Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Creepy, Figure Smear Is On Purpose, Right?

Never fear, dear Vortex friends. I have the answer to that nagging question "WTH were those bizarre commercials with the tiny boxes during Lost last night?" I can barely contain my squee at the premise of what the almost-blackout snapshots meant.

To capitalize on the ultra savvy, sci-fi crazed audience who kneels at JJ Abram's time-plagued altar each week, ABC is promoting blips of their new 2009/10 series called "Flash Forward." According to From Inside the Box's Rick Porter, "The show is based on Robert J. Sawyer's novel and follows the fallout from a cataclysm in which the world's entire population blacks out for just over two minutes. In addition to dealing with the chaos that ensues when everyone wakes up -- everything from car crashes to people walking off rooftops -- people soon come to realize that they all had a vision of their futures. The network says that those investigating the event will have only "a huge mosaic of people's flash forwards" to go on." Huge atta-boy behind-smack to ABC, who has, of late, showed a willingness to embrace non-CSI premises.

And while we're all in piglandia, worried about the guy coughing behind us in the Kroger line, here's another bizarre morsel for you:The Georgia Guidestones are America's Stonehenge. Located on a barren hill in northeastern Georgia, the monument is comprised of five polished granite stones rising up out of the earth in a star-shaped pattern. Commissioned in 1980 by a man named Robert C. Christian on behalf of "a small group of loyal Americans", the stones were built to withstand a catastrophic event so those left behind had a guide to rebuild a better civilization than the previous one had destroyed. According to Christian, the structure would service as a compass, a calendar and a clock. Among the guidelines listed in eight languages, these:

Rule passion, faith, tradition and all things with tempered reason

Avoid petty laws and useless officials

Prize truth, beauty and love-seeking harmony with the infinite

Be not a cancer on the earth

Leave room for nature

Leave room for nature

Lastly, before we leave the land of creepy, check out these dolls someone crafted from Barbie and Ken. While Romance Writer Barbie may be freaky weird to those whose imaginations don't firmly reside in the Isle of Romance, this Rex Harrison/Gene Tierney homage to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is sadly lacking the ostentatious Sea Captain portrait. Even Romance Writer Barbie had a Nora portrait.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Paradox House

Audiences who loved the movie The Lake House are the target readers for the novels I write. Too schmaltzy for the sci-fi fans who delight in mind-bending time travel paradoxes, too out-there for the primarily-female audience that wants to be entertained and doesn't want complexities that give them a headache trying to dissect on the back end. The Lake House is notorious for being one of the worst time travel movies of all time. Audiences walked away from the cinematic experience knowing it didn't work, but weren't sure exactly why. Maybe the suspension of disbelief threshold was too high. Maybe we feared that Keanu Reeves' character, Alex, would bust out a "Duuude, I'm an architect" in mid-dialogue-there were certainly enough flashbacks in his always-wooden performance to remind us all of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

But learning, to me, is every bit as much figuring out what didn't work as opposed to what did. With that in mind, I set out this past weekend to watch it again.

The most obvious was the fact that Sandra Bullock's doctor character, Kate, endures a grueling, hellish day trying to save a man hit by a bus in 2006, and she fails to recognize him as the same man she encountered at a party in 2004. I guess we are to assume he was horribly disfigured in the accident, though the scene indicates none of that. Would his name from the medical chart not be familiar? He introduced himself at the party before they sucked face, gazebo-style. This plot snafu might have gone unnoticed by most movie-goers had the entire plot not hinged on this one WTH climactic moment.

Then, there's the dog. In Kate's time (2006) she writes Alex about the dog she named Jack, despite it being a female. Alex reads the letter in 2004, calls out "Jack" and the dog responds by barking and jumping up as if the dog knows her name. However, Kate hasn't met the dog yet. Thus, the dog wouldn't have responded to the name Jack. Plot-wise, the dog is a device used to show Kate and Alex's connection and the paws-through-the-paint on the deck were used as a pivotal thread to convince them (and the audience) this time-warp is possible. Sadly, if logic doesn't hold strong there, suspension of disbelief fails.

