BICEPS, BRUTALITY AND BABES
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I freely confess to watching and loving the Sons Of Anarchy, Justified, Homeland,  Twenty-Four, Luther; Ray Donovan and any martial arts film featuring a certain Chinese-American actor. My literary favorites also include healthy servings from Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and Barry Eisler. What, you might ask, attracts an otherwise peace-loving mystery writer to a diet of unmitigated mayhem? It’s not the violence, although a man who can smite his enemies for a just cause is a major turn on. I hasten to add that neither the films nor the books contain any acts of animal cruelty, a non-starter for me and many other women. A few bodies fall in these adventures—Sons of Anarchy stacks them up like cordwood; Jack Bauer and Raylin Givens were never considered gun-shy—but for the most part, their hearts and biceps are in the right place.

There are two reasons that I adore these fictional tough guys: their willingness to pursue justice even when it imperils their own safety and the indisputable fact that they are major babes, big on biceps, brawn and brains. Intellect is important to me and although I have no proof about their IQs (Stanford-Binet where are you?), when it comes to survival these heroes rise to genius level.

Some of the same attributes appear in the stars of my mystery novels although the body count and violence quotient are considerably less. Movies, television, and novels sell the same thing—a respite from real world woes and a whopping dose of fantasy. Heroes are smart, sexy and audacious. Women are appreciative.

Lest you think I am hopelessly sexist, I also love The Big Bang Theory and never miss Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock. I just don’t fantasize about them.

Critical Mass
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What is it about women and criticism that raises the room temperature? Formerly, some managers gave female employees a pat on the head rather than an honest critique fearing that women might weep if comments were too frank. That paternalism has now been replaced by a more legitimate fear: cries of sexism!
Author Tara Mohr cites a persuasive study (NYTimes, 9/28/14), which found that women employees did receive more negative feedback than men, and 76% of it cited flaws in their personality or appearance (only 2% of males received negative comments about personal traits). The usual suspects—“abrasive,” “judgemental,” and “strident” figured prominently in the study. Incidentally, the managers studied were both male and female. No surprise— I’ve been there, heard that.
What to do? Instead of gnashing our molars, the author offers several observations that make sense to me. Remember that great line from Julius Caesar about the fault lying in ourselves and not our stars? If the duplicitous Cassius figured it out, why can’t we?
Women who mainline praise like heroin addicts must find a cure, toughen up and make a choice. Important work requires courage and the hide of a rhino, particularly when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark. (Enough about Hillary Clinton’s hair, please. What about the men without any?)
Don’t expect plaudits every time at bat. Be courageous and true to yourself. For heaven’s sake, shed the “Good Little Girl” image. It usually means you aren’t making tough calls or are incredibly sneaky and manipulative. Most of all learn to counsel the women and men that you lead in frank but positive ways. Then and only then will we achieve Critical Mass.

SEXY SIXTY
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Just saw “The Equalizer”, a terrific action flick, starring the inimitable Denzel Washington.Forbes-on-line predicts it will top the box-office this week. As I was leaving, a lady (probably in her 80’s), caught my eye and nodded. “Great movie,” she said. “Denzel’s still got it,” I remarked, to which she said “He’s HOT!”

As a writer, I pondered this question: what qualities give a character appeal across-generations, genders, and races? It’s a critical issue as we craft our own literary heroes and strive to attract broader audiences.Here is my answer: the protagonist that is wildly handsome, brave, and INTELLIGENT, still rings the bells of female and male audiences. Please share your opinions on this topic. After all, we would all love to top the box office.

Book Blogging and Coaching
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Good to know that elegance and taste take a summer vacation on Cape Cod. Last week at an awards dinner, I sat near a presenter from California whose presumed areas of expertise are book blogging and coaching. Judging by her accent and attitude I’m quite certain that this person is actually a New York transplant who has yet to acquire the sangfroid of the ‘left Coast.’
My first clue was the semi-sneer blanketing her face when I mentioned “romantic suspense/mystery.” She leaned across the table and said to two other women, “My professor in college tried to write a romance novel but decided he couldn’t write badly enough to succeed.”
I pride myself on self-control. Rather than spewing vitriol, I tried sweet reason. “Romances are the best selling genre of novels”, I observed. “They bring pleasure to a lot of readers.”
My nemesis had an immediate retort.”Yes, but women are ashamed to admit they read them. They hide the covers on the subway. Thank heaven for e-books.”
“50 Shades of Grey sold 90 million copies,” said I. “It got front page coverage in the New York Times.”
She sniffed, dismissing that eye-popping statistic with a flick of her hand.
“And what do you write?” I asked.
“Memoir. I’ve had a really interesting life.”
Oh well. Boring people like myself will stick to fiction.

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RAMPANT SELF-FLACKERY AND ME

A snarky piece in today’s New York Times (8/24), affirmed once again why I love the Grey Lady. Besides proving that readers can digest words of more than one syllable, the Times (particularly the Sunday edition) hosts talented writers with tart observations on life that echo my own. Check out “Of Myself I Sing,” a not quite tongue in cheek riff about those who use “over-weening prose” and shameless self-promotion to “strut their entrepreneurial stuff” on social media. Too many writers have taken to heart the bromide that there is no bad publicity (wrong), and that endlessly trumpeting suspect 5 star reviews on Amazon will drive sales.(wrong again)

Although I discount psychobabble, I support the theory that mindless over-sharing has more to do with ego than marketing. Friends who chronicle their every triumph via Face Book are deluded. They vastly overestimate the capacity of their audience for cant. After all, how many e-book sales can one absorb without falling into a stupor?

