4 Reasons Why Book Trumps Movie

The Hunger Games was released in theaters on Friday, March 23. Like many others, I saw it on the same day. The reviews have since been rolling in. I personally enjoyed the film and give it a hearty thumbs-up . . . yet I still believe that reading the book is a superior experience.

As I pondered this question again, I decided to re-run an early post of mine for Deep-Fried Friday. I have tweaked the post slightly, but here it is.

You’ve been waiting for this moment for months! You have purchased your ticket, bought your popcorn, found a seat in the exact center of the theater, and made it through twenty minutes of previews. The film begins.

Two hours later, you toss the last popped kernel into your mouth, lazily stretch, and shuffle down the aisle desperately wanting your two hours back. I mean, really: Did the filmmaker even read the book!

It’s a proverb we can all quote: The movie is never as good as the book.

Why is that? Here are a few reasons:

1.  Dramatic License. The phrase “dramatic license” is often an excuse for the screenwriter, director, or producer to cast a whole new vision on a familiar book to communicate whatever is burning in their hearts or brains. If, however, you loved the book, you don’t want the filmmakers to vary drastically from the original. If they have a different tale to tell, they should make a different movie!

2.  Incompatible Casting. If you envision a character a certain way after reading the book, and someone completely incongruous with that image is cast in the movie role, it can throw off the movie’s rhythm like giving a toddler a pair of drumsticks.

I submit that the reasons I could not watch more than the first film of the Twilight series and Lord of the Rings trilogy are Kristen Stewart and Elijah Wood. Both of them struck me like limp toast acting on screen. I couldn’t get past not believing either one of these actors in their roles. It’s entirely my opinion – and there will be opposition to it – but ultimately, the actors cast in the movies didn’t suit the picture I had drawn in my mind from reading the novels.

3.  Too Much Editing. Face it, an amazing 700-page novel cannot be properly conveyed on the screen in two hours. One of the complaints that Harry Potter fans have voiced is that there is SO much left out of the movies that appears in the books. Well, of course. Let’s say you have a 300-page novel (maybe 75,000-ish words). Quick internet research informed me that screenplays are about 100 pages (20,000-ish words). That’s a big discrepancy.

I know the saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But not really. Some things simply must get left out when retelling a story on screen. Unfortunately, what gets omitted may be something which made that book so delightful to you in the first place.

4.  Imagination vs. Reality. Imagine your perfect man. (Didn’t we do this back in high school?) He’s tall, broad-shouldered, rippling muscles, and athletic; intellectual, well-read, poetic, and creative; rich, generous, well-respected, and successful; romantic, sensual, attentive, and downright delicious. Yeah, I can describe him, but that doesn’t make him real. It’s like Paul Simon declared, “If you took all the girls I knew when I was single, put them all together for one night, they could never match my sweet imagination . . .”

When you imagine a story, it’s better than the reality. Our imaginations are wonderful things. When you read a brilliant novel, you can picture the whole thing, and it’s exactly how it should be. Then someone renders a reality version. And it isn’t the same. It simply isn’t as good as your imagination.

By the way, when it comes to picking a husband, I recommend going with the real thing (Does that guy on the front of the Harlequin cover know how to change diapers? My hubby does!). But for books, imagination is superior.

Actually, I have a few tips for helping you to enjoy a movie made from a book you’ve read:

1.  Make sure it’s been a while since you read the book. If you still remember specific dialogue, plot details, and character quirks, it’s too soon to see someone else’s interpretation. Wait for the film to come out on DVD.

2.  Prepare yourself that the filmmaker may have had to cut out plot points, mesh a few characters into one, or ditch background story or world building in the interest of time. You can still enjoy the surface story that the movie relates while separately cherishing the depth of the book.

3.  Find others who can relate (or commiserate). It can be refreshing to discuss things you liked and didn’t like in a film compared to the book. I have these discussions with my kids from time to time, asking what was different about the movie, how they would have cast the roles, and what they enjoyed about the book that didn’t show up in the film.

So now it’s your turn!  Do you have any additional reasons why the movie is never as good as the book?  Do you have examples of movies that were as good as the book, or that were not worth the cost of popcorn compared to the book?

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Revamping My Blog

Friday is the day I’ve been posting on the topic of fiction – talking about vampire books, classic books, celebrity writers, author franchises, and more. Not today. I have an announcement: I’m revamping my blog!

One fabulous feature of a blog is flexibility. Unlike a book, where your plot better stay on track from the prologue to page 343, you can meander a bit. It’s like taking a nature hike and seeing a trail off to the side. Are you the kind of person who thinks, “I wonder where that leads to”? Well, I am. I wondered about doing something different and decided to give it a try.

