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Kids and teachers are loving a new book, The Fourteenth Goldfish, and it makes me so happy to hear them raving about it. I had a chance this weekend to sit down with Milana, a ten year old I lent my copy to, and we really had fun talking about this book. Talking about books together really helps us deepen our appreciation, deepen our thinking about the layers in a story.
Sixth grade is tricky for Ellie, but the day her mom brings home a new kid turns everything upside down. At first, he seems like a typical surly teenager, but something "tickles at (her) memory." Ellie is shocked when she realizes this is her grandfather Melvin, somehow turned into a thirteen year old boy. "I discovered a cure for aging... the fountain of youth!" he shouts. But he's stuck in this new body and can't get into his lab to recover the T. melvinus specimen, the species of jellyfish that helped him change back into a teen.
My young friend, Milana, loved reading this so much that she bought one of her good friends a copy. "I got it for my friend because she's really into science and she really likes sea life. Now she's started it and won't stop reading it."
Holm seamlessly weaves into the story a love of science and Milana picked up on this. Right away, she talked about wanting to learn more about Salk's discovery of the cure for polio and Oppenheimer's race to build the atomic bomb. As I've been rereading this, I love how much science Holm incorporates, especially as Ellie gets to know her grandfather.
Melvin tells Ellie, "Scientists fail again and again and again. Sometimes for our whole lives. But we don’t give up, because we want to solve the puzzle... Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible."
The relationship between Ellie and her grandfather is what makes this book special for me. Holms creates believable, nuanced characters and I think that's one reason so many readers are responding to this story.
When Melvin, Ellie's grandfather, tells her mother, "'Your daughter’s interested in science. She shows great aptitude. You should encourage her.' I feel a flush of pride. Maybe this part of me—the science part—was there all along, like the seeds of an apple. I just needed someone to water it, help it grow. Someone like my grandfather."
As Milana and I were talking more about the characters, I asked her if Melvin reminded her of any of her grandparents. I wish Jenni Holm could hear this young girl talking about her grandfather, a doctor who's always busy thinking and talking on the phone -- and how this story helps her see a different side of him. Milana told me, "It makes me wonder what my grandfather looked like, how he acted and what he was interested in when he was my age."
The Fourteenth Goldfish left me thinking most about the themes essential to science: curiosity, discovery, possibility. A recent TED Radio Hour explores these same things, albeit more for adults. It starts with James Cameron talking about his childhood, when he loved collecting and studying all sorts of things, curious about everything. "It's almost like the more we know about the world, the limits of what's possible start to crowd in on us." But this curiosity stayed with him--and imbues both his movies and his love of oceanography.
The real power of The Fourteenth Goldfish? It's like so many well-crafted stories: creating conversation, creating a moment to think a little more deeply about those around us, creating an ah-ha moment that curiosity and a passion for discovery lay at the heart of science--believing in the possible.
The review copy came from my home collection and our library collection and Milana's collection (I've already purchased many many copies!). If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
An etheree is a poem of ten lines in which each line contains one more syllable than the last. Beginning with one syllable and ending with ten, this unrhymed form is named for its creator, 20th century American poet Etheree Taylor Armstrong.
Variant forms of the etheree include the reverse form, which begins with 10 syllables and ends with one. The double etheree is twenty lines, moving from one syllable to 10, and then from 10 back to one. (I suppose a double etheree could also move from 10 syllables to one, and then from one back to 10.)
I guess this blog might be continuing that theme in a way. It’s about social networking. Only, this time, I want to pick your brains.
Next May, I make my YA debut with my novel Read Me Like A Book (which, incidentally, I just received the bound proofs for, and I am completely IN LOVE with this cover, designed and painted by my very talented artist friend Joe Greenaway.
This book is HUGELY important to me and I want to do everything I can to give it a good send off into the world. Because this is a brand new tack for me, I’ll be doing a lot of things differently. I’m already fairly active on Twitter and Facebook – and I do my monthly blog here – but there are all sorts on online hangouts that I know almost nothing about – and I think it’s time to get educated.
