MaureenMcGowan

Bobcat Goldthwait? What was I thinking?

So, I turned in my picks for the film fest this afternoon and stuck around for the “draw” to determine which box gets opened first.

There were 40 boxes of envelopes this year… (I’d guess 40-50 envelopes in each box? Maybe double that… I have no idea really) My envelope got into box #35 and the number drawn was #22, so, I’m in the 14th box of envelopes that’ll be processed this weekend… That means I have a good chance of getting a ticket to the majority of the 45 films I selected. Yes, 45. (My pass is good for up to 50.)

And I picked the Bobcat Goldthwait film. Eagerly awaited after his 1992 film Shakes the Clown… (Actually, I keep meaning to rent that. An alcoholic clown… what’s not to love?)

Bobcat Goldtwait? Wait. It gets better… What is this film about? It’s about the repercussions after a woman admits to her lover that she once had a sexual encouter with a dog. Which I gather they show in the opening scene of the movie. Hmmmmm….

It’s part of the “Vanguard” programme at the fest which is meant to showcase “Innovative filmmakers and bold films that challenge our social and cultural assumptions.”

Ya think?

Actually, NOW Magazine, the weekly Toronto paper that reviews about 40 of the 350 or so fest-films, gave this one NNNN or “excellent”. They have a “best of the fest” NNNNN rating, too… but only gave that rating to two films.

I quote from their review, “The most striking thing about demented comic Goldthwait’s Sleeping Dogs Lie is that the story of a young woman seeking romantic fulfillment has a genuine sweetness behind the studied outrageousness of its premise.” The review goes on to suggest you not let anyone tell you what the premise is… but I’ve already done that. Sorry. Not much chance this will be in your multiplex anytime soon, uncut anyway. [I just looked at the film fest description again… and it looks like it does have a distributor in the US and Canada… Maybe it will come to your town… If you live in a big city, anyway… Sounds like it premiered in January — Sundance? About 90% of the films at the TIFF are either world or North American premieres… but this one is part of the 10%, apparently.]

I’ll post again after the screening… Didn’t Janeane Garofalo have some great line in The Truth about Cats and Dogs about loving your pets too much?

Anyone have Katie Couric’s photographer’s number?

All the press coverage about that doctored photo is cracking me up… But maybe I should be angry. No way would people be so interested if she were a man. In fact, the photo-weight-loss plan wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

That said, I’d love to find a photographer who could make me look 20 (40?) pounds lighter in a publicity photo.

Hmmm…. Maybe that should be my main criterion when searching for one.

Off to pick up my Festival Programme

And it begins… the dark hole is looming… The chances of frequent blog activity or getting any real work done diminishing…

The film list and schedule for the 2006 TIFF have arrived!

Today, I will go pick up my programme book and the forms for making my selections, which must be turned in by 1:00 pm on Friday. Since NOW, the weekly local paper which reviews some of the films, doesn’t come out until Thursday (and since I’m a major procrastinator) I probably won’t sleep Thursday night. The process to make selections is astoundingly complicated what with 350 films, many different venues around the city with travel time in between, and my conflicting objectives of wanting to see films I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see, and wanting to do some gawking at hollywood stars… So many movies, so many stars, so little time.

After my picks are turned in on Friday, they start opening envelopes on a lottery basis… I’ve been lucky the past two years, so not holding my breath on getting so lucky again this year.

On Monday (labour day) I will be standing in two long lines… (really a warm up for the actual festival, which is all about lines) The first line is to pick up my tickets and the second to make changes… Last year the change line took nearly 4 hours and by the time I reached the front, what I’d wanted to do wasn’t possible. (But at least I handed back my duplicate tickets… I got a ticket to both screenings of a Korean film I’d picked as my #1 choice in one time slot and my #2 choice in another. The film was cool… but I didn’t want to see it twice!)

