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Monday, February 27, 2017

We Interrupt The Commercials...

We were introduced to a new form of entertainment when television came into our homes. There was the Wonderful World of Disney, Tom & Jerry cartoons; adventure shows like Robin Hood, William Tell, Sky King, The Lone Ranger and live comedy shows. Along with the shows, there were sponsors. Of course.

When you had all this transmitted into your home somebody had to pay the bills, so commercials were invented. It was big companies like Texaco, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson that stepped up to help pay those bills. At the same time they got to boost their sales pitches, promote their tried and true products as well as introduce new ones. As television took hold and gained in popularity, so did the number of companies willing to sponsor new shows. It was a money-making idea that couldn't fail.

In the last seventy years or so, commercials (as well as regular programing) have become more sophisticated along with advancing technology. That's all well and good but there comes a point where the whole concept can be overdone. Don't get me wrong. In the last few years there have been some really great/cute commercials. They hold your attention without hammering at you to buy their products. There's the boy dressed as Darth Vader who tries unsuccessfully to use the Force then is startled when the family car starts up. Then there's the Clydesdales. Who doesn't love those magnificent horses? (Have you ever stood near one of those animals? I have and it made me feel small, like a child. They are so huge!)  But when does it get to be a bit much?

A few years ago, viewers complained about the volume of the commercials being louder than the programs they were paying for. I know they want to be seen and heard but when it's startling it kind of defeats the purpose. We don't like being yelled at by some barker intent on making sales. And when a commercial pops up in a bad spot, like in the middle of dialogue, it takes a few seconds to realize the programing has taken a break. Some commercials are good at cutting in seamlessly so you don't realize the switcheroo. After a ton of complaints hit the FCC, something was finally done about the problem. Programs were required to lower the volume on commercials. It sort of worked but it seems to me the advertisers found a way around the problem. The programs were taped/filmed with their own volume turned up a bit so the commercials, in contrast seemed quieter. I don't know about anybody else but that's how it seems to me.

There's another way the advertisers get to you. Have you ever stopped to count how many ads are  run in a single break? I have. In the last month, two of my favorite films have been running on a movie channel. Now, one of those films, I know for a fact, is three hours long. When it was shown, the time slot was four hours, and this wasn't even the Director's Cut.  What I learned was, for every ten minutes of movie and you get five minutes of commercials. Since those commercials are only thirty seconds long, you end up with five commercials at every break. So five minutes of every fifteen means twenty minutes of every hour is devoted to selling some products. At the end of the broadcast, you've seen one hour of advertising. That's sixty commercial messages.

 I know these programs have to be paid for and there are people who love commercials so where do we draw the line? Some years ago, the British had a solution. Commercials didn't run until the end of the broadcasting day. I don't know if they still do it that way, but it might be something to consider.

In the meantime, I suppose all we can do is "interrupt the commercials to return to the regularly scheduled programming."


Dodie stopped and gave her a questioning look. "Tessa, has no one told you? Your groom arrives with the prince."

"My...groom?" Tessa paled.

                                                                    - from Diamond In the Rough

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Finding Unexpected Nuggets

Before Mom passed away a year ago, she told me what she wanted done with her personal library. She  didn't get to finish high school, but she was well read and her library showed that. Nine good sized bookcases were packed with science fiction, European history, thrillers, mysteries and many odd titles. She was fascinated by where dust came from, with the hundreds of years the Thames River was polluted and how it got cleaned up. The fire in the 1600s that nearly wiped out the town of London. There are books on animal stories, one about a family that adopted a donkey, a couple others about beloved pets that traveled with their owners. There are three books that are over seventy years old, given to her as gifts when she was a child.

After I moved to a smaller apartment, I got as many books as I could onto the bookshelves but there's still some eight banana boxes stuffed with all sorts of genres. I didn't pay much attention to Mom's interests since our tastes in reading were as different as night and day. There was also the fact that I have a small library of my own, most of which I have yet to read but I'm getting there, slow but sure. In the process of putting books on shelves I spent a bit more time paying attention to genres, reading blurbs. Authors like Frederick Forsythe, Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler have to wait their turn because another author caught my attention. C. J. Box.

