Friday, January 30, 2009

Playing with clichés

Been thinking about Maureen’s pre-determined post, and how it works well in paranormal, so it’s been used quite a bit. And when done well, it can be really hot. The problem is, it’s been done a lot, so now we have to do it well, and in a way that’s a little different.

The same way that the marriage of convenience works in historicals, but again, how do we use it in a different way.

Well my favourite website Entertainment Weekly posted a list of the best action films in the past twenty five years. Action movies are right up my alley, and of course, my favourite movie came in at #1.


I fully get that I blabber on about this movie incessantly to anyone who will listen, but it does a couple of things that make it, for me, - one of my fall back on for inspiration – movies.

It takes the conventions of the action movie and switches them around, brilliantly. And yes, there are aliens, but really, this is an action movie, more accurately, a war movie.

And it all centers around Ripley, the heroine. She is feminine, and motherly, and still completely believable as an action hero. She was the first, real, female action hero, and to my mind still the best. They took the cliché of the action hero and came up with the exact opposite, and made it work. They made it work, because they made it believable, every scene that doesn’t include something blowing up, leads into how they made it work.

I think about this a lot, because if we are going to take a convention, we need to switch it up. I’m thinking about Private Arrangements, where instead of the rich hero pursuing, and marrying the heroine and then screwing it up, Thomas gave us the rich heroine doing exactly that and made an old concept feel really fresh.

I’ve been thinking about my next book, which is at it’s core, a woman in distress, and how I’m going to switch it up. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I know now, that me heroine will only appear to be in distress, at least, initially.

And back to Aliens. Anyone noticed how much of Alien and Aliens has seeped its way into Battlestar Galactica? I think I’m the last person to have noticed…

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Destined to be together

Some of you know that we three (who love to talk about writing while drunk) are members of a larger critique group. And in that group there's recently been some (possibly too sober) discussion about the use of predestiny as a plot device, particularly in paranormal romance. That is, the device of telling the reader that the hero and heroine are destined to be together--such destiny typically being decreed by some supernatural force, primal instinct, or omniscient being. The main argument made against this type of device is that the couple doesn't choose to be together. But I don't buy that. (Or at least don't think it's so simple.)

Before I continue, I must admit, (in spite of having just written one), I not very well-read in the paranormal sub-genre. I'm reading more of them now. (I think my problem was I really disliked the first few I tried--about six years ago--and wrote off the sub-genre as a whole. My bad.) Several authors have recently helped to bring me over to the oh-so-luscious dark side. I've read J.R. Ward and Nalini Singh and Marjorie M. Liu and Jessica Andersen... but from what I understand, those writers are kind of "new school" in the genre, and this device is used (misused) a lot in the "old school". So, that's my long-winded way to say that I'm about to spout an opinion on yet another thing I don't know much about. ;-)

Basically, my take on the whole predestination issue is that, like most things in writing, it depends on the execution.

If an author uses "they're meant for each other" as an excuse to avoid showing a developing relationship, or showing any evidence of the characters falling in love, and/or not putting any serious internal conflicts in the way of that developing relationship--then I agree, that would be pretty weak. But I don't think predestination stories have to be weak. In fact, I find the idea of destiny kind of romantic and sexy. Your body knowing who you're supposed to be with? A man saying he has to have you and only you no matter what? Hot. (Maybe not in real life... I'm talking in fiction, here.)

My first reaction when we all started discussing this was: isn't every hero/heroine pairing in a romance novel predestined on some level? That is, in every romance novel an omniscient being (the writer) destines the couple to be together. As soon as an author makes John and Mary protagonists and drops them into a story aspiring to have the word romance stamped on the spine, John and Mary have no choice. They are going to end up together. (Okay, now perhaps I'm being facile...)

But, my point is, regardless of a magical predestiny, it's the author's job to show the reader that John and Mary SHOULD be together, and would have CHOSEN to be together regardless of their destinies. Even if they can't choose whether or not they're supposed to be together, they should choose to be in love. The reader, by the end, should think that "destiny" was right.

