Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Missing Chick Lit Part 227

I just came back from a family wedding. First of all, let me say it was completely and totally and fantastically fun. I knew we were in for a good time when the cops closed down the rehearsal dinner. Completely totally fantastic.

Second of all, let me say it makes me miss writing chick lit! Oh, the funny family dramas! Oh, the silly little mishaps! Oh, finding out that we apparently almost decapitated the groom's brother at his wedding with a ceiling fan when we lifted him up in the chair and danced around to Hava Nagila! Oh, the sweetness of the ceremony. How happy the bride and groom were to be together! Especially after we set them back down on the ground with their heads still attached to their necks.

I doubt I'll ever write anything where I can use a groom-decapitation by ceiling fan. I'm actually not sure I could even put it in a chick lit book, but just thinking about it makes me fingers itch to start typing. Maybe the main character is a bride whose groom met his demise at the wedding? Maybe it's the wedding planner who's career is ruined by letting the family accidentally decapitate the groom? Or the cousin who lifted the groom? Even possibly the slightly older cousin who probably should have known better, but just loves doing that?

Anyway, I'm back home. I'm exhausted and may have pulled my IT band by dancing like a crazy fool and I miss my chick lit.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dead On Delivery and Rocky Moments

Steph was explaining Rocky moments as pertains to romance novels - that moment at the end of the book when - perhaps slightly over the top - love trumps every obstacle. The hero or heroine stands up to fight for thier mate. I'd forgotten this moment - in the romances I loved years ago - the Rocky moment was standard and I think in recent years, because it is so over the top the Rocky moment has fallen by the wayside. Which is too bad, because I love that Rocky moment. And I was reminded of how much I love it when I finished Eileen's Dead On Delivery.

It's not a total romance Rocky moment, she's not standing up for her guy, but she is standing up for herself in a way that was (I'm going to be a little vague in an effort not to spoil anything, because you should totally read this book)

1. Totally believable and yet absolutely subtle. I saw all the negative things she felt about herself, but I just ran with it as part of her snarky sarcastic tone.

2. High stakes - it was absolutely life or death and that's not an easy plot point to get into a book. Though if the book is about things that go bump in the night, it's a little more plausible.

3. Highly effective...I heard the upswell in music, I saw her coming to the center of the ring, broken and battered but with the Eye of The Tiger. I cheered.

So, how about you? Do you miss the Rocky moments? What was your favorite and can you think of one in recent memory?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Game of Thrones, Divergent and Friday Night Lights

I'm writing this post as my first burst of caffeine for the day trickles through my system, so excuse the typos and shaky hands.

I am loving Game of Thrones right now and for so many reasons, but right at the top of the list is my favourite character in the show, the one they first introduced as the imp, Tyrion Lancaster. He is the most fully rounded, interesting character on the show, and played by a remarkable actor. He was first introduced as a whore loving, one note, character, and since then has been revealed as the most intelligent, self-aware character on the show. He's not noble, but he keeps his word. He is not brave, but he can fight if he has to, but usually he chooses not to. He is not usually kind, but when he is, it is towards the disabled, or people on the fringe. He doesn't seem to have friends, but he has struck up a sort of friendship with Stark's bastard son, that is fascinating and has been far more helpful to the son than to Tyrion.

As a character he constantly surprises me, but not in a way that seems out of character.

And I just finished an amazing YA, Divergent. I loved this book, it's fast paced with an engaging heroine and a really interesting world. The heroine isn't prettier, or stronger than anyone else, but she is intelligent and perserveres and the author did an amazing job of showing us why this character really is the heroine of the book. I loved the dystopic world, and even how she resolved the story, while still leaving the story open for the sequel.

And finally, I'm fully caught up on Friday Night Lights. I hate sports, but the football games in this show make my heart stop. And I'm deeply afraid the show is going to break my heart through eighter Luke or Vince. Has anyone seen the entire season? Is it all going to end ok? Are both Vince and Luke going to college?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"I can fix bad writing... I can't fix a blank page."

This is a famous Nora Roberts quote. I’ve heard her say it countless of times in her “Chat With” at Nationals. It is usually in response to the questions she’s asked about how she is able to write so much and so fast. Doesn’t she need to get inspired? No. Doesn’t she need her muse? No. Doesn’t she ever get writer’s block? No.

Nora Roberts goes to work every day and writes. Period. It’s her job to produce pages and she does it. What has me thinking about this line lately is the fact that while she does make it happen every day, it’s not always good. Especially not the first time around and that’s okay.

I’m recently back on a deadline and trying to get myself back into writing shape. For me writing is a muscle. And just like a body can go to crap if you don’t exercise it, my ability to produce pages after going months without doing any serious writing has also gone to crap.

