Thursday, February 28, 2008
One woman quipped, "You know, I could really use a wife around here. I'd be able to write a lot more."
We all got a chuckle out of that, and I made the remark that I wondered if the male writers on the e-mail list fully appreciated just how much their wives do that allowed them to write at nights and on weekends.
At least one of them took umbrage with that comment, saying that there's no reason a husband couldn't help out to let his wife write.
Well, sure. I guess. In theory. But that's not how life, at least as a mother, works.
No matter how well-meaning the husband is, stuff happens. Here's a scene that's been replayed many times in my house:
Me: Honey, I'd love to get some writing in tonight. Could you put the kids to bed? DS12 still has to finish his piano practicing, and DD10 has math homework.
DH: No problem. I'll take care of it. Kids, make sure you clean up your dishes after dinner. And don't bug your mom. She's writing tonight.
Ten minutes later, I sit down at the computer and poise my fingers over the keyboard.
Meanwhile, DD8 stands at the top of the stairs and yells so loudly you can hear it in somewhere in Bangkok, "MOM!!!! Can I have a brownie??!!!!"
DH, who is standing ten feet away from her, says, "I'm right here. You can ask me for permission."
DD8: "Oh yeah."
Five minutes later, my office door swings open. DD5 comes in, crying.
DD5: "I fell off the rocking chair and hurt my arm."
I stop writing, thinking that it would have been much simpler for her to walk to the next room to see her dad about this instead of treking all the way to the basement.
I inspect the arm and give her hugs and kisses.
Meanwhile, DH tracks her down.
DH to DD5: "Let Mom write. I'll take care of your owie. Come upstairs and watch some TV with me."
He leads the reluctant girl out of the room, throws me an apologetic look, and closes the office door. Again I turn to the computer.
Two minutes later, DD8 bursts into the room.
DD8: "DD10 won't share her DS game with me, and it's my turn! She promised!"
DD10: "I never promised. And it's my game. It's not fair. Besides, I let her play it yesterday for like, hours."
DD8: "When I tried to take it, she hit me!"
DD10: "Did not. I just tapped you like this." (She "taps." Hard.)
Me, sighing: "Girls, go out, please. This is supposed to be my writing time. Have Dad deal with it."
Both DD: "But, MOM!"
DH, coming into the basement. "Girls, get out of there."
At this point I've managed to write, oh, about a paragraph. And that was during the relative silence when, right above my head, the piano blared as my son banged out his concerto.
Moms, for better or worse (usually better), tend to be the nucleus of the home. Things revolve around Mom. Even when well-meaning Dad steps in to help out, the kids somehow manage to go right around him and straight to Mom anyway.
Which is why, a few weeks ago, when my critique group was canceled last minute, I told my husband that since the family had planned on me not being home that night anyway, I'd like to go to the library and write for the evening.
His first response: "Why don't you just stay home and write?"
I laughed and gave him a brief reminder of previous such attempts.
This was followed immediately by a smile. "You're right. Go have fun. When will you be back?"
See, now that is a supportive spouse.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Tristi was kind enough to bestow the following award on me:
I am now supposed to give three pieces of writing advice and then pass the award on to some great writers.
I could throw out all kinds of advice (I'm opinionated and nerdy that way), but really, the things that most good writers do can be boiled down to three main things:
1) Write. A lot.
Obvious, yet I can't count how many people have come to me saying they "want" to write but never have gotten their behind in the chair and their hands to the keyboard. Want to write? DO IT. A lot. A good pianist can make a concerto sound effortless, but you can bet your booties that getting to that level took a lot of mundane practicing, including boring scales. Writing is the same way. To make it flow and sound natural takes work. A lot of it.
2) Read. A lot.
I don't know of a single good writer who isn't also an avid reader. On the flip side, I do know some sad writers who declare they don't have time to read. I love how Luisa put it once: that fiction is like a language, and to learn to "speak" it, you have to be fluent. The only way to do that is immerse yourself in it regularly.
3) Be where other writers are.
That means going to conferences, belonging to writing groups, joining a critique group, and networking. This is where you go from wannabe writer to real writer.
