Signing Off

This decision has been a long time coming, but I've decided to stop blogging.

I started this blog in the spring of 2005 when my daughters were little toddlers. We were living in Cincinnati. I had been unable to write (or read or think) since Ilsa's birth, but blogging was a gentle re-introduction to the creative thought process. I was especially keen on documenting our big move to Wisconsin, the girls' growth and changes, and my survey of movies, music, books, Shakespeare, and general auto-didactic tendencies.

That time has passed. The girls are on a much more even keel now. They change and grow and continue to astound me, but I no longer obsess about recording every move they make. They have their lives and I have mine. We're all so busy that the last thing I want impeding on our family time is the obligation to write it all down. This weekend, for instance, we finished up watching the last of the Back to the Future trilogy, went out for a late-night ice cream cone and wound up at the playground after dark. It was really a lovely time. I'd much rather be living those moments than stressing about how I haven't recorded such moments in a while.

Another concern is that I am becoming more of a public figure and the girls are becoming self-aware. I don't necessarily feel comfortable writing about some of their more personal issues anymore. The idea of whether or not a child should still use a binkie is more of a general baby-oriented parenting topic. The quandary about whether or not we should put Juliette into speech therapy for her disfluency is not really something I want to open up to public debate. And, in future years, such discussions might embarrass the hell out of her. Their lives are not mine to divulge willy-nilly anymore. In many respects, they're their own people now.

With regard to using the blog as a social network, it's had its day. I get little traffic here. I have more success with Twitter and Facebook, as well as connecting through workshops. I don't necessarily want to post about current or potential projects, in order to protect my work and ideas. And frankly, I reach a certain point where I'm all out of words. I must save my creativity and butt-in-chair time for my fiction. That wasn't always the case, but it is now. Neither do I want to blog about the movies I see or the concerts we attend. In the back of my mind I'm thinking, "Oh crap, I'll have to blog about this." Nope. I don't.

I'm probably writing so much about my reasons because it's been such a big part of my life for so long. I needed to give myself permission to close it down.

But I won't be off the net completely. Not only do I still make monthly appearances on Unusual Historicals, which continues to gain followers, but I'm joining a new authors' blog in September. It'll feature fellow WisRWA members Liz Kreger and Edie Ramer, plus Pocket author Michelle Diener--the three of whom co-founded Magical Musings. They've decided to make MM more reader friendly and open it up to non-paranormal content too. We'll be joined by Amy Atwell, who's repped by my agent, and Karin Tabke (aka Karin Harlow), who shares my editor at Pocket. It's like I already belong with these women. So that's an exciting kismet-style moment, very "one door closes, another opens." I'll be blogging there about once every two weeks, and I'll post link details to my Facebook, Twitter and newsgroup forums when I have them.

So...I guess that's it. I'm off to meet my word count goal, then fly kites with the girls.


So You Think You Can Dance, Weeks Eight

Top Four group routine (Tasty Oreo's Broadway): Why does Tyce get to do chorey and still sit on the judging panel? I am simply not qualified to critique this style because I loathe it so much. The cutesy just bugs the shit out of me.

Wait, this isn't the finale? I dislike this season a great deal.

Lauren and Pasha (tango by Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo): Yay for Pasha! And Lauren is the only contestant this season who even comes close to Anya. Wow. That was a gorgeous routine. Normally I dislike tango because of the faux anger; it always seems so terribly over the top. This kept all the fire and passion of the tango, but with so much control. It was deep, sultry and restrained, as if all the true nitty-gritty shagging was yet to come. Excellent.

Adam + Nigel 4-evah.

Adechike and All-Star Lauren (Sean's afro-jazz): I definitely see what they meant about Adechike's stiffness. He wasn't celebratory. I usually love Sean's afro-jazz because it's an excuse for the dancers to become so animated and frenetic. This wasn't close. Lauren looked great though.

Robert and Anya (Viennese waltz by Jonathan Roberts): They looked fantastic together. Very connected and elegant. I loved the lift where he intertwined his fingers along her lower back. Beautiful. And that's about the most generous I've heard Mia praise him this season.

I quite like Robert as a person. I wish I could connect with him a little more as a performer. He could be a great dancer and entertainer in a few years...

Keven liked Cat's hair because it looked morning-tousled.

Kent and Courtney (I still hate Doriana's disco): For all the tricks and wicked moves they managed, I can't figure why that was so dull. The most entertaining part of the whole routine was Kent's accidental double entendre. Mia, is squashy a word?

Kent is such a lovable dork.

Lauren and Ade (Sean's jazz): Not sure I liked the routine, but I loved their commitment to it. The wicked hand sequence had incredible unison. The whole thing lacked a certain chemistry, which I tend to blame on Ade. They just don't connect. It was also a bit frantic, in that not all of the moves had the chance to be as expressive as they could've been.

