suspense

Crimes of Grindelwald

The Crimes of GrindelwaldLord Voldemort is no Gellert Grindelwald.

Why? Because as a villain, a dark lord, Lord Voldemort was so extreme, so vile and hateful and cruel, that he was easier to see as fictional than the insidious Gellert Grindelwald who easily wins people over to the dark side with soft words, a gentle touch and a deceptively calm demeanor.

Anyone who has stopped by here knows my love for the Harry Potter stories, and how much I admire the way they shaped the reading habits of an entire generation. My own daughter grew up with the books – reading them numerous times in English and in Russian.

Naturally when Fantastic Beasts came out, we were eager to dig into that adventure as well. Though not as spellbinding as Harry’s story had been – with the newness of it all: Hogwarts, Hedwig’s Theme, wands, cloaks, magical spells and good against evil – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as well as The Crimes of Grindelwald, do have their own magic. Their own newness. Their own sense of foreboding.

Attractive Villains are Easier to Love

As a charismatic and cunning villain, Gellert Grindelwald, confidently stood in the center of a crowded arena and told the people who had come to hear him speak of the evil that we, the ‘others’ – the muggles/no-majes – would inflict upon the world. He did not lie to them. He had no need to. Instead, in a blinding and vivid vision, he showed them coming horrors and destruction. Horrors and destruction described in our own history books. Horrors and destruction we cannot ignore, forget or deny.

Yet Grindelwald’s plan to prevent it all – a plan willfully applauded by many in attendance – was darker, more horrific and destructive than what already seemed fated to come. Sadly, he offered only one of two nightmare scenarios. And each was tainted by the lust for total dominion of one people over another ‘lesser’ kind.

Never Again?

The pitting of one people against another, the vilifying of whole groups, of blaming them for all the world’s ails…is as old as time. That’s why I find Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald so terrifying. He’s refined. Beautiful. Charming. Yet beneath that compelling mystique there seems to be a bubbling cauldron’s worth of power and emotion.

Warnings signs are all around us, in plain sight. They have always been. Yet while generation after generation adopts the slogan: “Never Again”, that same frightening and divisive call to arms is too often repeated. In film as in real life.

 

 

No, I Won’t be Attending NYC’s Writer’s Conference

My writing organization membership just expired. By choice. I had been a member of the largest organization for romance authors for more than a decade. I’d made some amazing friends during my time there. I found my writer’s ‘voice’ and I learned to trust my process. Well, recently, new rules were applied within the organization about what it meant to be a member of it, and what it meant, by extension, to be considered in “serious pursuit’ of a career in writing. I realized, then, that my vision did not in any way match that of the new board of directors, and the direction of the organization did not fit with my personal plan for myself as an author. And so, I chose to let my membership lapse.

Writing is a solitary act. I don’t mind that, but I do like to interact with others in the industry. Fortunately, since I made a number of writing friends over the years, I am now part of another group of writers who value the level at which each of us stand now and where we hope to be – as well as what route we might choose to take to get there. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as belonging to a group that doesn’t force you to conform or make you feel inferior for choosing your own course.

And that brings me to the huge writer’s conference planned, this year, in NYC.

I attended the last writer’s conference in NYC four years ago. Thousands of authors were there. Editors from big publishing houses were there and available. Literary agents were there, as were authors who had already reached the golden ring – Sylvia Day, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kate Pearce, Cherry Adair…

And then there were the rest of us. Thousands of us each vying for the same readership, the same golden ring.

The keynote speech at the luncheon was phenomenal. A tale of overcoming outrageous and discouraging odds. It was funny and sad and cheer-worthy. The unpublished and published writing awards were thrilling. How wonderful to celebrate with other authors, those who finaled, and those who took home the coveted awards.

There was one winner in each of the two contests. There were a handful of successful authors who signed books, gave workshops, and otherwise engaged those of us who had yet to reach that status but instead remained unpublished.

Where did we fit in? Was there even room forBlog - Conference 1 us? Would anyone notice if we weren’t there? Would anyone miss us? Care? Would it make a difference in our own pursuit – gee, is it “serious” enough? – if we attended every workshop or instead chose to rub shoulders with the more successful? Was there a path to follow? A yellow-brick-road leading to publication?

How about a path to some self-confidence or a way to look at all the other wannabes, wish them the best, yet still believe in yourself and your own chances? Was there a way to convince your muse that, yes, you have something unique to say, something readers will enjoy enough to buy. Perhaps a way to view your own process as one of pleasure not one of pressure – pressure to beat out every other wannabe vying for success in the romance genre.

