Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ranting and Raving and the Art of Subtlety



Genre writers around the world have been contemplating the announcement that HarperCollins (specifically, their parent company News Corp.) has made a bid to purchase Harlequin.  You can read all about the financial ramifications outlined at Dear Author here  or Smart Bitches Trashy Books here. I’m not here to rehash anything that much smarter people have already said.  I’m here to gripe about the dismissive coverage that screamed headlines like this “News Corp. buys “bodice ripper” publisher Harlequin”. Bodice ripper? Really? Even romance writers don’t call their novels “bodice rippers.” If any one of those feature writers had taken even five minutes to check out the romance lines that Harlequin produces, they’d notice the distinct lack of bodices and their being ripped. You’d likely find a Duke or a Navy Seal with ripped abdominals but that’s another story. 

I’m not trying to be overly sensitive but the time is long past when popular romantic fiction involved any questionable plot line where forcible violence against women is acceptable. But it’s easier to take the lazy way out and drag outdated biases into the narrative. Forget about the fact that Harlequin had LONG been the money maker for TorStar (thus making it a viable asset for an entity in need of equity and/or cash) and that romance is a billion dollar industry. Yes I said billion, outstripping all other genre fiction including inspirational, mystery, science fiction/fantasy and classic literary, according to sources like Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2013 and Simba Information estimates. Somewhere out there, many men and women who discount “romance” novels owe their livelihoods to those same books being denigrated.

 In a program at my local library, I discussed how romance and romantic threads throughout many works, both classics and popular, shape the narrative and add interest to their storylines. Imagine Dickens’ A Christmas Carol written without the heartfelt pathos of Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him what he gave up when he exchanged Belle’s affections for his pursuit of money. Who would want to read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes if John Clayton, Lord Greystoke aka Tarzan hadn’t sacrificed his own happiness so that Jane Porter could live the life she’d been born to? What about George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones without Ned Stark’s love for Catelyn or Khal Drogo’s love for Daenerys Targaryen? Maybe John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War without John Perry and his love for Kathy manifesting itself in Jane Sagan? I could go on but the question remains--how are these tales changed without their threads of love and affection? Why are they considered literary whereas stories with predominant romantic themes are considered less than or low brow fiction?

My ire isn’t confined to literary or book reviewers but also movie reviewers. Why you ask? I’ll tell you. The Amma Assante directed movie Belle is out in theaters now, based upon the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido was the mixed race daughter of an aristocratic naval captain and an enslaved African woman.  The interesting part of Dido’s tale begins when her father takes her to live with his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield at Kenwood House in Hampstead and asks that she be raised as if she were a daughter of the household. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Yes, Dido Elizabeth Belle lived and her true story was surely more fascinating than anything a writer living more than two hundred years later could concoct. But like all history, we don’t have the ones who were actually there to tell us about it, even if diary entries or journal accounts were left. With Dido, we have that beautiful painting of her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray.


 What we do know of Dido, the film conveys to the audience and fills in the blanks beautifully. Bruce Ingram from the Chicago Sun Times is mostly complimentary in his two and a half star review but leads his editorial with the dismay that Dido’s tale had been turned into “standard-issue romantic piffle.” Again, I say, what’s wrong with romance? Dido did indeed marry John Davinier and have children before she died young. Her husband also remarried and had more children which was considered his right and his duty. You know what women’s rights and duties consisted of in eighteenth and nineteenth century England? Getting married and having children, not going out into the world by going to college and getting jobs. Sons inherited estates, daughters had to marry to secure their places.The  NewYorker offers a glowing review and makes a comparison of  Austen's Elizabeth and Jane Bennet to Dido and her cousin Elizabeth. But the Boston Globe offers subtle and not so subtle disdain for the state of things even making comparisons to Merchant/Ivory in the way the storyline is constructed. Personally what I love most about Austen is that she shined a light on the all the ridiculous rules society placed upon women during her time. Yes, her novels are primers in what was correct but you’ll see that almost all her heroines are guilty of stepping outside those boundaries.  Oh, sometimes it goes badly for them and how it might affect their families but she shows that even then, they didn’t want to be limited to embroidering cushions, playing the pianoforte and planting flowers. But that’s what their life was like and I can’t understand why some of the movie reviews seem to hold that against the filmmaker instead of accepting it as truth of the matter.

