Alisa Kwitney is the daughter of science fiction writer Robert Sheckley and journalist Ziva Kwitney. She grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, back when you always carried a bit of spare cash so as not to disappoint the muggers.
At Wesleyan University, Alisa failed to get accepted to various creative writing courses but found a mentor in SF/Fantasy author Kit Reed. Alisa went on to receive the Horgan prize for best short story, but to her eternal regret, she dropped out of Joe Reed’s film course, not realizing that A) she would really need to perfect her visual storytelling skills or that B) one of the TA’s was Joss Whedon, future creator of Buffy and Firefly.
After graduation, Alisa worked as a newspaper reporter in Miami before returning to New York to attend Columbia’s MFA program in fiction, where she continued to supplement the required reading with comics and romance novels. Her MFA thesis, Till the Fat Lady Sings, was published by HarperCollins and reviewed in The Sunday NY Times.
While her classmates went on to work for literary publishers and magazines, Alisa applied for an assistant editor position at Silhouette and DC Comics, where she wound up working for Karen Berger on titles such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.
Alisa went on to become a full editor at Vertigo, the mature/dark fantasy imprint of DC Comics. For seven years, she enjoyed the luxury of a window office and the indescribable pleasure of being paid to tell other people what she thought.
Then she left it all behind to write full time.
These days, Alisa Kwitney lives in the Hudson River Valley, two hours from her beloved Upper West Side with her husband, son, daughter, two emotionally dependent Burmese cats and a big, extroverted Chinook dog.
Alisa has written some half a dozen novels, two coffee table books, and assorted comics and graphic novels. Her novels, which have been described as “romances laced with satire and a mainstream flair” (Library Journal) have been translated into Russian, German, Japanese, Norwegian and Bahasa Indonesian.
She also writes dark fantasy/paranormal romance and science fiction under the name Alisa Sheckley.
Photo: copyright Trix Rosen
Just finished my Marvel Avengers novel, and now I'm trying to catch my breath and figure out Scrivener before launching into my next project. I'm also trying to resist the siren call of new fall clothes I don't actually need (schoolboy blazers! Liberty print boyfriend shirts! A choker with a pendant made from Haunted Mansion wallpaper!) Is it just me, or does the slight nip in the air make everyone want to dye their hair auburn? I do realize that this will not transform me into Natasha Romanova, but it's hard to resist the fantasy of becoming a dangerous, glamorous redhead.
I'm also catching up on my reading: Finished Gone, Girl, and am onto Tana French's wonderful In the Woods. I've got a batch of other things I'm dying to dive into, including an old book about everyday life in tsarist Russia, which I ordered off the internet. Oh, and I'm also reading Caitlin Moran's hysterical How to be a Woman and Eric Maisel's book Coaching the Artist Within. My father gave me Maisel's book The Van Gogh Blues in 2005, and I've dipped into it again and again. Now I'm going to Maisel's intensive writing course at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck this October – a reward for managing to complete my Avengers book in three months (not my idea, that's how long they gave me!)
I'm also looking forward to catching up on my TV watching. I'm late to the party for Dr. Who and Game of Thrones, but I'm finally joining. Also want to try Homeland. I just discovered a weird, Secretary-like movie called Girl on a Bridge with Vanessa Paradis as a suicidal waif rescued by a sexy circus knife-thrower. (I was doing research on circus Impalement Arts because the Avengers' Hawkeye was trained in them.)
You can see an over-the-top clip on YouTube.
January 2012: How to Rewrite a Novel without Losing Momentum, Faith, or Your Mind
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is condemned to push a boulder up a hill, watch it roll back down, and then start all over again. When you begin a rewrite of a novel, you may feel like Sisyphus had it easy. After all, at least he knew exactly what he had to do.
You, on the other hand, have a tangled ball of plots and subplots that aren’t quite working the way you (or an editor or agent) want them to work. You may need to kill some characters and replace them with others. Worst of all, there’s great stuff in there, all mixed up with the not-so-great, and you’re not sure how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In your lowest moments, you may think you would rather throw the whole thing out and write something completely different. You may want to beat your head against the writing desk. You may actually lie down on the rug with the dog and make small whimpering noises until the dog huffs a sigh and gets up and walks away.
