My Picks – Oscars 2017

As per the rules for my Online Oscar Contest, here are my picks. It’s not too late to join in and win a book or some sweet Amazon monies! For those who enter, know that I’m going to watch the show tomorrow night (recorded), so results will go out some time on Tuesday.

I saw almost all of the Best Picture nominees this year. Tough choices. When in doubt, Hollywood loves a good movie about Hollywood. La La Land to sweep!

Best Picture (3 pts): La La Land

Directing (2 pts): Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Original Screenplay (2 pts): Manchester by the Sea

Adapted Screenplay (2 pts): Arrival

Leading Actor (2 pts): Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Leading Actress (2 pts): Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Supporting Actor (2 pts): Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Supporting Actress (2 pts): Viola Davis – Fences

Production Design (1 pt): La La Land

Documentary Feature (1 pt): O.J. Made in America

Documentary Short(1 pt): The White Helmets

Animated Short(1 pt): Piper

Live Action Short Film (1 pt): Silent Nights

Foreign Language Film (1 pt): The Salesman (Iran)

Animated Feature (1 pt): Kubo and the Two Strings

Film Editing (1 pt): La La Land

Sound Editing (1 pt): La La Land

Sound Mixing (1 pt): La La Land

Cinematography (1 pt): La La Land

Visual Effects (1 pt): Kubo and the Two Strings

Costume Design (1 pt): Jackie

Makeup and Hairstyling (1 pt): A Man Called Ove

Original Score (1 pt): La La Land – Justin Hurwitz

Original Song (1 pt): City of Stars – La La Land

JS Best Books of 2016

Let me get this out of the way up front: These are not the best books of the year by any metric other than “what I enjoyed most.” If you’re looking for a great read and you trust my tastes, this post is for you.

I’ve done book recommendations for three years running now, usually before Christmas, but with my Big Move I didn’t have time to post about the previous year’s literary gems until now. Enjoy!

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The perfect image to talk about some great books and to put in a quick plug for the online Oscar contest I’m running. Join in, win free books!

1) First up is a book I’ve loved for a long time, but re-read in 2016. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is hard to categorize, but perhaps could be called a “Fictional Memoir.” Transcending the genre of war literature, this novel (or, arguably, collection of stories) is more a treatise on what it means for a story to be true. Highly recommended for lovers of storytelling and its impact on us as people.

2) Next is Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith. Nick is one of my writer buddies, and this is the start to his latest series. For my money, Nick is really hitting his stride as a writer here. This book has a unique hook and it hits hard. Book 2 releases this summer and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes with this world and these characters.

3) Bun by Brian Silveira and Lisa Nguyen is the bizarre and beautiful brainchild of my cover artist for SUPERPOWERED and PATHOGENS in partnership with his wife. After reading book one, I have to say: Brian, you have been holding back on my covers! The art on these pages are creative, detailed, stunning, and masterful. You can read the book for free online, but I’d highly recommend reaching out for a printed copy.

4) Finally, a book I listened to as I’m gearing up to write my fifth Click Your Poison novel, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Alfred Molina was the narrator and did an incredible job, but that’s not the reason this book made my list. I’ve read/listened to a lot of classics, but this is one of the few that doesn’t dip into “widow dressing” (describing a scene ad nauseam). It’s also the progenitor for all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the restaurant Long John Silver’s, and basically our entire “Talk Like a Pirate” day culture.

Honorable Mentions

I read Best Food Writing 2015 edited by Holly Hughes as part of a book club last year, and there are some fantastic, thought-provoking stories in there. Some of the authors do an amazing job of relating new perspectives on food culture. However, I can’t 100% recommend it, because there were a few stories inside that weren’t quite to my…tastes.

I almost loved Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I think I wanted it to either be funnier or more insightful. Though it’s a short read with a little of both, so feel free to pick it up and judge for yourself. Or grab the audiobook and let Aziz make fun of you for being too lazy to read…


So, what do YOU think? Have you read any of the titles listed? Any suggestions for me?

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2017 Online Oscar Pool

Although I’m now living in the UK and will certainly not be watching live, I still have my online competition to turn to. That’s right — It’s time for the 4th Annual, James Schannep Oscar competition!

If you beat my predictions for the 2017 Academy Awards, I’ll gift you or a friend an e-copy of a Click Your Poison book. The highest scoring participant also gets a $10 giftcard to Amazon.com.

All you have to do is fill out the form below before showtime on Feb 26th (I’ll post mine online before then too) to qualify.

