journaling


Oscar Quest Movie Review: Call Me By Your Name 2

Nominated for four Oscars including Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Call Me By Your Name is a very European film. Set in northern Italy, it is a multicultural, multilingual film. The characters regularly switch from English to Italian to French without a blink. They even throw in a little bit a German for good measure. For us monolingual Americans, subtitles keep us in the loop. As I watched this movie, I was embarrassed for myself and for all of us who consider ourselves educated and yet are only conversant in our own native language. I made a mental note to dig out my Rosetta Stone program to brush up on my pitiful Italian.

It is also a summer film. Summers in Italy are hot—even in the north—and people dress accordingly. The heat in this film is palpable, even in February when I saw it. Lush greenery, both cultivated and wild, giant villa windows opened wide with slatted blinds to mitigate the sun’s searing  rays, insects buzzing in the background, occasionally lighting on shoulders, stark contrasts between light and shade, warm evenings when outdoor activities require no more clothing than daytime ones. Bare feet, bare shoulders, bare knees and welcome breezes from the movement of bicycles. Pools, rivers, boats, lakes, fountains, trees heavy with peaches and apricots. Cerulean skies. Life outdoors. Sun-drenched. Lovely.

And most importantly, it is a romance. Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the son of intellectual parents who take in a graduate student each summer to study and help with research, is 17. When Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives as this summer’s intern, feelings are awakened that Elio can’t deny. When it becomes clear that Oliver feels it too, a relationship develops that is both emotional and physical and, for Elio, life-altering.

The film activates the senses with piano music that is fitting and fabulous as it underscores the beauty of the villa, the village and the Italian countryside. Other pieces, meant I’m sure to accentuate the youthfulness that is at the center of this story, were jarring to me, removing me from the world being created on screen rather than luring me further into it. Probably just showing my age here.

Timothée Chalamet is actually 21, but he doesn’t look a day over 17. The camera loves him. His Elio is a reticent, talented young man, one who spends long afternoons reading books and transcribing music, so there are extended periods of screen time where Elio is alone, thinking, exploring, wondering—with the camera in close-up waiting to pick up any subtlety of expression. Chalamet doesn’t disappoint and creates a character whose adolescent angst comes through not in his words, but in his face, in the angle of his head, in the slouch in his shoulders. His words work, instead, to cover up what he is feeling, but we know what’s there because we have seen it in his eyes, in his demeanor, in his gait. Chalamet is deserving of his nomination. But I’m not sure if he is a really good actor or if he is still just an uninhibited theater kid, so I don’t think he’s worthy of the award itself—not yet. If he’s the real deal, his turn will come.

There is so much about this film that is beautiful and sensory and true. But there is a deal-breaker for me.

Armie Hammer.

For one thing, he is too old. At 31 he can’t pull off 24. This is not a film about a predator or a pedophile or a dirty old man. This is a love story—that much is very clear. But it was hard for me to accept that Hammer’s Oliver didn’t have ulterior motives. More importantly, I was always aware that Hammer was acting on that screen. Lines he delivered would ring false to me, like when you ask kids in class to read “with expression.”  Even with everything about this film that works, this casting mistake, for me, makes a Best Picture Oscar impossible.

*****

One last thing. Michael Stuhlbarg. (Elio’s father.) My friend Pete pointed out to me that he is in three, THREE movies nominated for Best Picture this year—this one, The Post and The Shape of Water. Movie people bestowed upon Stuhlbarg the  2018 John C. Reilly Award named after the supporting actor who appeared in Chicago, The Hours and The Gangs of New York, all nominated for Best Picture in 2003. (Chicago won.) As a classic film buff, I’d prefer to call it the Thomas Mitchell Award after the supporting actor who appeared in Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach, all nominated for Best Picture in 1940. (GWTW won. Mitchell himself won the Best Supporting Actor for his role as Doc Boone in Stagecoach. ) Only thirteen actors in the history of film have qualified for this unofficial honor. Just an FYI. Amaze your friends.

