Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Confessions of a Self-Promotion Genius

So today, I finally decided to get hip to the masses and make my MySpace page functional and not quite so ugly. It's been about a year since I created the thing, and other than the effort it took to create a short, squat-looking WeeMee cartoon figure of myself to post there, I have put zero effort into it. ("Symptom of someone with adult ADD: starts multiple projects and never finishes them....") I mean, I always figured that MySpace might as well call itself MyTimeSucker, because to me, that's all it appeared to do. It gave me lots of little info blocks to fill in about myself, allowed me the opportunity to pick a song that represented the essence of moi, and tempted me to waste copious amounts of time scouring the Web for virtual friends so I wouldn't look like a sadsack loser, having only Tom in my friends box.

So, rebel that I am, I avoided my MySpace, figuring I didn't need another timesucker in my life--especially one that might not be worth the suckage.

Time and again, though, my writer friends have since informed me that MySpace works better than a blog when it comes to connecting with readers. They claim MySpace is fun! And yes, they say, it's a timesucker, but it gives you an unprecedented ability to market your books around the world in an instant. Which is a good thing, seeing as book pimping really isn't a strong suit of mine, but, coincidentally, wasting copious amounts of time on the Internet is.

Which brings me once again to the fact that today, after over 12 months of steadfastly ignoring my MySpace page, I got this random, nagging impulse to take a look at it. At which point I discovered that that dorky WeeMee cartoon was still there, and I decided I hated it so much, it had to go. So I started tinkering.

Then, I discovered that the Alana Davis song I chose long ago for my page (aptly titled "Crazy") had been "removed by the artist," so I was compelled to visit her page to find a current selection.

And that's when I decided that I wanted Alana Davis to be my friend. :::cue giant sucking sound here:::

I generally like to think that I would not completely lose my head if I ever met a celebrity. I've had minor brushes with fame, and, for the most part, I've played it cool. I got pulled onto the stage once when watching a standup act by former SNLer and current Weeds star Kevin Nealon in Boston--and I did not lose it. My childhood idol and the original Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner came into the offices of a magazine for which I used to work, and I was cool as a proverbial cucumber (primarily because I only saw the back of her head and didn't know it was her until she LEFT, thankyouverymuchformercoworkers). George Lopez and Constance Marie seemed to zero in on and greet my brother Tom and me (the lone Latinos!) when we were on a Hollywood studio tour and our group stopped to watch them rehearse for a moment--and again, I was oh, so chill.

(OK, so maybe I waved a little too enthusiastically. And there may have been some jumping up and down. But only a little.)

(And then there was the time I seriously fangirled over author Karen Rose, but she doesn't outwardly cringe whenever I run into her, so maybe I didn't look as psycho to her as I did to myself when I replayed events in my head.)

But Alana Davis? If I ever met Alana Davis, I'd probably blither and sob like a hyperkinetic 14-year-old Sanjaya fan. This is how much I love her music.

So then, after I'd asked Alana Davis to be my friend, I realized that my page looked idiotic, that cartoon WeeMee thing HAD to go, everything in my profile made me sound like a crashing bore, and .... I had zero friends. ZERO. Other than Needy and Possibly Sociopathic Tom, who appears to have taken the time to become everyone's friend.

Hence, the MySpace makeover ... just in case Alana Davis happens to come calling. Of course she will not--and she will probably reject my overture of virtual friendship because my main photo is my current pimpalicious book cover, seeing as I can't take a decent picture to save my life--but hey, a fangirl can dream.

If you are on MySpace and would like to be my virtual friend and help me not look like an idiot to Alana Davis's MySpace lackey, my new and WeeMee-less page can be found here.

And if you have an interesting brush with fame to talk about, that's what the comment button is for!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Random Worry #1

As I've confessed here before, ever since I've had my two girls, I've been consumed with worry. At first, I figured it was magnified by your run-of-the-mill post-partum hormones, which make every emotion sharper, every worry more intense and lasting. But now I've discovered that motherhood just naturally magnifies every worry, and it Never. Goes. Away.

