Archive for December, 2018

2018 In Review

Taking a break from my holiday to do a year in review …

This was a weird year for me. I didn’t have anything new published, so it feels like nothing happened. But, really, a lot happened.

On the professional side, I had to take over all my self-published books. I’d been working with my agent on that, and then she decided to get out of that part of the business, so in order for the payments to come to me, everything had to be unpublished and republished, which took a fair bit of time and effort. Now I’m having to deal directly with the various vendors, like editors, artists, designers, etc., which means dealing with paperwork and other business stuff. So, basically I started a whole new business this year without planning to. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time working on a book that I ended up backburnering. I love the concept, but I don’t think I wrote the book the concept deserves, and I need to get well away from what I did write before I can fix it without just tinkering with what I’ve written.

On the up side, I sold a short story and a novel that should be coming out in 2019. After a slow start to the year, writing wise, I ended the year by writing three books during the fall.

Then there was all the medical stuff that happened. I’ve been reasonably healthy except for seasonal allergies and maybe one bad cold that turns into bronchitis every year. While I was trying to republish all those books, I developed a splitting headache that I thought was just from the stress and focus, but it didn’t go away. I couldn’t even seem to sleep. When I took my blood pressure, it was high enough that the device blinked the “call your doctor” symbol. So I did. The doctor thought it was likely thyroid related, but my thyroid levels were normal. That led to an ultrasound that found nodules, which meant a biopsy, an MRI, and a bunch of other tests. Fortunately, the biopsy came back benign, and no cancer showed up on any of the tests or scans. They did find that I have a thyroid disease that’s not causing problems now but that I have to watch (and some reading I’ve done suggests that the symptoms I had may have been thyroid-related in spite of the tests being normal). Meanwhile, I got a good workover to see what other health problems I might have and found that I’m really quite healthy other than the thyroid stuff, though I am supposed to be watching my cholesterol (I kind of fell off the wagon during the holidays). All of that was time consuming and stressful, but I did end up with some peace of mind to have it confirmed that I’m healthy. It was after all that was past that I really picked up on my writing, so I hope I can continue that pace going forward.

The other big thing this year was that I got rid of cable TV. That may have something to do with how I read 105 books this year. I really cut back on my TV watching, and I have to say that I generally don’t miss cable. Just with Amazon, the antenna, and the stuff you can stream for free, I have more than enough stuff to watch. The only challenge is when it’s something specific you want to watch that’s only on cable. For instance, I haven’t yet seen the latest season of Doctor Who, but that ends up on Amazon eventually. I’m finding that I’m mostly watching documentaries and PBS-type programs and my attention span for passively watching is getting a lot shorter.

As for those 105 books, one thing that’s unusual this year is that only about 5 of them were re-reads, and they were mostly work-related re-reads, where I was reading them again because they related to something I was working on. I’m a big re-reader, so it’s odd for me to spend a year without re-reading things just because I love them. I’ve been trying to broaden my reading horizons, so I’ve been reading things I normally wouldn’t that are on award lists or that were handed out at conferences. That’s been a mixed bag. I was looking at my reading log, and there were a lot of books I barely remember reading (or don’t remember at all just by the title). There were a few things I remember looking forward to but was disappointed in when I read them. I have very few favorites from the year, books that stand out for me that I would want to read again. I read a lot of non-fiction, most of it at least semi-work related. Some was specifically book research. Some was general education that may factor into my work. I read a lot about productivity, focus, and creativity.

I think my big discovery of the year was Robin Hobb, who was new to me. I don’t know how I missed those books, but I’ve read two of her trilogies and have started a third. The two books I read this year that I would like to re-read were Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows.

Now I plan to spend the rest of the day reorganizing my bookcases. We’ll see how long that lasts before I find myself sitting in front of the bookcase and reading.

Christmas Holiday

I reached the point in revisions where I really need to revise. I’m not entirely happy with what plays out at this point, but I’m not sure what to change. I like the ending, and I like a lot of what I have written, but it seems to be missing something, and I’m not sure what that something is. Maybe that means this is a good time to give myself a holiday to think about it. I have some brainstorming to do, and I usually get my best ideas when I’m not actively trying to have ideas.

