Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"I'll be home for...crap."

I kid you not. During my sister's piano recital (which she RULED, by the way), one sweet little boy stepped up to the piano, played the opening chromatic chords to "I'll be Home for Christmas," but had a little trouble with the beginning lyrics. The above title is a direct quote.

It's Christmas Eve Eve, the equivalent of "Dead Week" for last minute shoppers of the family. For other families that day would be tomorrow, but my family celebrates the Birth of Christ on the evening of the 24th, which moves everything up a bit.

This has been a difficult Christmas season in some respects. I love Christmas, and I love everything that comes with it - the baking, the tree, the lights, the choosing of gifts. I was sick - the first time - when we went out for our tree. It sat undecorated for a while, until I felt better enough to go on a rampage.

I've learned a lot about myself and sickness this month. I've discovered that if I'm sick for a while, the moment I feel a bit better I'll go on a bender. All of a sudden, come hell or high water, I find myself 100% devoted to getting something done. The first time it was the tree, which I decorated myself (Danny was sick by then). In my infinite wisdom, I started the lights at the top and worked my way down. It seemed logical at the time. Now...less so.

Things were equalizing, we were both healthy, until I got sick last week. Again. So when I started coming out of that one, I began wrapping gifts. All the gifts. I blew my nose, then wrapped more.

I take wrapping pretty seriously. There is something deeply, deeply troubling to me if the identity of the gift can be guessed just by looking at it. Starting at a young age, I learned how to ID my gifts. I thumped the front, feeling for a plastic window. I felt around the edges to see if it was a Nordstrom box (they had wide edges at the time). I pressed the paper down to try to see through it. I shook. I rattled. I annoyed my parents with my startling accuracy.

Oh, and I had my patented question: "Is it in its original box?"

Seriously. After that, my parents took the wrapping up a notch. Clothes for my American Girl doll were wrapped inside a standard garmet box...along with a seatbelt clip and some bolts. Christmas has never been the same. What's funny is that I married someone who does not have the same compulsion to examine his gifts. He's happy opening them and being surprised. Can't understand it.

Anyway, I got sick, I felt better, I wrapped. There is one gift I'm particularly proud of in its sneakiness - not only is the item entirely disguised, but I disguised it using a collection of objects I've been trying to get rid of for six months.

Then my Christmas cards arrived from Costco Printing, and I started in on those. Fifty cards. Twenty-four hours. I'm actually quite proud.

My sister's Christmas recital was the night before last. She played "Falling Slowly" from Once, and it was incredible. But as the rest of the 75-minute program progressed, I had some time to think about music. Particularly Christmas music.

Such as...have you ever though about how creepy the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" really is? It makes him sound like a KGB operative...he knows everything. Scary. I mean -

"He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake,
He knows if you've been bad or good,
Because he wiretapped your place. Hey!"

(Note: I tried to put in a line about printing seditious pamphlets, but I couldn't get it to fit. "Pamphlets" is a tricky word to rhyme with

Other songs I dislike:

"Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" - Too cute-cutesy. Like the phrase "fro-yo", but worse.

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" - I'm not sure how this works, since most people put their trees in corners or against walls. Maybe the line "Rockin' back and forth in front of the Christmas tree" didn't make it past the test group stage. Either way, there's no lyrics with any meaning or cleverness, and even if there were, I'd likely resent it anyway.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" - BO-ring melody, and that line about bringing us the figgy pudding has always set me off. I don't know anyone who has ever baked fig pudding, so demanding something so disgusting and likely unattainable is doubly rude.

There's my riff on Christmas music. As far as the rest of life, I need to work on my book today, which I'm officially halfway through. The plot is progressing well, and my character is currently outside of Amish country, which makes my life easier. I've had a copy of Amish Grace sitting around for a month, but I haven't been able to get myself to read it. Having read about everything to do with the Amish, I think I've found my limit.

Ideally, I might bake today. We'll see. But whatever happens, it won't be to the tune of "We Wish you a Merry Christmas," because I'm clean out of figgy pudding.

P.S. Australia review coming soon. In the meantime, go see it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Notes on Illness

I guess I jinxed myself. In my last blog I boasted of being healthy again.

Hah. Whatever. I just had all of the kleenex wads thrown away from the last bout (granted, some were Danny's), when I woke up with a tonsil twenty times it's normal size.

Seriously. It's like it took a cue from the Grinch's heart (that grows until the magnifying glass breaks, if I remember right). And my lymph node on that side is all huge and swollen. Hasn't been this big since I had mono, which was the last time I blogged about such a topic.

I hold to my previous statements, such as the fact that Progresso soups are the best. They still are. In fact, the times I've tried some of the Campbell's (recently, their Italian Wedding soup), I've been kinda grossed out. The bits o' pasta were so far from al dente that it makes me queasy just thinking about it.

Puff's plus - still my favorite tissue, although the most recent set of four I've purchased feels like an entirely different tissue, and not in a good way. I may set out to pick up a box of Puff's Plus Lotion, Aloe, and whatever other deluxe options they throw in. It's like buying a car, I guess, and the baseline model just isn't acceptable.

I had hoped I'd be lucky. I found a white patch on my tonsil and thought, "woo hoo! I'll go to my doctor, get antibiotics, get better, bada bing, bada boom."

No dice. White patch went away, strep test was negative, it's a viral throat infection that basically means my throat is trying to strangle me from the inside out. I get to drink tea. Lots of tea. Tea every hour.

I'm trying to figure out how to spice up some of the chicken soups. I added crushed red pepper to the last one, but I couldn't really taste it. I don't know if that's because I can't taste much - I only have one working nostril presently - or if I didn't add enough. I'm thinking of adding some curry to my creamy chicken corn chowder. Any ideas to mix it up? I don't think I'll be eating anything but soup, applesauce, and pudding for a while. Threw some cinnamon and ginger into the applesauce and warmed it up...that was yummy. I'm a little heartbroken because I've been to the grocery store twice, and I keep forgetting to pick up tapioca. Warm tapioca pudding would be good.
Anyway. Hoping this somehow manages to blow over fast. Most of my shopping is done but there are a couple stragglers. Wrapping is still nil, but worst case scenario I have quite a lot of gift bags and even more white tissue (referring to the wrapping kind, although I do have a lot of the blowing kind). The one upside is that when my head's not entirely fuzzy, I'm getting some good writing in. It's like writing late at night - fewer inhibitions.
Hopefully I'll get better soon. And until then - there's soup!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Twilight and the Evils of Voice-Over

I know this review has been a long time coming; all I can say is that I got sick after Thanksgiving weekend, and when I began to improve, Danny caught it.

Now I'm healthy (with just the tiniest cough), I'm 90% done with the Christmas shopping (although in denial about the need to wrap), I finished a chapter two days ago, and life is back on track.

So. Twilight.

The initial hype and fervor has passed, but impressive while it lasted. Before the film opened, all of the conversation fluttered around whether or not the movie would gross enough to warrant the sequels. I had a hunch it would - after all, this was a movie for the same demographic who made Titanic successful (weepy, squealy teen and preteen girls).

When we went, the theater was full of, yea verily, many weepy, squealy girls. How squealy? The scene: high school in Forks, Washington. Bella, sitting, minding her own business when who should enter (in slow motion, so you get all that good hair bounce) but the Cullens? There's Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, Alice (perhaps not in that order, but there isn't a poem for them like the reindeer) and...wait for it...wait for it...

It was like sitting in a theater full of happy shrieking eels. A bit overdramatic if you consider this particular vampire borrowed his hair from Elvis.

Back to the movie, except, if I'm going to talk about the movie, I need to talk about the book.

Twilight and its successors, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn, are prime examples of how good storytelling sells. Stephenie Meyer was extremely successful is writing books with a compelling enough story to launch the reader through a 2" thick book in 48 hours. The forbidden love story is classic in its archetypal roots and for that reason strikes a chord. The books are really less about Vampires than they are about a Romeo and Juliet story in which Romeo has impressive incisors and the ability to climb a pine with his bare hands.

The supporting characters are strong, particularly Edward's "siblings," and there's enough romantic confusion and romance to keep things entertaining. This is not to say that the writing didn't need a few more passes through the editing department. But we believe Bella as a serious, thoughtful teen who has completely fallen in love with a man who wants to eat her.

