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March 01, 2009

Nuke the Shark

Sixgeese130 By Donna Andrews

New York Times bestselling author Donna Andrews has been busy writing two books a year and racking up awards and nominations, including a recent Agatha nomination for "Six Geese A-Slaying." With a schedule like that, something had to go. Donna tells TLC what has suffered.

It's official.  Even my twin five-year-old nephews are more with it than I am.

I read the list of Oscar winners, and realized I haven't seen a single one.  Not "Slumdog Millionaire." Not "Wall-E."  Not a single winning or nominated picture or performance.

There's a reason for that. Last year I wrote two books and several short stories and helped Mom move to an assisted living near me and my brother and his wife and the aforementioned twins to a house equally near me.
And to get all that done, I had to give up some things.  Like going to the movies.

Even my nephews have seen "Wall-E," so they're one up on me.  My brother and sister-in-law have seen "Wall-E" with the boys AND "Slumdog Millionaire" without the boys. I was babysitting.  At the rate I'm going, I'll be
lucky if I catch either on cable.

So what have I seen?  I've been watching a lot of Curious George lately.   I can sing along with the Wonder Pets.  I have strong opinions about the new CGI versions of Thomas and Friends.   I rather like Max & Ruby.
  I can identify all eight of Miss Spider's brood, except maybe Snowdrop and Pansy, the twins.  And--this is probably a rather appalling admission-- I've even developed a new appreciation for Mr. Rogers.

(And if the previous paragraph is Greek to you, I'm guessing you don't have preschool kids—or nephews.)

It will be quite a few years before we can enjoy a family showing of, say, "My Dinner with Andre."   It might even be several years before we can watch "The Wizard of Oz" without fast forwarding through every single
frame that features the Wicked Witch of the West or her flying monkeys.   In short, my life has become G-rated.

There are compensations.  As we writers are fond of saying, I can use this.  Especially since Meg, my fictional heroine, recently married her long-time boyfriend, Michael.  They'll probably start a family soon.
Not just because Meg's in her mid-thirties and hearing her biological clock, but also because my nephews give me all this material and I have to do something with it.

Of course, I'm worried about what readers will think.  I've already seen one blog entry expressing dissatisfaction with where Meg's life is going, and a disinclination to continue reading if she and Michael have kids.  (Thanks to Google alerts, we writers can keep up with what readers are blogging about us.)  I'm hoping that's a minority opinion. Yes, the series might jump the shark if Meg lost her sarcastic edge and her compulsion to sleuth, but does anyone really think she'll have a personality transplant just because she has a kid?  Or kids; most of my
munchkin experience has been with matched sets.  No. Trust me.

Ironically, I've heard that the phrase "jumped the shark"-- referring to the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie water-skis over an actual shark -- has itself become passé.  The new equivalent is "nuked the fridge"--from "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," in which Harrison Ford's character survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator.  (Or so I'm told.  I haven't seen that one yet, either.)

So what, for you, would make a series jump the shark?  Characters marrying?  Characters having babies?  Authors killing off significant others?  Authors killing off small helpless animals?

And for that matter, do we want to stick with the tried and true "jumped the shark" or adopt this new-fangled "nuked the fridge"?

Me, I'm starting to like "nuked the shark."


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Welcomme...................doesn't Mr Rogers just make you so calm?
See you at the Festival on May 4th!

I vote for "jumped the shark." It brings more interesting word pictures to mind than "nuked the fridge." I think it's that active verb that does it though, because I kind of like "jumped the fridge" too.

What makes a series jump the shark for me? Really stupid behavior on the part of the heroines, such as going up to the attic or down to the basement alone and unarmed when she hears a noise and knows there's a killer on the loose. Meeting a suspect in a alone in a secluded place because she doesn't want her significant other to know she's still poking her nose in where it doesn't belong. Trying to psychoanalyze a killer who has a gun pointed at her head just so she can understand why s/he felt it necessary to kill 47 people. Believing that her cat/dog/pet snake will come to her rescue just as the bullet leaves the chamber. Running out of a burning building even though she's been doped or poisoned or has two broken legs and a fractured wrist. Surviving an explosion, a car wreck, a sniper attack, a horde of killer bees or giant ants, with nary a hair out of place or a smudge on her face.

