Addicted to Stories

on April 2, 2009

I used to be addicted to television.

141540__hsb_lFrom the time I was little, I knew the television line-up seven days a week. As I grew up, I planned my life around my favorite TV shows. Whether it was Little House on the Prairie early Sunday night or, Hills Street Blues Wednesdays at 10 (past my bedtime, but I convinced my mother I HAD to watch it,) or CSI on Thursdays, I had to be there. In fact, I didn’t have a VCR until I was married.

So when I gave up television for three years, it was a huge sacrifice.

If I hadn’t, I would never have finished a book.

memoir_writing10375I made that realization when, in 2002, I decided I had to get serious about my writing. I had over one hundred beginnings and no endings and I knew that if I didn’t finish a book, I would never be published. I wanted to be an author. It had been my dream since I was little, and I had a lot of misconceptions on how to get there. (For example, I thought that the hardest part to getting published would be FINISHING a book. Pause. Okay, stop laughing. Seriously.)

Coffee cupAt the time, I had three kids, a full-time job, and very little time. The only way I’d finish a book was to write in the evenings when the kids went to bed. (ASIDE: I started writing early in the morning because my son, then 10 months old, was a great sleeper, but used to wake up at four-thirty every morning for a bottle, then go back to sleep. I started the habit of making coffee and having two hours of peace and quiet–there’s nothing like the quiet before dawn–and I wrote, even after he stopped waking at four. But when I got pregnant with Brennan #4 that summer, I was too tired and it was easier to tack on an hour in the evenings than it was to get up at four in the morning.)

csi_las_vegas_subsThe only way I could write in the evenings was to give up television. I’ll admit, the only show I still watched was CSI on Thursdays. I know, I know, it’s not accurate but I didn’t watch it for the forensics, I watched it for the stories. It got dumb, but the season with the dollhouse killer was, I think, the best season of all. I watched it on my iPod.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For three years, I watched a very rare hour or two of television each week during prime time. Most of the tv I watched were true crime shows and re-runs of Law & Order (which I had never seen before) late at night while I was trying to wind down from my evening cups of coffee (and often proofreading contest entries or one of my many WIPs.)

Once I sold, I had deadlines and so using my evening hours to write was even more critical than before. It wasn’t until I quit my job in early 2005 that I considered watching television again.

The problem? I hated it.

I couldn’t stand the commercials. I couldn’t sit still for an hour (this has always been a problem–it is a very, very rare show where I am so riveted that all I’m doing is watching television. I used to read while watching tv, edit, shell pistachios, etc.) I was bored. I contend that there were two reasons for this. First, giving up tv for three years showed me how stupid most of the shows were; and second, the tv shows were, in fact, inferior for several years in the early to mid 2000s.

So while I no longer had a personal ban on television, I didn’t start watching it again. Instead, I bought seasons of shows on DVD to reward myself for meeting certain goals. This was also a nod to my husband who felt that I had neglected him by not watching television while he fell asleep on the couch.

firefly_mmoThis is how I watched LOST (seasons one and two–yes, I’m behind); DEADWOOD (seasons one and half of two–yes, I’m behind); FIREFLY (great show, a tragedy it was cancelled) and PRISON BREAK (season one–yes, well, you get it.)

In May of 2007 I bought the 5th generation iPod. I don’t know what they call it now, but it was the first you could watch videos on. I got the 80 gb–the biggest at the time. (It was a present to myself for hitting the NYT list–it’s important to reward yourself!) I bought it primarily to watch season two of SUPERNATURAL, but I also bought season one of HEROES and the dollhouse season of CSI, plus whatever the current L&O: SVU was that year. (ASIDE: The reason I wasn’t watching season two of SUPERNATURAL with my daughters was because I still had to write at night–but I’d bought season one on DVD and we watched it together and I was hooked.)

The quality is fantastic, I love earbuds because the story is right there in your head, and because there are no commercials, every episode is 40-48 minutes long. Perfect to watch in bed before drifting off, or while you’re getting a pedicure, or on a plane.

heroes-artI once again realized how much I despise watching television live when NBC and Apple couldn’t come to an agreement over the price of HEROES Season Two. I had to watch the show when it aired. (Yes, I could tape it . . . but that’s another story.) I hate being chained to my television (remarkable, considering my past); I hated the commercials; I hated that I couldn’t pause; and I hated that I couldn’t bring the show with me.

That was the last time I’ve watched television that wasn’t on my iPod, through my AppleTV, or recorded on my satellite digital system (which we had to get when we moved to the country.)

I was recently looking through the shows I’ve bought on iTunes to decide what to watch next. I’ve hesitated to start Season Three of HEROES because the second season disappointed me. (There were three reasons for this: first, the beginning of season two was convoluted, though after episode four it picked up; second, I HATED Maya. Hate hate hate hate hate. When I head through a spoiler that a hero was going to die, I prayed it would be her. Believe me, I was PISSED OFF that the whiny idiot survived;) and three, I wasn’t confident that they would be able to recapture the magic of season one. I LOVED this show. It’s perfect in virtually every way and every writer on the planet should watch the first season. I will watch season three . . . but it’ll probably be this summer.

L&O SVU–believe it or not, I watched four episodes while wrapping Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. It’s as good as it ever was.

And of course SUPERNATURAL–I watch that with my two teen-age daughters. It’s one of the best shows out there, and exactly what I love about suspense. But . . . I could write an entire blog about this show, so I’m going to hold off my reasoning for another blog.


