Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hitting Close to Home

Funny thing about this blogosphere is how close you feel to people you've never met or even spoken to directly, only via exchanged comments. It might be a community in the virtual sense only, but the emotions you feel when one of the group is suffering are very real.

It appears that Larissa Ione and her family have been severely affected by the damage wrought from Hurricane Katrina. Larissa's home, which was located in Gulfport, MS, right in Katrina's path, has been destroyed, and her family has lost everything.

Add to this the fact that her husband, a member of the US Coast Guard, is on duty rescuing all of those victims who need help rather than wallowing in his own family's loss as most of us would be doing, and my heart goes out to the Iones.

Alison Kent and Stephanie Tyler are managing any donations that people are willing and able to afford in order to help Larissa in any way possible. Both of their blogs specify details as to what kind of donations would be best and where to send them. Please look into your hearts and see what you might be able to offer.

Those of us who have never experienced a true natural disaster can't even imagine what it must be like. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims of Katrina.

God bless you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Misogyny Magnified

I've been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, for research. Specifically, I've been focused on biographies and autobiographies of women who were oppressed under the Taliban regime in mid to late-1990 Afghanistan. You might have heard of some of the titles; My Forbidden Face by Latifa, Behind the Burqa by Sulima and Hala as told to Batya Swift Yaqur, and Zoya's Story by John Follain and Rita Cristofari.

Even though the hype about the horrors inflicted upon women by the Taliban has passed into yesterday's sensationalism, these books bring it all back to the surface. All of the stories have the same theme, and quite honestly, I don't know whether to be more horrified or disbelieving that the kind of treatment these women endured happened less than ten years ago and still, to a certain degree, happens today. I would say that these women could be relating tales of things that happened to women in the Dark Ages, but I'm beginning to think the women of the Dark Ages were actually treated better.

What gets me, though, is all of these women claim that the men in their world view women as inferior to men. I have no doubt that this is the case, on the surface. But, really, what seems to be the reality is that these men are terrified of women. They are so afraid of women, and so unable to control their own base animalistic tendencies, that the only way they can cope is to oppress women into near oblivion. How weak these men must be, that they must have their women covered from head to toe so that they will not be tempted. How cowardly these men must be that they fear women to be educated or to hold down jobs because women might (will!) surpass them in pretty much every endeavor. The only way these men can succeed and feel powerful is to supress those whom they fear have the ability to beat them. Women.

Which leads me to wonder what would happen if the women finally reached their boiling point. If they finally decided they'd had enough and chose to rebel, what would happen? Yes, I know that these women aren't armed and don't have the money or ability to become so. They don't know how to fight against the monsters who have such complete control over every aspect of their lives. Heck, many of them have no idea that the way they are treated is not the norm in a good portion of the world. But do you think that if these problems could be remedied, these women would find the strength to fight back? Do you think they could organize themselves to form a cohesive offensive, something big enough to change things forever?

I try really hard to stay away from political topics on this blog because everyone's own opinion is so personal and usually so deeply held, dissent is bound to occur. But if I were Queen of the Universe, or at least President of the United States, I think I would campaign with every ounce of power in my command to find a way to arm these women. Just as we've done with other revolutionary groups, I'd give these women weapons and I would train them to fight. At the end of my war, these men would be holding their balls in one hand while they tried to figure out how to put their burqas on properly.

Can you tell that nothing gets under my skin more than watching the underdog get kicked time and time again?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ready, Set, Go

Today's the day. I've officially completed all tasks and obligations I used as reasons for not writing. My brother's wedding reception to attend? Check. Kids in school? Check. Finances in order (or, all bills paid on time)? Check. Nothing left but to get to it.

And to that end, I'm sitting at the library, my laptop set up on a table overlooking a lush, green park. It's very quiet here. In fact, it's so quiet, my keyboard noises seem rather annoying. No one else seems to mind, or if they do, they haven't complained.

I've decided that for at least the next few months, I'm going to come straight to the library every afternoon after dropping my youngest at school. Here I have absolutely no distractions. I'm not tempted to get up every five minutes to start a new load of laundry or to check for the mail or browse through any catalogs that arrive. I'm not enticed by the massive bag of M&Ms hiding in the closet. I've brought along a water bottle and a granola bar, so I think I can even resist the urge to visit the coffee bar in the library's lobby.

I've vowed that while I'm here, I will do nothing but write. I will not check e-mails. I will not cruise the internet, ostensibly researching facts. I will not wander up and down the stacks looking for intriguing books, nor will I read anything I've already checked out. For the next two and half hours, I will write.

I figure blogging is okay because I see it as kind of a warm up. Gets my fingers limber and the words flowing. Except, I need to avoid falling into the trap of spending an hour or more on my blog entry. If I feel the urge to be long-winded, I need to do so earlier or later. So sorry in advance if my posts are kind of un-even as far as when they are posted or if they are shorter. Not that this is a bad thing.

Anyway, as of right now, this is my job, and I'm going to treat it that way. I'm going to recall how I acted back when I received a paycheck and had bosses who expected things of me. It's going to be a lot harder because I'm now the boss, and I know that I'm pretty much a pushover as far as my employees go. They can usually talk me into calling it an early day without too much arm twisting.

By the way, I just finished reading 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh. Other than the unwieldly title, the book offers some interesting insight into the publishing world. Nothing I hadn't read elsewhere, but since it is written by an editor who doesn't pull any punches when it comes to delivering the bad news, I think it's a good dose of reality served up fairly easy to swallow. Check it out if you get a chance.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Peer Pressure

Grrrrr!!

I just wrote a rather nice entry and the internet ate it. And I'll never be able to recreate it again.

Damn technology.

What I was saying when I was so rudely deleted...

What kind of response do you get when you tell people you are writing a book?

This morning I took my youngest for his first day of kindergarten. While I was waiting during the hour he was in school, many fellow parents asked me what I'd be doing with my free time now that I actually have some. To each I responded that I've been doing some writing and plan to get very serious about it. Treat it like a job and really push to get published.

And the reactions I've gotten have been surprisingly supportive. Not a single person has snorted at me as if I'm full of it. Everyone has smiled broadly and told me how great they think that is. They seem sincere, too.

Which makes me feel like the world's biggest faker.

Because I know that these people have no clue whatsoever what it takes to become a published writer. I think they assume - as I did once upon a very long time ago - that anyone who has the fortitude to actually finish a book simply sends it Someplace and waits for it to get printed with a pretty cover on the front. When I say I plan to write a book, I know these people believe that one day, they will see that book on the bookstore shelves. Kind of like if I said I was going to get a tattoo on my butt, I'd be able to pull down my pants and prove that I'd kept my word.

So I always rush to assure them that I'm not published yet and it's a long, slow process. I'm desperate to avoid expectations that I might not be able to meet. Again, like not ever telling anyone I'm getting a tattoo on my butt...

Already I have several friends who ask me whenever we bump into each other how the book writing is going. I always nod reflectively and say, "Slow. It's hard to find the time..." to which they nod back with understanding.

One of these days, it's going to dawn on them that I've been saying that for ten years and they're going to call me on my shit.

Which is, perhaps, the reason I keep confessing my plans. I think I'm hoping that the masses will hold me to my claim. Sort of like telling people that you are dieting with the intention of losing twenty pounds so they'll give you the stink eye if they catch you reaching for that second brownie. I'm developing a herd of chaperones to keep me in line. I might not want their expectations to be too high, but I need them to be there in some form.

Plus, I'd love to be able to tell these people next year, when I have an entire school day's worth of free time, that I'm working on my second/third/fourth manuscript.

Or even better, that my publisher is really pressuring me on my deadlines for that next book so I'm going to be busy getting it done...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What A Waste

Last night I was deeply emmersed in a book, Warrior Soul by Chuck Pfarrer (research) when a movie came on TV that caught my attention. I'd had Mystic Pizza on as background noise, so the station was set at the WE network, WE standing for Women's Entertainment which you could probably figure out given it was airing Mystic Pizza.

Anyway, this made-for-tv movie started to play, and I figured out pretty quick that it must be an adaptation of some romance novel. Being an aspiring romance novel writer and a romance novel reader who would love to see some of her favorites made into movies, I put down my book and gave the show my full attention.

Stupid move.

Horrible. Just absolutely horrible.

Now, I have no idea if the book the movie was based on - A Change of Place by Tracy Sinclair, published by Silhouette in 1991 - is any better. Perhaps in translating the written word to film, something got lost. Like quality.

I mean, from just the little blurb about the book I can see that liberties were taken. In the book, the heroine is a children's book author, while in the movie she is a art history grad student. In the book, the hero's name is Alain Marchand but in the movie he's Philip de Clarmont, an American with French royal blood. So clearly creative license was taken.

But that doesn't excuse the horror that ended up on screen. Gads. How embrassing.

