Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Moratorium

As you may recall, I'm taking a vacation from writing this month. Other than writing in this blog, I've determined to not write anything until the New Year. I'm giving myself a guilt-free break, to rejuvenate my writing spirit and, hopefully, get my thoughts together enough to start again with new determination.

There have been moments when I really itched to sit down at the screen. Ideas for scenes that I really wanted to pound out, but decided to just file away in the memory bank for later. I've come up with a new story idea (wow! how original, Lynn!!) that calls like a siren's song, but I've resisted the urge to develop characters other than what occurs when I let myself think about possible situations and basic whos and whats and whys. In effect, I've stepped back to that place where I began, as a kid, when I would tell myself stories at night to put myself to sleep, never intending to show them to anyone else.

I can't say that this self-imposed moratorium on writing has helped my brain get its act together as far as what to work on when. I still have too many starts, not nearly enough middles, and zero ends. I can't say the picture of how this should all come together is any clearer for me. I honestly don't know that it ever will be. I think I may be destined to fly by the seat of my pants in that one area.

And last night, my husband informed me how disappointed he'd be if I never reached the point where I was submitting a lot of stuff. He doesn't say this because he views me as a bum who is too lazy to get things done but more that he knows it is something that I really want to do, have the opportunity to do, and have no excuse not to do. He'd be disappointed if I squandered this chance to pursue a dream, and I can't blame him this sentiment. But dang, now I have his expectations settling across my shoulders. I'm now accountable.

What I have accomplished this month is some reading. I've seen a handful of movies. I've done some volunteer work for my church, and I've spent time helping with the kids' various holiday parties. Not to mention the multitude of holiday chores that crop up this time of year, like cookie baking and gift wrapping. I've been busy enough that had I decided to keep writing, not a whole lot would have gotten done anyway. Especially during this last week, with two kids running under-foot 24/7 and being far louder and rowdier than I ever imagined two kids could be.

And I've found that I do miss it. I miss writing. I miss it a lot. Which proves to me that it's something I need to do.

Because this was also kind of a test. If I went a whole month without writing and found myself not too awfully sad about it, I figured I needed to step back and take a good, cold look at what it is I really want.

Now I'm kind of itching for January 1st. Well, January 3rd, actually. The Day The Kids Return To School.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Um, What's It Called Again?

Um, before I begin, this entry is kind of R-rated. In other words, if you are under 18 or if you have delicate sensibilities, please don’t read any further. There is a point to it, but that doesn’t matter if you are under-aged or don’t handle anything over PG13 very well.

Okay, disclaimer out of the way. Onward.

Smart Bitches had one of their hugely entertaining and thought-provoking discussions about the use of certain language in sex-scenes. People seem to range from the far clinical (a la, penises and clitorises) all the way to the more flowery equals more better (of the dreaded manroot, private grotto, and dewy love canal variety) .

I tend to fall in the camp of using verbiage that the characters themselves would use. If I’m in the POV of a Navy SEAL, well, I doubt anything dewy will apply. But if I’m in the mind of a sixteenth century virgin raised in a convent, even throbbing manhood might be a bit of a stretch more sophisticated than what she’s probably viewing as his “thing”. Actually, the day I use throbbing manhood is the day I need to have my laptop revoked.

Regardless of how I’d do it, though, I realized via the comments section on the Smart Bitches column that, as a writer, you have to go with what works for you. Because you simply cannot please all of the people even close to all of the time. You are bound and determined to annoy some, induce massive eye-rolling in others, and cause even more to run shrieking away in scandal.

Whatever a writer does, I’ve found one thing that doesn’t work for me. I’m reading a book – which I will not name because I have no desire to hurt the author – in which the writer has decided to use correct terminology for body parts. Thus, the heroine’s breasts are called breasts. No problem there. Except, breasts is the only word this writer uses for breasts. She’s decided to skip the globes and mounds and creamy handfuls of bountiful flesh for something less intelligence-insulting. But in doing so, in using breasts and only breasts, her sex scenes come off as more than just repetitive.

I’m not going to quote a passage directly (again, want to protect the innocent), but this is how a scene reads for me (and I wrote this, so don’t try to find it on Google to identify who I’m picking on):

Dirk lowered the strap of her chemise, eyeing her breast with unconcealed admiration. “You have lovely breasts.”

Cynthia fought her smile. She’d known he was a breast man. Heck, all men were breast men.

Reaching out a hand, he cupped the underside of her breast gently. He tested its weight, his eyes darkening with desire. When he flicked his thumb over its tip, she released a soft groan. Leaning forward, she pressed herself into his hand so that her breast filled his palm completely.

He needed no further encouragement. He bent down, his lips and tongue running over the top of her breast on a lazy journey to its crest. She moaned again, longer and deeper, as her fingers threaded into his thick hair and pulled his head closer.

Now, this was getting interesting.

So, yeah, I’m not being nauseated with globes or pebbled tips or any of that other clich├ęd junk. Nor am I assaulted with tits or hooters or jugs. Dirk is touching Cynthia’s breast. We’re calling a banana a banana rather than an elongated yellow fruit.

But I’m kind of bored. I mean, I know the writer (in this case, me) could have replaced some of the breasts with its and there’d be perfect clarity about what body part was where. But even that fix would have left me...bored.

I guess my point is, you can work real hard to be politically correct, as defined by what the current readers express as what they prefer at any given point in time. But if you do that, you run the risk of whitewashing the life out of your story. If you remove all euphemisms, preferring to use the real words for the real parts, you run the risk of writing a fictional sex manual rather than an erotic love scene. I mean, if I see the word penis more than once or twice on a page, I start to get the giggles. I’m not proposing the dreaded manhood, but I do think it’s okay to think out of the box a little bit just to keep things interesting.

Cause the way it’s going now, I’m skimming a lot of the sex scenes in my current read. I get the point. The heroine has breasts. The hero likes the heroine’s breasts. Together, they explore the thrill that both can find in the heroine’s breasts.

And I’m actually kind of longing for a hooter or a globe to show up.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In Praise of the Plot Device

Over the past week I've seen three movies (Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), but noticing that I tend to talk a lot more about movies than I do about writing, I'm going to hold off discussing these for awhile. Suffice it to say, Jake Gyllenhaal has a surprisingly great body, Heath Ledger had better win an Oscar, and I still hold firm to my belief that TLtWatW has got to be one of the more highly over-rated stories in literature (sorry to the Narnia fans out there, but I call 'em like I see 'em).

Instead - and inspired by Sporadic Scrivener's latest post - I'd rather discuss what Wikipedia calls plot devices. To it's credit, Wikipedia does not imply that a plot device is necessarily a bad thing. It explains that in the hands of a good writer, a plot device works, while a poor writer will call such attention to a plot device that anvils fall from the sky.

Even so, when I hear the words plot device, I almost instantly get the sense the implication is of something bad. Plot devices seem to be something to be avoided or at the very least, concealed so craftily as to be undetectable for what they are.

Except, if you look at Wikipedia's list, pretty much every single story ever told by humankind seems to have used some form of plot device or another, if not several at one time. Sure, some of these are more obnoxious than others - the flashing arrow, for example - but a story without a villain in some form or another is either too high-brow for me or trying too hard to impress itself. Without a villain, even in the form of the hero or heroine's own personal foibles, there are no obstacles for him or her to overcome and therefore a whole lot of navel gazing, perhaps, but a pretty boring story.

Too, some of these plot devices serve to make a story more interesting. If used properly, a well placed cliffhanger not only keeps the audience coming back for more, it ups the tension within the story. If Nell Fenwick is tied to the train tracks while Snidely Whiplash twirls his mustache with glee and Dudley Do-Right gallops madly to the rescue, isn't it more exciting and thrill-enducing to be given an entire night (or month or hiatus) to imagine the worse possible outcome than finding out after the next commercial break how easy it was to save the day? Making the reader wait to learn the outcome of a suspenseful situation adds to his involvement in the story, his investment in what happens, and his eventual relief when everything turns out as he'd hoped (or not, as the opposite case would be). Clever use of cliffhangers can turn a so-so suspense into a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat perching experience.

I would imagine that the romance genre would have died a quick death without the plot device of sexual tension. In fact, it's the ability of a writer to create believable, almost palpable sexual tension between her hero and heroine that can make the difference between a successful writing career and a lifetime of rejection letters. How many television programs utilized the sexual tension between key characters to keep viewers spell bound? Um, let's see how many I can name without cruising Google: Cheers (Sam and Diane), X-Files (Mulder and Scully), Friends (Ross and Rachel), Moonlighting (David and Maddie), Northern Exposure (Maggie and Joel), Remington Steele (Laura and Steele), The West Wing (Josh and Donna). I could go on, but you get the point. Sexual tension isn't just filler for a story, sometimes it's the pivotal point that makes the story.

