What Glorious Feeling

Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, MGM, 1952

The plot is not just simple but simplistic, the “black moment” lasts all of 15 seconds, there is no deep characterization or expertly layered subplots. There is, however, a street, a song, a rainstorm and Gene Kelly in one of Hollywood’s most iconic and joyous moments. Who needs plot?

Singin’ in the Rain is considered by many the pinnacle of the legendary Freed Unit at MGM. It was also built completely around the songs of Arthur Freed, the producer who’d had his start as a songwriter at the studio during the early days of talkies. It was he who assigned Adolph Green and Betty Comden the task of coming up with a story that would feature Gene Kelly and Freed’s songs (for which MGM paid Freed $25,000, an excellent example of leveraging one’s back list). Years later, Gene Kelly said in an interview that Freed asked him during development what they were going to be doing for the title song. “Well,” Kelly said, “It’ll be raining and I’ll be singing.”

The film is pure technicolor cotton candy fluff, a delight parody of Hollywood’s panic as they transitioned to talkies and the dawn of the musical. It is also celebrating it’s 60th Anniversary and to mark the occasion, Turner Classic Movies is hosting screenings around the country. Naturally, I couldn’t resist and the husband and I have tickets for tonight. I’ve seen the film more times than I can count, but never on the big screen, save for some bits included in That’s Entertainment!. But those clips were somewhat faded, just as the backlot on which the linking sequences were shot would soon be sold off and developed. Tonight, I’ll be seeing a newly restored print in all its glory, part of a shared experience with other people who couldn’t pass up this chance.

This isn’t a story to analyze; boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl and dances with her, there is a Misunderstanding and boy sings reprise of love song to get it back. No character development, especially with villain Lina Lamont, superbly played by Jean Hagen — who was nominated for an Academy Award for this role. But it is lightning in a bottle, and it’s wonderful to see it restored for yet another generation to enjoy.

There Are Many Roads to Oz

I highly recommend popping over to Routines for Writers today and reading Kitty Bucholtz’s post on “When Shouldn’t I Write?” Funny, but she’s talking about some of the same things I wrote about yesterday.

Kitty also takes on one thing that consistently bugs me about how writing advice or classes are phrased, no matter how good the material is. Far too often, the word is “must,” as in “you must do it this way.” There is no one true way and my way of writing is not your way of writing which is not her way of writing, which is not then his way of writing, etc., etc. We are all individuals and our paths to telling our stories are all different. Sometimes, it’s far too easy to allow yourself to get caught up in the “I must” to the point where you freeze because what you want to write is instinctively moving in a different direction.

I’m a pantser. One important thing I learned at the RWA conference this year is that I need to own that fact and work with it, not against it. I can do plotting boards until I’m blue when I’m trying to plan out a book and for me it’s a bloody waste of time. What I need to do is start writing — and I need to start writing on that big scene or key moment that’s driving the inspiration. Just go with it. Then, the next moment and the next, even if they’re considerably after or somewhere before that first moment for me. (Scrivener makes this possible for me, but singing the joys of that software is for another post.)

I know this method would drive some people crazy and I will admit I have driven down more than one blind alley in the process. But I’m also in the middle of a Camp NaNoWriMo project that is some 30,000 words strong and I’ve got most of my core scenes done. The rest of the month is going to be figuring out the connective tissue that binds everything together. That will help flesh out the rest of the book and also begin the revision process because as I figure out those connections, I’ll start to see where bits need to change. It’s working and I’m happy with what I’m seeing form on the page.

The title for this post is a reference, of course, to Frank L. Baum’s classic series, but it’s also a phrase Jenny Crusie and Lani Diane Rich use in their Writewell Academy classes. The advice is good, the classes are only $10, but the acknowledgement that the student should take what is useful to them and walk away from the rest if it doesn’t work is good advice. Writing opens up a world a possibilities; why limit ourselves by saying there’s only one way to create this world, even if it doesn’t work for everyone?

Refilling the Well

Carousel Socks in Progress by Caro Kinkead

The writing’s been going well this week, but Saturday morning found me oddly out of sorts. Got up late and when I settled down to write, the mind wouldn’t focus and I found myself staring at the blinking cursor, my mind a complete bank.

Part of it was the fact the weather was steamy and, as Cole Porter so eloquently put it, too darn hot. But another part of it was the fact that I’d had a rough week at the day job and a couple of family things demanding attention while I’d kept up the writing. The mythical muse hadn’t gone on a quickie vacation to the Bahamas (or the much-cooler climes of Scotland); the plain, simple fact was that the well was dry at that moment.

