Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leaving the Past Behind

I've got a very important decision to make within the next 24 hours.

Some of you know that I am a Chartered Accountant, but unless I take action before 5:00 pm tomorrow, this may be the last time I'll ever be able to say that.

My annual dues must be paid by tomorrow and they are steep.
In addition, the institute has changed the rules and now, even if you don't have a license to sign audit opinons or anything (which I don't), you need to do at least 20 hours of continuing education each year. I've done well, zero. The requirement came in as of Jan 1, 2006, so to get caught up, I'll have to do 40 hours in 2007.

Now, I think requiring professionals to keep current is a good thing, in general, but it means that not only will I have to fork over a grand for my dues, I'll have to spend at least double that -- plus a few days of my life -- taking courses on topics that no longer are very practical or useful for me in order to keep my designation.

Last night a good friend -- one who understands what I went through to get the designation -- told me not to pay. To let it lapse. To stop living in the past.

Still... I feel like I'm closing such a huge door if I do this. Giving up something I worked incredibly hard to get. ACK! I know I never want to work in the corporate world again, but there may be a few options in my future, should this whole being an author thing not work out, where the CA designation might make a difference. What to do... What to do...

Do you have anything in your past you can't give up on?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pitch Hell

Did anyone see the premiere of On The Lot last night? The first task given to the fifty (fifty!) aspiring filmmakers was to pitch a movie to Carrie Fisher, Bret Ratner and Garry Marshall based on one of five log lines.

A country mouse is captured by a phrmaceutical testing lab and must escape.
A man about to become a priest meets the woman of his dreams just before taking his vows.
A box of military equipment destined for a base is delivered to a suburban house in error.
A slacker is recruited into the CIA.
And I've totally forgotten the last one...

It was painful. (And probably not that entertaining for non-writers, non-filmmakers.) They only showed a couple of even half-way decent pitches and a lot of really terrible ones. Amazing how little most of the contestants seemed to know about storytelling. I think many of them wanted to show how creative they were and how they could think "out of the box" but that only works if you actualy come up with a story to go with your wacky idea! Ratner made it clear to them their pitches had to show their movie had a clear beginning middle and end. Some of them were so crazy. Did these people forget that the prize is a development deal with Dreamworks????

Made me think of one of the reasons I've been hesitant to consider writing screenplays instead of novels -- in spite of my obvious love for movies. In movies there are two main (often conflicting) creative people involved in developing the story. The writer and the director. (and that's before the actors and everyone else gets involved.) I'm not sure I could cope with being only one half of that equation especially because the director seems to be the one with more control, more respect (and better paid) and last night proved how some of them are SUCH IDIOTS without a clue about storytelling.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


This weekend I went to see the film Waitress knowing very little about it beforehand. I had seen a trailer. I'd seen Kerri Russell in The Upside of Anger, so I knew she could act. I'm a fan of Nathan Fillion from Firefly... so I thought why the heck not.

I was blown away. What great storytelling. I love movies where all the characters are interesting but everyone's behaving so badly that it's hard to guess how the heck the writer is going to end things on a satisfying note -- and then they do.

And this film was written and directed by one of the actors in the film -- Adrienne Shelly. I'd seen her before in some other indie-films and by the end of the movie was really looking forward to her next work.

But then I sat through to the end of the credits... The final line was:

"In loving memory of Adrienne Shelly."

What??? I started to cry. I had no idea. As soon as I got home, I looked up the story and it's so sad. In late 2006 her husband found her hanging by a sheet from a shower rod and the police initially ruled it a suicide -- but then a 19 year old construction worker, whom she'd complained about noise to, confessed to her murder after they found his footprints on the toilet seat.

How horrible is that?

But the movie is really great. So sweet. You're really rooting for the Kerri Russell character through the whole thing and the resolution to her story made me tear up, too. Teary night for me. LOL.

I'd been planning to go to Away From Her afterward, but decided I couldn't take another sad movie so went to see Spiderman instead... I could rant about how messed up the storytelling in that one is... but this was meant to be a post celebrating Waitress and the fabulously talented late Adrienne Shelly -- so I won't.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writing for writing’s sake

I’ve attended an embarrassment of conferences and workshops over the past couple of years (love that collective noun) and hence have heard many authors, editor and agents speak about writing and the publishing industry. I’ve also read articles by many, many more—both in print and on the web. Basically, where I would never pretend to have learned all there is to learn (not even close), I’ve learned a fair bit about this business called fiction publishing. And still, I’m constantly making little revelations or realizing last week’s revelations sucked.