Personally, I prefer begging. It’s a time-honored, unambiguous tradition that dates from Biblical times. If ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’, the author who throws herself at the feet of a largely indifferent public may be pitiful but never pompous.
(By the way, two of my recently released novels, SWANN DIVE and MANTRAP, have garnered numerous 5 star reviews on Amazon. Available now for your reading pleasure).

The GIMLET EYE
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THE GIMLET EYE
Everyone’s a critic, or so it seems. Reviews of every service purveyor flood the internet offering wildly different opinions on value and quality.Writers, actors, and movies are particular targets of alleged “experts” who often have a personal axe to grind.
Consider movie reviews. If I had not already decided to see JERSEY BOYS, the review in the Boston Globe (1 1/2 stars) might have deterred me. After viewing that thoroughly enjoyable film, I have to question whether the critic actually watched it or allowed his obvious dislike for director Clint Eastwood to influence his review. Phrases such as “his best work may be behind him” and “the last person suited to direct this film” were the tip-offs. They even verged on “Age-isim” one of the sins abhorred by politically correct media types.

The same is true of book reviews. Many novels that have been anointed by the cognoscenti seemed boring, poorly edited and over-written to me. (Wolf Hall, Gone Girl and Death Comes to Pemberley spring to mind.) Others genuinely enjoyed them and that is fine.
We’re all entitled to our opinion–I get it. Just ensure that it is YOUR opinion not regurgitated pablum from a scion of the nanny state. Consumers who keep their critical faculties on alert reap the best of both worlds–access to other points of view and the ability to decide for themselves.

By the way–go see JERSEY BOYS. It is a hoot.

Self-Esteem
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POINT OF ORDER: At what juncture does self-esteem morph into arrogance? When friends who experience a modicum of success suddenly assume they are superstars, it’s a game-changer. Humility is the correct estimate of one’s own self-worth. (That’s what the nuns beat into my head). It requires a REALISTIC assessment of both strengths and weaknesses. Give thanks for those natural gifts and try to improve the pesky shortcomings. N.B. No writer is a superstar until he/she climbs to the top of that NYTimes list.

Book Titles
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Book titles are key to attracting a target audience. Check today’s NYTIMES review of Benjamin Black aka John Banville’s Philip Marlowe reboot. Fans know that Raymond Chandler favored snappy titles, crisp dialogue and sassy dames. The title “The Black-eyed Blond” says it all. Readers know exactly what they will get. It’s truth in advertising writ large, something every author should consider.

SCHADENFREUDE and Me
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I abhor psychological claptrap and the jargon that accompanies it. Most often it excuses personal weakness and clouds the issue. But every once in a while those fuzzy headed practitioners of the mind really nail it.

Have you ever secretly cheered when a backbiting co-worker gets his comeuppance, or googled the tabloids for the photo of a ‘supermodel’ (is there any other kind?) caught with a patch of cellulite and no makeup? How about the implosion of the celebrity marriage that everyone proclaimed was “perfect”?

Most of us occasionally take a perverse pleasure in the misfortunes of those whose looks, social status or finances exceed our own. It’s a comparison thing which according to author Richard Smith (The Joy of Pain), is hardwired into most animals especially humans. Cutting the mighty down to size as the old saying goes isn’t charitable but it feels sooo good! This, my friends is Schadenfreude, and like many of you I have taken a few trips to the dark side of this social emotion.

Dr. Smith says it’s normal, healthy even. After all, Schadenfreude is a passive pleasure that arrives by happenstance and leaves us feeling better about ourselves. Best of all, it’s as guilt-free as a diet soda without the bitter aftertaste. Someone else’s seismic loss is our gain.

The late, great Gore Vidal declared, “Every time my friends succeed, I die a little.” He tapped into the vein of Schadenfreude within us all by acknowledging this brutal fact: the success of a peer may bring our own failings under merciless scrutiny.

Writers are especially susceptible to this malady. We read the work of our colleagues and quietly judge their output against our own. Commercial success may be equated with “selling out” as if healthy bank balances or critical acclaim are the work of Satan.

The multi-talented Clive James devoted an entire poem to the concept that underlies Schadenfreude. Read I beg you the entire work. You will chuckle, wince and read it once more. The opening line says it all:

“The book of my enemy has been remaindered and I am pleased.”

 

 

Hallelujah
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Silly me. I have always loved Leonard Cohen’s beautiful song “Hallelujah” and figured it was sort of a homage to Handel. WRONG Yesterday I actually listened to the music with lyrics on YouTUBE and realized that the song was a sensual tribute to many things some of which were definitely not envisioned by Handel. I immediately downloaded my favorite version by the late Jeff Buckley and have been playing it while I compose some of the spicier scenes in my latest novel. Such inspiration! Now the song is even more meaningful.