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It is said that the spaces between the notes make the music.  In the same way, the longing between separated lovers makes the story of their love.

Batumi  is a seaside city and the capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic,  in southwest Georgia.  There, at the edge of the Black Sea, Georgian artist  Tamara Kvesitadze  has created the 26-foot tall, moving sculpture called “The Statue of Love.” Her steel creation is based on the tragic love story of Ali and Nino, a Muslim boy and Georgian Christian girl who were separated by the coming of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Nino fled to Paris with the couple’s child while Ali joined the defense of Azerbajan and was killed when the Red Army invaded in 1918. The novel by Kuban Said, a Dr. Zhivago– style epic, was published in 1937.

At seven p.m. each evening, the computer-controlled statues move slowly toward each other in a spectacular light show, They join briefly in a passionate kiss, and then pass through each other,  leaving the beloved behind.  When I saw this video, I wished I could send it to Unhappy Reader, whose dissatisfaction with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, I explained in my last post.   Perhaps viewing the video of “The Statue of Love”  would explain the story of Carrie Moon and Stan Benedict to Unhappy Reader in a way my words apparently failed to do.

At the beginning of Ride, an invisible force seems to draw Stan and Carrie toward each other evening after evening in Jazz By the Bay, just as the statues move toward each other in the twilight by the sea in Batumi.  Carrie thinks she is drawn toward Stan and his artistry as a musician without realizing her obsession stems from her need to recover her own inner artist and musician, the persona she left behind when she became a lawyer. Although Stan fights his attraction to Carrie because he thinks love never lasts for him, her unconditional support shines like a beacon in his emotional darkness and draws him closer and closer, just as the computers driving “The Statue of Love” move the lovers irresistibly toward each other in the twilight.

Stan and Carrie meet in a passionate embrace, like the the lovers in the “Statue of Love.” But they, too, literally pass through each other, as the pressure of their very different lives drives them apart.  Stan’s insecurities lead to muffing his chance  to become a big name musician in Los Angeles.  Carrie finds she cannot sustain the pressure of her legal career and the demands of wife and soon-to-be mother.

Tragedy strikes, moving Stan and Carrie apart, like the moving figures in the “Statue of Love.”  Years pass like the hours that pass before the computer activates the moving figures in Batumi once again.  And then, just as the computer switches on at the appointed time, the Universe moves Carrie and Stan toward each other once again, this time to learn love’s greatest lesson of all.

To view the magnificent spectacle of the “The Statue of Love” at twilight go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ds9fE0tnzE

To purchase a copy of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, click the link on the side bar of this website.  And let me know if you agree or disagree with Unhappy Reader.

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This week I heard from a reader. I do not often hear directly from readers, but the ones who have written up until now have sent good news: they enjoyed Dance for A Dead Princess or Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. Until this week, the ones who didn’t like my books, either left words to that effect in Amazon reviews, or remained silent. No one took me to task in a long, personal email.

But this week, a reader not only left a negative review on Amazon, she wrote me a long email outlining everything she thought was wrong with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. And I could immediately tell that she didn’t “get” the story. She had received a free copy as part of a Read and Review program, and I’m sure she was under the impression that Ride was a formula romance novel. And, reading between the lines, she was upset, outraged might be a better word, because there were no explicit sex scenes in Ride and because Ride is an honest look at how difficult love can be and how we sometimes find lost pieces of ourselves in the people we believe we love and hang on at all costs. Ride is a complex book. It does not say hot sex equals undying love. I know that is theme of formula romance. But I was not writing formula romance in Ride, to the chagrin of Unhappy Reader.

I have come to feel that, as a female writer, all of my work has to overcome the presumption that because a woman wrote it, it is formula romance. When I set up promotions on the various ebook promotions sites, I often have the Hobson’s choice between “Romance” and “Contemporary Fiction.” I consider both of my books to be “Women’s Fiction” although even that label does not immediately remove my novels from the formula romance presumption. While Dance for a Dead Princess does have some elements in common with formula romance, as Diane Donovan of the Midwest Review observed, it goes far beyond formula fiction.   In my day job, as an attorney, I deal with the presumption of innocence, which, frankly, is more akin to a presumption of guilt. And I have come to feel, in my night job, as a fiction writer, that any book for a female audience carries the formula romance presumption.  And when it doesn’t live up to that presumption, some readers, like Unhappy are, to put it frankly, outraged.  Hence her personal email critique.

