Archive for the ‘Hollywood’ Category

I had the unique experience this weekend of using speed dating techniques to sell my novel Dragon Chica to independent bookstore owners and staff in Los Angeles. Yes, it’s the famous SCIBA Authors Feast and Trade Show!

Yes, I got to meet "CatDog" creator Pete Hannan!

This was my first time to be invited to the event sponsored by the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association.

Here’s how it works: Authors are sent into a cavernous banquet room at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa (more on this later). We are assigned to go two at a time to a large, round banquet table sponsored by an Independent Bookseller. Then while the bookstore people eat, we get to tell them about our books. When the course is over, someone literally gets on a microphone and orders all the authors to move to another table. (We get a list with a map of where we’re supposed to go in advance.) So it was Salad, move, Entrée, move, and Dessert, stay. And yes, everyone calls it “speed dating” (tongue in cheek, of course…Kinda.)

Detective novelist P.G. Sturges & I worked the "entrée" table together.

We’re allowed to eat in advance, because it could get pretty gross if we were chowing down and talking at the same time, but in fact in the authors’ dining room ahead of time, that’s what we all did anyway. Talked and ate at the same time. Perhaps the organizers figure (rightly) that we writers can’t gross ourselves out when we’re talking about books. Organizers warned everyone not to drink too much of the free wine either, but an author experienced with this event encouraged everyone to drink up while we could. (She had the right idea…I think if we’d brought the wine bottles with us, it would have gone even betterl!)

As it turned out, the noise level in the banquet room was pretty high, so I found myself basically shouting in bullet points across the table at the indie booksellers. “Girl power!” “Khmer Rouge survivors!” “War! Love! Family! Refugees! Nebraska!” “Cambodian cultural rebirth!” Yeah, I can shout pretty fast. ( I also managed to remember to tell the owner of Skylight Books of L.A. that Lac Su had highly recommended her store to me as well as tell the man from Book Soup that Leonard Chang loves his store.) Reps from the wonderful Diesel Books and fantastic Books Inc. were also there.

Then it was time to move on to another course, another table.

Me, Beverly Fisher of IngramBook.com, and writer Terry László-Gopadze

The best part for me was getting to meet so many cool writers and hear about their books. (Plus we all got a box of books and Advanced Reading Copies at the end. Book swag! Sure, sure, let the movie stars get their free iPads and designer whatevers, but as for me, I love a box of ARCs!)

Writers Claire LaZebnik and Deborah Harkness

So what are some of the cool books that you can look forward to reading this fall and winter? Oooh, where to begin? USC history professor Deborah Harkness has written a historical/fantasy novel called A Discovery of Witches about demons, vampires, witches and humans based on her extensive knowledge of 16th century science and medicine. She calls it “Harry Potter for adults.” In it, she says humans have one special power the other creatures do not: we have mastered the dark art of denial. (Love that!)

Claire LaZebnik, who has got to be one of the wittiest people I’ve ever met, has a new book out called If You Lived Here, You\’d Be Home Now about a single mom who has to juggle her desire to remain a wild-child at heart with raising her young son. (And from all reviews, it sounds as witty as Claire is in real life.)

For those who like detective stories, P.G. Sturges has a real winner coming out this winter called The Shortcut Man, about private investigator Dick Henry who finds his own girlfriend involved in his newest client’s messy case. (There’s already talk in Hollywood of trying to get George Clooney to star in the movie version. Having heard the story of The Shortcut Man from the author himself, I think this would be a pretty cool vehicle for Mr. Clooney. Check out the website. My summary won’t do it justice.)

And for everyone who loved CatDog (and who didn’t love CatDog?), creator Peter Hannan has an illustrated children’s book coming out this fall called The Greatest Snowman in the World, showcasing his delightfully quirky vision and unique artistry.

And now for a few words about the venue. Ahem, wow. L.A. is really different from San Francisco. At the hotel for this book conference, they actually offer five different “non-surgical facelifts,” four different “ultra facial enhancements,” and six different kinds of “body therapy” including “Japan ritual,” “purifying Moroccan clay wrap” and a “detoxifying seaweed wrap.” (And to think, I get psyched when a hotel offers free HBO!)

If you squint, you can see the "Hollywood" sign in the distance.

Needless to say,  I didn’t try any of the spa treatments. Like I said, I was very happy to get my free box of books! (Muchas gracias to my publisher, GemmaMedia, for sponsoring me to attend the SCIBA this year!)

