#AuthorToolbox 05: cranking up the tension

Via: Daily Post – Tentative & Flavorful

Writing page-turning unputdownable literature is what every author aspires to. A reader can pay few greater compliments than to say a book had kept them up all night – perhaps at the risk of going about their following day with weary eyes but a mind still churning from the residual adrenaline. What motivates a reader to commit to such happy exertion? Tension.

TENSION ON SURFACE LEVEL

Tension evokes an emotional connection between the reader and the character(s). It compels the reader to assume the interests of the character(s) as his or her own. It may even elicit physical responses in the reader as it coils and unfurls with the progression of the story – quickened breath as the stakes are raised, sigh of relief after the climax has come to pass. However, it is not to be confused with conflict.

CONFLICT AND TENSION

I’ll admit that until very recently, I believed tension and conflict to be interchangeable since they tend to work in close association. To be more accurate, conflict often leads to tension but tension is not an inevitable end of conflict. Conflict constitutes of more evident elements within the story, i.e. forces acting against each other to prevent a character from achieving his/her goal(s); tension works in the abstract and can be best defined as the anticipation that is aroused and quieted via the pieces of information that is gradually revealed during the storytelling process. Conflict is a movement within the plot that provides the story with a reason for being; tension succeeds in moving the reader in tempo of the plot by hinting at “possibilities” of what could be. However, while it is ideal that conflict helps to build tension and, thus, the reader’s need to discover “what’s next”, once again, this is only possible where the reader has formed an emotional  connection with the characters, scenes, and situations in the story.

TENSION ADDING LAYERS

And since tension is build upon the uncertainty and anticipation of what is to come, it may work at various levels – from creating a momentum where the character(s) and reader absolutely share in the emotional undertaking to where the experience is exclusive to the reader – depending on how much information of the story is revealed to either/both the character(s) and the reader. Tension may exist within a particular character (inner turmoil of the protagonist), between characters (information gap resulting in misunderstanding), in every scene (moving the story forward or backward), and in the overall story (central conflict that moves towards a climax and resolution). In some instances, tension may also exist between the narrator and reader to which the character(s) may remain absolutely oblivious (an unreliable narrator perpetuating a deception). However, whatever form in which tension reveals itself to the reader, it is a vital ingredient in storytelling that ensures the author has captured the audience for the duration of the tale and, as authors, we had best know how to use it.

STIRRING UP TENSION

Characters & Conflicts That Matter. The reader is bound to be more invested in the story if it depicts character(s) with whom the reader is able to relate. Also the reader needs to be able to believe in the stakes that are raised when imposing the challenges on the character(s). When the characters are interesting and dynamic and the conflicts are compelling, the reader’s interest is piqued.

Secrets & Hesitations. A common cause for tension between characters in stories is the failure to impart relevant information. If characters made a point of always being open and honest with one another, seven out ten of challenges to their sustainable relationship would probably resolve before even occurring. And we would have no story. So instead, authors cultivate a sense of insecurity that induce character(s) to hide information from their various counterparts. In return, such actions not only spread misunderstanding but also a sense of secrecy that may lead to distrust. When villainy is the objective of the day, a character may willfully withhold information to foil the bliss of the hero/heroine. Such gaps in knowledge within the realm of the tale may lead to the audience to commiserate in the woes of the character(s), motivating them to see it through to the end.

Audience Knows More. Often the narrator reveals facts sooner to the audience than to the character(s). As an outsider, the reader is privy to information that an omniscient narrator possesses but of which not all the characters are yet aware. Reader knows what to expect whereas the characters do not and the tension builds around the uncertainty of how soon will the characters figure out the truth for themselves and how they will react when they do. In such a case, a sense of superiority may also act upon the reader to stick to the story. However, when applying this mode, the narrative must be arranged in a context where the truth would not be as obvious to the character(s) as to the reader.

A Gradual Reveal. While the audience may anticipate situations sooner than the characters in the story, it is also important not to show one’s hand too soon. Pacing the narrative where only fragments of information is revealed at a time can proliferate the reader’s innate desire to solve the mystery.

Forward & Retreat. Even as the plot progresses, scenes may be written to divert the characters from reaching resolution. New challenges may be added even as old ones are managed or the character’s stakes in the outcome may be raised.

The Right Atmosphere. Sometimes it all just boils down to the setting. Tension in the world surrounding the reader may filter into the character’s life. Admit it, walking down an empty corridor in your workplace during the day would feel relatively innocuous when compared to walking down the same empty corridor one evening when you had to stay back late. If we manage to successfully spook ourselves in real life, the same anxiety born of a sense self-preservation exists in the characters we write. On the other hand, in such a situation, which reader wouldn’t want to vicariously investigate the passing shadow of a person in the periphery of the character’s vision?

A Clipped & Monosyllabic Style. An author may also inject tension into the writing style. Using shorter words and sentences may pack a punch to a tense scene that profound and roundabout passages could miss out on. It is the same rule that applies when developing a character who is meant to be foreboding. And since I must, take Mr. Darcy for example. Mr. Darcy was intense and he hardly ever said a word in the initial acts of Pride and Prejudice unless he was forced to and, even when he began to open up a little, it was only to pontificate on topics most essential to his own self-worth and salvation.

