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Posted in Books, Writing

How to Define Literary Fiction

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Style of the Prose and a Focus on Character Development (Required)

First and foremost, literary fiction is more concerned with the style of the prose and a focus on character development above all else. A literary novel should still have an engaging story, but the emphasis will be on complex prose and rich characterization, both of which can be found in the following two lines from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch:

“Did she see how my mother’s nose had the tiniest bump at the top, where she’d broken it falling out of a tree as a child? Or how the black rings around the light blue irises of my mother’s eyes gave her a slightly wild quality, as of some steady-eyed hunting creature alone on the plain?” (30).

With these lines, Tartt demonstrates the qualities of her literary writing with specific, commanding prose that gives the reader insight into the main character Theo’s mother. Authors of non-literary novels are not concerned with any characters’ bumps on their noses or rings around their eyes — their intention is to get basic character descriptions and motivations out of the way so that they can set their sights on the inciting incident of the plot — while authors of literary novels pay close attention to these tiny details, going beyond description by delivering similes and metaphors and bringing the reader the kind of unique sensory images he would not find elsewhere.

Attention to Character Over Plot (Required)

However, complexity of prose and focus on character development are not the only defining characteristic of a literary novel. Attention to character over plot is a major element to be considered. Instead of writing a story that sets out to write a high-stakes plot that takes the main character strictly from A to B — think a Dan Brown thriller like The Da Vinci Code or a suspense yarn by Dean Koontz — an author of literary novels will spend less time focused on the plot itself and more time developing the main characters.

Ambitious Point of View (Optional)

Point of view is often, although not always, another characteristic, given that third person omniscient allows an author more freedom to describe what’s happening both inside and outside the characters’ minds, and go more into specific detail with description about anything he wants. While The Goldfinch is unique in that is a literary novel told in the first person, not third, it has characteristics of third because the story’s being written by Theo as an adult looking back over his life, giving the events of the narrative less intimacy and more room for retrospection with this clever use of temporal distance.

Historical Setting (Optional)

Another element to consider is historical setting, which often, but of course not always, makes necessary the use of complex prose to bring to life a place and time that many readers may never have been. Many recent award-winning literary novels are set in the past, like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this week) is set in 1930s Paris and 1940s Germany, and Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves is set in 1941 Queens.

Literary Example #1: Brokeback Mountain

A work of fiction I find particularly literary is the short story, “Brokeback Mountain.” This short work from Proulx (The Shipping News) features many of the elements I have discussed above. First, of all the prose I have examined in these books, hers is by far the most complex. Take for example her description of the Wyoming setting:

“Dawn came glassy orange, stained from below by a gelatinous band of pale green […] the sooty bulk of the mountain paled slowly until it was the same color as the smoke from Ennis’s breakfast fire” (9).

This is a particularly fine sentence because it not only gives the reader a beautiful image of the setting he is being placed in but it also goes beyond mere imagery by relating the descriptions to something one of the two main characters is doing, not being completely separated from the story at hand. In addition, Proulx uses her complex prose that bring out the beauty of an act that most would have found reprehensible in 1963. After Ennis and Jack has sex, she writes,

“Ennis lay spread-eagled, spent and wet, breathing deep, still half tumescent, Jack blowing forceful cigarette clouds like whale sprouts” (24).

Instead of writing something simple about how ashamed they might have been or scared how others may find out about their sexual act, she presents these two characters in unique and striking detail the peace they’ve made with their current circumstance. Also, the aforementioned historical setting of 1963 Wyoming makes this more literary, as does the third person omniscient point of view, the only title on my list that has the omniscience. Proulx writes,

“They never talked about the sex, let it happen, at first only in the tent at night, then in the full daylight with the hot sun striking down, and at evening in the fire glow, quick, rough, laughing and snorting, no lack of noises, but saying not a goddamn word” (28).

This sentence goes beyond one character’s thoughts that would be used in first person by incorporating what both of the characters are doing with a brilliant use of setting that give her prose more complexity.

