Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Sexy (Not) vs.The Classy

Bad news. This Mr. Romance Episode 3 is jinxed. First, my normal Monday night TiVo-ing didn’t work. Of course, since the Oxygen Network reruns it at least six times per day, I was able to tape it last night. Except then a thunderstorm rumbled through and interfered with the sattelite reception, so I missed a big fat hunk of Seduction 101. Bummer. I’m going to retape it tonight but I really don’t think I need to bother.

Good news – Bruce is not a Navy SEAL! WooHoo!! He’s currently a bartender and a former Navy rescue swimmer. Cool. My fantasy is safe.

Have to tell you, overall, this episode was really boring. Mostly because the editors decided to show us more of what we’ve already figured out. Which is that Tony is a big tool. They did manage to lift TJ a few more notches out of that hole he’d jumped into during episode 1. So much so, in fact, that I’m starting to wonder if they’re not setting him up to be the big winner…

This entire episode centered around the Brain versus Brawn premise. Brain represented by TJ and brawn by Tony. I was kind of surprised they didn’t pick Adam to represent Brain, but he doesn’t have that nasty competitive streak TJ has expressed. Remember, TJ can’t pass up a challenge. And you will lose! Or…Tony will lose!

We open with shots of the guys pumping iron. Doing crunches. All that hard work necessary for a girl to keep her figure neat and trim. Funny that women get the rap for being overly obsessed with their bodies. I’ll bet (but am way too lazy to find out for sure) that if someone did a study, men are far more obsessed about looking just a certain way. And they don’t even have the excuse of a childhood’s worth of brainwashing by thousands and thousands of pages of Seventeen and Cosmo showing them exactly what they are supposed to look like. They just figure it out all on their own and run with it. Clever chaps!

Tony is instructing TJ on the proper way to do bicep curls. Isn’t he just the sweetest guy? And look at TJ acting very un-TJ like in allowing anyone to imply that he doesn’t already know the right way to do everything. Except all is not as it seems in our happy little everyone-helps-each-other world.

'Cause Tony, he’s no dumb bunny. He thought he and TJ were buds in the beginning. But then TJ turned on him. He started scheming with that nasty, no good cattle-stealing Fabi…Fa…uh, Frank Smith, intent on taking the ranch from sweet old lady Jenkins and her lovely virginal niece, Mary Sue…So Tony cut the bastard off at the knees. He *disconnected* with TJ. That’ll learn ‘im!

For his part, TJ the control-freak can’t abide another control-freak like Tony trying to control his ability to control the non-controllees he’s been sent to obviously control without any interfering controllingness. There’s only enough room for one super-sized ego in this mansion, thankyouverymuch, and TJ’s already staked his claim as the Control Master.

Thus we enter, Round 1 of the Tony vs. TJ smackdown – Making Friends.

It’s breakfast time, and Tony is demonstrating those mad skills he picked up during that stint he did as a short order cook, making all the guys eggs. While he’s mother-henning everyone to pony up to the table and dig in, he voice overs how much the guys depend on him and need his help. Apparently the eleven other men managed to make it to adulthood and attain the muscles and weights of your average male bodybuilder without having any idea whatsoever how to make breakfast. Hakan confirms that Tony is indeed trying to be the father none of them ever wanted, and he doesn’t sound nearly as grateful as Tony imagines him to be.

While Tony is working hard to banish malnourishment from the compound, TJ is helping Scott learn how to tie a tie. A regular tie, the kind you wear with a business suit. Which leads me to wonder why Scott doesn’t already know how to do this. Perhaps he’s managed quite nicely with clip-ons. I suppose with a career like Exotic Dancer, untying ties is on the job description while tying them is just a bonus ability.

Even bigger shocker than the idea that Scott doesn’t know how to tie a tie is the discovery that Scott actually has a voice! Yes, my dear friends, Scott the Wallpaper Man actually spoke this week. He opened his mouth to gush a bit about what a great guy TJ is, how he’s a big helper and doesn’t focus on himself. Aw. Sweet. Methinks Scott has a widdle crush…

After Tony passes along his egg-flipping wisdom to his pseudo progeny, the boys gather for their very first field trip. Wonder if Tony took it upon himself as House Mother to sign all of their permission slips?

Dressed in identical Romance Academy uniforms (khaki pants, white button-up oxford shirts, and burgundy sweater vests with a lovely crest on the breast), the men are unleashed on the unsuspecting public in order to do some market research. Guess some braniac figured the best way to seduce a woman would be to ask a bunch of random strangers really personal questions and go from there. Works for selling shampoo and potato chips, so why not for selling sex?

The guys divvy up into three teams and are assigned a specific age demographic to target.

Group 1 is made up of Andrew, Marklander, Tony, and Harkan. Andrew informs us they have the job of seeking out women ages 25 through 30, which he defines as “basically, your middle aged woman.”

My first WTF!!!! moment of the night. Ages 25 through 30 are middle aged? Geez, Andrew, that either means the women in Alaska don’t live past the ancient age of 60 or you’ve been cruising junior high schools for dates.

You know, after the first episode I really liked Andrew. He’s cute. He’s pretty real. And I want so bad to root for him. But dang, the guy is not proving to be the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Group 2 included Chris, Scott, Charles and Randy, and although it wasn’t specified, I think they were to find women ages 31 through 34.

Group 3, made up of Adam, TJ, Justin and Bruce, had the dubious job of approaching women ages 36 to 50 (I’m supposing that women over 50 aren’t considered seducible). These guys got the combat-pay mission because approaching a woman and asking her age, then walking away when she’s younger than the expected 36 or older that drove you to seek her out in the first place is just, well, no good can come of it, let me tell you. Good thing this group contained the highest level of charm. I can only imagine Tony’s approach…*shudder*

The guys carried clipboards and asked things like:
Do you like hairy legs or bare legs? (Surprisingly, most women said hairy)
Boxers or bikini briefs? (a toss up on this one)
Long hair or short hair? (didn’t hear any answers)
Whips and chains or rose petals and a bubble bath? (a couple of eye-brow raising “depends”)
Man to be easy or hard to get? (General opinion formed by the guys is that women want a man who’s hard to get but then greets them with rose petals and bubble baths. I’m actually starting to see why our gender confuses them so much…)

A good portion of the questions centered around finding out if women rate physical traits above other non-physical traits such as sense of humor and intellect. Adam pointed out with undisguised glee that a good 90% of the women they polled said they did not like muscular men, which called for the obligatory shot of bare-chested, muscle-bound Tony lifting weights.

After the little yellow school bus deposited the men back at the mansion, some post-field trip dissing ensued. In case we had forgotten or had any doubt at all left in our minds, Adam likes all the guys in the house except two, and their initials are Marklander and Tony. His exact sentiments: “As long as those two don’t win, I’ll be happy.”

Even though I shouldn’t like Adam because he’s so openly bitchy, I can’t help but admire the guy. He actually gives women the credit we are due – “Women are far more complicated than boys are…” – and openly laughs at those of his own gender who simply don’t get it. You just gotta respect the guy, plus he’d be a great girlfriend cause the boy really knows how to snark.

Before each commercial break, Fabio has been doling out bits of his hard-earned wisdom. This one is truly the only one worth mentioning, so men, write it down. Memorize it. Perhaps get it tattooed someplace easily accessible.

Back hair will get you nowhere.

Okay, this is where my TiVo went all wonky because of those pesky thunderstorms. Don’t worry, I don’t think we missed much. Apparently the guys attended a class called Seduction 101. When my recording picked up again, Chris was trying to pick up the professor in a mock-grocery store scenario. Something about melons and I started praying for another thunder cloud cell to camp out over my house. Hakan had to fake the carwash pick up, in which he actually uttered the words “Do you want to give me a ride?”


And poor Charles gave a stunning display of nervousness and complete discomfort, as is his MO. Like TJ pointed out in VO, Charles might look good on a romance novel cover but he’d never be confident enough to actually seduce a woman.

On the Proof That Tony Is A Tool front, he shared his thoughts about the class. Since nothing I could say in summary would offer it up any more clearly, here’s Tony himself: “I really don’t like to be taught how to romance or charm a woman because I’ve romanced god knows how many women already and I’ve never had one complaint.”

Now, before you close the book thinking that nothing Tony could say would top this in terms of sheer arrogance and ass-hattedness, don’t go away. There’s more good stuff to come.

TJ, well, he liked the class. He found it interesting and he liked being able to ask questions. TJ? Is that really you? What did you do with that evil TJ who openly dissed the teacher in the first episode? Is he locked in a closet somewhere? Don't forget to feed him once in a while.

On to the competition. The class was gathered. Chris opened an envelope to find instructions. “Pick two team leaders.” Chris nominates TJ. The class votes by show of raised hands. TJ is chosen as Team 1 leader. Tony declares to the class that he’ll be glad to help out TJ. The class votes by…Tony standing up and walking to the front of the class, official electing himself as Team 2 leader. Ahh, nothing more satisfying than watching democracy in action.

The challenge – win dance dollars from the hundred or so women gathered in a ballroom waiting to be wooed and impressed. The dance dollars are to be earned by selling dances and photos, and whichever team earns the most wins. Remember these rules because they come into play later.

Tony and TJ take turns picking in the classic playground style with these results:

Red Team: Tony, Scott, Bruce, Andrew, Marklander and Charles
White Team: TJ, Adam, Randy, Chris, Justin and Hakan

Before the guys set out to tux-up, they have a few moments to strategize.

Team TJ’s strategy – keep it classy. Be enthusiastic and charming. Keep your clothes on. In fact, TJ’s exact words to talk Randy out of disrobing – This is Mr. Romance not Mr. Whore-man. According to Adam, TJ acted like a real leader, organizing and delegating. In his opinion, White Team had a real chance to conquer the swagger.