Yes, a working writer needs to write even when you’re not in the mood and the words for the day haven’t been produced, but seeing as it was a Saturday, I took much of the day off, relaxed on the couch to help fight the headache that had arrived with the heat and knit. Turner Classics was running in the background (yesterday’s star was Freddie Bartholomew), and I allowed myself time to be lost in the pleasure of knitting. I’m currently working on a pair of Carousel Socks that are constructed by knitting a continuous strip, then adding the heel and the toe. The yarn is Picnic Blanket, with was one of the June Sock Yarnista Club choices from Three Irish Girls.

Now, I’ll confess that the June choices for the club didn’t thrill me at first and I picked this skein because the other one was way too pink cotton candy for me. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, figuring it would linger in my stash until I decided to offer it up for sale. Then I saw the Carousel pattern and knew it was perfect. What originally looked like a hot mess I wouldn’t ever want to use is slowly being shaped into something unique and interesting that will be a joy when it’s finished.

I was able to get words done yesterday, enough to fill my daily minimums, though hardly at the level I’d been managing during the week. I didn’t mind, though. Despite the lingering headache, I felt better because I’d taken that time to do something just for myself and just for the fun of it. It doesn’t matter what we’re trying to achieve in our lives, be it writing a novel, starting a new business, moving up the corporate ladder, creating a warm and loving home for our family, or whatever something else completely, there comes the moment when we have to stop, even if it’s just for a little while, and focus completely on ourselves. The better care you take of yourself, the more you make certain the creative/emotional well is filled, the better you’ll do in whatever your goal is.

How are you going to take care of yourself this week? What’s going to help you fill that well?

I Have Screwdriver. I Am All-Powerful.

Our blu-ray player gave up the ghost Monday night. Froze on start-up to the point we had to simply unplug it and, worse, the husband had left one of his discs in the player and now we couldn’t get it out. Naturally, this was a terribly frustrating situation because a new player isn’t in the budget right now. Plus, the husband was somewhat grumpy that his copy of Bride and Prejudice was possibly lost.

Figuring that no matter what, I needed to get the disc out, I fired up Google, read up on the suggested ways to extract a stuck disc (gentle and non-gentle methods), unhooked the machine from everything and settled down with my trusty screwdriver. As you might be able to tell, I am the technical one in our household. Cover was carefully removed, and I discovered there didn’t seem to be a release switch as there often are with DVD players. I also discovered this fancy-schmancy players consists of the drive, two circuit boards and a cord inside the case, which is explains why it weighs so little.

Further search on Google, a few deep breaths and I ended up having to loosen the top of the drive just enough so I could slide the disc out. Disc retrieved, I screwed everything back down, got the cover back on, plugged it back in — and it worked! My budget is feeling much better at the moment.

I am woman with tools. Hear me roar. And, yeah, the husband’s been informed he can’t leave discs in the machine any more.

What exciting projects do you have planned for the weekend?

A Shimmering Star in the Cinema Fir-ma-ment

Lillian Gish

Lillian Gish (image in the public domain)

When I was thirteen, my mother took me to see a great star of the silent screen who was signing a coffee table book she’d done about the films of her and her sister. When we reached the front of the line, I couldn’t help myself and gushed, “Oh, Miss Gish, you’re my favorite actress! I loved you in Broken Blossoms and Orphans in the Storm.”

Lillian Gish, who was 80 at the point and had made her greatest films before my mother was born, eyed me suspiciously and asked, “How old are you, child?” In those days before cable and DVD, even before the big public renewal of interest in America’s classic film heritage, it’s not surprising she found the idea someone so young being a devoted fan a little hard to believe. (The answer? My local PBS station, which regularly ran silent films on Saturday night because they fit in the small budget available.)

These days, we don’t have to turn further than Turner Classic Movies which is currently running their annual Summer Under the Stars Festival, featuring the work of different star each day during August. Today celebrates Lillian Gish with films such as Broken Blossoms, Orphans of the Storm, The Scarlet Letter, and, of course, Intolerance, which cost an estimated $2 million in 1916 dollars and bankrupted D.W. Griffith and his studio.

Some of the films may look strange to modern sensibilities and Intolerance has numerous flaws, including it’s length. But there is also something magical in the flickering images to stir the imagination and Intolerance features one of the great panning shots in cinema, still breathtaking even today. This is part of how I refill the creative well, by revisiting these movies whose images inspired me when I was young. What are you doing today to refill your creative well? If you’re looking for something new, take a peak at what Turner Classic has to offer.

Bonus points for anyone who recognizes the source of this post’s title, also taken from a classic film celebrating the end of the silent era.

