Women Who Write

Audubon Park Labyrinth, New Orleans

Audubon Park Labyrinth, New Orleans

 

During the month of April, Poetry Month, I’ll be featuring four women poets from Louisiana. They will tell us their writing process, what they read, who they admire, what their favorite words are and many, many other things. They will share a poem with us. They will be beautiful examples of why you should date/love/marry/admire/emulate women who write.

It’s going to be great.

“You should date a girl who reads.
Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”
Rosemarie Urquico

 

 

Confessions of a Book List Hoarder

Stitched Panorama

 

I’ve become a book list hoarder.

I love books. I love reading good books. But I don’t have the time (or patience) to read like I did when I was, say, 16 or 23 or even 35. Somehow, over the years, my life became more complicated. This surprises me because I thought by the time I reached this age (dare I say it: 50ish) everything would have slowed down. Life would have slowed down, I would have slowed down. Then, I thought, I would have time to read all the classics that everyone else has read. Those books I never read as a young adult because I just didn’t like reading stuffy old language about crap that happened so long ago I just couldn’t identify with it. Well. Guess what? I didn’t slow down and I still don’t like the old stuff. In fact, I’ve become even more discriminating about the books I read than I ever was before and I’ve made peace with the fact that I like contemporary literature. I just don’t like archaic language, I don’t want to work that hard. I want to be entertained when I read and I don’t want to have to reread entire pages to get what it’s all about. I don’t like Shakespeare, either. I’ve never read a single thing he wrote (ok, maybe in high school but I really don’t remember) all the way through and that’s ok with me.

I used to finish a book no matter what, back when I had plenty of free time. Now, if a story doesn’t capture my attention by about chapter 3, I’m out. No regrets, no second chance.

However, I’m always looking for a good recommendations, which are plentiful on the internet, I save them on my Pocket account or my Goodreads account and I’ve recently realized, after saving this list, that I’m a book list hoarder. Probably  my favorite place for finding book lists is Flavorwire. They have compiled booklists by any subject you can possibly imagine under the sun. Here’s a few examples:

50 Sexy Books to Get You in the Mood (for Valentine’s Day)

Made for Each Other: Literature’s 25 Most Memorable Love Affairs

10 Wonderful Russian Novels You Probably Haven’t Read

10 Recent Nonfiction Books to Read for Black History Month

12 Curious Vintage Sex Books  !!!

50 Books by Women Authors to Read for #ReadWomen2014 !!!

25 YA Novels Everyone — Even Adults — Should Read

50 Essential Mystery Novels That Everyone Should Read

Snow Reads Are the New Beach Reads: 26 Books to Get You Through Winter

10 Must-Read Books for January

8 of the Best Genre-Busting Books About Writers and Writing !!!

Flavorwire’s 15 Most Anticipated Books of 2014

Flavorwire Staffers’ Favorite Books of 2013

10 of 2013′s Best Books of Poetry !!!

Flavorwire’s 15 Favorite Novels of 2013

Just reading the titles of these lists makes me salivate. Oh, the possibilities! The stories! The characters! The entangling situations yet to be discovered! It’s all so tantalizing. With so many books to choose from there’s absolutely no reason to slog through a bad one. (In the making of this list of lists I actually saved four more to Pocket = !!!) It all makes me tingle to the point that I wonder….am I addicted to book lists and not really books? Is it all just an obsession for anticipation’s sake? Nah. It’s knowing that all these books are out there whenever I get a yen to read. I never, ever have to worry about looking for a good book to read when I have my cache of lists just waiting to be perused and one more lucky book waiting to be chosen.

Originally published on Zouxzoux.

Books, TV, Movies: Charlotte’s Lists of Top Fives For 2013

Everybody’s doing the obligatory year-end lists so I thought I’d jump on the band wagon with my top five faves for movies, TV and books. I decided to limit myself to five so I wouldn’t spend too much time on the laptop. lol. Everything is listed from 5 to 1, 1 being the favorite.

First of all: movies. I love Independent film and I rarely run out to see a movie when it first comes out in theatres. In fact, I prefer watching on TV in the comfort of my home.  Just released blockbusters? Forget it. The movies I’ve selected are ones I watched this year but none of them were released this year. All of them I discovered on my own through chance and thoroughly enjoyed. Predictably, all but one are dramas as that’s my preferred genre.

TV: Three of my five favorite shows were on Sundance Channel with two being Sundance Original Series. I love Sundance. It was a little hard narrowing my favorite TV down to five since I am a true child of the TV generation. As with movies, I prefer the quirky, original and creative in my TV viewing. See what you think.

Books: I don’t rush out and read the just-released bestsellers, as a rule. However, four of my five were released this year and I’m pretty sure a couple of them are on the Bestsellers list. (Not sure as I don’t consult any of them.) After reading this article and this article, I’ve decided 2014 will be a year of reading only women writers. It’s long overdue and I urge you all to do the same in support of women’s writing.

Movies

Bonus Pic: ( because I realized after publishing that I have 6 movies listed)
You Can Count on Me – Starring Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, 2000
A young mother’s drifter brother shows up back in their hometown after years away and out of touch. The dynamics between the siblings (Linney and Ruffalo), who are complete opposites, makes for a very interesting movie. Not a lot of action here, but a thoughtful unfolding of how differences in perception can create misunderstanding and resentment in relationships. Laura Linney is a nuanced actor and one of my favorites – I’ll watch anything she’s in. Ruffalo plays his well-honed bad beautiful boy that you want to kiss and slap at the same time. Watch this movie if you don’t require car chases and exploding things.