Literary Example #2: The Goldfinch

A literary work can reach a wide audience if it has an engaging story to spellbind the reader that goes beyond pretty prose and sharply drawn characters. The best example of a recent literary novel that has branched out as a massive hit in the book market, while also retaining highly literary qualities that won it the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is the aforementioned The Goldfinch. Many casual readers might have scoffed at a 771-page doorstopper of a literary novel, but the fascinating story, which features themes of isolation, parental loss, friendship, thievery, and love of art, takes center stage. Early on, Tartt writes a line like,

“Whenever we struck a bump, my teeth rattled, and so did the religious claptrap dangling from the rearview mirror: medallions, a curved sword in miniature dancing on a plastic chain, and a turbaned, bearded guru who gazed into the back seat with piercing eyes, palm raised in benediction” (13).

With a less compelling narrative, a line like this might be too showy and unimportant, but in this case, Tartt is effectively setting up the opening act of destruction and getting the reader attuned to her main character Theo’s voice.

Literary Example #3: A Home at the End of the World

Another example of a literary work that has reached a wide audience is Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World. This extraordinary novel, released in 1990, was part of a new wave of gay fiction titles that included Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story and Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, books that showed realistic life of the gay man in the post-AIDS era. Cunningham writes astonishing prose throughout this book, but they never go too heavy with imagery, never too specific to the point of exhaustion. In the head of the main character Jonathan, Cunningham writes,

“My blackened eyes glittered like spiders above the lush white froth. I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether” (10).

With these few well-chosen details, he gives the reader a strong sense of the character by showing, not telling, how he feels about his appearance. The book is told in the first person but from four different perspectives, offering a complex and rewarding experience for the reader, allowing a minor character like Jonathan’s mother to offer her two cents about how she feels about her son:

“I feared my own son, out in that wild place so far from other beings. We had protected ourselves with silence because our only other choice was to howl at one another, to scratch and bite and shriek” (293).

While his prose is always complex, Cunningham makes this accessible to more than just gay readers by offering these different perspectives that bring insight into this complicated time and place.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Michael. A Home at the End of the World. New York: Picador, 1990. Print.

Proulx, Annie. Brokeback Mountain. New York: Scribner, 2005. Print.

Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Print.

Posted in Books, Writing

Why Reading is the Cornerstone of a Writer’s Life

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In his 2000 book On Writing, Stephen King says,

Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dig in.

I’ve written about this a lot on here, and I still believe it’s true after all these years of actively writing fiction: reading is just as important every day as actually writing. You can write book after book after book without actually reading anything… but the writing won’t be any good. Unless you’re a genius writer, you’re going to need to read, too.

But you have no time to read, right?

Yes, of course, the question becomes, when do you have time for read? I know. I get it. Some days I struggle to find the 2-hour window to get my words down for the day, or to revise the latest chapter on my work-in-progress. And now I have to find time to read, too?

Finding time to read, let alone write, is especially difficult for me during a teaching semester. I’m already reading dozens of essays, articles and books for my next class session. The amount of reading I do for my teaching job is a lot, and yet I still feel like this doesn’t really count as my reading for the day. Reading for the creative person should be reading for the sake of joy. To be told a story not for your work but for the pure love of the narrative.

Can you read anything?

Sure, you can read anything you want, no matter what you write. I personally write middle grade and young adult suspense novels. And so often I feel like I should be reading more MG and YA suspense, or just more MG and YA. But you know what I love to read more than anything else? Non-fiction books, and adult literary novels. I’m a huge movie buff, so I particularly love tell-all books about Hollywood. I got my BA degree in Film in Los Angeles and lived there for eight years, so stories about film artists and big successes and faded dreams are some of my favorites. I also adore reading big, thick adult literary novels. This past year I discovered the work of Sarah Waters, and I’m in love.

