NaNoWriMo – One step forward, two steps back

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For almost four years, I have been meeting my cousin, Mark Hoover, every Tuesday and Thursday to write. We write most days, sometimes stopping down to lament about kids, life, politics, etc., but the majority of the time we focus on writing and supporting each other in our ongoing endeavor to make $**t up. I suspect that he helps me more than I help him, but he is nice enough to tell me that my advice to him is valuable. His advice to me, and his unwavering belief in my abilities even when I believe I can barely string a group of coherent words together, are what has kept me writing for so long with so little success.

Today, we met for the first time since I started NaNo. A question I had for him about my lead character’s name (which is changing early in the novel because she is on the run! Oh, the drama!) turned into a great discussion about what I should do, how I should handle it. The result? I’m almost convinced to scrap everything I worked on yesterday (1500 words!) and change the perspective from third person to first person. His arguments for me doing it are solid and, when I look at it from a what’s best for the story/character I know that first person is the way to go. But, it will require completely reworking what I’ve written so far. (For the record, I’m not officially competing in NaNo because one requirement of the challenge is that it be an original novel. Completing an unfinished work doesn’t count and that is what I was doing.)  That would be scrapping or reworking 36,000 words worth of prose. That is difficult for me to do for obvious reasons.

Now, for the not so obvious reasons: I’m notorious for going into something like this, editing, reworking, etc, getting discouraged and quitting. Frankly, I don’t want to fail like that again. Maybe this time will be the time that I get over that particular writing hurdle.  Maybe writing in first person is my natural voice, what I should have been doing from the beginning and the words will flow so easily that I will finish the entire novel before Christmas, send it to publishers in January and get it accepted in February. Ooooorrrrrrr, maybe I’ll do what I always do and work really hard for a while, then my interest peters out as it gets more difficult or I get closer to success. I really am my own worst enemy. Are there such things as a writer’s psychologist? Cuz I think I need one. Maybe that’s what Mark is.

During our discussion, Mark said that I have to constantly put obstacles in my heroine’s way. One step forward and two back. Thinking on some of my favorite books, that is exactly what happens: Elizabeth Bennet, Margaret Hale, Harry Potter, Maisie Dobbs, Percy Jackson, Victor Frankenstein, Jane Eyre. What keeps me reading is wondering how they will react to adversity. Going through trials and tribulations with them makes the ending, whether it be happy or tragic, satisfying. I hope that my journey writing this novel, the inevitable one step forward two back in my writing process, will make my denouement satisfying as well.

I’m rooting for a happy ending.

TV Review: A Gifted Man “Pilot” – “Why can’t I be the one thing in life you don’t understand?”

Put aside the concern that A Gifted Man (★★★) will devolve into treacle once Jonathan Demme, the director of the pilot, takes his hands off the wheel. Everyone has the bar set pretty low since the premise of a ghost haunting a loved one to make them a better person is ripe for goopy storylines. Seriously, this could get very cheesy, very fast. I have faith it won’t, mainly because I think Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson have better taste in material than that. No, series creator Susannah Grant’s bigger problem is the amazing chemistry between Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Ehle.

We all know that American television has made a fortune of dragging out unresolved sexual tension (UST) between characters. We love it, we hate it, but it keeps a lot of us tuning in, especially if the procedural part of the show is weak. Happiness is always possible, or just right around the corner, but the chance is there until the final episode airs. With A Gifted Man, the possibility of our two main characters ever being happy together is zilch. Sure, they can be happy in a most unconventional way, which will be satisfactory for a while. But, there is nothing worse than putting time into characters to only be let down in the end. It is one of my biggest complaints with screwball comedies of the 30s. There is never, ever the ending shot of a kiss. Think of It Happened One Night and that stupid blanket and trumpet. Pisses me off every time. With A Gifted Man, we know from the get go that possibility is off the table and frankly, it’s a bummer.

