Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ghost hunt

Now that we're in the thick of Halloween, this is a good time to tell you about one other thing I used for Vampire Underground research. This experience helped for a few reasons: first, it introduced me to some tools of the trade. Second, it gave me an inkling of what it might be like to be on a "paranormal inspection team" like the main characters in my upcoming books. And, as you'll see, it also made me think really hard about the viability of ghost hunting....

A while ago, I'd visited New Orleans. As you probably know, there're many, many tours that canvas the city--vampire and ghost walking tours, bus tours that visit cemeteries and drive through the neighborhoods, plantation tours, even tours on those scooter things across the river at Old Algiers Point. My mom and I wanted to try something different, so we signed up for a Grayline tour that was like no other. It was a "ghost hunting" experience. We didn't know where we were going or what exactly what we were going to do, but Mom and I gamely rode on a minibus along the river with about fifteen other people and were let off in an old neighborhood in the darkness (with a security guard--don't worry). There, in front of a house that was a little worse for the wear, we met a psychic--our leader. As dogs barked in the night, we listened to her explain that we would be given some tools of the trade, separated into groups, and then let loose in this domain to explore any paranormal activity. She wouldn't tell us the history of the house--the knowledge would cloud our judgement and she wanted us to go in without any preconceptions of what we might find--but this was definitely a documented site of paranormal activity.

With that, Mom and I met our partners, a couple from a town near Baton Rouge, and we received our instruments. First, there were the divining rods. With these, we could "ask the spirits questions" and get answers from the movement of the rods. (It had to be yes or no questions. For instance, if you'd sense a presence, you'd "call out" to invite the spirit to interact with you, then ask something like, "Are you a female? If the answer is yes, please move the rods to your right.") Second, we received a thermo-anemometer, a temperature gauge, which allowed us to determine any changes in heat and coldness. Then there was the magnetometer, which recorded shifts in the electromagnetic field. One person per instrument with one person who would record our findings on a clipboard with a chart; we would switch responsibilities throughout the night. We were ready.


As we wandered the eerie halls and rooms, one of our partners, the wife, was "a bit psychic," so we ended up getting some stories from her as we questioned with the divining rods. But as she came up with murderous scenarios, I wondered something: Why were all the spirits we encountered the victims of violent death? Not everyone dies due to murder. Now, I'm a skeptic who's open to possibilities, but the fact that we were only talking to spirits who died in "interesting" ways was a little suspect. I thought that maybe our partners were getting carried away and imagining too much. Heck, it was pretty easy, because this place had become more and more unsettling as we searched the tattered walls with our flashlights. In the stillness, the husband in our group suggested that this once might've been a mortuary. We found a presence in an old bathtub, then in a tiny back room with a toilet and wires sticking out of the wall, then in an upstairs room that overlooked a housing project across the street. The bathtub spirit was a female who'd been murdered by her husband. The presence in the tiny back room seemed to be a child but then we talked to his/her mom to find out that the baby had never made it out of the womb alive due to a violent incident. Upstairs was the stomping ground of another murder victim.


In the end, the leader told us that the house had been through many changes: it was a bar, a possible brothel, as well as a boarding house. Many people had passed through. But the weirdest information came when she told us about previous documented contacts with the spirits inside. One was a woman who'd fallen down the stairs and broken her neck. This had happened near that tiny back room with the toilet. She'd been pregnant, and the baby hadn't lived, either.

Imagination or...?


Friday, October 28, 2005

Seeing SAW II

It's Halloween time, and I want to be frightened. I want my blood to run cold from dreadful rushes of adrenaline; I want to listen to the wind howl in the dead of night as stark images from a horror movie keep me awake. True, I am a mental maschochist, an admirer of the boogeyman who has never caught me...yet. Yes, there is obviously something twisted and wrong with me, even though I'm fundamentally a decent person. I am a scary movie fan, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

