Thursday, February 25, 2010

A blog about not giving up on your creative dreams

The other day a good friend of mine, an amazingly talented artist, called me up and told me she was thinking about giving up on her dreams of an art career and pursuing nursing instead. I promptly talked her out of that idea; she’s been dreaming of being a professional artist since I met her 13 years ago and she is not the type of person who would be able to do all the things nurses do. But while I was talking her down off the ledge, I realized I had a lot to say on the subject of “pursuing a career in the creative industry” and I thought it was something worth sharing.

I should start by saying that my friend called because she was doubting her abilities. She looked around and saw artists who were “better” than her, she kept hearing how hard it was to make a living being a professional artist, and she saw how miserable her boyfriend, a professional artist, was. As a creative person myself (my medium being the written word) I could really relate to how she was feeling; how a lot of artists (visual, written, etc) must feel while trying to achieve their dreams and work their way to…maybe not even the top, but somewhere safe, comfortable, or stable enough to build a life around. I wanted to put this advice out there for those creative people (to be referred to from here on out under the umbrella term ‘artists’ because that’s what they are, no matter the medium), including my friend, so they have something to think about when they start to doubt themselves. Hell…so that I can have something to think about when I start to doubt myself.

Firstly, there are always going to be artists who are “better” than you. I put better in quotation marks because art is very subjective and one person can love a work of art and another person can hate it just as passionately. The key is to be happy with your own art and be able to find a job or career path that suits your particular brand or style of art. If you work hard enough and you have passion and a willingness to learn and grow, you will have options. And in the meantime, it isn’t going to help you to compare yourself to the competition. Be inspired by them, learn from them, but don’t be intimidated by their presence. Remember that for every artist whose work intimidates you, there may be an artist who is equally intimidated by your work.

I do want to acknowledge that it is hard out there for artists to make a living. That’s a fact and I won’t gloss over that. It takes a lot of persistence, determination, hard work and talent, and (sometimes) a certain amount of luck to become a successful artist. The thing is you can’t just go forward thinking “I want to make a living being an artist.” You have to be smart about it. What are your particular strengths when it comes to your art? If you want to make a living in your art, is there a way to do so without being a starving artist? When I graduated from high school, all I wanted to do was be a writer. I went to college because it was expected of me but I got an English degree (Writing Concentration) because I figured I’d learn for four years and by the time I graduated I’d have a book written, a publishing deal and enough money to live off of. In hindsight and after years of working in publishing, that’s a laughable goal. But when I got to my senior year of undergrad and had nothing worth publishing, I had to think outside the box. Sure I wanted to be a writer but what could I do for a living that was related to my art? At times I just wished I could read for a living. I loved books so much. It was that wish that led me to become an editor. It was a job related to writing, it required me to use my skills as both an avid reader and a writer, and it was something I was passionate about. And the deeper into that career path I got, the more my passion grew. I had found a way to make a living (bupkis at first, sure, but still more than I was making as an unpublished writer) while working with the written word on my terms, even if it wasn’t what I had initially set out to do.

That’s something that happens very often---the path you start off on leads somewhere you never expected it to. But ultimately, the journey is what life is all about, not the destination. I never knew how passionate I would be about editing until I got into it, and I had no idea how passionate I already was about children’s and YA books until I started working on that side of the industry. And ya know? Working in this industry has inspired me in my writing, the original creative venture that led me to becoming an editor. I’m surrounded by book people every day. A lot of my friends, who I met at work or through industry networking, are book lovers. Many of them are writers too. I’m part of two book clubs, I’ve been and am still involved in writing groups, all of which are filled with colleagues from the book business. When I first read a Sara Zarr novel (her debut, Story of a Girl), I was inspired by what she had done; by the artistry of her words and the impact of her story. To then be able to contribute my thoughts while she was revising her next book (my boss was her editor), to see her process and how she worked, was such an honor. It opened doors in my mind that I hadn’t known needed opening. I realized that my love of YA novels extended to my writing and suddenly I was coming up with more YA story ideas than I was adult story ideas. And the ideas meant more to me because of my passion for YA lit.