How do I know these things? I know these things because I have been there. These are my tricks for getting up off the dog rug of despair and enjoying – yes, that’s right, I said enjoying – the rewriting process.
1) Rewrite your synopsis.
Some writers are “pantsers” and write by the seat of their pants. Some writers are planners and use index cards or virtual index cards to chart every aspect of the book. Most writers, I suspect, fall somewhere in between. For me, a synopsis is like a rough driving plan to get me from New York to Miami, with room to take detours and taking in local color without losing track of my ultimate destination, or forgetting to visit Aunt Ida in Georgia.
Besides, rewriting a synopsis is a lot less scary than tackling the whole book blind. When rewriting your synopsis, you should:
a) Figure out the character arc of your protagonist. Then, ideally, figure out the character arc of your antagonist. How about the foil, (often the protagonist’s best friend?) Does the love interest have a character arc? Is there a mentor in the story, and if so, does she or he get a character arc?
I would say that at the very least, every point of view character requires a clearly defined character arc.
b) Think of the key scenes. Sometimes the key scenes may already exist in the previous draft. (Yeah, that’s right, the book you slaved over for months or years is now a draft.) Sometimes you may need to jettison the old structure in order to take advantage of a new possibility.
For example, in my rewrite of a novel about a woman haunted by the ghost of her ex-boyfriend, I added a character (a perfect on paper living boyfriend) who wants to take my protagonist away on a romantic weekend. For the longest time, I kept thinking I needed to have my protagonist lose the not right boyfriend before the trip took place, because I was still wedded to my old structure. Then I realized how funny it would be if my ghost decided to tag along, uninvited, on the romantic weekend.
One way to think of key scenes is to figure out the pivotal moments of the plot, using the writer’s journey template, or any of the tried-and-true screenplay beats.
Another way is to think of what you want to write. Do you long to write a great comedy set piece, where all your characters come together? Do you want to write a great dramatic scene, where a character is forced to make a wrenching choice? Every story has certain scenes – not always crucial ones, mind – that really stand out. In the movie Enchanted, there is a throwaway scene where the princess, trilling a Snow White style song, enlists the aid of thousands of cockroaches to clean an apartment. In the Hunger Games, one of my favorite scenes is one in which the gruff, no-nonsense huntress heroine meets her tittering crew of makeup and costume people.
c) Think of tests. Think of ways to test your protagonist by playing on his or her weaknesses -- or on his or her hidden strengths.
d) Don’t forget food. Eating and drinking are a huge part of our daily lives, and sometimes they get left out of stories. It doesn’t take long for hunger or thirst to occupy most of our thoughts, and including food in a story can help ground it and make it feel real. You can use this for scenes where you need to deliver expository information, or want to play with abstract concepts.
2) Okay, now go through your original manuscript and tag pages or phrases that absolutely should be saved. Make a list and check back with it as you embark on your rewrite. (This keeps you from constantly having to reread the old draft, which takes a lot of time.) You may find, as I did, that some of these do wind up getting cut, but by the time you find that out you won’t feel as bad about it.
3) Now you have a plan for moving forward, a set of fun things you want to write, and an easily accessible check list of things from the old draft that you know you want to include. You’re ready to get rewriting. And remember:
“Books aren’t written. They’re re-written.” Michael Crichton.
Endings. There’s an old chestnut that says that beginning writers have difficulty with endings, and seasoned authors have trouble with beginnings. The reason: An experienced writer knows the seeds of the ending must be planted in the beginning.
Yet the truth is, experienced writers sometimes have trouble with endings, too. (Yes, I am speaking of myself!) While wrestling with my own ending issues, I came up with the following types of ending problem:
1) Circling the runway. The plot is clearly ready to come in for an ending, but for some reason outside the story (page count requirement, or the desire to create one last twist like the screenplay writing books say is required) the plot decides to make one more revolution, serving up a surprise that isn’t really a surprise, a revelation that isn’t really a revelation, or a complication that just makes the reader want to skip to the resolution.
Fix: Don’t do this. When your plot is ready to end, end it. Or come up with a twist that feels psychologically and emotionally authentic for the characters.
2) Suddenly, right in the final section, the story switches genres (from romance or romantic comedy or women’s fiction) and becomes action/adventure or thriller or farce.
