actors anonymous

Review: Actors Anonymous by James Franco

Review: Actors Anonymous by James Franco

I finished this novel last night and figured I’d better post a review while it’s still fresh in my mind. And that’s because in many ways it reminds me of a graduate course I took senior year in college called Communications and Literature. I was supposed to take this lame senior seminar as a requirement, but with a little foot work and a really cool advisor in the fine arts department who had some national fame at the time (and signed anything I asked him to sign because he knew how hard I worked in his sculpture classes) I figured out a way to bypass the senior seminar and take a graduate course that focused on literature, interpretation, and communications.

The course was so intense the professor admitted on the first day he didn’t get it either, especially the semiotics and semantics. And the reason I’m even mentioning this now is because while I was reading Actors Anonymous I felt as if I’d been transported back to that graduate course all over again. Actors Anonymous, like the graduate course, is the kind of book that needs to be absorbed a certain way, and parsed with an articulate eye. So far, in reading most of the mainstream so-called professional reviews I haven’t seen anyone do that with Actors Anonymous. I’m not talking about Amazon reviews now. I highly respect all customer reviews and everyone has an opinion I respect. I’m only talking about people who get paid to write reviews for mainstream publications, and who should know better. Unfortunately, I guess they didn’t take any grad courses in communications and literature.

One aspect of communications and literature I learned about in the grad course I mentioned above is that we tend to interpret literature differently at various times in our lives. In other words, I might feel completely different about Actors Anonymous ten years from now if I reread it again in the future. If you don’t believe me, revisit a novel you read ten years ago and see if you feel the same way about it. As our lives and circumstances change through the years, we often tend to interpret the books we read in different ways. For me, at this point in my life, I think I appreciated Actors Anonymous as much as I did because as a career fiction writer I understood what was written on the page, and also what was written between the lines of the pages. I probably wouldn’t have felt this way ten years ago.

Due to the fact that Actors Anonymous is so abstract at times I can’t get into a full plot description because the novel doesn’t really follow the normal course of novel writing. I have no doubt it’s fiction for the most part. And yet it’s not an anthology, and I should know because I’ve been in far more anthologies than I can even count at this point. What I thought it did was follow a theme that revolves around acting, the deep need to act almost to the point of addiction, and all the traps that accompany fame and fortune if an actor is successful. And it’s done in a current (and simple) way that I think is about as real as any novel I’ve ever read before. If there were a genre labeled “Reality Fiction,” this would be a perfect fit. There’s no proverbial sugar-coating deal going on here, and in the same respect it wasn’t too over the top in a way I might have questioned.

The book does bounce at times from chapter to chapter, which I thought added more abstract appeal. There’s a chapter with texts discussing a realtor who boasts about things like her glorious adventures to her deep desire for what I thought was supposed to be interpreted as affection. I could be wrong about that, but it was an interesting chapter anyway. And it’s really the way a reader interprets the chapter that matters most. And then there are chapters like McDonalds I and McDonalds II where an unusual guy who seems to drift with the breeze tries to pull his life together by working in fast food and making a few extra bucks on the side by performing sexual favors for some poor unfortunate who’s not going to get laid any other way. In fact, throughout the novel I found many well written sex scenes. But they aren’t sex scenes that are designed to stimulate the reader in a sexual way. Most are raw, they devolve into the darker side of life most struggling artists experience at one point or another, and they often left me wanting to shower (or rinse my mouth with peroxide). However, the fact that they had this brand of clarity only made the novel more intense for me and the overall reading experience.

If I had begun a book like this and found the writing overdone or poorly executed I probably wouldn’t have finished. Thankfully, none of the characters “barked,” in the dialogue tags and no one’s “feet climbed up the stairs.” However, the word economy, the exact way each sentence flows into another, and the structure of the narrative kept me turning each page into the early hours of the several mornings. I would love to have seen the original manuscript without revises just to compare it with the final book. It’s been so well edited and made so tight I couldn’t find one single flaw with the writing. Even the sex scenes worked, and scenes like this in other novels I’ve read tend to be over-written many times. But not once during a single sex scene did I read a sentence like, “He brought her off.” This might sound like a minor detail to many people. But if you read a lot and you know the difference, it’s a huge thing for others.