Adechike and Kathryn (Dwight and Desmond's contemp): Wow. He was completely outclassed, not only by Kathryn but by the choreography too. She was ripping parts out of herself out and thrusting them at Adechike, and he wasn't there to take them. We really shouldn't be at this point in the competition and still be talking about moving and growing. We should be in love with these people by now, not continuing to make excuses.

Robert and Dom (Tab & Napoleon's hip hop): My problem when the pairs are so mismatched is that my eye is drawn to the one who's doing it better. I couldn't help but watch Dom. He was amazing, so sharp and magnetic—absolutely psycho. Robert wasn't anywhere near his level (Adam was on crack thinking otherwise), but he had a really good night.

Kent and Neil (contemp by Travis): Ah, a lover's quarrel. Poor dudes, having to fight out their love affair in public. Fantastic stuff. Truly. They are so well matched, physically and in their technical abilities. Their unison was exquisite. And may I just say, it's a wonderful thing to see such a routine on America television. There have been so many wonderful male-male performances this year, which just goes to show how far this show has pushed boundaries. To see these men dancing together in such a raw and intimate way—not necessary sexual, but certainly deeply personal—is a remarkable gift.

Where is Mark????

Adechike needs to go home. Robert may be a spoiler for poor Lauren if last week's results were anything to go by...

The group routine was lovely. I guess they've given up on using the contestants; they're probably exhausted and near to being broken. Courtney, Kathryn and Allison make All-Star Lauren look sloppy as hell. I loved the song. Will have to look it up.

Cat...so beautiful.

Janelle Monae, whose work I'll have to check out, was fairly incredible, as was Desmond Richardson. And no one except Robert looked particularly surprised to hear Adechike was going home. The judges could've tried just a teensy bit harder to look upset. I'm really looking forward to Canada's season, which starts on Sunday.


Last Call on Workshop

Tomorrow is the last day to register for my online workshop for the Hearts Through History chapter of RWA. Titled "Beyond Research: Fact and Fiction for the Historical Romance Author," this course will be especially geared toward those of us who write historical romance. Here's the description:
Everyone knows that a good historical romance author does her homework, but a heap of trivia doesn't make for a steamy, sweet, compelling, tear-jerking, rip-roaring novel. How much detail is enough? What to keep and what to ditch?

And what the heck is "deep point of view" anyway?

Join us as we look at how to meld research and fiction, with the goal of selecting and integrating the best details to enhance character point of view. Designed and taught by a recovering historian, this workshop is geared toward the integration of historical detail. See how using character-specific details can make your fiction more memorable, endearing, emotional--every writer's goal!
Sign up here for the class, which runs August 8-21. It's $10 for Heart Through History members and $20 for all others. Hope to see you there!


So You Think You Can Dance, Week Seven

Sorry about the delay. I only watched the show this evening, still recuperating from Nationals. Here it comes:

Kent & Anya (Jean-Marc and France's cha-cha): Is there anyone on the planet sexier than Anya? I'm glad Kent didn't get in her way, but I wasn't particularly watching him!

Robert & Kathryn (Stacey's contemp): Wow, but Kathryn was amazing. I remember criticism against her during the early parts of last season in that her performance quality was lacking. That is *such* a thing of the past. The expression on her face throughout was so magnificently torn. Robert was an amazing partner for her. His hands were there, reaching, ready to catch her every time. Their connection was beautiful and very intense. A great piece.

Adechike & Courtney (Tasty Oreo's jazz): None more mambo-rific! Very cute, mostly because no one can dislike Courtney when she dances with such adorability. Balls out, Adam? You funky, dirty man.

Jose & Comfort (hiphop by Marty Kudelka and Dana Wilson): Boring. Jose doesn't have enough swag to pull off such a groovy style. He's such a non-entity. I get the feeling that he isn't all there. The Zen attitude covers it up, but sometimes he's really not home.

Lauren & Allison (Tasty's Broadway): I hate this '50s jazz Hollywood style *so much*. Their unison was a little off in simple places, but they brought a ton of flair and personality and strength. Watch Lauren take the whole show away from Kent. She's become much better at taking criticism, as well—more open.

Billy & Ade (Stacey's contemp): That was weird and vaguely uncomfortable. I'm not sure I got it, which isn't generally a problem for me. Maybe that's because I'm entirely bored of Billy and skipped the informative package. I still don't get why Ade is an all-star, and this just seemed like an opportunity for Billy to flail around. This is probably the most divergent I've been with the judges' opinions since Mia's "dead daddy in heaven" dance back in season three.

Jose & Kent (Spencer's Broadway): Again with Jose needing swagger? They're just being mean tonight with all this Broadway. Zzzzzzz...

