Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thursday Thirteen I

Per my commitment of last Thursday, I'm going to participate in the Thursday Thirteen. At least, I'm going to use Thursdays to create lists of thirteen things about me. I haven't figured out the whole blog roll thingy, so if you are here to add your own link, I'm sorry to let you down. Let me know how to do it and I'll get right on that.

Without further ado, my first Thursday Thirteen are My Favorite and/or Most Influential Young Adult Novels. These are not in any particular order except that the first ones are the ones that have made the greatest impact and thus reside in the upper levels of my memory.

Also, you'll see that only a handful (or a couple) are even remotely close to "classics". Most of them are 100% teen angst teen romance. I'm cool with it. I think I turned out okay. They are my first comfort reads, the ones I read over and over again until the covers were soft and the pages worn. I have most of them still. I may or may not let my daughter read them. I know she'll roll her eyes a lot if she does.

I'll list the title and author, then the blurb from the back of the book. See if some of these don't just sound like page turners!

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Ponyboy can count on his brothers. And on his friends. But not so much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up "greasers" like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect - until the night someone takes things too far.

I would say that this is perhaps my favorite book of all time. I can remember exactly how old I was when I read it, where I was when I finished it - and I mean exactly where I was - and how I felt when it was all done. Ponyboy's story moved me on so many levels. It opened up a world I'd never imagined existed, one without parents and rules, where friends made up your family. Not to mention the awe I felt in learning that S.E. Hinton was only sixteen when she penned it. I reread this book at least once a year. My copy is so worn I'm afraid it's going to fall apart. This is a classic, in every sense of the word.

2. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The little settlement that weathered the long, hard winter of 1880-81 is now a growing town. Laura is growing up, and she goes to her first evening social. Mary is at last able to go to a college for the blind. Best of all, Almanzo Wilder asks permission to walk home from church with Laura. And Laura, now fifteen years old, receives her certificate to teach school.

I'm a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but LTOTP is my favorite of all of her books. It might possibly be the first romance I ever read, albeit a very gentle, sweet, subtle romance which doesn't see it's HEA until the next volume, These Happy Golden Years. I loved seeing Laura grow up, and it was in this book that she stepped away from childhood into the adult world. Another classic.

3. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Margaret was a bit confused about religion. When she moved from the city to her new home, she didn't know whether to join the Y or the Jewish Community Center. What made matters worse was that, going on twelve, she had plenty to talk over with God. She had a bra but needed to grow a bit to put something in it. Nancy and Gretchen had already had their period. What was taking her so long? Sometimes she got so frustrated she ignored Him - until the next time she really needed someone to listen.

I don't think any girl of my generation passed through her puberty years without reading AYTG?IMM. It was the right of passage read in the years before we graduated to Forever. And of course it was read back in those halcyon years before any of us were "mature" enough to understand what a pain in the ass being "mature" would end up being!

4. I Was a 98 lb. Duckling by Jean Van Leeuwen
Being thirteen can be something of a disaster. Your hair, which you never noticed before, turns out to be "problem hair," according to all the beauty magazines. You discover that you are taller than anyone you know except your father, and weighing exactly ninety-eight pounds doesn't allow for much of a figure. In fact, you feel that you resemble nothing so much as a concentration camp victim. It's even worse when your best friend comes to visit you at the lake. She has perfect skin and a date within three days, while you seem doomed to remain dateless forever.

After creating this list, I can see I had a penchant for Ugly Duckling stories. Those ones about the plain girl who was awkward and goofy, who never thought she'd grab the attention of the boys. Reading the back of this book and remembering that the main character, Kathy, was only thirteen, I have to wonder why her high level of angst. Was I this much of a basket case that young?

5. Tex by S.E. Hinton
Easygoing, thoughtless, and direct, Tex at fifteen likes everyone and everything, especially his rambling rodeo-riding father; his horse, Negrito; and Johnny Collins's blue-eyed sister, Jamie. He thinks his life with his older brother in their ramshackle house would be just about perfect if only Mace would stop complaining about Pop and forget all about his schemes to leave Oklahoma.

When Pop stays away too long and forgets to send money altogether, Mace starts to rule the house with an iron fist. Even worse, he reveals a fact about Tex's birth that ends his easygoing days forever.

Tex was my first literary crush. I fell so in love with Tex. So. In. Love. He was a bad boy, the rebel, the one your mom would never let you date. But he had a core of solid gold sweetness. You just wanted to wrap him up and make him feel better. Matt Dillon played him in the movie version, which as I recall was okay. I couldn't stand Meg Tilly in the role of Jamie, though. Still can't. Anyway, I credit Tex with introducing me to my life long love of tortured souls, bad boys and haunted heroes.

6. My First Love and Other Disasters by Francine Pascal
It's not easy to be fifteen and in love - especially if the boy you love is seventeen, gorgeous, and doesn't even know you exist! Victoria is determined to be a mother's helper on Fire Island, where Jim will be spending the summer. So what if he's got a girlfriend back in the city. Anything can happen. Victoria finds herself overburdened with two small children, but she's sure it's worth it because Jim not only notices her - he likes her! And yet, if this is her dream come true, why isn't she happy?

Classic story of friends into lovers, loving the wrong guy, appearances are deceiving, and all of that. Toss in a The Nanny Diaries level of child neglect and this one stuck with me. No, not a classic. But I still have my copy.

7. Going On Sixteen by Betty Cavana
It should be a wonderful dress. It should be a dress that would transform her from the awkward, self-conscious Julie Ferguson into an entirely different girl. Fervently Julie whispered to the mirror, "I hope."

This was such a sweet book. Written in 1946, it included soda fountains and ladies' dress shops and a boy named Dick who wasn't ridiculed. Another ugly duckling tale, but about a girl who'd lost her mother and was fighting her way through her teens with only a rough, gruff farmer father to turn to. My copy cost 50 cents. When did books only cost 50 cents?

8. Sooner or Later by Bruce and Carole Hart
My name is Jessie Walters. Everyone calls me Jessie, except Michael sometimes calls me Jess (I love that). I'm thirteen. Michael's seventeen. I think I can handle myself with Michael most of the time. But when he looks at me, I freak out. He's so attractive and so different from anyone my own age.

I don't think Michael would be very interested in me if he knew my real age - even if I am going to be fourteen in a few months. And I hate having to lie to him because I have to keep covering up with more lies. I have to tell him the truth soon, but I just can't get myself to say it. Well I got myself into this and I'll get myself out. Without a scratch I hope.

Okay, this was technically a movie that was turned into a book, although in my defense, I read the book before I saw the movie that inspired it. The movie starred 70s heart-throb Rex Smith, and if I recall correctly, he was dreamy. Hey, I was only thirteen. Thing about this book - I remember when I read it thinking it perfectly acceptable for a thirteen year old girl to date a seventeen year old boy. If I'd been Jessie, I'd have lied too (Rex Smith!). But now, having a daughter of my own, gack! And how did she pull it off, anyway? Can thirteen year olds really pass for sixteen? No, don't answer that. I need to get some sleep in the next ten years.

9. Alabama Moon by Brenda Cole
Stacy had a few questions! "It will all work out for the best," Aunt Sarah had comforted homesick, city-bred Stacy. But would it? Stacy had just learned that her parents were divorcing. They had sent her miles away to spend the summer with relatives on a farm in Alabama. What did she know about cows, horses and tractors? What did she care about okra picking and home canning? What difference would it make if she couldn't even guess the feelings of tall, lanky Lane, whose sandy hair and blue eyes had captivated her from the moment they met?

Anyone reading this who never read a First Love from Silhouette novel, you must have no soul! These were the best. I've kept a handful, thinking my future children would like to read them. Yeah, I've gotten over that. But this one was my all time favorite. Makes me wish I were fifteen again and racing home to flop on my rainbow bedspread, crank up the REO Speedwagon and get lost in the bloom of first love...

10. Deenie by Judy Blume
When Deenie sees the brace for the first time, she wants to scream. Forget it...I'm never going to wear that thing. Everyone will know. Everone!

But the words won't come out. And Deenie, beautiful Deenie, who everyone says should be a model, is stuck wearing a brace from her neck to her hips. For four years - or longer. How would she ever face the hard times ahead?

This is the Ugly Duckling story in reverse. Deenie is beautiful and on her way to becoming a model when she finds out she has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Suddenly she's a freak. Not only did this book take on a pretty unusual problem, Blume pulled no punches talking about Deenie's discovery of her own body. I think Judy Blume deserves credit as the writer who ushered in the modern YA protagonist, one who is real instead of one who parents wish was real.

The last three books on my list are YA titles, but I have to confess that I was way - waaayyyy - past my young adult years when I read them. Even so, they still count among my 13 favorite YA books, so I figure I get a pass. Also, since these are all new(er) titles, I'm not going to include the back cover blurbs. You can find it on Amazon via the links.

11. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Of all the HP books, this one does such an amazing job allowing Harry to be obnoxious it ranks as one of my favorite YA books. Harry is downright annoying in this book. He yells at his friends, he broods and sulks. He throws things and pouts when things go wrong. He's acts 100% teenager. Brilliant.

12. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Amazing book. The amazing part is that the narrative is split between four main characters, yet I still managed a tear (or a few) for all of the girls. This technique could have gone so wrong, given the brevity of YA novels and the small amount of time able to be devoted to each individual story. But Brashares did such a masterful job capturing the essence of each girls' story arc it worked beautifully. Too, these girls seemed real. Like kids in my town rather than the jaded, more wordly than most adults girls portrayed in so many of today's YA pre-chick lit offerings.

13. Sloppy Firsts/Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
I know this is technically two different books, but since the story spills from SF into SH, where it ties up so neatly, I feel justified in keeping these together. What a great heroine. What an amazing anti-hero turned hero. Marcus Flutie, where were you when I was in high school?

So, there we have my first Thursday Thirteen. Promise the next one won't be so wordy. I think.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Done Right

I've made no secret how much I've just loved J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I count Dark Lover and Lover Eternal among my favorite keepers, and Lover Awakened is even better than both of those (I'll do a review soon, since it appears I never did one back when I read LA in less than 24 hours). I'm not anticipating Lover Revealed (Butch's story) as much as I am the one that follows - Vishous' story - but believe me, I'll be there the day it's released to pick up my copy.

One of the things J.R. Ward has done right, besides write these amazing books, is put out a website that totally rocks. Today I registered for the Black Dagger Brotherhood message boards because I'd read that fans can find a lot of fun tidbits about both the characters and the upcoming stories.

Man, no kidding.

I spent hours trolling through the threads because on several, the brothers make appearances and little stories are told. Characters that already seem real based on how they are written in the novels come even further to life by their presence online. Not to mention how funny their interactions with each other are. Ward has created a way to let readers get to know her characters outside of the tight parameters in a book. I want to hang with these guys!

And I want to know more of their stories.

This is the kind of marketing writers can do for and by themselves that can't be topped by any publishing firm's marketing gurus. Not to mention what a kick in the pants fun it would be to let characters that take up so much head room come out to play! And what a way to stretch your writing muscles while getting to know your characters on a whole new level.

Only bad thing...dang, I knew there were fangirls out there, but I'm gobsmacked at how totally out there some people can be. Don't want to dis anyone's passion, but I can't believe how deeply into these stories and characters some readers have gotten. Avatars and fanart, discussions about and with the characters, and outloud squeeing when Ward-As-Character actually responds. I kept wondering how old these posters must be. As real as the members of the brotherhood seem to be, I kept wanting to post to ask the question, "You guys do know this is fiction, right?" As in, get a grip.

Spending time on Ward's sight only made me sigh with sadness when I compare it to my other favorite author's website. Oh, Suzanne, can we please talk...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Silver Lining

I just read a horrible book by an author whose work I've loved in the past. She's a NYT best selling novelist, and she deserves to be. But I really disliked this latest offering. A lot.

And it's such a good thing!

Because it reminds me that even NYT best selling novelists can struggle to get things right. For as many as they hit out of the ballpark, they still strike out every once in a while.

Also, I'm excited because I can pinpoint the things that really bothered me about this book, and they are mistakes that are fairly basic. TSTL heroine. Hero who showed exactly two emotions, turned on and turned off. Still not sure why the hero and heroine fell in love with each other. A villian straight out of Central Casting, missing only a mustache to twirl. A plot that made no sense whatsoever and a motivation for the bad guy so vague as to come close to The Evil Plan For World Domination as far as explanations go.

Honestly, not wanting to bash any writers out there, but I'm surprised this particular author actually made these kinds of mistakes. I'm not sure if it qualifies as lazy writing, but it's stuff that even I know better than to do. Her last book didn't have any of these problems. It was amazingly good. It was the reason I bought this stinker. I have no reason to give her a pass. She should have known better.

Which is cool because I can tell my internal editor to give me a little bit of a break as I'm working on my own things. If NYT Best Selling Author screws up on occasion, it's okay if I'm making a mess of things as I learn my way around. As long as I go back and identify the goofs and fix them, I'm heading in the right direction.

So often I focus on the books I love and use them to beat myself up. After reading a particularly well-done keeper, the reader inside me is sighing with satisfaction even as the writer half of me is cringing in intimidation. No way could I ever write something that good. And every word I'd written to date takes on a shabbiness that seems impossible to overcome when I compare it to the masterpiece I'd just read. I've just read something I want to write while being smacked with the doubt that I have the ability to actually write it. I see the top of the mountain but the path to reach it is completely invisible.

When you read a book that...frankly, sucked...the path isn't such a mystery because you can see the dangerous pitfalls and know to avoid them.

Sometimes it feels good to read a disappointment. It renews my hope that maybe I can do this. Because if NYT Best Selling Author has a bad day on occasion, it's okay if I do, too.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Not That Name

So, did you watch it? Last night? Isn't it great?!

Isn't James Tupper dreamy? That voice. I could listen to that man read the phone book out loud and be rocked to the core. thing is completely freaking me out. Jack's ex-girlfriend has just arrived to shake things up and - naturally - introduce some obstacles to Jack and Marin getting together. I'm cool with that. If they get together too happily too quickly, the show would get boring. I'm good with some angst and some UST. Got no problems there.

Except, Jack's ex's name is Lynn.

Now, as you can see from the sidebar, my name is also Lynn.

It's not exactly a hugely common name. I rarely meet people named Lynn. A lot of women of my generation, born in the 1960s, have Lynn as a middle name, but they don't go by it. And I can't tell you how many times people have called me Linda because they assume that's what I answered when they asked my name. You just don't meet a lot of Lynns walking down the street. Or at least, I don't.

So hearing my name frequently spoken on a TV show is a little bit disconcerting. I liked seeing it tattooed on James Tupper's arm (got my fantasies, you know). But having people say it all the time? Weird.

Even worse is having my namesake character be the person who's going to cause all kinds of trouble for Jack and Marin. Sure, she might prove to be a really great gal, one whom we all like in every way except as a love interest for Jack. But in our hearts, she's the Bad Guy because she's standing in the way of a Jack-Marin relationship. In the end, we want her gone. Fast. Completely.

I don't want Jack's heart to be broken by someone named Lynn. I don't want Jack to pick Marin over someone named Lynn.

I don't want to be the Other Woman!

At least I'll always own his upper bicep. Yeah, I know. It's not a real tattoo.

Go away.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Typed up this lovely, long post. I was jumping on the Thursday Thirteen bandwagon. I'd made my list, gone on to comment on all 13 entries, had links and was putting on some bells and whistles...when Explorer crashed on me. Lost the whole lot.

Ugh! You'd think I'd have learned by now to make frequent draft saves. Yeah, you'd think.

Anyway, I'll try again next Thursday. I think the concept is cool, not so much because I want to drive traffic here (honestly, I don't understand anything about blogrolls or linkages or whatever, so I'm not in it for that), but because I love reading trivia about people and oohing and aahing when I agree. Plus, I love to blab about myself. I mean, come on. If you have a blog, you must be at least a tiny bit narcissistic, right?

Instead I'm going to plug Men In Trees, which is on tonight 10 eastern/9 central. ABC is moving if from Fridays to Thursday nights, after Grey's Anatomy, which is a very good fit. If you like Grey's, you'll probably like MIT. It's cute and clever and brain candy of the best kind. You won't cry and you won't yell at your TV and you probably won't learn any deep messages or vote some unknown kid to superstardom. But I promise, you will grin a whole lot.

Check it out.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Evil Than a Pack of Spurned Serial Killers

Hope everyone had a very happy Thanksgiving holiday. Mine was...well, stressful. I had company, so with all of the preparation and cooking and cleaning up, I didn't seem to get much of a vacation in my vacation. Not to mention the electric tension between two fueding family members, so thick and rich it could be cut with a plastic knife. Ugh. I never knew I could be so uncomfortable in my own home.

Anyway...I discovered over the weekend the most truly heinous crime perpetrated in any romantic situation. Show me any evil villain or malicious spurned female set on revenge or psychopathic serial killer and I'll show you something even more vile.

I'm talking about The Woman Who Breaks The Tortured Hero's Heart.

This is not the same woman who creates the Bad Boy/Lost Soul/Tortured Hero. The one who done him wrong some time in his past such that he is no longer able to love or open up or has a (presumably) redeemable misogynistic bent. She's the one we never actually meet but only learn about through flashback and dream sequences in which Hero once was a warm, giving male who suffered so cruely at the hands of love he has lost all ability to feel the softer emotions, leaving it up to our Heroine to mend the shredded remains of his shriveled heart.

