Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January Update!

Happy 2013 everyone! I've been working non-stop all month on not one but two new projects, and I can't wait to tell you more about them as the year goes on. After spending 2012 writing three scary YA novels, I decided to step back this year and write some more personal, intimate contemporary YA novels. One of the books will be done around June, and one won't be done until next January, but both I'm super excited about!

In other news, my book The Vampire Underground has gone FREE permanently on Amazon, so be sure to download a copy and check out the first in my Grisly High series. In addition, I've put up new ebook covers for all three Grisly High books. Check them out below!

I'll be done with the first draft of my new novel at the end of February, and I'll be able to tell you more about the project then! Enjoy the Superbowl, have fun at the Oscars, and I'll be back in a month!

Monday, January 28, 2013

What I'm Reading (11)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

This was my friend's favorite book last year, and it won pretty much every award known to man. I bought it at Powell's Books in Portland a few months ago and decided this was the week to finally check it out!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top Ten Films of 2012!

What a year for films it was! I saw about 70 movies in 2012 and had a good or great time at nearly two thirds of them, and while there wasn’t a film this year like Drive or Shame that truly blew my mind, I had at least 15 films trying to squeeze their way into my list. There are still a few potential additions I haven’t seen—Amour, Rust & Bone, The Deep Blue Sea—but I got around to most everything, including a handful of solid animated films (Brave, Frankenweenie) and documentaries (The Queen of Versailles, Jiro Dreams of Sushi), which all barely failed to make the cut. There are some major awards contenders that you won’t find here, but that yes, I did see, like Lincoln and Les Miserables, as well as two films I found to be crazy overrated—Beasts of the Southern Wild and Cabin in the Woods. But you'll also find here unlikely choices that you may not have seen, like the horror films Sinister and The Woman in Black, and the two Sundance stand-outs Liberal Arts and Safety Not Guaranteed. I had a great time at the movies in 2012, and I hope 2013 will be even better.

And now, without further ado, my top ten films of 2012!


1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

2012 was filled with outstanding summer blockbusters and acclaimed historical dramas and big, sweeping epics, but the best movie of the year was a small, intimate coming-of-age drama about teenagers. Based on the beloved young adult novel (which also made my Top Ten Books list!), The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a near-perfect film, with three of the best, most tender performances of the year by Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, and especially Logan Lerman, who is heartbreakingly good. Not very many novelists have written the screenplays and directed the film based on their book, and Stephen Chbosky captures the heart and soul of his novel beautifully. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is reminiscent of the best John Hughes films from the mid-80’s; it captures the highs and lows of being a teenager so well.


2. Silver Linings Playbook

The most entertaining film of 2012 also has two of the best performances of the year. Silver Linings Playbook is a gem, the rare film that blends together a variety of genres and storylines but never feels overstuffed. It’s also a great film that can be recommended to just about anyone—your little brother, your teacher, your film snob buddy, your grandmother. David O. Russell has made strong films before, but this one he truly hit out of the park, and the cast is uniformly excellent, with Bradley Cooper delivering a true breakthrough performance, and Jennifer Lawrence continuing to confirm that she’s the best actress of her generation. This is an amazing film, that’s also just a ton of fun. Don’t miss it.


3. Skyfall

The best James Bond movie since GoldfingerSkyfall is the Dark Knight of the long-running 007 series. After Casino Royale proved that Bond was still relevant in the twenty-first century, American Beauty director Sam Mendes took the legacy to a whole new level with Skyfall, a stunning, action-packed, emotionally compelling Bond movie like no other. Starting with one of the best pre-title action sequences of the series, the film shifts over to complex character relationship and a new, flawed Bond, who has to re-discover his place in the modern spy world. The Oscar-nominated cinematography by Roger Deakins is gorgeous, and the score and title song are fantastic. Craig is at his very best, and Judi Dench and Javier Bardem give two of the most memorable 007 performances in the series, with Dench especially poignant given her seventeen-year history with the series. But the biggest joy of Skyfall is watching the creators take the Bond films into the next 50 years, while at the same time pay tribute to the last 50. I loved this movie, and can’t wait to see it again.


