Saturday, March 31, 2007

Children of Meh: Color me disappointed


Last night, I finally got to see Children of Men. I've been wanting to see this for awhile, in no small part because I generally find Clive Owen interesting. I like his voice, too. A lot.

Alas, I was not terribly impressed, and this movie provides yet another example of why movie reviewers and I often don't see eye-to-eye. See, I don't care how visually impressive a movie is. I don't care about the great camera work or the lighting. I only notice if it's bad. I want a good story, and I also want to feel satisfied at the end.

Why didn't Children of Men work for me? Well, I'd have to say the "spoiler" in the trailer -- she's pregnant! -- didn't do a whole lot to add to the suspense. I mean, we knew going in that Clive Owen was supposed to help the pregnant girl get...somewhere. And it wasn't going to be easy.

My theory is, if you're going to divulge a key plot point in the trailer, for heaven's sake, put that plot point at the beginning. Otherwise, it seems like a long, long set-up to get to the surprise that's no surprise.

It was never clear to me just what fate might await the baby's mother and/or child if they were taken by the government. Was she going to be separated from her child? If she's nursing? Surely, given this is the future, they would be aware that nursing is good. Were they going to "study" them intensely and subject them to probes of many kinds to figure out why she could bear children? If so, this wasn't particularly clear. I could just as easily believe that yes, she'd be examined and samples taken (just like if you're pregnant now) but that they'd also be sheltered and coddled and treated with great care (especially considering the fate of the last "youngest person on the planet"). Given the alternative world of the film (grim does not begin to describe it), that cushy fate didn't seem so bad an alternative. Of course, you could compare it to a gilded cage, but if the alternative is a sewer? Gilding's looking mighty fine.

Speaking of alternatives, what the heck was The Human Project? What was it supposed to be? This was not at all clear to me -- and so I had no particular reason to believe going to them would be any better than taking a chance in Britain, especially when the "freedom fighters" turned out to have their own agenda for using the baby. Without any evidence, I simply couldn't believe that the folks at The Human Project were going to, without doubt, treat them better than the others.

I couldn't quite buy into the notion that the great disaster of no babies occurred so quickly. Over a decade, and so gradually that by the time people realized what was happening, it was too late to prevent? Yep. In a year? That's a stretch.

There was so little to explain the motivation of Clive Owens' character, and to me, this was a huge problem. He'd been a renegade, and then...not. Was it the death of his son that prompted the switch? But why? How and why did the death change his mindset? And what prompted him to decide to help the baby's mother? When he makes that decision, he doesn't yet know about the pregnancy. The only thing I really got was, "Just 'cause his ex-wife asked him to." So, like, he still loved her? I guess, since I wasn't given any other reason.

What the heck made the world go to hell in a hand basket? So they realized babies weren't being born and...let's riot? Let's just attack somebody? Wouldn't the smart folks be more prone to, I dunno, protect who's left, especially the younger ones? Wouldn't that tend to lessen the chances of conflict? Call me Polly-Anna (Hey, you're Polly-anna!) but without any background to explain the problems, I was left baffled.

I could have bought the premise of the story more if there were still some people who could have children (the haves) vs. those who couldn't (the have-nots) and especially if those have-nots were barren because of pollution caused by the businesses of the haves. OTOH, this is kind of a cliche, isn't it? But I just didn't understand why the world would go nuts without "the sound of children's voices."

And don't get me started on that babbling, possibly Gypsy woman with the dog.

One thing that was crystal clear was the comparison to xenophobic elements in today's society and the extremes to which it could lead. And this came down like a sledgehammer on the ol' cranium. I got it the first time, 'kay? Really. I'm not dense -- but I don't like to be scratching my head several times, either.

There's a line between intriguing and baffling to frustration. Writers face this all the time, especially at the beginning of a book. You want to tell enough so that the reader's curious, but you don't want to be so enigmatic they give up and think, "Nuts to this. I'm checking my email."

There was one moment of genuine surprise for me in this movie -- when Julianne Moore's character died. But I was shocked not because of that element of the story. I was surprised because she's a big-name actress, so I wasn't expecting her to be killed, and certainly not in the first half of the film.

In short, I won't be getting the DVD.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Stephen Colbert, Romance Cover Model?

Last night, Stephen Colbert did a rather major segment on The Colbert Report about Harlequin's search for new cover models. It was fun, and he posed for various covers (link below).

However, right at the top of the segment, three covers were shown beside him. I couldn't quite make out the ones on the left and the right, but I recognized the one in the middle. It wasn't a Harlequin book.

Maybe somebody just went to the store and grabbed any ol' romance without a single thought to the actual publisher, despite the impetus for the piece, but even so, I couldn't help wondering if they didn't grab any Harlequin books because their covers aren't nearly as "clinchy" and/or "old school" as some used by other publishers.

Take a look at the covers of the March Harlequin Historicals here. And the April books here. There's only one that I would consider remotely "old school" (THE ADVENTURER'S WIFE) and even then, it's not nearly as "old school" as other romances published recently.

The irony? I could actually see Stephen Colbert on one of my covers. He's got good bone structure and a great scowl. The artist would have to make him look a little more muscular, so readers would be able to believe he could wear forty pounds of chain mail all day and not collapse in a heap at the end, and the glasses would have to go, but otherwise? Go for it, Stephen! Go for it! It could be a whole new career!

Stephen Colbert's covers. (You'll have to scroll down a bit.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Day in the Life

So it's about 3 p.m., and thus far, I have:

1. Gone back and added some necessary information to two scenes.

2. Cleaned up the "wobbly" point of view in one scene (his, hers, mine...yep, wobbly).

3. Written seven new pages of a scene, but then had to stop to look up how to pick a medieval lock, i.e. a warded lock, and also skeleton keys. This is where Google and the internet come in really handy.

Thinking "warded" locks might have something in common with "warden", I then looked that up, too, and yup. Warden comes from "warder" which means "to guard." Neat.