Who I'm talking about is actually that woman, with a twist. The one who meets Tortured Hero post torturing. He's hard as a rock, unbendable and unable to love already when she comes strolling into his penthouse office/brother's garage/batcave. But she breaks him open like an extra-thick pinata to expose his gooey innards by being a Worthy Love Interest. We like this girl. She's a nice one, somebody we can root for as she chips away at the hero's armor. When he finally breaks and falls in love with her, we heave a sigh of satisfaction. Our poor soul is happy at last, redeemed and set to begin his hard-earned HEA with a gal who deserves him. All is right with the world.

But then she turns on him. She may have really good reasons - they usually do or they become cardboard villains. Heck, there might even be a Big Mis involved that actually makes some kind of sense. But for whatever reason, she makes a choice to screw over the hero in some way, taking a love that is probably more rare than 100 karat diamonds and stomping it beneath the heel of her stiletto. He discovers her betrayal, naturally, and she may or may not die after he attempts to rescue her from some cruel fate despite the fact that she's now created a hole the size of a moon crater where his heart once used to live. He's a hero, after all, so no matter how much we want him to just let the bitch die, he can't do it.

So we end up with a Tortured Hero who refound love, only to have it snatched away again. If he's smart - and all worthwhile heroes are smart - he's very familiar with the old adage fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. First gal used up the shame on you, and now second gal has pushed him into shame on me. Do you think there is any way in hell that this guy is going to put himself in a position to be fooled a third time?

He's ruined. He's gone from redeemable to damaged beyond all repair. Never again could I buy that this guy will be able to fall in love, no matter how perfect the next heroine who comes along. If he does fall in love, it becomes kind of silly. "See, there was this dame, and she broke my heart. Then there was this other dame, and she broke it, too. But you, sweetheart, you I can trust." Our glorious tortured hero becomes kind of pathetic if he falls again, stripping the title of Tortured clean away. Or, if he's lucky, he's resigned to the fate of Forever Rake who can appear in the sequels but will never get his HEA without suspicion that a costly divorce looms in his future.

Thus the character that I find most loathsome in all of romance, bar no genre, is the Second Chance Girl Who Blows It All For Money/Power/Fame/Lust for Another Man. When a writer gives us a tortured hero on the brink of finding love again, believe that I will be sorely pissed off if she turns out to be only another knife in his heart. I love a good tortured hero, and to ruin one in such a way is a crime punishable by writer's block falling upon the head of the perpetrator until he or she has done sufficient penance.

Gee...I'm starting to kind of sound like Annie Wilkes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bond. James Bond.

How weird is it that I'm totally jazzed about seeing the latest Bond movie, Casino Royale?

I'm not a Bond fan. I mean, I've seen one or two Bond movies, and I enjoy the premise of a super-agent against all odds. He's the uber hero, with his un-ruffle-able demeanor and ability to get out of any jam conceived by human and non-human. How can you not think James is the thing?

But the Bond movies always seem a little too heavy on the action and a little too light on the substance for me to really enjoy. They are the quintessential guy film. Usually I'm a fan of action-heavy guy films. But Bond is the one subgenre that contains a testosterone level too high for me to compute.

However, I'm really intrigued by Casino Royale. Perhaps it's the new Bond, actor Daniel Craig (who, gads, I see is almost a year younger than I am!). I don't know why, but I find this guy incredibly appealing. Maybe it's the ice-blue eyes of his. Or the fact that he appears pretty darn un-ruffle-able. I know a lot of Bond purists have had baby cows over Craig's casting, claiming that even if you could ignore the anti-Bond blond hair and blue eyes, he's not even tall enough to be a Double-O-7. My knee-jerk to those folks is give me a break, you are talking about a character who is virtually indestructable. Who cares what color his hair is? I'm good with this new Bond. In fact, I think I'll like him better than the Pierce Brosnan incarnation who was simply too smooth around the edges to seem like a living, breathing human.

What I think excites me most about Casino Royale, however, is the plot (warning - SPOILERS at that link if you scroll down!). Looks like in CR, we get to go back to the beginning, find out how Bond got his start and what makes him tick. Too, looks like there might be a love interest of sorts rather than another of the endless stream of Bond girls who become nameless, faceless bodies as soon as I walk out of the theater (save Pussy Galore, because, god, come on!). I am all over that if my uber-hero actually meets and develops some - gulp - feelings for an uber-heroine.

Maybe it's those marketing folks finally realizing that even really good sport females like me who don't mind an action-heavy guy flick have our limits. If they toss in a smidgen of romance, I'm sold.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Holly Lisle Is Evil!!

Why is Holly Lisle evil?

Because I have been waiting with baited breath for her to finish and release her Create A Culture Clinic e-book/workshop so I could download, read, savor, and use every last little syllable.

So when does this woman finally make it available? Today. Smack dab in the middle of NaNoWriMo Week #2 when I'm some 15,000 words behind schedule.

I'm telling you, I'd read advice from Holly on how to properly dot "i"s and cross "t"s if she were up for shelling it out. She's an amazingly gifted writer and generous soul who shares what she's pulled out of the school of hard knocks with those of us who are trying to tread the same, worn path. I'm so very grateful she decided to make the time to put out these e-books (which I'm happy to pay for as they are both reasonably priced and worth every single penny and then some). I recommend each and every one of them without reservation.

But now I'm tempted into the sin of abandoning my NaNo book so I can go play in Holly's newest sandbox. I have a huge fantasy project in the infancy stage, and this Create A Culture Clinic is just the thing to send me into raptures over the idea of jumping back into it full body, mind and spirit. But my NaNo book has nothing whatsoever to do with this fantasy world. Nor can I afford to spend the hour day week playing there.

If I were really good - and smart - I'd save this treasure as my reward for reaching my NaNo 50k word goal. I'd put a little tiny shortcut icon of the CACC artwork on the corner of my desktop to tease and tempt me into finishing fast and soon. The carrot dangling from the end of the NaNo stick.

*sigh* I just don't know if I have that kind of willpower.

Dang you, Holly Lisle! Dang your wonderful generous heart to the devil where you will be tempted by too much chocolate, soft, fuzzy slippers and an endless supply of perfectly brewed coffee!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My Darling, You Smell...Horrible

Fans of Lost and Sawyer/Kate 'shippers everywhere got a real boon on last night's episode. At long last, the two take their maybe/maybe not relationship to the next level, engaging in some very hot jungle monkey love.

First thing my husband said when it became clear Kate and Sawyer were going for the gold? "God, they both must stink!"

Although not the most romantic remark, he had a good point. Since their capture, Kate and Sawyer have been living inside cages, outside (think the zoo), have been forced to do manual labor, have not been given a change of clothes (at least Sawyer hasn't) and, as far as I can tell, have not had the chance to shower in days save what they can manage in a tropical rainstorm. We won't even talk about their lack of proper bathroom facilities or the fact that I have yet to see a toothbrush or tube of toothpaste.

They look filthy. Clothes are torn. Faces are smeared with dirt. Hair is tangled and matted or lanky with grease. They could use a major two-for-one day at the spa.

So I imagine they both carry a healthy amount of funk right about now. Which, in the real world, would be a huge, HUGE, turnoff for me. Heck, last thing I'm feeling when the hubby comes home from a jog with a healthy aroma of cleansing sweat about him is romantic. I wrinkle up my nose and tell him to take a shower and make sure to put the dirty workout clothes in the hamper, thank you very much.

Why is it, then, that I can ignore what is likely to be pretty darn off-putting as far as smells go when I'm rooting for a hero and heroine to finally get it going? I think about all of those historicals I've loved in the past, and despite reassurances by the author that the heroine is so very unusual for her time because she just insists on bathing every day while the hero takes his daily swim in the refreshing purified lake on his palatial estate, I just know people back then stunk. How could they not? Have you ever seen Braveheart? I can't imagine anything appealing about running my fingers through Mel's head of hair. I can't imagine being able to run my fingers through Mel's head of hair.

But I'm able to forget all that when it comes to love. Perhaps it's because I figure that the bad odor of the two love interests cancels each other out. I've read anecdotes about soldiers who've spent days in the field without bathing, and how they don't mind the funk around them because everyone has it. They don't even notice it. Kind of like hanging out in the men's locker room, I suppose. You just kind of get used to it. And if both the hero and heroine are at the same level of grossness, which of them could dare to complain? How are they to know when their own stench ends and their lover's begins? Darling, is it you who smells like rotting sweat socks, or is that me?

And, I suppose, desperate situations don't leave much room for pickiness. In Kate and Sawyer's case, it's not like they've chosen to live in cages sans bathing facilities. They believe their lives are in danger, therefore waiting until both have had a chance to "freshen up" isn't an option.

Not to mention how those pent up emotions can sweep all other little inconsequentials to the side once they are finally released. In the throws of true passion, I suppose one forgets about such trifling things as B.O.