4. Life of Pi

I cried really, really hard in two movies this year, and the first was Ang Lee’s sumptuous, awe-inspiring achievement, Life of Pi. Never before has 3D looks so lovely on the big screen, and never before has a CGI animal—in this case, a tiger—been so believable. I enjoyed the novel right before seeing the movie, but the film is an even more enriching experience. The first hour is a solid introduction to Pi Patel’s life, but it’s the material on the boat, with Pi left to fend for himself with a tiger on board, that makes for the most compelling material in any movie of 2012. For years Life of Pi was said to be unfilmable, but who could have ever doubted Ang Lee? The guy hops genres more than any other director, and he succeeds with beautiful work every single time. But Life of Pi may be his finest film of all. This is a stunning achievement.

impossible-poster (L)

5. The Impossible

The other movie I cried really hard in is The Impossible, the kind of visceral experience that I imagine hushes every single crowd it plays to. The intensity to the first hour is so great that I imagine I’m not alone in the crying. Thank God the filmmakers had access to the finest of special effects to give the early scenes realism, because in the hands of lesser filmmakers, this could’ve looked stupid and been laughable, despite the honest performances. But everything looks so real you come to feel like you’re experiencing the horror right along with the main characters. Naomi Watts is getting all the awards attention for her heartbreaking turn as the mother, easily her best performance since 21 Grams, but the true star of The Impossible is the young Tom Holland, who gives not just one of the best child performances of the year, but one of the best performances of the year, period.


6. Argo

Like Silver Linings PlaybookArgo is another great Oscar-nominated film that was also just super fun. Ben Affleck did a fantastic job with The Town in 2010, but Argo is even better, a movie that mixes some of the funniest scenes in any movie this year with the most suspenseful final forty minutes, too. The film is compelling from the first scene on, and Affleck doesn’t hurt himself by compiling one of the best ensemble casts of the year, including Bryan Cranston, John Goodman (who had an amazing year with this and Flight), and the Oscar-nominated Alan Arkin, who gives an effortless performance. Affleck had a rough time as an actor for a few years there, but now he’s one of the coolest directors on the planet, and I can’t wait to see what project he tackles next.


7. Zero Dark Thirty

It’s hard to believe that Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Director three years ago, and wasn’t even nominated for directing Zero Dark Thirty, a film that I believe is even better and more relevant and better constructed than that 2009 film. This is an outstanding achievement that is mostly talk for two hours, but feels in every way like an action movie, with those pulse-pounding final minutes at Osama Bin Laden’s compound. But the movie lives or dies by Jessica Chastain’s performance, and she is extraordinary here, giving an unemotional performance of a woman on a ten-year mission, who in the final scene gives the kind of catharsis for an audience that wins Academy Awards. What a striking performance in a superb, must-see film.

Prometheus Offical Poster. TM&Copyright 2012.  20th Century Fox, Brandywine Productions, Dune Entertainment, Scott Free Productions.

8. Prometheus

What seems from everything I read to be the most maligned movie of last summer… was my favorite film of the summer. I loved this more than The Avengers, more than The Dark Knight RisesPrometheus is a gorgeous game-changer of a science fiction film that also weaved plenty of horror into the proceedings. Alien is one of my favorite movies of the 1970’s, and I found Prometheus to be a fantastic return to form for that film’s director Ridley Scott. The film’s cast, namely Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, give terrific performances, and the cinematography, particularly in 3D on the big-screen, is nothing short of astonishing. For me, Prometheus had one memorable sequence after another, with a final scene that took my breath away.


9. Sinister

Horror has long been my favorite genre (and mostly reviled by every major film critic), so every year I find one to make my top ten list. Recent additions to my lists include Insidious, Orphan, The Descent, and Let Me In, and this year my favorite genre film was Sinister, easily one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. In fact I’m almost weary of watching this movie a second time, it scared me that much. But not only did the film do its job by scaring the shit out of me, it also has a compelling story, about a true crime writer who moves into the house of a previous crime to pen a new book, only to find he’s going to become a story of true crime himself. Ethan Hawke is great in this film, and he gives the movie an intense believability. I love horror, and I loved Sinister. A bulls-eye!


