Thursday, August 30, 2007

What’s in a hero..

Would love to talk more about the brilliance of Judd Apatow, but nothing comes to mind that hasn’t already been said.
Except we need more movies with Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann.

I’ve been thinking about heroes lately. It’s actually come up in Drunk Writer talk. Molly made the point that the subgenres, specifically romantic suspense and paranormal allow for more latitude in the hero, basically, heroes can be very alpha again.

I definitely agree. Been reading JR Ward’s first of the brotherhood of the dagger series. A really good vampire book for those interested. She world builds really effectively in this book, and creates, dark, sexy men with silly names(Tohrment, anyone?)

Her heroes are definitely alpha. They wear black leather, listen to rap, are tortured and unhappy and wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way, human or otherwise.
They remind me a little of some of Iris Johansen’s historical heroes. Dark, tortured men who had few scruples, at least at the beginning of the books. Laura Kinsale does this brilliantly with her heroes as well.
A hero as an assassin, one who isn’t filled with much self-loathing at his profession. Loved it.

Give me a hero who’s dark. Legitimately dark, with deep character flaws, and show them to me. I’ve read too many Duke of Slut books, with men who besides their predilection to sleep around at the beginning of the book, turn to kittens as soon as they clap eyes on the heroine.

I’m looking for a hero who isn’t heroic at the beginning of the story. They may have heroic tendencies, but they should have a character arc.
JR Ward’s success tells me I’m not the only person looking for this, but I also think a percentage of the romance reading public would hate it. They want their heroes, well, heroic, right at the beginning of the book.

What are the character traits that would turn you, as a reader, off?

For me, there are few. Perhaps outright cowardice, harming children, really detestable stuff, but the rest is fair game. Make him interesting, charismatic and redeemable and I’m in, hook, line and sinker.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

While we're talking about Apatow...

So for a few years I've been hearing how great Freaks & Geeks is/was. I think I've actually had the DVD set in my shopping cart on Amazon on and off for at least 2 years. I finally bit the bullet and bought it. So far, I'm not disappointed.

I vaguely remember when this series came on TV (1999) and didn't watch an episode. I don't think watching it even occurred to me. I think it may have suffered from bad promos. I mean, I just assumed it was a silly juvenile comedy show aimed at teens. I certainly didn't realize it was more drama than comedy, nor did I know that it was set in 1980 -- a time when I actually was in high school, so it's full of nostalgia for me -- the clothes, the movies, the shag carpet glued onto the stairs going down to Nick's parents' basement. This series was the better, way more real version of That 70's Show in terms of representing what it was like to be in high school then.

I've only watched the first 6 espisodes (sadly, thats a full 1/3 of all the episodes ever filmed) but I'm really digging it. The episode I'm With the Band opens with one of the most perfect yet simple scenes I've ever seen on TV.

The character Nick (who we know from the pilot is passionate about playing drums) is in his basement. He puts on a Rush tape (8 Track of course), drops a piece of dry ice into a bucket, dons his headphones, turns on his strobe light and starts to play and sing along to "The Spirit of Radio". We're in Nick's POV so we hear what he's hearing, Geddy Lee singing and Neil Peart playing drums. (Hope I got that right. I may be from Toronto and I may have come of age in the seventies, but I was never a big fan of Rush. The older brother of an ex-boyfriend of mine used to be the pilot of their private jet though. Cool, huh?)

Anyway... Nick, the character, is totally into it. From Nick's POV, he's amazing, the music is amazing. He's a rockstar.

Then we switch POV's to his father walking down the stairs to the basement shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Suddenly we're not hearing the tape of Rush playing, we're hearing what the father is hearing. Nick singing hopelessly off key and banging on his drums like a four year old might, demonstrating little or no talent.

I laughed out loud.