Fix: Maintain the tone and proportion of suspense to humor or quiet emotion. You can go quite dark in some kinds of comedy, but only for very short amounts of time. In the film Crazy, Stupid Love there is a moment where a main character is suspected of doing something both illegal and immoral. In a different kind of story, this could have taken the whole plot to resolve – in this film, it was brief enough not to change the flavor of the story.
3) The final resolution is brought about by a character’s thinking really hard about things and, all on his or her own, coming to an internal epiphany.
Fix: Provide some external conflict or external catalyst (which could be an external memory trigger) that keeps the final moment from becoming too cerebral.
4) The crisis at the end of the story is resolved almost before it has a chance to become a real problem. This is more of a prose writer’s problem than a screenplay writer’s issue, and it is, in a sense, the opposite of #2. It’s the fiction equivalent of flipping your omelet before it’s set.
Fix: If there’s a misunderstanding, let it blossom as far as it can without changing the tone of the story (see #2.) It’s also a good idea to add a little insult to injury. The classic example of this is a sudden rainstorm drenching the protagonist, so if at all possible, avoid using this device. Get creative! Life has so many ways of messing you up. Recently a friend’s car was stolen, and then found and impounded, and she was charged for the time the car was impounded. Now that is insult to injury.
July 2011: Midnight in Paris: A Review (Spoilers Alert!)
Woody Allen’s new film, “Midnight in Paris” has been celebrated as a joyful, charming, exhilarating romantic comedy, up there with the best of the genre. It’s not. It is however, a charming film, and there is such a lack of charming films these days that I don’t regret the time and money spent watching it.
Yet were “Midnight in Paris” a novel, written under a female name (Wanda Allen, perhaps?) about a protagonist named Jill instead of Gil, this story would be called chick lit and lambasted for its shallow, often clichéd portrayals of ugly rich Americans, bohemian artists and writers and Paris itself.
Since it’s Woody Allen, no one seems to notice that in this Disney version of Paris, no Parisian minds speaking English to the Americans, who don’t bother to learn a word of French. Real, and interesting, cultural differences are ignored, and we are made to understand that the protagonist “gets” Paris because he likes to walk its streets in the rain, as opposed to driving through them in a cab.
His fiancée, who plays “Pragmatic” to Gil’s “Romantic” doesn’t get a fair shake. Since she’s apparently a rich man’s daughter who does not work herself, (something that reeks of old-fashioned sexism) her argument that Gil keep writing screenplays so they can live in Malibu shows her as selfish, greedy and shallow. But what if the fiancée were a working woman? What if she didn’t feel comfortable marrying a man whom she might need to support if his novels didn’t sell?
All other traces of conflict are washed away, as if by rain or magic, and what could be a pivotal meeting with a mentor (wannabe novelist Gil gets Gertrude Stein to read his manuscript) turns flat when Stein (superbly played by Kathy Bates) pronounces Gil’s work wonderful.
Since a central conceit of the film is that the main character needs to learn to let go of his illusions about the past being not just a different but a better country, it would have made dramatic sense to have Gil face disappointment there, and perhaps a critical choice. Instead, the film resolves with such improbable neatness that it is clear that we are not in Paris, past or present, but in the Disney version of Paris, where there is no litter, no cigarette butts, no dissonance and no depth.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment by sending me an email at email@example.com or on Facebook.
February 2011: Better Than Sex
My pic for best movie to watch on Valentine’s Day, either with or without someone special, is the 2000 Australian romantic comedy Better Than Sex. The plot is neither original nor clever: A couple of thirtysomething singles meet at a party, hook up for what they expect to be a one night stand, and wind up making love for three days. On the third day, the man has a plane ticket home to London, and the two must decide whether the magic was in the brevity…or could last for a lifetime.
What makes this airy popover of a film unusual and affecting is its air of naturalness and honesty – the two qualities which the lovers say they find so appealing in each other. The hero, played by the craggily attractive David Wenham, wonders if he is getting a little fat (he is not, but his firm, athletic body is not so sculpted that the concern seems absurd) and forgets to put the toilet seat down. The heroine, played with very un-Bridget Jones like self-possession by Susie Porter, has a lovely but not Hollywood-perfect body, complete with freckles, a couple of moles and breasts that do not defy the laws of time and gravity.
