Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Wanna Be Cat Deeley

Just ask my husband how I often I launch into praise-filled raveouts about the hostess of “So You Think You Can Dance,” Cat Deeley. I know, I know, I get carried away. But I think the reasons for my girl-crush are kinda interesting, so hear me out.

Cat has done a lot in her career as a DJ, model, and TV personality, but my familiarity with her is limited to SYTYCD. So in this post I’m only speaking of Cat’s persona on the show. What I love about her is that she is young, gorgeous, shapely, and every inch a beauty, but on SYTYCD she almost never operates as a sex object. On the contrary, her relationship both with the audience and with the contestants is quite overtly maternal.

The media in the Western world normally never waste an opportunity to exploit sex, so this is astonishing. Here we have this woman who could easily be all kinds of sexy, but she simply doesn’t operate that way. I don’t know how much of this is her idea and how much is the producers’, but for me it works wonderfully.

Cat is far more than the host of the show. She is den mother to the dancers, always encouraging them and sympathizing with them in a way that plays as 100% sincere. During each season’s tryouts, Cat goes on the road to hang out with dancers waiting in line, warming up for their auditions, weeping over rejection and celebrating over success. Her sensitivity and tenderness toward these competitors is truly touching.

When the live show episodes get underway, Cat makes it plain that the tribe of 20 contestants are her “babies.” The judges may disapprove, may chide, may even browbeat, but Cat is “mom,” unconditionally. When dancers get the boot, it comforts the viewer to know Cat is there for them in the hour of their demise—a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader to the end.

And what makes this all the more striking to me is that Cat is almost as young, and certainly as attractive, as any female on the show. Nevertheless she never crosses the line between maternal behavior and sexual seductiveness. The contrast is particularly interesting when some young, hot female celebrity is guest performer. Sure, I can appreciate the allure of someone like Kristinia DeBarge, but it seems so shallow when compared to the appeal of a more complex female archetype like Cat.

I’m not one to get into clothes and hairstyles; you won’t catch me watching Oscar red carpet reports to check out the gowns. But I do enjoy seeing Cat get dolled up twice a week, just to observe a woman looking really beautiful in the media without it being overtly about sex. Interestingly, that makes her all the more sexy, in my book.

Perhaps it’s because I like seeing a “spokesmodel” (horrible term!) serving a purpose that is more than being a pretty face and hot body. Cat demonstrates that a beautiful woman can have a deeper value, as she performs the role of guardian angel to her charges, and friend to her studio audience of predominantly adolescent girls.

Watching her makes me feel rather proud to be a woman. And that’s why my husband keeps having to listen to my recurring raveouts about Cat Deeley....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Yul Brynner and My Creative Past

The other night I watched, for the umpteeth time, the amazingly wonderful movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical "The King and I." I have loved Yul Brynner's portrayal of the King of Siam for as long as I can remember.

This was the first time I had seen the film since I began my career writing romantic and erotic fiction. Watching all the scenes again, I was amazed at the influence this story and the King's character had upon my own storytelling. For example, I realize now that my novella Gift of Flesh (which you can read free online
here) drew upon my subsconcious memories of the movie: the Burmese slave Tuptim falls in love with the man who delivers her to Siamese court, Lun Tha, just as my Miakaela fell for Naissun. Meanwhile, the Siamese king's struggle to reconcile the demands upon a strong monarch with his own personal mercy was doubtless some of my inspiration for Marcus, the hero of my story "The Scarlet Shackle" (also a free read here).

In truth, I could see in Yul Brynner's portrayal of the King the very essence of so many of my romantic heroes. I can see glimpses of him in the afore-mentioned Naissun and Marcus, Finn from Bloodchained, Prince Lucan from "The Dark Prince," Mr. Wellesley from "The Verity of the Vampyre," Adesteis from "The Chieftain's Man," and too many more to mention ("etcetera, etcetera, etcetera," as the King would say).

