Sunday, September 30, 2007
I've heard the argument that having multiple authors present creates more sales. I suspect that is only true if the authors already have a fan base OR if the signing receives advertisement that generates traffic. For debut writers, I think you're better off going it alone for two reasons: (1) You're more hungry when you're out there alone, and (2) You're easier to approach when you're alone. Of course, if you can do a signing with a better-known author in your genre, and if that author is generous enough to direct people to pick your book up, you could benefit from the company.
I don't know if my assumptions are correct or not. I'm looking forward to opportunities to find out.
I've done stock signings before; they're exactly what they sound like. You stop by a bookstore and sign their stock of your books. The store slaps on an "autographed" sticker, and that's that.
A formal booksigning involves a lot more time and effort. I spent four hours from 1:00 to 5:00 PM on Saturday, meeting and greeting customers at a Barnes & Noble store.
The staff at the B&N in south Arlington couldn't have been nicer. They set up a chair and table right at the front of the store near the door with copies of my books they'd ordered. Jessica, the store's customer service rep, brought me a drink and checked in on me frequently as did other members of the staff.
That four hours taught me a lot. For future reference:
- Arrive about an hour early so that you'll have time to walk around the store, meet the staff and familiarize yourself with the layout. As the first person customers meet at the door, you'll be asked all kinds of questions: "What time does the store close?" "Where's the bathroom?" "Where are the books on becoming an electrician?" "Where are the inspirational books?"
- Wear comfortable shoes. You'll need them :(
- Do not spend your time sitting in the chair. Get up, move around and--above all--meet and greet the customers. Make eye contact, smile and say "Hello" to everyone who enters. Say goodbye to customers who are leaving.
- Use open-ended questions. Don't ask, "Do you like romance?" which just requires a "yes" or "no." Ask instead, "What kind of books do you like?" That promotes conversation.
- Personalize your table so that you attract foot traffic. I brought a dark maroon plastic tablecloth at "Party City" (on sale for $.99) along with a large plastic bowl ($2.99) that I filled with a variety of wrapped candies ($6 on sale, and I have enough left over for a second signing). I also borrowed three bookstands from B&N so I could have copies of my books facing in all directions. I had my 2'x1' free-standing model of my book cover in the center of the table.
- Whenever a customer entered with children, I said to the parent, "May s/he have a piece of chocolate?" Of course, the kid/s made a beeline for my table, and the parent (who might have walked by without stopping) was forced to make conversation with me while the child made his/her selection from among the different candies.
- At the end of the afternoon, I left the plastic bowl with the remains of the candy for the staff. I'd had large 3" round stickers with the central part of my book cover (including the "Bad Girl" title and my name) made up. I left half a dozen stickers in the bowl as calling cards for the staff. They were so thrilled with that bowl of candy, I was almost embarrassed.
- During quiet moments, I made time to talk to staff individually. Thereafter, each time they passed my table, I spoke to them, using their names. I suspect they'll recommend my book to customers.
- Be sure to autograph a number of books and ask the store for the "autograph" stickers to put on them. I made the mistake of waiting a couple of hours before doing this, thinking I would personalize the autographs as I sold the books. I discovered I sold many more books after those autographed books were on display than before.
- A surprising number of people thought I was B&N staff rather than the author. Next time I'll wear one of my book cover stickers on my lapel instead of my usual gold pin.
I developed a routine. For forty-five minutes of each hour, I would stay in close proximity to my table. Fortunately, the "Romance" section was nearby, and I kept an eye on the persons visiting that section. If I saw someone browsing Romance, I'd walk over. Otherwise, I stayed close to the table for the bulk of the hour.
For fifteen minutes of each hour, I roamed the store, but kept an eye on the table. I noticed that people who weren't comfortable stopping to talk to me sometimes visited the table while I was away from it.
For five minutes each hour, I let myself sit :)
Forty percent of my sales were to men (only one to a couple; and I knew the couple). The men were often interested in writing and publishing and asked a lot of questions about the industry. I suspect they felt they should buy the book after monopolizing my time although one guy just walked up to me and announced, "If you have to stand here, the least I can do is buy your book." I was hard pressed not to leap into his arms and offer to bear his child.
A surprising number of women who identified themselves as Christians stopped to talk to me. Initially I think it was that Texas friendliness among evangelicals that prompted them to stop. While none purchased my erotic romance, several asked about my website and about publishing in general. I also spoke to at least three writing teachers/coaches and a very lovely graphic artist who empathized with hand selling a product.
The first two hours were deadly. Several writer friends had told me that an average of two sales an hour was good for a debut erotic romance author. Although I had been thinking about staying for four hours, I had not given B&N a specific time I would leave. When I'd only sold a few books in two hours, I was thinking about buying three books myself during the third hour to get my average up to two books [grin] and calling it quits.
Fortunately a friend called to see how I was doing. When I finished reporting my progress (or lack thereof), he offered to "buy the damn things" for me so I could go home.
Even though I'd been thinking the same thing, his offer put starch in my spine. I told him "thank you," but I was going to stay put until 5:00 PM.
That call was the best thing that could have happened to me. After I hung up, I became more assertive in my sales efforts and, in that last two hours, sold eight books.
That was a very good lesson, and one I'll remember for the future.
All in all, it was a good first. Now that I have it under my belt, I'll be better prepared for the next time.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
I am not among those people who love to shop.
Comedian Rob Becker did a one-man show about ten years ago called Defending the Caveman in which he argued that, based on evolutionary instincts, men and women are different. Men are essentially hunters; they leave the cave intent upon the hunt with the goal of bringing home a specific item. They search until they locate their target, kill it (buy it), and bring it back to the cave.
By contrast, Becker argues that women are essentially gatherers, wandering from place to place, looking for the good fruit (bargains), and being open to finding something other than what they expected to see. Unlike the male targeting behavior, women are more willing to change course and gather something they weren't looking for (when they discover a sale). Gathering is often a social affair, involving a group of women together.
Perhaps God screwed around with my DNA because I am definitely not a gatherer. The only time I step into a store (whether it be a grocery store or a department store) is when I have something specific to purchase. My life is way too busy to regard shopping as either a diversion or pleasant interlude.
Although I've often described myself on this blog as a creature of impulses, those impulses rarely relate to shopping.
The only exception to this rule applies to hardware stores.
I LOVE hardware stores. I'll happily wander the aisles for an hour, picking up gadgets, examining them and sometimes buying on impulse.
When it comes to clothes, I'm pretty simple. For decades, twice a year, I visited Sakowitz to refurbish my wardrobe. Then the chain experienced financial problems and pulled out of Dallas. So I switched my custom to Foley's, a department store that had the advantage of being nearby. Foley's best sales were called Red Apple Sales and included coupons with significant markdowns. I adapted my buying habits so that I only shopped at the department store when they mailed me Red Apple coupons.
About a year ago, Foley's was absorbed into the Macy's fold. The merchandise was upgraded, which I didn't object to--except that some brands I liked disappeared completely. And they eliminated the coupons, to which I had a serious objection. Since that time, I've visited Macy's twice and walked out empty-handed both times.
Turns out I wasn't the only shopper who felt that way. Today's New York Times has an article on Macy's "boldest stroke in American retailing in decades."
The Macy’s chain completed its takeover of 410 department stores around the country a year ago and renamed them all Macy’s, vowing to lure shoppers with innovations like price scanners in the aisles and exclusive fashions from the likes of Oscar de la Renta. So far, the grand plan is not working.
A big reason? Macy’s forgot a basic law of human nature: Shoppers love a deal.
For years, the department stores that Macy’s acquired, like Marshall Field’s and Filene’s, had relied on 15- and 20-percent-off coupons to alert people, like a Pavlovian bell, that it was time to shop. As part of its reinvention, Macy’s tried to wean shoppers off them.
Apparently hunters and gatherers alike were annoyed by Macy's highhanded treatment in mucking with their favorite department stores.
According to The Times, Macy's did three things that ticked off loyal customers: (1) They changed the name of favorite stores to Macy's (which didn't matter tuppence to me); (2) They reduced "reliance on midprice clothing brands like Levi’s and Dockers" (which did tick me off) and (3) They eliminated coupons (which was the deal-breaker for me and lots of other customers).
