Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I just don’t get: Romance Heroines (and why Tyler is still on Canadian Idol)

Oooo… Controversial. Here I am on a group blog, with 2 romance writers, read mostly by writers and readers of romance… Bring on the rotten tomatoes girls.

Okay, I do understand, I think, why many readers love their romance heroines. I’m simply not one of those readers.

True confession time: Five years ago, I knew nothing about romance novels and held many patronizing, uninformed views about the genre. I’m ashamed to admit I started writing romance thinking it would be easier to write than other fiction.

Couldn’t have been more wrong! In fact, I was totally wrong in all of my assumptions about the genre. But, now that I’m better informed and better-read in romance… while I respect it and have become a fan of many writers in the genre (Molly and Sinead included) it’s still not my favourite genre to read.

Why? I think for me it’s about the heroines. They’re just too dang nice and behave too well.

Me? I love a good bitchy protagonist. In fact, after reading a post on Shanna Swendson’s blog a few weeks ago, I decided I may well be writing what she dubbed “Bitch lit”. Not that I'll be calling my agent to suggest she market my books using that moniker...

Back to romance heroines. And I’m going to generalize here—there are always exceptions—but I think it isn’t a stretch to use words like: kind, thoughtful, generous, sensitive, moral, mature, and, well, nice to describe most romance heroines.

In contrast, after writing the first paragraph of my first attempt at a romance I was told that I hadn’t made my protagonist heroic or likeable enough: that she shouldn’t jump to politically incorrect assumptions about others, that she was condecending, that she was too tough, too mean, too full of herself. Who knew? Okay, I’ve learned more about characterization now, and a little bit about subtlty. Today, I could probably write that same heroine and make her more relatable, more readable… but I still wouldn’t want to make her nice, because, well, that’s not who she was. (And in my little fantasy world, the hero fell in love with her anyway.)

With hindsight, I don’t think she was ever going to cut it as a romance heroine and will forever remain in a drawer in my office unless I find a way to use her in a non-romance novel. (Or until I become as famous as Susan Elizabeth Phillips. (A girl can dream… ) LOVE her heroine in AIN’T SHE SWEET.)

It’s not that I dislike all books with likeable heroines, au contraire, but I find people who do bad things and/or make big mistakes, are often more interesting to read and write about. I like exploring the darker side of the human psyche and reading books that explore it. Maybe it's not even the darker side, per se... Just the less perfect side. The side that doesn't even like to admit to some of the choices it's made. I like characters who carry a ton of baggage. If a character behaves badly, I like exploring the fall out on that character and others.

When a romance heroine sees an injustice, she tries to right it. When she’s been hurt emotionally, she assumes the best of the one who hurt her (typically the hero) and confronts the problem—rather than purposefully hurting back. She takes the high road. If there’s been a misunderstanding, she clears it up. When she’s wronged, she doesn’t hold a grudge. When she’s angry, she rarely lashes out—at least not in a way that hurts others—and she gets over her anger quickly—sometimes in the same paragraph.

Let's face it. She’s emotionally mature. She behaves in the manner we all wish we would in any given situation. I’m sure that’s why millions of readers love her.

But that’s why she often bores me.

Me? I want to see the heroine be immature, defensive, destructive and a little bit mean when she's hurt. To me, that’s a more realistic depiction of how people behave in relationships. Maybe that's why I'm still single? :-)

Oh, and about Tyler. I get that he’s cute, but that boy cannot stay on tune. Why are all of the judges except Zack constantly complimenting him? Why is Canada voting for him? Better question… Why am I watching that show????

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Pride and Prejudice and Samuel L. Jackson - I Don't Get It. I Just Don't Get It.

Oh! I am prepared for all the well-written and horrified comments from all of you Jane Austen fans out there (not so ready for you Snakes On A Plane fan -(and I mean fan) because all I can say is Really? I mean...really!!?? Pulp Fiction YES!! I get it - totally brilliant but everything else is just totally derivative. Sure the look -- but as a highly paid actor we need more than a look don't we? I do. But I digress and totally abuse any rules regarding parentheses).

Anywhooooo. Pride and Prejudice....boooring. BRIDE and Prejudice -- some song and dance lots of bright colors a strange hero drum solo at the end now that was a good time.