The complete list of the nominees can be found here.


























If I messed something up, please let me know in the comments.


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What I love (so far) About Living in the UK

I’ve been living in England for two months now and I’m in love. I wouldn’t want you thinking it’s been all sunshine and rainbows (though, I’ll let you know when I see either), so I already got my early complaints out of the way.

Now, onto some of the good. It’s deep into winter and the short, cold January days are in full effect. So, like Julie Andrews, these are just a few of my favorite things:

The green
Yeah, it rains. A lot. But guess what that means? Greenery! While I love the mild weather of California and the seasonal changes of Colorado, nothing is more droll and dreary in winter than a brown countryside. Just look at this photo taken in the dead of winter:

Pastoral in the extreme, if such a thing is possible.
Pastoral in the extreme, if such a thing is possible.

The footpaths & walking
As my friends and family can begrudgingly attest, I am a walker. My favorite form of transportation is my own two feet. In fact, one of the top considerations I look for when house-hunting is an area’s “walkability” score. I asked if there was a similar system here and I received some pretty confused looks. Why? Because just about every place you can live is walkable to something or other. In fact,  the farmer’s fields are criss-crossed with public access trails known as “public footpaths.” I’ve just purchased an ordinance survey map of my area so I can explore all the ones nearby!

A lovely hike with an even lovelier lady.

Dog lovers!
We’ve had to do a bit of travelling with pets in-tow, but what a great place to do it. Oh, you have a dog? Sure, she can stay in the room. Bring her in the pub for dinner! I was blown away when our doggie was invited into a historic cathedral hundreds of years old.

Don’t mind me, just taking the dog for a walk…

The history
There’s a story around every corner here. Whether it’s the neighborhood we’ve settled in, which claims to be the oldest parish in England, or the Roald Dahl museum down the road, there is so much to see and explore. I popped my head into a castle when we were visiting Lincolnshire and, oh what do we have here? Just one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta!

I could get used to this.

The localism
Sure, there are chains (yes, McDonald’s has a foothold here), but so much of everything is local. From the pubs, food and ale, to the shops and community events. You can really tell this country has village roots. Each town has a “High Street” where you’re sure to find shops and food of all sorts.

Sometimes you'll find a misplaced Victorian timetraveller.
Sometimes you’ll find a misplaced Victorian time traveler.

The literary connection
Sure, they invented the language, but there’s more to it than that. Being near the birthplace of the classical masters, where this is a High Profession, brings out the creative spirit. Check out my visit in Oxford:

The people

Perhaps it’s because I’m a charming American (and I am certainly one of those things), but I’ve found the people here to be friendly and open. Sure, I’m not living in downtown London, but it’s nice when your neighbors say hello and you can make new friends just by sitting in the pub. To you, new friends, thanks for making a foreigner feel welcomed!

That’s it for now. Guess I’d better head out and make some more favorites…


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Glad to see me enjoying the sites?

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What the deuce is taking so long? (UK trials & tribulations)

Not that I’ve heard anyone utter that phrase, but I figured “bloody hell” might not be appropriate in a blog title.

Culture shock is a thing. Oddly enough, I didn’t experience it much during my first few weeks, but perhaps that’s because I’m used to being a tourist. Now that I’ve been in a foreign country for the longest span in my adult life (that’ll be two full months on Thursday), I’m forced to deal with the minutia of a different country.

At THE Rosetta Stone! #museums #rosettastone #polymath #artifact #history #artifacts #culture #touchstone

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Nothing shocking about that — except the shock and awe!

Sure, it’s weird being told I have an accent. And the food and beer might be different. But those things can be charming (and delicious!).

What’s less fun is the snail’s pace at which capitalism operates here. I mean, this is an island nation that could fit inside Texas and it gets the same degree of cellphone coverage as west Texas.

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Shouldn’t this whole place be glowing green like some kind of radioactive wasteland?!

Feel free to make your arguments about which side of the road is technically the “right” side, or how many words the letter “u” needs to be present in, or whether or not cheese is a dessert or an appetizer — BUT — one thing is for certain. USA reigns supreme when it comes to taking your money.

Here’s what I mean:

We found a place to live. Great! How soon can we move in?
Well, let’s see, today is the 6th of December. It’ll take a few days to draw up the application, run the proper checks and whatnot. But no one really wants to clean carpets or touch up paint over Christmas, so…
We’re living in a hotel with our dog and cat. They can paint with us in there. Seriously, how soon?
Well, if you’re in a hurry we can really speed things up and get you in on the 7th of January!