I saw Belle with some other lovely Janeites and we all loved it. The landscapes were lush and beautifully filmed. The dialogue was crisp and the actors all played their parts incredibly well. I thought the film, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, showed the conflicting emotions that might’ve coursed through Dido. The loneliness and ostracism caused by her inability to sit at dinner with her family, the apprehension when she encounters the London house servants and finds one of them to be a freed Black woman (since it appears the Kenwood House servants didn’t include any people of color) and the sadness at her treatment by the Ashfords and the others of the haute ton who viewed her as a curiosity.  I also loved the way Assante planted the seed that Dido didn't want to be painted alongside her cousin Lady Elizabeth because of the way people of color had been portrayed in the art of her time.  If you want a really wonderful visual of the way people of color are depicted in art, take a look at the tumblr blog MedievalPOC.

I’m going to see the film again, mainly because I’m on a one-woman crusade to see it stay in the theaters because we need films that show the diverse world in which we live and also because I love a good romance. Why not focus on the uplifting portion of Dido Elizabeth Belle’s life instead of acting like it didn’t happen or didn’t have the chance to happen that way?

Join my rant and tell me of books or movies that would be much less spectacular if their romantic thread were removed.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Brenda Novak's 10th Annual Diabetes Auction and Fundraiser

Happy Derby Day Friends!


Taking some time away from looking at all the fabulous headgear (Johnny Weir's is the MOST fab, go look it up on the inter webs somewhere) to remind everyone of author Brenda Novak's annual fundraiser, which opened the other day.  There are plenty of authors who give back to worthy causes and my two favorites are Patrick Rothfuss' Worldbuilder's and Brenda Novak's Annual Auction which raises funds for Diabetes research.

There's something for everyone at BN's auction whether you're a reader, a writer, a shopper, a traveler, a crafty person, in search of jewelry, someone to build/design a website for you, etc.  Don't believe me? Click on the link and take a look at all the categories:

Brenda Novak Annual Diabetes Auction

If you have time and some spare cash, please go browse the items and place a bid.  All for a good cause.




Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Laissez le Bon Temps Roulez

Happy Mardi Gras day Mes Amis!

Even though I've decided that I won't be sad that once again, I'm somewhere besides Mobile or New Orleans on this day, I have decided that a celebration is in order no matter where we're located, n'est-ce pas?  I'm thawing out the ham hock so I can get the red beans and rice going along with the creole chicken for later.  In the meantime, here's a little taste of Tipitina's own Neville Brothers to tide you over:



So, dance like you're in a parade, maybe throw some candy, moon pies or beads to your loved ones and enjoy the blowout party before Lent sets in.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Are You Watching The Olympics???

YES?? THEN TURN OFF THE TELEVISION AND GET BACK TO YOUR MANUSCRIPT!!! Dear friends, please scream those words at me once ever so often if you please.  I made great strides in my revisions the other day when I turned off the television, turned on some nice music (not too loud so no M.I.A. or Lupe Fiasco, thanks) and then just concentrated on getting the words rearranged properly or out of my head and onto the page.

I've had some medical troubles recently but now that I'm on the road to recovery, I hope that I'll get much more writing done.  Especially if I have all of you cheering and swearing lovingly at me from the sidelines.

