Category Archives: Novel

The Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins – They’re BAAACK!

The Summer Before, a prequel to the critically acclaimed (not to mention AWESOME) Babysitter’s Club series is now available in bookstores.  The first four books in the original series are also being updated and re-released.

Sweet Valley Confidential, a book that chronicles the lives of the gorgeous and popular Wakefield twins, Elizabeth and Jessica, as they enter their late 20s and early 30s, should hit bookstores around February 2011.

Upon reaching the ripe old age of seven, I unilaterally decided that I was TOO OLD to read picture books.  And so, after pleading my case to my mother one weekend, the two of us hit the library, in search of “Big Girl Books.”  Holding my mother’s hand, I steered her clear away from the Children’s Book section, and headed determinedly toward the section containing books for “Juveniles and Young Adults.” 

Two series immediately caught my eye, based on the sheer volume of related books to choose from.  Both sets of books offered “pretty” covers, featuring enviably attractive “Big Girls,” who appeared to be significantly older, wiser, and cooler than myself.  (Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?)  The names of the two series?  The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins!  I grabbed the first two books of each series off the shelf, and was on my way.  And so began my long-term childhood friendship with a motley crew of babysitters, and two twin girls with vastly different personalities . . .

For the uninitiated, The Babysitters Club was initially comprised of four girls.  Bossy Tomboy Kristy, Shy and Sensitive Mary Anne, Boycrazy New York Native Stacey, and the Artistic, but Academically Challenged, Claudia.  In later books, the Club expanded to include Vegetarian California Girl Dawn and junior members – Bookish Horse lover Mallory, and Graceful Ballet Dancer Jessi.  Most of the books would focus on the adventures of one particular club member, while using the babysitting experiences of  her friends as subplots.  As for me, I was probably most like the  Mary Anne character, but WANTED to be most like Stacey, because she was BLONDE,  POPULAR, GOOD AT MATH, and all the boys liked her.  Sure, Mary Anne had Logan as a boyfriend, but honestly, he seemed pretty lame.  (I’m sorry, but how many manly middle school boys do you know that actually ENJOYED babysitting?)

“Think she’d notice, if I closed my eyes and pretended she was a DUDE?”

I absolutely ADORED these books.  And spent WAY too much time fretting over the lives of the aforementioned characters.  (“OMG!  Kristy is moving into a mansion!  She’s so lucky!”)  (“WOW!  Dawn and Mary Anne are stepsisters now.  FUN!”)  (“WTF!  Stacey is moving away!”)  (“OH NO!  Claudia thinks she’s ADOPTED!”)

In addition to reading the books, I also owned a Babysitters Club wall calendar, postcard book, and diary. 

I saw the movie (which wasn’t nearly as good as the books).  And watched the television series (which ALSO wasn’t as good as the books).  The TV series, in particular, had some pretty crap acting.  For an example, check out this old clip I found on YouTube.  It just may feature a familiar face . . .

Some of my friends and I even attempted to start our own babysitters club.  However, since the oldest of us was 9 at the time, we didn’t get many clients . . .  For a time, I even tried to draw little hearts over my “i” s when writing in school, like the Stacey character did in her babysitting journal entries,  but that didn’t stick either . . . 

Ann M. Martin wrote literally hundreds of Babysitters books.  The original series ran from 1986 through 2000.  And you know what?  In all that time, the kids NEVER AGED!  By the time the series ended, these characters seemed more like kids that I would babysit, instead of the other way around.  I have a theory as to why this is, but I’d rather keep it to myself, if you don’t mind . . .

And now, after nearly a decade away, it appears that the girls are about to get even YOUNGER! Age discrepancies aside, when I heard that Ann M. Martin was writing a prequel to the series entitled, The Summer Before, I was super psyched!  I don’t care that I’m too old, I am TOTALLY reading this book.  The seven-year old inside of me demands it! 

Of course, part of me wishes that Martin had chosen to write a sequel, instead of a prequel, so that I could finally find out whether my babysitting pals ever actually graduated the eighth grade . . .  But until that happens, at least I will be able to check in on my OTHER friends, the Wakefields.

If The Babysitters Club were the fictional girls that I most wanted as my friends, the Wakefield twins were the fictional girls I most wanted to BE!  It was as if Francine Pascal, took the super cool Stacey character from The Babysitters series, transplanted her to the West Coast, cloned her, and gave her a book series all her own!  Elizabeth was the smart, conscientious one — an excellent student, and class newspaper editor, with designs on a future career in journalism.   She was kind of a goody-goody, and a tad boring, most of the time.  So, of course, I related to her the most (even though I didn’t really want to) . . .

Jessica was a Total Bitch!  Your classic mean girl.

She could care less about school or grades.  And was only interested in boys and popularity, and her snooty “elite” club called The Unicorns.

Really, Francine Pascal?  This was what you chose as your “Cool Girl” Mascot?

Throughout most of the series, Jessica took advantage of Elizabeth and generally treated her like crap.  But, like any abusive relationship, she always apologized during the last few pages.  So, Elizabeth, a glutton for punishment, took her back.  And for some reason, despite all her evilness, us readers liked her anyway . . . (We even liked her more than we liked Elizabeth, although most of us didn’t want to admit it . . .)

