Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Real People, Real Mistakes...On Fictional TV

As a new fan of Grey's Anatomy, I feel like a total bandwagoner. But, hey, if it supplies fodder for my brain, I'm there. If you haven't seen the past two episodes, this entry contains SPOILERS, so stand warned.

This past Sunday's episode hit me upside the head by handling an issue in such a realistic way, I couldn't believe it. The writers had set things up in such a way I figured every cliche out there would need to be utilized to undo the problem, but instead, they actually made it work.

A little background. George has been in love with Meredith - fellow surgical intern and the landlord of the house they share - since he first met her. He's spent the entire run of the show moping after her, and everyone - including Meredith - knows how he feels about her despite the fact that he's never acted on his feelings. For her part, Meredith does her level best to ignore the giant elephant that is George's infatuation with her, instead focusing on the misery she now wallows in ever since her own love, Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Sheperd, decided to reconcile with his affair-having wife.

Last week, at the end of the episode, George was feeling particularly gutsy and Meredith was feeling particularly lonely and sad. So when George came to Meredith and confessed that he would always treat her right, she let things go a little too far. George and Meredith had sex.

So, here's where I figured things were going to get messy. George would imagine that Meredith's having sex with him meant she loved him. He'd be all happy and full of joy. She'd try really hard to pretend she liked him in that way, but inside she'd be miserable over the pain of faking feelings for the guy or knowingly causing his heartbreak by telling him her real feelings. Eventually things would come to a head, George would figure out the truth or Meredith would break. Things would get sad and ugly. Nothing I haven't seen before.

But the writer's of Grey's Anatomy actually did things in a realistic way. We opened this week to find a huge rift of discomfort between George and Meredith. As if they both were mortified at having seen the other one naked, as if both realized what a huge mistake had been made. George wasn't in the least bit happy, but rather as miserable as ever, which made no sense at all. Where was his elation over having finally won the girl of his dreams? Why wasn't he spending all of his time hanging on Meredith, treating her like a girlfriend and openly showing off the new status of their relationship? And why wasn't Meredith gritting her teeth with regrets all the while forcing a "yes, of course I love you" smile on her face?

Then we were graced with flashbacks that showed us exactly what had occured between these two while having sex. How Meredith hadn't even tried to pretend that every single thing going on wasn't absolutely the wrongest thing possible. She actually acted like a person having sex with someone they didn't want to be having sex with would; she tried to fake enjoyment, she tried to endure it (evens saying "It's okay. You're almost done, right?"), but she ended up in tears. No pretending involved here. George knew immediately that she regretted her decision. No delusions for him.

While my heart broke for the guy, I really respected the way the writers deviated from the expected path on this one. The end result is the same - George and Meredith's friendship has been decimated, George realizes that his love will remain forever unrequited, and Meredith feels like the total heel she is - but we don't have to endure weeks of fakery. We don't have to squirm on our sofas, feeling so sorry for George and simmering over Meredith's cruelty and stupidity for having slept with him in the first place. Instead of a slow pull, the band-aid was yanked of in one, quick jerk. Both parties are now free to go about the business of picking up the pieces and figuring out how or if they can ever put them back together in some semblance of order.

Too, I love how this show gives us characters who make really stupid yet very normal mistakes. Meredith's sleeping with George was like watching a train wreck, but you could see why it might happen. And to keep things real, to show us what might really happen instead of what normally happens in such a TV-created scenario, keeps things interesting.

Poor George. Meredith, you're a schmuck!

Friday, February 24, 2006

March Madness

Can I tell you how glad I am that February is almost over? I think bears have the right idea with the whole hibernating thing. If I could get away with it, I'd crawl into bed on January 2nd and not emerge until at least April 1st. Maybe May 1st if April has crappy weather. I just get so tired of the cold and dark days.

But, a couple of good things on the near horizon to keep me going until Spring.

Pride & Prejudice Movie Version comes out on DVD on February 28th. I loved this take. I'm packing the A&E/BBC miniseries and this version into my in-case-I'm-stranded-on-a-deserted-island suitcase. Along with a DVD player and 3000 tons of batteries.

March 7 is a huge day, with the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on DVD and the appearance of the second of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series on shelves. I'll probably dig into Lover Eternal while I'm sitting at stoplights on the way home from the bookstore. Jarhead also will be released on DVD on March 7th, but I'm on the fence about this as a purchase or a rental. Oh, who am I kidding?

Movie-wise, Failure to Launch looks promising in the romantic comedy department (out on March 10), and there's a 99.9% chance that Matthew McConaughey will show us some fine bare chestage since I think it's written in his contract he must remove his shirt at least once per movie. Yep - watch the trailer. Put that at 100% likelihood.

My daughter's hot for the release of Aquamarine, which I promised to take her to see the night the hubby and son attend the annual Father/Son Round-up BBQ event. I haven't told her yet that it might not be in theatres yet. She'll be crushed to have to wait to see the story of a mermaid falling for the cute lifeguard and all of the whacky hijinks sure to ensue. I, myself, am a bit more excited about Ultraviolet, but I'm not thinking that's an 8-year-old friendly film.

Then we've got the Academy Awards on March 5th. Of course, I've seen all of one of the films nominated for Best Picture, so unless Brokeback Mountain sweeps the awards, I'm destined for disappointment.

Add to all of these media temptations a Disco Dance Birthday Party for the daughter, which will involve - no doubt - multiple playings of the Macerana, the High School Musical soundtrack and Hillary Duff's entire backlist, followed by a week of Spring Break and what do I have to complain about? March is looking like a banner month!

So how many days until summer vacation?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Identity Crisis

I'm throwing a question out here to see if someone can help me.

When you plan to use a pen name (for whatever reason), how do you call yourself when submitting query letters and partials?