That's why I took a break from all the TV Halloween Horror flick marathons (of which there are woefully few) and went to see SAW II a couple of hours ago. First, let me get this out of the way: which one is better--the original SAW or this sequel? IMHO, it's the original, even though the initial SAW is notorious for having its share of problems (just look at any review on www.rottentomatoes.com). And it's hard to say I "liked" either one of these movies. I'm just looking at them from a point of effectiveness--did they scare me or not? Well, let me tell you what kind of movie scares me: something that messes with my mind until I wake up in a cold sweat. Something that drags a feeling of dread through its plot and over my nerves so slowly that I have to watch most of the movie through my fingers. Something that makes me anxious about seeing the face of the killer--a horror almost as awful as looking evil itself in the eye. Movies that do this for me: DON'T LOOK NOW (the build up...that ending), JAWS (talk about hearing your own heart beating in your ears as the clang of a bell and the lap of soft waves marks every second to a victim's death), PSYCHO (the lunatic, wide-eyed glee of Norman Bates as he charges through the cellar door, knife raised and music shrieking), and SESSION 9 (you can feel the awfulness in every echo off the abandoned asylum's walls in this movie, and the worst part comes with the utlimate human tragedy). Truthfully, neither SAW movie even comes close to my favorites, but I did think the first movie had a truly terrifying set up and tenor. I mean, my God, remember that dungeon/bathroom/whatever-the-devil-it-was where the victims were being held prisoner? I walked out of that movie feeling grimy and disgusting. And the end was a corker--a hell of a twist. This movie could head up a genre called Grislygrunge. I think the term (not unlike "Splatterpunk") speaks for itself and clearly tells you what you're in for with the SAW franchise. (And, just for tangent's sake, let me tell you that I'm really looking forward to HOSTEL, another grungy horror movie that was previewed before SAW. Also, FEAST. Bring 'em!)

But I'm talking about SAW II now. There's actually not a whole lot to say. I wasn't scared, yet I was pretty grossed out--and I think that was the intention. SAW II doesn't disappoint if you're there to see inventive killing. Also, there was some taut action going on with the cat-and-mouse games between Jigsaw (the serial killer) and the cop he's tangling with. Still, I started daydreaming about an hour into the film, which is never a good sign, even though the end shook me out of thoughts of grocery lists and things-to-do-when-I-get-home pretty thorougly. Yeah, the finale was all right, but not even close to the first SAW's concluding slap on the butt. Do I recommend this? I guess so, but only because it's Halloween and it's really the only movie out that fills the terror niche for this weekend. Any other time, I'd say stay home.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why VERONICA MARS?

As promised, I'm here to give you reasons to watch one of the best programs on TV right now: VERONICA MARS. "But," you say, "it's about a teenage girl, and I'm not really into that demographic." "Whoa, whoa, whoa," I say, "what you don't know about this show is that it's actually about so much more than an angst-ridden O.C. type cast who cares more about fashion and nail polish than substance." Let me elaborate:

1. Veronica is smart. If you like a show with snappy dialogue and a character who never disrespects the audience by acting ridiculous or alienating them with whininess, you'll like this one. See, Veronica is a complete original: she's a good student, but a rebel. She's upbeat, but fairly cynical. She's got the best lines since Buffy, too. And she's not so brainy that she's superior; Veronica has got her share of soap-opera-worthy problems with boyfriends--except that her issues include murder and deception of the most criminal degree.

2. The mysteries are well paced. You know how some shows drag their "hooks" out forever and, somewhere along the way, you realize that you've lost all enthusiasm for the answers to all the clues that have been parceled out? VERONICA MARS doesn't fall into that X-FILES or TWIN PEAKS trap. Last year, with the big mystery of "who killed Lilly Kane," the viewership was rewarded with an actual solution during a bang-up season finale. And along the way, the show manages to feature mysteries that are wrapped up in one episode, short-term mysteries about character (witness this year's subplot about Wallace's mom and what looks to be a former relationship that's bound to destroy good ol' Papa Mars' budding romance with her), and that season-long "hook" mystery (who's behind the bus crash and why did a murder victim wash up on shore with the name "Veronica Mars" on his palm?). So we have many items to keep us hooked and satisfied.

3. The continuity is excellent. This is important for me as a viewer. There're many shows that seem to forget a character's history, if not the details of what happened in the previous episodes. (Yes, ALIAS comes to mind, even though I enjoyed the first few seasons enough to excuse plot holes and glaring character inconsistancies. Nowadays? Not so much.) With VERONICA MARS, the writers really seem to care about keeping their mythologies and character aspects straight; they respect the audience enough to constantly hearken back to tiny revelations and in jokes based on characterization. (That word keeps coming up a lot, I see--characterization. It's what holds this show together.)

4. The characters are fascinating. Again, with the "c" word. When's the last time you longed for a smart-ass, silver-spooned bad boy or a gang banger to light up your TV screen? In this show, the actors take the great dialogue and characters that they're given and run with them--surprisingly, even the people you'd normally despise are the ones you want to see over and over again. And the humor comes from the appreciation that the audience has for the characters; there's no slapstick or forced jokes because these players are so real that you get them, just like a best friend who delivers esoteric quips that wouldn't make sense unless you knew their history.