I’ll be taking next week off, though I may do a year-end wrap-up post next Friday. I need to look back through my notes for my favorite things of the year. This year has felt very long, but then the end seemed to come quite quickly. I’ve already topped myself in writing time compared to last year, in spite of having a big gap in the middle of the year when I didn’t get much done. That gives me hope that next year will be even better.

But before then, there’s Christmas. I’m going to a get-together with friends Sunday night (I’m bringing dessert and need to decide what to make — there are a lot of new recipes I want to try, but at the same time, I really want some old, familiar things), then there are the two Christmas Eve services, and then I’m going to my parents’ house for Christmas day. I’m going to try not to work next week because I need a true holiday, but if an idea strikes me, I may not be able to help myself.

Now I need to make a trip to the library because I’ve got a book due today and a book I had on hold has come in. The rest of the day, I may do a little brainstorming, just to put the facts of the book in my brain for the subconscious to play with, and then it’s time to go into full Christmas mode.

So, a merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

Cozy Time

I’m finding that the “get up and work before doing anything else” concept doesn’t work as well when I’m doing revisions. For writing a draft, that foggy morning brain state is wonderful for creativity. When I’m trying to be critical and analytical, I find myself just staring at the screen and dozing off. So maybe I should think of something to be drafting early in the morning while I’m doing revisions in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, I had a lovely realization when I was thinking about the holiday things I want to get around to doing: They don’t have to necessarily be done during the holiday season. The public things like festivals and displays are tied to time, but I can do the cozy evening in throughout the winter. I can bake things whenever I want. Cookies aren’t just for Christmas. There’s the Danish concept of hygge that’s all about coziness at home in the winter, and there’s a similar Norwegian concept of koselig that loosely translates to coziness, warmth, and contentment. It involves fires, candles, blankets, and, apparently, waffles. It’s their way of dealing with cold, snowy, dark winters. Here, where we don’t get dark early in the afternoon and don’t get snow, it’s more of an optional thing that can be interspersed with going outside. Then again, the Norwegians apparently get outside even with the cold and snow. Then it’s even more fun to come home to a roaring fire in the fireplace, candlelight, and hot cocoa and waffles.

So apparently it’s genetic. I’ve never been to Norway, but I have found my people.

I think I’m going to turn it into a month-long (heck, why not take it into February and make it two months) holiday season, making an effort to spend time reading with a mug of tea and some candles lit. Not that this is different from the way I normally spend my time, but I don’t always think to make it feel like an occasion or a special treat. It’s all about the mindset.

Meanwhile, today is sunny and relatively warm, but it’s so windy that I don’t think going outside would be a great idea. I’d get blown off my feet.

And in totally unrelated news, tonight is the special two-hour wrap-up movie of the TV series Timeless. I loved that show and the network was utterly clueless in how to deal with it. When it got the surprise renewal after the first season (after initially being cancelled), a lot of the feedback from fans was about how it was a series the whole family could watch together, and it was even educational because it highlighted forgotten people in history or people who didn’t really get the credit, so people then looked up these figures. So what did the network do? Schedule it in the latest prime-time slot, too late for kids to watch. At least it’s on early tonight.

Edging Back into the Rat Race

And we have now reached the holiday panic portion of our year. Not that I have anything to panic about. My shopping is done and I don’t have that many more events. But I’ve just realized how little time I have before Christmas, how much of that time is at least somewhat scheduled, and how many thing I planned or hoped to do that I haven’t done. Every year I have this mental list of holiday activities, and I never seem to get around to all of them. We’re not talking super busy activities, just quiet time for reading or watching movies. I had books and movies on my list and have realized that there’s almost no time left for quiet evenings at home. I have a library book I haven’t yet finished and one I had on hold just came in, plus there were some of the Hallmark books on hoopla I wanted to read.

Meanwhile, I’ve got that book that I need to revise, but I keep getting sidetracked. At least yesterday’s sidetrack was somewhat work-related. I’d been thinking about going back to looking for some freelance work to monetize my spare time. I don’t want to get an actual job with any kind of regular schedule, but I used to pick up the occasional writing or editing project and it would be good to go back to doing that. It’s a nice way to diversify my income. I’ve come to the realization that I can manage about four hours of fiction writing a day before my brain runs out of steam, so having a way to switch gears and still make money would be nice. But getting out there and drumming up clients would take a lot of time and effort. I heard about an agency that manages employment for creative types — they recruit creative people for companies, and you work for the agency as an employee, so this income isn’t subject to self-employment taxes and they handle paying you so you don’t have to chase down invoices. I’ve been looking at their listings every so often to see what’s out there, and they had one that might as well have had my picture on it. But that meant I needed a resume, and it turns out that I didn’t have one on my current computer. I haven’t needed one in about twenty years.

