Friday, July 20, 2018

Dating Advice on Television Shows

Rediscovering an Old Favorite

I've been re-watching Friends recently (sharing it with my kids). A huge chunk of time on that show is spent on the dating lives of its six primary characters, and certain themes keep appearing that seem to reflect (if the TV shows I watch are any indication) mainstream society's views on what "rules" we should follow when interacting with the opposite sex.

Disclaimer: I started dating my husband when I was sixteen. We've now been married nineteen years. I haven't been in the dating world for a long time.

Nevertheless, I have some opinions. I know what would attract me to a man and what would turn me off. And I must say, I couldn't disagree more with the sitcom version of dating etiquette.

In the episode of Friends we watched last night, Ross was talking about how advanced computers were going to become within the next fifty years and how one day it would be possible for humans to upload their consciousness into a machine and live forever. The reaction of the others seemed to say that if he ever talked about that stuff to a woman he was interested in, he had basically zero chance of getting a date. Ever. For the rest of his life.

Um...I was kind of offended, if you want to know the truth. After all, there are nerdy women in the world. If this blog isn't proof of that, I don't know what is.

The implication on the show is that women will flock to a guy like Joey but will run screaming in terror from a guy like Ross. Again, I've not been in that world since...well...probably since Friends was still in its first season, but I know I'd much prefer a guy to come on with the nerd talk than come at me with a calculated, "How you doin'?" I'd recognize a genuineness in the first guy while recognizing that the second guy was just turning on the charm. You want to know something about charm? Charm is manipulative. If you want to get to know me, show me your true self. Don't show me the charismatic face you put on when you're trying to woo beautiful women.

My Experience in the Real World

Let me tell you the story of how my husband and I got together. I'd been acquainted with him for a while because we were in marching band together. He was a senior when I was a freshman, so he graduated pretty soon after I came along, but he was good friends with a guy who was dating one of my good friends, so we saw each other from time to time.

One day he came to a band competition our high school hosted every year. It was common for former band members to come back and watch other bands perform. Once a band nerd, always a band nerd, after all. He was sitting in the bleachers with his friend, who was naturally sitting with my friend. When I got a break (all band members were required to work the event), I came and sat with them. I remember very little about what we talked about. It was probably a lot of my husband and his friend goofing off while I and my friend sat and listened (we were both very shy and didn't talk much back then).

Then my (future) husband turned to me and, out of the blue, said, "Did you know that the United States is actually a representative republic, not a true democracy?"

Okay, before I go on, a little something you should know about me is that I am absolutely terrified of people thinking I'm not smart. When someone tries to tell me something I already know, I have this irrational anger reaction. So when my (future) husband said that to me, I responded with a curt, "Yes, I knew that."

He was surprised. He had just learned that in his college political science course. But I had taken political science in high school the year before and had already learned it.

Once I succeeded in making it clear that I already knew the mind-blowing information he was trying to give me, my mood improved considerably, and he and I lapsed into a comfortable nerd-talk session. I don't even remember what we talked about. Only that we talked and talked. And talked. So much so that my friend and her boyfriend (my husband's friend) began scheming to get us together. So about a week later he asked me out and we've been together ever since.

The moral of the story is that I'll take a Ross over a Joey any day. Joey might be fun on a first date, but seriously, what would you do for the rest of your life if you married him? I'd be bored out of my mind after a week.

Another Sitcom Example

Friends is not the only place I've heard this terrible advice. There is an episode of The Lucy Show (not something I watch regularly, but I happened upon it while flipping channels one afternoon) where Lucy is attracted to this handsome, wealthy man. She wants to know how to entice him, so her friend tells her to pretend to be interested in everything he's interested in. In this case, it happens to be duck hunting. So Lucy goes hunting. And hates every second of it. She asks her friend why she has to pretend to love something she hates. What if she ends up marrying the guy? Is she going to be duck hunting for the rest of her life? No worries, says the friend, after you're married you get to make him do the things you like.

Um...yeah...that sounds like a terrifically healthy marriage.

And it reminds me of another story from my high school years.

