Thursday, October 29, 2009

Knee deep in it

I recently got the big ole happy agent-approved Go Ahead for my next novel. Hooray! I've been working on it for a little while in between Novel #1 edits, but just getting an atta girl from Rebecca spurred me to delve into my new stuff. It's fun and exhilarating and stressful and angsty all at once. I love getting to know new characters and settings, living with them in my head and figuring out their fates.

The stress all comes down to one element: my writing speed. It's...not fast. I admit I'm jealous when I see Facebook status updates of "I wrote 15K words this weekend!" or I hear the rapid-fire taps of keyboards around me at Paragraph, while I'm sitting there going Hmmm, should I use "at" or "in" here? I convince myself that those people are just writing gibberish. "Ha!" I say, "he's probably just emailing his mom." (Even though I know it's not true--he has his wireless disabled just like me.)

But no more, my friends. No more. I've decided to silence the voices in my head that remind me, daily, of how far I have to go and just freaking write it already. Chug along, little engine. Because anything else will make me crazy.

How about you? Are you a fast writer? I promise I won't hate you. Much.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Netflix knows me better than my own mother

So I was chatting on the phone with my mom the other day, and she said to me, "Oh! We watched the funniest movie last night. You HAVE to get it. You will LOVE it! SO FUNNY!"

Great, I love funny movies. "Which one?" I asked.

"Write this down, honey...GRUMPY OLD MEN! IT'S HILARIOUS! HA!"

Huh. I pretended to write it down, what with her excitement and all, but...really, Mom? Grumpy Old Men sounds like something I'd LOVE? I'm thinking no. I mean, no offense to people who like men who are old and grumpy. As far as I know, I've been missing out on something amazing. But wow, I could not be less interested. I'll cut my mom a break, though, since I've done the same thing to her, several times. I was emphatic about recommending Slumdog Millionaire and she just has No. Interest.

I logged on to Netflix to fill my queue (not with Grumpy Old Men, mind you) and lo! I found that most everything on my home page was something I'd enjoy! The categories that apparently describe my tastes are:

Dramatic Movies Featuring a Strong Female Lead
Dark, Independent Dramas
Visually-striking Suspenseful Films
Critically-acclaimed Satires
Movies Starring Ewan McGregor

That last one made me laugh. But hey! Lots of stuff I'd watch, right there. How do they know me so well? I feel like we could be friends.

How about you? Describe your movie categories.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Theme Song

When writers talk about theme, especially on message boards and in writing groups, I can almost hear the clucking of tongues. Few readers wish to be chugging along in a story just to be smacked upside the head with overt author preaching. 

It's unlikely anyone is going to find my writing to have great socio-political implications, but I do have a few themes that pop up in one form or another in my writing. Fortunately, they make for rich plots:

1) Something wicked bubbling under a veneer: I find the idea of carefully controlling outward appearances appealing, especially when it's hiding an ugly struggle within. Much of this comes from growing up in a family that really could have stepped right out of a Southern Gothic novel. (I'm talking about my extended family, not my mom and dad, who are stable and borderline boring.) This might explain my obsession with Carson, Flannery, Tennessee, and Truman. I don't write this genre, but I love reading it. 

2) Scandal and public humiliation: I can't pinpoint why this has evolved into such a theme for me. I cringe at witnessing humiliation. When Jan Brady wore her brunette wig to a party and was ridiculed by her classmates, I had to look away. I can't stomach watching auditions for American Idol or any other kind of Shame TV. Awful! Yet here I am, writing a scene in which the main character is outed for past sins on the evening news. 

3) Good/Bad Moms (or a sprinkling of each in one): I don't always write about mother/daughter relationships, but I do so quite a bit. And hopefully no one will read too much into my Bad Mother examples. Oy. It's fiction, people.

Wow, this all sounds kind of heavy. I do try to lighten things with humor and mix it up. Right now, I'm working on something new that is mostly #2, very little  of #3, and the reverse of #1. I didn't set out to write it this way, but here we go again!

