Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dark Romance #3 ~ Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow"

(Obligatory spoiler warning - if you've not seen the film or read the original short story, but intend to, move on to some other blog 'cause THAR BE SPOILERS! Also, one of the items linked below leads to a profanity-laced tribute to the Headless Horseman, so approach with caution if you don't approve of that kinda stuff.)

When Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow was released in 1999 (with the punchy, if predictable, tagline, "Heads will roll!"), I fell for its gorgeous gruesomeness, hard. It's become a favorite and serves as today's study of dark romance.

First, the kvetching: the film only loosely follows the tale laid out by Washington Irving. But then, according to Peter Miller (writer of the "Afterword" in the Signet Classic edition of Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.), Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" ripped off German folklore, generally, and Gottfried Burger's "Der wilde Jäger," in particular (Afterword, p. 377). Well, whatevs - Miller doesn't think Irving's contemporaries would've cared and nor do I - it's a ripping good yarn, if you'll pardon the imagery.

Anyway, in Sleepy Hollow we've got Irving's basic cast of characters (Ichabod Crane, Baltus and Katrina Van Tassel, "Brom Bones," Gunpowder the Horse, and, of course, the Headless Horseman - who, it must be noted, was probably not the genuine article in the short story). Burton diverges from Irving's story in several ways: Crane, rather than being a geekazoid schoolmaster from Connecticut, is a (hawt) young constable from New York city (which puts me in mind of the role that helped propel the actor who portrays him, Johnny Depp, into stardom - that of Officer Tom Hanson in TV series "21 Jump Street"); there's a whole cast of named characters who've got sordid shenanigans coming out the wazoo; and, getting back to Crane, a "father-wounding" theme that recurs in Burton's work (in, for example, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or, inadvertently and without malice, Edward Scissorhands). While I'm compelled to make a little bit of noise about these deviations, I'm not too fussed about 'em, I just want to make the point for folks who've not read Irving's story (which I've linked above, so quit slacking and get to it, already).

In Irving's story, the main action revolves around the rivalry of Crane and Bones for the hand of the nubile Katrina, as well as Crane's ill-fated ride home from a country dinner one dark and lonesome night. In Burton's film, we've got the murders of four to five* denizens of the titular village which bring Crane, with his kookily newfangled and untried instruments, in to investigate. The romantic rivalry exists but is done away with by the intervention of the devilish Horseman (poor hunky Casper Van Dien!), leaving us with a horror-whodunnit and wondering if Crane will get the girl before the Horseman gets his head.

The dark romance of it all: Oh, where to begin?! First, Depp is adorable as the intrepid yet simultaneously cowardly Crane. He's determined to solve the case by means of science and cool reasoning, but frequently freaks out - to great comic effect - when the occult proves to be the source of all the mystery. Then there's the lush setting, costumes (I would consider committing criminal acts to possess one of Katrina's gowns), and set design, and a hushed, misty landscape which becomes a character in its own right. (And I won't even complain - much - about it being mostly filmed in England, rather than the place in which it's set.)  The cinematography is so beautifully effective that one can almost feel the autumnal chill, the toasty warmth of the hearth fires, even smell the gamey scents of a late 18th century village (did they really not think to pen up their sheep at night?), and shiver from the ominous gloom-painted skies above. But what I love the most about this film is (and you'll hardly be surprised to learn it) the Horseman. That strapping (if headless) physique - woof. His inexorable approach, heralded by the thrilling thunder of hoofbeats - woof. The scrape of steel when he unsheathes his spectral sword and gives it a masterful twirl as he sights his prey - woof! Every time he ventured forth like some "night headhunter looking for some head," my heart throbbed. OK, there's that one scene where he murders a family in their home that I can never bear to sit through (especially the bit with the little boy hiding beneath the floorboards, to no avail, alas - gah!). Apart from that, the ghostly avenger is hot, hot, hot - and never hotter than when he pitilessly turns the tables on the one who'd enslaved him.

*I say "four to five " because there were "five victims in four coffins," which you'll just have to check out for yourself...if you dare. ;-)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Never Say Nevermore...

...unless you're the infamous Raven of the Edgar A. Poe poem.