That's one thing that always bugged me about the musical RENT. As much as I loved that show, I always wanted to strangle the characters and say, "just because you are artists doesn't mean you can't get a job and support yourself! You don't have to abandon your art to make a living!"
Sure, you might not be able to make a living immediately just by creating art, but there are ways to have a career that is related to your art, that will allow you to utilize your artistic talents, and they will inspire you to grow as an artist. And if you are really passionate, you will continue your art on the side, using evenings and weekends and any spare time you can commit. To paraphrase Rainer Maria Rilke, you will create art because you can’t not create art.

And there are always going to be naysayers and people who have a rough time of it. As far as my friend’s boyfriend is concerned, he’s a whiner. I’ve heard countless stories about how he procrastinates, misses his deadlines and has held up production and in general sounds like a real nightmare for any editor who is stuck working with him. He’s obviously not happy doing that type of work, but he signed a contract out of obligation and is now dragging his feet. There are always going to be people like this---self-defeatists who give up and blame other people for their failures, or who blame the industry for how hard they have it when they’re just doing it to themselves. And like I said, any creative industry is going to be hard. The competition is heavy, there are going to be people who try to step on you to get to the top and you will often be told you’re not good enough or not right for the project. But it is possible if you’re smart and you have the right attitude. And ya know, a lot of people are going to give up along the way. They are going to realize this isn’t for them, or they don’t love it enough to stick with it through thick and thin, or maybe they’ll just burn out. But if you love your art enough to be able to hold out longer than everyone else, you’ve won half the battle. Again, being smart and professional is the other half.

I truly believe that if you can’t see yourself anywhere but in the creative industry of your choice, you shouldn’t give up pursuing it. My friend was born to be an artist and would never be happy being a nurse. I was meant to work with books (and hopefully publish some of my own someday) and I would never be happy working for an insurance company (which is what most people do back in my hometown). If you were born to create art, do it. If you can’t support yourself with your art right away, find a way to support yourself while also creating your art on the side. And let your fellow artists inspire you, lift you up and teach you. And most importantly, be open to growth in your art, don’t blame others for your failures, and learn to view mistakes and rejections not as failures but as opportunities for more growth. You can do it…but only if you are willing to put yourself out there and do what it takes. Do you have what it takes? You won’t know until you try.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why I Didn’t Like the Percy Jackson Movie

Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I’ve often proclaimed that my love for this series is up there with my love for Harry Potter. So needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the movie adaptation of The Lightning Thief, especially since it was directed by the man behind the first two Harry Potter movies, Chris Columbus. I was also nervous---movies adapted from books rarely live up to their source material and barring most (but not all) of the Harry Potter movies, a few Neil Gaiman movies and Spiderwick, I’ve felt let down by recent book-movies. So I went in with a cautious but open heart and found myself completely let down. Here’s a list of reasons why (Caution: this list contains SPOILERS for both the movie and the book series):

*No Ares (the Cabin or the God) – one of the fun parts of the Percy books is that he encounters each and every Olympian god throughout the series and they’re “modernized.” The scenes with Percy and Ares were intense and exciting and it’s one of the first times Percy encounters one of the gods (aside from Mr. D). His absence was greatly noted and replacing him with Persephone (more to come on her) did nothing to improve the story. I was also annoyed that there was no Clarisse or Ares Cabin. While I get that the producers probably thought they were too reminiscent of Draco/Slytherin and wanted to steer clear of HP similarities, if they had thought ahead to the rest of the series, Clarisse and Ares Cabin play an important role later on, and Clarisse’s pride and stubbornness set up one of the most emotional moments (for me) in the final book. I was also annoyed that Annabeth became the stand-in for Clarisse (see my next point).

*Annabeth was all wrong - I know this is a superficial detail, but my first complaint is that Annabeth is BLONDE. It bothers me that (Buffy aside) we rarely get to see the blonde girl kicking ass and taking names. They’re always the pretty ones while the brunettes are the tough ones. That aside, I also didn’t like the changes her character was given. Book-Annabeth would NOT attack Percy that violently (in the name of training) and almost kill him. Setting her up as the violent warrior woman and then having her flip-flop to become his ally for her own selfish purposes did not make me like her as either a romantic foil OR a Hermione-esque “smart, female friend” for Percy. Again, they may have been trying to avoid HP similarities but they went a bit too far. Part of the fun of The Lightning Thief is that it has the HP skeleton (which JK Rowling didn’t invent, by the way) with its own unique and interesting story, mythology, and character development.

