Monday, February 28, 2011

Rosemary vs. the Bathroom Floor

This weekend was DFW Writer’s Conference, a fantastic conference hosted by my “home” writer’s group, DFW Writer’s Workshop. I was scheduled to present a FABULOUS YA class, and be on several panels and generally have a great time participating and meeting authors and enjoying the creative energy.

I did not get to do any of that.

I woke up feeling fine. About 11 am, I started feeling funny. Kind of queasy and light headed. I hadn’t eaten very much, so figured that’s what was going on. Tried to eat, but couldn’t choke anything down because my mouth was so dry. I was about to give my big presentation, so I went and set up my slides and everything, figuring, I’d just give my talk sitting down, then go home.

Um, no. Someone asked me to sign a book for them, and I said, “sure,” then realized I could barely hold a pen, my hands were shaking so bad. I excused myself, with thoughts of some cold water on my face, and made it to the bathroom.

Specifically, the bathroom floor.

Things I remember:

  1. Some very nice girl with hair like a fairy giving me crackers from her purse.
  2. Someone catching me when I passed out. Definitely the most intimate I’ve ever been with a stranger’s boob.
  3. Lots of people yelling asking if I wanted an ambulance. (I didn’t but they called one anyway, because I passed out again before I could tell them that.)
  4. Lot of people hauling me out of the bathroom and onto a bench in the hall, where I’m pretty sure I flashed most of the DFW Writer’s conference because of my skirt. Fortunately, I’m a full coverage girl, and not a fan of the thong.
  5. Many many very kind people, some of whom are my friends, some of whom I barely know, taking care of me.
Things I don’t remember:

  1. Who any of these people were (other than the girl with the colors in her hair, and Pam, which was sort of the end of my coherence.)
  2. What force in the universe could have every compelled me to sit, let alone want to lie down on, a public bathroom floor.
  3. If I thanked anyone for their help. I don’t really remember much except asking Jenny to come in the ambulance with me, and swearing her to secrecy about my weight.
ANYWAY, after a lovely overnight stay in the hospital, I know that whatever else is wrong with me, I didn’t have a heart attack. It’s one of those things where after I started to feel better the next day, I felt very silly and overdramatic, because I only remember the big fuss, not how I got to that point. But as my friend Kristi said, for ME to end up on a public bathroom floor something must be very wrong indeed.

I’m home, and feeling kind of ugh, but at least I’m ugh at home. I most regret that I didn’t get to give my awesome presentation, though I’m glad that Candace Havens went through my slides, some of the best things aren’t in the notes. But I’ll be posting some stuff in this blog this week that will hopefully atone for that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pitching your book

For DFW Writer's Workshop members. (You know who you are.)  Tonight I'm leading a mini-workshop on pitching your book to an agent or editor, in preparation for this weekend's conference.

If you did not get the handout in an email from DFWWW, you can view it online here or download it here (download starts automatically).

I will not have paper copies at the workshop, so print it out or bring it on your phone/tablet/parchment scroll, whatever.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Earthquake in New Zealand

In case you haven’t heard, there has been a devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake in the area of Canterbury area in New Zealand. There’s been massive damage, and 65 people are dead with more missing and presumed buried. Search teams with rescue dogs (yay!) are searching for survivors.

For those of you who want the latest information, here’s the website for the New Zealand Red Cross and a website specifically for updates about the Canterbury Earthquake. I’m sure that there will be information, eventually, on the best way to donate to help those who have lost family and homes, but for now, I’m sure they can use prayers.

The Christchurch Catholic Cathedral, after the earthquake.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

One of the reasons that I talk about movies in this blog--other than I like movies and I like talking about them--is that in a lot of ways, story telling is story telling. Characterization, plot arcs, high concept, theme, motif, throughline... these are all things that apply to books and movies (and plays) equally. Even genres--the type of book/movie--factors in. I expect different things from a romantic comedy than I do from a cerebral thriller, than I do from an action adventure.