Last Thursday was Poe's 203rd birthday, and in his honor Dan Boujoulian, Poe fan and keeper of The Macabre Edgar Allan Poe page on Facebook, organized what I believe was the second annual Edgar Poe Birthday Worldwide Reading. (And ain't that a mouthful!) I missed the boat on this last year, which I deeply regret, as the 2011 selection was my fave, "The Cask of Amontillado." This year's selection was "The Pit and the Pendulum."

What the "Worldwide Reading" bit consists of is recording yourself reading a passage of the selected text and submitting it to be merged with readings done by other fans...well, worldwide. To be honest, though I did remember Poe's birthday on January 19 (being a fan of his myself), I hadn't been on Facebook for a few days and missed Dan's plea for a handful of New Yorkers to join him at Poe Cottage in Da Bronx on Jan. 21 to record some "P & P" reading there.

Poe's actual birthday proved rather a brutal and soul-crushing day for me (through no fault of the dearly departed gentleman himself) so I'd intended to pick up a bottle of amontillado on my way home from work and sip it genteelly while reading "The Cask" before bed. But my local liquor store was out of it so I purchased some port instead and proceeded to fall asleep without cracking either it or "The Cask" open. I remedied this lapse last night, consuming copious quantities of the port while finally catching up on my Facebookery. Pleasantly pissed, I read Dan's post that only one New Yorker had volunteered to go to Poe Cottage and more were needed. Tipsily troubled that I'd been a slacker fan (who'd *yet* to visit Poe Cottage, for shame!!!), and forgetting the snowstorm predicted for today, I e-mailed the fella and said I'd join in.

And, in spite of the fact that the weather was wet and raw and my fingers froze to, fro, and during the reading (we did a bit of recording from the Poe Cottage porch), I'm really glad I trudged through the slushy ick covering the Fordham section of Bronx today. It was such a pleasure meeting and chatting with fellow Poe fans and actually getting to sit at Poe's desk for some of the recording!!! (Squee!) The grand, worldwide recording mashup should be ready for public consumption in a few weeks - can't wait to see how it all turned out!


Your humble bloggy-blogger, standing before Virginia Poe's bed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Writerly things...

...because I'm all give.

Well, not really - but I'm happy to share! (Unless we're talking about men or chocolate. Then I'm all, "Mine, mine, mine!!!") Mmmm, men or chocolate. Hmmm...men covered in chocolate? Oh dear, I feel a swoon coming on. Wait, what was I gonna say...? Oh yeah - in today's blog I'll share some stuff I've found useful as a writer.

There are loads of books about writing and how to go about it and whatnot. My fave so far is Fearless Creating: A Step-by-Step Guide To Starting and Completing Your Work of Art by Eric Maisel. Among other things, Maisel writes about "belligerent commitment" to your craft, be it writing, music making, painting, whatever. You just *do* whatever the hell it is you've gotta do. Do it, do it now, already!!!!! That's oversimplifying the matter, somewhat, which doesn't make it wrong, if you see what I'm sayin'. And for some funny (and highly profane - you've been warned) advice on writing, try Robert Brockway's How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps or Chuck Wendig's 25 Things Writers Should Start Doing (ASAFP).

For writing prompts, I've got The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood (a gift from a former boss, bless her heart) and The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak, both of which contain (in addition to textual prompts) gorgeous and/or evocative pictures which, if you're visually oriented like me, you may find pretty nifty. I've turned to them many times when I've felt sluggish or stuck, using a prompt for either a simple exercise or as the catalyst for a scene I couldn't get through.

Got a beautiful, sensitive hero or a brave, ballsy heroine and don't know what to name him or her? (Or it?) You could check out Popular Baby Names for free, courtesy of Social Security Administration. Or you could try The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby by Laura Wattenberg. Neither will tell you name meanings, but the latter does other groovy things, like categorizing names by style and giving you names related/similar to a name you may be considering (useful for naming siblings). I think my favorite section is where Wattenberg lists names from the "Surfer 60s." (Strangely, for a goth, I've really been jonesing for the beach and its ginchy Gidget culture...what's up with that?) (Don't worry, I'll explain in a forthcoming bloggy-blog.) (OK, maybe you should worry, a little.)

