Monday, February 14, 2011


by Gina Sestak

So much information coming at us all the time.  So much controversy.  Print on demand or traditional publisher?  Paper back?  Hard cover?  Kindle?   Agent or do-it-yourself?  Critique group?  Paid editor?  Facebook, twitter, a presence on the web?  Launch parties at bookstores.  Word of mouth marketing.

OK.  It's a business.  I know that.  I try to pay attention.  Honest.

I try to read like a writer, analyzing word choice and sentence structure, plot points and genre.

But I'm happiest when I forget all that and get caught up in the story.  Any story.  It can be short.  "Veni, vidi, vici."  It can be long - I slogged through an uncut translation of Les Miserables last summer.   I look for  plot and action and compelling characters  everywhere - in books, in movies, even casual conversation.  What happened?  Who did it?  Why?  I often fail to see the point of literary fiction, thousands of beautifully chosen words formed into perfect sentences, all meaning absolutely nothing.

Maybe my tastes are too simplistic.  In a world full of deep depressing books, I keep rereading Harry Potter.   I know how it ends, but I still love to read about how everything comes together, following the way Harry obtains bits and pieces of information until he knows enough to out-guess Voldemort in the final confrontation.

I like the positive message of the books, that love can overcome evil.  [Remember that.  It's Valentine's Day, after all.]

I forego "serious" films to watch hours and hours of Bollywood, mesmerized by the music and dancing and unexplained costume changes.   And the good strong stories, compelling characters and plots (often about serious subjects) and satisfying endings.

Maybe that's all it takes:  An intriguing beginning, a compelling middle, and a satisfying end.

I know that is enough for me.

I can't help but focus on the story.  I can't help thinking that the most powerful four words in the English language may be, "Once upon a time . . . "


Joyce Tremel said...

"An intriguing beginning, a compelling middle, and a satisfying end."

I'd have to add interesting characters to the list. If I love the characters I can tolerate a so-so plot.

PatRemick said...

I do agree that it's all about the story. We need to keep writing ours!

Ramona said...

There's no such thing as reading Harry Potter too many times, Gina.

Sometimes when you're "in the business" you forget what it's like to sit back and read like a reader. I have to remind myself to do that sometimes, and not read critically.

Les Miserables was the novel that my 9th grade English teacher handed to me and told me I had to read. Changed my life. Thank you, Mrs. Barker.

Dave S. said...

"Once upon a time...." -- yep, strong suff! 'Course from a writer's POV the two strongest words may be "What if...." But what could go more hand-in-hand (speaking of Valentine's Day) than readers and writers?

I wonder if the connection's implied, at least as a writer devises the tale: "What if, once upon a time...."

C.L. Phillips said...

Imagine a story mashup with Harry Potter and Bollywood. Hermoine in a sari, Ron in a turban, and Voldermort in a......

...fill in the blank... :)

Gina said...

C. L. -

Harry Potter set in India! It would be great!

I've started imagining a lot of books and films done Bollywood style lately, and Harry Potter would lend itself spectacularly to Bollywood conventions. I would love to see Snape dance. If Amrish Puri were still alive, he would make a perfect Voldemort, but I'm willing to bet Shah Rukh Khan could do that role justice. [I know, he usually appears as the good guy, but I have seen him play some chilling villains, too. He has the range to carry it off.]

Patg said...

Everyone has said pretty much what I feel. I need a good story and a character I like.
The only Bollywood movie I ever watched was a version of Pride and Prejudice, and I have to admit I was prejudice from the get-go. To much a Janite.
I love Harry Potter. Grandkids want to go to Universal to see Hogwarts. I can't wait.

Gina said...

Patg -
You won't know what you're missing unless you give Indian films another chance. I've become addicted to Bollywood films. It feels as if I've spent my whole life looking at Norman Rockwell prints, then suddenly wandered into the adjoining gallery where they display Van Gogh and Dali.

capaloha said...


I've never watched a Bollywood movie - any recommendations? The closest I've come is the recent Big Bang episode where Raj is dreaming of Howard's girlfriend....

Gina said...

Capaloha -

Can I give you recommendations? You bet.

I've been showing Bollywood dvds to family and friends over the past few months and have developed a list of 5 recommended films to introduce Bollywood to Americans unfamiliar with Indian film. All are available via Netflix, and all star Shah Rukh Khan, who I'm coming to believe may be the world's greatest actor. [Warning - they are in Hindi with English subtitles.]

For best results, view them in this order:

1) Dilwale Dulhenia le Jayenge - romantic comedy that begins in England and ends in India, providing a gradual introduction to the genre.

2) Devdas - a romantic tragedy set in the early 20th Century, full of the opulent settings and costumes we stereotypically expect in India.

3) Dil Se - contemporary thriller that pits a radio executive against terrorists. I've watched it at least a dozen times, and the ending still leaves me stunned.

4) Ashoka the Great - bio-pic about a 3rd C. BCE emperor; a great performance by SRK that captures a complex character who is essentially a sensitive, compassionate, loving, blood-thirsty, arrogant, mass-murderer.

5) Om Shanti Om - comedy that parodies Bollywood conventions and Shah Rukh Khan's mega-star image. [You won't get most of it unless you've seen some other films first.]

There are dozens more I could recommend whole-heartedly, but these five make a good start.


Gina said...

BTW, please feel free to email me directly for further recommendations, etc. re: Bollywood films. My email address is: