Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blog, Decluttered

A little while ago I mentioned how much I enjoyed The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Believe me when I say that I've been restraining myself by not blogging constantly about how much I enjoyed my initial burst of tidying and how my family adopted their own subtle changes after I cleared out bags and bags worth of stuff.

Recently, I was asked to review 10-Minute Digital Declutter by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport. While the idea of spending days- weeks, months- decluttering my digital life does not appeal to me, I was so inspired by their book that I spent the equivalent of half a day (or more) over the last three days clearing out email and purging and organizing my hard drive and cloud files. I will go so far as to say that it was fun, but I might be a special case.

What wasn't fun? Finally clearing out this blog. That took far longer than the email project because it required a lot more thought and hands on activity. When I got rid of my old Gmail account last year, I didn't realize that would also purge a number of photos from this blog. I had some on my hard drive, but I groaned whenever I thought of adding them in.

Pieter Janssens Elinga 01
A tidy space makes everything easier

As far as I'm concerned, what's really attracting people to the tidying trend is that it will free you up not only your time and space but also mental energy, all of which you can then turn to whatever it is that really drives you. Inspired by that thought, I plunged in last night and this morning, and the result is that I cleared out about 90(!) posts and that everything that remains has a photo. I sincerely apologize to any author whose posts I had to delete, but I suspect most of them won't notice; a lot of them were time-sensitive and therefore not relevant more than a week after it was posted. I will happily host guest posts for anyone whose content was deleted.

But overall, I'm happy with what's on the blog now, and getting rid of some extraneous posts allows me to highlight some content that I'm genuinely interested in. My goal for 2016 is to make this blog more fully reflect who I am as a writer, so expect more blog hops, more interviews and more thoughts on pop culture. Who knows...I might even write a tidying post after all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The #Twister edition...things that make you say WHAT?!

While I'm known for my "ambitious" blog hops, I have to give credit where credit is due: thank you, Caroline, for making the suggestion a few months ago (and knowing that I'd be crazy enough to run with it).

Kudos to Jami for defining a good twist. I'll add that it has to make you gasp (just a little bit) and exclaim "What?!". As you can see below, I spend a lot of my time doing both.

Spoiler alerts are implied (even if I don't spoil every single one of these stories).


This is the genre I had the hardest time with. If a television show is done well (and I don't want to regularly watch one that isn't), we know the characters well enough that it's hard to get in a good twist without viewers seeing it coming. And if the show is predicated on twist after twist...never mind, I won't be watching that (see above about "done well").

But there was one extremely well-done show that got in a great twist in recent memory, so much so that to do this day I'm still thinking about it. I refer you to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and no, I'm not talking about the fact that the slayer was a teenager, that her vampire boyfriend became evil (in retrospect, is that really a twist?) or that the show took place in a Hellmouth named Sunnydale. I'm thinking instead about the Season 6 episode "Normal Again" in which a demon Buffy fought injected her with a venom that made her believe she was living in an alternate reality, namely, that instead of fighting demons and vampires for the last few years, she was really in a mental institution, overseen by her not-divorced parents. She was finally out of a catatonic state, and the doctors said it was essential that if she wanted to get better she had to accept that her fantasy world was just that and kill off her imaginary friends. Which meant that our Buffy subdued her loyal friends and sister to be killed so she could be rid of the fantasy. Ironically, her mother's words in the mental institution inspire her to save her friends, and she defeats the demon who was going to kill them. All was well...until the final scene, in which a catatonic Buffy sat in her cell while her mother and father wept over her.

Is this for real?
What?! What happened there, and what did this mean for the show? It was never addressed again, but I spent the rest of the series wondering what, exactly, I was watching.


Honestly, this genre was the reason I wanted to do this blog hop. Because of their relatively short duration, movies are best suited to give audiences a satisfying twist, or two or three or four.

Wild Things, on first glance, is kind of trashy. First spoiled Kelly (Denise Richards) claims to her mother, Sandra (Theresa Russell), that her former teacher (and Sandra's former lover) Sam (Matt Dillon) raped her. Then trailer trash Suzie (Neve Campbell) calls Detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) and joins the complaint, only to be grilled on the stand and forced to confess that two girls made it up. Sam, having been beaten up by Sandra's thugs, gets a settlement with the help of his possibly incompetent lawyer Bowden (Bill Murray)...and then celebrates with Kelly and Suzie in a cheap motel room! Suzie looks too nervous to wait for her share of the settlement, so after the two girls have a tryst, Kelly convinces Sam to kill Suzie. Later, Duquette, while pursuing a lead about Kelly's connection to Suzie's disappearance, accidentally shoots and kills her. He's forced off the job...and then meets up with Sam. The two go for a boat ride, during which Sam tries to kill Duquette...with the not-dead Suzie! After his body goes overboard, Suzie poisons Matt Dillon and sails off into the sunset.