But here’s one thing I can’t really translate: casting.

I watched The Sorcerer’s Apprentice last week. I enjoy a certain amount of silliness, and Nicholas Cage chewing scenery, and lots of cool special effects and magic--and I actually really liked how the hero managed the apprentice-fights-the-master-villain thing in the end. (I sort of saw it coming, but I liked it anyway.)

On the “con” side, there were some pacing problems, and characters would flip-flop in their decisions, and also disappear and reappear as convenient for the plot, which was a bit convoluted for a movie of this length. (In other words, it was a little bit everything-and-the-kitchen-sink.)

But all of this is a little hard for me to judge because of the casting. You know in Sky High, when they line the superpowered kids up in gym and designate them as “hero” or “sidekick”? The title role (Dave, the sorcerer’s apprentice) was played by a guy (Jay Baruchel) who had “funny, nebbish sidekick” stamped all over him.

Now, I don’t mind a hero who doesn’t look like a matinee idol. (Scott Pilgrim vs. the world, for example.) But I couldn’t get past the actor’s nasal, whining voice. His line delivery made everything Dave said sound, well, whiny and weak.

Baruchel may well be a much better actor than I’m giving him credit for, and his character, Dave, is in fact a nebbish, neurotic, nerdy guy. So I can see where they were going with this casting. But the line delivery had the unfortunate effect of making this 20-year-old character sound like a petulant adolescent.

Maybe this would have bothered me less if there weren’t other characterization problems (see above re: flip-flopping according to plot needs). I mean, let’s face it, characterization wasn’t a real high priority with this movie. But the end result is, I didn’t really care about the title character OR his mentor--the top-billed star of this movie, Nicholas Cage. We were supposed to care about his back story, but we weren’t given enough time to really like him, as he would disappear for long spells (heh) while Dave pined after the stock Hot Girl for no real reason other than she was stock Hot Girl. (Though she actually had to do the only truly character-challenging thing in the finale, which happened mostly offscreen, which... maybe is a clue to why this movie is ultimately unsatisfying for me.)

So, maybe there is a writing lesson here. Give us someone to like. Don’t let flip-flopping and whining about their quest/mission/chosen-one-status stand in for character development or an internal growth arc. Have your hero be heroic, no matter what he looks (or sounds) like.

Anyway. Back to the movie. I liked the creativity with the magical elements and spells. It was a bit of a hodgepodge, but at least it was a hodgepodge of “Oooo, cool!” In the end, though, you’re not really missing much if you just wait for it to show up on the Disney Channel.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Field Trip Friday

Y'all really need to pop over to my post on Genreality today.  After not being able to think of a blog topic, it ended up being so good (she said, modestly) that I wish I could post it over here.

So click over and read it. You can comment there, or comment over here on the subject of...

What's your Dream Job?  (Aside from writing.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bookanistas Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle

Last night I was sitting at IHOP (as I do on Wednesday nights after my writer's group) and I mentioned that I had just reread Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones after I discovered a tattered and much perused copy at a second hand bookstore. "Aw!" said my friend. "I love that book!" And we immediately launched into rhapsody's about the Wizard Howl. (More on that rascal in a minute.)

But it was my friend Lynn who introduced me to this book in this way back when we were in college (or then abouts): It's about Sophie, a girl who is turned into an old woman by a spell, and she goes to live in a wizard's (moving) castle and she cleans for him, and she is strong willed and awesome and he falls in love with her no matter what she looks like but he's under a spell, too and Sophie has to sort that out so they can save the kingdom together.

And I said: "She's an old woman? Eiew. I don't want to read about that." (Only maybe not to her face.)
Well, my friend Lynn had pretty good taste in other matters (she was my friend, after all). So I decided to read other Diana Wynne Jones books. And then I read Howl's Moving Castle.

