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    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Kiefer Sutherland: From Bad Boy to Good Man in Only 24 Hours

    What can I say? I never could resist a man who can make a kill shot to the head with 100% accuracy. I came late to 24. Last year my minister's wife loaned me the entire first season on DVD and insisted that I watch it. Still feeling the keen absence of former favorites like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Farscape, I slipped the first disc into my DVD player and immediately found myself immersed in the dark and dangerous world of CTU (Counter-Terrorist Unit) and its resident knight in tarnished armor Jack Bauer. After only a few addictive episodes, I also made an alarming discovery—I was hot for Kiefer!

    That's right. The same baby-faced, sandy-haired Kiefer I had always scorned for taking men's roles like Doc Spurlock in Young Guns and Athos in The Three Musketeers and turning them into boys. His chilling turns as villains in several movies hadn't really endeared him to me either. But as I watched one episode after another of 24, his beard-stubbled cheeks and that tender petulant mouth of his began to look imminently more kissable. A scene from last week's episode where he was forced to interrogate the woman he loves, then took a taser blast to try to protect her because he believed she was innocent nearly made me swoon in the best romance novel tradition!

    Quite simply, Jack Bauer is a man who does what needs to be done, however brutal, to get the job done. The cavewoman in me who still secretly longs for a man to protect me, feed me, and give me strong children responds to this on the most primal level. But the lovely thing about Jack is that he also maintains enough heart and humanity to resist a direct order from the president if that order will result in the death of innocent women and children. In the course of the last five seasons, he's risen above incalculable personal losses with unimaginable grace.

    24 delivers a walloping dollop of edge-of-your-couch-cushion suspense but story never overshadows characterization and emotion. To me, that's what separates a Lord of the Rings from the latest sterile and heartless installment of Star Wars.

    In our books, we constantly deal with flawed, complex men who are transformed into heroes. Jack Bauer is such a hero--constantly challenging himself, constantly evolving and always able to make the kill shot. He can interrogate me any day!

    Saturday, March 25, 2006

    Teresa's Book Reviews: Rebel Angels

    Do you ever feel as if you were destined to read a certain book? I originally spotted Libba Bray's first book A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY on the "New in Hardcover" shelf at my local Borders. I immediately thought, "What a gorgeous romance cover!" I thumbed through the book only to discover that it wasn't a romance at all but a Victorian historical set at an English girl's boarding school. Although I was intrigued, I put the book back on the shelf.

    Then at the Dallas RWA conference a few weeks later, I was signing books with fellow Avon author Cathy Maxwell when she started telling me about this amazing YA (Young Adult) book she'd just read. "You have to read it," she told me. "It's like Harry Potter for girls!" Swayed by her enthusiasm, I followed her to the YA section of the bookstore only to discover she was talking about the very book I'd spotted at Borders. I had no idea it was even being marketed as Young Adult fiction!

    Not one to resist the seductive kiss of fate twice, I came home with a shiny new hardcover in my suitcase. And boy am I glad I did! A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is a wonderful balm for the soul of the reader who is always lamenting, "There's nothing fresh out there to read!" It's a deliciously dark Gothic Victorian historical paranormal with a tasty sprinkling of romance. Think of it as THE SECRET GARDEN and A LITTLE PRINCESS on acid.

    The book opens in India in 1895 when 16-year-old Gemma Doyle witnesses the tragic and mysterious death of her mother. Her opium-addicted father quickly packs her off to Spence, one of those oh-so-proper British boarding schools that are secretly seething with all of the passion, drama and intrigue that only adolescent girls can create. The headstrong Gemma is quickly befriended by shy, impoverished Ann, ambitious Felicity, and beautiful Pippa, whose desire for a handsome prince to spirit her away risks leading them all to disaster. Gemma also discovers that she is the sole key to opening a magical alternate universe called "The Realms" and that her fate is inextricably entwined with her mother's. The only thing the book lacks is a handsome, sexy, mysterious Gypsy lad who could turn out to be either Gemma's protector or her mortal enemy. Oh, wait—the book has that too!

    I'm delighted to report that the second book in the series, REBEL ANGELS, is just as good if not even better than the first book. In ANGELS, Bray moves the action to the city for the Christmas holiday. Her writing is gorgeous and crisp and she brings Victorian London to such vivid life that I could almost smell the soot in the air and feel the warm glow of the gaslights on my skin.

    I read somewhere that the corset on the cover of the first book was meant to symbolize the repression of women and young girls in the Victorian Era. Gemma is a very strong character—smart, headstrong, passionate—and you sense that her adventures, however fantastical and dangerous, may eventually lead her to the intellectual and spiritual freedom that all women crave.

    If you've ever wondered how the world would be different if J.K. Rowling had penned HARRIET POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, I definitely recommend these books. I would have loved them when I was fourteen and I love them now! Since A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY hit the New York Times bestseller list--an amazing feat for a first novel--I must not be the only one. The books are written in first person and present tense, which only adds to the immediacy of the story. Ms. Bray is planning one more book in this series.

    I'm thrilled that Libba has agreed to pop in with her own blog later today! We're also going to be giving away a set of both hardcovers to one of our lucky random Commenters. (You're eligible no matter which of today's blogs you Comment under.)

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Teresa Shares Her Secret to Success

    I've always believed one of the primary functions of a blog is to humiliate yourself publicly. I'm here to prove that today by sharing my very first query letter with you. For those of you not familiar with the lingo, a query letter is the letter you send to a publisher or agent asking them if they'd like to look at (and hopefully buy and publish) your book. As you will see, this is the worst query letter in the history of query letters--a veritable treasure trove of "Whatever you do, don't do this!" I'm including my editorial comments in red and in parentheses.

