The new Gatsby movie is my favorite movie of all time! And I haven’t even seen it yet

The big day is finally almost here!

You know, the one that every little girl spends her whole life dreaming about and planning.

No, the Boyfriend didn’t propose (much to my mother and his aunt’s dismay—both are starting to talk about retiring and I’m terrified that the combination of two out-of-work yentas will result in my being forced into a giant white puffy dress and hustled down the aisle. And that’s the BEST case scenario, in which there isn’t a Rosemary’s Baby-style, drugged up impregnation attempt to force me to bear them some grandchildren/great nieces and nephews before I’m ready).

I’m talking, of course, about the release of the new Great Gatsby movie!

Yes, I’m the girl who spends hours fantasizing about how amazing that will be. Who needs a wedding when you have Leo in an F. Scott Fitzgerald masterpiece?

 (Okay, okay, yes my new dream wedding is no longer Rabbi Elvis in Vegas.  Thank you, BuzzFeed. http://www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/how-to-throw-the-ultimate-great-gatsby-inspired-wedding )

Yes, I’m an English nerd. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is already my favorite movie and it isn’t even out yet.

Why?

Oh, if you have to ask that, you have no idea what you’re missing!

First of all, The Great Gatsby is easily one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s not my ALL-TIME favorite (nothing will ever quite displace Gone With the Wind. It was my first adult novel, my first love, and will always hold that special place in my heart. And yes, it was the theme of my bat mitzvah. English nerds for life, yo!), but it’s easily number two.

It’s just one of those perfect books. Perfect prose. A perfectly tragic story. Perfectly flawed characters. And the most perfect part of all is how well it captures the modern mentality of life today, nearly ninety years after it was written. I would argue that of all the English canon, it is the one that best transcends the gap between when it was written and life today.

 Yes, Romeo and Juliet captures the teenage angst of first love well (and the way too dramatic suicidal tendencies of bratty teenagers who are denied everything their little hearts desire), and Pride and Prejudice aptly portrays the desperation of my mother—I mean A mother—to marry off her aging daughters. (Don’t hurt me mommy, I love you!) But nothing, and I mean nothing, captures the desperate ennui of finding yourself a third of the way through your life with nothing to show for it but a hollow marriage and a desire to recapture the youth that seems to have vanished overnight the way that Gatsby does.

Not to call anybody out, but I look at some of my friends and see the marriage between Tom and Daisy. I see the Jordan Bakers, floating through life without bothering to worry about anyone else. I see the Myrtle Wilsons, thinking that an unavailable man can rescue them, not able to see that he wants nothing more than the physical. And I see the Gatsbys, wanting nothing more than to grasp that green light, only to find that it has no substance to it. And I’ve been those characters at different stages of my life as well. I may not live on Long Island or have money to burn (damn teacher’s salary!), and it may not be prohibition, but I still find myself, each time I reread Gatsby, nodding to myself and thinking, “That’s my life. Right there. That line.” And any novel that can accomplish that NEARLY A CENTURY after its publication amazes me.

But I’m not here to talk about the book.

I’m here to talk about how freaking unbelievably awesome this movie that I haven’t seen yet is.

g

Because oh my God, is it going to be great!

First of all, we’ve got Baz Luhrmann. Okay, as a teenager, I thought that his version of Romeo and Juliet was the second coming (first coming? I’m Jewish after all…). There was nothing better until Leo boarded the Titanic. But that same insanely driven over-the-top energy that he poured into Romeo and Juliet and later Moulin Rouge is EXACTLY what the story of Gatsby needs. Gatsby isn’t the cool, filmed-through-gauze world of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow (god how I hate that movie!). No! It’s the lush, colorful flapper days of the Roaring ’20s, and Baz Luhrmann is the filmmaker best prepared to present that story.

Then, of course, there’s Leo. I won’t go into too much drool-inducing detail about why he’ll be so spectacular in the role (mostly because I still want the Boyfriend to take me to see the movie opening night and he already hates Leo because I expressed my belief that Leo and I would have beautiful babies), so I’ll just show you some stills from the movie instead.

I feel that proved my point adequately. Even in Nick Carraway’s initial description of him, he’s described as there being “something gorgeous about him.” Who better to play that part than Leo?

No one, that’s who!

But now, because I still have a week to kill before the movie comes out, it’s time to plan the premiere.

First of all, I need to dress the part. I wanted to go in full flapper regalia, but the Boyfriend refused to dress in a ’20s style suit to match, so I’d look silly. Instead, I’m planning to just wear the flapper style headband with an ostrich feather with my normal clothes. Don’t laugh, I already bought one! But I decided against the cigarette holder (which I already had, from my Holly Golightly Halloween costume. We brunettes need someone OTHER than Dorothy to go as for Halloween you know!) because I don’t smoke and it just looks stupid without a real cigarette in it.