I know some people became frustrated with Bella as the series progressed; I thought it was unfair. She's 17 and dealing with International vampire culture. That she doesn't collapse into a paroxysm of trepidation is really to her credit.

The movie is so wrapped up in the thing which Twilight has become that it has difficulty really exploring its space, settling in, and becoming its own entity rather than a book adaptation. No one looks comfortable in their movie skin, with the exception of Elizabeth Reaser's Esme Cullen. For the Twilight fan, the film is a chance to see the book come to life. For the outsider, a lot of the plot developments and character motives would remain a little too mysterious.

The first half takes too much time trying to develop, but speeds up well during the second half. Funny, because the book did the same thing. Difference is that the book managed to entertain when nothing much was going on but Bella's reflections on Edward's physical perfection.

I would see it again, and enjoy it (unlike Bond, which I did see a second time and zoned out through the last half), and I'm genuinely looking forward to New Moon.

I was looking forward to it even before the directorship was handed off to Chris Weitz. As the director of Golden Compass and About a Boy (one of my favorite movies), I think he'll help bring the production values up a notch. Or ten. Because there's nothing wrong with making the movie not look like it was made for the Sci-Fi channel. I think the hand-held camera is great and looked terrific for the Bourne movies, but for films with a fantastical element I think the camera needs to be grounded more often, to aid with the suspension of disbelief.

Haven't heard anything yet about the script, IMDB still lists it with Melissa Rosenberg, but if they hand that one off, I think that's great. The film opens with a lot of voice-over which should have been cut IN THE FIRST DRAFT PEOPLE, DID WE LEARN NOTHING FROM FILM SCHOOL????? If you're going to use first-person narration, you had better be writing the great American film, and there had better not be vampires involved. Or werewolves. I'm sure this was all covered in class. In a perfect world, I would have the producers court Steve Kloves (of Harry Potter fame) or Jan Sardi (The Notebook), with a co-writing credit for Delia Ephron (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), a writer who has no issues getting into the heads of teen girls (She used voice-over in the form of letters, yes, but it worked).

This is really less of a review than a discussion. I'm okay with that. If you want to know what the movie's about, read the book. It'll take about 48 hours.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Take Another, I Blinked

The Christmas season equals Christmas photos. Trick is, if you're like me, you'll get the photos back and go "euh" (irony being that people have me take their pictures). Here are some tricks to lower the "euh" factor:

1. Tilt your chin down. Very few people have really, truly fantastic necks, and for some people, when placed in front of a camera they raise their head. No one needs a photo of your neck, and if the photographer is shorter than you are, you'll get even more neck than you bargained for.

2. Women - stand at an angle, keep one leg straight and place the other one forward, slightly bent. This creates a long leg line, slims your torso, and provides a defined jawline since your head will be turned toward the photographer.

3. Men - if you want to appear broader in the shoulder, stand square to the photographer, and for Pete's sake uncross your arms. If you're wearing a cowboy hat, do tilt your head up a bit - it will allow light to hit your face.

4. Another trick for women - did you know that the sunscreen in your foundation reacts to the flash of a camera? Well, it does - if you've ever noticed that you're looking particularly white, it's because the sunscreen particles reflected light - and not in a good way. If you know you'll be in a situation with flash photography, you may want to skip the sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the worse it gets.

5. If you're the photographer, always, always, always take more than one shot of an image you care about.

6. Smiling really is a good thing. Smile like you're in the middle of a tickle fight. It's Christmas, after all!

P.S. I know I'm terribly behind in my movie reviews, for both Twilight and Transporter 3 (and hopefully Australia after this weekend). So sorry! I've been sick for a week and just now getting my feet back, so hopefully those posts will be appearing soon...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

M'embrasse, s'il vous plait

Writing kissing scenes is hard. Really hard. I'll amend that. Writing non-clichéd kissing scenes is hard.

Because it's all been done. If you consider how much of the publishing industry is dominated by the romance genre, then remember that there's at least one kiss in every book...that a lot of written kisses.

Every heroine has looked deeply into the hero's eyes. Been there, done that. The fluttering of the stomach, something between romance and gas, also been done.

And Christian publishing prefers a certain amount of *ahem* discretion, so it's not like you can write a play-by-play. You're left with the heroine's tingling toe sensations, and you're back in cliché-ville.

I am whining because I'm trying to write just such a scene. Trouble is, my female protagonist really ought not to be kissing my male protagonist at the moment, so setting up this scene is kinda tricky. Ultimately worth it, because the ensuing drama will give me material for the next chapter, but writing it believably is a lot harder than you'd think.

Maybe it's the culture we live in. We don't kiss spontaneously much anymore. My grandmother has a story where she was working at the newspaper, and found herself in the photo darkroom with a coworker (I think it was a darkroom. Something like that. Some sort of small, dark, confined space). He leaned over and kissed her. Just like that. Can you imagine?

And because the culture is so anti-spontaneous lip action, it's making my job that much harder.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting and other things pleasantly completed

I've deliberately not written about anything political on this blog, mainly because I'm tired of blogs I usually enjoy turning to politics for source material and doing a shoddy job in the process. If you're interesting in reading a good blog on the subject, read Bonnie Leon's post. Otherwise, I will share with you what I learned this voting year.

So. Should you cast your vote on your mail-in ballot and forget to slide it first into the "secrecy envelope," then begin to undo the seal of the outer envelope in order to get your ballot out, all is not lost.

Seriously. You can tape up the outer envelope to your heart's content. All you have to do is sign really big over the seal so you prove that you're the one who did it.

Now that it's November, it's time to start thinking about what we're thankful.

I am thankful that, come Nov. 5th, there will be no more political ads!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I saw Amish people

See that? In the window? See that Amish head? Total accident. I actually took four shots of this parked buggy, and in the last one I got a little happy surprise. I didn't want to actually try to take a picture of an Amish person because one of the premises of my book is treating Amish people like normal people and not circus freaks, and while the urge to snap is very strong when faced with the strangely bearded, I resisted and, in my opinion, was given a little present for my moral fortitude.

Ha ha. Anyway.

After we purchased our plane tickets for my grandmother's memorial service, I posted something about our trip East on Facebook. My editor then asked if we were headed to Amish country...and it got me to thinking.

Were there Amish in North Carolina?

I knew Grandma wouldn't mind. She would have rolled her eyes and drawled, "Honey, if you need to go see the Amish, go see the Amish." And that would have been that.

Technically, there is only supposed to be one settlement, in Union Grove, but the settlement we visited was in the much-closer town of Hamptonville. Goes to show that the Amish settlment censuses (censi?) aren't wildly accurate. We also saw...

A buggy sign...

...and a traveling buggy with real people in it...

...and Amish kittens.
The last two shots are brough to you by my cousin Melissa, seeing as how I shot a slew of photos without my memory card inside my camera. I have grieved the loss and moved on, although the shot I'm saddest about loosing is the black kitten walking through an Amish-carved spindle-thingy.

Grieved. Moved on.

Anyway, we stopped at the Shiloh General Store, where we ate Amish ice cream (good stuff), bought fudge and Strawberry-Rhubarb butter. The store was run by an Amishman; a young lady served us the ice cream. We chatted with the older gentleman for a little while - once he found out we were from Oregon, he asked if we'd ever been to Sisters. Aparently there's a farming periodical that's published out of Sisters, and it was the only connection he had with Oregon.

He also told us about his son-in-law who ran a woodshop down the street, so we hiked down a bit - that's where we found the kittens.

All in all, a great trip. I didn't work up the nerve to ask anyone any questions, although in hindsight there were several things I could have asked and sounded intelligent about. I mean, it's not like I haven't researched these people for the last several months.

For a change of pace, we went to the fair that evening. We watched pig races (winning piglet gets an oreo), and I got to pet a camel :

Also fed it a carrot round and nearly lost a finger (more user error than camel violence).

We had a wonderful trip. I got to see my grandpa, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins I don't get to see very often. And we really want to go back, although the next trip will likely involve fewer Amish and more of the BMW factory tour...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Memorium

My strong, sassy, southern grandmother, Anna Claire Manton went home to be with Jesus early October 4th, 2008. After many years of poor health, she passed peacefully while my aunt sang her hymns. She was 84.

