Friday, April 25, 2014

Give Me MORE!

I waste time on the internet. There. I've said it. Shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Usually when I waste time on the internet, I'm looking for writing advice, following my favorite authors on twitter, and reading about trends in young adult literature.
And I keep seeing more of the same. More about how there aren't enough books about people of color. More about how there aren't enough LGBT characters. More about how we need different religions represented in books. More about how there aren't enough novels set in non-Western countries. More books that portray sexuality in a realistic, positive way. More about the lack of physically handicapped characters. More about the need for mental illness on the page. More about non-traditional families. More about how there aren't enough books for boys. More about how there aren't enough books about girls.
Everyone has a different idea of which group is the most underrepresented. But everyone seems to agree, we need MORE of everything.
Seeing yourself in a book is a beautiful thing. But not every book can be that beautiful, heartwarming story. The one that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin-or the one that helps you slip into someone else's. Sometimes, the best thing an author can do is tell a good story. One story cannot represent everyone.
The fact that People On The Internet have opinions doesn't bother me. I can sympathize with most of them. What bothers me is that everyone has a complaint but few people are prepared to solve it.
The lack of MORE could easily be solved if everyone did a little. A blog post, a web article, a comment section rant, those can get people thinking. But a book can do so much more.
Not everyone can write a book. But those who can't write one could write a poem instead. Those who can't write a poem can write a play. Those who can't write a play can write a song. Those who can't write a song can paint a picture. Those who can't paint a picture can draw a comic. Everyone is capable of doing something.
Not everyone can create professionally. But singing a song about MORE and uploading it to youtube does more than keeping your lips shut. Everyone is capable of doing something.
And those who insist they have no creative ability whatsoever? Who insist that others are responsible for the lack of more? They can promote. They can post reviews of media that does do a good job of including the MORE. Everything is capable of doing something.
Reading an opinion from someone who has done nothing to add MORE to the world isn't at all different from a person who doesn't vote complaining about politics.
I keep coming back to that Toni Morrison quote: "If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
Toni Morrison is a black writer. She's known for her books about black characters. She's received a Pulitzer Prize, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and just about everything in between. And she deserves them because she went and added MORE black characters into the world. She didn't sit on her couch and grumble about the lack of MORE.
Complaining on the internet does not create MORE. It just reminds us of the lack of it. Pointing out a problem and not doing anything about it is whining. Me? What I'm doing here? Whining. My words have no merit. I'm well aware of it. I've seen enough of the internet that I no longer take anyone's opinion seriously, including my own. Leave me a comment, please. Prove me wrong. Say something I haven't heard before. Remind me just how little MORE there is in the world. How underrepresented you feel. Give me a statistic in the 90-100% range about how many books aren't about MORE.
But do any of you out there have stories about the time you dared the break societal norms? Have you done anything to add MORE into the universe?
There will never be enough MORE until you create it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chasing A Dream

Two years ago, I met a boy at a dance. We small-talked. "What's your name? So, where do you go to school? Got any hobbies? How many brothers and sisters do you have?" Eventually he asked me, "What do you want to do after school?"
With most people, I shrug. My dream job isn't safe, normal, or easily attainable. I'll tell them I want to go to college and see what's our there before making any decisions. But for some reason, I told him the truth. "I want to be a writer."
"Oh, so you want to write a book when you grow up?"
I didn't. I still don't. What I wanted to do was write a book that night. The dance was set to go late and I needed to be up early in the morning. But there should be enough time to squeeze in a half page or so. A few months after this I finished my first book.
At age six, being an author was a wish, right up there with paleontologists and ballerinas. At nine, I began scribbling down stories in a little red notebook. The wish was now a dream. At twelve, it was a goal. While my friends played ridiculously unbeatable games on our class laptops, I sat there googling 'writing advice for kids'.
By fifteen, how old I was when I went to that dance, it was a goal. I'm now seventeen. I plan to finish six books before I graduate high school. I'm on my fourth right now. If everything goes well (yeah right) I'll complete this before the calendar year ends. If it doesn't, I'll keep working.
A few weeks ago, I asked another boy what he wanted to do after high school. He shrugged and said, "Maybe an actor." I stared at him. Actor isn't a shrugging job. I have a few friends who seriously intend to act for a living. They're heavily involved in both school and community theater. This boy didn't take a single theater class. If he'd ever been in a community play, he didn't mention it in front of me. Whenever I turned the conversation to movies and TV, he'd say "That's a good show" or "I didn't like it much" and leave it at that. He'd never rattled off a list of his favorite actors and what he admired about them.
If you want to be an accountant or marketing director or human resource manager, you can simply go to college and then fill out some job applications. But anything creative takes years of dreaming and work. Writers. Actors. Singers. Dancers. Painters.
There are exceptions. I have a neighbor who took up sculpting in her sixties. Now she travels around the country with her art. Things that don't required physical talent, like writing and drawing, can be developed later in life. But I truly believe that the best start early.
I may not get published until I'm thirty. Or later. But a thirty year old with fifteen years of experience is better than a thirty year old who began writing after graduating college. Even if I spend those first fifteen years learning how not to write a novel, that time won't be wasted.
My first novel taught me how to come up with a story idea and stick with it. The second one taught me how to sit down and pound out words. The third taught me how to work through writer's block. I'm not sure what the fourth one will teach me, but I suspect it's "Spend more time working on the story than wondering what people will think."
If I don't hold a copy of my book in my hands until I'm sixty six, it will still be worth it. It's never to late to start but you do need to get started. I truly believe that the best get going young.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Great vs. Gatsby

