Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To List or Not To List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Potental Gloms and One Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

Is It January Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dateless for HP

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

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


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

Um, yeah. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2005

'Bout Time


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

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

Viggo in at number 4. There are no words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Maybe I'll Wait for the Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Regency, A Necessary Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2005

P&P the Movie

Saturday night, I went to see Pride & Prejudice.


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

Now, there are some caveats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Day Late, Dime Short

Viewers of Lost, stand warned. This entry contains SPOILERS from last week's episode, so if you haven't seen it, go away.

Is it possible to take a completely unlikable character and make him or her sympathetic? I suppose it depends on why the character is unlikable in the first place.

Wednesday night the writers of Lost set out to accomplish the impossible, and unfortunately I have to say they weren't quite able to pull it off. In fact, I would say they committed double character-assassination in the process.

From episode one, the character of Shannon has been my least favorite person on the whole show. She was spoiled, self-centered, scheming, generally a big fat bitch. I was frustrated as all hell when Sayid, one of my favorite characters on the show, started to fall for her. Other than the fact that actress Maggie Grace is passably pretty and has a great body, what in the world could Sayid see in Shannon that appealed to him? She grated on my nerves worse than nails on a chalkboard.

Contrasted with her step-brother, Boone, who was the nice-guy boy-scout extraordinaire, Shannon was all the more shrewish. If we are to believe the backstory we were shown, time and again Shannon would use Boone's semi-incestuous love of her to con him out of tons of money and into bailing her out of one bad spot after another. Knowing how in love with her Boone was, she even went so far as to sleep with him only to coldly tell him afterwards that that would never happen again. Like I said, b-i-t-c-h.

And when Boone bit the dust end of last season, I had a hard time buying into Shannon's crocodile tears. She was oh-so-torn up about him, yet the entire time they were on the island together she never showed him much more than contempt. Whatever.

But last night, in their sloppy attempt to make Shannon sympathetic, the writers went the lazy route. Instead of giving us little tidbits over the course of the entire season that hinted at a decent person beneath her party-girl user exterior, the writers constructed a backstory for Shannon that included a Cinderalla story in toe shoes. Apparently Shannon was the victim of an evil stepmother who denied her of her due fortune when her beloved father was killed in an accident. Suddenly poor, Shannon had no way to finance her ballet internship in New York City.

Through all of this, Shannon is portrayed as this sweet, child-loving, doe-eyed ingenue. We are not given any reason to believe this poor little orphan girl would ever turn to a life of sleeping with one scumbag after another in order to scam huge sums of money from her trusting step-brother, Boone. The woman in the backstory flashbacks had as much resemblance to the Shannon we'd seen on the show so far as I have with Maggie Grace. Not so much. At all.

Not only did her backstory conflict directly with what we've known of Shannon so far, it showed a Boone in complete opposition of the one we'd known on the show. The Boone in the flashback was cool, in control, and seemed to be far more worldly than Shannon while the one on the island was kind of a bumbling doofus good-guy. When Shannon begs him - tearfully - to let her stay at his NYC apartment until she can find a job, Boone coldly informs her that he's taken the "very good" job his mother has just offered him and will be moving away from NYC. He's sorry and all that, but not that sorry. No hint at all of any kind of love or even lust or infatuation on Boone's part, certainly nothing that would lead me to believe he'd travel all over the world bailing Shannon out of abusive relationships.

So within one hour, the writers of Lost committed two counts of character assassination, and for apparently no good reason. At the end of the show, I felt not one iota of compassion for Shannon. I still couldn't understand why hot Sayid would be in love with her. And when she got shot, only my intense hatred for Ana Lucia, which simply cannot be surpassed, made me remotely sorry that it was Shannon and not AL that had been killed.

Even after their attempt to make me care about Shannon, I still didn't. I don't care that she's dead (I mean, above and beyond my normal human compassion that anyone ever would have to die). In fact, I'm kind of glad she's gone because now Sayid can find someone else that is far more deserving of his studliness.

I guess with Shannon's character, it was a case of a little too little, a little too late on the part of the Lost writers. Twenty minutes of forced pity couldn't make up for nearly thirty episodes of disgust and contempt.

On the upside, Naveen Andrews deserves an Emmy just for the look he gave Ana Lucia after Shannon got shot. Now I finally have a visual of what an expression of "murderous rage" looks like. Wow. Bravo, Naveen.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

More Food Analogies

Candy over at Smart Bitches posted an interesting entry about Good Writing versus Bad Writing. I thought about commenting, but since it had been a few days since the entry and I couldn't manage to come up with a coherent sentence to save my name, I didn't.

