Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Purrfect Christmas

by Lisa Weaver from the December 21, 2009 issue

Tagline: For Dan and his daughter, it looked as though this Christmas would indeed be wish-come-true time.

In a Nutshell: Dan, a widower, isn't having any luck finding a kitten for his daughter for Christmas. A co-worker helps him out by giving him the name of a friend who has kittens to give away. Turns out the friend is a woman Dan helped a few months ago. She'd been having trouble coaxing a hurt stray cat out from under a car. Of course, one of the kittens is thereby earmarked for Dan's daughter, and they make a date.

Observations: I was told once that you can get away with one big lie in a story, but after that you have to tell the truth, otherwise you risk losing your readers. Often in WW stories, the one big lie you have to swallow as a reader is a coincidence. In "A Purrfect Christmas" the coincidence is that when Dan meets the kitten purveyor, she just happens to be the woman he helped a few months ago.

Luckily, Weaver doesn't push the envelope like Hickerson did in "Fairy Tale Beginning."

Also, it's worth noting that the hero in this story is a Nice Guy. In romance novels, the aggressive, virile man dominates. Often he has a lot of emotional baggage. Here, in WW stories, not so much. Dan is a good example.

1. He's a widower, but isn't beating himself up over the loss of his wife.
2. He is a great father. You see it in the snippet of dialogue he has with his daughter and how he's bending over backward to find her a kitten.
3. He helps total strangers rescue injured stray cats.

What more proof do you need that he's relationship material for any woman found between the pages of the WW magazine??? :)

I didn't have a favorite part. This story was solid, but not particularly moving for me.

Question: What did you think of the character of Abby?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Home Again

by Andi Renskoff from the December 14, 2009 issue

Tagline: Matt was happy to be back home--and running into Dana made him happier still.

In a Nutshell: Matt has moved back to his home town to take care of his aging parents. He runs into Dana at a flea market. They used to go to the same high school. After renewing their acquaintance, he admits he was afraid to ask her out, way back when. She admits she wished he had.

Observation: Stories in which the hero and heroine share a past are common in Woman's World. It's a handy way to get your reader to connect with your characters because we all have someone in our pasts that we remember with wistful fondness.

In this story, Renskoff gives Matt a very brief memory of Dana painting a tree on the lawn of the high school. In the memory, they don't even really interact, but the author paints it with a sentimental brush when she explains how that memory had "resurfaced years ago in the trenches of combat training and again during a lonely breakfast in an airport restaurant." So even though their relationship was almost non-existent, we still understand Matt's feelings about her.

There is no rising action or climax in this story, which is also common. Wait a minute. I just reread the end and see that there's a moment when Dana is paying for the toy chest when you might think they're going to say goodbye, but any worry the reader might feel that they're never going to see each other again is slight and brief.

Note: The painting shown is "Storm in Home Park" by John Walsom

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dear Santa

by April Knight from the December 7, 2009 issue.

Tagline: Tory's letter to Santa helped her discover what love is really all about...

In a Nutshell: When Tory's co-worker at the Dollar Store suggests she ask Santa for a man for Christmas, Tory writes a letter requesting a gorgeous, fantasy man, but she immediately feels wistful because that type of man would probably never be interested in her.

Then, in walks an average guy who wants gifts for kids at the school where he used to work as a teacher, but because of layoffs, is now working as a custodian.

In the course of conversation, he remarks, "I keep hoping some nice lady will put me on her wish list, but I don't think anyone would be interested in an unemployed teacher." He invites them to a holiday program his school is putting on and leaves.

Tory realizes the custodial Santa is more in line with what she really wants for Christmas.

Observations: This story follows the classic three act structure. Act One: We start out with the convo between the friends, setting up the goal: Tory wants a man for Christmas. After she determines that she wants someone rich, handsome, and strong, we get the conflict: she's feels she's undesirable (short, 20 pounds overweight, has a sucky job.) And immediately, probably every woman who reads Woman's World identifies with her.

Act Two: The hero comes in. We find out he has sparkly brown eyes. He's not married, which is always a fact that you have to establish in these "first meet" stories. He's dedicated to his (ex-)job. Through some clever conversation, Knight gets him to confess he's wanting a lady for Christmas, just like Tory is. Lastly, he leaves the flyer for the program, which acts as the plot device so that Tory can contact him/see him again.

Act Three: Tory realizes how shallow and insincere she was when she jotted that letter to Santa, hence the character grows during the course of the story. Each of her worries about her own flaws, the hero has. She's short and so is he. She's overweight and he's losing his hair. She's insecure about her job, he's a custodian. There is no real climactic moment when we fear all is lost. We only get a little devil's advocate conversation with the co-worker, but the story still works.

My Favorite Part: Even though Tory is sad when she says this, I laughed: "I wonder if some man is writing a list of things he's looking for in a woman. Do you think he'd say he wanted a short, brown-haired woman who's twenty pounds overweight and who works in an 'everything's a dollar' store?"

My Nit-Picks: Political correctness often rubs me the wrong way, especially when it's contrived. For instance, in the first Twilight movie, Bella's circle of friends was so perfectly, and implausibly, racially balanced. I fully embrace multi-culturalism but don't think it's necessary to twist a story in order to appear all-inclusive.

In "Dear Santa," Knight (or the editor) chose to list three holidays:

"I made it a tradition to give each of my kindergartners a Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwaanza gift."

*sighs* Don't get me wrong. I respect everyone's choices as to religion and/or holiday. To each his own. But wouldn't it have just been easier to say, "a holiday gift?"

Also, the ending line is "I guess I do believe in Santa after all," and I think Knight missed an excellent opportunity to make the story come full circle if she'd had Rose say she didn't believe in Santa at the beginning of the story.