Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is this a good idea?

Despite our cruise ship woes, we met some interesting people. I know, I know, "interesting" is a nothing kind of word. Blah. Useless. But in this instance, it fits.  The couple from Mississippi who drove to Florida to catch the cruise, regaled us about eating the worst fried chicken in the world in a town in Wisconsin billing itself as the friend chicken capital of the world was hilarious. We chatted with librarians and needlepointers, a Russian violinist to whom we taught the world "olive," and generally nice folks.

One lady took the proverbial cake. Eighty-eight years old, she lives on the cruise ship year round, and has for the past 17 years. She knows all the crew by name, and they know her. Rolling her walker from dining room to hallway, she appeared to enjoy her life as an honorary "dam" member of the crew.  Front row center for every entertainment, she wasn't shy about joining in.

Yet I had to wonder if she is ever lonely. People she grows to know on board of the passenger variety disembark after a week or two. The crew shifts must happen on a timely basis. She's not too spry, though she's moving under her own steam. She doesn't go ashore with any of the staff. I found myself fascinated with "what if" questions, the sort that lead to a story.

Can I metamorphize her into a sleuth? Ah, the ultimate "locked door" mystery solver, one with a red sequin rose in her hair, no less. Or is she a matchmaker for the younger staff, finding them partners who are on board for only a few months or weeks at a time? Will she match up the charming Russian violinist with the Tai Chi instructor from Portugal?

Or should I leave her alone? I haven't yet decided. . . . and I'm certainly not about to write anything insulting or inappropriate if she becomes my detective.  My question is: would it be unkind or immoral to base a character, loosely, on this lovely woman's choice of an unorthodox life for one of her advanced years?

What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Home Again

Sorry for the quiet. Just got home this afternoon after a brief run down south. Started in Daytona at the Bud Shootout, then hopped a ship for the Western Caribbean. (sp?) We were supposed to go to Key West first, but the Ryndam blew a diesel generator and we couldn't dock.

We should have seen the handwriting on the wall. We've cruised with Holland America before and everything was lovely. The Ryndam, however, is much smaller and older, and it shows. I won't run through the litany of problems, because we did get some sun and warm weather. For that, I'm grateful.

Anyway, we passed on the Daytona 500 when we docked to rain and more rain. Will write more later, after all the laundry and unpacking is done.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vampires and Made in China

First rant of the day (hopefully, the only rant): We received a solicitation for a donation from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the esteemed VFW. Inside was a nice card to fill out so it could be delivered to a Vet in a Veterans Hospital, and an equally gracious recitation of all the good things the VFW does for our veterans, requesting we send a check. So far, so good. But a small "Made in China" on the envelope containing all this niceness stopped me in my tracks. The VFW of the United States of America is using China to print its solicitation letters?

Whoa up there. How about putting jobless veterans to work in the U.S. printing out the VFW's goods?  The VFW won't get a penny from me until it keeps its business within these borders. I'll bet there are a ton of people who didn't notice that Made in China on the letters they received. From now on, I'm paying more attention.

How does this relate to vampires, you ask? Well, it really doesn't, except I was reading a review of the newest Tim Burton-produced movie, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE SLAYER.  I remember seeing the book on the shelf and laughing out loud. The preposterous always amuses me. Now, there's a movie. And Vampire Diaries on the CW. And vampires still holding court on bookshelves everywhere. But a line in the movie's review, spoken by one of the flick's producers, lit the proverbial light bulb in my brain.

The movie, he said, was aimed for a  youthful audience, or words to that effect. Old people needn't bother to plunk down their money for a ticket. It came to me that vampires are still big sellers for younger readers, and I include those in their twenties and early thirties, because they're about immortality. The beautiful young who never age rule society, living century upon century, wealthy, seductive, and without those pesky laws of the real world to impede their desires. Is this an attractive fictional universe? Heck, yes!

The teenagers of Vampire Diaries, beautiful and ripped all, live without the impediment of parents or poverty. They drink alcohol whenever they like, because hey, there are no adults to say "no." They drive cool cars. They go to school when they feel like it or to attend the prom, and that's it.  Their clothes are stylish and their jewelry fashionable. Hair and makeup never get messy. Lovers come and go from their bedrooms at all hours.

Has our society placed such a premium on youth and living longer that it's now the reigning theme in fiction? 
I'm beginning to worry that the answer is, heck, yes.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


I've met quite a few in my time on this plane of existence. Some will never leave my brain, while others pop up unexpectedly and without warning. Most of them are fictional.  Yes, when I get sucked into a story, it's usually about character for me.

Dave Robicheaux? I swear, I know the man like I know my own Beloved. (Not physically, of course.) James Lee Burke has given his main protagonist a life that's so real, I believe in him. Same with the Doc Ford novels. Now and then, Doc Ford goes off the deep end, but he always comes back to reality somehow, somewhere. I'm reading Learning to Swim  right now, and Troy is fully fleshed and could be one of my friends from college.  I could go on and on about the fictional people who live inside my head and who, just now and then, seem to have a conversation with me, in the flesh. It's all good, I swear.

Can a plot-driven story have great characters? Of course. Can I think of any? Umm, not at the moment. Will do some looking-over of the bookshelves. Is Jason Bourne a plot-driven thriller series? Or is the character dominant over the shenanigans? Again, must think about it.

I've come to realize that I need a first person narrator for me to identify immediately with the hero. Larry Watson's Montana 1942 fits the bill perfectly. Deep third POV works second best for me (what a ton of work that is for the author!), then it's all the same to me. A good story will always be a good story, no matter what POV, but if you want me to remember your characters, you have to let me have a conversation with them, one on one.

Been nice talking with you!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

How to Read a Book

Grandiose title, I admit. I drive my family nuts because I read the ending first. Doesn't matter if it's a thriller or a romance, I need to check to see if I like the payoff, or I'm not wasting time on the story. A fellow writer was discussing Pathetic Plots, where the main protagonist gets shafted, and my immediate reaction was "oh yeah, an Oprah pick for her book club!" If that's the way the story rolls, count me out.

My daughter has another method for deciding which book to read. If the To Be Read Pile is in danger of toppling, she'll pick three or four and read the first four chapters of each.  If she goes to bed that evening, or wakes up the next day wanting to read more of any one of them, then that's the pick of the week.  She has much more self-control than I!

My Beloved likes to savor a book. He reads carefully, deliberately, and without a bit of skimming. (Scenic descriptions? Count me out, I'm on to the next paragraph.) Consequently, he remembers each detail about the books he has read and why he liked or disliked them.  Me, I remember characters. And endings.

Time is too short, there are too many good books out there, to waste time on a tome that isn't going to tingle my toes. (My alliteration gene has gone crazy. Forgive me.)