P.S. ON TENSION

However tension is implemented in the story, the author must also ensure there is a balance on when and how much tension the reader is exposed to. Tension must be given opportunity to ebb and flow so as not to overtax the reader. Just as tightening the tension can propel the reader to continue turning the pages, reader must be allowed moments of reprieve to release some of the tension without having to put down the book.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL MAY NOT BE A GRIPPING READ BUT THE SUBJECT IS NECESSARY AND RELEVANT NEVERTHELESS.

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #25: Pretty in Pink starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy & Jon Cryer

Via: Daily Prompt – Penchant & Disobey

5122qfjsp2lTitle     Pretty in Pink

Starring     Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy & Jon Cryer

Director    Howard Deutch

Writer(s)    John Hughes

Genre     Romantic Comedy Drama

Release Date     February 28, 1986

Filming Location    LA, California, USA

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic smoking

IMDB Rating     6.8

Synopsis: Ever since Andie Walsh’s (Molly Ringwald) mother skipped out on the family, Andie has been busy working at a strip mall record store to keep house for her heartbroken and unemployed father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton), i.e. when she’s not already at school striving to remain on the honor roll. She is generally admired by the faculty and her employer Iona (Annie Potts) alike for the level of commitment she demonstrates in all her undertakings. However, this goodwill is not shared by the more affluent “richie” kids in school, namely Benny Hanson (Kate Vernon) and her boyfriend Steff McKee (James Spader), who take great joy in bullying Andie and her friends for their humbler lifestyle. Prom is coming up but Andie has no time to worry about attending, especially since she hasn’t been asked yet. Andie’s best friend “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) is in love with her but Andie is oblivious to the nature of his “devotion” as he lacks solemnity in his professions of love. When one of the richies Blane McDonough (Andrew McCarthy) begins to show his interest towards Andie, often finding reasons to catch up with her at the record store or school, Andie reluctantly reciprocates, unsure whether dating a rich kid would be advisable. However, with a gentle nudge from Iona, Andie begins dating him and, when he asks, ecstatically agrees to go with him to the prom. Duckie is livid, seeing their relationship as a form of betrayal, and issues an ultimatum. Blane’s own friends, in particular Steff, too object to the union. Steff, who once himself tried and failed to conquer Andie’s “favors”, reminds Blane that not only will Blane be rejected by his society but asks if he’s willing to put Andie through his parents’ ridicule. Blane withstands the peer-pressure with less aplomb than Andie and their fledgling relationship seems to dive before even taking a proper flight.

Experience: Amazingly, I did not see this classic rom-com until this week. For one, when the movie was released, I was all of four years old. And B, there was never any occasion to before since plenty of romantic comedies were released annually to occupy my time since the days I turned a teen and was allowed to watch movies with smooching in them. But have you noticed how few and far between rom-coms have become lately? Yeah! Apparently, the audience doesn’t pay for romantic movies anymore. In fact, I recently read in a review of this one chick-flick version of Harold & Kumar… that made a statement to that fact. How rude! But I need my regular fix of the romantics and while The Hallmark Channel tries diligently to keep me in supply, those flicks lack a bit of variety, don’t they?

So Pretty in Pink! I liked it even though I think I have grown out of it a bit. I think I would have loved it when I was younger and such teen angst actually would seem like a do-or-die crisis. At this point in time of my life, I was like, “Chuck Duckie and chuck Blane! You can do better, Andie!” In fact, I thought Steff was someone I could work with [yes, I do have a bit of a taste for the bad boys] – you know? Save? I saw a lot of anguish in Steff, the abandoned rich boy who bullies others to make himself feel more important. Oh, yes! Andie the-good-girl could have totally saved his soul. But I’m getting ahead of myself and prattling about that which DID NOT happen in the movie.

Yet, the premise of the story was Andie handles her various romantic options: there was her wacky best friend, the kind-hearted-but-confused rich boy, and the self-assured web-spinning kingpin of haut monde. Which will she end up with? We watch as the Andie tries to find a balance between the world she is accustomed to and the “inside” world where she is invited. But the aspect of this movie that makes Andie such a special girl isn’t her ethereal red-headed sweet looks, her off-the-track fashion sense (all designed by her, by the way), or her great taste in music; it is the fact that even in the middle of her greatest predicaments, she is never dishonest with herself. Andie has a mind for speaking only the truth. She knows exactly what she wants and she is never afraid to let it be known. She does not allow Steff, Duckie, or even Blane talk her into doing what she doesn’t want to do. The way I see it, this movie was a feminist movement all unto itself, and I can only imagine how necessary for the adolescent girls of the 80’s, nay, even now. Even though many of the thematic angles of the story were a bit dated (I mean, I would never have been caught dead in all that lace and rhinestones though Andie’s style became iconic), I would give this movie all the stars in IMDB for holding steadfast to the stance that girls can risk swimming against the current and still get what they want if they only set their mind to it. And that getting the guy is NOT more important than being true to oneself.