And for the award bestowal:
Rob Wells over at the Frog Blog. One of the funniest writers around. Love his stuff. Oh, and he's a closet romance writer. Don't let him pretend otherwise.
Josi who has a real power in her words (I don't recommend trying to read one of her books while on the treadmill. Crying or laughing while exercising just don't mix, people.)
Heather, my conference co-chair and a member of my critique group, who is so good at pin-pointing flaws and finding fixes.
Michele, yet another Whitney finalist (all three of these ladies are), and also a member of my critique group. I hope to have rough drafts this good when I grow up.
Friday, February 22, 2008
The answers to the two questions are a bit convoluted.
To the first part, no, I didn't always plan to write for the LDS market. But that's largely because it didn't really exist as a significant force when I was younger. As it matured, I also matured as a woman and as a writer. So did my interest in it.
Writing about my own people—and in recent years, my people's history—somehow feels like coming home, in writing terms.
In a strange way, it's also made me feel more connected to the roots of the Church, because with my mother and paternal grandparents all being immigrants, I personally have no pioneer blood in me. I have no ancestors who pulled handcarts or who knew Joseph Smith.
Don't get me wrong; I absolutely adore my heritage. I'm proud of being half Finnish, belonging in large part to a country with such an amazing, and powerful history, a place that is prettier than almost any other land on Earth. It's no accident that I wrote an entire book set there.
And when I got to visit Ellis Island a few years ago, I drank it in, imagining what it must have been like for my paternal grandmother to come over from Germany as a baby, for her future husband to arrive in America years later from Switzerland with his first wife.
For that matter, I have plans for a book about that era, featuring Ellis Island. (That may be years away, but it's niggling in the back of my brain somewhere.)
But writing about Church history has brought me a closer connection to those who came before me. That alone has been a huge reward for this journey I'm on.
To answer the second part (do I want to write for the national market?), well, maybe.
Here's where it gets confusing.
I've been toying with an idea for a contemporary novel (for a change) that's very timely and (to me, at least) very powerful emotionally. While I began research on my next temple, I started playing around with scenes for this other book.
I had no intention of making the characters or plot line LDS. I had no plans for what I'd do with the story if and when I ever finished it. It was just something I wanted to get out of my head and through my fingers on the keyboard. Something different, something fun.
And yet . . . the very first scene I ended up writing takes place inside an LDS church building during a Relief Society Enrichment night.
Uh, what just happened?
I tried to figure out a way to write that scene in another context so the story didn't necessarily have to be viewed through an LDS lens. And then lo and behold, I'm realizing that future scenes will deal with home teachers and priesthood blessings.
While it's very likely that I'll write stories that have no LDS content at some point, I have no plans to stop writing for the LDS market. But right now, it seems that no matter what writing comes out of me, it's LDS-related anyway.
Being a Latter-day Saint is a huge part of who I am, so it's hard to find a story where my world view, my beliefs, the things most dear to my heart, my ways of dealing with problems, don't come into play in some fashion.
At one point when working on that other project, I almost laughed and said, "Help! I'm LDS and I can't write anything else!"
But in the end, I supposed that's a good thing. It's who I am, as a person, as a writer.
Monday, February 18, 2008
He was right; ever since I performed in a community theater version of the play in my teens, I’ve loved that show. The fact that I grew up with a mother fascinated by all things Jewish probably helped.
Watching the film again brought back a flood of memories and emotions connected to the production I was in, the vast majority positive (the touching Sabbath scene, the practical jokes the cast pulled on each other, the fatherly friendship that our Tevye brought to the youth in the cast), and a few negative things as well.
I remembered the audition process, and the never-ending call backs in particular. In the end, several of my close friends were cast in leading roles. I was cast as a towns woman, one of the mamas. I became the choreographer’s assistant and helped teach some of the dance numbers.
I also used my dancing skills during the particularly poignant "Chavala" scene, where I danced in silhouette as Chava while Tevye sang the sad and somewhat tragic "Little Bird" number. I think that was one of my favorite parts of the entire show. I loved to dance, and such an emotional moment on stage allowed me to connect to the audience. Dancing was my element.