Some had problems with their voice-overs that seemed more a temporal chat room with one-liners than correspondence that could have come from letters. I have felt this writer-pain first-hand. When the external obstacle two characters have to overcome is to actually get together in the same time period, but the romance-genre dictates they are together to grow a believable relationship, writers must take creative liberties. The Lake House incorporated the voice-overs for pacing and to avoid the tedium of watching the main characters visit the mailbox daily, but it's an awkward dissolution of the sentimental hand-written note at the heart of their connection.

Other questions begged to be asked: Didn't Alex rent the lake house to Kate in the first place? Why wouldn't she remember him from two years earlier when they begin corresponding? How can a doctor and an architect, two reasonably intelligent character pursuits, accept the impossible so unflinchingly, not use modern resources to hook up (two years is hardly enough distance to justify all the angst) and figure things out sooner? Why the holy hell wouldn't the mailbox become a portal for stock trade information?

Because the story, first and foremost, is based on romantic notions and impulses. Does it matter that the tree Alex plants for Kate outside her future apartment grows 20 feet in 24 months? Or that they are supposed to be living exactly two years apart and the writer made the mistake of selecting one of those years as a leap year? It shouldn't, but writers who tackle plots on the outer fringes of plausibility must be vigilant with details. It's okay that Keanu Reeves has a hoodie that zips and unzips five times in one scene, but it's not okay for the continuity errors to be the plot's skeleton.

One of the most egregious errors in this movie, for me, was the under-utilized Christopher Plummer as a secondary character. Maybe it stirs my complete adoration for Somewhere in Time and all things about his genius as an actor, but it saddens me the scenes of him and Keanu Reeves as father and son could have been cut out completely and wouldn't have impacted the main plot.

That said, the optimist in me screams that the story's symbolism is inspired, Alar Kivilo's (Frequency) cinematography is visually stunning, Rachel Portman's musical score is perfect and even David Auburn's (Proof) writing has moments of God-I-Wish-I'd-Written-That. Sandra Bullock's performance elevated this movie; and there is, admittedly, always a chemistry between her and Reeves in the rare moments when they occupy the same scene.

What's your take on The Lake House?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dime Novels, Time Sucks and Salty Sea Dogs

If the nineteenth century had Lifetime movies starring Heather Locklear and permanent New York Times Bestseller real estate, Laura Jean Libbey would have been at the epicenter. She was the Nora Roberts of her day, creating 82 sensational dime novels for women before her death in 1924. Though she had little formal education, she began writing around age 20 and negotiated lucritive contracts which eventually earned her an income of $60,000 a year. According to Felicia L. Carr's American Women's Dime Novel Project, Libbey's plots always centered around a "young girl, suddenly adrift and alone in the world who attracts the attention of a suitor far above her in station."

Such was my post yesterday until I realized the can of copyright whoop a*s would have emerged had I posted an excerpt or cover art. I can, however, leave you with this gem from Little Rosebud's Lover:

“ Why?” ejaculated Percy, suprisedly, poising the cigarette he had just lighted daintily between his white fingers."

Time suck number one.

Second, I aimed to update The Vortex's Blogger template. After pages of tutorials in broken English and my insane fear I'd lose something quality-like my personalized David Hasselhoff Christmas card-I came face to face with my delusions of HTML capabilities. I just want three columns. Is it too much to ask Blogger off that in their regular templates for the design challenged? For those infinitely more capable, there are some fantastic free Word-Press-ish templates uploaded here in the past few months. Update away and think of me wallowing in boredom. Time suck number two. wins the prize for biggest time suck yesterday. Imagine a site where you invest in a fund which future time travelers will use to return to a date of your choosing and take you into the future. I know, I know, sign me up, right? I can't think of a better investment than to watch my $10 mature into a safe, reliable transaction that will ensure rescue from my monumentally embarrasing moment where I face-plant at the 2009 RWA award ceremony and have the first-recorded wardrobe malfunction in front of two thousand romance writers.