I want to preface this by saying I really enjoy historical fiction and moreover historical romance. I like slow books. I like romances that really just consist of a few key scenes filled with tension and unsaid things. All of those things are wonderful. I just don't get it in Pride and Prejudice. I don't see any of the restrained romantic tension between those characters. (The BBC version with handsome handsome what's his name -- that helped. That was pretty good. But until then -- didn't see it). None. That first proposal of Mr. Darcy's that is supposed to be so funny I didn't even smile at, not even when Keira Knightly was looking so horrified and bony during it in this last years version. I agree the father/daughter scene - quite touching - in all the versions - particularly the sweet Bridget Jones Diary. And I do agree it's hard to beat that first line. Literary and full of voice and character and sets the tone perfectly -- it's a home run of a first line - I just lose interest in chapter 2. That's right -- I haven't even finished the book - because I CAN'T. I'm simply too bored.

I understand the place it holds in the history of novels and particularly novels written by women and I have been beaten over the head repeatedly by friends (Sinead) telling me the importance this tome has in the history of romance. I certainly can admire the way it creates such fervid love and interest even now - for new readers introduced to it. I'm just not one of them. Not without some song and dance and weird drum solo.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Discipline…. One simple word.. hard freakin’ concept

I’ve been hearing the word a lot lately. How to get books written - Discipline of course. Sit your butt in the chair and write the damn book.

Makes sense. I agree. But it’s too simple a concept. Too straightforward.

It’s come to mind a lot, because I know, I could be writing more and faster. Hell, I should be writing more. I sit at the computer and spend time surfing the net, emailing friends, when I could be writing my next masterpiece.

I excuse my lack of productivity as a lack of discipline and it is. But, there are other factors at work here. As an unpubb’d writer, I write hoping this book will be the one. Every step of the way, I wonder if this is good enough? Am I mining every last ounce of tension and emotion out of the scene, while still staying true to my voice. Am I writing something different enough, but not too different? Am I getting better with each book, or stagnating?
I sit at the computer with all these thoughts and angst on my shoulders, whispering in my ear. This I guess is where the discipline comes in. Do I ignore them and plow ahead, or do I listen. More times than I’d like to admit, I listen. I let them distract me, convince me my time would be better spent doing anything else.

When I was a new writer, I didn’t have that constant second guessing of my work. I wrote(badly) but enjoyed every moment. Now, I write(better I hope) and fight the self doubt and the worry every step of the way. Where I need discipline is in overcoming this and continuing to put words on the page.

I know I’m not alone in this. A lot of other writers, most even- pubb’d and unpubb’d - sit down with their self doubts as their writing companions.

But some writers don’t have these same doubts. Or at least don’t seem to. Maybe I don’t know them well enough, and I’m sure not naming names here. I’m jealous of these people, deep down hard core green with envy. Not of the bestsellers, or the award winners, but the writers who can sit at the computer and not agonize over whether each scene will be good enough. Writers who can talk glowing of their own work with confidence and enthusiasm, who know they write really well.

Someday, someone will have to tell me their secret. Until then, I’ll struggle along.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I Don't Believe in Writer's Block

I don't.... (in spite of my comment on Molly's post earlier this week claiming to have it... ;-)

Okay, I'm not saying that writers don't have bad days--very bad days. And I'm certainly not saying that Molly's Wile E. Coyote nightmare isn't valid (not to mention freakin' hilarious) or that similar things haven't happened to me--often.

I just think, if you want to be a successful fiction writer, you can't buy into the whole writers' block concept. I'd rather think of it as a bad day, 'cause everyone, in every walk of life, has bad days. Writers ain't so special in that regard.

What writers need are tools to prevent bad days or at least help us get past them. Tools like the myriad of plotting helpers such as outlines, file cards, white boards; like creative excercises; like the books by writers who've analyzed storytelling and distilled it down to hero's journeys, or goal/motivation/conflict or three act plotting. Tools like critique groups, support groups, on-line writers loops, friends. Drunk writer talk. Books on the craft of writing so great they can be visited again and again. Inspirational books on the writer's life, such as "Bird by Bird" or "On Writing".