Basically, I urge you to give this show a try. It's on tonight!!! Better yet, why not rent the first season's DVD and treat yourself to a VERONICA marathon? Come on now!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Back to the beginning

I'm actually "out of the office" right now, visiting my birthplace--Milwaukee, WI--plus relatives in Kenosha and Richland Center. It's been a great trip, but today, as my parents and I drove around to check out all the old haunts (houses of aunts and uncles who've passed away--people who were big lights in our lives), I got a little sad. We've all experienced change before, but it hits you harder than ever when, after the absence of several years, you see a place that you really loved--especially when it's been altered for the worst. At my aunt Grace and uncle John's, a Target had been built in front of their cozy white-brick Gingerbread house, totally decimating the beautiful open field that used to greet it. At my aunt Jean's, the cute little plank house looked so small and lonely without her in it. At my mom's childhood home, weeds were loitering against the porch boards and rust was eating away at the screen door. At my family's initial home, the dwelling itself had been well maintained, but down the street, as I set eyes upon the very first school I attended, my parents asked me if I remembered how mean my teacher had been; I'd often come home in tears because she would yell at me. Now, I was a kid who aimed to please, and when an adult reprimanded me, I took it very seriously. I don't recall a second of my first days of school, and I wonder if that's on purpose. While we drove away from it, I was deeply disturbed, not remembering the details of being yelled at, but feeling the discomfort nonetheless.

Why do we insist on going back to places we've left? I guess because there's a bittersweetness to seeing them--recalling the best of times while knowing we'll never recreate the happiness. We dredge up things we've outgrown--and sometimes with good reason--but we also realize how every stitch that holds our days together matters in our growth. Maybe we're trying to see if those stitches unravel by tugging at them, and we feel good when they hold. Who knows. All I can say is that it's nice to see where my life began--it gives good perspective.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The full bridge or no bridge for this abridged story

I don’t normally listen to audiotapes of books, but I just tried an abridged version of Joe Eszterhas’s autobiography HOLLYWOOD ANIMAL. Like a dolt, I'd misread the book's description on Amazon when I ordered this and I didn't realize it was the cut version of the story. Big mistake.


As you can guess, I picked up this story for more Tinseltown research for my Vampire Underground novels. Eszterhas is best known for his screenplays: the most famous being BASIC INSTINCT, SHOWGIRLS, and JAGGED EDGE. He’s also known as the writer who was the first to be paid in the astounding range of $3 million for a script (BASIC INSTINCT). As far as screenwriters go, he’s a superstar with diva appetites, mainly for women and booze. I expected his story to be seedy and rife with gossip, but it met my expectations in only the slightest way. Yes, there were a couple of juicy anecdotes, but as I soon as I finished the tapes, I did some Internet research on this man and discovered that my abridged cassettes cut a lot out of his life. Good stuff, too. Dang it. It’s terrible to admit, but I really did want the sleaze and rumor-ridden slime that Joe Eszterhas was sure to impart. However, the writer surprised me with his flashbacks about growing up as the son of an immigrant from Hungry. These sections are sometimes shocking, sometimes poignant, and a good counterbalance to the present. Still, I felt as if my abridged version was cut to the point of whitewashing, even though I understand that the actual 700+ page novel itself is far more candid. I think I’ll read it…someday when I’ve gotten through all the other thousand books in my To Be Read piles.
No more abridged versions for me.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Latest Bombshell read: TOUCH OF THE WHITE TIGER

I just finished reading TOUCH OF THE WHITE TIGER, the second Angel Baker novel from Silhouette Bombshell. I really enjoyed Julie Beard's first Angel book (KISS OF THE BLUE DRAGON): the creativity that went into concocting this futuristic world of Chicago is amazing, and Angel is witty and extremely capable (unlike a certain bond agent in another series of books who seems to regress in ability with every installment...but we'll talk about that in another blog, I suppose, coughstephanieplumcoughcough).

Angel Baker is a Certified Retribution Specialist, which basically means that victims can hire her to retrieve their tormentors and seek justice from that point on. It's a wonderful premise, and Beard populates her stories with colorful and original characters as well as taut mysteries. In this story, Angel has been framed for murder, and the suspects range from her is-he-or-isn't-he-a-good-guy love interest to a deadly mob boss. My favorite part of these books is the setting though; Beard obviously has a lot of fun with details (like compubots, who are programmed to resemble old movie heroes, as well as genuinely funny takes on the ramifications of our cultural excesses). She doesn't miss a chance to shade her world with logical and interesting grace notes.