According to the site: "Current scientific theory states that Time Travel may be possible, however the technology is a long way off, perhaps hundreds of years in the future. Now, assume it does become possible in say, 500 years. As with any technology, Time Travel will get less expensive as time goes on. Just as the price of a VCR has dropped to less than $70 from the several hundred dollars it cost just ten years ago, Time Travel, once it becomes feasible, will initially be very expensive yet it will become more and more economical as time goes by."

Nothing like hedging a bet on the VCR-commodity-model. Here's a picture of fund participants at a Christmas barbeque:

The one on the left has the right idea (though not in the fashion sense). Maybe the rest can return to this night and remove the reindeer antlers compromising their common sense.

So, you see, yesterday was awash in non-writing activities. It seems that the decompression weeks I looked so forward to after nine dedicated months of novel writing have yielded little more than a desire to write again.

I'm headed back to John's Clock Shop today. LOVE that place. Someone gave me a Dutch mariner's clock from the turn of the century, and I'm all about restoring it to working order. I smell fiction possibilities! Or maybe it's my affinity for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir 's Captain Gregg: "[salty sea-dog laugh] My dear, since Eve picked the apple, no woman has ever been taken entirely unawares."

Have a great day, everyone!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Every Time the Time Passes There Are...Links!

Do all things time gravitate to me or is time travel everywhere? It makes me feel like I'm resonating on the right creative path. I'm still compiling a post on the time travel romance market-then and now-so if you have a favorite, drop it in the comments and I'll be sure to include it. For now, linkerific time travel fun to occupy your Monday:

The "O-Clock" is the invention of Nadine Grenier, a student at ESAD Stasbourg. Every twelve hours, the 500 clockworks align to read: "le temps passe, et chaque fois qu'il y a du temps passe, il ya a quelque chose qui s'efface." Translated, it is a quote by French poet Jules Romains: "Time passes, and every time the time passes, there is something that fades."

The British film Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel opens in UK theaters on Thursday. Though I can't wrap my brain around its pitch: "Dr. Who meets Shaun of the Dead", its definitely a Netflix add. Here's the trailer:

Apple is tackling time travel in its latest commercial.

This link can be filed under time travel AND eye candy-what more could a girl want? It's the best low-down on the greatest LOST eppy of the season-"LaFleur" which explores Sawyer's attempt to establish a normal life in the Dharma initiative. The link is worth it alone to see the stills of Josh Holloway sniffing daisies. Not enough? Have no fear. Here's his Davidoff Cool Water commercial and Part One and Two of an Ellen interview where he must sniff audience members to identify the product he's pushing. Too bad blogging isn't equipped with smell-o-vision.

And last, but not least, a Flash burlesque, nineteenth century dress up game complete with a clock-chastity belt. Paper dolls meets H.G. Wells. Have fun!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Quest for Years Ago

Google Earth offers us a chance at time travel. Yes, it really only means you can hop back five years or so and vaporize that annoying neighbor off your street. Or become the 178th person to enjoy the Central North Dakota Steam Thresher's Reunion in October 1968, courtesy of YouTube. Or see the Eiffel Tower at night from fifty unchanging years ago and two hundred different angles.

But what this information gifts in years, it steals in precious time. The present time. In the thirty minutes it takes to zero in on an exact location the year something monumental happened, Google Earth users encounter the real tragedy of time travel: moments of personal history made in the here, in the now, lost forever.

Have you ever known someone whose every waking thought is trapped in the past? People who've wronged them. Times of joy and happiness they'll never see again. Revisiting paths not taken and rehashing life's choices? Though it's common in those nearing life's end, it's painful to witness such reflection and the complete absence of the moment. It is the heartbreak of Alzheimer's, the thief of regret, the bitter note of what-if that haunts us all.

