Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Happy 2nd, Bloggie

It wasn't until I saw it over on Smart Bitches that I realized my 2nd blogging anniversary has come and gone. On January 19, 2005 I posted my first entry. I cannot believe it's been two full years that I've been doing this!

Last year, though, wasn't nearly as prolific as my first year at it. I racked up only 130 posts in 2006, which is sadly close to almost half my 2005 figure of 211. I really slacked off, which I blame on having less to say. Never in a million years would have guessed something like that might happen.

Too, I've learned that if I have any hope of disciplining myself, I have to cut back on the time I spend on the internet. The number of blogs I visited plus the amount I would spend on lengthy blog posts was a time suck of epic proportions. I've significantly cut back on my blog hopping, with only a handful of daily stops and another handful of weekly stops. An afternoon of luxury is one where I jump around without glancing at the clock every five minutes.

2006 was a pretty good year. No book yet, but steady progress. Baby steps. Baby turtle steps!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Not Too Shabby

Last night, Lifetime aired the first of what will be four made-for-television movie adaptations of best selling Nora Roberts titles. Following last night's Angels Fall, the next three consecutive Monday nights will feature Montana Sky, Blue Smoke, and Carolina Moon.

I not only tuned in, I watched with rapt interest. I couldn't wait to see how good/bad/ugly this whole enterprise would turn out. I've seen adaptations of romance novels before, and the word cheesy usually suffices in summing up the results. But since this is La Nora we are talking about - and you don't mess with La Nora - and MFTV movie quality has been taken up several notches in the past few years, I figured things might turn out not too bad.

Oddly enough, I have pretty much universally enjoyed the screen adaptations of popular chick lit titles. Bridget Jones's Diary, The Devil Wears Prada, and Under the Tuscan Sun in their movie incarnations gave me lots of big smiles even though I had (and still have) no desire to read the books that inspired them. (Time out to say that Under the Tuscan Sun isn't, technically, chick lit, but I did love the movie and have no desire to read the book, so it applies.) I think chick lit can make the jump to movies and actually improve because much of the internal whinging gets jettisoned in the translation. Plus, you know, you get to actually see the shoes.

As for Lifetime's stab at romancelandia, my final verdict is a very solid...promising.

The production values were excellent. The movie definitely had the feeling of a bigger-budget picture, as far as MFTV movies go. I haven't read the book and can only assume that its overall tone was something kind of dark, moody and generally gloomy based on the vast quantity of overcast, misty, mysterious shots of the Wyoming mountains. The scenery was gorgeous, to be sure, just not exactly bright and happy. Lifetime certainly didn't skimp on the location shoots.

Too, I thought the casting was top notch. Heather Locklear was beautiful but in such a pleasant, non-sex symbol way I could honestly believe her as the heroine of a romance novel. She's aging very gracefully. And it was refreshing to see her in a role that wasn't Evil She-Bitch From Hell. Johnathon Schaech was well slated to play the dark and handsome male love interest, Brody. Again, since I didn't read the book I have no idea how these two matched up physically to their written counterparts, nor do I know if they acted on par with the people Roberts imagined as she wrote them. Standing on their own without benefit of pre-reading, I found them very believable as characters in a romance novel, so I was satisfied.

As for the story itself, this was a bit more meh for me. Some of the dialogue was a bit clunky, and the resolution of the murder mystery came too much from out in left field for my taste. I'm not a big fan of victims by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time type stories, and this one was that in spades. Without giving the story away, I'm not really sure that the heroine overcame her demons enough for me to believe in an HEA (I'm not giving anything away by saying that there is an HEA; this is a Nora Roberts, for cripe's sake). And did I mention the overall gloominess? A lot about this story creeped me out - pretty much the entire population of Angels Fall - so if I was supposed to understand what Reese (the heroine) found appealing about the town enough to stick around, I missed the boat.

In the end, however, I was so pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the production that I now have some pretty high hopes that other romance novels - ones that I absolutely loved as books - will maybe make it to the small screen. If anyone at Lifetime is reading, I would actually pay to see the heroes of the Black Dagger Brotherhood in the two-dimensional flesh. Actual cash, as in more than one figure! Or at the very, very least, swear to watch every single commercial and even buy some of the products advertised.

And I will probably tune in to see the other three Nora Roberts movies over the following weeks. Despite the fact that my husband told me I'd sunk to a new low and only needed half a dozen cats climbing on my lap to complete the stereotype (he walked in and said "You're watching a Lifetime movie?! While crocheting?!?"), I want to see how other stories play out. I admit I'm reserving a hefty amount of skepticism over the idea of John Corbett succeeding as the hero in a romance novel (he's come a long way since his Northern Exposure days, and I wouldn't say for the betterl), but I'll hold my tongue for now.

Besides dissing my choice of evening entertainment, my husband did make one astute comment. When I told him that the "writer" of these movies was the Stephen King of romance novels, he kept making "cha-ching" noises the rest of the night. Yeah. Cha-ching, indeed.

Monday, January 29, 2007


This weekend I went on a Pants spree. I skimmed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, reread The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, and finally finished Girls In Pants. All of this in preparation for Forever In Blue, which I snatched up gleefully when I found it at Costco two weeks ago. My family probably thought I had my nose stuck in the same book from Friday night through Sunday night, but it was the entire series.

First off, let me say that I love these books. This is one of my favorite series out there. I'm completely amazed at how author Ann Brashares is able to weave the stories of four different young women in such a way that I care about all of them, I never get bored and wish she'd jump to someone else, and at the end of each POV break, I'm left wanting more. Her ability to pull this off is the reason I picked up the books for a reread in the first place: I'm attempting to weave three stories together and I wanted to see how a master handled such a feat.

I also loved the movie. I thought it a fairly decent adaptation, I cried (I cried reading the books too, which almost never happens to me), found it well casted and I'm hoping that disappointing box office doesn't keep the powers that be from making movies out of at least the second and third books.

All this being said, I have to admit that after reading book 4, I can firmly see the difficulty in taking a group of high school girls and following them for four years of their lives without becoming repetitive. As much as people change from age 16 through age 19, their lives are still pretty small. You reach a point when you start to think, hey, haven't we done this already?

