Sunday, November 16, 2014

Basic Guide to Suburbia

I was taken home from the hospital and brought directly to The Suburbs, and there I have remained for pretty much my entire life, yet there are numerous mysteries about this way of life that I just can’t wrap my head around.

I’ll be the first to confess: I can be basic. I love Starbucks’s overpriced lattes, and when there’s the first sign of chill in the air, I go running for a Pumpkin Spice flavored one. But I also suspect I don’t truly belong since I don’t really understand the point of having a lawn, for example. It’s an awful lot of trouble and money and time to grow something you can’t even eat.

So along with an unhealthy Home Depot obsession, here are the things I just don’t get:

Tree spotlights.

Walk down any suburban sidewalk after dusk and you’ll see this phenomenon for yourself: suburban folks love to put little spotlights right at the base of what I assume are their favorite trees.

Is the intended message: “Look, I grew a tree!” ?
This tree must feel like a superstar. 
Cutesy “signs.”

Spotted on a walk the other day: “Forget the Dog: Beware of the Kids.”

Ha-ha, I gut it. Your kids are badly behaved and you think it’s really funny.
How nice for you.

Three-car garage, but park all the cars in the street.

Also adorable.

Christmas decorations on November 1.

Seriously, people?

Lawn ornament medley.

You’ve seen this: lawns “decorated” with a whole slew of statuary, usually a bizarre assortment: baby squirrels, cartoon rabbits, whimsical gnomes, serene Buddhas. They are often arranged in a little circle as though having a perpetual cocktail party. The best is when the figures were once brightly painted but have chipped and faded in the elements and are now just plain scary.

Add a cheerful sign: “Welcome to our Home!” and the picture is complete.  
Thanks for the warning. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

School Visit Raffle

If you work or send your kid to a school (other than the one I go to every day ;) please pass on this info about the raffle for a school visit from me! I can't wait to visit an Orlando area school to talk about writing YA!

Here's the link, and some more info below.

School Visit Raffle-J.J. Howard

J.J.Howard -School Visits


Presentations can be tailored to fit the needs of the school, but here are some samples of J.J. Howard’s programs:

The “Who Am I” program - J.J. talks about her background, how she came to be both a teacher and a writer, how she manages to structure both careers, what in her teacher’s life lends itself to writing, and what her literary influences are. She also discusses her inner world: how she develops ideas, where her imagination takes her and how she decides which imaginings she would like to explore in her books.  

Exploring different types of writing/different types of books - She explores different kinds of writing: fiction, including various genres such as SF, mystery, and dystopian, as well as non-fiction writing. She discusses differences between short stories and novels as well as differences in formats (novels and graphic novels, books and e-books). She may even talk about the differences between poetry, short stories and full length books. These topics can just be touched upon in a 45 to 60 minute program or broken down into several different programs, depending on the needs of the school.

Common Core - As a teacher, J.J. can connect to specific Common Core benchmarks or exemplars upon request. In addition to being an ELA person, her master's is in Humanities, and she teaches a Humanities elective which focuses on Art History, Music, and Theater. She also teaches Media Studies, with units on Journalism, Documentary Film, Film History and Film Studies, Television History, and special effects. Also, she teaches AP Literature and Composition (a fiction course) and AP Language and Composition (nonfiction).

Programs for Adults - She is available to speak to adult groups of teachers, librarians, parents or really any type of audience. She can speak on any subject mentioned above and below or any topic of your choice.

Writing Workshops – J.J. teaches English and writing, and has taught from grades 6-12 and run summer classes for younger kids, so is very comfortable teaching writing.

Mini-writing workshops or full length writing workshops (45-60 minutes) may include:

Voice Lessons - Imagine wearing a blindfold. Could you still recognize your friends’ voices the moment they walked into the room? How about if their voice was disguised? You would probably know instantly when your best friend walked in: her voice is so well known to you. Maybe she always makes a sarcastic comment. Or maybe she punctuates every comment with a giggle. When we write, our voice should be just as distinct as when we speak, but because we use different tools (and much less giggling) sometimes it’s a bit more challenging to develop a distinctive writing voice. But with some tips and tricks, everyone can develop their own unique writing voice – one that’s easy for everyone to recognize!

