Monday, December 31, 2012

My Personal Best and Worst – Entertainment 2012

The end of the year is when many entertainment and news magazines and papers publish their “Best of” entertainment lists. The difference between them and me is the writers who come up with those lists are professional reviewers who are paid to watch TV and movies, read books, listen to music, and write about their opinions. I’m just going to let that sink in for a second… there are people who get paid to do what for the rest of us is an escape. Maybe they do Excel spreadsheets in their spare time to relax; I don’t know.

Since no one’s paying me to watch TV – to be honest, no one’s really paying me to do anything right now, but that’s OK – my own list of personal bests and worsts is hardly all-inclusive. I know I’m missing out on a lot of quality TV by refusing to subscribe to more than one pay channel. I know this because I follow a lot of professional TV people on Twitter and I am not watching what they are watching on Sunday nights. Furthermore, my husband doesn’t like the movies, so I’ve only been to three in 2012 – and one of them was a 3-D remake of a film I’d seen several times, and the other two were both in December. Yes, one of my 2013 goals is to go to more movies.

So here it is; my own personal list of the best of 2012, the biggest disappointments of 2012, and things I hear are really good but I didn’t have time to watch in 2012, in the world of entertainment. I can’t promise a specific number because I don’t know how many I’ll come up with.

Best in Entertainment

The revitalization of General Hospital

Fans have complained for years about the mob-centric show, and as the ratings declined and its sister soaps All My Children and One Life to Live were canceled, rumors were that GH was next on the chopping block. Instead, with a new producer/writer team at the helm, GH returned to its roots of character-driven story and brought back stars that shined in the heyday of the 1980s. While the show still suffers from some weak storylines, overall it’s an hour of soapy goodness once again.

The Redskins, the Nationals and the Orioles all make the playoffs

The DC area has long suffered with some of the worst teams in the nation. Only the Capitals, now on strike again, have provided area sports fans for a reason to look forward to the post-season. But in 2012, these three teams all made the playoffs. (Yes, I know the Ravens regularly compete in the post-season, but DC fans don’t root for them. Yes, we do root for the Orioles, but that’s only because we went for so long without a baseball team.) While the Redskins and the Nationals were both revitalized due to new, young, ubertalented players (RG3 for president, anyone?), the Orioles turnaround was that much more miraculous as they did it with pretty much the same staff they had in 2011. No one expected new VP Dan Duquette to have that big of an impact that soon, but you can’t argue with a winning season.

Grey’s Anatomy continues to shine

This show is older than my dog, and should be jumping sharks and disappointing fans all over the place. Instead, by allowing characters to grow professionally, adding new young doctors, and keeping the Meredith/Christina friendship at its core, Grey’s remained an entertaining hour full of characters you love without ever getting stupid or repeating itself.

These terrific shows kept me entertained: The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Girls, Portlandia, 30 Rock, Nashville.

Best books of 2012? Gillian Flynn’s“Gone Girl” wins, hands down. It’s the kind of book you can’t predict, you can’t put down, and you can’t stop kicking yourself for even thinking you can write because who can compete with a book like this? Other books I really enjoyed this year include “Blackberry Winter” by Sarah Jio, “Totlandia,” by Josie Brown, “Home Front,” by Kristin Hannah, and “Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand.

Music? Two songs by Fun – “We are Young” and “Some Nights.” Pink and Nicki Minaj make the treadmill that much easier to handle. Phillip Phillips’ “Home” is great for the cool down, while Train’s “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” is great for a laugh.

Biggest Disappointments of 2012

I read a lot of reviews, so I generally stay away from bad stuff and don’t need to come up with a “worst” list. But I did find myself disappointed a lot, mostly by these:

Revenge turned into a mess this season, with too many new characters and “the Initiative” – aka, “It’s not really Conrad and Victoria’s fault, because we want to keep them around.”

True Blood

Whose idea was it that Bill and Eric needed to leave Louisiana and spend the entire season and storyline away from Sookie? Because as ideas go, this was a very bad one.

The Good Wife

Most people are citing Kalinda’s creepy ex-husband as the reason why this season was disappointing. I found him serious fast-forward material, but more than that, the evaporation of the Will/Alicia relationship was puzzling. Without the tension between these two, the urgency to tune in every week disappeared, too.

ABC cancels 666 Park Avenue

This was a good show that got better (and better DVR ratings) every week. Its cancelation made no sense, and ABC’s decision to put sitcoms in its time slot rather than giving fans its last episodes was an additional kick in the butt.
The Hobbit

Without a ring to fight over and possibly turn heroes into Gollums, the journey lacked urgency. And what does a dragon want with gold, anyway?

