Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Be Norman Jewison = My New Goal

I'm joking, of course. Not about to go into film making. But the past few weeks I've seen a handful of Normal Jewison films as part of a retrospective put on by the TIFF and it's been kind of inspiring.

He was there to introduce a couple of them and I understand he'll be at the screening of Jesus Christ Superstar that I'm going to tomorrow evening. I bought the ticket after I learned he'd be there... (I know, crazy person going to all these films right before the festival starts. I call it stretching.)

Anyway, on the weekend I saw a rarely seen film of his called Gaily, Gaily. It was filmed in the 1960's, set in the 1910's and starred a very young Beau Bridges (playing a teenager) and an even younger Margot Kidder. In fact, the credits read: Introducing Margot Kidder.

I have a feeling the reason this film is so rare is that many Americans would consider its message to be "communist", but like so many of his films, it's critical of American society -- in this film: greed and corruption.

The film was fun, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about. Before the film, a big-wig from, um, Sony-Pictures Classics? (or one of the really big studios) introduced Jewison and then talked to him on stage for an hour. And he showed clips of 3 of Jewison's films (2 of which I'd just seen in the past few weeks--In the Heat of the Night, and In Justice for All. The third was In Country. At which I cried. At a 5 minute clip. Now I need to rent that movie. Bruce Willis. Who knew?) Anyway, the studio guy kept repeating that Norman Jewison was one of 3 or 4 filmmakers of all time whose work was a) universally appealing (he meant to a global audience) b) highly commercial, and c) art -- about something.

I don't know if "art" is the right word, but I get what the guy meant. The reason that so many of Jewison's films have become classics or are considered iconic is because he hit that sweet spot where commercial met the stories he wanted to tell. He turned Gaily, Gaily, a cutting look at politics and corruption (with definite socialist leanings... the book it was based on was written in 1910 after all), into a silly sex farce set at the turn of the century. He turns a film about civil rights into a murder mystery. He turns a cutting look at the growing power of big corporations (Rollerball) into a violent, action-paced sci-fi sports film. No matter what's at the core, his films are commercial.

At both the screening of In the Heat of the Night, and in this discussion before Gaily, Gaily Jewison told a story about meeting Robert Kennedy the winter before he started shooting and giving Kennedy a synopsis. (The two men were both in a hospital waiting room in Sundance, Idaho where both of their sons, by coincidence, had broken their legs skiing on the same day.) Anyway, the way Jewison tells it now, Kennedy told him that In the Heat of the Night was going to be an important film and Jewison claims he'd never even thought about the film in that way before that point. He just loved the story and was fascinated by the interaction and human dynamic between the two main characters. Yes, Jewison is someone who cared deeply about the civil rights movement and I'm sure that's why he chose that project (based on a book), but mostly, he claims, he was just hoping that people would turn up to see the film.

And really, isn't that what it's about? Because if no one shows up to see your film, or if no one buys your book, then who cares what fabulous ideas you included, or what beautiful sentences you crafted... Isn't it about sharing those ideas? And they aren't shared if no one wants to see the film or read the book.

If a book gets printed and nobody reads it, does it exist?

Clearly feeling existential this evening. I blame The Bachelor Pad. ;) That's what I should have posted about. :) So much more highbrow.

Fav line of this week? (and there were many, I was clapping and bouncing on my sofa a few times...)

Blake (with electric toothbrush in mouth): Give me four minutes and then we can talk.

Only a dentist could get away with using that excuse to postpone talking to the crazy chick.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Full of Hope

Okay. The rough is done. It's a huge relief. All the scenes are there (I think). All the major turning points. All the character arcs.

This rough, however, takes rough to a whole new level of rough. Nothing is in order. Stuff came out of me sometimes according to character arc, sometimes according to philosophical underpinnings, sometimes (apparently very rare times) according to plot. There's going to be some crazy wild revising going on here.

I will get frustrated. I will get mad at myself. I will get crazy. But at the moment, I am a little bit thrilled. This book means so much to me and I really think some of the things in it are really important. It's been a challenge. I've been terrified of it. Right now, it's thrilling me. Andy keeps nodding and saying, "Phase Four."

