Friday, November 30, 2012

So...My Overall Crabby Take on "Superstar Secrets"

Admittedly, as a fifty year old man who has never watched the show on which this book is based, it would be an understatement to say I’m not the target audience of “Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel.

It was a for-the-heck-of-it read, as I recently blogged about an old Partridge Family book and an old Brady Bunch book, and I was curious how this book was compared. (You can see my chapter by chapter blog at in the November of 2012 entries.) I wasn’t surprised that the book wasn’t very good, but I was a little sad about some of the ways it isn’t good.

If you look at the heroes and heroines of good children’s literature, they often struggled in life. Perhaps an orphan like Oliver Twist, Sarah Crewe or Harry Potter. Perhaps impoverished like Sounder’s master, Charlie Bucket or Katniss Everdeen. Children living in times of war like the Penvensies or the Marches.

Then we have the dilemmas faced by Miley Stewart in this book, and I assume the other books and in the TV show. She has a great life as a ‘normal’ kid going to Malibu High, but she also has a fabulous life as pop singer sensation, Hannah Montana. And she wants to keep both lives without giving up what either has to offer. It’s like she’s found a way to taste and digest the cake while keeping a perfect holographic image of it right there on the table. Neat trick if you can do it, but it doesn’t make for very compelling stories.

First of all, the ‘normal’ student at Malibu High is more privileged and has access to more wealth and pleasure than the vast majority of the world’s youth could ever imagine. But that isn’t enough, the character must not just have the advantages of the 1%, but the advantages of the .01% of pop stardom.

Next we, are asked to feel bad because this top secret pop stardom keeps the girl from having a completely free schedule. Or as M. C. King (who adapted this book from TV scripts) writes, “So, on weekends, Miley was usually booked…It was the one major drawback of being talented, fabulous, and internationally known.” Poor kid.
Because she chooses to live two lives, deception is a basic part of her lifestyle. Throughout the book, she deceives her potential boyfriend/boyfriend, first hiding her identity, and then her feelings.

And why does a 14 year old girl need a steady boy friend? Early in the book, Miley bemoans not having boyfriend, and hangs out with her friend, Lilly, as a sad consulation.

As if the fictional character didn’t provide a poor enough role model for kids struggling with self-esteem issues, we have the actress who played the pop sensational “growing up” in public with an increasingly sexualized image.

“Superstar Secrets” was #18 in the series. I don’t think I’ll get around to the books that came before or after.

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel adapted by M. C. King - Part 2 Chapter 8 - THE FINAL CHAPTER

1)Plot Synopsis: Jackson uses the George Costanza method of returning to an old job and pretending he was never fired, without crediting the Seinfeld character. Rico takes him back, but believes he (Rico) must be going crazy. Mr. Stewart tries to cheer Miley up with ice cream. Miley complains to her dad that honesty didn’t work with Jake. Mr. Stewart says maybe he just wasn’t the right guy. Miley receives a single rose and a note from Leslie (Jake’s real name) which states that Miley was right, he doesn’t deserve her, but he hopes to some day. And that he won’t reveal her secret.

2)Character Development: Miley complains that honesty didn’t work with Jake. Though she was eventually revealed to him her secret identity, she was actually dishonest with him about many other things. She is obviously delusional. Mr. Stewart admits that food is the only language he knows of to cheer his daughter. Can a very special bulimia nervosa be far away?

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Employment contracts and laws. Rico and Jackson seemed completely unaware of such things.

4)Hip Slang: “Who the Sam heck is Leslie?” Mr. Stewart asking about the identity of the rose and note sender.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: Jackson remembers his dad singing a song about poker, which evidently is the Don Schlitz song, “The Gambler”, made famous by Kenny Rogers.

6)Favorite Passage: “Here you go, darlin’,” he said, handing her a bowl of ice cream. “Fudge ripple’s like a heartbreak airbag. It doesn’t stop the hurtin’, but it cushions the blow.”


“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel adapted by M. C. King - Part 2 Chapter 7

1)Plot Synopsis: On the limo ride home, Jake accused Miley of acting out because she was jealous of him. But he says they can work through her jealousy just as he was working on being normal for her. She says that they have to break up. Jake can tell she is afraid he will tell her Hannah Montana secret and he says he may do just that.

