Book review: Shanghai Girls: a novel by Lisa See

Synopsis: In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai Girls.

The first chapter of Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls introduces us to the family of our protagonist and narrator, Pearl. She and her sister, May, are beautiful girls in 1937 Shanghai, and they’re socialites. Similar to our Hiltons or Kardashians, they live a life of leisure, party at night, and pose provocatively for artists; and although the first chapter is filled with details of what it is like to be a rich, beautiful young girl in Shanghai, their bourgeois existence is shallow and uninteresting. Luckily, Lisa See’s purpose for this portrayal is to set up a huge contrast to what happened to the girls’ lives later, and that is when the novel truly comes alive.

The inciting incident is when Pearl and May learn that their supposedly modern father has arranged marriages for them with the sons of a merchant in the United States. Avoiding clich├ęs, the marriages are not where the conflicts arise. The conflicts arise for the women because of all of the political turmoil that happens to the Chinese in the novel’s time frame of twenty tears. From the Japanese occupation of China to life in Los Angeles during the Communist scare, See’s novel covers some of the most tumultuous moments of Chinese and Chinese-American history, and she gives her readers an insight to those eras while equally engrossing them with a tale of two sisters whose lives ended up nothing like what they had expected when they were young and carefree.

This novel is thought-provoking on so many levels. On a human level, it tells a story about what it would feel like to have everything and then nothing. What a humbling experience that would be and how scary it is that in a moment everything could be taken from you. On a historical level, it reminds its readers how in times of fear those in power can easily terrorize minority groups. During one period of time, it was the Japanese that were put in internment camps, and the Chinese felt safe. Years later, people were coming after the Chinese, accusing them of communist ties. In the present, we can see this same time of fear, and we can see certain groups being profiled. This novel is a powerful reminder to never accept this type of treatment to any group because one day, your group can be targeted.

Overall, I would highly recommend this novel. It appeals to those who love history or political science, and it appeals to anyone who enjoys stories about family and overcoming adversity.

Amazon doesn't want you to read "Moan for Bigfoot" and other erotica news

MONSTER PORN: Amazon Cracks Down On America’s Latest Sex Fantasy


This is an abridged republication of an article that was originally published on Business Insider. To read the entire story, click here:

