Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Requiem for The West Wing

I learned yesterday that this seventh season is officially the last season for The West Wing. This makes me sad, as it is one of the few shows I really enjoy and can also share with my husband since he, too, enjoys it. But I have to admit that I think it's the right decision.

I didn't start watching TWW until the second season. I can't remember why I avoided it or what changed my mind, but I got hooked hard and fast and have been a faithful viewer ever since. I don't think there is a season that I'd say was worst or better than any of the others; they've all had highlights for me. I can honestly say that I have never been bored. My only complaint is that often I found the dialogue unnatural, especially after John Wells took over. It is always so witty and so quickly delivered it in no way mimics real speech. Some of the actors do better at delivery than others, so depending on who was in a scene stuff like that either amused me or annoyed me. Otherwise, I'd say it's a nearly perfect television series.

I'm an admitted Josh and Donna 'shipper and hope these two crazy kids will get their rewards before all is said and done. I've alternately loved and hated Toby, have always loved CJ, liked Sam but also like Will Bailey, and I don't hate Kate. I'm not a big fan of Abby Bartlett because I find her a bit too shrewish. To her defense, I think the writers are mirroring Abby in Helen Santos, who can grate on me as well with her blatant disapproval of her husband's campaign and the folks running it.

Then again, I find it hard to understand how a first lady or potential first lady can be so openly irritated at the inconveniences of things like Secret Service personel or their husbands having not nearly enough time to spend with the kids. Hello? President/running for president of the United States? Kind of a big job where the drawbacks are pretty well spelled out from the get-go. Should have spoken up a long time ago, and if he didn't listen, shoulda got out then and there.

Anyway, I was so saddened by the death of John Spencer. Leo is one of my favorite characters on any show, and John was an excellent actor. It will be interesting to see how the writers handle this in terms of the upcoming election.

In the end, though, I respect the creators of TWW for calling it a day before things get ugly. I had my doubts about this season, not so sure an entire year of watching a presidental election would hold my interest. But it has, very much so. I'm hoping for a Santos win although Alan Alda's Vinick makes that a difficult call.

Part of me is glad there will be one less show next year to take time away from writing. The other part of me is terrified that this hole means more room for crap reality TV. I don't intend to replace it with anything else, that's for sure.

Either way, I'll miss TWW a lot. It taught me a lot about how our government really works. And it also showed me that you couldn't pay me enough money in the world to be the president.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Real Lost Art

This weekend I was transferring some keepsakes from a cardboard box which had been sitting in storage at my parents' house for some twelve years to a sturdier, waterproof Rubbermaid container. I was grinning a lot as I found another of my journals kept for all of three weeks when I was a sophomore in high school and a pile of notes my friends and I had passed concerning all kinds of important teenage girly stuff. And there was the jar of sand I had collected from atop the Great National Sand Dunes Park when I was in the ninth grade, a jar my son subsequently knocked over and broke sending bits of National Sand Dune all over the guest room carpet. *sigh*

But the best treasure in that box was a packet of letters I had received when I was in college and had kept because they were special. Some are cards sent from my mother. The handful of letters I got from the boy I'd been in love with in high school from his college in far off Texas. Even a letter from my little brother, probably the only one he wrote the entire five years I was at school.

Best of all were the dozen or more letters sent to me by my boyfriend at the time when he and I had gone our ways for summer vacation. Wonderful letters that took me back like it was yesterday.

I sat on the floor and read all of them, and after wiping a tear away and explaining the huge smile on my face to my husband, I wondered what happened to him. He was a great guy, and we dated for three years. In fact, he was almost The One, and I honestly think it was only my immaturity that kept me from being able to really commit. I love my husband and I don't regret the way my life has gone, but this guy was certainly one that Got Away with much second guessing on my part in later years.

Anyway, I've honestly never Googled anybody from my past with any real intent, but I set out to see if I could find him. About seven or eight pages deep in the Google results, I did locate somebody that I was 99% sure was him (the picture provided at the end of the link helped a lot on that score). I took a deep breath and e-mailed him, hoping I had the right guy or if not, the guy I did get wouldn't think I was too much of a kook.

I had the right guy, and he graciously e-mailed me back, albeit a little weirded out at hearing from an old girlfriend out of nowhere. I assured him I had no ulterior motive other than a bout of nostalgia, and I'm hoping that we can keep in touch. It's thrilling to me when I have a chance to re-connect with people who meant so much to me in the past but for whatever reasons have since disappeared from my life.

What all this got me to thinking about, though, is how tragic it is that the art of letter writing is going by the wayside. I don't have any hard facts, but I know that I never write letters anymore. I send cards for birthdays and holidays, and I write the occasional thank-you note. But nearly all of my correspondence is via e-mail. And I'd be willing to bet that most young people today contact each other electronically or on the phone.

Which means that twenty years from now, they will not have a box full of old letters to distract them from a dreary January afternoon. They will not have the chance to remember voices from the past or to relive old feelings and wonder what happened to old friends. They won't get to read about events that had happened that they'd forgotten all about. Somehow a printout of "C U L8R" isn't even remotely close. Sure, their cell phones can take pictures. But despite the saying, a thousand words is a thousand words.

I've said before that I'm going to encourage my kids to keep written journals. And I'm going to make an effort to correspond with them via letters when they leave home. There's a good chance they'll be like my husband and very unsentimental, tossing what I've written after they've read it. But if they decide to keep them, they'll have something to remember me by some day when I'm gone.

In case anyone out there reads this and is worried, I also have a box of letters and cards sent to me by my now-husband. Thankfully he was romantic and attentive when we were dating.

Now, we're both pretty cool with e-mails.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Yeah, He's Sorry, So What?

I'm a huge fan of Richard Roeper's column, which appears in the Chicago Sun Times newspaper. It's the only column I read religiously, and usually I agree with his take on things. Unless it's sports. When he starts talking sports, I zone out.

Anyway, I was pleased to read his take on Oprah's handling of the James Frey It's-All-A-Bunch-Of-Lies fiasco. When The Smoking Gun first released its investigation results that revealed Frey for the fake that he is, my first thought was to agree with the on-line site that Oprah had been totally duped.

Even more frustrating, however, was knowing that this guy was making a killing on this book because of Oprah's endorsement. And that no matter what all of this turns up, sales of the novel cum memoir will only go up. You know what they say; good publicity or bad publicity, it's still publicity.

I, personally, plan to avoid this book like the plague. I will not buy a copy of it. I will not check it out of the library. I will not read a single word of it, nor will I go see the movie adaptation which you just know is somewhere in the process. I will do nothing at all that could conceivable put another penny in this guy Frey's pockets. He makes me nauseated. He's a liar and a fake.

Thing is, there are a lot of liars and fakes out there, so why my violent reaction - heck, why I even care at all - is kind of a mystery to me. I think it's because as a person who's working hard to become a published writer and who now has some insight into how hard it is to become published, I feel like Frey has smacked every author-hopeful in the collective face. He's taken what is tantamount to a miracle - a first time book published, endorsed by Oprah, and the second highest selling book of 2005 - and pissed on it because he lied to make it happen. So many out there work so hard for so long and play by the rules yet will never realize even one micron of success this guy has had. But he cheated his way in, and the publisher and the public fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

As I understand it, Frey's manuscript was rejected many times when he submitted it as a work of fiction. It was only when he began calling it a memoir that anyone became interested.

Which baffles my mind. If a story is a good story, told well, why would it matter if the book is fact or fiction? If the character is sympathetic enough that millions of people will read the book and find inspiration in its message - even the Book Club Goddess herself - why does it make a difference if the protagonist is real or a creation out of someone's mind? Isn't the story the same?

But I have to wonder if Oprah would have taken such an interest in the book had she believed that it was fictional. Would she have said "Tragic story, too bad there's no warm body to place on the pedestal of inspiration." Would she have passed this story over for something else? I have no idea.

In the end, though, this guy will apologize out of one side of his mouth and laugh out the other side all the way to the bank. His career as a writer might be over - and I would argue that this is not necessarily the case - but he's set already.

One of the DJs on the morning talk show I listen to made a smart observation this morning. She wondered why everyone out there is so shocked that this guy lied. After all, he was a drug addict, and lying comes with the territory. He's not exactly the model of good behaviour from the get go, so this current development isn't something that far out of left field.

True, she has a point. And honestly, I don't give two bits who this guy lies to in his personal life. But when he makes loads of money lying to the public, kind of pushes him into a higher level of despicableness.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oooops, Someone's Gonna Get It

I was in Walmart the other day, perusing the books as I do to see what's out. One title caught my eye; Susan Enoch's Don't Look Down.

I confess that it caught my attention not because I've read any of Enoch's books or that the cover was particularly appealing, but more because the title struck a chord. I stared at it a minute, trying to put my finger on it. Something was so familiar...


Don't Look Down is the title of the Jennifer Crusie/Bob Mayer book due out in April.

I've been following Crusie and Mayer's various blogs and websites because the two entertain me tremendously. I'm looking forward to reading their book because I have a feeling that it'll be the perfect blend of romance, humor and action, which is just my cup of tea. Throw in Mayer's military past and I'm nearly breathless.

