Questions I Have About the 1985 Film Gymkata

I never blog anymore because I’ve got book writing deadlines to meet, but last night I watched a film so puzzling, so thought-provoking, so totally bonkers that I am dedicating today’s writing time to exploring it. So to my editor at Macmillan who expects a first draft of my next book in a few weeks, head’s up that I may be a little late.

Because I have to talk about Gymkata.

My husband and I sat down to watch this 1985 cinema classic last night because he’d heard it was “so bad it’s good” and I must say at least the first half of that phrase is absolutely correct.

Gymkata stars American gymnast and Olympic star Kurt Thomas as Jonathan Cabot, and it’s quite clear to me now why Kurt Thomas earned medals in gymnastics as opposed to any Oscar noms.

The film hinges on an idea so bizarre I forced my husband to pause the film so that I could review with him the exposition and initial incident that sends our protagonist up Freytag’s Pyramid.

Essentially, the character of Jonathan Cabot is recruited by United States secret intelligence to participate in a game of endurance on the fictional island of Parmistan in which all the losers die and the winner is given one request that must be fulfilled by the King of Parmistan, a la the Godfather on his daughter’s wedding day.

Got that?

So…the U.S. government convinces Cabot to play the game and, if he wins, he will use his one wish not for a new cherry red Corvette or sacks of gold bullions but (wait for it) for permission for the United States government to be able to use the island of Parmistan as a site for a U.S. satellite monitoring station, further cementing America’s dominance in the geopolitical crisis known as The Cold War.

Wait, hold up. First plotting issue.

Are we really to believe that a young man at the peak of his virility and athletic prowess would be willing to sacrifice his own life for a satellite monitoring station? I know it was the 80s and we were all jamming on Red Dawn and Ronald Reagan, but I found this to be a bit of a stretch.

Still, Cabot says yes, and we have the ubiquitous training montage that involves a lot of 80s tropes, including a second rate Mr. Miyagi-type, who forces Cabot to train for “the game” by climbing up stairs on his hands. The trainer also has a pet falcon, so you know he’s wise.

Now plotting issue number two. There is a very attractive woman known as “the princess” who is part of Cabot’s training sessions because she’s an expert at “the game.” (At one point the U.S. intelligence officer who recruits Cabot tells him, “She’s got a pretty interesting back story………….her mother’s Indonesian.” That’s it. That’s her interesting back story. That her mom happened to be born in Indonesia just like roughly 4 million other babies per annum and yes I did just look up the birth rate of Indonesia.)

ANYWAY, turns out this princess is actually the princess of PARMISTAN. So here’s my question. Why and how was the U.S. competitor to “the game” given the advantage of having a native of Parmistan flown out to our country to give him tips as to how to win? Seems really unfair to me and beneath the sportsmanship of an Olympic athlete such as Thomas/Cabot.

It’s also unrealistic that Cabot and the princess get together all hot and heavy after she has delivered approximately no lines of dialogue, but okay, the language of love is universal and whatnot plus, ya know, sexism in Hollywood.

Let’s get to Parmistan. There’s a long set up to “the game,” where the princess gets kidnapped and there’s a lot of shooting and running around, but all of this is just boring build up to what we’ve all been (sort of) waiting for…“the game.”

As my husband and I watched the climactic portion of the film, I became utterly consumed by numerous questions.

First of all, why does the King of Parmistan look like a poor man’s Mel Brooks?

Second, how does this country of Parmistan have the ability to allegedly fulfill any request for the winner of “the game,” yet the bulk of its citizenry seems to live as if it were medieval times with no electricity, indoor plumbing, or access to dental care?

Third, why do so many of the “ninjas” who help operate “the game” do little more than stand there, evoking a pose not unlike the one I struck while a member of my school’s 6th grade safety patrol?

Fourth, why do the competitors from other countries wear track suits, but Cabot is wearing khaki slacks and a black turtleneck and looks like he’s about to take Ashley from 5th period on a date to the Cineplex to watch Fletch starring Chevy Chase?

Fifth, why is the movie called Gymkata, yet this word is never once uttered or referenced in this movie?

Sixth, at the end of “the game,” Cabot is forced to run through an abandoned hamlet filled with “crazy people,” that is referred to as “the cuckoo’s nest.” It was the mid 80s, so the stigmatizing of mental illness was to be expected, but my question is…why is it “crazy” for a man to have two faces? Yes, in this part of the film a man with TWO FACES tries to kill Cabot. Biological IMPOSSIBILITY and not really a sign that someone is “crazy,” per se.

Seventh, also present in crazy town is a man in a white robe who beckons to Cabot. When White Robe turns around, his bare ass is exposed. Explain to me what the hell is going on here.

Eighth, as the villagers of the cuckoo’s nest surround Cabot, how is it that there happens to be a pommel horse located in the middle of the town square? Did the residents work out on it? Did it serve some other unknown purpose? And why do they keep approaching the pommel horse as Cabot spins and spins, knocking them out with his furious feet? I guess cuz they’re “crazy.”