Next, I need to find a really old yellow Rolls Royce to take me to the opening. Yes, I live a block away from the movie theater, but it’s still important to arrive in style!

And finally, it’s set in Prohibition! I need a flask and some hooch!

Just kidding, I’d never drink to watch Gatsby! I want to remember every breathtaking scene. And then I’m going to see it again. And again. Like a boat beating on against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.

God I can’t wait to see this movie!

Teaching teenagers what makes Gatsby so Great is a tough job. But it shouldn’t be.

There are days when being an English teacher feels like the worst fate known to mankind.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was literally jealous of the guy who wears a chicken suit on Rockville Pike to advertise for a tire store (still haven’t figured out the connection on that one. But I kind of want to go check out the tire store just to see why their mascot is a tuxedo-wearing chicken. So maybe their ad campaign works after all). And when you’d rather be standing on a corner in a chicken suit in 30-degree weather, you know you’ve hit a low point in your career.

The problem? I’m teaching The Great Gatsby. Which I love. A lot. My copy looks like it’s been through the wars because I’ve read it so many times. The margins are covered in notes and half the lines are underlined or highlighted. And this is only my second year teaching it.

I was actually very excited to teach eleventh grade because I love The Great Gatsby so much. And A Streetcar Named Desire, which is also in the eleventh grade curriculum. I’d taught ninth grade for years, and was ready to scream if I had to deal with Romeo’s whining again. Like I was getting WAY too excited when he kills himself by the end. I still love To Kill a Mockingbird, but I was kind of rooting for George to hurry up and kill Lennie so Of Mice and Men could be over. Which meant that it was time for a change.

So I was looking forward to the opportunity to share one of my all-time favorite books with kids and instill that same love of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece that I have in their young, impressionable minds.

Except they hate it. Like the way I hate the Cowboys, Delaware, and people who ride their bikes into oncoming traffic.

Okay, that’s misleading. The ones who are actually READING it hate it. But they’re in the minority. Because a huge percentage of them admitted yesterday to not even having read the SparkNotes, let alone the book itself. And I teach honors classes.

I don’t understand that. Granted, I’ve had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember. And I keep reminding myself of Nick’s father’s advice to remember that others haven’t had the same advantages that I’ve had (namely, in this case, parents who instilled a love of reading in me from early childhood). But to be honest, I prefer my favorite literary characters over most of the real people I know. No offense, but if I had to choose between Rhett Butler or Mr. Darcy and you, you’d probably lose.

Then again, I have a theory that the best men in all of history were written by women—I’m starting to feel like there’s no one out there who can live up to the men that Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, and Charlaine Harris have created. Yes, I’m lumping the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books along with those literary giants. Because I love Eric Northman. I’d marry that fictional vampire in a heartbeat. Sorry Edward Cullen—I don’t like my fictional vampires all emo and sparkly.

This might be why I’m still single.

But I digress.

Back to Gatsby.

I had a college professor who said you needed to read The Great Gatsby every five years. Okay, that professor was the biggest tree-hugging hippie I’d ever seen, and I’m pretty sure he came to class high every week. And he taught film studies. And I think he lived in his mom’s basement. And he used to go off on hour-long rants about how Walt Disney was just as bad as Hitler. Actually, I wasn’t a big fan of that professor.

But he was right about Gatsby.

I describe my first novel as being about the quarter-life crisis. When you’re in your mid-twenties and are suddenly one of the “adults,” but aren’t quite ready for all of the social responsibilities that that title entails.

And that’s what Gatsby is about. Nick basically, at thirty, leaves home to go live at the beach for a summer, rather than marry the girl his family and friends all expect him to marry. He’s jaded, and he feels a disconnect with most of the people he meets. And he gets wrapped up in a party culture, of people who drink illegally to avoid reality and who think they’re immortal because they’re young and they don’t understand that the choices they make now are going to affect them for the rest of their lives.

How could any teenager NOT love that book?

One of my favorite parts is when Jordan Baker describes to Nick why she doesn’t have to be a good driver. She shrugs when he tells her she’s an awful driver after almost hitting a pedestrian, and she tells him that she doesn’t have to pay attention, because other people are good drivers and they’ll stay out of her way. Nick asks what will happen when she meets another bad driver, and her answer is merely that she hopes that doesn’t happen.

That attitude is why teenagers get into so many accidents. It’s why they think it’s okay to text and drive (okay, I’ll admit it, it’s why I still text and drive more than I should). It’s why they think they’ll be okay when they drive too fast. And it’s why the final tragedy of the book is inevitable. How different is that from all the little celebutantes like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan driving when they’re smacked out of their minds?