From here on, there are SPOILERS for all of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books.

For those of you familiar and interested (the rest of you probably left this post a while back), here's a brief update. At the end of the last book, the four pseudo-sisters had gone their separate ways to attend college. Forever In Blue (FIB) picks up at the beginning of the summer after their freshman year. Due to various activities, the girls are still scattered. Lena is in Rhode Island attending a summer art program; Tibby is in NYC attending a summer film program; Carmen is in Vermont attending a summer theater program; and Bridget is off in Turkey, participating in a archeological dig for - you guessed it - a school credit program. I don't know where these girls get their stamina. By the end of my freshman year, I was happy to head home for some free laundry service, a fridge stocked with non-cafeteria food and a chance to party with catch up with some old friends. Not to mention my small need to hold down a full-time job to earn some cash to pay for the next year's tuition.

But I digress.

Carmen has gained the dreaded Freshman 10. Or in her case, more like the Freshman 15, so she doesn't want the other three sisters to see her. She's come to see that having three built-in best friends for your entire life means that those friend-making skills tend to atrophe during the growing up years, and she's no longer the fiesty, sexy, outspoken girl we've come to know and love. Rather, she's self-destructive, dumpy and desperate. Not a pretty combination.

Bridget leaves boyfriend Eric and her emotionally neglectful father and emotionally abused and bereft twin brother to head to Turkey so she can dig in the dirt. She meets and appreciates - as would be expected - a very hot, very interested young professor who seems equally taken with her. Except, well, he's married. Yeah. Married.

Lena is trying hard to forget Kostos. Or maybe she's trying hard to remember Kostos. Or she's trying to forget to remember him or trying to remember to forget him. I got kind of confused. Anyway, she meets a fellow art student who is super talented and doesn't seem to fall all over himself just because she's beautiful, which is a double-scoop turn on for sweet Lena. Because neither of them have any money, they agree to pose for each other so they can each finish the necessary portfolios for next year's scholarships. And you all know, right, that art students look at nude models when they paint and draw? So Lena has to get, um, well nude...

Tibby and Brian finally do the deed. It's sweet. It's romantic. It's natural. The two have known each other for four years, have been dating for two, are both over the age of consent, and pretty much I can't figure out what they are still waiting for at this point. Brian agrees with me and finally Tibby gets a clue. Except, the condom? Well, she breaks. And Tibby? Well, she freaks.

I've come to really like these four girls, so I was very much interested to see how their next summer played out. But not too far into the book, I began to get a little frustrated. Because I felt like I'd read all of these stories before. I felt like these girls, who were 16 when I first started hanging with them and are now nearly 20, hadn't really changed one iota. They were making the same mistakes as they'd already done, only this time they didn't have the excuse of being just a kid and not knowing any better.

For example, although Bridget has learned to control her outrageous sexual magnetism and doesn't turn it full-force on Off-limits Professor the way she did in Book 1 with Off-limits Soccer Coach, she still allows their relationship to get physical (I won't say more). And even if Bridget has learned something about playing with fire and getting burned, I felt like I've read this story before. I've already seen Bridget tempting men with her gorgeous hair, wanting someone she shouldn't and/or couldn't have, and the results of this sad, can't-end-well situation. I wanted to see something new.

And Tibby. Well, for most of the book I wanted to smack Tibby upside the head. Yes, the condom broke. Yes, she was scared shitless about being pregnant, and with good reason. But the way she treated Brian, the boy she supposedly loved, made me ill. She was cruel and nasty and pretty much a total bitch, and for no reason that I can understand. I can't say much more without spoiling the book, but if I were Brian? No chance in hell.

I found Lena's story the most compelling. She seemed to be moving on after Kostos dumped her for the woman he'd impregnated during a one-night stand. She'd met this boy, Leo, and she'd stepped outside of her comfort zone. She'd glimpsed something that she wanted, a lifestyle that appealed to her, and finally seemed to be heading towards something rather than drifting aimlessly. But then she took a couple mile-wide steps backwards. And by the end of the book, I felt like someone had pulled a Bobby Ewing on me. Not to mention, what the hell happened to Paul? By the end of Book 2, I was thinking Lena and Paul were true Soul Mates. Where did that go?

As for Carmen, well, I don't think Carmen was in this book. Somehow, the girl named Carmen from books 1 through 3 - the girl who bratted her parents nearly out of their new relationships and couldn't think about anyone other than her own selfish-self - has been devoured by an insecure, overeating wallflower who is so desperate for friendship she latches on to a barracuda the rest of us could identify from 50 paces while blindfolded and drunk. I kind of understood the motivation behind Carmen's withdrawal into a completely different personality given that for the first time in her life, she had to make new friends, but I found it forced to a degree that surpassed belief.

Here's the problem I see facing Brashares, and any writer of a long-running series about teenagers for that matter. If you tune in for the romance, you are bound to be disappointed. I have no idea what the statistics are, but I believe that very few relationships that begin when a person is a teenager last into adulthood. First love and all of that. Heck, college is the death of most high school sweethearts. I met my husband at college, but we were both juniors and had some dating experience under our belts by then. So when you read a happy ending in a YA book, you kind of mentally leave a little loophole for the relationship to be only a temporary HEA, since they aren't grown ups yet and we don't much go for the whole child-bride scenario.

But when Bridget finally hooks up with Eric (in book 3) and Tibby finally gets how great Brian is (in book 3) you want these crazy kids to last forever. Brashares did such a great job selling their respective romances, you're ready for the HEA. Since Tibby and Bee are only 18, you give them their loopholes and figure you'll never know how it really ends up. You can live the rest of your life in blissful ignorance, assuming that it's Eric + Bridget and Brian + Tibby 4-Ev-R.

Except, there's another book. So you do find out what happens. And it's not what you want to happen because it's not a YA book unless the protagonists angst. So either you break them up in some random, it just kind of fizzled out way (which is how Carmen's fledgling relationship with Win is handled) or you have them do something stupid (Bridget) or inexplicable (Tibby).

