Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The 2013 Screen Actors Guild Awards - An Insider's View

I promised to let my readers know which films I voted for this month as a member of the Nominating Committee for the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The decision was difficult, with hundreds of choices in some of the categories. Here are the films the Nominating Committee as a whole ultimately chose, as well as those I preferred, though not all my favorites made the final cut.

For Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role the majority of the Committee chose:
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
Denzel Washington - Flight
Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables
John Hawkes - The Sessions

Of these, I had only picked Daniel Day-Lewis. I agree the above are all good choices, but I nominated:
Jack Black - Bernie
Jake Gyllenhaal - End of Watch
Bill Murray - Hyde Park on Hudson
Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained

For Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role the Committee nominated:
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Mirren - Hitchcock
Naomi Watts - The Impossible
Marion Cotillard - Rust and Bone
Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty

I had chosen the first three, but in the other two slots I would have preferred:
Elle Fanning - Ginger and Rosa
Halle Berry - Cloud Atlas

None of my choices in the following category made it through. Nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role were:
Allan Arkin - Argo
Robert DeNiro - Silver Linings Playbook
Javier Bardem - Skyfall
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
Tommy Lee Jones - Lincoln

I agree all of these actors gave excellent performances. As a matter of fact, this was the most difficult category to choose from, but I had selected:
Jim Broadbent - Cloud Atlas
James Gandolfini - Not Fade Away
Samuel L. Jackson - Django Unchained
Michael Peña - End of Watch
Christopher Walken - Seven Psychopaths

For Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role only my choices of Sally Field and Anne Hathaway were in line with the majority of the Committee. These were its nominees:
Sally Field - Lincoln
Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
Helen Hunt - The Sessions
Nicole Kidman - The Paperboy
Maggie Smith - Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I would have preferred:
Anna Kendrick - End of Watch
Laura Linney - Hyde Park on Hudson
Natalie Martinez - End of Watch

And I was way out of sync with my fellow SAG members for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. They chose:
Silver Linings Playbook
Les Miserables
The Sessions

My choices were:
Cloud Atlas
End of Watch
Moonrise Kingdom

As you can see, I had a great preference for End of Watch and Cloud Atlas, two of my favorite films of the year, but they didn't end up in the final nominations at all. That's disappointing to me, especially when it comes to End of Watch. I rarely have seen such spot-on, moving performances as I did from the young actors involved in this riveting film about two cops, close as brothers, dealing with their dangerous work in a bad LA neighborhood, their love-lives, and families. I suppose Cloud Atlas wasn't to everyone's taste, but when you consider each principle actor played many different roles in the film, it was truly an amazing feat (besides the fact that the back-and-forth-in-time plot appeals to a time-travel author such as myself). Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, was also completely overlooked and I think that's because the producers didn't send the Committee members a DVD, and the screenings were held late in the season; therefore not as many saw it. It's also enormously violent (it is a Tarantino film after all), so perhaps it turned some members off. But there's no denying that some of the most exceptional performances of the year were in this funny, deeply emotional film. And honestly, though Les Miserables is a brilliant piece of film-making, and there's no arguing the performances were exceptional, I'm not a huge fan of musicals so I wasn't moved to nominate many from that cast.  

There were some lovely pictures out there this year that would certainly appeal to most audiences, some nominated, some not, such as Moonrise Kingdom, Hitchcock, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Bernie, The Magic of Belle Isle, Quartet, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Won't Back Down, The Intouchables, This is 40, Anna Karenina and Hyde Park on Hudson. There were a few I missed seeing during the screening process, but I heard were very good, which you might want to check out, including: Jeff Who Lives at Home, Amour, The Bachelorette, and Killing Them Softly. Those that I really didn't care for, though perhaps you will feel differently about, are: The Master, On The Road, A Late Quartet, The Grey, Magic Mike and The Paperboy.

Please check ratings before you go. Many of the films from this year are very violent or sexual. If you have a delicate stomach you won't go for Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas, End of Watch, The Impossible, Flight, or Seven Psychopaths.

My favorite movie of the year is one you won't see on the above lists of nominations because it's so Indy that the actors weren't members of the Screen Actors Guild at the time they made the film and therefore not eligible for its award. However, I believe you'll see Beasts of the Southern Wild crop up at the Academy Awards - truly the most inventive, moving, gorgeous, surprising film I saw this year, with some of the most outstanding performances from completely unknown actors.

And now, a recap: Here are my top ten favorite films of the year in order of preference:

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. End of Watch
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Lincoln
5. Argo
6. Cloud Atlas
7. Django Unchained
8. Life of Pi
9. Hitchcock
10. Silver Linings Playbook

Whether you catch them in theaters or at home, don't miss this exciting and exceptional season in motion pictures.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Coming in December 2012: The Time Contessa

How did you come by the idea?
This is the third book in my time-travel series. In the first book, The Time Baroness, my heroine Cassandra travels to Jane Austen’s England; in the second, The Time Heiress, to pre-Civil War New York City. In this third, upcoming, book, The Time Contessa, she travels to Renaissance Italy. The idea for The Time Contessa comes from the mention of another character in the earlier books, Jake,who time-traveled to Renaissance Florence some years before, but screwed something up in the time-line. So he and Cassandra now have to go back and fix it. This was a great opportunity to create a new male character that Cassandra falls for: Lauro Sampieri, a charismatic, artist and inventor.

What genre does your book fall under?

I like to call my books “romantic, time-travel,” as opposed to “time-travel romance,” because they are not traditional romances. They could also fall into the categories of sci/fi, and historical fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters if it were a movie?

I always have in mind Nicole Kidman for Cassandra. I think Javier Bardem or Robert Downey Jr.  would do nicely as Lauro, and I'm pretty sure Jake Gyllenhaal would be a great Jake (nice coincidence about the name too!).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

"Forced to travel back in time to Renaissance Siena with her colleague Jake to solve a mystery about a famous painting that's suddenly ceased to exist, Dr. Cassandra Reilly finds herself struggling to resist the romantic spell that threatens to derail her mission to restore the future, while keeping Jake from permanently falling victim to the past."