But I had to wonder, as I looked at Enoch's book, how two books with the same title managed to come out within a few months of each other. And I had to wonder if Crusie and Mayer are at all worried or perturbed, or vice versa on Enoch's end, although since she's out first I suppose she has less to be annoyed about.

Things became even more interesting when I came home and Amazoned the two books and took a good look at the covers.

Here's Enoch's cover:

And here's the Crusie/Mayer cover:

Kind of scary how similar the two are. Both have the dangling characters, the woman losing her shoe. Both with the modern fonts with a dropped letter and clean lines and block coloring.

I have no doubt that all of this is just a coincidence. I'm sure that the folks at St. Martin's (Crusie/Mayer's publisher) don't consult with the folks at Avon (Enoch's publisher) about titles or covers or vice versa. Plus, the Crusie/Mayer book is coming out in hardcover (which, dang, I just discovered) while Enoch's is paperback, so it's doubtful that there is any real fear that there would be confusion between the two. Clearly this is just one of those things.

And I also have no doubt that Crusie and Mayer aren't the least bit concerned. They shouldn't be. But, dang, if I were them I'd be annoyed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Don't Cheetahs Hunt After 10 A.M.?

Now that I'm a savvy e-book buyer, I went all crazy-like and got PBW's Way of the Cheetah. If any writer out there has earned the right to give advice on how to be productive, she's the one. If I could be one tenth as prolific as she is, I'd be ecstatic.

Anyway, I read the book yesterday afternoon and found myself nodding constantly at her no-nonsense, straight up dope on what it takes to be a real writer. She offered a lot of good suggestions on how to become disciplined. Stuff that made so much sense, in fact, I actually decided to give some things a try.

Like, I set my alarm clock for 6:00 this morning. Figured I'd get in a solid hour of writing before it was time to get in the shower and then wake the kids and ready them for school.

The alarm goes off at 5:50 (my clock is set 10 minutes fast because I need at least one tap of the snooze before I even consider getting out of bed, but setting the alarm for "5:50" is simply too uncivilized for my tiny brain to handle). I tap the snooze thinking there is no freakin' way (actually, the word was a little more explicit than that) I was going to be able to crawl out of my warm bed and go down to the cold living room and write for an hour. What in the hell had I been thinking? It's still pitch black outside!

I'm so not a morning person. In college, my roommate would get up at 5 am to study for exams she had that day. I thought she was nuts. I'd stay up until 5 am to study just so I could sleep until the last possible minute before I had to be there. The summer I had to get up at 5:30 in order to commute to my internship by the 7 am start time just about killed me. In my perfect world, nothing would open or begin before 10:00 and I could sleep until at least 9 every single day.

Anyway, the alarm goes off, I hit the snooze and fall back asleep. And then wake up when the alarm goes off nine minutes later. At which time, the dog starts licking her butt which always worries me means she needs to go out and is trying to stem the flow, or at the very least shakes the bed so much there's no way I can get back to sleep. I laid there until 6:15 before I decided I might as well get up because otherwise, what will happen is that I'll fall asleep at precisely 6:50 and be nearly dead when the alarm goes off at 7 and I really do have to get up.

I crept downstairs, let the dog out (see, I told you) and made myself a cup of hot chocolate. I followed the next step in Viehl's Way of the Cheetah and opened up my fresh Word document, not allowing myself to think of doing anything at all other than write. If I'm going to get up at 6-freakin'-o'clock to write, I'm damn well going to write and nothing else.

Forty-five minutes later I'd managed nearly 1,000 words. I think about 995 of those are crap, but at least they're on paper. No matter what else happens today - like me slipping into a coma - I can hold my head up and say I've written my thousand words for the day.

When I turned the light off at 11 last night, telling my husband about my Grand Plan, he laughed out loud. He's not a morning person, either. For years I've been telling him he should get up early and work out in the morning, before he goes to work, rather than doing it in the evening and missing far too many dinners with the family. He admits it's a good idea, but he also knows he's far more likely to throw the alarm clock across the room than bounce out of bed and put his running shoes on. He asked me, this morning, how it worked, and I expressed my serious doubts about my Grand Plan. He correctly suggested that it might take a couple of months for my body to get adjusted to a new schedule.

Thing is, I don't know if I have the fortitude to last that long. Right now I have a killer headache, which may or may not have anything to do with waking up early but hurts all the same. And I know the bed upstairs isn't made yet and I can hear it calling to me to come back into the warmth of its soft, downy wonderfulness.

Maybe I'm the rare nocturnal cheetah. Maybe I'm not a cheetah at all, but more like a hamster, busy all night and back in my cozy little cave before the sun comes up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hmm...Not So Good

I've often read discussions about whether or not a writer's personality - either in person or via communication on the web - ever affect a reader's response to her (or his) work. For example, if a writer is a real peach online, communicates with her fans, is friendly and upbeat, gives to charity and adopts stray animals, and is generally a wonderful person, most likely readers would be predisposed to like what she writes. On the flip side, if a writer is nasty or spiteful or outspoken in a brash, undiplomatic way, no matter how good of a story she tells, her stuff won't go over well.

Never have I met (and I say this in the cyber-sense) a writer that rubbed me in such a way as to think differently about her work.

Until now.

Okay, first of all, let me say that I've read most of Judith McNaught's books. Two of them, in fact, are on the top shelf of my keeper bookcase; Whitney, My Love (the original, with the un-PC scenes) and A Kingdom of Dreams. In fact, I might consider KOD one of my top five favorite romances of all time.

But while I found her other titles well-written, after a while they started to blend together to me. They all seemed to follow a similar pattern; hoydenish/tomboyish/misunderstood heroine is introduced to the Ton where she becomes a smashing success and after a giant Big Misunderstand or a dozen ends up with the most roguish, rakish, alpha-male eligible bachelor since the last JM book. The key to the formula was always the Big Misunderstanding, a concept that has to be handled very carefully in order for me to tolerate it for very long (much less the length of an entire stand-alone novel). Even WML pushed my limits by the time Whitney and Clayton reached their last "it's not MY baby!" misunderstanding.

Anyway, I do think Ms. McNaught is a talented writer, well deserving of her place in the romance genre history annals.

But I have to be honest. I just finished reading her interview over at AAR, and...well, I'm kind of put off. I think.

Now, I don't know her personally, and I know that body language and tone of voice and all of that are very necessary to interpret a person's true meaning in what they say, stuff you simply can't get out of an interview posted on a website. So with all due respect and taking this into account, it could be that I'm just hypersensitive.

But I found a lot of what Ms. McNaught said in her opening paragraphs to be more than a little bit condescending. I don't want to analyze it to death here in case you haven't read the interview because I don't want to affect your own interpretation. Go read it, determine for yourself what you think, then come back to see if you agree with me.

It's just that I got the distinct impression that I ("I" being the romance reading community) was being scolded, albiet indirectly. That by expressing a distaste for a common plot device (and yes, the Big Misunderstanding is a plot device with no judgment attached to the definition) that has been overused or misused in a broader sense that perhaps I am looking too hard at what I'm reading. That noticing a fault in a book - that perhaps the writer used a plot device in such a way as to envoke some amount of eyerolling or even stretching it almost to the point of collapse - and thus naming said book a "guilty pleasure," I've committed a serious affront to the writer.

Actually, as a writer, I think I'd be overjoyed to know that despite the fact that I've used what many consider cliches or plot devices that normally cause book-hurling, people still love my stuff enough to call it a guilty pleasure.

I understand that she's trying to tell us to lighten up and stop worrying about what we should like or shouldn't like and just go with the flow. For the most part, I do that. Heck, anyone who reads romance novels is long accustomed to liking something that the public at large vociferously claims no one should enjoy and doing so proudly, without apology. Even within the genre, there are lines we each have drawn about what we will accept and what we won't. And sometimes we cross those lines, even enjoying ourselves when we do so.

Like going to the country fair and plunking down a couple bucks for the giant cone of neon-pink cotton candy. Tastes fabulous, no question about it. Fun to have once in a while, and you can enjoy it without apology. But cotton candy is all fluff and no substance. Doesn't mean you can't like it, but you at least should see it for what it is and not give it excuses or claim that the pink dye they use is full of vitamins and nutrients. It's a guilty pleasure.

Too, I have to wonder how out of touch she must be in order for her claim of not having ever heard the term Big Misunderstanding used in regards to romance novels. I suppose being as successful as she is, she has the option of writing without needing to keep her finger on the pulse of the industry. Writing isn't like practicing medicine. There aren't new technological and medical breakthroughs that require constant re-education. Even so, she and her editor were really that clueless?

And not to rehash old junk, but she emphatically stated that she found nothing at all politically incorrect about what she had originally writte in WML, yet she had decided to change those scenes anyway. When she wrote the books, she hadn't known that real abuse and rape actually happened to real women. Huh? Did she think she invented those concepts out of her own mind? I'm not quite sure I understand that logic, but whatever. I happend to prefer the original, non-diluted version because it makes for better story, and in the end, that trumps a few readers' disatisfaction and loudly cried outrage in my opinion.