First of all, the hero in the movie was played by Rick Springfield. Now, I loved - swooned over - Rick when he was Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital. In 1981! But I'm sorry, and no offense to Rick, but his boyish hottness in the early eighties did not age into a Cary Grant charm thirteen years later. In some up-close shots during the movie, you could see the wrinkles and bags beneath Rick's eyes. Apparently holding on to past glory, his hair is the same shaggy length that looks really good on a twenty-something surfer dude but not so much on a well-into-his-forties man trying to pull of the sophisticated French couture business man that was his character.

Not to mention, in the love scene, I think I saw hair on Rick's back. I can't...just...no.

Speaking of the love scene, when the hero and heroine fall into bed together, it's to some Edith Piaf song that did absolutely nothing to convey either a romantic, tender moment or a heated, urgency, one of which would surely have been appropriate. The music was all symphonic crescendoes more suited to a scene of a boat sailing through stormy seas than a love making session. It was laughable.

Once the ending came about, the final nail hit the coffin. In all of five minutes, the bad guy was foiled, the heroine's name was cleared of false accusations leveled against her, the hero learned the truth about her identity (she had switched places with her twin, so all along he believed her to be someone else), she determined to leave Paris in a wounded huff, and the hero came charging after her to declare marriage plans. I'm serious. All of this happened after the last commercial break and before the credits rolled.

The reason I'm whinging about this is not because I expected an academy award winner made from a standard issue category romance. My complaint is that the whole thing was simply so bad. If a non-romance reader were to have watched the show, I can honestly understand why she or he might determine romance novels are nothing more than formulaic fluff full of bad writing, bad story telling, and just general bad.

I used to work for a company that made children's videos with what was called in the company's mission statement "a biblical world view". The founder of the company was determined that just because our product came from a Christian slant and used words like God didn't mean the quality had to be subpar. Most people immediately assume if something is made out of the mainstream, the quality will be at B level at best. When I worked at Big Idea, this simply was not the case.

So why does it have to reason that romance books made into movies by cable networks have to be second rate? Sure, there is no budget for big time movie stars or exotic sets or ellaborate story lines that take hours to tell. But how much extra does it cost to hire good screenwriters to translate the original into visual form?

More important, how much does it cost to choose something well written to start with? It's true that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. So don't even try in the first place.

Again, with all due consideration to Ms. Sinclaire's original work, maybe this story wasn't the best one to turn into a tv-movie. If the book really did have all loose ends tied up in the last chapter, completely skipping over some major issues I would have imagined given the scenario of a man falling in love with a woman who isn't even who she's claiming she is, then shame on the production company for optioning such hash. If it was a case of the original story being hatcheted, then shame on the screenwriters, directors and those who greenlighted the script.

I've said it before that if I had a gazillion billion dollars, I'd start a production studio that turned great romance novels into great movies. Honest. I think that would be a blast. I can name twenty books without even taking a second to think that I would love to see on screen. How much fun it would be to cast and location scout and script it all. My career Utopia.

So it makes me sad when I see such an opportunity wasted. With the hyper-specific network programming these days - networks entirely devoted to women or gay people or senior citizens - I think the idea of turning romance novels into programming isn't that out there. I just hope the bar is lifted a bit. The romance genre community can't handle any more bad representation.

Next thing you know, they'll have Fabio in the opening credits, long hair flying and bare chest glistening.

Gads.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Wearing of the Black Hat

Here's the deal. I'm having some trouble being evil.

Don't get me wrong. I ain't no saint. I mean, I can be as petty and snarky and nasty as the next woman. I'm self-centered and selfish and quite often just as jerky as everyone else driving in the car pool line. I actually enhaled (but it didn't work, and I still don't get what's so great about it), I don't think all children are God's precious little angels, and I've been known to drive well over the posted speed limit on more than one occasion.

My problem is that my mind doesn't work in the way that lets me put myself in the shoes of my villains. Going with that whole "the writer needs to know her characters inside and out" theory, I'm having a bit of trouble with my bad guys.

The other morning I woke up with a villain in my brain. And as a sidebar here, I've determined that all of my best writing ideas and solutions come to me in those minutes when I first wake up, when I'm still lying in bed, contemplating whatever I've recently dreamt. I experience the most amazing thoughts during those precious moments. My pre-shower-moments moments.

Anyway, I woke up with the perfect solution of who the bad guy would be in a story I'm working on. The heroine is trying to track down a rapist (novel idea, right?) but I had no idea of who that rapist was or why he did what he did and all of those important things that are kind of necessary to actually have, you know, a story. But like a light switch flipping to on, it all came to me that morning. Everything. Who he was. Why he was doing the bad things he was doing. Even a back story that would tie him to the heroine in the ways I needed. The perfect villain.

Except, most of the time, my villains don't come this easily. Most of the time I cannot fathom what would drive a person to murder or abuse or even other less personal crimes like kicking a dog or taking money from sweet little old ladies. When I sit down to do a character sketch of my villains, I draw a complete blank.

So I fall back on every stereotype spoonfed to me over thirty-five-plus years of television, movies, popular fiction, and even some classics. Except it doesn't work because I end up with silly bad guys. Boring bad guys. Bad guys who are just cardboard copies of Snidely Whiplash.

I think this is because when I come up with an idea for a story, I don't need a bad guy with an interesting personality. When I'm fleshing out my hero and heroine and the trials and tribulations they will endure, I just need a person who makes Bad Things happen when I need them to happen. Studly Green Beret and Susie Archeologist are on the run from Evil Tribal Warlord. Who cares if Evil Tribal Warlord's father traded his favorite goat as part of his older sister's dowry when ETW was only six? I just need him to carry a really big gun and have enough charisma to lead a gang of thugs who can run really fast through the jungle and have a craving for innocent White Woman With Golden Hair nookie.

But, since I've determined to be one of those writers who eventually sells one of her books and - since I'm dreaming big here - plans to be more than a one-hit wonder (said in the loosest sense of the word "wonder"), I can't do this. I can't afford Cartoon Villains. I need bad guys who are real enough that they are actually scary. And real threats to the hero and heroine so that the reader is inspired to keep turning those pages because she really has no idea if things will turn out okay in the end.

Of course, I hit the wall whenever I try to think Evil. I come to a full stop whenever I try to imagine what might incite me to kill someone. Short of a person threatening the lives of my children, I cannot imagine what it would take for me to commit murder. How in the world can I put myself into the mind of a serial killer enough to make him real?

I've tried research. And it does help. I've discovered there are different types of rapists and what motivates each one and common characteristics. I can kind of fake it a little bit, I think.

I've read book after book about the Middle East, trying for the life of me to understand a mindset that allows extreme Islamic fundamentalists to kill so many innocents in the name of their beliefs. This one, however, is beyond my pale. I cannot get beyond the gaping horror I feel and my complete conviction that these people really do not think with fully balanced minds. I can't get over the conclusion that they are all flipping nut cases. So any terrorists that find their way into my stories will probably end up as raving lunatics with no more motivation than they kill simply because no one has killed them first.

I've heard many an actor claim that playing a villain is way more fun than playing the good guy. There's the chance to really go against your own psyche and let the animal in you run loose. I suppose I need to dig deeper to find that depraved creature living inside me. Not the one that would encourage me to eat an entire bowl of unbaked yellow cake batter, but the one who could be joyful when watching other people suffer for no other reason than I was the one in control.

Maybe what I should do is just imagine how I feel when the biggest idiots on the planet, those insane, obnoxious drivers I encounter so frequently on Chicago's expressways, cut me off after I've been waiting to merge ever so patiently onto or off of the road. You know, the ones who drive on the shoulder or in the exit only lane until the very last second, at which time they cut in front of you like they are far too important to wait their turn as the rest of us peons have done. At moments like those, I truly believe I'm capable of murder. I know real, gut wrenching rage and hate, the kind that someone surely would have to feel to be a true villain.

How good it would feel if for a few unpunishable seconds, I could actually release that monster within. That ought to get me through some pretty goulish scenes.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I'm Still Here

Just wanted to let everyone know that I haven't disappeared, despite the appearance that this is so. A few nights ago a massive thunderstorm rolled through the Chicagoland area. On its way, it dropped a bolt of lightning that struck a tree very close to our house. So close, in fact, that we now have no telephone service or internet/cable access.

I can't tell you how out of touch with the world I feel. I'm at the library right now just so I can send out this entry, and not being able to just plop down at the laptop any old time I feel like it to answer e-mail or check a fact or blog is about killing me.

Anyway, the Comcast repair dude is scheduled to come to fix me all better on Tuesday, so hopefully by Wednesday I'll be back for real.

In the mean time, the lesson learned by this is lightning is NOT your friend.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dear Mr. X, I *heart* you!

Going to my reunion reminded me of what turns out to be my very first romance novel idea. I didn't know this at the time, of course. But when I was a tender teenager, I spent many a night putting myself to sleep by imagining scenes involving myself and a particular male teacher. I won't say who because some of my high school friends might stumble this way, and I don't want to embarrass myself or this poor innocent subject of my girly fantasies.