I admit that some of the items on the list can have the effect of sending a story over the top. But I'd still argue that such things as a deathtrap or MacGuffins serve to make fiction more interesting. Yes, when a villain chooses to kill a hero or heroine in some elaborate, sadistic way rather than simply shooting the hapless soul between the eyes, we may roll our eyes. Or when an entire story revolves around a group of characters' single-minded goal of returning a magical ring to the pit of a fiery volcano, we are asked to susped our disbelief to the limits.

But wouldn't fiction be pretty boring if only things we can believe in are portrayed? Wouldn't we miss a lot of fun reading if villains always acted rationally and in the most simplistic ways possible, or if magic was never used nor hyper-importance given to an ordinary, every-day household item? The very genesis of the creative process is imagining something beyond the ordinary. What would happen if a ring held such power as to enable its wearer to control all living creatures? How much more would we fear for our hero if he were trapped in the villain's dungeon, facing torture and who knows what else instead of a quick execution shot to the head?

I suppose my argument here might be made to no-one except myself. I think it's a matter of accepting that plot device doesn't necessarily mean something negative, per se. More, it's a matter of how to use plot devices for good rather than evil.

And if the plot is the skeleton of a story, with characters and narrative being muscles and skin, a plot device should serve as something akin to an internal organ. You don't see your heart or stomach or lungs, yet you are aware that they are there, pumping blood, digesting food, and re-oxygenating your blood. You want them to work properly, doing their job to keep your body working without any fuss. Yet you certainly wouldn't have a viable person without them. Take one away and everything comes to a full stop.

The craft comes in shoving plot devices so far inside, working so smoothly and efficiently, that you forget all about their existence. Cause no one wants to look at a person with a big fat hunk of pancreas stuck on the outside.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wahoo Wiki

Next to Google, I would say that Wikipedia.org is the next best thing to come to the internet. I love, love, LOVE Wikipedia.

Anything I need to know, I can find it on Wikipedia. Want to know the structure of military ranks in France? No problem. Need a definition of the difference between a descriptivist linguist and a prescriptivist linguist? Wikipedia's got you covered. Wish to read up on the social issues covered by Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Wikipedia not only gets you started, it tells you where you can turn to for more.

Only problem with Wikipedia is the tremendous time suck it presents for me. For example, just now I spent a good fifteen minutes cruising the Buffy linkages after simply going there to retrieve the link for the above paragraph. I had to force myself to stop.

Yesterday, I spent I don't know how long bumping back and forth around Wikipedia's list of plot devices. Absolutely fascinating. I plan to at some point discuss each and every item on this list because I honestly don't know how the world of fiction would exist without them in some form or another. Thing is, starting at the list of plot devices lead me to other areas like stock characters. Which led me onward and onward. I had a good laugh over the definition of the stormtrooper effect, happy to finally have something to define that crazy movie situation where one man is able to defeat entire legions of bad guys armed only with a sword.

Suffice it to say, if I let myself run wild, I could get lost in the labrynth of Wikipedia. I need to learn to get in, get what I need, and get out. No checking out the see also or the external links sections located at the bottom of the entries.

But thank you, to all of the creators of and contributors to Wikipedia. I love you, too!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Avoiding Red Shirts

I suppose next to being a doctor, being a writer is as close to playing God as humanly possible. Who else has the power to give life - and take life away - merely on the turn of a thought? Sure, they're only fictional people, but the feeling of power is still there to a minute degree.

The bringing life part is easy. People pop into my head a heck of a lot faster than the normal nine-month gestation time it takes to create a real human. If given the chance and free time, I have no doubt I could populate entire cities of characters. Sure, some would be more interesting than others, but that's the fun part.

It's the death part that gets a little hairy. I'm not talking about killing off random innocent victims so your homocide detective can go on the trail of a serial killer or sending a jumbo jet full of passengers into the ocean so the ex-CIA investigator has a reason to come out of her pre-mature retirement.

I'm talking about the killing of characters with names and faces within the context of the story. Characters you've introduced to the readers and maybe even gone so far as to make them care.

I once wrote a story in which I killed off one of the main protagonists. Actually, she was the heroine (and I'm sure you've guessed this wasn't a romance in the strictest definition). From the moment she was conceived in my mind, I knew her fate. I knew she wasn't going to live, I knew how she was going to die, and I knew what effect it would have on the hero. In my brain, it was fait accompli, and I couldn't imagine the story ending any other way.

I did get some grief from readers about my heroine's sad end. Some didn't understand why she had to die. The hero of the story was destined to be with a different woman, and although my heroine wasn't necessary for his HEA, there seemed to be no reason she couldn't go on to live the rest of her life without him, off screen. Heartbroken, perhaps, because the hero had chosen another, but alive to possibly find love again.

True, this was a viable option. I could have let her live. Except, her death meant more to the story than simply doing away with the extra woman. In fact, I forced my hero to decide between her and his true love before she died. I didn't want to give him the easy-out of going back to his sweetheart simply because he no longer had any choices.

But the heroine's death served to put the hero's decision and his relationship with her into sharp contrast. By acknowledging the depth of his sorrow over losing her, he was able to understand how much she'd meant to him and to come to terms with his feelings. He was able to put their brief relationship into the context of his entire life. And he was able to put his past to rest. Yes, he had many regrets, her death being the largest. But never would he have to wonder "what if" or "where is she now?" His time with her was brief yet powerful, and once he chose to leave her, it was almost as if the idea of her was taken away from him. Her death acted as a concrete manifestation of the end of that part of his life and the impossibility for him to ever to return to it.

So, sometimes the death of a character comes easily. Sometimes, when you read a story or watch a movie, from the beginning you know in your heart that there is no other way. Titanic provides the perfect example. As much as you adored Jack Dawson and wanted him and Rose to live happily ever after, it felt inevitable that one of them wouldn't make it. Their story played as a small tragedy inside the framework of a massive tragedy. Just as the beauty and magnificence of the Titanic was too good to last (don't tease the gods by claiming you are their equal), so was the improbable romance between the poor boy from the streets and the upper crusty society girl.

I mean, could you imagine the scenario if both Jack and Rose had been rescued? Somehow the romace withers when one thinks on how severe Rose's adjustment would have been by loving (and marrying?) a man so far beneath her accustomed way of living.

Sometimes death is necessary to keep the romance pure. Take Nicholas Spark's A Walk to Remember. We won't debate the quality of the story or Spark's writing abilities because that's a whole entry unto itself. But the death of Jamie, the preacher's daughter, is almost a must. She served the role of angel to hero Landon's bad-boy, forcing him to see the world through new eyes and change his ways so he could make something of himself. She was pure and good (too pure and good, many would say), and the love they shared was something beyong the norm. Taking it to the next step diminishes it. Jamie came into Landon's life, showed him something, then left.

I'm faced now with something a little different than the death of a main character because I'm writing romance, complete with HEAs that necessitate a fully breathing hero and heroine (ignoring my wont to wander into paranormals for a minute). But at least two of my stories require the death of secondary characters.

These are not gratuitous deaths of characters we've only just met before they are whacked in order to show the evilness of the villain, a la the red shirts of Star Trek fame, or to shock readers. These characters need to die in order to propel the plot forward and to give the main characters motivation to act the way they do.

As such, I need to establish some relationship between the soon-to-be-dead and the hero/heroines who will suffer afterward. I need those deaths to mean something, to count within the context of the story.

Yet, it seems like a monumental waste of time an energy to evolve these secondary characters as deeply as I do main characters and villains. Do these people need pasts? Do they need family members beyond the direct scope of the story? Do they need motivation other than what's necessary to create the situation? It just seems so odd to invent people just so they can die.

I suppose it shows mastery of the craft and lots of hard earned experience when a writer can convey the depth of a relationship in such a way that the effects of one person's death on another can be felt without spending oodles of word count on episodes to set up this closeness. A good writer makes us want to cry right alongside of the hero or heroine when his or her loved one is lost.

And I suppose my answer lies right there. If you want the readers to feel the hero or heroine's pain when someone they care about dies, then you have to take the time and make the effort for the reader to care about that person as well. The more important the death is in driving a character in a certain direction, the more time must be spent on the history of the relationship.

Otherwise, meaning it to be so or not, every character who dies becomes nothing more than a red shirt.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

High Price, Low Payoff

Tonight I have the rare opportunity to go out all by myself. I have an appointment that warrants the hubby coming home early enough to take the kids and deal with dinner, leaving me free to play afterward. WooHoo! I figured I'd take in a movie since there are so many coming out now that look wonderful.

