Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie Musicals That Got It Wrong: Annie (1982)

I decided to watch this version of Annie as a refresher in case I felt like seeing the new one due out this month.  (I'm wavering: on the one hand, Quevenzhane Wallis was adorable in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but on the other hand, clips of Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan were disturbing.)

When I was little, I adored Annie.  Adored it.  Some of my earliest drawings were of blank-eyed, curly-haired Annie from the comics and her pointy-eared canine friend, Sandy.  I was Annie for Halloween.  I listened to and sang all of the songs all the time for what seemed like two years.

Then when I watched it again a few years ago?  Eh.  Looking back, I think what really drew me to Annie was aspiration.  Who wouldn't want to be a plucky orphan living in luxury with her adoring "Daddy" Warbucks?  Then there were the songs, the colors, those dance numbers.  In many ways, Annie was an antecedent to Punky Brewster, which premiered a few years later and also featured a plucky orphan in colorful surroundings.  As a kid, I looked up to both as role models.  As an adult, I see their flaws.

Annie has a lengthy history in American pop culture.  It began as a comic strip in 1924 entitled "Little Orphan Annie," where Annie lived in an orphanage run by Miss Asthma before being taken in by "Daddy" and Mrs. Warbucks.  A typical adventure involved Daddy Warbucks being drawn away on business, and Annie getting kidnapped or otherwise going on a big adventure.  At some point, Mrs. Warbucks was dropped, and Daddy Warbucks killed off, only to be resurrected after 1945.  Then in 1978 came Annie the musical, starring Andrea McArdle in the title role.  The musical established characters like Grace Farrell and Miss Hannigan, and in many ways seemed like a finger in the eye of the comic strip.  While the comic book creator, Harold Gray, was vehemently libertarian and anti-New Deal, the musical practically rubs the viewer's face in pro-New Deal sentiment, with Annie meeting President Roosevelt and the final number being "A New Deal for Christmas."  The movie would maintain most of the musical's changes, though it left out a number of songs, including "A New Deal for Christmas" and "NYC," while adding songs like "Let's Go to the Movies" and "Dumb Dog."  It also added characters from the comic strip, such as Daddy Warbucks's body guards, Punjab and the Asp.

Never understood why cartoon Sandy looked so
different from live Sandy when I was a kid...
I watched Annie again recently to see if I felt warmer toward it than before.  I determined that while the movie has many strengths, it also has a giant curly-haired stone around its neck that drags it down to the bottom of the pond, which is why I put it on the Wrong list.


Plot Synopsis

Annie is a 10 or 11 year old orphan living in an all-girls orphanage in 1930s New York City, run by the drunk, abusive Miss Hannigan.  Annie believes that her parents are still alive and will come for her someday, based on a note and a broken locket around her neck.  She repeatedly escapes the orphanage to go look for them, only to be dragged back by a corrupt cop.  One day, Grace Ferrell, secretary to the billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, appears at the orphanage seeking an orphan to spend a week with her boss for the sake of positive publicity.  Annie convinces Grace to take her and Sandy, and quickly manages to work her way into Oliver Warbucks's intimidating heart.  But when Warbucks tries to adopt her, Annie confesses that she's still holding out hope that her real parents will come for her.  Oliver Warbucks launches a nationwide search for them, drawing the attention of Miss Hannigan's loser brother, "Rooster", and his girlfriend, Lily.  All three concoct a scheme where Rooster and Lily will pretend to be Annie's long-lost parents in exchange for $50,000.
                    

The Good

Lavish Production Values.  Annie has a lot of classy sets, from 1930s New York to the lavish Warbucks estate to even the White House.  The atmosphere of Depression Era New York is convincingly invoked, even if it does seem as though there are dog catchers and policemen hovering around every corner.

And there's dancing.  Lots of dancing.  Annie production numbers are filled with orphans doing backflips, servants swinging large brooms, and secretaries kicking up their legs.  In one memorable moment, the gardener for the Warbucks estate takes a flower and does a complex series of spin moves before climbing a wall to hand it to Annie.  There's something corny and ridiculous about it all, but at the same time, it's fun to watch and gives the movie a much-needed energy boost.