Currently, I use my author page on Facebook to write about my books, post lots of photos of sunrises and my dog and the sea, and have lovely chitchat about mermaids and faires and time travel, mainly with my readers, their parents, a few librarians and a bunch of supportive friends. On Twitter, it feels much more about chatting with my writing peers – other writers, bloggers, bookshop people etc. Think publishing party, only without getting drunk on free champagne and making a fool of yourself in front of the MD.
So that’s all well and good, and I enjoy it. But I want to spread my writerly wings. In particular, I want to talk to teenagers – and I don’t know where to find them!
So this is a question aimed mainly at teenagers, parents of teenagers, writers of books for teenagers who interact online…
Where are you? Where do you hang out? Which are your favourite online haunts? And what do look for or expect from in the different places you frequent?
I take a LOT of photos, and should probably be on Instagram. (In fact, I kind of am but I don’t really use it.) I have been told I should get onto Tumblr – and would love to go for it, but every time I glance at it, I feel overwhelmed and bewildered. I’m also kind of half-heartedly on Pinterest, but only so I can look for desks for my new office. And I have got a few videos on Youtube.
The thing is, though, when we try to keep up to date with ALL the places, there’s no time left to, well, you know, write the books. Which I kind of need to keep doing. So I don’t want to join them all. But I’d like to pick the best one (or at most, two) new social networking sites and give them a good go.
So, help me out here. What should I pick? What do you use? Where are my potential new teenage audience most likely to look for me? Any and all opinions on these questions will be gratefully received.
In this week's issue of New York Christopher Bonanos profiles New York's enormous ('18 Miles of Books') Strand bookstore, in The Strand's Stand: How It Keeps Going in the Age of Amazon.
Certainly, the fact that in 1996 they bought the building that houses the store (and thus are able to set their own rent, and collect rent on much of the remaining space) makes survival a lot easier (though one hopes they recall that the similarly legendary Gotham Book Mart also owned its prime real estate, and that didn't work out so well ...).
I used to live nearby, and frequented it frequently (along with doing the rounds of all the other now-lost neighborhood bookstores); I still need my regular fix -- monthly or so -- but the 2003 renovation took a lot of the soul out of the place and it isn't quite the treasure-trove it used to be.
("Fifteen percent of the store's revenue now comes from merch", which pretty much says it all.)
Still, rare is the visit when I don't pick up something (or an armload) because I know I'm unlikely to easily or ever find it anywhere else ever again.
Hey guys! I’m here today with the awesome Catherine Scully, who designed the gorgeous map for Claire Legrand’s WINTERSPELL. Let’s see what she has to say about map-making
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has always loved not only drawing maps, but staring at the maps in fantasy books, following the heroes along on their journey. How did you first get into map-making? Is Claire’s map the first one you created, or have you been creating maps for your own stories?
The first time I really wanted to do a map was when I read the Hobbit as a kid. I wanted to follow Bilbo along his journey and visit the elves, face the dragon, and return home to the Shire. I used to come up with these stories when I would build these Lego cities, draw a map of what I built and where it went, and then write the entire storyline I made up that day. I should have realized then I wanted to be an author/illustrator! I remember even drawing a map of my favorite stretch of woods with land markers. I was always into fantasy and very much still am, even though I’m more known in the community for horror. The first book I ever wrote was this epic fantasy with world maps and comic panels. I plan on returning to it when I finish working on my current MG horror.
Claire’s map was the first I created for publication then, which was an interesting challenge since I needed to have something to show in my portfolio in the way of world maps in order to get the job at all. I ended up drawing it and finishing it on the hope it would go over well. Needless to say, this story had a very happy ending! Yes, that was nerve-wracking. But after five years working my way up from a graphic designer to a brand manager, I had a pretty tough skin. I knew I could take any criticism thrown at me really well because I’m much more interested in the process of collaborating on a project than an artistic ego.
Can you summarize what was the process like?
Claire actually first approached me to do collectible cards for four of her WINTERSPELL characters after she saw the work I did for Stefan Bachmann’s bookmarks for his THE WHAT NOT book tour. She ended up loving them so much, she asked if I would be interested in doing a world map as well. After all four characters were finalized, we got started on the map next. Claire had a really clear idea of what she wanted for the map and border, so she sent me a preliminary sketch just to give me an idea of where to place elements. This was immensely helpful! Not to say you can’t start from scratch, but since we were on a tight deadline, a lot of the map back and forth was wonderful and easy because she really knew what she wanted and my job was to make that come alive.
