I'm nobody special.

Drove back from a friend’s wedding on Whidbey Island this morning. Very romantic occasion! Sometimes I just need a wedding, and people going on and on about their feelings for each other, and reading vows, and singing each other songs, and dancing, and feeding each other cake, to restore my faith that romance, the kind I write about, is real. Congratulations, guys!

This afternoon, Sonia and I went to Captain America. Overall, I loved it. Two big pluses and a small minus:

1+) This was a movie that really lived by “Show, don’t tell.” A lot of stories tell me that the hero is the hero because he’s a good person, and that the villain is the villain because he’s evil, all the way to the bone.

I’ve been rereading some of the later Harry Potter books, for instance. I adore the books, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very eager to tell me that Harry can defeat Voldemort because unlike Voldemort, he loves deeply. The problem is, when Harry is actually described feeling an emotion, it is almost consistently anger, hatred, or a desire for revenge. I don’t object to that per se, but it doesn’t sell the story I’m being told.

In this telling of Steve Rogers’s origin story, he was chosen to be Captain America because he’s a good man. Because he puts others first, because he always tries to do what’s right, because he hates bullying, because he never gives up. Because he cares, deeply. And we are shown that again and again.

He isn’t just decent when it’s time for the big things: in every interaction Steve has, right down to his first scene–an interaction with a disrespectful movie patron–he shows that same decency, courage, and willingness to put himself on the line for others. And it’s clearly shown that it’s his history of being a good guy when it comes to the small stuff that makes him able to be a good guy when it comes to the big stuff.

We’re also shown the Red Skull consistently, in every interaction, being arrogant, selfish, greedy, and pointlessly cruel. So when we got to the big power moment where the Red Skull says, “What have you got that I don’t?” and Captain America says, “I’m nobody special”…I was cheering! Because I had been shown exactly what the Cap had that the Red Skull didn’t.

2+) A lot of superhero movies focus on the single superhero whose name appears in the title, and his personal heroism. The same goes for action movies in general–there’s a tendency to focus on one man, and his ability to single-handedly defeat much greater opponents. Captain America has a team! And friends, and superior officers, and allies from other Allied countries…the list goes on.

Captain America, dusty, a torn motorcycle jacket over his uniform, gets three cheers from a bunch of grimy soldiers and a smile from Agent Carter in a flight jacket

Captain America is a symbol. He has the ability to inspire others, to bring out the best in people. In almost every shot that featured him doing something amazing, his team was right behind him, backing him up, making what he did possible. He’s a leader, but not a lone wolf.

This movie was full of heroes of all kinds: not just the Cap, but his best friend Bucky, his army unit, the scientists who modified his genes, every Allied soldier who volunteered to fight the Nazis, the women who bought war bonds, the girls who entertained the troops…every single character in this movie who wasn’t a Nazi, the Red Skull or one of his men was a hero in their own way.

Even the little kid taken hostage by a Hydra agent for Captain America’s good behavior and then thrown off a dock was a hero: “Go get him!” the kid yells. “I can swim!”

3-) The romance. Why can’t action movies seem to get romance right? I loved Agent Carter, don’t get me wrong. She was a great character. But the romance was definitely a weak link in an otherwise very strong movie. First they trotted out some tired “I’ve never talked to a woman before” clichés. Then they ignored several opportunities to have the Cap and Agent Carter discuss potential real connections between them (for example, they both had to struggle to be allowed to do their part for the war effort, him because of his physical weakness and her because she’s an attractive woman) in favor of run-of-the-mill flirtation. They threw in some meaningful looks, and then they told me that it was a betrayal for him to kiss another woman and that their love was epic.

I want to think, “Man, if they can plan an attack on a mountain fortress this well together, imagine what they’d be like in bed!” Instead, most of the time, all I’m given is “Wouldn’t they be good in bed?” If you want the romance to work, if you want me to really believe that these people love each other deeply and belong together, the relationship has to have other things besides romance in it.

