Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Change of Plans

There's a saying that if you want to make God laugh, announce your plans. So, after I announced yesterday that I didn't have a deadline this fall and was going to allow myself to enjoy the season, I opened my front door this morning to get my newspaper and found a big package from my new publisher (I don't know when it arrived -- the UPS guy didn't bother to ring the doorbell). It was the edited manuscript for the book with a revision letter and a request that I get this round of revisions done in the next month.

I guess this means I'll be leaving my characters in the current project in jeopardy for the time being. I still intend to do as much Fall Fun Fest as possible. The key is balance. I don't have to go all-or-nothing. If I do quality work time on the days when I work, I can allow myself quality play time. At least, that's the theory. I think the focus today will be on getting back into the mindset of this book and thinking about the revision suggestions, and I can do that on the patio. I'm actually looking forward to digging into revisions because I love this book and enjoy playing in this world, and I appreciate the chance to make it better.

In other news, last night I did battle with a spaghetti squash, and I finally figured out how to win without a chainsaw. I may have to revive the old cooking blog to tell the story, but there are a few things I want to try with it first so I can have a full report.

Last week, I dug a book off the To Be Read shelf, since I was between library trips, and I was mildly pleasantly surprised. I've pretty much gone off romance novels, but this was a contemporary romance from the late 90s, and I liked it enough to remember why I used to like that sort of thing, It's really the market that's changed significantly, not me. This was the sort of thing I was trying to write when I was trying to write that sort of thing. There was a phase in the late 90s when the hot thing was contemporary romantic comedies. Most of them had cartoon-like covers rather than the clinch paintings you saw on historical romances or the landscape or single item of jewelry covers that had been on contemporaries. These still fit the "rules" of romance, but seemed to be a precursor to the chick-lit phase that came soon afterward.

Anyway, this book reminded me of something that stuck with me from an unlikely source. In the novelization of one of the Star Wars prequels, there's a description of Obi-Wan Kenobi in a lightsaber fight. The narrative goes on about various Jedi knights and their fighting styles and how they've incorporated this or that technique. But Obi-Wan didn't do any of these things. Instead, he was a master of the classic basics, with the point being that flawless execution of the classic form allowed him to fight well against anyone in any circumstances.

I think that often applies to entertainment. There's so much emphasis these days on "hooks" or gimmicks, putting a twist on things, that the basics have been forgotten when what might really work is flawless execution of the classic form. I wouldn't call this book flawless (I'm not even going to name it because it's long out of print), but it was a simple, basic romance that had interesting characters in a situation that generated conflict, and we saw their relationship grow and develop as they dealt with the conflict. No crazy hooks or gimmicks, nothing groundbreaking. Just a "if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you like" book. I keep seeing articles on why romantic comedy films seem to be a lost art form, and I think this has a lot to do with it. They keep throwing in bigger and bigger gimmicks, to the point they've forgotten what the original point was, when what they really need is a basic story that fits the romantic comedy formula, with high-quality writing, acting and directing.

I also think that this has something to do with some of my challenges in finding reading material. There's so much focus on finding what makes something different than what's gone before that I think "classic" stories have a hard time getting published. Things have to be taken to extremes or given huge twists or gimmicks to get attention. But sometimes what I want is a really well-written classic romance, mystery or fantasy. I don't care if I've read a zillion quest stories. If you give me a very well-written one with characters I love, I'll enjoy it. I'd rather have that than something totally new and different that has shallow characters and weak writing.

Of course, "different" generally only means "the thing that's almost exactly like all the other 'different' things that are currently hot."

Ah well, who am I to talk when the book I'm revising is an alternate history steampunk fantasy? Talk about throwing in all the trendy terms -- but at heart, it's your basic romantic adventure.

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