In my first sketch, the map was tightly drawn, with the border elements close to the island. I went ahead and sketched portions on a piece of bristol board and sent them to Claire before I inked. As we went along, we researched a lot of maps. We looked at the Westeros map, the Grisha map, and a dozen others. I sent sketches and would ink them once they were approved. I work by hand first and ink with Micron pens before my illustrations ever see photoshop. When the ink was ready and Claire was happy, I painted it in Photoshop and we sent it off to her publisher. We went through some back and forth before print, mostly trying to extend the border to not crowd the island and balance it out well. I ended up loving the final draft even more and couldn’t be happier with what went to print! It was seriously a dream to get to collaborate with their publishing department.
Maps often seem stylized base on the genre of the book, or the type of world described in the story. Did you draw on any particular style to create Claire’s map?
For Claire’s map, I mentioned looking at Westeros and especially the Grisha map, but I had another source of inspiration that I brought to the table for WINTERSPELL. My sister is a ballerina and has performed in the Nutcracker since she was four. As my sister is now nineteen, that means I’ve seen almost two decades worth of performances every year. I’m a huge fan. I’m also the sort of person that likes to read the book, or at least the synopsis and a few chapters, before I start on any piece I illustrate for an author. This is so I can really hear the voice of the characters, the world, and place “Easter eggs” or clues to the story. So, before I even started on the character cards much less the map, I got to read an advanced copy and really see the world and characters before I drew them. I also personally really drew inspiration from the Hobbit and surprisingly the end credits to the Secret of Nimh movie, which really influenced how I ended up spacing out the elements towards the final version.
Now that you’ve had a map published (congrats!), what do you see yourself doing next? What would be your dream project?
Right now, I’m commissioned to do another world map for a friend and a publisher is working with me on starting to illustrate some covers for their middle grade books. Honestly, I’d love to work with more authors on more amazing things! Bookmarks, character cards, world maps, book covers, illustrated web sites, you name it, I’d probably want to work with you on it. One dream project I have is to work on chapter headings for a YA or MG book (regardless of genre) or even a short story collection. Please drop me a line if you’ve got a project in mind! I’d love to hear from you and make something beautiful for your book or author platform together.
Thanks for chatting with us today, Catherine!
Do you guys have any more questions about illustrating, or map design?
Catherine Scully is a writer, illustrator, and graphic designer with her work featured in magazines, anthologies, and in Simon and Schuster’s Young Adult book Winterspell by Claire Legrand. Catherine is represented for Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction by Carrie Howland of Donadio and Olson and is currently working on a horror series for Middle Grade.
As the Young Adult Editor for the Horror Writer Association, she runs a blog at yahorror.com called “Scary Out There: What is Horror in Young Adult Fiction?” with multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry, which was featured on CNN.com in an interview with R.L. Stine. She’s also a member of the YA Scream Queens, a group of nine women who write horror for kids and teens.
When she’s not writing and illustrating, Catherine can usually be found practicing on her drums.
Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012. Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, came out September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.
Have you ever thought about how you decide to buy a book? In my case, unless it is written by a friend or someone has told me I must read a book, I first look at the cover. If the cover has a good title and the cover art grabs me, then I look inside. If the flap jacket pitch sounds interesting, then I flip through the pages.
I look to see if the book has good margins, short paragraphs, and good amount of white space. Long blocky paragraphs exposition, narrative, and description make me think… SKIP!
Studies show that using white space is important because it helps make a book look friendly. And, it is dialogue that provides the eye candy for a reader. As a potential buyer flips through your book, rapid back-and-forth dialogue will make your book more appealing before the reader even reads a word.
So paying attention to dialogue when you revise it is worth the time and effort. I would start by flipping through the manuscript for places that look dense and circle them. Later go back to read and analyze. Ask yourself, “Can I use dialogue to breakup this long paragraph? Would dialogue work better here than what I have now?”
Here are ten things that dialogue can do to help keep your reader reading.
Dialogue draws a reader into your story.
Dialogue adds immediacy, picks up the pace, and makes your text easier and more fun to read.
Dialogue can give the writer a more effective way to provide information about emotional states and inner thoughts.
