Monday, December 15, 2014
Christmas is a wonderful season for stories. There are all sorts of traditional stories, of course, but the season lends itself to newer variations as well. A few years ago, my husband and I began a new tradition in our home of watching all our favorite Christmas movies during the month of December. In the past, we might have watched these movies now and then during the year, but since we started this tradition, we don't, and now we really look forward to seeing them all in December. I thought I would share with you my favorite Christmas stories (even though these are movies and not books--stories are stories, right?). In alphabetical order, they are:
Bell, Book and Candle - Okay, not primarily a Christmas movie, but it does have Christmas in it. What better way to celebrate Christmas than with witch Kim Novak and "victim" Jimmy Stewart? One of the best lines is when Stewart tries to tell his ex-girlfriend that Novak is a witch and she says, "Oh, Shep, you just never learned to spell."
Brother Sun, Sister Moon - Another not exactly Christmas movie, but one that always brings the season home to me. I'm not a church-goer, but the end of the movie where soon-to-be Saint Francis goes to the Vatican to see the Pope fills any need I might have for organized religion. Sir Alec Guinness as the Pope delivers the most classic line in this beautiful and luscious story. I cry every time I hear it.
The Holiday - A surprising little story of two women (Carmen Diaz and Kate Winslet) who switch houses for the holidays, each trying to get away from their unhappy and stressful lives. The heart of the story, however, is Eli Wallach as an aging Hollywood writer. And Jack Black is cute enough to eat with a spoon.
It's a Wonderful Life - The quintessential Christmas movie about a man who thinks the world would be a better place if he'd never been born. If you're not familiar with this movie, you must be living under a rock. This is THE classic.
Joyeux Noel - You don't often find war movies in a Christmas collection, but this one is a gem. It's based on true incidents during WWI when French, Scot and German troops agreed to a spontaneous and unsanctioned Christmas Eve truce between the trenches. The surprising events underscore the true essence of humanity.
The Last Holiday - Queen Latifah shines as a struggling sales associate in a scrooge-like chain store (think Wal-Mart) who is diagnosed with a terminal disease. When she decides to blow her life's savings doing all the things she never dared to do before, she shows everyone around her what living is all about.
Love Actually - My favorite Christmas movie, weaving together no less than seven or eight (it's hard to keep track, since they all criss-cross each other) stories about the true importance of Christmas. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy and Keira Knightly and many others make this ensemble story a real winner.
The Santa Claus 2 - Of the series, this is far and away the best. The first movie was good, the third was horrible but this one is perfect. This movie has more heart than a dozen Hallmark movies, plus it's funny. Don't skip the credits at the end though; one of the best parts is Elizabeth Mitchell doing her Mrs. Claus dance.
Sleepless in Seattle - One of the best stories about following your heart and doing the very thing your head tells you not to. Tom Hanks brings a heart-breaking realism to the kind of fantasy we all yearn for.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Ghost of Christmas Eve - If you're not into hard rock and heavy metal, I can understand if you've never heard of this. However, I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. TSO's ground-breaking music and retelling of traditional stories are absolutely transcending. They are like Mannheim Steamroller on steroids. My Christmas would never be complete without TSO echoing through the house. Here's a youtube link to one of my favorite songs: Canon.
So here's my present to you; pick one or all of these movies and watch them. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Every day is a breakthrough, milestone day for someone somewhere. Just recently, my pal (and distant relative) Janet Mainville had her breakthrough day; she published her first book, Scar Tissue. I can remember that heady day (over 40 years ago for me), that jumping-for-joy, happy-dance day. It’s a day that should be celebrated and remembered.
So Janet, congratulations! Tell us a bit about your book. What’s in it and what inspired it?
Well, Melissa, it's a book of poetry and essays that are related to the human condition. I wanted an outlet for the feelings that I was coping with and writing the book provided that release. My inspiration for the book was my own personal experiences, my family and my interest in writing through the eyes of a different character, one who I share no common ground with.
When you originally wrote the pieces in the book, did you actually intend to publish them? I’m just wondering if you wrote with the idea in mind that people everywhere would someday be reading them.
Actually, I planned to publish some of them but not all of them. I opened up and shared some writings that I never thought that I would. It was actually the idea that one day, someone would be reading the book that made allowing myself to be vulnerable that made it possible for me to write the book. It's my hope that somewhere someone will read my book and not feel alone in their struggles.
A very worthwhile intent, to be sure. Writing personal experience (and personal emotion) can be scary, but it can also be very therapeutic. Did you find that writing down your experiences was helpful to you? How does writing help you in your own personal process?