I love this part of writing. I love when all the pieces are there, but they're rough and ugly and now I can use those more refined skills to massage things into place, to turn phrases, to create great scene endings. In another week, I'll probably again be convinced that it's a terrible book and the end of my career, but for now I'm hopeful and I'm sticking with that.

What's your favorite part of writing? Which phase? Does your family know which one you're in just by how you talk about your project?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fringe and how to build a believable heroine

I watched the first season of Fringe when it hit TV, got frustrated half way through and stopped, but since then, Maureen and Entertainment Weekly have convinced me to give it another shot.

What frustrated me about season 1 was that I didn't buy the heroine. I didn't believe her when she fired her gun, didn't believe her when she stripped to her underwear to climb into a sensory deprivation tank for the benefit of science, (and not for the hordes of teenage boys they were trying to attract to the show,) and didn't buy that this woman would be a successful FBI agent.

But when I picked up season 2 and started watching it, that all changed. I totally buy into the main heroine. First the show has stopped trying to create a sex symbol and instead they created a character. And this FBI agent wears flat, black shoes, loose black suits and a button up shirt that is untucked and not skin tight. She ties her hair into a ponytail when she works, she gets injured and takes several episodes to heal and when she fires her gun, I believe it now. I believe that woman, the one who dresses seriously, seems to wear no makeup and when she wakes in the morning, her hair is messy and even frizzy.

As the new TV season starts, and we get into a host of female dominated shows, where women will run wearing six inch stilletos, fight hand to hand wearing tight jeans and work a twelve hour day without a hint of a mascara smudge, I love that Fringe has committed to creating a realistic, intelligent female character while no longer caring what the teenage boy wants.

Because let's face it, he'll be watching the new Charlie's Angels tv show, and I'll still be watching fringe.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Earthquake in New Jersey... Seriously?

I don’t know if you all watch the news, but the east coast… that’s right Eileen the “east coast” - suffered a 5.9 earthquake yesterday.

I was heading back to my office after lunch wondering if the window washers were at it again when I saw the windows shake slightly. It took about five seconds to register what was happening. (I experienced an earthquake once when living in Seattle many many years ago so eventually I got a clue.)

I urged everyone under the doorways. I think I saw that in a movie or television show once – so it's good that I was using TV as some kind of survival guide.
Then I rode it out for a couple of more seconds with my co-workers. I might have giggled nervously. I might have.

When something like this happens you naturally take stock. What might have been if…? What was the worst that could have happened? More importantly… how did you react?

I’m a big believer in people finding out the most about themselves in crisis. As writers - isn't that what we are always doing with our characters? Natural disaster is one of those ‘BIG’ moments. What are your instincts? How does the adrenaline rush feel? What do you really want to do when crash hits? Have sex (like in so many romance novels) or lie down and take a Tylenol?

This was a minor event. A small tremor where for maybe 10 seconds total the earth shook and it freaked me the hell out. I didn’t cry. My first instinct was to tell people what to do (not shocking) and I tried to laugh as if it was okay but really I was wondering like everyone else if the building was suddenly going to collapse.

I want to point out… bring me a hurricane any day of the week. This we understand in New Jersey. Earthquake, mudslides, fires and tornados… not so much.

This will be good for my writing. We take so much of what we extrapolate from real life “as seen on the news” into how we think our characters will behave in certain situations. This is a good reminder the real thing – no matter how scary – is good research.

What about you? Did any of you shake a little?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fright Night—Three Thumbs Up

So, I’ve never really been one to like horror films—and it’s not only because I’m not a fan of being scared (although I am a bit of a ‘fraidy cat)—it’s more about the fact that they mostly seem dumb to me. Gore for gore’s sake, weak plots, stupid characters (if one can even call them characters), and teenaged girls running around in their underwear (or less) and screaming. But I was lured into the lair of Fright Night by two factors, or should I say two cute boys—Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin.

I’ve admired Yelchin as a young actor since the fabulous but underrated TV show Huff and I figured if he was in this, chances were it wasn’t that dumb. And Farrell? Well, even if the movie was dumb, watching him for 90 minutes would be a redeeming quality. ☺

So, I suppose I went in with relatively low but hopeful expectations, and boy was I pleasantly surprised. Because Molly loves lists, here are the top 10 reasons I liked it.