Lauren & Adechike (Jean-Marc and France's foxtrot): Low-key and classy. I became enamored of Lauren's back. Very sexy. I know she was dancing with a partner because she was being lifted and twirled, but holy rat whiskers, Adechike is dull.

Billy & Robert (Nakul's Bollywood): Billy's movements are so fluid and smooth that they completely ruin a style like this. He needs more sharpness and shtick. Robert did very well. I did like how Toni Redpath was drooling all over him. She was representing hetero women to counter Mia's preference for bendy boys. But that's about all I can say. It was another fantastically "meh" routine.

Yet another week with no Pasha, Mark or Dom. So very disappointing.

Group routine from the results show: Very cool, although it bothers me when I can't tell who everyone is. Can Sting please, please, please stop mucking about with his classics?

It was so much fun to see Lil' C dancing. No wonder he's been MIA from the judging panel and choreography. I'm sure the panel would still be on stage if they could move that well.

Lauren in the bottom three? Adechike and Robert make it into the Top Four of their own power? Cats and dogs living together? But bye, bye, boys. Jose and Billy deserved to go.


The Hangover (2009)

Bradley Cooper (Phil), Ed Helms (Stu), Zach Galifianakis (Alan), Justin Bartha (Doug)

Directed by Todd Phillips (Old School)

Summary: Two good friends accompany a soon-to-be-groom and his future brother-in-law to Vegas for a bachelor's party. They wake up with no memory of what happened...and the groom is missing.

After watching Bradley Cooper in The A-Team, I realized that I never did a review for The Hangover, which Keven and I rented together earlier this spring. It actually coincides with a conversation we had with friends of ours last week about what makes classic film comedy. We identified a common theme in our examples of fantastic comedic films: the Quest.

With Ace Ventura or any of the Saturday Night Live spinoffs, the writers take a concept and stretch it as far as possible, barely filling the 90 minutes with palatable material. A quest comedy takes the opposite approach. The overarching plot already exists, regardless of the gimmicks or jokes, but it enhanced by comedic way stations. Those stations act as mini sketches and may even feature guest players who grab the spotlight for five minutes, and then disappear. They aren't part of the overall quest, but their brief appearances create fresh laughs. Examples we came up with were the utterly perfect The Princess Bride, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, The Producers, and an underrated favorite of mine and Keven's, Clue.

The Hangover very much followed this pattern. Guest appearances suffuse the 90 minutes with surprise laughs and absurd scenarios. From Mike Tyson and his tiger to the crazy Chinese guy trapped in the trunk, these sketches-within-the-movie were simply detours on the quest toward the characters' ultimate goal: find the missing groom and get him to his wedding.

Keven and I found it dead funny. I don't remember laughing so much at a Hollywood comedy since The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Oh, and Bradley Cooper is not only hot, he has a fantastic sense of sarcastic comedic timing. Verra verra nice. Watch it. Enjoy.


It Might Get Loud (2008)

Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White

Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth)

From IMDB: A documentary on the electric guitar from the point of view of three significant rock musicians: the Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White.

How much do I love The Edge? Let me count the ways. Have ever told you about the time I nearly knocked him over while climbing on stage during a U2 concert? He invited me up. The roadies needed to give me a boost because the stage was so tall. When I stood, I was slightly off balance. The Edge had to spin out of the way to keep from smacking me with the neck of his guitar. This was all while he was playing "Mysterious Ways." May 10, 2001--best night ever.

So of course I would be interested in a documentary that simply let the cameras roll while he, Jack White and Jimmy Page sat around talking about their love affair with the electric guitar. This wasn't your typical rock 'n roll documentary. If you want to learn how Jimmy Page moved from the Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin, you won't find it here. This is three musicians talking shop.

Jimmy Page came across as so organic. He played the opening guitar riff from "Whole Lotta Love" as if everybody in the world could simply stand up and do the same thing. He made it look that easy. But as proof that it wasn't, The Edge got off his chair and stood closer, just to take in the sight. He wore a look of complete awe, watching the master at work.

On a side note, I identified why I was never keen on Led Zeppelin back when, as an early teenager, I endured my mother's renewed fascination with the band. That was the time when she indulged in her old love and bought all the albums on CDs. But something about Robert Plant really creeped me out...at least, it did then.

I found myself wanting to see more of the video clips of Led Zeppelin's live concerts. Wait, bring back that skinny sexy man with the big hair! There's also a very hot homoerotic quality to how Plant and Page interacted on stage. Back when I was a younger girl, they was simply too sexually intimidating for me. I came away from this documentary wondering where I could get my hands on more Led Zeppelin!

In contrast with Page's organic mastery, The Edge was much more fascinated by technology. Anyone who knows U2's back catalog understand this. He talked about the quest to create the sounds that he already heard in his head, and how he drives everyone crazy on that quest. He's such an introspective man. They all were, in fact. All three were acutely aware of the history of their craft, the changes they had tried to make in developing their own voices, and their legacies. Nothing stood out of time. Just by having the three of them in the same room proved that. They were links on a very long, very fascinating musical chain.

