Thursday, March 29, 2007

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Very Rewarding Experiences

Okay, so Nadine Dajani tagged me (on a Wednesday, I must point out) to participate in a Top Ten Tuesday blog... I hoped that meant I could think about it until next Tuesday... But then thought, hey, why not post it early on a Thursday instead. (I'm nothing if not a rule-breaker.)

So, Top Ten Very Rewarding Experiences...

1. Finishing my first book. Actually, finishing the first chapter of my first book was pretty damned rewarding. So was finishing my latest book. So is getting even one good page done some days.

2. Being present at the birth of my niece. I will be forever grateful to my sister for allowing me to be part of that day.

3. Watching my nephew, who has autism, learn to play with other kids. The few times he's genuinely hugged me have been pretty special, too. (He normally reserves that for his parents or his sister.)

4. Jumping out of an airplane. It was a tandem jump. But that just made it more cool because I got tossed out at 13,000 feet and got to do a free fall. (And it was easier to land with a pro on my back.)

5. Being a "Foster Parent" to a young boy in Burkina Faso. I'm not as good about writing letters and all that stuff as I should be... But I feel good knowing my small contribution is making life in his village just a little bit easier.

6. Serving on Boards of not-for-profit organizations. (Although this would also make my top 10 frustrating things list.)

7. Climbing to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. I did this just a year after I had a ruptured Achilles tendon repaired and the last however-many-feet up (the part using chains) was the most challenging thing I'd ever done at that point of my life.

8. While I'm on physical achievements... Doing the Solvang Century (100 miles with a lot of steep hills) bike ride. Sure, it took nearly 9 hours. But I finished.

9. Helping writers less experienced than me.

10. Meeting any personal goal I set for myself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Return of quality TV

I was so excited last week to find that Six Degrees wasn't cancelled after all. I hadn't really been following this show in terms of it's life or death status... I just assumed since it was a serious and quiet kind of drama with really good actors, that I enjoyed, but hadn't been on for months, that it was toast!

Nice to see it's still bread.

I am a sucker for the interconnected storyline format and this one does it well. Introducing lots of interesting characters and then slowly showing connections developing between them, often connections the characters have no idea are there.

In it's return last week, a few of the connections were revealed to the characters... and one was resolved in a slightly cop-out way... but it was satisfying, and the more I think of it, I don't know what else they could have done. (For those of you watching, I'm talking about the public defender/limo driver connection.) The photographer/widow storyline, however, was revealed to the characters in an interesting way and in resolving that storyline, they opened up an interesting love triangle... So, that has potential.

I mentioned great actors earlier and two of my favorite actors to watch are in this series, Campbell Scott and Hope Davies. Campbell Scott is the progeny of George C. Scott and the great late Canadian actress Colleen Dewhurst (who everyone in my country remembers seeing as Marilla in the Anne of Green Gables TV movie in the 70's. Or was that the 80's? I just looked it up. It was 1985. My memory is going.)

Hope Davies... I just think she's cool. In the early 90's I was in New York on business and went to the half price ticket booth in Times Square at lunch to see what I could get for that night. One of the available plays was Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). It was playing off-off (probably a few more offs) Broadway with some unknown actors. I'd heard of the play. I knew the playwright was a Canadian. Anyway. I went to see it and was blown away. I thought it was the most clever, funniest play I'd ever seen.

About 4-5 years ago, the play was being done here in Toronto with the playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald (also a novelist and actor) in the lead. I jumped at the chance to see the play again... And was really let down. It just didn't click for me in the same way. Felt flat.

So what's the point of this rambling departure? And just how many degrees of separation is it from Hope Davies?

Well, after my disappointment I looked through my old theatre programs (I save stuff like that) and the reason it had been so amazing in NY became evident. The lead was Hope Davies and one of the male leads was Liev Schrieber. Talk about seeing two interesting actors before they were famous.

Anyway, always been a fan of hers. She always makes cool choices. If you've never seen The Secret Lives of Dentists, you can rent it and see her and Campbell Scott together in a film. Very strange and interesting movie... Dennis Leary's in it too...

So, I've gone totally off topic... But was really glad to see Six Degrees on TV again. (And Molly... I think I saw an ad that Friday Night Lights is back, too.

Is anyone else watching Six Degrees? Am I the show's only fan?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Back on the contest subject...

In very surprising news... THE MISEDUCATION OF APRIL HILLSON has finalled in RWA's Golden Heart competition.

Yes, this is the same ms whose publishing misadventures I described on Friday. Maybe this will breathe new life? (Not holding my breath, but one never knows!) That sounded pessimistic. I don't mean it that way. Finalling in the GH is HUGE. I'm super happy. Just trying to be realistic.

