Monday, July 19, 2010


Quickie synopsis: When recently dumped Beth (Kristen Bell) finds out her younger sister is getting married, she travels to Rome to stand as a bridesmaid. After a series of mishaps during the reception, and after facing her own failings with love, Beth finds herself wading in a fountain, bottle of liquor in hand. Ticked off and a tad drunk, she swipes five coins from the fountain, each coming from men who wished for love. By taking the coins, she unknowingly ignites a powerful curse: the men who tossed the coins will now fall crazy in love with the person who took them--with Beth! Whether she returns their feelings or not...

Despite the lackluster reviews and despite that inner voice telling me not to, I snuggled up on the couch last weekend to watch WHEN IN ROME. Within the first ten minutes, I knew I could've spent my $4.99 more wisely.

The movie starts off with a series of bad, overdone clichés, including Beth badmouthing someone only to find out they're standing right behind her--"He's standing right behind me, isn't he?" Then, there are the classic romantic comedy derivatives--running into her ex-fiancé when she has spinach stuck to her teeth, an artsy guy friend who is also gay, the mortification of finding out her YOUNGER sister is getting hitched before she is, and her wedding toast getting accidently translated into some humorous, but scandalous, Italian. None of the conflicts within the plot were original, nor were they substantial enough to be believable. For instance, Beth has a big event coming up at work that requires her to stay in touch with her office while in Rome. Naturally, her cell coverage is non-existent, which results in her assistant making a big, idiotic blunder that almost costs Beth her job. Apparently, there are no landlines??? I also found myself frustrated a couple times because of stupid misunderstandings that take far too long to clear up.

WHEN IN ROME, however, does have its redeeming parts. Actor Josh Duhamel counts as one. His character's pretty darn adorable, and the man's easy-peasy on the eyes as well. Danny Devito has a small (pardon the pun) part as a sausage magnate and as one of Beth's admirers. While I'm not a fan of sausage, who doesn't love Danny? One of Beth's other suitors is an illusionist. He does not have an overly significant role, but he entertained me enough to enjoy watching him stalk her for a couple hours--especially when he steals her watch over and over and over again as a way to impress her, or when she comes home only to find him hanging from her ceiling in a straight jacket. Blips of mild goodness throughout.

I give WHEN IN ROME 2 stars, do not recommend it, will not ever watch it again, and predict it dying a slow, painful death on Walmart's $5 DVD rack.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Writing is a long, often lonely, process. Many laymen, including myself at one time, think the road to publication is a short one, one that consists of three basic steps.

1. Write/finish a book.
2. Send book to publisher.
3. Get a publishing contract/rejection.


As if!

The path to getting a book on the shelf is a winding one, complete with detours, dead ends, bridgeless waters, and evil fire-breathing dragons ready to burn your ass to a crisp the second you become complacent.

To most, the biggest hurdle a writer will face is the actual writing of a book. Hence comments like:

Wow! You wrote an entire book? You must be good!

Fortunately, writing--building a world, bringing life to characters, the formation of a story-- is the easy part. I say fortunately, by the way, because if writing were more difficult than what comes after, nothing would ever get written.

So what comes after?

Well, once a writer "finishes" his/her book, the real work begins. Writing's evil twin--Editing! Some love it, others hate it. Whatever one's feeling, it is a necessary element that simply cannot be skipped. Truth be told, there are some writers--including myself--who spend more time editing than they do writing.

Okay, so once the editing's done, it's time for the publisher, right?

Not even close, sweetcheeks. The next step is my least favorite thus far. The fashioning of a query letter. This is key and, frankly, I suck at it. A query letter has several elements:

Greeting. Dear such-n-such,

Brief BS intro. I read an article in Writer's Delight where you said you were interested in MY
GENRE. I am enclosing, for your consideration, my manuscript titled THE JIBBER JABBER OF A RAMBLER, complete at 75,000 words.

Back of the book description, (keep it brief). When lonely bachelor FRED SMITH wakes up on Saturday morning, he realizes he can't stop talking. Whatever comes to mind flies out of his mouth without warning, and without censorship. After a week of spouting off at all the wrong people, Fred decides to lock himself inside his Kentucky home and become a recluse for his own safety. But when a ghostly figure appears and tells him this new condition is all part of a mysterious, spiritual journey that will, in the end, change his life for the better, Fred gathers his courage along with his wagging tongue and sets off to seek his destiny.

Lame-o summary here. THE JIBBER JABBER OF A RAMBLER is a story about the power of honesty and the painful lengths one man will go to find true happiness.