Am I going to try to write a Sarah Waters book next? Probably not. What matters is that I read it and love it and want to go back to it. And you know what? It doesn’t hurt to read up. It doesn’t hurt to read a novel that you feel like if you live to be 1,000 years old you’ll never be good enough to write. Because it makes me always strive for better no matter what I’m writing. To try to get better with each work, with each year.

But if you want to read junky novels, go for it! If you want to read plays or screenplays or poetry, by all means. Try to avoid certain types of magazines, I’d say, like celebrity gossip stuff that will probably fry your brain before anything is ever fed to it. But no matter what, if you want to be a writer, read, read, read.

When Should You Read?

So how do you find time to read? It depends on your job, and your circumstance, of course, but what I try to do every day is this: twenty minutes of reading upon waking up in the morning. Whether that’s a chapter, or two chapters, or just three pages, begin your day with a little bit of reading. You don’t have to lie in bed for an hour reading, flipping through fifty pages or more. Just a little to get things going.

Next, I try to read for thirty minutes in the early evening right before I make dinner. Especially in the winter, when the sky gets dark at five o’clock, I often turn to my TV to watch an episode of a show or an entire movie, but since I like to eat dinner a little bit later, typically between 7:30 and 8:00, I usually find a window of time between 6 and 7 to read a little bit. Again, nothing major. Not a hundred pages. I aim for ten pages, maybe twenty, and then I begin to cook dinner.

Lastly, I try to read soon before going to bed, although I admit that gets harder the older I become. I used to be able to slip into bed at 11:30 and read until 1:00. Now I get in bed at 11:30, and I’m out by 11:40. There have been nights I fell asleep with a book in my hands, and when I woke up in the morning, the book was somewhere on the floor. Worse, since I didn’t put the bookmark inside, sometimes I can’t remember where I left off!

So I don’t read right before I go to sleep anymore, sad to say. One thing I did try just recently was reading in the bathtub around ten o’clock. Last week I had a cold, and I decided to take a bath to relax. I brought a book in with me, took the bath for about forty-five minutes, and I read nearly fifty pages of the book by the time the bath was finished. I continued taking a bath late in the week even when my illness had evaporated. I just loved not having a phone to look at, no TV to stare at, just the warm bath and a good book in my hands to keep me company.

Yes, You Need to Read if You Want to be a Writer

What’s most important is that you find the time to read if you want to write. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day. That can be 30 minutes straight. That can be three 10-minute sessions at different times of the day. Or, of course, read a whole lot more! Once in a while I’ll curl up with a good book on a Sunday afternoon and just read and read for hours. Doing so reminds me of those lazy summer days when I was nine. Doing so reminds me of why I love reading in the first place.

Stephen King is right: reading is absolutely the cornerstone of a creative person’s life, and if you find time to read every day, your writing will only get better and better. Remember, you don’t only have to read in your genre, although you definitely should seek out lots of books in your genre (and age market, too).

But at the end of the day, read anything. Read what you want! And the creative juices will flow for you throughout your long writing life.

Posted in Writing

How You Can Write Your Novel with Just 200 Words a Day

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I’m currently hard at work on my 19th novel, a middle grade ghost story. I started writing it the day after I turned in my final grades for the fall semester at the college I currently work at, and I will finish writing the first draft soon before I begin my spring semester. I took Christmas Day off, but that’s it. Every other day I’ve been actively writing the first draft of the manuscript.

How many words a day do I write? About 2,000–2,200 words. Three days I’ve come in a bit short at around 1,800 words. Three or more days I’ve written a lot more than 2,200 words. The other day I was on a roll that I just couldn’t bring myself to stop, so I pounded out 3,200 words in just over two hours.

Why do I write these many words a day? Well, it’s what I’m used to. Since I wrote my first novel in 2010, I’ve always aimed for 2,000 words a day. It’s how I’ve written nineteen novels in nine years. It’s how I’m able to produce a complete manuscript over winter break. Yes, when many teachers like myself are taking some time off, I’m hard at work writing a new novel, one I would struggle to write with complete focus and attention during the busy teaching semester.

