Monday, December 21, 2009

A Qualified Wow

So I saw Avatar on Saturday night. With all of the hype, I confess I was expecting some major Wow.

I did get some major Wow. But it wasn't that pure, undiluted, leave-the-theater-head-spinning Wow that makes a movie a transcendent experience for me. At most, it gave some pretty terrific qualified Wow.

Warning: SPOILERS after the break.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Starting the New Decade Out Clean

According to the count on my inventory, I have 320 books on my TBR shelf.

I'd have to read one book every 1.14 days to get through my pile by the end of 2010.

I'd have to read one book every week to get through them all by the end of 2015.

And this is assuming that I don't buy a single other book to add to the pile. Plus, it doesn't count the dozen or so books on my daughter's TBR shelf that I never entered into my LibraryThing inventory but would really like to read. Nor does it include the four-page Wishlist I keep adding to on Amazon. Or the upcoming releases that I'm anxiously awaiting in the next few month. I swear, it never ends.

I'm going to commit now to the following New Year's Resolutions for 2010.

1) I will not buy any new books without having either read one from my TBR pile or having determined that I will never read a certain title from my TBR pile and remove that book from the premises, either as a UBS submission or library donation. Strictly a tit-for-tat deal only, goal to maintain the status quo at the very minimum.

2) I will read at least one book a week from my TBR pile. I qualify this by allowing that I might also simultaneously read a favorite or a new book, but I'll have a TBR in progress at all times.

3) I give myself permission to Give Up. If I get a third of the way through a book and it hasn't really captured me, I will stop reading and call it a day. I simply don't have the time for guilt reading. I think it's fair to say I've given a book the old college try if I make if a third through.

4) Some of the books I have flagged as TBR are actually reference materials I've picked up thinking they may come in handy some day or that apply to some project or other that I've been working on. I think a thorough skim-through will be enough to qualify it for removal from the TBR list, keeping in mind that reference books are to be referred to more so than read through.

Oddly, I make this promise just as I've determined to branch out into genres that I've never experienced before. Specifically, today at Borders I picked up The Color of Magic, book 1 in Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld fantasy series, and Storm Front by Jim Butcher, which looks to be a cross between mystery and paranormal.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Moon: A Review

Okay, I figure instead of whining about how badly others have handled the reviews of New Moon, I should offer up my own opinion on the movie.

I waited until a Monday, at 3:30 to see the show so that I wouldn't have to endure a theater full of squeeing fans. This proved to be a good plan as the theater was perhaps no more than an eighth full and I heard not a single squee the entire duration of the film.

My overall impression of New Moon: I found New Moon the movie to be an improvement on New Moon the book. I genuinely liked the movie. After the cut are my specifics.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Is the Point of Reviewing New Moon?

I've spent a lot of time reading reviews of The Twilight Saga: New Moon.* For the most part, they all contain the same opinions of the movie, and I'm not remotely surprised by any of the reviews. In fact, I could have predicted the exact response of the critics, who for the vast majority fall far outside the fan demographic by nature of their sex and/or age. I will claim that without having seen so much more than the handful of trailers and clips circulating the interwebs, I could at this very second write a review of this movie that would probably sound a lot like those of the professionals out there, and not just because I've been reading the reviews ad nauseum.

I could have written these reviews six months ago.

The reason I could have written these reviews without even seeing the movie? I've read the book.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Actresses Behaving Badly

I'm sorry. I admit that I don't know her personally at all. And I also don't have any idea what it must be like to have the public laser-focused on pretty much every single move that I make. Nor can I imagine how hard it might be not to be able to run to the grocery store or sit in a restaurant or see a movie without people approaching me and bothering me all the time. I'm sure being famous has many drawbacks.

But I've pretty much come to the conclusion that Kristen Stewart needs a serious attitude adjustment.

Warning: what follows after the cut is a rant, so if you are a serious fan, you may want to back away slowly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heart of Gold Notwithstanding

I'm a big fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly series, although I didn't discover it until after it had been taken off the air, so I'm forever sorry I wasn't part of the effort to save it. Nathan Fillion's Capt. Malcolm Reynolds falls solidly on my Favorite Top 10 Heroes Ever list. And the particular phrasing and word patterns Whedon used for all of the show's dialogue is nothing short of genius. If you've never watched the show, I highly recommend picking up the DVDs at your earliest convenience.

There is one aspect of the show that, despite many viewings now, never quite worked for me. This is the character of Inara Serra, played by the breathtakingly lovely Morena Baccarin.

Friday, October 30, 2009

You Have Something On Your Face

I'm reading J.R. Ward's newest book, Covet. Despite all of my issues with the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I find Ward endlessly readable. Affected dialogue patterns and her habit of turning nouns into verbs aside, her characters really appeal to my love of uber-protective alpha heroes.

I am having one tiny issue, however. One of the secondary characters (who, I suspect, is in line to become a primary character in a future book) has been described as having several face piercings. I'm only about eight chapters in, but I already know he has a ring in his lip. And it's been made clear this isn't the only place on his face that he's poked holes into.

I personally find face piercing a disgusting from of self-mutilation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

TSTL: Not Just for Heroines

I've been watching this season's TV darling, Glee. It's cute. The music is really fun (although I have yet to feel the urge to download any of the performances off iTunes so that phenomenon escapes me), and the characters are interesting. The show clearly sees itself as camp because most of the characters are so over-the-top cartoonish no one could be expected to take them seriously. Between the cheerleaders who ALWAYS wear their cheerleading uniforms to the bombastic bully of a cheer coach, Sue, and the germaphobe guidance counselor Emma, nuance is a concept that is ignored completely.

But I do have one fundamental problem with the show that is getting to the point where I'm thinking of bailing.

Warning: this post includes SPOILERS for Glee. Don't read after the cut if you don't want to read SPOILERS.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

You've Got to Want It

I headed to Barnes & Noble today to pick up two new releases I've been waiting for, Meljean Brook's Demon Forged and Lynn Viehl's Shadowlight. I've ranted before about my feelings on B&N of late, but I have a membership that gives me 10% off all purchases. That pays for my tax plus a little bit more, so I'm financially motivated to deal with my issues.

Anyway, I headed to B&N thinking that it now being Thursday, for absolute sure the employees would have unpacked the Tuesday releases boxes, so the books should be on the shelves.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Dying Art

Just discovered this article about the dying art of cursive writing. It's very apropos to the homework situation at my house because cursive writing is required for all of my son's work this year, short of math of course.

As I did back in my day, my kids were both taught cursive in 3rd grade. Our school requires that all non-number related work in 4th grade must be done in cursive. I think this is great since it forces the kids to practice and apply the cursive skills they learned the year before. It does cause some angst at our house because my son writes very carefully and very s-l-o-w-l-y when using cursive, so homework takes three times longer. I think it's also caused him extra stress at school when he's given an assignment and only a certain amount of to time work because he fears he won't be able to complete it. I keep telling him that a) with practice, the cursive writing will come faster and b) maybe he doesn't need to be so very careful after all.

Thing is, after 4th grade, cursive becomes optional.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Clash Of the Titans Redux

When I heard that they were remaking the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, I was tickled pink. CotT '81 is maybe my favorite B movie of all time. Not only was it the first movie I can remember seeing sans parents (they let me and my brother go to the theater all by ourselves!), it was such an unapologetically corny, over the top love story. You just gotta love a classic Greek myth with all of its monsters and gods and damsels in distress. For crying out loud, Andromeda was actually chained to the rocks to be sacrificed to the Krakan! You can't satisfy my rescue-scenario fetish any better than that.

So they are remaking CotT, with Sam Worthington in the role of the dashing Perseus. I do like Worthington - my favorite part of Terminator Salvation, actually - but I have some reservations about him in this role. From the stills on IMDB, he's clearly a much swarthier, aggressive Perseus. A hardened warrior who looks used to battle. I do love me some warriors, especially in short skirts (see: Pitt, Brad, Troy and Butler, Gerard, 300). But it's definitely a departure from the original.

Harry Hamlin's Perseus, on the other hand, was not only a lot prettier than Worthington (that hair!), he played Perseus as kind of a reluctant hero. He grows up on an idyllic island and seems content to hang on Seriphos forever, combing the beach for new shells for his fledgling puca necklace business. It's only when the jealous Thetis plucks Perseus off the island and drops him in the middle of the festering drama unfolding in Joppa that Perseus picks up his sword (a magic sword!). And it's only love that is strong enough to motivate Perseus to seek out the Stygian Witches, capture the elusive Pegasus, fight the hideous Medusa, and...well, you've got to see the movie.