In fact, I would argue that by changing those scenes, she's done the romance genre a disservice. Literary fiction covers a gigantic range of human experiences, some of them more horrific than others. But you never see literary novelists changing their stories because they are worried that some of their readers might be hurt by what they've written. Same thing with mystery writers or Sci Fi writers or any other genre fiction. Romance novels reflect a stylized version of reality. As such, sometimes issues will be depicted that mirror real-world circumstances that are hurtful. To delete those references is a form of pandering to the lowest common denominator, of treating your readers like children unable to handle a too-scary bedtime story. So what does that say about the romance genre as a whole? That if its readers can't handle it, the story will be altered until it becomes palatable? So, for example, if romance novel readers don't like reading about blood, all vampire stories must be sanitized in such a way as to keep delicate sensibilities from being ruffled? Not thinking this is a good thing.

Okay, off my soapbox now.

Overall, I felt like she was saying that because she's a successful writer and because she's been writing for so long (over 2 1/2 decades, she pointed out more than once), certainly she knows more and better what works and what doesn't, and if we all have a problem with any of it, especially any of it that she herself has used, then we need to "get over it." We're over-analyzing, over-demanding, and kind of ungrateful, if we want to know the truth.

In skimming the comments about the interview posted on AAR's potpourri message board, I got the impression that perhaps a couple of other people felt at least a little bit of what I felt. Except, I also got the idea that maybe they were afraid of offending a big name writer like Ms. McNaught by calling a horse a horse. I'm either not so shy or totally stupid, but I don't feel such a compulsion. As I was reading the first half of the interview, I just got a really bad taste in my mouth.

However, in the spirit of not letting what I perceive as a writer's foot-in-mouth disease affect what I think about her storytelling abilities, I must admit that I'm intrigued by the premise of McNaught's latest release. I might just give it a go. When it hits paperback, that is.

And in the meantime, I think I'll keep a wide berth around any more McNaught interviews. Sometimes it might just be better to live in blissful ignorance.

Baby Steps

This weekend I bought my very first e-book. Well, sort of.

I mean, it's an e-book. But it's not an e-book. It's nonfiction. But it's 147 pages long and it's now on my computer. Does that count? It's Holly Lisle's Create A Character Clinic, and it's fabulous.

I'd resisted buying e-books for a couple of reason. First, I already spend too much time in front of my computer. My biggest fear is that my eyesight will go, and I figure staring at the screen for even more hours can't be helpful. I have no desire to print out the book. The cost of paper and ink cartridges is prohibitive enough, not to mention where in the world I would store an entire book's worth of 8 1/2" x 11" pages is beyond me.

Another reason is that I'm a tangible person. I like to have something I can hold and touch after I fork over my cash. And I like seeing my bookshelves fat with my reading offspring. I enjoy the feel of paper and the colorful images on the covers (clinch covers excluded, of course). I like the visual affirmation of the hours I've enjoyed lost in those pages. Too, when I peruse the shelves, often times a favorite will call to me for a re-read. Somehow files on my desktop just don't have that same siren's song.

One of the biggest reasons for my avoidance of e-books is that I'm terrified of buying digital information on line. When the purchase process involves transferring data from the originating source onto my equipment, I'm terrified that something will go wrong. Either I will not have the right software to download properly or open the file once I do download it, or I'll goof up somewhere along the line, and what I've just bought will get caught out in the great never never of cyberspace, lost to me forever.

However, in spending much time on Holly's website and sucking up every single word of free advice that she's shelled out over the years, her Create A Character Clinic was simply too tempting to forgo despite all of my e-book issues. If I could have found this in the bookstore, I would have most definitely purchased it and placed it on my writing craft reference shelf with glee. But since the electronic version was my only option, I took a deep breath and plunged in to the e-book game.

Oddly enough, my last and greatest fear came true and scared the bejeebus out of me for about five minutes. I followed the steps and made my payment, and to my delight the option came for me to download my newly-purchased file. I did so, and wouldn't you know the during the transfer the file became corrupted? Thinking maybe I'd goofed, I tried to download it again. But of course the system believed I'd already gotten my one and only purchased copy and told me so. One per customer, thank you very much. In a panic, I e-mailed the service address terrified they'd never believe me and tell me too bad, so sad, you suck.

Thankfully, though, my paranoia was just that. In less than 24 hours they sent me a new file that opened perfectly on the very first try. No questions asked. No problems. Transaction completed with minimum fuss and no muss. Big thank you to Holly and her folks for helping me out so promptly and nicely.

Having got the file, I plopped down on the couch and dug right in. Holly offers wondeful advice, using samples from her published works as well as an ongoing example she uses to demonstrate both the good and the bad. Her advice and strategies are so practical and down to earth, without any of the fluff that keep them from being nearly impossible to actually apply. I've already got ideas about what I can change to make my stuff better, as well as specific direction to help me make better writing decisions.

So I'm thoroughly enjoying my purchase. In fact, to all you writers out there, I highly recommend you obtain a copy for yourself. I'll be looking forward to other e-books Holly puts out.

In fact, after this experience, I might get brave enough to try something in fiction.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Living Up To My Blog's Title

Okay, to start off my new blogging year on a fun foot, I'm going to make a five fearless confessions. I promise, none of these are of such a nature as to cause my mother shame. At least, I don't think so.

Confession 1: I've never watched American Idol. Not even one single episode from any of the seasons. The only things I know about the show is stuff I'm not even sure I've got right, such as that Paula Abdul is a judge who got caught boinking one of the contestants, that Kelly Clarkson is the show's most successful alumni so far, and that some dorky guy made gobs of money off the fact that he sang so badly as to be hilarious.

Confession 2: I didn't think Sleepless In Seattle was a wonderful romance to end all romances. Sure, it had it's sweet moments. And Tom Hanks is always a cutie. But for crying out loud, the hero and heroine didn't even meet until the last three minutes of the movie. Give me a great action flick over a cloying romantic comedy any day of the week. Unless it's an exception - When Harry Met Sally comes to mind - I need the element of danger to give the romance the punch I enjoy.

Confession 3: I claim to be a Jane Austen fan (and I'll argue that I am even after this confession), but I haven't read all of her works. Even worse, I prefer some of the movie adaptations to the books because I like having the visual world displayed for my easy consumption.

Confession 4: I got my romance reading start on the old timers; Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, Bertrice Small. And although times have changed and these older bodice rippers are now the height of anti-PC-ness, I still think they were wonderful. Melodramatic, over-the-top, with heroes who were bastards in more than the technical sense, heroines who clearly had Madonna/Whore complexes, and plots straight out of a BDSM manual. Granted, I haven't read them in ages and would probably have a more critical view now. But for pure guilty-pleasure escapism, some of them are my favorite keepers.

All right, I lied. I can't think of a fifth confession. I'm sure one will come to me, at which time I'll come back and add it in.

Anyway, any big confessions out there anyone wishes to share?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Happy Anniversary, Bloggie!

Wow, it's actually been a whole year since I started this little 'ol blog. A whole freaking year!

Let's see, in that year, I've posted 225 entries. That's an average of 1 entry every 1.6 days. Not too shabby since I had no idea how well I'd do keeping up. I've proven to myself that I have the ability to accomplish something if I just sit down and do it.

I've had over 11,000 visits. Never in a million years did I expect that. Wow.

It's been a great exercise in discipline. Knowing that at least a couple of folks might be checking in to see if something new was posted kept me accountable, and going more than a couple of days without posting something made me feel kind of twitchy.

I've really come to enjoy having this space to air my viewpoints and to blather on about stuff that really is of interest mostly to me. I've loved hearing from people who've been kind enough to leave comments.

It's been a good year.

I'm excited about the next one! Who knows where I'll be on my next blogging annivesary?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Yes, A Cheat

Kinda busy today, so here's a cheat. Thanks to Sylvia Day for providing me the link.

The Regency Romance Quiz: What kind of Romance Heroine are you?

Lucky you - you are the Belle of the Ball. Looks, wit, charm, accomplishments and money - you have them all. You are the toast of Society, and have received offers from no fewer than three Dukes. There is no-one who does not love you on sight. Sound good? It isn't, because to compensate for these riches, the author has something very nasty indeed in store for you. I mean, she does have to write a novel here, and you can't expect to be happy all the time. So, you have a Dark Secret. Or perhaps a Secret Love for the only man who does not appear to desire you. Or maybe you will be kidnapped, or become embroiled in a scandal, or be wagered and lost by your brother in a card game. The possibilities are endless, but you may be certain of two things. 1) You will not get through this book without some kind of scandal being attached to your name. I'm sorry, but that's just how it is. 2) Whatever it is, he (the man of your dreams, that is) will fall in love with you, rescue you, slay your opponents, defy your detractors, marry you and live happily ever after. This is a romance novel, after all.
Take this quiz!


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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's the Details

Was out of town this weekend, visiting my mother over the long, Martin Luther King holiday (thank you, Dr. King, for this and so many other things). We made the obligatory visit to Barnes & Noble, which is always fun of course.

I saw something very cool at the store, and come to find out my mother had already picked it up. It's a pair of books called How Well Do You Know Your Husband/Wife? Now, I might not have this title exactly right because a search on Barnesandnoble.com leads me nowhere. It could be that you can only get these in store because they are small, pad-like books (think Mad Libs) that are those fun Q&A party-game type.