For example, my real name is Lynn M., but say I want my Best Selling Novels to be under the pseudonym, Minnie Mouse. When I send a query letter to agents and/or publishers, do I sign myself "Lynn M." having made mention that I plan to use the name "Minnie Mouse" as my formal author's name? And then, on the partial manuscript you just know they are going to request, do I put "M. Mouse" on every page in standard manuscript format? I suppose the cover letter on top of the partial would be signed "Lynn M." but remind the reader that Lynn M. is also Minnie Mouse, right?

Or, throughout all of my dealings, do I call myself Minnie Mouse, adopt the identity of Minnie Mouse, get advance checks and royalty payments made out to Minnie Mouse (yeah, yeah, I know I'm getting waaayyy ahead of myself here), and just use Lynn M.'s address and phone number? Do I answer the phone "This is Minnie"? And do I have to tell someone official that I am, really, Minnie Mouse so they'll let me cash my checks?

I'm kind of confused on this one. I'm hoping someone out there can offer some insight.

Minnie and I thank you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dream Joss

I had the most bizarre dream last night. In it, I attended a seminar given by Joss Whedon, the creator of one of the best televisions shows ever aired, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In this dream, I put on my very best professional outfit (an outfit that I don't actually own, proving how creative my dreams are). I got to the presentation venue early so as to nab a great seat. And I listened intently to hear what pearls of wisdom Joss would impart.

However, I'm not so creative in my dreams as to actually invent an entire seminar given by Joss Whedon that would involve any real insight I don't already have. My out for this particular problem was having dream-Joss tell us all a bunch of stuff that he'd already written in a book I'd read (again, another invention of my dream-self since no such book exists that I know of), so none of it was really new but rather a rehashing of old material.

Naturally, my dream-self wasn't happy with such short-cutting and proceeded to harass dream-Joss during a break. I cornered him with the chicken-and-egg dilemma: does character archetype dictate actions or do actions define character archetype? And just because you know a particular character's archetype, how do you necessarily know what he or she would do in any given situation if you, yourself, are not that type? I even went so far as to give him the example of a person getting on a bus without exact bus fair - only $.40 when fair was $.50 - and how would he or she react differently based on different archetypes. I don't recall Joss's answer. I think this is when I woke up.

But that question has stuck with me. When creating a character, which comes first? Do you determine that your hero is the Bad Boy archetype, then base all of his actions and reactions on what you imagine the Bad Boy would do in any given situation? Which is kind of hard to do if you a) aren't a Bad Boy yourself or b) don't know a Bad Boy to study 0r c) the only Bad Boys you've ever come across are caricatures from television shows or movies.

Or, do you determine how your character acts and reacts throughout the story, then use this as evidence to say "Wow, my hero is a Bad Boy. Who knew?" But, again, you must have the ability to make your character act in ways that aren't necessarily in line with your own sensibilities. That, surely, is the hardest part about being a writer.

When I'm creating a new character, I fill out a fairly extensive bio sheet for him or her. Usually, I've got an overall sense of what kind of archetype I want this person to be; the Bad Boy, the Spunky Kid, the Waif, the Chief. But I also have little tidbits of information about them that have nothing to do with their archetype. Pieces of their history that give them motivation to act the way they do. Certain likes or dislikes. Expressions they use, or regions of the country where they are from.

But sometimes I fall into the trap of answering bio questions based on archetype. What kind of music would a Bad Boy listen to? What would the favorite food be of a Seductress? Would the Crusader prefer wearing jeans and sweatshirts or cargo pants and hemp tunics? Because many times, my immediate answer to bio questions have to do with my own personal tastes and preferences. It's really hard to break away from these, to imagine why in the world anyone would prefer Jazz over classic rock or would choose to eat Sushi when he could pick Chinese food. It's hard to give characters likes that aren't in line with my own.

Not only is it hard, what tends to happen is that I ignore the facets of my characters that are so in opposition with what I hold dear. I allow them to have likes that differ from my own, but then I don't incorporate those differences in any significant way because I have no interest to explore them myself. So my heroine loves to go to blues bars. I don't. And I have no desire to go to one to see what it would be like. So it shows up on her bio sheet and nowhere else. What was the point, then?

All of this isn't really going anywhere, necessarily. Sometimes my dreams are so vivid, I need to take time in the waking world to work through them and figure out what they are trying to tell me. I think, in this instance, dream-Joss was getting me to think about ways to create more three-dimensional characters. To tell me that you can't rely on one method over another but rather need to combine several in the hopes of ending up with someone multi-layered and unique. Otherwise, you end up with a Bad Boy just like all of the thousands of other Bad Boys already out there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Binder Fetish

I know I'm destined to be a writer because I have a major jones for office supplies, which, I've learned, is a common trait amongst us word hounds. For a long time, I just thought I was weird to get all excited over the prospect of back to school shopping or a trip to Staples. Then I discovered the writer blogosphere and found out I am not a lone in my twisted addiction. Thank god.

I'm not so bad that I wander in a mindless bliss up and down the rows of Office Depot, but come back to school time, there is no way I'd order the pre-packed box offered by my kids' school to save me trips to every discount store in the area in search of Ticonderoga brand #2 pencils. I love - love, love, LOVE - picking out new folders and notebooks and erasers and scissors and glue and packs of college-ruled loose-leaf notebook paper. I get kind of giddy just thinking about it. After 4th of July, when the stores begin putting out the BTS displays, I feel like it's Christmas time.

I see that some writers have particular favorite items, such as pens. I do appreciate a good pen; the pens my husband's company uses are my all time favorite, and I'm always nagging him to steal a fresh supply. The advent of gel pens has been a real boon for me, since I'm not a big fan of ballpoint, preferring felt-tip, except you could never get a sharp enough line with a felt-tip pen, so they were never any good for writing. With gel pens, you get the best of both worlds. Not to mention the rainbow array of colors.