Another aspect of the movie that really stood out for me was how writer John Hughes showcased “youth”. As movie aficionados may be aware, Pretty in Pink was only one among a lineup of teenage-angst movies that Hughes had written-directed to great success and followed Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, both of which Ringwald also starred. However, unlike the doe-eyed timid Samantha of Sixteen Candles or the snobbish Claire of The Breakfast Club, Andie has both her feet planted firmly on the ground and, perhaps, is more adult than even her father. She is able to demand if necessary but with humility, provide solace with a bit of sternness, and even learns to let go at times to let fate take its course. And while we watch all the clichéd and prepossessed rules still prevail over her life and the lives of her peers, guiding how they behave and accept themselves, we watch Andie, 18 and on the cusp of graduating from high school, ready to break free and find independence. At the same time, we see a very self-sufficient daughter who never complains about having to be the adult, opening up to her father to ask him to give her a chance to be a kid and the father acknowledging his culpabilities in denying her the opportunity of a youthful existence. As Iona [who happens to be my favorite character in the movie and, frankly speaking, the best dressed] so poignantly and truthfully summarizes, “Oh, why can’t we start old and get younger?”

Recommendation: This is a must-see movie for teenagers everywhere, boys included. While the ladies would probably enjoy it a bit more, and I imagine there would be a few eye-rolls from the male side of the audience, there is still a lot to be learned for both parties in their youth and a few reminders for the older crowds too.

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WRITING CHRONICLES #25: back to the chalkboard with new dilemmas and insights

Via: Daily Prompt – Continue & Finite

 

 

I went away for two weeks to prepare for/attend a cousin’s wedding and when I returned, I found my access to all things WP blocked. Hence, my monthlong absence. Since this is not the first time it happened to me, I didn’t go into immediate panic-mode like I did last November.

You see, every once in a while, the Bangladesh government likes to shake things up by blocking server access to various blogging and social media sites in a bid to “combat” cyber terrorism. This is because Bangladeshis really enjoy our right to the freedom of expression and often use social media/blogging as means of venting frustrations towards various stakeholders in our everyday lives and the world in general, which, of course, also includes the government itself. The government attacks the platforms randomly to monitor activity. What they really mean is, “Hey! You’re using your freedom of speech, kudos to you. But just remember to be cautious how you use it because, you know, words can hurt.” Wish our government wasn’t such a pansy about taking criticism but there you have it.

Of course, this Summer, I have been very cool about it but, last winter, I was pissed. There was a whole lot of name-calling involved and contacting various bodies of government to tell them to do their jobs professionally. Finally, the WP Support Center helped me out by contacting the communications board in BD to see what was really going on and after a week or so, all road were clear to go. I didn’t go into all that this time. In fact, the only time I felt a niggle of frustration was when I received a notification about likes or comments or other activities on my site that I could not fully access to review and approve or reciprocate fellow bloggers with my reading what was happening in their part of the blogosphere.

Instead, I took this opportunity to catch up on my reading (just crossed 75% of my Goodreads Reading Challenge even though I had a late start this year), chill with cousins and the new cousin–in-law (a really sweet girl), buy a new laptop since my old one had been running without a battery for the last six months (the new laptop is a smoothy when it comes to typing, btw, and so far near perfect), get my hair colored burgundy with flaming red streaks (a bit of a shock for my loved ones but I think I’m rocking it), re-run Roswell (why did they cancel that show after only three seasons), and really take some vital decisions on continuing my WEDNESDAY REFLECTONS column (even though I didn’t get much writing done the month).

Which brings me to my very critical dilemma: I’m an author aspiring to become a well-revered author. Is it really fair for me to review the works of fellow authors, especially that of contemporary writers? I mean, I try my best to remain impartial in my reviews of books but ever since I have taken on novel writing full time, these fiction writing courses, and etc., I have become really critical of every nittygritty aspect of creative writing. While it has made my reading experience richer and more profound, it has also dampened the sheer joy of curling up with a good story for entertainment’s sake. It has made me slower at reading, too, and I was already perusing at snail pace compared to, say, my best friend. But this has made me think that while I want all writers to do well out of a spirit of fellowship, I also tend to nitpick more often, searching for plot holes and believability, and that I think shows up on my reviews at time.

At the same time, I’m also conscious of the fact that when I’m inspired by a book or it really manages to annoy me, prompting me to write the review, it is actually building me up as a writer too. I am learning what I should work on and what to avoid when drafting and editing my own manuscripts. So with all these pros and cons of reading like a writer, I have been really in a bind as to how to continue with my WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS, which I write for my “Works of Others” blog category. Finally, this is what I decided:

I can’t stop reviewing novels. I mean, books are my life and now, hopefully, on its way to become my life’s work. I love learning from them whether they are good, bad or ugly. But what I will do is cut down on the number of works written by current authors because… even the best are still learning every day and at this stage, I have yet to prove my worth so it is really not fair of me to judge my contemporaries. To recompense on the fewer book reviews, I will increase on critiquing fictions created in other mediums such as the silver screen or television, and also share my learnings from pure classics. Because dead authors can’t come to call me out for a duel at dawn, right?

