Happy Holidays from my swingin’ crib to yours

Yeah, it’s been a sucky year. But in the immortal words of Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, “Never give up! Never Surrender!” For now, raise one for all of use, because we’re going to need it in the new year. But when has anything worth having ever been easy? Here’s hoping all that strife has been worth it!

Happy holidays to all!

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Hittin the Holiday Film Vault

Movies are my favorite form of escapism, and when I first posted this list a while ago, the only diversion I needed was one from the over-commercialism of the season. How quaint that seems now. Without going into the reasons why, let’s just take these little gems for what they’re worth, a short vacation out of a reality that’s become too grim of late. So get cozy, grab the popcorn and lose yourself in these trifles of holiday storytelling.

1. The Shop Around the Corner ( 1940) – Must be my Eastern European blood calling to me, but I just love this sparkling Ernst Lubitsch romance set in a prewar Budapest gift shop. Starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as two battling sales clerks who don’t know they’re falling in love via the post, as each other’s anonymous pen pal. Stellar secondary characters, including a priceless William Tracy as the cheeky delivery boy, Pepi. The Christmas Eve menu at the end had me salivating.

2. The Man Who Came to Dinner ( 1942) – After dining at a Ohio local’s home during a  lecture tour, notoriously acerbic radio personality Sheridan Whiteside slips on his hosts’ icy steps, and takes over not only their house but their lives. Starring Monty Woolley as The Man and Bette Davis as his aide-de-camp, the snark and sarcasm are so sharp and quick you’ll come away nicked but you’ll be laughing too hard to care. Still fresh over seventy years later, The Man is based on Algonquin Roundtable-er, Alexander Woolcott, his cronies thin veneers of Noel Coward, Harpo Marx, Gertrude Lawrence and all who were definitely in-crowd.

3. Holiday Affair (1949) – No one did heavy-lidded better than The Mitch, and the very fact that he actually made a holiday film piqued my curiosity enough to watch it. Just by the look of this poster you could see the only thing that remotely indicated that it had anything to do with Christmas was war-widow’s Janet Leigh’s sheer wrapping definitely promised presents for someone. Oh, somewhere among the movie’s a plot involving a department store clerk and a retail spy, a sassy kid, a train set, a jilted–oh who cares! Mitch smolders and Janet’s a brush fire waiting to happen.

4. A Christmas Story ((1983) – All nine-year-old Ralphie wants for Christmas is a genuine Red Ryder BB gun, and he’ll do darn near anything to get it. Based on the recollections of storyteller Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust – All Others Pay Cash, Peter Billingsley had the part of a lifetime that until this day loops every Christmas on cable channel TBS. Darren McGavin ought to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for one priceless part as Ralphie’s dad who spouts the immortal words, “It’s a major award!”

5. The Holiday (2006) – Don’t ask me why I like this story of American movie trailer maker Cameron Diaz, and English wedding column writer Kate Winslet who swap their respective Hollywood and Surrey homes for the Christmas holidays. Maybe it’s got something to do with Jude Law being tossed into the mix, I don’t know, but the whole thing sure sounds like a good idea to me.

Great Expectations

Okay, I’m a big fan of Outlander. Not only the series on  Starz, but of the books, as I’ve been reading them since a few years after the first book (named Outlander, oddly enough) came out. I had met series author Diana Gabaldon years ago at a cocktail party at a New Jersey Romance Writers’ conference, where she was so kind to explain to me just how she wrote one of her more grisly scenes (the memory of it and how my stomach lurched, will be better left unwritten at this juncture thankyouverymuch). She was very charming and personable, and years later I had the chance to encounter her again in New York, this time at a Random House Author Breakfast. It was there she disclosed for the first time that just the night before, she had finalized the contract for the Starz Outlander series, to excited gasps from her rabid fan base sitting in the audience, thrilled that Jamie and Claire would finally come to life. But I wonder ever since that day how many of her readers have been disappointed? Because how much is really lost when characters–and storylines–jump from the page to the screen?

I read a romance once where the author stated in her forward that she based her two lead characters, a pirate and a spoiled and screeching noblewoman, on George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. Really? The debonair Clooney as a peg-legged arrrrgh -ing privateer? The elegant Aussie as a continual pain-in-the-ass? Didn’t help that all they did in the book was fight. Just didn’t wash for me, especially since I saw Clooney and Kidman as having zero chemistry. But that was beside the point. I resented the fact I was being directed to imagine a character in a certain way, rather than to let their deeds and actions unfold in my own mind as to what they really were about. When I read a book, it’s should be my interpretation of the writing, not that author’s. That’s why there are book discussion groups, as every reader has a different impression of the author’s vision. And in when a book jumps to a screen small or large, that vision is then ceded by the author to the screenwriters and ultimately, the director.

Every Monday morning I read the Outlander recap in The New York Times and invariably, there’s someone bitching about how much the show is missing/has changed/has been altered from book to series. There’s some changes I’ve liked, there’s some that I’ve questioned, there’s some that I outright hate. Comments say the book is so much better, and some, who’ve never read the books, suggest avenues the characters can take. Those who are like me, enjoy it for what it is. I can live with both because I’ve experienced both, and I see each for what they are. As a writer, I know when I put my work out there, my characters are bound to be altered by each person who reads my story, as each approach it with different life experiences and expectations.

But that’s the chance we take when we become writers, as it’s nearly impossible for our vision to be transferred unaltered into another person’s brain. The best we can hope for is it’s intact enough to remain enjoyable and worthy enough to read. And that enough people end up reading it to end up transferring it from a Kindle into a more widely-distributed screen. Or so we hope.