But pens aren't my weakness. No, my office supply fetish is for notebooks. I adore notebooks. I love the big, thick, multi-subject ones with pocket dividers that allow me to organize my thoughts into categories. I love the tiny, spiral-ring notebooks I can tuck in a bag or a purse so I always have something to write on within easy reach. I get weak in the knees over the funky, fun covers so much more interesting than the standard maroon, navy blue, or hunter green that were the only choices back in my school days. I'll pick the neon pinks and bright yellows any day. Once, my husband picked me up a shrink-wrapped gross of notebooks from Costco, and I still think it's the most romantic gift he's ever given me.

My love of notebooks extends to binders as well. Again, I go for the ones with wacky designs. And I'm not a big fan of the super-fat binders, with the two or three-inch rings. I prefer the slim designs that don't look as if they were meant to hold reams of pin-feed dot-matrix computer paper. If the binder comes equipped with a plastic sleeve on the spine where I can slip in a title or subject card, all the better.

Imagine my glee this afternoon when I was cruising the Walmart aisles, my shopping list for hairspray and kleenex firmly in hand with no intention of straying, and I happened upon rows and rows of binders shelved not in the office supply aisle but in the overstock section. They were - wait for it - On Sale!! Both full size and miniaturized fun and funky binders, each of them only $1.25. With the matching divider tabs a mere $.25 per pack.

I literally had to restrain myself from filling my shopping cart to the top. With much pride in my supreme self-control, I kept my binder binge to a reasonable three of the little ones, four of the big ones. With two sets of dividers per binder. And, honest, I don't plan to go back. Really, I promise.

Besides (I say, my ability to rationalize anything a trait I value above all others), these will come in handy. I like to have a binder (and a notebook) for each new story idea. And we all know how many of those I have floating around, in need of organizing. It's not like these new beauties will sit around growing stale with disuse.

Plus, I look at empty binders and blank notebook pages as freshly tilled earth, just waiting to be planted. If they are there, I will fill them. What a shame it would be if I were struck by the Perfect Idea, the one that will become The Greatest American Novel Of All Time, only to have it slip away for lack of a binder in which I could have jotted all of my thoughts before they disappeared into the black void of my brain.

My biggest problem now is storage space. I'm running out of room for my notebooks and binders.

Have I ever mentioned how much I just love shelves?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Movie Rec

I saw the best movie last night. If you're looking for a romantic comedy that is actually pretty light on the comedy, I highly recommend Something New.

The story centers around Kenya McQueen, a thirty-ish African American woman who has risen to the top of her profession (she's about to make partner in her prestigious accounting firm) but sees herself as a total failure in the love department. She and her fellow professionally-minded friends lament their inability to find their IBMs - that's Ideal Black Man - to complete their ideal of the perfect life, including marriage and family. Kenya makes this task even more difficult with her workaholic tendencies and her arm-long list of must-have qualities any prospective mate has to be equipped with in order to rank with her.

And top of that list is blackness. Her ideal man must be African American. Non negotiable point.

Which puts her in a most difficult spot when she meets Brian Kelly on a blind date. Actually, it's more of a blind five-minute brush-off when Kenya immediately dismisses Brian because he's white. I'd even say she was horrified to see that Brian was white. He'd have had better odds with her if he'd had two heads, as long as they were black heads.

Except, Brian shows up again in the form of a landscape architect recommended to Kenya to make a paradise out of her jungle of a backyard. Try as she might to resist him (and how she manages to resist the amazingly hunky Simon Baker for as long as she does is so beyond my comprehension), Kenya finds herself falling for the Non-Black Guy. Because always, no matter what else Brian proves to be - sexy, free-spirited, warm, caring, a guy who'll greet her at the end of a hard day with a glass of wine served next to a tinkling fountain he built himself - Kenya can't manage to get over the fact that the color of Brian's skin is wrong. She tells him it's not prejudice, it's preference. Like preferring jazz over classical or Italian food over Chinese. Sure, she might love the moo shoo pork, but she knows the lasagna is always a safe bet.

Despite Kenya's reluctance, though, things heat up between her and Brian, and we are treated to the hardships involved in having a go at an inter-racial relationship. When things prove more difficult than either of them expected, and when Kenya's imaginary IBM appears not so much as an impossibility but in the form of Blair Underwood, Kenya finds herself asking some tough questions about the dreams and desires she'd put so much faith in.

What's so great about this film is how much I felt for Kenya. She wants so much to meet the right guy and fall in love, so when she meets the wrong guy and falls in love anyway, it's easy to sympathize with her pain and confusion. Then, when she actually gets what she's always thought she wanted yet still is so very unhappy, you both want to shake her and hug her at the same time. Add to her troubles a meddling mother who holds very specific expectations for her daughter, a younger brother who goes through girls like a revolving door but cannot imagine what Kenya would see in a white guy, and a handful of girlfriends who think a few months of enjoying life on the other side of the street is fine for awhile but nothing that should be permanent, and Kenya is more confused than ever. Her heart is telling her one thing, but everything else in her life is telling her something completely different.

I do admit that, at first, I found Kenya hard to like. She was so very uptight and so unwilling to move outside her self-imposed boundaries. In fact, I almost found it hard to see what Brian seemed to like about her, what drove him to keep pushing past her very vocal "not interested". But as the story progressed and Kenya loosened up, it was like watching a tree come to life after a long winter. She'd kept so much of herself tightly wrapped in her business suits she'd had no room to experience the world around her.

Brian came to represent that free-er side of Kenya. In one scene, Kenya and Mark - the Blair Underwood, IBM character - are sitting side by side, working on their laptops, in what Kenya had always imagined as the perfect life. And the entire time, you can just see how far from ideal this has become for her, now that she's unleashed that whole other side of herself.