What a delightful book. Everything about it is charming, from the voice to the characters to the magic. It's witty in it's language and deft in it's plot turns. Jones is so good at planting seeds that will sprout at just the right moment to become useful. There's a droll British understatement to the narration. Jones doesn't oversell her points or hammer her humor. She just lets them develop naturally.

But on rereading this book, I have to say that what sets it apart from more recent books (HMC was published in 1986), and what makes it so very worth reading if you have not, is the characters. Sophie is marvelous. As the oldest of three, she accepts that she's doomed to fail in finding her fortune. (Everyone knows only the youngest will succeed.) But her physical transformation sets her off on an adventure and quickly transforms her inside. She's bossy and nosy (because old people are allowed to be) and she gets things done. (She doesn't always make the right decision, but by goodness, she makes one.)

Then there's Howl. He's vain and feckless and droll and when it comes right down to it, decent and kind. Most of all, he's multi-faceted and interesting. There is nothing generic about either of these characters. They're quirky and cranky and brave, and utterly unique.

There is actually a rather lovely movie adaptation of this book that is worth watching, but you are seriously missing a treat if you don't read this book. The voice and narration are the most delightful part of "Howl's Moving Castle" (and of Diana Wynn Jones in general).

What else are the Bookanistas posting about today? See for yourself:

Sarah Frances Hardy is nuts for THE NINTH WARD                     

Monday, February 14, 2011

Movie Monday: RED

You know the fun thing about committing to do movie Mondays (and book reviews on Thursday)? It gives me a reason make the effort (and it's such a huge one, what with Netflix on the Wii and Blockbuster around the corner) to sit down with the dogs and watch a movie every week.

Friday night we watched RED, something that one reviewer called and action movie for the AARP crowd. I'm not sure this is fair, but I will say that my mom enjoyed watching it with me. I will also say that Bruce Willis will have to be in a walker before I will stop enjoying him in an action movie (and even then, I'm not ruling it out). And plus, Karl Urban. *swoon*

The premise is these ex-CIA operatives are all retired (RED: Retired Extremely Dangerous), and someone starts trying to kill them to cover up an old incident. The whys and wherefores aren't as important as the excuse to cast Bruce Willis plus three elder statesmen of acting as hella dangerous hit-persons: Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich


The result was a tremendous amount of fun. I was glad that I knew this was based on a graphic novel going in, so I had checked my disbelief safely at the door, and was along for ride. Was it a taut thrill ride? No. Did enjoy the whole thing? Absolutely.

I think one of the reasons it wasn't quite as pulse pounding as it might have been was that all the retirees are SO competent, I never doubted their eventual success. I loved watching HOW they pulled things off, but I knew it would all work out. It was fun seeing them get the better of the bad guys, but if I never doubted they would.

The actors were clearly having a great time, and they all committed to both their characters and the inherent action-movie, comic-book-y... Let's say whimsy of the plot and premise.

It's not going to make you gasp at the pacing or the clever plot twists, but it did make me laugh to see how the REDs, dismissed by the younger generation, got the better of everyone without really breaking a sweat.

Some people think this was a disappointing vehicle for so much talent. I think perhaps the basic premise that makes the movie fun and unique also worked against it. To me, it seemed like the cast was having fun making a send up of the typical blockbuster thrillers: These folks who can out-act most action movie casts before they've had their morning coffee playing characters who's skill and experience make typical action movie antics look easy. It's a dual "Let me show you kids how it's done" premise that is awesome.... but a walk in the park isn't quite as exciting as the underdog overcoming impossible odds.