So often the relationships in action movies that really sell me are the ones between the hero and his best friend or sidekick. They have a history. I see them understanding how each other thinks, working together to solve problems. I see them risking their lives for each other, trusting each other absolutely in a tight spot. I see them giving each other strength. I even see them hanging out, sharing private jokes, enjoying each other’s company.

Of course, sometimes the relationship that sells me is between the hero and his nemesis. They have a history. They can’t focus on anything but each other when they’re in the same room. They define who each other is, motivate each other to be the best and the worst they can be.

I believe that those relationships mean something to the characters.

But when it comes to the hero and his girlfriend, most of the time all there is is the romance. Those speaking glances, snappy comebacks, and sizzling attraction are the only thing drawing the characters together.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a relationship that starts with casual attraction, moves to dating, and builds from there. It happens all the time and it’s great. But if you want me to believe that when the hero thinks he’s going to die, the person he wants to spend his last moments talking to is the heroine, even though they only met a few months before–then you have to do better.

Which is why I love romance, of course. Because it gives me the whole package.

Have you seen the Captain America movie? Did you like it? And what’s your favorite full, complex h/h relationship?

David Tennant was originally cast in this movie and left the production

Burke and Hare contemporary engravingsSo I sincerely apologize if any of you have seen this movie and loved it. My mother always taught me that it’s not nice to say ick about what other people are eating, and I really believe that. So if you liked Burke & Hare with Simon Pegg, please don’t read this.

Sonia and I just walked out of the movie about halfway through. I am so bitterly disappointed. I was in a great mood going in (and had had a couple glasses of wine) and I love Simon Pegg and I love grave-robbing (not as a hobby, you understand, but as a topic of historical interest) so I was really predisposed to love this movie. And I absolutely couldn’t stand it.

I think my main complaint is that there was NOTHING about this comedy that felt specific. To the topic, to the characters, to ANYTHING. This movie could have been set in the 80s and it would have had the exact same complement of jokes:

1. People talking in “hilarious” working class Scottish accents.
2. A woman drinking until she fell with her face in a dish of oatmeal.
3. A fat guy having a fat body. Hilarious! Oh wait no, that’s just HOW PEOPLE LOOK SOMETIMES WHAT IS INHERENTLY FUNNY ABOUT THAT.
4. The word “whore” said in a “funny” accent.

Oh and this one is at least historically specific but I’ve seen it already in 8,000,000 historical comedies:

5. Someone emptying a chamber pot out a window. This hasn’t been funny since THE SIXTIES.

The jokes were just so stale and so easy, and the whole setting looked like it was borrowed from the Masterpiece Theater wardrobe closet (and you know I love low-budget costume dramas, but there was seriously NOTHING fresh about the historical setting, NOTHING), there was such a huge cast of incredibly talented people who were completely and utterly wasted…

I can’t remember the last time I felt this generally appalled about a movie. X-Files 2: I Want to Believe, maybe?

To learn more about Burke and Hare and how incredibly ludicrous their story actually was in actual real life, see this recap.

To see Burke and Hare comedy done right, see this Kate Beaton comic.

Redemption arcs ftw

I went to see Thor yesterday! I really loved it. Among other things, I thought it did a fantastic job of creating established relationships and a sense of history–I really believed Thor and Loki were brothers, that Thor and his friends were lifelong friends, &c. It really felt like people knew each other.

Also, not surprisingly, I fell madly in love with Loki.

Thor Loki poster reading "God of Mischief"

I just wanted Thor to give him a big hug and make everything better! And it made me realize something else I love about romance: in a superhero movie, when there’s a person who’s sweet and good, and a person who’s angry and troubled, they’re probably going to end up archnemeses. In a romance, they’ll end up married.

(Speaking of superheroes, you all need to see Kate Beaton’s Lois Lane comics! While I actually really love Clark and Lois as a couple, these made me laugh hysterically.)

