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Did 50 Shades of Grey start out as Twilight fan fiction?

12 May

I’m a terrible one for impulse purchases. I go to the store for a bottle of milk and somehow arrive home with a magazine, strawberries and a packet of Menz Choccy Snakes (not a sponsored plug, I just love them!).

So it was no surprise today when a trip to the local shopping centre for shoes (red, suede, divine) extended into a book-buying frenzy.

Top of the list was 50 Shades of Grey.

I had held off on buying the novel simply because I had been ferociously busy (and was admittedly re-reading The Hunger Games trilogy for the billionth time). But when I saw it on special for less than $10 the decision was made; I love a book bargain and was also curious to investigate the hype, which has labeled the multimillion seller as ‘mommy porn’ for its explicit and risqué depiction of an S&M relationship between a billionaire businessman and a young female student.

As always, I read a chapter or two at the back first, and while the intimate scenes were quite graphic, I didn’t find them as boundary pushing as expected. Probably because I have the open mind/seen-it-all-before mentality of the typical journalist. But what I did find intriguing was the suggestion the novel had started out as a piece of Twilight fan fiction.

For those who don’t know, fan fiction is, like the name suggests, where fans take established characters from books, movies, TV shows etc and write their own stories around them.

This can serve several purposes, from simply the desire to be creative to a chance to bring together two characters a writer thought should have ended up together. Needless to say there’s been plenty of words devoted to Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings and Harry and Hermione from the Harry Potter series. There’s even one or two about Harry and Dobby, but frankly I’ve never been interested enough to go there.

Anyway, when I looked into it, I discovered author EL James – whose erotica series continues with Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed – did indeed first draw inspiration from Stephenie Meyer’s tale of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. As her agent, Valerie Hoskins, told Deadline Hollywood

This did start as Twilight fan fiction, inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s wonderful series of books. Originally it was written as fan fiction, then Erika decided to take it down after there were some comments about the racy nature of the material. She took it down and thought, ‘I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve got a couple of unpublished novels here. I will rewrite this thing, and create these iconic characters, Christian and Anna’. If you read the books, they are nothing like Twilight now.’

Thankfully she also lost the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon.

Read an excerpt from the book here.

PS: Yes, Hollywood has snapped up the movie rights. Will be very interesting to see who they cast…

Where did the term WAG come from?

10 May

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I’m in the middle of launching my own magazine called (insert brazen plug here) Regional Foodie Sunshine Coast.

As part of that I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer, anything up to 21 hours in a row. And since I play TV for background music the way some people play actual music, I’ve been exposed to a LOT of crap TV.

Now, among the ‘gems’ (air quotes intended) I’ve stumbled across is WAG Nation, which seems to involve professional sporting girlfriends doing, well, I’m not quite sure what, other than having staged telephone calls and chats while wearing admittedly gorgeous frocks.

There’s one or two who seem to have real spunk and are down to earth with careers/achievements of their own, but a few seem to exist only as an addition to their partner and the perks such a status enjoys in a country where sportsmen are treated as living gods.

And it left me with one question to ponder. Well two actually.

The first, of course, being why the hell didn’t I turn it off?

The second being exactly where the term WAG – short for wives and girlfriends – originated from.

And it seems we have the British media to thank as the tabloid press originally coined the name to describe the wives and girlfriends of the English soccer team.

Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it…

“A selection of overpublicised, vacuous anorexics found lurking at football matches, easily distinguished by their orange skin tone and high body plastic index, ostensibly present for the purpose of pleasuring the England football team, but in reality with the intention of being photographed obtaining fashion advice from chief WAG Mrs Beckham in the hope that this will lead to a future appearance on “celebrity love island”.

Wow, such lives of satisfaction. And to think some women concern themselves with doing apparently pointless stuff such as earning their own salary or having their own achievements to celebrate.

Perhaps we all just need to get ourselves to a football ground.

Who invented knock-knock jokes?

13 Apr

As I’ve explained before, my brain works in very strange ways, so I draw inspiration for my daily knowledge hunt from all sorts of stimulants. Purely legal ones, though, I must point out – from TV shows and books to song lyrics and even gossip websites.

