Monday, July 17, 2006

Aging a Bit Painfully

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2006

Treasure Hunting

I have to give props to my local Borders bookstore. It has an amazing romance novel section. At least two full aisles are devoted to the genre, with shelves that reach over my head. They pull hardbacks and over-sized paperbacks together, analogies are shelved with each other, and the rest is the normal by-author alphabetized.

The Barnes and Noble nearest me, which just so happens to be about 1/16th of a mile down the street from Borders, isn't quite as nicely organized. I imagine they devote the same amount of shelf space to romance because the B&N shelves go way higher than the ones at Borders. But they don't cull out special titles other than newest offerings. For some reason, shopping for romance at B&N makes me feel slightly inferior. Perhaps this is because the romance aisle is set toward the back of the store, whereas at Borders they are located in the dead center of the store. I don't feel like I'm slinking off to the back room.

Actually, though, I rarely buy romance novels at brick-and-mortar bookstores. I prefer to get them either on-line or at Walmart/KMart/Target. The former is preferable because I can buy in batches and find every single title I'm looking for at one stop. This is never the case when I go to B&N or Borders. In fact, I usually mean both stores when I throw out a "I'm going to the bookstore" because I always try B&N first (I have a membership card there and can save 10% right off the top) but then end up heading to Borders if I can't find what I'm looking for. And as shamed as I am to admit it, I like saving the buck or so I get when I buy paperbacks at the discount stores. Especially if I'm taking a gamble on a new author.

The only books I buy at B&N/Borders not on-line are new releases that I just can't wait to get my hands on. This causes its own frustration when I cruise on down, my heart thumping in anticipation, only to find out the book isn't shelved. I'm the type of person who loathes to ask for any help, so I'm stuck between wanting my book and dealing with the angst of sending a sales person to the stockroom in search of it.

One thing B&N/Borders stores have that I can't find elsewhere are the bargain books. I love love love bargain books. Especially bargain reference books. I have more books on various topics I've picked up this way, books on everything from the history of firearms to the haunted castles of Scotland. These are books I'd never go searching for on their own, books I'd normally just check out of the library on an as-needed basis, but that I just love having at my fingertips should I require an immediate fact or another. Since you never quite know what you'll find at any given moment, wandering the bargain aisles is a bit like going on a treasure hunt. And it's just not the same cruising the bargain pages of the B&N/Borders' websites.

Before kids, when my husband and I lived in the city, a favorite form of Friday and/or Saturday night entertainment was dinner and a trip to the bookstore. We could spend hours just browsing the shelves. My husband would use the bookstore as a magazine library - pull up a chair and flip through a mag while I wandered the aisles. I always felt guilty on his behalf and would nag him to just buy the dang thing and read it at home. We seldom bought books, or at least rarely ever more than one. Or two.

Now, when I find myself in a bookstore without kids, I'm like a kid in a candy store. I rarely walk out with only one book. In fact, going with the hubby has lost its charm because he always eyes my growing stack with disapproval.

And unlike my purchases from Amazon or B&, I can't just mingle the new books into the shelves with the old. He knows what I'm up to.

How I'm feeding my book addiction.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tying Up Strings

I've confessed before that I got my bug for writing by first writing fanfic. Regardless of the legal grayness involved in borrowing other people's characters and worlds and using them in your own creations, I still think fanfic is a great way to test your writing wings. Not to mention the ego boost it offers if you prove good enough to earn some positive feedback. For the fledgling writer, a bit of back patting is as essential as a good dictionary and word processing program to get you going. Heaven knows there's far too little of it once you enter the scary world of publishing.

My appreciation for fanfic not withstanding, I haven't written fanfic in well over a year and half now. All of my creative energies are focused on my own, original stuff, and the voices of those favorite characters no longer speak to me loud enough to be heard over the din of original characters. I pushed them as far as their pre-established universe (and the readers of associated fanfic) would allow. When I started adding my own, new characters to the old character's stories, new characters who I fell in love with even more so than the originals, I knew it was time to break out on my own.

But in doing so, I've left some loose strings. Particularly, I began a fairly lengthy story that I didn't finish. I put all the players in position, sent them into a deep chasm of problems and conflict, only to leave them flailing about with no light in sight at the end of their proverbial tunnels. No HEA. No resolution. Only a message promising to finish the story. At some point.

Even worse, I posted as much of this story as I had written. I put it out there and some people came and read. And then I left them high and dry. The worst thing a writer can do to a reader, and I'm guilty.