But I’m okay with the effort of rebuilding that writing muscle. It feels good. Like starting a new exercise routine before it gets boring. I feel energized and ready to WRITE! And after getting in a few hours during the week and a lot of hours on the weekend slowly my page count is growing.

The problem was when I was working yesterday I was boring myself with what I was writing. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be for someone to read it. In that moment I panicked.

What’s the point of doing this work if it’s no good? Am I just wasting my time?

Then I remembered that all too famous quote. I can fix what I’ve done. But having nothing, no pages, no boring scenes, no awful stilted dialogue… well that’s just a book not written.

So I continue to plug away and take comfort in the fact that when I’m done I might have four hundred pages of crap – but hopefully it will be fixable crap. I believe I read where Nora wasn’t attending this year’s Nationals and I’ll miss her. I’ll miss that Chat With where she gives the same answers year in and year out to all the newbies who come to find out what her “magic” is. It never hurts to have a refresher course.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

About Chick Flicks

So, I've been thinking about writing a blog on this topic for a while now. At least since I saw that horrible movie with Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson where they go to war over wanting the same venue on the same day for their weddings. I can't remember the movie's name and don't want to dignify it by looking it up.

In that film, two women, who've been best friends all their lives, suddenly act like total animals over something completely trivial. I don't know which is more appalling to me:
- that the writer/producer of the movies believes women behave this way
- that the writer/producer of the movies knows women who behave this way
- than ANYONE above the age of two would behave that way
- that anyone found this mildly funny -- or
- that I actually went to see this movie.

Yes, women get jealous of each other. PEOPLE get jealous of each other. But I've never understood where this stereotype of women attacking other women comes from. As if it's the default behavior of our gender to claw each others eyes out at the slightest provocation. As if we all secretly want each other to fail.

That has not been my experience with any women I have known.

And that brings me to the two movies I saw last night. Yes two. :) It was a good night. (I wrote a short story yesterday, so was rewarding myself.)

What did I see?  Bridesmaids, then Something Borrowed.

I glanced at a review for one of these movies that made me think the reviewer believed these movies fit into this women-attacking-women category, but I beg to differ. Yes, both movies are about women at odds with each other. Long time friends fighting. But the difference is the friendships in both of these movies seem real -- you could tell these women love each other -- and the things they're fighting about aren't as shallow or stupid as who gets to hold their wedding where, and they don't play horrible tricks on each other like dying her best friend's skin orange or her hair blue the day before her wedding. Who does that sort of thing??? Not to mention literally rolling down the aisle in wedding dresses trying to pull each others hair out.

In contrast, I completely bought Kristen Wiig's character's emotions in Bridesmaids. And Maya Rudolph's. Sure, the protagonist (Wiig) had a character arc and wasn't that in touch with her emotions at the beginning of the movie, but I think any woman who's had a best friend or even sister get married, or a friend develop a new friendship that excludes her, or otherwise move into a different phase of her life, can identify with the mixed emotions that Kristen Wiig experiences with her friend. Trying to be happy for her while feeling sad that nothing's going to ever be the same again. Sure, some of the things she does to act out were a tad over the top (it is a comedy) but I totally believed the motivation behind all the actions and it wasn't over something trivial. It was over their friendship. Even Bridesmaid's "mean girl" has a heart in the end and her misdeeds throughout the film are also well motivated.

Same can be said for Something Borrowed. Now the movie's not as great as the book--I don't think the flashback format worked as well on screen as it did in the novel--but the one thing the movie did do well was make me believe the friendship between Rachel and Darcy. Yes, they are very different people. Yes, Darcy is self-centered and Rachel's a push over, but you get that they love each other and the "thing" they are fighting over is happiness.. and that's not trivial. And really they aren't fighting over it... Rachel is fighting with herself over it, battling with the fact that her happiness and her friend's might be at odds.

I wish more movies portrayed female relationships in such a real way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's my birthday!

And I'll apparently forget to post a blog the night before whether I want to or not. Oops!

So I'll just do a quick news update . . . Don't Kill the Messenger is now a finalist for three awards: Bookseller's Best, National Readers Choice and the Prism! I'm completely thrilled. I also got the way good news that Don't Kill the Messenger and Dead on Delivery are going to be re-released next year in mass market paperback. In an interesting twist, they're going to be published by Ace (the science fiction arm of Penguin) rather than Berkley. I'm excited to see what that might mean.

I'v been asked to join a panel on writing paranormal romance at Nationals.

I found two great dresses, one for the Pocket party and one for the Ritas and only need to buy shoes and a purse for one of them.

