September 24, 2014

R.L. Stine Says 'Fear Street' TV Series "Might Be Pretty Close" to Happening

One of my literary idols, R.L. Stine, was recently interviewed on HuffPost Live to answer questions from fans, wax nostalgic on the recording-breaking Goosebumps series, and promote the new season of The Haunting Hour premiering on the HUB in October.

That's all fine and dandy, but what really perked up my ears was the mention of Fear Street the YA horror series that practically defined the 90s for me. A new title, Party Games, is being released next week (I pre-ordered my copy back in July -- I don't play), and this prompted a fan, @Blair_Hoyle, to ask about Fear Street being adapted for TV, an idea I've supported since the birth of The CW, a natural home for the series if there ever was one...and since I started writing my own pilot based on the scary goings-on in the town of Shadyside.

See where the discussion leads to, starting at the 9:00 mark:

Stine's answer is a tricky one. Yes, a movie studio owns the rights to Fear Street -- which turns 25 this year -- and yes, it's probably stuck in development hell, but if one were to read between the lines, the message is clear: Hollywood (and the writer himself) is going to wait and see how Jack Black's Goosebumps movie will do in 2015 before they invest in other properties.

Right now I'll take his promise-that's-not-really-a-promise with a grain of salt and absorb myself in Party Games for the time being.


September 23, 2014

Revenge of the Husky


According to Wikipedia, it’s “a general name for a type of dog used to pull sleds in northern regions,” like Alaska. These canines are described as “energetic and athletic,” able to pull heavy loads through harsh, wintry terrain.

“Husky” was also the name of the section in which I had to shop for my Catholic school uniforms at Liebman’s Children Clothing in my hometown. The store is somewhat of an institution, dressing thousands of boys and girls in southern Westchester County since 1927, so perhaps the term “husky” was an acceptable description back then for boys of the “big-boned” variety. Today it just seems like a blatantly polite substitute for “The Fat Kid Rack.”

From the Husky Boys Clothes page on Land's End website. Is it me, or does nothing about this fair-haired young man say "husky"?

Nothing makes you feel more insecure than your clothing size being ironically labeled after an "athletic" animal, and nothing makes you feel more like an outcast than having your school uniform be located in the eerily quiet basement where they store the creepy, defective mannequins. While some of my classmates modeled their new sweaters and skirts for their smiling parents up on the street level of the store, I was relegated to what was essentially a dungeon for The Unusually Sized. A dungeon full of clearance racks and rejected outfits that would never find homes in the closets of the boys and girls of New Rochelle.

Having a pair of dead eyes stare at you while attempting to squeeze into a pair of gray slacks does nothing for the self-esteem either.

At the start of the school year 1990, I was entering the fifth grade at New Rochelle Catholic Elementary. I was excited to get my new uniform because this was the year I became an upperclassman, which meant my pants graduated from the requisite navy blue to gray – just like the rest of the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I was on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged junior high student, and that one step closer to parochial maturity made me feel good. I was a big boy now, figuratively and literally.

While my mother kept herself busy looking for new socks I desperately needed (damn growth spurt), I trudged downstairs to the windowless basement to find my pair of gray slacks. There was one fitting room down there next to a dark, enclosed space that was filled with boxes and various inventory. It was more like a makeshift booth with a curtain. After rummaging through the Husky rack, I went into the booth and drew the curtain behind me. I don’t know why I didn’t bother to go back upstairs to try on the pants – maybe my Butterball self didn’t feel like immediately committing to the cardio of going back up that lengthy staircase.

At first I didn’t notice the torso and head of the little boy mannequin that stood in the corner of the fitting room. I caught his reflection in the mirror and jumped. His face was chipped, and he appeared to have been designed sometime in the 1950s. He had a vintage look to him. He didn’t look like the other little boy mannequins I had seen on display at the mall, but he had that permanent painted-on smile that was more than just creepy. It chilled my 10-year-old bones.

Let me clarify: I didn’t have some kind of irrational fear of mannequins. Sometime during my childhood I developed a distrust of them. Maybe it was that episode of The Twilight Zone that planted the seed, the one where a woman starts hearing strange voices coming from department store dummies while shopping – only to find out that she isn’t human after all. She’s a mannequin that comes to life every night and doesn’t know it (thanks Rod Serling). Or maybe it was Today’s Special, that cable children’s show in which a male mannequin came to life every night, thanks to a magic hat, and interacted with Jodie, the department store’s display manager, and Sam, the bumbling, Muppet-like security guard. I always confused the actor who played the magical mannequin with The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams. (I know, right? Of all people!) There was something off about their overly cheery demeanors. Their laid-back friendly dispositions belied, in my eyes, a sinister force capable of unspeakable acts.