Moan for BigfootAuthor Virginia Wade's fiction debut follows a group of women who embark on a week-long camping trip to Mt. Hood National Forest. There, in the shadow of Oregon’s highest mountain, they are kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a mysterious woodland creature. "What the hell is that thing?" asks one protagonist.
The book, with the decidedly un-PG title "Cum For Bigfoot," is just the first of 16 fiction ebooks that Wade (a pen name) has written about the legendary beast sometimes known as Sasquatch, each detailing a series of graphic and often violent sexual encounters between the apelike creature and his female human lovers. Wade has made an exceptional living writing these stories.
It began in December of 2011. A stay-at-home mother from Parker, Colo., Wade had no ambition to be a published author and no real writing experience other than a few attempts at historical romance in the mid-90s. But then, she says, "I got this crazy idea for a story." So she sat down and wrote the entire book — more of a novella, at just 12,000 words — in a matter of weeks. She never even considered trying to sell it to a mainstream publisher. Instead, she went directly to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, an online platform for self-publishing with a 70% royalty rate for authors. (The average royalty percentage for authors with mainstream publishers is between 8 and 15%.)
"Cum For Bigfoot" wasn't an overnight best-seller. "The first month, I think I made $5," Wade admits. But over the course of 2012, the book was downloaded well over 100,000 times. "And that was just Amazon," she says. "That's not counting iTunes or Barnes & Noble or any of the other places that sell self-published books." With no marketing muscle, no bookstore tours or print reviews or any of the publicity that most top authors use to sell books, she started bringing in staggering profits. During her best months, she says, she netted $30,000 or more. At worst, she'd bank around six grand — "nothing to complain about," she says.
Wade is hardly the only author who has made a mint writing about monsters and the women who love them (or at least submit to their sexual appetites). She's part of a burgeoning literary genre that's found a wide audience online: monster porn, otherwise known as “cryptozoological erotica,” or as some of the authors prefer to call it, "erotic horror." Their self-published books feature mythical creatures of every possible variety, from minotaurs to mermen, cthulhus to leprechauns, extraterrestrials to cyclops, who become involved in sexual trysts, often non-consensual, with human lovers. 
It's easy to snicker, but somebody is buying these things. Authors of monster porn may not be notching sales to rival E.L. James or Amanda Hocking, the trailblazers of self-published erotica, but they're making more than enough to survive. That’s especially remarkable given the low price tag on many of their books. "Amazon pays a royalty of 35 percent for books listed below $2.99," says K.J. Burkhardt. "For those listed at $2.99 and over, I can claim 70 percent in royalty payments. But I didn't feel comfortable nor right in asking someone to pay $2.99 for a five-to seven-thousand-word short story." So instead, the majority of her titles are listed at 99 cents, the minimum allowed by Amazon. "Even with the small prices that I was asking," she says, "it doesn't take much imagination to guess that I was selling a lot of books to earn $4,000 each month."
Then everything changed.
In October, the online news site The Kernel published an incendiary story called "An Epidemic of Filth," claiming that online bookstoreslike Amazon, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith, and others were selling self-published ebooks that featured "rape fantasies, incest porn and graphic descriptions of bestiality and child abuse." The story ignited a media firestorm in the U.K, with major news outlets like the Daily Mail, The Guardian, and the BBC reporting on the “sales of sick ebooks.” Some U.K.-based ebook retailers responded with public apologies, and WHSmith went so far as to shut down its website altogether, releasing a statement saying that it would reopen "once all self-published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available." The response in the U.S. was somewhat more muted, but most of the retailers mentioned in the piece, including Amazon
 and Barnes & Noble, began quietly pulling hundreds of titles from their online shelves — an event Kobo coo Michael Tamblyn referred to last month as "erotica-gate." 
The crackdown was meant to target the obvious offenders — ebooks like "Daddy’s Birthday Gang Bang" and others that fetishized incest and rape — but in their fervor to course-correct, the online bookstores started deleting, according to The Digital Reader blog, "not just the questionable erotica but [also].... any e-books that might even hint at violating cultural norms." That included crypto-porn. Wade’s sexy Sasquatch, not unlike the elusive hominid beast of legend, vanished without a trace.
But it wasn’t just Bigfoot who was herded into extinction. Wade says that 60% of her titles disappeared from Amazon and other online bookstores. "They started sending my books randomly back to draft mode" — where new ebooks are uploaded and edited before going on sale — "and I'd get an email from them saying, 'We found the following books in violation of our content guidelines,'” she recalls. “But they wouldn't tell me why. There were no specifics. It was a huge guessing game trying to figure out what the issue was."

She altered the titles of several volumes in her blockbuster series, from "Cum For Bigfoot" to "Moan For Bigfoot," and they were returned to Amazon's shelves, but now they're only seen by readers searching for them specifically. "They can still be found in the store," Wade says, "but it requires extra digging." Even more confusing, only some of her titles were flagged by Amazon, so while some books are listed as "Moan For Bigfoot," others remain "Cum For Bigfoot." 

Amazon declined to comment for this article. Its content guidelines state that the company doesn't accept “offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts."  To explain the policy, the site offers this unhelpful bit of advice: "What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect." Vague as that may be, Amazon is within its legal rights to stock whatever books it chooses. "Bookstores are private enterprises, and are thus not required to sell every book that people ask them to sell," says Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at UCLA who specializes in First Amendment cases. "There is no law of which I’m aware that would require bookstores to sell a book that they disapprove of, whether or not we might think their judgments of disapproval are sound." Amazon makes the same point elsewhere in the content guidelines, when it notes, "We reserve the right to make judgments about whether content is appropriate and to choose not to offer it."

Alice Xavier (also a pen name) had her first experience with censorship when her ebook "Serpent God’s Virgin," originally published last April, was pulled from Amazon in mid-October. "They flagged it because it had virgin in the title," she guesses, because after she renamed it "Serpent God's Maiden," it again appeared on sale. "Amazon didn't care that the plot involves sex with a giant snake deity," she says. "Ultimately, Amazon is amoral. They don't care either way that they're selling dirty, filthy erotica. Their main goal is to keep their customers happy. They have plenty of customers who get righteously outraged and complain, complain, complain. And Amazon has way more at stake than just books. So they want to keep everybody happy, understandably."