Macy's chief executive admits the dropping of coupons contributed "to four consecutive months of falling store sales this spring. Macy’s stock has dropped more than 40 percent since it bought the May stores."
"...the changes amounted to 'too much, too fast,' Mr. Lundgren acknowledged in an interview. It turns out that men, in particular, are creatures of shopping habit. They want to go to the local department store and find the Dockers where they have always been."
And it's not just the men. We women hunters go to the Serengeti, expecting to find gazelle and wildebeest grazing on the savannah where they belong, too.
Shape up, Macy's!
Friday, September 28, 2007
If you're in the area, stop by. I'd love to meet you.
Absinthe, also known as the "green fairy," is back and in vogue at fashionable bars and restaurants nationwide. Banned in the USA since 1912 because of its supposed hallucinogenic effects, authentic absinthe returned in legal forms this year.
According to Wikipedia:
Absinthe...is a distilled, highly alcoholic (usually 68-80%) beverage--anise-flavored spirit derived from herbs including the flowers and leaves of the medicinal plant Artemisia absinthium, also called grand wormwood...Absinthe is typically green (either naturally or with added color) or clear and is often referred to as la Fée Verte ('The Green Fairy'). Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a liquor or spirit. Absinthe is uncommon among spirits in that it is bottled at a high proof but consumed diluted with water to the strength of wine...
Absinthe originated in Val-de-Travers, Switzerland as an elixir/tincture. However, it is better known for its popularity in late 19th and early 20th century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers whose romantic associations with the drink still linger in popular culture. At the peak of its popularity, over 2 million litres of absinthe were consumed annually in France alone...absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive, psychoactive drug; the chemical thujone was blamed for most of its deleterious effects.
USA Today describes absinthe as a favorite of Picasso and Oscar Wilde and repeats the rumors (not true) that the liquor was responsible for Van Gogh's cutting off his ear in 1888 and for causing epilepsy and delusions.
The newspaper goes on to say:
Absinthe's bad rap is said to have been cultivated by French winemakers, who lost business as the sale of cheap absinthe increased in the late 1800s, and by people against alcohol abuse and public drunkenness. Bans took effect in the USA and some European countries in the early 1900s. But its name was kept alive, thanks to travelers and pop culture. Some tourists were introduced to it while visiting the Czech Republic, which produced extremely harsh versions called absinth, and brought back bottles. Absinthe also showed up in films such as Moulin Rouge (2001), Alfie (2004), From Hell (2001) and Murder by Numbers (2002).
My favorite movie reference to absinthe was in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of Dracula. Like most women, I find Dracula a very seductive story. My two favorite film portrayals of the vampire are Gary Oldman's in the Coppola movie, which I saw in the theatre, and Frank Langella's in the 1979 John Badham version, which I saw on PBS years after it was made.
Neither man was handsome by conventional standards, but both were very sexy to me.
Variety described the Coppola film as "the most extravagant screen telling of the oft-filmed story and the one most faithful to its literary source, this rendition sets grand romantic goals for itself that aren't fulfilled emotionally, and it is gory without being at all scary...this Dracula could have been less heavy and more deliciously evil than it is, but it does offer a sumptuous engorgement of the senses."
I agree. The movie was completely over-the-top in the Grand Guignol tradition, including Oldman's Romanian accent. But it is both seductive and visually spectacular and fit my vision of the Dracula legend.
Here's the absinthe scene from Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula with Winona Ryder playing both Mina and Dracula's lost love Elisabeta.
Note the way Dracula serves the liquor. He decants it, then dilutes it by pouring water over a cube of sugar, melting the cube and sweetening the bitter anise (licorice-flavored) taste. This is an accurate portrayal of the way absinthe is served.
A Washington, D.C. Pro-Choice group called NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) Pro-Choice America approached Verizon Wireless, asking to use the company's network to set up a text messaging program. The program allows people to sign up to receive text message updates by typing in a five-digit number. These five-digit numbers are called "short codes" and permit people to get the latest sports, stock reports and gossip.
While all the other major carriers agreed to NARAL's request, Verizon turned the group down on Tuesday. According to Fox.com, a company spokesman said "the topic of abortion is prohibited from mass distribution based on the company's code of content...[he] hinted that the policy could change, as Verizon's code of content 'was initially developed at a time before text-messaging became a mass-market phenomenon'."
NARAL didn't take it lying down. Nancy Keenan, the advocacy group's president, talked to The New York Times, which reported the story on its website on Wednesday. Keenan said, "No company should be allowed to censor the message we want to send to people who have asked us to send it to them...Regardless of people's political views, Verizon customers should decide what action to take on their phones. Why does Verizon get to make that choice for them?" (Fox.com)
NARAL's website here reports that this activist approach resulted in 20,000 people calling Verizon in less than two hours to protest that decision.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Verizon has changed its mind.
"The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect," said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon, in a statement issued yesterday morning, adding that the earlier decision was an "isolated incident."
...But the company did not retreat from its position that it is entitled to decide what messages to transmit.
Legal experts said Verizon's position is probably correct under current law, though some called for regulations that would require wireless carriers of text messages to act like common carriers, making their services available to all speakers on all topics.
"This incident, more than ever, shows the need for an open, nondiscriminatory, neutral Internet and telecommunications system that Americans once enjoyed and took for granted," said Gigi B. Sohn, the president of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group.
She's talking about Net Neutrality, the grass roots effort to uphold "the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet." That quote and the one below are courtesy of a Help site set up here by Google to help to explain Net Neutrality:
Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I'm watching ABC's Good Morning, America. They had a video that I really loved so I'm sharing it with you today. This is Anita Renfroe, singing a day's advice from Mom to the melody of the William Tell Overture.
I'm copying my answer below:
Publication has two definitions. In its broadest sense, it means dissemination of material to a wider audience.
In a stricter, more professional definition, it means being paid by a third party publisher (whether a newspaper, magazine, book publisher or e-publisher) for work as a writer. Self-publishing, individual blogs and letters to your mom do not fit this
Blogs are a form of self expression sometimes resulting in revenue. While some bloggers are paid by advertisers, the writers are not being paid to write. They are being paid to market. I blog as another means of marketing my written work.
While self-publishing is dissemination, it is not a professional credit because the author is the one paying to publish the work. Again, there may be revenue associated with the venture, but the author is the one who makes the decision that the work is worthy of publication. That is not an independent validation.
This is why most of the publishing world refuses to take self-publishing seriously. Although this is harsh, I once heard an agent describe it as the equivalent of a mother hanging a child's drawing on the refrigerator. Yes, the artist may be talented; and, yes, the mother may be proud, but it is not a professional credit.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Knowing my abiding love for both Pete Townsend's music and House, a friend sent me this video off YouTube.
Of course, the song is Baba O'Riley (not Teenage Wasteland as some would insist). Although Daltrey sings most of the song, that's Townsend singing, Don't cry; don't raise your eyes. It's only Teenage Wasteland.
A treat for both the eyes and ears.
I explained that the Japanese were reading novels on their mobile phones. Cell phone novels were downloaded in installments and read a few lines at a time on the small screen.
According to Wired News, more than half the readers were female, and they were reading the cell phone books in their homes--not just on trains or while standing on line or waiting for appointments.
This morning's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that the Japanese are now WRITING novels on their cell phones and uploading them for fans.
According to the WSJ:
Mobile novels first appeared about seven years ago when the community-based Web site, Maho i-Land, made it possible for budding writers to turn out stories with a cover page and chapters like a real book. About three years ago, phone companies began offering high-speed mobile Internet and affordable flat-rate plans for transmitting data. Users could then access the Internet as much as they wanted to for less than $50 a month...
The novels with the most online readers also tend to sell well in the bookstores. Starts Publishing Corp., a small Tokyo publisher, was one of the first to take advantage of the mobile-novel genre when a...fan called up and begged the company to turn her favorite story into a book. It sold 440,000 copies. Starts and a few other firms have turned more than two dozen of the most heavily accessed stories on Maho i-Land into printed books selling for about $9 each.