She met my grandfather in February of 1952. Charles was taking roll call at choir; she was new. He noticed her long, dark brown hair and red shoes and decided "I want to get to know her." They married five months later. My father was born a year later.

Even after the arrival of my aunt and uncle, the family remained a family of choir members. My dad started singing in the church choir at a young age. One Sunday, he and my uncle were sitting in the balcony, playing around squeezing each other's hands in the hymnals. Grandma left the choir loft and went up to the balcony to restore peace. She told my father that if she didn't get to sing in choir, he wouldn't get to either.

That was enough.

She's the reason I had a blue-sequined tutu to wear to my "ballet" class. She moved heaven and earth to get herself and my grandfather to my high school graduation.

Danny and I flew out to North Carolina for the service. It was one of the services that's easiest to attend; the kind where the one who passed is at home with Jesus after living a life full of love. I'm sad that Danny never got to meet her. But by the time we met, my feisty grandma had little energy and less of the personality we all remembered. So Danny gets to hear the stories of how she was, and remains in our hearts.

I have my memories. The photo at the top was a part of our wedding slideshow. I have her mother's cameo, which she gave me at graduation. I carried her black felt clutch bag to her service. I'll miss her, but look forward to seeing her again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Trouble with Boots

Okay. I promise that I really will, at some point, write about my time in North Carolina and talking to Amish people and maybe even something about writing. But right now I'm still jet-lagged and spacey and feel like I about killed myself putting out 315 words yesterday. Not good.

So, although I can't get myself to sit down and organize the Amish pics I've got, I can riff on shoes for a moment.

Women's boots to be exact.

See, when I got my book advance, we stuck the bulk of it in savings but earmarked a small portion for "mad money." I really wanted a pair of tall boots, but had never been able to quite get myself to spend money on them. This is partly when I was still in my cheap shoe/bulk buying phase, a time when $20 bucks was a lot for a pair of shoes. Beautiful days, effectively ended by my physical therapist who insisted on supportive footwear.

(Actually, she really wanted me in running shoes, but I just couldn't get there. Wearing a beautiful, hand-knit lace sweater with running shoes? Why shouldn't I just wear pleather while I was at it!)

The Born shoes have really worked for me, so I went to the Born website (which features Nordic models with really awesome sweaters and blond dreadlocks) and found a pair of boots. Beautiful boots. Beautiful, really leather boots, with hand-stitching and a not-too-high heal. I called the local nice-shoe store and they ordered them in.

Which took forever. Seriously, I think they put them on the slow boat from Finland. I had dreams about these boots. They didn't fit right, they arrived and they looked completely different...something was wrong. I checked the website again, and they looked the way I remembered. And when I'd returned from North Carolina, the shoes had arrived in the store. I went down, zipped them up and...

They were too large in the calf. Waaaayyy too large. As in, Scandanavian women clearly have calves of unusual size.

Danny bought me the Anniversary Sleeping Beauty DVD, and we listed as Briar Rose opined that "if you dream a thing more than once, it's sure to come true." Well, I dreamed twice that there was something wrong with the boots. Sleeping Beauty totally called it.

I tried a couple other boots at the store. Same problem. Danny explained that night that I have unusually narrow calves for a woman. He knows this because he studied ski boots. But where most women's calves, apparently, curve out, mine stay the course to my knee.

Not to be discouraged, we (my mother/untiring shopping companion) went to the newly opened DSW store this morning. SAME PROBLEM. And if the calf fit, the shoe was incredibly uncomfortable. After DSW, she suggested Miss Meers in Oakway. Long story short, there are two pairs of the same Franco Sarto boots (same boot, different size) winging their way from the Corvallis Miss Meers store for my consideration (cool store, by the way. Great shop, especially if you're a shoe snob).

There's a bit of grieving. I really, really wanted leather boots, but the real-leather ones are the ones most likely to be cut for the women with Amazonian calves (whom I now envy).

Boots come Tuesday. Hopefully I won't dream of them. Will post more later.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Of Bikes and Ballrooms

Danny and I started our Intermediate Ballroom class last night. We took ballroom through the Hosanna dance studio all last Spring, and with a bit of chatting, Danny agreed to continue this fall.

Class starts off as usual, we discover we remember more of the foxtrot than we'd anticipated. Our fabulous instructor shares her plans for the class, and we agree that it's better to look smooth on the dancefloor and less like Cloris Leachman. (Of course, none of us are in our eighties, so if we did look like Cloris, there would be a problem).

Anyway, we're learning how to do inside and outside turns out of promenade position, and our instructor launches into a short lecture on proper head position, and the fact that we need to keep our heads up and pointed in the direction we want to go. If we look down at our feet, we'll become unstable. We go where we look. The eyes are the body are connected.

Danny and I had heard all this. We'd heard it in our motorcycle class. Had it nailed into our heads in our motorcycle class.

I never would have imagined, but it's true; there are similarities between Ballroom dancing and riding a motorcycle.

If only the shoes were similar too.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Confessions of a Biker Chick

If you're a single woman and not picky, learn to ride a motorcycle. Seriously, when we showed up for our class, the men far outnumbered the women. And if you're a fan of the handlebar moustache, all the better.

Being picky and married, I brought my own man. More accurately, he brought me. It's not like I would have decided to learn to ride on my own. But Danny began his motorcycle crusade a few months ago. He wanted to get a motorcycle and take the Team Oregon safety course, and if I was going to see him at all that weekend, I would need to go too.

I figured, what the hey? Jayne Tate in Plain Jayne rides a bike; learning to ride would probably be a good thing. Faster than you could say "ease up on the throttle", Danny had us scheduled.

Some surprises:

1. I was not the only person to bring knitting to the Thursday classroom session.

2. 80% of motorcycle accidents are single-vehicle crashes, and most of those are because the motorcyclist botched a turn.

3. Of the multi-vehicle crashes involving motorcycles, most occur because the car driver didn't see the cyclist: visibility is key.

Then the instructor went through a show-and-tell with his gear. There was a lot of Kevlar involved. Apparently, most motorcyclists collect gloves. All of a sudden I knew what my husband was getting for Christmas for the next twenty years.

Operating a motorcycle is harder than it looks; you're essentially driving a stick-shift car on two wheels. The gas (throttle), front brake, on/off switch, and starter are all on the right hand alone. The back brake is operated with the right foot. You shift gears with your left foot while clutching with your left hand. Confused? It gets better. You stomp down to shift down, and hook your foot under it to push it up when you want to shift up. Neutral lives between first and second gear only, and on the bike I rode, only turned up when you didn't want to be in neutral. You want to keep your clutch "covered" (your hand over it) at all times, but you don't want your hand on your brake. If you do, the instructor looks at you with the intensity of a cop and slaps their right hand as a signal. Like that's not intimidating.

One of the most important things about riding is to look where you're going. I know that sounds obvious but let me explain. When you turn, you actually turn your head completely before you start the turn. If your head is turned far enough, you'll make a nice, tight turn. If you don't, you'll go wide. You can move your eyes anywhere you want, but your head has to be cranked over to the side to turn correctly. When we ran through swerving around cones, it was hard. You want to look at the cones, but the moment you did, you'd run over them. By looking up and watching the cones in your peripheral vision (as well as a lot of hip-action in the leaning), I was able to get through the cones okay.

We spent four hours riding on Saturday, and five on Sunday. Sunday was tough because it was 84 degrees and I had to be wearing long pants, long sleeves, gloves and boots, not to mention a helmet. I was uncomfortable but protected. I fell over during the Saturday session - hadn't quite figured out that I was supposed to actually use the throttle. I didn't have enough momentum to keep my balance, and gravity did what gravity does. Because I was wearing my leather gloves, my hand didn't get chewed up.

In the end, I passed the written test as well as the driving evaluation, although the instructor emphasized that I needed LOTS of practice. But when you consider I hadn't ever thought about driving a motorcycle until the summer, much less ever tried...it's not bad.

I'm glad I took the course. If nothing else, it's made me a better driver. I have LOADS of material for the book, and I got to learn something new.

Plain Jayne has been difficult in some aspects, mainly because it's Amish and I'm not. But getting to take the class helped me to get into Jayne's world and understand a small part of it. I got to do something book-related that did not involve me sitting in front of my computer. My hope is to learn something new with every book I write. As a writer, I think it's vital to stay fresh and continue to learn.