Thing is, the stuff I would dream about - the stories I'd use to keep myself occupied until I'd drift off to sleep - were different than fantasies in one key way. My story involved structure and plot. It wasn't simply a titillating what if Mr. X kissed me when I went to his classroom after school had gotten out? This was a what if Mr. X fell in love with me but was still married to his wife? What would happen if he tried to resist this attraction because it was so wrong on so many levels? What would happen if he couldn't resist, and years later, we happened to meet again?

In other words, my fantasies had all the elements of a romance novel. Conflict. Character growth and change. Escalating romance. Secondary characters. Angst and joy. Heck, even back then, long before the advent of iTunes and iPods, my story had a soundtrack in the form of The Police song "Don't Stand So Close To Me".

Of course, as a grown up I see how completely impossible such a story is when I try to think of ways to convert it to a real non-girly-fantasy novel with sales potential.

First of all, a relationship between a student and a teacher is such a taboo one in our society that it's nearly impossible to overcome. To my credit, even as a kid I understood this. In my dreams, I was already over the legal age of 18, and this teacher was a young guy, only a few years out of college, so that the age gap was as minimal as possible. Also, the hero of my youth-inspired imaginings did know how wrong his attraction was and fought it with a vengeance.

The second problem with my story is the fact that the hero was married. With a child. This is because the teacher that inspired me was married with a child. A child I actually babysat. I know. Eeeeww. Plus, totally different story involving love with the babysitter/nanny. Anyway, in my more-appropriate version of the situation, I had the hero and his wife in the midst of major marital difficulties. The wife, naturally, was not a deserving woman. So you really couldn't blame the hero for seeking love elsewhere.

A third obstacle appeared in the form of my knowledge, even back then, that a happily ever after for a girl of age eighteen with the first man she'd ever fallen in love with was not the most likely thing that could happen. In my story, the hero and heroine part ways only to run into each other at a party a good five years later. See, in my young mind, anything over the age of 21 was the perfect age since it contained vast amounts of maturity, and any happily ever after that involved marriage (of course) would be allowed because she wouldn't be some hillbilly teenage bride. Having five years pass was plenty enough to allow the heroine to grow up, the hero to become disentangled from his marriage (a job that involved a fatal car crash because at my tender years, I saw divorce as too great a flaw for the hero to have), yet not so much time that the two characters would have actually moved on with their lives by loving other people.

All of this conflict - the inclusion, analysis, and resolution - shows me now that even back in high school, my mind worked like that of a writer. Sadly I didn't see it for what it was then and thus wasted a whole lot of time and a college degree that could have been obtained in a field that might have actually done me some good.

And even though I now recognize the ick factor in my early story, I still can't let go of that first idea. I still feel that same thrill when I let my mind go back into those scenes, which in my world is the hallmark of a story begging to be written.

So, sorry Mr. X. You're still the object of my teenage fantasies. And if I become the writer I'd need to be to make it work, you may just become the subject of one of my books.

Monday, August 15, 2005

High School Confidential

Well, I survived the big twentieth year class reunion. And I have to tell you, I learned a lot.

I learned that having the right dress and the right shoes is critical because then you can walk through the crowds feeling good about yourself, whether or not you've hit the big time or maintained status quo.

I learned that having the popular guy not only remember your name but tell another friend you look pretty good can evoke that same giddy rush you felt back in high school.

I learned that the stupid quasi-popular-because-the-were-slutty party girls haven't grown up a single year since graduation. I swear I heard a drunken conversation in the bathroom of the ballroom that was a perfect repeat of the same drunken conversation I'd heard twenty plus years ago in the bathroom of the school gym on the night of the Sadie Hawkins dance. Geez, girls, how old are you?

I learned that looking good when you are eighteen doesn't guarantee looking good at thirty-eight.

I learned that the geeky guy in high school will say pretty much anything to not be the geeky guy at the reunion.

I learned that a lot of my classmates - the vast majority - never left our hometown. Yet they rarely bump into each other.

I learned that I'm very glad I married my husband and that he is a sweet, patient guy for putting up with all the squealing and conversations about stuff of which he had no clue.

I learned that it is still possible to feel really awkward when you're at a party, standing in the corner with your drink, looking around for people you know and wishing desperately for someone to come talk to you. This happened at the pre-reunion mixer, which I discovered my husband and I had attended at too early an hour. Apparently the real party didn't start until long after I'd had quite enough of feeling miserable and dh and I'd gone off for a nice dinner and a movie.

I learned that you forget how many people you knew in high school until you see them again and it all comes rushing back in.

I learned that many high-school sweetheart marriages really do last.

I learned that one of my classmates has survived breast cancer and five others have passed away.

I learned that those people you called your best friends in high school aren't necessarily the ones who will stand the test of time. The three women I'd name as my closest friends were not at the reunion, and since I haven't talked to them since the last reuinion, I doubt I'll ever see or hear from them again. Pretty bizarre considering how insperable we were for nearly three whole years of our lives.

I learned that I had a great time in high school, with absolutely no regrets. I also learned that I'd never, ever want to go back and do it all over again. Even knowing what I know now.

And now I have ten whole years to shop for a dress for the next reunion. No excuses for procrastinating.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I'm A Guest! I'm A Guest!

I'm so excited!! I get to refer you to RTB for my official blog entry for today. I submitted an entry to be an August guest blogger and actually got picked. Can I consider that being quasi-published?

Anyway, a couple of interesting things going on. Candy and Sara, the uber Smart Bitches, are waxing very intelligent about some criticism hurled at them via AAR's message boards. I'm impressed that they are replying in such an intelligent and civil way. Not that these gals aren't both intelligent and civil. Just that this kind of stuff usually sends me into fits of ranting, with some name calling and flaming responses thrown in for good messure.

I agree with what they both have to say about the issue. It's funny, but of the two extremes of the spectrum as far as romance novels go - inspirational and romantica or erotica - I personally would cross the street to avoid the former rather than the latter. I think it's because erotica just presents itself for what it is. It comes at you with a take me or leave me attitude. No attempts at all to get you to feel anything but what you feel or to believe anything but what you already believe.

But every inspirational I've ever read - and granted, it's only been a couple - has left me cold because I felt I was being evangalized at. Nothing in the world I hate more someone trying to convert me. Not romantic. Not entertaining. Certainly not something I prefer to read myself even as I respect the rights of others to read it and enjoy it.

But that doesn't mean I'm anti-Christian. I'm a Christian myself, albeit a quiet one. In fact, I think I'd say I'm pro Quiet-Religion. I'm all for people who practice their faith quietly. I view one's relationship with God or whatever deity or non-deity they've chosen as a deeply personal thing, and I'm appreciative when people keep it that way. You can believe whatever you want. That's cool. Just don't try to inflict your beliefs on me.

Don't even get me started on my thoughts about how far away this country seems to be moving from the wonderful idea those whacky Founding Fathers drafted in the Constitution. Something about separation of church and state...

So...I may be MIA until Sunday because tomorrow the kids head of to Grandma and Grandpa's house and the dh and I head to my hometown for the big Twentieth High School Reunion. Should be loads of fun to chat about when I get back.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Two Weeks Until Lift Off

As much as I hate to be repetitive (stop laughing!) or to copy others, the rash of kids going back to school blog entries has got me to thinking.

Shirley Jump's column on RTB today pretty much sums up my feelings to a T. My kids start school two weeks from tomorrow. While I'm ready to settle back into the rhythm of routine, not to mention the peace and quiet of a child-free house, part of me is sad to see summer go. My kids have finally reached that age of self-sufficiency where they can get their own bowl of cereal in the morning to allow me an extra half hour of sleep. I've so much enjoyed the lazy days of freedom where we didn't have to be any particular place at any specific time. I'm not looking forward to hectic mornings, daily carpools, and the constant shuttling back and forth to activities, lessons and practices. Plus there's making lunches and helping with homework.

Ugh.

Except...I. Can. Not. Wait!!

No more arguing over the remote control. My daughter discovered the TV show Full House this summer, and if I have to hear Dave Coulier's Popeye impersonation one more time, I'm going to scream. No more neighbor kids running underfoot, turning me into the mother of four instead of the more manageable two. No more begging to go to the pool/park/bike riding/zoo/amusement park three thousand times a day. No more Legos and Bratz dolls scattered into every corner of every room of my house. No more constant chaos.

But something even bigger will happen in...let's see...approximately 350 hours.

My youngest enters kindergarten this year. It's only half day, or rather, two hours and forty-five minutes minus the fifteen minutes on either end that I have to leave to drop off or pick up. Even so, as of fifteen days from now, I will have about two and a half hours five days a week to do what I've wanted to do so long.

Sit my butt in a chair and write.

No excuses. No interruptions. No reasons I can't begin to treat this dream of mine as a real career. This is the beginning.

I'm considering August 29th the start date of my new job.