Oh, and seriously, it's my birthday. I was feeling a little down about it and then my niece pointed out that it's my Gold Rush year. I'm a 49-er, baby!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The fine line between a nice heroine and a martyr

I'm reading a book right now, the title of which will not be mentioned in this blog, where the heroine is a martyr, and such a bore. Seriously, in the book, different characters make mention of her being so brave, and capable, and she is both of those things, sort of.

The sort of being, she operates as any one would under the same circumstances, but in this novel, it's boring, a little too much telling and not enough character tics to make her interesting.

I like a heroine who while she's doing brave, selfless acts gets a little annoyed that her manicure just got ruined, or her favourite dress has dirt on it. Better still if she notices a friend has nicer hair and slightly hates that friend for it. Romance heroines are often too nice. I know romance readers want likeability in their heroines, but while she's saving the puppy from the raging fire that she got a little annoyed that because of the stupid puppy, her new louboutins got a scratch on them.

OK, so I've veered off into chick lit territory. I want to relate to a heroine, not feel shamed by her goodness and never ending good will towards others.

Basic stuff on Agents...

So last week I hope I explained some basics. You must have a finished book to sell fiction. You may or may not need an agent depending upon which market you chose to sell your book. So if you read last week’s blog and have decided you need an agent because you believe you’ve written the next Harry Potter… all new writers think they’ve written the next HP or DaVinci Code or whatever the equivalent genre is... then this is what you need to know.

You can use the internet to extrapolate a lot of information. You can Google, you can see articles written about that agent, you can read articles written by the agent herself. They might have a website, a blog. They might tweet. The point is there is NO excuse for a new writer to submit something stupid to an agent. Something they don’t represent, something not in the format they requested it, something not exactly to the agents liking. None. Not if you are a professional. The information is all there. And it’s free.

I recommend joining Publishers Marketplace. Especially for writers searching for agents. There is a “free” newsletter you can sign up for which will give you a weekly smattering of some of the deals made to NY publishers. But for the low low price of $20 per month you can see deals agents are making for their clients in all genres. This information is invaluable. You can see what type of work agents are representing. You can see what authors agents are representing. And you can see what’s selling to NY. This is BIG. This gives you an insight into what’s coming because the deals that are being made today might not hit the shelves for another year or two. (You knew that didn’t you?)

So after all the research… what comes next?
You need to meet them. My fellow bloggers might disagree – but this is just my humble opinion. MEET them. Now this meet and greet doesn’t have to happen until you decide to be represented by them. But I can tell you that meeting them first will help you in choosing who to send your work to.

In today’s world everything is done through email. You submit a query, you get a response (maybe). If the agent likes your idea – you send a manuscript. You get a response. If the agent thinks he can sell it – you get an offer. This really should be done by phone call.

And that’s when you stop. That’s when you must talk to this person. You must meet this person - if not physically then certainly for a long conversation over the phone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burned by this. Because while you are in the high of being offered representation by an agent – you’re not thinking clearly. You will say YES to anything. They ask if you want to sign with them, you say yes, the next thing the paperwork is in the mail…. And then what? What do you know about this person.

On the web somewhere is a list of questions you should ask an agent before signing. And that’s a good start, but most of all I think you need to get a feel for the person. Can you work with them? Do you two jive? Are you comfortable with this person? So much of that will come into play – especially when the going gets tough. And remember for most the going is going to be tough.

Now for me that’s what conferences are for. Go to them. Even if you don’t have anything to pitch or sell. Meet the players. Go to their talks and workshops. See who these people are. Even that person to person connection can make all the difference.

I once submitted a query to an agent who at the time requested a full manuscript. I then went to a conference and got to see her talk and I was like… no way. I disagreed with just about everything she said and I knew that together as partners it simply wasn’t going to work. She didn’t make an offer – if she had I would have squeeweed and told myself it didn’t matter that I didn’t think we would work well together – but I’m weak. Don’t be me. Be strong.

I have an agent now. An agent I’m comfortable with for the first time in fifteen years. It’s huge. And it’s not something a lot of new writers realize because they are so eager just to have an agent. Trust me. The old adage is true. It’s better to have no agent, than an agent who is not right for you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Personal Stakes

I just finished a really great book. I almost want to mention the title, because it really was a very,  very good book that I read quickly, and actually missed a few subway and streetcar stops over.

But I know the author and what I mostly want to talk about isn't how great it was (and it was great) but why I don't think it was supercalafragalisticexpialadocious. (How the heck do you spell that? I'm sure I could google, but think I'll stick with my spelling. ;)

It's a YA fantasy, but the genre I think the book is closest to is an amateur detective story. (And in fact, it's been nominated for an Edgar.) It's set in this marvelous fantasy world that's beyond clever and the writing is very strong. But, and maybe this is why I don't read a lot of detective stories, what was missing for me was personal stakes. The hero of the story didn't have enough personally invested. I didn't believe the crime he was trying to uncover mattered enough to him, or maybe it simply didn't matter enough to me.