On April 11, 1925, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald hit the shelves. On April 8, 2014, Great by Sara Benincasa hit the shelves. It's supposed to be a retelling.
From the publisher:
In Sara Benincasa's contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, a teenage girl becomes entangled in the drama of a Hamptons social circle, only to be implicated in a tragedy that shakes the summer community.
My first reaction when I saw the ad for this book was surprise. I've read retellings of Peter Pan and Pride and Prejudice. But Gatsby? Can they do that?
For those of you who haven't read The Great Gatsby and would like to know what's going on, I'll sum it up. For those of you who intend to read The Great Gatsby in the near future, skip this paragraph, you'll understand enough. Spoilers ahoy.
Nick, our narrator and audience surrogate, tells the story of Daisy and Tom Buchanan. The Buchanans are a rich and miserable couple. Tom's cheating on Daisy with a poor and miserable mechanic's wife. Daisy either doesn't know or doesn't care. Then Jay Gatsby, her old boyfriend, shows up. They innocently hang out a few times and Tom, hypocrite that he is, reacts as if she's having an affair. Daisy and Gatsby are out joyriding one day when Daisy runs over the mechanic's wife. Oopsie. The mechanic tracks down the car and shoots Gatsby in revenge. The Buchanans move and Nick breaks up with his girlfriend, Jordan. The End!
Benincasa's Great changes all of the names and some of the genders. Jay Gatsby is now Jacinta, Daisy is Delilah, Tom is Teddy, Nick is Naomi, and Jordan, the girl Nick dates in The Great Gatsby, has now transformed into Jeff. Couldn't he be Jordan? That's unisex.
I've been thinking a lot about retellings lately. See my post on updating Annie here. I'm not sure how well this story can transition into a modern setting. The Great Gatsby is so firmly set in the Jazz Age that my history textbook cites it when defining the time period. Type the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, into google and the first thing to come up is "Zelda Fitzgerald flapper". The wikipedia page for flappers uses Daisy Buchanan as an example. The plot also revolves around Prohibition, since Jay Gatsby is a bootlegger.
There are no flappers and bootleggers today. Wild girls? Yes. Drug dealers? Yeah. Crazy parties, like the ones in Fitzgerald's book? Yep. But it's not quite the same.
Jacinta is not a bootlegger. She's a fashion blogger, which means modern technology plays a role in the story. Another change is sexuality. Since the Daisy character isn't genderflipped like many others, he's now a lesbian. That changes the whole relationship dynamic.
Then there's the characters' ages. I am a teenage girl. I love book about teenage girls. As I read The Great Gatasby for English class, one thing that disappointed me was the lack of teenagers. But I understood it wasn't that kind of book. The core of the story is the Buchanans' affairs. A high school aged couple cheating on each other is not the same as a married man and father taking on a mistress. The story didn't work with teenagers. Can this one-while still staying true to the story?
So, Benincasa changed the characters, setting, and plot. What storytelling elements does that leave? Dialogue, maybe? Theme? I'm curious to see how this turns out. I'm pretty sure I can guess at the tragedy at the end of the book because I've read the original.
As Great has just been recently released, most of the reviews I've seen are from adult book bloggers. They have vague memories of reading Gatsby in high school and compare Great to the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie instead. I want to know how it stacks up to the actual book. Can it really be called a retelling, or is it a completely new story with a few allusions to Fitzgerald's novel?
I won't pass judgment on a book I've never read. For all I know it really is great. But retelling Gatsby makes me worry for other twentieth century classics. Exactly how long will it be before we see To Kill A Mockingbird reissued as Kill or The Catcher in the Rye reduced to Catcher? I can see it now. Let's name Holden Caulfield "Holly" this time around.
What do you think? How faithful does a book need  to be to the original before it can qualify as a retelling?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fun With Plot Holes: Overanalyzing My Favorite Childhood TV Shows