In this scene, in addition to relaying some very necessary backstory of my hero's, which will come into big play at the end of the book, and revealing some more information about just how sneaky the villain is, the hero has to teach the heroine how to pick a lock. It's also going to be a love scene -- a fun love scene, I hope, what with the hiding of skeleton keys in oh, say, a bodice.

I don't think a scene should ever do just one thing, like reveal one piece of information. I want a whole bunch of things to happen in any given scene. If a scene's only doing one job, I usually combine it with another, or take out the bit of necessary information and put it in another scene. Otherwise, zzzzzz, because whatever comes before and after in that scene is just so much padding.

My characters won't refer to the lock they need to pick as a "warded" lock. I think it would be the most common type of lock back then, so to them, it's just a lock. The hero may have a skeleton key, but if he does, he won't call it that. Too modern (origin approximately 1800 -- but you can't tell me clever thieves hadn't devised something like it earlier even if they didn't call it that). So I'm fine with him having a skeleton key, but not referring to it by that name. Ditto "pick the lock" - sounds too modern. But I may cave on that if I can't find a more medieval-sounding alternative.

After I did that research, I ate lunch and watched Law & Order.

Also thus far, I have done four loads of laundry, run errands and discovered copies of BRIDE OF LOCHBARR from Spain (cool!) in the mail, as well as checked my email a couple of times, and written this blog.

I still hope to finish that love scene before it's time to start the spaghetti and meatballs.

By the time dinner's over, I'll be ready to sit down and, if my day is to be well and truly made, watch Rocky get kicked off Survivor, after seeing Henry on Ugly Betty (and bemoaning their star-crossed love). Any show that has me calling out, "Kiss her! Kiss her!" at the TV works for me!

ETA: Oh, joy! Rocky be out! Although still on the jury, so I'll have to no doubt endure eye rolling and grimacing, etc. etc.

And now, at 9:39 p.m., it's off to try to finish that love scene. I got to page 12 before breaking for dinner.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Morass in the Middle

Right now, I am deep in the morass that is the middle of my work-in-progress (not to be confused with the Slough of Despond, which is a whole 'nuther, much worse animal).

This is where not being a big planner/outliner has its greatest drawbacks. It really is kinda like wandering around in a dark swamp, with quicksand, crocs and wrong turns beckoning as you make your way along a very narrow path, with a few sign posts (i.e. my synopsis) to guide the way. I feel like I'm literally feeling/crawling my way along sometimes. I know where I'm going (the next signpost) but oh, baby, I could get in deep trouble along the way.

However, and this is why some of us don't do the outlining thing, this is also where the biggest, most exciting surprises can appear. Where the wrong turn turns out to be a better, more interesting and entertaining route.

Of course, sometimes I fall right into the ol' quicksand. If I realize it, well, I've lost some time and effort. If not, then I've got a bigger problem. But that's where my editor comes strolling along and reaches out a helping hand. She drags me back to the path and points the right way and, kindly, refrains from saying, "That way, Dolt."

Sometimes, the crocs get me. And by crocs, I mean the big doubts. The fear that I'm making all the wrong choices. That I don't know what I'm doing. What was I thinking when I entered this swamp? I have to wrestle those beasts into submission and just keep going. Ever wonder why some authors finish a book and look drained? Now you know.

And now you also know why some people just give up and why the rest of us keep going. It can be daunting, wandering around in the morass, but if the wrong turn turns out to be right? Now that's exciting.

(The above picture is of Yellow Water Billabong, Australia, taken during our trip there in 2002.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

My fair Lance

So there I am, admiring Lance (Paul Adelstein) on Prison Break and his many medals and sighing over a man in uniform (although a beret is a very tricky look to pull off, as I have cause to know -- see below), when he...what? Puts the gun to his head? Oh, no! Not Lance o' the Lashes (as in eye lashes -- that guy has beautiful eyes and lovely dark lashes). But whew, his gun jammed. I think even the gun thought he was too pretty to ruin.

Then he saves Dr. Sarah! He's redeeming himself! Oh, Lance! And then, during the commercial, some faceless voice reveals that the actress who plays Dr. Sarah is pregnant and how will they work this into the show?

I know! I know! Dr. Sarah will be grateful to Lance o' the Lashes, and have gratitude sex (especially since, as far as she knows, she's never seeing Michael again) and she'll get pregnant and then Michael will find out and be all jealous... I tell ya, I had this figured out in about .5 seconds.

Obviously, I want more Lance!

But alas, it seems Michael has forgotten all about Sucre's girlfriend who is supposedly in a most perilous situation. What was up with that?

And then in 24, I've gotta tell ya, the suspension of my disbelief has pretty much gone the way of the dodo. I mean, it's still supposedly the day Jack got off the plane from China where he's been imprisoned and tortured and presumably not well fed for two years, and he's still The Man. Much as I love The Velvet-Voiced One, this is really, really, really stretching my credulity.

In other news, I wrote a sixteen-page chapter on Sunday, and a seventeen-page chapter yesterday. I'm on a roll! Whoo hooo!

This is me in uniform. Wearing a beret.

Doing it your way

Anybody who knows me knows I'm a big fan of writing what you want the way you want to write it. I think that's the best way to keep the creative well filled.

So there I was, wandering around the internet, and I found this article by Julie Elizabeth Leto, "DITCHING "THE BOOK OF MY HEART" for "THE BOOK OF MY VOICE". She defines a "book of the heart," and what she calls a "book of the voice."

Book of the Voice is closer to what I think an author ought to aim for, or at least the attitude toward one's writing that she describes, which is, basically, let 'er rip and don't worry about what you "should" be doing.

