Friday, July 31, 2009

Virtual Vicarious Vacation Friday: The Cotswolds

I'm visiting the parents today, so just a quick Virtual Vicarious Vacation post. We're still in England, from October 2000, the day after my day in Warwick (from last week). It was a day in the Cotswolds. I took a train from Oxford to a town with a train station, where I caught a bus to another town, where I bought a book of walks and then walked across-country to another town, where I caught the bus back to the train station. I don't have my guidebooks or photo albums with me, so I'm guessing on some of the spellings.

The town where I had lunch and bought a book of walking directions was called Stow (maybe Stowe) on the Wold, and there was this one fun moment on the street where an old car went by, and it was almost like something out of an old movie in that setting.

One benefit of seeing the country by walking is that you see things that wouldn't be visible from the road, like this manor house that appeared ahead as I emerged from the woods.

Then in the village of Lower Slaughter, there was an old mill with the water wheel.

That really was one of the best days of my life. I like walking, and walking like that and really seeing interesting stuff out in the country was just amazing. I capped off the day with a nice tea, and the whole day was sheer perfection.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


It just occurred to me that my birthday is a week from tomorrow, and I've made no plans whatsoever. It's not that I forgot my own birthday. It's more that I've lost track of where I am in time and hadn't realized it was coming so soon. There is a gathering planned the next day that has nothing to do with my birthday but which includes the people I'd invite to a party. Not that I'm really up to putting together an actual party for a week from now. Maybe I'll see about getting together with some friends for something more casual. I guess I won't have Larry Niven serenading me this year, since I'm not going to Worldcon.

Still doing that self-assessment stuff as part of the Ongoing Quest for World Domination (who knew world domination required so much work?) ... I've done the exercise before of listing everything that appeals to me in fiction as a reader, but I hadn't ever done the opposite and listed everything I dislike or that turns me off, and I had a few good discoveries.

My vampire aversion is no surprise. I especially don't like vampires as the good guys, and I've reached the point I can barely deal with the idea of them as the bad guys.

I also don't like bad boys, but I think I've figured out why. It's the "boys" part, because there's something kind of Peter Pan/arrested development about the standard tattoos, black leather, rebel without a cause type bad boy that reeks of perpetual adolescence and a rebellion against adulthood. I've never really been into that James Dean type. I was a child of the 70s and didn't get why Fonzie was such a big deal (my Happy Days crush was Potsie). I don't like it any more when that type is female -- I didn't get all the furor over Faith on Buffy. The real revelation here is that I think this goes back to my vampire boredom. The way vampires are often portrayed today as romantic heroes, they're basically the James Dean types, with that live hard/stay eternally young and pretty, never grow up, remain stuck in youthful rebellion attitude. I don't like it whether or not the guy has fangs or drinks blood. And it's also why, even though I love the idea of urban fantasy, I don't read that much of it. I know I'm in the minority on my tastes, and the packaging is designed to sell books, with the knowledge that the bad boy/girl image with all the black leather and tattoos is a cultural icon that really grabs a lot of people, but that packaging makes my eyes roll so hard I can barely read the back cover to see what the book is actually about. (But then I'm the one working on an urban fantasy with a heroine who wears mostly pastels.)

However, I have figured that I'm not opposed to all "tough" characters. I'm quite drawn to what I might call "Bogart tough" -- the hardboiled detective type character in the trench coat and fedora with street smarts who doesn't take sass from anyone. But that seems like a more mature expression of tough. That's a tough man, not a bad boy.

On the other side of that coin, I also don't like the wimpy or airheaded heroine, especially the gleefully shallow heroine, the kind who doesn't mind admitting that while she knows the full spring line from every designer and who every celebrity is sleeping with, she's not entirely sure who the current president is (one reason Sex and the City bugged me). That type was rampant in chick lit and shows up in some of the more chick-litty urban fantasy. If the heroine mentions more than two designer names in the first chapter and she's not working in a clothing store, the book will likely hit the wall.

I'm turned off by stories that focus on gambling because that's very stressful to me (the plot almost always seems to involve getting ahead and then losing it all, and I'm too cheap/poor to enjoy watching people lose money for no good reason), and I'm very uncomfortable with false accusation/framed for a crime stories. I don't like it when characters feel utterly helpless and up against something that feels too big for them to handle for an extensive part of the book. I guess that fits in the systemic/institutional injustice category. I'm not fond of lawyer stories (haven't read a single John Grisham novel), and I don't like books that spend a lot of time in the point of view of the villain, especially a really icky, sadistic villain. I guess that's why I prefer mysteries to thrillers. In mysteries, you're usually trying to figure out who the villain is, but in thrillers, you often know and even spend time with the villain, and the suspense is in how the hero will catch him or escape from him. Even on cop shows, I prefer the ones that start with the discovery of the body to the ones that start with the actual killing, so we know who did it.

I've got a couple of pages more on my list, but the bad boy thing was the revelation for me because it's showing me how I can find my own way to write tough guys that I like. It's possible for someone to be tough without being a bad boy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Common Threads

I'm still doing a lot of self-assessment as part of the Ongoing Quest for World Domination, and there's a thing going around in the writing world that really has me thinking. Writers are to find the things that are true about everything they've written. I guess the idea is to see what really seems to speak to you, what core story it is you want to tell, and maybe what your strengths are.

It's a difficult exercise for me to do because the books I wrote earlier in my career aren't the kind of books I'd even want to read now. Then there's the fact that in addition to my published novels, I have even more novels in various stages that are either unfinished, rejected, on submission or some combination (I've written a lot of proposals, and I have a number of books where I started writing them and then lost interest). I could just analyze the published books, but that's only nine, and four of those are in a series, so that's not a lot of data points. It also could be interesting to compare the characteristics of the published vs. unsuccessful and see what works. I can't even use the easy way out and say that all of them have my name on them, since two were written under a pen name. I guess I could say they're all copyrighted under my name.

One odd little trend in the published works is that in all of them, the main female character primarily goes by a name ending in ie or y. I have written books with characters who don't fit that, but none of them have been published. I'm getting a little superstitious about that, but I don't know if it's meaningful. I do tend to do best when I write the "spunky kid" kind of heroine, and those names fit that kind of character, but beyond that, I have no idea what to make of it. On the other hand, a lot of my unpublished works have heroines with ie or y names, so it's not a guarantee of success.

The main thing that seems to be true of everything I write is that there's humor. I just can't help myself. Even when I try to write something more serious, my main viewpoint characters have a sense of humor and use humor as a coping mechanism. I'm just not very interested in humorless people. I don't mind angst and darkness, as long as there's some wry awareness of how ridiculous all that angst can be. That's one of the things I like most about Joss Whedon's TV shows, the way he can really go to the edge with the angst and darkness while still bringing the funny. Unfortunately, I haven't had as much success with that because publishers seem to want either dark or funny, and I've had rejections because editors thought that because of the humorous voice of the viewpoint character it would be a comedy chick-litty type book, but then it turned out to be about serious stuff but just told in a snarky, funny way. Maybe I'm not taking it to the full extreme or not pulling it off. I love writing comedy, but sometimes it's difficult being funny all the time or thinking of some big comic set piece type scenes, and I'd like to just write a book that still has humor in it (because I can't help myself) without worrying about whether it's funny enough to be a comedy.

There's also a romantic thread in everything I write, in part because I spent the first half of my career writing or trying to write romance novels, but in part because I think that helps escalate all the conflict. Even now, I find myself thinking of the right romantic interest once I think of the main character, even if it's not going to be a very romantic book. The romantic arc is usually what I focus on in plotting, mostly because I struggle with fitting the emotions in, and if I get that worked out, that tends to develop the characters and then the external events are easy to build around that emotional spine, even if the romance is a hinted-at sub-sub plot that won't be very evident in the finished book. Unfortunately, that tends to make my synopses read like they're for romance novels, and now that I'm trying to sell a fantasy novel, it gets me rejections for the book being too much of a romance, while it's not enough of a romance for a romance. As a result, I've decided to write a whole manuscript instead of a proposal.

I think most of my heroes tend to be nice guys -- the "beta" males -- and even my attempts at writing macho end up just being the best friend/boy next door type. I like to think that my most successful heroes, like Owen, are actually so alpha that they come back around to beta -- so powerful and so aware of their power and strength that they don't feel the need to act like an alpha. My inability to write alpha men is part of what doomed me as a romance author. I find that I don't like most romance heroes in the books that are published, so I'm clearly not going to be able to write a guy I like and still sell the book in the current market. Fortunately, in fantasy the men can show their strength in different ways, so it's possible to have a nice guy who's still formidable.

I can't think of a real common thread of all my heroines, other than that they're all smart and capable and probably a little too independent for their own good. When I've tried to write something a little different, I lose interest in the story and it doesn't go anywhere. I don't write good dingbats or bitches as main characters.

I do find, when I look at the books I've worked on more recently, that I have a lot of things that come up a lot, though not necessarily in absolutely everything. I seem to be fascinated with the idea of sisters, even though I don't have one, both positive relationships and negative ones with lots of rivalry. I like heroes with a mystery in their past who have been separated from their birth families in some way. A lot of the same songs keep coming up on my "soundtracks."

I can't find a huge difference between what's been published and what hasn't, but as I said, that's hard to tell because all my recent publications have been in the same series.

