Thursday, June 30, 2005

Where It's At

I feel kind of like God. Or at least, what I imagine God might have felt when he was inventing, you know, the world. I'm in the middle of world-building for my group of inter-related novels, and it's a lot of fun. Work, yes, but fun all the same because I'm for the first, last, and only time in my life the Supreme Ruler and Great One of All Things.

I should clarify. I'm not world-building in the sci fi/fantasy sense. I'm not coming up with new planets and new species and new languages. The idea of having to be that creative makes me seize up with fear. J.R.R. Tolkien had to have been possibly the most imaginitive human being ever to walk the Earth, what with creating an entire mythology that spanned thousands upon thousands of years and included a cast in the quadruple digits. Amazing that he was able to keep it all straight, and he had nary a word processor or Excel spreadsheet at his disposal.

No, my world-building is limited to the invention of new countries. Many of my stories take the characters out of the US and into what can be considered "hostile territories." I know I could drop them down in real world hot spots such as Afghanastan and Iraq and Haiti. But I will never visit these places and doing research on-line and via my local library isn't enough to give me the feel of what they are really like. There is no way I could effectively convey those places in a way that people who've actually been there would believe.

So I'm inventing places that parallel these dangerous countries. I figure since no one can actually visit my countries, no one can claim that I'm full of beans when I describe the environment. As long as I ground the characters in reality that closely parallels what truly exists, I figure I'll be okay.

Hardest part is coming up with names for my imaginary countries. Heaven forbid I make up a name only to find out it's actually a real place. If the name sounds good in my head and rolls easily off my tongue, I have to wonder if that isn't because at some point in my life, I heard it somewhere before.

Doing this, though, makes me wonder how important setting is to a story. I know the answer to that question is contingent on the type of story being told - is the story character driven, in which case maybe setting is secondary in importance, or is the story plot driven, in which case the setting could be key. I also know that some readers prefer stories that stay close to home over ones that involve globe hopping.

Except, it seems that when I say "stay close to home" that really means books set in places that most people find normal. For example, I could read a book set in London - which is nearly 4,000 miles away from home - and the setting would fade in the background. London is real. London is normal, in that it is close enough to my own reality that I can imagine what it feels like and looks like (and I've been there, so that helps). However, if the book takes place in Buenos Aires, Argentina - 5,000 miles away from home - I'd need a lot of setting descriptive to place me there. I have ideas of what I think Buenos Aires is like but no real idea if I'm even close.

So it seems that maybe people who don't like books that happen outside their country might be okay with things that happen in parts of the world that are very much like their own country. It's when you enter the exotic that people aren't so sure they want to go along with the characters. Of course, what people define as exotic is highly subjective.

Regardless, my stories require my characters to be in dangerous places, so I need to do some country building. Maybe once I've gotten a few countries created, I'll move up to new planets. I'll bet that's how Tolkien started out.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Nothing Profound

Does any writer ever read over her (or his) own stuff and think it sounds professional? I mean, I sit down and read a good book - perhaps one I've designated a keeper - and I worry that I'll never write that good. Sure enough, when I go back and read over my own efforts they seem sadly amateurish. It's very discouraging. I keep wondering what the secret is. How did that particular author make her characters come alive and how did she craft her story such that I can't put the book down? What's the magic key that I need so my writing does the same?

I know it's all about practice, but the problem is, I have never been able to read my own work and not thought it lacking. I'm not one of those people who moan "I'm no good! I suck!!" just to hear other people say "Oh, no! You're wonderful!!" I have a healthy level of confidence; there are many books I've read where I've known I could do it better. When I say that rereading my stuff is discouraging, I'm not fishing for compliments.

So I turn to the rules. You know, those rules of writing - take out the "thats" and remove as many adverbs as possible and don't use any speech tag other than "said". I look at every sentence to see if I'm telling when I should be showing (usually that's the problem).

Except I hate the rules. Loathe them. I understand where they came from and why they are good ideas in a basic way. But reading Allison's recent post about The Rules gave my heart a big lift. I love it when such ideas are dismissed and once again I'm encouraged to just write, damn it.

This isn't really going anywhere profound. Sorry. Just allowing some self-doubt to leak out hoping it'll stop festering in my brain. Tracy Sprayberry had one of those what am I doing posts the other day and I found myself nodding along with every word I read. And since it made me feel a whole lot better seeing that I'm not the only one who feels the way I do, I figure maybe this bit will show someone else that she is not alone.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Fine Art of Justification

Next month, two books are being released that have me waiting breathlessly; Suzanne Brockmann's Breaking Point and JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The former will be released on July 12th and the latter four days later on July 16th.

My beach vacation begins on July 25th. Or technically, not until July 26th because the 25th will be a travel day. Nine days after I'll have both copies in my hot little hands.

I would love, love LOVE to have these two amazing reads to enjoy over my vacation. Pure bliss it would be to curl up under a beach umbrella, the sound of the waves of Lake Michigan pounding on the shore, ice cold lemonade within reach, and crack open these two long awaited titles.

Except there is no way in hell I can wait that long. When I got the last Harry Potter book, I purchased it at midnight and had more than half the thing read by four a.m. and only put it down because I was physically unable to hold the book upright any longer. If either of those two books are in my house, I'll be able to resist them as easily as I'd be able to resist a hot fudge banana split after three weeks on South Beach Diet's phase 1. I have zero willpower and consider myself a master at the art of immediate gratification.

I suppose I could do the intelligent thing and just not get the books. My mother works at a Barnes and Noble, and what I could do is have her get the books for me and bring them to our condo since she's joining us on our vacation. If the books aren't in the house, no temptation, right?

Snort. Yeah. Like I'm going to be able to forget that I have three different bookstores within a mile radius of my house. What's likely to happen is for me to cave and end up with two copies of each book. And they're both hardcover editions.

I could just go to my TBR shelf, select a couple of other must-reads and pack them along for the beach. After all, I may find myself really busy while on vacation with little to no time at all for reading. I can't read in the car because I get carsick, and it would be a crime against literature for me to not have finished these books by the time I get home. I mean, what if someone asks me for a recommendation and I'm unable to speak intelligently about what I think of the latest HP? Or what if, due to the media storm sure to ensue, I inadvertantly expose myself to a spoiler? That wouldn't be very good.

So, really, it's my civic duty to get these books as soon as possible and dive right in.

Problem solved, crisis averted. I feel so much better now.

I sure wish these ladies would write a little faster so I wouldn't be faced with these major life dilemmas.

Monday, June 27, 2005

It's Long. It's Windy. Stand Warned.

One of my favorite television shows, Queer As Folk, is currently running it's fifth and final season. Because the writers knew a good while back that this is going to be the last season, they’ve had plenty of time to plan to tie up loose ends and leave us faithful viewers with some rewards for our devotion to the characters before the final episode airs.

In other words, they can give all of the characters perfect happily ever afters to make me smile.

But as I watched the seventh episode last night, knowing that there are only six more to go until it's all over, I got to thinking exactly what a happily ever after will be in this particular case. Because this show deals with a different type of love than the one normally depicted in romance novels - the characters on QaF are all homosexuals - what constitutes an HEA for them is not necessarily what constitutes an HEA for the standard heterosexual couple. An engagement or – gasp – a wedding is not necessarily the Holy Grail for these people.

Not that some, even many, gay couples don’t want the same things as heterosexual couples do in terms of the future of their relationships. Many do want marriage and children. Permanence and a chance to grow old together. It’s more that because of our society’s reluctance to treat gay couples the same way we treat man/woman pairings and give them those very things legitimately, they find happily ever afters that I don’t think many heteros would begin to accept.

For those of you incapable of imagining a sweeping love story between two men - complete with sex - you might want to stop reading because I don't know if you'd be able to understand the rest of this entry.

Before I explain what I mean, or in other words, get to the point, I have to give the uninitiated a bit of the history between Brian and Justin, one of if not the most romantic couples I’ve ever encountered on the small or large screen, and why their situation is so unique. Because it's not even so much that they are gay but more because of the nature of their relationship.

Brian and Justin met during Season 1, when Justin was a senior in high school. Brian was Justin's first sexual experience, and before you go thinking that this whole thing is gross, a grown man and a high school kid, you have to know that Justin was looking for this particular experience the night that Brian found him. Their attraction and involvement in what occurred was entirely consensual and mutual.

Anyway, Justin fell in love hard and fast with Brian, but Brian, due to a very painful past, was very honest and upfront in explaining to Justin that he didn't do love. Brian is a hedonist of the highest order, the kind of guy who unapologetically spends his nights drinking, drugging, and having sex with as many men as he can manage. His reputation as the Stud of Liberty Avenue is something he values and intends to keep. He feels no shame in what he views himself to be. He’s a gay man who enjoys being promiscuous. Justin never carried any delusions about Brian because Brian never tried to hide what he is; an irredeemable rake.

(Before anyone can get all judgmental, please recall exactly how many rakes are featured as heroes in romance novel land. If a heterosexual rake can become an acceptable hero, so can a homosexual one.)

However, over the course of the season, Justin managed to work his way into Brian's cold heart despite Brian’s vow to never settle down. Brian couldn't help himself, and even though he never said it in words, he started to really love Justin in a mature, adult way. By mid-Season 2, Justin and Brian were living together and even had a commitment of sorts. Granted, this commitment is a far cry from the traditional wedding vows requiring partners to forsake all others. Brian and Justin's covenant insisted only that neither of them could sleep with another person more than once, could not kiss another person on the mouth, and had to come home no later than 3 am every night.

This seems pretty shitty as far as true love goes, especially when viewed from the traditional hetero point of view of how relationships should evolve. But for Brian, coming home every night to Justin – and actually wanting to do that – was a huge step. In agreeing to these things, he was making an honest commitment to another man, the biggest commitment as he was capable of making. And Justin was willing to accept this. He understood that he would never be able to have Brian the way he wanted him but loved him enough to bend his strict idea of what being in a committed relationship meant.

