Archive | December, 2012

How I Spent My Name Day

31 Dec

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For my name day, my family took me to Delray Beach, Florida. It’s a cute little oceanside town with lots of restaurants, antique shops, surf shops, and galleries. My favorite part of the trip was looking in the display cases at the antique store with my mom. When I was a little girl, she used to always take me with her to the antique stores we both loved so much. When we all moved, we had to give up a lot of our family heirlooms. Tea cups from my grandma’s side of the family. Handmade doilies from my yiayia’s side of the family. Exquisite purchases my parents had made when decorating their own home. I loved reminiscing with my mom in Delray Beach.

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Photo via Cupcake Couture.

We also went to a super adorable cupcake shop my sister loves called Cupcake Couture.  All the cupcakes are named after fashion designers. I got the Jean Paul Peanutier, pictured above. So yummy! The frosting was a light whipped peanut butter. Oh my gosh, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

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Photo via Wags to Riches.

We also stopped into a fancy pet shop called Wags to Riches. It was the type of place that sold rhinestone collars and designer-looking clothes in miniature form for dogs. They had some adorable puppies. I’m currently looking for an apartment right now that will allow pets because I’d like to get a dog of my own. I’m thinking of getting a Maltese. If you’ve ever had one, let me know in the comments section if they’re easy to train. Otherwise, I might get a poodle, which is what I had growing up.

After Delray Beach we went out to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. It wasn’t my choice, and it was bittersweet for me. The last time I’d been to that particular Cheesecake Factory was with my grandma, who has since passed away.

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I Am Crowned

27 Dec

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Have you ever noticed that Greek families all seem to be named after the same relative? It’s customary in Greek culture to name the firstborn boy after his papou, the father’s father, and the firstborn girl after her yiayia, the father’s mother. Subsequent children are named after the mother’s side of the family.

According to the Greek Orthodox faith, though, children are supposed to be named after the saint whose feast day they are born on.

A child born on December 27 would be named after Saint Stephen. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Church. However, after a vicious argument, he was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death by stoning. Standing up for himself and his beliefs, he said that those Church leaders were the very people who persecuted the prophets. He is now recognized as a martyr.

The name “Stephen” comes from the Greek word “stephanos,” which translates to “crowned.”

My birthday is not December 27 nor was my yiayia’s name Stephania, so my name is a bit of a break from the Greek culture. I’m actually named after my father’s stepfather.  And yes, family reunions can get a bit confusing, with my cousin Stefanos and I both responding to “Stef.”

Today I’ll be celebrating my name with my family!

How did you get your name? Do you celebrate your name day? 

The How-To Books in Men’s Apartments

26 Dec

 

The other day a friend invited me over to his apartment for the first time. As I surveyed the apartment—Christmas lights as everyday decorations, a well-stocked bar, a computer as the focal point of the décor: the essential makings of a man cave—I spotted a bookshelf. When I’d first met him, we’d talked about literature, and I’d been impressed by what he was reading at the time and by his exemplary knowledge of literature. I walked over to the skinny bookshelf, thinking I’d find inspiration for my next read, but instead I discovered a bunch of how-to books related to his profession. It was an interesting insight into who he is.

About a month prior to this, I visited another friend’s apartment for the first time. She’s subletting a furnished place from a guy who had multiple get-your-body-in-shape-without-even-trying books. I’d never met him yet I automatically judged him by the books on his shelf. One book about working out is acceptable to me. Multiple books that make promises of getting a ripped bod without breaking a sweat made me think he’s not only boring but also delusional. I bet he’s the type of guy who orders pepperoni pizza from chains and takes girls to Dave & Busters on dates.

Having snooped around people’s apartments, I’ve noticed that women generally devote more space in their apartments for housing their books. They tend to have kept the books they read in college as well as added new works of fiction, memoir, and photographic cookbooks. Men, more than women, have how-to manuals on their bookshelves. Of course that’s not always the case. The people I know with the most books are men, and they’re men who read fiction, poetry, and criticism. In fact, I know one man who supposedly has a whole apartment just for his books. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, but I don’t doubt it. It’s just that these men are fewer and farther between.

Proof Copy of “Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road'”

26 Dec

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Paul took this photo of our book Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”  As you can see, it’s all laid out now! It was really important to me that the book not only contain great content but that it also was visually appealing. I love that typewriter font!