When I decided to commit to writing this new middle grade horror novel, I recognized a few things. First, I had exactly 28 days between turning in my fall semester grades and beginning my teaching for the spring semester. 2,000 words a day in 28 days equals 56,000 words, a perfect length for the first draft of a middle grade novel. This is my third MG book, and one thing I particularly love about drafting a book for this age market, among many, many things, is that it’s short enough that I can manage it over the short winter break window.

I write a lot of young adult novels, too, and YA is just too long to do over winter break. Unless I committed to 3,000 words a day, every day, for the four-week break, completing the first draft of a YA novel is too much to handle this time of year. And therefore, I prefer to write my YA novels in the summer, when there are months to focus on the book, not just a few weeks. (I’m already thinking about a YA book I want to write next summer, which would make for 20 novels in less than 10 years, wowza!)

But here’s the ultimate question: is writing 2,000 words or more a day the only way to write a novel?

Of course not, and last year I wrote in detail about why it’s more important to stick to a schedule than it is to find tiny windows of time (say, two weeks or less) to write and write and write. Stephen King famously wrote his book The Running Man during one of his spring breaks when he was teaching high school, just one single week. And there are those who manage to write novels strictly on the weekend, going five days without writing a single word and then writing 5,000 words or more on the weekend, making for a complete first draft in three or four months.

The truth is you can write your book any way you want, and seeing that this is my first Medium post of the new 2019 year, I couldn’t help but think how it’s entirely possible for you to write your novel this year… at only 200 words a day.

200 words a day, you say? 200 words a day is nothing. It’s a paragraph. A few sentences. A few dialogue exchanges back and forth.

You could, honestly, write 200 words on your lunch break. Or the first thing upon waking up. Or the last thing you do before you go to bed at night. 200 words a day could take ten minutes, maybe twenty. I can’t imagine any more than thirty.

But let’s say you started a novel on January 1st, writing 200 words a day, every day, all the way until December 31st of this year. It seems like 200 words day still isn’t nearly enough to make enough for an entire novel, but you know what? 200 words a day every day for the full year is 73,000 words. A superb length for most novels, including adult, including YA. If you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy epic, maybe aim for 400–500 words a day. And if you’re writing a middle grade, you could probably do 150 words a day.

The truth of the matter is, ultimately, there’s no excuse for you not to write your novel this year. The excuse that “there’s not enough time” isn’t going to fly. Whether you block out a month of time to write your novel, like I sometimes do, or the summer, when you might have more time off, like I often do, or write it only on weekends, or write a little bit each day, if you have the willpower and drive and a great idea, you can write your novel, and you should.

The world needs your stories. And I do, too!

So no excuses. Do it. If you never have any time, start today, or this weekend — soon — and write just 200 words a day, every day. It might seem like nothing for the first month or two, but you’ll be surprised how the pages will start stacking up. Just stay consistent with the amount of words you write, and don’t stop, never give up, until you reach THE END.

You’ve got this. I believe in you. Happy New Year!

Posted in Writing

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in 2019!

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Writing for the blog these last eight months has been a blast. Since May 1, 2018, I’ve posted more than 350 pieces that have touched on many of my interests — writing, film, books, and lots more. In the last eight months I’ve been teaching at the college level, working on three different novels, and basking in the glory of a new goldendoodle puppy named Charlie. Writing for this blog has been an absolute joy.

It’s been such a great discipline to get up every day and write something new for the site. Writing something brand new, revising one of the many pieces I wrote for Suite 101 back in the early 2010s, sharing an essay I wrote during my five years of graduate school, I’ve loved every minute of it. But in the last two months especially, it’s been getting harder and harder to produce on this site every single day, so I’ve decided for the new year I’m going to start posting a bit more occasionally — one to three times per week.

