Thursday, July 6, 2017

Outlander, Jamie Fraser, and the TV Show I Refuse to Watch

So I have a dilemma. Or maybe it's not a dilemma, since I've pretty much made up my mind that I'm not going to watch the Outlander TV series. And even though including a photo of the actor who plays Jamie Fraser would probably be most welcome here, I am not going to do it. In fact, when I went to the STARZ site to copy the series link, I squinted so that I wouldn't be able to make him out.

I've been told by a number of people that the show is lush, well-done, and true to the books, and that I would love it, but I can't do it. Already the few images of the actor playing Jamie have begun to superimpose themselves over the version of Jamie I have in my head, and that just won't do.

I have loved Jamie Fraser, the hero of Outlander, since 1994, when I wandered into a bookstore and picked the mass market paperback edition off the shelve.

My beloved original copy.

I hadn't heard a single word about the series at that point, though the second and third books were out by then. Was I too out of it to know about the cult following (soon to be a full-on following) it was generating? Perhaps. I had just graduated from college and was feeling a bit lost as I hung around my college town with no idea what I would do with my life and only a part-time job to fill my days.

I'd graduated with a degree in Social Thought and Political Economy, a cool interdisciplinary major that led me to great classes, but I wasn't prepared for anything. I wanted to write, but that was still a vague notion. I certainly wasn't making plans to do it for a living. I didn't know what I would do for a living.

College students these days are way more forward-thinking than I was then. Times have changed and you need to have a plan if you're going to make it in the working world. But it would take me a few years to get it together. Until then, I made it up as went along.

Outlander was just what I needed at that time, though really, it would have been just what I needed no matter when I found it. It's the perfect escapist book and I completely lost myself in the story of Jamie and Claire's love. Nothing could bother me while I was reading it.

Maybe the show would expand my love for the story and give me another way to experience the characters. But I can't go there yet. I'm not ready to give up the Jamie I've loved so long for the guy who plays him on TV, no matter how pretty he is.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sexy poetry for your reading pleasure

So this past Wednesday I went to a poetry reading by Billy Collins, who opened the Sunken Garden poetry series at the Hillstead Museum in Farmington, CT. They do it every summer and I highly recommend it if you live nearby and like summer and poetry and picnics. Or even two out of the three.

Before I turned to writing romances I wrote poetry, and one day I discovered Billy Collins in a literary journal I was reading. I was working at Border's Books (the defunct brick and mortar bookstore of yore), and I marched right over to the poetry section and plucked him off the shelves. I bought several more of his books over the years and would often re-read my favorites. 

But I haven't read him in years and I'd forgotten there was a poem called "Japan," until Wednesday night when Billy Collins read it. I fell in love all over again.

JAPAN

Today I pass the time reading 
a favorite haiku
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It's the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed. 




And now I'll share a poem I wrote during that same timeframe. I make no claim to greatness, but perhaps my kindred romance readers will appreciate the sentiment. 

Reasons for ROmances
                
At the bookstore we strip the covers
off mass market books
and send them to the publishers.
The rest gets thrown in the trash,
but one woman has papered her office
with the rescued inner flaps
of romance novels, the dim white paint
now a froth of pleated pastels and tousled hair.
We laugh and point to our favorite men,
our taste for hairless chests
and tight breeches revealed.
But when no one's around,
I gaze seriously at those lovers
on prairies and in coaches.
My desire is equally absurd
and sure to remain unrequited.
Oh, to be seduced like a virgin
in a world without consequences.





Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Marriage of Convenience

In December of my sophomore year of college my grandmother treated me, my cousin Jamie, my mother and my aunt to a Caribbean cruise. My grandmother was practically a professional cruiser by this time, and she had no intention of taking her granddaughters, both of us a tender nineteen years old, on one of those enormous Carnival ships where we could get into all kinds of trouble. Instead she booked us passage on a smaller ship with much less to do.

But that was okay with me, because the main attraction was our waiter:


This is Ivan (pronounced Ee-van). 

Ivan was our waiter for all three meals. I'm not sure when he slept. But I didn't want him to, anyway, I wanted him where I could see him. And it wasn't just me, all the women at our table were equally enthralled. That was the point. All the waiters—and in fact nearly every male member of the staff—were young and hot. 

They were also from war-torn or impoverished countries and were working on the ship because they didn't have better options. They also didn't have the papers to live anywhere outside their own country, so they were stuck on the boat watching us devour three meals plus a midnight buffet each and every day. Loads of fun, no doubt.  

One day Ivan told us he was from Yugoslavia and couldn't go back home or he'd be drafted into the army, and that he hadn't heard from his mother or young daughter in weeks. 

The whole thing was tragic and I felt terrible for him. He seemed kind and stuck and I wanted to save him. So I did what any nineteen-year old college sophomore would do: I told my mother I wanted to marry him so that he could get off the boat and live in the U.S. 

Perhaps I'd read a few too many romances.

I knew it was far-fetched, of course, and frankly I'd have been terrified if by some freakish turn of events my mother agreed and Ivan agreed, etc. But I had to at least mention it. But bless her, my mother didn't laugh at all. In fact she answered me quite seriously, in part I think because she was half in love with him also and felt for him like I did. But she pointed out that it would be all too obvious to immigration officials that we didn't have a real relationship, given the way we'd met. It just wouldn't fly. So that was that. 

It was Ivan's job to keep us happy that week we were on the ship, but I like to think he had some affection for us, as we did for him. 

Our goodbye kiss. Check out how good he is at kissing and how clueless I am. 

When I left the ship I had details of how I could reach him, and I did write to him once. There isn't much to say when you barely know someone and their experience is so far beyond your own, and I was conscious of a certain ridiculousness on my own part. But I confessed the plan I'd had, offering it up in a half-joking way to see what he'd say. I suppose I wanted him to know I cared. 