Of course, this means the end of my three year procrastination. Ever since I was laid off from my "real" job and my husband and I decided that me at home was probably more practical than me getting paid to work forty hours a week, I've been biding my time. It was pointless for me to treat my writing seriously because I could never devote the time I felt was necessary to make it work. Sure, I wrote at night and every free chance I got. I've done research and I've sketched out story ideas and characters. I've filled notebooks with charts and have read book upon book about the craft of writing.

I started this blog to make sure I wrote something - even just a little thing - every single day. I discovered the blogosphere and all of the on-line resources waiting at the tips of my fingers. I've paid attention to what's going on the industry, and I've sampled books across a variety of sub-genres, some that caught my interest and affected my decisions.

In short, I feel like the last three years have been my Writing University of sorts. I've been training and practicing.

Now it's time to pony up and get busy. The last of my reasons has been taken away.

So instead of crossing off the days until to Back To School Day, I'm looking forward to First Day Of My New Career Day.

WooHoo!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Good-bye and Thank You


"(HOUSTON, TX) -- Romance Writers of America has outlined two elements -- a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending -- as the crux of their association’s official definition of a romance novel."

I always thought I understood the emotionally satisfying ending part of this definition. It was the loophole that allowed stories that ended with the hero and heroine not together in the traditional sense to still be considered a romance. If the entire story centered around the hero and heroine coming to terms with their love for each other and overcoming the obstacles standing between them, but in the end they had to part ways for whatever reason, the story could still be called a romance.

In Green Card, when the Gerard Depardieu character is deported back to France after finally breaking through the icy exterior of the Andie MacDowell character, we still feel hopeful that these two will find a way to be together. In almost every young adult love story, you kind of know in your heart that the characters are too young to settle down - teen marriages have a very high failure rate - and assume some more living needs to be done before the final, final happily every after. But you feel good about any ending that shows them together for at least the short term.

If the obstacles have been overcome, if the characters have realized, accepted and admitted their love, and if it looks like their future together is pretty much certain even if there will be a hiccup or two along the way, I think it's safe to call the ending emotionally satisfying. Even if they can't be together, if they've shared much and they part with the prospect of future happiness for both characters, I would argue the ending can still be emotionally satisfying in a bittersweet way.

On Sunday night, Queer As Folk aired its final episode after a great five-season run. Since the writers knew going in that this would be the last season, they had a lot of opportunity to tie things up into neat little bows. I think most of us loyal viewers had expectations to get emotionally satisfying endings for all of the regular characters. And for the most part, I think this end was met.

Sort of.

If you've read me regularly, you already know that I've long enjoyed the romance played out between bad boy Brian Kinney and wide-eyed artist Justin Taylor. Those two characters have suffered more to be together than many a romance novel hero and heroine, and the two actors had such great chemistry that they lit up the screen in nearly every scene they had together. I suffered every high and low in their relationship and have rooted loudly for their well-earned happily-ever-after.

Except, all along a Herculean obstacle existed in their path in the form of Brian's attitude. Brian is an out and proud gay man who has always felt that the institutions adopted in the heterosexual world were ridiculous and hypocritical. He disdained marriage, laughed at monogamy, and pretty much rejected the entire concept of love as just a way for straight people to get laid on a regular basis. It took an awful lot for Brian to fall in love with Justin, and even more for him to actually admit it.

When Brian proposed marriage to Justin and Justin accepted - after a bit of expected suspicion - I was a mix of joy and disbelief. My own definitions of happily every after include things like marriage, or at least some commitment that ensures the couple will be together until the ends of their lives. It also involves monogamy. Somehow, though, I could not wrap my brain around the idea of Brian remaining monogamous. It went against everything the character had represented, and despite the countless examples in romance land where the rake becomes reformed by the love of the right woman, in real life this just didn't seem possible. (Yeah, I know this isn't real life either, but go with me, okay?)

Sure enough, from pretty much the moment Justin agreed to marry him, Brian became a shadow of his former self. He lost all of the spark that made him Brian. He walked around with a somber look on his face, used words and expressions he'd mocked in the past (cuddle being something he'd snort at both literally and figuratively until after he became Justin's fiancé). In trying to play the part of what he envisioned being a married man would entail, he was no longer the no apologies, no regrets, balls-to-the-wall character I'd grown to love.

Nor was he the man that Justin had grown to love.

So they called it off. Both of them determined that neither of them wanted the other to sacrifice personal happiness in the name of love. Justin didn't want to be married to a man who no longer acted anything like the person he'd come to love. Brian didn't want Justin to sacrifice a promising art career in New York City to remain in Pittsburgh as Brian's spouse.

At the end of the show, Justin left for New York, and we viewers were led to believe that it was a mutual decision that resulted in mutual satisfaction. The writers had set things up so well - showing us so completely how marriage would change Brian into a walking zombie and how much Justin would be losing in settling down so young - we knew things could happen no other way.

Ta da. There's your emotionally satisfying ending. Right?

Right and wrong.

Right because from a long while back, I knew - knew in my heart of hearts even though I didn't want it to be true - that marriage between these two characters would be impossible. In fact, had the show's executive producers and lead writers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, taken Brian and Justin down that aisle, I would have accused them to caving into fan demands and committing character assassination. As much as I wanted these two together forever, it wasn't what was real for the characters as I had grown to know them. So I have to give applause to Cowen and Lipman for remaining true to the characters in spite of the possible outrage doing so might create.

And if it couldn't be between these two, the way that it ended was at the very least something I could accept. The door wasn't shut completely - Justin assured Brian (and us viewers) that they'd see each other often. That they didn't need vows and rings to prove how much they loved each other. The two parted after a poignant love-making scene that brought tears streaming down my face. We are left to believe that if these two aren't together in the right now, there's no reason to believe that it might not happen five or ten or twenty years down the road.

But this is where the "wrong" comes in, because I don't really believe that they will ever be together again.

Neither did Brian.

Justin is very young. He's heading off to NYC, supposedly to fame as a great artist. He'll be meeting lots of people, and he's a loving, generous person who will find love easily. Chances are he'll find his life partner in NYC and Brian will move into his history as the first - and maybe the best - love of his life. Justin will be happy.

Brian, on the other hand, will presumably return to his old ways. Granted, he's now a different person than he was before. He's much more giving. He knows what it is to really care about someone, enough to sacrifice even the very person you are for the one you love. He understands that things must change, that he can't remain a perpetually young club boy forever, and that happiness comes from accepting such change. He also sees that life can be so much better when it's shared.

I don't think Brian can go back to being happy and satisfied in his aloneness. I think Brian has learned that needing people and being needed in return is not an evil to be avoided but rather something that makes life richer. Sweeter. Better.

That's why this wasn't an emotionally satisfying ending.

Brian isn't happy. Despite the last scene that showed him dancing in the club that defines the kingdom he's always ruled, I felt like Brian will always be pining for Justin. Love came so hard for this guy - so difficult to attain and so deeply felt once it was - he strikes me as that once in a lifetime kind of person. It's as if he's now a widower, his one true love lost to him forever. And this is a blow struck so severely that he will never truly heal from the pain of it. He loved Justin begrudgingly but deeply, and his is a soul that will never be complete again now that Justin is gone. I just cannot see how he will ever be at peace with his life again.

My point in all of this is that I firmly believe that a good romance doesn't always have to end with the hero and heroine (or other hero) walking down the aisle. I don't need to see them in rocking chairs surrounded by fat grandchildren. If they must part ways because of circumstances or because of who they are, I can accept the bittersweetness of it all. Because life isn't always perfect, and sometimes love isn't enough.

But for a story ending to be emotionally satisfying, I have to believe that whatever happens, both of the characters have the potential for future happiness. Not just resignation or eventual acceptance or even satisfiction with their lives as they must now be led, but real, true happiness.

In the case of Brian and Justin, only half of that equation was met.

On Sunday night, my heart didn't break because one of my favorite couples didn't end up together. It broke for Brian Kinney.

I do want to thank the cast, crew, producers and everyone involved in the show for giving me five wonderful years. You all deserve a standing ovation. Bravo.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Going Over There

Last night the series finale of Queer As Folk aired, and I was all prepared to blog about it. However, out of respect for any Canadian QAF fans who might wander this way and who haven't seen this last episode, I'll save that entry for tomorrow. Besides, I'm still all mixed up inside about what I think, so maybe another 24 hours of gel-time is in order.

Instead, I want to ask if anyone out there has tuned in to Fox network's new show, Over There? And to my friends out there with husbands (or even they themselves) in the military, please comment on this as I'm very curious for your take.

