Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Friday, September 1, 2017

A List of Books About Women in Hollywood

I've thought a lot about the role of women in Hollywood. I have worked as a reader, as an executive, as a screenwriter, and even as a set caterer. I've worked for some terrific women--Lauren Shuler Donner, Kathryn Bigelow, Nina Jacobson--and I've seen how male Hollywood is consistently surprised when "women's movies" actually make money. As if, somehow, those execs didn't realize that women went to movies too. I decided to look around and see if there were any books on the topic.  Here's a short list.

1.  A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960 by Jeanine Basinger.

Now, Voyager, Stella Dallas, Leaver Her to Heaven, Imitation of Life, Mildred Pierce, Gilda…these are only a few of the hundreds of “women’s films” that poured out of Hollywood during the thirties, forties, and fifties. The films were widely disparate in subject, sentiment, and technique, they nonetheless shared one dual purpose: to provide the audience (of women, primarily) with temporary liberation into a screen dream—of romance, sexuality, luxury, suffering, or even wickedness—and then send it home reminded of, reassured by, and resigned to the fact that no matter what else she might do, a woman’s most important job was…to be a woman. Now, with boundless knowledge and infectious enthusiasm, Jeanine Basinger illuminates the various surprising and subversive ways in which women’s films delivered their message.

2.  In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney

Over 100 exceptional and influential women describe how they embraced their creative spirit, overcame adversity, and sparked a global movement of entrepreneurship. Media titans and ceramicists, hoteliers and tattoo artists, comedians and architects—taken together, these profiles paint a beautiful picture of what happens when we pursue our passions and dreams.

3.  Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers: Redefining Feminism on Screen by Kathleen Rowe Karlyn.

This is a scholarly book from the University of Texas, and the continued examination of ideas first articulated in Karlyn's book Unruly Women.  I haven't read this book and would love to, but it's hideously expensive--the Kindle version is $30, which is kind of beside the point of making books available in digital editions.

4.  Go West Young Women!  The Rise of Early Hollywood by Mary A. Hallett. 

In the early part of the twentieth century, migrants  made their way from rural homes to cities in record numbers and many traveled west. Los Angeles became a destination. Women flocked to the growing town to join the film industry as workers and spectators, creating a "New Woman." Their efforts transformed filmmaking from a marginal business to a cosmopolitan, glamorous, and bohemian one. By 1920, Los Angeles had become the only western city where women outnumbered men. In Go West, Young Women, Hilary A. Hallett explores these relatively unknown new western women and their role in the development of Los Angeles and the nascent film industry.

Labba Bray's Beauty Queens...a review

Libba Bray’s novel BeautyQueens is a satire that plays out like an all-female Lord of the Rings, a project that is now, contentiously, in development at Warner Brothers. The author has written an essay for Entertainment Weekly about what happened when Hollywood came calling for her project, and it’s definitely worth the read if you’re interested in what people are calling, “Hollywood’s Woman Problem.”

If you haven’t read the book, here’s my review:

When a plane full of teenage beauty contestants crashes on a not-quite-deserted island, the young women find themselves fighting for survival with all their pageant skills and determination.

It’s an old show business axiom that “Satire is what closes Saturday night.”  In Beauty Queens, Bray lets loose on a ton of popular culture topics, from reality shows (Amish girls and strippers share a house on Girls Gone Rumpspringa) to beauty pageants to plucky businesswomen running for president.  She hits her targets too, for the most part, although the arch tone of the book’s prologue is a little annoying. 

The result is not unlike the HBO movie about the Texas cheerleader murdering mom, which was played tongue-in-cheek to good effect.  The problem is that this estrogen-soaked version of Lost meets Lord of the Flies meets Survivor is kind of one note and awfully silly and it’s hard to see what demographic it plays to. 

There’s also a part of us that sees the story more like one of those parodies of contemporary movies, like Vampires Suck.  Adding the satire to the comedy is not necessarily a commercial choice.  (Two hilarious satires about politics, Election and Dick were both disastrous at the box office ($15 million and $6 million returns, with no international distribution), and this satire seems to have an even more narrow focus.)  Also, the shows that are the targets here seem like somewhat dated topics—having been done to death in Comedy Central and Mad TV and SNL and … many other places.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Interview with author Carol L. Wright

Carol L. Wright is a former domestic relations attorney and adjunct professor. She is the author of articles and one book on law-related subjects. Now focused on fiction, she has several short stories in literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Death in Glenville Falls is her first novel. 

