Saturday, April 25, 2009

National Humor Month, Part the Third

It continues to be National Humor Month. Apprentice Writer continues to think that people can benefit from a laugh no matter what their own personal nation is.

Movie: Today, recommendations for niche audiences.
1. Kids - At 12, Junior Apprentice Writer #1 is at the age of painful desire to be as cool as possible, so he would never admit if he thought a movie was funny. At 8, by contrast, Junior AW #2 leaves no doubt about whether he thinks something is amusing. The two movies of recent history that made him giggle loudest and longest were 'Kung Fu Panda' and 'Mr. Bean's Holiday'. The former with spot-on voice casting, some very cool homage sequences of classic movies (the escape from the dungeon scene is the best in the movie, bar none) and really is very funny. The latter is perhaps more of an acquired taste and less appealling to adults, but there is something very reassuring about a movie without a single superhero, special effect, explosion, Broadway musical number or cartoon character effortlessly entertaining a jaded child audience.

2. Viewers who recognize '80's style music videos - AW is neither a big Drew Barrymore nor Hugh Grant fan, so she can't explain why she watched 'Music and Lyrics'. Having zero expectations, she was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable she found the skillful digs at those classic music videos (the opening and closing sequences are note-perfect spoofs that had AW crying with laughter and would probably be meaningless to music lovers of other eras), dinosaur rockers, and Hugh Grant mocking Hugh Grant. By which AW means it's as if he's playing himself, if he were a musician.

Book: Regular readers of this space know of AW's mad love for Elizabeth Peters' hilarious Amelia Peabody series set in Victorian-era Egypt and England. What readers may not know is that Ms. Peters also writes an equally memorableAmerican contemporary sleuth heroine, the redoubtable Dr. Vicky Bliss. After a long absence, Vicky has returned to the literary scene, in 'The Laughter of Dead Kings'. And the big kicker is: the story takes her to Egypt. Is it possible that two two series will intertwine? AW is fifty pages in and delerious with curiosity to find out. Report forthcoming.

Reality TV: For anyone who has not yet beheld the magnificence of Stavros Flatley (which upon viewing is revealed as a brilliant, brilliant name for this act) AW begs you to do yourself a favor and watch.

(We interrupt this post due to technical difficulties. We are inexplicably unable to post a link for this clip. We recommend surfing to the Youtube site and entering 'Stavros Flatley' for your viewing pleasure.)

Writer Advice: Today, the conclusion of Lisa Gabriele's tips on becoming an author.

"....#10. If you are lucky enough to get a publisher,
read every single word of your contract. Even the fine print, rendered in 11some godawful font. Get a lawyer to look at it. In fact, show it to all your friends, make copies and distribute it amongst family members, near and far. Go ahead and throw it out of a low-flying airplane, letting the evidence of your genius waft and scatter down your luckless street, because, can you believe it, someone's actually paying you to do this? Isn't it awesome? Then sign the damn thing.

#11. If you are not writing, writing, writing,
you should be reading, reading, reading. But you shouldn't always be reading, reading, reading what you have just been writing, writing, writing. That is called a block. Reread #3. But not over and over and over again.

#12. Do not write in public.
Do not bring your laptop to Starbucks. Do not scribble in restaurants. Other people are eating. Unless your home has burned down. Unless you are, in fact, homeless. Writing should be done in the privacy of your own dank, personal hell. You wanted this nightmare deadline, didn't you? You brought this on yourself, always talking about how much you wanted to be writer, OHHHH, you have SO much to say to the world. Well then, shut up and write it, and leave the rest of us at peace with our low-fat lattes and our mediocre lives, our RRSPs and our cottages.

#13. Above all, avoid cliches like the plague."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

National Humor Month, Part the Second

It continues to be National Humor Month. Still don't know in what nation specifically, still not letting that stop us from using the opportunity to share fun bits and bobs.

Movie Two more which Apprentice Writer greatly enjoyed but which didn't seem to get a wide audience were 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and 'Leatherheads'. Astute readers will observe that they share the common denominator of George Clooney. Mr. Apprentice Writer would observe that AW will say she likes anything in that category. To which AW would reply, "Oh yeah? 'Michael Clayton'. Take that."

So, what's to like? Well, George really does have excellent comedic timing. There was a happy mix of overt and subtle humor in both films. And both made fantastic use of music and carefully thought-out backdrops and settings. All very nice, even though AW has not read 'The Odyssey' in original form nor does she get American football to the slightest degree.

Book AW whipped through 'The Spellman Files' by Lisa Lutz in very short time, and can report that it really is as good as the buzz promised. Original idea, unpredictable storyline, fresh and endearing (despite large flaws) protagonist, and, AW's biggest weakness: excellent secondary characters. A large part of the humor is black, so be warned that it's not a daisies and rainbows story; there is a subplot about willfull self-destructiveness and alcoholism, and the nature of family obligation towards someone excercising free will. The dynamics of the Spellman clan are described as 'a functioning dysfunctional family' which captures it well. They are certainly never boring. AW can't wait to pick up the next in the series, 'Revenge of the Spellmans', and then on to the most recent release, 'Curse of the Spellmans'.