But while this was a brilliant little funny scene -- the teaser before the opening credits -- it perfectly foreshadowed the heartbreaking character arc that Nick goes through during this episode--facing the fact that he's never going to reach his dream of being a drummer in a big rock band. And it's such a relatable character arc. I mean so many of us first realized in our late teens that maybe all our dreams weren't necessarily going to come true just because we wanted them to. It's when many of us realized we weren't as special as we may have thought we were, even if we were the best at something in our high school, our high school was just a tiny insignificant drop in the world. This tiny, maybe 45 second scene, also showed Nick's (also heartbreaking) relationship with his father really well. Brilliant writing. (A weaker writer would have had Nick tell another character how he's such a big disappointment to his father, but in these few seconds, we get it.)

That episode was written by Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah. I'm off to check them out on and/or listen to the commentary for the episode. (Okay, maybe I'm off to bed. The DVD will still be there tomorrow.

Oh, and fun fact for those of you who've seen Superbad. I'm about 99% sure that the old guy who gets arrested in the bar in Superbad is the same actor who starts a fight at Lindsay's party in Episode 2 of Freaks and Geeks (Called "Beers and Weirs".) Yup, just checked. He was. He was on an episode of Firefly, too... Must rewatch that.

Anyone else have a perfect scene they've seen/read?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Superbad The Movie - juvenile perverted gross out film? Or master class in dialogue?

Here's my confession - I love juvenile perverted gross out films - but only when they have the heart behind them that this one does. Superbad is so gross at times but there's such a nougaty ribbon of sweetness in just about every scene, that it is utterly redeemed and becomes a hilarious romance between two friends. (Seriously, it's a romance.)

But what's really amazing about this film - and about most of the films Judd Apatow is involved with is the dialogue. The dialogue doesn't just get characters from A to B - in fact it rarely does that. It goes from A, circles B zigzags near C and ends up back at A. But somehow plot is forwarded, subplots meet up but every single time a character opens their mouth - the words reveal and stay true to character. Which seems like a no brainer - but think of the books we read - wherein there needs to be a lot of information revealed - say, about a 11th Century political situation involving a King and some marauding oh...vikings. (Were there Vikings in 11th century - Margaret?) Or, a serial killer with unknown motive but some disgusting calling cards. Often times we get lazy - and we just dump that information. Just put it out there in one big chunk. Case in point - I have a character reading a newspaper article to three people very emotionally involved in what that article says - and right now she's just reading it and they are just listening to it. That's all. Strictly information. I can do better than that. I should do better than that.

Superbad elevates dialogue - makes it what it should be. And the kid from Arrested Development sings in it. What more could you want?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We have a Winner! (And new beginnings)

I'd like to announce that the winner of the ARC of Debrah Williamson's PAPER HEARTS is Marcy!

Marcy, when you read this, e-mail me at info @ (spaces removed of course) and we'll figure out how to get you your ARC. There may be a short delay in you receiving it due to an emergency on Debrah's end, but we'll make sure we get it to you one way or the other.

On other news... I'm starting a new project. Or to be more accurate, trying to decide between two (or more) projects I've bandied about for a while. I have two short listed right now... And I'm trying to flush one of them (the scarier/more challenging one) out to see if I really have a story I know how to tell.

I find this stage of the writing process both terrifying and fun. I think much of the terrifying part has to do with my commitment issues... partially revealed to the masses (the masses being the thirty or so people who read by other blog) on this post . While the commitment issues discussed in that post had to do with furniture, I think the same fear translates to writing.

But maybe it's not a fear of commitment. Maybe it's a fear of making a huge mistake. (Or are those the same thing???) I discovered doing my last project that I may not be as fast a writer as I thought I was. Although perhaps this new project will get me back on the fast-writing track. (She said hopefully.) Or at least out of the super-slow lane. So, because of this slow-writing thing, taking on a new project is a huge investment of time--time that may end up proving fruitless should the book never sell. Okay not fruitless. I don't need that lecture. But you know what I mean...

