Sunday, November 12, 2006

Why I Should Try Really Really Hard not to Hate On Playboy

Because way too many people hate on fabulous publications like Marie-Claire that should in fact be lauded for making essential knowledge and hard-hitting journalism accessible to normal people. (I’m not suggesting that people who read, say, The Economist exclusively aren’t normal, but I wouldn’t want to go bar-hopping with them, would you?)

It’s important – nay, critical – to learn how to deliver a message to your target audience in such a way that said audience will give you the time of day. Lots of people like to complain about the garbage that Hollywood spews out on a regular basis, but when was the last time any of you sat through a whole episode on Meet the Press. Seriously? (Do you even know what I’m talking about?)

It’s not your fault. I can’t sit through that crap even though I care so much about politics I go into an epileptic seizure when an unsuspecting bystander makes the mistake of asking me my opinion on the subject. I’ve always thought that getting informed is crucial to civilized life, but man can it be boring and so damned dry sometimes!

Here’s the thing though: it really doesn’t have to be. Enter Marie-Claire (and yes, sigh, Playboy, which is known for serving respected journalism and literature as a side to its main offering of boobs and butts. Sorry)

Enter, also, authors. There’s a common thread I’ve identified among all the great books I can remember reading lately: Dirty Girls’ Social Club, Ishmael, A Short Story of Nearly Everything. They’ve taught me something. Painlessly.

The first book in this list is a popular women’s fiction novel that tells in very entertaining fashion, the story of six very different American Latinas. It sneaks Knowledge into your unsuspecting brain like Flinstones vitamins into kids’ welcoming mouths. You didn’t ask for knowledge. You asked for a sexy, raunchy, fashion-label-filled story about young(ish) contemporary women, dammit. Instead you learned that Latinas come in many more shades and economic backgrounds than you see on the evening news, that there is such a thing as a Cuban Jew, that Mexican politics are about as relevant to the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans of Boston as Manchester United’s latest victory over Arsenal is to you (i.e. not in the least). And you were completely unsuspecting of this learning until the next time you saw a Latina and caught yourself wondering if she was a Puerto Rican with citizenship rights, a Dominican with none, a Cuban who fled Cuba before Castro had a chance to nationalize her family’s sugar plantation or one whose family was poor and got a house and health care out of the Revolution.

In other words, you became sensitive to the world’s many textures, and it didn’t hurt one bit.

Now, I know that not every magazine needs to be a Marie-Claire. Sometimes you really just want to know what those eleven best-kept sex secrets are (even though you have a sneaky suspicion they highly resemble last month’s six best ways to keep your man happy, but whatever) instead of why women are being hunted and killed in Darfur. And sometimes the latest Kate Husdon blockbuster does more to sooth the soul than a debate about the rise of religious fundamentalism on BBC America.

So, dear readers, when you think to yourself you should really try to get a grasp on the campaign contributions reform bill but can’t get through the boring, jargon-riddled article in The Economist and then feel guilty, pick up a Marie-Claire instead, and be thankful that you can catch up on those pesky human-interest issues Fox News doesn’t like to talk about AND get your fashion fix at the same time.

Or, if you’re a guy, I guess you can pick up a Playboy. It’s better than giving up on the whole getting informed thing.

And for you authors, think about how immortality can be achieved through truth. You don’t have to be writing about Darfur to write true. Just pick up Alisa’s Dirty Girls’ Social Club and you’ll see.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

No More Excuses… Well, A Couple More, Actually

Has it really been a month since my last post? Oh, the shame...

I’m not sure if the expression “when it rains, it pours” was just one chronic procrastinator’s explanation as to why he suddenly went from rocking peacefully in a hammock with nothing much to do, to having his head spin with an army of unrelated, all equally urgent tasks suddenly landing in his hereto blissfully empty conscience. I feel like it poured on me, but then again, maybe I did this to myself...

Okay, excuses. Let's see if you forgive me, or if I'm utterly beyond redemption:

1) All Hell breaking loose at work. My uber-serious, responsible, upwardly-mobile DH warned me against making any kind of work-related reference in any of my posts lest I land myself on the opposite side of a defamation suit. (Not that you'd ever want to hear about my day job anyway, trust me). Suffice to say, some careers are not exactly conducive to oodles of writing time and/or the keeping of one's sanity. Then again, see musings on procrastination above.

2) Hard drive crashing. I own a Mac. I thought macs didn't crash. I never thought MY mac would crash. My friends liken me to Carrie Bradshaw because of my abilities to punctuate a sentence properly and identify the correct top to be wearing with this summer's short-shorts. I never thought I would be staring at a pair of blinking, bespectacled eyes before my beloved laptop screen went blank, taking every piece of software and pored-over Word files along with it. A la CB. And no, I did NOT go Ctl+Alt+Delete.

3) Frantic call from agent inquiring as to where the Hell (my expletive, not hers) are the chapters for my next book...