And one more last thing. Though there are nine Best Picture nominations, I have only reviewed eight of them. The last one, Get Out, is supposed to be really scary and so I’m going to skip it. I prefer a good night’s sleep, thank you very much.

But I’m still watching nominated films and will be until the big night. Look for one more multi-film wrap-up review and then the BIG PREDICTION POST sometime before the awards show begins on Sunday night.

 

 

 

 


Oscar Quest Movie Review: Phantom Thread

Six nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

     This movie is exquisite. The acting, the script, the set design, the costuming, the music—transcendent. I could babble superlatives all day long about Phantom Thread. I’ll try to be more specific.

First, I was swept away by the music. This is not the first thing I usually notice about a movie. (So many times I have watched the final music credits roll by and wondered how I missed so much of it .) But the piano piece that opens and closes this film is the most beautiful movie music I have ever heard. Unforgettable. It ushers us in and out of the film on a cloud, its ethereal nature bookending this story of elegance and the creative soul. In most movies, you’re not really supposed to notice the non-diegetic music. It’s just there for mood. But here it is as important as the characters themselves as it weaves itself like smoke in and out of the action. I would love to experience this film with my eyes closed one time just to savor the soundtrack.

The camera is a busy entity as well with close-ups the norm. We get in so tight to faces that we feel as if we can touch them ourselves. It’s like a Hitchcock camera sometimes with many masterful moments—some that made me uncomfortable when characters, particularly Lesley Manville as sister Cyril, seemed to invade my personal space right where I sat. The camera keeps us close to the action always, as if we are in the work room, at the breakfast table, tiptoeing around the fabulous handmade wedding dress for her royal highness, figuring out how to get the man’s attention, wondering how to butter our toast without scraping the knife against the bread.

All of this, along with the period set design and the costuming, lay the groundwork for a story whose main focus is the development of character. This is what matters most to Phantom Thread. And who better to star in a film of character than Daniel Day-Lewis? No one.

Everything centers, it seems, on the character of Reynolds Woodcock, the designer, owner and creative force behind the fashion house that bears his name. His customers are the wealthy, the royal, the well-connected. His work is not work to him. It is life. He is working always, just as he breathes. He even lives in the house where the work is done and his employees enter his home every day to make his creations come to life. His customers come here to do business and to marvel at the finished products and the man who makes them. It is a world within a world.

If you are close to Reynolds Woodcock, you may find that it is difficult to hold his attention. Such is the nature of the creative spirit. It is at its happiest when it is productive. And it is at its most productive when it can escape all distraction. Difficult to do when there are other people in the world.

Enter Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, who strives to make a life for herself in Reynolds Woodcock’s self-involved world. This is Alma’s story. She is our entry, our focus and our eyes and ears. It is her quiet steadfastness, her unwavering determination to claim and hold her place in this world that makes this story possible.

Phantom Thread is a film that I would like to see again. There is so much to experience here—the fabrics, the faces, the sounds, the choreography of elements in the frame. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is so nuanced, so beautiful, that his every movement bears watching. He says that this will be his last film. Too bad for us if that’s true.

Phantom Thread is a film about how to live and how to love. It’s about finding ways to make alterations–to make things fit. It’s about discovering what works.

Sometimes, to do it right, you just have to figure out how to get someone’s attention.

This movie has mine.

P.S.  Frasier fans—look for Harriet Sansom Harris, better known (to me, anyway) as Bebe Glazer, Frasier’s vulture of an agent, in a small role as Barbara Rose, an unconventional customer of the House of Woodcock. She rocks it!

 

 

 


Oscar Quest: The Post

Two Nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The Post is one of those historical movies whose ending you know before it begins. But it’s not the end that attracts us to a film like this. It’s all about the getting there.