Mike Myers referred to his craft books as the bridges spanning the gulfs between his creative-day islands. But he doesn't need to produce as much material, as often, as a working, publishing fiction writer needs to. We don't have the luxury of letting oceans, or even large ponds, create gaps between our islands.

To keep the water down, we need our tools. It's these tools, not some mysterious, uncontrollable idea of a muse, that helps us push past the bad days and enables us to start putting coherent-stories-told-well onto pages again. Not that it isn't nice to blame something nebulous like an absent muse, now and again... Maybe, used sparingly, blame transference is simply another tool?

By this time, those of you who know me well, are probably laughing or rolling your eyes. Lord knows I've been guilty of being an angsty writer and have had huge chunks of time when nothing was working, when I was sure I was a talentless hack, or when books dripped from me painfully slowly.

So, maintaining my assertion that writer's block is an illusion, let me tell you what I do believe in...

I believe in procrastination. I believe in self-doubt. I believe in rejection and disappointment and criticism and jealousy, among other self-doubt catalysts like the words of well-meaning friends and family whose ideas of writing and publishing come from the movies. I believe in days when my brain is just fuzzy. I believe in days when I don't feel like writing.

But I don't believe in labeling all those things with a word as solid and immovable as "block". Unless of course I can label my tools "sledgehammers"... Hmmm... Maybe I need to rethink this post.

What it boils down to? Don't wimp out or blame your problems on writer's block. Pick up your tools and smash down whatever's standing in your way. If I know Molly, she has already.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Writer's Block, Mike Myers and the FBI

Now that's a good title. You have no idea where I'm going with this...

I wouldn't say I have writer's block. I have...the 5th Chapter What the ?@*! am I writing about melt down. It always takes me about a week of surfing the net and doing laundry instead of writing to diagnose this problem - you'd think at this point I'd catch on to my own neurotic writing behavior. But no - and yesterday I just figured it out. I'm in the middle of Chapter 5 and I have NO CLUE where I am going. I've been selling on proposal for awhile now, so the first three chapters I've got figured out, but the end of chapter three is a serious cliff. Working on Chapter 4 I'm like Wile E. Coyote - unaware the ground is no longer beneath my feet. But by the middle of chapter five - I've pulled out my sign that says "Yikes" and I'm basically free-falling into crap.

My current WIP is about an undercover FBI agent - I have no idea why I decided to do this. 1. I no nothing about the FBI except from what I learned from Donnie Brasco and 2. I HATE research.

So, I've been puttering around on this WIP thinking that a few episodes of CSI or NYPD Blue might just be all I need. I know the lies we tell ourselves...

But as I figured out that I'm stuck in my Chapter 5 nightmare - I also remembered something I heard Mike Myers say on Inside the Actor's Studio. Now, I used to love Inside The Actor's Studio - every once in a while I would get some real gold on storytelling from the guests. Kevin Costner's was great for that (another reason why I'm always so compelled to defend him). Another great place to get storytelling gold, I have found, is on the commentaries of my favorite movies. Especially, Fight Club, Good Will Hunting and seriously - Field of Dreams - what the Director says about the scenes he cut out of the film is a master class in good editing. I digress...

Anyway Mike Myers said that he does all of his prewriting work - plotting of the movies etc... in the bathtub. And that those days when he is able to sit there and get things figured out are islands. Islands in a general sea of creative dispair. I KNOW we can all releate to that. And then he said he reads a lot of books. For research, for craft, for ideas etc. And those books are bridges to the islands.

Smart. I ordered some books on the FBI. And a couple more on subjects that interest me but I know nothing about. Because, I never know when I might want to write a romance novel with para-military dolphin trainer hero.

Friday, August 18, 2006

In Defense of Horror Movies……..and Skor Blizzards

First a confession. I LOVE horror movies, the good ones at least.
There’s something about sitting in a dark room(movie theatre) with the music pulsing and my heart rate increasing waiting, anticipating and yet still jumping when the maniac/monster/demon jumps out of the shadows.

I demand certain things from my horror movies - there has to be a resolution. The bad guy/monster has to be destroyed. Otherwise why watch. The characters have to be pro-active at some point in the movie. That’s just a good rule of storytelling.

