Thursday, February 25, 2010

Number 257

(Post Number 257, that is) Wherein I say, farewell!

Oh, I'm not going anywhere...but my blogging is.  For reasons I explain on the NEW blog, I'm more or less retiring Erotica with Soul.  Of course all the past posts will stay here in their resplendent glory, but I don't currently plan on updating.

So please git yourself on over to the where it's all happening now.  I said git.  When you get there, it should look something like this:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Won't 1.4 Million People Like Me?

Everyone wants to be liked, but for entertainers--be they artists, musicians, actors, or writers like me--the matter is a little more serious. The old adage "you can't please all the people all the time" is true enough, but entertainers better be pleasing more than a few, or they are out of business fast.

That said, few of us want to be "sellouts." That is, we don't want to be slaves to public opinion, with nothing to say but what we think you want to hear. There may be money in that, but there's no satisfaction, nor are we making much of a contribution to art.

So it's quite a balancing act. As for me, I have a passion to be original, but at the same time, I really hate the "I'll write what pleases me and I don't care who else likes it" attitude. If I'm not entertaining and/or edifying anyone but myself, I should just shut up!

I'll admit though that I'd love huge popularity as much as the next person. Who wouldn't find it flattering to have their book on the New York Times Bestseller List, to be invited to be on talk shows, to get a movie deal? So I, like many of my fellows, am forever wondering what might be the next hot thing that half the world is dying to read about. If only there were some reliable way to know!

This very issue was addressed this week, of all places on the Sirius XM Broadway Channel. Host and Broadway genius Seth Rudetsky gave a little rant about popularity. He brought up how the now-famous and successful show "Avenue Q" was pooh-poohed when it first debuted. A musical with Sesame Street-style puppets singing about adult subjects like racism and homophobia and pornography? What audience was there for something like that? But shock of shocks, it became an enduring hit. Seth also brought up a favorite of mine, the TV show "Glee." Who would have thought a show about high school show choir kids would amass the rabid following it has garnered in merely a half season?

The point, according to Seth, is this: NO ONE KNOWS what is going to be popular. There is no way to predict it, no formula or science that will reveal a sure way to create a smash hit. The obscure beginnings of books like Harry Potter and Twilight and Carrie gave no sign that their authors would become wealthy celebrities. So if you're an artist, the best thing to do is be true to yourself, create what you do best, and not worry about popularity at all.

This is the first time I heard such a philosophy explained that way and it really hit home. It was so nice to have the burden lifted of trying to guess what might make it big!

I have a couple personal anecdotes to share here which really relate, I think. First anecdote: While my book How to Catch and Keep a Vampire has gotten like 95% great reviews, more than a few reviewers have suggested it was written simply to capitalize on the vampire romance craze. Well I can't speak for the motivations of my publisher when they originated the idea. But I accepted the project because I'd loved vampires all my life and had written vampire romance before anyone heard of Twilight. I had all kinds of ideas concerning vampire dating and couldn't wait to put them on paper.

I think this fact shows in the content of the book itself. As a reviewer wrote just this past week, "I love Diana Laurence's approach on an already heavily populated subject matter. She turned a prevalent idea into something unique." That's because I was sharing my own true insights, not trying to ride someone's coattails. Okay, that's the tooting-my-own-horn side of the issue. On the flip side....

This past week a reviewer also called the book boring. I admit it, she really disliked it. Which serves as my second anecdote and proves the point that no matter how an artist strives to produce something 100% irresistible, he or she just can't. You might have a dozen people who just adore it and become fans for life, but there will also be that occasional person who not only isn't won over, he or she actually thinks you sort of suck. There's no accounting for it.

And as Seth so wisely expressed, there's also no accounting for what will not only get an overwhelmingly positive reaction (every one of my books has that) but rise to prominence and widespread fame.

The past couple weeks I've watched as someone who created a "Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickleback [sic]?" Facebook group amassed going on 1.4 million members. There's just no predicting something like that. Likewise Cake Wrecks, LOLcats, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Yup, a person has to just do his/her thing and try to make the world a better place in whatever size way comes to pass.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Time to Revise Your Hot Villains List: Christoph Waltz

Those of us who keep track of the hottest villains in cinematic history have had to bump a new member to the head of the class: Christoph Waltz, who appears in Quentin Tarantino’s latest gem, “Inglourious Basterds.” The Austrian actor portrays Hans Landa, the Nazi officer known as “the Jew Hunter,” and his performance has garnered some two-dozen-plus acting award nominations and a growing list of wins.

(It’s always nice when I crush on someone age-appropriate.)

This character makes Anthony Perkin’s Norman Bates seem sane, and Malcolm MacDowell’s Caligula look nice. In case you haven’t seen the film yet, I won’t ruin any of the surprises...but suffice it to say, he commits all kinds of traditional Nazi acts of despicable vileness. The thing that sets Hans Landa apart is not so much what he does as how he does it.

Like the most well-bred of princes, he wields gestures both charming and graceful, all the while maintaining an air of menace so overpowering that you pray to just get it over with (whatever horror “it” will prove to be). Does his smile seem bright and congenial? Give it a second and it will wax demented and terrifying. And if you’re entertaining the hope that you might outsmart him, forget it—he’s three steps ahead and is simply toying with you.