She is a founder of the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC, is a life member of both Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of SinC Guppies, PennWriters, and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

She is married to her college sweetheart. They live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats.

Your first Gracie McIntyre mystery is out this summer. Can you give us a sneak preview? Who is Gracie and how does she run into a mystery?

Yes, thanks! I’m so excited to have my first mystery, Death in Glenville Falls, come out August 29.

It’s about former attorney Gracie McIntyre who left the practice of law eighteen years ago, following the death of a client in an apparent murder/suicide. Since then, she’s been a stay-at-home mom and part-time professor at the local college where her husband teaches history. Now that her son is off to college and her daughter has started high school, she is ready for a new challenge. But opening a new-and-used book shop gives her more than she bargains for—especially after a young woman appears, reminding Gracie of the past she’s tried to leave behind.

Days after the grand opening, Gracie’s store comes under attack. What’s worse, she suspects a police officer might be behind it. As violence escalates, she is forced to investigate on her own to save her store—and possibly her life.

How did you transition from your law career to writing fiction?

I’ve always been a writer, and even did a stint as a book editor for a couple of years. But as a lawyer and academic, most of my work was legal or technical writing. It was actually my younger brother who urged me to write fiction. He remembered how I used to invent adventurous bedtime stories for him as he was growing up. (It must have helped to ignite his imagination, too, because he writes fiction as well.) As I began to explore fiction writing, I found it enormously fulfilling. I think he thought I would write children’s fiction, so was a little surprised when I started writing mysteries.  

Your short fiction has been collected in numerous award-winning anthologies. Do you find it hard to “switch gears” when you go from short to long fiction?

Not really. Aside from the obvious difference—the amount of time it takes to write a short story vs. a novel—there are some other significant differences between long- and short-form fiction. In a novel, you can develop your characters more fully, and weave in a more intricate plot, so the rewards of long-form fiction are great. But there’s nothing like the relatively immediate gratification you get from writing a short story that you’re really happy with. You can also explore some characters or genres you might not be willing to spend an entire novel with, so in that way, writing a short story is recreation and a welcome break from the hard work of novel writing. Last year, I even published a middle-grade story. What fun!


Are you a member of a writer’s group? Do you belong to Sisters in Crime? Have you ever been to a writer’s convention?

Writing is such a solitary profession, I can’t imagine doing it without being part of a community. My writers group is the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC 
(http://bethlehemwritersgroup.com). I get great advice and ideas from that group of talented authors in a variety of genres. I am also a member of Sisters in Crime and the SinC Guppies subgroup. They are extremely supportive of their members in every way. I know if I have mystery-specific questions, I can find answers there.

I have been to several writers conferences over the years, from the Iowa Summer Writers Festival to Malice Domestic and many more. It’s a great chance to get together with people who understand what it’s like to be a writer and don’t look at you funny when you ask questions about lethal concoctions or how to get rid of a body.

Who are your favorite writers (not necessarily mystery writers)?

I love so many of my fellow mystery writers that I wouldn’t try to list them all for fear of leaving someone out. As for other writers, I love Jane Austen (and am a Life Member of the Jane Austen Society of North America), and enjoy other classics as well. For more contemporary fiction writers, though, I like those who make us see life, history, or literature from a different perspective, such as Connie Willis, Jasper Fforde, Hilary Mantel, Alice Walker, Michael Crichton, Anthony Doerr . . . I could go on and on. I also love the work of many nonfiction writers, both for research and for pleasure.

How would you describe your story (“The Dark Side of the Light”) in the Day of the Dark collection?

My story is about the darkness and light of the eclipse occurring at the same time that a husband and wife, who had each kept the other "in the dark" about some life-altering information, reveal their secrets to one another. But it does not necessarily follow that being "enlightened" results in happiness. In fact, there can be a “dark side of the light.”