By the end of Season 2, though, Justin had decided it wasn't enough. He met someone else, someone who promised monogamy and faithfulness and romance and everything Justin thought he wanted. Brian let Justin leave because he knew he couldn't give Justin those things, even though it was clear that it killed Brian to lose Justin. Soon enough Justin discovered that words and promises not backed by action were meaningless - his new love cheated on him. His faithfulness had been false from the start. Brian might not have been faithful, but Brian had never promised to be faithful.

In Season 3, Brian took Justin back without batting an eye. He didn't hold a grudge against Justin for leaving because he knew he'd have done the exact same thing himself. They resumed their old relationship, and all through Season 4 their love grew stronger even though Brian refused to admit that's what he felt. When Brian was diagnosed with testicular cancer, Justin ignored Brian's attempts to push him away and was there for him. Time and again the two men stood by each other literally through good and bad, for richer and poorer, and in sickness and health. All of this without speaking a single wedding vow.

So as we began Season 5, Justin and Brian are lovers with an open relationship. They aren't faithful in body but they are faithful in spirit and soul. All seems to be alright, but it's not. Because Justin has grown up and he realizes that it's not enough. He wants a family. He wants a commitment that includes monogamy. He wants the white picket fence.

Problem is, Brian doesn't believe in any of these things. He feels that marriage and all of its trappings are the invention of the heterosexual world. Not only does he view it as hypocritical for homosexuals to mimic the hetero way of life, but his parents' dismal tragedy of a marriage served as a very poor example, and he's not in any hurry to put himself into the same situation. He loves Justin, but he’s not willing to say it and he’s not willing to move their relationship in a direction he doesn’t believe in.

Last night, Justin decided that since he and Brian don't want the same things, there was no point in continuing their relationship. There were no histrionics or blame thrown about. Justin understands why Brian is the way he is and accepts him. But he's also come to respect himself enough to know that he no longer wants to compromise on something so important to him. He packed up, hugged a slightly bewildered Brian good-bye, and left.

And here we are now, wondering how Brian and Justin will reach their happy ending.

If Justin returns to Brian and continues to live with Brian's rules, then he will be unhappy. He’ll never have a marriage and a family.

If Brian capitulates to what Justin wants, he, too, will be sacrificing. He’d be entering into an institution in which he does not believe and has no faith. Even if Brian agreed to get married, I would imagine that Justin would have a hard time trusting Brian or any relationship knowing that Brian is trying to be something he's not and do something he doesn't believe in.

I don't think Brian's a jerk, which is what he comes off as when I look back and reread what I've just written. He's honest about what he wants and what he's willing to give, and he doesn't expect people to just accept him. He understands that Justin wants more and that he's losing the best thing in his life - the first person he has ever truly loved - because he's unable to change.

Neither of these men are victims, and neither one is a villain.

And my idea of a happily ever after - the one that includes the white picket fence and a lifelong, committed monogamous relationship - is rocked to the core.

I want these to men to be together. I'm willing to accept Brian's rules, even if Justin isn't, because I know that Brian really does love Justin completely. His every action - every action except his sleeping around, that is - proves this. And even his sleeping around does not negate his feelings because of the way Brian views sex as simply another recreational pastime. He's not sleeping around because he's not getting what he needs at home. For Brian, going out to pick up a guy is the equivalent of having a few beers with is buddies. It feels really great and hurts no one as his encounters are all one-time-stands with no pretense of being anything more.

This is important because what he does is not the same as adultery. Adultery isn’t just cheating on a spouse by having sexual relations with another person. Adultery is breaking a promise, destroying a sacred trust. It goes deeper than merely sex, into the very foundation on which a couple’s relationship was based.

Brian has made no promises. He knows he cannot hold to them, therefore he will not speak them. He can be trusted completely because he hides nothing, and anyone willing to enter into a relationship with him knows up front what he’s getting.

I suppose Justin has a legitimate concern in worrying that if he continues to live with a man who has a lot of extracurricular sex, some day Brian might find someone better. But doesn't everyone who settles with one person risk that? You don't have to have sex with someone to think they might be better than what you have at home.

I’m not sure what the QaF Powers That Be have in store for Brian and Justin. The couple has a very strong and vocal fanbase who would be outraged if they are left as they stand – separate and forever pining for each other. But I’m just not sure that I’ll be able to buy anything else.

I don’t know how these guys can have a Happily Ever After because I don't know how to define what that would be for them as a couple. The writers have a hard road to tread, I think.

Whatever happens, I’ll be sad to see them go. I’ve enjoyed watching them fall in love over the past five years.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Romantic Cheese

I'm sitting here with my laptop on my lap and the movie Clash of the Titans playing in the background. What a great movie!

Really, this movie has such a special place in my heart. First of all, it's the first movie my parents ever let me go to see without them tagging along. I'll never forget, my father dropped my brother and me off at the theatre and we felt oh-so-grownup.

Now that I watch it some 24 years later, I laugh out loud at the really, really cheesy claymation special effects. I'm sure back in its day, CotT was considered state of the art. The hero, Perseus, fought all manner of mythological monsters that were created using the old technique of stop-motion photography. The result is stiffly moving creatures, awkwardly choreographed fight scenes, and that annoying sharp line effect that occurs when actors are working against a blue screen. This is one of those flicks that I almost wish they'd remake simply because it could be very very cool using all of today's CGI technology.

And this would be a good candidate for a remake because the story is timeless, romantic, heroic and spans demographics so nicely. The blood, gore and monsters for the boys ages 10-100 crowd and the romance for girls they drag along to the theatre. Throw in a hunky hero that matches the original's Harry Hamlin and the women would be dragging the men.

I mean, as a romance, this story has it all. Perseus (Harry Hamlin) is the son of Zeus and so is, in a literal way, god-like himself. His tortured past includes being cast out into the sea with his mother by a vengeful, slightly-incestuous grandfather. When he comes of age and sets out to find his destiny (helped along by the meddling gods of Olympus), it is love at first sight when he lays eyes on the beautiful Andromeda (Judi Bowker). Of course she falls in love with him, too, but since this is a Greek myth, much angst must ensue. Perseus must rescue Andromeda from the wrath of the Kraken, a sea monster, after Andromeda's mother Cassiopeia pisses off the goddess Thetis.

Add to this classic hero's journey men in short skirts, a heroine who is allowed to be a helpless waif given the time period in which the story is set, and the deux au machina that are the Greek gods and you have a can't-lose combination. This particular telling also included such acting greats as Sir Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, and Maggie Smith.

For a great brain-candy treat on a sultry too-hot-to-go-outside Sunday afternoon, Clash of the Titans is a winner. Turn off the part of your brain that wants to laugh at the cheese and enjoy a great romance.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Great Hero, TSTL Heroine

Before I say anything else, you have to check out Monica Jackson's blog entry about the recent RWA ballot asking the question of what romance is. She's said everything I feel and so well that I won't go into it myself. I can only ask the question, how deep of a hole is RWA wanting to dig for itself, anyway?

Last night I finished my third Jennifer Crusie title, Tell Me Lies. After I write this entry, I'm going to go check out some reviews to see how my thoughts match up with those of others. See, this is how I use reviews. Not so much to make buying decisions - if I want a book no negative review will keep me from gettting it - but more to see if others agreed with my assessment once I've finished. Yeah, it's all about validation.

I have to say I was kind of disappointed with TML. I loved Bet Me, my first Crusie ever which sent me off searching for every title of hers I could get my hands on. I thought Crazy For You was very good, too. But when I tried to read Welcome To Temptation, which I've heard lauded as a classic Crusie, I just couldn't get into it. I still haven't finished WTT and am not sure I ever will.

I think I can sum up my feelings about TML by saying that I'm really glad it's not the first Crusie I picked up. I think if it had been, I'd be scratching my head right now and wondering what all the fuss was about. I mean, it was an okay read (which I will go into in a second) but it certainly wasn't much above a B- as far as grades go. In fact, in some respects I'd even drop it down to a C-.

The reason I say it was an okay read is because I finished it. As I told my dh the other night when I was turning off the light to go to sleep, the pacing of this book was incredibly slow but I still wanted to know how it all worked out. I kept waiting for the action to pick up but it never did. The story is set in a small town where time seems to have stopped, and the book reflects that feeling of inertia very well.

Just to give you a quick synopsis: Maddie Faraday has just found evidence that her high school sweetheart-turned husband is cheating on her. Because she lives in a tiny town where every single person knows everyone else's business - a sitution not helped at all by Maddie's gossip mongering mother - divorcing Brent flat out is not as simple of a solution as one might think. To further complicate matters, C.L. Sturgis, the man who Maddie had given her virginity to twenty years earlier when the two were teenagers, has come back into town to investigate Maddie's husband. Things go from bad to worse when Maddie's attraction to C.L. surfaces in a startling way and her relationship with Brent takes a very nasty turn.

I don't want to say more without offering a SPOILER warning...if you don't want to know more, stop reading here.

It takes nearly two thirds of the book, but eventually Maddie's husband turns up dead. All evidence points to Maddie as the prime murder suspect. Actually, this is probably the best thing I can say about this story. During the first two thirds, little bits of action occur that once Brent has been murdered prove to be the evidence against Maddie. What seems innocuous when it first occurs turns out to have big time meaning later in light of Brent's murder and how Maddie might have been the one to do it. We as readers know the backstory, but the police and the people of the town don't, and you can see how things don't look so good. Crusie accomplished this subtle interweaving very well, and for a long while I had no idea how Maddie would ever convince everyone of her innocence.

However, on several occasions Maddie crossed the line into TSTL territory. So much that she had me saying out loud "You idiot! What are you doing?" For example, Maddie discovers the murder weapon along with nearly a quarter million dollars in cash planted in her car. Instead of going straight to the police, she hides the gun (won't tell you how) and puts the cash in her lover's car. Now doesn't that make her look oh so innocent while at the same time setting her lover up as a possible suspect.

