Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Procrastination Continues...

I had this great post planned about my recent trip to Miami, complete with a list of excuses as to why I couldn't squeeze in any checking e-mail/blogging time. However, seeing as this post has been in the "edit" stage since last week (I think... I worked both Saturday and Sunday so the line between weeks is blurring... the calendar says Tuesday but my body swears it's Friday) I decided to go ahead and post the highlights, and if it's not the most brilliant post ever, oh well.

I love Miami. If you were only to hang around the airport and then head straight to South Beach, you would think yourself in a place that's a cross between South America and France. It would never cross your mind you were in the States. Even the use of the flag is quite sparse compared to other American cities I've been to. Walking around and eavesdropping on all the Spanish and French conversations around me (yes - French. In Target I overheard a bunch of Parisian tourists ooing and aaahing over some Issac Mizrahi for Target stuff. Parisian, fashion-capital-of-the-world dwellers in Target. Buying clothes), strolling along the very Côte-d'Azure-like Ocean Drive, with it's roller-blading parks and beaches to one side, and trattoria-style eateries on the other, not to mention the phenomenal shopping, is my idea of heaven.

It's almost a blessing that there are hardly any decent shops here in Cayman because it justifies my occasional popovers across the pond.

On this particular popover, I happened to catch this flick:

If you're a writer and you like chick lit and rom coms DO NOT MISS THIS ONE! If only to see Hugh Grant in a George Michael-esque get-up, shaking his bon-bon enough times to make you feel like a cigarette after the movie. Drew Barrymore, if not at her acting best, is a believable writer who we can identify with, and it's nice to see creative angst dramatized on screen. The video around which the whole script is anchored, "Pop Goes My Heart" is absolutely hilarious. There's not much I can tell you about the plot that you wouldn't have gleaned already from the previews so I won’t linger much longer on this topic other than to repeat: do yourself a favor and see this one if you need a change from the message-heavy Oscar offerings this year. Besides the hilarity, tight pants on Hugh Grant, and 80’s soundtrack, it’s also a pretty good light chick lit/romance characterization study. You could easily, if you were so inclined, break it down into a three act structure complete with well-motivated hero/heroine character arcs, black moments, etc. Being the writer-geek that I am, I won't say the thought didn't cross my mind...

Other memorable moments from this trip include the discovery of Sawgrass Mills outlet mall. I have a deep aversion to outlet malls which probably stems from tragic childhood memories searching through racks and racks of junk labeled “Tommy Hilfiger” and “Calvin Klein” which somehow bore no resemblance whatsoever to anything I’d seen at the mall, past or present. Sawgrass Mills is a complete other universe of outlet shopping. Case in point: a very cute Miss Sixty top for $10, marked down from $100. No visible defects, and a cornucopia of sizes. No changing hurridly behind two racks of clothing and digging through piles of rubbish either – except for the prices and the word “Outlet” describing the mall, you’d never know you were in one.

Besides that, it's been work, work and more work. Which brings me to the big questions: To write full-time, or not to write full-time.

They say that you can ALWAYS carve out time to write if you really wanted to, and you don't have to quit your day job. That may be so, but consider this: the day job ate up 52 hours this week, excluding lunch hour and commuting time. I'm not one of those writers who can do 15 minutes here and there. It takes me that much just to get into the mood. Besides the required 2 - 3 writing hours I need to put in daily, I've a book to promote and just a few months left to do it in. Yes, I probably could make some time to write while working full-time, but I'd have to give up the gym, cooking, reading, and any semblance of a social life.

I've got a big decision to make...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Top Ten Chick Lit Picks, Scrunchies, and How Not to Write a Book

I’m deviating a little from Top Ten Tuesday today by posting someone else’s top ten. Most influential chick lit books that is. Karin Gillespie posted this list on her blog earlier, but I thought it deserved a mention here too (if only to provide you with a great chick lit website… I’ve been wandering cyberspace aimlessly, searching for such a site since the very unfortunate demise of Rian Montgomery’s excellent

So, what do you think? I’ve read six and half-read two (Sex & the City; In her Shoes). How about you?