Horror movies have a really bad rap out there, ‘cause so many are cheap, badly written and push gore over thrills. But there are good ones out there.
The movies I have loved. Of course, Alien/Aliens. Considering when they were made, these look amazing, had incredible tension and probably the best heroine of any movie ever made. The original Halloween, Lost Boys, more recently 28 Days Later. All great movies and all relying more on story than gore.
There are more, I’ve seen a LOT of horror movies, but these come to mind as my favs.

As for the Skor Blizzard… it’s loaded with fat, and sugar and might cause brain freeze.. But it’s delicious.. Enough said

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

In Defense of: Rock Star and ANTM

Okay, I’d like to think I’m a pretty intelligent and cultured woman who generally has pretty good taste. And I suppose, as a writer, I should be opposed to the reality TV genre in principle, because of the whole putting-TV-writers-out-of-business thing. But…

I love reality TV.

When the genre came out, I scoffed, “I will never watch crap like that!” But somehow, I got hooked.

In building my defense (sorry, its defense), I will focus on two shows. And to make this challenging, the two that sounded the cheesiest to me when I first heard their concepts: ROCK STAR and AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL.

In the 1980’s I loved INXS. I heard them long before many North Americans, because my cousin lived in Australia at the time and brought back a tape. Thanks Pat. Also, Toronto had an amazing radio station in the late 70’s early 80’s, CFNY, that’s a shadow of it’s former self now, but that’s another topic.

Back to INXS
Big fan.
Have all their albums dating back to the early 80’s.
Very sad when Michael Hutchence died.

When I heard the band was choosing a new lead singer via reality TV, I took it as a major sign of the apocalypse. But one night, bored, surprised the moon hadn’t turned red yet, I was surfing channels and as luck would have it, cruised by ROCK STAR just as JD Fortune, the ultimate winner, was performing his encore the night after he’d sung “California Dreaming”.

I was blown away. Not only was this guy hot. He did an amazing, unexpected, hard-edged version of a 1960’s folky pop tune that should have been boring. He was riveting. Couldn’t take my eyes off him. (Didn’t hurt that he was from Toronto, either.)

From that night forward, I saw almost every episode—even the “reality” nights where they pick the songs—and have watched it this season, too, in spite of not being a metal fan, at all. (Well, I grew up in the 70’s so it was hard to avoid hard rock… but Metalica? Guns & Roses? Motley Crue? I’ve heard of these bands, but couldn’t tell you one song any of them have done. I’d graduated to punk and new wave by the time they came on the scene.)

On ROCK STAR, the contestants are professional, talented musicians–not nervous amateurs like on the other TV talent shows (not that it’s not entertaining to watch amateur’s be nervous, too). The songs performed each night are classics for me (remember that whole growing up in the 70’s thing?) and the stakes are huge—an actual job fronting a real band almost guaranteed to do extremely well—even if it’s just for a short while. How could that not be entertaining? (And it’s fun that another Torontonian is a front runner this year—although I’d rather see Dilana or Storm get the job—and Ryan’s growing on me, too.)

Okay, so I tackled the easy one first.

Now, I’m faced with defending ANTM and its Canadian equivalent CNTM. For the record, one of the silliest concepts for a show I’ve ever heard.
Living together in a house?
Competing against each other?
How painful would that be to watch!

I didn’t see the first season of ANTM at all. Sometime after the second season had aired, I stumbled upon a rerun of it on some obscure digital cable channel. It was late. My defences were down. I stopped clicking. Some weeks later after tuning in again and again… I discovered I wasn’t sorry—except that I was hooked on another show. Damn. It took another year or so to confess I was watching it to any of my friends. ;-)

From the hype and the concept, I’d expected nothing but shallow, skinny girls spitting catty insults and scratching each other’s eyes out—in between puking up what little food they ate, of course.

Okay. It is a bit like that. But what I didn’t expect was the arty aspect of this show. Yes, you heard me right. Arty. I love the photo shoots and seeing the resulting photos. I’m just amazed at the creativity of the make up, the costumes, the sets, the lighting, the photography and occasionally of some of the contestants. I also find it fascinating that the girls who look pretty, aren’t necessarily the ones who photograph well.