I try not to be picky about plot holes. A show is just a show and you need to suspend your disbelief. But sometimes, I have to wonder.
1. Hannah Montana

The problem: At the age of thirteen, Miley already has her singing career established to the point where she can call herself a celebrity. She goes by Hannah Montana onstage to keep her work separate from her personal life. But...when did all this begin? Every singer has a few years of low-profile gigs as they climb the ladder of success. Did she use a fake name back in elementary school the first time she entered a talent show? At that point, Miley had no guarantee that she'd become a celebrity. Did she do a few performances, realize her potential, and then change her name? That would be counterproductive. Hannah couldn't build her popularity off Miley's success.
Also, is Miley really as famous as we're lead to believe? One episode talked about her going on a European tour. Another mentioned Oliver riding on her tour bus "all the way to Phoenix." Besides that, all her concerts are done in or around Malibu.
Logical Explanation: Maybe she's really just a local celebrity. The fame's gone to her head.
2. The Suite Life of Zack and Cody

The problem: London Tipton is an airhead heiress. At least, that's what we're supposed to believe. Her intelligence level depends on the episode. More than once, she's failed to spell her own name. Yet she read Pride and Prejudice to prove Maddie wrong. One time she turned a nurse's uniform into a ballgown with a pair of scissors and thirty seconds. This lead Moseby to comment, "And yet she can't use a pay phone."
In one episode of Suite Life on Deck, London and her friends get stranded on a deserted island. She acts as if it's a tropical resort and seems to believe that Bailey, her roommate, is a maid. Bailey, who she's known for a good long while. When they're rescued, London says she's relieved to finally be off the island, which confuses to rest of her friends. With a smile, she reveals that she never thought it was a resort in the first place and of course she knows who Bailey is.
I bet London's a lot smarter than she lets on. She could easily use this to her own advantage. After all, her father once gave her a flat screen TV for earning a D+.
3. Pokemon
"To denounce the evils of truth and love!"
The problem: Why does Team Rocket feel it necessary to introduce themselves in every episode? I'm sure Ash has their mantra memorized by now. There's plenty of time for them to walk away or even hold a quick Pokemon fight. Yet they just stand there, listening to the same spiel they're heard before.
And will someone please explain to me why Brock falls in love with every girl he meets...except for the ones he actually knows? May, Dawn, Misty, etc., the Girl of the Season is never a romantic interest. But every other female in the universe is fair game.
Logical Explanation: I got nothin'.
4. Dora the Explorer

The problem: I'm worried for Dora's mental health. Although she's bilingual at the age of seven, she has frequent lapses where she's unable to communicate. Basic words like yes and hello elude her, forcing her to use the Spanish equivalent. Also, she lacks basic problem solving skills, frequently petitioning her friends for help with simple problems. "Which one of these items will help me escape this pit-the rope, the cookies, or the flashlight?" Even more troubling is her moral code. Dora has no problem commandering a motorboat left idle in a jungle river. But she'll turn to her imaginary friends and remind them, "Life jackets! So we can be safe!"
Logical Explanation: After Dora;s parents abandoned her in the jungle as a child, she was forced to team up with the wildlife to survive. Though extremely loyal to her friends, she has no regard for property laws. Her long term memory went bye-bye as well. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Seven Things About Snow White

I've made a goal to watch all twelve Disney princess movies in chronological orders. I kicked it off with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Here are some things I noticed:
1. 1937 Snow White looks very different from how she appears on Disney merchandise today. Over the years, her dress has become a richer shade of yellow and her skin isn't so eerily pale.
2. You have to appreciate the irony of the queen, who wanted to be the fairest in the land, dying as an ugly hag.
Evil queens: Teaching you to distrust door-to-door salespeople for seventy-seven years.
3. Grumpy has the most developed personality of the dwarfs. Most of the others can be summed up by their names. He has the closest thing to a character arc in this movie. He starts out scornful of Snow White and doesn't want to risk the queen's wrath by taking her in. But at the end, he cries over her dead body and places a flower on her coffin.

