Monday, December 17, 2012

Celebrating Christmas in a Broken World

The Lord and I have been wrestling a bit lately.

And by a "bit" I mean "a fair amount" and by "wrestling" I mean "giving the Lord opportunity to break out some of his divine patience." "Lately" could also refer to "a while."

I know that's vague, but it's a deeply personal sort of wrestling. the kind that involves patience and grief and sorrow. The last several months have taken a toll, and Christmas looming made it a little trickier.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Casting the Oscars: Some Thoughts

A couple weeks ago, the Academy announced that Seth MacFarlane would be hosting the One-hundredy Eleventh Oscars.

(Just kidding. It'll be the 85th.)

After thinking about it since then, I still think it's a terrible idea. They're going after the 21-45 year old male demographic, that elusive demographic that so many programmers aim for. It's about advertising. I get it. But it's still a terrible idea. Who in their right mind thinks that the audience for Family Guy and the audience for the Oscars have much, if any, overlap?

This is a marketing gaffe, and I don't think it's going to end well.

What the Academy needs their host to sell , on any given night, is THE MAGIC OF MOVIES. That's it. If you buy that, you'll hang on through the technical awards, through the In Memorium montage, through all of the explanations of the movie creation process because this is part of the JOY OF CINEMA.

Can every host sell it? Of course not. There have been more duds than not on the last several years. Which makes me think the Academy needs to try something new. Traditionally, they hire comedians. Let me be more specific - it's usually comedians *comma* male. Has it always worked? Of course not. Why so few ladies? A woman hasn't hosted since Ellen DeGeneres. Was it great? did run long. And a bit snoozily. Actually, the thing happened like it was an episode of her talk show that the Academy just happened to attend. But it was congenial, and far less of a mess than the Alec Baldwin/ Steve Baldwin combo (oy).

What Hugh Jackman showed us is that a song and dance man - who can deliver a line - can be even better. So who would I pick? Someone who I doubt made anyone's short (or long) list, but who I think would be phenomenal: Idina Menzel.

She's a triple threat, can deliver a line, has terrific stage presence, and looks great in a dress. She'd be magnetic. She'd also pull in the Broadway crowd, which would be on-brand for a year when Tom Hooper's Les Mis is likely to be a top best pic contender.

ABC - the network airing the Oscars - has made good money by gearing their primetime lineup for women. Grey's Anatomy, Once Upon A Time, Revenge, Castle - it works for then. And in the day and age when Bridesmaids and The Help prove they can be female-centric and make plenty of money, it makes me wonder why the Academy is still chasing after the young male audience.

Sure, they may tune in for the opening monologue. But will they stay for the entire telecast? Will they be swept away by THE MAGIC? I think no.

And here's the hubris of it - imagine the reverse for the Superbowl. Imagine of they were trying to pull in the young female audience (particularly the audience who's enamored by Downton Abby). Imagine Adele doing the halftime show. I mean - she's great, she's super popular - but do you think a rousing rendition of Rolling In The Deep is going to get women to watch football? Probably not. Which is why they hire people who enjoy dancing around to fireworks.

Gosh, there are so many good people to choose from. What if Tina Fey and Amy Poehler co-hosted? Or Tom Hanks? Or (as people have suggested for years) Neil Patrick Harris? Someone more on brand, at any rate. Every time some showrunner gushes about "keeping the Oscars fresh" I roll my eyes - it's not about keeping the Oscars fresh (does anyone worry about keeping the Superbowl fresh? Besides deodorant companies? No?), it's about rating.

And you know what tends to drive ratings? The nominated films themselves. So the backbends, the "let's have James Franco and Anne Hathaway host to pull those youngsters in" (which resulted in a deeply anti-establishment Franco doing...basically nothing throughout the telecast. Money well spent, there), it's really all superfluous. So why not hire someone the core audience might not hate?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writer's Corner: Active vs. Reactive Characters

Here's where my head's been at, thinking about story and characters. Every remarkable story is defined by a remarkable character. In recent literature, we've got Lisbeth Salander and Katniss Everdeen as prime examples. There are more, obviously. But those are the ones that spurred this thought process. 

If you look at the characters who are the most involving, you’ll generally find a common thread – they don’t let life happen to them. Their lives are defined by their actions and choices. Sure, mistakes are made. There are regrets. But they’re interesting, and you want to know what they’ll do next.

