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I’ve been neglecting this blog, I know, but I’m back with a new routine and a vengeance. This time around, I’ve got a bit of a change for your reading pleasure. Instead of a horror movie review, I have a bit of a thriller review.
Title: A Kind of Murder
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Jessica Biel
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s book, The Blunderer
Summary, from IMDB:
In 1960s New York, Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara who leads a seemingly perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer and an overambitious detective, while at the same time lusting after another woman.
Now, an admission: there are two reasons why I chose this movie. First of all, the filmed is based on a book by Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train. The second reason is Patrick Wilson, who is kind of adorable, in a calmly pleasant kind of way.
The film itself is a period piece, which takes place in the early sixties. As a fan of Mad Men, I love the clothes, the cars and the absolute devotion to smoking these “Old” movies have. Men wore hats, women wore crinoline and the cars were simply awesome.
As much as I have love for Highsmith, Wilson and the early sixties, I had a lot of trouble with this movie. It was beautiful to look at: winter, dark brooding scenes and it even had a smoky, bohemian bar with a torch singer. I liked watching it, but at the end, I felt like I had learned nothing and had merely spent my time leafing through a 1962 Life magazine.
The buildup was everything. A depressed wife, a frustrated husband in a gorgeously designed house (very sixties) and a mysterious murder that the husband (a writer when he’s not being an architect) becomes obsessed with. There’s even a rare bookstore with a mousy, kind of weird owner.
Another thing that I liked about the movie was that it was pulpy. It put me in mind of Double Indemnity. Very “noir-ish” and rather unsettling in parts.
As you can tell, I’m writing a lot about what I saw and not a lot about what I felt. The story rolled along nicely, but, as I hinted at above, never really came to a solid conclusion. People died, people were injured, but…..yeah, okay. The movie was kind of “meh”. I’d watch it again, however, simply to catch set and costume details that I might have missed the first time around. The story left a lot to be desired.
Do I recommend it? If you’re a fan of period pieces and Patricia Highsmith, this would be for you.
3 out of 5 stars just for good looks.
I’m not going to start off this article with a starry-eyed reminiscence of how I longed to write as a child and left little scribbles of unfinished genius yet to be found in my bedroom in my childhood home. Even though that may be true.
No. My purpose of sitting down and writing this instead of tooling around on Toon Blast is to clarify for myself as to why I write. And you’re gonna listen.
While you, as a reader (and all authors are readers) may think the answer is simple: I like to make up stories. Or you see the quotes bandied around social media about “the story within” and all that deep writerish navel-gazing, the truth is different for each writer.
Some writers pick up the pen or open that document with the anticipation of making it rich, quick, and soon. And, with the advent of ebooks and the instant ability to publish, some authors make quite a bit of good money doing just that. Some hit it big right out of the gate, some toil for years before their books are discovered and some never hit that goal at all and quit in despair. This last group sees all the other authors making so much money, in the top 100, on the best-sellers list, and they think “I can never be that” and give up.
But although I do suffer from that “why can’t that be me” syndrome —because who doesn’t want to make a pile of cash from doing something they love—there’s a different type of drive that keeps me putting pen to paper, even if all my books combined have less than 50 reviews.
I don’t write for the money. I write because I have stories to tell. Many stories. Many variations of stories. So many stories that they bottleneck inside my brain and it’s difficult to get them down on paper the way that I want them. But still I write. Because I need to express myself. And I need you to read it.
Earlier this year, I planned on giving up writing. I felt my process was stale and despite the over sixteen (16) stories I had on my hard drive in various stages of completion, I thought that it was all over. Forget writing. It was a fool’s game, right? I would take up crochet, learn an instrument, do anything but sit down in front of an unforgiving computer screen and an even more unforgiving inner editor and pound out another story that only seven people would read.
I resigned myself to this fate. Watched a lot of Netflix. Made a lot of horror trivia quote pictures. Arranged my Google Play music library. At first it was fun. I had no deadlines, no nagging feeling that what I just wrote wasn’t good enough, no urge to scribble down character conversations that flitted through my head. I dismissed writing, choosing instead to press “next” to watch whatever else was coming up on Hulu or Amazon Video. Crocheted a shawl. Considered taking up needlepoint again.
Unfortunately, my carefree write-less life did not last. My mind kept circling those stories, like a shark just off Amity Island. The frantic splashes of characters frolicking, the vibrations of conversation, the whispers of future plans. I tried to ignore it, but it inexorably drew me in, building on top of the foundation that I’d given these characters to create their own lives, while I studiously snacked on cheese crisps and squeezed either a remote, a book or a crochet hook in my sweaty palm. No pen. No keyboard.
I wanted no more part of the uphill battle to get the right words down on paper. No, thank you. Been there, done that.
But then, something started to happen. The movies got boring. The crochet grew tedious. And I could not read a book without inserting how I’d make it work and what characters I would use.
You see, I am a writer.
Don’t be fooled by the timid veneer writers put on social media. The groans and grumbles of not begin able to write….banging our heads against the keyboard…..writer’s block….