Still, even with this change to a more proactive hero, I'm giddy for March 26th to roll around. CotT '10 will, at the very least, provide a massive CGI upgrade from the cheesy claymation special effects of CotT '81. And we get Liam Neeson as Zeus. I know I probably won't have to wait in line opening night, but I'll be there.

Wonder if my brother might be available to go with me. For old times' sake.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Got To Love a Good Kids' Series

I happily had an excuse to go book shopping yesterday. Not that I need a genuine excuse to go book shopping, but it's really nice to pull books off the shelves, decide to purchase them and justify it as Necessary.

I'm trying very hard to turn my fourth grade son into a Reader (yes, with the capital R). Unlike his older sister, who consumes books the way I did when I was her age, he simply doesn't find the pleasure in curling up on the couch with a great book. I keep thinking maybe this is because he just hasn't found the right One yet.

Not that I haven't tried hard to bring home the right morsel to tempt him. Whenever he expresses any interest in a type of book or a specific series, I rush out and snatch up as much of it as I can. As a result, we have the full Captain Underpants collection (through 2007, anyway) and countless episodes from the My Weird School epoch. I had words with the sales staff at both my local Borders and Barnes & Noble when neither store stocked even a single Jake Maddox title. And I've been to the bookstore twice to return duplicate purchases of the Bones books because I can't remember which ones my son has and which he wants.

Unfortunately, however, my son seems to outgrow his interest in a particular series as quickly as he grows out of last year's jeans. Just when I think he may be hooked good and proper, he's got his nose stuck in a computer video game, dust a quarter inch thick on his pile of books.

As of this summer, two series have kept me from despairing that my son will never read anything more complex than poorly drawn superheroes with underwear for a uniform. Yesterday he sent me out with instructions to locate two Weenies titles he needs to complete his collection. He's also informed me that he expects me to take him to the bookstore the second the doors open on October 12 so that he can snatch up the next installment of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid saga. It's the first time ever he's actually been aware of an upcoming release date of a book - something even I had no concept of when I was his age. I'm so very proud.

While I was indulging his love of talking Weenies, I also picked up some books with a bit more heft. In our Illinois school system, a big deal is made every year of the books nominated for a Rebecca Caudill award. It's practically a right of passage when students hit the fourth grade and can begin voting for their favorites off the list of nominees. After completing a Caudill book, students can have their picture taken as they hold up the book, and the school librarian hangs the snapshots all over the library. There's some honor in having your face plastered on the walls as many times as possible. I think my daughter might hold some kind of record.

So in order to encourage my son to read books that have a better chance in opening his worldview, I scoured the list of nominees for 2010 to see which titles might appeal to him. His teacher had informed us she'd be reading three of the books aloud to the class although she didn't specify which ones, so there was a certain amount of gambling I needed to do. I crossed off the ones with girl protagonists. As much as I HATE promoting the concept that boys don't read books about girls, I need to do whatever I can to tempt my son. I begrudgingly admit I have a better chance force feeding him boy stories.

I discovered, happily, that the book I thought most likely to appeal to him - Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass - was the very book he'd selected himself for in-class quiet reading time, although he was convinced the title was actually "Keys" because of the picture of keys on the front cover. It wasn't until I pulled the book off the shelf at the store that I confirmed they were one in the same.

I ended up with The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn. The second book came with the bonus of knowing my daughter had read and absolutely loved one of Hahn's other titles - The Old Willis House - so if my son took a pass, she'd probably want to read it. I should have guessed she's already read it (she has), and my son informed me that AtLBO is one of the three titles his teacher is reading out loud. I don't know if returning the book is worth it or if I could donate it to the school library.

I also picked up something I thought might tempt him because it's simply so off-the-wall. The Name of This Book Is a Secret caught my eye because I recognized the name of the author, Pseudonymous Bosch, from something I've read recently about character names. When I perused the book, it looked like a lot of fun. Plus, it's the first in a series, and I'm all for more of anything that works.

It's funny how I look at books for my kids these days with an eye on whether or not they are part of a series. My daughter is a book series addict. She's been through them all, starting back with Junie B. Jones, working her way through American Girl, Judy Moody, the Clique, and countless others. With the Hunter series, she made the leap over to fantasy, after which she discovered Twilight and it was all over. Because of her still-youngish age, I insist on previewing the teen vampire books she devours like candy, but for the most part, she's becoming a vampire expert. We now run into the problem of her wanting to run right out and get the next title in a series the second after she's read "the end" in the last one. She needs a job to feed her reading habit. I tried to talk her into writing her own kid's point of view book review blog as a way to share her thoughts, but so far, no sale.

In fact, I use her as my own personal book review service. For months, the Mortal Instruments book displays have caught my attention whenever I've wandered into the book store. Yesterday I picked up the first title thinking my daughter would like it. If she does, I'll read them myself. Twenty-four hours after bringing City of Bones into the house, she's a third of the way through it and walks around the house with the thing stuck in front of her face.

I do puzzle over why my daughter - and eldest child - is an avid reader while my son - and youngest - is not. They've both been exposed to my love of reading. We have so many books around our house there isn't a single room save the bathrooms that don't have shelves for books. I read out loud to both of them when they were babies, took them both to Toddler Time at the library, equally said no to both to buying candy and toys at the store but would always give in to a paperback story. They both contain half of my reading genes. But for some reason, only my daughter is like me.

My husband is not a book reader. He reads a great deal every day in the form of newspapers and trade magazines, both on line and hard copy, and he has a thing for biographies of sports figures and successful businessmen. But if he reads two fiction books a year, it's an accomplishment. He chalks this up to his short attention span. Rarely can a book hold his interest for more than a half an hour, so it takes him a very long time to finish one. Since the man can't sit still for more than fifteen minutes in a stretch, I have to agree with his assessment.

Maybe my son is just like my husband. His disinterest in reading gobs of fiction doesn't mean he won't read something or that he's a poor reader, just that he can't maintain interest for that long. Too, there are so many other forms of entertainment out there that offer a lot more bells and whistles. To my son, reading often seems like an inferior alternative, even if I know the truth. Add to it the chore of reading for school and he wants to spend his free time doing anything but reading for pleasure.

Still, I won't give up. I think a love of reading is a wonderful gift. And I truly believe success in school relies a lot on good reading habits which you simply cannot develop unless you read consistently.

Besides, I don't mind those trips to the book store in search of the perfect title that will turn that reading bug lightbulb on over his head.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Forks Exposed

This caught my attention this morning. Apparently, Forks, Washington, has earned itself a direct-to-DVD documentary for the extraordinary achievement of being the place where Stephenie Meyer set the Twilight series.

As I remarked in the EW comments section, I find this unbelievably ridiculous for many reasons.

First, it is such a blatant effort to make even more money off the Twilight phenomenon that the distributors would be less obvious if they walked up and down the aisles of movie theaters during showings of Twilight and New Moon and hawked crap like giant foam fangs, sparkly glitter vampire body paint and Edward Cullen wigs. Have they no shame? Nevermind, I already know the answer to that.

The other reason I find this so silly is that Forks offered absolutely nothing more than being located in the rainiest region of the U.S. on record to qualify it for the Twilight epicenter. Stephenie Meyer has admitted she did some kind of Google search for "rainy places" and Bam! Forks is the new Mecca for vampire groupies. She didn't manage to actually visit Forks until after she'd finished the first book and it was off being published. Things could have turned out to be a disaster.

What if Forks had been like one of the gazillion Midwestern towns dotting the state backroads, nothing more than a speed limit reduction sign and a closed-on-Sunday gas station indicating there is even a town there? Or Forks could have consisted of a one-block downtown with a hole-in-the-wall bar, an ancient appliance/furniture store and a tiny florist shop and craft emporium combo run by a lady named Mabel, the main bulk of the area actually a row of strip malls and big box retailers lining Highway 101. Realistic but not exactly picturesque. Somehow reading about how Edward and Bella headed to TGI Friday's after a quick stop at Best Buy to check out their subwoofers for Edward's Audi just doesn't create the feeling of a soul-mate love of all time in the making.

I'll give Meyer the credit of some research to make sure Forks did have a large enough population (3,275 in 2008) to have a high school or a hospital or even warrant a McDonald's. Additionally, she studied pictures of the area and was satisfied that the deep green forests surrounding Forks would meet her brooding vampire's needs.

Still, being dark and gloomy isn't usually enough to earn a real-life town a starring role in what has become arguably one of the most successful YA series ever much less a DVD of its very own.