I discovered a new show this year. FRINGE. Thank you (and curse you!) Cherry Adair for telling me I HAD to see it.

Synopsis from FOX:

With Marine Corps experience and an impressive dossier of solved cases, Special Agent Olivia Dunham was a rising star in the FBI. But now, horrified by the tragedy of Flight 627 and stunned by the betrayal of someone she trusted, Olivia can no longer return to the world of traditional criminal investigations. As she delves ever deeper into the dangerous world of fringe science, Olivia comes to realize that science and technology have already advanced beyond our dreams… and nightmares.

Chosen by Homeland Security Agent Phillip Broyles, Olivia has assembled a task force to investigate The Pattern – a mysterious sequence of unexplained phenomena suggestive of someone or something performing experiments on the world. With the help of mad genius Walter Bishop and his estranged son Peter, she aims to bring high-tech criminals to justice, while defusing previously unimaginable threats to national security.

xfiles1024x768FRINGE is everything I love in a television series. The premise is essentially the X-Files meets CSI (surprise–two of my favorite shows. The original CSI, not the two spin-offs.) An FBI Agent working for a semi-secret elite FBI group investigating strange events and deaths works with a strange, brilliant scientist fresh out of a mental institution and his son, the GORGEOUS Joshua Jackson, who is brilliant in his own right, gorgeous, and his father’s legal guardian. Where Walter goes, so does Peter. Peter is played by Joshua Jackson. Who’s hot, as my daughter would say. (Actually, she probably wouldn’t say it about him because he’s a bit older than she likes–she thinks Jensen Ackles from SUPERNATURAL is hot. I, personally, am a Sam girl . . . but I digress.)

What appeals to me about FRINGE is that it gives me first and foremost great characters. I wasn’t 100% certain I’d like Anna Torv to carry the role of Agent Olivia Dunham–I’m very, very picky about my female leads. They can make (Kate, LOST; Scully, X-FILES) or break (I hate being critical, so I won’t say anything here) a show. But wow, by episode three I was right there with her. She hasn’t done too many TSTL moves, she’s smart, methodical, passionate, but serious. I love her. And Peter 😉

But the other thing FRINGE has going for it is story. STORY!!! Like the X-Files, and SUPERNATURAL, it has two threads. There is an over-arcing storyline ( What is the Pattern?) about how all these “fringe science” events are connected and why; but there are also distinctly separate episodes which may or may not be connected to the pattern or the continuing story thread.

And, of course, it’s a twist on what’s popular–unique, but the same. (Hmm, the same but different?) It’s original, but blends the elements of what we loved about the X-FILES (the unknown, the truth, the unexplainable) and CSI (science, the explainable) with the #1 requirement of all series: characters we can root for.

There’s another thing I’ve noticed about my favorite television shows. Other than the great characters and the over-arcing plot–along with enough stand-alone episodes that you don’t feel like if you miss something you’re completely lost–is that they have a strong cast. WHO plays the part is as important as the character themselves. The actor becomes the character, which is what–as an author–I try to do when I’m writing. Whether there’s an ensemble cast (FIREFLY, LOST, DEADWOOD, HEROES, CSI) or a strong, smaller core cast (FRINGE, SUPERNATURAL, X-FILES), the most important thing is that I can lose myself in the story because the actors are so in tune with the character they play. And that is the key of a good novel as well: you want your reader to lose themselves in the characters you create on the page. You, the author, are the actor, using the printed page instead of the visual screen.

supernatural1I’m hooked. I’m also scared. I fear what happened to HEROES in Season Two may happen to my new favorite show (after SUPERNATURAL.) And there’s a limit on how far you can extend a storyline. The creator of SUPERNATURAL said he had a five season story arc. Knowing the show as well as I do, I’d say that’s perfect. Too much, and you kill it (X-FILES, MASH, BUFFY) and too few and you ache for more (FIREFLY, MURDER ONE.) And then, of course, are the shows that start fantastic and get dumb (ALIAS). (I swear, when Sydney slept with her reporter friend, I wanted to shoot her. It killed the show for me. Sark, on the other hand, was a great love-to-hate bad guy. I miss him.)

I said at the beginning, I used to be addicted to television. In all honesty, I’m addicted to stories. Stories connect us, they fuel our imaginations–even those of us who aren’t creative or storytellers–they speak to common joys and fears. Great stories are universal. And, after thousands of years, they are never going away. They may change mediums–oral, written, visual–but stories are the foundation of human existence. Without stories, society would wither. Fortunately, we crave stories, and as long as we crave them, they’ll be created.

So I have lots of questions today! First, what’s your new greatest find on television? Sell me on why I should buy it on iTunes or DVD.

And who below would you want to be stranded on a deserted island with? (Yes, I know, these aren’t all the hot guys on television today, but sometimes, you just have to limit yourself searching for pics on the Internet when you’re on deadline . . . )

In order: Nathan Fillion (FIREFLY); Jared Padalecki (SUPERNATURAL); Jensen Ackles (SUPERNATURAL; David Anders (ALIAS; HEROES); Milo Ventimiglia (HEROES); Joshua Jackson (FRINGE, DAWSON’S CREEK); David Duchovny (X-FILES)

nathanfillion cw-supernatural-prt-jpadalecki-a_000692-c0b7f0-281x374 cw-supernatural-prt-jackles-a_000690-127dfe-281x374 davidanders heroes-peter-pl fringejosh046 david_duchovny1

And take a peak at my new book trailer, if you’re so inclined . . .