Friday, May 30, 2008

The Challenge is On...

So far, so good, my fellow earth-lovers. I have mowed the lawn twice now with my push-reel mower and it actually wasn’t so bad. The grass looks good. It’s definitely still green and it’s shorter. I’m thrilled. The downside is that dandelions resist the blade with a ferocity that fits their feline name (at least the second part of it). They refuse to go down. I think I’m just going to have to use child labor to take those not so dandy weeds out. Edges are also proving to be a challenge, but I’m learning to just forget about them. So what if there’s longer grass here and there? Who’s going to notice it? On the plus side, this challenge is turning into a life lesson for me where my perfectionistic side is learning to lighten up. That which does not kill me, I remind myself, will only make me stronger.

I am getting very strong.

I also have an upcoming event… On Monday, June 2nd, at 4:00 I will be at the Barrington Public Library (that’s in NH, not RI) for a meet the authors gathering. I’ll be reading an excerpt from my book, along with two other young adult authors (who will be doing the same). I do hope that some young adults show up for us to meet and greet and not just the cleaning crew. Of course, if no one comes, I can always just blame it on the other two authors. You can’t do that when you’re going it alone. I hope they don’t read this blog.

Meanwhile, editing The Return to Anaedor is going slow. The weather is just too nice and there’s all that mowing to do. I’ll try to do better in the next couple weeks, but that sun is so alluring. I can’t help but heed its call. On the plus side, I’ve come up with several more book ideas. One can’t help but fantasize and imagine in this glorious weather!

Enjoy your Spring!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prince Caspian Rocks!

Brace yourself because there’s going to be a lot of exclamation points in this blog…

This weekend, my family and I finally made it to see Prince Caspian (my husband keeps calling it Prince Cassidy) and I loved it! Everything from the scenery - amazing (I want to move there) to the battle scenes, was wonderful. One of my favorite parts - and I always like these scenes - was watching Prince Caspian flee on horseback. There’s just something about watching a lone rider racing on a horse across the open plains, or through the woods, or wherever it may be (though I don’t actually like horse racing, go figure). I also liked watching the fauns jumping around and one scene where a centaur reared. Very cool. One of the repetitive images that I enjoyed was whenever they showed the four siblings lined up in a row. I don’t know why I liked that, but I did.

Prior to heading off to the movie, I read some reviews on the movie. My reasoning for reading reviews is always this: I don’t want to heap unrealistic expectations on the movie because that always ruins it for me. As the reviews were quite good, however, I felt free to maintain my medium to high expectations. Well, my expectations were met and then some. If you are looking to spend time in a mythical, fantastical world, this movie will do it for you. To be fair, there are some glitches - line delivery was off at times and some scenes were a little slow, but I was willing to brush all that aside like an inconsequential mosquito. When the movie was over, I wanted to watch it again. There just wasn’t enough time to drink it all in!

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the Narnia series. A couple years ago I read the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to my son. Then I started the Horse and His Boy, skipped that and went on to Prince Caspian (I must have been channeling the old order - see below*). The beginning was a little slow for my son and for me, personally, so we set it aside. I’m glad that I did so that I could just enjoy the movie without comparison. I’m also afraid that if I reread the story, I will lose the magic of that time when I read it as a child with a worldview innocent and untainted by life. I’ve done that with books I loved as a kid - read them as an adult - and found myself vastly disappointed. It’s just not the same. So I’ve learned not to read them again. I’ll just have to read new books, or write my own!

Anyway, I give this movie an A. I’m sure there are people out there who didn’t like this and didn’t like that (there always are), but I was totally sucked into the world the director and actors created. I also thought the violence wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t graphic, there wasn’t any blood that I remember, the worst that I can think of involved a head, but that wasn’t much, either, surprisingly. This is a children’s movie, after all. I’m glad that the powers that be are dedicated to making the effort to tone things down without losing the power of the story.

In summary, loved the movie, am working on getting my husband to stop calling it Prince ‘Cassidy’ (he misses Shaun), and I really want to see the movie again. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Push-Reel Mower Challenge

Helping save the planet is one of the ways I try to contribute to the betterment of our world (by night I fight crime). I’m certainly not perfect about becoming more environmentally conscientious, but I’m working at getting better at it, step by step, day by day. Most of you reading this can understand that such a monumental task isn’t always easy as it can involve extra time, energy and effort, all of which many of us sorely lack. The nice thing is that the more you do these activities, the easier they become. The easier they become, the more things you can add to your list. Before you know it, you will be one eco-fabulous person.