So, before I start actually writing pages for my next project I want to feel good about the story. I want to feel like I'm at least 60% sure it's actually going to work, (I don't think I'd be challenging myself if I picked something I was 100% sure about), and I want to feel like it might have a chance of being marketable, too. (And I don't even want to think about the will-it-be-a-good-follow-up-to-either-of-the-projects-my-agent-already-has should-either-of-them-sell question.)

So, scary times for Maureen...

Do you like starting new projects? I have a few writer friends and CP's who seem to do four books a year and I am so, so jealous of this.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What I am looking for in a romance....

With all my various beach vacations and a new critique partner opening up her extensive and delightful keeper shelf - my summer has been filled with some seriously good reading. Brockman aside (seriously, at this point this Alyssa Locke/Starret romance is killing me. I'm like a junkie and the worst part is -- these books aren't that great! They are kind of all over the place and messy BUT can't wait to get my hands on the next one!) I've been introduced to some great romantic suspense. And I like my suspense lite - no need to overshadow the romance for me. But as I was reading Tara Jenzen (her Crazy series - have you guys read these??? Wow! What fun!) A couple things came to me about romance, sub-genres and what women, myself in particular want from romance.

Sub genres like romantic suspense and paranormal and erotic are exploding because I think men in traditional romances have gotten a little too PC. The heroines are all tough and can take care of themselves and the men aren't about to fight too hard for what he thinks is right for the heroine. Unless of course he's a cover FBI agent and there's some serious bad guy after them. OR he's a werewolf and if she doesn't get out of the way she'll be dog food. I think paranormal and romantic suspense have given us back the alpha male. And - I think that's what readers want.

The Greek Tycoon's Secret Mistress and books in the Presents line have kept him alive and well fed but he's missing from so many of the historicals and contemporary romances that I love. Hell, I'm not even writing him anymore.

This month, after packing up my stuff, my son's stuff, making sure my husband had his stuff, getting directions, getting gas and snacks, asking the tenants to take care of the mail, my in laws to take care of the dog - I slipped into these romantic suspence books with these heroes and heroines and it all made sense. The fantasy is having some of the decision making taken away. It's about being swept up in something that's utterly utterly outside of the heroine's control - ergo - the readers control. That's why I think those sub genres are working so well and why it's so hard to get a mainstream romance that's satisfying.

That's my latest thought. That and I love smores. Love them. Why do I wait until I'm on a beach before I indulge in those?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Harry Potter

You had to know one of us would get around to blogging about it sooner or later.

Like the rest of the world, got my copy of the 7th book the day it came out. Unlike most others, it took me a few weeks to read it, due to being seriously busy, occasionally sick and somewhat sleep deprived.

I love this series. Probably my favourite was the 4th book, which I read in a day and half. But having finished the 7th, I feel satisfied. The series and I can’t give away any spoilers, felt complete, I closed it with a happy sigh. Did I love the last book, not with the same fervent attention I had given the first four books, but I did really enjoy it.

One day, I’d like to reread all seven books and try and really figure out what it is that JK Rowling does so well. Some day far in the future.

My initial impression is her pacing. Except maybe for some excess in the 5th and 6th books, each scene adds something new to the plot. Even though the books are long, they don’t feel that way when you read them.

Her plotting is also excellent. I rarely know exactly how things are going to go and those lovely surprises are a rare treat these days.

How did everyone else feel about the 7th book?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Meet Debrah Williamson (and a contest!)

Today, in lieu of a normal DWT blog, (because I'm lazy and it's hot out), I'm posting an excerpt of an interview I recently did with Debrah Williamson, whose latest novel, PAPER HEARTS hit the shelves yesterday, August 7, 2007. On my other blog, I've talked about cyber friendships and meeting people online. Well, Debrah is another example. She found my website, noticed we have the same agent, and we started up a correspondence.