The press release goes on to remind readers that Harlequin entered the ebook marketplace in October, 2005. "Romance novels have proven to be one of the most popular categories of digital publishing, and Harlequin titles regularly top eBook bestseller lists."
Malle Vallik, Harlequin's Director of Digital Content & Interactivity, is quoted as saying "Women have embraced ebooks...They demand portability, immediacy, availability, depth, breadth and convenience and, by making our entire front list and exclusive digital editorial available to them, we are meeting that challenge."
Harlequin has awakened to the smell of bacon. Their famous bookclubs will not endure. Why would women agree to receive a half dozen books sight unseen every month when they can download specific books they've selected at their own convenience?
Nice move, Harlequin!!!
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I rarely pay any attention to cable shows since I cancelled my subscription some years ago. However, I'm still roughing it in the Bethesda Marriott and Convention Center where room service delivers a copy of USA Today with my breakfast every morning.
So...there I was...eating Raisin Bran and reading the paper this morning when I read the headline, "Reaper Shows Viewers a Hell of a Good Time." Thinking it was a forthcoming movie, I read the review. And found out that Reaper was a new show premiering tonight.
Reaper is about a young man whose parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born. When Sam turns twenty-one, Satan comes to earth to collect. He tells Sam that, because he's having a problem with souls escaping from hell, he wants Sam to be his bounty hunter on earth, returning the fugitives to him.
Sam's instructions are to return any souls he collects to "the portals to hell." When Sam asks where he can find the portals, Satan replies, "Anywhere that seems like hell on earth IS hell on earth." He suggests Sam return an escaped arsonist to the Department of Motor Vehicles so he can renew his driver's license at the same time. ("Hey, I'm all about the perks.")
USA Today nailed the show when it said:
Rather than play the devil like a substitute dad, [Ray] Wise and the writers make a much funnier choice, turning him into a sort of warped CEO who sees himself as a mentor. Sure, he can be scary, as when he shows Sam the risks of giving up, but more often he's encouraging. It sets up a witty give-and-take dynamic with Sam justifiably horrified and Satan pretending to be wounded.
Aided by his friends, Ben and Sock (a sort of low-rent Jack Black), Sam sets out to capture the arsonist with the magical Dirt Devil Satan gave him. Unfortunately, the Dirt Devil needs to be charged first. Sam and Sock dress up like Ghostbusters (with smoke alarms on their sleeves in place of epaulets) to find their prey.
Directed by slacker-master Kevin Smith [of Clerks and the unfortunate Jersey Girl] and created by Law & Order; SVU veterans Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, Reaper layers its light adventure with a mildly satiric tone.
The show is clever and funny and quirky. All things that I like.
And, besides, Fox will re-run House. They always do.
That's right up there with my realizing that Lauren Dellisanti made my book the subject of her very first post in the blogosphere here.
Thank you, both. You make me feel so blessed.
My critique partners and I have been discussing NaNoWriMo this morning.
For those non-writers among you, that's National Novel Writing Month. This November will be the ninth year that would-be writers set out to write a 50,000-word novel in one month, from November 1 to November 30. That's 1,667 words a day or a little bit under seven pages a day (double spaced, 12-point font, with one-inch margins). The idea is to focus on output that you can edit and clean up later.
If you're interested in NaNoWriMo, go here to read about it.
I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2005, and the experience nearly killed me. My style of writing does not lend itself to just writing without any editing at all. To force myself to write and not worry about the quality of the writing is very, very difficult for me. Add to that the fact that it occurs in November right at the cusp of the Holidays, and it's almost more than I can manage.
Jeanne Laws, my critique partner, has a submission due to Samhain and Tracy, my marvelous editor, is getting impatient with me--with good reason. So...I'm actually considering doing a version of NaNoWriMo with the stipulation that we have to be finished before Thanksgiving. We'd probably start mid-October and end the week before Thanksgiving.
I'm writing this here now to close any loopholes I might try to wiggle out of later.
Any would-be writers out there who want to join us?
There's been lots of news out on the Internet about Borders Group recently. Among the news items was the story on Friday that the company has agreed to sell its British and Irish subsidiaries to a private equity firm, Risk Capital Partners of London.
According to Reuters, Borders will be paid the equivalent of about $20 million, with the possibility of another $20 million, depending upon the stores' future performance.
Back on March 23rd, I reported on Borders' new strategy here. The company had decided to close 264 of its 564 Waldenbooks, those smaller stores mostly located in malls, and to unload the majority of its 73 superstores overseas.
This sale includes all 41 Borders superstores in the United Kingdom, one Borders superstore in Ireland, and all 28 Books etc. stores in the U.K. Risk Capital Partners set up a subsidiary company, Bookshop Acquisitions Ltd., to make the purchase. Reuters said, "Borders will receive an equity interest of about 17 percent in the new company."
TMC Net reports Borders "will incur a non-cash, after-tax loss for the sale of about $115 million (81.8 million). The loss will be recorded in the third quarter."
"Another private equity firm, Pacific Equity Partners, has bid for Borders' Australian and New Zealand stores in a deal expected to be worth more than A$100 million ($87 million), a source familiar with the situation told Reuters earlier this week."
Borders is implementing its plans. It will be interesting to see the outcome.
Monday, September 24, 2007
My friend, Sloane Taylor, is doing a week-long interview with me on her blog.
You can read the interview here.
Sloane recently started writing for a new publisher--Eternal Press. Take a look at the gorgeous covers for her newest books on the right side of her blog.
However, after responding to David in the comments, I went to check the Capitol Steps' website. They post a new audio each week, playing off a story in the news.
If you want to start (or finish) your day with a laugh, visit here and click on the Capitol Steps version of American Pie.
I deliberately didn't pack my suitcase last night. Instead, I hung all the clothes I would be taking with me in the hall bathroom so the sight of my luggage wouldn't alarm either Bob or Dinah, my two younger cats. I wasn't too worried about Dinah because she's only been boarded once--six months ago. I didn't think she'd have made the association between my suitcase and her being stuffed into a carrier and dumped at the kennel. I KNEW Bob would immediately recognize the danger signal luggage posed.
My schedule called for us to leave at 8:30 AM to give me time to drop them off at the kennel in Dallas and get to D/FW Airport before the 10:30 boarding. That meant putting the cats in their carriers at 7:30 so I would still have time to pack my bag.
Bob was a sitting duck because of his habit of following me around all the time. I just walked out to the garage, waited for him to step into the garage and then I shut the door to the house. While he was sniffing around the Christmas decorations, I got his carrier off the shelf. I scooped him up, dropped him in it and locked the case. After opening the overhead door, I carried the carrier out to the driveway and set it down next to my car.
I returned to the house, figuring the major part of the job was done. It was only 7:40, leaving me plenty of time.
More fool me. Dinah was nowhere to be seen. I don't know how she figured it out. Bob had been so startled, he didn't make a sound.
I called to Dinah. No response.
I walked through the house, checking her favorite spots. No Dinah. The little witch was hiding. And since I've been singularly unsuccessful in keeping a collar on her (the score is now Dinah-9 Maya-zip), I didn't even have the benefit of a bell to help me find her.
I searched until 8:00 when I had to stop to pack. I'm a very efficient packer, and was done by 8:15. Still no Dinah. I now had fifteen minutes to either set up a litter box and enough water and food so that she could stay alone in the house for four days or figure out how to find her.
I took a gamble and opened the front door about one inch. I walked down the entry hall to the den and opened the pocket door between the breakfast room and the dining room. I circled around to the front door through the dining room.
Sure enough, there was Dinah trying to move the heavy door with her paw. Since I'd replaced the hollow door with a solid one when I moved in, there was no way a seven-pound cat was going to budge it. I slipped up behind her. She looked over her shoulder, and I asked, "Do you want to go out?"
The poor trusting little soul stayed in place, I scooped her up and carried her to the carrier.
I made my flight, but there was a problem on the tarmac at Reagan Airport. We were kept on the plane until nearly 4:00 PM.
I'm too tired to write a more coherent post. I promise I'll do better tomorrow.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
In eight days, on the first Monday in October, the Supreme Court of the United States will convene its new term. It will be the third term under Chief Justice John Roberts.