One More Story

It was before my husband and I got together. There was a guy in my Algebra II class who was being really nice to me. I told my mom about it. She began grinning foolishly and making all sorts of "ooh la la" noises. She saw romance on my horizon.

But, I said, he has long hair. (I didn't care for guys with long hair back then.)

She made her infamous pshaw gesture and said, "Oh, you can change him!"

I instantly gave up on any thought of a future with the long-haired guy from Algebra class. There was no way I was going to enter into a relationship based on one person's desire to "change" the other.

And yet this mindset is rampant. It's all over the television. I've seen it on Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Thirteen Reasons Why, Freaks and Geeks, and on and on. Why do people think you can't be your true self in order to get a date? I mean, if you want that date to turn into anything long-term, it seems to me you have to show the other person your true self.

But, like I said, I've been out of that world for a long time, so maybe I just don't understand.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Fickle Nature of Book Reviews

You expect to get a few critical reviews when you put a book out into the world. That's the nature of the beast. That doesn't stop it from hurting though.

Of my first two books, Amelia's Children and Primogénito, I openly admit to having a favorite. Primogénito just plays on my heartstrings more than Amelia's Children does. It's deeper, darker, and richer in detail.

Readers, on the other hand, seem to flock to Amelia's Children while avoiding Primogénito like the plague. Now that I've put a couple of years distance between me and those two books, I can look at them more objectively and see that Amelia's Children has more mainstream appeal. Primogénito doesn't exactly qualify as navel-gazing, but it is none-the-less a very personal work. A primary concern of mine in writing it was to hit myself in my own feels, so to speak. I assumed everyone else would love it because I assumed everyone else kept their feels in the same place I keep mine.

So I published Primogénito and reviews began to trickle in from readers and book bloggers. The reception was lukewarm. No one really hated it, but only a select few gushed over it the way I'd hoped. Nevertheless, it's held its own. Some people find it a little too slow at the beginning and others are turned off by its dark themes, but general consensus seems to be that it's a decent book.

When I decided to start entering writing contests, Primogénito was the first book I wanted to put out there. I was still convinced it was my best. I've entered it in three contests so far, two of which, Writer's Digest and Booklife, give professional critiques to all entrants.

The Writer's Digest critique came first. I was so excited to open my email that day, just knowing I'd have something I could proudly display all over the interwebs to show what a world-class author I was. Here's' the review I got:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 3

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 3

Plot and Story Appeal: 3

Character Appeal and Development: 2

Voice and Writing Style: 3

Judge’s Commentary*:

A striking cover but almost a little too spare. The title certainly piques the curiosity. Okay, you only need to state once about Ashley. I feel like you’re hitting me over the head with it. Otherwise, it’s an intriguing opening. Was Damian a good name choice? Isn’t that a little loaded? I love the literary mystery aspect of the story, 11%. This is a pretty fascinating discussion at 20%. I like your insights about the patterns in their relationships. Pretty inventive, this glowing, evil scar, 30%. “Right now, he had a lot to prove,” – good line, 37%. A little bit of overexplaining sometimes. I feel like I’m watching a soap opera, 45%. Your characters seem cold and clinical. I’m having a hard time caring about them, 52%. This shadow world is used far too often in books of this type, 65%. Pretty interesting, having the baby be the focus of all of this, 74%. There’s far too much talk. The story needs a lot more direct, present action. You spend a lot of time having your characters discuss past events, 81% “like her heart was being ripped right out of her chest,” That’s a little bit over the top, 88%.

I was devastated. And, honestly, I couldn't disagree more. My characters were cold and clinical? My characters were my favorite part! I loved them almost as though they were real people. As for the rest of it...well, I've learned a lot about "show, don't tell" since then and can recognize a tendency in my earlier work to be repetitive when I had a point I wanted to drive home.

Still, I was bummed. This being my first professional review, it left me with the feeling that my books were good enough for the average Joe, but I would never be able to compete with the big kids.