5. The Savages – Starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Directed by Tamara Jenkins, 2007
Linney and Hoffman portray two siblings who are juggling caring for their sick father with their own busy lives. Their emotional journey as they watch the deterioration of their father and the subsequent decisions they must make for his care is one many of us in our 40′s and 50′s are familiar with. This movie really touched me in a big way as I’ve recently dealt with this issue myself. Sometimes it’s helpful to see your own struggles played out on screen so you realize it happens to other people too. Linney and Hoffman give skillful, poignant performances and I wouldn’t expect anything less from them.

4. The Darjeeling Limited – Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, Directed by Wes Anderson, 2007
Hilarious. These are three brothers who travel to India to find themselves and bond after their father’s death. The predicaments they get into will make you giggle, or at least smile. I thoroughly enjoyed this offbeat comedy that also has a few tender moments.

4608-The-Deep-End--2001-

3. The Deep End – Starring Tilda Swinton and Goran Visnjic, Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 2001
A mother struggles to keep her son from being implicated in a murder. Both Tilda Swinton and Goran Visnjic are great in this movie, their casting was perfect. Tilda gives a convincing, heart-wrenching performance of a mother stoically trying to keep her shit together while slowly unraveling as she tries to keep life normal while dealing with blackmailers (Visnjic) threatening to expose her son as a murderer. This movie held my attention from start to finish with a strong story and compelling acting. Highly recommend.

2. Brothers – Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Toby McGuire, Directed by Jim Sheridan, 2009
Just before a young Marine (McGuire) is deployed (again) to Afghanistan, his younger black sheep brother (Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. The story revolves around what happens in Afghanistan and what happens back home. I have to say I was impressed most by McGuire’s performance as he was not an actor I cared much for until this movie. His acting here was pretty incredible in my eyes. Gyllenhaal and Portman (as McGuire’s wife) give solid performances too but McGuire is clearly the star here. This is a tense yet, in some ways, tender movie. Some of it is hard to watch but definitely worth the effort. Highly recommend.

1. Snow Cake – Starring Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and Carrie-Ann Moss, Directed by Marc Evans, 2006
OK, movies like this are why I love Independent Film. This is a wacky, crazy, insightful, sweet movie that I will definitely watch again. (I don’t often do that.) Rickman and Moss meet up serendipitously on the road, both returning to their homes after prolonged stints away. Weaver plays Moss’s mother who is a highly functional autistic, Rickman ends up staying with her and the story unfolds and keeps you watching and guessing how it will ever end. If you don’t like this movie then I can’t imagine why not. Weaver and Rickman are great and play two of the most memorable characters you’ll ever meet. Highly recommend.

The movie that most disappointed me: Silver Linings Playbook Maybe it was the mood I was in at the time but Jennifer Lawrence’s character kind of drove me crazy and I wanted to smack Bradley Cooper. I kept looking at the clock during the entire movie.

TV

5. Downton AbbeyPBS – What’s better to take you away from reality than a historical family dynasty story set in another country? The acting is fantastic, the sets opulent, the cinematography bucolic, the fashion glittering and, oh yeah, those dreamy English accents. What’s not to like? It’s worth it just to watch magic unfold from Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Violet. Eight more days to season 4 – I can’t wait! Squee! maggie

4. Rectify – Sundance Channel -  A young man is released from prison after nineteen years on Death Row after DNA evidence exonerates him. This series follows Daniel as he tries to assimilate back into his old life where he encounters prejudice and resistance as well as support and love. This is a well-written series that makes you think about how opinions that seem so solid can be so wrong.

3. The Returned – Sundance Channel – A French (subtitled) zombie series that isn’t your same old hum-drum, flesh dropping zombie series. I am wild for this series. Basically, it takes place in a small, isolated community in France where deceased loved ones, looking as they did at death,  begin appearing, unaware that they’ve been dead. You can not take your eyes off this show and I can’t wait for Season 2. (Here’s a good synopsis on Flavorwire.)

2. Breaking Bad - AMC – If you don’t know about this series then you’ve been living under a rock. I watched the first four seasons on DVD this year, one after the other, then watched season 5 live. I was shocked by how this show pulled me in with season one. Really, I didn’t think I’d like it, thinking it was all about drugs and addicts and all the shit that goes along with that scenario. In reality, it’s one of the most well-written, well-acted and emotionally compelling shows I’ve ever seen. Now I’m watching re-runs on Sundance.

1. Top of the Lake - Sundance Channel – A  detective returns to her hometown to investigate the disappearance and suspected abuse of a pregnant teenager. The detective (Elizabeth Moss) unearths long-held town secrets and faces demons from her past in this dark, suspenseful series. As with Breaking Bad, this is a well-written and acted show that pulls you in and won’t let go. Elizabeth Moss is riveting in this, playing a much more tortured, compelling character than her gullible Peggy on Mad Men. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and  an Emmy for Best Actress in a Mini-series or Movie and should have won. Filmed in New Zealand, the cinematography is uh.may.zing, winning Adam Arkapaw the Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie.