All I know is stinky or not, Kate and Sawyer sure were hot!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Any Point In Time

Kristin Nelson asked an intriguing question in her RTB column today. She supposes if the central theme of a love story is universal, why would it matter in what time period the story was set? If the story is about, say, a man seeking redemption for past wrongs and trying to win the hand of the girl-next-door, wouldn't it be smarter to set said story in the marketable Regency era rather than the unmarketable Medieval days? Since publishers seem determined to walk the narrow line as far as what they'll buy as far as historicals, why not do all you can to work the system, especially if the basic story premise is relatively neutral time-wise.

I won't argue about the smarter part as far as business goes. I'm sure it is smarter to write in a time period that is currently hotcakes hot, which I guess is Regency England.

Thing is, if you boil all stories down to their most basic elements, there are only a handful of "themes" or premises out there. Recall that there really are no new ideas. The best any writer can hope for is to take an old idea and find a way to make it fresh and appealing.

Which leads me to argue that it is actually very important where and when a story is set if a writer has any hope of accomplishing that goal. The generic premise of an arranged marriage, for example, can take on completely different parameters based on when it is set. An arranged marriage in Medieval England results from and in something different than one set in the Regency.

Too, the way that people act and react, what is acceptable or expected, possible situations versus the completely improbable all depend heavily on when the story takes place. Things that could or would happen in America's wild west certainly wouldn't be the same things one would expect in Georgian drawing rooms.

Picking a time period places a certain range of parameters on a story. Sure, the theme that anchors these parameters might pivot from the same point, but the details could be completely different. Characters might be the life blood of a romance novel, but plot pumps them from place to place. And time period is crucial to what a plot can and cannot allow.

A man on a mission of redemption could have a dozen different sins he might be seeking to clear, but those wrongs would differ from era to era. If I, as a reader, am expected to buy into the story, I need to believe that what he did really did qualify for a need for redemption. In order to do this, I need to know what the time period allowed as far as actions go. Once upon a time, having a mistress was a perfectly acceptable option for a married noble. Nearer to today, not so much. If I'm to believe the hero is seeking forgiveness from his wife for some dalliance, I need to know that such actions were not the norm for his time. If everyone else was doing it, I'd need to know what special circumstances arose that either a) made the hero believe he, alone, was wrong or b) his wife deserved some special consideration not afforded any other wives of the time.

If all this weren't enough, I think different time periods allow the writer different levels of latitude. I, for one, could never manage a Regency because I don't have the patience as a writer for all the drawing room intrigue nor the ability to seduce through words alone. I find the Regency simply too restrictive for my tastes. I'd rather romp in the Medievals.

In the end, I suppose it all comes down to a matter of taste. Whether or not I could write my story in era and still make it work is irrelevant. If I'm not having any fun writing it, if my only goal is to churn out something that will sell and therefore must be placed in a time that doesn't hold my interest, I don't see how I could fake it well enough that the reader couldn't sense my ambivalence.

Writing is simply too hard and too risky not to be any fun.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I Just Don't Get It

If someone out there can explain to me how my tiny little creative brain works, I'd be ever so grateful.

I settled on a story idea for NaNoWriMo. It had a good premise, a hero and heroine and secondary hero and heroine that I liked. I had some awesome scenes in mind. I knew how I wanted the story to begin and end. The mood was going to be light, the plot fairly simplistic. Throw in some quirkly characters for color and a small town setting and I felt good to go.

But the previous two days were a pure struggle. I could not for the life of me manage to put anything on the page that made me feel good. Everything felt forced, I had no idea what my characters should say to each other, no concept of how I was going to maneuver them from points A and B to C and D.

I was already bored after 3,000 words.

So this morning I resurrected an older idea that I've been puttering on for a while. I was determined to follow the NaNo rule that you can't bring prior work to the table on starting day. Everything you write toward the 50k word goal must be new stuff. I'm cool with that. Part of my problem is a tendency to rewrite the first few scenes over and over again. I certainly don't want to waste my month doing that.

So I decided that I would jump into the middle of the story and act as though I'd already written everything up until that point to put my characters where they needed to be. I'd skip the beginning chapters and start in the middle. Too, I determined that if I could write enough today to catch me up to my proper word count for day 3 - some 5,000 plus words - I would force myself to go back to my original idea. Remember, I'm sworn to actually finish something this time, even if what I finish bores me to tears.

And you know what happened? My brain exploded. I went wild. I wrote and wrote and wrote today. I passed by my 5,000 word goal and still have an entire night ahead of me to plow onward.

Best of all, none of it was a struggle. The characters talked to each other. In fact, they talked so much it took me twice as many words to get the scene down as I'd planned. They met and made plans. They experienced conflict. They moved forward and took steps back.

And it was fun! I didn't want to stop writing to go pick up the kids. I was annoyed when the dog interrupted me to be let outside. We're about to leave for dinner and I'm asking we go fast-food so I can get back to it.

Why? I just don't get why one story idea leaves me cold when another one sends my muse spinning in intoxication. Why one set of characters inspires me so much more than another set.

Funny thing is that what I'm writing now needs a ton - TON - of work to make it good. I'm not writing stellar stuff. I'm sticking with the It's Okay to Suck mantra of all NaNoers out there. But the quantity is coming. Easily.

Anyway, I've done what I vowed not to do in that I changed my focus. Since I'm no worse off than I would have been had I stayed the course, I'm okay with my decision. I'm now excited by the prospect of finishing instead of wondering how I'm going to spew out 50,000 words when I don't have any idea of what my characters want to say to each other. I figure this is the first step in making it happen.

Truly, I baffle myself.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

NaNoWriMo Day 1

I sat my butt in the chair this morning and pounded out 1,999 words in a little less than two hours. Not bad. I have plenty of time to do more, but I'm debating whether or not I should keep going. Part of me feels a need to pace myself, to go slow and steady so as to finish the race rather than bolting out of the starting gate only to collapse in a few days from exhaustion. I'm going for the marathon, not the sprint. The goal is to reach the finish line this time.

Problem is, I'm having a really hard time with the NaNoWriMo writer's Golden Rule: Thou Shalt Not Use Thy Internal Editor. I just can't help it because I know what I'm writing is so very bad. I can't stop from wincing with the stuff that's going down, pausing often to reflect on how terrible it all is and how I've already - in only 2,000 words - got plot holes and inconsistencies and flat characters and stiff dialogue. I landed on one of my undeveloped story ideas because I figured if I completely mucked it up, I wouldn't mind so much. I was wrong because every misstep is killing me already.

I know. I know. The goal here isn't perfection. I can shoot for that at another time.

I've thought about printing out the mantra "It's OK to suck" and taping it to the top of my laptop. Or maybe I should go with something stronger, such as "You MUST suck! It is your job to write junk!!" Anything to keep reminding me that I'm not supposed to worry about how bad it all is.

On a more pleasant note, I just got word from a good friend that she has a book contract. I'm so very happy for her. She's a wonderful writer with a Jennifer Crusie-like sense of humor, and I have no doubt she'll do very well. Too, she's the closest real friend I have who's actually succeeded in writing, so I'm getting some vicarious thrills through her.

I do admit to a tiny twinge in the heart when I read her "I've signed a book contract" e-mail. She and I started writing at about the same time, although she has a history of writing screenplays so therefore a bit more experience. We met via the same fanfic fandom where we competed for the Best New Author award against each other. She won - and she deserved it. Just as she deserves this contract. Because she did what I haven't managed to do.

She finished!

Last year I challenged her to the NaNoWriMo competition. She picked up the gauntlet and made it through the month, coming out a winner at the other end. I did not. So I have no one to blame but me.

I'm happy for her and am hoping that her success inspires me. And I'm also hoping she'll send me a signed copy of her book when it comes out because I can honestly say I knew her when.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to go with the sucky flow.

Friday, October 27, 2006

NaNoWriMo Take 3

Next week kicks off NaNoWriMo. I'm sure if you are reading this you already know that because everyone who even remotely writes is talking about it. I'm nothing if not unoriginal.

This will be my third NaNoWriMo attempt. Yes, I'm going to give it a shot. And I'm firmly refusing to dwell on past failures. This is the year I succeed. Hang on while I have a Stuart Smalley moment...Okay, I'm back.

My problem isn't so much that I can't manage to write 50,000 words in a thirty-day period. I can do that, no problem, especially given that the whole point of NaNoWriMo is quantity over quality. The objective is to crank out the volume, put any old junk on paper as long as you get it done, the idea being that you can go back after it's all over and rewrite and revise and edit your little heart out at your leisure.

Nope, quantity isn't an issue with me. Both the past two years I'd cranked out a good 20,000 plus words before the end of the first week. I'm wordy. When you remove quality from the equation, I'm downright prolific.

My problem right now is deciding which of my half a dozen ideas I should use. I hate to waste a good idea, one that requires twice the word count goal of NaNo to come close to finishing. Sure, I could double my daily output goal and shoot for 100,000 words in a month instead of 50,000. But I'd really like to finish this time, and I'm thinking I can do this if I hold myself back.