The easy story to write is the one where life happens to your character. You bring problems to his door, and he gets to respond. Rather than plan his actions, you let your character relax, sip tea, and wait for the phone to ring. The more often they wait, the more passive they become. You can hide it for a while with twists and turns, but after a while readers subconsciously become disinterested, even frustrated with the character.

Take a look at the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy. The first book is the strongest; the chemistry between Mikel and Lisbeth is involving, and not just because Lisbeth is one of the most charismatic and unique characters to come out of popular literature in the last 50 years.

She’s that interesting, but what does the author do with her in the last book? Lock her in jail and expect the bland character to get her out. As a result, the last book is the weakest.

(I've got a whole other tirade about how the author wrote a glorified version of himself into the book. Sure, Ian Fleming did the same, but at least James bond is interesting.)

Similarly, take a look at Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. The books work best when you really don’t know what she’s going to do next. But in the third book she’s essentially rendered powerless, stuck as a figurehead or in hiding underground. Just like Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Mockingjay is the weakest of the trilogy because the most dynamic character is locked away.

The good news that there's more than one way to make a character dynamic. A dynamic character doesn’t have  to be swashbuckling or computer-hacking or government-overthrowing to be interesting. Think of Elizabeth Bennett. Obviously, as a single woman with a tiny dowry during the 19th century, she couldn't control her destiny much. But what could she do?

Snark. And the book is better for it.

 So take a look at your story. Is your character reactive or passive? Ask yourself - 

1.) What is the last bad decision your character made?

2.) When did your character last surprise you?

3.) Which characters do you feel are doing the lion’s share of moving the plot?

4.) Who does your character take advice from?

5.)  What kinds of verbs is do you surround your character with?

If your character is making so few decisions that he hasn’t made any bad ones, seldom surprises you, relies on other people to move the plot, talks about action rather than acting, and seems to be hanging around a lot of passive verbs, he is likely a reactive character.

If, on the other hand, he is getting himself into scrapes, takes you by surprise, drives the plot neatly, knows his mind, and spends time with active verbs, you’ve got an strong active character on your hands.

Tips to save reactive characters:

1.) Plan ahead. Your character is more likely to drive the plot if you’re first aware of the plot’s direction. It’s easier to move the pieces across the board when you know where you’re going and how you want to get there.

2.) Increase the tension. Put your character in a tight spot, physically, emotionally, and make her fight her own way out.

3.) Less thinking, more doing. I don’t care if your character is particularly cerebral. Friends who hem and haw for weeks or years before a decision are boring and trying. Characters are the same way. A reader will respect decisiveness, even if that decision turns out to be foolish.

4.) Get to know your character better. A lot of times, reactive characters happen by default when you simply don’t know your characters as well as you should. What are the sorts of things that will drive him to action?

5.) Surround your character with active verbs. Even if he’s going through a pensive stage, he’ll read more dynamically on the page.

My next character tip is to give him (or her) a superpower, and not, I'm not necessarily talking about flight. Stay tuned for the next blog...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Free Music for the Cheap and the Impoverished

Listening to music is one of those writing-essentials for me, and putting new music into the mix is a must. The Pandora ads drive me nuts (also: it's terribly distracting), so every once in a while I hunt for new free stuff on Amazon and come up with some good finds. Here are some of the best:

1. Yuna - Live Your Life

Gentle indie-pop, this track isn't my favorite on the very economical album (that would be "Remember My Name), but "Live Your Life" is a good introduction to this up-and-comer. She recently played a benefit concert at Anthropologie in Seattle. If Anthro gets behind her, she's one to watch.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cupcake of the Summer

We all know by now that Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" is the song of the summer.

But the cupake of the summer? Hands down, it's the S'mores Cupcake.

I started with Martha Stewart's recipe for our church's high school girl's retreat - I figured a s'mores-themed cupcake couldn't lose.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting Started

Totally loving this line from Meg Cabot's blog:

"If you want a long-lasting publishing career, I think the best way to spend your tweens and teens and early twenties isn’t worrying about getting published, but figuring out who you are and what you’re good at, experimenting with your style, and developing your own voice—in other words, just live your life."

(full post here)

I love that. I love it because I think it's so true and so right.

I talk to a lot of people about getting started in writing, or the writing business. And yes, it's *totally* a business. But it's also the business of selling a (hopefully) really great product. I get frustrated when people talk to me about agents and proposals and the desire to go from concept to contract.