Some of the workshop lecturers told attendees the genre they coveted (in my case, Romantic Suspense) was a dying genre and that no one made it in that genre unless they’d already created a name for themselves in it (this was actually said during one workshop which directly contradicted another). Some workshop lecturers offered tried and true methods for getting an entire story down in just a couple of days. Others offered advice on how to revise an entire novel in one week.

It was all fascinating and clearly worked for each of the speakers. Their enthusiasm soared as they spoke and offered advice and guidance – all of it, in my experience, generous and freely presented.

I was pumped when I left, thinking I could refer to my notes and the experience and forge a new path for myself. One lined with encouraging signs and constant forward motion.

Blog - Conference 3Instead, my muse fell silent.

The vast amount of advice was overwhelming enough, but when dissected and compared and, therefore, exposed as contradictory or non-applicable to ‘my’ situation, or just plain awkward given the way I need to work… it became a jumble of nonsense for me. A muddled vision of the huge undertaking that still lay ahead for me… and the thousands more who wished to one day see their own name on a book.

It took months to get myself psyched again. To wake the muse, to rework the creative muscles that had atrophied. To realize the methods that fueled the few success stories relayed there were as varied as the stories sitting on bookstore shelves. That the ‘right’ road toward publication might detour into all of those areas – or none – since we each need to follow our own course, as is creativity’s demand.Blog - Conference 2

There is no room for conformity in creativity. There is no one tried-and-true way to advance to a level of success (and no single definition for “success”). To shuffle along with the crowd, to be told what it means to be serious about the craft, to have all of your effort dismissed for not fitting into that definition, is to stifle the muse, crush the spirit and demand conformity… which limits creativity.

I am not attending the conference in NYC because while some authors are encouraged and invigorated by all it has to offer – and good for them to benefit from the experience – the last time I went, I was left doubting my own desires and my own efforts. Had I left there overwhelmed with possibilities, it would have been wonderful – a cause to return – but that was not to be.

So… while a huge flow of there-already and getting-there authors gather in NYC for a few days and nights of excitement and enlightenment, I will thank my lucky stars for the chance to have experienced it once… and for the ability to have overcome its paralyzing effects.

I know now that there is no yellow-brick-road to follow. There is, however, a man behind the curtain. And now that I’ve seen him for who he is, I realize he is no better than I… or any other author.

 

all images in this post were purchased from depositphotos.com

Sonoma Diet Day 0

Yes, you read that right. Today is Day 0 of our new Sonoma Diet routine.

As I mentioned in my last post, I love to bake. Sometimes, I bake way too much and run out of people I know and can’t seem to give it all away. So… guess where it winds up? In my house where each of us has the ability to nosh on a regular basis. That’s great for the taste buds. Not so great for the waistline.

So… before things get out of control, we decided, as a family, to get back into shape. We sit a lot – daughter with her schoolwork, me with my writing and hubster with his photography (digital editing, etc). We need to exercise, yes, but we also need to change the way we dine.

The Sonoma Diet is about a lifestyle, not about ‘dieting’, per se. It incorporates the sun-kissed freshness of the Sonoma Valley with the exotic, healthy and sinfully flavorful herbs, spices and recipes of the Mediterranean.

What is Day 0?

Cleaning crap from the cupboards. No cakes, cookies, white flours or processed foods. It means filling the cupboards and fridge with new ingredients – whole wheat bread and bread crumbs, sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, brown or basmati rice, fresh and frozen berries, lean meats, spinach, broccoli, feta cheese, goat cheese, mozzarella, nuts, nut butter, dark chocolate, whole grain pasta and more.

The main point of the Sonoma Diet, as I can see, is retraining your body to enjoy more natural foods and less processed food. It’s about enjoying the meal – dining instead of eating. Connecting with family and friends over a meal rather than scoffing down food while sitting in front of the TV. It’s about enjoying a glass of wine, feeding your sweet tooth, filling every craving without over indulging. It’s about portion control as well.

That might be the biggest hurdle for us since we are food whores and will try almost any type of food from any region in any part of the world. Notice, I said “almost”. But, we’ll be trading in our 12″, American-sized dinner plates for 9″ plates so lunch and dinner are not about gluttony but about enjoying the flavors and textures of our meal in a slow but satisfying way.