Over There is a show that focuses on a platoon of Army soldiers handling their first tour of duty on the Iraqi War front lines. It stars Eric Palladino, of ER fame, who does a better job playing a war-weary seargent forced to stay for three months beyond his schedule departure than he did playing an obnoxious ER resident. Other characters include; Bo Rider, a Texas boy with stars in his eyes as far as having a career in the military; Frank "Dim" Dumphy, a Cornell graduate who is getting a baptism by fire on the lengths of cruelty mankind can inflict upon itself and what the true horrors of war really means; and even Tariq Nassiri, an American of Arabic ancestry who faces animosity from both sides of the fighting. Two women are added to show how the military now relies on the opposite sex in ways it hasn't before, more in-the-battle than the nurses on M.A.S.H. ever were.

What makes this show unique is 1) that it is telling the story about a war currently being fought and 2) it is very graphic and 3) the writers/creators have vowed to keep the program a-political. As such, much of the feedback I've read on various on-line forums has been severely divided between those who love the show and those who absolute hate it.

The weird thing, for me anyway, is the fact that those who hate it with such ferocity are those same people I would have expected to love it. These are military people who have served a tour or two over in Iraq or Afghanistan and their families. Nearly every negative or even scathing review I've read has been from a military person complaining that the show is getting it all wrong.

Specifically, all wrong in regards to facts. Such as in depicting huge breaches in procedures, like when the transport Dim and Bo are on pulls off to the side of a road and directly on to an IED (which, I've learned, stands for improvised explosive device) which, as you would expect, explodes. I guess you never, EVER EVER stop your transport on the side of the road. You always stay in the middle. So, yes, a big error as far as accuracy goes.

This is just one example of the things military folks are crying foul over. They feel that the lack of accuracy is insulting because it makes the soldiers on the show look stupid and incompetent. They think having such a show that gets things wrong is disrespecting the hardworking folks who are really over there, risking their lives every single minute of every single day.

My response to this upset is one of complete bewilderment. I cannot for the life of me understand why they are reacting this way.

First of all, the majority of Americans would have absolutely no idea if the incidents we see on the show would ever happen or not in a particular way. We have no way of knowing that an officer would never refer to his rank while communicating via radio or that Bo Rider would never be wearing a tee shirt with the slogan "Be All That You Can Be" before he leaves the base. The details that we do see are more than sufficient to give us a clear picture of what things look like, what things sound like, and what kinds of things happen. Knowing that something isn't accurately portrayed doesn't detract from our ability to get it.

Not to mention the need to simplify things strictly for the sake of storytelling to an ignorant audience. Sure, real life officers would never state their rank when communicating via radio, but doing so on the show helps us non-military viewers understand the communication better. And in the end, what's more important?

In the first example, about the military transport pulling over when it shouldn't have, I ask the question, so what? Would the story have been okay if instead of on the side of the road, someone had tossed that IED in the center of the road and the transport drove over it before it was able to stop? Same end result. Same explosion. Same tragic injury of one of the soldiers. The means weren't the objective here, the end was. How it happened wasn't as important as the fact that it happened at all.

The other complaint by military personal and their families is that the show neglected to show what a real send-off is actually like. Rather than show us any tearful goodbyes, the show chose to show each character leaving his or her home with a cut to some time later when the platoon is already on the air transport, skipping over those tearful good-byes. I have no doubt that they happen and that they are very emotional. Kids saying good-bye to daddy and mommy, spouses stealing one last kiss. Tearjerker stuff. But it isn't necessary to the story. The story isn't about those good-byes. The story is about what happens Over There. And the show is only an hour long per episode.

But mostly what I don't get about the response of the military people is how they feel the soldiers depicted on the show are making real soldiers look stupid. This simply could not be farther from the truth. Perhaps it's because I don't know proper procedure and when things are being done all wrong, but pretty much nothing these guys and girls have done on the show has made me view them as stupid. Well, there was that incident when Smoke was supposed to check the trunk of a car passing through a roadblock, and he doesn't but then lies and says he did. That was stupid. Not because of a factual error, but because what he did was wrong.

And no one can tell me that sometimes, people Over There don't make stupid mistakes. If the soldiers fighting in Iraq are human, they will make natural human mistakes. I expect it, and to see those mistakes portrayed on the show makes the characters believable. This has nothing to do with the creators putting the characters in unrealistic situations. I don't know if what's happening would never happen, but I assume it could. And as such, what the characters do is what I focus on.

One military spouse posting on an Over There forum complained bitterly about the scene in which Dim's wife is shown having sex with another man a few days after they had a huge fight as Dim was walking out the door. This military spouse said that military wives don't cheat on their husbands. To which I say, not one? Ever? In all of human history, no military wife has ever cheated on her husband while he was overseas? Come on.

I've watched the first two episodes of this show and plan to watch all of the rest. It's very good storytelling, IMO. Sure, there are problems with it. For example, when one of the soldiers is injured on a Tuesday and his wife is not notified by the military higher ups until Saturday, there is no explanation offered why the soldier himself had not asked to speak to her or questionned why she wasn't immediately there by his side, especially after his estranged father had been contacted and brought to see him. You don't have to be a veteran to think this can't be normal procedure. In fact, you don't have to be a writer to see that having the father come first was a klutzy attempt to introduce backstory that, honestly, had no relevancy to the situation at hand. But nothing is perfect straight out of the gate.

I hope this show gets a fair chance. Because what I see that it's doing is putting a face on the soldiers who are Over There, risking their lives. These people deserve our respect and our gratitude, and the more closely we can understand what it is they are truly going through the more completely we can give them what they deserve. I can hear on the nightly news about a car bomb killing marines who were manning a roadblock, and it horrifies and saddens me deeply. But watching it happen - albeit in a work of fiction to fictitious people with probably a good deal of inaccuracies as far as procedure - I'm even more determined that this situation is unacceptable. I'm getting a picture, which to be cliche is indeed worth more than a thousand words spoken by a newscaster.

Over There's creators have given me characters that I like and can relate to. I'm interested in their stories and want to know what happens to them. Everything else - the inaccuracies depicted - is fluff. So how can this be a bad thing?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Anti Chick-Lit Heroine's Saga

I could never be a chick-lit heroine. Not because I'm well past my twenty-somethings. Not because I no longer work in the heart of a large city for bosses that drove me insane with their impossible deadlines that required an ability to bend the fabric of time. Not because I married my senior-year college sweetheart and therefore never really had to moan and groan over cocktails with the girlfriends about how great the sex was with the latest one-nighter but how much the morning after really sucked.

Nope. I could never be a chick-lit heroine because I HATE to shop.

Hate it. With the passion of ten thousand white hot suns.

I'd rather go to the dentist, gynecologist and have a playdate with six of my kids' most obnoxious friends than go shopping for clothes. If it's a bathing suit or jeans, add an extra two kids to that playdate.

I think I hate to shop so much because I never do it until I have a very specific need for a very specific item. At which time, I procrastinate until I'm left with only a week or so before I need said item and the pressure is unbearable. Add to the ticking clock the fact that retail outlets are always a season and a half ahead of real time and you can understand my situation.

Yesterday I spent three hours at the mall looking for a dress.

A dress I have to wear next Saturday night, less than seven days away.

And not only is it just a dress, it's a dress I have to wear to my twentieth-year high school reunion.

I'll give you a minute to fully absorb the magnitude of my task and the critical nature of its success.

See? Now you undertand why I'm so freaked.

So, I have to wear this thing on what will probably be a 90 plus degree August evening. Do you know what the stores have on their racks right now? That's right. Fall wear. Long sleeves. Tweed skirts. Autumnal colorations. All of the summer dresses have been shoved on clearance rounders, mashed in a hodgepodge of formal chiffon all the way down to skimpy halter top dresses, size 6s wantonly hanging next to size 16s like it's perfectly all right for these two sizes to fraternize with each other in hopes of producing some size 10 babies.

Not only are the summer dresses completely picked over, my shock and disgust were further amplified when I realized what currently passes as fashionable these days. I have what I consider "classic taste" when it comes to clothes. I say this because every year my nose wrinkles when I flip through magazines and see what I'm supposed to be wearing if I want to be one of those well-dressed moms at the PTA first day of school tea. Every year I firmly determine that I'll never buy into the flared bottoms/capris length/retro sixties fads all those size 0 models are sporting. I'll stick to my Eddie Bauer collection circa 1995, thank you very much. Give me denim shorts and campy printed tees in the summer, Levis and cable sweaters in the winter and I'm good to go. I own an entire rainbow array of turtlenecks, and the most fashionable pair of shoes in my closet sport not the Manolo Blahnik label but the ever-more practical Lands End.

So when I walked into Carson's and saw more retro sixties fabrics than on an episode of Laugh-In, I cringed visibly. Gads! Was I really expected to put that stuff on my body? I'd stop traffic. Plus, I'm a short person, so a little goes a very long way. My seven-year old daughter, who came with me on an initial test shop at a nearby Marshall Fields, clearly has a fashion gene that came from the hospital where she was born instead of her mother. She pointed to nearly every garishly printed dress on the racks, squealing, "Ohhh, Mom, isn't this one pretty?" I can't decide if I should be glad that she knows what's hot even if I'm clueless or be scared about those just-around-the-corner teen years.

