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  • I read a lot, and I have a lot of opinions, so I can't believe I haven't made a list like this before. If you are even a little bit like me or you want to get a peek into my psyche (you probs don't), these are the books to read.
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Archive for November, 2008

Cha-cha-cha, as the song goes

Posted on November 25th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

There are a lot of things I don’t like about living in New York, and if you asked me I could list them off to you by memory. Like how sometimes it’s the early morning and you’re on the train headed to work and you’ve finally gotten a seat and then suddenly a voice comes over the loud speaker and says that the local train you’re on, the one you ride EVERY MORNING, for some reason (it’s always “train traffic,” the vaguest explanation ever) is going to start going express from 72nd to Chambers. Because your office isn’t anywhere near an express stop, you have to get off, and wait on the other end of the platform for yet another local train to take you to work. This might not seem like a big deal in the context of, like, a global financial crisis or anything, but it is very, very annoying and, really, the last thing you need. The MTA is whackadoo today, people. I guess they’re just practicing their incompetence for the holidays.

BUT, there are some things I love about New York. Central Park. Dallas BBQ. Cupcakes. Convenient public transportation (MOST of the time). And, once a year, at that magical time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, THE CHARMIN BATHROOMS.

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For those of you who don’t know, last year Charmin (the toilet paper people) opened a giant public restroom in Times Square. This place is amazing. It’s two stories and there’s, like, 20 private bathrooms. When I say “private” I mean that it’s as if you’re using the powder room in your parents’ house–they’re real rooms with doors that have knobs, not stalls. The lighting is fantastic, it’s perfectly spotless inside, you have your own sink, and six different kinds of toilet paper to choose from (they like you to vote on your favorite type after you’re finished with your business, and then you get coupons!).

There is a merchandise counter (I picked up a nice comfy Charmin t-shirt last year…which reminds me, I need to find that thing), sledding bears you can have your picture taken with (OH WE DID), charming and friendly personnel, pre-stamped postcards you can send to your friends and family (most of my peeps threw them out because they thought they were junk mail, but it’s the thought that counts, and the postcard also has a coupon), and a dance video they play on a loop which is catchy, but awesomely so. They have people outside dressed like toilets saying things like, “You know you gotta go!” but not in an annoyingly heckling manner like some of the other sales people yelling at you in Times Square.

I have some pictures of us at the Charmin Bathrooms last year, but I just checked and, yup, I look awful in them. Hopefully this year I’ll be more photogenic. Until then…

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My own personal brand of heroin…

Posted on November 23rd, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

I didn’t always love Twilight. Actually, the first time I read it I thought the plot was boring and saggy, the pace was off, Bella was annoying, and Edward was too smug to be a heartthrob. I returned it to the library and thought nothing of it again until I saw the first teaser trailer for the movie and then it hit me–Edward (portrayed excellently by Rob Pattinson) was a dish! I had to know more, and so I bought a copy of the book at Target and devoured it and its sequels in a matter of months (would’ve been shorter, since I was nothing less than obsessed, but I had to wait until this August for Breaking Dawn to come out).

Yes, the books have flaws, but I love them now the way you love your siblings–you fight and you disagree and after living in close quarters with them for eighteen or so years you can see every little annoying foible, but you love them so very much in spite of all these things, which makes it extra special when you get the opportunity to enjoy their company. Which is why I was so incredibly pumped, after reading Breaking Dawn, which as you know I just loved, to see the movie. Despite my young age I’m practically an old person, so I didn’t go see the movie at midnight on Friday like all the whippersnappers probably did, but I did see it on Friday night and I have some thoughtsicles, which I will now present in bullet points because my brain is fried from editing MB this weekend (still not done! Oh how I suffer…):

