Monday, January 25, 2010


I admit it--I am one of those people. Whenever a new film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel comes out (and they've been thick as fleas these past few years, haven't they?) I'm in the front row with the cheese popcorn, mesmerized. Now, why a person ever needs to watch more than one version of Mansfield Park in her life, I don't know. I offer no rational explanation. Why does my cat punch holes in every paperback cover she can sink her sharp little teeth into? No idea. It's a force of nature. We cannot explain; we can only obey.

So: last night, Emma. The only wealthy Jane Austen heroine, and the most deliciously flawed. BBC. Romola Garai. I'm so there. Sweep me away, Masterpiece Theatre!

Opening credits. Toes tingling with anticipation. And then...a voiceover.

Fight off immediate sense of dread. Because too many times, voiceover = bad movie. (Is it just me, or have other people noticed that, too?) Voiceovers explain things, and this voiceover insisted on explaining stuff that would be perfectly obvious from watching the characters. Yes, Emma's father is a hypochondriac who fears the worst at all times. For Pete's sake, you've got Michael Gambon playing him--Michael Gambon, whose portrayal of Squire Hamley in Wives and Daughters* made me cry (and I do not cry easily--witness a theater production of Les Miserables, sobs and stifled weeping all through the audience, and me? A stone. That's how hard my heart is, people.) Michael Gambon, as I say, who can express a subtlety with an eyelid, and you have to sum his character up for us before the story even starts?

I wish I could say that this new Emma destroyed my voiceover prejudice forever. It's not terrible, but swept away? I felt a few breezes, but otherwise, not so much. The overtelling continued throughout the episode, with dialogue (not Austen's--she knew better) telegraphing what was to come, rather than letting the action play out for the viewer. Austen was the master of delicious scene-building--why not let us enjoy it, and the surprises that come with it?

I'm no Austen purist (here's proof), but alas, I was underwhelmed. However: two more episodes are to come, and I'll be there, front and center. A tepid version of Jane still beats most else, after all. Besides--who am I to deny a force of nature?

*If you're a fellow Austen and/or costume drama fan, and you haven't seen Wives and Daughters yet, GO. Order the DVD from, put it in your Netflix queue. Now. I'll wait. While you're at it, get the book by Elizabeth Gaskell. Big, fat, luscious read. You won't regret it, I promise.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Optimize Me, Baby!

You may remember (or not, it was a tad bit ago), me rhapsodizing about a character-naming website called the Baby Name Wizard. Although why they call it the Baby Name Wizard and not the Character Name Wizard, I'm not sure. It might have something to do with wacky people using it to name actual living humans instead of figments of their imaginations. Sounds crazy, I know, but hey--I don't make this stuff up.

A character's name is of course enormously important. For example, if your protagonist is a half-feral, demon-killing maiden of the Sacred Sword of Arnooth, who has sworn bloody vengeance against the spawn of Beezelbub who slew her mother lo these many years past (now, that I made up) you don't name her Pickles. Actually, you don't name anyone Pickles. That's a Rule. Write it down.

I hear you whispering back there. You think the example I just gave is easy. Because obviously the perfect name for a half-feral, demon-killing urban fantasy protagonist is Shzaghatha of the Rampaging El. What novelist worth her salt needs a website for that?

Well fine, smartypants. Name me this: a boy's name that means warrior.

With no more than two syllables.

In Arabic.

Ha! Not so easy now, is it, my pretty?*

And yet--it is. Writers,** say hello to the Baby Name Optimizer. Make your choices among 17 variables--not only ethnicity and number of syllables, but style (trendy, timeless, exotic), popularity (Top 100, less popular, unusual), origin (Biblical, Buddhist Zen, Muslim, Sanskrit, Saints, Shakespearian, among a slew of others). Want a celebrity name? A name that conveys your character is athletic? Dark? Graceful? A name that is associated with animals? A place? A gemstone?

The Optimizer, it is a veritable garden of geeky delight, my friends. A garden! We're talking wild climbing roses and birds of paradise and lilies of the freaking valley here. Not to mention, it's a procrastinator's dream.