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six months. But before that there were a couple of months of research, which remained ongoing while I wrote. I thought I knew a lot about the Italian Renaissance, but I definitely learned things that surprised me; I think they'll surprise the reader too.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It's hard to compare it to books in my genre, because very few deal with time-travel the way I do. But I'd have to say The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon isn't too far off, though her books are quite a bit more violent than mine. Then, as far as historical fiction: Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My life-long love of Italy, the Italian language, the country’s art, it’s culture, food, and let’s not forget its men, inspired me to want to set one of the books in my series there. I studied in Florence for a summer, long ago, and more recently had a vacation in a farmhouse in Tuscany for a week, and I thought: there’s no more beautiful or romantic place in the world than this. But also, I am passionate about the art of the Italian Renaissance: Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Donatello, Rafael…so I wanted to write a book that really focused on the art as well.

The hilarious Barbara Silkstone tapped me for
The Next Big Thing.
I’m passing the tap onto the amazing 
Cara Bertoia, travel-novelist and adventurer!

Friday, November 16, 2012

An Exciting Year, Rubbing Elbows With the Stars!

Lordy, lord, what a year. Here's a wrap up of all the stars I've met this fall, being a member of the Screen Actors Guild Nominating Committee, as well as my take on many of the films.
Ewan McGregor
By the way, Mr. Ewan McGregor is my first choice to star as the hero in the film version of my book, The Time Baroness. When you read it, picture his face as Ben.
Jake Gyllenhaal
Denzel Washington
George Clooney
Ben Affleck
Hugh Jackman
Paul Rudd

Garrett Hedlund

Irrfan Kahn

Matt Damon

Monday, November 5, 2012

The World's First e-ESL Book! Seriously!

I have a very exciting announcement to make. The amazing writing team of Jonathan Ellis and Georgina Young-Ellis, through LTB Productions, has just released the world's first book for students of English as a Second Language written specifically to be used with an electronic reader (Kindle, Ipad, smart phone, PC, Mac, etc.) It's called Making English Your Second Language and it's for sale on Amazon for only $4.99. Can you believe it? A chance for English learners to  download an ESL book directly onto their electronic device or computer! Students can practice reading and vocabulary by clicking on words and getting instant definitions, practice listening to fascinating stories with immediate audio links, review their grammar with fun lessons and exercises, and get writing practice using interesting, current topics.

Teachers can also use the book in the classroom! Just think, students won't have to purchase expensive, heavy books, and educators won't have to worry about about materials getting ruined, marked up, or lost. In a group atmosphere, the writing topics instantly become energetic conversation topics.

Making English Your Second Language brings English learning into the 21st century. If you know anyone who might benefit from this book, please pass on the link, or check it out yourself to see how it might be useful to you or an organization you know of. Remember, it's best used by intermediate to advanced English learners.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sample Read of The Time Baroness

Chapter 1

July 25, 2119—The lace tablecloth was almost real beneath my fingers. Settings of fine china, sterling silverware, and crystal goblets glimmered before me. I wore a burgundy gown in the Empire fashion; it was pretty, but the fabric was stiff and chafed under the arms. The waistband of my underwear was too tight. I pulled at it; did anyone notice? My leg itched, and I couldn’t help but scratch it.
The hostess gave me no clues about how to conduct myself in the formal setting. She was a woman several years my senior, wearing a silvery satin gown. The other guests seated around the table made small talk about the weather. One large-busted lady with pudgy hands asked me, with a sneer, about my journey from America.
“Lovely,” “Delightful,” “Nauseating…” I tried all of the above, but she merely rolled her eyes and looked away.
An elderly man, with a hump on his back, stared at me sullenly from under his bushy eyebrows without saying a word. A plain younger lady, dressed in lavender silk, snickered at my responses.
A glass of ruby wine sat before me on the table, beckoning. Though I was thirsty, I did not pick it up. Finally, a servant came from behind and ladled a greenish soup into the bowl at my place. To my right were several spoons laid out, all similar in size. I chose the one furthest from the bowl, and, after waiting for the hostess, began to eat. The soup was bland, but I was hungry, and devoured it. Suddenly, the conversation flagged. I looked up to see the other guests staring at me, aghast. I dropped the spoon into my bowl, and the room and the people all faded away.
I was left sitting in the black simulation room on a folding chair with a card table in front of me, on which there was a bowl of soup and a glass of wine. Jake’s voice boomed out of the darkness.
“Cassie! What was that?”
“I was hungry.”
“It doesn’t matter! If you’re at a dinner party, you have to eat like you’re barely interested in the food. You’ve got to make conversation between delicate bites, not down the meal like a football player!”
“I’m sorry. Can we start again?”
“We’ll start from when the soup gets served.”
I repeated the dinner party simulation five times before getting every detail correct.
—Cassandra Reilly, prep-journal

