Drive by

Still in California, enjoying lazy days of doing exactly nothing. Not much news here, except I got a haircut! Oh, and also, I finished MB! Like, really finished it, typed the last sentence, which I’ve had scribbled on a Post-It note on my cork board for MONTHS. You will note that the MB Rough Draft word counter in the left sidebar has been updated to reflect this. You will also note that there is a third word counter now, for the looming MB First Draft revisions. Blurgh.

I usually write in individual Word documents by chapter first, which helps me with pacing, but I revise in one full MS document, so today I copy/pasted the prologue, epilogue, and all the chapters together in one document and am now going through doing a casual read and adding “*  *  *” section breaks, which I need but never seem to put in during the original draft. After I’m done with that, I am going to send it to my sister and my cousin for a content read (I count on them, as seventeen-year-olds, to answer really big picture questions: are the characters sympathetic, is the story interesting, did it end satisfactorily, etc.) and let it sit for about a month and a half while I do some prep work for GR (character manifestos, compile the soundtrack, synopsis, etc.) and enjoy the relative calm of submission season. Or maybe it won’t be calm at all, I have no idea because I’ve never done it before. I’ll let you know.

Oh my God, you guys!

I have noticed something about myself: I seem to get the most done when I have a lot going on. Like, for instance, this weekend. I told J (when I sent her my revisions and the MB prologue!) that I would be finishing MB this week in California, because I figured, what with my sister finishing up film camp and having to entertain her that I wouldn’t have time to do it. WRONG. This weekend was chock full of activity, and yet here I am, about five pages from the end of the novel. When I left off last night, I was two pages into the epilogue. I will most likely finish in the Washington-Dulles airport during my TWO AND A HALF HOUR LAYOVER tomorrow.

Anyway, my sister had never been to a Broadway show (having never been to New York before this summer), so we went to the TKTS booth in Times Square yesterday. I timed it perfectly, actually. We got there at a quarter to two, got some Starbucks, and we were very close to the front of the line so when they opened up the booth at three (…fifteen, annoyingly), we got right in and bought tickets to Legally Blonde. I LOVE the movie, and I’d heard pretty good things about the show, but I could never really get anyone to go with me. My sister was game, and didn’t really have a preference since her favorite musical, Little Shop of Horrors, isn’t playing on Broadway.

I have to say, I was so pleasantly surprised. It was really cute! Very much in the spirit of the show, and that song, “Oh My God, You Guys!” is so, SO catchy it is now permanently burned in my brain. If possible, the romance between Elle and Emmett is cuter, because they have this whole thing where (probably to keep him on stage more) they give him a little bit of back story (he raised himself up from poverty and paid his way through Harvard law and thinks that Elle’s problems are kind of silly in comparison and tries to tell her that, hey, if you want people to take you seriously you have to be serious and make sacrifices) and more motive. So they spend a lot of time together and become really good friends. Not that the movie doesn’t do an excellent job with that relationship, too, they just do it differently, but I really liked it. The girl who played Elle was the girl who won that MTV show that I didn’t even know existed, the one where they do a search for the new Elle? I’m happy to say that she was really, really good! And the girl who played Brooke Wyndam looked like Amy Poehler, at least from where I was sitting. Anyway. If you’re coming to New York anytime soon, I highly recommend it. Just try not to sit directly in front of the chattiest, most annoying pre-teens in existence, one of whom has your same name, which they will say over and over again until words lose all meaning. TRUST.

Also, on the book front, I’m reading Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait!, which I must confess I just love. It’s weird because one of the main characters in AUT is named Audrey (look at me, casually dropping facts about the book; I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me later) and she is just a way different girl in way different circumstances than Audrey, Wait!‘s Audrey Cuttler and at first it was weird for me to read this word, “Audrey”, that I’d been writing and reading for three years in various incarnations of AUT and have it refer to someone completely different. And even though I love my own Audrey, I have to say that Robin Benway’s Audrey rocks, too (literally, she’s a big music fan). And, despite the fact that it’s sort of a hot mess right now, what with the paparazzi and fans and the evil popuwhore who’s trying to steal her mens and ruin her life, I’d much rather have Audrey Cuttler’s life than my Audrey’s life, insofar as my book is much darker and my Audrey’s existence is more dangerous and I’m incredibly risk averse. Although, I’m also attention-averse, so who really knows? It’s a toss up. Anyway. Not that everybody doesn’t already know that Audrey, Wait! is an incredibly cool book, but I’m just here to say for the record that it is.