Dialogue can reveal motive, insight into a character without overt telling.
Dialogue can help set the mood of the scene. Example: “This doesn’t feel right… It’s too quiet.”
Dialogue can intensify the conflict. A confrontation conversation between adversaries can ramp up the tension and remind readers what’s at stake.
Good Dialogue moves the story forward.
Dialogue is a useful tool to provide information the reader must know without slowing down the pacing.
Dialogue is good to use to get out critical bits of information, back-story, and background.
Dialogue can even be use to suggest a theme.
Of course, dialogue is only one thing to work on while you revise, but the above list can help you can see the many things it can help improve in your novel.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Éric Faye's Nagasaki, the 2010 Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française winner out from Gallic Books (in the UK; coming to the US in January).
These remove the action and tell as apposed to show the characters reaction.
In fact, by adding action to these tags, we can even do away with many of the 'saids' too. Remember every dialogue tag, even 'said. desrupts the reading flow, to some extent, though 'said' is safest.
This: "Annable, it's time for tea," she said loudly.
Or: She inhaled before calling, "Annabel, it's time for tea."
Other dialogue tags examples: "Stop calling me," she exclaimed. (exclaimed is a telling tag - these are bad. Remove them all, replace with either action, or said, or better still, nothing... make sure we know who's talking by voice, or another way.)
She frowned, "Stop calling me." (frowned is an action tag - these are better than a telling tag. They show instead of tell)
2 - Turn passive voice to active voice:
Such as, were, that, then, to be, words. We all know this rule, but it bears repeating. Some of these words will be fine (they are more a sign of something you could rewrite with more action, less passivity), but most can be terminated.
For a list of all passive words and a great tool to check your document for passivity, click.
This: It was cold and the wind was blowing so harshly that it burned my cheeks. (15 words)
OR: A harsh wind blew until my cheeks burned. (8 words)
3 - ing words are overused and must be replaced with action words.
Re-write those sentences to say for example:
This: I was saving up my pocket money for that coat for over a year, before buying it. (17 words)
OR: I bought the coat after I saved my allowance for over a year. (13 words)
The first sentence is flimsy: she is saving, buying (not doing), and it took 17 words to say so.
The second sentence is robust and full of action, action words: saved, bought. She does it (action) and we saved 4 words.
This: She started walking toward him. (5)
OR: She walked toward him. (4)
This: He began running to his car. (6)
Or : He ran to his car. (5)
Also, starting a sentence with ing words is a sure sign of passivity and inaction.
This: Starting to comb my hair, she said, "Your hair is lovely." (11)
OR : She combed my hair, "Your hair is lovely." (8) - we have action, saved 3 words and got rid of a dialogue tag!
4 - Get rid of excess or throwaway words
A lot of To tell the truth Going to go Along with the fact Of all people Anything but What on earth In the first place In order to In particular I’ve got to (We’ve got to, You’ve got to) Actually Almost Although Because Really Still Though Usually Like
You will find you can remove so many words for you MS without even changing the meaning or your sentence.
This: I think that I will have some of that cake. (10)
This: She is able to run a mile without breaking into a sweat.
OR : She can run a mile without sweating.
5 - De-cliche you MS
There are so many cliches we use without even thinking about in our everyday speech, but when we come across them in fiction, it weakens the writing and the point the author tried to make. Cliches:
She had butterflies in her stomach, after he kissed her.
He jumped into the frying pan, out of the fire.
at this point in time
don't hold your breath
easy as pie
The list is endless: LIST Find cliches in your MS here.
There are so many more tips for revision. These are just a few. Hope these are useful to you.
Shah’s father nurtured her love of the written word as a child, although her words remained private until recently, when she decided to apply her imagination to short stories, in 2010. Finding Esta is her debut novel, and the first volume of The Supes Series. Shah enjoys all good speculative fiction and is an avid Kindle abuser and cinema fan. On her blog, she discusses her writing, publishing, books and storytelling, and supports other authors. She is always happy to accept feedback so please do get in touch.
My postman rang the doorbell this afternoon, dragging me all the way down 2 flights of stairs from my attic studio. Nevertheless, I love it when that happens, as it means a parcel. Sure enough, he handed over a big brown package for me to sign for. The paperwork said it was from the USA, which gave me a clue.