It amazes me every time I read Gatsby that Fitzgerald so perfectly captured the emotions and logical fallacies that define my generation in a novel that was written nearly ninety years ago. And every time I read it, I’m both inspired to write more, and I’m a little discouraged because I know that I will never be able to so beautifully define the fragility and mistaken bravado of the human condition.

Hopefully the new movie version will help. I think Baz Luhrmann (of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge fame) will do an amazing job at capturing the wasteful opulence of the 1920s. And Leonardo DiCaprio will be great as Gatsby, not just because I love him (and I do. A lot), but because I think he’ll be able to portray that element of Gatsby’s character trying too hard to be someone that he’s not far better than Robert Redford did in the definitive movie version from 1974.

But a small part of me kind of hopes that the new movie isn’t THAT good. I mean, I want it to be great and do justice to this incredible book. But I don’t want teenagers to think that seeing the new movie is an acceptable substitute for reading the book.

Until it comes out, however, I’ll continue beating my head against the brick wall of teenagers who think they’ll live forever and who see reading as a waste of time. But I’ll keep trying because, as Fitzgerald put it, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald may have never been a teacher, but that line alone tells me that at least one other person out there understood the feeling of futility that I’m experiencing right now. And the reason why I’ll keep trying and vainly hoping to instill my students with an appreciation for this amazing novel, even when it feels like I’m accomplishing nothing more lasting than Nick does when he erases the obscenity from Gatsby’s steps.

People who know me well, can you spot my house in this picture? Look carefully!

The Disney-fication of Huck Finn: An American Travesty

When I got home from school yesterday, I was greeted by some disturbing news on Twitter. No, the disturbing news isn’t that the trending topics on Twitter are now my primary source of news (although I DO immediately Google anyone who’s trending to see if they’re trending because they died). It was something far more disturbing to an English teacher and a writer.

New versions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are going to be printed substituting the word “slave” for the much more controversial “n” word that is used approximately 220 times in the book.

On the surface, this change is long over overdue and a step in the right direction. No student should be subjected to a word that is so unapologetically racist and hurtful in any classroom, and I appreciate the idea triggering people who protest against novels that contain that kind of language.

But as a writer, I’m appalled. And as an English teacher, I think this is a huge mistake and a far more offensive move than anything that Twain wrote.

I know that sounds strange. I’d like to preface what I’m about to say by explaining that I do not tolerate students using that particular racial epithet in my classroom, nor do I tolerate students mocking or belittling others based on race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. Under ANY circumstances. And when I’m teaching a book that has the “n” word in it, I personally am not comfortable saying the word, even in the context of reading aloud from the book.

With that said, however, I do teach Huck Finn. And I think it’s an important part of the curriculum and an even more valuable teaching tool to a generation of students who have largely grown up thinking that the “n” word is appropriate slang amongst friends.

If you haven’t read the novel, or haven’t read it in many years, I’ll outline the issue for you. Huck Finn takes place before the Civil War in Missouri. In other words, the blatant racism in it is absolutely appalling. Huck refers to Jim using the “n” word without even beginning to comprehend that there’s any problem with that. And Huck often, particularly at the beginning of the novel, views Jim as less than a person. And even though I’m a white woman writing this 150 years after the action of the novel takes place, I find a tremendous amount of what’s in the book to be grossly offensive.

Which is exactly the point and why it NEEDS to be taught.

Because a huge amount of what happened in this country WAS grossly offensive.

And I’m not even just talking about before the Civil War. Electing Barack Obama by no means heralded the end of racism in America. But to remove accurate historical elements of the atrocities that occurred is, in my mind at least, far more offensive than teaching about it could ever be.

It’s easy to dismiss Twain as racist if you’re not familiar with a lot of the context of the novel. He was a southerner who grew up before the Civil War in the deep south. It’d be pretty much impossible to come from that environment without being a racist.

Which is why Twain is so celebrated. The most amazing thing about him isn’t the quality of his writing. It’s the fact that he was able to come from the background that he came from and write such a powerful anti-racism novel. Because the use of language in the book isn’t there to belittle or degrade. It’s there to show just how bad things were in the south for a black man.

My students just wrote their research papers on this exact topic. And the point that they made, again and again, was that if Mark Twain wanted Huckleberry Finn to be a racist novel, he failed miserably in that task because Huck goes from being an ignorant child, who sees Jim as nothing more than property, to a young man who is willing to defy society and give up his immortal soul for the “sin” of helping Jim escape from the life of slavery that he was born into. Huck knows that he’s breaking the law by helping Jim, and he has been taught that freeing a slave was equivalent to stealing.  And he has countless opportunities to turn him in and even make money off his capture. But by the end of the novel, he understands that Jim is a person, just like he is, and that his own freedom is worth no more than Jim’s. Which, for the time period that the novel was written and set in, was an absolutely revolutionary concept.

