Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Since this is Oscar time and I’ve already watched the Golden Globes and SAG awards, I’m still in a movie mood, and I want to add to something I wrote last week. RUTHLESS PEOPLE, 1986, with Danny Devito and Bette Midler is another comedy classic.

I mentioned GAMBIT as a favorite “Caper” film which was released in 1966. It starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine and was nominated for three Academy Awards. The poster said, “Go ahead and reveal the ending. Just don’t reveal the beginning.” But I’m going to do that. Well, partly. For the first twenty minutes of the film, MacLaine, although starring, says absolutely nothing. It’s then revealed as a scenario that Caine is thinking about and expects to have happen. But reality kicks in and nothing is the same. It’s funny and clever and has a great twist ending.

The same is true of the caper film, THE HOT ROCK, 1972. Based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake, it stars Robert Redford, George Segal and Zero Mostel. Another case of the audience wanting the clever but lovable bad guys to win.

The classic Mystery film is THE MALTESE FALCON, 1941, based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel, starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, and Mary Astor. A super black and white “film noir” with great acting, and lines movie buffs never forget, such as, “I’m sending you over, Sweetheart,” and “It’s the stuff dreams are made of,” straight from the novel. A real gem.

I consider the 1993 film, THE FUGITIVE, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, a mystery. After all, it has a murder and a detective (Jones) trying to recapture the man (Ford) he thinks killed his wife. Based on the 1960s TV series, it’s one of the best movies of its kind, and I saw it in theatres three times before my husband bought me the DVD. I found only one fault in it. The detective, Girard (Jones) calls Kimball “Richard” throughout the film, whereas I believe he should have--and a real cop would have--called him “Kimball.”

My favorite historical dramas are GONE WITH THE WIND, BEN HUR, TOM JONES and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. They are totally different but each is great in its own way. I also like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and THE AFRICAN QUEEN, although, in a way those could be called “war” movies since there was a war in the background.

Looks like I’ll have to do another post about films. Meanwhile what have I missed in these genres that you love?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Two separate incidents are responsible for my post this week. The first was a question posed by author and blogger, Barb Han, who already has two books out this year and a third on the way. She asked, “What is your favorite film?” It’s impossible to answer, because there are many types of films: comedy, drama, mystery, adventure, western, caper, historical, even documentary.

For comedy I have to choose SOME LIKE IT HOT, a black and white 1959 classic starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, with supporting actors Joe E. Brown, George Raft and Pat O’Brien. Some younger readers might not even know the three main stars, much less the lesser ones, but they were part of the Golden Age of American movies. Older readers--and real film buffs like me--know what I’m talking about.

I chose SOME LIKE IT HOT over some other comedies because I believe it’s timeless. I recently showed it to my grandson, who only recognized the name of Marilyn Monroe, and he loved it. I’m sure he didn’t get the reference to Cary Grant, or the 1920s St. Valentine’s Day massacre of hoodlums in Chicago, but funny is funny, and he lost himself in the age-old gender-swapping heroes, the clever plot and the slapstick denouement.

My favorite Western? Based on a novel and produced by Gregory Peck in 1970, THE BIG COUNTRY stars Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons and Burl Ives (all deceased but brilliant actors) which features the classic western motifs--cattle ranches, water rights, feuds and romance--in a smart, believable story.

I adore caper films and it’s hard to pick only one from such gems as THE STING (Paul Newman and Robert Redford), GAMBIT (Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine), and HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn).

I’ll do a second post on this topic soon, but meanwhile borrow these films from Netflix and enjoy while I wax nostalgic.

According to an e-mail I received today, SON OF THE SHEIK is currently being shown at a public library near me. It was a silent film from 1926 starring Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky. And, no, I didn’t see it during its original release.

When I was in high school, some of us teenagers occasionally went to a downtown theatre that showed old silent movies, including SON OF THE SHEIK. Dialogue was printed on the screen and there was soft piano accompaniment in the background. Sometimes a patron would say something out loud, which the theatre ushers tried to squelch, but at one point the heroine, who is being held captive by the handsome sheik, tries to escape from his luxurious tent in the desert.

