My #1 Pet Peeve – Hollywood Heroes

As the series I’m writing is post-apocalyptic, I’ve been studying the genre. Last weekend I watched the 2008, Science Fiction movie, Babylon A.D. (on Shomi) starring Vin Diesel. I enjoyed parts of it, but it left me feeling angry, to be honest. It  hit me between the eyes, as if it were a futuristic migraine, my number one pet peeve – Male Hollywood Heroes.

(Spoiler Alert) At the end of the story two adorable children are left in the care of the male hero (okay, their genetically engineered, but that’s beside the point). Vin Diesel saved the day (with some difficulty) and is now rescuing the future by raising the children. They are mankind’s hope for tomorrow in a dreary, future world. But the question has to be asked: why didn’t the writer let the lead woman take the children in the end. He could easily have killed off the male hero in the last action scene instead of her. She had raised the children’s mother, had been a depicted as a competent and caring parent from he beginning. So why did they give the children to a man who had never shown any inclination to be a father?

After the movie, my husband  asked me if I thought it was odd.

Heck, yeah, it’s odd. But that’s Hollywood. They won’t let a woman be the ultimate hero. They continue to feed us paternal gruel  in the form of entertaining stories. I for one am sick of it.

That’s my number one pet peeve Hollywood’s depiction of the hero. The big man, surrounded by large breasted women with minuscule brains.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying Hollywood is misogynistic, but it certainly is blind. I don’t think that’s fair to men or women. Aren’t we all in this together?

I know there are some things men do better than women, but the reverse is true as well. I hope that my granddaughters will live to see the day when heroes are considered heroes because of their virtues and deeds, not because of what they pack between their legs.

Research that Tastes Good

DSCN2342

I’m writing a new cozy romantic novella set in the fictional town of Blackberry Cove. The plot requires a decadent signature scone. Blame it on my muse.

I googled a few recipes, whacked my way through the thorny end of season blackberry brambles near my home, to find the juiciest berries and spent some time experimenting in the kitchen. Here’s the result:

Blackberry Cove Scones

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups flourblackberries-04

2 cups wild blackberries

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold butter cut into small pieces (or grated if frozen)

1 cup plain greek yogurt

1/3 cup milk (plus more to get the perfect consistency)

lemon zest of one lemon

1 egg white

***

juice from the lemon

1 cup of powdered sugar

***

Preparation (10-15 minutes)

1. Cut a piece of parchment paper for your cookie sheet and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix.

3. With a pastry tool or your hands work in the butter until it’s pea size.

Dough ready to cook
Dough ready to cook

4. Add the lemon zest and work through the dough.

5. Add the yogurt and mix (but not too much – keep the butter in it’s pea shapes).

6. Fold in the berries.

7. Put the dough out on the parchment paper and squish down so that it’s like a three inch high pizza. I pre-cut it into wedges at this point.

8. Brush with egg white.

9. Bake at 400 for 18-20 minutes (until golden brown)

10. Make the glaze while the dough is baking. Stir the sugar into the lemon juice and whisk. Drizzle it over the warm scones.

The hardest part was picking the berries. The best part was tasting the scones. If you try the recipe I’d love to hear your description of how it tastes. It is research after all.

Baked and ready to cut
Baked and ready to cut

Tip: I read on several sites that the trick to creating the perfect scone is to use cold butter and a hot oven. The combination ensures a flaky dough.

Enjoy your Monday.

Genre Rules Ugh

Wikipedia
Wikipedia

Back in the olden days when we sat with our tribe around the campfire listening to the elders tell stories, no one, and I mean no one, interrupted the sage storytellers mid-sentence to say, “Stop, You’re not following the genre rules.”

But today is another matter.

Each genre, and then sub-genre, and then sub-sub-genre has its own rules, and if they are not followed marketing your work in that genre becomes difficult, if not impossible. Mosely, who writes in several different genres, in his interview with PBS this spring said that he stays within the genre he’s writing in. Well, good for him. So sensible. I wish…

The Indies (self published writers) are laughing at me by this point in my post, because they don’t pay attention to “the rules.” Their stories sell regardless of the rules. They do, however, have to develop a talent for tagging their work appropriately so they draw the right audiences. They say readers don’t really care where your book “fits on the shelf.” They just want a good story.

So what am I griping about this fine Monday morning?  I like mixing up the genres. Lets look at some basics that I play with:

Jane Austin
Jane Austin

Romance: A hero (h who preferably is a kind hearted but tortured soul) and a heroine (H who is flawed in a forgivable way)  meet early in the story, flirt a whole lot and find fulfillment in more ways than one in each others arms and other body parts. It must, must, must have a happy ending referred to in the biz as an HEA. So H +h= HEA

Murder Mystery/Suspense: Clues are set forth for the reader to try to figure out “who dun it.”  It’s like an intellectual puzzle and the main rule is: play fair with the reader.

Sherlock Holmes Wikipedia
Sherlock Holmes
Wikipedia

Romantic Suspense: Has two arcs in the plot, one romantic and one suspenseful. The market prefers a heavy dose of Romance with a sprinkling of suspense.

Thriller: The reader is taken on an emotional roller-coaster by chase scenes, psychological drama, or  whatever it takes to get them flipping the pages late at night and forgetting their problems. The higher the stakes the better.

Now, I find a story that fits into only one of these categories a trifle dull, or over stimulating, or silly, or…a range of adjectives. That is to say it doesn’t feel totally real to me. I like to develop an intriguing mystery, add suspense and a thrilling scene here and there, and  touch the heart with romance. But I don’t always want to end with a marriage proposal. Please, it just doesn’t work for me.