The sex, too, is portrayed as imperfect as well as passionate. In voice-overs, we are privy to the character’s thoughts as they kiss and caress, and these internal monologues range from the disarmingly frank (“I was so close,”) to the amusing (“a quarter stick of butter…a cup of flour…two tablespoons…ooooh.”) As the couple get to know each other better, their playful passion becomes something more.
In most Hollywood films, passionate sex is depicted as the perfect union of two flawless bodies. In this film, which only opened on seven screens in the States back in ‘01, the hero and heroine are comfortable enough in their own skins to embrace the lusty, generous and sometimes awkward reality of someone else’s body.
Am nose down, trying hard to finish the ghost of the dead ex-boyfriend, which now has a working title I really love: The Rules of Haunting. How it came about: At the Romance Writer’s of America convention in Orlando a couple of weeks ago, having coffee with my agent, the wonderful Meg Ruley, who asked me if I had worked out the way ghosts functioned in my world.
“I’m a science fiction geek,” I said. “Of course I figured out the rules of haunting.” And Meg said, “that, my girl, is your title.” I think she was right.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read, here’s a quick rundown on what I’ve been reading.
One Day, by David Nicholls.
For once, a cover blurb that means what you hope it will mean – that if you like the books of the blurbler (the clever, emotionally resonant Nick Hornby) you will also like the book in your hands. Like all much-hyped books, this one is about due for a cultural smack down, but I’m not afraid to be part of the mainstream when the mainstream gets it right. Want quibbles? The book (which tracks the events of in the life of Dex (the hero) and Em (the heroine) on July 15 over the course of twenty years) is as cleverly structured as a corset, which can be good, but also a bit confining.
Final verdict? Nutritious and Delicious, my highest praise. I’m currently reading one of NIcholl’s earlier novels, The Understudy, and enjoying it.
The Day the Falls Stood Still, by Cathy Marie Buchanan
This literary novel is, at its heart, a historical romance, and it evokes life for a young girl at the turn of the century in Niagara Falls (the Canadian side) with precisely observed language and exquisite detail. Romance fans will love the innocently sensual courtship between 17-year-old Bess Heath, living in impoverished grandeur (not unlike the heroine of my beloved I Capture the Castle) and Tom Cole, the strong, clever, handsome riverman with a mystical sense of ebbs, tides and watery disasters. The book’s larger themes are similar to those on the now defunct TV series Lost (rationality vs. mysticism, skepticism vs. faith) but there are no smoke monsters, and the depiction of Bess and Tom’s marriage manages to be both realistically rendered and yet passionately true.
Note: Literary novel = Poignant Ending. Nothing damns a book to genre perdition faster than a happy ending, unless, of course, it’s a screwball satire. Which brings me to…
Corrupting Dr. Nice, by John Kessel.
Basically a science fictional rendering of a classic screwball comedy, Kessel’s mid nineties novel is a delightful hodge podge of The Lady Eve (except these father and daughter con artists travel through time) and Bringing up Baby (with a handsome, hapless scientist hero who has a rogue AI bodyguard implant in his head, and a dinosaur replacing the tiger at loose in the suburbs). Laced like dark ganache through this feather-light plot is some cutting social satire, as multiple versions of Jesus, Einstein and Shakepeare from as many alternate universes try to figure out how to handle lives stripped of context. Of course, this is a screwball, so the ending is happy.
ICE by Linda Howard
In this slim haiku of a romance novel, which I read in one long gulp, there are all the right ingredients: Ordinary heroine with extraordinary grit; Big, strong, noble, St. Bernard of a hero, hell-bent on rescue; and the kind of ice storm that flings you back into primitive concerns, like warmth, sustenance, shelter and thigh-quaking sex. There are also a pair of meth addicts who appear to be in better shape than seems probable, given their many resurrections. What’s missing, I suppose, is the careful layering Howard usually supplies in her novels. Subplot? There’s no time for that nonsense here. Mystery? We left that frozen on the side of the road. Nevertheless, minimalist Howard is still delicious, like a single, spare, perfectly cut bit of sushi.
And, last but not least:
Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, as read by Richard Armitage. It doesn’t get any better than this, even if I have started to imagine the actor (who played the devilish Guy of Gisborne) as ingénue, callow youth, pompous suitor and meddling matron, as well as the rakelicious Lord Damorel.