Every year, I get kids who complain that we’re reading “another book about racism.” They feel it’s been done to death, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. And so each year, I tell them the following story:

When I was a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about having to learn about the Holocaust every year in Hebrew school. It was depressing, and I felt that the topic had already been covered in such depth that it was overkill to hear over and over again about what happened in Germany. And my parents (whom I respect tremendously for the fact that they never once in my childhood gave me the answer “because I said so”) gave me an answer that really stuck with me. They sat me down to talk to me and explained that it IS, in fact, necessary to learn about the Holocaust because educating people about it is the only way to prevent that kind of horror from happening again.

I feel strongly that this concept applies in the context of Huckleberry Finn.

And honestly, if they do this, where do the revisionists stop in their desire to Disney-fy history? Will The Diary of Anne Frank end with a passage saying that the Germans took all the Jews to a farm upstate somewhere so they could run around and have more space, like the lie that parents tell children when they don’t want to let them know that their dog died?

If we gloss over the horrors and racism of slavery, we’re dishonoring the memory of both the people who suffered through it and the people who fought and died to end it.  And even worse, by ignoring the issue and refusing to teach it because it’s controversial and unpleasant, we’re opening the door to allow that sort of atrocity to happen again.

The number one cause of insomnia? Stephen King (but I love him anyway!)

Somehow I missed the memo that Stephen King’s new book came out yesterday until it was too late to go and get it.

Full Dark, No Stars

I have no idea how this happened, because I’ve gotten every one of his books the day they came out since I was 12.

You might be asking yourself why I’m such a huge Stephen King fan, especially when you take into consideration that I refuse to read anything by many other bestselling authors, like John Grisham or James Patterson.

The answer is simple: Grisham and Patterson are hacks.

Okay, granted, my definition of hacks probably varies from the definition that anyone else would give you, because I also consider Charles Dickens to be a hack. His books were only so long because he got paid by the chapter.  And he needed as much money as he could get.  For booze.  Hack.

All three of those authors are/were hugely successful hacks. But in my book, (no pun intended–but go buy it anyway!) anyone who finds something that sells well, then basically writes the same type of thing for the rest of their careers to keep churning out bestsellers that are fundamentally the same as all their other books is a hack.

Which is also why I refuse to read most chick lit, with the ONLY exceptions occurring when the books have truly original concepts and characters. Because if I read one more book about an early 30-something girl who works for a magazine/newspaper/tv station who gets dumped by her boyfriend/fiancé/husband then goes on a self-discovery kick and eventually finds Mr. Right, who SEEMS to be Mr. Wrong until the last two chapters when we find out that he’s been in love with her all along and they live happily ever after, I’m going to stab someone.

Literally. I will stab someone.

And that brings me back to why I love Stephen King: the stabbings.

I’m kidding. Kind of.  But not about the fact that I will stab someone if I need another chick lit book.  I’m 100 percent serious about that part.

You could argue, however, that Stephen King, like many other writers, sticks to a formula that works. For example, in all of his books, someone or something goes crazy and kills people. But it’s always something super creative and different that goes crazy and kills people. And even though I’ve read all of his books (many of them more than once), Stephen King ALWAYS keeps me guessing (usually incorrectly) about what’s coming next.

Of course, there’s also one major problem with me reading Stephen King books: I have a massively overactive imagination and am completely convinced that once I’ve read something scary in one of his books, it is then lurking in my house waiting to get me.

Statistically, I know this is unlikely. If there IS an evil force in my house, why would it wait until I was suspicious of it to attack me? Wouldn’t it prefer to have the element of surprise? Although, if I were an evil supernatural creature (shut up, no, I’m not!), I’d probably want to wait until someone was afraid of me to attack because the element of fear would be more fun than the element of surprise.

But because I have a ridiculously overactive imagination, it’s not usually the stuff that you’d expect to scare me that scares me the most. For example, I’m not all that scared of ghosts. But every single time I wake up in the middle of the night and have to go to the bathroom, I HAVE to turn on the bathroom light and make sure that the scary dead bathtub lady from The Shining isn’t in there waiting for me. No, not the one from the movie. She didn’t scare me; I found it pretty funny that Jack Nicholson made out with her. But the dead bathtub chick from the BOOK still scares the hell out of me. Because my mind makes her much scarier than any movie ever could.

The Shining

 
The supernatural stuff isn’t his strongest suit though. Don’t get me wrong, he’s REALLY good at that. But deep down, I DO know that most of that stuff can’t be real, so it tends to only scare me late at night, when I’m alone.