I Heard These Were Really Good, But I Didn’t Have Time


Magic Mike

Hunger Games

Defending Jacob

Breaking Bad

Oh, and one last disappointment – Netflix streaming service, which guarantees I’ll need a disc in the mail in order to watch the stuff I missed!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What RG3 has in common with Ron Carlivati and Frank Valentini

There were two things that I loved in high school that are making a comeback today: The Washington Redskins, and General Hospital. In the 80s, the Redskins went to two Superbowls in a row under ubercoach Joe Gibbs, and went to the playoffs in other years. And General Hospital reached his heyday with the Luke and Laura wedding; even after actress Genie Francis left the show and took a million viewers with her, it was still the top-rated soap for the rest of the decade.

Sports and soaps both produce insanely committed fans. And just like winning teams build on their fan bases and gain even more popularity, soaps that produce stories that fans want to watch gain in ratings and word-of-mouth. At the same time, losing teams shed fans – empty seats at Fedex were common, even though the team insisted the waiting list for season tickets was still long – and soaps that showcase stories and characters people don’t want to watch will lose fans, too.

It’s been a hard decade for both Skins fans and General Hospital viewers. The Redskins haven’t won the division since 1999, and reached the playoffs only a few times. And General Hospital allowed the show to be dominated by a misogynistic, bi-polar mob boss and his brain-damaged hit man. As mob stories took over and the tone of the show changed completely, long-time fans deserted en masse. The ratings fell precipitously, and several other soaps were canceled.

The Redskins are in no danger of being canceled (I guess the NFL equivalent would be being sold or moved), but owner Dan Snyder did go through more head coaches than General Hospital went through head writers. Even so, Redskins fans blamed Snyder for the team’s woes, citing his micro-managing, free-agent shopping and mercenary ways. And General Hospital fans blamed “The Idiots In Charge” – namely, ABC Daytime head Brian Frons, executive producer Jill Farren Phelps, and head writer Bob Guza. While Snyder was mostly silent , ABC fought back, blaming the fans for going to work, for watching the OJ Simpson trial, and for being unhappy no matter what stories played on screen.

Then, two miracles happened.

Robert Griffin the 3rd was drafted by the Redskins. And Ron Carlivati and Frank Valentini took over at General Hospital, as head writer and producer, respectively.

Football is not a game in which the fortunes of a team can usually be turned around due to just one player, and indeed the Redskins still have weaknesses, specifically defensively. But RG3 is one of the most gifted players ever under center, with amazing passing accuracy, lightning fast speed, executive-level decision-making capabilities, and incredible leadership skills. If he is able to stay healthy, he will have a Hall of Fame career.

I don’t know if Ron and Frank ever played football, but they are running General Hospital under a two-minute drill. They were hired after One Life to Live was canceled, even though that soap actually had higher ratings than General Hospital did at the time. Long-time fans themselves, they quickly set about making changes fans had cried for for years: bringing back show vets, de-emphasizing the mob, adding some lighter stories.

The ratings are up by 12% since last year. Instead of whispers of GH’s cancelation, eager plans are being made for the show’s 50th anniversary in April.

The show isn’t perfect; some storylines are downright annoying. But it feels right. Port Charles has become a cohesive town again, where everyone knows everyone. It’s an hour spent with cherished friends, rather than with bad guys trying to kill worse guys.

Best of all, in my opinion, is that they proved The Idiots In Charge wrong. For years, executives who hated soaps blamed the fans on the low ratings and refused to listen to complaints about story. They said nothing could stop the decline and inevitable cancelation of the shows because nothing they could do would bring the fans back. Unfortunately these idiots were allowed to destroy two long-cherished soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live. But Ron and Frank have proved that by being fans (many soap exes aren’t), listening to fans and delivering what fans want (on a macro level rather than specific storyline), fans will tune back in.

Currently the Redskins lead the NFC East, with only the Cowboys standing in their way. Even if the Redskins lose on the 30th, they will still make the play-offs this year. Considering they were 3-6 at one point, it’s a miracle. But even if the Redskins lose the first playoff game, with RG3 under central, the future is bright.

It feels like the 1980s again. Only without the big hair and bright blue eyeshadow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our Deepest Fear

There’s a very famous quote attributed to new-age guru Marianne Williamson (although I’ve heard she was actually quoting someone else) that goes something like this: Our deepest fear is not that we’re inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

Maybe Ms. Williamson (or whomever first originally said this) hangs out with a completely different crowd than I do, but I find this hard to believe. Most people, I don’t think, aren’t carrying around a deep-seated fear that they are, in fact, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Most people, I believe, deep down inside are scared that they suck and no one’s ever going to tell them that.