The program that most disappointed me: American Horror Story: The Coven. This show is just too corny. I wanted to like it simply because it’s filmed here and set here and stars Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett but those  facts aren’t enough to make me sit through it one more time.

Books

5. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – The story of the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. It was fun reading about Paris in the Jazz Age and the antics of the “Lost Generation”. I have to say, though, that if this is really the way Hemingway treated his women then he’s lost some of my respect. One can be a lauded writer but if you treat people like crap it diminishes the work, for me.

4. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – Set in India and America, this is the story of two brothers, their family and a country torn apart by revolution. It’s a page-turner, for sure.

3. Tenth of December by George Saunders – A collection of short stories every one of which is a gem. I swept through this book in no time and plan to read it again. Highly recommend. the-year-of-magical-thinking

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – If you’ve lost someone close to you, this is the book to read – grab it now! It gave me some solace in the year after my mother’s death by identifying and explaining patterns, behaviors and thinking that seemed wacked out but, in truth, is part of the grieving process. Skillfully and lovingly written, Didion walks us through the long protracted illness of her daughter, the sudden death of her husband and her life in the year afterward. You will see yourself in her story. Highly recommend.

1. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – The best book I read this year, hands down. Set in Afghanistan, this is the story of a poor family, their struggle to survive and the ensuing life of a son and daughter. This is a richly detailed and engrossing story, a book I couldn’t put down. Until this, Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns had been my favorite book. Highly, highly recommend.

The book that most disappointed me: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. After a promising start this book quickly became Bor.Ing. That is all.

I hope you enjoyed my list of Top Fives and maybe feel inspired to read or watch some of these recommendations. Do you have any favorite movies, TV shows or books you’d like to share?

Little Free Library

At the end of last year, Sun and I wrote an essay and won a Little Free Library. Since then, she and I have been the stewards of our very own LFL. And I do not overstate when I say it changed my life.

First, it brought Sun and I even closer together sharing the project of checking to see if books have come into or gone out of the LFL and working to replenish our stock. We’ve spent hours together walking the neighborhood handing out flyers. She’s been asking when we’ll be doing that again. I think we’ll be sending out a summer newsletter just as an excuse to do it again soon!

Second, it brought me closer to my neighbors. I’ve yet to hear anything negative about the project. Turns out, folks like free things and appreciate the sense of caring that a steward emits by the very act of stewarding. Even wizened neighbors I’d have thought would have scratched their heads at us young hippies have embraced us and our library. I’ve met neighbors that have lived doors down from me for over a decade that I never knew. It’s that nice feeling we New Orleanians get after a storm passes and we are all sitting on our porches with no electricity to pull us indoors. Humans connecting over a common bond. In this case, that common bond is books. The Marthas and Wendys and Dollys that you meet every other summer after a particularly bad storm. Except now we meet weekly, if not more often. We get thank you notes left in the LFL. My favorite was written by a young boy thanking us for the Star Wars book.  We also get notes of encouragement to keep up the good work. I keep every note. And we get offers of donations. Oh, the donations! I need an extra room for all the books we’ve amassed in under six months!

Third, I am a reading machine now. The quality (and quantity) of books being donated to this LFL is nothing short of astounding. Here’s a link to my Librarything account showing the LFL tag I’ve created for the books I’d not have read but for my LFL. And that’s just of the books I’ve read so far. I have just as many in my to-read pile.

Our LFL has its own Facebook page, its own bookcrossing account, a personalized embossed seal to mark the books, and, most importantly, its own heart. When I was away from home for a week, a neighbor did the stewarding for us. Because truly, it’s hers too. It belongs to this neighborhood. And we all know it. We are proud of this little box–what it means to ourselves, our children, our community. And we are grateful for the wonder it has renewed in us that we didn’t know we could so easily attain.

Femme Fatale Friday: Helen Krieger, Producer of “Flood Streets”

“A nuanced view of the city and its people, Flood Streets shows the changing landscape of New Orleans as it has never been seen before, dispelling the stereotypes about this tragic, defiant, joyful city.”LaFilm.net

“Flood Streets is dotted with incidental wit and wry observations of life in the Big Easy, which isn’t always.”Amy Biancolli/The Houston Chronicle

“A unique story of hope and despair, of determination and crazy-ass creativity, told bravely and told well.”Harry Shearer

Helen Krieger

These are just three of the many positive comments I found while researching Helen Kriegers production of Flood Streets, her first film production.  Helen and her husband Joseph Meissner, who directed and acts in the film, moved to New Orleans in 2001 and quickly fell into the eclectic, artsy community life in Bywater. They evacuated for Hurricane Katrina and were displaced, like so many New Orleanians, for six weeks of an enforced exile. The screenplay for Flood Streets is based on Helen’s book of short stories, In the Land of What Now, a fictionalized account of her experiences in post federal flood New Orleans. 

Flood Streets‘ awards  include:
Best Picture winner at the 2011 Action on Film Festival
Gold Remi winner at the 44th Annual WorldFest-Houston
Best Director, runner-up, at the White Sands Int’l Film Festival
Best Director, nominee, Action on Film Festival

I recently spoke with Helen about Flood Streets, life in New Orleans and the crafts of writing and film-making.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Helen, I understand Flood Streets is based on your book, In the Land of What Now, and is your first film production. What made you decide to produce a film with no previous film making experience and how do you think that impacted your film? 