In the end I think it is a genre preference and explains why I don't tend to watch the crime/detective shows on TV, unless the shows are highly filled with the drama (love lives) of the recurring characters', or the show really delves into why the crimes are being committed (like Flashpoint).

But it also reminds me of something I think I heard Donald Maass say (might have been someone else...) and that was to create a bestselling blockbuster, not only do you need personal stakes, the hero needs to be threatened from two sides -- both the good guys and the bad guys. With dire consequences for him/her should either side catch up with him/her before the crime is solved. Think The Firm.

In this book, the hero was threatened from two sides, but, well, did it matter enough if either side caught him? Especially the good guys side? Although the detective after him was the a terrifying re-imagining of Snow White--no, not the evil queen--Snow White!! Maybe I'm talking myself out of my criticism for this particular book. I need to talk to Sinead (who's not around this week) because she and her husband are the only other people I know who've read it...

What about everyone else? Is an amateur detective solving a crime enough for you? Or do you prefer the hero/heroine to have something personally invested in the outcome.

For this book, it was enough for me. Totally. Because the world was so cool and the writing so awesome. But put it in another world and I don't think the stakes were high enough.

Okay, I think I've talked myself out of my criticism, I think the hero did have personal stakes, but they were internal, rather than external. He needed to believe he wasn't going to turn out like his father... But many people in the story tell him he's not like his father... So, I'm not sure I believed he was truly scared that he was...

Regardless, even if I've mostly talked myself out of my criticism while writing this post, this book did make me think about personal stakes. And everyone should read the book, so I'm going to mention the title after all. :)

The totally awesome book I've been talking about is Dust City by Robert Paul Weston. The hero is the son of the wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. How cool is that???

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All Dressed Up

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of all the women on TV being dressed inappropriately. I’m tired of the lawyers and CIA Directors going to work dressed like they were going to a cocktail party. I loved Covert Affairs and Fairly Legal, but the bosses on those shows were always dressed in ways that would make HR call them in for a chat.

And Bones? Seriously? Brennan is supposed to be all unaware of social conventions, but she shows up every day in stylish, perfectly accessorized outfits with her hair falling in effortless waves? I know a few Aspergerish scientist chicks and trust me when I tell you, they don’t know how to dress like that.

Even on Grey’s Anatomy! Nobody looks like that in scrubs. Nobody. Those have to be special cocktail scrubs.

I know I’m exaggerating. I’m pretty sure all those Law and Order assistant DAs dressed reasonably. There are probably more. Maybe I’m just feeling old and dowdy. My birthday is rolling around soon and I’m feeling my age these days.

So what do you think are the most egregious examples of characters being inappropriately dressed on TV or in the movies?

Monday, May 16, 2011

ROOM, point of view and emotional intensity

I read the book ROOM this weekend. For those that aren't familiar it's the story of Jack, a five year old boy who has spent his entire life with his Ma, in a 12 by 12 foot garden shed, kept prisoner by his mother's kidnapper and rapist.

Everyone who'd read this book says it's uplifting and as I typed that sentence above I'm amazed yet again by how uplifting it truly was. And at the same time what was terrifying and sad about the book - which for the most part is inferred, or revealed sideways or happens to some extent off page - has taken over my life for the last twenty-four hours. And the tool the incredible author uses to create the uplifting and the terrifying is the same damn tool - POV.

Jack loves his mom. This is the only world he's ever known, she has chosen not to tell him that there is an outside. He is content. Happy. We get page long descriptions of how and why he loves Dora The Explorer. (Something Ma uses when it's time to make their escape - effing brilliant.)

So, the world is dramatic but the emotion and drama are dialed down because our POV character is really so happy, but that made the moments that were dramatic - the escape and a few others I don't want to spoil - so terrifying I had to skim them. But because there's this whole other story - Ma's - hinted at, and revealed in parts by Jack, my imagination has been going crazy putting together those pieces, imagining her story.

I remember something Laura Kinsale said about taking the emotions out of the big emotional scenes - and I so agree with this (but can never seem to do it, because I'm a more is more kind of writer) if you've done your job those big scenes, the big heartbreaks - they're there without any words and a lot of times that's more effective than bashing a reader over the head.

Head on emotional writing feels old to me right now, I'm a little tired of finding other words for 'pain.' But showing the big emotional scenes through the corner of a character's eyes, on the fringes, there but secondary and sometimes so totally opposite to the day to day reality of that character - also an amazing way to play it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bookstuff 101

Last week Maureen mentioned possibly giving out information for some of our more newbie followers. Don’t even know if we have newbie followers, but I figured a refresh in the abc’s of how to get published might be helpful.