Maybe this is just a writer thing, or an artist thing. After all, if you’re a scientist or in some other math-based profession, it becomes obvious pretty quickly whether or not you suck. If your patients keep dying or your equations never add up or you’re always losing all your clients’ money, there’s really no question that you’re not any good.

Not so for the creator-based community. Writing – any art – is reviewed separately and subjectively by each person, so that while as a society there’s an agreement about certain blockbuster works of art – Harry Potter, the Mona Lisa – there’s plenty of disagreement around others. Was 2001 A Space Odyssey a masterpiece or a joke? Is J.K. Rowling’s “A Casual Vacancy” a thought-provoking, sweeping saga or just a mess? And is my novel any good?

There’s a saying in Hollywood that you can die from encouragement, which basically means that no one you talk to will ever say that your writing sucks or you’re the worst actress ever or you can’t put two images together without boring the entire country. Because, God forbid, what if your judgmental judgment is wrong and this person actually makes it big and then refuses to work with you because of your criticism? This ignores the question of why you’d want to work with someone that you know sucks even if the rest of the world thinks he’s the greatest talent since Da Vinci, or at least the Da Vinci Code. So you spend your entire life, or at least the most productive part of it, slaving away at your art because so many people say encouraging things, and then you spend the end of your life wondering why it never happened for you.

How do you know if you’re one of the ones who really has “it,” or if people are just patting you on the head to be kind? After all, it isn’t just Hollywood execs who are trained to be encouraging. From an early age, we’re all taught that “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So if you give your book to your best friend, is she really going to tell you if she thinks it sucks? Of course not.

At the same time, we writers are supposed to be able to handle rejection. We’re told to develop tough skins, not to take it personally. After all, the first thing that happens when you find a professional who really loves your writing is that he’ll tell you a million things wrong with it.

I have gotten pretty good handling rejection on one level. I’m OK when someone declines to read my book. After all, there are a million books out there, good ones, that I’ve decided not to read myself. I have very specific tastes and interests and I imagine that agents and editors do, too. So when I present my idea and I’m told, “Thanks, but it’s not for me,” I’m disappointed but I really don’t take it personally.

What I do take personally is a rejection after the material has been read. Because in that case, the agent/editor/producer has already shown interest in the idea. It’s my take and writing of said idea that they’re rejecting.

And no, no one ever tells you that they’re passing because as a writer, you’d make a great waiter. It’s a few sentences of form letter; after reviewing the material, they don’t wish to see anything more. Occasionally there’ll be a note at the bottom saying feel free to send anything else you’re working on, and that’s heartening, but only slightly.

I’ve been writing stories since I was very young – I can remember working on a “Little House on the Prairie” fan fiction I called “Light Up the Sky with Firecrackers” (Did they even have firecrackers in the 1800s?) – and in school I was a good enough writer that I could often bullshit my way through papers relying on skill rather than content. This is why I went into PR.

I don’t think you can bullshit your way through a novel or a screenplay.

Self-publishing has really taken off in the past few years. It’s become so legitimate that a few very well-known, well-compensated authors are choosing to leave their publishing houses and go out on their own. After all, that means the money goes directly to them and they don’t have to wait a year for their book to come out.

Self-publishing means there’s no one to stop you. No one to say this idea isn’t right for us, no one to say there’s no market for it, no one to wrinkle their nose and say that no one wants to read about a character like your protagonist.

There’s also no one to say that your writing sucks. (Of course, as I wrote just a few paragraphs ago, no one’s going to say that anyway.)

I’ve read many self-published books this year, and while one or two of them were strong enough that they could have easily come from a major house, most of them had problems. There were issues with plotting, character, and dialogue. And one or two of them flat-out sucked.

I wonder if those writers got any editing help at all. Did they ignore suggestions? Did they really think readers would be interested in a three-page conversation about what the characters had for breakfast? Or maybe it’s me… maybe I’m too picky.

My manuscript is going out to some editors after the holiday. I’ve had three people read it --- two baseball parents and the owner of a book blog. They didn’t think it sucked, so that’s a good thing.

I’m also looking in to self-publishing. If these editors pass, I want everything in place so I can start that process as soon as possible.

And hopefully I don’t suck.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Next Best Thing

Thanks to Stephen A. North for tagging me in this writer-blog meme, The Next Best Thing. I’m going to New York this week to participate in the New York Pitch Conference, so who knows, maybe the next best thing is me!

What is the working title of your book?

