Monday, September 28, 2009

Oh! Those Mad Men!

Well, now that I've fessed up to my crush on Clint, I suppose I might as well confess another obsession. Mad Men. I love them all. But Don, the ad man on Mad Man--the dark mysterious one? The man with the illicit past who isn't who everyone thinks he is? Yeah. That Don. Now he's interesting.

Then there's Betty, his wife. The cool, beauty who reminds us of Grace Kelly. But nastier. She snaps at her children and smokes and drinks like a fish while pregnant. Mystifying.

There's all the ad men at Sterling-Cooper who only wish they were as smart as the women they work with. And all that butt grabbing in the secretarial pool? THAT doesn't go on anymore. Much.

Do you watch Mad Men? I think it may just be the best written show on TV right now. Yet, under viewed. It's on AMC, I think. Why are folks obsessed with it? Well, (aside from JOHN HAMM!) maybe because it's a glimpse into the mysterious world of our (all of us baby-boomers) parents.

I can actually remember those days, with Naugahyde ottomans to cuddle while watching the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold on the black and white TV; my mother's rare evening out that required a hand-sewn, turquoise blue brocade dress; us sitting on the bed awaiting our turn to give her our approval. Swanson chicken dinners and my father's punctual arrival home at five thirty sharp. The cigarette smoke. The silent meals.

I was reading a Salon article today about the show that posed an interesting question: "Has Mad Men Gone Mad?" The happy-go-lucky-no-real-consequences-for-the-men seasons 1 and 2 are fading, replaced by the trouble-comes-home-to-roost, dark secrets that are beginning to unfold in this one. The grifters, the blackmailers, the lies are all bubbling up. So why is it that this so-long-ago series is relevant to us still so many years later? Why can't we get enough of it? The writer suggested that it's a metaphor for the meltdown that's taking place today in our world. The deception, the denial, the secrets that have, like some medieval alchemy wrought by greed, become our screwed up world of today. Wow. I totally love that theory. Micheal Weiner is a genius writer, understated with a firm grip on his characters. He isn't opposed to the slow unfurling of character, in no hurry to give it all to us right away. With little hints of the gold to come.

Every character, good or bad or indifferent, is 3-dimensional. With secrets. I remember an acting coach telling me one time to never walk into an audition without a secret. Because that gives you power. That's what you play. It makes them want to know more about you. So Weiner's characters make us want to know more, despite all their flaws. I'm compelled to keep watching. [Note to self: Remember this when plotting.]

I was lucky enough, last season to be a fly on the wall on the Mad Men set, as a background actor for a day. My first extra job ever and they called me for my favorite show! I was like, "Uh, YES!!!"

That's me on the set. It's a really horrible shot of me taken with someone's cell phone, but you get the general idea: a three mile beehive and check out the jewels! The wardrobe department was huge. Every bit of what I wore--including the, uh, underthings--was completely vintage. Their attention to detail is amazing. But the best part was, when I tried on wardrobe we finally decided on this turquoise blue brocade dress that (I swear) was the identical fabric my mom's dress was made of those many years ago. I had to wear it.

I got to watch this process close up, to see January Jones (Betty) in all her ethereal beauty, popping Skittles all day long. (How does she do that and stay so thin?) John Hamm's movie star good looks had every eye turned his way all day. You just can't stop looking at him. In real life, he's a smiler. He turns that smile on and people gasp. No seriously. It was fun. Plus, we had to smoke herbal cigarettes all day. Bleehhck! But they gave me a cigarette holder that was oh, so chic!

Anyway, I love the show. Can you tell? But it all makes me wonder... We've come a long way as women from this world of chauvinism. But when you watch Mad Men, do you still recognize it in today's world? Have we really come as far as we should have, or is Mad Men simply reminding us that we're still living with some of these stereotypes that hold us back, either in reality or in our own thinking. Do you watch this show? What do you think?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Little Weekend Music

"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know
what you're gonna get."
Fo-orrest Gump's Mama

Especially when you go down to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica where everyone and his third cousin routinely show up to perform.

So the DH and I went down this weekend to break up the monotony of living where we live....(In the burbs.) We were contemplating going to the beach. But there was a monster cumulus cloud hanging over the coast. So we went instead to the Promenade. It's a great shopping area with all kinds of fab stores. But we weren't shopping. We went for the music.