The book will be out soon! In the meantime, we’re posting lots of fun content on the book’s facebook page.

Merry Christmas! …Or Something Like That

25 Dec

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” ~Luke 2:14

From the bottom of my heart, I want to wish you all a merry, merry Christmas!

May your holiday be bright, full of merriment, and whimsical!

In the past few month, I’ve heard from friends and fellow writers who find the holidays a difficult season. Some people have lost loved ones, and no matter how much time has passed, they still miss spending the holidays with them and grieve over their loss. Some have experienced recent tragedy so great due to Hurricane Sandy, the Newtown school shooting, gang rape and violent protests in New Delhi, and air strikes in Syria that the holidays may be far from their minds. Some suffer quietly with extreme poverty that doesn’t make the news because it’s no longer news. Some come from broken or dysfunctional families, and being altogether for Christmas just brings out the drama. Some wish to see their families but cannot afford the time or money to travel, and some are thankful for good friends to spend holidays with but wish they had a spouse or children to share it with. My heart goes out to all of you who feel dejected, stressed, depressed, scared, and lonely. May you find peace, may you spread good will toward others who may also be experiencing a difficult holiday season, and may you find hope.

This is the first year my immediate family and I will be all together in more than five years. I don’t even remember the last time the five of us were together for Christmas. It must’ve been the year before my parents moved to Greece, my sister to France, and my brother to Boston, while I remained in New Jersey. Since then, there have been other moves within the family, and we’ve sometimes missed each other at a destination by just a week. Some of us have spent holidays together, and most of us have experienced Christmases where we were on our own, spending the holiday with extended family, significant others, friends, or even colleagues. Sometimes I feel sad that life is so full of changes and that I’m not the one deciding and controlling all the changes. I’d like to scoop my family up  and put them in a snow globe, freezing us in a moment of joy and togetherness. But life’s not like that. Part of the beauty of a snow globe is turning it upside down, shaking it up, and watching a great torrent of snow swirl throughout the globe.

Maybe that’s why the Christmas story means a lot to me. As a child and an animal lover, I loved the picturesque scene of gentle-eyed barnyard animals looking ever-so-tenderly at the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloth. As I’ve gotten older, though, the story really does seem more like something ripped from the headlines or something out of Law and Order: SVU. A young unwed Middle Eastern woman finding herself pregnant. Her fiance not a wise man but some dude who builds things with his hands. A politician systematically having babies killed. A weird natural phenomenon (the star of Bethlehem). It’s a really dark, strange story in many ways, and when you view it from that perspective, it kind of messes with the idea that Christmas is the “season to be jolly.” When you think of God not as some puppet master who isn’t doing a good job of spreading peace on earth but of this God sending “His only begotten Son” to be born into this mess of a world, it really makes you think. Maybe life isn’t all Christmas cookies and eggnog. Maybe it’s not even just a sweet story of angels and a baby born in a manger. Maybe hope isn’t simple. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe just because it isn’t simple, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Christmas with Jack Kerouac

24 Dec

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I spotted this festive train outside the National Streetcar Museum when I was in Jack Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Mass., earlier this month.

Looking for a Kerouac-related Christmas story? Here’s a snippet from the scroll version of On the Road in which Kerouac describes his Christmas:

“At Christmas 1948 my mother and I went down to visit my sister in the South laden with presents. I had been writing to Neal and he said he was coming East again; and I told him if so he would fine me in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, between Xmas and New Year. One day when all our Southern relatives were sitting around the parlor in Rocky Mount, gaunt men and women with the old southern soil in their eyes talking in low whining voicss about the weather, the crops and the general weary recapitulations of who had a baby, who got a new house and so on, a mud spattered ’49 Hudson drew up in front off the house on the dirt road….”

You can read the whole story beginning on page 212 of On the Road: The Original Scroll, published by Penguin Books in 2008.

 

Jack Kerouac’s Angry Postcard to His Editor

24 Dec

In 1956, Viking Press expressed an interest in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  The author had been writing and rewriting his novel for years, and Kerouac was growing impatient as it languished in the publishing house.  He was working with an editorial consultant named Malcolm Cowley, who had first gained renown for his 1929 book of poetry Blue Juniata before writing one of the first books about the Lost Generation.  Having been associated with the Lost Generation, it in many ways made sense that he was attracted to the Beat Generation.