I’ve been meaning to read Nick Hornby for ages. I haven’t seen High Fidelity the movie (bows head in shame) but I loved About A Boy to pieces. Will this list finally get me to do it? I’m hopeful, but realistic. With my TBR pile growing into mythical proportions, it’s highly unlikely I will get around to this in 2007 unless someone makes me.

I can’t believe Thirtynothing made the cut… I LOVED, ABSOLUTELY LOVED that book. Plus it was one of the very first chick lits I read (which, come to think about it, may be why I loved it so much in the first place), back in the dark ages of the genre when you had to search through heaps of books, reading back cover blurb after back cover blurb (publishers hadn’t discovered the wonders of bright pastel colored covers yet) to find something that might be “chick lit” (the term was only being bandied about in small, under-the-radar circles). The novel sort of follows the framework of a romance in that it alternates hero and heroine points of view, but what’s written would make a staunch, dyed-in-the-wool traditional romance reader pinch her nose in disgust. Just the opening scene describing a one-night stand is classic. And it’s chock full of that biting British wit that turned me onto Chick Lit in the first place.

Now I’d like to interrupt this blog for a public service announcement concerning the Dixie Chicks, who, in my humble opinion, embody all that chicks should stand for. It isn’t about whether you hate George Bush or not, it’s about speaking your conscience even if what your conscience has to say happens not to be so popular… at the time (people who indulge in this sort of behavior are notorious for getting the last laugh. If they’re lucky, it will happen in their lifetime). I’m not a country music fan but all this hoopla surrounding the Dixie Chicks (not to mention how they’ve turned the big-hair-and-enough-glitter-to-fill-five-barns female country singer cliché on its head) is making me very curious about their music. Plus I’m in the mood for something a little more wholesome for the soul than my steady diet of reggaeton.

Now, what does all this have to do with scrunchies? Well, to be honest, nothing, but I couldn’t resist bragging (this one’s for you too Dona!). It seems that if you hold on to any trend long enough you will in fact be rewarded with a comeback. Check this out my friends. Dona, Sienna, Mary-Kate and I have joined the ranks of women who are defying Carrie Bradshaw’s universal diss of scrunchies, and donning them with pride. Anyone can turn any fashion item into a fashion faux pas, so I still say wearing a scrunchie with a fancy suit to a NYC restaurant (like the woman in that infamous SATC episode) is a huge fashion DON’T. But to accessorize today’s legging-and-oversized-tunics combos? Pourquoi pas? Just make sure they’re not made out of denim or are covered with Hello Kittie motifs.

Onto our final topic (how’s that for a transition?), in an effort to motivate you in case you are as stuck in your writing as I am at the moment, I’ve just stumbled on a great blog by writer Maureen Johnson, and her montage of the writing process (with a deadline looming) is priceless. And man is this a crazy process. I cannot tell you where my brainstorming of this current book is taking me. I think if I don’t decide on a course of action and go with it, I could be plotting and planning forever.

Has anyone figured out how to decide on a path when you’ve brainstormed yourself into a maze? I’d love to know…

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Oscars Bandwagon

Every year I promise myself to watch most of the movies up for Oscars so I can actually debate the merits of one over the other instead of cheering on the only one I happened to have seen but alas I’ve failed again.

So, let me rant about the three movies I did manage to see, that are getting a nod.

Little Miss Sunshine. The girls over at have done a great job blogging about this one, and it really was one of the best movies of the year. Not sure if the kid deserves an Oscar though… I’d give it to the screenwriter, maybe the director, and quite possibly Steve Carell (who brings comic genius to every role he plays, including cartoon voices). Greg Kinnear was great, as always (LOVED him in The Matador – another hilarious movie that flirts with the dark side – and succeeds). Toni Colette was also fabulous (isn’t she always?) as was the sulky teenager and the coked-up grandfather.