In rereading that paragraph, I find that it could just as easily describe a number of characters that have come before Hans Landa. The charming but lethal Nazi is, after all, a cinematic cliché. I’m afraid words just can’t do justice to this particular performance, to this character who is equal parts fascinating and horrifying, and both at the same time. Mad props to Tarantino for writing him—and as I writer I recognize that element of the brilliance—but as Q.T. himself has said, it is Waltz who raises Landa to a triumphant level.

I think perhaps it is because Hans Landa is so utterly convinced of his own righteousness and even benevolence that he comes across not as an evil fellow who can feign charm, but rather a man whose graciousness is actually—somehow!—sincere. He seems to think he is utterly right, perfectly congenial, amusing, amiable, even while he inflicts unspeakable brutality on his fellow man. He is, in short, completely mad; and even after you embrace this truth about him, the depth and quality of his insanity will stun you again and again.

As will the fact that Hans is, somehow, likeable.

Not that a guy like this can evoke any true emotions but hate and fear...but he is endlessly entertaining to watch, from his employment of perfect English and French along with the German (it’s awesome that all the characters speak the languages they are supposed to), to his chess-player-style cool logic.

Why is it always so amusing to be attracted to characters who make your skin crawl? Just one of those quirks of the human race, I guess. I’m sure the last thing on Christoph Waltz’s agenda in executing this incredible performance was to be sexy, but I’m afraid like countless well-portrayed villains before him, he definitely is.

Next up, Waltz will be appearing as Sigmund Freud in “The Talking Cure,” scheduled for a 2011 release. I’m so glad he has finally broken into American film and only wish I’d discovered him before now. In the meantime, he’ll be raking in more deserved awards for his role as Hans, the least of which is his inclusion on my list of favorite film villains of all time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Spark is Gone -- Should You Move On?

Of all my blog posts, none is so popular as “How to Get Over a Crush” (not even the one I did about Erin eSurance, LOL). It’s obvious this problem plagues a good portion of the population.

One of the commenters on the post raised a very good question last week, and I promised to address it with its very own post. Rachele told me about her crush on a work associate and her temptation to leave her long-time boyfriend for the man. The problem? She’s lost the romantic feelings for her boyfriend, even though she knows he loves her. But Rachele is no dummy; she recognizes that she may be chasing a dream that can never be realized.

I’m a fiction writer, not a psychologist, but you can bet I have a few things to say about Rachele’s situation. So at the risk of attracting lovelorn googlers in droves once again, I will share them with you.

Anyone can figure out that a person you don’t know as well as you know your partner can be misleadingly attractive. If s/he has enough traits that appeal to you, your romantic imagination will fill in the blanks with all kinds of irresistible qualities. Your mate, on the other hand, is very much a known quantity. You know all about his/her flaws. You’ve discovered the incompatibilities. The mystery is gone, you can’t help but take each other for granted, and you wonder if you should trade for a new model.

It may actually be possible that the new person has opened your eyes to the shortcomings of your current relationship. You may indeed have settled for less, or gotten involved for the wrong reasons, or truly grown apart. The important thing is mentally to set aside the new guy or gal, eliminate them from the decision-making process, and take a clear-headed look at the pros and cons of what you have.

The litmus test for a good, “keeper” relationship is not “spark.” Feelings of romance, adulation, and raging sexual attraction are wonderful (I should know, I write that stuff), but they are not requirements for long-term love. In fact, familiarity inevitably dims them.

Instead, look at your partner and ask yourself these ten questions:

1. Does s/he make sacrifices for you? Is the relationship one of fair give-and-take?

2. Is s/he honest, loyal, trustworthy, faithful? (That sort of person is not as commonplace as you think.)

3. Is s/he reliable, dependable, there for you even when it’s not pleasant to be so?

4. Does s/he respect you, bolster your self-esteem, treat you well in the presence of others?

5. Does s/he support you in your personal goals and believe in your ability to achieve them?

6. Do you share a similar (or mutually respectful) attitude about important issues like religion, politics, family values, having or not having children?

7. Is it typical, when the challenges of life don’t interfere, for you to enjoy being together doing just about anything?

8. Do you have a reasonable amount in common, shared interests and tastes? And for those you don’t share, do you take an interest just for the sake of the other one?

9. Can you communicate effectively in spite of your personality differences, especially when mutual understanding takes some effort? Are you both willing to put in that effort?

10. Do you have a mutually satisfying physical relationship? (This has nothing to do with any perception of “normal” or “average”; all that matters is that you are both content.)

I have had one marriage that was sorely lacking in nearly all these areas, and one that succeeds in all ten, so I know whereof I speak. My current marriage is not perfect, and yes, there was a rocky time when I was even tempted like Rachele. But enough of the ten areas were strong and healthy that it was worth it to work on those that needed improvement. On the other hand, in my first marriage (which scored about a 1 out of 10), there absolutely wasn’t enough to work with.

In my humble opinion, if you examine your current relationship and find most of these areas to be healthy, you shouldn’t throw over your partner no matter how thrillingly attractive the new person appears to you. You have a solid thing going. It may not always be exciting, vibrant, and exhilarating, but if you switch to the new love-object, in a few years (or even months) he or she will likewise lose that luster.

And the day will come soon enough, believe me, when having a caring, trustworthy, devoted best friend will mean a lot more to you than having a partner in heated romance.

For the latter, I recommend fantasy and fiction. Which brings us back to my real job. :-)