Then the Booklife review came rolling in. I'll let it speak for itself:

Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10

Originality: 7 out of 10

Prose: 8 out of 10

Character/Execution: 7 out of 10

Overall: 7.25 out of 10

Plot: The plot of this novel is engaging and soundly constructed. The story moves along at a good pace, but some readers may find the ending a bit predictable.

Prose: The prose is one of this book's main strengths. The writing is clear and smooth. The dialogue is effective.

Originality: Though the conceit of this novel will be familiar to some readers, the author manages to make it feel fresh and different.

Character Development: The characters here are well rendered and believable. Readers will care about them, though some character motivations could be clearer.

So readers will care about my characters, eh? Take that, Mister Writer's Digest Reviewer Guy! story is well-paced? The dialogue is effective? Ah...Mister Booklife Man, you are my hero!

So what have I learned from all of this? I've learned that all reviews, even professional ones, are subjective. What one person loves in a book, someone else will hate. That's the way it is and that's the way it will always be, so there's no use fretting over it.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Indie Book of the Month: July 2018

The Girls Across the Bay by Emerald O'Brien

I went back and forth a bit in deciding how to rate this book. Here's the thing: When indie authors read indie books, they fall into two basic types. There's the type who says, "These are my fellow indies! This is my tribe! These are my people! We've got to stick together and support each other!" Then there they type who says, "If just one indie author publishes a bad book, that reflects on all of us. It's up to us to find all the mistakes in all the books and get all the authors to rewrite and re-edit and re-proofread until it's absolutely perfect so no reader will ever again point to a bad indie book and say 'There! That's why I only read traditional books!'" 

While I like to remain somewhere in the middle (I get no pleasure tearing other authors down and try not to write scathing reviews if I can help it) I have to admit to leaning a little in the critical direction. And I tend to be more critical of indie books than I am of traditionally published books. Basically, I don't care if traditionally published books are bad. Bad traditionally published books make me pat myself on the back and say, "Hey! I can write better than this guy can!" But I tend to hold indies to a much higher standard. 

I won't review indie books if I can't give them at least four stars, but I've been known to come down to four from five for things like typos or details that are just slightly off. Things many readers tend to ignore. I can't ignore them. And if there are grammar mistakes...well, I can be a bit pedantic in that regard. I've always been this way, and I annoyed many of my friends when I was in school because I was always correcting their speech. 

So with The Girls Across the Bay, it was a given that it was getting at least four stars. Like I said, I won't read indie books if I can't give them that much. But the question of four or five plagued me right up until the end.

I've finally decided on five stars because I realized that the little things I was getting hung up on while reading it were truly little things. When I stepped back and looked at the big picture, what I found was an engaging story with likeable characters set in a beautiful location. What more could I want? 

Yes, I thought Mac was a little too crotchety to be believed, but Grace and Madigan were beautifully written, as were Evette and John. Yes, I felt that some aspects of the police investigation were glossed over and parts of it seemed rushed, but I was compelled to keep reading because I needed to know all the connections between the characters. The personal drama between the two main characters and their former foster family made the book a page-turner for me, and the way it all came together at the end was fantastic. 

The author did a wonderful job of weaving the backstory into the narrative. Some data dumps are inevitable when writing a story in this way, but this book managed to avoid having too many of them. And when I did come across one in the course of reading, I was intrigued rather than annoyed. Finally, I was getting some answers! And because they were spread throughout the book rather than all being clustered together at the beginning, there was plenty of time to become engrossed in the story before getting plunged into stuff that happened in the past. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read murder mysteries. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Horror Movie References in Event Horizon

I just saw Event Horizon for the first time the other day. It's odd; I loved horror movies throughout my childhood and was obsessed with science fiction for a good chunk of my adolescence, but for some reason I was never into sci-fi horror. I liked my horror spooky and ghostly, like Poltergeist, and I liked my sci-fi to show me the wonders of the universe, like Contact. I didn't care for mixing the two.

As an adult I've been discovering all those wonderful dark science fiction movies I missed when I was younger. Alien being a prime example.

And speaking of Alien....

Is it a coincidence that the set-up of Event Horizon is eerily reminiscent of that classic Ridley Scott masterpiece?