On the other hand, because Ehle’s Anna is a ghost, there should be no expectation, should there? That’s where the chemistry problem comes in. All I can think is, “Dang, I’d like to watch a show about their time in Alaska. Bet that would be awesome. Lots of conflict balanced with happy times. I bet their fights were epic and so was the making up.” With this set up, we’ll get the fights and…what? Please God, no ghost sex. I would be happy with flashbacks, though those are always a tricky to pull off.

Despite all that, I’m excited to see where this show goes. Can it transcend The Ghost Whisperer, the former CBS show it is being compared to? Is Michael such a jerk that he needs his wife’s ghostly influence? (Personally, I didn’t think he was much of a jerk, just professional to a fault and maybe a bit egotistical.) Anna tells him she needs help “closing doors.” Now, if this is about him helping her find closure as well as her helping him find his humanity, that might be good. But, if they focus solely on the trite storyline of turning this professional, narcissistic rich guy into a empathetic, self-sacrificing every man, I’m going to get really bored, really quick. We will see where it goes. Right now, I’m just excited about the opportunity of seeing Jennifer Ehle’s work every week.

Other Thoughts:

  • Interesting that Anna and Mike never say the word ghost. It’s almost as if neither one of them can believe it themselves, even the ghost.
  • Anna says her clinic is in Alphabet City. I have no idea where that is.
  • I’m not a fan of the music. Here’s hoping it changes.
  • Like so many pilots I’ve seen, the dialogue was a bit too on the nose.
  • Coincidence that the three main storylines each had car crashes? Anna’s death, Ron’s crash and the tennis player’s fender bender.
  • The idea that time in the after life is condensed and you only spend it with the loved ones you are visiting is kind of awesome.
  • The scenes with Ehle and Wilson are easily the best of the pilot. Martindale makes the most of her time, as well.
  • It’s a testament to the acting that the emotional moments have impact.
  • Mike logically doesn’t want to see the ghost of his wife but when it comes time to totally give her up, to never seeing her again, he can’t do it. I love that.
  • Elena, the MRI tech, keeps seeing Mike talking to himself. Pretty funny. I wonder if she will stick around? She’s one of those “Where have I seen her before” actresses.
  • “Who says I’m happy?”
  • “The only time you weren’t a total jerk is when you were with her.”

Below is the entire pilot episode available to view on CBS. It was a bit of a beatdown – each commercial break contains three commercials and one time the commercial froze the player – but I’m just glad they are making their shows available online. Finally.

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Movie Review: “Contagion” – Elizabeth Bennet saves the day.

I’ve been excited to see Contagion (★★★★) since I saw the first trailer and that desire had nothing to do with seeing some of my favorite actors (Damon, Winslet, Colltaird, Law) together in one movie. My excitement stemmed from the opportunity to see one of my all time favorite actresses in a pivotal role in a star driven Hollywood blockbuster. An award-winning actress with a stellar pedigree, bookshelf full of awards and critical raves for the few movies she has done over the years. More often than not, the movies she does are so small they don’t get wide release (The River King, The Greatest, The Russell Girl) or her part is so small the impact is negligible, (The King’s Speech) or it ends up on the cutting room floor (Michael Clayton). This actress also has the unique distinction of being one of the few Americans to play one of the most beloved of English literature’s characters, Elizabeth Bennet. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about Jennifer Ehle.

My biggest fear when I saw the first trailer was Ehle would somehow turn out to be a villain. She very ominously tells someone to “burn the samples” or something to that effect, a well placed piece of dialogue taken out of context of the movie to imply that there is some great, shadowy government conspiracy behind the outbreak at the center of Contagion. Luckily, neither happen.  Ehle turns out to be the greatest heroine among more than a few and the bad guy in all of this is nature and happenstance. The complete lack of these two Hollywood tropes – an easily defined villain and great conspiracies – and a determined goal of realism instead of cheap thrills are what elevates Contagion from an average movie to a great one.

Before I saw this movie, I told my mom and a friend that I truly believe the world will suffer our biggest natural disaster because of a rapidly spreading disease such as depicted here. My friend disagreed, saying it wouldn’t be natural but biological warfare. Maybe, but it would be easier to thwart something that is planned such as biological warfare than the natural evolution of viruses and bacteria. Contagion, to my great relief, decided to with the latter scenario, one that is imminently more terrifying.

