On Live Rats and Dead Dogs

Back in college, I was very active in theater — I stage managed many plays, and I was house manager for the university’s Program of Theater and Dance.  I never got on stage myself (and for that, the community was very grateful!) but I supplemented my hands-on experience with a number of courses on theater, including a class on Shakespeare, one on modern drama (mostly, early 20th c), and one on contemporary drama (late 1960s and forward.)

One of my drama professors drilled home the point that when a playwright calls for something difficult in the staging of his plays (especially children and animals), he must truly think it’s important.  Therefore, the three identical sets of plants in Sam Shepard’s TRUE WEST (one set alive and well for the first act, one set dying for the middle act, one set dead for the third act) are an indication of the significance of those plants to the narrative.  (Personally, I think Shepard just hates stage managers — witness other requirements for his plays, including screen doors that are cut through, bottles that are shattered, etc.)

I was reminded of this theory, in spades, last night when we saw the National Theater telecast of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT.  The play *opens* with a very realistic dead dog, staked to the stage with a garden fork.  Throughout much of the play, the main character (an autistic 15-year-old) carries his live rat — through a variety of settings, including an imagined trip to outer space.  (There’s another challenging staging thing late in the play, but I won’t mention it, lest I spoil the story…)

By and large, I think it was worth the effort to “kill” the dog and keep the rat alive.  Both add great depth to the story.  When I first heard they were making a play out of this novel (told from the point of view of the 15-year-old, with many of his tics incorporated into the narration), I couldn’t imagine how they could stage it.  Not all of their efforts worked, but the show was very imaginative.  The parts of the story that were most difficult for Christopher were most difficult for the audience — the production uses sound and light and movement to represent the disorientation of the main character.

This production is also quite meta — the characters know that they’re in a play, and they comment occasionally on that fact.  At times, the entire thing felt *too* staged, too “created”, but there were genuine emotions evoked.  The characters were complex — none of the main characters is all good or all bad, and no one has an easy life.

This is only the second telecast I’ve seen, and I was impressed with the presentation.  The team uses multiple cameras, sometimes from angles that the theater audience can’t experience.  The close-ups give a much more intimate view of the actors (even if they take away a bit, showing the microphones, etc.)  I’ll definitely consider other performances in the future!

(I was reminded, as I watched the show, of Kazuo Ishiguro talking about his novel REMAINS OF THE DAY, which he said he wrote specifically to be not-filmable, as a form of art separate from the television and film that he loved growing up.  Of course, it was transformed into an incredible movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.  I suspect Mark Haddon never contemplated his slender novel turning into a play either!)

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Notebook of Doom

So, Saturday night, we went to a baseball game, as one does.

(Before that, we went to dinner, as one does.  To Medium Rare, which serves bread, salad, steak frites, and that’s it.  And we had a fantastic dinner — better than I’d expected, with perfect, salty, crisp frites that complemented the steak perfectly!)

Anyway, we went to a baseball game.  And the Nationals knocked around the Brewers pitcher pretty badly in the first inning, so the game had a pretty relaxed, easy-going feel.  And about halfway through the fifth inning, I all of a sudden realized that I didn’t need to write the next scene in CENTER STAGE, because it was boring and talk-y and didn’t tell the reader anything the reader didn’t already know.

But I *did* need to add a scene with a direct confrontation between two major characters, one where one guy says, “Do this and there’ll be Consequence X” and the other guy says, “I’m doing this, so get your consequences ready.”

Being an author, even an author at a baseball game, I had a notebook with me.  So I took out my pen and I scribbled away at a full page of dialog, using the extensive abbreviation scheme that I created in law school, so that I could transcribe hours of notes on Commercial Paper and other classes that left me clueless.

Today, I’ll be writing up that scene.  And I have the cheerful feeling that it’s already half done.  It’s almost like I get to spend the day editing instead of writing!  Yay, yay, yay.

And the Nats won.

And I spent yesterday at the Washington Romance Writers summer barbecue, chatting with friends, eating a killer chocolate cake I had no business enjoying as much as I did, and having a grand time away from the computer.

So, today is pretty much perfect :-)

How about you?  Did you have a good weekend?

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Reclaiming the Trope

Look up the word trope in your dictionary.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

The first definition is probably something along the lines of “a metaphor”.  The second definition is probably something along the lines of “a cliche”.  The second definition likely isn’t tagged “pejorative”, but it should be.  People sneer at tropes, whether they’re talking about movies, books, or any other form of art.

And yet.

And yet romance novels, especially category romance novels, are built on tropes.  The entire idea of the genre is that we take a relatively few elements — a lover, another lover, (maybe more lovers), a trope or two or ten, emotion, conflict, and a satisfying ending — and we tell a story that is different, interesting, engaging, unique.

That’s the challenge of the genre.  That’s the joy — both in writing and in reading.

