Monday, January 31, 2011

Missing Opportunities

Last week's critique group was a real eye-opener for me and gave me a whole new thing worry and obsess over. Missed opportunities. In one of my scenes the heroine had to come to this big, sort of left field realization. My heroine goes from passive to active in her life. So, I was very wrapped up in making sure that she came to this decision in a methodical way. I took my time with the scene - I had her getting drunk. It was a pretty static scene and not that I put thought into that, but I was so worried about the internal conflict and changes that were happening and making sure those were believable.

Everyone can relate, right? We've all had those scenes, hell, those books.

Feedback was good until Sinead opens her mouth and says the scene felt like a missed opportunity. For a moment, I was like - No. Sinead. No.

But then, of course I realized she was right. How dynamic is it to show a character going from passive to active in her life, while sitting down? While being passive? In an effort to up my game I'm trying to push scenes and characters as far as I can go - trying to get all the juice out of them as I can in my own feeble-minded way. I can't miss opportunities to SHOW my characters changing or failing. I have to combine plot with character as much as possible - and then add all the other crap - voice, mood, tone, humor, sexy sex - all of it. Previous to that night, I was a little stunted in my progress, I was obsessing about all the juice I was trying to get out of things, and then for a while I was convinced every scene was a missed opportunity.

It's not like I know I'm missing the opportunity while I'm stumbling right past it. It's not like I'm being lazy, it's that my brain is so small.

But then I realized I have a safety net. If my own writer's sixth sense doesn't see what I'm doing wrong - Sinead will. So, thanks Sinead.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fine, I'll be upbeat too.

I'm crusty this week, annoyed at stuff I shouldn't be annoyed at, and really should have a sign on my forehead, 'approach at your own risk'. Don't know why, but I think lack of sleep has something to do with it.

But I'm going to focus on what is perking me up these days.

1) There is cider and wine in the world and I will be partaking later.

2) I have some truly amazing books on my nightstand. The maze runner, Matched, Archangel's kiss and room all waiting to be read.

3) slow progress on my current WIP, but progress is progress.

4) the vampire diaries came back on last night.

5) Molly, Maureen and Stephanie all have books coming out, and I've read three of them and they are amazing, and so looking forward to reading Stephanie's 4 1/2 star rated book.

That's all I have, but it's something.. now I'm going back to looking at the glass half empty.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Uplifting and inspirational... sort of?

Okay – I had a post that was really negative. It was written, it was scheduled and it was all set to go. I was just going to spew away! Then I read Maureen’s really great post yesterday and I just couldn’t do it. I would have been the all time Deputy Downer.

I had to remember that she’s right. The flipside to saying that every good thing in publishing is followed by a something bad is to say that everything bad in publishing is followed by something good. If we don’t ever enjoy the good when it comes it can make for a really depressing career.

Letting ourselves dwell on the negatives only brings us down. And in the middle of winter, when it’s cold and snowy do we really need anything else to do that?

So here is to my list of good things that I WILL focus on.

1. I plan to start on my new book. It finally all came raining down from the skies. And new books are always fun (unless you’re scared of them like Eileen said – but we’re not going to be scared because this is a POSTIVE POST).

2. I’ve lost six pounds on my new diet. Only 14 more to go before I have to start my 2nd 20. (Doesn’t 2nd 20 sound much better than 40!)

3. I got 4 ½ stars in RT for my Romantic Suspense due out next month. Which is good because it might be the last book I ever publish… (Slaps hand! No negativity here!).

4. Maureen has two books coming out and Molly has a book coming out and Eileen has a book coming out … and I like to read really good books.

That’s my list for right now. And it’s pretty decent.

And although we're not dwelling - venting can also be okay in little spurts. And since Maureen asked everyone about the good stuff yesterday - I'm giving everyone license to vent a little.

I'll start... I MISS WINE!!!!! Why oh why can't it be calorie free?

Now you go.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Celebrating the good stuff

I feel like this is a life goal as much as a writing goal, but Molly reminded me one day last week that I should get better at celebrating the good stuff. She scolded me a little. And I deserved it.

In this business, more than most, we get enough opportunities to learn how to accept criticism and disappointment. And over time, for me anyway, it's become harder to celebrate the good stuff, because it starts to feel like it's just a matter of time until the other shoe drops.  Which makes me feel like such a negative person. And that's not who I want to be.

So, the good stuff!