Although if the next thing I learn happens in a climate-controlled situation with both feet on the ground, I certainly won't complain.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Shifting

It's getting cooler. The sky turns dark before we have a chance to take an evening walk. The alarm goes off in the morning, and I'm sure it's a mistake. And I have to wear socks again.

Summer is leaving, and I'm not okay with it.

I'm a skirt and sandals girl. And while barefoot season can wreak havoc on my feet (my carpet gives me pool toe), I don't have to fuss with socks - if they're clean, if they match, if they're mine (I dive into Danny's stash a lot).

We didn't get Summer until June this year. Scratch that. Winter didn't end until June. There wasn't a whole lot of spring, just an end of a long, dreary winter. Not looking forward to that again.

But I'm trying to remind myself of the things I like about Fall. Things like cocoa, Pumpkin Spice lattes at Starbucks, comfy sweaters, rainy reading days, rainy writing days where I'm fine being indoors for once, being able to drive the pickup without missing the A/C, stew, the leaves changing eventually (above picture is last year's leaves), knitting wool, Thanksgiving movie season (and the start of Oscar releases)...

and not having hangnails on the bottom of my big toes.

Any others? What else is nice about the changing of the seasons?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Signed contracts and other items of note

On Monday, September 8, I signed a two-book contract deal with Harvest House Publishers. The first book, Plain Jayne, will be released in 2010. The second, most likely a spin-off follow-up, will be released in 2011.

Monday was great fun, if a bit overwhelming. I arrived at Harvest at noon for my tour of the building. Accompanied by my fantastic agent Sandra, we toured around and met a great many people. After lunch down the road, we returned and commenced the signing of the contracts.

Signing contracts is not unlike signing a will. It's legally binding and requires you to pratice your signature in a variety of locations. Frankly, it's been useful in keeping my wordcount up.

Granted, I did the month-count and found that, with the pace I've been working at, I'll land right where I wanted to be if I continue the death march (see http://www.despair.com/quality.html) without slowing until the end of March. While comforting, after last Christmas's craziness, I realize having some additional buffer time is kinder to my peace of mind, as well as my husbands. Madness is what we're hoping to avoid, but as a fiction writer, I an realistic (see http://www.despair.com/madness.html).

(Last Chistmas, I got the brilliant idea that we/I should make all of the Christmas gifts we gave. This led to five knitted hats of varying levels of complication, two scarves, two framed photos, and a lot of beaded earrings. My hope and goal for the upcoming yuletide is to avoid Christmas knitting altogether.)

So that's the book stuff. Very exciting stuff. In other news:

1. I cut off seven inches of hair.

2. I have finished 2 1/2 chapters since signing.

3. The little children in our complex have started school, and life is quieter.

4. I will be learning to ride a motorcycle in two weeks.

5. I will have to wear hiking boots for that event.

6. I don't know that I've ever worn hiking boots.

7. My home is still untidy, but with the landlord inspections occuring next week, that will have to change.

8. I finished (mostly, save the button) a sweater (more on the similarities between writing and knitting later.

9. I made a blueberry-raspberry grunt Wednesday. If you enjoy baking and don't have Mary Englebreit's Sweet Treats cookbook, then hie thyself to half.com. It's the best.

10. Both books (Plain Jayne and Untitled) have ISBNs. Which means that, at some point, the madness I see onscreen will turn into a real, live, paper-filled book.

Exciting stuff.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Researching those who don't care to be researched

Research for my book is a bit trickier than I anticipated: it's tough researching people who won't speak for themselves. Granted, you can find some collections of Amish people writing about sundry items like baking, quilting and barn-raising, but most of those collections are written for children and avoid the hard-hitting topics.

Do the Amish like being Amish, or do they stay for tradition's sake? Do any of the regret staying? Do they ever envy conventional dishwashers or the concept of salvation by grace?

Add to that the fact that there are 1,400 different ways to be Amish. One group may eschew regular bathing, while others are more fastidious. Finding out what's standard is like finding out what color is most common for cats.

Then you've got your points of view. People who came from an Amish background are either overly rosy or exceptionally bitter. True, I would have some hard feelings about a group that wouldn't let me shave my armpits. Some of the outsiders looking in have the same set of polarized reactions - I think America wants to believe in the possibility of the idealic agrarian society. It's kind of like the fascination with organic farming.

Before I started working on this project, I read anything I could get my hands on regarding the Amish (Note: anything non-fiction. The Quilter's Daughter isn't my idea of a hard source). Now, I'm going back to look for what I may have missed. It's tough writing about a world I've never experienced and likely never will, considering that what the Amish want most is to be left alone.

On top of all the Amish research I've also got a fairly strict writing schedule; some weeks are better than others. And I never really unpacked from the writers' conference, and my cold combined with my subsequent birthday weekend hasn't done a whole lot for the tidiness of my home. It's funny writing about the Amish, who will shame you with their cleanliness and work ethic, while sitting surrounded by piles of stuff.

However, I do have a load of laundry going.

Some things I have learned about the Amish:

1. They love ice cream. As in, love ice cream the way my husband loves ice cream - by the pint.

2. The children and teens will play volleyball. Violently. Kind of funny if you consider they're pacifists.

3. Amish couples honeymoon at the bride's parents' home until their home is completed. Often, they'll spend the weekends traveling to family member's homes and receiving gifts.

4. The Amish collect no social security, but they do pay taxes.

5. Many Amish are prefer chiropractors to doctors, and will travel great distances to see them. There's a joke that you can get an Amishman to the moon by telling him there's a chiropractor there.

6. Most Amish do use electricity through generators, solar panels, and wind power. Because of this, even the most conservative group (the Schwartzentrubers) use washing machines.

7. The only musical instrument allowed is the harmonica. All church singing is a cappella.

So many other things, but I'm done procrastinating. Will keep posting about progress...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dancing Queens

Be kind. Leave the men at home. I've heard reports of men volunteering to watch Phyllida Lloyd's Mamma Mia!, and truthfully, these aren't men I'm related to. This movie is an estrogen-fest. Singing, dancing, sighing, and unless the man in your life always wondered if Pierce Brosnan could sing, just say no. Protect the mental health of the males in your life.

The movie starts off with sweet Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, on the eve of her wedding in Greece. While she is young and has the rest of her life ahead of her, getting married now is top priority, because she has a very important guest list.

The list includes three possible fathers - three because her single mother Donna (Meryl Streep) had an active social life twenty years ago, which leaves young Sophie's paternity in question.

All three possibilities show up and the movie continues from there, with a lot of choreography in between. Words don't do the musical scenes justice; I recommend a youtube search. The "Dancing Queen" sequence was my favorite, with Greek women around the town dropping their work to join in. Women of all sizes and ages, real women, all having a grand old time waving their arms and singing.

Their are several intersecting plotlines, involving the fathers, the past, and Donna's feelings about her daughter's marriage, but let's face it. The plot is a vehicle for the musical sequence to follow.

If you like Abba, singing, dancing, platform shoes, sequined jumpsuits, Greece, cheese, and have a large tolerance for estrogen - induced silliness, then this movie is for you. If you prefer for things to blow up (and I'm not talking arguments, I'm thinking pyrotechnics and destruction), try The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which includes not only explosions but yetis.

Trust me. I really wasn't kidding about the jumpsuits.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Amish Please

It’s day one at the Oregon Christian Writers’ conference, and we’re already worn out. I say “we,” because Danny’s here running around, running sound and pretty much anything with wires. It's great fun because we're equally tired, and equally loopy.

I love the conferences because it's like summer camp for writers. Most of us are slightly odd ducks, so you get a group of us together making bad writing-related puns and exchanging rejection stories.

There is much conversation over what editors are looking for. Most of us want to know what those elusive editors are looking for, even though I think, subconsciously, we just want them to be looking for us. We don't want to conform to what they're looking for.

The big topic this year is over the Amish: everyone wants Amish. Those of us who write contemporary fiction lament over the fact that what we write just isn't selling. It's hard to remember sometimes that even Christian publishing is a business. Publishers want to acquire books that will sell. Nobody wants unsold books to be recycled into toilet paper. Nobody wants to be responsible for producing a book that will run a deficit.