Or maybe it was the recurring nightmare that had left me mentally scarred a few years back, the one about the Japanese geisha figurine my parents kept in a display case in our living room. In the dream the white-faced statue kept tormenting me when no one was looking. I had tried to tell my family that the statue was alive and threatening to do bad things to me, but no one believed me. What would Freud say?

While testing out my new school slacks in that cramped, poorly lit fitting room I could have sworn I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. Did Little Mannequin Boy turn his head, or was it just a trick of shadow and light? The reasonable part of my brain told me he couldn’t do anything to me if he tried – you know, since he had no legs. How would he chase after me? Silly boy.

The dead silence of the basement also didn’t help ease my young impressionable mind. After quickly putting my jeans back on, I stepped out of the booth and heard a rustling behind one of the boxes in the dark space of the room. I couldn’t tell if the black void led to some kind of corridor that ran under Liebman’s – or perhaps some portal to a hell dimension from which evil mannequins sprang to prey on chubby little boys as part of their plan for world domination. Did I just stumble upon a plot between Liebman’s Children Clothing and sinister beings from another world? Did the owners of the store make a deal with these creatures? Is that why the Husky section was placed down here, so that these soul-sucking mannequins had easier access to the town’s overweight, younger population?

As you can see, I was a budding conspiracy theorist.

On second thought, that would make a great Goosebumps book. You’re welcome, R.L. Stine.

Needless to say, I survived that particular visit to Liebman’s.

Being referred to as “husky” wasn’t all that bad, but if it were up to me, I would have come up with another label for the sizes of little boys who weren’t so little -- you know, like Men’s Medium. Husky may have been cute back when Eisenhower was president, but its overt politeness now comes off as condescending. We know your child is bordering on obesity; why not shop for his clothes in the men’s section at Macy’s instead?

If we're to make overweight children feel more insecure about themselves (and apparently there are a lot in this country right now) by subjecting them to trite labels, why not re-label all other sizes? Let's redo the entire size chart for everyone else!

If I owned a children’s clothing store, I’d incorporate the following:

Boys Small = PIPSQUEAK
Alternative label: RUNT


Boys Large = STRAPPING
Alternative label: POTENTIAL JOCK

Alternative label: BIG GUY

Let's see how that would affect millions of childhoods across the nation.

The Husky

*This has been an excerpt from a chapter of a book-in-progress I'm currently shopping around.


September 19, 2014

The Truth About Carrie Bradshaw (And The Seemingly Fabulous Lives of Writers)

Sex and the City has been off the air for a decade now, but the fashionable trials and tribulations of Carrie Bradshaw and her trio of gal pals still live on in the hearts of many.

Haters and cynics have been quick to criticize how the show unrealistically portrayed the lifestyle of a writer, particularly one who lives in Manhattan and manages to stock her closet with a plethora of designer labels.

Throughout its six-season run, the show has vaguely attempted to justify Carrie's living situation. Her apartment has been described as rent-controlled. And...that's about it. Yes, her weekly newspaper column got turned into a book, and in season 5 she mentioned how thrilled she was to write for Vogue at $4.25 a word, a pay rate that is practically unheard of in today's world where print is a dying medium (less readers = less advertisers = less money) and online journalism is mostly built on a foundation of volunteer (i.e. non-paying) work. And really, how long does an advance from a soon-to-be-published book last for someone with Carrie's spending habits? That paycheck can only cover a finite amount of fabulous meals and fabulous cocktails at fabulous restaurants -- as well as a fabulous wardrobe.

Let's approach this from a socioeconomic standpoint, particularly in the era during which SATC took place: The late 90s and early aughts were a time when print media was still a viable platform on which to earn a modest, fixed income. Blogs had yet to take over. The term "news feed" wasn't even a thing yet. Therefore legit and established writers like Carrie could have feasibly paid their bills. But not with one source of income.

Any writer will tell you that, if you're name isn't Stephen King or Anna Quindlen, it's a daily hustle to make a living as one. No writer can live off one published piece of work. There's a reason why "writer" is an umbrella term to cover words like "journalist," "columnist," "critic," "novelist," "author," and "blogger." Most writers have to work in all types of literary fields. In my opinion, the more you can adapt to different styles, the better writer you become.

But I digress.