So I had to create one. I thought I’d take the easy route and use one of the Word templates. Bad decision. Somehow, highlighting the template text and typing over it was not the easy way to do this. I’m not sure how, but adding a line of text that in no way filled the page added two pages to the document, and I couldn’t get rid of them. If I were just printing this, that would be fine. I’d just print the first page and ignore the rest. But it’s being sent electronically.

I ended up creating something from scratch using the formatting ideas from the template. That still took some tinkering. I’ve seen that joke going around about how moving something a quarter of an inch in Word pretty much brings about the destruction of society, and it’s almost too true to be funny.

So now I have an actual resume and I’ve registered with this agency. The lovely thing about all this is that I don’t actually need a job, so I won’t be devastated if I don’t get it. Picking up a few projects would be nice and would allow me to build my savings, but otherwise I can spend my time writing fiction. I can afford to be picky about the assignments I take — strictly on a project basis and off-site, nothing regular that requires commuting. I also now have strong motivation to work on these revisions because this assignment would start in January, and the book is due in January.


Musical Exploration

Not only did Sunday mark the end of my crazy time, it was also the last time other than special events (like Easter) that I’ll have to deal with two services on a Sunday morning. Starting at the beginning of the new year, we’re going to a new schedule that merges the two traditional services into one that’s later than the old “early” service and earlier than the old “late” service. That will mean getting there a bit earlier every week, but never having to get there super-early and getting home earlier, for a longer Sunday afternoon. I’m looking forward to the change.

But there is a big downside. The early service was where I managed to get over what had been a crippling stage fright where music was concerned. The choir didn’t usually sing for that service, so they’ve done various things over the years to provide music. For a while, they’d assign a small group to sing the same piece the choir would be doing in the late service. Since I’m a soprano, I knew I’d be heard, but it wasn’t quite like singing a solo, and that helped me broaden my comfort levels. Even after they started having the scholarship singers sing solos for that service (these are generally music majors from a nearby university who get a stipend for singing with the choir), during the summer they’d call upon regular choir members to do music, so I started with duets and eventually sang solos. But now we don’t have that outlet anymore, and I’m not sure what they’re going to do with the music in the new service. The Sunday school stuff comes afterward, so they’re on a tighter schedule, and that likely means they won’t be adding music. All the solos for choir anthems have been automatically assigned to the scholarship singers under the new choir director, so this means that there won’t be any more opportunities to sing solos, and if I want to maintain that comfort level I fought so hard for, I’m going to need to find new places to sing.

I’ve been looking into some other choral groups, like community chorales or one of the local Sweet Adeleines groups. There are a few potential issues there — there tends to be a soprano glut, so they’re not exactly going to be excited about a new soprano, and that means solo opportunities may be as rare as they are at church, since newcomers will probably have to wait in line and there will be lots of sopranos with music degrees also trying to get those solos. Plus, I’m not sure I can deal with adding a commitment one night a week on an ongoing basis. They do offer the chorale at the local junior college as a continuing education/non-credit course, and it meets in the afternoons, so that’s a possible option.

I’ve also considered exploring my interest in folk/traditional/Celtic music. There are some organizations in the area that offer lessons and some jam sessions/music circles. If I get my lip back in shape for playing the flute and get back on working on the harp, I might be able to find a group to perform with. (And this could also kind of count as work-related, since a lot of my story ideas incorporate music.) Even without finding a group, they seem to have some music circle opportunities where you can perform for others, and that’s really just what I want. It doesn’t have to be on a big stage, just staying used to the idea of other people hearing me sing.

Or there’s musical theater. I’ve always loved it, but I’ve really only done one show. I’d been considering looking into some acting classes as a way to figure out how to better convey emotions in my writing, so that makes this also work-related. There is a big time commitment, but it’s shorter term. Instead of a night every week all year (or during the school year) it might be most nights for a month or so.

But before I worry about any of this, I probably need to do some work to get my voice in better shape. It’s something that takes daily practice, and between being sick off and on throughout the fall and being caught up in working on books, I haven’t been doing that. And I also have a book due in January. But then I’ll start exploring more.