But here’s the deal: I think all these actors are genuinely talented to begin with, so it was really this rich, subtle, nuanced and very well written story that gave them an opportunity to shine. As writers, we could probably learn a a lot from a movie that takes the most ordinary of families and mundane of circumstances to Oscar level entertainment.

Dreamgirls. Do NOT get me started. Hated it, hated hated it (before you hate ME I’ll tell you where this venom comes from. I think if threre weren’t any Oscar buzz around this movie, I would’ve said it was cute and mildy entertaining, not a total waste of $10. The costumes were beyond fabulous. I really felt I was in the 50s, 60s, 70s (loved those 70s…) and 80s. I loved how Beyoncé’s voice was constantly getting dissed – kudos to her for putting up with it. But Jennifer Hudson??? Just because it was her first time acting does not mean she deserves an Oscar. These aren’t the A-for-effort awards. She WAS good for a first timer, but not once in that whole movie did she move me, touch me, or elevate my thinking to another level, like say, Eddie Murphy, who did in fact deliver an Oscar worthy nuanced and layered performance (you really saw his character change over the span of the movie… can’t say the same for Hudson’s).

Blood Diamond. Now THIS is a movie that deserves an Oscar, if only for shining the spotlight on a difficult subject. That everything else is so great about it is gravy: the tight screenplay, the sweeping, breathtaking shots of Africa, and every single actor, from the little boy who gets kidnapped and recruited into a rebel guerilla to Leo’s incredible body and spot-on Zimbawean accent (yes, lots of people from Zimbabwae and South Africa living here in the Caymans, so I can judge).

The criticism I’m hearing about this movie is that it was too violent. I can’t tell you how much this annoys me. Life isn’t a slightly grittier version of Disneyland, people. Most continents are riddled with very serious, ugly, life-threatning problems. Diamonds are just one of them (one guy in the movie, looking at the dead bodies littering the street after a rebel raid, remarks: “Thank God we don’t have oil”. Coming from the Middle-East, I find that pretty ironic). It’s important tobe exposed to these issues. How else are you going to learn to put things into perspective? Not watching a movie depicting people getting limbs machete’d off in the name of the “blood diamonds” is not a stand a violence in the movies. It’s just wilful ignorence. To be honest, there are scenes where I had to look away, butit didn’t take anything away from the experience. I learned so much. Like, for instance, did you know that the big diamond cartels – such as De Beers – used to buy up those “conflict diamonds” that rebels obtained illegally (i.e horrifically) so the flood of cheap diamonds would not bring down their market price?

Let me put it another way: rebel gangs raid villages in Africa, ensalve people into working the diamond mines, try and sell these mined diamonds on the free market so they can purchase weapons, a big company like De Beers buys them up so that diamonds, a commodity like wheat, oil and gold, stays at a certain (high) price. Doesn’t that make you mad??? The only people who aren’t getting a totally raw deal out of this sordid mess are the companies that rake in profits from bling-bling loving schelps like us (I’m convinced De Beers came up with the ‘two-months’ salary rule).

What those people who didn’t like Blood Diamond under the pretext of “violence” missed is that at the end, after all the spilled guts and gangs and drugs and corruption, Blood Diamond was actually uplifting. It sent a very powerful message. That ordinary people like us, can and do make a difference, with every thought, every action, and every purchase.

The movie is set a few years ago, just before a special law was passed which specifically addressed the misery surrounding the trade of “conflict diamonds” on the free market. As a result of this international law (which is just a few years old, remember), only 15% of diamonds on the market nowadays are thought to be “conflict diamonds”. That’s still a high number, but think how high it would have been if regular people hadn’t been made aware of, and then enraged at what their money was buying.

To me, the key message wasn’t “don’t buy diamonds”, it was “you can and do make a difference”. Just think about how positive, how empowering this is.

If that doesn’t convince you to see Blood Diamond, maybe this will: Leonardo DiCaprio has never looked hotter.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Top Ten Tuesday

I was tagged earlier today by Dona, so here goes.