It's also the author's job to put enough credible and emotional obstacles in the way of John and Mary being happy with their ultimate destinies, so that their journey toward being a couple is interesting and compelling. And predestiny can't be used as an excuse to avoid this. It's a bit like love at first sight. Even if you're someone who believes that this happens... you probably also believe that for love to last past first sight, there needs to be some substance behind it. Same thing with destiny, I say.

Predestiny? Hot? Not? Love them? Hate them? What do you think?

Monday, January 26, 2009


I had to tear myself away from the recent circus over at Dear Author regarding the Ellora's Cave lawsuit. If you follow this link and find the post and the zillions of comments and the multiple meltdowns and do it at your own risk - because there goes the day. The whole damn day.

But what I read and what I've walked away with is this: if Ellora's Cave, whom many thought to be the gold standard in e-books in terms of sales and distribution and author development - can actually end up being so terribly shabby to their authors and unsavvy about the traditional print industry (which wouldn't be a big deal if they weren't trying to swim in that pool at times) and frankly, in a lot of cases just plan wrong - what does that mean for e-books in general? But more importantly - what does that mean for the authors? For the writers who, so thrilled to have interest in their work sign contracts that might hinder their career when they are ready to sell to traditional publishers?

I am not saying that traditional publishers can't be total a**holes to their authors - obviously.

There are more and more e publishing contract announcements every month in RWR and I do want to celebrate that event with the writers who get to sign those contracts - but I really want those writers to understand and know what they are getting into. A lot of e-published writers get righteously angry on loops when RWA tries to define what e-published means, because often RWA defines that with a lot of limitations. (This current RITA/Golden Heart thing an excellent example - and I agree with the righteous in this case - terribly handled by RWA.)

But I think RWA - as a writer advocacy organization - is trying to figure out how this new animal fits into their organization, and I think they are right to be slow and careful - because these publishers, much like the traditional publishers and small press print publishers - have to prove themselves not just to be money makers but to be respectful and lawful to their authors. And as a professional organization trying to enhance the status of romance writers within the larger industry they also have to be sure there is standard in play. It's why they've ruled out Vanity Press and frankly, some of these publisher websites are coming across to me like Vanity Press.

Now, don't go getting crazy - I am not saying that as a whole e-books aren't as good as traditionally published books - what I am saying is that alot of these publishers have little to no editorial process. And some, if there is an editorial process, the qualifications for being an editor basically involve a love of books. I love books - but trust me, I am no editor, and anyone we as writers want trying to make our books better - I believe should be qualified. Or at least a better editor than me? Isn't that what we want? As writers? To be made better?

I am by no way against e publishing! But I am worried for those authors so excited by the prospect of a contract, not reading those contracts to find out what exactly they are getting into.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fictional Insults

I read a short news story today that gave me serious pause. For several reasons.

The story is about an Australian novelist arrested in Thailand for insulting the Thai monarchy in his novel. His novel which sold SEVEN copies.

This is disturbing on at least two levels. First, the insult was to an "unnamed" prince. And related to a "brief passage" in the book. Presumably the writer made up a fictional character, placed them in the Thai monarchy and never gave it another thought. No legal issues if it's not a real person, right? (Now, clearly I don't know much about this case, so please don't read this as if I do... Maybe it was a thinly disguised portrait of a real prince? But the article didn't make it sound that way.) And people wonder why books like the Princess Diaries (and tons of Harlequin Presents books) are set in fictional countries...

But even more disturbing was SEVEN COPIES? Gee. You'd think he could get seven copies sold just amongst his family members.

How careful are you not to get into potential legal issues in your stories?

And on a completely different topic.... Knight Agency agent, and former Harlequin editor, Melissa Jeglinski is blogging about category romances on the TKA blog today. Interesting stuff.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Best of 2008 - Books

I love the reader poll over at All About Romance. It's been pared down a bit - but it always makes me think about the great books I've read this year. Now, here's my problem -- my one brain cell is tired of doing all the heavy lifting in my head and I can't remember all the great books I've read - so I need your help. I'll throw out some of my picks and you remind me what I'm missing ---

Funniest Romance - Unpredictable by Eileen Cook - it killed me. I laughed out loud, I was jealous with rage. I could read it over and over. Loved that book.

