Sunday, June 27, 2010

Film exposure

One piece of advice I always give to expectant parents is that they should go to the movies. A lot. Because once baby comes into your life, going to see grownup movies in the movie theater is a very rare occurrence for several years. You end up seeing lots of Disney and Pixar movies, I sat through ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS (my husband refused, he can't stand the voices), and when my daughter got older I was relegated to sitting alone while she and her friend sat together on the other side of the theater to see 17 AGAIN. I felt like a total loser: a middle aged woman alone watching a Zac Ephron film.

Now that my daughter has hit her teens, we still aren't going to the movies all that much but we've decided she needs to be exposed to some classics, movies made in a time when you didn't really have to worry about ratings too much. (Also, I remember a teenager saying at one point she would never watch a black and white movie, something I never want to hear my daughter say.)

To my husband's delight, she loves the Marx Brothers. So much so that she's downloaded one of their songs into her iPod. Don't ask me what it is, I'm not a Marx Brothers fan, except for the I Love Lucy episode with Harpo. She loves musicals, especially Fred Astaire films. One of our favorite holiday movies is HOLIDAY INN with Astaire and Bing Crosby. (And even though it's not an old movie, one of her absolute favorites is BRIDE AND PREJUDICE, a Bollywood film based on the Jane Austen book with lots of fabulous colors and musical numbers.)

We're also thrilled that she enjoys film noir and Hitchcock films. Her first was NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and she was riveted. We've also watched TO CATCH A THIEF and DIAL M FOR MURDER. One night we caught LAURA on one of our movie channels, and she loved it, and not long thereafter we rented REBECCA.

I have never read REBECCA, but after watching it for the umpteenth time and seeing my daughter mesmerized by it for the first time, I decided to finally pick up the book. It's in my summer reading pile, and I'm hoping she'll want to read it with me. My favorite character is by far Mrs. Danvers, who is one of the creepiest women villians of all time:

What's your favorite classic movie?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Killing my babies

I've finished INK FLAMINGOS. Well, at least the first draft. I'm giving it a little time to breathe, you know, like a fine wine needs a little oxygen infusion before it tastes perfect. In a couple of weeks, I'll tackle it, tweaking here and there, making necessary revisions, making sure the timeline works, that sort of thing.

In the meantime, I'm back to my YA book. My agent informed me early last month that it needs something critical for a book: A plot. After a long discussion with him, I realized he was right. The book as it stood was merely a sequence of events with no clear purpose, nothing that held the story together.

This is the kind of criticism that I need, that every writer needs. Showing a manuscript to a spouse or a good friend might just get a "yes, it's very good." You're not going to get that really critical eye, that feedback that you need to make the book better.

So while I worked on INK FLAMINGOS, I let the YA percolate a little. I tossed ideas around in my head during my morning run, trying to piece it all together more coherently, giving the characters a more definite purpose. A quest, you might say.

And I had an idea. An idea that I'm not really ready to share, because I'm not sure I'll be able to pull it off. But if I can, I think it's exactly what this book needs.

One thing I can say is I've changed the third person POV to first person. In the original, I had alternating third person POV in each chapter. In this one, so far, I hear only Phinn's voice, even though Jess is there. But I've added a character who will round out my adventurers, and my villian? Well, he will be who he was before, but different.

Now I've really confused you, haven't I?

It took a little bit of time to wrap my head around the rewrite. I had written an entire book one way, but now I'm taking it apart and killing my babies and trying to look at it in a whole different way. But I think it will be a much stronger book when I'm done, and I'll be a much better writer for having to do this.

If you're a writer, do you like to rewrite? And if you're a reader, have you ever read anything that is a little low on plot?

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Man's Gotta Have a Code

The crime fiction community is small. Mostly everyone knows everyone else, or if you don't know someone, someone you know does know him. It's like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. This is what makes conferences like Bouchercon and Malice Domestic so much fun. You get to meet readers, booksellers, librarians . . . and see all your friends and make new ones. I met my First Offender friends Alison Gaylin, Jeff Shelby, and Lori Armstrong at my very first Bouchercon in Chicago five years ago. We've stayed really tight through the years, and we've met other friends through each other: Jim Born, Megan Abbott, Toni McGee Causey, JT Ellison, Harlan Coben, Trey Barker, Neil Smith, Victor Gischler, Sean Doolittle, Laura Lippman . . . the list goes on and on.