*The way race was handled – I had a BIG problem with Rosario Dawson playing Persephone. Not only was I annoyed that her character (a MAJOR deus ex machine) had replaced Ares, but she was clearly supposed to be the exotic, spicy goddess/wife and they didn’t even try to make her seem Greek. At one point my friend Zoraida, a Latina woman, leans over to me and says, “Why is Persephone Puerto Rican?” I have no idea. She’s supposed to be a GREEK goddess. If they wanted to have diversity in the cast, they had a great opportunity with the demi-god camp-dwellers (since they’re half Greek god and half-any race known to the human species). But they missed that opportunity by only focusing on the main demi-gods (another thing that took away from the greatness of the books – I loved all of the briefly mentioned side characters, just as I did in HP). I was actually really glad they cast a black actor to play Grover, since, ya know, he’s a satyr and they’re nature spirits. He could be any race. But I was extremely disappointed that they then went and changed Grover’s character to make him a stereotype of a black teen. Grover is a nervous, awkward, odd little goat-man and instead they turned him into a “playa” who was often distracted by hotties and speaks like he grew up in “the hood.” There was even one scene where the camera watches Percy and Grover walk up some stairs and you can clearly see Percy’s pants at a normal level and Grover’s are sagging, which doesn’t even make sense since Grover’s pants are supposed to conceal his GOAT LEGS! It just made me sad that they felt they had to completely change the character into a black stereotype rather than keeping the integrity of the character and casting him black. I found it insulting to people of all ethnicities.

(Edited to add this one bullet) *The way they handled the female characters - Annabeth was reduced to the cliche love interest who starts off hating (in this case, almost-killing) the main dude, and slowly learns to love him because he's just so awesome. I was also annoyed that she was a brunette, as if blondes can't be strong fighters and are stuck being the pretty/slutty/dainty girls. And don't even get me started on Medusa and ESPECIALLY Persephone (can you tell I hated this character) who both acted like gross pervs around the teenage leads. I half expected Persephone to start humping Grover's leg. It was really gross and didn't add to the story one bit. Meanwhile, if anyone's going to be acting like a horny teenager (aside from the horny teenagers) why isn't it the GODS. They could never keep it in their pants in the legends!

*No Mist or Oracle – The Mist and The Oracle play a big part in the overarching plot of the series. The Mist is a big part in explaining why normal humans (a) don’t know about the gods, demi-gods and mythological creatures prancing around, and (b) how Percy and company can get away with questing and battling all across America and not cause mass chaos. Also, The Oracle is the big motivation behind the quests Percy and his friends go on and is the reason why there aren’t supposed to be any children by the Big Three. It’s also the main motivation behind Luke’s betrayal (since his mother went crazy trying to take on the mantle of The Oracle) and the lack of an Oracle also doesn’t give me much hope for one of my favorite characters, Rachel Elizabeth Dare (the girl who can see through the Mist and who eventually becomes the new Oracle).

*Hades (the place) was WAY too Christian – I’m sorry but fire, brimstone and suffering is the Christian version of Hell. That’s NOT what Hades is supposed to be. Hades is the underworld and the land of the dead, but it is supposed to be dark and chilling not fiery and frightful. And where the heck is Elysium (the paradise where heroes go after death) amidst this inferno? Also, Charon is supposed to ferry people across the river Styx into the underworld, not through the air right to the palace of Hades. And where the heck was Cerberus (a HUGE part of the Hades myth)? Oh, right, of course. Their horrible depiction of Persephone, played by the highly-paid Rosario Dawson, makes the Cerberus storyline moot. So basically Persephone replaced Ares AND Cerberus all for the sake of…what? They show Hades acting very Lucifer-like and then Persephone just steps in and fixes it? What a total dumbing down (and de-funning) of what really happens in the books.

*The gods are really good, caring parents – A big part of the books is that the gods are just as they’ve always been depicted; selfish, careless, and neglectful. They come to earth, have children with mortal men and woman and then abandon their children because they can’t be bothered. Every so often, when they’re proud or forced to, they’ll claim their children. They may love them but they aren’t very good to them. But in the movie, Poseidon is depicted as this compassionate, caring dad who only left Percy and his mother (after 7 months of raising him) because he was becoming human and Zeus made a law to prevent that from happening. Wait WHAT?! How can a god become a human? And are we supposed to believe ALL the gods are raising ALL of their children when they are born? Because there’s an awful lot of children at Camp Half Blood and only 12 Olympian gods (2 of whom don’t have any demi-god children) plus Hades.