Unlike The Babysitters Club series, which focused exclusively on the characters’ middle school years.  We got to watch Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield throughout their childhood, and up through young adulthood.  In fact, before the first book in the  Sweet Valley Twins series was even released, there was Sweet Valley High, which detailed the highschool adventures of the Wakefield twins.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason (she never told me why), my mom wouldn’t let me read these books.  I eventually read the first few when I was a bit older.  And they WERE surprisingly risque, especially considering the time during which they were written.  Upon turning 14, Jessica Wakefield went from just being a bitch, to being a bitch AND a slut. 

In addition to these two series, Francine Pascal went on to release Sweet Valley Kids, which featured the twins in second and third grade . . .

Sweet Valley Senior Year (self explanatory), and the Sweet Valley University series.  Oh, and of course, there was a TV show . . .

 . . . which I never watched.

After taking a few years off, it appears that the Wakefield twins are back in action.  In addition to the new Sweet Valley Confidential book (or, as I like to call it, Sweet Valley Adults), Juno writer, Diablo Cody, is also, apparently, in the process of penning a movie featuring the girls.

 . . . although something tells me, were they actually to exist, Elizabeth and Jessica wouldn’t exactly be buddy-buddy with Diablo.  Those tatts alone would send the prissy Wakefields running for the Hollywood Hills.  Now THAT’S something I’d like to see on the big screen!

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Filed under Books I loved as a kid, nostalgia, Novel, Sweet Valley Twins Series, The Babysitters Club Series

Create Your Dream Cast: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

One of my favorite reads of 2009 was Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  The novel follows Katniss Everdeen, a strong willed 16-year old girl, who is forced to take part in a nationally televised fight-to-the-death survival competition against 23 other teenagers in the post-apocalyptic fictional nation of Panem.  From page 1, The Hunger Games is the quintessential page turner.  It transports you into another world and keeps you there, long after you’ve completed the book.

Collins does not discriminate, and there is something here for all ages, sexes, and book preferences: a bunch of knock-down drag-out, surprisingly gory, fights for the action buffs, a romantic triangle for the lovers, political intrigue for the Tom Clancy and David Baldacci inclined, a futuristic otherworld for the fantasy and sci fi geeks, adolescent angst for the teens, dry humor for the comedy lovers, and tons of thinly veiled pop culture references and digs at reality television for entertainment addicts.

The Hunger Games is actually the first novel of a trilogy series.  Its also-excellent sequel, Catching Fire, is already a bestseller.  The third book of the series, Mockingjay is due out August 24, 2010.  However, the novel is already available for pre-order on Amazon.  (Only $8.50 for a hardcover!  Way cheap!)

When I learned that Lionsgate Entertainment had purchased the film rights to The Hunger Games, and the Suzanne Collins, herself, was hired to write the script, I was excited and highly intrigued.  This book has surefire blockbuster written all over it!  The news got me to thinking about who they were going to cast for the major roles in this film — and, more importantly, who I would cast if I were making this film . . .

So, without further adieu, here are my casting pics for Lionsgate Entertainment’s adaptation of The Hunger Games:

Katniss Everdeen

My pick: Ellen Page

Why?  Although technically a bit older than Katniss (aren’t they all?), Page has the physical look of the character, as well as Katniss’ tough exterior and inner vulnerability.  She also brings to the table a recognizable name that will inevitably bring big box office bucks to the film.  Page definitely has the acting chops for this complex and meaty role.  Plus, if the X Men films, Whip It, and the ultra-dark indie film Hard Candy are any indication, she also possesses the strength and deft to pull off some fairly hardcore stunts, which may be necessary, given the action aspects of this novel.

Peeta Mellark

My pick: Sterling Knight

Why?  Like Page, Knight definitely looks the part here.  As the attractive and inherently likeable boy-next-door type, who may or may not be completely trust worthy, the actor who plays Peeta must appear both sweet and a tad sly.  I think Knight has what it takes to be both.  Best known for his role as Chad Dylan Cooper in Disney Channel’s tween sitcom Sonny with a Chance, Knight has already shown himself capable of playing the male lead in a love/hate type relationship.  I think he and Ellen Page would play off one another well, with respect to the romance aspects of this tale.  

As far as action scenes, I’m not sure whether Knight has what it takes, as I’ve never seen him act in any particularly physical roles.   Then again, Peeta always struck me as kind of a wimp (sorry girls).  So, athleticism may not be entirely necessary here . . .

Gale Hawthorne

My pick: Taylor Lautner

 

Why?  This one may be a bit of a stretch, seeing as Lautner is such a big name in Hollywood now, and Gale’s role in The Hunger Games is a relatively small one.  (Gale plays a much bigger part in The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, however).  And yet, I can’t help but think Lautner was made for this role!  Dark complextion, killer abs, physical prowess, the ability to brood and pine over unrequited love, all the while being all-manly / hunting stuff . . . who could ask for a better Gale than Lautner?  Plus, we all know how much Taylor loves his love triangles . . .

Haymitch Abernathy

My pick: James Gandolfini

Why?  Yeah, I know, this is also a bit of wishful thinking on my part . . .  But I LOVE my Gandolfini!  Plus, I think he would be awesome as this gruff and hard-drinking, yet wise and loyal, former Games winner and mentor to Katniss and Peeta.  And, it’s my cast, dammit!  So, I’ll hire who I want!

