MaureenMcGowan

The Mountains Exist!!!

After 36 hours of wondering whether the hotel’s marketing materials had been a big fat lie, mountains have emerged from the fog, creating a beautiful vista from my hotel room in suburban Vancouver. (Otherwise known as Surrey)

Eileen Cook, on the other hand, remains shrouded and I’m beginning to believe she only exists in blogland and not in real life :-)

Having a great time at the conference so far and my mind is swimming with too many thoughts to be very coherent.

I just came out of an “advanced” class on mastering POV. Two quick thoughts:

1. I’ve noticed the use of the word master or advanced in the title of a workshop (this one used both) greatly increases the number of male writers in the room. Perhaps I’m not being totally fair, though… The presenter was a sci fi writer and some of the participants may have attended mostly to hear him.

2. The degree to which writers of other genres know nothing about romance or women’s fiction continues to amaze me. Although, given the ounce of reflection possible while I was typing that last sentence, I realize that until 4-5 years ago, I knew nothing about romance, either, so why I expect a sci fi writer to have a clue, I don’t know. (When I wrote my first romance, I thought I’d be breaking new ground by doing a sex scene from the hero’s POV. Little did I know they ALL DO THIS. At least for the past 10-15 years…)

Not that the presenter didn’t have a clue. It was actually a very good presentation on POV (one of the best I’ve seen) — just not what I’d expected from an “advanced” class on “mastering” POV. Virtually every member of RWA knows what he taught in that class and it shocks me how new the idea of staying in one character’s head for a scene was, to many of the writers in the room. Also interesting… he suggested that if you have two main viewpoint characters, you should avoid scenes where both are present, or if such a thing cannot be avoided, you should write that scene from a third viewpoint character’s POV. He said to use one of the main viewpoint characters and not the other, but have them both in the scene would be difficult and confuse the reader.

Made me think romance and women’s fiction writers and readers must be really smart. :-) But I already knew that.

The Last King of Scotland

Okay, during the film festival I promised I’d blog about some of the great films I saw — perhaps closer to their release dates.

I’ve just realized that a few have come and gone already… Ooops.

But one that’s in theatres right now you should check out is The Last King of Scotland. A deeply powerful film about a dark period in Ugandan history.

It tells the story of the brutal dictator, Idi Amin Dada. This is the synopsis from the official web site for the film:

“In an incredible twist of fate, a Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) on a Ugandan medical mission becomes irreversibly entangled with one of the world’s most barbaric figures: Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). Impressed by Dr. Garrigan’s brazen attitude in a moment of crisis, the newly self-appointed Ugandan President Amin hand picks him as his personal physician and closest confidante. Though Garrigan is at first flattered and fascinated by his new position, he soon awakens to Amin’s savagery – and his own complicity in it. Horror and betrayal ensue as Garrigan tries to right his wrongs and escape Uganda alive.”

When I saw the film, I wondered if Dr. Garrigan had been a real person, and I’ve spoken to a few people who are convinced he was, but he wasn’t. He’s just an amazingly clever device used by the writer to show how the world (most particularly the British who aided in Amin’s rise to power) got sucked in by the initially charismatic dictator and how the world came to see the truth and horror that was Idi Amin. The “trick” here is that the novelist wrote the book (on which the movie is based) as a memoir. Okay, I assume it says novel on the cover, but it’s written as a memoir making lots of people think the protagonist really existed. The writer side of me is really impressed by this idea… What a great way to fictionalize historical events. Create a character, plunk him in the middle of the events you want to show and write his memoirs. I guess this isn’t entirely original–others have done it. But this movie (and I assume novel–haven’t read it) does it well. (Actually, in many ways Hotel Rwanda did this, too… Sure, that hotel manager existed, I actually saw him at the film’s premiere at the Toronto festival in 2004, so it’s not the same situation as Last King… but the manager’s role in using the hotel to save people was reputedly grossly exaggerated in the film in order to tell a good story. To roughly quote General Dallaire, the UN leader in Rwanda: “Yes, the UN used that hotel for refugees. Yes, I think I remember there being a helpful manager.” In some ways, this distortion of a real life character bothers me more than creating a completely fake one. Yes, centering Hotel Rwanda on a sympathetic and proactive protagonist was a good way to create a story appealing to the public… Perhaps it’s the Canadian patriot in me that didn’t like how they misrepresented Romeo Dallaire in that movie. He should have been the hero, and instead he was a drunk Nick Nolte, but I suppose it wouldn’t have sold as many tickets. If you want to see the Rwanda story told more acurately, rent the documentary SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL.)

