Thursday, February 28, 2013

Blog Tour Preliminary Excerpt

My Black Lion blog tour, featuring Coinage of Commitment, starts tomorrow, so I thought I would tantalize a bit with a short excerpt from chapter one. In a way, this excerpt is a setup to the longer chapter one excerpt I have on my website. I'll put a link to that at the end of the piece just below.

Setup: September, 1968: A fun bar on the edge of campus on a Friday night.

They talked awhile, then Henk left, needing a full night’s sleep for the varsity soccer game he had in the morning. Wayne glanced to the left, toward the girl and her companion. She sat quietly, listening while he spoke and motioned with forceful animation. It looked like a pretty hard sell. Oh well, time to get on his way. He stood and picked up his canvas bag.

Just then, a movement at the girl’s table drew his attention. The guy grabbed her long hair at the neck, twisting her head back and slightly to the side. His other hand was palm up, fingers spread, pleading his case. Wayne turned from the bar and headed in their direction. Her response seemed understated. She remained still, her unblinking eyes radiating a commanding, fearless calm. As Wayne approached, the man released his grip, lowering and shaking his head apologetically. The girl smoothed her tresses with one raised hand, never taking her stoic gaze from him.

Wayne arrived at the edge of the table. Surprised, they both looked up at him.

“Is everything all right?” he asked her, his voice calmer than he felt.

Her green eyes bored into his, transfixing him with their crystalline depth. The moment dilated, slowed and came to a frozen stop. Strains of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin” carried from the jukebox.

“I’m fine,” she said, her voice barely audible. “But thank you,” she added, with just a hint of a smile, her gaze lingering one more instant, one more extra moment. Then she looked away, reached out her hand, and took that of her companion, as though to calm him.

Gently done, but certainly dismissal enough, Wayne thought, as he moved off toward the exit.

Once out on Market Street, he looked east toward the subway station steps at Thirty-first Street. He knew he should get on with catching the trolley, but felt a nervous energy from the encounter, almost a tingling. So he decided to walk awhile. Turning west, he went down to Thirty-second, crossed, and headed southeast onto the block comprising the newest addition to the Drexel campus. He wandered along the brick walkway and enjoyed the sight. Stratton Hall, Matheson Hall, the Basic Science Annex: by day, ugly renditions of the International Style, when lit up at night, they became majestic, almost lovely.  He slowed and let thoughts of the encounter dabble in his mind. He would not soon forget the girl’s incipient smile, or that extra moment as her eyes searched his. Was he entitled to the intimacy he felt from her gaze? The wondering caused her image to stay there, right in the front of his mind. Finally, the evening chill intruded. He withdrew a light jacket from his bag, donned it, and headed back toward Market Street and the subway station.
For this plus more from chapter one, click here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Love Stories on Film You Won’t Find on IMDb Lists – Part II

On part one of this post I noted that some of my favorite love stories on film were missing from the IMDb lists of best movies. I cited The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) as one example, and in this article I’ll tell you about two more.

The first is Secret Admirer (1985), starring C Thomas Howell, and Lori Loughlin. This is a lighthearted teen love story whose plot has a secret admirer letter getting misplaced to cause an avalanche of unintended consequences, most of them humorous. I think the reason I like this movie so much--why I have seen it at least a dozen times over the years--is its balance. It’s a great comedy. The teen supporting actors are extremely well cast, and they do a terrific job generating laughs. The parents are well cast too, and their scenes are even funnier. I got a cramp in my stomach the first time I saw the bridge party fight scene. Look for it; it’s truly hilarious.

But the plot also converges into a good love story. The ending is satisfying because it grows out of a tender, then frustrating tale of unrequited love, love strong enough to offer sacrifices. This is a story of teens growing and learning, finding themselves, and discovering that it can actually be perverse to get what you want. You’ll laugh your way to the end, but you’ll be touched by the closing sequence.

The other title I wanted to recommend is Electric Dreams (1984), starring Lenny Dohlen, and Virginia Madsen. This is an unusual love story. It features a love triangle between a boy, a girl, and a computer. The drama in this one is not particularly high, and the acting is strictly mid-rate, but what nudges this film into the “special” category is the music. It’s original, composed by Giorgio Moroder, plus others, with some of the songs performed by Culture Club. But it’s perfect for this film, and what the director has done is structure the film as drama plus side scenes that are really music videos. So in a way, the movie is a kind of musical. Whatever it is, it works to produce a great entertainment experience. The music videos are good or better on their own merits, and they nicely complement the love story and the progression of the lead characters’ emotions. This one is a unique viewing experience, a true change of pace love story.
The bad news is that Electric Dreams is not readily available. A couple years ago, it was re-released as a Region 2 (UK) DVD, but a Region 1 (USA) version has not yet been produced. If you go out on Amazon, you can read dozens of reviews begging for a US-based DVD, but the reality is that if you want to see this one in the US, you’ll probably have to settle for used VHS. I did that after my TV-recorded version wore out. Now my bought VHS has given out as well. So I’m waiting for the DVD release, just like thousands of others.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Love Stories on Film You Won't Find on IMDb Lists - Part I