Aside from that, my role was limited. I had a total of one line. I was assigned two sweet little kids to be my children, and I found myself growing attached to them in a maternal way even though I was only eighteen at the time.
Likely the most memorable moment for me came when, prior to the opening of the show, both of sets of the double-cast daughters were supposed to perform the "Matchmaker" song at a city festival to advertise the upcoming run.
One of the Hodels didn’t show, and even though I didn’t know the dance number, the director asked me to step in last minute for the performance.
Nervous wouldn’t begin to describe how I felt. My voice was shaky, and I was unsure what I was doing, but muddled through, trying to remember what I had seen in rehearsals.
As we left the stage, the director came over and put her arm around me. She was an extremely talented lady, and well-meaning, I’m sure. I doubt she intended to wound me when she said, "When I was your age, I was just like you. I could act, and I could dance, but I just couldn’t sing."
Stunned, I just stood there, floored. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know if I said anything at all.
What I do remember was trying my best to hold back tears until I got home.
I knew that my friends—those insanely musical people I’ve talked about in previous posts—had more ability than I did. Okay, a lot more ability than I had. They were musical freaks of nature. But to have someone tell me flat out that I simply couldn’t sing? At all?
Okay, then. Thank you for your support . . .
Halfway through the run, one of the Hodels started showing up late and otherwise causing the director grief, and I heard the director admit that she wished she had cast me in the role. Which of course made no sense, because I couldn’t sing. But I was punctual.
When Fiddler ended, rumors surfaced that the director’s next play would be Into the Woods, which is essentially an operetta: almost the entire show is sung. I remember sitting in a car heading home after hearing the news, determined that I would show our director and make it into the cast. I beefed up my efforts with my voice teacher, practicing harder than ever before.
Auditions arrived the following summer, and I made it to call backs. At one point, the director went to the back of the room and asked an assistant to point to each of the actresses randomly to sing the melody that Rapunzel does frequently during the show—a tune that begins at a high b-flat.
Since Rapunzel sings as often offstage as on—and the first time you are introduced to her is by her voice when she’s offstage—it’s safe to say that her voice is important. The director didn’t want to be swayed by what she saw; she wanted to judge solely on the sound.
She covered her eyes and listened as one by one, each of us sang the part. Then she consulted with her assistant as to which ones she liked best and who they were.
I was cast as Rapunzel.
If you know the play, you’re surely aware that Rapunzel isn’t a big role. She’s not even almost a lead. But she has to be able to sing, and sing high.
I almost cackled with glee at the irony.
Oh, so I can’t sing? I thought.
My joy was increased when some of those friends who were born with an instrument one hand a score in the other (and arrived singing) came to see the show. One friend who came with them reported that when they first heard me from off stage, their jaws dropped. "That’s Annette?!"
So it was with a bit of pain—and a bit of triumph—that I watched Fiddler yesterday. The cut that director made to my heart still stings a bit.
But there’s also the stubborn side of me that always comes back with, "Oh, yeah? Watch me."
It’s that part of me that is largely responsible for my success in publishing. I’d get yet another rejection, file it away, and think, "Oh, yeah? Watch me."
I made it into Rapunzel’s tower, and, eventually, I made it into print.
I got a little revenge with my first book, Lost without You; I used Into the Woods for part of the story and described the audition scene, including the part with Rapunzel’s tune and how difficult it was. I made sure my poor heroine, as much as I loved her, couldn’t hit the high b-flat.
I can’t hit it anymore, either.
But I did, once upon a time, when I proved to the director that she couldn’t write me off.
Friday, February 15, 2008
We also both love Jane Austen, and of course, Pride and Prejudice. (Really, show me a sane woman who doesn’t?)
Many film versions of P&P exist. And here is where our opinions diverge: I much prefer the A&E (which stands for Arts & Entertainment). It's also known as the 6-hour version, although the purist in me has to point out that it's really 5 hours (it was aired originally in 6, 50-minute episodes). While I live and die by this version, Luisa champions the more recent Kiera Knightly adaptation.