My vacation reading project

If you will refer to the calendar in the right sidebar, you’ll see that I have a vacation coming up! Okay, “vacation” is a stretch–I’m just going to my parents’ house in Northern California for a couple of days, during which my mother will probably nag me, as she has every time I’ve been home since I moved out two years ago, to go through the stuff in my room and get rid of it. Little does she know that I have no intention of doing that! (JAY KAY, Mom, if you’re reading this, but please don’t make me because I really don’t want to.) I have my own plans for those few blissful days of California sun and gourmet meals (a.k.a. air conditioning I don’t have to pay for and my mother’s cooking). They are as follows:

1. See Shannel and play with her puppy. Possibly steal the puppy.

2. Finish MB.

3. Read a crapload of books.

I have had so little time to read recently. I’ve been stuck on Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty and Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit for so long now. I have to admit, I find myself confused by A Great and Terrible Beauty. I either have to try harder, or put it aside to tackle another time when I have the energy to try harder. Either way, both these books are staying in New York. My new favorite thing to do is consider all the books I’m going to drag with me to California, for six-hour plane rides and long leisurely days sprawled out on the couch.

So far, I’ve definitely decided to bring Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa and Jasper Fforde’s First Among Sequels. I love love love Carol Goodman’s books. They’re sort of hard to describe, but I would call them literary, mysterious pseudo-thrillers with a dash of the supernatural. How do you like that subgenre! Anyway, I’m really excited about this one. Fforde, not so much. I mean, I love the Thursday Next books as much as the next (ha!) literature aficionado, but I must be honest in saying that this series has kind of spiraled out of control since The Well of Lost Plots and is now so full of convoluted twists and literary references so obscure that I don’t even get them that it’s hard to maintain interest for long enough to actually finish one. I limped through Something Rotten, and when I opened First Among Sequels just to see if I wanted to start it right then (this was a month ago or so) I immediately closed it again, and I swear to God this was my actual thought: THERE ARE SO MANY WORDS ON THAT PAGE. I know, how ridiculous, right? Except that between the very long, very absurd epigraphs from fake books in the Nextosphere that begin every single chapter, the actual text of the novel and the footnotes, it’s a jungle in there! So, I don’t think it’s something I can casually read a few pages of at night. It’s going to have to be a project. That’s what vacation is for.

I’m also thinking about bringing Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster just to round out the nonfiction. I’ve wanted to read this book for a while, because I used to have an obscene handbag fetish and I think the fact that it’s faded has more to do with my lack of disposable income than my burgeoning understanding of just how stupid and grotesque the luxury goods market is. I need a good punch in the kisser w/r/t the whole industry surrounding designer what-have-yous.

I feel like I should bring some YA, too. I’m considering taking Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait! and Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It with me. I also have the sequel to LAWKI, the dead and the gone, but you KNOW I’m not bringing a hardcover with me on vacation.

Am I being ridiculous? Is that too many books for a five-day trip? Even if I’ll be spending much of it on planes? I don’t think so. But how much do you want to bet that I’ll conk out on the plane, show up at my parents’ house, sit down in front of the TV and watch the Olympics the whole time, barely cracking a book?

Live from Frankenstein Manor!

You guys, I am almost completely done with my revisions. What what! I know. I never thought I’d say that, either. I think I’ve revised this MS four times since J became my agent in February, not that I’m complaining, because each time it gets better and better. But after each cycle, I always enter what I liked to call “the Frankenstein stage”. Stephenie Meyer said in a recent interview (yes, I know I’m obsessed, whatever) that she sometimes writes scenes out of order and then sews them up when they’re all done and I was like GOOD GOD WOMAN HOW CAN YOU STAND TO DO THAT? I mean, to each his or her own, whatever, but I could never do that because that’d be like writing completely in the Frankenstein stage. I write straight through, from beginning to end, so my books are more like, I don’t know, a knitted afghan than a patchwork quilt, you know what I’m saying? I’m not going to continue this poor metaphor any further, but I will say that it’s hard for me to jump from scene to scene, out of order, in revisions. The MS starts to feel discontinuous to me, and I fear that I didn’t sew everything in properly.

So, of course, I have to go through and read the whole thing again and check for loose ends/contradictions caused by moving things around or changing them/redundancy/etc.

Anyway, apropos of nothing I found this list of five questions on Writer Unboxed and thought, hey, I’m lazy and this is easy–giddy up!

* What’s your most steadfast writing habit?

I guess the stuff I call “head writing”, where I think about and plan and write key scenes or whole sections or the whole book in my head. Sometimes I actually jot down some ideas, but this is mostly like feeling out the contours of the story in my imagination before I sit down to write the synopsis, character manifestos, etc. I don’t always do all of that stuff, but I do always do the head writing. I can’t help it–it’s where my mind goes when it’s bored which, when you live in New York and spend 35% of your time on the subway, is a lot. This process is usually set to music.

* What’s the hardest (and possibly the best) lesson you’ve learned while on your writer’s journey?