Cinderella: Ninja Warrior (Twisted Tales, #1)

I have TWO books coming out in just over two months. They are building a little buzz in the book blogger world and on goodreads. Close to 200 people have added the books to their shelves, I get several google alerts every week that people have mentioned one or the other book on their blog, and for a book that's not even out yet, from a small publisher, I think that's great. And most of the people who've reviewed or rated the books so far have actually liked them! Total strangers read and liked my books!

Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer (Twisted Tales, #2)

And more good stuff:

Molly and I had a workshop accepted for RWA Nationals! (Thanks Molly for writing a fabulous proposal.)  This is fabulous for me for at least two reasons. 1) My books will be out, so an opportunity to get in front of other authors (who also read and have kids who read) and 2) I really want to go to RWA Nationals. I love the national conference, but was having a lot of trouble justifying the cost this year, especially since I'm not writing in the genre. But now I HAVE to go. So, yay!!

Again with Molly, I did a Romance 101 workshop for Toronto Romance Writers in early January and a producer from CBC Radio's books department was there and did a nice podcast on the event. Yay.

And finally, I've recently been reminded by how generous and fabulous other writers are. How willing some are to offer advice and help to a complete stranger. Most recently for me, this was demonstrated by NYT Bestselling YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith, whose latest book BLESSED was released yesterday. And yet, during what must be a busy week for her,  she was kind enough to tell that she was excited about my books (based on the titles) and offered to interview me on her blog. (Plus, she might come and do an interview here, too. Yay. No pressure Cynthia.)

I hereby promise to remember at least one good thing every day. Amen.

What's your good news? Please share. :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Rom Com Man and Porn

I was at the gym on Sunday and without a trashy magazine to keep my brain from realizing how tired I was, I watched the last part of Two Weeks Notice with Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. And I liked that movie - the chemistry was a lot of fun between those two and I thought the set up was fantastic. But it made me think about what I've heard about Porn - that it's all about the women. And I think to some extent the Rom Com is the same thing - it's all about the female lead's character and comic timing and overall appeal. I think women in most Rom Com's get paid more - I'm probably wrong, but that's how it seems to me.

But for me - the effectiveness of the story arc and the romance, totally hinges on the guy. Hugh Grant in this case. That moment when they see the girl in a new light, their utter caddishness before - their black moment and grovel - for the story to really work - it's got to be about the guy. Matthew McConaghey is a total failure as a rom com lead because I don't believe anything about him but his chest. He is awful.

On the other hand, I watched a weird one this weekend (I need to be writing - I know) with Dane Cook called His Best Friend's Girl - and this guy is a huge a-hole, but watching him fall for Goldie Hawn's daughter whose name I can't remember - totally worked. Totally believable.

So, who works for you? I think it's pretty hard to beat Hugh Grant. That English reservedness coupled with the chemistry he usually has with his co actors - Love it. But who do you love? The Rom Com man - discuss...


I am trying to embrace fear. Normally, I am not a fan. I'm not a big watcher of horror movies despite having written an urban fantasy with werewolves and vampires and other nasties. I do not like being startled. I read the ends of books before I get there because I need to know that characters are okay at the end. Yes. Even when I'm reading romance and should just trust. I fear for them and it's unpleasant for me.

I have written a book proposal that is scaring the hell out of me. Two writers that I admire very much have recently (within the last six months or so) talked about how the book you're afraid to write is probably the one you should be working on. The fear means you care enough about it to get it right. The fear means you're stretching. The fear means you're doing something important.

So . . . fear is good. It's not the mind-killer (that's for all you Dune fans out there). It's the mind-grower. Okay. I'm embracing fear.

I'm also trying to embrace vulnerability. I'm not so crazy about vulnerability either. Sometimes being vulnerable is just asking to be hurt and I don't care for pain. If I could spend my entire life encased by the Tempurpedic topper on my bed, I totally would.

Vulnerability means putting out there something tender and fragile that's important to me. This book that I'm trying to write is important to me. I care about what I'm trying to show people in this novel. Exposing the ideals that I want to live by is a little scary because I'm also showing why it's so very hard to do that. It's what will make this book interesting and not preachy and not pedantic.

Anybody else have a project like that out there? Something that's scaring the pants off you, but feels imperative at the same time?

Friday, January 21, 2011

The balance

I'm working my way through Season 1 of Breaking Bad, a show that gets a ton of press and not enough people watching. It's great, made more so, by the two central performances and as a character study, this show is up there with Mad Men. Bryan Cranston's character Walt is perfection.

He is an ordinary man with chemistry skills who is driven to make crystal meth to support his family. He has other options, options the audience is shown, but none that will allow Walt to sustain his pride, and so he really feels this is his only choice. The show does an amazing job of making us care for this man and completely understanding his choices.

