Thursday, April 30, 2009

Do Clichés Matter?

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Stumbled across an interesting article online at the Entertainment Weekly site. With a title like "24 Rom-Com Clichés We'd Retire," how could I not explore? Although they presented good reasons for their choices, I can't say I completely agree with them. They also definitely missed some of the things that drive me nuts. Here's a rundown of their nitpicks:

Media Mavens (13 Going on 20) - Heroines with glamorous jobs in publishing? I thought that went out with the pink-cover chick lit tide. I adore chick lit, but how many jobs in magazine or book publishing are there? As many as the number of Dukes currently in Regency-set romance? How 'bout we look at some other careers, maybe?

The Last–Minute Sprint (Love, Actually) - I can't lie; I'm a sucker for the big dramatic finale. I don't have much quibble with this one.

Do You Believe in Magic? (Simply Irresistible) - Not a problem if it's understood from the get-go that this is a fantasy we're talking about (okay, more of a fantasy than your typical rom-com), but they don't always work. Amélie, absolutely. Like Water for Chocolate, not so much.

Mischievous Dogs (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) - I have less of a problem with this than the lonely-girl-with-a-cat scenario. Then again, most women I know with dogs know how to control them.

Working Girl...Needs Balance (New in Town) - Career girl with only a career to keep her warm? I remember those days. As long as she's not portrayed as a fool when she's not on the job, this one's not a biggie either.

Mr. and Mrs. Right in Front of You (Win a Date With Tad Hamilton) - This one's a little tired. At what point should you clue in? And if it takes you that long to get a clue, is the sucker who's been waiting all that time for you really the kind of wimpy doormat you want? Excepting Peter Parker, of course.

Love at First Fight (10 Things I Hate About You) - This tradition goes back to the classics, 10 Things' homage to The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, His Girl Friday, Adam's Rib, etc. Done well, it works. What's that they say about the thin line between love and hate?

Clumsy Heroines (Bridget Jones's Diary) - This can get annoying. A trip here and there is okay, but don't paint her as just this side of incompetent and expect us to identify with her.

Blooming Wallflowers (The Mirror Has Two Faces) - Blooming, okay. Suddenly becoming the town hottie because you've taken off your glasses and brushed your hair? Yeah, right. That version needs to die the death, and quickly.

The Lonely Montage (Notting Hill) - Can be effective, but only if you're careful.

Bad Influence Buddies (Knocked Up) - Okay for Judd Apatow, since he's writing for guys anyway, but I don't see much of this in the female-focused rom-coms. She'd walk if he only surrounded himself with boobs.

Ridiculous Proofs of Love (Sleepless in Seattle) - I love Sleepless, but meeting at the top of the Empire State Building when you don't live in NY? This one, I'll give them.

Easy Sex (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) - Stupid sex isn't romantic, sorry.

Schlubby Guy, Pretty Girl (Hitch) - Can the girl ever stay nerdy and get the hottie?

Bad Drivers (Annie Hall) - Any character trait that makes a heroine seem vacuous or incompetent is a no in my book.

Fake IDs (Maid in Manhattan) - Again, if he's willing to fall for you because you're wearing a great outfit and doesn't find out you're lying through your teeth about who you truly are, neither of you deserves a happy ending.

PDA (Never Been Kissed) - File this one under big dramatic finale. If it fits the story, great. If it's obviously tacked on to be a big dramatic finale moment, then it should go.

Top of the Stairs Moment (She's All That) - Love sneaks up on you, it doesn't announce itself at the ball. Pretty in Pink, I'm talkin' to you.

Eating for Two, or Three (Two Weeks Notice) - If they're going to have healthy appetites, have them be healthy sizes. Gals who wear a 12 or 14 can have hot sex and fall in love, too.

Egregious Girl Bonding (Practical Magic) - Sex and the City aside, not every group of girls meets on Thursdays to get plastered and end up vomiting on someone's--usuall Mr. Right's--shoes.

Wet Climax (Four Weddings and a Funeral) - It's not what you think. They mean rainstorm. Big dramatic finale stuff. Must fit logically with rest of story, or it's gotta go.

I've Nothing to Wear (27 Dresses) - Gratuitous costume changes? No. The scene in 27 Dresses gets a pass because it was integral to the plot. Usually the multiple costuming happens with a girlfriend who's helping you pick out the perfect first date outfit.