Effie Trinket

My pick: Kristin Chenoweth

Why?  Chenoweth has the sophisticated look, chirpy ebullience, and high-pitched (at-times grating) speaking voice to pull off District 12’s well-meaning, but slightly haughty, PR representative, Effie Trinket.  I’ll cast her in this role on one condition . . .  she MUST sing at least once during the film!

Cinna

My pick: Adam Lambert

Why?  Lambert has the guy-liner, fashion sense, natural flamboyance, and addiction to hair dye necessary to pull off Katniss’ personal stylist for the Games.  Granted, I’m not really sure Lambert has any acting experience (unless you count those daytime talk show interviews).  However, Cinna never struck me as a particularly complex role.  So, I think Adam could pull it off.  Plus, those American Idol fans would go wild!

Primrose Everdeen

My pick? Elle Fanning (Dakota’s little sister)

Why?  Honestly, I don’t have much to say here.  The role calls for a fair-haired and cherubic pre-teen to play Katniss’ little sister.  I am pretty sure there is actually a law in Hollywood that states that whenever a role like this is created, a Fanning must be cast in it.  So, here we are . . .

Mrs. Everdeen

My pick: Toni Collette

Why?  The role calls for someone who is believable as the slightly unstable and depressive herbalist mother of both dark-haired tomboy, Katniss, and girly blonde, Primrose.  I think Collette fits in quite nicely here . . .

Well, there you have it.  Now, it’s your turn.  Hop on to that casting couch (no pun intended), and pick your favorites.  Who knows?  Lionsgate Entertainment just might be listening . . .

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Filed under casting, Novel, The Hunger Games

My Initial Thoughts on HBO’s New Series “How to Make it in America”

“What are you, twelve?  How many times are you going to say f*&k The Man?”

“Until we ARE The Man!”

The above-referenced lines are uttered by the two main protagonists in the Pilot episode of HBO’s new series How to Make it in America.  Just a few weeks ago, I poked a bit of fun at the promos for the show, claiming that its premise looked a bit familiar.  And, yes, just like that other HBO show, How to Make it in America is about a group of enterprising, but hard-partying, New York native twenty-somethings, hoping to make a name for themselves in a less traditional manner — one that doesn’t involve an MBA and a corner office.  Oh, and did I mention that both shows are produced by this guy?

Yet, saying that How to Make it in America is literally a poor man’s Entourage, would be oversimplifying things a bit.  For starters, unlike Vinny Chase and Co., the show’s main characters, Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg . . . we’ll get to him in a bit) and Cam Calderone (Victor Rasuk) were not plucked out of obscurity and instantly granted unfettered access to the A-list lifestyle.  Rather, they are two average joes struggling to move up the social and economic ladder the long and hard way, hand over fist, while attempting to start a 70’s inspired denim line called Crisp.

As a twenty-something myself, working full time, while trying to establish myself as a novelist and Superblogger (or, at least, Adequateblogger), I can tell you firsthand that trying to “make it” in a non-traditional career path, without the necessary connections, is not always uplifting or glamorous.  Sometimes, for example, it requires doing things like staying up until 3 a.m. to type up a blog entry, when you have to get up for work at 6:30 a.m the next day.  I’m pretty sure Vinny Chase never did that.   (Adrien Grenier’s character, though pretty to look at, never struck me as particularly literary . . . or, even literate, for that matter).  

With the economy in its current state, it’s high time for a show that illustrates how the rest of us live.  Will How to Make it in America be that show?  I sure hope so . . .

Having watched the first two episodes of this new series, I am impressed by the authentic look of the show, which features as it’s main locale the often under used Lower East Side of NYC, in place of its more pristine and polished neighbors.  The show’s dialogue is sharp, and crackles with the same biting wit of Entourage, but with a bit less grand-standing and “aren’t I clever”-ness.

Along with Greenberg and Rasuk, How to Make it in America features an ecclectic and impressive cast of characters, including comic great Luis Guzman, up-and-coming rap star Kid Cudi, Lake Bell, of Boston Legal fame, 90’s icon Martha Plimpton, and Eddie Kaye Thomas (who you may remember as the dude who got it on with Stifler’s mom in the American Pie movies).

And, of course, we CAN’T forget to talk about HIM . . .

I’ve been a fan of Bryan Greenberg’s since his time as the loveable Jake on CW’s teen drama One Tree Hill.  Not only is he immensely talented, he is also pretty easy on the eyes.  Don’t you think? 

Greenberg has clearly been blessed with effortless good looks.  And yet, he carries them off in a relatable / non-intimidating “this guy might actually hang out with me” sort of way that makes him all the more appealing.  As if that wasn’t enough, he has a sexy gravely voice that makes me feel all tingly inside . . .

Admittedly, the first two episodes got off to a bit of a slow start, focusing mainly on scene -setting and character development.  However, given its unique premise, stellar setting, and sharp cast, I am very much looking forward to seeing this show really hit its stride in the episodes to come.

How to Make it in America airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. (right after Big Love).

P.S.  Has the recession put a major cramp on your music-purchasing budget?  As a promotion for the show, HBO is offering viewers the ability to download a mixtape inspired by the series FOR FREE!!!!!  19 songs for less money than I find on the street each morning on my way to the subway . . .