Conversely, if you ride the realism wave like Brashares did with Lena - Kostos was her first love, but it wasn't meant to be, no HEA for them - then you need to let your characters move on. Lena begins to move on. We are sad that she didn't find forever love with Kostos, but that's okay because she's very young and Leo is cute and we want that to work out. Not to mention all those sparks between Lena and Paul in Book 2 that offered up so much promise. But then you can't throw Kostos back into the mix. That's not fair. Not to Lena and not to us readers.

I think my reaction to this fourth book is a case of needing a story to end when it's over rather than resurrecting it just for the sake of a series. I do really like these girls, and I would love to keep reading about them. But not if their problems are exactly the same, book after book. I don't find this entertaining. I find it annoying because then these people become stupid, unable to grow and learn from their mistakes. Or they become Bizarro characters (a la Carmen) who no longer act true to the person I first came to know.

A lot of this book had the girls focusing on how unworthy they were; to be loved, to be noticed, to have a family, to fall in love again. I don't mind a little self-doubt now and again, but after a while it gets tedious. Too much navel gazing and not enough action. How many times I wanted to yell "Snap out of it!" I can't count.

Too, I think Brashares dances around the subject of teen sexuality with a wariness that borders on the extreme. For these girls, having sex generally results in severely negative consequences. Bridget suffers a near mental breakdown after her encounter with Eric in Book 1, and Tibby goes completely loco after having sex with Brian, complete with pregnancy scare. Many times in FIB Lena fights with her attraction to Leo, the issue of her virginity brought up more than once. For these girls, having sex represents the end of everything good and innocent in their lives rather than a gift they've finally become mature enough to enjoy. I found that incredibly sad. I could buy it for Bridget at age 16, but not so much for Tibby at nearly-19.

Not that I advocate rampant teenage sex, mind you. I'm a firm believer that such a grown up act requires a grown up attitude and grown up emotions. In fact, I would have much preferred Brashares exploring that aspect using Tibby and Brian's relationship. In the beginning, Brian wants more but Tibby is reluctant. I would have liked to see how she overcame that, how the two of them together decided to handle their growing physical relationship. Instead we got twenty choruses of Tibby's inability to let people get close to her and how she pushes them away once they do.

To Brashare's credit, there was a scene between Eric and Bridget that did, IMO, capture a realistic encounter between two people at this stage in their lives. It gave me hope that these girls will work out all of their issues eventually. Although after the way Tibby reacted, I don't know if she should ever attempt to have sex with anyone ever again.

I'll go back to say that I did like this book. It was well written. I cared about the characters all the way until the very end, and I was sad to let them go after the last page. But something about this left me wanting. Perhaps it's just my sad realization that I have to say goodbye to Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget because their stories have already been told.

I got the feeling by the way the book ended that Brashares agrees.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Modern Day Foot Torture

I'm not a huge fan of Chick lit. It's not the writing that I don't like, or even the whining done by so many of the characters. I do sort of remember my fledgling days out of college, when I was a single working gal trying to navigate the world of grown ups. So it's not that I'm so far out of touch with my inner Mary Tyler Moore. The reason I don't snatch up every new release with the hot pink cartoon cover is because for the life of me, I cannot relate to a heroine who thinks nothing of dropping hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes.*

I just. Don't. Get. It.

Shoes are functional. They are objects designed and created to protect your feet from the elements and the hard ground beneath. Yes, they can and should compliment your outfit. And the right shoes with the right outfit can make you look and feel more attractive.

But beyond that, I'm just not into the whole shoe fetish thing.

Last night, on Nightline, they did a feature on this cosmetic surgeon out in L.A. who provides - for $500 per foot - an injection of hyaluronic acid into the balls of the feet to provide extra padding so ladies can wear stiletto heels in comfort. They also reported on a procedure in which toes are actually shortened so that feet fit better into high-fashion footwear.

Oh. My. God. You have got to be kidding me? There are actually people out there who will willingly mutilate their bodies simply so they can shove their size 9s into a shoe that some MALE designer has concocted with, clearly, no regard whatsoever to the fact that a human being actually has to put the thing on a real body part full of nerve endings?

Honestly, this is no different that that ancient, sadistic Chinese custom of foot binding. Well, I guess there is some difference in that those poor Chinese women had this horror inflicted upon them when they were children and couldn't object or fight back. But in a way, choosing to do this as a full grown adult is more shameful.

And I find something about all of this a tad bit ironic, given how many people decry the romance genre as anti-feminist. If we lump Chick Lit under the romance umbrella, or at least call it a subset of the family female fiction which includes Romance as a cousin, then those who would cry "oppression!" when they read about alpha males and doormat females have little room to protest if they shove their hooves into a pair of Jimmy Choos or Manolos all in the name of fashion. They are allowing the dictates of fashion - dictates often prescribed by males - to control what they do to their bodies, be it suffer through hours of discomfort or even something so barbaric as actual surgery.

I won't even go into my thoughts on what it says about us as Americans that we (or some of us) are willing to spend $700 on a pair of shoes - shoes! - when that amount is more than most of the world's population earns in an entire month or even year. And not even comfortable shoes at that! I'm all for the power of a good, quality pair of comfort shoes as a good investment, well worth the cash outlay. But to pay this kind of money for something that probably only matches one outfit AND brings tears to the eyes? Puh-leese.

This opinion probably puts my firmly in the camp of those who are pedestrian and midwestern in their way of thinking, but there it is. And there is the reason I couldn't jump on the Sex and the City bandwagon. I just cannot relate to these characters. I have a hard time taking their problems seriously. Sure, everyone deserves happiness and love. But if you've got great shoes, what more do you want?

* I know that stating that all Chick Lit heroines are footwear-obsessed is stereotyping. I'm sure that there are many a city girl heroine who could care in the least what goes on her feet as long as they match each other. But for the sake of making my point, I'm going with the overgeneralization. Sorry.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Images Versus Words

Alison Kent is discussing storytelling versus writing in her blog today.

I'm a storyteller. At least by my own personal definitions I'm a storyteller.