Also I can reuse this post the next time anyone says… “Oh you’re a writer. My (hairdresser’s daughter’s third cousin once removed fill in any other blank here___) is a writer. How should she go about getting published?”

1. Have a finished book. The last page needs to say The End. The word count (if you’re writing for something besides category romance) should be at least 65,000 words. That’s probably too short for most books too – but I figure if you can string together 65,000 words you’ve got a good start.

2. Put that book away in a drawer because it’s probably not any good and start writing a new one…. Just kidding (I’m so not.) But that is not what newbies want to hear. They want the part about fame and fortune. So I’ll just leave it at if you think this book is good enough - which means you’ve read it back to yourself and you still think it’s the cat’s meow – then on to step 3.

3. What does the agent do? The agent makes contacts within the publishing industry and establishes a reputation for having a good taste. So when they say to editor So and So at Publishers What and What – “Hey I’ve got this really talented author who has written a great book. Do you want to be the lucky lucky publisher to pay me for it so in return you can make lots of money too?” Publisher pays an advance, agent takes a cut, writer gets the rest. Then anything beyond the advance of earned royalties gets split. Publishers bulk, writer a little bit. Agent gets 15% of your little bit.

4. Do you need an agent? Yes. If you want to publish with a mainstream NY publisher that is not Harlequin – then yes. Why? Because let’s say 100,000 people think they can write a book other people will pay money to read. The reality is that of those 100,000 probably only 10,000 can. Of the 10,000 only maybe 5,000 are the “right” book for the “right” time. Publishers don’t want to deal with 90,000 bad books. Agents find the 10,000 good books. The publishers scoop up the 5,000 they “think” will make money. And of those only maybe 500 will go on to be books that will make big money. These numbers are of course made up –hope they give you a scope of things.

5. Do you need an agent? No. Nothing but easy answers here folks. If want to try an indie publisher/electronic only publisher/ or you want to self publish – or you specifically write category romance - which really only Harlequin publishes – then you don’t necessarily have to have an agent.

6. Why are these publishers different? Because they will pay out less or no advance so they take less risk, and can open themselves up to more than just “agented” writers. If you are self-publishing – you obviously take all the risk and get no money until people buy your book.

7. What is Electronic Publishing vs Self Publishing. A “self” published book is a book you would put online to allow people to purchase and read. Putting it on line – cheap. Printing it, Cover Art, distribution – not cheap. So today most selfpublished books are offered electronically. You wrote it, we assume you edited, you plan to market it and you used a service that allows for the purchase of said books i.e. Amazon. You get 70% of all profits. (At least through Amazon.) An electronic book can by any book by a publisher or self-publisher that is offered in an electronic format. Big NY publishers today publish hardback, paperback and electronic books. Some publishers will only publish books in an electronic format. Why? See the bit about cheap above. Got it?

8. Why have a publisher? Because they work on the book with you. They edit it, they give it a cover, they market it to buyers and readers. Here is how it translates. You make a widget – you can sell it yourself at a stand in front of your house. You keep all the profits. Or you give it to Walmart and let them sell it all over the country. They take the bulk of the profits – but give you some. Now what’s changing here is the internet is making that stand outside your home a little bigger. But think about it folks – readers still need to find your little corner of the world.

Okay, those were the things I needed to understand first. Because writing is creative but publishing is a business. Unless you have a grasp of the business you shouldn't be swimming in the pool.

Storytelling Rules

I went to a screening of The English Patient on Monday evening that had a talk with author Michael Ondaatje following.

I still love that movie and it stands, for me, as one of the most amazing adaptations of a book ever. Not because it adapted the novel directly, but because it didn't. Because it found the compelling story hidden inside the poetic and difficult to penetrate novel. Because it took beautiful images from the novel that didn't have any tension or forward plot momentum and managed to create scenes, relevant to the story, to show those beautiful images. I mean, they changed a flashback about a University lecture on wind into a life-or-death scene that was also pivotal to the romance they chose to tell. (In the book, I much preferred the Kip/Hanna romance and barely noticed the Katherine/Amalsy one...)

The late, amazingly talented, Anthony Minghella wrote the screenplay (and directed) but Ondaatje was involved in early discussions about how to make the novel into a film and gave extensive notes and thoughts on not only the first 4 or 5 drafts of the screenplay, but was also involved in the film's editing.  He said that he, Minghella and the producer spent 3 full days of meetings going over notes on each of the first four drafts. Pretty unusual for an novelist to be involved to that extent in a movie and goes to the mutual respect that Ondaatje and Minghella had for each other.

