Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book List's Back Up!

I still have some school reading to do (see the restored "What I'm Reading" Sidebar), but since these are the last books I have to read before I'm done (not counting all the essays and short stories that I have to read), I can go back to updating it on my blog because after these I'm back to reading normally. I still have a stack of about twenty books that I haven't read yet - three of the books on the stack are the novels I bought to comfort myself when I was fired from Coles and Chapters, last summer. Shame, shame, shame on me. I also still have books from Green Man that need to be reviewed. Oh well. There are worse situations, I must say.

Edit: Also - I started a new short story. Similar to how I wrote "My Brother's Own Words," I turned off my Ridiculous-Idea-Filter and just went with it. I've only typed about a page, but I think it's pretty good.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Be Kind, Rewrite

Yeah, so it doesn't rhyme. Who cares? I'm an aspiring novelist/screenwriter, not a poet. Also, as it is currently 8:15am here, I haven't actually deposited the rewrite of "Whiff" intended for On Spec into the mailbox yet, but as it is already packaged and stamped, and as I don't have time to blog until about 6:00pm tonight, I'm just going to assume that today will be the day I send it in. However, if a giant eagle swoops out of the sky, tears open my knapsack with its talons, and flies off with my manuscript before I can mail it, rest assured I will let you know as soon as I can. Anyway, I changed the story quite a bit, but I think I hit all the points that the editors commented on, so I think it has a fairly good chance.

Once again, my lazy arse got a kick in the pants from watching the Oscars last night. They were kind of ho-hum, not a lot of surprises (except for the unpleasant kind - Eddie Murphy didn't win!), and nothing particularly special happened, but I did pay extra attention to the screenwriters that won, and the speeches they gave. Wow, I would love to be up there. Makes me want to work double-time on my own screenplays.

On a nicer note, I had a nice Reading Week, managed to keep (most of) my Lenten promises for five and half days, but the latter half of it was spent worrying and tearing away at two papers which are due tomorrow. One I finished on Friday, but the last one I'm still worrying over (half a page to go!), and of course I forgot or didn't go to a ton of things I was supposed to. Because of the stress of finishing said papers (along with going to my job), I didn't go to my sci-fi club's Firefly marathon, I didn't go to The Gateway Reading Week party, and I completely forgot to attend a Factory Girl screening in order to write a review.

That last one has me really bummed - one of my Lenten promises is not to rent or buy movies, so the only way I can see ones that we don't already own is to review them. I really wanted to see Factory Girl, and it didn't hit me that the screening was supposed to be on Friday until 11:00pm last night. To make up for it I'm probably going to have to do another article, like interview some band I've never heard of who performs music I don't like listening to at a club that I never attend. I hate doing those, but about 70% of A&E assignments are those kind. Besides, I doubt after forgetting Factory Girl that the editors are going to waste another movie review on me for a while. ARGH!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cheers for Ron Perlman!

As a last gift before Lent, my parents bought Beauty and the Beast, The Complete First Season. For those of you who, like me, were born after 1985, no, Disney did not make an inane half-hour animated series of it like they did to, well, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Tarzan, Lion King...wow, long list. Anyhoo, the series I'm referring to is the 1987 one starring Linda Hamilton (also known as *cue Ahnold voice* "SARAH CONNAH!") and Ron Perlman (he of the many DC voice acting gigs, oh yeah, and HELLBOY and the much-anticipated Hellboy 2).

Perlman plays the leonine Vincent (in spectacular feline make-up) who rescues corporate lawyer Catherine (Hamilton) after she's mistaken for someone else and brutally assaulted. He takes her down to the secret city of tunnels that lie just beneath New York, nurses her back to health, and their romance blossoms accordingly - in particular for Vincent, who acquires the ability to feel whatever she's feeling.

This comes in handy when she transfers to the District Attorney's office to do some actual good, because whenever she gets in trouble (which is often - quite a lot of nasty folks in NY), the show'll cut to a scene of Vincent peacefully reading or studying a map or having a bubblebath only to jerk up when he senses her fear, yank on his cloak, and run through the tunnels to save her with a lot of fang-baring and roaring and clawing.