And--never bloating, never needing a bathroom, never having her mascara or her nose run, never eating normal food, (peanut butter and sweet pickle sandwiches anyone?) never needing sleep, never needing to grocery shop or pay bills or shovel snow. Never feeling sexy. Never feeling afraid.

Characters marrying don't jump the shark for me unless the character remains unchanged by the marriage. Having a child borders on jumping the shark for me because it changes one's fundamental focus in life. (Merry Jones is the only author I know who handles the dichotomy between motherhood and murder at all believably IMHO.) Writers who kill animals may as well kill their dreams of bestsellerdom because, while mystery readers can take murder of vile villains, they can't take murder of innocent beings. I think if an author killed her hero(ine's) significant other, readers would revolt in rage.

But what do I know?

The only thing that will make me jump the shark is if a series becomes boring and/or predictable.

Donna if we ever meet, I have a whole collection you can sign. :)

Congrats on the Agatha nomination, Donna! Much deserved!

Put me in the column of appreciating characters who grow and change. (I like to think I did that with the Blackbirds, although the changes were not fast enough for many readers.---The Amazon reviews will attest to that!) But editors, I think, are the ones who resist change most of all. They're still looking at Sue Grafton and her success---and thinking protagonists shouldn't move out of the year in which they were first conceived.

Hi Donna! Great to see you here and can't wait to catch up at the Festival!

My kids are teenagers, and even they rejected 'nuke the fridge' because it was so out of line. They are much more critical of character changes than I am.

As for our wonderful Meg - having children in no way should decrease her sarcastic wit. I am living proof of that. In fact, the whole conception/pregnancy thing is just chocked full of stuff to help Meg shine. Maybe she meets a fertility doc who wants her to have- oh, pick a number - eight kids...?

I think action-hero characters who have kids and still jump in front of cars (there was a Lethal Weapon movie that nuked the shark) lose my interest, but Meg could do it no problem.

And I love Mr. Rogers. Grew up on him and still love him.

Somehow, even with a grandson, I've missed the very modern MISS Spider with her eight offspring. Maybe that's where the octumom got the idea?

You've had a lot on your plate lately, Donna. But why does Meg have to have any children yet? Let her enjoy her marriage awhile, and give her your twin nephews (nieces?), either as an aunt, or as the helpful friend of their mother or a neighbor. Then your cultural references won't be hopelessly out of date by the time any children she has are old enough to enjoy that type of thing.

Boy, I agree with Janis, about characters not having human characteristics of any kind.

Your books go on my list of the next batch to order from Mystery Lovers. At this rate, I'll never get anything useful done. Oh, well. ;-)

Soooo....having kids does change you and what you focus on but not forever. Eventually they leave and then you're back to your old self. (20 years does take it's toll however.) Jump the shark...nuke the shark...in my circle of friends we're just getting around to seeing the movie that Penelope Cruz won an Oscar for. Whatever it was. We tend to go to live theater with live actors.
I did get into a car in Cleveland with a kid in a car seat and said "Oh, Sleeping Beauty" and then sang every song to the child. Your nephews are priceless. Hold them close for as long as you can.
Jump and the net will appear Meg. Have a few! The attic stairs will still be there.
Just saying.

Not only are kids funny and fabulous sources of sarcasm, but they're a huge part of the average person's life. I say go for it, Donna -- Meg will be MORE interesting with kids. The heroine in my series is a mother, and the tension between her profession and motherhood is a lot of what makes her worth reading about. It's one of the most "relevant" things about my series, and I get a ton of positive mail on it.