Biggest Tearjerker - Irresistible by Susan Mallery? Is that the one with the heroine's sick kid - oh, I cried.

Best Love Scenes -- tough one. Delicious was pretty spicy.

Erotica - I loved Amy Ruttan's Fox's Bride. Was that 2008?

Best Hero??? Really tough one. I dug Stephanie Doyle's hero from Untouchable - I dug Marjorie M Liu's gargoyle in The Wild Road

Heroine - I loved Michele Ann Young's Lucinda.

Best Romance Couple - Delicious? Not sure. Ideas?

Guiltiest Pleasure -- Gotta be JR Ward. I love those books more than anyone should.

Historical Romance in the UK? - I still can't think of anything better than Delicious. What am I blanking on?

Out of the UK? Duke of Shadows. For Sure.

Contemporary Romance - Irresistible by Susan Mallery -- what else am I missing?

Paranormal - Wild Road? Lover Enshrined?

Best Romantic Suspense? Absolutely Eve Kenin's Hidden.

Author I gave up on - Eloisa James - I give up on her every year and every year she pulls me back in.

Best Romance of the year -- in terms of world building and my sheer adoration of the series, not because the romance was all that spectacular - Lover Enshrined.

Chick Lit - Love Walked In - what a book. Not totally done, but man, what a book.

So, what am I missing?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Getting to the point.

Reading a contemporary romance written by a very well respected author, one who reviewers tend to love, but really hasn’t found an audience yet.

And as I read her book, I found my mind wandering, I’d put it down and days would go by and I hadn’t picked it up, but in the meantime I’d read three books by authors like Marjorie M. Liu, or Sherry Thomas, or JR Ward.

It took a while for me to understand why I was so reluctant to keep reading this book. All the elements were there. Appealing, fully rounded, quirky characters, a plot that did move forward, and nice tension, but each scene took twice as many words as it should have.

I could see where the scene was headed, but the author took the long, leisurely, quirky, occasionally cute, witty way to get there and I just got bored. I don’t believe these days we can have conversations just to show characterization, or if we do, those chats have to be fascinating. I’m sort of spoiled now by authors whose every word has a purpose and who have ruthlessly cut the fat from their manuscript and now it seems I can’t go back.

And for every author, the fat varies, but discovering what is meaningful and what isn’t is the real key to keeping a book relentlessly readable.

I’m a third of the way through the contemp, and I’ve given up on ever finishing it.

On another note, and a huge plea. Tonight is the season premiere of Friday Night Lights 3rd season. It’s a great time to start this show. Watch it, you will not be disappointed and my bet is within two episodes you’ll be in love with Coach and his wife, or at least seriously lusting after Riggins.
And if enough people watch this season, there might be another.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best of 2008

This is a tough one. But I feel I'll be a slacker and ostracized if I don't put in my two cents to follow Molly and Sinead's best of posts.


Toss up. (Either that or I'm totally incapable of making a decision these days.) Okay, I admit that I'm totally incapable of making a decision these days. But I've narrowed it down to six:

- The Wrestler -- Astounding performance by Mickey Rourke. And I think Darren Aronofsky is one of my favourite directors (even if he is sporting a rather creepy mustache these days). And yes, I liked The Fountain. Thought it was fascinating. Shoot me. But back to The Wrestler. Aronofsky filmed this almost like a documentary, so that watching it, you get to a place where you feel like you're a voyeur on this man's life... and it's so absorbing. I blogged a bit about The Wrestler, here.

- In Bruges -- Totally forgot about this little gem until the Golden Globes. Loved it. If you're interested I blogged about it a bit, here.

- The Dark Knight -- I think Sinead covered that one well. I still think there was a chunk of the screenplay that could have been cut. And perhaps it was the dueling ferries as Sinead suggested, but loved that film and Heath Ledger's performance was astounding.

- Waltz with Bashir -- Okay, it's a documentary. Okay, it's animated. Okay, it's in Hebrew. Okay it's about war. Okay, the country in question is at war again... But it this film is riveting and an interesting take on the toll war takes--even on the victors. I blogged about it previously, here.

- Slumdog Millionaire -- Such a feel good movie. And so clever. Go see this film. Now. I blogged about it (beware minor spoilers) here.

