Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ned Vizzini
1981 - 2013

I guess there's no "good" way to find out about a person's death. As these things go though, social media has to be one of the worst. 

Yesterday I got on Twitter and noticed that Ned Vizzini was trending. I was like "Oh, that's cool," and clicked on his name. Then I saw the "top tweet", a headline that hit me right in the heart.

Author Ned Vizzini, 32, commits suicide in Brooklyn

I'm still in shock. 

I interviewed Ned in 2012 for Praxis. He was kind, funny, and generous, and I was beyond thrilled that he took the time to talk to me for my little literary magazine. I'd been a huge fan of his work for nearly ten years. It wasn't, however, the first time I corresponded with him.

In the summer of 2003, I was working part-time at the circulation desk of the Fountain Square Library in Indianapolis. One quiet weekday afternoon, I noticed a YA book that had been dropped into the return slot titled Teen Angst? Nah... I checked it in and then, instead of putting it on the shelving cart, I started to read it while standing there at the desk (as I said, it was an unusually quiet day). I was surprised and impressed by this quirky, funny, wise collection of essays from a gifted teen growing up in a loving but eccentric family. I finished it by the time my shift was over.

At the back of the book, there was a website and an email address, encouraging fans to get in touch with the author. I dashed off an email to Ned, telling him that although I was much older than his targeted demographic (30), I still really enjoyed Teen Angst and hoped that he would write more (the book, published in 2000, was his first and only one at the time). I didn't expect to hear back, but a few days later I received a message from Ned. He said he was glad that I enjoyed the book and thanked me for reading. I was touched that he'd taken the time to reply to me.  

Fast forward two years. I was living in St. Paul, MN and, while perusing the stacks in Highland Park Library, I found Vizzini's second book, the 2004 YA novel Be More Chill. I checked it out, read it over the course of a weekend, and loved it. I decided to get touch again, telling him in another email how excited I was to find that he'd written a novel and that I thought it was a very clever and innovative story. I also added something to the effect of "I'm not sure if you remember me, but we exchanged emails a few years back when I wrote to tell you how much I adored Teen Angst."

I got an email from Ned the next day. He wrote, "Yes, I remember you." He thanked me for checking out his novel and told me that he was working on another book that was due out the next year (2006).

I watched for Ned's next book and read it as soon as it hit the library. I was surprised that it was a bit more personal and, although it featured a lot of the humor that he'd become known for, it was a bit more serious than his other work. Titled (ironically) It's Kind of a Funny Story, it was a semi-autobiographical account of a severely depressed young man who checks himself into a psychiatric unit when he starts having serious thoughts of suicide. The novel struck a chord with a lot of his young readership, many of whom wrote in to tell Ned about their own issues with suicidal thoughts and depression and how IKoaFS had helped them get through it. I found myself wishing that the book had existed when I was a teenager, battling my own untreated depression.

Ned Vizzini in an interview with the mental health website Strength of Us
It's Kind of a Funny Story is 85% true. I actually did spend a week in the adult wing of a psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn after calling a suicide hotline in fall 2004. I was 23 at the time, however, not 15. I made the main character, Craig, 15 years old in the book but gave him my problems and worldview.  
In 2010, IKoaFS was made into a feature film starring Zach Galifianakis. As a fan of the book, I didn't feel that the movie did it justice. The Galifianakis character wasn't even in the novel, yet he featured prominently in the movie (kind of gimmicky, in my opinion). I also thought a lot of the book's humor was absent from the film. Still, I thought the performances were excellent and I was happy for Ned; it was exciting to see his work adapted for the big screen. 

In our interview, Ned talked about about his experiences on the set of the film:
P: You wrote a series of reports from the set of It’s Kind of a Funny Story where you talked about watching the actors shoot the “Under Pressure” scene. Having witnessed it performed live right before your eyes, what was it like seeing it on the big screen? And now (two years later) what stands out the most about your time hanging out with the actors and film crew?
NV: That “Under Pressure” scene looks better on the big screen than it did when it was being filmed. Of course it looked cool then, but when you hear the music being piped in and see the actors taking their positions, you peek behind the curtain in a way you can’t with the finished product. In terms of what stands out the most: filming on the Brooklyn Bridge. I had a date with me when I visited the set that night and she’s now my wife.
Read my Praxis interview with Ned here.

Going through my inbox while writing this, I'm surprised at how many (short, friendly) emails Ned and I exchanged back and forth, particularly over the past year. We also replied to one another several times on Twitter. I think it just goes to show what a sweetheart he was. A busy bestselling author who published two novels in the past two years--The Other Normals in 2012 and House of Secrets in 2013--wrote for television (Teen Wolf, Last Resort, and Believe), contributed work to Salon, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, lectured at colleges throughout the country, and yet still took the time to engage with fans and support his fellow writers. Although I never met him in person, I feel like I got to know him well, or as well as you can get to know someone over email and Twitter.

Link to one of the Tweets I received from Ned, dated January 26th.

The last I heard from him was an email on October 19, which I now sadly realize was two months to the day that he took his life. It was in reply to a message I sent recommending that he read Greg Sestero's The Disaster Artist:
andie thanks for sending me a book rec I actually appreciate!! Tom Bissel cowrote this 'Room' book and I like his writing so I want to check it out.
As I said, I'm still pretty much in shock and my thoughts are unorganized and disjointed. I'm just so saddened by his death. I can't even begin to imagine the hell that his family is going through. My heart goes out to them.

Rest in peace, my friend. The world was lucky to know you.

"Did you have to change all your poet's fire into frozen dust?"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

An oldie but goodie....taken from the archives. Not my archives, but the archives of Capnwacky's Zonar. You may remember my Capnwacky-related post from last Easter.


Zonar reports on Thanksgiving

The following text is a report I have written up on the human holiday Thanksgiving to send to the Superion High Command. I repost it on this blog so that you humans may enjoy my insights on your culture:


This week hails the holiday of Thanksgiving for humans living in the Earth country called The United States of America. Being a American-created holiday, it focuses on American's favorite activities. First, there is a day of eating, followed by a day of shopping. Also, apparently there is some football watching, though my observances are inconclusive if this is part of the holiday traditions or merely normal everyday behavior that continued during the holiday.

