We made it to episode 10! Hurrah! For this ep, each member of the Hivemind talks about what they would bring if we were stranded on a desert island. Have a listen to find out what kind of island it would be!
Guan mentioned that he started reading The Hero and the Crown because of this thread. (Real talk: eavesdropping on writers’ Twitter timelines about what they’re reading is the best book recommendation service.)
We welcome Kathleen Jennings back to the podcast while Guan takes a break. Kathleen talks about the YA book that all the booksellers are raving about: Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue; Bec reminisces and raves about the music of Ani diFranco; Karen finds lots to like about Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance; and the takehome point is that everyone should go to Genrecon.
Live at Paste: Since the US election results, I keep thinking of her song “Your Next Bold Move”, which she wrote during the George W Bush era. She plays it beautifully here.
I erroneously said in the podcast that it was Canon (2007) I listened to when I was in Malaysia, but it was actually her iTunes Originals Session (2008), which was so great because she also gave little intros to most of the songs.
Ani has such a huge back catalogue, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are a few of my favourites (but it’s by no means a comprehensive list; so much depends on my mood, and Ani seems to have a song for every mood …):
This whole album is just an epoch of my life—an impossible mix of quiet, dark, bombastic, angry, raw, beautiful, sweary and amazing. Probably one that would best represent the subculture of Ani fans in the 90s.
We really do have something for everyone on this podcast. Guan brings a very convincing case for why everyone should see Magic Mike XXL, Bec fangirls about Margaret Atwood, and Karen reflects on Shonda Rhimes’ book Year of Yes.
You and I are close friends now, reader, so you know how I feel about writing. Writing is the hum. Writing is laying track. Writing is the high. Now imagine that hum—that high—that track to be laid is behind a door, and that door is five miles away. Those five miles are just writing crap and doodling and trying to have an idea and surfing the internet and hoping like hell not to get so distracted that you give up. Worse, those five miles are lined with brownies and cupcakes and episodes of Game of Thrones, and Idris Elba waiting to talk to only you, and really good novels to read. Every time I sit down to write, I have to mentally run those five miles past all of that to get to that door. It’s a long, hard five-mile run. Sometimes, I am almost dead by the time I reach the door. That’s why I have to keep doing it. The more often I run the five miles, the fitter I become, and the fitter I become, the easier the run begins to feel, and the less fresh and exciting all that stuff on the side of the road seems. I mean, how long has it been there? More important, as I get fitter, I can run faster, and the faster I can run, the faster I can get to that door. The faster you can too, writers out there. When you sit down to write every day, it becomes easier and easier to tap into that creative space in your mind. The faster I can get to that door, the quicker I can get to the good stuff. Behind the door is the good stuff. So when I reach the door and open it, that’s when my creativity clicks in and that special spot in my brain starts working, and I go from exertion to exultation, and suddenly I can write forever and ever and ever and ever. And then suddenly someone opens the door and asks if I want coffee or water. And I’m five miles away all over again. I grit my teeth and try to smile and say, “No thank you. See, I have coffee and water both already right here!” And then I start running that five miles all over. (Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes, chapter 14.)
Circumstances conspired to keep the Hive Mind from recording this week: Bec was overseas and in transit Monday and Tuesday, and it was Chinese New Year over the weekend (meaning we all had family dinners to attend). So this time, we’re doing something a little different: one Hive Minder (Karen) is going to rabbit on about something she’s enjoyed recently in prose. Enjoy!
I’ve been listening to Anna Kendrick read her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody via Audible. As Bec mentioned in an earlier episode of our podcast, “[Audible is] the best way to read when you’re doing other things”, and I totally concur: I really love that I can “read” while doing such mundane things as cooking, vacuuming, ironing, stuffing envelopes and even walking to school at pick-up time. Audible even makes me look forward to doing housework because I can dive into the book I’m currently reading.
