Wild: Book vs Film & How I Feel About It

I’m not sure but I think I’m excited about the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild. The official trailer was released today. I read Wild when it first came out two years ago, when my mother was very ill in ICU and finished it shortly before her death. In  spite of all the turmoil that was going on in my life at the time (or maybe because of it), I couldn’t put this book down. It wasn’t as much the story of her grueling hike along the Pacific Crest Trail that held me spellbound as it was the sharing of her life experiences, the exploration of the issues that led her to hike the trail in the first place. It was the memories and stories of her relationship with her mother who died of cancer and how her illness and death devastated her. Just like the illness and death of my mother was devastating me. I’d never before read a book that I identified with so strongly at exactly the right time in my life that I needed it. This book was so special to  me at the time that I wanted to keep it secret. I didn’t want to share it with anyone because it held meaning and words and feelings that I felt deep inside and that I didn’t want to share with anyone. It was like Cheryl was talking through my mouth and I wanted this book to be mine alone. Have you ever felt like that? At the same time, I wanted everyone I loved to read it and see it for the exceptionally insightful collection of writing that meant so much to me. This book and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking helped me through a dark time and both will always be special to me.

But, the book flew into the world and was discovered and read by thousands of people who love it as much as I do. People who found mutual experiences and feelings with the writer, just like I did. On December 2 the  film will be released and I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch it. I have my translation of what this book means to me, the memories of how this book helped me. I don’t think I want my experience of this book to be  influenced by someone’s movie interpretation. I’m not ruling it out completely – I plan to research how much input Cheryl had in the making of the movie, then I’ll decide. The story is a powerful and cleansing one, a story that has the potential to change the course of people’s mind-set. I hope the movie lives up to the book.

Showcase Sunday: Book Haul

Via Finding Time To Write, a blog I follow, I’ve discovered another blog that originated a meme that sounds like fun. Books, Biscuits and Tea spearheads the meme “Showcase Sunday: Book Haul” which gives bloggers the opportunity to share the books they’ve read,  received in the mail, downloaded, borrowed from the library, put on TBR lists, and any otherwise procured by any means necessary to get that must-have book in your hot little hands. It’s also a great way to share the books that you love, that make you say Yes! and mentally clap your hands as you read.

youngRight now I’m reading Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy, A Lost Generation Love Story  By Amanda Vaill and I’m enjoying it so much! This story is about the Murphy’s who were at the center of the American expat literary circle in Paris is the 20′s and it’s fascinating. I found this book on the book list “Read This, Not That: Indie Alternatives to Popular Books” compiled by Amy Bonesteel on Paste Magazine. This is the second book on that list that I’ve read and I have to say, her picks over the “popular books” is right on so far.

At the library I have Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton on hold waiting tohillary be picked up. Hillary is such a great role model for women and has led an exciting, eventful life. Diane Sawyer’s interview with her was so good that I immediately went online to reserve this new book.  I’m really looking forward to reading it.

The most recent (within the past few weeks) books I’ve ordered online and received in the mail are

westFacing a Lonely West by Helen Losse – I have her previous book of poetry, Seriously Dangerous, and I enjoyed it immensely. Her poetry is both down to earth and ethereal. Hard to explain, you have to read her.

Rattle, Spring 2014  – This quarterly journal is a must-have for poetry lovers. Always with a diversity of styles, you’re bound to find something that touches you inside it.

 

Exquisite Duet, Edited by Meg Tuite – I can’t wait to start this little gem of a book as I’m (virtually) acquainted with several of the writers. And the cover art is fantastic! duet

Don’t you just love getting great books in the mail?!

Be sure to go over and visit Books, Biscuits and Tea and peruse the other meme participants for more great book ideas. You know you need some more titles for your To-Read list.

 

Good Times/Bad Times: May 25 – 31

Today I have for you (channeling the chefs on “Chopped” which I just finished watching!) a little list of some of the good things and bad things that I read on the internet in the past week. Most of them are from other blogs, some from NOLA, some not. It’s just a hodge-podge of articles that I liked or …… didn’t, but all are decidedly shareable.

Good Times

Road trip! Follow Ian McNulty on a trip down the bayou to Terrebone Parish in Bayou Country journey offers glimpse of small-town life at the end of the line.

Local blogger Blathering shares her recent outing to City Park’s Botanical Gardens with a walk through Enrique Alferez’s sculptures in her weekly feature “Arty Tuesday”.

“Blackberries Everywhere” , via Bouillie blog, takes us along to pick wild blackberries in rural Louisiana and adds a bonus of a recipe for Blackberry Cornmeal Cake that sounds scrumptious. The photos of the finished cake made my mouth water and put it on my list of recipes to try this summer.

I’m always complaining to myself that I don’t have the kind of time I’d like to read. This is really not exactly true since I often  end up surfing the internet when my intention was to read my ebook.  I even tweeted about it. So I was happy to find this post, 7 tips to help you read more (& love it).