  • Casting: Superb in most cases. Rob Pattinson, who is my new fake boyfriend (not to be confused with my fake husband, That James McAvoy), was spot-on with his portrayal of Edward, and I think that comes from the fact that he threw the whole “Edward Cullen is the world’s perfect man” concept out the window and instead went deeper, dredging up Edward’s insecurities and fears and self-loathing, playing him as a guy who has been lonely for a century, thinks he’s soulless and doomed to the fiery pits of hell, and has literally no idea how to deal with the sort of human emotions that he’s been suppressing since he turned. Kristin Stewart was exactly how I imagined Bella, and although I could’ve done with a little less polysyllabic grunting in place of actual words, she was just as awkward and unsure and subtly bitchy as I imagined. The Cullens, too, were well cast, especially Emmett, who is perhaps my favorite Cullen after Edward (although I do love Alice, too, don’t get me wrong). I can’t wait till the Eclipse and Breaking Dawn movies, which are Cullen-eriffic, because they’re probably my favorite part of the series. You know what else I loved? Seeing Michael Welch in the role of Mike Newton! I love Michael Welch as Luke Girardi from Joan of Arcadia and was so so so happy to see that he’s still acting. You know what I didn’t love? Stephenie Meyer’s cameo. It pulled me RIGHT out of the story.
  • Plot: For the most part I think the film was adapted well. The nice thing about the Twilight books is that they’re so bloated that when you take out all the stuff that’s not really necessary, you’re left with a silver screen sized story (as opposed to the Harry Potter books, which if you try to pare them down you end up with a woefully anorexic adaptation like Goblet of Fire). I haven’t read Twilight in probably six months, so I wouldn’t really notice if the story was missing anything specific, but I thought all the important stuff was in there. I think that Bella’s voice over was unnecessary, though, and at times made little sense. My cousin Emma mentioned that they left out one of her favorite lines, when Edward says, “If I could dream I would dream of you,” to Bella, and I agree, that’s a great line and they should’ve left it in. But otherwise I was pretty impressed with the way everything moved, I thought the pace was pretty spot on, and while the scene-to-scene transitions could’ve been better, I considered this aspect well done.
  • Scenes: LOVED the baseball scene, I always imagined it would be awesome to see all these super humans playing the great American past time. I thought the meadow scene was perfectly serviceable, because Edward’s sparkly skin was done probably as best it could’ve been given the fact that it’s one thing to read about and another thing entirely to SEE on SCREEN. I liked that they made the sparkles look the way it looks when the sun is shining down on snow. That was clever. Also, the movie reminded me that probably the scariest scene in all four of the books, including Bella’s demon birthing scene in Breaking Dawn, is the scene when Bella is surrounded by all those drunk guys in Port Angeles. Because that could ACTUALLY HAPPEN, and it does happen, and it’s one of my worst fears about living in New York, or any city really. Too bad not all of us have a bad ass mind reading Edward Cullen to frighten off would-be attackers. Also, that kiss scene was hot. Looking forward to more of that in the future!
  • Soundtrack: Honestly, I was underwhelmed. The only song I even noticed enough to look it up later was “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse, which I downloaded on iTunes and am now listening to on repeat every second of the day. I listened to the clips of Rob Pattinson’s music and while it’s awesomely garbled and weird and I would like to own both songs, I’m pretty sure they weren’t actually in the film? Maybe one of them was, but I don’t remember it.

Overall, I loved the movie. I can’t wait to see it again (I will probably see it one or two more times in the theater, let’s be honest) and buy it on DVD when it comes out. And I don’t know if you know this, but they’re now officially making New Moon into a movie, so even though I’m not very excited to see only a tiny bit of Edward and way more of Jacob Black than I could ever want, the farther they get in filming the series the closer we get to watching the awesome sexy chaos of Breaking Dawn on the big screen, so I’m all for it!

All right, back to work.

Funtivities

Posted on November 21st, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

I’m very, very excited for the upcoming holiday season. I have so many plans! I mean, I also have so much to do, but there is so much fun to look forward to. First things first, the stuff that has already happened.

On Wednesday, I got a bouquet of flowers delivered to my office:

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This is them, sitting on my desk at work. They’re from my parents, and they came with a sweet note telling me how proud they are of me and how much they’ve always believed in me. They sent them to me because, drum roll, my contracts are finally ready!

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Photo’s blurry, but nobody needs to read them except me, anyway. But they exist! They were sitting right on my kitchen table last night, and I signed them with my special pen. This may seem terribly boring, but it was the result of a couple of months of waiting for me (probably way less than other people experience, and I’m lucky that the process went so quickly for me, and I am grateful, but anyway), so I’m completely thrilled about it. So thrilled I had my roommate take a picture of me signing the contracts:

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My hair’s not looking so great in this picture because I’d just finished swimming laps at the gym, but still. Thrilling! AND I’m getting my revision letter from my editor today, AND I’m going to see Twilight tonight…so many things to look forward to. Not to mention the Giving of the Thanks, which I will be spending in sunny San Diego with all of my best friends, whom I dearly love. And then once I get back, BAM!, AUT revisions. Hopefully I’ll finish MB revisions this weekend and then not have to think about it again for a little while.

Moo-hattan*

Posted on November 19th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

*Probably the lamest blog post title ever. My deepest apologies.

