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Shanna's Journal
Shanna's Adventures in Publishing (and in life)
Cynical Comedies 
29th-Jun-2012 11:58 am
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I finished entering my copy edits yesterday. Now I need to do a good proofreading pass, but today I'm mostly going to focus on other things, like research. I did my grocery shopping this morning and may have allowed myself to get a little self-indulgent, but then it struck me that I sold a book this week. Yes, it was to Japan and not the US, and it wasn't the kind of money I get in the US, but it was more than I got for writing category romances, and it was a sale based almost entirely on my past performance rather than the proposed plot of the book, so that should be celebrated. One of my indulgences was a bouquet of flowers from the quick clearance rack in the floral department. There was some yuck, but I was able to take out the good flowers and put them in various size vases (depending on how the stems looked) that are now scattered around my house. I've aspired to being the kind of person who keeps fresh flowers around the house, and although they're not at all practical, they make me happy. And they're better for my thighs than chocolate (though I got some of that, too).

There's going to be one challenge in my project to research the cheesy, bad romantic comedies that fit all the stereotypes: I tend not to have them in my collection. I do have some movies that I consider flawed but that still have something about them that intrigues me, but the kinds of movies I need to watch are the dull, forgettable ones that don't give me a reason to want to watch them again. I guess I'm going to have to rely on cable TV and the library.

What I'm going for are what I call the "cynical" romantic comedies -- not the ones where the movie itself is about being cynical about romance, but the ones where I get the feeling that the people making the movie are cynical about what they're making. They don't like these kinds of movies, they don't understand why people like them and they don't have a lot of respect for the people who like them, but hey, they're relatively cheap to produce, with few special effects or stunts, they don't require a huge cast and you can generally just focus on getting names for the leads and fill out the rest of the cast with B-listers, and all you have to do is follow the formula and the fans will eat it up. It's the movie equivalent of the people who read one Harlequin romance (or just think they know what a Harlequin romance is) and decide that it should be easy enough to crank one of those out in a weekend because all you have to do is follow the formula, and then they'll be rich. Of course, those people generally don't get books published because either they start writing and realize that it's not that easy or their books are immediately rejected because they don't understand or have respect for what they're writing and it shows. But somehow, people who don't seem to get romantic comedy still keep getting romantic comedies made, perhaps because the people who make the money decisions in Hollywood are also cynical about such things, while the editors and publishers at Harlequin truly do love romance novels.

But what we end up with in movies is films that follow the formula but that lack heart (and often logic). We get a couple of attractive people who bicker a lot but who, for some reason, are forced to be around each other. Then we get a montage of scenes of them together set against a romantic pop song to tell us they're falling in love. Some secret comes out or some betrayal happens to drive them apart, then one of them will run frantically across town to reach the other one so they can get back together again. Sometimes they think they're being edgy and throw in what they think are twists, like moving the sex to the beginning of the relationship, relying on gross-out humor, letting the woman act more like the man, etc., but it's still the same old thing at the core. Now to find enough of these movies to pick up on enough cliches I can use in my spoof. I can probably just search IMDB for Katherine Heigl. These kinds of films have been the bulk of her career lately. HBO is obliging me by having Life as We Know It in their rotation right now. Sometimes I can count on Lifetime showing some of these kinds of things, but they're more in "my Internet lover is trying to kill me" mode right now. They mostly seem to show romantic comedies at Valentine's Day or Christmas.

It did occur to me that my wacky dream the other night about having to go back to high school sounds like the premise for a high-concept comedy, though I suspect Hollywood would make my character male because there would need to be a romance, and 40-something man with 20-something woman is standard operating procedure in Hollywood, while a 40-something woman with a 20-something man would become about the enormous age difference and how weird and creepy it is rather than about the idea of the student knowing a lot more than the teacher. I also can't think of any contrived reason for a successful author to have to take a high school English class, so maybe it would have to be college, with the young teacher being a graduate student teaching assistant leading the study/discussion group, and maybe the successful writer is self-educated but now wants the degree. Even there, I would think a successful author would be able to test out of freshman English, and universities are often willing to grant credit for relevant life experience. Being a bestselling author would probably meet a lot of English course requirements. There was a movie called Teacher's Pet that did sort of go along these lines, where Doris Day was a journalism professor and Clark Gable was a self-taught, experienced newsman who scoffed at the idea of teaching journalism in school instead of in the newsroom (reporters should start as copy boys, like he did), with a lot of ivory tower vs. the real world bickering, but as I recall, he wasn't actually enrolled in her class. He just sat in on it to mess with her.

