Thursday, August 30, 2007

Where There's Smoke

There is something graceful about the silver curl of smoke across a black and white screen. Marlene Deitrich's leisurely exhale wreathed her beautiful face in a haze of smoke and mystery. Bogart and Bacall's side-by-side cigarettes at the end of The Big Sleep hinted at what happened when the screen faded to black.

Hollywood spent years glamorizing cigarettes, and even after they stopped, the images cigarette companies paid to produce live on in some of our most cherished films. Parents ranted and railed about Joe Camel when I was a kid, but it wasn't a poorly animated spokes-dromedary that prompted me to pick up a smoke when I "grew up" and left for college. It was Marlene Dietrich, Myrna Loy, Lauren Bacall and a hundred other golden-age actors (most of whom died of lung cancer).

Yes, classic films made me smoke.

About fifty percent of college students who take up smoking quit, and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. I had a brief relapse a year after graduating when I fell in with chain-smoking Europeans (my French friend's secret to keeping her perfect size 6? "Eat less, smoke more."). But smoking is lethal, expensive, and stinky. And I hated the idea of being an addict.

Smartass and I have been watching Mad Men, AMC's new show about advertising executives in 1960. I'm still not sure whether I like it, but one thing I think is genius is the way the show makes smoking look disgusting by constantly depicting smoking. Instead of the silver-screen glamor of Hollywood, Mad Men shows the way ordinary people smoked. Characters smoke while driving, while eating, while pregnant. Doctors smoke during exams, office workers smoke at their desks. It's positively awful. And, I'm told, completely accurate.

Lately, I've been thinking about smoking, and my experience as a smoker versus the glamorous image I still have in my head. In my writing, I often use smoking to indicate a character's self-destructive tendencies. When I'm writing urban fantasy or paranormals, many of my immortal characters smoke. And they look good doing it.

I have my doubts as to whether or not this is OK. When Buffy and Angel didn't use protection on Buffy the Vampire Slayer angry parents lambasted the creator, Joss Whedon. Whedon's response was, the show is fiction. Angel was undead, for goodness sake! People know the difference between fiction and reality.

But that was sex, and this is smoking. Given the power that glamorous images have in our society, is it ethical for a writer to glamorize smoking, even in impossible, clearly fictitious circumstances?


Monday, August 27, 2007

The Russians! The Headbands! The Swayze!

I love my husband so much! Who else would watch the gun-loving, 1984 Cold War invasion fantasy Red Dawn with me while drinking White Russians and drink every time one of the characters said, "Don't Cry!" or, "I love you, man!"

If you have ever seen this pinnacle of Reagan-era propaganda, you will know that Smartass and I were pretty hung over the next day, as the rag-tag group of guerilla-fighting teenagers often exhorted each other to not cry or "never cry again!" and, they loved each other in a completely heterosexual way. ("I love you, man!").

Red Dawn also featured Jennifer Grey as a traumatized girl who had maybe been sodomized by rapacious Russian forces (the movie never comes out and says it, but Grey's character has a violent reaction to the common eighties phrase, "man, who put that stick up your ass". Heavy.) which led to a number of drunken "Nobody puts Baby in the corner!" jokes (Yes, I really am that lame) when Grey broke out the RPG and started taking out Russian tanks like a pro.

Oh, how I love that movie! Why haven't I seen it before now? Oh, yeah, cause nobody would watch crappy Swayze movies with me. Which is why my hubby rocks.

Next up in the Drunken Swayze Film Series: Next of Kin and Moonshine. Or maybe just beer.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bad to the Bone

A confession: When I watch an action movie, a soap opera, or an anime, my favorite character is often not the hero or heroine, it's the villain. It's not that I've got a thing for maniacally laughing megalomaniacs who want to take over and/or destroy the world. It's just that the good guys are often so...boring.

Just think about it. In Disney cartoon musicals, who usually has the great big, catchy show-stopping numbers? The peppy sidekicks and the villains. In soap operas, when the good characters get it on, the background music is smooth jazz. But when villains knock teh boots they get electric guitar. In anime, the villain always has the most flamboyant clothes. Epaulettes, capes, helmets, breastplates, codpieces, lycra and thigh-high boots--all in the same outfit. What's not to love?

