Kwitney Report 2010
Am nose down, trying hard to finish the ghost of the dead ex-boyfriend, which now has a working title I really love: The Rules of Haunting. How it came about: At the Romance Writer’s of America convention in Orlando a couple of weeks ago, having coffee with my agent, the wonderful Meg Ruley, who asked me if I had worked out the way ghosts functioned in my world.
“I’m a science fiction geek,” I said. “Of course I figured out the rules of haunting.” And Meg said, “that, my girl, is your title.” I think she was right.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read, here’s a quick rundown on what I’ve been reading.
One Day, by David Nicholls.
For once, a cover blurb that means what you hope it will mean – that if you like the books of the blurbler (the clever, emotionally resonant Nick Hornby) you will also like the book in your hands. Like all much-hyped books, this one is about due for a cultural smack down, but I’m not afraid to be part of the mainstream when the mainstream gets it right. Want quibbles? The book (which tracks the events of in the life of Dex (the hero) and Em (the heroine) on July 15 over the course of twenty years) is as cleverly structured as a corset, which can be good, but also a bit confining.
Final verdict? Nutritious and Delicious, my highest praise. I’m currently reading one of NIcholl’s earlier novels, The Understudy, and enjoying it.
The Day the Falls Stood Still, by Cathy Marie Buchanan
This literary novel is, at its heart, a historical romance, and it evokes life for a young girl at the turn of the century in Niagara Falls (the Canadian side) with precisely observed language and exquisite detail. Romance fans will love the innocently sensual courtship between 17-year-old Bess Heath, living in impoverished grandeur (not unlike the heroine of my beloved I Capture the Castle) and Tom Cole, the strong, clever, handsome riverman with a mystical sense of ebbs, tides and watery disasters. The book’s larger themes are similar to those on the now defunct TV series Lost (rationality vs. mysticism, skepticism vs. faith) but there are no smoke monsters, and the depiction of Bess and Tom’s marriage manages to be both realistically rendered and yet passionately true.
Note: Literary novel = Poignant Ending. Nothing damns a book to genre perdition faster than a happy ending, unless, of course, it’s a screwball satire. Which brings me to…
Corrupting Dr. Nice, by John Kessel.
Basically a science fictional rendering of a classic screwball comedy, Kessel’s mid nineties novel is a delightful hodge podge of The Lady Eve (except these father and daughter con artists travel through time) and Bringing up Baby (with a handsome, hapless scientist hero who has a rogue AI bodyguard implant in his head, and a dinosaur replacing the tiger at loose in the suburbs). Laced like dark ganache through this feather-light plot is some cutting social satire, as multiple versions of Jesus, Einstein and Shakepeare from as many alternate universes try to figure out how to handle lives stripped of context. Of course, this is a screwball, so the ending is happy.
ICE by Linda Howard
In this slim haiku of a romance novel, which I read in one long gulp, there are all the right ingredients: Ordinary heroine with extraordinary grit; Big, strong, noble, St. Bernard of a hero, hell-bent on rescue; and the kind of ice storm that flings you back into primitive concerns, like warmth, sustenance, shelter and thigh-quaking sex. There are also a pair of meth addicts who appear to be in better shape than seems probable, given their many resurrections. What’s missing, I suppose, is the careful layering Howard usually supplies in her novels. Subplot? There’s no time for that nonsense here. Mystery? We left that frozen on the side of the road. Nevertheless, minimalist Howard is still delicious, like a single, spare, perfectly cut bit of sushi.
And, last but not least:
Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, as read by Richard Armitage. It doesn’t get any better than this, even if I have started to imagine the actor (who played the devilish Guy of Gisborne) as ingénue, callow youth, pompous suitor and meddling matron, as well as the rakelicious Lord Damorel.
An Ode to the Broodingly Bad Boy of BBC’s Robin Hood Series
I am obsessed with Guy of Gisborne. There. It’s out. It’s July, a time of year when clothing and inhibitions wind up in a puddle near the swimming pool, and all I can think about is Richard Armitage as the tall, dark, broodingly conflicted Guy.
Do I care that he dresses like an 80’s Goth biker boy? Not when he disrobes by firelight, broodingly fitting armor onto his leanly muscled torso. Do I mind that he rides around on his big, black horse like “The Great I Am?” About as much as Meg, the testy wench who coined that phrase. She was stuck in the dungeon cell next to Guy’s, and all it took was a casual “suck on your necklace, it will quench your thirst” to make her realize that she’d rather suck his face. (I know what you’re thinking, but I’m keeping this column PG-13.)
Do I mind that Guy occasionally torches houses and terrorizes peasantry? I do not. Guy is just misunderstood—by his writers. If I were writing Guy, the BBC series would never have ended the way it did.