Colonists, fattening their prey.

The first day of Thanksgiving celebrates the day American colonists arrived from the old world* and ate all the native Americans. To commemorate this day of conquest, humans gather together with their family members and eat large, cooked birds (symbolizing the "Indians"). Also, there is pie.

Following the day of consumption, the second day of Thanksgiving is focused on purchasing consumable goods from chain stores. This is apparently a contest among the Americans to see who can purchase as many items as possible in a single day (I am inferring this, as I see no other reason for the frenzy given that these consumable goods are available both before and after day two of Thanksgiving, and purchasing them on any other day would be a simpler and more comfortable experience). Predominantly the female American humans take part in this contest, and must survive through rounds of driving very early in the morning, finding a parking spot, and the traditional running of the fat ladies. It appears to be a grueling, dangerous experience. Fortunately, they have loaded up on carbohydrates the day before.

Eager combatants outside of the arena.

When a winner of the competition is selected, the surviving female combatants return home to divide up the remaining piles of food and retain the remaining piles of resentment. Everyone hates themselves for ingesting so much on Day 1 and prepares to repeat their mistakes throughout the following holiday season.

*not literally another world, but merely another country on the same world. "The Old World" is merely a term used by humans, indicating their dim view of the universe and how it works.

Sunday, November 03, 2013


Everything Marie, an absolutely fabulous site that helps indie authors promote their books via blog tours, reviews, and interviews. The site is owned and operated by blogger Tiffany Marie, who also reviews upcoming films and newly released DVDs. In short, the girl is AWESOME!

Tiffany is promoting Thanks, That Was Fun with a blog tour beginning December 5th and concluding December 19. I am beyond ecstatic!
Take a look at her website here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

In honor of Halloween, here is an acoustic cover of "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Joshua Path, a truly amazing singer/songwriter I had the pleasure of interviewing in 2010.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Now, run along and wipe that face off your head. You're getting rancid.
Last night my husband and I had his friend and colleague Bob over for dinner. I hadn't met Bob before, but we laughed and slapped a gleeful high-five when we discovered we were both vegetarian.

Let me clarify. There are a few sub-types of vegetarians. Bob is a pescatarian (no beef, pork, poultry, just fish). I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian. No beef, pork, poultry, fish, or anything in between. Occasionally I'll eat cheese made with vegetarian rennet, and sometimes cage-free, organic eggs (and I still love ice cream). If you want to get really specific, I don't eat anything with a face. 
Except for these guys. Yum!
(Source: Happiness is Cookies by Clawson Cookies.)

If this information makes you want to scream and punch a wall, that's fine by me. I'll admit--it is a bit confusing.

Related: I've lived all over Indiana, Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, and now Reno, NV. Over the last eighteen months, I've traveled to NYC (twice), and to Tulsa, OK (more than twice). 

Of the six locales mentioned above, can you guess where I was hassled for being a vegetarian? I'll give you a hint:
  1. Indiana
  2. Minneapolis 
  3. Baton Rouge
  4. Reno
  5. NYC
  6. Tulsa
Yes--my beloved, progressive, Earth Day-founding Minneapolis and the Seat of the Empire, A-#1, King of the Hill, top of the heap: New York, New York.

I'll back up a bit.

I grew up on the north side of Indianapolis, just blocks away from an adorable vegetarian restaurant called The Stillwater. 

I couldn't find a photo of The Stillwater, so here's a yearbook photo of Dave 
Letterman, graduate of Broad Ripple High School, class of '65. He looks like my Dad!

My mom took me to the Stillwater once when I was ten years old, and I was baffled by the concept of a meat-free menu. You see, I was raised on a very meat-ful menu, which was down to my father, a big Irishman who loved his meat, his potatoes, and sometimes sausage for dessert. To this day he still prefers corn beef, meatloaf, and pork chops, but won't touch chicken since he was raised in Illinois during the Great Depression, when chicken was all anyone could afford.

When I was away at boarding school during my teen years, I developed a taste for beef tacos from Taco Bell, Burger King Whoppers, Big Macs, and greasy pepperoni pizza--stuff I wasn't allowed to eat at home (my parents divorced in 1983 and I was mostly raised by my mom, a health nut who ate chicken, turkey, and a ton of veggies. She now eats fish and veggies). I gave up fast food at the age of twenty, but continued stuffing my face with processed meat products--frozen cheeseburgers, Italian sausage, and corn beef--well into my twenties. 

In 1995, when I was twenty-two years old, I got very sick and discovered that red meat made me projectile vomit. I couldn't even stand the smell or sight of it. It wasn't difficult for me to quit red meat. 

For the next two years, I ate only chicken (I never cared for turkey) and the odd vegetable. In mid-1997, I decided to try going vegetarian. It fit with my belief system (I'm a hardcore animal lover) and I knew it was healthier than fried chicken, the only meat product I found it hard to live without. The last time I ate meat of any sort was Labor Day, 1997. My last carnivorous meal was a half-order of white meat chicken from KFC. I thought "well, I might not be able to do this, but here goes nothing." 

To my surprise, I was able to quit meat altogether and I never looked back. In the last sixteen years, I've haven't had a craving for anything besides--again--fried chicken, and that was during my first year of being meat-free. I even found a healthier alternative: fried cauliflower. Same texture as chicken, wonderful when fried and breaded. It's still one of my favorite dishes ever, along with vegetable pakora. 

 Above: Fried cauliflower. It's de-lish.

In my mid-twenties (ca.1998), I had lunch with my Mom once a week (I miss that). She introduced me to India Garden in Broad Ripple, and I decided right then that I could probably live off nothing but their potato samosas, palak paneer, tikka masala, dal, Basmati rice, and, of course, vegetable pakora (pictured above).  