By the 1940s he was editing Viking Portable editions.  He championed the work of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, and John Cheever.  His interest in Kerouac’s On the Road is important to literary history.  What many people forget is that Kerouac was already an established novelist before On the Road.  He’d written a semi-autobiographical novel entitled The Town and the City that got respectable reviews with comparisons to Thomas Wolfe but which tanked when it came to sales.  Kerouac had literary contacts, but selling On the Road still wasn’t easy.  Cowley was interested but took his sweet time getting back to Kerouac.

On July 9, 1956, Kerouac sent him a postcard depicting the Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park threatening to sell On the Road elsewhere if he didn’t receive his contract and advance from Viking.  You can read Kerouac’s postcard to Malcolm Cowley (as well as 14 other postcards from authors) at Flavorwire.

Titles Impact Sales: The Many Titles of On the Road

20 Dec

At the premiere reading of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I read a section from a chapter that mentioned that Kerouac titled an early draft of his road trip novel Gone on the Road.  Isn’t it amazing how one word can completely change the perception of a work?

What I didn’t mention at the reading is that this wasn’t the only incarnation of the title.  At another point, Kerouac considered changing the title so that it reflected the rock music that was emerging at the time.  Considering how influential jazz music was on his writing style and on the content of the book, it’s better that the title wasn’t changed just to capture a certain market.  It’s always better to remain true to your voice and vision.

The title On the Road is perfect.  And yet in another way it’s just so … obvious.  So literal.  I wonder if his work were being published for the first time today, if an editor would change the title to something flashier.

List of Reviews of “On the Road”

19 Dec

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[official film still from On the Road]

Yesterday, I posted my review of the On the Road film adaptation. As LeVar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Here are some other reviews of the film On the Road:

The Beat Museum: “Everyone knows a  book is not a movie and a movie is not a book.  The genius of Jack’ Kerouac’s novels is his prose. It’s not the story, it’s not even the relationships, it’s the prose with the language that he uses to sketch the scene to move the story and to describe the relationships.”

Buzz Sugar: “The plot at times drags, but there is so much energy in the production that I didn’t mind. … This is the role Sam Riley has been waiting for — he’s talented and looks great on screen.”

The Film Pilgrim: “Where Salles really shines is the party/drug scenes, capturing the beatnik life style beautifully.”

Film School Rejects: “For a tale which so obviously values hedonism and free expression, On The Road is ultimately joyless and unengaging, and for a self-discovering road movie to fudge the journey so much and lose almost all lasting meaning is downright criminal.”
The Guardian: “The film is stiflingly reverent towards its source material, and indeed towards itself. It’s good-looking and handsomely produced, but directionless and self-adoring, richly furnished but at the same time weirdly empty, bathed in an elegiac sunset glow of male adoration.”
Hollywood.com: “Incorporating more of Kerouac’s writing as voice-overs or something similar would have given it more life, the kind of vivacity Kerouac sought out in spades, which is why he tolerated Dean’s vagaries for so long. More than most movies, it feels like On the Road could have gone in any direction, expanding or reducing characters, shortening the trips to concentrate on the characters more, emphasizing the effects of their missing fathers or not, and it’s this wishy-washiness that undermines the movie.”
The Hollywood News: “Visually, Salles’ ON THE ROAD is a thing of beauty. Eric Gautier’s cinematography is a wonder to behold: the colouring, the tracking of the characters, and the close quarters filming take the audience to Denver, New York and San Francisco like never before. The images conjured by Kerouac’s words come to life in a way never thought possible. But whilst it looks ravishing the film is full of problems, the first of which is a glaring problem: Hedlund is not Dean Moriarty.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “A beautiful and respectful adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s landmark novel that intermittently leaves the ground to take flight.”
Honi Soit: “Too often unnecessary scenes were included while others were not given the time to become poignant, such as Moriarty’s very brief search for his vagrant father in Denver. I’m happy to concede that part of the frenzy is intentional, to replicate the experience of its addled protagonists, but some tighter editing would not have gone astray.”
The Independent: “Walter Salles takes an orthodox approach to Jack Kerouac’s classic text. As with his adaptation of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, Salles seems as preoccupied with the mundane as he is with the tales of threesomes, drugs and broken friendships.”
Indiewire: “The atmosphere of his travels comes first, establishing the book’s searching nature ahead of its loose plot. From that early point, “On the Road” adopts a serious, low-key approach to establishing Sal’s world that keeps the characters grounded.”