2)Character Development: Jake had not been aware that stealing water from a little girl is a bad thing until Hannah pointed it out. Jake uses a line from one of his movies to express what he is feeling. Miley says normal people don’t quote movie lines in real life. If so, I know many people who aren’t normal.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Child water theft. Using movie lines in ‘normal’ life.

4)Hip Slang: “Dang!” and “Sweet niblets!” both used by Miley to express exasperation.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: (Got to remember to delete this heading because I can’t find anything.)

6)Favorite Sentence: “The only reason I did they stupid ‘normal’ thing was for you!”

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel adapted by M. C. King from scripts by Douglas Lieblin and Andrew Green - Part 2 Chapter 6

1)Plot Synopsis: Miley goes with Jake to his movie premiere with her swan dress and hairy armpits hidden in a coat. On the red carpet, Miley reveals the get-up along with spitting in Brian Winter’s (the entertainment interviewer) face. Jake tells Miley they’re going home and she feels sure Jake is going to break up with her.

2)Character Development: Jake reveals either a very strange sense of humor or an amazingly inept grasp on biology. On the red carpet, he tells Miley they have to go home to feed the cats. When Miley responds he has no cats, Jake says, “Maybe we can build one out of your arm pits!”

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: What are those big limos that movie stars ride in doing for climate change? Also, is the shaving of women’s armpits a capitulation to sexism?

4)Hip Slang: “Silly Goose!” – What Miley calls Jake.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: “Teen Gladiators”?

6)Favorite Sentence: “There’s a breeze in Pittsburgh, if you catch my drift,” she said. (Miley referencing the homage to ‘Teen Bigfoot’ in her underarms.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 2 Chapter 5

1)Plot Synopsis: Jackson exults in foiling Rico’s attempts to get his Cheeze Jerky recipe. He also delights in all the money they’ve taken in, until Oliver reminds him they must pay Oliver’s money for the ingredients for the product. So actually, only one dollar in profit has been brought in. Miley and Lilly try to figure out how Miley should break up with Jake. After discarding ideas such as ‘Face transplant’ and ‘Move to Peru’, they stumble upon the idea of Miley acting so obnoxious that Jake will want to break up with her.

2)Character Development: Miley appreciates Lilly’s attempts to console her.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Economic theory – business must consider costs of production and labor when they set prices (along with supply and demand.) Perhaps members of Occupy Wall Street could learn something from the book.

4)Hip Slang: “Operation Get Jake to Break Up with Me” is the name of the plan Miley and Lilly devise. “Yuck!” – a term of abhorrence.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: Without to the singer’s name, Bj√∂rk swan dress, worn to the 2001 is references by Lilly as a model for what Miley could wear to a premiere with Jake.

6)Favorite Sentence: “In an homage to Jake’s beloved ‘Teen Bigfoot’, and with the help of an old brown shag rug and some wig glue, Lilly gave Miley’s underarms a more…natural look.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 2 Chapter 4

1)Plot Synopsis: After the ice cream parlor, Jake goes with Miley, Oliver and Lilly to the beach. Jake talks on and on about himself. When Jake leaves them to take off his wig, the friends talk about what an egotistical jerk Jake is and decide Miley must break up with him. Jake returns and says he had a great evening being a normal person. Jake then turns on the TV so they can watch Jake on “Zombie High”.

2)Character Development: Jake talks about how his has been in show business since he was six months old and knows no other life. Jake winks, a very creepy gesture.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Narcissism is a serious problem for which there is apparently no cure. If you know someone who is a narcissist, and this person bores you, you must end your relationship with that person. After all, you have to think of yourself first.

4)Hip Slang: “Jitters” – Miley and friends consider that perhaps Jake only talks about himself because of this condition.

5)Contemporary Cultural Issues: “Wonder Diapers” and “Natural Baby’s Organic Pureed Pineapple Pilag” – products Jake did commercials for as a kid. “A Star Is Born: The Preschool Years” –how the narrator refers to Jake talking about his young life. “Teen Bigfoot” – a movie Jake starred in with the tag line “The only thing bigger than his foot…was his heart.”