Credentials, or the lack thereof. Although I am a debut writer, what I lack in experience I hope to make up for in my writing.

Short, generic closing. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Signature and contact info.

Sadly, a query is never complete until it's been rewritten about fifteen flippin' times--until the end result makes you feel less like puking than the last several drafts.

And you send this to the publisher, right?

*Evil laugh* You wish! This goes to...get ready for AGENT--lots of them, most likely. In return, a writer can begin, and often complete, a dandy collection of form rejection letters/emails. It's a whirlwind of fun. Really. Try it sometime.

*open email*

Dear Author... WTH? This is a form letter! You bastards didn't even read my fancy query, did you? Dear Author my eye. I'm writing them back.

Dear Agent,

You suck.

How'd ya like that, you impersonal New York pieces of--oh! I've got mail!

*click, click*

Dear Author...SHIT!!!

This can happen dozens of times, until...

*click, click*

Dear Rhiannon, (awww, that sounds sweet)

I read and enjoyed your story. (But...I know there's a but)

I'd like to represent you. (Holy #$%$!!!!)

And all the form letters and rejections that came before are forgotten. You scream and clap and dance, call everyone you know--very calmly--and share the news in the most nonchalant manner you can muster. Because you are just too. Cool. For. School! Mmm hmm.

Now. Now is when it gets sent to the publisher. Gotta be! Right?

Pshhh. Have you learned nothing? Of course not. Duh. It's time for, drum roll please...



Yes, again! Get used to it, baby, because once your manuscript gets picked up by a publisher, it will be edited some more. You're going to edit so much that you will begin to speak your punctuation (period) Does it sound daunting (question mark) Good (exclamation point) Because it is.


Then, once you and your agent have finished the editing, he/she will begin the same process you used to query agents to shop your book to the publishing houses.

For this, your agent gets 15% of your earnings--well worth it, in my opinion, because it is a long, tiresome process. A delightful challenge, though, and I wouldn't trade it for anything else. Well, not yet, anyway ;)

Sunday, July 11, 2010


A little over a year ago, research called for me to immerse myself in the genre of category romance. As luck would have it, my local library was holding their annual book sale at the time so off I went, $5 bag in hand. I stuffed it to the brim with every romance/category romance I could pry from the hands of little old ladies and lonely housewives, (note: sarcasm intended because I truly hate this very untrue stereotype) and headed home for some sexy, steamy, trashy, OH, BABY! research.

Since I had never been much of a romance reader, the next few months were, let's just say, eye-opening. I love category romance authors. Truly, I do.They're not often enough given the credit they deserve as valid writers. Having now completed an experimental yet viable romance novel, I can honestly say they have their work cut out for them. To take a formula, a rather strictly defined one, and to turn it into something new is not as easy as it might sound. Matter of fact, I think it's harder to write when given such specific rules which confine you far more than any other genre.

That said, I do have a few complaints. For the sake of all things super fun, my grumbles are centered around men! Don't get too excited. I don't know all of your husbands/boyfriends, and if you are a man, you're off the hook...this time. I'm talking about the men of romance novels. The mighty Hero.

1. ) Apparently, in order to be the hero, the man had to have slept with half the country. It seems a prerequisite for the hero to be a reformed man-whore in order to gain his HEA, (happily ever after) with the girl next door, who is a virgin herself but has no qualms about the possibility of contracting syphilis.

2.) At some point, there will be accidental nudity. Or...

2 1/2.) Not so accidental nudity where said hero goes flasher on little Miss Plain Jane. Of course, she appears aghast, but she is internally thrilled at his perverted and completely inappropriate display of length and width. Her thoughts baffle me more than his at this point because--hey, who could blame him for being proud of his obscene girth, right? But her...she acts more like an infant chewing on her favorite teething toy than the lady she's supposed to be.

3.) Alpha-male confusion. I'm not so sure about these heroes who think alpha means being an egotistical jerk for the first hundred or so pages. I think we're, somehow, supposed to get past his arrogance because he is so gorgeous and wealthy and popular and funny. Sure, it's fun watching a woman resist admitting her attraction to such a man, but about halfway through I find myself hoping the publisher got it all wrong. I recheck the binding, thinking the genre marker on the side will have changed from Romance to Action and she'll go Lara Croft on his ass. A few roundhouse kicks to the head will do this guy some good.