It doesn't work that way. And it shouldn't work that way - not if you're about telling the best story. Telling the story, telling it well - that comes first. Then you can worry about agents and marketing and publicists and paperwork. It will be there when you're done.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Absolutely Official, Very Important Publishing News!

Coming in May, 2014, I'll be releasing the first book of a brand new series, A Table By the Window from WaterBrook Publishing!

I seriously could not be more excited. My agent and I have been working toward this for a long, long time. The beginnings of the story popped into my head almost five years ago, shortly after I married Danny. As time passed, the story grew and changed, becoming richer and more complex.

Like cheese.

And after all of these years, the story has found the perfect home at WaterBrook.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Us - Part V

Five years ago today, I married my best friend.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One Week Later

Remember when I said I looked forward to posting good news?

This is Shiloh - our new Cavalier King Charles Spaniel! He's ten weeks old today, about six and a bit pounds of fluff and kibble. He loves to play, he loves to chew, and he LOVES to snuggle.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How Things Are

I started this post differently, exactly one week ago.

It was full of happy news and instagram photos and glad tidings of dogs. Instead, I get to write this one.

We're putting Tesla, our dog, to sleep tonight.  The fact of the matter is that, no matter how much we love her, exercise her, play with her, train her, and manage her, she's bitten me six times over the last nine months. She's gotten Danny three or so times.

Last week we "adopted" a second dog on a trial-run from the prison-training program, a dog purported to be excellent at dog calming signals. We hoped he'd help Tesla learn to self-calm so that we could do some BAT-training with her. They played well together - and he was a good dog - but the stress of the change sent Tesla into a crisis-mode that we couldn't ignore. If the weather hadn't been unseasonably cool and I hadn't been wearing jeans, she would have gotten my legs. Twice.

We returned the other dog. We considered keeping him, but he showed signs of becoming a resource-guarder, and to be honest, after working with an aggressive 30-lb dog for nine months, I was terrified at the potential of doing the same with a 75-lb dog. (Note: he was returned to the prison program, where he will be trained and interacted with until adoption. He's good.)

After a conversation with our trainer, we came to the conclusion that Tesla, as smart and athletic, cute and funny as she is, would never be safe around young children. 

Danny and I had preliminary hopes of finding a shelter that might be able to work with her, but the no-kill shelter in our area doesn't accept aggressive dogs. And realistically, her stress in any other situation would put anyone trying to work with her at risk. We made the excruciating decision to have her put to sleep.

I hate it. I hate failure. I look at her and see the puppy I stayed up with at all hours, socialized endlessly, and trained patiently. But the fact of the matter is that when she hit adolescence, all of her genetically-inherited tendencies kicked in. The dog who once basked in the joy of having her belly rubbed by multiple children at a family reunion, the dog who patiently allowed timid children to pet her at the park, now bares her teeth and growls at me if I give her a (requested) belly rub.

It breaks my heart. 

We got Tesla shortly after our move to Tri-Cities, after (as faithful readers of this blog know) a difficult series of months. The circumstances of that are a large reason why we fought so hard for her. We learned a lot. We learned that her brand of stress-reactivity is partly genetic, and partly imparted by the mother in-utero. Having seen her mother, we know this was the case. Our beloved puppy was a behavioral time bomb, but one who had the best life possible.

As much as we hurt for her as well as ourselves, I'm glad we're doing this now, before she seriously injures someone. We can remember her in as balanced a light as possible, rather than as "the dog who sent ____to the hospital." We're not doing this out of anger, or as punishment. She is so high-stress, despite our best efforts, that her quality of life is not what it should be. This way, we know exactly where she is, that she's not hungry, not frightened - and not frightening anyone else.

So that's what's going on around here. We are actively looking for a new puppy, and I'm desperately looking forward to having good news to post. Until then, if you have a dog (or cat, or bunny, or what-have-you), give it a pet for me and enjoy the moment. 

Life is short. Enjoy the good days.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

You should watch Bunheads if...

1.) You loved Gilmore Girls.

2.) You have considered moving to Stars Hollow.

3.) You always wanted to see Emily Gilmore as a dance instructor.

4.) With flowy scarves.

5.) You ever wondered what the inside of Kirk's Mother's house looked like.

6.) You enjoy ballet.

7.) You enjoy wearing your hair in a bun.

8.) You HATED The Return of Jezebel James.

