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The Muppet cast (in near entirety) singing “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Over at My Sphere of Domesticity, Kate has a great post on character anthems.

I am one of those people who cannot write or paint without music. As I worked on Hemlock, I quickly realized that certain characters, pairings, and scenes each had their own theme song.

Though the entire playlists have become too large and cumbersome to list, I thought I’d share which songs have become central.

Patty Griffin, “Every Little Bit” – This became Mac’s theme early on. The song makes me think of someone who is just struggling to get by when life keeps hauling the rug out from under her and that’s very much what happens to Mackenzie in Hemlock.

Matthew Good, “Weapon” – This song has always belonged to Kyle though I also used it when writing one of the more violent scenes. It’s one of those rare songs that makes me feel like I could explode into pieces. It sums up Kyle’s love/hate relationship with himself quite well.

Aimee Mann, “The Scientist” – I didn’t think I could ever love a cover of Coldplay’s The Scientist. It’s one of the few songs I consider absolutely perfect. A few weeks into the rewrite of Hemlock, I found out that Aimee Mann had recorded a live version. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was Mac and Kyle’s song.

Aimee Mann, “That’s How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart” – It’s probably not surprising that I ended up with two Aimee Mann songs on my Hemlock playlists. What is a little surprising is that each Aimee Mann song represents Mackenzie’s relationship with either Kyle or Jason. Kyle got the Scientist and Jason got this one.

You might notice that there’s no theme song for Jason, the other point in the triangle. The truth is, I could never get a handle on his theme song. Certain Garbage songs — Temptation Waits, Bleed Like Me, Only Happy When it Rains — come closest but have never quite felt right.

“It is not about whether the hero will get the girl. It is about whether the hero should get the girl, and when was the last time you saw a movie that even knew that could be the question?” – Roger Ebert in his review of Some Kind of Wonderful (Chicago Sun Times, February 27, 1987)

Some Kind of Wonderful is not a perfect film. There are places where it plays like a Hallmark card and the supporting characters aren’t as fleshed out as in some of Hughes’ other films. It doesn’t inspire the same lazy grin of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off or the wistful smile of The Breakfast Club. It isn’t as firmly enshrined in 80’s culture as Pretty in Pink or Weird Science and it’s in the murky gray area of having been produced and written by John Hughes but having been directed by Howard Deutch.

Despite all of it’s flaws, it’s actually my second favorite John Hughes movie (ironically placing after Pretty in Pink). I tend to fall for characters more than plot and, in Watts, Mary Stuart Masterson delivers one of the truest teen movie heroines to ever grace the screen.

(( spoiler warning — I’m going to discuss the ending scene ))

Everything Masterson does in the last scene is perfect. She conveys the biggest emotions with the smallest gesture or inflection in her voice like when she turns, sees Keith, and lets out a shaky little breath and switches her weight from one foot to another or when she actually leans very slightly back when Keith reaches for her. The tremble in her voice when she says, “I hoped, but I didn’t know” brings me far closer to tears than anything in Titanic or The Notebook.

Even though it’s not considered one of Hughes’ best movies, Some Kind of Wonderful is leagues ahead of almost every teen movie to come out in the last twenty years.

Warning: I watched the documentary Don’t You Forget About Me earlier tonight. I am not responsible for how many John Hughes movies I watch and talk about over the next few days.

I love writing dialogue and I suspect part of that affection comes from a life-long affair with movies.

As I struggle to wake up on this lazy, rainy Saturday, I thought I would share some of my favorites.

The Apartment (written and directed by Billy Wilder) is the type of movie which stands or falls on its dialogue. With Wilder at the helm, the movie never falters. There are a lot of great, quotable lines in The Apartment but the Robin Crusoe one is my favorite.

There’s something positively wonderful about two equally matched characters going head to head in conversation. The Goodbye Girl (written by Neil Simon and directed by Herbert Ross) is a movie I can happily watch daily for weeks on end and never quite get tired of it.

(Click “more” to see two other favorites.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes the words come easy. They walk up to you, cut straight through all the noise and chatter and say, “Hey there you sexy writer. How about I buy you a chapter?” One chapter leads to another and, before you know it, you’re giddy. You’re syllable-drunk and conjunction-struck.

Then there are those times when the words play hard to get. You see them from across the room but, try as you might, you just can’t make a connection. You try to seduce them with music and promises of thoughtful walks in the park but they have better things to do.

You get desperate and, the more desperate you become, the less likely it is that the words will take you home. The words, after all, have standards.

I picked up Need by Carrie Jones a few days ago. Reading it, I was struck by the fact that Zara, the protagonist, is handed a car within the first few pages.

“Why do all of these kids have cars?” I asked as I shut the book and bitterly recalled my own car-free adolescence.

Then I realized that not one, but two of the boys in Hemlock have cars. Pot meet kettle.

Of course, not all of the teens on the YA shelves have cars (the cast of Wicked Lovely seems to make out just fine and MM’s sales haven’t suffered). My own reasons for giving my characters the wonderful gift of wheels were:

  • A status symbol. Jason drives a shiny, new SUV while Kyle drives a 2001, rusting Corolla. Mac has to rely on bumming rides or walking.
  • Freedom of movement.
  • Intimate conversations by the dashboard light.
  • And, more recently, fun action scenes.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Cliché but, like the best clichés, it’s undeniably true. For the past few years, the young adult market has been expanding at a prodigious rate. The shelves at your local bookstore are crammed with stories dealing with everything from misunderstood vampire boyfriends to drug abuse.

There’s just one catch: young adult books seem to top out at age eighteen. Write a character out of high school and you find yourself in a strange no-man’s land. Your themes might be similar to those found in YA but no one seems to know how or where to place your book. With Twilight readers getting older and more adults reading YA, it’s logical that there should be a demand for slightly older characters. It’s just that no one seems to be filling it.

Those of us with characters in their late teens and early twenties have been left with an awful question: Do we try change the age of our characters (changing college settings to high school if need be) or do we simply cross our fingers and hope for the best?

The latest news from St. Martin’s Press has some of us breathing a little easier. (Actually, we held hands and skipped in circles crying “SALVATION”. We’re not exactly a subtle bunch.) Early this week, news hit the internet: SMP is looking for great fiction with characters slightly older than traditionally seen in YA and they’re calling it “new adult”.

The road ahead for those of us with 18+ year-old protagonists is still long (and still seems to be slopping slightly uphill) but it is a much more exciting journey than it was just a few weeks ago. We’re still veering off the map but if the news from SMP tells us anything, it reminds us that taking the road less traveled isn’t always a bad thing.

For some reason, I usually listen to most Stereophonics songs while driving (“Dakota” being an exception). There’s something delicious about being in a warm car on a dark, crisp fall night and cranking “Mr. Writer” or “Handbag and Gladrags”.

I listen to the gravel and grit of Kelly Jones’ voice–only occasionally joining in for a chorus here and there–as I speed away from work and I take smug satisfaction in the fact that this is not the inane music of my coworkers.

 

Blog stats are a curious thing. Yesterday, for example, someone stumbled upon my wee blog looking for the manuscript for Sunshine Cleaning. While I don’t have the screenplay for Sunshine Cleaning (as far as I know, it’s not based on a book), I did want to give a shout out to what is a perfect gem of a movie.

Sunshine Cleaning is quiet movie with quiet characters–the type of movie which almost seems out of place given the state of the world and the movies coming out of Hollywood. That made me like it all the more.