Maybe I'm just feeling bitter because, as exemplifies Meyer's entire writing career, once again she lucked out in a major way. She has a dream, writes it down, it becomes a international best seller and a blockbuster movie franchise. She describes a handsome vampire and launches the career of the next teen heartthrob. She throws a dart at a map of the Olympic Peninsula and a random town becomes the hottest place to spend your summer vacation. With all due respect to Meyer's talent, I want to know where she stashes the bottle with the genie in it.

Oddly, my last vacation was spent in pursuit of confirming a setting for one of my own projects. With the particular premise of my story, I was limited to a very specific region of the country, yet I wanted my world to be contained in a particular type of town. I did loads of research, spent hours staring at Google Earth images, and hunted down ancient town records that could confirm that the history I needed to build upon was strong enough to support my entire premise before I chose a couple of towns I thought would work. I had every intention of using fictional names, but still I'm the type of writer who needs a real-world example to crib from.

So I packed up the hubby and we took a trip to this particular area. I bought the most detailed map I could find, we rented a car and headed into the countryside. Thankfully my better half loves nothing more than to explore, to drive aimlessly with absolutely no destination in mind, so he had no problem with our lack of vacation structure. He generously offered to drive so I could gawk at the countryside while I led him through all of my possible towns, trying to match my imaginings and story needs to the reality of what we found.

Some places were far too large and developed. Since I don't want my characters eating at Ruby Tuesdays or shopping at Aero Postale unless they hop on the highway for a ways, I crossed those towns off the list.

Other places weren't more than a single stop light that left me wondering how long the kids had to sit on the bus in the morning to get to the nearest high school. I want small and intimate, but remote and a pain-in-the-ass to run to the store for a gallon of milk is just a little too underdeveloped.

Some places didn't have the geographic features I needed - some woods with a winding road or two cutting between the trees, a middle-class neighborhood, a proximity to the ocean that allowed my characters to use it frequently. Nothing pulls me out of a story quicker than when a writer unfamiliar with a real-world location has his/her character perform some action that is logistically impossible given the region. Example: Bueller, Ferris, driving to the far northern suburbs from downtown Chicago in less than an hour during rush hour traffic. But I digress.

One town came fairly close to meeting most of my setting requirements, and it might have to do for my stand in. But I've come to see that I need to let go of reality completely. My story town might just have to be entirely fictional. Unlike Meyer, I didn't luck out and find my Forks.

Granted, I've never been to Forks. It may be the case that only tiny portions of it fit Meyer's needs and she simply ignored any parts of it that messed up her story. Too, while Forks created a very specific atmosphere in the Twilight series, it was never described in detail. Readers must fill in a lot of blanks with their own guesswork, and a visit to the real town might create a huge disconnect.

Perhaps this whole DVD thing isn't such a great idea after all. Kind of like pulling the curtain away from the man behind Oz. Better Forks remain that perfect rainy place where Edward and Bella frolic in the woods than face the fact that some businesses there use those tacky portable change-a-letter signs on a regular basis. Talk about killing the mystique.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Hughes, For Narrating My Teenager Hood

So, I'm late as usual, but John Hughes died two weeks ago.

Part of me was shocked because he was only 59 years old, and I'm always shocked when someone I view as "not old" dies of something like a heart attack. If that person who's only that many years older than I am can die like that, then so could I. Scary in a wake up and get yourself on a treadmill kind of way. Not to mention the human sadness that someone who shouldn't have left us yet is gone too soon.

Another part of me was shocked because entertainers of "my generation" are starting to pass to the other side, and I'm not ready for that yet. It used to be the actors and famous folks of my parents' generation that were the ones showing up on the front page obituaries. The Paul Newmans and the Walter Cronkites, and even the Farah Fawcetts to a degree, are not of my time. As sad as it was to lose these great people, I didn't feel that sense of connection, the sense that someone I, in an extremely indirect way, knew personally was now gone. These aren't "my" people.

But John Hughes, like Michael Jackson, came of celebrity age when I came of age. Both of these men had a huge influence on my teen years. Does it date me to confess that more guys in my high school wore red leather jackets with silver accenting and multiple zippers or that we had a Thriller theme day at school? How about the fact that I saw every John Hughes film in an actual movie theater within days and/or weeks of first release? The timing of Hughes' most well-known movies corresponds with my junior year in high school (Sixteen Candles) through my junior year in college (She's Having a Baby).

Many have written/remarked/eulogized about how well John Hughes captured the world view held almost exclusively by teenagers. I won't say that I agree or disagree with this - actually, I was never able to identify with any one specific Hughes character because they were all very unlike me or even anyone I actually knew. But they were universal, well-presented representations of stereotypes that did exist in high schools everywhere. And I never left the theater after seeing a Hughes film that I didn't feel slightly stunned in amazement. He got it right on multiple levels, that's for sure.

Some of his plots left me with questions I still need answered today. For example:

- Why did Andie choose Blaine over Duckie at the end of Pretty In Pink? Blaine was an asshole.

- How in the world did Ferris, Cameron and Sloane (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) manage to drive from their north shore suburbs into the heart of Chicago, catch a Cubs baseball game (which never begin before 1:00 p.m.), have lunch, visit the Art Institute, the Sears Tower and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, attend a parade, return to the burbs, take a swim in somebody's pool, AND manage to do it all in what I calculate to be at most nine or ten hours? The commute into and out of the city alone would take close to three hours given the rush hour traffic.

- Exactly how much did it cost for Keith to buy those diamond earrings, buy a new suit, and take Amanda Jones out to dinner in Some Kind of Wonderful? He blew his entire college savings, which according to his father had grown big enough to pay for his first year of school. That had to be a fairly serious wad of cash he dropped on that one date.

- Why didn't vice principal Dick Vernon hear the music blasting from the library when The Breakfast Club kids broke out into spontaneous dancing?

But in the end, these puzzlers are irrelevant because everything else about these movies is so close to perfection. As my tribute to John Hughes, here is my ranking of his films in order from my personal favorite to my least favorite. I'm leaving out his films featuring fully formed adults (Planes, Trains and Automobiles - a classic!) and little kids (Home Alone) to focus on those that dealt with teenagers or young adults.

1) Some Kind of Wonderful. It's been explained that Hughes was not happy with the ending of Pretty In Pink - originally, Andie was to end up with best friend Duckie and not popular rich-boy Blaine - so he wrote SKoW in order to get it right. He did get it right. The kiss between Keith and Watts is my favorite movie kiss of all time, and the sparks that flow between them in that one scene showed more chemistry between these two characters than all of the Keith/Amanda scenes put together. Eric Stoltz as Keith was casting perfection, as was Mary Stuart Masterson as Watts. While I'm still not sure what was so special about Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson did great in the role) that would drive Keith to his obsession, the ending when he came to realize where his heart truly belonged made the journey worth it.

2) She's Having a Baby. Of all of Hughes' films, I think this one is the most underrated. Starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern as a newlywed couple trying to negotiate the trials of becoming responsible adults, this movie was both hysterical and heartbreaking. I can't count how many times I've seen this film.

3) The Breakfast Club. I'll never forget the exact weekend I saw this movie. I was visiting relatives, and my brother, two male cousins and I decided to go to the movies. The boys wanted to see Beverly Hills Cop. I wanted to see The Breakfast Club. Thankfully they were both playing at the same multiplex within a few minutes of each other. We went into our separate theaters, and when I emerged two hours later, I could barely speak. This movie simply knocked me over, and I was so disappointed that my brother and cousins had missed it.

To this day, however, I have a big beef with the TV stations who air this movie with various "adjustments" to make it TV audience appropriate. And I feel sad for the kids out there who experience the TV version first. I always hope they are inspired to get a hold of the DVD and see it as it was meant to be - full of bad words and all.

4) Ferris Beuller's Day Off. I wish we'd had a guy like Ferris at my high school. Sure, we had popular kids. But none of them were that charismatic. Even more, I can remember wanting more than anything to be Sloane. To be that pretty and have Ferris as a boyfriend? Only in a movie.

5) Pretty In Pink. When I said above that I never quite identified with any Hughes character, PIP spells out why. While Andie was cool in her own, offbeat way, I never knew anyone in my school who dressed so funky, on purpose or not. Nor was there a Duckie. And while we had our share of "rich" kids at my high school, not a one was as jaded or sophisticated as Steff or his girlfriend, Bennie. Kids I knew just weren't that extreme. None of us attended underground music clubs that featured alternative indie bands. I chalk the portrayal of the PIP teens to the fact that it was never specified that PIP took place in a Chicago-area school. Maybe PIP - and SKoW, for that matter - happened in California where kids were way more cool than us midwestern teens. The story was sound, but I still think Andie made a bad choice in leaving the prom with Blaine.