The publishing industry is not unlike Hollywood; if they find something that sells, they'll make a lot of us. And while that may irritate the creative at heart, we do have to realize it's good business practice.

The question creatives have to ask themselves is, "how creative am I?" Are we creative enough to write salable books? Are we capable of crafting stories that follow the trends, in order to avoid a toilet paper future?

Will the Amish trend blow over? You bet your buggy. Will it blow over before new Amish acquisitions are released? Yeah, probably. Which is why it's important to write stories that supercede trend. Stories that may involve quilting and buggies but also tell a solid story in an unexpected way.

I know for me, Plain Jane will not be the only book I write. There will be more. And it won't be all Amish all the time. Next year, there will be a new "Amish."

Aliens, probably. But we'll see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Guillermo vs. George

In 1977, George Lucas's Star Wars: A New Hope introduced us to a galaxy far, far away. This galaxy contained strange beings, exotic planets, a rebellion, a princess, a farmboy...

Take out the "exotic planets" bit, and George includes all the elements of a fairy tale, one of the oldest genres of story. In fact, most story experts will tell you (and excuse them for being snotty, it's their nature) that Star Wars itself is based on the archetypal Hero's Journey structure outlined by Joseph Campbell and originating in the ancient mythology fairy tales were based on.

But aside from George's storytelling aptitude in 1977, his ability to bring the story to life with incredible visuals made an overnight hit out of a Space Opera.

Fast forward thirty years. George became overwhelmed with the visual nature of his stories and forgot to love his characters.

(Writers note: forget to love your characters, and they'll bite you back every time.)

Gone are the fresh takes on familiar structures. We were stuck with Anakin's inability to save the universe from...policy reform. Also gone were the familiar character constructs; Anakin wasn't a farmboy, or a cowboy...just an overgrown punk with a light saber.

But I digress. Sad, sad times, but plenty of room for someone else with a love for fable to step in.

Enter Guillermo.

Mr. Del Toro first attracted American attention with Cronos, and has since gone on to Hollywood set pieces such as Blade II and Hellboy, followed by the amazing Pan's Labyrinth. The latter served as a showcase for Guillermo's love for myth and fairy tales, especially when combined with elements of the grotesque, the gothic, and the macabre.

He and Poe would have gotten along great.

And now we have Hellboy II: The Golden Army. In this installment, the non-human world (consisting of elves, trolls, etc.) feels that the human world has encroached on their forest territory, and the less-than-peaceful Prince Nuada plans to raise the Golden Army to conquer the humans and retrieve their terf. But to raise the army, he requires certain objects...and the plot rolls on.

Hellboy, naturally, is assigned (as much as he ever is) to stop him with the aid of his flame, Liz Sherman (pun intended), and C-3PO-esque buddy Abe Sapien (played by Doug Jones, but we'll get to him later). They meet Nuada's peaceful twin sister, Nuala, who bears a resemblance to the Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, but in a nice way.

And so on and so forth...really, it's all secondary to the fabulous visuals. Doug Jones, who played the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth, also provides the bodies for the Chamberlain and the terrific Angel of Death. Jones has found his niche in Hollywood as "the person inside the suit." Not surprisingly, he got his start as his university's mascot...

Fairy tales have been a beloved and much-used springboard for a lot of modern literature and film. C.S. Lewis, for instance, used fairy tale constructs in his Chronicles of Narnia. My current theory is that the idea of the fairy tale has aged with us into the comic book saga; supernatural characters and events out to save the kingdom, if not the world.

Hellboy II is the ultimate popcorn flick, made above-average by Guillermo Del Toro's attention to visual detail. Del Toro's next project is The Hobbit I & II, which I'm that much more excited about after seeing Hellboy II. I would love to see Del Toro take a stab at one of the Narnia installments, particularly The Magician's Nephew.

And let us hope we'll never find ourselves with a prequel explaining how Hellboy's parents found themselves in Hell...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dark, Dark Knight

I'm having trouble beginning this blog. We just returned from Dark Knight, the follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins. If you don't know it's the follow up, and haven't heard any of the insane buzz around Heath Ledger's last full performance, then this blog really isn't for you. Just skip on down to one of the posts about birds.

To answer the questions,

1. Heath Ledger's performance really is that good. I didn't care for Jack Nicholson's take; Ledger's is different. There's an unrehearsed, anarchic quality, as if The Joker showed up on the set one day and director Christopher Nolan decided to keep rolling. It's brilliant, it's terrifying. And while none of the gore may show up on the screen (with an MPAA rating of PG-13), much is implied.

2. The film really is that dark. I really loved Batman Begins. Dark Knight takes us to a part of the Batman legend where the "Batcave" is a secure cellar; stark, and easy to clean. There is no Wayne Mansion - it's still in the rebuilding stages, and Nolan decided against giving us an idea of when they're planning on breaking ground. There is some repartee between Bruce, Alfred, and Lucius at turns, but on the whole, a lot of the fun of the previous installment has been sucked out.

Instead, it's been replaced by an airtight story about what happens when the lines between protector and villain blur. A film that stands among the ranks of American Gangster or Kingdom of Heaven (Two very different but somewhat similar Ridley Scott films, each dealing in their own way with definitions of heroes and anti-heroes). Perhaps not what moviegoers expect when attending a movie about characters owned by DC Comics. If you are squeamish at all about knives, this is not the movie for you. If you cringe at children being placed in horrific situations, this is also not the movie for you. If a dented Lamborghini brings tears to your eyes...I really don't know what to tell you. Nice cars have short lifespans on film. But I digress.

The Gotham City of Batman Begins had its elements of comic-book stylization - the broken down elevated train, for example. This Gotham is Chicago. There are no stylized creations to buffer the perception of reality. Dark Knight is that much more disturbing because it feels so much more real. Nolan took off the kid gloves for this one, and settled down to tell a raw story about pain and how people react to it. About hope, how to create it and how to stifle it. About what to do when, maybe, the whole truth isn't the best option.

I can appreciate this film. I don't think I liked it. I don't think I would choose to see it again, although I suspect I would cringe less.

There are highlights. Morgan Freeman, as Lucius, poses a question to a Wayne Enterprises employee that brings down the house. And the bike (pictured above) that the bat-mobile produces when it becomes indisposed is frankly pretty rad. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckert as Harvey Dent and the wonderful Gary Oldman as Lt. Gordon; all top notch.

Rachel Dawes, I think, is the weakest point of the film. She crosses a line that comic book girls don't get to cross, and for a good set of reasons. I won't write about them here; if you really want to know, shoot me an email. But she deserved better. She deserved, at least, to be likeable. The casting shift of Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over for Katie Holmes is part of it. While I never believed Katie as a DA's Assistant (I mean, really), she projects a kind of sweet likeability. I don't believe that sweet likeability are two words that will ever, truly, be used to describe Maggie Gyllenhaal. We believe this Rachel survived law school, but we have no reason to feel affection for her when she clearly appears to hold the world in contempt.

I can't unilaterally recommend this film. It is brilliantly casted, acted, and directed.

But it wasn't fun. If you want fun, see Hellboy II. You don't even need to see the first (we didn't; it's fairly self-explanatory). And I'll write that blog review soon, but I had to get this one off my chest.

We may pull Winnie the Pooh off the shelf tonight, if only to get Ledger's "Why so serious?" out of my head.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Triumph over the Machine

Victory over an inanimate object shouldn't be this sweet. I've been trying for a couple months to figure out the Slideshow widget on Blogger; today, justice has prevailed.

There are few things more frustrating than being a photographer and not being able to post a stupid little slideshow on your blog. Than having a photobucket slideshow html code and having nowhere to embed it. Seriously, it's up there with undercooked $25 pizza.

Blogger sweetly informed me that a handful of photo-album sites would cooperate with me. Very long story short, I discovered Picassa Web Albums to be friendly to my plight, and look at that! Now, large-ish thumbnails are displayed on right-hand sidebar (go ahead, look at the pretty flashing pictures!) and can be clicked on to view the larger version.

Show your friends, show your family. All photos can be ordered in a range of sizes to add a nice touch to any room. Or, shoot me an email (find it in my profile) to set up a family or individual portrait shoot. The weather is lovely and the location options are wide open.

In other housekeeping, note the subscription widget below the "Places to Click". This blog can now be embedded into Google and Yahoo pages.