One great example of Ondaatje's lack of ego over having his novel changed was this paraphrased quote: I love the book Beloved, so I don't think I could bear to see the movie made of it, but I was happy to let someone do a movie of The English Patient. He also said something like: They didn't do anything to my novel. My novel is still the same. 

But while all that was fascinating to hear about, what really struck me were the few examples Ondaatje gave as things he learned from the filmmaking process, both from Minghella and from the editor, Murch, about storytelling. Things that seemed very basic to me. Things I learned within the first year of novel writing.

For example, Kip, in the novel, doesn't appear until about halfway through. Minghella insisted that if he was a main character, he needed to appear near the beginning of the movie, hence they added a scene at the start, where Hanna runs into a mine field and Kip is there.

The Caravaggio character's role in the movie was also very different in the book vs the movie. (Beyond the fact that they made the Canadian characters from Montreal, not Toronto. Annoying to me!) In the book, he shows up because he knows Hanna from Toronto, and while he adds some flavor and probably a little tension (it's been a long time since I read the book) he's actually part of the plot in the movie and he's key to tying the plots of Hanna in the present to the plot of Almasy in the past. In the movie, Caravaggio doesn't know Hanna. He goes to the church looking for Almasy (The English Patient) to exact revenge. Same/similar character, some of the same scenes, but TOTALLY different use of that character. Minghella knit all of Ondaatje's disparate pieces together.

I think what most struck me (beyond how brilliant all these changes were, because I already thought that) but how none of these things had occurred to Ondaatje. He said that he actually added a small scene with a previously late arriving character in his next novel, Anil's Ghost, as a result of learning that "tip" from the movie makers.

Now don't get me wrong. Ondaatje still thinks he wrote the novel the way it should have been written. He still thinks that practically every character having multiple, out of order flashbacks was the best way to write The English Patient. He still thinks that long, beautiful passages in the POV of characters who just walk on screen, but have  nothing to do with the story was the right choice for the novel. But he could see that they weren't the right choices for the medium of movie storytelling and he seemed to loved that. To have enjoyed learning about more structured storytelling.

It's such an interesting hypothetical question to me... If he'd written The English Patient using a more conventional storytelling structure, he might not have won the Booker (and all the other awards) but I think the book still would have been an amazing bestseller, maybe even a bigger bestseller, and more people who bought it would have actually read it. :)  (I remember seeing it on a list of the top 10 books people have bought but couldn't get through reading.)

At the end, Ondaatje told us a story about a man who came up to him at the movie premiere, and thinking he was the screenwriter, told him how he thought it was fabulous how he wrote such an amazing screenplay based on such a terrible book. That got a big laugh and I love that Ondaatje thought it was funny, too.

Molly and Sinead know that early on this writing thing I had ambitions of writing more literary novels, but listening to Ondaatje on Monday night, while I completely admire what he does, I realized yet again that I prefer story over art in books. Sure, you can pull a conventional storytelling structure apart and make it creative and cool (The Time Traveler's Wife, anyone?) but I do like to be able to find that through line and I thought it was hilarious that Ondaatje, such a famous and acclaimed novelist, acted as if he didn't previously understand some of those basic storytelling conventions.

Other pleasant surprise of the night? I totally forgot that Naveen Andrews played Kip. Such a beautiful man. Who couldn't love a movie with Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Naveen Andrews. Yum.

 Photo from http://fanzone50.com

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My process

It's not like I don't know that I have an easier time getting to the heart of things when I talk things out. My husband used to tell people that I was an "external processor." Actually he threatened someone with it. Just a local vendor that was screwing with us, but he basically said that we lived in a small community, that I had a lot of friends and that I tended to talk. It was apparently all HE needed to say. Whatever.

Anyway, I was trying to decide what the first scene of the new proposal I was working on would be. I had two good candidates. I'd been turning them over in my head and I'd half decided that I would write both of them and then see which one felt right. Then I started talking to my son about it. After just a few minutes, I realized he was totally right. I needed to start with Melina's search for her werewolf friend, Paul, and not in spin class with her mother. I congratulated Alex on being ever so perspicacious and thanked him for helping me.

He laughed, pointed out that he hadn't actually said anything and then reminisced about several other items that I'd done exactly the same thing. He then returned to his usual state of ignoring me and watching the basketball finals.

So apparently that's my process. What I don't get is, if I don't need the other person to say anything, why can't I get the same clarity by just saying it out loud to myself? And if there's no one there to hear it, why can't I just think it through? Why do I have to subject the people I love the most to my meandering half-formed thoughts? And what is it about it that makes me thing that they've give me the answers?

Monday, May 09, 2011

What the F$*# does "finesse" mean?