I’ve blogged before about conflicting advice on Drunk Writer Talk and I think this week I’ve had another kind of breakthrough in terms of one of those dichotomies. Or at least I’ve resolved to start thinking about it in a different way.

On the one hand one often hears: “You have to write for the love of writing. Writing is a tough business. Fickle. Lots of luck involved. Even if you get published the odds are against you earning a real living.” So, write because you love to write, because you have to write. (Well, I don’t totally buy that anyone HAS to write. I know I don’t. I’m happy to make up stories in my head.)

As many times as I’ve heard this “do it for the writing” advice and nodded my head in agreement, as many times as I’ve repeated it to my friends and family and other writing acquaintances, I recently realized I’ve never really committed to this idea.

From the day I decided to start writing a novel, I had publication in mind. I even chose the first genre I tried (romance) based on economics and what I saw as improved odds—there are so many published, surely it would be easier to break in and find success. Ha!

And therein lies the other side of the dichotomy. Many industry professionals will tell you to be aware of the market, to be smart about what you write, to avoid subjects or language that may offend, to react quickly to the market and adapt what you write to what’s selling.

This always sounds like good advice to me, too. I mean, my first career was a pretty conservative choice and if I should wake up tomorrow at age 18, facing the “which University, which career choice” again, even with the supposed “wisdom” I’ve garnered over the ensuing years, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t make the same or at least a similarly conservative choice again. I’m pretty sure I’d at least ensure I had a back up plan of sorts.


What I’m realizing is that I’ve let this second piece of advice, the career planning advice, the what kind of writer do you want to be questions, the where do you see yourself in the market questions... I’ve let that advice, those questions, paralyze me when I’m in the early stages of every book I start to write (okay, until I’m in the home stretch). Molly, stop laughing. Now.

With each book, I’ll get a certain distance in and go “this is too dark to be marketable”, or conversely, “this is too silly, will be taken as chick lit and chick lit isn’t selling”, “this is too trite for literary fiction”, or “this is too heavy for commercial fiction”, or “this book won’t be a good follow up if the last one sells”, or "I should try a paranormal erotica", "maybe I should write YA", "maybe I should write an inspirational Christian romance" (okay, I've never said that one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still believe those career-minded questions are smart ones. I still think they encompass good advice. But I’ve decided it’s not the best advice for me right now. I’ve been in a very dark place about my writing. Very discouraged. Yes, I’m nominated for the Golden Heart. Yes, I’m happy about that and proud and know that over a thousand entrants who didn’t final—not to mention thousands of others who weren’t ready to or courageous enough to enter—would like to be in my shoes. I don’t mean to be ungrateful or to minimize this accomplishment. It’s just that I’ve been so focused since I started my first novel five years ago, on the end game. On publication. On publication with a major print publishing house.

And I know my GH nom, or even a win, won’t really affect that, especially because the nominated ms isn’t a romance. Sorry for the GH digression… Back on topic…

What I’ve decided—at least for today, this week, this month, this year, however long until I change my mind again—is that I need to write for the writing’s sake. In reaching this conclusion, I was remembering the heady days of starting my very first novel five years ago. Sure it was scary. Sure I thought I was writing something marketable. But I knew so little about the industry and I think all that ignorance freed me. Freed me to tell the story I wanted to tell. Freed me to put words down on paper and feel proud and good about those words, proud to see the word count, the page count, the chapter count piling up. Freed me to enjoy writing. These days, I’m not always enjoying it so much.

Now, I know (I hope?) that should I be lucky enough to have a career in fiction, that there may come a day when I will have to put career ahead of all other considerations when deciding what kind of stories to write, what tone to take, what themes to explore, etc. But for now? I think I just need to write.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Paris appealing to the Terminator?

Okay, I must admit this whole Paris Hilton getting sentenced to prison thing fills me with just a little more glee than it should. Okay, not glee, but a strong sense that karma is doing its thing, that a little jail time will do the girl some good, maybe even help her to grow up a bit, teach her that, all evidence to the contrary, the world does not revolve around her.

An aside here... I know many people felt a similar glee when Martha Stewart went to jail. I didn't. And I'm not a Martha fan. At all. I just felt like she'd done something so many other people (mostly men) had done and that they were making an example of her mostly because of her celebrity and party because of her gender.

I really don't feel the same way about Paris. She had a suspended license. She was on probation. She knew she wasn't supposed to drive her car. If she really believed there were circumstances under which it was okay to drive her car without a license, then her sense of entitlement, of being above the law and better than everyone else only intensifies my feeling that she had this coming to her.

I think why I gave Martha the benefit of the doubt was that, in my mind, her stock broker committed the bigger crime. He's the one who passed on insider information.