I also like the nods to the original comic strip, with Punjab and the Asp, as well as the moment where the "Bolshevik" throws a bomb into Oliver Warbucks's office and his bodyguards calmly dispose of it before it explodes.  (Though in the 1930s, wouldn't they be called "Communists"?)

Annie's "Sisters".  Whatever you might think of Annie's orphanage, it couldn't have been too horrible with orphans to hang out with like Molly, Duffy, and even Pepper.  These girls have your back.  They help Annie hide in a laundry basket to escape, smuggle Sandy inside the orphanage, and risk their necks repeatedly in order to warn Annie of Rooster and Lily's scheme.  They even make servitude look fun in "It's the Hard-Knock Life," easily the best song in the musical (sorry, "Tomorrow").  Who wouldn't want to mop the floors while doing aerial cartwheels?

While the girls as a whole are pretty cool, the standout to me is little Molly.  Toni Ann Gisondi, the actress who plays her, is capable of being vulnerable one minute and feisty the next, all the while a thousand times more natural than Aileen Quinn, who plays Annie.  I'm a little surprised and sad that she didn't go on to many other roles.  If Annie were played by Gisondi, I might actually care what happened to her.    



Most of the Adults.  As a kid, I just thought Miss Hannigan seemed threatening and didn't come to fully appreciate Carol Burnett's performance until recently.  She bobs and weaves through the orphanage, loathing kids and loathing herself, almost more indifferent than purposely cruel.  (Compare her to Kathy Bates's Miss Hannigan in the 1999 TV version, who seems more sober and ruthless.)  She's a kid's worst nightmare and an adult's greatest amusement.  That said, I thought her eleventh-hour burst of conscience was contrived, and she got off too easily for the damage she caused.

Most of the other adults fare well.  Albert Finney's Oliver Warbucks provides the growth and change and range of emotions that Annie never gives.  Quite a feat for someone who spends half of the movie screaming.  Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters are sadly underused as Rooster and Lily, but any movie is better off with them in it.  Ann Reinking provides much needed warmth and some nifty dance moves as Grace Farrell.


The Bad

Pointless Dull Sequences.  The movie has pacing problems that seem to have been self inflicted.  Most baffling was the choice to cut "NYC" from the musical in exchange for "Let's Go to the Movies."  Yes, let's go to the movies and sit in a disconcertingly large, empty theatre until it's time to watch segments of a boring black-and-white movie.  (I'm sure I'd enjoy Camille now, but as a kid?)  It certainly doesn't compare to the warmth and energy of "NYC."

Other drawn out moments include the orphans debating a name for a dog that already has one (complete with one orphan singing "Rover!  Why not think it over?" like she's a finalist in American Idol).  "Dumb Dog" was already kind of a lame addition, and then they basically extended it.

Annie Is a Creepy, Manipulative Little Shit.  Though this movie has other weaknesses, what puts it on the Wrong list is Annie herself.  As played by Aileen Quinn, Annie is, as Roger Ebert once put it, "the sort of child who makes adults run for the hills."  I know it must be tough to cast an actress for a role as iconic as Little Orphan Annie, akin to finding someone to play the onscreen version of Shirley Temple.  I know that Little Orphan Annie represents pluckiness and independence, that she was played onstage by the big-voiced Andrea McArdle.  But a movie requires different things, characters and moments to be smaller and more intimate.  Annie could be a construct in the comics or even onstage, but she should be a recognizable person in the movie.

And Aileen Quinn's Annie just isn't.  You can't fully blame Quinn, who was a kid giving it her all.  More fault lies with the director, John Huston, and the casting director for failing to find someone who, in addition to projecting spunkiness, could also naturally project sweetness and vulnerability.  With Quinn's Annie, all you get is spunkiness.  When she comforts Molly, when she talks about her parents, when she interacts with Oliver Warbucks or Grace Farrell, I don't believe for one moment that she gives a shit.  She recites her lines in the same style every time, like Marcia Brady in a school play.  To quote Ebert: "She seems more like the kind of kid who will get this acting out of her system and go on to be student body president."