(Spoiler alert ahead)
Oh, Guy, why can’t you see that I should be your writer? Those others, they didn’t really appreciate you. That time when you were blackmailing Marian into marriage and she left you at the altar? I would never have permitted that. No, if it had been up to me, Marian would have been in your arms, and all through the nuptial celebrations, she would have cast you furtive glances, half aroused but denying it because she was still deluding herself about fancying that puerile punk, Robin Hood.
And then, as you went up to the marriage bed, she would have been panicked at the knowledge that you would see the wound on her stomach. And that’s where I would have had you learn that she was the mysterious masked vigilante you kept fighting. Oh, Guy, can’t you see how good it would have been? You, hopelessly in love (not to mention in deep, brooding lust) with Marian, finally pulling back her virginal dress to see the wound you had unknowingly inflicted.
You would have been shocked, angered, guilt-ridden – all your favorite emotions. And then, instead of consummating, you would have galloped off – I mean, first you would have gotten on your horse, then galloped off.
Next, and I’m not clear on all of this yet, you would have had to come back to defend your manor, and Marian would have fought by your side. You would have saved her from an arrow and been terribly injured.
(Spoiler alert ahead)
She would nurse you back and then you would mutter things in your sleep that would reveal to her your true, tragic past, and how you took the blame for Robin Hood’s impulsive actions back when you were boys. Wouldn’t that work much better than finding all this out at the bitter end of the series? I mean, what good did that do, unless you were about to ride off into the sunset with Robin (a plotline I have also considered, mind you).
But whether or not you wound up with Marian or Robin, Guy, I would never have let your wicked sister gag you and leave you tied you down to the bed…without having something interesting happen afterwards. Not with your sister, of course. But did Isabella have to be your sister? She could have been your ward.
But you never even knew I was alive, and so you never found true love in the entire three year run of Robin Hood. In any case, Guy, you live on in my imagination, still balancing on the knife’s edge between head and heart, between evil and redemption, between mullet and grunge.
And in the end, Guy, I will find a way to write you. Under a different name, perhaps, and losing the homicidal tendencies. Maybe your father won’t literally be a leper. And I might tweak your wardrobe, because in real life, men who wear top to toe leather tend not to be terribly introspective.
Did I mention that I would make you more of a reader? I really think you should be more intellectual, which, I grant you, wasn’t easy in the Middle Ages. But you could have picked up a copy of Christine de Pizan’s “The Book of the City of Ladies” on your travels, couldn’t you? Damn right you could, and when I write you, you will.
In the meanwhile, I’ll just go suck my necklace.
Ladies’ Choice: The Job of Your Dreams, or The Man
Thought that you might be able to dream of the perfect job and the perfect mate? Dream on. The star of ABC’s new Bachelorette, 25-year old Ali Fedotowsky, has gone on record saying that she is choosing to follow her heart, which means quitting her job in advertising to pursue full-time dating.
Fedotowsky did not always value dating over career. Last season, she was one of the numerous single women competing for one single man on ABC’s show The Bachelor. Considered one of bachelor Jake’s top potential choices for possible girlfriend/fiancée, Fedotowsky reportedly stunned viewers with her choice to leave Jake, and the show, when her bosses back home threatened to fire her.
One has to dig around on ABC’s official website to find an actual description of Fedotowsky’s dream job – account manager in online advertising. Yet while this may not be everyone’s idea of a plum position, it seems a bit strange that the show’s producers have decided to treat it as the job that dare not speak its name.
Apparently, ABC believes that high status jobs such as “pilot” and “doctor” add to a bachelor’s appeal, while a bachelorette’s allure is based on other attributes.
In any case, Fedotowsky has seen the error of her ways. On ABC’s website, readers are told that “Ali surprisingly chose her career – a decision she still regrets. But it’s not too late for Ali now. She’s left her home, her job, her stability behind – letting go of everything this time — to really make a life-changing commitment to put her heart first and take a second chance at finding true love.”
Anyone caring to find out more about the perky blonde can click on her bio, which seems to describe the kind of young woman who might have dreamed of all kinds of wonderful careers. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in psychology from Clark University in New England, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa as well as a former high school varsity soccer player.
On the other hand, given the choice between being the star of one’s own television show and an entry level job, few women I know would stick with the cubicle. So perhaps it’s not really a choice between Mr. Right and the Right Job – it’s a choice between Reality TV and Reality.
In which case, ABC should tell all the single ladies not to quit their day jobs. Dating may be hard work, but it’s not a career – unless you’re the next bachelorette.