By-passing the sixties, I decided I can't go wrong with something in decade-free black. Like I told my daughter - passing on wisdom as is my duty - black is classic. Black is slimming. Black is your friend. She thinks black is ugly. I left her home when I went to the mall the next day.

Good thing about the little black dress is that there is no shortage of them.

Bad thing about the little black dress is that it's little. And shows off a lot of stuff I never even knew I had. Like fat upper arms. Damn. I've accepted the belly and the butt. But now I have to deal with arms, too? So not fair.

I have what is considered the classic A-shape body but is actually more like a diamond, in my opinion. My upper and lower quarters are fairly normal sized, while my middle half is at least a size larger. My mother calls this a barrel-shape, and I come by it honestly since she is shaped like a barrel and my 94-year-old grandma is also shaped like a barrel, albeit a frail one. Thanks ever so much, maternal ancestors. At least I didn't inherit my dear departed Granny's shape, which was roughly width equals height. She was sweet and I loved her, but I'm sure glad that particular gene skipped over me, at least so far.

Anyway, having this particular shape makes dress shopping especially nightmarish since I'm not just one particular size. I wish the dress manufacturers would do what the swimwear manufacturers have finally figured out works so much better for women who are built like real women and not Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition models - sell tops and bottoms seperately so sizes can be mixed and matched. How nice it would be if I could find a dress that is a 10/12 - a ten on top but a twelve on the bottom.

Since this option isn't on the horizon in time for Saturday night, I shrugged my way into and out of a couple dozen options. A few of them were possibilities, one of them even going so far as to show way more cleavage than I even knew I had. That particular dress required a trip upstairs to the lingerie department so I could see if there was any possible way to hold up what nature has given me without any visible strapping system. Since it looked like duct tape was the only answer and since I didn't want to be the talk of the reunion - "Did you see Lynn's dress? God, she really tramped up since high school!" - the quest continued.

I found a very classy dark purple dress that looked almost great. Almost because I tried on a size one smaller than was probably best, the only dress in my size being the one adorning the manequin standing next to the rack. Since the store was packed - back-to-school sales time, you know - I didn't have the fortitude to track down a free salesperson and beg for her to take the dress of the manequin, leaving it naked, when I wasn't 100% positive I'd buy the thing in the end. It cost a bit more than I wanted to spend, and only if it made me look like Jennifer Aniston would I guarantee to buy it.

Three department stores later and several longing glances at Cinnabon and Mrs. Field's Cookies in the food court, I did find the perfect little black dress. It's classy. It's neither too fancy nor too casual. It makes me look slimmer (after another visit to the lingerie department for a "foundation garment" (don't ask) plus an upcoming week of strict adherance to the South Beach Diet's Phase 1) and taller, a particular bonus. It's timeless, so I can wear it again and again assuming I don't grow out of it. Yes, I'm still growing. Plus, it was on sale.

All in all, I'm quite pleased with it.

And even better, I'm done shopping for it.

Only one big, giant problem with this dress. It requires new shoes. Something in a strappy heeled sandal, perhaps.

Have I mentioned that I have very fat, very ugly feet?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Disturbing Trend

I just read an article in the August 5th issue of Entertainment Weekly that I find extremely disturbing. Seems that in the upcoming fall slate of new programs, graphic violence against women is featured prominently in several shows. Quoting from EW:

"[on Fox network]...spiders crawl across a sleeping woman's legs and face in the opening of Killer Instinct, the camera lingers on the fangs sinking into her flesh. Turns out she's the victim of a sadist who paralyzes his prey with the poisonous bites, then rapes them as they slowly die."

"While not quite as explicit as its rivals, [CBS's] Close To Home culminates in the revelation that a man sometimes kept his wife in a pet collar because 'when a dog misbehaves, you have to chain the bitch up.'"

"[CBS's] Criminal Minds, with its focus on a unit that disects the most deviant behaviour, is more graphic. A caged woman [with layers of duct tape blinding her; a rag gagging her] is, we learn, the target of an 'anger excitation rapist' who keeps his victims captive for a few days before attacking and killing them."

Now, I admit I'm not a fan of crime procedural dramas. I've watched maybe two episodes of Law & Order and have never seen any of the various CSIs currently on the air. So it could be the case that this sort of highly graphic violence is de riguer these days. Maybe I'm just an old timer who has so lost touch with what's cool I'm over-reacting for nothing.

But hearing the above descriptions truly appalls me, especially if this is the state of television today. Not so much because those scenes are horrifying. They are. But even more horrifying is what some are guessing to be the reason behind them.

Jeffrey Scone, who is an associate professor in Northwestern University's radio, TV and film department, has speculated that this increase in violence against women on prime time television is more backlash from the Janet Jackson nipplegate fiasco. He says:

"Since the American broadcasting system has more restrictions against sexuality, you can get away more with amplifying violence than you can with amplifying sexuality. It results in this weird sadistic element. Putting women in these sexual situations is the backdoor way of getting more flesh in."

In other word, the American broadcasting system is telling the networks and program producers, as well as the entire American public, that showing point three seconds of covered nipple is a far worse infraction that showing a scene of a woman being paralyzed by poisonous spiders so that she can't resist an impending rape. That while it is not acceptable for our children to be exposed to barely clad couples engaging in mutually consensual sex, it's quite all right if they happen to see a woman locked in a cage while she waits to be brutally assaulted and murdered.

Hmmm.

I can't even find the words to describe how totally effed up this attitude is.

Honestly. How do these people go home and kiss their babies' innocent cheeks before they go to sleep at night?

Almost even more offensive than what's going on is the network execs and show creators' attempts to justify what they are doing. Criminal Minds creator Jeff Davis had this to say when questioned at a press conference:

"We never see any stabbings. We never see any stranglings."

Ohhhhh. I see. I'm sorry. What you really meant for us to infer when you showed us that woman locked in a cage, sobbing in terror while at the same time completely unable to cry out for help because of the rag binding her mouth, was that she was really there for a tupperware party. My mistake.

Really. How completely insulting. They show us a bird that walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, then have the balls to tell us "We never called it a duck!"

Shame on you.

It's funny, and in a way almost hypocritical, that I'm finding this so utterly distasteful. I've read countless romance novels in which the heroine is - usually almost - the victim of some sick crime simply so the hero can arrive at the last minute and rescue her. And the more heinous and twisted the crime, the more of a thrill it gave me when he did show up.

My own justification for this two-facedness is as follows.

First, in romance novels, the hero ALWAYS shows up before the heroine becomes a casualty. Or, as new trends bear out, she figures out how to save herself. The heroine survives. She is not sacrificed in some exploitive way to give the other characters something to do, some reason to exist. It's her story that's being told.

Secondly, reading about such an attack in a book lacks a level of realism that television does not. Watching people on a screen who look exactly like someone you might see at the grocery store surrounded by things you encounter in your own everyday life draws you into the story in a way that reading words on a page does not. Reading requires you to use your imagination. And while most romance readers are super-intelligent people with amazing imaginations, when it comes to reading about a brutal attack, I would venture to guess that the scene we create in our mind is fairly fuzzy as far as details. Unless, of course, the writer is hugely descriptive, and I can tell you I don't really enjoy reading those kind of books either because they disturb me. I need that bit of ambiguity or the stuff hits too close to real for my comfort level. It's not fantasy or entertainment. It's exploitive.

So when we read a violent episode in a book, I think it's easier to keep that healthy suspension of disbelief. It's much simpler to remember that it is fiction. Seeing the same thing on television leaves nothing to the imagination. It becomes far more real than perhaps we are prepared to accept.

Not that I accept violence in books that is gratuitous. I think we as a community determined quite a while back that we didn't want rape as a staple in romance novels, especially rape committed by the hero. Indeed, when romance novels wander too far into gruesome reality, it seems they cross genres into areas that we might even shun as a true romance. The average reader of a Harlequin is pretty darned sure she won't encounter any heroines being bitten by poisonous spiders so she'll be paralyzed and unable to fight back while the villain brutally rapes her.

And doesn't it go without saying that there is pretty much zero chance that my young children will stumble across a violent scene in one of my books, read it, and start to become desensitized to violence towards women. Not so the case with these programs, which are aired during prime time on non-cable networks. You don't even have to pay for the honor of getting this crap delivered to your TV. Until, of course, they go into syndication and air as alternatives to after-school programming such as Arthur or The Magic School Bus. The idea that countless American kids might watch these shows - either with or without their parents' consent - is sickening. What kind of people are we creating? What kind of world are we showing them that we are willing to accept all in the name of entertainment?

I'm a giant flag waver for freedom of speech, expression, the media, etc. Censorship is probably the dirtiest ten-letter word I can think of. I'm not a member of any hard-right, conservative neo-Christian fundamentalist group; in fact, those kinds of people turn me frigid with anger and frustration. But here's a line that's finally been crossed that's just a tad bit too far, in my opinion. So for me to say all of this, you have to know that I feel strongly about it.