In both movies the crew of a spaceship comes out of hibernation to answer a mysterious distress call.

In Alien, the crew consists of five men and two women.

In Event Horizon, we have six men and two women.

In both movies, the first victim is killed by disembowelment. (I thought about posting pictures of that, but then changed my mind because the one from Event Horizon is particularly gory and I didn't think everyone would want to see that.) 

But Event Horizon borrows imagery from more movies than just Alien. 

I couldn't find a picture of the scene where Laurence Fishburne is almost sucked through the broken window, but it reminded me a heck of a lot of a little girl getting sucked into a closet in one of my favorite horror movies. 

A few scenes later, we see the walls of the spaceship dripping blood. Again, I couldn't find a picture, but remember this iconic bloody wall scene?

And then, a little later, we have an entire room bathed in blood.

Remind you of anything?

And, of course, the whole idea of opening a portal to hell is straight out of Hellraiser. Again I ask, could all of these things be simple coincidences? I highly doubt it. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

If The Odd Couple Took Place Today

I hadn't seen The Odd Couple (1968 movie) in years, so the other day I decided to watch it with my husband and kids. It's just as hilarious as it always was (the scene in the restaurant where Felix is trying to clear his ears had us rolling!), but a few aspects of the story got me thinking.

Could The Odd Couple, as it was originally written, take place today?

The whole premise of the movie is based on the old-fashioned view of marriage where the husband goes off to work while the wife stays home and tends to the house and kids. Don't get me wrong. I am not in any way offended by the idea of traditional gender roles. In fact, my own marriage is structured in much the same way. My husband works full time and, while I have had jobs outside the home, for the most part I've been a stay-at-home mom for the majority of my adult life. And when we're both home there's sort of an understanding that I take care of things inside the house (laundry, cooking, etc.) while he deals with the outdoor issues of cutting the grass and trimming the bushes. It's all very traditional, but that's okay with us. As long as the division of labor works for both partners, there's no problem.

In The Odd Couple, that division of labor obviously did not work. But it begs the question: If the movie took place today, would Oscar and Felix have ended up divorced?

Felix says that the reason his marriage ended is because he was always going around and cleaning up after his wife. He would also go into the kitchen and recook all of her meals. Back in the sixties, that would have been a major problem. The wife's whole identity would have been wrapped up in her role as homemaker, so a husband coming in and trying to usurp her role would have come across as an attack on her character. But today? Today we would be inclined to ask why the wife couldn't go out and get a job while Felix stayed home and did the cooking and cleaning. That's obviously where his talents lie.

What about Oscar? He sums up the problems in his marriage when he describes the wife asking him when he wanted dinner. He would tell her he wasn't hungry, but then he'd wake her up at three in the morning and ask her to fix him some food. Again, in the sixties that would have been a problem. In the sixties, it was a wife's job to keep everyone in the home fed. Today? Well, today no wife in her right mind would get up in the middle of the night and fix her husband a meal. She would simply roll over and go back to sleep, leaving the husband to fend for himself. And the husband would, we certainly hope, be perfectly okay with that because he would know that he just made a ridiculous request.

I do recognize that there are pros and cons to modern society's shunning of traditional gender roles. While it gives people more freedom with regard to how they're allowed to live, it can also make it confusing when two people are just starting out in their life together and are trying to decide who is responsible for what when it comes to care of the home. However, up until the late twentieth century, people were married (no pun intended) to the notion that there were manly jobs and there were womanly jobs. If people didn't fit naturally into those roles, too bad. And in the case of Oscar and Felix, it resulted in the end of two marriages. And we have to ask: Had they been given the same freedom of choice that couples today have, could their marriages have been saved?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Beauty of the Well-Drawn Villain

A Soap Opera Staple

My mother's favorite soap opera was Guiding Light. I think she told me she started watching it with her mother when she was in fourth grade. When I was growing up, the show was a daily tradition in our home. My mom would watch it, then call my grandma and talk about everything that happened. Sometimes they would spend an hour or more just talking about "the stories."