I don't care if you are Republican or Democrat. You need to be aware that the most important decision you will make for the future of our nation will take place in a voting booth a year from now. Whatever president you elect will probably be responsible for appointing at least one, more likely two, and possibly as many as four justices to the Supreme Court. Those appointments will dictate the shape and flavor of the Court for the next thirty years.
With the departures of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor in 2005, and the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, the moderate court began moving in a much more conservative direction. Roberts and Alito are 52 and 57 respectively.
Take a look at what you see around you. Do you want the kind of decisions that have been made under the Bush administration to continue--or grow even more extreme under a more conservative court?
I am a lifelong Republican, the first on both sides of my very Irish/Italian family, but I will not support a Republican for the White House in the next election for this reason alone.
I believe the Bush administration has trampled on the Constitution. The failure of my party to safeguard the rights of its citizens (rendition, torture and illegal wiretaps) is sufficient cause for me to vote against them in the forthcoming election.
As you consider who to vote for next year, please pay attention to the decisions coming out of the Supreme Court in this upcoming term.
End of political rant. We'll get back to regular programming tomorrow.
Last year, I told you about The Capitol Steps, a comedy troupe out of Washington. They are equal opportunity satirists of Republicans and Democrats. Below is their take on the Supreme Court. This was filmed two years ago so it is slightly dated, but it makes my point.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I dropped Tribble off at the vet first thing this morning.
My vet does not normally do boarding, but when I explained that the kennel refused to take the twenty-two-year-old calico Manx (see that sad little story here), Timm agreed to cover for me.
Although I've been daily telling Trib, "If you see the light, go toward it, sweetie," I found myself cuddling her this morning saying "Hey, don't pick now to throw off this mortal coil, okay? Wait till I get back."
For most of the day, I ran around like a chicken whose head had just been whomped off. Around 2:30 this afternoon, I took a break to go see Eastern Promises. I was pretty sure this movie's violence would disturb my usual movie-going friends, and I didn't want my viewing of it tainted by squeamish companions and their complaints.
Eastern Promises is another collaboration between director David Cronenberg and actor Viggo Mortensen. Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote about their earlier film together, A History of Violence, here. That movie was one of my picks for the ten best films of 2005.
Boy, was I right about the violence. In the first five minutes of the film, a guy gets his throat cut (up close and personal) and a fourteen-year-old hemorrhages in a London drugstore. Cronenberg explores familiar territory: the psyche of violent men engaged in illegal business. This time, instead of the American Mafia, he turns his cinematic eye on the Vory V Zakone, the Russian mob, in London.
Viggo Mortensen's Nordic background makes him perfect for the role of the mysterious Russian-born driver Nikolai Luzhin. His high, sharp cheekbones practically scream Slav. With his hair lightened and slicked back, he is the very picture of menace (not to mention sex on a stick). His body is covered with Russian prison tattoos.
Nikolai works for Kirill, the son of brutal mob boss Semyon. A thread of homoeroticism runs through the men's relationship. Kirill obviously hero worships Nikolai, whom he calls The Undertaker.
Naomi Watts is Anna Khitrova, a London midwife of Russian descent. Tatiana, the pregnant fourteen-year-old, ends up dying in the emergency room of the hospital in which Anna works. The midwife, who recently lost a child of her own, becomes determined to find Tatiana's family to prevent the newborn from ending up in the State's care. She brings the teen's diary written in Russian home to her uncle to translate. When she finds a card for the posh Trans-Siberian restaurant in the diary, she pays the place a visit, bringing herself and the diary to the attention of Semyon.
Probably the scene that will be most discussed takes place in a public bath where Nikolai--stark naked--fights off an attack by two Russian killers. The shock of Viggo's full frontal nudity is diminished by amazement at the violent dance the three men share. As I drove home thinking about it, the only scene I could compare it to for the impression it made on me was the choreography of the fights in West Side Story.
I just went to Wikipedia to check on Walter Kerr's famous review of West Side Story, which I was certain would be described there. Sure enough, here's what Wikipedia has to say:
The creators' innovations in dance, music and theatrical style resulted in strong reactions from the critics. Walter Kerr wrote in the New York Herald Tribune on September 27, 1957: “The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning. Director, choreographer, and idea-man Jerome Robbins has put together, and then blasted apart, the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we've been exposed to in a dozen seasons."
I think the fight scene in Eastern Promises will be remembered in the same way.
Of course, the other film that invites comparison to Eastern Promises is The Godfather. I wonder if The Godfather had been filmed today instead of in 1972, how it would be different. I also wonder whether David Cronenberg will return to direct a sequel to Eastern Promises. I believe it is entirely possible that this story could spin off a II or even a III in the same way that The Godfather did.
Be forewarned: This is NOT a film for weak stomachs. I rarely turn away from the screen, but found myself shutting my eyes to block out some of the more violent images.
I need more time to decide how I feel about this film. I often say that I think the purpose of fiction is to evoke emotion. Eastern Promises certainly evoked emotion in me. However, I think it will take a second viewing before I know how I feel about entire experience.
Here's the trailer for the film, which is still in limited release.
Friday, September 21, 2007
If you've read Bad Girl, liked it and are feeling generous, do me a favor. Go here and leave a review. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.
We're rapidly approaching the fiftieth anniversary of another of the very influential books from last century, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Before we continue, I have a confession to make. There are two books that I have started to read more than a dozen times without success: one is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and the other is Atlas Shrugged.
Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize, Dunces just aggravates me, but Atlas Shrugged disturbs me.
The interesting thing about this is that Rand's earlier book, The Fountainhead, is one of my all-time favorites. Its independent-minded hero, architect Howard Roark, struck a chord with me.
In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark designs and builds projects according to his own vision, refusing to compromise. Critics condemn his buildings for not including traditional values and styles. Other architects recognize his brilliance, but feel threatened by his independent thinking.
When the Cortland public housing project comes up for bid, Peter Keating, another architect, asks Roark for help in designing a competitive bid. Roark agrees with the caveat that the project will be built exactly according to his specifications and that he will remain anonymous.
Keating accepts Roark's terms and, with Roark's blueprints, wins the contract. Roark leaves town and the desperate Keating caves in to demands that he change the design. When Roark returns and sees the bastardized Cortland, he dynamites it and then turns himself in to the police. He is arrested and put on trial for destroying a housing project that would have benefited many.
I'm attaching a video clip from the 1949 film with Gary Cooper playing Roark, defending himself at his trial (and Patricia Neal playing the woman he loves, who is married to Peter Keating). The scene is almost six minutes long--written by Rand herself who demanded that it be filmed exactly as she'd written it. The director, King Vidor, agreed to do so, but then shortened it in the filming. True to her values, Rand went to the studio head and demanded the scene be filmed exactly as written. She won. Here's the speech.
By the way, Angelina Jolie has signed on to film Atlas Shrugged in 2008. The rest of the cast has not yet been named according to www.imdb.com although rumor has it that Brad Pitt will play opposite her. The two are supposed to think very highly of the novel.
I WANTED to read and love Atlas Shrugged. However, the independence that appealed to me in The Fountainhead (released in 1943) turned into something else in Atlas Shrugged (released in 1957). By then, Rand had named her philosophy "Objectivism" and Atlas Shrugged fully embodies that belief system.
If you visit the Ayn Rand Institute website here, you'll find the four pillars of her Objectivism philosophy:
Metaphysics: Objective Reality--Things are what they are. The only role of perception is that man must learn to see things for what they are and not try to interpret or create a new reality. Rand rejects any form of supernatural belief, including religion.
Epistemology: Reason--Reason is man's only means to knowledge. "Objectivism rejects any form of determinism, the belief that man is a victim of forces beyond his control (such as God, fate, upbringing, genes, or economic conditions)."
Ethics: Self-interest--"Man...must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life." Thus Objectivism rejects any form of altruism..."
Politics: Capitalism--"Capitalism is a system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which the only function of the government is to protect individual rights"...Thus Objectivism rejects any form of collectivism, such as fascism or socialism. It also rejects the current "mixed economy" notion that the government should regulate the economy and redistribute wealth.