I suppose the answer is to boycott these shows. I personally intend to boycott CBS entirely since it seems to be the biggest contributor to this trend. In fact, I might go so far as to write a letter to the head honchos at CBS to let them know how offensive I find their programming. Heck, all that uproar about Janet's boobs certainly made a difference. And since I'm in a hot demographic - middle class white women between the ages of 18 to 49 who makes the majority of buying decisions for our households and are therefore an advertiser's wet dream - maybe my complaint will carry some weight.

In the meantime, I offer a big fat raspberry to these people who continue to shove graphic violence down the throats of the American public like it was candy.

Again, shame on you.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Where Did That Baby Come From?

As a generality, I don’t like Secret Baby plots. Mostly I don’t like them because there are only a handful of situations in which I can believe the reason for keeping the baby a secret.

For example, I can believe keeping a baby a secret if the father is an abusive jerk who would do harm to either the mother or child. In which case, the father is no kind of hero and nothing else matters, so it all falls apart right there.

Or I can believe a heroine not telling the hero about their mutual child if she doesn’t know who, exactly, the father is. Which leads to a second situation that is hard to sell, in that why wouldn’t a woman know who the father of her child is in the fist place? It would require multiple sex partners during those fertile days. Which then involves things like adultery or possible ‘ho behaviour. Something that explains why the heroine is sleeping with more than one man at what amounts to the same time. Okay, not the exact same time, but you know what I mean. This is a sticky wicket because if it’s not treated perfectly, the heroine is hardly sympathetic when she winds up with a mystery bun in the oven.

Her uncertainty about paternity could involve rape. Perhaps the heroine had sex with more than one man, but one instance was against her will. Totally different kind of story that supersedes the Secret Baby on so many levels, but at least this is a situation that I could believe. The next hurdle, though, is why she would keep such a baby a Secret from the man in her life who hopefully loves her enough to stand by her during such a heart-wrenching circumstance.

It could be the case that the heroine doesn’t know the hero is the father because she doesn’t know herself even though he was the only one making the two headed monster with her at the time. Big confession time here: I wrote exactly this very situation in my first manuscript, long before I ever knew I was writing not only a Secret Baby story but an Amnesiac story as well. The heroine could, for some very good reason (which of course, mine was), lose her memory. The hero disappears before he can find out she’s pregnant and thus step up to claim his offspring even if she has no recollection of his part in it. I’ll maintain that this scenario is plausible simply because I wrote it and have big hopes of somehow, with some major rewriting, making it work. We’ll see.

So, if the heroine has doubts about who the father might be, I can certainly understand why she’s kept a baby a Secret. It wasn’t so much she didn’t want to tell, but more so that she didn’t know who to tell. Except, eventually you reach the point when the truth must be discovered, and the ways this can come about are so limited as to become clichĂ©s.

There’s the old baby/child needs a blood transfusion and only the hero has the rare blood type.

There’s the hero does the math in his head and BANG! he figures it out.

There’s the third party who knows the whole story (this is the particular method I employed in my disaster) and confesses everything or clears up any misunderstandings.

And of course, the favorite method is to have the baby look exactly like his/her father, with perhaps the identical moon shaped birthmark placed in the same spot on his/her left butt cheek or the same cerulean/emerald/sterling eyes particular to the father and his ancestors for centuries back to the beginning of the familial line. This works especially well when those eyes are seen in a portrait of someone of Great Familial Importance so parentage can’t be denied by those who don’t want a bastard in the family.

Thing is, beyond paternal uncertainty, I can’t honestly think of a good reason to keep a baby a secret from the hero/father. And my problem with so many Secret Baby story lines is when the reason is so transparent as to cause me to want to hurl the book into the fireplace.

Like when the heroine is afraid she’ll never know if the hero really loves her for her or would only be marrying her because she’s pregnant, so she chooses to just run off and have the baby all alone. If she doubts the hero’s intentions, she doesn’t have to marry the guy. But her insecurities don’t justify keeping the baby a secret. Usually what results of this setup is one of those A Five Minute Conversation Would Solve All Conflict scenarios, and when that five minute conversation doesn't happen over the course of 253 pages, I get a wee bit frustrated.

Or when the heroine is so feisty and independent she doesn’t want any help from the hero because this baby is hers, goddamnit, and she’s going to raise it alone. Uh, girlfriend, do you have any idea how expensive Baby Gap is or how much it costs to hire a babysitter so you can have an hour of peace and quiet? Take that cash and the help of a good man and save your hyper-feminism for fighting against La Leche League when you decide not to breast feed. Stupid and Stubborn does not equal Spunky.

Or when the hero’s family butts in and sends the pregnant heroine packing because, they tell her, she and her child would destroy the hero’s future prospects by causing some horrendous scandal. Can anyone say Martyr Much? Especially because the hero would always choose the heroine and his baby over political/financial/peerage success if he'd known and the heroine had simply told those meddlesome relatives to sod off.

Maybe the worst reason of all, because I find it incredibly cowardly, is when the heroine isn’t quite sure she really loves the hero so she doesn’t want to marry him even though she’s going to have his baby. So she denies him the chance to know he has a child, denies the child from having a father, all because she is too selfish to deal with the consequences of her actions. This might work if it didn’t happen that in X number of years, the hero and heroine meet once again and she realizes he is indeed the love of her life, and now we have all sorts of issues because he’s pretty pissed about the kid thing. *sigh*

I guess it all boils down to assuming that consenting adults engaging in sex should be pretty aware that despite using protection, unwanted pregnancies do occur. And any hero who would receive the news of an impending baby in such a negative way (beyond the natural “Holy shit! How did that happen?!” reaction plus a reasonable amount of time to get used to the idea) that the heroine thinks it’s wiser to keep things a secret isn’t such a great catch, in my opinion. In which case, I would just as soon have the heroine tell the hero that he’s fathered a child and when he reacts like a baby himself, tell him to take a flying leap but to send her child support checks before doing so.

Or, in other words, it seems most of the reasons for Secret Babies can be boiled down to the heroine making extreme sacrifices on her part, usually so the hero doesn’t have to suffer for either real or perceived reasons. Babies are just too much work for me to get behind this. There are too many real-life scenarios in which mothers have to raise children alone for me to believe the manufactured ones given in Secret Baby stories where the father would be a willing participant. I just can’t feel enough sympathy for women who play the martyr, not to mention the disservice I think they are doing to both their child and its father.

Yeah, I know. It’s only fiction. I need to lighten up.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Jobs Redux

This is a follow up from yesterday's topic.

In the comments, Anonymous (and sorry I can't credit you by name, but you *are* anonymous *g*) said:

"If the hero and/or heroine are in some branch of the military, it takes something *very* special to stop me from putting the book back as quickly as I picked it up - military scenarios are a huge turn-off for me."

This totally caught my attention, and I asked a follow up question in my response to this comment. But I know sometimes I don't go back to old comments on old posts, so perhaps Anonymous didn't see it, thus I'll ask it here and hope she (or he) can give me some insight.

My question is this: is it the hero/heroine's profession that is a turn-off or the scenario for the story? Meaning, if the hero is a military guy - say a Green Beret - but the story has nothing to do whatsoever with any kind of military situation - say it's set at an amusement park and involves his sister's church youth group - would you still give the story a chance? And I guess the opposite situation begs the same question. If I had a high school history teacher suddenly find himself thrust into the middle of a military coup while taking students on a field trip to Mexico, would that make you stop reading?

I honestly would love to know the answer to this, because this very much speaks to what I was getting at yesterday. A few of the stories I have crashing around in some stage of progress involve military men but do not involve military situations. And that's when I started to wonder if, since the guys weren't toting AK47s and battling Tangos during the course of the story, maybe they didn't need to be military men. Maybe they could be architects on vacation or disc jockeys returning home to deal with a sick parent.

Seems to me there are two situations when it comes to professions and story. In the first case, the story revolves around some situation arising out of a person's job. This is where the military thing comes in for me. I love stories that involve damsels in distress, and since twenty-first century reality doesn't often involve American heroines who require rescuing from evil overlord fathers or wicked step brothers forcing them into unwanted marriages, you have to look outside the box to get these girls into enough danger to warrant some kind of rescuing.

Before you can think me un-PC and anti-feminist and being guilty of perpetrating the image of weak, helpless females, let me point out that this is another reason for my love of the soldier hero. I like to think that most modern women have the knowledge or the resources or the ability to aquire either to get themselves out of most common-place jams. In order to require help, they need to be placed in a situation where their own intelligence, abilities and good common sense is not enough. Enter the guy who knows how to sneak out of a terrorist compound undetected or to diffuse a bomb before it can blow a busload of innocent passengers to kingdom come. No one can blame a heroine for letting a big strong guy with grease paint smeared over his face lead her through the jungle and keep from eating a poisonous plant that looks just like a plain old banana to her.