On my trip back home to Denver a few weeks ago, I had planned to drive by my childhood home. Twenty years had passed since I'd seen it, and I'd heard how much it had changed. Painted brick, mature trees, questionable upkeep. But as I was on the interstate, nearing exits I'd taken a thousand times, past the iconic restaurant I worked at in high school, near the McDonald's I'd swung my Mary Janes under the table before they could reach the floor, I didn't exit. So much had changed. The landscape of my childhood had become cluttered with progress and not being able to breathe became more about how many years I'd lost than the altitude. Since I left at 18, my life has been gypsy, never staying in one town more than a handful of years. My childhood was the only place my heart knows as home. I didn't want the sadness-the downside of change-to stain its perfection in my mind. It might have given me the profound sense of time I'm always seeking, but looking at it now would have stolen so much more.

Today, friends, I give you a gift. Not of slick-covered paperbacks or the coolest time travel films in cinema, but of the present. No links to Google Earth's historical imagery here. In the time you might have entertained a click, an irresistible link to check out your own real estate in your own past, engage in the present. Hug a loved one nearby and offer up dedicated time to listen. Study the emerging buds in the oak tree outside your window. Soak up everything that will become history in the next instant. Find life's perfection around you.

"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present." ~Jan Glidewell

What will you do today to honor the present?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ghost Hunting Vortex 10-style

Though I had planned to tackle Google's Time Travel feature, I'm all up into Saturday's ghost-hunter experience and have an urge to "debunk" (a word the Sci-fi channel show Ghost Hunters should edit from their vernacular on the basis of overuse) everything Vortex readers thought they knew about ghost hunting. It just so happens to come in a list of ten:

1) Thespian tendencies, like those displayed by Paranormal State's psychic medium Chip Coffey, are best highlighted against a backdrop of ping-pong-in-the-eyeball experiments, the only young, handsome, non-practicing priest in New England, and constant demon whispers.

2) Fist bumps are not required to successfully bring an investigation to closure.

3) The girth of your infrared cameras is directly proportional to your ratings.

4) Eighty percent of true ghost-hunting business is weeding out cracked requests from witches and those who swear they can hear their deceased toy poodle Trixie's toenails clicking on the kitchen floor.

5) If you have no ghost hunting experience but have access to a twenty-thousand dollar heat-imaging camera, fist bump. You're on the team!

6) No day job is as forgiving to ghostly pursuits as Roto-Rooter. Oh, wait. Free publicity. Right.

7) Having a psychic on the team does help at reveal time. While Jason and Grant say, "Yep, you have ghosts. See ya!" a psychic can advise clients on things that are actually helpful with regard to the getting RID of them.

8) The Three Stooges are still eye-pokers in the afterlife.

9) I, apparently, have a spiritual entourage with me that talks all at one time in incessant, incoherent whispers. I know these women. They display themselves as the trifecta of creative muses: Confidence, Doubt and Procrastination.

10) Spirits are rarely trapped. Most who choose to stay roam wherever they please. I've wrapped a mental bubble of white light around my closet. Do I really need supernatural witnesses to the awkward ritual of getting into last year's shorts?

A huge thanks to the North Texas Paranormal Investigations team for the awesome informal lecture and for answering the thousand and one questions our writing group had. Visit their site for EVPs and video of past investigations in the North Texas area.

And have no fear, the next post will be on time travel-as if you really had any doubt, right?

What do you love (or hate) about ghost-hunting shows?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bunny Love

Have a great Easter everyone!
Next week:
Google's Virtual Time Travel
The Romance Market's Time Machine
Another First Sentence Challenge

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Better-than-Orange-Glow Links

Today's a link round-up kind of day. These usually come on a post-midnight caffeinated high, with a happy clicker finger and a cursor hovering dangerously close to my Stumble Upon button for prolonged periods of time. And because I'm feeling this for my words right nowand can think of little else but returning to them. Here's some fun, ultra-Vortex things I found:

Hourglass Cremation Urns for the discerning grief-stricken relative obsessed with time. Beautifully handcrafted in the USA, it's a special way to involve grandma in that game of Boggle you always shared. The site reads, "Each keepsake is made to hold a small portion of cremains. Many families are choosing to add a small portion of both Mom and Dad or other family members who have passed, perhaps together. Others have asked family members to add their cremains to their husband or wife's hourglass urn." Did they invent a new word? Cremains? Memo to family: I, no doubt, spent the better part of my life squeezing into designer jeans and parking spaces. If you want me to time your meatloaf for eternity, don't make me squeeze through with anyone but say, Hugh Jackman.

