Friday, April 27, 2018

Royally Yours: A Fiction Serial Inspired by the Upcoming Royal Wedding

Inspired by the world’s most anticipated royal wedding and the movie Love, Actually, Serial Box and Rakuten Kobo will release Royally Yours, a six interconnecting episode fiction serial on May 2. Written together by the New York-based writing team comprised of Megan Frampton, K. M. Jackson, Liz Maverick, Kate McMurray, and Falguni Kothari, each of the fun and flirty episodes will be released in e-book and audio formats on Wednesdays and Fridays over three weeks (May 2–18). The first episode is free and each subsequent episode is $1.99, and the whole series is $8.99.

The Royally Yours romance stories are about the magic and joy of a royal wedding and feature a palace maid with a heart of gold, a milliner who dreams of seeing her designs adorn the pews, an American bodyguard who learns some British charm, a paparazzo after that one great shot, and an ordinary girl who dreams of being a princess.

Some Thoughts by the Authors on their Experience

Megan Frampton says...

"I have never written this way—in collaboration with four other others and according to a thoroughly-plotted story. It was a blast to just insert my words into the framework we'd created. I found my writing style changed a bit (also because I was writing contemporary, whereas I normally write historical), and I'm now thinking about trying it again at some point."

K.M.Jackson says...

"Writing this way was a new and exciting experience for me. Since what I normally do is so solitary, it was fun to collaborate with others. I imagine it gave a bit of a glimpse of what it must be like to be in a TV series writers' room, which is a secret dream of mine. Though it was a little bit of a challenge keeping the stories connected, it kept us all sharp. Keeping them short ensured that the pacing was fast."

Liz Maverick says...

"This was an amazing experience. Brainstorming with other writers is one of the pleasures of this career, but it often only comes when something has gone wrong with a story. In this case, the brainstorming was a central part of the job. I absolutely adored working in the writers' room hashing out the details of our connected story. To me, 'short' simply means that you've got to bring your best game to the collaboration. You've got to get the emotional connection, character development, plot, and connective threads to shine on the page in a nice, compact box. Since we try and do that with every book we write, it's just a matter of making every single sentence really, really count. No room for darlings, tangents, or subplots. The end result is a sparkling, fast-paced read."

Monday, April 9, 2018

Quotes from Anne Lamott's Talk With My Commentary

Last night, I attended a talk by the wonderful Anne Lamott. She's a spry sixty-four and continues to tour regularly to promote her books and to give invited talks. She tends to ramble a bit and gives some canned talking points, but she's funny, compassionate, and passionate. The talk was part therapy, part advice, humorous, and altogether, entertaining.

(I have organized my notes here to read in a coherent fashion, because, like I said before, she had a tendency to ramble. The quotes are her words and the commentary is mine based on her talk and my personal thoughts.)

The three topics Lamott covered were: Mercy, Grace, and Writing.

She started out her talk with references to how exhausted she and others she knows have been since the election, and she had high praise for the Parkland students. In fact, she came back again and again to how she, personally, feels invigorated by seeing these young voices actively doing the right thing, no matter the personal cost. Lamott is well known for her activism, and it was wonderful to see how forthright she was about it. She did not shy away from offending the conservative among the audience—at sixty-four, she felt she had to kowtow to no one.

Mercy is not help. "Help is the sunny side of control." Ah! And there you have it—to me, the most significant nugget of her talk.

Using soup kitchens and care packages for the homeless as talking points, she addressed how even those who want to help go about it in a wrongheaded fashion. The correct attitude is to consider that we are all damaged, and what we want is the well-being and happiness of everyone, including ourselves. We need to focus more on that than on being right.

In other words, "Mercy is consciousness and intentionality. It is a heart for others' troubles."

Then she moved on to grace.

"Grace is life's WD-40 with a long red straw"—whenever you are stuck, it will get you out. Grace helps you realize that you cannot serve justice. Stop pretending fakeness and giving lip service to doing right by saying you want to be fair to all. "Fair [a fare] is where the pony rides are."

On grace: "The world does not have your self-respect to offer you. That is an inside job."

"Eighty-five percent of cacao is inedible"—it can be used to support rickety tables—"this is life." But it is that fifteen percent that is of import. What you do with it is of import. Life and writing are like driving at night with headlights on. You see only a little bit at a time, but you can make a whole journey that way.