As a burgeoning writer myself (I'm currently "in talks" with a literary agent in regards to my own book - did that sound as obnoxious as it felt writing it?), I've started to realize something. When I now look at all of the Manolo Blahniks and Cosmopolitans Carrie Bradshaw has gone through over the years, I understand how she did it, how she was able to get away with it. I have uncovered the secret that explains how this woman was able to conduct a luxurious lifestyle without completely wiping out her bank account. I have discovered (hypothetically, of course) THE TRUTH.

Here it goes...

She got all that shit for free.

Hear me out:

When a writer develops a pretty decent reputation, especially while attached to certain media outlets, there are people -- particularly publicists -- who will reach out to said writer and request him/her to give their client -- namely a film, restaurant, fashion designer, or hotel -- some coverage in the media. It's almost like a movie star or athlete being approached to endorse a new vitamin-infused energy drink. Those celebs probably have a garage overflowing with bottles of the product. However, whereas they may receive a hefty amount of money for promoting that drink, writers get little to no dollars -- just a free sample.

I should know. Rather than live with a closet full of couture, I have an entertainment center loaded with enough books and films to stock up my local Barnes & Noble. Most of these are titles I've either written about, reviewed, or endorsed in some way. Half of the films I see in theaters every year are complimentary (even the popcorn, sometimes). Those amazing meals I've had the pleasure of savoring at chic restaurants? On the house. And those trips to Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Canada in the past year? Free.

Now, how much did I make writing about those aforementioned movies, menus, and travel destinations? What I was paid as a writer last year amounted to less than what I currently make in a week at my full-time job at Stun Creative. But make no mistake: I am grateful for everything I've received. It is certainly better than getting nothing at all.

However, it's all an illusion, this romanticized image of a writer living large. A writer only appears to afford such luxuries when, in fact, he or she is receiving complimentary schwag for the sake of publicity. And there's absolutely no shame in being showered with gifts like a fashionable $300 winter coat to wear during a press trip to Whistler Mountain...or a brand new wireless Bluetooth speaker from the generous folks at iHome Audio.

This is a practice that can probably be traced back to...let's just say "a long time ago." Look at Truman Capote! That soft-spoken shorty had access to all the trimmings of New York City's high society. I wouldn't be surprised if he used his connections to get hooked up with a three-piece suit for a party or a tasty meal at Manhattan's Stork Club.

Therefore it's reasonable to assume that Sex and the City's heroine never actually purchased those designer duds she wore on a regular basis, and she probably didn't pay for those drinks and appetizers at that hot new bar in the Meatpacking District...because she wrote about them in her newspaper column. And got paid in free goods. It's like a barter trade -- give some free publicity, earn a nice perk.

The only time this became blatantly clear was during the first Sex and the City movie: Carrie, now a published writer of several books, had become more of a household name (within the film, that is). She even got a wedding-themed Vanity Fair photo spread dedicated to her marriage to Big. And then there was that Vera Wang wedding dress she received as "a gift" from the designer herself. You could hear the collective gasp of envy in the theater when Carrie opened that big white box.

And let's not forget that all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi in the 2010 sequel, the result of an Arab sheikh's attempt to get Samantha to devise a PR campaign for his sprawling resort. Without her PR connection, our gal Carrie would have never gone on that Middle Eastern adventure (and I'm sure she wrote about her exotic experiences, especially running into Aiden, for her weekly column).

So, in conclusion, I'm just like Carrie Bradshaw. Or maybe that's something I tell my deluded self to make me feel better about my life. Heck, my bedroom is laid out just like hers, with a large closet space connected to a bathroom with two doors.

Either way, you know what I'm talking about. The next time you pop in one of your Sex and the City DVDs and start drooling over Carrie's Christian Lacroix ensemble, remember: she most likely didn't drop a single dime on it.

Gotta run. I'm off to Palm Springs to stay at the Welk Resort for a little weekend writing retreat.

And yes, I got the room for free. #sorrynotsorry


September 10, 2014

10 Songs Perfect For Crying Alone On Your Bathroom Floor

We've all had those bad days, those depressing times when we needed a good cry, to unabashedly feel sorry for ourselves, to feel like the world is covered by one giant, dark cloud that is about to unleash a shitstorm of pain and heartache.

Fall is upon us, nights will grow longer, and we all know how people's moods tend to change along with the leaves. So why not have a soundtrack to accompany those miserably melancholy moments?

Grab a bottle of red, keep some Kleenex nearby, and let it all out:

1. "Why" by Annie Lennox - Why? Because its somber orchestration perfectly captures the mood of someone who needs to let go of all the bad shit that's been festering inside. The song simply facilitates release, an emotional purge everyone needs every now and then. Also? It accompanies one of the best scenes in 1995's Boys on the Side.