She rushes to a tent flap and pulls it aside, but a stout guard stands there. She closes it, rushes across to another flap, opens it. Another guard. She looks about helplessly, eyes darting, lips trembling. At which point one of the boys in our class spoke out loudly: “There must be a fire escape.”

We were asked to leave but everyone else in the theatre laughed for a long time. Well, maybe you had to be there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


This long-held axiom that you should write what you know struck me forcibly last week. With the mammoth increase in the number of self-published books, almost the same number of articles and blogs are springing up warning not to self-publish too soon. To hire an editor, or use a critique group or beta reader on your deathless prose. Otherwise it might die with book one and bury your career with it. I suggest you utilize those services not just for spelling, grammar and structure, but for facts.

Writing a novel is more than putting spell-checked words together. It’s a story about people doing things and the things have to make sense to the reader. In other words, get your facts straight too. Years ago, my friends and I, who live in southern California, laughed at a New York-published romance novel in which the heroine dashed out of her house in Pasadena to take a dip in the ocean. That was in the pre-Amazon days, and presumably the editors took the heat for that, not the author.

Last week a friend asked me to read her just-published second novel and write a review. She wrote a scene about characters going ballooning in California’s Napa Valley. The hero goes to the heroine’s San Francisco house at eleven a.m., but she’s not ready. Eventually they get into his car and drive to the Valley--a distance of some 50-60 miles, in city traffic before hitting the highway--then meet with the owner of the company, take a balloon ride--during which they supposedly see skyscrapers in the city and blue water of the Bay--and are back in town by 2:30. I don’t think so.

I used to live in the Bay Area myself, and hubby and I went ballooning in Napa Valley. We had to register in advance and be at their office by six a.m, so we drove up the night before and stayed at a bed-and-breakfast. We were driven to the launch site in a van, watched the two balloons being filled with air, and climbed into one of the baskets about seven. Our balloon never went higher than 200-400 feet and the flight never left the large vineyard-covered valley. We were followed by a “chase” car, touched down for an exchange of passengers and finally were driven back to headquarters and treated to a late brunch.

It’s not bad enough that the author could have asked me (since we were friends) or someone else, to read her book while it was still unpublished, or, worse, that she’s lived in the bay Area for more than thirty years herself, but that she apparently never thought to Google Ballooning. She would have learned the months, times and distance of flight as well as how ballooning actually works. With the wind, dearie. She could even have read my novel FREE FALL, in which my characters do the very same thing, because I’m pretty sure I gave her a copy of it when it was published.

So my dilemma will be to review the book without mentioning the Boo-Boo. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I hope I like the rest. However, since I’m also an author, maybe Amazon--in its sudden rush to exclude reviews by authors--won’t even print it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


The Palm Springs International Film Festival is in full swing just a short distance from where I live. Local TV and the newspapers are full of pictures of Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Helen Mirren, and Sally Field. I’ve never gone to the festival and am not going this year, but it reminds me of films I’ve liked and/or disliked of those I’ve seen recently.

I love movies almost as much as I love books, but I admit–-as in the case of books–-my taste may not be anyone else’s. Not even my husband’s. He likes war films, I don’t. Unless, they’re more about a problem to be solved than the fighting itself.

For instance I enjoyed STALAG 17, THE GREAT ESCAPE, and THE GUNS OF NAVARRONE, among others. Hubby gets to see war movies on television, rents them on Netflix and also plays them on the big screen in the little theatre in our gated community. Free of charge. Most of the ones he shows--as well as the two other gentlemen who provide the films-–are older, but their clientele likes to see those oldies on a big screen surrounded by other viewers once again.

Rather than wait for Netflix every time, we sometimes go into the neighborhood cineplex. That’s where we recently saw SKYFALL, the latest James Bond film in the franchise they reminded us is fifty years old. The first, DR. NO, appeared in 1962. What can I say? It’s our guilty pleasure. SKYFALL is by no means our favorite Bond film, (Given the chance, I’d have written a different last half hour), and we often have discussions with friends about which actor best portrayed 007.