A rental agency in the US would get you in your house in a week, tops. Or, how’s this one:

Hi, Toyota dealership! We saw a car on your website that we’d like to buy. Let’s make it happen!
Well, I’ll have to check if that’s on the lot. Let me ask you some questions about the kind of car you want to buy.
Umm, this one. Here, look on my phone.
Well, I told you, I’d need to see if that’s here.
Can you…go do that, then?
Well, yes, but only if I can finish my questionnaire first.
Okay…
(later) Brilliant! We have the car.
Great! We’ll take it. Here’s a loan approval letter from a UK bank.
How does next week sound?
For what?
For buying the car.
We don’t own a car yet, I was hoping for sooner.
Well, then, how does *early* next week sound?

Yeah. The US would have you drive the car off the lot and the salesman would be treated to a steak dinner that very night.

Hi, I’m currently on a month-to-month plan for mobile phone service and I’d like to set up a yearly contract.
Well, you’d need a UK billing address first.
Okay, I’ll set that up. How about now?
Well, you need a UK credit card.
I use my US card for the month-to-month…
Right. That doesn’t matter. You need a UK card for this.
Okay, can I get a UK credit card?
No. You have no credit history in the UK. In fact, you’ll need to sign for all your purchases every time you use a US credit card (but no one else has to do that so don’t expect anyone to have a pen or even know what’s happening!) and if you go to Costco, be prepared to bring a suitcase full of money.
Okay, I guess I’ll just keep paying month-to-month like a drug dealer. Thanks!

If you think a US phone company would let you out of their doors without a phone contract, internet, and cable TV, then you’ve never seen true capitalism at work.

The reason I’m writing (whining) about this is twofold. One, I just finally got internet!

Hi, I’d like to give you money. i can haz nternets, plz?
You’re in luck! We’ll get you set up in two weeks!
Lulz

And two, because all my stuff we shipped from the US on November 14th still isn’t here yet. Well, that’s not entirely true. My household goods are in this country, I’m told, but customs isn’t ready to release them to us yet. Instead I get to answer questions like, “Does the pancake mix listed on your inventory contain dried eggs or dairy?”

Here’s an email I received yesterday, verbatim:

Customs have come back to us and they have asked: All seeds- Are these for planting or eating?
Hello, The seeds are excess gardening (planting seeds). There are not very many and I’m not even sure we’d use them. But we’d be willing to eat, plant, or burn them if we can get our household goods faster! Thanks for your help.

And that was literally my response, which probably means I have another month before I’m neck-deep in cardboard.

Okay, that’s it. Rant over. And yes, I realize I’m complaining about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that parallel-universe me would kill this-universe me for.

But that’s what blogging’s for, right? Thanks for letting me vent. Now to end it on a positive. If there’s one area that the UK crushes the US on, it’s the prevalence of puns. They’re everywhere. This was on my neighborhood walk:

Well done, England. #Pun #Buckinghamshire #Puns #punsoutgunsout #punsfordays #ducks #duckinghamshire

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Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Feel my pain? Or am I a spoiled American?

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Can’t Wait for Rogue Two!

I saw Rogue One on Friday and now that I’ve let it digest a bit I’m ready to share my thoughts. This is going to be a spoilerific post, so if you haven’t seen the movie, please, please, please bookmark this for later and watch the movie first.

We finally have a good Star Wars prequel. Huzzah! Let that sink in. No, not my use of “huzzah,” but the fact that this is the first good Star Wars prequel. And, yes, that is a fact. We can debate just how good the movie is or isn’t, but it’s clearly leagues beyond the three of which we do not speak.

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Now for some opinion: By my tastes, this was a competently executed Star Wars movie that did a lot right. Some people on my social media feeds are saying this movie is better than The Empire Strikes Back, to which I say, “You need to re-watch Empire, my friend. That is one of the few examples of a perfect movie.”

If I had to rank the current films, I’d go with:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. Return of the Jedi
  4. Rogue One
  5. The Force Awakens
  6. Et al.

But–just as ecstatic as I was after Ep VII–I’m incredibly overjoyed by the little to no Prequel references (see below for a notable exception) in Rogue One and even more excited to finish my Reboot the Prequel scripts before the next movie.

What Made the Grade

Tarkin’s return. Others have debated the morality of resurrecting a dead actor, so let me just say it was a bold choice. And as far as digital humans, none have looked better.