The last of the happy news for the day is that another one of my Heart Gallery kids found a home. Keep those kids in your prayers and consider being involved with the Heart Gallery of Lane County.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Us

A year ago today, I married my best friend.

A whole year has gone by - we've experienced the joy of moving in together, adjusting to a life routine, being introduced as "The Lodges." For Halloween, Danny was a contractor; I was a fairy (children's book to follow). We negotiated hiding places for Christmas presents and picking the right Valentine's Day card (for the first time EVER, I had a date on Valentine's). We've read through The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Howl's Moving Castle and The Belgariad.

We figured out what to do when the Mormons knocked on the door (it's happened twice now). That it's okay to rent an action flick and a chick flick and watch both together.

I love this man I married, for a lot of different reasons.

1. He can fix anything, from cars to microwaves to children's bubble toys.
2. He makes a terrific paper airplane.
3. He can flip omelets and hashbrowns like a short order cook.
4. He wants to know and understand everything about the world around him.
5. His feet are ticklish.
6. He lets me eat his ice cream and drink his drinks.
7. He watched Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and the Emperor's New Groove with me.
8. He reads everything I write and talks about it with me.
9. He plays guitar and sings from his heart.
10. Most importantly, he loves me when I really don't deserve it.

There are quite a lot of other reaons, and I'm fairly sure this blog doesn't alot me the memory to write them all.

We've had a wonderful year, and I can't wait for the next.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

He just wanted to hold her hand

I need to see WALL-E again. I'm torn between delight over the characterizations of WALL-E and his gal-pal EVE (or as WALL-E says, "Eeevaa!") and the political implications I wasn't expecting.

So maybe if I see it and expect them, I'll feel differently. I hope so.

There's a lot I liked about this film. WALL-E is perhaps the most lovable Disney creation since Bambi. Considering WALL-E is essentially a trash compactor, that's saying a lot for director Andrew Stanton's abilities. WALL-E tools around on Earth, picking up junk and using the compactor installed in his chest cavity to create bricks. Some items are held out; a spork, a shoe, and his favorite movie, Hello, Dolly! His collection reminded me of Ariel's in The Little Mermaid; artifacts from a world he has never been a part of, and yet longs for.

Yes, WALL-E has longings. He's lonely. He would like someone to hold someone's hand. And a someone lands a few days later, in a manner that will remind you of the last time you made a cat chase a laser pointer. It is not love at first sight, but WALL-E is nothing if not committed.

Every moment with WALL-E is precious. The moments without him are less so.

Where are the people, you ask? Hard to say. The Americans, at least (the ones pictured appear to have all been gathered from somewhere in the Midwest) are floating in a spaceship, eating and floating around on hoverchairs. Should they become unseated...the term "beached whale" comes to mind.

Despite the fact that they've been in space for several hundred years, the message is clear; these people are responsible for the desert waste that WALL-E's been working on for so long.

Frankly, I resent the implication that the destruction of the Earth is the fault of the U.S., although blaming it on the Midwest isn't as bad. But consider that even at the height of America's pollution output, we were nowhere near China on a so-so day. Global polution is a global problem, but still those darn Midwesterners are floating around in space.

By the time the term "stay the course" is uttered by Corrupt Corporate Man I was poli-ticked-off. WALL-E deserves better.

The film does get back to he and EVE, and there's a fantastic sequence involving flying and a fire extinguisher. Putting any of the scenes into words is tough; the visuals are so rich, so layered, that writing about them seems silly. In fact, the rest of the movie was so completely enjoyable that it seems shallow to be poli-ticked-off by Corrupt Corporate Man when there are moments like WALL-E seeing space for the first time.

Which is why I need to see it again.

P.S. The film short, "Presto," is completely wonderful beyond words. Possibly one of my favorites, although I did love "Boundin'". There is a possibility that the wonderfulness of the film short contributes to my need to see WALL-E again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Book of the Terrifying Kind

There's something scary about the beginning of a good book. It all starts out so innocently - you laugh at the first couple pages, agree with some of the narrative and if you're me, read it to the person sitting next to you.

Words progress, and you become emotionally involved with the character, admiring the witty dialogue, and find yourself reading more than you planned.

Then forty-four pages in, this terrifying realization sinks in: you really like this book. You'd recommend it to other people, but you can't - because you don't know how it ends.

That's the kicker - the better the beginning, the greater the disappointment if the writer screw up. Some examples -

Avoiding Prison, and Other Noble Vacation Goals - flat out hilarious, depressing (sorry, "disquieting") at the end.

Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress - again, the beginning deserved to be framed. Then I wanted to clap my hands over my eyes during the middle, while the end was pretty good. But can you recommend a book when the entire second act inspires a gag reflex?

There was another book I can't remember the title of, but it was a modern take-off of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Loved it, until the author slipped in a scene that I'd rather like out of my head.

I'm also finding the ones with the most disappointment potential are the ones with the best title. The book inspiring this riff is Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story. And it's really, really good so far. As in, I want my own copy. And I'm petrified that author's going to get in the way of my transcendental experience.

Moral of the story: writing a book is hard. One scene can make the difference. The lack of a scene can make the difference. Writing is putting something down, then calling everyone who read it to make sure it's okay and you still qualify as a writer. It's ensuring that you're not cheating your readers. When someone's placed their faith in your prose to read your book instead of mowing the lawn, watching Desperate Housewives on DVD or staring at the ceiling, it's your responsibility to make it worth their time.

Scary stuff.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pitter Patter of Small Army

Seriously, the babies are everywhere. I've been tooling around on facebook (code for procrastinating finishing a chapter rewrite) and commenting on pictures. Mainly baby pictures. Because that's mainly what there are pictures of.

(This particular picture is a snapshot of my husband that I'm rather partial to. Funny thing is, he still gets that look on his face, that "whadya know, that's pretty cool" look, mainly when he's reading his Popular Mechanics or his wife comes up with a fascinating new plot twist while making lasagna).

But I digress. Lots of babies, and more on the way. After two years of pregnancy speculation, Nicole Kidman is slated to deliver "any day now." Angelina's looks ready to pop, but isn't due till August. My cousins are expecting a little girl that same month. Another friend is due in September. I have a pregnancy shoot coming up in November.

At first I wondered if there was something in the water; then I thought about it. Count back nine months ago from August to November, and what do you have?

The Writer's Strike.

Case closed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

And then there were four

They hatched! They've actually been hatched for a while, but there were periods when I didn't see Cecelia (the adult female) or hear any sounds from the nest. I didn't want to say anything, then have to follow up with a "birds are hatched but dead" post - I really don't write avian tragedy.

Thankfully, I don't have to. And it's fun having them out there - the closest thing we have to pets. We see Cecelia less often, but I'm pretty sure she's out finding food.

So now we have four baby birds. Names, anyone?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Beware the Writers

I had this epiphany the other day. I was reading Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture, a book compiled of essays by members of Act One. Fascinating stuff. Craig Deitweiler's chapter, "Opportunity Lost," talks about how Christians were presented with the opportunity to connect with Hollywood with The Passion of the Christ. Instead, lines were drawn in the sand, and bitterness grew between the Christian camps on the outside, and the Jews on the inside.

After recounting a bit of film history, Deitweiler points out that a lot of Hollywood, in past and present, is run by Jews. Many of those Jews have valid chips on their shoulders from wrongs committed by Gentiles - pogroms, HUAC blacklistings, etc. So it makes sense when anti-Christian sentiment crops up in TV and movies from time to time; it's a writer's reaction to an injustice.

This correlated with a conclusion I drew a few years ago. My last summer in college, I took a lit class that presented material written by American women in the 19th and 20th centuries. We read (in a short time, I might add), Harriet Beacher Stowe, Kate Chopin, Sarah Orne Jewett and Nella Larsen. I noticed that none of these women were particularly kind to men; men were often portrayed as being weak and easily swayed by money or power. Women, on the other hand, were often strong, moral, and maternal. Those who weren't usually came to a bad end (Edna in Chopin's The Awakening).

But the male characters often bore the brunt of the criticism. And why wouldn't they? Until the 20th century, women were not encouraged to write. Many of them published under male pen names or remained anonymous (Jane Austen published Sense and Sensibility under the phrase "By a Lady") to get past the male gatekeepers of publishing.