The other big TSTL thing Maddie did is something I absolutely hate. Maddie does some thinking and determines she might know who the real killer is. But instead of going to the police with her theory, she goes to confront the possible murderer. WTF?

I guess, overall, what I didn't like about Maddie was her lack of concern about how bad things looked for her. She knew she hadn't killed Brent, but nearly every speck of evidence pointed to her. Even so, she never acted like she had any real fear that she could end up in prison. She had kind of an "I'm innocent therefore I'm safe" attitude that just didn't jive given the circumstances. If I were Maddie, I'd have been sweating bullets, hiring the best criminal lawyers around, and doing anything in my power to help the police find the real murderer, including turning over the murder weapon.

One thing missing in this book, IMO, is Crusie's trademark humor. I didn't laugh at all while reading this story. It wasn't a dark murder mystery, and I never really worried for Maddie's future - that she might end up locked away in prison for a crime she never committed. The whole thing was just kind of there.

I do have to give big kudos to Crusie, though, for her hero C.L. Once again she's turned a normal guy into a sexy hunk. C.L. does have a dark past - he was the kid whose mother was a complete bitch and who was always viewed by the whole town at the bad seed. But he'd escaped the stifling environment of small town stereotypes to move off to the big city. Best of all, C.L. has one of those jobs that all sexy heroes have - he's an accountant!! Gotta love that. I'm married to a CPA and I spend so much time trying to convince people that he doesn't wear black socks with shorts or have a bad combover. Accountants can be just as sexy as cops and bodyguards and Navy SEALs.

I have probably ten Crusie titles sitting on my TBR shelf, most of them her series books. I think my next venture with her will be one of these. I want to find the Crusie in Bet Me, the one that's funny and who writes heroines that don't make me want to smack them upside the head.

Now I'm off to see if I'm the only one who felt this way about TML. I think I'm one of only, like, six people in the whole world who didn't love WTT, so I may just be a freak.

Edited to add: I just checked and the reviewers at AAR gave TML an A and a B+. So much for that validation I was looking for.

Edited again to add: And I have found said validation in the form of Smart Bitch Sarah and the posse that rallied around to post comments to her review (thanks SB Candy for pointing me toward the light). Looks like Crusies really are hit and miss and highly subject to personal preference. I feel so much better. Nothing like having everyone tell you to just try the clams, you'll just loooove them only to find yourself gagging into a napkin. I'm batting 50% with my Crusie choices. I'm off to give her series titles a try to see if I can improve my average.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

He Looks Like That Famous Guy...You Know, Him

When I start something new, one of the first things I do is form a mental image of my characters. Is he or she dark haired or fair, blue eyes or brown, lean and athletic or built like a brick wall? To further solidify the image of my characters in my mind, I try to imagine which actor he or she most closely resembles, then I go hunt down some reference images to keep close at hand. This really helps when I need to write a description.

Yesterday, I was using this image of Jason Behr

I described the dark, silky hair that fell long enough to brush his collar and flop down over his forehead and across one eye, the nearly-black eyes hooded under thick eyebrows, and the killer thousand watt smile. I ignored the five o'clock stubble because my character is clean shaven. I took it one step further, though, and made a comparison of his looks in terms of real, living actors by naming names.

But since Jason Behr is a fairly unknown actor except for fans of Roswell (I've never even seen this guy act, he just perfectly fit the image I had in my mind of this particular character), when it came to saying who exactly it was my character resembled, I didn't want to use the name Jason Behr since it would probably draw forth a blank in the mind of any future readers, again, unless they were Roswell fans. Sorry, Jason.

Instead, I decided in this image, Jason looks like a cross between Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell, two actors whom I'm 99% sure that most people have heard of and at least have an idea of what they look like. Tom's the boy-next-door type with the mega-watt grin and Colin Farrell is the bad-boy who your mother warned you to stay away from since he only wants one thing.

But later it occurred to me that maybe using the names of specific celebrities to help the reader form a mental image is not such a great idea.

First of all, celebrities root a story in a particular time and assume a common point of reference amongst readers. I know Errol Flynn was supposed to have been one of the first ever movie superstars, but saying that someone looks like Errol Flynn gives me nothing more than he must be handsome in a generic movie star kind of way. Likewise, Cary Grant was suave and sophisticated but unless I go hunt down his picture, I don't have an immediate image that comes to mind. Clark Gable is a bit easier, and if someone is described as looking like Paul Newman with those piercing blue eyes or like Robert Redford, I can pretty much get on board. Then again, I'm also old enough that I can remember seeing and loving movies like The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Out of Africa. I have a point of reference.

Someday Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell will be the Clark Gables of the younger set. Not that I expect my works to be so great that they will last generations and my great great-granddaughter will shake her head wondering who the heck Colin Firth is and why her great great-grandmama thought he was all that. Just that name dropping means you've latched on to something specific but not permanent.

Another problem with using real people as appearance markers is that what looks good is highly subjective. I think James Marsters is drop dead gorgeous, but I know quite a few who prefer David Boreanaz. I don't even find Colin Farrell to be all that great looking despite the fact that so many rave about him, and it took me a good long while to find the appeal in Jude Law (but once I did, there's no going back). So when I describe my hero as a cross between Brad Pitt and The Rock, I might be alienating all those readers who think Brad is a pretty boy and The Rock is just a guy with very little neck. Who knows.

Even so, there's something to be said about specificity. I like when a writer tells me the hero bears a passing resemblance to George Clooney or Ben Affleck. When I read something like that, I come up with a very exact idea of what the hero looks like, and for the rest of the story I'm imagining that particular guy. Sure beats what I get if I use the picture of the model on the front cover, assuming the model has even a few traits similar to those of the hero as he's described.

Even if the story itself includes no direct comparison, it's kind of cool when I read an interview by an author who admits she had in her mind a particular actor when she was envisioning a character. Sometimes if I learn this after having read the book - for example, finding out Suzanne Brockmann had imagined hero Admiral Jake Robinson of The Admiral's Bride as being an older Mel Gibson - it doesn't necessarily jive with the image I had created as I was reading. In which case, I just ignore the new bit of info in favor of my own, original image. In my mind, Admiral Jake is taller than Mel and less friendly looking. More of an Ed Harris with hair.

I think this all has to do with my propensity for mental casting. When I read a book I love, I can't help but imagine (hope) that someday it will be turned into a movie. And allowing myself the fantasy of playing casting director, it's a blast to select which megastars I want to watch on the big screen acting out the romance I've just enjoyed. I do this with my own stories as I write them with the hopes that when my wildest crazy dreams come true and they've decided to turn all of my titles into blockbuster movies, I'll get approval of the actors. Hey, it's my blog, my fantasy.

So I haven't decided if I'll go back and remove my references to specific actors in my latest WIP. I suppose armed with the picture, I could do a fair enough job of just giving a description of the hero.

I just don't want to end up with another faceless, dark-haired, dark-eyed guy with a graceful athletic build and a thousand-watt smile that can melt steel. I just know I've met *that* guy somewhere before.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What Am I Doing?

Yesterday I hit a low. The kind of low where for a good long few minutes, I determined that maybe this idea of mine that I could ever be a writer was ridiculous. That maybe I should just throw in the proverbial towel, become an avid reader, change this blog to Confessions of a Reader and be done with it all.

I hit this low after staring at my screen at a complete loss on how to convey in words the story I have in my head. I became so overwhelmed by the task in front of me and so underwhelmed by what I'd already accomplished. Somewhere from Point A in my brain to Point C on the screen was a major road-block that I just couldn't figure out how to cross.

I'm not talking about a specific little writing problem, like "How do I show that Suzy is feeling sad?" I'm talking, how do I show Heroine A and Hero B falling in love? I know in my head that they are, but how do I write it such that readers can feel it as deeply as I do?

I have no idea.

And while mired deep in this frustration, I almost gave up. I asked myself who in the heck I thought I was fooling, thinking that I could ever be as good as all those who've published before me. What gave me any hope that I could take a diamond so rough as to be unreckognizable and polish it into anything at all that someone would want?

The thing that stopped me from erasing my entire WIP folder from my hard drive was remembering that if I don't write down these things in my head, no one else will. Just because I can't manage to convey them the way I want to doesn't mean they will stop haunting me.

Which lead to me remembering my pledge to write the stories I want to read. Don't worry about how good or bad they are. Don't worry how impossible it will be to ever sell them. Just sit down, every day, and pound out a little bit more. With this plan firmly in hand, I talked myself off the ledge.

How do you eat a grizzly bear? One small bite at a time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Safe? Yes. Sensational? Doubtful.

Couldn't figure out what to blog about today, so I did some hopping hoping to be inspired. I was, by Smart Bitch Candy who provided links to Angie, Wendy, and Karen, gals all talking about condom use in contemporary romantic fiction.

Since I don't want to beat a dead horse or be a copy cat or any other animal cliche, I won't remark on the exact same thing as the afore mentioned ladies. Except to say that I agree that condom use is the responsible thing for non-TSTL heroes and heroines to do, that I agree with Wendy in that it is not the job of fiction to educate the masses but to reflect some version of reality, and that I've gotten so used to reading a condom-application within sex scenes that it no longer has the ability to pull me out of the story.

Where I want to dive from into this condom pool is the reality of condom use and how in the world it can ever jive with the type of sex that romance novels try to sell us.

First, let's establish that I am not a man. I do not have a penis, and I have never worn a condom. I have, however, experienced sex with and sans-condom. For my part, either way worked equally well as far as...hmmm...pleasure was concerned. With the exception of that few seconds when a pause was required for application (what is the proper word for donning a condom, anyway?), sex is pretty much the same for me, good, great, or fabulous.