And I don't know what all this means, other than realizing what I seem to like so I can do it again, but if I like it, I'll probably do it without planning to.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Developing Creativity

Another cool, cloudy morning -- and I even slept with the windows open and the AC off last night, so I got a really good rest. I can't believe this is July in Texas. It has occurred to me that the streak of really hot, dry days ended not long after I bought a new swimsuit. Since then, the only days suitable for swimming have been when I had something else going on. I'm not taking the credit for changing the weather, but I do find it somewhat amusing. If I'd known that all I needed to do to get cool summer weather was buy a swimsuit, I'd have done it ages ago. Alas, I suspect once August hits we'll be back to normal, which will be a huge shock to my body. I've already started going into "fall" mode.

As part of the Ongoing Plan for World Domination, I've been digging into some things that might give me a different perspective and boost my creativity. A few years ago -- well, actually, longer than that, probably more like ten years ago (Ack! Where has the time gone?) -- one of the big things in writing groups was The Artist's Way. I know my local group had at least one seminar on it, there were tapes about it in our group's tape library, and the author was a featured speaker at one of the RWA conferences. Essentially, it's a "creative recovery" program designed to help you find and nurture your inner artist so you can be more creative and live your destined creative life. I bought the program book back in the fall of 2001 when I was at a very low point. I'd had a book on the market for more than a year with no response, my then-agent was practically snubbing me, I hadn't managed to make anything I was writing work, and my day job had even started dragging me down. I tried a couple of times to get through the program and usually lost interest a few weeks into it (it goes to 12 weeks).

I thought I'd dig it out again and give it another shot, and I think I've figured out why I never finished it. It's actually pretty discouraging and depressing. I feel like it encourages a victim mentality and a kind of paranoia. The first few weeks are all about finding the "monsters" in your past who have kept you from living a creative life or who might sabotage your attempts at becoming more creative. So, your third-grade teacher correcting your spelling on an essay and not praising your writing is a monster whose influence is even now keeping you from being the creative person you're destined to be (I'm not exaggerating -- that's one of the examples in the book). Meanwhile, you're supposed to be wary about who you talk about your creative recovery to (oops! Does the whole Internet count?) because many of those people will be blocked creatives who will be jealous of your progress and try to bring you down so they won't have to face the fact that they're blocked.

My issue with this is that I don't feel like I really have any monsters in my past. Yes, there have been people who dared to (gasp!) criticize me or my work, but if I allow them to keep me from pursuing my creativity, that's my fault. I can see that someone who was genuinely emotionally abused might have trouble finding the safe emotional space to create, but if the fact that your fifth-grade teacher didn't put the picture you drew on the wall is the reason you didn't become an artist, then you didn't really want to become an artist. Blaming this person for you not fulfilling your destiny seems counterproductive, and I don't see where writing an angry letter to this person (not to be mailed) is going to help all that much. I felt like this part of the program was encouraging me to dredge up negativity and deny my own responsibility. When I look at the places where I've taken the safe path or avoided doing something, it's been because of me, not because of anyone else. I controlled my reactions and allowed myself to become so discouraged that I couldn't write when I got a lot of rejections. I still have no idea where the fear of singing in public came from, but I can't think of anything any person did or said to help generate that. And I actually feel more empowered by taking responsibility for all this because that means I can change it. As for sabotage on the road to recovery, I have had people in my life who've resented the amount of time I spent writing, but I think it really was about the time and my priorities, not because they were jealous of my creativity.

I probably am coming at this from a different angle than most people, though, because I am living a creative life. My job is writing books. I'm not an accountant who's always dreamed of being a painter but never tried because it wasn't practical. I'm doing what I want to do, just not as well or as successfully as I'd like to do it. So, for instance, one of the things you're supposed to do each week is have an "artist's date" where you go do something alone that allows you to get in touch with your "inner artist child" and carve out time for yourself. But 98 percent of my time is spent like that. What I need is to do the opposite, and make time to interact with other people so I don't get stuck inside my own head.

So, I'm probably not doing all this the right way, but I think that thinking about it has been good for me, and we'll see if I get any new insights once I get past the point where I usually lose interest. What does seem to be helping is the "morning pages," where you write three pages of anything that pops into your head as soon as you wake up. I've found it a good place to brainstorm, almost like thinking out loud on paper. I don't know if there's a link to the fact that I've been getting more work done lately, or if my decision to play with this program again stems from an increased dedication that's affecting all of my work. Whatever, I'm getting more work done and having more interesting ideas that seem to be going beyond my usual boundaries.

Monday, July 27, 2009

More Monday Movies

It's been a lovely stormy morning, so of course I am utterly blissful. I'm also tempted to nap because this is perfect sleeping weather. Fortunately, it's also good reading weather, and I'm still doing tons of research, so that means I can lie on the sofa and read all day and it counts as work. I suspect this is going to be one of those books where I read a ton in preparation, and only a tiny sliver of it will actually make it into the book directly. Otherwise, it will all be mindset and idea generation.

There wasn't much movie watching this weekend, so I don't have too many Monday movies. The "essential" on TCM was A Night at the Opera, and I had never seen a Marx Brothers movie, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'd only seen parodies and spoofs -- mostly the Bugs Bunny versions -- so I had an entirely wrong impression of what it would be like. I was picturing a lot of slapstick, stuff like people falling down and pies in the face. I was rather pleasantly surprised because it was actually very clever humor, building on timing and interaction. I laughed myself silly. Those were some amazingly talented men, especially when you throw in the musical talent that went with the comedy. I did initially have a little trouble figuring out what the plot was supposed to be, since the young Italian couple they were helping sounded so very all-American, and I didn't realize for a while that they were Italian and trying to get their big break in an American opera company. But nitpicking plot details of a Marx Brothers movie is probably a lost cause, and I've read that the movie initially had an opening that made it clearer that it started in Italy, but that was cut and the Italian stuff was downplayed during WWII, and that cut footage has been lost. I was also a little surprised at how appealing I found Groucho. Take away the exaggerated "character" features, and it seems like he was actually a rather attractive man, and add the wit and sense of humor, and he was even kind of sexy.

Sunday afternoon as background noise while I was reading (and while my neighbor's dog was yapping its little head off, so I needed noise to drown it out), I watched The Promotion on HBO. It's the story of an assistant manager of a grocery store who sees the opening of a new store in the chain as his chance to become a full manager, which will change his life, giving him more status and the money to buy a house with his wife. He seems to be a shoo-in, until a new guy transfers in, and they start competing for the promotion. It was billed as a comedy, but I didn't find it very funny. The humor was based on cringe-inducing, humiliating situations and a lot of meanness, which I don't think is very funny. I don't think I laughed once. I'm more a fan of the "laughing with" kind of humor, and this was very much "laughing at" humor. However, the fact that I found it so painful was a sign that the characters were vivid and relatable. I really found myself caring about the outcome, and it's possible I might enjoy it more if I watched it again, knowing how it would work out, so I could relax and not worry so much about the main character. I think I'd classify it more as "quirky drama" than as a comedy, and it's probably a better film when you approach it with that expectation. The cast was fairly high-level for such a low-level film, and although I love Jenna Fischer, I'd really like to see her bust out of that "supportive, low-key girlfriend/wife" typecasting. I'd love to see her playing someone really outgoing and vivacious or maybe even a raging bitch and getting to be the leading lady instead of the wife/girlfriend.

Now, to answer a question raised by a post last week, when I said you'd do more good asking the publishers about more books instead of me, since I can't do anything about it (believe me, I'd love them to do more books, so if I had any control over the situation, they'd be out there). Snail mail is usually more effective than e-mail because it takes time and thought instead of just dashing off an e-mail that's likely to end up in an in-box that's never checked. For US and Canadian readers, you could contact Ballantine Books, 1745 Broadway, Floor 18, New York, NY 10019. If you really must use electronic media, they have a contact form on their web site (and they really must not want people to use it because it's buried several layers into their web site). If you want to wonder why these books aren't published as fantasy, I did find an e-mail address for Del Rey (that publisher's fantasy imprint, where my books really should belong instead of being stuck among all the literary fiction and book club books): For the non US editions, I suppose you could Google the publisher name to look for contact info. I don't have direct contact with those publishers and my language skills aren't up to finding contact info on their web sites. Be polite, and don't mention that I'm the one who asked you to write. It looks better if it's spontaneous.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Virtual Vicarious Vacation Friday: Warwick Castle

Juggling three writing projects may not be good for my sanity. There's the previous project, that I'm wrapping up. There's the current one I'm rewriting. And there's the future one I'm researching and brainstorming and that is really taking over my brain. Yesterday, I read straight through the previous project. I think it's important to try to read a book the way a reader would because you catch a lot more things than you do when it's weeks or even months between the time you wrote the first chapter and the time you wrote the last one. For instance, you're more conscious of words or phrases you use repeatedly. Or you might find that you used the exact same paragraph twice after you cut it from earlier in the book and then moved it to another scene, then used it again in a later scene. Not that I might have done something like that. It's also good to get a look at the book as a whole rather than as units from a day's work. Aside from a few wording and repeated paragraph issues, I think I still like this one. I have a page of notes of little things to check or tinker with, then it rests again for a couple of weeks, and then I give it one last read out loud to catch any subconscious errors that might have slipped between the cracks. And then I'll be down to two projects, until my agent gives me revision notes on this one.