I'm drawn to Rand's arguments--to a point. I agree that man should take responsibility for his own actions--and his own happiness. I have very little patience for those who blame others for their actions. However, I do believe forces outside of man can shape who he is. I also believe that we can rise above those forces if we have the will to do so.
While I believe religion can be twisted in terrible ways, I believe in God.
I also object to Rand's rejection of all forms of altruism--individual or governmental. Every time I try to read Atlas Shrugged, her emphasis on individual self-interest loses me.
Saturday's New York Times had a lengthy article on Atlas Shrugged and its debut fifty years ago:
The book was released to terrible reviews. Critics faulted its length, its philosophy and its literary ambitions. Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of “greed is good.” Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out.
The author of the article interviewed Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers, and concluded:
Rand had a reputation for living for her own interest. She is said to have seduced her most serious reader, Nathaniel Branden, when he was 24 or 25 and she was at least 50. Each was married to someone else. In fact, Mr. Britting confirmed, they called their spouses to a meeting at which the pair announced their intention to make the mentor-protégé relationship a sexual one. “She wasn’t a nice person,” said Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. “But what a gift she’s given us.”
It's my failure to recognize her philosophy as a gift that prevents me from reading Atlas Shrugged all the way to the end. I'll leave it to you to decide how much of a gift Objectivism is.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I chose not to write about it at the time because I figured the whole story would come out shortly.
Sure enough, London's Guardian did a lengthy piece on the case on Sunday.
Like many tragedies, the story started with an unhappy marriage. In 1999, after three years of marriage, Krystian Bala and his wife, Stanislawa, separated. The couple had one son, Kaspar. By 2000, Stanislawa had begun dating an advertising company director named Dariusz Janiszewski. In early November, Janiszewski went missing.
Four weeks later, fishermen on the banks of the River Odra in Wroclaw, Poland found:
[t]he bloated, semi-naked body of Janiszewski . . . The corpse bore livid bruises from repeated beatings and a series of knife wounds. Over the subsequent days, the police pathologist would find that Janiszewski had been denied food and water for three days before his death.
The first police officers on the scene were struck by the strange way the victim had been tied up: his feet had been bound together, bent backwards and attached to a noose around his neck with a single piece of rope. Trussed up like a human's cat's cradle, Dariusz Janiszewski would have strangled himself had he flexed his legs too suddenly. No one knows whether he suffocated in this way before being thrown in the Odra or whether he drowned there.
No leads turned up, and the first police investigation stalled in May 2001. A year later in 2002, a cold case review indicated that Janiszewski's mobile phone had never been found.
The police tracked the SIM card from the cell phone through the service provider. The phone had been purchased in an Internet auction three days after Janiszewski disappeared, but weeks before the body was found.
The phone had been sold by Krystian Bala, using the username "ChrisB7." The police traced ChrisB7 to his blog where they found "a series of demented personal ramblings that would, three years later, be published as Amok," Bala's novel.
"Bala was arrested one mild evening in September 2005 . . . Although he denied ever meeting the murder victim, a search of his bedroom revealed a stash of computer files containing information on Janiszewski and a pen bearing the logo of Janiszewski's advertising firm, Investor. A telephone card recovered in the search was later shown to have been used on the day of Janiszewski's disappearance to make calls to the victim's mother and his place of work. The same card had registered calls to Bala's family and friends."
According to the Associated Press, "[i]n 2003, a Polish TV show on unsolved crimes broadcast a segment on Janiszewski's murder. Soon after the clip aired, the program's Web site dedicated to the case received hits from computers in Singapore, South Korea and Japan. Prosecutors say Bala was visiting those countries on the dates of the Web site hits."
The evidence was all circumstantial. But the most dramatic piece of evidence against Bala was his novel published in 2003. In the book, a man named Chris ties a woman up by binding her hands behind her back and then using the same rope to create a noose around her neck. Chris stabbed her with a Japanese-made knife. He later sold the knife on the same Internet site that Bala had used to sell the mobile phone.
During his trial, Bala was diagnosed as a narcissist. Testimony from people who knew him described him as a compulsive liar and aggressive drunk who was very jealous. His name was placed on a police register for domestic violence during his marriage to Stanislawa.
"When the couple eventually separated in 1999, Bala became obsessed with tracking his wife's new partners, sending her abusive emails and text messages. At a New Year's Eve party the same year, Bala verbally threatened a barman he thought had been flirting with Stanislawa. Two witnesses heard Bala warn him off with the words: 'I've already taken out a guy like you with a rope'."
On September 5, Bala was found guilty by a Polish court.
Beyond her balcony, Uptown was coming alive for the night. If she leaned over, she could look down and see people drifting in and out of boutiques, eating at outdoor cafes or standing in line for tickets at the art house movie down the block.
Her sixth-floor condo, north of downtown Dallas, was in the shadow of the skyscrapers that dominated the north Texas sky.
Sandy focused on the apartments directly across from hers, checking to see if any of her regulars were home yet.
Yes, there were Mr. and Mrs. Kinky, the young couple on the fifth floor. They were in their kitchen preparing dinner. Knowing them, dinner would be part of the evening’s foreplay.
Her spying on neighbors had begun accidentally a few months earlier but, during that time, she’d become attached to many of the people who lived across the street. In a curious sort of way, she felt like their guardian, keeping an eye on them. She’d even intervened once by calling the police when she’d thought someone was in danger. Of course, she’d called in the report from a pay phone down the street.
More tenants returned home and switched on their lamps. The flat face of the building across the street resembled a checkerboard with alternating squares of light and dark. She slowly rotated the body of the telescope, trying to find activity. Mrs. Blue Hair, the elderly woman on the fourth floor had been sick lately. Sandy was glad to see she was feeling well enough to host her Friday night bridge group.
The ringing of her telephone distracted Sandy from the scene across the street. For the space of another ring, she debated whether to answer it. If it were her mother, a non-response would start a cycle of calls every twenty minutes until Sandy picked up. Better get it over with now.
She rushed toward the living room, brushing past the closed drapes, and picked up the phone on the fourth ring–right before the answering machine kicked in.
“Hello,” she said breathlessly.
“You’ve been a bad girl, Alexandra Davis,” a male voice greeted her.
“Who’s this?” she demanded. It had to be one of her brothers or a friend.
“This is Justice.” He paused, and Sandy tried to decide if the caller was her older brother, Matt.
“You’ve been spying on your neighbors. How do you think they’d feel if they knew?”
Sandy’s heart stuttered. No! This couldn’t be happening. No one could have seen her. She’d been too careful.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied in her coldest voice. “I’m going to hang up. If you call me again, I’ll report you to the police.” She slammed the receiver down.
OhgodOhgodOhgod! She bit her lip and stared at the phone. What if someone had seen her? Maybe someone knew. Reality came crashing down. If this came out, she could be arrested. She’d lose her job. No agency could have a sex offender employed as a social worker, going into homes with families. And her mother! Oh, dear heaven, what would her mother say?
Sandy forced her mind to function through the mounting panic. First, she needed to get the telescope off the balcony. She needed to sit down and think this through . . .
The phone started to ring again. Sandy stared at it like a field mouse cowering before a snake. She made no move to pick it up. It rang a second . . . a third . . . and, finally . . . a fourth time.
The answering machine kicked in, and Sandy heard the male voice from before. “It’s no good, Alexandra. You can’t hide from Justice. If you don’t believe me, go check outside your door. I’ll wait.”
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I'll be taking a laptop with me, but don't yet know if I'll have either the time or the inclination to post in my absence.
I have a few posts saved that I may use during the time I'm gone.
I've been looking for books to bring along. I'll need three: one for the flight north, one for the flight home and one to read in bed before going to sleep. Here's the short list of possibilities along with the reasons they appeal:
Dexter in the Dark by Jeff Lindsay
This is the third adventure of Dexter: by day, a blood spatter specialist with the Miami Police Department and, by night, a serial killer.
A Deeper Sleep by Dana Stabenow
This is the 15th of the Kate Shugak mysteries set in Alaska. I've had a soft spot for Alaska ever since I turned down a potential job from the psychiatrist who ran the state's mental health services years ago.
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin
I've read Toobin's earlier books. I like his style and his insights.