Every once in a while a reader will enquire when/if I plan to finish it. I feel huge amounts of guilt when this happens because I don't blame them for feeling abandoned. I dragged these folks on a dark ride and have left them there. It's like watching a television show that leaves one season on a horrible cliffhanger, only to have it be cancelled while on hiatus with no resolution.

So I'm thinking I should pick up the pen again on this one. I should finish it and close the box. Get those characters out of trouble, satisfy those readers that stuck with me, finish what I started.

Except, it's been 18 months since I worked on this story, and those characters aren't talking to me anymore. Those scenes aren't playing in my head on endless loop. I've tried everything to get it back. I've reread what I've already written, hoping to get back in the mood. I've looked over the snippets of scenes that I'd gotten down before I became distracted by other things. I've spent time in the shower, thinking it over. Nada. I'm about to dive into the DVDs, hoping if I watch some episodes I'll find those voices again. Hoping.

Because when I sit down with the laptop, I don't want to see that file on my desktop any longer. I'm ready to move on. Guilt free.

Other voices are calling.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I've Found Him...

...My hero to end all heroes. Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds.

This weekend I rented Serenity. I wasn't a fan of the ill-fated Firefly series on which the movie was based until after Fox cancelled the television show because it wasn't until then that I discovered Buffy and the genius that is Joss Whedon. Once I realized I might have missed a great thing, I put the Firefly series DVD on my Amazon wish list, and a dear friend got it for me for my birthday. (Dear Friend, if you are reading this, you know who you are and I HEART you!) The hubby and I watched the pilot, which I loved, but I never got around to watching the other 13 episodes.

Until now.

Mal Reynolds is not perfect as a man. Far from it. He's morally ambiguous far too often, he's too stubborn by far, and sometimes he just needs a good smack upside the head because he can't see a good thing standing right under his nose. He believes in nothing other than his own ability to survive and won't hesistate to dispatch of anyone or anything that endangers that one goal.

But he's loyal. He loves his crew and will do anything for them, despite the bluster he puts out when asked to do so. He's fearless but not stupid. He gets his butt kicked by those who are bigger and stronger, but mostly he wins the battle with quick thinking, a confidence that borders on cocky, and the simple refusal to go down without a fight. Push him too far and he becomes your worst enemy, earn his respect and love and he'll fight for you 'til death.

Sexy and nice looking yet not too pretty, his face reveals a dangerous life lived hard. His sense of humor is dry and irreverant; he doesn't take himself or the universe too seriously because he's a hair's breadth away from the edge at all times.

His backstory is noble and tragic. A rebel soldier who fought against a totalitarian government, his side lost the war, leaving him unable to fit into the society created by those who conquered him and forced to make his own place any way necesary. He'll step pretty far over the line to make a living, but he's no petty criminal or mean-spirited villain-wannabe. He simply does what he has to do to get by.

He's a cross between the old western gunslinger and the Hans Solo mold of space pirate. He'll let loose a string of Chinese expletives in one breath and banish from the dinner table a crewmember who offends a female with off-humour commentary with the very next. His shell is granite-hard, but you just know that if you can manage to crack it, inside is a tender center very few have ever encountered. His biggest fault by far is his inability to let himself be vulnerable. A challenge no girl could resist.

Nathan Fillion, the actor to whom all the credit goes for creating my shiny new perfect hero mold (along with Joss for creating Mal Reynolds in the first place) has only one flaw - his choice in other roles. As I watched Serenity, I kept trying to place where it was I'd seen him before. An IMDB search answered the question. After Firefly was cancelled, Fillion appeared in the final handful of Buffy episodes as a vile, evil murdering preacher named Caleb. The character was beyond creepy. For the role, Fillion dyed his hair darker and adopted a southern accent, but the face is the same. And I just can't get that out of my head.

But I figure with a few dozen viewings of my Firefly DVDs, all I will see will be Mal.

Meanwhile, I need to get busy campaigning with the rest of the Browncoats. Serenity needs a sequel.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Time Travel Trouble

I suppose I should change my blog header, as this, the last and perhaps the next post are about movies rather than books or writing. It's summer time, though, and I've given my brain permission to indulge in pleasures that don't require it to work so much, thus movies instead of books.

Last night my friend and I took in a 12:01 viewing of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie (woohoo - I had a movie date!!). Won't talk on that now, since there's a good chance I'll go with the hubby this weekend and may have more to say later. It's good. Really good. Kind of long, but since they feed you up some Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp eye candy, who can complain?

This afternoon I found myself with some rare kid-free time and took in a matinee of the romantic 100% chick-flick, The Lake House. It stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, both of whom I thought had oodles of chemistry between them in Speed.