A storyteller sees events as images in her (his) brain, yet struggles to translate those images into words that convey what she sees. There is a chasm between the imagination and the page that a storyteller struggles to bridge, and the frustration lies in the desperate need to get what's inside out. It's like having something incredibly urgent to say only to find that someone has put duct tape across your mouth. If a storyteller had unlimited resources, he or she might be just as happy to use a different medium - such as movies or television - to present his or her story. Words are simply the cheapest and most easily accessible tool at hand. For a storyteller, the ends justify the means. It's all about the destination.

A writer hears the poetry in a well-crafted sentence or phrase. A writer can identify and create ebb and flow with nothing more than the alphabet and punctuation. The words to convey an image never elude the writer. However, sometimes it's the image itself that brings a writer to his or her knees. Feed them an idea, and they can present it pretty as a picture, complete with a natty bow tied on top. To a writer, there is no substitution for the written word as a means to tell a story. Nuances are critical, and the journey is key because even if the destination is the same, there are so many ways to get there, and the one you choose makes all the difference. For a writer, it's all about the means. The ends is just a vague point to be reached eventually.

Because I'm a storyteller (or proving that I'm a storyteller, depending on how you come at this) my brain thinks in pictures. And I struggle like crazy to translate those images into words. I'm never satisfied with the results because the words don't obey me, they never capture exactly what I see. Or if I do write exactly what I see, I don't end up with something anyone else would ever want to read. I know that some sentences need to be long and some need to be short and varying them makes for a nice tempo and written rhythm. But I don't hear it. I can recognize a piece of good writing and can even spot where other bits fall down. But for some reason my brain-to-fingers connection lacks the wiring to create the good stuff.

This is not to say that I can't appreciate a well-turned phrase. Actually, watching a poor sentence massaged in the hands of a writing master into something breathtaking is nothing short of a miracle to me. I want to know how to do that. And I'm struggling to move toward that lofty bar.

In the meantime, I suffer because the stories festering in my brain struggle to get out. I dream of winning the lottery so I can buy my own movie studio and become the director of all of my inner tales. The images play for me and me alone, and I fear that I'm the only one who will ever enjoy them because I'll never master the ability to put them into form that the rest of the world will buy.

Maybe I was just born a few centuries too late. Maybe in a previous life, I was a bard. Lord knows I wasn't Shakespeare.

Edited To Add: After I wrote and posted this, I went back to Alison's blog and jumped to the links she provided. I see that I'm not original in using journey and ends as descriptives in regards to storytelling versus writing, although I promise I did come to these same conclusions all on my own. So I'll give proper credit to those who came before me and feel smug (ha ha) in deluding myself that maybe I think like others far more eloquent than I am. Or at least satisfied in believing that I get it. I really do.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Last Tuesday, I bumped into my old next-door neighbor while shopping for laundry detergent at Wal-Mart. She and I hadn't seen each other in well over a year, and we swapped small talk about the holidays and the after-holidays and how well each of our respective families are doing. She noted that she saw we had painted our house and really loved the new color. I laughed about how my husband and I so clearly remember the summer that she and her husband painted their house themselves, and how we remembered all of their hard work and how it inspired us to hire painters instead of doing it ourselves. She laughed. We discussed the merits of a clear glass bowl she was picking out that I had purchased myself last Christmas as part of a gift I made for someone. It was a nice ten minute catch-up chat, and I left the store smiling and glad I'd bumped into her.

A little over 24 hours after that meeting, my old next-door neighbor's eldest son was killed in a tragic work-place accident. He was only 26 years old.

To say that I'm sick is an understatement. Tears keep springing into my eyes at the slightest provocation. I don't know how many hours I laid awake on Thursday night, after I'd learned of the news and details, thinking about the family and the young man who was such a great person and who will now never get to experience so many of life's joys and moments.

Mostly, I keep thinking of my old next-door neighbor and wondering how she will ever be able to go on. How she will ever be able to smile again, or to bump into an old friend at the Wal-Mart and say that her family is doing well, that things are going fine. The idea of losing one of my own children is so upsetting to me that my brain can't even process the concept.

And I can't stop thinking about how fast things can change. I keep turning over in my mind the fact that I saw this woman on the very last day that her life was as perfect as it now probably will ever be, neither one of us having any inkling of how shattered her world would become in so near of a future. I keep wishing I could just go back to those moments standing in the Wal-Mart, wanting so badly to know then what I know now so I could warn her so she could keep this from happening. Tell her son to stay home from work on that day. To not go on that slippery roof. To just sit in a chair with his hands folded and not move for a very long while.

But I can't. I can't undo things. I can't see forward to know what might happen tomorrow that could shatter my own world or that of someone that I care about. I've never felt so powerless.

The viewing is this afternoon, and both my husband and I are dreading the experience. He's been as shaken by this as I have. He remembers an afternoon seven or so years ago when he was moving a mountain of mulch into our back yard when this young man saw him hard at work, went inside to get his father, and the two of them pitched in to help my husband with his job. They were wonderful neighbors. Good friends. We regretted leaving them behind when we moved across town.

I don't know what I'm going so say to this couple. What I can possibly say to express how badly I feel about what's happened. I won't even pretend that anything I say can make things even a microcosm better for them. I'm hoping that just our being there tells them that we ache for them. That we are crying, too.

I'm grieving.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

If You Write, Check This Out

Throughout 2006 I was an avid follower of the Jennifer Crusie/Bob Mayer joint blog in which the two collaborators took turns posting, sniping, joking, complaining, advising, sharing and just generally entertaining those who tuned in. They created the blog ostensibly to show us readers what a year in the life of a successful writer is like and, no doubt, to promote and generate sales for their first joint effort, Don't Look Down. I'm not knocking this, mind you. Even the big guys have to do what they have to do these days. If all marketing could be so entertaining...

Anyway, 2006 ended and with it the He Wrote/She Wrote blog. But Jenny and Bob have actually stepped up to something even greater, even bigger, even better. If you haven't found it yet, check out their new He Wrote/She Wrote on-line writers' workshop. It is beyond amazing.