Then I read the latest ATBF over at AAR, where some of the AAR reviewers discuss how they go about assigning grades to books they review and how hard it is when you get into that gray "average" territory (this topic is near the end of the column, so you have to scroll way down).

All this got me to thinking about why I love some books and why others leave me cold. Or why I might love a book even if the writing is sloppy versus why sometimes sloppy writing irritates me so completely I can't even focus on story so I end up not even bothering.

Naturally my first answer to such a question is that certain themes or plots appeal to me while others simply do not. I'm a sucker for any sort of rescue story, I prefer big strong alpha male heroes, and heroines who can hold their own, I don't mind a healthy dose of dark, and I always appreciate a book that makes me laugh. On the flipside, I can't stand Big Misunderstandings, I hate simpering females, secret babies and kid costars in general leave me cold, men who are rich just because aren't that appealing to me (although I do prefer an earl or a baron or a duke), and nothing makes me shut a book faster than too stupid to live behaviour.

But even assuming that I've picked up a title with a premise that I should love (ex-spec op hero is charged with rescuing tough as nails reporter from the clutches of maniacal madman), there are many more steps before I can say I love or hate the book.

If within the first chapter, I'm gritting my teeth over any grammatical issues or amateurish tics (such as charcters who say the other character's name in every single line of dialogue), no matter how great the story I most likely won't finish the book. I just cannot get past the crap to see the potential gem beneath it.

If the book passes that first hurdle, it's pretty much ennui that'll kill the book for me. If I just don't care what happens. If I put the book down and forget all about it or have no urge to pick it up again, that's when I designate the thing a flop. It might be well written. It might be technically perfect. But if nothing about it compels me to keep reading, then that's all she wrote.

Over the weekend while in the car I listened to Linda Howard's All the Queen's Men on audiotape. In general I've found Howard hit or miss; have loved some of her stuff (Mackenzie's Mountain), found other stuff pretty good (Mr. Perfect, A Game of Chance), and can't comprehend why some is successful and beloved (Mackenzie's Pleasure). But for the most part, I look forward to opening a Howard title and have several on my TBR pile.

That being said, I enjoyed ATQM quite a bit. It wasn't perfect from a craft standpoint. For example, at one point in the story, the heroine, Niema, asks the hero, John, what physical requirements it takes to gain entry into the elite Navy BUD/S training program. Instead of the normal guy response of "Had to run and swim in a certain amount of time, pushups and situps. That kind of stuff." John launches into a very precise recitation of BUD/S requirements culled straight out of a brochure. It was as if Howard was dying to show everyone that she had researched but didn't feel like making the effort to turn text speak into novel speak. I literally laughed out loud.

Too, there were some obvious plot holes. The hero and heroine were apart for too much of the time. And one major point of conflict for keeping hero and heroine apart emotionally was glossed over so easily and quickly that I wondered why Howard even bothered with it in the first place.

Even so, I liked this book. I liked the characters. I liked the story. I finished it and was sad when it ended. Not Hemingway, but entertaining.

Which leads me back full circle to what Candy was saying over at SB. Just because something isn't well written - a fact that can be imperically stated to some degree - doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable. One person's crap is another person's gold.

And to follow the food analogy, I liken the romance novel to the potato. There are dozens of ways to cook a potato. For the most part, I like potatoes cooked any way. But I do have my favorites; the French Fries, the au gratin, the mashed. Some writers cook scalloped potatoes from scratch while others make it out of the box. Different effects, sometimes worth the extra effort and sometimes not. And just because the French Fry isn't the hardest to cook or the fanciest or the best for you, I can still love them all the same. Add to this the fact that I prefer McDonald's French Fries to Burger King French Fries, and you have the component of author voice and style.

In the end, though, I have to chalk my selection of keepers to the je ne sais quoi. I can't put my finger on it or describe it or quantify it. Perhaps it's simply the perfect blending of story and character and style and voice, like the mysterious blend of spices that make a dish taste so marvelously good. You can't separate the flavors but you know when it's right.