Back to Anna Kendrick. If you don’t know who Anna Kendrick is (and part of me cannot believe you wouldn’t know who she is), she is an American actress and singer best known for her work in Up in the Air (for which she earned herself an Oscar nomination), Pitch Perfect 1 and 2 (and 3! ACA-AWESOME!), Into the Woods and, of course, the Twilight movies. (She was the best thing about the Twilight movies, IMHO. Don’t believe me? Watch her wedding speech in Breaking Dawn:
I don’t normally read celebrity biographies—even for celebrities I love—but I had to make an exception for Anna Kendrick. She is one of the only actors I follow on Twitter—mostly because other actors are boring and she is far from boring; she’s witty and interesting and also extremely funny. When I heard about her book, I knew I had to read it, but when I found out that she reads the audiobook, I knew I definitely had to have her read it to me.
(If you want to know what she sounds like, you can listen to an excerpt here:
(Incidentally, a decent chunk of the book was read while driving back from the Blue Mountains with some friends, who enjoyed hearing Kendrick read the book to them as much as I did. One of them even decided to track it down later when she had to leave my car.)
Scrappy Little Nobody is a “collection of humorous autobiographical essays” by Kendrick that recount the story of her life from her beginnings as a child actor to her first ever Broadway appearance (for which she earned a Tony award nomination) to her move to Los Angeles to try and break into the film industry to her present career (well sort of). I found it interesting not just because origin stories for creative people always fascinate me (and I find it amazing that Kendrick knew what she wanted to do with her life so young and gave it all she had, succeeding despite the odds [with much family support, of course, though I must admit that the thought of one of my daughters moving to a strange city at the age of 17 to try and make a career in acting, knowing no one and not going into a standard job, totally freaks me out]). But I also found the book interesting because Kendrick’s wonderfully quirky personality shines through on every page. For example,
There was a small window in my early childhood when I wanted to be a doctor. This was inspired by my pediatrician, a relatively young man whom I called Dr. Handsome. I had assumed this was because his name was Dr. Hasen or Dr. Branson, but I recently found out his name was Dr. Ritger, so I guess I should have just died at age four when I decided to call my physician Dr. Handsome without so much as a pun to justify it.
(I’d be interested to know whether people who read the book in print still hear her voice in their heads as they read.)
One of my favourite chapters in the book is the one where she talks about her first ever serious boyfriend, Landon, and her eagerness to be “normal” and have a “normal” relationship:
After a satisfactory couple of months, I felt more committed to this “dating” experiment and started subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) making a bizarre coming-of-age checklist. Had I learned nothing from my beads and lipstick penpal episode? It was mostly stuff I’d seen in movies, and I knew it was stupid, but every milestone gave me a sense that I was approaching normalcy. Nothing in my life was going especially well at that point, but if the guy I was seeing burned a CD for me (check!), it felt like I was becoming a standard American adult.
She then goes on to outline some of the other items on her checklist right down to the stereotypical relationship break-up.
The book is also peppered with interesting stories and anecdotes from the different things Kendrick has done throughout the course of her career—for example, what it’s like to work with George Clooney, the miserable conditions during the filming of the Bella and Edward wedding scene in Twilight: Breaking Dawn, what award shows are actually like behind the scenes (and the truth behind what it’s like to walk the red carpet), and that time Zac Efron threw up on her during the filming of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. I liked learning more about her body of work as I was only familiar with a fraction of it, and reading the book made me go off and research some of the more obscure parts she has played—for example, Camp, where she sings Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company as Fritzi and completely kills it:
(I so want to see Kendrick sing more Sondheim.) And her bit with Neil Patrick Harris and Jack Black at the 2015 Academy Awards (which I unfortunately missed that year—boo):
(It starts about 3:08 minutes in.)
There is also a very tongue-in-cheek bonus reading group guide at the end for those who like to talk about the books they read with other people. And the audiobook comes with a downloadable PDF containing photos contained in the print book—like Anna as a toddler or the time that Warner Bros hired a private plane to fly her and Ben Affleck back from the Oscars to set for the filming of The Accountant.
Overall, I really really enjoyed the book (and Kendrick’s reading of it; there is nothing like having Anna Kendrick yell in your ear!) I loved learning more about Kendrick and getting to know her better as a person. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to be quirky and weird, but had come to accept herself just as she was, without feeling the need to tailor herself for other people.