Where the show doesn't completely succeed for me, is in the balance of the different subplots. Walt is maintaining two lives, one where he creates and sells drugs, and another where he is trying to maintain his family, and keep them from finding out about his new career.

One is literally life and death as Walt interacts with violent drug runners and the other, while intensely important to Walt, is whether or not his marriage will survive, and when it comes down to it, the drug interactions are so much more interesting and dramatic that I get impatient when the show focuses on anything else.

They haven't perfected the balance of plot and subplot yet, but I'm interested enough in the main plot to keep watching and see what happens when the two plots colide.

Anyone else watching Breaking Bad?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

When It's Time to Let Go...

I am having a really hard time right now. I recently bought a book by a favorite author that I’m nearly finished with and no lie it’s bringing me to tears… and not in the good way.

Of course I’m not going to name this author directly - I mean who am I to cause a Google alert to pop up somewhere and that says someone diss’ed your work. What I will say is that the author is successful, well respected in the industry and even if I did name her I know my comments won’t matter to her current fans. But the truth is she’s breaking my heart a little.

I have loved this author for years. A personal triumph of mine is that I have every single category book she ever wrote under every name she wrote them even the ones that NO one knows about. I have this four book continuing romance series that might as well be gold sitting on my keeper shelf – I’m sure it’s that rare. When she took chances I was there. When she switched genres I was there.

When I pass her in the halls at RWA conferences… I have this tendency to want to bow.

But lately it’s just been harder and harder to read her newest releases. Her most recent – I’m sorry but it is a hot mess.

The story is all over the place, the sex is boring and you can tell she just wants to get through the scene rather than really explore what’s happening emotionally and physically. Emotion – heck there is no real emotional development between the characters at all. They’re just suddenly in love. The dialogue is clunky and while these should be contemporary characters they do not sound like anything remotely resembling a contemporary person living in 2011.

This woman was my inspiration. She’s the reason why I wanted to write romance. This author in particular for me I put ahead of Nora because I found her first. I felt like the smartest person alive when I picked her off a shelf of all the other “red” books and then she went on to become famous. I said… “That’s right… I know talent when I read it.”

But now my heart is broken because I don’t know how I can keep reading her. These last books of hers that I’ve read… well, they are just not for me anymore. Maybe you get to a point where you can’t read an author anymore. That tipping point where they’ve told you every story they have as many times as you can handle it.

She was my comfort read. My go to buy. My never let me down author. And now I feel like if I read her anymore I’ll start to forget how great those older books were.

I think I need to let go. I feel strangely bereft. Yes, there are new authors out there to find but this woman is my reading history. And just once more I would love to capture the thrill of what it was like to read her best work. I guess that's why I keep going back. Maybe this time will be different…

Does that happen to all of us? Are we all headed to a period in time where some innocuous blogger somewhere might say… “Yeah that last Stephanie Doyle booked sucked. It’s the same story over and over again. I’m done with her.”

Of course… this means someone would actually have to read a Stephanie Doyle book.

Anybody else have this kind of experience?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Avoiding the obvious

Avoiding the obvious is so hard, especially when you're writing genre fiction, and tonight I saw two films that made me think about this and want to try harder.

The first was a great film I was seeing for the second time and the other was a really, really disappointing one.

The great one was Blue Valentine.

As a group of young woman said on the way out, "Boy was that a downer!" And it is. Um, what did you expect? The good kind of valentines aren't blue. But it's also pretty wonderful and it never goes the obvious route. While it's about the end of a relationship, it doesn't paint either character as the good guy or the bad guy. I read a review that said that the Ryan Gosling character is the more sympathetic of the two, but I really think it depends on your perspective. I think I related to her side of it more even though she's the one who wants out.

And the screenplay is so smart about how and when we learn things about the couple. Some heartbreaking things. The small miracle of the story, which I didn't really notice until the second viewing, is that while it starts off almost feeling like a character sketch kind of thing, with little vignettes about the two main characters, every detail ends up being important.

But because of the order in which the story is told, nothing seems obvious. There's a moment in this film, near the beginning, where the Ryan Gosling character does something that made me cry both times I saw the movie. He's a mover, new at his job, and they're moving a very elderly man into an old-folks home. His boss tells him to empty the boxes, flatten them and get out of there fast. But he doesn't. Instead he carefully unpacks and thoughtfully organizes the man's possessions so he'll feel slightly at home when he comes in. It's so sweet it made me cry. Twice. And completely defines the character. And we know that the Michelle Williams character is across the hall in her Grandmother's room at the time. And they haven't met yet. So it's not a leap to jump to the conclusion that the plot reason for this scene will be their meeting. And from there assume that his sweet gesture is how he wins the girl over and gets that first date. But that's not what happens. At all. It's just so real and sweet. I don't think she ever finds out what he did... (Instead, she thinks he did something horrible.)