What could possibly go wrong with this bunch?
Wait, what? It turns out the whole operation was Suzie's idea. She might have been poor, but she also happened to have a genius IQ. After Duquette murdered a young friend of hers over a prostitute Duquette was sleeping with, he arrested Suzie on a fake drug charge in order to hide his crime. Suzie called Sam, who didn't bail her out. She found evidence that he was sleeping with Kelly and blackmailed him into carrying out her scheme, which included befriending Duquette and selling the idea to Kelly as if it were his. The final scene is when Bowden delivers the money to Suzie on a beach. "Remind me not to piss you off!"


If what motivated Wild Things was money and revenge, what moved the plot of the classic Laura was obsession. It's got all of the trappings of a good old-fashioned twist, starting with the unreliable narrator and the revelation that the police not only don't have the murderer, they have the wrong victim! Just as Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is starting to fall for the deceased Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), she walks into her apartment without any clue as to what's going on. As McPherson digs deeper, he realizes that Laura's fiance is even worse than he'd thought (and the casting of Victor Price as the down-on-his-luck little rich boy might qualify as a twist in and of itself) and that her best friend Waldo (Clifton Webb) isn't as gentle and sensitive as he might seem. It's a suspenseful classic, and all I'll tell you is that this time the sinister Judith Anderson *isn't* the villain.

Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt gets to choose between a high strung columnist, a shiftless playboy...

Or the detective who fell in love with her picture when he thought she was dead. Er...
And now for something completely different, the South Korean movie, Oldboy. The motivation here is pure vengeance, but nothing about this story is simple. Dae Su (Choi Min Sik) is drunk and on his way to give his young daughter a birthday present when he's taken into police custody for what we assume is his rowdy behavior. Right after he's released, he's kidnapped and held in what looks like a cheap hotel room for fifteen years. All he can do is write and watch television, from which he learns that his wife has been murdered and he's the prime suspect. He practices martial arts and vows revenge, and when he's mysteriously freed he finds his way into the restaurant where young Mi Do (Kang Hye-Jeong) is working. With her help, he tracks down several leads, including the restaurant that may have served him dumplings, and figures out where he was held. There's a fight scene (hammers), torture (teeth) and Dae Su comes face-to-face with his unapologetic captor Woo Jin (Yu Ji-Tae), who admits that he took him but tells him that he has to figure out why. He and Mi Do have sex and then go on the hunt, and with an old friend's help he realizes that he and his captor were in school together. Both were unremarkable, but Woo Jin's sister Soo Ah is another story; after rumors that she was sleeping around got out, she committed suicide. Dae Su now remembers that he was the one who inadvertently started the rumors...after he saw Woo Jin and Soo Ah having sex.

"Why fifteen years?"
Dae Su confronts Woo Jin while one of Woo Jin's agents holds Mi Do. "Why fifteen years?" Woo Jin taunts Dae Su. To answer the question, he gives Dae Su a photo album...of his daughter. As he flips through, a horrified Dae Su realizes that Mi Do is his daughter! He begs Woo Jin not to tell Mi Do, and to prove his desperation he cuts out his own tongue. Woo Jin agrees to stay silent, then kills himself as he remembers his sister's last moments. Dae Su, miserable, begs Woo Jin's hypnotist (don't ask) to help him, and she agrees. The movie ends with Dae Su and Mi Do happily hugging in the snow, oblivious to the truth.

Confession: you're going to be too busy shuddering under a pillow and covering your eyes to be gasping over this one.


I think it goes without saying that mysteries have a fair bit of twisting in them. We expect them, to a certain extent, so the twist has to be extraordinary to get our attention (and if you go into a book knowing that they're going to be there, it can be even harder to enjoy the surprise). It's a mature genre, so the bar is pretty high. I think I've gone on enough about Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but OH MY GOD. This sneaks up on you, and when it hits you you're kind of astounded. That's all I'm going to say, because it's a great twist.

The story which proves that it's all about perspective
Having said that, there have been a handful of mysteries that I've enjoyed in the last couple of years, and one of them genuinely "got" me. The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill is the follow up to The Summer of Dead Toys. Barcelona Detective Hector Salgado takes on two different, but equally disturbing mysteries in the books, but the thread that connects them is Salgado's growing obsession with his estranged wife, Ruth. She disappears without a trace at the end of The Summer of Dead Toys, and his pregnant associate Leire Castro is keeping boredom at bay in The Good Suicides by investigating Ruth's disappearance while on maternity leave, all while hiding the investigation from their otherwise indulgent and protective boss. Ruth, she discovers, was adopted, and there's every reason to believe that she was stolen from her birth mother. And while she left Hector later in life for another woman, Leire discovers that she had a relationship with a woman before that- and that woman committed suicide. But the biggest discovery of all is from the last sentence of the last page: Hector's boss was the very last person to see Ruth- and he hasn't said anything for more than six months. What? (And why is it taking Antonio Hill so long to come out with the sequel?!)

"Good suicides" lets survivors feel better...
These are the pinnacle of my twisted world. What are some of your favorites?

Thanks so much to all of the bloggers who joined me on this journey! Don't worry- we'll be back for more...