It seems that winter has arrived in dear old NYC, because the temperature is in the low thirties (feels like mid-twenties, says the barely helpful weather website I use) and I’ve brought out my ugly black winter coat which, despite being ugly, is pretty warm and has lots of pockets for hiding things like gloves, ear muffs, receipts, movie tickets and even an old cough drop or two.

I can already kind of feel my body and mind going into hibernation. After an active summer in which I lost weight and got a lot done, I’m starting to slow down, eat more carbs, and opt to watch episodes of The West Wing instead of finish revisions of MB or write anything new. My apartment hasn’t reached the sauna-like levels we experienced last February yet (I’m sure that’s coming, though), but it is nice and warm, and the coziness helps with the laziness.

This cannot continue. I’m hoping to shake myself out of this malaise after Thanksgiving and get some serious stuff accomplished by Christmas. As always, inability to work corresponds with inability to move in my bedroom due to laundry and shoes everywhere and not putting things in their place. Organization always helps me get back on track, so because there are no football games to watch this weekend (at least, not any of my teams) and my only current obligation is a viewing of Twilight (!!!11!!1) on Friday night, I can do laundry, go to Trader Joe’s, read, and finish my MB revisions so that I can start my AUT revisions. Lots to do, lots to do!

I thought this might amuse some people. I got a package from my aunt last night full of all sorts of goodies–batteries for my cell phone, which was a very welcome gift because it’s gotten to the point where my phone is near death within hours of being charged (so far the new battery I put in works great), and even better, copies of my cousin Emma’s senior photos, her brother’s school photo from this year, and an extra special bonus picture of me that I’m guessing my aunt stumbled across in her house recently. Here’s the picture:

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Now, I have no idea what’s going on in this picture, and I’ve actually given it some thought. My guess is that I’m around three or four here, and I can’t judge by the facial expression whether I’m crying (possible, I was very sensitive as a young child) or just squinting into the sun and talking to whoever was taking the picture. My shirt says “Manhattan” on it (which is probably why my aunt sent it to me in the first place, other than that it’s sort of funny), but it has what at first I thought was a dog but now I’m pretty sure is a cow on it. Why would a shirt that says “Manhattan” on it have a cow on it? There are no cows in Manhattan, I live here, I know. I plan on calling my aunt on Thursday, so I’m sure I’ll get the full story then. I’d love to give this thing the LOLCat treatment, but I can’t think of a funny caption. Any suggestions?

Meanwhile, on another blog…

Posted on November 17th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Today’s post is over at the Tenners, where I ramble on about my favorite teen movies. Sneak peek: there’s a lot of Shakespeare adaptations. It also took me forever to write, because I lost the first draft to a computer malfunction, and inserting images and aligning them correctly can take years in Livejournal. So I hope everybody enjoys it!

Take me home, California roads

Posted on November 14th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

So I was trying to think of things that could liven it up around here, since I’ve been sort of maudlin and boring recently. One of my ideas was to ask a friend to interview me, with mostly inane questions to which I can give hilarious, apropos-of-nothing answers but also talk a little bit about the book, since I can guess what people are interested in but might be wrong. Katie volunteered to help me out, so that’s on its way, perhaps next week. Y’all are free to make suggestions or ask questions in the comments (which are woefully empty most of the time, but I think there are some people out there, so this is an open invitation) or via email (anna {dot} jarzab {at} gmail {dot} com).

Anyway, I was having a conversation with my mother the other day, and she asked me what I was working on. At this point, I am “working on” about four different novels, although in truth I’m only doing real work on one–MB. The thing that ties all of these books together is that they’re all set in California, albeit different parts of California, and I thought I could talk a little bit about why I chose the setting I did for AUT, since it’s something I didn’t plan and cannot fully explain. When I can start talking about MB more, I’ll do another post about the setting for that book, which was way more deliberate.

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I know this means nothing to most people now, but this view
of Dublin and San Ramon is the inspiration for the overlook in AUT.

The first time I wrote All Unquiet Things, it was set in the Chicago suburbs. This is because my family had moved from Chicago to California two years beforehand and, even though I was going to college in California, I really missed it. The problem with that was that, even in my head, the landscape of the town the events took place in looked nothing like anything you would find in Chicago. There were large foothills, for starters. Basically, I was writing the book to take place in California, but calling it Chicago because I was too bitter about the move still to admit I was being influenced by where I was living.