I’m quite decided on this. But, of course, I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t second-guess myself. So I’m throwing this out to you guys:

Is this a good decision? Should authors be free to critique and review the works of fellow authors? Let me know what you think in the comment section 🙂

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Headshot of my newly dyed burgundy hair with flaming red streaks !

I’m updating this post with my photo only because some of you requested. I’m terrible at taking selfies and far too self-conscious to ask someone else to take my photo. Generally, not a very gracious subject, much to the consternation of my loved ones. So pardon me but this was the best I could cough up (reason for the need to scroll down).

I did, however, do a bit of editing like adding a filter before uploading it 🙂

 

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Wedding in the Family !!!

Via: Daily Prompt – Fragrance

 

The side effect of having been born and brought up, then living abroad my whole life is never truly bonding with relatives. Worse, with my father’s job as a diplomat resettling us country-from-country every half-a-decade, I sort of built a sense of emotional independence that to outsiders might seem like detachment. I’m the sort of person who is caring about everyone in general but close to only a tight-fisted handful. I won’t call to check up on people but if someone needed my help, I’m there – I like to help.

 

On the practical level, I find that there is just not enough time in the day to keep up with all the friends and relatives one accumulates over a lifetime. On the emotional level, I can never comprehend why anyone would want to keep up with my life – I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling like an outsider – and therefore, I don’t give others the opportunity to reject me.

They find ways to reject me anyway.

Particularly my relatives. I don’t blame them. My relatives, especially cousins, have grown up with one another all their lives. They know each other’s interests and emotions on the root level. I grew up all over the place, my interests are not similar to theirs and neither are my emotions. My reactions are paused and analyzed while they tend to just lay it all out there. To my cousins, even after interacting with them at family gatherings for the last dozen years that we have been settled in Bangladesh, I’m that aloof girl who is too arrogant too self-sufficient to mix with them. Whereas, I feel that they are more engaged more involved with one another for me to penetrate the fold. It’s a vicious cycle and quite unbreakable.

When my father retired and we finally settled down in Dhaka, I had hoped that I would actually have the time to foster a proper bond with my cousins. This did not happen. The fault is mine. I had to get through my BBA and MBA and then “the corporate life” hijacked all of my attention. I realize now that given that I am the outsider, instead of expecting them to accommodate my lifestyle, I should have evolved enough to fit their calendars.

But instead, I subscribed to the Business Plan. You know, the one that is a grade above the Free Plan where you have not enough at stake to actually care about what goes on and therefore only receive spams but not as premium as where you get your own personal representative to always keep you up-to-date about the newest developments. It’s the plan that promises I will attend the family events just like anyone else but probably will not always be available for impromptu get-togethers and brunches on the side. The brunch invitations never came because the problem with interacting only at family gatherings is not knowing all the secrets that are shared during all the other meetings to understand what the discussions at these gatherings are really about. Still out of the loop.

In fact, it seems that settling down in Bangladesh has done more harm than good. When we lived abroad, I at least had the excuse of national borders to not know what is going on. But now that I live in the country, I have a moral obligation to subscribe to the family newsletter and contribute also by divulging all the secrets of my own dysfunctional life. I sound resentful and sarcastic, I know. No wonder they don’t like me.

Thankfully, I do have a set of cousins with whom I get along superbly. My mother’s favorite-sister-and-best-friend-for-all-purposes lives with her family just down the road. The proximity has made my interaction over the years frequent enough to form a true affection for one another. We share secrets and trade gossips and do all the things that cousins do. Of course, these cousins are some 7-9 years my junior, but I don’t let how pathetic that sounds stop me. I love them with all my heart and am pretty sure they feel the same way about me.

And one of them is getting married! The younger one has been living in the US the past year for his Ph.D. in applied physics and is returning for the tail end of summer vacation to marry his fiance. He will be here for only three weeks but we have been working tirelessly to get all the wedding paraphernalia ready in advance. Do you see that? WE are getting things ready. I’m in the fold of all the engagements and I have thrown myself in to participate and assist wherever I can – with relish. I’m facing all the crazy emotions and hurdles that weddings pose and I’m loving it. Let it be wrong shades of roses or raspberry filling instead of strawberries in the cake, I’m ready, baby!

Which is why I cannot post my regular WRITING CHRONICLES or WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS the next couple of weeks. I hope the above ranting makes up for the truancy. But I cannot say that I’m sorry for the lapse as it is all in the cause of achieving one of my life goals.

Hooray for me!

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#AuthorToolbox 04: the art of landscaping in fiction writing

Via: Daily Prompt – Soil

The cold was bitter, different from New England’s. Outside the city the wind spilled across the sweeping, open land dotted with abandoned farm machinery and old houses buckling in on themselves. You wouldn’t think such houses were habitable, but once in a while there would be a tacked-up sheet in the doorway, or plastic nailed over the windows, and the trace of smoke from a chimney.”