Anyway, the book is full of questions that range from simple, like: "Does he (your husband) have his tonsils?" to the more complex, such as: "Does he believe in an afterlife?" The book for the husband contains different questions than the book for the wife, however, they aren't sexist in any way and could be asked of either half of a partnership. Since each book contains 100 questions, that ends up being 200 very interesting bits of trivia about any one person.

I've discovered that these are excellent tools for character development. Last night I sat down with the books and took two of my characters and put them through the quizzes. Naturally I substituted the "husband" and "wife" aspect with "boyfriend/girlfriend" or significant other. And some questions simply didn't apply (like, "which of your relatives is his favorite") if the couple wasn't at least at a certain point in their relationship.

Too, some of the answers changed over the course of the story. For example, one question asked of the men is "If you (the girlfriend) died tomorrow, how soon would he want to get into another relationship?" with answers ranging from "right away" to "never." Of my male character, his answer changed from before he met the heroine to the end of the story, as you might expect.

When all was said and done, I ended up with a page of wonderful trivia facts about my characters. I now know all sorts of details that help me determine what they would do in given situations, and they've become fully-fleshed people. Too, I was able to develop a consistency in the way my characters would behave given their answers to previous questions. For example, if my female could name the current Secretary General of the United Nations, it made sense that when asked what parts of the newspaper she read, the international affairs section would be one of them.

I'm going to put all of my characters through this test. Because this goes beyond those personality tests that simply tell you if a person is outgoing or introverted or adventurous. This gives concrete answers so that these people are individuals rather than one in a group lump.

If you're in Barnes & Noble any time soon, I recommend picking up a copy of these books. They're also a lot of fun to put your own spouse through.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hopefully, A Well-Rounded Review

As I’m sure anyone reading this already knows, because so many others have linked to it, there was a fast and furious discussion about reviews over on RTB. I’m not going to bother weighing in about what I think about Amazon reviews. I read them with a grain of salt when (which is very rarely) I ever do.

I did make a comment in the RTB article comments section about why I personally have so few one and two-star reviews/reads. This is because if a book is bad enough to warrant such a low ranking, chances are I didn’t finish reading it. In effect, the worst rating a person could get from me is more of a three-star, which means I finished the book, didn’t find it fabulous enough to keep or recall to any great degree, it didn’t suck, but it didn’t blow me away either.

However, in the interest of proving that a good review isn’t all about gushing, I’m going to give you my review of the book I finished yesterday afternoon, a book I enjoyed but didn’t think was perfect in every way. Let me know how you think I did.

Lynn Viehl’s Private Demon is the second of her Darkyn series books, the first being If Angels Burn. The world Viehl has created is one where vampire-like creatures walk the Earth if not benevolently, at least far removed from being the villains of the story as most vampire-like creatures usually are. Rather, the real villains are the monkish members of a religious order known as the Brethren of the Light, men who’ve devoted their lives to hunting down Darkyn and eradicating what they see as a scourge on the earth. The Brethren’s methods make Hitler and his crowd look like Sunday school teachers.

I really enjoyed If Angels Burn. I like Viehl’s writing style, and the story hooked me from the very beginning. The only issue I had was a particularly graphic torture scene that seemed to be put in the story more for shock value than because the story actually needed the scene. But that complaint was minor, the book earned a spot on my keeper shelf, and I was glad to get my copy of Private Demon.

Private Demon picks up a few months after IAB ended, ostensibly to follow the story of Thierry Durand, another Darkyn introduced in the first story. Thierry was captured and tortured by the Brethren, but the betrayal of his wife was the key in turning him almost completely mad. After attacking the heroine of IAB, Alexandra (the plastic surgeon who healed Thierry’s twisted body if not his tortured mind), Thierry escaped New Orleans a marked vampire and headed for Chicago, where he planned to find and extract revenge on the men who attacked one of Alex’s patients.

Once in Chicago, Thierry has a chance encounter with Jema Shaw, an antiquities expert who moonlights as a forensic evidence gatherer. Jema is a sickly woman who isn’t expected to live much beyond her 30th birthday, but something about her captures Thierry’s attention. Soon he is using his Darkyn ability to penetrate into human’s dreams in order to develop a relationship with Jema that exists only in the woman’s sleeping mind.

Meanwhile, the story follows further the relationship between IAB hero Michael and Alexandra, the woman whom he loves and turned into a Darkyn much like himself. Thierry’s son, Jamys, is involved when he travels to Chicago to search for his father. And Jema’s next door neighbor is none other than Valentin Jaus, a key Darkyn leader who has been in love with Jema pretty much since he met her when she was but a year old.

Throw in a group of racist, violent skinheads, Alexandra’s brother and ex-priest/Brethren recruit, John, Jema’s twisted mother and dubious physician, and the story pretty much races along.

The entire story presented a very complex puzzle, with all of the pieces being revealed entirely independent of how they related to the rest. In the end, plot twists come up that I never expected but served to demonstrate how it all tied together. People I thought were villains weren’t necessarily the truest bad guys.

I enjoyed how Jema was not your run-of-the-mill perfect woman. From the description of her as well as knowing she was a frail, ill woman, I got the impression that she was too skinny, too pale, and generally nothing like the buxom, robust sexpots you normally encounter in such a story. While Thierry was portrayed as slightly mad, still he was appealing in every way. Their attraction to each other made sense but not in the normal two beautiful people being perfect for each other way.

Another thing I liked was how certain aspects of IAB were finally explained, fleshing out the Darkyn universe and setting up future stories. While I find it a little disconcerting to work my brain around all of the foreign words used to describe bits of the Darkyn structure (like a leader being called a suzerain or a group or designation of Darkyn being a jardin, which is, I believe, the French word for garden), the world is becoming a complete entity.

I also appreciated how every character had his or her own voice that very much fit with the type of character he or she was. Kids from the street talked like kids from the street, people who were not native-English speakers with just the tiny difference that made it clear. Viehl has a great knack for good dialogue that reads just like it sounds and makes for very real-sounding characters. She pulls those individual dialogue styles into the internal thoughts of the POV characters, again giving each person a very distinct voice. This was key since there were so very many characters and POVs presented.

Which leads me to really my main criticism of this book. There are simply too many people and to many things going on to keep straight.

For the most part, I was able to keep track of who was doing what where and sort of why, but often I felt on the verge of becoming very confused. For example, one character, whom I remembered being introduced to, was killed, yet I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who he was or why it mattered when they found his body. I flipped back to see if I could determine his importance but gave up fairly quickly and still have no idea why he died or why I should care.

Some of the scenes where we are shown the action of villains or secondary or even tertiary characters seem kind of unnecessary. For example, we are treated to a scene in which the skinheads meet to discuss their latest act of gleeful violence. While the scene was well written, it seemed unnecessary as we are never again shown the story from that scene’s character’s POV. Same thing with one of the key leaders of the Brethren. He appears for one scene then disappears for the rest of the book. In fact, so many characters are introduced that Jema and Thierry, the key protagonists, have actually very little screen time. Often I wished the camera would remain focused on this couple when, instead, it swung to some bit players for reasons I wasn’t able to fathom. Unless these are establishing scenes for future stories, I almost wish we could have remained with a handful of key characters.

Too, it seemed that at times, everyone was either targeted to be killed or being attacked, and it wasn’t until the very end that we learned exactly who wanted to kill whom and for what reason. We had Darkyn killing Darkyn, Brethren killing Darkyn, Darkyn killing skinheads, skinheads killing everyone...you get the picture. I almost needed a chart to figure out who wanted whom dead.

But, what makes this book exceptional is that despite the above issues, I still could not put it down. The pace was fast enough to keep me riveted, and I never once felt I could skip a paragraph (not that I wanted to). Every character was interesting even if I wasn’t quite sure why that character was necessary. Kind of like being at a party where every person you talk to is interesting, but you can’t help but wish you could have spent more time with the cute guy in the corner.

One issue I did have about Thierry’s motivation – and what came across, to me anyway, as a way to tie all of these seemingly unrelated people together – was Jema’s supposed connection with Alexandra’s patient, the woman who’s attackers Thierry had come to hunt down. Thierry established his bond with Jema because he believed she could help him track down the men he sought. Yet why Jema might be able to help him never became very clear to me and thus seemed a thin excuse for Thierry’s continued interest in her. Besides, after their first encounter, I had no problem believing that Thierry would seek out Jema just because of the intensity between them. I didn’t need it all to tie together the way it did.

I do have some personal nitpicks about the story’s setting, which is my hometown of Chicago. I can tell that Viehl did her homework and has researched the city, using proper street names such as Michigan Avenue. But I’m not sure she’s ever actually been here because some of her logistics don’t ring quite true. For example, Jema supposedly works in her family’s museum, which is located in downtown Chicago. Her home, Shaw House, is a giant mansion with beachfront property. In reality, all of Chicago’s beachfront property is currently park because the city founders felt it critical that the waterfront be kept for public use. If you want to find lush, gated mansions with beachfront property, you’d have to travel quite a bit to the posh northern suburbs to find them. However, I got the impression that Jema’s home and office were relatively close to each other. In actuality, her commute would have been hell, with traffic and all, taking her up and down Lake Shore Drive. Not something most Chicagoans do more than once a day. In fact, most wouldn't drive but rather take the commuter train to avoid the headaches.

