I recently watched the pilot of a new sitcom called "Two Broke Girls." I found it to be a bunch of contrived dirty jokes loosely held together by what was supposed to be witty banter. In doing a little research, I found that many heaped praise upon this show and it scored record high marks with test audiences. Very disturbing! And current movies seem to be following a trend of computer-generated special effects replacing actual plots. Let's bring back 3D writing, I say.
I recently started keeping a journal with some of my favorite quotes from television shows and movies. As a writer, I believe good writing should be celebrated and remembered. If the new shows are any indication, remembering good writing from Hollywood may be all we are able to do.
I love lines like this from Toy Story III:
Rex: This is no time to be hysterical.
Pig: This is a perfect time to be hysterical.
* * *
How about a little fatherly wisdom from Sheriff Andy of Mayberry:
(this is from memory so not an exact quote)
Andy: Son, statistics show that two-and-a-half children in your school class go to bed hungry every night.
Opie: How can there be half a kid, Pa?
Andy: That's just a ratio.
Opie: Poor Horatio!
When I was in high school "Poor Horatio" was a buzzword my friend Julie and I used when one or the other of us was having a pity party and felt like half a person.
* * *
I've recently started writing down my favorites from Everybody Loves Raymond.
Debra;s father: How's police work treating you?
Robert: Oh, you know. One day you're rescuing a puppy and the next day you're fishing a skull out of a toilet.
That is such a great summation of life, isn't it?
Ray: Just forgive me, all right? I'll throw in a dinner for two at Le Bon Adieu.
Debra: Does it have to be with you?
Ray: Yes, you're stuck with me.
Ray: So we just made up. I think it might be time for make-up sex.
Debra: Does it have to be with you?
And that is a great summation of marriage.
* * *
Ray: Take a look at your daughter.
Debra: Yeah? So? She looks happy.
Ray: Look how good it is to be five. You're truly happy at five. Your happiness peaks at five.
Debra: Come on! I'm happy.
Ray: You're not that happy. You can't be. Look at her. Ally, what are you thinking of?
Ray: Candy! (to Debra) You're that happy? When's the last time you daydreamed about candy? You can't do that as an adult. Try it. You don't get far. Candy. Candy. Oh, cavities. Cavities. No money.
* * *
Robert: It's not a cult, Ma. It's a bunch of people who care about me.
Marie: You've got that here, you stupid ass.
Great summation of family.
* * *
I am going to come out of the closet and admit something. When I am cleaning our vacation house, I watch old episodes of Desperate Housewives on my computer. It seems fitting somehow. While there is much in this show that is off-color and over the top ridiculous or raunchy, I've found surprising moments of laugh-out-loud humor and even more surprising moments of profound wisdom. I've decided to look at it as a spoof and find the hidden nuggets of wit and wisdom. Here are a few of my favorites:
Lynette: (to Bree after the publication and success of her first cookbook) All your friends are very proud of you. Bitterly jealous, but proud.
I love that line because I often find myself truly happy for fellow writers who achieve success yet also my emotions run the gamut from wistful to truly envious and if I admit it, sometimes even borderline bitter, but usually only if, for example, someone is getting paid big bucks for writing third-grade fart jokes on a television sitcom. Although I always talk myself down off the ledge, I love that someone, even a fictional someone, admits to that. I have used this line since then more than a few times.
* * *
I also loved this line from Lynette, mother of many:
Lynette: My stomach looks like Spanish stucco and my breasts look like two balloons you find behind the couch a week after the party.
What mother hasn't felt this way?
* * *
Another great Lynette moment. She is in the waiting room at the OB, after she found out she was unexpectedly pregnant.
Expectant mother: Most women say this is the greatest experience of their life.
Lynette: Most women are liars. My mother was a liar and her mother was a liar and your mother is a liar. It's a lie each generation tells the next so they can get grandchildren.
Oh, how true it is!
* * *
This is my personal favorite DH quote, from the narrator, the deceased Mary Alice.
Mary Alice: There is a prayer intended to give strength to people faced with circumstances they don't want to accept. The power of the prayer comes from its insight into humor nature.
"We ask God to grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change." Because so many of us rage against the hand that life has dealt us.
"The courage to change the things we can." Because so many of us are cowardly and afraid to stand up for what is right.
"And the wisdom to know the difference." Because so many of us give in to despair when faced with an impossible choice.
The good news for those who utter these words is that God will hear you and answer your prayers. The bad news is that sometimes the answer is "no."
* * *
The novel that I promote on this blog, Lucky Change, is not dissimilar to this show--dismissed out of hand because of assumed content. Because the main character in my book buys a lottery ticket and wins a "kazillion dollars," the LDS bookstores such as Deseret Book and Seagull Bookstores decided not to carry the book for fear readers would get the impression that it promotes gambling, even though I thought I did a good job of showing the downside of this windfall. Following suit, apparently reasoning that if the major church bookstores didn't want it, they didn't want it, it is apparently offered on a Special Order Only basis at the independent LDS bookstores. That means they stock one book, and if it sells, they order another one, maybe. The BYU Bookstore is the only LDS bookstore carrying my book. I feel like my writing career is one big game of Chutes and Ladders. I know. I know. I'm having a pity party. One day you're rescuing a puppy . . . I feel like half a woman. Poor Horatio.