I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly

I went and saw the new Jane Eyre movie with a couple of friends last night. Has anyone else seen it yet? I cannot recommend it enough. You know that movie that plays in your head when you read a book? It felt like they were filming directly from that. But then at the same time, it felt like I was reading the book for the first time, experiencing it in a whole new way and seeing things about it I never saw before.

First, exciting news: A Lily Among Thorns is now available for pre-order at Amazon! The Kindle version doesn’t seem to be up yet, but I’ll let you know when it is.

Jane Eyre 2011 poster

I went and saw the new Jane Eyre movie with a couple of friends last night. Has anyone else seen it yet? I cannot recommend it enough. You know that movie that plays in your head when you read a book? It felt like they were filming directly from that. But then at the same time, it felt like I was reading the book for the first time, experiencing it in a whole new way and seeing things about it I never saw before.

And they captured exactly the right feeling between Jane and Mr. Rochester: that they’re both kind of weird and intense and don’t really tell each other very much, but they still somehow have this intense emotional connection.

I also love the lighting in the movie. You don’t often get a sense in period films of just how dark it could be when flame was the only way of lighting a house. But in this movie, at nighttime, it was dark. Completely dark. The way that they filmed light and dark and fire, the way they filmed certain scenes like it was a horror movie (which it is, really, the Gothic novel is proto-horror, but you don’t always see that in adaptations) added so perfectly to the sense of isolation and the menace of the unknown and hidden that is so important to the book.

Plus, the costumes were great. Sometimes I wish someone would do a Jane Eyre adaptation in Regency clothes, because that is when the book is set, but it’s such a Victorian novel that I understand why they don’t.

What’s your favorite movie adaptation of a book? If you have a least favorite movie adaptation, I’d love to hear about that too!

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die! (Also, some news.)

So first, some news: the release date of A Lily among Thorns has been pushed back to September.

I know it sucks to have to wait longer, and I’m sorry to tell you this so late in the game. But this means that the e-book and the paperback will come out at the same time, which I think in the end is good for the book. And I really want this book to have the best chance that it can, so I’m actually pretty happy, but I do apologize to folks who were excited about getting the book in the next couple of months. I really appreciate your patience through all of the changes that have happened with this book! I can only hope that you’ll find it worth the wait.

And now for something completely different! Yesterday I was working on this post for favoritethingEVER.com about The Persuaders!. In it, I quoted something Roger Moore said in a British TV special about him. There was another quote that stuck with me:

“Sean played the throwaway line not quite as deliberately as I do. I sort of tip the audience off and say ‘here comes a joke.’ It was a surprise coming from Sean. That was the difference between us.”

This one took me a while to work out. At first I was dubious. Their Bonds are so different! How could this one tiny thing be the key? But I shouldn’t have doubted Roger Moore.

Because this one tiny thing turns Bond from a guy who laughs in the face of danger into a guy who laughs at his own dumb jokes in the face of danger. Which to me is exactly what’s so great about Moore’s Bond and (of course this is purely a personal preference) ratchets him up from “moderately sexy” to “someone please fetch my fainting couch.”

Roger Moore smirking behind a martini glass

I’ve realized over the past few years how important it is to me that a hero enjoy himself. Because for me, a huge part of the romantic fantasy is feeling like I would enjoy myself with him.

Which doesn’t mean he has to be happy. I love angst as much as the next girl, I just prefer that my hero take some time out to have fun in between his moments of self-doubt/ennui/crushing remorse/whatever (e.g. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

(If you want me to love a hero who doesn’t have fun, the easiest way to do it is to make him so broody/serious that I enjoy affectionately laughing at him, e.g. Angel from Buffy. Or Batman.)

Who is your favorite Bond? Why? Does that correspond to your favorite type of hero in a romance? (Just please, don’t insult Roger Moore’s acting skills in your comment! There seems to be a lot of that going around and I’m starting to feel a wee bit protective…)

Now I want a hat with a veil

Happy new year, everyone!