More Christmas Movies

I got through my last crazy holiday weekend. From here on out, other than choir rehearsal Wednesday and Christmas Eve services, any activities are optional.

This weekend, I turned to Amazon Prime Video for my holiday movie fix, and it was a partial fail. The movies I watched were quite good, but not really what I was looking for in terms of a “put on my snowflake flannel PJs, turn on the Christmas lights, and drink cocoa” kind of evening.

First was a movie called A Christmas in New York, which was described as being like Love Actually. The only thing in common with Love Actually is that it told multiple stories. The “Christmas” part just meant there were a few decorations around. It could have been set just about anywhere because it took place entirely inside a hotel. The movie was about one night in a hotel, peeking in on what was going on with some of the people staying in the hotel that night. It was very “stagey,” with the kind of scenes you do for scene studies in acting classes, so I wonder if that’s how it started, and then they turned it into a movie. The acting really was quite good. It was a case of giving good actors some pretty basic material and then letting them run with it. It was just nothing like Love Actually and had zero Christmas feeling.

Which made me start thinking: What is it about Love Actually that makes it what it is? I think a lot of it is the quirkiness and how they made a lot of unexpected choices. Like, in a storyline about a widower and his stepson coping with the loss of a wife/mother, instead of going with something more conventional, they had it focus on the boy’s crush on a classmate and coming up with plans for showing his feelings. Along the way, they did grow together (I noticed on this viewing that the boy goes from calling the stepfather by his name at the beginning to calling him “Dad” at the end of the movie). The story about the husband straying in his marriage gets odd doses of humor from the world’s slowest sales clerk when he’s trying to buy his secretary an expensive gift without his wife catching him and from the wife having to face her children inexplicably dressed as a lobster and an octopus for the school Christmas program immediately after realizing he hadn’t bought the expensive gold necklace for her.

The other movie I watched was The Man Who Invented Christmas, the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol (I suspect it was heavily fictionalized). It’s a really good movie, but not very Christmassy because he’s writing the story earlier in the year to be published at Christmas. I loved the way it depicts the creative process — Dickens will be surrounded by his characters, who are all talking to him, and everything’s going great, and then someone knocks on his door and all the characters vanish. That’s so much what it feels like, though in my case it’s more likely to be a phone ringing. As depicted here, Dickens himself goes on a bit of a Christmas past/present/future journey about his own life during the course of writing the story, with Scrooge always alongside to nag at him, and he has to come to terms with a lot of things before he can write the redemptive ending. Like the other movie, there’s some great acting. All the scenes of Dickens and Scrooge going at it are so much fun when it pretty much means throwing Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer in a room and letting them go (the more I see of Dan Stevens in other things, the more I understand his desire to leave Downton Abbey. He must have been so bored). Someday I think I’ll have to do a double feature of this and Finding Neverland, with the theme of the flights of fancy that are part of the creative process.

Next Sunday night I think I’m going to do my annual viewing of The Holiday, and I’ll have to maybe find a few other things to watch on Saturday. Otherwise, it looks like my evenings this week are spoken for, so that may be it for holiday movies this year.


Revisiting Love Actually

When I got out my DVD of Love Actually, I realized how long it must have been since I watched it because it was the “full screen” edition. I vaguely recalled that being the only option I found when I bought it, but I didn’t remember it being an issue for me. I got the widescreen TV in 2006, but it’s possible that the TV automatically adjusted the picture to fit. I got the Blu-Ray player that shows it in the square instead of fitting the screen in 2011, so it’s been at least that long. I think I may have caught bits and pieces when the movie came on TV, but I haven’t watched the whole movie in at least seven years. Since then, I’ve read the various think pieces, deconstructions, and criticisms, so it was interesting to look at the movie in that light.

I think a lot of the “magic” of the movie for me involved the circumstances in which I first saw it. It had been a difficult week for me. I was in the middle of the first draft of the book that became Enchanted, Inc., and while that was a relatively easy book to write, I was at the hard part after I’d passed the stuff I’d known for a long time and I was having to figure things out. Meanwhile, I’d had to sing for the funeral of a friend that week, someone who was in the choir and who’d been fighting brain cancer for a few years. I got together with friends on Saturday for a girls’ day out. The theater was in one of those shopping centers that’s new but built to be kind of like an old town square, and it’s near downtown, so it really did feel like an old downtown area. We met up for a matinee, got pink girly drinks at the theater’s bar, and then after the movie we went to dinner, did some window shopping, and ended up at Starbucks, where we sat by the fireplace and had hot cocoa. I think a lot of what was going on with me in the movie was getting a good cathartic cry that I hadn’t allowed myself at the funeral since I was singing, and then all the lovely Christmas atmosphere in the movie also spilled into reality with the day we had.