If Annie doesn't naturally come across as a good kid, her actions take on a different flavor.  When she convinces Grace Farrell to take her to live with Oliver Warbucks, you can't blame her, but did she ever give thought to any of her orphan "sisters" like Molly?  When she convinces Oliver Warbucks that Grace Farrell likes him, is she looking out for Grace, or just stoking mischief?  For that matter, does she ever really think about anyone else?  How often do we see her truly missing the other orphans?  There is one moment where she decides belatedly to give them her "rich" clothes as she goes to leave with her supposed real parents.  But after the other orphans walked miles to warn Oliver Warbucks about Rooster and Lily and pretty much saved her life, she blows them off at her 4th of July rescue bash.

Compare Aileen Quinn's Annie with Alicia Morton's in the 1999 version.  Morton's Annie is more toned down and wouldn't look as natural on a cereal box, but who can't help feeling for her as she sings "Tomorrow"?  Aileen Quinn's Annie has a pleasant delivery with moments of toughness when the scene calls for it, but she's empty enough that you wonder whether this spunky orphan could be a closet sociopath.      

If the viewer doesn't care about Annie, then it becomes baffling why people go to such lengths for her.  Covering up for her when she escapes.  Buying out Radio City Music Hall so she can attend a movie.  Launching a national search for her parents.  Risking their safety to warn her.  Launching a full-on search for her.  At one point, I was on the side of Rooster and Lily.  What does that tell you?

That Annie is supposed to be spunky and tough is a given.  But she should also have a soul, and this Annie doesn't.  As a result, scenes that should be affirming, like when Grace sings "We've Got Annie," just seem leaden and pointless.  

Random Thought.  Annie has curly red hair and so does Miss Hannigan.  Maybe Miss Hannigan's reasons for being possessive and resentful aren't because she thinks Annie is a little shit who should be shown her place, but because Annie is really her daughter!  Maybe to avoid being fired, she pretended Annie was just another orphan in her care.  Yeah, I like that.  I'll go with that...


Conclusion

I'm not sure any version of Annie would have been a favorite.  However, I'd at least prefer a version where I actually want Annie to succeed, instead of having feelings ranging from indifference to hostility.   
  


Other Movie Musicals That Got It Wrong: The Phantom of the OperaEvitaRENTAcross the UniverseRock of AgesHairspray, Jersey Boys

Movie Musicals That Got It Right: DreamgirlsLes MiserablesChicagoMamma

The above images are used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Small Update for Paperpusher Message Board Users

I generally keep this blog separate from my role as owner/administrator of www.thepaperpusher.net, the Paperpusher Message Board, or PPMB.  However, since the board has been down due to frustrating tech issues that we are working to resolve, it struck me that some people might come to this address for information.  While I won't be updating here, I urge people to check out my @PaperpusherMB Twitter account, which provides up-to-date information about the attempts to bring the website back up.  Hopefully it won't be long, but thanks for your patience.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Through An Introvert's Lens: Addams Family Values

It would have been an enormous task to focus on The Addams Family as a whole, as it includes a panel of cartoons first published in 1938, a successful television series (1964-1966), at least one animated series (1973-1975) and two movies, the second of which, Addams Family Values, came out in 1993.  I chose the second movie not only because it's a favorite and because it's easier than focusing on the entire canon, but also because it is one of the rare examples of introversion being celebrated.

The "creepy and kooky" Addams family consists of father Gomez, mother Morticia, Grandmama, Uncle Fester, Cousin Itt, Lurch the butler, Thing, and Pugsley and Wednesday.  The Addams family embraces every force that society has taught us to fear: darkness, werewolves, witches, blood, and death.  Moreover, they do so in an undeniably cheerful way, especially Gomez.  They would make wonderful friends if not for the constant fear that they could be plotting your demise.

Introversion and dark, morbid interests have often been intertwined, with the assumption that if you have one, you must have the other.  Yet that is not necessarily the case.  Many introverts aren't the slightest bit into dark subject matter, while many people who are may not be introverted.  For example, the television and movie versions of Gomez portray him as chatty and outgoing.  In The Munsters, a similarly Halloween-themed show, Herman and Lily's family don't contain any traits linked to introversion.

But Wednesday Addams of the Addams Family movies?  Oh, she's introverted.  And gladly so.