Mr. Box has written a series called the Joe Pickett novels. Joe is married and has three daughters. He's a fish and game warden in the state of Wyoming and has 1500 miles to oversee. And he never fails to find himself in trouble, trying to do the right thing. After reading one of the Pickett novels in Mom's library, I was hooked. (pun intended.) Joe is my current hero. He's more true-to-life than a lot of heroes I've read about over the years. His supervisors don't like him because he refuses to turn a blind eye to some of the goings on in his district, and he also has a reputation for being really hard vehicles and equipment. In his defense, it's rarely his fault.  Joe's friend, Nate Romanowski, might be wanted by the FBI but Joe trusts Nate with his life, and the lives of his family. The two of them often create a formidable team to solve the current mystery.

While Joe and Nate have become an enjoyable part of my reading time, I've been ignoring those other eight cartons of books that sit stacked in a corner of my living room, still needing to be sorted. I believe Anne Perry is hiding in at least one of those cartons. I'm not sure who else might be hiding with her. I do know that about half my own library is sitting in neat little stacks on the floor in my room, waiting patiently for shelf space that also doesn't exist yet. Eventually they'll all be gone through, sorted and some finding new homes. I have a feeling the process is going to take longer than I'd like. After all, who would want to miss out on whatever gems might be waiting to be rediscovered?

Monday, November 21, 2016

When Time Flies...Faster

Do you recall, when you were growing up, the days that seemed to drag on, that didn't want to end? They rarely happen anymore. Life still has a way of coming before the things you'd like to do. Even setting priorities doesn't always help. Still somewhere along the line you seem to manage to find time to do the things you really want, the things that give you pleasure. Like stopping to smell the roses. At those moments, we have the opportunity to take a breather from responsibilities and no matter how briefly, take some time for ourselves. All work and no play…
Have you noticed how time seems to get away from us, even more so as we age? We get to thinking, was it only yesterday... Case in point... A few weeks ago, was my 50th class reunion. I wasn’t able to attend, but that didn’t stop me from wondering who was still around, what they’d been doing these past years, and I remember the boy I had a bit of a crush on. Then there was the visit from a friend and her youngest daughter. Now the last time I recalled seeing her, she wasn't very tall, still wore her hair in two braids and was rather shy. Now, my friend mentioned her daughter’s all grown up and happily married. That's what makes me feel older...seeing friends' children growing up, marrying... Even my own adult sons never made me feel like time was getting away from me. The fact I have an adult grandson as well, doesn’t really phase me.

As I get older, I begin to think about how much time might be left and how best to use it. It creates an incentive to get more done, to figure out what's really important, and what dreams are waiting to be fulfilled. The problem is the physical me doesn’t care to cooperate. I seem to be at constant war with what my sister calls a joint conspiracy. They work when they feel like it. If they don’t feel like working, tough luck.
 Retirement? I don't think we ever really retire. It's just a matter of changing priorities. I thought I could spend more time with hobbies, to create the things I didn’t have time to do when I was working. It seems like there still isn’t the time for those things. Until a year or so ago I was an avid reader. That time has, un-fortunately, been greatly diminished. It’s not so easy to find the time to do some of the things you’ve always wanted to do.
Some responsibilities have run their course, like caring for elderly parents, leaving me to face the scary thought of my own mortality. When my dad was having a particularly trying day with his health he used to tell us, “Don’t get old.” After he passed, Mom took over telling us the same thing. Now that she’s gone as well, my siblings and I have taken up that mantra. The difference is we look at each other and laugh and say, “Too late.”  
This is our time, to do what we’ve always loved but couldn’t. Not only do we have more time, but we also have more experience to draw from, as well as memories, many fond, others not so much. We want to put more of ourselves into our creative efforts, to give our children something to remember us by. Then we watch time zip past us even faster giving more meaning to "Time Flies When You're Having Fun."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