And that, my friends, brings me to my challenge…

I call this the Push-Reel Mower Challenge because it’s going to involve you making an extra effort. For me, I’m literally going to use a push-reel mower…all summer. We have a fairly large yard and it takes me about 45 minutes to mow with a regular mower (also a push mower, but a gas one). My lawn may not look as good or as tidy, but I’ll be saving money, gas, the environment, and getting a good work-out all at the same time.

So what could you do for your summer, earth-saving challenge (cause you know you want to do it)? Well, you could hoist up a clothesline and hang your clothes to dry. You could start a compost heap. You could try to avoid driving your car at least two days a week, more if you’re a stay-at-home or work-at-home (these terms are not mutually exclusive, but you know what I mean) dad or mom like myself. You could join/organize a car pool. You could make or buy cloth bags and use those for your groceries instead of those deadly, fish killing plastic ones. Try tracking down and unplugging any electrical items you do not use on a regular basis (sticking to your own house - your neighbor’s doesn’t count) . Maybe you could even build a windmill.

Any other ideas? Pass them along and I’ll include them in future blogs. If you have any stories to tell about your challenge and want to share, send those along, too!

These are all things that take extra effort, but if you tell yourself it’s only for the summer, it might not be so bad. Who knows, you might actually grow to like it! Just remember, take baby steps. Choose one earth-saving task and give it your all. The earth, and future generations, will thank you for it!

Let the challenge begin!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where I Got My Love For Fantasy

My mom has the best imagination! She’s always making unique things for my kids, or coming up with fun games for them to play. I love that she has passed along this part of herself by instilling in her kids (all five of us) and in her grandkids a love of the mysterious, the magical, and the mischievousness of life.

Here’s her latest achievement…

The boys are really into pirates right now, especially my oldest. He has read Treasure Island, along with many other pirate books, and watched all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Inspired by these imaginary worlds, he makes weapons and various pirate necessities out of cardboard…a flintlock pistol, a cutlass, a spy glass, a compass that opens and closes, sheaths to hold his weapons and whatever else he can think of. He’s so into it that he recently ended up with three nasty blisters from cutting the cardboard (it’s really thick cardboard and the scissors are dull, from cutting cardboard) and plans to continue tonight despite the blisters.

Anyway, my mom drew up a pirate map of our yard and woods, putting in various landmarks to show the way. She then took an old purse and filled it with real coins, gold-painted nuggets and various ‘jewels’ that you can buy at your local craft store (but which are very pretty and sparkly). I, of course, was in on the scheme. This morning I hid the purse where X marked the spot, then pretended that I ‘found’ the map, which she had roughed up to look real. I made sure to announce my discovery right before lunch so while they ate, they had plenty of time to contemplate about how the treasure map had gotten there, where the treasure might be, and most importantly, time to grow more and more excited at the prospect of finding it. After some questioning (and some time to concoct a better story), I told them that I had found the map on top of a bush so the person had probably accidentally dropped it as they hurried to get away. Maybe, I ad-libbed, the pirates, or whoever it was, had just dropped off the treasure and would be returning for it - at any time. We had to move quickly, I added, and we’d better be armed.

My 8-year-old pirate wannabe was all over that.

The map was fairly simple to follow and they soon figured out the vicinity of where the treasure might be. My 3-year-old was actually the one to find it, though, because he was the only one listening to my ‘hints’ about where it could be, according to the map. My older two kept going the wrong way. I wouldn’t have minded them searching the area for however long it took, except that the mosquitoes were out in droves and we were getting eaten alive (there’s that dratted reality again). Once we found the treasure, in a hole between the twin trees and covered with leaves, we hurried back to the house with our booty. It was definitely a treasure to behold. There were three pirate pistols, eye patches, knives and hooks…not to mention a lot of loot. The kids spent the rest of the afternoon playing pirate, though we had to work hard to convince my youngest that he could just leave the treasure chest sitting in the house while he went out to play. He was feeling a little possessive of it (he’s even sleeping with it tonight).

Thanks to my great mom, my husband and I had fun being kids again and my kids had fun just being kids. My 8-year-old was a little skeptical at times (what a coincidence that there’s three of everything, he noted, though my husband said there were probably three pirates) and asked some questions that told me he’d figured out it was probably grandma who’d done this. Still, he backed off pretty quickly on the questions each time he came close to the truth. He really wanted to believe in the magic of a treasure left behind by pirates, even in the face of evidence to the contrary (unless his sweet granny really is one - that’s always a possibility).

Every day I’m learning just how important it is to encourage our children to believe in the wonders of life. With all the bad news from the war and school shootings and terrorism and gang violence, our society has lost its innocence. The younger you lose that spirit of wonderment, the harder it is to ever get it back. My hope for my children is that they will always see the beauty and wonder in life, even when they have to be responsible, boring adults.