In the second version of AUT, I did away with the Chicago suburbs farce and just set the novel in a fictional town which is basically an amalgam of Dublin, Pleasanton, and San Ramon, CA, with a little bit of unincorporated Castro Valley thrown in. The town’s name, Empire Valley, is completely fictional, but there are a lot of “Valley” names in the state, because there are a lot of valleys, and there’s a town called Inland Empire as well. All of these towns, and Empire Valley as well, are in the East Bay Area, outside of Oakland and on the cusp of agricultural country.

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I used this area partly because it’s very familiar to me. I could take bits and pieces of each town (for instance, I moved Castlewood, a fancy schmancy Pleasanton foothills neighborhood, and used them to replace the Dublin foothills–less schmancy, but still pretty nice–are because I needed the ritziest houses but geographically EV looks more like Dublin) and mix them up and still know what the heck I was talking about.

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But also I think I chose the Dublin-Pleasanton area because the foothills make it feel isolated even though a lot of people live there, the towns feel small even though they’re sprawling and expanding. I need that feeling of exclusiveness and isolation, because geographically the town represents what the main characters are feeling internally, this sense of being trapped, emotionally and socially. That location, with so many highways nearby, feels escapable but isn’t. You can leave, but where do you go?

It’s too bad I’m such a bad photographer and have such a crappy camera, because the San Ramon Valley is really very stunning, especially at night. AUT takes place in the fall, so the town looks more like the first, which I took, with the brown grass that looks like sand. The abrasiveness of the way the town looks is key to the sense of isolation and entrapment–it looks like a desert, it’s sizzling hot, and there’s no relief. Neily, my main character, starts out the novel by fantasizing about what it’s going to look like in the spring, after the rains come, because the summer is that oppressive to him. That’s exactly what it’s like to live in that area when you don’t particularly want to: you chafe against the summer and fall, with the miserable heat and dust, but in the spring it’s like the Garden of Eden.

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Jobiversary

Posted on November 12th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Today is my one-year jobiversary, or, if you prefer not to use ridiculous portmanteaus for every single thing in your life, my one-year anniversary of being at my job. This is very exciting because it occurs to me, outside of the job I had in college, which I had for four years but doesn’t really count because it consisted of sitting at a residence hall reception desk for three hours at a time, that I’ve never been at a job for a year before. This isn’t because of fickleness, but rather my first job, as an editorial assistant at a textbook publisher, ended at eleven months because I was going to graduate school, and since then, before this job, I’ve only had internships, which have an obvious expiration date. So good for me, I’m finally an adult, or some reasonable facsimile thereof.

Last week (November 2, actually) also marked my one-year anniversary of living in New York. This is a much greater accomplishment than being at a job for a year. Living in New York is hard, yo.

Late night ruminations

Posted on November 11th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

For the past couple of days I’ve been giving my little sister Fish* a hand by helping her revise her college application essay. She’s seventeen and applying to a bunch of different schools and programs, but what she most wants to do is go to film school. She spent several weeks this summer at the New York Film Academy, learning the mechanics of film making, and in the process she got to try her hand at writing, directing, editing, and camera work. There is a creative streak that runs through my family, and Fish has such a sharp mind–she is going to be a great film maker one day.

I’ve been editing my brother’s college essays for years, and as smart and educated as my brother is, writing is not necessarily his greatest strength. It’s funny, because I remember the way his essays read during his freshman year, and last quarter, four years later, I helped him out on several final papers. The changes in the execution of his compositions are staggering. He barely needs my help anymore, he’s in complete command of language as a way to exposit and argue and convince. I expected reading Fish’s essay would be like reading JJ’s freshman year papers, but that kid knows what she wants to say and she knows exactly how to say it. I made almost no changes, only smoothed out the language in places and pointed out a mixed metaphor. I’m super impressed with her, and I told her that she’s a very good writer, which is not a compliment I bestow frivolously. I’m really excited for the work she’s going to do in school, and afterwards, and as adorable as she was when she was little I’m so glad she’s finally grown up, that we can talk about things like art and writing and creativity, that we can help each other with our projects (she is always one of my first readers, and I value her opinion very highly).

It occurs to me now how incredibly lucky I am to have the family I do, to have been raised the way I was, to have the support of my parents and siblings. I’m somewhat of a strange person, so it’s no surprise that there is this theme flowing like an underground stream through of almost all of my fiction, this idea of how important it is to know and be known by others. To be seen for who you truly are, to be accepted for and because of who you are. It feels so absolutely necessary to happiness.

My friend Cambria has this theory about how some people are what she calls “specific,” that they are perhaps a bit too idiosyncratic to be understood, to be known in the sense that I just used it above, by most of the people they meet. For a long time, she used to label other people we knew this way and put us in the other category, the category of people that are more generally palatable.