It is fabulous. Vincent is like Fabio crossed with Simba. I love it. There is a general formula to the episodes (Catherine takes on a case, Catherine gets assaulted by criminals, Vincent hitches a ride on a subway to save her), but they intersperse it with enough Vincent-gets-in-trouble episodes to spice it up a bit. Oh, but I love it.

What I don't love, is that after rapturously finishing a bunch of Beauty and the Beast episodes, I discovered the family's copy of Hellboy went missing, and with my Lenten promise not to rent movies or buy them, I'm not going to see it for forty days! Argh!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Disney Battle! "Beauty and the Beast" versus "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

Today, jonesing for my animation fix after watching Beauty and the Beast, I went out and rented Disney's 1996 movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Yup, it turns out that the Mouse House didn't make only one movie about a lonely disfigured individual with inanimate objects for friends who has to contend with inately stupid and superficial French hicks. It seems only fair that I make the two battle it out, commentary-wise, to see who comes out a winner.

The Story
B&TB: Spunky, literate gal Belle agrees to imprisonment in the Beast's castle in order to free her father, and in the process helps the Beast to become a nicer person while falling in love with him at the same time, which conveniently breaks the spell and transforms him into a gorgeous Prince.

HOND: Eeeevil Minister of Justice Frollo is guilted into adopting a deformed gypsy child, who grows up into a deformed bell ringer who falls for spunky, limber (!) gypsy Esmerelda. Eventually growing a spine (albeit a crooked one), Quasimodo saves Esmerelda from burning at the stake, only to watch her fall for handsome soldier Phoebus.

Similarities: Both stories center around a fugly main character, are situated in France, and place a heavy emphasis on the theme that people shouldn't be judged by appearances. Both stories deal with pretty heroines who are held against their will in flat-out gorgeous buildings, only to be freed by their new misshapen friends.

Differences: B&TB, based on less difficult source material, sticks with the myth and its main message. HOND on the other hand, deals with much more difficult and controversial themes - such as racial and religious persecution.

Advantage: Beauty and the Beast. It's a simple story, with profound themes and a necessary message, and it gets the job done. Hunchback may dig deeper, but it does so less well and ends up muddling the several meanings it tries to convey. Sure, both movies say that people shouldn't be judged only on appearances - but at least B&TB demonstrates both sides of that point by making the villain a tasty hunk of beefcake with a sleazy interior. In HOND, Quasimodo's no looker, but neither is Frollo - and in the end, all the good-looking characters (namely, Esmerelda and Phoebus) end up being purehearted anyway.

The Fugly Hero
B&TB: Beast (real name never revealed). Was turned into a furry, horned beast at age eleven for acting like an obnoxious, spoiled asswipe in front of the worst person imaginable: a enchantress with an inchy wand-finger. Confined to his magnificent castle with his (approximately) thousands of servants, who have all been turned into various dancing/singing household items, he has to fall in love with (and have that love returned by) someone who isn't a prancing bedpan by his twenty-first birthday if he wants to be human again.

HOND: Quasimodo. The deformed (and inexplicably fair-skinned) child of swarthy gypsy parents was adopted by Frollo after the Minister of Justice inadvertantly killed Quasimodo's mother. Raised in a belltower and weaned on Frollo's hypocritical teachings (his alphabet: A - Abomination, B - Blasphemy, C - Contrition, D - Damnation, E - Eternal Damnation!), he's in charge of ringing the bells of Notre Dame and being a little noticed as possible.

Similarities: Both characters can incite angry, jeering mobs by simply appearing in public. Both are alone but for their magically-animate friends who would normally be inanimate (the Beast has his silverware servants, Quasimodo a trio of gargoyles), and both are painfully aware of their monstrous appearance. Both have their own private space in their Gorgeous Buildings in which they express their repressed feelings (Quasimodo has a loft in which he crafts dolls and windchimes and other bric-a-brac, the Beast retreats to his West Wing to smash furniture and destroy paintings and stare into magic mirrors). Both are quite strong and when provoked can use said strength to do incredibly bad-ass things. Both end up being accepted by society at the ends of their films.