What is formula romance, you are asking at this point. Good question. The roots of formula romance have impeccable literary credentials. The unforgettable Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and the equally charming Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin are the ancestors of the modern romance novel. In both books, a heroine of little fortune marries a man of means for love and not for pure social advantage.  In archetypal terms, the Cinderella trope.   The plots of both books center around the barriers between the hero and the heroine and how these are ultimately resolved. Jane Eyre attempts to resolve a moral issue, a married man in love with a young women of little means but great love and virtue. Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners, poking subtle fun at the mating conventions of the day. The hero overcomes his pride of position to marry the young woman of great love and virtue but little fortune. From these outstanding beginnings, modern-day formula romance has evolved (or devolved) into predictable plot lines, which are resolved in fifty-thousand words or less. (Unhappy complained that Ride, at 100,000 words was just too long, and she was sooooo bored. My advice: if a book bores you, stop reading it.  It’s like  hitting yourself in the head:  it feels so good when you stop.)

In the modern formula romance, Hero, with six-pack abs, which he miraculously unveils within five pages of the opening, (and which are always on the cover), has sex with Heroine in Chapter One. Notably, they are both strangers. By Chapter Two, the glow of orgasm has faded, and they realize they have made a huge mistake. Like two mature adults, they immediately fight and vow never to see each other again. Then, for twenty-something more chapters, the two vacillate between their determination not see each other and their determination to have more sex, which is described in excruciating detail in alternating chapters. Fight a chapter, F– a chapter. (You get what I mean.)

On this solid and mature foundation for a marriage, Heroine winds up with a very large diamond on her finger, since Hero not only has that six-pack, but he is also great hubby material because he is good in bed and, more importantly, he has revealed he is not a simple ranch hand but the owner of most of Texas (or is a prince of a European state determined to restore its monarchy). Formula romances  close with a wedding or an epilogue showing a happily pregnant Heroine.

These books sell well to readers like Unhappy, so Clever Author multiplies this storyline like rabbits, varying the setting and the characters’ names, but never the plot. And if Author is even More Clever (or Diabolical, you decide) the original book will have a Heroine or Hero with ten brothers and sisters, each of whom will star in a subsequent formula romance. These books are easy to spot on the ebook promo sites because, in addition to male six-packs on the cover, they all have titles that include the word “Series” or “Chronicles.” “Book One of The Thornton Family Chronicles” Or “Book Three of the McLaren Brothers’ Brides Trilogy.” Or “Book Twenty-five of the Sisters of Seven Corners Series.” You’ve seen them. You know what I mean.

Not to be rude, but I run from these cookie-cutter books like the plague. They remind me of those clear plastic sleeves of chocolates that you can buy at Costco at Christmas. Year after year, the blue ones are milk chocolate with Kahlua centers, the pink ones are dark chocolate with an unidentified green cream inside, and the gold ones contain an unknown liqueur that might be brandy. Might. Many of these literary formula offerings have no ending, so that if a reader wants to know what happened to Hero and Heroine (does tragedy strike? does he lose that six-pack and therefore the girl? does he become King Travis the 25th of MoldyDisheveia), she has to buy “Books Two through Thirty of the Hot Brothers of MoldyDishevia Series.” And Extremely Clever Author laughs all the way to the bank. And gets featured as an Amazon Bestselling Extremely Clever Author in the Amazon Newsletter. (Read their newsletter if you don’t believe me.) Oh, and the piece de resistance, Author gets a lifetime guarantee of ads on the obnoxious Book Bub, which mainly features trashy formula romance with those hot-sex covers. But that is another blog post.

At any rate, I have come across a beautiful video that explains visually what Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is all about. I will explain in my next post and show you the video to see what you think. Is there room in the world for a woman writer to write a book that is not formula romance?   In the meantime,  my deepest thanks to my readers who did “get” it, and my undying gratitude to those who left reviews explaining exactly what they “got.”  I am forever in your debt and humbled by being allowed to entertain you in 100,000, I promise, well-chosen words.

And now, one last word to Unhappy. Despite your email statement to me making light of the loss of a child, losing a child is one of the most tragic events of anyone’s life. It is a tragedy that no one completely recovers from. The only thing offensive about you email, was your statement that “losing a child is no big deal.” Wrong, Unhappy. Very, very wrong, on that one. Formula romance books are fungible. Children are not.

Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is not a book for every reader. It is a book for anyone who wants to laugh and cry,  for anyone who is willing to be frustrated by characters that life has broken and healed and broken again,  and for anyone who is willing to look inside and love your own, beautiful and utterly unique soul. Ride is a challenge that not everyone will want to meet. But that’s just fine by me.

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Up until last week, the only contact I’d had with Lena Dunham’s series “Girls” was reading various blogger posts about the different fashion statements the four female leads represent. I love fashion, although to be more accurate, I love style because style is timeless and individual, whereas fashion is a fickle friend of the moment. Based on my limited knowledge of “Girls” obtained through the style blogs, I was kindly disposed toward Lena Dunham because she insists on a personal style that is definitely not influenced by Hollywood’s unnatural picture of what women must be. And I admired her for succeeding in a difficult business at age twenty-seven.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I read a review of “Girls” written by a British blogger, Emma Woolf (the great-nice of Virginia herself), which made me curious about the substance of the show. Ms. Woolf, who could be a contemporary of Hannah Horvath and company, didn’t like “Girls” one bit. The title of her essay was “Why ‘Girls’ Is Bad for Women.” She described her experience watching the episodes in the first series on DVD as “uncomfortable and unforgettable.” (Did she mean “forgettable”?)

Curious, I ordered the same first season DVD from Netflix and on a night when I was too tired to do anything else, I settled down to watch. I began by wanting to like Hannah/Lena. I sympathized with her plight as a writer, struggling to get started. I felt for her when she was suddenly and without warning cut-off financially by her parents, and I sympathized with her decision to go plead her case to them – until I discovered her “novel” that was “nearly finished” consisted of all of ten pages. How could anyone who called a ten page draft a novel, expect to be taken seriously? What emotion was Lena Dunham trying to evoke in me? Laughter, disgust, complete bafflement?

I considered ejecting the disk after episode one, but I thought “Girls” might get better, so I punched “forward” and “play” and ploughed on. Pretty soon, I understood Ms. Woolf’s objection to “grubby sexual content.” As she put it, “If you want to watch strangers copulating, I imagine professional pornography would be more satisfying.” And she was right about the sexual content of episode two, which as she said “opens with Hannah and her reclusive boyfriend Adam having sex, in a scene so disturbing that it felt close to abuse.” I kept wondering if I was supposed to like Adam because I did not like him even a little. Any respect I had had for Hannah/Lena vanished. She insisted a man was her “boyfriend” who wouldn’t return her texts, yet would use her (there is no other word for it) for some very unattractive sex when she showed up at his door, reeking desperation and misery. Why, I wondered would a young woman depict the lives of herself and her contemporaries in such a squalid, hopeless light? Was Ms. Dunham trying to say that women are still required to have a man in their lives at any price despite the enormous strides women have made toward equality and independence in the last fifty years? I found the suggestion that women must or should put up with abuse – physical or verbal – as distasteful and disturbing as the generation of “romance” novels that encouraged women to put up with domestic violence in the name of “hopeless love” for an “alpha male.”

At any rate, I gave “Girls” the same chance Ms. Woof did. I watched all of the episodes in series one. It didn’t get better, and I was relieved when it ended although I wasn’t entertained by Hannah/Lena’s inane monologue about the “benefits” of contracting AIDS as she lay on an exam table with her feet in stirrups for her annual pap smear. Really, are these private details of women’s lives interesting enough to be on television? And what is “Girls”s is trying to accomplish by airing the mundane details of womanhood: comedy? satire? social commentary? Beats me.

Like Emma Woolf, I am not a cultural snob. I admit I did not watch “Sex and the City” in its heyday, but I saw all the episodes while happily bypassing the 11 p.m. doomsday evening news. The redeeming grace of “Sex” was its ability to create a fantasy world of clothes, clubs, rich men, and expensive shoes on a writer’s budget. And, best of all, the warmth of the attachment of the four female leads came across as real and heartwarming. I was willing to suspend my disbelief for “Sex,” knowing only too well that no Wall Street partner has ever in the history of the world had time to hang out in a coffee shop with her girl friends. Miranda, I love you, but you are a work of extreme fiction.

Now baffled by all the hoopla over a show that to me seemed depressing and even dangerous for the messages it is sending to and about women, I turned to an expert for advice: my daughter who is exactly Lena Dunham’s age. I offered her the DVD and asked for her thoughts after watching it. But her response was even more telling. She said okay the night I called, but when we got together for dinner the next evening, she politely declined. “Mom, I googled it. And from what I read, it’s not something I want to see.” “Wise decision,” I told her. And I smiled to myself, “Validated!”

