Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thrllers in Print & Film--Inception and Salt

I’ve now seen both SALT and INCEPTION, and for the most part, they rocked. However, in both cases, I wanted more story and less shoot ‘em up action. Don’t get me wrong; I thrill to a good chase. Fast pacing is crucial in both literary and on-screen thrillers, thus the measure of chase to back-story (or real-time story moments) is always a fine balancing act.

Without a good understanding of the character, we don’t care why he or she is being chased, or what someone’s searching for. But without enough action, the story becomes a snoozefest. In a novel, one can often sandwich more story between the action that one can in films. However, I sense that moviegoers are eager for much more story than Hollywood assumes.

Case in point: In SALT, Anjelina Jolie excels in gritty stunt work, and in breaking the traditional mold of the female femme fatal spy. She even dresses as a man in one scene, and does a stand-up job of the walk, the talk. Even so, I found myself fidgeting in my seat, wanting more of the backstory about her childhood training on a remote Russian island to be part of a sleeper cell, than her masterful trouncing of every poor sod who got in her way.

Inception was better at lingering on the story between the action, and in blending the two. The concept of stealing dreams or implanting ideas is certainly nothing new. But it’s still such a potent concept, that I’ve stumbled on at least three writers’ blogs, lamenting that they might have to junk their novels or stories in-progress because their ideas are so similar to Inception. For that matter, Inception’s concepts are strangely similar to the 90s anime series Ghost in a Shell. Indeed, is there nothing completely new under the sun? Well, that’s the subject of another possible post. Despite the longer and richer sections of story in Inception, the shoot ‘em up scenes grew tiresome. Particularly the scenes in the arctic headquarters, where all the enemy combatants wore white military snowsuits. Too similar to a video game? I dunno. It seemed almost clownish.

Bottom line? Don’t underestimate an audience’s ability to digest story; the rich, connective tissue—sweet, bitter, or bittersweet—that supports the pursuit, the pursuer and the search.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Book Trailers

Here's an interesting New York Times article by Pamela Paul on the pros and cons of book trailers. These days, it seems to be a necessary element of book publicity, but how effective is it, really? What do you all think?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nowhere Else to Go--more thoughts on Retreats

I'm in the Internet coffee place by the beach where so many vacationers are checking their email that it's shuddering in and out. The luckier folks have iPhones, iPads, Blackberries, Droids and plain old PDFs so that they can check their email without slogging to the coffee joint. Or are they luckier?

The genius of this writing retreat is that there's nowhere to go when you want to dither, consternate, digress or just plain avoid your manuscript. And traveling to the avatar world of twitter, facebook, Huffpo, even this wonderful blogspot, is definitely going "somewhere else."
(Look, I've gotta post once week or so. Uh, yah!)

Come to think of it, I feel less obsessive, not being able to tweet every day. Even though the big black flies are biting my ankles and the seat of the rocking chair is hard, and the pacing and sighing and chuckling of my fellow writers is slightly distracting, the fact is, I've gotten a lot done. A 286 page revise finished and four pages of a new project.

I'm reminded of the artist whose wife used to lock up in a room, so he had nothing else to do but paint masterpieces (or rip his hair out in chunks).

We're not always producing masterpieces, but this retreat offers us the time to try!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Writing Retreats!

It’s that time again to pack up for the writing retreat I attend in New England. I look forward to this more and more every year, especially when my teaching schedule is reaching its stressful peak, with the reading and correcting of long student research papers.

So my two computers are packed, one for manuscripts, one for illustrations rendered in Photoshop. I’ve got my lightbox, my white gouache touchup paint and brushes. Then there are my beach towels, suits, sunblock and special sunhat from the Philly Flower show.

The schedule? Morning coffee on the terrace, while blabbing with my fellow scriveners, followed by three hours of writing on the wraparound porch. We lunch in the cool of the old, dark dining room, with more time to chat. Then I head back to my spot in the middle of the porch in the creaky rocking chair because rocking helps me conceptualize. Three more hours of intensive writing, while watching the occasional bunny rabbit hop across the yard to the woods. Then, ah! The group trek to the rocky beach for a dip. We take turns cooking dinner, reading our pieces, and we chat about writing, books, characters and plot concepts. When the cool breeze comes in off the nighttime woods, it’s off to bed in the camp style horsehair beds.

I highly recommend trying a retreat! You can choose one with cushy rooms, fabulous star authors and lots of clever writing exercises, or one that offers you hours of solitary writing time on a wraparound porch followed by a group beach swim like the one I attend. Even though it’s darn hard work, it’s essential community, and absolute play.