Revisions are hard but must be done. You don’t want to go flipping through your marked up manuscript, terrified of what comment from your agent might be lurking on the next page. Sending off a manuscript to someone who’s going to edit it is like lending your sister your favorite sweater and then getting it back with a bunch of threads loose, only to have her protest that it was like that when she got it. When you hit the SEND button you’re like, “This thing is tight and perfect and great and wonderful and now I’m going to go celebrate with a beer.” You get it back and it’s full of plot holes and run-on sentences and factual errors and character inconsistencies and too many dashes and semicolons and you’re like, “Um, this can’t be what I wrote.” But it IS! And now you have to fix the problems, only to send it off again and repeat the process. So. That’s tough. But your manuscript gets better every single time, and nothing feels better than knowing you’re done with revisions for a while. (But the Frankenstein stage SUCKS for me because I’m so close to being done but…I’m not.)

* How many story ideas do you come up with for every one you act on? (Guesstimates welcome.)

I think probably five to ten. Iphegenia Doubtfire’s (my laptop) hard drive is like the Well of Lost Plots.

* Which book do you wish you’d written?

Harry Potter. Twilight, etc. (who wouldn’t love to get to write for a guy as dreamy as Edward Cullen?), Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. All of Jane Austen’s novels. This list could go on and on…

* If you could do it all over again, would you go for that MFA in college? Why or why not? (And if you already have one, are you glad?)

Didn’t get one, and am glad of it, although I’m also happy that I chose an MA program that allowed me to take literature classes and write a creative thesis. That was a really perfect situation for me.

Is Bella Swan anti-feminist?*

I was waiting for this: a Jezebel post on Breaking Dawn. I’m a little bit surprised that the Jezebelles were so unkind to the book, considering that resident Jezebel YA expert Lizzie Skurnick is a fan, but in retrospect I should’ve known this was coming. I mean, Stephenie Meyer has been getting slammed for being anti-feminist from the very beginning of Twilight, so much so that she’s actually responded to these accusations on her website:

I am all about girl power—look at Alice and Jane if you doubt that. I am not anti-female, I am anti-human [Ed: bolding Meyer’s]. I wrote this story from the perspective of a female human because that came most naturally, as you might imagine. But if the narrator had been a male human, it would not have changed the events. When a human being is totally surrounded by creatures with supernatural strength, speed, senses, and various other uncanny powers, he or she is not going to be able to hold his or her own. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. We can’t all be slayers. Bella does pretty well I think, all things considered. She saves Edward, after all.

Okay, so there’s that. And Meyer does have a point–I mean, all of the female vampires are very powerful, with Alice, the smallest and easiest to underestimate, probably being the most powerful of the Cullen coven. In New Moon and Eclipse, the greatest threat to Bella’s safety is from a female vampire–Victoria. Even some of Meyer’s Twilight mythology reflects the way the world is changing for women–while werewolf packs were traditionally all-male, in Eclipse we get the transformation of Leah, a female Quileute, into a werewolf. Even magic is conforming to a new societal ideology. So there’s no lack of powerful, kick-ass females in this series–Bella, the heroine, just happens not to be one, and that’s because she’s at a vast disadvantage by virtue of being so normal and human. There’s nothing strictly anti-feminist about that; in fact, it makes the whole series more relatable.

Also, Bella holds her own. She’s not a quivering coward of a girl–she’s steadfast, loyal, shrewd, discerning, and a master at overcoming fear in pursuit of that which she wants most. The moment we meet Bella, we learn that she’s done a very brave thing: she has agreed to go live with her father, Charlie, in Forks, a man she barely knows in a dark, rainy place she, a desert girl raised, couldn’t possibly feel comfortable in, because she wants her mother, who has recently married a professional baseball player who travels a lot, to be free and happy in her marriage. Maybe that’s grotesquely self-sacrificing, but it’s also incredibly sweet, and it soon becomes clear that Bella is a girl older than her age who has spent her entire adolescence taking care of her flighty mother. When Bella, despite her relative normalcy, starts getting a lot of attention from the boys at her new school, she is made uncomfortable by it because she understands how patently superficial it all is. She would rather just have some good, trustworthy friends who can make her stay in Forks bearable, but instead she gets a bunch of dopey, slavering aspiring boyfriends and a grip of backstabbing mean girls who only deign to hang out with her because the boys like her. Bella is diplomatic but acutely aware of the social pitfalls of this situation and does her best to avoid them.

As someone who feels like an outsider, it makes sense that she would be drawn towards another outsider, the shadowy, mysterious Edward Cullen (yes, he is beautiful, but Bella, after he treats her in an infamously and inexplicably rude manner, while puzzled, is fine with being disliked by him; she just wishes he’d stop glaring at her and then saving her ass all the time, because consistency is all the girl’s looking for in this brand new strange world). Edward is weird, duh, because he’s a vampire, and so he does act like a creepy stalker at first, but this is where the premise is really important–he is just as surprised by his behavior as she is, that he is both drawn to her and repulsed by her, and the fact that his mind-reading power doesn’t work on her puts them on equal footing because he has no intellectual advantage over her. Also, he recognizes right quick another thing that’s special about Bella–she attracts trouble. This is not because she is a ditz who blithely walks into potentially dangerous scenarios, although she is startling cavalier with her own safety, it just never occurs to her that anyone would want to hurt her. She thinks of herself as scenery in a world full of actors, not because she’s a mopey self-hater but just because that’s how she sees herself. Edward, because he has the ability to, tends to intervene in these situations–he stops a car from running her over, he rescues her from a pack of guys that are trying to assault her, etc. Yes, he is overprotective, but that’s because, especially as time goes on, he sees that he is making her world less and less safe simply by being in it.

