Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

TV Series Review: Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Sungkyunkwan Scandal
TV Series (20 episodes, complete and available free on Hulu.com)
Korean historical drama starring Park Yuchun, Park Min Young, Song Joong-Ki, and Yoo Ah In.

It’s K-drama time again! And this time, it’s a historical drama about a girl living as a boy so she can attend an elite university at a time when women could be killed for such an offense. There’s humor, rooftop flying, swordfights, an archery competition, and lovely characters. The elaborate costumes may look a little funny to Western eyes, but beautiful fabrics are still beautiful, and since this is one historical drama with a happy ending, romance fans should queue it up on Hulu pronto.

L-R: Geul-Oh, Lee Sun Joon, Kim Yoon Hee, and Yeo-Rim

The Premise

It’s the 1790s in the kingdom of Joseon (Korea), and women aren’t allowed to have jobs or go to school. Clever, self-taught Kim Yoon Hee (played by Park Min Young) disguises herself as her sickly younger brother, Kim Yoon Shik, and takes odd writing and copying jobs  to support her brother and widowed mother. She is so desperate for work that she compromises her principles and takes an assignment helping would-be scholars (only successful scholars can become high-ranking court officials) cheat on their university entrance exams. When exceptionally bright exam-taker and nobleman’s son Lee Sun Joon (Park Yuchun) catches Yoon Hee in the act, he realizes this “boy” has talent. Instead of turning Yoon Hee in, he “blackmails” her into taking the test as herself. Yoon Hee passes with flying colors, and suddenly she’s attending a great university as no girl could ever dream, knowing they’ll cut her head off if she’s caught. Meanwhile, there are political intrigues running rampant, plots to hatch, and ideals to follow–and there are those who suspect this small, pretty boy is not a boy at all.

Geul-Oh and Yeo-Rim

The Pain

The guys and Yoon Hee all walk around wearing mesh versions of pilgrim hats. With beads hanging from the brim.  But that appears to be historically accurate for yangban, or noblemen, so you just have to accustom yourself to that costume detail and move on. As the hero character, Lee Sun Joon is kind of stiff and hard to like in the first few episodes, but as the series goes on, that becomes part of his charm.

The Payoff

No impossibly far away plot device, yay! No scheming hell-bitch, yay!** I adored all three of Yoon Hee’s best guy friends in the series: Yeo-Rim (played by Song Joong-Ki) is slippery, charming, and funny; Geul-Oh (Yoo Ah In) is the wild child of the bunch, the best fighter and the most tortured soul; and finally Lee Sun Joon, who shows adequate fighting skill in one scene, but who really displays his heroic qualities through the dramatic and brilliant application of his brain.

Kim Yoon Hee and Lee Sun Joon

Yoon Hee is a truly likeable heroine. She’s smart, she’s got a spine of steel, and she has real motivations and fears you can’t help but understand. The main kiss scene is a good one and the ending is truly one of the best, most satisfying endings I’ve seen in any J-drama or K-drama, so from beginning to end, I wholeheartedly give this romance five arrows.

Rating: 

5 out of 5 arrows

**see my review of You’re Beautiful for my rant on both of those.

Wednesday Writing: QueryTracker

Today, I’m going to highlight one of my favorite resources for writers pursuing traditional publication: querytracker.net.

Query Tracker let’s you search an extensive database of Literary Agents and publishers, organize your findings, set up a plan of “attack” and execute it–while tracking the whole thing. 

From the website:

Literary Agents Listed: 1,266
Publishers Listed: 153
Members: 52,720
Success Stories: 785

Those might not look like great odds (785 out of 52,720) but that’s the publishing business for you. If you look at it a different way, that’s seven hundred and eighty-five brand new authors who give QueryTracker credit as a vital cog in their pathway to being agented (and ultimately, published) authors.

The free version of the site is certainly adequate, but if you’re getting serious about publishing, I highly recommends the $25 annual fee for premium membership. It gives you lots more search parameters and let’s you organize multiple projects at once. And I usually choke at the idea of spending money on “membership fees,” so that should tell you something.