4) Politics. No I'm not American, but I've been following your elections as closely as though I were. The whole thing fascinates me, and I half-wish I could vote (I'm half glad I can't because I wouldn't wish the choice btw Democrats and Republicans on my worst enemy). Just the God issue alone makes me break out into a self-righteous seizure. Judging by this week's Newsweek and Time covers (or is it last weeks'? I live in Moo-moo-moo land, it takes a while for things like food and pertinent information to reach us), God is a hot topic outside of my head as well. Also, I had prepared a very impassioned post after watching Spike Lee's four hour long "When the Levees Broke" documentary but the DH decreed it was too strong for a blog about writing... I listened, though maybe I shouldn't have... our writing is a big part of who we are (which is why we take criticism so badly, right?). I think if you are very reluctant to talk about politics and religion in public, then that's who you are. I happen to think these are the only two topics really worth debating these days because they define the very core of our existence. Not that I value the discussion of the length of the season's hem lines any less (or, say, how far fashion has come in a mere decade than the topic of hemline length is oh-so-passe...), I just think that in today's political landscape, it's very pink-elephant-in-the-living-room-esque to willfully ignore these topics.

And that's where I've been, ladies and gentlemen. As for the lovely pics of Grand Cayman Dona and Wendy suggested I post: we're still in rainy season daa'hlinks! As I stare out the cafe windows right now, I see a large gray cloud pouring its contents over our downtown area (about three streets and a dock) and plodding its way over here.

But I’m here now, so let’s make the best of it!

I’m in that phase of writing a novel right now where you’re so in love with your characters and premise that you think you might just be the next Marian Keyes and you almost see little writing fairies a la Flora, Fauna and Merriweather whipping your laptop keys into a magical frenzy, and all you have to do is sit back and watch the happy little miracle happen.

I wonder how long that’s going to last.

I do credit some of this to a pretty long dry spell where I just sat back and let the story come to me. I don’t think this is advisable, but at least for this book, where the story in its entirety is conjured up from thin air (no handy Cuba memories to fall back on), I think the final work will be the stronger for it.

I'm feeling the vibe of this new book as much more women's fic than traditional chick lit. By that I mean the voice/tone are more subdued, serious, and I'm hoping it's because the themes are deeper, and the protag well-characterized. I'll be finding out soon enough what my editor thinks...

Before I go, I'll leave with with some movie/book recommendations (somehow, in spite of the world crashing down around me lately, I managed to squeeze in lots of reading and movie catching up time. No, I was NOT procrastinating...)


1) Water. That's the title. "Water". It's not a very recent one (2004, I think), but it's amazing. It takes place in India in 1938, right around the time Gandhi was making a name for himself, and when child marriages to yucky old perverted men were common practice (lest you think I'm being unfair to Indians, those things happened plenty in the Middle-East in the olden days, in Africa, and yes, in Europe not too too long ago. Samuel de Champlain, the explorer who "civilized" Quebec took a 12 year-old bride when he was in his fifties and brought her back gloves made of native-Americans' skin as a present from the New World... Can you say weirdo?)

Anyhoo, the heroine of this story is an 8 year-old girl who finds out the man she doesn't quite remember marrying died and left her a widow. This is very, very bad as strict Hindu scripture prescribes that widows either hurl themselves into the fire after their dead husbands, live out the rest of their miserable lives in penitence on the fringes of society for being the reason their poor men departed this Earth, or marry their dead husband's younger brother if he has one. Our young protagonist is sent away to an ashram (an institution where widows live secluded from the rest of the world) where she has to adapt to living on one meal a day, having her hair shorn, and begging every once in a while. It sounds like a miserable movie but it's quite uplifting in a strange way. It's also tragic, universal, beautiful and haunting. Favorite scene: after a particularly trying episode, one man asks a dedicated widow how she can keep her faith after so much suffering. Her reply: "I know we're here for a reason." His reply:"Yes. Because when you are sent here [the ashram], that's one less mouth to feed, four less saris a year, one more bed in the house. You're here as a result of an economic decision masquerading as religion."

2) Three Kings. This is another oldie, shot right after Operation Desertstorm, the first Iraqi escapade... (early 1990s) but chillingly relevant today. It follows three screwball soldiers (Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice-Cube) who find a map for treasure Saddam stole from Kuwait in a POW's butt. They want to get the treasure while the army is busy pulling out of Iraq (that's the funny part of the movie) but get caught up in a popular uprising in the process (the not-so-funny part). One of the better, more balanced and honest Hollywood movies about the Middle-East conflict I've seen. And there aren't many of those around, so you really shouldn't miss this one.


Something Blue - now I've read all the Emily Giffins and I've loved them all. I think this may have been my favorite. Darcy is so much more complex and interesting to follow than mopey Rachel. At least that's my opinion...

Blame It On Paris - just started this one, but it's hilarious so far. Down-home Georgia girl drools over French waiter and manages to ask him out despite quasi-crippling self-deprecating humor and cynicism. Semi-autobiographical (big whoop, so's most chick lit. The shock value here is that this author actually owns up to it...) Bonus: love the descriptions of the city. I miss Paris...

That's it for now chickkies. Will try to post though the priority right now is to get my proposal out for the sequel to FL. But, maybe if you ask me nicely, I'll tell you how I met Orlando Bloom a few weekend ago (yes, words were spoken between us beyond "aren't you Orlando Bloom, drool drool") ...