~ Brown, Karen. “The Clairvoyants.” Henry Holt and Co., 2017

51htld99dbl-_sx328_bo1204203200_I finished reading this book over the weekend. And like most well-written (or poorly written, for that matter) novels throughout my reading experience, it left me with a heightened sense of awareness of that “something-something” to consciously add to in my own work. After all, authors learn by reading the works of other authors. I thought, for this month’s blog hop, I would review some of this novel’s more beautifully written passages to summarize how fiction can be enhanced by adding descriptive imageries that are carefully composed and artfully woven to match the subject of the story [I’ll try my best to titillate without giving away any irrevocable spoilers]:

Relevance. Without a doubt, the prose was the strongest suit in The Clairvoyants. Brown approached its various outdoor and indoor sceneries to set the mood for this novel with poetic gusto, addressing both the mental state of the story’s protagonist, Martha, and the themes that adhered to the overall plot, i.e. an observant and slightly self-absorbed young woman with the ability to “see dead people” and a sense of victimhood towards her entire life, who stumbles upon a potential murder mystery when she is abandoned in a new environment. In fact, the landscape mirrors the one prevailing ethos of every character in the novel, who make a motley group of disturbingly selfish individuals, gravitating towards one another in search of companionship one moment and then forsaking each other the next.

Now, beyond my mother’s profile at the wheel of the car, Route 79 wound alongside green swaths of hills still damp from the recent rain. This was an isolated valley with a poor yearly sunlight allotment and haphazard cell phone reception—another version of a sanatorium, a place my mother could tuck me away, the way you pressed a photograph into the back of a drawer—and be free of me. But I might be free of her, too, and I might find someone else to love me.”

Precision. A bit of mastery in the medium of your writing can go a long way – and, of course, shorten the sentences. Words hold connotations that pose parity even among synonyms. Instead of depending on generic nouns and verbs to describe each action, character, object, or surrounding, knowing specific words to allocate to them will not only contribute to their appropriate portrayal but also provide the reader with a richer sensory experience. Obviously, this means having a strong vocabulary is important but does it also mean you need to swallow the dictionary? If you can, kudos to you; otherwise, do a little extra research on each subject matter you introduce in the story, as Brown has in this novel when labeling architectural attributes.

The house stood on a street of similarly grand old places, each shaded by a tree, their roots disrupting the cement sidewalks in front. Mine was a brick Italianate house with a wide cornice and elaborately carved brackets and window caps. The apartment was up a staircase that once might have been glamorous when the house was still a single-family residence. The place had been advertised as a “studio.” I would be living in one room with a twelve-foot ceiling, a decorative fireplace, and an efficiency-sized stove, sink, and refrigerator—so small they seemed like playhouse furnishings.”

Economy. We all know about the taboo on overusing adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are to be preserved for blurbs, and yet, funnily, that is where authors tend to scrimp thanks to a misguided sense of modesty – but that is a topic for another day. Furthering the argument for precision, knowing specific nouns and verbs is particularly useful when editing redundant descriptors that only serve to weaken and obscure the image you are trying to depict.  Consequently, you may also reveal more information about the plot and characters when relinquishing modifiers.

I had thought he wanted me. But when I touched him he took my hands away, like a correcting parent. I was resigned to kissing him, and even that he interrupted with a story about his motorcycle, a Triumph he was eager to ride again in the spring.”

POV. At every turn, it is crucial to ask oneself if the character whose POV is being used to narrate a scene, would actually experience the situation in that manner. For example, cold is a recurring premise in the novel, of which Martha is constantly aware. Other than simply using it to describe the winter that persists throughout the plot or the relationship fostered among the characters (and the wide range of dead people, in retrospect), Brown also associates it with how Martha undergoes the changes in her life or encounters new phenomena, e.g. when she tries martini for the first time.

I admitted I’d never had one, and she insisted I sample hers. She held her glass toward me by its stem, and I took a cautious sip. I said it was like drinking partially melted snow, and she laughed and poured me one, too.”

Pace. While the vivid narration is what I enjoyed most about the novel, the accompanied tangential style also led to its biggest holdback. I could fully understand why, given that the novel was written in first-person and people tend to digress when relating their experiences, Martha would oscillate between her past and present, actions and expositions. In fact, it even added to the mystery. But at one point, this became monotonous when the tempo should have picked up. The mystery began to chase its own tail and Martha’s continued attention to the mundane details of her surrounding seemed unnatural, relatability yielding before consistency, such as while escaping the scene of a supposed murder.

We drove through farmland spread for miles in either direction. Del fiddled with the radio, her hand shaking, and found a station playing Dixieland jazz, and we passed through a landscape distorted by the windshield ice—the wide open space, the few remaining outbuildings of an old farm, their gray, splintery wood darkened by the sleet, jutting like carcasses. “There are bones of families out there,” I said. Spread under layers of soil, compacted in their separateness. The Dixieland band played its tinny hopefulness. We drove this way for a long time until we could see nothing of the land we passed through save an occasional kitchen light in a house set off the road. Then we reached an intersection, a small town, like Milton, with a gas station and a diner, and Del pulled into the diner’s parking lot. After David Pinney died we’d gone on, pretending he hadn’t. I could say we were murderers now. This didn’t happen to other people twice.”

