Oscars 2012

Oscar nominations came out this week.  I love Oscars – or the Academy Awards. Ever since I was young, I would look forward to that night – watching all the stars arrive and then the award show – mesmerized by those people who were larger than life going up to accept an award for something they did that year. I read tons of books about movie stars as a child and teenager, in awe of the movies made in the thirties and forties, and even fifties. I loved watching musicals and comedies from that time.  Even when I was younger, I would watch old movies every Sunday afternoon from noon until 5 on one of those UHF channels (now I am really dating myself).  So, I look forward to the Oscar nominations every year. 

Many years, I am lucky if I have seen one of the Oscar nominated shows because over the past ten years, the ones picked have been so varied and some were released in limited theaters so I did not get to see them.  This year, I have seen almost all of the nominated shows. 

What do all of these shows have in common? I can only comment on 7 of the nominated shows, so you will have to excuse me if I do not comment on one you have seen.

1.      The Artist
2.      The Descendants
3.      Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
4.      The Help
5.      Hugo
6.      Midnight in Paris
7.      Moneyball
8.      The Tree of Life
9.      War Horse
The Artist is a delightful movie that brings people back to the age of Hollywood as it was on the verge of talking pictures. The story highlights the journey of one man who is a silent film star, George Valentin, who is against talkies and is positive people will come to the theater to see him, not to hear him talk. It parallels his story with that of a young girl, Peppy Miller, who is just starting her movie career. The Artist is a beautifully filmed movie that shows words are not always necessary to tell a story. The facial expressions of the actors, the background music, and the storyline are woven together in such a way that it draws you into the film and their lives.  If you have seen A Star is Born with Frederic March, you will see some correlations, but this film takes unique turns that delight the viewer.  As you can see, I would give this movie – two Oscars – GO SEE IT!

The Descendants takes the viewer on a journey through one man’s life as it gets turned upside down.  Here again you are drawn into the movie through wonderful facial expressions, music, and a storyline that catches you off guard. Our main character must deal with the repercussions when his wife is injured and left in a coma.  His family are direct descendants of the last queen of Hawaii and own a pristine plot of land that has been passed down from generation to generation and at this time in the story – a decision must be made on what to do with the land at the same time that he must make some major decisions in his own life.  The relationships with his daughters are poignant and moving and give you a depth in character analysis that a fellow writer would applaud.  Another two Oscars – SEE THIS movie.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – I can honestly admit that I have not seen this movie yet.  BUT, I will see it before Oscars – one, because it’s nominated and two because Tom Hanks is in the movie.  So, as of this moment, I cannot comment on it.

The Help give us a glimpse into a time period many would rather forget but which is so fabulously written and told, we cannot help but be glad we were a part of witnessing it. The touch of humor that makes this story, which if told in a different way would break our hearts, allows us to feel with the main characters – to laugh with them and cry with them as if we were their best friends.  When you see this movie, you feel like the young girl who is writing their story – like you are sitting at the kitchen table with these brave women who worked in demeaning situations without recourse – and listening to their stories. You want to be their champions and you do cheer them on every step of the way.  I know – another two Oscars.  If you have not seen this, rent it, buy it, and watch it more than once!

Hugo is a touching story of a young boy named Hugo Cabret who is orphaned and must find his way in the world by flying below the radar, all the while trying to keep his father’s dream alive. The fascinating characters he meets along the way in this train station in Paris show you how he has made this place his home and all the characters who people the station are his surrogate family. He has a unique purpose and we cheer him on – rooting for him every step of the way. We are intrigued by the stories behind the other characters and long to know more.  The filming is stunning, but we once more get a glimpse into the Golden Age of film making when people were pioneers of a medium no one really understood.  Go see this for the artistry and the storyline – based on the children’s novel by Brian Selznick.  Two Oscars!

Midnight in Paris is such a clever movie and certainly not what I expected from Woody Allen. Who would have guess a time travel could be so delightful and make you long to find such a place yourself. You are swept away in the beauty of Paris, not just in current day, but in the Roaring Twenties, then the Belle Epoque. Here again we have a main character who is a writer – a tortured writer who works in Hollywood with an unsatisfying life, who has always dreamed of writing a novel.  Imagine having your novel read by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein! The way the story sweeps around and makes a lovely circle charms and delights the viewer. I loved this movie and not just because it took place in Paris, or because it brought me back to time periods that I loved, but the mastery of storytelling drew me in right away.  RENT IT, BUY IT, or BORROW IT!  Definitely two Oscars!