Jack White seems like he'll be a very interesting person in 15 years. He's a very interesting person now, but with a touch too much showmanship and arrogance. He postured a great deal more than the other two. The only place where he genuinely smiled and seemed humbled by the experience was, again, when Page played "Whole Lotta Love." It was the one time where he let down his guard and allowed the cameras to see him enjoying the moment. I can imagine him mellowing in the years to come and slowly reassessing his place in the rock pantheon. His older two companions had already done that soul-searching.

I would've really liked to see more of their spontaneous jam sessions, but to even have these examples of the three coming together is quite beyond belief. If you have any interest in rock music, the art form that is playing the guitar, or the individual careers of these fantastic musicians, then see this documentary. It's priceless and fascinating.


The A-Team (2010)

Liam Neeson (Hannibal), Bradley Cooper (Faceman), Jessica Biel (Charisa Sosa)Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (B.A.)

Directed by John Carnahan (Smokin' Aces)

From IMDB: A group of Iraq War veterans looks to clear their name with the U.S. military, who suspect the four men of committing a crime for which they were framed.

What a surprise! I really liked this film. Admittedly, I had incredibly low standard going in. I didn't watch the television show when I was a kid, so I have nothing to compare it against, and parts of the trailer looked quite hokey. But Liam Neeson is delicious, as is Bradley Cooper. Bring on the men and explosion!

Mostly it was just funny. I laughed like a crazy person in several places. The two foremost comedic performances came from Patrick Wilson, of Watchmen, who played CIA agent Lynch, and Sharlto Copley, of District 9, who played psycho pilot Murdock. Their lines and observations were absurd--just random interjections that all seemed adlib. The constant levity reminded me that this was not a super serious film to be taken super seriously.

A more subtle comedy came from Neeson and Cooper. They had a fantastic faux-father/son relationship, and created great on-screen guy chemistry. Their characters really seemed to be on the same page. They found the same things ridiculous, and they prepared for the difficult tasks in the same way. Through it all, even during the ridiculously over-the-top tank-flying scene, Neeson's Hannibal was in charge. Faceman, played by Cooper, shouted at him and cursed at him, but he still did as he was told. That complete faith in Hannibal's leadership really created the dynamic that this team was special.

Oh, and did I mention they were delicious? As Zoe Archer said, I'd like to climb Liam Neeson like a cat on curtains. That and Bradley Cooper has the world's most perfect amount and placement of chest hair. Just thought you should know. The chemistry between him and Jessica Biel was also quite good. She was strong and beautiful, never succumbing to overplayed tough chick cliches.

Bring your funny bone, turn off your brain, and get ready to drool. Quality all around. I'm actually looking forward to the sequel they so obviously have planned.


Despicable Me (2010)

Steve Carell (Gru), Jason Segel (Vector), Russell Brand (Dr. Nefario), Julie Andrews (Gru's Mom)

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

From IMDB: When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds himself profoundly changed by the growing love between them.

We took the girls to see this on opening weekend. I really like Steve Carell, and to be honest I was curious about an animated movie that came from neither DreamWorks nor Pixar. How can this be?? The trailer was also very good, with lots of funny gags. Most kid movie trailers make me cringe, like this one. Ew.

I liked this movie for two reasons. First, it worked well for the girls. Some movies for kids try to hard and make the plot overly elaborate, which requires a lot of whispered explanations on my part. I remember Happy Feet being that way, and not just because the girls were younger. Here they laughed, they followed along, and they came away with several favorite parts when the whole thing was finished.

Second, it didn't try to be too scary. Sometimes the suspenseful music and crazy action sequences can simply become too much. This was exciting and engaging in several sequences, but it never went over the top toward genuinely trying to give the kids a heart attack.

And finally, I enjoyed it. I know this must sound self-centered, but any parent who has to sit through children's movies knows what I'm talking about. Pixar set the standard for making kid flicks palatable. My girls would watch just about anything. They have very few standards, so they really cannot be trusted with regard to what is bearable by adult standards.

Despicable Me took the Pixar process a step further by actually making comedy out of the trials of parenthood. I really don't know if people without children would find this as amusing as I did. Much of the humor was aimed directly at parents sitting in the theaters next to their little ones. The comedy was basically derived by holding a mirror up to our lives, especially having daughters. Even Juliette and Ilsa understood the connection. They came away with several "just like me" examples from the film, and why that was funny.

Oh, and the minions stole the show. I can foresee many minions spinoffs in the future, and lots of tie-in toys. But at least for the moment Despicable Me stands by itself as quality, funny family entertainment.