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The Name Game

Titles can either attract or repel an audience. Case in point. NBC’s new 10 episode drama (Sunday,April 5), got a nice review from the typically censorious NY Times. It sounds like the type of thriller that would interest me. The title, however, is a turnoff. “American Odyssey”–that reminds me of a dull but worthy offering by PBS, NPR or the like. Rather like a travelogue or an examination of small town sports mania. Why not call it “Odyssey”? That alludes to the heroine’s journey (she’s an American soldier stranded behind the lines in Afghanistan), and hints of intrigue and mayhem. The success of HOMELAND; JUSTIFIED; and naturally “24” show how effectively a name can showcase content.

Authors should consider the importance of a title in naming their own works. For my mysteries, I favor short, snappy titles that hint at the snarky humor and fast pace inside.(Mantrap; Gilt Trip; Intrusion are good examples.)
Some classic novels also illustrate this point: LOLITA; WAR &PEACE; GOOD AS GOLD; and that beloved work PRIDE & PREJUDICE; to name a few. Consumers get a fairly accurate idea of what to expect and that builds brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.

BICEPS, BRUTALITY AND BABES

I freely confess to watching and loving the Sons Of Anarchy, Justified; Homeland; 24; Luther; Ray Donovan and any martial arts film featuring a certain Chinese-American actor. My literary favorites also include healthy servings from Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and Barry Eisler. What, you might ask, attracts an otherwise peace-loving mystery writer to a diet of unmitigated mayhem? It’s not the violence, although a man who can smite his enemies for a just cause is a major turn on. I hasten to add that neither the films nor the books contain any acts of animal cruelty, a non-starter for me and many other women. A few bodies fall in these adventures—Sons of Anarchy stacks them up like cordwood; Jack Bauer and Raylin Givens were never considered gun-shy—but for the most part, their hearts and biceps are in the right place.

There are two reasons that I adore these fictional tough guys: their willingness to pursue justice even when it imperils their own safety and the indisputable fact that they are major babes, big on biceps, brawn and brains. Intellect is important to me and although I have no proof about their IQs (Stanford-Binet where are you?), when it comes to survival these heroes rise to genius level.

Some of the same attributes appear in the stars of my mystery novels although the body count and violence quotient are considerably less. Movies, television, and novels sell the same thing—a respite from real world woes and a whopping dose of fantasy. Heroes are smart, sexy and audacious. Women are appreciative.

Lest you think I am hopelessly sexist, I also love The Big Bang Theory and never miss Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock. I just don’t fantasize about them.

 

 

CRITICAL MASS

What is it about women and criticism that raises the room temperature? Formerly, some managers gave female employees a pat on the head rather than an honest critique fearing that women might weep if comments were too frank. That paternalism has now been replaced by a more legitimate fear: cries of sexism!
Author Tara Mohr cites a persuasive study (NYTimes, 9/28/14), which found that women employees did receive more negative feedback than men, and 76% of it cited flaws in their personality or appearance (only 2% of males received negative comments about personal traits). The usual suspects—“abrasive,” “judgemental,” and “strident” figured prominently in the study. Incidentally, the managers studied were both male and female. No surprise— I’ve been there, heard that.
What to do? Instead of gnashing our molars, the author offers several observations that make sense to me. Remember that great line from Julius Caesar about the fault lying in ourselves and not our stars? If the duplicitous Cassius figured it out, why can’t we?
Women who mainline praise like heroin addicts must find a cure, toughen up and make a choice. Important work requires courage and the hide of a rhino, particularly when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark. (Enough about Hillary Clinton’s hair, please. What about the men without any?)
Don’t expect plaudits every time at bat. Be courageous and true to yourself. For heaven’s sake, shed the “Good Little Girl” image. It usually means you aren’t making tough calls or are incredibly sneaky and manipulative. Most of all learn to counsel the women and men that you lead in frank but positive ways. Then and only then will we achieve Critical Mass.

Praise for Swann Dive

 

WOW!! High praise for SWANN DIVE from best-selling author Carole Bugge (aka CE Lawrence). I’ve long been a fan of her Sherlock Holmes series and the creepy but engaging string of Serial Killer novels featuring hot, brilliant, troubled shrink Dr. Lee Campbell.

Swann Dive has everything – mystery, intrigue, romance, humor, and an appealing protagonist. What sets Kay’s writing apart is her jubilant, energetic voice – Eja Kane is one of the most charming sleuths to come along in a while, someone every woman can relate to. A novelist with a self-described “lackluster” liteary career, she battles her weight as well as sometime boyfriend Deming, who has a taste for beautiful, svelte women. When her best friend, CeCe Swann, misses a brunch appointment with Eja, her irritation turns to concern when she receives a call from a police detective. It turns out CeCe has an unbeatable excuse for not showing up – she was busy being murdered. And it’s up to Eja to find her killer. Arlene Kay brings her considerable skills and signature wit to bear in this delightful new novel – highly recommended!