Next week, there will be a new background, a tag line, and a change to my posting schedule. I’ll be blogging twice a week – on Wednesdays and Fridays.

First, however, why do I blog at all? For me, blogging has a few purposes:

Flexes the writing muscles. I write novels. That’s my job. If the novel is a marathon, blogging is a refreshing jog around the block. Like crafting a book, blog posts require an idea, research, organization, and delivery of words on a page (okay, screen). It’s a shorter run, but it keeps me on top of writing. After all, runners run and writers write. It’s what we like to do.

A conduit for information.Through others’ blogs, I’ve discovered what’s worth a watch on TV (Tiffany A.White), fascinating true crime and paranormal stories (Catie Rhodes), social media tips (Kristen Lamb), and much, much more! When you visit my blog, I hope you learn something, get a different perspective, or refresh a memory. I like sharing information.

Helps you get to know me. I’m not that interesting of a person, and since I spend a lot of my time slamming keys on a laptop, perhaps you’d do better to hang out with Lady Gaga or Tiger Woods for a good time. However, like most readers I enjoy getting to know authors and friends better, and reading their blogs helps me to do that. So here I am, hoping that I can say something worth reading a couple of times a week.

Helps me get to know you. By tracking which posts get a lot of hits and perusing comments left on the blog, I get to know y’all. In fact, one of the best things about blogging is that it opens up an avenue for conversation. I like reading through blog comments and finding a chat between readers. It feels like a virtual coffee shop where I brought up a topic and friends weighed in one at a time. I’ll have virtual mocha latte now (I hate real coffee).

Allows me to sound off. Let’s face it: We like to say what we think. Through blogging, I can highlight topics I find interesting or lessons I’ve learned or books I’ve read. People are interesting, and what they think can be interesting. I’m talking people in general here, so maybe I’m not as entertaining as Glee or your cousin’s Cheetos-up-the-nose trick. Yet trading ideas can be a stimulating experience.

So what do I find interesting? What makes me interesting? I’ll be blogging twice a week with these themes:

Amazing Words Wednesday – Same as my usual Wednesday Words with a new title. All about words, grammar, and the fun of language! These are not posts from a cranky red-pen-gripping grammar purist (although I do enjoy proofreading). Instead, my posts have covered word wonders like Tom Swifties, The Perfect Comeback, and Tongue Twisters! A couple of weeks ago, I traced the origins of Rock Band Names. Language is cool, huh?

Deep-Fried Friday – On Fridays, I’ll be writing about whatever strikes my fancy. And by “fancy,” I mean fiction, movies, television, flashbacks to the past (like my 1980’s Quiz and my 1990’s Quiz), and other culture and people-watching topics. Why call it “Deep-Fried Friday”? Growing up in Texas, I recognize that everything is better deep-fried. Chicken fried steak, fried okra, hush puppies, fried shrimp, French fries, fried turkey for Thanksgiving, and so on. Hopefully, these Friday posts will be deep-fried thoughts – my juicy ideas with a crunchy exterior you can sink your teeth into!

Threadgills, Austin, Texas - World Famous Chicken-Fried Sirloin

What do you think? Have you chosen themes for your blog? What topics do you cover and why? What inspires you to blog?

Friday Fiction: My Best Movies of All Time

I grew up in a movie-going family. We drove 30 minutes to the nearest theater to see the latest movies, watched films at home whenever they came on TV, and rented videotapes for viewing as soon as that technology became available.

The Paramount, Abilene, Texas

In college, one of the very best things about going to school in Abilene, Texas was the Paramount Theatre, built in 1930, renovated, and showing a classic film almost every weekend. It was there that I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

Seeing that my family is full of list-makers, from time to time we would ask one another: “What are your 10 Best Movies of All Time?” I’ve probably given more thought to this complex and challenging question than figuring out who gets my stuff when I die someday. You can dispute the reasonableness of my priorities, but it’s an interesting line of inquiry nonetheless.

As usual, I can’t settle on a Top 10, but I have 12 movies that would make the list. My standard is that they are perfect films; I can’t think of anything to change to make them better. Here they are (in no particular order and with descriptions provided by the Internet Movie Database).

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Black. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

When Harry Met Sally (1989). Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship. Starring Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby. Directed by Rob Reiner.

Ordinary People (1980). The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son. Starring Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland. Directed by Robert Redford.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952). A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound. Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen. Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Sunset Boulevard (1950). Gloria Swanson, William Holden. A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity. Directed by Billy Wilder.

Rear Window (1954). A wheelchair bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

All About Eve (1950). An ingenue insinuates herself in to the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends. Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Roman Holiday (1953). A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome. Starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert. Directed by William Wilder.