Team Tony’s strategy – well, I don’t know if you can call being good-looking a real strategy. But according to Tony, they didn’t really need a strategy. The guys just had to follow his directive to think sexy. Oh, and charming. Bruce’s opinion on his Team Leader: overbearing, overconfident, bossy. Heck, even Marklander thought that Tony might be a tad bit overconfident even though Marklander said it was guaranteed that they would win.

Hmmm…do I smell an upset?

The guys got ready in their tuxes and bow ties, and sure enough there was a ballroom of women a-waiting for them. Much dancing. Much charming. Much giggling.

I’m not even going to recap the whole thing. Suffice it to say that Tony acted like a traffic cop, directing women to “hurry up” with the money and “keep it moving”. The guy was obnoxiousness personified. Honestly, the laugh out loud moment of the entire show was when one woman offered Tony $100 to leave her alone. Priceless!

In fact, Tony did so much damage that at the halfway point his team was down some $4,000, inspiring his crew to mutiny.

Remember those rules about earning the money via selling dances and photos? Do you recall anything specific about a clothing optional clause? Yeah, well apparently Team Red saw it somewhere in the fine print because they decided the best way to earn the bucks was to take it off. And since the majority of the team are dancers by profession, they really knew how to take it off. Dances without shirts. Pictures without shirts. Any and all touching encouraged and allowed (for an extra fee, of course).

All of this going on while Team White danced and charmed…*sigh* Romance versus Smut.

Thankfully there was one final test that no amount of shirtlessness could cheat. A dance off between the two team leaders. Can I tell you how funny it looks when Tony nearly drops a woman he’s trying to dip all while keeping the white rose clenched firmly between his perfectly capped teeth?

Fabio entered the room to announce the winner. The women swooned and squealed. Tony big-noted himself in his own special way: “Fabio will walk into a room and women just adore him. It’s almost like you’re born with it. It’s almost like a gift. And I’ve noticed ever since I was a child that I have this gift with women.”

It should come as no surprise to you that TJ won. Because in the end, we women are a classy bunch. We know that as much fun as it is to ogle and grope a six-pack, we’d rather take home the guy with a brain and the ability to carry on a conversation that goes beyond “How you doin’?”

Of course, not that Team Red’s defeat had anything at all to do with Tony.

Tony: … we would have won if it wasn’t for TJ’s dance and the fact that my partner could not dance (Marklander: No, she was big. She couldn’t dance. TJ’s girl was a better dancer…)

Woman at the ball: The Team Leader of the Red Team was definitely the worst…he was a little intense…a little over the top…

Tony: I’m just a ball of dynamite, ready to explode. And women see it.

Andrew: I thought our team strategy was off from the beginning…it wasn’t the Red Team but Tony’s Team…

Tony: As their team leader, I sacrificed myself. I put myself out on the line. I was charming and charming my way to get the money because everybody was screwing up on my team.

OMG!! Could he be any more of a complete door knob?

Final results of the competition based on the total dollar amount earned:
Third Place – Randy
Second Place – Justin
First Place – TJ

Last Place – Charles. Poor, poor Charles. Pack it up, buddy. Cut your losses now…

Also learned by the Boys: Taking off shirts at a formal ball = bad!

Scott: (whining and making me wish he'd go back to blending in) …but that’s where I started making my money
Hakan: That’s okay for a strip club
Scott: Women whose men don’t have six-packs liked touching them
Tony: And we were being classy…

I just can’t even top that.

Next week the guys get to play dress up and Tony hurts his foot and Marklander cries about it. Oh, I just cannot wait.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Big Fat Wrinkle In Time

I'm back in town and plan to watch Episode 3 of Mr. Romance later tonight, when I can commandeer the television without risk of DH walking in on me. Hate to say that I actually feel embarrassed that I'm watching and he catches me at it, especially when there is so much naked man-ness on the screen. Kinda like when I give him a hard time for watching CMT when a Shania Twain video is on...paybacks are heck.

Anyway, I have a particular writerly problem that perhaps someone else has had and can give me the solution to or point me to a link or dozen that would offer up some advice. My problem is all about timing.

Let me explain. I seem to spend way too long thinking about the timing of my books. (Meaning, the amount of time that the story covers, not the amount of time it takes me to write the book.) I write time-lines and think through events and seasons and months and all that stuff, agonizing about how long such and such would take and exactly when events A, B and C should occur. And Heaven help me if I want my characters to go swimming or skiing and then realize that I've set the entire situation such that they are in the wrong season. Really, I angst over this. And I use it to procrastinate to no end.

Part of the problem is that I'm one of those people who has the hardest time suspending my disbelief to accept people who fall in mad, passionate, forever love over the course of two days. The only time I allow myself to completely buy into that concept is when reading romantic action (read: Suzanne Brockmann) because the pace of the story is very fast and therefore the resulting relationship can keep equal pace with no complaint from me. But in more leisurely stories, I often wonder why everything happens within a week or a month. Who really meets Mr. Perfect on Monday and says yes to his marriage proposal on Saturday night?

I worry that I'm rushing my characters, not giving them sufficient time to get to know each other. But who really wants to (or has the time to) read about a romance that occurs in real time? I mean, what are the hero and heroine doing during all that down time when they aren't together? Sure, a well written story only shows the scenes that move the story and characters forward, but how do you go about explaining the gaps in time between the meet-cute and the first-kiss and the consummation and the marriage proposal? Or is every couple supposed to progress through this series of events with only a day or two between each step?

I think, too, my problem comes from refusing to let go of realism. I think about how long things really take to accomplish and when that amount of time - be it too short or too long - doesn't fit into the puzzle of my story, I get all wigged out. Is it okay to cheat - to allow a house that really would take about three months to build take eight months if I need the cute construction worker to stick around longer? Or if the hero suffers an injury that takes three full months for recovery, is it okay if I have him up and around in time to take the heroine horseback riding on the beach before Fall rolls around?

Stuff like this really stops me cold and puts up such a huge wall that I feel I must overcome before I can get started on the story.

I've read advice by more than one published writer who says to sweat the details later. Do the research later, double check the facts later, don't stop the writing momentum to solve the small problems. I understand this and I fundamentally agree with it. Problem for me is sticking with it. Too often I get started and realize I don't know some detail that seems crucial to the story and therefore cannot go on until I find out the answer. Big fat derailment ensues and I'm no longer writing but in research mode, full-scale panic that I don't know my characters or the location or the time period/chosen profession/insert any specific detail here well enough yet to write the story.

Same thing with timing. The second I realize that the way I've set the story it is physically impossible for Hero and Heroine to enjoy the Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival unless they don't meet at their kids' preschool Halloween party when they are coincidentally dressed in coordinated Fred and Wilma costumes, I come to a full stop. I stress over changing everything to make sure the timing lines up correctly or try to find ways to stall...or I have to make a choice between scenes which makes me crazy because I really *wanted* that specific meet-cute at that specific time of year but I also *really* wanted him to propose beneath the fragrant pink blossoms of a cherry tree...Yikes! See what I mean?

Any ideas? I've got great sites to help me with plotting and character development and POV and dialogue...I need a cheat sheet for how to change the very fabric of time.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Will They? Won't They?

Before I go any further...I'm heading out of town this afternoon and won't be back until Tuesday. As such, I won't be able to watch my TiVoed Episode 3 of Mr. Romance until Tuesday night and won't have any sort of recap up until Wednesday. Sorry for the delay. And if I don't manage to get internet connection where I'm going (i.e., if I can't get my wireless card to work with my dad's router), I won't be able to blog for a couple of days. I'll be back!

Maili posted a very thought provoking column on Romancing the Blog, about sexual tension and the question of whether it is something that is missing in today's romance novels when so many heroes and heroines hop in the sack somewhere around Chapter 1.5. I'm a huge fan of well wrought sexual tension, but rather than waxing long-winded, I think I'll just limit myself to a list of my favorite couples who had oodles of sexual tension, IMO. Don't know if I have time to get to 10, so let's see...

1. Sam Malone and Diane Chambers - Cheers
Classic, classic use of heated argument turning into heated something else:
Sam: You are the nuttiest, the stupidest, the phoniest fruitcake I ever met!
Diane: You, Sam Malone are the most arrogant self centered son-of-a...
Sam: Shut up! Shut your fat mouth!
Diane: Make me!
Sam: Make you?... My God I'm, I'm gonna, I'm gonna bounce you off every wall in this office!
Diane: Try it and you'll be walking funny tomorrow... or should I say funnier?
Sam: You know, you know I always wanted to pop you one! Maybe this is my lucky day, huh?
Diane: You disgust me! I hate you!
Sam: Are you as turned on as I am?
Diane: More!
[They kiss!]

2. David Addison and Maddie Hayes - Moonlighting
David and Maddie introduced me to my most favorite of cliched sexual tension payoffs - the sweeping clear of objects in the way of flat surfaces. Too, David and Maddie set the bar as far as sexual tension in the world of television, and quite often they are used as a reference when writers ponder the positives and negatives of allowing two characters to consummate a long-running attraction.

3. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy - Pride and Prejudice
Classy sexual tension. Sexual tension with only an implied pay-off. Sexual tension that actually left the reader/viewer wanting more...*sigh*

4. Ross Gellar and Rachel Green - Friends
This was just such a fun thing. First Ross liked Rachel and she didn't know it. Then Rachel like Ross and he didn't know it. They kept missing the boat...until finally, wow. Best thing about this pairing - viewers only had to wait a season and a half before a big payoff and the writers were able to carry the show forward another eight and a half seasons without losing the chemistry between these two. Amazing.