India Garden spoiled me for Indian food. I was unable to find an Indian restaurant in Minnesota that came close to their perfection. I couldn't even find anything comparable in England, either. India Garden is the BEST. The next-best curry house is a cute little restaurant in Baton Rouge called India's.

John and I have already found an Indian restaurant near downtown Reno, called India Kabob and Curry and it is YUM (still not as good as India Garden, but relatively close. And they have great pakora.)

Okay, wow. I never intended to write a food blog. That market is saturated, so now I'll just bitch about dumb things that were said to me in Minneapolis and NYC in regards to my vegetarian diet. 

The Minneapolis comments were made by acquaintances that I'm no longer in touch with. The NYC comments were those of an oddly curious waiter in Hell's Kitchen. 

I'll start with the Big Apple, then I'll take a bite out of the Mini Apple.

ON-DUTY WAITER: "You're a vegetarian? Oh my god, really? turkey on Christmas?"
Oh hell no. As I mentioned, I was never fond of turkey, because turkey is prepared two different ways: Bone-dry (roasted) and slimy and wet (deli). I won't be having either, thanks.

I wish I could properly convey the astonishment in the guy's voice. He was a native English speaker, so there was no language barrier. And he waited tables in Manhattan, so he had to at least be familiar with the concept of vegetarianism. But he didn't act like it. In fact, he seemed utterly mystified, like I'd just told him I was a Roman Catholic nun and I loved the feel of old lady pantyhose against my skin. (I'm not. And I don't.)

"So, do you eat asparagus all day and then sit around and fart?"
Let me just blow your mind: I rarely need to make time in my schedule to sit around and fart. I can multi-task. I do like grilled asparagus, though.

CUSTOMER: "Oh man, vegetarian? I could never do that. My grandfather was a proud truck farmer (or goat hoarder, or bullshit wrangler, or dog snatcher, or whatever)." 

Truck farming. Yep, that exists.

Good for grandpa. Sorry that you lack the mental resources to imagine a different lifestyle. Still, those trucks ain't gonna farm themselves....

SOMEONE: "I wish I could be vegetarian. But I'm Latvian/German/Hungarian/Icelandic/Spanish/Brazillian/Italian and I need my meat."
Don't loan your meat out to anyone else, then. I'm Irish/English/Choctawand I will continue to eat whatever I damn well please, including (but not limited to) a metric shit-ton of kale.

*For years, I mistakenly believed that my maternal grandfather was Cherokee. It turned out that no, he was Choctaw. But he grew up in rural Oklahoma in the 1920's, a time when people didn't exactly broadcast their Indian heritage or care to know much about it. Unlike my dad's family, who will tell anyone who doesn't run away screaming all about the awesomeness of the Emerald Isle and its people. (I do love them Irish.)

SYNAGOGUE, ST. PAUL, 2005 (I worked in the admin office).
CONGREGANT: "No meat? Is that a religious thing? What are you, exactly?"
Ummmm....a Democrat?

"Oh, I looooove meat. How can you not love meat? That's ridiculous because....BACON!"
Enjoy being an unpaid shill for the pork industry. I'm sure they appreciate your efforts.

"Real girls eat meat!"
Congratulations. You're in fine company. Check it out: 

Go cram a cheeseburger in your head, dipdouche.

I just need to stop and have a mild rant here. What's with the T-shirt manufacturer's creepy aversion to the word "women"? "Real girls" sounds all underage and icky. It's probably from Abercrombie and Fitch, proud proprietors of all things underage and icky. 

Sadly enough, the bizarre comments I've listed here are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm still perplexed that I heard brain barf like this from randoms in one of the coolest cities I've ever seen. Also, 95% of the people I knew in the Twin Cities: friends, neighbors, countrymen, urban cowgirls, etc. were--naturally--open, sympathetic, and usually vegetarians themselves. 

The rest of 'em got more brains in their stomachs than in they heads.  

NOTE: Thanks to my John for coining the term "dipdouche" when we were out in traffic the other day. I just felt privileged to be in the presence of the original Master of Brookovian Wit when he spontaneously busted out a new drollery, one that he doesn't mind me borrowing when the situation calls for it (see above).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I'm writing this on September 24th (the day before our 1-year wedding anniversary!) but John and I are busy prepping for another cross-country move, so I'm getting this done now!

I can't believe it's been a year! The time has flown by. It's been a great first year. I love being married. Leos can seem quite weird and wild on the surface, but deep down we crave normality (John's words) and stability (mine). We like a good, solid partnership. We like having someone to come home to. And we are in LOVE with love. John and I are on the same page with all of that, and that's why we've had such a great first year together as a married couple. And here's to many more!

As I've mentioned before, we met in January, 2009. There was an immediate attraction straight away, but I think it's fair to say that John and I were both sort of cynical about love when we met. John had been married twice before, and I had just gone through the whole Simon Reid ordeal a mere five months earlier. Talk about dating anxiety! But we soldiered on obviously, and so here we are today. 


And since I'm relating EVERYTHING these days to my musical memories....John says that in the very beginning of our relationship, he used to listen to the Split Enz song "I Got You." It's a song about, basically, relationship paranoia.

I'm on a HUGE Split Enz kick right now, so I've been listening to this song quite a bit. It's a fabulous track, one of my favorites from the New Wave era. Neil does a nice bit of stage acting, particularly from 3:14 to the 3:24 mark (I'm not being facetious--he's really good).

I have a bit of a history with the Finns. Did you know?
Me and Neil after the Crowded House show in Minneapolis, 2007.

Neil signing the photo I took with him at the Guthrie in 2004.

Here's that photo. How meta!

Me with Tim at the Guthrie, 2004 *
*When I met Tim Finn after their show at the Vogue in 2005 (Indianapolis--I went with my friends Marcus and Aggie) Tim gave me a once-over and a smile. Thanks Tim! How YOU doin'?

I'm just a huge fan. The Finns have done such amazing work, as solo artists, as The Finn Brothers, in Crowded House and--of course--in Split Enz.