Before I go any further, I want to warn about some major SPOILERS in this review. If you haven't seen it and have any plans to see it, don't read any further. I think the key to enjoying this film is seeing it cold, without knowing how it all plays out, which I explain soon.

If you've seen it or don't care about spoilers and are reading on, the premise of the movie is great. Keanu plays architect Alex Wyler, Sandra Bullock a doctor, Kate Forester. Both characters spend time in a glass-and-steel lake house designed and built by Alex's father. The story begins when Kate moves out of the lake house and leaves a note behind asking the next tennant to forward her mail. When Alex shows up and pulls Kate's letter out of the mailbox then replies to it, a correspondence between the two begins and love soon follows. The twist comes in the form of time; Alex is living in the year 2004 while Kate exists two years later, in 2006.

Up front, I can tell you that the conflict facing Alex and Kate is perfect. Until the very end of the movie, I had no idea of how the two could overcome the barrier of time to be together. I went into the movie figuring that they must be living in some kind of parallel universe situation, where his life track is simply shifted two years earlier than her life track, and the possibility of either one jumping tracks pretty much non-existent.

However, their time distance seemed to be based on some other idea of multiple time dimensions, one I never could quite figure out. Then again, time travel always leaves me befuddled.

I love the idea of time travel romances. I'm always up for the awkwardness of someone who goes back in time and has to figure out how to make due without modern conveniences. I'm not as big on the ones where characters come forward in time as I always figured the shock of life today would kill people use to the past. Either way, it's interesting for me to see how a writer (or director) can pull it off.

But I always get hung up on the whole time/space continuum deal. All of that physics stuff, about what might happen if the same person meets him or herself or if events of the past are changed, how will it affect the future? My mind starts to whirl a bit when it gets going on what seems to me an endless cycle of cause and effect and cause and effect...

Which leads me to my biggest issue of this otherwise intriguing film. Okay - here are those big SPOILERS I warned you about!

In the movie, Kate has a particularly bad day after moving from the lake house to downtown Chicago. She's having lunch with her mother in Daley Plaza and sees a man get hit by a bus. Being a doctor, she rushes to the scene and does her best to save him, but he dies anyway. Her work colleague sees her, despondent, and tells Kate she needs to get out of town to get her mind off things. Kate returns to the lake house, the one place she really felt at home. It's then that she discovers that Alex has left a response to her "please forward my mail" letter and their correspondence - and discovery of their situation - begins.

Fast forward to the end of the movie and the twist I predicted about half way through happens. Come to find out, Alex was the man killed by the bus. He'd been on his way to meet her, having learned via one of her letters that she'd be at Daley Plaza on Valentine's Day, 2006, so when his own time hit that point, he headed there. Kate figures this out and races time to send Alex a message not to come, that he'll be hit by a bus if he does.

Yes, Alex gets the message in time. So, no, he's not killed by the bus.

BUT!!! But...but...but...

If Alex isn't killed by the bus, Kate can't be despondent over having lost a patient whose life she'd tried to save. And her colleague can't see her and suggest that she go someplace she feels good. And Kate can't then go to the lake house and discover Alex's return message. And none of their correspondence would happen. So Kate warning Alex changes what happens, which means everything from that point forward is null and void. The two never know each other. Alex has no reason to be going to Daley Plaza....

See? Circles. And I'm so confused.

But more simply, the entire movie falls apart on that first unraveling. The death of the supposed stranger hit by a bus can't be the thing that inspires Kate to go back to the lake house. A huge plot hole as far as I can figure.

I think the problem comes from having the time distance between the two be only two years. I kept wondering why in the world Kate didn't just do a Google search on the name "Alex Wyler" and find out where he was in her time. In fact, her doing a Google search would have revealed to her that Alex Wyler had been killed by a bus on Valentine's Day, 2006 and she could have warned him much sooner. Eventually - accidentally - she does land in the offices of the architectural firm he created with is brother, and it's then that she discovers that he'd died two years earlier (in her past 2006, her current time now being 2008). She would have learned about his architectural firm much sooner than 2008 if she would have just fired up the old laptop in the first place.

Also, at one point, Alex and Kate do meet. Alex knows who she is, but Kate thinks he's just some stranger since in her timeline, she hasn't even lived at the lake house yet. I kept wondering why in the world Alex didn't just tell her everything or stick to her like glue. But, then again, his doing that would change Kate's future, meaning the two of them might not ever meet in the first place.