Some of the genre's authors would like to give up on Amazon entirely, furious at the way they've been treated. But it's difficult to walk away from the world's largest online retailer, even if you're confident that you've got something readers want. "Amazon is the big dog," says Emerald Ice. "They're well known, their books are easy to download. It's easy, and consumers want easy. Heck, I want easy. Smashwords is still kind of underground."
Xavier, who when not writing smut works as a user-interface designer, has taken a different tack. Rather than argue with Amazon over content guidelines, she's looked for ways to make her books less of a target. "At its core, Amazon is trying to clean up the presentation," she says. "I think that's a good thing, because it keeps all the erotica online and for sale."
Ebooks featuring incest and rape tend to share a singular defining feature: sexually explicit and poorly produced covers. The way for monster erotica to survive, she thinks, is to "dress it up like fantasy." No more trashy illustrations. "My covers are pretty classy," she says. "It's all a facade, of course. My plots are depraved. They're definitely not for kids or grandmothers. But I put it in a glossy package, so it doesn't offend anybody who's just searching through Amazon.”
Her book Alien Seed is a perfect example of this strategy. The cover looks like any mainstream romance novel, with the image of a reclining and scantily-clad model bathed in green light. But the image doesn’t even hint at the content.
Screen Shot 2013 12 20 at 11.22.02 AM
Boffing BigfootMany monster porn authors employ pen names.
Virginia Wade has a different plan. "Writing monster erotica has become a hostile work environment," she says. "I'm tired of the BS. It's just easier to write in a different genre and avoid the scrutiny." She hasn't written a monster sex ebook in months, and has instead focused her creative energies on books that don't involve hirsute creatures or kidnapped campers. Even if censorship weren’t an issue, she's not sure if she has the inspiration for another sequel.

Fans of raunchy Bigfoot sex need not fear. Over the last few months, several self-published ebooks involving a certain hirsute sex machine have appeared in Amazon's Kindle store, with titles like Boffing Bigfoot and the newly released Bigfoot Did Me From Behind And I Liked It

Comic Jeff Baldinger's list of 3 Books Everyone Should Read

I'm happy to announce that Los Angeles-based stand up comic, Jeffrey Baldinger, has returned to T.Lo Club to share his list of 3 books everyone should read. 

"3 Books Everyone Should Read" by Jeffrey Baldinger

2Br02B by Kurt Vonnegut
2Br02B is a great story about a dystopian future where death is a choice. And because of population control, if you have a child, someone has to choose to die. If you have twins, you have to get 2 people to agree to die. if you can't find someone willing to die, one of the babies will have to be killed. It's a really great read, and it's the type of story that I love thinking about.

The Overcoat by Nikolai GogolThe Overcoat, it's been a while since I read it, but it definitely left an impact on me, it's a book that deals with obsession, delusions of power, and lack thereof, and remarkable circumstances. And I guess I relate to that stuff.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoevskyThe Brothers Karamazov--If you liked Crime and Punishment, you're probably burnt out on Dostoyevsky and never want to see one of his books again. But, if you have to choose a book written by this guy, I would recommend TBK. it's a bit longer, but for me, it hit closer to my sensibilities than C&P. I read both, liked TBK better.

Jeff has performed all around Los Angeles in clubs such as the Hollywood Improv, The Ice House, UCB, and the Laugh Factory; and he currently produces the comedy show, Flyover Comedy, at the Hollywood Improv. He has written a previous post for T.Lo Club about the top 3 books every aspiring comic should read. Check it out here! 

Spunky Bean's EJ Feddes talks about the best things on TV right now

Today EJ Feddes, a writer for the pop culture website, Spunky Bean, stopped by to talk about writing, pop culture, and what to watch this season.

TL: Tell me more about the site http://www.spunkybean.comEJF: used to be described as “a zesty pop-culture stew”, but I think we’ve sort of dropped that. Years ago, I was writing analyses of LOST episodes and sending them to my friends every week. One of them sent it to a co-worker who sent it to her cousin who sent it to his college roommate, and I ended up making friends with some other TV-obsessed bloggers and we ended up launching a site together. It went live in late 2007, just as the Writers’ Strike started. Let the record show that this is the worst possible time to launch a website covering television.