July 2010: An Ode to the Broodingly Bad Boy of BBC’s Robin Hood Series
I am obsessed with Guy of Gisborne. There. It’s out. It’s July, a time of year when clothing and inhibitions wind up in a puddle near the swimming pool, and all I can think about is Richard Armitage as the tall, dark, broodingly conflicted Guy.
Do I care that he dresses like an 80’s Goth biker boy? Not when he disrobes by firelight, broodingly fitting armor onto his leanly muscled torso. Do I mind that he rides around on his big, black horse like “The Great I Am?” About as much as Meg, the testy wench who coined that phrase. She was stuck in the dungeon cell next to Guy’s, and all it took was a casual “suck on your necklace, it will quench your thirst” to make her realize that she’d rather suck his face. (I know what you’re thinking, but I’m keeping this column PG-13.)
Do I mind that Guy occasionally torches houses and terrorizes peasantry? I do not. Guy is just misunderstood—by his writers. If I were writing Guy, the BBC series would never have ended the way it did.
(Spoiler alert ahead)
Oh, Guy, why can’t you see that I should be your writer? Those others, they didn’t really appreciate you. That time when you were blackmailing Marian into marriage and she left you at the altar? I would never have permitted that. No, if it had been up to me, Marian would have been in your arms, and all through the nuptial celebrations, she would have cast you furtive glances, half aroused but denying it because she was still deluding herself about fancying that puerile punk, Robin Hood.
And then, as you went up to the marriage bed, she would have been panicked at the knowledge that you would see the wound on her stomach. And that’s where I would have had you learn that she was the mysterious masked vigilante you kept fighting. Oh, Guy, can’t you see how good it would have been? You, hopelessly in love (not to mention in deep, brooding lust) with Marian, finally pulling back her virginal dress to see the wound you had unknowingly inflicted.
You would have been shocked, angered, guilt-ridden – all your favorite emotions. And then, instead of consummating, you would have galloped off – I mean, first you would have gotten on your horse, then galloped off.
Next, and I’m not clear on all of this yet, you would have had to come back to defend your manor, and Marian would have fought by your side. You would have saved her from an arrow and been terribly injured.
(Spoiler alert ahead)
She would nurse you back and then you would mutter things in your sleep that would reveal to her your true, tragic past, and how you took the blame for Robin Hood’s impulsive actions back when you were boys. Wouldn’t that work much better than finding all this out at the bitter end of the series? I mean, what good did that do, unless you were about to ride off into the sunset with Robin (a plotline I have also considered, mind you).
But whether or not you wound up with Marian or Robin, Guy, I would never have let your wicked sister gag you and leave you tied you down to the bed…without having something interesting happen afterwards. Not with your sister, of course. But did Isabella have to be your sister? She could have been your ward.
But you never even knew I was alive, and so you never found true love in the entire three year run of Robin Hood. In any case, Guy, you live on in my imagination, still balancing on the knife’s edge between head and heart, between evil and redemption, between mullet and grunge.
And in the end, Guy, I will find a way to write you. Under a different name, perhaps, and losing the homicidal tendencies. Maybe your father won’t literally be a leper. And I might tweak your wardrobe, because in real life, men who wear top to toe leather tend not to be terribly introspective.
Did I mention that I would make you more of a reader? I really think you should be more intellectual, which, I grant you, wasn’t easy in the Middle Ages. But you could have picked up a copy of Christine de Pizan’s “The Book of the City of Ladies” on your travels, couldn’t you? Damn right you could, and when I write you, you will.
In the meanwhile, I’ll just go suck my necklace.
June 2010: Ladies’ Choice: The Job of Your Dreams, or The Man
Thought that you might be able to dream of the perfect job and the perfect mate? Dream on. The star of ABC’s new Bachelorette, 25-year old Ali Fedotowsky, has gone on record saying that she is choosing to follow her heart, which means quitting her job in advertising to pursue full-time dating.
Fedotowsky did not always value dating over career. Last season, she was one of the numerous single women competing for one single man on ABC’s show The Bachelor. Considered one of bachelor Jake’s top potential choices for possible girlfriend/fiancée, Fedotowsky reportedly stunned viewers with her choice to leave Jake, and the show, when her bosses back home threatened to fire her.
