Friday, June 29, 2007

my favorite literary heroine

Wow, this is a tough one. It's like trying to name a favorite flavor of ice cream. They're all delicious in their own way. But here are some that have stuck in my mind.

There's Scarlett O'Hara, of course, who's wily, wild, and stunningly beautiful. How can you compare her in-your-face presence to the quiet strength of Jane Austen's Elinor Dashwood (so wonderfully played by Emma Thompson in the movie)?

And speaking of Jane Austen and Emmas, Emma Woodhouse is also one of my favorite female literary characters.

There's the mystery set: Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta. And let's not forget Millie Benson's Nancy Drew!

Then there's the mystery-suspense/comedy heroines, including Lori Avocato's Pauline Sokol, Stevi Mittman's Teddi Gallo, and of course, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum.

On the romance side, Joy Nash's heroines are always strong and intelligent. My favorite was Rhiannon in Celtic Fire.

I loved Amy Tan's LuLing in The Bonesetter's Daughter, and Alice Walker's Celie in The Color Purple.

There are dozens--maybe hundreds--more. But as Dorothy Parker once said, "Brevity is the soul of lingerie."


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brenda Novak's Juvenile Diabetes auction

The Next authors donated an embroidered tote bag and 40 autographed Next books to the auction. The high bidder and winner of this great prize was Mary McCoy. Mary, the tote bag and books are on their way.

The auction raised $141,700 this year - thanks to everyone who contributed or who bid on any of the great items in the auction.

Mary, congratulations and enjoy the books.


Oh Dear, Oh Dear!

Favorites again.

Let me tell you about a play I saw the other night. It's called A Marriage Minuet, and one of the characters in it is a college English professor. We see him lecturing to his classes (looking at the audience as if we are his students) and singling out one student, whose name is Cohen-Reinhart or something like that, and who he refers to as a "hyphenate" to his wife.

But I digress.

He's talking to this student and he says something to the effect of: "Favorite authors? Favorite? Favorite is something that should be reserved for ice cream flavors, not for the heights of mythical proportion to which authors aspire and have, over the centuries, the eons, reached." Okay, I'm paraphrasing in the extreme because I wasn't exactly taking notes. My point is that choosing favorites is simply inappropriate when it comes to the breadth and depth of literature and commercial fiction.

Which is to say. . .favorite heroine? Oh, puh. . . lease!

I love every heroine who's ever said something smart, sassy, sharp. I love every heroine who has said something touching, deep, true. I love my heroines because they reflect the best parts of me, and they overcome the flaws and weaknesses I find in myself.

I love the very idea of a heroine...not a main character, not a point of view character, but a true heroine. According to Wikipedia, which I realize is not any authority, but I love the way they put this, a heroine is: From the Greek ἣρως, in mythology and folklore, a hero (male) or heroine (female) are characters that in the face of danger and adversity, from a position of weakness display courage and the will for self-sacrifice, that is, heroism, for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.

Any woman who manages this in a book is my favorite, and any author that manages to make it believable is my heroine!

Stevi Mittman

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Woman for All Time

When I was a kid in northeastern Ohio, the local library on Second Street was like another home to me. Every week my friend and I walked the few blocks to that old red brick building where we scooped up armloads of books to borrow. Treasure. There was no other word for it. I became an avid reader then, and the adventure in a good novel is just as much a pleasure today.

My favorite activity on hot August afternoons was to take a glass of lemonade, curl up on the glider on the front porch in the shade of a maple tree, and Read. Read. Read. I'm sure that glider would be really uncomfortable now, but then--with my younger bones--it felt cozy and cool.

Lying right there I was introduced to Katherine by Anya Seton. I must be on a historical kick, or something, because "Gone With the Wind" was the favorite movie I wrote about last time. But there's a common theme too, a special quality to those sagas of another era that calls to me, even though I write contemporaries. Katherine entertained me and taught me, and she still stands out as my favorite written heroine.