6) Sixteen Candles. A teen classic. I like it mostly for the laughs than for any message or insight into the teen mind it might have tried to convey. In fact, I still find it hard to believe hottie Jake falls for Samantha, a girl he's never even spoken to, simply because he reads a note in which she says she likes him. Too, his supposedly perfect girlfriend was downright ugly, IMO, not to mention a complete bitch. Still, this movie above all the other Hughes' films offers up the most perfect fairy tale. What girl didn't dream that a popular boy like Jake would notice her and fall madly in love?

7) Weird Science. I can honestly say that of all of Hughes' movies, this is the one that I didn't love. I've only seen it once or twice. Maybe it's because I'm not a guy and never got the appeal of creating the perfect woman who will do whatever she's told. Maybe it's because the two real girls that Wyatt and Gary wanted to date were such dippy flakes. This one didn't move me.

So, good-bye Mr. Hughes. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with us. Many of us adults are the better for having experienced your movies. You left the world a better place, which is all anyone can ever hope to accomplish.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter 6: A Movie Review

Being the impatient hedonist that I am, I simply couldn't wait to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. My son agreed to brave the hoards and the lines with me, and we caught a 9:30 showing last night in a packed movie theatre.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. But the experience left me with this nagging sensation that something about it didn't work for me. After sleeping on it, I think I've figured it out.

To avoid spoiling, my review is after the jump. And there will be SPOILERS, so stand warned!

First, the very good about the movie: Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe. These three actors could not have been more perfectly cast than if J.K. Rowling had been staring at them the entire time she wrote the books. They've all grown so much, both physically and talent-wise. I honestly can't imagine these movies with anyone else playing Ron, Hermione and Harry.

Rupert Grint, especially, stole the show. He provided most of the belly laughs from everyone in the entire theatre. In fact, the best thing about the entire movie was the genuinely amusing moments it contained. By far this is the funniest Harry Potter movie.

Jim Broadbent did an excellent job as Professor Horace Slughorn. He played the part a bit more addled than my interpretation of the character from the book, but it worked all the same.

I have to give major props to Tom Felton. His Draco Malfoy was perhaps the most nuanced and tormented character in the movie. In fact, I'd wager it is fair to say that you almost felt more sympathy for Draco than you did for Harry. His was a boy who was tormented, who had been given a task he neither wanted to do nor felt capable of doing yet understood that not doing meant certain death for both himself and his parents. On a completely superficial level, the wardrobe they gave Draco was fantastic. He looked amazing, even in all of his white-blond evilness.

And once again, Alan Rickman proves why he is one of my favorite actors of all time. Thus far, he's played Snape mostly for laughs. This time, however, he gives the character the perfect amount of ambiguousness. Those in the know - the ones who've read the last book - will see Rickman's portrayal for what it is, the ambivalent feelings warring inside a man who has not quite been able to embrace the dark side completely due to reasons known only to himself and Dumbledore. Those who have no idea Snape's true motives will probably see him as a Bad Guy who pulled one over on Dumbledore, just as Rowling intended for him to appear at this point in the story.

Now, for my particular issue, the thing that is keeping me from raving about this movie as I thought I would.

As you would expect, the movie version of HP 6 is not a 100% faithful recreation of the book it is based on. Just as the previous five movies have diverged from their respective books, some (HP 1 and 2) less so than others (HP 4 and 5). It only makes sense that audiences will never consent to movies that last for 12 hours and thus something has to go, especially any something that might be extraneous to the main plot and/or slow the action down to a crawl or result in long blocks of exposition. This is just the way it is with book-to-movie conversions.

And thus far, I haven't been much bothered by the lost-in-translation aspect of the HP movies. I've been able to enjoy them very much as their own entities. The books are the books. The movies are the movies. They can't and don't substitute one for the other.

Sure, I've questioned how future plot points would be resolved when key elements are cut out in earlier films. For example, I'm baffled how cutting out house elves Kreecher and Dobbie won't come back to haunt screenwriter Steve Kloves come some crucial moments in HP 7. But I have faith that they'll figure out a way to make things work out in the end. And for the most part, I've understood why they've cut the things that they've chosen to cut. I never thought the whole S.P.E.W. storyline was very interesting and surely didn't miss it in the movies.

But for the first time, I felt the cuts and changes TPTB took with the movie version of HP6. And it wasn't even so much what was left out, it was how they handled what was left in.

And here comes the spoilers...

Some of my very favorite scenes in all of the HP series happened in Book 6. Specifically, Harry's relationship with Ginny - I loved the moment when Ron and Harry come across Ginny and Dean making out in a hallway, and Harry finally realizes that he has other-than-brotherly feelings for her. These feelings sneak up on him unawares, but at that moment, they erupt as a fully formed jealousy monster that pretty much smacks him right between the eyes. As a follow up, my other favorite scene is when Harry forgets all about what Ron might think about Harry hooking up with Ginny and kisses her in front of the entire Gryffindor House. It's one of those passionate moments that makes me smile every single time I read it.

So I was really looking forward to these particular scenes in the movie. Except, guess what? Neither scene made it. In fact, Harry's entire "relationship" with Ginny progressed in a completely different way throughout the movie. The Big Passionate Moment fizzled out as a teeny tiny afterthought of a sweet kiss. Harry's kiss with Cho Chang lasted longer and had more build up. I couldn't be more disappointed.

It could be a lack of chemistry between Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright, as I read in one on-line review. There just aren't any sparks between these two actors, nothing that makes you long for them to be together. And the Harry/Ginny relationship build-up is presented so subtly, the matter isn't helped along at all. Because of lack of screen time in previous movies, Ginny is somewhat of a blank character, coming at you from out of the blue. At least in Book 6 you get an idea of why Harry might all of the sudden be seeing Ginny in a new light.

The other big change in the movie involved the finale. In the book, Harry and Dumbledore return to Hogwarts to find that Death Eaters have made their way onto the grounds and a fierce battle is raging between them and the few remaining members of Dumbledore's Army. Order of the Pheonix fighters arrive and help with the battle. The action is intense, the casualties painful, and the whole thing ends in a big bang with a confrontation between Harry and Snape.

The movie, however, removes the battle entirely. A tiny handful of Death Eaters meets no resistance inside the castle, and even Harry's confrontation with Snape is rather small given what it is that Harry believes Snape has just done - killed his beloved mentor in cold blood.

I'm not sure I understand the reasons for the removal of this final mini-battle. Perhaps it's because some key characters have never been introduce. Specifically, we have yet to meet Bill Weasley, who gets attacked by Fenrir Greyback in the book. (And I still haven't figured out what they will replace Bill and Fleur's wedding with in the HP 7 movies because none of it was a part of HP 6.) Maybe it was a matter of budget, although I hardly believe this.

Maybe it was a fear that a big battle might detract from the impact of Dumbledore's death.

In the end, I walked out of the movie feeling somewhat empty. I enjoyed it, but I was left wanting more. Part of the problem is that I had, literally, just finished listening to HP 6 on audio book after a long car trip, so the details of the book were fresh in my mind and therefore more glaring when they went missing in the movie. Perhaps the key is to maintain a gap between reading the books and watching the films. For HP 7, I'll declare a 6 month moratorium on the books so as to go in without any lingering expectations.

Reading through all of the "professional" reviews, I've found one or two that sum up my overall feelings about the movie. This one is especially spot-on for me. As is this one.

I'd thought to see the movie again, this time with my daughter. I'd figured that I'd love the movie so much I'd be glad for the chance to watch it a second time. Now, I'm not so sure. Maybe seeing it again, knowing that it is not going to be the book put on film, will allow me to enjoy it for what it is, they way that I've always enjoyed the other movies.

What I do know is that I already can't wait until November, 2010, for the first installment of HP 7. Even disappointed, these movies - this story - is still one of the best things around. I'll miss it when it's all over.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Maybe Just a Little Bit More

I check the Entertainment Weekly online site pretty much daily because I'm trashy like that (but I don't read tabloids or People, honest). And this article caught my attention because...okay, because I'm kind of guilty for thinking it.

I admit to wishing that the Harry Potter series - Books 5-7 only - were just a tad bit more sexy.

I'm not talking about graphic, lurid details. Heck, I don't really like erotica all that much and I tend to skim long sex scenes in other romance novels because they can get kind of boring.

But I'm talking about more...romance? More focus on that buzz you get when you fall in love and discover the feelings are returned and things move forward into that very first kiss and it becomes not enough so things start to progress even farther...That feeling, so unique and perfect and elusive, is the one I'm always searching for when I read romance novels, or any book for that matter. It's my particular brand of crack, and I'm hooked on it completely. I'm always hunting a fix. Even in innocent fantasy books aimed at kids.