Another time, the character Jamys is given a ride by a man who is heading to Fort Wayne (Indiana, I presume). If this man were driving north from the south, which I assumed since Jamys was himself coming from New Orleans, driving first to Chicago would take him substantially out of the way from the eastern edge of Indiana and makes no logistical sense unless Jamys used supernatural means to convince the man to take him there. And when he drops Jamys off near a cluster of houses by the highway that are “in walking distance of the city”, I have absolutely no idea where this could be. Chicago is huge, sprawling into suburbs that extend miles and miles south, such that any highway leading into the city is surrounded on both sides by tons and tons of houses long before you reach the city limits. Walking to the city would take days from any point so remote and rural that there is only a cluster of homes by the highway.

But these are minor details particular only to someone like me, and I’m already looking forward to the third installment of the Darkyn series, Dark Need (out in June 2006). I’m anxious to see how Viehl makes a hero out of possibly the darkest and most potentially evil of the Darkyn characters we’ve been introduced to so far. Too, I’m hoping we’ll get to see more of the characters we’ve met in the past, and that some of the mysteries that we’ve been introduced to get answered.

Despite the problem of too many threads to follow, I do recommend this book. It’s wonderfully entertaining, a true can’t-put-it-down page turner.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

My Gal, She Is a Spunky Gal

This morning I realized what the problem is with all of my heroines. They are all trying so hard to be spunky. Every last one of them. Which makes them all too much alike. I mean, even the one who has suffered terrible abuse and is pretty much as beaten down as a girl can get is trying to let her inner spunk out. She can't be spunky. She's too downtrodden to be spunky. She's dark and sad and brooding, with all of the spunk mashed down to near non-existence, dang it!

I think the reason I'm having this problem is because I'm trying to figure out what it is about women (or a woman) that men find appealing. Beyond the sex stuff, I mean. And for some reason, spunk keeps rising to the surface as the one trait I can wrap my hands around and use. Cause doesn't everyone just love a spunky gal? The one who never quits, who's always there for her friends, and who charms the hero with her cheerful outlook even in the most dire of situations? I mean, come on, who doesn't love Meg Ryan as Sally in When Harry Met Sally or Debra Winger as Paula in An Officer and a Gentleman?

But I don't want all of my heroines to be the same, cookie cutter cute girl-next-door types.

To my defense, I do have a couple of heroines who are not spunky. I have one who's so focused on her work she's more driven than anything else. Problem with her is that I can't seem to dig beyond her work to find the three-dimensional woman beneath. I suppose that's the problem the hero has, as well. Except, I, as the writer, have to know what's there even if my hero doesn't.

Too, I have a heroine who is a free-thinker. Kind of the live for the moment party girl who's all about the fun and not getting serious. I really like her a lot. So does my hero, even though she's absolutely the wrong kind of girl he should ever fall for.

So, I guess I do vary my heroines a bit. I mean, I know the differences between them. I know how they would act in given situations, what they would think and how they vary from each other. I like to play the game of imagining if all my heroines went shopping at the mall together, which stores would each of them prefer. And I can honestly tell you that they would choose different ones.

Perhaps, then, my problem isn't my heroines all being spunky. Perhaps my problem is showing their different personalities in such a way that they don't all come off as spunky. It's like, I've got a dozen different instruments at my disposal, but somehow they all end up playing the exact same tune. I need to learn how to demonstrate the differences in each instrument, which songs to play that will best show off their various assets and qualities.

As for my heroes...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ahhh...the Memories

We are working to clean out our basement in order to make it into a nice playroom for our kids. This weekend I spent far too many hours weeding through the junk, throwing a good portion of it in a landfill somewhere (which is making me heartsick). The Salvation Army truck was here this morning to pick up nearly twenty boxes of clothes, toys and children's books, and a few miscellaneous household items they can hopefully sell for the cash.

Basically, out of an entire room full of boxes and rubbermaid containers, I sorted through a lot of crap that should have been pitched ages ago. But I did find one absolute treasure; a box containing things I'd saved from my senior year in high school and first years of college.


Best item in the box - a journal I had started keeping the August of my senior year in high school. I literally sat on the basement floor with a face-cracking grin while I read about my past self's angst and love life. Funny how much I'd forgotten in these twenty years that have passed, but even funnier is how familiar the person who had written those entries so long ago sounded to me. It was me talking to me. Same voice. Same general outlook. I've changed so much yet not at all since I was a wee lass of seventeen.

I nearly wanted to cry when I came to the last entry dated sometime in December and then turned the page to find nothing more written. Why, oh why, hadn't my stupid 17-year-old self stuck with it? How will I ever find out what happened to my love of the moment, or to the ex-boyfriend I spent so much time writing about but trying so hard to convince that I didn't care about him anymore?

After reading my little story and the sharp stab of regret that there was so little of it, I told my husband that when my daughter is older, I'm going to nag her about keeping a journal. It's such a case of obtaining a wisdom through age that you so much wish you had when you were younger. Reading that journal brought back so many good memories and feelings, and I'm just so incredibly sorry I can't go back in time and finish it. It feels like watching a wonderful movie only to have the filmstrip break half-way through. I want to encourage my daughter to start keeping track of her life and to keep doing it, if only so twenty years later she can reread what she'd written and get a good laugh out of it.

I also found the notebook that contained my first true efforts of writing down one of the many stories that always played out in my head. It was based around the high school girl's dream premise of an all boy's school allowing, for the first time, girls to attend, and what happens to the lucky five girls who are chosen for such an honor. Naturally, it's completely ridiculous, a textbook Mary Sue of epic proportions which clearly shows where my mind was when I wrote it. Oddly enough, though, I can still recall the songs and music I had intended to have play during the movie version (it was written as a screenplay, and I'm sure I had envisioned myself the star), and whenever I hear those songs on the oldies-but-goodies station today, I think about that story. I was assigning sound tracks even back then.

Badly as it is written and as stupid as the story idea was, seeing that folder with all of my notes and chicken scratches and the dot-matrix printing of the stuff I took the time to put into the then high-tech word processing program actually gave me the hugest boost of confidence in my writing ability that I've had in a very long time.

Because I often worry when I hear/read about writers who have been writing ever since they picked up their first chubby crayola crayon and used pictures to express the writer within screaming to get out. I didn't do that. I kept my stories in my head and played them out like scenes from a favorite movie. I never thought to write them down, probably because the stories were so crazy I would have been embarrassed beyond belief had anyone ever discovered them. Too, I was an art geek in high school, my creative outlet found in drawing and painting to the sultry strains of the Moody Blues my very hip and Stevie Nicks-like art teacher piped into the art studio.

Since I didn't fill notebook after notebook with my blossoming creativity often leads me to doubt if writing is my true calling. How can I think I can write now when I didn't spend the past 38 years practicing my craft? How can I think I'll ever be a success if the need to write didn't burn in my breast until the past few years rather than from the moment I learned the alphabet?

But finding this one story proves something to me. At one point in my early years, I did write something down. I did take a stab at getting the story out of my head and onto the paper. I wanted to tell these stories to someone other than myself.

I also found a folder with some stories I wrote for a creative writing class I took in college. I haven't had time to sit down to read them, but when I put back all of the other memorabilia, I kept that folder out. It's sitting on my bedside table. I can't wait to read it.

See, I'm a can't-put-it-down writer!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

If It Isn't One Thing...

Total off topic whine, but I've just got to do this. I know it's inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but at this moment in time it's my Titanic.

Sometimes I really hate being a grownup. I hate owning a house and having to handle the problems when they come up. Which they always do, of course.

Over the weekend, we discovered that when we would run a load of laundry, the drain in the basement floor would fill up and spill over onto the floor. Yuck. We cleaned up the mess, stopped doing laundry, and Monday morning I found a plumber who would come out to take a look and hopefully spend no more than an hour or so rodding out the small section of blocked pipe.

Well, the plumber came today. And after an hour, he determined that the blockage is not inside our house but rather beyond our house. He knows this because he used his 40 foot snake and came against nothing, so the problem seems to be beyond the scope of the equipment he had with him at the time. Add to this the fact that it's not just washing laundry that causes the pipes to fill to a dangerous possibly-overspilling level. It's also flushing the toilets. And taking showers. And FLUSHING THE TOILETS!

He's coming back tomorrow with more powerful equipment (which, apparently, costs twice as much to operate since my hourly rate more than doubles now). He left me with a warning that we shouldn't flush our toilets more than once every hour or two, and perhaps it would even be wise to station someone in the basement to catch any overflow in cast the 10% of pipe that is still open becomes blocked.

My big fear is that we are looking at the kind of problems that involve ripping up our front yard and the street in front of our house to replace damaged piping. I've been through this before, and it's not pretty either in terms of inconvenience (did you see what he said - NO FLUSHING OF TOILETS?) and cost. Why, when plumbing goes wrong, does it always have to go so totally, completely over the top wrong?

And me, being the easily distracted gal I am, of course cannot get my mind on anything else until the problem is solved and I can flush in peace. Awfully hard to write about true love and other sweet things when the spectre of raw sewage is floating over your head.