  1. The vampires are scary monsters. Seriously scary monsters. No sparkling. 
  2. The plot holds together and—there actually is a plot. Sure, the main plot is pretty much: kill the evil vampire and live, but it was a really well structured story. 
  3. There were real characters. Well developed characters. Even characters who could have been throw-away stereotypes had some interesting quirks and inconsistencies that made them three dimensional. 
  4. The supernatural world holds together. Sure, to pull off a teenaged boy defeats an ancient evil vampire story the writer needs to put some tools and knowledge in the kid’s path to help, but the way those elements were introduced—it made sense and all hung together. 
  5. The girls weren’t stupid. The main character’s girlfriend was not only not stupid, she was brave and fought too. She wasn’t just a pretty victim for the hero to save. And we believed why she was with the main character beyond: the geeky guy in a horror movie needs a hot girl to save for no apparent reason reason. Even the neighbour who was basically a walk-on female character, who had maybe two lines, wasn’t a total dumb blonde stereotype. 
  6. There were lots of places that made me jump – but there were also lots of seriously funny parts. And not just making fun of the movie, funny. Actually funny. Smart funny. 
  7. Minimal TSTL moments. Yes, twice early on in the film characters run up stairs in a house when clearly they should be running out the back door... and I did roll my eyes at the time. But it turned out they actually had reasons to go upstairs, even if they weren’t instantly apparent as they started up the stairs. 
  8. Toni Collete is always awesome. (And did I mention Colin Farrell?)
  9. A small suburb outside of Las Vegas made a smart setting for a vampire movie—lots of people work at night and sleep during the day, so even blacked out windows aren’t that odd. 
  10. It was just plain good fun and how can you not like a teen horror movie where there’s actually character development? 

Phew, I made it to ten. ☺

Basically, throughout the entire movie all I could think of was how well it was done. Then the credits rolled. Written by Marti Noxon. I know that name. She used to write for Buffy. And then it all made sense.

Smart writer = smart screenplay = smart horror movie.

Yes, there was lots of blood and gore (and I saw it in 3D) but I really liked the way it all hung together. Has anyone else seen it?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Justified! No need for spoiler alerts!

Finally! I have science on my side! I have long been one of those people who must read the end of a book before I get there. It's too stressful to me to not know and I like seeing the way an author twists and turns things. Now, according to a study by UC San Diego, I was right all along.

Yep. Spoilers enhance our enjoyment of stories. In fact, spoilers may help us reach a deeper understanding of the story.

So . . . all you people who have looked at me with horror on their faces, all you people who have said that it's "cheating" to read the end of the story, to you I say HA! It's not just that I'm neurotic. It's science.

So are you an end reader? Or no?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hair and bachelor Pad

Because at this point in my life, I have absolutely nothing to offer on craft, and there seems to be a drastic absence of anything good on TV and me getting out to see a movie seems like a laughable concept, I have only Bachelor Pad to talk about.

Which is a tremendously sad statement on my life, and the glee with which I approach this show is bordering on pitiful.

That said, this week was the same soul sucking absence of anything worthwhile about the human condition, it did show some really interesting hair. Not just hair, but some pretty obvious extensions, so basically fake hair. Obviously there are no hairdressers in the pad, and the camera men are trying gamely not to show them completely from behind, unless they are in bikinis, and so the detail I noticed this week are that hair extensions are pretty obvious if your hair is stick straight.

And continually dying hair bright blond is pretty bad for hair as well, so in the bad lighting split ends and frizzies were everywhere.

So what does this have to do with writing. Well, truthfully almost nothing. Except reality television still gives me some of the most unique details about characters, like the hair thing, while showing the most broad characteristics out there. Kasey as a villain is so obvious because he practically cackles after every statement he makes. And even when you feel bad for a person, they still find a way to be awful, like the vapid blond chick who is humiliated when every guy in the house picks her as the least attractive and so she says horrible things about another girl to make herself feel better. That was a character detail that actually rang true to me.

And there, I just managed to justify the two hours that show will suck from my life this coming Monday.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Final Stretch

This blog will be super short today. All my energies are being poured into my WIP which is due in two weeks. Every word I type here is like one I’m taking away from my book.

