Friday, November 21, 2008

$igns of the Times

For whatever reasons, The Gift Horse, my really weird, suspenseful tale of kidnapping, materialism, and moral decay, outsells my space opera with a dash of romance, Trinity on Tylos. Both books share certain traits. An abduction moves the action along, the villain isn't always bad, there is quite a bit of dialogue, and the narratives are not precisely linear. In short, I write the way I write, and the genre is secondary to me.

Readers don't see the commonalities, for the most part. Instead they seem to get invested in the main character or the setting. In The Gift Horse, she is Angie Donalson, a bit of a waif, albeit a tall and strikingly beautiful one. And she is a mistress, not by choice, but by circumstances. This alternately fascinates or really annoys readers. So be it. Many wealthy people do worlds of good with their wealth, and I am all for that! Some, however, indulge in whatever money can buy, and it can buy rather a lot. Even the super rich are feeling a bit squeezed these days, and I could not help myself when I saw an article about wealthy folks cutting back on payments to mistresses. This was, I am not kidding, in the Wall Street Journal. I'm including a link to the article, which won't work forever, so follow it soon! As for the setting, it is in the deep south, which is more comfortable for my local fans.

Trinity on Tylos has a more mature heroine, a woman who makes her sacrifices rather than having them foisted upon her. Venice has been described by reviewers as "a winning heroine." She is a more noble and thoughtful character than the hapless Miss Donalson. Oh, I do like Angie's combination of innocence and spunk, but Venice has guts, and I admire that in a character. In the second novel, Tylos is a solar system far from this one, and as one Jeffersonian observed, "This isn't a town where readers like science fiction."

While neither book has sold well enough for me to tell my employer that I am no longer interested in teaching, I notice that the royalites continue to come in for The Gift Horse. Like many others, I hang on in a job that is sometimes a source of annoyance, to keep a few more dollars coming in to the family coffers.

My retirement dollars are invested in the stock market, so I may never retire at all. Hopefully, those who are out of work will continue to seek further education to enhance their employablity, which will keep me employed as well.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Infants and Small Kids at the Movies

Hubby and I took our children, along with a couple of teen friends to see The Dark Knight at the discount theatre today. I was rather surprised at the size of the crowd and fascinated by some of the other viewers. As our eyes adjusted to the gloom in the theatre, I noticed a young woman guiding a toddler toward one of the front rows, with a small baby in a carrier. As soon as the carrier touched the floor, the baby let loose with some serious "I'm hungry" crying. The mom pulled out a baby blanket, picked up the kid, and I think there was some breastfeeding going on. The previews rolled and a few more patrons entered, many of whom were accompanied by small children. A couple sat right behind us, and talked all too often, making me wonder if they normally take in movies at home. Or maybe they were just rude.

Having seen this movie previously, I was really taken aback by the number of young, impressionable minds in that theatre. As many have noted, The Dark Knight really is dark, with violence which is not the bloodless, comic book variety. Heath Ledger is brilliant and scary as the Joker, and Christian Bale's Batman is also rather menacing. The script, which is better than most comic book based fare, is far too sophisticated for a younger audience. My own children watched animated DC comics, especially The Justice League on television, and those are okay for the younger set. I kept wondering why the parents brought but those little ones who did not need to be in the audience. Anyone who read the rating or any reviews should have known take the kidlets next door and watch WALL-E.

Daughter said to me, "What are these babies doing at this movie?" As we waited for our party to get back together, I realized that we were both thinking along the same lines. Perhaps it was a matter of clientele, because there was a couple with an infant and a toddler too young to walk out of the theatre on his own. Most of the patrons didn't even have a drink cup or popcorn bag to toss. I suppose if you can't afford a snack, then a babysitter is also beyond your means. Maybe some of these parents didn't know, but I suspect that several of the adults went to see a film for themselves.

The mall next to the discount theatre did not have much of a crowd for mid-November, another sign of the times. Even Santa's workshop had no customers, and this on Saturday afternoon. The prediction for a weak holiday for retailers does seem to be certain, but it will be a good one for discount movies. Just watch out for the infants and toddlers who are along for the ride.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

The Impossible Virgin

Sometimes it helps to look back when looking forward. My son is wanting to write a novel, and so, from time to time, he comes to me and says, "Mom, I have an idea for a book." Often, his ideas are not novel enough, but he does not know this because he has not read enough to know what has already been written.

Good writers are first good readers. Voracious readers, in most cases. How good I am depends upon who is asking the question, but I was once a voracious reader of novels. Mom is to blame. She took me to the library, weekly in the summer, and guided my reading, from my middle school years until her death. When I was a teenager, I enjoyed thrillers and what mom called "mysteries" which were billed as gothic suspense. When she handed me The Impossible Virgin, having plucked it from the shelves of the Jefferson Public Library, I was a bit shocked. It did not look at all like a mystery, with its modern art cover and titillating title. But mom had earned my absolute trust in such matters, so I put it in my checkout pile.

Since The Impossible Virgin is the fifth story in the series of Modesty Blaise novels, I had a bit of a chore figuring out the backstory, but these books stand alone well enough, especially the early ones, so I was soon engrossed. O'Donnell published eleven novels and two books of short stories starring Modesty Blaise, who is a far more entertaining figure that Ian Fleming's James Bond. As a teenager, I was only able to find four of them, all via the local libraries. As a young adult, I read a couple more, and after the internet made shopping used books much easier, I managed to purchase all of the series, save one.

When I published The Gift Horse, a reporter at our local paper conducted a telephone interview, and she asked me what influenced my writing. My answer was "reading the news" and certainly reading some of the odd stories that are online have been in the back of my mind when I wrote some of the scenes that readers have called "fantastic" or "implausible," but another influence, one harder to describe, are all of the characters, plot devices, and action scenes in the fiction I read for years and years, prior to taking on the task of novel writing myself. As a writer, I rely on what has already been written, for research, or merely for ideas.

Recently, my son proposed a scene, where a character is strapped to a chair, and as I listened to what he thought was a great idea, I said, "Wait a minute... that has already been written, and you must see how he did it." Immediately, I went to one of the numerous book cases in my home, pulled out an old paperback copy of The Impossible Virgin and had my son read the scene, written by a master, almost 40 years ago. I've read many, many action/adventure novels, and the first five novels in the Modesty Blaise series are among the best.

I do hope that my son is able to realize his dream and write a good action novel. But he has not yet read enough to be ready for the task.

In looking for a few details, I noticed that there are now some web based resources for O'Donnell fans, including a website, and more than a bio on Wikipedia, and I am linking to those for any readers who want to know more about this wonderful writer, who also wrote gothic suspense under the pen name Madeline Brent.

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