Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The ORWA Sweet Spicy Conference

I love the Ottawa conference. It's focused, it's small, it's always run well and the people are great. I truly like all the women I've met from that chapter and alot of Toronto writers head up and it's always fun to spend the weekend with the friends I have in TRW. They also draw from Canadian writers for their speakers and it's always amazing to see the big caliber writers who live in the area. Jo Beverly and Kelley Armstrong were this years heavy hitters and they were fantastic -- accessible and friendly!

For anyone looking for a small conference to go to - I highly recommend this one.

I went this year with my newborn daughter and my folks, which sadly meant I couldn't see all the speakers I wanted to, but I did get a chance to see Opal Carew talk about how she schedules her time in order to write 2 100,000 word books a year. I also got to see some of Sharon Page's talk on how she outlines.

And I think what Maureen and I both walked away with is how much time these authors build into the pre-writing stage. Previous to this conference, I planned most of my time for writing followed by a good chunk for editing - with some built in "iIreally screwed this up" time in the tail end for good measure. But both Opal and Sharon take upwards of four weeks to outline, plan and work on the books. Before writing. BEFORE WRITING!!

FOUR WEEKS!!! It seems outrageous. Ludicrous. Even though we've all been talking about doing more work up front instead of trying to fix everything at the end -- it still seems like so much time. But their arguments were sound and looking at the number of books both of them have been able to push out in the last two years and how their popularity has grown -- well, the case is pretty much made.

Now, I don't know if I can do four weeks - but as I am coming up on contract again, I need to think of what I can do, because I think it's smart and I think it's advice I am going to take.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Repitition, otherwise known as the dumbing down of my entertainment choices

Been noticing a really annoying trend lately. Characters in shows spouting the most inane dialogue in an attempt to recap what’s been happening. The most recent case was Fringe where a main character basically recapped the highlights of the previous two episodes and the shows focus so a viewer just tuning in would be very clear on what’s happening.

Which is great for that viewer, but as someone who has been watching, really annoying and on top of that it was poorly interjected into dialogue flow.

The guy that created Fringe also created Lost and I guess he took some criticism for Lost being impossible to follow, so he decided to make Fringe really easy to follow. Too easy to follow..

The same happens in reality TV, where each moment is recapped three times for us, so twenty minutes of actual events becomes an hour long show.. (sadly, I still watch… I’m a weak person)

I’m even noticing it in a book I’m reading, it’s a contemp, sort of chick lit and the heroine has an interesting job, but the author keeps telling us. And reminds us again, and again, and how she got into it, and how it’s a secret from her family and friends.
And then in case the reader missed it, reminds us again..

And I’m just about ready to throw the book against the wall.

I’d rather not understand enough than be hit against the head with explanations.

I am ready for a great contemporary read, or a chick lit. I’m all paranormaled out.. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Writing Lesson from Woody Allen

And it's not the kind of lesson you're probably expecting. It was a lesson in what not to do.

I used to be a big fan of Woody Allen, and Crimes and Misdemeanors is still one of my favourite films (note to self, must watch it again to see if it still holds up), but lately none of this films have really worked for me. I think I liked Match Point more than most people did, and I found last year's Cassandra's Dream kind of interesting, if only for him casting Colin Farrell against type, but based on the reviews I checked out on rotten tomatoes, I certainly liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona less than most critics. Why did so many people think this film was so great?

To me, this film was a lesson in why as writers we should show and not tell. It was supposed to be a film about love, exploring many kinds of love and questioning conventional ideas about love, but it seemed intent on pulling the audience as far away from the characters and possibly getting emotionally involved as possible. While the story was interesting and some of the performances were excellent, overall, the storytelling didn't work for me.

I think the biggest problem was the decision to use a voice over narration. Always a risky idea. But I've seen a few films in the past few years with narrations that I think really worked. Little Children, The Assassination of Jesse James... and Into the Wild are three recent ones that come to mind. In all of those, the narration added to the films and made the story telling more interesting. (While I didn't love Jesse James -- too long, too unfocussed -- it wasn't the narration that was the problem.)

But in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the narrator tells us things we can clearly see. It's like Woody didn't trust his actors, or his own choices in staging the scenes, to convey what we needed to know. For example... picture a scene with Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz sitting on a blanket in a pastoral setting eating and drinking and laughing with each other. Do we really need a voice over telling us they went on a picnic and that the initial tension felt between the three had ended??? There were constant examples of this. Even much of the dialogue was the characters expressing emotions that were already clear to us from their performances.

I'm not sure if I missed some great symbolism in this use of narration, or what... but while I was entertained by the film it mostly disappointed me. On the positive side, Penelope Cruz was amazing and Javier Bardem was astoundingly sexy. I also loved the idea of a couple who love each other but need the ingredient of a third person to smooth out the edges so that they can actually be around each other... And Rebecca Hall (who played Vicky) was great. Scarlett Johanssen felt a little flat.. but then her character was supposed to be a little lost and scattered and unsure of what she wanted, so perhaps that was acting???