Blogpost Came upon a note-perfect description about what it feels like to be a new writer at a significant milestone, written according to gaming-type instructions of a few years ago, a.k.a. when AW made her first and last attempts to wade into gaming mindset. It made her snort with laughter. Take a look:

Writer Advice Continuation of 13 ways to become a writer, taken from 'Good Luck with the Sex Scenes: The Writing Profession' by Lisa Gabriele (via The National Post):

".....4. Have a Muse.
If none is apparent, hire one from the back pages of your local urban weekly magazine. Get a receipt.

5. Start Young.
God, not too young. But ask yourself, 'Is 35 considered young, anyways?' Then stop worrying because it is so not young.

6. If you are going to write a memoir,
ensure that you were wonderfully poor, or terribly rich, or survived a brutal warand in the end, you came out pretty much OK. If the above criteria do not apply to you, write of baseball.

7. Good luck with the sex scenes.

8. Stay away from ghostwriters.
They don't really exist.

9. Get an agent.
Thank the agent in your book. Give her billing just above your benevolent high school English teacher and right below your crazy, misunderstood mother."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

National Humor Month

It is National Humor Month.

In which particular nation, was not specified. As people all over the globe can use a little more comedy in their lives these days, Apprentice Writer will not quibble. Instead, she will celebrate by highlighting some things that made her laugh.

MOVIE - 'I'm With Lucy' : A contemporary romantic comedy nobody saw or heard of, but which deserves a wider audience. Starring Monica Potter (kind of a younger, blonder Julia Roberts), the story begins with the heroine being publicly and humiliatingly dumped by her boyfriend, and then follows her on multiple flashback dates with very different men, one of whom she will marry in the end. Mr. Apprentice Writer criticized how easy it was to predict which suitor she would end up with; AW informed him that that's not the point. The point is how enjoyable the process of getting there is for the viewer. And it is, not least because of the excellent supporting cast including Gael Garcia Bernal, John Hannah, Anthony LaPaglia, Henry Thomas, and David Boreanaz.

BOOK TITLE - 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' by Paul Torday: AW picked this up purely on the title (Fishing! In a desert country! The author either has unbelievable comedic muscle or chutzpah or both), and hopes it will live up to to the titular originality. It won a Wodehouse prize for comedy fiction, so we'll see. Report forthcoming.

BOOK - 'The Spellman Files' by Lisa Lutz: AW had heard of this first-person private investigator series for some time, and finally started reading Book 1. So far, living up to its description of 'Bridget Jones meets Colombo'. Report forthcoming.

WRITER ADVICE - 'Good Luck with the Sex Scenes - The Writing Profession' by Lisa Gabriele (via The National Post): Career advice too good not to share.

"Thirteen ways of becoming an author:

1. Start Small.
Put aside a few words every week. Whatever you can afford. Words you won't miss. After a while, you'll have a few hundred words, then before you know it, you'll have a few thousand, and then suddenly you will have a book. Hopefully a good one that you can retire on. Writing a second book is really hard, and inadvisable.

2. Write what you know.
But be careful. Just because you know To the Lighthouse by heart does not mean you should write that book. Somebody else already did.

3. If you hit a writer's block, stop and take a break.
Try to keep breaks under ten years in length."

Continuation in next post.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Non Laughter Twin Reviews: HISTORICAL DEBUT X 2

Judith James
Historical Action Adventure


Carrie Lofty
Historical Romance

French self-mutilator overcomes abusive past via British love interest and swashbuckling adventure.

Will Scarlett steps out of his uncle's long shadow to become his own man, along the way encountering an alchemist in process of becoming her own woman.

Brilliant title - succint, striking, perfectly symbolic of content. Eye-catching art - full of movement and interesting light, with (clothed!) hero in introspective moment, again perfectly symbolic of content.

Groaningly generic title - gives zero idea of content. Why, Zebra, why?...when the original title was the so much more striking and accurate 'Redeeming Will Scarlett'. Equally generic anonymous manchest art - seen countless times before, and actually giving a wrong idea of content, judging by the much too modern-looking pants and hair. Cover and title combined do a disservice to the unusual story and quality of writing within.

What Works
BW: If ever there was a hero-centric novel, this is it. Gabriel St. Croix is a singular, memorable, highly touching character. Abandoned outside a Parisian brothel as a child, he is brutally raised in the trade and grows to become an adept and valuable employee of the house, pleasing any and all customers while going through never-ending cycles of drinking to blunt reality and cutting himself to feel alive. The only thing that holds his interest is desire to protect the child Jamie from a fate similar to his own, and he buys the boy's continued innocence at heavy cost to himself. The development of his relationship with Sarah (an unusual character in her own right) is slow, tender, and movingly describes the disbelief and tests Gabriel throws in its path as a heavily scarred abuse survivor who cannot believe anyone can truly love him for himself, unconnected from the physical pleasure he can provide. Also enjoyable were the parts where he goes adventuring, for anyone who likes unusual settings and action-adventure stories. Funny sidenote on how this path is taken: Gabriel holds earnest discussions with Sarah and her brother about his deep need to set out on his own to earn his own money to prove himself worthy of her. And how does he plan to prove his virtue and moral rectitude? By attacking and sinking ships so as to steal other people's possessions, of course. The fact that no-one in the story found this remotely ironic struck AW as amusing.