Monday, November 23, 2015

The #TwisterBlogHop Schedule

Totally excited to see what my fellow author-bloggers have in store for Twister Blog Hop! Here's who you can expect, when and where (don't worry, I'll remind you):

Kerrie Olzak: 11/30
Jami Deise: 12/1
Me: 12/2

Knowing this crowd, it's going probably going to be nuts, but...this nuts?
Old Boy (2003) Even if you see *the* twist coming, the rest of it will still make your head spin

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Death Before Decaf: A Java Jive Mystery by Caroline Fardig (New Release)

Oh my god- Caroline Fardig's latest is finally out! (Can you tell I've been waiting very impatiently?) Read the description below, then go snap this baby up!)

After her music career crashes and burns spectacularly, Juliet Langley is forced to turn to the only other business she knows: food service. Unfortunately, bad luck strikes yet again when her two-timing fiancĂ© robs her blind and runs off with her best waitress. Flushing what’s left of her beloved cafĂ© down the toilet with her failed engagement, Juliet packs up and moves back to her college stomping grounds in Nashville to manage an old friend’s coffeehouse. At first glance, it seems as though nothing’s changed at Java Jive. What could possibly go wrong? Only that the place is hemorrhaging money, the staff is in open revolt, and Juliet finds one unlucky employee dead in the dumpster out back before her first day is even over.
The corpse just so happens to belong to the cook who’d locked horns with Juliet over the finer points of the health code. Unimpressed with her management style, the other disgruntled employees are only too eager to spill the beans about her fiery temper to the detective on the case. Add to the mix a hunky stranger who’s asking way too many questions, and suddenly Juliet finds herself in some very hot water. If she can’t simmer down and sleuth her way to the real killer, she’s going to get burned.

Buy the book...

Connect with Caroline

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The #Twister Blog Hop is coming for you!

I feel like 2013 and 2014 were good years for my crazy, goofy blog hops...and I feel like I've neglected everyone in the last few months. 

This ends now.

At the end of November, a couple of other author-bloggers are going to help me suss out the works of art (books, television, movies, you name it) that featured the best, twistiest storylines. Will we feature an Agatha Christie classic? Will we touch on one of the trashiest movies made in the 90s? Will I tell you about a superbly twisted Spanish mystery trilogy you need to be reading? You'll just have to tune in to find out.

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price in "Laura", one of the cleverest, twistiest movies ever (and no, I'm not referring to Price's turn as a romantic lead)
If you're a blogger and want to play along, send me an email at deb AT deborahnamkrane DOT com and we'll get you squared away. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Coming back...with a giveaway!

I don't like to chat unless I have something to say, you know what I mean? And while I could tell you all sorts of things about my personal journey- oh, just go read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and you'll get the gist- I don't like to waste your time and I know that if you're going to come here, you expect to read about publishing news (mine or otherwise), and I did not have that much to say about it right now.

Although I've had my latest drafted for almost two years (what?!), because this story is more "where I live" than the other things I've written, I knew that I might be too close to the subject matter to be objective and that I was going to need some help. In other words, I've been extra-special worried about getting this right.

Separately, I think it's also fair to say that many people in the indie publishing world have started burning out, and while I'm not one of them, this has indirectly affected me. Even the most dedicated and ambitious person can work multiple jobs and not sleep for so long before something has to give. And when the industry has pretty much promised a protracted downturn, those who could slog away for three or four years before burning out deserve our applause. It's an industry reality I've had to adjust to.

But it's all good...

I'm still here and while I've been biting my nails about the best way to bring this latest story to market, I haven't stopped writing. I'm confident that readers are going to love the additions to the New Pioneers universe- and the stories they have to tell- and I'm even more excited about the next installment (already written). I think readers are also going to be very satisfied with how this series will wrap up (or at least this part of it). Thanks to everyone who has patiently awaited it.

Alrighty then! While I don't have a publication date yet (but it will happen before March, 2016!), I'd like to use this time to invite more people into my characters' little universe so you'll be all caught up when the time comes, and what better way to do that than with a giveaway? That's right- in exchange for signing up for my newsletter, you'll be entered to win not only my books but also some others I've loved in the last few years. And what kind of giveaway would it be without some Amazon gift cards?

You'll have plenty of chances to win a prize, but if you don't, you know I always take care of my newsletter subscribers. So please sign up (and tell your friends).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Interview with @CarolineFardig, author of the upcoming Bad Medicine...and the Java Jive series!

Did I mention that one of the best perks of being in the indie community is having a chance to read some gems before anyone else gets their hands on them? Well, it is, and once again I hounded Caroline Fardig to let me read her latest as soon as she'd spell checked it.

I have good news and bad news: Bad Medicine is just as good as It's Just A Little Crush and That Old Black Magic...but this might be the last we see of Miss Lizzie Hart, at least for a little while. *sniff* But- and this is more good news- we're going to be seeing a lot more from Miss Fardig! Read on to find out what, when and the secret to Caroline's success.

In what way is this story a departure from the other two books in the series?