Cassandra’s son burst into her office, startling her. “Doing a little shopping, Mom?”
She laughed. It was always good to see him. Above her desk, a holographic, brown velvet gown slowly rotated. “Yes, this one is nice. What do you think?”
“I have no opinion.” He pushed his shaggy black hair out of his face and plopped into a chair.
“I think it will do. I shall have Shannon put it together for me and fit it, then that will make six dresses. They are quite lightweight for winter gowns; it’s a miracle, I mean, it is a miracle women did not freeze to death. But, then, I will be wearing a heavy cloak and winter shoes, so there will be less to pack. I shall order more in London when I get there and have them sent down to Hampshire. I wonder  how long will it take.”
James opened his mouth, but Cassandra cut him off before he could speak, “probably a couple of weeks,” with a command, she called up an array of shoes, gloves, and bags on the display. “Women then did not have as many changes of clothes as we do now, six should be enough. Well, maybe one more for good measure.”
“Mom, don’t go crazy. Remember, you’ll also be carrying nightclothes, underwear, and God knows what else women needed back then.”
“They did not have heavy undergarments in 1820. No corsets or bustles—I do not think I could deal with that.”
“Yeah, but you also have to take a cosmetics case with all your potions and creams and stuff.”
“Yes, you are right. I will just be carrying my luggage from the portal exit to The White Hart Inn, but it cannot be so much that I’m not able to handle it by myself.”
“You used a contraction.”
“You said, ‘I’m’ instead of ‘I am.’”
“Oh, thank you.”
“By the way, how did the inquest go?” James’s dark eyes sparkled.
Cassandra chuckled. “It was not exactly an inquest. Just a ritual we have to go through with the Board of Trustees every year to make sure we have the funds for the next project.”
“Which hopefully will be my journey.”
“Yes, but you have to pick a time and place, and if you do not submit a proposal soon, you might get passed over. Suhan is next in line after you, you know.”
“Yeah. Anyway, I came in here to tell you that we’ll be ready to put Jake through the portal on January second, and as soon as he has all your details secure and he’s back, you go.”
“Excellent.” What a gorgeous evening shawl that now spun in the air before her eyes!
“I wish I could go with him,” James said suddenly.
She turned from the shawl. “Why?”
“Because I want to make sure he gets everything right.”
“Oh, please, Jake is an experienced time-traveler. I trust him completely.”
“Yeah, but I’m worried about you going for so long, and if I were there, at least I could be certain that he finds you the perfect house, in the perfect place—”
“I have never known you to be so concerned about me. I think you just want in on the action.”
“No, that’s not true. I’m very concerned about you. You’re going to be gone a long time, and you’re going to be all on your own. I’ll be worried about you.”
“I appreciate that, sweetheart,” she said. Could he possibly be sincere? “However,  the more we just focus on getting the details of my trip right in the here and now, the better off I shall be. Speaking of which, how is the coin duplication going?”
“Slowly. I still don’t see why Jake can’t just open your account with bills. Everyone used them then, especially in such large quantities.”
“James, we have been over this. If we used bills, it would just be counterfeiting, and frankly, it would be a little harder to reproduce the look and feel of them as accurately as gold coins, since we have almost no examples of the bills. And,  just like counterfeiting, introducing that many bills into the circulation that have no silver or gold to back them up would impact the economy negatively. Not hugely, and not for a while, but the last thing we want to do is cause any significant impact, negative or not.”
“The good old Bank of England will sure be surprised when Jake walks in with a bag full of gold. I just hope he can get it safely from the portal exit to The White Hart, and then from there to the bank.”
“It will be a challenge, but Jake can handle it. He is a strong man, and he does not have to carry many other things, like I do.”
“Too bad they didn’t have hover-luggage back then.”
“Or at least luggage with wheels. Has Jake identified a realtor?”
“Mom, I’m sure they weren’t called realtors.”
“Right you are—purveyors of property. Thank you.”
“Well, the research shows that one of the most reputable ‘purveyors of property’ was Hacket and Smith, so Jake’s going to try them first. And January’s a good time to put a house up for rent.”
“‘Let’ a house James, say ‘let.’ I have to get used to using the right words.”
“Okay, ‘let’ a house. You’re the one who has to say it, not me.”
“I am practicing.”
“I know. Anyway, everyone will be in town for ‘the season,’ as they say, including those who may have great property wealth but little cash to speak of. It won’t be hard to find the sort of family that’s eager to let their estate, complete with furniture and all but their own personal servants for at least a year; especially if you’re willing to pay well, which you are.”
“Just like in Persuasion,” mused Cassandra.
“Right,” James said, rolling his eyes.
“Well, I know you do not understand, but that is the life I want to experience. I want to go, be a good little Hampshire tenant, live quietly in 1820 for a year, mingle as unobtrusively as possible in society, and just live life as closely as I can to how Jane Austen lived it. I will actually be there three years after her death; as you know, I will also be richer than she was, and I will not have my family about me like she did. I am older than she was when she died, and a widow (she never married), but I will be a single woman in more or less her class of society. I am just going to soak in Jane’s countryside, her home, her England.”
“Sounds fascinating.”
“Well, you do not have to comprehend my reasons. I am just glad you are part of the team. You know the technical aspect almost better than I do, and that makes me feel safe.”
James leaned forward in his chair. “Could you just tell me one more time why you’re not going a few years earlier so you can meet ole’ Jane herself? I don’t get it.”
Cassandra sighed. “Because I do not want to…it is too…” She’d had trouble explaining this before, even to the Board. “I guess I do not want to intrude on her life. Meeting her is not the object; understanding the world she lived in is.”
“Whatever you say.” James stood and ruffled the top of his mother’s hair.
Twenty-four years old, and still a pest. “Please refrain from doing that, James. You know I do not like it.” She rearranged her auburn curls.
“That’s why I do it,” he returned with a grin. “See ya later, mom.” He bounded out the door.
She shook her head with a smile, and went back to the hologram of a particularly adorable pair of evening slippers that were slowly twirling around in space above her desk.

Jan 1st, 2120—First day of the New Year. I’m so excited about my upcoming journey, my stomach is churning, my mind is racing, and I’m trying not to turn into a complete nervous wreck. Jake leaves tomorrow to get things set up for me. Depending on how long it takes him to get everything ready, I’ll go about two weeks later. So today, I spent some time checking in on my townhouse in Boston with the virtual-cam, just to make sure everything’s in good order there. I’ve been doing it every couple of weeks since we moved to our temporary lab in London, and I probably won’t have another chance before I leave.
As I virtually walked through the old house, I realized how much I miss it. I remember when Franklin and I bought it; we couldn’t believe our luck at finding a place that, though nearly three hundred years old, was large enough to accommodate the Steinway (which I also desperately miss). Going from room to room in that home we made together brought back so many memories about our life, and raising James there.
When James asked me a few days ago why I’m making this journey, I realized I hadn’t been totally honest with myself, with him, or with the Board. Yes, of course, the main reason is to experience Regency England thoroughly, as no mere historian could. Franklin always knew I wanted to visit that time, and would have been so supportive, though if he’d still been living, I wouldn’t have gone for an entire year. He sacrificed so much…even his life, to further understand and perfect time-travel, so, in a way, this trip is to honor him. To that end, I’ll be using his first name as my last. However,  in another sense, I’ll be finally leaving him and his death behind. It’s been five years. Five years of struggling to do my work, and to see James through the loss, and to deal with it the best I could. Now, just let me escape. Let me fall into a world where no-one knows me, where I can see new things and meet new people in a place where nothing reminds me of him. Maybe doing that for a year will make me feel like a new person. Then I can return fresh, having taken a break from the present for 365 days.
-Cassandra Reilly, prep-journal