6)Favorite passage: Miley frowned and shook her head. “I don’t understand. I mean, Hannah Montana is a star, too. But underneath, Hannah is a real person. Underneath, Jake is just…” “More Jake,” said Oliver.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. Star (based on the TV episodes "Achy Jakey Heart Parts I & II") Part 2 Chapter 3

1)Plot Synopsis: Jackson and Oliver’s Cheeze Jerky business continues to boom. An old woman approaches Jackson with a baby carriage. The woman asks for the jerky recipe. But Jackson pulls the blanket out of the carriage to reveal it is Rico disguised as a baby. Meanwhile, Miley, Oliver and Lilly wait a pizza parlor and wait for Jake. Jake comes disguised as an ordinary person, with dark hair and a funny accent. Jake gets tired of waiting in the pizza line and storms out of the restaurant. They go to a less crowded ice cream parlor. But Jake gets inpatient waiting for water and steals it from a little girl’s tray. Jake is not thrilled with life as an ordinary person and Miley is not thrilled with Jeff.

2)Character Development: Dark hair and sun glasses make Jake unrecognizable to Miley. People don’t seem very perceptive in this world.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: On weekends, pizza parlors and shacks have long lines and annoying to wait for food.

4)Hip Slang: “Cootchy-cootchy-coo” – what Jackson says to Rico disguised as a baby. “Mwa- ha-ha-ha-ha” – Rico’s demonic laugh. “Weirdo, say what?” is what Miley says to Jake when she doesn’t recognize him.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: An episode of ZOMBIE HIGH: ‘Haunted Deli: Take a Number and Wait….to Die!’

6) Favorite Sentence: “If Oliver orders the chili-dog pizza again, we’ll just sit by the windows.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 2 Chapter 2

1) Plot Synopsis: Miley tells Lilly and Oliver she told Jake about Hannah. Miley goes to the movies with Jake who gets the star treatment (moved to the front of the line, autograph requests, etc.)

2) Character Development: Jake is accustomed to being treated like a star and likes it (instead of going to the snack bar for a drink, he says loudly, “I’m thirsty” and drinks are offered to him.) Miley doesn’t like it that he likes it.

3) Relevant Cultural Issues: Jake is given free admittance to the movies because he is a movie star. It is true that those who can most afford to pay for things are most often given free stuff. The anti-soda craze: at a movie theater, the drinks offered to Jake are: water, fruit juice and ice tea.

4) Hip Slang: “Why don’t y’all take a picture? It’ll last longer.” Miley says this to fans staring at her and Jake. They then take pictures.

5) Contemporary Cultural References: Um…Movies?

6) Favorite Sentence: “Helicopters, movie stars, forbidden love – it’s all so romantic,” Lilly says dreamily.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel Part 2 Chapter1

1) Plot Synopsis: After Miley told Jake she was also Hannah, she waited for a response. Jake told her he liked Miley and Hannah, so he was okay with it. As they were about to kiss, a paparazzi helicopter swooped over head. Jake and Miley argued about whether the copter was there for Jake or Hannah. Then Miley realized that if there were pictures of Hannah and Jake, people would think Jake was cheating on Miley. So they ran and hid behind Rico’s Shack.

2) Character Development: Jake and Miley argue about which of them is a bigger star.

3) Relevant Cultural Issues: Underlining issues of sexism as Jake seems to assume that he, as a male, is a bigger star than Hannah, who is female. Or maybe Jake thinks movies are more relevant than music. Or maybe they’re both egomaniacs.

4) Hip Slang: “Seaweedy” – as in, when Oliver heard that Miley is Hannah Montana, his complexion was a little “seaweedy”.

5) Contemporary Cultural Issues: Dixie Chicks – Jake, after learning that Miley is Hannah, wonders if she has any other secrets, like also being the Dixie Chicks.

6) Favorite Sentence: “But no sooner had their lips touched than a deafening whirring came from over-head.”