Moneyball confused me at first for its nomination. Yes, I saw it. I love sports so this movie piqued my curiosity. This is the classic underdog story – the sports movie where you are rooting for the team you know is fighting against all odds.  In this movie, it’s not only the team, but the main character. You want to see him succeed. You want this young, brash young man to be right. Think if all the toys from the Island of Misfit Toys were on a baseball team together – this would be their team.  Now, as I think about the storytelling, I guess I’m not totally confused by the nomination and yet, at the same time, I’m not quite sure it’s on the same caliber as the ones I mentioned above.  All in all, a pleasant movie – a feel good movie, but not one of those movies that would sweep me away and jerk at my heart strings.  I guess I can only give this movie 1 ½ Oscars.  Still see it, but you don’t have to buy it.

The Tree of Life – here is the second movie I cannot comment on because I have not see this one yet.  I also know if I will get to see it – it’s been out, and it’s gone.  I would have to figure out a way to get a hold of the  movie to properly evaluate it.  Until then, I will decline.  I heard wonderful reviews, it just was not released on a large enough scale to be able to go see it.

War Horse – when I was in New York the tickets for seeing it on Broadway were over $500.  Yes, that’s how much the tickets were going for so I decided no, I would not see it.  Then it came out on film and I raced to go see it.  A movie about a horse and seen through the eyes of the horse. Here is another time piece that did not have the audience it should have been able to snag and yet it did not.  The filming and storytelling truly brought  us into the mind of the horse.  There are so many scenes where the viewer is captivated and cheering for this horse – not even the people, THE HORSE = because you want the horse to survive. You want the boy to see his horse again.  Once more Stephen Spielberg has created a gloriously filmed movie.  Please go see this movie and be prepared to cry as it plucks on your heart strings.  Two Oscars for this movie as well!!!!

Do I have predictions for the Oscars?  Not sure yet.  I am still mulling the over in my brain.  Give me a week or two before I am able to give some prediction.  In the meantime – go see them if they are at the theater or rent them if they are already out.

Bonne Chance to all the Oscar nominated movies – I couldn’t pick just one!

Heritage or Ancestry?

I’ve been working on my edits for Scarlet Moon lately and I have come across a particular section I really like – when the readers get to meet the hero’s parents. My hero’s father was a pirate who caroused around the Caribbean before falling in love and becoming respectable. Of course, is he really reformed? He certainly hasn’t lost his flair for dressing – think of a high fashion pirate with a dash of flamboyancy, but who will kill you in the blink of an eye and walk away without a care.  This is the hero’s father.
It got me thinking about heritage and ancestry.  When we think of heritage, what comes to mind? Usually we think of what we inherited from our parents. Sometimes it’s a way of acting or speaking. Sometimes it’s how we dress or how we decorate our homes. Sometimes it’s much deeper than that – it’s our political views or our religious beliefs.  In actuality, it’s all of those things.  According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, heritage is the property that descends to an heir (ah – heir – heritage!! Makes sense now doesn’t it?). It could also mean something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor, or something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.
What then is ancestry? This would be the line of descent – his lineage – who his ancestors are. 

So, what has my hero, Christoff, inherited from his father?
1.      His thirst for adventure.
2.      His fashionable flair to a point as he wears his hair long and flashes a golden hoop earring.
3.      His witty humor
4.      His devil-may-care attitude (which hides a deeper need to please others while having fun)
What has he inherited from his mother?
1.      His sense of honor as well as his calm reserve
2.      His strong ties to his family – real and surrogate – anchor him through all his adventures
3.      His sense of purpose and loyalty
As for the more materialistic side of his heritage
1.      The shipping company
2.      An extended family living in England from his mother
3.      A surrogate family from his father’s days as a pirate
4.      A healthy inheritance from his parents’ holdings in Charleston
Let’s take a look at his ancestors – on his father’s side there is only his father. If he includes the surrogate family – the Ramparts, then his ancestors are rich and long – going back hundreds of years in England. My hero’s father was orphaned at a young age and made his way on a pirate ship – meeting with Geoffrey Rampart (a hero from a different novel). They became like brothers and have been together ever since.  Their children consider each other cousins. This gives my hero – five cousins in the Rampart family, not to mention a slew of older ancestors in England.  On his mother’s side, his ancestors are traced back to an ancient line. His grandfather was one of the original settlers in the Carolinas, given the land by the king.

Through all of this, our hero has become his own man. He has made his way without the assistance of this ancient line and, while using his father’s shipping company to his advantage, he never uses his true ancestry to ease his way in society. He actually prefers everyone to think of him as a colonist with a slanted past because of his father’s history as a pirate. He much prefers the dashing and adventurous side of the family.

Don’t we all do this?

