Friday, September 28, 2012

I am so sorry about the Spoilers

that said, anyone watching this who wants to watch Breaking Bad and hasn't gotten around to it yet, please stop reading this.

I just finished season 4 and while the show has faults (some episodes are paced slowly), what they are doing with their characters is amazing.

They have taken their main protagonist, the hero of the series and completely turned him, so now, at the end of the fourth season, he's a completely different man from the one who started the series.

The beauty of the fourth season is that the main villain, Gus Fring, may be a better man than Walt, or at least that's the question we're left with at the very end. And what the show has done beautifully is shift the focus, so now, the hero of the series is Jesse, the high school drop out, meth addict turned meth cook, who Walt once mentored and now ruthlessly manipulates.

Needless to say, I'm excited to watch the 5th season, and more importantly, the end, to see what Walt has coming to him, and how it happens, because he's now the villain.

It's an interesting idea, taking your hero and transforming him into a villain, and one I'm not sure I've seen on TV before. It means having a new hero waiting in the wings and a escalating series of events that turns a person, a meek, family oriented, science teacher into a homicidal drug kingpin. It's something I'd love to play with in a different setting, say a fantasy setting.

That's what great TV does, is give us interesting ideas and concepts and shows us how they can play out. And that's maybe why, I shouldn't watch another Bachelor Pad.

and soon, Vampire Diaries. I'm stupidly excited for the first episode.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Synopsizes Suck!

I know, I know it’s something we all moan about, but we all have to do them if we want to be traditionally published. I haven’t had to write one for a while because it’s been all book writing for the last several months, but this past week I had to put one together for a book that’s going out on submission.

Now this is a book I’ve already completed. I already know the story inside and out. There is no figuring out what should happen next. There is simply telling the story of the book you already wrote. Simple right?

Nope. I still struggled. What elements to tell, what can be left out. How to show case the relationship within a few lines so the person reading the synopsis will get a sense of what the book is about without going into too much detail.

And the thing about the synopsis – there seems to be a lot of gray area around it. Everyone knows what a pitch is – 2 to 3 sentences that showcase your story. Something High Concept! Everyone knows what a query is – one page. A couple of paragraphs dedicated to the story and a paragraph detailing the author’s writing credentials.

But for the synopsis I’ve heard editors say 5 pages. 10 pages. Even as high as 20 pages. Let me tell you the difference between telling your story in 5 pages and 20 pages is a BIG difference.

Me – I’m a ten page max kind of person. My thinking is if you wanted to read 20 pages of something then you might as well just read the book.

So fortunately that’s done and I can say something I never thought I would say. I can go back to doing the easy thing of just writing the book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dialogue in YA Fiction

One of the first things you learn as a beginner author is that while dialogue should give the reader the impression that it's the way people talk, it shouldn't be exactly how people talk.

That is, you shouldn't include the ums and pauses and repetition. You generally shouldn't include the boring inane small talk we all use to break the ice with each other or to get warmed up. You should get to the point, have your characters express themselves in as few words as possible, and expressing even more than the words actually say with subtext. Dialogue is closer to how we wished we spoke, or how we think we speak, rather than how we really speak.

But I feel like some YA authors forget this or think it doesn't apply to them. And editors let them get away with it.

To the point where I wonder if they think the rule doesn't apply to YA. I even started to wonder if teen readers want to read dialogue that's closer to how they actually speak.

But I, for one, don't think so. It's one reason why I haven't enjoyed a lot of contemporary YA I've read. Not all. Just some.

It's like when you hear a teen, like, speaking and like, they're saying like, like a lot, and it's like, that's okay, she's a teen and, like, that's how she talks, so like it makes sense that like the author wrote, like, all the dialogue with a lot of likes. But I think like it gets, like, you know, like kind of repetitious and annoying and, like, I start to feel like, if I were an actual, like, teen, I'd feel like the author was, like, mocking me, or like, talking down to me, not like, trying to sound like me or relate to me.

I'm reading a critically acclaimed YA novel right now. And it's from about 10 years ago. And it's not contemporary, it's sci-fi. And it's clever. It's a cool concept. I wish I'd written it. The author really commits to the world and the language these teens use, and for the most part it really works but, like, I wish the author had, like, used the word like less often.

The other YA book I read this year with really quirky language was Blood Red Road, but that one really worked for me. The language was different, it took a while to get into the flow of it, but it wasn't annoying. For this new one I'm reading, the language is getting in the way of the story for me.