But even I can’t explain today’s train of thought. It seemed like one minute I was trying to find out who invented gnome gnapping and the next I was mired in the world of comedy. Or should I say ‘comedy’ (air quotes intended), since my attention was focused on knock knock jokes.

As anyone who’s been in a school playground would know, knock knock jokes offer one of our earliest introductions to the world of joke telling. Just take this gem I remember from my own youth…

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Ken
Ken who?
Ken I come in, it’s hot out here

Bet you’re clutching your sides now aren’t you?

Anyway, I decided to find out if the internets knew who invented the genre. And while there’s several theories, the strongest says it was William Shakespeare.

Apparently it all draws from that Scottish play. As Shakespeare examiner Khara House explains

“In Macbeth’s second act, Shakespeare uses a hung-over porter to satirically examine Elizabethan culture through a series of knock-knock jokes the porter states in a monologue. While the porter uses the common “Knock knock! Who’s there?” pattern, twice he uses the phrase as “Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there?”

So there you have it. The man who created such classic characters as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliette also planted the seeds that eventually grew into the inspiration for any C-grade stand-up comic coming to a stage near you.

Who would have thought?

Now let’s have one more to finish.

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Lettuce
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in

Where is Springfield on The Simpsons?

10 Apr

I have written about The Simpsons on this blog before. And there’s a good reason I’m doing it again today and will probably do it again before the year is out.

It’s simply that I love the show. Especially villains such as Sideshow Bob and Mr Burns, who has quite the flair for releasing the hounds.

Anyway, one of the biggest mysteries around the long-running series has always been the location of Springfield. Smart alecs will no doubt say ‘near Shelbyville’ but no one has ever known what real-life state it calls home.

However I had heard tell that creator Matt Groening had finally been pinned down, so I headed online to see if he had come clean. And indeed he had.

The tell-all was in this Q&A interview with Smithsonian magazine…

OK, why do the Simpsons live in a town called Springfield? Isn’t that a little generic? 

Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show Father Knows Best took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realised it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the US. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, “This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.” And they do.

Or at least they did.

The interview also goes on to reveal such gems as how he came up with the name Bart, how his family feels about the Simpson family being named for them and what he really thinks of LA.

Deefinitely worth a read.

Who invented Post-Its?

8 Apr

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion was on TV the other day. And while I didn’t see the whole movie, I did tune in just in time to catch my favourite bit.

It’s where Romy tries to take credit for inventing Post-Its, only to have her lie brutally undone by an acerbic Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo), who reveals they were really created by a guy called Art Fry from 3M.

It’s a cringe inducing catch-out, and the recriminations from the popular girls Romy is trying to impress are brutal. But it did inspire me to find out his story. The answers lay in MIT’s Inventor of the Week archives.

Turns out it all began with a colleague called Spencer Silver, a senior chemist in the company’s research labs, who had created a high-quality, low-tack adhesive that was strong enough to hold papers together but weak enough to let them pull apart without tearing. He freely shared his invention with colleagues but none could come up with a marketable way to sell the product. Until it came to Art’s attention. MIT takes up the story…

“Fry sang in his church choir and was frustrated by the fact that, when he stood and opened his hymnal to sing, the paper bookmarks he used to mark the songs on the program would slip out of sight or even on to the floor. In a moment of insight that has become legendary in the realm of contemporary invention, Fry, musing during a rather boring sermon, realised Silver’s reusable adhesive would provide his bookmarks with precisely the temporary anchoring he required.”

And thus the seed was sewn, resulting five years later in the official release of Post-its.

And for the record, the reason they were first created in yellow is because the original testing/playing around was done on some scrap paper, which just happened to be yellow, and the colour struck a chord.

And now, let’s watch the magic moment …

Who plays Ted’s kids on How I Met Your Mother?

7 Apr

I mainly started watching How I Met Your Mother because it stars Willow from Buffy, aka Alyson Hannigan. But it only took about two episodes for me to fall in love with the show itself. I can’t articulate why, as Ted has to be one of the most annoying people on the planet, but love it I do.

Anyway, as regular viewers will know, the show is told in flashback form by Future Ted, whose voice is provided by Bob Saget, aka the dad in Full House.

