Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Choosing "None Of The Above," The Bridges of Madison County Revisited

Recently, I got caught up in a heated Goodreads discussion over Robert Waller's The Bridges of Madison County. In retrospect, I should have stayed out of it, as there were a number of diehard fans of the book taking part in the discussion. If you read my review you know I gave it the one star it so rightly deserved.

I couldn't help myself. I had to speak the truth--"Even the jerkiest of jerks can be the Man of Your Dreams for four days."

Yes, I realize that we were all arguing about the actions of people who don't exist (it's fiction, after all). And it's not a work of Great Literature, like say The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck or The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner.

As I got more and more into analyzing Francesca's motives about why she chose to stay with her boring husband instead of running off with the dashing Kinkaid, it occurred to me that her only choice is between which man's world she wants to inhabit. They are decidedly different worlds, with one thing in common. She is completely dependent on the man in both.

Also, either choice means suffering. Choosing Kinkaid means she must give up her children, and in the likely event that it doesn't work out, she'd be alone struggling to find a job to support herself. Staying with her husband means she must stifle her true self and spend the rest of her life yearning for what she can never have.

But at least she has a roof over her head.

What if there were a third option, one where she gets to choose her own world on her own terms? 

I can see her, weeks after Kinkaid has left, sitting down with her husband and telling him she's not happy. She wants more than the life of a farmer's wife

What happens after that? Who knows? Maybe Richard, who loves her very much, agrees to send her to college to study Renaissance Art. Or she starts her own business, like a book store or a translation service. I'm assuming she's still fluent in her native language of Italian. 

Maybe she realizes that Iowa is not where she wants to be. She and Richard would divorce quietly and she'd move to New York to become a writer, or a college professor, or whatever she always wanted to be. And she could look back with no regrets, knowing she gave her marriage a chance.

It's even possible that she and Kinkaid would reconnect a few years later, and pick up where they left off. Or, now that she's now longer a repressed housewife and fully able to be as worldly and fascinating as she always imagined herself to be, she'd see him for the conceited jackass he always was.

Okay, that's not near as romantic an ending as the one Waller wrote. But it is more satisfying knowing that Francesca can have the life she always wanted without burning any bridges (pun intended).

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shel Silverstein Wrote That?

Ever get a line from of a song you haven’t heard in years stuck in your head? You have no idea who recorded it or who wrote it, or even if you just imagined it.

In the dark days before the internet, your only recourse was to ask around. These days, the memories of the people around me have failed in sync. We all blank on the same things.

So when the words “It’s two in the morning on Saturday night at Rosalie’s Good Eats Cafe” popped up in my head, I turned to Google which popped up the lyrics. It’s one of those long story songs, describing in detail the people who, for various reasons, find themselves  at Rosalie’s dreary, greasy spoon diner.

It was recorded in 1973 by singer Bobby Bare, a name that rang no bells for me. But the songwriter did. It was none other than Shel Silverstein.

Silverstein is, of course, well known for his children’s books. Years ago, I was a student teacher in an inner city Cincinnati elementary school for a class of second graders who were crazy about Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. And then there’s The Giving Tree, which you either love or hate. (For the record, it really ticked me off that the tree ended up a stump at the end. How could you be so stupid, Tree?)

In addition to his children's books, he had a very successful career writing songs--many of which you probably know the words to. Like “On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone” recorded by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. ("We’re big rock singers, we got golden fingers and we’re loved everywhere we go"). “The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers, “One’s On The Way” by Loretta Lynn and that mega hit for Johnny Cash--”A Boy Named Sue.”

"My name is Sue! How do you do? Now you gonna die!"

He was an accomplished cartoonist with his work published in Playboy, Sports Illustrated and Look magazine. He wrote plays. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his song “I’m Checkin’ In” for the “Postcards From The Edge” soundtrack.

Quite a resume. And such a shame he died at 68, he could have done so much more.