Then the actual screenings start next Thursday night. Starting Friday morning (Friday the 8th), if I’m as insane as previous years, I’ll be seeing 5 movies a day until the 17th. Leaving the house at 8:00 am every day (very early for me…) and not getting home until after midnight. Much later if I go to a “Midnight Madness” show. Last year I only made it to one of those… the premiere of Sarah Silverman’s Jesus is Magic. Very funny. It was worth the lack of sleep. Yes, the film festival is a very grueling and tough job. :-) Pity me.

Helen Mirren Rocks!

I’ve always been a fan of Helen Mirren. She’s a fabulous actress and a beautiful, bright woman, but last night during the Emmy’s my admiration for her expanded.

Why?

Because she thanked writers for creating good parts for women on TV
Because she said “ass over tits” on TV
Because she sublty spanked entertainment execs for not having enough good roles for women.
Because she looked so damned lovely.

The British TV series Prime Suspect, which started in the early 1990’s and continues today, is one of the most clever, tense, best written shows I’ve seen on TV, and created a fabulous character in DCI Jane Tennison, played by Mirren. DCI Tennison is a woman, working in a man’s world, who’s tough enough to put up with the crap her male bosses, peers and subordinates thjrpw her way, get the bad guy and still remain a feminine and emotionally vulnerable. In fact, it’s that vulnerability that makes DCI Tennison so good at her job.

I read a number of years ago that Hollywood, recognizing an amazing character when they saw it, (or perhaps just noticing the ratings of the series), wanted to create a movie version of Prime Suspect but didn’t want to cast Helen Mirren. Rather, they wanted to cast a younger, more conventionally beautiful woman in the role.

How sad. How misguided.

Brother. I’m nearly 20 years younger than Ms. Mirren and could only wish to look half as good as she does.
I know this is hardly an original thought… but why don’t we value older women more when we hero worship so many older men, particularly male actors?

I don’t get it.

She had me at saskatoon berry bush

I read a great book this summer. And one I picked up on a whim. Don’t you love great surprises like that?

The book is THE JOURNAL OF MORTIFYING MOMENTS by Robyn Harding. When I bought the book, I didn’t realize she was a Canadian author, but on page 1 she mentions a saskatoon berry bush, which immediately sent me to the author bio to confirm her nationality. Yup.

(Okay, she set the book in Seattle, but she’s from my home and native land. The saskatoon berry reference makes me wonder if she’s not originally from the prairies… but I digress…)

THE JOURNAL OF MORTIFYING MOMENTS has a great hook and a creative structure—and I’m a sucker for writers who use clever little twists to straightforward storytelling. The premise is that the heroine lets her gorgeous ex-boyfriend walk all over her (and have sex with her whenever he wants, in spite of treating her like dirt). So she goes to a shrink for help, who suggests that she keep a journal of times in her life when she made a fool of herself because of a man. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

For you writers… The entries in the journal become a clever way for the writer to show interesting back-story about the protagonist and help us understand her better without flashbacks or pages of narrative. Cool idea. Wish I’d thought of it first. :-)

Ms. Harding has an engaging style and great sense of humour and I love a book where the heroine actually changes/grows as a result of events in the story and her reaction to them. Even though Kerry, her protagonist, makes some bad decisions, she doesn’t just let things happen to her. All her actions felt really organic and true in this fast paced fun read. She did include the now-cliché-in-chick-lit gay best friend… but he was a real character and I believed they were actually friends. Kerry also has female friends with their own subplots which all fit well into the overall story, adding depth. I also loved that there were at least three possible guys who could be Mr. Right, and while I think most readers will be rooting for the one who wins her, Ms. Harding did a great job of making you wonder if Kerry would choose someone else.

Some of the mortifying moments were truly cringe-worthy and I laughed out loud several times (This book embarrassed me on my flight back from the RWA conference in Atlanta).

Check it out!

Chatting with … Kelley Armstrong

This chat was originally published in Romantics, the newsletter of Toronto Romance Writers, in February, 2006.

