Dance, Dance, Dance

Whenever I feel down, stressed, or uncertain (thanks to having to wait for news or for something else), nothing lifts my mood quicker than watching a dance-themed movie or binge-watching the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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So recently I watched Dance with Me, the 1998 dance movie directed by Randa Haines, and starring Vanessa Williams and Chayanne—a movie I’ve seen countless times. The dance movie of choice used to be Strictly Ballroom until I gave that DVD to a friend who also needed a dance movie to perk her up. Perhaps I will get around to seeing Step Up one day. 🙂

What is it about watching two or more people dancing that is such a reminder of how great life can be—that joie de vivre? And of course it doesn’t hurt that Chayanne is hotness incarnate. Muy atractivo!

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Dance with Me features the requisite dance competition and romance. Hey, they’ve gotta do something after demonstrating how to rumba. And of course dance is the perfect metaphor for bringing two people together as we observe their first faltering steps toward love and dance proficiency.

Here’s a dance scene from that movie. It’s about four minutes long. This comes toward the end, so SPOILER ALERT.

I love how people in the movie work out their frustrations via salsa dancing. I usually work out my frustrations via salsa and chips, so their method seems better. But wouldn’t it be great if all of life’s problems could be solved just by busting a move on the dance floor?

Sometimes, however, a dance is almost an act of war. I can’t help thinking about Pride and Prejudice now (either the Keira Knightley version or the 1995 A&E version), when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy dance together for the first time. I love the tension of that scene, with them on opposite sides, having to maintain the correct social boundaries though they want to scream at each other. Lizzy fires off the first salvo, with Darcy returning fire in a polite way, as they wend their way through the dance. Good stuff.

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Have you seen Dance with Me or that scene I mentioned in Pride and Prejudice? Do you have a favorite movie or show that you binge watch when you need a pick me up? While you think of that, here are some random photos I took while on a walk. I love how the daisy clings to life.

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Chayanne photo from somewhere on Pinterest. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) photo from janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com. All other photos by L. Marie.

Now, That’s Classic

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve consumed quite a few costume dramas, some of which are lengthy BBC productions like

Little Dorrit (2008)
Bleak House (2005)
Emma (1996)
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Northanger Abbey (2007)

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You don’t have to be an English major to know that all are adaptations of classic novels by Charles Dickens (the first two) and Jane Austen (the last three). (Though I confess to having read all of the above when I was an undergraduate English/writing major.) I have another waiting in the wings—North and South, an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, starring a pre-Thorin Oakenshield Richard Armitage. Whenever I’ve mentioned North and South to others, most of the people I talked to assumed I meant an adaptation of a book of the same title by an American author, John Jakes. No, I mean this:

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I see the gleam in your eyes, oh fans of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice—the six-hour A & E production featuring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. I have that as well.

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I experienced a bit of culture shock as I dragged myself out of nineteenth-century Britain back to the U.S. in 2014. Though I’ve seen all of these adaptations more than once, they still have the power to captivate. And my goodness, Andrew Davies has been quite the busy bee, having penned three of them, with the exception of Emma, the screenplay of which was written by Douglas McGrath, and Pride and Prejudice (2005), which was written by Deborah Moggach. However, he wrote the script for the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice and tons of other productions.

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Andrew Davies

Every once in awhile, I get a hankering for ’em. Such works are pure escapist fiction for me, each with its share of joy and sorrow—some more heavily weighted on one side or the other, with a touch of romance in all. Even the tragic aspects are vastly entertaining, thanks to villains I love to despise and plucky heroes (male and female alike) who bear up mightily in pressure-cooker circumstances.

Some might view aspects of these stories as too black and white, particularly those of Dickens, who was fond of populating his novels with loathsome people like Mr. Tulkinghorn and Mr. Smallweed in Bleak House or Rigaud in Little Dorrit, characters without a single redeeming quality. And Jane’s books include their share of unpleasant people as well, like Caroline Bingley (and her sister Louisa) in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Elton in Emma, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice). On the other side of the coin are Esther Summerson (Bleak House) and Jane Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)—characters who might be deemed too saintly or perfect. But with each side of the social divide so sharply delineated, black and white characters help emphasize the dichotomy.

While paragons like Esther Summerson and Jane Bennet don’t really draw me again and again to the books in which they reside, I can appreciate the parts they play and how different they are from other characters skillfully devised by Dickens and Austen, characters like the obsequious and ridiculous Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice or the equally ridiculous Mr. Guppy in Bleak House. (With a name like Guppy, a character can’t help being ridiculous.)