One has to dig around on ABC’s official website to find an actual description of Fedotowsky’s dream job – account manager in online advertising. Yet while this may not be everyone’s idea of a plum position, it seems a bit strange that the show’s producers have decided to treat it as the job that dare not speak its name.
Apparently, ABC believes that high status jobs such as “pilot” and “doctor” add to a bachelor’s appeal, while a bachelorette’s allure is based on other attributes.
In any case, Fedotowsky has seen the error of her ways. On ABC’s website, readers are told that “Ali surprisingly chose her career - a decision she still regrets. But it's not too late for Ali now. She's left her home, her job, her stability behind - letting go of everything this time -- to really make a life-changing commitment to put her heart first and take a second chance at finding true love.”
Anyone caring to find out more about the perky blonde can click on her bio, which seems to describe the kind of young woman who might have dreamed of all kinds of wonderful careers. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in psychology from Clark University in New England, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa as well as a former high school varsity soccer player.
On the other hand, given the choice between being the star of one’s own television show and an entry level job, few women I know would stick with the cubicle. So perhaps it’s not really a choice between Mr. Right and the Right Job – it’s a choice between Reality TV and Reality.
In which case, ABC should tell all the single ladies not to quit their day jobs. Dating may be hard work, but it’s not a career – unless you’re the next bachelorette.
Just back from the Romantic Times Convention in Columbus, Ohio. RT is the kind of con where you pack a second suitcase for your fairy and vampire costumes, but my back had just gone out (the result of some overly enthusiastic dance exercises) and so I decided to pack light and go for the “I’m so cool and laid back, I only need one outfit” look.
In between workshops and panels (I sat on a comic book industry panel, gave a comic book writing workshop and co-led a steampunk talk with my roommate Liz Maverick/Edelstein, author and now digital marketing manager at Macmillan) I tried to find remedies for my crooked spine. At one point, Holly Black and I met for lunch and she actually got down on the carpeted floor in the middle of the hotel to demonstrate a stretch, for which I am eternally grateful. I also got to have dinner with senior Tor editor Melissa Singer, who, it turns out, is a fellow fan of Anne McCaffery’s quirkily sexy SF classic Restoree.
Was thrilled to see posters for Anne Elizabeth’s new graphic novel, Pulse of Power, which I had the pleasure of editing, and was intrigued by the funeral director’s con going on at the same time. (Had fantasies of a romance writer going into a funeral director’s room and getting bitten by an experimentally embalmed corpse, which turns her into a zombie who starts biting all the author authors.)
Last but not least, was stunned to discover an island of impossibly good food at the nearby North Market, where Liz and I discovered Jennie’s ice cream (goat cheese and cherries, lavender, Thai peanut butter and other impossibly strange and delicious flavors) and chicken wings (baked no less) so appealing that we had eight of them for breakfast one day.
Now it’s back to work on the dead ex book during the day, while rehearsing till midnight for My Fair Lady, which opens tomorrow at the Rhinebeck Center for Performing Arts. If you want to learn more about the peculiar pleasures of ensemble, come visit me on my author page on Facebook.
April 2010 — I am Spartacus
Let’s talk trash for a second. When it comes to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the raunchy, gore-splattered Starz television series, I am a complete addict. Yet I tend to downplay my fondness for the show by saying “it’s deliciously trashy.”
But hang on a moment, Despite its over-the-top plotting and fondness for well-oiled full-frontal nudity and frequent decapitations, Spartacus is a riveting show for reasons that go beyond pulverizing and pulchritude. There is a palpable intelligence to the plot twists, as well as multi-layered characterizations. Like the gladiators themselves, the show is not just a mindless pleasure.
When I spoke to Tamora Pierce at Vassar’s Non-con in February, she admitted with a guilty smile that she, too, loved Spartacus. But should we feel guilty? Can a series – or a book – be considered trashy if it contains scenes of emotional heft as well as sex, violence and over-the-top plot elements? If so, then apologies, as they say on the show, but I am trashicus.
Spring is here at last, and I am about to go to Miami for a week with my mother and kids. Unfortunately, my plan to whip my body into bikini shape conflicted with my need to whip my True Blood essay and next novel into shape. Now, the essay “Blue Collar Bacchanalia” is off to copy edits (it’s going to appear in an anthology from Smart Pop books) and my new novel is moving ahead at a good clip, but I’m not feeling like baring my abdomen on South Beach.