Although I had made a couple short films before Flood Streets, they were on a much smaller scale and were done basically as practice for this movie. Flood Streets was my first feature.

When my husband, Joseph, and I were evacuated for the storm, we didn’t know what we could come back to from our former lives. We didn’t know if the city was going to come back, so it was really like an early midlife crisis for both of us. For six weeks we sat at my parent’s house up in Wisconsin and started thinking about our lives and what we most wanted to do.

I realized I’d neglected my writing, and Joseph really wanted to get back into acting. We decided to put the two of these interests together to write a movie Joseph could act in. That’s really how I made the leap from fiction to film – it made so much sense for us to work together like that.

Once I got into script writing, I really enjoyed it, because one of my favorite things to write is dialogue. Also, I enjoyed the increased collaboration and input you get writing a screenplay. Everyone from the actor to the caterer has read your script so you get a wide variety of opinions and input. It’s really exciting. Having said that, I love writing short stories, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. Short stories are where I really connect with myself creatively and where I feel free to develop ideas.

Producing a movie for my first time could have been a disaster except that I had so much support from the community. I was mentored by two veteran New Orleans filmmakers, Glen Pitre and Michelle Benoit. They’ve been helping me with this project for the past three years. They helped me with the script, with getting everything ready to shoot, with editing, and now with publicity and the festival circuit. They’re really an amazing resource.

I also took a lot of classes at the New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC). I joke with people that NOVAC was my film school.

What was the first concrete step for you in learning how to produce a film? 

I read a lot of books and took a lot of classes for the years preceding our shoot. I took a Film Accounting class at NOVAC that helped me put everything into perspective. The accountant is the one responsible for paying everyone else, so you get a good long view on what it takes to make a production happen. That was amazing experience.

I also had many meetings with Glen and Michelle where I just furiously scribbled down notes as they went over my budget and explained what I needed and how it would work. Then we were really fortunate to get an experienced indie line producer to work with us, Miceal Og O’Donnel. Once we had pulled our key team together, he helped us get everyone moving in the right direction.

We didn’t always know what we were doing, but we were fortunate enough to have a lot of people around us who did!

I read that Katrina and life post-K was a big influence on your decision to persue writing and film-making full-time. Do you think your life would have taken this turn if you hadn’t experienced the storm and life after?

That’s a great question. I think about that sometimes, and I just don’t know. I think eventually I would have gotten to this path because it’s something I’m so interested in, and it really suits me. But it may have taken a lot longer for me to get here.

Like I said, Katrina was an early midlife crisis, so without Katrina and that six-week hurrication of stress and soul searching, maybe my midlife crisis would still be some years away.

Oct 16 is the New Orleans premier of Flood Streets. How does it feel to be presenting your film about life in post-K New Orleans in New Orleans?

I’m so excited, because I’ve been working on this film for years, and so many people in the city have helped me and have been waiting to see it. We didn’t have a huge budget, but we wanted to create the best film we could, so we took our time editing, almost 15 months.

This spring we had our world premiere in Houston and that started a tour of film festivals across the country. We’ve had such great response, but audiences don’t get the inside jokes that New Orleanians will get. Also, the film shows a part of the city that often gets lost in post-Katrina films or documentaries – our sense of humor. When I tell people this is a film about Post Katrina New Orleans, I always have to add, “But it’s not a downer.” We wanted to show what there is that still draws us to this city and that draws all the people who have moved here since the storm.

It’s now over six years after the storm and I’m wondering if, when you talk about the subject of your film, you encounter any lingering “Katrina fatigue” or do people now get that it was the levees, not the storm, that really devastated New Orleans.

We get some Katrina fatigue when we first tell people about the movie because they think they’ve seen it before, and that it’s going to be one of those very depressing stories about flood victims. But our story isn’t necessarily about Katrina and none of our characters consider themselves victims.

Flood Streets takes place 15 months after the storm, and we use that surreal backdrop in the movie a lot, but essentially the movie is about the characters and their struggles. These struggles are definitely heightened and changed in unexpected ways because of the storm, but ultimately I wanted to show how life goes on, no matter how surreal the backdrop. By picking up this story well after the initial shock of the storm has passed, we get to show that weird stage after a disaster when you realize you’re still essentially the same person with the same problems to deal with. Only now you can’t get mailed delivered to your house…

In terms of the people being educated about what devastated New Orleans… I don’t think that’s happened yet. There’s still this narrative out there that New Orleans is all below sea level, and it was only a matter of time. Very few people know about the complicated system of human decisions that resulted in the federal flooding of New Orleans. People like Harry Shearer have been doing a great job educating people. His documentary about the levees, “The Big Uneasy,” has been touring the country educating people, so I’m hoping people start to understand.

Do you think locals will be more critical of the film than outsiders?

Definitely, because it’s their story that we’re telling, but I’m pretty confident they’re going to enjoy it. One of the reasons we wanted to do an ensemble storyline with multiple characters is because we wanted to hint at the diversity of stories in the city. There is no one post Katrina story and no one way of reacting to the storm, so I hope locals will see themselves or people they know in the characters we’ve chosen.

I understand you show a diversity of the musical talent we have here in Nola instead of relying only on Jazz or Brass Bands as is seen in many  film and TV productions. Was that a deliberate decision? How did you choose which genres and/or musicians to include?