Top Ten Totally Random Things You Don’t Know About Moi

1. I did most of my traveling before age 10, tagging along with my parents to places like Greece and Spain. That all came to an end when we immigrated to Canada, and I was actually of age to remember something of my travels.

2. I speak four languages: English, French, Arabic, and Spanish (my hands-down favorite is Spanish)

3. My mother is an amazing dancer who used to do all kinds of interpretive new-agey dance routines in college that would make a shy accountant like me cringe. Much to her dismay, I was afflicted with two left feet during my entire childhood and teenage years (since Arab women belly dance when they get together – don’t ask – my total lack of gracefulness was there for the entire Turkish-coffee-sipping community to see). Then I went to Cuba and fell in love with salsa music. I can now dance circles around my mother. Oh, Revenge, how sweet thou art.

4. I am a soup person. Specifically, “cream of” anything soup. If I could eat only one thing for the rest of my life, it would be soup. Or cheese.

5. My senior high school year boyfriend planned on majoring in accounting while I was convinced I would go into marketing. I made fun of his academic aspirations on a regular basis. I am now an accountant.

6. I taught myself fashion illustration at the age of 11 by tracing Katy Keen comics (anyone remember her?) I got pretty darn good at it too, and I was THIS CLOSE to picking fashion design as a career path. Please don’t ask how I went from that to accounting.

7. I have a secret, shameful love of scrunchies (sorry, SJP). Nothing feels nearly as good in my super-dry, over-processed long hair. At least I live on a rock in the middle of the ocean where nobody cares.

8. I used to be “tall for my age” (I’m now barely 5’2”). In my defense, I am taller than Shakira (who stands at 4’11”) and am about the same height as Selma Hayek, Penelope Cruz and Paula Abdul, so there.

9. I hated everything about Dreamgirls except the costumes.

10. I am late for absolutely everything. Most people I know were rolling over in laughter when they found out the title of my first novel, FASHIONABLY LATE (which, if you ask my friends, should be changed to SHAMEFULLY LATE).

Shannon Mckelden, you're up!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Amazing News...

The news I've been waiting for almost a year now finally came a few days ago... thanks to my amazing, Arabic-speaking Midwestern, world-traveling editor Paul, I have a contract for two more books with TOR/Forge!!!! Weeeeeeee!!!!!

Having one book on the shelves is incredible enough, but THREE???!!! I feel blessed beyond reason. I have no idea what I've done or what lucky star I was born under to have this amazing opportunity, but here's how I plan to make the absolute best of it: I am officially putting an end to my pessimism, and believing in myself and my abilities.

Alisa VR blogged about writers' apparent predisposition to melancholy, depression, and general pessimism. It makes sense to me, this phenomenon. Writers are observers, people who sit just a little outside the circle of normality, people who question everything and are full of wonder. Well, if ignorance is bliss then truth-seeking must be a little taxing on the soul. And while some people can push away uncomfortable thoughts to the backs of their minds with a a bit of help from sports or shopping or work or whatever, I think what makes writers different is that they can't. The inquisitiveness just keeps coming back, together with the feelings of unease that come with it. Add to that the fact that a writer's journey is paved with rejection. It's enough to discourage anyone. And if you've attained some measure of success, the pressure doesn't magically disappear: you're then plagued with the belief that the first time was a fluke, and that you'll never manage to pull it off again.

No more. I'm going to believe that I'll be able t pull this off, and give writing the place it deserves in my life - not just a hobby, but a very serious, worthy pursuit.

...And what kind of good news would be complete without a little splurge? Check this out:

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Brave New World… of Cartoons

With Life taking a turn down Stress Lane lately (it’s more like Stress highway, really) I’ve been turning to cartoons for my escapist comedy fix. Mostly because the local Blockbusters has laid siege to my late-twenty-something sensibilities by stocking a spate of movies starring, among other people I never want to hear about ever again, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan. (Jon Stewart, in a recent interview with Robin Wright Penn summarized his take on The Problem with Hollywood with this little golden nugget: less Lindsey Lohan, more Robin Wright Penn”).