It was nine-thirty at night, Tuesday, January second. The entire team, including Cassandra, gathered in the crowded lab that had been constructed in a London alleyway. From the outside, it resembled a long rectangular metal box with a door at the front, essentially a glorified trailer. It took up every square centimeter of the alley, which dead-ended after about thirty meters, and was about two and a half meters wide, situated just off Long Acre in Covent Garden. It seemed nothing about it had changed at all in the last three hundred years, other than in present day it was used for the recycling waste of the buildings on either side. The Chronology Department had paid the building managers well to make other arrangements for the fourteen months or so that the lab would be in place. Tonight, the passersby and residents of the area had stared at Cassandra  as she entered, like they always did, and at the strange edifice with many odd antennae, poles, and wires protruding from the roof. Its true purpose was a secret, at least for now. Although the general population had known of Carver’s discovery of time-travel for many years, it wasn’t helpful to have the curious snooping about.
At the back of the lab was the pod, a vertical tube accessed by a sliding door. In many ways, it resembled nothing more than a shower stall. Jake stood in front of it, ready to go, in a brown waistcoat and high-collared white shirt, slim, high-waisted trousers covering black boots, a double-breasted frock coat for warmth, and a tall, black hat on his head. In one hand, he held a small satchel of extra clothing, in the other a bag filled with the equivalent of five hundred British pounds in gold coins. He would fit in just fine with his pale skin, light brown, wavy hair, blue eyes, and open, friendly face. He and Cassandra had practiced the speech and mannerisms of Regency England endlessly while they participated in the virtual reality simulations. She was confident he was prepared for this moment.
Small flickers of light darted back and forth on the heat sensor monitor—cats and rats, by the size of them—but no humans in the alley. Cassandra chewed on her nail. Another half hour ticked by. Come on, let’s do this! It would be cold and dark in that alleyway when Jake emerged; the date would even be two days later just because of the change of calendar from one year to the next. The streets would probably be empty on a frigid January fourth, which was good, but if they waited much longer, the inn might be closed for the night. Jake stepped into the pod with his bags, and everyone stood ready at their stations. James was manning the travel mode. Cassandra looked over his shoulder. Yes, the functions were correctly set; all systems were go. Jake waved enthusiastically, the pod door slid closed, the computer sounded a tone, the pod hummed, and within a second, he was gone. In a matter of days, it would be her turn.
Chapter 2

Why is it so dark? Cassandra groped around, trying to grasp something that would let her know for sure she’d emerged from the portal exit. A faint flicker came into her field of vision: firelight glowing in the few small windows of thick glass that shone onto the alleyway. A gas lamp softly glowed out on the street. Of course! Electricity made a huge difference to the brightness of a city, and here there was none. She turned her head skyward. Above her were a million stars—a peculiarly vivid night sky for London. She shook her head to clear it; she had to hurry. It would be dangerous to be caught there alone; she clutched the knife in her cloak pocket. A second later, the cold hit her. She wasn’t dressed for it. She let the knife fall back into her pocket, grabbed her two bags, and ran to the street. She turned left; the inn was just one short block away. She passed only two or three people hurrying through the freezing night air. In a matter of minutes, she arrived at The White Hart Inn and breathed a sigh of relief. A doorman showed her in with a look of surprise and immediately relieved her of her bags, which were then passed off to the bellman...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A New Release and a Chance to Vote for Your Favorite Cover Picture

Which of these pictures do you like best for the cover of The Time Contessa? Please comment and let me know.

I'm so excited, I just released a new, revised version of The Time Baroness! This is my first baby, and I've always loved it, of course. But, after getting a second book under my belt, and being on the verge of releasing a third, I felt that I'd grown as a writer, and that it was time to go back in and see where The Time Baroness could be tightened up and improved. Sure enough, I did find some spots that needed cutting, tweaking, re-wording, or changing altogether. I feel I've added another level that will probably be subtle to those who've read it before, but I hope will provide a more satisfying read to those delving in for the first time. I also changed the ending just slightly - I think it's juuuust right! It's still not a traditional romance, so be forewarned. But isn't that refreshing? The Time Baroness combines a little sci/fi, a little fantasy, a little history, and a little sex, with romance, danger and adventure. I think it's unique...really, gender-defying.

I hope you will really enjoy it. If you do, please check out the second in the series, The Time Heiress (both available along the side of this blog). And then, keep an eye out for the third in the series, The Time Contessa, and please take a moment to vote for the picture you think would make the best cover!

Just to wrap up: In The Time Baroness, my heroine, Cassandra, travels to Jane Austen's England, in The Time Heiress, she goes to pre-Civil War New York City, and in The Time Contessa, she'll be traveling to Renaissance Italy. There's romance, adventure, danger and some steamy moments in all three! Come on the journey with me!



Friday, September 21, 2012

Two Gyllenhaals in Two Weeks! Thanks, SAG Awards!