I wish my novel had a place for a character like Collins or Guppy. But both characters were painted with such broad comic brushstrokes that I fear neither would work with my other characters. Not that all lack a streak of ridiculousness. They come from me after all. 😀

Though some classic novels are avoided now because of the lack of diversity and outright racism in some (though not in the above novels), I still turn to the list above or their adaptations whenever I need a master class in character development and plotting. But mostly, I dive into them when I can’t afford to take a journey, but would like to get away from it all to a world where problems and plotlines are all neatly wrapped up in a reasonable amount of time.

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Gratuitous stuffed animal photo—my lion and his friend the dolphin

Pride and Prejudice movie poster from movieposter.com. Little Dorrit poster from cinemagia.ro. Northanger Abbey cover from movieberry.com. Emma from fanpop.com. Andrew Davies from BBC.com.

All Roads Lead to . . .

crossroadI worked with a guy who should have had his own version of Six Degrees of Separation. Every time I’d mention someone, he either knew that person or knew someone connected to that person. So, if I ever grew angry with my co-worker and wanted to vent, I had no one to talk to about him, because he’d eventually hear about it. I don’t dare mention his name, because you might know him.

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A six-degrees of separation flowchart

Know someone like that? If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction book, The Tipping Point, you know about connectors—people who have an innate ability to connect people to other people. (Read this if you want to know more about connectors.)

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I am probably the only connection-impaired person in a family of connectors. I’m usually the person who goes, “I saw What’s-his-name the other day. You know. He’s married to What’s-her-face.”

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This is me, sort of. Actually, it’s Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (2005). But I relate to the posture of standing alone, or at least standing in the wind trying to recall someone’s name.

Connectors know lots of people. My older brother was one of the most popular people at our high school. He’s always naming people he heard from recently. (To which I usually reply, “Oh yeah. I sorta remember him,” knowing that I’m drawing a blank.) My younger brother was popular at his university. Do you know how difficult it is to be popular at a university which boasts tens of thousands of people? His birthday parties are usually populated by at least 40 of his closest friends. Now, I’ve known my younger brother all of his life, but at a recent party he threw, there were people who came that I did not know.

My dad knows tons of people. My mom always manages to connect to people who know everyone. My parents are used to the connecting way of life, because they’re from large families with a combined total of over twenty siblings (though, sadly, several are dead now). My in-laws also know everyone. I remember being in a mall in Houston with my sister-in-law, only to have her run into someone she knew. (We don’t live in Texas by the way. You know you’re a connector when you bump into people you know while traveling.)

Many bloggers are connectors: Andra Watkins; Jill Weatherholt; K. L. Schwengel; Charles Yallowitz; Marylin Warner; Laura Sibson; Sharon Van Zandt; Lyn Miller-Lachmann; the Brickhousechick; T. K. MorinCeline Jeanjean; Mishka Jenkins; Sandra Nickel—just to name a few. And I have several classmates (besides Laura, Lyn, and Sandra, and Sharon) who are born connectors. Whenever I want to inquire about agents, publishers, marketing, or anything else, I head straight to them for advice.

We look to the connectors in our lives, especially when we need to network, don’t we? It’s nice to know someone who knows someone else trustworthy. Connectors seem to love to match you with people they know. Need your car fixed? They know the perfect place to take your little Yugo. (Remember those?) Need your roof fixed? They know the people you should avoid calling. The only awkward thing about some connectors is that they think they know your taste when sometimes they don’t. Like when I was blindsided at a dinner by a well-meaning connector who tried to match me up with someone who also did not understand that this was a matchmaking meal. Talk about awkward, especially since we had no interest in each other.

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A Yugo

Authors are the ultimate connectors in a way. If you’re a fan of Charles Dickens, you know that in many of his books, he often reveals hidden connections between his characters. Then he adds a connector to connect the dots. Don’t believe me? Read Bleak House or see BBC’s adaptation of it. I won’t spoil the mystery for you.

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The challenge for an author comes with connecting characters in a noncontrived way—and by that I mean beyond shock value. Oh, I know. There’s something fun about the “Luke, I am your father” announcements. Have you explored the connections between your characters in ways that might surprise or delight a reader (or a viewer)? I’m reminded of a movie, Whisper of the Heart, written by Hayao Miyazaki, in which the main character, Shizuku, checks out library books and constantly finds the name of another character on the checkout cards. (This movie was made in the 90s, so checkout cards were used then.) He becomes an important connector for her. Knowing your characters’ back stories really helps. I’ve been a bit lazy in regard to back story with some of my characters. Some seem too isolated ala the Lizzie Bennet photo above. I’m trying to rectify that by providing more connecting points (i.e., interactions with friends, family, acquaintances, and enemies).

Connectors are a reminder of the richness of being in a community. I’m grateful for the threads like connectors that link us together.

Who are the connectors in your life?

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Gratuitous chicken photo

Crossroads photo from amersrour.blog.com. Six degrees diagram from commons.wikimedia.org. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet image from pinterest.com. Yugo and chicken photos from Wikipedia. Book cover from Goodreads.