Okay...I've run out of blogging time. I'll try to think of some more, but any ideas please do share. I just love walking down memory lane.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Rose, Tulip, Daffodil. They're All Just Flowers, Right?

Yesterday morning I woke up with a fully formed idea for a story but it's waayy different than a normal romance. It involves some kind of out-there premises but it's still something I'd love to try someday, so I'm going to write up my synopsis and stick it in the Ideas folder.

But it got me to thinking about writing across genres or sub-genres. I can clearly see myself as a person who will do that because my ideas jump across the lines. Like I said, I'd always thought I'd write historical romance but have since turned my hand to contemporary romantic action, I have a YA idea or two floating around, and with my love of all things Buffy, I can see a paranormal in the mix somewhere.

And this thinking led me to how it is that some writers pull it off so well, which led me to thinking about names, which is where I've landed today.

How do writers come up with their nom de plume? And when is an alternate personae a good thing? And is it important to keep any individual names distinctly seperate with a lot of dramatic secrecy?

Backing up to the first question, and since I'm feeling highly organized today, I'll go about this in a nice orderly fashion. Here are ways I imagine writers determine what name will appear in glossy metallic type sprawled across the naked chest of some Marklander type cover model:

1 - The writer uses her own name. It's a good name and there is no reason not to use it.

2 - The writer's name doesn't lend itself very well to a "romantic" image so at the suggestion of editors or agents or just her own family, she changes Myrtle Brunsweigerfeld to something more splashy, like Bronwen Myrtz or Lacy Galena or some other heroine-like name. Heck, why not. How many of us wish we'd been standing next to our parents when they were filling out the info for our birth certificates so we could have screamed "Noooo....don't do that to me!"

Oh, and this would also cover those writers really named Bruce Butchman but choose to go with the slightly softer Bryn Butler or Rose LaLaLaLane because, well, sorry, Bruce, but everyone knows guys can't write romance!

3 - The writer feels the need to retain some seperation between her real self and her new public personae. If she chooses Bronwen Myrtz, none of the other moms on the PTA will ever know she's the one responsible for Rafe's throbbing manhood and Rowina's pulsing nubbin of flesh and firm globes of creamy white perfection. Nor will any of the dads standing on the sidelines at the Saturday morning soccer game be eyeing her husband with a mixture of disbelief, envy and admiration.

Honestly, I think this is a very legitimate reason for choosing a pseudonym. And I'm not saying this because I have the idea that writers of romance should in any way feel ashamed or embarrassed by what they write. I just know for myself that it's a lot easier to put the image of my grandma reading my love scenes as far from my mind as possible if I have the security of believing she'll never figure out that Lusty DeLibido is really her little Lynnie-bug.

Only problem with this approach is that eventually a big reveal might be required. Or rather, hopefully a big reveal will be required. Every writer would like to think/believe/dream/delude herself that some day in the distant future she'll be so successful she'll have to go on Oprah for one of Oprah's Book Club dinners, and unless she's willing do don a wig and some funny-nose-glasses, her friends and family are bound to say, "Hey, did you know you look EXACTLY like that famous writer, Winona McLoverly, that was on the Oprah Show?"

I suppose she could claim that she was twins seperated at birth, but how would she explain those long absences from Kindermusik class while she was in NYC making the morning show circuit and chatting it up with Katie Couric? Not to mention what happens when they turn her masterpiece into a movie and she has to show up on the red carpet to schmooze with Joan and Melissa about her classic Versace couture gown. Aahhh...the problems that come with success.

4 - I can imagine that coming up with a new name when entering a new genre or sub-genre would be very beneficial. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb has done this, as has PBW, and I can very much understand why. If only for the simple reason that a hard-edged suspense/mystery novel written by a Nora Roberts doesn't deliver quite the same promise as one written by a J.D. Robb.

Too, I imagine that writing across genres involves injecting different styles and voices, and to carry any reputation a prior name might have earned might cause problems. If I've read and loved ten books by Lucy Scarlettlips who I know has a particular flair with purple prose, I might not believe she'd be able to pull off that based-on-real-life serial murder crime drama she just put out. If she changes her name to Luc Scarlettino, I might give her a go.

This also works for unsuccessful writers. If Lucy Scarlettlips wrote three books that bombed because she hadn't quite found her voice, wouldn't it be nice if she could have a second chance simply by changing her name? I like to believe that we can all improve ourselves, and to be forever burdened by past mistakes because of name recognition is pretty sad. Adopting a new name affords that fresh start.

Which then leads to the whole secrecy thing. What good would it do for Lucy to change her name if I know that it's still Lucy writing the book? Isn't the key to pulling off the whole new-name, new-style switcheroo based on making people believe that the two different names actually belong to two different writers with two different styles? Every single time I see a book by J.D. Robb I immediately say to myself, "Oh...Nora Roberts wrote that. And since I know that, why bother with the whole fake name thing? Who does she think she's fooling?"

There has been discussion that I've read (and I'm too lazy this morning to find the links) about outing writers and whether it is wrong to do or not. The argument, it seems, is that it is unfair to readers who are somehow being "tricked" when they buy a book they think is by a new writer when really it's someone who's been in the business a long time, either successfully or unsuccessfully. After all, why does the writer feel the need to hide behind new names?

While I do agree that it is wrong for a writer to try to sell themselves as a brand spanking new writer (i.e., entering books in contests as a debut effort when really, it's not) if they have some history, I guess I tend to fall in the camp of thinking that it isn't very fair for someone to broadcast to one and all the reality of the name situation. And I would ask, why, if the writer is not up to some nefarious end, anyone feels a need to reveal such information? What are they trying to accomplish except maybe to show that they are on the inside and know what's going on? If a writer writes a good story, worth the money paid for the book, who cares what name is on the cover and whether or not it belongs to a new person or an old-timer trying something new?

As for myself, at first I always believed I'd take a psuedonym because I didn't necessarily want my neighbors to know what I was writing. Now I know that the chances of my neighbors ever reading something I wrote is pretty small, and, too, I feel no need to hide something I hope I'm proud of. Plus there's that whole secret identity problem and the red carpet...

But I do think that, like PBW, I would adopt a new name when I cross genres and sub-genres. If anything, I think doing that would help me enter into a different state of thought. If I'm writing as Marla Squeezeme I'm going to be thinking differently than if I'm writing a book by Dude 4EVR Bit'chn. I want the distinction for myself and I want the readers to know that a book by the former will sound completely different than a book by the later. As such, I'd like for as long as possible to maintain the illusion that two different names means two different writers.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Epiphany or Wow, So That's It!

Last night I had an epiphany. I'm sure once I tell you what it is, you'll probably say "Is that it? Well, heck, I've always known that..." but an epiphany for me it was, all the same. So I'll risk sharing it and looking kinda stupid.

I finished Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings (both excellent reads and worthy of a review blog all their own), and just as Rachel Potter's sister, my reaction at the end was a big "Marcus Flutie - Sa-woon!!" What an amazing guy! Romantic. Sweet. A reformed rake cut from the best mold. A true hero that made my heart go pitter patter.

Except, Marcus Flutie was all of seventeen or eighteen years old.

What in the world would a thirty-something-heading-into-forties woman like me find so amazingly attractive in a smart-alecky, baggy-pants wearing, bad garage-band wannabe kid? I mean it - it wasn't just the inner sixteen-year-old in me that felt weak in the knees reading about this guy. It was the grown-up woman who knows what real teenagers are like and is starting to find men with that sprinkling of silver at their temples kinda cute.

So laying in bed after staying up too late to finish SH, I mulled over what qualities Marcus shared with all my other favorite heroes. And that's when the lightbulb went on. Because despite Marcus's tender years, the kid had to be one of the most self-assured, confident young men I've seen depicted in fiction. A non-conformist who didn't give two bits about what the other kids thought of him, Marcus oozed strength of character and a willingness to buck the system, never batting an eyelash when his actions earned him contempt and dirision from those he certainly deemed less-worthy. Marcus was a "dreg" (a former druggie) who had no designs on improving his high-school social status. The kid accepted himself, liked himself, and didn't much care what anyone else thought. No mean feat, that, at age seventeen.

My epiphany: For me, the sexiest, most attractive thing about any man is self-confidence.

Above good looks or intelligence or sexual prowess, the thing that makes a guy a "keeper" hero for me is a rock-solid sense of self-worth.

Now, this is completely different from arrogance. Arrogance derives from low self-esteem. Somewhere deep inside, the hero senses he is not good enough. And in an attempt to convince not only those around him but his very own self that he is indeed good enough, a false sense of bravado emerges - arrogance.

Arrogance is bullying, dominating, overbearing. Self-confidence is quiet and has no need to advertise itself. Remember when I discussed Vin Diesel's performance in The Pacifier and one aspect I really loved about his character was his lack of a need to prove anything to anybody? He was able to walk away from direct provocation because his complete confidence in himself and in his abilities enabled him to do so. If he would have knocked around all the people who rightly deserved it, he would have looked arrogant.

And self-confidence can go a long way in overcoming what might be perceived as negative features. If Joe Average Looking feels good about himself and offers no apologies for not being a Greek Adonis, instantly he becomes more attractive. Same applies to intelligence. Whether a nuclear physicist or a high-school dropout, if the hero demonstrates confidence in what he does know, he appears wise and worthy of respect regardless of his level of education. A young high school kid who shows self-confidence worthy of a much older, more worldly man has the ability to draw the interest of not only his female classmates but woman of a...ahem...more mature sensibility.