Does that ever happen to you? If the language is annoying, can you enjoy a story?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beer and Books

I've told this story here before, but since it is one of my superpowers to remind people of humiliating and embarrassing things that I have done, I will tell it again.

The night that Molly won the Rita (do you remember that, Molly? the whole golden statue thing?), she bought a round. Now, I don't drink beer that often, but the lobby wine was giving me a headache so I asked Molly for some kind of girly beer. She came back and handed me a bottle wrapped in a napkin. I took one sip and said, "Why, that's a delightful beverage!" I removed the napkin and saw that it was a Bud Light.

I was so embarrassed. Molly tried so hard not to snort and chose not to mock me, sweet girl that she is.

Anyway, here's the thing. I know it's not good beer. Yet, it's what I like. I really did (and do) find it delightful. Would it be better to drink something I don't like as much? Or do I go ahead and indulge my love of something that I know is sort of bad.

So where do books come in? I think you can guess. I have, on occasion, gotten frustrated with smart friends who like bad books. I'll ask them what they liked about them and they'll shrug and say things like, "I just wanted something mindless." Didn't the overuse of adverbs bother them? What about the clunky dialogue? Nonsensical plot?

Nope. No more than the lack of hops or malt or whatever else I'm supposed to be liking in beer bother me about Bud Light.

I always think that people respond on a subconscious level to good writing, but I'm beginning to think that's not any more true than me responding subconsciously to good beer.

Is there something you know is kinda bad that you like anyway?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Romance Cover Rut

Sinead's post on Friday and Smitten Kitten's comment on how bad the titles are on some romance novels made me think about titles in general and also covers and how deep the romance packaging rut is.

Now, it works. Right? To some extent is works. Art teams comes up with covers that attract the eye of The Romance Reader - I don't think the mandate for the art department is to gather new readers. there have been so GORGEOUS covers out there lately - I'm thinking of Meredith Duran's Your Scandalous Ways and Carrie Lofty had some total stunners - but they're romance covers.

You look at the covers of Meljean Brooks absolutely fantastic Iron Seas series, and they make me scratch my head. Trade paperback - which is usually the siren call for non romance readers, or at least the indicator that the publisher is going after that demographic - with naked man chest.

The success of Fifty Shades and Bared to You has unleashed it's own tidal wave of masculine covers that still somehow create the impression of intimacy. I loved the cover for Bared to You - but we've seen a lot of similar ones.

The last cover that really really worked for me in romance was that second Courtney Milan book with the hero staring off the page right into my eyes - can't remember the title, but that cover MADE ME BUY THE BOOK.

Now, I understand, I'm no longer the reader that buys according to cover, or back cover blurb. I buy strictly on author name and recommendations. So this isn't a fair assessment. But what about you? What was the last book you bought because of the cover? Romance or otherwise?

Friday, September 21, 2012

I like my historical romance peopled by adults

Which is a long winded way of complementing Sherry Thomas. I've read the first two in her new series, which are Beguiling the Beauty and Ravishing the Heiress, and first, let me state, they are really wonderful.

But I hate the titles. The titles sound over the top and her books are anything but, they are subtle and remarkably written and they read so differently from anything else in the genre right now. They are the books I would hand to someone to convince them to respect romance.

I am a total fangirl. Her characters are adults. They don't always behave perfectly, but they come across to me as fully formed people who behave like adults and I love how she subverts the genre in subtle ways.

The first book takes the classic beauty and makes her beauty both a blessing, but also a terrible curse, where normally heroines are beautiful, but unaware of it, this heroine is keenly aware of it and uses it when necessary. Her beauty was an impediment to her and the hero falling in love.

The second book is about a forced marriage, where the one doing the forcing is (sort of) the heroine and what happens afterwards, and how friendship and compromise bring about love.

I loved both books, maybe the second one more, but more I love how she can bring about fresh takes on the genre so subtly and they are written so wonderfully.

Yep, total fangirl here, but so far in this series, she has absolutely lived up to my expectations. And now I'm eagerly awaiting the third, because I absolutely trust her to take that character somewhere special.

Anyone else read them? (I know Molly has) Anyone else loved them the way I did?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

LIfe can suck for writing...

So I’m going through some things, the way you do when “hard” life interferes with well… “normal” life. And for the first time in a long time I’m find writing incredibly difficult. I’m trying to make some edits to an already completed manuscript and things like “fix word choice” can have me stumped for minutes on end. Like it’s the hardest thing in the world to come up with a synonym.

Granted my editor’s revision notes can be trickier than that, but you can imagine how hard “take his POV deeper” is when I can’t fix a freaking word choice.