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
I have several volumes of Quindlen's columns from the New York Times and dearly loved her novel One True Thing about a family dealing with the imminent death of the mother from cancer.
Luggage space considerations will probably mean that The Nine gets left behind, but I won't know for sure until I close my suitcase on Sunday morning.
Shelley and I met as part of the group that founded Passionate Ink, the RWA chapter for erotic romance. Then we discovered we were both members of the same RWA local chapter here in Texas. She has offered me lots of tips and hints along the way.
Shelley has posted an interview with me this morning on her blog. You can read it here.
Shelley has a new book coming out next month. I can't wait. She's promised to come talk to us when it is released.
If you're a writer and you're not crazy . . . just wait . . . it's only a matter of time.
First of all, it's not quite normal to lock yourself up in a room with a computer to play with imaginary people all day.
And, then, when you finally finish a manuscript, what do you do? You mail bits and pieces of it off to strangers. How weird is that?
Every afternoon at 1:45, I used to drift down toward my mailbox. Oh, I pretended to be pulling the stray weed or pinching the extraneous buds off my rose bushes, but what I was really doing was waiting for the mailman with his daily stack of rejection letters.
In fact, the first time I got a request for a partial, I didn't open it for more than 24 hours. I'd opened two other rejections and just wasn't in the mood for a third. When I did open the letter the following day, I glanced at it and did a double take.
And then, of course, after you sign with an agent, there's this period during which you're trying to be so cool. You drop an email or call just to chat . . . hoping there'll be some news.
Finally the day comes when you have a contract with a publisher. Now you begin working with an editor. And mostly it's wonderful. Really, really wonderful. Except for the couple of days when it's not. And you're trying to be a good, cooperative author but . . . you really did like the old title and . . . what's wrong with the protagonist's occupation anyway?
At any rate, this Mitchell and Webb video made me laugh out loud. Thanks to Kristin Nelson of Pub Rants for showcasing it on her website here.
I hope you'll find it as funny as I did.
And I really do love both my agent and editor. I don't know what I'd do without them.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I explained that Michael had entered a bluegrass flat picking competition in Houston. That contest, "Fire on the Strings," was intended to select the representative who would go from Texas to the National Flat Pick Championship in Kansas. Michael came in second but, because the winner had already secured one of the forty slots to the national championship, that man offered his new slot to Michael.
This past weekend, Michael traveled with his mother and grandmother to Kansas to participate in the Nationals, which took place on Saturday.
Michael is the son of my friend, Julie, and unusual in many respects. First, he's biracial; Julie is Anglo and his father, Charles, is African American.
Michael was the only African-American contestant in the competition.
Michael's cultural heritage is as mixed as his race. His mother comes from Kentucky where her entire family is engaged in musical pursuits of one sort or another. His father, Charles, in addition to teaching high school, owns his own framing shop. Because they are devotedly Christian, the shop is called Inspiration.
Julie tells the story that, when Michael was about five months old and wandering around in a walker, her older brother was visiting. He was sitting on the couch with a guitar across his knees. He started tuning the guitar, and Michael, who had been engaged in watching his cousins, came flying across the room. He sat in front
of his uncle and stared fixedly as the man tuned the guitar. Julie dates Michael's becoming a musician from that moment.
Michael's uncle gave him a ukulele when he was two and a mandolin when he was five. When Michael was six, he appeared on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and won a couple of hundred dollars in a competition for children.
Despite the fact that Michael identifies himself as African-American, he shows no interest in the music his peers play. His entire focus since early childhood has been bluegrass.
Michael was the only African-American in the competition. It didn't faze him.
I'm thrilled to report that fifteen-year-old Michael won fourth place in a field of forty of the top bluegrass musicians in the country! He beat out the man who had won the Texas competition in which Michael came in second.
Remember the name Michael Richardson. I promise you'll hear it again. This kid hasn't even begun to scratch the surface of his potential.
To celebrate, I'll send an autographed copy of Bad Girl to the first three people who add a comment to this post. After you add the comment, send me your mailing address offline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maria asked a great question, one that I haven't been asked in all the interviews I've been doing:
Other than the degree of heat, is there anything else that differentiates erotic romance from regular romance?
Most people just assume that an erotic romance is simply much more graphic than a regular romance. While that is true, there is a deeper difference.
Angela Knight, who has been writing erotic romance much longer than I have, said something in a class I took with her that has really impacted the way I approach my stories.
Almost everyone is familiar with a run-of-the-mill romance where the tension comes from wondering when (and if) the hero and heroine will make love. That sexual tension drives the story forward.
In erotic romance, the question of whether the couple will make love is answered early.
Instead, the tension in erotic romance is romantic rather than sexual. Will the hero and heroine end up together? Will they have a happily-ever-after?
It seems counter-intuitive that regular romance would be driven by sexual tension while erotic romance would be driven by romantic tension, but I think Angela got it right.
In the moments when my characters are the most intimate sexually, they open themselves up to each other emotionally and intellectually. That's the time when secrets are shared. When fears are revealed.
And isn't that true of all of us? When we are the most intimate, we are the most vulnerable . . . and the most open to new possibilities or change.
If a sex scene is all about inserting Tab A into Slot B, you've missed the point. Then you're writing only to titillate, and that's porn.
Understand . . . porn has its place. However, you can't write porn and market it as erotic romance.
Some of you may remember I said recently that I believe the purpose of fiction is to evoke emotion. One of the reasons I enjoy writing erotic romance is because of the rich palette of emotional colors available to me as a writer.
When a character accustomed to control gives up that control during lovemaking, it's not necessary for the writer to "tell" the reader that the character trusts the partner; the writer is "showing" that trust.
When one partner agrees to try something new to please another character, the writer doesn't need to "tell" the reader that partner cares; the writer is "showing" that care.
Writing classes teach us that EVERY scene should further the plot. This is as true of sex scenes as it is of any other scene. Sometimes when I am critiquing a manuscript, I come across a love scene and wonder what it's doing there. If I ask the writer, occasionally I'll be told, "I thought it was time for a sex scene."
Hello??? Time for a sex scene? If the scene does not reveal information or further the plot in some way, it has NO business being there. Sex scenes are no different than any other scene. They must earn their right to take up space in the manuscript.
If you are just sprinkling sex through your manuscript, don't be surprised if the story doesn't sell.
I got a lovely compliment this weekend from a fan who wrote:
You really got in my head. I was actually feeling the emotions that were being exposed. It was almost like I felt like I should not be reading this or enjoying this, but I gave into it. I know that may sound a little off, but I don't know how else to describe it.
She did a great job of describing it. She felt the emotions the characters were experiencing.
THAT's the writer's real job.
Monday, September 17, 2007
"Bookstore sales in July were $1.189 billion, up 7.3% from $1.108 billion in sales in July 2006, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The July results reverse many months of negative comparisons for bookstore sales. For the year to date, bookstore sales have been $8.518 billion, down 3.1% from $8.794 billion in the first seven months of 2006."
To compare total retail sales with those bookstore sales, July's retail sales were $339.2 billion, up 3.2% over July 2006. Year-to-date retail sales were $2.34 trillion, up 5.4% over the first seven months last year.
As always, the bookstore figures do not include used books, consumers who are Internet shopping from home, bookclub sales or mail order sales.
Maria Zannini, a great writer and member of the Writers Guild of Texas, posted an interview with me this morning on her blog here.
I received several very nice emails from people who had read the book. One that stood out was from a new fan in North Carolina who picked up Bad Girl on impulse in Barnes & Noble Saturday night. She said something guaranteed to make any writer melt: "I am so glad I bought it. I could not put this book down! I was up until 4 reading and had to force myself to go to bed so I would not be late for work." She also did me the favor of posting a review on Amazon, which I GREATLY appreciated. Thanks, Lauren!
The icing on the cake was when I went to Amazon to check on my sales rankings. I discovered they only have two copies of Bad Girl left in stock and are ordering more.
Oh, frabjous day!
Yesterday, I saw The Brave One during a late evening showing. I'd turned down an invitation to see it Friday because it just didn't appeal to me. Then, last night, my manuscript was being recalcitrant, and I decided to give up the fight. Eastern Promises is only playing in Dallas right now, which was too far to go before the last showing so The Brave One won by default.