2. "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell (the 2001 version) - A great theme song for regret. It goes well with a side of heavy sighing and contemplation. Kudos to the music supervisor of the holiday neo-classic Love Actually for choosing this tune for one of the film's most devastating scenes (it kicks in at 1:15).

3. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt - Raise your hand if you've ever felt undesirable after being on the wrong end of unrequited love! Well, Bonnie's got a song for you...

4. "All By Myself" by Celine Dion (and various artists)
- If Bridget Jones can blare this on the stereo after going through a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of wine while cocooned in oversized pajamas on her couch, then you can too. No shame. #SorryNotSorry

5. "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler - From the soundtrack to the grandmother of all chick flicks, this is the song that always made my mother change the dial on the radio whenever it came on. She didn't need to burst into tears while commuting to work. But you might need to when you reminisce about your bestie and glory days long gone.

6. "Why Does It Always Rain On Me" by Travis - An ode to insomnia, self-loathing, and the search for sunny days. Enjoy!

7. "2AM (Breathe)" by Anna Nalick - There's light at the end of the long and dark tunnel, and Anna Nalick is here to lead the way.

8. "My December" by Josh Groban - Seriously, just check out the 2003 cover of this Linkin Park song from 2000, and you'll be all like, "Holy shit."

9. "Someone Like You" by Adele - So your man found someone new. Go ahead, wish him well, but I know you're hurting deep down inside. Keep telling yourself you're going to be okay. But in the meantime, the arrangement of this 2011 megahit is really telling you to curl up in a ball on the cold tile of your bathroom floor and cry for your losses.

10. "Karma Police" by Radiohead - Just keep repeating "This is what you get" over and over while rocking back and forth in the dark.


September 03, 2014

My 700th Post: I Said Yes!

699 blog posts later, and here we are.

The above meme is a result of an idea I had while eyeing some Ring Pops in CVS last night on the way home from work. For anyone who can't take another engagement ring photo on their Facebook feed.

You're welcome.


Um, PS - I don't really have diabetes.

September 01, 2014

LABOR DAZE: The 2014 Summer Playlist, Vol. 3

Goodbye, Summer of 2014.

Thank you for giving us some great beach weather, Chris Pratt, and enough Ice Bucket Challenges to last until the next charity-driven meme turns into another viral gimmick. But before you go, let's celebrate you one more time before we all start to stress out over our Halloween costumes...

1. "Bang Bang" by Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj
2. "Big Girls Cry" by Sia
3. "This Is How We Do" by Katy Perry
4. "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor -
5. "Classic" by The Knocks feat. Powers
6. "Paralyzed" by BT feat. Christian Burns:

7. "It Was Always You" by Maroon 5
8. "Everything You Wanted" by Clubfeet:

9. "Lovers on the Sun" by David Guetta feat. Sam Martin
10. "One More Day" by Example
11. "Do or Die (Stay With Me)" by Afrojack & Thirty Seconds to Mars
12. "Anaconda" by Nicki Minaj
13. "Ordinary Human" by OneRepublic
14. "Superheroes" by The Script:

15. "Leave Your Lover" by Sam Smith
16. "Everything Remind Me of You" by Tessanne Chin
17. "Here For You" by Gorgon City feat. Laura Welsh
18. "Break The Rules" by Charli XCX:

19. "Beautiful Life" by Armin Van Buuren feat. Cindy Alma
20. "All The Way" by Timeflies
21. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough (Van O Remix)" by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell


Song of the Month: September 2014

Too bad this sumptuous jam didn't drop earlier this summer. But no bother. If you're looking for a tune to close out The Summer of 2014, look no further.

The Knocks (a.k.a. Ben "B-Roc" Suttner and James "J-Patt" Patterson - not to be confused with the bestselling crime novelist) have crafted a fine, groovetastic number called "Classic" featuring vocals from some chick who goes by the name Powers.

Enjoy the hell out of this one, kids:

*Also, you've probably noticed that I've taken out the word "Theme" in the above headline and abbreviated this series of posts as "Song of the Month." It's just better, no? And yes, it helps with search engine optimization purposes.


Catfights, Cleavage and Carrie-Anne Moss: 'Models Inc.' Turns 25

In the early 90s, as anyone familiar with the oeuvre of uber-producer Aaron Spelling knows, the successful  Beverly Hills, 90210 begat ...