But because it's such a tight-knit community, sometimes we forget that we don't know everyone and everyone isn't a good friend. There should be a code for writers, some rules that should be followed across the board, sort of like Omar's code in THE WIRE:

These would be on my list:

  • Don't compare what's going on with you with what you hear from other writers. The business is different for everyone and not everyone might be honest (This comes from my agent)
  • Don't ever review a friend's book, unless you're willing to disclose that the author is a friend
  • Don't review a friend's book and trash it, unless you're willing to lose a friend
  • Don't check your Amazon numbers and compare them to other books
  • Google yourself only when you've got a new book out and you might need to cull some blurbs from blogs or online sites for your website
  • Don't promise to blurb a book you think you might not like, and if you do promise and then don't like the book, see if you can find something nice to say about it
  • If you get a blurb from someone, don't rewrite it to make it sound more like what you want
  • Ask only people you know well and trust to be honest to read your manuscript
  • If you get a bad review on Amazon or another site, don't respond to it publicly, if at all
  • Don't poach anyone's ideas, even if they say they're not going to use them. Because they might want to someday
  • Don't ask a writer to recommend you to his agent or editor unless you are a good friend, and even then it should come from the writer, who should be familiar with your work
  • Downplay misfortune with anyone you're not really close with and don't take advantage of a friend's misfortune behind his back
  • Don't drink too much at conferences. You don't want to be the person gossiped about afterward
  • If you promise to have someone guest blog on your blog, then honor that in a timely manner
Would you add any others?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Almost 800 page book comes up short

I have finally finished THE PASSAGE.

Well, sort of.

First, a little background. THE PASSAGE is an almost-800 page book by Justin Cronin, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award. He is no schlock; he's a literary writer who is acclaimed. But he decided to go off the reservation a little and write a vampire book, which is much more commercial. He also got a commercial rate: Random House paid him $3.75 million for a trilogy and Ridley Scott paid him $1.75 million for the film rights. Justin Cronin is sitting on easy street, something a literary writer usually doesn't do.

Because of all that, this book, which came out June 8, had big buzz. For months. I think I first read about the book six months ago, and in the week before the book came out, the New York Times wrote at least two stories about it and Cronin.

So I put the book on hold at my local library. I couldn't help myself. I was curious. I wanted to know what a $3.75 million vampire book would offer me as a reader.

I got it on Friday, and while there was one hold ahead of me, I wonder if that other person actually read the whole book or did what I did.

I skipped 250 pages in the middle of the book.

Honestly, for the first 250 pages, I couldn't put the book down. It was compelling. Cronin clearly can write, and his use of language made up for the fact that this was a book about vampires. In the future. A dystopian community. Two of the biggest cliches you can find these days, especially in Young Adult fiction. But the characters were fascinating, their backstories carefully revealed, the plot curiously riveting.

And then, suddenly, on page 249, the book became something completely different. New characters, new setting, in a different future time than previously. I read about 20 to 25 pages about new characters, but the writing became very dense to me, and because I was missing those other characters, I couldn't get into it.

I put the book down for a day.

When I picked it back up last night, I fast forwarded 200 pages. I started again about page 550. There were the characters I didn't spend any time getting to know earlier, but it didn't matter at all. Suddenly I did know them, and a character from the beginning was back, and then what happened in the beginning started to come full circle.

I finished the book and felt it was a fair and satisfying ending. Although I doubt I will pursue any of the rest of the trilogy. This book could've easily been a trilogy in itself. The length felt self indulgent, and the fact that I didn't have to read 200 pages in the middle of it violated one of Elmore Leonard's rules of writing:

Leave out all the hooptedoodle, or, all the stuff no one reads.

Are you like me? Will you read a book just to see what all the buzz is about?

Changing it up

So I'm playing around with Blogger's new templates. Let me know what you think. Do you like this one, or did you prefer the previous template? This one seems to have a little more pizzazz.

I've also added a visitor counter. Visit me often so I don't look like a loser.

I'm adding new blogs to my blog list and new writers to check out. Visit them often, too!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Going from dark to light

Even though I'm putting the final touches on INK FLAMINGOS, I still have time to read on my daily bus commute to work. I've read two books lately that couldn't be more different, but I enjoyed each of them.

I've been a huge fan of Faye Kellerman's Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker mysteries for years. I love the way their relationship has developed through the books, and now their children are grown up, too. I haven't read any books by Jonathan Kellerman, Faye's husband, however. But their son, Jesse Kellerman, is now also a writer. I read and enjoyed his first book SUNSTROKE but did not read the next two. But I have just finished his most recent book, THE EXECUTOR, and it blew me away.