Schlinder’s List (1993). In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis. Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

A Room with a View (1986). When Lucy Honeychurch and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr Emerson and son George step in to remedy the situation. Meeting the Emersons could change Lucy’s life forever but, once back in England, how will her experiences in Tuscany affect her marriage plans? Starring Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Simon Callow.

Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 (1998). Four guys, best friends, have grown up together in Dancer, Texas Pop. 81, a tiny town in West Texas. Years ago, they made a solemn vow to leave town together as soon as they graduate. Now, it’s that weekend and the time has come to “put up or shut up.” The clock is ticking and as all 81 people in the town watch, comment, offer advice and place bets, these four very different boys with unique backgrounds struggle with the biggest decision of their lives . . . whether to stay or leave home. Starring Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Eddie Mills, Ethan Embry. Directed by Tim McCanlies.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980). While Luke (Skywalker) takes advanced Jedi training from Yoda, his friends are relentlessly pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke. Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford. Directed by Irvin Kershner.

I wavered on whether to include a Star Wars flick, but I truly believe that episode was the best and could not have been improved in any way. As for the other selections, my taste runs from drama to suspense to humor.

So what movies would you deem to be the “Best of All Time”? Could you get your list down to a Top 10? Which of my movies do you agree with? Which ones do you disagree with? Are there movies on my list you haven’t seen? Doyou enjoy making Top 10 lists?

I’m Throwing an After Party!

I interrupt the regular Friday Fiction programming to make the following important announcement.

Even though I’m an admitted introvert, I love a good party! Fun people, delicious food, cool activities, decorations, even dress-up . . . I’m up for pretty much whatever. However, I’m not usually the party-thrower, and I would like for that to change. In fact, it’s on my 40 After 40 List to host a costume party one of these days. (Wanna come?)

But after reading some great posts from authors Tiffany A. White and Amber West about their Tamberny Awards (they pick Emmy winners!), I had a brilliant, or insane, idea! How about a Tamberny Awards Virtual After Party? This way, I can look like a fabulous hostess while avoiding preparatory housecleaning; hunting down themed plates and napkins; choosing the perfect dress and shoes within my limited budget; catering or, heaven forbid, cooking for umpteen guests; tactfully hustling people out of my house when they have overstayed their welcome; and cleaning up for a several hours and still finding a dried cocktail shrimp underneath the couch when I move it to vacuum two weeks later. Perhaps I’m merely using Tiffany and Amber’s Tamberny Awards as an excuse to say I’ve hosted a party when I’m too lazy to actually do so. For whatever reason, I have volunteered to host a virtual After Party.

I’ll be wearing this:

Well, imagine me in that! Actually, I’ll probably be wearing a robe and slippers with my hair in a ponytail and a Pop Tart and a Coca-Cola in hand . . . but if the party was real, I would look stunning!

Now what does this After Party entail? Thankfully, there is WikiHow that gave me How to Throw an Awesome Hollywood Party tips! These appear to be the necessary components:

Design a Creative Invitation.

You are officially invited!

Have a red carpet ready.

Voila!

Interview VIP attendees.

If you are reading this blog post, you are an attendee. Please answer the following interview questions in the Comment section: Who is the designer of your gown or tuxedo? What do you think of this year’s nominees? Who are you rooting for to win this year?

Provide entertainment.

I thought long and hard about what entertainer should perform at our party. Since, I am three degrees of Kevin Bacon and still want to meet him, I’m going with this:

It’s a really cool song about us fabulous gals. Plus, if the Bacon Brothers perform, we might all get to meet the Closer (Kyra Sedgewick) in person!

Come up with a good name for our awards.

Um, Tamberny Awards – already beautifully named by Amber and Tiffany!

Serve delicious food.

Here’s the buffet spread. Have as much as you’d like!

Since it’s a virtual party, I found the photo at Fake-Foods.com™.Hey, it looks real to me!

Hand out awards.

I’m not handing out awards. But check out the faves that Tiffany and Amber have chosen in their posts:

Welcome to the Tamberny Show

The Continuation of the Tamberny Awards

Take plenty of pics.

The professional photographer called and said that he won’t be arriving on time. Apparently, he got caught up with a band of paparazzi filming Charlie Sheen’s demand of a Tamberny award for his genius performance in Two and a Half Men. You might want to watch your Twitter feed for Charlie’s tidbits of wisdom on why he should get a gold statue and Ashton Krutcher should give him back his job.

But you’re welcome to take pictures of yourself in black tie attire on the red carpet and post them to Twitter with the hashtag #Tambernyparty. We promise to make you feel like you were really there by lambasting your fashion sense like Joan and Melissa Rivers would have.

