Monday, October 20, 2014

Survive and Thrive Bloghop

Today I am participating in a very special blog fest hosted by Stephen Tremp, L. Diane Wolfe, Michael Di Gesu and Alex J. Cavanaugh. Thank you guys so much for hosting this amazing event. 

The Survive and Thrive Bloghop is aimed at bringing awareness to disease prevention and early detection for medical conditions that could be avoided with the proper care. This is something I've always felt very strongly about, as a little awareness, a few check ups and screenings can save countless lives. So join us today and help spread the word!

I have a few things I'd like to bring up today, both related to one of the leading causes of death in the United States -- cancer. My maternal grandmother died of melanoma when she was only in her early 30's and my paternal grandfather died of pancreatic cancer when I was a little girl. How many countless others of you have also lost friends and family members to this deadly disease? I implore everyone out there to do a little research into their family history, as genetics do play a role. Knowing what diseases your relatives have battled can give you a better idea what you might face, and what you should screen for. My grandmother (and several other more distant relatives) have died from skin cancer, therefor I need to take special notice of any discolored skin or moles. 

But don't stop with your family history. Until my mother found out that she had breast cancer, there wasn't one other relative in my family tree that showed any signs of it. And yet, when she went in for her yearly check up, her doctor noticed a lump and did a biopsy that showed Stage 1 breast cancer. Getting checked out once a year saved my mother's life, and it could save yours too.

There are also tests now that can check for genetic risk factors in regards to cancer. For example, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests can help women determine the likelihood of breast or ovarian cancer. This might be a good test for anyone out there who doesn't know enough about their family history to determine whether they might be at risk. 

So please, take the time to do your homework and get tested, even if it's just once a year. You never know what might be the difference between Stage 1 (treatable) and Stage 4!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Zombie Cookie Extravaganza

I was feeling a little sad last night -- it was the would-be 29th birthday of a friend of mine that died two years ago -- so I asked my husband if he'd like to make Halloween cookies with me. I looked forward to using my new zombie cookie cutters for the first time. So we got all the supplies together, busted out the cookie batter, dyed some icing a delicious shade of green and got down to business. Here's a taste of the finished product:

Hmm, I probably need to work on my pastry decorating skills. Anyway, after a while we got a bit more creative: 

The heart was mine -- a gift for my husband. The spider was his creation, a tribute to his rampant arachnophobia. And then, to my great displeasure, I had to abandon my culinary creations and head out for a late night soccer game. I left him in charge of our "son" Freddy, a zombie toy I gave him when we first started dating. When my soccer game was over and I checked my phone, here's what I found waiting for me. 

"Freddy getting started."


"The Skeleton."

"Freddy is good."

"Father and son watching Avengers post-cookies."
Needless to say, it cheered me greatly. My husband is the cutest! I hope you come up with some fun, Halloween related festivities to celebrate this spooktacular holiday! 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Best of TV's Halloween Episodes

We're already more than a week into October and I haven't written a single post on Halloween yet! I'm behind on my holiday festivities (or rather, I'm behind on my blog - my apartment has been decorated since September).

Every year I have a series of Halloween activities I like to complete before the big, spooky day - carve pumpkins, watch Hocus Pocus, eat waaay too much candy. And of course, make my way through the best Halloween related episodes of my favorite TV shows. This year I thought I'd be a bit more organized and make a list of what I consider the 'best of the best'. Here goes . . .

The Best of TV's Halloween Episodes:

1. Bones - "The Mummy in the Maze"
I love this episode of Bones. Watching Booth and the squint team dressing up for their annual Halloween party as they team up to find a missing girl and take on a killer clown (a real challenge in light of Booth's Coulrophobia). It's one of the best.

2. The Office - "Halloween"
I simply love the antagonistic relationship between Jim and Dwight, and nothing shows it off better than a Halloween episode. With Dwight's elaborate 'Sith Lord' costume and Jim's more creative 'Three Hole Punch Jim', hilarity ensues.

3. The Big Bang Theory - "The Middle Earth Paradigm"
What could be funnier than a handful of scientists in their nerdiest costumes amid a sea of inebriated slutty nurses and chest baring ex-boyfriends? Not much, I'd say.

4. Community - "Epidemiology"
I'll admit I was late to the Community game, and frankly didn't have that much interest in the show. That is, until my friend insisted that I watch the Halloween episode in which the study group and their classmates get transformed into zombies. How could I possibly resist Troy and Abed dressed up as Ripley and the Alien? After that, I was hooked.