Tropes fade in and out of popularity.  It’s a pretty hard sell to set a romance in contemporary times and have a credible ward/guardian love story without setting off every possible creepster alarm — but it *can* be done.  It’s easier to use the trope of the secret baby now that lots of women are enjoying lots of sex.  Royalty — especially sheikhs — are a bit sparse on the ground, but there are an awful lot of athletes and military men.   Some tropes have become inflated — millionaires have become billionaires (I guess that’s the value of shrewd investing, early in one’s financial career.)

So?  What’s your favorite trope?  You know you have one.  Or maybe more than one.

I’ve put together a list of romance tropes:  http://www.mindyklasky.com/index.php/for-writers/romance-tropes/

Check it out, and let me know if I’ve missed your favorite!

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9 Uses For a Flip and Tumble

Flip and Tumble — brand name for a light cloth bag that folds into its own pouch and can easily be tucked into a purse or, in a pinch, a pocket.  (First pointed out to me by Justine Larbalestier!)

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  1. Hold snacks purchased for early morning flight from Washington DC to Albuquerque (by way of Minneapolis, because why shouldn’t one fly north to end up south?)
  2. Hold rental agreement on “compact” car, which turns out to be a Chevy Malibu the size of the Queen Mary’s younger sister, because no “Corolla equivalents” were available in the parking lot.
  3. Hold funky keys for room at the Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe, which looks like it could be the movie set for a film about convent life in the old Southwest (if, you know, the nuns had king size beds in their bedrooms and massive multi-jet showerheads in their bathrooms and drank lemon ice water every time they passed through the hotel lobby on their way to some fun exploration).
  4. Hold refillable (and many, many times refilled) water bottle for use at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival, where over 200 artisans from dozens of countries display and sell handmade art and crafts (along with a fun international “food court”, and a surprisingly cool breezeway at the top of the hill, just perfect for taking a break in the hot-but-not-blazing (it’s a dry heat!) afternoon.
  5. Hold raincoat for afternoon gulley washer that created a 15 minute deluge followed by 15 minutes of light rain.  Oh.  Wait.  I left my raincoat back in my room, so the Flip and Tumble wasn’t any good for this.  But I was under shelter for almost all of the rain, so no big deal.
  6. Hold guidebook with information on Tia Sophia’s, a hole-in-the-wall breakfast restaurant with a yummy, yummy, yummy breakfast burrito featuring sausage, potatoes, cheese, and lots of red chili sauce.
  7. Hold cell phone used for navigating from Santa Fe to Los Alamos, where one can watch a fun short documentary about the “town with no name” where the atom bomb was developed.  One can also peruse the science museum on site, but one might want to have higher degrees in science to understand some of the exhibits.  Or, one can play with the brain-teaser games on spacial relationships that become addictive the closer one gets to (not) finding a solution.  (Don’t rely too much on the cell phone, though, because coverage will cut out about 5 minutes away from the museum.)
  8. Hold laptop and Kindle while attending the Annual Feast Day dance at the Cochiti Pueblo, because even though it’s warm in the shade and hot in the sun, it’s much, much cooler than the trunk of the car, where the suitcases are waiting for their return journey home.
  9. Hold snacks purchased for on-flight dinner, after a cross-airport sprint when Leg One of the return flight lands 35 minutes late, due to weather in Minneapolis.

All in all, my mother and I had a wonderful trip.  We found amazing treasures at the Folk Art Festival, spoke with dozens of friendly, kind people, and truly enjoyed our mother/daughter break!

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A Writer of Independent Means

So, we celebrated Independence Day.  Which doesn’t mean much — we didn’t head out for fireworks (too crowded on the Mall, and I didn’t even realize we *had* a closer-to-us local display until I heard the pounding in the distance…)

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But we enjoyed the long weekend nevertheless, folding in:

  • Fourth of July dinner of hamburgers, Tater Tots (what?!?  Our forefathers would have fought a revolution for them!), watermelon, and homemade apple hand pies (verdict — *perfectly* tart for me, needed some sweetener for normal eaters),
  • Knitting and frogging the first eight rows of a new pattern (Teardrop — first the triangular shawl, then the rectangular one) at least forty times before I decided it just wasn’t meant to be my pattern (at least not with the yarn I have, and at least not while I try to watch TV or do anything else),
  • Orphan Black, at least the first season on binge, and a few episodes of the second season, but we aren’t through watching yet, so no spoilers please,
  •  Private Lives, at the Shakespeare Theater, which was thoroughly amusing in a very arched-eyebrow way,
  • a pedicure (notable for the *bright* pink polish on my toes, but most enjoyable for the chance to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in far too long.)

And there was the usual not-enough-reading, and the eating of the season’s first corn, and the watching of baseball, and the gorging on the season’s first cherries, and, and, and…

And now, it’s the workweek again, and I have a chapter of CENTER STAGE staring me in the face.  So, what am I waiting for!  I hope you had a good weekend, and a good long weekend if you were in the States!

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