As for the movie, one of the things I like about it is that it’s a mixed bag. When things aren’t going great, sometimes the perfect, happy world of a Christmas movie is a jarring contrast to your life. Having parts of the story be upsetting or depressing makes it not be quite so bad, but there are still happy parts, so the movie isn’t entirely depressing. This is a good holiday season movie to watch when you’re in a funny mood.

There were parts that always bugged me. For instance, I don’t really like the part with the friend obsessed with his best friend’s bride. I’ve never bought into the fictional notion that all feelings must be expressed and acted upon. He’d already had to admit that it wasn’t that he hated her but that he’d had to avoid her out of self-preservation. Going to their house to tell her he loved her, even though he said it was no expectation, was kind of a crappy thing to do as a friend. Be an adult and just deal with the fact that you can’t get everything you want.

The prime minister story line has not aged well. Basically, a woman gets fired because her boss has the hots for her and gets jealous when someone else pays attention to her, but it’s all okay because he learns that she was actually being sexually harassed. In the #MeToo era, it’s hard to see that story as at all romantic.

It struck me on this viewing that the whole movie is very “male gaze,” which is odd for a movie whose primary audience is probably heavily female. Not only is there a lot of nudity or near-nudity (the male nudity is played more like a joke), but few of the women in the movie have any agency. They’re basically prizes to be won, with little consideration for what they actually feel. Since we don’t really get the woman’s point of view until the end, when we maybe learn she likes him, too, it’s all about what he wants. In the few story lines where the women have a perspective, they’re mostly at the mercy of the men in their lives.

But the parts that are good and charming are really good and charming. I may not like the rest of the bride storyline, but I do love the wedding scene. I think it’s a bit much that the Colin Firth character proposes to a woman he’s never actually had a conversation with, but I like their scenes, where they’re saying the same things without realizing it because of the language barrier, and the proposal scene, while illogical, makes me teary-eyed. Emma Thompson proves how much of an acting goddess she is in the scene when she’s expecting the gold necklace she found earlier and gets a CD instead and realizes her husband gave the gold necklace to someone else. I think the best story line is with the Liam Neeson character and his stepson. It’s even sadder now realizing that not many years after this movie, he really was widowed. Although it’s sort of about the boy’s love for the girl in his class he wants to win (yet another woman as prize), I think it’s really about them and their relationship with each other in the aftermath of their loss. Their scenes are so sweet. It’s also a fun storyline because it sets up so many inside jokes for Phineas and Ferb (the boy went on to be the voice of Ferb on the cartoon, and the girl was Vanessa). There was a sequel scene done for one of those fundraising telethons that really ties a neat bow on it.

I did get my cathartic cry the first time I saw the movie, and this time around, in spite of my ongoing mental critique, I will admit that it got very hard for me to see my knitting.

There have been a lot of imitators trying to do the same kind of thing with Christmas and with other holidays, but there really was something about this movie.


More Holiday Reading

My favorite bit of holiday reading so far this year has been a new/old book. Connie Willis is one of my favorite writers. I love her novels, and her short stories make me feel inadequate as a writer. A number of years ago, she put out a collection of Christmas-related short stories, called Miracle. I have a copy in hardcover and pull it out to re-read favorites every so often. In addition to the stories, there’s an essay about Christmas and why Miracle on 34th Street is a better Christmas movie than It’s a Wonderful Life, as well as some lists of good holiday movies, TV shows, and books/stories.

Not too long ago (maybe last year’s Christmas season?), they issued an updated version of this collection, called A Lot Like Christmas. It has the things that were in Miracle, but there are a number of new stories and the lists of recommended viewing and reading have been updated.

The new stories are just as fun as those in the original collection. There’s one about androids who dream of Broadway stardom, one about futuristic holiday decorating run amok, and one about what might happen if “White Christmas” is played so often that it does something to alter reality. That’s in addition to the original stories about the Spirit of Christmas Presents (as in gifts) showing up, aliens arriving just in time for Christmas, and Dickens’ Christmas ghosts showing up in a bookstore, among others.

The nice thing about reading a short story collection is that I can fit in a story or two when I don’t have an extended block of reading time, and I can still turn my light out and go to sleep at the appropriate time. I can reach a satisfying conclusion without being tempted to read one more chapter (though there is the temptation to read one more story).

What Connie does so well is convey chaos. A lot of these stories might be considered screwball comedies, like the great old movies. That’s so appropriate for this time of year, when we’re pulled in so many directions. And then in the middle of the chaos, there’s a moment of peace and truth.

I guess what I’m looking for in a holiday read is something that’s like some of these stories — with humor, a touch of magic, and a dash of romance — but maybe longer. Christmas has played a big role in some of her novels, but the Black Death and a flu epidemic may not necessarily be everyone’s idea of festive (though I happen to love The Doomsday Book as a Christmas read).

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered that the hoopla service I get through my library has some of the Hallmark Christmas books, so I shall have to investigate that.


Crazy Christmas Movies

I actually had a night in last night, and as I had no brain, I ended up watching the Christmas movie I recorded the other night. It was called A Snow White Christmas, and since I’m into fairy tales, I figured why not?

And oh, dear, I’m not even sure where to begin. It was so bizarre. I’m not sure if they took this seriously or if it was meant to be a farce. I think some of the actors were in on the joke, but not all of them were.

Let me see if I can adequately describe this insanity … (Spoilers! As if you could spoil something like this)

Blanca works for the candy company her father founded. She’s supposed to fully inherit the business and her share of her father’s money on her 25th birthday, which happens to be Christmas. Her stepmother and her stepmother’s gay best friend/assistant (they’ve basically Karen and Jack from Will and Grace) have cooked up a scheme to get all the estate. They’ve forged a letter from Blanca, giving it all over to her stepmother, and the bestie got certified as a Notary Public so he could notarize the forgery. They just need to get her out of the way until after her birthday so she can’t personally make any claim on the estate. Plan A is to give her a vacation somewhere else, but she wants to be at home for Christmas.

Meanwhile, the stepmother is renovating the family home before the deadline in which Blanca will inherit it officially, and stepmother has designs on the architect, a much younger man who’s a notoriously eligible bachelor (his last name is “Prince,” so you’ll know where he fits in the story). But he falls for Blanca at first sight and barely notices the stepmother. Of course, you realize this means war, so it’s time for plan B. They hire a hypnotist to make Blanca lose all her memories of her stepmother, her family’s business, and her inheritance. She has fond memories of a Christmas she spent with her father at a roadside motel before her father made his money, when they just had the simple things, so they hypnotize her into thinking that’s her life now. They drop her off at the motel so that when she wakes up, she’ll think she decided to spend Christmas there. The catch, the hypnotist warns them, is that true love will break the spell.

And this is where it starts to get weird, like we’re in two, or maybe three, different movies. At the motel, Blanca runs into the band playing at the motel’s restaurant for the holiday season, the Holly Jollies. There are seven members, and you can see where this is going. They all have traits that map to the dwarfs in the Disney version, but since those were actually created by Disney and aren’t from the fairy tale, they don’t use those actual names (“Grumpy” is “Oscar” — get it?). Blanca instantly becomes friends with them, and soon she’s creating her wonderful treats and her supposedly genius idea of a hot cocoa bar for the hotel coffee shop (and somehow managing to do enough baking and cooking to sell in the kitchenette of a motel room). But when she Instagrams herself and her creations, the “Prince” realizes where his girlfriend disappeared to and tracks her down. She doesn’t remember him, and has no idea what he’s talking about when he mentions her stepmother, and she resists when he suggests that maybe she should see a doctor about her memory loss. He keeps doing crazy, over-the-top stunts to win her over, but she’s so not into it (then again, she’s sort of blank and affectless, so it’s hard to tell. She’s not much different when she is really into something).

Meanwhile, Karen and Jack the stepmother and her “mirror” are usually seen cackling evilly about their plans while drinking champagne and indulging in spa treatments. When the architect reports finding Blanca, they send the artist who’s painting a mural in the house (named “Hunter”) to look after her, only telling him that she’s lost her memories and they want someone to make sure she’s okay.