Another thing I noticed on second viewing was a line that seemed like idle conversation the first time. Tonight I realized that it was "the statement of the theme". The screenwriting gurus say that you should state the theme of your movie on page 10 or something... and while this so didn't feel like a movie that followed those kind of rules,  it did follow that one. Ryan Gosling tells his work mates that he thinks men are the real romantics. They act like they don't care about love or settling down, until they meet the right girl, then she's all they want. Whereas women, with all their talk about prince charming make practical choices when it comes to choosing a mate. (That's not exactly, but the gist of what he said.) And it totally sums up the movie... or at least their two characters.

Great movie. Sad. Not a date movie (in spite of the sex). But so well done.

Then, I went to see Country Strong. If you've seen the trailer and, like me, thought it looked great... Stick with the trailer. Whoever edited that trailer together was a genius and made it look like the movie would actually be about something. Whoever wrote the script? Not so much. Trite and predictable and corny and cliched, and although sad stuff happens you don't care. At all. Because you don't care about the characters and the things they do and the choices they make aren't well motivated. I knew the reviews were really bad, but had to see for myself...

Just realized that, in some ways, it tries to be like a sports movie, with the big game at the end... but because there are no character arcs in the story, at all, we don't even care whether she wins the big game gets through the concert at the end. And certainly don't care enough about what happens after...

Love that Garrett Hedlund dude, though. Boy, he can sing to me with that sexy baritone voice anywhere, anytime. Looks mighty fine in a pair of jeans, too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


So the other day, my sweetie was watching a Buffy rerun. He's a big Joss Whedon fan and, bless his heart, thinks strong smart women are sexy. I happened to walk in the kitchen as he was watching and that's when the ad came on. It was for Ru Paul's Drag Race. That's cuz Buffy reruns air on Logo, apparently. 

My first thought was, "Babe, you are SO not their demographic." 

Last night, we were watching the premier of Being Human. An ad came on for Life Alert. You know, the "Help me. I've fallen and I can't get up." thingie? My sweetheart wondered out loud why Life Alert would be buying ad time on SyFy on a show about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost trying to live normal human lives. He thought it was probably a waste of their money.

I've got a book coming out in a few weeks and am trying to decide what to do to promote it. How do I reach my demographic?

RWA does all kinds of surveys about who reads romance and I know that my demographic is probably married, college-educated women between the ages of 31 and 49. So how do I find them? RWA says that most romance readers pick books based on ads in other romance novels. Ain't nothin' I can do about that. 

What about social networking? I played around with Facebook and Twitter, but I feel like I'm preaching to the choir. A lot of my FB friends are other writers. Ditto with people who were following me on Twitter for the brief time I was willing to tweet. 

Advertising is pricey. I've run ads in RWR. They're wonderfully affordable, but again, who am I reaching? Other writers. Romance writers and definitely romance readers, too, but I still feel like I'm preaching to the choir. There's RT, but their rates are a little our of my price range. 

So I'll probably do what I always do. Blog here and there. Send out some press releases. Have a book release party. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fighter: Plot/Subplot

We saw The Fighter this weekend and it's strange that I love boxing movies so much, but I do. The underdog thing...the stakes...the bare chests, I don't know, but boxing movies work. And The Fighter was amazing. Really and truly amazing. And the negative feedback I've heard is largely that the movie seems unfocused, torn between the main plot of Micky (Whalberg) getting back in the ring and away from his controlling family, and his brother Dickie (Bale) and his crack habit and self-destructive life.

In Bale's Golden Globe acceptance speech, he thanked Whalberg for the strength of his quiet performance, because without the anchor, the loud performances don't work. And this was the movie in a nutshell for me.

I love plot/subplot conversations. I think for a subplot to really influence and add to the plot it has to carry a whole lot of importance - we have to care. And it's a two edged sword, make us care too much and the throughline gets taken over. For me The Fighter was balanced. Writing wise it was perfection:

Dickie has to go to jail so Micky has a chance to get free of him.
Both of them have to watch the documentary so Dickie is inspired to stay clean. Micky has to be inspired to wipe his brother's embarrassment off the town he loves.
Dickie has to come home, desperate to do right by his brother so much so that he apologizes to the people Micky loves - he tries very hard to make things right.
Micky sees this, brings his brother back on his team.