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 1 Chapter 9

1)Plot Synopsis: Jake wants to get together with Miley, but Miley tells Jake she has to do a “school thing”. Actually, she is going to read to at a local “grade school” as her alternate identity, Hannah Montana. At the grade school, Hannah reads a children’s book with a heavy handed message about honesty. One of the students asks Hannah if she has ever lied. Hannah tells the students “Sometimes life is … complicated” which leads to Hannah being berated by a teacher for advocating lying. After leaving the school grounds, Miley/Hannah calls Jake and tells him they must meet. Miley brings her blonde Hannah wig and reveals to Jake that she is Hannah Montana.

2)Character Development: Jake reveals he cannot bear the thought of going a day without seeing Miley, obviously indicating a combination of insecurity and control issues. Hannah/Miley feels competent in answering questions about songwriting or make-up, but not honesty.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Situational ethics, particularly in regards to speaking the truth. Hannah advocates grey, while the school teacher speaks up for black and white.

4)Hip Slang: “Sweet niblets” – Hannah’s expression of exasperation.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: “Trudy, the Truthful Turtle”, the book Hannah reads to the students. “Frankie , the Fibbing Frog”, the book Hannah doesn’t read to the students. Superman and Lois Lane – Hannah points out to the students that Sups doesn’t tell the star reporter his true identity. Some students are quite upset when Hannah tells them that Superman isn’t real. (This reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about lately. They say Batman and Bruce Wayne are good friends. But have you noticed you never see them together? Which makes me think that maybe…. They aren’t really friends!)

6)Favorite Sentence: “Though Hannah Montana might have been sitting in a tiny, Play-Doh-splattered chair, surrounded by beaming second graders, Miley Stewart was somewhere else entirely.”
The End of Part One

Friday, November 23, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 1 Chapter 8

1)Plot Synopsis: Jackson renames his shack as “Jackson and Oliver’s Cheeze Jerky”. His menu was streamlined to no longer sell anything except beef jerky dipped in melted processed cheese. The new item is quite popular and Jackson’s business for the day flourishes while Rico’s business languishes. Rico plots.

2)Character Development: Natasha, Rico’s assistant who helped get Jackson fired, enjoys Jackson’s Cheezy Jerky.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Economic theory takes a beating again. The narrator postulates that every Jackson earns would have gone to Rico. But this assumes a finite cash pool, when Jackson’s business might , in fact, attract new customers that might buy Jackson’s artery threatening confection and then buy some of Rico’s overpriced water.

4)Hip Slang: Cheeze Jerky.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: Rico rubbing his hands together like all those maniacal villains do in the movies.

6)Favorite Sentence: “Rico stared at the sticky mess of dried meat and processed cheese and wrinkled his nose.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 1 Chapter 7

1)Plot Synopsis: Jake and Miley have a midnight date at the beach. Jake says he has a secret to tell Miley and she worries about what it will be (“Is he 30 years old? Does he have 12 toes? Does he still suck his thumb?” Jake tells Miley his real name is ‘Leslie’ and he doesn’t want them to keep secrets from one another. Miley keeps the secret that she is Hannah Montana for the time being. Miley’s dad is on the front porch when Jake takes her home, so they don’t kiss. Miley asks what she should do about Jake and her secret identity. He says she should tell Jake…or not. Miley gets mad at him for not telling her what to do.

2)Character Development: We learn Miley is 14. We learn that apparently, Jake on a date at the beach, wears shoes that cover his toes so Miley wonders how many toes he has. Miley once had a hamster named ‘Leslie’ until she found out it wasn’t a girl.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Should parents allow kids to make their own choices? (About revealing or not revealing their secret pop star identity.)

4)Hip Slang: “Shut up” used in an endearing way from Miley to Jake.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: Mr. Stewart reads the newspaper comic “The Family Circus”.

6)Favorite Sentence: “Tell him the truth? That was the craziest thing she had ever heard!”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 1 Chapter 6

1)Plot Synopsis: Jackson opens his “shack” (a wooden box with a few strips of cardboard glued to the outside) which apparently sells things to meet your “beach needs, at reasonable prices.” He is disappointed that on his first day he has no business. His friend, Oliver, points out that his food is disgusting, for instance, his mayo is green. Oliver accidently drops the beef jerky he is eating into a vat of congealed nacho cheese. Jackson’s friend, Todd, happens along and tries the cheese dipped beef and loves it.