She then ties in mercy and grace with: "Mercy is grace in action."

"As soon as someone can tell their truth and secrets to you, you have broken through and reached their heart. This is their salvation. Their stories heal them. They are like medicine."

Every March, I visit our local South Asian show called Yoni Ki Baat (The Vagina Monologues), where a small group of South Asian women come together to narrate their stories of innermost anguish. Every year, I go to witness their stories, to allow them to be heard and understood and accepted.

A throwaway: "Laughter is carbonated holiness." This reminded me strongly about His Holiness the Dalai Lama's discourses on happiness and laughter.

While Lamott referred to her books as the references cropped up organically in the talk, she never made it a point to sell them, and I really appreciated that.

The writing portion of the talk was canned advice. If you've read her Bird by Bird, you've heard it all. I bet she constantly gets asked questions about writing and the book, and she decided to forestall a lengthy Q&A by addressing it head-on. However, it didn't jive with the rest of the talk and felt tacked on.

She's a fan of the Indian American philosopher, J. Krishnamurti (1895–1986). When he was asked about his serenity in the face of everything life threw at him, he was famous for saying, "I don't mind."

How freeing! Not having expectations, not getting offended, not minding allows you to observe life and participate on your own terms. However, not minding is not to be confused with not caring. It is, in fact, quite the reverse. Not minding allows you to remove yourself from the equation and focus entirely on the other person.

Lamott underscored our inherent selfishness with this: "When kids do well, parents feel good about themselves." Instead of focusing on the child's achievement, the parents are patting themselves on the back.

"Teaching children destroys their creativity. They are so vulnerable and so strong and so free. When you tell a child, 'that is a bird,' thenceforward, they will only see the word 'bird.'" They will no longer see the beauty, the clean lines, the colors, the determination to succeed, to float, to fly, to soar. I was reminded about Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull and how Jonathan was committed to seeing beauty and perfection and beauty in perfection.

Her final words: "Pay attention! Look up, take off, soar, and land. Don't stay buried in a holes."

A sour note in her otherwise interesting presentation was her Orientalism. She exotified Indians and Asians, pigeonholing them with stereotypes and outright weirdness gathered from who knows where. Sigh! Given how much she talked about being woke, specifically using that term, she needs to do more work within to dismantle her own racism.

Monday, April 2, 2018

My March Reading

I was in my early twenties when I first saw the Scarlet Pimpernel movie, and I was instantly hooked—an ultra-romantic tale of love, betrayal, great derring-do, and superb, superb acting all under the shadow of the French Revolution. In recent conversation about what would be a good family movie to watch, I was struck by the fact that no one else in the family had watched it. I needed no further excuse to acquire the movie post-haste from Netflix.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy de Orci
Category: Literary Fiction, Movies
Comments: I conducted an experiment this month. I watched both the 1934 and 1982 movie adaptations to see what the differences were and what I liked and didn't like of the two. Next month, I will read the 2012 Dover Thrift edition, and then compare the movies and the book. In short, the story is about a daring young Englishman and his band of trusted Englishmen all of the nobility, sneaking into France under one pretext or the other, in one disguise or the other, and returning with a few French nobles saved from Madame La Guillotine. In society, these men go around behaving as fops and wastrels, more interested in the cut of their coats and the fall of a cravat, than in politics. In real life, they're a band of incredibly brave, compassionate patriots with a strong belief in right and wrong.

The 1982 film is longer and thus the story and characters are more developed. It is also the more romantic tale of the two. If I had not known the story, I wouldn't have understood the 1934 version as well as I did. It is choppy and the storyline isn't as logically developed. I loved both Leslie Howard (1934) and Anthony Andrews (1982) playing Sir Percy Blakeney AKA The Scarlet Pimpernel. While Andrews does the fop better, both do Percy equally well—Howard is sharper and Andrews more smoothly rounded, both transition from fop to mastermind really well. I believed both men were the courageous, intrepid leader, who put himself in just as much danger as his loyal fellowmen.