The format is simple. On Monday of each week, either Bob or Jenny writes about a particular craft topic. A message board is open for discussion, which the two writers insist must remain on topic. This alone is worth the price of an admission. Although I loved the original blog, I never became one of their Cherry Bomb fangirls. That group became a bit too cliquish a bit too quickly for my taste, so I remained a lurker and stuck with Bob and Jenny's posts, avoiding the MBs altogether. However, the new workshop message board is quite interesting because there is a genuine give and take, as well as people who raise questions, request clarification, ask for and supply examples, and generally feed off each other in an informative give-and-take manner.

On Thursdays, whomever did not post the original topic on Monday responds to it, as well as answering questions or addressing issues brought up by posters. The first two weeks, Bob posted first and Jenny followed up. This week Jenny has posted and I'm awaiting Bob's response. Because both writers come from different backgrounds and because both have strengths and weaknesses complimented by the other, they don't always necessarily agree on a particular writing approach. I really do like that we get to see things from two different angles. It proves that there really is no right or wrong way to do it.

So I'm settling in for a great experience. I think Bob and Jenny deserve all kinds of applause for taking time out of their lives to do this. For free. I do know that they hope maybe a How-To book will result out of all of this, so their efforts are not 100% altruistic. I think those of us who post questions and argue points may be supplying topic matter.

I'm okay with that, as long as they keep the wisdom flowing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Not Anti Feminist, Just a Fantasy

I stumbled on this interesting discussion over at the AAR Reviews message board. Anything that features J.R. Ward, her books, or discussion of either will pull me in immediately. But this struck a particular chord.

For those who don't want to wade through the entire thread or the second thread that continued the discussion, basically it involves some readers who find it hard to lose themselves in the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood because it is such a male-dominated set-up. The stories feature very, VERY manly men (okay, manly vampires) and situations that place women firmly in the damsel category. In Ward's world, male vampires are driven to protect females of their species, and this results in a definite gender imbalance where females are often seen as and/or treated as decorations or property.

Others bemoan the fact that Ward has offered up polygamy as an option for her vampires, and while some males take advantage of the ability to have more than one mate, females generally do not. Again, a gender imbalance.

And one poster pointed out - rightly so, IMO - that of the three books so far, the story itself really hasn't deviated from a simple plot. Male meets female. Female is in danger. Male rescues female and takes her to his cave home. Wild monkey love ensues. Female lingers in bed while male runs off to fight the bad guys, and maybe female helps a little with this. The end. While my biggest complaint of the BDB series is exactly this sameness in plot, everything else is so darn good this is more of a nitpick. It's like chocolate - no matter what you do with it, it's still chocolate but it's so good you'll eat it all the same.

As for the gender imbalance in Ward's world, at the risk of having them come to take away my Modern Woman of the New Millenium card, I don't mind it. Not at all. Sure, I wouldn't complain if her heroines were beefed up a little as far as what they get to do in the story, as I find that by far the weakest part of the series. But I give Ward a pass on her less than extraordinary heroines because her heroes are so over the top. Ward has said over and over that these men live inside her head, that they are real to her and she simply the conduit to telling their stories. I think that providing heroines for these men to love is kind of secondary. Not that she goes so far as to insert Generic Heroine into each hero's romance. But the females are definitely not the ones clamoring for attention on the page.

I don't have a problem with that. I tend to read romance novels for the heroes. I ask only that the heroines aren't TSTL and that they actually do something to warrant the love of the hero.

Too, the type of hero Ward writes about simply isn't politically correct in any setting but medieval. They are men who are protective and violent and possessive. They are warriors, whose job it is to protect their species from extinction. They see women as the weaker sex - which physically women are - to whom it is their responsibility to keep from harm. Since such a man would be ridiculed in contemporary society, she's given them a world of their own where they can be who she imagines them to be.

And I get from Ward's stories a sense that where the men are the physically dominant creatures, the ones who work up front and center, loud and in your face, it's the women who are the true strength behind the scenes. The calming influence, the beings that keep these men from becoming the animals their very nature would call them to be if left unchecked. In the depth of the love and devotion they inspire in these fierce, hardened men, these women are far more powerful.

If you'll recall (if you've read the books), it is stated that once a male has chosen a mate and they've performed their bonding ceremony, the male is considered the property of the female. She owns him. He is hers to do with as she pleases. And the males are happy to serve.

Not to mention the pure hell Zsadist suffered at the hands of his mistress, a woman who owned him in ways too horrible to describe. Talk about your imbalance. If females have the power to control the lives and fates of the males in their world and it is not unknown for some to abuse this power, I don't know that it can be said that there is an imbalance weighted toward the male end of the spectrum.

That seems to be the crux of it for me. I find true imbalance occurs when one sex or the other abuses the power that they have, using it to oppress the opposite sex. I don't get that sense from the BDB, that the men abuse the power they have over women. Yes, each sex does have some distinct gender roles they are called to play. And yes, these roles are a bit more traditional than what we currently view as the way things should be to be considered fair and equal. But I don't think it makes them inherently wrong. I don't think I would call Ward's world anti-feminist. Both sexes enjoy powers and rights unique to their particular sex, both exert equal control over their mates.

And I don't think it makes a person un-PC or fundamentally misogynistic to enjoy Ward's books just because they take place in a fantasy world where men are men and women are not. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fantasy of men stepping up to the plate physically to take care of the women they love.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I Didn't Mean to Make a Plot Contrivance!

My crush for 2007:

How did I ever miss that Clive Owen is such a hottie? I remember going to see King Arthur and thinking Ioan Gruffudd, who plays Lancelot, was pretty easy on the eyes. But somehow I missed Clive.

What was I smoking?

I've voting that Daniel Craig's James Bond learns he has a long lost brother so I can sit through hours and hours of Clive and Craig as Bond and Bond.

Anyway...has it every happened to you where you were writing merrily away on a story, loving how nicely it was all flowing from the fingertips and really into the groove, nearly giddy with excitement over your story idea, when all of the sudden you learn some fact that renders your entire premise null and void?