I opened it with glee and I was right - it was the new Urban Sketching book by my friend Marc Taro Holmes:
Marc promised to send me a copy to review a while ago, but his publishers have taken their time sending it out and I had almost forgotten it was coming, which made it all the more exciting to finally be unwrapping it.
Unfortunately,I am too busy right now to get stuck into it: I must force myself to get on with some work instead, but I thought I would show you, to whet your appetite.
A quick flick through was enough to tell me that it would be good. Marc is such a highly skilled sketcher, I'd expect nothing less. I always knew him as a brilliant watercolourist but, when I spent time with him in Brazil this summer, I saw him in action with a pen for the first time. How irritating to discover that he is a brilliant speed-draughtsman too :-D
Anyway, this book covers both, which is great. I will look at it properly and let you know what I make of it as soon as I can!
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
Editing I'm working on copy edits for The Darkness Within and then editing for clients this week.
Thanksgiving I'll be heading to my grandfather's apartment complex for Thanksgiving. It's always good to see him, so I don't even mind the two-hour drive.
November's been a tough month I've had a rough November. Most recently a friend passed away, but my luck went south before that too. I'm ready to move on to December and hopefully put the bad parts of November behind me.
School Visits I have two school visits (three presentations) next Monday, December 1st, so I'm getting set for those this week.
Signing The Monster Within at Moravian Book Shop on Saturday I'm heading back to Moravian Book Shop with Jennifer Murgia for the final stop on my book tour for The Monster Within. It's been a great tour, and I'm sad to see it end. I'll be there from 1-3pm, so if you're in the Bethlehem area, I'd love to see you.
When I write historical fiction, I know any success I might have in recreating an era for my readers largely hinges on my getting the details right. I relied heavily on research when writing The Glass Inheritance, my mystery novel involving Depression era glassware, and found it invaluable to visit historically significant sites from the Great Depression and World War II era. I toured a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, Pearl Harbor, two concentration camps in Germany, and three Holocaust museums, among other sites. Such travel isn’t always financially feasible, but I’ve discovered local sites offer a wealth of information and inspiration also.
Just this summer I toured a Victorian mansion here in the Midwest and was thrilled to see the museum had a bowl of calling cards near the door. Because I had read in Victorian era novels about characters dropping off their calling cards at one another’s houses, I recognized what the cards were. The tour guide allowed me to pick the cards up and look through them even though the cards were authentic, not reproductions.
Some of the cards clearly came from a printer as is, but others appeared to be homemade or had the owner’s name stenciled in after printing. They were all works of art compared with today’s business cards.
Holding these cards gave me insight and inspiration I doubt I would have drawn from just reading about them. I may choose to write a story involving calling cards and have more assurance now of getting the details right.
It is Paperchase week here on Print & Pattern and there will be something for everyone as I'll be posting images taken at their AW14 press show and snapshots from in store. We begin with Dreamscape a full product line in delicate coral and pale lilac based around a woodland theme. The main print features cute characters mixed with linear plant drawings and their is a more grown up print in the
Last week Jackie Woodson won The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It was a win so deserved that I had difficulty processing it. Under normal circumstances National Book Awards for children’s books come out of left field and are so blooming unpredictable that they almost always serve my perpetual amusement. The fact that a deserving book (one might call it “the” deserving book of the year) won was enormously satisfying. Of course, Ms. Woodson’s not exactly the new kid on the block. She’s been writing for decades, her style growing sharper, her focus more concentrated. When she wins awards it’s often for personal stories (her family story Show Way was the last picture book to win a Newbery Honor, for example). Now Brown Girl Dreaming is poised to do the rare double win of National Book Award and Newbery Award, a move that hasn’t happened since Holes back in 1999.
It feels right that a familiar author who has honed her craft should accrue more and more awards as time goes on. It seems logical. Yet once in a while a wrench is thrown in the works and a debut author will pop onto the scene and win scores of awards. It’s not a bad thing. It just sometimes happens that such authors and illustrators get more immediate attention as a result than their longstanding hardworking fellows.