Word count requirements….ughhhh. Darn publishers wanting things the way they want them.

But it is nice to take a break from the stress of the end. You know how it is, you can see the end in sight and you’re just typing and typing as fast as you can to get there. Pushing and pushing to make sure you hit that right word count number at the end of the chapter.

I love the end. I hate the end. I love deadlines because they push me to work harder. I hate deadlines because they stress me the heck out.

And people wonder why writers drink!

Okay that’s it. It’s all I can spare. This blog cost me 182 words and now I’m going to have to come up with a way to make that up. Here we go – the final stretch – DEEP BREATH.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Google What?

Has anyone else played around with Google +?

I have to say, I really like it and if everyone I'm in contact with on Facebook and Twitter would move over to Google +, that would be awesome. *I"m waiting*

Alas, there is the rub with all these social networking things. You don't use the one that works best or has the best features, you use the one where everyone else is hanging out. Five or so years ago, that was MySpace and I hated MySpace. I did set up a page because all the workshops on how to promote yourself as a writer said I had to (it's probably still there) and made a very feeble attempt to get "friends" but found it mostly annoying. Then FB in the early days was so awesome. But lately I mostly find it annoying, too. It's like they're making it more commercial (ads, letting corporations set up pages) and at the same time making it WAY more difficult to use it, if one of your main aims in using it is commercial.... Or especially if you have dual aims... to use it to interact with actual friends and with, well, virtual friends and people you hope might read your books.

And Google + takes the best stuff from Facebook but sets it up the way you wish Facebook worked.

First, you can follow someone in a one-sided way and vice versa... That is, you don't need to accept me as a "friend" in order for me to follow your public updates and vice versa. In this, it's more like Twitter.

And... it's super easy to group everyone you choose to follow into groups -- called circles on google plus. So you can filter what you look at. "Only show me updates from people in this particular circle." That's possible on FB, too, but they've now buried their friend lists so deeply it makes me crazy. And it's very hard to manage your friend lists on FB. (Does anyone know how to delete an empty friend list???) Whereas it's easy to manage circles on Google +.

But I haven't even got to the best part yet. Every time you "share" or "post" you can choose who you want to share it with. No. It's not one main setting for the entire system buried under pages of security options. EVERY TIME you post, you can choose to share it with the public (everyone) or just certain circles, or just certain people. Awesomely flexible.

For authors and other people who have multiple reasons to use social networking sites, this verges on nirvana. I can share family photos with only my family. I can share a book review with everyone on the planet. I can share an article on writing or publishing with only other writers. Awesome.

And whereas it's possible to see who's added you to their circles, you can't see to what circles... so someone might be following my updates in a circle labelled "Idiots I laugh at" and I'll never know. :)

My friend Debbie Ohi (also known as @Inkygirl and @Ipadgirl has done some great posts about Google +  if you're not yet convinced. Join. Please?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Kids are All Right

I know. Everyone else saw this movie last year. I just saw it Sunday night. I figured it wasn't one of those movies that you needed to see on the big screen. I was right about that, but now I want to talk about it and everyone else is like, "Eileen, that is so 2010."

BTW, this post will be positively BURSTING with SPOILERS. Alert. Alert. Alert.

Can I talk first about Annette Benning's face? OMG. She's beautiful. She appears to have resisted pressure to have plastic surgery. She looks so real and her emotions are so real on her beautiful real face. The scene at the dinner table when she realizes that her partner has been unfaithful to her and yet she has to endure the rest of the meal with her partner, her children and the man her partner is sleeping with? OMG. Amazing. Everything is on that face. She doesn't need to say a word. In fact, she doesn't.

I love that this family is essentially exactly where I am now. Two teenagers. Two adults trying to keep everything together. To be there for each other and for the kids and still find some level of self-actualization. The movie totally captured what that's like, right down to the fact that any house with teenagers in it can explode at any second. It just can. It's the way it is. They're crazy volatile and have a complete scorched earth policy. I have great sweet kids, but hand to God, it could go south any second. I've seen it. BTW, loved the way they handled the daughter leaving for college. She had to get that little snippet of rebellion in there before she left. Because they do need to. They have to separate from us. But she's still the same smart sweet loving kid she was.