To wit, this novel made me sit up and take notes. My own stories tend to consist more of dialogues and actions than discussions on the setting but I could certainly appreciate the patience with which Brown weighed in the haunting atmosphere in her narrative. It reminded me of something I learned a few months back while attending an online course on writing fiction. There was a lot of emphasis on note taking and journal keeping throughout the syllabus. Until I took the course, I always wondered how writers sit in public places such as cafes and parks while composing tales without becoming distracted by their environments. Turns out they don’t become distracted at all because they are too busy recounting what they witness on their pages and screens.

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #24: The Americanization of Emily starring James Garner & Julie Andrews

Via: Daily Prompt – Grit

220px-americanization_of_emily_posterTitle     The Americanization of Emily

Starring     James Garner, Julie Andrews, and James Coburn

Director     Arthur Hiller

Writer(s)    Paddy Chayefsky (screenplay), William Bradford Huie (novel)

Genre     Comedy Drama War

Release Date     October 27, 1964

Filming Location    Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill, London, England, UK

Parental Guidance     PG for thematic semi-nudity, carousing, and war imagery

IMDB Rating     7.4

Synopsis: Lt. Cmdr. Charles Madison (James Garner) of the US Army is a “dog-robber”, or batman, to Adm. William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) and is known for managing the best supplies to make his superior’s lifestyle near the frontline of WWII opulent. Even based in London, Charlie can arrange the best prime cuts for the Admiral’s lunch, the most lavish food, drink, and women – down to the preferred hair color – for the evenings, and the biddable bedpartners for his best friend and co-worker Lt. Cmdr. Paul ‘Bus’ Cummings’s (James Coburn) nocturnal exploits with less than 24-hour notice. Such blatant display of pleasure-seeking in the middle of war rationing is something that Emily Barham, a driver from the British military motor pool and a woman who has lost her father, brother, and husband to the war, finds deplorable and has no compunction informing Charlie of her feelings to his face. Charlie too is wary of her moralization and forthright about giving her a piece of his mind. Charlie, who openly advocates his anti-war sentiments and is a self-proclaimed “practicing coward”, enjoys his position as the Admiral’s adjutant because it keeps him from having to actually fight in the war and feels Europeans have caused wars for centuries, which is nothing to boast about. However, soon Emily realizes that there is a kind of charm in his cynical honesty and approaches him to initiate a no-strings-attached affair, which quickly develops into a more serious meet-the-parents kind of tableau. When the Admiral, already depressed from the death of his wife, has a mental breakdown over the Army and Air Force overshadowing the Navy and initiates an idea of filming a “reality” movie of the bombing on the French shore of Omaha Beach on D-Day, Charlie is assigned the responsibility of getting it made and Bus is adamant to get Charlie onto the war site, putting a damper on his amorous plans for Emily and even risking his very life.

Experience: I think there is a bit of a pattern among my celebrity crushes and I realized it after seeing James Garner in this movie. It’s a weird revelation too. I like men who have wide foreheads with horizontal creases on them. Do you see it?

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Be still my heart! There is something similar about their physique as well, though at different levels of buff. I just had to get this out of the way before I carried on with the review.

Aside from Garner, there is another heart-stopper to sigh over in this movie. I think the whole world has been crushing on Julie Andrews since The Sound of Music. With additional star actors Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn, this movie was destined to shine. But it’s not only the cast that makes it a success but also the eccentric plotline, the unabashedly candid characters, the snappy dialogue, and the unique theme for its time that helped it win hearts – at least, it did mine.

Let’s talk about the message of the movie. There is no doubt that the producers and director of the film took a big risk when they decided to make an anti-war dark romantic comedy at a time when the US government was only becoming more aggressive in its foreign policies throughout – or maybe it was just the perfect time. Sure, there was also a rising anti-war sentiment among the public but did it constitute the dominant segment of the public? Hardly. So the movie could have tanked.

But the plot carried the message of the movie by ensuring that it was “the virtue of war” and not the men and families who sacrificed their lives and loved ones that deserved criticism. We see an old man, bereaved by the loss of his wife, dictating and demanding what the movie should feature: a make-believe unnamed soldier who is the first to die on D-Day to stir up public sentiments for the glory of the Navy. He goes on as far as to enlist the president’s endorsement for a monument for this fake martyr. The idea reeks of the same self-indulgence that is depicted earlier in the movie where we see the American military that “can buy anything with a Hersey bar” enjoying a good bout of hedonism. With a finely written script, the argument cuts deep and succinctly.