Jake Gyllenhaal
What could be better than seeing a whole season's worth of first-run films in the movie theater? Seeing them for free! This year, I was randomly chosen to be on the Screen Actors Guild Nominating Committee... Woohoo! This is not an honor I take lightly. When a SAG member takes on the sacred duty, he/she has to agree to see as many screenings as possible, and stay for the Q&A whenever they can. I signed on that dotted line quicker than you could say...well, you get the picture. Of course, only SAG members living in LA or New York get to be on the committee, because those are the only places they have the special screenings. Makes you really feel like a big shot. 
Michael Peña
So, let me give you a run down of those films we've already seen, though I promise to update if I see others worthy of comment. The first one we saw, about a month ago, was Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is a super indie film that was picked up by the Weinstein brothers. I won't say anything about the plot because I want you to be as surprised as I was. Do yourself a favor, and, if you have the chance, run, don't walk, to the nearest theater it's playing in. It just won't have the same impact on the small screen. Also, don't read anything about it ahead of time - just take my word for it. It's a little disturbing, but not terribly so, and though the main character is a child, she isn't harmed. However, what you will see will have your jaw hanging open. I was gripping the arms of my seat, screaming inside my head, "What the f---!" pretty much the whole time. Yet, equally, the movie manages to come off as spiritual, uplifting and just, plain remarkable. It's a complete and perfect work of art.
Beasts of the Southern Wild

On the Road
The Master
The next two films my husband, Jon, and I were invited to (because I get to bring a guest) were On the Road and The Master. I was excited about On the Road mainly because the live Q&A was going to  be with Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund and director Walter Salles, of The Motorcycle Diaries, one of my favorite films. Well, this one was a letdown. I mean, it was gorgeously filmed and the acting was great...even Kristen Stewart who couldn't breathe life into the inane Twilight series was magical in On the Road. The problem was how, and why, would you make a film out of that iconic Jack Kerouac book? You can't, and Salles shouldn't have. So thumbs down on that one, and no amount of seeing the stars talk about it in person could convince me otherwise.

The following night we went to a gala-like event at the enormous, 1920's theater, The Zeigfeld, where stars like Rosie Perez and Gabourey Sidibe sauntered right by our seats, and we were greeted with opening remarks by Harvey Weinstein and Amy Adams! Well, the night could have ended right there for me. And it would have been better if it had because the movie, The Master, was dreary. It was like being in acting class: scene after scene of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix emoting in uber-dramatic situations, with a boring plot that just dragged on and on. Another thumbs down - I don't care what the critics say.

Then a week ago Friday, September 14th, we were treated to a screening of End of Watch. This is another absolute must-see; reminiscent of Crash, but less slick. It's about police officers in East LA going about their dangerous work and filming it with a hand-held camera when possible, or tiny lenses pinned to their uniforms, or set on the dashboard of their car. It is a nail-biting, wrenching ride through a world most of us would rather never know about and it gave me a whole new appreciation of what cops go through - not all cops of course, but those with the toughest beats. AND...the Q&A was with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña! Heehee! Eat your hearts out gals. Yes, Jake is every bit as handsome and charming in person as you'd expect, but I kind of had more of a thing for Peña. Good for me too, because walking out of the theater, we ran into him, and had a private chat walking down 6th Avenue. He didn't even seem to think we were stalking him! (We weren't.)

Finally, last night, the 24th, we took in Won't Back Down, with a Q&A by Maggie Gyllenhaal (the G-haals are big this year), Rosie Perez (she's just everywhere isn't she?), and Viola Davis (winner of the 2011 SAG Best Actress award for The Help). Jon was especially excited about this one because he's been in love with Maggie G. ever since seeing her in Stranger than Fiction. The film was really excellent, and all the above mentioned actresses were at the top of their games. It was particularly exciting, after seeing their performances, to find that they were as passionate off screen as on about the subject of the film - all of them so inspired and inspiring. Then, as an extra bonus, we found ourselves behind Ms. Gyllenhaal as we were on our way out of the theater (again!). I told her how much we enjoyed her performance and thanked her for her time with us as if I really were a big shot! (I was wearing a particularly great dress too, so I think I made a nice impression.) Maggie shook our hands and was very gracious. And beautiful...even more so than on screen. Jon was so floored he couldn't speak.
Rosie Perez

If you're really nice to me, maybe I'll invite you to be my guest at the next screening, though you'll have to fight my husband, son, and best friend, in that order, for the privilege. It's so nice to be important!

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More About HBO's The Newsroom...On Fire!

Just watched the season finale of HBO's The Newsroom last night. This first season was a total of, maybe, ten episodes altogether, which changed my life. In the final episode, viewers are reminded of something we've heard about, but perhaps isn't foremost on our minds: voter ID laws - a way of keeping people who wouldn't normally vote for you from voting at all, like, maybe, people of color. Something like 38 states have passed some form of these laws. This is scary, and it looks like nothing can be done about it before the next election. In my mind, it's one more way for politicians to get what they want by manipulating elections...shameful and completely undemocratic.

Some people are saying The Newsroom is a left-wing rant, but I disagree. However, if by left wing, one means disagreement with the philosophies of the Tea Party, or even daring to believe that church and state should be separate, then yes, I suppose it is. The highlight of the season finale is when anchorman Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, states that the Tea Party is the equivalent of the American Taliban. On the show, his character receives over a hundred death threats for issuing this statement, which is backed up by a list of beliefs the Tea Party harbors that truly mirror the Taliban's. I wouldn't be surprised if writer Aaron Sorkin, the producers of the show, HBO, and poor little Jeff Daniels himself will receive threats now - but they had to know they were taking the chance.

The Newsroom is simultaneously the bravest, most interesting, intelligent, and entertaining show I've ever seen on TV. Ever. The next season doesn't begin until June 13th, 2013 (how will I live 'til then!), so you have plenty of time to catch up using On Demand, Netflix or however you can. If you're not watching this show, you're missing something huge.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

HBO's The Newsroom: Oh. My. God.