Here's another of my favorite Split Enz songs, Dirty Creature, (I've blogged about that one before), which also a song about paranoia. SO many Enz songs are about anxiety and paranoia. Tim has said in interviews that he used to suffer from horrible panic attacks, and that definitely reflected in the lyrics he was writing at the time.

So did I cover it all? Love, marriage, anniversary, the Finns, and Split Enz? I think I did.

I'll say it again John.....


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I recently had the opportunity to chat with author Morgan Richter for Praxis Magazine. The interview went live on Sunday morning. But you might have missed it because your Sunday morning was spent singing hymns in church, say. Or sleeping off a Saturday night bender (at times it seems there is no end to long, hard nights of drinking). Or falling over on the couch again (but you know, not all sleep is wasted). Incidentally, anyone who can correctly identify those lyrics gets a shiny new ball point pen from Coyote Moon, my favorite local candle/crystal/Tarot emporium.

Here we go. 

The Praxis Interview: Morgan Richter
Originally published on September 15, 2013

I discovered Morgan Richter’s work serendipitously while searching for images from Sing Blue Silver, the 1984 film documenting the North American leg of Duran Duran’s 1983 – 84 world tour. The search led me to a “Duranalysis” on Richter’s blog, Preppies of the Apocalypse. Her Duranalysis of Sing Blue Silverwas a funny, film scholarly dissection of the celebrated documentary, and I fell in love with Richter’s writing straight away. After reading through more of her posts, I learned that she holds a BFA from USC’s film school, worked in production on several TV shows, authored three award-winning novels: Bias Cut (which is also available in paperback), Charlotte Dent, and Wrong City, and even founded her own publishing company.

Ms. Richter recently took time to chat with us about her novels, her film school background, her work as an associate producer on Talk Soup, and–of course–Duran Duran.

Praxis: Do you feel that you were born a writer?

Morgan Richter: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. My parents were both preposterously intelligent and creative, and academic achievement was strongly encouraged in our family. Every summer, our parents prepared daily academic lessons for my sister and me. The subjects changed weekly, but math, science, logic, and creative writing were always heavily covered. I still have a stack of spiral notebooks filled with short stories, most of which I wrote between the ages of six and ten. I was a hardcore L. Frank Baum junkie from a very early age, so many of my stories were set in fantastical worlds that were shameless Oz knockoffs.

I lost a lot of writing momentum in junior high and high school. I still wrote quite a bit—I wrote a feature-length screenplay about motorcycle gangs as well as a very bad speculate script for an episode of, ahem, 21 Jump Street when I was in junior high, plus a never-completed Tolkien-esque fantasy novel when I was in high school. But I didn’t have the discipline I’d had in those very early years.

I don’t know whether I was born a writer. I was born with a good imagination, which my parents encouraged me to develop, and I was a voracious reader from an early age; anyone who wants to write needs both of those qualities. I think there was always an assumption—from my parents, from my friends, from my teachers, from myself—that I would grow up to become a writer. I couldn’t really see myself pursuing a creative writing degree, though, so I went to USC’s film school instead and completed their undergraduate screenwriting program.

P: What’s your writing process like?

MR: The short version of my writing process goes something like this: brainstorm, outline, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I like spending a few months brainstorming—I write in a journal each morning, in which I jot down fragments of ideas that eventually coalesce into better ideas, until I end up with the general thrust of a story. I’m a big fan of outlining. I’ve written books with outlines and without outlines, and the former method results in a much cleaner first draft. My outlines tend to be ludicrously detailed—almost more like a very sloppy rough draft, with every scene described in as much detail as I can manage and with rough chunks of dialogue already in place.

I like blitzing through first drafts at lightning speed. I aim for about three thousand words a day. My books tend to be on the short side—Charlotte Dentis my longest published book, and that one comes in at under ninety thousand words—so I can usually get through a rough draft in a month, writing every day. Mornings, particularly the wee hours, tend to be my most productive time, but I try to train myself to be as flexible as possible about when and where I write.

I’m very big on rewriting. Usually my general storyline doesn’t change too much from that first draft—I blame my film school training; it’s given me a very strong sense of story structure—but my first-draft prose is inevitably clunky and belabored. During the rewrite process, I go through my entire document over and over again, streamlining my prose, rearranging sentences, deleting repetition, zapping the adverbs and scrutinizing my word choices. My final version is always ten to fifteen percent shorter than the first draft. I don’t talk about the story or, god forbid, let anyone look at it until I’ve gone through several passes and am feeling pretty confident that it’s close to a finished product.

P: What did you learn over the course of writing your first three novels?

MR: I learned that I use the word “awesome” with alarming frequency. I also learned that my characters shrug far too often—really, whenever I need an easy beat in the middle of a bit of dialogue, I add in a shrug. I’m trying very, very hard to eradicate lazy shortcuts like that. I also learned that I am weak at metaphors; whenever I try to write a particularly flowery passage, it tends to stop my story cold in its track. I have a crisp, clean, straightforward prose style; I’ve learned I should encourage this and leave the poetry to other writers. I learned that I write very clumsy first drafts. Luckily, I also learned that I have a knack for rewriting and a good eye for editing, which goes a long way toward mitigating the initial clumsiness.

P: In what order were they written?

MR: I wrote the first draft of Charlotte Dent in 2006, when I was working at a bad desk job while seriously beginning to question whether I was kidding myself about ever finding happiness and success in the entertainment industry. Charlotte is not me and her experiences are not mine, not entirely, but she’s probably the character with whom I share the most common ground, especially with regard to her growing antipathy for Hollywood. Wrong City was written in 2010; it’s actually a sequel of sorts to Anathema, a book I wrote in 2005 but have not yet published–and perhaps never will–it’s in pretty rank shape. “Sequel” is the wrong word, actually; it’s set in the same wacked-out, vaguely supernatural version of Los Angeles, and some of the peripheral characters cross over into both books, but it features a different protagonist, and the events of Wrong City are not affected by anything that happens in Anathema.