I can't think of a character who celebrates introversion better than she, and her best vehicle is Addams Family Values.  In this movie sequel, Gomez and Morticia have a third child named Pubert who looks like a miniature Gomez.  Wednesday and Pugsley are instantly jealous and make numerous (humorous) attempts to kill Pubert, prompting their parents to hire a Debbie, a nanny who is a gold-digging murderer in disguise.  She sets about wooing and eventually marrying Uncle Fester.  Wednesday and Pugsley are suspicious, so Debbie tricks their parents into sending them off to an aggressively WASPy summer camp.  It is the subplot about the camp, especially the magnificent final scene, that is best remembered.

Is She An Introvert?  Duh.

Wednesday likes to be alone.  She doesn't usually speak unless spoken to, and when she does speak, her pithy statements make Daria seem verbose by comparison.  In her mind, there are much more important things than small talk... like world domination.

In most movies, the Wednesday character would be relegated to a sidekick role at best.  Most likely, she would be the quirky Weird Girl brought out now and then to say quirky Weird Girl things for color.  Here, while she's not the sole main character, she does have an active role.

Once Wednesday and Pugsley reach the summer camp, they (especially Wednesday) are under constant pressure to conform to its bright, cheerful, blonde social values.  These values are especially pushed by Amanda, a smug camper, and the unctuous counselors, Gary and Becky.  In a series of scenes, Wednesday pushes right back, such as in this case:


In her "quest," Wednesday is aided by another camp outcast, Joel Glicker.  While we don't see enough of Joel to get a deep view of his character, his traits suggest that he is an introvert or at least leans that way.  Like Wednesday, his desire to opt out of camp activities is discouraged and eventually punished.

After Wednesday declines to be Pocahontas in Gary's Thanksgiving musical production, Gary and Becky's tactics turn from passive-aggressive "encouragement" to torture.  They lock Wednesday, Pugsley, and Joel in a cabin with what could only be the worst hell on earth for them: hours of nonstop cheerful, mainstream fare, from Disney to Annie.  They try to withstand the torture and hold true to their beliefs, but in the end, it at least appears that Wednesday has been broken.


So Wednesday, Pugsley, and Joel are forced to conform to the wishes of more vapid, extroverted characters.  As we will see, Wednesday has an effective plan for thwarting these wishes, but I'll save that for a moment.  First, I should point out that Addams Family Values seems less intent on defending introversion than on defending difference in general.  These differences include weight, race, and ethnicity.  The movie's less-than-subtle message is that there is nothing wrong with these differences, while there is everything wrong with a mainstream culture that attempts to stamp them out or pretend that they don't exist.

This message isn't merely pushed in the camp plot line, but also in the Debbie-Fester plot line.  After their marriage, Debbie pushes Fester to buy a mansion, and he is miserably marched about in turtleneck sweaters and toupes.  Meanwhile, Gomez and Morticia are barred from visiting him.  Even though Debbie's motivation for isolating Fester (to kill him) is bad enough, we are meant to see that forcing Fester to be something he isn't and can never be, is also wrong.

Fortunately Fester and the Addams family eventually escape Debbie's clutches.  And fortunately, this is what Wednesday and company have to say to Gary's Thanksgiving musical:


Until this point, I've highlighted mainly media that tended to treat introverts like they didn't exist, or attempted to marginalize them.  Movies like Addams Family Values do the opposite, putting them front and center and making them come out on top.  And what was the response?  Did the world cave in?  Did the movie go unwatched?  Hardly.  The movie did make $48 million, significantly less than the $113 million raked in by its predecessor, but that might have had less to do with the story line (which critics compared favorably to the first movie) and more to do with dissatisfaction with the thinly plotted first movie.  In any event, while it wasn't a smash, it was still watched.

The reason I point it out is because too many television or movie producers have acted reluctant to place introverts front and center because "it wouldn't sell" or... reasons.  Yet even though Addams Family Values wasn't a box office hit like the first movie, it still had a lasting legacy in promoting Wednesday Addams as a bad-ass introvert, part of a 90s trend that would include Darlene Conner and Daria.  People still admire her even today, such as in the must-watch YouTube series, Adult Wednesday Addams.  Be loud and proud, Introvert Girl... in your own way, or course.

Conclusion

Number of Introverts: Hard to say, since more of the Addams family seems introverted than not.  At least three.

Is the Introvert Prominent?: Yes.

Is the Introvert Active?: Yes.

How Do Other Characters Treat the Introvert?:  With scorn, contempt, and torture.  For which they are soundly punished... as they should be.