It was inevitable that I, too, would become a fan of the show. And, like my mother, I think I was also in about fourth or fifth grade when I first fell under that well-known soap opera spell. And there was one character we (my mother, my grandmother, and myself) all fell head-over-heels in love with. Roger Thorpe.

Do you remember Roger Thorpe? He was a scoundrel. I mean, he did some seriously awful things. But he had one vulnerability: his undying love for Holly, his ex-wife and the mother of his child. Yeah, I know, some of the most heinous acts he committed on the show were done to Holly. Viewers never forgot that, and neither did the characters. Still, we all secretly hoped for a reconciliation. I remember my mother saying countless times, "I think Roger could finally be good if Holly would just give him another chance."

We really wanted Roger to be good.

But he wasn't good. He had his moments, yes. A scene here and there where the audience was allowed a little glimpse of vulnerability. An entire storyline centered around his quest to turn his life around, usually for the sake of either Holly or his daughter Blake. But given enough time, he would always come back around to the dark side. It was incredibly frustrating, but it was also a mark of genius on the part of the writers. You see, they knew if they wrote a villain who was completely evil, he would come off as two-dimensional and not very realistic. But if they gave him a softer side, women would swoon for him. But the writers also knew something else. They knew that if they took Roger's softer side too far, to the point that he finally turned good and never looked back, viewers would get bored. There'd be nothing left to root for. Turning Roger Thorpe into a good guy and allowing him to live happily ever after with the love of his life would ultimately require writing him off the show altogether because he would no longer have a purpose. And, let's face it, he would lose a lot of his appeal.

The Harry Potter Character Who Broke Our Hearts

I won't beat about the bush. We all know I'm talking about Snape. 

The question of whether Snape truly qualifies as a villain is too complex for me to deal with in this post. Suffice it to say that he is presented as a villain in the first few Harry Potter books. Even when the story begins to probe deeper into his character, we still think of him as a bad guy. At first, we view all those traumatic events from his past as his motivation for turning evil. Then we get to the end and, well, if you're a Harry Potter fan, you know what happens. 

Still, it's an example of the same type of writing. What makes Snape different from Roger Thorpe is the fact that Harry Potter is not a soap opera. It is a story that has a definite beginning and a definite ending. So a character like Snape can come full circle and never go back to where he started because there's no more story to write. The pressure to keep viewers interested by having him vacillate between good and bad is not there, so he can be good and stay good. And we all love him for it.

The Latest Iteration

Are you a fan of the Marvel movies? It's okay if you're not. They're not really my favorite genre, to be honest, but there's one character I can't get enough of. If you think I'm talking about Loki, you guessed correctly.

In trying to categorize Loki, I'd say he's something of a combination of Roger and Snape. Like Snape, he is consumed by bitterness and jealousy. Like Roger, he's driven by ambition. Like Snape, his trustworthiness is constantly being called into question. Like Roger, he can never truly be good because then his character would have no further use. Like Snape, he consorts with the enemy and we wonder whose side he's really on. Like Roger, and every other soap opera villain ever written, he has a tendency to die and then come back from the dead. 

And we can't help but love him. Even when we hate him, heaven help us, we still love him. 

If you have a favorite character whom you "love to hate", let me know in a comment. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Indie Book of the Month: June 2018

Moral Panic by K. M. Ecke.

This is a book that will make you think twice next time you want to use the internet. The author actually has a warning at the beginning that if you are easily frightened by conspiracy theories, this may not be the book for you. I brushed it off as I do most warnings. I'm not generally squeamish about...well...anything really. But I have to say, this story gave me pause. I admit I'm not a tech geek, so can't speak to the realism of Ecke's portrayal of computer technology, but to a layman it felt pretty real. Think about all the times you did an internet search while signed in to your Google account. Every time you "liked" something on Facebook. Every time you did just about anything on your home computer that remembers your search history and all of your personal information. What if someone was actively monitoring that activity? And what if that someone had a personal vendetta against you? It sounds paranoid, and it probably is, but this book made it all seem just a little bit too real. And, honestly, in this age of hacking and identity theft, maybe a little paranoia can be a good thing.

Definitely check this book out. It is available on Amazon.