Instead, the best part of Stephen King’s writing is his identification of the fear in situations that we can’t control. I know full well that there probably isn’t going to be a giant dome that drops down randomly from the sky one day and cuts Rockville off from the rest of the world like in Under the Dome. But Stephen King creates such a completely believable world in his books that you feel like YOU are in that town with his characters. And it makes you wonder what you would do if you were in the situation that they were in, even though your rational mind KNOWS that is highly unlikely.

Under the Dome: A Novel


 Because what if our cell phones DO start emitting something that destroys rational thought like in Cell. I almost never actually TALK on my phone. I’m going to be one of the people who has to figure out how to save society if that happens. (Well, okay, probably not. The zombie creatures will most likely kill me within the first few minutes of the crisis, so it probably won’t be ME saving the world. But what if by some random chance it is?)

Cell: A Novel


 And in my mind, his scariest books are the ones that have little or no supernatural elements in them. While The Stand DOES have some supernatural parts, the idea that a super virus could kill off most of the world isn’t actually all that far-fetched at all.

The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet)


I think his scariest book is Cujo, because every single thing that happens in that book COULD happen. Even today with cell phones, it’s an exceptionally plausible story. Because let’s face it, there are definitely still areas with no reception. Like my parents’ house, which resides in the black hole of all cell service. (Which I immediately realized was a good thing when I read Cell, because in case of a cell-phone based apocalypse, I could hide out there long enough to figure out how to save the world.)

Cujo (Signet)


So I’ll be going to Barnes and Noble after school today to pick up the newest Stephen King book. Which also means I’m going to be tired tomorrow, not from staying up too late reading, but from staying up too late because I’ll be afraid to go to sleep.

But I’m still going to love every minute of it. Bring it on Mr. King. I’m ready.

Although I’m probably going to feel differently once I’m reading it.  Oh well.  To quote the late Warren Zevon, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  Although if the afterlife is anything like a Stephen King story, I’ll actually be roaming the earth and killing people when I’m dead.  But I’m not too worried about that.  I’m more worried about the dead chick in my bathtub, the clown in the sewer, and the Walkin’ Dude.

My favorite Tweeters (or are they called twits?): Lord Voldemort and Batman

While enjoying my day off yesterday, I spent a little while looking at Twitter.

I’m still a Twitter newbie and therefore don’t use it as well as I probably should to promote my blog/book, and I have a bunch of my students following me, so I have to keep it clean or risk being hauled into my principal’s office to explain whatever mildly off-color joke I made or re-tweeted.

I have a couple of favorite people who I follow on Twitter. For example, I follow most of the cast of Jersey Shore. Because they’re ridiculous. And I follow Jessica Simpson. Because she’s an idiot (but I love her shoes).

And Steve Martin. Because he’s hilarious. But there are two Twitter users (twits?) that stand out as so far and away above everyone else on Twitter.

And no, Bruce Springsteen isn’t one of them. (Shocking, I know. If he was actually the one tweeting from his account, he probably would be. But it’s one of his lackeys instead.)

My two favorites are Lord Voldemort and Batman.

I know, I know, these seem like odd choices. I’m not obsessed with Harry Potter and I didn’t even see The Dark Knight until it was on cable (not even on-demand. Like regular premium cable). But whoever the people are that are running these two pages, they’re geniuses.

Don’t believe me? Check out these tweets:

 
Miley Cyrus’ mom had an affair with Bret Michaels. I think I can speak for both the Death Eaters & the world when I say: ew.
Demi Lovato’s in rehab. Why hasn’t Disney caught on that they suck? Lindsay, Britney, Demi etc. I bet Mickey Mouse is a closet crack addict.

Lord_Voldemort7: BREAKING NEWS: the vast number of Katy Perry, Ke$ha & Twilight vampire costumes has created a world shortage of glitter & excess of shame!

Lord_Voldemort7: Couple names are stupid as hell. Really tweens? “Jashley”? It’s not even combing names, it’s Ashley with a j. You “fsuck”. Guess that combo.

Lord_Voldemort7: #thingswomenshouldstopdoing Tiger Woods.

Lord_Voldemort7: Jessica Rabbit proves people will only like Gingers if they’re hot girls. Sucks for you, Weasleys.

Lord_Voldemort7:”All that glitters is not gold” True. Sometimes it’s morons pretending to be vampires.

Lord_Voldemort7: People are always asking me to kill their friends. Listen, if you want them murdered, you’re not really friends.

Granted, a few of those only make sense if you’ve read the Harry Potter books and/or the Twilight books (which it turns out Lord Voldemort hates more than Harry Potter. Go figure). But having read all of those books (and kinda agreeing with Voldemort about Twilight being ridiculous), I love all of his tweets. I sort of wonder if it’s ACTUALLY JK Rowling who owns that page. I feel like that would be the only thing that would make it MORE hilarious.