(Spoiler warning - spoilers after the jump)

One of my favorite scenes in the entire 7 book series is the one in which Harry, without stopping to think, marches up to Ginny Weasley and just smacks one on her. In fact, HP and The Half Blood Prince might be my favorite title in the series because I love the romance aspect of the book. Harry's awakening knowledge that he has other-than-brotherly feelings for Ginny, presented as a monster that lives inside his chest and alternates between growling with jealously over Dean and Ginny's relationship and purring when thinking about a Ginny/Harry pairing.

And while I fully appreciate that J.K. Rowling wrote the HP series for children to read, and that the focus is good versus evil and growing from child to adult, and romance between the characters resides not just in the back seat but in the back of the bus, I have to admit to wishing that this weren't so. I know that these books simply couldn't be written any other way and still appeal to younger kids the way they do (or be considered appropriate for them by their parents). But the grown up in me wishes they were a tad bit more sexy.

That Harry's feelings for Ginny were demonstrated to be more than just a burning desire to hold her hand or a warm cozy feeling when he smells her flowery scent. I'm willing to bet that 99.99999% of all heterosexual teenage boys are burning to do a whole lot more than hold hands and that their noses aren't the only body part that is strongly affected when they catch a whiff of their crush's perfume or shampoo. That monster in Harry's chest? In reality might be more accurately placed a few states southward in his pants region.

J.K. does give a tiny hint of a stab at showing us that Harry might be having some impure thoughts about Ginny.
"There isn't anyone I want to invite," mumbled Harry, who was still trying not to think about Ginny any more than he could help, despite the fact that she kept cropping up in his dreams in ways that made him devoutly thankful that Ron could not perform Legilimency.
But the closest we ever get to a suggestion that Harry and Ginny might have any sort of physical relationship is in a single sentence, is very vague, and could, in fact, be talking about them pouring over the latest issue of Mad Magazine for all the descriptive it contains:
On one such evening, when Ginny had retired to the library, and Harry was sitting beside the window in the common room, supposedly finishing his Herbology homework but in reality reliving a particularly happy hour he had spent down by the lake with Ginny at lunchtime...
For the adult me, this is the romance novel equivalent to shutting the bedroom door. I've invested time and emotion into these characters, and I've thrilled along side of them as they've found love with each other. But now I've been cut off, disallowed from seeing them in love. So not fair.

Oddly enough, this same lack of detail in Ron and Hermione's relationship doesn't bother me. Like Harry and Ginny, we get not much more than a single, spontaneous kiss between Ron and Hermione and a suggestion that maybe they'd been holding hands while sleeping side by side (in separate sleeping bags, of course). You would think given the full 7-book lead up to this particular relationship, the feelings of being cheated by any lack of expressed affection between them would be a huge let down. But it's not. Not in the least.

I chalk up my not caring so much about Ron and Hermione to the fact that my identification as a reader belongs with Harry as the third-person point of view focus of the story. Through all of these books, I've felt Harry's emotions, I've heard Harry's thoughts and watched the world move through Harry's eyes. It's his relationships that I'm most heavily invested in - I'm most disappointed to all of the sudden be cut off from living vicariously through him. Indeed, I've viewed Ron and Hermione's relationship through Harry, and as Harry, I wouldn't really want to watch my two best friends in a heavy makeout session. I'm just pleased to know that they finally realized that they are meant for each other and will now be happily together. No PDAs necessary, thank you very much.

Too, I think the Ron/Hermione pairing was, although a long time coming, inevitable. I was never a Harry/Hermione delusionist shipper. From Book 3, I've always known that Ron and Hermione had feelings for each other even though they both fought valiantly against them. The entire series was a giant display of UST, a slow dance between these two that moved forward so glacially that anything more than a kiss at the end would have thrown the pace out of whack. Their relationship had the feeling of an old time movie when, to quote the magnificent Joss Whedon's lyrics from Buffy's perfect episode "Once More With Feeling", "The curtains close on a kiss, God knows, we can tell the end is near". The main characters flirt and fight their way through two hours of screen time to finally end with a passionate kiss right before the end credits roll. That works for Ron and Hermione. Their happily ever after starts with that kiss, and there's no more story left.

Not so with Harry. Maybe because when he finally acts on his feelings for Ginny, we know there is still an entire book to go. If their kiss doesn't signal the beginning of their HEA, then we need either one of two things to happen - a) more interaction between them to demonstrate the struggles and conflict in their relationship until they reach their HEA or b) them to move on and away from each other, their relationship obviously not the Real Thing.

J.K. made option B work perfectly with Harry and Cho Chang. Harry thought he loved Cho. They experienced some angst getting together. Finally, they kissed. Beginning of their HEA? No. Because Cho wasn't Harry's One True Love. They broke up, Cho receded to the background, and Harry realized that his feelings for her had disappeared. That relationship wasn't the Real Thing. Any disappointment that Harry and Cho only shared one kiss? Not one single drop.

Option A isn't actually an option. Because of what Harry's story is - a story about his triumph over evil and his successful transition into adulthood - the conflicts don't come anywhere close to living in his relationship with Ginny. Other than his fear that his feelings for Ginny could lead to Voldemort using her as bait and thus his breaking up with her to keep her safe(r) - an action that Ginny accepts if not willingly at least only slightly begrudgingly - Harry and Ginny have no conflicts. Voldemort wanting to kill Harry notwithstanding, there is no reason Harry and Ginny can't be together. An entire book of manufactured conflict between Ginny and Harry is beyond stupid. It's a different story completely.

It is true. Harry's story is not a romance, and therefore any focus on his relationship with Ginny is not necessary. It's the dollop of whipped cream on top of the icing on top of the cake. As a series aimed at children, this is only right. Problem comes from the fact that non-children have embraced the series so completely.
We got teased, and now we're suffering a slight case of blue balls. Because some of us adults prefer not a dollop of whipped cream with our cake and icing, but a glass of really good wine. Something with a bit of kick in it.

I'm very excited to see the movie and how director David Yates handles the Harry/Ginny romance. I've heard the movie "sexes it up" a bit, but I take this with a giant pile of salt and don't expect much. If they deviate too far from the book, they will be accused of exploiting the material and risk losing hardcore fans. Too, I think the HP movie makers actually care about quality, and they aren't going to risk the integrity of their franchise just to beef up the teen girls demographic. I'm guessing they're hoping that Dan Radcliffe and Rupert Grint provide enough eye candy for that particular crowd, clothing removal not necessary.

Even so, I can see how and why this sexing-up could happen. After the staggering success of Twilight, both books and movie, TPTB in Entertainment Land are finally getting a clue that teen girls (and their moms) are a huge, money-wielding market. And teen girls (and their moms) like to swoon now and then. You want to bring them back again and again? Provide some swoon-worthy moments, à la Robert Pattinson/Kristen Stewart. If that means letting Harry and Ginny get a little action above and beyond what happens in the book, who's to complain?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where Did I Put That Thing?!

For Christmas, I got as a lovely gift, a Sony PRS-505 E-Reader. It's red and slim and very, very cool. I did have to hunt down an affordable recharging adapter because it only comes with the chord to attach it to the USB port on my computer, which is not adequate for recharging efficiently. But all in all, I'm very pleased with it.

I love that I can carry around many books for my reading pleasure all in an item small enough to slip into my purse. I love the instant gratification of being able to get new releases pretty much the second they come out via the Sony e-store. Too, you can generally get a hardcover release for at least 30% off the cover price and usually more. It's a great way to try out new writers because there are often deals to be found, and I just discovered that buying "bundles" can be a very economical way to pick up several titles in a series for much cheaper than buying the individual books would ever be. That is, assuming you could even find them given that they are older.

I admit I've had some trouble getting used to thinking about my e-reader when it comes to reaching for something to read. I'm surrounded by books, and the smooth, burgundy cover of the reader is not very flashy. It's hard to remember that inside that little metal bit of machinery are all the same words that appear on the hundreds of paper pages of the hundreds of books lining my shelves. You have to adjust to a new mind set when becoming an e-reader person - bigger and heftier doesn't mean better.

In fact, my husband, who gave me the gift, often accuses me of ignoring it. "Do you ever use that thing?" he's asked on more than one occasion. And while I have read three full titles on it, it is true that I still do the bulk of my reading the old fashioned way. Still, it's nice to have the option, and over the course of time, I do think the reader will become indispensable. In fact, I am positive that this will be the case.

Know I how I know this? Because I can't find the damn thing!

I'm actually afraid it's been stolen, although I don't know how this could have happened. I remember charging it and slipping into my purse because I was going someplace and knew I might need something to read. However, I don't remember ever taking it out of my purse - to read or to put someplace else. And now I cannot find it any where. Not in my purse. Not on any shelf or table or normal spot we tuck random items floating about the house. It's just flat out missing.