I wrote Bias Cut in late 2011; it was a semi-finalist for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and won a silver medal in the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Before starting Bias Cut, I was torn between two wholly different story concepts—I wanted to write a surreal post-apocalyptic alternate-history tale, in which the world was largely destroyed in a nuclear attack in 1984 and, almost thirty years later, is still in the process of rebuilding, and I wanted to write a story about an inter-generational friendship between two lost souls. I wanted to write both books simultaneously, I wanted to use the same characters in both, and I wanted to make both books deeply interconnected and yet exist as separate entities—readers wouldn’t need to read one to understand the other.
So… I wrote Bias Cut first. It’s the story of Laurie Sparks, a flamboyant young gay fashion designer, and Nicola, the jaded older woman who becomes his unlikely Platonic soulmate. There’s a nice little mystery involved, but it clearly should be classified as general fiction. And then, after I was done, I wrote the first draft of Lonely Satellite, which is the Bizarro-world version of Bias Cut. This time around, in this alternate version of events, a somewhat tougher version of Laurie is fending his way through a dangerous post-apocalyptic world, running into tweaked versions of the same characters and predicaments he experienced in Bias Cut, only in a more bizarre setting.
There are Easter eggs for Lonely Satellite hidden throughout Bias Cut, by the way. The theme of Laurie’s upcoming fashion collection, the identity of Laurie’s mother, the references to events that happened in the eighties, all of these are tiny clues to what happens in Lonely Satellite.

P: How is Lonely Satellite coming along?

MR: My first draft of Lonely Satellite was a shambles. But I recently finished the final rewrite, and it looks pretty solid. Now I’m coordinating with my graphic designer regarding last-minute cover revisions. It’s set for release in October.

P: What’s your best source of inspiration?

MR: I’m inspired by life and pop culture in equal doses. In film school, a popular exercise in screenwriting class was to flip through a newspaper, find a story, and extract an idea for a feature script from that. My brain doesn’t really work that way; I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a workable plot idea from a news story. And frankly, the whole process reminds me too much of the wayLaw & Order used to smugly proclaim that a particular episode was “ripped from the headlines!”, as if that automatically gave the story more gravitas.
The germ of inspiration for the character of Laurie Sparks, of Bias Cut andLonely Satellite, came from Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, circa 1984. Like Nick, Laurie is tiny and beautiful and effeminate and thoroughly spoiled, but with a surprisingly sturdy soul. They’re far from the same person, though; they’re more different than alike, but Nick was my starting point. At the same time, much of Bias Cut (and Charlotte Dent and Wrong City as well) comes from my own experiences in the entertainment industry and from living in Los Angeles and, currently, New York City. It’s a hodgepodge, but hopefully an entertaining one.

P: I had a feeling Nick Rhodes was partially the inspiration for Laurie Sparks! Although Laurie is such a fascinating, multi-layered character on his own.

MR: Thank you! Laurie is my favorite fictional creation to date. He’s just fun to write. Yeah, very specifically, the first fragment of an idea for Laurie Sparks came from watching a behind-the-scenes feature on the making of Duran Duran’s Arena—you know, their bizarre, incomprehensible sci-fi themed 1984 concert film? There’s a segment in which Nick Rhodes is unhappy about his proposed wardrobe for their “Wild Boys” video—the other four Durans get to wear these cool head-to-toe leather outfits, and he’s stuck with this ratty felt cape-like thing. So Nick, who is this tiny, gorgeous, glamorous little creature, sits down cross-legged on the floor of the sewing room and starts gluing sparkly jewels all over a leather jacket to make his own costume. It’s this amazing, strange, hilarious moment. For Laurie, I wanted to capture that weird mixture of someone who seems so over-the-top and shallow and flighty, but who actually has a whole lot going on beneath that very decorative surface.
There were other influences on Laurie along the way—a dollop of both Austin Scarlett and Christian Siriano from Project Runway, maybe some Adam Lambert, maybe some Sailor Moon—but that first spark came from Nick.

P: Okay then, about Duran Duran….

MR: Ah, Duran Duran. Did I mention that my upcoming book is called Lonely Satellite(Ed. note–”Lonely satellite” is a lyric from the Duran Duran song “New Moon on Monday”.) It’s funny—for as much as Duran Duran seems to have taken over aspects of my life lately, I’ve never really considered myself a full-on Duranie, though I suppose I must qualify for the title. I was born in 1974, which put me on the young side of their fanbase when they broke through to mainstream popularity in the early eighties, but I shamelessly adored them anyway. They were beautiful and glamorous and sophisticated, and I loved the universes portrayed in their music videos—the Sri Lankan street scenes in “Hungry Like the Wolf”, the champagne-soaked yacht in the Caribbean in “Rio”, and particularly the post-apocalyptic wastelands of “Wild Boys” and “Union of the Snake.” It’s probably impossible to overstate the importance of that iconic “Wild Boys” video on my creative development.
I moved to Los Angeles for college in 1991, which was sort of a bleak time for Duran Duran—Seattle grunge rock had just broken through in a big way, and the glammed-out New Wave bands of the eighties were deemed terminally uncool in the nineties. I more or less neglected Duran Duran for the next twenty years. Their Decade greatest-hits CD was always on heavy rotation in my apartment, but I dabbled only occasionally into their more contemporary stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever even listened to their Liberty album. Or Big Thing, for that matter. In many ways, I am a rotten excuse for a Duranie.

Then in 2011, I experienced a Duran Duran renaissance. I was fast approaching my lowest point—I’d seen a number of very promising writing gigs fizzle out, I was sad and uninspired, and my father had just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. As a lark, I started posting my tongue-in-cheek analyses of vintage Duran videos over on my personal website, Preppies of the Apocalypse. The site name, by the way, is taken from a screenplay I wrote circa 1999, which drew inspiration from, yep, the “Wild Boys” video. It all comes full circle. In a short time, these analyses took on a life of their own, striking a strong nostalgia chord with a wide readership. At one point, the band’s former guitarist, Andy Taylor, started reposting them over on his official website, which was a pretty amazing development.