When I first saw the promotion, I was skeptical, figuring that this would probably be nothing more than a lame extended commercial for the show in MP3 format.  However, the album was produced by Kid Cudi himself, and features an ecclectic array of music ranging from R&B and rap to funk to techo and even disco.  The songs feature transitions between one another, making the mixtape sound even better when played from beginning to end.  This album also offers some fun lines from the show and brief interviews with the cast.

And, hey, if it’s not your thing, at least you don’t have to pay for it, right?

You can preview and download the entire mixtape for the show here . . .

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Filed under How to Make it in America, music, New HBO Shows, Novel

An Excerpt from Life Sucks, Death Bites: A Novel by Julie Kushner

Food Mart, Inc.                                                                                                                                             

2 Metro Corporate Drive                                                                                                                      

 Los Angeles, CA 90001                                                                                                                       

Attn: Fred Thompson, CEO

Dear Mr. Thompson:

I’m not usually the type of person who writes letters like the one you are reading right now.  OK, that’s a lie.  I’m exactly the type of person who writes these sort of letters.  But that is not really the point . . .

“The point” is that my most recent experience at one of your Food Mart stores (62 Blueberry Hill, Los Angeles, CA 90015) was particularly harrowing.  No, “harrowing” is not a strong enough word.  “Downright terrifying” is more accurate. 

 It was like something out of that awful horror movie franchise.  You know, the one where that crazy guy with the creepy mask, whose name I can’t remember (Bulls Eye?  Puzzle Piece?), makes people choose between doing something truly awful to another human being or dying an excruciatingly painful death.  Of course, you couldn’t pay me to watch such a movie.  So, I’m afraid that I cannot be much more specific than that.  But I think you catch my drift . . .

Anyway, as CEO of Food Mart, I believe that you have a right and a duty to know what is going on at your stores.  Furthermore, as a consumer, I believe that I have a right and a duty to make you aware that at least one of your stores just so happens to be a toxic death trap.

This past Sunday, around 8:00 AM Pacific Time, just as your store was opening, I drove to Food Mart for my weekly purchase of groceries.  Upon arrival, I exited my car, only to be attacked by a vicious shopping cart. Said shopping cart was clearly on the loose and out for revenge, against what I don’t know. (Perhaps it was angered about being shackled to such a dangerous, ill-kept store). 

Owing to the fact that it was a windy day (weather.com said winds could reach speeds of up to 50 mph that Sunday), and that none of your associates thought it worth their precious time to return said cart to its rightful holding pen, located mere inches away, the Errant Shopping Cart flew right into me at a frighteningly fast speed (50 mph?).  By some miracle, the cart narrowly missed squashing my body into the side of my car, arms and legs akimbo, as if I were a large fly.

Have you any idea how many fatal accidents have been caused by shopping carts in the past year alone, Mr. Thompson?  I’ll spare you the specific statistics.  But, rest assured, there were a lot . . . 

You see, I am in the business of evaluating risk, so it is literally my job to know these things.  If I told you what I actually did for a living I would have to kill you.  OK, that is a lie too . . . the “having to kill you” part, I mean, not the “risk evaluation” part.  I just always wanted to use that cliché for some reason.  But I digress.  Let’s get back to the Toxic Death Trap, shall we? 

Upon regaining my composure (In addition to almost dying, my morning brush with death nearly gave me a heart attack.), and selecting a shopping cart other than the one obviously intent on murdering me, I entered the store and hastened toward the vegetable aisle.  You see, I’ve kind of been trying to lose a few pounds.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m fat or anything, just . . . plump . . . chubby . . . overweight.  And, as far as risky behaviors go, being any of the three aforementioned things is probably right up there with bungee jumping, riding a motorcycle, or going hunting with Dick Cheney.

So I get to the vegetable aisle, and what do I see?  This teenage girl, with long, obviously unwashed hair, is fondling the tomatoes with her unclean hands!!!!  I stood watching the girl for nearly five minutes.  In that time, she must have slimed every single solitary Food Mart tomato with her greasy fingertips. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, she then starts having this really loud grotesque- sounding coughing fit.  So, there she is, sort of covering her mouth, but there are these little gaps between her fingers.  You can actually see the phlegm and mucus escaping right through them, coating the tomatoes with a sticky layer of germs (probably the Swine Flu or the Bubonic Plague).  After that, she goes back to fondling the tomatoes . . . AGAIN!

Now, to my knowledge, this woman was not an employee of Food Mart.  At least, she didn’t appear to be wearing one of those red smocks they always wear (which, by the way, always give off an unlaundered look).   But, nevertheless, shouldn’t there be some sort of policy against patrons of Food Mart touching unwrapped food with their bare diseased hands?  Studies have shown that our hands are the dirtiest parts of our bodies.  (You would think it would be our asses or our private parts, but that’s actually a common misconception . . .)  If, by 8 AM, Food Mart tomatoes have already been contaminated with the plague once, lord knows what state they are in by noon, or 5 PM.

Needless to say, I avoided the vegetable aisle completely after that.  I mean, I guess I could have sprung for one of those pre-packaged overpriced salad bags.  But those things are so riddled with pesticides and growth hormone that you could hardly call them nutritionally sound.  And my physician wonders why I can’t lose the pounds . . .