That was a very deliberate decision. We love traditional New Orleans music, but we’re even more interested in how traditions continue to evolve with each new generation who takes them on. This is what makes New Orleans such an exciting place for musicians and artists to live. We didn’t want to portray a museum to jazz or funk; we wanted to shed light on the contradictions and collaborations at the edge of our ever-evolving culture.

We also wanted to put more of the musical focus on youth culture because this is where changes are often happening. When young musicians couldn’t get into mainline brass bands they formed their own. Influenced by hip hop as well as jazz, a new generation of second-lining was born. When indie rocker Clint Maedgen joined the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, he brought a new voice to the most traditional band in New Orleans. The Zydepunks blend traditional and new to create a heart-pounding new style. The Panorama Jazz Band takes influences from jazz, klezmer and brass bands to pull together their unique sound.

This was the New Orleans music we really wanted to share, and audiences across the country are really excited to hear it. After screenings, people always comment on the music and say how surprised they are by the diversity of music in the city, so I guess we’re doing our job!

All but two of the actors and all of the crew were New Orleanians.  Why do you think that was important for the telling of your story?

It was important to us to use locals on the cast and crew as much as possible. First, it’s just part of our mission as local filmmakers to showcase the talent we have here in the city.

Also, for the kind of story we were telling it was so important to have those authentic voices. This isn’t a crime story or an action adventure with lots of graphic effects. We’re telling a character based story about a very particular time and place, so it was so important for us to make sure we were getting that voice right, and it was nice to know we could rely on our actors.

Almost all our actors had been through the storm or the evacuation, and they felt we were giving an accurate portrayal of the city. Based on the script they trusted us to tell this complicated, nuanced story, and we in turn trusted them to tell us whenever something didn’t ring true. They brought costumes, props, they really went out of their way to help us do this right. And because they were from New Orleans they got that subversive sense of humor we have, even in disasters. They didn’t feel like they had to walk on eggshells about the material, because it was their story too.

I read in the press kit that your neighborhood rallied around you and the film became a real community effort. Tell us a little bit about that.

We filmed most of the movie in Bywater, in about 48 different locations, and almost all of them were donated by neighbors who wanted to see us make this film. Coffee shops, corner stores, shotgun apartments, warehouses, flooded houses in various stages of repair… people opened up all these spaces to us despite our meager budget.

In one case we were shooting a scene where a band places on the street. The band was Debauche, a young, local band that plays very energetic Russian music, and we needed to shoot this in front of a Bywater house. We knocked on doors up and down the street and let people know what was going to be going on, then when we got to the house we were going to be shooting in front of, we knocked and tentatively told the owner, “We’ve got this band, and we wanted to know if it’s okay if they play in front of your house…” It was an older guy, so we didn’t know how it would go over. “Who’s the band?” he said. I told him it was Debauche, and I figured he was too old, but he immediately started clapping his hands. It turned out he was a big fan! He told us to do whatever we needed to, to come into his house if we had to. He ended up dancing in his living room the whole time they were playing!

We also had so much luck getting background people in our film. As soon as a musician would start playing, people would come out of their homes or stop on their bikes and dance. A lot of people made it into the movie that way!

Are you working on any other projects you’d like to share with us?

Why yes, thank you! I’m working on the scripts for two projects right now.

The first is another feature film, this one set in the heart of an impoverished New Orleans neighborhood. A group of punk, DIY activists stage elaborate puppet shows and dangerous tall bike jousts in their communal-living warehouse, but when a pregnant friend arrives with nowhere else to go, it’s their chance to remake their social experiment into a true community. We’re excited to work with some of the amazing artists in New Orleans for this project.

The second is something totally different for me. I’m working on episodic writing, an original musical comedy series I’m creating for web or cable. Molly is a sex-starved, struggling writer who can’t get the attention of her indie rocker boyfriend, so she takes a job exploring New Orleans amorous underbelly. I’ve been describing it as “Sex in the City” meets “Flight of the Conchords”. It deals with journalism, art and sexual politics while featuring original music and a beautifully choreographed tribal bellydance sequence in each episode. I’ve gotten together with a composer, lyricist and choreographer, so I’m really excited to get working on this.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in five years? What are your goals?

 The more I write, the more I realize I love writing, so my future plans all have to do with finding more ways to do that. I’m very interested in writing for TV or cable because story is really king in these mediums, and so the writers get a lot of control over their sets. From casting to choosing props and working with the directors, the writers are typically the head producers in charge of their series. Having had experience producing shorts and now a feature, I feel like this could be a good fit for me.

With episodic writing, you get more time to tell a story than you do in a 90-minute feature film. With shows like “The Wire” and “Mad Men,” TV writing has risen to the next level. By following multiple characters’ storylines throughout the season, episodic writing has become a modern version of a sweeping, 19th century novel. It’s become a place where some of the best writers go to tell their stories, and with original web content starting to get some serious viewership, it’s easier to get into this highly competitive field.

Plus, how fun would it be to put together a writers room where one of the most solitary tasks, coming up with storylines and characters, can become a group effort? I could definitely do that for the rest of my life.

But like I said before, I’ll never stop writing short stories and other kinds of fiction. It’s where I feel free to really play with an idea no matter how ridiculous. Short fiction was my first genre as a writer, and I think I’ll never truly get over my love for it.