Differences: While both are courageous, Quasimodo is innately gentle and uses force only in self-defence, while the Beast is hot-tempered and prone to violence. The Beast, at least until the end of the movie, remains unknown to the oblivious French villagers near his forest - but the HOND indicates that Quasimodo is a well-known, but rarely-seen figure (when he leaves Notre Dame for the first time to participate in the Festival of Fools, he is quickly recognized as "the bellringer."). The crucial difference between them, of course, is that the Beast's hideousness was a punishment for his cruel behaviour, and by renouncing his heartless ways he returns to his handsome form. Sadly, Quasimodo was born the way he is, and remains that way at the end of the film.

Advantage: Beast. Let's face it, he makes the most psychological progress in his movie (from a spoiled little boy into a brave, compassionate man), he eventually returns to his adorable self, and oh hey, he gets the girl. Quasimodo was pleasant at the beginning and is pleasant at the end (although with a little more self-confidence) and the girl he adores still goes for the hot blonde. He's a nice enough kid, but Quasimodo ultimately ends up short-changed.

The Plucky Heroine
B&TB: Belle, the well-read and self-absorbed daughter of an eccentric inventor. Animal sidekick: the intelligent but cowardly horse Phillipe.
HOND: Esmerelda, the feisty dancing gypsy girl. Animal sidekick: Jolly, a goat (who wears an earring!).

Similarities: Both are strong-willed, looked down upon by the French Hicks, and are compassionate towards the downtrodden. Also, both end up briefly imprisoned in their films' Gorgeous Buildings.

Differences: Belle is buttoned-down, while swarthy Esmerelda, with her revealing clothing and pole-dancing (!) antics, is blatantly sexual and more physically fit. As well, Esmerelda is firey, whereas Belle is gentler and intellectual.

Advantage: Belle. Esmerelda's exoticised appearance (dark skin, bright green eyes, rakish single earring and gypsy garb) makes Belle look like a plain-jane in comparison, but she makes some ridiculously stupid decisions wheras Belle is smart as a tack. And let us not forget, that Belle actually falls for the Fugly Hero, while he is fugly, while Esmerelda sees Quasimodo only as a friend and prefers handsome, witty Phoebus as marriage material.

The Villain
B&TB: Gaston, the devilishly good-looking but dastardly huntsman paragon of French Hicksville.
HOND: Frollo, the hypocritically pious Minister of Justice.

Similarities: Both harbour naughty thoughts for the Plucky Heroine, and are selfish, self-righteous, and vain. They share a similar demise as well - upon the ramparts of the Gorgeous Buildings of their respective films, they tumble to their deaths when they attempt to backstab the hero/heroine.

Differences: Um, well, Gaston is more blatant, and (dare I say?) honest about his intentions - he wants Belle, he tells her so. He doesn't like the Beast, so he stirs up a mob (a singing mob!) to destroy him. That could just be because he's as dumb as a post, though. Frollo's more cunning, but he's also a seriously disgusting perv, as in, a hair-sniffing, undergarment-rubbing horny old man. And ugly, too - his long-boned, hook-nosed appearance seems a departure from the usual exaggerated-feature design of Disney Villains, and seems more in keeping with a Dreamworks' animated baddie - like the Phaoroh in Prince of Egypt.

Advantage: Frollo. This dude's playing for the major leagues of evil - he's religiously intolerant, bigotted to the point of attempting genocide, emotionally abusive, and as pervy as all get out. Frollo's simmering badness makes Gaston look almost redeemable - I mean, hey, the all that guy wants is a hunting lodge, a little wife, and six or seven strapping young sons. He's not trying to eradicate an entire race of gypsies! Gaston throws Belle's favourite book in a mud puddle - Frollo sets a house on fire while the family is still inside. Do the math.

The Music
By the way, when I say "main song," I'm referring to the song in a Disney film whose tune is integrated into the general instrumental score of the movie. For instance, the "main song" for The Little Mermaid wouldn't be "Under the Sea" but "Part of Your World," because the notes in the chorus of "up where they walk/ up where they run" frequently reappear in the score.

B&TB: The main song for this was, naturally, "Beauty and the Beast" - which was wonderfully performed (apparently in just one take) by Angela Lansbury, the voice of Mrs Potts - a song sung by an outsider who observes how two people who appear to be so different gradually come to love each other. Other songs include the iconic "Be Our Guest," "Something There," and "Belle."