People other than Jedi are attuned to the Force. Though I’m sure a society that can print out new hands can probably cure blindness, I’m willing to let that go because it could have been a choice on this character’s part. He did seem to have a quite useful “second sight” anyhow.

-Added to the mythology. Great sequels (and prequels) improve upon the originals. This did so by showing us the “alliance” aspect of the Rebel Alliance. Even better was taking what was essentially a bemoaned plot hole in the Death Star’s weakness and gave it meaning. Star Wars is very much about family legacy, and this movie hit those beats well.

What Didn’t

-The Force is too well-known. We could write-off Luke’s ignorance of The Force due to his upbringing on a backwater planet, but Han Solo has traveled the galaxy and still he finds the idea of The Force laughable. Yet, in this movie, all the characters seem to know the nature of The Force like something they’ve all grown up with. Pretty sure I heard “May The Force Be With You” nearly a dozen times over the course of two hours. The Jedi are supposed to be an ancient religion, and should be portrayed more as a secret society.

-Too many (pointless) Cameos. Every time a character from the Original Trilogy appeared on screen (which was often!) it felt like the movie stopped so the director could wink at me. The “tough guys” who are at the Mos Eisley cantina in Ep IV bumping into our heroes on Jedha was waaaaay over the top. So, let me get this right. They’re walking around, looking for fights, but manage to escape this city’s destruction just in time to hightail it across the galaxy and go looking for more fights in the exact same bar our next heroes happen to visit? Seems legit.

-Referenced the Prequels rather than Ep VII. Adding Jimmy Smits (Bail Organa from the prequels) wasn’t the worst choice ever, though it did reference the wrong movies. If the goal was to strengthen the brand, why not something to tie in the other Disney SW series? Here’s an idea: Instead of Darth Vader taking a bath in Sauron’s castle, he could be doing something useful. Maybe where “The Knights of Ren” are vaguely mentioned, thus strengthening Kylo Ren’s “I will finish what you started” line.

-Low stakes (we knew the outcome). I needed something else to root for. I knew that they would succeed in their mission to steal the Death Star plans, so there weren’t any stakes in that mission. If there was something else, new and also important that the characters were striving for, I might have inched closer to the edge of my seat.

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Circling back, let me emphasize that I really enjoyed the movie. It put the “war” back in Star Wars. Darth Vader against Rebel troopers was amazing. Some great actors added gravity to the story-world. And it left the grounds for a prequel reboot more fertile than ever.



Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Love the movie? Hate it? Meh?

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An American Writer in England

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So…guess what? I’m living in England. Oh, the blog title gave it away? Bloody hell.

I wish I could have blogged about my “Brentrance” a long time ago, but it was a real hustle just to release my fourth book before leaving the country.

I’ve now been in the United Kingdom for two weeks now, but just getting here has been such an ordeal that I feel like I’m only finally able to catch my breath. A book launch is my busiest part of the year, and that was on top of all the logistics of uprooting my life and preparing to replant it half a world away.

Not that I’m unfamiliar with the life of a wandering troubadour. I’ve moved fairly often over the last three decades; growing up as an Army brat before joining the Air Force myself and ultimately ending up as an Air Force spouse (that’s how this whole thing came about, my wife’s job). All told, if I’m counting correctly, this is my thirteenth move.

But moving countries was a whole other experience entirely.

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Photo by Kristi Celaya, who recently started blogging about her own UK journey and inspired me to get back to blogging. Read her awesome blog. 

I think I could probably start my own country with less paperwork than it took to move to the United Kingdom. The worst bit was probably bringing our pets with us. Fortunately, we were able to avoid quarantine, but the bureaucratic minefield leading up to it bordered on the absurd (and absurdly expensive — Merry Christmas, sweetie! I got you our cat and our dog this year).

I could bore you with the red tape details, but that’s not the interesting or important part, is it? The point is — we made it! We’re all here and we’re here for three years. And during that time, I’ll try to be better about blogging. After all, this is the experience of a lifetime! I’ll still be writing my books over here, of course, and I’m still working on my ultra-nerdy screenplay project, but now I get to try and set up author events in this part of the world too. I’m so incredibly excited to live here that I can barely put it into words.

In the next few days and weeks I’ll talk about the cultural differences, meeting new friends, finding a place to live, and of course — travelling.

I hope you’ll follow me on my journey!


 

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Surprised? Excited? ME TOO!

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