The plot of the film is straightforward if the emotional roadmap is not. Erica Bain lives with her fiancee David in New York, and they are planning their wedding. When walking their dog in Central Park one night, they are attacked by three muggers. David is killed, the dog is stolen and Erica ends up in a three-week coma.
The film does a great job of showing Erica's painful adjustment to life after the mugging. She had loved the city before she was attacked. Her job as a radio jock was one long song of praise for the streets and buildings she knew so well and wandered at will.
After the mugging--she is afraid of the city she once loved. She has trouble stepping outside of her apartment. The moment when she tries to go back on the air is so painful, you can't help but wince. Her interactions with police officers who mouth banal formulas like "I'm sorry for your loss," before delivering devastating news help the viewer to understand just how alone she really is.
I was in a serious automobile accident some years ago and was lucky to survive. Every night thereafter, falling asleep meant a recurring nightmare in which I relived the spinning of my car across several lanes of traffic after it was slammed by another vehicle. Each time the car came out of its spin, I saw the wall I hit head-on rising up in front of my windshield. Every single night I woke screaming.
Like Erica, I tried pills, but abandoned them after only three days. I opted to just tough it out. That period was the first time I ever took a bus in Dallas. I swore I would never drive again. Gradually the nightmares decreased to every other night and then once a week and finally every few months until they just disappeared. When the dreams faded, I took the insurance check and my courage in hand and purchased a new car.
Erica tries nicotine, pills and finally resorts to buying a gun illegally. The only false step in the film for me is how that pistol immediately provides her not only with the courage to go back out on the streets, but to return to roaming the streets at night. I found myself doubting it.
A chance encounter in a corner market at night changes Erica from victim to vigilante. Now she's actively seeking opportunities for vengeance by striking back at those who victimize the innocent.
She begins a cautious friendship with the cop hunting "The Subway Vigilante." Terence Howard is terrific as the detective who gradually realizes he may know the identify of the killer he is hunting.
The film wanders back and forth across the narrow line separating justice and vengeance. Unlike most vigilante films, it doesn't glorify violence. You feel Erica's pain as she tries to find the person she once was and finally has to accept that woman is gone forever. At the same time when she finally gets to speak the line, "I want my dog back," you can't help but feel a sense of righteousness.
The film was much better than I initially expected although I found the ending a bit too tidy. With people other than Foster and Howard and director Neil Jordan (who did The Crying Game), I suspect it would not have been anywhere near as well done.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
A rejection slip is an important step on the way to publication because it means that the writer has finally developed the confidence to cast his bread upon the waters.
Last week, the New York Times printed a very interesting article titled "No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov."
After the death of Alfred A. Knopf, founder of the publishing house of the same name, his papers and the early records of his publishing house (1873 to 1996) were archived in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin. The 1526 boxes plus art work, film, galleys, realia, and video provide a fascinating insight into the workings of a publishing house.
The New York Times article focussed on the rejections by Knopf of books that went on to become best sellers at other publishing houses. Among the books Knopf, his wife and their editor-in-chief Harold Strauss turned away were Anne Frank's diary, Pearl Buck's The Good Earth and Nabokov's Lolita.
The final arbiters were Alfred A. Knopf, his wife Blanche Knopf (who took over as company president in 1957) and their editor in chief, Harold Strauss. After a manuscript was judged to be wrong for the list — a process that included input from numerous people — a rejection letter would follow, often written by the publisher himself.
Writers today frequently bemoan the impersonal nature of rejection letters. Reading some of the personal letters written by Knopf, I think I'd have been happier with a form letter. Here's one example of a letter Knopf sent to "a prominent Columbia University historian":
This time there’s no point in trying to be kind . . . Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don’t think it’s worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff.
Read the entire article here.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I first wrote about Frey in January 2006 here. I did another piece about a year ago here.
You remember Frey. He wrote a "memoir" called A Million Little Pieces published by Random House in 2003. Two years later, in October 2005, Oprah recommended the book, sending it straight to the top of the best-seller list.
There was only one problem. Significant portions of the book were simply not true. Angry readers sued. One reader in particular--Oprah--took a strip out of Frey's hide in public on her show. While I couldn't find a video of the show itself, I did find this Daily Show clip.
In settlement of the lawsuits, Frey and Random House agreed to pay $2.35 million to consumers, to pay the lawyers' fees for both sides and to make a donation to charity.
According to the Associated Press, Riverhead Books (a division of Penguin) dropped Frey's two-book contract after he admitted "extensive falsifications in a second memoir, My Friend Leonard, published by Riverhead ..."
I find it really interesting that Frey is now being published by a THIRD of the big six or seven publishing houses.
I'll be waiting to see what happens next.
At the time I posted that first entry, I had just finished writing Bad Girl and shipped it off to Ellora's Cave, where Raelene Gorlinsky had requested the full manuscript. I was still querying agents. It would be another three months before I signed with Jacky Sach.
In a three-month period, I'd had three contest notifications with three different manuscripts. I'd won first place in the Romance Junkies contest, second place in the Just Romantic Reviews contest and had been named one of three finalists in the On the Far Side contest (I was later notified of a second place win).
It seemed the right time to start an online presence.
According to Blogger, this is the 935th post to this site, and we're rapidly closing in on 50,000 visitors.
I just wanted to mark the beginning of the third year with a post saying "thank you." Thanks for stopping by, thanks for your patience as I've tried to figure out what to do with this blog and thanks for your continued good will.
Friday, September 14, 2007
While you're there, be sure to explore Colleen's site. She is a very talented artist with a wonderful sense of humor--just read her post yesterday titled "Nuggets of Gold" to see what I mean.
In 2005, I took a class almost every month and, in 2006, I took a class at least every other month. I'm sorry to admit that I haven't taken a class this year. It's just been too busy.
Here are a list of my favorite sites for online classes:
1) Kiss of Death: this is the RWA online chapter for mysteries. You can find it here. The website's special effects are annoying, but they offer two classes every month: Murder One on the technical aspects of murder and mayhem (see schedule here) and Killer Instincts on writing craft topics (see schedule here). You do not have to be a RWA member to take a class although KOD members get a discount.
2) Lowcountry RWA: this is the South Carolina RWA chapter. They often have classes that I find interesting. Their class schedule is here. Again, you don't need to be a member of RWA to take the class, and the subjects apply to all writers, not just romance writers.
3) WriterU: The Writers' University has great classes. I especially have enjoyed the classes taught by Mary Buckham. You can find WriterU here.
4) Outreach International Romance Writers: Another online chapter of RWA. You can see the schedule for the rest of the year here. By the way, I'll be teaching a class there this December on developing a business plan.
Online classes are a great way to keep focussed on your writing or to re-energize yourself when you're in a slump. I also enjoy hearing other writers share their tricks of the trade.
Hope you'll find these links helpful.
I'm so blessed. My friends and loved ones have been so supportive over the last couple of weeks. I've had photos of my book sent to me from bookstore shelves around the country.
Tonight, my good friend Cherrie sent one. Since I hadn't posted a photo yet, I decided to upload hers. The best thing was that she said this Barnes & Noble only had one copy of my book left. I believe B&N has four copies in each store.
Thanks, Cherrie, and thanks to everyone who forwarded photos and good wishes.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
E-book publishing took a big step toward format standardization and device interoperability after members of the International Digital Publishing Forum [IDPF] voted overwhelmingly to accept the Open Publication Structure 2.0 [OPS 2.0] e-book specification as an official industry standard.
The OPS 2.0 standardization allows the creation of one digital book file instead of the six to ten formats now out there. One file means lower costs and greater flexibility.
It remains to be seen whether all the IDPF members will decide to adopt the standards themselves. These would include Adobe, Sony, and Amazon (which owns Mobipocket).
Nick Bogaty, executive director of IDPF, said, "Publishers are starting to do their conversions and technology companies are implementing the standard into their software...I encourage our community to continue to promote .epub. Doing so will significantly grow our industry."
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I had a minor emergency involving the need for a RN/LVN, a patient waiting for an IV line and an hysterical researcher last night. By the time I sorted it all out, I came home and tumbled into bed. You'll have to wait until tonight for a longer post.