This movie is billed as a romantic comedy, but truthfully, I didn't find much funny in it. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, and characters such as Kenya's little brother and her snarky friends zing out the one liner jokes that definitely make you chuckle. Add in the reverse inter-racial jokes about dating white guys and it's not like the movie is a sob-fest or anything. But there is a seriousness about the movie that shoves it as far down the rom com spectrum as it is possible to be from movies like When Harry Met Sally or Must Love Dogs (a horrible film btw, since I'm offering up opinions). First of all, Kenya is far too rigid as a character to go for the funny. She's not the witty, bantering type of girl - she's the straight guy to her friends' comic antics, the one who sets up the jokes then looks slightly confused by the punch line. Imagine Meg Ryan's Sally and Kenya is the polar opposite.

Also, the subject matter is impossible to treat lightly without moving into farce - multiplying the white guy jokes and shoving a whole lot of tasteless stereotypes into the story. Thankfully, the writer, Kriss Turner, chose to give us a story that doesn't take that easy road, instead really forcing viewers to get inside Kenya's head and understand the difficulty of her situation.

Best of all, this movie made me think. My growing up years included the idea that I would one day meet a man and fall in love. And this man was always, in my mind, a white man. I had honestly never considered any other option. But what would have happened had I met an African American man and fallen in love with him? Are there men out there I never gave a second thought about who might actually have been my soul mates, those whom I dismissed out of hand simply for being not-white? No disrespect to the current hubby, but is it possible I could have been just as happy - or even happier - with someone I never even considered because he didn't fit my image of who I believed I'm supposed to be with? All of this is what Kenya goes through, and it's an eye-opener.

Really. It's a wonderful love story. I cried and not because I was manipulated into doing so. I cried because I cared about Kenya and what happened to her. I wanted her to be happy.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Happens Even on TV

A lot of writers claim they learn a lot about storytelling from watching television. I won't claim such a lofty reason for the amout of TV viewing I do; the majority of it is for entertainment, pure and simple. But every once in a while, I'll catch a program that does teach me loads about how to tell a good story, and occasionally, how to tell a story better.

Take, for example, Grey's Anatomy. I'm not a fan. Or rather, I've never really watched the show, despite all the good buzz, save one episode when my mom and I were on a trip together and she wanted to watch. What I saw, I liked. But in the interest of not filling another hour per week with something other than writing, I tried to pretend I hadn't enjoyed it.

Except, while watching the Superbowl, I was totally suckered in by the promos for the Grey's Anatomy episode following the game. I fell for the flashy commercial and even convinced my hubby to stick around. We were totally caught up in the show and held our collective breath for the second part that aired this past weekend.

For anyone who didn't see it, the overall premise of the show follows a handful of surgical interns as they go head to head with the drama and traumas that roll through their imaginary hospital. The main protagonist is one Meredith Grey, and apparently she recently had an affair with her boss, the appropriately nicknamed Dr. McDreamy played by can't-believe-he-grew-up-so-hot Patrick Dempsey, only to be dumped when McDreamy's wife returned to the picture.

Feeling more than a little mopey, Meredith is looking for a reason to get out of bed one particular morning when things go all to hell in a handbasket. A patient arrives in the ER with a hand-made explosive device stuck inside his chest. After a series of unfortunate events (ha ha), Meredith ends up holding the bomb in her hand - while it was still inside the guy - under the assumption that if it is so much as jiggled slightly, it would blow up the guy, Meredith, anyone standing in the OR with her, and pretty much half the hospital. Add to the mix the always dreamy Kyle Chandler playing the bomb squad's captain and Meredith's calming influence and I was good to go.

Only problem for me (and my hubby, proving that this isn't just a case of me being picky) was that I was never truly worried that the bomb would blow up while inside the guy, thereby putting Meredith at any risk. The reason I never had any fears that the bomb would go off was because before Meredith found her hand wrapped around it, this guy - and the bomb inside of him - had been tossed into an ambulance, driven down countless city streets, wheeled up and down the corridors of the hospital, and who knows what else before anyone became aware that inside of him was something that could potentially blow up. Why all of the sudden the big fear and extra special caution? As far as I could tell - and granted, I'm no bomb expert - this home-made bomb was a dud. Lucky guy.

So throughout the episode when Meredith and her friends were all freaked over the possibility that at any minute she could blow up, I never felt any real worry.

And this is where that learning what would have made it a better story thing comes in. Because I knew right away what could have been done to up the tension, to make me really worry for Meredith's safety, and to have me sitting on the edge of my seat rather than wondering how long they were going to drag the whole thing out.

What the writers needed to have done was to blow up a second bomb. To show another bomb, one that seemed to be stable or a dud, only to blow up totally unexpectedly, seemingly at random or for no apparent reason. This would have shown me that the bomb inside the guy was indeed unstable. That despite the fact he and it had been shaken like a martini with nary a twitch, at any given moment the bomb could just blow.

The writers made the classic blunder of telling me that the bomb inside the guy was unstable and could blow at any minute rather than showing me that it was unstable and could blow at any minute. And they weakened their telling by showing me the opposite - the guy and bomb having been transported in a normal, not-cautious way without the bomb blowing - leaving me to doubt what they wanted me to believe.

Instead, the writers saved the showing for a final, dramatic surprise moment. Warning - SPOILERS ahead. In the end, after hours and hours of Meredith's not moving her hand for fear of the bomb blowing, after the stress of having to pull the bomb out so verrryy caaarefullly to hand it over to Kyle Chandler with nothing happening at all, we were supposed to be lulled into the sense that the ordeal was over. Except - and my hubby called this one from a mile away - as darling Kyle walked away with the bomb, wouldn't you know it blew the poor guy up? I suppose we viewers were supposed to take this as proof of how unstable the bomb really had been and how lucky Meredith ended up being, but all it did for me was annoy me that cute Kyle was killed.

A little side note; I know nothing about how a bomb squad handles a live bomb in such a situation. I would guess that they'd toss that sucker into some kind of bomb-proof box as quickly as possible. What I don't quite understand is why a member of the bomb squad would hold this supposedly unstable explosive device in his hands and carry it out of the OR, down the corridor and towards wherever. Thus, Kyle's blowing up annoys me also because it seems like it was a result of incompetence on the part of the bomb squad and, therefore, unnecessary.