From Andy Taylor’s Twitter feed:

Vive la Révolution! It’s time to analyze @DuranDuran‘s “New Moon on Monday” video with @morganrichter! Find it here.
— Andy Taylor (@andytaylor_tv) May 9, 2012

I’m sure my current Duran mania stems very specifically from an attempt to recapture the feeling of that long-lost period in time, the early eighties, back when my parents were young and healthy, when I thought I was ever so smart and precocious, when it seemed like anything was possible.

P: I’m curious to know how you come up with character names. So many of them–Charlotte Dent, Laurie Sparks, and most of the ones populating Wrong City–have very distinctive, memorable names.

MR: Charlotte Dent is an easy one. She’s been somewhat damaged by her time in Hollywood, so “Dent” seemed like a good choice. And “Charlotte Dent” sounds something like “charlatan”, which fit well; the whole book is about identity and self-worth, and how Charlotte constantly feels like an imposter in the film industry. She gets cast in a film based on her appearance, even though no one involved with the production has any idea whether she can act. When she’s injured on the set, her stunt double takes her place in some shots, and nobody can tell the difference. She constantly gets confused with other young actresses and misidentified in press photos; after her boyfriend leaves her, he takes up with another actress who looks much like her. So even though she’s trying her best to carve out some kind of unique identity, she has a growing suspicion that she might be a fraud, or at best, a replaceable commodity.

For Laurie Sparks, I wanted to give him a gender-neutral first name, leaning more toward feminine–and “Sparks” is just because Laurie is a very sparkly kind of guy–I would’ve named him “Laurie Sparkle” if I thought I could get away with it. Laurie’s real first name is Laurent, and there’s no way anyone has ever called him Larry. Laurie is a boy who likes kissing other boys, and who likes wearing makeup and dressing in satin and velvet, and he really can’t be bothered to care if anyone has any kind of problem with that. I wanted a name that establishes him right away as someone special—he’s a famous designer and a reality TV star, and he’s got the name to match.
For Wrong City’s Sparky Mother, I wanted a name that would be hard for readers to get a handle on. “Sparky” is kind of an uncool name, and “Mother” really isn’t any kind of typical surname at all. When we meet Sparky, he’s this polished, charming, sophisticated guy who seems to wield a lot of influence in the entertainment industry, but it’s tough to figure out what his deal is, exactly. And he’s got these flat-out dorky business cards, and there’s a lot about him that makes no sense, and there are definitely sinister undercurrents to everything he says or does. So the trick was in coming up with a name that captured all those uneasy, nebulous qualities he possesses. The character of Troy, Vish’s girlfriend, functions as a Trojan horse—she gets past Vish’s defenses, which allows something potentially catastrophic to enter his life—so that seemed like an apt name. Vish himself—short for Viswanathan—is named for Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. I play a lot of chess.

Not all of my character names have any particular meaning. I’ll often just jam in the very first name that springs to mind when I’m pounding out a first draft. About half of the time, I won’t ever come up with a better replacement for it, so it’ll end up sticking.

P: You mentioned that Charlotte Dent is your longest novel, which is surprising. I breezed through it in a weekend, and loved it.

MR: Thank you. Even though a lot happens to Charlotte along the way, I think the pacing in Charlotte is pretty brisk throughout, without much meandering. A complaint I sometimes hear from readers, which I feel is pretty valid, is that my books end too abruptly, or that they wrap up too quickly. Fair enough, though I tend to think my endings fall right where it’s most natural for them to fall, which is usually only a few pages after the climax. It’s a matter of personal preference, but unless we’re talking about The Lord of the Rings, I’m usually not fond of prolonged denouements.

P: With your experiences on Talk Soup and America’s Funniest Home Videos,plus your life as a writer and founder of Luft Books, have you ever thought of writing a memoir?

MR: Not at all, never. I enjoy reading memoirs, but I’m not inclined to pen one myself. I think I’d have a hard time resisting the urge to mythologize my past and assign deep hidden meaning to the more mundane aspects of my life. I seem very sensible and stable on the surface, but I’m constantly suppressing my inner drama queen. In fiction, I’m okay with streamlining the events in a character’s life down to the strongest, sleekest narrative thread. In Charlotte Dent, for instance, we see the handful of events, positive and negative, that lead Charlotte to start to readjust her thinking regarding a career in the entertainment industry. Real life, though, doesn’t provide a straightforward narrative. If I were to write about my experiences working in the television industry, I’d have to whittle those experiences down to just a handful of events that could support a strong narrative. Knowing myself as I do, I suspect I’d end up sacrificing some honesty to make it a cleaner, stronger story.

I’m probably explaining that poorly. I’ll try again with a clear example: I don’t really know why I’m no longer working in television. There are so many reasons, some that make perfect sense. I had a bad experience working on Job A, and I couldn’t find work after leaving Job B, and I thought I’d be happier writing novels. I had a pretty good shot at getting Job C, but I didn’t pursue it hard enough, and I don’t really know why. If I were writing about this, I’d either have to leave out the reasons that don’t make sense, or shoehorn them into the narrative in a way that makes sense but maybe isn’t entirely true. I think I’d end up feeling dissatisfied with that.
Actually, I could probably write a short, gossipy, shamelessly name-dropping book about working on Talk Soup (“Erik Estrada is awesome!”). That’d probably work out okay. That was a great just-out-of-college job, and one hell of a fun place to work.

P: Tell us more about Luft Books. What motivated you to start it?

MR: Luft Books was born entirely out of frustration and grief. I graduated from film school in 1995, full of promise and ambition. For the first few years after graduation, I was on a pretty good path. I’d worked in production on a number of television shows—I was an associate producer of E!’s Talk Soup, for instance, and a production coordinator on America’s Funniest Home Videos—but, despite having a whole stack of spec screenplays I was shopping around, I wasn’t getting any closer to a career in writing. Production work dried up, and I went through a long series of bad temp jobs, of unemployment and underemployment. The good news is that my creative writing output went way up during this time. I made the switch from screenplays to novels in 2000 and have churned out roughly a book every couple of years since then, along with a few stray screenplays.
It’s such a cliché to complain about the impenetrability of the traditional publishing industry that I can’t bring myself to do it here. I know there are people who will assume I didn’t try hard enough to get my books published through traditional means; I also know there are people who will assume I wasn’t a good enough writer to get my books published through traditional means. The subject exhausts me, so all I will say about that is this: They are wrong.

