Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Doubling Down

A few weeks ago, the epicurians at that finest of restaurants known as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC to us lesser mortals) released the single greatest invention since homo sapiens realized they needed food or food-like substances for survival.

Coming down from the mountains of heaven with a cheap cardboard box of greasy, gooey goodness, the product creators at KFC bestowed upon us the Double Down. Unfamiliar with this most delicious of gastrointestinal delights? Let me break it down for you:

Step 1: Take two boneless, fried chicken filets, and cover them with cheese.

Step 2: Add bacon. Everything is better with bacon. Do not question it. If I need to explain the presence of bacon, we have failed as a culture.

Step 3: Slather on Colonel Sauce. What is Colonel Sauce? My best guess is that Colonel Sauce is 1/3 mayonaise, 1/3 MSG, 1/3 nuclear waste, and 7/3 awesome. It is the best part of the Double Down, without question. A few too many of these things and people will be showing up at their local KFC asking for buckets of Colonel Sauce. Hold the chicken, bacon, and cheese.

Step 4: Put it together, sandwich-style. Do not add a bun. I repeat: DO NOT ADD A BUN. Such a genius creation need not be sullied with mere bread.

Step 5: Enjoy.

At this point, many people are probably wondering: yeah, I know how a sandwich is made, but is it any good?

Fear not. I am here to say that yes, it is. I first ordered it with much trepidation, expecting it to taste like the cardboard and paper that housed it. I could not have been more wrong. The Double Down could use more bacon, but outside of that it is delicious all the way through. Eating a Double Down is like tasting the very essence of quality fast food itself. All the flavors combine in each bite to form a greasy, tasty, awesome foray into dinner. Add in potato wedges and a drink (diet, of course), and it is truly a meal for the ages.

Sure, it has a lot of calories, but so does every other item ever sold at a fast food restuarant. Ingesting any kind of salt for a week after eating the Double Down is probably not recommended, but that's the price one must pay for deliciousness.

A new era of fast food has dawned. Heaven, thy name is Double Down.
-Tommy Morgan Jr.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Thinking 'Bout Hanson

The three brothers from Tulsa known as Hanson have progressed significantly from their 1997 debut Middle of Nowhere. On June 8, the trio will release its fifth full-length studio album, Shout it Out.

This new album features the single "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'," whose music video has made a huge splash on MySpace since its release on April 14. The music video is an homage to the classic film The Blues Brothers, and a musical tribute to the '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll they grew up with and were inspired by.

Thinking 'Bout Somethin'

HANSON | MySpace Music Videos

Much of the hype for "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" has been generated by drummer Zac Hanson, who has used Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. In order to get more people watching the video, he set up a contest: 250,000 views by April 16 would secure one re-tweeter with a Shout it Out painting. The goal was met within 45 hours, and the video has since reached over 740,000 views.

Hanson is a band that likes to maintain close communication with its fans, and this aggressive use of social networking to increase publicity for their new music has been incredibly successful, and proves that Hanson still has a significantly large, strong fan base all over the world.

Since the video's release, Hanson has secured performance spots on "The Today Show" and "The late Show with David Letterman." Whether this is partly due to the band's clever use of social networking sites is unknown, but is certainly a possibility. Regardless, it's quite a testament to the power of the Internet to spread the word about new music.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Complete Q & A with 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding

Paul Harding, currently a visiting faculty member of the UI Writers' Workshop (and graduate in 2000), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on Monday for his novel, Tinkers. He's the 17th graduate of the UI Writers' Workshop to win a Pulitzer.

Mr. Harding was gracious enough to do an interview with me yesterday over the phone. And let's just say, to put it lightly, Mr. Harding was still on cloud nine and extremely excited. Then again, who wouldn't be? He just won a %$#!in' Pulitzer!

How’s the week been? Hundreds of interviews?

I’m doing very well. Very busy, but in a state of euphoria that’s existed throughout the week.

I haven’t had a moment to sit down and think about it. Within 30 seconds of finding out that the book had won, the Associated Press was on the phone. It shows no signs of letting up, either. Right now, it’s just go, go, go.

I read that no one told you that you won? Where were you when you found out?

The Pulitzer folks don’t call any of the winners ahead of time to notify them. They pick the winners and they compile them, and then they just post it on their website.

I just logged on. Being a writer, I knew the prize was coming out, and being interested in it, I thought I might know someone who won, all that stuff. So I checked it, and when I saw *Tinkers* it was this weird, cognitive, dissonance thing. I just kept seeing Pulitzer, *Tinkers*, Pulitzer, *Tinkers*, and kept thinking “that’s not true, that’s not true, I’m looking at the wrong website.”