Without the focus on all of those moments, the scene of them walking out into the arena for the title fight amongst the boos with Dickie's hand on his brother's head both of them mumbling his anthem the White Snake song "Here I Go Again" would not have made me feel like leaping to my feet, fists in the air, tears in my eyes.

The movie took it's time to tell all the stories and it worked. All the performances were spectacular. Nuanced and sad and funny. Social Network was good in a cerebral way. This movie was great in an all heart way. Go see it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My character is strong and weak and it all somehow makes sense

I'm finally getting around to watching Breaking Bad. The main character plays a man that initially appears a little meek, and quiet and is desperately sick and cannot afford the payments for the treatment that may help him get better. And then through the course of the second episode, the audience learns that this quiet man has a fierce, unassailable pride, all played brilliantly by Brian Cranston.

Then you have Don Draper, who is so capable and assured in the office and a mess in his personal life, weak almost, and trying desperately to not show this weakness, which results in terrible personal decisions, a lovely contrast to how his confidence in business usually helps him make the right decision there.

Another show that always demonstrated this well, was Battlestar. Starbuck was a fascinating character, because she was so strong in battle, strong physically and completely weak within herself, whereas the physically weakest character on the show, the president, a woman crippled by illness could make the most cold, clinical, strong decision almost every time.

What I love about those shows is how they turn the audience's initial impression of a character upside down, without undermining that first impression.

I've been thinking about Maureen's post about the monster inside me in YA fiction. I'm writing a book where the main character is initially weak, both by circumstances and her own fear, but the monster in her, gives her both a physical strength and more confidence by the end of the book. But I want to do this transformation in such a way that the girl who existed at the beginning of the book is still very much present.

So that the changes build into the character who was at the beginning of the book and make her more complex, rather than a whole new person.

Sounds so easy, freakin' hard to do.

Other than that, I'm getting ready to watch the Golden Globes on the weekend. Anyone else interested in watching?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I made myself laugh...

Okay – that’s not really that hard. Sometimes I get in these moods where I can giggle over nothing for hours… not even when I’m drinking. What made me laugh this time was that I was thinking about this week’s blog and how I’m struggling to get started with my next project.

The word startabookaphobia immediately leapt to my mind and I thought… “I’ve heard that before. I think one of the other Drunk Writers wrote about this.”

This was great! This was awesome! I could read this blog and figure out what the other writer said and struggled with. Then I would read all the great comments that gave answers on how to overcome this sometimes debilitating condition.

Only when I checked it was me who wrote the blog. Back in March of last year when I started the book I just submitted to my agent. (Jokes on me - I thought was I going to be done somewhere around June.)

I had the startabookaphobia. Damn!

So I read my own blog and realized all the fears I had about trying to merge two genres… still true. My fear of executing the book in my head on to the paper… I essentially realized that fear. I just don’t feel like I went far enough. I know I have to be patient and see what the industry says… but in my gut I don’t feel like I delivered. And I couldn’t see my way through even with all the help I got (Thanks Molly! Thanks Karen!) to fixing it in a way that would make it right or better. I tried. Maybe I succeeded. But who knows.

Anyway here I am now in exactly the same place almost a year later. I have a book in my head.

I’m no longer afraid of genre crossing – because I’m not going to do it. Nanh aahh. Not me. I learned my lesson. Pigeonhole the *bleep* out of me please! This is good.

The fear to execute is still there. This time there will be less major POVS. (Yeah me! Way easier!) However in my infinite wisdom I decided to do two intersecting timelines that have to feed each element of the story.

That shouldn’t be hard right? Even though I’ve never done anything remotely like this. Getting the past and present to weave together and culminate in a brilliant way so that you can see the mystery in the past getting revealed as you solve it in present tense…

Yeah… I have startabookaphobia again. And they don’t make pills for this.

What is everyone else doing this winter? What’s next for ya’all. (Says the girl from New Jersey… but don’t you just love ya’all!)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Locating Your Inner Monster

Agent Molly Jaffa is doing a guest speaker spot on Backspace this week and she gave the most fun, not to mention easiest to understand, definition of the difference between external and internal conflict I've seen.

Doesn't matter that it was actually given as an explanation to the difference between middle grade and young adult fiction (beyond the protagonist's age).

Her point was that middle grade fiction tends to be more about external conflict, or:

There's a monster outside!!!

Whereas young adult fiction tends to be about internal conflict, or:

There's a monster inside me!!!

