Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Where Else Can You Get That?

I frequently find myself in conversations in which I'm defending the virtue of country music. Yet, you never know where you'll find validation for the things you love.

In the book I'm currently reading, the author articulates the beauty of the genre so simply:

"'Each song is a narrative,' he explained. 'Conflict, crisis, and resolution, all in three minutes. Where else can you get that?'"

This quote is delivered by an Indian-American surgeon. Who knew? See, you don't have to be from Texas to love country music after all. Although I think it helps.

(By the way, current read is Playing by Berkeley's own Melanie Abrams. Not a waiting room read, folks. But compelling nonetheless.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Crazy Heart

So, I almost didn't see this movie. One, the Kentuckian couldn't muster much enthusiasm for it. And this was due in part to the fact that some friends of ours who had seen it said it was the worst movie they'd ever seen.

Yes. The worst EVER. Strong words, I dare say.

These "friends" said it was so depressing and boring that one among them considered walking out mid-reel and another contemplated stabbing herself in the eyes with the spoon end of an Icee straw. Needless to say, I had my doubts. I wasn't expecting much. And maybe this is exactly why I LOVED it.

Yes. Love is a word you might think I used somewhat casually. In fact, I only use it when necessary. And this is an issue of necessity. Crazy Heart is beautifully acted (obviously), the music is incredible, and I can't wait to see it again.

I'd heard Crazy Heart compared to last year's The Wrestler. The comparison left me a little depressed. Perhaps it was the residue of the depression which followed watching The Wrestler the first time. Talk about a wrist-cutter. I'm tellin' ya. That movie put me in some kinda awful funk. But Crazy Heart was different even though there are some similarities.

"Bad" Blake is a washed up but legendary country star wallowing in resentment that his protege's career eclipses his own. He meets a young reporter and they fall in love and he plays the part of father to her son very well. The relationship inspires Bad to seek out his own estranged son and start writing songs again. When the relationship ends after Bad loses her son in the Houston tunnels, Bad finally gets sober to get back what he's lost.

This is a movie about redemption that's truly about redemption. Not redemption through death, which seems to be the only way to find redemption in movies lately (see: The Wrestler). Jeff Bridges is superb as Bad ("Friends" said you could actually smell his whiskey breath through the screen). But what's even better is the music.

Co-written and produced by T-Bone Burnett (raised in Ft. Worth) and Texas-by-way-of-New-Mexico artist Ryan Bingham. (Just downloaded his first album from iTunes. Amazing.) Everything T-Bone touches turns to gold, including the music of Cold Mountain, O Brother Where Art Thou, and the Robert Plant/Alison Kraus collaboration, Raising Sand. The original songs from the movie are already personal favorites, especially "I Don't Know" and "Fallin' and Flyin'."

I know the merits of the movie have been beaten to death by the critics, Academy, etc, etc. But I had to say my piece. It's right up there with the other contemporary Texas classics, like No Country for Old Men and Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. If you love country music, if you love Texas, you will love this movie.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

St. Selena, TX

In this month's issue of Texas Monthly, the Mike Leach vs. Texas Tech scandal is just a smattering of text on the cover. The rest of the design is an iconic-style portrait of Selena Quintanilla Perez, who is perhaps the patron saint of Texas. And undoubtedly the Queen of Tejano Music, as the article claims.

It also says that even when she broke attendance records with her final performance in the Astrodome at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, she was virtually unknown to white audiences. I can't say this is true for myself. But maybe I had an edge because I lived in the same town where she was born and attended the same elementary school she did. Unfair advantages, to be sure.

I still remember when she was killed. Murdered, rather, by her own friend. I was in junior high, eleven years old. The hallways were very somber and lots of students were even in tears. A large percentage of the students at my school were Latino and many of my best friends were Latino. They grew up speaking Spanish, unlike Selena herself, and loved her music. Her English cross-overs "Dreaming of You" and "I Could Fall in Love" were anthems at school dances for years after.