The second situation, where maybe the hero's job isn't such a big deal, is when the story arises from something that happens away from the job. You know, all of those hero returns to his hometown/takes a long needed vacation/volunteers to build houses for the homeless as part of his community service type of scenarios. In such a case, what he normally does isn't a factor except in how it defines his personality. A college football coach is going to go about that dude ranch vacation fiasco a lot differently than a landscape architect might. And in it's in this instance that I ask the question of how important profession is.

I think, in the end, Steph Tyler said it best in her comment to the last post:

"Milrom is what I love to read and love to write - and if I'm not happy with what I'm writing, there's no point."

That's the way I feel. It's what I love, therefore it's what I can get excited about and what is fun to write. Writing is hard enough work as it is without forcing yourself into an area you don't enjoy. I think in my case I'll focus on writing the best story I can, then worry about if what I've written will or won't sell only after I have real live editors and agents tell me that what my people do for a living is the problem.

Oh, and thanks, Steph, for giving me a cool name to put to what it is I enjoy writing. I love milrom and had never heard it before.

Okay, now that I've hashed this topic to bits, I promise something new tomorrow. Specically, that whole secret baby plot deal.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

So, What Do You Do For a Living?

What's in a profession? I mean, how important is the job that your characters do to the story you want to tell?

I ask this because I'm starting to wonder. As you all are probably aware by both my raving about the works of Suzanne Brockmann and my outright admitting that I want to write books that involve military-type heroes and heroines, most of my characters, especially the male ones, have jobs of a military nature. Or some security/law enforcement/rescue-hero type profession. I can't resist the appeal of what I see as modern day knights in shining armor, and today's warriors are the closest thing to chivalrous as I can manage.

However, I'm also sure that you're aware of the waning popularity of books that feature military guys/cops/firefighters/FBI agents. Or at least, it seems that the market has peaked in this specific subgenre and perhaps agents and editors are not so much looking for these types of stories unless it's by a Suzanne Brockmann whose best success came from them.

So, in the interest of keeping up with market trends and not wanting to waste months of my time writing a hero who has no chance of seeing the light of day simply because he wears a particular type of uniform, I figured I'd roll around the notion of what would happen to my stories if I gave these people new jobs. If instead of Navy SEALs they were science teachers or instead of ex-CIA operatives they were CPAs. What would happen to my story? Could I make it work?

Thing is, what a person does for a living gives people an immediate impression of what that person must be like. Saying someone is an accountant instantly brings to mind pasty white business guys in suits, who may also sport a bald spot, glasses, and of course, a pocket protector, huge briefcase and outdated adding machine. Now, for the record, my husband is a CPA and that description couldn't be farther from the truth, proving that what you do for a living doesn't define the kind of person you are.

Except this maxim won't work when it comes to writing romance fiction. You have to assume that the stereotype image, no matter how incorrect it is, is the one that the reader will bring to the game. If I want to invoke the image of a steel-bodied, hardened man of action who can stare down a charging herd of elephants with a single glowering glare, I don't imagine this would sell if I've told the reader that for a living he owns a bakery.

Not that some writers haven't managed to make so called non-traditional-for-a-romance-hero professions downright sexy. Jennifer Crusie comes to mind. Even though I didn't love Tell Me Lies, she made CPA hero C.L. Sturgis pretty dang hot. Except even Jenny cheated a bit. She made C.L. an accountant, but he wasn't portrayed doing the normal accountant-type work. He was in Frog Point investigating the possibly shady business dealings of the heroine's husband. He was an accountant, but he was a private eye accountant. A lot more sexy than one who spends the end of the month stressed about getting all of the reports out on time.

For the sake of argument, assume that the stereotypes don't exist and an accountant can be perceived in the same way as a small town sheriff. Can you change the hero's job in order to make your story fit the current need for more business tycoons/sheiks/cowboys/vampires/whatever is currently in vogue?

I'm still thinking not so much. Because what if the premise of your story is heavily contingent on the professions of the protagonists? What if your story is about a doctor who is being wrongfully sued by the family of a patient who died after said patient took too much of a prescription drug despite the doctor's warnings against doing so, and so the doctor has retained Sexy Attorney to defend him because if he isn't allowed to practice medicine any more, the free clinic he runs will shut down, leaving hundreds of indigent patients without medical care, including little Betty Sue who needs a lung transplant the next day? The story kind of falls down if instead of a doctor the hero is...an accountant. I suppose accountants get sued, too. Look at the Enron debacle. But somehow you lose that life or death sense of doom. The external conflict doesn't quite hold the same punch.

Too, I believe it is true that certain types of people tend to gravitate towards certain types of jobs. People who don't like physical exertion certainly aren't going to join the police force. People who can't stand to sit in one place for more than five minutes aren't going to take office jobs. People who don't like confrontation aren't going to be business magnates and people who can't handle the sight of blood are not going to be found driving an ambulance around.

So if your character is a confrontational guy who spends as much time as he can competing in Iron Man competitions or working on his classic 1967 Firebird convertable, chances are having him be a customer service operator for JC Penneys isn't going to work.

I think I might simply be stuck with my military men. I think that the kind of heroes I most enjoy reading and writing are the type of guys who are most likely to find themselves in the superhero-professions. I don't know that I'm capable of writing an appealing hero who owns the local pet store. Yes, he's sweet and sexy and smart and obviously ambitious enough to run his own successful business. He's true hero material. But I don't have any ideas of how to show this. My brain can't concoct any scenarios to place him in where he can shine.

Which makes me respect even more so the writers out there who can take any profession and build from it a great story with to-die-for heroes. Hats off to the Jenny Crusies who can make every-man into someone exciting.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I'm Baaack...

Well, I'm back from the sort-of sunny shores of Lake Michigan. Sort-of-sunny because after a summer of severe drought baking the entire midwest, Northern Michigan experienced the most rain in months, all while my family and I were trying to enjoy the beach. I figure the state owes me some sort of parade since my being cursed never to enjoy a vacation with perfect weather (we left for our Disney World vacation last summer the day after Hurricane Charlie decimated the Orlando airport) means they got some much needed rain.

Actually, I got back late Sunday, but it's taken me two full days to catch up on e-mails and blog reading. I suppose that says something - that it takes me that long to read a week's worth of blog entries for all the ones I have bookmarked. How many times does PBW recommend taking stock of how you spend your time so you can find more time to write? I think this is telling.

Anyway, as I suspected, I didn't write a single word on my vacation. I took not only the laptop but my brand new Plot and Story Notes Binder complete with rainbow array of Post-It notes which I've determined will be my Bible and way to stay organized. In seven days, two of which were spent almost entirely in the car, you'd think that I'd manage to find a few down minutes in which to write. Not so much.

I did have some quiet moments, but weirdly enough I was just too tired to write. I don't know what phenomenon is at work, but it seems whenever I go on vacation or even just leave my own home environment for more than a day or so, I enter this state of mental and physical inertia. Even though I'm relaxed and get far more hours of sleep than normal, by 10:00 at night I'm dead beat. What is that? You'd think I'd be so energized by all of that rest I'd be pounding on the keyboard until the wee hours.

I did come home with a great story idea. Go figure. It's actually the expansion of a subject that I used eons ago in one of my college creative writing classes. We had to write a short story and share it with the class so they could critique it. I loved my premise, and although I don't remember receiving any glowing praise from my college peers, I always thought it would make a great novel-length story. After sixteen hours of staring at the highway, I've fleshed out something a little more substantial. See, even if I didn't come back with pages or jacked up word counts, I'm still not empty handed.

So, it's good to be back. I now need to get back into a routine. I'm excited that in a little more than three weeks (23 days to be exact), the kiddies will be back in school and I'll have no more excuses not to get busy. Every afternoon, from 12:30 to 2:45, will be dedicated writing time. I'm going to treat it as my job. I sit down at my desk and get the job done. Hopefully by the holidays I'll have something to show for it.

Oh, one bad result of our vacation. We came home to find our PC completely fried. It simply won't turn on. At all. No lights. No noises. Nothing. Completely dead. My husband took it apart last night to discover that the fan seems to work, but otherwise the thing is toast. I'm in a bit of a panic. While I've tranferred pretty much all of my writing stuff to my laptop, there is still a whole lot of stuff in the harddrive of that old machine that I cannot lose. Various notes and writing information I've culled here and there. Hundreds of pictures...

(Time out to say once again that this proves why it is that I just cannot warm up to digital cameras - this is a tragedy of epic proportions should we be unable to recover the last three year's worth of family photos. And don't go on at me about buring backup CDs. I know that now.)

...Software that I've either downloaded or "borrowed" from friends that would be lost forever. Not to mention hours of converted video files I used to use in various projects. We don't have an external harddrive to handle the volume required to do complete system backups, so this stuff could potentially be gone for good.

Really, when I start to think about it, I get kind of shaky. So much for that vacation high.