Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lovely Bones

If you’re not a fan of the book, there are only two reasons to watch The Lovely Bones. One, Saoirse Ronan’s acting. Two, the CGI. Everything else is… well, I’ll get to that.

The story is straightforward. Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is lured into a hideaway by a neighbor and killed there, but her spirit, from heaven, watches as her father and sister try to find out the truth and slowly put their lives back together. The theme is one of accepting what we can’t change, relinquishing what we can’t have and learning to let go. But in a happy way, because there’s something good ahead.

Saoirse Ronan is a talented actress, and it’s difficult not to like her as a teenager who’s by turns exuberant, shy, annoyed with her parents and filled with dreams—typical, in other words. And the scene where Mr. Harvey meets her in the cornfield and persuades her to check out a cool underground room is very tense.

Stanley Tucci’s performance as George Harvey is… mostly good. A bespectacled middle-aged man, he’s the embodiment of the phrase “banality of evil”. What I found a bit difficult to buy was the way he babbles and giggles once he’s lured Susie down. I get that he’s excited (while Susie quickly realizes something’s wrong) but he’s more scary when he’s calm and serious.

What I also found difficult to buy was that he excavated this room in a field in winter and no one noticed. There’s a shot of him digging at night, but it’s still an elaborate feat of secret construction. Still, the best way to enjoy this film is not to think deeply. For instance, if I went to my personal heaven (a limbo meant for people who haven’t yet moved on), I would want to be with people I cared about. Instead, Susie gets Holly, a girl who appears out of nowhere and who tells Susie nothing about herself, but who becomes Susie’s BFF.

If you’ve ever watched Mary Poppins, remember the scene where they go into the chalk painting? Something similar happens here. With her new pal, Susie romps through a magical landscape that keeps changing to entertain her. No lingering trauma from murder, no attempts to change anything or tell her family the truth.

And it’s clear that she can influence the occasional event on Earth, if she tries hard, but her major accomplishment there is to put herself in a living girl's body so she can finally kiss the boy she likes. Meanwhile, just outside, Mr. Harvey disposes of the safe containing Susie’s body, which she knows about. Yet the kiss is more important.

I suppose that was part of her acceptance-and-letting-go, to not care about her body… but wouldn’t her parents care? Wouldn’t they want her remains to be laid to rest with dignity, rather than never even knowing where she might lie?

But, like I said, don’t think too much. Or you might wonder, if the real heaven is a place where there’s “no memory”, is there a blank in your mind when you try to think of how you got there? And it’s clear that Susie’s heaven is influenced by other victims of Mr. Harvey’s, which leads to a truly schmaltzy scene where all of them come smiling out of the horizon while the music swells.

I did get teary when the little girl—the youngest victim, who’s six—gives Susie an evaluating look, then smiles, runs up to her and hugs her around the waist. But then I wondered, is that girl going to stay six years old for ever? An eternal child, frozen at the moment she died? Anne Rice did that more realistically with Claudia in Interview with the Vampire.

I understand why the joyous get-together, since there was a previous scene when Susie’s heaven showed her the corpses Harvey had discarded, so Jackson had to assure the audience that these women and girls are now frolicking in paradise. Plus, they’re all friends together in a Raped-N-Murdered club.

But back on earth, Susie’s father is ham-handed in his attempts to find her killer and to stop Harvey, whom he suspects despite having no evidence. So her sister breaks into Harvey’s house to find some. This is the second tension-filled scene in the film, though I have no idea why the sister carefully leafs through Harvey’s scrapbook upstairs even after she hears him enter the house. Wouldn’t it be better to leave and then check out the book?

Still, all ends well. This isn't a bad film per se, just a slow-moving one which has little going for it besides its prettiness and philosophizing. I couldn’t help sympathizing with one reviewer who said Susie’s endless voiceovers became so annoying that if she wasn’t already dead, he would have shot her.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Infamous Cat Incident

That's how I think of it, after I started this thread on Absolute Write to discuss something that happened in my third novel. I wanted an idea of how readers might react to the antagonist harming an animal, and... well, I got that idea, all right.

Though learning how people felt and discussing the issue gave me enough material for a short article on the topic, and that appeared today on Writers Helping Writers. Check it out! And a big thank you to Angela and Becca for hosting me. I love their thesaurus collections, which are just a great, easy-to-browse resource for writers.

Plus, The Deepest Ocean is now on All Romance ebooks and I'm at 64K/100K on The Coldest Sea. So it's shaping up to be a pretty good day. :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Five literary hoaxes

1. Laurel Rose Willson/Lauren Stratford/Laura Grabowski : Satan’s Underground

Laurel Willson took advantage of the ritual child abuse scare of the ‘80s to come out with this book. Published under the name Lauren Stratford, it’s the story of how she escaped a Satanic cult. One of her claims was that her children had been murdered by the cult—either in snuff films or sacrificed to Satan.

When her story started coming under scrutiny, according to an article in Cornerstone Magazine, she reinvented herself as Laura Grabowski, a Holocaust survivor—basically, replacing Satan with Josef Mengele.