If you’re watching for plot and character, there’s plenty of that. Tom Hanks is awesome always. He’s the guy we trust, even when his character questions himself. His Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, may not be the focal point of the film, but he is definitely the anchor. He’s a bit rough around the edges, but his intelligence and ethics and skill, in Hanks’ able hands, are unquestionable at all times. Hanks is the perfect foil for Meryl Streep’s Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, as she fights through the testosterone in the room and finds the courage to take a great risk—which turned out to be a defining moment for all of us. The plot is timely and timeless in that the film not only preserves the themes and concerns of the film’s main event and its era, but also places them squarely in our own time. We cannot escape the lesson that The Post teaches us about the fragility of the First Amendment, about whom the press works for and about who is responsible for keeping it (and us) free. It is a lesson we, in our time, can’t afford to ignore.

That’s the what. Spielberg is also a master of the how. I’ll bet I missed 60% of the technical cool stuff of this film in my single viewing of it. I only caught what I did because I was working at it. Spielberg has always been a purveyor of the invisible style even as his camera is doing laps around the room. I’ll bet that most viewers watch this film, respond to it emotionally and really believe that it’s all because of a solid script and great acting. But the most emotional scenes in the film are created not only in the dialog, but in the camera work—the cuts and slow zooms on characters as they argue and push their points, the shifts in depth of field that bring key elements dramatically to light, the flying handheld camera and quick edits as tension builds. There’s nothing ground-breaking here—these are techniques that have been in use since film was born—but to my mind Spielberg uses them better than anyone else. And he uses them always to advance and support a good story, not to make up for the lack of one as is so often the case in film today. Form and function. Spielberg is a master of this traditional style. Oscar worthy? Maybe, maybe not. But it works for me.


Oscar Quest Movie Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Seven Nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay. Directed by Martin McDonagh.

In the beginning of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Red Welby, the guy in charge of the billboard company, is reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. We get two chances to catch this and any English major worth the degree must agree that we have to take this as a clue to the meaning of the events that follow.

O’Connor’s characters (referred to by analysts as “grotesques”), often smug, racist and self-righteous, believe themselves to be worthy of redemption because they are Christian, white and not dirt poor. They are capable of treating others horribly, but justify this because they believe that their moral code makes them superior. It also keeps them separate and alone. They sometimes experience moments of clarity that shake their worlds, moments of grace that come in times of crisis. They realize in these moments that their world view is artificial and stupid and they must learn (though often temporarily) to open their hearts and to accept the worthiness of others—and the imperfections in themselves. This can change them for the better, or it can just make their lives unlivable.

In Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri, there is enough guilt and grief and regret and vindictiveness and grotesque behavior for a whole volume of O’Connor stories. These people do horrible, unthinkable things to themselves and each other. But, in their angry, hopeless search for justice and redemption, there are moments of clarity—O’Connor would call it grace—that prove that life has value and that living is worth all that we have to go through to keep on doing it.

Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is a force of nature in this film, seeking justice for the unsolved murder of her daughter. Powerless to change anything, she has to do something, so she buys billboards and puts up signs that blame the local police chief for her unbearable lack of closure. This sets off a chain of events that reveals many characters’ capability for vindictiveness and violence. But it also reveals their humanity and capacity for forgiveness. As in O’Connor stories, moments of crisis often bring moments of clarity and it is in those moments when characters can find a way to go on even in the face of the unthinkable. And that is what happens here.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a study in character. We become immersed in this world and feel sympathy for people who are not, on the surface, particularly sympathetic. But we may find them to be more like us than we’d like to think and that is why, in our own moments of clarity, we understand them and forgive them.

The quality of this film rests in the hands of its script and its actors. Its three actor nominations, best picture nod and original screenplay nomination show where the strengths of Three Billboards lie. It’s those things about movies that I find the most valuable—the words that make a solid, compelling story and the people who say them. These are the hardest things about a movie, I think, to get right. It so seldom happens that when it does, like now, we need to notice.

Oh, and keep an eye on Red Welby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gearing Up for Oscar 2

The 2018 Oscar nominations are out!