Civility–The Lost Art

Civility–the Lost Art
I welcome the influx of tourists to Cape Cod.Frankly it’s heartening to see a livelier crowd for a change. Crowds don’t bother me. I’m essentially a city person who happily lived in NYC, Boston, DC, Tampa, Chicago,Houston, Dallas, and Detroit.
Do you sense a caveat coming up?
What I abhor is the maddening belief on the part of many that Vacation is an elevated state that absolves one from the constraints of civility. Little things like observing stop signs, waiting one’s turn, opening doors and yes– smiling–are lost in a mad dash to optimize leisure time. And don’t get me started on bicyclists, those foolhardy souls bent upon reaching their final reward prematurely.
An incident today proves the point: While minding my own business at the market I was gored by the shopping cart of a leathery skinned woman who should have avoided shorts under penalty of death. She NEVER stopped, apologized or acknowledged me. Instead, she bellowed: “Frankie–did you get the PINO? The PINO, Frankie.”
I hope so. That poor man deserves a drink!!

What Makes A Writing Group Effective

WRITE AND WRONG Consider this criteria: a congregation of motivated members with shared goals; the willingness to give and accept constructive feedback; commitment to furthering group goals over any individual agenda; mutual respect and support for members. Sounds fine but what are the practical implications? Motivated members regularly attend meetings and strive constantly to improve. There are groups for hobbyists but I submit that their needs are distinct from those of serious writers seeking publication. Some socializing is fun and productive but that should NEVER be the sole purpose of the group. Another cautionary tale: politics and religion are subjects best avoided in a critique group unless the writing itself deals with those topics. Even then, observations must be confined to the style not the substance of the presenter’s writing. Effective writing groups exist to offer counsel and to help every member to IMPROVE. Egos must be confined to one’s pocket or purse although a spot of friendly competition can often fuel excellence. My own writing group was proof of that. In our 7 years of existence we produced 4 traditionally published writers and 12 releases. Not a bad record in today’s frenzied publishing environment.

SCHADENFREUDE and Me

I abhor psychological claptrap and the jargon that accompanies it. Most often it excuses personal weakness and clouds the issue. But every once in a while those fuzzy headed practitioners of the mind really nail it.

Have you ever secretly cheered when a backbiting co-worker gets his comeuppance, or googled the tabloids for the photo of a ‘supermodel’ (is there any other kind?) caught with a patch of cellulite and no makeup? How about the implosion of the celebrity marriage that everyone proclaimed was “perfect”?

Most of us occasionally take a perverse pleasure in the misfortunes of those whose looks, social status or finances exceed our own. It’s a comparison thing which according to author Richard Smith (The Joy of Pain), is hardwired into most animals especially humans. Cutting the mighty down to size as the old saying goes isn’t charitable but it feels sooo good! This, my friends is Schadenfreude, and like many of you I have taken a few trips to the dark side of this social emotion.

Dr. Smith says it’s normal, healthy even. After all, Schadenfreude is a passive pleasure that arrives by happenstance and leaves us feeling better about ourselves. Best of all, it’s as guilt-free as a diet soda without the bitter aftertaste. Someone else’s seismic loss is our gain.

The late, great Gore Vidal declared, “Every time my friends succeed, I die a little.” He tapped into the vein of Schadenfreude within us all by acknowledging this brutal fact: the success of a peer may bring our own failings under merciless scrutiny.

Writers are especially susceptible to this malady. We read the work of our colleagues and quietly judge their output against our own. Commercial success may be equated with “selling out” as if healthy bank balances or critical acclaim are the work of Satan.

The multi-talented Clive James devoted an entire poem to the concept that underlies Schadenfreude. Read I beg you the entire work. You will chuckle, wince and read it once more. The opening line says it all:

“The book of my enemy has been remaindered and I am pleased.”

Hallelujah

Silly me. I have always loved Leonard Cohen’s beautiful song “Hallelujah” and figured it was sort of a homage to Handel. WRONG Yesterday I actually listened to the music with lyrics on YouTUBE and realized that the song was a sensual tribute to many things some of which were definitely not envisioned by Handel. I immediately downloaded my favorite version by the late Jeff Buckley and have been playing it while I compose some of the spicier scenes in my latest novel. Such inspiration! Now the song is even more meaningful.