Edward is not possessive. Actually, it’s the opposite–he knows that he’s bringing danger into her life and struggles daily between sticking around to prevent it from hurting her or leaving her to prevent it from coming at all, but she clings to him, willing to brave the risks and the fear in order to love him. That’s either incredibly romantic or incredibly stupid, probs both, but either way it’s Edward who tries to push her away in New Moon. To Bella’s credit, she does not rend her clothes and gnash her teeth and sob her guts out when he tells her that he’s leaving–she just accepts it, and then the lights go out for three months while she grieves and adjusts. Please don’t anybody ever tell me that when they were broken up with by someone they really loved the same thing did not happen because I will not believe you. And then Bella tries to move on with her life, albeit painfully and slowly. THIS IS NOT ANTI-FEMINIST. Bella alternately puts herself back together and falls apart because she’s a young girl with a sense of commitment and love more mature than her years and experience. This may not appeal to some people’s particularly sensibilities, but it’s not hatefully misogynistic.

Even when Edward comes back, he keeps encouraging her to consider her options–human (or half-human, anyway) Jacob who she can grow old with and have babies with, or eternal, potentially soulless death with a vampire who cannot give her children (WE THINK SPOILER!!1!). Or, you know, neither, although once Jacob comes on the scene full-force that doesn’t seem to be considered, which IS potentially anti-feminist, I’ll give you that. If Natalie Babbitt was writing this book, we know what the answer would be (hint: immortality is not a good idea and while cool for a couple of decades gets old, FAST, with or without a soul mate). Bella makes her own choice, and I know there are angry fans out there who think that Jacob’s imprinting on Renesmee in Breaking Dawn invalidates Bella’s choosing Edward in Eclipse, that’s silly, it just doesn’t. It was hard, she really considered what it would do to the three of them, she made her choice, she gets points for that. If Jacob had just fell in love with, like, Leah or something, would that invalidate Bella’s choice, too? Of course not. Was Stephenie Meyer supposed to make Jacob miserable and spurned in love forever for Bella’s choice to have power? No! And Edward is still trying to get Bella to change her mind about him and choose to remain mortal while she is pregnant in the hopes that she’ll save her own life, despite how much it would hurt to lose her. That’s not possessive, that’s passionate. That’s love. Idealized love, perhaps, but love all the same.

I guess what this comes down to is that I don’t think a woman is anti-feminist just because she knows what she wants and what she wants happens to be a life with a man she loves. On a related note, her decision to keep Renesmee (or, whatever, the baby who ends up being Renesmee) is just that: HER CHOICE. HERS. Bella says she never even thought about being a mother, but the truth is that she’s been mothering her own mother for as long as she can remember, and when she moves in with her father she mothers him; nurturing comes naturally to her, and it makes sense that those instincts would kick in once she was carrying a baby of her own. And Bella’s choice to become a vampire is not something she does on the fly–she considers it, decides to do it, and then waits three books to really sort it out in her mind before she commits to it, in the face of monumental opposition from the one person who would benefit from her becoming a vampire the most–Edward.

*I swear to God, at some point I will stop talking about Twilight and start talking about my own books again. But that can be summed up in one run-on non-sentence: revisions revisions revisions revisions wrote a single sentence in MB this weekend revisions revisions look I’m halfway done!

Research – Testing the limits of Google

Recently, as I think I’ve mentioned, J gave the MS of AUT to her boss, D, for a fresh read and D red-flagged something that I probably knew deep down was a problem but never really wanted to confront it. Whoops, Inc.! Well, that’s what wonderful talented agents are for, you see. Anyway, the problem had to do with inheritance law and the fact that minors aren’t legally allowed to enter into binding financial contracts (i.e. create their own wills) or accept a gift under a will. Now, objectively speaking, this is not that big of a deal. Minors inherit money, so I know it can be done, but what I didn’t take into consideration is that, of course, there are limits to how they can access and use that money, and also there is always a legal adult in charge of the assets. So I just had to figure out how the person who willed the money to two minor girls would have done it.