When I was teaching, this was the time of year in my film class when we kicked into high gear, taped ballots to the wall, kept track of our viewing in real time and applied all the things we had been learning in class to real-life, for-better-or-worse, up-to-the-minute, history-making movies. We considered plot and character, of course, but those discussions were often eclipsed by our attention to camera placement, editing techniques, production design, directorial idiosyncrasies and the effectiveness of the soundtrack. My students often complained that they couldn’t just “sit down and watch a movie” anymore and that their friends were getting sick of their constant commentary on a director’s use of tight close-ups or Dutch angles or parallel editing. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

It was all very energizing, this ushering high school kids through Oscar season. There was an urgency to it—new day, new lesson plan—and I was all in. I would see as many of the nominated films as I could so that I would be able to make educated comparisons and connections and predictions and fill in the gaps for the kids whose lives couldn’t accommodate going to the movies four times in one weekend. Not that mine could, either, but I saw it as my calling.

I took Oscar season very, very seriously.

When I retired from teaching, my enthusiasm for Oscar Quest waned. Getting to the theater became less of a priority. Too cold. Too late. Too expensive. Too crowded. Too much crinkling. So dark. Must feed the cats, read those emails, finish crocheting that doily. I’ll wait for nominees to show up on On Demand. Or Netflix. Or STARZ.

Or not.

It’s so easy to let yourself go.

So, this year, I’m going to do my best to make amends. Viewing, reviewing and predicting has begun in earnest. Doilies be damned.

I’m off to a late start. I should have been paying attention to the Oscar Buzz and chosen likely films to see in November and December. Many of them were out there. Waiting for the nominee list to come out feels a little like cheating. It means a lot of the chaff has already  been stripped away with no help from me. But it also means that I can focus my time and ticket money on the wheat and what fun that will be! Imagine being given the opportunity to see only good films. That’s what we’ve got here. It’s like movie Christmas—and it only comes once a year.

You can do it, too. Go to www.oscar.go.com. Click on NOMINEES. When you get to that page, click on PRINTABLE LIST to get your own ballot—a beacon to guide you through the season. Then see as many films as you can to be ready for Awards Night on March 4.

There are at least twenty films that I should see between now and March 4. As of today, I have seen two. Wish me luck.

As I see films, I’ll post a brief review here on my blog. I’ll make a concerted effort to avoid spoilers, so don’t be afraid to read them. Here, for example, is my review of The Shape of Water that appeared on my author Facebook page (D. Margaret Hoffman) yesterday:

Oscar Quest–The Shape of Water: 13 nominations including Best Picture.
This is a beautiful film. The performances are flawless and the look of it evokes the late 50s, early 60s world that shaped so many of us. The sights and sounds and sensory-ness of the film carry the day. The story, sadly, is one we’ve seen so many times that it’s hard to escape the cliché of it all. The misunderstood creature, mistreated by the government and coveted as a subject of study by scientists becomes the love interest of the lonely misfit who must then risk everything to save its life. ET. King Kong. Avatar. Fill in your favorite here. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the performances, the music and the visuals–many of which are Oscar-worthy. But the plot ultimately let me down. Tears formed but never fell.

And that’s it. Short, sweet, to the point and from the gut.

Sometime before 8pm on March 4, I’ll post my choices for as many categories as I feel qualified to predict. We’ll see how I do. Those who have watched me do this before know that, if I’m on my game, I can be a contender.

I’m a little rusty, but here goes.

Welcome to Oscar Quest, 2018.

 

 

 

 


Happy New Year! 1

Sometimes, in order to go forward, we need to look back.  Even though a few years have passed since I sat down and wrote “Getting My Groove Back,” an essay about getting back to normal after the holiday craziness, I find that it is as true today as it was the day I wrote it. It appears in Saving Our Lives: Volume One–Essays to Inspire the Writer in You and still sums up my feelings on the subject. So, to ring in the new year, here it is again.  Happy 2018, Everyone! Onward!