I know I have a ton of reader e-mail to deal with, but that gets kind of draining since they all seem to be asking the same questions, and repeating that particular answer over and over again makes me want to crawl into a hole. No, there is no book five on the horizon because my publisher doesn't want it. No, book four is not being translated into Dutch because the publisher doesn't want it. I have no idea about book four in German because they haven't committed one way or another. I guess it starts to feel like the book version of, "Why aren't you married yet?" I have to remind myself that it's because they care, not because they're trying to make me feel bad. I will say that, in case anyone's reading this, it might be more effective to be addressing these questions to the respective publishers. That way they'll be forced to realize that there is a demand.

But enough about that. Let's take another virtual vicarious vacation! We're still in England, on that same trip from October 2000, and in fact these photos are from the day after last week's photos. I took a day trip from Oxford up to Warwick to see the castle. Yeah, this is a pretty touristy castle that's now owned by the people who run Madame Toussad's, which means that parts of the castle are set up as a wax museum so you can see how people lived there at various points in history, complete with music and sound effects. But the castle itself is truly magnificent, and it's on gorgeous grounds. Apparently I got really lucky because normally it's swarming with tourists, and it was practically deserted the day I was there. I only ran into other people a couple of times (and once it was a couple from Texas I'd met before, which was kind of freaky). I spent the whole day there, just wandering, and it was one of those nearly perfect days.

So here are a few views of the castle, and these are some of the photos I've had enlarged and framed and that hang on the staircase wall. First, the side view of the castle, taken from a bridge over the River Avon.

Then there's the approach to the castle.

And then the view from the top of the highest tower (I'm not great with heights, so that one was a bit scary until I got used to being up there).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Favorite Fictional People

While I'm in the preparation phase for a new book, I've been doing some self-assessment to figure out what I like and don't like in books, what gets me excited, etc. I've done lists of plot elements that I like and that I don't like, and the other day I made a list of the characters in books, TV and film that have really captured my imagination -- the ones who linger in my imagination or who are the reason I got really emotionally involved in a story. I've discovered some interesting trends.

For one thing, I get far more caught up in male characters than I do with female characters. When I was a kid, I got more into stories with female characters I could identify with, but as soon as puberty came close, it was the men I got emotionally involved with (though that started before then -- I remember TV crushes going all the way back to pre-school). Among these men, almost all are either dark-haired or red-haired. I did go through a blond phase in junior high, but since then, no blond guys seem to have caught my interest, and as I can't seem to recall anything about those characters, I suspect they were more actor crushes than any fascination with the characters. The name Simon comes up a number of times, which is kind of odd and random (the only repeating name on the list). I seem to have two main types. There's the noble, upright nice guy and there's the lost soul who may have an offputting exterior but who is actually a nice guy underneath. I really seem to like guys who aren't exactly what they seem to be, especially if there's more than meets the eye. I suppose my perfect male character is a noble, upright nice guy who's put on a bit of a facade to hide the fact that he's a lost soul.

It's hard for me to get into a story if there's no man in it I can kind of fall for, but there are two main authors who manage to write female characters who can draw me in whether or not I like any of the men. One is Jane Austen. I only really swoon over Mr. Darcy when watching the miniseries of Pride and Prejudice and can look at Colin Firth. But when reading the book, it's Lizzie Bennet who really captures my interest. I want to be her and always have that witty comeback. I also find myself really identifying with Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (even before she was embodied by Emma Thompson). Then there's Terry Pratchett, who writes great female characters, from Granny Weatherwax to Tiffany Aching to Susan to Spike. I can read those books whether or not there's a guy I can fall in love with. (And now I have a sudden longing to see Granny Weatherwax meet Carrot -- just imagine the head games.) All the heroines I like are smart and capable, no surprise there.

One really odd thing I've noticed is that, aside from the Jane Austen books, none of my favorite characters come from anything in the chick lit or romance genres. Those are supposed to be character-driven and designed to make readers be emotionally involved with the characters, but I can barely remember any specific characters, and I couldn't even think of any character names unless their names were in the book titles. It's the situations that draw me into those kinds of books. I seldom really identify with the heroines or fall in love with the heroes. I may enjoy them while I'm reading the book, but they seldom stick with me after I've read the book. Confession here: I barely even remember the main characters in the romance novels I wrote. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that these books generally don't come in series where the same main characters continue, and most of my favorites seem to come from series where I have the chance to get to know them over time. I do have a few favorites from standalone novels, but none from non-series movies. Almost all of my all-time favorite characters are from novel series or TV series. It may be a chicken-and-egg thing -- for me to get really hooked on a character, I need to see that character in a lot of situations over time, but for me to get hooked on a series enough to follow it, I have to be emotionally engaged with at least one character.

I'm not sure what all this says about me or what I should focus on writing. I think the characters I've written more or less fall into these categories. It's not exactly a news flash that I like nice guys who maybe have a touch of mystery about them and smart, capable women. It was a little eye-opening to realize I've never had a lingering mental love affair with a romance novel hero. I think I need to see characters do more than just fall in love for me to fall in love. Although I like having a "book boyfriend," a really fascinating woman can also draw me in. I do know that making this list actually helped build a character for this idea I'm developing. I tried to fit those characteristics into this story, and suddenly I had a character with a real backstory (that will require a lot of research into an area that previously held little interest for me). And I did a lot of the prep work and development for this book focusing entirely on the main female character with no idea who the men might be, which might be a sign that this woman alone was getting me emotionally engaged in the story, and that's good.

I suppose I should name some of my favorites, but I'm feeling strangely shy about that. It's like confessing which guy I liked to my junior high friends (a HUGE mistake). Some of them will probably be obvious from the way I talk about TV, books and movies, but I think I will leave the rest as a mystery.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Avoiding Talking Heads

That "misty" idea is really coming out of the mist now. I had to turn the light on in the middle of the night and write notes to myself, which I never do, because the pitch/back cover copy for it came to me, word for word, and it was too perfect to let slip. So now I know what this book is actually about -- what the main plot conflict is. Lots of details are still missing and I have tons of research to do, but I'm making progress.

I dug out my college acting textbook last week because I like exploring other things that might help in my writing and something struck me that I'd just noticed in a book I was revising -- talking (and thinking) heads don't occur in nature.

In TV news, a talking head is either just the anchor reading the story or the clip of the person being interviewed. Talking heads are dull because there's no real action. We're not seeing anything but a face. They're just as deadly in fiction, and they occur when you have long scenes of just dialogue or long internal monologues.

If you think about the way actual conversations occur, you'll notice that even in the most intense conversations, you seldom have two people just sitting and talking to each other, and even in those conversations, there's still other action going on. People make and break eye contact, shift their weight in their chairs, cross and uncross their legs, move their hands, scratch their noses, etc. The movements will change depending on the intensity of the conversation and the setting. People interact with their environments as much as they interact with each other. They may react to cold or heat, do business related to the setting and circumstances (like eating/drinking in a restaurant, doing kitchen tasks in a kitchen, examining items while shopping), or be distracted by other things happening in the setting.

It's with all these little actions that you can add subtext to the conversation. A lot of the time, we don't say what we really mean, and actions really do speak louder than words. When the words and the body language conflict, we believe the body language. If the people in the conversation like each other but don't want to admit it, their conversation may be neutral or even antagonistic while their body language shows their interest -- self-grooming behaviors (playing with hair, straightening clothes), angling their bodies toward each other, mirroring each other's movements. Or the reverse, they could be talking like they're totally civil while showing antagonism physically -- stiff posture, keeping a distance, angry facial expressions. You'd lose those nuances if you just had talking heads.

Internal monologue, or thinking heads, is even more potentially dull in a novel. That's the pages and pages of thinking. Unless we're meditating, very few of us just sit and think. We also don't plan to think or go into a room just to think. The thinking occurs while we're doing something else, and it's often triggered by something we see or hear. We go into a room to do something, see something that sparks a thought, and the thinking goes on while we continue to do whatever we were doing. The actions may then reflect the thoughts -- we may scrub more vigorously at the dishes while thinking of something that bothers us, or the thought may sidetrack us so that we forget what we were doing and do something else.

You can come up with all these bits of business by paying attention to things you do when you're talking or thinking and by observing others. When it comes to writing, pick specific actions that are meaningful and that reflect the character. You want just enough to avoid having a talking or thinking heads scene, not so much that the scene becomes cluttered or distracting. You can also watch films or television for action ideas because actors will choose specific, meaningful actions to go with their dialogue and avoid the "clutter" you may see in real life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Romantic Comedy Round-Up

The weekend was eventful enough that the weekend HBO report got shoved to Tuesday. I guess I was in a comedy/romantic comedy mood this weekend (or else that's what was on).

I started with Definitely Maybe on Thursday night, which I liked better than I expected, but still not enough that I would have been willing to pay for it in a theater. The plot structure is similar to I'm With Lucy, being mostly told in flashback and with the person the main character ends up with in the present part of the story a mystery until the end. This one involves a divorcing father whose young daughter asks to hear the story of how he got together with her mother. Her hope is he'll remember why he loved her mother and then won't want to be divorced. He tells her about the various women he's known, changing their names and details so she can't tell which one ends up being her mother, going back to right after college. It was an okay movie that could have been a good one with a different leading man. Ryan Reynolds is pretty to look at, and in interviews I've seen, he seems to be a nice, funny guy, but he bothers me as an actor because he doesn't really seem to play characters. He expresses emotion, but he's pretty much the same in everything I've seen him in, even though the characters as written have been really different. I never believed him for a moment in this movie, and he was really outclassed to an embarrassing degree by his co-stars -- including the kid (okay, so that was Abigail Breslin and she's a prodigy). It's already borderline inappropriate for a father to be telling some of that stuff to his young daughter, but since I never really believed him as a father, it came across as some random 30-something guy talking about his love life to a little girl, which got kind of skeevy. This was also one of those films that puts a bizarre emphasis on smoking, to the point it came across as stealth product placement, with no specific brands shown, but with the characters talking about enjoying smoking and bonding over smoking (that, or Hollywood screenwriters are among the last "smoking makes you look cool!" holdouts). On the up side, this was a romantic comedy in which the leading man was theoretically a man, not an overgrown manchild being forced to grow up by a demanding harpy. I say "theoretically" because the character was written as the kind of guy who was probably an adult in third grade when he already had his life planned, but the actor never really conveyed that.