Whether or not this novel was written to be sarcastic at times could be anyone’s guess. I did detect a hint of snark and WTF-ery in an amusing way (Perez Hilton: smile), but it’s not the first time I’ve seen that in fiction of this nature and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The voice in a general sense kept me reading, even during a few of the bumpy sections where I had to go back and figure out what had happened. For me, that was fun. I have eclectic taste and I like reading abstract works that challenge the norm every once in a while just as much as I sometimes like reading Debbie Macomber. I’ve already recommended Actors Anonymous to people I think will like it as much as I did (or get something out of it), and I’ve cautioned a few who I know would expect something else. As a writer, the one biggest fear I’ve always had was getting nothing but three star mediocre reviews. Because the books that get the most balanced reviews between one star and five always seem to be the most challenging to the reader. They touched a nerve, they made someone think, and whether they pissed someone off or thrilled someone else, the extreme is always what matters most in the end in fiction.

My suggestion to anyone vetting this book for purchase would be to check out all the reviews and read the samples. My warning would be to beware of  all the so-called professional mainstream reviews that talk more about the author and the author’s fame than the actual contents of the book.

I purchased the book in digital format on Amazon for 5.99.

Side note: I think you can retrieve your iTunes if your drive crashes. (It’s in the book.)

James Franco’s Sex Scenes; Adam Levine Sex Appeal; Pastor Found Guilty;

James Franco’s Sex Scenes

I posted before I’m reading James Franco’s new novel, Actors Anonymous, and that I would review it soon. I’ve had a lot of reading to do for work lately and it’s been a slow process to the finish with AA, but I’m down to the final quarter and I just wanted to mention the sex scenes in the book for a few reasons.

I post a lot about erotic romance here because I have over 150 erotic romance books out and that’s what I do. I’ve been doing this since college and I often find myself on the defense when it comes to writing sex scenes in books. Sex that’s considered important to a storyline by some is often considered nothing but pure porn to another. So there’s no disputing the fact that sex in books is subjective. And every single reader and author is going to have a slightly different opinion on the topic. And since there’s no clear cut definition of porn yet, at least not to my knowledge, it becomes even more difficult and subjective.

The reason I’m mentioning the sex scenes in Franco’s novel are purely pragmatic at this point. Franco takes a lot of heat as an author, and it’s not my intention to criticize him now. It’s not a review; it’s only an observation. In the past year erotic romance writers have been dealing with censorship, book banning, and the unusual brand of misinterpretation of their books thanks to search engines that pick up one word and classify a book taboo based on nothing but misinterpretation. And I found it interesting that a book like Franco’s that is so filled with graphic sex scenes has not once been mentioned in any of this controversy. And I’m not talking about sex scenes in a romance that move a story forward. I’m not talking about tender emotional sex scenes that add intimacy to a story. In Franco’s book I’m talking about sex scenes that get down and dirty in ways that stunned me sometimes. It takes a lot to shock me at this point in my life.

I’m going to post a review for Actors Anonymous very soon. But I wanted to post about this because I find it interesting that authors like me get banned for discussing rape culture, innocently, in a book blurb in an academic way and authors like Franco slide right by with books that actually include rape in certain scenes and never once mention rape culture as a sensitive topic to readers. And there is no mention of this in the product description for Franco’s book. If you didn’t know ahead of time these elements are part of the book you would buy it, sit there in shock while one character goes down on another in MacDonalds’ restroom, and wonder what kind of WTF-ery happened to you. And that’s basically the reason authors like me have been going through book banning and censorship recently, because books like Franco’s get pubbed and someone winds up reading something sexual he or she didn’t expect. Then a shitstorm happens, some questionable publications like The Kernel jump onto the porn bandwagon, and authors like me have to makes changes to books that we intended to describe honestly and completely in the first place. I do have a book out that discusses rape culture. But I’m not glorifying rape. I’m talking about a brand of rape culture that affects millions of women and gay men all the time. Yet I get banned and books with rape scenes pass through the proverbial cracks. I just think readers should be aware of this, is all.