Not to alienate any of you who haven't read my War & Peace-sized recap of the latest episode of Mr. Romance, but the proof of my theory is playing out in living color on that show. Marklander and Tony - two men that would most likely be judged as attractive from a purely empirical point of view - are probably the two most unappealing men on the show. This is because they constantly feel the need to remind everyone of how attractive and desirable they are. They have absolutely no self-confidence, because if they did, they would know they were good looking and would just take for granted that those around them knew it as well. In their case, their lack of self-confidence manifests itself in arrogance and ridiculous braggery which contorts any good looks they actually have.

On the flip side, Adam is not nearly as good looking - again, judging empirically (because I happen to find his face far more handsome than either Tony's or Marklander's) - yet he contains huge amounts of self-confidence. He's able to admit to his faults without apology because he knows that he has other qualities that more than make up for his lack of muscles. Sure enough, this confidence propelled Adam to a win over the other two "better-looking" men, and I can say personally that I wouldn't date Marklander or Tony if the world was flooded in piss and they lived in a treehouse, but Adam...well, he's married.

So, self-confidence is the thing for me. The intangible. The je ne sais quoi that bumps an okay hero up to the level of a knock-my-socks-off keeper.

And this is where you say, "Yeah? So...??"

The reason this was such an epiphany for me is because now I know why watching these confident men fall in love - real love - is so unbelievably fun, especially when we are afforded a good look inside their minds. Because often falling in love is the very first time this confidence is shaken. Whether he likes it or not, in falling in love the hero has allowed the heroine the power to put a ripple in his otherwise smooth sense of self.

The hero is now vulnerable. His own self-confidence isn't enough to get him through because it is no longer his own approval that he seeks. Someone has entered his world whose opinion matters as much or more than his own. Not that the man will fall down in a boneless heap of self-loathing and despair should the heroine reject him or think badly of him, but the chance for real hurt is there.

The simplest way I can think of to explain this is in the scenario (fictional) which has the hero in the position of protecting the heroine. Think Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard for a setup. The hero realizes he loves the heroine and that if something bad were to happen to her, his emotional life would be destroyed. All of the sudden his need to keep her from harm reaches such a critical mass that any former self-confidence is tested to the max. Sure, he's never failed before. But never before has so much been at risk and the cost so extreme should he fail. The confidence waivers. And if we are allowed to see inside his mind, to see this waivering no matter how small it is, the depth of his love is proved to us, the readers.

Perhaps this is why I have such a fondness for alpha-heroes. They usually exude confidence to the nth degree, and when they fall, they fall so unbelievably hard. And certain professions draw men who must contain an above-average level of self-confidence in order to succeed, thus the reason that heroes such as Suzanne Brockmann's Navy SEALs keep me coming back again and again. Even so, a beta hero who is supremely confident would be equally appealing, IMO, just as a big tough cowboy who constantly needed reassurance of his own worth would be annoying as all heck.

I know I haven't revealed anything earth-shattering here. But all the same, I felt like the last piece of a huge puzzle dropped into place making the picture very clear. Now I understand why the Marcus Fluties have the ability to affect me. And hopefully I will take this newfound enlightenment and apply it to create the kinds of heroes that affect other readers.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love?

Currently I've shoved aside all my partially read vampire books and picked up something that's been sitting on the top of my TBR pile for a good month or so. And let me tell you, Megan McCafferty's Sloppy First is the best book I have read in a very long time. The type of can't-put-it-down read that's making me think of forgetting about the two kids and the 294 different projects and chores I need to get done today in favor of curling up on the sofa so I can race through the rest of SF and get started on its sequel, Second Helpings.

Sloppy First is told from heroine Jess Darling's point of view in a journal-style but non-Bridget Jones's Diary way (which I appreciate greatly), and a sharper young woman I've never met. Jess is in the throws of some serious teenage angst after her best friend, Hope, moves to a distant town, leaving Jess alone to navigate the torturous world that is today's high school. Her remaining friends are hardly paragons of support, the one guy who everyone thinks she should date sparks nothing in Jess's heart, and much to her consternation, bad-boy Marcus Flutie has suddenly taken up a permanent spot in Jess's thoughts. Jess is a wonderful protagonist and I'm completely captivated. I cannot wait to see what happens.

You might be saying, so what? Mr. Impossible is that good, so what's the big deal about SF? The thing about this book that is so unusual - for me, anyway - is that it's a Young Adult title rather than a romance. I did find it through the romance channels, both the review on AAR and via a recommendation made by LLB in her blog. And not that this is the first YA title I've picked up since I turned the wizened age of eighteen when I figured I qualified for full Adult status. I've had the first of Ann Brashares' Traveling Pants books - Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - for probably as long as it's been on the shelves because the entire premise looked so fun. I still haven't read it and I've resisted picking up the second and third Sisterhood books even though my inner-glommer is itching to order them in anticipation of loving the first. As soon as I finish the McCafferty books, I do plan to read them. I also have Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison that's going to zoom to the top of the pile.

Yep, it's a YA glom-fest.

Which puts me in a highly nostalgic mood and inspired me this morning to pull the keepers from my fledgling romance-novel reading career off the shelves for a trip down memory lane. I cut my romance teeth on the old First Love from Silhouette line. Back in those days - the early 1980s, when I was a newly-minted teenager - I had no idea that what I was reading was in fact a category romance. I only knew that every month a few new titles hit the stores and I'd scarf them up. The books had numbers on the front covers and spines, and I had them all shelved numerically, trading with friends to fill in gaps.

Even back then, though I didn't have the vocabulary to understand, some of the books were toss-aways, read once and passed on to a gal-pal. Other were keepers that I read over and over and still have to this very day. Books like Alabama Moon by Brenda Cole, the story of a city girl sent to live on her aunt's farm while her parents try to reassemble their post-divorce lives, and A Passing Game by Beverly Sommers, in which the heroine is the first and only girl to play on her high school football team, are even today stories that thrill my inner prom-queen-wannabe.

Except when I read these books now, with the wisdom of some twenty years of reading adult romance novels and of watching countless hours of TV shows such as Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the short-lived Life as We Know It which are all supposed to kinda sorta depict life as a teenager today (albeit with superpowers of some sort), I'm blown away at how innocent those stories were.

Never did any romance move beyond a few nice kisses. Except I do recall one title - Janine by Elaine Harper - that covered the story of a teenage girl who was not only married but had just had a baby (have no idea of which came first and would have to reread to find out...). Anyway, the characters in FLfS books didn't use cuss words. They didn't snark or even introspect about how completely annoying and hypocritical the adults around them happened to be. Back in those days, the worst possible tragedy to rock a hero or heroine's world usually was the divorce of his or her parents. Drugs, alcohol and sex were non-issues. Heck, I don't even recall anyone smoking a contraband cigarette. The boys and girls were all prototypical all-American, clean-cut exemplary role models for the young girls reading the books.

Now, I don't recall any specifics, but I do know that kids back in the day when I was reading these stories did cuss. And smoke. And do more than kiss. And used drugs and alcohol - at least some of them, anyway. So clearly the slice of life depicted in FLfS was a highly sanitized version of the real world. Not that I noticed this at the time. All I knew was that I loved how these girls met cute guys and fell in love.

What's really funny is that when I rationalized keeping the half-dozen FLfS titles that now take up 10 inches of valuable shelf space, I imagined that some day my daughter would read them and love them as much as I did. I can already anticipate the muscle-pulling eye-rolls should I even suggest she read them, followed by the snorts of disbelief if she actually she humors me. I can hear her now. "Geez, Mom, what a bunch of lame people..." Because using today's ruler, the young adults in the FLfS world were pretty lame.

I suppose I'd be better off comparing books such as Sloppy Firsts with the non-category, one-off titles by writers like Judy Blume. Blume's heroines and heroes were very real, and the subjects of sex and other majorly critical life-altering issues were covered in fabulously real ways. I cannot tell you how many times I read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret while anxiously awaiting for that first sign that I had "become a woman". And can anyone who grew up in the eighties tell me that they don't remember the battered copy of Forever being passed around with the all-important Page 81 carefully dog-eared for easy reference? Man, all of Blume's books still resonant deeply with me. Deenie and Blubber. Then Again, Maybe I Won't which was probably the first book I read that gave me the boy's point of view. All of these treated the protagonists as real people despite their youth, and I think Blume deserves the distinction of being the founding-mother of today's reality-based YA novels.

Another writer whom I loved because of her realism and the fact that the stories she told were based in a hard, tough world was S.E. Hinton. Even more exciting was the knowledge that S.E. herself had been a teenager when she wrote The Outsiders, a book I consider a bonafide classic that should be read by every person who goes through high school and one of my all time favorite top 5 books ever. I'll never forget Tex and Rumble Fish. Man. I'm really feeling a need to hole up in a room somewhere with a huge stack of these old favs.

So, yeah, realism did exist back in my day. But even so, it seems like today's YA books have grown up quite a bit. If Sloppy Firsts is any indication of the genre as a whole, snark and an extreme perception of the world around them seems to be the main quality of YA heroines. The topics of importance to this age group are mentioned often and without any judgment attached to them. The writers don't seem to be aiming to lecture to the readers (Drugs are bad. Wait to have sex. Don't smoke. Brush your teeth...) but rather are actually attempting to get inside their characters' young minds simply to create the most realistic, three-dimensional people possible. This lack of preaching works quite well, and what results is the most awesome glimpse inside a teenager's brain and a very entertaining read, at least on the part of SF.