That part, at least, was easy. A quick Google led me straight to an answer: testamentary trusts. (Yes, I am taking legal advice from Wikipedia.) A testamentary trust is a trust that becomes active upon the death of the settler (or testator)–basically, these characters’ grandmother, who is LOADED and kicks the bucket off-stage. The testator can establish an executor or guardian of the trust, which can be different than an actual legal guardian of the minor, which is good because I know the first thing Mams (the settler) would want to do is keep the money as far away from one of the girls’ legal guardians as possible. The way I see it, the guardian of the trusts would then authorize allowances for the girls, and they would get full access to the money when they graduated high school (something I also learned: the age of majority in California for inheriting money is 18 unless the minor is still in high school; then it’s 19, or upon graduation) so that they could use it for college or travel or whatever girls do with millions these days. Perhaps I should ask Paris Hilton?

Anyway, here is what I’m stumbling with: what if, before she reaches the age of majority, one of these girls dies? What happens to the money? Google is less forthcoming with an answer for this one. Now, I can hazard a pretty good guess–that the assets are then distributed according to state laws regarding intestacy, because a minor cannot have a will, as I said before. At least, that’s what happens in Canada. But AUT does not take place in Canada! Anyway, if we say that it’s probably similar in the US (specifically California, because I know that all the states have different laws re: this issue), I’m going to go with that means that her next of kin (her father) would inherit everything. Technically, I can stop there. Her physical possessions would most definitely go to her next of kin, since you can’t even technically own property as a minor, although I wonder how that affects sixteen-year-olds who save up and buy their own cars? Well, Google says that probs you can’t be the sole owner of a car as a minor in most states, so we’ll go with that. Anyway, one of the things that bugs me about just leaving it like that is that if the OTHER girl had died, the guardian of her trust would NOT have wanted her father to inherit the money–and how would he go about preventing that from happening?

My thought is that he probably couldn’t, but this guy is a dotter of “i”s and a crosser of “t”s–if there’s any way he could stop his niece’s father from getting his hands on her money, he would probably do it. And now that I think about it, I wonder if he, as guardian of the trust, would inherit everything anyway, since for her next of kind (her father) to inherit it she would technically have to own it but she can’t own it because she can’t inherit anything technically because she’s a minor. SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME? What seemed like a fairly insignificant part of the story has grown ten sizes bigger when I found out I was doing it wrong. Shite. I should’ve gone to law school. WHY ARE NONE OF MY FRIENDS LAWYERS?

The good thing is that I emailed J about my potential solution and she was totally on board with it, and pointed out that this solution will give some relationships and personalities added dimension, so it will probably improve the story, which is great. But I think I still may need to visit a university legal clinic when I’m home in California (less than two weeks! I’m so pumped) just to make sure, although it looks like SCU’s law clinic only does consultation on worker’s rights, etc. Anyone have any suggestions of where I could get free answers to a couple (just one or two, swear!) will and trust questions?

15 reasons why Breaking Dawn is for the win

[This post is going to be chock-full of spoilers because I cannot help myself. You have been warned. Please go about your business.]

So I got my copy of Stephenie Meyer’s fourth Twilight book, Breaking Dawn, on Saturday morning and I finished it last night, and I have a question for the Internet: What on earth is with all the haters up in this piece? I do not understand it, I am telling you. I definitely expected it to be sort of a let-down, since, while I like the series, I’m not quite as into it as I was into Harry Potter (and God knows I was disappointed by that series finale), but apparently that was a good thing because I loved Breaking Dawn. It was far from perfect, but Meyer finally went to the extremely dark corners of her story, the places where shit gets real (in a completely fantastical way, of course) and it’s not just kissy faces and damsels in distress anymore. The agony she’s willing to put all her characters through for a good chunk of the book is pretty brave, I think, since MY GOD is it hard to do that to people you’ve come to love, especially if they live in your head, thus their pain is your pain, etc. The LA Times’ Denise Martin did not like it, and some of her criticisms are valid. Yes, the books are repetitive and bloated, and yes, Meyer packed so many new, mostly unnecessary characters into the last chapters that she actually needed an appendix to keep them all straight, but there is so much to love in Breaking Dawn that it’s sort of hard not to forgive her those flaws and be whisked away by a conclusion that–REMEMBER?!–everybody wanted. (Also, I find it annoying that people are returning the books because they didn’t like them–you can’t get your money back after you shell out $12 for a movie you hated, guys. I have the same policy with books.)