On New Year’s Day, Gwen Mitchell and I went to see “The King’s Speech.” I’m a sucker for:

1) Helena Bonham-Carter
2) historical costume
3) World War II
4) cross-class friendships
5) heroes who are underappreciated by their families
6) stories about disabilities.

Therefore, this movie was perfect for me. I loved it. Also, I was concerned they were going to ignore the future Duke of Windsor’s Nazi sympathies (which were the real reason he was forced to abdicate), and while they certainly focused on the Wallis Simpson stuff, they did bring it up several times so I was pleased.

Plus I saw a preview for the new Jane Eyre movie and it looked AWESOME. The actress is the gymnast girl from In Treatment and I thought she was very talented.

I also spent the last week or so reading Fingersmith by Sarah Waters which I ADORED. It’s a sort of Dickensian-thieves’-kitchen gritty historical novel with a lesbian love story. I was recently reading a conversation on historical accuracy on Courtney Milan’s blog and keep coming back to this comment by Robin:

When I think of some authors whose historical world-building seems most successful to me, it’s not as much the “correctness” of specific details (although dates, places, and well-known historical events are easy to get right and less tolerable to me when they are not), as much as feeling of transportation to a fictional world characterized by a cogent but still translatable “otherness” (i.e. verisimilitude). In that place, I feel as if I am placed into an entire universe that extends far beyond what the author shows me, one that remains consistent no matter which direction the narrative turns.

This is a perfect description of the amazing historical world created in Fingersmith, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially Victorian historicals.

And finally, if you want to know more about my favorite band the Headstones and their musical genius, I did a post about them for favoritethingEVER.com.

I hope the new year brings all of you lots of amazing stuff to read. Tell me a book (besides mine of course) that you are looking forward to in 2011!

Why is this night different from all other nights?

1. In for a Penny is now available as a B&N ebook and a Kindle book! I haven’t seen it on FictionWise or AllRomance yet, but I’m sure it will be up in the next few days.

2. My friend Sonia and I watched High Plains Invaders, the SciFi original movie set in a little Western town where James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) is a train robber who fights Uranium-eating aliens.

Overall, it was an extremely satisfying movie-watching experience. The visual western/alien stuff was cool, the actors were charming (I was especially fond of the overly-aggressive lady bounty hunter), and nobody acted like an idiot who wasn’t supposed to.

The film was shot in Romania so the movie didn’t have that bright sunlight that’s such an important convention of the Western, but I sort of liked the foggy atmosphere.

The historical stuff could have been better–everyone’s gun seemed to have way more shots and be more advanced than I was expecting, and a geeky Amazon review confirmed my instincts (“Several characters carry double-action Smith & Wesson revolvers that hadn’t even been invented by 1892. A number of revolvers used in the film (King Cobra, etc) aren’t in sync with the time period, most of townsmen and bounty hunters alike would have been carrying a single-action Colt Peacemaker”).

It was also inexplicable to me why one of the characters was mining uranium in such large quantities in 1892. According to Wikipedia, it was used for tinting in pottery and glass, and also in early photography, but that’s about it. The character even SAYS “there’s no established market for it,” but never explains what he wants it for. Maybe to add to his rare minerals collection? He also knew it was radioactive despite that not being discovered until 1896.

(Also, I’m pretty offended by the Amazon product description of James Marsters’s character as an “honorable Indian-fighter,” but don’t worry, it’s completely inaccurate. Yes, he has PTSD from the French and Indian Wars which led to him robbing trains “just to feel alive” (!), but it’s because of having to follow dishonorable orders from his superior officers, possibly involving torture? Nothing to do with evil Indians or anything.)

The ending was a little anti-climactic, probably because they didn’t have the budget for a really good effect. Still, I totally recommend it to anyone who likes costume drama monster movies, and I will definitely be giving away a DVD copy in a contest at some point.

3. Happy Passover, everyone! Tonight is the first night, and I have friends coming over for a seder (the Passover ceremony and meal). My flanken (beef short ribs) soup is on the stove, smelling delicious. This is my first year hosting a seder, and I’m pretty excited. Here’s my family’s version of the prayer that’s said over the matzoh at Passover.