Whoever is running Batman’s page branches out further though. He and Voldemort BOTH hate Justin Bieber with a passion. I don’t REALLY have anything against the kid except that I don’t love his music. But I do enjoy Batman hating on him. And on Robin. Who is clearly the worst sidekick ever with the POSSIBLE exception of George W. Bush (who was Cheney’s sidekick, not the other way around. The more evil one is ALWAYS the primary and the dumber one is ALWAYS the sidekick… duh).

I just discovered @God_Damn_Batman on Twitter the other day, but he’s already become my absolute favorite. Here’s why:

God_Damn_Batman: Tomorrow you will vote. The symbol you need right now isn’t a Donkey. Or an Elephant. It’s a Bat. Wearing body armor.

God_Damn_Batman: Going to spend Halloween the way I do every year. Beating the crap out of kids dressed as Joker. They learn a life lesson. I get candy.

God_Damn_Batman: Disappeared while Gordon was still talking. And left behind a flaming bag of poo. Happy Halloween, Commissioner.

God_Damn_Batman: Jersey Shore finale tonight. THANK GOD. So sick of hearing Alfred complain about scrubbing spray tan out of Robin’s uniform.

God_Damn_Batman: Gotham has more gargoyles per capita than any other city in the world. But not a single Chipotle? FAIL.

God_Damn_Batman: Robin has mysteriously started skipping patrols Tuesday nights. Either he’s working a contact for intel or Glee is back on.

God_Damn_Batman: My sensei once taught me the forbidden “Dim-Mak Death Touch.” I never considered using it. Until I saw The Situation.

God_Damn_Batman: Thinking of replacing Robin with a grizzly bear in spandex. Sure it would be a tactical disaster but Riddler’s expression would be worth it.

God_Damn_Batman: New idea for a TV show. It’s called “Gotham Shore.” Basically the same as Jersey Shore except I shatter the cast’s kneecaps.

God_Damn_Batman: I have two recurring nightmares. 1. My parents’ murder. 2. Being trapped in Arkham, forced to watch Jersey Shore.

God_Damn_Batman Caught Robin lifting his shirt and pointing at his abs in the mirror. Not sure what he meant by “The Situation”, but I’m canceling cable.

I want Batman and Voldemort to have a Twitter fight. I’m pretty sure Batman would win because Voldemort got defeated by a 17-year-old wizard with glasses (and was defeated by the same kid the first time when Harry was a baby). But the sarcastic exchanges would be awesome.  So Batman and Voldemort, if you’re reading this (and I do plan to tweet it to them), please follow each other and fight. Because I could really use some cheering up right now.

Why?

Because according to Twitter, the Situation now has a book deal.

Yes. This guy.

He’s such a jerk that he even has the shape of a dick between his abs.  I didn’t photoshop that.  It’s real. 

I’m not even sure he can read. And HE has a book deal.

And I don’t.

If that doesn’t belong on Fmylife.com, I don’t know what does.

I don’t have a joke to go with that.  But please go tell everyone you know to buy my book so that I can hopefully get a real book deal before the Situation’s book comes out.  Because like the Fail Whale, this is just super depressing.

Confessions of a self-published drama queen

Self-publishing a book has been an interesting experience for me all around.

And by interesting, I mean a nerve-wracking, panic-attack inducing, keeping-me-up-at-night-in-fear-of-it-failing ordeal.

To be fair, I’m not exactly a person whom anyone who knows me would call calm. I’ve been known to be a drama queen and I’ve never needed an excuse to freak out about things.

But the book situation is scarier than I expected it to be.

I decided to self-publish Beyond the Palace because nothing was happening with it and friends and family were nagging me to do it. I’d written literally hundreds of query letters to agents and never even got an agent to read it. I’d heard that for every twelve letters you send out, you’ll usually get one hit. By that logic, I should have dozens of agents beating down my door. Maybe I suck at query letters. Or maybe the publishing industry is a front for a massive drug ring and I’m the only one who didn’t get the memo that agents don’t actually read books. I’m not sure which it is.

So after a couple years of nothing happening, I did my research and decided on amazon.com’s self-publishing options.

And call me naïve if you will, but I secretly thought it would be an overnight sensation.

Not because I believe in myself, but because I actually thought people I knew would rush to buy the book.

Hah.

I learned the hard way that that just wasn’t going to happen.

That’s right. If you’re reading this and haven’t bought my book yet, you’re a terrible friend/coworker/student/total stranger, etc. In fact, if you’re a frequent reader and you’re not supporting me by getting my book, you’re practically stealing from me.

I thought that my coworkers would want to read it. Well, okay, not all of them, but I figured that English teachers at least must LOVE to read.

Apparently that’s not the case.

Or else they all secretly hate me. I’m not sure which it is.

And I was positive that every student I’d ever taught would buy it.