But I’m seriously digressing. Back to The Last King of Scotland. I first doubted the doctor character was based on a real person during the resolution of his story. I don’t want to put any spoilers here… but I felt that if the circumstances surrounding the climax of the film were true, then his story would be better known. The climax of the film occurs during the 1976 hijacking of an Air France plane which Amin allowed to land in Uganda and whose hostages were famously rescued in an Isreali army raid. (and immortalized in the 1977 TV film RAID ON ENTEBBE)

Anyway. I thought THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND was a really great film. It’s not for the faint of heart, there’s some brutal and graphic violence, but the story is one everyone should know and the performances were amazing.

Forest Whitaker was astounding and James McAvoy (dubbed the It-boy of this year’s Toronto festival because he had 3 films screening–one I liked STARTER FOR TEN, one I didn’t PENELOPE) was equally good as the naive young doctor.

Check it out! If you’ve seen it, let me know what you think.

Writers are nice people

There are lots of stereotypes of writers–particularly romance writers I suppose–and the more writers I meet, the more I think these stereotypes aren’t based on any kind of reality.

Not for genre or mainstream fiction writers, anyway.

This year, between serving on the board of my local RWA chapter and attending way too many conferences for my own good, I’ve had the pleasure to meet many authors including several big-time bestselling authors. I have to tell you, they just couldn’t be a nicer, smarter more generous group of women.

Maybe it’s because in romance and women’s fiction we’re writing about human relationships, so the writers who are good at showing these relationships to readers via their words, are also good at human relationships in “the real world”. Maybe it’s because writers understand what makes people tick?

Don’t know… But what inspired this post was a lovely dinner Saturday night with Mary Jo Putney who kindly came up to Toronto to speak to our TRW members. While answering our questions in the afternoon, she was frank and open and honest and encouraging,and then was gracious and really good fun when the board took her and her husband out for dinner in the evening.

I’m wondering, if all stereotypes exist because they’re true… where are the nasty diva’s eating bon bons? Where are the sad introverts who live only through their characters? I’ve never met any writers like that. Have you?

(Not that being an introvert is a bad thing . I’m a bit of one myself. By sad introvert, I just mean that stereotype of a lonely romance writer with absolutely no life or friends besides her cat. The Joan Wilder before she goes to Columbia stereotype.)

The verb "to see" — a grammar rant

I’m not a picky grammarian–especially not in spoken English, but nothing makes me cringe more than “I seen”. I actually have a pretty good friend who says it with some regularity, but I must admit I don’t think I would have given him the chance to be a friend if he hadn’t been the partner of another good friend. (I suppose that says more about me than him, doesn’t it. Too quick to judge at times.)

The other night I heard someone being interviewed on TV say, “I have saw.”

Okay, in speech we all make mistakes, (hey, we make them in written english, too), but this person did it more than once making it seem like she thought it was correct.

People. It’s not that hard.

Of course, this is from someone who co-founded a weblog called Drunk Writer Talk… But really, Drunken Writer Talk doesn’t sound as good, does it? Besides, my dictionary lists both words as adjectives :-)

Back from Jersey

Hey!

I watched ET tonight (very highbrow TV selection) and Anna Nicole’s mother was on. She was chastising her daughter for not having buried her grandson yet. “What kind of mother would do that?” she said.

Not that I’m defending Anna Nicole or her parenting abilities… but what kind of mother would go on National TV and criticize her daughter????

Seriously. Apple don’t fall to fur from the tree there, do it?

I’m blogging on drunk writer talk today about setting career objectives and sticking to them. The NJ conference was great. Really glad I went.

Control and hairdressers

I was born a honey blonde. That’s what I would have called it anyway. It wasn’t ever platinum like my older sister’s, but still blonde. I liked the colour. In my not-so-humble opinion, it looked like 24 carat gold in sunlight. That and its softness almost made up for its limp, fine, impossible to style, poker straightness.

Sometime during my thirties—I’m not exactly sure when, because I moved to California when I was in my late twenties and I think the sunshine masked the exact year of change—my hair darkened and dulled, turned less golden blonde and more dark dirty blonde or even (gasp!) mousy brown. So, in spite of having much disdain for artificial blondes when I had my own, I started to add highlights. I’ve had a bit of a chemical dependence ever since.

After quitting my conservative day-job, I wanted to try something different. Having green eyes and that Irish/Scottish complexion thing going, I always wondered what I’d look like with red hair. I confessed this to my new, crazy-in-a-good-way hairdresser, Farzana, along with a desire to have something bold, something funky, something that didn’t scream 40-years old. (A milestone I’d just reached.)

The first few times she cut and coloured my hair, I’m sure we discussed what I wanted ahead of time. I seem to recall having input on the colours she used.

Not so much anymore. Now I walk in the door and she goes, “I have a great idea!” and several hours and many dollars later I emerge with some crazy hair colouring.

Not that I’m complaining. I keep going back, don’t I? And Jenny Bent remembered me at a conference because of my hair. (And I’m pretty sure it was in a good way.)