I prefer Jane Seymour's Marguerite, Lady Blakeney (1982) to Merle Oberon's Marguerite (1934). Seymour's character is more nuanced with some lightness and gravitas under the pampered and fêted society lady, whereas Oberon's is a one-note spoiled beauty. You really wonder how she's capable of the betrayals and her promises of the ultimate sacrifice, her life for Percy's. Seymour is far more convincing.

But the true difference in the movies is the villain, French ambassador to London, and Percy's sworn enemy: Chauvelin. Ian McKellen (1982) plays him to perfection. Raymond Massey (1934) is far too much of a caricature villain, smooth but oily, overtly threatening, and harsh and direct. His character lacks subtlety. McKellen is simply parfait with just the right urbaneness, steel underneath the surface charm, a keen sense of purpose with a hint of low self-esteem, and a picture of someone who can convincingly be gulled by revolutionary rhetoric and yet have the intelligence to discern clues and know how to react to them.

The Living Fire by Edward Hirsch
Category: Poetry
Comments: I continued reading this book that I talked about last month.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Category: General Fiction
Comments: I liked this book more upon re-reading it, so I re-wrote my review from December 2015. When I read that this book was set in a small village in England, and I didn’t read any further before getting the book. I’m a huge fan of the TV series Cranford and Grantchester and so many lovely small-village stories that the BBC is so good at producing. And Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand certainly does not disappoint. There is all the insularity and peculiarity of living in close quarters with a few families. Everyone is in everyone else’s business and gossips about whoever is not there. Bossy women run the social life of the village. Old spinsters run the gardening clubs and book clubs. Middle-aged men play golf.

But then, then comes this Pakistani-British family in the midst of all this country whiteness. They’re “othered” and treated as foreigners even though the couple were both born in England, and they forever disturb the homogeneous harmony of the village. Our story begins after a few years have passed since the death of Major Ernest Pettigrew’s wife and Mrs. Jasmina Ali’s husband, because our story is very much a story of a romance between completely, on the surface, different people. She’s Muslim, from the North of England, lower middle class, runs a shop. He’s the offspring of a British Empire officer, retired major of the army, comfortably middle class, occupying a genteel place in Edgecombe St. Mary society. And yet, they share a love of Kipling, poetry, long walks, have had spouses who’ve passed away, and speak English and Urdu. My revised review is here.

Navy SEAL Rescue by Susan Cliff
Category: Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Comments: An Assyrian doctor caught up in the war in Syria and Iraq manages to escape the Da'esh with a daring trek over the Zagros Mountains into Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and thence to safety in Armenia with the help of a Navy SEAL Caucasian American. I liked how each rescues the other over the course of the book, each leads different aspects of the story, and how, largely, comfortable both are with the other being in charge. The mountain climbing details, the war zone details, the travel map of the region, and the tribal rivalries and culture are all done very well IMO. Granted I am not overly familiar with all of this, but I'm reasonably up on the politics of the region and my husband vouched for the climbing stuff. A wonderful read! My review is here.

Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: An upright former-soldier, now made earl, and a former baron's daughter, now smuggler, strike up a marriage of convenience; he, to secure a fortune bequeathed to him, to build a pleasure garden, and to gain an heir; she, to buy her childhood manor and home of her smuggling operation. Neither confides in the other of their dreams—his garden, her house and secretive operations—trusting in the indifference of the other to allow them to pursue what they seek. But, of course, they find out. And then all hell breaks loose. He's an upright law-abiding citizen, who fought for king and country and the country's laws. She's a thrifty spender hoarding her groats. How will they ever reconcile their differences to achieve a marriage of hearts, instead of mere inconvenience? I enjoyed reading how Leigh cleverly has them compromising their ideals for the other, while at the same time, getting what they want. My review is here.

The Secret of Flirting by Sabrina Jeffries
Category: Late Georgian Historical Romance
Comments: This book is set in the late Georgian era, between the Regency period and the Victorian era. It's a mystery and romance, intricately intertwined and done very well. I have read Jeffries on and off over the years, and this one is among the top few I have read.

Monique Servais is a struggling operatic actress in France, whose grand-maman is one of the princesses of Chanay, a principality in Belgium. One day, unexpectedly, her great-uncle pays her visit and asks her to impersonate Aurore, the ruling princess, Monique's second cousin and whose visual double she is, at the London Conference. In return, he will take care of her grand-maman, who is now afflicted with Alzheimer's. The conference is to determine who among the handful of candidates is suitable to rule Belgium, with the Princess of Chanay being the top contender.