Slow Dance

thBack when I was an undergrad (and humans had just learned how to work the sundial), I didn’t dance on a slow song at dorm or frat parties with just anyone. The dude had to meet at least a couple of the following criteria:

(1) Hotness
(2) Someone with whom I’d made significant eye contact during the evening (and by significant, I mean 15 seconds)
(3) Hotness
(4) Three Greek letters on his T-shirt (or at least be the leader of his own fake fraternity)
(5) Enrollment at the school
(6) Hotness
(7) Cigarette-less. I didn’t care if he smoked. Just put it down for five minutes, please, wouldja?
(8) Someone I thought was cool
(9) Hotness

Ah, those were the days when my shallowness was at its height. (I can’t say I’m very deep these days.) But the selection criteria often depended on the song. If it was a favorite, I was not so choosy about my companion in the dance. Getting to dance was all that mattered.

A dance comes to mind as I contemplate the relationship between the heroine of my novel and a would-be love interest who also is a point of view character.

PrideandprejudiceposterDance is the metaphor often used for two people moving toward love. So I appreciate authors who incorporate relationship-building dance sequences in their works. Take Jane Austen. I can’t help thinking of her, because Professor VJ Duke mentioned Pride & Prejudice on his blog recently. (Waves to the Professor.)

In Pride and Prejudice—and I’m thinking not just of the book, but of the 2005 film adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen—dance is not only an opportunity for social commentary, it is a declaration of war.

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005)If you’ve seen that movie, cast your mind back to the scene at Mr. Bingley’s mansion. Mr. Darcy (Macfadyen) has asked Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) to dance. But this isn’t just a dance—it’s a battle. She’s thinking of how much she dislikes him, but can’t snub him—an act of social suicide. He’s thinking of why he shouldn’t like her. After the opening salvo, their conversation is polite but barbed—a thorny rose. The tension continues as each retreats to his or her side. I love this dance, because during that sequence the others in the scene fade away, leaving just Darcy and Lizzie. Neither looks happy, because neither will give in.

Instant_OatmealAh, I love that stuff, though some might judge such a scene as too subtle. But I love the slow build toward romance—a delicate pas de deux. I tend to lose interest in stories where the love is as instant as oatmeal. I’m not debating an author’s right to go there. However, if I already know true love is in the room the moment a pair of eyes meet another, I’m outta there.

I’m not talking about chemistry. You can be attracted to someone in an instant. But in a novel, I like roadblocks. And since my novel is not a romance but contains romantic elements, I can throw all the roadblocks I want into the mix as long as they fit the plot. But I have criteria for the roadblocks standing in the way of true love.

(1) Hotness/Chemistry

I started to write Just kidding as if I were referring back to my earlier dance criteria. But as I think about it, hotness is an issue. If I write about someone who is conventionally hot (and my hero and heroine actually fit this convention, contrary to another novel I wrote), looks will not be the golden ticket that gains him or her his/her desires. Sorry. I’m quirky that way. This is not to say that I dislike books where the hero and heroine are both hot. On the contrary, I’ve loved many books with this feature. But what’s huge for me in this book is to show what lies below the surface. So physical attraction is something my characters seriously wrestle against.

(2) Misunderstanding

The tension between Person A and Person B must go beyond the tiff that a five-minute conversation can solve if only they would stop glaring at each other. There has to be a fundamental reason why Person B is the last person on earth (or at least the semi-last person) Person A would fall for. In fact, Person A considers several compelling reasons why Person B might need to be executed for the good of humanity. And I need to keep raising the stakes against their relationship. But there’s a third criterion.

(3) Abuse

I draw the line at physical or sexual abuse as a step in the dance toward love. Sorry, but that’s my preference as an author and a reader. I’m not talking about the physicality of a battle-trained hero and heroine engaged in a battle to defend himself or herself or because he/she follows a commanding officer’s orders. Books about warriors need battles. If both are warriors, they know the stakes. I’m talking about books where the misunderstood bad boy shoves or punches the heroine or a rape occurs, but they fall in love within the space of 100—200 pages. I’m old school, so please don’t write me and complain if your book fits this description. I’m talking about my preferences here. Physical abuse or rape is a hurdle I’ve never been able to jump over as a reader and I refuse to try as an author. I’m of the belief that rape is not a crime of passion, but a crime, as is physical abuse. Sorry. Won’t go there.

I’m getting off my soapbox now and will return to my slow sizzle story. And now you can tell me what criteria you have if you include romance in your book. What books with romance do you love as a reader?

Knightley and Macfadyen dancing photo from kootation.com. Pride and Prejudice movie poster from Wikipedia. Instant oatmeal photo from talkhealthytome.com. Couple slow dancing from gograph.com.