Ninth, just as we think Cabot is gonna die, a seemingly sympathetic ninja saves him. Turns out – it’s Cabot’s DAD, who played “the game” over 20 years ago but allegedly DIED but was actually “used as diplomatic bait,” and has been hiding out on Parmistan for lo these past two decades while his son is becoming a medal-earning Olympic gymnast back in America. Now how on Earth did U.S. intelligence allow this man to languish here?!? HUGE plot hole!

Tenth, how was this movie made?

In case you’re wondering, Cabot wins “the game,” wins the girl, and the United States gets its satellite monitoring station. And I spent two hours of my life I’ll never get back watching a little film called Gymkata.

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Super Shiny Brand New Book News!

rg3 WELL!  I’ve got some book news I’ve been sitting on that’s making me all squirmy with excitement, so let’s get down to sharing it!

As you might know, I’ve had my third book with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan in the works for a while now.  It’s due to be published on September 20, 2016 – only I’m struggling with finding a just-right title!  It’s about two teenagers named Caroline and Ethan, and it’s told in alternating points of view.  Sort of like my first book, The Truth About Alice.

Caroline and Ethan are linked by a tragic crime – a kidnapping – and this book is all about healing from trauma and finding a soul-saving friendship in the most unlikely of places.  I did a ton of research on trauma bonds and spoke to a lot of amazing mental health professionals and brave survivors of abuse as a part of my writing process, and I’m really proud of this one.  I can’t wait to get it in your hands.  And I really can’t wait to announce a title once I have it figured out!

But now comes my super shiny brand new news.  I’ve sold two (yes, two!) more books to my wonderful editor Kate Jacobs at Roaring Brook Press.

The first book in the deal, tentatively titled Moxie, is basically the book of my dreams, y’all. rg2

It’s about a 16-year-old girl named Vivian Carter who lives in a small Texas town.  (If you’ve read my books, you know small Texas towns are kind of my thing.)  Anyway, Vivian finds inspiration in her mom’s stories about the 90s Riot Grrrl movement, and she decides to create a zine called Moxie.  Vivian distributes Moxie anonymously in an effort to combat the sexism in her high school and ends up creating a modern day teen feminist revolution in her town!

AND PEOPLE, I AM MAKING ACTUAL MOXIE ZINES TO GO INSIDE THE BOOK.

Those of you who’ve known me since I was twentysomething know I actually made my own zine way back when that was titled Jennifer.  (Wow, I really do have a problem coming up with good titles.  By the way, old copies of Jennifer are housed at the Barnard zine library – something that makes me really happy.)  But anyway, my zine-making past makes the zine aspect of the Moxie project really super cool and exciting for me.

Moxie combines so much stuff I love and adore – punk rock, lady rights, the 90s, zines, Texas, and an interesting, fully-fleshed out female protagonist.  It’s honestly my fantasy project.  Moxie is set to come out in the fall of 2017.  I’m not totally sure what the second book in this two-book deal will be about, but I promise you I already have some ideas brewing in my head.

rg1I can’t thank you enough for supporting my first two books, The Truth About Alice and Devoted, and I hope you’re intrigued enough to check out these new stories of mine.

Much gratitude to my amazing agent Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Rostan for coming along just when I needed her.  She is the Kathleen Hanna of literary agents – and I can think of no bigger compliment to pay someone.

See you on the shelves!

My next book…Devoted!

Okay, so I’m trying to update my blog and stay somewhat current, so I wanted to give y’all a little bit of the 411 on my next book, Devoted.  Did I just say “411”?  Yikes.  Sorry. 😉

The cover of my latest novel, out June 2, 2015.

The cover of my latest novel, out June 2, 2015 from Roaring Brook Press.

My next novel, Devoted, will be published by Roaring Brook Press on June 2, 2015.  It’s about a young woman named Rachel Walker who is one of ten children growing up in a rural part of Texas.  Rachel is part of an extremely religious family, and when she begins to question her faith, her world falls apart around her.  She has to deal with the fallout and figure out who she really is and what she really believes.

I admit my inspiration for writing this book came from my weird obsession with this show on TLC called 19 Kids and Counting, about a family called the Duggars.  The Duggars (in case you don’t know) are a family with 19 children that lives in Arkansas.  Years ago (when the show was 17 Kids and Counting, I think), I started watching the show purely out of some weird fascination with who they were.  I’d grown up the oldest of three, and I’d gone on to have one child.  I was befuddled by the idea of having a large family.  How did the basic mechanics – laundry, meals, school – happen?  How does a family with that many kids exist day to day?  I mean, there are days I can barely manage to microwave a bunch of chicken nuggets for my single four-year-old, so how do mothers with more kids than they can count on two hands survive?

As I started watching the show and reading more about the Duggar family, I also began to read more about the Quiverfull movement.  While the Duggars have never come out and claimed membership in this Christian subculture, it’s quite clear from their lifestyle choices that they support the basic tenets of this movement.  I ended up reading a nonfiction book about this world called Quiverfull, by writer Kathryn Joyce, and I became totally obsessed!