Generations later, there shouldn't be any surprise that men in media are so often portrayed as weak, moronic thugs. Women writers were repressed, modern writers are still angry.

This is why you should be very careful with the writers. On the outside, we may be slightly disorganized, frumpy, and less hip than the actors, graphic designers, directors, and other people who create our media.

However, without the written material, there isn't much to act, design, or direct (moment of silent recognition for heinous amounts reality TV we endured during the WGA strike). Writers control a lot. We're also very sensitive individuals.

So be nice, or you may set off a series a cataclysmic reactions the likes of which the media world has certainly seen before.

P.S. For more information about Act One and its programs, click http://www.actoneprogram.com/.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Extraordinary Frigidaire

In an age when many built fallout shelters in backyards, I'm sure the general population would have been heartened to find that their friendly family Frigidaire could function as a one-man shelter.

In fact, this particular Frigidaire can be tossed about by a nuclear blast and that latch will hold firm, even when it's impersonating a tumbleweed. Hey, it worked for Indiana Jones.

In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the world has shifted since the last installment. The Nazis, what is left of them, are hiding out in Argentina. The war in Europe is over, but the Cold War rages on. The government is testing BOUSs (bombs of unusual size) in the desert. The fear of communism hangs in the air; not even Indy is exempt from suspicion. I mean, come on, nothing says pinko like a bullwhip, right? The fact that dear Dr. Jones is kidnapped by Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko does not help.

Let us pause in a moment of appreciation for Cate Blanchett's turn as Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko. The woman played Bob Dylan, after all, and now she's got Catherine Zeta-Jones's Chicago haircut, wubbled wubble-u's, and a desperate desire "to know!"

The quest for knowledge lays at the center of this installment; this is Indiana Jones meets post-modernism. The quest has less to do with religious relics than with the beyond, and the knowledge the beyond can offer.

Nobody asks how the beyond and the truth of items such as the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail affect each other. Apparently, it's possible to have a beyond (at least in Peru) and an Ark designed by the most high God coexisting. And let's not forget the Sankara stones in Temple of Doom's India. In the Jones universe, truth may be a regional sort of thing - but this is pulp fiction, and we smile and go along.

Karen Allen reprises her role as Marion Ravenwood, now Marion Williams. She's older now, but believable as a real woman - her lips aren't jet puffed and she's earned her smile lines. Her main responsibility is her son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a charmer of a boy who enjoys leather, his switchblade, and perfecting his ducktail.

I wrote earlier about Harrison Ford and his advancing age. All men should hope to take a punch so well at 65. Indy doesn't shy away from the fact that he's not as spry as he used to be, but he wears it well. There are times when he reminded me of James Garner in Murphy's Romance; older, but wiser for it.

I haven't said much about the plot, not that there's a need. The plot provides opportunities for swordfights on Amphibious Assault Vehicles, trips down perilous waterfalls of death, scantily-clad living dead, ants of unusual size, large snakes, not-quite-quicksand, firefights, caves, spider webs, double-crossings, hidden doors...

Everything we've come to expect from Indiana Jones. So sit back, enjoy, and pass the popcorn.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Prince Caspian and Queen Susan the Babe

Summer movies are upon us, thank goodness. I didn't know how many months of Drillbit Taylor-type offerings I could take.

We went to Caspian on Friday, very curious to see how the Narnia franchise fared. Danny and I read through the books last fall; Prince Caspian, though, has always been one of my favorites. Something about the kids tramping around the ruins and scavenging their own past always appealed to me.

This version of Prince Caspian kicks off with the birth of Caspian's cousin. Some cousins have lovely relationships, but Caspian's uncle, King Miraz, decides to off his nephew and the rest of the plot skitters on.

Some events are reworked from the original material. Susan's horn is blown much sooner than the book, bringing the Pevensie children back to Narnia a little sooner. This works, though. At the end of the day, we care more (or should care more) about the Pevensie children than we do about Caspian, so seeing them sooner is good. Delaying the introduction of the main characters usually backfires (original Superman being an example).

When we pick up with the Pevensies, we learn that Peter is having trouble adjusting to civilian life. Edmund is a changed kid, Susan needs to learn to deter unwelcome suitors, and Lucy is adorable, as always. All of the children are a bit older than in the book, but it still works.

Peter Dinklage is a most welcome Trumpkin; it is a credit to his acting abilities that he can act through that much rubber. Eddie Izzard (Nagel from Ocean's 12 and 13) voices Reepacheep perfectly.

There are quite a few battle scenes, some veering from the original material; all you needed was some fluff in the air and it looked rather Ridley Scott-ish at times.

All in all, the whole thing was delightful BUT for one little teensy development: Caspian and Susan have a "thing."

This "thing" mainly consists of a lot of eye contact between the two and a parting kiss, but as a Lewis purist, I'm rather against it. Danny and I argued over it on the drive home. On one hand, I can say, "yeah, if you're going to have Fetching Teen Susan and Hunky Teen Caspian, some flirting and whatnot is to be expected." BUT, there's a kind of beautiful innocence in Lewis's books. Danny pointed out that, in the books, the kids noted that once back in Narnia, the air made them change. They weren't British kids, they were Narnian kings and queens. Their old skills came back, enabling them to maneuver a battle better than your average 12-year-old. Susan, having been matured by the air quality, wouldn't have thought to have a "thing" with Caspian.

But I came back with the fact that Susan, even as an adult, is really kind of silly (I'm thinking Horse and His Boy) and it's her boy-crazy nature that contributes to events in The Last Battle.

Those are my feelings, but I strongly urge everyone to see this film; just beware the mushy parts.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

For the birds

We have swallows outside our apartment. They've built this lovely nest, although there's a group of four who attend to it or at least look on while others do the heavy lifting. Not sure what that means for their social life; there could be a Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice thing going on...hard to say.

Happy little chatty swallows, all with the runs. Seriously, our sidewalk is pelted with bird doo. And they're building something else, I think, around the back, because you can follow the trail. Either that, or they're getting their building materials from that side of the field.

That is one of the downsides of living in the middle of a protected wetland. Our manager can't remove the nests, or so she said last year. We thought the nest was charming last year, but then, there were only two birds and they held off on the metamucil.

They also abandoned three of the eggs. We're kind of hoping that doesn't happen again, although we're not wildly excited about having baby birds outside our front door.

Frankly, I don't care much if there's bird leavings on the sidewalk. I do care when my car looks like it's been shelled. I counted 21 hits before I washed it, and those were the larger ones.

We're parking a bit away. Hope Cecelia, Stanley, Eliza, and Bertram appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Self-Editing 101

I hate editing.

Let me rephrase that. I hate editing my stuff. I find great joy in editing other people's works. Something inside me has decided, I think, that once it's written down, my part is done.

Most writers will tell say you'll spend more time re-working than you will actually writing, and maybe that's true for them. They will also tell you not to edit while you write; there, I stand convicted. So yes, it can take me longer to actually get stuff out, but once it's there it's usually pretty good. That's me, that's how I write, but I wouldn't encourage anyone else to do it that way.

However, there isn't a human being alive who doesn't need to be edited. And if you learn how to do the preliminary stuff yourself before giving it to the powers that be, you'll save yourself some embarrassment.

1. Read it Backwards. Basically, reading backwards allows for you to be able to break up the "oh, I know this section" effect and analyze each sentence on its own merit. This technique works best for smaller pieces.

2. Read it aloud. After I finish a chapter, I usually read it aloud over the phone to Kara. When I read it aloud, I find those places where something is spelled oddly or words are missing or that sentence that doesn't really make much sense. Also, when I'm reading it to an interacting audience , I'll know which jokes played well and which got lost.

3. Love your printer. Editing onscreen really doesn't work that well. Yeah, you can catch some mistakes, but not as well as on the printed page. After I finished Divine Discontent, I had the entire book printed and bound at Kinko's. Note: for this kind of job, I highly recommend the spiral binding. I kept one copy and gave the other to my editorial assistant (read: mother). She went through one copy, I went through the other. Sometimes we found the same spots, there were others where I decided to rework entire sections. After we both finished, I had the enviable task of going, page by page, through the manuscript and making the changes on the computer.