As for missing the movies -- I have a whole list of critically important things I didn't get to do for a DECADE after my kids were born. Go to the movies, travel, shop all afternoon, have lunch with a girlfriend, take a bubble bath, practice law (there's a huge one!) But they get older and we find our way back to our favorite pastimes, with great war stories to tell. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Welcome to TLC, Donna. Looking forward to seeing you at Malice and at the Festival of Mystery.
What jumps -- or nukes -- the shark for me are characters who've survived multiple murders of friends and loved ones, plus major injuries, and seem unchanged in the later books.

Okay, I must be really out of it because I've never heard the phrases "jump the shark" and "nuke the fridge" even though I saw the sources for both. But I do know Thomas, Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues and I've always adored Mr. Rogers. And I've watched countless hours of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

I don't have a problem with characters moving on with their lives like normal people...getting married, having kids, etc. There's so much fodder for stories in the way the couple interacts, especially when the kids come. I like to see characters grow in series, and kids change you in so many ways.

Watching the same movies over and over and over, keeping Cartoon Network on and playing board games when kids are sick, seeing your little ones swimming until lips are blue and bodies shaking but still wanting to swim more.

The everyday things can be used in books for realism AND for comic relief, something you do really well Donna.

So I guess my "nuke the fridge" moments are when things aren't realistic any more. Kids are perfect, clothes are spotless, and couples never fight. Just like in my family...NOT!

I loved the Timmy book and nephew Eric has already been a pseudo-Meg-child throughout the series. As long as the books keep coming, I'll keep reading them! (and in the meantime, I'll keep reading the other ones over and over again -- I'm going through Owls again right now, my second fave after Peacocks).

I miss Mr. Rogers -- maybe with the extra channels, KETC will air more shows. When I sold insurance, I'd turn on his afternoon show, lie down, and "recharge" for my evening appointments. "I like you just the way you are."
I agree that realistic change and development of a character can only help a series. We need those surprises -- and more people to care about.

Oh, Donna (oh, oh, Donna, oh, oh, oh) (sorry -- HAIR flashback)

Congratulations on the nominations!

And i too love Max and Ruby and to show how far from the mainstream I am, I read about someone hiding in a refrigerator and my only thought was, "my children must never see that movie; it will give them ideas."

Also, I've seen no movies this year. Except of course Blond Bond's.

Donna - it's so great to see you here. I love your books, and I'm thrilled that Meg and Michael are married. (Ooh - alliteration!) I think characters can stay interesting with spouses and kids, it just brings more conflict and things they have to handle, whether they do it well or not. I love Meg and Michael together, and I would love to see how they handle the kid dynamic.

But that's me. :)

Congrats on your nomination. So well deserved.

Hi Donna,

I love your Meg books, so keep 'em coming! I only have Six Geese A Slaying left to read, sigh. I need another book from you in this series. Congrats on your nomination, you deserve it.

As long as Meg continues to deal with her family and not go nuts and she doesn't go down into a dark basement without a flashlight to meet a killer, I won't stop reading. Children should only add to her problems to deal with. But like someone else said, she can enjoy her marriage first? I love the interaction between Meg and her family.

The children's TV hero I miss most is Captain Kangaroo. Sigh, all those ping pong balls bouncing around. They just don't make shows like that any more. I can also sing many of Barney's songs. Okay, I need a life. I haven't seen any of the Oscar nominees either. Maybe when they come out on satellite?

I'll be interested to see what kind of trouble you get Meg into next.

Mary Alice--yes; Mr. Rogers does make me feel calm. I have no idea if it's because he has that effect on my psyche or if it's watching how the kids calm down when they watch him. Occasionally, when he addresses the home audience, one of my nephews turns to me and asks, "Is he talking to ME?" I'm not sure whether this delights or worries him. See you in May!

Janis, I know what you mean about how a character having a child changes her fundamental focus in life. But since Meg's focus in life has always been pretty strongly on her family, the difference will be one of degree, not direction.

Nancy, you are one of my role models for women who can be mothers without losing their sharp wit! Will work on keeping Meg that way!