10. The Master

No movie of 2012 have I thought about more than Paul Thomas Anderson’s flawed but brilliant film The Master, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Since the beginning, Anderson has been one of the most interesting filmmakers around—his Boogie Nights and Magnolia are two of my favorite films of all time—and The Master, while divisive to be sure, is another gem in the Anderson canon. At the heart of The Master are three of the year’s best performances, by Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and especially Joaquin Phoenix, who literally becomes his character rather than simply playing him. The score by Jonny Greenwood is awesome, and the 70mm photography by Mihai Malaimare is this year’s most head-scratching Oscar omission. The Master isn’t perfect, and it’s not Anderson’s best work. But it’s a film that engaged me from beginning to end, with scenes of raw, unnerving power, and I can't wait to see it a second time. The Master is one of the best films of 2012!

#11-20 (in Alphabetical Order)
The Avengers
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
Liberal Arts
Moonrise Kingdom
Premium Rush
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Woman in Black

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Ozma of Oz

I'm going to make a really weird analogy with Ozma of Oz, the third in L. Frank Baum's beloved Oz series from the early twentieth century: Ozma of Oz is to The Wizard of Oz as A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is to A Nightmare on Elm Street. The original is the supreme classic, one that can never be topped. The first sequel lost its way a little bit, mainly because the heroine was nowhere to be found. And the third brings the series back to its roots, offering a non-perfect but superbly fun adventure that brings back everything we loved about the original but offers up a few new tricks. I'm sure no one ever thought Wes Craven and L. Frank Baum would ever be mentioned in the same sentence... but they have now!

Ozma of Oz is a total blast, and what feels like the first "true" sequel to the original. True, because Dorothy, whose presence was missed in The Land of Oz, is back in the forefront, meeting up with her old pals The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, as well as some new faces, like Tik-Tok and Billina. I wasn't sure what to expect from the plot of Book 3, but it's a rousing adventure, in which Dorothy and her clan of misfits have to stop an evil king from turning all of his prisoners into ornaments. This mostly heinous and deadly serious Nome King is a solid Oz villain, one who offers more fear and dread than the Wicked Witch of the West ever did in the first book. And Ozma herself, who gives the book its title but works alongside Dorothy as an equal, makes for a fantastic addition to the text. Tik-Tok is also a lot of fun, too, and Billina, this witty, talking hen, provides the comic relief.

The Land of Oz was fun but something was definitely missing, and that thing was Dorothy. Baum says in his foreword that thousands of kids wrote to him to pen another Oz book, but to please, please, please bring Dorothy back. So Baum gave the kids what they wanted, and he gave us all of us another gem in his canon. Sure, it's a little difficult to get past all those adverbs—Baum loves them even more than J.K. Rowling does—but that's part of the fun of reading an older book like this. I have a feeling the later Oz books might get a little tiresome, but this third entry in the series was just as much fun as the first book. It's not a story that necessarily made a better transition to the big screen (the maligned 1985 sequel Return to Oz is mostly based on this book), but it's not a lesser sequel in any respect. I'm really loving this fantasy series and can't wait to read the next one, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz!

Monday, January 14, 2013

What I'm Reading (10)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

Ozma of Oz continues my fourteen-month challenge to read all of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz novels, in order. I remember reading the first three books as a kid but don't really remember the rest, so I'm most excited to start the fourth book in February, the first one I truly know nothing about. As it stands, though, I'm thoroughly enjoying Ozma of Oz. Lots of nostalgia!

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Top Ten Reads of 2012!

I used to read a lot as a kid, but by high school I typically found myself reading no more than five books a year for pleasure, and by college, even less. It wasn’t necessarily that I lost interest, but more that I just didn’t give myself time during my busy days to kick back with a good book.