Writers are vain. We are egotists. We are self-centered. We are determined to stand out from the crowd and leave a legacy that will cement a little bit of immortality. Ten, twenty years from now, someone will pick up/download a book that we’ve written.
Now, writers, I love you but miss me with the: “I’m a very nice person. I’m not vain. I’m a very generous person. I’m not self-centered.” Please. Let’s not pretend anymore. We love and cuddle our stories like our precious. After we’re done, we want you to buy and read them. Guess what, world? WE ARE AUTHORS and this is how we do. Name it and claim it. Own your shit.
Writers are revolutionaries. We want to show you our side of things, how things go for us. I don’t write about Black heroines by accident, people. I got tired of seeing how many black women were portrayed in media and set out to change it, at least in my little corner of the world. And the fact that most of them are a little weird, a little flighty, a little stubborn and a whole lot smart should also tell you something about me. (See previous paragraph). Writing, for many authors, is an act of defiance. It’s a call out about what we think is wrong with society and our attempt to call attention to it. (again, see the “writers are vain” section)
Writers are miserable and woefully insecure. Come on, it’s not like you didn’t know this already. “Are my books witty? Are they funny? Will you buy my next book? If I tell you a funny story, will you want to read my book? Is my cover sexy enough? I don’t want a sexy cover, but, I don’t know, should I do it? If I don’t have a sexy cover, will my book sell? Is that comma in the right place? Did I use the word ‘smile’ too much? Do you think my heroine is too ditzy? What about my hero? Too geeky? Will readers like him? Will readers like her? Will readers like meeeeeeee?”
I think you get the picture.
That’s why I write. I want you to know what’s on my mind, what I’m thinking, my opinions. I also want you to be entertained, angered, touched or in some way affected by the words I put down. It’s a love letter from me to me, but I’m gonna let you read it.
Also, have you bought any of my books?
Til next time…
I’ve been writing professionally for about seven years. The one thing I’ve noticed about my writing and my production of published books is that I’m a slow writer. Now, don’t take that to mean I put in a comma in the morning and remove it in the afternoon, no. It’s just that my stories come together very slowly. Sure, I may have an awesome idea for a book, but to be honest, it takes years for some books to come to fruition.
I wrote my first published book, Kitty Wishes, in a week. It’s cute enough book, but it’s not satisfying to me. I feel I could have done a lot better. But hey, it was my first book and it was a learning process.
Another of my books, Loving Among the Dead, was basically written in 2012, but fussed over and revamped until it was published in 2014. It was one of my favorite books to write and I really connected with the characters. The sequel, well, not so much. We….don’t talk about that much around here.
My quest was always to write faster; to produce more books. According to the “experts”, more books meant more money and more recognition. So, because I learn by example, I started reading some of Amazon’s Top 100 books.
I learned something all right. Many of the characters from these books were hollow paper doll, animated only just enough to string the plot together. For those I managed to finish—and there weren’t very many—they left me cold and bored and feeling like I had just read someone’s second draft outline.
But still, I persevered, purchasing plotting books and outlining books and how to plot quickly and this class and that webinar. I even joined a few Facebook groups.
Then, while I was reading a blog of writing tips it hit me like a bolt from the blue. The words “character driven plot” had bounced around in my head for a few years now, and I really never totally understood what that meant. But in reading this blog I finally got it.
It’s the WHY.
Why are characters different? Why is Columbus different from Tallahassee in “Zombieland”? Why is John McClane different from that sleazy colleague of his wife’s (who tried and ultimately failed to “negotiate” with Hans Gruber? For that matter, why did Hans even entertain that guy’s mess, only to (spoiler alert) to kill him? (Yes, I’ve watched Die Hard again for the fiftieth time.)
Me to myself: Character, stupid.
The choices the character makes in the story makes the plot go where it’s going to go. And cardboard characters won’t cut it.
This was why some of these popular romance books left me high and dry. There was no…emotion, no impetus, no REASON behind the characters’ personalities. They went here and did this, went there and did that. Just…cuz. Oh, and the instalove is soooo overplayed. I’ve toyed with that a little in some of my stories, and I just can’t sell it. (No shade thrown to those who enjoy and/or write those types of stories….it’s just not for me – I don’t judge someone else’s hustle….)
In looking over some of my unpublished stories, it seems I understood this innately some time ago and ignored it in favor of chasing plot.
For example: I’d written a scene where a woman goes into a convenience store. Her ex-boyfriend happens to be there and he starts begging her to take him back and how much he loves her and all that jazz. Suddenly, two armed robbers come into the store. The heroine turns to look at them, then by the time she turns back to her ex, he’s gone, hiding behind a rack of snacks.
WHY did he do that? Easy….he’s a coward. But why is he a coward? Is he a rich guy used to getting anything he wants with little effort? Was he caught in a robbery in the past and this is natural reaction? Does he know criminals and he knows they’re looking for him?
Backstory is important. Not only does it round out characters, but it gives you, the author, a clue to what they’re going to do next.
In reference to the jerk hiding behind the Cheetoes, will he stay there? Will he have a change of heart and protect her? Or is trauma from that past even keep him there, hating himself for being such a coward? If he wants her back so badly, perhaps he’ll overcome the fear and save her. Who knows? It depends on how I’ve built the character and his specific backstory.