LitKicks: “Jack Kerouac would have loved this film version of On The Road.”

Movie News: “As a work of narrative semi-fiction, Salles’ version of Kerouac’s book is appropriately graceful, dirty, and enigmatic. He’s a sensitive director and a good storyteller. What doesn’t come across, though, is why the story matters. Who are these Beatniks?”

The NewStatesman: “Once the beats’ credo of philosophy and pharmaceuticals is established, the film starts noticing those people exasperated or excluded by the party. Sal and Dean may be kings of the road behind their scratched windscreen, but Salles is meticulous in balancing the ledger. There is no liberation in the film without suffering, no beat generation without its beaten-down counterpart (usually female).”

The New Yorker: “I found Garrett Hedlund’s teen-idol depiction of Dean Moriarty particularly unsatisfying. … Hedlund’s performance neuters the book’s animating Mephistophelian spirit.”
The New York Times: “The cinematographer Eric Gautier has done brilliant work elsewhere and doesn’t seem capable of taking a bad shot. But everything tends to look too pretty here — the scenery, sets and costumes included, especially for the rougher byways and more perilous interludes, like the Benzedrine nights that feel more opiated than hopped up.”
NPR: “In fact, any film in which all the characters seem utterly convinced of their own importance and coolness from the outset has the same battle. … There is the Ginsberg-like Carlo (Tom Sturridge), a character drawn here as so self-consciously writer-like that his every appearance inspires twitches. He actually says at one point, while pondering how to describe his feelings, ‘Melancholy’s too languorous!'”
Ropes of Silicon: “The tedious result of this adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s famed novel is, however, unfortunate considering Eric Gautier’s rich, smoke-filled cinematography, Walter Salles’s direction and stand-out performances from most of the cast.”
The Telegraph: “Despite its pretty cast and sun-ripened colours, the film quickly settles into a tedious looping rhythm of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) experiencing some kind of beatnik debauchery with co-wanderers Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and Marylou (Kristen Stewart), before retiring to a shady corner and scribbling wildly in a notebook.”
Time Out London: “Freewheeling spontaneity is tough to convey on screen, and the drink- and drug-fuelled carousing lacks Danny Boyle-style zing. But the bull-nosed cars, jazz soundtrack and soft light of a bygone era are a joy.”
Total Film: “Even if the film has a patchwork quality, Rivera’s script mines some much-needed humour from events – from Stewart giving new meaning to the phrase ‘two-hander’ to the priceless scene where Dean drives Sal’s mother back to New York.”
Variety: “Yet despite the high level of craft here, it’s an inadequate substitute for the thrilling, sustaining intelligence of Kerouac’s voice. Admittedly, any definitive adaptation would have to adopt a radically avant-garde approach to approximate the galvanic impact Kerouac’s novel had on literary form. But even audiences content with an easy-listening version may be put off by the weak conception of Sal’s inner life.”

“On the Road” Review

18 Dec


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On Friday, December 14, I attended a special sneak preview of On the Road at IFC Center in Greenwich Village. It was history in the making. At long last, Jack Kerouac’s seminal road novel had made its way to the silver screen. Kerouac himself wrote a lot about going to the movies, and he wanted his novel turned into a film. In fact, he even wrote to Marlon Brando, asking him to buy it and star in it.

Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights decades ago. I have a friend who wrote a screenplay that he showed to Coppola, and there have been numerous actors associated with the film adaptation, but the project always seemed to stall. Finally, Walter Salles came on as director and Jose Rivera as screenwriter, and soon after an impressive cast lined up, and the film looked like it would finally take off. And it did! It debuted at Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the film showed at theatres across Europe and South America. Those of us in the States read reviews, watched clips, argued about whether the novel could be adapted for film in a successful way, and debated the choices for the cast while we waited for the quintessential American story to come to us. At long last, when it was announced that a sneak preview of On the Road was taking place in the neighborhood Kerouac used to hang out in, people lined up on the Avenue of Americas for a chance to see it. As my good friend Elizabeth and I waited in line, an older man offered us $50 for our movie tickets. Considering we were so excited we were taking photos to commemorate the event, we probably weren’t the best people to try to scalp from. Needless to say, I watched the film, and, for whatever it’s worth, I can now give you my review of On the Road, which opens in New York and LA on December 21 and the rest of the country in January.