5. Castle - "Vampire Weekend"
The season 2 Halloween episode was just the right blend of spooky, funny, and touching. But Nathan Fillion's Castle dressed up as a "space cowboy", aka. Mal Reynolds, aka. Captain Tightpants makes my heart grow three sizes in my chest, just like the Grinch. I simply could not love this episode more. Side note: He absolutely gets my vote as they winner of The Best of TV's Halloween Episodes costume contest.

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "Halloween"
There are so many things I just love about this episode. The deliciously evil Spike. Catty Cordelia. The first glimpses of the Willow/Oz relationship. And most especially, Buffy the Butt-Kicking Vampire Slayer transformed into a weak, dimwitted aristocrat. Its one of the greatest Buffy episodes and Joss Whedon at his finest. 

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "Fear Itself"
The show is so great I had to give it a second episode. This Buffy episode takes haunted houses to a whole new creepy level, with a dash of Anya in a "terrifying" bunny costume to lighten things up. A must-not-miss for the Halloween season. 

I've definitely got a lot of TV viewing to do to get ready for Halloween! Not to mention finishing up my costume for the annual Houston Museum of Natural Science - Spirits & Skeletons Party. I just can't wait for All Hallows Eve! Only 22 days to go . . . 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Fair Selfie

The other day my friends and I gathered together for a afternoon of fun, frivolity, and musicals. As two members of our ranks had never seen My Fair Lady before, we decided to start with the Audrey Hepburn classic that answers the question 'where does the rain in Spain mainly stay'? 

I'll admit that while I know nearly every word to the film's soundtrack, it had been years since I'd actually sat down and watched the movie from start to finish. And I have to say, watching it through the eyes of adulthood made me see the movie I'd always thought a bit of lighthearted fun in an entirely new light. 

The ever so cheerful "Get Me to the Church on Time" is in fact not a song about a man anxious for his wedding day, but rather a man enjoying his last night of freedom before being dragged into matrimony [complete with him being carted off to the church in a simulation of a funeral procession]. And the "love story" between Eliza and Henry was a far cry from the romantic dream I remembered and something more akin to a feminist nightmare -- for what else would call a story where the fiercely strong female protagonist who admonished her admirers to not speak of love but show her ends up with a man who, upon her return, lounges back in his chair, places a newspaper over his face and asks where his slippers are. 

As beloved as the songs from My Fair Lady have always been, I really struggled to enjoy the movie. It infuriated me that Eliza would end up with a man who showed her so little regard upon growing into a strong, self-possessed woman with all the necessary tools to start a more satisfactory life. I much prefer the ending of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the play from which My Fair Lady draws its inspiration. For those of you unfamiliar with the original story, Shaw's version rejects the idea of a romanticized finale and shows Eliza leaving Henry in the end. Despite overwhelming criticism, Shaw avidly fought audience's desire for a "happy ending", staying true to his vision in which Eliza emancipates herself and starts a new life on her own terms. An ending which I respect and admire as much for Shaw's defense of it as for Eliza's triumph. 

And as long as I'm discussing adaptations, there's one other I'd like to mention. Despite its loathsome title, I actually liked the reinvention of My Fair Lady in the new ABC sitcom, Selfie. Sure, its use of texting vernacular grates on my nerves and it tries to fit three hours of content into one half hour show. But despite its flaws, I think the series' portrayal of Henry and Eliza gets something right. Eliza remains a course, class-less girl in desperate need of elocution lessons [with modern substitutions of "lol" and "hashtag" for a Cockney accent]. But rather than depicting Henry as a cold, unlikable gentleman with little regard for people's feelings, he acts instead as a means for social commentary. Henry critiques the common practice of using sexual innuendo when communicating with our opposite-sex friends/acquaintances and the excessive presence of cell phones in our daily interractions, while generally encouraging us to devote our attention to the people around us rather than turning to electronic sources for human contact. 

Together, Selfie's Henry and Eliza act as a reminder that social media is a far cry from real relationships. And while the show may soon disappear in the sea of mediocre sitcoms, I think its core ideas do greater credit to Shaw's Pygmalion than its predecessor, My Fair Lady

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group, One Year Webiversary and Upcoming eBook

It's the first Wednesday of the month and time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. A big shout out to our fearless leader, Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh for starting this amazing online collaboration. If you're an insecure writer or just looking to give some support to others, check us out!