Aside from the fact that my two favorite characters aren’t speaking to each other at the beginning, it’s not much of a departure. In fact, I think BAD MEDICINE ties both books together and kind of brings the trilogy full circle.

What's up with Lizzie actually using good judgment?!

Weird, right? Lizzie has been punched in the gut enough that things are finally starting to sink in for her. She’s working smarter.

What made you decide to pursue a medical angle in this book?

I’ve always been fascinated (and scared to death) by the way drugs can wreak havoc on our systems. I personally freak out if my body isn’t working the way it should, especially if I’m on a new medicine for some reason. It’s horrifying to think that two seemingly harmless drugs could cause a reaction that could kill you.

Is this really the last we're going to see of Lizzie?

Never say never. I have a new series coming out with Random House, the Java Jive Mysteries, and I’m also working on a very less cozy, much more forensics based novel. I don’t have the time to juggle 3 series at once, so I thought it would be easy to wrap up Lizzie’s story after three books. However, that doesn’t mean she and the gang are gone forever. Besides, Juliet, the main character in the Java Jive series is from Liberty, and Lizzie’s brother Ryan is a recurring character in the series as well.

I did like Ryan! When are we going to meet the rest of the Java Jive crew?

Ryan was fun to write, because he and Lizzie have such a strong brother-sister banter.  You'll meet Juliet and the rest of the Java Jive crew in DEATH BEFORE DECAF.  There's a sneak peek at the end of BAD MEDICINE!

Your career has made a big leap since you published It's Just A Little Crush. What's on your plate now?

I think I was overly wordy in my last answer and answered this question as well. Specifically on my plate is the first revision for the second book in the Java Jive series. And when I say “revision” I mean “rewrite of most of the second half”.

Every month (or is it week?), we see new forecasts of doom (which, we know, is right up your alley!) and/or Get Rich Quick schemes in publishing. What do you see?

As for Get Rich Quick schemes, I call those “one author simply got lucky and thinks he gamed the system”. As for the forecasting of doom, well, it depends on who you are and how you look at it. Are traditional publishers in trouble? Yes and no. Yes, their market share is being chipped away by indies. Yes, people are going to ebooks instead of buying print copies, which forces publishers to use a different marketing strategy. No, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, because people still generally trust the quality of the works of “traditionally published”
authors over indies. Plus, the Big 5 still have an army of publicists and marketing experts who know how to get books in front of readers.

What do you think has been the secret to your success?

My team of friends and family who have all pitched in to help me! I have 9 editor/beta readers (yourself included!), all of whom have their own unique perspective and skill set. They truly make my books what they are, and I couldn’t do it without them. Other than that, I work A LOT. So much so that I’m always being told by my husband to “take a break”. I’m constantly thinking about writing the next scene, coming up with the next book idea, and trying to get my name out there.

So then would your advice to other authors be to work smarter or to work harder? ;-)

YES.  But seriously, for example, when a certain promo works well for you, use it again.  Or when some kind of advertising doesn't net you any sales, learn from your mistake.  Work anytime you can, because no one is going to do it for you.  You control your destiny, and (barring plain old bad luck) if you put in the time and effort, you'll see a return. 

Indeed! Thanks so much to Caroline for sitting down with me. Bring on the Java Jive!


What do a smokin’ hot detective, an evil chiropractor, and a couple of blind dates from hell have in common?

Lizzie has to wrangle them all in the third book of THE LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series!

Lizzie Hart is overjoyed that six whole months have passed without a single murder in the sleepy town of Liberty. It’s also been six months since Blake Morgan heartlessly dumped her, but she’s determined to get over him. She’s slimmed down, ready to party, and injury-free, except for a little nagging pain in her ankle. She’s also very single, but her friends are doing everything in their power to fix that—including setting her up on one disastrous blind date after another.
Lizzie’s reprieve is short-lived when an old friend of hers is found dead from an apparent drug overdose. She wants to write it off as bad behavior after having seen the guy cheating on his wife with the new chiropractor in town. However, when she sees that same chiropractor playing doctor with another man who ends up dead, she worries there could be murder afoot.
Doing her best to stay on the right side of the law this time, Lizzie decides to go straight to the police with her suspicions. Unfortunately, the only cop available to speak with her is the stern yet hot new detective who has already given her a traffic ticket and a reprimand for public intoxication. Not surprisingly, he brushes her off, leaving her no choice but to begin snooping on her own. Lizzie soon learns she’s going to need help to get to the bottom of this mystery, but her best partner in crime solving, Blake, has turned into her worst enemy.
Can Lizzie and Blake find a way to work together to catch the killer…or will they kill each other first?

CAROLINE FARDIG is the author of the LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series and the forthcoming DEATH BEFORE DECAF, available November 2015 through Random House. Her eclectic working career included occupations of schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thoughts from my Orson Welles festival

I decided recently to retire my first blog, Deb in the City. There were a very few posts I wanted to save, and those went either to Amazon or Tumblr. This is the only one that belongs here. I wrote this almost two years ago, but Orson Welles never goes out of style. 

This summer I embarked on my own mini-Orson Welles film festival, inspired in large part by my love of Citizen Kane and my fascination with the man.