The book is a novel about real people in history, but boy, there's nothing dry or dull about this story. It's a true page-turner all the way. It opens with an intriguing line: "In the tender green time of April, Katherine set forth at last upon her journey with the two nuns and the royal messenger." From there, I was riding right along with her from the convent where she'd been schooled as a girl to the royal court at Windsor.

The story begins with Katherine at fifteen, the innocent daughter of a minor knight and whose older sister is married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Her first night at court, Katherine meets the handsome Duke of Lancaster, the third son of King Edward III--and his is a grand entrance, the stuff of pure romance. John of Gaunt is tall, lean, broad-shouldered, blond and blue-eyed. Sigh. Be still, my heart. Too bad for young Katherine that he's twenty-six (pretty mature in the Middle Ages) and already married.

That doesn't last long. This is a big story with intimate characterizations, and in nearly 600 pages, Katherine is first a virgin, then the wife of another knight (an arranged marriage), eventually John's reluctant mistress and the mother of their children, and finally, after a lot of heartbreak (here comes the HEA), his wife and duchess. What a journey!

I've wallowed in this book, over and over, at most stages of my own life, and from a different perspective each time I learn something new. You should see my old copy! The pages are yellowed now, the red cover has long since faded, even the type isn't as dark as it used to be--and still, I want to read it again.

In her time Katherine experiences romance, love, danger, tragedy, sorrow, loss and triumph. There's a dash of mystery too--a beloved, missing daughter. Katherine not only survives all that, and The Black Plague, but flourishes. From that young girl riding toward court on a soft spring day, she grows into this amazing person. A strong yet vulnerable, entirely admirable woman who has been tested but never overwhelmed.

I love strong heroines. Hey, who doesn't? I love to laugh with them, and cry with them. And learn from them. I love their journeys from potential to fulfillment, which I also write about.

It's a pretty hot, humid day here in Tennessee, and although it's still June, not August, I just may take that tattered copy of Katherine out on my deck. Pour a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade. Curl up on the lounge.

And learn something new, again, from her.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jane Austen's great heroines

Many, many women writers will tell you that one of their favorite heroines is a Jane Austen heroine. Many of them, maybe most of them, will tell you that Elizabeth Bennett is their favorite heroine. And who can resist her? Or Mr. Darcy?

I like Elizabeth Bennett and I like Mr. Darcy, I very much like Pride and Prejudice. I like all of Jane Austen's heroines - but I do have my favorite.

Anne Elliot from Persuasion is my all-time favorite heroine. She's older, she knows what it's like to make mistakes, she understands that life isn't perfect. She, like many women, made decisions when she was younger that have changed her life. She gives up what she wants and needs because her family (mostly her surrogate mother, Lady Russell) ask it of her. She sacrifices for her sister, for her father, for Lady Russell and puts herself second to all of them.

All of these things make her real to me but it goes even farther than that. Anne Elliot sounds like a martyr but she isn't. She knows - at the beginning of Persuasion - what it is she wants. And she wants Captain Frederick Wentworth, the man she gave up at Lady Russell's urging 8 years before the book begins.

She wants the man he was, but as she grows to know the man he is, she realizes that he's even better than he used to be, and he realizes the same thing about her. This is what makes Persuasion a great love story.

Two people, separated by circumstances, go away and become better people and then ... come back together and realize that they still love each. How can you get a better love story than that?

Jane Austen is my heroine.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Movie Traditions for Generations

When I was a kid, my mother and I watched Elvis movies on Saturday mornings, then scary movies on Saturday afternoons. Our entire Saturday was devoted to the TV. The King and his kitchy beach movies all morning (but he was so cute, the thin plots were totally not noticed), followed by things like “Hell House” and other really scary movies with tiny monsters under the bed that had mini Ginsu knife collections. [Photo of me and my mom, from 2005, before she died]

Even today, as a grown-up, those Saturdays are probably my best memories ever. We didn’t have a fancy TV. We even had to--gasp--get up and change the channel and increase the volume with physical exercise. But the whole time I spent with my mom, choosing our movies for the weekend, then talking about them later, was pure gold.

