Planned Parenthood and The Gilded Hour

If you’ve read The Gilded Hour or have read anything about it, you know that the 19th century fight for access to information about birth control is a major theme. In fact, reproductive health was a major issue at the time. Doctors did sometimes end up in jail (and prison) for providing patients with information on how to prevent conception.  This subject is apparently still open to debate, as indicated by the current congressional inquiry on Planned Parenthood. 

From the day I first starting thinking about the plot and backstory for TGH, I wondered if people might dislike the novel or object to it because of the way contraception and abortion are handled.[1. I would say, for the record, that the issue in The Gilded Hour is not so much one of abortion as it is violence toward and control of women.] Though no one has come out to say it openly, on occasion I have got that impression.  So there are multiple questions: do some people dislike the novel for that reason, and if that’s the case,  will they say so, openly? And if not, why not?

Now I’m curious if anybody will speak up here. I won’t be surprised if no one is willing to grab this hot potato, but I’d sure sure be interested in your thoughts.


the film/book disconnect: My Sister’s Keeper

I believe I have said this before, but I can’t find it so I’ll repeat myself:

If you have a novel and you sell the film rights, you have to divorce yourself from the story. Because it isn’t your story anymore, and what’s up there on the screen has very little to do with you. Unless you’re John Irving and you can negotiate a role for yourself in writing the screenplay and the production.

If there’s a novel you adore and you hear that the film rights have been sold, then you have two choices (1) never see the film; (2) see the film and forget the book. Don’t compare the two. The film might be quite good, on its own.

There are some novels which have translated to film very well: The Godfather, Angels and Insects, Brokeback Mountain, Lonesome Dove, the Shawshank Redemption, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman are some examples.  More often people are disappointed or even outraged by the changes to the story. I personally could not stop laughing all through the tv movie version of The Stand, I found it that bad.   And then there’s the ultimate example of wrong done to a good book: Beloved.

Jodi Picoult’s novels either work for me in a very big way, or not at all. I feel the same way about Anne Tyler, so she’s in good company. I liked My Sister’s Keeper a lot, and now the movie is out there. And I’m not going to see it (option one above), for a very specific reason.

The filmmaker reinterprets the story, of course.  A huge novel cannot be put on film unless the whole thing is taken apart and condensed. It is possible to do this and still keep some sense of the theme of the novel.  The French Lieutenant’s Woman (novel) has two endings, one very dark, the other happier. The filmmaker handled that by assigning one of those endings to the current-day actors who are making the movie (this is a movie about making a movie of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, you see) and the other to the fictional Victorian characters. I was very impressed. I still am, when I rewatch it.

But imagine these films with new endings:

Gone with the Wind

Scarlett: But where will I go? What will I do?

Rhett: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Come here, sweetums. Let me show you what to do, and where to do it.

Batty old Actress in Sunset Boulevard

All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.
Young man, send everybody away and help me look for my marbles. I lost them just about here.

Tale of Two Cities

“It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

Ain’t this a kick in the head.

Wizard of Oz

“Oh, but anyway, Toto, we’re home! Home! And this is my room – and you’re all here! And I’m not gonna leave here ever, ever again because I love you all! – And oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”

Auntie Em, I don’t think those were Chanterelle mushrooms after all.


“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Louis, I’ve missed you so much. Come sit next to me.


At the end of the novel My Sister’s Keeper there is a twist that took me by surprise. It was a gutsy thing for Picoult  to do, but it did work. The filmmaker was not as courageous. In the movie, that unusual, challenging ending has been dumped and its very opposite, a cliché as big as the movie screen itself, was substituted.

What I am wondering is this: when the DVD comes out, will it have the original ending as an alternate? Because that, I would watch.

five things you can do to support your favorite authors: new & improved!

Talk to people about YFA’s newest book, let them know why you like it; mention it at dinner with cousin Trudy or in an email to a friend you think might like it. And if you have no friends who fall into this category, consider that you might need to get out more.

The next time you are in a bookstore, ask for YFA’s newest book, and also for one of his or her backlist. If they don’t have it, look surprised. If they volunteer to special order it, say, thank you, but (a) I saw a pile of them at B&N or (b) I’ll get it from Amazon.

Every once in a while, buy one of YFA’s books new. If you have Joe Morgenstein’s fifteen volume series of novels about a pirate with a weakness for high heels, but you got them all used, then consider buying volume sixteen, Manolo Masquerade, new. Because used books don’t really help YFA out much.

If you visit the author’s website or weblog, look for clickables. You know, “digg this” or “stumbled upon” or “technorati favorites” or “email this to a friend”- and click ’em – in moderation, but do click. Think of it as a thumbs up, much appreciated by YFA.

Concise Amazon reviews that provide balance Maybe not so much in terms of actual sales, but they do a lot to dispel that feeling that you’re shouting into an empty room.

Let’s turn this around

Edited to reformat and reformulate::

Let’s take for granted that you want a good story, plot, characters, and all that. What else makes the experience of reading a novel or a body of work more enjoyable or interesting? You can pick all or none of 1-13, or tell me to mind my own business with 14. If there’s something you’d like to suggest, please mention it in the comments. (if you don’t see the poll, hold on; I’m tinkering).

Well, shoot. The polling plugin isn’t working with the new version of WordPress, so I’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. Here’s a list of things you might like or dislike. If you are so inclined, could you tell me which ones appeal to you?

  1. maps (somewhere inside the book)
  2. illustrations (other than maps)
  3. a note from the author about how the book came to be
  4. a note from the author on the research (if there was any)
  5. suggestions for further reading that’s relevant to the book’s theme or setting
  6. a cast of characters list
  7. footnotes (this has been done in novels, specifically in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, for example)

more specifically to the author, are these things you’d rather have, or not have

  1. an author website
  2. an author weblog that is regularly updated
  3. a discussion forum maintained by the author
  4. discussion forum, but it can be anywhere and the author doesn’t need to be present
  5. author biography
  6. photographs
  7. book recommendations and reviews
  8. writing tips and exercises
  9. interviews with other authors
  10. giveaways/contests

Use the comments to tell me what you think, okay? This would be a help to me — and other authors, too.

Hemingway's six words

A couple people suggested that Hemingway’s (allegedly) six word story need not be interpreted as tragic. Here it is, again: For Sale. Baby shoes, never used.

Some of you came up with far more interesting six word stories, but for the moment let’s stick with this one, which I called melodramatic and overwrought. My first read on this (and I’m not alone) is that the baby in question did not live to wear the shoes. Of course you could approach it differently. A lot of possibilities come to mind, some of them grizzly: baby born without feet or with deformed feet; really ugly baby shoes received as a gift, and the mother needs every penny she can scratch together; the mother received perfectly fine baby shoes as a gift, but she belongs to a religion which requires its faithful to go barefoot until the age of two; shoes were made in China, and parents won’t buy or accept gifts from China because they are protesting civil rights violations in that country.

You could go on like this for a long time, but the fact remains that if you only have six words, there is no space for explanations. The most obvious interpretation is the one you have to bank on. You could play with the six words you’ve got:

For sale: ugly unused baby shoes.

Need food. Selling extra baby shoes.

Buy booties: Proceeds fund reconstructive surgeries.

These certainly get a more nuanced message across, but do they work? I would say that they don’t, because the original’s problem is also its strength. It’s overwrought, but it also works at capturing the reader’s imagination.

So one final question. What do you take away from an exercise like this? Maybe it’s just a party trick, like balancing a plate on a stick. Is there something to be learned?