I've used agentquery.com to hunt - ahem - research agents and querytracker.net for the same, which also has info on publishers. Another site I've relied on for agent info is Absolute Write Water Cooler, a fantastic forum in which other aspiring authors have posted about their experiences in submitting queries. And a cool site for researching markets and tracking submissions for magazines and short stories is Duotrope.

Want to blog but aren't sure how to get started? Robert Lee Brewer's Blogging Tips for Writers helped me out a lot. (But you can't blame the poor man for what I write, or even for the fact that I do write; it's totally not his fault.)

So how about all youse creative guys out there - what stuff's helped/amused/inspired you?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Intuition...?

...or just more smartassery?

I'm sure those of you with teens can relate - sometimes, one's child develops such skill with the latter that it's difficult to discern whether:

A) your child's being serious, and if so
B) the gravitas should be trusted.

In particular, I reference my son, Balthazar, and his ready dismissal of the (very few) men to have interested me romantically since his dad and I split up, lo so many years ago. Oh, he knew there'd been a dude after his dad, but he was about 3 at the time, so who knows what a child that age can really grasp of such matters. But there'd been a long drought since that fella and it was in The Kid's earlier teens that other contenders nearly entered the ring, so to speak.

I commute into Manhattan for work and, a while back, there'd been this guy on the train who eyeballed me with some frequency. He didn't make any moves to reach out to me, just stared and let me catch him staring a few times, you know how it goes. Well, there was something about him, an intensity to his gaze, that appealed, and I was not averse to an overture, should it have come. Then one night, as The Kid and I walked past our town's train trestle, we both happened to look up at the steps leading down from it, casually noting the descending commuters, and there he was! Our eyes met and held for a few heated seconds, then Balthy and I kept walking. I slowed my pace at some point so the guy could pass us and was gratified to see him looking back at us periodically. The Kid noticed him and commented on the fact that he sorta resembled one of our neighbors. I agreed, mentioned seeing him on the train once in a while, and that was the end of that.

UNTIL I boarded a homeward-bound train one night and saw him seated at a window seat, with the middle and aisle seats next to him free. I had my chance - it was now or never! (Or so some twisted little voice in my head assured me.) I took the aisle seat. He looked up, saw me, and an electric moment of mutual awareness passed.

This is the point in the story where things should've taken a delightful turn for the woof! They kinda didn't. He tried, several times, to engage me in conversation. But my natural timidity with men (go on, laugh, disbelieve me, but it's true - I get stupidly tongue-tied and blushy when an object of my interest approaches) didn't allow for the burgeoning of rapport (or anything else, for that matter). Too, the timbre of his voice put me off, for some reason, and I just couldn't relax into the moment. I was interested but antsy, and I couldn't figure why, but I couldn't shake my uneasiness and did nothing to encourage him. Still, he gamely tried to chat me up, valiant man. We disembarked at our stop, walked together for a bit, then parted ways.

When I got home, I ached to share the experience with someone, though I didn't think I was so pathetic as to need to gush to my son. In fact, I was.

Me: You remember that guy from the other night?

The Kid: Yeah?

Me: The guy we saw at the train station?

The Kid: Yeah?

Me: The guy you said looks like our neighbor?

The Kid: Yeah?

Me: We chatted on the train tonight. I think he likes me.

The Kid: (Smirks.)

Me: What?

The Kid: (Smirks and shakes his head.)

Me: What??? (I glare at his continued smirkage.) Well, what do you think of him?

The Kid: He looks like a murderer.

Me: WHAT?!

The Kid: He looks like a psychopath, Mom. So what's for dinner?

And that really was the end of that. Oh, I saw the guy a few more times. Once, he passed by me and tapped me on the arm, scaring the ever-loving crap outta me, but my son's words echoed in my mind and kept me from welcoming further advances. Maybe a few months later, I stopped seeing him around altogether.

Now, I've no way of knowing if The Kid was sharing real concern with me or just being a snot, but what he said seemed to support my unidentifiable discomfort during my brief interaction with the guy, so I chose to believe Balthy had some sixth sense and might just be looking out for me, after all. However, about a year later, I had cause to question his purported altruism.