This month, I’m chatting with “Otherworld” author Kelley Armstrong who we’re thrilled to have as a member of Toronto Romance Writers.
Hmm … Given the last two months of this column, anyone new to our group might think our members only write paranormals … but next month we’ll be going all medieval on you with HQN author Margaret Moore.

Maureen McGowan: Kelley, thanks for joining us and taking the time to answer a few questions. When did you first know you wanted to write novels?
Kelley Armstrong: I’ve been writing stories since I was holding crayons, but I never expected to make a career of it. In my family, writing was a hobby. Had I said “I want to grow up to be a novelist” my parents would have said “That’s nice dear…and what do you want to do for a living?”

MM: Sounds familiar … Tell us about your first sale. How many manuscripts had you written? Did you have an agent?
KA: I’d written a couple of complete novels before BITTEN, and countless partials. After years of “messing” with the novel that became BITTEN, I sent the manuscript to an instructor for his opinion, he recommended me to an agent and things happened very fast after that. So, yes, I did have an agent, who was a godsend. I have zero salesmanship ability and I’m willfully clueless about the business side.

MM: What did you do to celebrate?
KA: It was weird. I’d always thought I’d have some big celebration, but I was so worried it would fall through that I kept saying “I’ll celebrate after the next step”–after it sells, after the edits are accepted, after it’s published. When it came out, I took my family out for dinner. Oh, and with my first advance cheque I did what I’d always said I’d do with the first writing money I made: bought a laser printer. Yeah, I’m a writing geek.

MM: What do you think was special about BITTEN that clinched your sale?
KA: Never quite figured that out. Why this one rather than the others? Everyone told me BITTEN was unmarketable, that if I had to write “horror” at least I should write about vampires–there was a market for that. Of all the books I’d messed with, though, this was the one I loved, the one that I continued even when people said it wouldn’t sell. So if anything set it apart, maybe that was it–my passion was with this one.

MM: Did you think your books were going to be as big as they’ve become? Did your publisher?
KA: When BITTEN sold (1999), there wasn’t really a market for paranormals. They didn’t know how to market me–ended up trying to sell Bitten as mainstream fiction with a nice artsy cover. Impressive…but as soon as someone realizes it’s about werewolves, that whole “mainstream fiction” thing goes down the drain. So I’m as shocked as anyone at the way paranormals have taken off. Grateful, though. Very grateful!

MM: Chocolate or vanilla?
KA: Chocolate. Very dark chocolate. My kids won’t touch it–they say it tastes like unsweetened chocolate–so I can leave it lying around and no one even nibbles.

MM: Tell us a little about BROKEN. When is it hitting the shelves?
KA: BROKEN returns to Elena Michaels, the werewolf protagonist of my first two novels. She’s now pregnant, and having some trouble with Jack the Ripper’s ‘From Hell’ letter. Stealing it was easy enough…until she accidentally triggered a dimensional portal into Victorian London, releasing zombies, disease, and maybe a notorious serial killer himself. It’s due out May 2006.

MM: It sounds exciting! I can’t wait. Do you write full time? What’s a normal writing day like?
KA: I call myself a full-time writer and parent, because with young kids, it’s hard to do anything else truly “full-time.” A writing day when my kids are gone is “send them off, then write/edit madly for 6 hours until they return.” A writing day when my two kindergartners are home is “answer e-mail & snail mail, do my accounting and other business stuff and maybe get a scene or two edited or blocked out”. Plenty of women can write with kids around, but I need chunks of uninterrupted time.

MM: I’ve heard BITTEN has been optioned for a film and that Angelina Jolie is attached to the project. What’s the status? Will you get to meet Brad?
KA: Warner Bros. was going gung-ho on it…then cooled right down after Catwoman tanked, and didn’t renew the option. So it’s back with the production company that originally bought it. I’m not sure whether Ms. Jolie is still attached, but I figure that between Brad and the babies, that woman is way too busy to be thinking about werewolves.