9.) You think more shows should be scored with Sam Phillips songs.

10.) You enjoy shows with dancing (SYTYCD, DWTS).

11.) You enjoy shows with quippy, smart, fast-paced dialogue, writers who love their characters, and good old-fashioned charm

I've got to be honest. When I first heard the title, I was like, Bunheads? Really? Hopefully that will change before it airs. And then it didn't. And then Kara explained to me that a Bunhead was a person with her hair in a bun, and that it had nothing to do with hotdog buns (sorry. I got confused.) And then I saw the series trailer, and I was like, Hey, it looks cute, but like watered-down Amy Sherman Palladino, and the guy looks kinda dopey. I mean, there's nothing wrong with him, but he's no Luke.


And then I watched a sneak peak of the pilot episode and was completely blown away by the show's awesomeness.

Yes, it's Gilmore Girls 2.0. Is that bad? No. If there's an author you like, you hope that their subsequent books will be in a similar vein. It's called brand, and it's a big deal. I heart show-runner Amy Sherman Palladino's brand, so I'm delighted that she has a new opportunity with a new show. Sutton Foster is great (the woman's got a Tony), Kelly Bishop is terrif, but I think the show's secret MVP will be Kaitlyn Jenkins, who plays Bettina "Boo" Jordan. She's all kinds of winning and adorable (purple dress below), and when Foster's character gets her to dance in front, she makes you want to dance with her.

There's a bit of a twist at the end of the episode (I say "bit" because it was an eventuality that I had thought about) which will open up all sorts of great plot/character opportunities. My biggest quibble with the episode is a monologue of Foster's that's framed awkwardly with no cutaway shots and feels long - but that's a directing/editing issue, really, rather than a writing issue.

The Pilot episode airs on ABC Family on June 11. You can still catch it early here, if you enter the password   
HollywoodLifeBunheads (if it expires, check the news section for the show on imdb and see if any other sites are promoting it). Or catch it on June 11.

Happy watching! If you see it, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Madmen Recap: The Other Woman

I have many regrets.

The main one I've mourned is the fact that I didn't start writing recaps of Mad Men at the beginning of the season.

Honestly, it didn't occur to me at the time.  But after Sunday's episode (which I finally watched last night, since I was delayed by some delightful house guests), I've decided to go ahead and write about the episode anyway, even though we're well-past mid season. 

So here goes.

I love Mad Men. I love the writing, I love that almost every episode gives me plenty to chew on.  Episode 11, "The Other Woman," opened with a meeting between Kenny, Pete, and Herb, the owner of numerous Jaguar dealerships. Sterling Cooper Draper Price is angling the Jaguar account for reasons creative, professional, and fiscal. They need a car. They need momentum. The really, really need money.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Will be updating the blog's design and layout over the next few days. As I do it myself, this will take a bit. If things look wonky, just check back later :-)



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Publishing Process

This is basically entirely true. The only difference between this and real life is that sometimes the editor chooses alpacas over goats.

And I can't blame them.

(Many thanks to the lovely Emily Wierenga, for posting this on Sandra Bishops's wall for everyone to enjoy)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

National Clean Out Your Purse Day!

If you told me that there was a government conspiracy to make the month of April, like, *disappear*, I would totally believe you. If you said there was an ongoing plot to do the same thing to May, I would nod my head emphatically.

What is going on??

We *have* been traveling a bit. In the last month, we were in Eugene (briefly), Bellevue (briefer), Kelso (briefest), and Portland (least brief). Oh, and the weekend before we went to Eugene, I went to Weston, OR with our church's high school girls.

Because of this, my purse has a serious case of Travel Bag.

A lesser person would be too proud to share with you the contents of this bag. It's a lot. Maybe it doesn't look like it. Maybe this looks like a nice, slender purse to you.

But let me tell you, when I dumped this puppy out, I decided I needed to put on an episode of Arrested Development, because I was going to be here for a bit.

(Not because the cleaning would take that long. No, it's the documenting that which was in my purse. Because it needs to be shared.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spring 2012 Movies!

I find it such a relief when a.) the weather warms up and b.) the movie releases start to be less stupid. The drought between awards season and springtime in the film world is such a sad, sad time.

Luckily, we had Hunger Games to tide us over.  Let's look at what's ahead until Summer Solstice...