Singing Into Objects (P.S. I Love You) - This is just stupid. Nobody sings into an object unless they're drunk or in college. Usually drunk and in college. Make them stop.

Quirky BFF (Working Girl) - Apply what I think of as the Accidental Tourist rule. A couple of quirks are human nature. Piling them on to the point of ridiculousness (no sense of direction/won't leave the house/alphabetizing the canned goods/playing a card game no one outside the family knows the rules to meets strange clothes/strange career/weird kid with allergies) is, well, ridiculous.

Personally, I've had it up to here with cluelessness. If nearly every decision you make buys you a one-way ticket to Dumbasstown, then you're no heroine I'm going to enjoy. That, or you're Julia Roberts. She wore out her rom-com heroine card with me years ago, mostly because of the two expression acting: the flinch and nostril flare (anger and surprise) or the laugh. You know the laugh. Her pinnacle was Notting Hill, and that's the last one I need to watch, thanks.

Anything we missed?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

10 Words People Would Use to Describe You

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  1. Energetic
  2. Creative
  3. Focused
  4. Happy
  5. Goofy
  6. Smart
  7. Talented
  8. Dedicated
  9. Contrary
  10. Polite

Monday, April 27, 2009

They Built Excitement

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I'd been expecting this news all weekend, but it was still sad to read that the Pontiac division of GM will be closing as part of its restructuring. This is a little like when they shaved off Oldsmobile a couple of years ago, but closer to the bone: my first car I ever bought for myself was a Pontiac. A midnight blue 1986 Pontiac Sunbird SE 2-door coupe, to be exact. Man, was I proud of that car! The fact that it was a ginormous trade up from the first car I drove--a 1976 Chevy Caprice Classic Estate station wagon, you know, the kind with a roof rack and woody on the sides that I inherited when mom got herself a newer model--had something to do with it.

Lucky me, my grandfather was a salesman for Lipton who had a close relationship with a Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealer, so I didn't just get a first car. My first car was ordered. I got to pick out exactly what I wanted: stick shift, removable glass sunroof, vinyl seats because those damned velour ones shocked the hell out of me every time I got out of my friend Mary's Buick Regal, alloy wheels, and fat tires. Big Bill was rabid about having fat tires because of all the time he spent on the road. I noticed a huge difference between the chunky P195/65R 15s on my Pontiac and the pencil tires on most Corollas and Civics. Even today, I worry a little about skinny tires. Inga's are appropriately fat and steady, which is good, because the lead foot I developed in my zippy little Sunbird hasn't gone anywhere.

A lead foot's not the only thing I learned from my Sunbird. Tight suspension, a sense of fun, a cool dashboard (someone said once it looked like an airplane cockpit at night, with the orange backlighting), and enough power to get out of its own way. Ever since then, I've demanded that the car I drive, even if its primary task is to haul kids around, is fun to drive. Boring need not apply, which explains while I'll drive a wagon any day over a minivan. Just no zip when you step on the gas!

Alas, Pontiac's days are numbered, and in a few years we'll all have to explain just exactly why a GTO or a Firebird or even a smooth-riding Bonneville was, for a while, some real American driving excitement. RIP, Pontiac.

What about you? What do you remember from the first car you ever bought?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Year Without Shopping

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My friend Desiree is pretty much every average woman's nightmare. She's highly intelligent, has a fierce sense of honor, never gains an ounce, and is a walking clothes hanger. Literally. Desiree loves fashion and shopping.

Despite all these flaws (virtues?), she's engaging and thoughtful, so even though you could hate her, you don't. This year, Desiree has launched a project, the Year Without Shopping. She's determined to make it an entire year without shopping for new clothing.

When she told me of her goal, her question to me was whether I could go a year. Bien sur! mimi doesn't care about clothes enough to shop very often at all, and when I do, it hovers on the existensial angst and pain scale
just slightly above a root canal.

Even when my weight is ideal (which it hasn't been for a while, let me just say), my short stature and Portuguese curves make it highly difficult to find clothes that fit properly, much less flatter. Plus I'm not big into discomfort, which kills most shoe purchases. I also never frothed at the mouth about going to the mall as a teenager, either; I was far happier drooling over expensive writing papers or an elegant fountain pen or books that I ever was about a new pair of jeans or--God forbid--a bathing suit. Making it a year without shopping for clothes? No problem.