Vortex readers know how I love short, romantic films. This one called Signs will cost you twelve minutes but if you can get past the actor's gaping open-mouthed expressions, the warm fuzzy pay off is there. And don't you watch at least that many minutes a day of Billy Mays commericals?

A delicious feast of craptastic, non-Photoshopped book covers awaits you. Deemed the 15 Worst Book Covers Ever, you can't not look, right?

When I head to Washington D.C. this summer, I may have to check out the Multiverse 200 foot long tunnel in the National Gallery of Art. This will, no doubt, be the closest I'll ever come to light speed and time travel, unless I recreate the plot spew of my 2007 RWA editor appointment.

I'm off to hug my manuscript now. Link away!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Procrastination Is...

Procrastination is contemplating the WTH series-ending episode of Life on Mars (US version).
Procrastination is gathering the perfect hailstone for the freezer.
Procrastination is changing the digital Post-it color on the desktop.
Procrastination is exploring expensive wind-powered energy plans you'll never use.
Procrastination is making a Romance Writer Barbie.
Procrastination is writing blog posts.
Procrastination is holding the corpse position in yoga until sleep sets in.
Procrastination is calling your sister.
Procrastination is checking imdb for film flubs.
Procrastination is typing a cover page for your printed manuscript.
Procrastination is trying to unravel LOST's plot threads.

Your turn...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Romance Writer Barbie

This is my dear sweet critique partner, Sandra, holding her birthday gift from moi. If only Mattel fully realized the market potential of Romance Writer Barbie. click photo to enlarge

The inspiration came while thumbing through a Redbook last Friday at the hair salon. As it turns out, Barbie and Sandra share more than strawberry blond locks-they share a birthday. Who knew a weekend playing Barbie could be so much fun?

I pared down Barbie's usual fashionista attire to reflect the true fashion-sense of romance writers at work: baggy sweat pants and sloppy shirts. And don't all romance writers have mismatched socks? Oh wait, that's just me. Rounding out Barbie's couture is a lopsided half-ponytail rammed home with the dreaded red editing pencil and a rejection letter in hand. Yet, Barbie is still smiling.

What would Romance Writer Barbie be without accessories? I opted to re-paper the opulent pink and white polka dot chandelier-ed background in favor of a muted pallate of builder beige walls. Barbie is creating art. She has no time for Home-Depot-like pursuits. Set against this backdrop, a framed portrait of the Queen of Romance, Nora Roberts, a plotting board with technicolor Post-Its and a shelf crowded with books like Deb Dixon's Goal, Motivation and Conflict, and Sandra's Wild Rose Press release, Harm's Way. A hairy-chested Tom Selleck photograph in a gilded frame rounds out the decor.

On her desk, which she's told is pink but has yet to confirm, the essentials of her craft: laptop, notepad, coffee, pencils and Sherrilyn Kenyon's Fantasy Lover for inspiration. Though the disproportionate Oreo cookie I found in the dollhouse section of Hobby Lobby would have been the piece de resistance of the romance writer's day, it simply would have been large enough to consume her face. Writers have enough difficulty prying their arses from the chair without adding that kind of baggage.

From the photograph I noticed Barbie has broken free of her plastic ankle shackles and is now standing a bit off-kilter. This frees her to channel every romance writer I've ever known at one time or another.

May she inspire future generations of girls to bookish fantasies of RITA awards, Lifetime movies and NYTimes Bestseller lists!