Damsels in Distress - 4/16

Yes, I know that *technically*, this already released, but it hasn't released here, and I live in hope that either 1.) it will or 2.) I'll be able to see it during a forthcoming trip. I love the idea of a tribe of girls who, dressed as Betty Draper, go out to civilize the natives (i.e. fratboys) with tap dancing. Add Parks & Rec's Aubrey Plaza and Adam Brody, formerly of Gilmore Girls and The O.C, and I have every hope for a slightly twisted charmfest.

A girl's got to dream, right?

The Five-Year Engagement - 4/27

I seriously can't imagine being stuck in wedding-planning mode for five years, but I'm willing to watch Emily Blunt try. Blunt's been due for a breakout hit for a while - she's had Meryl Streep gunning for her since The Devil Wears Prada. It's anyone's guess if Five-Year Engagement will be her Bridesmaids moment (you know that comparisons will be inevitable), but the supporting cast won't hurt - Alison Brie (of Community and Mad Men) and Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation) are the best friends (of sorts), and Mimi Kennedy (Midnight in Paris) and David Paymer (The American President, The Good Wife) play Jason Segel's parents, and Segel himself is getting all sorts of great press for finally bringing more than a tenuous smile to Michelle Williams' face.

The Avengers - 5/ 4

I worry, to be honest.

Yes, this is on the list. But I have deep, deep concerns that this will be a scattered, quip-filled mess. I say that as a Joss Whedon fan, and I'll be the first to admit that he's made a name for himself working with ensemble casts. The thing with his ensemble casts, though, is that they're always centered around one very strong main character. Even in an ensemble piece like Ocean's 11, Danny Ocean is the guy you know best. You know what motivates him, what he wants, and what he's willing to do to get it.

Will the motivations be this clear with so many characters who are main characters in their own realms? Difficult to say. But I am a fan, independently, of Jeremy Renner (who was great on his guest spot on House before The Hurt Locker made him a thing), Chris Evans (who managed to portray about half of the guys I ever worked with at summer camp in The Losers), Mark Ruffalo (who had me at "We're not friends anymore, Jenna,"), and Robert Downey, Jr. (obviously). But together?

We'll see. I'm willing to find out.

The Moonrise Kingdom - 5/25

Oh, Wes Anderson. When you're good, you're really really good. When you're uneven, you're still entertaining and surprising, so it's okay. I loved The Incredible Mr. Fox, and I'm quite excited about this project, which looks like an affectionate amalgamation of classic film styles and tropes. Also loving - the casting of Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. Note: the script is co-penned by Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford, sister of Sofia.

Also: the use of Henry Purcell's Abdelazar theme, which tends to wind up in Jane Austen films is a nice touch.

Snow White and the Huntsman - 6/1

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of all of the press the Tale of Two Snows has managed to generate. Obviously, Tarsem's project tanked at the box office. The trailer for this one, helmed by newbie Rupert Sanders and written by Evan Daugherty (another newbie with a Robert DeNiro/John Travolta film in post-production), John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), and Hossein Amini (Drive), has a much stronger looking trailer *until* Kristen Stewart starts talking.

Now, I'm not a KStew hater. I thought she was great in Adventureland, and it's about as fair to judge her acting ability in the Twilight franchise as it is Natalie Portman's in the Star Wars prequels.

However, not everyone can pull off a vaguely English accent, and the bits that we hear from dear Kristen sound forced (and they are bits - in two of the three trailers I've seen, there is a conspicuous lack of the title character actually talking).

But it looks terrific visually, and appropriately dark for a Grimm tale, and a gently wonky accent didn't sink Ever After, so we'll see how goes.

Safety Not Guaranteed - 6/8

Another limited release, meaning I may not see it until it hits DVD, but I find the idea to be charming and quirky, while realizing that "quirky" has become one of those overused words, like "edgy." I recognize that Aubrey Plaza seems to be playing another version of April here, but I'm not convinced that it's necessarily the wrong thing for the story. At some point, though, she might want to diversify if she don't want to be stuck delivering deadpanned one-liners (delicious though they may be) for the rest of her career.


I know Prometheus is supposed to be a "deal," but honestly it looks scary, and I prefer my Ridley Scott movies to be costumey and historical with gunk in the air and a rousing speech or two about doing the right thing.

Tesla, however, had her own take.

I do not get the feeling that she is much impressed, in the end.