Six years later, we’re still chugging along. We still focus mostly on TV, but we get into other fields too. We’ve got recaps, analysis, comedy pieces, basically celebration of things we like. I’ve been working on a book idea that’s an autobiography of a fictitious TV producer, and I’m going to be serializing that on the site, probably starting next year. The site lets me do a lot of different kinds of writing, and it’s been a lot of fun.

TL: What's the best advice you've ever received about writing?EJF: My buddy Larry Young (He's a writer that I had been a fan of for years, and then I ended up becoming real-life friends with him through spunkybean and the power of LOST), always says "Write the thing that only you can write". Whenever I don't follow this dictum, I always feel a little bit guilty.

TL: What TV shows are you excited about this season and why?EJF: Since I spend most of my available time talking about TV shows that excite me, I’ll just limit my choices to things that are currently in season rather than doing a wide-ranging look at everything I’ve seen this year. And I'll stick to three because otherwise we'll be here all day.

Parks and Recreation is, I think, the best comedy on TV. It is a legitimate delight, and what really impresses me now is that it’s reached the point when most great sitcoms start to fall apart. This is Season Six, and it’s rare for a network comedy to keep up a level of quality for that long. Even Parks’ spiritual predecessor, The Office, had started to lose its way by Season Five. It’s still the show I look most forward to every week.

Sons of Anarchy is not for everybody. If somebody doesn’t watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad, I think it’s OK to tell them that they’re wrong. If they don’t watch Sons of Anarchy, that’s a valid life choice. It can be overwrought and sometimes shocking for the sake of being shocking. But every year I’m in awe of how Kurt Sutter structures a season. This year there was a character that had been built up to be the major threat for the season and he had these long-running schemes. Four episodes in, he gets killed and it doesn’t seem like there’s any way for all these disparate plot threats to come together. And then you hit the two-thirds mark of the season and suddenly you can see the road map and it makes perfect sense, but you never would have thought of it yourself. There’s this moment every season when you see it coming together, and it’s really exciting.

Then there’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, which is a fake talk show (spun off from the podcast of the same name) on IFC. The thing I love about it is the way it seems to come from a place where there are no bad ideas. I’m in an Improv group, and the first thing you learn is “Yes, and…”, and it feels like CBB is built entirely on that principle. There are bits that are wonderful, and it seems like the only way they come to fruition is if somebody in the writers’ room says “What if Scott talks to a ladder” and then they try to make that idea work instead of dismissing it as silly. It makes for a very weird show, but it’s so much fun to watch.

Spunkybean is on Facebook and Twitter @spunkybean, and Ej can be found @ejfeddes. 

EJ Feddes Guest Post: 3 Books Everyone Should Read

EJ Feddes, a comedian and writer for the pop culture website Spunky Bean, lists the top 3 books that everyone should read.

"3 books that everyone should read" by EJ Feddes 

John Knowles’ A Separate Peace
This only applies to young people, but John Knowles’ A Separate Peace. If you've made it through high school without reading it, there's not much point. But for a young person interesting in writing, it's perfect because it has this really obvious symbolism and foreshadowing that are just ideal for illustrating what those concepts are. You don't feel dumb for not noticing the metaphors because you can't miss them. You won't take much away from the actual substance of the book, but I think it makes you a better reader.

Philip Roth's American Pastoral
I am a huge Roth fan, and I'd recommend almost anything of his. Granted, if you pick a book at random, there's like a 20% chance that it's about him being upset over getting too old to have sex, but most of those books are fairly engaging at least. But Pastoral is Roth using Nathan Zuckerman, his frequent stand-in, to extrapolate the life of a former classmate. It's this great, wide-ranging look at the major events of the 20th Century all the way through Watergate, with the added idea that the narrator is recreating the life of his boyhood hero. It's Philip Roth at the top of his game and it's amazing.

David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
Simon is the guy who created The Wire, and the TV show that was directly based on this book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. As a crime reporter, he spent a year with the Baltimore Homicide Department, and this book just chronicles what he saw. (If you ever watched Homicide, you'll recognize where those characters came from when you read this.) It's the only true crime book you'll ever need to read, and Simon does such a great job of finding the heroism in flawed people without having to do any airbrushing. (A skill be put to good use in his TV work.) I re-read it every couple of years, and there are passages that still chill me.

Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz lists 4 Books Every Journalist Should Read

Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz returns to the T.Lo Club for our continuing series of book recommendations from respected writers. Today, he gives us his list of books that every journalist should read and why.

"4 Books Every Journalist Should Read" by Josh Mankiewicz   

**Josh Mankiewicz is a Dateline correspondent based in Los Angeles. He began reporting for Dateline in February 1995, and since then, he has contributed a mix of breaking news stories, news analysis, investigative reports and clever features to the broadcast. (Bio courtesy of NBC) To connect with Josh, you can find him on Twitter.     

Experience and Observation, the Keys to Writing Comedy: An Interview with @jeffbaldinger

Today, my fellow Jayhawk, Jeffrey Baldinger, stopped by the blog to chat about his career as a comedian in Los Angeles. He has been performing for almost four years, and for the past year, he has produced a show at the Hollywood Improv called Flyover Comedy, which showcases big names in comedy with a Midwest connection. His credits also include performances at the Hollywood Improv, The Comedy Store. UCB, The Hayworth Theatre, Hyperion Theatre, Laugh Factory, and The Ice House.

TL: Thanks for stopping by. I think it's amazing that you are living your dream of being a comic. For those who would also like to be a professional comedian one day, can you tell us what your typical day is like?
JB: I usually wake up around 9am, write for a few hours, or go hiking, meet some friends for lunch… if I don’t go hiking or have plans to meet someone for lunch, I don’t really eat during the day. It’s how I maintain my figure. But at around 5pm, I start going out to do open mics around the city, and I’ll typically be out doing comedy for the rest of the night (booked shows and/or open mics) and I’ll get back between 2am-4am.

TL: How did you get started writing comedy? 
JB: I started writing stand-up after seeing Jim Gaffigan’s “Beyond The Pale” special; he really inspired me to put my thoughts down on paper.

TL: What was your first big break as a comic, and how did it happen? 
Past poster from Flyover Comedy
JB: My first big break as a comic was when I got the Playboy Comedy Tour. A friend of mine was dating a playboy model…yeah, fuck him…but he brought her to a show I was on, she really liked what I did, and told me that she helped book the Playboy tour and wanted me on the show. That was a big deal because it was my first actual credit. And I finally got to perform with comedy legend Carrot Topless. So that was fun.

TL: What’s your process for writing jokes? 
JB: I mostly write from experience and observations. I have a lot of stories that I draw from, goofy things I’ve done or like to do, and then if something strikes me as odd or weird, I’ll talk about that too. I’ll write the concept or premise in my notebook or phone, and then flush it out on stage. For the joke to work, it has to come from a real place. My philosophy is that the joke doesn’t necessarily need to be true, but it has to be honest.

TL: You mentioned that your material draws from a lot of your personal experiences or observations on life. So I'm curious, what did you do before you were a comedian? 
Jeff performing in Los Angeles.
JB: I’ve had a lot of jobs… I was a life guard, factory worker, Development intern at Sony Pictures Television, Production Assistant and Editor at a Christian Movie Company, Editor’s Assistant for the Real Housewives of New York…that was only for a day though. And I also gave drum lessons and am currently a Hebrew schoolteacher. 

TL: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to break into the comedy scene in LA? 
JB: Advice for people wanting to break into the scene…that’s a very loaded question; its hard, hard work and determination. There are no shortcuts and there is a lot of rejection. Hell, I’m still trying to break into the scene. You have to be unique and have a specific point of view, because the market is so saturated with amazingly talented people that you can very easily be lost. What makes you stand out? You can’t be afraid to take risks, and you need to commit yourself to what you truly want. If you’re not putting forth the effort, the results won’t happen. I know that’s a lot of motivational rhetoric, which is very easy to just say, but it is very hard to put in to action. You have to be undeniable. And until you are, you will be denied. A LOT. But, if you’re asking how someone might want to start doing stand-up in general…go to an open mic. Watch people go up and do their thing. Then you have to actually do an open mic. Open mics are low risk, high reward. They are amazing and awful. Doing open mics will let you know if you actually want to be a comedian. Jeff Garlin once said to me, “You wanna be a director? Direct. Don’t try to be a director. Be a fucking director.” It’s a good philosophy on life in general, and it’s something I always think about. Bill Burr once said, “keep your head down, don’t be a dick” He didn’t say that to me, but he said it to Pete Holmes who said it on a web video for his new talk show recently, and I think that’s pretty cool.