UPDATE! Debrah is generously running a contest. Comment on this blog post before August 23rd for a chance to win an ARC of PAPER HEARTS! (Note to self and to fellow drunk writers... We should have contests more often.)

Here's a bit of the interview. (Some context since this is from mid-interview. Debrah published close to thirty romance novels with various publishers under a couple of different pen names, including Debrah Morris. Some of these novels were co-written with another writer.)

MM: You describe yourself as a veteran romance novelist. Do you think the genre has changed? For better? For worse?

DW: A veteran is someone who’s been through battle and survived, right? Maybe wounded, maybe scarred, but stronger for having seen the elephant, and no longer starry-eyed or delusional about her insignificant role in the big scheme of things. Yep, that’s me. A veteran.
Seriously, romance gave me opportunities I probably would not have found in other genres of fiction. I will always be grateful for those opportunities and what I learned from them. And yes, I think the genre has changed. A lot. Hence, the reason I am a veteran romance writer and not a currently successful one. I won’t make a judgment call on better or worse. It is what it is. Like any living organism, fiction must adapt to the changing world or perish. Romance is still going strong, and that says a lot.

MM: Why did you decide to branch into mainstream fiction?

DW: I think I’ve always been a mainstream writer at heart. As I said, I didn’t read much romance before I got into it, and what I read was mostly Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.
I quit writing for a while after our collaboration dissolved and focused on my clinical profession. But you know what they say. Writers must write. My last foray into romance was as a solo writer. I wrote five Silhouette Romances as Debrah Morris and had a good time with those. However, when I realized the line was on the verge of closing, I finished my contract and decided to make one last do-or-die stab at cracking mainstream.

Besides the practical consideration of the line folding, I just wanted to write bigger stories than could be told in 50K words. Even after cutting and revising, my novels are 100K words or more. And I wanted to explore relationships other than romantic ones. There are too many kinds of love in the world to limit myself to just one. For example, my recent work delves into the meaning of love for children, parents, and friends.

MM: Tell us a little about PAPER HEARTS.

DW: Thanks for asking. Paper Hearts is about the oddest of odd couples: a young girl at the beginning of her life and an old man at the end of his. Fifteen-year-old Chancy Deel runs away from Pittsburgh and her abusive mother and finds herself stranded in picture-perfect Wenonah, Oklahoma. Streetwise and vulnerable, Chancy is afraid. Afraid to be alone and of being hurt. Afraid she'll never find the new life she so desperately wants.

Eighty-three-year-old Max Boyle is scared too. And just as desperate. He's lost his beloved wife and is about to be forced out of his home of fifty years by a well-meaning social agency. He has no reason to tough out the rest of his lonely life. Because his chronic heart condition isn't doing the job fast enough to suit him, Max decides to end it all.

Everything changes when Max finds Chancy sleeping in his garage. He believes the girl with the wary heart was sent by his late wife and hatches a plan that might just save them both. One transforming summer teaches these two unlikely friends what we all know in our hearts-that no one is meant to go through life alone.

I have worked with these at-risk populations in a professional capacity. In our city, abandoned or homeless teens can have their own place through an independent living program.. We have a day care program that allows young parents, both girls and boys, with custody of their children, to attend high school. I’ve also dealt extensively with the geriatric population. On both professional and personal levels, I understand how devastating the loss of independence can be. Max Boyle grew out of some statistics I read about how the fastest growing rate of suicide in this country is among men over the age of seventy.

It’s been said that the true test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. In PAPER HEARTS, I try to put faces on these voiceless – and often invisible – populations. I hope after readers meet Chancy and Max, they will never look at a grungy teen or grouchy old man in quite the same way again.


DW: Oh, now we’re talking about the book o’ my heart. I first started hearing Pauly Mahoney’s voice twenty years ago. In the conversation with the author pages in the back of the book, I talk about how she visited and revisited me over the years. Well, nagged the heck out of me is more like it. She just wouldn’t shut up until I wrote her story. So I did. When I finished it, I realized I didn’t have it quite right and put it away. I did other things. Wrote those five solo romances, and a historical (as yet unpublished). When I decided to make the do-or-die-trying effort to break into mainstream, an interested agent asked to see something completed.