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The New Orleans premiere of Flood Streets will be during the New Orleans Film Festival on Sunday, October 16 at 4:45 at  Pyrtania Theatre.  The trailer can be viewed  below and up to the minute information can be found on their FaceBook page.

Advice Columns Vs. Self Help Books

This morning this headline on The Awl grabbed my attention as I was trolling my list of zines for a good read: A Q&A with the Advice Columnist Called ‘Sugar’.  I suspected “Sugar” was Sugar the anon advice columnist from the lit magazine “The Rumpus” which I read now and then and I was right. I’d seen Sugar’s column featured prominently on “The Rumpus” but had never actually read it since I’m not a fan of advice columns and I figured it was all about sex anyway (not that that’s a bad thing!); however, I was curious as to what Sugar had to say in this interview so I clicked through. I skimmed through the first half when I realized it was all about how the interviewer knew Sugar in real life but didn’t know she was the anon Sugar of “The Rumpus”…. yadda, yadda, yadda and then I zeroed in on the following question and Ms Sugar’s answer (boldface is mine):

“Tell me what that message is.”

“Well it’s so many things that I feel like, what you could do, if you read all of my columns they do boil down to some pretty essential truths. You hit on one of them when you said ‘the hard choice is often the best one,’ that life is both more simple and more complex than most of us would like to believe, that there is something about the essential, that we all have an essential truth within us which if we really listen to that, which is totally different than that bumper sticker ‘follow your bliss,’ which is bullshit. You know? And that’s, I have never read a self help book in my life. I think self help is pretty much bullshit. I don’t pay attention to this…what’s that Oprah book, like The Secret, or some sort of crap like that? ‘If you only believe, then it will be true,’ I think that’s a really aggressively entitled bullshit sort of approach to life’s complicated questions. And at the same time there’s a piece of that in Sugar that says ultimately we’re all responsible for our lives, we’re all going to fail, we all have something inside to offer, and our work here is to find out and express it in whatever channels are appropriate. So it’s not Sugar’s message, but it’s really just my life, everything I think about how to live, which is in opposition to that self help crap.

I find it ironic that Sugar thinks self help books are bullshit , apparently not recognizing that she engages in the same “bullshit” on a different level. I’ve read a self help book  or two in my day, in a quest for finding workable solutions for life issues, by people educated and published in their area of interest.  It’s easy to find experts on a given subject by simply researching a subject and assessing the qualifications and education of those who have written about it or soliciting recommendations from friends and colleagues. The same cannot [always] be said of advice columnists, many of whom are people who are hired by infotainment newspapers and magazines to give their opinions on any and every subject under the sun without any discernible expertise. In the answer above Sugar even states herself that “…but it’s really just my life, everything I think about how to live “.  Um, o.k. But don’t read those self help books by psychologists, physicians and educators because that’s, ya know, bullshit. Interestingly, in this interview, Sugar describes her column thusly:

“It’s self-help and it’s also anti-self help.”

It seems to me Ms Sugar is as dazed and confused as the rest of us poor slobs trying to make sense of this thing called life.

While I’m not a regular reader of advice columnists, I’ll admit to occasionally rubbernecking a particularly sensational advice column headline in the newspaper or a magazine. In my opinion, though, most advice columns are really just voyeuristic exploitation of people’s confusion and hopelessness for the ratings game and/or public recognition and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But everyone is entitled to their opinion and is free to seek help from whatever forum they please. Maybe an anonymous advice columnist of unknown qualifications has more validity for some because of her life experience than the author of a self help book. And that’s….o.k. I’ll just take my chances with a well researched book, thank you.

NOLA Noteworthy

A random roundup of my personal picks of the best from local blogs and other NOLA-related news.

In Treme news, in response to the last episode, Sam Jasper at the Back of Town blog has written a beautiful and thoughtful post about the culture and tradition of  place and the inevitability of change, “It Just Don’t Smell Right Up In Here”.  Big Chief Albert Lambreaux is showing more of his cantankerous side while in New York recording Indian chants for a proposed record release. The title of the post comes directly from Big Chief’s mouth. Sam writes in part,

“His son has come around to the tradition in his way, but it’s not Albert’s way, and that’s mortality hitting ya in the face. Not just his own, but possibly the old ways, the culture he is so totally self-identified with and by. I know many elderly Native Americans who are terrified that their grandchildren won’t know any of the songs, traditions, creation stories, or medicine ways. In fact, several years ago, I believe it was the Shawnee who were given back sacred objects that had been held at the Smithsonian for a very long time. They let the Smithsonian keep them because no one alive knew what to do with them anymore.”

As an aside,in an earlier thread, Sam talked about the character Aunt MiMi, commenting as how she wanted to be Aunt MiMi. Huh. I’m acquainted with Sam and have heard a few of her stories. I think Aunt MiMi would be thrilled to be her. Sam is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She’s a born teacher and storyteller who shares her knowledge and life experiences with an open heart, bypassing the need to instruct. I highly recommend her personal blog, NOLA Slate, although she doesn’t post nearly enough to feed this starving reader. (Check out this amazing post.)

Former mayor Ray Nagin released his self-published Katrina memoir last week resulting in a frenzy of blog posts, opinions, tweets and grumblings all over town. The best thing I’ve read hands-down is Michael Homan’s post, “Pharaoh Nagin”. No spoilers here – you must go read it.