This development also reminded me of the post I did last week over at DWT, about subjectivity and contests. This particular project is one that typically gets strong reactions -- either positive or negative -- and therefore typically doesn't do well in contests. It doesn't follow "the rules". It has two time lines -- both told in first person. There is no hero evident in the first chapter... Well, the first 7 or 8 chapters if memory serves... and the heroine sleeps with other men before she finally gets around to even kissing the hero in like the second to last chapter... Also, the heroine comes off pretty weak and annoying at the start... She has a sharp character arc to climb... So, on most contest scoresheets, I'd fail. Miserably.

In fact, virtually the exact same entry--don't even know if I moved any commas--was entered in this same contest last year and barely made the top half. I did get three really high scores, but two judges HATED IT -- basically giving it a failing score.

Anyway... Grateful to have rolled some lucky dice on judges this year! Thank you to the five lovely RWA members who judged my entry in the preliminary rounds. Love you! Seroiusly. I really think I love you. We need to meet.

Friday, March 23, 2007

To agent, or not to agent

A funny thing happened to me yesterday and while I normally try to save my writer-heavy blogs for the Drunk Writer Talk blog... I just needed to share.

First, the back story. (I know, I know. But this isn't a novel.)

In January, 2005, with a very rough first draft completed, I pitched my ms THE MISEDUCATION OF APRIL HILLSON to an editor at Publisher X at a conference. She actually read the first 10 pages at the conference (different kind of pitch meeting) and asked to see more, which I immediately sent to her. Let's say in the first week of February, 2005. I also pitched to a few agents at that same conference, one of whom asked to see the full about a week after I'd sent her the partial in February 2005. (Ack! Remember the very rough first draft line?)

I went mad, worked 12 hour days and got a completed ms to that agent in April, 2005. Sometime during 2005, I found out that the editor at Publisher X I'd pitched to, and who had my partial, had changed to another publisher, so I wrote that editor submission off and concentrated on getting an agent. In July 2005, I pitched to Deidre Knight at the RWA National conference in Reno. She asked for a partial. In November, she asked for the full. And in early Feb, 2006, another agent at TKA, Pamela Harty, offered me representation. (Yippee!)

I sent a rejection letter to the agent who'd had my full by then for almost 10 months. (We had corresponded via e-mail a couple of times and she'd had a baby some time during those 10 months, slowing her down.) But that's not really the point of this post.

My new agent sent my ms to a number of editors in March 2006 and within a week we heard from one editor (at publisher X, coincidentally) that she loved it and was passing it around to other editors at the house to read. About a week later, we heard that 4 other editors at publisher X had all read the ms all the way through, also enjoyed it, but wondered about the structure and could I make some changes. I made the changes and to make this getting-to-be-a-long-story shorter, publisher X ultimately passed on the project in September 2006. (An aside. the editor then moved on to another house, asked for it again, but couldn't get it past all the hurdles at that house either. It's a tough market right now. Sigh.)

So, back to what happened yesterday? I got a package (via fed-ex no less) from publisher X rejecting the partial I'd sent more than 2 years ago. Not only did it take 2 years for them to respond, it was on a book that they'd seriously considered buying a year ago.

Bottom line? With an agent, my full ms was read in less than a week. Without an agent, a partial on the same ms took 2 years to be read. (and frankly, I don't think it was read at all.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Movies opening in March

A couple of great films I saw at the film festival last September opened this weekend (in Canada, anyway, I think they opened across North America). I meant to post a blog about them last week, but somehow the week got away from me. These were actually two of the very first films I saw at the festival last year, so my brain wasn't even fried yet when I saw them. (so I trust my judgment more...)

VERY different films but both great.

First, FIDO. Hilarious.

Think of this movie as Far from Heaven meets Night of the Living Dead meets Lassie. Yes, Lassie. The references to Lassie were one of the funniest things about this movie for me.

Not only is it really funny, it's kind of subversive, too. Although it's set in the 1950's, or some kind of parallel universe version of the 1950's, I think it has a lot to say about our current culture of fear/paranoia. Also lots to be gleaned about cruelty and slavery and prejudice and intimacy and love. (On the topic of slavery... Amazing Grace opens soon. Do not miss this film.)
The night I saw FIDO I thought FINALLY. Finally a Canadian film that might actually have some commercial success (other than Porky's, which is frankly more than a bit embarassing, even if it has one of Kim Catrall's first on screen appearances.) FIDO was also screened at Sundance last month, so I hope it catches on in the States.

Here's a photo from the premiere (after Billy Connolly stole the mic from the director and pretty much started doing his stand up routine... I guess he doesn't get to talk in the film, so thought he was entitled... I'm kicking myself for not taking notes that night... Because one of the questions Billy was asked was how did he end up in this film... and the answer was great, because another actor was originally cast and dropped out. But I can't for the life of me remember who... But it was a big name... Robin Williams or Steve Martin or someone like that. Whoever it was, Billy was perfect. Amazing how much emotion he could get across without speaking, covered in blue/black makeup and with blood and flesh in his teeth on occasion. :-)
Anyway. Really enjoyed this film. May go see it again now it's in theatres. Hope it does well, but I expect it won't have the distribution to show on enough screens in the US to make a big impact. Fingers crossed.