Like, for example, say, you were writing a romance about a man and a woman who communicated with each other entirely in Morse Code, and the girl couldn't spell very well so a few Little Misunderstandings cropped up along the way, but it was all so good and cute. And you'd placed your story in the Roaring Twenties so your heroine could also be a Flapper. But you see a PBS program about how everyone in American during the 1920s was using this new fangled telephone thing, and it occurs to you that a man and woman using Morse Cord would never happen because they would have really just picked up the phone to call each other, thus making your entire story mute.

You find yourself the proud owner of the dreaded Plot Contrivance. Because everyone who looks close enough can rightly say "That would never happen!" and you are up the creek without the paddle.

So now you are faced with a couple of choices. You could retrofit your story into an earlier time, a time before the telephone was common place. But then your heroine couldn't be a flapper, and that was integral because the hero is the owner of a famous speakeasy and a big hunk of the conflict between the two is the fact that she's actually the moll of a Big Time Mafia Boss who frequents the hero's establishment. Besides, she's also a secret member of a women's group promoting suffrage and that defines her as a Spunky Gal. Moving the story back in time doesn't fit the image you had in your head of jazz music and speakeasies.

Or you could kill the entire Morse Code communication angle. Except you liked that your hero and heroine believe that they've never actually met each other at all when in truth they see each other all the time at the speakeasy. If you go with phone conversations, then the characters become Lois Lane stupid when the don't recognize each other's voices. Letters won't work, too slow.

You could ignore the inconvenient truth that you've just learned. You could go on with writing your story as you'd originally planned it, ignore the telephones hanging on every wall and forge straight ahead, hoping that some history/Alexander Graham Bell freak doesn't call you on your bogus shit. This is what I think 99% of the storytellers in Hollywood end up doing, and sometimes we are so into the story we don't notice and/or don't care and other times we roll our eyes until they hurt and talk about what a suck movie we'd just seen.

Last resort, you could kill the entire premise, stash the files in a dark, dusty corner of your hard drive and say goodbye to many days of great writing and hard work.

What do you do? How do you recover?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Thursday Thirteen III

I love these Thursday Thirteens because I feel they give me license to be incredibly shallow. After all, there are only so many Serious and Important things any one person can share about him or herself, so it's perfectly reasonable for people to expect a handful of inconsequential lists to show up.

On that note, here are my Thirteen Favorite TV Shows, in no particular order.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - enough said. Except, anyone who writes off this show simply because of the title doesn't deserve to partake of its greatness anyway and so it serves them right that they will never have any idea of how good it truly was. They will die sad, lonely empty people while those of us who've lived in the Buffyverse will live long, contented lives, secure that a cute little blond girl is protecting us from things that go bump in the night. Heck, this is my favorite show for Spike alone.

2. Friday Night Lights - I'm not pimping this show *watchit*. Honest. Even though it is one of the best written shows on TV today *watchit* with actors who nail their parts so spot-on you feel like a voyeur into their lives *watchit* rather than a couch potato sitting in your living room *watchit*. I can't help it if you miss it *watchit*. Just don't come complaining to me when you realize you've been missing a great thing *watchit*.

3. The West Wing - great writing, great characters, Bradley Whitford, a guest role for Mark Harmon, what's not to love? Plus, I felt smart watching it. And I could believe - for a brief hour once a week at least - that the people who run our government actually are smart, clever, intelligent beings with the public's best interest at heart. TWW fed my delusions of competence.

4. Homefront - I claim dibs on discovering what a hottie Kyle Chandler was even in the beginning because I was a devoted fan of this show. I recall it being the first time in my life that I was crushed when a TV show was canceled by the network.

5. Queer As Folk - this was originally aired on Showtime, and anyone who has the tiniest smidgen of homophobia in them would never be able to stomach it. With very graphic portrayals of gay relationships, this program showed me that real love is gender-blind. One of the most romantic, heartfelt love stories I've ever watched was on this show. It's now airing in syndication on Logo television, but it's been watered down for free TV (and FCC rules) and is not nearly as impactful. The only way to truly appreciate this show is via the DVDs.

6. Firefly - a tragedy that this show wasn't picked up. A tragedy of epic proportions.

7. Over There - this one only lasted 13 episodes and caused a lot of controversy because the story revolved around a group of US Army soldiers serving in Iraq. There was controversy over how insensitive portraying an ongoing war is/was to people who have loved ones overseas. There was controversy over the depiction of the soldiers/life in Iraq/proper procedures and rules of operation. Real soldiers condemned it as Hollywood fluff, exploiting their situation to make some bucks. I don't know how real the show was - it felt pretty darn real to me. And it gave me a very hard look at what it might be like to be deployed to Iraq. My respect and sympathies for servicemembers increased exponentially, so I'd call the show a success. But, alas, it didn't even get picked up a full season. Thankfully it was released on DVD. I highly, highly recommend it.

8. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - this was a fun show. It got me hooked on superheroes. It started my love of writing and belief that I might actually have a go at it, and it always make me smile. Sure, it had a couple of hiccups *cough*cloneLois*cough* but for the most part, it done good.

9. ER* - this is qualified because, actually, I am a classic ER fan. I stopped watching the show the season before Dr. Carter (Noah Wylie) went off to Africa. I tuned in long enough to watch Luka be almost-dead, but for some reason I stopped viewing this as must-see-TV. Now I don't know any of the characters any more, so I don't bother. I figure one day I'll catch up via syndication.

10. Friends* - again, I loved this show - LOVED IT - but for some reason I slacked off watching around Season 8/Season 9. Around the time Rachel had her baby. I followed the crowd like a lemming and jumped back on board for the end of Season 10, of course. I'm not stupid. Really, though, it was a good show.

11. WKRP In Cincinnati - this show always made me laugh. Always. Still does. Always will. Les Nesman, I love you.

12. thirtysomething - yeah, I was a fan. And I was only in my early twenty-somethings when I watched it. Which makes me curious how I would feel about it now that I've nearly lived through my thirtysomethings. Maybe it would cause a lot of eyerolling? Maybe I shouldn't ever rewatch it and carry forever my sweet memories that it was a great show about being a grown up.