If you'd like to connect with Jeff, you can find him on Twitter: @jeffbaldinger

3 Books Every Aspiring Comic Should Read

Comic Jeffrey Baldinger has been doing stand up comedy all around Los Angeles for 4 years, and he has produced the show Flyover Comedy at the Hollywood Improv for one year. He took time out of his busy schedule to write this guest post for anyone who was interested in breaking into comedy.

"3 Books Every Aspiring Comic Should Read" by Jeff Baldinger

It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs by Rodney Dangerfield

The reason you should read Rodney's book is because he was the epitome of what a comic was and should be. Reading his book legitimately motivated me to do my first show. He lead such an amazing life, and struggled for the majority of it, and when he finally "made it", he actively gave breaks and shots to the younger comics like Sam Kinison, Jim Carey, and Roseanne, three people that when they were trying to do their thing, nobody else was giving them a chance. Rodney did, and changed their lives. Jim Carey and Roseanne Barr do the Foreword and Afterward. I can't say enough how amazing the book is, and how important Rodney was.

The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley Jr

You should read The Chris Farley show, not so much from a stand-up perspective, but for an amazing look into the life of one of the biggest comedic performers of our time. It's written in an interview format with people from his life, and it just lets you see the darker side of someone who thought the only thing he could offer people was to make them laugh AT him. It's an important read, and I think anyone who wants to be in this industry should read it.

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era by William Knoedelseder

I'm Dying Up Here is a book, like Rodney's book, that every comic should read multiple times. I'd go to say that everyone should read this whether they're a comic or not, so that people can understand what our profession went through and is still going through to this day.

To connect with Jeff, you can find him on Twitter:

"3 Books Everyone Should Read" by Brianna Soloski

Girl Seeks Place book blogger Brianna Soloski shares her list of 3 books everyone should read. If you'd like to connect with her, you can find her on Facebook or Twitter:

3 books everyone should read by Brianna Soloski
The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak – it’s narrated by Death and is such a moving perspective on life during WW2 that isn’t centered on the Holocaust.
Night  by Elie Weisel – the best first person account of a concentration camp I’ve ever read.
The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald – because, hello, the 1920s. After you read it, watch Baz Luhrman’s film version. It’s utterly bold and brilliant and brings the book to life.

Just Shut Up and Write, an interview with comic Nicholas Anthony

Breaking into the comedy world isn't easy, and it takes dedication to writing and performing to truly perfect the craft. For anyone aspiring to become a comedy writer or stand up comedian, professional comedian, Nicholas Anthony, was nice enough to share his process and writing tips.

Nick has headlined shows all over the country, and in Los Angeles, he has performed at legendary venues such as The Improv, The Comedy Store, UCB, Ha Ha Cafe, Jon Lovitz, Flapper's and The Icehouse in Pasadena. He also produces The Secret Show at The Blind Barber. For tickets, please email:

TL: Thanks so much for the interview. I think it's awesome that you make a living doing standup. What was your first big break as a comic, and how did it happen?
NA: I won the Las Vegas Comedy Festival when I was 22. That was a pretty big deal for me, and it was all based an opportunity that I gave myself by driving 7 hours from Minnesota to Chicago for a 5 minute audition. I took a chance and it paid off.

Nicholas Anthony
TL: Since you're an artist, you don't have a 9 to 5 kind of day. What is your typical day like?
NA: I try to get up early and work out. The key word is try. After that my biggest obstacle is getting into a rhythm. If I can get finished with all my e-mails and other errands then it's time to write. If I can get 4-5 hours of writing in it's a good day. My goals are changing a lot recently though. I hope to start allocating more time for my writing.

TL: What's your process for writing jokes?
NA: I gather material and then I sit in my room by myself and try to organize it as best as I can. The next step is to take it on stage. I record everything on my iPhone and then back to my room for my critique. I repeat that process over and over until I have a polished bit. Lately, I've also been writing out jokes in long form on my computer, that seems to be helping with specific wording.

TL: You’ve written produced scripts. What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters?
NA: Write. Write. Write. My biggest problem is that I just don't write enough. The more I write the better I feel. For me expressing myself creatively is the only thing that truly makes me feel alive. So just shut-up and write.