Awesome, right? Except that it made me realize a possible problem with my upcoming fairy tale adaptations.

The original publisher for these books wanted them to appeal to readers as young as nine... so, although I wasn't exactly thinking about them as middle grade, and I admit I'd never thought about the difference in focus until I read this great insight of Molly Jaffa's... I must have instinctively known this, because I kind of wrote them like middle grades. But, the new publisher is marketing them as YA.

I think both are very: There's a monster outside!!! (A scary stepmother who's also an evil wizard in Cinderella and a scary vampire queen and her minions in Sleeping Beauty...)

I fear that young adult readers will miss the: There's a monster inside me!! aspect.

Ah, well. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You Have To Bring The Penis

I don't actually have a blog to go with that title. But that was something Stephanie said when she read my manuscript this weekend. Bring the penis I believe was her way of telling me to sex the book up. In particular the first half and in particular a scene with the hockey-playing hero in the shower. All by his lonesome. A masturbation scene.

She's totally right - but my problem has been and will probably always be - I don't like writing sex scenes. And it is 100% because of my mom. She reads these books. She gave some to her minister at church. Her book group - which includes several of my former teachers - talk about my books. And I get it - this isn't one of my best decisions. The romance world has gotten hot. And unless I write sweet romance - which I don't - I need to bring the penis and stop thinking about what my mom is thinking.

But in my efforts to resist this advice I went back and looked at some older books that I always thought had fabulous sexual tension without constant sex - but man, was I wrong. Those SEP books I love so much - those characters are constantly getting it on. Constantly making out. Teresa Mederios same thing. I wonder if their mother's read their books? The language is different, sure. But manhood by any other name is still a penis.

So, tomorrow I'm going to take my cold medication, send my kids off to school, do a load of laundry, think about what I'm making for dinner, if I'm lucky - take a shower. And then, I'll probably meet Maureen at a public coffeehouse and at some point - I will bring the penis.

How about you? Do you have your mother's in your heads while you write? Your best friend? Your Dad? Does the reality of your book being out in the world make you edit yourself?

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year. New Attitude.

It's over. The holiday season ends (IMO) on my sister's birthday which was January 6. My worst time of the year is over and already I feel my mood lifting. I woke up on Sunday feeling positive and upbeat. I'm ready to start fresh.

I'm not a good resolution maker or a good resolution keeper (still haven't updated my will which was my 2008 resolution, for example). My other sister usually forces me to choose an affirmation to say every morning, but ever since the year she made me look myself in the eye in the mirror every day and say that she was excellent at math, it hasn't really resonated with me.

Still, I want to change my attitude this year. I'm tired of being negative. I'm tired of seeing the glass as half empty. I feel like I spent too much of last year focusing on things I can't control (like the size of my print runs) and ignoring the things I can control and do well (writing nearly every day and completing two books).

I'm going positive this year. I'm remembering that I love storytelling. I'm remembering that I have good relationships with my agent and both my editors. I'm focusing on behaving like a professional and meeting my deadlines and holding myself to high standards.

I'm going to stop feeling like I'm a loser because I haven't made it onto a bestseller list and I'm going to feel good about the achievements I have accomplished.

Oh. And I'm going to lose 20 pounds.

Anyone else going for a new attitude this year?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Black swan as a lesson in POV

I actually got out to see movies during the holiday season. I'm almost ready for the oscars, and even have an opinion on which movies and performances should be recognized.

And one movie that is getting a lot of buzz is Black Swan and rightly so. It's dark and twisted and fascinating and not for everyone, but I loved it. And want to see it again, because once is not enough to grasp everything.

Because the director was uncompromising in his approach. Everything in the movie is shown through the eyes of the heroine. I don't believe, and Maureen can back me up here, as she's seen it twice, that at any point, he shows any other POV. Everything is from her perspective, and at no point do we see her from any one else's perspective.

And it creates this sense that the audience really doesn't have a clear sense of exaxtly what is happening. We do know that the events matter intensely to this girl because it's so important to her, it matters to us as well.

It's almost claustrophobic at times, how immersed we are with in her. And it's remarkably effective, more so than a lot of books I've read lately, even though there is no narrative, no real insight into her brain except through dialogue and what we see on the screen. Essentially it's a movie told from first person, present tense.

It's got me thinking on scene choices, and how much to show the reader when we are in deep POV. It only really works when every scene moves the story forward, when every event truly matters both to the main character and to the reader. It requires a real sparseness of story telling.

I think, to be honest I'm still figuring it out, and hoping that Maureen and Molly will explain it to me during our next drunk writer talk.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

You know that puzzle...