I hope there'll be another Angel Baker novel--there're a lot of places this charactrer can go. With any luck, Angel will be another Eve Dallas, with a neverending series of stories. Definitely recommended!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Jealousy be my name

I just got this great e-mail from my friend Elizabeth Jennings. She's one of the incredibly hard-working organizers of the Women's Fiction Festival. Remember my trip to Italy last year? If you don't, you can refresh or fill your memory by checking out my home page for Crystal's Hyperchick Italian Adventure. Here, you'll get all the details about the first annual Festival in Matera, Italy. Basically, the Festival is a great way to network with other women's fiction authors and agents and editors from around the world. You get to discuss issues (like foreign rights and trends) that aren't normally featured in regular States conferences. The big bonus is Matera--it's breathtaking, and I don't say that lightly. There'll be another Festival next year, and I can't say enough words to persuade you to attend.

Elizabeth's comments, published with her blessing, are an account of what went on during this year's Festival. As you'll see, it's a lot of business *and* pleasure. So without further ado, here you go:


We started off the evening before the conference began with a truly lovely & lavish cocktail party at the Le Monacelle hotel, which people might remember from last year. It was in a gorgeous room just off one of the hotel’s terraces -- abuting the wall of the cathedral -- where tables were set out. It was a great way for the conference participants to get to know each other in a relaxed setting before the whirlwind of the conference itself. It was also a way for writers to get to meet the editors on a friendly and relaxed basis.

We met in the same beautiful building as last year, the Palazzo Lanfranchi, which is a working museum. Our meeting room was large and stunningly beautiful, up on the second floor, the Hall of Arches, and the panelists spoke beneath an 18th century fresco, as you can see from some of the photos.

The first morning session started with an opening talk by Dorothy Zinn, anthropologist, on food anthropology. It was fascinating and a tie-in with our Food & Wine Writing for Fiction Writers Course, run by Evan Kleiman, LA chef.

We had truly excellent panels – editors panels, panels on book distribution and promotion, agents panel and a translation panel. For working writers, the most immediately useful panels were the editors panel and the agents panel.

I think the editors said partly what editors all over say – write me that big blockbuster novel -- which at times is depressing if you’re not aiming for the big blockbuster, but a smaller, saleable novel. It seems to fit general overall trends of squeezing out mid-list authors, unless they are publishing houses like Harlequin and Moments-Verlag who specialize in category romance. One important big trend was mentioned by all the editors – historical novels are very popular and their popularity is increasing (our focus this year was historical novels and we had Sarah Dunant giving a Master Class in historical fiction that raised goosebumps it was so good. Good enough to swim across the Atlantic to hear!). Everyone said that about historicals. They weren’t necessarily talking bout historical romance, of course, but rather the ‘big’ historical novel, well-researched, well-crafted, giving insights into a special historical time and place. Think of The Birth of Venus itself, The Red Tent, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Isabel Allende’s latest, Zorro, etc. So maybe if you’re thinking of writing that breakout novel, you might want to pick a fascinating and unusual historical backdrop.

Speaking of breakout novels – I met Donald Maas last year in London and he expressed a willingness to come to next year’s WFF III. I know he’s very expensive so do you think there would be a lot of interest next year in having Donald run his famous workshop? I’ve heard so much about it, Writing the Breakout Novel, that it’s incredibly fantastic. He would also be available for panels and appointments, of course.

It was really interesting listening to the Italian editors. We were lucky enough to have about 70% of the major Italian publishing companies present and thanks to Maria paola probably next year we’ll cover all of the major publishers in Italy. The editors are all acquiring editors, too. We had simultaneous interpretation for all the sessions which really helped communication. The Italian market is of great importance to writers writing in English since a huge chunk of what’s available in Italian bookstores is translated from the English. One big publishing house, Sonzogno, translates about 90% of their list, mainly from English. It’s a big big market.

The agent panel was incredibly interesting, too, with a focus on foreign rights and how to protect your interests. It was fascinating seeing the utter difference in mentality between writers & agents – they are two entirely different animals. The writers asked a lot of questions and got answers I don’t actually think they can get anywhere else. Luigi Bonomi proved to be an incredible resource for us – friendly, open and amazingly knowledgeable. He was a senior editor for 8 years at Penguin and for another 8 years at Harlequin, then 8 years at a huge UK agency and has just now opened his own agency and he had great war stories and above all, since ours is such an intimate conference, he was available at all times for anyone who wanted to talk. He was more than willing to give great advice, and I think has taken on two writers as clients and had recommendations for everyone who approached him.