There's music aplenty on weekends there. This duo was apparently still living out of a van, but were actually pretty good. We nicknamed them "The Middle-aged Hippies." They'd seen better days, but they were still passionate about their music. It kinda made me teary and made me want to throw up a peace sign and yell, "Don't give up on the dream!" Luckily, I restrained myself.

This beauty had a beautiful voice and was bravely standing there all alone with her guitar case open, belting out her own original songs. They were good. We kept walking.

Past a topiary Stegosaurus spitting water. Cool.

And this guy was a Flamenco/Latin guitarist extraordinaire. His name was Nicolas Tengler. I know this because I bought one of his CD's. I'm listening to it right now. I'm in love with it. He's a little samba-ish, a master at Flamenco. Wow. Is all I can say. Sorry I couldn't get him to look up. He was concentrating. Sheesh!

So was this darling Golden. On this:

Yes, that is a monkey. The one on the right. The one on the left is my DH. Can you see the bemused expression he's making? Like, "I'm holding a monkey's hand! WTH?" I also shook the little guy's hand, which was crazy. His little fingers were seriously human. He took my finger, gave it a shake. For a dollar. Cheap, I say. I mean, how many chances like that are you gonna get in one lifetime?

This guy was playing kitchen utensils. Pot lids and buckets and broiler pans. And he was actually making music. While doing a Unibomber impersonation.

And I will leave you finally with this sweet face:

That's what happened after I left a tip in his Electric Violin Case. To pay for all those Juliard student loans. He was freaking amazing. I wish I had a video with sound.

Thanks, Promenade. You made our weekend! Hope yours was as musical!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Critters

Here's a little Friday Shoot Out of Critters in my neighborhood. Sort of. Okay, I know this isn't the right topic for today, but I'm doing it anyway. Okay? Call me a rebel. Or out of order. Anyway...

These ducks are actually at a private little garden we go to now and then called Discanso Gardens. It's nearby and there's a little pond there filled with ducks and snapping turtles.

This little pair, a male and female mallard, seemed unwilling to leave each other's side. Sweet.

Here is a mature, at the other end of his life Praying Mantis that said hello to me on the arm of our front porch swing. He didn't seem inclined to jump me, but he didn't want to take his eyes off me either. He's like, "Hey! You lookin' at me?"

This is Bailey, my daughter's beautiful chocolate Lab, who really enjoys a good splash. Here, he's trying to fit his bigness into this too-small pool for a quick cool off! He made me laugh as he ejected most of the water by simply displacing it. But he thought it was pretty fun.

I'm a little smitten with coy. How do they get that big? Look at it. He's substantial. I mean, I've had the school carnival goldfish. This is a mutant goldfish. A beautiful, mutant goldfish. Who eats from your fingertips.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Taglines And Other Bugaboos

Have you read Lolly Winston's book, Good Grief ? I know this book has been around for a while, but if you haven't read it yet, go and buy it! Or take it out from the library. (No, I don't know her at all and don't even know anyone who knows her!) But I'm just sayin'. It's good.

It was her first book, which is astonishing enough when you read it, but it's also an incredibly moving story that tackles grief, loss of love and recovery. It sounds dark and yes, it has its moments, but it's also funny and insightful, too. And though I shed a few tears, I also laughed out loud at it.

She wrote it in First Person present tense, meaning we are always and only in her head and watching the action as it is happening. Now. Those of you who read a lot of chick lit or women's fiction are already aware that you're seeing more and more of this POV in books. For those who are longing to write in this tense, it might pay to study Winston's take on it.

One of the big problems with using this tense is that new writers tend to insert too many tag lines. For the uninitiated, a tag line is a clause at the end of a quote like "Blah, blah," I say to him. Or "Blah, blah, blah," he says, without turning to look at me." It's used to identify the speaker for the reader. ('Cause, ya know...sometimes we forget and we don't want to have to count quotes backward to see who's talking--you know you've done it!)

