Presidential Love Stories

In honor of the Inauguration, I thought it might be fun to pay tribute to the real-life romances that take place in the White House.  It can’t be easy to live such a fishbowl life, or be under the microscope at times you’d rather crawl under a rock or do something that you wouldn’t want the White House Press Corps or the resident photographer to catch.

And although these are partisan times, with strong emotions (mine included) attached to each one of these Presidents, I cannot help but admire the some of they way they have conducted their romantic affairs.

1) Barack and Michelle Obama

This couple, more than most others in history, seems to portray “modern romance.”  Both members are strong individuals within their own right, with strong opinions and solid career backgrounds.  And, if the press is to be believed, they have encountered some modern problems: who takes care of the kids and the house, whose career takes precedence. Yet, instead of overriding each other as we have seen other First Couples do, or allowing that strength to destroy their marriage, they have found a way to keep their family unit intact.  I hope the romance stays alive.

2) George and Laura Bush

Equally as divisive a figure as his successor, George W. Bush nevertheless seemed to share a solid romance with his wife, Laura.  And, perhaps even more than we knew, they were the White House version of James Carville and Mary Matalin, a husband-and-wife team on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  That cannot be an easy balance to maintain for either party.  Yet the Bushes managed it well enough for eight years, and they’re still going strong.  According to Curtis Sittenfeld (admirer of Laura Bush who went on to fictionalize her life story in American Wife) in a Salon article:

I think George and Laura Bush have one of the healthiest marriages I can imagine, that they genuinely enjoy each other’s company and are at their best together. He makes her laugh, and she calms him down and looks after him — according to Gerhart, when she leaves town, she calls one of his fraternity brothers to come stay at the White House so he won’t get lonely.

Well, that seems like a pretty great romance, if you ask me.

3) Ronald and Nancy Reagan

Their romance, like his stature, has almost become the stuff of legend at this point.  If you lived in Washington, DC, like I do, you’d know that Ronald Reagan has reached iconic status, and not just with Republicans.  But Ronald and Nancy’s love is one for the history books, too.  It proves that it’s possible to find true love even if your first marriage didn’t work out.  And despite the fact that I’m not sure I would be okay with the love of my life calling me “Mommie,” I would certainly be okay with his writing me something like this:

My request of you is—could you on this day whisper in her ear that someone loves her very much and more and more each day? Also tell her, this “Someone” would run down like a dollar clock without her so she must always stay where she is.”

Ronald and Nancy Reagan, later

From University of Texas

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Breaking the Stigma: Book to Movie Adaptations

Over New Year’s, I went to see The Hobbit with some friends.  I know that there has been some criticism of the adaptation for, among other things, becoming three long movies despite being shorter than any Lord of the Rings novel.  Probably thanks to the fact that I haven’t read the book since my father read it to me twenty-five years ago, that fact didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the movie.

However, for me (and for many readers out there), book-to-movie adaptations have a difficult climb into respectability.  First, I’ve already met these characters and know what they look like and how they sound.  And despite all that forethought, casting agents rarely (okay never) come banging down my door to see which actor will fit best into my vision.  Second, movies don’t have the same amount of time that books do to tell a story.  Inevitably, one of my favorite scenes gets cut, shortened or robbed of its power because all the rest of the scenes around it were either cut or shortened.

Overall, this contributes to adaptations seeming to me either mediocre or downright terrible.  Today, however, I thought I’d celebrate a couple movies which have managed to move from bad to truly wonderful.  One I count as even better (gasp) than its print counterpart.

That movie is Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I have a confession to make about this one: I hadn’t read the book before I saw the movie.  I had no preconceived notions, no scenes that I loved, loved, loved.  I did go in with eternal, well shall we say “adoration” for Colin Firth playing the role of anyone named “Darcy.”  And the movie lived up to those expectations.  It was just so wonderful and endearing that I couldn’t help loving it.  There’s such a campy spirit to it that’s underlaid by something very real.  I fell in love with Mr. Darcy all over again.

Filled with all this love for the movie, I hied myself over to my local bookstore to pick up the book.  I made it through, but just barely.  The book lacked the same sense of fun that the move possessed in spades.  I was deprived of some of my HEA (happy ever after), and the writing style just didn’t work for me.  Oh well, there had to be one, right? (By the way, we’ll just not mention Edge of Reason here, and it’s for the best.)