Fortunately, I had a few options. For years, swimsuits just kept getting smaller and smaller, but then swimmers kept getting bigger and bigger. Now, a woman can choose between monokinis, tankinis, girdle-like one pieces, shirred and ruffled one pieces, swimdresses and, for the ultimate in coverage, modest swimwear.
Modest swimwear even comes in different denominations: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. With names like Aqua Modesta, Sea Secret and Splashgear, these suits are throwbacks to the turn of the century, when just seeing a bare ankle at the beach was pretty heady stuff. There’s also agnostic swimwear for folks who fear skin cancer more than sensual sinning. Solartex is one brand my dermatologist mentioned, and they have a few jaunty scuba style suits I like, but would be embarrassed to wear around a pool unless it had a hammerhead circling in it.
Strangely enough, though, no one has actually come up with a modern version of the 1900’s swimming costume. If they had, I probably would have had to go for it – the thought of strolling down Lincoln Road in an outfit my grandmother would have found old fashioned would be rather delicious.
Instead, I’m opting for a one piece with a very low back. My back, as far as I can tell, still looks pretty decent. If I burn, though, I might regret my decision not to wear a bathing burka.
Admit it: Sometimes it’s difficult to forget the kids, the bills, the aches, the dead mouse smell from somewhere under the floorboards. But it’s Valentine’s Day and everyone should try to get a little action – with a partner, a lover, or one’s own imagination.
Of course, it never hurts to read – or reread – a romance novel to get in the mood. But sometimes you just feel like a little audiovisual action. Here are some of my favorite on-screen love scenes:
10. Richard Gere and Debra Winger in an Officer and a Gentleman. Sure, they hated each other in real life, but boy, does their animosity sizzle.
9. Spike and Buffy bringing down the house in Smashed, their season 6 fight/love scene. Jenny Crusie has a brilliant essay on her website about how the writers of Buffy The Vampire Slayer thought they were creating a metaphor of destruction, but viewers saw a different story.
8. True Blood’s Bill coming out of his grave, naked, to ravish Sookie. My favorite line: “Not the neck.”
7. True Blood’s Eric playing vampire mind games with Sookie.
6. The Bull Durham love scene montage: Toenail painting, bathtub sloshing, wild dancing and ropes. What more could anyone want?
5. The Big Easy, with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. May they never try to remake it.
4. Secretary, with Maggie Gyllenhall. Quirky, kinky, singularly sexy.
3. The fiercely conflicted Guy of Gisborne in the BBC Robin Hood television series (Richard Armitage, in black leather no less.)
2. The two love scenes, one tender, one desperate, in A History of Violence. (Look for the the fraction of a moment where Viggo pauses and his wife drags him back down.)
1. The unbeatable “You know how to whistle” scene in To Have and Have Not.
For my birthday this year, my husband bought me a Kindle. At first, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed. I felt as though I were a carriage driver who had just been given a shiny newfangled automobile as a present.
“I’m sorry,” I told my husband, “but I don’t want to read my books on a little screen.” Reading on screens makes my editing brain kick in. Reading on screens isn’t so great in the bathtub. And if readers like me start going digital, print books will die, and being published won’t result in an actual physical object, and pretty soon there won’t be any bookstores with actual books in them.
For me, that’s like contemplating the death of the sun.
But in the end, I kept the Kindle. Why? Well, first of all, because of Wolf Hall. My mother bought it in hardcover, and the mammoth doorstop of a novel about Henry the Eighth was exactly what I wanted to take on vacation. Except it was too big to lug around England. I’d probably get charged by the airline for going over my weight allowance, and then throw my back out trying to shlep it through the English coutntryside in my handbag.
And then there was my realization that even if I didn’t keep my Kindle, I wasn’t going to stop the barbarians at the gate. I went through this with computers (I clung to my typewriter until I was 23 and actually applied to Columbia’s MFA program by cutting and pasting with scissors and glue). I went through this with cellphones (I was always bumming one, like a smoker who doesn’t buy her own cigs).
So, for once, I’m going to be an early adapter. Or a late early adapter. I’ll be right there, after the innovators, learning to deal with change before the middle majority and the poor laggards who cling to the hope that people will stop listening to ipods because the sound is so crappy.