Now my daughter is a teen. We have a big screen TV. On-Demand programming. So many remotes, I can’t even find them. And three stadium seating movie theaters within fifteen minutes of our house.

But guess what? She and I still curl up on the couch and watch movies. She has two distinct types she likes. “Chick-flicks” like “Bewitched” and scary movies like “Dark Water.” She wants me nearby for both, for the first so she can eww through the icky parts when the guys get too romantic (she’s still not totally into guys) and remark on the cutest guys (but is into some guys) and for the second, to hold on to when the scary parts get too terrifying.

And, we have our favorite TV shows. “Prison Break” and “Supernatural.” I’ll claim “Prison Break” is for the cool plot twists, but really, we both watch it because Wentworth Miller is just too hot for words. The plot twists are awesome, though. And “Supernatural,” because it’s in keeping with the scary movies that we both love (though I suspect my daughter is secretly infatuated with Dean).

Movies have become a bridge. They bridged the years between my mother and I, and now, they are bridging the years between my daughter and I. Down the road, I hope she continues the tradition with her children. And, when I’m old and gray, I hope she’ll stop on by with a few NetFlix and keep this granny entertained.

Or at least help me find the remote.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My Favorite Movie

I am a hard core movie junkie. There are many movies I've seen multiple times. Many, many, multiple times.

Gone With the Wind? At least thirty times. Casablanca, twenty or so. Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson and Doris Day, just about once a week when I worked the graveyard shift, and it was regularly the early morning movie on TBS. Grease? I lost count somewhere around fifty. And in high school and college, I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least a hundred times.

I love the Merchant Ivory films, Remains of the Day, Howard's End, A Room With a View; and the Jane Austen adaptations, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Pride and Prejudice. Amadeus and Dangerous Liasons are two of the best costume dramas I've ever seen.

The Color Purple, Terms of Endearment and Schindler's List are my seven-hankie movies.

Matchpoint and Thank You for Smoking are two recent favorites.

On the lighter end, I loved Raising Arizona, Groundhog Day, Harold and Maude, This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, National Lampoon's Vacation, Pirates of the Caribbean, There's Something About Mary, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Pierce Brosnan was brilliant in the underrated The Matador. That was a wonderful dark comedy and a really fascinating character study.

I will watch anything with Johnny Depp or Mark Ruffalo. I would, in fact, watch them sit in a chair for two hours.

Since becoming a Mom, I've watched lots of kids' movies. Toy Story and Beauty and the Beast are two of my favorites, but Finding Nemo and Shrek come close. (I am looking forward to seeing more first-run grown-up movies, though!)

Dirty Dancing holds a special place in my heart, and so does the corny but hilarious Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell (which I consider my guiltiest guilty-pleasure movie.)

But if I had to choose, I would say that Jaws is my all-time favorite. I know it backward and forward, inside and out. I love everything about it. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue fantastic. I loved the book, which I read numerous times as well, but in my opinion, the movie outshines it, which I rarely think is the case when it comes to adaptations.

When I give writing classes at my local library, I use Jaws to illustrate motivation and conflict, as well as the three-act structure. I literally can't watch anything else when I know it is on, even though I own two versions of the movie that I can play anytime. Is there anything better than hearing that music? Da dun. Da dun. Da dun da dun da dun dunnnnnnn!!! Even after all this time, the special effects hold up pretty well,

I'm sure as soon as I post this I'll think of a dozen more I wish I would have included...

Donna Birdsell

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Inside Scoop from Hank and Donna

So TODAY, June 12th, is the big day.

The day you can buy PRIME TIME and MADAM OF THE HOUSE at your favorite bookstore.