Ms. Leto also advocates writing to your strengths. I've read this sort of thing before, and not in a writing book. It was in a business book, called IF IT AIN'T BROKE...BREAK IT: AND OTHER UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM FOR A CHANGING BUSINESS WORLD" by Robert J. Kriegel and Louis Patler. In a chapter called "Play Your Own Best Game," they write: "Plugging the holes in your game causes you to spend too much time on what doesn't work. Though you may go from poor to fair, you rarely excel at that which is not your strong suit. Then, because you are spending so much time focusing on your weak points, you don't have time to hone the skills you are good at. The result is that you never excel at anything."

Kinda the opposite of what we hear at writing workshops, eh? You're supposed to master everything -- dialogue, setting, emotions.

I like this advice, although I confess I don't precisely follow it. That is, I do work to improve on things that I don't consider my strong suit, such as description. But this also frees me not to worry myself into knots over those elements that are not my strong suit. Work to improve, yes. Go nuts obsessing about? No.

Now, on that note, it's off to write a love scene. These are not my strong suit. But do I work on them? Do I try to make them better with every book? Oh, you betcha!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Amazing Grace: sadly, more like "meh"

Yesterday, Daughter and I attended the first showing of the new film starring Ioan Gruffudd, Amazing Grace. I didn't read the reviews, but I did see the headlines, and the general consensus was "boring." However, since film reviewers and I often don't see eye-to-eye, I was not dissuaded.

I didn't find the movie boring, but it wasn't great, either. For one thing, flashbacks are tricky things, whether in a book or a movie. They can really throw the pace off. However, in a book, you have the change in verb tense to alert you to the beginning and end of a flashback. In a movie, not so much. Once you've gone back in time, you can't be sure if the next scene is past or present, unless it's really obvious (different hair color or major fashion switch, say). In the case of Amazing Grace, the director opted for titles.

I would have preferred the director opted for chronological order. Why not do that? I suspect it's an attempt to create sympathy for the character. See how he's suffering now? Let's go back and find out how he got that way.

If you're going to do that, I wish he'd shown us what prompted William Wilberforce to tackle the issue of slave trading in the first place. There's a mention that he was taught by the former slave ship captain who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, which, if I can go by what I've googled (quickly) was not, in fact, the case. He did meet that man, who's a character during the movie, but it seems more likely that Wilberforce was set upon his path by a conversion to Evangelical Christianity, which is totally down-played in this film. I know it's a movie, but now I'm thinking they played that relationship up as a means of getting people into the theater.

I was also confused about whether folks were speaking in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. I think they sort of combined the two.

There's an early scene in the Pump Room at Bath that my daughter and I enjoyed very much, in no small part because it was just like something from a historical romance novel.

Also, Sir Michael Gambon has more acting chops in his little pinky than many an actor today. He's always a pleasure to watch.

True story: when my husband and I were in London, we went to see a play set in Restoration England, featuring Michael Gambon. During intermission, my husband went outside for a breath of fresh air and there, in his costume, was Michael Gambon having a smoke.

However, it seemed they played fast and loose with his character's part in the story; his character was dead when Wilberforce's bill finally passed, but he's certainly alive in the film.

Overall, I thought the film was okay.

Will I buy the DVD? Probably not.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wanted: Mature Men

There was an article in a Canadian newspaper, The National Post, about Harlequin's decision to cease using modeling agencies when it comes to finding men for their covers. (Read the entire article here.)

The article quotes Deborah Peterson, a creative designer for Harlequin, who says, "We usually cast through modelling agencies, but... what we're finding is the models we're getting from the casting agencies are getting progressively younger and younger, and skinnier and skinnier."

I, for one, am glad they're making this change.

See, in my mind, my heroes are always at least thirty to thirty-five, sometimes even older. Given that I write a lot of medievals, I do tend to say they're younger, but I imagine them all as mature, self-confident men -- a confidence that comes from experience of the world and a certain amount of success; it comes with age.

So, and to use actors as examples, while I think Jamie Bamber and Ioan Gruffudd are good-looking, I don't want them on my covers. To me, they seem too young.

Here are some others I would put in the "mature man" category, in no particular order:

Gerard Butler

I don't know how old he is, but I thought he was a "mature man" the first time I saw him, in Timeline.

Richard Armitage

This guy puts the tense in intense -- in a good way.

Ray Stevenson, who managed to be both cute and frightening in Rome. He also made one heck of a strong, silent type in King Arthur. His character broke my heart with his interaction with the little boy.

Sam Neil

His portrayal of Charles II inspired me to write about Restoration England.

Other mature actors of note: Russell Crowe, Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, Gregory Peck, Basil Rathbone, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart

You'll notice that most of these guys aren't conventionally handsome. It's their attitude, their confidence, that I appreciate.

Rocky from Survivor should take note that most of these guys take roles that don't require them to talk a lot, either.

Truly self-confident men don't have to.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Survivor: ARGH!!!

I have rarely been as upset at a booting on Survivor as I was last night. Seriously, upset. Growling, complaining, moaning...and that was two hours later. I mean, what the heck? You keep "Rocky" and take out Anthony? It made no sense to me.

At least Yau-Man, Earl and Michelle got to Camp Comfy. And Cassandra is making a move.

In other TV news: did something happen on 24? At this point, I can't remember...which says something about how engaged I am this season. Oh, yes, Jack found out Audrey is dead. Maybe. And there's a mole. I tell ya, security in CTU is baaaaad.

Prison Break: So now it's Let's Stop T-bag Time? Okay. I can't quite figure out how T-bag manages to do all he does, including murder, with just the one hand, especially given that this is a relatively recent disability. Adapts pretty fast, that T-bag. I see according to the promo, Lance is back. Yeah! But will he be Good Lance, or Bad Lance?

In work-related news, I'm revising Chapter Eight now. The bad news: I've cut out about 42 pages altogether. The good news: I'm ahead of my original page count by 35. I didn't realize I'd replaced and added so much. Yeah!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Website Update

Today, I updated my website. This is something I try to do once a week. I don't always make it (missed last week) and sometimes I'll do it more often, if something happens that I want to announce or highlight (a good review, say). Today, I added two writing exercises for when you feel like quitting or the writing isn't going well. (Link below.) Because believe you me, I have been in both places, and sometimes it takes this little smack upside the, writing get my thinking back to where it ought to be.