TL: Thanks so much for stopping by. To end our interview, can you tell me 3 books that you think every aspiring comedian should read?
NA: Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-Up Comedy by Franklyn Ajaye, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin, and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Dateline NBC's Josh Mankiewicz lists 4 Books Everyone Should Read

Continuing with T.Lo Club's series of book recommendations from respected writers, Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz provides his list of 4 books everyone should read.

"4 Books Everyone Should Read" by Josh Mankiewicz 
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
"Great novel about America, our fears, our laws, and our worst impulses."

1984 by George Orwell
"He was a little off on the year but otherwise remarkably prescient."  

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
"Truly wonderful writing that stands up across the years."

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
"A children's book that first got me interested in words."

To connect with Josh, find him on Twitter.

**Josh Mankiewicz is a Dateline correspondent based in Los Angeles. He began reporting for Dateline in February 1995, and since then, he has contributed a mix of breaking news stories, news analysis, investigative reports and clever features to the broadcast. (Bio courtesy of NBC.)

"3 Books Every Writer Should Read" by Julien Decorin

Julien Decorin (Twitter @jdecorin) lists the 3 books she thinks every writer should read.

Ready, Set, Novel!: A Workbook by Lindsey Grant
"It was written by the wonderful folks who run NaNoWriMo."

Violin by Anne Rice.
"Anne Rice's descriptions of her scenes, surroundings and characters are so vivid that they make love to your mind."

Any Anita Blake Novel by Laurel K. Hamilton.
"Laurel K. Hamilton's combination of horror, sexuality & the love she shows for her own imaginary friends is something I think any writer up and coming should take their tips from. It's almost as if she writes guide books for future novelists."

If you want to connect with Julien through social media, here are her websites:

3 Books that will help students be better writers

If a person is looking to improve his writing skills, then who would be a better resource for advice than an English teacher with over 36 years of experience?

Retired English teacher Darrel Harbaugh of Coffeyville, Kansas, returns to the T.Lo Club to give us his list of 3 books that will help students be better writers. Like always, if you have your own suggestion, please let us know in the comments. Plus, if you like what you read, share this post with your friends!

"3 Books that will help students be better writers" by Darrel Harbaugh

Plain English Handbook  by J. Martyn Walsh and Anna Kathleen Walsh

"For my entire teaching career I depended upon the Plain English Handbook by J. Martyn Walsh and Anna Kathleen Walsh. I was required to buy it for a class during my freshman year of college in 1971. The book is worn from use and has a copyright date of 1966 - as the fifth edition. The copyright page actually says it was first published in 1939. The book sat on my desk for over thirty-six years and was a valuable resource in helping students improve their writing skills. Yes, the book is dated and I am sure that there are more modern versions by different titles and different authors, yet people who want to become better writers should know how to write a coherent sentence. Finding a book that deals with punctuation, sentence construction and composition is the first step."

The Elements of Style  by E. B. White and William Strunk, Jr.
"Another book that is a staple for writers is The Elements of Style by E. B. White and William Strunk, Jr. Again, this book is recommended reading in college writing courses and will help budding authors learn that there is more to the English Language than one exhibits through texting. We all love shortcuts, but what is acceptable through an email or text should not be acceptable in writing a blog, news release, novel, or especially a term paper."

 MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
"Speaking of term papers. A must reference is the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Of course there are handbooks for APA (American Psychological Association) for those in the social sciences, but the MLA (Modern Language Association) is the most accepted format for the liberal arts and humanities."

What is it like to be an Asian-American actor? An interview with Jason R. Sol

Finding positive Asian-American representation in the media is an ongoing concern for the Asian-American community. Guy Aoki, the founding president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, summed up the Asian-American plight perfectly in August of 2013 when he stated, "We are the one group that can get picked on and people think they can get away with it. People are afraid of offending black people, but they aren't afraid of angry Asian people. And that's why this stuff happens."

"This stuff" he was referring to was the controversial Asian jokes and stereotypes featured in the pilot of Fox's new sitcom Dads. The pilot featured lead actress Brenda Song in a fetishized schoolgirl costume, had characters refer to Asians as "Orientals," and of course featured the obvious tired "small dick" jokes. Now that the controversy has seemingly died down because most attribute the offensive content to lazy writing, the underlying issue still remains: How long will it take for the mainstream media to portray Asian-Americans as real people and stop with the stereotypes? Do we really need more Long Duk Dongs or Mr. Chows?