And from now on, ninety percent or more of what I post will be brand new content focused exclusively on writing. I might occasionally throw in an odd book review or film review here and there, but for the most part, as I continue developing my career as a novelist, and as I continue evolving in my writing, I want my pieces on this site in the new year to be all about the writing process. How to outline a a novel. How to write it. How to revise it. How to get a literary agent. How to be published. Anything I can do to help you along the way is what excites me, and so, although I wrote a lot about writing in 2018, there’s a whole lot more for me to share in 2019.

So have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and then join me, will you? I can’t wait to share lots more about writing and have you come along for the journey. Thanks for reading, everyone, and I’ll see you soon.

Brian

Posted in Film

The Sandra Bullock Files #48: Bird Box (2018)

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The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.

Since following Sandra Bullock’s long career since I saw Speed at the age of nine, there were always a few things I hoped she would get to do in her upcoming film projects. For instance, I wanted her to work with truly great directors, which she almost rarely got to do. It wasn’t until her terrific performance in Crash that she finally received some much overdue critical notices for her dramatic acting, and it wasn’t until winning an Oscar for The Blind Side that some great directing talent finally stepped up, namely Stephen Daldry and Alfonso Cuaron. For nearly twenty years I waited and waited for Sandra to participate in a brilliant, groundbreaking movie, and I finally got it in 2013 with Gravity, still one of my favorite films of late.

Her output since Gravity has been more misses than hits, although I’ve enjoyed a lot of what both Our Brand is Crisis and Ocean’s Eight have to offer. Our Brand is Crisis gave Sandra one of her best and more daring roles ever, and Ocean’s Eight is a blast from beginning to end, an entertaining flick that’s no masterpiece but is still certainly time well spent. Apart from seeing her work with great directors and making at least one superb, Oscar-winning film, there was one more thing I hoped to see Sandra do one day. She’d flirted with the genre in subpar films like Murder by Numbers and Premonition, and one of her first break-out roles was in the genre film The Vanishing, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. But really, Sandra had never made a great thriller, and she’d never come close to my all-time favorite movie genre — the horror film. That all changed this year, of course, with her newest movie, Bird Box, which premiered December 21st not in your local movie theater, but on Netflix.

Based on the 2014 novel of the same title by Josh Malerman, Bird Box tells of a woman named Malorie who suddenly finds herself in a new terrifying world where opening your eyes outside kills you, and fast. When people everywhere look outside, they see their deepest, darkest fears manifested in something before them, and what usually follows is suicide. A few months pregnant, and scared beyond imagining, she finds shelter in a man’s home, one with windows completely covered, one that seems to be safe for anyone who dwells there. But then bad things happen, most of them outside of her control, and years later she finds herself taking two children on a treacherous journey on a rowboat down a river, hopefully to somewhere where she and the two young ones will finally have a chance to survive.

Bird Box should be a total delight to Sandra Bullock fans; it sure was to me. How cool of her at this point in her career to take on a scary, intense genre film, one that she is front and center in from the first scene to the last. This is in no way a typical Sandra performance. She’s mean, she’s tough, she wields a shotgun, and a whole load of other weapons. She screams at two little children in one scene after the next, and she always tells the adults in the room what she thinks of them when they’re making mistakes. This is one of her boldest performances, one that she commits to from the beginning to the end, and it offers, easily, some of the best acting of her career. She could have phoned it for another five years, sleepwalked through a role the way she sort of does in Ocean’s Eight, a fun movie that doesn’t really give her much to do. In Bird Box, she inhabits a flawed, complicated character, not only a woman stuck in a dystopian world where you can’t look outside, but also a woman who never wanted to be a mother and has suddenly found herself pregnant and uncertain, and more alone than ever before. The two timelines in the movie offer completely different sides to her character, and it’s a joy to watch Malorie evolve the way she does.