4.) So what if she has a massive scar or major deformity? He's never been more attracted to anyone in his life! Really? Really really? I find this hard--no, impossible--to believe. Can't he just admit she's not all that hot and let the chemistry grow as they get to know each other? I'm not dissin' girls with severe imperfections, but if I met a man with a third arm growing out of his face, it might take me a while to see the centerfold in him. Besides, men are far more visual than women, and we need to keep them that way. I spend my days in frumpy house clothes, chasing kids and cleaning up messes. On the occasion I throw on some sparkly lip gloss and jewelry, I need my husband to have his typical fish-syndrome reaction. Ohhh, shiny, flashy. Pretty. Keeps me from having to workout.

Really, I could go on and on. But here's my final observation:

5.) Unlikely and bizarre hang-ups. Oh, yes. We've all seen them. And they range from huh? to creepy. Like... "The reason I can't let myself fall in love with you is because my puppy died when I was nine." When these two finally get their HEA, they are walking hand in hand through a poppy field with a golden retriever running beside them. Ahhh. Okay, so I made that one up, but you know what I'm talking about.

Oh, and there's my favorite hang-up. "I'm not good enough for you." And then he saves her from himself by sleeping with her big-chested, slut sister. Yep, that will seal the deal, buddy. Way to be selfless.

This concludes my rant. Luckily, authors who go their own way and don't hold themselves to these standards (if they can be called that) are plentiful. Editors and authors are actively veering away from the old style of Fabio-on-the-cover romance and aiming for more realistic love stories between credible men and women. These editors and writers are shaping the rules of category romance every day, and I can't wait to see where they'll take us next!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Spin Zone: Writing and dancing alike?

While watching the weekly results of one of my favorite shows, So You Think You Can Dance, I was reminded of an aged and ongoing debate. Is writing an art or a craft?

Wow, Rhiannon! How did a show about dancing remind you of writing?

So glad you asked. It just so happens I am going to devote this entire blog post to explaining exactly that :)

In the bottom three this week were Billy and Robert, two very-skilled contemporary dancers. It does not take an expert to see how good these guys are at what they do; they're both extraordinarily so. Yet, there they were at the bottom, at risk of going home after only a few short weeks.

For those who haven't seen the show or who are tuning in for their first SYTYCD season, the results might baffle you. Why didn't they get more votes if they truly are that good?

The judges sounded like they knew--spouted off the same mumbo-jumbo we hear every season because this great dancer in the bottom three thing has happened before. A lot. It usually sounds something like:"Your lines are perfect, but..." or "You're one of the greatest dancers we've ever had on this show, but..." or "Your dancing is flawless, but..." and the "but" is followed by some comment on their *insert keywords like performance, chemistry, connection*.

The problem with Billy and Robert is not with the technical side of their dancing--the craft--but with the artistry of their dancing. The artistry is where those keywords come into play. Example: Billy's lines are gorgeous, but how does he make you feel?

"He makes me feel like his lines are gorgeous."

Sorry. Gorgeous lines in an observation based on his skill level, not an emotion.

Confused? Let's define.

Craft is skill.

Art is creativity, the creation of beauty.

This season's winner will be possess both of the above, as has every winner in SYTYCD history. Every year proves that voters will choose a dancer who is not only skilled at what they do, but who emits this sort of intangible quality that stirs the watcher to feel something.

And isn't this true of writers as well? Readers expect their favorite author to be a skilled grammarian, a master at vocabulary and syntax. Books should not be riddled with misspellings, punctuation errors, and misused words. There should be a structure to the story, not some disorganized plot without a clear path from start to finish. Writers should be proficient in the craft of writing. So You Think You Can Dance fans can correlate this concept to Billy and Robert--great technical dancers to great technical writers.

Great technical dancer, great technical writer. Sounds good enough, right? Well, no. Remember--Billy and Robert were in the bottom three.

There is something else--that quality a reader cannot always put their finger on. Plot and grammar on their own do not induce emotion or rouse thought, but it is the artistry behind the words used to form the story that evokes us. Not what is written, but what is whispered. If a writer concentrates solely on the craft of writing like Billy only concentrates on the technicality of his movement, the story can still be skillfully done. But it will also be too antiseptic, too sanitized to produce anything more than well-written information. Art spills the tears and draws the laughter. Art is what compels you to keep reading past your bedtime. Art is what leaves you with a feeling, good or bad, when you get to the words the end.

This doesn't mean we should get too wrapped up in the art and forget the craft. We've all seen those Idol auditions. There can be a lot of heart, a lot of creativity, but without skill it can be downright embarrassing.

The craft speaks, the artistry resounds. Skill without creativity is lackluster. Creativity without skill is well-intended but falls short.

The age old craft vs. art argument is a trap for those who ponder it with illusions of fitting into what they judge as the better half. To pick one or the other does not define; it confines.