The second movie that I love, unabashedly, is Anne of Avonlea.

It’s kind of pathetic.  I’ll admit it.  I read every single Anne of Green Gables book voraciously as a child.  This movie doesn’t closely resemble any of those books.  It pulls pieces from about four of them, instead of committing to a single one.  And I’ll never get over their never making a real, true Anne of the Island movie (my first introduction to romance novels there).  But somehow, this adaptation works.  It throws off all the bowlines and charges directly into the face of its critics.

The reason I think that it works is that it retains the essence of the characters I loved so much.  It didn’t try to give a faithful adaptation of each and every scene; rather, it created almost an alternate universe for the characters to inhabit.  And unlike author LM Montgomery, the movie gives Anne the published novel we so crave for her.  I can’t help but love that.

So do you agree or disagree?  Do you have movies you’d add to the list?


Also, on another note, the series on “Exploring Romance and the Modern Woman” over at USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog has continued.  Links to parts two and three:

Part Two

Part Three

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Romance & The Modern Woman

After a holiday-induced hiatus, glad to say I’m back with a vengeance!

Today, the first in a series of articles began running on Happy Ever After, USA Today’s romance blog.  They are all about Exploring Romance & The Modern Woman. I’m proud to say that I’ve been a contributor, answering some very thought-provoking questions from Serena Chase.

The question I answered in today’s article was:  Although those of us at HEA know better, many people still view romance fiction as “lesser literature.” How do you respond when you encounter that stigma?

I have some definite opinions, which you can read about in the article.  But what about you?  I’d love to hear your answer to this and any other question that’s posed during this series, which lasts all week.

Happy 2013, friends!


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Christmas Countdown 2: Favorite Ornaments

So the Christmas Countdown continues with some of my favorite ornaments from the tree.  Getting them out every year is so much fun, and I bet my ideas of which ones I like best change a little every year.  But for Christmas 2012, here are my top 5.

5.  Santa’s Bag of Letters

This is a new one for me, but I love the stamps and I think Santa has a great face.

 Santa's Bag of Letters

4. Crystal Poinsettia

This is a Swarovski crystal ornament that just comes alive on the tree and glitters everywhere.  It’s always fun to put it on the tree.

Crystal Poinsettia

3. Roslyn, WA Moose

Those of you who were fans of Northern Exposure may know that it was filmed in Roslyn, Washington.  My husband and I visited there a couple summers ago after we finished watching all the seasons and got to see the Brick and other places featured in the show.  We couldn’t resist this moose ornament, which reminds us of all the fun we had on that trip, and all the fun we had watching the show.  It’s a little ridiculous, but I love it.

Roslyn Moose2. Snuggling Snowmen

I just think this ornament is adorable.  And I think it probably accurately portrays us as a couple, with the snowman having the wide smile and the snowwoman looking a little bit shyer.  I always think of my husband with a big goofy grin on his face.

Snuggling Snowmen1. Sleeping Beauty Waltz

This was one of the first ornaments I received from my mother-in-law, and I’ve loved it ever since.  It captures one of my favorite moments in Sleeping Beauty, which is one of my favorite Disney movies.  And I think it’s so innovative in doing it that I just adore this ornament.

Sleeping Beauty Waltz

These are my top 5 ornaments.  But I said yesterday that my tree might need some homemade decorations. Growing up, our tree always had a charming array of both homemade and professional, and I always loved both.  Some kids fight about placing the star or angel atop the tree, but my sister and I fought each year over who got to put “Santa Riding on a Cootie” onto the tree.  We also had clothespin people and ornaments my sister and I made in school.  But there’s always time for that in the future.

What are your favorite ornaments to put on the tree?

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5 Best Christmas Movies

In honor of my post on Publisher’s Weekly about the top 10 Christmas romance novels, I’m working on a couple other Christmas Bests lists!  Today, I’m sharing 5 of my favorite Christmas movies.

1. Love Actually

From the opening montage (especially Bill Nighy’s ridiculous “Christmas is All Around” recording session) to the closing notes of “God Only Knows,” this movie just makes me so happy.  Somehow, the multiple stories weave together effortlessly, and I love how it mixes the bitter with the sweet.  I can never decide what’s my favorite thread, or who is my favorite character.  What about you?

Favorite line: Sam: Okay, Dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.