I find it interesting that neither of us holds any other version dear to our hearts, including the black and white one with Sir Laurence Olivier.
So today Luisa and I are joint blogging on the same . . ish . . topic, explaining to our somewhat joint readership why we espouse the P&P versions we do.
There have been something like nine different film versions of the story, and I’ve seen several of them. While they all have elements I like, my hands-down favorite is the A&E version.
This post could have become a novel for as much as I could have written about the awesomeness that is the A&E P&P, but this (granted, exceedingly long) post will have to suffice:
He’s one of the most layered, complicated characters in literary history. As such, it takes a highly skilled actor to portray the layers instead of making Darcy look flat and hard to “get” instead of a real, complex human being. For me, even the amazingly talented Sir Laurence Olivier couldn’t quite him pin down believably.
While Darcy changes over the course of the story (as all good heroes do), he doesn’t change from one pole to the other, as he’s sometimes portrayed. He’s essentially the same man, but a better, more understanding version. And when’s he’s being snooty and hoity-toity, there’s still more going on inside him.
This is where Colin Firth rocks. I have seen the A&E version I don’t know how many times, and he never disappoints. You can see in his eyes, his manner, his voice—in everything he does (and much of it is subtle)—that there’s more going on here than just snubbing a girl from a lower class. His performance is so much more than constipated-looking facial expressions.
He’s conflicted. He’s proud. He’s going against everything he’s been taught, and by golly, he’s going to fight against those feelings. Yet he has a tender spot in that heart thanks to his little sister. Also thanks to her, he’s fiercely loyal and a fighter. Firth portrays every one of these qualities with apparent ease, making us feel that he is Darcy. Such a textured performance is a beauty to behold.
I love that Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy is pretty but not drop-dead Hollywood gorgeous. Her performance makes Lizzy real and down to earth. Her personality comes through so clearly that again, it’s hard to believe that she’s NOT Elizabeth Bennett. The performance has a lot of depth as well. Her anger at the proposal scene is a controlled simmer, not an explosive one, which would have been easier to perform, I’m sure. But this way it’s a more powerful moment. Her eyes are so expressive that you sometimes feel as if you could read her soul.
That’s good acting.
And if I’m being perfectly honest, I also love Jennifer Ehle in this role because she reminds me so much of my good friend Em, who is also an actress. I thought I was the only one who saw the resemblance, but when I mentioned it to some of our mutual friends, they agreed—and Em herself recently said that she’s had casting directors say that she reminds them of Jennifer Ehle.
The entire family is wonderfully put together, almost as if they had stepped off Austen’s pages. (If I could have changed one thing, it would be to make Jane a bit prettier, since she’s supposed to be the prettiest of them all.) But from Mr. Bennett who puts up with his wife and silly daughters—and depends on Lizzy to be the sensible one, to the flighty little sisters (don’t you just want to smack Lydia sometimes?), their performances are en pointe. Even Mrs. Bennett (someone else you’d like to smack many times), is spot-on in her obnoxiousness. She’s delightfully melodramatic, the center of her household.
Mr. Bennett brings me back to the concept of layers. He’s supposed to be well-meaning and a good husband who sticks by his silly wife. BUT . . . he’s still not polished and upper class material. Without realizing it, he still says things and behaves in a way that can be seen as lower class or silly, just like the rest of his family. This causes Lizzy embarrassment, even though she adores her father otherwise.
I have yet to find another P&P version where Mr. Bennett shows all these layers as the A&E one. Instead, he’s sometimes portrayed as distant and above the rest of the family or he’s a sweet, doting father who behaves precisely as a gentleman would. Neither option gives what I think is a proper portrayal of his character, especially the last one: If he’s such a classy guy, it begs the question, why would he have EVER married Mrs. Bennett? He’d be much too smart for that.
And then there’s Mr. Collins, who gives me the creeps in a delightful sort of slimy way as he devotes his heart to his patron, Lady Catherine, and behaves as the horrendously misdirected cousin of the Bennett sisters. You almost feel like you need a bath after watching him. Or at least you want to wash his hair.