Then I caught Juno, and I have to agree with the critics who say that some of the dialogue was a wee bit too self-consciously hip, but Ellen Page definitely deserved her Oscar nomination because she totally embodied that character, enough so that the self-consciously hip dialogue almost even worked, coming from her. I guess it's a factor of my age, but I identified far more with the childless adoptive couple than with the teenager.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was on after that, and even though I have it on DVD, I couldn't resist at least leaving it on while I did other stuff.

Tom Jones was the "Essential" movie on TCM Saturday, and I'd never seen that version. I think I still like the A&E miniseries better, in part because the longer length allowed them to dig a little deeper and in part because I preferred that version of Tom. I love Albert Finney in so many other things, but as Tom Jones he sounded kind of like a newscaster, and the miniseries guy really captured that impishness that's essential for making us like him, in spite of his bad behavior (I think it helps that the miniseries actor is apparently more of a rock musician than actor, since Tom does behave a lot like a rock star). However, this movie is beautifully visceral and earthy and has a lot of splendid moments.

Finally, there was Run, Fat Boy, Run, which on the surface comes close to that overgrown manchild forced to grow up cliche, but I think it avoided the cliche, for the most part, and I would have liked it a lot better if I could have enjoyed it as an underdog kind of story without all the surrounding cultural trends that make half the movies be about men who desperately need to grow up so that I'm sick of immature men. The movie is the story of a man stuck in arrested development, whose life has pretty much gone nowhere since he got cold feet on his wedding day and ran away, leaving his pregnant fiancee at the altar. Five years later, he still hasn't done much with his life, is still in debt and irresponsible, but then he discovers that his former fiancee is dating a pretty much perfect man -- one who's responsible and disciplined and who runs marathons for charity. Our hero gets the idea that he'll run a marathon and that will be what he needs to outclass this guy and prove to his former fiancee that he's worthy. Never mind that he's overweight, out of shape and totally undisciplined. But he has an odd support system in his young son, his landlord and his best friend (who's hoping to use the race to pay off some gambling debts). The movie starts veering toward cliche toward the end, because of course the other guy has to be revealed as a jerk, and All Must Seem to be Lost, but it doesn't wrap everything up in a pretty bow. Fortunately, the woman is never portrayed as a demanding harpy, and she never demands anything from him other than that he honor his obligations to his son. He decides for himself to try to be a better man. It's a nice little feel-good movie.

I think I have the NaNo book re-plotted, and I've even seen the movie of the first couple of scenes in my head, so I'm back on the writing horse today. There was a ballroom dancing class I was thinking of going to tonight since I don't have ballet, but my ankle is still twinging, so it might not be a great idea. It's foxtrot and swing, and while the foxtrot is pretty gentle, swing would be bad on an iffy ankle, and I want to avoid really injuring myself. I think it would help if I could learn to sit like a normal person. All the odd positions I tangle myself into seem to put strain on that ankle.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Eventful Weekend

This weekend was full of stuff to talk about. First, Walter Cronkite's death. We didn't watch CBS news, so I didn't see his coverage of even the major events I was alive for. I mostly recognized him from those "You are there!" films we saw in history class. But the way I knew him was as a teacher. After he retired from CBS, he was on the University of Texas faculty as an adjunct lecturer (or something like that). My guess is that they were playing off the fact that he went to journalism school there and it looked good to have him listed among the faculty. What that meant was that every so often he'd give a lecture or teach a short seminar, and I was fortunate enough that one of those times came while I was in journalism school. I was in a cross-disciplinary communications honors program that required a symposium class. We had guest lecturers, book discussions, and that sort of thing. And for a week, we had Walter Cronkite as our guest teacher. I honestly don't even remember what he talked about because my brain was stuck on "Wow! Walter Cronkite is teaching my class!" I do remember that I argued a point with him (because I am Hermione Granger), but I don't remember the details. He was exactly the way he was on TV. I have his autograph on the cover of the reading packet for his class, since I ended up in the elevator with him after class.

Then we had some real excitement in my little corner of the neighborhood on Saturday morning. I came down the stairs from my office, and since my stairs end right behind my front door, I heard a noise from outside. I opened the door, and there was a beeping sound coming from the house in front of me. I don't live directly on a street. My house opens onto a kind of yard/courtyard, so that there's a short grassy area, then a sidewalk, and then the house in front of me is just on the other side of that sidewalk, so it's really close. It was the smoke detector in that house going off, and there was smoke visible through the windows. There was also a smell of smoke and a little smoke escaping. The person who lives in the townhouse adjoining that house came by and said she'd called the fire department because there was no answer when she knocked on the door and rang the bell, and the smoke was starting to come into her house. More of the neighbors in our little area gathered to see what was going on and to discuss how we didn't really know the guy who lives in the smoky house, since he's never home (I'm not entirely sure he actually "lives" there).

Very soon, we heard the sirens coming, and since all of us other than the guy from the smoky house are single women, we discussed briefly whether we should run do something with our hair and put on makeup before the firemen got there, but I said that while our firemen are very good at their jobs, they're not exactly calendar material. Then the fire trucks arrived and the firemen looked in all the windows, banged on the door, rang the bell -- and then they kicked the front door in! It wasn't at all like on TV cop shows, where one swift kick sends the door flying. It took this guy about six good kicks, which the neighbors all found reassuring, as it's not that easy to break into our houses. When the door did open, clouds of dark smoke came billowing outside, and it smelled awful. All the firemen rushed into the house. A few minutes later, one of the firemen came outside, still wearing his full gear, carrying a Dutch oven cooking pot.

Apparently, a pot of beans had been left on the stove, had boiled dry, and was scorching, creating all the smoke. The fireman said he was pretty sure that's what was causing the smoke because he'd seen the pot when he looked in the window, but they'd forced entry because they needed to be sure that no one had been asleep inside and then passed out from smoke inhalation (since people generally don't leave the house with stuff cooking on the stove). They then opened all the windows and set up fans inside to blow the smoke out. Then the police showed up because the firemen kicking the door in made the burglar alarm go off, and the police officer was deemed to be kind of cute by the neighbors gathered to watch the show. During all this time, the guy who lives in the house still didn't come home, which really makes you wonder if he realized he left the stove on. It wasn't just a quick dash somewhere. He must have come home eventually because the blinds the firemen opened were shut later in the day.

I think that was more socializing than I've done with my neighbors in the whole time I've lived here. It was practically a block party. I probably should have made a pitcher of iced tea. We were even talking about how maybe we should have a party so we could get to know each other without the fire department being involved, and so we'd know who to call or what to do if something else like this happened.

And then on Sunday I managed to twist my ankle while sitting down. I'd thought it was an achievement that I messed up a knee badly enough to require surgery while just walking (though the surgeon said it was an accumulation of old injuries and structural problems that made that knee a time bomb that was bound to go off at some time), but I think that injuring an ankle while sitting is possibly even crazier. I was looking for something in a lower cabinet and sitting cross-legged (what we called in less politically correct times "Indian style"). I leaned to get something, and I guess that put weight on the ankle in a bad position because I felt a pop, and then another pop as it went back into place. It hurt when it happened, but it hasn't been that painful since then. It's not swollen or sore to the touch. It just feels different, like I'm intensely aware that I have an ankle, when normally I don't put much thought into my ankles. It's a good thing I don't have ballet this week. I'm trying to stay off it and not put it into any more odd angles. But, yeah, I can hurt myself even sitting down.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Virtual Vicarious Vacation Friday: Oxford

Harry Potter in the morning, then burgers and frozen custard for lunch (separate courses, not together) -- the makings of a lovely day. Now, though, I'm utterly exhausted for some reason.

I liked the movie. I tend to be a bit of a purist when it comes to film adaptations, but I've decided for the purposes of this series that the movies and the books exist in separate universes, and I appreciate them separately. With that in mind, I think the adaptation worked, for the most part. I was wondering how they'd adapt this book for film, not so much because the book was so huge, but because there really isn't much in the way of action. I often jokingly call this one "Harry Potter and the Off-Stage Antagonist" because there's no real struggle to this story. It's mostly the coming-of-age story for the series, the transition from childhood to adulthood, rather than being about the fight against the Big Bad. So I can see why the scene that was added was added, so there would be actual action at the midpoint of the movie and a reminder that there was a threat. There was one thing left out that I thought could have been kept in without making the movie longer and that would have deepened that part of the story. Otherwise, I think it flowed well enough, and it was both funny and intense. Jim Broadbent was absolutely wonderful as Slughorn. That was such a good performance. I did have one inappropriate giggle fit at the very beginning, in the scene where Harry is preparing to flirt with the coffee shop waitress. I had a massive Extras flashback and halfway expected to see Diana Rigg at the next table.