For some reason, this kind of tag line(ie: I say, he says) seems to jump me out of the moment, remind me that I'm reading in present tense instead of being lost in the story. NOT that it's wrong to use it. But I find it gets over-used especially with new writers trying to crack the difficult POV code. Maybe that's why Winston's almost invisible use of First Person Present struck me as so good. Maybe it's because there's often a better way to identify the speaker than to use a tag. Winston's characters voices were honestly so distinct, I rarely needed a tag line to know who was talking.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons this book is a good, smooth read and her mastery of this tagline issue is only one element. But because I'm always curious when I read something that works, I went back and studied what made her dialogue feel smooth to me. While she included at least one of those "I say," tags per conversation (just to orient us with the speaker), more often she used no tag at all (assuming there are only two people in the conversation and, how confused can we be?) or action or inner thought as a tag. This technique works for all POVs and not just first person, present tense. But here, it seems to accomplish what a tag line aspires to accomplish without jolting me out of the moment. Check out how Lolly Winston uses sub-textural inner narrative instead of a tag, as well. She says one thing, while thinking about something entirely different. But this inner narrative is always connected thematically to the dialogue.

When you're submitting your books to publishers, just know that tags tend to be a bugaboo with editors. Often they wave like a red flag. Editors are all so subjective. Some freak out if you use any other verb but said, as in "She said, I say, he said," etc... The argument is that 'he said' is an invisible tagline to the reader. While I guess it is true to some degree, if it's overused, like anything else, it seems to jump out at the reader, too. Some editors encourage these other tags. It can be confusing!

There are a few all editors seem to agree on. Tags like 'she gulped, barked or growled,' make editors (justifiably) pull out their hair and uncap a new red pen! Mostly because one cannot literally growl and speak simultaneously. They particularly object to using noises as tags, ie: he sniffed, she huffed, she clucked or sighed. As in "I wish you'd stop doing that," she sighed. Your characters can do all of those things. (maybe not cluck unless she's a bird) but they can't talk AND sigh at the same time. Hence, the tag veto.

Say you want your protagonist to snort. It's a funny verb. I like it occasionally. But instead of "Right," she snorts. "When synopses write themselves." (Ugh.) It becomes -- She snorts. "Right. When synopses write themselves."-- See how I've turned what would have been a (bad) tag into an action? Not only that, if you listen to the way people speak, often the action of snorting in disbelief, etc... will come BEFORE the dialogue in real life. Not after. Because we're formulating something to say AFTER we react to it. Not before. Try reading your dialogue out loud and you'll see what I mean. Literally act out your tags. It's an eye opener.

You can also try taking a page of your book heavy on dialogue. Take a red pen and highlight how many tags you've used. Then ask yourself, was each one necessary? Am I losing track of who is talking and if so, why? Is there something I can do to strengthen, or make my characters voices more unique so that we already know who's talking? Or can I find a more interesting way to help readers keep track of my characters by using action or inner narrative to identify them?

That's all for now. I've babbled enough for one post. Happy writing!

Friday, September 18, 2009

White Light

Sweet Renee at Circling My Head could use our white light and prayers today. Her dear nephew, Sheldon, passed too soon of cancer yesterday. If you feel moved to do so, please stop by her site and leave a hug. She needs them today. Renee, my prayers are with you and your family.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Little Obsessed

Okay, I admit it. I've had a crush on him since I was really young and he had a black and white television series on TV. A rough and tumble Western called "Rawhide!" Westerns were big in my house as my father was a huge fan. Bonanza, Rawhide!, Big Valley, Wagon Train. (I beg you, don't google the dates. You'll only be sorry you did. It was a long time ago, okay?)

Anyway, my bedtime was always (for some unexplained reason) too early to watch these shows. But that didn't faze me. Especially where Rowdy Yates was concerned. I had to watch. I had to. Somewhere in my mind, I thought he'd know about my betrayal if I missed it. I don't think my parents ever caught me. I would creep down the stairs and somehow our black and white TV was oriented exactly so that the reflection of the screen showed right in the little windows at the top of our front door opposite the stairs. So I could sit out of sight and watch the show with no one the wiser. And listen to...sigh...Rowdy. Seriously. He was cute. Just look at that face! (Yes. I said face. What else would I be talking about?)

He had this whispery kind of sexy voice that always made me hold my breath to really hear him. I thought he was all that. Someday I would marry him!


Anyway, I never stopped loving him from afar. Play Misty For Me, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Dirty Harry ... I loved them all. Because I knew, you know, we were meant for each other. I became an actress, secretly hoping I'd get cast in a Western with him in it. Didn't happen. Besides, as I arrived in Hollywood, he dropped out for a while and became Mayor of Carmel, CA. And played golf.