I started with The Lady From Shanghai. It was almost comical to hear Welles sport an Irish accent, but by the end of the film I was half convinced that he really was an Irish immigrant. Welles' directorial style- going all the way back to Kane- was made for film noir.

This was also the first time I'd seen anything with Rita Hayworth, and she was wonderful, of course. A little disconcerting to see her without her trademark red hair, but she played the cool but tormented femme fatale perfectly.

I must confess: I'm still not sure what she saw in him.

I followed with Welles' version of Othello. He, like almost everyone else, missed the mark on Iago and we're left with someone who's inexplicably malevolent and not someone with his own political motivations. But the rest of it is almost perfect. Welles makes it painfully clear how thin Othello's veneer of confidence is, and the opening scenes with the dead bodies of Othello and Desdemona fill the rest of the film with doom.

His treatment of Macbeth suited me far better. His Lady Macbeth was far more desperate and less cold than almost any other work I've seen thus far. Macbeth is a difficult character because he has to become both more ambitious and insane at the same time, and he still has to have enough strength (as it were) to try to fight as a man and not a preordained destiny at the very end. Welles does all of that and convinces me that one person can. Kudos.

The next Welles film I watched was The Third Man. Oh, I love me some sardonic Joseph Cotten! Here the story feels like it's focusing on Holly Martins' (Cotten) reluctance to be decent, especially when that decency will mean betraying a man who has been a good friend to him, the infamous Harry Lime (Welles). But when he sees what Lime has done- given infants faulty batches of meningitis vaccine- Martins is forced into action. We never get to see what the affected children look like, but the look on Cotten's face says it all.

This was a good film, but I didn't feel it was the masterpiece that so many others do.

I was very surprised to see that Welles had made a version of Jane Eyre. This was directed by Robert Stevens, but Welles played Edward Rochester. While the rest of the world falls over Jane Austen, I'm a solid Bronte girl, and for me it begins and ends with Jane Eyre- and Rochester. Welles made Rochester malevolent, manipulative, secretive and, in unguarded moments, tender and lonely. Perfectly understandable why someone as deprived of love like Jane would fall for him, but you still cheered when she walked away. While I was watching this I understood why Bronte injured him so badly before Jane could return to him: she wasn't safe otherwise.

There's a reason we don't usually think of Welles as a romantic lead, but if he's going to be one in anything, it's this.

Jane Eyre.jpeg

If I was disappointed by The Third Man, I was blown away by Touch of Evil. I believe this is considered by some to be one of the better examples of film noir, and I would agree. It balances the scratch into the dark underbelly of life with a pace that's quick but not frenetic. It's a nail biter from the first scene- even though you know Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh are going to make it through to the end of the movie, you still find yourself transfixed to the screen to make sure that they do. The plot is complicated, but there's just one thing you need to know: Heston's Vargas represents the moral compass Welles' Quinlan used to have, and you know on a visceral level that when Quinlan threatens Vargas' wife (Leigh), he's trying to get at that. The final revelation at the end only makes that insight feel worse.

I ended my little festival by watching the updated version of The Magnificent Ambersons. It was too hard to track down the original at my library, and the word "original" and "Magnificent Ambersons" can lead to lengthy discussions which always ends with "I'd give anything to see the uncut version!" As I understand it, the version I saw was as faithful to the original script as they could be.

We all see the world through our own lens, but I doubt I'm the only one who saw the haunted family inhabiting this universe, and it began with the Civil War veteran Major Amberson. I imagined that he came from poor circumstances and the fabulous wealth he achieved wasn't something he was used to. He may have been used to living without, but he didn't know how to teach his children to live frugally with their wealth. His spoiled but kind daughter raised a son who was equally spoiled but not nearly as good-natured, but she had spent too long making him the center of her emotional universe to see it.

The story reminded me a lot of both Washington Square and The Rise of Silas Laphamnouveau riche that doesn't know what to do with its wealth. In the unrequited love between Isabel and Eugene we see, perhaps, a recognition that wealth married to industry is the best way to insure continued success, and the failure of that relationship to flourish is what leads to the final decay of the once "magnificent" Ambersons. Therefore, the ending, in which we presume Isabel's spoiled son George is about to find redemption through Eugene's daughter Lucy, feels false. Whether that's Welles' failure, I can't tell.

That was the end of my stint. I know there's more Welles out there, but I think, for now, I've had enough to satisfy me that he was indeed a consistently brilliant writer, actor and director, even if I don't love every one of his choices.

Who else is just as good?

Deb in the City

Monday, June 1, 2015

Check out my interview on @LornaSuzuki's All Kinds of Writing

I was touched that Lorna Suzuki, author of the Imago Chronicles, offered to interview me after she read an excerpt of The Smartest Girl in the Room. Please check it out. (To no one's surprise, I talk quite a bit about television.)

And while you're doing that, I'm going to continue my editing spree. Win, win!