Because as much as the Blumes and the Hintons of my day showed me a real world, still there seemed to be an overriding moral umbrella that painted things "bad" or "good", often demonstrated by the fate of the characters who personified one side or the other. In Blume's Then Again, Maybe I Won't, the shoplifting neighbor boy who cause the hero so much stress ends up getting sent to military school. And in Hinton's stories, the punishment for juvenile delinquents was even worse. Not that either of these two authors painted stereotypical villain-type characters. In fact, The Outsider's Dallas was probably the first anti-hero I ever read, a hardened, cynical teenager who'd seen too much but remained a loyal friend to the bitter end, fully three-dimensional despite his casting as the bad seed of the group. But even with his heart of gold, Dally met with a tragic end...

But going back to those sweet First Love books...Not only did they inspire a love for romance novels, I hold them responsible for planting the very first stories in my brain. Instead of just sitting one aisle over and three seats in front of me in seventh grade social studies, completely oblivious to my awestruck stare, cute Scott Handy became the star of my elaborate daydreams involving him hitting a grand slam homerun to win the junior high state baseball championship at which time he runs to me, watching from the stands, sweeps me up in his skinny pre-pubescent arms and whispers in my ear "I won this for you..." (I really hope Scott Handy never does a Google search of his name and ends up here. Then again, my name has changed since then...)

While a good 99% of those junior-sized fantasies are too ridiculous and embarrassing to ever go anywhere, I do think that with a lot of work, some of them might provide fodder for a decent YA novel or two. Problem is, I am so completely out of touch with the world of today's young adults that any attempt on my part would probably read much like a FLfS book. And I honestly have no idea how to find out about what today's teenagers really think and say and how they act. I have nephews who are thirteen and sixteen, but somehow I imagine the prospect of answering Aunt Lynn's probing questions is right up there next to having their parents chaperone at the Prom in terms of last thing on Earth they'd want. Do you suppose they would think it weird if I asked if I could hang with them for a few Friday nights?

Sure, some fundamental things remain the same as far as today's teens and my-day's teens. They still care about things such as acceptance and belonging, pressure from parents and teachers to get good grades, newly developing and majorly confusing feelings about the opposite sex, or even more confusing, about the same sex. Peer pressure is still there as is the sudden realization that parents are only human and can make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Divorce and broken families are a reality, and always present are the temptations of booze, drugs and sex to make problems go away.

But knowing this stuff hasn't changed in the past twenty years doesn't mean that kids haven't changed. It's my observation that today's young adults are far more aware than I was at their age. I hate to use the word jaded, but it does seem that they are far more cynical or at the very least less willing to just accept the status quo without comment. So unless I start talking to my nephews a lot or pull a Johnny Depp 21 Jump Street maneuver, I don't know that I have the vocabulary to pull off a modern-day YA novel.

Sorry, Scotty, you'll have to remain in my sweet memories.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Being Mean Is Never Pretty...But It Sure Is Fun!

Day has turned to night, and I am so sorry. I was so much busier today than I expected and this took so much longer than I expected. To make it up to you, it is incredibly long and contains profanity (WARNING: Contains profanity of the four-letter variety) and links to men's underwear photos, so I hope this is enough so you'll forgive me the delay…

Men getting Brazilian bikini waxes. Can there be any finer form of entertainment on television?

As a public service to you all so you don’t have to actually watch the show, I’m continuing my coverage of Mr. Romance. I don’t think you all fully understand the sacrifice I’m making in the name of providing you with the most thorough recap possible. Really. I mean, I dreamt of this crap last night, it’s that disturbing.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Um…makers of Mr. Romance? What’s with the karaoke style lyrics during the theme song? You know, with the words printed on the bottom of the screen while a little red heart bounces along the top of them. Are we supposed to sing along? If so, you need a better hook.

First of all, this episode was five times more cringe-worthy than last episode. So embarrassing, in fact, that I had to fast forward it through several sections because my humiliation meter was moving well into the red. I mean, we had groping. We had dance offs. We had a blow up doll…But in the end, I was transfixed because humans are just fascinated with scenes of gruesome carnage, and this show offers it in spades.

Before I launch into my coverage, I have to ask this question. Is Fabio for real? He actually said this: “People say to me, Fabio, you have the body of Hercules and the brain of Zeus…” My first reaction to this was…um…what people say that? People who are high? My second reaction; surely he’s reading from a script. Which was immediately followed by my third reaction; What kind of guy would actually agree to say such a thing written in a script? With a straight face, no less? I think I’d say to him, should we ever happen to meet, “Fabio, you have no lips and the brain of a squirrel.” Much more accurate that the Zeus thing.

So, guess which one of the guys sleeps in the nude? In a house with eleven other guys? Because…he forgot to pack his jammies? And...every spare tee shirt and pair of shorts he brought with him is earmarked for a special occasion? That’s the only excuse I could come up with.

Tell you what, I won’t answer that question right now. I’ll let you try to guess who and then reveal the big answer at the end of the post. See, this entry has a fun game included! Bonus.

First up for the guys on this, their second televised hour on their journey to male perfection, was lessons in grooming. This class was taught by Professor Tony, who apparently is himself a romance cover model. Remember in last week’s comments section I said that cameras must have some kind of magic inside of them because they often turn blah looking guys into studly cover models that actually don’t look too bad? Well, Prof. Tony must own a dozen of these cameras if he really is a cover model. So not handsome. But he did have a great voice, like a radio disk jockey. In fact, he might want to consider a career in radio…

Okay, back to the grooming. Each guy got the fun sorority-girl experience of standing in front of the room in his underwear while his peers were encouraged by Prof. Tony to evaluate his physique. Here’s the general consensus in a nutshell.

Charlie is cute but he thinks he’s Tarzan, King of the Jungle. He does have Tarzan’s hair. And incredibly bad taste in underwear. But that’s about it.

I learned that Bruce lists his profession as a Navy special ops operator. No. No no no no no. I didn’t want to know that! Because I need to keep my fantasy alive. And my fantasies of Navy SEALS don’t include guys with skinny arms and undefined bodies that seem to contain odd bone structure in the chest and pelvic area. Nope, I’m going to block that little tidbit about Bruce out of my mind. From now on he’s going to be Bruce the Wall Board Hanger. Or Bruce the Telephone Repair Man. Because I don’t have any fantasies about these guys.

Tony is a gym bunny, so bulked up he gives the phrase “all brawn, no brain” new meaning. He also has man boobs. What’s really funny, though, is that while he has the body of an Arnold Schwarzenegger, he has the voice of Ron Silver. Complete with the heavy Brooklyn accent. Seeing him talk is like having Betty Boop’s voice come out of Jessica Rabbit’s body. They just don’t jive.

Oh, and Tony’s a major suck-up. He wasted a good portion of the entire class’s time asking Prof. Tony for hair-growing tips since Prof. Tony has long hair while Student Tony has short hair. And then Marklander had to shove his brown-nose into the spotlight, asking the exact same questions about long hair because…well, he wasn’t listening the first time, I guess. Tony and Mark, my men, it’s pretty simple. Here’s the secret to long hair. Don’t get your hair cut.

Adam, whom the editors chose as the Darling of this episode, made the observation that basically, Marklander and Tony are interchangeable. The editors helped all of us viewers visualize this assessment by swapping Marklander’s and Tony’s faces and bodies. They are interchangeable! Wow! Cool.

Sadly, I must confess that Andrew, my favorite from last week, has fallen a couple of notches in my esteem. Somehow he’s managed to convince himself that his gut is really a gut with a six-pack hidden inside. I looked really hard. I didn’t see any six-pack. Nope. Just the gut part. But his girlfriend likes it, and really, who cares what a few million romance-novel buyers think?

Chris has stretch marks. On his shoulders and upper arms. Presumably from big muscles or a pregnancy he must have carried in his upper body. Huh. Go figure. I thought only women got stretch marks.

The other guys kind of blended together. Except Justin, who was also culled out of the herd to be a particular favorite of the editors this week because he is the Fish Out of Water. If anyone has read Larissa Ione's blog about real men’s bad habits, you’d have screamed “Shout out!” when Justin ended his strut-and-pose with a pretend booger-flick. Really. He did. And Prof. Tony was suitably disgusted. He made Justin do it again (the strut-and-pose, not the booger-flick), visualizing the hot, naked babe lying in wait on the bed as Justin owned the situation. He needed to work it, baby. Work it. Justin still squirmed. So did I.

After the guys got body critiques, they learned about make-up (or rather “man make-up” as Prof. Tony called it to make it waaayyy more acceptable for these guys to put on their faces) and body hair removal. Unlike all of us women, hair-removal for male romance novel cover models is optional, although every single one of the contestants is amazingly chest-hair free. Which looks particularly odd when some like Adam and Chris have legs so hairy they look like they are wearing fur pants. On the other hand, there’s something kind of…creepy…about a guy who shaves his legs. Unless he’s a swimmer. With a swimmer’s body…but I digress.

This session on male grooming ended with contour underwear – the push-up bra of men’s underwear - and the men smearing oil all over each other, prompting me to double check the TiVo to make sure I was actually on Oxygen Network and not some Showtime special. Wish I could say I got all tingly watching TJ rub oil onto Tony’s shoulders. Sorry. Not even a twitch. Now if it would have been Angel and Spike in that fantasy that Buffy imagined in the very last episode of the show. You know, when Spike is all jealous over Angel and Buffy having kissed and Buffy says she should just throw them in a room together and let them wrestle it out. And Spike says he’s game. And she says something about oil being involved…well I’m sure there’d have been tingles galore if Joss Whedon had only…dang, did I digress again?

Outside of the classroom, the normal cliquish alliances have developed. Because every good reality TV producer knows that throwing a bunch of narcissistic people together in a house is even better than turning a camera on a room full of thirteen year old girls in terms of pure hissyness. And with Marklander and Tony on site to provide the perfect fodder, well let's just say the cats are out of the bag.