2)Character Development: Todd is described as not “the brightest bulb” (a phrase from Mr. Stewart.) I’m at a loss to yet see any character in this book that displays voltage of any kind.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: An argument for the necessity of the FDA becomes quickly apparent in this chapter.

4)Hip Slang: “Mmmmmmm” indicating appreciation for the taste of a food.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: The beef jerky/nacho cheese incident is clearly a homage to Reese “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate” ad campaign which I believe is nearing the half century mark.

6)Favorite Sentence: “Maybe,” said Oliver, “it’s ‘cause at Rico’s you can get overpriced hot dogs, and here” – he picked up a bowl of gelatinous green goo – “you get half-priced food poisoning.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King – Part One Chapter 5

1)Plot Synopsis: Lilly goes to Miley’s for breakfast toting many tabloids with pictures of Miley with Jake. Ashley and Amber, Miley’s sworn enemies show up at Miley’s door wanting to make nice.

2)Character Development: Miley feels her life has not changed, “other than having the best boyfriend ever” but A & A make her wonder if that is true. Miley’s regard for Jake as scum turned so suddenly to adoration make one wonder again about her mental stability.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: Ashley and Amber have a cool list ranking all the kids in school (with Lilly and Miley usually inhabiting the bottom of the list.) At other schools, is this a thing?

4)Hip Slang: “BFF” – what A & A refer to Miley as in this chapter.

5)Contemporary Cultural References: Going to the mall.

6)Favorite Sentence: “Mean girls say what?”

Monday, November 19, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King Part 1 Chapter 4

1) Plot Synopsis: Miley, Lilly and Mr. Stewart watch the red carpet festivities of Jake’s new film. In a national television interview with Jake and his co-star, Marissa Hughes, Jake reveals he loves Miley. Miley goes to the theater to greet him. Jake kisses Miley and the tabloids photograph the event.

2) Character Development: Miley’s dad places enjoying a good steak over Miley’s feelings. Miley feels calling Jake on the phone wouldn’t be romantic. Jake only admits to loving Miley when he accidently uses her name rather than Marissa’s.

3) Relevant Cultural Issues: The lack of privacy for stars in today’s tabloid world.

4) Hip Slang: “Cheeseball” – Miley’s description of interviewer Brian Winters. “Ginormous” is used to describe Jake’s smile.

5) Contemporary Cultural References: The “S-Channel” (for Star Channel) watched by the Stewarts. A DVR is used by Miley to watch Jake’s love confession over and over again.

6) Favorite Sentence: “She was sure there were other ‘S’ words that described Jake Ryan, too, but she’d have to check the thesaurus later.”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” a Hannah Montana novel by M. C. King - Part 1 Chapter 3

1)Plot Synopsis – Much is not clear in this chapter. Miley’s brother Jackson is apparently working somewhere where water is sold. The writer doesn’t care to clarify if this is a restaurant, surf shop, deli or bodega. All we know is that water is sold there and people wax their surfboards there. A beautiful girl asks to buy a bottle of water after she waxes her surfboard. He tells her water costs $3 (which he thinks if overpriced.) The “hot” (in both senses, we are told) girl says she has only a dollar. Jackson says he will sell the bottle for a dollar (with the “employee discount”.) Jackson’s boss, Rico, climbs out of the girl’s surf bag and fires Jackson. Jackson thinks of starting his own place (Surf shack? Grocery store? Armory that sells water?)

2)Character Development – Jackson equates charging high prices with theft (might be a candidate for Occupy Wall Street.) Jackson’s boss, Rico, equates charging high prices with the American dream (perhaps a candidate for a fantasy boss of a member of Occupy Wall Street.)

3)Relevant Cultural Issues – The economic theory behind pricing products. The objectification of women (Jackson seems to judge the surfer girl by appearance only.)