*The Greek gods are…British? - Who on EARTH decided that the Greek gods should all have British accents? And why in creation is Melina Kanakaredes, a GREEK-AMERICAN, portraying Athena with such a HORRENDOUS British accent? The one Greek actor they cast as a Greek god and they couldn’t even let her use her normal voice?

*Percy’s powers – I was annoyed at how they handled Percy’s abilities. I was OK with his showy waterbending the few times he did it. That was fine and I can understand how they needed something theatrical and showy for the movie. But I was annoyed when Percy created the water trident (he shouldn’t have that much control – he has barely had any time to master his abilities) and SUPER annoyed when he healed Annabeth with the pool water (Percy doesn’t have healing powers – he is healed by water because he is THE SON OF POSEIDON!).

*Stripping a lot of the magic from the world – Aside from the lack of Mist, they also left out Luke and Annabeth’s backstory, which may mean no Thalia, Daughter of Zeus. They had the kids communicating with the camp via computer whihc eliminated the Iris messages (which would've looked cool and added to the mythology). They didn’t show or even mention any of the other cabins aside from Hermes, which was far too empty for the cabin that claims unclaimed campers. There was no Mr. D (Dionysus) at all. And the camp was something out of Xena, Warrior Princess. One of the great things about Riordan’s books was that it combined the old-timey Greek myths with the modern day. Camp Half Blood didn’t even look like a modern day camp (barring Luke’s out of control video game system) with an outdoorsy feel. And no big brazier? And then making Grover a Protector (with no “protective powers” whatsoever) instead of a Seeker, thus negting the whole Pan storyline. I’m not seeing much of a set-up for Book 2 AT ALL, with the absence of Clarisse and the Pan storyline, and no set-up of Kronos whatsoever).

*A lot of little stuff – There were also a lot of glaring annoyances that stood out for me. Trying to pass off the daughters of Aphrodite as nymphs and only mentioning them as slutty temptations for Grover (nymphs and children of Aphrodite are two different groups, movie-dudes!). And a Lady Gaga montage in the middle of the Lotus Casino? C’mon! And I love the Gaga. Also, why did they age everyone up? That is another thing that doesn’t bode well for sequels. Hell, the girl who plays Annabeth is in her mid-20’s and is also playing the girlfriend of the 32-year old main character in White Collar. The guy who plays Grover is mid-20’s as well.

Ok, so as much as it sounds like I hated it, I didn’t HATE it…but I didn’t like it all that much either. I felt like the film was stripped of everything that gave it flavor in book form and instead of avoiding the Harry Potter similarities, they ended up creating something that was neither unique nor distinctive enough. There were parts I actually liked. It helped that the guy who plays Percy, 18-year old (yes I checked) Logan Lerman, is very easy on the eyes. But here they are, just to show I didn’t leave the theater entirely miserable:

*Grover’s line to Charon about burning money when we’re in a recession. I burst out laughing.

*The casting - Catherine Keener as Percy’s mom – love her! The actor who played Annabeth was pretty awesome, even if I don’t like what they did with her character. I also enjoyed Jake Abel (the third Winchester brother) as Luke and the aforementioned hotness that is Logan Lerman. Uma Thurman as Medusa was amazing as well, as was her snake-hair.

*Turning Smelly Gabe into stone at the end (I’m glad they kept that little tidbit – I was waiting for it the whole movie).

*The animal-hindquarters looked good on both Grover and Chiron. At least there’s that.

*Just being able to see a visual representation of one of my favorite book series made it worth the ridiculously high price of the ticket.

This isn’t something I’ll be excited to see again or own on DVD; though I’ll probably buy it just to support the series and the author (does he get royalties from DVD sales?). Meanwhile, if ticket sales are high enough to warrant a sequel, I’m going to hope they fix some of the errors and omissions that made it hard for me to enjoy this movie entirely. There’s still hope for them to introduce Clarisse, Grover’s mission to find Pan and even The Mist and The Oracle at the beginning of The Sea of Monsters, so let’s hope they’ll go there if there is a Book 2. And if they don’t plan on doing so, I hope this movie series stays dead in the water and doesn’t ruin any chances of someone picking this up again in a few years and doing a much better reboot.