The above images were used under the Fair Use Doctrine.                

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie Musicals That Got It Wrong: Jersey Boys

Okay, it was finally available On Demand, so I watched it.  My impression was the same as when I saw the stage musical: Eh.

Though at least Jersey Boys the stage musical had color, an infectious energy, and a lot of songs from the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli catalogue.  At times, it gave hints of attempting to be more serious, but then was like, "Nah!  Time for the next hit number!"  The movie (directed by Clint Eastwood), by contrast, tries to be dramatic and meaningful, but ends up flat.

Plot Synopsis

For large stretches, Jersey Boys seems to think it's Backbeat, the gritty story of an up-and-coming band, only in this case, a band that is far less musically interesting and consequential.  Jersey Boys follows the formation and breakup of the Four Seasons in the 50s and 60s, a band consisting of Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio, and Frankie Valli, aka "the Special One."  Tommy, Nick, and Frankie are blue collar Italian boys living in "Joisey," pulling off crimes that land them in jail for a few months at a time.  In between, they play in a band formed by Tommy.  Tommy recognizes that Frankie is Special, what with his ability to make his voice all weird and girly with his falsetto, and establishes him as lead singer.  Once singer-songwriting prodigy Bob Gaudio joins, the group is complete.  The Four Seasons go on to record hit after hit (as shown in this real life medley of the group), before tensions inevitably tear the band apart.

The Good

Songs and Singing.  At least the movie adaptation of a jukebox musical doesn't ruin the songs on which the musical is based.  Many audience members (even those born well after the Four Seasons broke up) will recognize tunes like "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man."  To the movie's credit, they are sung live rather than pre-recorded, and it adds some much-needed spontaneity.  And John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of Frankie Valli on Broadway, does have a voice eerily similar to the real Valli's voice.  

It Wasn't As Bad As Rock of Ages.  Really, it wasn't.  Jersey Boys at least meets the threshold of respectability, which is more than I could say of certain other jukebox musicals.  Though Rock of Ages had at least a bit of an interesting angle with hair metal and... nope, never mind, not gonna give it any credit.  It just sucked.

The Bad

Flat Story.  An interesting story could have been formed about the Four Seasons, even if they weren't the most consequential band of the 60s.  For instance, rather than focus on Valli, whose life (as portrayed) is less than compelling, the story could have focused on Bob Gaudio, who recorded his first hit as a teenager ("Short Shorts") and entered the band much, much younger than his bandmates.  (Nick Massi, the oldest, was 15 years older.)  It would have been interesting to portray Gaudio's prior experience with music, followed by his experience living and touring with much older, not necessarily very nice men.

That said, even a band story that follows the usual rise-and-fall cliches could have been worthwhile.  In some respects, Jersey Boys is highly similar to Dreamgirls.  Only in the latter's case, it also has the (somewhat fictionalized) rise of Motown, as well as more energy, color, and emotion.  Jersey Boys does not adopt any unique angle -- not even one about the mob's influence on the music business -- and barely tries to make you care about the band as a whole before it breaks up.
   
Flat Characters.  Much of what is wrong with the story is due to the lack of decent characterization.  Vincent Piazza is a highlight as DeVito, but he's given so little to work with.  He's just a charismatic dirtbag who eventually fuels the band's demise.  Valli, the central character of the movie, just has affairs and a half-hearted relationship with his teenage daughter (likely only to build empathy for when she dies of a drug overdose).  There is no sense that he wants something more or offers something new, apart from his Angelic voice.  Same goes for the other characters.  In real life, the band had appeared on Ed Sullivan (as the Four Lovers) before Gaudio even joined, so there must have been something driving them.  In the movie, singing is like some hobby they have on the side until Gaudio comes along.  There's no sense of chemistry or shared history with these characters.  They get together because the plot demands it and then they break up.

Flat Setting.  The setting, somber acting style, and color scheme might have been appropriate if this were, say, The Fighter.  Or another Clint Eastwood project like Million Dollar Baby.  Here, it absolutely drags the movie down.  As with Mamma Mia!, the only thing that might have made this movie enjoyable was more color and sparkle, not less.     