On a recent(ish) episode of the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour the topic was debuts. The show discussed musical debuts, acting debuts, and authorial ones as well. At one point I think it was Glen Weldon who pointed out that if you look at a typical high schooler’s summer reading list, it’s just debut title after debut title. To Kill a Mockingbird, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, The Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man, Catch-22, The Bell Jar, White Teeth, The Kite Runner, and on and on it goes.
Naturally, after thinking about this I wondered if this equated on the children’s side of things. So I took a gander at those old Top 100 Picture Books and Top 100 Children’s Novels polls I did of yore to see if the debuts were the majority of the titles there. Here are the top 20 in each category (correct me if I’m wrong about any of these):
I was admittedly surprised by how many “Yes”es there were here. To my mind stunning debuts happen from time to time but are relatively rare. This seemed to hold true for the picture books, but on the novel side of things the classics are continually peppered with debut works.
Then there’s the difference between an authorial debut and that of an illustrator. I wasn’t able to tell if Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was Ray Cruz’s debut or if he’d been working in the field for years. What about Mike Smollin and The Monster at the End of This Book?
Then there comes the question of how debut authors and illustrators are celebrated. Recently the periodical Booklist revealed an issue called “Spotlight on First Novels“. The cover showed primarily adult and YA titles, though there was an inclusion of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Inside the regular feature “The Carte Blanche” by Michael Cart concentrated on what could potentially have won the William C. Morris YA Debut Award if it had originated in 1967. The Morris award, for folks who might not be familiar with it, “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.” Cart’s list is good and worth reading, though it include the baffling inclusion of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (a book that never could have won since it’s so clearly a children’s title). Children’s books too often get the short end of the stick when folks discuss debuts. For example, later in the issue a list of the “Top 10 First Novels for Youth for 2014″ mentions only the entirely worthy (and rather charming) The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham as the sole children’s inclusion.
Here then is a listing of some of my favorite children’s book debuts of 2014. I’m sure I’m getting folks here wrong when I say they haven’t published before, so if you see a mistaken entry do be so good as to let me know and I’ll amend accordingly.
Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior, ill. Laura James – For Laura James. I believe Ms. Senior has written several books before.
Anna & Solomon by Elaine Snyder, ill. Harry Bliss – Elaine’s debut, that is.
THE WALLED CITYby Ryan GraudinHardcover: 448 pagesPublisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (November 4, 2014)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon
730. That's how many days I've been trapped.18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.
DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key
The second Paperchase collection today is Butterflies. Besides the cute and the colourful Paperchase always do a range of darker moodier prints or vintage flavoured collections and Butterflies fits this brief. Using a combination of delicate pastel pink and classic grey it features detailed butterfly drawings. This range is mainly in stationery and female gifts such as bags, umbrellas, and hot
This event is sponsored by Paranormal Cravings. There are two giveaways for this event. The main giveaways by the sponsor and my giveaway. Feel free to enter both and make sure you visit the other Participants.
Make sure you check out Laylah's character profile with some extras ;) on December 14 at Paranormal Cravings.
Frederick Luis Aldama is Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor of English as well as University Distinguished Scholar at The Ohio State University. He is prolific: Aldama is the author and editor of more than twenty books. Aldama also founded and directs the award-winning LASER—a Latino focused academic mentor system from 9th through college.
His latest book is The Cinema of Robert Rodriguez recently published by the University of Texas Press. Aldama does more than hit his marks: he has created an exhilarating, accessible and much-needed study of one of the most inventive and multifaceted directors to come along during the last thirty years. It is a “must read” for anyone who wishes to become a filmmaker or who simply loves movies.
DANIEL OLIVAS: Can you remember the first Robert Rodriguez film you saw and your reaction to it?
FREDERICK LUIS ALDAMA:I was one of the many who sold out opening shows of El Mariachi in Berkeley. The UC Theatre double-billed it with his short, Bedhead. As an undergraduate at UC, I was finding my way to Latino popular culture. I was a grader for a Latino Cinema course with Dr. Mario Barrera. Both films blew me away. In only a few minutes Bedhead took me places only film could: a recognizable everyday but where things could happen that defied the logic of this everyday reality.