But I did feel that the last quarter of the book ran out of steam a little—perhaps because Kendrick didn’t have the freedom be more open and honest about things that have happened in the recent past as she is still young, working and living her life (and still needs to be able to get on with and work with other people in the film industry). The chapter titled “Fake parties I have planned with the detail of a real party” was amusing, but probably could have been cut as it dragged the narrative down somewhat. But I hope that means that there will be more books from Kendrick in the future, regaling us with more wonderful stories of her life and career the way that Carrie Fisher did.
Let me finish by showing you a clip of Kendrick as a 13-year-old, singing “Life upon the wicked stage” with a troupe of underwear-clad chorus girls:
She is just amazing.
Bonus: what I’m working on
In our last episode, I mentioned the storytelling workshop I ran for the Sydney Comics Guild camp. That was a couple of weekends ago and I think it went well; at least three people came up to me afterwards and told me it was good.
The camp itself was great: everything was quite laidback, there was a lot of time to get creative stuff done (so I actually managed to do a big slab of writing, working on one of the short stories I keep talking about), I did a critique session with a comics creator who seemed to find my feedback and advice helpful, and I attended a workshop on professional business coaching for creatives, which was quite fascinating (though a lot of it focussed on visual arts and art licensing, which I knew nothing about). (Incidentally, this article on how Beatrix Potter invented character merchandising is a fascinating look at a time when art licensing was not a thing and Potter pretty much made it into a thing.)
These next couple of weeks are going to be a bit insane as there are a lot of things happening and not a lot of time for creative work, but I hope I can keep at it in the cracks. Wish me luck!
Episode 7! Guan talks about Rebecca Stead’s YA novel When you reach me, Bec talks about the movie Lion and Karen talks about Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love. Relationships, inspiration and the power of story: just a few of the things we cover this episode!
Young children may be gruelling, young children may be vexing, and young children may bust and redraw the contours of their parents’ professional and marital lives. But they bring joy too. Everyone knows this (hence: “bundles of joy”). But it’s worth considering some of the reasons why. It’s not just because they’re soft and sweet and smell like perfection. They also create wormholes in time, transporting their mothers and fathers back to feelings and sensations they haven’t had since they themselves were young. The dirty secret about adulthood is the sameness of it, its tireless adherence to routines and customs and norms. Small children may intensify this sense of repetition and rigidity by virtue of the new routines they establish. But they liberate their parents from their ruts too.
All of us crave liberation from those ruts. More to the point, all of us crave liberation from our adult selves, at least from time to time. I’m not just talking about the selves with public roles to play and daily obligations to meet. (We can find relief from those people simply by going on vacation, or for that matter, by pouring ourselves a stiff drink.) I’m talking about the selves who live too much in their heads rather than their bodies; who are burdened with too much knowledge about how the world works rather than excited by how it could work or should; who are afraid of being judged and not being loved. Most adults do not lie in a world of forgiveness and unconditional love. Unless, that is, they have small children.
The most shameful part of adult life is how blinkered it makes us, how brittle and ungenerous in our judgments. It often takes a much bigger project to make adults look outward, to make them “boundless and unwearied in giving,” as the novelist and philosopher C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves. Young children can go a long way toward yanking grown-ups out of their silly preoccupations and cramped little mazes of self-interest—not just relieving their parents of their egos, but helping them aspire to something better.
(Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun, HarperCollins, 2014, pp. 98-99.)
The Good Marriage (Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee): terrific book on marriage that asks the question, “What makes marriages last?” and following on from Wallerstein’s lengthy and indepth research into divorce and the effect of divorce on American families.
Guan is in the wilds of Malaysia with his family, so filling his shoes this week is none other than Kathleen Jennings. Unfortunately because I (Bec) forgot to properly brief Kathleen on recording things, there is occasionally a bit of an echo, the sound quality goes up and down throughout, and some of Kathleen’s comments are lost to history because I couldn’t tidy up the audio enough. Apologies, dear listener!
This is a bumper episode—over an hour long!—during which we discuss the animated movie Sing, Australian history and the irreverent book Girt, and aviation history and why Kathleen is passionate about it. We also talk about the Importance of Supporting Artists (one of Oscar Wilde’s lesser-known works), Patreon, crowdfunding and many, many other things. Enjoy!