Except, I can't imagine how and/or why somebody would risk dipping their hands into my purse to snatch my e-reader without taking my wallet or the small leather pouch where I stash all of my cash. It makes no sense that the e-reader would have been taken but nothing else.

So I keep thinking it simply has to be somewhere. I've offered the kids $5 to whomever finds it, but so far I've had no takers. And I'm starting to get sick about this. The thing cost $350! That's a lot of money to just "lose". I can't imagine shelling out the same amount to replace it, but I now have a whole bunch of e-books that can't be read without the e-reader. Yes - I could use my laptop, but I've never read books on it. Talk about the epitome of inconvenient. Actually, I'd have to use my daughter's PC to read e-books because I have a MacBook and the Sony store library software is not Mac compatible yet. Oddly, this whole situation came about after I gleefully purchased a Linda Howard bundle and went hunting for the reader to dump all of my new titles onto. Couldn't find it. So now I can't read any of those cool books that prompted this whole problem.

Anyway, this is a huge frustration and goes to prove that you never miss something so much as when it's gone.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Odd Bits

So, I made this promise to myself that I would finish one of my works in progress by my birthday, which is next month. I made this promise back in February during a particularly feverish bout of writing, when the stuff was just coming out in gobs. It seemed a very doable goal.

And it is still possible. If I don't focus on anything else for the next month, I could do it. I don't have any trips planned. School is out next week, so although the kids will be underfoot, I won't have any volunteer commitments. Other than the occasional baseball game and carpooling gig, my calendar is wide open. I could get up in the morning, handle a few chores and then park my butt in the chair until bedtime, with only a break or two to cook meals.

In other words, no excuses.


One of my characters grew up in Manchester, England. I've been struggling to get his voice just right - enough use of slang and difference in speech patterns to capture his accent without going overboard. To this end, I've been listening to daily broadcasts of a local Manchester news channel. Funny how I now have a good handle on the goings-on in that area. It's become kind of like the town next door. I don't know how much it's helped my efforts to make his speech realistic, though.

What I wish is that I could get live streams of radio broadcasts from the UK. Now that they have laws against streaming broadcasts outside of a particular country, you can't tap into local radio stations the way you used to be able to do.


One goal I do have for the summer is to make a serious dent in my TBR pile, which has grown embarrassing. I could conceivable spend the entire summer sitting on my deck with a book in my hand. And personally, this is my idea of a perfect summer vacation.


I'm starting to get really excited about the upcoming release of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince on July 15th. This summer, we've gotten into the habit of waiting until the Sunday after a Thursday/Friday release day to go see the big blockbusters. By Sunday evening, the must-see-it-now crowds have gotten their fix, teens don't tend to go to the movies on Sunday evenings, and we don't have to stand in lines or struggle to find seats. But I don't know if I can wait the four extra days to see HPatHBP.

I checked the audio book out of the library for a recent car trip I took with my daughter. She hasn't read the book yet, so I figured this was the way to get her to experience the literary version before the movie version. Unfortunately, the unabridged audio book is 17 CDs long (that's 18 hours). Our car trip was all of 4 hours, round trip. We have another trip coming up that's longer, so maybe I can just renew the audio book an extra few weeks. Meanwhile, I'm listening to it in 5 and 10 minute chunks as I tool around town. At this rate, we'll be done by September.

Monday, June 01, 2009

You Don't Mess With the Romance Posse

This morning, I was sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying my McCafé beverage as I trolled through my internet stops, listening to the local morning show that I've been tuning into for pretty much forever, when the DJs said something that caught my attention full stop.

It seems that Eric and Kathy (of WTMX out of Chicago) have determined it would be a fun lark to have their morning show producer, Swany, read a romance novel and report back his findings. Apparently this bit resulted from a prior discussion on how the romance genre business has been booming of late - sales up some 7%, which is nothing to sneeze at given the current economic crisis.

I didn't catch, exactly, how they went about choosing which book Swany was to read - I sort of got the impression they solicited suggestions from listeners - but Swany is all set to dive into that well-known, highly regarded icon of romantic fiction, "Palaces of Desire." Eric was enthusiastic over the prospect that the cover might feature a little Fabio action. Naturally. What's a trashy novel without a little Fabio man-titty?

What's that you say? You've never heard of this particular book? Well, let me enlighten you. It was written by Karen Alexander and released in January of 1978 by Ballentine Books. And after a good half-hour of Googling, I can assure you that you will find absolutely no more information than I've just shared other than where you might find a used copy at a bargain price.

But, really, what more do you need to know? Even if "Palaces of Desire" is a work of literary wonder on par with Jane Austin's backlist (which I have my doubts given the zero buzz about PoD, anywhere, bespeaking of its longevity as far as quality), the title alone does all but take out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune as far as touting romance novels as not much more than Porn for Women. Too, given the publication date of pre-1980, we're probably looking at at least a certain level of bodice ripping and alpha-maleness, not a little bit of purple prose, and maybe a virginal widow if we're oh-so-lucky. Pure Old Skool Romance at its hideous best. Definitely not of the epoch that we romance readers are most proud.

As any self-respecting romance novel reader and pseudo-writer would have done, I allowed my panties to get in a respectable twist. Because without directly stating it, by choosing a book with the title "Palaces of Desire", Eric and Kathy were making fun of romance novels. And it goes to follow that they are indirectly mocking those who read and love romance novels. In promoting this viewpoint on their radio show, they were also affirming to the masses that it is not only understandable to mock the romance genre, it is perfectly acceptable to do so. Without apology, even.

And thinking I should walk the talk, I fired off an e-mail to DJs Eric and Kathy to express how I felt about this. I tried my best to be firm yet intelligent, saddened yet eloquent, discouraged yet hopeful they might be able to see the error of their ways. I suggested that the rest of the morning team read books in other genres, so that the ridicule and mockery might be spread rather than heaped on romance's already sagging shoulders. Too, I offered up the lovely Beyond Heaving Bosoms: A Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels as an antidote to their delusions about romance being not much better than poorly written smut read by ignorant fools who just don't know any better. And, finally, I suggested that if they were going to go through with this farce, a least choose a well-written romance novel that has a chance of standing up proud and tall to represent the genre properly.

I guess my e-mail wasn't as diplomatic as I'd hoped. Eric's e-mail response was incredulous. As in:

"You have GOT to be kidding me!"

He went on to say that this idea is all in fun, all in response to the booming sales of romance novels, yada yada yada. Net net, no mocking was being done, you fishwife freak.

At first I felt embarrassed for having come across as a shrew, probably causing Eric to picture me as a frumpy, middle-aged housewife with my cats slinking around my slippered feet as I padded around in my mumu, wondering if the mailman might like to come in for a cuppa and maybe a little something-something. Being once Catholic and always a woman, I instinctively replied to Eric in apology form. Sorry for coming across as harsh and seeming to not get that this was all in fun. No intention to offend, of course.

But I did follow that expression of shame with a request that if they are going to do this, take it seriously. Have Swany read a good romance novel. Have him give his honest opinion, without the filter of snark and ridicule. A reminder that many people listen to this Chicago-based radio show, and that Eric and Kathy could do a service to romance readers by helping us gain respect rather than perpetuate the genre as a joke. In short, use their power for good, not evil.

Know what I did next? I went and tattle-taled. I invoked the Power of the Bitches. My little blog gets very tiny traffic, but the Bitches? They are fierce. I asked them to post a little bit about my experience because I wanted to know if I had done the right thing by taking the Mix to task for this "just for fun" radio bit. Had I maybe overreacted? I hoped that a blog post at Smart Bitches might generate some outraged responses that I could use as balm to my wounded romance-lovin' sensibilities.

And what book should producer Swany be reading? What book represents the very best of the genre, a book that would wipe the smirks off their faces and have them begging for more right after they issued public, on-air apologies to everyone who'd ever been laughed at for reading a romance?

That Queen of All Bitches, Sarah, replied to my cry for support with her own salvo - an e-mail full o' whoop ass sent to Eric himself. I know not what she wrote, nor do I have the effects as of yet. I'm hoping she'll keep me posted.

It's not that I don't want Swany to read a romance. In truth, it would be kind of cool if he took this very seriously and read a well-selected title genuinely chosen because of its quality and not its ability to illicit giggles out of 13 year old boys. I'd love to get his insight. I'd love to have him admit that there's more to a romance novel than man titty and Fabio hair. And I'd love for Eric and Kathy to treat this book with the same respect they'd give to something they'd choose to read for themselves.