My eyes peeled wide with El Mariachi. I’d seen—and even studied—films like Born in East LA and The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, but never seen a Latino film made in the spirit of a comic book, and yet that took me into the serious—deadly even—underworld of Mexican narcotraficantes. The intercut of a dream-like sequence with the little boy and the turtle stayed with me long after the film’s end.
DO: Rodriguez’s early filmmaking style was driven, in large part, by a lack of funding but a great deal of imagination. And you observe that his “independent” work ethic does not fit well with big studio production culture. Was Rodriguez destined to be an “indie” filmmaker?
FLA: Rodriguez seemed destined for the straight-to-VHS, B-flick Spanish-language market—all those films we used to pick up during our weekends at La Pulga/”Flea Market.” But it’s that same DIY approach (together with a huge amount of skill) that allows him to energize and make real (reel?) a vision that steps to a different beat.
To put it in your terms, then, I’d say he’s indie but with an imagination that fills to the edges super blockbuster screens. He’s a Latino director who pushes the envelope—constantly—both in terms of story and the way he gives cinematic shape to story. But he’s not the guy we go see at an art-house fest to then have polite tête-à-têtes over the Lacanian significance of a turtle crossing the road. His films entertain—and each superbly so with each of their respective audiences in mind: kids with Spy Kids and geeked-out Fangoria crowds with From Dusk Till Dawn, for instance. They make you think but never demean or belittle us as an audience. Mostly, and this from Spy Kids to Planet Terror to Macheteto El Mariachi—they stay with us long after they’re over.
Frederick Luis Aldama
DO: If you were to choose one Rodriguez film for adults and one for children, which would they be and why?
FLA: Rodriguez hit the sweet spot with the Spy Kidsfilms. With the exception of the third installment (Game Over) that’s creatively straightjacketed by the video-game conceit, everything about the films speaks to children, tweens, and young teens: from the gadgets, to the gags, to the concerns and anxieties—and the daydreams and unrestrained imagination. In a sea of films ostensibly made for kids (Shrek, for instance) but where the humor bites with an adult-directed sarcasm, irony, and innuendo, there’s no outdoing the Spy Kids flicks as films for kids.
Rodriguez managed to pull off an extraordinary feat with Machete. It’s over the top, and it’s meant to be in that comic book way where anything goes. This elastic container, if you will, allows Rodriguez to bring to light some serious issues: anti-immigration laws, racial profiling, and anti-Latino racist sentiment generally. Masterfully, he makes a film that simultaneously entertains—and sometimes with bellyaching laughter—and that has us churning in our minds a reality filled increasingly with barbarous acts.
Summary :A novel about love, loss, and sex -- but not necessarily in that order. Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Those Promises become harder to keep when Shelby's father joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, an annual dance that ends with a ceremonial vow to live pure lives -- in other words, no "bad behavior," no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex. Torn between Promises One and Three, Shelby makes a decision -- to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby starts to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity
Review: Shelby promised her dying mother that she would listen to her father, love as much as posible, and live without restraint. She's done quite well in the five years since then, but when her father wants to arrange her part in a purity ball, in which she promises her purity to her father, which is essentially no drugs, drink or sex. Shelby doesn't want this. So she tries to find a loophole; if she has sex before then, she won't have purity to give. Thus begins a five week search for someone to lose her virginity to.
I wanted to read this obok because commentry on the value of virginity and women in society is an important one to me, and I quite liked Sisters Red, even though I knew from the presmise that this would be completely different.
The characters are funny, not particularly bright, but the friendships are nice and supportive, even if the end “revalation” isn't that surprising or enjoyable. I liked watching the relationship between Shelby and her dad develop.I think Shelby could have developed more.
I like the fact there's humour throughout, without which Purity would be much less lighthearted, and either too sad or too serious.
I find it a bit weird that Shelby goes from not really caring about sex to wanting to do it without caring about who it is as long as they're not diseased. Sure, the possiblity of lack of sex for years is obviously going to make her try and find someone, (it would me if I were in that situation) but there are other ways she could have dealt iwht it, and other parts in the novel when she could have done something else.
I like the fact that faith is a theme. It's not there too much to make it into a preachy book, but it did add a bit of depth to Shelby.
Finally, I just want to ask; since when was “listen to” synonymous with “completely obey”?
Overall: Strength 3 tea to a book that opens discussions for lots of things.