Suddenly overcome with an intense urge to wash my own hands, I finally located the “Employee Bathroom” in the corner of the store, but only after asking about five people where it was and getting no answer.  (So, let me get this straight, Food Mart doesn’t have public restrooms?  Better that your customers feel free to shit and vomit on the floor, after inevitably being taken ill upon eating bad tomatoes, right?)

In addition to smelling like the fetid armpit of a marathon runner, and being “unisex” (I despise unisex bathrooms because I am deathly afraid of tampons and the women who use them.  I mean, really, what kind of perverted SOB would invent such a thing?  A blood flotation device . . . on a string . . . beyond disgusting), there was so much dirt, empty rolls of toilet paper, and sanitary napkin wrappers (a bit better than tampons, but not much) on the floor  that I thought I had somehow landed in the flatbed of a garbage truck instead of a non-public restroom in a very public establishment. 

As I entered the bathroom, one of your employees was flushing the toilet (at least he flushed).  However, when he went to wash his hands, I noticed that he turned on the cold water (not the hot water, mind you, which is necessary if you want to actually kill any germs on your hands) for only 5 seconds.  FIVE SECONDS!  That is barely enough time to find a working soap dispenser (2 out of the 3 in this bathroom were completely empty), let alone thoroughly clean your hands prior to the preparation and handling of food.  Physicians say you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (roughly the length of time it takes you to sing the Happy Birthday song twice through) in order to properly cleanse your hands following a stint on the toilet.  After this encounter, I knew I had to avoid, not only the vegetable aisle, but any unwrapped food prepared or handled by members of your staff.

Despite coming to Food Mart with a shopping list that was two notebook pages long, I arrived at the checkout counter with just a six-pack of Charmin Ultra Strong toilet paper (less likelihood of leakage), a tube of Crest toothpaste, and a package of pre-wrapped Hersheys miniatures: three items (eight, if you count each of the Charmin rolls separately, which, I don’t).  Either way, I was significantly under the 15 item limit required to use the Express Checkout Lane. 

Apparently, however, I’m the only Food Mart shopper capable of counting, because the four people in line in front of me each had a shopping cart full of at least 16 items.  One person had 32 items.   I know because I counted them . . . twice.  Instead of politely directing these cheaters to another aisle, YOUR cashier proceeded to ring each of them up . . . very . . . slowly . . . one . . . item . . . at . . . a  . . . time.

To make matters worse, each of these patrons waited until the person in front of them had paid in full and exited the store to unpack their groceries onto the conveyer belt.  And the person before me purchased, you guessed it, among other things, seven diseased tomatoes that she didn’t even bother to put in a plastic bag prior to paying.   She then spread her items out on the conveyor belt, so liberally, that there was no room for my items at all (not that I could possibly use the grotesquely tainted belt now).  When it came to be my turn, I had to rush to unpack and bag my items (What?  No one believes in having bag boys anymore?) so that I could be finished in time for the next person to be rung up.  It was very stressful. 

By the time I exited Food Mart that morning, I felt like I needed a stiff drink.  But I abstained, because it was only 8:30 AM, and I am not foolhardy enough to drink and drive. 

So you see, the way things are now, I cannot possibly continue to shop at Food Mart if I wish to maintain my health and sanity.

Thank you for your attention to these matters.  Hopefully, they can be dealt with in an efficient and expedient manner.

                                    Cordially,

                           Gerald Blumenstein


Chapter 1

Happy Death Day to Me!

Risk Assessment Analysis:

Odds of being killed by lightning:       2,320,000 to 1

Odds of being killed in a plane crash:            52.6 million to 1

Odds of dying in your shrink’s office during some ridiculous therapy session involving a vampire bat:      Actually, that kind of shit tends only to happen to me . . .

            “Hey there, Mr. Blumenstein!  How was your day?”

            Every evening, when I return to my apartment building, the concierge, i.e. the lanky pimple-faced pubescent son of my landlord, asks me the above question, in his trademark faux – cheery, sounds like he’s been kicked in the nuts a few too many times, voice.  On most days, I refuse to answer this inquiry, because, personally, I find it offensive.  Now I know some of you readers out there are probably thinking I’m rude for snubbing Little Jimmy over there, who, after all, was just trying to be polite, right?  Make “conversation”?  Well allow me to explain myself.

              On principle, I resolutely refuse to respond to any question where the asker doesn’t give two shits about my reply.  Am I supposed to believe that Little Jimmy is truly concerned for my well being?  That he is actually expecting me to provide him with any sort of response to his question other than “Fine and Dandy.  How was yours?”  Because, honestly, most of the time, my days are total and complete crap. 

              But does Little Jimmy want to hear about that?  Does he want me to tell him all about the fact that I am nearly forty, and haven’t had sex in six years?  That my boss hates me?  That I’m a massive disappointment to my family?  No!  Little Jimmy wants me to lie, and I refuse to perjure myself for some snot-nosed kid.

                     And yet, on this particular day, circumstances have unfolded in such an extreme way during the past twelve or so hours, that I decide, just this once, to answer Little Jimmy.  And to his inane question, instead of merely grunting or simply ignoring him, like I usually do, I respond, “Well, aside from being brutally murdered, my day was pretty fucking fabulous.”