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Met some interesting people at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which opened this week.

SF's Japantown held a taiko drum concert for the festival!

Film Festival Schedule

Oscar winner Ruby Yang, actress Tamlyn Tomita, and producer Karin Chien led a very informal talk and Q&A session about what it’s like to work in the film industry, and especially what it’s like to make APA films.

Karin’s words of wisdom: “Only ½ of 1 percent of independent films make a profit.”

Film Producer Karin Chien

She just won the Independent Spirit Awards’ top prize for producing. She’s been the producer of such great indie films as Michael Kang’s THE MOTEL (love this!), ROBOT STORIES (which also starred Tamlyn Tomita), and the newly released SANTA MESA. She’s now producing films that will be filmed in part in China, Haiti, and the Philippines.

Karin had some amazing stories to tell about what it’s like to work as a producer for  independent films. “It’s all compromise. It’s always about improvisation with what the world hands you,” she said when someone asked how much of a director’s “vision” ends up in the final film. As an example she cited ROBOT STORIES, which began filming on September 10, 2001 in New York City. Oh, yeah. The world handed them a surprise on that shoot. But they managed to make their movie.

Another example? She said the motel they were using to film in for the eponymous movie caught on fire the second day of filming. Yet, as everyone who’s seen the film knows, THE MOTEL was made, distributed, and got great reviews! For more on THE MOTEL, click here!

(To me, it also sounded a lot like it’s all about the adrenaline!)

Ruby Yang talked about the difficulties of getting funding, the years of work to get one film made, but the passion that keeps her making her  wonderful documentaries. For example, she said that she shot a lot of  public health PSA’s in China in order to get permission and funding to film her Oscar-winning documentary, THE BLOOD OF YINGZHOU COUNTY, about an AIDS-ravaged village in central China.

Oscar-winner Ruby Yang

She also worked as a film editor for many years, including for Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary, BECOMING AMERICAN:THE CHINESE EXPERIENCE More info on BECOMING AMERICAN, the PBS series.

She also was the editor for two of actress/director Joan Chen’s movies XIU XIU: THE SENT-DOWN GIRL and AUTUMN IN NEW YORK.

(One of my faves of her films is the documentary CITIZEN HONG KONG (1999), which was broadcast on PBS.)

Tamlyn Tomita was very inspiring and encouraged the audience to help “move the progress forward” and offer solutions so that APA roles and films keep getting better and better.

Tamlyn Tomita

Tamlyn described how she was studying history at UCLA when she tried out for the role in KARATE KID II and was hired. She later starred in THE JOY LUCK CLUB, PICTURE BRIDE, and an early film about the Japanese American internment COME SEE THE PARADISE, as well as many indie films, TV shows and stage plays.

Tamilyn Tomita\’s Filmography

Bay Area and international filmmakers in attendance included writer/director Gerry Balasta whose film THE MOUNTAIN THIEF  is showing at the festival (see The Mountain Thief website or check out this Festival interview with Gerry CAAM Interview with Gerry Balasta;


Documentary filmmaker Yumiko Gamo Romer, who’s making a film about a 96-year-old female judo master who’s still teaching judo!

The Story of Keiko Fukuda, Grand Mistress of Judo

For more on the Grand Mistress of Judo, Click here for www.flyingcarp.net

and actor/director Paul Wong, whose first feature film starts shooting this August.

This was a really interesting event that allowed me to feel like a fly on the wall and see what the world of filmmaking is really like.

I enjoyed hearing all the anecdotes, and yes, I did ask for autographs at the end!

Autographs from the SFIAAFF

Now I can hardly wait to see the films!

The talk today and the festival are sponsored by Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)

For the film festival schedule, click here film schedule

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I was very lucky to attend an advance screening of South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film MOTHER at the Landmark Embarcadero Theater in San Francisco.

"Mother" film poster

Info about the S. Korean movie, Mother

Bong also directed the 2006 hit, THE HOST, which re-invented the “monster movie” genre.

MOTHER is a crime thriller that has echoes of Bong Joon-Ho’s other films, in its depiction of unusual, even exaggerated family dynamics, social misfits, and a subversive wit. The story follows the attempts of a single mother to track down the true killer of a neighborhood girl after the mother’s mentally handicapped son is arrested for the murder on circumstantial evidence by lazy and corrupt police officers. Bong’s aesthetic is wholly his own, but the closest Western comparison I can think of is the Coen Brothers’ crime movies, such as BLOOD SIMPLE and FARGO.