That’s another fabulous success story – this year the WFF became a true writer’s conference in that all the editors & agents were acquiring. It was a real UPHILL BATTLE convincing Italians that writers conferences are useful. At times it felt like butting my head against the wall. However, at the conference itself, the Italians took to the concept like a duck to water, as if they’d been to writers’ conferences all their lives. I think two English language writers sold rights to their books to Italian publishers and I think a couple of Italians sold their manuscripts as well. And they were giving good advice, too. Another thing -- Since so much of Italian publishing is in translation (and since I’m a translator myself and know how tight the market is) I insisted very strongly that translators be able to contact editors, as well (Italian publishing very badly needs new translation voices) and I think a couple of smart young translators, who otherwise would never be able to break into the closed shop of Italian publishing, got the opportunity to sit for a test. That creaking sound you heard was Italian publishing, opening up. ALL the editors are coming next year – they were incredibly enthusiastic – and we’ll probably have several more.

The public events were fantastic. We organized Happy Hour with the Writers (which of course became Happy Hour and a Half with the Writers) in a lovely square just outside the auditorium, where the evening panels were. We offered rosè wine and munchies to everyone who wanted to come along and it was just amazing – this square filled with writers & readers chatting and having a really good time. You can see that in Isolde’s photos. Happy Hour was when the journalists came and had access to all the writers and was an extremely convivial setting for interviews, both press, radio & TV. The evening panels were well attended- the auditorium seats about 300 (or 350?) and it was always between half-full and three quarters full. The panels were very interesting, serious enough to be true cultural events, fun enough to be entertaining. The public loved them, as did the writers.

At the literary prize presentation on Saturday, we gave our wonderful 'La Baccante' gold necklace (see website) to Inge Feltrinelli, an amazing woman, a German, who started her career as one of the most famous photojournalists of her time - interviewing and befriending the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, Picasso, etc. - and after the death of her husband, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, she took Feltrinelli's publishing house and over the last thirty years she's turned it into an international publishing giant.

And we had an AMAZING concert - just incredible music - by Giuliana De donno, playing a Celtic harp and something called a Paraguayan harp, and a percussionist playing traditional celtic & Latin American music. Beautiful stuff.

And lastly – the gala dinner. Ahh, how to describe the gala dinner? A magical candle-lit room under a candle-lit bower, actors pouring your wine reciting poetry… divine.

I don’t know how we’re going to top that one next year, but we’ll think of something!!

Next year is an emphasis on mystery, crime & thrillers. We’ve arranged a series of Briefings for mystery/thriller writers to give you the background knowledge you need. We’ll have the US ConsulGeneral from the Embassy in Rome, a really smart lady named Barbara Cummins, talking about how the diplomatic corps works, a woman who worked very very closely with the CIA in the State Department (but who isn’t bound by confidentiality rules) talking bout how the CIA works, America’s top skip tracer/bounty hunter talking about how to disappear abroad and how to trace someone who has disappeared abroad, the FBI Legat from Rome, a general of the carabinieri and the Italian secret service talking about combating international organized crime, a couple of forensic scientists, an agent from Interpol and more, much more.

Do check the website, with updates, a beautiful poem written specially for us by Sarah Tucker and you can click and see interviews with the authors:

See you next year!!!

Xxx Liz

I'm incredibly jealous that I didn't get to go this year, so one of my goals for next year is to return.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

TV report card

Now that the fall season premieres are done, I thought this would be an interesting time to take stock of how things are going so far on the tube.

ROME (HBO) - Great intrigue, lavish sets and costumes, fun soap opera elements. I'm about four episodes behind on my DVR (like a TiVo), so I guess that means I'm not exactly rushing to watch it, but I do enjoy this one.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (HBO) - Funny as ever. I couldn't believe the episode that poked holes in everything from bathroom stalls that are equipped for the physically challenged to racist dogs.

EXTRAS (HBO) - I tuned into about fifteen minutes of this and couldn't deal. I loved the BBC version of THE OFFICE, so I was shocked that I was so bored by this Ricky Gervais show.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC) - I can't say I was ever a gushing fan of this series. It's good for a few laughs, but the continuity is lazy and some of the plot situations are so moronic that it's hard to overcome them (Remember when Gabrielle stole a port-a-potty and put it in the back yard? The skipped logistics of that still astound me.). We'll see where this year is going. So far--meh.