Fifteen years later, her songs take me back to Texas, to my schools where whites and Latinos sit side by side in class rooms and at lunch tables. They share a culture if they choose to. I can't see that here in California. Maybe I'm missing it. But it seems like everyone stays away from each other.

Issues like immigration law and teaching Spanish in schools are controversial. Almost too controversial to talk about--depending on who you're talking to and what side of the fence you're on. I can't help thinking we're all in this together. Nothing proves that more than Selena's popularity during her lifetime and her legacy after her death.

She is/was both/and. Both Texan and Latino, an icon to Spanish-speaking peoples on both sides of the border. Yet she was neither: self-conscious about her Spanish in Mexico, American as apple pie. Can I not claim Selena as part of my culture because I'm white? Some would say so.

The Kentuckian grew up in a predominantly black community in northern Kentucky. Granted, even today, a well-to-do black real estate agent drives his Hummer with trepidation in to rural communities in this part of the world. But the Kent was surrounded by the African-American culture of the South. Played side by side with them in basketball games. They were his friends. They became men together. A regular Larry Bird. He is white with black influences to be sure. Is it any less real because he isn't black?

We're so focused on lines and boundaries and rules. I decide what defines my culture, don't I? Selena was born on the Gulf Coast of Texas. We are the same. My people came from Europe. Hers came from Mexico. But we are both Texans.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Justified: A Review, or, A Quick Lesson in Showing vs. Telling (from a person unqualified to deliver such lessons)

So in honor of the one-week anniversary of my initial promise of a full-blown review of FX's new series Justified, I thought I might actually do that. I'm a fair-weather blogger, what can I say. (And we are having some darn fine weather here in NorCal.) Don't expect this baby all shiny-like on a book shelf any time soon!

Anywho, my initial assessment of the pilot is: hmmm. This is code for "C." Bordering on "C+." Maybe I had really high expectations. But the first episode left a little to be desired because...

Too much telling, not enough showing. The cardinal rule of good story-telling: show, don't tell. Is it possible to "tell" in the film/television versions of story-telling? Yes, friends, why yes it is. For example...

(Please don't ask me to direct-quote. My talents lie elsewhere. Brace yourself for some gross paraphrasing.)

Example: TELLING

In the pilot, we meet a former pal of Raylan's (Raylan is the lead, by the way) who's since left his coal-digging days behind and turned into a neo-Nazi terrorist. Since Raylan is the U.S. marshal hot on his heels, you'd think this would create some emotional conflict. Yeah, not really.

How many times do they need to tell us--through dialogue--that the main man and his white supremacist nemesis used to "dig coal together." We got it. But such telling does not a moral dilemma make. Raylan has to actually give two squirrels about the guy. And this was not demonstrated. Rather, we're supposed to buy said dilemma because we're being hit over the head with it through dialogue.

We didn't get a sense of the coal mining industry in KY and how it bonds men together. We didn't get to see another side of our protagonist or his blood-thirsty bigot of a former pal (which is even MORE interesting). Missed opportunities all around.

Example: SHOWING

Raylan heads to the courthouse to get a look at his ex-wife as she pounds the keys as a court reporter. She's all gorgeous with perfectly styled waves dangling in her face. (How does one type at break-neck speeds while hair hangs in one's face?) One of the best moments in the show! Point delivered! He still carries a torch for the ex! Well done! So much better than giving us another awkward line about how he's not over her. Which is hurl-inducing.

Example: TELLING

Darn-near final scene of the pilot. Raylan sneaks in to aforementioned ex's new home. They skirt onto the deck for a little chit chat (the new man in her life doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that a) her ex husband just broke into their house or b) she's having a quiet moment with him...still in their house)). She says something like "If you were gonna shoot him you would have done it six years ago when I left you."

Ugh. Quick. Cram in some back story. Like we give a whiz how long it's been.

They chit chat some more, about what I can't really remember, it was that uninteresting. But the conversation eventually leads her to say, "Raylan, you're the angriest man I've ever known."