But I’m hearing that in the music industry, vinyl records are making a comeback. Buy one, and you get the download for free. I hope that’s the model for the book industry, as well.
Because half the fun of reading Wolf Hall is catching the eye of other readers and having them say, “I just read that,” or, “Is that any good?” Reading on the Kindle or some other reading device is like having headphones in your ears: It may be convenient, but it’s also isolating.
And that may be the new marketing tool for paper books. It’s hard to start a conversation with a blank grey metal shield in front of your face.
Have any thoughts about e-readers vs. print books? Send me an email at .
For the first time since high school, I’m performing in a play. It’s a humbling experience. I had no idea I was so untalented. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Back when I auditioned for the High School of Performing Arts, I did get an inkling of my limitations.
“How did you do?” My acting coach inquired.
“A girl ate me,” I said. “We were told to be animals, and I became
a dog, and she became a snake, and she ate me. On stage.”
And in my non-performing high school, I never got a leading role in
a play. So I can’t say I was completely ignorant of my lack of talent.
Still, I can carry a tune. I even have a nice voice, so long as nothing
happens to shake me off key. And I can dance. To be precise, I can belly dance,
having taken lessons after giving birth to my son in an attempt to get my tummy
So when my pilates teacher told me she needed a belly dancer to shimmy
in the temple scene in Jesus Christ Superstar, I didn’t think too hard about
it. I have always loved JC Superstar, ever since I was nine and wailed “I don’t
know how to love him” at my bathroom mirror every night for a year.
And this was regional theater, for crying out loud. So why not say yes? I said yes. A month later, I am a proud member of the Ensemble, joining in three big dance numbers plus the belly dancing, four quick costume changes, a few bouts of choral singing and a finale of discordant wailing, which I am actually quite good at. Along the way, I have learned that I have much less talent than I have ever suspected. But a whole lot of other people have a lot more talent than I could ever have guessed. Special Ed teachers. Postal workers. High school seniors. Seniors.
I may not be bound for thespian glory, but I figure there’s got to be a novel in this someday. Until then, I’m going to keep practicing that damn ball step transition, and trying to hold onto my feeble sense of alto self as I pass by a compelling tenor.
I’m not canceling my plans to have a Madmen-themed birthday party in December, but I am beginning to wish I could go up to Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator and chief writer, pour us both a couple of stiff Manhattans, and tell him to cut the crap.
Matt, I’d say, it’s terrific that you get all the little details right – cane backed seats on the subway, the sleek, almost pettable look of sixties modernism, so much more charming than the eighties version. But Matt, even though “the past is a different country,” what you did best was remind us that it wasn’t inhabited by aliens. Pre-revolution sixties folks weren’t the quaint, two-dimensional characters we’re used to from old sitcoms. And just because women wore girdles didn’t mean that they didn’t have sex.
So what’s up with Don and Betty’s melodramatically bad parenting? Yeah, I know early sixties child-rearing didn’t involve the degree of kid-centric thinking that it does today. And sure, my mom (pregnant with me) was told to smoke a cigarette to help digestion by her doctor. But in Madmen, you show Don and Betty as completely indifferent to their children’s emotions. I mean, not even a stiff smile and an inadequate “Mommy will buy you a new doll” or “you have to be strong, son”. Hell, no one even smiles at the kids.
And Matt, while you may still give me the ironic pleasure of watching Grandpa let little Sally drive the car (my uncle Paul did this with me, albeit on a country road) I can’t help but feel that I’m being manipulated. You don’t need to hit me over the head, Matt.
As the legendary adman David Ogilvey once said, “the consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”
Signing books at the Romance Writers of America annual “Readers for Life” booksigning. Above: Washington DC, 2009. Below: New York City, 2003.
Comic Con in Manhattan: I scored a tribble that makes the happy sound and the argh, Klingon angry chirp, but couldn't afford this prototype for a leather Victorian trench.
Friday, October 12, 3:30 p.m.
NY Comic Con
New York, NY
> Marvel Writers Prose Panel: Come hear about Marvel’s new prose
novels with Alisa Kwitney, Peter David and Stuart Moore.
Me, and the nice gentlemen I bought a steampunk corset from. (It's actually a kind of modest, armor-like model.)
Arisia Convention: Corsets, anyone? By the end of the weekend, nearly every woman at the con seemed to be wearing one.