Seriously, post whatever party stuff you want at #Tambernyparty on Twitter – Sunday evening, Monday, Tuesday, or whenever you get around to it. Just promise not to jump on the stage like Kanye West and demand that someone else deserved the award. That’s just rude, people! Order your dress or tux, rent your bling-bling, and reserve your limo: This is going to be the best awards After Party you’ve ever (virtually) attended!

Friday Fiction: What Are Y’all Reading?

I recently combed through our Borders store a second time looking for going-out-of-business bargains and walked away with another stack of books. This time, most of the books were for my family; however, I did add to my To Be Read pile – which currently resembles Jack’s beanstalk to the clouds.

In the queue are several non-fiction books (primarily on writing and language) and fiction selections as well.

For today’s Friday Fiction, I’m sharing what’s coming up on my list and asking what y’all have been reading.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This book was recommended by mystery writer Jayne Ormerod. I had seen this title several times and it piqued my curiosity, but not enough until Jayne gave it a 5 out of 5 rating.

From the back cover: “January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.”

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. Two good friends have recommended this book, and one finally loaned me her copy (which I’ve now had for months!). I’ve probably put off reading it because it sounds like a tearjerker, and this mama isn’t sure she wants to go down that road. But the plot does sound compelling and with the recommendations . . .

From the back cover: “This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. My mother-in-law passed this one off to me. She has read quite a few historical novels and is good at spotting an excellent one.

From the Amazon.com book description: “In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.”

The Cat, the Lady and the Liar by Leann Sweeney. Mystery author Leann Sweeney lives in my town! But although that’s how I heard about her, I’m not reading her books for that reason. She’s a great storyteller. This one is the third in her Cats in Trouble series. I have also read her Yellow Rose Mysteries, which were a lot of fun. If you like cozy mysteries, pick up one of Leann’s novels and give it a shot.

From the back cover: “When cat quilter Jillian Hart tracks down the owner of a gorgeous stray cat, the trail leads her to none other than fabulously wealthy, undeniably quirky Ritaestelle Longworth. The gossips in town are questioning Ritaestelle’s sanity, and the high-society grande dame isn’t helping matters with her wild accusations that someone is drugging her to keep her away from her beloved cat. Before Jillian can get to the bottom of Ritaestelle’s charges, a body turns up in the lake behind her house – and her cat Chablis discovers Ritaestelle standing nearby. Can Jillian’s three wise cats aid her in solving a mystery with roots that are decades old?”

Rainwater by Sandra Brown. This bestselling author was the keynote speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference held last spring by the DFW Writers’ Workshop. As part of her presentation, she described her two latest books, and this title sounded fascinating. I have only read one other novel from her– a romance from some years ago. I’m curious to see how her writing has evolved and to simply delve into the story.

From Publishers Weekly: “Bestseller Brown brings Depression-era Texas to vivid life in this poignant short novel. At the recommendation of Dr. Murdy Kincaid, Ella Barron, a hardworking woman whose husband deserted her, accepts David Rainwater, a relative of the doctor’s, as a lodger at the boarding house she runs in the small town of Gilead, Texas. As the local community contends with a government program to shoot livestock and the opposition of racist Conrad Ellis, a greedy meatpacker, to poor families butchering the meat, Ella grows closer to David. Meanwhile, David becomes a special guardian angel to Solly, Ella’s nine-year-old autistic son. Dr. Kincaid has gently suggested Ella put Solly in an institution, but she refuses to do so. Brown skillfully charts the progress of Ella and David’s quiet romance, while a contemporary frame adds a neat twist to this heartwarming but never cloying historical.”

Which of these titles have you read or want to read? So what’s up next on your reading list? Do you have recommendations for must-reads?

Who Wrote It? Author Franchises

So you pick up yet another book from an author who has churned out four this year already, excited to crack open the spine and yet wondering how he manages to write so many novels.

But then you discover, he didn’t. Although his name is on the cover, someone else substantially wrote the book. The famous moniker has become a branded franchise.

James Patterson is the poster boy for author franchising with 39 of his 78 novels including a “written with” acknowledgment. A former advertising guru, Patterson has made millions by collaborating with other authors to churn out several novels per year to his loyal readership. Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, Maximum Ride, and Daniel X are among his series. His fellow authors are not permitted to disclose the terms of their working relationship,but Patterson has stated that they write the first draft and he writes subsequent ones. (Time Magazine article.)