MM: At RWA Nationals in Dallas, every editor and agent seemed to be looking for a werewolf series. How does it feel to have started a new sub-genre?
KA: I think I lucked in on the ground floor more than starting something. I get a laugh when I see new werewolf paranormals, though. I remember the first editor who was interested in BITTEN and took it back to her company’s bean-counters, who looked up sales figures of the last werewolf novel and said “no way.” Times and tastes change, sometimes rapidly!

MM: Dogs or cats?
KA: I have both, but I’m more of a dog person. With our dogs, I can return from the grocery store and they greet me as if I’ve been away for years. With our cats, we feed them, pamper them, clean up their crap, and they still give the impression they’d be gone in a flash if they got a better offer.

MM: (Dogs rule!) What are you reading right now?
KA: In my reading basket right now? Stephen King’s THE CELL, Rick Mofina’s WHEN ANGELS FALL and “Magical Interpretation, Material Realities: Modernity, Witchcraft and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa” (research…obviously).

MM: What are you working on?
KA: I’ve had to pause writing book 7 of my Otherworld series to do edits on the first book (EXIT STRATEGY, available July 31, 2007) in a new crime series. The log-line my publishers use for it is: an ex-cop turned ethical hitwoman. I don’t know how the market is for hitwomen…but I guess I’ll find out!

MM: What’s your favourite thing about being an author? Your least favourite?
KA: Favourite? Easy. I still cannot believe people actually pay me to stay home and spin yarns about werewolves, witches and ghosts. It’s a dream job. Least favourite? The realization that my “dream job” isn’t like my corporate career, where unless I screwed up big-time, I could have my job until I keeled over in my cubicle (and maybe even after that.) It’s always sobering to consider how fast I could lose it if my muse or the market dries up.

MM: What do you know now that you wish you’d known before your first sale?
KA: Hmm. I wish I’d been better prepared for what it would feel like when that first book came out–the stress of giving interviews, worrying about sales, reviews, etc. In a way it was like being unprepared for giving birth–it was a milestone in my life that I expected to a time of unrelenting joy, and while there was plenty of joy, there were times when I was gritting my teeth waiting for that opening month to be over. But of course that didn’t keep me from enjoying the rewards…or doing it again.

MM: And the most important question: What’s your favourite drink?
KA: Cuba Libre. (sounds so much better than “rum and coke”)

MM: Thanks for chatting. I’ll buy you one after the next TRW meeting!

Check out Kelley’s website at www.kelleyarmstrong.com

The Big Lebowski — Love it or hate it?

Last night, during a protracted and productive drunk writer talk session, a debate arose about The Big Lebowski and Coen brothers’ films in general. I sense this may be a future dwt topic as strong well argued views were heard on each side…

But I thought I’d toss it out to anyone out there… Hate that film, or love it? It seems to be a polarizing one.

Me? Any movie, with fascinating well-developed characters I enjoy watching, entertains me… Sinead? She likes a tightly told story. And, well, tightly told it ain’t. What role in the overall story did Julienne Moore’s bizarre artist character play???

In writing popular and genre fiction… we’re told to make every scene count, make every character serve a purpose, make every line of dialogue, every subplot, well, everything serve the core story.

I think this is great advice and makes for a page-turning book… BUT… I’m still entertained by movies and books that don’t do this, too…

I guess what I’m not entertained by, are movies and books that aim to be genre or popular but break these rules… (or even follow them so obviously they make the writer-in-me roll her eyes.) But put facsinating, well-written characters whose lives/world I can get sucked into, in literary fiction or an indie film , and I don’t care about the story so much… A few of my favourite films/books, I can barely remember what they were about… just that I loved the characters.

Thoughts?

JonBenet and the Power of the Press

There are probably a billion people blogging about the whole JonBenet thing who know way more about it than me, (I’ve really only skimmed headlines and caught tiny bits of a few newscasts and articles) but I feel compelled to jot down a few thoughts anyway—mostly about the power of the press to implant an impression in the public’s mind. It sure did in mine…

Okay, I’m sure the prosecutors in Boulder were instrumental in helping the press create the impression that the Ramsey’s were guilty… But I didn’t follow the case closely enough to know whether the press was the cart or the horse when compared to the prosecutors and police.