And then it hit me, “no, you just actually won the Pulitzer Prize,” and I fell off the couch basically. It was just astonishing.

Your win has been very surprising to the literary world, seeings as *Tinkers* is from a small publisher and did not even receive a review in the NYT. What does it say about small press?

Well, they give out a ton of Pulitzers, but I think that’s why this one is getting so much attention because it sort of came out of nowhere. That’s remarkable in and of itself, but there’s a lot of people who are passionate about reading, literature, and book-selling, and I think it’s encouraging to them because it makes them feel like small presses still represent a legitimate part of the viability and the lifeblood of American arts. They’re still connected with these larger prizes that go on. It’s very validating for all these people who do it for the love it, you know?

Lots of folks are calling this a victory for the small press, and are so happy you won because it’s not the typical book. It’s lyrical. It’s stream of consciousness. Do you believe your win breathes some new life into the Pulitzer competition or opens up more doors?

That I don’t know. I don’t know if it opens more doors, but I think that *Tinkers* and Bellevue Literary Press getting a Pulitzer is the open door itself in some ways. I don’t really know and can’t really speak to how it would change the Pulitzer competition. The underlying anxiety with a lot of these things is that people think these prizes are already a lock a lot of times. So I think what this does is it says, “no, it’s not a lock,” and this and hopefully other prizes are open to just the books that they think are good.

A lot of times I think people can get freaked out by thinking, okay if this person won it then who lost it. This is one where it looks like the dark horse or the underdog got the big prize this time, and I think there’s something lovely about that.

Since you’re a graduate of the Writers’ Workshop, how has that and Iowa City played into your writing life and career?

When I was accepted here, I had just started writing. I think my application was the second and third short story that I tried to write. And for some miraculous reason, and I must say that I didn’t know how to write, and God bless him, Frank Conroy, the director of the Workshop at the time, saw my stuff and saw something in there that made him think “this guy should be here, and we’ll shape him up the next few years.”

And that’s what happened. And it was impossible to have better teachers, or better people, modeling what it means to be a writer, what it means to live the life of a writer, and what’s at stake and how high you have to raise your game in order to create literature and aspire to writing at the highest level. They’re people that I deeply love. They’ve all become friends. They’re people who every time I see them they just make me happy again to be a writer, you know? I want to write, I want to sit around and talk about art, talk about music, painting, writing, and ideas, and then write creative fiction.

Since I was so green when I started here, it was the best possible two year preparation. When I left, I was armed with all the best tactics and ideas and approaches to becoming a writer. So that’s what I set out to do.

So it’s essential. It’s fundamental. The germination of everything happens at the workshop for me. 

What was the process like to get *Tinkers* published? It took a few years, right?

Yeah, I’d written a pretty full, polished first draft of it probably by the end of 2004, 2005. I couldn’t get it published, so I put it away in the desk drawer for a couple years and went on to the next thing. Then it ended up getting published, almost by accident, when Erica Goldman, the editor at Bellevue, and I made a connection just by chance.

Yeah, it did take a long time, but I feel like although *Tinkers* is brand new to everyone else and I’m brand new to everyone else, and it’s a first novel, that sort of thing, but I’ve sort of doggily been going along at this for awhile now. It’s nice because, as knocked out as I am right now by all of this, I feel like what the prize does is it authenticates and encourages me to keep going along the same exact way that I’ve always been. It’s great positive reinforcement and I don’t need to change anything right now. It all worked out.

Personally, when I think, jeesh I won the Pulitzer, now I think, what do I have to do now to deserve this? It’s great, because it’s like, well, keep being humble and keep just doing what you’ve been doing, you know? Don’t change a thing. 

How does it feel to be, from an outside eye, considered on the same level as writers like Marylinne Robinson or other Pulitzer winners and be considered an equal to those who taught you?

To me, it’s a nonissue because I’ll never be an equal to those people. To me, getting the Pulitzer does not change where I feel like I am in relationship to all those other people. I don’t think that it objectively puts me on par with Marylinne Robinson or others. I mean, I will be included with in that role, on that list of other Pulitzer winners, so I’m among that number for that reason. But to me, all those people are my superiors, that’s just how I experience it. Because they’re my mentors. I don’t even think about it in those terms. 

Last question -- favorite place to eat in Iowa City?

I’d have to say the place that I eat the most is probably the Hamburg Inn. A lot of workshop dinners happen at the Motley Cow, and they have beautiful food as well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

When I heard that there was going to be a Sex and the City movie in 2008, I was skeptical and annoyed that the creators were going to ruin the essence of the sitcom by trying to capture the best things about the show in a film. After seeing it (twice) I was pleasantly surprised. Everything was bigger, better and more sparkly than the show, but the characters remained the same lovable people.