HA! That’s the goal. Let’s see how it actually pans out as we stomach-growl our way through Wave 1 – which is the most ‘restrictive’ (though it really isn’t) and lasts 10 days. Wave 2 follows and that allows for more food and flavoring options.  Wave 3 comes next and that, ideally, will last a lifetime since it’s about applying all the common sense attitudes and cooking all the phenomenal-looking Sonoma Diet recipes on a regular basis without obsessing.

Goal? We’re each shooting for about 12 pounds.

I will keep you posted!

Planes, trains and automobiles

I live within the NYC limits so you can guess at the amount of noise I hear every day. All day. And night.

The police precinct is a few blocks away and the firehouse just past that. Three hospitals serve my area, too, so ambulance response time is quick. We have two airports nearby and a train practically next door. Add city buses, cars honking at the traffic light on one corner and stop sign at the other, and it’s a wonder people in my neighborhood stay sane.

However, think about that scene in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil where John is spending his first night in a beautiful and balmy Georgia. The windows are open. The curtains are blowing. But for John to sleep, he needs noise. A city boy through and through, he turns on a tape recording he’s made of NYC streets and the sounds become his lullaby.

So, I wonder, if I were to leave the city, and land in the center of a quiet oasis, would I be content or uneasy? Would I feel peaceful or paranoid?

I think it would be nice at first. Free space to breathe, stretch, lounge and soak up the quiet. But I also think the newness of that would wear off quickly, and I’d wind up looking over my shoulder way more often than I do here at home.

What about you? Are you where you are because you want to be or because it’s where you’ve landed? And, given the choice, would you stay in the quiet or hectic area you call home, or can you see yourself comfortable in the opposite atmosphere?

Middle Eastern Dance – or Belly Dancing

When I work the machines at the women’s gym in my neighborhood, I have a bird’s eye view of the floor where aerobic classes are held. One of those classes I’ve had the pleasure of watching was belly dancing. Some of the participants wore coin-rimmed hip scarves so their movements were enhanced both visually and auditorily.

Photo from bellybody.org

Since this was the gym and not a contest or performance, the women were of all shapes, sizes and abilities. And you know what? They looked gorgeous.

Now, I’m not one who normally gawks at other women, but this was different. Here was a group of women looking to keep their hearts healthy, to tone their muscles, learn something new and have some fun doing it. Some of the women on machine level with me, left their machines to try the moves along with the class. The sensuality of the moves and the music was compelling.

Exotic. Natural. Feminine.

Forbidden.

Because of all that, there’s an air mystery surrounding the dance. In fact, even the age and origin of belly dancing is a mystery. Some professional belly dancers, when viewing Egyptian hieroglyphs from 5,000 years ago, are able to “see the dance’ moves as they go from one image to another.

Though that is a matter of interpretation and not proof, there is evidence that the dance has been around for at least several hundred years. This evidence comes from Europeans of the time who traveled to Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and other exotic locations, then described their experiences, including dance moves which we now recognize as belly dancing.

Originally a more traditional dance than it is today, belly dancing was taught by mothers to their daughters, generation after generation, and was used during birthing rituals In other words, it seems it was not originally meant to seduce men but to prepare women for the rigors of childbirth.

Consider it ancient Lamaze – only better.

Belly Dancing helps work muscles a woman uses to help nature along during the delivery of her child. It’s like getting ready for a marathon. You wouldn’t take on a 5K without some prep work would you? Neither would a woman from ancient times take on childbirth without prepping from child to adulthood in the form of Belly Dancing.

Belly Dancing embraces femininity, pays tribute to the feminine form, uniqueness and abilities.

Traditional belly dancers did not bare their midriffs. Instead, they wore long flowing, layered gowns with a hip scarf that accentuated the sensual movements there. It wasn’t until Belly Dancing was introduced to the West, that a more ‘burlesque’ style of belly dance was introduced. It is that form of belly dance – and all the sexual, arousing tension it brings – that has become the norm today.

And it’s the sensuality, the full body infusion with the dance that has made belly dancing one of the West’s newer fitness crazes. And not a bad one at that. The women who practice this feel beautiful. I happen to be of the belief that a woman who feels beautiful IS beautiful. I want that for every woman. Every girl. To embrace her body regardless of shape or size.

As long as she’s fit – read that, “healthy” – she should be proud of what and who she is. I think belly dancing gives a person confidence as well as a great workout.