13. The Brady Bunch - because if you don't love the Brady Bunch, you are not a true child of America of a certain decade. If you don't know the significance of "Oh, my nose!" and "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" or "Mom always said don't play ball in the house." you just don't get it. Plus, it warms my heart to know that any problem, no matter how big or small, can be solved in 22 minutes, especially if your dad has a super cool perm.

As a side note, I'm planning on getting addicted to Battlestar Galactica. I'm just waiting for my library's copies of the miniseries and Season 1/Disc 1 DVDs to be returned because I want to start at the beginning rather than jump in mid-3rd season. By all accounts, this show is amazing: well written, well acted, and great storytelling. That's all I need.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Please Don't Cheat On My Hero Worship

As I often do after watching a movie I liked that was based on a book, I recently finished Anthony Swofford's NYT bestseller Jarhead. I'd really enjoyed the movie and wanted to dig deeper into Swofford's experiences during the First Gulf War. I did enjoy the read: Swofford's writing is alternately starkly realistic and dreamily poetic. I admire all he and his fellow soldiers did for our country during the FGW and thank him for sharing his experience with us in such an eloquent and thought-provoking way.

However, one thing about Swofford's outlook has me a bit puzzled. And at the risk of offending the Marines and servicemen out there who are nothing like the men Swofford served with and subsequently wrote about, it seems to me that the general attitude of Marines stationed overseas is seriously double standard-ized as far as fidelity to romantic relationships back at home.

To read (and thus believe) Swofford's account, a primary concern of Marines stationed overseas is what (and who) their wives and girlfriends might be "doing" back at home. They worried that out-of-sight meant free-for-all as far as their girls' sexual activity, that since they weren't around to defend their female territory, their women were running loose and wanton behind their backs. They even went so far as to maintain a Wall of Shame, advertising the evil deeds done to them by the unfaithfuls back on the homefront. Swofford himself talks about his girlfriend Kristina's affair with a coworker, and his bitterness about her infidelity is not disguised.

Thing is, while they were stationed in the Philipines or Japan or Korea, the men Swofford depicted seemed to spend a healthy portion of their free time chasing women and hookers and other gals of ill repute. He speaks of a Marine recruiter who could proudly quote to the seventeen-year-old pre-recruit Swofford the price of prostitutes in over half a dozen countries, and Swofford indicates that he founds this particular skill admirable. While Swofford was busy worrying and complaining about Kristina's lack of faithfulness, he carried on with a girlfriend in Japan not to mention the countless number of "bar girls" he encountered. It seemed not only normal but expected that these men would sleep around as often as possible and with as many women as possible, regardless of who might be waiting for them back home.

What I don't get is why these men feel it is perfectly fine for them to chase skirts across the Pacific, picking up who knows what kind of nasty diseases, and yet expect their women to remain paragons of devoted virtue back home. I'm not advocating the "tit for tat" ideology for fidelity. I don't think anyone should have the attitude that if he/she is doing it, I can, too, and, therefore, will. Two wrongs do not make a right in any sense.

But it irritates me no end that Marines (or any servicemember - I'm not picking on any particular branch) will call a woman back home a whore in the most disgusted, hateful meaning of the word while they feel free to engage in activities with the whores where they are. It's the whole do as I say, not as I do bullshit.

Some would argue that since these men are risking their lives for their country, that they've sacrificed so much in leaving their homes and families, and that they are under inordinate amounts of tension and stress, that they deserve whatever comforts they can find. Sex is an outlet that healthy, young, hormone-laden men need fairly regularly or they might just explode, or so we are led to believe. And since sleeping with a whore is 100% physical and 100% temporary, it doesn't really count as "cheating". It's recreation, blowing off steam, releasing some pent up frustrations. Same thing as booze or smoking.

Yeah, right. Would that mean a girlfriend back home who goes barhopping with her girlfriends and engages in quickie in the back of the car of a guy who picks her up at the bar is not cheating? That she was just blowing off steam, releasing some pent up frustration? Or are her stresses and burdens not worthy of such excuses?

Again, I don't advocate such behaviour. A vow is a vow, and whether or not it was made in a church or a judge's chamber or just after years/months/weeks/days of dating exclusively, breaking it is not cool.

I think my strong reaction to Swofford and the attitude he seemed to carry when he was a Marine is that, so often, cheating is used to vilify a person or character. Heroine is married when she meets her Soul Mate, and leaving her husband would be kind of anti-heroic. Oh, but he's a cheater, and therefore it's okay for her to dump his ass for Mr. Hardbody. In our world here at home, cheating doesn't get a pass just because it happens outside of the 50 mile faithfulness required perimeter. If you want to turn the reader against someone, make the character a cheater and the battle's half-way won.

I love stories about warriors, and mil roms offer the modern day warrior in the form of Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators and super duper secret agents. But research in the form of autobiographical works such as Swoffords (and others I've read such as Warrior Soul by Chuck Pfarrer) would leave me to believe that military guys are often on the make when they aren't at home. I'm not going to judge them; I don't walk in their shoes. It does, though, make it hard to see them as heroic, at least as far as relationships go. They may deserve all of our props on the battlefield and for what they do for our country, but as men who deserve true love, not so much.

And it also makes it hard for me to sacrifice heroines I've come to know and love, thinking that during the next deployment, SGT Hardbody might be taking advantage of the local talent.

Maybe this is a very good instance of when fantasy has to override reality. When what we know of the real world has to take a distant backseat and our powers to suspend our disbelief have to be employed liberally. The romance comes from converting the stereotypical oversexed Marine into a devoted man in love, one who would never look for bargain blowjobs or two-for-ones from the back alley girls who hover just off base.

I'm sure, no doubt - NO DOUBT - that most servicemen and women are very good people who have caring, loving relationships in which they behave honorably, and they deserve this in spades for all they sacrifice. I'm thinking that I need to read some of their stories so my faith in my heroes can be restored.

Monday, January 08, 2007

All Over the Place

Blogger's acting a bit wonky today. Makes me nervous.