Anyone else see it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Emmys got it right!

For the most part, I thought. 30 Rock, John Adams and Mad Men -- seems about right to me. It's time to cut loose Two and Half Men - there's nothing about that show that deserves an Emmy, seriously. A nomination for Jon Cryer? Really? For Penis jokes? Is that where we're at?

It seems like the shows that everyone loved two, three years ago have fallen off the map -- House, Desperate Housewives, My Name is Earl. I think, in large part because they didn't hold on to what made them so exciting, or they didn't change enough to keep what was so exciting fresh. How many times can we watch House be an ass? And My Name is Earl -- one of the best concepts - but it's fallen apart. Makes you think of those shows like book series -- first season is all premise and if your premise is good -- you get the viewers. Think Lost. But after the first season there has to be a plan. A big plan, if you want to keep those viewers. Think Dexter. Which, was I think the only place the Emmys fell down on the job.

Just listening to the caliber of guests on 30 Rock is an indication that the show has some serious magnetism - and it's Tina Fey. Funny ha ha, mixed with absurd, mixed with heart - I love it. I want to be Tina Fey when I grow up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Hurt Locker

It's official, my brain is broken. At least the part of my brain that I use for writing/revising my manuscripts and for thinking of topics for this blog. If it's not broken, it's certainly on strike.

So, I thought I'd talk about one of the films I saw at the TIFF. I saw some really good films this year, although none of them totally blew me away. This year I didn't come out of the fest babbling about any films in particular. Seems like there were a lot of mob films and films based on true stories and films about war.

One of the good war ones was The Hurt Locker, about a team of bomb defusal experts in Iraq. I think the best part of this film was the performance of the lead actor, Jeremy Renner, whom I've seen before, but never really paid much attention to. If this film is any indication, he could have a real career ahead of him. As I type this, I'm half-watching Renner in The Assassination of Jesse James.... which I saw at the fest last year, but didn't recognize him from that until I looked him up. Oooo his character in Jesse James just got shot in the head. Oooo. He just got dumped naked into a snowy hole. Damn, if that's really his body, he's got a great butt.

But The Hurt Locker has more going for it than the performances (and great butts). I found it interesting from a storytelling perspective, too because, at least based on my cursory first viewing in the middle of a marathon week of films, it doesn't really have a standard screenplay structure. No clear hero with a goal, no clear character arc, no escalating narrative, no single evil bomber they're trying to stop, no explicit turning points. At least not in a typically obvious way. Yet it worked for me.

The screenplay is based on events witnessed by a journalist who was embedded with the troops in Iraq so by nature it's episodic, but what the filmmaker, Kathryn Bigelow, did that was smart was to add a ticking clock type of structure to the film, which essentially gives all the characters the identifiable goal of: survive x more days. At the beginning of each vignette, we're told how many more days until the end of the company's tour, so it becomes about surviving until then, with each dangerous situation having the potential to either kill them or take them one day closer to going home. Seems to me a ticking clock plot device is a smart one to use for a film about defusing bombs.

I don't want to spoil it, so I won't say how, but the ending uses the ticking clock, too, in a way that was clever and true to the character, if not in a very Hollywood ending kind of way. This film won't be for everyone -- certainly not as commercial as some of this filmmaker's other films like Point Break, but I for one was riveted from beginning to end and was really taken by the performances.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Joys of Fall Television

The last few weeks of television, after the Olympics, have been so bad. They've been so bad that I've had to come face to face with my television addiction. I'm watching bad reruns of House. I am considering taking on a CSI franchise. I'm even watching Prison Break. However, last night...light at the end of the tunnel. Entourage - which I love, I mean really love. Jeremy Piven, so incredible, so totally captivating and entertaining. And frankly, it's a show about hedonism and watching those boys stress about weed and scripts and parties makes me forget just for a few minutes that I'm a Mommy. And with the added benefit of a Mark Whalberg cameo -- what a hunk.

And then, after Entourage -- True Blood. Anyone watch this? What a freaking opener! The show opens with the Anna Paquin character getting viciously, viciously attacked and then saved by some paranormal force. At the same time her brother is being questioned for the murder of a local woman and is forced to watch the video tape he and the woman made of them having sex. But, not average sex, which would be interesting. No, he's chocking her to death while having sex with her. Which is really nuts.

This is the first five minutes. Then there are a bunch of you know Bob conversations, but there are enough character reveals and twists - the gay gangster? to make me come back for more. But again, I'm easy.

It's not nearly as elegant as Dexter or subtle as Mad Men, in fact it's about as elegant and subtle as a jackhammer -- but I'm in. For the time being anyway.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Trends, historical romance and Lust, Caution.

Before I begin, I write historical romance, so if you note any bias in this post, you’re probably right.