Since I'm in an English state of mind, let's go to England for Virtual Vicarious Vacation Friday. To Oxford, to be exact. This one was actually a vacation, a rather spontaneous trip I took in October 2000 after a rather harrowing customer conference for a client. I wanted to go somewhere where my clients couldn't reach me, so I spent a few days wandering the Oxford area.

First, a lovely view of the city skyline:

Then Balliol College (I like the way the sky looks in this shot -- that was the only really sunny day of the whole trip, and it was gorgeous):

And finally, the River Thames, just downstream from Oxford. They've turned the old towpath into a walking trail, and it was a great way to walk off jet lag.

I may end up doing some travel this summer, after all. I think I will do the New York trip. It turns out that it's actually less expensive to go in August (which is odd because usually travel prices drop after Labor Day instead of going up), so I can go at a time when it fits better with the book. I won't get to enjoy a northern autumn, but it still should be cooler there than it is here, so I can maybe get a tiny preview. Now I need to book everything (and hope it's the same as it was when I was researching yesterday).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Travel Bug Strikes Again

I didn't get to break in the new swimsuit yesterday because there were people hogging the pool. It's a community pool, but it's about the size of a regular backyard pool, so two people on inflatable rafts pretty much fills the whole pool and makes swimming laps impossible -- and these people were there for nearly three hours. I'm not sure how they survived without heat stroke, given that they weren't actually in the water and it was over 100 degrees.

My current writing project involves digging out the book I wrote last year for National Novel Writing Month and revising it. I spent yesterday (between excursions to see if the pool had cleared out) re-reading it, and it's not bad. It's essentially the bare bones of a germ of the idea, and from there I can really develop the idea. The initial draft serves as more of a brainstorming exercise for coming up with ideas, and from there I'll now have to actually write the book, though there are a few scenes that can be salvaged. Still, I enjoyed reading what I wrote, which is a good sign. It's a bit sloppy and underdeveloped, but I like the main characters and the action scenes were good.

Meanwhile, I think my subconscious is plugging away on that Misty Idea, which got distracting at times. For instance, I've suddenly developed an urgent hankering to go to New York. Yeah, I was there in the spring, but that was for a conference, and I barely left the hotel and didn't leave Midtown at all. I think this idea will take place in an entirely different part of the city than I used for the Katieverse, and while I've done a fair amount of wandering there, I haven't walked it for the purpose of using it as a book setting, so I'm not sure I could convey it properly. Non-New Yorkers have to be really careful about using the city as a setting, since most of the editors live there, and they can spot instantly whether or not the author knows what she's talking about. I was proud that I fooled a couple of people with my other series, so that people who actually live there thought I had lived there at least a little while (though there were a couple of years when I felt like I did because I went so often on business). I did spend some quality procrastination time yesterday looking up airfares and hotel rates and availability. I can afford the trip, especially since I could write it off my taxes and I haven't done any con traveling this year, but I'm afraid it's either this or the Browncoat Ball. Since the Ball is on the west coast this year, I can't do what I've done in the past and go from the Ball to New York. And now I'm torn -- see my friends I only see once a year and get to do some dancing, or wander New York to develop what I hope will be my comeback series that gets me re-branded as a fantasy author and re-ignites my career? I suppose the latter fits better into my Ongoing Quest for World Domination, but it's not an easy choice.

Hey, maybe something will happen in the meantime that will allow me the money to do both, if I can find the time (though time will be an issue). I'd like to go in October just because I love autumn, and autumn in New York is so lovely that there was a song written about it. It's a chance to experience a real autumn. But the book, due to a number of issues, is set in the summer. I've been in New York enough in the summer to be able to capture that sense, I think, so the autumn thing is really just for my personal pleasure (and because hotel rates tend to be a lot lower).

Travel issues aside, that idea really is going great guns and is sometimes distracting, but it's not ripe yet, so I can't start writing it. I have research and reading to do.

You know, this is falling into the pattern of when I wrote Enchanted, Inc. Maybe that's where the trip to New York idea came from, since that was part of my preparation for that book. Everything is happening at about the same time. I did my reading and research over the summer, did some plotting in September, went to New York in late September, then started writing in October. Now I'm getting all nostalgic.

I'm going to see the new Harry Potter movie in the morning, so the Virtual Vicarious Vacation may be late, unless I get up freakishly early enough to post before I go (we're hitting an early-bird show).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Finding Books (and swimsuits)

You'd think it would be easy to find a swimsuit in July. But no, not if you're at all selective or wear the wrong size. Granted, I only went to Target and didn't bother shopping around, but still, I'm not sure how much luck I would have had elsewhere. If I'd been looking for a string bikini I might have been able to find something, but that's what I already have that I wanted to avoid wearing. In general, they should rename them and call what they had on sale "hanging around by the pool/on the beach suits" because anyone who tried to actually swim would surely suffer a wardrobe malfunction.

Take, for instance, the one with the cute little skirt, which might have been nice for hiding the lumpy thighs, but it was strapless. The skirt creates drag on the suit, so I could only imagine what would happen just swimming across the pool. Otherwise, we were dealing with a total Skank-o-Rama. I'm not a serious enough swimmer that I need the racing tank suit, but I do need something that's good for activities that go beyond sunbathing (and by "activities" I mean moving around in the water, not holding a drink with an umbrella in it). I found something that's not ideal but that should work. I actually like the style of the suit, but it's not the color I would have chosen. I tend to go for basic black or navy in swimsuits, and this is brown with some kind of animal print trim. I also had to get a size larger than usual because they had absolutely nothing other than dental floss woven together with a few metal rings, the strapless skirted suit and a few string bikinis in my size. The larger size just makes the suit a little less high-cut in the legs and should work okay until the Spandex commits ritual suicide and the suit suddenly becomes baggy. But it was on clearance, so if it lasts the rest of the summer, I'll be okay.

Last night was the last ballet class of the summer session. We'll be starting up again in August. I've already registered for the fall semester, so I think I can justify getting a new leotard so I can switch them around and not just wash the same one every week. I may even get one of those little ballet gauze wrap skirts. The teacher showed us some stretches to help get into the splits, and I think I have a new goal. I used to be really flexible, and I could do splits three different ways well into my 20s, until I had knee surgery. Then all the therapy after that built up my leg muscles, and I went for a long time without being able to stretch much, so I lost that flexibility. I'd really like to be able to get it back and be able to do splits again. The problem is in my hamstrings, as my hip flexors are still really loose.

Thanks for the responses yesterday about book reviews. Not that I can do anything about it since even if I went insane and decided to start my own book publicity agency that does things in a way that makes sense for the way the world works today, I'd be limited by what the publishers allowed me to do or gave me the material to do (even an independent book publicist has to work along with the publisher's publicity department). But I had a feeling that this issue was yet another way that the book publishing world makes their decisions based on their own lives, how they respond and what interests them rather than on any knowledge or understanding of how their target audience really behaves. I seriously doubt that the majority of the reading public even reads book reviews, let alone rushes out to buy books right away on the basis of a book review. Since they don't do much advertising or other marketing, they really need to look at reviews as just another "exposure," part of the number of exposures someone needs to have to something before it sticks in the brain.

I don't read a lot of newspaper or magazine book reviews (well, I read them, just because they're words and in front of me, but they don't influence my behavior at all) because newspapers and magazines don't review the kinds of books I read. I guess if I read genre-specific publications that would be different, but I don't. I do read a number of book-related blogs, and there, it's not the review that gets my attention, but just the mention of the book. If the book sounds interesting, I'll jot it down in my notebook. If the book's at the library, "Sounds interesting" is enough to get me to check it out. If not, then I will do more research before buying it. I generally prefer amateur or semi-pro reviews -- people who talk about books just because they love them -- and what I look for is some specificity in what they liked or disliked because that way I can tell if it's something that would bother me or something that appeals to me. I don't usually read Amazon reader reviews before I buy a book, though I will check to see what the rating distribution is, but I may check Amazon to see if there's a Booklist review because I know some of their reviewers and know whose tastes I trust. I may read Amazon reader reviews after I read a book, if it's one that I've heard a lot of positive buzz about but I really hated, because sometimes seeing the reader feedback helps me understand what the deal is, if there was something I missed or if I'm apparently not the target reader.

Even with the title and author's name jotted down in my book, it may take me seeing that book mentioned in several places and then running across it in a store before I buy it, and then it may be weeks or months before I read it. I can't think of a book that I've gone out and bought and then read on release day, other than the Harry Potter series. I don't often even read books the day I buy them, unless I buy something while I'm traveling for reading in transit -- if I'm getting to the end of what I brought with me to read, I may buy something new and start reading it immediately. Otherwise, I buy books to have them handy for when I want to read them.

And I don't think I'm a real oddball in acting this way. I probably seek out more information about books than the average person, and there are still books I miss that would have been perfect for me. That says to me that the industry isn't doing a good job of identifying and communicating to their potential audience and are relying on people to just somehow stumble across their products or to take the initiative to find out what books are available and then learn about those books. They also rely heavily on word of mouth, which takes time, but then expect the kind of results you get from a multi-million dollar, multimedia ad campaign.