This is the bread of affliction
which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.
All who are hungry, let them come and eat.
All who are in want, let them come and celebrate Passover with us.
Once we were slaves; now we are free.
This year there are still slaves and oppressed people in the world.
Next year, may we all be free.

I have always wanted to see a mummy in a bowler hat

First: I want to congratulate all the Golden Heart and RITA finalists. I am so proud of all my fellow GSRWA (Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America) and Beau Monde (the Regency RWA chapter) members and Dorchester authors who finalled!

Second: I posted at The Season about my ideas for costume drama monster movies during my blog tour.  Since then, I’ve discovered two (2) such movies!  I can’t wait to see them.

1. “High Plains Invaders“!

A sci-fi western! How did I miss this when it came out? This is what I get for not keeping up with James Marsters’s (Spike from Buffy) career! Also, is that a robot, or an alien, or an alien robot or robot alien or what?

2. My friend Gwen Mitchell sent me this one: It’s Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec, a new Luc Besson film. IMDb says it’s “an adventure set in the early party of the 20th century and focused on a popular novelist and her dealings with would-be suitors, the cops, monsters, and other distractions.”

Clearly the costume drama monster movie is An Idea Whose Time Has Come.

As a final note, Lori Lyn interviewed me (and a few other awesome Seattle romance writers!) for an article in the Emerald City Romantic Quarterly, which is the GSRWA newsletter. (I had some trouble with the online format, but if you can figure it out, my Q&A is on page 41. I talk about my workspace, my favorite comfort food, In for a Penny obviously, and also how I haven’t done my laundry or cleaned in a while because I haven’t really learned to manage having a full-time job AND being a published author AND having a social life yet. Gripping stuff, really.)

Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent

Eek!  This is my first ever blog post with WordPress.  I’m a little intimidated by all the options, to be honest.  But I love having the blog right on my site, and I LOVE threaded commenting.    Oh threaded commenting how I missed you!  Can someone with more WP experience than me tell me if it e-mails people when someone replies directly to their comment, the way livejournal does?

Those of you who’ve read In for a Penny may remember the Ambreys’ fondness for “The Ballad of Captain Kidd.”  Alert reader Barb (I read the complete works of Dave Barry at a formative age, I am giving in to the instinct to say “alert reader” right now) sent me this awesome video of “Great Big Sea” performing the song:

Isn’t the singer cute?  He kind of reminds me of Christian Kane.  Barb informs me he is going to play Alan-a-Dale in some new version of Robin Hood.  There can never be enough versions of Robin Hood, I believe this in my soul.  Especially if you cast Russell Crowe as Robin Hood.  There had better be tights, is all I’m saying.  And they’re giving Eleanor of Aquitaine a part!  One of my top issues with the Errol Flynn version (I have a number of issues with that movie even though I adore it) is this “Longchamps is regent” stuff.  No!  Richard and John’s MOTHER was regent when Richard was gone, and she was awesome.

I am saddened by the lack of Guy of Guisborne, but no one could ever measure up to Basil Rathbone’s performance anyway.  (I’m kidding…maybe?  Not sure.  I have liked other Sir Guys, but Basil Rathbone was one of my very first celebrity crushes, when I was in middle school.  I still love him.  Did you know Daphne du Maurier had a crush on him when he worked in her father’s theater troupe as a young man?  I wonder how she felt about his periwig in the movie of Frenchman’s Creek.  I felt pretty awful about it.)

And this may actually be my favorite part: Mathew Macfadyen is going to be the Sheriff of Nottingham. I hope they keep to the traditional bumbling characterization, because if they do that will be adorable.

Let’s talk Robin Hood!  Which is your favorite Robin Hood retelling (book or movie)?  Who’s your favorite character?  Do you like tights?  Why the heck does Peter Pan have the exact same outfit in the Disney movie, no, seriously, why?  What do you think of that whole “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor” thing, anyway?