I admit, I watch television. You'd be surprised how many artsy friends I have who eschew the tube in favor of...say...reading, or sitting around engaged in meaningful conversation. As an author, I'm certainly in favor of reading, and partake of it daily. I also love the art of conversation, which is actually a part of my television watching. My husband and I, and often my twenty-year-old son, enjoy discussing in detail what we see on TV, including the commercials. Being a writer of popular fiction and screenplays, I feel it's important I keep my finger on the pulse of pop culture. Does that excuse my watching The Deadliest Catch? Probably not, but it was worth a try.

Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom
Around our house we've been having the liveliest conversation lately about the show we all consider, hands down, the best thing on television: HBO's The Newsroom. Haven't seen it? Oh my god, pay HBO just for the privilege of watching this one show. In lieu of that, pray that the first season comes out on Netflix the moment it culminates which is in, like, a week. Starring Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Emily Mortimer, Jane Fonda, and Dev Patel (of Slumdog Millionaire), it's so much more than great acting, or the fast-paced, hard-hitting, cracker-jack dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network; The West Wing). Here's the premise: A cable news show, called News Night, has been trundling along for years reporting everything that comes off the wires at face value without bothering much to see if it's factual. The anchorman, Will McAvoy, played by Daniels, is a popular guy along the lines of Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer, who considers himself a journalist, to be sure, but who has long ago resigned himself to delivering news as, basically, entertainment. In order to shake things up, the president of the cable network's news division, played by Waterston, hires a new executive producer for News Night, Mackenzie MacHale, played by Mortimer. She is determined to make the news just that: the news again, hearkening back to the days of Murrow and Cronkite. She and her fresh team of journalists and interns are all committed to this exercise. Though at first thrown by the turn of events, Will soon jumps on board. He is a self-proclaimed Republican, but he now refuses to spew right, or left, wing conjecture or opinion. His news broadcast will report nothing unless it's checked out as completely factual. This makes for some riveting, nail-biting moments, when, for instance, every other news show is reporting that Congressman Gabby Gifford has been shot dead, and News Night would rather lose ratings than confirm such a thing without being sure. For this reason, they are often the first to report the correct news story. The owner of the station, evil Leona Lansing played by Fonda, is only interested in ratings and every time News Night disdains ratings in favor of the truth, she flips out and threatens to fire Will. Besides the tension with  Lansing and/or her son, there's lots of sexual tension as well because Will and Mackenzie are exes who still have a thing for each other in spite of past heartache, and the former executive producer, who still works at the station, is dating one of the interns who has an unfulfilled crush on another intern, and vice versa. It's so far from a soap opera though, it's not even funny. People don't talk to each other on this show, they spit, they crackle, they fling their words. It makes you wonder how anyone could stand the pressure of working at News Night. But since you don't, you, or at least, I, just can't get enough of the thrill of watching it all unfold.

Alison Pill as intern Margaret Jordan
I know, I'm obsessively prattling on about it...because I don't want anyone to miss it - seriously! My son, who digs True Blood, has agreed that The Newsroom far outshines that vampire sex-and-blood-bath. I'm even willing to say The Newsroom is as good as The Sopranos - yes, that good - but to tell you the truth, I'm sick of gangster series. I was into Boardwalk Empire for a while, and I enjoy Magic City, though it's practically soft porn, but, frankly, I'm tired of the sex, violence and misogyny. The Newsroom has women in superior positions to men, and they deserve to be because they're smart and interesting. They're also human and vulnerable, as is everyone on the show (with the possible exception of Leona Lansing) and that's what makes you love it.  The only violence is what News Night may happen to be reporting at the time, and since the show takes place about a year and a half in the past, we already know what to expect. It's fascinating to revisit those moments such as the Gulf oil spill, the liberation of Egypt and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. We not only get to experience the events in retrospect, and remember how we reacted at the time, but we learn some fascinating facts about what really happened, backed up by true-to-life sources. Sometimes it's scary.

Dev Patel as Journalist and Blogger Neal Sampat
In summation, do not walk...run...to get a hold of the episodes that have aired so far: eight of them, in season one. You'll thank me, trust me, you will.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Meryl Streep Stole My Life

I was supposed to have Meryl Streep's life. Though about ten years younger than her, I was supposed to be the unconventional beauty who was popular in high school, who had the golden career, who won the Academy Awards, who played the meatiest and most challenging roles, managing to have a happy marriage and be a wonderful mother to my children at the same time.

What exactly went wrong? Let's analyze:
#1: I wasn't a cheerleader in high school like Meryl, nor was I very popular. I was a drama nerd who made it through high school thanks to the joy of doing theater in my high school's excellent drama department, and a few fiercely devoted friends.
#2: I didn't go to Yale Drama School like Meryl. Yet I did go to New York University's Tisch Theater Program. For some reason you get all the great contacts at Yale, but not NYU.
#3: I'm not as pretty as Meryl. She may not be what one thinks of as a typical beauty, but she definitely has a certain unidentifiable appeal. I'm not exactly chopped liver, but I'll admit I don't have that special quality she has.
#4: I'm not as talented as Meryl. God, that's hard to admit! Oh, I think I'm a pretty talented actress, just not as talented as she is, and we all know to make it as an actor you need one of two things, and preferably both: supreme good looks and supreme talent. I obviously don't have enough of either.
#5: Ah, finally something we have in common...a good marriage...I'm quite sure mine is as good as Meryl's, maybe better! And, I think I'm an excellent mother though I had only one child, and she has four. I didn't want four, no thank you.

So here's where the whining really starts: I wanted it all, just like she has. I wanted a spectacular acting career, great looks, Academy Awards AND the wonderful husband and family. However, I've moved on. Oh, I'm not saying I wouldn't take a really good part if offered. I just don't pursue them anymore. Now, I just want a brilliant writing career. And guess what? I don't need good looks for this one. I do need talent; whether I have it or not is up to my readers to decide. Fortunately, the thing I most lacked as an actor - drive - is something I have as a writer. This career is falling into place. There may even be a part for Meryl in the film version of one of my time-travel novels. She's a bit too old for the main character who, of course, is a more beautiful and intelligent version of me, but she could play the best friend in the Regency-themed book, the fiery revolutionary mom in the Antebellum-themed book, or one of the feisty friends in the Italian Renaissance-themed book. Goodness knows she can do the accents!