I checked Moviefone.com to see what my options were, thinking I really want to catch Jarhead. But to my disappointment, I find that it is no longer playing in any local theaters. I missed it! It was released on November 4, and five weeks later it's gone. Now I have to wait for the DVD release. Bummer.

(Sidebar: I just discovered it is playing at a theater about 15 miles away. I might make the trek. I'm thinking about it.)

But this got me to thinking about the creative process and how disproportionate the entire situation is. I'm guessing it took a heck of a lot longer than five weeks to make Jarhead. The filming alone took longer than five weeks. I have no idea, but I'd guess it takes something closer to two years to get a film such as this from the page to the screen. Yet it gets a mere five weeks to shine.

Seems like writing is much the same. I would wager that even the most prolific authors out there (hello, Nora and Danielle) can't whip out a book in five weeks. Or, at least, it takes longer than five weeks for the writing, editing, revising, etc. to happen and the book to hit the shelves.

Yet, for many non-Nora level writers, they work weeks/months/years to write something publishable, only to see it sit on shelves for a month before being replaced by the next batch of latest releases. And if said writer never achieves La Nora fame, it's a good possibility that once the book is off the shelf, it is gone to the great out-of-print pile in the sky.

Talk about your raw suckage. The idea of working for a year (or more) on a book, losing sleep, suffering hair loss from pulling and stress-induced weight gain from junk food eating, so that your book can sit on the shelves for four weeks only to disappear holds little appeal.

I mean, I think I can speak for others safely when I say that characters we writers meet become as close to real to us as possible for people existing only as words on a screen. We think about them when we aren't writing. We imagine their voices and give them lives, past, present and future. To find out they actually have a life expectancy of about four weeks is a smack upside the head with a cold, dead fish.

I guess that's just part of the biz. Something you have to accept if you plan to make a career as a writer. Even more so if you plan to write category romance novels. Thing is, it's kind of hard to be motivated to dump your heart and soul into a work of art when you know it's a fleeting thing. When it comes down to one o'clock in the morning and you're faced with finishing a tough scene or getting some sleep before the seven a.m. wake-up call, remembering the final outcome of your efforts helps make that decision a tad bit easier.

I know. I know. That's not a good attitude. Every story deserves our very best efforts. And writers write for the sake of writing, not because we want to become immortal through our words. If you tell a great tale, four weeks should be plenty of time to give people to find it, read it, and clamor for more.

But don't even get me started on how I shudder when I imagine what happens to books that don't sell and how people dispose of books they don't adore. The idea of my Work of Pure Genius in the bottom of somebody's recycle bin? Yikes!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pre New Year's Resolution

First, I need to make note of a tiny personal thrill. I see by the count on the bottom of my blog that I've surpassed 10,000 visits to this site. I know this number means nothing in the scheme of blogging, but if you would have asked me last January when I started this whole thing if I ever could have imagined 10,000 hits within a year, I'd have never believed it. Amazing!

Really, when I see that I'm only one month shy of my blogging anniversary, I can't believe it's been a whole year that I've been doing this. What is cool (in my tiny world where I take all that I can get) is seeing an entire twelve months' worth of archive. It's proof for me that slow and steady wins the race. Just a small amount every day (or most every day) creates substance.

To which, last night I announced to my husband that 2006 is going to be the Year of Finishing Things. I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to learn that my inability to finish a writing project is just a symptom of my over all disability in finishing anything. I have more crafty-type projects in some stage of completion it's not even funny. I have stuff I've aquired with the intention of doing, but haven't even begun. And we all know about the TBR shelf that is threatening to collapse under the weight of all the books it contains.

It's early to make New Year's Resolutions, and this really isn't a resolution per se, but rather a commitment to finishing. I have this feeling that if I focus on getting things completely done, that annoying hanging over my head sensation that follows me about like a cloud might go away. If I can find a way to get rid of the thoughts that there is always something else I should be or could be doing, maybe I'll find some peace.

I'm reminded of when I graduated from college, and that final dawning that never again would I have to study for anything (unless I went to grad school, but I didn't). Never again would I have to feel bad about blowing off school work to have a good time when I knew there was always reading to be done or notes to be gone over or libraries to be haunting. What a sense of freedom.

I'd like to find that sense of freedom from everything else in my life. Even the stuff that is supposed to be fun causes a certain level of stress. And what's the point of that?

I guess I've hit that point where I'm ready to simplify my life down to it's barest, then rebuild with only the most important elements. Having this mini epiphany a full two weeks before New Years gives me a headstart.

Besides, this plan beats my other option. 2006 - The Year I Finally Lose That Excess Baby Weight.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Not Really Inspirational

Since yesterday I alienated everyone with an anti-gay agenda, I might as well finish pissing off that group by expressing my opinion on inspirational romances.

In general, I'm not a fan of inspirational romances. The handful that I've picked up in my day were either a) poorly written or b) overtly evangelical or c) too sweet and pure for my tastes or d) all of the above.

Mostly, it's my problem with b that keeps me from enjoying inspirational romances. The first mention of God not in the context of "oh, god, not you again!" or "god, yes, yes! YES!" usually sends me packing. I don't like to preached at in real life, so I certainly have no desire to be preached at by fictional characters when I'm trying to escape in a good book. Mentions of faith and how the characters have found their strength through prayer and how there is only One Right Way cause me such eye rolling as to induce pulled muscles. Real people don't talk to each other this way, at least the kind of real people I personally choose to spend time with. When I do meet someone all interested in sharing his or her testimonial, I'm usually eyeing the nearest exit and thinking up escape excuses, the real life equivalent of slamming the book shut.

Plus, all of this Godliness means that no-one in the story - at least no-one that I probably care about - is going to act in the least bit untoward. Now, I can appreciate a hands-off romance as well as the next person. But I need good reasons for the no-kissing policy. Like, no physical contact because one person is already committed to another (wrong) person, or no acting on that raw animal attraction because the characters think they hate each other. I need these people to want to touch each other, badly, and the very fact that they can't touch each other is driving them nearly mad.

Couples who don't do more than barely hold hands because their religious beliefs prohibit anything else leave me ice cold. If the physical attraction is drawn well, I don't mind the bedroom door being closed when final consummation occurs because my imagination can do a pretty good job filling in the missing pieces. Except, with these couples, all I can imagine that goes on is procreational sex, with as little skin-to-skin contact as can be managed. People who won't kiss before becoming engaged just don't inspire me to believe that they will ever have passionate, must-have-you-now sex even after marriage. And even if I don't get to see it, in order for me to love a love story, I must believe that the hero and heroine experience true passion for each other. With inspirational couples, I'm always left feeling they are so far above the base needs of the body that if they never touched each other, they'd be okay with that. God has already supplied them with everything they could ever need or want, so sex is just a necessary evil in order to obtain gobs of children. Phooey.

All of these thoughts come about because last night I sat down to watch a TiVoed movie that looked good on the surface, Love's Enduring Promise. It was described as the adaptation of a romance novel written by beloved author Janette Oke (their words, not mine), about a drifter who woos the heart of a pioneer's daughter. Some potential there, I figured. I should have known better because it's one of those Hallmark Presents dealies, but there are so few "romance novel" movies on television I thought it was worth a couple hours' investment. Honestly, if I'd had any clue at all that it was based on an inspirational romance, I wouldn't have given it a few minutes.

But I did give it the entire go, despite the several times the father character mentioned prayer and God's will and the fact that Love's Enduring Promise referred not to the love between the hero and the heroine but to some idea about God himself. I just winced a lot, thought often about turning off the whole thing, but the actor playing the hero (Logan Bartholomew) was kinda cute and therefore kept me inspired enough. Too, nothing else was on but the news and I wasn't tired enough to go to bed.

Sure enough, the hero and heroine didn't do more than hold hands - and this after their evening meal prayer. The only kiss we saw was at the wedding ceremony. In fact, the only indication of any passion at all was a few half-hearted glares the hero gave the man who was gunning for the heroine's affections in what I'm guessing was supposed to be jealousy.

The perfect word to describe the entire movie is bland. It was bland. And I blame this on the fact that it was an inspirational romance rather than just a down and dirty romance. All of the heat and intensity and juicy, messy bits had been washed right out of it to make room for God.

I did a little research to discover that Janette Oke's first book, Love's Comes Softly, was something of a pioneer in the Christian Romance market. It got such great reader response as to inspire an entire series of books based on the same characters, thus the origination of my movie last night. I don't know. Maybe reading LCS would provide a more exciting experience.