My mother died in 2008; my father died last year. Throughout my life, they’d been unflinching champions of my talent and potential; after I lost them, I felt horrified and deeply ashamed that I’d never accomplished anything of significance during their lifetimes. So last summer, a couple months after my dad’s death, I took a hard look at the backlog of well-written, eminently publishable novels I’d built up over the years, and decided to do whatever I could to get them into print. Ergo, Luft Books was formed.

Thus far, in its first year, I’ve published four books under the Luft name—three of my own, plus one from an excellent Australian science-fiction author,Disconnected by A.K. Adler. Lonely Satellite is scheduled for an October release. Next year, if all goes according to plan, I’d like to start adding more authors to the Luft Books family. I know a whole slew of very good authors who’ve written publishable, marketable books that they’ve been unable to shepherd through the traditional publishing system. I hope someday Luft can provide them with a viable alternative, should they want one.

Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, Morgan Richter graduated with a BFA in Filmic Writing from the University of Southern California’s film school. She has worked in production on several TV shows, including Talk Soup and America’s Funniest Home Videos, and contributes pop culture reviews and essays to websites such as TVgasmand Forces of Geek, as well as to her own site,Preppies of the Apocalypse.

Ms. Richter is the owner of Luft Books, an independent publishing company, and the author of Bias CutCharlotte Dent, and Wrong CityBias Cut won a silver medal at the 2013 Independent Publishers Book Awards and was a 2012 semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA): Charlotte Dent was a 2008 ABNA semi-finalist. Her upcoming novel Lonely Satellite is scheduled for release in early October. She currently lives in New York City.

*********   Buy my novel Thanks That Was Fun, available on Kindle and non-Kindles  ***********

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

THIS is 40

Yesterday, August 19, 2013 (at 2:18pm, if you want to get really precise)  I turned 40. I'm happy about it.

I'm thankful that I survived my twenties, a very difficult decade for me (I'm hardly alone on that one; most people my age say they hated their twenties). It wasn't all bad; I did have some great times in my twenties. But I wouldn't want to go back.

My thirties were decent overall. Things started out crappy. I had a few minor nervous breakdowns between the ages of 30 - 32. But by the time I was 33 (2006) I'd hit my stride. I was feeling happy and confident, and had finally landed a job I enjoyed. My love life was spotty--as it often was back then--but I had some great adventures. Even with all the mistakes and missteps I made during my thirties, I don't regret a thing.

So now I've made it to age 40. I'm a published author, I'm happy, I'm content, I'm married. Comfy home, purring cats, fantastic friends, great husband.

It's all good.


Now for some fun.

This milestone birthday has got me thinking. I've been writing a lot about my early childhood, and I'm amazed by how much I remember, especially about 1970's pop culture. I was born in 1973 and was only seven years old by the time 1980 rolled around. But, as I've discovered, I've retained a lot from that decade.

1970's Kid
My mom was a housewife (I guess "homemaker" is the correct term now) for a good part of my early childhood. She kept a small transistor radio in the kitchen of our house in Greensburg, Indiana--this was before we moved to "the big city" of Indianapolis in late 1978--and my first memories of pop music involved Paul Simon, The Carpenters, and John Denver, piped through that little radio in the kitchen.

The song: Paul Simon  50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.
The memory: I was about four years old and my mom was standing in the kitchen, making me a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. She was singing along to "50 Ways" as it played on that little kitchen radio. When it got to the "Hop on the bus, Gus!" part, I collapsed on the floor in a fit of giggles, picturing a little man named "Gus" hopping up and down on top of a school bus. My mom started laughing at me while I laughed my crazy little "Snoopy laugh" (as she called it), and the more she laughed, the more I laughed, and the longer the song played, the more we both laughed until she had to sit down on the kitchen chair and I was rolling around on the floor and my stomach hurt from laughing but I couldn't stop so I just laid there, all giggly and out of breath. It's one of my favorite childhood memories.

The song: The Carpenters Top of the World. (Oh man. Watch the video I linked to. It's adorable. Why can't we all be sweet and innocent like that again?)

I loved this song when I was a wee one, even though I didn't quite have a handle on the lyrics, as you'll see.

The memory:  My dad worked in advertising, and occasionally his colleagues and their wives would come over to our house in Greensburg for dinner and/or cocktails. I was about four or five years old, so naturally I took it upon myself to provide the evening's entertainment whenever my parents had "company" over.

The grownups would be sitting in the living room, enjoying cocktails and smoking cigarettes and talking about Billie Jean King or Barry Manilow or the energy crisis or whatever grownups talked about in the seventies. The living room was in full view of the staircase that led up to the bedrooms. We had this giant brown leather beanbag chair, and I'd drag it over to the bottom of the stairs, climb to the top of the steps (it was only about seven steps--we had a split-level home) and shout:

"I'm on the top of the world, looking down on creation, and the only essplanation.....I CAN FLY!" 

Then I'd take a running leap and cannonball down the seven steps into the big brown beanbag chair, to the delight of (most of) the adults. Their applause and laughter were like catnip to me, so I did it again and again. After about my fourth encore, my dad would say, "Okay, you're getting all wound up now. Time for bed." And then my mom would shepherd me to my bedroom even though it was WAY before my official bedtime and I hadn't even had dessert or watched Donny and Marie or anything. (Shut up. I liked The Donny and Marie Show). So unfair.

Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. 
Some years later, I learned that my dad's boss (one of the guests who frequented my parents' little cocktail hours) used to nudge my dad and say, "You gotta get that kid into commercials."

Alas, my parents didn't heed that advice, and so I was doomed to a childhood of anonymity.