Why does Ms. Streep stir me up so much? When I really think about it, it's a combination of many things. Her acting thrills me. I've seen her on the New York stage twice and each time she just took my breath away. I can't even name all the movie roles in which she made my mouth fall open in astonishment. How she can so totally morph into another human being is almost beyond comprehension. Then, when I see her on a talk show, which is rare, or accepting an award, which is also rare since she's received something like seventeen Oscar nominations but only won three, I realize she's just a lovely, sweet, down to earth person who adores her family much more than her career, or so it seems. So I suppose if anyone was going to have the life I wanted to have, I'd rather it was Meryl.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Hate The Hunger Games! (Or Do I?)

I said I wouldn't read The Hunger Games. But I did. I wanted to hate it. But I couldn't. After Chapter One, I was hooked. By Chapter Two, I was jealous. By halfway through the book I realized I simultaneously loved and hated author Suzanne Collins. I loved her because of her gift for cracker-jack pacing and great characters. I wasn't fond of the world she created because I wouldn't want to live there. Who would? It ain't no Hogwarts. But I loved her brave and beautiful Katniss, faithful Peeta, little Rue, the flawed Haymitch...I was dying to see what happened to them next. Still, I hated Suzanne Collins because she did it all so well. Yes, I admit I was envious, and, at the same time, I really, really admired her.

By the end of the book I was obsessed. I haven't given in to seeing the movie version; I want my own imagination to serve. Yet I went online to find pictures and became fascinated by how the characters looked, come to life on screen. I'll probably give in and see it after all. I haven't read the other two books in the series, but I will. And then found  myself wondering, who is Suzanne Collins? Is she an upstart like J.K. Rowling? I've heard she's a housewife. Is she like Stephanie Meyer? Did the story come to her in a dream? I don't even have the gumption to google and find out. That's how jealous I am. Yeah, I've been told I'm a good writer; I create good characters and story lines, and my books sell just fine. After all, who doesn't like time-travel? Still, envy rears its ugly head and makes me almost want to say that I hate The Hunger Games! Don't read it! It's just more popular fiction for teens! But it's not merely that. It's a well written, superbly crafted book. It's a story that yanks you in and doesn't let up until the last moment. And though I swore I wouldn't say this to anyone...I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What Moves You to Make Art?

I'll never forget when the song Fallin’ Slowly, from the movie Once, won the Oscar for Best Original Song - up against three, count them,  three from Disney’s Enchanted.  Glen Hansard received the award with co-writer and co-star Markéta Irglová, gleefully shouting, before he was dragged away from the mic, “MAKE ART!” I wrote those words on a piece of paper and stuck it to my fridge. I hadn't seen Once yet, but did shortly after, and found it lovely. Four years later, (May 8, 2012, to be exact) I went to see the Broadway musical version of Once to find the dialogue had been changed, several compelling characters added, and the most exquisite movement and choreography employed, elevating Once from satisfying film to transcendent theatrical experience. The romance, too, had been kicked up just enough to make the ending unbearably bittersweet. I was sobbing like an idiot just before I leapt to my feet to applaud with the rest of the audience. The making of art, in this case, had been raised to a level I’m sure Hansard never imagined when he uttered his joyful admonition at the Academy Awards.

I’ve been an actor and/or writer my whole life - have rarely known a moment when I wasn’t involved in some creative pursuit. So, though I was inspired by Hansard’s utterance, I didn’t exactly need his permission.  I find inspiration for making art in art: film, theater, music, dance, painting, sculpture, and, of course, literature. Like many artists, the greatness of others fuels me. I’m set on fire by the writers I love: Luis Alberto Urrea, Audrey Niffenegger, George Eliot, Dickens, Neil Gaiman, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, and of course, (you just have to read my books to see the influence) Jane Austen.  I get energy from films like Midnight in Paris, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Moulin Rouge, Casablanca, Stranger than Fiction, 500 Days of Summer, and Becoming Jane,…which makes me think of actors whose performances move me: Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Colin Firth, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman.... I'm carried away by the music of Muse, The Decemberists, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Jack White, Beethoven, Chopin and Monk. When I go to a museum I seek to absorb the passion of Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Kandinsky, Monet, Caravaggio, Rodin, Pollack and Chagall...

After seeing Once, I stumbled out of the theater into the lights of Times Square, my world rocked. Perhaps those words, “Make art,” had pushed the originators of the film on to this finer incarnation, I thought, but couldn't help wonder exactly what was the source of their creative spark. So I put hands to keyboard to ask all those artistic souls out there:  What is your Once? Who is your Anne Hathaway, your Jane Austen, which is your Midnight in Paris, your Monk, your Monet? Is it something intangible that inspires you? Is it nature or pain, or joy or spirit? What moves you to MAKE art? 

Video of Hansard's acceptance speech: (don't worry, they called  Irglová back on stage later so she could make her own remarks)
And here's the full version of Fallin' Slowly:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dad Made me a Nerd

I'm a nerd because of my dad. Not that he tried to make me one; I'm sure he didn't consider himself a nerd at all. But he loved science fiction. He's the reason I was hooked on Star Trek all my life, and so into authors like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. When he met my husband-to-be for the first time, their mutual conversation about sci/fi made them fall more in love with each other than I might have been with either one at the time.

On April 27th, 2012, the space shuttle Enterprise made its historic flight on a 747 around New York City in preparation for its final resting place on the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum...and I missed it. Fortunately, I've been to NASA. Twice. The first time was with my dad, the second was last summer during part of my family's odyssey around the western United States to memorialize his life. I freakin' love NASA. We got to see the shuttle up close, and everything involved in making the program function. There is an awesome museum at NASA too, (which you can get to only through an annoying child's play center they recently built), where they have all kinds of paraphernalia from the various U.S. space missions: space suits, journals, freeze-dried food packages, and, coolest of the cool, the actual lunar modules that have been on the moon! I remember my dad being glued to every moon landing, even after many people, including me, I suppose, lost interest in them. Years later though, I was thrilled to death to meet Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon.