It also captured how easy it is for two smart caring adults to lose their connection despite how much they love each other. I feel like I'm constantly fighting to keep from taking that step to where they are in this movie. I don't want to be Julianne Moore trying to control my partner's almost drinking problem or be the one with the problem who can't listen to what my partner's saying because I want that glass of wine that bad. The sex? That cracked me up, too. Who hasn't phoned it in here and there? Do that too often, though, and someone could end up doing Mark Ruffalo doggie-style in the middle of the afternoon.

Oh, and those moments when one or the other mom was totally tone deaf to what she was saying to her kid? I've heard that crap coming out of my own mouth. I know I'm screwing it up, but I can't help it. The thank you note thing? The one mom trying to be honest with the kid about sexuality and going oh, maybe a little too far, but maybe not and the other mom shutting her down. Okay. I guess it was always Annette Benning who was tone deaf.

So I loved loved loved this movie. I loved the people and the problems and the resolution at the end. It was a little like Molly's post about great reading experiences. I saw this movie at the exact right moment in my life.

Thanks. You may now all resume your previously scheduled 2011.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The core of your character

There is this really amazing article in Rolling Stone about Breaking Bad. In it they have this really insightful analysis of Walter from Breaking Bad, where they sum up his need to continue making meth, in the current season, even after he has made enough money to assure his family's comfort after his death.

Walter, before his cancer diagnosis considered himself a failure, a mediocre teacher, his history a series of lost opportunities when his friends had gone on to make millions. But he is the best maker of meth in the criminal world and that has given him purpose and there has been a point in the show where it became not about his family, but about the work itself, and how he is the best at it, for the first time in his life and that's why he'll never stop.

What I like about it is that it's so specific. Mine has always been too vague for my characters, ie, she looking to gain more power to make up for having her freedom removed from her. It's fine, but the more specific that character core need gets, the better we can keep them true to their core needs, even as plot, or even the world changes.

Here's another one. Vienna from Bachelor Pad wants to be on television so she never has to go back to her minimum wage job again.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Living in their reality....

I’m going to say it in public. I think the Bachelor Pad is the greatest reality TV show ever. Okay maybe All-Star Survivor when Rob fell in love with Amber and they won all the money was better, but other than that – this is right up there for me. The comedic value (I mock – I mock a lot) is just endless.

This show is awful, mindless, pointless and probably does suck up IQ points. I know.

But it’s beautiful people running around living in this very tense environment made tense by their own shallow awfulness to each other and I just can’t get enough.

They put ex-fiances together. They put women who didn’t like each other together. They put ex-fiances with a new love interest together. Take 18 beautiful men and women who believe love or money can be found easiest on television – they know this because they have already been on the Bachelor and Bachelorette – and you’ve got a hit.

As I watched it and was completely absorbed for the three hour premier… (That’s right! I watched for three hours and loved every second of it)… I thought what are these people doing? Thank you for doing it… but really… who are you?

Why are they having sex when they know there is a camera there but thinking large pillows will hide their actions? Why are they saying these ridiculous things… like “I’m here to protect you. You’re here to protect me. We’re here to protect each other.”

I’m not lying. This is real dialogue from real people who I believe are genuine when they say these things. They believe this fictional reality is real. They believe in what they are doing on the show. They think they really a) might find love or b) will somehow make money as a result of this.

And I think it’s because of that, because they’ve so bought into their reality that as a viewer I get sucked in.

It’s kind of like a J.R. Ward book. If you take some of her heroes out of context, some of her dialogue out of context… if you read aloud some scenes from those books… you might think cheesy. But when you get sucked in to what’s she’s doing. When you buys these characters at face value… it’s wonderful awfulness that you can’t get enough of.

That’s what this show is for me. It reminds me that sometimes characters can bring the cheese. As long as I believe it for them when I’m writing the lines or conveying the thoughts then I can make readers believe it too.

As writers we have to believe in the reality we built for our characters and if we do everything said and done there will be okay. I think.