However, I really enjoyed watching this. "Fun" is not faint praise. It was a great movie to watch while sharing pizza with the dogs.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bookanistas Book Review: Warped by Maurissa Guibord

Warped, by Maurissa Guibord, caught my eye for the silliest of reasons: It came out the same day as my own book. But absolutely loved the plot summary: 

MedWarped.jpgTessa Brody doesn't believe in magic. Or Fate. But there is definitely something weird about the dusty unicorn tapestry that she discovers in a box of old books. When she accidentally pulls a thread from the tapestry, she releases a terrible secret--one that has been contained for centuries. She also meets William de Chaucy, a young sixteenth-century nobleman with gorgeous eyes, an odd accent and haughty attitude to spare. His fate is as inextricably tied to the tapestry as Tessa's own. "His Lordship" is pretty hard to get along with but equally hard to resist.
Together with Will, Tessa must correct the wrongs of the past to defeat a cruel and crafty ancient enemy. But what is she willing to sacrifice in order to do it?

Here's what I love about this book: 

The premise is wonderful, and totally pays off. The author explores it to the fullest, and doesn't merely use it as a device to put the hot guy into the girl's life so they can fall in Everlasting Love.  I expected a sort of love-across-time thing (which it was) but got a crafty villain, some cool, thorny problems, all bound up with a sweet and satisfying love story. Nothing felt superfluous here. It all went together. 

The magic system it sets up is very unusual, based on the mythology of the Fates who weave the threads of individual lives into the fabric of destiny.  I love books that incorporate established legend with new ideas. The one is particularly cool. Very visual, too. I can't help thinking what a cool movie this would make--not something I automatically think with a book. 

Tessa, as a heroine, meets each challenge gamely, and by the end takes the reins of her destiny in a very gratifying way. One of the things I like best is hinted at in the plot summary: She is willing to make a sacrifice. In a book about Fate and destiny, Tessa doesn't wait to be handed a happy (or unhappy) ending. 

And I very much liked that this novel comes to a conclusion. There's a bit of an open door where I could see the possibility of revisiting these characters, but Warped, in itself, is a very satisfying read. 

What are the other Bookanistas doing today? Well...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Page Goofs (and Texas Gothic teaser!)

Today I am finishing up my pass on the page proofs of Texas Gothic. What this means is that I get one last look at the book as it's going to appear when you get it in your eager hands. This is to catch any mistakes that have crept in as the book was formatted--when it goes from a manuscript to a book. I am not supposed to tinker with anything at this point, just check for mistakes.

This is so hard for me!!

I am a tinkerer, a tweaker, a fixer... There is no sentence so perfect that it cannot be made just a little bit more so. (This is why blogging is such a potential time-suck for me. And why you'll find typos on this blog. The choice is have a blog post with typos, or have no blog post because I spend all day trying to make it perfect.)

Anyway, today I'm reading through the last 100 pages of Texas Gothic, and it's always a bittersweet thing. Not just because I can't tinker with stuff, but because this is really the last I'll work on this book. It's probably the last time I'll read it all the way through. But I've come to love these characters, and their story. Even if I write more about Amy Goodnight or her family, she'll never be at this particular juncture again.

On the other hand, this just means we're that much closer to YOU getting to read the book! Yay!

In the meantime, here's a little snippet from the pages of Texas Gothic I'm going over this morning:

I felt around for my flashlight, promising myself that when I got out of this--however I got out of this--I would indulge in an almighty freak out about the the fact that I was covered in bat crap. But for now I'd be thankful it had broken my fall.

Turning on the light helped. Knowing your situation, even when it sucked, was better than not. I was in a cave of reasonable size. One section seemed to go deeper into the ground, though I couldn't tell how far because stalactites--or stalagmites, I could never remember which--blocked my view. I was not at all inclined to investigate, because that would mean crawling on my belly into places where neurotic control freaks were never meant to go.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Movie Monday: When in Rome

When in Rome has been in my Netflix queue, waiting for me to watch it instantly for about a month. It's taken me that long to get the nerve up to watch it because I've been burned so often lately by romantic comedies ranging from disappointing (Leap Year) to abysmal (The Bounty Hunter).


This post originally turned into a very long tirade, the gist of which was "How hard is it to make a romantic comedy that is actually romantic and funny?" Apparently very, judging by the offerings lately. Then I decided maybe I was just too hard to please. Then I decided I wasn't, but what pleases me isn't necessarily what sells movie tickets.