I worry about renegade drivers on cell phones. I worry about jack-knifing semis (this happens a lot in my city) and collapsing bridges (this doesn't). I worry about strange diseases. I worry about the lasting repercussions of poor school systems and the poor teachers that can rear their ugly attitudes and abusive behavior among the great ones. I worry about school bullies. And school shootings. Terrorists. Fundamentalist extremists of any kind, including domestic ones. America's image abroad. Racism. Sexism. The state of Social Security. Alzheimer's. Processed foods. Pesticides. Spiders. (Totally spiders.) The scorpions that live in my attic and sometimes come down to visit and hide in the toys. Sharks going vertical and zooming up to chomp my legs off when I'm scuba diving and the dive master makes us all float on the surface until everyone is off the boat. (Love scuba diving--hate floating on the surface doing my best Hi-I'm-a-wounded-seal! impression. Especially in my wet suit with the yellow stripe--a.k.a. "yum-yum yellow" since it's a color sharks find attractive. Who knew?) Strange family members who could get custody if we all explode. Religion. The meaning of life. Doing something that matters. Having a midlife crisis if I'm not.

And in the middle of all of that, I seem to have time to worry about some really bizarre, random stuff, too. Today's random worry came in the form of a CNN report about the danger of digging in the sand. Now the mere sight of Maggie and her little plastic shovel at the beach makes my hair curl. (Or frizz like I'm 1970s Donna Summer, thankyouverymuchFloridahumidity.)

Apparently, Harvard just released a report about how the odds of your dying from being swallowed up by a sand hole are greater than those of you being on the wrong end of a shark attack. ("Hi, I'm a wounded--urph")

The problem is so prevalent, a study of person-eating sand holes was conducted by Harvard University and reported in the New England Freaking Journal of Medicine.

Apparently, if you dig a hole at least 2 feet deep in the sand, then follow the natural and undeniable impulse to GET IN said hole and jump around (Jump around! Jump around! Jump up, jump up, and get down!)--or fall in it, if it's not taller than you are--the sand walls can collapse, swallowing you faster than the Mighty Sarlaac ate Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi. (No excellent tentacles or nasty gurgling noises, though.)

And here's the kicker, writes Harvard's Dr. Bradley Maron, the study's lead author, in the NEFJM: "Typically, victims became completely submerged in the sand when the walls of the hole unexpectedly collapsed, leaving virtually no evidence of the hole or location of the victim."

(Emphasis mine!!!!)


Easily solved, you say: Don't dig holes in the sand. Well, consider poor Matthew Gauruder, bless him, who was innocently playing football in the sand during his high school after-prom party. This breaks my heart--poor Matthew went for a pass, fell into an 8 ft. hole SOME OTHER LOSER dug, and died when it collapsed on him.

I can't bring myself to crack any more jokes after that sad story. Suffice it to say, I'm worrying. Death to all plastic shovels.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I Don't Want to Rant Here, But ...

NOTE: This blog entry contains spoilers for Moulin Rouge and A Walk to Remember.

Quite awhile back, I read an interview with author Nicholas Sparks, where he helpfully pointed out that (and I'm paraphrasing here), he did not write romance novels (Did I imagine the "eeeuwww" behind the words?) because romances have happy endings, while his more literary works end tragically.

Now, I don't mind the occasional tragic ending--Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Willa Cather's O Pioneers are two of my favorite books ever in the history of ever, and they both have horrible endings. I adore the film Moulin Rouge, even though I was a sobbing mess at the end. (Jose also loves that movie, but while it's one of the very few films he's ever wanted to watch more than once, he steadfastly refuses to even acknowledge that the tragic ending exists. He either stops the DVD after Satine and Christian sing their special song and foil the Duke's dastardly plan, or he walks out of the room, sticks his fingers in his ears, and goes "Lalalala-LA!" until I finish watching. How adorable is that?)

But the underlying assumption a lot of readers seem to make--and that Sparks's comments play into, intentionally or not--is that a romance that ends horribly (and, coincidentally, is written by a man) is somehow better than a romance that ends happily.

AMUSING ASIDE: My brother Troy is a huge movie buff and is in love with Mandy Moore, so when we were both visiting my parents sometime last year, he busted out his DVD of A Walk to Remember and informed me that we were watching it. Always game for a good film recommended by Troy, I sat down and was quite enjoying the charming story of the unlikely romance between a popular jock and a slightly nerdy Christian girl. Somewhere in the middle, Troy noted that the movie was based on a Nicholas Sparks book, at which point I threw a handful of popcorn at the screen and shrieked, "UGH! That means she's going to end up with CANCER!"