However, it's my understanding that the male population as a whole would not agree with this. Wearing a condom is akin to donning a Gortex raincoat while standing outside during a spring shower. Sure, you can feel the raindrops hitting your skin. You can sense if the water is warm or cold. You can feel an increase in pressure if the rain should turn to hail or to come down heavier. But there is something essential missing.

Sex with a condom is still really good...great, even. But it's just not the same as sex without.

How can it be? How can any condom created to do the job of providing an effective barrier ever perfectly simulate the sensation of moist skin on skin? It can't.

So what I don't get when I'm reading a contemporary and the hero does the truly heroic thing by putting on his jimmy hat is how he always manages to experience the orgasm of his life. The one that rocks him to the core and makes him see things inside his and her soul that he's never seen before. Cataclysmic orgasms that cause the Earth to tremble.

Sure, this heroine is different than every other woman he's ever slept with.

Sure, this time there are feelings involved, maybe even the big L word that doesn't include a U and an S and a T.

Sure, he's wanted her for so long he's gone ahead and bought a few pair of jeans a size large than normal to accomodate his perpetual erection. The guy is just waiting to blow and no paltry condom will thwart that.

All of these can mean that when it finally happens, it happens in a big way.

But bigger than another time when he had sex without a condom and the sensations were magnified a hundred times because there was no barrier to dull them?

Or maybe it's just that the hero has NEVER experienced sex without a condom. From the moment he lost his virginity, he's always been a safe-sexer. He doesn't know any different, so naturally the condomed-sex he has with the heroine is the best condomed-sex he's ever had.

Which begs me to wonder if every romance novel that features safe sex via condom wouldn't do us readers (and its hero) well to provide an epilogue set six months after the couple has been tested and they've determined they are both disease-free and she's had ample time to pill it up. We'd love to see the scene when the hero first gets a chance to experience sex in the raw, when he can really feel that moist, silky heat he's rhapsodized about but never actually felt where it really counts.

Of course, since his mind has already been blown by the condomed-sex he's had with Miss Pretty Pretty, it's quite possible that he wouldn't survive a bareback encounter.

My other issue with condom usage portrayed in romance novels is how a hero always, always ALWAYS has access to a condom when he needs one unless it's part of the plot that he doesn't. Sex on a lonely mountain top? Condom in the backpack. Sex in a dangerous foreign country? Hero uses condoms to keep his gun dry, so no problem. Sex in the elevator of a high profile corporation. Condoms in the briefcase, of course. Sex in the hotel shower when the clothing has been left in the other room? Smart thinking hero has come prepared and, whoops, there's a condom waiting in the soapdish. How convenient.

I don't know about all of you, but I've never happened across a guy who accidentally pulls a condom out of his pocket or wallet or briefcase or backpack. It's not like us gals who keep a discrete supply of feminine products in our handbags and offer up a healthy blush should our rogue Tampax roll across the grocery store floor when we drop our purse. If guys are toting just-in-case condoms with them every where they go should they be faced with the opportunity for some wild monkey sex in an exotic location, they must have secret pockets sewn into their clothes.

I'm all for condom use. If one is not used, I don't worry about the heroine becoming pregnant unless she's a teenager because I'm just not wired to worry about that - I've read too many statistics about infertility. I do think it's the smart thing to do in this age of HIV/AIDs and other STDs. And it adds an element of reality that helps the story become real for me.

But I still have to suspend a healthy hunk of disbelief because the minute the hero pulls out that little foil-wrapped packet, I start to feel sorry for the guy. Cause dancing naked in the rain just isn't the same when you're wrapped in Gortex.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Confessions Of Wordy McWordWord

The very first manuscript I wrote was magical, I now realize. Not magical because it was any good. Magical because when I wrote it, I lived in total ignorance as to the intricacies of the publishing world.

I'd had this story - this very detailed, plot-heavy story - floating in my mind for so long, I finally decided to sit down and put it on paper. For two months, I came home from work, scarfed down dinner and took care of the family, then sat down at the computer with anticipation. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I didn't care about anything but telling my story. It was a lot of fun.

But what I've learned since those halcyon days has really cramped my writing style. It's not so much I now worry about character and plot and good craft. I mean, all of that is important and I'm much more aware of it now. Really, my writing has improved ten-fold since that first manuscript.

What's freezes me up is word count.

Yes, word count.

See, I'm a wordy writer. You've probably already figured this out because my blog entries are usually three times longer than most other bloggers on a fairly regular basis. I don't understand the meaning of concise, I guess. I try really hard not to be repetitive, so I'm not really sure where all of those words come from, but there they are.

Learning that single title romance novels usually run in the 150,000 word range is like putting a straight jacket on me. I've already given up on the idea of writing for series lines because I cannot imagine telling a complete story in the span of a paltry 70-90,000 words. And I'm not talking about stories with casts of thousands or intricate settings that require loads of description.

What happens is I start out going gangbusters, and I reach what I'd consider the end of my first chapter. I do a word count and discover that I've already reached 10% of my allotted word count budget and I know I have more than nine chapters left to write. At the rate I'm going, I'll end up with something that rivals War and Peace in terms of pure heft. I get really discouraged because I feel like I must be doing something wrong. Other writers manage a perfectly wonderful Chapter 1 without hitting the 12,000 word mark. Why is it that I've got too many words?

I know the solution is to just not worry about word count at all. I should sit down and tell my entire story. Take as many words as I need. The save comes in the rewrite and the edits. That's when I would pare it all down. Kill those darlings, get rid of all the unnecessary thats and adverbs. I get that part, no problem.

The thing is, when I reread what I've written, I still feel as if it is a bit...thin. You'd think that with such an extreme word count my writing would feel rich, full of atmosphere and perhaps even a bit of purple prose. Except it doesn't. I look at what I've got and I still don't see that it equals the books I've read and love as far as conveying scene. Granted, I'm a beginner, but then how do I account for so many dang words?

What I need to do is turn off my inner word-counter. Maybe I should even find a way to temporarily disable my word count tool. Kind of like hiding your scale when you are on a diet so you don't get discouraged if the weight doesn't fall off like you think it should.

I once wrote a story for a contest that had a word limit of, like, 750 words. I got down around 1,000 or so and was completely stuck. So I sent the rough draft off to a writer friend I have who has almost the exact opposite problem as I do. She's a master at brevity. She uses the fewest words necessary to tell the most amazing stories, and I both love her and hate her for it. Anyway, I asked her to help me edit and what she sent back to me was amazing. She'd removed some descriptive, cut out speech tags, got rid of some dialogue speech tics I'd been using. The word count was a perfect 750 and with a big thanks to her, I was able to submit the story.

But when it was all said and done, the Story Lite version felt kind of dry to me. Like a steak that had been cooked too long and had no flavorful juices left. I'd sacrificed my voice in the name of making a word count.

I guess what I need to do is go back to writing a story simply because I have a story I want to tell, with no ideas of ever having it published. If I can get into that frame of mind - not worry if my end result will be a three volume set - I imagine writing would be a lot more fun. And I also believe it may be the answer to my problem of never finishing. Somehow it's really hard to get inspired to finish something when you already feel you've reached your word limit. Kind of a "what's the point" attitude.

Friday, June 17, 2005


I'm in a ranty mood, so if you hate ranty posts, you may want to get out now.

In the last twenty four hours, all of the following of these pet peeves of mine have happened to me. If you'll indulge me in a big whine...

1. People who talk in movie theatres

I'm not talking about those folks who talk to each other during the five or so minutes before the theatre darkens or even those who whisper softly once the previews start (and don't even get me started on how I feel about the commercials shown before the previews). No, I'm talking about the two big hulking guys who sat right behind me and talked in full voice as if they were shooting the shit over a couple of brews all during the previews. If you want to visit with friends, why would you choose to go to a movie? Why wouldn't you go to a restaurant or a ballgame? To their credit, the gab brothers did hush up once the movie started, or it could be that I was so engrossed in the movie that I didn't notice any further talking. The date of Tweedle Dum, who sat directly behind me, did managed to kick the back of my chair a few times. An amazing feat, that, considering it was stadium seating with ample leg room.

2. Obnoxious sales people who won't take "no" for an answer

In Best Buy today (and yes, I'm naming store names in case any management at said store happens to read this blog), I purchased a moderately costly father's day gift for my hubby. The checkout guy cooed over my choice and told me what a great product I'd picked, then proceeded to hard sell me the extended warranty. I said no thank you. More hard sell...a lot of "But you don't understand..." Again, a "no thank you" from me. So what does this big jerk do? Proceed to tell me how sorry I'll be when my item falls apart, which of course it will. So what I'd selected went from being fabulous to a piece of crap. All smiles on this guy's face disappeared and his demeanor chilled by about 200 degrees. Idiot.

3. Ice cream trucks that drive up and down my street several times within five minutes playing their obnoxious loop of "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" on a day that's overcast and a chilly 68 degrees. No, wait. I hate ice cream trucks every day.

4. People who give you attitude because they've done something stupid

I was shopping at Walmart - something that grates on me for so many reasons that span the spectrum of the parking lot always being packed to the fact that I hold Walmart responsible for the current world market situation of sweatshop labor and hatred of Americans as a whole, but I digress - and I had a pretty full cart. The aisle I needed to go into was crowded with other shoppers so I parked my cart between two pallets of junk at the end of the aisle and set out on foot. Shopped for, like, one minute, and when I returned to my cart there was a woman picking things out of it. I said "That's my stuff," and she looked at me like I was an idiot. She'd thought it was full of, I don't know, returns or something, that was free for the pickings. I apologized for the confusion even though I really don't think I had anything to be sorry for, but the shrew didn't even have the grace to act remotely apologetic. Nope. What I got was a snort and a "That's your stuff, too" with a gesture toward the pile of stuff she'd taken out. If it had been me, I would have been all "I am sooo sorry!" and embarrassed to the nth degree. What.Ever.