I do have an idea or two that could be told in 50k words. Ideas that aren't epical or full of a cast of thousands looking to be part of a series. Ideas that don't require tons of world building and subsequent world explaining.

Problem with those ideas is that I haven't done much in the background department. My characters are kind of loose, not really pinned down as far as backstory. I love to know my characters, and at this point I have names but not a whole lot more. Maybe a handful of basic character traits and an idea of who loves who...

Too, my plot ideas are really more like generic situations I'd like to explore. The kind of "what if..." questions that most writers find popping up all over the place. I don't have any outlines. I only have a handful of scene ideas. Truly, this baby could potentially wander all over the planet, aimless and out of control.

Maybe this is the best way to start. Kind of cold, without the pressure of having to stick to a specific plan, worrying about quality even though you aren't supposed to. If I know up front that my characters are mysteries and my plot isn't set in stone, theoretically there should be no staring at a blank screen, wondering how to translate the images in my head to words on a page.

And I do have four days to do a bit of planning.

I'm getting excited. What a great feeling!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Motherhood Trumps Love

I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before – here or elsewhere – that I’m not a huge fan of romance stories that feature kids. At least not very young kids. I can buy into the divorced/widowed hero/heroine with older children, ones who are pretty much self-sufficient. But any romance that involves offspring who don’t carry a valid driver’s license are instant no-goes for me.

Because in my experience, motherhood always trumps love.

I watched a movie the other night – Beyond Borders, if you must know, and this post contains MAJOR SPOILERS – and as much as I really wanted the heroine (Angelina Jolie) to find happiness with her star crossed soul mate (Clive Owen, who, BTW, Oh. My. God!), I couldn’t let myself enjoy the story.

Because Angie baby had kids. She’d gotten married before she met Clive and she and her husband had a son. Later, after finally consummating her relationship with Clive, she has a daughter who we all can figure out is probably Clive’s child. Two kids. Neither one older than ten or eleven.

So when Angie learns that Clive has gone missing while do-gooding in Chechnya and determines to find him, I’m cringing. Because I know what might happen. And I know she knows what might happen but, blinded by love, is selfishly ignoring.

I’m cringing when she kisses her sleeping kiddies on the cheek and leaves them a “I’ll be home very soon” letter.

And I’m cringing when she’s getting shot at by Chechnyan guerillas.

And I’m nearly screaming in disgust when she steps on a landmine. I had predicted what could happen, and it did. She deluded herself into thinking it wouldn’t happen, but it did. Not to her. To her kids.

Because she has now left two small children without a mother. Half-orphans. And in my book, there’s no greater crime than abandoning kids that way. To intentionally put yourself in harm’s way, exposing yourself to possible death and knowing that you’d leave behind kids who still need you, is unforgivable. It’s selfishness, pure and simple.

I’m not a big fan of martyrs. And my heart just breaks when a mother has to choose between the well-being of her children and her own personal happiness (see Cast Away for the perfect example in Helen Hunt’s character). I find nothing more tragic than when a woman meets the man of her dreams after she’s already committed herself to a family. It’s so completely unfair that she would have to give up romantic fulfillment in order to take care of the kids she probably loves above anything else in the world. What an impossible choice. I felt for poor Anna Karenina. Until she threw herself under that train.

Too many kids don’t have loving mothers. I personally cannot imagine what my own growing up would have been like without my mother. In fact, at nearly middle-aged, I still think I’m too young to live without my mommy. The idea of my own kids growing up without me makes me kind of nauseous. Not that my husband isn’t fully qualified to raise kids on his own. I just hate the idea of my children having to cope with growing up without my love and support. Life is hard enough.

So I would never put myself in danger unless I felt it absolutely necessary to save their very lives or the life of another person. I certainly would never risk my life for my own happiness at the risk of their happiness.

As much as Angie loved Clive – and she did love him, deeply, passionately, completely – her running off and getting herself killed left me not with the feeling of how tragic her story was, but feeling horribly sorry for the son and daughter who now have no mother. Their pain even overshadowed the pain I felt for Clive, who watched the woman he loved die right in front of him. He’d made choices that put him in danger. Those kids were victims of their mother’s choices.

Yes, if she wouldn’t have gone to Chechnya, Clive would have died. And I would have cried for her loss. Instead I just feel resentment toward her on behalf of her kids.

Having kids means making sacrifices. Sometimes it’s tragic and sometimes it just sucks, but, hey, that’s the way it goes. Characters who ignore such a fact for selfish reasons - no matter how romantic or desperate - are unsympathetic to me. I simply cannot root for them to win, no matter how badly I wish they could make it all work.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bullet Update

Jack's bullet - remember that? Turns out he was shot by his father.

Who was attempting to save him from a grisly bear attack.

And was mauled by this bear during the attack and died as a result.

Leaving Jack with a bullet too close to his heart to remove, mourning the father who died trying to save him.

Have I mentioned how much I love this guy?

And it's not even the bullet that cinches it for me. It's the fact that Jack beat up his brother when his brother called Marin a "hot piece of ass".


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The De-Evolution of Wesley

Recall that I admitted that during my hiatus, I discovered Angel?

(BTW, to hold myself to my own vow, I'm admitting here that I've determined once I've seen all episodes one time, I'll stop TiVoing it every day. I'm half-way through Season 3, so only two and half seasons to go. I'm thinking of maybe Charmed as my next paranormal habit...)

Anyway, yeah, I got hooked on Angel because I've pretty much memorized all of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes but still thirsted for something - anything - taking place in the Buffyverse. I was hoping Angel would feed the need, which it has. But I've gotten something so completely better than more of sexy, brooding Angel.

I've discovered Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.

What an amazing character. From his first appearance in Season 3 Buffy, the man goes from bumbling, naive comic-relief cum accidental antagonist to one of the most tortured dark heroes I've ever seen portrayed on television. By the fifth season series finale of Angel, Wesley is almost, if not more, tortured than Angel himself, the vampire who spent a hundred and fifty years killing, raping and torturing humans only to be cursed with a soul and an eternity in which to feel the guilt. To become darker than Angel is a real accomplishment.

Not that Wesley didn't have reasons for all of his brooding angst. Let's see, he was rebuffed by the woman he loved when she began a romance with a work colleague, but not until after he'd tried to kill said lady-love when he was infected by a misogynistic rage demon. Then the poor bloke went on to kidnap Angel's son because he believed he was saving the tiny infant from being murdered by Angel himself. Unfortunately, the information he'd been fed leading him to believe the baby was in danger proved false, and none of his so called friends allowed him a chance to explain what he'd planned or how he'd been double crossed, instead choosing to villify him and send him into a spiraling depression, suffering from an almost debilitating guilt. He eventually climbed out of the dog house, earned the affection of his true love, only to suffer her death before the two of them could spend any time together. She died in his arms, terrified and in great pain, something I imagine to be beyond horrifying.

The man is cursed.

But he's absolutely fascinating! Never have I been told a story where the hero goes from good and decent and normal downward into darkness and dispair in such a way. Usually, when we meet a tormented hero, he's already dark and tortured. Something in his past - some events that occured off-screen - has already damaged him to such a degree that the story becomes about redemption. Can the heroine (or love, as the more generic case) bring this poor soul out of the darkness and into the light of a happily ever after?

In Wesley's case, we get the reverse. Losing both the love of the woman he wants and the love of his friends sends him falling into a despair from which he never fully recovers. Instead of love healing all, we witness the power of a lack of love to destroy all.

And a big round of applause to Alexis Denisof, the actor who did such an amazing job of taking Wesley from physical prat falls to get the laugh to sobbing as he watches the woman he loves suffer a horrible death, leaving us to wonder if suicide isn't far behind. He went from being nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying to a character I couldn't take my eyes off.

I'll admit I have the canny ability to justify pretty much anything, but I'll say I truly believe I've learned something by my little Angel addiction. I witnessed a character study unlike anything I've ever found.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blue Hawaii

My current work-in-progress is set in Hawaii.

I've never been to Hawaii.

I've gone to the library and checked out a dozen books on Hawaii. I've wasted spent numerous hours minutes on the internet procrastinating researching different aspects about Hawaii, from how long it takes to fly there to the best surfing beaches on Maui and night clubs in Honolulu. I think I might even have mastered the way to pronounce words made out of 19 vowels and only 3 consonants.

I'm a firm believer that writers can write about places they've never actually visited. How else could you account for the gazillions of historical fiction stories out there? I'm fairly certain that no one has ever actually been to 12th century Scotland or Regency London. So a good imagination can certainly overcome limited travel experience.