I found writing to be very therapeutic and terrifying simultaneously. Sometimes the words that I want to say are on the tip of my tongue but I just can't seem to get them out, but when I write, I can bare my soul and that has made all of the difference.
You’re facing very serious health issues in your life. Did writing about them help you to cope? Did it help to give you some perspective?
Absolutely! Coping was so much more difficult before I began writing! I was stuck before I began writing and that was not helping me at all. Since I started writing, I have gained so much perspective and I've become able to find strength that I never knew that I had!
That is good to know. I'm so glad. I've also found writing to be immensely therapeutic.
I’m guessing that writing about your experiences has proved helpful for others who have similar health issues. What kind of feedback have you gotten?
I'd like to think that my writing has had an impact on others with the similar health issues. I started a Facebook community page called "Just a Little Lupie" and a closed group called "Just a Little Lupie". I wrote a petition regarding Judge Judy's uniformed and ignorant comments regarding lupus and in a pretty short amount of time, I had well over 4,000 signatures. I am also working on a photo collage banner for the group/page that represents our daily struggles, what we've lost, what had changed for us and what has made us stronger. The feedback that I have received has been unreal! A big part of the reason feedback has been so strong and positive is because I have 2 other admins who are awesome where I tend to not be as strong. I've been working on a document compiling a list of all of the vitamins, minerals and herbs and their effect on the body (the good and the bad). I have a medical background so that has been really helpful.
Wow, great results! Obviously you're on the right track and accomplishing exactly what you had planned. I'm sure you'll be doing more and more as you go.
Okay, now down to brass tacks. How was the publishing process for you? Scary? Fun? Frustrating? Liberating?
I have to say, it's a bit terrifying! While it's been a bit on the scary side, it really has been fun. Liberating doesn't even begin to describe how I feel! This has always been a dream of mine and I love that I have been able to make it a reality!
Glad to hear it. Writing while thinking about publishing can be somewhat of a safe haven because how many people actually go through with it? But once you've committed to it, it's a bit like jumping off a cliff. What did you learn along the way?
Oh boy...where to start! I learned that formatting can really be quite difficult and that it's good to have more than one person edit!
Now the clincher; will you do it again? Are there more books in Janet Mainville’s brain?
I am absolutely going to do it again! I have so many ideas in my head and I have been finding myself getting extremely excited over the prospect of writing more books in different genres. I want to branch out and I want to write in styles that I've never tried before! I want to challenge myself!
Coming off your oh-so-recent success, if someone came to you and said they had a book they wanted to publish, what advice would you give them?
My advice would be to love what you are writing or the book won't be what you want it to be. It's important to take pride in your work. Another piece of advice is to be original. There are certain themes in books that have been done to death and that's the kiss of death. Just be authentic.
Thanks for your very candid answers, Janet. I know your book will do everything you wanted it to do. Now, where can readers find out more about Janet Mainville and Scar Tissue?
Where can readers connect with you?
My email address is email@example.com
Facebook Links: https://www.facebook.com/groups/jmainville1976/
Website (This is a just in its beginning stages and my goal will be to sell my books there in addition to other places. It's a work in progress.)
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
It’s not often that I get to interview a four-legged rock star. Although I am a huge dog-lover, most of the dogs that come into my life are the ordinary kind, not the globe-trotting, fun-loving, adventurous and highly intelligent celebrities like Mr. Pish.
Now I don’t want to embarrass you or anything, and I’m sure you hear this all the time, but you are quite a cute dog. What kind are you?
I’m a full-blooded rough-coat Jack Russell Terrier. And yes, I hear cute a lot. I do prefer dashing, however.
I'll try to remember that. And what’s with that one ear?
The ear is my trademark. Makes me irresistible, doesn’t it? You know you want to pat me. Stare at my ear. You are feeling happy. You want to give me treats. Is it working yet? Stare longer at the cute ear. I know you want to give me treats.
I would love to give you treats, but we do have a bit of business to discuss here first. You are the star of a whole series of books; what are their titles and what are they about?
Yes, I am – thanks! There is the Postcards Series – and there are 4 books so far there – I travel around North America, looking for awesome places for kids and their families to discover. All these places (and my books) promote outdoor learning and literacy. I’ve got two Cross-Country adventures (books 1 and 2), an East Coast adventure, and a South and West edition. I send a postcard from each cool place I visit! I also have written Mr. Pish Goes to the Farm (which was an Amazon bestseller in 3 categories, by the way), and Mr. Pish’s Woodland Adventure. I really want kids to get out and see what’s around them. I even have a section on my website that is dedicated to Mr. Pish Approved Places! There is so much to discover!