Also, because it's officially spring, even if it's not feeling quite like it in my neck of the woods, I added a very bright floral background to my "what's new?" page.

And then, as I was noodling around with the background, I suddenly realized that I may be able to make slide shows with software I already own! What the --??? So that's my next project, to see if I can, indeed, do that. Which would be very cool.

Margaret's Writing Exercises

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who decides what's hot and what's not?

Who decides what makes a genre or sub-genre suddenly "hot" in publishing? Is it the authors, the publishers, the public, something in the air?

I think it's all about what's going on in the big wide world. If a genre or sub-genre suddenly takes off in popularity, I believe that's a reflection of a sort of collective mindset among the general public.

For instance, right now in Romanceland, paranormals are hot. Vampires, werewolves, some combination of both, ghosts, etc. are all the rage. I think this popularity is really a reflection of the current generalized fear of the person who looks like us and sounds like us but is evil and wants to destroy us. And if that evil entity is vanquished? Whew. If the evil entity turns out to be not so bad after all? Also whew. Our fears are, it seems, groundless...or so we'd like to feel.

I think Westerns fell out of favor because the idea of the "wild west", where anything goes and him the with the fastest draw wins, is not in line with the
increased sense that we need/want more law and order. In other words, the prevalent thinking has undergone a shift, and suddenly the "wild west" ain't so attractive no more. Now, I'm sure many, many Western romances have NOTHING to do with gunslingers, etc., but I can easily believe that's why the general public has shied away from them in recent years.

I think medievals have never been as popular as Regencies because of the idea that folks were dirty and had rotten teeth and stunk, etc. etc. The way Hollywood portrays the Regency, and the way some romance writers portray the Regency, everything is clean and tidy and polite and wonderful. No thought to the poor sods working the farms or in the factories -- because what the public wanted, after 9/11 especially, was clean and pretty escapism.

To use another, non-romance example, I don't think THE DA VINCI CODE would have been nearly so popular if it had been published before we became aware that the Catholic Church had been covering up sexual abuse by the clergy for years. NOW people can easily believe the church would indeed be capable of a huge cover-up. Fifteen or twenty years ago? Not so much.

So to my mind, the popularity of a genre or sub-genre is, to a large part, dependent upon what's going on in the collective minds/hearts of the reading public. That's not to say authors and publishers don't also have some influence. After all, they're people living in our time, so their feelings, and therefore their writing and buying decisions, are going to be influenced by our times.

But I truly believe that when it comes to making a genre or sub-genre suddenly "hot," it's not simply and only because the writers decided to write about it. People were writing and trying to sell paranormals many years ago. It's not because publishers suddenly decided to make it so, based on some kind of whim. It's because the general mood/feelings/concerns of the public (and therefore the authors and publishers, too) coincide with aspects of those books.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Harriet Klausner

Apparently some people are a tad upset with Harriet Klausner's reviews on Amazon. They've decided that instead of just, oh, clicking the "not helpful" button on the page, they're going to dissect her reviews and parse her sentences. (Here's an example.)

I suppose if you think there's not a real person behind those reviews, it's a lot easier to be snarky. Or maybe they just don't care. Which is a sad statement on their outlook in life, and I sincerely hope I never meet any of them in person, because really, are there no better things to do with one's time? Like, maybe, read a book?

Anyhoodle, about Harriet. She is a real person. I know this because I've talked to her. Once, many years ago, when I was just starting out and my kids were small and the call waiting beep went off and I, trying to be a Professional Writer, ignored it and it turned out to be my child's school calling to say she wasn't feeling well and wanted to come home and was anybody there? Oh, did I feel terrible about that, and ever after, even if I was talking to my editor in NY, if the call waiting went off and my kids weren't home? I excused myself and took the call.

Now, granted this was a phone call, and it could have been somebody pretending to be Harriet Klausner, but somehow, I doubt that. There was no Amazon then, for one thing.

As for Harriet's reviews, apparently she may have had a stroke. I hope that's just a rumor, although it would explain something about her reviews I've noticed over the past couple of years.

How does she read so many books? Does she actually read them cover to cover? All I can say about that is that I understood she was a "speed reader." To be honest, this is likely not the best thing you want in a reviewer. I think reading too quickly means that the reviewer will miss the things, or make errors, which is certainly one of the beefs people have against her. But as far as I know, she does read every book.

And here's the thing about her reviews when it comes to my books: my readers don't seem particularly keen to post reviews of my books on Amazon. My books are selling, so somebody's reading them; they're just not the people who then go to Amazon and review the books. So many times, the only review of my book on Amazon will be Harriet's. Now, if she's gotten a story detail wrong (like the year, say), that makes me want to smack my head on the computer. But overall, because she does take the time to post a review at all, I'm grateful.

Like her, love her, hate her or think she's way too generous with her assessments, she is a real person, and I don't think deserving of the level of vitriol being hurled her way. If you don't like her reviews, don't read them. If you think they're so much garbage, hit the "not helpful" button. Then go read a book, and post your own (no doubt perceptive, astonishingly well-written) review.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Not walkin' that road no mo'

So last night, I see there's a new TV show premiering, "October Road," about a writer. He wrote a novel that apparently featured characters quite obviously based on his friends that became a huge bestseller and movie. It seems he hasn't been home in ten years. He left to go backpacking in Europe and never came back; then wrote his book. Now, before I eviserate, er, review, this show, I will offer this caveat: I missed a chunk in the last half, because my husband returned home from a business trip. It could be that I missed some Key Elements but I also note that I knew I was likely to have my viewing interrupted, and if the show had engaged me to that point, I would have started taping well before the hubby came through the door. I did not feel any such need.

And here's why:

First of all, I knew I was in Fantasy Writers Land almost from the get-go. Now, granted I don't write "literary" fiction, but even so, some things were just too unbelievable to me.