Anyhoo...Last night I watched what might possibly be the worst movie I've ever seen. Fantastic Four was anything but fantastic. I'm a huge fan of superhero movies, but I guess I don't get how/why creators try to take any kind of abnormality and turn it into a hero trait. I mean, come on, stretching powers? Rock man?? I know having the abilities of a spider are kind of bizarre, but at least they sort of make sense. A real spider does have relatively extreme powers, so a man with the equivalent would be super. Superman isn't human, so he's legit. And Batman doesn't have superpowers, per se, but super-cool gadgets and lots of smarts and cash.

But stupid superpowers aside, the movie was still god-awful. Poor writing. Stilted dialogue. And a story that went all of the place. Not to mention a villian who was mustache-twirlingly laughable. If you've never seen FF, don't bother.

Big problem with the blog. Blogger has "improved" but in such a way that I no longer have the little toolbar with all of my formatting options. This means that I have to use keyboard shortcuts to do things like bold, italics or adding links. Problem is, my Mac doesn't work with standard PC keyboard shortcuts. So pressing "CRTL + B" doesn't make something bold. Neither does pressing any other combination of keys that I can figure. Too, I no longer seem to have the option of going into the html directly to use code there to make my changes. So until I get this sorted out, my posts will contain no links nor any special formatting. Thanks ever so, blogger.

EDIT: Okay, after some research I see that my problem isn't with Blogger but with Safari, which is the browser my MacBook came equipped with. Apparently Blogger doesn't get along with Safari. I've downloaded Firefox and it seems way better as far as blogging goes. Problem solved.

Kids went back to school today. Enough said.

With my new computer came a pretty cool and user-friendly caldendar program called iCal (go figure). I went so far as to schedule myself writing time every weekday from 12:30 until 3:00. It's now 12:36. I am writing this blog, but I don't think that counts.

You know how they say it takes three weeks to create a habit? I normally don't buy into this because there are several "habits" I'd like to get into that don't come naturally even after three weeks (hello exercising and The South Beach Diet). However, there must be truth in that somewhere because I'm amazed at how easy it is to give up certain habits after you forgo them for a few weeks. I used to spend hour/s daily surfing various blogs. I've been away for awhile and so have only kept up with a handful. And now that I'm able to go back to my old routine, I'm finding I don't need to spend hour(s) surfing. I'd rather check in with half a dozen daily and move on to writing.

That's a good habit, right?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year's Thursday Thirteen

For my Thursday Thirteen, I'm going to post my New Year's resolutions.

I don't believe in elaborate resolutions because I never keep them. Instead I'm going to try simple, two word objectives. Things I'd like to change overall without any measurable qualifiers that will indicate success or failure. Some of them are trite but necessary. Some are perhaps understandable only to me. If I can institute these thirteen, I think I'll feel pretty good about 2007.

1. Exercise more
2. Eat better
3. Write daily
4. Pick one
5. Finish it
6. Read frequently
7. Thin junk
8. Become organized
9. Use responsibly
10. Laugh a lot (yeah, three words if you spell "a lot" correctly)
11. Learn something
12. Complain less
13. Live now

Nothing earth-shattering. But they're mine.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Don't Leave, Lappie, Not Yet

Do computers have souls?

I think they do. I think they are quite aware of what's going on around them and they react accordingly.

For Christmas, I got the best present ever! A bright, white, shiny new MacBook! Oh, it's so lovely. So tiny - half the size of my old laptop. I mean, really, half the size. You can lay two MacBooks side by side on top of my laptop. I'm going to have to lose weight because the MacBook isn't wide enough to keep my entire lap warm the way my old laptop did.

Immediately after opening the box, my kids started hounding me about how now they could take over my old laptop. They've discovered the internet and chat rooms and what little monsters have been created. I would never let them use my computer to play on because all of my work is contained in its innards, and I wouldn't risk that for anything. Sure, I do backups, but better safe than tragedy.

But now that Mom has a new laptop, no reason the old one can't be used to spend hours on Club Penguin, right? I couldn't argue. I promised that I'd get all my important files off the old laptop and clean it up a bit - sort through the registry and remove unnecessary programs and get it running as fast as it was capable of running. Despite being out of town and busy with holiday family stuff, I started chipping away at the job. I managed to backup my iTunes library and almost all of my files onto CDs, ready for transfer to my new machine. But I didn't get so far as to remove the two or three programs I'd purchased since I needed to investigate how to put them on a new laptop.

Even so, I let the kids have at it on New Year's Eve day. They were in bliss. Two computers they could use meant no taking turns. Pure kid Heaven.

Until last night. The old laptop just up and died. Blank screen that shows only a few flashing green lines when we try to reboot it. Otherwise, nothing. Nothing.

I'm planning to take it over to Best Buy and have the Geek Squad take a look at it. It's a Hewlett Packard and barely over two years old. Definitely not old enough to give up the ghost in such a way. I ran Norton virus scan every night, so I'm pretty sure it hasn't been infected. It's possible we have a power supply problem, since the power cord always has seemed kind of wonky, not to mention the fact that the battery which used to last a solid two hours barely makes it half an hour on a charge these days. I'm hoping this is the problem. Hoping.

But in my secret heart of hearts, I think the old laptop is in mourning. I think she knows that she's been replaced by a younger, trophy model. That her days of taking in my most important thoughts and serving as my loyal workhorse are over, and she's facing a future of Cheetah Girl websites and endless hours of Club Penguin chatting. This is her way of revolting, of insisting that she will not suffer such indiginities as "R U OK?" and "C U L8R". She'd rather go out in a bang of glory than allow her harddrive to become the festering ground of spyware and spam. She'll not be treated like some cheap piece of VTech!

I respect that. She's served me well. I will always hold a special place in my heart for her. As I get to know my MacBook, I really appreciate the symbiosis she and I shared, how everything about her catered to my particular preferences and whims. She was my first, and I will always love her.

Except, I need her to cough up a few things. And I promise if she hangs in there another year or two, I'll do my best to keep the pawing of tweenie fingers to a minimum. She'll be treated well.

I promise.

BTW, I'm looking for some tips on working with my MacBook. Does anyone out there have any advice? If so, ontactcay emay ecretlysay. Anksthay!