And sure enough....

Here's some Sparksian wisdom about romances versus "love stories" from his Web site:

"Though both have romantic elements, the sub-genres have different requirements. Love stories must use universal characters and settings. Romance novels are not bound by this requirement and characters can be rich, famous or people who lived centuries ago and the settings can be exotic. Love stories can differ in theme, romance novels have a general theme; 'the taming of a man.' And finally, romance novels have happy endings while love stories are not bound by this requirement. Love stories usually end tragically or at best, with a bittersweet feeling for the reader."

A comment like that begs for a response, so, seeing as this is my blog, I'm responding (As if anyone doubted that I would.) Limiting women's writing (And yes, some men's, but let's face it, romance novels that actually go in the romance section of a bookstore are written mostly by women.) to a central theme that is both creepy and melodramatic denigrates our work. Although you can argue that Jane Eyre was about the "taming of a man, romance novels are as varied in theme as books in other genres. Implying that there is nothing universal or relatable about our characters is not factual in the least. And while there are some romances that have exotic settings or larger-than-life characters, those characters, on the average, tend to be people the reader can relate to at least on some level.

Sparks is right that romance novels, by definition, have happy endings. But is it just me, or does he seem to be clinging to his tragic endings, that knife edge that separates him from the romance writer plebeians, with everything he's got? Not that I really blame him, what with the current stigma romance writers labor under.

Please note that I don't begrudge Nicholas Sparks his success at all. Something about his writing obviously resonates with a lot of people, including the habitually tragic endings, or he wouldn't regularly appear on the New York Times list, nor would a New York editor have believed in him enough to give him the marketing support that helped vault his first book onto that list in the first place.

But what I do wonder about is why it's OK, why it's literary even, to like Nicholas Sparks, and not romance novels? I worked in a Barnes & Noble bookstore while I was in grad school and also when I first got married and was job-hunting, and most of the booksellers were most vociferous regarding their disdain for romance novels. In fact, one of the assistant managers in the Boston B&N I worked in actually said to me that "Barnes & Noble caters to the literati--it's too bad we have to carry romance novels, too." (A romance novel apparently killed his brother....)

The manager of the second B&N store where I briefly worked held the same attitude toward romance novels, but she was absolutely over the MOON about Nicholas Sparks.

I read my first Nicholas Sparks novel, Dear John, recently for a book club I'm in. I was surprised to discover that there were only two main differences between the Sparks book and the average romance novel:

1) Dear John centers mainly on the hero and his character growth and development, where a romance novel will generally center mainly on the female, and her character growth and development.

2) Dear John had a tragic ending, while a romance will generally show a woman "having it all" at the end--the cool job, revenge on her enemies, and a fantabulous new boyfriend/fiancee/husband (who presumably picks up his smelly socks, occasionally cooks dinner, and scrubs out the bathroom he exclusively uses at least once per century, BEFORE things start to fungus *cough* Jose *cough*). In the case of a romantic suspense, which I write, the ending will also include the heroine being instrumental in bringing a vicious criminal to justice.

That's it. Oh, and that no editor is ever going to saddle Sparks with a title like Cowboy Cootchie Coo or the Runaway Bride's Secret Baby. Lucky him.

Interestingly, Sparks' prose didn't strike me as any more literary than that of many female romance writers. His characters didn't seem any more universal or developed than those in a romance novel. And sometimes, homeboy got downright sentimental, what with the characters saying stuff like (since I don't have the book with me, this is an approximation), "I still think of you whenever I look at the full moon."

But it's universally OK to like Nicholas Sparks's books because he is a MAY-aaaaaan, while fiction written by women about women has been put down as "sentimental" and "parochial" since some fat, pasty white men* got together and decided what books were considered part of the "literary canon." Today's romance novels are the whipping girl of the so-called literati, taking the modern-day place of works by Fanny Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth, the Brontes, ad nauseum, ad infinitum, ad way-too-many-marginalized-women-writers.