I guess my point is…. It’s okay to say. “I will guard and protect your heart.” You believe your character really means it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Internal Conflict at the Movies

I used to love romantic comedies at the movies. In fact one question Molly asked me not long after we met and I confessed I didn't love reading romance was, "Why the contradiction? Why do you love romantic comedies at the movies, but not in books?" I didn't really have an answer at the time, and all I could come up with is a book is a bigger time commitment than a movie.

But I actually think that discovering and reading romance ruined my enjoyment of rom com movies. After reading some great romance novels and learning how to analyze them, I expect too much. I can spot the silly coincidences and weak internal conflicts and contrived external conflicts. Not to mention the "big misunderstandings".

Last week I mentioned that the only thing I've heard come out of Michael Hauge's mouth during presentations that I didn't agree with, or didn't want to agree with, is that he claims that all romantic comedies (American ones, anyway) NEED a big misunderstanding. He believes that's the main plot point they all hang on.

And maybe that started to ruin rom coms for me, too... because he was kind of right. Not in that they NEEDED to have them, IMO. Just that almost all of them did rely on one.

No internal conflict, just a big lie or misunderstanding keeping the couple apart.

But my faith in my love of romance at the movies was re-awoken this week by two movies. Friends with Benefits and Crazy, Stupid Love.

Friends with Benefits wasn't the best movie I've ever seen or anything, but I did believe the internal conflict and actually thought it was a strong internal conflict. And there isn't a "big misunderstanding". Sure, we hit a point where if the couple actually had a honest conversation, all would be right, but the reasons for each of them not wanting to have the conversation were completely believable given their internal conflicts. Each was believably terrified of admitting what they really felt and opening themselves up to hurt. And the one who caves and grovels is the one who should and it's really kind of perfect. (If contrived... but still so cute.)

Justin Timberlake is turning into a half decent actor and Mila Kunis is WAY better than I ever thought she'd be based on the one season of That Seventies Show that I watched. So, ya, I definitely give that movie a "worth a rental for sure" rating.

Then tonight I saw Crazy, Stupid Love. And it's a better film. Really well written. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen most of the funny parts and normally that makes me crazy, but it really isn't a comedy, or doesn't rely on being a comedy, so it doesn't matter that they blew some of the jokes with the advertising. Sure, there are tons of smiles in the movie, but really it's more of a heart warming film.

It has two romances. Actually three, I guess... One between a married couple who are divorcing and one between a womanizer and a smart, witty girl who doesn't buy his line. The third, well, I think it's spoilerish, so I won't say. The second romance (between Gosling and Stone) sounds like it's cliche but it really doesn't come off that way.

I think there are a few reasons for this. First, it's a subplot -- it's not carrying the movie. Second, the acting is stellar -- Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Third, the writing is stellar -- Dan Fogelman. Fourth, and I think this is the main reason, and it's highly dependent on both #2 and #3, and that is -- we actually see the couple falling in love. That is, we're shown a scene in which we believe this couple is falling in love. And it's not just a montage of running on the beach. In fact, not at all. It's a planned one night stand where nothing goes the way you (or either character) assumes it will go and ends up so perfectly coming full circle that I don't want to say how and ruin it.

The movie also has a major plot twist that for a change, I did not see coming -- at all.

I give Crazy, Stupid Love a "worth going out and seeing in theatres" rating. :) Oh, and another nice little surprise in this movie was one of the main secondary characters was a former contestant from America's Next Top Model, Analeigh Tipton. I just looked her up and it says she placed third in "cycle 11). And... drumroll... she was good in this. I totally believed her. And she has an important pivotal part.

It was so nice to see movies with smart romances that were also entertaining.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

What’s Up with all the Serial Killers?

The other night at a dinner party, one of my friends asked why it is we’re all so fascinated with serial killers. After all, they’re evil. They’re twisted. They’re not anyone we would or should admire. We clearly are fascinated, however.. If there were as many serial killers out there as there are in books, on TV and in the movies, I don’t there would be many of us left.

I really didn’t have a ready answer as to why we’re so fascinated. There are a lot of theories about our fascination with serial killers. A lot of people refer to them as the rock stars of the homicide world and I suppose they do get a lot of news and media coverage, but I don’t think that’s it. I think they’re the rock stars because they fascinate us, not the other way around.

