Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Favorite Time of Year and Other Ramblings

This is my favorite time of year, this tucked away week between Christmas and New Year's. Maybe it's a leftover from school vacations, but I'm more inclined to think it's part of my hardwired programming, one of those things that is me, always was, always will be. Best not to fight those things, as it's a losing battle; embrace them instead and steer into the skid, as it were.

Things like how I've always known historical romance is the genre of my heart, my artistic tastes lean strongly toward maximalism and the correct answer to "how many blank books does Anna really need?" being "all of them." Of course, none of those books stay blank for very long once I know what they're for - see above mentions of writing and art.

This year's tucked-away week has no less than three gatherings of friends for the sole purpose of celebration. Four, if I can count yesterday's write-in, which I will, and two of those will involve books to some degree. Tomorrow is a gathering of the clans, as my friend, Mary, and I call the mushing together of our two families en masse, and since everybody is a reader, there will be at least one bookstore involved. Also much discussion of books. On Friday, I meet with my longterm critique partners, Melva and Michele (I really do have friends whose names begin with letters other than M, I promise) for our annual holiday feast, and then will see them again on Sunday for Michele and her hubby's annual open house and book swap. Okay, that's three gatherings that will be book related. These gatherings will also involve nonwriters, but those nonwriters are readers, so it balances out.

In an ideal world, I would spend the tucked away week in a big house, decorated inside and out, open to friends and family. Dress of the day would alternate between elegant glitz and flannel pajamas - let's say pjs until noon, regular clothes for lunch (as this might involve leaving the house, especially if there is snow to walk and play in) and then treat dinner as a red carpet event. Suits for the gents, gowns for the gals, and everybody is encouraged to accessorize as they please. I maintain a version of this in my head, alongside the real life events; call it my own alternate universe. So far, it's working.

Mornings would begin with pancake breakfasts, everyone in pajamas and robes and then mornings may be spent in repose, lain out on couches, recliners, comfy chairs and convenient patches of floor as desired. Conversation and books abound, and the four-legged members of our party would have free run of the place. This part, I've found, is the most portable - it can come from its universe into the tangible one at any time. Okay, holidays and weekends, because I do need to be gently turned about and pointed back toward the computer at some point.

Which is perfectly fine - once the well is filled, there needs to be output to balance the input. Fof this week, I'll revel in the company, gobble a few good books, as I am most assuredly in a reading mood, but more on that later, and then it's time for a firm but gentle hand to point me back to the keyboard and let me ramble.

What about you? What are you taking away from this tucked away week? Do you have a different favorite week of the year?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays (dancing and otherwise)

It's that time of year again. Over here, that means last minute push to finish making gifts, one more store run for stocking stuffers, hashing out the schedule for The Day, which is subject to change until hm...about 12:01 on Dec. 26th.

Memories of Christmases past, with family members who are elsewhere or no longer with us, linger. Earlier today, I had to put away a packet of photos that started out with DH's now-traditional portraits of our stuffed animals because -kapow- the next one was the first from the roll we shot at what was my Dad's last Christmas. A few years back but yet too soon, so those go aside for a while. Emails and cards from friends bring the intimate warmth of being together even if there are miles between us, and I've had the great joy of putting up or helping to put up three trees this season. Two in friends' homes, one in my own. One traditional pine with heirloom ornaments with sentimental meanings, one silver fiber optic with brightly colored ornaments that all came together, and one mini tree made of red tinsel, self-lit and adorned with tiny red, gold and green balls as well as one giant red one emblazoned with the logo of DH's place of employment.

Holiday music gets frequent play over here: Neil Diamond's cover of Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song; Coldplay's Christmas Lights, which put me in mind of a favorite blog that has not been updated for some time now -I wish the blogger well- and the Pogues' Fairytale of New York, which is a new discovery for me. Stephen Curtis Chapman's "O Come O Come, Emmanuel", the only version I've ever heard where the singer actually sounds like he wants Emmanuel to arrive; since I'm Christian myself, this is kind of a biggie.

Movies are Love Actually, About a Boy and The Holiday. I've already read Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly, and Christmas Revels by Mary Jo Putney, and if I were able to hunt down some of the older Shillouette historical Christmas anthologies, I'd be up for a gorge on those, but if not, my TBR shelves overflow and there are untapped treasures on my ereader. I have yet to view Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (or any version of Mr. Dickens' masterpiece, for that matter) this year, but there's time for that. We count the twelve days of Christmas in our family starting on the 25th, not ending on it, and the week between Christmas and New Year's is my favorite week out of the entire year, that tucked away time.