 Bad Times

Local political journalist John McGinnis died last Sunday at the age of 66. Robert Mann penned a wonderful memoir and tribute to Mr. McGinnis here,  a worthy read about an exceptional journalist.

#YesAllWomen was a hashtag on fire on Twitter this past week. It apparently first popped up Friday 5/23 in the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger shooting spree in California in response to his misogynist rants on YouTube. When social media takes up a cause like this, I find it much more interesting and enlightening to read personal blogs written by everyday people to get a feel for how the issue affects or is affecting everyday people. Here are a few blog posts I read this week that touched me (to tears in some cases) and/or just made me think in a different way, breaking open the festering sore of misogyny.

First, here’s a link to a Vanity Fair article that includes a graphic showing how the hashtag spread worldwide.

Brandi writes a very personal account of her experience of being bullied by a boy (and, yes, it was bullying)  at age 11. I really identified with this post because I experienced the same thing at the same age and I remember the humiliation I felt.

Roxane Gay’s post, In Relief of Silence and Burden, is a heartbreaker written in the unmistakably honest voice that is Roxane Gay. Reading this made my stomach hurt.

Walking While Fat and Female – Or Why I Don’t Care Not All Men Are Like That was an eye-opener. I guess I’m naive but it never occurred to me that adult men acted this way.

And, from the men:

My Girl’s a Vegetable: A Father’s Response To Isla Vista Shootings  in Luna Luna Magazine shares how a dad’s eyes were opened to the every day misogyny directed to women via his daughter’s experience while walking home from school.

Local Blogger Ian McGibboney writes “A Letter To All the Nice Guys”and makes some really good points.

And, finally, Emily Shire says “#YesAllWomen Has Jumped the Shark” and wonders if it’s being diluted by people tweeting about such things as “complaints about women being told to smile”. What do you think?

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

New-To-Me Blog of the Week

To end on a lighter note, I want to share a blog each week (or so) that’s new to me and that I enjoyed reading  – you know, show a little link love.This week it’s  The Art of Simple, a blog that shares ways to live a simpler, more meaningful life as well as giving great organizational tips. Give it a click, I think you’ll like it!

 

 

 

 

 

Home

2351667455_c88dfc8781_z

Edie and the aunts never went anywhere. Libby had scarcely even been outside Mississippi; and she and the other aunts were gloomy and terrified for days if they had to venture more than a few miles from home. The water tasted funny, they murmured; they couldn’t sleep in a strange bed; they were worried that they’d left the coffee on, worried about their houseplants and their cats, worried that there would be a fire or someone would break into their houses or that the End of the World would happen while they were away. They would have to use commodes in filling stations—commodes which were filthy, with no telling what diseases on them. People in strange restaurants didn’t care about Libby’s saltfree diet. And what if the car broke down? What if somebody got sick? ~ Donna Tartt, “The Little Friend”

 

I mentally clapped hands in delight when I read that passage because it was so achingly familiar. Who in the South doesn’t know someone like that and  it’s not necessarily your little Great Aunt either. I read this out loud to someone and we both giggled over knowing people just like this.

Southerners love home. We love our big old creaky houses that have been in the family for generations, our meandering country roads, our lush, verdant yards in the summertime.  We love waking up in the morning with the sunlight streaming through the window playing tag on MawMaw’s quilt, going out on the porch with coffee and newspaper and the background melodies of Cardinals and Mocking Birds. The dew shines on the old roses like a brand new life and the ancient oaks stretch their arms to hug the world. We love our homeplace, our stuff, our familiar and comforting lives.

Risk-takers can have their adventures. We don’t necessarily have to leave home to have ours.

This passage is just a small bit from “The Little Friend”. Donna Tartt’s Mississippi roots (She’s from Greenville.) dig deep into this story with characters, situations and conversation that are familiar to those of us who grew up in the rural deep South. So far, reading this book is like walking back into my childhood for a visit. I may never want this book to end.

“Sand Dollar” by J.P. Reese

Art by Daria Bagrintseva

Art by Daria Bagrintseva


Sand Dollar

Washed ashore, I am the coin
of mermaids in your palm.

Your eyes see only treasure,
not the measure of my end.

The sand moves, sculpted by wind.
Endings clarify, chasten.

Lifted from a suitcase, I am the memory
of sun slashed across a cheekbone,

wind-ruffled sea grass, the curl of foam
that spumes above green waves,

bonfires that sear the night sky,
a kiss from one whose footprints

disappeared beyond the dunes.
I am the arid bone of flowered stars.

~ J.P. Reese, Dead Letters

__________________________

Poetry month has passed (I think it’s Fiction Month now) but poetry will live on for me, and many others, everyday. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry chapbooks and books this year. J.P. Reese’s Dead Letters is a wonderful little chapbook of very personal and touching poems Her manipulation of language is creative and musical and, like music, brings forth your own memories resulting in a feeling of kinship. I highly recommend it. Being a collector of things mermaid, this one is a favorite of mine. I love how it evokes summer nights and memories of long, lazy days at the beach. The last line is gorgeous and hit me like fireworks when I read it. Perfection.

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.

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

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.