But I have to say that Desiree's idea is intriguing. Knowing her, she definitely has the fortitude to see her way to the end of the year, even if it kills her off by inches in the process. She's set up a blog to keep people informed about her progress, which includes snaps of favorite wardrobe pieces, new combinations, and thoughts about meatier topics, like consumerism and the fashion industry's impact on global development (I told you she was smart). Hop over and give girlfriend some love, 'kay?

Year Without Shopping

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tigger vs. Eeyore

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Normal me:
Today me:
My sisters would find this whole discussion trés interessant, since they are both self-confessed Eeyores, ready with an "Oh, bother!" at many of life's travails. I, on the other hand, tend to be that annoying optimist who looks for the pony at the bottom of the pile of manure. You know, bouncy trouncy flouncy pouncy fun-fun-fun-fun-fun!!

Except for lately. It's probably the constant drain of too much stuff in the house and seemingly no time to get it all straightened out--and that's not even considering the schoolwork and the mom tasks and the taxi driving and the writing--but I have been way tired lately. And way tired usually ends up with not much happening at Chez mimi, creative or otherwise.

Maybe it's spring fever. It certainly is gorgeous out there--trés distracting. Aside from a visit from the pharma fairy, any ideas on how to get the bounce back?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

#writerfail

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As a writer still camped on the canyon rim across from PublishedLand, I’m very lucky to have landed a fabulous agent. A combination of research, timing, and luck managed to part the clouds and let the angels sing for me, and I assume that any writer still looking for an agent would be serious about making the right match. That means researching what they represent, reading their contracted authors, following their blogs, meeting them in person (if at all possible), and then sending in a query, crossing your fingers, and praying for the heavens to open for you, too. Then I heard about #queryfail.

In case you’re u
naware, last month two brave literary agents, Colleen Lindsay and Lauren MacLeod, hosted #queryfail on Twitter. All day long they, and several agents who tweeted separately, posted snippets from queries they’d received that pretty much guaranteed their authors a “no” response. The stated aim of #queryfail was education. Learn what not to do and improve your chances of success.

The agents conducting #queryfail waxed a bit silly during the discussion. Who wouldn’t? When authors inform you the Almighty ordered them to submit, or that their work amalgamates every trend currently burning up the NYT list into a ghastly literary train wreck, or that Oprah woul
d love it if she ever got off her high horse to read it, or it’s so good I couldn’t stop writing and now it’s 700,000+ words, you’ve gone on beyond passion. It’s a simple business fact that publishers cannot buy your work, no matter how unique or transcendent or whatever you believe it to be, if that publisher does not sell that kind of book. Period. This appears to be simple logic to me, but then again, when creative passion and logic collide, logic is often left bleeding by the side of the road.

Writers, no surprise, were hurt and angry from hearing the truth. They wanted to hurt back the way they’d been hurt. So
when Jessica Faust offered to host an #agentfail day on her Bookends blog, hundreds of authors took her up on it.

Let me just say, my tent on the canyon rim got much more comfortable after reading some of those posts. Although I’d agree with some of the more reasonable advice—the “no response means no” policy could use a look, if for no other reason than courtesy—I also learned that some writers, frankly, don’t have what it takes to become published. I’m not talking about the quality of the storytelling; I’m talking about the modicum of professional behavior necessary to swim, or even float, in the shark tank of publishing.


An agent’s job is to glean the wheat from the chaff, measure the wheat properly, then find exactly the right bakery to turn that wheat into wholesome, or nourishing, or guilty-but-sinfully-tasty bread. That’s it. They don’t owe authors anything except that they live up to their stated policies regarding submission times. Whet
her the “I’ll pass” comes on a postcard, a note scribbled in the margins of your query (I’ve gotten one of these), a form rejection, or something personalized, that’s the answer—even if it’s not the answer you want to hear. Agents don’t have to explain why. Have you ever read the back cover copy of a book in a genre you like and decided immediately that it wasn’t going to be your cup of tea? Agents do the same whenever they tackle the next towering batch of unsolicited queries. Unlike we readers and writers, however, they have to do this several hundred times a week on occasion—not including the work they have to do to market their current client list. You think response times are ridiculous now? Imagine how long they would take if every single query, no matter how nutso, required a personal “It’s not you, it’s me” response carefully crafted to let the author down easily, without any bruising of tender egos.