Just back from the Romantic Times Convention in Columbus, Ohio. RT is the kind of con where you pack a second suitcase for your fairy and vampire costumes, but my back had just gone out (the result of some overly enthusiastic dance exercises) and so I decided to pack light and go for the “I’m so cool and laid back, I only need one outfit” look.
In between workshops and panels (I sat on a comic book industry panel, gave a comic book writing workshop and co-led a steampunk talk with my roommate Liz Maverick/Edelstein, author and now digital marketing manager at Macmillan) I tried to find remedies for my crooked spine. At one point, Holly Black and I met for lunch and she actually got down on the carpeted floor in the middle of the hotel to demonstrate a stretch, for which I am eternally grateful. I also got to have dinner with senior Tor editor Melissa Singer, who, it turns out, is a fellow fan of Anne McCaffery’s quirkily sexy SF classic Restoree.
Was thrilled to see posters for Anne Elizabeth’s new graphic novel, Pulse of Power, which I had the pleasure of editing, and was intrigued by the funeral director’s con going on at the same time. (Had fantasies of a romance writer going into a funeral director’s room and getting bitten by an experimentally embalmed corpse, which turns her into a zombie who starts biting all the author authors.)
Last but not least, was stunned to discover an island of impossibly good food at the nearby North Market, where Liz and I discovered Jennie’s ice cream (goat cheese and cherries, lavender, Thai peanut butter and other impossibly strange and delicious flavors) and chicken wings (baked no less) so appealing that we had eight of them for breakfast one day.
Now it’s back to work on the dead ex book during the day, while rehearsing till midnight for My Fair Lady, which opens tomorrow at the Rhinebeck Center for Performing Arts. If you want to learn more about the peculiar pleasures of ensemble, come visit me on my author page on Facebook.
I am Spartacus
Let’s talk trash for a second. When it comes to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the raunchy, gore-splattered Starz television series, I am a complete addict. Yet I tend to downplay my fondness for the show by saying “it’s deliciously trashy.”
But hang on a moment, Despite its over-the-top plotting and fondness for well-oiled full-frontal nudity and frequent decapitations, Spartacus is a riveting show for reasons that go beyond pulverizing and pulchritude. There is a palpable intelligence to the plot twists, as well as multi-layered characterizations. Like the gladiators themselves, the show is not just a mindless pleasure.
When I spoke to Tamora Pierce at Vassar’s Non-con in February, she admitted with a guilty smile that she, too, loved Spartacus. But should we feel guilty? Can a series – or a book – be considered trashy if it contains scenes of emotional heft as well as sex, violence and over-the-top plot elements? If so, then apologies, as they say on the show, but I am trashicus.
Spring is here at last, and I am about to go to Miami for a week with my mother and kids. Unfortunately, my plan to whip my body into bikini shape conflicted with my need to whip my True Blood essay and next novel into shape. Now, the essay “Blue Collar Bacchanalia” is off to copy edits (it’s going to appear in an anthology from Smart Pop books) and my new novel is moving ahead at a good clip, but I’m not feeling like baring my abdomen on South Beach.
Fortunately, I had a few options. For years, swimsuits just kept getting smaller and smaller, but then swimmers kept getting bigger and bigger. Now, a woman can choose between monokinis, tankinis, girdle-like one pieces, shirred and ruffled one pieces, swimdresses and, for the ultimate in coverage, modest swimwear.
Modest swimwear even comes in different denominations: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. With names like Aqua Modesta, Sea Secret and Splashgear, these suits are throwbacks to the turn of the century, when just seeing a bare ankle at the beach was pretty heady stuff. There’s also agnostic swimwear for folks who fear skin cancer more than sensual sinning. Solartex is one brand my dermatologist mentioned, and they have a few jaunty scuba style suits I like, but would be embarrassed to wear around a pool unless it had a hammerhead circling in it.
Strangely enough, though, no one has actually come up with a modern version of the 1900’s swimming costume. If they had, I probably would have had to go for it – the thought of strolling down Lincoln Road in an outfit my grandmother would have found old fashioned would be rather delicious.
Instead, I’m opting for a one piece with a very low back. My back, as far as I can tell, still looks pretty decent. If I burn, though, I might regret my decision not to wear a bathing burka.
Valentine’s Day 2010
Admit it: Sometimes it’s difficult to forget the kids, the bills, the aches, the dead mouse smell from somewhere under the floorboards. But it’s Valentine’s Day and everyone should try to get a little action – with a partner, a lover, or one’s own imagination.
Of course, it never hurts to read – or reread – a romance novel to get in the mood. But sometimes you just feel like a little audiovisual action. Here are some of my favorite on-screen love scenes:
10. Richard Gere and Debra Winger in an Officer and a Gentleman. Sure, they hated each other in real life, but boy, does their animosity sizzle.