In PRIME TIME, you'll meet Charlie McNally. Track down the biggest story of her career with her. Have adventures with her. Face danger with her. Question whether the handsome Josh Gelston is a good guy or a bad guy. Fall in love, and out, and (maybe) in again--and see the world through her quirky but determined perspective.

At 46, she's smart, savvy and sexier than she realizes. She's tough, she's honorable, she's a genuine journalist. And she wonders: what happens to a TV reporter who's married to her job--if the camera doesn't love her anymore?

And I hope, for a moment, you will have a thought of me, the author, sitting at my desk in Boston. I'll be wondering about each of you--and wishing I could talk with you personally. Do you like it? I'd ask. Do you think it's funny? Did you solve the mystery before Charlie did?

I remember the night the boxes of books arrived. My husband and I had been out to dinner with friends, and drove up the driveway. We'd stayed out later than usual on a work night, but we'd had a great time.

I could see on our porch, two brown boxes. Sealed with tape.

They were too big to be the shoes I ordered. Too small to be my stuff from Saks. It had to be PRIME TIME.

I leaped out of the car, engine still running, I'm sure. I raced to the porch, and began ripping off the tape. "Want me to carry those boxes inside?" my husband asked.

I ripped off more tape, ignoring him. "Why don't we wait until we're inside?" Jonathan persisted.

I ignored him. Risking manicure and paper cuts, I yanked open the flaps. One. Two. And there they were. Sleek and perfectly packed. More beautiful than I had imagined.

But they were--MADAM OF THE HOUSE. Donna's book. In one of those mix-ups that, you know, sometimes just happens, they had sent me the wrong books.

It was after 11 pm. I couldn’t call Donna and say--did you get my books?

I happened to get a box of books, too. But luckily, they were my own! (Or maybe unluckily, since I was dying to get my hands on a copy of PRIME TIME.)

This is the fifth book I’ve had published, and the second book I’ve written for NEXT (the first was SUBURBAN SECRETS, which was released in September). But I was still just as excited to have it in my hot little hands. There are few things more thrilling than holding a book that has your own name on it.

Just like when you have a baby, holding it makes you forget all the sweat and swearing and agony it took to bring it to life. You look at it and say, "Wow, that was so worth it."

And despite all the agony, MADAM was a fun book to write, too.

I have a real estate agent friend who helped me create the main character, Cecilia Katz, known as the Madam of the Million Dollar Deal. But unlike my friend, Cecilia gets into some hot water when she isn’t exactly ethical about how she handles a property she’s supposed to sell. In fact, she turns the mansion into a bordello, to make money after her estranged husband cleans out their joint bank accounts.

I like to use my characters to explore motivation—in this case, boarding school tuition for a special-needs child—and see how far they’ll push their own boundaries. It always gets me thinking about where I would draw the line…

Ah, motivation! In a romantic mystery like Prime Time--the stakes are high. Charlie's got to save her career of course..that's life and death for her. And save her love life--totally pivotal. But it also comes down to real life and death! What would you do if you were being pursued by murderous thugs in a high-speed highway chase? What if you were being held at gunpoint by the person who turns out to be the bad guy? Could you have the presence of mind to figure out what to do?

One thing I love about Charlie as sleuth--she's just a reporter. She's only got a pen, not a gun. And although often the pen is mightier than the sword, sometimes you'd better have a pretty lethal Plan B. Charlie uses her wits and her determination to make everyday items--into deadly weapons.

Two years ago, I was sitting at my computer working on Prime Time. and I called my husband into the room. "Look, sweetheart," I said. "Watch this." And I typed "The end." And then I burst into tears. What makes the journey so sweet--is that now, you all will continue the journey. And instead of the end--it's The Beginning.

We'd love to hear from you!

Hank Phillippi Ryan
Donna Birdsell

May's contest winners - calling Shilo and Maura

I've heard from everybody who won prizes in last month's blog contest except Shilo and Maura. Can you email me at with your name and mailing address and I'll make sure your prizes get sent out to you.