I would challenge most people not to act if they received a stock tip they knew they shouldn't have received. Getting that kind of a tip is what many of the myths and fairy tales about success in the market are based on. Real insiders must not act on this information, of course. That's the pledge/the bond they make with non-insiders to get them to invest in their company. But if they do let information leak, and it gets passed around and you hear it... I think it would take a very strong person to ignore the information. Was Martha greedy? Sure. Did she think she'd get away with it? Sure. Did she then lie about it in an attempt to cover her ass? Sure. But I don't think her belief she'd get away with it had anything to do with her celebrity. She thought she'd get away with it because most people get away with it. Because (sadly) it's an all-too-common occurance in the industry.

Now, I'm sure driving with a suspended license is all too common, too. And I'm sure many people do get away with it. But I'm also pretty sure that repeat offenders, celebrity or not, are going to get some kind of a hefty fine or jail time if they are unlucky enough to get caught. I expect the maximum hefty fine for such a crime would not teach someone like Paris Hilton a lesson. It probably isn't big enough to be a deterrent or even make a dint in her monthly credit card bill. It would not be a punishment. So, I laud the judge who gave her some jail time.

And today I read that she's appealing to Arnold Schwartzenegger for a pardon???


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sad realizations

Okay, so I made a sad self-discovery tonight. In just a few short weeks I have become hopelessly dependent on my new PVR. How did I ever live without it???

My cable went out today. Who the hell knows why. It just did. And the stupid customer service person at Rogers convinced me to unplug my PVR and reboot it -- assuring me that I wouldn't lose anything I'd saved. (I kept asking her if I'd lose stuff... She insisted I wouldn't. I kept pointing out that if neither of my cable boxes were working it was highly unlikely to be the cable boxes, it must be the cable itself... But she knew better and insisted I try the evil reboot.)

After 15 minutes on the phone with her and watching my PVR try unsuccessfully to reboot, she informed me the problem wasn't my cable boxes, but the cable service into my house. Something I freakin' told her 15 minutes earlier. But it gets worse. The result of the ill-advised reboot was that not only could I not watch TV (because the cable's out) I also couldn't watch any of the shows I recorded last week when I was visiting my auntie out west because now the PVR is all fraked up. Damn it.

The rage I felt was incredible. Scary.

Hello. My name is Maureen and I am a serious TV addict.

Big purchases

I've come to the conclusion that everyone has their own definition of what constitutes a big purchase -- the ones you have to think about and analyze the hell out of before forking over the cash. I read an article recently that suggested we should use our gut/intuition for decisions our cave-person ancestors could relate to, (i.e. deciding where to live) but should use logic to make decisions our ancestors could not relate to (i.e. stocks vs bonds).

For me, I've realized over the years that my ability to make what most people would consider big purchases, and even impulse purchase, has nothing to do with the dollar amount involved. Or, at least, that's not the most important factor.

Not that I've really figured out what all the factors are. But I do know that I can fork over a scary amount of money for a fabulous pair of shoes with very little thought. Ditto on clothes. Ditto on fine craft items like ceramics, or glass or jewelery. I'm a sucker for well-made handcrafted things. (Don't even get me started on one-of-a-kind handmade shoes or clothes. Best of both worlds.) Okay, maybe I'm figuring out one of my factors here. I love beautiful things and when I see something I want, I can usually find a way to come up with the money to buy it. Self indulgent? Maybe. But I like buying nice gifts too.

Furniture is another matter... although I have a caveat. I have dining room furniture I love. And some beautiful antique pieces -- but they're all side pieces -- straight backed chairs, bookcases, consoles, sideboards. But a sofa??? Comfortable chairs to sit in??? I have never, ever, been able to fork over the bucks for anything like that. Instead, I have horrible, ugly, hand-me-down or garage sale pieces supplemented by a few pieces of cheap IKEA disposable crap.

Why can't I buy a couch? Some nice easy chairs?

My younger sister just moved into a new place and has no furniture (long story) and I've offered her the sofa-bed I inherited from the previous owners of my house (they were throwing it out) and the loveseat I bought for $50 from someone I rented from when I first moved back to Toronto. These are pieces of furniture I want to get out of my house, mostly because of the incredibly powerful inertia they seem to create. (Can inertia be created?) It's like they've a vortex sucking my decision making abilty into its depths. My hope? Once they're out of my house and I'm left with nothing to sit on, I'll finally be able to make a big decision and buy a new sofa...

Should I focus on design or comfort? Modern? Retro? Traditional? Funky? Neutral? Bright? Bold? Upolstered? Leather? Soft? Firm? Ack! What am I going to do?

What kinds of purchases are difficult for you? Which ones are just a little too easy?
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