Janet Evanovich, author of the popular Stephanie Plum series, wrote romance novels for the Full series with collaborator Charlotte Hughes. Explaining her reasons, she said, “I had a lot of ideas in my head that I just didn’t have time to put on paper . . . I had started writing romance novels at the same time Charlotte did. She’s a great writer with her own distinct sense of humor. I thought she was the perfect person to help me start a new romance series.” (Crescent Blues interview). How much of the novels did each of these women write? I don’t know. But make no mistake, when you go looking for the novels, it’s Evanovich who features prominently on the cover, even though Ms. Hughes’s name appears below.

It’s hard to track which bestselling authors have contracted out some of their work. Some credit collaborators on the cover, others inside. And others do not reveal the extent to which a ghost writer lent a hand –literally. But if you are still turning out books while turning over in your grave, that’s definitely suspicious.

Several dead authors continue to put out novels, not from their ghostly gravesite but through the collaboration of other authors willing to write under a bestselling author’s name. Matt Christopher died in 1997 but his sports-themed children’s books continue to hit the shelves, and the bio section on the author’s website (Matt Christopher) does not mention his death. V.C. Andrews wrote seven best sellers, then died in 1986; yet the publisher has since released thirty-three novels in her name. Louis L’Amour, popular Western fiction author, died in 1988 but has had several novels published posthumously. Robert Ludlum, thriller author who died in 2001, has also been credited with novels written by ghost writers at the behest of his estate. His Bourne series has been continued by another author, Eric Van Lustbader, with Ludlum’s name on the cover as well as Lustbader’s.

I have been quick to point out to my sons when a novel is co-written with someone else, even if the bestselling author is the one credited on the cover or on reading lists. But admittedly, they don’t remember the name Adam Sadler like they do James Patterson (Demons & Druids). Patterson has become a franchised brand, like Domino’s Pizza or Jiffy Lube.

And while Domino’s Pizza’s earnings for the year are up, so are Patterson’s. According to Forbes, James Patterson took in $84 million dollars in 2010 – $49 million dollars more than the next bestselling author on the list, Danielle Steel.

My precious manuscript!

Is the bottom line what is important here? Sure, authors want to make money. At least most of us would like to do something more than bury our manuscripts in dresser drawers or wrap them in our Gollum-like hands and refer to them as “Precious.” We want others to buy and then read our stories. Making a living from writing means you can keep writing and turning on the lights in your house. And the idea of making so much money that you can write your next novel while on vacation in Greece certainly sounds cool, too.

But what do you think about hiring out some portion of the writing to other authors? Do you care whether you favorite writers have actually written the book in your hands, as long as it’s good? Do you think that hiring collaborators or ghost writers affects the quality or personality of a work? Do you think that estates and publishers should continue putting out books in the name of a deceased author? What do you think generally of author franchising? Is it a good idea?

Larger than Life Characters

It’s Friday Fiction time!  I recently read a great post by Literary Agent Kate McKean (top ten things agents and editors want to see every day of the week) and noticed a phrase she used to tell people not to wallow over their rejection: “Don’t go all Havisham over it . . .”  Of course, having read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, I knew immediately what she meant. Miss Havisham was a character who grieved desperately for years over a lost love. It didn’t hurt that I had also read Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde in which Miss Havisham also plays a significant role.

Miss Havisham, a purely fictional character, is well known and has come to represent extensive self-pity. I wondered about other fictional characters who are indeed larger than life – those concoctions of an author’s mind who take on their own identity and become conversational touchpoints.

I could nominate a few:

Don Juan & Donna

Don Juan. The famous lover was likely first introduced by Spanish dramatist (and Roman Catholic monk) Tirso de Molina, who wrote a play which included Don Juan. More famous renderings are Lord Byron’s poem Don Juan, Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, and Don Juan de Marco, a film starring Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, and Faye Dunaway (which I love). Say “Don Juan,” and we all think of a consummate seductor and lover.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Should this count as one character or two? We hear this one in conversation quite a lot as well, indicating a split personality – one of which is a-okay, while the other is certifiable. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 tale, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is related by a London lawyer who investigates the strange goings-on involving his friend Dr. Jekyll and the evil Mr. Hyde. But we use the phrase not really to talk about the psychiatric condition of dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality), but usually someone who inexplicably changes tone or manner.

Sherlock Holmes. Typically, it’s just Sherlock . . . as in “No duh, Sherlock!” (Or “No ___, Sherlock!”) Arthur Conan Doyle brought us the brilliant, if odd and opium-addicted, detective who solved numerous mysteries for Scotland Yard with Dr. Watson at his side. The first published work, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in 1887 and spawned four novels and 55 more short stories. “Elementary, my dear Watson” is a common phrase, and references to someone being Sherlock means they are truly brilliant, or you are using irony to mock their stupidity. Either way, we all know what you mean.