Word Funeral - “Her heart was beating so fast it seemed that it might jump out of her chest!” Some phrases are just plain tired, and need to be put to rest. We’ll explore some of these old, worn-out words and phrases and explore some new, fresh ways to paint a picture with our words.  We’ll select the words and phrases that need to be put to rest, and work in groups in a challenge to find new ways to tell our stories.

All Talk - Do you love to write dialogue? Or do you try to find ways to skip over the talking parts? Whether you love or loathe the process, putting words into your characters’ mouths is one of the most important skills in writing. We’ll explore how people really talk, as well as working on speech tags, dialect, and interior monologues.


She is also available for Skype or Facetime chats. She would give a short talk (10 to 15 minutes) and the rest of the 45 to 50 minutes would be Q&A. It would be most helpful if schools could have the students prepare questions in advance of the chat.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Event of an Emergency

Today, I was reassured, via Twitter, that Facebook would inform my friends that I was safe in the event of an emergency.

This is either reassuring, or sort of chilling. I’m not surprised the old book of Face would know my location. I tell it where I am all the time.

But what I’m concerned about is, does Facebook actually know what constitutes an emergency? I mean, I’ve seen some of my virtual friends get pretty up in arms about things like broken heels on shoes, for example, or bad service at a restaurant. Will Facebook update my friends the next time I survive a substandard waiter at The Outback?

As comforting as it would be to have the support of that girl from high school whom I haven’t seen in twenty-three years, the one I wouldn’t recognize if I ran into her in the street, if say, my DVR box fails to record Scandal…do we really need our machines to do this much thinking and communicating for us? How many steps away from Skynet are we, really? Should I start stocking up on canned goods, I wonder? Or should I start small and start trying to like the food that comes in canned-good form, maybe?

Things are moving very, very fast. Already, poor Siri’s voice sounds silly and robotic in those HTC commercials. Even though she was a marvel just a few years ago, now, in comparison to the new phone-girl (Cortalana? Catalano? Who comes up with these names?) Siri seems like one of those video games from my childhood that looked like this:
This was actually seriously cool, once.

I guess everything is a marvel when it’s new, and then it’s a relic before you know it.  I just hope if there’s another rough hurricane season next year, Facebook will tell my friends to send snack food. And possibly a generator.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Lattes: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Since Ouija, a board game, has now been made into a movie, it’s becoming pretty clear that lots of common household objects now can and should be made into films.
You might think that the stunning failure of the movie version of the classic game Battleship would have served as a sort of a cautionary tale, but, guess not.

Probably there are lots of folks who keep remembering how successful those darn Transformers flicks turned out to be, and those were based on toys. 

So just in case there’s someone out there looking to take a chance on a great idea for a movie about an inanimate object, here are my pitches:

Glade Scented Candles

I don’t know I if you’re aware of this, but these candles are, and I quote, “Inspired by the best feelings in the world.” The best feelings…IN THE WORLD. That’s hard to argue with. And then we have the drama of the multi-layer candle: one candle. Two smells. It’s pretty epic. Maybe this film could finally be the one that brings smell-o-vision to the multiplex.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

This film has holiday classic written all over it. And, obviously, some smell-o-vision, as well as cross promotional tie-in possibilities.


This may seem like a harmless little item sitting in your desk drawer. But consider the sheer power. Once something is written, it’s pretty much there forever, unless you apply WITE-OUT. What if the power of WITE-OUT spread…what if feelings could be erased…or thoughts? The very fabric of reality is pretty much in danger.
This idea is gold. Well, it’s white, but you get the idea.