I suppose I might sound like some letch who claims he reads Playboy for the articles… but seriously, I love the photo shoots and am willing to put up with some cattiness—and Tyra Banks’ irritating tendency to over dramatize and over enunciate—to see the shoots and their results.

Are these shows—among others: Survivor, Amazing Race and don’t even get me started on So You Think You Can Dance—a guilty pleasure?

Sure, but I maintain they are compelling TV. Maybe they aren’t written per se, but there are some very talented editors/producers on the best reality shows, piecing together hours of footage to tell compelling stories. And storytelling is what entertaining people it’s all about.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

In defense of...Daniel Craig and The Zipper

Originally, I was going to defend Kevin Costner -- who always seems to need defending but I've been doing it for years and it's gotten me nowhere. And today I am inspired by last week's arrival of our Esquire Magazine. Fantastic magazine - excellent writing, lovely men, and the most beautiful woman in the world mystery has kept my husband on the edge of the toilet seat for months.

This month the top of their Best Dressed List is the controversial new Bond choice and if the cover photo alone doesn't convince you that Daniel Craig is clearly going to turn a dying and outdated movie franchise into one of the hottest movies of the year...Well, you're dumb.

First of all - Daniel Craig has got some chops. We rented Enduring Love this last week and despite the glacial pace of the brilliant book turned very slow movie - I thought he was pretty fantastic. He held his own in the quiet scenes (of which there were a few too many) and on screen with one of the best actresses of our time (Samantha Morton) - which I really wasn't expecting. He was fantastic background in Munich and absolutely RIVETING in Layer Cake.

Second - it seems to me Bond is about a certain attitude, a physical presence and the proper fit of a tuxedo jacket. Craig has those things in spades. The man, while not pretty like Pierce Brosnan, is FREAKING GORGEOUS and totally capitvating - it might be the crazy blue eyes. And perhaps the best part of Enduring Love is the fit of Craig's gray tee-shirt in those first amazing scenes. The guy actually looks like an assassin, like he could hurt you with or without the toys.

I can not believe that there has been such uproar over this casting decision.

The new Casino Royale is going to be great - because of Paul Haggis's work on the script and the new take on Bond as a human rather than a slick corporate ad, but mostly because of Daniel Craig. A great choice for the new bond.

As for the Zipper - there is not a state fair, county carnival or Toronto Ex that isn't improved by that rusty, terrifying death-machine. I love the zipper.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Business of Writing

Because of the internet, there’s a lot of information out there about who’s selling, which genre’s are popular and what is not selling. It’s taken a lot of the mystery out of the publishing process, which is a very good thing.
There’s no longer any excuse for author’s to plead ignorance. My take on this is if you want a career as a writer, understand at least the fundamentals about the business. Take an interest.
I know I’ve made some stupid mistakes out of ignorance. Mistakes that have at a minimum cost me time. Mistakes I intend to learn from. And the problem is, I SHOULD have known better.
What do I know now?
Understand the different publishing houses at a minimum. Who the editors are, if you plan to submit to those houses, better still , what are their preferences, and which books have they bought recently.
You don’t have to attend Nationals to know this. It’s all available over the internet. A great resource is Karen Fox’s website, or subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly.
There are a lot of authors out there who very generously publish all they know on their blogs.
If you plan on being agented, know the different agents in the marketplace. What they’ve sold recently, who they represent. BEFORE submitting to them. Everyone’s heard that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. It’s true.
Simple stuff, but I’m sometimes surprised the questions I see asked on loops, at chapter meetings.
As writers we have so little power over our books once they’re written. We stand on the sidelines, fingers crossed, hoping someone will take an interest in our work, and by extension, us.
Knowing what’s going on out there, career planning before we sell, making educated decisions, this is how we reclaim some of that power.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Writing an inspirational, erotic, young adult, romantic suspense with paranormal elements?

In Atlanta, like every RWA conference I’ve been to, there was a lot of talk about trends—what’s hot, what’s being bought by editors, what’s flying off the bookshelves at the major chains.

While I understand why my fellow aspiring authors quest for this kind of information as if it were the Holy Grail, if I’ve learned one thing over my writer’s journey to date, it’s that writing directly to trends is not necessarily a good idea.

Why not?