That all changed in 2012. In 2011 I started writing young adult fiction, but I wasn’t reading much of it, and therefore I was ecstatic to start a YA book blog last June to start forcing myself to read as many books as possible. Now, at the start of 2013, I’m that voracious ten-year-old reader again, gobbling up everything in sight. I enjoyed a mix of YA, middle grade, and adult literary fiction in 2012, and had trouble narrowing it down to ten favorites.

Two notes about the list below.  Unlike my upcoming Top Ten Films list, which is strictly films released in 2012, my Top Ten Books List is of books I read in 2012, not necessarily books that were released that year. Also, I’ve elected not to include books I read in 2012 that I read before. For example, I re-read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but it wouldn’t seem fair to include those on the list. How could I compare something like The Wizard of Oz with The Fault in Our Stars, anyway?

Now, without further ado, here are my ten favorite books of 2012…


1. Looking for Alaska
I discovered two new favorite authors in 2012, and the most influential to me was John Green. A fellow writing friend told me about his work back in January, and I decided to start with his debut novel. I had no idea it would end up being not only my favorite novel of the year, but one of my favorite books ever. This book is amazing. It made me laugh, cry, cheer. The big twist of the second half was totally unexpected, and made for a truly rich reading experience. It has everything you could possibly want in a novel, YA or otherwise. One of the best debut novels I’ve ever read.


2. Boy Meets Boy
I wish I could’ve found this book when it came out in 2003, when I was living in Los Angeles, in the closet, scared and alone. This would’ve been the greatest gift back then, but at least I finally found it in 2012. All I knew when I started reading it was that it was a love story between two teenage boys, but it’s so much more than that. You know what really stood out about this story? It’s not depressing, it’s not cynical, it’s not tragic. Boy Meets Boy was the first truly uplifting gay love story I’d ever read, and it changed the way I looked at what a young adult novel can be and do. Like Looking for Alaska, this book should be shared with every teenager on this planet.


3. The Fault in Our Stars
So the next author I fell in love with in 2012 was… oh… wait, it’s John Green again. Everyone’s favorite YA novel of 2012 was certainly one of mine as well, a book I devoured in just two days last July. One of the successes of this novel is that it could have been so maudlin, so sentimental, a downer of a book that tries too hard. But Green can even find the humor in cancer, and he gives his two main characters the kind of voices all we writers hope to find in our work. The journey the characters take is a memorable one, and the ending left me breathless. A masterpiece worth all the acclaim it’s been given.


4. Every Day
Seeing a pattern yet? Yes, I know I’m being predictable but now, but Green and Levithan wrote my four favorite books of the year. The top two books were these authors’ debut novels, and the next two books were the authors’ newest novels, so I’m happy to report none of their talent and skill has diminished! Shaunta had an issue with a chapter toward the end, and while I agree with her on this one overlooked issue, I still found  Every Day to be a glorious, imaginative book, with the most intriguing premise of anything I read all year. I just read Six Earlier Days, a short prequel companion to this, and loved it, too. Green and Levithan are the best, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll do next.

perks of being a wallflower

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
So I’m cheating here a little bit because I did read this book once back in college, on a recommendation from a friend. I didn’t remember it very well though, so when I read it again last August I was surprised to find how much more of an impact it had on me on the second read. How did the book not mean anything to me back nearly a decade ago? What a treat this was, spending time with these characters, following their joys and their pains, and then getting to see the film, which is a beautiful companion to the book. I guess I needed to be more well-read, or more willing to get in touch with my emotional side, but this second read of The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of the great joys of the year.


6. 11/22/63
My last read of 2012 was easily one of the best and most engrossing, Stephen King’s newest behemoth of a doorstopper. One of my favorite reads in 2010 was his 1000-plus page Under the Dome, and going into 11/22/63 a couple weeks ago, I sincerely hoped I was in for a good time. When a book is 849 pages, it has to be great to keep you going, and never did this one fail to keep me completely absorbed. Time travel novels can go so wrong in so many ways, but King keeps this imaginative book stayed away from too much of the fantasy aspect and instead centered on a moving, realistic relationship between two complex teachers, to great effect. I blocked out two weeks to read this one, but it only took me half that time. I loved this book. Stephen King is still, after all these years, my writing hero!