Not because I instilled them all with a deep love of reading, but because I figured they would all want to see if I wrote a sex scene.

Nope.

Several of them flipped through it LOOKING for a sex scene. But when they realized that there were no pictures and that my writing style wouldn’t double for a letter to Penthouse (are those actually real?), they lost interest quickly. Although if I drew a pair of boobs in the margin, I’d probably have had a much wider teenage audience.

And I figured that my friends who had read it in a rough draft in a binder would all buy it, because that was the deal I made with them when I let them read it in a binder.

Didn’t happen.

The first day, I sold eight copies. I have over four hundred Facebook friends, not even counting family, school friends, etc. who AREN’T on my Facebook page. Eight copies.

To say I was devastated would be like saying I’m a LITTLE excited when I’m at a Bruce show. Or that Lady Gaga is slightly odd.

MASSIVE understatement.

My parents tried to comfort me by saying that if I sold eight copies a day for the rest of my life, I’d be a millionaire.

Good thing they’re not math teachers. Eight copies sold gives me about $25.  At that rate, they’re right.  I WOULD be a millionaire.  It would just take approximately 110 years.  Of course, I’d still only be in my late twenties in 110 years, because I will NEVER be turning 30.  But that’s an awful long time to wait.

So I began nagging everyone to buy it. Which annoyed the crap out of everyone who knows me, but helped sales somewhat. And I ventured into the world of Facebook advertising.

Sales are better now, but I’m still spending more money on ads than I’m making off the book. But I’ve started to pick up fans on Facebook who I don’t know, meaning that people other than the people who I’m forcing to buy the book are reading it.

The problem is that because I self-published it, I can check my sales in real time online. Which means that I no longer have a life, I just sit in front of my computer waiting for the next copy to sell. And when I absolutely HAVE to leave the house, like to walk Rosie or go to work, I check the sales from my phone. I’m driving myself, and everyone else I know, completely insane.

I figured out why it’s so scary though: before I self-published it, I wasn’t succeeding because the book wasn’t out there yet. Now, if I fail, it’s because I’m just not good enough. And when I might not be good enough at the one thing that I want to spend the rest of my life doing, that’s a REALLY scary concept.

Luckily, people seem to be loving the book. My lowest review on amazon.com is three stars, and all of the others are four and five star reviews (at least half of which were written by people I don’t know and didn’t force to write reviews, which is encouraging).

So if you haven’t bought my book yet, check it out. You’ll probably like it and it’ll keep my future therapy bills lower. And if you HAVE already bought it, you’re awesome. Thank you. Now go tell all your friends to buy it too.

And whatever you do, don’t leave me a negative review. Because I plan to take a cue from Jay and Silent Bob and go after anyone who does that.
(NSFW)

Literally. I have the song that played during that part on my iPod, ready to go. It’s called “Kick Some Ass” by Stroke 9. I’m not kidding.

Ooh, someone just bought a copy! Yay! Thank you, whoever you are.

If I am a monster, these books are my Dr. Frankenstein (which is pronounced Fronkensteen)

Anyone who knew me as a child is probably not remotely surprised that I turned out to be a writer because books have always played a huge role in my life. There are a handful of books, however, that have been more influential than others in making me into the person I am today. So if I am a monster, the following books are my Dr. Frankenstein (which happens to be nowhere near my list).  Except for the first one, they’re in no particular order.

Any list of books that have helped shaped me has to start with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

I first read it at ten years old, and have read it over twenty times since then. It was even the theme of my bat mitzvah (which worked pretty well, as we had the party at an antebellum mansion). When I first read the book, I wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara.

She was so determined, some unabashedly unstoppable. And to a young girl whose mother once described her as possessing the “evil, going-to-take-over-the-world-someday gene” (yes, she meant me), Scarlett was the female role model who didn’t exist anywhere else.

As I’ve aged, I’ve gotten deeper shades of meaning out of the book. I get frustrated with anyone who spouts off the BS from James Loewen’s book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, because his argument against Gone With the Wind ignores the fact that a novel can be historically accurate in showing the racism of a time period without being a book that promotes racism. But the main thing that struck me as I got closer to the age that Scarlett is at the end of the book is that by the time I was old enough to understand that I did NOT want to be like her, it was too late for me in many ways.

Perhaps the most significant effect that Gone With the Wind has had on my life however, has nothing to do with Scarlett O’Hara. Because from the moment I started reading my mother’s old tattered copy from the 1960s (which didn’t even survive that first reading, let alone the subsequent readings), I knew that I had to be a writer. And one of the best compliments I have ever received came from the website IWriteLike.com, which compares samples of your writing to that of famous authors and tells you who your style is most similar to. And when I put the entire text of Beyond the Palace into the program, I was told my writing style was most like Margaret Mitchell’s.