So, without further ado, I present to you my fifteen reasons (yes, fifteen, I’m not effing around here people, I loved this book) why Breaking Dawn is totally FTW:

1. No more high school. One of the most crippling things about the first three books is that Bella actually lived in a world where she had to, like, write papers on Shakespeare and deal with the arbitrary and difficult social politics of Forks High. This was boring, because high school is boring, and quite honestly Bella’s non-vamp “friends” were so one-dimensional that I could not tell them apart other than Mike Newton (who I only remember because we get hit over the head for three books that he’s totally head over heels for Bella) and Angela, the only person who was actually nice to her. But with Bella’s graduation in Eclipse, all of that stuff is over, and we only see these clowns briefly at the wedding (see #2) and then they’re gone from our lives forever. I’ll miss Angela, I guess, but not really even. Creep-o-meter: 0

2. Bella and Edward get married. Now, I do not suggest that eighteen-year-olds get married–I’ve seen enough Engaged and Underaged to know that’s a big ol’ train wreck waiting to happen. BUT, Edward is technically a century old and he is mature enough, and Bella is eighteen going on forty-two, so that also works pretty well. And they are fictional, let’s not forget that. Plus it is cute, and it also reassures me that we won’t really be dealing with the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle much longer. FTW! Creep-o-meter: 0

3. Bella and Edward have sex. A LOT. Like, more than you’d expect from a book written by someone with a Mormon background, but I guess they fulfilled all her moral prerequisites (chaste until marriage, etc.), and really it only makes sense since they’ve been abstaining from almost all real passionate contact from day one (apart from a couple of kisses) so that Edward didn’t do anything bad like maybe rip her throat out, I don’t know. But what I didn’t expect was for Bella to be such a sexual being; when she becomes a vampire (getting there!), all she can think about is jumping Edward and drinking blood, and sometimes the former eclipses the latter even though she is newborn. Finally, the “vampires are sexy” thing comes full circle. And Edward is SEXY. So thanks to Meyer for delivering on that, and so much, and so often, and so comfortably. You could tell she wasn’t embarrassed by it. And also, the first time they do it? Bella wakes up with bruises covering her body, because Edward is so strong and she’s so breakable and WHOA that is a roughie. Creep-o-meter: 3 (because of the bruises, etc.)

4. Bella gets pregnant. I KNOW, RIGHT?! I did not see this coming AT ALL. The “biological” explanation for why this could even happen is a leetle bit fuzzy math, but it makes enough sense for me to accept it as a SUPER COOL PLOT TWIST instead of throwing the book down in frustration and going, “Demon vampire spawn baby? NO WAY.” But still, Bella getting pregnant and ALREADY SHOWING only a few days later because the baby is growing at an accelerated rate because it is not human? OMFG Stephenie Meyer you are a dark, dark woman. Creep-o-meter: 8

5. Edward wants Bella to have an abortion. That is some DARK STUFF, you guys, for a series like this, which has been so extremely moral it’s kind of crazy (whatever you think of abortion and the rights of women to have one, you have to admit that it is surprising that Meyer would have her perfect Edward Cullen suggest such a thing, and really believe it’s the right thing to do, when you have to imagine Meyer herself is so utterly against it b/c of her religion, etc.) that Edward would want Bella to do this, would really push for it to happen. Also, Edward is so sure that the baby is a monster, which also gives you some really great glimpses into how he still thinks that HE is a monster, despite the fact that he obvs. has a soul because he’s capable of love and compassion, and really, poor Edward that he still feels that way. Creep-o-meter: 5

6. Bella WANTS TO KEEP THE DEMON BABY. She’s all, “No, clown, this mine” and decides immediately that she’s not going to let Edward talk her into getting rid of it. She’s been having dreams about the baby, who she believes is a boy, and resolves not to let anyone take it away from her, counting on one special person to make all that happen (see #7). Creep-o-meter: 7

7. Rosalie craves babies. I’d totally forgotten that Rosalie had a personality that consisted of more than “hates Bella”, although I do remember them making a temporary peace in Eclipse when Rosalie explained to Bella why she didn’t want her around–that she was jealous of Bella’s humanity, because she’d had hers stripped from her when Carlisle saved her after she was gang raped/beaten to death by her evil fiance and his cohorts of doom. She would’ve rather died, and now Bella’s about to willingly walk into the un-life she wishes she’d never been given. Whatever, so somewhere in there we also found out that Rosalie would really like to have a baby, but she can’t, being a vampire and all. So after Edward gives Bella the whole, “Let’s go home to Carlisle so that he can get that demon seed out of you,” she’s all, “Okay–oh, wait, let me just go over here and, yup, Rosalie will rip you to shreds if you hurt my baby. PWNED.” But Rosalie, being who she is, cannot take care of Bella in a normal manner–she has to be crazy animal super protective, what with growling and snarling and all that jazz. Creep-o-meter: 6

8. Bella is CLEARLY going to die from carrying this half-breed killing machine inside of her. When we first see Bella, pregnant and back from Brazil and huddled up at the Cullen house “suffering from an exotic South American disease” so that Charlie can’t see her, she is so so so so so sick from carrying this baby. There are bruises all over her stomach from the thing kicking her (of course it’s way stronger than she is, because it is a MONSTER who will eventually crack her ribs and pelvis and BREAK HER SPINE on the way out of her). Seriously, you guys, Carlisle tells us that according to his research, such a being would probs CHEW ITS WAY OUT OF HER, thus killing her, natch. Uh…Lasher, anyone? Creep-o-meter: a frillion