Now, unlike her recent Our Brand is Crisis, which has a great Sandra performance in an otherwise so-so movie, Bird Box works, and works beautifully. Oscar-winning director Suzanne Bier, who made the brilliant movie Brothers from 2005 (my favorite film I ever saw at the Sundance Film Festival), made the right choice in not aiming necessarily for huge scares and big gruesome set pieces. She keeps this story instead focused entirely on Malorie, showing us the terror of this new world through her eyes, and it makes the journey all the more compelling. Bier has put together an impressive cast and crew, starting with a group of supporting actors that make this movie truly pop off the screen. One of our finest actress Sarah Paulson, who just co-starred in Ocean’s Eight with Sandra earlier this year, plays her sister at the film’s beginning and offers a masterclass in acting in just a few short minutes. Paulson’s final scene outside of the car is probably the film’s most horrifying moment. Other great actors in the film include Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Macdonald, and John Malkovich, who all bring something special to the movie. Vivien Lyra Blair, who plays Girl, and Julien Edwards, who plays Boy, are equally strong as the two children, always believable in their many tension-filled scenes on the river.

The film also looks and sounds amazing. From that incredible opening shot of the camera descending toward the water, I was taken by Bird Box’s gorgeous cinematography by Salvatore Totino. I loved all the little details we get, like shots from inside the blindfolds when the characters are running outside, and the massive sweep of that river, especially when Malorie and the kids reach the rapids. Some might think that because this film premiered on Netflix that the production might have tried to cut corners, but such is not the case with this film; it looks spectacular. The sound work is superb as well, and I particularly loved the eerie score provided by two of my favorites, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who scored David Fincher’s last three features.

As great of a team that was assembled for this movie is, though, none of it would have mattered much without Sandra’s incredible performance. She’s been my favorite actress for going on twenty-five years now, I wrote a book about her films, I got to meet her twice (once at The Lake House premiere in Los Angeles, and once at a tribute gala in Santa Barbara). For so many years I wanted her to be in better movies, wanted her to take risks as a performer. Since she won her Academy Award, she has been impressing me more and more in movie after movie, and while Ocean’s Eight left a little to be desired, she has returned in full force in Bird Box. This is her movie, this her story, and she was the perfect actress to bring the character of Malorie to life.

Sandra really has been on one hell of a ride for the past thirty-one years — and she’s enjoyed one hell of a career. When in the early 2000s it looked like she would languish in romantic comedy hell forever, she finally broke through in films like Crash, Infamous, and The Blind Side to become an actress who is finally being taken seriously. While Speed remained her best movie for nearly two decades, that terrific action film was finally eclipsed by Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece, Gravity. When many doubted she would ever be considered for a major award nomination, she was nominated and won the Oscar for The Blind Side, and then was nominated again just four years later for Gravity. And with her newest film Bird Box, now available on Netflix, she shows us once again why she’s one of the very best in the business. Sandra Bullock is a worldwide treasure, and as she continues on, starring in hopefully many more films to come, expect me to be there rooting her on every step of the way.

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Best Scene: The car going out of control, Malorie and her sister inside.

Best Line: “Every single decision I have made has been for them.”

Fun Facts

Sandra’s first horror film.

Sandra’s first film to premiere on Netflix.

Sandra previously co-starred with Sarah Paulson earlier this year in Ocean’s Eight.

Sandra has said in interviews that she was blindfolded on the set of this movie about fifty percent of the time.

Thirty-one years since her 1987 film debut Hangman, Sandra has now starred in more than fifty projects to date.

Posted in Film, Writing

How to Use a Famous Setting in Your Fiction

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Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

You’ve seen the scenario before: he wants to pretend like it’s any other day and throw an action flick into the DVD player, and she wants to play a double feature of the most romantic movies ever following a candlelit dinner at Café de le Paix. What’s a way to leave both members satisfied in this scenario? This coming Valentine’s Day, the best kind of movie to watch together is one of the more rare of genres: the action romance! Here are five alternative Valentine’s Day movies worth watching…

5. Breakdown (1997)

Jonathan Mostow’s under-rated action gem is at the heart a love story, with everyman Kurt Russell on the hunt for his missing wife, played by Kathleen Quinlan. The film is pure suspense throughout.