                  Now, technically, this too is a lie . . . well, the part about my day being fucking fabulous, at least.  My day, quite literally, sucked.  Nevertheless, this was the answer I gave Little Jimmy, or whatever the twit’s actual name is, just to see how he would respond.

                  “Ha, ha.  Good one, Mr. Blumenstein,” squeaks the boy wonder.  “You have a great night,” he chirps after me, as I head across the lobby to the elevator.

                  See what I mean?   You try to impart an important piece of personal information to someone, and all they do is laugh in your face.  Sighing, I reach into my messenger bag, pull out a tissue, secure it tightly over my pointer finger with a rubber band, and enter the already open double doors of the elevator, which, thank the Lord, is empty.  With my covered finger (Did you know that nearly 15% of all elevator buttons are covered with human feces?), I press the number 6, which responds to my command by lighting up.  Or at least it would, if my dipshit landlord ever got around to fixing the elevator.  Instead, the elevator door closes and I ride in utter and complete darkness for six floors, which I mind less today than I would under normal circumstances.

                 By the time I enter my apartment, I am dead tired (har de har, har).  Upon removing the tissue from my finger, triple locking my door, and fastening the chain across it, I then bend down to put my “doorstop” (a six by four inch cement block) in front of it.  Seem a bit excessive to you?  Did you know that the odds of having your apartment broken into by a gang of hoodlums are as small as one in 1,000?  And if that was to happen to me, who do you think would come to my rescue?  My 84-year old neighbor, Ms. Tingle?  My dipshit landlord?  Little Jimmy?  I’d rather take my chances throwing out my back (which I’ve done about five times since I moved in) with the cement block.  Thank you very much.

                           My apartment safely secured, I slouch dejectedly in front of the full- length mirror situated in my entrance foyer.  Staring back at me is a pasty, prematurely bald (although, I gather, once you pass thirty the “premature” label is debatable) paunchy loser in an ill-fitting suit.  “Still ugly,” I mutter under my breath at my mirror image, who, having taken offense to my comment, glares back at me as if to say “Pot calling kettle . . . “ or, whatever the heck that saying is supposed to be. 

                      For the record, all those movies and books that would lead you to believe that people who turn into . . . what I turned into . . . suddenly become all “Brad Pitt” in the looks department are a crock of shit.  That is unless, of course, you are Brad Pitt, in which case, more fucking power to you, I guess . . .

                    Without passing Go or collecting 200 dollars, I head directly to my bed and flop down on my mattress fully dressed.  But I can’t sleep, because my head is spinning and the wooden headboard hovering over me makes me feel as though I am sleeping in a coffin, which, while apropos of the situation, disturbs me greatly.  Thirsty, I head to my fridge, and take a swig of milk straight from the carton (which is actually statistically shown to be more germ free than glassware, especially if you live alone like me).  Even though the expiration date on the carton is still over a week away, the milk tastes rancid, so I spit it out and spill the contents of the carton into the sink.  I then pop open a can of non-name brand soda (I’ll be damned if I have to pay over a dollar for a can of pop when the fifty cent cans are just as good), but it tastes terrible too.

                  Resolved to my fate, I reach into my messenger bag and remove a bulky mason jar I received earlier that evening from Dr. Freenly.  Taking a deep breath, I open the jar, close my eyes, and pour its entire contents down my throat.  The red liquid is warm and thick, but it feels good going down.  So good, that I don’t even mind it when some of the liquid trickles down my chin and chunky globule lands on and ruins my brand new shirt.

                    Once I have finished, I forlornly rinse out the empty jar and place it with the rest of the recycling.  To my relief, I recall that Dr. Freenly has placed two more jars of the stuff in my bag.  I extract them and place them on my counter, staring at them in confusion. 

               Am I supposed to refrigerate these?  I think to myself.  Do NOT Refrigerate! reads a handwritten label hastily secured on one of the jars.  After putting the two jars away in a nearby cabinet, I slump down into a chair in front of my kitchen table and begin to ponder my last hours among the living . . .

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At First Bite: An Excerpt from Hollywood Warlock – A Novel by Julie Kushner

Chapter 1

At First Bite

The mood on the set of At First Bite, the much anticipated prequel to the critically acclaimed The Vampire Chronicles, was undoubtedly one of anticipation.  After all, filming was to start in just a few short minutes on what cast and crew knew would be a surefire blockbuster.  Heck, with the world economy in the crapper, and people’s lives going down the toilet right along with it, who wasn’t in need of a little supernatural escapist fantasy?  And what better way to escape than into the arms of a dangerous undead blood sucker?  The marketing department often joked that the tagline for the film should be “Recessions Bite, and So Does He.”

            Frenetic energy reverberated around the set, as everyone prepared for the film’s pivotal first scene, in which Vampire Lestrange encounters the naïve yet strong-willed heroine, Rebecca.  The prop department was busy strategically splattering “blood” (an odorous mixture of tomato paste, chocolate syrup, and lord knows what else) on the walls and floor, while white lab-coat wearing makeup specialists fussed over a highly realistic dismembered plastic corpse.  As a cumulative result of these activities, the sound stage bore greater resemblance to an Emergency Room surgery gone horribly awry than the filming locale for a high-budget action/horror flick set during the Victorian era. 