But I’ve got no choice. I’ve got a hard deadline that simply can’t be missed and only four days left to fix everything. It’s a good reminder especially for writers maybe who are contemplating between traditional publishing and self-publishing some of the other things that come into play.

Self-publishing – your deadlines are your own. If life gets in the way of writing you simply don’t do it and get back to it when you can.

Traditional publishing – your work is holding up the work of a lot of other people involved in the process of publishing your book.

Now if you’re self motivated self-publishing may be okay, but if you’re a person who needs those hard deadlines to get the work done then that should all factor into your decision about what makes sense for you as a professional writer.

Right now I wish I didn’t have the pressure of a deadline. But conversly the pressure of that deadline is going to push me past my writing fog and force me to make the changes that need to be made.

I hope…

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bromance and Vampire Romance

That sums up my day one of the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

First the bromance.

The first film I saw was End of Watch, which actually opens this Friday.

For me, this was a really good film if a difficult one. It becomes clear, not that far in, that there's no chance this movie is going to end well... and I kept thinking, D'uh, you dummy, of course it's not going to end well, it's called END of Watch.

The performances were really strong and ultimately it's a story about two men in a working relationship who really care about each other and about their jobs.

Sadly, it's also about how sometimes it doesn't pay to do the right thing. It was kind of depressing to see this demonstrated so clearly--why some police officers would choose to look the other way at times. Almost like the worse the criminals the more the police have to lose by pursuing them.

But it's also about the real (friendship) love between two men and a glance into the lives of police officers in one of the most dangerous parts of LA.

I was at the second screening for this film, so the actors weren't there :( but the director was :) and he did a brief Q&A.

Interesting things learned:

- that part of LA is as dangerous as was depicted. Police officers there see more action in a typical day than most others do in their entire careers
- an AK 47 is a highly inaccurate gun. I can't remember the exact stats he gave on accuracy, but basically it made sense of all the scenes I've seen in movies where the hero is being fired upon by multiple  automatic weapons, yet manages not to get hit...
- Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña did not get along well (according to the director). This made me more impressed with their acting performances.

Now the Vampire Romance

The same day, I also saw the world premiere of Byzantium, which is basically a YA vampire story--a well-told and interesting one.

It doesn't have a release date listed on imdb, and I'm not sure whether or not it has a distributor yet.... But compared to the other YA vampire movie franchise, this one is way better. And has the potential to spawn an ongoing series. But alas, the better movies aren't always the ones that get released or do well... Just like books.

The film reinvents the vampire myth yet again (apparently one has to go to Ireland to become a vampire) and in this world, being a vampire is a brotherhood--no girls allowed. So the two main characters--posing as sisters--are on the run from their own kind.

It was just gory enough, IMO and tense and I have to admit, in hindsight, a few of the images seem kind of laughable... and/or easy to mock (blood waterfalls) but I wasn't laughing at the time, nor was anyone in the audience.

The romance interest for the teen character was kind of a weak character and ruined the movie for the people I went to the screening with... but while I wouldn't want to date the dude, I thought he was an interesting and unique character (he was dying of cancer) and it worked for me. I completely understood why they were drawn to each other.

In the theatre, we ended up sitting across from the actors. And I was directly across the aisle from Colin Farrell, who's not in the movie, but was there to see the film and support Neil Jordan and Saoirse Ronan.

Here are some snaps taken after the movie.
My new pal Colin sitting across the aisle from me

Colin congratulating Saoirse at the end of the movie

Colin telling Saoirse about the lovely woman with a pink fringe who was sitting across the aisle from him

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rediscovering My Love of Sit-Coms or How I'm a Moody Bitch

I used to love sit-coms. Cheers. The Cosby Show. M*A*S*H*. Friends. Seinfeld. I adored them. I love quippy comebacks and funny set ups.

Then suddenly I stopped watching them. I'm pretty sure it was tied to events in my own life. I stopped being an easy audience and suddenly they weren't that funny to me anymore. I was also really sick of the schlubby guy with the impossibly hot wife thing. I turned my nose up at the lot of them. I was a one-hour drama girl (although not medical dramas because they ALWAYS have a brain tumor episode and I can't abide them).

Maybe it's a sign of mental health on my part (although I doubt it), but I'm starting to groove on sit-coms again. It started with Modern Family. Then I decided to branch out to Parks and Rec. I still can't do The Office because, frankly, it's like spending an extra half hour at my day job and who needs that? Then I discovered reruns of The Big Bang Theory and now I'm burning through Suburgatory. I had a brief flirtation with Two Broke Girls which might get more serious if episodes show up on On Demand. I'm not so sure about New Girl, but it's starting to win me over.