Needless to say, this has cut into my sales. Even though the book was a finalist for a Whitney Award earlier this year, it has all but disappeared from the radar. Sometimes I get very discouraged. Some days I think I will quit writing, even though I know in my heart that I won't. Andy Rooney, who just died, was quoted as saying, "Writers never retire." That is because writing isn't just what you do. It is who you are.
I sometimes find myself fighting off frustration about my limitations. Instead of enjoying the beautiful place in which I live on the Big Island of Hawaii, I find myself feeling stifled by the lack of opportunities I have to do book signings and promotional events. I daily fight against my own human nature--my tendency to procrastinate, my own inconsistent promotional efforts, like blogging, my ADD writing habits with ten books in process each with four or five chapters finished.
I am discouraged not only because I am not contributing much financially to our family, but because this book is full of great characters and life lessons and laugh-out-loud moments of humor. It is also full of touching moments and scenes that make us take stock of our attitudes and relationships to those around us. I am discouraged because this book is not out in the world doing whatever good it can do. My husband bet the farm on me publishing my first four novels, and ten years later, I am still trying to pay him back for his faith in me.
I began writing this book during the economic downturn in the early 90s. I was encouraged by the fact that it was coming out at a time when financial difficulties are besetting many. It is a great book for anyone struggling through downsizing, layoffs, or just the general effects of this current recession/depression. Christmas, anybody?
When Karen is suddenly wealthy, her two children, especially her son, see this as an opportunity to show up all the people who who have looked down on them in their poverty over the years.
"Austin, didja think it was right how people treated us like they were better than us because they had money?"
"You know I didn't, Mom. That's why I'm so excited that . . ."
"Then why do you think it would be right for us to act like we're the bees knees because I've got a kazillion dollars? Ain't it the exact same thing?"
He sighed. "Okay, you're right. I know you're right, but dang, you're raining on my parade, Mom. And not just any parade. You're raining on my Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."
(See everyone, how I got all of those "you're" contractions right. Not a "your" among them.)
* * *
One reviewer called my characters "stereotypes." As a writer, I believe we should learn from our critics, and you have to become somewhat thick-skinned. I survived the controvery over my Meridian Article, The Proclamation on the Pantyhose (http://ldsmag.com/component/zine/article/8565) and recognized both sides of that issue and that some of my detractors made excellent points. But every once in a while, someone says something that makes an author become defensive. Yes, my characters are recognizable, but my definition of a stereotype is a one-dimensional character who shows no growth. One could use the same argument that the characters in Annette Lyons' book Band of Sisters--the book that won the Whitney Award in the category for which my book was nominated--are stereotypical--the fiftyish stylish woman with never a hair out of place, the overwrought soccer mother who drives a van with Cheerios stuck to the upholstery, the marginalized young woman who does not quite fit in at church. But I didn't see them that way. Stock characters exist for a reason, because the stressed-out mother with the melted crayons in the back of her van is someone we all know. Introducing a character readers already know is a sort of literary shorthand. I loved Annette's description of her van. We've all ridden in that van and come away with some kid's lollipop stuck to our backside. She exists in our world, and we don't have to be told about the blueberry stain on her t-shirt. But the characters in Annette's book showed growth, and thereby in my book (and in hers), they were not stereotypes. The together woman came to examine her facade in a very touching scene where she sees her dying mother without her mask of perfection and realizes it is time to take off her own mask. Annette moved her characters out of their comfort zones, and instead of being predictable stereotypes they were multi-dimensional characters with characteristics familiar to us.
So for that critic, yes, Karen is the stereotype of "poor white trailer trash," but she moves outside her comfort zone, working on her vocabulary, starting businesses, and eventually even successfully pitching an idea to a national company. Olive is your basic immaculate housekeeper, perfect Relief Society sister, but she has some humbling experiences and realizes that some of the selfish and negative traits her daughter exhibits were learned from her. Rex is the perfect LDS bishop, but when he finds out something Camille did for which she feels a need to repent, he is of the opinion that the guy had it coming and smiles and tells her he thinks it could be counted as an act of service. Toni is self-centered and somewhat haughty. When Karen purchases her home and they are still living in the ward in a rental home, she vows that she will never set foot inside the home while Karen owns it. Yet in order to do a service project for children dying of cancer, Toni swallows her pride. Familiar characteristics are but one facet of a stereotype. Because my characters show growth and change, I am of the opinion that moves them outside the label of "stereotype." Personally I think that critic is rather stereotypical, because calling characters stereotypes is well, a very predictable and stereotypical thing for a critic to do. There! I feel better now.
So if you want to read a great book full of lines that you could add to your own book of quotes, Lucky Change is available at Amazon.com, BYU Bookstores in Provo, Idaho and Hawaii. Signed copies are available from the author by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also do book club visits via Skype. As it gets colder wherever you are, it's a way to bring the warmth of the islands to you. For any book club who signs me up for a visit, I'll give you a good deal on copies of the book and I'll send some chocolate covered mac nuts for refreshments. Contact me within a week and I'll send coconut chocolate mac nuts.
Susan, the poor struggling writer