GREY'S ANATOMY (ABC) - I tuned in late to this one, but I like it. A lot. The characters are sympathethic and I like all the affairs and stuff.

FOOTBALLERS WIVE$ (BBC America) - Love it! See my September blog about this show.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (Fox) - Love it! I literally laugh on an average of every thirty seconds. Bob Loblaw? OMG. Comedy gold.

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (Fox) - I'm a bit behind on the DVR for this one, too, but I like its energy and the men who are in it.

SURFACE (NBC) - Waaaaay behind on this one, but the first episode was pretty intriguing, so I'll be giving this more of a chance.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (CBS) - Even with Willow, I couldn't hang with this show. I stopped watching after the first episode. Not funny.

PRISON BREAK (Fox) - See my September blog about this one. Wentworth Miller is a hottie, and I'm still watching.

BONES (Fox) - I've stopped watching, and I'm not happy about that. I want to support David Boreanaz, but while I was tuning in one night, I realized that I'd reached my crime procedural show threshold.

AMAZING RACE (CBS) - Love this show. Always intense and I love seeing the travel highlights. I'm not crazy about this family-team formula, so hopefully we'll get back to the couples next season. I do, however, love the U.S.A. locations this season.

MY NAME IS EARL (NBC) - Funny, funny, funny. First, I adore Jason Lee. As I told my brother, the man could sit in a meadow just staring at the camera and I'd be laughing my tush off. He's just got a face that cracks me up. And add to that scripts that are sweet and goofy, characters who are completely nuts, and an ex-wife who keeps coming up with inventive ways to steal Earl's cash and you've got comedy, my friends.

THE OFFICE (NBC) - Love it! Steve Carrell is gold. In fact, all the actors on this show are. I look forward to this one every week.

SUPERNATURAL (WB) - I tune in every once in a while. Some creepy stuff, but it rates an "okay" on my list. I really like the urban legend twists though.

NIP/TUCK (FX) - Love it! See my September blog for more on this one. Still, YIKES--the Carver is back!!! Sean is spiraling out of control! I can't stand Matt! Christian Troy is actually becoming even more of a tragic figure!

THE APPRENTICE: MARTHA STEWART (NBC) - I have to admit, I can't get enough of the Apprentice formula. I'm enthralled by the dynamics of these people as they figure out tasks. And Martha is pretty amusing with her icy little comments.

LOST (ABC) - Love it! See my previous blog for this. I have no idea what's going on with the plot but I'm hooked.

VERONICA MARS (UPN) - Love it! Why aren't you watching it??? A wonderful show that *never* lets me down. Full of awesome dialogue, good mysteries, and heartfelt emotion. Also, these young actors are great, especially Kristen Bell, who has a huge career ahead of her. I'll be blogging about this show in the future, campaigning for more people to watch (as I did in the past) so beware.

ALIAS (ABC) - Is it still to early to write this season off? I want to remain a loyal fan, but my patience is being sorely tested.

SURVIVOR (CBS) - I'm kinda bored this season.

EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (UPN) - Very funny show. Try it--you'll like it.

THE APPRENTICE (NBC) - Oh, man, are those women terrible, or what? My money is on Marshawn or Alla to win though.

REUNION (Fox) - Is this one even on anymore? I liked the first episode, but then the series, like, disappeared or something. Did Fox stuff it into a magician's hat and forget to pull it back out? I think it'll be back after baseball ends, but it remains to be seen whether or not I'll still be interested.

Well, isn't it depressing to know that I watch so much TV? LOL. Actually, my DVR cuts the viewing time drastically, so I can watch three programs in the time it used to take to watch two. True, there are a few shows that I watch when they're on because I need to see them immediately, so I'm not all about avoiding commercials.
DVR...I luv u.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The wisdom of PRETTY WOMAN...

Yes--I did it--the first Vampire Underground book is out the door! I really, really wanted to have more people read it and go over it just one more time before I sent it off, but the deadline hit and I had no other choice. Of course, if it were up to me, I'd make changes forever. After all, I am the girl who asked my Silhouette editor if I could correct a couple of tiny typos in the re-release of THE HUNTRESS (December). You know how it is: I re-read the book when I got the actual copy and I naturally found two little things that now drive me crazy. Since reissued books are printed from the original text, my begging was in vain.