Today is a very special day for the IWSG -- it's the one year anniversary of the launch of our amazing website (just click here for the link). If you haven't visited before, it's a wonderful tool for writers with all manner of tips for finding agents, publication, etc. And of course, a way for us to connect with one another and offer up advice or reach out for a little support.

In honor of our one year webiversary, IWSG is putting together an ebook benefitting writers, inviting all it's members and followers to contribute. So if you have any advice to offer on writing, publishing or marketing, get blogging! (See more details on how to participate here.)

On that note, here's my own contribution . . .

How to Find a Literary Agent

Writing is hard work, but getting published is infinitely harder. They say the first step to getting published is finding a literary agent, but how is a first time author supposed to get their attention? Smoke signals? Fireworks? Kidnapping and extortion? 

While I've certainly given all three some serious thought, there are a few more "official" options to consider:

The first is the loathsome and dreaded query letter. Write them well, send them in droves, and pray to whatever deity you believe in that they get the job done. If you choose this option, may the good fortune of J. K. Rowling be with you. And if you need any advice, check out former literary agent and bestselling author Nathan Bransford's How to Write a Query Letter

The second option is writing conferences.

Writing conferences are critical tools for first time authors looking to network and build contacts in the writing world. From keynote speeches on how to get published to workshops on writing query letters or understanding the changing nature of the publishing industry, these conferences are a wealth of untapped knowledge. Furthermore, they supply unpublished authors with a golden opportunity -- a chance to pitch their work to agents in one-on-one sessions. 

I've found personal success through these pitch sessions, as it allowed me to discuss my work in greater and more personal depth than any query letter I might send. In fact, it was through a writing conference pitch session that I landed my own literary agent to represent my work. So write a query, sign yourself up for writing conferences, and most importantly, keep at it!

S. L. Hennessy, Middle Grade author and blogger at Pensuasion 
Category: Publishing 
I hereby give my permission to use this piece in the IWSG ebook. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Banned Book Week 2014

Banned Book Week is an annual event centered celebrating the freedom to read without restriction. We sometimes think of censorship as a thing of the past, but every year the American Library Association reports hundreds of books being challenged in libraries and schools across the nation. In 2013, there were challenges to everything from Fifty Shades of Grey to Captain Underpants (Seriously? Captain Underpants?). 

Every year when Banned Book Week rolls around I can't help but picture the events Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (which is, poetically, one of the many banned books). I picture peoples' houses being raided, novels ripped from secret shelves, the smoke from the book bonfires ripping through the night sky. Dramatic though that image may be, it's what my mind conjures up every time I hear of another attempt at book censorship. 

Here's just a few of some of our most beloved stories that have been previously challenged: 
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller 
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury 
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins 
Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell 
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald 
Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling 
The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne 
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee 

Imagine what life would be like without some of these amazing classics. So read a banned book, check out the Banned Book Week calendar of events here, blog, tweet #FreetoRead14 or find some small way to help fight censorship this week (September 21-27)!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Underrated Treasures Blogfest

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book that you simply loved, but no one else has ever heard of? Well, today Alex J. Cavanaugh is hosting a the Underrated Treasures Bloghop to help get the word out! So if you haven't already, sign up and tell us about your favorite book, movie, TV show or band that no one has ever heard of.

Gosford Park
With all the fans of Downton Abbey out there, I would assume that Gosford Park would have reached greater notoriety. After all, it shares a similar premise, time period, and even the phenomenal Maggie Smith. But for all my love of this spectacular movie, few of my friends and acquaintances have ever heard of it, let alone seen it. If you like whodunnit films starring British all-star casts, this is a must not miss.

The Man in the High Castle
My second book entrant (I couldn't limit myself to just one) is by a similarly well known author, Philip K. Dick. Most often associated with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (aka. Blade Runner), Minority Report and Total Recall, people rarely read the lesser known The Man in the High Castle. However, it's definitely a work worth reading. In fact, it was recently optioned by Amazon Studios and a TV series is currently in the works. If your a sci fi or alternative history fan, check this read out. 

This may not count as a TV show, but I've been a big fan of the Sci-Fi Channel mini series Taken since it first aired in 2002. It takes place over the span of five decades with interwoven plots all surrounding alien encounters. It's phenomenally well written and features a terrific cast, including a very young Dakota Fanning and Anton Yelchin. 

Well, those are just a few of my underrated treasures. What about you? Any books, movies, or TV shows I've never heard of that you'd recommend?