But, my point. I did enjoy these two episodes. And I'm now determined to get ahold of Season 1 to catch up. I figure Grey's Anatomy can fill the soon-to-be hole created in the wake of The West Wing's final season. The characters and premise in general is intriguing.

Even so, there is always room for improvement. And despite its visual nature, even television screenwriters can be guilty of telling instead of showing. If you want me to believe a bomb is unstable and is putting my favorite characters in grave danger, you have to do more than tell me it is, especially after you've shown me the opposite.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Clean and Pure

A week. It took a full week to get our PC fixed. A full week during which I was cut off from the Internet.

Yeah, I got a little twitchy. But funny thing was how liberated I've felt during the past few days. Knowing I couldn't log on, I didn't fall into the massive time sink that my laptop is. I didn't spend hours surfing blogs or following links. And I didn't feel guilty about any of it.

In fact, rather than do any writing on the laptop, I used old fashioned pen and paper. I sat at my dining room table and worked just like I used to in the old days. I'm in the midst of some heavy duty world building, so I had my research books spread around me, taking notes on loose-leaf notebook paper. Really, it was a trip back in time to my college days.

I loved it!

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't give up my computer for all the tea in China. But I got such a sense of accomplishment when, at the end of a work session, I had a stack of papers full of my notes to show for all of my efforts. Sure, when I shut down my laptop at the end of the day I have new files and higher word counts. But it's not something I can see or touch.

Anyway, we're all fixed. Nearly broke down and took the PC to one of those computer doctors, but the hubby decided just to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch. It worked, and we now have anti-virus software to (hopefully) keep this from ever happening again. Even better, we're still married after the harrowing experience, despite my singing sixteen choruses of "I told you so" and the hubby giving me grief about how much work he had to put into "fixing" the computer (which, I reminded him frequently, he broke in the first place...).

Did I mention exactly what kind of torture I think should be used on people who create and spread computer viruses?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Little Women

Remember that little problem I had yesterday morning? Well, sad to say it has gotten worse. Worse in that what the hubby tried last night to fix the PC not only didn't work, it erased the information needed to do a system restore, which is how I was able to get myself back online. So I'm writing this at the library, alternately steaming and fretting over when I might be able to log on from home again. Ah, modern technology. Would you like to hear what I think about capital punishment as it relates to people who create and spread (knowingly) computer viruses?

Anyway, I walked into the library behind this little, teeny tiny woman. I don't think she was any higher than 5 feet and maybe 90 lbs. soaking wet. And it got me to thinking about the heroines out there who are teeny tiny women.

I'm fairly small myself, at least in terms of height. I'm only 5' 2". My hubby is 6', so we have hope our kids will be at least normal. But I never think of myself as "small". Maybe that's because I stopped shopping in the petite department sometime after the birth of my first kid. Just couldn't bring myself to buy the sizes I needed to feel less like a tube of toothpaste and more like a human being.

But when I read about these itsy bitsy heroines, the ones so small the hero marvels at the tiny-ness of her itty bitty body parts (except, of course, her generous breasts which are never, ever too small), I can't help but wonder what the appeal would be. Sure, I suppose a small woman might bring out the protectiveness in a big hunky man. But somehow that hints at more of a parent/child protectiveness than a male/female one, which just squicks me out to no end. When a hero can cup her entire head in one palm, I'm thinking some major disproportions that don't speak of two adults interacting.

And there is the matter of fit. Not to get too graphic, but I always think about the fact that there are no dog breeds a cross between a Great Dane and a miniature poodle for a very good, practical reason. The fit just doesn't work. Thinking about an abnormally large man (because heroes are always bigger than life) and a miniaturized woman trying to get physical just doesn't work for me. I remember countless school dances when my date would be stooping over to dance with short me. These couples would require step ladders just to kiss unless the hero didn't mind cricks in his neck. Once in bed, dang, the poor little miss would be squished like a bug.

I know small gals deserve big love stories, just like big ones do. And I know there are lots of little ladies out there in the real world very happily paired with large guys. Remember, I'm one of the shorties married to a tall guy. So I have no personal prejudices here, and I know that real life makes it work out nicely. It's when the writer goes on and on and on about the woman's diminutive stature - it becomes a defining character trait that drives the man wild - where I come to full stop. Once I know the heroine is maybe a little on the small side, any more obsessing about her petiteness pushes me out of the story into thinking way too much.

Besides, if these tiny women are taking all the big men, what are those tiny guys left to do? I mean, come on, you never read romances where the woman towers over her prospective love interest. That would just be silly.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Not My Internet!

Few things can send me into a pure, blind panic. Not knowing where one of my kids is when in a crowded, busy store. Turning the key in the ignition of the car and nothing happens, and I'm late. Watching the water in the toilet bowl rising to the rim without any sign that some of it is going down the pipe.

Clicking the Explorer icon on my desktop and getting an error message instead of my pretty, blue Comcast Welcome Page. And knowing it's not just some glitch that needs a reboot to fix.

I'm computer savvy only to the extent that I understand how the entire system works, as long as it works. I get it about servers and wireless networks and all of that stuff. Computers generally don't scare me. As long as they're working. Once they get sick, I'm a wreck.

I have zero patience or problem-solving skills when it comes to fixing a problem on a computer. I think this is because when something goes wrong, it could be one or a thousand of some gazillion zabillion different possible problems. If turning the machine off and then back on again doesn't work, I'm at a complete loss.

Thankfully, my husband isn't so intimidated. He's willing to try all sorts of crazy stuff, like removing programs and disabling key components and messing with drivers and even, gasp, going into DOS if necessary. Usually, he manages to solve the problem, although it might take him a few days to do it.