Now I’m venturing into the technical side of things. The sound in the A&E version is clear, which may sound like a simple thing, but a good portion of the story has music in the background (such as all those balls they attend), yet the music isn’t overwhelming and never upstages the dialogue or what’s going on. The score is pretty as well.
For a historical writer like myself, this is more important than it might be for a lot of viewers. It doesn’t take much to throw me out of the story and remember that people in contemporary times put a movie together and that it’s all pretend. If I’m watching a historical film and I see a wrong hairdo or style of dress, the fantasy is—*poof*—gone.
That never happens for a moment with the A&E version. I get to happily pretend I’m watching something from the first decade of the 1800s, with nothing to lurch me out of that fantasy.
Another accuracy issue that is nonexistent in the A&E version is the accents. Since the entire cast is British, I don’t have to cringe when an American comes on stage who can’t pull off sounding British.
Brilliant. That’s all there is to it. The book is comprised mostly of long scenes with people sitting around talking to one another. Fun to read, but hardly exciting to watch. Adapting the story to film while being true to the text, making it interesting to watch, make sense, and have a natural flow to it all, takes skill.
The fact that the A&E version is significantly longer than the others gives it a definite advantage in the flow department. It’s much easier to show and explain some of the subtle plotlines when you have five hours instead of half that, so you can rely on a conversation instead of a single line to get a point across—which someone unfamiliar with the story might miss.
Which is what inevitably happens when you don’t have the time to devote to clarification. I’ve been with people watching other versions—people unfamiliar with the storyline (can you believe that such people still exist in the world? I know!)—and they get confused. Hold on—where are we now? Why did she just say that? What did he mean? Wait—who’s that? You never get that with the A&E version. The screenplay flows seamlessly from one major plot point to the next.
In the few places the screenplay deviates from the book, it does so flawlessly. For example, there’s a scene where Darcy practices sword fighting in a desperate attempt to distract himself from his growing feelings for Lizzy and banish the heat of his love for her. The first time I saw the film, that brief scene fit so perfectly into the story and the characters’ inner workings that it didn’t occur to me until much later—when a friend pointed it out—that the moment doesn’t exist in the book.
Such deviations are few and far between, and every one of them is relevant and true to the original. The screenplay doesn’t take liberties, changing locations or scenes from the book willy-nilly for the sake of upping the visual “romantic” factor. It relies on the story, the characters, and the dialogue to do all that. And it succeeds in spades.
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. There are moments where I feel as if I’m right there in the English countryside. The locations they used to shoot this film are grand and gorgeous. Pemberly and its grounds alone would be a dream to visit. Lady Catherine’s mansion is wonderfully gaudy, Collins’ new home properly humble, and so on. When Lizzy reads Darcy’s letter, she does so as she takes a walk across rolling green hills. Every bit is a feast for the eyes.
This is a tough one for actors to pull off if they don’t have it naturally. But in the A&E version, Lizzy and Darcy have plenty of chemistry. The flip side of that chemistry is the fire they have when they fight. Fireworks go off—like that great proposal scene where she nearly bites his head off.
One of my favorite moments of chemistry is the scene at Lady Catherine’s where Lizzy is singing and Darcy gazes at her. Let’s just say there’s chemistry in loads. You can almost feel Lizzy going weak in the knees.
Wow—this is a very long post. I could go and on, talking about P&P for days (and at times, probably have . . .). Be sure to pop on over to Luisa’s blog today to read about her favorite version and why she loves it. I know I’m looking forward to it.
Friday, February 08, 2008
As you may also know, the Whitney finalists were announced January 15. While the books were nominated by readers, the academy that votes on the finalists is comprised of slew of industry professionals, including publishers, editors, book reviewers, independent book store owners, and the members of the LDS writing guild, LDStorymakers. (Among others. I'm probably missing some. Regardless, there are a lot of members of the Academy.)
During the months leading up to the announcement of the finalists, I heard some people worrying aloud that the voting would end up being a popularity contest, that people would vote without having read the books and therefore without knowing which really were the better books and hence the most deserving of the awards.
Over the last few weeks, I've seen something that has brushed away any fears I have about that, at least if the LDStorymakers are any indication. They've blown me out of the water with how eager they all are to be informed voters.