4)Hip Slang – “Hot” for attractive. “IHOF” for “International House of Failure” (Rico’s description of what Jackson’s “Shack” would be.) “IHORPWAFAS” (for International House of Reasonably Priced Water and… Fries and Stuff”, the kind of place Jackson would like to open.)

5)Contemporary Cultural Issues – Um… Surfboards?

6)Favorite Sentence – “And as I said before, I’m so, SO hot.” Girl explaining why she should get her water for a dollar.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” A Hannah Montana Novel by M. C. King Chapter 2

Plot Synopsis: Jake sends Miley many gift baskets with apology notes. Jake appears at door in suit of armor and says he will leave Miley alone if she says she has not thought of him. Miley can not. She asks if they can go out that night. Jake says he has to go to his movie premiere with his female co-star that he must pretend to be dating. Miley hits Jake on the head with a salami from a gift basket.

2) Character Development: Miley’s father worries about gaining weight from all the food in the gift baskets. Miley has a sore wrist from signing for all the gift baskets.

3) Relevant Cultural Issues: Jake admits he must kiss his co-star/fake date. How far is too far?

4) Hip Slang: Mr. Stewart – “One muffin away from my easy-fit jeans.”

5) Contemporary Cultural References: None, unless you count for some odd reason candy corn or steaks from the Malibu Prime Meat Company.

6) Favorite sentence: “You’ve dumped stuff on me, you’ve yelled at me but the one thing you haven’t done is tell me you don’t care.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

“Superstar Secrets” A Hannah Montana Novel (#18 in the Disney series) Chapter #1

1)Plot Synopsis: Miley Stewart wasn’t just “an everyday Malibu high school student”; she was also Hannah Montana, “one of the biggest pop stars in the world”. Usually her schedule was full – going to school weekdays and performing weekends. But Miley/Hannah uses one of her rare Saturdays off to reflect on her romantic life. Six months previous, Jake Ryan, teen actor had revealed to Hannah Montana (a guest star on his television show), that he liked a girl at his school, Miley Stewart. Then Miley (or was it Miley as Hannah, it really wasn’t very clear) kissed Jake, but Jake then went off to shoot a movie in Romania for six months, angering Miley/Hannah.On this free Saturday, Hannah goes with her friend, Lilly Truscott to the beach. At the beach, Lilly happens to read in a tabloid that Jake is returning to “town” for a movie premiere. (Apparently, Malibu is where they do film premieres now.) As Miley bad mouths Jake for leaving her, Jake parachutes onto the beach right behind her. When Miley turns to see Jake, on bended knee, with a rose, apparently about to ask for forgiveness, Miley pours a smoothie on Jake’s head.

2)Character Development: So much is said just in naming of the characters. Miley’s friend, “Truscott” brings to mind, “True Scout”, obviously a stalwart companion. But the narrator makes it clear that Miley just hangs out with Lilly because she doesn’t have a boy friend. “Jake Ryan” brings to mind many manly film characters. And “Montana” is a vast, empty space, as can be found between this character’s ears. Miley drinks strawberry-pomegranate smoothies.

3)Relevant Cultural Issues: When can a pop superstar/ordinary have any free time?

4)Hip Slang:Miley says about her feelings about Jake’s return to town, “Big whoop!” “Zero. Zilch. El zippo.”

5)Contemporary Cultural References:Jake stars in the TV show, “Zombie High” and in the film, “Teen Gladiators and the Sword of Fire.”

6)Favorite Sentence: “It was one major drawback of being talented, fabulous, and internationally known."

Gearing Up for Latest TV Show Novelization Blog

I've blogged a Partridge Family novel and a Brady Bunch novel, but now I'm going to see how contemporary literature of a similar type holds up to the "classics." I'm going to read "Hannah Montana: Superstar Secrets". I've never seen the show. So who am I to judge. It's probably "Mad Men" level quality for the preteen set. We will soon see.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Favorite Vampiers in Honor of Bram

Yesterday was Bram Stoker's 165 Birthday, so in honor of him, I posted my 5 favorite vampire books and 5 favorite vampire films. I'm repeating the lists here, with a little detail.