Yul won both a Tony and an Oscar for the role, so I am not alone in my admiration. As the King he managed to touch upon some very contradictory desires women feel for men. We want them to be strong, yet compassionate. We want them dominant but tenderhearted. We want them capapable of being funny and charming, but just as able to be stern, aggressive, and possibly even cruel.

It is virtually impossible for a real man to pull off all these traits and behaviors. To create a character who exhibits them all cohesively requires some brilliance, which of course Rodgers and Hammerstein had in spades. But just as much credit goes to the late Mr. Brynner, whose physical beauty, sexual attractiveness, acting prowess, and comedic talent all came together to create one of the most memorable characters in the history of both theater and film. I will always be in love with the King of Siam, and I have no doubt that love will continue to be reflected in many more of my characters as long as I continue to create romantic heroes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Vampires or Werewolves?

[SPOILERS: Take note, I have some “True Blood” Season 1 and New Moon spoilers in here, so read no further if you are in the middle of either!]

As a romance author I have certainly observed the rise in popularity of both vampires and werewolves (as well as other varieties of shapeshifters) in romantic fiction. Obviously I’m all over vampires as a romantic archetype, but werewolves were another story. You can probably chalk that up to lack of experience…the extent of my familiarity with werewolves is pretty much Lon Chaney and “American Werewolf in London.” At any rate, I just have never quite gotten the appeal.

I thought maybe you have to be a dog person.

Well rejoice, readers; this past week I got to know a couple of shifters more personally, while simultaneously reading Stephenie Meyers’ New Moon and watching Season 1 of “True Blood.” It was interesting enjoying these storylines that are so parallel in this regard. Edward or Jacob? Bill or Sam?

Well, obviously at first blush a girl is going to go for the flashier choice, the vampire. (Edward is literally flashy, in fact.) With both guys you get someone who is really attractive, complex, interesting, compelling, and deliciously dangerous. What’s not to love?

Well, if only because of sunshine-aversion, a vampire can’t always be there for you. Both Bill and Edward are forced by circumstances to absent themselves at length. And who steps in to fill the void for Sookie and Bella? The shapeshifters. After all, most of the time they can be (more or less) normal boyfriends for you. The fact that they sometimes turn into animals doesn’t prevent them from dealing with you like perfectly nice guys would, the rest of the time.

Meanwhile, in both storylines, Jacob and Sam also function to protect the heroine from madmen and monsters who would do them and their loved ones ill. Sort of like Lassie, only male. (See, I knew this was a dog person thing.) And even though I prefer cats, I have to admit Sam-as-collie coming to Sookie’s rescue was really awesome…and it was adorable how he, in dog form, lay at the foot of the bed guarding her.

Likewise, Jacob’s ability to wax lupine is pretty cool, when the whole point of it is to snatch Bella unharmed from the jaws of some vicious vamp. Wolves are actually really wonderful animals, and giant wolves that stand between you and the bad guys are even better.

So, we really have two classic romantic archetypes here, and each has a unique and powerful appeal. Sometimes a girl is drawn to the anti-hero—someone dangerous, a little deranged, very scary in a sexy way. Other times she simply wants to feel protected and safe, watched over by a fierce and strong guardian creature.

So okay, I get it, I get the werewolf/shapeshifter appeal. They can be attentive, faithful, strong but gentle, and wonderfully protective. I’d love to have a big, powerful, abjectly devoted guy like Jacob around. And Sam can sleep at the foot of my bed anytime.

Just so you understand, if Edward returns from Volterra suddenly, or if Bill comes back from the Tribunal, I’m going to have other priorities. That’s just me.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bill Compton, Protect Me

I told you I’d be blogging about “True Blood” again soon.

Well, in my last TB post I, not surprisingly, talked about the appeal of the vampire archetype. Obviously, vampire-wise, Bill Compton has it going on. He’s a real master of looking out of the tops of his eyes, he’s dangerous but charming, he’s half a beast, half a fine Southern gentleman.