- Wall-E -- The more I think about this film, the more I liked it. But I also saw Kung Foo Panda over the holidays, and I have to say, for a fun kids film, that one blinded me with its awesomeness, too. Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose skills were the stuff of legend... Gotta love narration like that.

And TV....

-- Battlestar Gallactica Season 4 part one. Can't WAIT for this Friday. Enough said.

-- Mad Men. I blogged a bit about the first episode of this show previously, here.

Okay, pretty lazy to write a post that's basically a set of links to previous posts... But that's how I roll.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Wire....Best of 2008

Okay, I know I am late on The Wire. Everyone and their uncle has been telling me to watch this show and this Christmas Break, husband and I hunkered down with some DVD's and totally had our minds blown.

There are so many things to rave about with this show -- McNulty! Amazing! All the characters - totally real. Totally dimensional. Conflicted on every level, except a few and their being unconflicted is sort of a conflict in and of itself. And so initially, I'm thinking, WOW - so hard. You need really dramatic stakes for that to work, and actually - not true at all. It's part of that creating good characters thing, that I always back off of at some point. The Wire just commits to conflict, all the way.

The story telling is all about the details. ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS. The minutiae of this case is the plot - sure there are some murders thrown in, but day in and day out, it's the small details that create the stakes. All the stuff that as a writer, I yadda yadda, or totally blow off because I can't imagine anyone being interested in this stuff- the writers make paramount. And it's because the details MATTER - aren't just thrown in to show how authentic they can be - is why they work.

The dialogue - this is one of those shows that writes in vernacular. I have no clue what they are saying half the time - and it lends itself to urgency and again authenticity. But when it matters - when the characters really talk - the dialogue is no less authentic, no less grainy and gritty - but it's a tad more dramatic - actually really dramatic and it's freaking awesome!! Awesome!! And they get away with it because of all the time they put into the non-dramatic dialogue. At the end of the first season a cop gets shot and there are two incredible speeches made by two characters to McNulty. Incredible. Seriously - watching The Major and McNulty at the hospital gave me chills.

The turning points, the big ones are human. What makes the big arc work are the reactions these hardened cops and even harder bangers have to people. Plot moves along on details, but the plot CHANGES because of people.

It's good stuff.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Dark Knight…. Best of 2008

Ok, so it’s way late to be making best of 2008 lists, but the Dark Knight has been top of mind lately. And I’ve been lucky enough to actually see some great flicks in the past few weeks.

Finally saw Wall E, which as Molly wrote, is superb, Gran Torino, which is both beautifully made and takes the story in some really unexpected directions and Slumdog Millionaire, which almost, almost made my number one movie for 2008.

But in the end it was my second viewing of Dark Knight that did it for me. I liked it so much better the 2nd time. The 1st time I saw it, I could barely take it all in. The drama, the explosions, the varied characters, it was almost overwhelming. And exciting and riveting and at times, even touching.

And at heart, I’m a genre girl, always will be.

Now I know in advance, Molly disagrees with my choice, and I'm pretty sure this would not be Maureen's choice, but isn't that what makes this all fun. Everything is subjective.

What did it for me about Dark Knight was the sheer scope of the movie and the screenplay. The way all the subplots played off each other, moments of subtlety in a big film, and the brilliance of the acting.

Loved the Joker, obviously, and loved how they created the relationship between the Joker, Batman and two face. It wasn’t till the second time I saw it that I fully got how much Bruce Wayne idealizes Two Face, and how cleverly the writers surprised us with that storyline, but in a way that made total sense.

That Batman went to save Two Face made perfect sense. The only wrong note was the showdown between the two ferries. It was predictable, but the rest, loved it. Genre at it’s absolute finest.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Congratulations, Molly!

Our own Molly O'Keefe has been nominated for a career achievement award by Romantic Times magazine!!!

As per Romantic Times:

Career Achievement Awards honor authors for their entire body of work throughout their career. The winners and nominees are selected by our staff of over 50 reviewers representing the readers' voice in the women's fiction industry.

This is a huge honor for Molly and so well deserved. And so early in her career. Clearly a recognition of her blinding awesomeness. (my fav new line)

Yeah, Molly!
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