Monday, January 09, 2006

This and That

So, one week of the new year down, I'm feeling pretty good about my resolution to Finish Things.

First step on my road to Finishing is Organizing. Specifically, I wanted to find a way to catalog all of my TBRs and keep track of what, when, and where. By happy coincidence, I was trolling around the blogosphere and found LibraryThing via Sara Donati's blog entry. So very. very. cool.

Only problem is that I spent an entire day logging every single book I own into my library rather than focusing strictly on my TBRs. I did use a TBR tag so I can sort and find my TBRs and keep track of them. I'm using the comments section for each book to log when I read it, as well as assigning it a star value and trying to write at least a brief synopsis to remind me of the story and what I thought about it.

And as I was emptying off my shelves in order to log in books, I used that opportunity to rearrange my TBRs. In an effort to help myself achieve my goals, I culled out about half a dozen books that I've already started but haven't finished for one reason or another (besides hating the book, that is). I'm going to work my way down that stack first before tackling the rest.

Only problem with half-read books is that I usually have to reread or at least skim enough of the beginning to re-acquaint myself with the charactes and story premise.

This weekend I finished Karen Marie Moning's Kiss of the Highlander (a solid C+ read for me) and picked up Linda Howard's Heart of Fire. I'm really enjoying HoF so far and can't recall why I didn't finish it when I first started reading it. Probably got busy or something.

While running errands today, I stumbled on a copy of the newly re-released The Secret Pearl by Mary Balogh. Despite my commitment to finish what I already have before buying anything new, I couldn't help myself. When several friends recommend TSP to me, I moved Heaven and Earth to find an old copy. I did enjoy the book as much as my friends thought I would, so having a new copy seems a wise thing to do. Plus I can lend it out without fear of never getting it back. And since I've already read this book, I figure it doesn't add any weight to my TBR load.

So, all this to say, I'm plugging along. Check out LibraryThing, but stand warned that it's addictive. And if you want a good read, I highly recommend The Secret Pearl.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fighting Like Cats and Dogs

As you may recall, back in September we got a dog. She is just the sweetest thing, and I already love her to death (other than that throwing up on my bed thing she pulled one night at 11:30). She's so submissive it's almost annoying, but she wants to be friends with everyone she comes across.

Including our cat.

Problem is, our cat wants absolutely nothing to do with the dog. She's twelve years old (the cat), and meaner than a wild boar. She has absolutely no fear of anything. The dog outweighs her by 25 lbs, easy, but that doesn't keep the cat from running after the dog swatting at her with her paws whenever the dog tries to play with her.

Since the cat has no claws, the dog has learned that those swipes won't actually hurt her. She kind of winces as the cat makes all kinds of growling noises and generally puts up a big show of being really pissed off.

But the dog never gives up. She just doesn't get it that the cat doesn't want to play with her. That the cat will probably never want to play with her. She keeps on trying in that dumb-dog, happy-go-lucky way.

I realized the other day, as I watched them play out their little ritual, that they are the perfect romance couple. The dog and I both have hope that someday the cat will realize she really cares for the dog and they'll become friends. And isn't that just what a good romance offers?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Too Many Months Between May and December

"Stacy, can't you see,
You're just not the girl for me
I know it might be wrong
But I'm in love with Stacy's mom"
Fountains of Wayne
I can handle homosexual relationships. Two men in a loving, romantic relationship works for me. I'm not quite as comfortable with lesbian arrangements, but I think that has to do more with my own hangups than it being wrong, so to speak.
I can handle interacial relationships. I could care in the least the color of skin or origin of the couple's ancestors. If two people choose each other, they don't care about outward differences and neither do I.
People who have issue with inter-faith couples baffle me. Perhaps it's because religion doesn't define me so thoroughly that I could ever imagine it becoming an obstacle to true love. I understand wanting to share common beliefs, traditions, and the problems of raising a family if your faiths don't fit together easily. But what a shame it seems to me to let the possible love of your life walk out the door simply because you call God by different names. I think even God might think that was kind of sad.
Know what I have a problem accepting in relationship pairings? I am so resistant to May-December romances. I'm talking the ones when the woman is significantly older than the man.
I have to qualify that significantly, because it does matter to me, and it is also another silly part of my biases that makes no sense whatsoever. I am older than my husband. By five months. And a year in school, since his birthday is late in the year meaning his parents kept him home an extra year, so while I was learning fingerpainting and playing nice with others in kindergarten, he was chilling in front of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers for another year. It's fun to watch retrospective shows together because things that remind me of my freshman year in college remind my husband of senior year in high school. By a fluke of me changing my major after sophomore year, it took me five years to graduate college which put us even as far as our academic ages. We got to wear our caps and gowns on the same day, and I don't even think about our age differences at all.
But when the distance in ages between the man and woman passes a certain mark - say five years - I start to squirm. Even five years is drawing it wide.
The whole Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher deal just doesn't work for me. Fifteen years between the two is just too much for me to wrap my brain around. Or, even more telling, is the fact that I'm more likely to feel comfortable with a relationship between Kutcher (at 27) and Demi's oldest daughter, Rumer (at 17). Wait. No, I'm not okay with a late twenty-something man dating a high school girl. Ick, and just, no. My point is that in five years, when Rumer is in her twenties and legal, I'd have no qualms about the ten year age difference between them.
All I can think about with this couple is that when Ashton was born, Demi had been old enough to be his babysitter. When he was being potty trained, she was walking down the aisle at her high school graduation. And while Ashton was sitting for his driver's license, Demi was giving birth to her third child. She'd lived an entire lifetime before he was even old enough to shave.
I don't mean to pick on Ashton and Demi, particularly. The Naveen Andrews/Barbara Hershey think doesn't work for me, either. By my calculations, Hershey is 57 and Naveen is 36. This means while Naveen's mother was in the throws of labor, Hershey was enjoying her first legal cocktails at the local bar. Um.
Okay, here's where it gets really stupid, and I deserve a ton of credit for fessing up that I feel this way even though I know how utterly assinine it is. What comes next is a ton of double standard-ness and not a little bit of dissing of the male gender, but it's what I think.
Although I have a real hangup with May/December romances wherein the man is the younger, I don't have this problem with it when the female is five or ten years younger.
Before I go on, I do need to be clear. I think romances in which the man is significantly older than the woman are just plain gross. Anna Nicole Smith is a thousand kinds of ho and dumber than she looks if she thinks anyone in the universe believed her to be in love with J. Howard Marshall, a billionaire 63 years her senior. And, let's see, The Donald is 58. His new model-turned-bride is a worldly 34 (at least she's out of her twenties). I'm just not buying it's her undying love behind this match but rather the number of zeros and commas in The Donald's checkbook. Sorry Trump, but really. Marriages between older men and young, supple women just smack of midlife crises, trophy wife aspirations, and gold-digging tramps.
Before I get any hate commentary, I know there are plenty of May/December couples out there who are happily married, very much in love, and none of the above applies. To them I apologize and wish all happiness. But I'm dealing with stereotypes here, so please forgive me.
All of that aside, I never seem to have a problem buying the late-teens/early-twenty-something girl falling for the early-t0-mid-thirties hero when I'm reading a romance novel. Usually, I think, I'm able to buy the premise because the book is an historical during which time such marriages were the norm. In contemporaries I'm less likely to accept an exceptionally young heroine at all because there's something reeking of child molestation if she's too young. I need my heroines to be well into their twenties, at least old enough to drink legally, before I can stomach them engaged in adult relationships with men of any age, and even then I need the hero to fall in a fifteen years or less age span. Call me old fashioned.
So, why can't I handle the idea of an older woman, younger man pairing? I've been trying to figure this out. Go with me, here, while I work through it.
First of all - and again, warning about extreme un-PC-ness, here - I just can't imagine younger men finding older women attractive. I blame this on my cultural brainwashing that teaches that women must be young, firm, toned and smooth to be attractive. And even if you are Demi Moore, with a great body and loads of money to keep it that way via personal trainers, cooks who prepare healthy meals, and the availability of special doctors to help when the sagging gets rough, after birthing three kids and forty-plus years of gravity, things are bound to look a bit worn. On a man, worn is distinguished and sexy. On a woman, it's just old.
Too, there seems to be some kind of usery going on. That the woman is using the younger man, who probably has that young, firm body and scads of sexual energy, for...well, sex. He's a boytoy. A mindless hot bit of beefcake to fulfill all her deepest fantasies now that she's reached her own sexual maturity. While she might have been the sex object in her youth, it's her time to turn the tables.
Which, I know, doesn't say much about the young man's ability to be more than a bundle of hard muscles and testosterone. I suppose this is because men seem to gain so much as they age in the way of confidence that comparing a 22-year-old and a 43-year-old is like comparing a toddler with a teenager. A college frat boy brings to mind a completely different image than the same man ten years later, carrying a briefcase to the office every morning. Each year seems to count for so much, when you pluck the fruit from the tree when it's too soon, you can't help but wonder if it isn't simply because it's pretty rather than truly ripe.
On the flip side, I'm giving women a whole lot of credit for maturing faster than their years by implying that a twenty-something heroine is mature enough to be paired with a late-thirty-something hero. I'm asserting that the colloge sorority girl doesn't have nearly that same leap to young working woman her male counterpart does. That the younger female is the older male's mental and emotional equal, whereas the opposite is just not true.
Plus, there is that whole sowing of the wild oats thing. Young women seem to have less of a need to experience all the vast assortment before them then young men do. When a too-young guy settles with a much older gal, I just can't stop fearing that his eye might get to wandering. She's only going to get older. And there are so many sweet young things out there to tempt him. By committing himself, it's as if he skipped right over the motorcycle and two-seater sports car and right into the minivan.
But when a young woman commits to an older man, there's this sense that he'll be able to fulfill any of her needs. That they'll grow older together. That firm young male hardbodies won't have the ability to tempt her away from the appeal years of experience have earned her chosen guy. He's only getting better with age, so she's lucky she snatched him up when she had the chance. She went with the classic convertable right from the get-go.
I have no scientific research to back up my feelings. I know they make no sense and are really bigotted and unfair. I'm not proud of them.
All I know is that, at nearly forty, I can really appreciate the assets of a younger man. But I see this for what it is; a woman appreciating a finely made male form with no regards to what's on the inside. The older I get, the more I understand why men ogle women. I'll never really understand it, mind you, but I can finally get why it's sometimes all about the packaging. But I also know that in doing this, I feel slightly unclean, like some kind of dirty old woman who pinches young men's butts.
The idea of an older woman/younger man pairing is appealing in the amount of heat it would generate physically. It works for erotica and certainly has a lot of appeal on a purely sensual level. But as far as romance and true love and life long relationships, I just can't seem to get into such a match. I can buy the animal attraction, but I can't imagine it wouldn't fizzle out or morph into a mature relationship.
I'm really glad Stella got her groove back, but somehow I can't buy that she was able to keep on grooving with such a young guy.
I know. I'm insane.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Word Count Dilemmas