The one in the shape of the triangle that has all the colored pegs.... You remove one to start the game. The object is for each peg to leap over another peg throughout the triangle until you’re only left with one peg.

My puzzle says one peg left means you’re a genius, two pegs you’re doing okay, anymore than four pegs left… and well… the word the puzzle uses is ignoramus. That hurts.

I have a team of three people I work with and all three have reached “genius” level on this puzzle. I did once but because no one was there to see it they disbelieve my claim. This of course speaks to their genius because I would lie rather than be outdone by them - but in this case I actually told the truth.

So I did what any good boss would do when one is confronted with a challenge from one’s team and decided that I would find the pattern that I’m sure exists within the puzzle so I could repeatedly always get down to one peg no matter how many times I did it. I attempted this at the expense of countless of work hours. But really… I mean priorities people. For those of us who remember the 80s – it’s like when you finally figured out the Rubix Cube. Once you knew what you were doing you could always do it. Will Smith can do it in seconds!

While I was cursing at the block of wood and pretty plastic pegs and struggling to remember what I had done before I thought… shouldn’t I be good at this? I mean really it’s all about seeing the board a few steps ahead. You can’t just make a leap. You have to look two, maybe three leaps ahead to see where the puzzle will take you.

You have to plot. I write books. I plot. I absolutely need to see where things are going when I write. I should be able to repeatedly solve a simple board game with only one freakin’ peg left every time!

Then it occurred to me. I don’t really see that far ahead in my books. I’m definitely a plotter and not a pantser – in that I don’t just sit down and write and see where it takes me. I can’t start a book until I see that key beginning – middle- end structure.

I remember now that I don’t really “create” the beginning middle and end. I don’t make it happen like a person solves a puzzle. Mostly I just think about stuff and suddenly other stuff comes to me.

I’m about to start my next book. I know the premise, I know the heroine. I have this idea of the hero. I know the time, place and setting. I know there is a mystery, but I don’t know what happens after Chapter 1. But there is no getting to Chapter 2 for me and because there isn't I'm in this weird holding pattern.

There is no pattern in my mind that makes me see beginning, middle end. Beginning middle end for me - falls from they sky. I get lucky. I write a book.

So what I have to hope for now is that my team doesn’t continue to do this puzzle and really show me up. Because the only way I’m going to get down to one peg is if suddenly it comes to me and I get lucky.

Therefore I’ve done what any logical person would do and I have hidden all the pegs.

I’m no ignoramus.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

True Grit, A Western Set YA

When I walked in the theatre to see True Grit last weekend I was expecting to see a Western. And given how many groups of men were in the audience, so did they. Little did they know, we were about to see one of the smartest, funniest, most tightly plotted, girl-driven young adult stories I've seen/read in a long time.

I've never been a big fan of Westerns as a genre, but I do vaguely remember seeing the 1969 version of True Grit on TV, (probably because I had a now-embarrassing crush on Glen Campbell). And I barely remembered that the story was about a young girl.

When the book was first published, I understand it was put out by as a "book for young readers", and having just seen the new Coen brothers movie (twice), which supposedly follows the original book more closely, I understand that. And really want to read the book. It is a YA story.

I did a (tiny) bit of research before composing this post, and now understand that the original film didn't stick to the material in the novel as well as the Coen brothers did. Plus, in the new version, the actress who plays fourteen-year-old Mattie was just thirteen during filming. The actress in the original was twenty-one. And that says a lot in itself. I was in my early teens when I saw the original on TV and likely could easily see through the adult pretending to be fourteen.

The old version also took out a lot of the comic elements and made it more about Rooster and LeBoeuf and Chaney -- more of a traditional western. I think the Coen's managed to marry the two genres. Or rather make a YA with cross-over appeal, rather than a western. :)

One of the first things that struck me after seeing this movie was what an excellent lesson in POV it is. Perhaps it was just because I'm preparing to teach a POV workshop this weekend and thinking a lot about the topic, but I couldn't help but notice that here's not one scene in this movie that's not from Mattie's POV. Even the scenes that aren't really about her, or that she's not directly part of, we only see through her eyes... Entirely seen through the eyes of a fourteen year old girl. How could that not be a YA?

The trailer makes it seem like an adult western, and I suppose that was smart on the studio/distributor's part, but how little Mattie is in this trailer is misleading. As I said above, she is in every scene in the movie, even if she's just observing a few times. Also, the trailer makes her look like a victim. They skip the important part of that scene in the river.