On the other hand, I’m actually enjoying Franco’s book and when I post the review I might have a few surprises people didn’t expect. My point is not to complain about Franco or slam anything he’s written. I’m complaining about the way books are sold and presented to readers beforehand. Because in “fixing” my books that were banned so they wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire of search engines, it took a way from the honesty I tried so hard to provide to the reader beforehand. I’ll be posting a free excerpt of what I’m talking about with rape culture on Friday.

Adam Levine Sex Appeal

This morning on my way to the park where I run every day I heard them talking about Adam Levine being dubbed People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. Normally I turn that crap off and listen to music, but I thought the reaction was interesting. One of the DJ’s, a man, didn’t seem too thrilled with Levine as the Sexiest Man Alive. He kept repeating, in a snarky way, “V-neck, stubble, short, high-pitched voice, yeah that’s sexy.” And the other DJ, a woman, kept disagreeing with him.

Personally, I agree with the woman DJ. And I don’t think that sexy is always associated with perfect good looks, height, or the kind of clothes a man wears. Sexy is more instinctive, and it becomes an almost sixth sense for some people…a sixth sense that usually includes all other five senses at the same time. In other words, sexy is more than an image of perfection. And if that wasn’t true all those amateur adult entertainment web sites wouldn’t be so popular.

In this next article it discusses how Levine might have been chosen Sexiest Man Alive, on purpose. Nothing is an accident anymore.

People Magazine‘s annual Sexiest Man Alive is a bloodbath of Hunger Gamesian proportions. Much like Highlander, there can only be one, and this year Maroon 5 frontman and he of the perpetual five o’clock shadow, Adam Levine, has decapitated his way to the front of the pack to earn the prestigious title. With only his sword and shield — his moves like Jagger and sultry/deadly piercing squint — as his guide, here’s how Levine outsexed the competition.
Full story here: http://www.queerty.com/photos-adam-levine-sexiest-man-alive-20131120/#ixzz2lCdWMKoo

Pastor Found Guilty

Earlier this week I posted about a minister who was charged for performing a marriage ceremony for his gay son and husband. Here’s the result:

A jury has pronounced a pastor ‘guilty’ for violating and disobeying church law when he officiated a same-sex marriage for his son.

I know this is now international news, but because it happened in PA I saw clips of it all on my local Philadelphia news and actually got to see the minister and his family on TV. It’s an emotional piece to read, and even more emotional to view because these people are not only brave, but also passionate about their beliefs.

You can read more here.

Actors Anonymous by James Franco; NaNoWriMo

Actors Anonymous by James Franco

After posting about Actors Anonymous by James Franco almost a month ago, I did buy it (on Kindle for iPad in digital) and I finally had some spare time (in between reading for the Rainbow Awards as juror) to get halfway through it. So this is only a partial review of sorts, and only because I think it’s worth discussing from a literary POV.

I’m not going to get into a full review halfway through the book because I think that would be an injustice to any author, however, I do think that readers in this case should pay close attention to the Amazon reviews. There are several one star reviews and if you read between the lines of those one star reviews you’ll see they are actually helping sell the book if you’re looking for something different to read. In other words, some of the actual qualities I prefer in novels like this are discussed in the one star reviews. And that’s because not everyone is qualified to read every single book out there. I’m not being snarky about this; I’m being pragmatic. To put this in a different context, there are people who know the bread plate is on the left at formal dinner parties, there are people who don’t know but want to learn as much as they can, and there are people who don’t care and don’t want to know. I don’t think this falls under subjectivity and personal opinion as much as it does knowledge and education. And while knowledge is by no means a measure of intelligence or ability, it is a measure by which certain standards are set in the world. I personally know nothing about little children, don’t want to know anything about them, and I don’t think I’m qualified to review a kid’s book. So I don’t review kid’s books.