Before QueryTracker, this was what the inside of my brain looked like:

Okay, going to make a list of agents to query…okay she looks right, what are her submission requirements? [search search] Okay, found the requirements, now, I need to find her pet peeves and make sure I don’t do those [search search] oh, he looks like he might be a possibility, too, let me dig further [search search] wait. What did I decide about the first agent? Where did I start? Did I actually query her? What did I SEND?

I’ll spare you the panicked thrashing. It suffices to say I had the hardest time organizing my research and tracking who I queried on what day, how long it had been, if I should wonder if I got lost in spam, etc.

After QueryTracker, my head looks like this:

First small batch sent out: check. Next batch lined up: check. Oh, did I just get a rejection? Oh well–let’s close that out…and okay, who’s up on the next batch?

You see how being organized and tracking your queries actually helps you deal with rejection? And bonus: there are lots of people posting comments on each agent listing, and that gives you a vibe for the kinds of projects an agent is accepting, the kind she/he tends to reject, and makes the entire writers-querying-agents process a lot less lonely.

Friday Frivolity: My next YA contemporary will be about band

Events are conspiring to make me miss band.

  1. My friend Karen found her cassette tape from our 1996 festival performance (my freshman year) and posted a picture of it on Facebook.
  2. I just spent my lunch hour scouring the web for an orchestral rendition of composer Basil Poledouris’s masterpiece: the score for the original Conan the Barbarian movie.
  3. The reason I did that was because I’d been listening to the music in my car and decided I had to ask my poor sister (Director of Artistic Planning for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra) to get her symphony to play this music. At least she didn’t laugh at me.
  4. Finally, that lead to me wandering around the CSO website looking at the bios for all their musicians, wishing I was one of them.

Band was Extracurricular Activity Numero Uno for me in middle school and high school, so I spent who knows how many hours rehearsing and playing in our marching band, concert band, and jazz ensemble. I spent so much time with it that by the time I got to college, I was burnt out and ready to let my trumpet muscles go to seed.

I’ve tried to go back to the trumpet many times over the years, but the problem is I remember how I sounded at my “peak” (I had a good, mellow sound, but not a good range, and that’s a killer for trumpet players).

Now, I sound like a dying cow for the ten minutes I can manage to play before my lips cry uncle. I think I’ll just have to relive my glory days (ha! hahahaha) by writing a novel about band. Just not right now.

But I ask you…how can any former band or orchestra member watch this clip and NOT wish they were the ones forcing this groundswell of sound into existence?

Book Review: Wrapped

Wrapped
 By Jennifer Bradbury

Since I’m thinking about making my next project a YA Regency Romance (or YARR) (Mateys!) (Sorry, couldn’t resist), I’ve been trying to read every example of that genre I can get my hands on. The first one I read–The Season by Sarah MacLean–was so frustrating and condescending it made me wonder if the genre was fundamentally flawed, the casualty of tailoring a Regency Romance to fit YA expectations. Next, I whipped through a couple of chick-litty Regency YA novels by Meg Cabot that read well and didn’t reek of pandering to a younger reader (unlike The Season), but the tone wasn’t quite what I had in mind for my own novel.

Then I found Wrapped — a YA mystery regency romance with Egyptian themes. It’s pretty good, and suddenly I don’t think the YARR is so flawed after all. (YARR!)

The Premise

London, 1815. When Agnes Wilkins discovers a strange jackelheaded figurine in the wrappings of a mummy featured at a high society party, her first instinct is to hide the figurine as her own little secret. But then a series of robberies and murders begin to plague everyone who had contact with the mummy, and Agnes decides she isn’t about to wait around and let the so-called “curse” rifle through her wardrobe. She’s going to crack the secret herself . . . with the help of an attractive young Egyptologist who has a few secrets of his own.

The Pain

In addition to some historical inaccuracies and a suspiciously magical performance from an inanimate object (when the book’s world is a non-magical one), the book suffers from a slow start (I’m already seeing a YARR trend here  . . . starting the book with the heroine complaining about being fit for a gown) and doesn’t really get rolling until the first murder happens. But isn’t that par for the course in mysteries? Also, I knew who the villain was from the beginning, and I’m Ms. Oblivious. Whoops. Good thing this blog isn’t called “Show Me The Mystery”.