Heroes and heroines do things for noble, selfless reasons. Villains do things because they want to. And really, admit it, who is your favorite character on Dynasty? Krystle or Alexis? Who was your favorite character on Melrose Place, Allison or Amanda? Not only do villains have shorter skirts and jauntier hats, they just plain have more fun.

A lot of readers like bad boy heroes, but what about the heroines? Do they have to be nice? And if they're not nice, do they have to feel guilty about it?


Monday, August 20, 2007

This is Not a Review: E-Books Ahoy!

Skin to Skin by Dionne Galace
Dionne Galace (aka Bam of It's Not Chick Porn) has been entertaining me for quite some time with her hilarious and highly-entertaining blog posts. So when her novella "Skin to Skin" came out, buying it was pretty much automatic. The woman is funny, and the writing samples on her site are intriguing, too.

Full Disclosure: Bam's having a contest, and anyone who links to her site is eligible to win. Which is what inspired me to get off my ass and write a Not a Review.

Synopsis: In the midst of a San Diego heatwave, Leilani lusts after her neighbor Oliver, and his big, enticing swimming pool. Ollie's recovering from a bullet wound in a sensitive region, and Leilani's skimpy outfits and blatant overtures are making him very uncomfortable.

So here's what I liked about it:
1) Biracial Heroine, yay! Honestly, we brown girls just love to see brown girls in print--especially when those brown girls are hot and self-confident. Also, Leilani is the sort of heroine who knows what she wants and goes for it.
2) Fun, contemporary writing style. Can I tell you how many novels I've read where the characters are in their mid-twenties, but talk like forty-year olds? Actually, I can't. It happens so often, I've lost count. The characters in Skin to Skin actually sound like post Gen X soCal residents. And as a post-GenX soCal resident, I appreciate and applaud that.
3) Hot! Skin to Skin has hot weather, a hot hero, and hot hot hot love love scenes.
Here's what I didn't like about it:
a) Too short. I think that's my complaint about both of the novellas in this installment of "This is Not a Review". Too. Damn. Short.
b) Not a whole lot of character development going on. But, hey, it's a novella. See item "a" above: Too. Damn. Short.
c) The word "weeping" used as an adjective for an organ other than the eye. Personal pet peeve. The fact that I kept reading past it proves point 3, above: Hot!

Rating: Everstar 8000 BTU Portable Air-Conditioner. Just the thing to cool off after a hot read.

Learning Charity by Summer Devon
I think I've read most or all of Summer Devon's (aka Kate R's) ebooks. And every one of her books has had really great characters. Learning Charity is really damn short, but Devon does a great job of fleshing out her characters and making them likable. I don't know how she does it. Maybe I need to read the novella again, for research. Purely academic research. And not because this novella is H-O-T. Even though it is. Really. Hot.

Synopsis: In nineteenth century England, Charity is a daughter of the gentry fallen on hard times. Forced to make her living as Cherry the whore, she is less than enthusiastic about the duties of her profession until she meets American, Elliot Stevens.

What I liked:
1) Devon's got chops. Her writing style is always engaging, even in this very short story. Her afore-mentioned talent for characters gives the story an emotional depth I didn't expect from a short story.
2) I believe I may have mentioned this a time or two in my intro: Hot.
What I didn't like:
a) Too. Damn. Short. Really. Learning Charity is basically a one-set, one-act play. I wouldn't have minded seeing the characters in different scenes and circumstances.

Rating: How did people keep cool back in the old days? Painted fans and lemonade. This read gets 3 Fans (One for each hand, and a very agile foot.) And a straw so you can drink your lemonade. You'll need it.

I've got a couple more ebooks on the old hard drive, so, if you like arbitrary non-reviews, watch this space for: Natural Law by Joey W. Hill, Blackberry Pie by Bonnie Dee.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Falling Between the Crack

"Mommy, mommy, why are those two circles kissing?"