The best part? As Laura Grabowski, she befriended Binjamin Wilkomirski, who had written a memoir of his time in two concentration camps and the murder of his parents by the Nazis. Wilkomirski was compared to Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank, before a journalist exposed his memoir as fiction. One of Wilkomirski’s claims was that he’d known Laura Grabowski from the camps.

2. Herman Rosenblat : Angel at the Fence

This memoir of a romance began when a little girl outside the concentration camp threw food over the fence to a little boy inside. The film rights were bought for $25 million and Oprah Winfrey described it as “the single greatest love story” on her show.

Unfortunately the truth turned out to be right up there with James Frey, partly because guards in concentration camps didn’t allow prisoners to approach electrified fences to pick up care packages. I can only imagine what the Holocaust deniers made of this. Hopefully the money was worth it for Mr. Rosenblat.

3. Clifford Irving : Autobiography of Howard Hughes

Back in the ‘70s, Irving made use of Hughes’ reclusiveness and some forged letters, claiming that Hughes had authorized him to write an “autobiography”. The publishers’ check was made out to H. R. Hughes, so Irving’s wife opened an account in the name of Helga R. Hughes and deposited it there.

A telephone conference between Hughes and seven journalists who had known him years ago started unraveling the deception. Irving was sent to prison for 17 months.

4. Sylvester Clark Long : Long Lance

In 1928, the autobiography Long Lance, written by the son of a Blackfoot chief, was a huge bestseller. The author became a sought-after guest in high society.

After his death, it turned out his father was a janitor at a school—and black. In white society, Sylvester Clark Long clearly found more acceptance as an exotic Native American chieftain’s son. When he landed a starring role in a motion picture in 1929, he was hailed as the first Native American character to play the lead role in a film. He committed suicide in 1932.

5. Norma Khouri : Honor Lost/Forbidden Lies

Norma Khouri’s best friend when they were growing up in Jordan was Dalia. But when Dalia fell in love with a Christian man, her father stabbed her to death.

This was the premise of a Random House bestselling memoir which turned out to be a sham. Khouri left Jordan for the US when she was three years old, and her life since then has included a lot more unethical activities than just a literary lie. The Jordanian National Association for Women claimed that despite promises, they received less than $100 from Khouri.

A common theme for the hoaxers these days is to catch a hot trend and ride it for all it’s worth before the scheme falls through. There are plenty more such fake memoirs—including one by another supposed Holocaust survivor who was adopted by a pack of wolves. Mowgli of Belgium later ‘fessed up. But while it lasts, there’s money and sympathy. And so people will keep doing it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Tale of Two Fishes

Today I've got a guest post on Maria Zannini's blog. It's about Demon, my favorite of all the aquarium fish I've ever had... and why I like another kind of fish as well. Check it out!

A Tale of Two Fishes

What else is happening? Well, I'll be guest blogging again at Writers Helping Writers in a week's time, but for now I'm almost halfway through the final read of The Farthest Shore. Final. I can never again wonder if I should have said "bow" instead of "prow".

And I've joined a Facebook group called Write It Now, to help me get the last half of The Coldest Sea done. I always work better to deadlines, so if everyone else is doing 20 pages a day, then I'll do my best to keep up if I kills me. Plus, revisions to The Highest Tide are due on June 1st.

So exciting! Tiring, but exciting. :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Deepest Ocean release!

So it all started when I watched Deep Blue Sea.

I’d hoped to see more done with the sharks. Special effects have come a long way since Jaws, so I was disappointed that the sharks, once again, were just the people-eating baddies who were all offed by the end. On the subway a day later, I started thinking about what a different kind of shark story might be like.

In my mind’s eye, I saw a large deep pool as if I was looking down into it from above. A plank stretched across the pool and a little girl stood at one end of the plank. The shape of a shark glided through the water just below her.

Then she ran over the plank to the other side of the pool, and when the shark took off as well, I knew they were racing. Also, it beat her every time.

A huge predator and a human would need a good reason to be in close quarters, tolerating each other or even working together. But what if the human had a mental bond with the shark?

I didn’t want the shark to have anything beyond its natural intelligence, though. It would never be Lassie-with-fins, which meant the human would have to work that much harder to understand, protect and control it.

Unlikely that such a psychic link would have just sprung up out of the blue. So there would have to be some sort of organization which found the sharks, developed the mental abilities and fitted the people out with everything they needed.

Then I remembered Denalay. When I first drew up the world of Eden, Denalay got barely a couple of lines in my notes. It didn’t have Dagre’s technology or Iternum’s powerful magic. There were a few dozen islands off its shores, so I decided the Denalaits were at war with the pirates who’d claimed those islands and left it at that.

Now I thought: what if people used their sharks to fight such a war?

Pirates and sharks were two corners of the triangle, and the apex arrived when I watched Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. That movie made me fascinated with ships, and I had my story. The hero was the captain of the ship. The heroine was a shark-bonded secret agent—in fact, she was once the little girl who’d run races with her great white—and they were ordered to work together to free prisoners taken by the pirates.

But he never expected to fall in love. And she never expected anyone like him.

The Deepest Ocean, a sharkpunk romance, was released by Samhain Publishing today. Read the first chapter on my website, but fair warning… you might not be able to stop at one.