5. Drivers who aren't confident enough to be on the road

These are the ones who sit in the left turn lane and don't turn left despite the fact that the only oncoming traffic is another car turning left. Or people who turn on their turn signals three miles before actually turning anywhere, all the while slowing down to a crawl while traffic builds behind them. I understand caution, but these folks need to get a grip.

All right, I'm feeling better now. Funny how just letting it all come screaming out really helps alleviate the pressure. I did feel like I was going to blow.

I'm much calmer now. Phew.

So. Time for sharing. What are some of your pet peeves?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

It's All About Me, Myself and I

When I was a kid and first started reading serious chapter books, they were nearly always written in the first person point of view. Or at least the ones I really loved were, and I'm thinking specifically of all the works of Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, S.E. Hinton and most of the Silhouette First Love series titles. Reading a book writtin in first person POV was like meeting a new, really cool friend who sat on the floor of my bedroom to gossip with me and tell me about her way-more-exciting-than-mine life.

Then I grew up and the POV shifted to mostly third person. By the time this happened, I didn't much care either way. In fact, as I got into romance novels I preferred the third person because I wanted the chance to see inside more than one character's head. I wanted to know what both the hero and the heroine were thinking, as well as a few key secondary characters. I have yet to read a book that accomplishes this while in first person. Not that they don't exist, just that I haven't read them yet.

Lately I've been reading quite a few YA titles (research) and have been enjoying that return to the first person POV. Seems things haven't changed at all in the twenty years or more since YA titles made up the bulk of my reading. They are still mostly written in first person and still feel just like I'm being let inside a really cool, fun world where the heroine is my new best friend.

I've noticed a lot more of what I would label gimmicky writing - journaling or e-mail exchanges as a way of telling story. It usually takes me a while to be convinced that I'll get just as much information via these approaches as I would get from straight story telling, but once I get into the rhythm and if the writer has done it well, they work for me.

In fact, it seems like this is the way to be able to tell the story from multiple viewpoints while mantaining the intimacy of first person POV. Character A sends Character B an e-mail and Character B responds - change of viewpoint but still a single narrator. Kind of cool.

The other wonderful thing about telling a story in first person POV and finding a way to successfully incorporate multiple character viewpoints without decending into mass confusion is the ability to define characters by voice. That use of "I" immediately throws the reader into a conversational mode in which verbal ticks and tendencies can come across.

I suppose that's the biggest challenge, once you figure out the format to go with. How to give each character a distinctive enough voice that it becomes clear who is telling the story despite the common "I". I imagine if that is done perfectly, any need for gimmick becomes mute because the reader knows immediately whose head they are currently in. I wonder what the limit might be? How many characters can have a turn speaking? Could get crazy, I tell you. Crazy!

*Sigh* I suppose this means more of that practice stuff and the honing of the craft and all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Double Dog Dare You

Several people have covered the topic of the image of the romance genre, including Kassia Krozser on RTB, Super Librarian Wendy, and an upcoming rant I cannot wait to read by Smart Bitch Candy.

Here's the deal. I have never - and I mean, NEVER - been openly ridiculed for reading a romance novel. No one, not friend, family member or complete stranger, has ever said anything to my face along the lines of "You're reading that?" or "How can you read that trash?" Not even a raised eyebrow or a undet-the-breath snigger. At least nothing that I could readily detect.

So I can honestly say I have no idea how I would respond if it ever happened.

I like to think that I'd say, "Fuck you." to the strangers and "Have you ever read one?" to family members and friends with a "fuck you" tone. The idea of anyone having the nerve to openly comment on my choice of reading material is as appalling to me as the idea of having someone question my choice of dinner selection at a restaurant. "You're going to eat that?"

But since I do feel squirmy when I plop my requested inter-loan library copy of Fantasy Lover on the checkout counter, it's easy for me to imagine this hard-assed attitude but not so easy to know I'd follow through with it. Maybe I would stammer and blush and feel really stupid.

Maybe the fact that I actively avoid reading books with embarrassing covers in public places speaks louder of my real feelings.

I'm willing to find out. I dare someone to mock my choice of reading material.

Go ahead. Make my day.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ugly Ducklings

I feel kind of repetitive because I seem to start so many blogs this way...over the weekend, I watched a couple of movies that got me thinking. And I suppose it is very unoriginal, but watching movies *does* get me thinking. About storytelling, which is what I do albeit in a different format. And usually other topics which provide good fodder for blogging.

Anyway, I watched two fairly forgettable movies this weekend that I'm kind of embarrassed to admit to. Oh, all right, since you was She's All That and the other was The Prince & Me (and if you check out the links, you'll notice that both movies only earned five stars out of 10, thus why I'm kind of sheepish about having watched them). I know, I know. Didn't I have better things to do with my time, like, oh, say, writing? Really, though, these were kind of educational.

Because besides both movies being classic examples of horrible storytelling, they both demonstrated a similar theme that pervades movies and books alike and that I just so happened to adore - the story of the Ugly Duckling.

Quick snapshot of each movie. In SAT, super-stud high-school all-star Zach Siler (played by the adorable Freddie Prinz Jr.) gets dumped by his bitch-on-wheels girlfriend, makes a bet with his best friend that he can turn plane-Jane art student Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook) into the prom queen, and proceeds to go about the task. Of course all it takes is a haircut, some makeup, and a strappy little red dress to turn Ugly Duckling Laney into a swan. I don't think I'd be spoiling the movie by telling you that Zach - naturally - falls in love with Laney, regrets the bet he made, and breaks her heart before the HEA and credits roll.

TP&M takes a slightly more subtle approach to the Ugly Duckling story. Playboy crown prince of Denmark Edward (Luke Mably) heads to an un-named university in Wisconsin after he sees a College Girls Gone Wild Wisconsin commercial on TV. Figuring he'll party hard and ratchet up the notches on his bedpost, he's quite surprised to meet straight-laced med-student Paige Morgan (Julia Stiles) who sees him for the spoiled little rich boy he is. The two fight, befriend, and fall in love. She chases after him to Denmark where he proposes and Paige discovers the trials of becoming sudden royalty.

On the surface, this doesn't seem to be an Ugly Duckling story. Paige isn't ugly, and she's not really a nerdy geeky type. She's actually very self-confident and focused, which is what keeps her from being a swan. Edward brings out the free-spirited woman inside and gets her to loosen up. So a very light touch of the Ugly Duckling syndrome.

Funny how so many stories, once stripped down to their essence, are Ugly Duckling tales, My Fair Lady (originally Shaw's Pygmalion) being the classic example, of course.

Movies like Pretty Woman and Grease feature a twist on the theme - the transformation of an "undiserable woman" into a "desirable" as defined by the men who come into their lives. Granted, hooker Julia Roberts was already gorgeous - hardly an Ugly Duckling - but the attentions of handsome, rich man Richard Gere brought out the class in her. In contrast, Grease's Sandy was the good girl who couldn't manage to keep her man in line until her love for him inspired her to let out her inner vamp. While neither of these movies is the standard retelling of the Ugly Duckling, each involves a woman who undergoes a transformation because of who they love.

Even the Brady Bunch took a turn, allowing us to use the phrase "pulling a Marcia Brady" to refer to any attempt to cool someone up.

Problem with the Hollywood versions of the Ugly Duckling story is that nine times out of ten, the duckling isn't really ugly to begin with. Usually the actress is uglied-up by giving her glasses, a really bad hair-do, and some baggy, formless clothes. The transformation is hardly miraculous given the raw material the hero has to work with. You'd think with the success of shows like The Swan that movie casting directors might be willing to hire actors who are actually fairly plain looking, knowing that they can easily transform them into a goddesses with some artfully applied makeup and a great haircut.

The other requirement of Ugly Duckling heroines that isn't relegated to movies or tv is the innate inner goodness she possesses. Despite her outward appearance - or perhaps because of it - the Ugly Duckling heroine is always either extremely good-hearted, stubbornly resolute in her beliefs which are always of an altruistic bent, and/or highly intuitive. Beneath the geekiness she has the ability to see the hero for what he really is (and he's never simply what he appears to be to everyone else). She's unwilling to change her own beliefs even if they go against popular opinion, and she stands up for the underdog. In short, she's a very lovable person, once you get to know her, except no one ever gives her more than a passing glance.

Because if she wasn't all or most of these things, why would the hero ever fall in love with her despite the fact that his original intention was to win a bet or show up an ex-girlfriend or some other selfish motive but certainly never love? Yeah, she turns out to be a babe once she ditches the glasses. But if he loves her simply because she looks hot, then he's not a very likeable hero.

Besides, the Ugly Duckling has to have something that makes her different than the other babes. By being so mistreated in her non-swan-like state, she reaps the reward of not only becoming a swan and getting the handsome prince, but actually having us readers (viewers) want her to have it all. She's a nice girl who deserves happiness, so we are glad when she finds it. Especially if there is some plastic swan villainess who falls on her ass in the process.

And isn't it true in the Ugly Duckling story that the hero changes as well? He always gets to know the Ugly Duckling in such a way that he falls in love with who she really is, not just her outward appearance. Because he's usually established to be a fairly shallow guy - after all, why else would he even get involved with her if it weren't because of some bet/revenge/selfish need - his falling in love shows how he's become Sensitive and In Touch With His Inner Emotions. He's no longer a jerk because he realizes it's the Ugly Duckling he loves, not the Swan that she becomes.

When I think about it, seems that all Ugly Duckling stories work the theme in two different ways when as it applies to the hero and the heroine. Both make a life-changing transformation but in completely different ways.

The heroine usually undergoes a physical transformation to go from UD to Swan. Her inner beliefs and feelings don't generally change that much - she remains as good-hearted and altruistic as ever. It's all about how she looks - ugly before, gorgeous after.

The hero, on the other hand, undergoes an internal transformation when he leaves behind his UD self. Usually he's a jerk, but a damn good looking jerk. At the end of the story, he's still good looking but he's no longer a jerk. His inner ugliness has been made beautiful.