My big thing now is that I also TiVoed the sequel to LEP, a continuation of the hero and heroine's story called Love's Long Journey. Do I watch it to see what happens next, knowing that it'll probably be just as bland as LEP? I don't know if I can handle another two hours of God-talk and no kissing.

But I suppose the fact that I'm even considering watching it says something key. Doh!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Man, This Sucks

This is a full-fledge rant, so get your earplugs out.

I've been hearing a lot of wonderful buzz about the upcoming Brokeback Mountain, which is scheduled to hit movie theaters tomorrow. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, it stars actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger and is about two cowboys in the 1960s who fall in love with each other but, because the social biases against homosexuals are so terrifyingly strong, can never be together. It's being billed as a love story more so than a Western, and the critics are talking Oscar noms for both best picture and for Ledger.

I cannot wait to see this movie. I mean, I'm talking stand-in-line, opening-weekend-like-Harry-Potter-4, get-a-babysitter-for-the-kids kind of can't wait.

Except, Brokeback Mountain won't be playing at any theaters near me. In fact, it won't even be playing until next week (Dec. 16), and then at only one theater, in downtown Chicago, some 16 miles and headaches-worth of traffic away.

For crying out loud, I live in the third largest city in the United States of America with one of the largest concentrations of gay people in the country. For midwesterners we are amazingly open-minded in this here town, and I'd even wager this accepting attitude extends the twenty or so miles into uptight suburbia. So why in the world don't any of the dozen gazillion-a-plexes within a five-mile radius of my house have any scheduled showings planned?

Okay, some research has indicated that the December 9th date is a limited release, with Dec. 16th being the true 23-city release. Apparently the movie will be released in more theaters once the distributor has a chance to gauge audience response.

Which is just fancy talk for admitting that if mainstream America runs screaming in a fit of homophobic frenzy to their pulpits where they can yet again hit us over the head with their anti-gay agendas, the movie will slip away quietly into the night. In which case, the majority of us who don't believe only heterosexuals are entitled to life, love and happiness will have to wait for the DVD.

And, come on, who are we kidding? Does anyone have any doubt at all what the mainstream response is going to be? Remember, this is America. Home of the Bush. Land of the outspoken repressed. Playground of the bible beating hardliners. Only here can you experience the ridiculousness that was Nipple Gate.

Besides, it looks as if some folks from Wyoming, the state where a good portion of the movie is set, have already got their panties in a twist before the movie has even hit the streets. From the Drudge Report came this moronic statement from some mystery commentator:

Playwright and lifelong Wyomingite [sic: Who is not specified] tells the STAR-TRIBUNE of Casper this week that she has never encountered a gay cowboy, and doesn't think it's right for Hollywood to portray Wyoming as a state with gay cowboys.
Her message to the writers of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN: "Don't try and take what we had, which was wonderful -- the cowboys that settled the state and made it what it was -- don't ruin that image... There's nothing better than plain old cowboys and the plain old history without embellishing it to suit everyone."

Uh...who wants to inform the mystery Wyomingite that over the course of Wyoming's history, surely there had to have been at least ONE gay cowboy, and that it's a pretty sure bet that after six months on a long, lonesome cattle drive, more than one cowboy probably thought that the other cowboys were looking mighty pretty. Funny that the entire point of Brokeback Mountain is that those very same not-gay cowboys maybe weren't so much not gay as not allowed to admit that they were gay. Just because you choose not to see them - or allow them to be seen under threat of death or worse - doesn't mean they don't exist.

I've long ago accepted that there will always be a sadly large portion of people who will never accept anything other than their own egocentrically defined idea of what constitutes appropriate love versus inappropriate. As if any sort of love could be inappropriate if it involves consenting adults. These folks will preach their message of the Golden Rule - accepting and loving their neighbors as they love themselves - while they practice something else altogether toward those who don't measure up, because, really, isn't that what God meant? Love only those who they've determined are worthy?

But because this is America, where freedom of speech, religion, expression and all of that other good stuff runs thick in our social veins, I have to accept that these people will keep at it forever. Whatever.

Meanwhile, I'm going to call this limited release while waiting for audience reaction what it truly is: Censorship.

And I'm going to make the trek to downtown Chicago to use the one true power I'm truly imbued with. In the end, The Almighty Buck speaks pretty darn loudly.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Guilt Free For One Month

I've officially given myself the month of December off. Other than keeping up with this blog on a mostly-daily basis, I've deteremined not to write anything at all. With the holidays approaching and all of the chores and events associated, not to mention the two plus weeks the kids will be at home driving me crazy enjoying their free time, it's impossible for me to focus.

And, to be honest, I'm needing a break from the guilt.

Every single day I feel guilty because I haven't written enough/at all/anything good/something for a specific WIP.

Every day I feel horrible when I choose to read/watch a movie with the hubby/work on a project/clean the house/do laundry/spend time with the kids because I know I should be writing. I should have figured out a way to make time for all of it. I should know how to organize my life in such a way that I can take care of my family, volunteer at the kids' school, read at least a few chapters in one of my hundreds of TBRs, keep the house in perfect working order, fix nutritious and satisfying meals, do a little bloghopping, and add another 2,000 or so words to my current manuscript. But since I haven't managed this, I feel awful when one or all of these balls come crashing to the ground.

Every day I fight against all the ideas clamoring around in my brain, fighting for full attention. I feel the constant urge to shake my body like a dog shakes after getting wet, hoping that all but the very best idea will fall away and leave me able to focus on just one thing at a time.

And every day I worry that I'm another day older and not even close to another day nearer my goal. Every day I have to force myself to stop thinking about the hurdles I have yet to tackle, the rejections I have yet to read, the number of words I have yet to write.

So I'm taking a vacation from the idea of being a writer. I'm letting myself think about things other than my characters and their problems. I'm sitting my butt on the sofa to watch Lost entirely guilt-free. I'm not stressing when I see on the calendar that every single afternoon next week is full of commitments of some sort that will keep me away from home and my laptop.

In general, I'm giving myself the month of December to be guilt-free about not writing.

But don't worry. I have other stress-enducing thoughts to take the place of my obsession with writing. Like, what, exactly, my father would like for Christmas and how I can manage to hit the stores at the quietest time possible sans kids. Whether or not my Christmas cards will arrive before December 25th if I wait another week to start on them. Stuff like that.

I know this isn't the proper attitude of someone who really wants to make a success of writing. I know I'm supposed to suck it up and work through the stressful times, sacrifice mightily for my craft, and never feel the desire to just say sod it all, I think I'll start watching soap operas in the afternoons instead. Being a writer isn't something you can turn off. And if you want success, you have to write every day, even during the holidays.

Well, I guess this is one benefit of being an unpublished writer. I have no one but myself breathing down my neck, and I tend to be a very understanding boss.

Besides, come January, I'll be back to focus anew. Refreshed and ready to go. Isn't that what vacations are all about?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Not the Same and Not Equal

Have you ever seen the TV-ized version of The Breakfast Club? I'm guessing that unless you were in high school in the mid-eighties, chances are the only version you've seen is the TV-ized version. When I say TV-ized, I'm talking about the "changed for content" they do to remove all obscenities or any hint of anything inappropriate for teenagers to say, do, or think about.

For those of you who've never seen TBC or just forget, this is the show about the five high school kids who must spend a Saturday detention together, and over the course of the day discover that they all have a lot more in common than they ever could have imagined. I first saw this movie when it was originally released in 1985 (very timely since I was a senior at that time), and I remember feeling thoroughly stunned when I walked out of the theatre. I'd gone to the movies with my brother and cousin, both of whom wanted to see Beverly Hills Cop. So I'd opted to see TBC all by myself, and I couldn't stand that I had no one to talk to about it.

Anyway, since that night twenty-one years ago, I've seen TBC on television some gazillion times. It's always on, and it's great background noise. I can look up from whatever I'm doing and pick up the story at any point.

Except, in cleaning up TBC for public consumption, the network people have created something so laughable it's hard to watch with any other intent than wincing when parts of the movie come up. First of all, the voice overs with the cleaner dialogue are so obviously not the original actors. It's the audio equivalent of Photoshopping Joan Cusack's head onto Heidi Klum's body. Huge disconnect.

Even worse than this are the words they've chosen as replacements. Okay, this is a movie about teenagers. And as such, they use very colorful language. Thing is, unlike today, the specific words chosen by the characters (via the writers) have meaning. It isn't a case of fuck being used as every possible part of grammar but rather with specific and significant meaning. But, hey, I can undertand that fuck and its four-plus letter siblings aren't acceptable language for mixed company and thus have to go. Part of paying the price for free TV.