I do this with genres of books, too. I'll go through a phase where I only want to read mysteries or romances or chick lit or sci-fi, but it's usually a genre and not a format. Although I supposed "novel" is a format. Someone told me the other day that she never reads short stories. She doesn't like them.

Do you do this at all? Just stop reading or watching something based on its format and not its content?

Friday, September 14, 2012

I'm stuck

I've never found the beginning of books hard. For me it's always been the middle part, but right now, the beginning is where I'm stuck.

Stuck at the part where I'm establishing character and relationships, where it's all about dialogue and introducing characters seamlessly and I'm finding it so hard. I get a sentence done and get distracted and this is the part where discipline takes over. I need to find some to help me work through the parts I find difficult.

It might suck, and I'll probably have to go back and fix it, but I'm lacking right now the 'sit my butt in chair and write through the pain' focus to get me to the parts that are action and adventure and really, really fun to write.

And really all I'm missing is discipline. There are so many other fun things to do when the writing is hard. I could surf the web, have a chat with my cat, do some laundry and then surf the web again and at the end of a couple of hours have a whopping 200 words written...

So today, I'm writing through the pain. Putting words on the page is enough for now, even if those words aren't great, they will do, at least for now.

Because I think it's the only way I'm going to get through this section. And then at the end, I get to watch some TV. Right now it's season 4 of Breaking Bad and it's great... my frustrations with previous seasons are a thing of the past because I'm back in and loving Walt and Jesse and the most interesting character arcs on TV right now and of course counting the days until the return of Vampire Diaries.

Anyone else frustrated with their writing progress? Is it just I'm out of practice after a lazy, lazy summer?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Battleship... How can you not like it?

Okay so I know I’m late to the party but I just watched Battleship this past weekend. I was looking for something completely mindless that would just not let me think about anything.
Was this the movie for that! I loved Taylor. I loved my boyfriend Eric. I loved Landis from FNL and I thought Rianna was funny too. The silly stuff – well it was silly. I mean the alien ship that flew from space can’t see at night? I really don’t think I got that. But when it was the people interacting with the people it was glorious and fun.

Probably because as I think Molly said it was basically FNL goes to sea…. With aliens.

I’ve been telling people that I enjoyed it and they look at me with two heads. And then I explain it this way – at least to the guys I know – you know how you liked Transformers really because Megan Fox bent over a car? Well I liked Battleship because I got to see Taylor and Eric (I know his name is really Alexander – but to me he will always be Eric) in white Navel dress.

Does that make me someone who objectifies men based on their looks? …. Ah who cares. Eric and Taylor in Navel Uniforms! Yummm.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No Vamp Eric :(

So Eric/Alexander was a no show. :(  And I'm pretty sure he was still in town earlier today, so I don't know what to think that he didn't come to the screening. Maybe he had to leave but it's annoying when stars come to Toronto just to do the press junket and then skip the public screenings.

The good news is that the film, Disconnect, was good. Got a standing ovation. (The first one I've seen this year. Actually, I don't remember any last year, either.)

Disconnect is about how technology is affecting the way we interact with each other and I really enjoyed it. There were four main story lines and they all intersect to some extent, but not quite as unexpectedly or as interestingly as in films like Crash or Babel or 21 Grams. Did I think it was the best movie I've ever seen? No... But it's good. And Jason Bateman does well in a dramatic role. It made me cry.

So far, my favorite movie would be between Writers and Byzantium. I'll blog about all of them. But not tonight. I'm bagged.

Tonight I also saw Arthur Newman, which was interesting and different, but something about it was a bit off... The audience in general did not seem to like it -- barely any applause at the end. The only thing I can put my finger on right now is that Colin Firth does not do American accents well. I remember thinking that in another (very bad) movie I saw him in too... Maybe with J Lo?

On the other hand, Emily Blunt can do any kind of accent she chooses to--and she does at least three or four different ones in this movie, all convincingly. Thinking about it now, she was pretty spectacularly good in the movie.

Movies I haven't seen that I'm hearing great buzz about:

The Master
Cloud Atlas
Rust and Bone
The Hunt

Those are the ones I can think of right now, anyway. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Not Sticking the Landing

Please be aware that there are going to be heavy duty SPOILERS in here. If you don't want to know about the ending of Age of Miracles or Friends with Kids, click away now. I mean it. Right now.