I do think the Ramsey’s weren’t particularly great at making public impressions—especially the mother, who I’m sad to hear died before this scumbag confessed. The image she projected on TV didn’t help her. I saw clips of Barbara Walters’s interview with the Ramseys on the news last night and I have to say, even though I was watching these clips knowing someone else had confessed, it looked to me like she was hiding something when Bawbwa asked point blank if she’d done it. Everything about her expression, her posture, her disdain for the question screamed “guilty” to me—or at least that she was hiding something.

But who knows how you’d react in the face of not only having your daughter sexually abused and murdered, but also being accused of the horrible crime. I don’t think any one of us could know whether we’d make a sympathetic impression while suffering that kind of loss. It’s not hard to imagine shutting off every emotion and appearing cold. Maybe it was just her emotions I sensed her hiding…

The sad thing is that the press is so focused on selling papers or TV ads that they go for the most lurid angle, with little regard for the truth. They know how easy it is to create an impression in the public’s mind and frankly the Ramsey’s simply didn’t seem very sympathetic—so it probably didn’t weigh too heavily on the members of the press to play up the possibility that they’d done it.

In addition to the Mrs. Ramsey’s less than warm & fuzzy image… it was shockingly easy for me to dislike a woman who’d put her six-year-old child in sexy costumes and enough make-up and hairspray to make an adult look sleezy, and then have her prance around on a stage competing with other little girls to be the prettiest. I’m very, very opposed to child beauty pageants. I think they enforce the worst kinds of values in children and if she wanted her kid to compete in something that would help her self-esteem and build confidence, why not try a sport, or enroll her in ballet classes, or art classes, or horse riding, or anything not 100% focused on how cute she was. I know this is just my opinion, and the late Mrs. Ramsey was entitled to hers… but the whole pageant thing clouded my assessment of her character.

I confess. I am one of many people who thought until this week that Mrs. Ramsey probably did it—or at least knew who did. I’m sorry for that.

And here I am letting the press reports help me assume this guy’s guilty already. Only time and a proper investigation will tell whether this guy is really guilty or just has some sick fantasy of wishing he’d done it… I’m so glad I didn’t become a journalist. I don’t think I have the stomach for it.

Musing on Rejections

Yes, rejections suck. They’re hard to take. They hurt.

Every time a writer puts their work out into the world they risk rejection—in fact, just about any statistics you’d want to gather, and the experience of just about any successful author out there—would indicate that when we send work out, rejection is a much higher probability than positive feedback.

But we must submit to get anywhere. It’s a fact of this business—any entertainment business—and I maintain that writing fiction falls squarely into the entertainment business.

In my experience, agent rejections fall into a few different camps:

  1. Form letters that are short, sweet, polite and to the point.
  2. Terse, kinda ugly form letters that convey a FOAD attitude. (ends with, off and die)
  3. Form letters that make the uninitiated think they are personalized–reading either positive or negative meaning into words not directly aimed at the writer.
  4. Personalized rejection letters with tid-bits of encouragement clearly aimed at the specific writer.

I’ve received plenty of rejections and at least one of each type. Type #1 are frankly, probably the easiest to deal with. The “Thanks for submitting, this work isn’t for us. Don’t give up, ’cause the business is subjective.” That kind of letter.
While these type are certainly what beginner writers get most, writers at all levels of the submission process get them. (But if all your responses are of the #1-3 variety combined with no requests, then it probably is an indication that your work isn’t ready for submission… )

I didn’t get that many type #2’s, I found most agents who rejected me were quite polite, but someone on one of my loops recently posted a rejection she’d received, and while I’m not sure I received that exact letter, I did receive some like it. Ones that make you feel like you’re an idiot, like you’ve wasted their time, like you submitted something they don’t represent, like you can’t string two sentences together, like you should just give up on being a writer.