I can ignore slights on the genre for the most part. But this time, for some reason, I just couldn't let it go. Maybe it's the prospect of tuning in to the local country station all summer so I can avoid hearing any mention of Swany's progress that pisses me off so much. Or maybe it's imagining all of the commuters sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, smirking self-importantly with each mention of "Palaces of Desire", knowing that they'd never stoop to reading such crap.

Maybe I should check out "Palaces of Desire" from the library and read it myself. Maybe this book is kick-ass. Maybe it'll do the genre proud and Eric will end up with egg on his face when Swany raves about it. I can only hope.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Demon Prince Vs. Prince Charming

Back in March, I posted an entry about American Idol contestant Adam Lambert. My opinion has not changed. He's still sex on a stick.

The guy I didn't talk about in March was Kris Allen. Not that I hadn't notice him back then. I had. Specifically, I first noticed Kris on Wednesday, February 18th, when he appeared in a dance montage that introduce Group 2 of the AI semi-finals rounds. My thoughts at the time were "Who's that cute guy with the dark hair and brown eyes? I don't recall ever seeing him before." after which time I headed to the AI website to find out more about him. After which time I recall hoping that I liked the way he sang because...well, he was cute.

Not the way Adam is the hot, sexy, Baby's done a bad, bad thing, god-if-only-he-weren't-gay kind of cute. Kris is the guy next door, high school dream boat, meet my parents, god-if-only-he-weren't-married kind of cute. (Okay, he's pretty sexy, too.)

Kris makes you think of playing a round of putt putt, sharing a malted at the soda shop, and then taking a drive to the local Look Out Point for a sweet make-out session in the front seat of his dad's Volvo before your 11:00 curfew.

Adam makes you think of skipping the malted and heading straight into the backseat of his vintage Chevy Impala before even leaving the parking lot of the mini golf place and who the hell cares what time it is.

Kris gets you a corsage and takes you to the prom.

Adam gets you a hotel room after the prom.

Adam is a Demon Prince. Kris is Prince Charming.

Anyway, the reason I didn't talk about Kris back in the day was because he was flying quiet on my radar. I watched for him that second round of semi-finals, and he proved to be a great singer. I had no problems throwing him my handful of votes and was pleasantly surprised that he made it into the Top 13 of this year's American Idol contest. When next I saw him, the season now narrowed to the real contenders, my like of Kris was validated, and so it increased over lo these many weeks with great performance after great performance. And now I'm very proud to know that I've supported this guy all the way to the finish line. No band wagoner, I.

But my point here isn't to toot my own horn or to claim that I saw that diamond in the rough a long time before Simon Cowell pulled out his usual hypocrisy in time to make himself look less like the tool he actually is. Instead, I'm finding the media's reaction to the upcoming Adam/Kris finale next week to be quite an interesting - and somewhat alarming - social commentary.

Today, I found this bit from the Baltimore Sun on-line, and it troubles me. Because in this article is the implicating that the winner of AI this year is going to define America's preference between two social extremes. It's not just Adam versus Kris. It's Acceptance versus Rejection.

If Adam pulls off the win - a great possibility given his consistent string of excellent performances, his unparalleled vocal talent, and the media hype and clear frontrunner status he's held since pretty much Week 2 of the contest - it means that America has apparently embraced what many have decided that Adam personifies: acceptance of non-traditional sexual identities, celebration of those outside the mainstream, and unabashed enjoyment of our own freakish differences, as dark as those may run.

But if Kris wins - also a distinct possibility because America loves nothing so much as an underdog - it somehow means that not only is society NOT ready to accept those same constructs, but in fact longs to return to some idyllic farce of the 1950s when teens danced with a respectable ruler's-width of space between their bodies and gay people stayed in the closets where they belonged.

The issues I have with the Sun's slant are plentiful.

The most glaring problem with this article's assertion is that it places a lot of weight and significance on a fairly superficial decision. People tend to like a musical performer mostly because of the way that person performs music. If the contestant sings in a style they like, and if they can imagine buying a CD full of his music, they might pick up the phone and throw a few votes in that guy's kitty. They aren't really worried so much about committing America to one form of group-think or another if they pick up the phone and vote for one contestant over the other. I hardly think that some 30 million plus AI viewers are commenting on the path they want American culture to follow. They just know that Kris plays the guitar, which is always cool, but Adam sounds just like Robert Plant and Stairway to Heaven is their all time favorite song ever.

Too, I'm sure if anyone asked either Kris or Adam, neither guy would be happy to learn that he'd become the Poster Boy for one particular worldview, a worldview with fairly narrow parameters at that. The two men are very good friends, accepting of each other and the various facets of life they both represents. They don't seem to feel any level of Me versus Him, and I'm certain they wouldn't want the world to use them as banner carriers for the Liberals vs. Conservatives, the Blue States vs. Red States, or even the Stadium Rockers vs. Singer-Songwriters.

Additionally, the Sun's article fails to take into fact that a good number of AI watchers are what you'd call Kradam fans. (Note: I use this term in the "likes both Adam and Kris as singers" context, not the Adam-slash-Kris context that some are wont to do). We like both Adam and Kris. We don't want to choose between them. We accept them both.

Just as Guns & Roses exists on my iPod right after the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, I embrace the rights of all consenting adults to love whomever they feel compelled to love even as I also believe that kids should be encouraged to wait as long as possible to become sexually active. I'm super cool with men who wear guyliner (especially if it makes them look like this), but I cringe when confronted with facial piercings. I think people who aren't in the military and drive Hummers should be forced to pay a 200% gas guzzler tax but I think kids should be able to form voluntary prayer groups in public schools as long as they meet outside of school hours and all religions are allowed equal opportunity. I'm a virtual bag o' contrasts.

And next week, I probably won't vote for either Adam or Kris because I like them both so darned much, I can't bear to choose. I appreciate Adam's unbelievable talent, but I sometimes wince when he sings especially screechy scream-rock songs. Kris's ability to arrange songs I didn't think I liked in ways that make me spend money because it's now must-have music ("Heartless" anyone?) is mind-blowing to my musically challenged brain, yet John Mayer types are a dime a dozen on radio stations these days. Both have things I love and things I don't love so much. And in the end, I want both my Demon Prince and my Prince Charming.

My point being, crowning Adam over Kris does not mean that we've advanced as a civilization such that prejudice and oppression are no longer problems we need to address. Nor does a Kris over Adam victory set us back decades as far as acceptance of non-normative life styles.

Voting for one of these guys just means that either Adam or Kris gave some kick-ass performances and that a majority of AI viewers like one style of music a little bit more than another.

I'm just happy I get to watch these guys for another week.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


So, my daughter has this thing where she dots her i's with little open circles that look like the ones in the Disney logo. She also makes the dots at the bottom of her exclamation points the same way. She thinks it's cool to do this because she's of that age when it is cool to others of her age to do such things.

I told her dotting her i's with circles is affected. She asked me what affected means. I explained. lists the following entry for affected:
-adjective: assumed artificially; unnatural; feigned

Oxford American Dictionary offers up the following definition for affected: -adjective: pretentious, or designed to impress

Last night, I finished reading the latest installment of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Lover Avenged. And the one word that ran through my mind the entire time I was reading was, you guessed it, affected.

Because as vivid and complex of a world that Ward has created, as compelling as her alpha heroes may be, as intricate of plots she manages to weave, Ward's style of writing is so unbelievably affected that it yanks me out of the story time and time again. It's all that comes to mind when I think of her books. I no longer can lose myself into the story because I've reached the point where I'm actively looking for examples, and I squeal in glee when they pop up every few paragraphs. It's almost a game to me.

For those not in the know, Ward's heroes are these massive, preternaturally strong, virile, uber-male vampire warriors. Macho he-men killers who don't know the meaning of the term refractory period. They bond with their heroines so completely they even carve the gal's name across their back to create permanent scars, proving their devotion and complete loyalty. They can kill you with a mere look, don't so much as wince when they are dealt near-mortal wounds, and wear leather the way most of us wear cotton.

These heroes also say and/or think things like:

"You just say the word, 'kay?"

When the waitress brought freshies, John glanced over at the redhead...

"I'm outtie then."

He made her shift her weight onto one foot so he could pop off her stillie and shuck her Sevens free...

Okay. I'm sorry, but what heterosexual male not involved in the fashion industry in some aspect or another would ever - EVER - use the word stillie? Heck, how many men even know what that word is slang for? Ask any random man to name the correct term for a stilleto and 99 times out of a 100 the answer would probably be "those spikey heel shoes".

And what person over the age of 13, of either sex, would seriously say "I'm outtie?"