However I had never really been interested in knowing who plays Future Ted’s kids, until I suddenly realised the girl looked familiar.

So I IMBDed her and discovered there’s a good reason why, as she’s done a bunch of TV, from The Young and The Restless, which I certainly never watched when I should have been studying at uni, to Desperate Housewives.

But where I really knew her from was two movies – action flick Kiss-Ass, where she played superhero girlfriend Katie Deauxma, and Hot Tub Time Machine, where she played Jenny.

As for the son, I’m sorry to say I didn’t recognise him from anywhere. But his name is David Henrie and he’s done a bunch of stuff too, including TV shows Judging Amy, NCIS, Cold Case and Wizards of Waverly Place.

Now we just need to know their names on the show. And that of their mother. Just please don’t let it be Victoria!

What is the record for the greatest gathering of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans?

5 Apr

Sometimes my blog entries don’t begin with a question. They begin with a headline that inspires me to learn more. And so it was today.

The headline in question read like this . . .

COWABUNGA! LARGEST TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES GATHERING WORLD RECORD SMASHED IN MINNESOTA

Naturally, as a child of the TMNT-obsessed eighties, I had to know more. And it turned out to be a successful Guinness World Record attempt. Which made me feel slightly less self-conscious about my own pop-culture obsessions, which have ranged, and still range, from Buffy and Harry Potter to The Hunger Games and trashy monster movies.

Anyway, the date of the attempt was March 20 this year and the instigator was American TV station Nickelodeon, which is apparently relaunching the franchise with a new animated series. So to celebrate, the powers that be set out to beat the previous best record effort that gathered together 786 people dressed as one of the four heroes in a half shell.

They pulled it off at the famous Mall of America, where 836 people  – ranging from Girl Scouts to seniors – gathered dressed as, and to party with, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. And while some were issued with a TMNT T-shirt and mask, still others were able to bring a home-made costume.

Of course they were.

Read more about the effort here.

What inspired Lisa Lutz to write the Spellman books?

3 Apr

Today filled me with a massive amount of happiness. And not because the approach of Easter means times for my annual chocapocalypse. Instead it was because I found out about a new book by one of my favourite authors. And I didn’t even know she’d written it.

Her name is Lisa Lutz and I first stumbled across her several years ago in the same way I discovered Janet Evanovich – because her book cover wouldn’t stop screaming at me from the shelves.

It was called Revenge of the Spellmans and I loved it immediately, not least because she incorporated a really quirky technique in her story, which was to use footnotes to tell what a character was really thinking when it was at odds with what they were saying. It sounds tricky to do but she pulled it off, and today that book still makes me laugh out loud.

Even better it had two predecessors – The Spellman Files and Curse of the Spellmans – so I didn’t have to wait too long (hello JK Rowling) before diving into more of the series.

Anyway, as luck would have it, yesterday brought a phone call from my mother who asked me to buy myself a book she could give me for Easter. So I headed to my favourite online bookstore and there it was – book five, Trail of the Spellmans. Just the sight of it made me a very happy girl. So much so I suspect it will be gone long before the chocolate eggs I will hopefully receive on Sunday.

Of course under my Mum’s rules I’m not actually allowed to read it until she gives it to me. So to while away the time I decided to find out what kickstarted the story. Naturally the tale was to be found on her website, where this interview – old but still relevant – filled in the blanks. Here’s the pertinent bit..

Question  You burst on to the writing scene in your early 20s, penning a screenplay. From what I gather, that didn’t go so well. Fill me in . . .

Answer  I wouldn’t say “burst” — more like stumbled. Eyes were on me for a brief, awkward moment and then they returned to whatever they were previously doing. There was certainly no fanfare involved in my long and unsuccessful screenwriting “career.” I wrote many screenplays over that 10-year period, but only Plan B got any real interest. During that time I mostly made my living doing odd jobs or office work. Plan B was optioned in 1997 and it was finally bought and made in 2000. The resulting film, based on what I’ve read on the IMDB database, is unwatchable. My so-called screenwriting career was over at that point, but I didn’t realise it at the time and continued to write screenplays, because that’s just what I did. As each one was finished, the rejections came quickly and without any signs of hope. The last screenplay I wrote was The Spellman Files. I couldn’t get anyone to read it — and that’s when I decided to write it as a novel. It was a total act of desperation, but as I worked on it, I realized that the story really needed more space to be told properly.