WASW: Great first line. Beautiful, convincing historical voice. Wonderful fun to delve into the story of a lesser known legendary character, and learn of continuation of story of more known ones. Whipsmart heroine who does shockingly well with the poor cards life has dealt her. Likeable hero who, indeed, redeems himself and more. Great use of unusual elements: much of the first half of the book takes place outdoors, the much-utilized ''regular' path of hero/heroine attraction development via intense mutual gazing is not applicable due to heroine's blindness so they must find another way to further communication, open and positive protagonist views on Jewish and Muslim scholars and knowledge. In a nutshell: It's all good!

What Doesn't
BW: AW once heard an author's job defined as '...telling a story in such a way that questions are placed in the reader's mind, and then not answered too soon (which would spoil dramatic tension) or too late (which leaves reader confused or bored and at risk of putting book down)." She thinks some of the trouble she had with this story was due to such timing choices. There were a number of occasions when events/speech/reactions didn't seem to make sense, because certain explanations or motivations were explained long after (or not at all), or else chunks of time were speeded up to an almost cartoonish degree. For example, the child character who leads to the protagonists' meeting did not seem like a real child to this reader, in terms of gaps in his backstory, manner of behavior, and lightning-fast disappearance from the narrative as soon as his purpose was fulfilled, being sent away to private school immediately upon being reunited with the family who hasn't seen him for years after his kidnapping. The crew of the ship Gabriel joins is so astonishingly good-natured that when he, as a life-long landlubber, supposedly outstrips them following a few months training to the point of being promoted to second-in-command, no one objects. When the ship goes a-pirating, Gabriel goes from zero bank balance to being 'rich beyond his wildest dreams' in five months. And so on.
All, in theory, possible, but having the cumulative effect of pressing the 'Oh, come on now' button.

Then there were the 'logistics' questions. There are scenes with two native Frenchmen in Paris, whose conversations are peppered with French phrases. Wouldn't the ENTIRE conversation be in French? An imprisoned, kneeling character stabs a standing, healthy, adult male character in the lower body and slices upward, without any self-defensive moves from the victim and preventing any noise that would alert guards outside the room simply by reaching up and placing his free hand across the victim's mouth. Really? And so on.

To be fair, in a book that involves years of story and farflung geographical settings, it makes sense that some spots might need to be time-condensed, and that in buckle and swash parts, a lot of detail would slow down the action. And yet.
Perhaps, these are areas where future books would show more evolution in the writer's style.

WASW: AW was bemused by the amount of biting going on. Towards hostile parties, the behavior was understandable, especially as a defensive mechanism for a seeing impaired person. But being repeatedly invoked for non-hostile parties was surprising. To each his own, it would seem...

Given AW's mad love for the author's richly detailed historical voice, it was more jarring than usual to be bumped out of the story by alien-sounding words. One was 'mutate', which caused a seriously 'WTH?' reaction. The trusty online etymology dictionary surprised with information that 'mutate's' first use was in 1374, well before current genetic usage introduced in 1894. Still, that was some centuries after the story's 1199 setting. The second was likening the heroine to 'glass and steel'. OK, she's an ahead-of-her-time alchemist - but a time-travelling one too, to know about metal alloys invented centuries after her birth?
Still - picking on a mere two words out of close to 400 pages worth is a striking indication of what lofty (ha!) standards this author is held up to.

Two wonderful new storytellers in the historic landscape, whose next titles this reader will look forward to.

Ms. James' site shows two further works, 'A Time of Treason' and 'A Dark Within', however no release information.

Ms. Lofty's site shows 'Scoundrel's Kiss' due for release in January 2010, being the story of the opium-addicted, Spain-residing sister of the heroine of her debut release. Ms. Lofty's predeliction for unusual settings (she is the founder of the highly educational yet fun site, and character traits in her heroines evidently continues - hooray!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Writing "THE END"

Big news.

Apprentice Writer has finished her first book,

An Epic Novel of Romance and Home Improvement

The full manuscript is gearing up to go on tour of slush piles everywhere, with the first official scouting trip already sent into the not-quite-wild-blue-yonder (a well-known agency inviting three-sentence 'Book in a Nutshell' pitches, to be precise).

To celebrate, here is the Prologue in its first public appearance. The goldfish welcomes any and all comments. (Seriously. Its scales have been toughened enough from contest entries to absorb constructive criticism, yet are still sensitive enough to appreciate praise.)

"She blamed the goldfish.

With hindsight, Josie could pinpoint the instant when she descended into a life of crime. It was the moment she looked into those trusting underwater eyes, and realized she had no choice. She couldn't live with herself if she didn't take action - consequences be damned. So, really, if the fish hadn't been right there, right then, doing infinite laps round its private little pool, her destiny would probably have taken a different shape..."