Adam and TJ have discovered their soul-mate of snarkiness in each other, and a good bit of HoYay followed. It was cute, a montage of these two guys doing synchronized push-ups and giggling together all to a romantic running-through-the-daisy-field melody. TJ, I do have one recommendation for you. When you are on a show called Mr. Romance, it might be wise to refrain from answering if someone asks you what you find romantic about one of the other guys. Any phrase beginning “If I had to pick something romantic about Adam…” should never be allowed to reach film.

The next portion of the show involved more Pageant Education, or PE, that was so unbelievably cringe-worthy that I had to fast forward through most of it. Basically, the guys had to show their dance moves, ultimately engaging in a man-against-man dance-off. All I can say about this is that there should be laws that limit people from publicly humiliating themselves in such a way. I mean, it’s against the law to commit suicide. Why can’t we stop this?

I did discover something quite distressing. These men are being held in this mansion without a single working television. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! But being the clever blokes they are, they pass the time by discussing hair color and working out. Oh, and reading passages from the vast quantity of romance novels lining the shelves and pretty much mocking them openly.

Hmmmm…curious. Mocking romance novels. On a show called Mr. Romance. Where the objective is to win a contract to become a model on the cover of romance novels. Whoa. That’s really ironic. These guys are witt-y!

Also to pass the long lonely hours, Adam and TJ have concocted the “Adam Show” a mock late-night talk-show which is really just a chance for Adam and TJ to get Marklander and Tony to act ridiculous so that the camera guys can get thousands of hours of footage to use when editing. Thing is, I don’t know that Adam and TJ needed to go to the trouble. Marklander and Tony do quite fine on their own in providing bonehead moments galore.

The last half of the show focused on the competition. After surviving gallons of hot wax to remove all that unwanted body hair – can you believe Bruce actually agreed to a Brazilian bikini wax?! (Why? Why would he do this? It boggles the mind.) – the guys all donned Greek God costumes. I’m telling you, I would have really liked to have lived in ancient Greece. I’m almost convinced that even Drew Carey would look sexy wearing lace-up sandals and a short-skirted toga.

Anyway, sans body hair, the guys headed outside to participate in the Mr. Romance Triathlon. As a bonus, a bunch of women, also clad in Greek fashion wear, had been brought in to serve as judges. They qualified for the job simply by virtue of being romance novel readers, but I can buy that. I read romance novels and I feel very much qualified to identify Grade A Prime man-flesh.

Reigning over the judges and holding supreme power of approval and dismissal was award winning Harlequin novelist Brenda Novak, looking quite superior as she lounged all heavy-lidded on her chaise and used her Thumb of Power to seal each man’s fate. Deemed “Aphrodite,” the woman looked positively bored with the whole affair, except when she was making sexy-eyes at Adam, but I’ll go into this later. After watching the competition, I’m not really sure why the other women were there since Ms. Novak seemed to be quite the manliness-rating hog, consulting only with her own libido before deciding thumbs up or thumbs down about any particular contestant. Then again, there was all that groping that someone had to do…

Most exciting about the appearance of Ms. Novak was learning that once I become a published novelist, I’ll be sought out to serve as a judge of male cover model contests. Dang, this writing business might not pay so well, but it sure offers the fringe benefits. Who needs dental when you’ve got Greek Gods?

Okay, as you would expect, the Triathlon consisted of three separate events. Those Greeks really did have a way with words.

Round I – The Gluteus Maximus Revealus: The Butt of David

This event consisted of the contestant posing in front of the women, ripping off his shirt in some passion-crazed way, and a “seduction” using only the eyes and the moves since they were not allowed to say a single word. Plus they were given a pail of cold water to use in some creative way and informed that by the end of their little performance, they were required to reveal some serious beefcake. Four out of the twelve guys would be booted, eight left to carry on.

Remember Justin, that fish-out-of-water booger-flicker? Well his eyes grew as round as silver dollars when that bucket of cold water was mentioned. I felt for the guy because my first thought was all about the shrinkage of certain male body parts, and since these guys made good use of their contour underwear beneath their togas, I was thinking that cold water wasn’t going to make anyone too awfully proud of the little mister. I’m not sure if that was really Justin’s concern, but I did feel sorry him.

First up was Charlie with his Tarzan moves. Thumbs down by the almighty Aphrodite. No time needed for contemplation. Sorry Charlie.

Justin overcame his fear of water and stepped up to the proverbial plate. And was so totally lame I was torn between gouging my eyes out in embarrassment and laughing hysterically. He was so obviously self-conscious and uncomfortable with the entire ordeal. Which led me to wonder which of his very good friends thought it would be a great lark to submit his application and video. Why is this guy there? He’s nice looking enough. He needs some serious helpings of self-confidence. Marklander and Tony have gobs to spare and wouldn’t miss a drop. Maybe Justin could steal some while they sleep.

Aphrodite agreed with me. Thumbs down. Bye bye Justin.

Scott, one of those guys who has so far so completely blended into the wallpaper as to be invisible, also got the big ax. Honestly, I didn’t really miss him because I didn’t even realize he was there in the first place.

The final cut of the group was earned fair and square by Randy. Apparently Randy took very seriously the direction to show the ladies some beefcake. He did, but while all of the other guys were satisfied in wiggling their contoured-by-underwear derrieres in the general direction of the women, Randy decided that thin slip of white cotton was too much of a barrier for full appreciation of his assets. Aphrodite gave Randy’s full moon a big no-go.

As for the winners, Adam alone stood above the rest, proving that brains will beat brawn every single time. You see, Adam is no dummy. He knows that his body ranks a good 15th or so out of the twelve guys in the competition. He admits it proudly. In fact, he quite enjoyed watching the other guys work out, and I suspect that lifting anything heavier than a MGD longneck is probably extreme exertion as far as he’s concern.

So what's a clever non-buff chap to do? He turns on the charm, of course. And he directs his laser-beam Cary Grantness directly at the person who matters the most. Through his entire performance, Adam’s steely gaze remained locked on Aphrodite. And since Aphrodite isn’t really a goddess but just an aging romance novelist named Brenda, Adam's Plan A worked like magic. Brenda giggled. She batted eyelashes. She smiled seductively. And she gave him a thumbs up. It was all rather fascinating in a disgusting way. Like watching someone cluck like a chicken after they’ve been hypnotized.

On to…

Round II – Copus Ofeelus: The Goddess Grab

There is no graceful way to describe this, so I won’t candy-coat it for you. This event comprised of four blindfolded women making complete asses out of the entire female gender. Their mission – to grope and smell and caress and fondle the men (avoiding the package erectus as directed by Prof. Tony), oohing and aahing profusely under the excuse of determining which had the best physique until I was so embarrassed for the lot of them I nearly crawled under the sofa. The men loved it, of course. Of course.

Out of the eight men who entered Fondle-dome, only four men emerged. Andrew was quick to go, and, well, yeah, with his Pillsbury Dough Boy thing going on, no surprise there. Hakan of the Hair-Do, a rather skinny bloke as beef-cake blokes go, took a short walk. As did Bruce the Wall Board Hanger or Telephone Repair Man or Any Profession Except Navy SEAL.

I’ve listed three, and I’ll bet after reading my little insider info about Adam and his blatant lack of bod you were guessing that he’d be the fourth guy gone. Weren’t you? Admit it. And if you did…you were so wrong!!

Because Adam worked it. He didn’t hide the flab. He didn’t flex until veins popped out on his forehead or suck in the gut until his bellybutton touched his spine. Nope. Not my Smart Man. He pulled out the charm and aimed right smack at Aphrodite. Goo-goo eyes were exchanged and he earned that thumbs up. Oh, Brenda, have you no shame?

Thus comes the highlight of the entire episode. Because none other than Mr. Muscle-head himself was asked oh-so-kindly to get the heck out of Dodge. Yep, that’s right. Tony was out, failing the perfect physique round. Woo-Hoo!

But Tony, being that lovable lunkhead that he is, attributed his elimination to being just a little too perfect. As he explained to the other bewildered losers, clearly a woman would say to hell with him and his perfection because he’s probably too in love with himself. Not that Tony thinks he’s too in love with himself. His words exactly: “When you are too perfect like me, it comes off as fake, like a mannequin.”

I had to think about that, but yeah, Tony does remind me of a mannequin. In more ways than he would ever guess.

Aphrodite agreed with him (and the rest of the viewers with eyes) about the too in love with himself bit. In voice over she reasoned her elimination with a perceptive “…he was well built, but he was just more self-interested than the rest [of the guys].” And this from a woman who heard not a single word issued from his mouth but merely watched the guy being groped.

So Marklander, TJ, Adam and Chris all moved on to…

Round III – Posem Ad Nauseum: Studly Statuary

This seemed like a pretty easy test. Each guy had to strike a very specific pose, looking as if he was about to fire off an arrow, while balanced on a 4” wooden beam. The first one to break the pose was out. Sudden death. No second chances. No thumb rating required by Aphrodite, which was probably good because I think she still had the vapors from Adam’s mental seductions of Rounds I and II. The guys took their positions. They adjusted into their poses…and

…here’s why I watch this show, as painful as a good 95% of it is. Moments like when Marklander fell off his beam because he was so busy trying to eye-fuck one of the goddesses are priceless. You just gotta suffer to earn them.

The camera flashed back and forth between Marklander in pose while simultaneously trying to score and Marklander in interview mode explaining his grand philosophy when it comes to dealing with chicks. “She’s beautiful. She’s hot. If I get eye contact, I’ll know right away if she’s into me or not. And if she is, it’s on. It’s on.” Snap. Gorilla lips.