7. Where Things Come Back
The other great young adult discovery in 2012 was this unusually effective debut novel by John Corey Whaley, which won the Michael L. Printz award for 2011. This one reminded me of a modern day To Kill a Mockingbird, with its setting and tone and small town of memorable characters. Even better, Whaley takes your expectations and flips them upside down, giving you a final act of harrowing suspense that constantly keeps you on edge. A former English teacher, Whaley is now focusing solely on his fiction, and great for all of us: this young author is a huge talent worth getting excited about.


8. You Came Back
Christopher Coake’s beautifully written, compulsively readable literary novel You Came Back is another terrific debut novel I read in 2012. The central idea is a great one: what if you had a son who tragically died, who returned as a ghost and who is now haunting a family living in the house he died in? At the heart of You Came Back is the complex relationships between the protagonist Mark Fife and the two women in his life, as well as Mark’s attempt to come to terms with his son’s potential reappearance. But while the book is more literary than all out horror, there are plenty of creepy moments that got under my skin. With this book, and his dark, fantastic short story collection We’re In Trouble, Coake has proven himself to be an author to keep an eye on.


9. The Borrower
I read this marvelous book earlier in 2012, and it hasn’t left my mind since. For a creative writing class I read a short story by Rebecca Makkai, the only gay-themed one in the Best American Short Stories 2011 collection, and decided to check out her debut novel (yep, another debut!). It’s a book about books, and about libraries, and about people who love books and libraries. So obviously this was up my alley. The Borrower is a lighter read than some of these others, and it’s super fun. The relationship between the librarian and the little boy who loves to read will make you grin throughout the three hundred pages. I can’t wait to read more from this author.


10. The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
Chris Colfer continues to amaze me. Ever since his Single Ladies rendition on Glee back in 2009, I’ve been following this handsome guy with great interest. Who would’ve thought back then he would’ve released both a novel and a movie in 2012? The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is the only middle grade book on my list, but it’s no slim read by any means; at 400-plus pages, there’s a whole lot of imagination at work here. I’ve always loved the Grimms Fairy Tales, and all those classic animated Disney movies based on them, so I found a lot to love in this superbly entertaining debut novel. Colfer writes with a lot of heart and wit and brings his fantastical world to life in a way only he could. This book is a blast. I love Chris Colfer, and I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

When a movie has this much hype, I'm sometimes wary walking into the theatre. I haven't loved all of David O. Russell's movies, and I'd yet to be impressed by Bradley Cooper. Still, I had a pretty good feeling I was going to enjoy this strange blend of romantic comedy, family drama, and dance competition. I had, however, no expectations for how much I was going to love, love, LOVE this movie. Silver Linings Playbook is incredible, the kind that I can recommend to just about every age group. No matter what kind of movies you may like, there's something in this one for everybody. It's the kind of carefully constructed movie that does it all: makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you cheer. Every scene cackles with energy. Every performance raises the bar. And it's also enormously entertaining. There have been divisive feelings toward almost all of the big year-end Oscar contenders of 2012, but I don't see how anyone couldn't fall under the spell of Silver Linings Playbook. It's that good.

Writer/director David O. Russell has had an eclectic career, mostly of films that split audiences down the line. Three Kings was a head-scratcher, and I Heart Huckabees has both its fans (not me) and very-much-non-fans (me!). He disappeared for awhile then re-appeared on the scene in 2010 with The Fighter, a great crowd-pleasing movie, and Silver Linings Playbook is even better. It works on your emotions from the first scene on, as it introduces us to Pat (Bradley Cooper), a former high school teacher with mental health issues, in and out of institutions, whose mom brings him back home with the hope he can finally get back on his feet. The dynamics between Pat and his parents (Robert De Niro and Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver) gets the film steamrolling forward in the first half-hour, and if the movie had JUST been about this, it still would've been good. 