Who keeps a stack of their own books right beside the computer and in various other locations around their house? I'm not talkin' one, I'm talking a pile.

Who gets phone calls from their editors after business hours? Asking how the book's coming? Okay, maybe they do this for literary writers. And maybe literary writers have no qualms about phoning their editors back after midnight, but I found it a stretch.

I knew we were watching a "literary" writer when I saw the title of the book. TURTLES ON A SNARE DRUM. What? It reminded me of that Dick Van Dyke episode where he and Laura were trying to get to see a hot new play, "Waiting for an Armadillo." I mean, honestly. Actually, I thought this show did the sort of disservice to genuine literary writers that movies and TV often do, because later, our writer winds up with some creative writing students, and oh, the pretentious, I'm-so-deep-I'm-bottomless claptrap that came out of their mouths!

One asked if the writer had set the final chapter of his book at Ground Zero to make some kind of statement. I believe the word nihilistic was used. The writer replied something about past and present and not being in either. I think the real answer would be closer to, "Everybody has a gut emotional reaction to Ground Zero. It's a really easy way to pack an emotional wallop at the end of my book."

Similarly, I had to smirk when he was confronted by his former love, Hannah, over his character named "Anna" (oh, the creativity in that, eh?). He said he didn't try hard to disguise the characters because he didn't think the book would sell.

So let me get this straight: you spend months working on a project and get an agent and have it submitted to publishers don't think it'll sell? If a person really thinks their book is a no-hoper, I would expect to find it hidden in the bottom desk drawer.

Oh, speaking of his agent -- the guy seems to spend all his time walking around and/or partying. Yep, that's what I'd want my agent to do. Not.

Let us not forget the former friend who hadn't been out of his house since 9/11. How does he earn any money? Who cashes his welfare check, because as far as I could tell, he had no other source of income? Is it directly deposited? I mean, what was up with that?

And then...a secret baby. A secret baby? Oh, my word! My eyes rolled right back in my head -- and I'm a romance writer. Who's actually written one secret baby story.

Why was I so disbelieving? Because the writers' family is still living in the town. It was no secret the writer and Mother of Secret Baby (Hannah/Anna) had an intimate relationship -- but nobody thought to mention that about nine months after he left, she had a baby????

Which also brings up another point. It seemed Writer Boy could drive to his hometown from New York. I didn't get any inkling that his relationship with his father was a difficult one, full of conflict and serious issues. It didn't seem particularly warm, but there was no obvious animosity. His younger brother seemed delighted by his return. So, why the heck didn't he go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas in the intervening ten years? I just could not buy this, or that nobody from home would have contacted him after his book came out, for good or ill, which apparently was the case. I sincerely hope there was an explanation for some of these things that I missed, because otherwise, Writer Boy comes off as a completely self-centered child. Which kinda fits with the "I didn't think my book would be published" excuse. And hence, this is not a character I care to know more about.

Finally, there's a problem with this show that is shared by The Black Donnelleys, which I also gave up on after one viewing. There are five or six main male characters. Major female characters? One. Compare this to other hit shows: Gray's Anatomy (according to my husband, since I don't watch this show because I can't watch medical shows for my own peace o' mind), it's about 6-6. Desperate Housewives? Even though the show is supposedly all about the women, there have been other almost equal male roles. I remember the wails of dismay on Television Without Pity when Rex was bumped off. Ugly Betty? Lots of both male and female characters.

It seems to me that if you really want your show to have a wide and presumably large audience, you have to have more than one main female character, and/or have very strong female characters, like The Sopranos. On the surface that show seems male dominated, but Tony's wife is no shrinking violet and there's the shrink, and his mother certainly cast a big shadow.

But lest I leave you all on a sour note for the weekend: Is Henry on Ugly Betty not the most adorable nerd ever?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What's making me grin this week....

First, the clocks went ahead. A lot of people have been moaning about this. Not me. I love it! Mind you, I'm not a morning person (never have been) so I'm not up at the (moved back) crack o' dawn, so I pretty much miss the morning darkness.

I discovered there are 300 action figures (that's action figures based on the movie 300). I can have my own little buff Gerard Butler? Heheheee.

I think I've solved some problems in the work-in-progress, in no small part by reminding myself, "It's a romance, you nit." Sometimes, I kinda forget, what with the swords and the fighting and everything.

I wisely decided to make sure the VCR was recording American's Next Top Model last night while Daughter was at work. Because Daughter forgot to change the clock on the VCR (biggest drawback to the time change in our house) and it didn't start and oh, geez, how do I work these dang remotes, so picture me sitting on the floor in front of the telly, desperate pushing buttons on two remotes, then giving up and just using the buttons on the dang machine. Whew! Crisis averted.

(Just FYI, in our house, the remote is known as "the conch," a reference to LORD OF THE FLIES. Pity my poor kids when they went to a friend's house and asked for "the conch" instead of the remote. But as I've told them many times, it is a parents' job to embarrass their kids.)

Also, in case you missed it before, Aaron and Martha on 24. My little heart, she squees!

But alas, all is not complete joy. Today, I have to pay my taxes. It is the Ides of March, after all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Working even in my sleep....

I tell ya, I am one hard-workin' writer woman! Because last night, it happened again -- proof that my writer's brain continues to work even in my sleep.

See, sometimes I get to the end of the writing day and am faced with a problem. I don't know how to go from the scene I just finished to the next one. Or, as in the case last night, I knew something was "off" in the two chapters I'd been working on (no TV!), yet I couldn't quite put my finger on what. Too much backstory? Too much dialogue and not enough narrative? Did the scenes feel like filler? I just couldn't tell.

I gave up and went to bed.

And when I awoke this morning, voila! I know what's wrong. Where the heck is my hero's POV in all this? How does he feel about what's going on? In fact, I think I'm probably "light" on anybody's POV.