As long as they keep Grandma’s imaginative spirit in their hearts, I know they will.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Newsflash: Publishing a Book Isn't Easy

I have good news! I have just signed a contract with a new publishing company, Variance, that will be getting my book out into bookstores. Say hurray! A part of me is excited about this big step up and another part of me is worried - of course. There’s always a catch, you see. I am going to be getting what’s called a limited release. You know those movies that are only shown in certain theaters - the ones that nobody ever hears much about? Well, that’s my situation. Here’s another worrisome part: My book really has to sell well so that I can get it into an even wider venue…possibly even go hard cover (as opposed to under cover), which would be totally fragadelic. Otherwise, who knows what will happen? There’s a good possibility that I will be dropped like a used kleenex and then burned at the stake, with marshmallows thrown in for free.

Being somewhat of a pessimist, I’m not real hopeful about my odds.

During my Mother’s Day Weekend off, I spent some time wandering around a bookstore and it hit me how many books are out there begging for someone to give them a good home. How is my one little book going to get noticed? As it is, I’m doing everything I can, short of pole dancing, to get attention for it. I might even resort to having my book do the pole dancing itself. Hmmm… That just might work.

I’m really trying to stay positive about this whole publishing business, but there are times when I feel like Charlie Brown and the world is Lucy. I get my hopes up and Bam! I end up flat on my back, staring up at the sky, wondering, what the heck just happened to me? Have you ever had days like that? Yeah, me too. Too many.

This should be a momentous occasion, yet I worry. I should be happy that this is happening, yet I fret. What’s my problem, Dr. Freud? Well, I know what my problem is. I didn’t take all those Psychology classes for nothing. I am simply preparing myself for the worst so that if (when) it does happen, it won’t hit me so hard. My worst moments come from events that I didn’t see coming. It’s also kind of a hoodoo voodoo method of avoiding disaster. If I think about it, it won’t happen. I do this all the time. Unfortunately, I can’t always think of all the bad things that could happen. I could get hit by a flying chicken while walking down the street. It could happen, but am I really going to be prepared for it? Well, I am now, but before this blog, totally not.

On the other hand, I’m an optimist of the worst kind. Like Charlie Brown, I keep trying to kick that football. Unlike poor old Chuck, I sometimes actually connect. Why do I keep trying? Stupidity? Insanity? Nope. It’s a little something called intermittent reinforcement (more psychology). People are more likely to keep trying if they are reinforced intermittently (you get good stuff like chocolate chips in response to your attempts, but only once in a while and at random times). If you are not reinforced, you will stop. If you are reinforced every time, after only a couple failures, you will stop. Since I have not stopped, those good, kind words of yours must be keeping me going. So keep them coming, but only at intermittent and random times, like today.

Sorry this has been kind of a downer blog - I’m usually so upbeat! Ha, ha. But I figure it won’t hurt newbies to be prepared to face the inevitable downside to being in this business. Writing a book is wonderful, publishing it feels great. Selling it…not so fun. Of course, if you’re like me, you won’t believe bad stuff will happen to you, until is does, that is. I thought I’d write a book and the world would just come knocking at my door. Sadly, the world isn’t knocking. More like tapping once in a while, and usually when I’m in the bathroom.

Anyhoo, I’m giving up that fantasy and returning to the life I’ve always led, which involves experiencing lots of miserable failures for a long time, and then, eventually achieving success. Though I think the only reason I finally succeed is that I’m too stupid to give up. I’m hoping that happens this time, too. It could. I’m not asking for much. I don’t crave great success, just enough so that I can share my writing with people who like it. That’s all I’m asking for.

That, and to make enough moola to buy a castle.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Weekend

This year, I celebrated Mother’s Day in style…I took the whole weekend off. I’ve been feeling burnt out lately and I had to just get away or risk a complete mental and emotional breakdown. As a mom and a writer, I juggle a lot of things. Most of the time, I can handle it. But I think that never getting a vacation from my job as a mom was starting to wear on me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a stay-at-home mom. But if I have to hear my kids say, "What is this stuff?" while looking at whatever’s on their dinner plate or "Kiki kicked me in the…" or "oops, I accidentally wrote all over the walls," one more time, I’m going to go mad. I don’t want to go more mad, I’m mad enough as it is.

So I took the whole weekend off.

I’m fortunate to have a spouse who is very supportive of me. He not only was wiling to give me the time off, he was happy to have a chance to spend that time with his kids. It’s sad that I have to look at this as being lucky, rather than accepting this as a given, but I know a lot of dads who have no time for their kids and think their spouse’s only dream in life is to cater to the family’s every wishes. That is not me.