On Facebook, a male friend of a friend sent me a friend request. The corresponding message read, "I like your hair and eyes." I told Balthazar about this and asked him if he thought I should befriend this dude.

The Kid: No, Mom. He obviously wants to rape you and feed you to a wood chipper.

He had no reason, at all, to suggest such a thing (except maybe he'd caught the tail end of Fargo recently), still he glibly harshed my buzz.

Me (sharply): You don't ever want me to date again, do you?

The Kid: No, I want you to stay lonely. Forever.

Me: Why?

The Kid: It works for me.

Of course.

Mind you, I accepted the friend request and later wound up un-friending (De-Facing!) the dude, on account of his weird rants (and truly alarming misspellings and appalling grammar). So, possibly, The Kid's Spidey-senses did actually pick up some vibes to which this chick's ears are not attuned.

Possibly.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

It's Not You...

...it's me, me, me!

Or so read the rejection letters (well, e-mails) from some of the literary agents I've been querying since late November 2011. I've queried 27 agents about my mythological romance novel so far and have heard back from 9 of them.

Getting any response at all is great, as it provides closure. Bear in mind that agents are hit with dozens, even hundreds, of unsolicited queries in any given week and they don't get paid to read them. Because of the sheer volume/time-suck of processing queries, some agents employ the "No response indicates I'm unable to offer representation" tactic, which isn't so kewl for the writer who's sitting on pins and needles, hoping against hope that something magical will happen. So, at least to my way of thinking, some news is better than none.

Still, bad response or no response, the kewlest thing of all would be to receive an e-mail asking to read my dang book! (Soon followed by an offer of representation, then a publishing deal, a big fat advance check and - what the hell, since I'm dreaming - a box of Lindt Hazelnut Truffles.) But, alas, to date I've received neither a bite, nor even a nibble - ain't nobody chompin' on my bait! (This is not a euphemism.)

They're all very polite, the rejections, starting with the standard, "Thank you for your query," (which I now hate, as a "but!" inevitably looms) (huh huh...looming "but!") and wrapping up with their best wishes for my success with the novel, which is kind enough. For the curious, and in the spirit of sharing with any aspiring authors who may be reading (and completely without malice and especially without desiring to open agents up to ridicule stemming from outrage on writers' behalf...behalves? Oh, you know what I mean, sheesh.), I present below some snippets (unidentified) from the responses I've received.

Short & Semi-Sweet:
"Unfortunately, this is not something I'm able to consider pursuing."
"...while yours [my query] isn't exactly what I am looking for, I would certainly encourage you to keep trying."

It's Not You, It's Me (a.k.a. Le Ouch!):
"With regret, though, I'm afraid the material didn't draw me in as much as I had hoped."
"I'm just not enthusiastic enough about the concept of your story to feel that I'd be the right agent for the project."

Somewhat Encouraging (I think): 
"...I'm sorry to say that the project just isn't a perfect fit with my current needs. This has less to do with your strengths as a writer and more to do with my goals as an agent and the trends of the current literary marketplace."
(That one hit me on my birthday for a bit of extra "OW!" But I'm sure the agent couldn't possibly have known it was my birthday.) (Right?)
"Unfortunately, this project doesn't sound right for me, but should you not find representation for it, I would be very happy to look at a different one in the future."
So, you know. It can bring a body down. But there's no point in obsessing over these - it's nothing personal (at least, I'm determined to believe it's nothing personal until someone tells me to please, for the love of all that's holy, STOP WRITING, ALREADY!!!). I totally geddit - agents gotta really dig a book to pursue it, 'cause they only earn coin from it when they're passionately driven to sell it. Je comprends bien. And je will keep at it. I've still got 18 queries out and about another 16 agents to try. The oft repeated advice is to query as widely as you can. Generally, it's best to query agents who've sold (and so, presumably like) the kind of thing you write. For example, I won't send a query for my sexy romance to an agent who's interested in cozy mysteries. And if I get through 40-ish agents and find no joy, well, then...it might be the wild wild west of Indie publishing for me - because I believe in this project and I'm gonna keep pushing it till I just can't push no more.
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