Always gotta follow up with the Gorilla lips or the moves just don’t work.

The winners of the Mr. Romance Greek God Triathlon – Chris, TJ, and Adam.

After the contest, the guys regrouped to find out who the big loser of the day was. Justin figured he was a shoo-in and seemed almost disappointed when Charlie took the trophy from last week’s winner, Tony. Poor Charlie. He looked crushed. So sensitive. So misunderstood. What’s so sad is that of the twelve guys, Charlie seems almost a decent sort. I think losing actually hurts his feelings rather than bruises his super-sized ego the way it did Tony’s.

Another interesting encounter happened while the guys were gathered to share the post-competitive glow. When Prof. Tony made mention of Marklander’s lack of balance, of course Marklander was there with the ready excuse. He’s always been great at sports, but dang if balance isn’t his one weak spot. To which TJ snarked that athletics was all about balance. Which then spurred Marklander to reveal that he has played not only football but basketball as well, and TJ had just better watch out or the Marklander might be forced to do some on-field ass-whuppin.

TJ had gone a very long way in redeeming himself in this episode. He’s still an arrogant SOB, but I kinda found him funny in a good way this week, what with his little romance with Adam and all. Now, however, I just find him kind of scary because he interviewed to all of us in the viewing audience, “Don’t ever, ever challenge me. You will lose. You.Will.Lose.” I stand thoroughly warned, TJ.

For those of you worried about Marklander, do not fret your pretty little heads. See, Marklander surrounds himself with a powerful positive vibe. This vibe acts as a force-field, deflecting any negative energy away from Marklander so he doesn’t feel it. He remains negativity-free and apparently quite regular given all that granola eating he does. Some call it positive mental attitude. In Marklander’s case, I call it cluelessness.

To further show us exactly how clueless Marklander is and how truly mean grown men can be to each other, the editors cobbled together some extremely fortuitous footage from later that evening. Adam and TJ and a couple other guys were hanging around the bunk room, openly dissing Marklander. Who walks in but the man himself, carrying a Polaroid camera which he hands to Bruce…or it might have been Scott…Anyway, without any direction, Marklander begins to pose all Greek-Godlike (still in his costume, of course) and Bruce/Scott takes a snapshot.

TJ feels compelled to ask what the heck that was for since mirrors they-are-a-plenty in that house, and Marklander admits it’s for his girlfriend. You know. In case the wall of his model-shots hovering above the shrine he makes her pray to isn’t enough to remind her what he looks like. Not that she needs to remember any way because once she gets a load of her boyfriend making don't-ya-wanna-fuck-me eyes at a Greek Goddess, she’s outta there.

After this little episode, Marklander leaves, the guys in the room crack up hysterically, and Marklander then interviews about how amazingly beloved he is by all the guys in the house. “I think it’s great in a house of twelve alpha males I’m clicking with every one of them.” Clicking? Yeah, whatever.

Marklander did disappoint me in this episode, though. I was all set to count the number of times he reminded us that he’s been a model for twelve years, and wouldn’t you know but the guy let me down. Didn’t mention it even once. At least I got to see several deployments of his patented Gorilla Blue Steel.

Deciding that they’d met their Marklander-humiliation quota for the day, TJ and Adam turned their attention on Tony. They invited him to be the next guest on the “Adam Show” and managed to not only get the guy to dance with one of those disgusting, hideous blow up dolls with the mouth and…ahem…other anatomically correct orifices, but also to strip down to the buff and dance in front of a mirror. In front of eleven other guys and a few cameras. What is that?

As much as I know I should feel sorry for these guys, it’s really hard to because they make themselves such easy targets. Tony actually said – these very words – on camera, “Women of all types of races, and all types of ages adore me. They know my look, they see my look, they see my character, how I hold myself. And the classiness and raw sexuality that comes out of my eyes.”

Now, how can anyone but applaud any efforts to take this guy down?

Except that Tony really doesn’t get it. He and Marklander were waxing philosophic about how a guy like Adam could have won the Triathlon when Adam himself offered some insight. It’s just easier to give you the exchange verbatim:

Adam (to a baffled Tony): Do you think I made it to the final four because I have a great body? I made it because I was being charming.
Tony (clearly unwilling to accept such a novel concept): Well…you have an amazing face…you have amazing eyes…
Adam (interrupting all the while): That has nothing to do with it…
Tony: It does surprise me that you won
Adam: You think women give a shit about all that? (Huge pregnant pause while Tony contemplates the idea that women actually have the ability to give a shit about anything except how unbelievably ripped his abs are and how bulging his pecs.) Women like personality more than body. Cause everyone else’s body smoked mine.
Tony: (utterly speechless)

Adam had a point. And he gleefully admitted in interview that “Beating out the buff boys…makes me so happy!” Me, too, Adam. Me, too. Even so, I recommend you lose the black fingernail polish. It’ll only get you paranormal gigs.

Thus endeth the second most hideous hour of television ever aired. My new beefcake fav? Probably Adam. Because that's the way the editors want it. This week, any way. Next week the guys dude it up in tuxes so I'm sure my eye will be a-roving. Yeah, I'm an unfaithful ho.

In the end, the wise and aged Fabio summed up the moral of the show very nicely. “Being mean is never pretty.”

True. But really, I think the real message of the show is that guys can be just as catty as girls.

By the way – the one that sleeps in the nude? Andrew. Bet you were guessing Marklander…

Coming Soon... this spot will be my recap of Mr. Romance -Episode 2. I have some things going on this morning that are keeping me busy and this recap is taking longer than I expected (and given me a new appreciation for the recappers at Television Without Pity). So tune in later this afternoon by which time I'll hopefully have had some peace and quiet to finish...

Monday, March 21, 2005

My Father, the Hamster

Suffering major blogger guilt today. I wasn't able to post all weekend due to a varity of RL commitments, and up until this moment I had all kinds of mommy-duties to attend to. Sorry to anyone who cruised by and got annoyed at the same old stale thing.

And to add more guilt to the pile, this has to be a short one. I can make one promise, though. Tonight is Episode 2 of Mr. Romance so surely I'll have much to discuss after that. Except for maybe that's not such a good thing. *g*

Philisophical observation. Today my son was watching "Power Rangers Ninja Storm" (and no comments from the peanut gallery on this particlar parenting no-no) and I happened to tune in just at the right moment and just long enough to realize that a conversation between one young Ranger and his father happened to be between a human (the Ranger) and a hamster. Yes, this young man had a hamster for a father.

I won't go into the complete physical impossibility of not only a talking hamster but a talking hamster able to sire a human child. Perhaps in some previous episode the father was turned into a hamster. I have no idea, and frankly, I really don't want to know.

My point in bringing this up was that my son accepted this situation entirely. He saw nothing odd whatsoever at the prospect of a boy having a hamster for a father. Then again, he also sees nothing odd in people dressed in skin-tight spandex suits and karate chopping monsters out of Frankenstein's worst acid-trips. He's five so he still lives in the world where b-quality computer effects and action figure toys filmed at extreme close-up to look as if they tower 100 feet high are the epitome of good entertainment. Lucky him.

So when does it happen that we relinquish our ability to accept the unreal with complete abandon? When do we develop that disbelief that requires so much suspension in order to enjoy the imaginations of those around us who, fortunately, retain enough of their own inner-child to still have imaginations?

A lot of discussion went on last week in the romance genre blogging world about the fantasy element in romantic novels - how much "fantasy" is too much especially within contemporary sub-genre. In fact, can the word fantasy even apply if the general set-up is in the world most of us would recognize (so that means no paranormals in this particular instance)? If a writer puts forth a heroine too perfect to be real and a hero her equal in the perfection department, and if these two experience things none of us ever will, can it even be called fantasy? Or is it, instead, just a failure on the part of the writer to create real characters and real conflicts and real resolutions and then calling the whole thing "fantasy" to excuse such sloppiness? After all, if all romance novels are nothing more than fantasy, why can't someone's father be a three inch hamster?

Looking the word fantasy up on, here's what it says:

Main Entry: 1fan·ta·sy
Pronunciation: 'fan-t&-sE, -zE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -sies
Etymology: Middle English fantasie -- more at FANCY

1 obsolete : HALLUCINATION
2 : FANCY; especially : the free play of creative imagination
3 : a creation of the imaginative faculty whether expressed or merely conceived: as a : a fanciful design or invention b : a chimerical or fantastic notion c : FANTASIA 1 d : imaginative fiction featuring especially strange settings and grotesque characters -- called also fantasy fiction
5 : the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need ; also : a mental image or a series of mental images (as a daydream) so created

I kind of like definition 2. If you buy this - that all free play of creative imagination is some form of fantasy - then every fictional book written can be called a fantasy. Even the ones where all kinds of bad stuff happens and no one finds love and there is a lot of dying at the end with nary a HEA for anyone. Or stories that meticulously account in highly realistic detail the routines of ordinary people in ordinary jobs leading ordinary lives. Boring, yes, but fantasy all the same if someone "imaginated" it.

On the flip side of this fantasy free-for-all approach, we could go with 3b - a chimerical or fantastic notion. This required me to look up the meaning of chimerical, which is existing only as the product of unchecked imagination : fantastically visionary or improbable. So, using this definition, a hamster for a father is fantasy while The Minutia of Life as Bob the Boring Office Worker is not. Still boring, but not fantasy.

I guess I live somewhere in the middle. Or rather, I like my stories to live somewhere in the middle. I don't want the minutia. The excrutiating reality that I get just by living day to day in suburban America. I need a little fantasy, otherwise I might as well not bother. However, I also don't want hamster fathers, either. At least not in my contemporaries.