But some of the things they've censored out aren't necessarily off-color. And in changing them to cater to some puritanic sensibility, what results makes no sense at all. So when the censors determine that "eat my shorts" is far too risque for under-aged consumption, what results is the very lame "eat my socks". Um, yeah.

One particularly poorly butchered dialogue set ends up making no sense whatsoever. The original dialogue takes place between John, the rebel juvenile delinquent, and Claire, the pristine prom queen. They're about to eat lunch, and it goes like this:

JOHN: (looking at the bag Claire has just taken out) What's in there?
CLAIRE: Guess. Where's your lunch?

JOHN: You're wearing it.
CLAIRE: You're nauseating...


Okay, the innuendo is obvious, so I guess I can see why the hyper-cautious out there might need to change it to protect our virgin ears. Here's what TBS came up with to sanitize it:

JOHN: (looking at the bag Claire has just taken out) What's in there?
CLAIRE: Guess. Where's your lunch?
JOHN: You're eating it.

CLAIRE: You're nauseating...

Um, this now makes no sense. Claire's response is ridiculous. By changing the dialogue, which was arguably not so bad to begin with, the entire interchange is stupid. The censors haven't just cleaned up the story, they've changed the meaning of it.

I know. I know. In the grand scheme of things, this just doesn't matter. But it does, in a way. What John Hughes wrote was changed at the fundamental level, not just on the surface. For those who've never seen the real version, the one intended to be seen, you have to wonder what they think. Probably that the writer of this show was smoking something.

Profanity for the sake of profanity doesn't make something better. If you can exchange the four-letter word with a cleaner version and the meaning remains the same, then maybe it wasn't really necessary. Except to give a character a particular slant; I don't imagine many Navy SEALS would yell "Oh, sugar!" if they start getting shot at.

But sometimes the writer meant something exactly the way it was written. And if a certain audience is deemed too young to read it as written, then so be it. In my opinion, if teenagers can say it - which they do - they certainly can hear it. But, hey, that's just me.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I'm Not Getting It, But I'd Like To

There's been some talking and linkage to various professional writers who actually go so far as to write up a business plan. They don't just leave their careers up to the fates but establish goals and strive to achieve them.

I'm impressed. I think this is a brilliant idea. And I think it's an idea I should consider.

Except, I can't for the life of me imagine what a business plan for a writer might look like.

I was a Marketing/Advertising major in college, so writing business plans is something I've done first hand. But that was some un-mentionable number of years ago, and I haven't looked a business plan in the face since I turned in my final A-core project. So if one floated right in front of me, I doubt I'd recognize it.

Even so, that's a sovable problem. I'm sure a quick Google of sample business plans would yield quite a bounty. And there's always that old standby, the library.

But my issue comes with the complete uncertainty a writer faces in terms of success. So much is out of the control of the writer. So much is subjective and thus impossible to predict.

Like, if you set a three-year goal to sell three books to Harlequin, there is only so much you can do to make it happen. You can set daily writing goals in order to make sure you complete your manuscript. You can set the goal of finding a writers group or joining RWA to open up an avenue for feedback and critiques. You can determine that by such-and-such a date, you'll have sent the manuscript to X number of agents or X number of publishers. You can plan to spend so much on postage and printer paper.

These things are all within your control.

But how do you factor in the amount of time your manuscript will sit in piles? How do you determine how many rejections you'll have to work through, how many rewrites you may have to do to get the manuscript back into submissable condition?

Or how do you adjust when you write historicals and the market is only buying paranormals? Or your last book was fabulously written but saddled with cover art that featured a hero resembling a donkey and a heroine who looks as if she just ate a batch of bad chicken salad?

How do you factor in the reality that writing is an art, not a commodity? And as such, it cannot be tied down to absolutes.

In the "real" business world, a company writes up a business plan wherein they determine to manufacture or acquire a set amount of product. They determine how they will market said product, how they will distribute it, what price point they will chase. And they have in mind a specific bottom line they expect to achieve. They follow their plan, and when all is said and done, they either made their money or they didn't. They can then adjust accordingly or call it a day.

How does a writer compensate for not knowing how her work will be received? How does she know when to call it a day or how to adjust when her plan isn't met?

I'm honestly asking these questions. To any writers out there who've written business plans, could you please share? Talk me through the process and tell me how you cope when your goals are affected by forces beyond your control?

I'd really like to know how something like this might work. Because it sounds like a great idea.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Playing Hookey

On the first and third Thursday of each month, I volunteer at my children's school library. When I signed up to do this, it was under the impression that I'd help get various big-picture projects done or to work on things that the librarians simply can't get to because they are busy doing librarian work. Since I love books but not so much kids, I figured this would be a great thing because I'd be helping at the school in a way that didn't involve a lot of direct hands-on kid contact but a lot of exploring of children's literature. Brownie points without the pain. Very cool, indeed.

Not so much. I spend my two hours and forty five minutes every other Thursday making sure the kids check books out properly, checking in the books they return, shelving the 5,000 books stacked up on the to-be-shelved trolley, and maybe inserting new cards into the card catalog. By far nothing glamorous or life-altering. Heck, it's not even library altering. Sure, it's usually quiet and the kid-contact is kept at counter-distance, but it's definitely not what I'd pictured myself doing.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I do this all while the librarian is working with different classes that come into the library for various things. She's very busy, and if I weren't there, I imagine the stuff I do wouldn't get done until the next day. Clearly the school could use a second librarian or a paid part timer to get the mundane stuff done, but I imagine there is no budget for this low level work. If they need parents to fill in this gap, I'm there. This is why I didn't go back to work, so I could Be There to Help Out When Needed. That's my job, ma'am.

Thing is, I'm not feeling so hot today. I have a cold that started off slowly last week and even looked to be all gone but is making a vicious comeback. I cannot breathe, and even the King Sudafed is doing no good. My throat is all scratchy and I'm hoarse. I don't have a fever and this isn't the kind of knock-me-off-my-feet dealie I get at least twice a year, but I just don't feel great.

So I called in sick.

And I feel humongous guilt about it.

Why? I mean, I don't get paid. I'm a volunteer. This is me helping out, not me earning a living.

And I'm guessing on the other 18-19 days of the school month that I'm not in the library, things go on pretty smoothly without me. So me not being there today is no big deal. What I do doesn't make the difference between some sweet first grader learning how to read versus ending up on the streets living a life of crime because he didn't learn how to spell C-A-T and thus was doomed to total scholastic failure. Books won't get shelved. Kids will have to check out books all by themselves. Life will go on.

Even so, I feel like I'm playing hookey. I plan to spend these newly freed hours sitting on the couch with a cuppa, catching up on TiVoed Buffy episodes I've already seen a half dozen times. But this is what my body is calling for today. I need some pure down time (and don't get on me about how I should be/could be writing 'cause I've got all the heapin' helpin' of guilt I can swallow for one day, thankyouverymuch). I need to wrap up in two layers of blankets and maybe catch a nap.

You know, it doesn't matter where you work or if you work or what you do. Being a woman who takes time out because she's sick just sucks any way you spin it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To List or Not To List

It's that time of year when my family starts making and asking for lists. The kids do more of the making while the adults do more of the actual asking. The e-mails start flying back and forth as we all consult with each other to avoid duplicates, and I have to put a deadline on alterations to keep the kids from getting into the thousands in the "I want" category.

But when I got married, I learned that there seem to be two types of gift-giving families. Some families use lists (mine), every person writing up the few items they'd most like to receive - hopefully spanning a polite dollar range - and the gift givers choose off the list. On Christmas morning, everyone is delighted to receive those very specific things they asked for. The surprise comes in wondering what on your list you might get. And the fun comes in watching your family members beam in true joy over getting an item they really, really wanted.

On the other hand - the hand my husband's family follows - there are the non-list gift givers. These are the type of people who like to wing it. They wander the stores looking for the right gift or perhaps they already have something in mind. When Christmas rolls around, opening gifts takes on a level of nervous anticipation since one never has any idea at all what the berribboned box might contain. Even worse is watching others open the gifts you've chosen for them because all bets are off as far as them liking or wanting what you picked.

Problem comes when a list-maker like me marries into a non-list making family. For years I've asked my sisters-in-law for gift ideas for their children. I don't live near these kids, and for a long time I didn't even have any kids of my own to use as test drivers for my ideas. I had no idea if my nieces were into Barbies, baseballs, or books. I had no clue how many copies of video game X my nephew might already have. Shopping was a tortured affair for me. Instead of walking down the aisles, list clutched tightly in fist while I searched for the exact Mace Windu action figure, I'd stare gapingly at the endless rows of possibilities, completely paralized by indecision.