"Well, honey, when two or more circles love each other very much, they get married and form a Venn Diagram."

Am I the only romance reader who plays video games? Or maybe I'm the only romance reader who plays the sort of cheesy, button-mashing action games that read like they were thought up by a focus group of stoned 14 year old boys.

Or maybe I'm just the only one geeky enough to make a diagram about it.

Point is, I saw this:

And immediately thought of this:

If you don't play video games, please trust me when I say that this game is not exactly the highpoint of the modern video game experience. The plot reads like fan fiction based on a corporate-sponsored Saturday morning cartoon; the hero levels up with strange new powers toward the end; it features both a tormented, brooding quasi-demonic hero with major mother issues and a scantily clad vixen with mysterious intentions who somehow reminds the hero of his mother.

Actually, I guess the two entertainment products aren't so dissimilar, after all.

Aww. Don't be hatin', cause I'm not. You know I love the cheesy goodness. I kid, because I love.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rock Star

Now, I'm not one of those people who will forgive R. Kelly every pervy thing just cause the man can write a good song. Nope. "R" isn't getting another cent of my money. Damn, but the man does turn out some good songs. If you ever see R.Kelly songs on my hard drive, you can report me to the FBI because I will have pirated those tracks.

So anyway, I was listening to "Rockstar" and I caught this line: "The way we f*ck gonna lead to child birthin'." Now, R always veers into TMI when he's trying to be sexy, and I've always found that amusing. But there isn't a damn thing sexy or amusing about that line. If a guy said that to me in the bedroom, I would pull up my pants and run away. Fast.

Is it a symptom of these modern times we live in that the thought of sex for procreative purposes totally turns me off? I guess I see how other people might think it's romantic. The miracle of birth and all that shit. But not me. Maybe it's just the stage of my life I'm in right now? The stage where I like having disposable income and sleeping in on Saturdays?

I have jumped off buildings and cliffs, hurled myself down the side of snowy mountains, rafted rivers, raced on galloping stallions without the proper headgear, and engaged in all sorts of risky behavior for the thrill of it, but sex without birth control? Nah-uh.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Thousand Words to Tell the Tale

The pawnbroker used a short stepladder to reach the silver-framed photograph I'd asked for. He held it two-handed as he stood atop the ladder and didn't let go, even when the ladder wobbled as he descended to the floor.

He let loose a shaky rattle of a breath when the slick soles of his scuffed loafers settled on the beige-flecked tile of terra firma, but he kept the frame clasped to his chest. Like it was worth something. Like it wasn't just some cheap family tchochke great aunt Amity's junkie nephew had stolen and pawned to get a fix.

In this neighborhood, the drugs changed, but the story never did.

"How much?"

"It's hard to say." The pawnbroker scratched his liver-spotted scalp with one careful finger, as if he still had hair and was afraid of messing it up.

"There's a tag on it, ain't there?"

He flipped the frame over and squinted at the yellowed bit of paper pasted on the black cardboard flap stand. The old man squinted at the hand-written price, but I could read it just fine.

"Fifty cents. I'll take it."

"Not so fast." He held out a hand, like the Supremes telling me to Stop! In the Name of Love, but he couldn't get his knobby elbow straight. The palm of his big-knuckled hand was crisscrossed with more lines than a Los Angeles freeway map.

I wondered if he’d ever had his palm read. I imagined the fortune-teller—some turban-topped charlatan with kohl gumming up the wrinkles round her rheumy eyes, and a sham accent that sounded like a cross between Bela Lugosi and Pepe LePew.

“You vill die young,” she would have said, her smoker’s wheeze adding a shadow of death to an otherwise rote recitation of impending doom. “I see it in your lifeline, yes?” She stabs her stubby finger into the center of his hand like she means to pound it through to the table beneath. “Very short.”

He would have laughed it off. I could see him as a young man, thick hair slicked back, blue eyes bright with confidence—no, arrogance. He would have been a looker. Before his wrinkled lids started to sag like curtains falling on an empty stage, he would have had bedroom eyes.