But now that my subconscious had identified the problem, I can revise with that in mind, and hopefully, the scenes will work much better.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Aaron and FLOTUS, together again!

Ah, at last! Aaron and FLOTUS appear. And they're together, although...I'm not too happy about the actual "in a facility" situation, but I can see it was necessary to bring the drama. Nice facility, too. Except for the giant pear thing on the counter. I thought maybe it was a cookie jar, but I couldn't see any line separating a lid from the bottom, and believe me, I was looking. Because my first thought was, UGH! What's that bulbous thing?

Aaron looked good. I believe the fella's lost some weight, or maybe it was the casual duds. Anyway, he cares about her so much, it was lovely to see, especially after Dysfunctional Family Stuff. I'm willing to overlook the incredible co-inky-dink that he just happens to arrive moments before the ex-pres. calls.

And finally, Jack is beginning to look, well, human, as in not invincible.

Poor Russian lover-boy, I hope he's not dead, although at first I thought I was seeing a little on-the-job sexual harrassment. Anybody else think so, or do you think they were enjoying a little on-the-job relationship?

I guess it's a fashion to wear see-through blouses...but to work??? Yikes. I would label that not dressing for success, as in being taken seriously. But I've been self-employed for twenty years.

Speaking of which, you might think after all that time I would be able to just write a first draft and call it a day. Or get it right on the second. Nope. Still revising, revising, revising. Which brings me to the Inspirational Quote o' the Day, from Arthur Rubenstein: "Don't tell me how talented you are. Tell me how hard you work."

Workin' hard here, Art! Workin' hard!

Monday, March 12, 2007

TV Roundup

Rob and Amber, you have been eliminated. Oh, happy day! They can both be so smug and self-satisfied, and I did not want to watch a whole season of folks referring to them or speculating about what they might be doing. It was especially sweet because they have no one to blame but themselves. Or rather, Rob, who assumed he knew where they should be going instead of following directions. However, I could have done without the nasty letters. I mean, I may have wished many times, out loud, that I never want to see Rob and Amber again, but even so, I found those letters unnecessarily mean-spirited.

I'm getting weary of Mirna's nearly constant hysterics.

Still loving the ever calm Chas, and Ian doesn't seem nearly so bully-bossy this time around, which is nice. The Guidos I enjoy, although I also worry about them.

Survivor: I am so glad they're mixing up the tribes soon, I can't tell you. It has not been entertaining watching the rich get richer, and the weak get weaker, although as an analogy of society in general? Yep. Rocky is working my last nerve -- but then, I'm a girl, so I guess he would expect me to be, you know, emotional and stuff. I'm enjoying Earl, and Yau Man. Alex showed some smarts. Lisi and Stacy -- I don't get the hostility. Okay, I might not want to live with Dreamz either, but the blatant ignoring is just so junior high, and what did Cassandra do to them, other than help win challenges (unlike, say, Lisi)? Man, that is ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Also, do they not remember they are going to be on national television? And if they don't make any effort to understand what Alex was warning them about, as in, we could have a revolution on our hands if we ignore the downtrodden in our midst? Buh-bye and good riddance.

Prison Break -- Oh, Lance! Evil, then joining with the forces for good, then're breaking my heart!

Speaking of heart breaking, Heroes! Claire's dad! And now their house is all blowed up! I'm not sure if Radioactive Man is still alive, though. I think...yes. Isaac is lovely to look at, except with the spooky vision eyes. Freaks me out, that.

24 -- I actually dozed off -- dozed off! -- during last week's episode. That just ain't right. I continue to be amazed that Jack, for whom this is still the day he arrived back in the US after two years in a Chinese prison (and we're not talking Club Fed), hasn't dropped from sheer exhaustion. Also, still waiting for Aaron, people!!! I caught part of Season Three in reruns the other day, and sigh... I so miss Tony and Michelle.

Battlestar Galactica. Okay, Starbuck has to come back. Just. Has. To. I'm not so much enjoying the yammer yammer of politics, I must confess. The sense of urgency, of heart-pounding drama, seems to have wandered off with the Cylons.

Last night, we happened upon the sort of series the BBC does from time to time. Last time, it was about modern children sent off to experience 1950's boarding school. They were getting great marks in "real life," but under the old system? Most failed. They had to forego modern toiletries, including deodorant, and they had gym every day. They also had to eat 1950's meals. One girl lost about ten pounds and was totally thrilled. The new one is called "Evacution," and is based on the evacuation of children during WWII. They've sent 12 city kids to live in the country, for a mere two weeks. As one (crying) child pointed out, they know when they'll be going home and that their families are safe, but still, she's homesick. They're getting some discipline from the farmer and especially his wife, and it was interesting to see the girl who clearly had "attitude" at home being proud of doing such a good job of washing the dishes (punishment for not eating all her "bubble and squeak") that she got to go on the farm tour after all. Indeed, the food seems to be one of the things the kids have the most difficulty with. Do kids in Britain truly eat nothing but fast food? That's the implication, which I find a little tough to swallow (HA!).

I seem to recall reading somewhere (that historical writer's memory for small details but not where she found them again!), that they later realized that in fact, the kids who stayed in London with their families, Blitz notwithstanding, were better adjusted than the kids who'd been sent away. I can imagine being with one's parents, no matter what else was going on, would be less stressful than being physically safer, but not knowing if they were all right.

And lastly, America's Next Top Model. Will that one girl who thinks she rules the cat walk please put on a few pounds? I don't care if she's the best model in the world; she looks unhealthily thin.

I should also note that I worked Friday night, from 8 to 10, revising Chapter One again, just in case you think I spend every evening at prime time parked in front of the TV. :-)

Friday, March 09, 2007

300: Part Two

I wanna buy the DVD NOW!!! Today!!! Loved it!

Also, does the Spartan army have a women's auxiliary? Can I be their Florence Nightingale? I mean, whooo! The hunkage!

To be sure, the movie had some unintentional laughs and some things that had me rolling my eyes (if you don't mind being spoiled, you can read what here), but overall, I really, really liked it.