As I learned in my reading, Quiverfull families often believe in following strict gender roles, and they regularly turn their backs on the secular world.  Quiverfull girls usually don’t cut their hair, wear pants, or go to public school.  Everything they read is monitored and they often have to have a chaperone when they go on the Internet or venture out in public.  Instead of dating, they court, and they’re often expected to marry relatively young and have a lot of children.  Older girls in Quiverfull families take on a lot of the burden of child care, which frustrates some of them.  The reason they have such big families is that Quiverfull followers believe that by having a lot of babies, they are helping to spread the message of Christ.

As I researched Devoted, I got to meet a few young women who were raised in this world, and I was so impressed by them and by their honesty.  In fact, I ended up dedicating the book to one of them!  I also spent a lot of time on this blog, run by Vyckie Garrison, as I learned more about this movement.

It’s super important that people understand that it’s not my intent to bash religion or religious people with this novel.  I still go to church, pray, and have a relationship with God.  But my whole life I’ve been quite intrigued by people who take their faith to extremes and who seem to have no doubts in their beliefs.  It’s this curiosity that drove me to write Devoted.  I really do believe that part of being a teenager is starting to question the faith in which you’ve been raised.  Or, if you haven’t been raised in any faith, you might start to question what you believe about the universe, how we got here, and why we’re here.  So it’s my hope that this book speaks to teenage readers who are trying to ask themselves big, important questions about who they are.  That’s part of the teenage experience, in my opinion.

Bustle had a great write up and interview with me if y’all are interested in more about Devoted.  You can also add Devoted to your Goodreads queue here.

Thanks for the ongoing support!

What’s In My Journal

With apologies to William Stafford

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s In My Journal

Twenty million notes to self on pastel-colored Post-its –

GET MILK, CALL VET, PAY MORTGAGE.

Maybe I should have one that says

WRITE MORE INTERESTING NOTES TO SELF.

All Things Considered, sippy cups half-filled with day-old milk,

that rotund little dictator Sir Topham Hatt

(Such a know-it-all)

My son’s robotic dancing

both spectacular and bizarre.

My husband’s towers of library books

threatening to collapse at any moment

and kill one of the cats.

(I kind of want those cats dead sorry there I said it.)

And speaking of death let’s not forget the pathetic patch of grass

we call the front yard

and that we frantically keep on life support.

Maybe we should pull the plug…

(After all, it’s just grass.)

And I must acknowledge

the toasty warm sheets

birthed out of the dryer

in the late hours of the evening.

I want to sink into them

and fall asleep, but

I fold them again and again and again and again and again…

I’ll fold them forever

because I’m a grown-up

and grown-ups do laundry

and write boring notes to self.

(It’s okay.  It happens to everyone.)

 

Conversations I Never Thought I’d Have With My Husband Until We Had a Baby

Kevin:He had some diarrhea yesterday.

Me: Did he eat any grapes?

Kevin: No.

Me: Was it real watery?

Kevin: No, it wasn’t that bad.  I saved it for you.  It’s on your bed if you want to look at it.

***

Me: You know, I think he can start eating Yo, Toddler yogurt instead of this Yo, Baby yogurt.

Kevin: What’s the difference?

Me: I think there’s, like, more DHA in Yo, Toddler.

Kevin: What’s DHA?

Me: Some crap they put in kids’ food these days to make them smarter.  It’s the reason kids take Algebra I in 8th grade now instead of freshman year like we had to do.  We were so deprived.

Kevin: Dang.  We gotta get us some of that DHA.

***

Kevin: I noticed something really weird about that Baby Beluga book today.

Me: What?

Kevin: Look at this page.  It says, `Is your mama home, with you so happy?’ That makes no sense.  With you so happy?

Me: Oh, I know, I noticed that, too.  Whenever I read that page, I just change it to,  Is your mama home, are you so happy?

Kevin: Yeah, that sounds better.

Me: Remember when we used to argue about James Joyce?

***

Kevin: Guess who does the narration for the Curious George episodes?

Me: I don’t know, who?

Kevin: William H. Macy.

Me: Oh, that is so cool!

***

Me: Do you think this new haircut is, like, too mom-bob?

Kevin: I thought that was the look you were going for.

Me: A mom-bob?!?!

Kevin: Yeah.

Me: Well, I guess it was.

***

Kevin: I found those spinach nuggets you were talking about.

Me: Aren’t they crazy?  Like chicken nuggets but with spinach.  He doesn’t even know he’s eating vegetables.

Kevin: We’re living in amazing times, babe.

***

Kevin: Well, he’s finally asleep.

Me: You wanna…you know…get bizz-ay?

Kevin: I don’t know.  I’m so exhausted.

Me: Yeah, me, too.

Kevin: I have something even better.  I DVRd a new episode of Full Throttle Saloon.

Me: Is there any bourbon?

Kevin: Yes.

Me: You’re right.  That is better.