Five Favorite Vampire Books

1) "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson - Not just favorite vampire or horror book, but simply one of my favorite novels. It's been made into three films, one with Vincent Price, one with Charleton Heston and one with Will Smith, all with different titles and none a fraction as good as the book. The tale of the last man on earth in a world of vampires. Fantastic, earned twist ending, appropriate for a writer who created some of the best "Twilight Zones".

2) "Dracula" by Bram Stoker - Holds up quite well, with a modern blend of first and third person perspective. The Count is not the suave gentlemen from the Lugosi version, but rather a vile creation. A surprisingly Christan novel.

3) "Anno Dracula" by Kim Newman - Van Helsing failed and Dracula and his minions rule England, if not in the legal sense. But even that will be taken care of when the Count marries the Queen... One of the great conceits of this book is that it is not just populated by the 19th Century creations of Stoker, but also characters from the worlds of Conan Doyle, Stevenson, Kipling and other writers of Stoker's time and ours.

4) "Salem's Lot" by Stephen King - Written by King when editors still kept him on track and his work was fresh.

5) "How to Care for Your Monster" by Norman Bridwell - Before he wrote about Clifford the Big Red Dog, Bridwell wrote this how to book for kids who prefer mummies, werewolves and, yes, vampires to dogs and cats.

Five Favorite Vampire Movies

IMHO, there isn't a masterpiece of a vampire film. Even those that are "classics" like the 1931 "Dracula" or 1932's "Vampyr" are kind of slow. Both versions of "Nosferatu" have their moments, but I decided to go with the films I found the most fun.

1) "The Lost Boys" - Part of the fun of this film for me is seeing Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Atlantis, my favorite comic book store in the world. It's campy, but has trills and laughs.

2) "Fright Night" (original) - I really love Roddy McDowell as a Creature Feature type host, who helps a teen fight the dreaded creatures of the night.

3) "Near Dark" - I found this film quite frightening when I first saw it, but it wasn't quite the same when I tried to re-watch it recently. Still, Kathryn Bigalow ("The Hurt Locker") made a film that was different from any other.

4) "Dracula" (1979) - This version with Frank Langela as the Count and Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing is my favorite. (I couldn't even make it through the Coppola version.)

5) "House of Dark Shadows" - Probably would be awful if I watched it again, but I have great memories of going with my brothers and sisters to see this at the theater and watching it at Comstock Junior High.

Honorable Mention: "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", "Nosferatu" (both versions), "Shadow of the Vampire"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"We Need a Moses": A Review of the Film, "Argo"

Pretty high on the nightmare scenario lists would be being trapped in a small place surrounded by enemies trying to kill you. Especially if you doubt that anyone knows where you are and there is no hope for rescue.

That was the situation for six American citizens a little more than thirty years ago in Tehran, Iran. Muslim extremists (including, it is widely believed, the current President of Iran) captured the Untied States embassy taking almost all inside as captives; except for two women and four men who escaped through a side door to find sanctuary in the home of the Canadian ambassador.

The six knew that if word got out about their location, they would surely be captured and executed. And they had no reason to believe that any rescue would come.

“Argo”, the new film directed by Ben Affleck, tells the unbelievable-if-it-weren’t-true story of the joint effort of the CIA with the Canadians to save those six members of the U. S. State Department.

Affleck also stars in the film as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who specializes in retrieving people from hostile countries and dangerous situations; a specialty nicknamed a “Moses”. After the Iranian revolution dispelling the Shah, few Americans were welcome in the country, and those were watched with a careful eye.

So Mendez came up with what sounded like a hair-brained scheme: pretend the six are part of film crew, scouting out Iran as a location for filming a cheap “Star Wars” rip-off called “Argo”.

The film does a wonderful job of building tension around a story that is already history (though some of the details have only recently become declassified). There are grim and violent images throughout the film, but it still maintains a macabre sense of humor.

(Comparisons to the recent handling of the attack on the embassy in Libya are hard to avoid. And incredibly, the current administration manages to fail in comparison to the low bar of competence set by the Carter Administration.)