Then, (after I caved to reality and married my husband) when my daughter was in Kindergarten, she became friends with another little girl whose mom, it turned, out was CLINT EASTWOOD'S PERSONAL ASSISTANT! I know! Kismet, right? One degree of separation? Alas, no. I never met him. For some reason she was weirdly protective of him. Strange.

Clint became a director and did one of my favorite movies--"A Perfect World" with Kevin Costner, where he played a crabby, but sympathetic FBI agent. He had aged, but beautifully. He was still hot.
"Unforgiven" was a work of art. And a western. That won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Maybe my husband didn't totally understand why I cried when it won. Maybe he did.

Anyway, I pretty much resigned myself that it wasn't meant to be. I couldn't seem to work out how it would happen. I moved on. Had a life. Raised my kids. Wrote western romance novels that I secretly dreamed he'd make one day on the big screen. (What? I don't recall ever saying I was a realist, okay?)

One night, a year or so ago, my husband and I were walking down Ventura Blvd. in Studio City after dining out. We ran into an old friend of his who is a well known stand-up comedian. So we're blabbing, saying hi and our friend is on his cell phone intermittently, because he's waiting for someone outside this restaurant who's meeting him to discuss some charity golf tournament he's organizing. But he sort of encourages us to hang there with him by blabbing about this and that. Nice, nice guy. We were happy to hang out with him. His dinner date was late.

Suddenly, he turns and goes, "Oh, good, here's Clint."

Did--? Did he just say--?

I swear, it all went into slow motion at that moment. Because who is walking toward us, with that loose-hipped confidence in comfy old clothes that look like they've hung in his closet for thirty years--not in any hurry, but moving toward us with movie star-ish authority?


THE Clint Eastwood! Rowdy Freaking Yates!

My mouth kind of drops open as our friend graciously introduces us and Clint reaches-his-hand-out-to me.

And just like that? I touched him. I took his hand, smiled up at him and burbled, "I-I'm a huge fan of yours, Mr. Eastwood."

He smiled a twinkly smile back at me and said, "Thank you very much. That's very kind of you. So nice to meet you both."

We exchanged a few more words that, frankly, are a blur now and said good-night. Afterward, I couldn't stop smiling, doing little bunny hops down Ventura Boulevard beside my sweet husband. Destiny had vindicated itself. Clint was gracious and lovely and sweet. Everything I hoped he would be. And a camera really wouldn't have been appropriate. No, that would've been tacky. But that picture of him reaching his hand out to me is settled comfortably in my mind.

And that's right where it belongs.

I heart you, Clint. Just in case you read this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wishcast Wednesday

This is the first time I'm going to jump onto Jamie's Wishcast Wednesday thing through my sister Sarah's blog at Cottage Garden Studios. But this week, the question intrigued me. "What do you wish to stretch?"

So many answers! So little time! My first, knee jerk response was "My body!" I have fallen out of the habit of exercising, except for our daily walks, a mile and a half around the neighborhood in the morning before my DH is off to work. We have lived here for 24 years,(yikes!) raised our kids here, walked our dogs here. In other words, we've taken every possible route and combination thereof we could possibly take around this little neighborhood a gazillion times. I'm bored with it. It's uninspiring. Also, since I work at home, I'm anxious to get out with people in a class. So I want to start an exercise class. Pilate's, perhaps? Maybe Yoga. But to make this commitment to myself by writing it aloud may be just the push I need.

Second, I have been bad about exercising my writing muscles. I've been blogging, but my book writing has been on the back burner as the stress of the last few months has worked its way through me. (Long, boring story.) But now, I need to stretch not only my writing muscles, but my own confidence again. When I get away from the computer for too long, it's not good. I find I must just put my butt in the chair and write. It all comes out awful at first, but eventually, the babble begins to make sense. Then, miraculously, I write a good sentence. I don't know about you, but sometimes when I've been away too long, I begin to believe I've forgotten how to write a book. What's that about, anyway? (Note to self: Work on that.) But it's a little like riding a bike. I just need to get my balance again.

So stretching my self-confidence, my writing muscles and my body. Thanks for this topic, Jamie and Sarah. I needed this.