Monday, May 18, 2015

#MadMen ends perfectly

There was no way I was going to stay up until 10 at night to watch anything, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the first thing I did when I woke up. The show I have loved and found almost flawless did not disappoint at the very end.

All good things....
The opening episode found Don continuing his Western adventure, Joan at the end of her idyllic, post-"retirement" vacation with her older lover, Peggy practicing her elbowing skills at McCann and Pete bidding farewell to McCann and New York. That might have been everyone's happy ending- Peggy only acts annoyed when she has to struggle; the truth is that she lives for the fight- but something was going to give. In this case, that something was Sally's confession to Don that Betty was dying of lung cancer. Her plea to her father: convince Betty that her brothers should stay with their stepfather Henry, not go to live with their Uncle William. Don is indignant and calls Betty; the boys should live with him. Betty, who with age has developed nobility, tells Don that the boys need the presence of a woman, and her sister-in-law Judy is the only one who can provide that. She also quickly lets him know that he's been a failure as a father, and spending more time with them now will let alarm them. Betty has never been a great mother, but it was touching that she wanted to provide her children with stability, even if keeping them in the dark was a complete failure. The scene where Sally came home to find her brothers struggling to make dinner broke my heart; she wanted to maintain the facade that everything was okay, but her little brothers knew better than she did how sick their mother was. She told Bobby that she wasn't going to Madrid that summer, and started taking care of everyone by making dinner- and teaching him to make it in the process. Not surprisingly, this was one of the most tragic arcs of the entire series; as long-time viewers may remember, the second episode of the series explored the beginnings of Betty's unraveling in response to her mother's recent death.

The news about Betty's health sent Don on another bender- what a surprise- and he asked the race car drivers he was sponsoring to drop them off in LA to visit his niece Stephanie. He hoped to reconnect with the only family he had left that he hadn't disappointed, but Stephanie, who had been compared to a Madonna earlier in the series, wasn't able to give anyone absolution as she was struggling with her own feelings of worthlessness. She convinced Don to come with her to a retreat that featured proto-group therapy in addition to yoga and tai chi. (How awesome was Don's face when he saw people performing forms?) Don was highly skeptical about the whole thing, but when participants were told to express their feelings about the person closest to them without using words and an older woman shoved him, Don's defenses came down.

Meanwhile, Ken reached out to Joan from Dow, in desperate need of a producer who could create some industrial commercials. Joan quickly realizes that she could produce the commercials. She also realizes that she knows the perfect writer and calls Peggy. At lunch, Joan asks Peggy to not only help her write one commercial, but to come into business with her. Harris-Olson, because two names are better than one- and Joan wants Peggy. Peggy is flattered, but frazzled, and later takes out her angst on Stan, her long-suffering colleague/confidante. Fed up, Stan tells her she'd better be really drunk, because she's going to need an excuse.

Meanwhile, after a particularly difficult session in which Stephanie is reduced to tears over her abandon of her young son, Don realizes that Stephanie has left him at the commune and taken his car. It'll be a couple of days before he can get a ride out. When he berates the young woman at the desk because people leave without saying good-bye, the young woman smiles and shrugs. People can go as they please. Don realizes that's exactly what he's done his entire life, and staggers over to the phone to call Peggy. Peggy, the person who has most consistently seen his decent side, reminds him of the good things he's done and tries to remind him of the creative opportunities he still has- "Don't you want to work on Coca-Cola?" but to no effect.

This image made a lot of people predict that the show would end with Don committing suicide; really, this only showed what happened to Don in every episode.
After Don hangs up, Peggy calls Stan in a panic, telling him where Don is and then apologizing for what she said. Stan confesses that he doesn't want her to leave after she tells him she already made up her mind to stay, then rambles out that he loves her. Peggy comes to her own realization that she loves him too, and the scene ends when he comes running to her door and they share a loving, passionate kiss. I must say, I've loved their relationship since Peggy put younger, sexually harassing Stan firmly in his place, and it's been clear for the last several seasons that their friendship was based on mutual respect. When she confessed that she'd given up a baby years before two episodes back and Stan was not only understanding but kind, I was jumping out of my seat, hoping that the two would get together, but I didn't think there was time in the series. So this was a wonderful, romantic surprise; Peggy deserves a happily ever after as much as- if not more than- anyone else on the show, and part of the HEA is a man who treats her like an equal.

Roger, Madison Avenue's would-be Peter Pan, is now engaged to be married to Don's former mother-in-law, Marie. The two have a passionate argument after what looks to have been exhausting sex and Roger ends up on the couch. But this is Roger's version of a happily ever after; just like Peggy needs to fight in order to thrive, Roger needs not a mother to take care of him (his first wife Mona) or a child to pamper (his second wife Jane), but a fierce, independent woman who has enough dignity not to tolerate his shenanigans. He's at peace when he tells Joan that he's getting married, during the same conversation that he tells her that he insists on leaving half of his estate to their son, Kevin. Joan cares a little less about appearances now and gives her blessing. It was a nice final scene between the two of them; Joan would have made a good wife for Roger, but Roger wouldn't have made a good husband for her. To see him graciously accept that they were better as good friends was satisfying.