About the gore -- not nearly as bad as I was expecting. My daughter, who saw Sin City, said 300 wasn't nearly as gross as that film. Also, because the film was so stylized, I think, the violence often didn't seem very realistic.

I liked that the narration gave a little history lesson on the way Spartan boys were raised. What they left out, and what I recall reading, although darned if I can remember where now (the curse of the historical writer -- I tend to remember snippets of interesting stuff, but can't always recall where, so I think this is true but couldn't swear to it), about Spartan marriages: on their wedding night, a Spartan woman cut her hair and wore men's clothes, because Spartan warriors had only ever lived with other men from the time they were seven years old, so they weren't at all used to the company of women. And even afterward, Spartan soldiers only ever visited their wives after dark and left before dawn.

Also, I must confess I always have a problem with movies set in such times that make mention of fighting for "freedom." I always think, "And have you discussed this concept with your slaves lately?"

But overall, I really, really enjoyed it. Would I see it again? Oh, I know I will. Probably several times.

300: Part One

Okay, so we've made plans to see this movie this afternoon. The headlines of the reviews mention much gore. I have been warned...

However, the rest of the reviews? I didn't plan to read. I hate spoilers. But I couldn't even glance at the first sentence of one without getting: "The movies starts with (this) and ends with (tha--)...."


Geez Louise, what is UP with that? Telling the ending in the very first sentence? ARGH.

It reminds me of the reviewer of one of my books who felt it necessary to state that she figured out the "twist" in the story very early on, the twist that I had worked and pondered on and revised and rewrote so it would be exciting and dramatic and surprising. Then this person tells everybody there's a big twist a-comin', so now they'll be anticipating it and it won't come as the big dramatic reveal it was meant to be.

This is the sort of thing that drives authors to bang their heads against the desk. And curse reviewers soundly.

I gather Sin City, also based on a Frank Miller graphic novel, was a gore-fest, too. But here's the thing: 300 is about a battle. Battles are gory.

I do understand that knowing a thing and seeing a thing are two very different experiences, so I'm ready to cover my eyes. I'm also thinking that now, there might be torture, or some gore that's non-battle-specific. Torture and/or the gruesome execution of enemies is not new, either, but if the violence seems to be there just for shock value? That's different.

Look for my reaction later today in 300: Part Two. I promise not to reveal the ending.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Movie Moments

Now that I have Gerard Butler as Leonides as my computer wallpaper...

I got to thinking (okay, daydreaming) about movie moments that I'll pause, rewind and watch again during the course of a movie. Not whole scenes, but little bits I really like. Oddly enough, they tend to center on the menfolk. Herewith is a small sample:

Richard Armitage in the BBC production of North and South, saying, as the woman he loves drives away and he thinks he'll never see her again, "Look back. Look back at me." Oh, my heart breaks! Every. Single. Time.

Errol Flynn as Robin Hood walking into the sheriff's hall with a stag over his shoulders and tossing it on the table. What an entrance!

The late Alexander Gudonov walking across the roof in Die Hard. What a walk! I also love the bit of him walking down the road at the end of Witness.

Jason Isaacs with those long locks a-flyin' in The Patriot. Not my favorite historical movie by a long shot, but I'll watch the whole thing just for that moment.

Not a movie, but Jamie Bamber nearly losing the towel in Battlestar Galactica. He might have been saying something at the time, but let's just say, I wasn't listening. The guy is buff.

Other memorable moments that fill me with emotion:

In To Kill A Mockingbird, when the pastor says to Scout, "Stand up, Miss Jean Louise. Your daddy's passin'."

In Spartacus, when the Roman general offers life to those who'll identify Spartacus, and all the former slaves stand up and yell, "I am Spartacus!" I tell ya, I cry every time.

I'm sure I could come up with many more examples, but those are the ones that immediately spring to mind.

Now thus inspired, it's off to revise, rewrite and otherwise mess around with the work-in-progress.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Supportive Spouses

There was an article in the latest edition of the RWA's Romance Writers Report called "The Arms That Hold You Up" by Laurie Wood. Basically, she's talking about people who support your efforts to write and be a writer.

I didn't even think about being a writer until I was home with two small children, but when I saw a brochure about a writing course and thought about taking it, my husband made no objections. It wasn't cheap, and we had to make arrangements with the neighbors for the kiddies, but otherwise, it was "You go, girl."

He bought our first computer for me to write. Now, granted, he works for a computer company, but this was in the olden days, pre-internet, so there really wasn't a lot of call for a computer in our house beyond my writing efforts.

I went to my first RWA conference the year I started writing. I was making no money and it wasn't cheap, but he was fine with that. After all, he'd go away with his buddies from time to time. That was the first time I'd been away from the hubby and kiddies since our youngest was born. I slept like a log. Never, at any subsequent conference, have I slept like that.

He'd take the kiddies to the park so I could write. He never complained if the house wasn't spotless (still doesn't and it still isn't).

I never, ever felt I had to "get his permission" for any writing-related expense, and I'm sure if he'd ever objected to my writing, his reasons would have been only financial. He never begrudged me the time.

For all these reasons, and more, I consider my husband very supportive of my writing.

So there was one thing in that article that utterly flummoxed me, because I don't think a negative answer to that question would mean your husband isn't supportive of your writing. It was, "Does your spouse have no interest in reading your manuscript?"

My husband has never, ever read one of books in manuscript form. Never.

I couldn't even remember if he'd actually read any of my finished books. I had to go and ask him. I thought maybe my first, fifteen years ago. But otherwise? I had no idea.

He said, "Sure. Two or three, one just last year."

Oh, yes. I think it was HERS TO DESIRE. I seem to recall he liked it.

But here's the thing: those would be the only romance novels he's ever read. He's not a romance reader, and he's not my target audience, so...why would I want him to read my work? In fact, I don't, particularly. It'd be like asking me to take a look at his work. Ack! No thanks! The numbers...oh, the numbers! My eyes, they cross!