9. The baby is maybe not evil, but is also way too smart, in the womb. When Edward can finally read the baby’s thoughts, he can tell that it loves Bella, that it understands that it’s hurting her and that it’s going to try not to do it anymore. THAT IS ONE CREEPILY SENTIENT BABY, y’all. Did I mention it’s growing at an unprecedented rate for a human baby, so it is so obvs. not human? Oh I did? WELL THAT’S STILL CREEPY. Creep-o-meter: 8

10. Bella drinks blood to feed the baby. Because the wee babe is half vampire, it’s starving in the womb and needs blood, so Bella, who fainted during blood typing in Twilight, drinks 0 neg like a Big Gulp to give the child the “nutrition” it needs. Ugh. Creep-o-meter: 10

11. Bella becomes a vampire because having the baby kills her yay! Okay, but Edward jams a syringe full of his venom into her heart and then bites her all over her mangled corpse, licking the wounds closed to seal it in. BECAUSE THIS IS HOW YOU BECOME A VAMPIRE. It is not easy living for the first couple of years. And then she basically incinerates and then comes back and she is beautiful and graceful and hungry but mostly just horny and also wants to see her kid. But she is capable of self-control, unlike most newborn vampires, which makes her special and also saves us years of boringness while Bella gets control of herself and can live in the Cullens’ world like a regular vampire. People take issue with this, but I’m like, yeah, totally cut the dumb crap! Awesome-o-meter: 10,000,000

12. The baby is good, but growing very fast and also super duper intelligent so that’s weird. Renesemee (what a terrible name, right? Combination of Bella’s mother’s name, Renee, and Edward’s adopted mother’s name, Esme. But as Cleolinda says, the book is so long that you start thinking that’s sort of an okay name) has the inverse of both her parents “powers”–she can show people her thoughts by touching them, while Edward can see people’s thoughts, and while Bella has this power of privacy that keeps people from messing around in her brain (Edward can’t read her mind, Jane can’t make her believe she’s being tortured, etc.) nobody can keep Renesmee out. Whatever. The point is, the kid is cute, but weird, but it loves loves LOVES Bella, which is adorable. She’s also half-human, so she breathes and sleeps and her heart beats and she grows, but she’s half-vampire, so she’s very strong and she drinks blood (she doesn’t like human food, but she can eat it without getting sick or whatever happens to vamps when they eat) and apparently (we find this out at the end of the book, when we meet another person like Renesmee, half and half) she will stop growing in about seven years and then be immortal like her folks. Creep-o-meter: 4

12. Jacob imprints on Renesmee and Bella tries to kill him. Oh, yeah, Jacob’s around, and the stupid love triangle is over because the second he sees her Renesmee is the center of his universe now. I still find the whole “werewolves can imprint on children” creepy, but this gets rid of Jacob as a problem (or makes him a new problem, whatever) and lets us enjoy him as just a regular old character in the book, albeit one whose mind I never felt compelled to enter (Book 2 is from Jacob’s perspective). Le sigh. Anyway, Bella, enraged newborn vampire that she is, tries to rip Jacob’s throat out when she finds out that he’s imprinted on her little baby girl–Edward has to restrain her, it’s so awesome. And he’s all, “You know I can’t help it!” and she’s all, “You’d better start trying, dog!” Ahahahahaha! Great. Creep-o-meter: 4

13. Basically, Bella is so much cooler as a vampire. I don’t really have to explain this, she just is. Read the book. Awesome-o-meter: 100

14. Return of the Volturi. I knew we weren’t done with those clowns. They’re so ridiculous, it’s great. I love how Caius is all, “Give me a reason, any reason, to strap you to a pire, rip you to shreds and burn the lot of you to ashes, just give me a reason!” And I love how Aro is all, “I know I’m here to kill your coven, Carlisle, but let’s grab a beer sometime, yeah?” And Jane’s all a watered down version of Bellatrix Lestrange. These guys have GOT to get out more, they are losing it. Creep-o-meter: 5

15. Happily ever after. Awwwwwww. Love is great. Especially when it’s forever but you’re pretty much chained together at the heart because vampires, like lobsters, mate for life. FTW!

ETA: You guys, there are two #12s.

“Welcome to Brideshead, Mr. Ryder.”

On Saturday, Abby, Cambria and I got into a discussion about why men don’t like Sarah Jessica Parker while women tend to love her over margaritas and fries at Dallas BBQ, which eventually segued into a discussion about why men don’t like Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman. I said basically what Sadie said in the above linked Jezebel article, that it’s because what men are attracted to (boobs, ass, Jessica Alba basically) is not what women necessarily aspire to be. Women (and not all women, of course, but all the women I know at least, which is many) want to be beautiful and composed; Paltrow and Kidman and to an extent Parker are all very statuesque, ladylike, and some might say cold. I swear to God this is relevant.