But maybe it’s enough that he could write a line like the one from “Rosalie’s Good Eats Cafe” that can rattle around the brain and stay with the listener for decades.

Here's the song on Youtube.  

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Privacy Settings Are Your Friends

It's not just teenagers who overshare on Facebook. Adults are just as guilty of giving out too much personal information.

I speak from experience. I've been on the receiving end of Adult TMI. (Sounds like a disease, doesn't it?) As the administrator for the Cape Fear Crime Festival's Facebook page, I read updates from hundreds of our organization's friends. Most of them are authors or aspiring authors, maybe a few mystery fans as well.

When I sign on and go through the list of status updates in the news feed, invariably I'll see a post from someone I've never met requesting prayers for a dying parent, or describing a spouse's recent trip to the emergency room, or in one case, announcing a specific cancer diagnosis.

Lately, I've taken to unchecking "Show in news feed" in the "Get Notifications" drop down menu when I see one of these posts.

Because I don't need to see that.

It has gotten me to thinking about what I share on my personal Facebook page. (I have a fan page, but with a total of 29 likes, I tend to forget it's there.) I share lots of things, mostly opinions and observations that show my political leanings, but I stay away from personal medical issues. That's nobody's business.

Yes, Facebook is a convenient way to keep friends and family appraised of a medical situation. In that case, you can create a private group where postings can only be seen by people in that group. Only the people who truly care about your mother will get updates on her condition.

Or, you can check the privacy settings when you make your post. It's in the right corner of the box. You can choose friends, close friends, family, groups, or customize it.

If you're an author and using your Facebook page to promote your books, you don't need to share anything about your colonscopy. Share that with your real life friends.

Then again, your real life friends probably don't want to know about your colonoscopy either.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fifty Shades of Bleh!

I read Fifty Shades of Grey all the way through. Skipped bits here and there but pretty much read the whole thing. I felt obligated to finish, much as I hated it. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And I wanted to make sure I gave the book every chance to cast its spell upon me, as it has with so many book clubs across the country.  

Yes, I'm a bit late to the party, but it took me a while to work up the nerve.

If you read my one star review, you know I thought it was a really bad book. I’d say it’s probably the worst book to ever make the New York Times Bestseller List.

And therein lies the question. Why did so many people shell out their hard earned cash to buy a perfectly dreadful book? And then go on to rave about it to their friends, in turn causing them to buy it?

Believe me, my author friends and I would kill (or at least consider it) to know the answer to that one.

My money’s on dumb luck. The planets happened to be in proper alignment for E.L. James to cash in on a sudden, intense desire for Mommy Porn. Or possibly a deal with the devil. 

No wait—that was Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code.

I also believe that there’s an element of that old Anderson fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. All your friends think the book is fantastic. They tell you anyone who doesn’t love the book is sexually repressed and narrow minded.

I have no problem with erotica or bondage, but I do with using the word “murmur” 139 times. By the way, I got the number from the review by Goodreads member Katrina Passic Lumsden. A most entertaining assessment, by the way. You can read it here:

I also have a hunch that people who don’t read many books, read this one. It sounds like how a good book should be written, they say. Ana talks just like I do, so that means it’s realistic, right? And every good author uses lots of adverbs. Makes it sound fancy.

Fifty Shades started out as Twilight fan fiction, under the original title Master Of The Universe, which James published on her own website, then later as an ebook and print on demand book through The Writers’ Coffee Shop. And it spread like wildfire.

It’s another one of those stories about how someone wrote an ebook and made lots of money. I suspect E.L. James is now nearly as rich as her billionaire character. It’s a good thing the Amazon site is practically limitless, because the success of Fifty Shades has certainly spawned more than a few attempts at Mommy Porn.

But there is a redeeming aspect to E.L. James’s work. This is the sort of book that can be a revelation to aspiring writers everywhere. They can have that moment when they say to themselves “I could write a better book than this,” and then go ahead and do it. 

And I’m quite sure those books will be worth reading.