So imagine--for the rest of my life, I'll be like, "Oh, forgive me for my HUNTRESS errors. I suck."

Okay, maybe not, LOL. THE HUNTRESS is one of my pets--my top one or two favorite manuscripts that I've written. So why is it that I'm concentrating on these teeny negatives instead? There's actually a super profound line in PRETTY WOMAN that said (paraphrased): "Why is it so easy to believe the bad things about ourselves instead of the good?" Hmm...something to ponder, indeed, even if it came from a Julia Roberts character.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Orange chicken and Moliere

Finally, I've made my return to the La Jolla Playhouse! If you've read Crystal Says... in the past, you know that I've frequented this awesome theater arts program at UCSD for years. Since I've moved, I haven't been able to get to the plays, but every once in a while I'll arrange my San Diego-visiting schedule to coincide with a performance. Along with my mom and my Aunt Mary, we go out to dinner--usually Chinese at Peking Palace (where we shared deicious shrimp lo mein, orange chicken, plus beef and broccoli last night), and then scoot off to the gorgeous eucalyptus-lined playhouse. Last night THE MISER, the classic by Moliere, was on. It's about a man who hoards his money and the comic/tragic consequences of his greed. While this was a comedy, it was also very depressing--as a lot of good comedies are.

It's interesting to see what I can learn about writing, presentation, and storytelling from each performance. THE MISER taught me a few things. First, Moliere is always a lesson in clever dialogue that often reveals more when the character is trying *not* to say something than when he is actually saying it. I loved TARTUFFE, also, when the Playhouse put it on, because Moliere's characters are microcosms of humanity while also being highly entertaining. Second, there's pacing. I don't know if this was the fault of the translation that was being used, but although the scenes packed a lot of powerful character study and conflict, there was a lot of repetition--it seemed as if the action went *way* beyond what was needed to be effective. That's always something to keep in mind while writing. Third, the set was highly symbolic and moody, saying just as much as the dialogue. It had to reflect the main character's (Harpagon) "skinflint"edness--it was a crumbling mansion that was once beautiful, but now, instead of a roof, it featured plastic tarp, etc. Most of the characters' costumes faded into the marbled color scheme, making for a sterile tone that befitted the storyline; only a few characters stood out with their color, and that was appropriate. The acting was exceptional, of course--the Playhouse *always* offers great quality.

Next up? MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING via THE AVENGERS. I know.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Coming down the home stretch

Yesterday, I inputted changes to my finished Vampire Underground draft for almost twelve hours straight. Yes, I was hell bent for leather to get that task done. Yes, I'm craving a nap right now. Yes, I believe I'll take one.

Next week I'll be toodling around with the synopsis for the second VU book. I'm excited, but also anxious, because I hope the story will be a good follow up to the first one. I've never written a pure sequel before. It's true that I've written books that link together in a series (like Kane's Crossing for Special Edition), but I've never continued the same characters, furthering their adventures and advancing their growth. Should be interesting....

Saturday, October 08, 2005

New projects...?

Okay, I can't make an official announcement yet, but there's a good chance that my writing schedule is going to be full until the middle of next December. Whoa! I'm not used to having my time claimed so far in advance, so I'm in shock. With any luck, this is how it'll be for the remainder of my career, LOL. At any rate, once I have firm word on my new contracts, I'll share with you what my future projects will be. But in the meantime, I'll give you a hint:

Noir vampire mystery...
Hot nights in San Francisco...
Playboy falls for good girl...
Back to those vampires...
And more vampires...
A surprise story full of steam...

Stay with me for better details, all right? I don't want to jinx the new deals before they actually go through. In the meantime, it's back to my Vampire Underground (book 1) revision. My Oct. 15 deadline is approaching very quickly--too quickly!!!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

DISHING HOLLYWOOD

I just want to mention one more book. DISHING HOLLYWOOD by Laurie Jacobson is a novelty product that features stories about Hollywood scandals followed by recipes for breakfast, cocktails, appetizers, main courses, desserts, etc. The author works the recipes into the tales with the merest of connections sometimes. For instance, the sad story of Sharon Tate's murder (Have you read HELTER SKELTER? One of the scariest books ever.) is followed by a recipe for her favorite meal at the last place she ever dined--El Coyote. Yes, pretty morbid, but so is the crowd that stole matchbooks from Mezzaluna after Nicole Simpson was murdered. (Mezzaluna eventually shut down--I found that out from the book, too.)