So I’m griping over the question: learn how to play by the traditional publishing rules or play in the sand with the Indies?

What do you think? Is it time for us to throw away the genre rules? redefine them? Or go Indie? Any advice would be appreciated.

After the Poisoned Apple

Anton Peck, 1941, in a Dutch version of Grimm's Fairtales ( De Sprookjes Van Grimm, Utrecht 1941) The original caption read: "De oude Lucifer is met Speelhans aan het spelen."
by Anton Pieck, 1941, found in a Dutch version of Grimm’s Fairtales ( De Sprookjes Van Grimm, Utrecht 1941)
The original caption read: “De oude Lucifer is met Speelhans aan het spelen.”

Do you like your stories neat, or a little messy? Comforting or terrifying?

Me?  I like mine raw and twisted.

What can you expect for someone who grew up with Grimm’s Fairy tales, a 200 years old collection of  disturbing tales that rattled and inspired the imagination of generations.   National Geographic explains:

“The stories collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 1800s serve up life as generations of central Europeans knew it—capricious and often cruel. The two brothers, patriots determined to preserve Germanic folktales, were only accidental entertainers.” (National Geographic site)

Once upon a time, I wanted to do graduate work in folklore, but I decided eating was more important and got a teaching certificate instead. Decades later, I find the pull of the archetypal stories as intriguing as when I first heard them, and looking at Anton Pieck’s illustrations sends my imagination into a wilderness of vivid images.

Stories – Since the dawn of time they’ve brought us together. More than words, more than pictures, they hold an essence of truth blended with imagination that is spellbinding.

…my rambling thoughts on this April day. Do you have a favorite fairy tale? I’m torn between Hansel and Gretel,and  Little Red Riding Hood. The darkness of the woods and the evil that lurks within  puts me on edge and makes me want to write a thriller.

Fave 3 – Quotes on Writing and Inspiration

Writer Quotes  – Fave 3 this week

7 Great American Writers on Writing  

A fantastic post with great author photos and comments. It’s a quick  read to gobble up with your coffee.

25 Great Quotes to Inspire and Brighten Your Day

Amazing graphics.

105 Writing Tips from Professional Writers

A comprehensive list with interesting tidbits. A wee bit long for me, but you can stop when you’re full:)

Pondering the Break Out Premise

“…a premise is any single image, moment, feeling or belief

that has enough power and personal meaning for the author to set her story on fire,

propel it like a rocket for hundreds of pages, or perhaps serve as a finish line:

an ending so necessary that every step of the journey burns to be taken.”

( Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, p. 35)

I’d like one of those, or two.

I’m thoroughly enjoying Maass’s book, Writing the Breakout Novel, but omg, he sets the bar so high I have to stop every few pages to prevent a panic attack and quell my rising sense of vertigo. But he’s right.  Absolutely right. Great stories, and it doesn’t matter if they are genre or literary, change us in a fundamental way and they rest on a break out premise. A premise that captures the heart, mind and soul of the reader.

Back to the drawing board.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Here’s Something to Think About

Peter Osnos wrote an interesting article, In China, 25 Million People Use Only Their Cell Phones to Read Books, published in The Atlantic. That’s got to have an impact on writing. Interesting times…

Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful week full of grand stories and smiles.

Photos: top 2 Corel, bottom from article sited.

3 Reasons I Love Research

I’m struggling with a heat wave (I’m a wimp when the temperature goes over 24 Celsius (75.2 F) and it’s been hitting 30 (86F)!!!) but today it feels cooler, so I should be more productive. I’m getting back into my writing routines after the mind bending experience of RWA12.

Currently I’m attempting to work on two new manuscripts.  I’ll see how that goes.

Anyway…at the moment that means I’m doing a lot of research, and I love research.

Why?

One – I learn things I’d never stumble upon if I didn’t go looking.

For example:

  •  by questioning local musicians about their guitars I learned that most start out on one they found in a closet, or an attic in the home they grew up in. They love their “first” to death and never part with it.  What a lovely detail to make a character come alive.
  • reading several sources I learned that art crime is the fourth largest international crime after drugs, money laundering and illegal arm shipments.
  • there are places high in the mountains on the Haida Gwaii that were left untouched by the ice ages.

Two – It grounds my story while letting my imagination fly.

Each piece of information is like a nugget of gold. When used properly in my story it creates verisimilitude. At the same time it opens up all kinds of ideas in my mind to further the story. How sweet is that!

Three – It enriches my characters, setting and plot.

Each details adds depth to the story. Doing research is like opening a treasure chest for a writer, with layer upon layer of precious gems.

Tension

Tension is, ” The act of stretching or the condition of being stretched tight.”

(Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary)

I have “tension” on my mind, not just because I brew it, tease it and dream of it every day, as a writer of Romantic Suspense, but because I’m taking an online course and studying it at the moment (a Killer Instincts Course with Kris Kennedy).  My goal is to be able to wield “tension” like a sword in my stories. Hold my reader’s gasping attention to the last sentence. Like Alfred Hitchcock, without the canon.

Easier said than done.

My course has lots of words in it and that’s educational. But I need to get to the essence of tension.  I need to render it down to its bones. So far my equation reads: captivating characters + emotional conflict + ticking clock = tension. Does that work for you?

What about setting? Hmmm. I just have to look at a haunted house, or a shower in a hotel room and I get tense. Is setting a skeletal bone of tension? I often think of it as an active character in a story. I can also see it covered in the word conflict because it helps create it. I don’t think it needs to be added. But maybe.

I’m fascinated by how a simple line can create tension like: “In all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

With lines like that, everyone turns the page.