My dad's as much a hero, as much a larger-than-life personality as any astronaut. He was an intellectual who never stopped learning - a computer geek into his 80s. He wasn't a scientist, but he was really into science. He loved reading about it and watching shows about it - my husband and my son both share that same kind of enthusiasm. Though I'm not as geeky as them, I'm fascinated with many aspects of the scientific world, especially physics, as of late, since I write about time-travel. I nearly flipped when I found out scientists in Switzerland thought they'd broken though the speed of light, the implications of which translate to eventual time-travel, and made me think that perhaps one day I could journey back in time to Jane Austen's England or pre-Civil War NYC, just like in my books. But alas, looks like the experiment wasn't legit. It's funny that of all things to write about, I'd end up incorporating sci-fi into my books, yet because of my dad's influence, it makes sense.

On this first anniversary of my dad's passing, (May 3rd, 2011) I feel a special sense of national pride in the former space shuttle program, the Enterprise craft, named of course after the Star Trek ship, and all the ventures into space that the U.S. made. I wish we had the budget to keep it going; dad would have loved that. But I think I'll make a special trip to the Intrepid to see the Enterprise once it's installed there. In saluting it, I'll salute my dad and his love for the world of science and space. I know he was proud of this particular nerd-girl.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Minute For Your Opinion

Hello dear and faithful friends and followers:
If you have read either or both of my books, please take a minute and click on these survey links. Your opinion will help me immensely as I move forward with the promotion of my books. Thanks! I love you!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Two Fun/Film Articles

I recently wrote a couple of articles for you film fans out there. One is a review of The Artist: http://www.chicklitclub.com/movie-night.html#theartist
The other is a an article that highlights the accomplishments of film-maker Dito Montiel, at a gala honoring his life and work so far: http://www.qgazette.com/news/2012-03-21/Features/APAC_Honors_Dito_Montiel.html

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bodice Rippers and Other Guilty Pleasures

I hate to admit that I sometimes read trash. Those of us who consider ourselves "serious readers," claim we never stoop to the level of reading chicklit, or romance or, god forbid, Jackie Collins. And yet, some of us have found ourselves actually writing in those genres! (Is Jackie Collins a genre in herself?) In my case, it's romantic time-travel. Here's a review from a reader (anonymous) who seemed to like my book, The Time Baroness, but hated herself for doing so. I found the review quite amusing.

"Well, i realized I had screwed up my birth control pills and had forgotten to take one for three days and so, on the fourth day (when I realized this) I figured it made no sense to try and "double up to catch up" four days of pills and I instead decided to just not take any and let the cycle run its course. Which means (since I was only in the second week of pills) that I had a period ten days after I just had a period. That should fully explain the hormonal state that led me to be reading a book called The Time Baroness with a cover like that!
Don't judge me!
At any rate, listen: this book has time travel AND Jane Austen's England. To me (remember the hormones) that read like a combination only topped by the Ghost Rider movies which have a character that is half Nicolas Cageand half flaming skull. Seriously!
This book didn't fail to deliver on either of those two things and it was actually a pretty good little story on top of it. It wasn't a very complex story, overall, but it was an entertaining one and the writing wasn't bad. I don't know that I would rush out to buy this book (although I did ::whispers:: rush right to buy the next one, Time Heiress. Don't judge me!) but if you like time travelling characters trying to be Jane Austen characters, then read it if you get the chance!"

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Shocking Subject

I'm going to discuss something that no-one ever talks about except inner circles of women-of-a-certain-age: Hot Flashes (reader falls on the floor, stunned that someone as young and gorgeous as myself has any experience with the shameful topic). Yes, I'd like to pretend that I'm too young for that dreaded word, menopause, and no, it is not a favorite topic of conversation among Nerd-girls, but I don't give a crap anymore. I have tried, literally, everything to reduce or eliminate them and I don't use the word "literally" lightly.

Here are the things I've tried or am still trying:
Wild Mexican Yam
Siberian Rhubarb
Black Cohosh
Raspberry leaf
(let's just say every herb known to woman)
Not drinking
Not smoking
Lots of sex
No caffeine
No chocolate (wait, stop, this one I cannot agree to)
No sugar
No meat (or only meat and dairy raised without hormones)
More soy
Less soy
Lots of fruit and vegetables
Lots of exercise
Chinese herbs recommended by my acupuncturist
Light therapy
Essential oils

The only thing I haven't and will not try is hormone replacement therapy because I think it's weird and risky. My doctor, poor thing, also suffering from hot flashes, agrees.
Can I ask you why modern medicine was so quick to come up with a cure for male impotence but the thing that middle-aged women have been suffering with for eons goes basically unheeded? Well, we all know the answer to that. I have researched on the web, talked to everyone, professional and lay, and no one has a real solution to hot flashes other than...buy a fan.

And it seems to be taboo to say in public, "Wait, hang on, I'm having a hot flash, give me a second." Women just barrel through their jobs turning bright red and sweating profusely, hoping no one notices. Why? Because it's embarrassing. Why is it embarrassing? Because women don't want to admit going through menopause. It's kind of like saying, "Hi everyone, I'm no longer getting my period." It seems personal and private and yet it's very hard to hide. Do you know how much fun it is when I'm teaching my adult ESL students, most of whom are in their 20s, and I suddenly turn scarlet and grab for anything nearby with which to fan myself? I feel like an idiot, but I shouldn't have to. Oh, and did I mention the waking up drenched in sweat several times a night? That's fun too.

So I'm getting it out into the open right now. Yes, I have hot flashes, yes, I'm of that age. And if anyone out there can find me a way to end or reduce them, right now, you will have my undying gratitude and adoration.