Now I'm not saying romance novels are all great literature--but neither are all sci-fi novels, all mysteries, or all mainstream fiction books. And not everyone has to like romance as a genre--we all have different tastes. But there's no doubt in my mind that there's a negative, kneejerk reaction ("Trash! Bodice rippers! Melodrama") toward romance that prevails in popular culture, and it's curious to me why a sentimental male writer could largely escape this reaction.

To me, Sparks satisfies the self-conscious reader's craving for a good read about human relationships and the push-pull dynamics of desire. It's socially acceptable to read Sparks. It's socially acceptable to love Moulin Rouge or Rear Window or Miss Congeniality or When Harry Met Sally, but it's not OK--or, at the very least, it's the literary equivalent of slumming--to read a romantic comedy or a romantic suspense or a romantic adventure or any kind of romance at all. But here's the kicker--Moulin Rouge (with Jose's alternate ending), Rear Window, Miss Congeniality, and When Harry Met Sally would all be shelved in the romance section if they were in book form. And so would Nicholas Sparks, minus the knife-edge difference of a tragic ending and a male name and photo to slap on the book jacket.

It's enough to make a girl change her name to George Sand.

* Actually, I am exaggerating here. I do not have firsthand knowledge of whether the arbiters of our modern literary canon were fat and/or pasty. But I would bet my last Hershey bar that they were most certainly white and male.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Waxing Rhapsodic

Being completely slammed with work and writing, along with playing with my daughters, I haven't had as much time to read as I used to. And I've found that I've become quite stingy with the time I do have. Unless I'm reading for a contest, if a book doesn't completely capture my attention and imagination within the first 100 pages, it gets drop-kicked into my Used Bookstore Bag--no exceptions. Sometimes, I don't even get past the first 50.

So I've been filling up the UBB faster than usual, and it's been awhile since I actually finished a book. I've been wandering around the piles of to-be-read books in my house with a jaded eye, regarding every possible selection I pick up with more than a little skepticism. Is THIS finally going to be the one that shakes me out of my literary ennui? Is THIS going to be worth the precious time I have to read something? Will it be fun? Will I believe the characters? Will I love this book, or will it not be worth coming three hours closer to death while slogging through the first half?

I'm happy to report that I finally found a book that's just so bloody marvelous, I can hardly stand it. I've been on an historical fiction kick lately, and the first book in a trilogy about Josephine Bonaparte satisfied it in spades. Sure, I'd learned about the love story between Josephine and her short, strange little emperor in school, and I well remember Armand Assante's Napoleon ardently declaring her "my obsession" in the long-ago TV miniseries based on their romance. But that's all she was--the object of a great man's affection.

Until I read The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland, that is. The clear-as-a-bell voice and the multi-faceted characters, the historical detail and accuracy were wonderful enough, but to discover that the real Josephine (Gulland's books are based as much as possible on historical fact) was amazingly courageous, a loving mother, a charming and resourceful person, and a feminist (in the best sense of the word) at heart--and not at all the empty-headed seductress of legend. She risked her life numerous times to repeatedly petition for the lives of her imprisoned friends and family members, when it would have been much safer to keep her head low--and ended up in prison and thisclose to losing her own head as a result. She was exceedingly generous, regularly giving her cloaks, coin purses, and bread away, even when she was nearly penniless herself. Her charisma and intelligence allowed her to make many friends in high places--without those qualities, no doubt she and her children would have ended up on the streets. She believed in a free France but still mourned the violence of the Terror and the treatment and deaths of the king and queen, particularly when she thought about Marie Antoinette as a mother.

The only thing I wish is that her teeth had been better. You have this character you love and admire, and then she starts talking about how her choppers are turning black and falling out--and that's just in the first book where she's in her early 30s. Not so attractive, Jo....

Seriously, she's been a magical discovery, and I'm so pleased to have two books left in Gulland's trilogy. Of course, I'm already mourning the fact that I will probably devour those in a week or two, and then it will all be over and I won't have another Gulland book to read until she publishes her next one, on a date still to be determined (no doubt because of the copious amount of research she puts into her work. On her website, she notes that she probably threw away at least a thousand pages when her research would turn up a new fact that changed elements of her story).

This is the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up--one who makes readers wax rhapsodic on their blogs about how much her book sucked them into its world. It's good to have a goal.

Although I can't even IMAGINE writing and throwing away a thousand pages without my head exploding. A hundred or two, maybe....

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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