Since I'm not sure when I'll have computer time over the holiday itself -power cord on the laptop blew; I'm borrowing a friend's, and a new one is on the way (thanks, Kara!)this will stand as the "official" weekend post. It's all too easy for me to blabber, especially about my favorite holiday - some sad, some happy, some silly, some holy, old friends and new favorites, the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future all welcome guests- but the only appropriate happy dance for today is obvious:

Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #77 - Hell on Wheels

I did not see this one coming. Normally, I don't have much interest in westerns, novels by Maggie Osborne excepted. Still, the lure of a historical drama on television is strong, rare birds that they are. Two things drew me in, though.

First, the grit. If I'm going to do a western, then give me something raw, something harsh, a trek into the unknown, undertaken by the adventurous and the desperate. In short, don't give me a nice, mannerly story here. I expect something that's still finding its way, tension between characters who might not otherwise ever breathe the same air, and I am fully aware words and actions are going to get ugly at times. That, for me, comes with the territory. Aforementioned Maggie Osborne novels are good examples, or for those who aren't opposed to some very gritty spiritual content, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

Second, Colm Meany, who plays a New York senator and entrepreneur here. I first noticed him in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and was beyond pleased with his performance in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, so anything with Mr. Meany in it automatically has my interest.

Okay, two and a half if we count the visuals. :points to title card above:

This may not be the most romance-rich program out there, though we do have some characters who would be right at home in a western romance novel. There's the recently widowed Lily, a woman alone in the rapidly changing world as the birth of the railroad means the death of the unspoiled frontier. Confederate veteran Cullen Bohannon, a man now without a country, bent on avenging the assault and murder of his wife at the hands of his Union counterparts. Elam Ferguson, a freed slave who rises to a position of power amongst the railroad crew...and may be having more than merely physical grownup fun time with one of the local working girls. Then there's the man known as "The Swede," who isn't Swedish, but will get the job done, by whatever means neccessary.

There's preachers, Indians, immigrants, former slaves and survivors of Indian captivity, jockeying for position in this rapidly changing world. This is the birthing pangs of a new era and the death throes of an old one, happening at the same time. Colm Meany's "Doc" Durant is a nineteenth century spin doctor, keenly aware of not only what he is actually doing, but how his actions will be perceived, though his motives are far from altruistic.

Hell on Wheels delivers everything I want in a historical drama, even if it is outside my comfort zone, setting wise, and I'm okay with that. I can already tell this is one I'm going to want to watch multiple times to catch bits I've missed on the first viewing. How about you? How gritty is too gritty for a historical drama, or is there no such thing as long as it stays true to the times?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Dance Friday #77 - Preston Leatherman

funny celebrity pictures - CLASSIC COOL
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Sometimes, when I open Blogger to start a post, I have no idea what's going to come out. Today is one of them. Open Blogger, open YouTube, chide self for not posting anything writing-related during the week (but I've been writing, does that count?) and the phrase, "dance like nobody's watching" popped into my head, and so the search began.

Thankfully, the timing was right, and I happened upon a young gentleman named Preston Leatherman (whom I induct into my Awesome Cool Names Hall of Fame here and now. Yes, I do have such a thing, but that's for another time.) embodying the very spirit of a happy dance here:

I must confess I've had the same idea, but being without camera crew at present, have not actually indulged. Yet.

Imagine my delight when I found there's also a holiday edition, and bonus points for using a song also used in Love Actually.

Bonus Christmas music video:

Very creative, sticking Taylor Swift song titles into a song titled "Taylor Swift." I now have the mad urge to decoupage a guitar...and I don't even play.

As well as proof positive that the world would be a better place with free-range pianos available for public use.

All of the above certainly gets my Friday started on the right note. How about you?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #76 - Neverland and beyond (or run, idea hamster, run)


Pretty much my reaction to watching BBC America's Neverland, billed as a prequel to the story of Peter Pan. First off, 18th century pirates, and the slums of Edwardian London? I am there, corn popped, notebook in hand and anybody who touches me while this is on will pull back a stump. Seriously. There's also a female pirate named Bonny (and only Bonny, buuuuut being the pirate geek that I am, I know darned well that the historical figure, Anne Bonny, was a pirate who disappeared from a prison in Port Royal in 1720, so I see what you did there, writers, and I approve) and a gang of child thieves; two more points in Neverland's favor. Then there's Peter, signalling his fellows by playing tunes on his pipe from the rooftops above, and the adult leader of the group, the magnetic, enigmatic James "Jimmy" Hook, oh swoon. Then we have the relationship between Jimmy and Peter, who has plans to become Jimmy's partner in crime as adulthood approaches, so life can always, always be the same.