    May 29, 1985
    Dear (Editor Who is No Longer Employed By This Company),

    I frantically searched my bookshelves one evening for the romance novel that I wanted to read. I didn't find it. (Because you and the other dimwits at your publishing house obviously aren't publishing anything worth reading.) Reading "The Flame and the Flower" (which was published 13 years ago, clearly demonstrating that I've kept up with current trends) for the fifth time reeked of redundancy (gotta love that alliteration! And look-I know big words!)
    What did I want to read about? I wanted to read about a heroine with guts; a noble hero with fascinating flaws; a passionate love-hate relationship that grows with time; interesting sattelite (sattelite? Um, you wouldn't mean "secondary" by any chance?) characters; humor; enough tragedy to keep the good times looking good. (I also know how to use semi-colons, although not particularly well!) I wanted adventure and fantasy and intrigue.

    And thus was born "Loving Vengeance." (Thank heavens it wasn't spawned!) I am submitting it to you for publication (or to use as a booster seat for your kid). It is a historical romance set in ancient Ireland. (Because that's a really popular setting!)

    I look forward to hearing your reaction. (As opposed to shuddering.)

    T.H. Medeiros (because I'm incredibly pretentious and aspiring to be the next T.H. White)

    I have shared this letter today not just to humiliate myself or to amuse you, but to give you hope. If an idiot like this can sell a book and get published and go on to have a successful career that has now spanned almost twenty years, so can you!

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Teresa Celebrates Women in All Sizes and Guises

    I don't know about you but these are two of my favorite sentences from a romance novel:

    1) She was soft and yielding in all of the places he was hard.
    2) He tenderly ran his hand over the gentle swell of her belly.

    Now the latter would imply that our lovely heroine, paragon of feminine beauty that she is, actually HAS a belly. I'm a big believer in the scientific fact that women are genetically predisposed to store fat in certain areas of their bodies. (Especially in the winter when a package of Oreos may be all that stands between us and the horrors of famine.)

    I also happen to know that men are genetically predisposed to look for good breeders. (That means hips large enough to pass a good-sized hobbit through the birth canal.) Before he asked me out, my future husband was busted by a fellow classmate for checking out the junk in my own proverbial trunk as I walked (strutted) across the room in front of him.

    So why does society keep telling us we should aspire to look like this?

    That's right. That's Teri Hatcher and Lara Flynn Boyle, just two of the Hollywood actresses who seem to be vanishing right before our eyes. Lara Flynn Boyle is so skinny she recently ended a guest stint on LAS VEGAS by (are you ready for this?) BLOWING OFF OF A ROOF!

    The standard of female beauty in the Renaissance was typified by the Rubens painting above. But you only have to travel back to the 1960's and watch any James Bond film to see how our standards (and our actresses) have shrank in the past 40 years. The women in those movies were considered some of the most beautiful of their day. They looked glowing and healthy. They had thighs and (oh, miracle of miracles!) they even had bellies and they weren't afraid to show off their bellies in their snappy little bathing suits. They were much more likely to push someone off a roof than blow off a roof.

    So how do we combat this ridiculous and unhealthy ideal? Can we just quote Sir Mix-A-Lot's BABY GOT BACK--"Cosmo says you're fat. Well, I ain't down with that!" Personally, I love the solution put forth by inspirational author Liz Curtis Higgs, who calls herself a "big, beautiful woman living in a nervous, narrow world." Liz suggests that we stand in front of the mirror every morning (with or without clothes), spread our arms wide and proclaim, "Blessed am I among women to live in such a beautiful temple!" That way, even if you feel you need to lose weight and get more fit, you can still love yourself while you're doing it.

    One of my dear friends who has struggled to gain weight all of her life assures me that being too skinny is just as great a social problem as being too heavy. As she described to me the terrible ordeal of being forced to drink 3 chocolate milkshakes a day, I did the only thing I could.

    I pushed her off the roof.

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Teresa Sings, "Once More with Feeling"

    I am a total soundtrack geek and the one soundtrack that rarely leaves my CD player is BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. When the legendary musical episode of BUFFY aired, we discovered that not only was Joss Whedon a literary genius who has given us some of the smartest TV ever, he was also capable of whipping up the music and lyrics of an entire Broadway show in his spare time. We also learned that James Marsters (as Spike--the leather-clad vampire I'd most like to sink my teeth into) could sing in an English accent.

    Who needs Sarah Brightman when you can have Sarah Michelle Gellar? The soundtrack is actually more effective because Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn't attempt to trill any arias, but still sounds like Buffy when she sings. (It also makes it really easy to sing along in your car.) The songs range from winsome and wistful to laugh-out-loud witty and Whedon uses the music to advance the storyline by bringing several ongoing plots to their stunning climaxes. The songs are rife with revelations that make it clear that nothing will ever be the same.

    In GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS, Buffy explores the loss of passion she's experienced since um...dying for the second time a few months before. In the standout number UNDER YOUR SPELL, Amber Benson as Tara, waxes poetic over her budding love for Willow. In I'LL NEVER TELL (which featured a terrific dance number in the episode), Xander and Anya experience the cold feet common to any young studly construction worker about to marry a former vengeance demon. In REST IN PEACE, the lovelorn Spike begs Buffy to just let him rest in peace if she won't confess her growing desire for him. During the appropriately titled WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE, the music swells and we sigh wistfully as we remember Spike and Buffy sharing their very first kiss in true Hollywood fashion before the credits rolled.

    Because of the complexity of the continuing storylines, I don't know if this could ever be turned into a real Hollywood musical, but I sure would like to see Whedon try.