HOND: The main song was "Out There" - a ballad which was performed by the voice of Quasimodo, Tom Hulce (from Amadeus) - about Quasimodo's desire to leave Notre Dame and explore Paris and live like the regular people he's spied on all his life. Other songs include "A Guy Like You," "Topsy Turvy," and my personal favourite - "Hellfire."

Similarities: Both are composed by Alan Menken, and the scores are both suitably darkly-themed. They both have a carnivalesque tune set to a grand spectacle ("Be Our Guest" and "Topsy Turvy") both have a humorous number by the magically-animated-inanimate objects ("Something There" and the added "Human Again" for B&TB, and "A Guy Like You" for HOND). The villains both get a number as well ("Gaston" and "Hellfire").

Differences: Alan Menken puts a decided Gothic tone to his score for HOND, full of Latin choruses which suits the Church theme. The musical subject matter is also more serious and much more religious in HOND - lots of prayer and appeals to God and references to piety and sin, etc. Also, while B&TB reprises its main song for a final chorus at the end of the film, HOND reprises the minor, opening song - "The Bells of Notre Dame".

Advantage: B&TB all the way. I spend my childhood watching and re-watching these movies over and over again, day after day, sometimes even twice in the same day. I'm pretty sure HOND was the last movie I did that with. I can easily remember (and hum!) the tunes from B&TB, but apart from "Out There" and "Hellfire," I can barely recall the music from HOND, and I watched that only yesterday. I also just plain prefer the music of B&TB, with its moody but delicate theme, to the heavier and less nimble music of HOND, and Lansbury's gentle but sprightly "Beauty and the Beast" plays out better than "Out There" with Hulce's distracting vibrato.

I can also sing the music to B&TB in public, something I cannot do with the incredibly creepy ode-to-old-man-lust "Hellfire," in which Frollo proceeds to beg the Virgin Mary to either a) kill Esmerelda to end his unholy hard-on, or b) give him Esmerelda so that he can get it on hypocritical-geezer-style. During said number, the old man rubs himself with Esmerelda's scarf and faces down a chorus of shadowy judges holding bishop's crooks who condemn him for being horny. I wouldn't want to have to explain that number to my kids if they ever watched this movie.

Now, I'm not saying HOND was a bad movie - it was surprisingly good compared to what I ws expecting. Like all Disney films, it had cute characters and fantastic visuals - but I don't think the darker tone it was trying to go for quite succeeded.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Curse you, Disney Vault!

On a whim, I went out and rented what is easily one of my favourite movies of all time, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the second of the three musicals that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman did for Disney (the other two, natch, being The Little Mermaid and about half of Aladdin). Of course, I can't just go out and buy this DVD like I did with the other two because some jackhole over at the Mouse House thought it would be a laugh to lock up the only animated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar inside the Disney Vault for who knows how long. Seriously, the copies of the 2002 DVD Special Edition are currently selling for about $100 each on Amazon. Not fair.

Rewatching the movie was a delight, but it did open my eyes to a bunch of bizarre facts. For instance - the DVD included a new musical number, Human Again, which was fantastic, but I'm kinda glad they ended up cutting it because it seriously screwed with the time continuity of the movie (is it autumn? winter? spring already? The snow's gone - no, it came back!) . Also, I finally put together the math that had the Beast freed on his twenty-first birthday (hey he's my age now!), with the lyrics that Lumiere sings about the "ten years we've been rusting". What, you can't mean the Prince was turned into a Beast...

...when he was eleven?! ELEVEN? You mean, when he was a child? The magical Enchantress on the stained-glass windows was shocked and appalled that an eleven-year-old was rude to her? The narrator rumbles on about how this child, presumably an orphan prince being raised by servants, was "spoiled, selfish, and unkind". Really? Give me the name of an eleven-year-old who isn't! The prologue continues...yada yada yada...and the enchantress can see that there is no love in the Prince's heart...so she turns him into a Beast until he's of legal majority? Why not spank him and send him to bed without dinner? I can kind of imagine how this would play out:

Enchantress: *knock knock*

Prince: *opens door* Yes.

Enchantress: Sweet Prince, mayn't I stay the night? I'm so cold...

Prince: Um, Mrs. Potts says I'm not allowed to talk to strangers.