So, carry on and I hope you're all well.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays to everyone! In keeping with the spirit of giving and sharing, I'm posting a short mashup of my version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol starring Jane Austen's Lady Catherine DeBurgh. I wrote this more than a few years ago (so forgive all the mistakes) for an Austen fandom fundraiser.   Enjoy!

http://pamalaknight.blogspot.com/p/the-sixth-sense-lady-catherine.html

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Balance

Today is the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  I remember listening to Brian Williams break into the AM news radio broadcast on my drive to work with an update that "something" had happened in New York.  By the time I made it into the offices, everyone was gathered around a television, watching. Then the second plane hit and nothing's been the same ever since. That day marked the second time I'd ever seen my firefighter husband cry, the first being when my eldest son was born.

We've all experienced sad and traumatic events and it's hard to not let the emotions attached overwhelm the rest of our existence. How can you go on when you think you might never smile again, that the world is a sad place populated with evil, uncaring and unfair people or things? Personally I try to utilize the forget but try to forgive adage but I think the best mechanism uses balance to keep us from total meltdown.

My mother died on Easter morning so no matter when Easter falls, and because the date is a moving target, I get a double whammy of sad--both on the actual date of her death and then on Easter morning. I remember the phone call, the searing pain of hearing the news and the angst of having to gather myself so I could make plane reservations and also arrangements for her.  After the funeral, I returned home and decided that Easter wasn't for me anymore.  Nope. Maybe I'd just sit in the bathtub with a bottle of wine all day and cry once that horrible anniversary rolled around.

But then, my son was born and aside from the religious implications of the day, I thought why should he miss out on Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, baskets and all the other trappings? Because his mother was sad about something he didn't understand yet? So, I decided that instead of propagating my very sad but relevant memories, I would try to make some new, happier imprints to balance things. Not that I was giving up on my blanket of misery, but I'd drape myself in it instead of wearing it as swaddling. Plus, I knew my mother wouldn't want me to carry on being so upset about it. Sad, yes, but upset and emotional--no. She'd worry about the toll that coping method would take.

So, I'm using the same tactic to deal with the 9/11 anniversary. It's the birthday of two dear friends, so even though I'm never going to forget the terror and sadness of the attacks, I'm going to remember to celebrate the good things this day also brings.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Who Do You Write Like?

A writer friend asked my opinion in assessing her writing style. Not that I'm any expert, but we've both been asked the question "who do you write like or what book is your story similar to?" Yeah, I know.  The first time I heard the question, I was tempted to laugh too.  Like, really? How would I know?  I don't think anyone sets out to write "like" anyone, but I know that sometimes it happens. And when I took that meme test that made the internet rounds a few years ago, it said I wrote like David Foster Wallace.  Well.  If that were true, then things might be a bit different for me, but whatever.

Back to my friend.  She's preparing a proposal that she's been asked to put together and that's a very good thing.  So, I started thinking, which sometimes doesn't lead to good places but you know, I finally got to a reasonable outcome.  The roundabout way to assess similarity in my mind, came from thinking about writers who write different stories (single titles, I guess) but that bear a distinctive mark.

 The simple and easy example came in the form of one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman.  If you've read Coraline or the Graveyard Book or Neverwhere, then you'll know that Himself really loves to build alternative worlds that exist right along with our everyday and mundane lives.  This trait transcends mediums too because if you've seen any of the Doctor Who episodes he's penned (The Doctor's Wife and A Nightmare in Silver) then you'll see the common thread there.  Also as an aside, I see the same phenomenon with George R.R. Martin in the episodes he's penned for the HBO series of Game of Thrones like Blackwater and most recently, The Bear and the Maiden Fair.  The episodes seem more like compact novels and are sometimes paced slower,  instead of the usual bouncing about of the characters that we've come to expect in serial television.

But the point I want to make is that it's hard to assess similarity in writing style because everyone brings something unique to the way they tell a story. Jane Austen shines a light on the foibles of her characters in the way she utilizes language and the period details.  Maugerite Duras does the same thing by stripping the language down.  So, the best guess of who's style you might emulate might be found in the broader aspects like description, world-building, and characterizations.

Who do you write like?