Things are even worse when it comes to gifting the mother and father-in-law because they already have every possible contraption known to man. And they don't even lend a hand when something breaks and a new one would provide the solution. If they need a new coffee maker, they don't wait for Christmas to ask for one as a gift. They just go get it. Which leaves you stuck with finding something "unique" or "original". But, really, how many "I Heart Grandma" mugs can any one woman use?

So, in the end, I usually stick the problem back on my husband. After all, it's his family with the list-making disability. I'm happy to provide them with my kids' wish lists (all 35 pages of them) as well as one of my own. Heck, all they have to do is head over to Amazon.com and take a look at my perpetual wishlist.

In fact, I am probably the easiest person on the face of the earth to buy a gift for. Because the one thing that makes me the happiest creature is a gift certificate to a book store. I know it's not fancy and it doesn't make for a nice, juicy box under the tree. But books are what I love, and there is nothing better than spending an hour or so wandering the aisles of Borders or B&N with a tidy plastic card in my pocket. The possibilities are endless, but whatever I walk out the door with will be exactly what I wanted most of all.

This year will be the easiest of all, though. Because we've all decided that in the face of the tragedy visited on so many by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we're going to scale back on what we give each other and instead send that money to a charitable organization. Rather than another useless chotchke, the money certainly could be better used by someone who doesn't have anything at all.

Kind of puts things in perspective when the first item on someone's wish list is "Place to live."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Potental Gloms and One Disappointment

I spent a good hunk of time yesterday catching up with the various blogs I haunt. Amazing how much you miss in a week. You know that feeling when you go back to work the Monday after a long vacation and you see your inbox full to overflowing and your voice mail light blinking furiously and some 1,000 e-mail messages waiting impatiently? I never believed I'd have that same feeling as a stay at home mom.

Anyway, I was cruising around Smart Bitches when, lo and behold, I find my name under the recommendations for Military/Police/Law Enforcement/Secrent Agent column. I mean, not as an actual recommendation, but as a recommendor. This came as a surprise not because I was horrified to be quoted but more I'd forgotten that I'd offered up suggestions in the first place. To which then I had a brief moment of panic, hoping anybody who might actually take my suggestion and pick up a Brockmann won't be horribly disappointed and think I'm a complete idiot.

Actually, the real problem I have with this entry is that now my poor little brain is swarming with must-haves to add to my already obscene TBR pile. I've already scammed a Catherine Mann (Code of Honor, to be specific) since so many seem to love her Wingman Warriors series. I'm kinda scared I'm gonna love it, too, and then I'll be all caught up in a flurry of obtaining backlisted titles and glom reading and the like.

When are you people going to get it? I. Don't. Have. Room. Or. Time. For. This. Stop suggesting fabulous books for me to read.

I say this jokingly, of course. I'm always on the lookout for an author I can absolutely adore.

On that note, though, I have a confession to make. While I was gone, I picked up a copy of C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I've wanted to read it before the movie came out, since I firmly believe in reading first, especially when a classic is involved. In fact, I picked up both a single title copy of TLtWatW plus a dictionary sized collection of all seven Chronicles of Narnia books assuming I'd love TLtWatW and want to read all the rest that very second. The smaller single title was for ease of traveling, since I didn't want to heft around a weighty tome all week.

But - and please don't come after me with pitchforks - I've been a tad bit disappointed with TLtWatW. I think a lot of it has to do with hype; about how this book is one of The Be All and End All of fantasy literature, right up there with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as far as Must Reads Before You Die books. Yeah, I like it okay. But I've gotten to a certain point and, honestly, I have no compelling desire to keep reading to the end.

Hubby downloaded the audiobook version for me to listen to while I drove the 500 gazillion miles from Chicago to Buffalo and back (and, yes, this negated my having purchased the written copy, but he'd spend double anything if it meant he got to use the latest technology). When we arrived home and I hadn't yet made it through the entire story, I pulled out the book itself to see how much I had left to go. I was kinda glad to see it was almost over. The story is so much simpler than I had ever imagined it to be. I keep wondering how they can make a huge, long movie out of it. Of course, I haven't read any of the battle scenes, and we all know a movie can be made out of the copy on the back of a cereal box if it involves either a car chase or a gigantic battle.

But I think I'm actually going to just save the time and wait for the movie to see how it all ends. Problem is, I wanted to read the book so I could decide if I thought my kids were old enough to see the movie. As far as the book goes, so far nothing in it seems frightening or intense enough to keep the kids away. But I'm not sure what they'll jazz up for the movie. We may have to take a gamble, payoff being weeks of "Mommy, I can't sleep 'cause I'm scared of the White Witch!"

So, am I completely illiterate because I don't love, love, love TLtWatW? Will someone be coming to revoke my avid reader card and confiscate every scrap of decent literature in my house?

Well, no matter. I'm thinking I have a need to place a glom order on Amazon.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Is It January Yet?

I just got back from a week away from home (as evidenced by my lack of posts). I am so out of routine right now I feel completely off balance.

I'll confess right now that I'm 100% positive I won't make my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal. I started off gangbusters, but then life events, parent-teacher conferences, holidays and vacations really got in the way of writing. I haven't put a word on paper in a week and haven't worked on my story in at least ten days. It is so frustrating because December looks to be just as crazy, with holiday activities every week, shopping and baking and entertaining to get done, and all of that merriment to be had. Makes me wish we could just skip ahead to January, after I've taken the tree down, and life settles back into some semblance of normal.

Which all leads me back to my earlier whine that November is really a bad month for NaNoWriMo. Sure, if you're not an American you probably think it's just as good of a month as any other. But Thanksgiving really throws a wrench in the smooth flow of life. It's not just one day. It's several days of preparing, planning, traveling, eating, visiting, catching up and trying to get back into it all.

So I may, come post-holidays, institute an Alternate NaNoWriMo for myself. Go at things as if it were the real NaNoWriMo but in my own more workable month. Sure, I'll lose all the support of the thousands of other NaNo participants, but really, I think I can survive.

Meanwhile, I'm going to try to get back to just writing something every day. To all of those professional and well-disciplined writers who claim to write every single day, I want to ask how in the world they accomplish this? They must not visit family for the holidays, or if they do, they must find great excuses for slipping away for long stretches at a time.

I'm just glad to have my laptop back in one place. Right now that's about all I can manage.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dateless for HP

Okay, Friday night, in a fit of desperation, I called the girl across the street who babysits for me on occasion. I told her voice mail that I knew it was last minute and all and she probably already had plans, but maybe, if she didn't, she'd be willing to babysit Saturday night so hubby and I could go catch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Because even though we'll have built-in babysitters in form of the grandparents for five days at the end of this week, I. Just. Couldn't. Wait.

In fact, I just couldn't wait enough that when the sitter hadn't called back by 8 p.m., when the hubby finally rolled in from the gym, I started cruising the internet to see when the earliest show was that still had tickets for sale that very night.

10:30.

That was the earliest. I was so sleepy, I didn't know if I'd make it. But for HP, no hurdle is too high. I bought my ticket on-line, wasted time until 9:30, then left the house thinking an hour was plenty of time to drive ten minutes to the theatre, park, fetch my pre-purchased ticket, get popcorn, and have a chance at a decent seat.

Um, yeah. No.

I got to the Cineplex, where HP was playing on, like, 10 of the 17 screens, and there was already a line at least 200 people long. Forty-five minutes before the show!! It was so long it twisted out of the rope-maze the AMC folks had set up to contain us.

Fearing I'd be stuck sitting in the first row and therefore seeing nothing but Harry's nostrils, I got in line, gazing longingly at the concession stand. I was already thirsty and knew I'd have a good four hours before I'd have a chance to get something to drink. But I wasn't about to risk my spot at the end of the line.

Thankfully a couple of nice girls got in line directly behind me. After ten minutes of small talk, I felt we'd become friendly enough to ask them if they minded holding my spot while I slipped over and nabbed some 'corn.

When the line finally started moving and they let us in the theatre, I ended up sitting next to these gals, which was nice because the thing I hate most about going to a movie alone is the patheticness of looking as if I couldn't get a date. I have a built-in date in the form of my husband, so that's never a problem. And, honestly, I don't mind going to the movies alone. I don't have to share my Junior Mints if I don't want to, and I can sigh and weep and laugh out loud if the fancy strikes. What they need is to give singles a little sign to wear around their neck stating "I'm here alone for lack of sitter, not lack of companionship."

The true bonus of my experience, beyond getting to see the best HP movie so far, is that I found out these two girls go to the local college in my town and are babysitters! I got two names and phone numbers that I can try next time so I won't look like such a loser sitting all by myself.