Local indie designer Kerry Fitts was featured in the Times-Picayune last Thursday. (Sorry I don’t have a link.) After the earthquake in Japan Kerry allocated a portion of her sales from her Etsy shop to ArkBark, a non-profit group that was rescuing pets left behind in the radiation zone. Shortly thereafter she began exchanging emails about a possible fund-raiser and is traveling to Japan in July to participate in that event. She is donating her original designs for dogs and seeking additional donations from other local crafters. For more info about this amazing woman see my interview with her here.

One of my favorite local blogs is “NOLA Details” where the blogger Carla shares a NOLA-related photo every day. My favorite reoccurring theme on this blog is “Fun Porches” and we surely have plenty of those  here in NOLA so I don’t anticipate she’ll run out of candidates any time soon! Here’s one of  my favorites. Carla has another blog, “Watching NOLA Nature”, described as “Explorations in the urban oasis of New Orleans”. I really like how she zeroes in on the little things that go unnoticed in our every day lives. She reminds us of the wonder of nature and the beauty that is all around us. It’s a great little Zen moment everyday that I really look forward to.

Are you a tweeter? If so, my pick for Tweeter To Follow is @gadboiselensnola for informative up-to-the-minute reports from many of our city services department meetings including the City Council meetings, the City Planning Commission meetings and the Housing and Human Needs Committee meetings (all in the last 12 days!), among many others. Karen has made it so easy for us to keep up with what’s happening it would be a shame not to follow her.

Finally, I want to give a little shout-out to local blog “New Orleans Write Spot” that currently has one of my pieces posted. Susan Prevost (whom I interviewed here) publishes local talent and has the welcome mat out for local writers who are interested in publishing there. It’s a great place to read a bit of poetry and prose and support local talent.

Remember, you can follow us on Twitter and on Delicious to keep up with what we’re talking (also found in the sidebar) about or just wait for here for my random NOLA Noteworthy posts. Take care, y’all.

Update: I just want to add a post on NoLA Rising I read this morning (6/30) about the musical house that’s being created in  Bywater. Internationally known artist Swoon is involved along with many local artists. I recently viewed & photographed a scale model of the house from the street (seen below). Go to ReX’s website to read about it and view the video that details this community-minded event.

The Neighborhood Story Project Holds Write-a-Thon

NSP 3rd Annual Write-a-Thon!

The Neighborhood Story Project is holding its Third Annual Write-a-Thon! Join us in raising money to support documentary poster- and bookmaking in downtown New Orleans. During the Write-a-Thon, writers will write novels, theses, poems, exposés, love-letters, short stories, blog entries, and autobiographies, until they run out of ink. Food will be served and there will be a forum for readings- all to benefit the NSP. We’re now entering our seventh year, coming out of a jam-packed spring, and looking forward to future projects!

Sign up here.

Date: Sunday, May 15, 2011

Location:New Orleans, Louisiana

Contact:Lea Downing
502-541-6856
leadowning@gmail.com

NOLA Noteworthy

It’s been a busy week in NOLA and I’ve been saving like crazy to my Delicious and Instapaper. I thought I’d share some of  the interesting reading I found this week about our city and her people.

The Rumpus, an online zine based in California, published two NOLA-related stories. One, With Words and With Pretty: Super Sunday 2011 by Benjamin Morris, is a colorful narrative with photos of this years Mardi Gras Indian yearly spectacular. It explains a bit about the Indian culture to those who aren’t lucky enough to live here and unable to see it for themselves.

Also on The Rumpus is NOLA native Mark Folse’s book review, The Last Book I Loved, Mystic Pig. I read this book back in about 2006 and found it a bit too dark and violent for my taste at the time. The city was still in the active aftermath of the storm and my psyche was still a little too sensitive for such an intense story. After reading Mark’s review, though, I’ve decided that it’s a good time to reread this book. Mark also has a FaceBook page for it – click here.

Our own Emilie Staat wrote a wonderful tribute to some NOLA artists on her personal blog, Jill of All Trades, titled “Going To Bragtown”. It’s a great run-down of several of our city’s best and brightest authors, musicians and film makers and all the wonderful things happening to them lately. Thanks, Em!

Dawn Allison of Dawn Breaks blog recently volunteered at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and penned a great recollection of her experience including photos, Tennesse Williams Poetry Slam. Wow – I really missed a great event but I won’t miss it next year!

Finally, I want to direct your attention to an upcoming event at The Jazz Suite in Algiers and organized by O. Perry Walker High School  benefitting The Wonderful World of Jazz Foundation. The event also honors Japan native Yoshio Toyama who has come to NOLA for years with his band to play at the Satchmo Summer Fest and is a huge supporter of the O. Perry Walker band. This is such a wonderful story and you can read all about it here.  Here are the particulars of the event:

O. Perry Walker’s benefit and jam session will be April 12 at 7 p.m. at the Suite Jazz Cafe, 3580 Holiday Drive, in Algiers. The Roots of Music kids will lead off the night. Other performers include Rebirth Brass Band, TBC Brass Band and The O. Perry Walker Jazz Ensemble. The Jazz Cafe is an adult venue.

Do you follow NOLAFemmes on Twitter? If you did you would see my tweets about all of this and more. Follow us on Twitter!