Because it’s still officially my day off, I’ll only say this one thing about my lovely weekend…On my first day off, I drove to the ocean and watched the waves. It was lovely. I didn’t have to worry that someone was going to fall on the rocks or into the water and drown or deal with someone asking for food because they’re hungry. I just sat there, watching. Anyway, you know how you can’t help but think that some things are immutable? Well, while I was sitting on those giant boulders, I thought them unbreakable. They seemed so solid beneath me. Then a giant wave smashed against them and I realized that nothing could withstand that kind of beating forever. Even the seemingly most unchangeable thing I can think of will eventually be broken. Still, those rocks will take the beating for as long as they can. They will endure until they can endure no more.

And that’s like life. It wears you down, and eventually will grind you to dust (nice imagery, I know, but true). Until then, you stand tall and you survive. There simply are times in life when you just have to endure as best you can. And oftentimes, that’s being a mom trying to raise her kids to not only survive to adulthood, but be good, capable people, as well.

On those bad days I’ll just have to remind myself that I am like the rock, and I shall endure. And so shall you.

Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Room With a Different View

I first watched A Room With a View when I was nineteen years old. I was young, full of energy and hope about life, and I loved romance, or at the least the idea of it, not having had much experience with it myself. When I went to see A Room With a View in college I was expecting to ‘view’ Rear Window (I’m glad I’m not the only one who has made this mistake, or I might feel a little stupid). What I got instead was a wonderful introduction to period piece movies and a lifelong love of E.M. Forster.

So when I heard about the remake to be shown on PBS, I was skeptical. Could they really improve upon Merchant and Ivory’s 1985 movie?

In a word, no.

In fact, I felt like they messed up the one story that E.M. Forster wrote that was lighthearted and had a truly happy ending (Maurice had a somewhat happy ending because E.M. thought it was socially important to have it so, but the rest of his stories were rather bleak and unsettling). I’m not sure what the writer, Andrew Davies, was thinking (big spoiler alert), but at the end of the movie he decided to kill the hero, George. What the heck? I mean, from the flashbacks you get a sense that something is coming, but I didn’t envision him dying in a war. That was a major downer in what’s supposed to be a feel-good romance. Showing a scene of him sprawled on the battlefield, eyes wide open in agonized death, was not cool. Mr. Forster worked very hard to make this story work out well in the end. We should acknowledge and respect that, not completely ignore his struggle.

As when I watched the remake of Sense and Sensibility (see Jane Austen blog), I kept expecting certain things to happen, and they didn’t. Or I’d want a line to be delivered a certain way, and it wasn’t. I hate that. For example, when Miss Bartlett asks - after the wonderful scene when George kisses Lucy (the very best scene in Merchant & Ivory’s take) - "…if I had not arrived, what would have happened?" and Lucy says, "I can’t think." The way Helena Bonham Carter delivered the line gave it a life of its own that implied, "I can think, and oh, boy! But I’m certainly not going to tell you what my mind has conjured up!" The 2007 version’s Lucy just said the line, with no hint at anything yummy, no yearning to discover more. Just plain old, "I can’t think!" leave me alone! as though she really couldn’t imagine what might have happened. That just isn’t right. A big part of romance is savoring the pleasures of love, reliving the touch, the kiss, the look. If you don’t have that, you are left with nothing.

I believe that Mr. Davies was trying (as with the S & S, 2007 remake) to make this version more realistic. Once again, I have to voice my displeasure at this. Reality is for the news. Or for stories that are meant to be exposes on the horrors of life. While this story was somewhat of an expose on life, on social snobbery and growing up in an age where rules dictated how one should feel and when, it was a light one that was meant to fill you with hope. So why make it more realistic?

Anyway, I did go into the 2007 version trying to keep an open mind. After seeing the previews, however, I was already nervous. It looked darker; I wasn’t as thrilled with the heroine. Then, watching the movie, my worries were confirmed. This was not the same story I have come to know and love, both through the movie and from reading the book. I didn’t like George’s character in this version, either. In my opinion, he was a bit creepy. Nothing personal to the actor, it was just how they had him play George. On the one side he seemed a rather dull fellow, on the other, he was a bit stalker-like. They even put in a scene where he declares that he will follow her wherever she goes even though she has made it clear she doesn’t want that. Now that could be seen as romantic, but not the way this was played out.

Strangely, I felt that the movie was well-acted and directed. I think the problem was the way the writer chose to interpret the book. I didn’t like the darker viewpoint, the flashbacks, or the realism. Unfortunately for Mr. Davies, he had a lot to compete against. I think that once you have seen the original, there is no fair comparison. On its own, it could be a decent movie, but still, it would never have become one of my favorite movies.