I will say I'm looking forward to two things: (1) the opening of Eastern Promises, the new Naomi Watts/Viggo Mortensen film this weekend and (2) the release of Dexter in the Dark, the third in the Dexter book series by Jeff Lindsay, next week.
I have to go to Bethesda for my semi-annual trek in less than two weeks. I'm planning on taking the new Dexter with me to read on the plane.
I resisted reading the two earlier Dexter books despite urging from Miss Snark. When I finally gave in, I yielded in a big way. See my earlier posts here and here.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
We spent a lot of time discussing writing in the abstract, something I rarely do.
In the course of the discussion, I found myself talking about genre fiction. I said something I don't believe I've ever said here on this blog.
The purpose of all fiction is to evoke emotion in the reader. One of the things that differentiates one genre from another is the specific emotion the reader expects to experience. For instance, horror evokes terror, mysteries evoke curiosity, thrillers evoke excitement and romance evokes a warm, sexy feeling.
Last winter, Nathan Bransford wrote a terrific post titled "What Makes Literary Fiction Literary?" He reran it this summer here.
In that post, Nathan said, "genre novels are really about how a character interacts with the outer world. The things that happen are pretty much on the surface, and thus the reader can sit back and watch and see what happens...In literary fiction the plot usually happens beneath the surface, in the minds and hearts of the characters. Things may happen on the surface, but what is really important are the thoughts, desires, and motivations of the characters as well as the underlying social and cultural threads that act upon them."
When I first read Nathan's definition, I thought it was a very workable one. For me, recognizing literary fiction has always been akin to Justice Potter Stewart's remark about hard core pornography: "I know it when I see it."
Since then, I've realized I would add to Nathan's definition by saying that literary fiction is free of the constraints that genre fiction is under in terms of the specific emotion expected from the novel. In literary fiction, the writer is free to select any shade or hue from the emotional palette that s/he chooses.
One of the classic errors newbie writers make is focussing too much attention on details like events or descriptions and neglecting emotions. I'm not sure why this is, but I do know a novel that does not evoke emotions in me leaves me cold and unsatisfied.
Just one woman's opinion.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Some of Britain's most distinguished Shakespearean actors have reopened the debate over whether William Shakespeare, a 16th century commoner raised in an illiterate household in Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the plays that bear his name.
Acclaimed actor Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London, unveiled a "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt" on the authorship of Shakespeare's work Saturday, following the final matinee of "I am Shakespeare," a play investigating the bard's identity...
This is, of course, a question that has been asked for hundreds of years. I wasn't as interested in the debate over Shakespeare as I was in the mention of Derek Jacobi, an actor for whom I have enormous respect. In 1976, Jacobi played the title role in the 13-part BBC mini-series I, Claudius. The trailer described the series as the story of the family that put "nasty" into "dynasty," which was a very apt description. The episodes contained murder (including patricide), betrayal, infidelity, lust, incest, and--above all--a constant struggle for power.
It has now been thirty years since I, Claudius was released in the U.S.
I, Claudius is the story of Rome's Imperial family over a 77-year period as seen through the eyes of the oldest survivor. Claudius was the grandson of Livia, wife of Augustus Caesar. Although physically disabled (he limped and had a stammer), he was a brilliant man, offended by the excesses of the Imperial family. He hid in plain sight by playing the part of a half-wit. In the end, after surviving the reigns of his step grandfather Augustus, his uncle Tiberius and his nephew Caligula, Claudius himself becomes emperor.
My favorite speech by Claudius is delivered in a stammer to the Senators who question his ability to speak or hear--much less rule. In response to the rumors, Claudius says:
Senators, it is true that I am hard of hearing, but you will find it is not for want of listening.
As for speaking, again, it's true I have an impediment. But isn't what a man says more important than how long he takes to say it?
It's true again I have little experience of government. But then, have you more? I at least have lived with the imperial family who has ruled this empire ever since you so spinelessly handed it over to us. I've observed it working more closely than any of you. Is your experience better than that?
As for being half-witted, well, what can I say? Except that I have survived to middle age with *half* my wits, while thousands have died with *all* of theirs intact. Evidently, *quality* of wits is more important than *quantity*.
In 2002, for the twenty-fifth anniversary of I, Claudius, the BBC released a documentary titled I, Claudius: A Television Epic. YouTube has that show broken into eight or ten parts on its website.
In watching the documentary, I was astounded to realize that I had never before noticed that Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame) had played the role of the traitor Sejanus.
I was particularly entranced with the first part on YouTube in which the director, Herbert Wise, talks about how the actors struggled to find their "voices" in this complex family drama. There's an excellent bit on the contrast between comedy and horror as well as the contrast between beauty and evil. Part 2 includes excerpts of Jacobi playing Claudius. I've included them both below.
If you have never seen I, Claudius, I strongly recommend it. I own the entire series and treasure it.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
However, in the meantime, there's lots going on in the world. On Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) issued a press release with an important impact for American bloggers. The FEC reiterated an earlier stand with respect to bloggers and federal election law.
Among the Internet's most popular sites are the political blogs. According to Wikipedia, "Since 2002, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping, and spinning news stories."
Among the better known political blogs is the Daily Kos here, founded by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga on May 26, 2002. Zuniga's blog took its name from his first name, Markos. According to the site's statistics here, Daily Kos averages half a million visitors a day or 3.5 million visitors a week.
Daily Kos is a collaborative blog, meaning it offers posting privileges to a number of commentators.
The Daily Kos devotes itself to Democratic causes and politicians. In last year's mid-term elections, it raised over $1.4 million dollars for seventeen candidates. That activity has not gone unnoticed by the right. On July 23, 2007, a conservative blogger by the name of John C. A. Bambenek from Champaign, Illinois sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission filing a complaint and requesting an investigation of Daily Kos and Zuniga. Bambenek's letter stated:
It is my belief that this organization operates as a political committee under section 431(4) both for making expenditures and having contributions in excess for (sic) $1,000.
Reaction to Bambenek's complaint was swift--both from Daily Kos and the rest of the blogosphere.
Adam Bonin, an attorney, announced the complaint on Daily Kos on July 24th, here, calling Bamabenek "Wanker of the Year, Blogosphere Division." Bonin pointed to an opinion letter issued on November 18, 2005 by the Chairman of the Commission with respect to another "progressive" blog. The question posed at that time was whether a political blog could qualify "as a 'press entity' exempt from federal election law." That opinion letter here included the following:
The Commission has applied a two-step analysis to determine whether the press exemption applies. First, the Commission asks whether the entity engaging in the activity is a press entity as described by the Act [Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971] and Commission regulations...Second, in determining the scope of the exception, the Commission considers: (1) whether the press entity is owned or controlled by a political party, political committee, or candidate; and (2) whether the press entity is acting as a press entity in conducting the activity at issue (i.e.whether the entity is acting in its "legitimate press function").
Another blog--Watching the Watchers--pointed out that: Although Daily Kos functions like a news site and operates independently of political candidates, parties and committees -- two criteria cited for the FEC's media exemption -- the site differs from most political blogs by aggressively raising money for specific candidates and PACs.
Even so, Eugene Volokh, professor of law at the UCLA School of Law and blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy said here: Nonetheless, the press exception as the FEC has rightly interpreted it is broad enough to cover blogs, even highly partisan blogs that aim to elect Democrats, just as it covers partisan magazines such as the National Review or the Nation.
Even conservatives scorned Bambenek's complaint. Redstate's Mike Krempasky had this to say about it: This complaint is a sorry attempt to use government institutions to silence opponents...the stunt has zero chance of success.
Volokh and Krempasky were right. On Tuesday, the FEC issued its ruling (along with a second ruling not related to this matter). It said:
The Federal Election Commission announced today that it has unanimously resolved two complaints alleging that Internet blog activity is subject to Commission regulation, finding that the activity is exempt from regulation under the media or volunteer exemption...since 1974, media activity has been explicitly exempted from federal campaign finance regulation. In March 2006, the Commission made clear that this exemption extends to online media publications...
So, once again, the integrity of freedom of speech in the blogosphere for Americans is protected.