I'm going to have a lot to do when I succeed in the Ongoing Quest for World Domination. Maybe I should start taking minion applications.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Timing of Book Reviews

As part of my Ongoing Quest for World Domination, I've been trying to optimize my schedule for maximum productivity. That includes time management as well as figuring out the best timing for sleeping, eating and writing that takes the best advantage of my biorhythms (which then feeds into the time management thing). My latest experiment: Last week, I started eating my big meal of the day for lunch. This strange waking up early thing has actually cut into my working time because I don't seem to get any additional work done in the extra time I have in the morning, and then I'm going to sleep earlier, so I'm not getting much night work done. So I thought if I had my big meal at lunch, I could use some of that extra morning time for cooking, and then in the afternoon when I'm getting work done, I wouldn't have to stop working to cook dinner and could just throw together a sandwich. It also helps during this hot weather to be using the stove mostly in the morning, when it's relatively cool, rather than in the late afternoon when it's over 100. I'm also finding that I'm not snacking as much in the afternoon and I'm sleeping a little better, so that seems to have been a good move. I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner, since I'm no longer bound by office-job practicalities.

Since Tuesday is the traditional new book release day, it's a timely day for a topic I've been thinking about ever since a post a couple of weeks ago on The Book Publicity Blog about the timing of book reviews. Publishers send out review copies far in advance of publication, in the hope that reviewers will have a chance to read the books in time to post a review on or about the book's release date. But now that publishers are looking to bloggers for a lot of book publicity, they're finding that bloggers get to the books a lot earlier and try to be the first to post reviews, sometimes weeks or even months ahead of the publication date, which is bad because if people read the review and are interested in the book, they can't go buy it right away, and since they're reading the blog online, they especially can't go straight to the online bookseller of their choice and order it. There's a fear that the book will be forgotten by the time it hits bookstores.

And that does make sense. On the other hand, it's not like we're not at all used to seeing advance publicity for things. We see movie trailers weeks, months, even up to a year in advance, and do we completely freak out if we find that we can't go see that movie right now? You can pre-order books online. You need some pre-release publicity to build buzz, and since the book business generally doesn't do much in the way of advertising, they rely on reviews for almost the entire marketing campaign for most books, and some early reviews can work for building buzz. People gravitate toward the familiar, so if you've read about a book on a blog, you're then more likely to notice the review in a newspaper or magazine or another blog, which then makes you more likely to notice the book when you're in a bookstore. My guess is that the majority of people don't read a book review and then immediately run to the bookstore or click over to Amazon to purchase the book, or even write the title and author down in their handy-dandy "books I want to look for" notebook. Most people probably think, "Hmm, that sounds interesting," before going on to read about something else, and then when they're in a bookstore or browsing on Amazon later, their eyes gravitate to that book because it's familiar, but they don't consciously think of that review they read.

The real issue is that publishers have unrealistic expectations of the amount of marketing they do. If a book is lucky enough to get co-op so it gets a coveted spot on that "new in fiction" table at the front of the bookstore, it's only there for a couple of weeks, a month at the most. Meanwhile, the publishers are relying on word of mouth as the best "advertising" for books, and they're relying on reviews to make early adopters aware of the existence of the book so they can buy it and then talk about it to their friends. And that's practically impossible. Even if someone does read the review and immediately rush out to buy the book, and then reads the book right away, it may be several days before that person has a chance to tell anyone else about the book, and then even if those people go right away to buy the book for themselves and read it immediately, that's several more days. So, even if you've got a significant number of people who drop everything to get and read the book, you can only get through a few levels of word of mouth before the book is no longer at the front of stores where people can see it and think, "Oh yeah, that's the book my friend told me about." But since we're in the real world where it may be a few days before most people go buy even something that really intrigues them, and then days or weeks before they get around to reading it, and then when they tell someone about it, that person says, "Oh, that sounds interesting," but doesn't make a note about it or write it down and will only remember hearing about the book if it leaps off the shelf at them in a store, book publicists have been given an impossible task, and they should be grateful for early reviews because that means at least some buzz and talk and curiosity will spread ahead of time, and people will have been exposed to the book a few times before it's released.

When I succeed in the Ongoing Quest for World Domination, assuming that part of that domination doesn't mean I get to dictate actually having a marketing budget for books that doesn't almost entirely go to the books that were guaranteed to sell well even without any marketing, I think I'd implement what I used to call a Rolling Thunder campaign back in my PR days. Start early by sending out teaser information to the relevant genre blogs -- "Here are some of our upcoming releases you might find interesting." And not in boring catalog copy style, but more of a conversational blogging style. Send some excerpts out a bit after that. Then the review copies, and don't worry too much about when the reviews hit. Professional reviewers will probably stick with the on or around release date tradition, while bloggers will be all over the map, which isn't such a bad thing. Early means buzz, late means legs.

I'm curious -- how do you respond to book reviews? Are you in the "write the title down, then go buy it now" camp, or are you in the "oh, I think I've heard of that" when you see it in the store camp? Do you get mad or annoyed if you read a review for a book that isn't available yet? Do you even read reviews or book blogs?

Now I'm off to have lunch with a former client, and maybe I'll see if I can actually find a swimsuit in July (they were putting out back-to-school stuff last week). Apparently, the mother ship from the planet Spandex sent out the kill order recently so that all the little Spandexians on our planet died all at once, and now almost everything I have that incorporates Spandex has died. It's a little freaky when your swimsuit suddenly becomes crunchy and no longer stretches (or no longer springs back when it does stretch), and I've had that happen to two suits, the one-piece and now the more modest two-piece. I'm down to bikinis, and I don't have the body I had when I bought those suits more than five years ago.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekend Movies and Television

I'm plunging back into a more serious work schedule this week (aside from the mandatory time off to see the new Harry Potter movie, of course) after a somewhat light schedule last week. I'm happy to report that my house has remained mostly clean for two weeks now. There are a couple of spots of situational clutter that would have to be tidied for company, but I've also done some maintenance cleaning, like dusting, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom, since the last major cleaning. I still need to tackle the office, but that will have to wait until it's not so hot. The office is upstairs, and there's a skylight, so it gets pretty stifling at this time of year. I can tolerate it in the morning and at night with the ceiling fan on, but I have to stay out in the afternoons. Since that's where the Internet is, it really helps with my productivity (yes, having to stay out of my office helps with my productivity). When/if it gets cooler, then I can do things that require moving around in my office.

Since I wasn't on a frantic writing schedule, I got a lot of movie/TV watching done over the weekend (really, starting on Thursday).

First, there was Sydney White, a reasonably cute teen movie that I watched because I like fairy tale-based stories, and this was a modern, non-fantasy version of Snow White. Sydney is a tomboy who grew up around construction sites with her widowed father (John Schneider, who somehow manages to be a lot hotter now than when he was young and in The Dukes of Hazzard). When she goes off to college, she pledges her late mother's sorority because she hopes that will make her feel closer to her mother. But when the witchy sorority president gets jealous of her and casts her out in public humiliation, she ends up living in a rundown old house with seven dorks. There were some clever touches to bring the fairy tale into the modern era, like a "hot or not" site that serves as the magic mirror that declares who is the fairest of all, and they do something really fun with the poisoned Apple. However, I would like to remind writers that Disney did not originate this story, although Disney did create those specific dwarf personalities (Happy, Grumpy, etc.), and you are not limited to the Disney version of the dwarves, as they are not actually canon. I think what I liked most was the romantic subplot because, for a change, it wasn't based on "opposites attract" and conflict. They actually liked each other and had reasons to like each other, then the conflict showed up at the crisis point of the movie when it seemed like all would be lost. I'm so tired of the "bicker, bicker, oh, we're in love!" relationships. The thing holding this back from being a better movie was the fact that the villain was so one-dimensional. Her status made no sense (you're not going to be elected sorority president if every member of the sorority loathes you, and you're not going to be elected student body president if everyone in the school loathes you), and there was no motivation at all for her rather extreme actions. She was just a straw woman for our heroine to knock down.

Which brings me to a mini rant that may lead to a full-fledged rant someday. Hollywood writers (TV and film), please find a dictionary and look up the word "popular." In the words of Inigo Montoya, you keep using that word, and I do not think it means what you think it means. "Popular" is not a synonym for "universally loathed." According to my dictionary, it means "favored or approved by people in general," so if everyone hates someone, she is, by definition, not popular. Even if you go with the second definition, "favored or approved by acquaintances," and say that means she's liked by the people who matter, at the climax of just about every story about popularity the popular girl's friends confess to loathing her, so she's not even popular there. In order for someone to be popular, someone has to actually like her. What you write as "popular" is a bully, and most TV or movie "popular" characters would not actually be popular in the real world.

Anyway ... the next HBO OnDemand special was Fierce Creatures, the follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda. I loved Wanda, but somehow never saw the later movie (which is not actually a sequel. It's just a lot of the same people involved). The story follows what happens at a small British zoo when new ownership demands more profit, and the first scheme to raise profits is to pander to the public's love of violence by displaying only "fierce creatures." The result is a minor war between the zookeepers and the new manager "(John Cleese) as they try to persuade the new manager that all their cute, fluffy charges are actually terribly vicious beasts, and he tries to convince them that he really is cold and ruthless, even though he's got a soft spot for the animals. This may be the rare case where I thought Kevin Kline's presence brought the movie down because I was far more interested in seeing how the "fierce creatures" scheme played out than in the digressions they went into once his character took over. I wanted to see the result of the "fierce creatures" zoo, which we never really did because it got buried by all the corporate sponsorship and costumed zookeepers nonsense (though there was a bit of funny stuff there).

