is too intense, separate them, and the girls take revenge.

My favorite Peter Jackson film (I don’t like Lord of the Rings, so shoot me) stars a young Kate Winslet and the always extraordinary Melanie Lynskey.

4. PARANOID PARK – A teenage skateboarder’s life begins to fray after he is involved in the accidental death of a security guard.

Directed by the brilliant Gus Van Sant, this film will haunt you for days.  Paranoid Park perfectly captures that horrible sinking feeling that comes from carrying the burden of a terrible secret.  Though thankfully, I’ve ever had a secret quite this terrible.

5. THE OUTSIDERS –When two poor greasers, Johnny, and Ponyboy are assaulted by a vicious gang, the socs, and Johnny kills one of the attackers, tension begins to mount between the two rival gangs, setting off a turbulent chain of events.

It’s unusual when a film is as good as the book that it’s based on, but I guess that’s when happens when you get Francis Ford Copolla to direct.  It’s also one of my favorite books from my teen years, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to do that first.  This trailer is kind of dated, but you may recognize some familiar faces in it.

6. BRICK – A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

Film noir meets high school.  Love it!

7. HAROLD AND MAUDE – Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.

One of my favorite films of all time.  My 10th grade English teacher showed it to us in class.  Go Mrs. Hallal!

8. KIDS by Larry Clarke – An amoral, HIV-positive skateboarder sets out to deflower as many virgins as possible while a local girl who contracted his disease tries to save his next target from her same fate.

This film is probably the bleakest portrayal of teen life I have ever seen.  Watch with caution and shower immediately afterwards.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKBrFUmkU88

9. THE GRADUATE – Recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock is trapped into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, who happens to be the wife of his father’s business partner and then finds himself falling in love with her teenage daughter, Elaine.

OK, so it’s not technically a teen film since Ben’s just graduated from college.  But it’s close enough.

10. THE SWEET HEREAFTER – This film documents the effects of a tragic bus accident on the population of a small town.

Boy, how I loves me some Atom Egoyan (director) and Sarah Polley.   This is quite possibly the saddest movie ever made.

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Want to discover your life’s passion? The clues (you left) are already there.

I believe I was meant to be a writer.  And by that, I don’t mean my career choice was mapped out by the stars (but who knows?), I mean that when I look back on my life and the choices I made, it seems laughable that it took me until the ripe old age of 37 to figure out writing was my calling, since the signs were there all along.

Sure, figuring out I was a writer felt like an epiphany at the time.  But once I started to look back on my past, it was as if I’d left a trail of ridiculously obvious breadcrumbs all leading to one inevitable conclusion.

So, in order to save you years of struggle, I offer this:

Hilary’s Four Simple Clues for Finding Your True Calling(Trademark pending)

Clue #1:  Whom do you most admire?

I’m not talking about your childhood heroes, or we’d all be working for NASA right now, or have spent our pre-teen years being verbally abused by some middle-aged Slavic man in hopes of winning a gold medal for our killer “floor routine.”  I’m talking about the people you truly admire, after you grew out of your “I want to be a millionaire” phase and got into your teens.  Maybe you’ve always looked up to surgeons, or maybe you really respect your friend who works for a non-profit, or your local policemen.  For me, the people I’ve most admired have always, unequivocally been writers.  Even the film directors I like best are almost always writer-directors.   Coincidence?  I don’t think so.   It makes total sense that the thing we (secretly or publicly) hope to achieve is the thing we most esteem.

Clue #2: What were your skills and interests as a child?  What were your favorite classes in school?

I spoke at nine months.  I memorized Madeline when I was two.  I learned to read before kindergarten.  I’ve always had a great vocabulary.  I loved to read as a child.  In high school, I always liked English class best.  I wrote poetry.  Lots of bad poetry.  I was the Editor in Chief of my high school literary magazine.  I spearheaded a political campaign and smooth-talked my way into the governor’s office when I was sixteen.  In college, with the exception of a few filmmaking classes (most of them theory classes, as opposed to production) my favorite classes (and the ones I excelled at) were:  “Creative Writing,” “Suicide in Literature,” Derek Walcott’s “Playwriting” (which was technically only for graduate students, but I audited it), “Screenwriting,” and “Dramaturgy.”  Hmmm.  Perhaps if my life was a work of literature I would have picked up on this subtle theme.