Five Things I Learned From the London 2012 Olympics

Dressage Stallion by fallingdominos/Flickr (Creative Commons)

1) Dressage is very zen. Seriously. Those beautiful animals go through their paces can be a form of meditation.

2) Watching the Olympics is itself a marathon. Far too many hours of coverage conflicting with work, writing, knitting and small items such as eating and sleeping. You have to pace yourself, make decisions and realize you are not going to see everything.

3) Embrace joy. Sometimes the simple act of being the part of something, not just watching, can be a prize in and of itself.

4) The greatest inspiration is not always the win, but can be grace in defeat. Liu Xiang and his departure from the field after he tore his Achilles tendon in the heats for the 110-meter hurdles will remain one of the enduring images of these games.

5) No matter what your dreams, there must be discipline and hard work in order to succeed. Write every day, learn from your mistakes and keep going.

By the closing ceremonies, I’d written 19,070 words for August on my Camp NaNoWriMo project. Discipline — and just because the Games are over, it doesn’t mean the work ends.


SMASH Series 1 Promotional Poster, ©2012 NBC

For the past seventeen days, I’ve been watching the Olympics, mostly on time delay because the sports I enjoy most don’t usually hit prime time. The joy of this that I can fast forward through the commercials, including NBC’s promos for its new fall shows. Naturally, you catch bits and pieces, which means I know I want to try “Go On” with Matthew Perry because it looks interesting, and absolutely want to avoid “The New Normal” because, well, it looks neither smart nor clever. Everything else, I’m on the fence about.

But, I was thrilled last night when NBC finally showed a very brief preview for Smash, which won’t be coming back until after the new year according to the rumors. I know this show was roundly trashed on the critics and by recappers, but just as many of us don’t understand why people could enjoy Fifty Shades of Grey, I adore every over the top, trashy, soapy moment, though I’m hardly blind to the show’s many faults. (If you want some entertaining, snarky recaps, I recommend , especially as they adore Anjelica Huston.)

But it’s coming back and looks like things will be just as over the top in Season 2 as Season 1, complete with someone I didn’t recognize yelling, “You stole my songs!” as he’s being dragged off. Possibly to be devoured by Anjelica Huston’s minions. Sounds like fun to me.


Fruit - Photo by Christer Barregren/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by Christer Barregren/Flickr (Creative Commons)

I came back from the RWA conference in Anaheim with a much needed jolt to the creative batteries and my usual need to make lists. (I also over-indulged a little at Paper Source, but that’s another story.)

I always always make lists after conference; I’m fired up and I’m going to change my writing! And my life! And the world! The last one’s a joke, but my husband has looked a bit sideways at my ambition more than once after these things. I will say that as of this morning, I’ve written 16,414 words for August, so clearly the post conference surge hasn’t completely worn off yet.

Change is good because it’s a sign of life. Recognizing there are things you need to differently and you are going to take those steps (or at least try) is a positive. Sometimes it’s big changes, such as what the ladies at Reinventing Fabulous are going through. Sometimes it’s small ones.

One small change is that I’m having yogurt in the morning, which helps get things off to a good start and is not fried. I’d been buying it at the cafeteria in my building, but I got tired of not knowing if it was going to be there until I walked in and the price. Oh, yeah, and the fact it was less…fresh as the week went on. So, I went to the grocery store and bought yogurt in a variety of flavors and have been eating them this week before I go to work.

Yesterday, the cafeteria was shut down by the Health Department for numerous violations.

I’ll take that as a sign from the universe that change is good. What changes are happening in your life right now?

I Moved From Texas to Get Away From This

The weather is cooling down at last here in Southern California, though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have one more round of high temperatures and hot winds off the desert. One thing that is unusual is the high humidity we’ve been experiencing for the past month. It’s not unusual for the humidity levels to be in the 50 percent plus range with occasional grey clouds but never any real rain.

I remember summers like this — long Texas days that baked and broiled you with the humidity all at the same time. When I moved to California, you can imagine my joy when I discovered the heat was actually dry. It was still appalling, but it was dry. Now I get to listen to my co-workers complain about the humidity, something most of them aren’t used to.

There are some compensations though and I caught one of them on film the last week. I was taking out the trash when I happened to look up and saw this:

No, we didn’t get rain and the humidity was thick enough to feel the air as you moved through it, but for one beautiful moment, it was all worth it.

Good Advice for Fiction Writers — and Business Writing

Found this post from Kristen Lamb” on my newsreader about not treating your readers like they don’t have the sense God gave a goose. not treating your readers like they don’t have the sense God gave a goose.

I’ve read more than one memo in my corporate existence — and quite a few Powerpoint presentations — abuse items one and three with wild abandon.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to go excise some adverbs from my manuscript.