I got my edits email from my editor the other day and then, a few days later, my edit phone call. The notes are straight forward and a few days ago, I thought the work was straight forward too. But know that I'm knee deep in the manuscript, covered in story guts and severed plot lines, I have no effing clue what "finesse" means. Because I'm supposed to finesse a lot of things right now, and I can't see for the carnage of editing.

Right now, where I'm at in my head and in this book, the only editorial that makes sense, is cut it. If it doesn't work, just cut the whole thing right out. Because I probably didn't need it anyway. Maureen told me this over beer the other day and I frowned at her and griped and said "I don't want to talk about this anymore." Clearly, I am a fully grown adult writer.

But she was right, so I cut out a bunch of stuff that I was supposed to finesse, but finessing it just made it more confusing. Because, probably, I don't know how to finesse. I think I'm more of a blunt instrument writer - finesse is for better writers. Better writers who know more words? I know about 50.

My other very sophisticated editorial tool at this moment is something I like to call "do the opposite." If it's not working, don't bother finessing, just do the opposite. I'm amazed at how often this works. If it doesn't work with her in the room, take her out of the room. It's like I don't just get it a little wrong the first time, I get it all the way wrong.

I'm about to open my laptop and step back into the story gore, and my manuscript is shaking with terror, beacuse it probably wants to be finessed. It wants to be nuanced and massaged and I keep showing up with a hammer and a hacksaw, because I have no idea what those other words mean in relationship to my book. So....anyone know?

Friday, May 06, 2011


There is a commercial on TV right now that is driving me crazy. It's for a detergent, and it's one of those, "real person test' travesty commercials with the testers being a blond woman with long hair and a brunnette with hair that can only be called a bowl cut "joyce dewitt" style, and bad glasses.

And of course the brunette with the bad hair is the smart one and the blond the flighty idiot. I take exception on behalf of both blondes and brunettes, but also, seriously. A national commercial, and these lazy, ridiculous cliches are the best the advertising company could come up with?

Every genre is a breeding ground for cliches, but the books I enjoy the most find a way to turn cliches on their head. Sherry Thomas does this over and over again. I no longer want to read about the uptight governess who secretly desires the rake. But if you give me the uptight laywer who falls for the wrong woman, than I'm in.

One of the storylines I love the most right now is on The Vampire Diaries(I know, I won't give up talking about this show, but it's great) They had the spoiled blond teenager, who was as annoying as she sounds, but then she's turned into a vampire. This transformation makes her more powerful, but also more caring. She's more human now that she's a vamp. It's great, and something Joss Whedom used to do with his characters. Take the annoying, shallow girl and make her someone the audience truly cares about.

Any other good cliche turn arounds out there? Cliches people hate?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

"I live my life between reality and fantasy..."

This was an awesome quote I heard from Lady Gaga on Ellen that I’ve decided to adopt as my own personal mantra. I’m not going to lie – I took a lot of flack (all good natured of course) for taking a day off to watch the Royal Wedding.

Words like… “pathetic” and “no life” were used with great frequency. Again no one was intending to be mean spirited but it did make me think a little. I mean I really really loved watching that wedding.

The sad truth is if I could - I would live my life reading books, watching movies and television. Now I’m not a total recluse. I have a fairly active life. I’ve traveled a lot and enjoyed everyplace I’ve visited. But if someone said to me you can never leave your home again – as long as I had access to books I would be okay with that. If someone said you can travel the world extensively but you can never read or write again – I would be devastated beyond anything I could imagine.

This is probably not great. I would love maybe a little more balance in my life. My mother would REALLY love for me to have more balance. (Interpret balance as husband, children, white picket fence etc). But I realize that part of my content with my single-no-kids life is the fact that it gives me more time to read.

And truly any real relationship I’ve had has always fallen flat in comparison to a really good romance novel. Real relationships are complicated and messy and tricky and up and down. Blind dates are typically boring and awkward and 99% are total busts.

A good book has romantic tension and instant chemistry and great sex. It gives me all of the complications of a relationship but ties it up in a nice ribbon at the end to my total satisfaction.

Now some might think I need therapy and please know that much of what I’m saying is tongue in cheek. Of course I know that a real relationship is better than a good book. (Except let me remind everyone you never have to pick up dirty socks from a good book. A good book doesn’t NOT unload the dishwasher… just saying.)

However, I can own up to the idea that I do live my life between reality and fantasy. I need both sides. In fact since my writing has been next to nil these last few months I find myself agitated like never before. Like I’m being pulled too far into reality and it’s chafing me. I need to go back to fantasyland.

So am I crazy or could this be the truth for all writers? That to truly produce a story (in any format) they have to spend at least part of their life in fantasyland.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

I met with a friend of a friend yesterday who's written a novel and wanted to talk to me about how to get published. I was super happy to do this and honestly just hoped I wouldn't sound too jaded or too negative. (And to be 100% honest, I didn't want to tell her how hard it is, and then feel like an idiot when she sells her first book for a million dollars next week. Because that does happen. Sometimes. Just not to me.)