Basically, I read this to get a feel for Hollywood since that's the setting for the Vampire Underground books. And, I confess, I got through the entire thing in one day and will be trying a couple of the recipes (such as Huevos Rancheros and Tomato-Chipotle Salsa, Orange Blossom cocktails, Sinatra's Quick Italian Tomato Sauce, and Macaroon Peaches). Gossip on a hot plate--who can resist?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

R.I.P. Vaughn

Ah, ALIAS, what became of thee? Season one was refreshing, manic, and emotionally addictive with Sydney Bristow's spylife and lovelife. Season two was fabulous with the introduction of the ultimate bad-ass mommy, Irina Derevko. Season three wasn't quite as awful as a lot of people say it was--in spite of the hunky-yet-sensitive Michael Vaughn (Syd's true love) getting married while Syd was "missing" for two years, it still had a heck of a closing, with Syd's sister coming on board. And then season four happened, almost like the slow, boring crash of a bike rider who is trying to put on the brakes and manages to ease down enough to thud into a wall. Season four, with Nadia (who turned out to be a big snooze) and the predicted, much anticipated SHOWDOWN between the two sisters (which turned out to be an even bigger snooze) was truly disappointing. The only thing that even tugged at my interest was the conclusion, which featured a Vaughn bombshell ("For starters, my name isn't Michael Vaughn." Du-oh!!!) and an ultra-realistic car crash. Now *that's* my ALIAS, I thought. Welcome back, baby.

Then came the rumors. The ugly whisperings that Michael Vartan, who plays Hottie Agent Vaughn, would not be returning. I resisted the rumblings at first, but as the volume rose on these horrible stories about him not being on the set, etc., I slid into denial phase. "Hell, this is ALIAS," I thought to myself. "Nobody actually dies." So I predicted he'd be back.

Even though I'm hoping this is indeed what will happen with Vaughn, the whole exercise leaves a dull taste in my mouth. First, because of the no-die policy on this show, watching Vaughn's "demise" left me emotionally distant. Why invest my sadness in the program when I know he's going to return? But if he really *did* die, I'm even unhappier. An ALIAS without Vaughn is like a candlelit dinner with the flickering flames. It's like HAPPY DAYS without Richie Cunningham, LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY without Shirley. Sydney and Vaughn are a team, and without Michael Vartan, an important element is missing--and, as anyone who took Chemistry 101 knows, without the right mix, your concoction is screwed.

I hope ALIAS has some huge surprise in the shadows that takes the audience's jaded attitude about the no-death policy and bends it around. *That* would be cool. But if Vaughn comes back from the great beyond, it'll be just another day in Sydney land, and that's not a good thing for a show that once had unexpected twists and cliffhangers.

R.I.P., Vaughn. I hope ALIAS doesn't follow you into a shallow grave.

P.S. The site is in the process of being updated for October, so you should be seeing new content very, very soon!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Dreams of DUNE

Why I read what I read during the rough draft process, part 3.

I hadn't read the first book in Frank Herbert's DUNE series for a long time--I'm talking about 15 years here. Now, if you've been exposed to any of these hardcore Sci-Fi books, you know that this isn't a series that you can just jump right back into after an absence. In fact, all I really remembered about it were those stillsuits, a lot of desert with spice, and a thoroughly complex philosophy woven through the Herbert universe.

So what does this have to do with my Vampire Underground rough draft process? Here's the connection: When I first started writing the manuscript, I was afraid. I mean really, unnaturally, deeply afraid. It wasn't actually writer's block--it was pure fear of failing at a book that would be much longer and more complex than the norm for me (except for THE HUNTRESS and BAITED, which are Bombshells that required a lot of "hole filling" and plotting). Then a phrase popped into my head: "Fear is the mind killer." It was from DUNE, and it offered a lot of comfort, convincing me that fear was a waste of my energy--unless I could use the adrenaline to my advantage. What I mean by that is that fear can be the fuel to write with that scary sense of adventure, to try new things. So I went for it.

As I embarked on this new train of thought, I decided to rent the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries of DUNE. Immediately, I was thrown into its incredibly detailed scape. Inspired by the layers of world building, I decided to read DUNE MESSIAH and CHILDREN OF DUNE while I wrote my story--they reminded me that I needed to be using the same detailed layers in my own writing. And that reading served me well--even though my mind wouldn't shut up after I stopped writing for the day. There would be nights that I'd wake up five times to write down the plot twists and "hole filelrs" that were keeping me awake. Maddening. But the DUNE books pointed out to me that you can't create your own world without continually having to maintain it.