Now, for those who haven’t read any of the books, they focus on Izzy Spellman, whose family runs a private investigation firm. Between her parents, siblings and a straight-laced cop called Henry Stone, things never get boring (or entirely legal). Here she describes how she came to create their world.

I first envisioned the Spellmans over seven years ago. And if memory serves me, which it rarely does, the entire cast of characters sort of came to me over a short period of time. The germ of the idea was always to write about a family of private investigators and how the nature of the business affected their family life. I knew that if the parents were spying on their children, they’d need a motivation. That’s when Isabel’s character took form. I figured a history of rebellion would keep the parental unit constantly on watch.

To whet your appetite even more I figured Lisa wouldn’t mind if I shared the following excerpt from the first book, which is also available here

THE SPELLMAN FILES: CHAPTER EXCERPT

The Interview —
Chapter 1

72 hours later

A single light bulb hangs from the ceiling, its dull glow illuminating the spare decor of this windowless room. I could itemize its contents with my eyes closed: One wooden table, splintered and paint-chipped, surrounded by four rickety chairs, a rotary phone, an old television and a VCR. I know this room well. Hours of my childhood I lost in here, answering for crimes I probably did commit. But I sit here now answering to a man I have never seen before, for a crime that is still unknown, a crime that I am too afraid to even consider. Inspector Henry Stone sits across from me. He places a tape recorder on the center of the table and switches it on. I can’t get a good read on him: early 40s, short-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair, crisp white shirt and a perfectly tasteful tie. He might be handsome, but his cold professionalism feels like a mask. His suit seems too pricey for a civil servant and makes me suspicious. But everyone makes me suspicious.

“Please state your name and address for the record,” says the Inspector.

“Isabel Spellman. 1799 Clay Street, San Francisco, California.”

“Please state your age and date of birth.”

“I’m twenty-eight. Born April 1, 1978.”

“Your parents are Albert and Olivia Spellman, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“You have two siblings: David Spellman, 30, and Rae Spellman, 14. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Please state your occupation and current employer for the record.”

“I am a licensed private investigator with Spellman Investigations, my parents’ P.I. firm.”

“When did you first begin working for Spellman Investigations?” Stone asks.

“About sixteen years ago.”

Stone consults his notes and looks up at the ceiling, perplexed. “You would have been twelve?”

“That is correct,” I respond.

“Ms. Spellman,” Stone says, “Let’s start at the beginning.”

I cannot pinpoint the precise moment when it all began, but I can say for sure that the beginning didn’t happen three days ago, one week, one month or even one year ago. To truly understand what happened to my family, I have to start at the very beginning and that happened a long time ago.”

See what I mean about her funky writing style? Want another taste of her words? Well you can read excerpts from all the other books at her website, including this selection from her latest. But to finish, I had to share these questions I pulled out from an onsite Q&A, which also revealed another two more Spellman books are on the drawing board.

Q. Is Lisa Lutz your real name?
A. Yes.

Q. How old are you?
A. You should know better than to ask questions like that.

Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. I have an imaginary friend named Ralph. I steal his ideas and pass them off as my own.

Q. Do you have any fears?
A. Many. Trucks, mostly. But I’m not fond of moving vehicles in general.

Q. What is a typical day like?
A. Breakfast in bed while reading the New York Times. I do the crossword puzzle, even on Sunday, without any help. Then I write for an hour. In the afternoon, I usually go yachting or I fly my jet. Wait, no. You meant a typical day for me. That’s a typical day for Stuart Woods.
Hmmm, a typical day for me always involves the consumption of coffee (unless I’m being held hostage) and maybe some writing or thinking about writing, and almost without fail some teeth brushing.

Like I said, happy days…

What inspired Don McLean’s song American Pie?