And you've been out there discovering most of it. You’ve been to all kinds of places, both natural wonders and man-made creations. What would you say is the most fun place you’ve ever been to?
The most excellent places were the ones where I was treated like a BIG celebrity. Usually food was involved. I got in free everywhere I went – people rolled out the red carpet for me! It’s hard to put a paw exactly on the most fun place, though. I’ve been to wolf parks and a dairy theme park and Times Square and Yellowstone National Park and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – I don’t think there’s any way I could choose just one. (Although the deep dish pizza at Gino’s East in Chicago and the cheesesteak at Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia were fun. Hey, I can’t help it – I’m a dog. I love food.)
And a smart one! Where did you have your greatest learning adventure?
I learned something cool everywhere I went. But at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island, I learned that kids are really smart. One little girl told me that dogs can’t write postcards. So I had to tell her I just dictated them; my secretary actually wrote them. Tough audience!
Kids ARE smart. But now let's talk numbers. How many US states have you visited? How many countries?
I have visited 41 states in person. I’ve seen pictures of the rest. That counts. And I’ve explored 7 Provinces of Canada. I know my books are also being used in schools in India, Mexico, and Scotland, so I think those count, too.
Well, even if you haven't been to those places yourself, your books have been, so that has to count for something. But you know, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a driver’s license, and I don’t think you could reach the pedals anyway. How do you get from one place to another?
*ahem/arf* Just because I don’t have a driver’s license doesn’t mean I can’t drive. But, since I’m a celebrity, I have a driver. I mean, come on. All the big stars have drivers, right? The Pishmobile is all decked out for me. I have a little platform I can lie on so I can see out my tinted window, and I have a little dogwalk (like a catwalk, except for a dog, of course) pulpit kind of deal between the two front seats so I can tell the driver where to go.
The Pishmobile sounds too cool. How many other celebrities have a pulpit? I'll bet even the Kardashians don't have one of those.
Kids really love your books, and I know you really love spending time with them, as well. What’s your message to kids in school?
Hi kids! Pass the biscuits to the front now. Oh, you mean like a lesson message? Isn’t it time for a treat break? No? Okay, well, I really would like kids to pay attention to what’s outside. I would love them to take just one minute and look up from their video games or iPads and listen to what’s around them. Take a look. Take a sniff. There is something to see, hear, and smell everywhere! Maybe they will see something awesome. It’s there if they take the time to look.
And they can start by taking a look at your books and then deciding what places they'd like to go! I'm sure they can get plenty of good ideas from you.
I don't think you can type, but I know you have a human (K.S. Brooks) help you out with the logistics of writing your books. How do the two of you work together? Do you dictate to her? Or do you sit in her lap as she types what you tell her?
Look, it’s Melissa, right? – you make a lot of assumptions. I can, in fact, type. I’m uber-talented. Unfortunately, what I type doesn’t make a lot of sense. But still, that’s typing. So, no more trick questions! But yes, my secretary follows me around as I brainstorm. She carries a pen and notebook in case I have an epiphany, and she doles out the dog biscuits and other treats. When we’re working on a project, I’ll sit on the chair next to her or on her lap to make sure she’s typing what I say. Because, these writers – man, they like to inject their own kind of je ne sais quoi into other people’s stuff. Yes, I’m a very well-traveled dog, I know some French.
You really are an intelligent and educated dog! I also know your human, Ms. Brooks, helped write a book called Triple Dog Dare, about West Highland Whites. What did you think of that book and the Westies in it?
I was a little annoyed that I wasn’t used as the main character. I mean, I inspired the book, so you know, come on! Credit where credit is due. But then when I read it, I was okay with it being Westies because the characters kept trying to trick each other by swapping dogs – and I mean, come on – look at me – there’s no way I would have a double! I thought the book was pretty fun because the people were very silly. Like real life, you know?
Er, uh, yeah, okay. I don't think I'll argue with you on that one. Finally, though, what specials are you running for the holiday season?
Thank you very much for asking! We’ve got the 2015 calendars – hanging and desk planner editions – available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We’re also running Postcards from Mr. Pish’s East Coast and South and West editions for 99 cents for the month of December. And, lastly, Mr. Pish Goes to the Farm will be free on December 25, 26, and 27 so people can fill up their new Kindles with some fun reading! The Mr. Pish Goes to the Farm app for Apple and Droid products is always 99 cents. I have an English accent in that app. Quite classy.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I know I gave you a little bit of a hard time, but I appreciate your interest! NOW may I have a treat, please?
No problem, Mr. Pish; you've been the perfect gentleman. Let me grab some liver snacks for you, but in the meantime, where can readers connect with you?