A year or so later, a sequel was announce. At that, a very vaguely advertised sequel was announced. The original trailer for Sex and the City 2 was nothing more than the four ladies sauntering toward the camera in couture outfits. Two thoughts came to my mind:
1. The first movie was so popular that the producers did not need to reveal any of the plot in the second one to encourage people to see it.
2. The second movie is going to suck so much that producers want to use the name alone as an advertisement to maintain a fan base.

Then, about a week ago I saw an updated trailer. And let me tell you, I am like a moth drawn to a flame. Yes I admit it, I am a big SATC fan. After seeing this trailer, I can't wait to see what will happen. This is either a matter of great marketing or great producing/writing. I am hoping for the latter.

After watching that, here are the top 10 reasons I MUST see this movie:
1. The costume design!
2. Are Carrie and Big going to have a baby?
3. Who is Samantha's new man?
4. Have Miranda and Steve worked out their issues from the last m0vie?
5. Why does Miley Cyrus get a cameo?
6. AIDEN?! Ahh how I have missed him...
7. Will Carrie cheat on Big?
8. Is Stanford getting married? To whom? He totally deserves to be happy.
9. Will Charlotte poop her pants in this movie too?
10. Why are they going to Abu Dhabi of all places? (Although, I guess it does look pretty amazing.)

Call me shallow/pathetic for acting like I know these people personally. All I have to say is, you need to find cheap thrills from somewhere and this is one of my self-admitted vices.

-By Hannah Kramer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chelsea's What?

I love Chelsea Handler despite what my "Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang" book review might suggest. Tonight is the 500th episode of her tv-show, Chelsea Lately. E! has been giving the show hype all week. So with all the excitement building, I decided to give the show my first try at a live blog. We'll see how it goes.

10:02 p.m. Chuy is my favorite. Who else would jump over tacos on a scooter? If you think of anyone, please let me know.
10:04 p.m. Joy Koy is on this episode!! He's my favorite comedian. He better make me, and the 500th episode proud.

10:06 p.m. Chelsea's first story is about Justin Bieber, her someday boyfriend. In case you all missed it a couple weeks ago, little Justin made the move on Chelsea. It even got publicity in Star (I think that's the one) calling Chelsea a cougar.

10:08 p.m. The first joke about Joy Koy being gay. Chelsea always accuses him of being gay, and he always denies it. Honestly, I don't know who to believe.

10:14 p.m. Chelsea just called Kate Gosselin a bad mother. I don't agree. Well at least I used to think Kate was a good mom. Who knows now that she's Dancing With The Stars...

10:20 p.m. A third round-table?! What?! Normally I love the round-table conversations, but these ones seem to go nowhere tonight

10:22 p.m. Chuy is doing Chelsea's performance review. He just called her phone a Blueberry. Loves it.

10:24 p.m. Chuy just told Chelsea she needs to get laid. Don't you want your own nugget, personal assistant?
10:29 p.m. Chuy ends the show in a martini glass, dressed as an olive. Chuy officially made the show tonight.

Based off this episode, everyone is probably wondering how the show made it to 500 episodes. If it weren't for the other, oh 480, episodes that I have watched, I would be wondering the samething. Here's a note for you, Chels: all of the things you hype up-- like this episode and your book "Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang"-- are disappointments. Big accomplishments just don't work for you. Stick to your normal day activites. They're much more successful.
-Josie Jones

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gaga, oh la la! One billion views!

It was reported by last Thursday, March 25, that Lady Gaga is the first music artist to reach one billion online video views. If this seems like a completely ludicrous number, here are some statistics to break it down a bit:

Three Lady Gaga music videos, "Poker Face," "Just Dance," and "Bad Romance," have each amassed close to or over 300 million views each on the Internet. It's clear with this kind of upward trajectory, Lady Gaga won't be slowing down any time soon, according to this CNN article.

With these and several other music videos under her belt, Gaga is credited with reviving the barely breathing music video industry. Since MTV has become mostly reality-show based, video lovers can get their kicks on YouTube or VEVO. Her latest, "Telephone" featuring Beyoncé, caused a stir that no video has in quite a long time, with its strong sexual and violent nature.

What's more, the CNN article also states that nearly 25 percent of VEVO users visit the site only to see Lady Gaga. If that isn't star power, I don't know what is.

For now Gaga holds the only spot in the one billion views club, but with Soulja Boy and the saga close behind, she may not be alone for long. She's controversial, and knows how to get the world's attention, which has made her as big as she is. The widespread curiosity of what she'll do next is sure to keep her at the top of the public's media mindset for the foreseeable future.