My point being, I kept seeing ways the two could meet, but when neither of them followed such a path, I tried to understand what was going on in their world that made it impossible for them to do something so simple. At one point, they do try to pre-arrange a meeting. Alex has to wait two years for it, but they pick a date and place in Kate's present/Alex's future to meet. Alex doesn't show up. Because...wait for it...he's dead. So their meeting once they've learned of each other becomes impossible because Alex was killed the day they "met" via their letters...

Aaughh! My head hurts.

So...all of this to say that the movie was good to a certain degree, but my mind just can't deal with the weirdness of time travel. I'm just not able to suspend my disbelief enough to ignore what seems to me illogicalities in the basic construct of the story.

I will say this. I love Keanu Reeves. But seeing him today makes me realize how time affects us all. He's starting to show his age, which makes me feel a lot better since I've been showing mine for some time now.

My recommendation? If you don't think too hard, this is a sweet movie, with a few tear-enducing moments and a lot of edge-of-the-seating as you wonder how and if these two will ever get together. If your mind can't deviate too far from logical, then you might want to skip it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Supes Lite

I'm a huge Superman fan.

Actually, I'm a huge fan of the relationship between Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane.

In fact, I'd never read a Superman comic or had seen more than the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies before I fell in love with the Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman television series, starring Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain. That show made me a Superman fan...or a fan of the Superman love story, that is.

So naturally I was excited about the recently released Superman Returns movie starring Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth. Kind of accidentally, we ended up going to see it on opening night last week. I had no idea when my husband suggested we see it that it was the first night, nor how lucky we ended up being to score tickets.

Anyway, we went and we saw. And the movie is really good. I know it's getting mixed reviews, but I count myself as one of the satisfied.

Sort of.

Because as far as the Superman part of the movie went, I'm totally in the thumbs-up column.

But as for the romance between Superman/Clark and Lois, well...the movie left me a bit cold.

I won't spoil it for those who plan to see the movie. I think it's safe to offer up a brief synopsis: Superman has been gone from Earth for 5 years. During his absence, Lois has had a child and become engaged to Richard White, the nephew of her editor Perry White and played by the very nice looking James Marsden. She's moved on with her life, something that both Clark and Superman find not a little bit disconcerting upon their mutual return.

And as anyone would expect, poor Lois finds herself in quite the emotional pickle when she first glimpses those sexy blue tights and all of the muscles bulging inside of them. Her true love is back, it seems. But she's moved on. Can she press rewind and go back in time, knowing then what she knows now will happen, thus making different choices? Can she have her cake and fly with it, too?

I did feel for her. Richard White isn't a bad consolation prize by any means. Plus there's the boy child making things messy. She can't just walk away from her new life just because the bird in the bush is back. She's faced with the same choice Helen Hunt dealt with in Cast Away, when Tom Hanks shows up about 50 pounds skinnier and a lot less frenetic, but her first and truest love all the same. Does she walk away from her husband and daughter, abandon them to be with the man she loves? Or does she resign herself to a future of settling, always regretting what could have been all in the name of responsibility to those who love her now?

My problem with the romance in the new Superman movie, though, isn't Lois's dilemma or even how she eventually solves it. My issue is that I feel jipped. We viewers are dropped into the story five years after Lois and Superman had their big affair. We didn't get to see any of their falling in love or the bolt of instant heat between them or even the simmer of growing attraction. All of this is implied; we are told that Superman and Lois had some great love before he took off without so much as a see ya round.


But that's my favorite part!! The falling in love junk. The attraction. The heat.

It's like watching the two of them smoking their post-coital cigarettes without even seeing them meet for the first time. I know they have this great, passionate love only because I'm already familiar with the Superman mythos. If I'd been an alien from another planet who'd never heard of Superman before, I'd have been thoroughly confused. You mean these two once were in love? Go figure. And why am I supposed to care?

I suppose since this is a superhero action movie, the romance rides second fiddle to everything else. Fair enough. It's not billed as a romance or a chick film or anything of that sort. Guys wrote it for other guys, thinking if the gals didn't mind the ride, well, bonus dude. But for those of us who are Superman/Clark loves Lois fans, a big piece of the puzzle went missing.

In the end, I still loved the movie for what it ended up being. I guess I need to remove my romantic expectations for Superman and take the story as is. Kind of like Batman. There is no specific lady I expect to see as Batman's one true love, therefore I don't miss the missing romance and enjoy the movie as an action flick about a cool superhero.

I suppose this is what I get for calling myself a Superman fan without having read maybe more than three Superman comics. Does it count that I've seen every episode of Lois and Clark at least half-a-dozen times and every epi of Smallville at least twice?

Oh well. 4.5 stars out of 5 ain't bad.