From this point, a Hallmark movie ensues as Hunter and Blanca hit it off because they enjoy the simple things of Christmas. They go shopping for a Christmas tree in the snow, drink hot cocoa, listen to the Holly Jollies not sing on camera, etc. And I’m sure you know where this is going.

Except true love breaking the spell doesn’t solve everything. Somehow, Blanca remembering her stepmother and the hypnosis doesn’t make her go right back home to put up a fight. She overhears Hunter on the phone with stepmom trying to convince him to stall Blanca and keep her away until after Christmas and feels betrayed, but she misses the part of the conversation where Hunter realizes what stepmom is up to and tells her what she can do with it. Blanca is devastated (at least, she says she is, but with her, it’s hard to tell). But there’s the last-minute dash through the snow to reveal the stepmother’s schemes in the nick of time, and somehow it’s possible to force stepmom and her bestie to work in the candy factory even though slavery is illegal in this country.

The stepmom and her mirror seemed to think this was all a comic farce and were having a grand time. I hope the “Prince” was playing a farce and all the over-the-top emoting was an acting choice, but I’m afraid he thought he was playing it straight (for a while, I thought he was supposed to be under a spell, and that’s why he was so obsessed). “Hunter” thought he was in a Hallmark movie and was quite sincere. Blanca wasn’t quite sure what was going on or why people were pointing cameras at her and telling her to say things.

Alas, it wasn’t quite bad enough to be deliciously glorious, but it wasn’t quite good enough to be good. It was, however, quite different. I kept saying I was just going to turn it off and delete it, but I kept watching until the end.

I think my next free night, I’m rewatching Love Actually.


Christmas Reading

I finally get a bit of a break today from holiday craziness. Last night, the women’s group at church had our party, a spa night at a nail salon. I’m not a big manicure/nail polish person, but getting the hand and arm massage was nice. We’ll see how long the polish lasts. It feels weird and that might drive me crazy, unless I get used to it. I think some of the problems I’ve had putting on polish were because I was doing it wrong, based on what I watched from the professional doing it.

And now I get to actually be at home this evening. I don’t have to deal with people today, so maybe I’ll get more work done.

I’ve been reading some Christmassy books, with mixed results. I read one that was the designated Christmas entry in a series I’ve been reading, and it was okay, though the author really should have done more research. The book’s set in England, and there’s a character who’s an American estranged from his family. In this book, his brother shows up, and he’s the stereotypical racist, sexist, homophobic redneck. He’s from a hick town, and you can see why the regular character fled this town that was so isolated from anything resembling culture. The brother has his horizons expanded because for the first time in his life, he’s met people from another culture, and when he meets the town’s Muslim doctor, it’s the first time he’s met someone from a different religion.

And then there’s an offhand reference to the name of the town these characters are from, and I had to laugh out loud (and then pretty much disregard the book). The author must have just picked a town name without doing any research about the actual town (or making up a fake town) because it’s the town adjacent to me (I live in a little bubble of one city that’s isolated from that city but practically a part of this other town, and I live in that town’s school district in spite of having a mailing address from the city). We’re talking about a town of about 40,000 population, with a per capita income of about $200,000. It’s the place a lot of executives live. It has one of the top school districts in the nation, is home to some major corporations, and is adjacent to a major international airport. It’s less than a half-hour drive to downtown Dallas. The population is about 30 percent Indian, and it’s one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse areas in the nation. In fact, the world religions other than Christianity are more represented in this town than just about anywhere else in the United States.

So, the guy coming from there would have had to work really hard to have not met someone from another religion (living in the adjacent town, my neighbors are Hindu and Jewish). This town is pretty much the exact opposite of what’s portrayed in the book. I’d love to know how she picked this town. Even if she just looked on a map, she had to have seen that it’s part of a major metropolitan area and next to the international airport. Did she look on a list of towns and like this name? I follow the author on Twitter, but it would probably be tacky to ask, “Umm, where did that come from, and did you know …?”

Now I’m reading a book that’s a gender-switched telling of Pride and Prejudice. I remember around this time last year I wondered if anyone had done that. This one is so very different from what I had in mind that I think I could still do mine without anyone thinking I’d copied it. I might even get wacky and not make any obvious references (like names), and see if anyone notices what I’m doing.