Be kind to yourself,

Photo credit:

Sunday, September 13, 2009



He what???

Oh. No. He. Didn't.

Use your inside voices.
Share your toys.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Baby Love

My new grandson came to visit me this last week with my daughter. They live halfway across the country from us. I was lucky enough to be there to watch his birth and to stay for a couple of weeks after. But he's changed so much in such a short time.

We had so much fun playing with him. He's almost three months old now. And we see contact sports in his future. Look at the size of those hands!

Or maybe a veterinarian. My cat, Sylvester, wanted to cuddle as close to him as he could. Oh, dear.

Look at those little folds!

He is such a sweet-tempered boy. Smiley all the time. He takes after his mom. When she was little she would wake up singing, making me laugh. She still makes me laugh.

I have a lot of friends who've had grandchildren. They all love them madly, of course. But just as no one could explain to me how I'd feel about my own children when they were born, that sweet ache of love that slides into you like sunlight, no one could have prepared me... Nobody warned me what would happen when this guy turned that smile on me.

Oh, help!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Writing Craft #2: One False Goal

I thought I'd talk a little in this post about something that I've encountered along the road to writing. Something that can creep up and bite you if you don't keep your eye on the prize. So, it's like this: You're tootling along with the story you're writing and feeling good. The road's ahead, you can't really see around the bend, but you're feeling pretty okay with that because your characters are talking. And talking.
And talking some more.

They've got lots to say, you know? Like, "Pass me the salt, please?" and "Holy Cow! When did you start losing your hair?"

But suddenly (Well, not really so suddenly because it's been coming for a while. You know it has...) you notice that your characters have begun to sound boring, even to you. Oh, and not only that, they've been in the same room for 40 pages and they can't find the door. And action? Well, that was a good idea, but what are they supposed to be doing again? And doesn't picking navel lint qualify?

Perhaps some variation of this is happening in your story. Believe me, it's happened in mine. Even today, after lots of books, it happens. Why? Mostly it's because I've taken my eye off the road. As the writer, I need to have better vision than my characters. I need to be able to see around that curve in the road to the destination or, to put a finer point on it, THE GOAL.

Why do characters need goals? To keep them from wandering aimlessly through your story, blabbing up the other characters and settling in for a good pedicure with that woman who has nothing to do with anything.

There are really two goals for each character: the TRUE GOAL and the FALSE GOAL. The true goal is the thing the character needs but doesn't know they need. The false goal is the thing the character THINKS they want (or need) but it's merely a path (or a roadblock) to finding the thing they really need. Got that? Like the rest of us in real life, mostly internal goals are invisible to our characters at the start. Slowly, they become aware of why they are really doing the things they're doing and why that other protagonist or force has been put in their path.

Essentially, an external goal is something you could take a picture of. (Like they want to start a B&B, or travel to Italy, or build a house on a rocky cliff, or put a murderer behind bars.) An internal goal might look like finding one's own power, coming of age, letting go of the past, believing in love again, or redemption. Internal goals almost always have to do with relationships.

Even a book about a man's singular search such as Jon Krakauer's INTO THE WILD, a book about a man vs. nature, is really about his quest for self-love. Why does this speak to us? Because as human beings, this is what we're all engaged in. The struggle is a common one.

The goal of your story, first the external goal (which will give them something to physically accomplish in the story) and then the internal goal (which gives them emotional arcs) will help you find the turning points in your story, which will also lead you to the action required to reach them. Having a road map for your characters' journeys in your book will not only help you avoid the unbeaten paths they want to aimlessly meander down, but will focus your story.

Try watching a movie you love and see if you can pick out the false and true goals. Pay attention to how those are revealed. When you get good at spotting it in a film, try it with a book you've never read. Then take a look at your own Work-in-progress. Are your characters' goals strong enough? Can you find a way to strengthen the conflict by strengthening your character's T & F goals?

As with any of the writing craft stuff I post, feel free to take what you like and leave the rest. There is no right and wrong about it.

Now, back to pondering all that snow on Mr. Frost's road less traveled.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Radio Silence

Sorry I've been out of the loop, so to speak, for the last week. Here's what I've been doing.
Himself is visiting and has taken over my life.
In a good way. I mean...look at those cheeks!
Oh, the deliciousness!
'Enuf said... See you very soon.