Keeping Score

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My son played travel baseball from the ages of 8-14, so I got a lot of material from that!

What genre does your book fall under?

The chick lit subgenre of momlit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This would be a wonderful break into showbiz for a 9-year-old boy! For the adults, Amy Adams as my protagonist, and Mark Ruffalo as her love interest.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When her 9-year-old son wanted to play summer travel baseball, Shannon Stevens had no idea the most brutal competition was off the field….

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am still working that out, but I imagine I’ll be self-publishing. I’d like to have it out by Opening Day 2013

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

Once I got really serious about it – making myself write every weekday – probably about 5 months.

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

I think it’s similar to Jane Porter’s “Odd Mom Out,” which is also about how parents in upscale communities compete through their kids. Her story centers around a mother and daughter, though, so the nature of the competition is very different.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My son!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest

If your child competes in any arena, or if you’ve ever wondered how parents get to the point where they’re beating up umpires in parking lots, this book is for you!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Liebster Award

Thanks to Samantha Stroh Bailey for nominating me for the Liebster award. The best part about tags like this is it gives an easy blog topic for the week!

Nominees need to do the following:

When one receives the award, one posts 11 random facts about oneself and answers the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.

Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (while making sure one notifies the blogger that one nominated them!) (This is going to be particularly difficult as I only know 3 writers with blogs who haven’t been nominated…)

One writes up 11 NEW questions directed towards YOUR nominees.

One is not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated one’s own blog!

One pastes the award picture into ones blog. (You can Google the image, there are plenty of them!)

11 Random facts about me:

My very first fan fiction was “Little House on the Prairie.” I was in the 3rd grade, so no “50 Shades of Grey” stuff going on there!

I can’t write with any music on, people talking, in public, etc. I need quiet so the voices in my head will talk to me!

I broke my toe in Paris a few years ago, stumbling around in a dark hotel room. My husband enjoys tormenting me with “Ow, my toe!” whenever I get up in the middle of the night.

The L’ouvre is not set up well for visitors in wheelchairs.

My first real job was at McDonald’s. I think today’s cashiers have it way easy, without having to bother with getting people their drinks.

The longest book I ever read was “Gone with the Wind.” It is about 1,066 pages. I know this because I took the book on a car trip and my brother insisted on counting each page out loud. I was in the 6th grade, and he was in the 1st.

I love the “Lord of the Rings” movies but have never read any of the books.

I have found fault with a Shakespeare play.

I wrote my own soap opera in high school. I think I got up to about 30 episodes, then I wrote it in novel form. At some point, I threw all the writing away.

Writers should never throw away anything they’ve ever written.

I am a huge fan of old-time General Hospital (pre-Luke and Laura)

And now for Samantha Stroh Bailey’s questions (Samantha actually had 12 questions; two number fives; I’m electing to only answer the first one):

1. What is the best costume you’ve ever worn? When my son Alex was about 5, he was obsessed with Peter Pan, so that year we went to a Halloween party as Captain Hook (my husband Tom), Tinkerbell (me), and Peter (Alex).

2. What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? Alex got an iPhone in the 6th grade. This was when the first generation had just come out. A little extravagant for an 11-year-old!

3. If you could be invisible for one day, where would you go and what would you do? I’d go to my son’s school and spy on him.

4. Who’s your Hollywood crush? I don’t really crush on actors, but I did have a strong reaction to Brad Pitt in the movie “Troy.”

5. What movie always makes you cry? Terms of Endearment.

6. If you could live in the home of any television series, which would it be? As long as the occupants don’t come with it, the Greyson manor on Revenge.

7. What is something you’ve always wanted to try? Right now it’s paddleboarding.

8. What’s your favorite food? Ice cream.

9. If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you’d buy? The biggest 3-D TV there is.

10. What’s your favorite song? I change favorites with days of the week. Right now it’s “Some Nights” by Fun.

11. Describe yourself with one adjective. Persistent.

My nominees are Patricia Pooks Burroughs, J.P. Smith, and Stephen A. North. Here are your questions:

1. What is your all-time favorite sports team?

2. Which supernatural creature would you feel most comfortable fighting?

3. What are you too scared to do?

4. What invention do you wish was around when you were a kid?

5. What book written by another author do you wish you had written?

6. What is your favorite city to visit?

7. What is the longest-ever stretch of time you’ve spent writing without a break?

8. If you weren’t a writer, what do you wish you could be?

9. If you had the chance to repeat a year of your life, which one would it be?

10. Did you buy a ticket for the latest big Powerball jackpot?

11. Has blogging, tweeting, etc., helped your book sales?