Ugh. Missed opportunities a'plenty.

Please. Don't tell us the guy's got deep, dark, chocolate layers. That he's battling his own demons, rage, and pain as he wipes clean the streets of Lexington. Show us! We're begging you! Poor Olyphant doesn't have two twigs to rub together to make some fire for his character. You tell me, would you rather see he's an angry man through the plot, the acting, etc? Not through dialogue?

The producers of this show could take a few cues from those of Breaking Bad, which is probably the best show on TV right now. The main character, Walt, an over-qualified high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, is a pretty angry dude. Right away, we know why. His career is in the toilet. He's probably dying of cancer. Soon. And he's broke. Do they find not-so-clever way to tell us Walt's angry? No way. Instead, they have Walt do surprisingly uncharacteristic things like hurl a pizza onto his soon-to-be-ex-wife's roof. ANGRY MEN TEND TO LOSE THEIR COOL once in a while. So far, Raylan's got it together. Despite the telling, I'm having a hard time buying this angry business.

Despite this glaring flaw, will I keep watching? Yes! I have hope. Mostly because the plot itself has promise and it's got some interesting female characters (battered housewife shoots her husband and happens to be Raylan's high school crush). But the script needs some work and ole Timothy needs to kick it up a notch in the acting department. I'd like to keep thinking Hitman was a fluke.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Justified: A Post Dedicated to my One True Love

For today's post, we will deviate from our regularly scheduled programming to pay homage to the Blue Grass State, also the home turf of my One and Only, appropriately named "The Kentuckian."

In about forty minutes, FX premiers a new series, a new series I will be sampling for a few reasons:

--It's about Kentucky.

--My husband's from Kentucky.

--It's based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. (Fess up, you LIKED Out of Sight. Even J-Lo couldn't ruin that one.)

--The main character looks darn good in a Stetson and boots (Timothy Olyphant. See above.)

is a new series on FX (10 pm Pacific, Tuesdays) about a Deputy U.S. Marshal in eastern Kentucky upholding the law and confronting his past (a past primarily composed of criminal relatives and gorgeous women (which the Kentuckian will enjoy)). I'm looking forward to the snappy dialogue Leonard does so well, some raw sexual tension, and maybe a few toothless hillbillies. (The Kentuckian has beautiful teeth, by the way.)

Will tune in for a post-premier review tomorrow!

(Photo shamelessly lifted from

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Last Rodeo Tour

As some of you might already know (let's face it, if you live in Texas, you probably DO already know), Brooks and Dunn have announced their retirement. Old news, I know. However, their upcoming performance at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo pours salt in my wounds since I will not--repeat, will NOT--be there. March 20. Reliant Stadium. Please go and send a piece of the bittersweet joy to me via carrier pigeon.

Country music is something I really, really, really miss about Texas. I tell you, I've never listened to so much country music in my life since I moved out of Texas. Sometimes, it's my only salvation. A little Pat Green. A little Willie Nelson. A little George Strait. Just puts me right in a mood. However, the Kentuckian doesn't much have a heart for Alan Jackson's "Dallas." I think it's a little too close to home.

Country music gets no R-E-S-P-E-C-T here on the west coast. I know, there is bad country and there's good country. I'll be the first to tell you that. At times, the puns and double entendres are too much even for me. But classic, outlaw, and Texas country get an automatic "in." And so does George Strait. Because he's George. That's all.

I'm telling you, though, Californians have no love for the steel guitar and the fiddle.* I recently attended a barbeque in honor of March Madness (in which no basketball was watched and the ribs were inedible (we'll discuss BBQ in another post)) and somehow, a country song found its way into the carefully constructed Lil' Wayne play list. You would have thought it was Nickelbach or Creed or some shite like that from the volume of screeching. The host quickly corrected his party foul and replaced said country song with another, more appropriate tune in which I'm sure Alvin and Co. were on backup.