Enchantress: But I got a flower - look, pretty flower...so pretty...

Prince: Gee, thanks, lady, but I'm a BOY. So why don't you just chillax, I'm in the middle of kicking Cogsworth's ass in Halo 2.

Enchantress: Don't be fooled by appearances! Beauty comes from within!

Prince: Well YOU'RE old, your FLOWER's gay, and I wanna play me some Halo 2, beeyotch!

Enchantress: *magification* Surprise!

Prince: Oh, poop.

Enchantress: You obviously have no love in your heart...

Prince: What? But I love my X-Box! Ask anybody!

Enchantress: So I'm going to rob you of a normal human puberty and turn you into a Beast - if you can give your heart to something other than an inanimate object by the time you're twenty-one, you can be human again - and drink alcohol in most countries. Oh yeah, and you also have to KEEP my so-called GAY FLOWER, because it'll tell you how much time you have left. Also, here - have this Peeping Tom Device--er, I mean Magic Mirror. C'mon, the kid's gotta learn about these things sometime! EXCELLENT - I forsee no psychological damage arising from this AT ALL. Ta ta! *leaves*

Prince: *beastification*

Prince's servants: *knicknackification*

Beast: Grrr...what's puberty?

Knick-Knack Servants: SHIT.

However, him being beastified in childhood does explain his behaviour - like that fact that he no longer knows how to use a spoon (or, perhaps, he just doesn't choose to - because there's a good chance that spoon used to be a person!) or read, for that matter. He overcomes his pettiness pretty quickly, though. If he was beastified later, he might have been a little less savage, even with his appearance. But to me, given his age, it seems that he started acting like a beast because he looked like a Beast, and not the other way around. But - if he hadn't been beastified, he wouldn't have found Belle, so I suppose the Enchantress did good in the end.

I enjoyed how the movie made Belle good, but not perfect. She's an intelligent, educated person living in a backwater town of French hillbillies...and she is completely aware of it - just listen to the way she sings about the "little town...full of little people". Well, bonjour to you, too, Belle! It makes sense that she falls for a haughty beast-prince who can cut her down to size, a little. Especially in the scene where she blatantly disregards orders in favour of her curiosity, checks out the West Wing, is entranced by the magic flower (not just because it's shiny and pink - well, maybe), and gets chewed out by the Beast. "NO MEANS NO, BELLE!"

But the ending always kills me - I love it when Beast turns back into a handsome (and not at all emotionally stunted) Prince, and the castle goes from a dark building covered with demon imagery into a shiny white palace with cherub and angel artwork. Strangely enough, it almost seems like the castle's appearance changes with the Beast's moods. When he's happy and all lovey-dovey over Belle, the castle is clean, bright, and the sun is shining. When Belle leaves, it's back to being black and gothic and stormy. Does the Beast inadvertantly have weather powers? Two X-Men in one!

However, I can also imagine an entirely different scene once the Beast is turned back into a Prince:

Beast: *princification*

Belle: *jawdrop*

Prince: Hey, baby.

Belle and Prince: *magicalsmoochification*

Castle: *er...poofification*

Knick Knack Servants: *ordinaryservantification*

Prince: Hooray! Let's celebrate! Break out the silverwear!

Mrs Potts: Yeah about that...we don't have any.

Prince: Why?

Mrs Potts: Because they're all human now.

Prince: Don't we have anything? Candles? Teacups? Hat racks? Towels? TOILET BRUSHES?!

Mrs Potts: I'm afraid not. We're Human Again! *songanddance*

Prince, Belle, other Servants: *crickets*

Prince: I say, to BED, BATH & BEYOND! Posthaste! Bring the carriage around!

Mrs Potts: No carriage.

Prince: Well then, bring the piggy-back servants around!

Piggy-Back Servants: SHIT.

I love this movie.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

If Daniel Craig ever gets strep throat...

...Than the folks who made this nifty video know just the guy to fill James Bond's shoes: http://www.ifilm.com/video/2811296/collection/1065/channel/viralvideo.

It's a giggler.

Friday, February 09, 2007

*whipcrack* Back to WORK!