So - summer officially starts on the 20th of June - what movies are you looking forward to? 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chocolate also the name of a song that I like. (Yes, most music videos tend to be strange and I'm still unsure as to the logic behind their creation. Lead singer Gary Lightbody is blinking like vintage Hugh Grant (or even not-so-very -vintage Hugh Grant, which leads you to wondering why the man seems to have had dust in his eyes for the last twenty or so years) and that moment with the ladybug wigs me out a bit because we've had to remove three ticks from the dog in the last week alone, and if this is a post about chocolate I really should stop writing about ticks.


I meant "kicks."

Really. Bear with me - there's an amazing recipe in this post!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lessons from Hollywood - The Hunger Games vs. John Carter

This post is the first in a "Lessons from Hollywood" series focusing on writing/publishing truths gleaned from Tinseltown. I've written similar posts in the past (Writing lessons from Eclipse, for starters), but now such posts will have a club of their own to belong to.

Anyone reading about films and box-office reports will have heard that The Hunger Games has done very well. Games had a strong opening weekend and has continued to dominate.

Conversely, Andrew Stanton's baby, John Carter, has gone down in flames.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anne with an "e" knew what she was talking about: What to Consider as You Name your Characters

I renamed a character this week.

I have a thing about names. Some authors are pretty relaxed about them. I think that's great - it's just not me. When I create a character, the name is one of the first things I have to nail down. Otherwise, it's like making a friend whose name you don't know - who does that?

(Actually, I do sometimes. I'm not always great with remembering names. But when it happens, it's VERY uncomfortable and certainly not ideal. Not in real life, and not with made-up people).

With the book I'm working on now, it really became necessary to change several names of central characters. For a couple people, that was fine and downright easy.

But the others? Not so much. You see, these people are half French and half Italian. They're practically a super-species, if by "super" you mean "super stubborn, super strong-willed, super opinionated." And you know what?  They did not appreciate the name change. Not. One Bit. One character even flat-out refused.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sundry (mostly about the dog. A little about writing, but mostly about the dog).

Things are pretty quiet around here. It's nice. After SO much travel and change, getting into a boring home routine is kinda great.

We've got family coming up next week - so the quiet part will change - and a wee bit of travel to Bellingham in the near future, but until then it's nice to enjoy the house and the less-wigged-out dog.

Speaking of, Tesla is loving life right now. When she's not spending time in elegant repose (and bear with me as ALL of these photos were taken with my phone)...

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Spring Thing

I am usually not much a fan of Springing Forward. Every year, I whine and complain about why we still have Daylight Savings and why do they want to take a precious hour of sleep away from meeeeeee???

Like I said, not my fave.

(I do not, however, have these feelings in the fall).

However, now that we live in a more northerly location, it gets dark. Way dark. Dark by 3:45 in the winter kind of dark, which is really pretty depressing. I know there are far darker locations (say, Alaska), but after a dimly-lit winter, when a friend of mine mentioned we'd have an extra hour of light soon -

- it was the best news, ever! Like getting a birthday gift on a day that is nowhere near your birthday, just for being alive. Losing an hour was a completely fair trade - I would give two for the extra daylight.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Little Romance: The Mechanics of a Love Story

I've been asked to appear as an expert, of sorts, for middle school writers.  The subject? Romance.

Yeah, I know.  I struggle with smooshy, mushy romance.  But they asked for romance, so romance they shall have.  I spent some time thinking on the subject of Romance Theory (which seemed to dovetail with the blog on The Vow, come to think of it).

Good romance is the most character-driven of all genres, so if you're going to do romance (or a believable romance subplot/thread), you've got to know your characters and be able to communicate their essence on the page.

I mean, *really* know your characters.  Because the reader has to believe both characters as people, be invested in both of them, and believe that those people could/would be into each other. Obviously, there will be obstacles - that's what drives the turning of pages.  The reader has to:

a.) want the two characters to get together


b.) not be certain it's actually going to happen.

If one of those is missing, you've got a problem. If the reader doesn't want them to get together, she (we'll just assume the gender here) will hate you in the end when they do.  And if you make it too easy, there's not enough plot.  The love story can't be a foregone conclusion.  There have to be roadblocks, there have to be difficulties. For your characters - your hero and heroine - to be motivated enough to persist through those roadblocks, they have to be more than likable. They have to be desirable.

(Sorry. The italics just kind of happened there.)  If you skip out on desirability, your reader will sit/read/watch and yell at the character (the one who's romancing the undesirable) to RUN, RUN FAST, RUN FAR, IT'S NOT WORTH IT!