Hearing a little on the loops, and in some of the industry blogs, about the return of Historical romance. Now the smarter people out there will tell you, historicals didn’t go anywhere. Sales have remained strong over the past few years, especially for established authors and new authors did get bought, just not in the quantities they had five years ago.

But we’ve had some amazing historical authors hit the scene with some fantastic books and all of a sudden, historicals are being talked about again.
What does this mean, well for those of us who write historicals, perhaps a historical query has a better chance of getting interest, if well written.
Which is great, but then the book has to deliver. And give the standards that Elizabeth Hoyt, Joanna Bourne and Sherry Thomas have set, that’s no small task.
So is it easier to get a historical published, I’d say, probably not. Perhaps just easier to get one read by an agent or editor.

At least, I’m hoping..

And on a completely different topic, but still talking about a historical romance. I finally got around to seeing Lust, Caution. A movie set in early 1940’s Shanghai.
Without giving away spoilers, the director made a choice to start the movie with a scene from the middle, that gave away nothing and everything. A fairly simple scene, where nothing seems to happen, but the heroine shares a look with a man in the scene that, to me, spoke so much about their relationship.
And from there I was riveted to find out what had happened prior to that look and what would happen after, which is exactly how the movie is structured.
It’s fairly graphic, mostly in terms of the sexuality portrayed, and slow at times, and subtitled, but really brilliant.
And a movie portrayed almost entirely in the heroine’s POV. A really interesting choice, because as a viewer we never completely understand the hero(?), at least not his motivations, but the glimpses we’re shown through the heroine are fascinating, conflicting and perplexing.
In many ways it reminded me of a gothic romance, where the hero is at times both compelling and terrifying.

It started me thinking about the use of POV. Romance used to be two or three POV’s in a book. Now that number has increased, which is great, but being in all our character’s heads can often mean we know them all too well. It can remove the mystery of that character.
I’m going to try to create more mystery with my characters. JR Ward did this really well with Zadist in those first two Brotherhood books. She showed up glimpses of a compelling, angry, dangerous character, and never explained why. At least until his book.
Something I need to remember, as I keep working on the current WIP, book 1 in a series of what I hope will be 5 books.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Beginnings vs. Endings

Busy week for the drunk writers. Molly is (hopefully) going to give birth any day now and Maureen (I’m a lot jealous) is at the film festival.

Me, I’ve been reading some good and not so good romance novels. I’m about to re-read JR Ward, because I need a fix.

The book I just finished; the beginning was amazing. Really gripping, intense, both the romance plot and the suspense plot. At half way through it fell off the rails. Lost focus on the suspense, which had been driving the romance and the whole book.

This was a first book for this author and I know she’s gone one to write better books. A great beginning and some interesting writing sold this book, I think. I usually pick up a book based on the first few pages, but I buy that author again based on the ending.

Because endings are hard. You can sort of luck into a great first three chapters, but keeping that momentum going, all the balls in the air, answering the questions raised while still keeping your reader completely enthralled.
Total magic and complete skill.

I’ve leaned in the past year to give my endings more thought than the beginning. And hope somehow I keep the book on the rails all the way through.

On another note, so excited about the new Tv season. I am really hopeful that something new in there will really excite, give me a reason to turn on the TV, because I’m dangerously close to watching another season of Next Top Model.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Mama Mia

My mom is in town to clean my ceiling fans, stuff my freezer full of casseroles and take care of me and the new baby that won't come. And since I only have so many ceiling fans and one can really only make so meatloafs and because the DAMN BABY WON'T COME!!! We've had some free time and so mom took me to see Mama Mia. Yes. The all singing, all dancing Stellan Skarsgard. He sang. He danced. I cringed.

The real stars of this movie -- that yes, is lots of fun. And yes, is the first sign of the apocalypse -- is the set design and Meryl Streep. The set design is so utterly charming, from Meryl Streep's Greek fisherman pants, to the jam jars strung with butterflies, to the vintage tablecloths that nearly had my mother passing out with envy - the set is amazing. And authentic.

And for crying out loud Meryl Streep -- this woman was in Sophie's Choice and when, in Mama Mia she sang the Abba hit - Winner Takes It All to Peirce Brosnan - it was so freaking moving. It was heartbreaking and sad and sweet and beautiful -- and it was ABBA!!! There is nothing that woman can't do and I think so much of it goes back to Sinead's post about committing. She commits. It's just the way it is. However, Peirce Brosnan committed too -- when he sang SOS. He really really threw himself at it -- but sadly, I laughed. I laughed because the whole ludicrous notion of this movie was brought home when 007 sang SOS. And I think it's because while he did throw himself at the role and the song and the concept -- he's no Meryl Streep.

The best part is at the end when the cast comes out in ludicrous ABBA style costumes and sings and dances on a huge light stage and it just lets you know that oscar winners, Mr. Darcy, independent film stars, and 007 - have senses of humor about themselves and their art and deciding to not take everything so seriously.

I can not believe I went to go see this movie. The things you do for your mother.
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