In his reply to me he said I was "the best part of his long and stupid ship life." And that's where it ended. There was nowhere to go after that.

I wish I knew his last name. I hope he's doing well, wherever he is. I hope he found his own happily ever after.



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Re-Reading the Handmaid's Tale

You've probably heard about Hulu's new series, The Handmaid's Tale, which is based on Margaret Atwood's novel of the same title. Maybe you've read the book. I read it years ago, so long ago that I don't remember much beyond the main premise. Except that after all these years a gorgeous phrase from the book has stuck with me, an observation Offred makes when looking at a dark purple flower in the garden, its color "like black cat ears in the sun."

Gorgeous, right?

I want to watch the Hulu show, but I decided to re-read the book again first a) because I think it's an important book and b) because I wanted to know the book better before I watched the show, which will inevitably make changes to the original story.

Here's the thing. The first time I read it I didn't find it nearly so grim or difficult to take. I don't know why it's different now, maybe it's just that I'm older, but it's suffocating in a way I didn't experience before. I think it's Atwood's intention for me to feel this way, but it's not pleasant, and so guess what? After a couple chapters I put the book down and started reading Strange the Dreamer instead—escaping from a dystopian future into fantasy.

Sometimes I just don't want to go there, which I guess is why I'm such a big fan of all things romance. Certain books do a number on me. I'll be horribly unhappy and then realize it's because of the book I'm reading. This happened recently with the wonderful Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. But I consider this a failing on my part, to some extent, because some of the most moving and gorgeous books out there will also make you sad, or uncomfortable, but I'd be missing out if I skipped over them. 

Which is why I always have a romance on deck to pull me out of the emotional depths and into the light of a happily ever after. 






Monday, May 29, 2017

Kindred Spirits

It's fitting that last week I blogged about Anne of Green Gables, because she was all about finding kindred spirits and I have just finished Rainbow Rowell's short story of the same title.

I've been waiting for this story to become available, because it was originally released only in the UK for World Book Day and none of us non-Brits could get our hands on it. But at last it's available to all her fans the world over.

It was worth the wait.

Anyone who loves Rowell's books will love this little gem, but if you also happen to be a Star Wars fan (as I am) you will appreciate it on that level too, because the two main characters meet in line for the first Star Wars sequel. I loved the characters and dialogue and Rowell's unique voice. And you can't help loving Elena, the heroine, who says that her favorite movie is Empire Strikes Back because of the kissing.


Oh, yes.

I'm assuming that Rowell is working away on another book, so this little chocolate truffle of a story will have to hold us all over until the next one is released. And then we'll gobble that one up, too, knowing we should slow down because we'll be sorry when it ends, but loving it too much to do anything but read until the end.

I keep a list of favorite authors so that I can periodically check if any of them has a new book out. That's what I was doing when I discovered that Kindred Spirits was released worldwide. So now I need to keep moving down the list—and hoping that the authors I love write a lot faster than I do.






Monday, May 22, 2017

My Old Friend Anne

When I was eight or nine my mother gave me a stack of used books for Hanukah, along with a grown-up brown leather wallet. That was after she and my dad divorced and before she got remarried and landed a better-paying job, so times were tight. But back then kids we knew didn't get crazy gifts for Hanukah, plus I was a big reader, so books were always cool with me.

Anne of Green Gables was in that stack, and I lived and breathed it and read the whole series of books over and over. The romance between Gilbert Blythe and Anne was one of the great romances of my early life, second only (chronologically anyway) to Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder. 

I still have that first copy of the book, but it's fragile now and the cover fell off years ago, so I recently bought a fresh copy I could break in anew. This past week I was sick as a dog and did nothing but cough and blow my nose and take my temperature (I need up-to-the minute intel when I'm sick), and my fever left me feeling wiped out and dull. I needed the comfort of a beloved book, and so I put down the new Laini Taylor book, Strange the Dreamer (which I will blog about when I finish) and picked up Anne. 

I'm so glad I read it when I was really young, because there's no way to go back in time and have the full effect of a book if you miss the window when you're young. There are so many books I didn't read when I was a kid—many of them because my brothers read them, which made them boy books and therefore to be avoided. I never read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, and by the time I wanted to, there was no way for them to be magical. I could appreciate them, but that's different than living and breathing them. 

But luckily I found Anne at the right time, and I'll always have that. Every night since I started it again, I've gone to bed smiling.






Monday, May 15, 2017

New Adult is for Everyone

So my current book project is a new adult romance set in college, and while I was hesitant to read other new adult novels while writing one for fear that I would discover that another writer was covering similar territory, in the end I couldn't help myself.

Earlier in the year I read Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you do. Even if M/M romances aren't generally your thing, my guess is you'll like reading about two hot hockey players who fall for each other. It's really smart and realistic, and did I mention HOT?

Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen write both adult and new adult romances on their own, and I recently read The Year We Fell Down and The Year We Hid Away, the first two books in Sarina's The Ivy Years series. Both were excellent, but The Year We Fell Down was especially moving because the heroine is partly disabled from a hockey accident. It's handled so well and the hero—another hockey player—is perfect. If you start reading Sarina Bowen you'll find that there's a lot of hockey going on.

I started reading one of Elle Kennedy's college books and the heroine had the same name as mine does, so I put it down. I'll pick it up again when my book is done.

My husband and I just bought our first house last spring and now we have a mortgage to pay and hedges to trim (seriously, I can't believe we have hedges to trim), so going back in time to my college years as I write is particularly fun. Much to my surprise, I've even discovered things about myself at that time that got translated to my heroine, so it's been pretty cool.

Also cool: writing about first kisses. Like, first first kisses. So fun.