Getting My Groove Back

Christmas changes everything.

If you are a religious person, you are nodding and thinking of the promise of the Christ child.

If you are me, you are shaking your head and thinking, “Damn, I did it again.”

It is January. I am not the same person I was in November. I am heavier, poorer, slower. I haven’t written, exercised or kept regular hours in a month. I have ingested sugar in a frightening assortment of processed forms and carbs in abundance. I have spent much more money than I intended and dread the arrival of the first MasterCard bill of the new year. I enjoyed the holiday season very much. But somewhere in the middle of it I lost my mind.

For me, it seems, The Christmas Season brings with it the slow, imperceptible erosion of good habits, good judgment and common sense. I start out well enough. Adult. Responsible. Health conscious. Fiscally aware. But somewhere in the process, probably about the time I start to enjoy the 475 department store versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” I begin to lose my grip. It’s ironic, really. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a seduction song in the guise of a charming holiday tune. It is the story of one man’s shameless efforts to feign concern for the welfare of an innocent young woman, ply her with drink, break down her resolve to go home to her parents where she belongs and convince her, instead, to stay with him where it’s—nudge, nudge—warm. When the girl in the song concedes to another drink, we know she’s fallen. And when I start to enjoy this and the countless other corporate seductions thrown in my path, we know that I, too, have succumbed to a siren song, this one sung by the Ghost of Christmas the Way American Media Tells Us It Should Be.  Snowy. Bountiful. Bejeweled.  Sugary.  Carb-loaded. Gift-laden. Calorically dense. Alcoholically lenient. Impeccably decorated. Expensively dressed. Beautifully wrapped. Cost is no object! More! More! More! Yes! Yes! YES!!

They got me. Pulled me right in there. Got under my skin and into my wallet. Inhibitions fall away, the shopping begins in earnest and I officially lose control.

Why do I let this happen?

Well, for one thing, I like it.

I don’t like being manipulated by the media and the corporate America that it represents, but I do like the Currier and Ives, traditional, bountiful family Christmas that it portrays.

I like parties and presents and decorations and fancy food. I like lights and shopping and snow. I like having the family all together. I like having friends, acknowledging them and having them acknowledge me.  I like happy people. I like making happy people. I like ooohs and ahhhhs and kids with cookies. I like full plates and clinking glasses and sparkles on trees and on sweaters and in people’s eyes.

I like it when everyone forgets for a little while that there are so many things in this world that suck.

I like life coming pretty damned close to perfect once a year. I will do whatever I can to make this happen for people in my life even if it means taking temporary leave of my senses.

Who knows when or if the chance will come again?

This kind of Christmas doesn’t happen by itself. I have recently taken charge of the extended family Christmas celebrations, so I know how much work and planning goes into it. It’s a big responsibility. I take it seriously, and as much as I want to save time and pinch pennies, every year I reach that moment when I say, “What the hell! It’s Christmas!” And I mean it. But it’s like having that first glass of wine too early in the evening.  Once I quaff the Christmas Kool-Aid there’s no turning back. I shift into preparation overdrive and I inevitably overdo, as evidenced by the mountains of leftovers, the gifts that looked great under the tree but are not very useful later and the growing number of Rubbermaid tubs that it takes to store the decorations. This is my problem—enjoying the cruise without tumbling overboard. I’m working on it.

December, I’ve realized, is an anomaly. We have a sanctioned opportunity in December to find a crazy place that is just not available to us at any other time. That means loosening the restraints of the rest of the year, at least a little. It shouldn’t mean gaining twenty pounds, pickling our livers or going into hock, but it should allow everyone to experience the love and respite of at least one good party, whatever that means to us. Even if we give it to ourselves.

But getting there sure does throw off a groove.