Meanwhile, you'd better bet I'm going to dump the kids with the grandparents and drag hubby to see HP. Almost as much fun as watching it the first time myself is being with someone else who's watching it for the first time.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

'Bout Time

Um...well...yes.

What is it about this guy? I mean, he's a good 'ol boy from Texas who probably actually uses the phrase "lil' lady" and has an NRA sticker on his SUV. His hair's usually got that too-shaggy slicked back look and, really, the perpetual five o'clock shadow went out the same time pastel tees underneath white jackets (except, he pulls it off somehow). But dang, have you ever seen him without a shirt? Honestly. I typed his name into Google Images and came up with about a gazillion, and every single one of them was fabulous. If for nothing else he deserves this title because he's so incredibly photogenic. He may be a total toad in person, but since my chances of meeting him are right up there with walking on the moon, that's fine by me.

As for People's other picks, kudos for some of the surprises. I love Patrick Dempsey. Have ever since I saw him in Can't Buy Me Love. He's one of those geeky types that grew up into a complete hottie. Also, I love it when sexy actors are around my age. Makes me feel like I'm not so old.

Viggo in at number 4. There are no words.

Okay, I'm just not seeing the appeal of Vince Vaughn. I know he's the rage right now because of the whole Jennifer Aniston thing. And at first I had no idea why everyone swooned over Jude Law or Ashton Kutcher, but I did eventually see the light. Maybe I just need some more Vaughn exposure.

Fab body aside, Nick Lachey does nothing for me because he's forever connected to Jessica Simpson, whom, I'm sorry, appears to be the quintessential dumb blond making Nick a himbo. Sorry, Nick, you might be a great guy, but I call 'em like I see 'em.

Big fat YES to Heath Ledger, although thinking he's sexy makes me feel a whole lot like some dirty old lady. I could have babysat him, for crying out loud.

Daniel Dae Kim is one of those guys who has grown on me. Those non-Lost folks out there should consider tuning in to take a look, although Sawyer/Josh Holloway would be my first pick to get stranded with on the island.

Keith Urban, yes, cute, but a little on the skinny side for me to label "sexy". Did you know he's from Australia? When he sings country music, he sounds like he came straight out of the hills of Southern America. Why is it that people lose their accent when they sing? When non-US English speakers hear American people sing, does it sound like they've lost their American accent?

Skipping Ian McShane because that one I don't get, straight on to Matt, who is a great pick because he grew from cute boy-next-door into grown-up-sexy. We won't go into why it is I find him sexier as Jason Bourne than I did as Good Will Hunting because it might reveal that I find brawn sexier than brains, which isn't true. I need the perfect blending of the two.

Denis O'Leary has that un-nameable something that does make him appealing even though I don't find him physically attractive. I think it might be the confidence factor. Any guy who exudes the amount of confidence he does is automatically attractive on a certain level. I don't watch Rescue Me, but I want to. It might be the first television progam I watch strictly on DVD.

You'll notice I skipped Pick #3, Terrance Howard. I'm also going to skip Anderson Cooper. I've never even seen these guys before this article. I know I'm hopelessly out of it. I'll keep my eyes out for these guys and get back to you later.

Right now, Clive Owen falls into the Vince Vaughn category for me (hmmm, wonder if there is an Aniston connection going on). I've seen him in only one movie, King Arthur, and I did like him. But I need further exposure to make a final call.

So, I suppose in addition to trying to scam tix for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend I need to be hunting down People so I can take a gander at the remaining Sexiest Men Alive. I know. The hardships.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Maybe I'll Wait for the Movie

In honor of the upcoming release of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie (for which I'm thinking of trying to scam a babysitter but have fears I'll never get tickets for any of the showings this weekend) and also because I'm out of ideas so am blatantly stealing borrowing from Kathleen O'Reilly's post on RTB (yeah, I'm lazy scum), I'd like to pay homage to the film industry for all of those books they've turned me onto by making them into movies. Except to be a little bit original, I'm not talking about romance novel adaptations.

First and foremost, if Peter Jackson had never taken on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I'd still be in the dark about the greatness of JRR Tolkien. After the second film, I immediately read the entire trilogy so I could find out what happened to Frodo and Aragorn and Legolas (not so much Gimli). And now that it's all said and done, I do prefer the movies to the books simply because the films cut out so much of the lengthy descriptives I mostly skimmed when reading. Plus, I think the casting was so well done that I'd just as soon watch the actors they chose rather than try to imagine in my own mind what everyone looks like. Really, I think Peter Jackson deserves some kind of Nobel award for turning so many people on to a great work of literature.

And I credit Emma Thompson for making me a Jane Austen fan. It wasn't until after I'd seen Sense and Sensibility that I picked up any of Austen's works, thinking that Pride and Prejudice was simply one of those stuffy old classics that I somehow escaped having to read in high school. We all know how I feel now about Jane Austen. Yet, I have to confess that I haven't read all of her stuff. They're going to revoke my membership card one of these days.

John Grisham is another writer who I started reading after I'd seen movie adaptations of The Firm and Pelican Brief. He's not an auto-buy author for me, but I can say I'd never have picked up his stuff in the first place had it not been for Tom and Julia.

It's funny how seeing a movie first, loving it and then picking up the book as a result, is a completely different experience than loving the book and anticipating the movie adaptation. Usually I find the book disappointing because I view it as deviating from the true story, which of course is what I saw in the movie (and I do know that this is some pretty faulty logic). Too, I often don't have patience for lengthy narrative, backstory, or characters who didn't appear in the movie, wanting mostly to get to the parts that I saw depicted on the screen. I hate having to distill the book down into the essence of the film.

Which means I seem to like the book better when I've read it first and the movie better when I've seen the movie first. And since I do know that the book is always the truest form of the story - the version the writer intended to tell - I generally like to read first, view later. In fact, I'm insisting that my kids read all of the Harry Potter books before seeing the movies. It's our gauge of knowing when they are old enough - if they've read the book and can handle the level of darkness, they can handle the movie.

Usually, though, I'm a sucker for both book and movie because if I've loved one, then I'm starved for more. In seeking out the other, I get at least a little bit more in the way of another perspective. I think this is why I'm a DVD Extras/Behind The Scenes junkie. I always want more of whatever it is that I've loved, and I'll take it where I can get it.

Many times I love both book and movie equally. I've loved all the Harry Potter Books, really enjoyed the first two movie adaptations (Scorcer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) and then loved the third installment (Prizoner of Azcaban). I'm waiting with baited breath for Friday to roll around so I can see Goblet of Fire, and I pray every day that JK Rowling writes fast enough and the young stars start drinking loads of coffee to stunt their growth so they can be in all seven film adaptations.

Having read Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down, I watched the movie from the edge of my seat. And I have to say that I don't think I would have liked the movie as much if I hadn't read the book first because I was confused a lot of the time about who was who and where. Having read the book helped a little.

I really enjoyed Ann Brashare's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and equally enjoyed the first movie. In fact, I'm hoping they take the other two titles and use the same cast to create sequel movies.

In a sort of opposite way, I didn't absolutely love the book The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and although I enjoyed the incredible acting in the movie adaptation (Nicole Kidman totally deserved that Oscar), it didn't wow me to any big degree because I still didn't love the story. Same thing with Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells. Movie was as okay as the book, but nothing I'd buy on DVD.

Some movie adaptations that I greatly anticipated really left me cold. Francis Ford Coppola completely butchered The Outsiders, in my opinion. And I'm constantly left flabbergasted when I read reviews about how great this movie is. Totally sucked and hopefully did not scare off potential readers from picking up the novel, which was amazing.

And some movies I enjoyed enough that I actually have no burning desire to read the original work it was based on. Specifically, I can think of Bridget Jones's Diary. Loved the movie. Have no burning urge to read the book. Sorry Helen Fielding, although I do own a copy of the book so she's got her cash already. Same thing with Cold Mountain. Saw the movie (*sigh* Jude Law). Know how it ends. Have no desire to slog through what I've heard is a wonderful but excruciatingly detailed accounting of the same journey which takes some 464 pages.

I haven't read any of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia books. I remember starting The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I don't remember if I finished, and if I did, I don't remember any details at all. I think this one hit me much like The Hobbit did; nothing about it grabbed my too-young mind enough to plow over the work of reading something not spoon-fed to me. When the movie comes out next month, I certainly plan to go see it. And I have a feeling that it won't be much more than 24-hours later that I'll be hunting down copies of the entire series.