I guess I was still in a British farce mood because Saturday night, Turner Classic Movies showed The Mouse That Roared. I'd read the book ages ago, but had never seen the movie. It's been so long since I read that book that I don't know how faithful the movie was, but since it was mostly a vehicle for Peter Sellers to play multiple characters, I somehow doubt it was too faithful to the book. It's a rather droll story about a tiny European country that decides the way to get an influx of cash is to declare war on the United States, lose, and then get "rebuilt." (It's set in the 50s, while the US was pouring money into Germany to rebuild it). Except, they somehow manage to win when their 20 longbowmen manage to "invade" New York and capture a physicist and the terrible new bomb he's created without anyone noticing. It's not as funny as I wanted it to be, but it did have a few laugh-out-loud moments.

A friend recommended "Man vs. Cartoon" on TruTV, and I caught a bit of a marathon on Sunday afternoon. Basically, engineers and engineering students try to recreate all of Wile E. Coyote's roadrunner-catching schemes and make them actually work. It's both educational and highly amusing, but I'm not sure a marathon is the best way to watch because it starts becoming obvious that most of the schemes are just variations on each other. Which may be why Wile E. Coyote never caught the Roadrunner (and I have to admit, I always cheered for the Roadrunner because he was cute and blue).

Meanwhile, all the characters on Merlin remain Too Stupid to Live, and I've come to the conclusion that True Blood is just too unpleasant for me to watch. That would fall into the category of "not really my thing." It was quite a relief to admit that to myself.

Oh, and I finally caught the pilot of Warehouse 13, and I think I might like it. I have to admit that it's mostly because I really like the main guy, who is cute and funny, and who strikes the right balance between being an adult and having some childlike wonder. I was worried that they were going to go the bickering, opposite partners route, but it seemed like they'd become a real team at the end of the first episode, so maybe they'll do something wild and crazy and have a team that actually likes each other, with the conflict being between them and the rest of the world rather than being with each other. I am getting a wee bit tired of the "easygoing man/uptight, driven woman" cliche (another rant in the making), but I'll let it slide for now until I see how the series plays out because she has curly hair, and it actually got frizzy the way real curly hair does when she'd been been through all the action/danger stuff. I can forgive a lot with if there's a curly-haired character whose hair behaves like real curly hair and if they don't do something like straighten it when she's supposed to be particularly pretty or making some positive character change.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Virtual Vicarious Vacation Friday: Washington, D.C.

This schedule adjustment thing is getting ridiculous. Today I was up at 6:30. That may have had something to do with the fact that I went swimming yesterday, which meant I slept really well last night. The annoying thing is, there isn't much I can do with the extra time when I get up that early. The library doesn't open until 10, and although I'm awake, I'm not really in the frame of mind to write. Today I did some yoga and read the newspaper thoroughly.

It's another Virtual Vicarious Vacation Friday! For those who missed the announcement last week, I've decided that since a lot of us aren't getting to travel this year, I'll share some of my old travel photos (sadly, mostly from business trips). While I'm on the subject of vacation alternatives, like the "staycation," I've got an entry for the "people unclear on the concept" files. A local Realtor had a full-page ad in the newspaper this week, advertising the fact that with these homes you could have a real staycation. The homes had such features as a Napa Valley-style wine cellar, an in-home movie theater, a water park-style swimming pool, etc. If you can afford a home like that, I don't think a staycation is really an issue for you. You can just take your private jet wherever you want to go.

This week, we're in Washington, D.C., giving a little preview for those going to the RWA conference, and a couple of these were taken during the last DC conference.

First, to give you a little glimpse of the neighborhood where the conference is held, this shot looks up Connecticut Avenue toward the convention hotel area. I think that bridge is called the Francis Scott Key bridge, but I'm not absolutely certain and I don't have a guide handy to double check. I went to Georgetown for lunch with some friends, and they had an event they needed to get back earlier for, so I wandered and explored Georgetown on my own (even though it was raining), then checked the map and realized it wasn't actually all that far from where I was to the hotel, if I took the right route, so I walked all the way back.

The convention hotel is in walking distance of the Washington National Cathedral (though, mind you, my definition of "walking distance" isn't exactly based on normal human beings and I am mildly insane when it comes to walking). You'll need a map, though, as the way isn't marked and you'll have to weave through some residential neighborhoods (some very nice ones) up a steep hill to get there. But there's a big payoff, as it's a spectacular sight (I took this the day before the 2000 RWA conference).

I think my favorite memorial on the Mall (so far -- I haven't been there since they built the WWII Memorial) is the Korean War Memorial. It's very haunting. I must really like it because I found very similar photos from a couple of different trips.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Welcomes Jennifer Banash

I did get to the end of the book yesterday! Now all that's left is to give the book one last read-through. I'm checking my agent's schedule to see if she wants it right away or won't be able to look at it for a while, and that will determine whether I do that last pass this week or wait until next week. The longer it rests between passes, the better.

The night after I finish a project is usually kind of weird. I feel like I'm at loose ends. I have things I could be doing, but it feels weird to be doing them without that project looming over me.

Then I had a really odd dream last night that combined Torchwood, NCIS, Primeval, Stargate and Ashes to Ashes. And it worked (mostly it involved characters from NCIS, Primeval and Ashes to Ashes being on an SG team that had to deal with something from Torchwood, and I was Alex Drake from Ashes to Ashes). If I had time for fanfic, I'd be seriously tempted to write it.

But enough about my scary subconscious. I've got a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit author guest today, Jennifer Banash, author of the Elite series. The latest (and last) book in that series, Simply Irresistible, came out this week.

This new book brings us more adventures from the spoiled, rich teens in Manhattan who nearly ate Casey McCloy alive when she first arrived in the Big Apple from her small town of Normal, Illinois. Casey learned very quickly after she moved in with her grandmother at The Bramford, the most exclusive luxury apartment building on New York’s Upper East Side, and got into the prestigious Meadowlark Academy on a full scholarship, that it’s not who you are but who you know!

Casey has had a big city-haute makeover, courtesy of her classmate and neighbor Madison Macallister – part teen icon and part queen diva-bitch. Wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and meeting the right people, has given Casey the look and the attitude – she’s “in” and loving it! Much to Madison’s dismay, her rival is climbing up the social ladder in a big way and could end up just as popular as Madison now that the two are set to star in their own TV reality show, “De-Luxe.” Yes, showbiz came knocking on two of The Bramford’s most illustrious doors and, as much as Madison thrives on the attention the show brings, she’s not thrilled about having every bit of her life of privilege caught on tape. However, fame comes at a price and Madison is one chick who is willing to pay anything…especially if it means becoming the next reality “it girl.” Casey, on the other hand, is realizing that Reality TV can sometimes be unreal, causing her to wonder if she even knows who she is anymore. With her relationship with Drew, Madison’s ex, currently more off than on, she can’t help wondering if everything i n her life is really just an illusion – and how much longer the illusion can last….

Now the interview:
Was there any particular inspiration behind this story?
Reality TV! I'm obsessed with it, and I knew that I wanted the girls to eventually have their own reality series, so when the opportunity came up in the last book, IN TOO DEEP, I ran with it!

Have you seen the NYC Prep Bravo series? How does it compare to the reality series you created for your book?
It made me think that I hadn't gone far ENOUGH. But, honestly, these are the most unlikeable teenagers I've ever had the displeasure of watching on television. Those kids have absolutely no heart, or sense of morality, as far as I can tell. And, worse yet, they represent the very worse of NYC snobbery, elitism, and consumer gluttony. I watch the show, but it's not even a guilty pleasure--it just makes me feel guilty period!

What was your best summer vacation ever, and why?
Paris. I try to go every summer, but, alas, not this summer. I just love it there. I have a lot of French friends, and it's the perfect place to write--the French really respect writers--we're not seen as degenerates without day jobs!

(Hey, I'm a degenerate! Cool!)

What are you working on now?
I'm working on a novel called WHITE LINES, which is loosely based on my experiences as a club kid in NYC in the late eighties.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Buy it! The entire ELITE series is an amazing, throw in your tote bag summer read!

For more info, check out the Elite series web site. Or you can order the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Conference Tips

Still not done with the book, but closing in on the ending. I can't add more than 2,000 words, though there are a lot of existing words that will likely be replaced. I hesitate to say I'll finish today because that will just mean that at the end of the day, I'll still have about 2,000 words to go. I just have a couple of big scenes to write.

The Romance Writers of America National Conference is next week, and summer is also a prime time for writing conferences, so I thought I'd share some tips for how not to sabotage yourself when you're attending a conference and how to make the most of your conference experience.

1) Remember the first rule of networking: Focus on what you can do for the other person instead of on what they can do for you.
If you approach someone with a vibe of expecting to get something, you'll probably turn them off. This applies to published authors, editors, agents or anyone else you think may be helpful in your career. As an aspiring author, you may not think you have anything to offer these people, but if you think about it, you can probably find something, and just thinking in those terms takes you away from the "do something for me!" impression. You could bring water to panelists, stop and say hi (or even buy a book) at the booksigning or even just allow the person to have a fun conversation that has nothing to do with "I've written this book about ..." At the very least, when approaching someone with the thought of getting them to do you a favor, have another conversation first. Don't just launch into "could you read and critique my manuscript/introduce me to your agent/give me a blurb, etc."