Have you ever seen a total eclipse? Will you be able to see this one?
I’ve seen a partial eclipse, but never a total eclipse. (It’s very accommodating of the cosmos to bring one so close to so many Americans this year, don’t you think?) I would have to travel to get to the path of totality this year, since I live in Pennsylvania where we’re only expected to see about 75% coverage. Still, I have my eclipse glasses. It ought to be a good show!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

This is not America


Monday, August 7, 2017

Twelve Books That Made Me Happy

Good Housekeeping published a list today of 60 Books That Will Make You Happier and I found it a kind of strange list, full of books like Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and the ever-annoying Eat, Pray, Love. But that got me thinking about the books I've read that made me happy.  Not necessarily happy I'd read them--almost any book does that--but a book that made me laugh or gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I read a lot of noir and horror; sometimes I need a warm, fuzzy feeling from my fiction. Here's a list I made:

1.  Michael Malone's Handling Sin. This is a road trip book about a man chasing down his rascal of a father and discovering he has half-siblings. His full-of-life best friend comes along and it's all set in the south. And gets it totally right. Malone also writes wonderful mysteries.

2.  Eudora Welty, The Ponder Heart. This is a novella and it's also very southern. Seems Uncle Daniel POnder, a confirmed bachelor, has married a young woman who spends all her time reading magazines and making "the kind of fudge anybody can make." This is a lovely take on small towns and families and will make you smile.

3.  Cyde Edgerton, Walking Across Egypt. The first book of Clyde's I read was The Floatplane Notebooks, which is a family saga told from multiple points of view, including that of the kudzu vine wrpping the house. This is a quick read, a book about an independent old lady and her dog and a young boy in need of love.

4.  Sharyn McCrumb, St. Dale. I am a huge fan of McCrumb's Appalachian Ballad es with their dual timelines. This stand-alone book is not a mystery at all, but an ensemble piece about a tour group visiting NASCAR sites as a summer vacation. It comes across like one of those multi-plot movies the late, great Garry Marshall used to make--New Year's Day or Valentine's Day, or a summer version of Love, Actually.

5.  Joe Keeena, Blue Heaven (not to be confused with the 1990 Steve Martin movie My Blue Heaven). This is a rollicking novel about two dead broke best friends in New York who decide to marry for the wedding presents and other loot and the hijinks that ensue. There's a running bit about a character  who fancies herself a designer coming up with the wedding dress that's hilarious.


6.  Rita Mae Brown, Bingo.  Again, a character-heavy novel set in the south.  My grandmother lived with me when I was a child and the old ladies in this book remind me so much of her, especially in a scene where two woomen get so competitive in a game of bingo that they start attacking each other with their dab-a-dot markers. (They're apparently called Do-A-Dots these days, but if you ever went to a bingo hall with your grandparents, you know what I mean.) there are sequels!  I love this book but hate Brown's super-sweet cozy mysteries.

7. Beverly Cleary, Beezus and Ramona.  Actually, I loved all the books that Beverly Cleary wrote. She was the first "author" I followed. I remember going to the library to get her books. she's 101 years old!!!  I loved the books because I had a little sister I loved and we had neighbors and the book seemed like the even-better version of my own childhood.

8.  Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game. I love, love, love this book. It's a puzzle about a wealthy man who intends to leave his fortune to whoever can solve a puzzle. It involves multiple characters in various families and it's a wonderful story about friendship and families and expectations and dreams. Raskin wrote other, similar books (The Disappearance of Leon, I mean Noel) but this one is her best.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

I'll be reviewing this upcoming novel for Criminal Element in a few weeks, but here's a mini-review. I liked the book a lot:

Bluebird, BluebirdBluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a powerful book about race relations that does an excellent job of hiding the real secret of its mystery. Locke's mastery of character and dialogue is topnotch and she's pitch-perfect in creating this small Texas town. I've enjoyed her past books (BLACKWATER RISING particularly), but I think this is her best one yet.


View all my reviews

Friday, August 4, 2017

Weekend SF and Fantasy Promotion

For only ninety-nine cents more than nothing, you can buy a whole slew of fantasy and science fiction books this weekend--all your favorite genres in one big, beautiful promo here.  You know those savings accounts that "match" and "round up" your spare change? I like to use my spare change for books. I WILL be buying a few books this weekend.