Thing is, the devil is in the details. I could spend the next six months researching Hawaii, but there are tiny things I need to know that I will never find out without seeing the places with my own two eyes. I want my hero to enter a well-known museum, and I need to know where the ticket counter is, or if there even is a ticket counter, and what would he be able to see from the lobby or if there even is a lobby. Stuff like this.

And these details aren't just color. There's the stuff you need to know to place your story in reality and make the reader feel like she's actually where the hero and heroine are. Then there are details that are intrinsic to the story or plot itself.

If my hero is a cop and he sees a dead body tucked behind a small wall while he's still standing in the lobby of a well-known museum, I'd better be darned sure there is a lobby in said museum, much less know if any other part of the museum can be seen when standing in it, right?

Too, there is something about seeing things with your own two eyes. Flowery descriptives in books and even photographs can kind of give you an idea of what things look like, but until you've gotten the 3-D, smell the air, hear the waves on the surf experience, a Hawaiian beach could look just the same as a Virgin Island beach or a Riveria beach or a Florida beach.

So, I'm looking to go to Hawaii. I figure if I call it research and one day actually sell the story I'm working on, I could write the whole thing off as a business trip, right? Problem is, I can't go to Hawaii any time in the next...oh, say...ten months or more. Not to mention talking the hubby into the idea that Hawaii would be the perfect place to vacation (he's so not a beach bum type of vacationer) and coming up with the funds and what to do with the kids. Details.

Honestly, I'd love to go alone. Because when I'm in book researching mode, I become...well, let's just call it a little antisocial. I'm walking around lost in my own head. I want the freedom to explore some inane detail or non-touristed off-the-beaten-track place. If I want to spend three hours walking up and down the streets of Honolulu, taking pictures and notes of businesses and other everyday minutae, I certainly don't need a hubby and two kids wondering when we're going to go back to the beach.

But a trip to Hawaii - by myself - is not even close to a possibility any time in the forseeable future. Nor is a trip to the Middle East, the other location where some of my stories are set. That particular situation has a whole set of issues that are so far beyond my ability to solve, I'd be better off setting a story on the moon.

I'm going to have to find a way to make do, short of setting all my stories in Chicago or some place within a 50 mile radius. Any ideas?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

All Is Lost Without Hope

I'm a fan of Lost, from the beginning, but I'm going to admit that the writers are just about to lose me as a viewer.

It's not for the reason I think most Lost viewers might give up the ghost. Those of you who watch the show understand how infuriatingly frustrating the whole situation is. For every single answer we get from any given episode, ten more puzzles are introduced. Progress isn't made in leaps and bounds, or even baby steps, but more like millimeters.

Honestly, sometimes I truly believe if it weren't for Sawyer and Sayid (who, btw, hit a new level of hotness last night), I'd have been long gone.

But last night the story took a direction that has pushed things to a new plateau of frustration for me. They've entered into caged dog territory. Because from what we've been shown, there is pretty much no way the good guys (Kate, Jack, Sawyer, Sayid, etc.) can outwit and ultimately defeat the bad guys (the Others).

Now, I appreciate an underdog story as well as the next person. In fact, I really like underdog stories. But I have to have hope. I have to know in my heart of heart that no matter how dark things might get, ultimately the good guy at least has a chance to win. I'm not saying that he has to live HEA, get the girl, become rich and beautiful and tra la la through the daisy fields. Heck, the good guy might get killed in the end. And I'm actually okay with that.

If he's fought the good fight and had a fair enough chance to win.

But when the hero (or in this case, heroes) face obstacles at every turn, and there is no way for him, her or them to overcome their problems, I get frustrated. I feel helpless because I see these people as helpless. Nothing they can do will make a bit of difference, so why should I bother watching?

In the case of Lost, Kate, Sawyer and Jack are being held prisoner. They are in cages or enclosures that are unbreak-out-able. Cameras pick up their every move and spoken word. They are outnumbered by a substantial amount. They have no weapons, whereas their captors are armed to the teeth. And it seems that the Others are highly skilled in the games of mental torture. We have no idea what they want with our heroes, why they've captured them or what might happen to change things in any way, shape or form.

As it stands right now, it looks like Kate, Sawyer and Jack are pretty much goners.

I think this proves how critical hope is in a story. Even when the underdog is the most hopeless of creatures, I need to believe that there is a sliver of a chance that he can prevail. Heck, even Frodo had Sam.

The writers at Lost better keep feeding me Kate and Sawyer hits because I'm getting pretty frustrated, and right now they are the only thing to keep me coming back. Sure, I'm just dying to have answers to the 5,348 questions this stupid show has created. But I have no desire to watch my favorite characters bang their heads against a brick wall.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What Is It About a Bullet?

At the end of last week's episode of Men In Trees, they showed some highlights from this week's coming episode, as these shows usually do. In the preview, one of the characters - okay, my new boyfriend, Jack - has what seems to be an asthma attack and ends up in the hospital. While there, the doctor points to a small, solid object that shows up in the X-ray they've taken of Jack's lungs. Jack's friend-but-not-girlfriend Marin asks the concerned doctor what the object is.

Turns out, it's a bullet.

Now, I don't need any more reasons to find the character of Jack appealing. First of all, he's played by the incredibly sexy and gorgeous James Tupper. I could simply watch this guy mowing the lawn and be happy forever.

But it's not just James's hotness that I find appealing. The character of Jack is one of those monosyllabic woodsman types. He grunts more than he speaks and probably feels more comfortable in a room full of grisly bears than a room full of people. When he wants to avoid an uncomfortable situation, he disappears to go fly-fishing. He's a man's man, a stereotypical uncommunicative male who offers an almost insurmountable challenge in finding a way to open this guy up. What's not to love about that?

On his arm is a tattoo - LYNN it says - and even if my own name didn't happen to be Lynn, I'd still have to swoon. Because you just know this isn't the kind of guy to commit to a tattoo unless his feelings for this Lynn person ran incredibly deep. Which, we find out as the show progresses, they did, and you can see that he still stings from the damage Lynn inflicted when she left the picture. I just want to pull him close and offer tons of comfort. Jack is the kind of guy who doesn't fall in love easily, but when he does, you get the idea that he falls hard and forever.

Did I mention that he's great with animals? And wears these fabulous thick sweaters, and probably smells like wood smoke and other yummy things.

And now, there is a bullet.

I have no idea whatsoever what happened to him to put that bullet in his lung that way. I suppose I'll find out this Friday night, when I see the full episode. It could be something really stupid, but I'm hoping not. I only know that this bullet adds an edge to Jack. He's so quiet, you can't help but think he hides all kinds of secrets. And I personally find dangerous secrets to be my favorite kind.

So, I'm chalking myself into the freakishly weird category, since I find a guy with a bullet wound all the more appealing. In real life, I'd be horrified if someone I loved had even gotten shot at much less actually hit. In real life, there is nothing sexy at all about bullets or guns, for that matter. I'm firmly anti-gun. Heck, I don't even believe hunting is okay, despite the fact that it thins herds that would starve if left to fend for themselves in their ever-shrinking natural environment and I know a quick death by rifle is preferable to a slow starvation.

Much to ponder, this latest layer. Can't wait until Friday, though.

Jack has a bullet!

Monday, October 09, 2006


You know those montages they use in the movies? Snatches of scenes and moments, usually played against some mood or time-setting music that show anything from the boxer training his way back to heavy-weight champion-fighting capacity to the young couple just fallen in love as they ride horses along the beach and have pillow fights and gaze lovingly into each other's eyes over candlelight. Montages are a staple shortcut, letting viewers believe that a good amount of time has passed full of all sorts of activity without having to actually spend the money or manpower showing all of this activity. The poor man's way to show not tell.

The other morning I was lying in bed thinking about my current story when an honest to goodness montage flashed through my brain. I had images of my hero and heroine falling in love, set to music with glimpses of them engaged in various activities. I imagined that if my story were a movie, this montage would happen right after my couple had spent their first romantic night together, and I confess it contained a whole lot of cliche falling in love scenes.

And I had to stop and laugh because I realized that what I was thinking about was indeed a movie montage. Nothing more than a shortcut to get my hero and heroine from Point A to Point B without having to write a whole bunch of "showing" scenes. None of the things I was picturing held enough substance to create a real scene with conflict and/or character development, nor would it move the story forward in any real sense. The only purpose for such a montage was to indulge my desire to watch my hero and heroine being together and being in love.

I tried to reach into the montage to grab out some key elements, something that was unique to this couple or especially intriguing or funny or poignant. I don't have a problem writing a scene that is more character/relationship development than true plot movement. But nothing I'd imagined qualified.

Besides, even if I hadn't realized what I was creating in my brain was pure fluff, I would have no possible idea in the world how to turn something that 100% visual into the written word. No dialogue. Snatches of tiny scenes lasting only a few seconds. Heck, I'd need to find a way to have the music playing in the background while the reader read it if I had any hope of capturing the mood I wanted to evoke.