When in Rome was cute, sweet and pretty forgettable. It reminded me of Simply Irresistible, where Sarah Michelle Geller makes magic food. It's got the same sweet and unoffensive vibe to it, with a little magical realism riff thrown in--which pleases me but not everyone.

Kristen Bell is adorable as your standard Rom Com Career Woman Whom Love Has Passed By. She goes to Rome for her sister's impulsive wedding, meets adorable Josh Duhamel, and they are totally adorable together. She also picks up five coins from a fountain of love, which, according to legend, makes the throwers of the coins fall instantly in love with her. Wacky hijinx ensue.

I liked both the leads, but their chemistry wasn't the pop and crackle kind. They're like that sweet couple in high school that are so right for each other that you can already see their volvo and trendy condo and their australian shepherd that they take to the park every Sunday. So, rather lacking in tension, but nice to look at. I wanted them to get together, I just never doubted it would happen.

The wacky went all the way up to the threshold of stupid and peered over. But Bell is just so likable, and she and Duhamel were just so darned cute together...

I guess that really sums this movie up. Unoffensive and cute. When it comes on cable, but it on one afternoon while you're folding laundry or doing a crossword puzzle.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011



It's 13 degrees outside my house right now. Which doesn't sound too bad until you factor in the wind chill of -1. NEGATIVE ONE! I think this is officially the coldest wind chill I've ever experienced. (Maybe I did go skiing once, but I don't remember the wind being so cold.)

The Superbowl people are probably freaking out right now. God might love the Cowboys, but He doesn't seem too fond of Jerry Jones and the "Big Game" host committee right now. Actually, the weather by Sunday will be nice. It's the travelers that will be disrupted.

People from other parts of the country think that Texans freak out about a little bit of snow. We'll cancel school for as little as an inch. But the problem with frozen precipitation in North Texas isn't snow, it's the ice. We usually get sleet and frozen ice instead of snow, and when we do get snow, it melts then freezes into sheets of ice over the roads, which are much more treacherous. Plus, no one here knows how to drive on the frozen stuff, and we don't have snowplows.

Also, my dogs are freaking out! They don't want to go out into the cold. Penny finally sucked it up and did her business but Mom's dogs... they're wimps on the best days.

ANYWAY. They've warned us that there are going to be rolling blackouts to balance out the power demands. I've got a hot carafe of coffee and a fire going. The laptop is all charged up. Hopefully this means we'll miss out on in in my neighborhood.

IT's cold all over, so keep warm, guys! Catch you on the defrost!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Introspective Interlude*

Tonight when Penny-dog went out for her last walkies, she found a little garden snake on the path. It was dead still, and had obviously been lured out of the ground by the warm weather we've been having, and caught unawares when the cold descended like an icy blanket this afternoon. 

I didn't know if it was stunned, or hibernating, or dead, so I tucked Penny back into the house and grabbed my gardening gloves to pick it up and move it out of the yard--drop it into the french drain, or maybe just chuck it over the fence. 

But as I went to pick it up, I suddenly found myself crying over this little snake, lying in a still, cold loop, grey-brown scales slick with rain. 

Well, I can be ridiculous sometimes. Maybe it's the recent loss of my Lizzie-dog, maybe it's the stress of Mom starting chemo for her leukemia tomorrow, but here I was crying over this stupid little snake. All life seems so sacred to me right now, and every death a sadness. 

I ended up putting the snake in the dirt up next to the foundation of the house. I don't know if it would be warmer there or not. I've decided to think that he was just hibernating. 

To all my friends out there, ones I've met and who have become friends through sharing my books, take care of yourselves. It's cold outside, and the world is a troubled place. Button up your coats and stay safe. 

*I feel like this post should come with a warning. I will be back to my perky self soon, dear readers, never fear. At least I'm blogging again, even if it does comes with 200% more emo.