The reason I find Ward affected is because she seems to think that shortening words and adding "ie" to the ends of them (freshies? outie? stillie? and there are so many, many more examples I'm too lazy to go back and find) as part of her characters' verbal and mental vocabulary gives them dimension. By using this form of tween slang, they aren't cardboard cutout alpha males but well-rounded, sensitive sorts who are in touch with their inner kid.

It's the writer equivalent of dotting her i's with open little circles in order to make her characters unique and deep.

Really, though, it creates a complete mental dissonance when reading the story that causes me to come full stop in the middle of sentence. I'm supposed to believe these guys are stone cold killers who inspire fear in everyone they encounter when they're telling each other to just chill, 'kay?

It doesn't make these guys metrosexual chic. It doesn't make them in touch with their feminine, sensitive sides. It doesn't even make them guys with a surprising knowledge of women's fashion and incredible good taste. It makes them little girls. And little girls aren't really that scary.

Writing natural-sounding dialogue is very hard. And slang is a most useful tool in accomplishing this elusive goal. But come on. Stillie? Really?

I admit that Ward's books are like crack as far as addictiveness goes,
so for that I give her mad props (something her guys would say). As much as I want to walk away, somehow I just can't. And this is shameful given how many other issues I have with her writing style (don't get me started on the label-dropping). But it's this authorial tic that is like to drive me away completely.

I mean it. If she keeps doing it, I am so outtie.

Monday, April 20, 2009

There's a Reason It's Hard to Change Your Name

For me, naming characters is a big deal. Maybe not as big of a deal as naming my kids, but it really can help or hinder my writing process. The perfect name is key for me to capture the true essence of a character. And I just know - KNOW - when I haven't quite gotten it right. It's a nag in the back of my brain that just won't be quiet no matter how hard I try to ignore it.

But there is nothing worse than going forward and doing a lot of work (as in, a ton!) and then realizing that you got the name of a key character wrong. You thought you'd finally settled on something. It worked okay. Didn't love it, but you could live with it.

And then you hear the right name. The One. The name that has just that certain je ne sais quoi that screams "This is who he is!" It's perfect. So perfect that now the old name will. not. work. At all. It sucks. Why did you ever think it was acceptable?

Which, for me, is tragic. Because now I have to go back through every piece of work I've done and change the name. Sure, I could do the old Find/Replace dance. But I'm the type of writer who does all kinds of planning in Word documents and on spreadsheets and an entire Curio project board. I'm talking some hard core hunting in not only story text but in all of the backup documentation I rely on to keep me sane.

God help me if the new name renders another character's name problematic. Which...gads, I think I'm facing. I have a headache.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Too Good To Be True Bad Boy

It's a good bit of writer's advice to give your heroes and heroines flaws. They can't be too perfect or everyone will hate them, and for good reason. I've read many-a-story wherein the heroine is too good to be true. And these are books I never reread.

Giving a hero flaws is one thing. But what do you do when you need to create an anti-hero? A person who is, on first meeting, someone you really don't like all that much? Someone who's behaviour you find offensive or wrong or annoying, but through the course of the story, you realize is actually a pretty cool person who deserves the hero designation?

What kind of flaws can you give this person that are enough to evoke that initial negative response but that aren't so bad that he or she is irredeemable?

This is where I'm at right now.

I have a hero who is not necessarily a good guy upon initial meeting. He's uncommunicative and hardened and a petty criminal. He puts people off, both intentionally and without trying. He's a jerk to the heroine and to those who would try to befriend him. Basically, he's a Bad Boy with an attitude.

But as the story progresses, you learn that he's actually quite noble. When the chips are down, he's there even though he's vowed all along that he wouldn't be there. And the heroine inspires in him a love that he never knew he was capable of feeling. He's a true hero with a heart of gold, albeit one with a very rusty exterior.

Except, I have no idea how to portray the bad boy side of him because whenever I think of an action I find anti-heroic, I can't bear to have him perform it. When I think of things that make someone not a hero, I think of liars and cheaters and people only out for themselves. I think of kicking puppies and sleazy pick up lines, and anyone who drinks and drives. I think of people who throw their cigarette butts out the car window, line jumpers, and scam artists who would take advantage of those who can't defend themselves. I think of bullies and mean girls and corrupt politicians. Stuff that makes me disgusted, stuff that if I learned a real person did, would probably put me off him or her forever despite any positive qualities he/she might have.

I don't want my guy to do any of these things. I honestly don't even know that he would. Every single time I come up with an un-heroic act, I immediately shake my head and think "he would never do that!" My guy is refusing to be bad. He's refusing to act the way he needs to act to be the character he is.

This is all so weird because I know this guy. I know that he's hard and uncommunicative and stand-offish. He hates whiners and has a mean, quick temper. He doesn't take lip and he resists authority on principle. He chases girls strictly for the pleasure he can get, doesn't think that unconditional love exists, and has no interest in helping someone just because he can.

And I have no idea how to show any of this. I'm at a complete loss.

He does smoke. And he would toss his cigarette butt out the window without thinking twice.

Oooo. He's eeevil!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Stage Director In a Previous Life

I must have been a stage director in a previous life.

My characters spend more time turning around, going to or from one spot to the next, and just generally moving through the scene. And I'm not talking cool action moving. I'm talking ho hum, who cares moving.

She went to the sink and started washing dishes.

He turned around and picked up the socket wrench.

They came in from the living room and sat down for dinner.

Clearly, I need to work on setting. That's the only thing I can think of that explains why I seem to have a constant need to position my characters in a scene like they're poseable action figures.

I'll catch it all in the revise. Because I never seem to notice it so much as when I'm rereading.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Accidental Copy Catting

I possess the trait I think many writers out there have wherein the ideas that inspire me enough to actually sit down and put something on paper come from the ether. Maybe a scenario or experience will spark an idea - the other day I saw two surveyors measuring and marking the street for some thing or another and thought that this might be an interesting profession to explore for a female in a male-dominated industry - and things blossom off of that original seed.

But for the most part, I get an idea from either a particular character that comes to mind fully-formed, or because there is some emotion or relationship or scenario that I want to explore. Sometimes it's a plot - what would happen if this happened or that - that inspires me. But usually my inspiration is character driven.

Rarely, I'll read a story and like the general premise but think I would have done it differently. When this kind of story inspiration strikes, I tend to ignore it other than running a few scenes through my head when I'm sitting in traffic. I worry too much about copying someone else to ever go down that road.

Which is why I'm kind of freaked right now. I've been working for quite a while on a particular story, and I'm fully in love with the characters. I've plotted things out, written many many words, and it's been the one idea that I've consistently turned to when other ideas claw their way upward vying for attention. I'm determined to finish this.

Except, in the past two days I've come across both a book series and a TV show (not based on the book - completely different) that contain elements that are uncomfortably close to my grand opus. I have neither read the book series in question nor ever watched an episode of the TV program. I swear on a stack of bibles a yard high that it is 100% coincidence that my ideas run so close to what has already been produced.

But, damn! How did this happen? How did I come up with the same thoughts as those who took it further and produced something with those ideas? Am I really that completely unoriginal? Are my "pulled from the ether" ideas really that cliché? Am I being subconsciously influenced even by pop culture that I've never directly encountered?

To say I'm discouraged is an understatement. I know that there really is no such thing as a new idea. It has all been done before. And I fully buy into the rhetoric that it's not the idea that makes something worthwhile but rather how you put your own, unique spin on it that counts. Two people can turn out completely different results when given the same basic ingredients. If this weren't the case, humankind would have long ago stopped bothering to write, paint, sing, dance or otherwise express themselves creatively because, hey, been there, seen that.

I guess I'm faced with the question of where the line is between "same basic premise, unique execution" and "same basic premise, very similar execution". How many details must be the same for it to skirt way too close to copying for comfort? And if a writer honestly - honestly - was not in any way influenced by the original by virtue of honestly - HONESTLY - not even knowing what the original was about, is it okay to stay the course?

I refuse to give up on my work. First, I've put too much time and energy into it to abandon it. Secondly, I really do love my characters. The idea of not telling their stories simply because they sounds eerily like someone else's story (either in basic structure or because of a few similar details) makes me slightly nauseated. In the end, if my eyes are the only ones that ever bear witness to what I've created, I'm even okay with that.

Sort of. Because I'm of the philosophy that writing for ones' own personal enjoyment is a great hobby, but if you have no intention of every sharing your story, why not just keep it in your head?

Perhaps my solution should be to cut myself off from all media. Currently I never, ever read any book if it even slightly resembles something I have cooking in my own mind. I don't want to ever be influenced - consciously or not - by someone else's interpretation. But clearly I am being influenced somehow.