But, despite him being the Computer Hero in our house, he's also the biggest villian. Last summer, when lightning fried our PC, we bought a new one to replace it. I told hubby we needed to fork over the cash to buy anti-virus software and protect this new equipment vigilantly. When I got my laptop, I obtain Norton Anti-Virus, I run it nightly, and I'm so anal retentive about not letting people download questionable stuff onto it I make them pass a security check before I'll let them anywhere near my baby. And so far, my laptop has remained clean.

Hubby, though, took the penny-wise, pound-foolish road. He hemmed and hawed about not needing anti-virus and then hemmed and hawed about which one would be the best versus cost. In the end, he never did get around to getting anything. Since I rarely use that machine, I shrugged my shoulders and swallowed my "You'll be sorry"s.

And, yes, you guessed it. We now have some mystery virus on the PC that precludes logging on to the Internet. Every time you go into Explorer, you get some funky warning message that tells you the computer is infected and then tells you to go here and here and here to download the stuff you need to get rid of it. Can I tell you that my tongue is nearly bloody from biting back the big fat "I TOLD YOU SO!!!" that's right on the tip of it?

Hubby broke down and bought McAfee Anti-Virus and installed it, although the way I see it, this is pretty much closing the barn door after the horses have escaped. And, sadly, our problem is not fixed. Not only that, he went so far as to call our ISP support for some help, and the "technician" royally messed things up because she wouldn't listen to my husband telling her that it wasn't a matter of modem problems or the like. She was so stuck on her script she had him erase all of the settings trying to make sure that we were getting a signal (which we were, and which my husband knew already). He had called to make sure that he hadn't done something to send conflicting information to the ISP folks, who might now be servicing the wrong systems. She pushed some buttons and he pushed some buttons and in the end it was a text book study in futility.

Except right in the middle of my hopping around the web last night, I was shut down cold. Whatever those two crazy kids did, I was cut off.

And as of first thing this morning, still no window to the world.

Hubby left me this morning with the recovery disc for the router, which he figured just needed to be reinstalled so all the old settings could be replaced which would then let my poor little laptop talk to the router and get back in business. Of course it didn't work. And neither did the System Restore. Nor rerunning the anti-virus scan. Nor rebooting both PC and laptop a couple of times each.

And after about an hour, that old blind panic set in. Because not only could I not fix the problem myself (I'm used to that so it doesn't have the power to do more than frustrate me endlessly), but I knew hubby would have neither the time nor the sense of urgency to fix it himself. After all, he works all day - on a crystal clean laptop with lightning fast Internet connection - and when he gets home he's both tired and not feeling any burning need to log on. He doesn't understand that when the Internet is down in the house, I'm completely cut off. Indefinitely.


Anyway, I tried resetting modems and routers in a last ditch, final solution sort of way, and miracle of miracles, it worked. Here I am, on the Internet. The PC is still all gummed up, but my laptop is humming along nicely. I think the folks in California heard my sigh of relief.

I don't think those who work outside the home have any idea of how important the Internet is to those of us who stay home all day with young kids. Like the television use to, the Internet opens up the world for us whose existence doesn't go much further than the eight or so blocks to school and the White Hen Pantry. I don't even realize how often I turn to it for contact with fellow humans, news, research. Entertainment. I feel blind, deaf and dumb without it.

So yeah, in this house you don't mess with my Internet. Because when it goes down, I ain't happy. And believe me, if Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Best Part of the Super Bowl

I didn't watch the Super Bowl. I'm not a huge fan of professional football, so unless a team I have a particular interest in is in the thing, I'm not so keen to sit in front of the TV for four hours watching men chase each other down a field. One reason I don't like Super Bowl parties is because I have no choice of whether to watch the game or not. The only time I got jazzed about the Super Bowl was the four years the Buffalo Bills gave it a shot, but in my house, we don't go there.

Anyway, I did sit on the couch with my laptop in order to keep my husband company while he watched the final quarter. I figured maybe I'd catch some cool commercials. Mostly we noticed that ABC ran a lot of promos for their own shows, which the hubbie noted seemed a bit stupid considering how much money could be made selling those spots to paying advertisers. Apparently a 30 second spot ran some $2.5 million. That's some serious coin.

I did laugh at the Lost promo, though, parodied to Robert Palmers Addicted to Love. Hubbie thought it too cheesy, but I thought it was funny.

The only other commercial that stands out was a totally ridiculous send up of a Godzilla movie. The gigantic monster tramples through the city only to come face to face with the gigantic robot. You anticipate the smackdown, but no, the oversized creatures fall in love. So far, kinda cute. They hold hands. They frolic by the riverside. But wait, what's that? The lizard monster is pregnant? Okay, just, eww. And she gives birth to - wait for it - an SUV?

So. Totally. Stupid.

I will now not ever, even if the 5,000 other reasons I have miraculously disappear, buy a Hummer because of that stupid-ass commercial. I suppose the spot was successful on the front that I do remember what was being sold. I was an advertising major in college, so I know at least one objective was met.

Worse, though, was the Emerald Nuts commercial. For some reason someone thought it would be a good thing to throw together these totally unrelated characters because the first letter of the character was a letter in the word Emerald. Some kind of funky mnemonic device to help you remember Emerald that was beyond stupid. But, again, I do remember the name, and that's something.

Which leads me to ask, what the heck are these ad creatives smoking when they are sitting around the conference table, brainstorming, and someone throws out the idea that a commercial where a monster cross-breeding results in an SUV is a fabulous idea? Where are the account execs to put a stop to it?

I remember the glory days of Super Bowl commercials. The days of the Coke delivery guy sneaking a Pepsi out of the convenience store refrigerator, only to have them all fall on the ground. Or the Michael Jordan/Larry Bird game of horse to win a Big Mac, when the shots keep getting more and more absurd but hilarious? Or Clydesdales playing football? Classics.

I did see one great one last night via a recap on Comcast's Fan; for Ameriquest. A woman in the window seat of a crowded flight needs to use the bathroom. She's forced to crawl over her two sleeping male seat mates. On her way over, her skirt gets caught on the tray table hook and is hiked up. She stumbles, lands on one man's lap in quite a compromising position just as the cabin lights come up. Across the aisle a mother and her little girl look on, horrified. It's very clever.