The Cheshire Cat. Lest you think me homo sapien-centered, may I suggest that the Cheshire Cat is larger than life as well? Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass popularized the Cheshire Cat and his tell-tale grin, even though “grinning like a Cheshire cat” was used beforehand. Yet, a regional phrase like that might have died out but for the fictional character who gave us a mental picture of a large smile, so big that the cat even disappears before its grin.

"...with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

Hannibal Lecter.  Hannibal Lecter is a cannibalistic serial killer introduced in The Red Dragon and memorialized in the sequel and movie, The Silence of the Lambs.  If you mention Hannibal in a conversation about hunger, people know exactly what you are talking about.  Hannibal Lecter has come to stand for cannibalism itself.  And for crazy as well.  But don’t the two things go hand-in-hand?  We can thank horror author Thomas Harris for bringing us this character and reprising him in two more novels, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising.

Ethan Hawke as Starbuck

Starbuck.  Little did Herman Melville know that his fictional character of Starbuck, the first mate to Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, would become the name of an international chain of coffee shops.  But it does make me wonder what the Seattle partners, Gordon Bowker and Terry Heckler, would have named their restaurant instead.  And wouldn’t we miss out on seeing that mermaid on the cups?  So thanks, Melville.

What do you think?  Are there are fictional characters whose presence is so impactful that they have joined our vernacular?  Their names have become representative of a concept or condition?  Who would you add to my list?

My Reluctant Conversion to Ebooks

 

Woman Reading Book by C. Coles Philip

I lament the loss of texture. With our touch screen world, it is becoming rarer and rarer to feel the push buttons of a telephone, an ATM, or a debit card machine; the click of a mouse rather than the flat touchpad that moves my cursor around this screen; and especially the rough or smooth pages of a yellow-paged novel.

Sitting on the beach yesterday, I considered how particular environments are best suited to having a paperback instead of an ebook reader in hand. And why was I thinking this? Because in spite of my woes about the computer screen/virtual world, I was reading from my husband’s nook and hoping that the salty air and sand wouldn’t damage my portable electronic.

I was considering the same question when I got home, settled into a hot bath to get all the sticky sand off my body, and read from my nook. One slip of my hand and splash! ereader ruined. But I was really careful.

So why am I reading ebooks instead of my preferred texture-rich novels? I have to admit that it’s convenient.

My aging eyes. Now that I’m old enough to require reading glasses, I have to hunt them down to open up a book and read the 9-point font that someone in the publishing world thought was legible. With an ebook reader, I simply click on Preferences, increase the font size, and voila! easy to read and no glasses needed.

Multiple books/one device. I can juggle two books at a time with one device. I do NOT read more than one fiction book at a time. (I get confused!) But I am often reading one fiction and one non-fiction simultaneously. In this case, I can carry around one book-sized device and go between Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore with a few simple clicks.

Easy purchasing. My prior fiction purchases involved a trip to the bookstore (a favorite outing indeed) or an online purchase from Amazon.com and waiting a few days for my order to arrive. Now, however, if I don’t have time for a long browse in a bookstore or want to cater to my natural impatience, I can click, click, click on my nook and in mere moments the book appears on my screen, ready to read. Ebooks are often less expensive nowadays as well.

Change happens. I grew up in a family that was usually the first one on the street with a new gadget. We had a microwave very soon after they came out, even if it was the size of a small truck and cost the same as a Mediterrean cruise. But for myself, I’m usually in the middle — not the first one out, not the last one in. What I am not, though, is the person dragged kicking and screaming into modernity. You know, those people who just recently bought a cell phone or booted up their first computer. Like it or not, a lot of books are only available in ebook form and more and more authors and publishers are moving in that direction every day. So I have my nook, and I’m ready.

I suppose I can stroke a rough sponge, rub blank pieces of paper, or feel my legs right before I shave if I get an extreme desire for texture. I have a feeling I will be getting texture less and less from my fiction. Thankfully, the content is still enjoyable, no matter what the form of delivery.

(Note: I have extreme doubts about ebooks for children’s books, however. How do you present Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt or The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle in ebook form?)

Here are the fiction books I have recently read on my nook:

Making Waves by Tawna Fenske.  A quirky romance novel with corporate castoffs, a pirate mission, a beautiful stowaway, and a great Battleship game scene.  This is not my usual genre, but I enjoyed the book immensely.  Fenske’s protagonist is sassy, savvy, and sexy all the way through.