Think of The Bachelor, for this one.  Sure, the girl the guy likes most may be pretty, but if she's also evil, no one will want them to actually fall in love.

Conversely, it can also be a problem (for some plotlines) if your characters are too desirable.  The Vow is a good example -  they were both too pretty and desirable for us to believe they weren't even remotely attracted to each other. If one or both of your characters are very pretty (either inside or out), there had better be some good obstacles!

A spontaneous moment of love. Or not.

As far as I can tell, there are three core types of romance -

1.) The "will she/won't she" romance - will the heroine fall in love with him? Will she??  Stories that fall into this category include Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Anne of Green Gables,

2.) The "will he/won't he" romance - will he fall in love with her? Austen examples include Persuasion  and Sense and Sensibility. YA examples include Anna and the French Kiss and The Princess Diaries.

3.) The "can they be together" romance (a variation on this is how long will they be together - especially applicable in Nicholas Sparks books).  The Princess Bride is a good example.

Those are the core types.  Many stories are a combination of the two. Stranger than Fiction is a "will she/won't she" with a twist of "can they be together" - Maggie Gyllenhaal's character has to decide if Harold Crick, the tax man's flours are charming enough, but even after they all for each other, there's this niggling reality that Harold Crick is going to die.

You've Got Mail is a "will she/won't she/can they be together" mashup - they fall in love online first, but have to reconcile their real lives and true selves with their online personas before they can be together.

I've always wanted to ride awkwardly on the back of a bike
on the beach. Haven't you?

Something to consider with love-triangle plotlines - it's still a will she/won't she with a twist of  which one should he/she choose (most successful triangles involve a woman choosing between two men).  It can be kind of  a cop out. The question is "A or B?" rather than "Do I love A with my whole heart? Or should I ditch A and B because this situation is disturbing?"  My take is the same in fiction as it is in real life -  if you really can't choose, the answer should be neither - because you don't love one enough to give up the other.

(This is why I'm neither Team Edward or Team Jacob, but rather Team Go Find a Strong, Reliable, and Loving Human Man With Less Baggage. And don't tell me humans are boring within the framework of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Because: Aragorn. End of conversation.)

My personal preference is for a combo of the core types - it gives the characters two kinds of drama.  While you're figuring this out, though, you've got to make sure you're maintaining both believability and likability.  It also works best for stories where the romance is a subplot. Your main plot throws your characters just as many curveballs as their love lives.

So - there's my short masterclass on plotting romance. What do you think?

Brief Update: Found this rather awesome article about female stereotypes in chick flicks - you know, the women you see onscreen but NEVER meet in real life. Worth the read.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 2012 Oscar Red Carpet Gown-a-pol-ooza

I had so much fun researching the guild awards and events leading up to the Oscars that I thought it would be fun to review the fashions of the red carpet. Since fashion is ultimately objective and I love a good second opinion, I asked my Mom, Ruyle, and my sister, Susannah, to join me. Ruyle has a special place in her heart for Starbucks, snowmen, quotable movies, kindergarteners and Belknap Springs in winter. She is the happy mom to her three kids, and admits that we do keep her (and my dad) amused on a regular basis. Which means we have succeeded. Susannah is a student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR. She enjoys all things movie and music related. Susannah especially holds dear the entire Gilmore Girls Canon, and will always find a time to quote it whenever she can. So - let's dive in!

Jessica Chastain, McQueen
Hillary: Chastain Redemption! After an awards season that has been cluttered with Gowns That Should Never Have Been (I'm not even going to link to pictures because several of the truly ought not to have been), Chastain pulls out this little McQueen number, and the world breathes a sigh of relief.

Ruyle:  I love it!

Susannah:The dress compliments her hair and really flatters her in all the right places.  She went for simplicity with earrings and a few bracelets, and I applaud her for that.  My only wish is to have seen those shoes, personally I think some strappy black stilettos would have been perfect.

Rooney Mara, Givenchy

Hillary: It’ eyelids. And it doesn’t fit her. And...eyelids.

Ruyle:  At least the eyelids are *happy*  (come on,like the cartoon faces!)

Susannah: I can appreciate what Mara was trying to do. I think it fits her quite well, I love the skirt, but yes the “eyelids” are a to put it simply-unnecessary.
Hillary: I mean, at least it’s not black, you know? I just wish she’d found a seamstress to tailor the bodice, and asked Monsieur Givenchy to sew down the dixie cups. Or something. I like it from the waist down, though.