If this has interested you as much as it has interested me, you might want to have a look at these Belly Dancing “lessons” I located on YouTube. I am convinced practicing along with these videos each day will provide not only fun but results in a heart health, muscle tone and flexibility. Try it out. I’m going to. I may even buy one of those stunning clinky hip scarves. 🙂

Belly dancing 1 of 4

Belly dancing 2 of 4

Belly Dancing 3 of 4

Belly Dancing 4 of 4

Orchids as Sex Toys

I recently came upon some photographs I took at the 2008 NY Botanical Gardens Orchid Show and was reminded how amazing these flowers are. In fact, I posted about my visit to the Gardens and included photos of amazing orchids of various shapes and colors. Some of them are simply stunning. Some, quite odd. If you’d like to see that post, you can find it here – Orchids

Anyway, after looking at the pictures, I did some research on orchids, wondering about those odd shapes and colors. I learned quite a lot.

Some orchids, it seems, have evolved to mimic the shape of female wasps, thus luring male wasps to them with ease. On the surface, this sounds like a science class, but to me it is so much more.

It’s romance. It’s horror. It’s physiological and psychological manipulation, self-serving behavior, and eugenics all rolled into one. It’s the be-all of Amazonian dominance.

Let’s start at the beginning…

When male and female wasps mate, they produce female offspring. Females, when they reproduce without a male – because, yes, they can do that – produce male offspring. But, these orchids are so lovely, plentiful and submissive that male wasps often find them more attractive than their real-life counterparts.

I think sex toys and internet porn. No back-talk, no “nagging”, no mother-in-law issues and no not-now-I’ve-got-a-headache speeches. Oh. Wait. That’s a human thing…

Still…

Orchids attract wasps for their own self-serving reasons. Reproduction. By luring these boys to them, pollination is sure to occur. That’s great for the orchid, not so great for the wasp. As these boys consummate the joining with their lovely flower, they exert more energy than they should and lose body mass.

Sex, done right, is quite a workout even for wasps. Apparently.

For your viewing pleasure… if you’re into this sort of thing…

Here are mating wasps…

Photo copyright Randy Harrison 2008

And here is a male wasp ‘mating’ with an orchid…

Photo copyright - Rod Peakall 2007

Orchids benefit twice from this mating trickery. Not only are they assured their species will live on – as if an orchid has the capacity to be ‘assured’ – but while males are mating with them, females are left to reproduce on their own. And when that happens, remember, more males wasps are created. And that guarantees the continuance of the orchid.

No wonder we admire orchids so much. They’re self-confident, exotic, sexy, and in total control of their present and their future. If I didn’t mind setting down roots somewhere and having creepy crawlies having their way with me, I might not mind being an orchid.

Ah, to be so alluring…

Next time you gaze at a stunningly odd-shaped orchid, admire the colors veined through it, its thick petals, proud stature, try to keep in mind it is a wonder of nature and not, no matter what you’ve read here, simply a wasp-sized blow-up doll.

More than words

From word one, writers are told, “show don’t tell”. It’s a method of letting the reader see and feel the character’s emotions, their wants, their needs. It’s not an easy bit of craft to master since “telling” is so much faster – and easier – than showing. To ‘show’ means to get into the character’s skin. To feel what they feel and describe it in a way that will, hopefully, elicit that same feeling in the reader.

Show don’t tell. It makes sense in fiction but what about reality?

Sure, few of us would refuse flowers and candy on Valentine’s Day. And I doubt any of us would object to a gift and gushy card on our birthday. But… isn’t that a form of telling? Wouldn’t you rather wake on a morning other than Valentine’s Day or your birthday and find the laundry washed, dried and folded? Or the empty milk container rinsed, recycled and replaced by a full container with a fair expiration date?

When you think back on special moments, consider this… are they special because of what someone said to you or because of what someone did to you, with you, or for you… without being asked? It’s not that we shouldn’t say I love you, or I need you, or any other endearment, but that we should say them and show them, now, while we can, so that later, if events take away the opportunity to show those we love how much we love, they will already know.

I thought of this today as I drove my daughter to her volunteer position at a living history museum. I blasted the radio as I drove home alone, singing along with some classic songs. Then one came on that I’ve heard many times but didn’t ‘get’ until today. As a writer, I’ve learned a lot from songs – especially how to break a story down to its core. I’ve admired the way songwriters can tell an entire, passionate story of love and heartbreak in three minutes or less. Today, however, I learned something else… that showing the feelings of a character, or a real live person, takes much more than words.

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