Notice my new WIP bar over on the sidebar? Thanks to the folks at Zokutou for supplying the ability for me to do that. I like seeing how far I've come and how far I've yet to go. Plus, posting it here publically keeps me accountable and, thus, inspired. At least I'm hoping.

But I do have an issue with this whole keeping track of progress by reporting word count. See, I finished a scene that amounts to around 2,000 (or slightly less) words. But I realize even now that I need to completely rewrite it because it's far too wordy and info-dump heavy. I need to cut back a whole lot down to pretty much just action.

So, do I keep my word count total as is and plug onward, making note that this scene needs to be reworked later? Or do I stop and rewrite the scene now as I imagine it should be, then swallow the reduction in word count?

I'm thinking it's the former. I'm really trying to work under the "crap is better than nothing" and the "just finish already!" mantras, which require turning a blind eye to the junk you know up front is junk and will have to be fixed. Making a note that this needs major work is enough to remind me, or maybe writing some detailed notes about exactly how it should be fixed.

Even so, I'm feeling quite proud that I've pounded out 1,000 words every day this week even though I was highly tempted to have a Buffy Fest because one of my favorite episodes ran in reruns this week.

Ah, the sacrifices.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


All my relatives have learned that in order to make me the happiest camper, all they have to do is give me the gift of a book for any gift-giving occasion. Actually, gift certificates to book stores are the best, followed closely by a book chosen off my wish list. I just love, love, love to get new books.

My mother, who is an avid reader herself, is the perfect gift-giver because she always gives members of her family a book for Christmas. She might also give a toy (for the kids) or a pretty sweater or some other item the giftee might enjoy, but she’s such a firm believer in the power of reading that books are a staple in her gift-giving repertoire. It helps that she works part time at a Barnes & Noble and is therefore up on what’s currently hot in reading, not to mention the fabulous employee discount.

For Christmas this year, my mother chose two books off my wish list, one practical and one fiction. The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy feeds my love of all things reference. I envision some day having a library of tomes containing every fact I might ever need to know, no matter how obscure. Sure, the internet makes this need kind of obsolete, and I do avail myself of wikipedia’s greatness several times a day. But there’s something about thumbing through pages looking for just the tidbit you need. Too, I enjoy seeing what others deem important enough to put into a book such as this one. I like testing myself to see how savvy I am and realizing how little I know.

She also got me Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, a book I pointed out to her on one of our many visits to B&N which we always manage when we see each other. While admiring the pretty cover, I told my mother about the writer’s story, which is such a fairytale that I feel compelled to read her book to see if I think she’s worth her miracle. It helps that the story’s premise sounds right up my alley. It’s been placed pretty high up on the TBR pile, and I’ll let you know how it pans out.

My husband, who usually works straight off my Christmas wish list because he waits until the last minute so has no time to be wildly creative, got me Wicked: The Grimmerie, which is the coffee table behind-the-scenes look at the hit musical Wicked. This book combines my love of all things behind-the-scenes with the fact that I think Wicked is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

I love oversized, purely whimsical books like this. Really, there is no reason to own this book except pure indulgence. It will teach me nothing practical I can put into use in either my personal or professional life. But turning the colorful pages gives me so much pleasure. Hey, if some people enjoy inhaling hazardous carcinogenic fumes into their lungs, my choice of jollies is comparatively pretty harmless.

Kind of off topic, over on Jenny Crusie’s Argh Ink, I’ve been fascinated by pictures of both Jenny’s office and its polar opposite, Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s office. I don’t have a designated office at all, so I have no room to comment. But I cannot believe Jenny can even think in that space, much less turn out the fabulous stories she does. On the flip side, SEP’s office is like my dream room. All of that glorious space designated for her use. So serene and well organized. You can just imagine some soft background music playing while she pounds out her latest, any reference needed right there at her fingertips behind those pristine glass doors. If I had an office like that, I think every excuse I have for not writing would fly right out that window with the scenic view of backyard.

Let’s see. Only twelve years until the oldest heads off for college and I can turn her room into an office...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'm Proud of Us

"...response to the film [Brokeback Mountain] - made on a modest $14 million budget - was so overwhelming in limited release that the studio moved up its general release by 2 1/2 weeks, the equivalent of a bombshell during the already crowded holiday season.

It's hard to say just what audiences are responding to, but, though curiosity is part of the equation, whatever it is, it hits hard, runs deep and leaves a powerful impression."
Duane Dudek, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 12/28/05

I’m not sure if enough time has passed that those who plan to see it already have, but just in case, there be SPOILERS here! Read onward at your own peril.

On its limited release opening weekend, a friend and I left the men-folk at home parked in front of a football game and went to see that gay cowboy movie, Brokeback Mountain. As you already know from my previous rant, I was a bit a feared I’d have to wait for the DVD release because, at the time, it looked as if no local theatres planned to show the potentially controversial movie.

The above snippet from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review restores my faith in my fellow humans. Having worked on a movie and knowing how important box office is, the fact that the studio moved the wide release up as much as it did speaks volumes about what's happening out there. I'm so happy and relieved to learn that people will overcome their own fears, stereotypes, and general ignorance to give a good movie - even one that features gay cowboys - a chance. We may have a long way yet to go, but it seems we are at least taking some steps in the right direction.

Not only did I get to see BM when I wanted to see it (rather than being forced to wait), I got to see it in style. We plunked down the extra six bucks to go to the Premium Theater. For those not as hep as me (yeah, right), the Premium Theater has a restaurant and a bar, with waiters and waitresses that come to check on you during the movie to see if you require more beverages of the alcoholic persuasion. You must be over 21 to get in, thus assuring there will be no twittering thirteen year olds sitting in front of you or crying toddlers up seven hours past their bedtime because their idiot parents couldn’t/wouldn’t get a sitter yet didn’t have the sense to just stay home.

At the Premium Theater, you sit in wide, comfy leather seats, with a little console table next to you where you can put your drinks and food. Popcorn flows freely (and free-ly), with cups of hot, melted butter you can pour over to your specific liking. You must have reservations in advance, so you’re assured of getting a seat. Although, there are a few seats placed way too close to the screen for optimal viewing, and they call your name in an order which I cannot fathom, so there is the potential to get a not-so-great-seat if you’re not lucky.

Anyway, cozily ensconced in my leather seat, popcorn in hand, glass of whine and Diet Coke at the ready, I could not wait to see this movie. I’d brought along a pack of Kleenex since I planned to cry. That wasn’t necessary, as the guy next to me explained by indicating the pile of napkins on the table between us that he’d earmarked as his tissues.

The audience was probably about 70% homosexual men, 29% couples on a date wherein clearly the man came out the loser, and my friend and I, the only female couple in the theater. It didn’t occur to me until we’d arrived back home that probably everyone there thought my friend and I were lesbians. We did share popcorn, but we didn’t hold hands.

Now, for the movie.

Is it as good as it's being haled to be? Yes. And no.

First of all, I didn’t cry. I fully expected to cry. In fact, I figured I’d be going through some Steel Magnolias level weeping. And the movie did offer tear-inducing moments. There was open sobbing throughout the theater, but for reasons I still haven’t fathomed, I didn’t cry.