When I pulled out SINGING WITH THE TOP DOWN and re-read it, after so much writing time had washed under the bridge, I realized exactly what it needed. So I rewrote it. The agent took it on, submitted it to publishers and it sold within a couple of months.

The story is set in 1954 and is about a couple of children orphaned when their irresponsible young parents are killed in a freak carnival ride accident. An aunt they don’t know — a wannabe movie starlet — shows up at the funeral to take them back to California and a new life.
SINGING is essentially a road-trip story. They set out in a 1953 Buick Skylark convertible, thus the title, and share many adventures and misadventures between Oklahoma and California. They pick up an elderly hitchhiker who is a nursing home refugee, and together these four figure out how to be a family.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Editorial Changes at Harlequin Superromance

Sorry I've been out of the blog/loop for so long. It seems like my summer has started late but with a vengeance - it's been nothing but beaches and cottages the last two's a rough life but someone has to sit on that deck chair.

So, by now word has spread about the change in senior editor at Harlequin Superromance. Laura Shin was replaced a few weeks ago by Wanda Ottewell. Of course rumors and theories abound as to why this happened - but I think it all comes down to what we writers usually forget - business and numbers. As a writer for the line I can attest to a pretty substantial leak in sales and printruns and cashola, and from what I have heard from other writers it's been going on for a while. It's going on almost across the board for category romances, with the exception of a few lines. The romance reading world has changed and category has had to scramble to maintain readership - and a lot of that responsibility falls on the senior editors of the lines. It's a job I do not envy. And Laura Shin was a great editor - a classy smart lady. But with numbers where they were something had to happen.

I think what Harlequin and Silhouette has done in the past is been at very start of trends - christian romance, chick lit (RDI was there from the get-go), the various paranormal lines that have come and gone over the years as well as the romantic suspense lines, and the Blaze line pushed the envelope in terms of sexual contact leading the way for mass market erotica.
But there are a lot of lines stuck in ruts of their own making -- Superromance being one of them. The last year Laura did a great job of bringing in new authors with new and interesting story lines and voices, but Superromance is a huge boat and it takes a while to turn it around.

I've worked with Wanda for years - since the doomed Flipside line - she's brilliant. And, if anyone can pull Superromance around - it's her.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Does writing lessen our enjoyment of reading?

This is a question that comes up pretty frequently in our little Drunk Writing Circle, and amongst other writers. Do we read differently now that we write and have to analyze our own work and that of others.
It’s also something the Smart Bitches Who love Trashy Novels recently posted on. Check out their website, they are tremendously entertaining.

The short answer on this question is YES.
I read much differently now and am much harder to please. Cliché’s bug the hell out me, I really notice repetition and where before I would read a ho hum book all the way through, now I toss them aside the moment I lose interest. I’d just rather be writing than read something not completely worthwhile.
But when I read a book and don’t notice scene structure and don’t take note of POV, or the intricacies of plot, I am thrilled in a way I wasn’t before I became a writer.
We all have them, the books, or writers who can sweep us into a story and we forget everything but the characters and what might happen next.
One writer who almost always does this for me is Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I can never analyze her books, even on multiple readings, because I get too caught up in the story. Is this because of voice, or plotting, or an amazing skill level I can only gnash my teeth in envy over, (probably all three).
Because this happens less often these days, I treasure these writers and their books. Anne Stuart can do this on an inconsistent basis, Maggie Osborne, JK Rowling, absolutely, and then there are my favourite books, but that’s a much longer post.
There are times I mourn those days of carefree reading. But I’ve come to realize it’s a side effect of writing, unavoidable I’d guess and a small price to pay.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...