Lack of Context.  The 60s was possibly the 20th Century's most revolutionary decade in music, yet you would never know it from this movie.  Beatles who?  Bob Dylan?  Motown?  It might have been interesting to watch the Four Seasons struggle to stay relevant until their breakup in 1966, but only one other band is even mentioned in Jersey Boys, and that is a female singing group, the Angels.  I think there was more cultural context in That Thing You Do.

Conclusion

While the source material was never great, Jersey Boys did itself no favors by toning down the boisterous pop tunes and pretending to be The Godfather.  Instead of being an infectious movie with tunes that you were singing as you left the theatre,* it's a gray, gritty picture about people we have no reason to care for.

* Well, except for the final number, which actually looked and sounded like it came from a musical.





Other Movie Musicals That Got It Wrong: The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, RENT, Across the Universe, Rock of Ages, Hairspray

Movie Musicals That Got It Right: Dreamgirls, Les Miserables, Chicago, Mamma

The above images are used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Novel Update: Milestone Achieved!



Ladies and gentlemen, breaking news!

My novel has finally reached a milestone: 120,000 words.

You can see my efforts documented here.

With the holidays approaching, I'm not sure whether I'll start querying agents now, or wait until the beginning of next year.  I'm leaning toward the latter.

One reason is because in other breaking news..............

I've begun writing the sequel!

Maybe that sounds too soon, but when you've been waiting for over a year to write it, believe me, it's really not.  Oh sweet, sweet new pages, and just in time for National Novel Writing Month, too.

So anyway, just wanted to give you that update.  I will be back with a normal one next time.

Friday, October 31, 2014

My 80s Childhood Scarred Me

Cute, plucky kid who went through some mighty 
disturbing shit.  

When I was a kid, for one year, I had a stalker.  I don't know how or why, just that an older man became interested in me and would call my house on a semi-regular basis.  When he got me on the phone, he would ask me questions in a very creepy voice that I still remember to this day.  He claimed to be a friend of my father's, yet when I gave the phone to my dad, he would inevitably get a dial tone.  One day it started and then one day, just as mysteriously, it stopped.

And I didn't think about it again for years.

Until recently, when I stopped to think just how fucked up that was.  Where were my parents?  I never answered the phone, so how did they just decide it was okay for an adult male to speak to their child?  My mom claims that she doesn't recall that sequence of events at all.  I recall as a kid feeling that something was wrong, but I couldn't understand it.

The question is why, as I grew into adulthood, it took me so long to revisit that time in my youth and wonder what the hell happened.  Now I think I know the answer.  I didn't think anything of it because, to me, it was just part of what childhood in the 1980s was all about.

So, nostalgia has you thinking that the 80s was such a great time?  Oh no.  As a kid, I was blasted with the message that everything was definitely not okay.  Drug dealers were waiting to sell me cocaine on the playground.  Kids were getting kidnapped right and left.  Graffiti was everywhere because people had no respect for anything, unlike in the 1950s when everything was clean and pure.  (See Back to the Future for an example.)  We were latchkey kids expected to come home to an empty house and deal.

And if we somehow escaped all that unscathed, we were just going to get nuked into oblivion by the Soviets anyway.  Because perestroika-smerastroika.  And if we weren't, our country would be taken over by the Japanese and we would be turned into their pets.

While Saturday morning cartoons were relatively sane, the rest of television was far from safe.  It was an age of after school specials that featured kids ODing on drugs and committing suicide, and "very special episodes" on otherwise non-threatening sitcoms.  I learned that "rape can happen to YOU too" on The Facts of Life and Different Strokes, that your favorite relative could become a violent, raging monster on Family Ties, and that nice little kids could get AIDs and become social pariahs on Mr. Belvedere.

And Punky Brewster.  My God, Punky Brewster...

On the surface, Punky Brewster seemed like a cute show about a spunky kid, her grouchy foster dad, and her friends.  But take a look at this string of episodes from Season Two:

216: Punky's friend Cherie gets trapped in a refrigerator and almost dies.

217: Punky's foster dad, Henry, loses his photography studio to a fire and winds up in the hospital with a life-threatening ulcer, while Punky is dragged away to an orphanage.  This one's a five-parter!

222: Punky watches the Challenger explode, live on TV.