Those suck.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I got some that were hybrids of #2 and #3. Letters that insulted me, stabbed me in the gut… until I read them again later—or a critique partner or friend got virtually the same letter—and I realized the list of insults, “wooden characters, clichéd devices, no plot development” were just a laundry list of reasons why they reject manuscripts, not a personalized list of what was wrong with my submission.

And yes, I got a few badly photocopied form letters that have to make you think the agent went out of his/her way to make it look that bad—that he/she was REALLY trying to send me a message.

In fact, I got one of those badly copied form letters when I snail-mail queried one of my dream agents. A few months later, I found out she doesn’t read snail-mail queries—wasn’t even sure who in her office looked at them—and read only her e-mail ones… I had a chance to pitch to her at a conference and ended up with a request for a full. If that doesn’t prove you shouldn’t take badly photocopied rejections personally, I don’t know what does.

I think the biggest hurdle that aspiring writers have to jump is learning to not take criticism personally. Even if we are one of the rare few who hit the pinnacles of success, we are going to get bad reviews, or letters from fans who didn’t enjoy a particular book, or claim to hate them all in spite of buying and reading them. As long as none of those fans go all Kathy Bates on us… we just need to suck it up and take it. Just like we have to take rejection from agents and editors in stride when we’re at the submission stage.

Sometime during my agent search, I became fairly zen about rejections. Maybe it was a volume thing? (How does she do it? Volume! Just realized I sounded like a late night ad for stereo equipment.) Maybe it was because the bad rejections were mixed in with requests and really encouraging rejections from agents who loved my writing, but weren’t sure which editors to market the manuscript to and invited me to send my next project.

But to get published you need to submit and if you submit, you’re going to get rejected many times before you get a yes. So we need to get to that happy place re: rejections. Somehow.

Everyone. ..
Chant with me…
Ohm…

    Domain Name Issues

    So, if you’re a writer… have you registered a domain name yet? Do so with caution.

    My brother in law sent me a list of hilarious domain names of real companies that didn’t pay too much attention when they did their registering….

    They’re all real sites. Crazy.

    1. First, a site called ‘Who Represents’ where you can find the name of the agent that represents a celebrity… www.whorepresents.com I think I’ll bookmark this one…
    2. Experts Exchange, a knowledge base where programmers can exchange advice and views at http://www.expertsexchange.com/ What kind of advice is available? Careful if you click to this link… It tried to change my homepage when I did.
    3. Looking for a pen? Look no further than Pen Island at http://www.penisland.net/
    4. Need a therapist? Try Therapist Finder at http://www.therapistfinder.com/ Ooops.
    5. Or, an Italian Power Generator company… http://www.powergenitalia.com/ Might work if you’re writing erotica for the paranormal market? Hero with really special superpowers?
    6. One of my personal favourites: Mole Station Native Nursery, based in New SouthWales: http://www.molestationnursery.com/ Who wouldn’t trust their children to this nursery? Okay, it’s not that kind of nursery. Funny anyway.
    7. If you’re looking for computer software, there’s alwayshttp://www.ipanywhere.com/ Ok. This one’s pretty juvenile and I have a feeling this company knew exactly what they were doing… I mean, the correct way to pronounce it (ip anywhere) and the “funny” way (I pee anywhere) are both the same.
    8. But this one’s pretty good. The First Cumming Methodist Church. Their website is http://www.cummingfirst.com/ Another possible erotica website name?
    9. And an art direction site… another one where I wonder if they didn’t see what they’d done… http://www.speedofart.com/ There’s nothing worse than a speedo fart.
    10. Finally, a tourist site for Lake Tahoe http://www.gotahoe.com/ Of course hoe spelled that way is actually a gardening tool… But kinda funny anyway.

    Okay, writers are unlikely to get into traps like these. But I have heard stories about writers choosing a pen name and then finding out that they share their new name with a porno star or mass murderer…

    Guess it makes sense to look at things from more than one angle, eh!