A Morning Ritual for World Peace

Two months ago I started reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, the seminal book on spiritual healing for the creative force in all of us. I found myself blocked, frustrated, and constantly nursing this place of fear inside of me when it came to sitting down with any piece of fiction I wrote. This fear manifested in physical symptoms—clenched stomach, quickened heartbeat, an icky feeling in my chest—that encouraged me even more to abandon writing and pursue other avenues of satisfaction (shopping online for boots anyone?).

The Artist’s Way speaks directly to this kind of creative atrophy and anxiety. Even when I found myself outwardly rolling my eyes at all that Great-Creator-Within business, inwardly I nodded along as she talked about nurturing the inner self before outward production. This made tremendous sense to me. So, without my usual trepidation or excuse-making I dove right into one of Cameron’s two prescriptions for the creative soul: Morning Pages. Her other exercise required a weekly excursion, called an Artist’s Date, that you made with yourself to try something new each week. I didn’t prove so diligent here.

For some reason, Morning Pages clicked with me. Each morning, (okay, most mornings) I wake up, brew a pot of coffee, and load a Pages document—password protected, of course—and write three pages of whatever pops into my head. Sometimes I write about my daily tasks ahead. Other times I write about something bothering me too newly formed or personal to disclose to anyone else. I’ve even written about having nothing to write. What I write isn’t the point though. I just need to show up to something, every day. A commitment, a practice, some continual thread in my life, a constant I can look to and learn to count on.

I can’t point to anything in my life two months later and attribute some change directly to this practice of Morning Pages. But I can testify to a daily sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with the completion of those pages, and that something in me has changed. Cameron says in her book that it’s almost impossible to write about something every single day and not eventually be forced to make a change. I’ve found that to be true, and some of these changes have happened almost unconsciously. I discovered that my attitude has changed completely when I went back this morning and read my very first week of Morning Pages. Two months ago I was pessimistic, depressed, angry and overly critical of the people around me. My Morning Pages for the month of January look nothing like this at all.

Dedicating your mornings to this kind of daily practice can give you a sense of accumulation and allow you to discover meaning in your daily life. It also creates an almost effortless record—of your moods, your worries, your daily life. I was surprised when I read about an unusually pleasant dinner I hadn’t thought of since that night. Those pages can serve as reinforcement of the positive, reminders of the small experiences that make life worth living but also become overshadowed by the larger and more emotionally taxing events of our lives. There is also an immense satisfaction in the act of building. Over the past two months, I’ve built a document over 30,000 words and almost 100 pages long.

Every morning, the best you can.

Notice up above I conceded *almost* every day. I seem to operate at about 70% of the time. I’m terrible about the weekends and not as dedicated midweek. Set a goal of every morning, five mornings a week, or just every Sunday. Whatever your goal, try to reach it. My Morning Pages don’t take me long at all, but I’m a super typer. (Thanks should now be given to my cruel high school typing teacher who would bark out the letters and slap a ruler on her desk to beat time. This gesture also subtly conveyed to her sophomore typing class that if we missed a single letter, she just might beat time on our knuckles. I was scared to death of that woman and even hated the class, but there is no denying 80 WPM.)

How to—

Write in whatever medium you feel comfortable. I’ve gotten out of the habit of longhand writing, but Cameron recommends this way in order to allow your brain time to slow down and think. If you write comfortably this way, do it. If you like to type on an old Remington despite the key jams and ink blotches, then that’s the best way for you. Do whatever way you find most comfortable and know that this is the right way. But, if you decide to write longhand make sure you find a place to keep it so that you feel safe writing. Nothing kills this whole self-reflection process like a deep fear of prying eyes.

Nothing to write about. Not.

Although I’ve written a couple times that I couldn’t think of anything to write, most of the times I can. Our brains are wheel hamsters on steroids, constantly whirring with all kinds of thoughts. There is always something to write about. In the beginning, write about how pissed off you are, how your partner leaves the effing milk out to let it spoil, how the bank overdrew your account, or how you got a bad haircut. Think of these mornings as dumps for all those negative feelings. By getting all of these thoughts cleared out of the way, you open your mind up for something more positive. If you share space with others, password-protect these pages so that you are the only eyes that ever see them.

Eventually rev up your engine and get ready to drive

I got a little tired of my own whining even though I never went back to read it. I knew it was there, front-loaded all over my then 60 page document. So I decided to change directions. I started writing about my goals, my dreams, the things I wanted. Attainable things like a house with an office that gets tons of sunlight. Completely unrealistic things like a Pulitzer prize. Everything in between. The act of wanting is incredibly powerful. When we don’t name the things we want, we are almost sure never to receive them. Plus, it’s just fun to daydream sometimes. Put me in a way better mood than talking about how pissy I was. Start pushing your Morning Pages to talk about the way you want your life to be and see what happens. I credit this more than anything else with changing my perspective.

Just like that old adage about life, this is a journey not a destination

Seriously. Don’t look for some direct means of measuring the success of your Morning Pages. Don’t even think of them in terms of success. (By doing so, you unconsciously signal to your little dude within that you will measure this in success or failure, opening up an outcome you will label failure.) Writing these every day is about growth, but also about dedicating yourself to something. One of the greatest unintended consequences of these things for me has been just proving that I can stick with something. That’s worth my 30 minutes every day no matter what.

Good luck and happy writing. You won’t regret it.