But then Jennifer Lawrence shows up, and all bets are off. She's an unpredictable, abrasive, also mentally unstable young woman whose husband has just been killed in a car accident, and she takes to Pat right away. While some elements of their relationship may stick to formula, the characters are so interesting, and their chemistry is so palpable, that you won't mind. Despite their instabilities, you root for them all the way through to the end, especially when it comes to a dance competition at the end that should feel like something out of a dumber, lesser movie yet somehow works, and works great!

The performances in Silver Linings Playbook are all stand-outs, in a year chockfull of great performances. Bradley Cooper did a swell job in 2011's Limitless, but this is his breakthrough. He's manic and sad, and even hard to like in the beginning, but his character grows on you, and the transition he makes throughout the film is subtle and believable. Robert De Niro has been working steadily for decades, but ever since his comedic turn in Analyze This in 1999, his juicy roles have been few and far between. His ridiculous turn in New Year's Eve was for me the final cough in what used to be a great career, so I'm thrilled to say how great he is in Silver Linings Playbook. As a father of a mentally unstable son, one who he wants to spend time with despite their many years of differences, De Niro hits just the right note. Jacki Weaver is a delight as the caring mom, Dash Mihok is memorable as an atypically sympathetic police officer, Anupam Kher gets many of the funniest lines as Pat's doctor, and Chris Tucker, who appears in fewer movies than those who have long since been deceased, is a welcome addition to the ensemble cast. 

But the powerhouse is Jennifer Lawrence. The film works great, but it reaches another level with the addition of her character, and her electric performance. Having broken into the mainstream with The Hunger Games, and now with Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence (who was rightly nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Winter's Bone), is quickly becoming her generation's Meryl Streep. Silver Linings Playbook is a delight from start to finish, the kind of movie that as soon as you leave the theatre, you want to grab a bunch of your friends and family and drag them back into the theatre for a second showing. I absolutely loved it. It's one of my favorite films of 2012!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What I'm Reading (9)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

About a year ago I poured through The Best American Short Stories 2011 collection, and my favorite story was "Phantoms," by Steven Millhauser. I loved it so much I taught it in an Advanced Creative Writing class last November, and after that I set out to read more of this author's work. I found a copy of his debut novel Edwin Mullhouse at the local library so I thought I'd start with that one. What a premise!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I didn't initially intend to review this. I didn't initially intend to watch the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory again, and all the DVD's bonus features. No, originally, I passed by the loaded, awesome books on film section at my local library and found a copy of Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, by the film's director Mel Stuart, and Josh Young. Stuart passed away in August at the age of 83, and what a legacy he has left, with what I still today consider the best children's film of all time (even though, really, it's a movie as much for adults as it is for kids), By the end of perusing this incredibly detailed and fascinating account of the 1971 film, I felt like I had been transported not just to the movie's set, but like I had traveled to the magical chocolate factory rooms themselves. The large hardcover book is filled with interesting anecdotes and gorgeous full-color pictures.

Here are some of the interesting tidbits I picked up in the book (most of which is also on the 30-minute documentary on the DVD):
  • The director Mel Stuart's daughter came to him one night and told him she read and loved a new children's book - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - and told him he should make a movie based on it. Boy, if every film adaptation was that easy!
  • No film studio funded the film. Quaker Oats did! They made the movie to promote a new chocolate bar.
  • Joel Gray, from Cabaret, was the initial choice to play Willy Wonka. He would have been great, but nobody could have been better than Gene Wilder!
  • Stuart knew Gene Wilder was the perfect choice for Willy Wonka, before the actor even opened his mouth at the audition!
  • Peter Ostrum, who plays Charlie, went on to become veterinarian. He never acted in another movie again.
  • Stuart originally didn't want songs in the movie, but later, thankfully, changed his mind.
  • The script ended with Grandpa Joe yelling "Yippee!" Stuart did not want his movie to end on such a trivial note, so he halted production and waited for the uncredited screenwriter David Seltzer to come up with a better ending line. He did so right there, on the spot. And it's a great one!
  • After filming ended, the negative of the whole movie was flown from Europe to the US. If the plane had crashed and not made its destination for whatever reason, the whole movie would've been destroyed!
  • The movie flopped in its initial release, only making 4 million in its entire run, but of course has gone to be one of the most cherished family films of all time.
Back when I was in high school and a total nerd (well, let's face it, I still am), I made a list of my top ten films of all time. The list included (and still does) American Beauty, Mulholland Drive, Defending Your Life, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. And down the list, at number seven, was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It simply is one of the great movies ever, an enchanting story, a perfect cast, memorable songs, magical production design. When I closed the Making-Of book, I knew I had to watch the movie again (it had been a few years), and I was once again transported back to Wonka's chocolate factory. I still love the movie now, at age 28, just as much as I did when I was a kid. And I can't wait to show it to my kids some day.