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs.  A young mermaid lives with her aunt and attends “terraped” high school.  But her 18th birthday is looming, and she needs to find a mate so she can attain her rightful place as heir to an undersea kingdom.  She’s got her target in sight, but can she reel him in?  Childs has written a wonderful young adult novel with relatable characters and believable mermaid behaviors (loved all the fish references).  I will also be checking out her sequel entitled Fins Are Forever.

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore.  I’m in the middle of this one, but so far it’s hard to put down.  A college-aged girl and her sister, both kitchen witches, housesit at their quirky aunt’s Texas ranch.  When some bones are uncovered at the neighboring ranch, they get more than the usual easygoing ghost.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have truly enjoyed Rosemary’s books.  Her writing is right up my alley.

How do you feel about the switchover from traditional books to ebooks?  Do you own an ebook reader?  How do you like it?  Do you think moving to ebooks is a good trend overall?  How do you think that ebooks will affect readers, the publishing world, or authors?

Top 10 Quirky Comedy Films

I’m taking a respite from book-focused Friday Fiction. Perhaps this is better titled a Friday Favorite post, since I wanted to talk about some favorite films.

While writing about American vs. British English, I watched part of A Fish Called Wanda – which sparked me thinking about other movies that skillfully poke fun. Over the years, there have been plenty of satires, deadpan comedies, and silly plots that have had me holding my gut, tearing up with laughter, and falling off the couch as I watched. I have a sarcastic sense of humor to begin with, and thankfully certain filmmakers are happy to indulge the likes of me.

Here is my Top 10 list of clever and quirky comedy films. Which ones have you seen?

10.  Fargo (1996). A car salesman hires criminals to kidnap his wife, but the crime goes awry and ends up with murders that are investigated by the local police chief, who is seven months pregnant. A brilliant dark comedy starring William H. Macy and Frances McDormand, you’ll enjoy this quirky film set in snowy North Dakota.

9.  The In-Laws (1979). In preparation for his daughter’s wedding, a mild-mannered dentist meets the groom’s father who is a traveling “consultant.” When the groom’s father talks the dentist into breaking into a safe, a series of escapades ensue which call into question the real career of the bride’s father. Peter Falk and Alan Arkin make a perfect pair in this comedy about merging families and discovering secrets.

8.  Lost in America (1985).  The IMDB description says it better than I could: “A husband and wife in their 30s decide to quit their jobs, live as free spirits and cruise America in a Winnebago.” Of course, their free-spirited life backfires a bit. Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty beautifully portray the married couple trying to find themselves and an elusive life of bliss.

7.  Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Put together a nerdy florist, a shy but sexy woman, a sadistic dentist, and a man-eating plant, and you’ve got Little Shop of Horrors. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are terrific as the unlikely couple trying to find love and eventually each other, while Steve Martin delivers a perfect performance as a cruel dentist and boyfriend. Great music as well.

6.  I Love You to Death (1990). Rosalie is married to a pizza shop owner who is also a big-time cheater.  As a Catholic, divorce is out of the question, but murder sounds like a good idea. However, it isn’t as easy as she thinks to killer her husband. Tracy Ullman and Kevin Kline are joined by a great supporting cast with William Hurt, River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, and Joan Plowright.

5.  The End (1978). A man is given a year to live but decides to take his own life rather than suffer his inevitable decline and the pain of terminal disease. He enlists the help of a fellow psychiatric patient in his attempt to end it all, but without the expected result. Burt Reynols, Dom DeLuise, and Sally Field star.

4.  Young Frankenstein (1974). Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson tries to distance himself from his grandfather’s notoriety. However, when he inherits the family castle and visits the estate, he becomes intrigued and decides to repeat the experiments. This Mel Brooks film includes the acting talents of Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Teri Garr.

3.  Raising Arizona (1987). An ex-con and ex-cop marry and try to conceive. But after the continuous heartbreak of infertility, they decide to steal one of another couple’s quintuplets; after all, that family has one to spare, right? Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter are as believably kooky as they come, and John Goodman and Frances McDormand join the supporting cast.

2.  A Fish Called Wanda (1988). An ensemble of criminals plots a heist, but everyone is trying to double-cross everyone else. When an English barrister gets involved in the trial, the relationships become even more complicated. John Cleese stars as the barrister, Jamie Lee Curtis as a sexy diamond thief, Kevin Kline as a short-tempered weaponry expert, Tom Georgeson as the theft’s mastermind, and Michael Palin as the stuttering right-hand man.

I can’t decide on my number #1, so I cheated and made it a tie! (Yes, I know that means my Top 10 includes 11 picks.)

1.  This is Spinal Tap (1984). Director Rob Reiner gives us a faux documentary of a heavy metal band taking a tour through third-rate venues. This one is hard to describe, but Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer will have you collapsing in laughter. It’s a classic for a reason.