I think it all comes down to personal preference, and that's a good thing. Because just as there are readers who span the entire spectrum from Boring Bob to My Dad, the Hamster, there are writers who do the same. Whatever it takes to allow a person to escape into a different space than where they currently reside, there are writers out there both great and small up to the task.

Some writers have retained such a tight grip on their imagination, harnessing it to bring forth amazing fantasies that bedazzle us and let us escape the real world for as long as we wish to do so. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is both one of my favorite books as well as my all time favorite movie(s) and it is 100% fantasy.

Other writers have developed such a keen sense of observation that they can study the real world we live in and present it in such a realistic but intriguing way that I'm simply captivated. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but I don't think anyone would describe Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as "fantasy", yet even so it allows me to escape my own world as surely as Lord of the Rings does.

You won't find me writing about hamsters or Power Rangers, but I hope that I retain the imagination enough to appreciate them as viable forms of entertainment for some. Too, I hope I will always be able to appreciate the fanciful even as I grow more jaded against it, as I live and move further and further from that perfect spot where my son now resides when anything can be believed if I want it badly enough.

And I certainly hope that the stories that do flow from my imagination never stop coming. Fantasy or not, they might not be everyone's cup of tea, but they keep me entertained.

Friday, March 18, 2005

POV, Geometry. What's the Difference?

Oh, Joely Sue Burkhart just gave me the topic of today's entry via her comment on yesterday's. The dreaded sin of head-hopping!

Back in the day when I first started reading, I had no idea what Point of View was or meant. I remember liking books where I knew everything about everybody (which I have since learned is omniscient POV) or books where the main character told the story (first person POV). That simple demarcation was plenty enough for me. Books were either "I" stories or "other" stories.

Since those halcyon days of innocence, I've since learned that life is waaayyy more complicated than a simple all-or-nothing approach. Now I know that there's first person, second person, third person and omniscient POVs. Plus there's limited POV and unlimited POV to further muddle the pot. Not only are there three to choose from (and I know I listed four but I honestly can't ever, ever imagine what reason would exist to force me to write a second-person POV), but there are actually unwritted "rules" about the correct way to handle changes in POV (and this is a good article, btw!).

I've always been one of those lucky writers who from the get-go understood the concept of POV. I have absolutely no trouble at all maintaining a single POV within a scene or section of a story. Every once in a while one of my critique group partners will question the POV within a paragraph, but usually it's because I've been too vague rather than because I've actually jumped into another person's head. Maybe I've described a non-POV character in such a way that made it seem all of the sudden the paragraph is about that person. So I'd say I was guilty of hopping from third person to omniscient POV more so than hopping from person to person. Either way, it's bad and it's wrong and I fix it when someone points it out to me.

Anyway, since POV has never been a major stumbling block for me, it baffles me when other writers seem to have such a hard time with it. I was that way with sophomore-year Geometry. I just couldn't get why other people had such a hard time understanding what to me seemed as clear as crystal. But there are things that I struggle with that I'm sure other writers would roll their eyes at, so I'm certainly not judging anyone. Sometimes I'd trade in my grasp of POV for a good ability to write an action scene that leaps off the page or a love scene that doesn't sound same-old-same-old.

What seems to be the biggest issue is when writers change POV throughout a scene. Standard rule of thumb is that when writing third person POV, the story stays with one character's POV through a scene or at least until a natural break occurs at which time something like an extra line between paragraphs or a row of asterisks or something of that sort alerts readers that a change-she-is-a-comin'. But sometimes writers either 1) don't understand the whole concept of POV, or 2) don't know about this unwritten law, or 3) don't care because they need the readers to be able to see inside more than one character's head at a time, or 4) don't care because screw rules, I'm an artiste and rules don't apply to me!

Until I learned this rule, head hopping never bothered me. Now? It drives me crazy. I've heard tell that Nora Roberts is pretty much the one and only writer on the face of the planet Earth and perhaps even in the entire Milky Way Galaxy that can pull off head-hopping so seamlessly she's a legend. Since I've never made it entirely through a Nora Roberts (just haven't picked up the single title of hers that provided the call-me-to-Jesus moment), I wouldn't know if this is a truth or not. I'll give Ms. Roberts the benefit of the doubt because as prolific as she is, lord knows she's had more practice than anybody and by now should be pretty dang good at it.

I do know, however, that in Night Pleasures Sherrilyn Kenyon wantonly jumped between the hero, Kyrian, and the heroine, Amanda's, heads so often I felt like I was watching Wimbledon. To her credit, I was never confused by this technique. I always understood very clearly whose head I was in and never attributed a specific instance of breast-lustage to Amanda or a had a moment of confusion when Kryrian seemd to appreciate a particularly nice set of buns-of-steel.

Does that mean the Kenyon is in the clear as far as pulling it off? I wouldn't say so. Because if I understand correctly, the biggest Goal of a writer - the Brass Ring, the Gold Ribbon, the Best-in-Show moment - is to immerse a reader so deeply into the story that the reader forgets she is actually reading. Anything - anything - that pulls the reader back to the surface is to be avoided if at all possible. And I did notice this head hopping and it did remind me that I was reading a book and it did distract me from the story.

All this being said, I know there are plenty of readers who aren't bothered by head-hopping in the least. And to them I say "You go girl!" I'm one of those readers who doesn't mind the anti-feminism premise of having a heroine rescued by a big strong man, so who am I to say that anyone's particular preferences are good, bad or ugly? Those of us who are POV purists will stay on our side of the camp and glory in our smug superiority while those who are POV mongrels will slink around...I'm kidding!!

You know I'm joking here, right?

Off topic here, but highly worthwhile. Since you all know my penchant for all things Pride and Prejudice, I particularly enjoyed PBW's comarison of the publishing industry to the characters in P&P. Very clever! Go check it out.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

So Good Yet So Bad

I mentioned yesterday my frustration with Sherrilyn Kenyon's Night Pleasures. Perhaps one of the reasons for my disappointment is that the premise of her story seemed so very good. Immortals fated to walk the Earth forever in darkness as they rid the planet of evil creatures out to harm innocent humans. A Buffy episode in written form. I'd never before read a paranormal/vampire book, and I figured this seemed like a good place to start.

Problem is, the premise that held so much promise was neglected so badly. Actually, in the case of NP, it seemed like Kenyon decided that the basic premise wasn't quite enough to make an interesting story. So she added to it. Rather than establish her world at the outset, imbuing her original characters with their various abilities and peculiarities, then explaining the lot of it to us readers in clever ways such as dialogue and action scenes, we got only dribbles at first. And then throughout the remainder of the book, more and more things got added in kind of a Mr. Potato Head way. Doesn't matter if the nose fits the face, it's a nose so in it goes.

Not only that, but I felt like Kenyon had some sort of checklist sitting next to her computer. Good-guy vampires - check. Bad-guy vampires - check. Werewolf references - check. Greek mythology - check. And on and on. Mrs. Giggles' review summed it up nicely - everything is in this book, quite possibly even the kitchen sink. But never does she go into depth enough on any one aspect to make it seem important.

Anyway, my point of this entry isn't a slam on Night Pleasures. It's to discuss how sad and disappointed I am when a writer seems to have found an amazing premise - the kind of premise other writers kick themselves over and lose sleep wondering why they didn't think of it in the first place - but then lets the story down in some way.

Could be that the characters aren't fully formed enough to carry off the good story. A story with a dark, brooding premise populated by cardboard people too perfect to be true. Or, as a subset of the Dismal Premise Execution Syndrome, a nicely formed character paired with someone so unworthy as to make the reader wince in pain. A wounded-soul hero or heroine, resigned to a loveless life, finds love with...annoying heroine/hero who consistently acts TSTL but is in every other way in-humanly perfect. Dang! Dropped the ball again.

Could be that the resolution comes too quickly or too easily. Three quarters of the story has built up some amazing conflict or problem, the characters teeter on the edge of crises, and BANG! some silly duex ex machina saves the day. Like, the hero, after pages and pages of self-loathing, all of the sudden decides if the heroine loves him, then he must be okay and the epilogue shows the couple cooing over a perfect baby, all smiles and sunshine and little fluffy puppies. I'm not talking about forgoing the HEA, I'm just talking about giving me a sufficient closure to balance the proportional build-up.

Could be that the writer doesn't have enough confidence in her (or his) original idea, so she feels compelled to add to it. And add. And add. And add. Finally the cool premise is buried beneath layers of nonsense that only confuses me and makes me want to weep over the wasted idea, not to mention the wasted time I've spent or the wasted cash.

It is true that ideas are everywhere. But original ideas - compelling ideas that haven't been done to death - they are a rare gem. As writers, when we get one we have to hold on with both hands and nurture the idea gently and carefully. Take the time to let it grow slowly, be willing to backup and start over if the entire train veers off the tracks.

Granted, the way one writer handles a perfect premise is not necessarily the way another writer would, and to claim that one way is wrong as compared to the other is arrogance in the extreme. I'm just saying that writers cannot allow silly mistakes to be the downfall of a great story. Poor characterization, three-dimensional portrayals, situations that don't make sense or fit into the scope of the original story. All of this is the stupid stuff that will totally blow it all to pieces, and for no good reason.

I've picked up Christine Feehan's Dark Prince, the first book in her Carpathian series. The premise is mind-blowing to me. A race of human-like people who live forever. The Carpathian women have died off, leaving the men desperate to find the lifemates that will keep them from running mad. Very cool stuff.

Proves that even after disappiontment, the human spirit picks itself up and gets back on that vampire!