So, if you don’t mind, I’d like a room with a different view, please.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ch, ch, ch, changes...

I just finished watching PBS’s Jane Austen extravaganza a couple weeks ago and felt moved to comment on it. Yes, even after all this time - although that might be because I don’t know what else to write about today. It’s dreary here in New England and I’ve been killing myself doing spring cleaning. But you don’t want to hear about that, do you?

Unless it involves attempting to remove the monkeys under my son’s bed, probably not.

Four of the movies were remakes…Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Emma and Pride and Prejudice were produced several years ago and they (or someone) decided against remaking these movies. A wise decision, I think, because really, how are you going to compete with the 1995 version starring Colin Firth as Darcy? I’d seen this version years ago and found the second time around to be even better. I’ve also watched the latest version with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, which was fine. But I didn’t like how they reduced Darcy to a minimal role in this take. His development is just as important as Elizabeth’s, and besides who wants to miss out on all those smoldering looks! Jennifer Ehle (1995) is also hard to beat as Lizzie Bennet. She is so spunky and her eyes are full of mischievous sparks. She’s my favorite E.B. to date. I would definitely recommend this movie.

As for Emma, I have always enjoyed this movie for what it is - a lighthearted romantic comedy. I liked both Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, for different reasons. I thought Kate was more endearing, but I liked Gwyneth, too. She’s quite good at being snobbish (like when she played Estella in Great Expectations). I think Jeremy Northam made a better Mr. Knightley, at least in a romantic hero sort of way, though he may not have captured Mr. Knightley as well as Mark Strong did.

I did like the newer version of Northanger Abbey. A TV version was done in 1986 and I thought they made the heroine, young Catherine, too stupid. I like a bit of something going on in the attic, and this latest version provided a heroine (Felicity Jones) with a little more oomph and intelligence. I also liked JJ Feild as Henry Tilney. He’s an up and coming actor who does well in period pieces (he’s been in The Ruby in the Smoke and The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton). By far, I prefer the 2007 version of N.A., especially when Henry Tilney reaches out to wipe a bit of mud from Catherine’s cheek. The yearning in that gesture gave me chills.

I think remaking Sense and Sensibility was a mistake (the third one, not the second one - there was one done in 1981 that I haven’t seen). I loved Emma Thompson’s version and have watched and rewatched it many times. I like that she emphasized Jane Austen’s clever wit, yet maintained all the drama of the story. I think the current director was attempting to make a more realistic version of the story. I’ve never been one for realism (as you know if you read my blogs) - I get plenty of it in reality. I think that if I were to watch the 2008 remake without having seen Emma’s take, I might have liked it better. The problem was that I kept comparing the two, expecting certain things to happen or lines to be delivered in a certain way. I plain old liked the actors, characters, scenes, and delivery better in S & S, 1995. Why try to improve upon perfection?

As for Persuasion, I didn’t like how the 2007 version had her looking at the camera so many times! I got to the point where I could predict when she was going to do it. Personally, I didn’t see her as the heroine type. She’s a good actress, and maybe it was the hairdo, but I didn’t see her with Rupert Penry-Jones, who played Mr. Wentworth, her love interest. I know that those dreadful ringlets were the style back then, but couldn’t they have played with it a little? I also didn’t think the ending was dramatic enough. Everything seemed to be resolved in one fell swoop, or at least felt like that. Despite all these problems, I did like the movie well enough to watch it again.

Mansfield Park. Hmmm… Well, I liked the 1999 version well enough, but the 2007 remake was not a favorite. I thought it was rather dull and I didn’t like Billie Piper as the heroine. I do not think of her as a Fanny Price, you see. Worse, I’m not sure I even like Fanny Price all that much. She’s a bit of a prude. Doing a little research, I discovered I’m not alone in this opinion. I think we all want a heroine who has a bit of spunk, or is at least willing to break the rules a bit. No one likes to be reminded that they are less than perfect in their moral conduct. I don’t think I could live up to Fanny Price’s strict moral code, which of course, makes me dislike her a bit.

In sum, I think they would have been better off leaving Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park alone. Northanger Abbey was an improvement and Persuasion was all right. I don’t know about you, but I think that if you’re going to make a change, it should be for the better. One of out four just isn’t doing it for me.

What I’d really like to see is the BBC take on some new period piece stories. Take some of the gothics from the 1960s and 1970s and make them into a movie. Granted, like the chick lit of today, there was an influx of bad books, but I know there are enough good ones out there to make a hit.

Don’t you agree?