As if that weren’t enough, the show lets him play a second and equally alluring role: the Knight in Shining Armor. A vampire in shining armor? Sure! You’ve seen it before in the pivotal and classic moment when Edward Cullen saves Bella from being crushed between two vehicles. The nifty side benefit of those vampiric powers is that they can be used to save damsels in distress.

And who’s in more distress than True Blood’s Sookie? The townsfolk think she’s crazy, the local young ne’er-do-wells are hot for her, and the neighborhood vampires have her in their sights. She may be brave and tough and spunky, but that doesn’t help when you’re outnumbered or outweighed by a hundred pounds. Or the assailant has supernatural powers.

Ah, but no worries: there’s Bill.

Bill, delightfully, is defined by the values and manners of the Old South (without that nasty racism of course). He is courteous, deferential, and painstakingly polite. And like any well-bred, properly-raised Southern boy, he puts women on a pedestal. They are to be watched over, guarded, protected, fought for even to the death.

No modern guy could behave in such a way—talk about politically incorrect. But due to his temporal displacement, Bill can get away with it with our blessing and admiration. Thank heavens! Because it’s absolutely wonderful and you’re not going to find a man like this anywhere in the 21st Century.

So Bill expresses his love for Sookie in Shining Armor fashion: vigilantly, and with preternatural thoroughness, he watches over her. When a threat appears, he’s on the scene in nearly the speed of light. He intervenes, wielding not anything so prosaic as reason, legal threats, or even a handgun, oh no…he wields his deadly fangs and supernatural strength.

Tell me, what woman doesn’t, somewhere in her soul if not all over it, want a man like this in her corner?

Not only that, but the passion with which Bill defends Sookie is so intense, it’s obviously not simply a matter of duty. It’s very, very personal, a fact reinforced when he employs the words “she’s mine” to fend off other vampires. [And I just love how the plot of this story makes it possible for a man to say of a woman, “she’s mine” and a woman to say “I’m his” and get away with it, with the female audience’s enthusiastic support. Very clever.]

Wow. So intense. The reaction of viewers to this show demonstrates to me that as great as the equality of the sexes is in nearly every respect, when it comes to sex and romance, a whole lot of us crave a trip in the Wayback Machine to the 19th Century. We’d love our own personal Knight in Shining Armor…or better still, a Creature of the Night in Shining Armor like Bill.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Help, My Celebrity Crush is Dating Someone

My regular readers have had the *cough* privilege of observing, since its inception, my celebrity crush on Neil Gaiman. Although I've settled down quite a bit on that subject, Neil is still a person of no small significance in my world. (There's the fact that I dedicated Soulful Sex: The Darker Side to him earlier this year, and the fact that my last vacation was built around a pilgrimage to drop a copy off at one of his Minneapolis hangouts. Okay, yeah, no small significance.)

So I thought it only right to share with you the latest classic stage that I went through in this little saga.

Let us begin with one fact that I fully and totally embrace, and constantly tell others: When you have a celebrity crush, the person you are smitten with seldom bears much true resemblance to the real celebrity. Oh they look alike, to be sure. They have the same voice. They are in the same line of work, probably. But beyond that, it's a lot of embellishment by the psyche.

Knowing this, and wanting to take my own advice, I have many times referred to my celebrity crush as "my imaginary Neil Gaiman." Meanwhile, for a very long time I avoided all the places on the internet where many details of his day-to-day life are right there for one to monitor. Because, I reasoned, the real Neil Gaiman (although very cool and worthy of tremendous admiration and respect) is not the guy for whom I'm carrying a torch. Not really.

Well, the temptation was just too great. And as often is the case, in following Neil's blog and Twitter account I found out so much about him that it really largely killed the crush. He just wasn't the same as the way my imagination had worked him out to be. Which, duh, Diana, is how it always is, remember?

Is any of this ringing true to you guys? Like you had this vivid picture of this half-Edward-Cullen, half-Robert-Pattinson person with whom you were totally infatuated? Only to find out too much about the real guy and feel all weird and freaked out by it?

