Kay: Melissa McCarthy as the Unlikeable Protagonist

Let’s talk about unlikeable protagonists. A few weeks ago, Jeanne did. I thought about what she said, and I wasn’t sure I agreed with her. Since then, I’ve seen Can You Ever Forgive Me?

For those of you who don’t go to the movies or haven’t seen this one yet, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the life of biographer Lee Israel, who reaches a dead end in her writing career after her agent rejects her latest project. Out of money and desperate to meet her rent and take her cat to the vet, the movie shows Israel first forging letters from famous, dead actors and writers and then stealing such letters from public libraries and research institutions and selling those, as well.

Movie-wise, I thought Melissa McCarthy did a terrific job playing Israel.

Character-wise, I didn’t like her. Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Now What Do I Do?

I finished my last book. I’ve revised it. It’s done.

Usually when that happens, I get a new idea. For a long time now, like clockwork, when the old book ends, the new one appears. It’s like the Girls were thinking about it while I was concentrating on other things, and when I’m ready, they send up the next demand, er, suggestion. The transition is flawless. The second I type “The End,” I can type “Chapter One.”

Not this time.

This time, I the Girls are on vacation, asleep, or, heaven forbid, dead.

I’ve got nothing.

There are ideas I could pursue, extensions of ideas I’ve already worked on. For example: Continue reading

Kay: Whose Side Are You On?

The scene of the crime

This week I finished a subpar mystery and promptly wrote about it to fellow Lady Jilly. I spared nothing. I revealed clunky plot points, egregious characterizations, poorly constructed story arcs, and, perhaps worst of all, the irritating and unrewarding ending. Not only that, I said that had I known how the book ended, I wouldn’t have started it.

This discussion was all in the name of science, of course: I read bad books so others don’t have to.

But then the story broke about the Russian scientist stationed in Antarctica. You’ve probably read this one. Sergey Savitsky stabbed coworker Oleg Beloguzov in the heart for revealing the endings of books.

Okay, then! Continue reading

Michaeline: Settings in Space

book cover

Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space by Kitmacher, Miller and Pealman, goes on sale on October 30, 2018 (image from Amazon)

I know at least one other Lady has set a story in outer space (Kay Keppler, Zero Gravity Outcasts), so this may be of interest. Friend of the blog, Ron Miller, is coming out with a new book on October 30 about the art of the space station. Time magazine calls Ron “one of the most prolific and celebrated space artists of our time”. His co-authors are Gary Kitmacher (one of the architectural managers for the International Space Station according to the NASA website) and Robert Pearlman (space historian and collector, according to NPR’s Planet Money, in an interesting segment about what astronauts did for life insurance – it doesn’t involve an insurance agent!).

The book, Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space, will cover both real and fictional space stations. The Amazon blurb says the work covers early 19th century ideas of what a space station would be like, so that’s fertile ground for steampunkers, and the book also goes into the future. We’ll also see how people actually live on a space station.

book cover

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach came out in 2010. (Image from Amazon)

If you are planning a space story, and would like even more quirky details, I can recommend Mary Roach’s excellent Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. In all her non-fiction, the woman asks the questions that I never knew I wanted to know. She reports on all sorts of things that leave quite a permanent impression. There’s this bit that I’ll never forget about how scientists determined how long an astronaut could wear an undershirt before it dissolved under the astronaut’s own grime and movement. Roach writes with humor and verve, and always manages to dig out some little-known study that provides the real, gritty details of whatever topic she’s writing about.

Even if you don’t want to write about people in space, it’s worthwhile to think about the setting, architecture and funny little stories that accompany your book. Monty Python’s medieval sketches wouldn’t have been quite as funny if they weren’t anchored in Terry Jones’ scholarship. (Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives is a beautiful book, and a great read, as well.)

Also, just because Halloween is coming up on Wednesday, here’s a link to a Dracula cover on Ron Miller’s website. (-: The image is gorgeous, and you just can’t help smiling at the humor.

Kay: Anatomy of a Cover

Building a book cover is a complex operation. Finding an image that conveys a suggestion of your plot as well as your book’s tone is difficult. Often several images are needed to get a background in, and depending on what your cover artist is willing to do, sometimes changing elements (like hair color) might not be possible. And then you have to hope that when your designer puts together the image(s) and type that they have the same vision you do.

This yellow cover for my book, Betting on Hope, was designed in 2011. I’ve always liked the image. The book takes place, as the cover shows, in Las Vegas. It’s a romance. It’s light-hearted—essentially a comedy—and while the book is not “about” card playing, poker is the story hook or perhaps theme by which I ramble on about found family and the strength of community.

So I like the expanse of yellow, which gets the mood and desert setting right; the insouciance of the figures; and the relegation of the small single playing card to the corner. I think the image is perfect. On the other hand, I’ve never liked the type treatment.

And that’s the result. Continue reading

Kay: How Romance Novels Can Reinvent Religion

From the Hot & Bothered podcast site

The first time I heard a feminist definition of a romance novel (female author writes a book celebrating values of love, compassion, community, and friendship, with a female protagonist who fights for what she wants and gets it), I was hooked. Those books were for me.

Can romance novels create a new feminist dynamic? I don’t know. But women and men read romances for the hope they offer, the comfort they give, and the values they aspire to. That’s good enough for me. And if they help create a new feminist dynamic, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

But there’s more! I recently read an article by Kimberly Winston in the Washington Post that suggests that religion can be reinvented through romance novels—that because of the themes and values romance novels showcase, they can be considered sacred texts. Holy bodice ripper, Batman! Continue reading

Michaeline: A Question of Conformity

Old French print of a person dressed perfectly as female Mmme Beaumont on half of the body, and male Chevalier D'Eon on the other half. It's the juxtaposition that doesn't conform.

“So, you want me to conform? All right! I’ll conform! I’ll conform in a way you’ve never seen before! I’ll be the best damn conformer you’ve ever seen.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Kay’s post this week has me thinking about The Right Thing To Do. She’s written a three-volume story about (amongst other things) the heroine resisting marriage, resisting marriage, and then finally succumbing to what is still a social ideal in our culture: the state of matrimony. In other words, conformity.

But from what Kay’s told us, her heroine is not going to conform in a completely socially approved way: wedding in Vegas with costumes and glitter. For Kay, the point isn’t the wedding. She’d like to skip writing about it and let the reader imagine the wedding.

But her beta readers are pressing her to conform. I, myself, talked about how a wedding is a very traditional ending to a series – a big set piece of glitz and love that rewards the reader with a big piece of wedding cake for putting up with all the trials and tribulations. So, Kay’s in a bit of a bind; in her gut, she wants the clean ending – a light smear of frosting. But many of us are pushing for flowers of marzipan and silver dragees. And Kay, at one point, said very simply and with great eloquence, “Crap.” Continue reading