But about two years ago we were having one of our typically bizarre conversations, who knows what about, and I turned to her and said, “You know what? I think we’re specific, too.” I don’t mean that in a condescending, angsty way–we’re so misunderstood, wah!–but my entire point was that when you have an outsized personality, you sometimes feel too weird for most people, like even though they’re laughing at your jokes and nodding along with what you’re saying they also secretly think you’re insane. And that’s cool in its own way, but it can also be pretty lonely. But then I think of my own life, and the fact that I need two hands to count the people who really know me, and I remember how lucky I am. Plus, I’m getting the chance to be heard by people outside my immediate circle of friends and family by having my books published, and writing a book, at least for me, is an act of reaching out. It’s pretty much the most awesome opportunity ever and boy am I grateful for it.

It’s important for me to remember all this, to write it down where somebody can read it, because tonight I finished my first revision of MB and I ended up feeling like a total hack, like I was just wasting my and everybody else’s time. This happens to all writers, I’m pretty sure–it’s our secret fear that we’re talentless frauds. But the truth is that there are hits and there are misses, that writing gets better over time if you work at it, and that if the things that you write are important and worthwhile and meaningful to you, if they’re honest, then it’s never a waste. I write for a lot of reasons, but I think at the very core of it I write so that people can know who I am as a person, how I feel and what I think. Fiction gives me the opportunity to do that in a way that is largely not deliberate, choreographed, or over thought. That’s why I love it so much.

*Not her real name, but one of a billion of her nicknames. Just in case you think my parents are monsters who would name their child “Fish.”

Delusions of grandeur

Posted on November 10th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Re: last Friday’s post about all the stuff I’m going to accomplish–HA! No, almost none of that got done. 5,000 words in my NaNo project? WAS I SERIOUS? Oh Lord. You know what I did do, though? I did get almost all the way through MB with my revisions. I’m on page, like, 261 of 295 or something, which is pretty good. That, however, is only round one. I’m going through and addressing all the little things Joanna wanted me to change, add, cut, or give thought to, plus all the things I’ve found, and then I’m going to go through again and try to fix some of the broader things that she brought up in her revision letter. Then I will be done, or something approximating that, enough to send MB to my editor so that I can clear my desk for the arrival of the AUT revision letter on Friday.

I didn’t get a chance to read that, by the way, although I have been listening to the soundtrack to get me back into the mood, not that that constitutes anything resembling work. Actually, I’m not being fair to myself. Some of the stuff on that list got done. I did see Role Models, which was excellent, by the way, better than I thought it would be although I already thought it looked pretty hilarious. And I did watch the USC v. Cal game, and we did win, so fight on. I did tidy my bedroom, too, and also I did some consultation on and editing of my sister’s college application essay, which I’m still not done with yet, actually. And I watched a lot of The West Wing, so sue me, the election got me excited about politics again and that show’s first three seasons especially are fantastic.

File under: Busy, bee-like

Posted on November 7th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

This weekend I plan on really doing stuff. That is my goal. To be less vague about it, I am going to do these things:

  • See Role Models with Cambria and Abby tonight, because Paul Rudd is delicious and also it looks hilarious. Do not disappoint me, Rudd. I’m counting on you, Desmond Fellowes–Jesus saves but where does he shop, am I right or am I right?*
  • Revise MB despite boredom, lack of imagination, laziness, or the lure of all the West Wing episodes on Surf the Channel. Hopefully I will get through the whole thing and address all the issues Joanna brought up in the revision letter she sent me, but if not at least get to page 200 so that I can revise the rest next week.
  • Write 5,000 words of GD, which is my NaNoWriMo project. This may or may not happen, but I figure I can alternate between this and revising MB when I need a bit of a break or a shake-up.
  • Re-read All Unquiet Things in preparation for the revision letter my editor said will probably arrive by next Friday. I haven’t read AUT in at least three months, so it’ll be good to go through it and refamiliarize myself with the text, and also flag anything I notice.
  • Do a little laundry
  • Tidy my bedroom
  • Watch USC kick Cal’s butt on Saturday
  • Hopefully find time to read Brigitte and Polley’s script and write up a feedback email so that I can stop feeling so guilty for not doing that

So, I don’t know. My priority numero uno is obviously MB revisions, followed by AUT reread, followed by my NaNo project. Let’s hope at least the first one happens this weekend. The rest can wait, but I hope they don’t have to. Most boring blog post ever? You’re so right!

*See Veronica Mars, Season 3, episode title “Debasement Tapes.”