Octavia Spencer, Tadashi Shoji
Hillary: Octavia is awesome. She can dress herself beautifully, something women half her size can have trouble with. She looks like a million bucks, she deserved the win. I want her to take Christina Hendricks shopping - Christina would go home with clothes that FIT, and they’d have a great time.

Ruyle:  Octavia nailed it here.  Excellent idea to send her shopping with Christina!

Susannah: What I love about this is that it is so flattering on her, and all the lines hit her in all the right places, plus she keeps it light on the accessories letting the dress make the major statement.  Only concern was when she went up to receive her Oscar, she literally wobbled..., but you know what?  I’ll overlook it :)

Emma Stone, Giambatista Valli

Hillary: Oh Emma, the bow.  It takes away your neck. It blocks your airways. It’s the size of your head. It looks like something Nicole Kidman wore once.  I wish you had worn this instead. Or this.  Something that doesn’t look like it could be a hiding place for Voldermort.

Ruyle:  Again, five minutes with a seam ripper and VOILA!

Hillary: No joke! Also, a stronger lip color. I think there needs to be someone at the Oscars, hiding in the restrooms, who removes superfluous dress details. It’s for the greater good.

Danny: The Greater Good.”

Ruyle:  Pick Me! Pick Me!

Susannah: This dress could have been absolutely perfect without the bow because it looks like she will be swallowed whole by it, and honestly it looks to me as if she needs more support in the bust area.  Other than that, her accessorizing was tasteful and the clutch was very nice, and her hair has the perfect updo.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The 2012 Oscar Blog

The Oscars are Sunday, Billy Crystal is back, James Franco should be nowhere near the telecast, and all is right in the world.  Let's do this thing!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin, The Artist.

George is favored, but Jean Dujardin is French, funny, charming and handsome - the quadruple threat.  He won the SAG award, giving him an edge over Clooney. Maybe he'll win, maybe he won't, but I think he's got a solid shot at an "upset."

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Vow: Or, What Not To Do If Your Spouse Has Amnesia


I really had hopes that The Vow might actually be a mid-grade romance, but it steers very quickly into the dippy end of the pool.

Which is sad because the romance and chick flick genres have been near nonexistent lately. What happened? In the days of old, there were releases like While You Were Sleeping, You've Got Mail, 13 Going on 30, The Lake House, Sleepless in Seattle, The Notebook, Return to Me, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and second-tier rom-coms like Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, Sweet Home Alabama, Just Like Heaven, Kate and Leopold, and even the third-tier-but-still-watchable Serendipity, Leap Year, The Proposal, and Music & Lyrics.

(Okay - I know a lot of people who would argue a second-tier slot for Proposal, but there were plot holes the size of Alaska in that movie.  Please do not ask me to describe them.)

The best chick flick I've watched in the last year? WAS NOT AN ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM. I say this not as a slam against foreign-language films (which I enjoy much), but as a statement about how the country that produced It Happened One Night and An Affair To Remember has lost its touch.

What do we have instead? The Twilight franchise. And now, The Vow.

If you need a roadmap for how to deal with a spouse who cannot remember your Great Love, do not look to The Vow. It will not help you.

The basic premise: Paige and Leo are in Love.  They've been married for four years, and they're still honeymooning it.  Flashbacks show us their wedding vows, which sound like they were written by screenwriters People who are Seriously in Love.  They are truly MFEO.

And then there's a car accident.

Beware: Spoilers ahead. If you don't want to know what happens, stop here. Turn back. Otherwise, read on.  Because this is where it gets funny. And dippy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sweet Nothings

Look at these.

I mean, just look.

I made these for a baby shower, and frankly I'm a little obsessed with them.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 - My Favorite Discoveries

While everyone has had their own 2011 retrospectives, I was busy with Christmas and travel and coming up with material for my critique group (who thinks that holiday breaks are for sissies). So now that I've had time to reflect on the entirety of the last year, here are some of my favorite finds...

1. Midnight in Paris

"I see - rhinoceros." I love this movie. I love the situational comedy, the observations about human nature, and the Disneyland-esque trip through the Jazz Age.  It's also the film that made Hollywood that realize that charm still sells. Who knew that such a thing would be said about a modern Woody Allen film?