1.  Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). A U.S. general gone crazy orders a nuclear strike of the Soviet Union. It’s left to the president, advisors, and other military personnel to try to stop the madness. Peter Sellers and George C. Scott deliver amazing performances in this satire written by Stanley Kubrick.

Do you have your own recommendations for quirky film comedies? What would be on your Top 10 List?

15 Famous Fiction Sidekicks

One of my duties at church camp a couple of weeks ago was to assist the secretary with various administrative tasks.  We wear nametags all week for identification and security, so I added “M’s Sidekick” to the job description on my nametag.  It seemed appropriate, and she rather liked that idea! 

That got me thinking (albeit everything gets writers thinking):  People love a good sidekick!  And even if you don’t like the sidekick, they provide opportunities for the main personality to shine. 

Who are some famous fiction sidekicks?  My definition of fiction here includes books, movies, comics, television, and more!   For this post, fiction is simply the world of make-believe, and any such character counts. 

Barbie & Ken – Really, no one would ever buy the Ken doll without having the Barbie doll first.  He’s only there to make her look good. 

Batman & Robin – Thank goodness for Robin’s “Holy Torpedoes, Batman!” that made Bruce Wayne look smart and strong when he unveiled the plan to defeat the treacherous villain. 

Calvin & Hobbes – If you don’t have a sidekick, turn your stuffed animal into one!  It’s all the better if your fluffy tiger friend is actually wiser than you. 

Captain & Gilligan – If you never saw Bob Denver as the beatnik Maynard in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, you missed a truly great sidekick!  On Gilligan’s Island, however, Denver turned sidekick status into main character focus.  He was only the first mate, but the action revolved around him. 

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza – The Man of La Mancha is not alone in his quest for adventure.  He convinces the uneducated Sancho Panza to be his squire.  Sancho faithfully discharges his duties, while recognizing that his knight is not exactly as sharp as a sword.

Han Solo & Chewbacca – Without the Wookiee there, Han is a lonely guy smuggling goods and talking to himself.  With Chewie, you know that for all his brashness at the beginning, he has a big heart and a good friend.  Plus, I love the line, “Laugh it up, furball!”

 

John Steed & Mrs. Peel – Yes, there were others who played sidekick to Patrick Macnee’s Steed in The Avengers, but Emma Peel (Diana Riggs) was the best.  His old-fashioned car and trim dress were nicely contrasted with her Lotus Elan and trendy fashion.  Moreover, their word play and chemistry were classic.

 

Leonard & Sheldon – We can argue this a bit, I suppose – whether Sheldon is actually Leonard’s sidekick.  But his character never really grows; he just provides the interesting background and side stories that demonstrate how Leonard is learning to negotiate the world around him. And what a great job actor Jim Parsons does with that!

Lone Ranger & Tonto – Tonto defined “faithful companion” as he rode alongside the Lone Ranger.  I don’t know much about this one, but it was my father’s favorite growing up so it goes on the list!

Lucy & Ethel – Lucy wouldn’t have been able to get into so many hilarious fixes if Ethel wasn’t there to accompany her.  Let’s face it:  We’re all more willing to do something stupid when a friend will do it with you.

Marlin & Dory – Disney loves sidekicks!  But the one that stands out to me is the brilliant performance of Ellen Degeneres as Dory, a fish with a short-term memory problem.  Her humorous quips are a perfect contrast to Albert Brooks’s worried father character.

Mr. Rourke & Tattoo – Having grown up in the era of Fantasy Island, the image of these two men in white suits welcoming guests to the island of dreams is forever etched in my mind.  Imagine Mr. Rourke having no one to tell who was coming onto the island; you wouldn’t know why anyone was there!  And Rourke looked even more savvy and wise when Tattoo looked up at him and called him “Boss.”

Shaggy & Scooby-Doo – Or should it be Scooby-Doo & Shaggy?  Which one was the sidekick?  They hid together, shivered in fear together, took the “other way” from Fred, Daphne, and Velma to encounter ghosts together, and gorged on pizza together.  What else can you expect from man’s best friend? 

Sherlock Holmes & Mr. Watson – Mr. Watson was our window into observing the genius and challenges of Sherlock Holmes.  In fact, it is Mr. Watson who often encourages Sherlock to use his talents to solve crimes.

Wayne & Garth – It was Wayne’s World, but without Garth it’s just a creepy guy in a basement with a video camera.  With Garth, it’s two creepy guys in a basement with a video camera!  And they were really funny.

So who else would you list in the sidekick category?  Who are your favorites in literature, film, comics, etc.?  Do you have any favorite scenes with sidekicks?