5:43: Kingsman: The Secret Service: based on the Secret Service comics by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (which I have not read), but a lot of things were changed in the adaptation. Being a Mark Millar project, however, it is super violent and unnecessarily gratuitous in places (like the final scene, which is apparently a reference to the James Bond film Moonraker). But the best thing about it is Colin Firth being superhero-ish—for example, this clip (2:21 min):
(The later scene where he completely tears up an American church under the influence of the supervillain’s frequency is very hard to watch though.)
(Also, for a very interesting but extremely long [i.e. about 16,000 words long] take on Kingsman, I recommend this article by Film Critic Hulk.)
30:40: Kathleen’s Patreon. Also, we never really explained what Patreon is: it’s a site where fans can sign up to financially support creators they like, becoming, in effect, patrons of that creator. Creators offer their patrons exclusive bits and pieces depending on the amount of money the patron pledges.
People have basically four things they can give—time, energy, gifts and resources—but the mix can vary enormously. Generally speaking, university students have copious amounts of time, significant supplies of energy, limited though fast-emerging gifts, and very limited resources. University-based ministries intuitively recognise this. It’s not uncommon (and in many ways not unreasonable) for a student to be involved in a couple of small groups on campus plus an evening small group at church, to be active in the church’s youth or children’s ministry, and to attend two or three conferences a year. Time and energy are the principle commodities students have to give, and they often given them generously …
Now consider the circumstances of the average family in a local church. Families have those same four resources—time, energy, gifts and resources—but the deck is dealt very differently. A family with young children; with one or two people working; with school and associated commitments; with life-administration; who also want to have meaningful relationships within their community… People in this stage of life have extremely limited time resources, and very limited energy. Their gifts have by now emerged and been developed, and there is often now a stable income with a base for sustainable giving. But time is very precious, and every draw on that resource is a zero-sum game. It’s the same with energy. A late-night, poorly-chaired elders meeting can take literally two or three nights to recover from in terms of the sleep-debt. The weekend lie-in is a long way off. At certain stages of family life, it does not exist. Time and energy are finite resources.
It’s the end of the year and we are each sharing three of our favourite things from 2016. There’s lots of good stuff, including the delightful NZ flick Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the body positivity doco Embrace, the pop perfection of Taylor Swift and lots more!
Oh we rambled here, we rambled there, we rambled pretty much everywhere in this episode! Bec starts us off with thoughts about Gilmore Girls and the reaction of loyal fanbases to reboots. Karen shares thoughts that sprang from conversations with Kathleen Jennings about creativity, the creative process and how different creative people work. Guan pivots from that into talking more about Lisa Cron’s Story Genius and the hacks we sometimes need to use in order to create. We also talk colour theory and gardening, new story ideas and lots more!
Over lunch she tells me that she read a Charles Bukowski poem that morning that ends “those who/ succeed/ know/ this secret:/ there isn’t/ one.” It’s stayed with her, perhaps because writing, more than any other art form, is susceptible to “rules”, chief among them being to write every day.
“Don’t you think men are the ones that always say that?” she says. “I’m not sure I’ve heard a woman say you have to write every day. They’re too busy making dinner.”
It’s episode 3—in which we learn that Guan seems to be reading the “best book ever” every week, Bec seems to be only consuming things that are about historical events, and although Karen is a wordsmith, she’s not really a lyrics person.
Apologies for the weird sound issues—occasional echoes, Bec sounding like she’s speaking through a pillow, and other things. We’ll get it right one day!
In this episode, Guan talks about Lillian Beckwith’s Hebridean Tales, Bec gushes about Hamilton, and Karen reflects on the many things she saw at the GRAPHIC festival in Sydney. In the mix, we also chat about the value of art, what constitutes an interesting story and what we’re working on at the moment.
23:34: The Wicked and the Divine comic series by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. (#17 was done by Brandon Graham, who blogged about the experience and put up some behind-the-scenes process stuff on his blog. Warning: adult content and language.)
25:56: Book Create Australia: A site that raises awareness of the government’s plans to introduce parallel importation. (While we’re on the subject, please consider signing the petition against this move.)
Advice I often give to people who want to break-into-comics is "network!" But my twist is network with people at your level. It's great to know established pro's, but throughout your career you'll get more from those enduring friends who are at this moment fellow up-and-comers...