What about you? Do you have any elements that keep appearing in your writing?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dear McDonald's: Bite It

My husband, who puts up with my Wild Feminist Rantings* with far more grace and patience than most men, actually got a taste this weekend of what's been annoying me for years.

Background: I grew up the type of little girl who preferred to play with the neighborhood boys. I'd rather be Luke Skywalker over Princess Leia any day, nifty hairdo notwithstanding. I received far more babydolls and Barbies for Christmas than I ever wanted, which mostly sat in a sad pile of neglect in the corner of my closet. Surprising most of the concerned adults around me, I turned out relatively normal and able to function in society. 

Dear husband took our 7-year-old daughter to McDonald's for lunch (I'll put my disgust over the whole ground meat controversy aside for one moment) and she ordered a Happy Meal. For the toy, of course. 

The toy choices on the wall were between a Build-A-Bear stuffed animal (girl toy) and a plastic Bakugan...somethingorother. I don't know what it is, exactly, but it's the boy toy. She opened the box and found within a pink stuffed animal with "Baby Rocks" printed on its shirt. 

She frowned. "I wanted the Bakugan." 

"Okay, we'll see if we can switch," said the husband, ever the doting dad.
Back to the counter they went. The employee looked startled. "But she's a girl. She got the girl toy." Now, this couldn't possibly have been the first time she'd encountered this scenario. Maybe she just startles easy.

"Yes, but is it possible to switch?"

"I suppose. You really want the boy toy, honey? Okay." 

My husband said she was nice and all. Polite. Even let daughter pick which Bakugan she wanted. Still. Daughter was taken aback. She would NOT want to be confused with a boy. No no no. She's not even all that tomboyish. 

I realize that if she were a boy who wanted the girl toy, the level of shit from the employee, and from society overall, would have been much greater. No! Stay within your pre-defined gender roles!

Anyway. I'm sure she won't be scarred for life. But, grrr. Sometimes parenting really is like reliving your childhood. 

What kind of kid were you?

*By "wild" I mean "mild."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Show and Tell

Over at Absolute Write, member Dee Garretson had an idea: writers constantly talk about showing vs. telling, but what's the difference, exactly? Many of us get a little tell-y from time to time (there's a reason no one sees my first drafts.)  It's often difficult to understand the concept because, when done right, it's invisible. You feel the tension right along with the characters. 

So several of us took up the challenge to SHOW some examples of show vs. tell. Mine is from my own work. Same scene, two ways. Here's the setup:

It's 1976 in a pretty little suburb of Chicago. Housewife Ilona is trying to convince her kind-but-traditional husband to allow her to get a part time job. She's just taken her children to see the Sears Tower, now they are getting ready for dinner. 

“Where’s my beautiful wife?” Dennis said every evening when he arrived home at 5:30. Then a kiss. He was taller than most men, much taller than Ilona, and had a stoop to his shoulders. Like living an apology.  This evening, unlike most others, she had dinner waiting, the housework completed, and kids sitting clean at the table.

“Hi honey,” she said. “We are having steak tonight.”

“Terrific. I could smell it when I walked in. I love steak.”

Jamie and Ryan told their father about the Sears Tower, interrupting each other in excitement. Remember those trucks, they were saying, so tiny, and when we got down to the street they were still there, huge!

Ilona cleared her throat. “I made dessert tonight, too. Brownies,” she cut in, “and shirts. I bought some new shirts for you on our way home today.” She set the steaks on the table. The family sat down and passed the food clockwise. 

“Perfect. You’ve all been busy. Thanks.”

“So, honey, can we talk now? About that job?”

Dennis looked up from his plate, catching her eyes, but he did not respond.

“Can we?”

He sighed. “This again? Can I at least finish my meal first?”

They worked their way through dinner, talking only intermittently of the day’s events. The silences in between their remarks were punctuated by the chink of forks hitting porcelain. Her daughter, Jamie, finished quickly. She excused herself and turned to Ryan.

“Let’s go.”

“But I’m not finished yet,” he said. “And what about the brownies?”