Life doesn't work like that, though, and we have the promise, foreshadowed by one of Peter's friends planning for a future Peter finds downright abhorrent, that things are about to get very, very different. Peter gets a wee bit ahead of himself and takes on a job for which he is far from ready, and Jimmy isn't at all pleased. Events transpire.

Corinna Lawson remarked at last week's CORW meeting, where I'd given highlights from my From Fanfiction to Fantastic Fiction workshop, that she found it interesting how I liked to watch fantasy movies and then file off all the speculative elements to get historical ideas. It's not a conscious thing, but that's how my mind works.

Sure, there's the travel to a magical dimension where pirates and Indians (that's the term used in the film, and the term a former co-worker preferred, so that's what I'm using)coexist and there's tree spirits who can fly and curses and, well, we all know how Peter Pan turns out. For me, it's not about any of that.

Okay, the time travel, I like, and since 18th century and Edwardian are both among my favorite historical eras, that part is right up my alley. The chemistry between Jimmy and Bonny leaps off the screen, so major, major props to Rhys Ifans and Anna Friel. Especially since Mr. Ifans has previously appeared in another film in my collection:

Yep, mind blown.

What gets me here is the relationships. Peter's coming of age (or not) story, the past relationship Jimmy had with Peter's parents, and Jimmy and Bonny could make a truly spectacular partnership. There's betrayal, loss,love, secrets, tough decisions, and life altering consequences. While my creative plate is full at the moment, that doesn't mean I don't stuff some of this in the idea crock pot and let it simmer to see what rises to the surface. There's time for that yet, and more ingredients needed to cook the idea soup. For instance, though I know Steve Valentine isn't in this movie, Bonny's first mate bears a strong similarity, and really, could any movie be made worse with Steve Valentine in it? Not from where I'm sitting. I'll have what I need when I need it, and in the meantime, a few dozen more viewings can't hurt.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Happy Dance Friday #76/Post #500 - Happy Blogiversary

Okay, not an actual annniversary, but close enough. Besides being Happy Dance Friday #76, my stats page also tells me this will be post #500. Writing and dancing may not seem to have much in common on the surface, but when it works, it works. When done right, both tell a story and touch the emotions, and creativity feeds creativity. Story in, story out, I always say, and after the ups and downs of the work week, we could all use a happy dance or two.

I wasn't sure at first if I'd be able to find enough dance clips to make Happy Dance Friday a regular feature, but the internet is a big, big place, the good ol' USA isn't the only place with televised dancing competitions that provide both delightful and heartrending performances that get my idea hamsters running...

...and a little Google-fu turns up old and new favorites in exciting new venues...

Best of all, though, is the chance to be able to share all of the above with my readers. Without you, I'm only talking to myself...well, okay, I'd be doing that anyway, but you all make it a lot more fun. On to the next five hundred.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #75 - The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone

cute puppy pictures - It was a tough job being the center of attention... but someone had to do it
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Sunday edition this week, as yesterday found me giving my very first live and in person version of my From Fanfiction to Fantastic Fiction workshop at Charter Oak Romance Writers, where a wonderful time was had by all, but we're here for the movies today, and once again, I have stumbled upon a remake, so now the search begins for another movie and the novella from which it sprang.

I first spotted The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone at a library book sale, and couldn't at the time remember why the title jogged the "out of my way, I must have this movie" urge, but it did, and I snagged it. Quick glance at the cover - aha, Helen Mirren spotting, so that had to be part of it. Midcentury setting? Also good. Still, the title, where did I know that from? Flip case over...aha, adapted from Tennessee Williams novella (what, he wrote novellas? Apparently so.) Scan cast list. Rodrigo Santoro's name jumped right out at me, as he was in Love Actually, my favorite comedy ever ever ever. Also this visually gorgeous bit of commercial indulgence:

Yep, okay, I can tell already that this is going to be good. Now for the plot. Retired actress moves to Rome after the death of her husband and becomes involved with a...with a what, now? :ahem: A gigolo. As in male prostitute. Played by Mr. Santoro? Nope, he plays likely the most gorgeous homeless person in the history of history, and it's not even a speaking role, but essential and pivotal. Instead, the intriguing and dangerous Paolo is played by Olivier Martinez, who also has a fragrance ad to his credit:

Add in Anne Bancroft as "the Contessa" (aka madam) and Brian Dennehy as the soon to be deceased Mr. Stone and send the under eighteens out of the room because this is a movie for grownups.