I have to say, it seems like cartoons nowadays are willing to go where other Hollywood blockbusters fear to tread, that is, escapism sprinkled with a dusting of tell-it-like-it-is social criticism. Considering these movies are big with families, they reach a sizeable chuck of the average (North) American family, unlike the indies, (informative, entertaining, but not nearly as accessible to or sought after by, wide audiences).

Take the movie I watched last night, Over The Hedge. Fabulous. Loved it. If you like Steve Carell’s antics on The Office, you’ll love his rendition of the “idiot savant, minus the savant” Hammy the hyperactive squirrel. Besides the tight plot, hilarious punch lines, sweet characterization and impressive 3-D animation, there’s a clever little embedded message about waste. Specifically how much we humans generate of it. I especially loved how the message was integral to the plot, not an afterthought. Aspiring writers could learn a lot from that.

The gist of the plot is this: creatures of a forest (a turtle, a father-daughter possum duo, a family of hedgehogs, a skunk, and aforementioned hyper squirrel) wake up from hibernation one year only to find that an “oasis of tranquility” suburb has sprung up around them over the winter. Their world is now separated from that of the humans by a mysterious hedge, which they call “Steve” (for lack of a better idea). Enter a renegade, n’er-do-well worldly raccoon who educates them about the empire of the humans, fur-less creatures whose whole lives revolve around food. Transporting it, storing it, freezing it, cooking it, having it delivered, consuming it, and, of critical interest to our furry protagonists, throwing most of it away. Thus begins the ideological struggle between the innovator raccoon who gets the animals addicted to Doritos and Coca Cola, and the old-school turtle preaching the virtues of a diet of bark, leaves, and nuts.

The message here isn’t too subtle, but it’s still a worthy one, and not just to kids who prefer to leave the veggies on their plate untouched.

I waste. A lot. But here’s the deal: if I ate everything that was put in front of me in a restaurant, if I ordered Whoppers instead of Whopper Jrs., and ordered the combo every time someone behind a cash register offered it to me (and let’s not even mention supersizing), I would be obese. Not fat, Obese. There’s been a lot written about this so I won’t go too far with this but, as you may have observed, the more fresh, high quality your food is (like say fruits, veggies, and fresh lean meat), the more expensive it is (compare how much it would cost to make a burger, fries and salad out of scratch with buying a McDonald’s combo meal). So obesity is partially an economic class issue as well (which, in America, makes it a race issue to boot). Add on the Wal-Mart effect which I blogged about a few weeks ago (i.e. bringing down prices – including the price of our food – by bringing down quality), and you have a cartoon with a seemingly simple message that actually goes a long, long way. The kind of “waste” addressed in Over the Hedge isn’t the kind your mama warned you about when she made you eat your broccoli and carrots. It’s the kind of “waste” we as a society have accepted to live with in order to protect our individual right to a high-fat burger, a cheap salmon fillet, or a chicken nuggets made from mutant, diseased chickens. And then people wonder why they’re constantly fighting losing battles with their expanding waistlines. Yes, individual responsibility is vital, but so is recognizing when the odds are stacked against you (more so if you have the misfortunes of being poor and/or a member of a disadvantaged minority). Over the Hedge, people. It’s mindless escapism minus the mindless.

The other cartoon I saw recently has been getting some heat from conservative pundits who’ve called it “left-wing propaganda”. I’m referring to Happy Feet, the penguin movie (penguins are having a great decade in Hollywood, wouldn’t you say?).

Though global warming is never actually addressed full on, it’s in every scene, behind every plot twist. In the cracked ice-sheets, the cascading snow off of cliffs, the floating bits off icebergs that carry Mumble the penguin away from his family. And, here too, the human obsession with hoarding food (thus disrupting food chains which ultimately leads to mass extinction across many species) drives the plot.

I’m loving how it’s mostly cartoons and “fake”-news shows like Jon Stewart and Colbert who are raising awareness – in a way that appeals to the masses – about some of the most pressing issues of our times.

PS - Some very exciting writing news are on the way... stay tuned!