What I found most interesting so far is that each chapter in Actors Anonymous is focused on a different character with a different POV…all revolve around acting. In chapter one, the voice is more cynical and some of the statements made can also be related to life in any of the arts. But it’s the quality of the writing that drew me into this book from page one and has kept me reading this far. Franco has that rare gift of word economy, which lends a more literary appeal to any book. Whether or not he does this on purpose is anyone’s guess, but the book is neat, nothing is every overwritten, and so far I haven’t seen even one of the more horrible aspects of the romance genre like too many adverbs, too much description, and said bookisms like “he mumbled, grumbled, and stumbled,” in the dialogue. So far none of the characters have barked, and no one has climbed the stairs with his/her feet.

In any event, there’s plenty of information out there to decide whether or not this book is for you, but I couldn’t recommend it more at this point and I will follow up with a longer review soon.

You can check it out here on Amazon. I would imagine it’s being sold in old fashioned brick and mortar bookshops as well, but don’t quote me on that.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month, and every year in November millions of writers jump into this with a vengeance. I posted about it last year, here. And so I don’t repeat myself and wind up accused of self-plagiarism I wrote this last year.

Basically, it’s an event that challenges writers to write a novel in one month. I’ve never actually done NaNoWriMo, but I did once write a hetero pg romance novel in three weeks for a special home shopping TV event…with a pen name.

The novel I wrote in three weeks was titled, Loving Daylight, with a pen name, and you can read more about it here. I’m not hiding pen names anymore. I don’t see the point…at least not right now. This novel was never supposed to be a novel I promoted heavily because it was part of a group of romance novels the publisher contracted me to write for the Home Shopping Network’s “Escape to Romance.” You can read more about this here.

The “Escape With Romance Collection” will be the first time that Ravenous is selling printed books to consumers, and there’s another major content shift as well—although the company is best known for its erotic fiction (to the point that some observers complain there’s too much sex in the books for them to be classified as “romance”), editorial director Lori Perkins promises none of the books sold on HSN will include explicit sex scenes. “They are steamy and sexy,” she says in a press release, “but leave a bit more to the imagination in the bedroom.”

I didn’t have to tone my book down because it was original to the collection and I wrote it to be pg rated. The font sizes weren’t altered to make the book look longer. I really did write a 200 page book in two three weeks, from scratch. It wasn’t meant to be promoted heavily because I was paid a flat fee up front to write it in three weeks and it nearly killed me. I’m not joking about that, and I’m not veering off course from the topic of NaNoWriMo. Because that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: testing yourself as an author/writer to see if you can write a good book in one month’s time. And although I will NEVER agree to write a 60,000 word book from scratch in three weeks again because it severed my last gay nerve at the time, I do look back on this as a positive challenge and I’m glad I did agree to do it. At the time, I tried to back out a day after I agreed, but the publisher talked me into it. No regrets. At least I know I can do it if I have to do it.

And this year when I started seeing NaNoWriMo mentioned again all over social media, it brought back all those memories. I even saw one author friend I’ve known for a while, Jill Elaine Hughes, post this on facebook yesterday. I asked for her permission to use it:

Those of you doing NaNoWriMo, good luck. FYI, I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo every month for the past ten years. And finishing novels on average of every 2.5 months. Just so you know it will often trigger an incurable addiction. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

That part about triggering an addiction is true, I usually write a novel every two months, too. But I think the addiction part is only true if you are a true writer, not just an author. And by that I mean your life has to revolve around writing, not authoring. Being an author is a big part of being a career writer, but it’s not everything. And I’m talking about writing anything, from a romance novel to non-fic book that covers the color blue. Because that’s what writers do: they sit down and write…anything they can write and anything they think people will be willing to read. And they love doing this.

So if you are taking part in NaNoWriMo this year don’t even think for one second you’re wasting your time. You’ll get a chance to test yourself and to see how much you can accomplish in one month. But in the same respect, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish. We all work at our own pace and that’s not something we can change.