How I feel about Gwyneth Paltrow is how I feel about Brideshead Revisited. It is a beautiful novel, statuesque, refined and amazingly constructed, but, ultimately, a bit cold. This is not your cozy, funny Jane Austen, or your hilarious Nancy Mitford (a great, great friend of Evelyn Waugh’s, whose book, The Pursuit of Love, Abby called, “A warm cup of tea”), or even the sort of blazing, epic romance found in Atonement. This is a sculpture of a book, with a majestic beauty not unlike the house referenced in the title. Its characters are all fairly unlikeable while remaining sympathetic, not a small feat, and its hero is more inconsolably lonely at the end than he was in the beginning, still resistant, although weakly, to the sort of deep faith that drove him from everyone he ever really loved.

I saw the new film version of Brideshead Revisited on Saturday, after the aforementioned margaritas, and though I have not seen the BBC miniseries and thus cannot compare them, I thought Julian Jerrold, who also directed my beloved Becoming Jane, did an excellent job of communicating this beautiful coldness on screen. The lighting is pitch perfect, and while they take the relationship between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte a bit farther than I would given the source material, the acting is spot-on, creating a strong, shadowy connection between all of the characters. Matthew Goode, who I had heretofor only seen in The Lookout (where he was the victim of an American accent, cliche characterization, and having to play opposite the amazing Joseph Gordon Levitt), was AMAZING as Charles Ryder. Emma Thompson, despite being great as Lady Marchmain, was distractingly Emma Thompson, I never really like Sebastian much so while I appreciate Ben Whishaw I wasn’t particularly affected by his performance, and Hayley Atwell (who is not the same person as Michelle Monahan, despite Cambria’s insistence to the contrary) was very impressive as the guilt-ridden Julia Flyte, but Matthew Goode was the obvious star of the film, and his portrayal of Charles Ryder is the one that sticks in your mind when you leave the theater.

I thought Jerrold’s choices with the film were really interesting. Catholicism plays a large part in the novel, as the entire aristocratic Flyte family (Mother Lady Marchmain, sons Bridey and Sebastian, daughters Julia and Cordelia) are Catholic, born and raised, with varying levels of devotion and observance, while their father, the likeably wicked Lord Marchmain, has fallen away from the church that he adopted in order to marry Lady Marchmain and is living in sin with his Italian mistress in Venice. Charles Ryder, the man whose memoirs we are experiencing, is neither aristocratic nor religious–he is atheist, although at first he seems not to have given it much thought in the past, but as time goes by, as his life becomes more and more entangled with that of the Flytes, he becomes more and more resistant to the pull of the faith he feels is destroying his friends. The author, Evelyn Waugh, a convert to Catholicism, wrote the book specifically to combat the widely held opinion that the religious, especially staunch Catholics in a laxadasically Anglican England, were ridiculous people whose deeply held faiths were easily shaken and disproven by the brilliant insight of nonbelievers. He meant it to be an exploration of the ways in which God’s Grace can operate in a group of diverse but interconnected people, not a condemnation of the Church or religion or the faithful.

This is not to say that Waugh’s book presents religion in an altogether positive light. But I think what Waugh is trying to do is show what a struggle it is to remain moral and faithful in the face of overwhelming desire and despair, and how sometimes it can appear to cause outrageous suffering. I don’t think Charles misunderstands Lady Marchmain–she is manipulating people by invoking God, and in many ways she fails to comprehend that the trappings of religion and the convictions of religion are not the same (as when she convinces Julia to marry recent Catholic convert Rex Mottram, when Julia is clearly in love with Charles). HOWEVER, what Jerrold’s film seems to miss (and here I am fully willing to admit that I have missed it in this adaptation, that the failing might lie in my interpretation) is that, at the end, all of the characters who began the novel in varying degrees of religious certainty have come full circle to appreciate the operation of divine Grace in their lives, that they are not defeated by Charles’ agnostic pragmatism and that he, instead, is changed by their considered submission to the will of God. I cannot decide if the way Jerrold decided to end the film was a determination to be as subtle with Charles’ conversion to the faith as Waugh was, the differences being caused by medium, or if he was deliberately leaving it ambiguous so that purists could not be angry and he could retain this sense that Charles will never believe for those who would be bothered by an admission of faith from him.

(The only other thing that I thought was missing was a strong impression of how connected Charles is to Brideshead. In the book, he imprints himself on the place, painting those pictures for Lady Marchmain. It makes Julia’s accusation that Charles isn’t so much in love with her as with the idea of living at Brideshead with her carry so much more weight if you are aware of just how much he loves the place. But that’s a minor quibble–as Abby said, I’m willing to just assume that, having read the book.)

Nevertheless, the movie was completely engrossing, the acting was great, the shots were amazing, the costuming was stunning, and the story was perfectly wrought within the smaller framework of a two hour film. I would definitely recommend it if it is ever widely released.