My novel is less than a third of the length of hers, but despite its heft, Gone With the Wind is worth every single page.

The next book on my list is Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

I know, I know, Pride and Prejudice is every Austen lover’s favorite book. But Sense and Sensibility is darker, which I think lends so much more realism to the story. So many of the problems in Pride and Prejudice center around the class divide, which doesn’t really exist in the world I live in. But the problems in Sense and Sensibility can still keep people apart today. The characters, written over two hundred years ago, are multi-dimensional enough to ring true even now. We have all been Marianne Dashwood at times and followed our hearts, only to be emotionally ravaged when we learn that love isn’t always enough to make a relationship work when two people have different priorities.

And we’ve all been her sister, Elinor, in love with someone we can never have and kept forever from that person by the hateful Lucy Steeles of the world.

Before there was Regina George of Mean Girls, there was Lucy Steele, befriending Elinor with the sole intention of crushing her rival. If you’ve never read this gem, pick up a copy now. You’ll have to be able to get past the Victorian language, but if you do, you’ll find a surprisingly raw love story that resonates incredibly strongly despite being written by a long-dead British spinster.

Stephen King’s The Stand makes the cut next.

I know, that’s a huge jump from Jane Austen. But Stephen King creates a whole world in this novel (granted, he kills 99 percent of that world off within the first hundred pages, but that’s the basic plot of all Stephen King books–someone or something goes crazy and kills people), and the ability to do that, to breathe actual life into a set of characters is something that mortals are seldom able to accomplish. I also know that a lot of people label Stephen King as a hack because of the practically superhuman speed at which her churns out novels. But every time I pick this book up, I’m still amazed by the ease with which he can juggle so many people’s lives and make ALL of them three dimensional.

My books are far from the horror genre so far (although I probably WILL venture into Stephen King’s territory at some point in my career. I’m just waiting for the right story to hit me), but one element of his work has inspired everything that I’ve written, and that is that all of his characters who wrong others have a chance for redemption in the end. They all make a choice to do good or do evil, and the lesson I have taken from that for my writing is that there’s no such thing as a purely good or purely evil character. Everyone is the star of his or her own plotline, and they are all able to make redemptive choices. They don’t all choose to redeem themselves, in fact most of them don’t. But they have a reason for their behavior and the free will to choose their own path, and I have tried to give that same ability to my villains as well.

While there are a dozen books that people call “The Great American Novel,” I think that title belongs unarguably to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is the book I turn to when I lose faith in humanity. When I feel that everyone is ONLY ever looking out for him or herself, I read this book to humanize myself again. With the POSSIBLE exception of Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better character in all of literature than Atticus Finch.

He manages to be caring and strong at the same time, but most of all, he’s REAL. Most characters who care more for others than themselves are no more than weak foils to the protagonists. Amelia in William Makepeace Thackery’s Vanity Fair or Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice are shining examples of these morally righteous characters who are too weak to be that likeable. But Atticus, even as he cries over the injustice of Tom Robinson’s death, reminds me that there IS true, genuine goodness and strength in the world.

The end of the novel, no matter how many times I read it, leaves me surprised, touched, and less jaded with the world. If you haven’t read this one since you were in school, read it again. The first eight pages will bore you if you don’t remember enough of the story for it to make sense, but when you get past those eight pages, you’ll thank me. I promise.

And last, but by no means least, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

I’m ashamed to admit that when I read this in high school, I hated it. And to be honest, I still think that all of the female characters in it are horrible. But Fitzgerald was so far ahead of his time in so many ways. Nick’s one-third life crisis resonates so strongly with what my generation currently faces that I wonder how earlier generations could have identified with it as strongly as we do. I feel like the baby boom generation WANTED to get married and start having kids in their twenties, like Daisy and Tom do. But Nick flees to the east to escape from that world, and finally, after everything that he sees that summer finds that at 30 years old, he is “five years too old to lie to [himself] and call it honor.” And in the gap that I’m now seeing between myself now and the person I was merely a few years ago, I’ve come to realize just how talented Fitzgerald was at capturing the human condition as it is now, some eighty-five years after he wrote his greatest novel.

One of my college professors used to tell us that everyone should read The Great Gatsby every five years because as your situation in life changes, so will your take on the book. Bruce Springsteen described “Born to Run” as a song that has kept him company on his journey through life, and that it has grown with him as he has aged, and I think The Great Gatsby has that same quality to it. Which, coming from me, is some of the highest praise possible to give.

I’ll get into the books that shaped me the most as a writer another day, but if you like what you’ve seen on my blog or in my first novel, take another look at these five books while you’re waiting for my next book. Which is coming. Soon. I promise. All I need is a title. I was thinking along the lines of “No TV and no beer make Homer… something something.”