When I went in to see Farzana on the weekend, my hair had a strawberry blonde base, not unlike the natural colour of my youth, and some chunky highlights in a lighter blonde, and some red, and some brown… I loved it when she’d done it back in July and it had faded to something soft and pretty but roots were coming in. I wanted to know if she could freshen it up and fix the roots, without doing the whole hog double process it had taken to get it where it was.

Somehow, without much discussion, I walked out a few hours later with very dark hair. Deep brown on the bottom and a deep auburn on the top. For a natural blonde, the dark hair thing is a little disturbing. I’m not sure if it suits me yet. I do know I should have had her dye my eyebrows, too. I look freaky without makeup.

How much control do you give your hairdresser? Do you know exactly what you want and tell him/her? Or, like me, do you throw caution to the blow dryer?

Nadine Dajani

I had the pleasure of meeting fellow Canadian, Nadine Dajani, this summer in Atlanta after corresponding with her a few times and discovering a strange connection… Not only are we both accountants turned fiction writers, we have a connection through the Cayman bank she works (worked now, I think). No, I’m not filthy rich and I’ve never laundered money through the Caymans. The connection is through a past job of mine. My former employer is a (very ligitimate and totally above board) client of said Cayman bank.

Nadine’s first book FASHIONABLY LATE is coming out in June 2007 from Forge books. I, for one, can’t wait to read it. It’s set partially in Montreal and partially in Cuba and the heroine is a Lebanese Canadian. What could be more interesting than that? Those critics who say chick lit is all about rich white American women should do a little research!

Anyway, perhaps I should get around to the point of this post?

Nadine just launched her website and is running a great contest all week via her blog to celebrate. Check it out!

Phantom of the Black Dahlia

I went to see The Black Dahlia last night and I really, really wanted to like this movie. I’m a big Brian de Palma fan, generally, even when he makes it hard to be one.

I had just about completely lost interest in all the subplots and connections and over-the-top-for-no-good-reason characters in The Black Dahlia, when who do I see strangling Aaron Eckhart? Winslow Leach! Okay, not Winslow Leach,
but the actor, William Finley, who played Winslow Leach in one of my all time favourite movies (but which oddly never seems to make my top ten lists when I make them) Brian de Palma’s campy 1974 classic THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.

If you’ve never seen this movie, why not??? YOU MUST.

Seriously.

To explain my obsession with this movie, I need to fill you in on a little personal back-story. In 1974 I was twelve (which makes me 29, now, right?) and living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Both of these facts are important. For some bizarre reason I’m sure would be worthy of a Phd thesis, Winnipeg went NUTS for this movie. I don’t know the exact statistic, but I think it sold more tickets per capita in Winnipeg than anywhere else in the world. Like double or triple. It was such a phenomenon, that Paul Williams,
who stared and wrote the score opened his world tour in Winnipeg. He was pretty big at the time after writing all those Carpenters hits and had a few hit records of his own accord. (Rainy Days and Mondays, springs to mind.) I only saw The Phantom of the Paradise in theatres twice (I wasn’t technicaly old enough to even get in once) but had friends who saw it upwards of 15-20 times. This, I guess, is where the twelve-years-old detail comes in. My friends and I all actually thought Paul Williams was pretty hot. Maybe it was the idea of a man who was our height? Or his pretty long blond hair? His munchkinesque face?

Anyway, I love this movie. I loved the music. I knew (still know, sadly) every lyric to every song. (Must buy the soundtrack to test this assertion, but I’m pretty confident.)

And in case you think I’m making this whole Winnipeg connection up, or blowing it out of proportion, the third hit when I googled the movie title today brought up this link to something called Phantompalooza held just this year in Winnipeg. Looks like all the major cast members attended. Too funny.

Has anyone else seen this movie? Or am I alone in my crazy obsession.

More funny words

I’m ranting over on drunk writer talk today, so thought I’d keep things light here 😉

This is part deux of the Washington Post contest. In this part, entrants were asked to alter a word by adding, subtracting or changing one letter and then providing a new definition. (I like #4)

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

3. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

4. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

5. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

6. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

7. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

8 Karmageddon (n): It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

9. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

10. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

11. Dopeler Effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

12. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

13. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

14 Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you’re eating.

New meaning

I’m not responsible for this. According to my sister who sent it to me, the list is from the Washington Post. Hilarious.

Our family has been playing a game we called “Dictionary” that we thought we invented, long before the game “Balderdash” hit shelves. So this idea is near and dear to our hearts.

Entrants were asked to assign a new meaning to existing words. Enjoy.

1. Coffee (n.): the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.): appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.): to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.): to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.): impotent

6. Negligent (adj.): describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.): to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n.): olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.): emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.): a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.): a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.): the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n): a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.): a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.): (back by popular demand). The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.): an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.