What I love most about watching movies that originally came from books is the anticipation of how Hollywood will handle complicated visuals or concepts. For example, I read and enjoyed Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, which is soon to be released as a movie starring Richard Gere. One aspect of the book delved into a kind of sick compulsion on the part of the mother, and what she does is so completely out there, my imagination couldn't manage to come up with any kind of good visual as to what it all might look like. I'm just dying to see how the screenwriters and director will portray it in the movie. Maybe I'll finally get it.

When you look at it, it's amazing how many movies began as books. Here's a pretty good list. I admit I was shocked at how many movies started out as written works when I'd figured they'd always been film-only stories.

Goes to prove that there's no such thing as a new idea, and every story's been told before. That's okay. I don't mind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Regency, A Necessary Evil

I have an idea for a Regency-era story, but I'm really reluctant to explore it at any length. This is because the prospect of writing a Regency scares the bejeebus out of me.

I've never been a reader of traditional Regencies, those very particular brand of stories that depict so much drawing room intrigue and witty banter that hints of deep longing and repressed sexual tension but never allows the hero and heroine to actually do anything about it (see my previous entry on Pride & Prejudice and why I loved the new movie adaptation). I enjoy a well written sex scene, especially if the sexual tension has been building and the characters have great chemistry. Leaving things unfulfilled as it seems Trads do would simply cause me much eye-rolling.

I have read a few Regency-era historicals, as I believe non-traditional Regencies are called. Whitney, My Love and its sequel, Until You, come to mind immediately. I've also read a few Mary Baloghs. A Summer to Remember was pretty good and included some wonderfully depicted sex scenes. But I suppose her The Secret Pearl is the closest thing to a true Regency I've ever read. BTW, it looks like TSP is about to be rereleased. I had a devil of a time getting ahold of my used copy, so I highly recommend that everyone snatch up a new copy while you can.

Anyway, most of the Regencies I've read have been such simply because they are set in the Regency time period, not because they follow any set standards that seem to be de rigueur by true connoisseurs of the sub-genre. They've used the best things about that time period - the things that make it more romantic than, say, the Depression years of the 1930s - while ignoring the truism that proper young ladies and gentlemen rarely spent any time in mixed company unless chaperoned, a real downer as far as the touchie-feelies go.

If I were to venture into this territory, I'd write something Regency-era for exactly those reasons. There is an appeal to the idea that women worried so much about being ruined and that it seems as if such a situation could happen with not much action on her part. Simply being found in the wrong place alone with the wrong man was quite enough. So every encounter with a lover or potential lover was fraught with risk. Talk about your built in conflict. Not to mention all the opportunities for men to act gentlemanly and defend their woman's honor and all that.

But I have no use for the strict rules of the time period. That's what frightens me. I have a hard enough time trying to understand early nineteenth century British peerage structures without having the added stress of checking and double checking that I've called everyone by the correct title and form of address. I don't know the difference between Almack's and Almanacs, and frankly learning the difference holds no interest for me. I think neck cravats and all of the lace and froufrous of a well-dressed Regency man look ridiculous. I can't imagine finding such a man sexy or manly.

Sidebar here to make note that I found both Colin Firth and Matthew MacFadyen incredibly sexy, proving that a healthy portion of the above argument really doesn't hold water. I do, however, draw the line at powdered wigs and any form of make-up on a man. Oh, and I'm not so big on those mutton-chop sideburns.

So, I have this idea, and a major part of what drives the story is what happens when the heroine finds her reputation compromised by the hero after a horrible incident leaves her no choice but to spend several nights with him. Yeah, I know. Such an original premise. Trust me, I have some twists in mind to give it a fresh look. Anyway, such a scenario requires a time period such as the Regency in order to give the situation the proper amount of direness.

I'm trying to think of other time periods in history that would lend itself to the same situation. Sure, for most of recorded history a woman alone with an man not her husband had a great chance of damaging her reputation, but never so much as during the Regency did anyone even care.

I guess I'm just lazy. I want to use the time period but I don't want to do the work to earn the right to do so.

Monday, November 14, 2005

P&P the Movie

Saturday night, I went to see Pride & Prejudice.

*sigh*

How wonderful!! I can't recommend this movie enough to any fan of P&P or Jane Austen. Yes, I thought it was that good.

Now, there are some caveats.

First of all, you all know how big a fan I am of the BBC/A&E miniseries adaptation of P&P. And there is simply no way a movie of only two hours can come close to the completeness of the novel the way a six hour miniseries can. So my complaint of feeling that so many scenes were given short shrift in the movie is really kind of a no-brainer. Some characters were left out altogether while others, key characters even, were barely seen at all. That has to be expected, I guess, and just know that I would have been happily willing to sit another four hours in the theatre if the film makers had been able to produce more.

What I loved most about this movie is its realism. In nearly every adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, always there is a sense of stiffness about the people of that particular time. The manners are more formal, and the style of dress doesn't quite lend itself to being relaxed. I mean, those high-necked fancy cravats look positively painful. But beyond all of that, there was a feeling that these people are so far removed from anything I've ever experienced I always knew I was watching something that happened in a completely different time and universe.

Not so with P&PtM. The characters/actors moved like real people. The clothes looked soft and worn and comfortable. There was mud and dirt, Longbourne looked shabby and in need of a good scrub-down. The balls with all of the formal dancing didn't look staged and rehearsed but as if there were real people dancing and having a great time in a real space that was crowded and warm and full of fun. The formal mannerisms - all of that bowing and curtseying - was done but in such a way that you didn't notice it, unlike in other versions where everyone would pause for a moment to observe the bow ritual. Even the language sounded natural rather than stiff and foreign.

This adaptation brought P&P as close to home as possible and made me wish I'd lived in such a time.

As for the actors, some I loved and some left me cold. Keira Knightly did a great job as Lizzie. Again, she gave the role a naturalness that made her seem very real, like someone you could imagine living next door. She's very pretty, but she's not so pretty as to leave you wondering why Darcy didn't fall at her feet immediately. Too, I loved how she expressed Lizzie's confusion and inner turmoil about her feelings for Darcy.

As for Mr. Darcy, I will confess that Colin Firth will always be my favorite Mr. Darcy. Poor Matthew MacFadyen had pretty much no chance at surpassing Colin. But the guy actually was pretty amazing. He gave Darcy a whole new vulnerability that even Colin hadn't done. His feelings for Lizzie were so clearly written on his face, your heart just broke for him. No, we never got The Look, but instead the scene when Darcy strides across the moors with is shirt open is pretty darn good.

Other characters were a toss up. Rupert Friend's Mr. Wickham was far more attractive than Adrian Lukis's, therefore making it easier for me to see why anyone would fall for Wickham over Darcy. Except P&PtM had so little of Wickham in whole there wasn't much other physical appearance to his character.

I found Crispin Bonham-Carter (from the mini-series) a much better Mr. Bingley; the costume designers and make-up artists did something so bizarre to Simon Woods' hair that I could never see past it. Both Jena Malone (P&PtM) and Julia Sawalha (mini-series) were equally annoying as Lydia Bennet (as they were supposed to be), again Jena getting not even a fraction of the screen time as Julia had gotten thus leaving movie watchers in the dark about the true idiocy of Lizzie's littlest sister.

Again, because the movie was unable to thoroughly plumb the depths of such characters as Jane Bennet and Mr. Collins, it's hard to say which portrayal I prefer. I found David Bamber's Mr. Collins far more pompous and repugnant than Tom Hollander because he was permitted a lot more time and dialogue to demonstrate exactly what an annoying character he was. Susannah Harker's Jane had so much more screen time than Rosamunde Pike, yet in the end I found both to be the same lovely, sweet-natured lady personifying all that I imagine female perfection was thought to be back in that age. You can go character by character in much the same way; by knowing these characters through the mini-series, I think I got a lot more out of the movie's version of them than perhaps a newcomer might have gotten.

Above and beyond characters, the other aspect of P&PtM that I so much enjoyed was the romance of it all. I can easily recall the frustration I feel every time I watch the mini-series, after Mr. Darcy and Lizzie have confessed their mutual feelings for each other, of wanting the two to touch and become affectionate. Except that they can't because such expressions were not allowed during that time period. Thus in the mini-series (and the book, for that matter), you know they love each other because they've said as much, but nothing about their body language speaks of true emotions and feelings. I want kisses and touches and deep longing. Finally, in P&PtM, I get that. This Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are allowed to touch and do so in a way that made me sigh, whether or not the social mores of the time would have forbidden it or not. I'm thankful for the chance to releave some of my inner frustration.

But in the end, I don't think you can compare and contrast the movie version with the mini-series and come up with a "winner" per se. Both are so completely different, it would be like asking to choose between a hot fudge brownie sundae and a perfectly carmalized creme brulee. If faced with picking, I'd try to figure out a way to have both.