There is something about Jesse Kellerman's style, his use of language, his detailed descriptions, his clear understanding of his story and backstory, and his subtle manipulation of characters that makes this book stand out.

Joseph Griest is a languishing philosophy graduate student, 800 pages into a PhD dissertation his adviser declares isn't worth it at all. He gets thrown out of Harvard, his girlfriend throws him out of their apartment, and he begins to couch surf but isn't too amibitious about finding a new direction. He answers a classified ad for a "conversationalist" and meets an elderly woman who brings him into her life and her home. But what seemed to be an easy way out for Joseph may not be so easy after all . . .

I am reluctant to say more about the plot. You need to read it and savor it and find out the books secrets yourself. All I will say is, I read the last 100 pages in one sitting at a breakneck pace, my heart in my throat the entire time. And when you finish, you will feel exhausted and you will see that the story ends the only way it can.

After reading THE EXECUTOR, I decided I needed something considerably lighter, so I picked up BUNDLE OF TROUBLE, a Maternal Instincts mystery, by Diana Orgain. I met Diana at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop's annual festival in Pittsburgh in May, and she was so delightful I bought her book.

While I don't generally read cozies, I found BUNDLE OF TROUBLE to be exactly what I needed and then some. The writing is smooth, easy, and the characters likeable. When the book opens, Kate Connelly is very pregnant and actually gives birth in the second chapter, after finding out her brother in law might have been killed and dumped in the ocean. Once she's out of the hospital with baby Laurie in tow, Kate manages to steal a wealthy client from a private investigator and begins her own investigation into the murder.

While I did suspend my disbelief that a brand new mom with a brand new baby would be able to do the things Kate did (I was annoyed that she went alone to accuse someone of the crime . . . this is what we call Too Stupid To Live), most of it was as believable as it could be and Kate's voice is very engaging. If you're into cozy mysteries, this one should be added to your list, although I'm curious about the fact that Kate is now training to be a private eye. Most of these amateur sleuths stay amateur and never investigate professionally.

What have you read lately?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Waiting for Potter

Every summer for several years, my daughter and I had something to look forward to. Another installment in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. The anticipation of a new book was incredible; I would order weeks in advance. When we finally got the book, my daughter and I would devour it in a day. It was no mean feat for what usually was a 600 to 800 page book. But once we started, we couldn't stop. We had to know what was going to happen with Harry.

I've had friends who scoff at the books. Say that the writing is pedestrian, they couldn't get into the story. That's their right. Not everyone is going to like the same books. But when the series was done, I could only marvel at its brilliance. The story arc was complete, with complicated plot lines cleared up, questions answered, mysteries unveiled. To do what Rowling did in seven books, creating a world and stories that were riveting, is something every writer wants to be able to do. No, maybe she isn't the best writer, per se, but the woman is a storyteller, and sometimes that's even better.

While there are no more books to anticipate, there are still two movies. Filmmakers have split the last book, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, into two movies. My question is, where will they stop the first and begin the next? This seventh book reads at a breakneck pace, with few lulls that could offer a place to break it up.

That said, during the MTV awards the other night, the trailer for the first part, to debut in theaters on Nov. 19, was shown. Here it is:

Are you a Harry Potter fan?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book 'em, Danno

In the vein of remaking old TV shows into new TV shows and movies, CBS is going to launch the "new" Hawaii Five-O in the fall. Check out the opening credits:

And if you want a little more, here's a longer clip included with a Hollywood Reporter story about the new series. I can't embed it, so just click here.

I have serious issues with this. Hawaii Five-O was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. McGarrett was the classic cop: he was mysterious, with only hints at his background in the Naval Academy, in Korea; he always wore a suit; and he never smiled. He wasn't a young guy, and if he was buff, we didn't know it because of the conservative suits.

The new McGarrett is young. Buff. He takes his shirt off (see video clip from Hollywood Reporter). He lets Danno drive.

Speaking of whom, Scott Caan seems to be channeling Sonny Corleone in some of these scenes. Totally not what I remember of Danno, who was a good young cop eager to learn from the older, wiser McGarrett.

Hawaii Five-O was one of the most racially diverse shows on TV in its day, having more Asian actors than ever seen before in one program. The new one does include that, but Chin Ho is supposed to be an older, heavy man. And what's up with the skinny Asian surfer babe? She's a cop? Right.

If we look at this new version of an old favorite as something totally new, like a wannabe Burn Notice, then it might be okay. We can't make any comparisons because it looks like there will be few. If we watch it merely on its own merits, then maybe, just maybe, we can tolerate it.

What do you think? Will you watch?