When I was in college, I wanted to write those kinds of ads. I have a feeling, though, that more of the Emerald Nut variety are the norm.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Perfect Read

This entry is purely a rave for J.R. Ward's book Dark Lover. I started it Friday night at bedtime and put it down sometime late Saturday night. And before you think I'm a really slow reader, I did do other things during that twenty-four hour stretch besides read, like cleaning bathrooms. But let me tell you, every second I wasn't reading, I was wishing I was.

I first heard about Dark Lover via PBW's recommendation, back in June of last year. I ordered it just after its release but stuck it on my TBR shelf along with the dozens of others to wait its turn in line. But over the past months, I couldn't help noticing all the wonderful reviews this book had received in various places (AAR is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, but trust me, there are more). Reading the good buzz got me really excited, so I admit I picked up the book with pretty high expectations.

I was not disappointed.

The story concerns, mainly, Wrath, the last pureblood vampire on Earth. He's the reluctant king of the vampires, but more importantly, the leader of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a group of vampire warriors who work to keep the vampire civilian community safe from the Lessening Society, soul-less creatures who want to eradicate the entire vampire species.

Wrath's fellow fighter and good friend, Darius, asks Wrath for a huge favor. Darius has a half-vampire/half-human daughter whom he's never met personally. He fears she will soon go through the transition that will change her from mostly human into mostly vampire, and in order to survive the ordeal, Beth will need a strong male vampire - one with a lot of pure vampire blood running through his veins - to help her through it. He approaches Wrath, who flat out refuses to get involve.

But when Darius is killed, Wrath feels he has no choice but to find Beth and help her make her way into the vampire world.

It doesn't take too much imagination to figure out that Wrath and Beth will be attracted to each other and maybe even fall in love. No big romance surprises on that front.

What makes this book an amazing read is the world J.R. Ward has created for her characters to inhabit. The vampires couldn't be further from the stereotypical puffy-shirt wearing, heavily accented, human-stalking creatures of the night cartoon. These vamps are real guys. Sure, they can't go out in the sun. And sure, they look pretty dang scary with their long fangs. But these are the guys who were the coolest of cool in high school, the bad boys your momma warned you about but that you couldn't help lusting after anyway. They sport a variety of tattoos, listen to hip hop and rap as loud as the volume will go, watch sports on TV, drink beer, and play pool. They just so happen to also be nearly immortal warriors who can kill someone a hundred different ways and need to drink female vampire blood on a fairly regular basis.

Beth is a very cool heroine, neither weak-kneed nor overly kick-ass. She's just a regular girl who shows both common sense (as in her actions when she is attacked while walking home one night) but isn't so snarky and quick with the come-back that she doesn't seem real. When she learns who her father was and what is going to happen to her, she takes it with a good mixture of disbelief, horror, fascination and resignation. Nor does she play the coy virgin with Wrath, beating herself up about him being the wrong sort whom she shouldn't love. She's attracted to the guy from the very second she meets him and she doesn't deny herself the pleasure he offers.

One thing I appreciated in this story was the blood-sucking part of the whole vampire mythology. In most paranormal romances, if the vampires are portrayed as heroes, their need for human blood is dealt with in such ways as to eliminate any hunting and killing of humans - not exactly hero behaviour. J.R. Ward has also eliminated human blood from her story by making her vampires need the blood of a vampire of the opposite sex to survive. In fact, human blood is considered inferior. The equation of blood sharing as compared to sex is pretty much perfect. In fact, Wrath's possessiveness of Beth's fangs - 0nce she has them - was just as strong as his possessiveness of her breasts, and his reaction when another male admires them is fabulous.

Another thing I really liked about J.R. Ward's world is the involvement of human characters. I can't say too much without spoiling the plot, but there is a man in the story who starts off as an unknown - I couldn't get a read on if he was a good guy, a potential love interest for Beth, a bad guy, or what - who turns out to play a wonderful role in the story.

Everything about this book - the pace, the realistic dialogue, the steamy love scenes, the mythology behind the vampires - was pitch perfect. The world was dark without being depressing, the bad guys evil beyond evil without the story turning gratuitous. If I were to recommend a paranormal to a person who'd never read one before, this might be the one I'd suggest in order to make a new fan out of the genre.

After Darius is killed, there are six members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood remaining; Wrath, Tohrment, Rhage, Phury, Vishous, and Zsadist. An aside to say that although these names are really cool, they are kind of the only problem I had with the book. The slighly off spelling to keep them from being Wrath, Torment, Rage, Fury, Viscious, and Sadist just didn't work for me, and the theme is overplayed just a tad. But since I liked the guys so much, I give this a total pass. They could be named Skippy, Larry, Curly and Mo for all I care as long as I get to read more about them.

Anyway, these six vampires are so intriguing, I can barely wait for each of their stories to be told. Rhage's book, Lover Eternal, is coming out in a mere month - March 7 - and I'm torn between ordering it via Amazon and hoping it is sitting on my doorstep or hauling it to the nearest B&N and hounding the clerks to locate and open the box the second the doors open. And I'm thrilled to know that Zsadist's story will be released in September, so it looks like J.R. Ward is able to handle a six-month turnaround schedule for new books. I don't know if I could wait much longer than that.

I also have to give kudos for J.R. Ward for the website she had designed (or maybe designed herself) to support the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I spent a good amount of time there after finishing up Dark Lover because I wasn't ready to leave the world I'd been so fully immersed in. I especially loved the interviews she conducts with each member of the Brotherhood, although I recommend you read the first book first because Wrath's interview contains spoilers.

It's been so long since I've picked up a perfect read. A book I could not put down for anything. The feeling when you find one is so absolutely sublime, something I doubt anyone who isn't an avid reader would ever understand. So thanks, J.R., for giving me such a gift.