Okay. Endings are hard. I know that. I've struggled with them. It's not easy to get all the ponies back into the barn in a way that's pleasing. I've had two big disappointments recently. One book and one movie.

First, the book. Age of Miracles. It's truly an awesome book. Great fascinating premise. Great narrator. Great complexities. She makes the big picture of what would happen if the world slowed on its axis so vivid by showing how it affects these very three-dimensional and wonderful and flawed characters. I loved it. Then it kind of just stopped. There wasn't really any end to the book. She just stopped telling the story. Maybe she was going for some sort of arty ambiguous ending, but if so, it didn't work for me. I suppose it's possible that I just loved the characters and the premise so much that I didn't want it to end, but I don't think so. It felt like she'd reached her word count and just stopped writing. With a book where everything else in it was so darn stellar, it really stuck out.

Second, the movie. Friends with Kids. I know we've seen the male/female BFFs before. When Harry Met Sally anyone? I didn't care. The writing was so fun. The dialogue was so great. The acting was so terrific. The NYC apartments so completely unrealistic. I suppose I knew that in the end the two of them would have to be together. It just seemed like a movie that smart could have somehow made the inevitable more interesting than having the guy tell the girl, "I want to f*ck the sh*t out of you." Again, maybe if I hadn't liked the characters so much or been so charmed by so much of the rest of the movie, I might not have cared as much.

Anybody else read Age of Miracles or seen Friends with Kids? Am I being too harsh? Am I missing something? Help me out.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Oh! Thank God That's Over....

Summer was not pretty at our house. Fun. Lots of fun. Sandy, too. But not pretty.

I feel like I learn a little something every summer about how I'm going to be a mom and a writer at the same time and this year I learned - I'm not. I took the kids out of daycare in August because we were taking so many trips etc...etc... and it just never occurred to me that I would get NOTHING -- NOT ONE THING done for the month of August.

Part of it is that I am a bit precious. I hate writing when they're in the house, there are so many interruptions I feel like I do more harm than good to my manuscript. I know there are so many mom/writers who can just seal themselves off and get it done - I salute you.

I also TOTALLY overestimate how much my husband is going to help. I have this vision every summer of my husband turning to me and saying "you haven't gotten any writing done, have you? No. You don't have to say it. I can tell. Please, go write. I've got it covered."

Has any husband said this?

He's totally supportive, but trust me, I'm the one bringing it up and making it happen.

So, now I'm back to work. I have a half book deadline at the beginning of October and I'm at about 26,000 words. Doable? Sure. Especially since both kids are in about 6 hours of school. (which you would think is plenty of time, but again, I'm so precious. I want to work out, walk the dog, walk to the coffee shop to meet Maureen, pick up the kids - those things can't happen in six hours - much to my dismay.

And again, every September I'm reminded how damn hard this is. And not so much the plotting and character and fun stuff. I'm talking about the actual sitting butt in chair for three hours problem. The physical act of writing takes some easing into.

So, how about you guys? Did you take time off this summer? How are you doing getting back into the grind?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Eric the Vampire in Person!

Steph will be seething with jealousy. I am going to see Alexander Skarsgård in person next Tuesday night at the screening of his new film Disconnect.

I honestly barely read the description of the film before I picked it. (They had me at Skarsgård.) But now that I have, it does sound interesting with a similar storytelling style to Magnolia, Babel or Crash. Excited!

With the aid of a first-rate cast — including Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and Alexander Skarsgård (Melancholia) — director Henry Alex Rubin (Murderball) explores the impact of the internet on our daily lives through a series of gripping, cunningly interwoven parallel narratives.

I'm seeing fewer films this year and not the ones that already have Oscar buzz, but still, I think I have an interesting lineup.

Another one I'm excited about and didn't read the description until after I picked it is Byzantium.

A pair of female vampires (Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton) wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting English seaside community in this deliciously depraved supernatural drama from Academy Award® winner Neil Jordan.
I'm not sure how I missed that it was a vampire movie when I was first skimming the description! This wasn't the photo in the programme book and I honestly thought it was going to be a dour story about working class English people. Not sure why I got that idea.

I'm slightly frightened about another one of my picks... It's called Painless and it's a Spanish film about kids who are experimented on because they can't feel pain.

In this fascinating allegorical horror-thriller, a brilliant young neurosurgeon emerges miraculously unharmed from a devastating car crash — only to discover a dark secret about his origins that stretches back to a series of bizarre experiments conducted at the dawn of the Spanish Civil War.
Creepy, right?

I'll try to blog next week, maybe with pictures of Stephanie's boyfriend!
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