And you can only hope and pray that someday you figure out the secret recipe.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fishbowl Syndrome

I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob'ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities
Small Town - John Mellencamp

I just spent the past weekend in a town with a population of less than 15,000 people. I know there are many, many towns in the United States that are smaller, but this particular small town is the one I know best because it's the one where my parents were born and raised and where some of my family still lives.

And after spending forty-eight hours in this small town, I now understand why so many stories are set in such an environment.

Holy cow. It's writer's fodder Nirvana.

The stories you find in small town. Stuff you just would not believe. Movie-of-the-week calibre stories. Stories that prove the adage, truth is waaay stranger than any fiction. I heard tales of love and betrayal, tragedy and heroism, rags and riches, and scandal enough to make a politician blush. All of it happening to real, live people. People sitting at the very next table in the local bar restaurant where everyone comes for chicken cooked to order and beer sold in a frosty mug or not, drinker has to specify.

Not that there aren't millions of people walking up and down the crowded city streets with stories of their own. Weird and interesting stories, even. Except, in the big city, everyone but those closest to you is an unknown entity. Everyone may have a story, but only a select few know what that story is. Sure, you'll bump into the quirky building super or the waitress with a heart of a gold and sob-story worthy of country music. But for the most part, you walk amongst strangers and can only guess what lurks beneath the surface.

Not so in a small town. Because everyone knows everybody else. Everyone shares a history. Everyone has a connection to his or her next door neighbor and dentist and the owner of the local grocery store. There are no secrets in small towns, so the dramas we all assume never actually happen in real life but are in fact playing out right beneath our noses come to light effortlessly and become part of the shared history of everyone else.

Plus, the names you find in a small town simply cannot be believed. I'd give you examples except I don't want anyone out there who might have one of them to be offended. Also, heck, I have to save these for use in my stories because they are so out there.

For two days I've walked around with my jaw on the ground, feeling as if I'd entered a surreal sort of twilight zone. I grew up in a middle-sized town where the comings and goings of my neighbors and close friends were pretty much the outer-most limit of my world. Spending time someplace where everyone knows not only everyone else's name but the name of parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and former lovers kind of freaked me out.

But it was also very cool. And it also explained why fiction set in small town worlds work so well. Good drama doesn't have to be invented. Just go hang out in a small town and let it come to you.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Not Quite Over There

Since my show Over There is over for the season and, actually, for the rest of time (it's been officially "dropped", which I find highly distressing as I will no longer get any Eric Palladino as Sgt. Chris "Scream" Silas), I'm filling in the blank with NBC's E-Ring.

I'd watched the pilot and set the TiVo to record all subsequent episodes even though the pilot pretty much sucked. The only other episode I watched - one where the main character Mjr. JT Tisnewski found himself wounded on the Iranian side of the Iran/Iraq border - was not too bad. At least, it was good enough that I'm still TiVoing and watching when the urge hits.

Thing is, although Benjamin Bratt is a nice enough looking guy, he's got such strange facial bonestructure that I can't ever watch him without thinking how wide his jaw is.

Too, Dennis Hopper, who plays Bratt's boss Col. McNulty, is such a one-note actor in my opinion. He's gotten a lot better since the excrutiatingly painful pilot, but whenever I see him or hear him it's like he's channeling Howard Payne from Speed or Shooter from Hoosiers. He's far too famous and specific of an actor for me to ever be able to forget who he is and believe him in any particular role.

What I like most is watching a show that depicts a former Special Ops soldier. Every week is an hour long character study of how such a guy walks and talks and carries himself. To that degree, Bratt is doing an excellent job exuding the type of self-assuredness I imagine former Spec Ops guys must have. When they show flashbacks of JT on past missions, he really looks the part of grungy covert operator. He's got the part nailed down tight.

Like last night, when JT told some big wig CIA dude who was either directly or indirectly responsible for the shooting of a CIA agent who so happened to be JT's girlfriend that once he found out who was responsible, someone was going to die, he said it with such quiet certainty that I got chills. And had no doubt that he meant what he said. He's the type of character that walks the walk in addition to talking the talk.

No, the show will never be as good as Over There. But I've got to get my war-mongering television fix from someplace.

I'll be out of town until late Monday most likely with no access to internet connection. So if I'm MIA a few days, see ya on Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Feast Or Famine

I have a form of writer's bulimia. For several days, I'll spew out words at an amazing rate. Double-digit page counts are not unusual. The ideas keep flowing and the stuff just keeps coming out. I love these binging days.