He would have been the kind of man who made you think he could see through your clothes when he looked at you across the room. And then the flash of smile, the slow wink when he caught your glare that made you think he was mischievous instead of perverted. That made you think it might not be so bad if he did see you naked.

He still used that look now, only it didn’t work with wrinkles and false teeth. He’d given me that look when I walked into the store, and I’d curved my hand into a fist at my side because I’d wanted to slap the smile off his face. Stupid old perv.

But then I’d seen the photograph, faded gray in a tarnished silver frame. It was sitting in a decade of dust on the shelf above the brass-backed cash register. I’d asked for it, and held my breath as he’d hobbled up the old stepladder to retrieve it.

Which brings me back to now. And the old perv telling my tits—and, by association, me—that the price was higher than what the tag said.

“Five dollars.” His hand still wavered in the air above the counter, like he’d forgotten it was there.

“Nah-uh.” I shook my head. “State law says you got to charge the prices as marked.”

“I haven’t hand-priced a damned thing in this store for twenty years. The price on the tag’s just out of date.”

“That’s your problem. I’ll give you fifty cents.”

He raised his chin so he could look up at my face from beneath those hound-dog wrinkles. “What do you want it for, anyway? The frame’s silver-plate, and the people in the photo are ugly.”

“Some salesman you are.”

“Just curious.”

I shrugged. “I’m a writer. I collect things—pieces of other people’s lives. It helps me imagine stories.”

“And this picture?”

Too late, I saw where he was going. “It’s interesting.”

“Is it worth a thousand words?”

“I try to stay away from clich├ęs. Bad for business, you know?”

“Like writer’s block is bad for business?” His cloudy eyes narrowed. “You’re out walking after dark in this neighborhood. It snowed last night, and the wind is cold enough to freeze the slush to solid ice right now. It’s a good night to be inside, writing.”

“It’s invigorating. I like the cold air.”

“And the crime.”

“That, too.”

“Come off it. You want the picture or not?”

“Sure.” I reached into my pocket. “Here’s fifty cents.”

“Nah-uh.” The non-word negative sounded strange coming out of his mouth. Childish, and just a little mean. “Words are tough to come by right now. How much would you pay for a thousand ‘em?”

I pulled out my wallet and slapped down a five. “All right. Five dollars.”

He just let the bill lay there like the half-dead rat a cat brings in when it’s feeling generous and wants to share. The cat thinks it’s impressive, but all you can think about is the best way to get the rat into the trash without touching it.

“Ten dollars.”

I glanced over at the photo. A stern-faced mother with a fresh permanent in her graying hair and a too-tight rayon dress stared out of the frame like a Vaudevillian staring down a heckler. A little girl with a square jaw sat in a wicker chair beside her. The girl was an unwilling, unlikely Shirley Temple; sturdy and solemn, smothered in bows and ruffles, her thin hair tortured into limp curls.

There was a story here.

I slapped down another five and snatched the frame.

“A thousand words,” he yelled as I rushed out through the grubby glass door and into the cold, dark night.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bettie's EXCELlent Adventure

Or, how I went totally OCD on my 70 Days of Sweat Word Count Tracking Sheet. Observe:

My OCD 70 Days of Sweat Tracking Sheet has the following features:

  • Allows tracking of multiple Works in Progress
  • Provides word count totals for each WIP by 70 Days of Sweat check-in date.
  • Provides Total Word Count as a sum of all WIP word counts for each 70 Days of Sweat check-in date
  • Provides total word count for each WIP (see below)
  • Provides total word count for 70 Days of Sweat (see below)

  • Contains snazzy If/Then statements to ensure it only displays totals when new words have been added.
  • Color-coded by week in soothing pastel shades.
Concerned coworkers, friends and family have suggested that I might be a little too "into" spreadsheets. Perhaps they're right. But just wait until you see the PowerPoint show I'm working on... ;oP


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

This is Not a Review: Wired by Liz Maverick

Wired, by Liz Maverick
Other people who have read this book--people who write actual reviews and not just arbitrary judgments, como yo --have noted that this book really isn't a romance, and I agree. Wired is more of a Sci-Fi adventure than it is a romance--not that there's anything wrong with that. Except, of course, that if a book is billed as a romance, other readers might expect it to be about, you know, romance.