A Waffle Iron

This isn’t really a dramatic movie…just more like comfort food for the eyes and ears, perfect for that movie-release dry spell that hits right around January. Better yet, go straight for the taste buds and just scrap the whole filming-the-movie part, get a bunch of waffle irons, and have a waffle feast right there in the theater. I, for one, will buy a ticket to that show every time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Halloween Playlist of...Playlists

I've made a lot of Halloween playlists…I love music, I love Halloween, it's a match made in…well, in I suppose heaven sounds wrong, but you get the idea.

Rather than post the actual lists here, I've been making some lists on Spotify, and so today I'm sharing a few for this month we call October.

First up, we have the Classics…not necessarily classic rock…it's more that these are some of my classic go-to songs for this time of year.

Halloween Classics

Next, we have a more eclectic mix…many of these songs were part of my Pandemonium Mix for the Heaven & Hell themed party my best friend and I threw a few years ago. I turned my office at the time into Lucifer's lair with the help of some strobe lights and some of these tracks.

Pandemonium Mix

Finally, this year's playlist--at least so far! I went for a dark but mellow vibe this year...

B-Sides: Halloween 14

Always looking for new tracks for all these lists, so send some my way!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Completely Biased List of the Best Halloween Episodes of All Time

5. Freaks and Geeks, "Tricks and Treats"

Bill: "I'm sorry Steve Austin. I can't marry you. I'm mad at you right now. What? I'm sorry I can't hear you. Hold on I'm gonna put the phone on my bionic ear."

It’s Halloween in 1980, which is already awesome.
Someone actually asks Sam if he’s going out for “tricks and treats”—just like the Peanuts characters say in Great Pumpkin. No one has fun, and everyone ends up disappointed, kind of like a real life holiday.
"I'm not a little girl, I'm a bionic woman."

4. Buffy, “Fear Itself”

“I was just thinking about the life of a pumpkin. Grow up in the sun, happily entwined with others, and then someone comes along, cuts you open, and rips your guts out.”

The episode begins with a broken-hearted Buffy running her fingers through a bowl full of pumpkin guts…the bulk of the action takes place in a fraternity horror house that (of course, this is Sunnydale) goes very wrong because while decorating, the brothers accidentally summoned a real demon….and in the end, the demon turns out to be about twelve inches tall. 
Buffy steps on him like he’s a cockroach, and...end scene. 

 3.  Dark Angel, Boo

Original Cindy: "What the hell was that?!"
Max: Flashback. "Happens all the time."

The episode begins normally… as normal as a season 2 episode of Dark Angel can be, anyway. This is the season, after all, that took a perfectly awesome show, and added genetically engineered invisible geniuses, bug men, mermaids, and a dog boy. But the rest of the twenty episodes all take this mutant business very seriously. This one goes weird, and then it goes meta, and the whole thing ends up being just very terrible... but also pretty funny…and therefore kind of perfect for the most wonderful time of the year.

2. My So-Called Life, “Halloween”

“When I was little I, like, worshipped Halloween. And truthfully, part of me still does. 'Cause it's your one chance all year to be someone else.”

It’s not the best episode of this series, by any stretch, but any episode of this show is better than the best of lots of other shows, in my opinion.

Angela flirts with a ghost (for a realistic show they seem to go supernatural fairly often—there’s a ghost in the Christmas ep too!?) Best moment: her little sister, usually a throwaway character, briefly steals the show by doing a perfect emo imitation of her big sister.

1Buffy, “Halloween”

Giles: "And-and your…costume?"
Willow: "I'm a ghost."
Giles: "Yes. Um… the ghost of what, exactly?"

This could be a controversial choice…although Buffy ran for seven seasons, they made only three Halloween episodes. I’ve left off the season six outing, “All the Way.” In spite of some great one-liners, it’s the weakest of the three for me. I’m giving my top slot to season 1’s classic, if non-creatively titled “Halloween.”
There are so many quotable moments, but this one would probably win for me just for the moment when Willow, turned momentarily into a ghost by a spell which turns people into their costumes, walks straight through the library wall. Giles drops half the card catalogue, and his expression: priceless. Buffy gets a nice moment at the end when she’s turned back into the @$&-kicker we know and love. And, unusual for an early ep: Spike! The perfect Halloween cocktail.