I draw most of my inspiration for fiction writing from movies rather than books. And when I’m writing full-time, I watch love stories on film as a kind of comic relief from the stress of creative writing and editing. This worked well when I was recently rewriting my books for digital self-publication. That is, until I ran through my own DVD collection. No problem, I thought, there are plenty of features available on Netflix and pay-per-view. I was interested in love stories so I went out on the web and searched on lists of best love stories on film. Such a search produces scores of lists, most associated with IMDb. Sure enough, the lists did the trick. I found plenty of new titles, enough for months of fresh viewing. But I was also surprised by some of the films, and good ones too, that didn’t make any of the lists. So I thought I’d do a two part post on noteworthy love stories that are apparently not well known.

The first, and one of my all-time favorites is The Count of Monte Cristo, the 2002 version starring Jim Caviezel. We all know the story. Edmond Dantes is betrayed by friends and spends umpteen years unjustly imprisoned. His fiancée, Mercedes, marries his arch-betrayer within a month. Edmond eventually escapes, recovers a huge fortune, and uses it to exact revenge. The setting is post Napoleonic France.

The first bonus of this film is that its romance is far superior to that of the original story. So if you’ve read the novel, you’re in for a pleasant surprise the first time you see the movie.

The other bonus is that it features one of the most poignant moments of romantic drama you’ll find in any production. Let me try to set you up for this without acting the spoiler. Edmond has staged the rescue of his archenemy’s son and that gets him an invitation to the son’s birthday party, held in the family’s Paris mansion. The whole movie’s drama thus far has built up to the tension of this scene. Edmond enters the palatial home as the Count of Monte Cristo, is greeted warmly by the son, who then introduces him to his father, Edmond’s archenemy, Count Mondego, who of course doesn’t recognize him; no one does after his imprisonment. The two chat with amiable formality, Edmond speaking in coded, ironic phrases. The archenemy turns. “May I present the Countess Mondego.” Mercedes turns and…that’s as far as I can take you. What follows, as filmmaking goes, is exquisitely staged, with the players turning in peak performances. And in the scenes that follow, you have something different from typical romantic drama because of the clash between vengeful intent—an intent we sympathize with—and love struggling to revive despite all that should have killed it forever.

If you’re partial to love stories, I heartily recommend this film. In a future post, I’ll cover two more notable love stories on film that you’ll never find of any of the IMDb lists.

Separate Accounts

This post originally appeared on Lois Winston's blog: Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers

My books feature characters who want more from love that what they see all around them. Something stronger, something higher, something worth pursuing. Part of that pursuit is usually an effort to understand love. We can’t make it soar higher or make it last longer unless we figure out how it works. This usually means the characters need to take an intellectual as well as an emotional journey to attain the emotional altitude they seek. And this opens up all sorts of literary issues to explore. What conditions in their lives produced a hunger for such fulfillment? And, of course, what are they going to do about it?
As an author exploring such issues, I sometimes find myself reacting to relationship issues that pop up in the strangest ways. For instance, I happened to be walking through the den the other day and overheard a pundit on Fox News exhorting prospective newlyweds to be sure to set up separate checking and banking accounts. She seemed to be mentioning it as a kind of checklist item, probably part of an array of recommendations—many of them likely tax related—that she was reviewing for the benefit of people planning marriage. As a kind of afterthought, she said—as I got closer to the limit of my hearing range—that of course, in today’s hip, digital culture, with people more aware and better informed than ever before, separate accounts were an elementary safeguard for all parties concerned. As I walked out of range, I thought of another advantage to separate accounts. If you don’t see the mess your spouse makes of her account (and vice versa), then you’re not as likely to get upset about it and argue over it.
But then it occurred to me that this is one of those instances where the validity of your logic depends on the premises you set. Yeah, if your priority concern is to “protect” the individual members of a marriage, then separate accounts do provide that assurance. But how far should such “protections” extend? Most murders are products of domestic violence, but does that make it wise for me to keep a pistol under my pillow to protect me from my wife? Also, it doesn’t take long for the realization to sink in that the protection is from each other. Do I need to be protected from the woman I’ve vowed to love and cherish till death do us part? More importantly, what message does establishing such protection send to one’s spouse? “Okay, let me get this straight,” I can hear her say. “You say you love me, that there will never be anyone for you but me, and that we are one flesh, but with your actions you are saying that I can’t be trusted not to abscond with all our liquid assets.” Worse yet is that she may not be saying that out loud, but instead storing it in her heart as a corrosive doubt.

So what’s the right answer? I think that depends on what you want out of marriage, and how much you are willing to risk and invest in the romance we pledge as a lifetime commitment. The guiding fundamental is that actions speak louder than words. In Coinage of Commitment, the female protagonist tells the love of her life that she is assuming a posture of emotional vulnerability and dependence on him. She does this to raise his commitment to her emotional needs to a level he had not contemplated. As a result of how he responds…well, better not to give away the surprise ending.