I'm no square. I love a good bass-busting, pants-sagging, ho-bashing track every now and again. I know it's hard out here for a pimp. But I do question the psychological fortitude of a person who cannot muster the slightest appreciation for country's greatest hits. The angst! The loneliness! The longing! What's not to love? Give me Willie and Waylon and the boys any day.

*I recognize that not ALL Californians are country haters. Just the ones I know, of course.

(Photo shamelessly lifted from

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Put a Sock in it, Jess

Did anyone else see Jessica Simpson on Oprah last week? (See notes on interview here.) Jessica, while lovely (and apparently dynamite in the ole sackaroo), probably did well to abstain from commenting on the media scrutiny of her so-called "weight." The more she talked, the more I cringed. And you?

As The Big O so eloquently shared, Jessica has been a proverbial bulls-eye for the media ever since she let cameras in on her young marriage in "The Newlyweds." What a shocker. Now, it seems this Texas native can't even enjoy a corn dog without inviting the shuttering of camera lenses. I sympathize with her. No really, I do. It must be terrible when your ex-boyfriend announces to the world that your body is a wonderland. Just awful. And I think it's terrible what the media/culture does to women, picking them apart like pledges at a sorority initiation ceremony. No REALLY, I do. But Jessica certainly does not have a stable platform on which to stand for such a discussion.

I especially liked it when she lamented the fact that she's not as big as the media would have you believe. That she is in fact a size 4-6. She followed that up with, and this is NOT a direct quote, "They make it sound like I'm 240 pounds or something!"

Someone get the duct tape.

She says this to Oprah who the world knows weighed in at 237 pounds at her peak. It's as if to say women who manage to stay within the 4-6 range should not flog themselves nightly. But those of you in the 240+ range, let the flogging begin! I think she hoped her moments of verbal diarrhea would be endearing once she became a household name. I thought I would get past the point of shock and awe. But she still has some juice left in her tank. Anybody got a match?

(Photo shamelessly lifted from

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscars, Baby...

It's Oscar week. The Oscars give me a little thrill, I won't lie. And this year, there are a few changes, as in lots more movies up for Best Picture. I am torn beyond measure because I've seen quite a few movies this year thanks to The Kentuckian, who drags me to almost every new release. Kicking and screaming.

Of the Best Picture Noms, I haven't seen 'Up,' 'A Serious Man,' or 'Precious' (I know!!!). All I know is if Avatar wins, I'm gonna choke on a Junior Mint. It was wonderful, but it did not affect me the way 'An Education,' 'Up in the Air,' or 'The Hurt Locker' did. Same goes for 'The Blind Side.' After reading Christopher Kelly's article in February's Texas Monthly, 'Stop the Blitz,' I just didn't feel the same way about it.

What do you think? Who's going home with faceless gold dudes?

On 'New Project' Temptations

How sweet it is. A deliciously exciting new idea for a book. You're out for a jog. The dog poops directly on the sidewalk. You are grateful that you brought two baggies instead of one, for he pooped on the sidewalk once already. You pick up said poop, walk to trashcan, and then BAM! It drops out of the sky like bird poop on a windshield. (Lots of poo imagery, I know, I'm stopping, but this is how it happens sometimes.)

Characters, fully formed. A more-than-skeletal plot. Tension. Conflict. The whole enchilada. You run home, fire up lap top and begin writing outline. Then you have flashes of dialogue. Write that down. A scene. Write that down. You are flying high, a bounce in your step. Then the bounce is gone when you remember, "Oh yeah, I'm spoken for."

That other manuscript. The one you've been working on for so long and it's al-most-finished. It was love at first sight with that idea too. What's to be done?

Does this happen to you? Fellow aspiring writers? Even former aspiring writers (aka published)? I'm struggling with this at the moment. One, I feel I'm cheating on my other idea. Two, it makes me wonder if my old idea isn't as great as I think it is and that's why I'm being tempted away. How does one battle the allure??