I have a pretty keen imagination, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around that concept. If you’re a writer who is serious about a career in publishing, you will get criticized. If an agent doesn’t do it, an editor will (assuming your work makes it that far). If your book is published, trust me, some reader will hate it. And probably explain why in dripping, sarcastic detail on Amazon
. To paraphrase egregiously from Dennis Miller, the publishing world is tough. Wear a cup.

Unfortunately, it seems many writers just don’t understand that concept. If you read some of the anonymous #agentfail comments, you could convince yourself that agents were bloodthirsty, amoral prima donnas who wake up every morning determined to develop new recipes for fricasseed baby author. If you’re in that camp, my question to you is, Why would you want one of those evil harpies repping your work? Yegods.


After reading pretty extensively on agent blogs and writer blogs and publishing blogs (I told you I did my research) on the #queryfail/#agentfail dynamic, I’ve come to this conclusion. Some writers will never be published simply because they just don’t get it.


Hurt by a rejection, so you badmouth the rejector, her taste, her a
gency, and every author she ever bought? #writerfail

Posting vicious personal comments on an
agent because you didn’t like the form of the rejection she sent? #writerfail

Publically questioning in blogs and on email loops the professionalism of an agent or editor because she lacks the vision to understand your unique gift to the world in the form of your current WIP? #writerfail


Criticizing an agent for revealing a personal life beyond the work day in which she keeps up a blog, tweets on Twitter, spends time with her family on vacation, or takes pictures of her dog instead of chaining herself in her office cave to mine for your gem of a manuscript? #writerfail


The point of writing, folks, is to write. You don’t instantly become more of a writer because someone publishes your work. Your knowledge base won’t suddenly increase when you get the call. Your talents won’t blossom into something different. You’ll be the same you, working in the same pajamas, nibbling on the same chocolate. Your outer circumstances change if you get an agent, or the call, but your inner writing life will be just as fraught with doubt and anxiousness and soaring days of wonderfulness as they are now.


If your whole writer identity centers on getting published, you can make that happen. There’s fanfiction and internet posting—one site called Publetariat looked interesting—and POD and self-publishing that will guarantee you exposure and maybe some readers outside your circle of trusted friends and family. If you’re focused on selling to a professional publishing house, whether electronic or print, get in line. Do your research, submit to the right people, cross your fingers, and pray. The right project needs the right time and the right place, folks. If you’re not doing the work to pinpoint what those are, you can’t rail at the publishing world for thwarting your dreams. At that point, you’re the biggest roadblock you have. #writerfail

Mark Twain said, “We can secure other people’s approval if we do right and try hard; but our own is worth a hundred of it, and no way has been found of securing that.” And he’s exactly right. Your opinion, your love for what you do, is the thing that should bring you joy in this, your chosen art. You are a writer because you write. If nothing else, remember that.


Are you still here? The post’s over! Wasting all your writing time infosnacking on the Internet? Classic #writerfail! Get back to your manuscript!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guest Blogging Today!

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I'm guest blogging today at my friend Terry Odell's Terry's Place...hop on over and check it out! Terry is a writer of romantic suspense and lives in what I have to say is one of the coolest decorating schemes I've experienced. Two words: marine biology. Very, very interesting and gracious woman. Hop on over and give her some love, will ya?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dreams Never Die

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I couldn't retrace the circuitous route that led me to this gem if you paid me, but trust me, the view is worth it. Susan Boyle, a 47-year-old spinster from West Lothian, Scotland, will convince you that dreams can bloom in the unlikeliest of places. Miss Boyle sang "I Dreamed a Dream" on Britain's Got Talent, and there's nothing I can say that'll do it justice. Be sure to watch for Simon Cowell's (!) big sigh at about the four minute mark.

Click here to see the YouTube video (embedding's been disabled). Awesome. What a gift.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bad, Bad Monkey

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It's the eve before we return to school from spring break, and in looking back over the preceding week, I realize that I haven't posted all. week. long. Guess I took the "break" in spring break quite at face value!

Of course, once you join Face, er, Crackbook and get a Black, er, CrackBerry, you realize how easy it is for your attention to become divided! So I blame the electronics. Lying around the house in my pjs had nothing to do with it. Nothing at all.

I promise to do better, now that I'm rested. Mostly.
 

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