4. Even though it's a full length film, it bears more resemblance to Disney's short films, like Steamboat Willie, than it does later movies. It focuses more on cutesy animals and singing than it does on the actual story.

5. In the scene where the Queen shows her mirror the pig heart in a box, the heart is hidden from view. Also, we don't see Snow White actually biting into the apple. The camera focuses on the witch's place until the apple falls from her hands. Was that considered too scary for 1937 audiences?

6 Can Snow White speak animal, or are creatures in this world just naturally gifted? One of the bluebirds is intelligent enough to write Grumpy's name on a pie. With no help from Snow White.

7. Even though the story's not much to look at, you have to admire the artwork. Several years ago I watched part of a documentary on its creation and had to walk out of the room. It took a ridiculous amount of effort to create one scene. Now whenever I watch animated movies, I can't help but feel slightly queasy. All those countless hours they put into the art and I just watch for the story. I feel ungrateful.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full length animated film. With it, Disney proved not only that cartoons could be taken seriously, but that they were capable of producing a movie. Snow White is definitely not a masterpiece, but it gave rise to all the other films we love today.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Evolution of Annie

Little Orphan Annie started as a comic strip in 1924.

It was adapted as a radio show in 1931 and movies in 1932 and 1938. The creator, Harold Gray, died in 1968, but it didn't stop there.

In 1977 Annie hit Broadway. Like her comic counterpart, she's a redhead, and the movie's set in the Depression.
Annie-film.jpg AnnieDVD.jpg
In 1982, the play was adapted into the movie, which spawned a remake in 1999. Like the play, they were both set in the Depression. Now they're coming out with another one.
Staring Quvenzhane Wallis.
As you probably noticed, she's not a redhead. No biggie. My friend Hanna has jet black hair. When she played the role in a community production, the director told her to dye it. She tried. But it ended up this weird shade of maroon. Two or three times throughout the show, the stage lights would hit it just right, and she could pass herself off as a ginger. For the rest of it, though, the lines about Annie being a redhead didn't make sense.
But...Wallis didn't bother to dye her hair, and if she did, no one would be convinced. I assume they've dropped the redhead lines.

The 2014 movie makes other changes. The setting's contemporary and the songs have more of a pop feel to them. Annie's known as a  Depression era girl with a mop of curly red hair. Changing up both of those will strike a nerve with fans, but Annie's race seems to be getting a lot more attention.
Aside from the one at the top of this page, I haven't read any Little Orphan Annie comics. But after wasting time on google researching, it turns out Gray's comics were controversial. One strip included a black character. Not an important character, just a random face-in-the-crowd who happened to be colored with a darker pencil then the others. But in 1944 this was enough to rock the boat.
After a Southern newspaper criticized him, Gray defended himself by saying he didn't support integration and it was "merely a casual gesture toward a very large block of readers". Annie lived in a big city, big cities usually have a black person or two somewhere, so it made sense for Annie to know one. After that some of his black fans wrote thank you letters.
I wonder what he would think of this newest movie.
Hanna is white. Two of her brothers are African-American. When I asked, she called the movie "Will Smith's Christmas present to me" and said "I like the twist." But is casting Annie as a black actress really a twist? At what point is a character a Black Character rather than a Character who happens to be portrayed by a black actress?
Not everyone's as enthusiastic as Hanna. Annie's been a redhead for the past ninety years. Classic Annie fans have taken to the Internet, ranting about how this newest movie is "destroying my childhood." Um, your childhood still exists. You can watch the entire 1999 version on youtube for free.
I have mixed feelings here. I won't pass judgement until I've actually seen the movie. Personally, I think the modern day setting changes more than Annie's hair ever will. Being a billionaire in the Depression was fanciful and ridiculous. Billionaires didn't even exist in the US until 1916. Today there are 492 in the country. And while we certainly have economic problems today, being an orphan was far worse in the Depression. Making Annie black will affect the way viewers see her more than it does the story. But the setting alters the plot itself.
I feel like portraying a character who was originally white with a black actress draws more attention to her race than just making an original movie with a black protagonist. But there's also a large gap between the number of black people in the real world and the number of black characters in film. Movies like this will help bump the numbers. Also, with two well known Annie movies out already, the third movie needs to make some changes to set itself apart.
What do you think? Is Annie's red hair such an integral part of her character that changing it will alter the movie? Is it a non-issue? A sappy attempt at political correctness? Or is it about time they made a movie like this?
If you have thoughts I'd love to hear them.