I love reading Elizabeth Bear's blog (see the newly added "they must need bears" in the Link section). She seems to get so much done that reading her progress spurs me to keep writing even though I've been very lazy with it of late.

I got some interesting comments in class about my newest story, "A Little Early". It was supposed to be a light, fluffy, comical fantasy parody, but some of the characters (particularly the nameless villain who enters, makes a few lame threats, and than has an amusingly abrupt death) were flat, and the story could have been deeper. I once considered making it a novel, but the premise seemed a little thin for that so I tried a story.

As usual though, the comments mainly concerned: "We need details! We need backstory! We need fantasy-world explanation!" My classmates have said this about nearly every one of my stories. However, I am really the only fantasy writer in my class - nearly everyone else writes about broke college students and couples falling apart and people committing suicide, and all with lots of sex. So I'm guessing they aren't really fantasy readers, which makes me wonder which of their comments I should consider relevant and which ones are simply a matter of taste. I notice that when I submit stories to my online Fantasy Writers group, the comment about "explain the fantasy world" almost never comes - I suppose because they are more open to it because they are expecting new things every time.

Anyway, I think I've finished with the "Whiff" rewrite - but I'm going to give it a day or two, and then come back to it and examine it more closely. "Parasite: A Love Story" is currently lurking around Strange Horizons's corner of the Internet, waiting to be read, and I'm quite anxious to hear back from them. I've been to the site several times now and have liked what I've read - plus, they have published lots of Elizabeth Bear's stories.

Now I think I'm going to see if I can't go back to Reading 'The Willow King', spruce up "House Hunting" (now that I no longer have to worry about a word limit), restart "Magic Doesn't Grow On Trees" from scratch, and of course, push through and see if I can finish the Safety Boyfriend screenplay.

As for reading, it's all been for school, but I'm almost finished. I had to read Toni Morrisson's Beloved and Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, and I'm thinking of comparing them in an essay. Beloved had a very cool ending, and it went in some unexpected directions, but I have to say that I liked The Secret Life of Bees so much more. It was such a warm, happy, pleasant book, it's definitely a keeper.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Just learned that cover letters aren't necessary...

...and that Strange Horizons takes electronic submissions!

I've just saved about $5 in postage! Thanks, Strange Horizons!

Can't Change Just One Thing...

I received a contract from CICADA Magazine last Thursday. I took a weekend to think it over, before I finally signed it and sent it in on Monday. If all things work out as they should, "My Brother's Own Words" will make it into the March/April 2007 issue, and if the planets align, I will receive my six contributor's copies in time for me to shamelessly show them off at my Creative Writing Class. I've already planned (or mostly planned) to whom I plan to give them:

1. One for me.
2. One for my parents.
3. One for Maternal Grandparents
4. One for Paternal Granny.
5, 6: Back-up copies?

I'm very excited - even if the issue doesn't come out in time for bragging rights, I'll still get paid in time for me to make a very substantial dent in next year's tuition, which will leave me time to save up for Film School after I graduate.

It took a great deal of dithering, but I finally got off my ass and started rewriting "Whiff" in order to re-send it back to On Spec. Their rejection letter remarked on some problems with the plot (namely, that there is very little build-up to to Big Reveal of the Baddie, so that by the time Mr. Evil shows up it's a bit like a deus ex machina) .So I've tried to get rid of that, but of course, by doing that I've started changing other parts of the story, too. I can't change just one thing.

So one of my charcters, through the various rewrites, had turned from a flirt into an asshole into a n00b, and I've added a plotline (main character Chelsea does NOT like stinky artificially-scented soaps!), and I've gotten rid of the introductory sequence where the Science Fictional Device is first used in a Harmless Context in order to Explain its Use to the Reader - while this explained the plot nicely to my Non-Sci-Fi-reading Creative Writing classmates, it was too long according to the sci-fi-gourmets over at On Spec. So I cut it.

Hey, at least On Spec offered to accept a rewrite.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Little Bit More Romance

While my desire for romantic comedies has been sucked dry for the time being by the marathon that produced the last pair of comentaries, I've still been interested in the romance genre. I've just added a links section to the blog, and I've included a site that I have visited regularly for the last year: Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels. It's a fantastic site, and even as I have yet to read what can be precisely categorized as a romance novel (I swear, I've moved Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me to the top of my To Be Read Pile, just as soon as I finish my required textbooks and Green Man Review books), this site has seriously opened my eyes to how interesting a genre Romance can be.