Girls

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Back in the day when newspapers arrived on the doorstep in the morning instead of on iPads, Nooks, and Kindles, people had careers as newspaper columnists. Anne Landers, who died recently, was one. Erma Bombeck was another. Depending on whether the column was published daily or weekly, the writer labored on a regular basis to produce copy audiences wanted to read.

Now I fully understood that a serious blogger has the same responsibility when I opened my little word shop on WordPress some months ago. I figured the Christmas holidays would be my temptation to backslide. Wrong. I sailed through Christmas with flying blogger colors.

No, it was January that derailed my weekly posts, and work that snuck up on me on little cat feet like the fog in Carl Sandburg’s poem. My job involves three things: reading, writing, and staying sane reading about crime for a living. I am the appellate version of the public defender, and I tell the stories of guilty people who have made some pretty bad mistakes. I tell their stores to the mid-level courts of appeal here in California and to the California Supreme Court and write lots of legal reasons why they should get new trials. (That doesn’t happen, much, as you’ve guessed.) You lose in the trial, court I’m your next step in the food chain.

How do you represent guilty people, most people gasp at this point. It’s not hard. Here’s why: a good lawyer is like a car mechanic. Think about it. Your mechanic does not get emotionally upset when you and the tow truck arrive at his shop. (Well, truth to tell, they do get kind of emotional about MiniCoopers, but that’s another story and an exception to the rule. Every lawyer knows there is an exception to every rule and probably more than one. But that’s another story, too.)

Your friendly car mechanic does not give you a lecture or cite scripture or otherwise have an opinion about fault and broken machinery as your car exits the tow truck. No, the mechanic looks at the problem, gives you an estimate, and goes about the job of fixing what he can.
His blood pressure never rises.

And that’s what I do. I read what happened at the trial and write the story for the court according to a prescribed set of legal rules. I do not judge. That is not my job. The jury judges. I just write.

The other way to look at what I do is to consider baseball. I’m the pitcher. My job is to throw the balls across the plate. The umpire (the court of appeal) calls the balls and strikes and says when the batter is out.

Anyway, although I am paid by the state, I am a subcontractor, which means I am self-employed. I had no background in self-employment until I began this job. My father was a government employee, and I had always had salaried jobs, too. The downside to salaried work is you work according to hours your boss sets, on projects your boss dictates, and according to rules your boss makes. In exchange for giving up these freedoms, you get a paycheck at promised intervals from your boss. But self-employed people only get paychecks when they have completed the work they have contracted to do. Sometimes that means a lot of paychecks, and sometimes it means not so much. Work flow is uneven. The perks are you have more control over your time and the projects you agree to do. You set your own hours and work in you jammies if you want to. (Me the fashion plate does not often want to. But that’s another story, too.)

There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms of employment, and everyone is different; so it is not a one-size-fits-all world. It took me a long time to learn how to manage my little business, but I’ve done a good job, and I’m very proud of my achievement. I’m rainmaker, CEO, chief partner in the firm of one, accountant, secretary, and gopher.

To my great delight, January rolled around with a bumper crop of good projects for me. Smile! But that meant giving up a lot of my own time to read and get ready to write the briefs that will be due over the next few months. Sigh! So I’ve not forgotten my responsibility as a serious blogger. I’ve just had it temporarily derailed by a sudden influx of work. Instead of blogging at night, I’ve been reading about murder. And not murder as in Agatha Cristie or Inspector Morse.

I’ve missed blogging, but self-employed people must never, never look a gift horse in the mouth. It is very bad luck. Always, always be grateful when you have too much work to do. Beating the bushes looking for work is not fun. This is the first and the greatest law of self-employment.

I suppose I could make up for my lapse by posting in rapid-fire succession all the posts that have been on my mind over the last few weeks. But I kind of dislike being bombarded. I respect my fellow bloggers who, like me, have fallow times. Four posts a week from the same source, as entertaining as they can be, sometimes overwhelm me. I want to take in everyone’s info and express my gratitude, but there’s only so much of me to go around.

Anyway, I am back. I intend to adhere to one a week, and I am grateful for the New Year, for my readers, and for all the pages and pages of murder trials that are hanging around my office waiting to be spun one by one into unbrief briefs. (Only a lawyer would call 25,500 words a “brief”!)

iah109ts

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