The Payoff

The hero isn’t a Duke! Or a Marquis, or an Earl, or even a Sir. Shocking, I know. As a museum assistant, aspiring Egyptologist Caedmon is decidedly below Agnes’s rank socially, but even if he’s a bit rough, he’s also capable and clever–and unlike most Regency Romance heroes, he hasn’t been under half the skirts in London. The romance isn’t all that strong, so I couldn’t bump this up to a four arrow. Still, Agnes and Caedmon are cute together, and combined with an ending I enjoyed (even if it was a *mite* improbable), I think I can safely say this one is a three-arrow grinner.
Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: The Alignment Chart you never knew you needed.

I posted this to my facebook awhile back, but looking at it never gets old. It’s a classic example of what amounts to character archetypes, and a great starting off block if you’re playing around with creating a less-than-Boy-Scout hero, or devising a villain whose name makes Shenzi from The Lion King shiver and then ask to hear the name again. “Ooooh… do it again.”

I say starting off block, because you shouldn’t just put Captain Picard in your story and change his name. You’re better than that! (Not to mention some Trekkie will come after you in your sleep. Like my husband.)

For those of us who didn’t cut our teeth playing Dungeons & Dragons, this is an Alignment Chart. It had something to do with character creation in that game, and I think also played a role in how that character had to behave in certain situations. Also for non D&D people–it has translations (if you can’t read them, click the photo to see this larger).

Enjoy 🙂

For a larger version, click the photo.

 

Romance is about the journey, not the ending

I think people who love romance novels, and who seek out romantic movies (even though so many Hollywood rom-coms are cold, formulaic crap from beginning to end) are wired a little differently from the rest of the population.

“The ending was so predictable!” critics say. “You know who’s going to end up together from the beginning,” others complain.

Well, yeah. That’s the point.

Reading a romance isn’t like reading a mystery or a thriller. In a mystery, readers are on guard for clues from the very first page, trying to outguess the characters and, by extension, the author. That’s the fun of it all. If a reader has guessed the culprit halfway through the book, the author hasn’t done his or her job, and most mystery readers will roast the book accordingly.

In a romance, the fun is not in trying to predict the ending. Please. The fun is in seeing how it all plays out. There are sacrifices to be made, there’s growing up to do, there are adventures and daring rescues (by heroines just as often as by heroes), there are mysteries to solve, and all the while there’s a delicious emotional journey playing out on the page. If the author has done his or her job, we get a front row seat rooting for two people we care about while they work through ALL that stuff before finding their way to a happy ending.

So yeah those characters had better actually wind up together. If I got emotionally invested in two characters being together, and then I reach the end of their story only to find that they’ve decided to “see other people” I’mthrowingthebookacrosstheroom.

But a romance novel would never end that way, so I’m in good hands.

Movies and TV shows are a little bit more of a romance crapshoot (which is why I try to point out the ones that deliver and the ones that don’t on this blog).

Take this thought-provoking review of The Five Year Engagement by a colleague of mine over at Media Matters. Jerry Holsopple has good questions about the clues romantic movies give readers to identify which characters are meant for each other. By my definition of romances, it ought to be head-slappingly obvious who the Hero and Heroine are (hint: it’s a romance, so they’re both pictured on the movie poster), but all snarking aside, his questions are valid.  And one sentence inspired me to write this blog post:

Five-Year has a predictable ending but the creative way it accomplishes it is satisfying.

Then that means it’s probably a good romance. Predictable ending? Good. Satisfyingly creative way it’s accomplished? EVEN BETTER. That’s where romances are made and broken, not in the ending.

And one final thing about predictable endings to romances: I don’t want to waste my time and emotional investment rooting for the heroine to choose one guy only to find out she winds up leaving him for a different man. Team Edward and Team Jacob might be fun for lots of people, but love triangles only work for me when it’s pretty darn clear which side is going to come out in the wash.

It’s about the journey. Not the ending.

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