I've never had one of those montage moments before. Usually I come up with bits of a scene, or a line of dialogue, or a general feeling I want to capture at a particular moment. Often nothing fully formed, but never something so blatantly empty. I don't know if this means that I'm regressing or if I'm growing because I was able to see it for what it was. Or wasn't, as the case is.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dipping Just a Toe

Part of my unintended hiatus from blogging included a break from blog reading. At first it started off as simply me just being away from my computer for a time as I was working on home improvement projects.

But as the time away stretched, I became overwhelmed with the amount of backlog I had created for myself. I have about two dozen or so blogs I visit regularly, and with each day that slipped by, I imagined I had two dozen entries more I hadn't read. The task of catching up became overwhelming, so I kept staying away. See the cycle that's looming?

Thing is, I sit down at my laptop with every intention to write. First, however, I need to check e-mails (naturally). Then it's a quick stop over at Television Without Pity to see if recaps of my favorite TV shows have gone live or if anyone has anything inciteful to say. Then I begin the round of blogs. I keep searching for more things to read. More things to keep me away from writing.

Next thing I know, my time is up and I need to go do some real-life task or another. I've wasted my precious free time with not much to show for it.

By not blogging I was also not blog-hopping. I'd like to say this freed up a bunch of time for writing, but it didn't. I've kept myself busy with other things.

Now, however, I'm back on the wagon so to speak. I've committed myself to blogging every week day to warm up my writing muscles. And I've begun to dip my toe back into the blogosphere. I've determined that I'm not going to read backlogs, however. I'll read as many entries as appear on a blog's first page, but I'm not scrolling back into the archives.

And I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't visit every single blog every single day. I have about five or so must-visits, but I refuse to feel bad if the others I hit every other or third day. I've broken the habit of that particular time-suck and I need to be strong against its allure.

Do you think it's human nature to lean towards addictive behaviour, or is it just something that's in me? Good thing I never really enjoyed the taste of alcohol or ever started smoking. I'd have been doomed.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

No Mistakes, No Story

Here's my set up.

Miss Kick-Ass Heroine is doing her job when she bumps into Mr. Exceptionally Competent Hero. Their jobs are similar although their goals happen to be at cross purposes. Great conflict just waiting to be exploited. Things looking good.

Except, both Kick-Ass and Exceptionally Competent need to change a bit in order to arrive at their HEA. Both need to gain some insight into how the other character has a point and that even though they've each been successful so far, sometimes it's necessary to try things a different way. In order to move these two kids in that direction, both characters need to make mistakes and learn from them.

Except, Kick-Ass and Exceptionally Competent don't make mistakes. They are achievers in their chosen fields, reknowned for their ability to get the job done. They are stubborn (yes, to a fault) but dang good at what they do.

If Kick-Ass makes a mistake, she topples into TSTL terrritory. This is unacceptable because she's made it this far because she's the complete opposite of TSTL.

If Exceptionally Competent makes a mistake, he comes across looking foolish. How has he become so well-known for his special skills and abilities if he makes such mistakes?

If either character falls down on the job, one has to wonder how he/she ever got this particular job in the first place.

So, what to do.

I'm not talking about characters here who have no flaws. On an emotional and personal level, Kick-Ass and Exceptionally Competent are fall down messes, a direct result of the fact that they've spent so much time becoming stellar at their jobs they've completely neglected the rest of their lives. The story explores how each character brings out those flaws in the other, and how recognizing those flaws makes them vulnerable and able to fall in love with each other.

But professionally, I'm still stuck.

My only hope is that I can somehow use the attraction Kick-Ass and Exceptionally Competent feel for each other as some kind of befuddling mechanism. Their normally cool professional responses get all mucked up because they've somehow let their personal selves come to the front.

This might work.

Blogging solves all sorts of tight jams, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pilot Pimping

A quick endorsement: If you are at all inclined to watch television, I highly - HIGHLY - recommend the new TV series Friday Night Lights. I watched the pilot this afternoon (TiVoed from last night, but the pilot is re-airing tonight) and was left pretty much speechless. Really. It's that good. Critics agree, so it's not just me.

The premise is kind of off-putting for a big-city non-jock like me. Adapted from the fictional movie which was an adaptation of a non-fictional book, FNL centers around a west Texas small-town high school football team. I'm so strongly against the glorification of youth sports that a show like this was predestined to turn me off. I watched it expecting it to be some kind of Dawson's Creek on astro-turf and thus I'd be able to cross it off as a possible Good Show for Procrastination Purposes. How totally wrong I was. Not a drop of over-wrought teenage angst in sight. Too, I can honestly tell you that even if you don't know how many points a touchdown is worth, you will still like show because the characters are what really makes it amazing.

I won't go into detail about why I loved this show. I'll just let it speak for itself.

Check it out. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sink or Swim

While I was gone, I got myself a teeny tiny part-time job. I'm talking teeny; six hours a week, two mornings. Small money, smaller stress. I'm hoping it helps me get myself into a steady weekly routine. But it does mean that my blogging might not happen until evening instead of mornings as I'd prefer. Already I've blown that whole routine objective.

So, last night I gave up all semblance of good sense and ventured out in a killer storm to see a movie. Me and the two other ladies in the theatre endured a one-minute power outage that happened about 20 minutes into the film, which earned us the reward of a free refund pass even though the inconvenience was pretty much zero. Sometimes, I guess, stupidity pays off.

And what, pray tell, would incite me to drive through pounding rain and risk lightning strikes? Kevin Costner, of course. And Ashton Kutcher. Maybe in reverse order, I haven't quite decided. I'm such a sucker for coming of age/mentor-mentee/training for the military flicks that I couldn't pass up The Guardian. Rain, schmain.

The movie was good. I'd even venture great, but I know I don't have a leg to stand on that claim. It's nothing that will haunt you by any means, but it certainly kept me entertained for two hours, as well as gave me a huge, healthy respect for the men and women who work as rescue swimmers for the U.S. Coast Guard. I took a scuba diving class in college, and many of the underwater training scenes brought back some pretty uncomfortable memories.

For those not in the know, the story revolves around gruff Ben Randall (Costner), a well-seasoned Coast Guard rescue swimmer who, after losing his entire crew in a horrible rescue-gone-wrong, is sent to train new recruits at the killer USCG "A School", where rescue swimmer wannabees earn their fins. As you would expect, he bumps heads with cocky super-star athlete swimmer Jake Fischer (Kutcher) who hides a past trauma that hits closer to home than Ben ever could have guessed. Your normal training montages and cliches follow, along with some pretty spectacular rescue scenes. Nothing you couldn't predict, but well done all the same.

Which is where I am today, sitting here with a big smile on my face. Because although most of the critics have panned The Guardian for being unoriginal at best and downright paint-by-numbers at worst, I liked it. Because it was done well.

For so long I've felt paralyzed by the idea that nothing - not a single one of my ideas - was truly original. That at every turn, I was bumping into something - plot, theme, character, concept - that I'd believed I'd come up with all on my own, that was something uniquely original to me yet clearly was not. At all. Mine alone, that is. And since everyone out there keeps holding aloft the High Concept novel as the end all be all way to get yourself published, I've felt more than a little dispair upon learning that, frankly, there actually is nothing new under the sun. I've believed I'm so totally screwed.

But watching The Guardian made me see something. Just because something isn't new doesn't mean it isn't worthy. Yes, many aspects of this movie were culled out of the greats like An Officer and a Gentleman and Top Gun. Heck, one doesn't even have to go back a full year to find a fairly similiar flick in Annapolis. (A little aside here to say that I found The Guardian far superior to Annapolis, so if you hated the latter, don't let it keep you from seeing the former. The similarities are thin.)

But I liked The Guardian. I didn't mind the cliches because they were done well. I liked the characters. I liked the plot. I thought the acting was good, the special effects outstanding, the accuracy sold well enough that I, as an ignorant civilian, bought what I was told. I was entertained.

And in the end, isn't this what counts? If a writer can take an old idea and present it well, give it good service and entertain those who look to be entertained, isn't that the ultimate goal?

I enjoy watching those coming of age/mentor-mentee/military training movies for a reason. I expect to see certain cliches, otherwise they don't qualify as coming of age/mentor-mentee/military training movies. When I see a movie trailer for the newest version of the old story, I get excited about it. Can't wait until it comes to the theatre (see the above about how I'll even risk killer storms if I'm highly motivated). I don't care if it's a story that's been done before. And before. And before that.

It's like ordering the same flavor of ice cream because it's your favorite. I love mint chocolate chip ice cream. If an ice cream store has it, that's what I'll choose. Now, some places do it better than others. Ben and Jerry's puts out my favorite - Mint Chocolate Chunk - and I really like Baskin Robbin's version. The local mom and pop ice cream shop in my town offers only a mediocre mint chocolate chip, so when I go there I tend to choose something else. It's always refreshing to go for the mocha almond fudge.

