At the movies II

Unrealistic situations can always be found in the movies, like all those spacious apartments in New York City lived in by everyday people, those ready parking spaces in that same location, and how no one is ever buried on a sunny day, to name just a few.

I love the movie Mildred Pierce, but there's one part of the premise that seems downright wacked. It's a stretch for me to believe that, even in 1945 when the movie was filmed (and the novel it's based on was set in the 1930s, during the Depression), that a woman who waits tables and bakes pies for the restaurant where she works can afford to catch up on overdue bills, pay a mortgage, plus pay for dance classes for one daughter and for a good voice coach for the other, and have the all-purpose household help...

Can you think of any movie situations that you couldn't swallow? Did it detract from your enjoyment of the movie?

At the movies

As a lover of movies, I'm enjoying Turner Classic Movies' presentation of 31 Days of Oscar. Every time I see the 1953 Best Picture winner, From Here To Eternity, I have to wonder if the producers meant to have Burt Lancaster's respond the way he did when Deborah Kerr informs him, "I'm wearing a swimsuit under my dress." His reply: "Me, too." Since he wore a suit and tie rather than than a dress, this line always seemed out of place to me in an otherwise near-perfect film (albeit one that requires much reading between the lines due to the motion picture code in place at the time). Being a writer and interested in character development, I wonder about this every time I see the movie, and I've finally decided I think they deliberately chose not to rephrase the reply.

The deciding factor for me was the rather goofy grin that accompanied Lancaster's character's response, which clearly showed a man besotted with the woman he's with. He didn't care about making sense; he wanted to take that famous swim and kiss in the waves.

Have you ever seen a movie where a line seemed out of place? Do you think it was an oversight or done on purpose to fit the character?

What do you do if...?

I noticed that a reader of Roslyn McMillan's new novel, We Ain't The Brontes, commented that she didn't get the title.

I personally thought the title was fabulous, since the novel is about sisters who write, shades of the famous Bronte sisters in the eighteenth century (there were actually three of them, but Emily and Charlotte were better known than their sister Anne). But I have read books where the author references something I'm not familiar with. I simply look it up. It's not a big deal, as long as it doesn't happen, like, on every other page, and when this does happen it's only been once in a book. It almost seems a shame for the significance of the title to go not understood and therefore unappreciated.

Have you ever read a book where you didn't understand a term or reference? Did you look it up, or just skip it and keep reading?

Details count

Recently, a reader familiar with Suffolk County in New York informed me that the area's electric company hadn't been called LILCO (Long Island Lighting) in about twenty years. I mistakenly referred to it by its old name in The Heat of Heat. I was annoyed at myself for not checking that detail, which would have taken only a few minutes.

My most recent annoyance came from a book someone else had written. I was recently reading a hardcover book by a bestselling author about a woman on the run who is using an assumed name. This character's truck broke down, and the local auto parts man gave her a check for $700 for salvage. The narrative read that she went to the local bank and cashed the check "with no trouble." My eyebrows shot up like someone had just insulted my mama.

No way would this happen.

With fraud so prevalent, no bank or check cashing place in the country would cash a check without a picture ID. The author did explain how the character got hold of a deceased person's social security number to give to her employer, but simply glossed over this rather important detail of how her heroine waltzed into a bank and came out with seven hundred bucks. Did she hope no one would notice? Didn't the line editor point out how implausible this was? Or was her suggestion vetoed because this couldn't be explained, with the powers-that-be deciding she could get away with it because she's a bestselling author?

Readers will often point out when something totally out of left field occurs in novels. I was surprised that no readers mentioned this, perhaps because it was so casually stated. But details do count, and it's those little things, like the name of the local power company or cashing a check, that give a book credibility.

So writers, be sure to check your facts.

The Kindness of Strangers

This morning, like many people in this region where a blizzard is coming, I planned to go to the supermarket to pick up a few stock items. It did snow a little last night, but the winds are so fierce that it really didn't stick to anything...or so I thought. As I backed out of my driveway, I promptly got stuck in a drift at the curb I hadn't previously noticed.

While shoveling the snow from around my tires, I noticed a car slow down as it passed, but since I didn't recognize the car, I didn't look too closely. A few minutes later a man approached on foot and offered assistance. He quickly assessed my situation and determined that the snow around one particular wheel was keeping me stuck. He took the shovel and had me out of there in about two minutes.

It turned out that he lives in the house on the corner of the side street, and it was he who had driven by and saw I was stuck. I explained that I had called just last week to have our snowblower serviced (my husband couldn't get it started) and that they hadn't been to pick it up yet because they're backlogged. He made the incredibly kind offer to bring his snowblower around to get rid of that snow drift for me, since I was on my way out and he was about to do his property anyway. When I came back he had cleared not only that hump of snow at the curb, but also some smaller piles in our driveway.

That was so kind of him. I never even saw this man before (and trust me, when you're African-American living in a city where just 7% of the population is that minority, you tend to notice these things).

I'm going to pick up a gift certificate for him from Subway. The least I can do is buy him lunch, and give him an autographed book to give to his wife. But what makes me feel so warm and fuzzy is that this stranger went out of his way. When I failed to look up as he drove by, he trudged around the corner to offer assistance. In this day and age, when the news is full of news about cruel acts...well, it just makes me get misty-eyed.

Has anyone done you a real kindness lately? And have you done a kindness for someone lately?

P.S. About that blizzard...before I set out for the store, I made arrangements to have our property plowed when it's over tomorrow. I can handle a snowfall of 6 or 7 inches, but any more than that and it's time to call in the big guns.