I personally love the Ugly Duckling theme. What better dream is there that even the most hopeless of us out there can become a dazzling beauty capable of capturing the hearts of a prince? Granted, I can't say that I'd want to be the victim that most of these Ugly Ducklings start out as, the object of someone's joke or bet. But usually by the end of the story, the dues she's paid are worth it.

When it comes to She's All That, sadly the theme can't make up for the weak storytelling. As viewers we never get to see the relationship between hero Zach and Ugly Duckling Laney develop. Rather, it's entirely implied. All of the sudden Zach is showing up at her house, asking her to the beach. She's all of the sudden popular even though we never see when or how that happens.

Which is very sad, because the best part of the Ugly Duckling story is watching/imagining the hero's expression when he comes to realize that the beautiful Swan he's created is also the woman he's come to love.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

I Quit And Other Such Nonsense

I was listening to the radio and the DJ mentioned some recent gossip. Seems there is a rumor floating that Garth Brooks might come out of retirement. Apparently singing backup on his new fiance Trisha Yearwood's latest hit has sparked some latent creative juices. Except the DJ went on to say that Garth has claimed that no, he has no intention of coming out of retirement.

I bring this up not because I really care about what Garth Brooks is up to. Sure, there are a couple of his songs that I really do love, but to be honest, I hadn't even realized he had retired.

No, my point in mentioning this is the wonderment I felt about Garth Brooks being able to retire. It is beyond my scope of understanding how anyone in the...for lack of a better word... arts can ever retire.

Sure, there may come a point where an artist (and when I say artist, I'm talking about all singers, writers, actors, musicians) has enough money, enough fame, or perhaps enough headaches dealing with being a superstar that retirement sounds like a good idea. Maybe they have other things they want to pursue, a family they've too long neglected, or just a whole lot of sleep to catch up on. I can understand wanting to slow down or to move out of the spotlight. I can only imagine the kind of pressure placed on those who are successful to continue being successful, and that surely has to take a toll.

Not that I feel too sorry for these folks. If fame and fortune comes with a bit of work and inconvenience, it's a small price to pay if you ask me.

What I don't understand is how an artist can simply stop creating. I honestly believe in my heart of hearts that I will be writing until the day that I can no longer press the keys on my keyboard. I have enough stories in my head that I cannot imagine ever running out of things to say. Even if I never sell a single word, I love to write and I'll do it regardless.

But say that the writing fairies smile upon me and I am blessed with a successful writing career. I just cannot imagine ever retiring from it. I can imagine slowing down - one book every year or every other year or even every third year - but I cannot imagine stopping completely. It's like trying to imagine what it would be like to stop listening to music or to stop speaking or to stop eating chocolate. Writing is part of what I am.

Now, maybe when Garth Brooks says he's retired he really means he's no longer going to sing on tour or make records. Maybe he sings at family parties or friend's fiftieth birthday bashes. Maybe he's writing songs that he gives to others to perform. Because otherwise, I just don't get it. Garth Brooks has a God-given talent (and let's not get into the debate here if that is a fact or an opinion, just go with me) that I can only assume he enjoys using. How can he simply stop doing it?

I made a joke on HelenKay Dimon's blog today about the fact that since Nora Roberts has 5 out of the 10 Barnes and Noble Daily Romance Bestsellers that maybe it's time for old Nora to step aside. To retire so that other writers might have a smidgen of a chance to break into that list. After all, the woman has plenty of money, surely. And she's proven over and over (and over and over ad nauseum) that she can write a killer romance novel and rightfully owns the title of The Queen. There is something graceful in quitting while you're ahead and all of that. In case you need examples of how not to retire, just see Michael Jordan.

But honestly, I'm sure that Nora Roberts could no more retire - or stop writing romance novels - that we could stop breathing. It's what she does. What she is. The best she could probably do is stick her manuscripts in a drawer rather than send them along to her publishers. She'll probably be writing until she can no longer type on her keyboard. Sad for those of us trying to snag a slot on the 10 Daily Best Sellers list since she's hogging half or more of them. Good news for her fans.

I guess if you do something that you love and are lucky enough to make a living at it, retirement isn't a concept that applies. If you can retire from something, it means that what you were doing was a job. And even if you love, love, LOVE your job, eventually you want to stop doing it.

People don't retire from their passions. Do they?

Friday, June 10, 2005

The First Novel of The Darkyn

A couple of days ago I mentioned the book If Angels Burn by Lynn Viehl. I had picked it up wanting very much to read something written by PBW, whose blog I read regularly and whose views often have me nodding my head in agreement. Since IAB had received such rave reviews and since I'm not a big fan of SciFi or inspirational romance - the other subgenres Sheila Kelly has covered - I figured this was a good place to jump in. I plan to check out her romantic suspense, just need to get around to picking up a title.

What a wonderful read. In fact, I have to give it my highest compliments in that I finished the 291-page book in a little over 24 hours, which with my crazy life is showing true devotion. I picked it up while my son was at swimming lessons and pretty much read non-stop every spare moment I had until I'd finished it.

Before I continue, I want to warn everyone of SPOILERS. I'll try not to reveal twists and turns, but I do discuss some details that those who like to remain pure story-virgins might not want to know. Read on at your own risk.

To sum up the story in a nutshell: Alex Keller is a reconstructive surgeon (cosmetic surgeon for the lay folks) who has a very successful practice in Chicago. She spends much of her time helping victims of car accidents, birth defects and horrific crimes try to regain some semblance of their old lives by giving them back their bodies. She's received several requests to come to New Orleans to help a man named Michael Cyprien, requests that are accompanied by offers to pay her exhorbitant sums of money. Alex turns down these requests until she is kidnapped and taken to New Orleans and pretty much given no choice.

Michael Cyprien has been grossly disfigured and needs Dr. Keller to give him back his face. Alex does so - begrudgingly - and in payment, Michael does the unthinkable. See, Michael is no normal human. He's a Darkyn, a group of ancient vampires whose numbers are dwindling as they are systematically hunted, tortured, and killed by a group of ex-priests called The Brethren. The Brethren are the men who had disfigured Michael.

In a moment of weakness, Michael feeds on Alex, who nearly dies. In order to save her, Michael gives her his own blood, and to his surprise Alex neither dies nor turns into a Darkyn. She seems to remain human, making her very unique indeed.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Alex runs away from what appears to be a certain future as a Darkyn while Michael tries to convince her that she now belongs with him as a part of his people.

Add to this the running story of Alex's brother, John, a priest with a very painful past. John is being recruited by The Brethren, and through him the reader gets a glimpse inside a very sick, twisted group of people.

What I liked best about this book was the heroine, Alex. Alex is a very strong, very confident woman. And she never changes. From page 1 through page 290, Alex does what she wants to do (that is, when she's not being controlled by mystical forces). She actively fights her transition to a Darkyn, but not because of some melodramatic "I don't want to love him!" reason. She's convinced that what has happened to her is no different than contracting a rare blood disease and as such, it can be controlled. She's devastated by the idea that she can no longer practice medicine, and she's angry at Michael for doing this to her. But she's also human enough to be enticed by Michael's plea to her to help others of his kind. She might not be able to practice medicine on humans, but she can help others.

Too, I liked that Alex did not fall into Michael's bed after 32 rounds of I hate you! Nor is there paragraph upon paragraph of mental lusting. The attraction between these two is always implied and as readers, we don't need to constantly be reminded that what they really want to do is rip each other's clothes off.

I found Michael to be a bit weaker as a character, a lot more mysterious, which is perhaps intentional. In no way did he act the role that seems to be the norm of vampire heroes - a domineering, arrogant, alpha-male creature of the night. Rather, Michael is genuinely sorry for what he did to Alex, genuinely grateful for how she helped him, and he tries valiantly to convince her of what she must do using logic at first. Granted, he does eventually resort to some high-handed tactics, but when it happens, you are very understanding of why he does so.

I think the entire concept of the Darkyn as a species is very refreshing. Here is a group of vampires that neither revels in what they are nor feels a need to go out and convert the entire world. They've found a way to coexist with humans - they feed on human blood but without killing their victims - even as The Brethren are doing their very best to eliminate them. The Darkyn turn their anger at being hunted toward The Brethren rather than the entire human population.

As for the story about Alex's brother, John, I admit that at first I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. I liked Alex as a character so much that I was annoyed her story had been interrupted by someone who at first was presented as a very unsympathetic person. But as the story unfolded, John became a very three-dimensional character, and the viewpoint that Alex has of him very misguided. I'm not entirely sure why John was recruited by The Brethren, and I won't reveal a very key plot twist. But in a way it seemed that Lynn Viehl took the long way around to get to the same place. I'm not sure why John was necessary, in other words. But since he turned out to be interesting, it didn't bother me to have him there as a truly tragic person.

I did have a couple of problems with the book. Mostly this has to do with some loose ends that I never felt were tied up. Now, I understand that this book is the first in a trilogy, so it is possible that some of my questions will be answered in the next title. But I'm not really sure how because these issues are very specific to Alex's story.

First of all, I wondered if Alex ever learned what had happened to her friend, Leanne. Not that Alex's knowing would have changed the eventual outcome of the story, but all the same, I felt like it was something Alex should know since she was very indirectly responsible.

Second thing, John is told by The Brethren that he would never be able to leave their order alive, yet at the end, it seems that John is left free to tell people the truth about the order. Isn't his life in some kind of danger now? Too, I wonder if Alex will ever learn the truth about her brother? As it stands, she has some pretty strong feelings of hatred towards him, much of which isn't really deserved. Not that I wish a huge guilt trip on her by having John's true reasons behind what he had done in the past revealed, just that as readers we get to know it and it seems a natural progression that Alex would come to find it out as well.