When we think of our own ancestors or our heritage – we pick and choose what we want to tell others. We may keep a scandalous past hidden, or if it’s notorious and can be used to our advantage, then we will share it with others.  For instance, in my history, apparently there was a horse thief, so the family name was shortened. It’s a story I heard, but I really don’t know how true is.  Another side of my family came over in 1914, landing in Ellis Island. My great grandparents met after they landed in the New World. Another set of relatives can be traced back to the first settlers in this country – 1654. They settled in New Jersey and one of them even signed the Declaration of Independence.  When I looked up this signer, I learned so much about his courage and determination back then. It’s a piece of my heritage that I want others to know because of his heroism.  Even further back, the family can be traced to Medieval England.

Think about your own heritage/ancestry.  How many of you have traced your family’s history back to its roots? We can now go online to sites like ancestry.com and others to do searches. We see it all the time on TV – celebrities who trace their family history to the Mayflower or even Jamestown. It becomes an integral part of our life. 

I guess it’s important we know about our hero’s and heroine’s heritage. It can shape who they are, what decisions they make, and can help us understand what motivates them throughout the story.  

My Bodyguards

I have bodyguards. Yes, I am so important a person that I have bodyguards. Not just one, that would not be sufficient. Not just two, obviously my left and right must be covered.  But I have three bodyguards.  Who knew when I wrote my last post about writing NOT being a solitary occupation, I would have to include my bodyguards.
No, they are not grizzly bears

So, the questions that arise are - do I write novels that force me into witness protection? The grand exposes that when you read them you are shocked. You wonder why did you not know this about your neighbor or best friend. The novel that shows the seedy side of life and that if the person I expose should discover my whereabouts, it would be history for this author.
No, this is not my bodyguard

Do I write novels that are so controversial I have to watch my back? The novels that involve peeling back the layers of life and showing what is really going on. Perhaps I am writing about issues people hate to discuss or are afraid to speak about because they know they will see themselves in them.
Not alive enough

Or do I write novels that expose the deepest secrets of people I know and love? This is the most difficult one. If I write about those I love, but have changed the names to protect the innocent, I would most definitely need several bodyguards.

These bodyguards follow me everywhere. When I go out, they follow me. When I take my car, they insist on coming too. Even when I leave for work in the morning, they want to come. This is the only time I have to put my foot down. I cannot have my day job marred by the presence of these bodyguards.  I have informed the people I work with about my bodyguards. And while many of the stories involving these bodyguards are amusing, I feel they would not appreciate their presence every day. It would hinder my work and their work, and in the end, nothing would get done.
Hmmm - far too long ago

So, who are these bodyguards?

Meet Fox Mulder, Prince Albert, and Queen Victoria. All three are rescues. Fox was picked up about 8 years ago from Anti-Cruelty. My kids fell in love with him and he barked (my husband's one stipulation). After losing Princess (my oldest daughter's dog) last year, we went to Orphans of the Storm and picked up Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.  They were not a matched set, but we made them one. Albert is a poodle mix and we saw him online and fell in love with him.  Queen Victoria had been dropped off that day when we arrived for Albert. She was so adorable, we took her outside to see how well she got along with Albert. She's a Shih tzu.  How did they come by their names?  We tried several different names to see what they would answer to and guess what? He answered to Albert, so the names stuck.  She learned to get used to her name (her old name was Bella). They have made a lovely family and were exactly what Fox needed at the time when Princess died.  The family adored them and still do. They have brought a new life into the family. Each one of the kids has fun with the new babies and Fox acts like a puppy again.
Queen Victoria

Fox Mulder

Prince Albert with my youngest

For me, they have become the new babies in the house and yes, they do follow me everywhere.  They are my bodyguards.

Writing is NOT a solitary occupation

Yes, I am procrastinating again. But I have worked very hard today.  I have written about 10 pages today, so I can afford this brief sojourn to my blog.

So, as my title states - writing is not a solitary occupation. I used to think it was, but 2011 has taught me otherwise.  I returned to my writing group (the fabulous Chicago-North critique group) and I started working with several authors on the side to hone my craft even more.  I started my blogs ((I have three of them - two from my day job, and one for writing).  I joined Twitter (find me at VivCourtoise, and I started my Facebook page (Vivienne Courtoise - find me and friend me).  Finally, I also joined several online chat groups through My RWA which has kept me not only connected with fellow authors, but has allowed me voice some important questions and find answers I never thought I could find before.

In the past, I wrote, submitted my work, and read from books how to improve.  While all of these things were valuable, the most valuable connections I have made have been this year.  Even this year when I traveled to New York, I made some fabulous friends while I had fun.

I hope all of you will agree - writing is NOT a solitary occupation.  NOW it IS time to get back to that pesky book I've been working on.

See you soon,