4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The best of Sam Raimi’s trilogy has some of the most exciting action scenes of the previous decade, but what really makes the second installment memorable is that dizzyingly romantic finale.

3. True Romance (1993)

Someone once asked Quentin Tarantino if he’d ever make a love story, and he responded by saying he’d already made one — Tony Scott’s True Romance. The title is appropriate, with the thrilling, unpredictable action working as background to the center relationship between Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.

2. True Lies (1994)

James Cameron has said that every movie that he has made is at the heart a love story, and that’s very true of this modern comedy action classic he wrote and directed three years before Titanic. Jamie Lee Curtis is as sexy as she is hilarious in the role of Helen, wife to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spy protagonist.

1. North By Northwest (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock’s most accessible film, and certainly the most visually exciting of all his thrillers, North By Northwest, starring the charismatic Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, is winning from beginning to end for both action movie buffs and romantics at heart.

Watching Like a Writer

Something Alfred Hitchcock loved to do was think of an exciting scenario that could take place in a well-known setting (think the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur and beneath the Golden Gate in Vertigo) and then figure out the circumstances surrounding it. It’s absurd that North by Northwest’s climax finds the two leads running across the faces of Mount Rushmore — and yet it works! This strategy of Hitchcock’s, one of many of his that fascinate me, is something I’d love to try in one of my short stories or novels.

Exercise!

Think of a famous setting that you’d love to use in an action sequence in your fiction. What would it be?

Posted in Books

Why I Love the Rainbow Books: Rainbow Road

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Rainbow Road concludes one of my favorite YA trilogies, in the installment that may be the best of them all. Alex Sanchez could have done the same old-same old with this third book, but instead he made the wise choice and did something a little different, in a scenario that puts Jason, Kyle, and Nelson in a car together for two weeks, keeping them connected for the book’s entirety as they come to terms with their futures.

These books have given me so much pleasure, and I’m thrilled Alex Sanchez wrote three of them. Rainbow Boys is all about first love and coming out, while its sequel Rainbow High, picks up right where Rainbow Boys ends. In a sense, Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High are pretty much the same book, with more development in the second book about Kyle and Jason’s blossoming relationship, and Nelson’s infatuation with a boy who is HIV-positive.

Rainbow Road is something different, though. When Rainbow High ended at the senior prom, I assumed the third and final book would pick up at the prom, then go through to graduation, and maybe a little after. Instead, Rainbow Road flashed forward three months, to August. The boys have graduated from high school, and college life is mere weeks away (at least for two of them). Kyle is about to leave, and isn’t sure if his relationship with Jason is going to last long-distance, and Nelson still isn’t sure what he wants to do. Will the three friends ever spend any more quality time together?

A fantastic opportunity presents itself when a high school in Los Angeles asks for Jason, an athlete who publicly came out senior year, to fly across the country and give a speech to its students. Instead of fly, however, Jason and Kyle decide to head to L.A. by car, and they ask Nelson to come along for the road trip. In the first two books, there were very few scenes that ever go all three of the main characters together.

But in Rainbow Road, they’re together almost the entire time, and it makes for some great dialogue, funny scenarios, and memorable moments. They meet a transgendered man, escape homophobic rednecks, watch in awe at the love shared between two men who have been together for twenty years. Rainbow Road offers a great journey for the reader, as we get one last opportunity to spend time with three characters we’ve come to know and love. And in the end, all three characters are left at a place where, as we hoped, all their dreams just may come true.

Now having finally come to the end of this story, I have two questions. One: how do I get readers, both gay and straight, to give these books a try? And two: would Alex Sanchez ever consider writing another sequel, where we get to see where Kyle, Jason, and Nelson are 10 years or more after the events of Rainbow Road? I would love to catch up with these characters a decade later, to see how they’re doing. But even if Sanchez never writes another word on these characters, I am grateful for this beautiful story, which started with a closeted jock walking into a gay and lesbian youth meeting, and ended with the same young man telling a large audience of gay students the story of how he came out, stood up to his father, fell in love, and stayed in love.