There is also fun to be found in mocking the seventies-tastic fashion in the film (owl lens glasses, polyester galore, etc.) and spotting a TV familiar cast (“Hey, isn’t that the coach from ‘Friday Night Lights’ as Hamilton Jordan?” and “What’s the dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ doing working for the CIA?”)

The film will surely be remembered at Oscar time because some of the heroes are Hollywood figures. In order to present a believable cover, Mendez turns to film professionals such as John Chambers (played by John Goodman), who won an Oscar for his make-up work on “Planet of the Apes”.)

While living the nightmare in Iran, the six refugees are visited by Mendez, who promises rescue if they will follow him. Some of the six believe and some doubt. Just as when Moses came to the Israelites in Egypt and promised rescue, some believed and some scoffed. When one of the six argues that Mendez is putting their lives at risk, another points out that Mendez was willing to rescue his own life to rescue them. Moses took the same risk when he came to Egypt. (Go back and read the story in the first chapters of Exodus.)

Of course, we all are in the nightmare scenario. We are trapped in a world that only offers death as an exit. It might seem like there is no rescue possible.

But God Himself became our Moses. We remember at this time of year how God’s Son was willing to give up all He had to enter our world and provide a rescue. As John described it in his gospel, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV)

(“Argo” is rated R for violence and very strong language, including an obscene use of the title that I admit made me laugh.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another Piece from Absolute Write: "An Interview with the Author of a Bedside Classic"

Not all best selling writers pen best selling novels, magazine articles or even blogs. Some widely read author's work can be found in most unexpected places.

Thaddeus Waxingburg is not exactly a household name, but his writing can be found in virtually every American household. Though he has written innumerable legal briefs and office memos throughout his sixty year plus career, undoubtedly his claim to fame, perhaps immortality, will be found in these words: "Warning: the removal of this tag is illegal. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

I interviewed Mr. Waxingburg in his office in Pueblo, Colorado.

Question: Mr. Waxingburg, did you ever imagine when you wrote the text for that first mattress tag that those words would enter popular culture?

Waxingburg: I should say not. I considered it to be standard legal boiler plate at the time. But I suppose many great writers throughout history had not an inkling of the lasting impact of their work. Shakespeare probably thought "Romeo and Juliet" was just another high school play in his time. Chaucer probably would have been happy if his tales appeared as humorous anecdotes in Reader's Digest. Sometimes the writer is the last one to recognize his own genius.

Question: So you didn't think this particular work would be remembered?

Waxingburg: I always thought I'd be remembered for my briefs. Unlike former President Bill Clinton who will be remembered for his boxers. Referring, of course, to Candidate Clinton's infamous appearance on MTV in which he was asked about his underwear preference. A bit of whimsy. I hope the reference is not too dated for your readers. That's nearly two decades ago. Do you think that will adversely affect the humorous nature of the remark for your readers?

Question: I don't think the age of the reference will have any impact on their amusement. Speaking of humor, have you been surprised by how often your mattress tag has been used as a source of parody?

Waxingburg: I wasn't aware that was taking place.

Question: You know, like the cartoons that show the police breaking into a home and hauling off someone who tears the tag off a mattress.

Waxingburg: But the law does not apply to someone pulling the tag off a legally purchased mattress in their private residence. I suppose I can see how some would not understand that. The tag should not be remover in the store, but after the sales transaction has taken place, the restriction would no longer apply.

Question: Well, yes, I suppose that misunderstanding is the very source of the humor.

Waxingburg: Oh. Yes. Very funny stuff, that.

Question: Finally, Mr. Waxingburg, as a writer whose work has stood the test of time, do you have any advise for aspiring writers?

Waxingburg: Yes. Avoid adjectives. Notice my most famous work eschews adjectives of any kind.

Question: Actually, "full" is an adjective, isn't it? As in "Violators will be prosecuted to the 'full' extent of the law?"

Waxingburg: Oh, I suppose you're right. But usually adjectives are very, very, naughty bad. Also, writers should remember the essence of writing is words, finding the good words, really the best words, and then putting them in the order that would be the order that would be the best and most concise in which they can then be put.

Question: Thank you, Mr. Waxingburg, I'm sure those words too will stand the test of time.