And write. Really fast.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Cover Deception

As much as we all snark about how bad romance novel covers can be - and believe me, I do snark a lot - there are many times a good cover will entice me to try a book I might otherwise skip.

Or, what I'm finding I do, is if I see a cover I like, usually by way of mention on someone's blog, I'll add the book to my Amazon wish list.

For example, yesterday's RTB column by Lori Devoti directed me toward the very cool cover for Gena Showalter's Heart of the Dragon.

I just love this cover! I'm finding I'm kind of big on covers that don't actually show faces of characters. Anyway, I went on to read the blurb about HotD and it looks like it might be pretty good. Except, I haven't read anything by Showalter, plus I just placed an order at Amazon so am feeling like I've spent my book allowance for a few weeks. I put HotD on my wish list so I'd be reminded of it later.

I actually went so far as to hunt down as many of Karen Marie Moning's Highlander series as I could find because I so loved the cover for Spell of the Highlander, so thoughtfully brought to my attention by Sharon over at Write Minded.

Thing is, I haven't actually bought Spell of the Highlander yet because it's still in hardcover. I plan to snatch it up the second it hits paperback. You guessed it; it's on my wish list.

I did pick up Hope's Captive by Kate Lyon despite its absolutely hideous cover.

Holy cow, it doesn't get much worse than this. But Wendy gave it a good review, encouraging us to look beyond the cover, as did Lea Hensley over at AAR. Coupled with the fact that this cover:

...contained one of my all time favorite romances ever, I can say that a good review will outweight a nightmarish cover ever time.

Proving once and for all that you definitely can't judge a book by its cover.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Time Travel Reality

Thanks for the well wishes regarding the ankle. It's 100% better today. Oh, the miracle of Advil. I don't know how the world ever turned around without it.

Which always makes me wonder how people used to deal with pain back in the days before stuff like Tylenol and Advil and aspirin. I used to think about it a lot when I was a teenager experiencing cramps. I always wondered how the girls of the past handled their pain when they couldn't pop a Motrin. It must have been miserable.

Which then leads me to think about so many things that were different way back then. Things that historicals either gloss over or don't even mention because they sure aren't glamorous or romantic. Like going to the bathroom in what amounts to a glorified pit toilet. Those things are downright nasty. I suppose if you didn't know any differently, it wouldn't be a big deal to you.

Which leads to my problem with time travel romance. I love the idea of a modern day heroine having the chance to go back when men were manly, buffed specimens of untamed testosterone, where chivalry was actually practiced, and the clothes were just made for romance (chemises, anyone?). The concept is pure fantasy.

But I can never get over the humongous culture shock such a heroine would experience.

Like, what's a girl to do the first time she needs to shave her legs or armpits? No Daisy Disposable Razors at hand to tackle the job. Does she just accept her hairiness and assume the hero finds her sexy all the same?

What about bathing? I take a shower daily. If I was told I could have a lukewarm bath only once a week, I'd not be too happy. My shower wakes me up in the morning, but more importantly it washes away any funk I might have been sporting. Even if I can't smell it, I just don't feel clean until I've showered. We won't go into the fact that a lack of commercial deoderant would only add to the problem.

I wonder about the bugs that used to be so prolific in the past. Things like lice and bedbugs. Yuck! And not to imply that people in the past weren't clean, but without modern pesticides and cleaning products, I imagine they fought a losing battle against the tiny vermin. I'd have a darn hard time getting all sexy in a bed I was afraid to even get into for fear of bedbugs.

And these things are just the tip of the iceberg. What would I do without bookstores and libraries? Television and radios to entertain me. Modern sanitary supplies. Shampoo, and a washing machine and dryer? Lack of flush toilets? Charmin toilet paper, even.

How would I handle the food, which I always imagine to be bland and colorless or too-highly spiced in order to hide the taste of spoilage. The idea of eating meat back then gives me the willies.

Or, gasp, what would I do without my laptop? Can't even contemplate...

Really, the idea of time travel is cool. But given the choice, I don't know that I'd partake unless I was guaranteed 1000 and 10% that it was only temporary. That I'd get to come back home. Soon.

Because I'm a big, fat baby. When I'm a hurtin', I want my Advil.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up

I woke up this morning completely unable to walk. I mean, I literally fell out of bed.

I've been having some pain in my left ankle for the past week that I recognized as tendonitis. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've had this before because I can remember that it lingered for what seemed like forever.

Anyway, I've had this pain but it wasn't anything I couldn't deal with. Didn't incapacitate me or keep me from working on our basement yesterday afternoon, which is our house project du jour. I painted a little and put some insulation inbetween the studs of the new wall we've built. Nothing major, mind you.

Last night, I woke up a couple of times thinking that my ankle was feeling really sore. Sore enough to wake me up, but not sore enough to keep me awake.

This morning, I can't put any weight on my left foot. My ankle is hot and swollen, and the only way I can get around is by a kind of hobbling/dragging combo in which I don't actually bend my foot in any way. What I really need is a cane or a crutch.

I'm 99% sure this is tendonitis, which I looked up on the internet to discover that the cure is basically rest of the affected tendon and the consumption of copious amounts of Advil to get the swelling down. No need for visits to the doctor or amputations or anything so drastic.

What this means, though, is that I have a free pass to sit my butt on the couch all day. I can't work on the basement or haul laundry up and down the steps. I figure I need to find a way to take a shower and maybe make the beds, and I need to get my son off to school after feeding him lunch, but otherwise, I'm in slug-mode. I'm even thinking this is a good excuse to order a pizza or have the hubby bring sandwiches home because I certainly can't stand in front of an oven or stove, right?

No, really, this does suck. And it had better get better soon because I can't stop my life just because I can't walk. Not to mention I look like a damn fool hobbling around this way. I feel weird even trying to go to the drugstore to get an ace bandage. Sure makes me appreciate my two healthy legs.