And remember: Once you've optimized your character's name, pop over to the Baby Name Wizard and find out how popular it's been in every decade since the 1880s.

Sigh. And they say we can't find heaven here on earth.

Okay, enough geeking out (although really, can one ever truly get enough?) But I gotta get to work. Just as soon as I plug in a request for a four-syllable Teutonic girl's name meaning "peacemaker" that does not end in the letter a.

Axelle. Ah well--four out of five ain't bad.

*I have got to stop watching Wizard of Oz late at night. Oh, BTW, the Arabic boy warrior's name? Shamar. Nice, huh?

**Yes, I suppose you expectant-parent types can use it, too. But don't you dare take Axelle. That name is mine.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Forget the Golden Globes and People's Choice, YALSA* named their 2010 Literary Award winners.

And the William C. Morris Award, for the best teen book written by a debut author, goes to...

drumroll, please

...Portland's own L.K. Madigan, for Flash Burnout!

Here's the book description:

Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who's a girl. One of them loves him; the other one needs him.

When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa's long-lost meth addicted mom. Blake's participation in the ensuing drama opens up a world of trouble, both for him and for Marissa. He spends the next few months trying to reconcile the conflicting roles of Boyfriend and Friend. His experiences range from the comic (surviving his dad's birth control talk) to the tragic (a harrowing after-hours visit to the morgue).

In a tangle of life and death, love and loyalty, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of himself.

I read Flash Burnout when it was released a few months ago, and it's one of my favorite books of 2009. Lisa (aka L.K.) just nails the teen boy voice. (How am I an expert, you might ask? Answer: I grew up with three of the creatures.) It's funny, wry, poignant, and pitch-perfect.

For a hilarious taste of Lisa's wit (and Blake's), check out this interview.

Congratulations, Lisa--you done Portland Kidlit proud!

*Young Adult Library Services Association, which is the teen literature branch of the American Library Association. The 800-lb gorilla of kidlit, in other words.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dream Big 2010

All this month, author Lisa Schroeder (I Heart You, You Haunt Me; Far From You) is having a Dream Big celebration over on her blog. Lisa has asked twenty-six fellow authors to write about what it means to Dream if you need some inspiration this January, don't miss what everyone has to say about their own personal journeys, setbacks, discoveries, and triumphs.

Last night, I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa read from her brand-new novel, Chasing Brooklyn. Today, I have the honor of being her guest blogger. Check out what Dream Big means to me.

Monday, January 04, 2010

What ARE Editors Thinking When They Look at Your Manuscript?

I don't often lift content from other blogs, but today is an exception. That's right, I'm gonna start my blogging New Year as a big fat stealer. Why? Because this is good stuff and if you're a writer and you haven't seen this already, I think you should.

(If you're not a writer, you might still be interested. OR you can skip to the bottom and look at this LOLcat instead, which I stole off I Can Has Cheezburger just for you.)

The following pearls are from Kathy Temean, a children's book author and illustrator who also writes a very informative blog on children's publishing. In one of her recent posts, she listed the Top Ten Questions Dutton Editors Ask Themselves When Looking at a Manuscript. Bear in mind, these are for children's books, but most of them pertain to novels for any age:

1. Who is the readership for this book?

2. Does this story surprise me and take me to places I didn’t expect?

3. Is this a main character I care about?

4. Am I personally moved by this story or situation?

5. I this a theme/emotion/concern that a lot of kids will be able to relate to?

6. Has this been done a million times before?

7. Will I want to read this manuscript ten (or more) times?

8. Is the voice/character authentic and real?

9. For picture books: Would this story be visually interesting for 32 pages? Could I easily envision the illustrations for this?

10. For novels: Does the action of the story move at a good pace and hold our interest? Does tension build as the story moves forward?

*For a book to earn a permanent spot on my shelves, it has to be one I have read/will want to read at least twice. There might be three or four out of the whole bunch I've read as many as ten times. But when an editor acquires a book, he or she is committing to reading that book again...and again...and again... Which would be a lot easier to do if you really love the stuffing out of the thing.

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