One More Time

There are few of us who can settle into one place and stay there for a lifetime. (That doesn't include buying a home.) If I've learned anything over the years, it's the fact that no time is good for moving, at least not in my book. For almost eleven years, Mom and I had a nice apartment but with her passing a few months ago, I was expected to move into a smaller apartment. No problem with that. According to the in-house grapevine, (and it's quite reliable around here) there were several other people waiting to downsize, so I knew it would be a while. In the meantime I was going to turn Mom's room into a sewing room for the duration.
You know Murphy. He's the guy who moves in when you least need him around, but you never see him. He has his own law he follows and his favorite moments are when he can make things go wrong for you: Murphy's Law...whatever can go wrong, will. The day he decided to move in was the day I got the call. Management had an apartment for me. There went the sewing room. When I saw the place, I realized it was perfect for me and I couldn't wait to move in. I still intended to set up a sewing corner and I had the perfect spot.
Never move during a heat wave, even if you are staying in the same building. After every trip my son and daughter-in-law made to bring up a large or heavy piece of furniture, they made a mad dash for the Solarium to cool off. Murphy must have taken pity on them because it wasn't until two days later that the Solarium was closed for repairs. It's not so much the heat but the humidity that'll do you in.
The bathroom was the first to be sorted out and settled, followed by my room. The sewing machine table, still in its carton, was leaning against the wall beneath a window. That was next to be attended to, or so I thought. Murphy had his own plans to disrupt mine. Two weeks later and that poor table is still waiting. Maybe it'll be set up by Christmas?
Murphy has even messed with my writing, the stinker.  In the process of moving, the printer cable has gone missing and my laptop's start menu has nothing in it. Blessings on my computer tech son who suggested a way around that problem till he can actually figure out what went wrong. There has to be a plot in all this. Not that I want to give Murphy any more notoriety because he certainly doesn't deserve it. But maybe there can be found some humor in the situation that could translate to a challenge for a story character. It's worth thinking about.
After the last three weeks of hauling cartons to the third floor, stacking them in whatever out of the way spots I can find, deciding what goes and what stays, dealing with the hot weather and a houseguest who was never invited, I can say without a doubt...  This building can grow old and fall down around my ears  I am NEVER moving again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lead Me ( Not) Into Temptation: Confession Of A Booklover

If you're anything like me, when you walk into a book store and forget about everything else. Those shelves of books are a siren song, luring you in, tempting you with a myriad of row after row of books in every genre you can think of. (Well, maybe not so much in a brick and mortar store since space would be limited.) Once you start perusing titles and covers, you've been caught up in the siren's snare. But hey, it's not such a bad trap to get caught in. The only problem is losing track of time and later discovering you've been wandering around for the last few hours.

I have several online sources I like to visit on occasion when I hear about a release from one of my favorite authors. When I find a title I like, I start with a price comparison, see where I can get the best deal...and end up getting lost. Researching one title leads to other interesting recommendations and on to others until you've forgotten about what got you started in the first place. (It's like doing research for one of your own plots. You get carried away.) When that happens, I start a list of whatever titles pique my interest. I can sort it all out later.

Mom got catalogs from a company that deals with bargain books. It wasn't unusual for her to order ten or more books at a time. One order consisted of seventeen books. Having that delivered was a special occasion. After she passed, I continued to order from this company until I ran into a slight problem. With my next order, I enclosed a short letter explaining about Mom and asked them to change her name for mine on their mailing list. No questions asked, problem solved.

If you can look at books on a store shelf or in a catalog and walk away empty-handed, you are a strong person. Looking leads to buying, leads to addiction. (Hi, my name is Marissa and I'm a bookaholic.) Let's face it, this is one addiction to which I've never heard of anyone wanting to be cured. Unfortunately, it does lead to another problem. Where do you put them all? 

In my home are no less than thirteen bookshelves, nine of which are stuffed to the gills with Mom's books. She never got to enjoy all of them but it didn't stop her from getting new releases that interested her. (I plead guilty to doing the same.) Every bookaholic knows what TBR stands for. And everyone knows the problems a TBR can create. (If you don't then maybe you shouldn't be reading this blog. You're too neat.)  Picture the following scenario...

TBR stashes begin showing up in odd places. There's a little one beside your favorite chair, within easy reach. Then it creeps into corners, taking up that little space, growing higher until it's a teetering pillar, taller than you. It covers every seat in the house, every flat surface it can find until the furniture is no longer visible. Little booklets are turning up where you never expected. (Where do booklets come from? If you don't know...) You're forced to tread narrow paths to get around, that is if you haven't already lost your way to the front door. Friends and family no longer visit, afraid they may get caught in the trap that's your addiction. They're so worried about you, they're considering intervention. Is there some place to go for help? Not that you've ever heard of and even if there were, you don't want their help. You're happy with your addiction. There's one thing left that might work for you.


Friday, May 27, 2016

What Makes a Book Good?