So if a husband doesn't particularly care to read his romance-writing wife's manuscript? I don't think that makes him unsupportive. I think that just makes him a guy who doesn't want to read romance, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Of course, if he also calls romance a load of you-know-what and whines like an overgrown baby because she's taking an hour or two to write instead of ironing his underwear, that's another kettle of carp.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

So how do I know?

Here's something I get asked from time to time: How do I know when a scene's not important? When it's just "filler?" When it's slowing down the story?

I could go all academic and tell you it's because I realize it's not advancing the plot, or revealing character.

But to be honest, I "feel" a clunker first. I don't want to read it -- I want to skip that part and "get to the good stuff." I don't think it takes a genius to realize that's not a good sign.

Of course I don't set out to write an unnecessary scene. Who wants to do unnecessary work? So I always have a purpose in mind for a scene in terms of the overall story. However, sometimes that purpose turns out to be unimportant. In my first drafts in particular, I tend to throw in a lot of things that seem interesting at the time, but later turn out to be story "dead ends." They never develop into anything vital to the story of the two main characters.

Sometimes what I want to impart in a clunker scene is simply not vital at that point -- it's too early, say, and will have much more dramatic impact later. Then I move it to a place where it will have more impact.

Or sometimes what I want to reveal is not such a Big Deal that it requires an entire scene; that information can be imparted in or combined with another scene, so that second scene is doing much more (interesting) work in terms of the overall story.

Sometimes the information I want or need to impart gets buried in a mass of inconsequential action or dialogue. I either move that information to another scene, or cut away the unnecessary clutter.

But the bottom line is, I have to want to read every single scene in the finished book.

Even if it's for the hundredth time.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Kinda like Scarlett and the corset...

Remember that scene in Gone with the Wind when Mammy was lacing up Scarlett's corset, heaving away on those laces for all she was worth? That's kinda how I'm feeling about the first half of the wip. I'm tightening that baby up for all she's worth. Which is to say, a LOT. Sweet fancy Moses, what the heck was I thinking with some of those scenes?

Well, okay, I know what I was thinking. I wanted to write something to keep the momentum going. Only now, when I read it again? Sloooow.

A couple of things make this cutting and deleting not too painful. One, I know the book will be the better for it. Two, I have lots of pretty markers and I'm using a variety of colors, so it's kinda like coloring (hey, if it makes this process feel like play, I'm going for it). And three, the clocks go ahead this weekend.

Seriously, I want a holiday for that. I'm trying to come up with a suitably celebratory feast. I'm thinking since I'm losing an hour, even though with joy, I should be spared cooking said feast. I think somebody should bring it to my door.

After all, I'll need to rest after all that tightening...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Oh, how wrong he is!

I laughed out loud while reading one of the local papers this morning. A male entertainment columnist was opining about the new film, 300, and who was likely to go to this film about the Battle of Thermopylae. He wrote, "Not expected to turn out amid the droves of nerds and gay men? Women."

Great googly moogly, does he really believe no woman wants to see a movie full of buff, half-naked men? If he does, consider my mind boggled.

How many women went to see Braveheart? Or Gladiator? Or Saving Private Ryan? Or Troy? I don't think we wandered in by mistake, and the sight of Mel Gibson in a kilt, Russell Crowe in armor, Tom Hanks in his rumpled fatigues, or Orlando Bloom as Paris had nothing to do with our attendance.

The one thing that gives me pause about seeing this movie is that the Historical Inaccuracy Cringe Quotient may be high. After all, those loin cloths? Don't offer much protection, and wouldn't those capes be a pain during battle, with a tendancy to, ya know, interfere with the ol' sword arm? On the other hand, Gerard Butler in a loin cloth!

I'm hoping to get there opening day.

Friday, March 02, 2007

No Zodiac for me, thank you.

I won't be seeing that new movie, Zodiac. I made this decision the moment I heard it was in the hands of the guy who made Se7en, one movie I wish with all my heart I had never, ever seen.

See, I have a very vivid imagination, which is good for my job, but it also means that some images just never, ever go away for me. Therefore, I have to be wary about what I may be putting in my memory bank.

For example, when I was young, I caught part of a movie on TV about gangsters called, I kid you not, The Purple Gang. Even more surprisingly, given that "purple" certainly doesn't sound tough, this was a real gang of bootleggers in Detroit. (I found an explanation for the purple on Wikipedia: that purple is the color of rotten meat. To which I add, "Eeeeuuww.")

Anyway, in the film, there was a guy in the gang who was the most nerdy gangster you've ever seen. He wore wire-rim glasses. He became a police informant. The boss of the gang found out.

Next thing we see is Wire-Rim Guy lying in a large wooden grate, like a very cheap coffin, open at the top. The gang boss takes off the guy's glasses and says, "I'll send these to your mother." Next shot is one of those small cement mixers moving toward the crate and starting to pour.

I mean, that's all we see, but we know what's going on and AY YI YI!!! I was horrified and as I said, it made me uneasy near cement trucks for years. And I can tell you now, many, many years later, that scene from The Purple Gang is more vivid in my mind than anything I watched on TV last night.

Which is why I won't be seeing any movie ever made by the guy behind Se7en, and I don't care if it's considered by wiser minds than mine to be the greatest movie of the year.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Hey, I just discovered that THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT, the sequel to MY LORD'S DESIRE and Bayard's story, is already available for pre-order at Amazon. Cool!

In other news, I forgot to mention Heroes. Sulu is evil? And knows about the special powers? And we found out about Claire's dad and Invisible Clyde. Wow! Now there's a show whose writers understand how to dole out new info while also answering questions already raised. Unlike, say, Lost. When I saw the previews for Lost this week, I could only shake my head. Hurley finding a car made me think of the Flintstone-esque car on Gilligan's Island. I didn't watch. That show has not just jumped the shark, it's gone over the edge.