A good ten or fifteen minutes of the movie goes by before we ever see (or hear) Rooster. And the first time we hear Rooster, she's tracked him down to an outhouse. And the Coen's don't cheat and show Jeff Bridges's face, or go for the potential funny moment of seeing him inside the outhouse with his pants down. Or without his pants down and simply hiding from the girl. No. We're left to imagine what he's doing and just see her banging on the door, saying things like, "you've been about your business for an awful long time, Marshall" and we only see the scene from her side. Similarly, when Rooster is testifying in a court case a few scenes later, (the first time we see his character), we don't see or hear any part of the trial until she walks in the room. Another example is when someone approaches Rooster and Mattie in the forest, when she's high up in a tree, we don't hear the conversation between Rooster and the man, until she's down out of the tree and within hearing distance. Anyone who wants to understand POV should watch this movie.

Even more, anyone who wants an example of an active, decisive, perfectly motivated protagonist should see this movie. Yes, Jeff Bridges is getting a lot of attention for his performance and he was excellent. Yes, Matt Damon is HILARIOUS as the bombastic braggart LeBoeuf (pronounced "LaBeef" in this movie -- which I found hilarious in itself). Yes, Brolin is astoundingly good as Chaney and Barry Pepper is so great in the role of Ned Pepper, I can't even imagine that Robert Duvall did it better in 1969. But the real star of this film is its protagonist, Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld. She never misses a beat.

Mostly, I love that this is a story about a brave young girl in grown up and dangerous situations, but instead of being overwhelmed, she holds her own and doesn't need to rely on the adults for everything. Yes, it's true that she does need the adults. She couldn't have gone after Chaney on her own. But she's smart enough to know this and smart enough not to let the men take advantage of her, and even smart enough to push for her own way even when they aren't really trying to take advantage -- but thinking that they know what's good for her better than she does. This girl doesn't take crap from anyone. I particularly loved the scenes of her haggling near the beginning and how much she knows about law and how incredibly well-educated and articulate she is. Her word choices cracked me up so many times.

I think she's one of the strongest female characters I've seen in a long time who didn't have unrealistic skills or superpowers. And she's fourteen!

I even think my twelve year old niece should see this movie. I actually went the second time mostly to remind myself of the content because I'd already told my sister that she should take my niece to see it and started to question my recommendation. Yes, men get shot. Men get hung. It is a western. And there is one scene that's pretty gruesome, but it's not gratuitous and (like everything) it's shown through Mattie's eyes, and we feel the horror of it with her. (And compared to the violence in many PG-13 movies, it's really not that bad.)

YA is taking over the entertainment world right now -- it's even claimed the gritty western.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Tolstoy's full of it

I'm pretty sure it was Tolstoy that said all happy families are alike, but that unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Based on my ever so scientific and objective observations this holiday season, Tolstoy had it all wrong.

It being the holiday season, I had the opportunity to observe several family units at work and play. In my opinion, it's the unhappy families that were all alike. At the center of each one of those unhappy families was a narcissistic asshat engaging in sometimes nearly epic douchebaggery. The three NAs that I had the misfortune to observe are all self-involved, egotistical, controlling and cruel. The only thing that varied between them was the level of substance abuse. Other than that, they really were completely interchangeable.

Now the happy families, the other hand, all had their own take on things. Now, this isn't to say that the happy families didn't have problems. One of my favorite happy families we were with this holiday is headed by two people who, well, might have more than a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder. For instance, the amount of equipment required to make a cup of coffee in their house takes up most of a counter. Not only is there a coffee maker and a grinder, there is a stop watch and a thermometer and a special tamper and some other things I didn't recognize. This attention to detail and need to do things exactly right is applied to everything in their life. They actually had to rent the house next door to theirs because they have so much stuff, they were bursting at the seams. Now this might make for an unhappy situation. People pursuing perfection to the point of self-destruction. But no, they support each other and make it work. The love that flows between them and two their child is almost palpable in their home.

Another of the happy families I was with is one of those groups of people who all have really diverse ways of looking at things. This means that they don't always see a situation the same way (unlike my sweet OCDers who tend to agree about how things should be done) which could cause lots of problems. Instead, this family talks to each other and more importantly, they listen to each other. Each one wants to know what the other thinks because it gives a glimpse into the mind of someone he or she loves and because it could each one more insight into the situation.

My point is that each of the happy families has found their own path to happiness and really isn't that what we write about when we write romance? Aren't we always looking for new and unique pathways to happiness for our characters from their own particular starting places?

So again I say, Tolstoy had it totally backwards.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...