Kathy, Miss Spider was originally a single spider, but happily for the moral fiber of our nation, she married a dashing young spider named Holley before producing her brood. She and Holley (a bespectacled musician) have five spiderlings and have adopted three orphaned bugs: a dragonfly, a jewel beetle, and a bed bug. The spiders all seem, curiously, to be vegetarians; neither they nor the other insects of Sunny Patch ever seem tempted to dine on each other--so the shows are better lessons in interpersonal relations than zoology.

Happy to sign books any time, Karen--my motto is "I will sign anything but a blank check."

Thanks for encouraging Meg to jump, Xena. She can catch up on her movie watching later.

Always glad to hear that someone has succeeded in balancing motherhood and a profession, Michele, whether in real life or fiction. And yes, they are a huge part of so many people's lives--my nephews have become a dominating force in mine!--so I am looking forward to helping Meg juggle.

Good point about people surviving multiple murders of friends and loved ones, Elaine; which is why I try only to kill off annoying people. You can't quite say they deserve it, but I figure Meg will be less traumatized.

Becky, you can be sure that whenever Meg's children are clean and well-behaved, it will be a temporary situation, with no witnesses, and she will shortly thereafter discover that they have just committed some really naughty or dangerous prank.

CilleyGirl, you're right--Timmy was a dress rehearsal for Meg having children of her own, and she has always had Eric underfoot. Frankly, I think her whole family, particularly her brother and father, have been giving her childcare experience for years.

Storyteller Mary, my local PBS channel is currently rerunning Mr. Rogers, though only once a day. Badger yours!

Thanks, Harley! And if you think the refrigerator thing is a bad influence, don't let them see whatever movie it is in which Mike Myers drops trousers. I'm confused on whether it's Cat in the Hat or one of the Austin Powers movies, but trust me, it's not something you want impressionable young minds to think is amusing to do.

Laura, thanks. It's a relief to me that Meg and Michael are married, and I don't have to keep apologizing to the several elderly readers who disapproved of their possibly moving in together before they tied the knot.

Don't worry, Lonnie; there's another book already in the pipeline--Swan for the Money, which features competitive rose growing and Tennessee belted fainting goats.

And sorry everybody for taking a while to respond--my brother and I took the boys this morning for pizza, a visit to Grandma, and a stop at the frozen custard store near Grandma's. The expedition had a dual purpose--to get the little darlings out of their mother's hair for a while, so she could get some work done, and to bleed off a little of their energy before the giant snowstorm hits. Here's hoping it's enough for munchkins to sled on without interfering too badly with everyone else's lives.


Welcome! I'm farther behind than you are with movies & such. The last 'kid' I was around will be 20 next month! (thank God I didn't have to go thru Barney & Teletubbies!)
I have dropped a few series when the heroine has been kidnapped, tortured, shot ,car bombed, fire bombed, beat senseless etc. But she still whines that she's 'scared of guns'! Gimme a break!

Donna, it looks as if, even with four digital stations running, Fred Rogers only appears once every two weeks in St. Louis area. What a loss for our little ones . . .

Rita, since Meg is my alter ego, I try to avoid having her kidnapped, tortured shot, car bombed, fire bombed, or beaten senseless! And she will never whine that she is afraid of guns. Though quite sensibly, she dislikes having them pointed at her.

Since I tend not to check TLC on the weekends, I may be late. So be it. I have found that a TV series is looking for the proverbial shark when the characters start talking about how long they have been doing this in real years. i.e., Joey and Chandler sitting on the couch at Perks and one says "You know, we have been sitting here for nine years..." Shark time. Check out the 2008 season of SVU, there are about three references to how long they have served together, and it was one sorry season. Actually I just saw a new episode. That shark has been jumped, I won't be bothering any more.

If you consider that Nancy Drew could be in high school for 30 years, Ditto for Archie, it is ok for characters to progress very slowly. I would have to say that more series have died from the characters advancing than the characters not. Did anyone care about Moonlighting after they kissed?

Too true, Alan . . . that kiss took the air right out of Moonlighting's dunebuggy tires.

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