Elizabeth Bennet (Ehle) delivering a smack down to Lady Catherine.

But, back to Ehle. Her role is small – though in an ensemble like this, no one has a particularly large role – but pivotal. Much of the time, she’s explaining something technical or staring at a computer screen. But, she has a wonderful, emotional scene near the end with her sick father where her acting abilities shine. She’s great in every role she plays. It is one of my fondest wishes to see her on the New York stage where she has won two Tony awards (The Real Thing, Coast of Utopia). Until then, I will be perfectly happy to watch her new CBS drama, A Gifted Man, co-starring Patrick Wilson. A Gifted Man isn’t a show I would normally watch but it has an exceptional cast (Ehle, Wilson, Margo Martindale who just won an Emmy for her role in FX’s Justified) and I will gladly support anything that will give Ehle the notoriety she deserves.

Five Must See Ehle Films

  1. Pride and Prejudice (1995) – this is obvious. It is arguably the best adaptation of a Jane Austen ever made and a large part of the success of the mini-series is because of Ehle’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet. A must see mini-series.
  2. Paradise Road (1997) – another ensemble movie about women prisoners of war in the South Pacific during World War II. Starring Glen Close, Frances McDormand, Cate Blanchett and Juliana Margulies, it is an excellent movie.
  3. Possession (2002) – adapted from AS Byatt’s novel of the same name, Possession is a time jumping love story with Ehle and Jeremy Northam playing the lovers in the flashback scenes.
  4. Pride and Glory (2008) – Ehle plays the cancer stricken wife of Noah Emmerich’s character.
  5. The King’s Speech (2010) – she plays Geoffrey Rush’s wife. Notable for the scene where Ehle’s character meets Firth’s character – a scene I honestly believe was inserted for P&P fans.

Five Ehle Movies I Want to See

  1. Melissa (1997) – a British mini-series where she co-stars with her mother.
  2. Alpha Male
  3. The Russell Girl
  4. The Greatest
  5. The Camomile Lawn


Three Quick Movie Reviews

Colin Firth - The King's Speech

Image by WorthingTheatres via Flickr

The King’s Speech ★★★★★

Talk about an Oscar bait movie. Colin Firth will win the Oscar for playing the stammering King George VI. Geoffrey Rush will be nominated because he’s Geoffrey Rush. Helena Bonham Carter might just be nominated because she’s playing normal, which is a departure from her wild hair, bag lady clothes, wheels off persona. An interesting side note: Jennifer Ehle has a small part as Geoffrey Rush’s wife, Myrtle. She played Elizabeth Bennet opposite Colin Firth in his star-making turn as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice. There is a short scene in The King’s Speech where the two share the screen once again. This little Janeite heart soared when they did.

Some have criticized The King’s Speech for its faulty history and perpetuating myths about the royal family. That’s Hollywood for you. These creative licenses don’t diminish the impact of the story of a man overcoming obstacles on a grand stage. The King’s Speech is a movie well worth seeing.


Winter’s Bone ★★★☆☆
After seeing this make a few of the early end of year movie lists, the husband and I watched this On Demand just before Christmas. The best way to describe this is hillbilly noir. The landscape is bleak, the people are poor, the story is thin but the acting is superb.

The Fighter ★★★★☆

Even if you don’t know the true story of Mickey Ward before you walk into this movie you know how it will end. It is a Hollywood sports movie with a Hollywood ending. This movie is all about the performances. Christian Bale will get all of the accolades because 1) he’s playing a drug addict 2) he changes himself physically for the part and 3) the character is bigger than Walberg’s character. However, Mark Walberg might just give the better, though more understated, performance. (I’ll stop down here and say that Walberg is becoming one of my favorite actors.) All of the parts are Oscar bait. Melissa Leo and her blonde wig will get a nomination. Amy Adams will get a nomination for playing so against her Enchanted “type” and fugging herself up just a bit. The Oscars love it when you change yourself physically for a part, especially when women make themselves look less than glamorous.