And that is what January is for. It is the morning after. It is when we realize that it’s great to break the routine and have a wonderful time, but those songs that wish for Christmas all year ’round don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s beautiful to put up decorations and to enjoy them with people we love, but it is also a huge relief to take them down and vacuum the cookie crumbs out of the carpet. It feels good to eat salads again, to walk around the neighborhood instead of the mall and to give my charge card a chance to cool down. The tree was lovely this year, but it is nice now to have the window unobstructed to let in that precious, fleeting January daylight.

Seeking perfection and happiness is hard work and living up to such stratospheric expectations is only possible for short periods of time. January reminds us that cookies make us fat, that dried up pine needles hurt when we step on them, that staying up late makes us unproductive, that parties and presents come at a price, that maybe we did let corporate America get the better of us and that there really are many, many things in this world that suck. That’s the way things are. But having had a break from them in the noble pursuit of comfort and joy makes it all a little easier to live with.

December, then, is a vast departure from real life, like a much-needed family excursion to Disney World. This is good. January brings reality back. This is good, too.

But now we are encouraged to improve, to embrace the New Year, to renew ourselves with obligatory resolutions. I am not looking for a New Me. I caught a glimpse of that chick in December. And while she was cool, she is not at all sustainable. Maybe next December she’ll be back, armed with responsible intentions that will once again come unglued two weeks after Thanksgiving.  But she is not who I want to be now. So instead of resolutions, I am using January to make restorations, replacing the sprees of December with the sanity and steady habits of November from which I took an unsolicited yet predictable vacation. I was pretty happy with how things were going then and I’d like to now move forward by taking a step back. This means settling back into my groove by writing every day, walking every day, keeping the bird feeder full, maintaining a clean, low-glycemic diet (you hear that, chocolate?), getting out to the cineplex every once in a while, staying out of the mall except around birthdays, keeping in touch with friends and loving my family. No need to set the world on fire.

At least not until next December.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


YOU CAN VOTE FOR ME AGAIN!

As if it wasn’t hard enough the first time, I am asking you to VOTE FOR ME AGAIN.

Remember the poll that I told you about last week? Your response was terrific—all I could ask for. Except then the poll people decided to lift the one-vote restriction after seven days so that everyone who voted for me in the Just the Right Book poll last week can now VOTE FOR ME AGAIN. (Well, I guess everyone who voted for anyone can vote again, not just those who voted for me. But I’m not interested in them.)

So, if you voted for me anytime between December 1 and December 7, YOU CAN VOTE FOR ME AGAIN, on all of your devices, on Thursday, December 14. From what I can tell by the clock on the tally page of the contest, voting ends on December 14, around 7 pm.

So, if you have a minute and you’re not put off by my groveling,  please click the link below on Thursday and VOTE FOR ME AGAIN.

Thanks. You’re awesome. I promise I won’t ask again.

www.bookpodcast.com/poll

 

 

 

 


The Week Past Thanksgiving: A Lament 4

‘Tis a week past Thanksgiving and inside my fridge                                                                                  

Is the sadness that happens when we cross that bridge

From feast into famine that invariably follows

A week made for gluttons and too many swallows.

 

Desserts were stupendous, the big bird a prize

And I thought that my stomach would outsize my eyes.

And so with abandon I ate all I saw—

The turkey, the carrots, the rolls and the slaw,

The cranberry jelly that mixed well with stuffing,

Potatoes so light there was no need for fluffing,

The cheeses and olives, mimosas and wine,

And “More, please” and “Yes, please” and “That wing is fine,”

All smothered in gravy and chased with a pie—

‘Til I was so full I was sure I would die.

But then came the leftovers—pick, pick, pick, pick—

And I’m thankful today that I didn’t get sick.

But, though my insides stayed hearty and healthy and hale,

My outside was stunned by the mean, spiteful scale.

And now here I sit, feeling puffy and round

As the scale laughs maniacally, pound after pound.

 

So today in my fridge there is nothing to crow for,

Nothing my sweet tooth or bread butt could go for.