For nearly a month now, the e-mail list we're on has consisted of almost daily posts about finding, borrowing, and trading finalists' books. I'll often see messages saying, "I have finished the following titles. If anyone needs to borrow them, let me know," or "I just finished so-and-so's copy of ***. Who's up next for it? I'll bring it to you."
People have driven half an hour or more out of their way to drop off and pick up books for one another. Other titles have been mailed across the country from one author to another, and there are lists of who gets which book next.
It's a reading frenzy!
Almost as impressive as all the reading is the fact that no one is discussing what they thought of the books beyond vague references like, "I'm finding a lot of great books," or "I'm not sure who I'll vote for in such-and-such category." It's as if everyone has a silent but mutual agreement not to publicly influence one another's votes.
I've been impressed and inspired at the cooperation, the excitement, and the passion they all have for the Whitney program. It's gotten me more motivated to read as many of the finalists as I can possibly squeeze in until my ballot is due.
I've got a stack of five books right now waiting for me to get to them. As soon as I get my word count in for the day, you know where I'm headed.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
But she was five then, and I got to do the picking. Now she's coming on eleven. She has her own opinions and desires, so she designed what she wanted me to make. Which meant I had to invent the pattern. It sort of worked. At least I made it big enough that she won't outgrow it too fast.
I actually began this project about a year ago, and although I finished it awhile back as well, I'm only now writing about it. The thing is, the story behind this jacket makes me see how amazing it is how a little detail in your life can lead to something so much bigger.
But I'll get to that in a minute.
The first thing my daughter did was pick the light blue and lavender colors. She didn't care what the yarn was made of; she just cared about the colors. Then she informed me that it would need a big S on the back (her first initial). The letter didn't turn out as great as I had hoped (and it took me forever to figure out how to invent a pattern for it--and it ended up lopsided), but at least it's recognizable as a letter.
She also asked for pockets on the front (and picked out darling little heart buttons for them). The one thing I added to her design (with her approval, of course) was cables on the sleeves (those braided looking things going down each one. I love doing cables).
The next thing she insisted her jacket have is a hood. This posed a slight problem, seeing as I had never made a hood and didn't own a single knitting magazine or book that had a hood pattern in it.
So I did what all good modern mommies do: I turned to the Internet in search of a pattern. I found a couple, but not quite what I was looking for, including one that had such convoluted instructions I panicked and moved on.
It was during my search that I discovered Knitty Magazine. I trolled through their web site and after reading a few pieces, thought that hey, I could write something for them. I wouldn't send them a pattern (I'm not THAT good . . .), but they also publish fun essays.
So I wrote a humous piece about how I got started knitting, and they bought it. (You can read it here.)
A short time later, I got a bunch of e-mails from readers who had found the article and clicked on my contact information. They came from all over the U.S. and even a few European countries.
All but one of the messages fell into two categories:
1) My, your daughters have gorgeous red hair (Yes. Yes, they do, I'd reply. Aren't my girls cute?) and
2) How can I get the pattern for the pink sweater? (I'd tell them what book I got it from.)
But one e-mail came from a reader who, I'm assuming, went to my web site and deduced rather quickly that I'm LDS. (Not tough to do, really, when I have book covers with temples on them.)
She contacted me saying that she lived in New York and was also:
2) A writer
3) A knitter
What are the chances of someone being all three of those and reading my article?
The reader was none other than Luisa of Novembrance.
We soon began a cyber friendship, and I got lucky enough to meet her in person last summer when she visited Utah (and enjoy lunch . . . and a sundae . . .) We soon discovered that we have a lot in common besides those three things.
Through her, I've met several other awesome blogger friends like this one and this one and many others. In turn, she found a bunch of bloggers through me, such as many of the LDStorymakers.
Over the last year, I've found a great friendship and source of support through Luisa.
Oh, and my daughter got herself a jacket she loves.
Who knew that a simple search for a hood pattern would lead to all this?
Post script to finish the jacket story:
I never did find a suitable hood pattern. I ended up inventing my own, using a hood from a jacket we had around the house as a model.
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