I say all that to say, inciting incident, dark night of the soul, rising action, all that story structure stuff does me no good…if I don’t know the character. It’s my stories where I focus more on building my characters rather than building my plot are the ones I like the most and the ones, I hope, offer the readers the most emotional experiences.
Following this, I’ve vowed never to purchase another book on plotting ever in life. (Given the pile on my bookshelves, I won’t have to!) Instead I’ll spend my time studying characters and how they form and/or change within a story. (If they change at all…)
And it’s not only from bad to good either – Take Michael Corleone from The Godfather. He insists “that’s my family, not me”, but during the course of the movie he goes from clean cut military hero to heir apparent. Same thing with Breaking Bad. Walter White snags our sympathy as a poor schlub who cooks meth to provide his family with some money after he’s dead from cancer, and basically turns into a ruthless, driven….killer.
But that’s a post for another day. For right now, I’m finally glad I have my finger fully on the pulse of the importance of characters.
And that’s my “the more you know” moment of the week!
The one thing I enjoyed the most about Tales from the Hood 2 was Keith David. The moment I saw his face, I knew that at least the wrap-around story would hold my attention. Mr. David has a strong screen presence and a resonant, unique voice and thus is the perfect choice for a storyteller. However, while I did enjoy his presence in the movie, the stories left a lot to be desired.
The first story, “Good Golly”, had a lot of promise. The Museum of Negrosity’s proprietor talked about the atrocities visited upon Blacks that the silly visitors (one black, one white) were making light of. I appreciated the reminder/history lesson of what Africans went through as slaves and as second class citizens in this country, much of which continues to this day. I also liked how the segment insisted that we in the present not make light of the past, but to learn from it. Excellent job on that part.
Then, the segment went downhill from there. I will not spoil it, but suffice to say I laughed out loud at what eventually transpired. Why? Because it came out of left field. There was no foreshadowing, no clues…it just happened. Yes, I understand the theme behind it, but honestly the execution left a lot to be desired. That is not to say I was not entertained, because I was.
The second segment, ”The Medium”, was my favorite. I loved the setup and the execution. The actor who played John Lloyd, the psychic nailed his role all the way through. (Fun fact, he also played Sal in Mad Men, and I liked him there too.) He hammed it proper, giving us a great performance in an interesting story.
“Date Night”, the third story was something most horror fans have seen in one form or another. The story was rudimentary and full of tropes. Absolutely nothing to write home about here.
The fourth segment, “The Sacrifice”. (long pause)….I truly hate to say this, but it seemed more of a hardcore after-school special than a segment in a horror movie anthology. Listen, I got the underlying message, I did. Great idea, poor execution. I also think this was the longest of the segments and I felt every single minute. This could have been a spectacular segment if the plot had been tightened a little more. The narrative was not as cohesive as it could have been, and the story suffered from it.
The end of the wraparound story was predictable, and the effects looked exactly like the effects in Halloween 3 (the lasers). And who didn’t know that Keith David was more than he seemed? The robot was pretty cool though.
The bottom line? I was entertained. I’m glad it was made, but it certainly was not on the level of the original Tales from the Hood. I would watch that before I watched this one again.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
I am not a cook. It is only rarely that I enjoy putting together a meal, and that’s when I get inspired by a new recipe or stumbled upon an old favorite while leafing through a cookbook. That being said, I’m not a total flop in the kitchen – I can throw together a pretty good holiday dinner. It’s just the everyday of cooking that I find a little tedious.
That being said, I have recently acquired an appliance that has made my cooking life that much easier. It’s not a new recipe book, nor is it a live-in cook, or a meal delivery service.
It’s an electric pressure cooker. Somehow these magical appliances have flown below my radar for the past few years. If you had asked me about a pressure cooker, I would immediately recall a scary, hissing pot sitting on the back of my mother’s stove, with a little hat dancing on top. On occasion, my mom would tip the little hat and a plume of angry steam would stream out. When I asked her why she did that, she said it was to keep the pressure fron building up. From then on, I was REALLY scared of that durn pot, thinking if my mom didn’t keep an eye on it, it would explode all ovr the place, spattering the kitchen with ham hocks and collard greens.
Thus was my childhood experience with pressure cookers. I wanted nothing to do with them.
One day, I spied either an article or a little ad popped up about something called an Instant Pot. With this miracle pot, one could cook rice in 3 minutes, cook ribs/meat in a hour and most importantly, cook grits in 2 minutes.
I.Was.Floored. What was this magic pot and how could I get my hot little hands on one? I must have this!! No more watching the stove, making sure the rice doesn’t burn. No more long hours of waiting for roasts to get done. I don’t even have to wait until the meat defrosts! And weekend breakfasts were a cinch without standing over the stove stirring grits.
I say all that to say, if you haven’t yet experienced the lovely efficiency and ease of an electric pressure cooker, borrow one or buy one and see for yourself. Take it from me, a woman who hates to cook, it will change your kitchen life for the better. I truly love my electric pressure cooker!
What’s the one appliance that makes your cooking life easier?