Instead there’s arugula, yogurt, a pear,

Some cherry tomatoes that squirt in my hair

When I stick a fork in them picturing candy

And wishing they came with a snifter of brandy—

Just a small one will do or a thimble of sherry

Or a jug of cheap wine, maybe Pop’s elderberry—

To ward off the sadness that follows the glut

When fridges are empty and zippers won’t shut.

 

 

 


A Thanksgiving To-Do (Or Don’t) List: Ten Things To Do To Insure a Happy Thanksgiving 2

  1. Eat Pie. This comes first on the list for a reason. Pie doesn’t come along every day. If we leave it until the end, we could miss it or fail to appreciate its life-affirming qualities. Pie is life. Live it.
  2. Show up. Your family likes to see your face every once in a while. If you are a student, an athlete, a writer, a teacher, an up-and-comer, a commuter, a musician, a health-care person, a working parent or a chronic worrier, your tendency might be to use Thanksgiving Day as a “day off,” or, worse, a day to catch up on things that have spiraled out of control—like laundry or homework or grading or general sanity. But don’t do it. Not today. Treat Thanksgiving as a “day on.” Get up. Get dressed. Bring your game face and come ready to play. Eat pie. It’s therapeutic.
  3. Watch the Macy’s Parade. Snoopy is not flying over Manhattan for his health.
  4. Boycott Football. It’s dumb and it’s dangerous and it makes grown men cry. Where’s the fun in that?
  5. Nap. There’s nothing like a family snooze after a big meal. It’s what the people on the couch who say they’re watching football really plan to do anyway.
  6. Stay Out of the Stores. The Christmas Shopping Crazy Time will come soon enough. There will be plenty of time and plenty of stuff left to buy after Thanksgiving   If you want to get up at 4 AM on Friday morning, have fun with that. But shopping on Thanksgiving Day only rips families apart and insures that there’ll be an extra private jet under Sam Walton’s Christmas tree. Staying home means that  someday he’ll get the message and let all of his employees have the whole day off to be with their families and to get first dibs on the pie.
  7. Walk. How about a family stroll to clear the head, aid in digestion, fight the urge to shop and make room for more pie?
  8. Eat Real Whipped Cream. Better yet, whip it yourself. Sprinkle it with lemon zest or cinnamon or chocolate shots. What the hell. It’s just once a year. If it’s possible to improve upon the magnificence of pie, this is the way.
  9. Drink Wine. This should be self-explanatory.
  10. Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Utter the Name of Any Politician, Elected Official, Past-Elected Official, Wanna-Be Elected Official, Failed Candidate, Alt-Right Crusader, Cabinet Member, Former Cabinet Member, White House Advisor, Former White House Advisor, Press Secretary, News Network, TV Talking Head or Alleged High Profile Sex Offender At Any Time, In Any Context or In Any Corner of Any Room. You will not win the argument that will ensue, no matter what side you’re on. (And, let’s face it, we’re all on a side these days.) You will only risk getting one of those beautiful pies in your face–and that would be a terrible thing to do to pie.

In summary, be nice. Be thankful. Enjoy your family. Appreciate the bounty. Eat. Exercise. Socialize. Have a little wine. Keep your wallet in your pocket and your big mouth shut. Oh, and don’t forget to save yourself a piece of pie for Friday. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

 

 

 


WHAT HAVE I DONE?? 1

WHAT HAVE I DONE??

See what I did there?

This is a novice attempt at a clickbait title—one with a connotative, emotional punch that may not necessarily reflect its denotative, literal, dictionary-definition self. I hope that when you read this you think, “Oooh! Confession time! Juicy tidbits! Must click!”

Bold faced, upper case and in your face—with some italics thrown in for good measure.

Did it work?

Because, you know what?  I’m just trying to figure out how to get your attention. It’s called marketing. And you know what else? I suck at it.