Well for one thing, trends are what the publishers are buying now—today, yesterday, next week, if you’re lucky, next month. Depending on how fast you write, if you start writing what they’re looking for now, by the time you’ve finished it, polished it, found an agent and said agent submits it to the same editors who’d been begging for it at last year’s conference, they won’t be buying it any more.

Another problem I’ve noticed with trends is that when a book breaks out and does well—for example: Kelley Armstrong’s “Otherworld” books (werewolves), Susan Squires’ THE COMPANION (vampires), BRIDGET JONES' DIARY (chick lit), THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTS (YA), to mention a few trend inspiring books of the past five or so years, every publisher (even the ones who were lucky enough to have published those break out books) wants to publish more books in the same vein. This is great. New markets are opened up, other writers get to coast on the wave, some big advances get paid.

Great for writers, yes? Problem is, all this activity can glut the market, messing up that whole supply and demand business. Worse, because of the publisher feeding frenzy, some of the glut will be populated with substandard books not nearly as strong as those they were attempting to emulate—books bought by houses hoping to capitalize on whatever wave was carrying the book-business-boats when the manuscripts crossed their desks.

But the book buying public ain’t no dummies. After reading a number of copycats that didn’t live up to the originals—or didn’t add anything new or fresh—readers, bored and/or soured by a few bad apple books, give up on the whole trend and the trend becomes, well, deader than a non-trend.

At the Dallas RWA conference in 2004, all the editors could talk about was chick lit—and this to a group of romance writers. (In my opinion chick lit and romance are two different animals—or at least, I believe chick lit is not a sub-genre of romance. But I digress, once again, perhaps to a future topic…)

Two years post-Dallas? It’s hard to get anyone to even look at a chick lit book.
Which brings me back to trends. You need to be aware of them, but writing directly to trends—especially if they aren’t your thing—can pull you into a frustrating tail-chasing cycle.

One of my fiction writing instructors told me it takes 3 things to get published: luck, persistence and good writing and that often any 2 of the 3 is enough. Words to live by, I think. During the Agent Cartel panel in Atlanta, agent Pam Ahearn added a new twist to this wisdom. She says it takes Persistence, Luck, Observation and Talent. (PLOT. Cute, huh!) By observation, she means having an awareness of the market and trends.

That, instead of writing directly to trends, is smart.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Careful what you wish for...

It's a long weekend up here in the Great White North - and I think we all buggered off to cooler lakeside pastures. Didn't we? I did. But before we left I got some amazing news. Harlequin is contracting me for three more books. Three more books they would like delivered within a year. This is the biggest contract I've ever gotten from them and will allow me not to have to worry about going back to any one of the crummy jobs I've held in order to keep the writing dream alive once my maternity leave is up.

I am a writer who just...writes. Crazy.

Of course I'm also a new mother FREAKING out about book delivery dates, editorial turn around time and naps. My sons - not mine, though I do enjoy a little day time shut eye, which I can, for the next year, kiss good bye.

I can not believe this is actually happening. This was the dream and now it's working out according to my drunken plans and really I'm wondering what I am going to do to screw it up. Because I will. This is a stiuation ripe for writer's block. And weight gain.

Writing is such a strange job - because it's not nine to five - it actually swells to take over the whole day. If I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing or checking emails or making some lame attempt at promotion. How am I going to squeeze writing three books into a years worth of naps and weekends? Is this really possible? Is it really possible to be a new mom, write three books, try to at least tell my husband to do the laundry, and maybe for the sake of sanity go for the odd run? Pedicure? Movie? Night of drinking to excess? I may never have sex again.

So many romance authors I've spoken with started writing when thier children were small. Nearly all the big names have managed to find balance between motherhood and a writing career. Sinead has managed to keep up a chapter a week almost without fail and her nearly full time red wine habit. This is tremendous -- please someone WHAT IS THE SECRET?

Many of my writer friend's work full time jobs and write on the weekends and all of them lament a social life. How are any of us keeping any kind of balance in our lives with the writing monkey on our backs?

Clearly - I'm going to need some discipline. And a drink.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

M. Night - Why I worship at the Alter.

With all the hullabaloo about Lady in the Water, which I haven’t seen because I’m too busy, damn it, I thought I’d blog about Signs.