The web mistresses, Candy and Sarah, are a hoot. They are intelligent, well-read women who are perfectly aware of the ire that can fall upon the Romance genre, and while they are quick to defy the convention that only Lonely, Ugly Women with Cats read romance, they are just as willing to admit that the romance genre has produced a lot of shit (as much as any other genre, really). They give raucous and hilariously scathing reviews of bad romance fiction, as well as insightful and well-written reviews of good romance fiction. They are the reason I went out and bought Bet Me.

As luck would have it, one of my classes - a Popular Culture Comparative Literature class - ended up being about Popular Literature, ie genre literature: sci-fi, romance, adventure, mystery, horror, etc. The professor is fabulous, and the class is so fun that I often make a complete ass of myself because I want to participate and raise my hand and argue all the time. Anyway, right now we're on the Romance section, and while there are a lot of new things I've learned, there are few things I'm beginning to dislike, and downright disagree with.

The things I do agree with are quite interesting: my professor has not been the only person to suggest that one of the reasons Romance is villified more than any other genre (despite taking up an astonishing 40 percent of the paperback industry) is because it is written for, read by, and published almostly exclusively by women, so people are more inclined to take it less seriously (as opposed to say, mystery and science fiction, which were pioneered by mostly men). Argh! Stupid men! More people are inclined to believe that the women who read romance are lonely and undereducated, who read about the adventures to make up for what's lacking in their own lives, which is just silly.

In an essay called "Trying to Tame the Romance," Jayne Ann Krentz goes on about how new female editors who haven't actually read romance have tried to "tone it down," thereby eliminating part of what makes Romance so special. For instance, these women are tired of aggressively seductive heroes and vulnerable virgin heroines. I really enjoyed how Krentz says that part of the Romance's allure is that the hero, by being the sexual aggressor, is both the hero and the villain, that it adds to the romantic conflict which beefs up the narrative, and that because the hero ends up tamed and romantic by the end of the book, it is the heroine who is in control, by having brought this man down to size. Awesome! Krentz also wrote how virginity, in both myth and folklore (mythology being one of the foundations of popular and formula fiction), has been accorded special importance - but that in the modern romance, keeping the heroine a virgin doesn't make her a childish, vulnerable naif who is schooled by the hero, but an intelligent and sexually responsible woman who has simply been saving her virginity for the right man, which I think is a fantastic, and in my mind, more romantic concept.

After that essay, I was also required to read Krentz's own novella "Connecting Rooms," which I enjoyed. I was a little put-off by some of the language (and the rather twee last names of the protagonists - Amy Comfort and Owen Sweet), and the "love (or at least desire) at first sight" concept, but I ended up liking the story immensely. It had a little bit of a mystery tone to it, and basically involved a neurotic romance author/real estate developer having to pretend that her sexy hired private investigator is her fiance in order for him to stakeout a relative's new boyfriend to see if the dude's legit or a golddigger. The conflict is that as a very masculine and overbearing male, Owen is very inept at communicating with Amy, but they eventually discover that they can communicate just as well without words (but not without moans and grunts, hint hint).

Now, after this, I was required to read Kathleen E. Woodiwiss' "The Kiss" and another essay written by Krentz and Linda Barlow called "Beneath the Surface: The Hidden Codes of Romance". Those readings did not go over so well. "The Kiss," well, let's just say I initially thought it was a parody of romance stereotypes. Supposedly a "historical" romance set in Antebellum, Georgia during the plantation years, I can pretty much describe the plot in about thirty seconds:

Jeff, the dark-haired, filthy-rich, and unattached Bachelor: I need a woman!

Untrustworthy Brit: Woman for sale! Woman for sale! Get her while she's hot!

Raelynn, the poor, but fiesty and preternaturally beautiful heroine: I fiestily object!

Jeff: Why, she is hot! I'll take her!

Untrustworthy Brit: Cha-ching!

Jeff: Servant, see that she's giftwrapped for marriage! I instinctively know that despite never having seen her before, and having to buy her like a common cow in front of dozens of people, that she is the woman for me! Conveniently, I will now mention that she bears a startling resemblance to the woman I've been having lushly described, romantic, but sex-less dreams about for the last few months!