Speaking of his lines, I was quite taken with how magnificently Garner delivered his dialogues. There is no apology in his expression when Charlie presents a set-down to Emily after she demonstrates her disdain for the amount of “swanky goods” occupying the bedroom-converted-pantry in the Admiral’s quarters. You would never imagine that he was talking to a beautiful woman that he had been slapped by after patting her bottom during their initial meeting. And Andrews, always the epitome of sophistication, demonstrates a starry-eyed enchantment even as she sincerely tells him why he is just all-wrong.

In fact, there is a bit of name-calling between the two throughout the movie that aptly describes the traits of each character. She is “something of a prig” with an “ingrained British morality”, “facile” yet a “fancy Euro”, and “emotionally sticky” with a propensity for “sentimental contempt” who takes “sensual satisfaction in grieving”; he is a “rascal”, “charmer scoundrel”, the “most immoral man [she] ever met… a shameless coward, selfish as a child, and ruthless about what he wants”, “a Yank who can’t even show affection without buying something”, “dotty” but who “cuts to the core of things”. Gee, tell us how you really feel. But it really makes you want to see the two actors saying it all to each other, doesn’t it?

And the two actors wear their roles like finely fitted gloves. Andrews manages to generate a certain softness towards him even as she is exasperated with him and listing out all his negative qualities. While there are such competence and cockiness to Garner that a girl cannot but help swoon. In fact, there is this scene early in the movie where Charlie goes about folding clothes and running baths and doing all the things a valet does while preparing the bedtime rituals for the Admiral, and I was so mesmerized watching him in action of domestic efficiency that I had to keep replaying the scene to catch what the Admiral was yammering about. It made me think there’s a man who is comfortable in his skin no matter what the situation. Garner in motion is a graceful thing to watch. That scene alone is worth re-watching the movie.

Recommendation: It’s a fine movie, as efficient in delivering the message as the actors were in playing their roles. Prepared to be riveted.

 

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WRITING CHRONICLE #24: the happily ever after

Via: Daily Prompt – Quill & Caper

 

There is a growing trend of romance novels with alternative endings to HEA (Happily Ever After). There’s HFN (Happy For Now) and also conclusions that are not so happy at all – like hero/heroine/both die(s). This post is not about them. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to romance novel endings. I’m perfectly fine putting my romantic MCs through the mills during the conflict phase, but the resolution must be that they live and enjoy a full life together. Anything less than that is an overpromise – nay, a prank on the unwitting reader.

 

Which brings me to my next point. For centuries, happily ever after has received a bad rep (among non-romance-readers, at least) and to no fault of its own. I don’t understand why people feel that romance novels set “unreasonable expectations”; if anything, I believe they set a standard we should all aspire to. Why should a person settle for anything less than happiness in love? What else would be the point? And for those people who think “happily ever after” is equivalent to a permanent cheering charm, let me assure you, it’s not. It means that our couple now knows that to stay together they will have to work at it and face the ups-and-downs of relationship; but long as they are teamed up, they will remain content and it will be okay. In fact, that the couple goes through so many obstacles during the novel to reach that place where they decide they were meant to be together is a testament to their commitment. So happily ever after really just translates to

“Committed ever after. Happily.”

Having said that, for a romance author, attaining closure is not that easy. I mean, as a reader, you must’ve realized how each time you reach the end of a good book you feel that sense of bereavement when finally putting the book down, right? Well, you have spent only a handful of hours getting to know those characters; imagine what the author must’ve felt closing the book on those wonderful characters after giving birth to them and then nurturing them for months, maybe years. So a romance author (or any kind, for that matter) needs all the help he/she can get to give their writing that flourish.

So what does a good romance ending make?  Read the rest of this entry »

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Wednesday Reflections #23 – Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

Via: Daily Prompt – Pluck

13552311Title     Seducing Mr. Knightly

Series     The Writing Girls #4

Author     Maya Rodale

Genre     Historical Romance | Regency | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      October 30, 2012

Format      eBook

Setting     London, Great Britain, 1825

ISBN     0062088955

Synopsis: It has been exactly three years, six months, three weeks, and two days since Ms. Annabelle Swift fell in love with her boss Mr. Derek Knightly, the owner and editor of The London Weekly. This is precisely the amount of time she has been employed as one of the Writing Girls to feature in her own advice column and since the day she laid her eyes on the tall, dark, and determined Knightly. Unfortunately, not only is he totally unaware of her feelings but he seems also oblivious of the fact that she is a living breathing flesh-and-blood single woman worthy of male attention. Exasperated with being continuously overlooked and desperate to get out of her brother’s house where she lives as an unpaid servant and governess to her malicious sister-in-law, niece, and nephews, Annabelle decides to resort to drastic measures – she courageously reaches out to her readers for advice for a change on how to attract the attention of the nodcock! she’s in love with. Suddenly all of London swoops in to assist her cause, sending mails carrying the most outlandish and scandalous advice and, with the additional help from her fellow Writing Girls, she finds herself in lowered bodices and silk unmentionables, waltzing with lords of the ton, flirting up a ruse with fellow male colleagues, and being dropped off home after work by Knightly in his private carriage. Her quarry is finally paying attention but one obstacle still stands in the path of true love. Knightly, who has built his empire and reputation as a media tycoon to raise himself from the status of a by-blow of a late earl, has one other life goal: marry high into the aristocracy so that his half-brother is finally forced to acknowledge him as one of his class. Unfortunately, this puts Annabelle squarely out of the running for his affection… or does it?