The other movie I saw, I think the same night at the festival, that opened this weekend is The Wind That Shakes the Barley. WOW. This is a British film, set in Ireland, and won the Palmes D'Or in Cannes this year. I read an article in the paper this weekend that said this film actually didn't do very well when it screened in it's native Britain, and didn't get on that many screens. A pity. I suppose no country likes to look at films that cast a negative light on its past actions. And the IRA is perhaps still too touchy and current a subject to have a film focus a sympathetic eye on early members of a terrorist organization that was still causing terror so recently in the UK.
But this film is worth seeing for so many reasons. First a warning. The violence is very hard to watch. It's the hardest kind to watch in my opinion, because it's so real and so brutal and so relatable... Can violence be relatable? Maybe personal or intimate? Can't find the word I want... (I'll think of it a half hour after posting this.) That said, I don't object to this kind of violence in films. I just hate films that are full of violence for violence's sake.

I found the history in this film very interesting. Sure, I know a little about the Irish fight for independence, and of course the IRA and some of the terrible things they did, but I didn't really know about the Irish civil war that happened in the 1920's after an initial truce was signed with the British that many Republicans thought compromised too much.

But aside from all the history and politics... it's really a story of two brothers and how circumstances and evolving ideals tear them apart. Tragic story.

The heavy Irish accents are a bit difficult at times... But the performances are astounding not only from great actors like Cillian Murphy, but also from some of the minor characters some of whom had never acted before. I've read that the director, Ken Loach, never lets the actors see the script until just before shooting and he films as much in sequence as possible, so the actors can't let knowledge of what's going to happen to their characters later in the film, affect their performance in the current scene. Interesting. Whatever he does, he gets amazingly real performances from actors and knows how to tell a compelling story.

Here's a photo of Cillian Murphy at the Toronto (North American) premiere last fall. I saw him on that same stage a year earlier for Breakfast at Pluto, which I also enjoyed, but couldn't have been a different character. Very interesting actor, Mr. Murphy is...

Even his more commercial work like Batman Returns and Red Eye were interesting. Certainly someone to watch. And those eyes... (Red eye issues in this photo don't do them justice.)
Anyone else seen either of these? Seen anything else worth seeing lately?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The most annoying person on the planet.

Does anyone else watch The Amazing Race? I just watched last Sunday's episode on my PVR and it has hit me once again that Mirna is the most annoying woman on the planet.

What does she do that annoys me? Just about everything. I hate how she thinks she'll be better understood in foreign countries if she a) yells or b) speaks with a strange accent or c) both. (Her most common strategy.) I hate how she's always the wimpy one, the one not pulling her weight or whining and yet she constantly blames and complains about her cousin who appears to me to be twice as smart and twice as capable of doing most of the tasks. I hate how both of them have about the shadiest ethics of any team I've ever seen, and yet they seem to think they're such fair players and everyone else does them wrong. Annoying. On my list of people I'd least like to spend even a moment of time with? She'd be pretty high on the list.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Work and relaxation are incompatible

Once again, my mind boggles at the things that boggle my mind.

Why did I think I'd get any work done on my new book at a spa ? Am I insane? Did I not realize that post-massage euphoric hazes are best spent lazing on a sofa in front of a fire, not pouring over character development issues, hero's journey charts and psychology books? Do I still not realize (after trying so hard to convince family and non-writer friends that writing is work) that writing is, in fact, WORK???

That said, I did get a fair bit done last week... Just not as much as I'd hoped to. I read a few craft books that I'd only glanced at before and they sparked some ideas. I now have two of the main characters for my next book pretty well tied down... and the overall idea and concept for the book is solidifying... I'm just a little short on details... like what the character arcs are and -- you know -- minor things like "what happens in this book?"

With other books, I might have started at this point. Once I had the idea and main characters in my mind, I might have been so impatient to get going, to start telling the stories of these people who are becoming real to me that I'd just start typing...

But I'm planning on taking a bit more time with this one. I don't expect everything to be figured out before I start, but I do want to have enough so that when it goes off the rails 120 pages in, (which they all do), and I start to panic and doubt the story, (which I always do), maybe, just maybe, the outlining/plotting work I do now, will pull me in off the inevitable mid-way-through-the-book-ledge I'll find myself perched on. I'm actually hoping this up front planning will result in less time overall. (Tune in to a blog post in 6 months time where I explain why this didn't work. How's that for pessimism?)

On the upside... Had a couple of great massages this week and every inch of my skin is exfoliated and buffed to a high sheen.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Short sabatical

I'm heading off into the wild blue yonder for a few days to (I hope) work out the plot for my next book.

So, probably no blogs this week.

Hope to come back all ready and raring to write.
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