I read a few articles that posited a case that we are jealous of serial killers, of the boldness of their actions, of their willingness to do what we only think about doing. This worried a whole more about the people writing those articles than it did even about serial killers. Jealous? I don’t think so. Revolted by? More likely.

I think what fascinates me about serial killers is how easily they seem to live among us. The idea that such incredible evil might be lurking underneath the too polite exterior of the guy in the house down the street is both terrifying and mesmerizing. We all know the cliché. He was so quiet. He kept to himself. I have neighbors like that. Are there bodies in their basements?

As an author, I always want to understand people’s hidden lives. I don’t think there’s too much more hidden than the inner life of a serial killer. What is it about serial killers that fascinates you?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Visualization and Terminology

I am in the process of taking an epic break from writing. Between the madness of summer and packing for a two month trip to New Zealand and Fiji, I've only had one day to write in the last two months. But man-oh-man what a day. A break through day. Not in word count but I finally got past this block I've had about my book.

When things are going well in a book scenes stack up in my head like building blocks. That's how I see it. Building blocks with these little threads hanging off and I tie the threads to different building blocks in my book. Those would be subplots and tangents and character quirks.

When things aren't going well it's like walking through a cave. Light is coming in behind me so I can see around myself, but up ahead - a big nothing. A big dark nothing. And I keep walking and walking hoping I'll find a light switch somewhere.

So, after writing roughly half a book in the dark, waiting for something to tie everything together, I finally got to a place where my scenes started stacking up and I got the threads out and started to make it work.

I was feeling really good about this and was telling my husband about it. I rarely get the "WTF" looks from him about writing. We've been together a long time and that whole time I've been a writer, so he knows the drill. But man explaining the building blocks and the threads I got the look.

So, how do you visualize your work? What's your insane terminology? Come on...make me feel less crazy!

Friday, August 05, 2011


There is a character in Clueless, a really great movie and her response at one point is "stuff", but the way she drawls it, and the expression on her face as she says it has always stuck in my head and when I'm at a loss for something to say, my response is always "stuff".

how the hell do you follow up a post in identity and trilogy arcs that namechecks not one, but two amazing craft books with anything but "stuff"?

So here are my inane, random thoughts for the week.

first off, has anyone out there read the Karen Marie Moning fae series? Seriously, I'm glad I'm reading it now, because if I'd had to wait a year between books, I might have been genuinely annoyed. Love the books, hate the cliffhanger endings to each of them. (Molly, am on the last one, Thrones is next)

Am stupidly excited that Bachelor Pad is starting on Monday. Sad, I know. As a show it pretty much sums up the worst of humanity and I'm still going to watch, because while I gave up on the Bachelor stuff a long time ago, this show has no qualms about what it is, it knows, it's not afraid to investigate the worst of what fame whores will do to stay on Tv and because of that I'm in.

And then I'll cleanse my palate with a little So you think you can dance, because it's on the opposite end of the scale and I'm afraid that when it's over all I'll be left with is Bachelor pad to watch on TV.

Sad, I know. I should probably get out of the house more often. Anyone else stuck in a summer TV rut... especially now that True Blood is letting us down. Maybe this is just a sign that I should be watching less TV and exercising more...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Identity, Essence and Trilogy Story Arcs

So, my latest project is a trilogy and I'm just getting going on Book 2. Writing a trilogy is moderately terrifying to me, because I've read some great ones and others that I've given up on after book one or soon into Book 2. The trick is to keep escalating the stakes/tension while still having them as high as they possibly can be in each book (not holding back). So, I'm a little nervous heading into Book 2.

I already have a fairly detailed synopsis for Book 2 and a sketchy one for Book 3 (which both went out on submission with the manuscript for Book 1 -- and I hope to announce exciting news about that soon -- probably in September) but before I got too far into the second book, I wanted to stop and do a little brainstorming.

If you read this blog often you might know that I can hate brainstorming my own stories with other people. But this "hate" is really only true if I'm not ready for input yet. I like to have the basic world/plot/characters, and the overall kind of story I want to tell, firm in my mind before I let other people into my brain. Probably because the two people I brainstorm with most often are AWESOME at story ideas and I end up feeling as if their ideas are better than mine, or things head off in the direction of the books they'd write given the same idea, not the book I'd write... And then I start emitting "back off" vibes and they shut down... and little brainstorming happens... (And we drink instead, which is good, too...)