Hollywood Comes Through

I haven't been going out to movies lately. I have a looming book deadline, and by eight o'clock, after a day of writing, most nights I feel lazy. But the other night my husband and I watched the movie "Ruffian" on TV. Both of us love horses, and even though I knew the legendary filly, one of only a few winners of the female Triple Crown, would come to a sad end, hers was a heck of a good story. Bless her soul. Sam Shepard did a wonderful acting job--terrific characterization--as the horse's trainer. All in all, a satisfying movie experience. Three hankies, at least.

Which got me thinking about today's blog--and another film. My Very Favorite Movie.

What makes it the all-time winner?

Lots of things. Great storytelling, a sweeping epic, a fascinating setting, gorgeous costumes, characters good and bad who carve themselves into your heart and never leave, fine acting, moments of humor, plenty of drama and heartache and sexual attraction and, well, of course, love with a capital L. All the universal elements are there. Beautifully photographed, too.

The burning of Atlanta, for instance, is still effective onscreen today. Powerful images. And that's pretty amazing, considering the film was made in 1939, almost seventy years ago! Think of the technology developed since then, the special effects that directors can employ now, and then of "Gone With the Wind." Fabulous.

The envelope, please.

Yes, "GWTW" is my favorite movie. On top of everything else, it has a lot to say about the Southern culture it depicts during what was perhaps the most difficult era of our country's history. That something extra is what editors and agents often tell us should be part of our stories. "The added value," mine would say.

And boy, could Margaret Mitchell tell a compelling story. Like Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD,GWTW was the only book Mitchell ever wrote. Hard to top, perhaps? That must have been a too-daunting prospect.

How does her splendid story help in my own writing? She sets a darn good example.

At the moment I'm working on THE GO-TO GIRL, a lighter project to be sure. Its setting is Cincinnati, not Civil War-time Atlanta. It's contemporary not historical. There's a strong relationship between my heroine and her ex-husband with mutual attraction and humor, and some poignant moments along the way. A serious issue also provides a bit of "something extra." But Tess and Grady O'Neill don't pretend to be Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. (Well, maybe a little, unconsciously) And I'm certainly not trying to top Margaret Mitchell. If only...

Still, GWTW, the book and the movie, are great teachers. In part because of that, although mine is a different market, I know what elements to work on, and ultimately what over-all effect I should aim for.

An absolutely, positively, completely Good Read.

Maybe (dream on) there's a movie in there too somewhere...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Shared Dreams

Unlike Kate, I hate going to the movies. I hate being cold in the theater –or hot, having no place to put my feet up. I hate that woman who always seems to take the seat behind me and proceeds to narrate the movie to her husband: “Oh, she’s pregnant and it’s not his. . .” “See, she’s got a gun tucked in to her waistband. She’s going to try to kill him . . .”

I hate having to go to the bathroom and not being able to pause the movie while I go. I hate the smell of stale popcorn. And I hate when my shoes stick to the floor.

That said, I do love movies. I just love them on my own TV screen, in my own den, on my couch with the fireplace going in the winter or the air conditioner going in the summer. I like the pause button, the nearby fridge, the rewind that lets me listen again to something I may have missed.

My recurring character, Teddi Bayer, often gets together with her best friends, Bobbie and Diane for what they call Girls Night In where they watch old movies. Often it helps them solve the mysteries in the books. Which brings me to another thing I like about movies– I can rent them from Netflix without even leaving the house and when they come I can spend an afternoon watching a movie and call it working!

My all time favorite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. First off, I love Christmas movies in general (like romances, they always guarantee a happy ending) and second, I do love Jimmy Stewart. Could watch him in anything. I love all the old movies, the ones with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, with Clark Gable, Cary Grant . . .

I loved Life is Beautiful, which I only bring up now because the title is similar to It’s a Wonderful Life, though the stories are not.