Okay. But on to today's point. So, I only very recently learned that, as I suspected, Neil was divorced. And then, yesterday, he went public about his dating musician Amanda Palmer, with whom he has been friends for some time. And you know what just cracks me up? I actually felt a pang of jealousy/sadness/grief about this! As if it had any relevance to me at all!

That just goes to show you how confused your psyche is about these things. From the beginning of my Neil Gaiman Infatuation I fully recognized I was head over heels for not Mr. Gaiman the Real Person, but my dear and wonderful Imaginary Version of Same. And seeing as it is the former, not the latter, who is dating, you'd think I couldn't care less. And STILL, with full understanding of all this, and in my infinite wisdom as Web Person Who Explains All About Sex and Romance, I still felt a five-minute-long pang!

It's just crazy.

But that's how "projection" works. It's very hard to separate your internalized view of your celebrity crush from the actual person, even if you know better.

Well, I took a deep breath. Then I reflected upon the fact that Mr. Gaiman's choice of being with Ms. Palmer over me was really not any indication of my personal inferiority. Then I laughed at myself for a very long time. Ah the human soul! It's just so nuts.

I'm not sure what the moral of the story is. Maybe I'm just saying, if you've ever gone through some "it kills me to think Robert Pattinson may be dating Kristen Stewart" moment, and then felt like an idiot for that emotion, please don't. It may be weird, but it is SO normal.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

He Looks Like a Vampire

Yesterday I officially hopped on the “True Blood” train, referring to the HBO series about vampires in a small Louisiana community. I’ve only watched the first episode so far, but that (and my past enjoyment of the work of series creator Alan Ball) was enough to hook me on the show.

I also just yesterday finished writing my new book How to Catch and Keep a Vampire (“CAKAV” for short), and I gotta tell you, it’s interesting being in my position. I’ve just written this book that purports to explain everything about vampires and how they work. But as you know, there are as many interpretations of vampires as there are authors who write about them. So it was funny for my husband and I to watch “True Blood” with an eye to seeing if it fit with the information in my book. Because of course, I’m the big authority, LOL.

Actually, True Blood’s mythology was uncannily the same, so that was very cool. I’m sure Alan Ball and original author Charlaine Harris will be thrilled to know they have my seal of approval. But seriously, the one thing I really appreciated about this first episode was the moment vampire protagonist Bill Compton first appears at Merlotte’s and is spotted by Sookie Stackhouse. With a single glimpse, Sookie is certain that she is looking at a vampire.

Yes, you can tell at a glance. That too is my conviction. And not because you can spot any obvious signs like pale complexion and pointy incisors. No, in my world when it’s a vampire you’re looking at, you just know.

Here’s the classic first look at Bill:

I’m sure if you saw a guy like this walk into your bar, you would know too. For one thing, he’s working what CAKAV refers to as “looking out the tops of your eyes,” something vampires make a routine practice. For another, he’s just too damn good-looking to be a regular mortal. And of course, he exudes Everything Vampire: sexiness, melancholy, menace, and charisma. And, a bit ironically, vulnerability.

Yes, Sookie, it doesn’t take psi powers to see Bill is a vampire.

You get clobbered with the attractiveness of an immortal like this and you just marvel once again at the power of the vampire archetype. Really, all the viewer got in the first minute of this encounter was (1) the way Bill looks, (2) Sookie’s mesmerized and lustful reaction to him, and (3) the knowledge that he is a vampire And All That Entails. But that’s a surefire recipe for a good percentage of women to be, like, sign me up for this guy’s fan club.

I’m not going to begin to analyze in this post why this recipe is so powerful. (Here’s where I start the chant that will, by December if not long before, make you want to conk me.) “For that, buy my book!” LOL But suffice it to say, you’ll be getting a few more posts on this blog about “True Blood” in the months to come.

I can’t wait to watch the next episode and get another look at this vampire. Swoon.