Another thing I felt disappointed in not getting an answer to was the whole rapture and thrall concept. It was mentioned many times - apparently this is some combined vampire/victim state that means something really important - but never fully explained. I kept waiting for someone to describe the scenario or for us to get an actual example, but it remained a loose end. Perhaps in the next book...

Some other issues - this book is definitely not for the squeamish at heart. It contains a lot of very graphic depictions of torture and the results of torture. I was able to read almost all of it without wincing, except one scene really did bother me. Not only did it bother me because of what it contained but the fact that it was depicted at all. The situation had been established such that I knew what was going to occur, and I really can't understand the decision to actually show the action. It made me wonder if this wasn't perhaps a bit of gratuitous torture to punctuate the true evilness of one particular character (who I already had pegged as 100% evil).

I had a bit of a problem with the very last scene, in which nearly all of the characters introduced in the book ended up in the same place. I suppose I should reread it, but I got a bit confused about who was where and who was on which side and who was fighting who.

Lastly, I have to admit that I found a personal affront in the form of this bit of descriptive:

"Alex had lived in Chicago all her life. It was a violent city with a mulitude of drug addicts, rapists, and thieves, where a woman alone was a walking target."

My first reaction to this was that the author had clearly never been to Chicago. The way this reads makes it sound like Chicago is something out of an Escape From New York movie, where simply walking out your front door puts you in mortal danger. Chicago is no more dangerous than any large city, and to have it described as a "violent city" really jolted me out of the story. Sure there are neighborhoods that are pretty darn rough, but any sensible woman (as Alex very clearly is) would stay far away from these areas. The point of the paragraph was to establish that Alex had taken classes to learn to protect herself, which is something very ordinary for anyone living in any large city - the city doesn't have to be especially "violent" to give sufficient motivation.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to those who love paranormals and vampire stories. In fact, this is a good one for borderline readers who aren't sure about vampires because there isn't a whole lot of blood-sucking/coffin-sleeping type of behaviour. The Darkyn can move about in the daylight and usually drink their blood out of a cup. They aren't evil but are in fact the victims of a far more evil group. Again, I warn you that you have to have a pretty strong stomach - this isn't a pretty novel by any means. But it certainly is an enthralling read, one that you won't be able to put down.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Summer's Here. Oh Joy.

Today is the first day of no school. I haven't cracked open the case of wine yet. Yet. But I have to warn those of you who hate when you check into a blog and find no new posting that I may be a bit more sporadic over the next ten weeks. My schedule is now all rocked to hell, plus the fact that I have two little people looking at me as if I'm supposed to entertain them 24/7. I need to learn 'em differently, but that takes some time.

Tracy Sprayberry wrote something in her blog that just tickled me to no end because I can totally relate:

"I teased Diana about me being in love with my own writing. And ya know what? I am. So much so that I'm anxious to finish this book, just so I can edit it, and therefore read it in full. So much so that I don't care if I never sell it. I'm writing what I love, loving what I write, and feeling a contentment about my writing I haven't felt in years."

I frequently feel that way, too. I'll be looking over something I've written in order to edit it and find myself pages and pages later, totally wrapped up in the story. A story I've written, that I already know how it all plays out. Sure, I see the warts and wince at the problems, but I keep on going because I'm enjoying the story so much.

I've always wondered if this happens to other writers or if I'm really weird. Reading what Tracy said seems to indicate that I'm not alone. And it does make sense, after all. If you write what it is that you love to read, it makes sense that anything you come up with will be sure to hit all the right buttons and keep you completely hooked. Heck, it's this very thing that gives us the reason for that critical neutral eye-view of our own work.

But the one thing that Tracy said that I think I'm going to embroider on a pillow - the remark about not caring if she ever publishes the story. She likes it. She's happy with it and it gives her satisfaction. I think this is such a great attitude. The goal should be to write the very best story you are able to write, to get it to the place where you yourself get lost in the wonder of it, and then be happy. If it gets published, yay. If not, there still exists out there a story that you are proud to have written.

I suppose that's something, then, that we writers need to do from time to time. Pull out those old manuscripts and curl up with a good read. Try really hard to remove our internal-editor hat and just enjoy the story we created taylor-made to our own personal reading preferences. Kind of like those books you can buy for kids, where the publisher will drop in the child's name and other personal details so the book looks like it was written just for that child.

I think that this is the difference between writing for the joy of writing and writing to earn a living. When it comes to the former, the only person you have to please is yourself, and there is a lot of freedom in that.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Let Me Weesper In Your Eeeer, My Leettle Flower

Yesterday, at 11:30 a.m., I started reading Lynn Viehl's (aka, PBW) If Angels Burn. Finally at around 1:15 a.m., I had to put it down even though I only had about 50 pages left because I knew if I didn't get some sleep I'd be kicking myself. Wow. What a great book! I'll finish it today and give it the detailed kudos it deserves tomorrow.

Since I enjoyed the book so much, I checked out the website PBW had designed to support what looks to be at least a trilogy (hopefully more) in this new Darkyn series. It's a very well-designed site with a handy message board where readers can ask PBW questions about not only this book but others she's written or just general writer gabbery.

The reason I bring this all up - and the topic of today's blog - is because of something I found on the website. Under the Books section is an audio excerpt from If Angels Burn. I decided to give it a listen, and in doing so, two things caught my attention. First, the excerpt is read by a male actor. For some reason, I found that this didn't work for me - I think I would have prefered a female reader. Have no idea why this is. Perhaps because the heroine in the book is the more compelling character for me, the scene is told from her point of view, and I guess I just expected a female voice.

Second thing, it really brought home to me the accent that the hero, Michael Cyprien, has. He's French and therefore (duh) has a French accent. PBW alludes to this in the book, of course, so I knew this to be the case. But since she doesn't inject all of Michael's dialogue with phonetic French junk (which would be annoying in the extreme), I kind of just forgot all about it. Until I heard the actor using a French accent.

Here's the thing. I don't personally find French accents very sexy or appealing. Or rather, I don't find them *sexier* than, say, an Italian accent or a Spanish accent or a Greek accent, for example. I know that the idea of a sexy French aristocrat murmuring bon mots in the ear of the heroine is supposed to be knee-melting, but not so much for me. Funny thing is, I took French all through high school and into college, and I love the sound of the language. I just don't find it especially sexy. Maybe it's because I always picture Pepe Le Pew crooning his love words to the poor unfortunate lady cat with the stipe of white paint down her back.

Honestly, I find British accents sexier. Give me Colin Firth over Gerard Depardieu any day of the week. This applies to any variation on English - Irish, Scottish, Australian. (Except not Canadian. Sorry friends to the north.) Listening to Jude Law speak is pretty much a guaranteed heart-pounder for me. Watching Alfie was an auditory orgasmic experience.

Another language that I've found surpisingly sexy is Croatian. In the ER episode Secrets and Lies, Goran Visnjic recites a scene from Hamlet in Croatian, and I just about fell off the sofa. Yeah, sure, the guy himself had a lot to do with it, but I never imagined Croatian to be a sexy language before that moment.

As for American accents, there are certain ones that work for me and others that don't. A sexy Texan drawl or a smooth Georgia twang is definitely intriguing. But god forbid the hero have any kind of New York accent. Reading Suzanne Brockmann's Prince Joe was a mixed bag for me - the hero, Joe Catalanotto, was certainly written as a sexy guy. But throughout the book Brockmann reminded me that Joe had a definite New York accent that if I could actually hear I'm sure would grate on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard.

(Sorry to any New Yorkers out there who I might have offended. It's not personal, just that a strong NYC accent rubs me wrong. If it's any consolation, I also cannot stand a strong Chicago accent and have instructed my family members to shoot me dead if I start saying anything remotely like the guys in the old SNL "Da Bears" skits.)

So I guess I'm saying that once a writer has established that a character has a particular accent, perhaps it is a very good thing that she doesn't constantly remind the reader of it, just in case the reader has a different personal preference. In the case of If Angel's Burn and hero Michael Cyprien, I'm just conveniently forgetting that he has a French accent, which is not hard to do since what he's saying is far more intriguing than how he's saying it.

As for myself, I have no accent. Really.

Monday, June 06, 2005

With Friends Like That, I Don't Need Enemies

Well, with all of the uproar about the RWA's latest attempt at censorship summed up so nicely on Holly Lisle's site (and really, I think it all boils down to that precise definition), I for one would like to thank the group. See, in doing what they've done, they've helped me with a decision I've had hanging over my head ever since I decided to try writing professionally.

Last year I determined to fork over my dues and join RWA. I looked around to find my nearest RWA chapter, estimated what it would take in negotiating to make sure the hubby was around for kid-duty two Monday nights a month, and worried about those first few months when I would know absolutely no one at the meetings, be a complete outsider, and feel horribly awkward, like I was some big fat faker writer wannabe. But, I figured, it would all be worth it. I'd make some new writer friends. I'd (hopefully) find a group of serious romance-novel writers who would help me hone my craft by offering feedback. I'd be able to start entering contests and attending conferences. I'd make connections. I'd be networking.

In short, I figured that in joining RWA, I'd validate myself in some way. I'd be announcing to the world (and to myself) that I was a serious writer because I was now a member of a professional organization.

But being the procrastinator that I am, I kept forgetting to fill out my application and send in my dues. I had planned on attending the two free meetings the nearest RWA chapter offered but never managed to clear my calendar enough to actually go. I did cruise by their website a couple of times and sadly, wasn't terribly impressed. No matter. These are writers, not web designers.

Too, I put off joining RWA because I didn't have a finished manuscript that I was ready to share. I figured jumping in with both feet was a bit premature, and I guess like the Jewish superstition that it's bad luck to buy things for a baby until after it's born, I didn't want to jinx myself. I needed to be official before seeking out a larger group to confirm the fact.

Now all of this has changed, and as I have at other points in my life, I'm thanking whatever gods are out there that I waited. Because I think if I found myself part of an organization who is engaging in something I pretty much abhor with every cell in my being, I'd be more than a little pissed.