At the first event, Aurore/Monique is introduced to the under-secretary of the foreign office, Geoffrey, Baron Fulkham, whom, it turns out, she had met, as Monique, three years prior in France. He recognizes her and wonders why she is masquerading as the princess and his decision to unmask her is fraught with his growing desire and affection for her. To complicate matters further, two attempts are made on Aurore/Monique's life, and he is frantic to protect her and solve the mystery, at the risk to his future career as a politician. My review is here.

The Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly
Miss Westlake’s Windfall by Barbara Metzger
The Nobody by Diane Farr
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: In The Nobody, a portionless country girl is invited to London for a season by her aunt. At one of the ton events, she is dismayed to be labeled a tuft-hunter and her friend being urged to rid herself of her uncouth company. In anguish, she rushes off unwisely alone into the night. Trouble finds her in the guise of a stranger who’s running from attackers. He wards off his assailants, by hauling her into an unwanted kiss by pretending to be a swell bent only on amour. Despite this inauspicious beginning, as the two of them stand there in the darkness, their sparkling, respectful conversation leaves them both yearning for the impossible: a desire to know the other better.

What I liked best about The Lady's Companion is that tragedy does not fell this heroine’s sense of self or positive outlook to life. She has ample reason to be disheartened and feel ill-used, but instead of moaning on about her circumstances, she’s determined to look ahead into carving herself a better future. And she does, handsomely so, despite having to continually adapt her way of thinking to her new station in life. She is a gentleman's daughter, who's now been reduced to earning her living as a lady’s companion; he's a bailiff; and theirs is a mésalliance that they make work with great care and caring.

In Miss Westlake’s Windfall, she doesn’t consider herself a fool, though at her age to be whistling a handsome, titled, wealthy man down the wind is nothing short of foolishness. But she believes that she’s not the bride for him, and if she steadfastly continues refusing his proposals, he will continue to be her dear friend but look elsewhere for a more suitable bride. But he is convinced she is the bride for him, if only the bride would believe it. This book is a comedy of errors, missteps, and corrections, at once fun and engrossing. My brief reviews are here.

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton, illustrated by Marla Frazee
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: Let's build a village...worthy of all the children. Indeed! Indeed! That is our job as adults, to leave behind a city, a country, a planet that is better than what we had. This is a book about people helping each other, and how every person matters, even every child. Kindness and caring and sharing matter. We cannot go through life alone and without needing other people. Every child needs a champion. Or two. Or three. So we, in turn, need to help others less fortunate than us. Clinton reminds us of the old African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child," and that children only thrive if their families thrive. We are all in this together.

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: An excellent biography of Jane Austen from her early childhood years till her death. The artwork is beautiful—sharp, detailed, warm, and with a good period feel. However, it is a story meant for older children, not the usual audience for picture books.

The True Story of Balto: The Bravest Dog Ever by Natalie Standiford, illustrated by Donald Cook
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: We checked this book out from the library for six months straight and finally bought it. I love books that get me in the feels as well as the kids. There's nothing like rooting for a character, being awed by them, and then feeling a sense of pride in them when the story is over. Balto was one such dog. The story is set in a frontier town amidst the ice and snow of Alaska of 1925. In the winter, there was no way to travel in that region except by dog sled. Neither planes, nor trains, nor boats, nor cars could work in those snow drifts and iced over lakes.

Balto was a lead sled dog—where he led, the other dogs followed—and he was the smartest and strongest dog in the region. Once, an epidemic of diphtheria hit the small town of Nome, buried in the middle of nowhere. The only medicine available was in Anchorage 800 miles away. It speaks to the hardiness, generosity, and integrity of the folks in the small towns of Alaska that they organized a relay of dog sleds to carry the medicine to Nome. What was a journey scheduled to take fifteen days was accomplished in just five and a half days, thanks to the endurance and, well, doggedness of Balto and his owner, Gunnar. They drove for twenty hours straight to deliver the medicine. A year later, New York City erected a statue of Balto in Central Park, which stands to this day. This is a true story.