The last three months have been really busy, getting things settled after Mom's passing. There wasn't time to do much else but I did try to make some time to read. Even with less reading time than I usually have, I did get to thinking about this topic.

It's strange how you can do something and never really give it much thought until something happens to draw your attention. On rare occasions I might pick up a book because I'm bored and have no idea what I want to do. Thank goodness that seldom happens. Now that I'm getting back to a normal routine (whatever normal is) I've been reading two books. The one I just finished was a historical romance, When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare. It takes place in Scotland and starts out with a slightly unusual setting. I hated to put that one down before finishing it.

The second one is a Star Wars book. Over the years I've collected Star Wars books and only in the last year or so have I finally gotten around to reading any of them. I've read about six books so far. It's hard to read them in order when new books keep coming out that fill gaps between other books.

To get back to the original question: What makes a book good? Every reader has their own ideas on what they look for in a story. For some, if they don't find at least a hint of what they're looking for within the first few pages, or at least the first chapter, the book goes bye-bye. Some will stick it out, hoping the story gets better further into it.

I look for a few things, depending on the genre I'm into at the moment.  I enjoy a good romance, as long as it doesn't get "sticky" along the way. I don't generally read science fiction but I do enjoy time travel and like to see how the displaced character manages in their new surroundings. And if it's part of a time travel series, even better.

First off, the Star Wars books are written by several authors. That being the case, I figured somewhere down the line I'm going to run into a lemon. So far, not a single lemon to be seen. I'm familiar with the main characters from the first three films, and they help me get into the story in short order. (A couple books have plot lines taking place some three thousand years before Luke Skywalker's time.) I've also had the opportunity to delve more deeply into the characters' psyche and better understand what makes them tick. I don't stand on the fringes of the scenes watching and waiting for the characters to react to something. I'm involved.  I read one four-book series about several clone soldiers who were very close. (If you read a lot, usually you can pretty well guess how a story will conclude. Surprise!) In the fourth book about three chapters from the end, I ended up in tears when the climax was nothing like I expected. Good thing there was a box of tissues handy.

To sum up, what makes a book good for me: the setting, action and adventure, a romance that has the characters working together toward a common cause. Best of all, get me emotionally involved and I'll go looking for all your other books.

Won't you stop by the comments section and share with us what makes a book good for you?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

When Critics Speak...

In my opinion, Wednesday night is a lousy night for television. Code Black is okay but they had their season finale the end of February. So last night I decided to watch a new DVD I purchased the day before.

Ron Howard has great instincts when it comes to choosing material for the movies he directs. He's willing to take chances on some of the more challenging topics, which is where In the Heart of the Sea falls. Beyond Moby Dick, I imagine there aren't a lot of people interested in whaling but this was based on the true story of the whaling ship Essex, out of Nantucket Island, MA and what became of her and her crew on their last voyage. It also gave Melville the idea for Moby Dick.

In the Heart of the Sea  didn't fare well at the box office. Financially, it bombed. Maybe it was the timing of the release. Sometimes you have to take what you can get and hope for the best. This movie had a November release which wasn't exactly in its favor. By this time of year, movie-goers are looking for feel good movies that promote the holiday season. This one was definitely not seasonal fare.

Not only that, the reviews weren't particularly kind. Then again, critics rarely are. This is where I part company with them. I may read the reviews but I tend to take them with a huge grain of salt. Critiques are often biased one way or the other, good or bad. They can make or break a movie before it's even been released. How can you claim 1) a movie is the best of the year when the year has barely started and you can't compare it to others; or 2) they give a movie low ratings, pick it to pieces because they don't like the genre. (There was one critic, quite a few years ago who hated science fiction movies but was always reviewing them.) If a critic can't keep an open mind, then they shouldn't be in the business of reviews.

I can give one other example of a movie that bombed. Around 1985 LadyHawke  was released in theaters. It starred Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer and was a medieval tale with a paranormal catalyst. Critics hated it. I thought it was, and still is, the best romantic story I have ever seen. A lot of other people agreed. So much for critics' opinions.

The same can be said for us as writers. We put in a lot of time, effort and hard work to create a product we hope people will like and enjoy. We need reviews to help us promote and we hope those reviews are, for the most part, good. More than that, we can only hope the critics keep an open mind when writing reviews. 

This weekend I plan to watch another DVD. Here's an unsolicited review... If you're looking for a story with non-stop action from start to finish, San Andreas should fill the bill.