So basically, seven weeks of uninterrupted misery.  And that's not even considering other Season Two episodes like the one where Punky befriends a girl who was kidnapped by her father and forced to change her name, or the one where Punky worries about Henry being murdered by a serial killer.  Even the premise of Punky Brewster is a downer: plucky kid manages to survive being abandoned by her mother after her father abandoned both of them.  Yay?

As an adult today, you can bet that Punky is still plucky and full of life during her weekly therapy sessions.

But that was the stuff I grew up with.  I can't say that it was definitely worse than childhood in other eras.  For instance, those born shortly before or after 9-11 may grow up with a very dark view of the world, believing that nothing is safe, that even going to school could lead to your demise.  That said, I would bet my worldview is markedly darker than that of someone whose childhood took place in the 1990s.  From what I recall, most of the dark, disturbing shit in the 90s, like Columbine, took place late in the decade.  Before that, the biggest concerns were apathy and that the world could be... too peaceful?

So why would I question some dark weird thing happening to me as a kid?  It was just par for the course growing up during the 80s.  I mean, at least I wasn't ODing on drugs or getting kidnapped.



Man, childhood sucked.

The above image was used under the Fair Use Doctrine.    

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Novel Update: I Came, I Saw, I LitCrawled



So last Saturday, I had what might be considered my first promotional event.

Saturday night marked the end of a full week's events in the San Francisco Bay Area known as LitQuake.  LitQuake is some sort of harvest festival for people who love to read.  I really don't know how else to describe it.  It started with a an official launch party on Friday the 10th, then showcased reading and writing events all over the Bay Area.  The piece de resistance was LitCrawl, a 3.5-hour event in San Francisco that was capped with a closing party.

LitCrawl occurred in phases.  Phase One lasted from 6 to 7 pm.  Phase Two lasted from 7:15 to 8:15 pm.  Phase Three lasted from 8:30 to 9:30 pm.  My reading was part of Phase Three.  Each Phase took place in two dozen different San Francisco venues, mainly along Valencia Street between 16th and Mission and 21st and Mission.  

How did I volunteer to be part of such a massive event?  Mainly by accident.  I was at a Historical Novel Society meeting back in the spring and volunteered to be part of the event.  Hey, anything for exposure, right?  Well, except that I thought I would be handing out leaflets or manning a booth, not *GULP* reading to an audience.  What if I chose the wrong section, one without any drama or action?

I just decided to go for it.  I chose a section of the novel I thought would work for a 10-minute read (the first Arthur chapter, the one before this one) and hopped on BART for my merry journey.

I arrived early and was able to attend one Phase Two event, in a large bar/restaurant/music venue called The Chapel.  Chairs lined the stage and there were several rows of chairs in the audience.  And they were filling up fast.  The theme was the Four Elements.  Soon, multiple writers were seated on the stage, where an MC introduced them.  Holly crap, they had an MC??  She had a prepared routine with jokes and everything.  And each person she introduced sounded as if they had descended from the highest ranks of writerdom.  Contributed to the Atlantic, Publisher's Weekly, won this prize or that prize.  I became painfully aware of the fact that among the group of historical novel readers, I was the only one who wasn't unpublished.

That said, the writers were all humble and funny, and not the slightest bit intimidating.  But man, that place was full.  By the time I left, there was not an empty chair, and people were packed in the back besides.  By contrast, my reading venue was of a more modest size, but that actually suited me better.  I think I would have wet myself if I had to sit up on a stage and face an audience that size.  My location was in the Antelope, a boutique for women's accessories, many of which were antiquated enough that it seemed like a fitting setting for historical fiction readings.

People began trickling into the venue before the official start time.  I awkwardly placed the fliers that I'd whipped up (advertising this blog!) near the front for them to take.  After some chatting with my fellow readers, each of whom is awesome and whose works I will link to here, it was time to read at last.  There was no stage or rows of chairs; just a microphone, and people sat wherever there was room.  It felt more intimate and somehow more literary that way.

Anyway, I was the second person to read, and it was... fine.  I had to look down the entire time, and I don't think I read for as long as I could have, but when I finished, the audience gasped.  I ended on a dramatic line, so that was a good sign; it meant that I had their attention.

In the end, it didn't lead to a surge in emails or inquiries.  Most of my fliers remained where I left them.  But I felt cool.  I felt literary.  I felt like a real writer.

Can't wait to go again next year!    

The above image was taken by juliaf and is royalty free.