But in the end, the conversation went much differently than I'd been expecting, and it struck me how much I've learned over the past (um) nearly nine years since I started to learn about writing and publishing. Molly and I did a workshop called Romance 101 in January and I was worried that some of the material we covered was too basic and boring some of the participants, but based on the questions that came up after, we might have made the opposite mistake.

And the same thing happened when I met with this woman. We didn't even touch on the craft side of things (where I know I've done the majority of my learning) and talking with her I remembered that I honestly had no idea about the basics of the business of publishing when I first started. Terms like agents and queries and editors and royalties and how they all work, all seem so common knowledge to me now, but talking to a newbie I realized just how far I've come, how much I've learned.

And because it's my birthday, I'm posting a photo of me at about 13. No, I'm not going to tell you how many years ago that was, but the octagon wire-framed glasses might be a clue. Thanks to Barrie Summy for encouraging me to dig out a photo for her blog. She wanted a snap of me when I was the age that my readers are now.

Talking to this new writer last night also reminded me that we used to talk about more craft and publishing business topics on this blog... I wonder if any of readers miss that or would like more "content" on occasion.

Thoughts anyone? Anything you'd like us to talk about? I'm an open book. (No pun intended.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Time Management

A couple of months ago, my niece (the fabulous and talented Sophie Leininger) complimented me on how well I was keeping my life balanced. I'll admit, I was feeling pretty in control at the time and it felt good to have it be recognized. I was writing every day, exercising, working my day job, remembering a friend's birthday and visiting my mother on a regular basis.

Oh, how I miss those halcyon days. Someone asked what I was working on this weekend and when I heard my own explanation (I'm taking a break from the proposal I was working on to do page proofs on a different project, but I need to get the proposal done so I can get back to the rough draft that's due in September) I felt like I'd lost my mind.

Now mind you, I'm happy to have this problem. They're all projects I'm happy and excited to be writing. I'm also thrilled to go to my son's soccer tournaments (Go Chaos United!) and attend my cousin's wedding and go with my sweetheart to his father's memorial services (well, I'm not HAPPY about that, but you get my drift). Still it's all time and I'm starting to freak out a little bit.

I need to remove some of the distractions and settle down to get some work done, but the distractions don't seem to want to be removed. I keep thinking that the next week will be the one where I have some blocks of time to really work and then my mother has a dental emergency or my son gets sick or, well, you know. It's making me incredibly anxious and since my baseline is already a fairly high level of anxiety, it's not good.

Soccer season ends in a few short weeks. My mother's jaw has been successfully recontoured (don't ask). The wedding is coming up and will soon be past and I can settle down and get some work done. Right?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Real Life Inspiration

Wow - what a weekend for world events. A Royal Wedding and the bloody end of a ten year hunt for the deadliest terrorist of our time. The twenty-four hour news shows FINALLY have some news to fill all those hours.

Most of the world is breathing a sigh of relief over the end of Bin Laden (none more so than Kate and William who can slink back to regular royal life)and I hope the widows, widowers and children of the innocent victims of 9/11 have some closure.

It's hard to stop watching TV to get more information on the last moments of Bin Laden's life. Waiting for them to rerun the clips of the blood-splattered bedroom, the mansion on fire. Which is weird and morbid, but I'm still doing it.

I'm sure all of us writers are watching the news and thinking of the angles - the stories. We're taking these real life events and finding the room for fiction. We did it with the Royal Wedding and now, this CIA kill mission. And what's been great about this weekend, as I'm feeling utterly devoid of inspiration or even will to write, my brain has found something to chew on.

So, what I'm thinking about:

Obviously, that Navy SEAL team. We'll probably never know the names of the men who stormed that mansion, but they know and that's exciting stuff. Imagining those men has made Brockman a super star and I have no intention of trying - but they're fun to think about.

That burial at sea seems really convenient to me, which has made me wonder - perhaps Bin Laden is not what we thought he was...did they bring him onto that ship only to find out he was...cyborg? Dragon? A woman?

I'm also wondering about that mansion outside of Islamabad. Was that his house? Did someone there betray Bin Laden? It seems like US forces knew where he was for a while, but I like to pretend right now that Bin Laden just came out of whatever rat hole he was living in in the mountains, to take a shower and spew his poison. And someone at that house betrayed him. In my mind it was a woman.

So, how about you - inspired by recent events? Still processing? Jubuliant over the end of a terrorist? Still wondering what the Royal Counsins were thinking with those hats and dresses at the wedding?
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