The rendezvous between the film’s two leads was to occur just moments after Lestrange, unbeknownst to Rebecca, had turned her sister Mary into a vampire.  The only problem was that film’s star, Justin Warlock, was still in his trailer, and no one seemed capable or willing to get him onto the set.

            “He’s doing what?  You’re kidding right?  Oh, I don’t get paid enough for this shit.”

            Kate McElwain paced back and forth in front of the craft services cart, barely able to contain her rage, as her agent tried in vain to prevent her from bodily removing her costar from his trailer.  Given her mood, he quickly decided honesty of the non-sugar coated variety would be the best approach.

            “Sweetie, you know Justin Warlock has always had a reputation for being a bit . . . How do I say it kindly?  Promiscuous.  But the boy brings box office, so we just have to bite our tongues.”

            “You bite your tongue.  I’m going to bite his balls off with those fake vampire fangs!” 

            Although touted by Entertainment Weekly as one of the “Top Ten New Faces to Watch in Hollywood This Year,” Kate McElwain, at 22, was already somewhat of an industry veteran.  Daughter of long-time soap opera starlet, Marlene McElwain, Kate practically grew up on film and television sets.  In fact, her career began when she was just eight months old, and was chosen, along with another baby who looked remarkably similar to her, to play the newborn daughter of her mother’s character on Days of Our Lives.

            As Kate got older, she had little trouble landing modeling gigs and commercials, due to her uncanny resemblance to her mother.  “It’s almost as if we created a time machine, went back about 25 years, retrieved Marlene from the past and brought her back here to repeat her career,” Marlene’s manager proclaimed about Kate.  With her petite frame, strawberry blond hair, pouty pink lips, and deep piercing blue eyes, Kate was the picture of naivety and innocence. 

As such, even though Kate was hardly a teenager, she was often cast to play “damsel in distress” types much younger than herself.  In fact, her role in At First Bite was no different.  Given Kate’s penchant for innocent roles, those who met her in her personal life were often surprised and amused to learn that she had the mouth of a truck driver and a temper to match.

“I mean, seriously, we haven’t even started filming yet, and already he’s missing call times because he’s diddling extras in his trailer?” Kate griped.  “Why doesn’t anyone just go get him, for Christ sake?”

“From what I’ve heard, no one interrupts Justin Warlock while he is ‘otherwise engaged,” the agent replied coyly.

Kate had never actually met Justin in person; although, she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t familiar with his career and reputation.  First discovered by his agent at a shopping mall at the age of 16, 25-year old Justin Warlock made a career out of playing the leading man in romantic comedies and Nicholas Sparks-esque dramas.  In addition to being a consistent fixture on People Magazine’s Sexiest Male List, Warlock was also a notorious playboy.  In fact, since starring in his first feature film at 18-years old, Justin has been romantically linked with every single one of his costars.  However, none of these romantic relationships had been rumored to last long after the movie premiere.

“Screw that!” Kate exclaimed, “Justin Warlock’s no supernatural being.  He’s just a dick who can’t keep it in his pants long enough to get to work on time.  I don’t see what everyone’s so fucking afraid of!”  And with that, she stalked off, leaving her agent to shake his head at his client’s tempestuousness.

Typically, by the time filming commenced, lead actors had already met one another at least a half a dozen times to conduct script read-throughs and navigate press junkets.  However, At First Bite’s Director expressly prohibited his on-screen duo from meeting prior to filming the first scene.  Rather, he desired their initial reactions to one another to be “fresh and unfettered.”  According to the Director, an actor’s and actress’s meeting on the first day of filming should be like a virgin bride’s first encounter with her husband on her wedding night, charged with anxiety and anticipation.  Kate thought that idea was a bunch of crap.  She was no virgin, and she was quite certain Justin wasn’t one either.  But far be it for her to mess with the Director’s “vision.”

Right now, vision or no vision, Kate was ready to have a little chat with El Director about her MIA costar.  When Kate approached “the man in charge,” he was hard at work on the Friday edition of the New York Times Crossword puzzle.  His tongue cradled his upper lip in concentration, as he struggled over one of the tougher clues.  The 40ish gentleman, whose salt and pepper hair, olive complexion and finely muscled physique gave him a George Clooney-type appeal, did not seem at all perturbed that his film was not running on schedule.  In fact, he seemed the picture of relaxation.

“Umm . . . Leo?”

The Director looked up from his puzzle and offered Kate a winning smile.  “Miss McElwain.  You look troubled.  Please, have a seat,” he said, patting a chair next to his own.  “How can I ease your spirits?”

Kate sat gingerly in the chair next to her Director.  Although it was going to take all of the inner strength she could muster, the young actress desperately wanted to appear diplomatic, knowing it was far too early in the game to piss off her boss by appearing too pushy.

“Well,” she started, “I am very eager to begin shooting our first scene.”

The Director laughed, a hearty Santa Claus “Ho, Ho, Ho,” which seemed incongruous with his lean-muscled frame.  “Ahhh, me too, me too,” chortled the Director, “It’s high time we popped that cherry.”

Ughh, more creepy virgin bride references.  Please, just kill me now.  Kate thought, but forced herself to remain courteous.  “Right . . . so the thing is, I was kind of wondering if you knew whether our ‘star’ would be making an appearance on set any time soon?”