Experience: I came to know about Maya Rodale a little late. Only this year, in fact, upon watching the live feeds of the #RomanceisFeminist discussion hosted by Avon Romance at The Strand bookstore in NY, NY where Rodale was on the panel of authors. I appreciated a particular comment she made about being more than willing to “throw historical accuracy under the bus” for the sake of diversity and inclusion. That is precisely what I have found – as much as the realm of believability will allow – since I began reading her works (three novels so far) and thought I should do a review of at least one. I picked Seducing Mr. Knightly because I have a soft corner for heroines who write professionally and this is the most hilarious piece of Rodale’s works I have come across thus far.

Imagine Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy and you will get a rough idea of the kind of scrapes Annabelle gets into in this novel. Short of hitting our hero in the eye with her spilling bosoms, she has done it all – leave a shawl behind to find herself alone with him at work during after office hours, fake a swoon and fall lush into his arms so she can awaken his “baser inclinations”, make all of London – including the hero’s best friends – fall in love with her and defend her heart for her candid attempts to lasso the hero, and climb into his bedroom via a gradually-splintering bark in the middle of the night in hopes of ravishment, etc. And Knightly likewise reciprocates with a steady repeat of “Oh Annabelle, you have some explaining to do” whenever he finds himself at the end of her courtship tactics. It makes the relationship between our heroine and hero positively adorably frustrating – just what good romances require.

But apart from the cat-and-mouse conflict development of the romantic plot, the individual characters of Annabelle and Knightly are also fully plausible. I enjoyed how much pluck Annabelle demonstrates as pushes herself to cross her self-imposed boundaries to blossom out of her shell even as her natural timidity continues to attempt to keep her in check. She may be meek by genetic disposition (her brother shows fairly submissive traits in his marriage too) but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t dream big or aim high. After all, she pulls the wool over her family’s eyes for over three years pretending to go out on charity work while really working for a national newspaper and saving up for rainy days. She continuously challenges her shortcomings and faces her fears, which is a lovely display of feminism.

Our hero too has his demons to fight and has been fighting them quite successfully for over a decade. Being the firstborn son of and earl and a renowned stage actress, he craves acknowledgment from his step family and society. He has slogged day-and-night to build up his newspaper, laboring at the press himself and pushing boundaries of polite expectations, to get himself noticed, following three simple rules of life: “Scandal equals sales, drama was for the pages, and be beholden to no one”. It’s has made him a bit stoic but it has worked for him. And even as his heart tugs while watching Annabelle amidst her antics and his heart begins to unfurl the more details of her he starts to notice, he refuses to examine the burning question being asked in parlors across London, “Who is the nodcock that has yet failed to fall in love with Annabelle?” because he is afraid the answer might demand he surrender his heart to the heroine, which he is not in the position to do. Because all he wants to do is marry Lady Marsden, claim his rightful place in society while avoiding getting his newspaper shut down by her brother Lord Marsden’s mass inquisition against media extortion and nefarious means of procuring news, and kill two birds with one stone. The struggle is real.

Yes, I truly did enjoy reading this book. The only thing perhaps that did not suit me entirely was Rodale’s roundabout way of prolonging the story. While I loved each scene, I found reading through all the inner workings that bracketed each scene that mostly related the same conclusions over and over a bit tedious. Frankly, I felt there was more room for editing and perhaps leaving a little for readers to infer. But this is easily discounted for the fact that the overall content was engaging and oh-so-funny.

Recommendation: Well, if you haven’t read it already, what are you waiting for? I thoroughly endorse this novel as an experienced romance reader.

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WRITING CHRONICLE #23: prologues, anyone?

Via: Daily Prompt – Passenger & Sail

Image: Wikimedia, CC0

Prologues. Some authors swear by them; some readers roll their eyes at them and skip ahead. Me? I believe that, like most literary devices, prologues have their time and place, i.e. some stories need them while other stories are better off without them. If used with moderation-but-pizzazz, The Prologue is a vehicle that may really put your story into gear and make the reader buckle in. However, writers without a firm handle on the steering wheel may drive their story to an early death [especially when querying], so beware.

Ok, enough with the vehicular metaphors. Here are two lists of when and how prologues may work – or not:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Promotion: Free EBook

Via: Daily Prompt – Magnet

My novella Bad Daughter will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD all day Friday, June 30, 2017 (Pacific Standard Time)! Just follow the link on the title.

I thought I would drop in a line with fellow bloggers to see if I could tempt any of you to read a bit of South Asian Feminist Fiction with a little of dystopia and a little of romance.

Be warned, it does allude to the harsh and unfortunate reality of child sexual abuse and the burden placed on victims from the taboo on disclosure imposed by conservative societies.

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