And now I am going to force myself to enjoy a summer day. I may hit the swimming pool, and I bought a packet of Slush Puppies at Target (the ones with the juice in plastic tubes that you freeze). Other than when I taught Vacation Bible School a couple of years ago, I don't think I've had those since I was a kid, and they say "summer" to me. I will try not to think about how much better a crisp, cool autumn day would be.
Comments 
29th-Jun-2012 05:10 pm (UTC)
Not too long ago I finally got around to watching the movie Leap Year and was very intrigued by the male lead. I did a search on him and found an interview where he claimed he was embarrassed by the movie, how he couldn't believed that he ever agreed to make it, and he would never make that mistake again.
29th-Jun-2012 05:13 pm (UTC)
He was probably the best thing about that movie. There was some potential to that story that was already in there but that wasn't ever developed -- which is what gave me the impression that the people behind it were cynical about it because with a tiny bit of thought and effort they could have had something good, but they settled for mediocre. It wouldn't even have changed the budget. It just would have taken a few tweaks to the script for it to make sense and for the characters' motivations to be more solid.
29th-Jun-2012 05:50 pm (UTC) - Rom com list!
I'd love to see a list of the GOOD rom-coms and the cliched ones you're looking at now . . . my mother has to keep her feet elevated in afternoon/evening and is going crazy watching politics, so I want to get her some movies!! (she would like both lists! She ain't picky!)

I kind of love Teacher's Pet. I think of it as one of the good ones. ALL the Doris Day films kinda rate for me. I love PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, PILLOW TALK, THE THRILL OF IT ALL, and even some of the others that aren't as much romcom. I adore IF A MAN ANSWERS with Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, but you never see it (must be owned by his testamentary trust) and the one you DO see, THAT FUNNY FEELING, I simply HATE the plot of and they make her character act like a criminal. It's only worth watching to see him (I adore him). But IF A MAN ANSWERS is worth seeing.

Jealous that you have a pool. We need a pool. We need to go to a hotel that has a pool! I make a whale-splash, so I need one that is not a community pool with boys who will taunt me. (YES JUNIOR HIGH NEVER ENDS) Maybe a sprayground will have to do.
29th-Jun-2012 06:31 pm (UTC) - Re: Rom com list!
I don't really have a private pool. It's theoretically a community pool, but most of the people in the community are retired or empty nesters, so there aren't a lot of kids and there are seldom other people at the pool. In fact, I get testy when people are in the pool when I want to be there because it's rather unusual and I get used to thinking of it as my private pool. I don't so much mind the people who are just there sunbathing, but kids irk me. It's not that they mock me, it's more that the parents usually ignore them while they run wild, splash all over the place, do flying jumps into the pool (although that's against the rules because the pool is too shallow for that) and otherwise behave in a way that's both dangerous and inconsiderate of others. Not only does the screaming and splashing bother me when I'm trying to swim laps, but I don't want to be the person responsible for being the nearest at hand when a kid does a flying leap and breaks an ankle or otherwise gets hurt.
29th-Jun-2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
I see the same problem in some published Harlequins -- there'll be two people who spend 90% of the book with excellent reasons why they don't want to be in a relationship, and I'm left thinking it would be a better story if they agreed to a platonic friendship instead.

And then they get married.
29th-Jun-2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
That's one of the reasons I quit trying to write for them. They're far more focused on the conflict that keeps the couple apart and seem to want to downplay any reasons they might want to be together, apart from lust. It was like they wanted "I hate you, we have nothing in common, but hey, you're hot and we're in this book together, so let's get married." If I had a scene where the characters were getting along, they wanted me to add some manufactured conflict. If they were fighting, they wanted me to add lust.

But that falls more into my "is it romantic?" checklist than into the idea that the people producing these stories don't get them. That really does seem to be that publisher's idea of romance, and I guess it works for a lot of their authors and readers. I switched to chick lit and fantasy.
29th-Jun-2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Call me crazy, but I prefer a romance that's based on respect and trust more than fighting over petty details. Or attempting to kill each other for more than half the book. Or that memorable one where the "hero" thought the best way to help the heroine to get over her near-rape was to pressure her into having sex less than a week after the fact. . .

This would be why I tend to prefer the romantic subplots in books that aren't technically romances over those in the 'romance' section of the store.

One of the reasons I like Molly Harper is that when I'm left yelling at the book "He's being a jerk! Kissing you doesn't make up for that. Punch him so he knows he can't get away with it." then she does, and the guy ends up apologizing for being a jerk.
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