The lead actress, Kim Hye-ja, gives an amazing performance as the increasingly desperate mother. She won numerous acting awards for this film in Asia, where she is famous for playing far gentler characters.

The director stayed for a Q&A after the film. He was quite charming. He said he was more afraid watching the film with his own mother than he was watching it with the audience at the Cannes Film Festival. And he still hasn’t worked up the nerve to ask his mother what she thought of his movie!

Director Bong Joon-Ho

I was very excited to be able to get Bong Joon-ho’s autograph.

Bong Joon-ho's autograph!

It’s a very intense movie with a complex plot. I hope it gets distribution in America. Bong Joon-ho’s films are part of the ever-hot “Korean Wave,” the term used to describe the popularity of Korean movies, singers, soap operas, etc. throughout East Asia.

This showing was sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society and CAAM–Center for Asian American Media.

My promo ticket!

Click on the name for more information about the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) and about the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)

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This Wednesday, December 2, I had the great honor of attending PEN  USA’s Literary Festival in Los Angeles. The LitFest Awards Banquet at the Beverly Hills Hotel (swanky!) celebrated this year’s winners of Pen USA’s literary awards in 10 categories as well as a lifetime achievement award. I served as a judge in the creative nonfiction category along with writers Barbara Abercrombie and Laura Pritchett.

Here I am at the Festival banquet with writers Edward Farmer and Barbara Abercrombie.

In order to judge the Creative Nonfiction category, Barbara, Laura and I read the 60 nominated books over the summer. All the nominees were strong this year and it was very difficult to winnow the group down to one overall winner and four Honorable Mentions.

Ultimately we decided Steve Lopez  deserved the top prize for his book THE SOLOIST. No, it’s NOT like the movie. The book is sooooo much better. I felt that if we had to choose one book out of the 60 to put in a time capsule this would be it as Lopez’s book manages to chronicle all that is good and wrong with our society. If we survive as a nation hundreds of years from now, it is because we have learned to overcome the problems he describes in his book–homelessness, poverty in one of the richest cities in the world, inadequate health care (especially mental health care), the near-demise of our newspapers, and severe financial woes. But Lopez’s book is not grim; it is beautiful and hopeful. He shows that our society IS beautiful, there are many kind people, we have created great institutions of learning and of the arts. We appreciate beauty, kindness, music, friendship. If we don’t survive as a society, we will be missed. Lopez tells this story by writing about his friendship with Julliard-trained cellist, Nathaniel Ayers, whom he finds living on the streets of L.A., without a cello, but still playing music on a violin with two strings.

Here’s a picture of Steve Lopez accepting his award. (I don’t know him personally, but he seems like a genuinely humble and kind man. He’s one crackerjack writer, I do know!)

The Honorable Mentions went to: Rick Bass, WHY I MOVED WEST ( a plea for environmental protection); Mahvish Rukhsana Khan’s MY GUANTANAMO DIARY (amazing, witty, powerful, searing account written by a lawyer who as a law student volunteered to help make sure Gitmo detainees received legal representation—and in some cases, helped to win their freedom when they were found to be completely innocent); John Rechy’s ABOUT MY LIFE AND THE KEPT WOMAN (a beautifully written memoir of the acclaimed writer’s early life as a Mexican American in El Paso…living in an era when it was perfectly legal to discriminate openly against Mexican Americans…and his years spent as a gay hustler in NYC and LA when it was perfectly legal to discriminate against gay men…even arresting them for simply being in a bar together!); and finally Kao Kalia Yang’s moving memoir, THE LATEHOMECOMER, about her family’s journey as Hmong caught up in the aftermath of America’s secret war in Laos, their perilous journey to refugee camps in Thailand and their heartrending separation in America (truly beautiful story!).  I highly recommend all five books!!!!

PEN  USA is the western branch of PEN International, the nonprofit writers’ group that “works to defend the freedom of writers around the world who’ve been imprisoned or otherwise threatened by their governments.” In the U.S. PEN promotes literacy programs, creative writing programs in public schools, prisons, and other institutions that reach populations that otherwise may not have a voice in the mainstream media. (It’s a really cool group!)

PEN USA specifically is made up of writers who live West of the Mississippi River.

To find out more about PEN USA, please click this link: PEN USA mission statement

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