Clue #3:  When you were first deciding what to do with your life/ starting your career, what were your favorite things to do?  Your favorite places to go?

For me, my favorite way to spend a college afternoon was going to the Trident Booksellers & Café on Newbury Street (by myself) and perusing books and magazines while drinking herbal tea and eating a veggie roll-up.   Might I have been craving the solitary life of a writer, longing to be surrounded by the written word and a good selection of hot beverages?

Here is a photo of my current tea drawer.  You be the judge.

In addition to my love of the Trident, I also enjoyed:

  • Going to poetry readings
  • Going to book readings and hearing authors speak
  • Going to indie films
  • Living life with a devil-may-case attitude because even if my recklessness caused my life to go to hell on occasion, it usually made for a good story.
  • Writing poetry
  • Writing short stories
  • Going to the John F. Kennedy Library, not to see the JFK stuff, but to visit the collection of Hemingway’s letters
  • Participating in (and occasionally winning) poetry slams at the Cantab Lounge
  • Making a poetry film with poet Sharon Olds
  • Watching Saturday Night Live and complaining that I could write funnier sketches (but never actually doing it)
  • Writing and directing a feature film (which was much better written than it was directed)

Clue #4:  What’s your personality?

I am someone who likes to make people laugh.  I tell a good story.  I enjoy being the center of attention but I also like (and crave) my alone time.  I am kind, empathetic, overly analytical, silly, hard-working, neurotic, weird, fun, and free-spirited.

In conclusion:

If you are like me, you might look at my personal list of clues and wonder how I lived my life for so long completely blind to the writing (oh, I like puns, too) on the wall.  But alas, hindsight is 20/20 and all of the things I did prior to becoming a quote-unquote writer—many of which actually included writing—lead me to where I am today.

So if you are looking to find your true calling, take solace in the fact that there is no “timeline” to your journey, just as there is no “wrong turn” you can make. And just because I call myself a writer does not exclude all of the many other wonderful things I also am, such as:  mother, wife, friend, film director, editor, yogini, blogger, cook, hiker, reader, and so many more.

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Holden Caulfield Wasn’t Built in a Day: Why Writing Is Revising

The first version hardly ever works.  On paper, or in life.  Think about the first version of the adult you.  Got a mental picture of it?

that haircut still gives me nightmares

Just like you were not a suave seductress tossing out insightful yet witty bon-mots about the latest Terrance Malick film while you were sweating in your jelly shoes in the Cafetorium of the seventh grade dance, the first draft of your fiction (or screenplay) is also not quite ready for the grown-up world.

But we all gotta start somewhere.

In Bird by Bird, the wonderful Anne Lamott urges writers to write shitty first drafts.  This advice is important, if not inevitable.  But the thing I find that most often holds new writers back from this is that they’re too proud about the toil it took to create this very imperfect work that they become blinded to its flaws.  Do You Know How Hard They Worked on This?   Waa.

Well, guess what, people?  That hard work you did is just the beginning!  Because if you’re truly doing service to your story, your prose, and your characters, the sad truth is, it’s going to take several passes to get it right.  And the best thing is,  each time you refine it, you’ll discover ways to make it even better, until finally, (after many, many drafts) it’s almost exactly as you envisioned it.  But never completely.

Perhaps Debbie Allen’s character in FAME said it best.   (Just substitute “dancer” and “fame” for “writer.”)

That said, the ability to be objectively critical of one’s own work is a practice.  If you feel you’re having trouble with it, give it time.  Sometimes, it’s easier to walk away from a piece of writing for a night (a week, a month) so that you’re able to look at it with fresh unbiased eyes.  Our babies are precious to us, and yet, we must be prepared to sacrifice them.

“The boy himself is too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say          about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it.” — Original jacket copy, J.D. Salinger

 

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