But then comes those days when I'm lucky to open the document at all. I have no motivation to write, can't think of anything more creative than typing my name in a font different than Times New Roman, and would pretty much rather do anything than stare at my blank screen. Not so much a purge because I don't get rid of anything, but definitely a 180 degree drop off.

It's feast or famine in my world. Something I'm trying to work on evening out. Fill in those zero-productivity days with a reasonable minimum whether I feel like it or not.

Except, for some reason this makes me feel like I need to slow down on those manic days. Rationing, if you will. Like if I let myself have free reign to write as many words as I have time to write, I'll use up my quota of words for the month and have nothing left for the dry days.

For example, yesterday I wrote quite a bit more than the 2,275 words I'm reporting. BTW - I've set my daily NaNo word count goal at 3,000 because if I stick with the recommended 1,667, I'll have a partially finished manuscript at the end of November instead of a finished one, and Lord knows I don't need any more of those. Anyway, coming to that 2K plus number proved to be a bit tricky. The story idea I've chosen is actually one on which I've worked a little bit in the past. I got about one chapter written before wandering off to explore the next Great Premise.

I decided for NaNo to start fresh. Pull up a blank Word document, type "Chapter 1" and get to work. Meets the requirement stated by NaNo that you must start fresh, right? Except, as I was writing, I kept remembering little bits and pieces from the original Chapter 1. Finally I broke down and opened it, reread it, and gleaned from it some lines and paragraphs that I'd remembered and remembered liking.

But!! But, I did not count any words I cut and pasted in as words written. I colored all the old text blue, then only counted the black, new words I'd written that day. Plus, to keep things really fair, I rounded down slightly when there was a paragraph in which the two intermingled. This lead to my total reported word count being lower than what I actually did write, but really, who cares.

Starting today, I'm out of old stuff. Everything going forward is new. I'm warming up right now and ready to dig in.

It's a binging day. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Meet My (Not So) Best Friend

Part of the joys of writing quantity in a short amount of time is supposed to be that quality really doesn't matter. It's the whole, you can't edit a blank page, so 200 pages of garbage is still better than 200 pages of nothing.

This does make sense. You can't polish a diamond in the rough to a sparkling gem if you don't have the jewel in the first place.

Except, not caring about quality is a really hard thing to achieve. Dang near impossible if you ask me.

I don't know about anyone else, but my internal editor is the hardest working most underpaid employee in all the known universe. She's pretty much insatiable as to the amount of work she's willing to tackle. She's never taken a vacation, is up before dawn and awake long past the wee hours of the night, works all weekends and holidays, is, in fact, always on the job. She joyfully sits in the chair next to mine, peering over my shoulder at the monitor with what I've come to know is a smile of pure, evil bliss. With every word I put on screen, she sits up a bit straighter and becomes more corporeal. One of these days I have no doubt I'll turn around to find my mirror image looking me square in the eye, shaking her head in pity.

I've read countless tips and suggestions for how to send my internal editor packing, at least until I need her back for the editing stage. Probably the best advice comes from PBW in the form her Point #4 - never reread or backtrack when writing new stuff. Write and move on. Don't stop. Don't look over your shoulder.

And honestly, that's my biggest problem. It's the reason I sit in front of a screen for hours with not much more than a couple hundred words to show for it. I read and reread and reread again while the Internal Editor cackles over how utterly lacking in talent I am. Sadly, she rarely offers any advice so compelling as to solve the particular problem and shut her up. I suppose she realizes if she ever gave me the real solution to the problem, she'd find herself out of a job. She ain't no dummy, that one.

But this month I'm driving this train. I'm bound and determined to foil Internal at every turn. I'm not going to reread endlessly.

To that end, I have to wonder if word processing equipment such as an AlphaSmart might not be quite helpful. From the pictures of the various units, it looks as if a limited amount of text appears on the viewscreen at any given moment. As you type onward, your previously written stuff moves up and out of sight, therefore removing any temptation to reread. When you use even the smallest laptop or PC monitor, you are subject to at least half a page's worth of text, so it's awfully hard to ignore what's above the cursor.

Even so, as an effort to make NaNo work for me, I'm banishing my internal editor to a tropical beach somewhere very far away. She can enjoy the cute cabana boys while I try to accomplish something without her help. Perhaps I'll shrink my screen to nothing more than a line or two of text. However I manage it, I'm going to stop reading what I've already written.

Except to check for type-Os. That's okay, right?