It’s as if I were held back for the third time in Remedial Marketing 101, cowering in the back of the room where, with any luck, the teacher can’t see me. If only I could figure out a way to let her know that I’m really good at other stuff—just not this.

In my time as an essayist and an independent publisher, I have learned many things about the art and craft and business of it all. Now, I can write a book (as in creating, editing, revising, finalizing text) and I can produce a book (as in formatting, cover production, arrangement of text and creating a final product both in paper and digital formats) and I can win awards for said written and produced books (as in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award for Volume One from the Independent Book Publishers Association), validating the effort.

But that’s not enough. Now I have to sell the damned things, too!

I can only wear so many hats.

There are lots (and lots and lots) of ways to market books when you are an indy. There are organizations and publications and websites and social media posts and webinars and workshops and consultants and conferences and magicians and guardian angels and fairy godmothers galore to help you succeed or, if you’re not careful, to take your money and run.  In fact, the market is swamped with them. It’s a full-time job to sort through rabble and to separate the legitimates from the cheats. Some of them are very good at what they do and are quite reputable. Others are very good at, well, marketing—if you catch my drift. 

You can also tackle it yourself. I’ve done some reading and some conference attending and some networking. I’ve set up a booth at craft shows and farmers markets. I’ve given talks and workshops and I’ve participated in author panels and readings in schools and libraries. I have a media presence through my website, this blog, an author Facebook page and an existing Twitter account. (I must admit that I really don’t get Twitter. Do you?) All of these activities (and more) are recommended by those in-the-know, and some of them have actually been fun. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement, positive feedback and fresh air.

And every time I sell a book, I get that Sally Field “You like me! You really like me!” moment that makes it all worthwhile.

But there are other paths that I need to take if I want my book sales to actually pay the bills—or maybe even just pay for themselves. I need to be more ambitious, more confident, more aggressive. A good product, I’ve learned, isn’t enough unless it’s paired with a good Marketing Plan. In fact, the MP is almost more important than the product. We all know of bad products that make good money when the MP is strong enough. As Mark Twain (the crowned prince of self-promotion) said in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”

So buyer beware, right?

But you don’t need to beware of me because of all this self-promotion stuff runs counter to my nature. More than that, pursuing these paths takes me away from the reason I started all this in the first place—the writing.

It’s a quandary, all right.

We write to be read, and we strive to be the best writers we can be. But the pursuit of readers, who complete the circle and make the writing meaningful, requires a whole other set of skills. I’m working on them, but they don’t come naturally to me.

I’m reading a book about Ernest Hemingway and it has interested me to learn about what a relentless self-promoter he was right from the beginning. If humility was in his genes, it was recessive for sure. This didn’t make him the most appealing guy to be around and lots of people didn’t like him. But it got him noticed and, eventually, published. Is this what I have to do to launch a writing career? Run with bulls? Be flat broke? Move to Paris to rub elbows with all of the “right” people?  Marry four of them? Throw tantrums in the street when people piss me off?  Risk everything? Seems like a lot to ask.

I’d rather just write.

So, for now, that’s what I intend to do. It’s not a great career move, but I’d rather spend my time getting the words on the page while the getting is good. I’m working on the third and final volume of Saving Our Lives and I have a fourth project floating in my head that will take my work in an entirely new direction. Maybe after these projects are put to bed, I’ll improve my marketing skills beyond what they are now.

But I won’t like it.

So WHAT HAVE I DONE??  Nothing terrible, you’ll be relieved (or disappointed) to know. I have written and produced two books that are out there on Amazon and Barnes and Noble waiting for buyers—but mostly for readers. I think they’re really good, even though I feel weird saying it. The holidays are coming. My books would look great poking out of the top of a stocking. Or artfully displayed around your menorah. Or stuffed in your turkey. Or tucked into the bottom of your birdcage. And, while you’re busy reading them, I’m going to see if I can pound out a couple more while the juices are still flowing. I’ll let you know when they’re ready so that you can make some room for them on your bookshelf.

See what I did there?