The song: Any and all John Denver songs prior to 1982
The memory: Jeez. So many. My mom loved John Denver, and his music was ubiquitous in our household when I was a little kid. He was almost like a member of the family; the sweet hippie uncle I never had. (My mom's brother is a very nice guy, but he's a rich Republican--a white sheep in a family of black sheep.) I was devastated when John Denver died. It really was like losing a relative. I wish he was still around. I think he could have had a career resurgence, now that the Baby Boomers are all old and nostalgic.

If I could narrow it down, I'd probably say my favorite John Denver-related memory happened in 2000, when I was 27 years old and in love with a sensitive artist type, a 23-year-old painter who ate, drank, lived and breathed 1960's and 70's acoustic folk music. He loved the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter Paul and Mary, Don MacLean, Jim Croce, and John Denver. This guy--okay, let's go ahead and call him Louis, since he was the inspiration for that character in my novel and he's also very unlikely to read this--was the only person I'd met outside my family who shared my love for John Denver and his music. Louis and I drove from Indianapolis to Shades State Park in the summer of 2000, singing along to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" on the tape deck for much of the journey. Yeah, that was a good time.      

I kinda like writing about this music/memory stuff. I'll be posting more bits like this in the coming weeks.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


Another REWIND! This time from 2009. I miss the Twin Cities. And I still stand behind all of these reviews.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A review of stuff I hate vs. stuff I love...

The Suck It List

Stella’s Fish Café
I can’t get past the name. I don’t know who Stella is, but I know that the words “Fish” and “Café” don’t belong together. It brings to mind fish-flavored coffee, which, ew. Plus, it’s not even a café, just another restaurant/bar, like a pretentious Old Chicago. With fish.

Chino Latino
I refuse to be swayed by the cheeky billboard ads and the glittery sign. Too loud, too yuppified, and the food is crap.

Paisano’s Pizzaria (St. Paul)
This place is utter crap. Mediocre food, messy dining room, excruciatingly horrible service. You’re better off staying home, heating up a frozen grocery store pizza and eating in front of the teevee.

Two words: food poisoning. Five more: dine at your own risk.

The Salon For You
I used to live above this place when I lived in St. Paul. I decided to check it out, and left with a fabulous haircut that I was extremely happy with, along with some funky reddish/pink highlights. Two months later I went back looking for the same stylist. She no longer worked there, they told me, but the owner of the salon was available to do my hair. I felt like I was in good hands—after all, if she’s the owner, she has to know what she’s doing, right? Wrong. She refused to do highlights because some weeks before I had experimented with a temporary color rinse and she said she wouldn’t color over that “as a matter of principle.” (?) Then, she proceeded to give me the worst haircut I’ve ever had in my life, and that’s saying something (I came up in the eighties, remember?) She just took the scissors, gave me a blunt cut straight across the ends, and she was done. It looked so horrible that I had to scrape together some more money and go find somewhere to get it fixed. Happily, I ended up with Mackenzie at Hair Police (see below). Her take on my botched ‘do? “Holy crap, this looks like it was done by someone who’s never cut hair before!” Thank God for Hair Police.

American Apparel
I understand that they’re famous for making their clothes in the USA by non-sweatshop labor, so good for them. But do their all-American, non-sweatshop workers have to make such fugly clothing? I mean, I don’t want my clothes made in Laos by a barefoot 9-year-old, but I do want clothes that are attractive and wearable. (Seriously, who buys this crap?)

Skintight shiny spandex? Really?

There was a time when nearly every scrap of my wardrobe came from Ragstock. Their clothing and accessories were quirky, functional, and reasonably-priced. Unfortunately, they have since gone straight down the crapper. I think they changed clothing suppliers or something, because they’re stuff has taken a sharp nosedive quality-wise; cheap-looking clothes that are more expensive than the lines they used to carry. And most of the clothing doesn’t even come in larger sizes—if you’re above a size 8, you’re shit out of luck. Also? Rude, unhelpful staff. (Oh Ragstock, why hast thou forsaken me?)

Luvs It

Live bluegrass every Saturday night, plus damn good pizza. You can’t go wrong. Bring a date here and they’ll think you’re offbeat and original for discovering it. You’re welcome.

Nina’s Coffee Café (St. Paul)
My original St. Paul hangout, located directly across the street from my first Twin Cities apartment. Great coffee, great atmosphere, and a fabulous place to hunker down and get some writing done. I’ve seen Garrison Keillor there twice! (He owns the bookstore down below Nina’s—Common Good Books.)

Buffalo Exchange
Since Ragstock has fallen out of favor, Buffalo Exchange has picked up the slack. I love this store. Fantastic clothes, shoes, and accessories, all reasonably priced. It’s all thrift/resale, but the staff are fairly picky about what they buy and they always have a good selection of clothes that tend towards the “gently-used” rather than simply “used.”

Eye of Horus
Yeah, I’m a bit of a hippie—you got a problem with that? Didn’t think so. Even for a non-hippie, this is a cool store. It has a wide selection of candles, essential oils, and incense—stuff anyone could use, right?—along with tarot cards, crystals, runes, and mojo bags, for those of us with more esoteric needs. All this, plus a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Nicollett Village Video
Who needs a Netflix subscription? I’d rather support independently-owned video stores like this one. Village Video has nearly every movie category imaginable, including a wide range of foreign and cult films you can’t find anywhere else. They also have a huge “Brit Vid” section, featuring shows like SpacedThe Tomorrow People (remember that one, fellow Gen-Xers?) and Not the Nine-o’Clock News. It rocks. Hard.

Hair Police
As long as I live in the Twin Cities, I will never go anywhere else to have my hair done.

Blogger Ms Sparrow said...
Thanks for sharing all your hard-won experience and advice on great places to avoid. I've never eaten at Sawatee, and I hope I never will.

I've never heard of most of the Brit TV shows you mention. I don't even watch the Eastenders, but I love "Keeping Up Appearances" and "Mr Bean" always makes me laugh--except not in his movies.
7:42 AM