Synopsis: Roxanne is walking to 7-11 one night when two men appear in the street and start fighting with each other--over her. One of them is Mason Merrick, Roxanne's old roommate's hot ex boyfriend, and the other is Leonardo Kayser, a suave Englishman of dubious moral virtue. Mason and Leonardo are "wire-crossers" from the future who can reroute events in the past to alter the reality of the present. Both men want a piece of code that our girl Rox hasn't even written yet.

Roxanne feels some attraction for both men, but there's never any doubt as to who she'll end up with. And, as most of the story revolves around Roxy's attempts to understand the whole wire-crossing thing and take charge of her destiny, there's not so much room for romance, anyway.

Maverick's writing style is fast-paced and engaging. Roxanne is a likable first-person narrator but the story suffers from some of the common downfalls of first-person POV: a vague sense of setting and secondary characters that never really come to life. The story was a good read, and though the narrative pulled me along, it never quite pulled me in.

Wired made for great vacation reading, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for the paperback equivalent of a mid-tier summer action movie.

Rating: On a scale of 2007 Summer Action Movies, with Fantastic 4 being the worst and The Bourne Ultimatum being the best, Wired, by Liz Maverick would be...

Live Free or Die Hard:
(Not quite what I expected, but with this much fast-paced action, who cares?)


Saturday, August 4, 2007

A Man, A Plan, A Canal -- Panama!

This has nothing to do with Panama. I just like palindromes.

About 11 months ago, I wrote a post about a story that was almost finished. It was the Original "The Bitter End". That story, the "Untitled Sci-fi" is very close to finished. But I still haven't finished it. It's one of the stories that I mapped out and outlined before I got in touch with my inner seat-of-the-panster. Maybe that's why I'm having no luck finishing it--there's no suspense left in the writing.

In the time since I wrote that post, I've written two short stories, and started on a full-length novel about which I am very excited. But my "Untitled Sci-fi" nags at me. So here's my goal: I will finish that story by August 28, 2007 -- a year to the day that I first complained about it.


From the Road

My Darling Smartass caught me at my laptop this morning and said, "I wonder which one of us has worked more on this vacation?" This made me laugh, because, excepting those stressful hours when I was trying to get "Burning Bright" sent, I haven't worked at all. He, on the other hand, has to tug the umbilical tether back to the office at least once a day just to make sure the place hasn't exploded.

"What are you doing now?" He asks. "Why are you awake early, on vacation*, to type on your laptop?"

"Oh this?" Says I. "I just figured out the answer to a problem I've been muddling over with my latest story."

"Work," he declares, crossing his arms and looking all pleased. Looking like he's right, or something.

"No," I say. "I don't wake up early for work*. This is fun."

And you know what? It is fun.

* Italics totally not added. We're a tad melodramatic.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Always Bet on Black...

Eh. Who am I kidding? Cheap, tacky grouch that I am, I much prefer the Elvis slot machines and the Scrabble (tm) $0.05 slots. I am, amazingly enough, blogging from the road. From Fabulous Las Vegas, to be exact.

I had a rough couple days of it trying to finish "Burning Bright," but clocked it in at somewhere north of 27K words in the car on Tuesday. But then...the $12.95 per day/per computer hotel wi-fi fritzed, and gmail had some issues, and the promised "modem features" on our all-thing phone devices did not live up to the hype. I think my heart stopped. I got it sent, though. Badly.

My darling Smartass is smart with more than just verbal quips, and finally got the all-thing phones to live up to their promises. So here I am, blogging from my laptop, hooked through the phone. The hotel wi-fi still doesn't work. I will definitely be disputing that charge at check out.

Books I'm Reading by the Pool

  1. Wired, by Liz Maverick
  2. Black Powder War, by Naomi Novik
  3. D.A. by Connie Willis
  4. Sundry Trashy Tabloids