Let me start with a caveat: I am perhaps a bit too close to the subject matter to review On the Road objectively. After all, I am writing a book about the true story of On the Road. I have also heard and read reviews by a few other Beat scholars and fans and watched many Youtube clips from the film. I came in with lots of preconceived notions, and I watched the film more as a critic than as your average moviegoer. That said, I did not go into it as a literary snob wanting it to fail. I came into it wanting to see Kerouac’s work done justice.

***

On the Road is wonderfully nuanced. And to me, it’s the nuances in the acting, directing, and screenwriting that make On the Road a worthwhile adaptation of the novel. Everyone involved in the film understood that Kerouac’s novel is not just about some crazy kids driving at high speeds across the country, getting high, and getting laid. They understood that depicting this wild behavior — the film does not censor anything — was necessary not for shock value but because it underscores the complexity of the characters. In particular, the film does justice to the theme of the loss of fathers. Burning Furiously Beautiful, the book I’m coauthoring, delves into the personal life stories of the real-life people the characters are based on, giving further insight into their behavior and lifestyle. Understanding the characters’ back story elucidates their desires and actions, and the film adaptation neither glorifies nor critiques the characters. It gives them space to reveal themselves to the viewer.

Interestingly, the character that fell flat to me was the character of Sal Paradise, based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley. The actor, screenwriter, and director did a great job showing him to be an observer, which was true to Kerouac’s nature. However, the film itself was not seen through Sal’s eyes. He seemed like just another character. The landscape, the jazz shows, the parties were depicted through a neutral perspective. Not only did this make it difficult to understand Sal’s motivations and character — this is most evident in the scene with Terry (“the Mexican girl”), which isn’t developed enough for us to understand why it’s included — it meant we lost his voice. While critics over the years have focused on the road trip antics, for me, the strength of the novel was its insanely beautiful poetry. The film adaptation was more about the story and less about the literature.

Overall, though, the dialogue for the characters and the acting was phenomenal. Viggo Mortensen needs to star in a biopic on William S. Burroughs. Amy Adams took on the persona of Jane. Kristen Stewart brought a depth to Marylou that Kerouac himself didn’t. Kirsten Dunst showed great emotion in her scenes. Tom Sturridge played Carlo Marx with intensity but also surprising humor; his dialogue was quintessential Ginsberg: dramatic and over the top. Elisabeth Moss’ Galatea was a nice contrast to the other characters, while Danny Morgan’s Ed was a bit too goofy; these two characters are the reason the characters end up at Old Bull Lee and Janes’s place, but if it weren’t for that they could’ve been edited out for the film. Garrett Hedlund was charismatic. He lit up the screen.

My most pressing criticism of the film is that it felt a bit too much like a period piece for my personal preference.  I was impressed that the film was historically accurate, and yet I found myself distracted by those details. For example, when the focus was on the exterior of the Hudson, it made the story feel removed instead of vibrant; yet the shots within the car or from the viewpoint of the passenger were beautiful. Likewise, there were times when the wallpaper in a room jumped out at me more than it probably should have. I’m by no means suggesting the story should have been modernized, but the setting and props should not overpower the story. There were also scenes like the one at the jazz club which felt staged, almost cartoonish. I would’ve liked something a bit more raw, a bit grittier or impressionist.

In contrast, the New Year’s Eve party was sheer brilliance. Here were fast cuts and disorienting angles. Here were sweat and thrashing limbs. Here was jazz you wanted to dance to. Here was the energy that made you want to shout go, go, go! There were also beautiful quiet moments laced throughout the film. Poetic landscape. Honest heart-to-hearts. Subtle glances. Almost any time the characters were on the road, the dialogue, the filmography, and the acting were spot on.

The film adaptation of On the Road may enlighten some people’s perception of Jack Kerouac.