“Come on.” She picked up the plate in front of him and walked toward the kitchen. “We’ll take some brownies into my room.”

Ryan shrugged and followed his sister into the kitchen, then down the hall to the bedrooms.

“Now?” Ilona asked her husband.


Ilona was nervous about asking Dennis about potentially working part time at the library. He took pride in providing for his family, and had tried to dissuade Ilona in the past from working. She'd been busy all day making conditions perfect before he arrived home, in an effort to show that her duties as a mother would not be forgotten. 

When dinner began, Ilona blurted out the question that had been inside her all afternoon. “So, honey, can we talk now? About that job?”

Dennis was exasperated. She just wouldn't drop it. 

The kids sensed the tension between their parents all through dinner and finished the meal rapidly. Jamie escaped with Ryan into her room and the parents continued their conversation.

Got it? Good. Now see how everyone else handled it. 

Melia (Dee Garretson)

Ink (Tracey Martin):

Blond (Gretchen McNeil):

Tas (K.A. Stewart):

Sunna (Amy Bai)

Red (Bryn Greenwood)

(Regular followers, I know I'm off schedule this week. I've been a little ARGH-MAKE-IT-STOP busy with life stuff. I'll be back on sched Friday. I'm sure you've been up late worrying.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

I am not a chick

How much am I loving this movie reviewer's mea culpa in the Toronto Star for his use of the phrase "chick flick" when he describes a film? Peter Howell, I don't know you, but you are now a friend for life. 

From the link:

I hate the term because it's a form of contempt masquerading as hip lingo. Implicit in every use is the qualifier "only," even if the word is unspoken: "It's only a chick flick."

A film that supposedly appeals mainly to women can't be taken seriously because it's only a chick flick.

I've been annoyed by this for a while. Not the term "chick flick" per se, because I think it can describe a movie's overall tone. Sex in the City, Confessions of a Shopaholic, even my beloved Bridget Jones' Diary might fall into this category. Might. It's still pretty derogative, if you ask me, but I'm willing to go with it. 

However, the definition seems to have widened to include EVERY movie with strong female leads and that appeals mostly to a female audience. Regardless of tone or theme. Your friend gets raped outside of a bar and you are trying to escape from the police after killing the jerk? Chick flick. Your daughter is diabetic and dies after having a baby? Chick flick. You are a poor black woman in the 1930s who is raped repeatedly and forced to marry an old man? Chick flick. Why is it that so many films with female leads get this dismissive label?

Julie & Julia is the most recent film to be branded as a chick flick. And yeah, it's a comedy, but it's not about shoes or making it in the big city. Meryl Streep is not a chick. Nor am I.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book Reco: Sima's Undergarments for Women

I have this friend who reads absolutely everything and gives me lots of good recommendations. Love that! We both like women's fiction, so recently she mentioned two books--one big and splashy and one quiet and delicate. I ordered both. Being in a splashy frame of mind, I started with the fictionalized biography of Laura Bush. I heard it was juicy and well-written and while all that was true...I just couldn't get into it. So I picked up Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross. 

It takes place in one of those little shops I always see in New York, half-hidden on the ground floor, this one under a Boro Park brownstone. Women from this Orthodox Jewish neighborhood all visit Sima for bra fittings and conversation. Mostly the latter. 

Sima's life consists of running her shop and tending to Lev, her husband of many years, until a gorgeous young Israeli woman named Timna starts working as a seamstress in the shop. 

Timna soon becomes, at least in Sima's mind, the daughter she couldn't have of her own. And also a bit of an obsession. Timna provides a glimpse into the self Sima never was, but longed to be: sexy, carefree, with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of her. Sima is a deeply flawed and nuanced character (she reminded me a little of Olive in Olive Kitteridge) but I connected with her and found her interesting (much more so than pretty Timna, actually.)

Have you ever had a bra fitting? It's personal, to say the least. Much bare flesh is involved. So I can understand how, along with stripping off physical clothes, it's an easy atmosphere to share intimate feelings.  Anyway, if you are in to literary women's fiction at all, pick this one up.