4. Share with others. Editing things you wrote yourself gives you a kind of handicap. Letting others eyeball your work is good; just know that as the writer you have the final word. You only have to make the changes you decide are appropriate for your work. Granted, if your reader is an editor, give their words more weight.

5. Know the heart of your story. This has less to do with editing punctuation than it does with know what to take out - or what to leave. Decide what your story is really about, and what you want it to communicate. If you know what the heart is (or "nut" for anyone who studied journalism), then you can better defend it.

6. Be flexible. Yes, sometimes that scene/line/phrase/punctuation that lies near and dear to your heart really needs to go. Sometimes the story arc isn't really working. Maybe that side character is distracting from the protagonist. It's okay to be liberal with the red pen. Less really can be more. Just keep an open mind and focus on what the heart of the piece really is.

Because really, what editing is all about is protecting that heart and not letting unnecessary distractions get in the way.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Writing 101

What's funny about college is that you aren't necessarily taught to write. Honestly, most of what I know about writing I learned everywhere but school. When an editor is going through your draft, you learn fast. And there are all sorts of fantastic materials about writing written by - get this - writers. Here are some tips I've picked up, and they can be used in every form of writing...

1. Show, don't tell. Please don't tell me that Jane runs fast. Do her legs blur as she tears up track? Much more involving.

2. Use active voice. This is tough, especially for people writing in the academic field, because academic researchers love their passive verbs. Passive verbs, keep these under your hat -


Recognize them. Avoid them. Instead of "Jane was running," say "Jane ran." By using active verbs, you're painting a more vivid picture while cutting down on wordiness. Passive verbs can't always be avoided, but where there is action, there should also be active verbs.

3. Avoid the "ly" adverbs. Karen Ball beat this into my head six years ago. It's amazing how many time's you'll find lines like "she screamed loudly." Well, duh. Can anyone scream quietly? Adverbs modify verbs. Trouble is, if you've got a lot of "ly" adverbs hanging around, your verbs aren't working hard enough. Make your verbs earn their keep. Again, there are times when they're appropriate, especially if they're modifying linking verbs (see above verb list). But where there is action, there should be strong verbs that don't need the support of the "ly" underlings.

4. Be specific. This is especially important when writing comedy. When I was in a screenwriting class, it was described this way - "If you say 'gay cartoon character, that's kind of funny. If you say 'gay smurf', you've got a laugh." Specificity makes your writing that much sharper and that much more vivid. Juno is the poster-child for specificity. Successful TV shows are also really good examples - early seasons of Gilmore Girls drip with specific cultural and media references. Blue Like Jazz is another example.

5. Don't marry the fly. Got this out of Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, a book every writer should keep close. The jist of this rule is not to get so enamored with small details that you lose sight of the big picture. Don't get so hung up with the fly that you forget about the two people in the room who happen to be throwing candleabras at each other. This is the flip side of specificity. Everything's a balance.

6. Find your own voice. I will never write like Francine Rivers. Ever. Mainly because I'm not Francine Rivers. Don't pressure yourself to write like someone you're not. I worked for two years on a mystery/suspence novel, written in third-person. It was hard going, and writing the action took a lot of effort. Then I began to behave badly and started working on another project, a first-person comedy. All of a sudden, the narrative became easy. My character had a voice and she didn't mince words and it was funny. After that, I stuck with first-person. When I took Divine Discontent to the conference this last summer, Karen read my proposal and nodded. She told me that I had found my voice, that it was me, that it sounded right.

So if you're really struggling, try a lot of different styles. The one that feels like your favorite pair of broken-in jeans, that one's yours. Keep it.

7. Don't pressure yourself. Another tip from Natalie Goldberg - basically, tell yourself that you are not going to write the Great American Novel, you're going to write crap. Total crap. Writers tend to pressure themselves into greatness to the point that they can't get anything out, because whatever they've got isn't great enough. If you tell yourself you're planning on writing crap anyway, you've got something to work with. And more likely than not, what you get can be good stuff.

Small notes:

- Don't say something's interesting. In general, if you have to say it's interesting, it isn't.

- Avoid "It". You can get philosophical about what "It" really is or really means, but life is short. Just use it sparingly, and think twice before using it to kick off a sentence.

- Be aware that what you read influences what you write. When I went on my Louis L'Amour kick, I kept coming up with lines like "Gun in one hand, Bible in the other." When I went through my British Chic-lit phase, my characters sounded rather proper. Keep your eyes open and know that what goes in will come out.

- Do read everything, though. Some people avoid reading while they write, and that's just stupid. STUPID. Read everything you can get your hands on. Always.

Happy writing!

A book of the terrifying kind

There's something scary about the beginning of a good book. It all starts out so innocently - you laugh at the first couple pages, agree with some of the narrative and if you're me, read it to the person sitting next to you.

Words progress, and you become emotionally involved with the character, admiring the witty dialogue, and find yourself reading more than you planned.

Then forty-four pages in, this terrifying realization sinks in: you really like this book. You'd recommend it to other people, but you can't - because you don't know how it ends.

That's the kicker - the better the beginning, the greater the disappointment if the writer screw up. Some examples -

Avoiding Prison, and Other Noble Vacation Goals - flat out hilarious, depressing (sorry, "disquieting") at the end.

Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress - again, the beginning deserved to be framed. Then I wanted to clap my hands over my eyes during the middle, while the end was pretty good. But can you recommend a book when the entire second act inspires a gag reflex?

There was another book I can't remember the title of, but it was a modern take-off of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Loved it, until the author slipped in a scene that I'd rather like out of my head.

I'm also finding the ones with the most disappointment potential are the ones with the best title. The book inspiring this riff is Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story.

And it's really, really good so far. As in, I want my own copy. And I'm petrified that author's going to get in the way of my transcendental experience.

Moral of the story: writing a book is hard. One scene can make the difference. The lack of a scene can make the difference. Writing is putting something down, then calling everyone who read it to make sure it's okay and you still qualify as a writer. It's ensuring that you're not cheating your readers. When someone's placed their faith in your prose to read your book instead of mowing the lawn, watching Desperate Housewives on DVD or staring at the ceiling, it's your responsibility to make it worth their time.

Scary stuff.

Originally posted on June 25, 2007

The end of the novel - mine, actually

It's done. The book I started almost exactly two years ago is done. I finished at Starbucks yesterday at 4:22pm (finishing at Starbucks seemed appropriate, since it's where I met my husband), and was listening to Suzanne Ciani's "Princess" (what I walked down the aisle to - and yes, I am a sentimental romantic). The word count came out at 99,069 - but I haven't gone through and counted up words, chapter by chapter, for a bit since I've done some editing. It's kind of a long task. Involves math.It's crazy to think that this project is finally completed.

Told the husband and the family, then went out and celebrated at BJ's with dinner and a Pizookie. Then we rented "Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and I fell asleep.

So I'll print the monster on Monday and do a dry edit next week, then send the whole thing to the four people who've been waiting for it. We'll see what happens from there. But I'd really like a book deal, in part because I'd really, really like to replace my camera :-)

It takes a village to write a book. (Unless you're the weird loner writer type, but I personally think the village ones are better). I've had so many people contributing ideas and insights. It amazes me how involved we can get in the lives of those who do not exist. I often joke that novelists are obsessive-compulsive schizophrenics - we talk to the people who do not exist and then feel compelled to write down the conversation.

It's funny reading old chapters - I started in 2005, so the first chunk is written in the way that I wrote two years ago. Another chunk is written in the way I wrote one year ago. What's odd is feeling envious of your own writing style. I'd read stuff from the middle and go, "this is really clever," and worry that the newer stuff wasn't as great...then reread and be quite pleased with myself...Vicious cycle. Really.

The next project is Click - a comedy about online dating. I did a bunch of investigative research on this one, really put myself into the story. Yeah.

Months ago, I thought I'd be so excited about being done. As time stretched, I came to the point where I thought I'd finish and go, "thank goodness that's all over"...but when I actually came within pages....

It's exciting.

Originally posted October 13, 2007

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pardon the dust

While I'm setting up this blog (because I'm really pretty done with myspace), I'll be re-posting some of the oldies-but-goodies from my original blog.

In the meantime, amuse yourself by visiting http://www.digyourowngrave.com/flight-of-the-hamsters/. I originally got it off the Yarn Harlot's blog (may she reign forever), and let it be said that I beat the high score she posted.