2. White Christmas

There’s a reason that this is a classic.  For those of you out there who (gasp!) don’t watch “old” movies, suspend your derision just long enough to check out this charming movie about two duos who put on a Christmas show as a favor for an old friend.  Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen, the blockbuster cast showcases their excellent singing, acting, and comedic chops.

Favorite line: Phil Davis: [sighs] I don’t know what he’s up to, but he’s got that Rodgers and Hammerstein look again.
Betty Haynes: Is that bad?
Phil Davis: Not bad, but always expensive.

3. Elf

Check out Will Ferrell and a (blonde?) pre-New Girl Zooey Deschanel in this charming homage to those old-school stop-motion Christmas movies, which manages to be current.  Will Ferrell’s joy and enthusiasm for Christmas as the elf Buddy is infectious, and I only wish I had his help decorating my house every Christmas!

Favorite Line: Buddy: You sit on a throne of lies!

4. Muppet Christmas Carol

I have loved the Muppets my whole life, from Sesame Street and Muppet Babies up to The Muppet Movie last year, but I think this might be their best effort overall.  Michael Caine is delightfully blustery and British as Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Of course, Kermit plays his beleaguered clerk, Bob Cratchit.  I think my favorite characters, however, were Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Rizzo as his sidekick.

Favorite line: Rizzo: Light the lamp, not the rat!

5. The Holiday

I am a romance writer after all.  I really enjoy watching every single person in this movie about two women who swap houses (in LA and outside of London) and gain love in the process.  I wouldn’t have thought Jack Black would make a good romantic lead, but I found myself falling for his character as much as Jude Law’s.  Plus, I can’t resist Eli Wallach as the elderly neighbor.

Favorite line: Cheating here, but I love the whole Blockbuster scene.

Honorable Mention:

Meet Me in St. Louis

It’s not really a Christmas movie, since it follows a family throughout the year, but the most important events in the movie take place at Christmas.  It also brought us the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Well worth watching!

Favorite line: 

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One Step at a Time

I returned home after Thanksgiving with family in Kentucky to a house that was a mess.  It wasn’t a surprise – we’d left a day earlier than planned and I had intended to use that extra day to clean.  For a couple of days, I just sat there, overwhelmed by the mess and hoping that some industrious cleaning elves might arrive.  Needless to say, they didn’t.  So the other day, I took two hours to clean the kitchen.  And yesterday, two more hours for the bathroom.  Going one room at a time, I’m able to tackle this job that seemed so massive initially.

I think the same lesson can be applied to writing a novel.  I know many people who are interested in writing, but they’ve never made it past chapter one, or perhaps the first 20,000 words.  For many (even me!) part of the stumbling block is the magnitude of it all.  Few of us have written anything novel-length.  So here’s 2-part my advice: 1) take it one step at a time and 2) stick to a schedule.

Take your novel one step at a time: decide to write a scene or certain amount of words per day.  Then stick to that schedule, because momentum helps!  And just like I want my house to be completely clean one day in the not-too-distant future, you want your novel to be complete in the not-too-distant future.  Because you’ll get better ideas, and you’ll write a better novel the second time and (I hate to be the bearer of bad news) because the hard part begins when the first draft is finished!

Good luck and happy writing!


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Being the “Cool Girl”

This weekend, I finished reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  I found parts of it absolutely fascinating, and during the second of the three parts of the book, I could barely put it down.  I did the reading and walking thing, which I’ve been doing for years but never perfected.  I’m pretty sure I ran into at least three people (sorry!) and just narrowly avoided a small child.

There was one piece in particular that stood out to me.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it, about how I had succumbed to it, and how women I knew had, too.  It’s written in the voice of Amy Elliott Dunne, the woman whose disappearance drives the whole book:

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they?  She’s a cool girl.  Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams her hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.  Hot and understanding.  Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want.  Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists.  Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl….It may be a slightly different version…. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Amy in her blanket generalization of men.  But I do agree that sometimes people sublimate who they are in an effort to be “cool,” whether that’s for a significant other, a crowd at school, friends, or even members of your own family.  Sometimes it feels easier to be “cool” than say what you really want and risk upsetting someone or risk rejection.

I’ve certainly chosen to be the Cool Girl before, and not just in my teens, but into my twenties and now my thirties.  I have to stand up to that urge.  Thankfully, my husband never asks me to be her.

So thanks Gillian Flynn and Amy, for giving a name to it.  I love it when fiction reflects back certain truths, even if they’re from the uglier side of human nature.

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