2 Apr


A road trip beckoned today as part of an all-too brief holiday through Australia’s southern states.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the kind of horrific trip most of us endured with our parents in childhood when all we wanted to know was ‘Are we there yet?’ Instead, this one was fun. The kind with roadies, stereotyping of small country towns and CD compilations featuring the best movie songs of all time (BTW does anyway know the film that featured Belinda Carlisle’s Mad About You?).

Anyway, one of the tracks that boomed through the speakers was Don McLean’s American Pie – all 300+ minutes of it (or so it seemed). And it took me back to my twenties, when it was considered a badge of honour to remember every word.

It’s a skill I still boast today. And as I sang of jesters and thorny crowns, I got to wondering about the inspiration behind the lyrics.

For half the song I decided they were about the JFK assassination. But my supposing wasn’t enough – I wanted to know the real story.  Yet no clear answers were forthcoming – and that’s exactly how the artist likes them.

In an interview here, McLean had this to say:

“The idea that I had, was that it was about American politics in music running in sort of a parallel trough, if you will. That was a concept in my head. Then I decided to make up a dream using rock and roll and other kinds of imagery to move forward from the death of Buddy Holly right up to the end, and that’s how it came out.”

Further clarification comes from his website

“American Pie is partly biographical and partly the story of America during the idealised 1950s and the bleaker 1960s. It was initially inspired by Don’s memories of being a paperboy in 1959 and learning of the death of Buddy Holly. American Pie presents an abstract story of McLean’s life from the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s, and at the same time it represents the evolution of popular music and politics over these years, from the lightness of the 1950s to the darkness of the late 1960s, but metaphorically the song continues to evolve to the present time. It is not a nostalgia song. American Pie changes as America itself is changing.”

Musical aficionados who have studied the song pin meanings to certain lyrics. For example, the jester who sang for the king and queen is rumoured to be Bob Dylan. But this has never been confirmed.

In short, what McLean hopes is that fans find their own meaning and inspiration in the song. And he must be on to something since it remains a classic more than 30 years since its release in 1971.

Here’s a few other American Pie facts…

* It was named as one of the five greatest songs of the 20th century in a poll by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. The other four songs were This Land is Your Land, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Respect and White Christmas.
* It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.
* It has been played more than three million times on American radio alone.

And now let’s watch him sing it live.

James Cameron dived into the Challenger Deep. What is it?

1 Apr

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve had this fantasy about the ocean.

It involves draining all the water away – naturally while freezing time so the animals don’t die – and then wandering around to see what’s really down there.

I suspect the result would be equally terrifying and fascinating. I mean we already know about Jaws, Godzilla, Orca and the creature from Cloverfield, but I bet there’s a beast or two that would make them look like fluffy kittens.

Yet I imagine there would also be pretty some pretty cool stuff. And in the same way people say our jungles are full of scientific and medical breakthroughs we’ve yet to discover, I bet the same goes for the deepest part of our planet.

Someone who shares my fascination is uber-director James Cameron, who this week became the first solo person to reach the 11km Challenger Deep, an undersea valley in the Mariana Trench that is Earth’s deepest realm.

It was only the second manned dive into the Deep, the first being in 1960 when Lt Don Walsh and late Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard made their journey in the bathyscaphe Trieste. Cameron completed his journey, which took just over two hours, in a one-man vessel that collected videos, photos and samples.

You can read more about his trip – and watch a video – at National Geographic, which is a partner in the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE project. But I was inspired to learn more about his destination. So I set myself a challenge to learn a few facts about the trench. Here they are…

* The trench was created by ocean-to-ocean subduction, which basically means the Pacific Plate was forced underneath the Mariana plate.
* Measuring 11,033m deep, it lies in the Pacific Ocean.
* The trench stretches 2542km long and 69km wide.
* The pressure at its deepest part is more than 8 tonnes per square inch.
* Mt Everest – the highest point on Earth – would fit into the trench and still have almost 2200m of water above it.
* The deepest point, called Challenger Deep, is named after the British Royal Navy ship HMS Challenger II, whose crew made the first recordings of its depth in an expedition from 1872-1876.
* Four descents have been made to the bottom. As well as the two that were manned, the Kaiko reached the bottom in 1996 and Nereus in 2009.