While one of the eight theatres showed SKYFALL, four of them were showing THE HOBBIT;  but I am no more a fantasy lover than I am a war-film buff. I never read Tolkein’s books and don’t plan to, but I read all those of Ian Fleming years ago.

Speaking of actors, I admire both Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, but their film, HOPE SPRINGS, struck me as being a long, boring Infomercial about the value of sex therapy. The same can be said, although on a slightly different topic, about FLIGHT. Hubby knows about commercial airliners, having been an engineer with a major U.S. carrier, and he says the cockpit scenes about trying to save the plane are accurate. But that took only ten minutes of the movie, and the rest could be termed an Infomercial for Alcoholics Anonymous. Although Denzel Washington might get an Oscar for his good acting.

I loved ARGO and hope Ben Affleck gets an Oscar for either acting or directing. And I still plan to see LINCOLN, LES MISERABLES and JACK REACHER. But probably not GUILT TRIP, in which Barbra Streisand plays a Jewish mother. Type casting, anyone? I like Babs but it sounds like a wait-for-Netflix movie.

What about you, readers? Got any favorites you can share?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


I was going to start today, since January 1st was a holiday and I didn’t think I actually needed to start my resolutions on a holiday. But Fate stepped in. It was the day of my writing club’s monthly meeting and at ten a.m. the wife of our scheduled speaker called to say her husband was too sick to drive two hours to our clubhouse and give his talk. I’m program chairman so it was up to me to save the day. All I could think of was a speech on self-publishing that I was working on for a program in April, so I hurriedly finished it, dashed to the meeting and gave the speech.

Then my husband returned from his meeting and we went to dinner, after which I realized I had to do end-of-month and end-of-year bookkeeping and write this blog. And I hadn’t even decided on a New Year’s resolution yet. Then I remembered I had just read two resolutions by other writers, so I’d follow their advice.

J. A. Konrath‘s blog repeated what he’d said every year from 2006 to today. In the past, he advised writers on ways to find a publisher or agent, how to work with them and how to do their own marketing if the publisher didn’t.

Today he says he has 10,000 Twitter followers but seldom goes there and hasn’t been on Facebook or blogged in months. He says he will never do another book tour or traditional book signing or attend book events. He says he won‘t read reviews, go on message boards or Google his name. He intends only to write more books.

That works for him, and his sales continue strong. But back in 2006 he’d already been published by major New York publishers and, no doubt because of all the book tours and book signings he did in those days, he can turn his back on it now. He’s been there, done that. And because he did, he made a name for himself and has a platform. Readers know him and seek out his books.

So what about those of us who never had that chance, never got published with big-time houses? What about the newbies - as he calls them - who are just starting out? How will anyone find their books among the 300,000 self-published books of last year? I salute Mr. Konrath who paid his dues and now only needs to write more books to make a six-figure annual income. But his advice doesn’t work for me or thousands of other writers.

Basically, Dean Wesley Smith advises the same thing: write more books and don’t worry about promoting them. But Smith, in his New Year advice, gives something else, something I can put to use. He tells how to find the time to write when we constantly claim there is none. He breaks it down into a simple question: How many words can you write in an hour? 1000? Good. All you need is five hours to produce 5000 words and all you need is a week to do it. Anyone can find five hours in the 80 waking five-day-a week hours we’re given. And if you do that every week, you’ll have written 400,000 words in a year. That’s five 80,000-word books. Can’t write that fast? How about 500 words an hour? That would equal 200,000 words a year or 2-1/2 books.

In addition to having written all those words, at only five hours a week, you’ll still have 75 hours every week for all your other chores: rewriting, marketing, paying bills, shopping, exercise.

So it’s a no-brainer for me. I’m following Smith. No more procrastination for me. No more excuses about why I can’t start my new novel this week. No more discovering it’s May and I have yet to stick to my resolution for even a week.

But first I have to clean my office.

J.A. Konrath
Dean Wesley Smith