To give those of you who have no clue a bit of one, here’s a small synopsis. Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are two young cowboys who are sent up the side of a lonely mountain to herd a bunch of sheep through the summer. While up there, they establish a friendship, which turns into something physical despite the fact that neither man has any homosexual inclinations to their own knowledge. By the end of the summer, their feelings for each other run far deeper than simply physical, and when they part ways, maybe forever, the first sense of what these two mean to each other becomes clear when Ennis becomes physically ill over saying good-bye.

But this is the mid-sixties, in the heart of homophobic cowboy country, so naturally the two men can't be together in any romantic sense. Instead they must go off to live normal lives with normal relationships, normal being defined as the male/female variety. Except it’s not so easy to forget what happened on Brokeback Mountain. After a few years, the two men meet again, and they begin what turns out to be twenty years of meeting several times a year to revisit their relationship.

From the get go you know this movie must be a tragedy. There is no possible way these two men could show their feelings for each other openly. As a young boy, Ennis had been so deeply affected by the brutal torture and death of a homosexual man it was a lesson he’d never forgotten even if he couldn’t quite muster the feelings of outrage that had led to such hate bashing. In a million years he could never imagine settling down with Jack, leaving his wife and daughters, and risking the scorn, hatred and probably worse of society around him.

Here’s where the SPOILERS come to play. Please, don’t read on if you plan to see the movie.

The power in this movie is how it asks us to think about the nature of love. It’s not about the gender of the person you love. It’s about how you love. And what it means to love even when doing so causes nothing but a lifetime of painful longing and dissatisfaction. The fact that these two people are both men has absolutely nothing to do with anything except for providing the reason why they can’t be together.

In fact, after their first sexual encounter, Ennis informs Jack that despite what had happened, he wasn’t “no queer.” And even though he and Jack continue this physical relationship – clearly a homosexual one – I would argue the same. Because for Ennis, it’s not about desiring men. It’s about loving one man. Jack.

Throughout the story, Ennis never expresses any desire at all to be with other men. If it’s not Jack, it’s no one. Not his wife, not the potential second-wife in the form of a flirtatious waitress. It’s not trips to Mexico where he can pick up male prostitutes. He’s not unhappy because he’s being forced to live the life of a heterosexual when deep inside, he’s a homosexual. His story is a tragedy because he cannot be with the one person he loves just because the person happens to be a man.

He didn’t go looking for Jack because something was wrong or missing in his life. He was ready to marry his sweetheart and be very happy. Until he met Jack.

And then, nothing or no-one but Jack could make things right.

Jack proved to be a little less conflicted. Jack clearly loved Ennis. He clearly struggled with and was hurt by Ennis’s rejection of Jack’s idea of a life they could have together. But Jack’s desire for Ennis was fueled by what seemed to be an interest in men in general. As time passes, Jack hints that he could be interested in other men. He takes that trip down to Mexico. He even takes up in an affair with the husband of a friend of his wife’s. As much as you know Jack loves Ennis, Jack is much more okay with who he is and struggles more with Ennis’s inability to accept things the way they are. He gets angry at Ennis for being angry with him when he pursues other outlets for his feelings. Ennis won’t give him the life he wants, so he feels justified in finding others who will.

I won’t tell you about what happens. I will tell you that the one person I actually felt the worst for was Ennis’s wife, Alma. Alma witnesses Ennis greeting Jack with a kiss so passionate and fierce that it made me lightheaded. All of the sudden, the steady man she loved proved to be someone else entirely. And for years she’s powerless to say anything or do anything. Her pain is palpable, brilliantly expressed by actress Michelle Williams.

I’ve said that if Heath Ledger doesn’t win an Oscar for his portrayal of Ennis, I know something isn’t right with the world. His depiction of the stoic, non-communicative Ennis is amazing. You can feel how he seethes beneath his skin, stuck in a life that doesn’t fit him at all but powerless against society and his sense of responsibility to pursue what would most make him happy. As Ennis says to Jack, “If you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it.” For two hours you watch Heath Ledger struggle to stand it, and it nearly breaks your heart.

Jake Gyllenhaal also deserves a heap of props for his work. Jack wasn’t nearly as subtle of a character as Ennis, wearing his heart and emotions and thoughts on his sleeve far more clearly. But I cannot imagine any other actor in this role. He provided the perfect counterpoint to Ledger’s Ennis, filling in the blanks in such a way as to turn their two halves into a complete whole.

When I walked out of the theater, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this film. I guess I had expected to be moved and haunted and blown away in a full body slam sort of way, yet I wasn’t. It’s the kind of movie that takes time to gel in my mind. It’s the kind of movie I want to see again because I’d like to pay more attention. And it’s only after I’ve had time to roll it over a bit that I finally realize how good it really was.

I’ll confess that my friend wasn’t impressed. She thought the movie was kind of slow; it was slow. It’s a long narrative and character study wherein no action whatsoever happens. There isn’t even really a traditional plot. It spans the course of twenty years, and there is no build up or major climax to mark time.

Too, my friend had a hard time relating to Jack and Ennis. She said that if she were an in-the-closet homosexual, she imagined that the film would have had a major impact on her. But since she can’t imagine what that would be like, it was hard for her to feel the emotions the main characters had felt. She couldn’t bridge that disconnect, and like me, her strongest sympathetic reaction rested with Alma, Ennis’s wife.

If asked to describe this film, two words I would come up with are subtle and introspective. It’s a quiet film. It doesn’t tell you how to feel or spoon feed you social agendas by making you feel so sorry for the poor, abused homosexual couple. The characters make choices and live with those without complaint even though you can see how it is killing them inside. Even at the end, when one character certainly had reason and opportunity for melodramatic gestures or expressions of extreme emotion, the same restraint was maintained because restraint was in character for that person, that time, and that situation. Story was never sacrificed for the sake of high drama.

Mostly, you feel sad that Jack and Ennis felt they had to make those choices in the first place. You wonder how many people out there live entire lives like this, in quiet desperation because what they truly want is impossible for them to have even though it’s just within their grasp.

If you get the chance, I highly recommend you see this film. For those of you interested in romance, this offers the chance to come at love from an entirely different angle. It'll break your heart, but sometimes we need that to remind us of what's important.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A New Year. Finally.


The holidays are over. BTW, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza and Happy New Year to everyone. I’ve been so busy the past week and a half I haven’t had time to wish anyone well. I admit I’m glad it’s all over. I love the holidays. I just wish they only lasted two days instead of an entire month.

Doesn't that make me seem like some sort of awful bah-humbug person? I mean, who wants all of this fun fun fun to be finished finished finished in favor of the boring old routine?

But it’s finally 2006!

In my whole life I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited by the beginning of a new year. I’ve always viewed New Year’s as the most over-rated holiday. I’m not one for partying until midnight and into the virgin hours of the new year, or at least I haven’t been for the past fifteen or so years. And New Year’s Day always just seemed like a way to stretch out the holiday vacations for an extra day, when really I was more than ready to get back into life by that point. I’m the type that spends January 2nd taking down the Christmas decorations because I can’t stand to have them up a single second beyond Christmas Day itself. So pushing everything back another week is like pulling the bandaid off by degrees instead of a good, solid rip.

Too, I’ve always believed New Year’s resolutions were more than a little silly. Sure, I’d love to lose twenty pounds and to finesse my French so it's somewhat intelligible and finally finish unpacking those couple of boxes lingering in the basement, and I really should cut back on the number of four letter words I tend to utter. Believe me, I have enough faults to fill an entire notebook with resolutions. But if I can’t fix what’s broken any time during the other 365 days of the year, what’s so magical about January 1st?

This year, though, I have this sense of anticipation. A kind of excitement simmering just under my skin, a sense of something big coming. I don't have any reason to feel this way. 2006 is starting off just the way 2005 ended.

But something is different. My attitude. I’ve named 2006 the Year of Finishing, and I cannot wait to get started. Because this is the year I become a closer.

I plan to finish all of the half and three-quarters completed craft projects lingering in every corner of my house. Stuff I’ve forgotten all about because I stuffed it in a box in favor of some new, exciting project.

I will finish painting the trim, putting that final coat on all those miles of woodwork that need just that final bit of work to stop nagging at me every time I walk into a room.

I am going to finish filing and organizing all those stacks of papers I started to sort and file but then stopped when I got really bored with the whole project. Funny how fast that boredom sets in...

I commit to finishing the half-dozen half-read books on my TBR shelf. I’m not talking about the ones I’ve started but that haven’t caught my fancy enough to continue. I’m talking about the good ones that just weren’t at hand when I needed something to read, prompting me to start a new one that was. I have waiting-in-carpool-line books and killing-time-during-tennis-lessons books and waiting-room-fits-in-my-coat-pocket books, all of them great reads but half-finished.

Mostly, I will finish a manuscript. I will do it. Whether it’s via Jo Leigh’s uber-challenge or daily logging of word and/or page counts, I will finish one book. I will take one of my gazillion ideas and I will work past the hard part all the way to the final “The End”. Even if what I end up with is 100,000 words of crap, I can hold my head high and know that at least it’s crap that’s finished.

I’m tired of feeling like something is hanging over my head all the time. I’m tired of the sensation that there’s something I should be doing other than whatever it is I actually am doing. I’m tired of not enjoying the now because I didn’t finish with the then.

2006. The Year of Finishing.

I like naming my years.