Here's my plan: 1st draft for manuscript one is almost finished. (Literally. But a few straggling scenes left to go.) Exercise discipline (?) to finish 1st draft. Then, while manuscript one cooks, begin working on idea two. Sound good?

I know I'm not the only story-oriented person this has happened to. How do you rationalize it? How do you to go forth and FINISH SOMETHING when such slithery temptations are on the horizon?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

To Kindle or not to Kindle

There's been quite a bit of chatter on the blogosphere in recent months about ebooks. Whether or not they will bring the book business to its knees. Whether they are a sign the end is coming. Yada yada. I have to say I was in the "you will have to rip my paper books from my kung-fu grip" camp there for a while. But I think I've made the dreaded cross-over. I know! THE HORROR!

It all came about when I wanted a book I couldn't get from the library. And, as it were, didn't want to pay for shipping from Amazon. It was a new-ish book (a book I CANNOT stop talking/thinking about, JUST READ IT, mmmkay?) and there weren't many reviews, so I figured it would be a good test book for the ole' Kindle for PC app. I'm tellin' ya, in about three minutes, I had the book.

And that was all it took. I now have seven books in my Kindle library and I've read four of them. Of those seven, only two of them were $9.99 (the hotly debated price for ebooks). The rest only cost 50% of that. I've done more reading in the last week since downloading this God forsaken app than I have in the last month.

Warning: the reason being because it's so easy to just click on over from whatever I should be doing on my computer to read "JUST A CHAPTER! I SWEARS!" Before you know it, you're half way done with the book, you're in danger of being entombed with laundry, and Adult Protective Services is carting away your spouse.

I have yet to purchase the actual Kindle. I'm still on the fence about that. Reviews seem mixed and the current price tag leaves a bit to be desired. But I'm leaning at about a 45-degree angle in that direction. What are your thoughts on the ebook phenomenon? Are you getting on board or ready to hold out till the end?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Commonplace Blog

When I'm in the mood for a little light reading, I head on over to the blogosphere and soak up a little humor from a few of my favorite blogs: Janet Reid, Query Shark, The Rejectionist, and when feeling sentimental, the dearly departed Miss Snark. However, bloggage is not just for the masses, I'm learning, as I occasionally wander over to this little gem, Dr. D.G. Myers of our own Texas A & M University.

Okay, so I've yet to snicker while reading Dr. Myers posts. How he manages to muster enough breath for such musings on said 'sphere is beyond me. But I must say, he offers quite a bit more than the traditional "Omigod i LOVE thiss book!" approach to online book review. No, there is no mention of Twilight. In fact, I feel a tad iffy about mentioning it in the same paragraph, nay, POST, as his blog.

He does, however, compile a very interesting list of great Texas novels, all of which I intend to add to my to-read list, especially Whitewater, about a man who escapes his small Texas town only to find his thoughts remain on the home front. A sentiment this "expat" understands well. He will also defend Lolita's position as the greatest novel in history until he's blue in the face. I keep going back hoping to be convinced. If only it were the subject matter barring me beyond page 50, IF ONLY! Maybe I could save face.

You'll also find a cool-ish review of Woodsburner, a novel about the little known forest fire started by a not so little known transcendentalist named Henry David Thoreau. The author, John Pipkin, happens to be an Austinite who's better half teaches Victorian lit at my alma mater.
In the mean time, check it out. Chuckling: unlikely. Very serious, high-brow literary criticism: guaranteed.

A National, er, State Holiday

That's right, folks. Today is the anniversary of Texas's declaration of independence from Mexico in 1836. Settlers in Texas drafted up this tricksy little document here and thereby said, "Hmph, we gonna take our toys and go home." I'm kinda glad they did, since it makes Texas one of THE most history-makin'-est states in the union.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I will be listening to Little Texas's 'God Blessed Texas' every hour, on the hour, until I just can't stands it no more. Not really. I'll listen to it a few times and two-step alone in my kitchen before I must get back to the grindstone (since we don't celebrate Texas holidays out here on the West Coast. Darn shame, I'll say).