If I had to sum up this movie in one word, it would be "gorgeous." Helen Mirren was gorgeous, in acting and appearance, even though her character's arc was one of an actress with more beauty than talent, who found even the beauty beginning to fade. Anne Bancroft was gorgeous in the Contessa's shrewd, shabby elegance that masked a brittle and desperate soul. Italy was, well, Italy; gorgeous scenery, gorgeous sets, gorgeous atmosphere. Olivier Martinez and Rodrigo Santoro both provided their share of the pulchritude, but more importantly, both men can act. Mr. Martinez' Paolo is one complex character, cunning manipulator, vulnerable boy, suave seducer and ruined aristocrat all at once, and his relationship with the titular Mrs. Stone is as volatile as Vesuvius, with equally disastrous results. The final scene is a giant, intriguing question mark that I'll have to mull over for a while. Definitely have to watch this again to get the most out of it; I can tell there are layers yet to be found.

Also yet to be found is the previous version of this movie, filmed in 1961 with Vivien Leigh in the lead.

In the meantime, I have a sudden urge to re-read Broken Wing by Judith James, to help me figure out what happens to Mrs. Stone's Young Man (Mr. Santoro's character is credited thus)after the cameras stop rolling. Have you ever had the need to fill in the gaps left by a favorite film?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Happy Dance Friday #75 - Happy for Deep People

Kathy Nightingale: What did you come here for anyway?
Sally Sparrow: I love old things. They make me feel sad.
Kathy Nightingale: What's good about sad?
Sally Sparrow: It's happy for deep people.

"Blink" - Dr. Who

This quote pretty much sums it up for me. Even though my DH had some fancy talking to do to keep me from doing the television physical harm during the "Blink" episode of Doctor Who (I am sure his ears still ring with my outraged shrieks of "that is not romantic!")I connected strongly with Sally's character. Old things, old places, abandoned yet full of the ghosts of what ifs and might have beens, always give me a delicious shiver - what seeds of stories could be found in what looks to others like a lost cause? For a historical romance writer, ruins are a treasure trove.

I must have watched the video for Adele's "Someone Like You" at least a dozen times already, and there has to be a story in there somewhere. The black and white film takes us into both the bleakness of a lost love, the scenery is gorgeously old world and Adele herself is utterly stunning. Pay special attention to her expression in the sequence that begins at 4:09, and the slow, heartbreaking reveal in the background.

I have mad, crazy love for Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts," which has been beautifully interpreted on So You Think You Can Dance, but it was Josh Krajcik's performance on X Factor that made me stop in my tracks. Give this song to a male, and the impact, at least for me, heightens. Shivers, absolute shivers.

Pop star accompanied by a symphony orchestra? I am there. Since "Evaporated" by Ben Folds perfectly encapsulates where the hero of my postapocalyptic medieval ms enters the story, imagine my delight at finding a version where Mr. Folds' backup musicians happen to be the West Australian Symphony Orchestra:

What about you? Do you find beauty in the dark places to get your idea hamster running?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

After NaNo, Now What?

I did it. NaNo 2011 has been conquered, and I am ready for National Napping Month. However, that event has not yet been organized, and the holiday season approaches, and I make most of the gifts I give, and then there's that bit about writing being my, umm, job. I was asked recently how one knows when one is a writer. For me, the answer is, "one writes."

That's the easy part. Not that writing is always easy. It isn't. Ask any writer who has been doing this for a while. Though I must put in a caveat; they may give you the stink eye, snarl and return attention to keyboard or paper. In cases like that, put the caffienated beverage down and back away slowly. It's best for all involved.

After a solid month of showing up on time and blundering my way through Tamsen and Alec's world, it's odd to think of not doing that, but time for all of us to take a small breather. I'll go through and make my bullet point lists so that I know where I left off, but now is their time to simmer, and when I know more about this story, I can go farther. This morning, I spent some time with my notebook for last year's NaNo, Nothing Short of Heaven, and it felt like I was never gone. There's also the time travel ms that needs only some polish to wing off to potential agents/editors, and the postapocalyptic medieval needs the romance heightened before it can go out and earn its keep.

The showing up on time and pounding keys, though, that's staying. This rate of output feels like a doable pace for the discovery and first draft stages and blogging about writing feeds writing, so that's going to stay as well. Receiving the most recent issue of Romance Writer's Report gave me some good encouragement and ideas for career planning, so time to strategize there.

For any of you who are in the CT/MA area, I'll be here on Saturday, December 4th, speaking on how to go From Fanfiction to Fantastic Fiction, so time to get handouts and wrangle visual aids for that. After that? Nap. Reading. Gummi bears. Well, maybe after I go over some story notes...