But in the end, I always return to mint chocolate chip. I don't mind that it's not high concept. As long as it's done well, I'm satisfied.

That's my new goal. I'm going to strop trying to be the most original person out there and focus on doing what I like very well.

I'm going to be the best mint chocolate chip ice cream cone in the world!

Yeah, over-enthused a bit much.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Back On the Blog

Haitus over.

Come to find out, blogging is kind of like some reverse addiction recovery program. Instead of pride when I say it's been nearly two months since I've last blogged, I'm ashamed to admit I've gone so long without a fix. Not to mention that I've messed up my perfect a-post-in-every-month archive over on the side.

Let's see, what have I accomplished in the last fifty-some-odd days?

Read a few good books. Tune in at some point and I'll give you my opinions on J.R. Ward's third installment of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Lover Awakened (awesome!!) and Suzanne Brockman's controversial (sort of) Into the Storm (close to awesome).

Became hooked on Angel. Just what I really didn't need, a show already in syndication that I could conceivably watch every day until the end of time.

Have discovered a handful of new TV shows that seem promising. Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip and Men In Trees are my new must-sees.

James Tupper is my current newest crush and forever boyfriend. Hands off.

I re-decorated two kids' bedrooms, complete with fancy painting schemes.

Got said kids back to school.

Over-committed myself as a volunteer at same school.

Have vowed to learn how to say "no".

And most importantly, I've learned that re-starting a good habit is as hard as giving up a bad one.

Hiatus over.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Is It Real or Is It Memorex?

So, how does it work when a writer wants to use the names of real things/people/books/etc. in her fictional world? Does she need to get permission?

For example, if my heroine is a journalist, can she write for Glamour or Cosmopolitan or Vanity Fair? Can my ex-Secret Service hero have worked on President Clinton's security detail? Can my newly famous starlet heroine buy the Bel Air mansion right next door to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (not that they own a Bel Air mansion, but I'm flying off the cuff here)? Can it be a United flight that gets hijacked, the NBC television studio that gets taken over by a crazed gunman, or the New York Times that spills headlines warning of a deadly plague heading toward the U.S.?

How close to reality can I skim before I hit legal issues? When and where do I have to give credit? When do the real people involved with these real places/people/institutions whatever crawl out of the woodwork to cry foul and nail me for the faker that I am?

And how bad is it to offer up substitutes?

If my chick lit heroine writes for Dazzle or Jet Setter or Blue Blood Monthly magazine, does the reader mentally understand the parallel to the real-world counterpart? Does having worked the Secret Service detail for ex-president Martin Smith carry the same sense of competence one would expect simply in seeing the words Secret Service? And does owning the Bel Air mansion next door to Rake Famous and Fiona Fabulous, the fictional reigning couple of fictional Hollywood, denote the same sense of fairytale and voyeurism I imagine I would feel if I ever entered that world?

I really don't know. But I need to. Quickly.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Aging a Bit Painfully

Robin Uncapher just wrote an At the Back Fence column over on AAR that is so timely for me as to be kind of eerie. She discusses the role age plays on romance novels: in who buys them, in how the age of the heroine is perceived, in what is considered acceptable versus creepy...well, just go read the article because I'm not doing it justice.

But this is timely because last week I celebrated a particularly difficult birthday. I'm not ashamed to admit my age - I just turned 39 - but I am somewhat wary about admitting how difficult I found the day. I know I'm still in the prime of my life, hopefully with at least another 39 or more years to go. To call myself 'old' is as insulting and ridiculous as the size 3 supermodel calling herself fat.

Even so, I spent much of my birthday near tears. I told myself it was because my daughter was giving me fits all day, but I know the truth of it is that the idea of turning 40 scares me silly. See, 40 is the age I think of as my mother's generation. In my head - and heart - my mom is still 40 and I'm no older than 20 or less. I may have all the trappings of an adult - mortgage, kids, utility bills and a minivan in the shop - but I'm still just a kid inside.

Hitting 40 means no more delusions, though. No one thinks of a 40 year old as anything but an adult. When you hit 40, you are what you are. Your mold is cast and you've chosen your path, for the most part. When you hit 40 and make drastic changes, people give you that knowing mid-life-crisis smirk. Certainly the Stacy's Mom song applies to a mother still in her mid thirties, because moms in their forties can't be hotter than their daughters. I know that the day I turn 40 will make me no different than I was at age 39 and 364 days, but it's a line that does mean something intangible once you've crossed, however stupid and un-substantiated those stereotypes might be.

Which leads me to Robin's timely column. As I writer, I'm always contemplating the ages of my characters. And I admit - albeit shamefully - to a great deal of ageism when I go about deciding how old my heroine and hero are.

When I first began reading romance novels, I though nothing at all of those drastic age differences. An 18-year-old heroine paired with a 30-plus hero seemed only natural. Not in the least bit strange or off. Of course, I mostly read historicals then, but in my young mind, 18 was certainly mature enough to be engaging in Serious Relationships and Hot Sex. Since most of the 18-year-old guys I knew were far from sexy and mature, it made sense that an older hero step in to educate the young lass. I couldn't imagine any of my guy friends in such a sexy, dashing role.

As I've aged, not only does such a wide age gap between hero and heroine raise the Ick-factor flag (pedophilia is in no way sexy or acceptable), the idea of an 18-year-old as a mature character becomes laughable. What in the heck does a person less than two decades old know about real love and commitment and what it takes to make a life together? Sure, nubile late-teenager bodies make for pretty mental images when reading those sex scenes, but such a young girl should be attending frat parties/cotillions/boarding school, not crossing verbal swords and exchanging bodily fluids with a man old enough to be her...much older brother.

So I entered the phase in my life when the ideal age for a heroine became something in her low twenties. Young enough for all the parts to still be firm and high, yet old enough to pass the jail-bait test. Certainly people who are over 20 are no longer kids.

Except I still have some problems. Although 20, 21 and even 22 are technically not teenage years, I identify those ages with my own college years. I certainly wasn't a grown-up when I was in college, despite the fact that I could stay out all night. If you can't buy a drink in a bar legally, you certainly shouldn't be allowed to star in a romance novel.

Now, when I begin to write a heroine who is only 23 or 24, I think of where I was at that age. Just starting out in the world. Selfish and aware enough of it to know I was no where near ready to be married. In fact, I still think I married extremely young at 26, and if I had to do it all again, I think I would have postponed it a year or two (same guy, different year is all).

With years comes the wisdom of experience. And it's impossible to regain the niavete of youth, when you felt like you knew everything when you really had no clue how young and stupid you were until much later. Once upon a time, 22 seemed very adult. Now, not so much.

Which puts my heroines in their late twenties. Old enough for the shock of reality to have settled, for some heartbreak to soften the edges, and for the inkling of what relationships require to blossom. Young enough that sex is still an exciting adventure, things are still in their intended places, and good health is taken for granted.

As for how I identify with characters in novels that I read, now that I'm heading upwards in numbers myself, I admit that I avoid books that feature heroines who are older than their late thirties. I no longer can imagine myself in the romance-novel scenario, so I'm unable to accept heroines who are my age contemporaries as heroines. Kind of like reading stories that feature kids and babies. I know the reality of having children - that kids are the antithesis to romance. They wear you out. They offer a vessel in which to place a lot of that love you once could lavish only on your significant other. They make spontaneous hot monkey sex on the kitchen table completely impossible. Stories that contain a couple who can't keep their hands off each other despite the presence of a little human relation anywhere in a four block radius strike me as completely unbelievable, so I can't lose myself in the fantasy. I know the reality to well.

At my age, the likelihood I will meet a dashing ex-Navy SEAL/cowboy/millionaire shiek and he will take me away after learning that I'm a spy/repressed librarian/immediately orgasming virgin is about on par with my chances of getting struck by lightning after having bought a winning billion dollar payout lottery ticket. So I need my heroines to be young enough that such a possibility is...well, possible in order for me to lose myself in the story. To escape in it and truly enjoy it. I'd much rather put myself in her shoes, which is easy enough to do if she's a well drawn character, than wonder if I'm doing something wrong because at my age, I've never experienced such adventures.

I don't know how I'll feel when I hit 50 or 60 or 70. There's a good chance I'll look back fondly on my forties - the decade when my kids will truly become independent - and think of it as the time in my life when I was the sexiest and most alive. I'll perhaps want to read stories about 40 year-old divorcees finding love a second time around.

Now, though, I need my reading and writing to take me away from my reality. I need to come to terms with my own aging before I can come to terms with the aging of fictional characters. No, I'll never be able to lose myself in stories where the heroine is barely graduated high school. I know better now. But I'm not far enough away from my twenties and thirties to think of those ages as too young.

I won't go into how much it bothers me that I feel like some kind of dirty old woman if I dare admire the nicely sculpted torso of the college-aged guy who mows our neighbor's lawn. It's simply too depressing.