Anyway... Monday night we did a little brainstorming for my Book 2 and 3 and it was pretty awesome. I already had a 10 + page synopsis for one and a 5+ page one for the other... so really it wasn't about coming up with stories, it was about making them better. Adding some surprises. Taking out the weak/obvious choices and plot points, most of which were the first things that came to mind when I wrote the synopses (very quickly) (under pressure) before we sent the manuscript to I'm not allowed to say who...

Anyway, one of the coolest moments for me (because I'm a total craft nerd, okay: nerd nerd) was when I realized one of the ideas we came up with, or an epiphany I had during our discussion, fit so well with Michael Hauge's Identity to Essence character arc method.

Now, he teaches it in the context of a single story (screenplay or novel) but what I realized was that it was (hopefully) going to fit for me across the three book story arc with one particular bit of her character growth.

If you've never heard Michael Hauge speak, or read one of his books, or bought one of his DVD's => DO! Now!!   Here's a handy link. Writing Screenplays That Sell

But in a nutshell, the identity to essence concept is that over the course of a story, a character moves from who they think they are/how they see themselves (their identity), to their true selves (their essence). And the truly changed character emerges when the identity and essence meld. (At least I think that's what he says... This isn't sounding right to me now. If I'm wrong, I don't want to know right now, because I'm still high on my epiphany.)

Okay, I broke down and looked it up. I was merging Michael Hauge's Identity/Essence concept with the late Blake Snyder's Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis concept. Or what he calls the thematic progression of the hero's journey. (Blake Snyder's Save The Cat!. Go buy it. Now!!!)  Actually, I think my epiphany fits even better with Snyder's verbiage, so I'll go with that. ;)

What I realized that while each of my books has an internal character arc itself (I hope), the overall trilogy will have one, too. Yay! In the first book, the protagonist, Glory,  completely defines herself by one particular trait (a power she has). Which could be defined as her "identity", but it's also the "Thesis" in terms of this overall trilogy character arc. It's who she believes she is and for that particular trait, she pretty much still believes that trait defines her throughout Book 1.

In the second book, she'll have rejected her identity, that is: she'll be doing all she can do deny that she's defined by that trait (power) and she'll be essentially rejecting/denying it. So, to use Snyder's terms, this will be her antithesis stage -- which I think will continue on into the early parts of Book 3.
Then, I hope, during the course of the third book, she'll find the balance and be in her "essence", to use Hauge's term, or she'll find Synthesis to use Snyder's. To quote him, "...the hero gains the knowledge to combine what was and its opposite to form a synthesis of everything he has learned." (See why I think Snyder's works better? Because it merges the two... And she can learn she can be both her identity and her essence... or that her identity doesn't completely define her...)

I don't know why this got me so excited. But sometimes it helps me to see my your story in an overall way that makes sense. Helps in those rare instances where one can glimpse the forest and not just all the trees.

Will this hold up as I write books 2 and 3? Who knows. Ask me again in a month when I'm neck deep in my first draft and whining about how hard it is to write a book. Because you know I will.  ;)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Too Much 'Magination

So yesterday morning when I was out running, I almost stepped on a dead rat. I was coming around the corner and there it was and I had to do a little leap to avoid landing right on it.

No biggie, right? Oh, yes. Biggie. I couldn't stop thinking about the stupid rat. I couldn't stop imagining what it would have been like if I hadn't noticed it (I'm often more than a little oblivious out there) and had stepped on it. I kept thinking about how it would have squished, how I would have slipped, how the hair and the guts would have been embedded in the tread of my shoe. I had to stop running and do some deep breathing because I was literally making myself sick.

I got home, showered and headed off to work, but my stomach would not stop rolling and I could not stop imagining the squish and the crunch and the guts and the hair and the slipping and the smell. I was so nauseous that I had to go home and curl up in bed with tea and toast.

It was totally a case of too much imagination. I rarely have this happen (although I'm realizing now that this is sort of related to last week's post about the abduction on the bike path). I always feel like life is so crazy that I don't have to make anything up. This time . . .definitely too much 'magination. Have you ever sabotaged yourself that way?
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