I’m a sucker for sentimental movies, like An Affair to Remember. (There’s Cary Grant again!) I flipped for Somewhere in Time, that one with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve where he goes back in time for her. It was filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan and a few weeks ago my husband and I went there for a romantic weekend getaway. We rented our own horse-drawn carriage and went off into the countryside. That's my husband driving the carriage in the photo. I have a terrible voice, but there was no one for miles and I sang “Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry . . .” at the top of my lungs. It took everything I had not to run across their lawn yelling “Richard! Richard!” (This may mean nothing to you if you haven’t seen the movie, but if you have, you know. Oh, you know!

I like surprising movies, like the foreign films Bread and Tulips and Saving Face, both of which we rented from Netflix because they sounded “okay,” and then loved.

What I suppose I like best about movies is that they are like sharing your dreams. There you are, in another place and time, only whoever is around you is there with you. It’s a shared experience, though it drives me crazy when people like movies I hate, or don’t like movies I love.

It’s the same with books. Only better.

Stevi Mittman

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

My favorite learning tool - movies

I admit it, I’m a movie addict. I LOVE movies. My friends go to movies and they’re much more discriminating than I am. I love ‘em all (with a few minor exceptions, mostly teenage boy movies). But other than those movies? I love being in the theatre in the dark, the sound everywhere, the big screen, the atmosphere – with or without popcorn.

Every movie I’ve ever seen has taught me something about writing –

I just saw MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT and thought as I watched it that the spare writing style of Elizabeth Taylor (who if you haven’t read, you should) translated beautifully onto the screen. Not too many characters, no big special effects, just a lovely and intimate personal story. I wish I’d written not just the movie but the book. Check it out when you get a chance and see how to write an unusual, simple, relatively straightforward story in a way that makes you laugh, makes you cry and tugs at your heartstrings.

Then there’s my favorite Hitchcock movie – NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Oh, there’s Cary Grant for a bonus, but this movie is all about humor and sex. Really. The thrills and chills are just a way to get Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant together. Goal. Conflict. Motivation. Perfect.

This movie – we never see anything overt because even in the sexiest of scenes they're wearing pajamas – but the dialogue between the two of them is some of the sexiest movie dialogue ever. This is how you write about sex. This is how you create sexual tension.

The humor starts with the typical mistaken identity which is funny, but even the most suspenseful scenes have humor in them.

THE PIANO – those of you who’ve read my May book LAST NIGHT AT THE HALFMOON will already know just how much I love this movie. Another subtle movie – the setting is incredibly sensual, wet, tropical, steamy. The characters are complex but they’re not beautiful, not in the way we see them so often in Hollywood movies. They feel, at least to me, like real people, people with complicated lives who are doing the best they can. So this movie taught me not only that the smallest touch can be incredibly sensual but that setting has power to bump up the heat.

And then there’s THE ENGLISH PATIENT – I’m not a giant fan of tragic love stories. I want a happy ending – but I can’t resist this movie.

What I love the most is the way it moves seamlessly from the past to the present, from Tuscany to the desert, from one story to another. I love the way it uses images to do this. My favorite example is the way the ridges on the bedsheet turn into desert sand dunes.

I love the way people aren’t perfect – they do what they need to do but they’re not black and white, not always confident in what they’re doing, so they make mistakes. And even with those mistakes, they are still loved.

I love the high stakes in this movie. War, death, love. All those things that we, as writers, want to write about and want our readers to understand how difficult it is to live in those complicated times and how, sometimes, we just put one foot in front of another and do what we have to do – never being quite sure whether it’s right or wrong.

And then there’s my favorite movie ever – WINGS OF DESIRE, Wim Wender’s great German movie about Berlin, about love, about desire. (City of Angels – a very bad remake was made a few years ago, don’t see it, see the original).

So what is it about this movie? There are many things that work in this movie but here are a few to start with.

Angels in trenchcoats watch over post-war Berlin and its shaken inhabitants. But Daniel (the wonderful Bruno Ganz) believes that maybe being an angel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe, he thinks, human beings have something, know something, that angels don’t. And he’s right.