9. Spike and Buffy bringing down the house in Smashed, their season 6 fight/love scene. Jenny Crusie has a brilliant essay on her website about how the writers of Buffy The Vampire Slayer thought they were creating a metaphor of destruction, but viewers saw a different story.
8. True Blood’s Bill coming out of his grave, naked, to ravish Sookie. My favorite line: “Not the neck.”
7. True Blood’s Eric playing vampire mind games with Sookie.
6. The Bull Durham love scene montage: Toenail painting, bathtub sloshing, wild dancing and ropes. What more could anyone want?
5. The Big Easy, with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. May they never try to remake it.
4. Secretary, with Maggie Gyllenhall. Quirky, kinky, singularly sexy.
3. The fiercely conflicted Guy of Gisborne in the BBC Robin Hood television series (Richard Armitage, in black leather no less.)
2. The two love scenes, one tender, one desperate, in A History of Violence. (Look for the the fraction of a moment where Viggo pauses and his wife drags him back down.)
1. The unbeatable “You know how to whistle” scene in To Have and Have Not.
For my birthday this year, my husband bought me a Kindle. At first, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed. I felt as though I were a carriage driver who had just been given a shiny newfangled automobile as a present.
“I’m sorry,” I told my husband, “but I don’t want to read my books on a little screen.” Reading on screens makes my editing brain kick in. Reading on screens isn’t so great in the bathtub. And if readers like me start going digital, print books will die, and being published won’t result in an actual physical object, and pretty soon there won’t be any bookstores with actual books in them.
For me, that’s like contemplating the death of the sun.
But in the end, I kept the Kindle. Why? Well, first of all, because of Wolf Hall. My mother bought it in hardcover, and the mammoth doorstop of a novel about Henry the Eighth was exactly what I wanted to take on vacation. Except it was too big to lug around England. I’d probably get charged by the airline for going over my weight allowance, and then throw my back out trying to shlep it through the English coutntryside in my handbag.
And then there was my realization that even if I didn’t keep my Kindle, I wasn’t going to stop the barbarians at the gate. I went through this with computers (I clung to my typewriter until I was 23 and actually applied to Columbia’s MFA program by cutting and pasting with scissors and glue). I went through this with cellphones (I was always bumming one, like a smoker who doesn’t buy her own cigs).
So, for once, I’m going to be an early adapter. Or a late early adapter. I’ll be right there, after the innovators, learning to deal with change before the middle majority and the poor laggards who cling to the hope that people will stop listening to ipods because the sound is so crappy.
But I’m hearing that in the music industry, vinyl records are making a comeback. Buy one, and you get the download for free. I hope that’s the model for the book industry, as well.
Because half the fun of reading Wolf Hall is catching the eye of other readers and having them say, “I just read that,” or, “Is that any good?” Reading on the Kindle or some other reading device is like having headphones in your ears: It may be convenient, but it’s also isolating.
And that may be the new marketing tool for paper books. It’s hard to start a conversation with a blank grey metal shield in front of your face.
Have any thoughts about e-readers vs. print books? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the first time since high school, I’m performing in a play. It’s a humbling experience. I had no idea I was so untalented. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Back when I auditioned for the High School of Performing Arts, I did get an inkling of my limitations.
“How did you do?” My acting coach inquired.
“A girl ate me,” I said. “We were told to be animals, and I became a dog, and she became a snake, and she ate me. On stage.”
And in my non-performing high school, I never got a leading role in a play. So I can’t say I was completely ignorant of my lack of talent.
Still, I can carry a tune. I even have a nice voice, so long as nothing happens to shake me off key. And I can dance. To be precise, I can belly dance, having taken lessons after giving birth to my son in an attempt to get my tummy flat.
So when my pilates teacher told me she needed a belly dancer to shimmy in the temple scene in Jesus Christ Superstar, I didn’t think too hard about it. I have always loved JC Superstar, ever since I was nine and wailed “I don’t know how to love him” at my bathroom mirror every night for a year.
And this was regional theater, for crying out loud. So why not say yes? I said yes. A month later, I am a proud member of the Ensemble, joining in three big dance numbers plus the belly dancing, four quick costume changes, a few bouts of choral singing and a finale of discordant wailing, which I am actually quite good at. Along the way, I have learned that I have much less talent than I have ever suspected. But a whole lot of other people have a lot more talent than I could ever have guessed. Special Ed teachers. Postal workers. High school seniors. Seniors.
I may not be bound for thespian glory, but I figure there’s got to be a novel in this someday. Until then, I’m going to keep practicing that damn ball step transition, and trying to hold onto my feeble sense of alto self as I pass by a compelling tenor.