I still had the chocolate factory on my mind yesterday, when I checked into my favorite bookstore in Reno - Grassroots Books -- and found, astonishingly, a 1st edition hardback copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in the kids section, for 49 cents. You read that right. 49 cents. I snatched it up and headed home. I hadn't read the book since probably the fourth or fifth grade. Having just read the Making-Of book, and watched the movie for the umpteenth time, I wanted to read the book again.

And let me tell you, while Roald Dahl has created some of the most wonderful books for children of all time - my favorites remain The Witches, Matilda, and The Twits - his masterpiece is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's just such a unique, timeless concept, told in the perfect voice, at just the right length, with just the right amount of perversity. I gobbled up the 162-page book in one sitting and fell right back in love with it. Roald Dahl was a childhood hero of mine, along with the great R.L. Stine, and now that I'm writing my own fiction (much of which is certainly perverse!), I have to give my thanks to the great Dahl for all that he inspires me, still to this day.

It was also fun to read the book, so soon after watching the movie, to catch all the differences between the two. I was surprised to see how faithful the movie is to the book, but there were still some noticeable changes. Here are elements of the book that were left out or altered the film:
  • Charlie has a dad! There's a Mr. Bucket!
  • The golden tickets are found really fast, like just in a few days.
  • There's mention of a man named Slugworth, but his scary appearance, and intent on finding the secret formula to Everlasting Gobstoppers, was a subplot created for the film.
  • There isn't a 5th ticket hoax.
  • Each child with a golden ticket is allowed to bring two parents, not just one, so the other four all bring their moms and dads. Charlie still brings Uncle Joe.
  • Willy Wonka is described as a short man with a high-pitched voice.
  • The Oompa Loompas are described differently, and they sing much longer, more in depth songs after the four other kids' exits from the story.
  • Veruca Salt meets her end not in a room of golden geese, but nut-making squirrels.
  • You learn what some of the other candy rooms are. I personally would check out the INVISIBLE CHOCOLATE BARS FOR EATING IN CLASS room.
  • We see the other four kids leave in safety in the second-to-last scene. All are alive and well, and all are given their promised lifetime supply of chocolate bars! So in a way, the film is more cruel to these characters than the book ever was.
  • Wonka picks up Charlie's whole family, blowing their house's roof clean off, and whisks them back up into the sky in his Wonka-vater! 
It was a treat to go back and peruse this fantastic, timeless story, through the Making-of-the-Movie book, the classic 1971 film, and the original, first edition novel by Roald Dahl. I never was a huge fan of his follow-up novel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and I was even less a fan of the wonky, in every way, 2005 adaptation, Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. No, for me, it's all about the originals: the original book, and the original book. These are what dreams are made of.

I've suddenly got a hankering for chocolate. Anyone have a Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What I'm Reading (8)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

Happy New Year, everybody! I have a lot to look forward to this year, and one of the many things is all the books I get to read. During 2012 I collected more than ONE HUNDRED books for my shelf, and in 2013 I'm bound and determined to read as many of them as I can. So how did I decide which one to start with??

The Miseducation of Cameron Post sounds like a beautiful story, and as a gay YA writer myself, I'm excited to see what Ms. Danforth does with her debut novel. The book was just nominated for the William C. Morris award, which I hope will bring more attention to this novel. I'm going to start reading it tonight. I can't wait!