Raelynn: Hooray! I think.

Jeff: Let's go meet the family!

Brandon and Heather, Jeff's brother and sister-in-law, whose own forced-marriage backstory is unnecessarily shoe-horned into the narrative: You mean to tell us that you bought a poor, foreign woman with no social connections and that you mean to marry her today, without knowing her for more than twenty-four hours?

Jeff: Yes. Are you angry?

Brandon and Heather: We're ecstatic! After all, what kind of wealthy 19th century plantation owners would we be if we opposed a marriage simply based on the lack of social circumstance on the part of the wife whom you've never met before and have absolutely no prior knowledge of! HOORAY!

Raelynn: Oh, but I do have social circumstance - my father was noble before he died and my untrustworthy Brit uncle took me to America.

Jeff: HOORAY! But I'll still refrain from having sex with you, because our marriage was so fast.

Raelynn: Oh, but I like sex!


Brandon and Heather: HOORAY!


Despite the fact that the names and attitudes are pretty anachronistic for a "historical" romance (a quick web search told me that Raelynn, meaning either "beautiful lamb" or "ewe lake" is a modern English varient of Raelyn), there was absolutely no conflict in the story whatsoever. Everyone accepts everything without any qualms or second thoughts or doubts . Raelynn doesn't object, Jeff's family doesn't object, and the language is as sickly-sweet and as purple as grape jelly.

Now, while I agreed with most of the "hidden codes of romance" in the Krentz and Barlowe essay, there was a part where the essay deals with the repetitive, flowery and hyperbolic language that critics of romance love to make fun of (you know, passages about "tender savagery...and souls joining as one" etc. etc.). The essay actually says that this language is integral to the romance genre, that it touches on narrative codes that every reader can instantly understand (thus creating a shared community of readers who all gather the same shared meaning from one story), and that it raises the narrative to mythological levels. This is what I disagree with. The essay believes that romance writers all using the same expressions and lines creates a "shared" voice over an individual, artistic voice - but I call it lazy writing.

I've nothing against lush and descriptive passages during the more important parts of the novel - like the meet-cute, the realization of love/desire, and the requisite sex scene, but not throughout the whole thing. To paraphrase The Incredibles, if everything is mythological, then nothing is. Chocolate is all well and good, but if someone is forced to eat nothing but chocolate without interruption for hours on end, by the end of it even the most ardent chocolate fan is going to be pretty sick of it.

Part of what I like about reading is discovering the new ways that certain authors describe things. If I've understood the essay correctly, there's nothing wrong with every romance author describing green eyes as being "like sparkling emeralds" - because that expression is so familiar that no reader can possibly mistake it for anything else. Emeralds = really green, thus heroine's eyes = really green, thus no reader will wonder if the heroine's eyes are really more hazel, or sea-green, or something silly like that. To me, that simply seems to encourage the stereotype that romance readers are stupid and uneducated - that they have to be led through a story with obvious metaphors in order to understand it correctly. It also suggests that certain romance authors aren't comfortable with their stories being open to different interpretations - they want to hammer home their stories so that they are read the way they want them to be read, not necessarily how the readers want them to be read. I'm more of the opinion that authors only write half the story, and the other half comes from the readers who interpret it through their own acquired codes of understanding.

Also, as I have previously mentioned, it comes across as a little lazy. Her eyes are "sparkling emeralds"? Really? Wow, I'm certain that no one else in the history of literature has ever thought about comparing green eyes to jewels before. How original! Did you come up with that all by yourself? Ever thought about comparing them to "spring leaves" or "glass bottles" or "the Chicago river on St. Patrick's Day"? I'm not saying there aren't exceptions - for instance, if the context of the characters would make this metaphor plausible. For example, if the hero was dashing jewel-thief, I wouldn't think twice about him comparing his lover's eyes that way.

Anyway though, I also have to consider that not all romances are equal. Just like any genre, it has its' awful examples and its awesome examples. Still, despite the disquieting "codes" included in the essay, I'm still going to give the Romance genre a shot - I already peeked at the first page of Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me and liked what I saw.