“You think I should go get him, right?”  The Director responded, looking at Kate slyly.  “Yeah, I guess I should get him,” he rose from his seat and offered Kate his hand to help her out of the chair, “Come with me?”

Kate had no desire to go anywhere near that trailer, but again she recognized she had to be polite.  “Sure,” she said and followed the Director toward the trailers.  At least something was finally getting done. 

As they approached Justin’s trailer, Kate and the Director could hear the distinct sounds of sex coming from inside the doorway.  Kate was disgusted, but the Director simply appeared amused.  He glanced back at Kate.  “On second thought, why don’t you wait outside,” he said, before quickly climbing the steps and rapping on the door.  There was a brief pause, a few nervous shrieks and a hustle of activity, before the door opened a crack and the Director escaped inside, abruptly shutting the door behind him.

Kate was seething, as she waited outside the trailer alone, her foot tapping incessantly up and down, her arms wrapped tightly across her chest.  After a few moments, the door to the trailer opened.  Four women, all rather cheap-looking in Kate’s estimation, climbed out into the daylight, in various states of undress, each with the same lovesick grins on their faces, and dopey looks in their eyes.  If Kate hadn’t been too nervous about shooting to eat breakfast that morning, she probably would have puked right then and there.

Then the Director re-emerged, but this time with the man of the hour himself, Justin Warlock.  The two seemed to be having an uproariously good time, just yucking it up, which only served to make Kate madder.  Simultaneously, they both noticed her glaring at them and, like insolent school boys, guiltily wiped the shit-eating grins from their mugs.  “I’ll meet you both back on set,” called the Director.  He winked at Kate before briskly walking away, leaving the pair all by themselves.  So much for the “wedding night.”

Justin Warlock approached Kate, not with the confident swagger of a guy who just got laid by four women, but rather with the childlike exuberance of an eight-year old chasing after an ice cream truck.  With his tussled sun-kissed sandy brown hair, uncommonly long eyelashes, and obnoxiously adorable nose, the actor appeared to be nothing like the nymphomaniacal Adonis Kate had read about in the tabloids.  And yet, to the actress’s deep discomfort, Justin’s youthful pretty- boy body definitively smelled of sex.  Annoyed, Kate stared at the floor, desperately trying to avoid her costar’s good mood, which was being broadcast like radio waves from his dimpled smile and impossibly straight Crest advertisement white teeth.

“Wow . . . Kate McElwain!  I’ve been dying to meet you, since, like, forever,” announced Justin in the slightly-raspy voice Kate had heard so many times in movies.  He bowed slightly and held his hand out for Kate to shake.  Kate stared at the abhorrent hand as if it was infested with the intermingled juices of cheaply-perfumed floosies (which it probably was), and took a step back.  She would not be won over so easily.

The ingénue looked up at her nemesis, hands clenched, ready for battle.  Her vitriolic words spilled out of her like bullets shot from a tommy gun.  “OK.  Let’s get something straight, right off the bat.  I get that you’re Mister Sexiest Man Alive, and that you have scripts being thrown at you every day from here to Scandinavia, but some of us actually need this job.  So, in the future, if you need to get your cock sucked by one of the members of your bimbo harem, I’d really appreciate it if you did it on your own time.”

Wow, it felt really good to get that off her chest.  Kate took a deep breath.  Then, she looked up at Justin to gauge his reaction to her outburst.  For a moment, he didn’t appear to react at all.  Then, shock registered on his face.  Clearly, he had never been spoken to like that by anyone before, particularly not a woman.  Kate even worried for a second or two that he might hit her.  Instead, he did something even more unexpected.

Gently, Justin clasped Kate’s hand, looking deep into her blue eyes with his rounded blinking emerald green ones, which seemed as though they should belong to a boy much younger than the actor himself.  “Kate, you are absolutely 100% right . . . about everything.  What I did was completely selfish, unreasonably inconsiderate, and just plain stupid.  You deserve better, and I promise to be better from now on.  I am really . . . truly sorry.”

Unprepared for this type of response, Kate was utterly at a loss for words, and could do nothing but stare back into Justin’s eyes.  Even as Justin delivered his “heartfelt” apology, Kate knew that she was being played.  This guy was totally bullshitting her.  He didn’t mean a word of it.  And yet, while her mind was saying “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit,” on autopilot, her body was responding in another way entirely. 

The warmth from Justin’s hand sent tingles up her spine and throughout her body.  Immediately, her mouth became dry and her knees nearly buckled.  Try as she might, she could not pull herself away from Justin’s entrancing stare and her eyes watered at the unblinking effort.  Suddenly, she had this intense impulse to rip off his shirt and run her hands over his muscled abdominals.  She imagined herself kissing his thin lips as he nibbled on her neck. 

Kate longed to touch the firm bulge in Justin’s designer khakis.  Just moments ago, she hated this man, who seemed to stand in the way of her career and was against everything she stood for.  Now, she couldn’t bear to let go of his hand, which, to her embarrassment, she was gripping tightly with her recently manicured nails.

            And yet, as excited as she was by these feelings, they also frightened her to her very core.  After all, Kate wasn’t the type of girl to go gaga over a man as seemingly shallow as Justin Warlock.  In fact, Kate wasn’t the type of girl to go gaga over any man at all.  You see, Kate McElwain was a lesbian.

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