Unfortunately, Joan's lover Richard was much less sanguine about her new business venture, and walked out when she answered a business call. Joan was heartbroken, but it's one of those things that she would surely be thankful for sooner rather than later. Richard didn't want an equal partner, he wanted a playmate. Joan had surely earned her playtime, but she had a lot more to do before she was ready to take up permanent residence by the beach or in the mountains. Peggy didn't take her up on her offer of a partnership, so Joan's firm was called Holloway-Harris, her maiden name plus her married name. And that's just fine, because Joan has always been the most capable person on the show.

One of the leaders of the retreat found a devastated Don slumped by the phone and convinced him to join her in the next session. Don was moved when a man who looked just as out of place as he did talked about his longing to be seen and loved, and then his realization that maybe he had been getting love all along but didn't realize it because he didn't know what it was. As the man sobbed, Don crossed the circle and knelt down beside him, embracing him and then sobbing himself. It was one of the many epiphanies Don had through the course of the show, but this was the most human response Don had ever had to it.

The end scene featured Don chanting "Om" with his fellow participants in Lotus Pose, and then smiling before the famous "I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke" ad was shown. It looks like Don got to work on Coca-Cola after all. Perfect, because that was as close to enlightenment as Don Draper, the soulless narcissist, was ever going to get.

Thank you, Matthew Weiner, for some of the best, most consistent characters I've ever watched, and thank you for giving your loyal viewers a realistic closure to a compelling story. I do not feel cheated one bit by anything that happened (although I'm always going to wonder what happened to poor Sal), and at the same time I'm done; I don't feel any need to watch this again, and I don't wish anything had been done differently. Like the best of great stories, I feel richer for having heard it. what am I going to watch?!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Totally Saw That Coming...and sometimes that's not bad

Kerrie did a great job talking about the good side of predictability. Despite the snark implied in the title of this blog hop, I don't always think predictable is a bad thing.

My husband and I watched a great little show broadcast by BBC America last year, The Game. It was set in early 1970s London, and it was about a group of agents from MI-5 who were trying to forestall a Soviet plot. The main character is young but jaded agent Joe Lambe played by Tom Hughes. Even though he's barely in his late twenties, the viewer can tell that he's already starting to lose his conscience and is willing to be more and more ruthless.

Whatever happened to corrupt young Agent Lambe so? He lost the love of his life, of course- or did he? (SPOILER ALERT) From the first time I saw a flashback of Joe remembering the murder of his lover Yulia years before, I knew that she wasn't dead. (And if I hadn't known that, the fact that they showed the flashback in almost every episode would have given it away by the end.) More importantly, because Yulia was an intelligence agent for the Soviets, you knew the bad guys were going to use her as leverage. But what you didn't know: would it work?

You could guess what happens next and then what happens right after...but could you figure out why?
There was another big twist I could guess within two episodes, and that was the identity of the mole. It was a small team: Joe, director "Daddy" (yes, that is kind of creepy), young assistant Wendy, proto-techie Alan, his brilliant wife Sarah, Bobby, a to-the-manor-born agent who needed to hide his homosexuality and Jim, a detective on loan from the London police department. (SPOILER ALERT) It didn't take much to figure out that Sarah was the mole, although they did do a very good job for a few minutes of making it look like her husband Alan was. Why did he confess? Because he figured it out first and he wanted to protect Sarah.

Really, only one of these people could have been the mole. The real question was whether the rest of them could get on in spite of it
So why did this make for really good television viewing anyway? A couple of reasons: first, the viewers knew who the real mole was before the team did; would they figure it out on time? And what were the Soviets planning? Even more importantly, the credibility of everyone on the team was compromised in some way: that which made it plausible for them to be the mole also made it possible that they weren't going to be able to do their jobs even though they weren't.

The look on Joe Lambe's face: that's what The Game was really about
Further, being able to suss out a plot twist isn't the same as being able to figure out why. As predicted, Joe was reunited with Yulia at the end, but he was tormented as to what, if anything, her role in the plot was. Did she willingly go along with a charade to make it appear that she was being killed, or did the Soviets spare her at the last minute so they could use her as leverage against Joe? While the viewers may have had a pretty good idea that it was the latter, it didn't matter: the end frame of the final episode made it clear that Joe was always going to be tormented by his doubts. As Jim pointed out a few episodes back, there was no way Joe could be the mole they were looking for: he didn't believe in anything. That was what the show was really about, and predictability wasn't going to ruin that.

If predictability can be a good thing, the converse is also true; sometimes, there's such a thing as too much surprise. No, I'm not talking about Scandal this time, but rather the 2014 novel The Big Hit. I went into this expecting to find out why Hollywood star Catherine Delure was murdered by a sociopathic hit man. If you look at the cover and read the back cover, you'd most likely think that the murder had something to do with the victim's job. You know what else makes you think that? The fact that more than half of the book is spent following NYPD Detective Jeb Barker into the corrupt warrens of some of Hollywood's producers- that, and the fact that said hit man just happens to hail from LA as well. (SPOILER ALERT) But no. As it turns out, Delure's profession is just one big red herring that gives birth to a slew of others. (An early tip should have been that she wasn't killed anywhere near LA.)