Why? Cause it’s a freakin’ brilliant movie. M. Night at his best. The key sign (heh, sign, get it) for me that this was a great movie was when I watched it the second time and enjoyed it even more. I picked up on the details I’d missed the first time, when I’d been swept up in the story and kept in a state of breathless anticipation.

What about it worked for me? The absolute sparseness of the story. No detail is unimportant. Yet, there are few details that have a screaming hey look at me element to them that so many other movies do.

The tension slowly increases, the acting is great, and it all builds to a climax that’s actually worthy of the story. (unlike The Village, but that’s another blog).

For me the brilliance of this movie is in the details. What seem like character details at the beginning actually become elements of the plot, and vice versa. I try and incorporate this in my own books. The sense that every detail, no matter how small, must have a purpose.

It requires ruthless editing and an ego kept in check. Which judging by Maureen’s and Molly’s posts, the ego has run rampant for Lady.

Which is too bad. Cause when M. Night is in form, there is no finer story teller out there.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lady in the Water -- In which Maureen disagrees with Molly and rants…

Let the cage match begin....

As I commented on Molly’s post, I too walked out of the theatre thinking… And since I normally love movies that make me think, I suppose that’s something positive. Problem is, I was thinking, “M. Night! Why have you forsaken me? Why have you let your ego get the better of you? Why have you presented your loyal fans with this self-indulgent drivel?”

Like Molly, I’m a huge fan of M. Night. I even loved THE VILLAGE, though many didn’t. I thought UNBREAKABLE was fabulous—not to mention his movies that most people loved—SIXTH SENSE and SIGNS.

What bothered me most about LADY IN THE WATER is how self-indulgent it seemed. He makes all these wink-wink-nod-nods about writing and storytelling, but then does all those things he’s making fun of (i.e. clunky foreshadowing). I think SCREAM was better as storytelling satire than this, and ADAPTATION much smarter. M. Night, it’s been done before and done better.

At first, I thought Bob Balaban's film critic character was a funny, clever idea. Have someone tell Paul Giamatti’s character how stories normally turn out. Even though I didn’t buy that Giamatti’s character would think of asking the critic for help—I was still giving him the benefit of the doubt at this point. Truth? I was actually really smiling through that part. “Oh, M. Night. You are so clever. You’re not going to let me down. All those critics who hated this movie were wrong. Disney was stupid to fire you over this movie. It's cool and smart. Everyone else was too dense to get it.”

But I soon changed my mind… Perhaps I was expecting more from the film critic device? Maybe some unexpected twists? Maybe some misdirection that worked? Maybe something that made me question reality and who was sane or not sane? Something….
While the critic’s predictions were wrong, it was so freakin’ obvious which character was the correct choice in each case. In fact, I’d picked the right one in each case from the start. Huh? It’s not the sisters? Huh? It’s not the kid? Huh? It’s not Giamatti? (He’d already healed her.) And why was that freaky character played by Freddy Rodriguez there if he wasn’t the Guardian? For me, the film critic device made the plot too predictable and took all the magic out of it. (SPOILER: Although I did laugh when he got killed.) If he chose to give two viable choices for each “helper” just to create another plot point (Oh, no, we chose the wrong people!) then shame on him. It was a weak climax for the movie because it was so predictible.

And why did M. Night cast himself in an important role???? He can’t act. He’s not very interesting to look at, and in the hands of a better actor, that role might have added some depth to the film. His character was given a huge burden (changing the world) and then found out about his own death, yet had the same deadpan expression on his face the entire film.
No reaction?
M. Night, cast an ACTOR next time! (And I mean, come on… casting yourself in the role of a writer whose words are going to change civilization for the better???? How self-indulgent and egomaniacal can you get!)

I think that’s where he lost me… After we found out who his character was, I just couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

One more rant… I think the way Giamatti learned about the story was as contrived as you can get and I thought several characters were stereotypes beyond belief (particularly the Korean woman and her mother). I get that even the “real world” of the movie was supposed to be fairytale-esque, (i.e. freak-show-character who works out one side of his body) but, like I said… M. Night had already lost me.

Maybe his next film will win me back. (If someone lets him make one.) I hope so.
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