Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Tis the Season

I always forget this part.

I look forward to the Christmas season all year long. The music, the festive colors, the reminder of what it all means. Sure, it's hectic. And sure, sometimes I get stressed. But what I think of first is the warmth of the season and the sense of celebration.

Then December approaches, and it starts. The rumbling of the retailers. By Thanksgiving week, it's built to a ferocious din as all the stores try to outdo each other. To beat each other to the punch. To be open sooner, to have the sale that YOU CAN'T MISS or you'll be throwing money away. Put down that eggnog!

I'm not into crowds. I usually stay home. But even here, with the blinds drawn, it's hard to escape the persistent feeling that if I'm not shopping RIGHT NOW, it's costing me a fortune.

This year, I'm not only drawing my blinds, I'm thinking of caulking my windows.

I'm neurotic enough without retailers telling me it's do or die and DON'T MISS OUT.

So this year, more than ever, I'm determined to make Christmas what I always promise myself it will be. A time to curl up with that eggnog, listen to the music and, by golly, read some of those Christmas books I've been looking forward to all year.

Yeah, I'll go shopping, too. When I'm good and ready.

Peace on Earth is there for us -- if we allow ourselves to slow down long enough to grasp it.

Don't miss out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


by Sierra Donovan

As I believe I've mentioned, I'm in the business of helping characters live happily ever after.

But I've got to admit, some of my favorite stories – even my favorite love stories – don't always meet that criteria. Sometimes a tragic or poignant ending is just what's needed.

Below, you'll find some of my favorite stories – some on film, some in books -- that don't end with that traditional happily-ever-after. And although I won't go into great detail, since I'm going to be discussing endings, let me preface the rest of this blog entry with: SPOILER ALERT!!

Casablanca: There's a reason this is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Take two star-crossed lovers, give them an unresolvable conflict – then manage to have them part and leave the audience feeling good about it. Every scene in this movie is fabulous, but that ending … Here's looking at you, kid.

The Great Gatsby: Oh, I loved this book. At first I didn't think I'd be able to relate to any of the characters, but when I discovered the lengths Gatsby went to for love, I was blown away. He created a complete, artificial persona, yet he was so much more real than the people around him. At the end, he's destroyed by his own idealistic vision of Daisy, but I'm still consoled by Nick's final words to his friend: “You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

Roman Holiday: When you start with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, it would be hard to go wrong. And the writers don't go wrong. They even have the guts to resist working out an unlikely Hollywood ending that would make it possible for the couple to be together. It's lump-in-the-throat time, but it's so rewarding.

Tucker: He loses the battle, but it's a triumph of the spirit when he invites the jurors out for a ride in those beautiful, non-existent cars.

Gone With the Wind: Readers and moviegoers may disagree on whether Scarlett could ever get Rhett back, but there's no denying this is one of the most unforgettable endings of all time!

How about you? Which tragic/tear-jerker endings stand out in your mind?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Romance, Television-Style

I'm not a weekly-TV-series type of viewer. My husband and I are much more likely to pop in a movie when we settle in on the couch at night. But with the growth of Netflix and the phenomenon of “binge watching” – largely by my two kids who live at home – I've gotten familiar with some recent series.

I've found that situation comedies have changed a lot since the days of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” when the situations and characters changed very slowly over the course of seasons, if they changed at all. Now there's a lot more story progress over the course of even a single season. It's a great opportunity for character and relationship development.
Surprise! Romance figures into this, because a lot of central plots have to do with romantic relationships. Will this couple end up together … or not?

SPOILER ALERT for Netflix viewers: shield your eyes if you haven't seen all of “The Office” or the first six seasons of “Parks and Recreation.”

These two series get it right (in my humble opinion). There's a lot of anticipation and expectation built on key relationships. Then the writers go on to affirm what they've made us believe in our bones: Jim and Pam belong together. Ben and Leslie belong together. The characters are written consistently and believably, even through moments of doubt. And ultimately, and the writers deliver on our expectations.

Now, let's talk for a minute about “How I Met Your Mother,” and where I think this one gets it wrong.

I haven't seen how this series ends. But I do know last year's season finale had viewers screaming. Even without having seen it, I'm pretty sure I can tell you why.

If ever a series was built on expectation, it's this one. It's in the very title. We're teased from Day One that we're building toward the revelation of Ted finding his true love.

Writers, you set your audience up for disappointment.

You promised a payoff, but we keep being told Mom is NOT any of the characters we're watching now. She's going to be someone we haven't invested in. What are the odds that the viewers are NOT going to be disappointed in the outcome?

An even worse sin (in my humble opinion): time and again, the series set us up to anticipate a relationship between one couple or another. Usually the buildup is very well done. The characters spend months out of a season yearning for each other, longing for each other, just missing each other. And then, when the two people do get together, it's usually – PFFFT! – over within a couple of episodes. After that, the much-anticipated couple goes back to interacting pretty much the same way they did before all that longing ever started. What is this, partial amnesia?

No, it's inconsistency. I think the series tried to break ground by flying in the face of viewers' expectations. I think what it did, instead, was tease the viewers, then contradict what it had told us about the characters. I can't address the finale, but from season to season, the series repeatedly went back on its promises.

Romance fiction is often criticized for being predictable. Yes, the couple gets together, as promised. Just as, in a murder mystery, the killer is discovered. As promised.

In real life, we're not promised happy resolutions. In fact, we're not promised resolutions at all. This is where fiction is different. We go in expecting that the story will reach a satisfying resolution. Depending on the genre, that ending may or may not be happy, but it needs to satisfy. It needs to be consistent with the author has told us. It needs to keep its promise.