He falls in love with a trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) and she (along with Peter Falk playing himself) teach him that he needs to take the bad with the good. Yes, human beings have the pain of reality but they also have the joys of being human – like the combination of coffee and cigarettes and love – and Daniel finally decides that he’s going to choose the pain so that he can have the joy.

He takes a huge risk - giving up angelhood to become human - without knowing whether that risk is going to pay off. He jumps off the cliff and right into the midst of the human world. Whether he gets what he wants or not, the movie is about taking the risk, taking the leap. It's about hope in a situation that doesn't seem to have any, about courage, about love and desire and pain.

This movie is about everything.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

My Favorite Movies! and what they mean for my books

Everyone says--ooh, do you think Prime Time can be a movie? I can'twait! Who do you want to play to play Charlie McNally—the smart,savvy and sexier than she realizes forty-something TV reporter? Andwho do you want to play the fabulously handsome (and perplexingly)mysterious Josh?When you read Prime Time—let me know!

I'd say, oh Rene Russo forCharlie, or maybe Meg Ryan? And maybe that guy who plays the new James Bond would be a good Josh—now that Gregory Peck is no longeravailable to play the devastatingly handsome (but possibly sinister) potential new man in her life.

It's so tempting to cast any book we read—it's so easy to see just the right actor to play our favorite roles.Maybe it's because I've been a TV reporter for, um, thirty years, I think about every story I write as visual—on a page, you tell a story, on TV you can show it—and the old picture is worth a thousand words chestnut is illustrated perfectly by TV.. and by the movies.

And it's why we so often cant take our eyes off of a moving picture.Especially when we feel so close to the action we're terrified at the suspense, or cry at the end because these are characters whose lives we shared. So in my writing, I try to make whoever is reading—when they open that first page and enter my world—that they're therewith me. Just like in the movies.

My favorites? And how they helped me with writing?

Rear Window—what you might predict is the least cinematic becauseit's basically Jimmy Stewart--who's laid up with a broken leg—and Grace Kelly (has anyone ever been lovelier?) watching with binoculars out the rear window of Jimmy's apartment. They are watching the sinister-looking activities of a suspicious and sneakyRaymond Burr—did he kill his wife? Anyway—somehow it all works perfectly, even in that closed environment. And it illustrates one of the real puzzles for mystery writers like me--how do you handle a big scary climax when your character isn't a cop or a federal agent even anyone who might have a weapon. How do you get rid of the bad guys? By your wits and by using what's around you, is what I learned from Rear Window—do you remember how Jimmy does it? It's fabulous.And it's believable. Oh, you think. That could work.

(And—maybe you don't consider them classics but I do-- My CousinVinnie and Legally Blonde use the same techniques. The unique and quirky knowledge that a character possesses—make them triumph in the end.)

The Philadelphia Story—for proof that hilarious comedy and wry wit and good writing and swoony romance can be spare and slick and classy.

Adam's Rib—the cracklingly wonderful Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracymovie where they're husband and wife--but he's the DA and she's the defense attorney in the same murder case. Remember that? A perfect example of how a serious topic—a woman who has a slime of a husband, and how the rule of law is important no matter what the emotion---can be woven in to what might otherwise be just another fun romantic comedy.

Erin Brockovich to show how a tough, devoted woman can win the day with determination and dedication. To Catch a Thief—remember how they showed Cary Grant and Grace Kelly making mad passionate love? Aha! They didn't! But you sure know something was going on. Which teaches me you don't always have to be explicit to be exciting.

Oh—we could chat about this forever! And I know as soon as I post,I'll think of a whole list more. OH! Of course To Kill AMockingbird, for voice alone—the strongest, sweetest most personal and memorable voice in the movies.

But I'd love to hear from you—what movies could you watch a million times? And how do they change your life? Talk to you soon!

Hank(and who wants to guess my real name? It's not Henrietta...)