I'm sure that RWA offers new, unpublished writers some doorways into the industry that are closed to non-members. I'm sure that there are many very nice, level-headed people who belong to the organization - the voice of the leaders does not always reflect the sentiments of the majority, as demonstrated so well by pretty much every minute of George Bush's presidency. To condemn the entire organization's population because of the decisions made by a small few is, well, ignorance at it's zenith.

But I have enough hurdles to cross as it is.

I certainly don't need the "guidelines" that I would be required to live under if I wanted to be graced by RWA's *support* after *letting* me pay money to join such an illustrious group. I don't need the additional worry of having a website that must pass muster or if my covers slip over the big red line of acceptability.

It's bad enough that I will have to face the scorn, ridicule, and general bad-attitude of the non-romance novel reading population since I've chosen to write in a genre saddled with stereotypes and a major image problem.

Now I learn that not only will these outsiders be turning up their noses at my work, but the very organization created to give romance novel writers some legitimacy is going to be giving me the stink-eye as well if I choose to write anything beyond what they've deemed acceptable.

I wonder if the RWA realizes how far back it has sent the entire genre by this edict? For all intents and purposes, the Romance Writers of America is publically calling the works of its own members - romance novels - nothing short of porn that needs to be kept from the genteel public. (And no, I don't advocate in any way minors being permitted to having access to material inappropriate to those under age 18.) Not only is the RWA not standing strong to form a united front in the face of all those detractors of the romance genre, it's shoving a healthy portion of its own membership out into the snow. Sorry guys, you're on your own.

In fact, we don't even know you.

Wow. That's really some great benefits I'd be receiving. Not.

So, I have to say thank you to the RWA policy-makers because they've made my decision not to join the RWA a very easy one.

Until they've shown me that the RWA is an open-minded, accepting organization dedicated to helping ALL romance genre writers rather than penalizing certain "undesirables", I have no desire to align myself with it.

Because I certainly don't need validation from such a group as the one RWA is proving to be.

WooHoo. Now I have an extra $125 in my pocket. Maybe I'll go for that Queer As Folk Season 4 DVD set I've been eyeing for a while now. I can guarantee it'd never receive RWA's golden stamp of approval. Thank God.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Don't Be Messing With My Book

Last night I went to see Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. As you might recall, I absolutely loved the books. So I was thrilled when I discovered that they were making the first volume into a movie, especially since by the time I read the book and learned about the movie, I only had to wait around two months rather than a couple of years.

My opinion of the movie - surprisingly good. The script stayed fairly close to the original book, with the exception of the Lena storyline. A few characters were missing (Lena's sister, Bridget's brother - neither of these a big deal - Tibby's guinea pig, which I did miss), and I can't say I loved all of the casting choices. I thought America Ferrara as Carmen and Amber Tamblyn as Tibby were wonderfully casted. I didn't as much like Blake Lively as Bridget - I didn't think she was pretty enough. Alexis Bledel as Lena left me kind of meh. Again, she wasn't as pretty as I'd imagined her when I was reading the book. I did like Michael Rady as Kostas (very dark and Mediterranean) but absolutely hated Mike Vogel as Eric. Not that Mike Vogel was a bad actor - just nothing like I pictured Eric from his description in the book.

Like I said, overall the movie did a good job sticking to its inspiration. I cried on several occasions, big weepy tears. I thought the Bridget story lacked a bit of intensity, and I still don't understand why the writers/producers/directors felt the need to completely change Lena's story into something more "conventional". I'm not sure what was un-conventional about the original, except if I recall correctly, in the book, Lena gave Kostas the cold shoulder pretty much until the very end (which I didn't get while reading the book, come to think of it). In the movie she defies her grandparents' insistence that she not see the grandson of a man with whom they've had a long-standing feud. The screenwriters turned her story into kind of a Romeo and Juliet scenario.

Seeing this movie last night got me to thinking about books being translated into movies. There are so many romance novels that I've read that I think would make amazing movies. And I'm not talking about b-grade, on-the-cheap soft-focus made-for-the-WE-or-Oxygen-channel movies. I'm talking big time, blockbuster stuff. A lot of the romantic suspense I've read (Brockmann's Over the Edge or Out of Control, Stuart's Black Ice, Howard's Mr. Perfect) would translate just as well to the big screen as things like The Bourne Identity. Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me would make an amazing romantic comedy. And lord knows what could happen if Gabaldon's Outlander were ever tackled.

If I had all the money in the entire universe, I'd start my own production company and make it my mission to turn the greatest romance novels into first-class movies. None of them would star Fabio. In fact, that would be my one law - I had to approve all casting choices. For me, this is a big factor in whether or not a movie makes it as a good adaptation of a great book.

I don't know if any of you remember the uproar when Tom Cruise was cast as the vampire LeStat in Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire? I personally thought he did an excellent job, but then again, I hadn't read the book. Same thing with Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones. I hadn't read Bridget Jones's Diary so had no expectations and thus thought she did a fantastic job.

Nothing is so cool as to see the characters on a page come to life in 3D form on the screen. And it's 10,000 times better when they actually look and/or sound like you thought they would. The entire cast of the Harry Potter movies is absolutely brilliant, IMO. Despite the fact that they are way older than the actual book characters, I thought the cast of Sense and Sensibility was spot on.

But good casting isn't all there is to a good adaptation. A big part of it, for me anyway, is in what the screenwriters decided to include from the book and what they determined was expendable. The worst ever - EVER - movie adaptation of a book was Francis Ford Coppola's version of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. Every time I think of that movie, I want to weep because the book was so amazingly brilliant and the movie sucked like a Hoover. It was badly acted, the story was butchered, and pretty much not a single scene ran like I'd imagined it when reading the book. The only good thing about the movie - and this is being generous - was the casting of pretty-boy Rob Lowe as pretty-boy brother Sodapop and Patrick Swayze as the oldest, too-young-to-be-so-burdened brother, Darry. I did like Matt Dillon as Dallas, but all of the guys' acting was so over the top as to be cartoon-like. Really, I remember rushing out to see this movie, so excited that my favorite book of all time had been adapted to film, and walking out of the theater wanting to tell every single person who hadn't read the book that the movie was nothing like the story.

That's the worst thing about an adaptation gone oh-so-wrong - how it will scare people off the original book. I usually prefer to read the book first, then watch the movie because I'd say that 95% of the time the original book is better than the movie version. For example, I won't let my kids watch the Harry Potter movies until they are old enough to read the books first. I think the reading and development of your own imagination is far more important than being a passive viewer, not to mention the fact that having read the book first gives you an insight into the movie that usually makes a huge difference.

Granted, this is because the book can offer us a few things movies cannot. First major thing is time and space for character development and story.

I remember reading that Alfonso Cuaron was being made to keep Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban down to a running time of less than two and a half hours and wondering how he could ever manage it. He did, and very well I might add. But how much better the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (one of my all time favorite book-to-screen adaptations) turned out because it had the luxury of three movies worth of time - some 10 plus hours - to really enter the world of the book.

Granted, an expansive work like LotR needed that amount of time. But look at how beloved the BBC/A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (another fav of mine) is because it was afforded six hours to tell the whole story. With hardly any character absences and even a few bonus scenes, the movie, IMO, is just as good or perhaps even better than the book (gasp - sacrilege!).

I think that might be the greatest compliment that I can pay a movie. If I love it as much as or perhaps even better than the book. And I can tell you that it took the movie version of both The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Pride and Prejudice to get me to actually read those books. I loved the movies so much I turned to the books looking for more - more character insight and more description and just more. For books-to-movies that I've already read, a sign of success is if I have a burning desire to rush home and reread the book. I want to relive the magic that the movie reminded me about.

The second big thing books have over movies is the ability to really get inside the characters' heads. I mentioned earlier twhen discussing the Sisterhood movie, I found Bridget's story in the movie to be lacking in intensity. For those of you unfamiliar with the book - Bridget goes off to soccer camp after suffering the pain of her mother's suicide. While at camp, she meets a camp counselor - Eric - to whom she is attracted, and she sets out to seduce the boy. Not only is Eric off limits because he's a counselor and she a camper, but he's older than she is. She finds herself in way over her head and I won't ruin it by saying more. In the movie, we didn't get to "see" Bridget's inner turmoil. Also, I'm guessing because of pacing and time constraints, Eric's reluctance and struggle is never properly demonstrated so the entire scenario loses a lot of tension. The whole thing feels short-changed.

And again, going back to P&P, that was one thing the movie offered that the book actually lacked; a chance to see more deeply into one of the character's mind and feelings. In the book, we are never given any scenes that are 100% Mr. Darcy-centric. The story is told from Elizabeth Bennet's POV. But in the movie, we do get to see Colin Firth (*swoon*) brooding and struggling with his unwanted attraction for Elizabeth. I felt a lot more sympathy for the character by watching the movie and seeing these scenes than I would have had I read the book first. And I'm not just saying that because we got that wonderful Colin Firth in his wet shirt scene. That was simply a bonus bonus. And too, there is the famous Look that completely summed up Mr. Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth - a look that I never could have pictured reading the book because such a look is never mentioned.

So, I guess I'm saying that a book-to-movie done well can be a wonderful thing. But when it's done badly, I'd just as soon it not be done at all.

With last night's viewing of The Sisterhood, I can't say that I was overwhelmed by the urge to rush home and pull the copy off my bookshelf. But I did leave the theater hoping that this movie is successful enough to allow the next book in the series to be made. I enjoyed watching the girls spring off the page, my emotions were touched (read: I cried almost as much during the movie as I did when reading the book), and I want to see how they handle the further adventures of the pants.

In the meantime, I'll be accepting donations toward the start-up fees for my All Romance All The Time production company and interviewing gorgeous hardbodies to assemble my roster of potential heroes for casting purposes.