2) There is a time and a place for pitching. There are many, many more times and places where pitching is a bad idea.
Most writing conferences have formal pitch sessions available. It is okay to pitch your project then. Otherwise, don't, unless the editor or agent asks what you've written (which does often come up in conversation). When pitching, know when to shut up. Give a high-level, short description (think TV Guide episode description), then elaborate as the person asks questions. If they decide based on your pitch that it's not for them, don't push. You won't get them to change their mind because you say that everyone who's read it loved it or because you know it's a really, really good book (everyone thinks their book is really, really good). DO NOT EVER (never, ever, ever) take advantage of a captive audience to pitch your book. That includes bathrooms (and yes, that has happened).

3) Don't stalk, monopolize or interrupt.
At conferences and conventions, most authors are happy to talk with fans and aspiring authors. That does not mean they belong to you for the duration. There may be other people they want to talk to. They may want to conduct business with other writing professionals. When they do this, they are not necessarily being rude or snobbish and snubbing you. It's best not to approach an author to ask for advice or input when he or she is already engaged in a conversation. Once you do start talking to an author, be aware that he or she may need to end the conversation in order to stay on schedule. The author doesn't owe you anything other than common courtesy (and if the author has been helpful, it's nice to buy a book or go to the autograph session -- and if the book isn't your thing and you wouldn't be caught dead buying it, why do you want this person's advice?).

4) Remember that your personal behavior probably won't make your career, but it could break your career.
You're probably not going to get a book deal because you're cute and charming in person. You might get a faster read or get bumped out of the slush pile when you've met the editor or agent in person, but no matter how much they like you, that personal contact is not going to make them buy a book they wouldn't have bought if they hadn't met you. However, if you're a jerk in person, that can kill your career. Unless you're the most brilliant writer ever with a sure-fire bestseller, if editors or agents get the impression you'll be a real pain to deal with, they're probably going to avoid dealing with you. There are too many talented people out there to bother putting up with the jerks. So, while schmoozing at conferences and being charming may not put you that much further ahead than if you'd just submitted the normal way, being a demanding jerk in person can put you behind where you might have been if you'd submitted the normal way.

5) Keep questions pertinent to the workshop.
This is my number one conference pet peeve (aside from cell phones going off during sessions), and it takes a couple of forms. At every conference, there apparently has to be somebody who stalks editors and agents by going to all their workshop sessions, and then during the Q&A asks a question that's a thinly veiled pitch for her book, usually offered as a "hypothetical" example that's way too detailed (and consistent from session to session) to be off the top of her head. It's like she's just waiting for one of those editors, authors or agents to say, "Wow! That sounds like a great book! I must see it now!" and when they don't respond accordingly, she gets snippy ("but it's a really GOOD book, and all my friends said so"). Then there are the very basic "how do I get a book published?" questions that always seem to come up in what are supposed to be advanced-level workshops. When you've got a couple of big-name, bestselling authors talking about making the jump from midlist to bestseller, you're not helping yourself or anyone else in the room when your question is about whether you should use binder clips or rubber bands on your submission (here's a hint: that had nothing to do with these authors becoming bestsellers). At a big conference like RWA, there are usually beginner-level workshops or "ask me anything" sessions with authors. That's where you can ask the basic questions. Published authors get a lot of grief about elitism when they try to have published-only sessions, but that's a big reason. It's hard to have a serious session about issues specific to being published and building a career when there's someone in the group asking how to write a query letter.

6) This is not fifth grade.
I have school cafeteria flashbacks at any conference with a luncheon because of all the people who race into the room and save seats for all their friends, so that half the tables have all the chairs tilted forward (which the serving staff hates because it trips them). I realize that these conferences are a chance to catch up with friends you only see at conferences, but you're cheating yourself out of some excellent networking opportunities when you refuse to step outside your usual posse. My favorite thing to do with luncheons is wait until the line has gone down, and then find any empty seat. I often find myself sitting with an editor or agent who was also avoiding the stampede. That's also a great way to make new friends.

7) Also in the not fifth grade category, be careful about gossip and bitterness.
It's not just dangerous to gossip about people or make disparaging remarks about particular books while you're at a conference -- because Murphy's Law states that the editor, agent or best friend of the author in question will be within earshot -- it's also kind of rude to disparage entire types of books, whether it's a genre, e-books, "dead tree" books, etc., and you don't look smarter or more talented if you go on about how the publishing world only wants trite and stale stuff, so they can't possibly recognize your genius and innovation. The chip on the shoulder and bitterness that leads to the assumption that everyone who gets what you want has to be lesser than you is not too appealing. Also don't assume you're the big fish at the table and try to lord it over everyone else (because you'll inevitably find out that the quiet person on the other side of the table is a bestseller). Save the catty gossip session for your hotel room with your best buddy, and then keep your voices down and maybe turn on the TV because I have overheard some really good stuff from the room next door at conferences. My conference rule is to never say something that I wouldn't say to the face of the person I'm talking about, or someone who fits into the category I'm talking about.

8) Plan, pace yourself and allow for spontaneity.
I'm one of those people who likes to sit down with the program book and highlight the sessions I plan to go to as soon as I get to the conference (if I haven't already done so with the advance schedule). And then I just use that as a rough guide. I note the must-do sessions, and then otherwise I go with the flow. If I'm in a great conversation, I may skip the session and keep chatting. If something suddenly strikes me as interesting, I'll change plans. It never fails that one of the more useful sessions for me at any conference ends up being the one I went to on a whim that seemingly had nothing to do with my career. Sometimes, getting information from an unexpected source gives you a totally new perspective. On the other hand, if absolutely nothing on the schedule sounds interesting during a block of time, it's okay to skip it entirely and take a break. Hang out in the lobby and chat or go back to your room and rest or read. You'll be more likely to absorb more information later at other workshops or have more energy for the parties.

9) Remember that this conference will probably not make or break your career.
One of the reasons I've cut back on attending RWA national conferences is that the stress levels are so very high because there are a lot of people there who act like this conference is their one chance to get published, and if they don't have a good editor or agent appointment or don't make the right contacts, they're forever doomed. Just being in that atmosphere is utterly exhausting to me. I can certainly understand the feeling, though, because I was that way at my first conference, and I was already published. So, learn from my experience and relax and enjoy yourself. The best opportunities seem to come when you least expect them, and you'll be in a better position to take advantage of them if you're not so highly strung and not so focused on what you think you want that you miss something unexpected.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

More on Happy Endings

I feel like I've been working on the ending of this book for weeks. I wrote about 3,000 words yesterday, most of which are total replacement for what I had, and I think I have at least that much more to go. Maybe I'll get it done today, but it seems like it keeps expanding as I get closer to the end. I know I'll have to do some tinkering with what I've done because right now I'm mostly focusing on the choreography, just the who did what, when and where. I'll need to add things like description and emotional reaction. But I do think all this tinkering is worth it because this may be the best I've written, and I'd like it to see the light of day. It won't if the ending doesn't hold up to the rest of the book. So, after I post this I'll be hauling the computer downstairs and forcing myself to work the rest of the day.

I do think I've discovered the right trick for the early-morning walk: eat breakfast first. When I walk before breakfast, I end up tired and starving all day, but today I ate first, and I seem to have more energy while not being nearly as hungry.

Meanwhile, I had yet another one of those coincidences happen where I encountered something I've been thinking about elsewhere. Last week, I was talking about happy endings and how I define them, with one of my examples being the movie Casablanca, which I think would have actually had more of a downer ending if the couple had ended up together, and them making the right choice was what made it a happy ending for me. Well, more than a week ago, I found out that the city library system had a Connie Willis book I hadn't yet read, one I'd never seen in stores, and I put it on hold to pick up in my neighborhood branch. I read it late last week, and it totally fit the discussion of happy endings.

The book is Remake, and it has a semi-cyberpunk sensibility to it. It takes place in a near-future Hollywood where they don't make movies anymore. They just remake the same movies over and over again, making digital changes, recasting with digital versions of other actors -- like Sylvester Stallone starring in Ben Hur. They also digitally change movies to remove things that have become offensive, like smoking. And they can give old movies a happy ending. Casablanca is cited as one that gives them problems in that area because everything they do to make the couple end up together ends up ruining the movie (one version has Nazis storming the airstrip and killing the husband, so Ilsa can go off with Rick -- which doesn't really work as a "happy" ending). The story kicks off when a girl arrives in Hollywood with stars in her eyes and a big dream. She wants to dance in the movies. Never mind that they don't make movies with live actors anymore, and no one wants musicals. There aren't even any dance teachers anymore, because of this. That doesn't dim her hopes at all, and she finds a way to do it.

The really interesting thing is that this book was published in 1995 -- before the Star Wars special editions that had Greedo shooting first and before the federal agents in ET were suddenly holding walkie-talkies instead of guns. It may have been written around the time that Forrest Gump managed to interact on film with a lot of historical figures (but given Connie's writing pace, it's possible she was already at work on this book before that movie came out).

We may not yet be at the point of digital mashups instead of new films, but there aren't a lot of movies these days that aren't remakes of some kind or another -- sequels, comic book adaptations, remakes, remakes of comic book adaptations, amusement park ride adaptations, sequels to amusement park ride adaptations, toy adaptations, book adaptations, etc. (Though, as someone who stands to potentially make a lot of money if a certain book is adapted for film, I'm all for book adaptations.) Interestingly enough, the movie with the most original story this summer was digitally created, so it's not the technology that's to blame. It's the lack of imagination.

Anyway, it's nice to see that I'm not alone in thinking that Casablanca has a happy enough ending without any help, and I now have a strange urge to watch a lot of old movie musicals with great dance numbers.