The question of a mystery should be something like Who Dun It? and then Why?, not What Is This Story About?
That kind of a "twist" might have felt clever if it had taken up fifty pages, but when it takes up more than 200 out of 400 pages, it feels like a manipulative way of drawing out what would have been better as a compact murder mystery. If you're going to be unpredictable, it should make the story better, not completely derail it.

What have you watched or read that wasn't hurt by predictability or that was greatly harmed by a lack of it?

Thanks for stopping by! Please be sure to visit Karin Cox tomorrow for her take on when predictability works and doesn't.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

#ISawThatComing: Fringe and Grimm

I think there’s some truth to the notion that there are only so many plots. Seven, eight, doesn’t matter, the number is much smaller than the number of works published every day. In my genre, Romance, there’s a basic plot structure that all are measured against: Girl Meets Boy, Girl and Boy Come Apart (in some way), Girl and Boy Come Back Together and Girl and Boy Get Their HEA, or Happily Ever After.

Perhaps you’ve heard that Romance consistently pulls in a lot of money for its publishers year after year. There are some stories people can’t get enough of and that’s okay (from my perspective, it’s a good thing). But discriminating readers will still gnash their teeth- or just stop reading- if they feel that they are literally reading the same story over and over again.

As irritating as it is to read the same story again and again, it can be even worse to watch the same story on an infinite loop. (Someone needs to explain to me why television is becoming more and more predictable even as our viewing options increase.) I’ve been able to see through plots since I was ten years old (“Of course Alexis is threatening to tell Fallon that Blake isn’t her real father; she’s the only person Blake loves without any conditions!”) but it probably has gotten worse since I started crafting my own stories. I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I’ve rolled my eyes and screamed at my television, but here are two that stand out:

Fringe Okay, maybe it’s not fair to pick on this show because I watched the @(#@^&!*( X-Files for years before that (and under duress for most of it), but every time I had to sit through an episode of Fringe I was unimpressed. The spooky dreams, the haunted victim of childhood experimentation, the mad scientist, the odd-looking humanoids, the shadowy government agency that might be working for good or evil and ultimately answered to themselves...yawn. And now cue the suspense...but did they know where it was going? (After the series finale, I’m not so sure they weren’t making it up as they went along.)

There's devoted parents...and then there was this guy
Points to the show for adding interdimensional travel? That was actually the final nail in the coffin for me. In an early episode, some reference to traveling between dimensions is made. About five minutes later, the Mad Scientist is having a conversation with his adult son about the time he was very sick as a little boy. “Really, Dad? I don’t remember that.” “I know you don’t, son.” At this point I shook my head. “Yeah,” I said drily, “because this guy’s son actually died and then he kidnapped his son’s double from the other dimension.” My husband thought that was crazy...until he saw a gravestone at the end of the episode which confirmed my theory. Or at least I think it was a gravestone; I didn’t even need to look at the screen to figure out what was going on.

Grimm If we’re going with The Seven Basic Plots, then Grimm is Overcoming the Monster- literally- every week. Nick Burkhardt is a detective in Portland, Oregon who discovers that he’s a Grimm, or a guardian who can see the true forms of human-monster hybrids (wesen) and protects others from them as necessary. Throw in some very old history with the powerful Royals and the fact that many wesen have a grudge bordering on a vendetta against the Grimms, then add that Nick is holding down a normal job while also maintaining relationships with human beings and this should be pretty exciting...but it’s falling short. 

Juliette is Nick's true love...
but it's a shame the show didn't have better reasons to put Juliette with Sean and Nick with Adalind
It’s not just that the dialogue is stilted- with one eye on the screen and the other in a book, my husband can predict what the next line is going to be- it’s that the story beats are so easy to guess even when they don’t make sense. If I see two good-looking actors of the opposite sex alone, it’s a pretty good guess that there’s going to be some romantic entanglement (or that they’re just going to have sex); if they do, there’s a good chance that someone’s going to get pregnant. This will hold even if it’s not in keeping with the characters, and the show will invent some convoluted reason why it will be so. Most recently, Nick's girlfriend Juliette was turned into a Hexenbeist (basically, a witch) to justify a partner switcheroo. It's a weird case of a nonsense plot twist to rush characters into something you saw coming a mile away.

Predictability isn’t the ultimate litmus test. And yet...Grimm is arguably more predictable than Fringe, but I will happily spend time watching that whereas Fringe felt like nails on a chalkboard to me. For me, the key is that I feel secure that Grimm has, basically, an idea of where it’s going in the series, while Fringe made me feel nervous about investing time into something that was going to implode under its own weight (did I mention it was a JJ Abrams’ show?). I’m happy to trade a little bit of finger-snapping surprise if I feel like the journey over all is going to be satisfying.

What about you?

Please be sure to visit my friend Caroline Fardig tomorrow as she shares her thoughts on predictability.