Luckily, some Asian-American actors break through the glass ceiling. For instance, Steven Yeun's character Glenn on The Walking Dead is not defined by his race, and he is a masculine character who gets the girl. However, characters such as Glenn are still not commonplace, and oftentimes, Asian-American male actors have to fight over limited "geek" or "guy with accent" roles. No one can blame those who do take these roles, because after all, everyone needs to eat; but it is disheartening that finding an Asian leading male is a rarity in Hollywood.

Jason R. Sol
Thankfully that doesn't mean that Asian actors have quit the fight for positive representation. One such actor is Jason R. Sol. We connected through social media, and I'm very impressed with his story. He was successful in the corporate world, but after several years, he followed his passion to become an actor. He was recently cast in a new Korean drama series called "This Love Song" and the first episode will air October 9th. He has also appeared in short films and the TV show Royal Pains.

Jason stopped by the T.Lo Club, and we discussed defying cultural expectations to pursue one's dreams, breaking into entertainment, and what it's like to be an Asian man in Hollywood.

TL: I find it very inspiring that you chose to leave a career you were unhappy with to pursue your dreams of working in the entertainment industry. What was the moment that you knew you had to leave the corporate world?

JRS: I wanted to become an actor since I was young but always thought it was just a fantasy. Around December 2011, I was sitting at work and I had an epiphany. At that time I always heard the term “YOLO” which means “You Only Live Once.” I was also watching the HBO show “How to Make It in America” and that sparked the idea of moving to New York City (unfortunately, by the time I made the move the show was canceled). I just pictured myself 20-30 years from now, and I didn’t want to live a life of regret. Long story short: After 8 years in the corporate world, I quit my job. In a matter of a couple weeks, I pretty much sold everything that I had worked so hard for and moved to New York to pursue acting.

TL: How did your loved ones react?

JRS: I think my family always knew I wanted to get into the industry but never really took me serious because I didn’t do any theater in school. I was always involved in sports year-round. At first, they were very stunned and concerned about my wellbeing. My family was probably looking forward to the next chapter of my life—marriage, starting a family, etc. I just had to ignore the criticism and keep pushing forward. As the months went by and they could see I was working to make a name for myself, they became a lot more supportive. I remember my father saying that he’s happy for me and no matter what happens just try your best!

TL: What would you say to someone else who is in a similar situation where they are unhappy with their career but scared to make the switch?

JRS: You have to weigh your options and consider your personal situation. Since I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, I was only responsible for feeding myself so I was content with going hungry some nights if I had to budget a little bit. Many people are working in industries they hadn’t planned to be in when they finished school. Even though I don’t make the money I used to, I’m in a much happier place in life. I wouldn’t recommend anyone just to quit their job and go into acting. I do think if you have the work ethic where you want and need this like your lungs need air, then go for it. I moved to New York with just a dream and a prayer. I told myself if I have to drum on buckets in the subway for some money then I would.

TL: What are some of the struggles you've encountered working in entertainment? How have you overcome those obstacles?

JRS: Being an Asian-American male is pretty hard in the entertainment industry. We get a lot of stereotypical roles. I would love to change those stereotypes or inspire others to do the same. The market is definitely growing for the better for Asian actors though.

TL: How did you break into the entertainment field?

JRS: When I first moved to New York, I had no idea what I got myself into. I literally started from scratch and had to find ways to get myself out there. The most important thing is to do your due diligence and research everything… and network, network, network! Networking and meeting people is the most crucial key—especially for someone like me who didn’t come from a theater background. I have been so blessed with the all the people I’ve met who have helped me along the way.

TL: Thank you so much for sharing your story. Is there anything you would like to add?

JRS: I have to acknowledge all those who have been so supportive with my career. Even though I am fairly new to acting and slowly building my credentials, the support has been overwhelming! I always make an attempt to get back to everyone that corresponds with me on all social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). It’s very humbling to hear that I’ve inspired people to pursue something that they have always been afraid of. Some people aren’t able to pursue their dreams and they live their lives vicariously through me. When I hear these stories, it motivates me to work that much harder and make sure that I don’t let my supporters down.
To connect with Jason R Sol
  1. Instagram: JasonRSoL (